United Kingdom Concerto Italiano’s Bach: Laura Pontecorvo (flute), Andrea Rognoni, Antonio De Secondi (violins), Marco Ceccato (cello) / Rinaldo Alessandrini (director/harpsichord). Wigmore Hall, London, 29.12.2017. (CC)
attrib. Bach – Trio Sonata in G, BWV1038 (1732-5)
Bach – 14 Canons on the first eight notes of the bass of the Aria of the ‘Goldberg Variations’ BWV1087 (1747/8); Ein musikalisches Opfer, BWV1079 (1747)
Rinaldo Alessandrini’s most recent recording, of his own arrangements of Bach for period forces (Variations on Variations, OP30575), was stimulating of concept and provided alive and vibrant performances. Hopes were high, therefore, for this concert that featured the Bach Musical Offering garlanded with canons and a Trio Sonata (the latter to balance the Sonata towards the end of the Musical Offering, perhaps).
Billed here as ‘Trio Sonata’ in G, BWV1038 is often seen as ‘Flute Sonata in G’: no manuscript is known, although there is a set of performing parts from the 1730s. BWV1038 has a continuo part nearly identical with the G major Violin Sonata, BWV1021 (which is definitely by Bach). The performance here was a slightly uneven one, with the breathy flute of Laura Pontecorvo feeling rather quiet in the mix from the back of the stalls. Yet the third movement Adagio was a plateau of even, restrained dynamic, the finale full of joy.
The Canons were discovered in the 1970s in a hand-written appendix to Bach’s copy of the 1741 publication of the Goldberg Variations. They increase in complexity over the course of the composition, the whole taking less that ten minutes of our time. Taking the first eight notes of the bass of the Goldberg Aria, the piece begins with solo harpsichord in what, in Alessandrini’s hands, sounded for all the world like a warm-up exercise. It need not be so, as Masaaki Suzuki’s recording on BIS demonstrates (BIS-CD2151, which incidentally boasts the exact programme of this concert). Here, it was a blessed relief when the piece blossomed out with the overlaid counterpoint of the violins. When Bach pares the scoring down to two string lines only, the effect is striking; yet the overall effect was rather piecemeal, a succession of little ‘Bach bites’.
Most, surely, had come for the Musical Offering performance, which here began with the ‘Ricercar a 3’ or solo harpsichord. Playing on a double manual harpsichord after Ruckers by Andrew Wooderson, the general impression was of a rather restrained, almost timid, instrument. Alessandrini’s playing (and elsewhere in this piece) came across as rather laboured and even occasionally splashy; the later ‘Ricercar a 6’ had more of a stately feel to it. The ensemble movements fared better, in particular the florid ‘Canon 5 a 2: Canon circularis per tonos’, which exuded a wonderful sense of calm and inevitability. The rigour of the ‘Fuga canonical in Epidiapente’ was well captured; the flower of this performance was the account of the extended ‘Sonata sopr’ il Soggetto Reale,’ the place where things finally seemed to come into focus. A lovely flute/violin dialogue in the first movement, superbly managed ornamentation in the second, an Andante that was positively aria-like were lovely, before the close counterpoint of the final Allegro seemed the perfect conclusion to the Sonata. The actual conclusion to the piece, though, was the ‘Canon perpetuus’, a perfect coda.
Originally, an interval was scheduled for this concert but the decision was made to play straight through, so even with an encore (the rustic last movement of a Telemann Quartet from Tafelmusik) it was an early finish. Perhaps not the revelation one might have hoped for from these forces, it was nevertheless a stimulating programme.