Plenty of Fireworks at Barokksolistene’s Festive Concert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Purcell, Corelli, Vivaldi, Rebel, J.S. Bach, Handel: Davina Clarke (violin), Avi Avital (mandolin), Barokksolistene with guest musicians from the UK / Bjarte Eike (violin/director) with pyrotechnics by Matthew Tosh, Cheltenham Music Festival, Town Hall, Cheltenham, 10.7.2016. (RJ)

Purcell: Suite from Diocletian
Corelli: Concerto Grtoss in D No 4
Vivaldi: Mandolin Concerto in D RV93
Jean-Féry Rebel: Les caractêres de la danse (1715)
Bach: Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043
Handel: Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351

What jolly folk Norway’s Barokksolistene are! The Ensemble-in-Residence at Bergen Opera their repertoire ranges from Scandinavian folk music to the high Baroque, and they are led by the youthful looking Bjarte Eike who bubbled over with good humour throughout the evening.

They are clearly inveterate Anglophiles judging from the way they have taken Purcell to their hearts. Their playing of his Suite from Diocletian was first-rate and they made good use of the spaces in the venerable Town Hall perching the brass and woodwind on balconies on both sides of the stage to give a more three dimensional effect. Highlights were the opening trumpet fanfare and the atmospheric Dance of the Furies.

The woodwind and brass then withdrew leaving the string players behind to play the lion’s share of the concert beginning with a good humoured account of a Corelli concerto grosso. The bright sounding Allegro gave way to a short minor key Adagio and then the fun started again with a particularly sprightly vivace.

Avi Avital the took centre stage for a performance of Vivaldi’s Mandolin Concerto. Thanks to intelligent orchestration Avital’s miniscule mandolin could be heard above the other strings in this delightful piece in which the lively outer movements were separated by a wistful but lovely Largo. Avital has been described as “one of the world’s most exciting and adventurous musicians” and his skill in promoting a much underrated musical instrument is undeniable.

We are used to hearing gavottes, minuets and sarabandes in the music of composers like Bach, but seldom do we hear the whole gamut of 18th-century dances in one work. Step forward Jean-Féry Rebel who has created a conspectus of what seemed like all of them albeit in a condensed form. Rebel would employ female dancers to demonstrate the dance steps in his concerts, an idea well worth pursuing by the Barokksolistene in their future performances of this work.

After the frivolity of Rebel violinist Davina Clarke joined forces with Bjarte Eike for a deeply satisfying account of the Bach Double Concerto. The duo took the Largo at a gentle pace which brought out the sheer beauty of the melody, and the Allegro which rounds of the work was a bright and exuberant affair.

The grand finale of the concert brought us back to these shores with the brass and woodwind returning for a performance of Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music, which celebrates the signing of the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Admittedly the complement of musicians fell short of the hundred or so who performed in Green Park in 1749, but they made up for this with their vigorous and committed playing. Baroque horns answered their trumpet counterparts in the first extended movement, and after a solemn interlude in the Largo alla Siciliana referring to the Peace Treaty there was no holding back in the rejoicing that followed. During In the final dances no expense was spared with fireworks set off at the back of the stage in time to the music creating a marvellous spectacle. This was one performance that went off with a bang … literally!

This concert is due to be broadcast at 7.30 pm on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 11th July, though radio listeners will miss out on the fireworks. The Cheltenham Music Festival continues until July 17th and a number of the recitals recorded by the BBC at this Festival will re-emerge in the Lunchtime Concert series on Radio 3 in August.

Roger Jones

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