United Kingdom Bach: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra / Ton Koopman (director / harpsichord). Wigmore Hall, 18.9.2022. (CC)
Bach – Double Concerto for Oboe, Violin and Strings in C minor, BWV 1060R (c. 1736); Orchestral Suite No.3 in D, BWV 1068 (1731): Air; Brandenburg Concerto No.3 in G, BWV 1048 (1721); Orchestral Suite No.1 in C, BWV 1066 (before 1725), Brandenburg Concerto No.4 in G, BWV 1049 (1721)
It is difficult to think of anyone more qualified to lead this concert than Ton Koopman. His lifelong saturation in the music of J S Bach has resulted in a forest of recordings, including the first complete traversal of the cantatas. In May 2019, Koopman succeeded John Eliot Gardiner as President of the Leipzig Bach Archive. He brought this wealth of knowledge to these performances of some of Bach’s best-loved scores, directing the ensemble he founded in 1979, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra – their appearances at Koopman’s magnificent Baroque Itinéraire are always much-anticipated events.
This evening’s menu was performed straight through and was timed so that players and audience could join in the National Moment of Reflection in memory of Queen Elizabeth II at 8pm. The Double Concerto is perhaps better known in its form as a Concerto for Two Keyboards, BWV 1060, but the sense of dialogue between violin and oboe seems even more delightful. Catherine Manson is a virtuoso of the Baroque violin and possessed of a beautifully rich sound and was joined by oboist Marcel Ponseele. Koopman kept rhythms beautifully sprung; if there was something of a mismatch in terms of smoothness of delivery in the central Adagio (Manson more so than Ponseele), the finale was Baroque brilliance personified, Manson’s articulation at speed a delight, but above all blessed by a superb sense of rhythmic terracing.
The famous Air from the Third Orchestral Suite (without harpsichord continuo) was beautifully, affectionately phrased, the ideal lead-in to that moment of reflection.
Two Brandenburg Concertos sandwiched an Orchestral Suite for the second ‘part’ of the concert – in a sense, the ‘Queenly Moment’ acted as a natural divider. Here, it was the sheer clarity of the lower registers and the bass line from the Amsterdam players in particular that impressed. There was such life to the outer movements, and such joy to the antiphonal interchanges. Interesting to hear Koopman insert a daring, swooping glissando at one point. A beautiful traversal, acting in high contrast to the grand ceremony of the opening of the First Orchestral Suite. This was superbly done, the theme of the Allegro so carefully phrased with utter unanimity of section. A dignified, courtly Courante and rapid Gavotte (and equally snappy Bourée) held within them the infectious rhythms of the Menuet and the glorious Forlane. Woodwind contributions were superb (oboe and bassoon – Wouter Verschuren – in particular) before the final pair of Passepieds brough a real sense of peace.
It was left to the Fourth Brandenburg Concerto to round off the evening in a show of high virtuosity from Manson and the wonderful Reine-Marie Verhagen (a Baroque Itinéraire regular) and the young Brazilian recorder player Inês d’Avena. The two recorders worked beautifully together, while Manson seemed to play with Paganini-like command – and no sense of tiring, despite the demands placed on her throughout the concert. The recorder playing in the central Andante was beyond criticism, the two players acting as a unit, before the graceful counterpoint of the Presto finale Stunning Bach playing, here and everywhere; just one encore (‘More Bach!’ as Koopman said), a return for the Bourée from the Orchestral Suite.