Monday 7th October 2013

A new season of exciting musical events from Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts began on Monday with a visit to the Cowdray Hall by Passacaglia, a quartet of expert interpreters of a wide repertoire from the Baroque period. Passacaglia opened their marvellously varied recital with the full quartet, two recorders, viola da gamba and harpsichord in Handel’s Trio Sonata in F Major HWV 405. This was the beginning of a musical journey across Europe featuring many of the finest composers of the time.

Perhaps Handel’s Trio Sonata does not quite reach the heights of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti but in Passacaglia’s impressively hearty performance something of that spirit was clearly recalled. Robin Bigwood’s crisp harpsichord playing and Reiko Ichise’s steady insistent viola da gamba supported marvellous flights of fancy from recorder players Annabel Knight and Louise Bradbury.

Reiko Ichise was even more remarkable with her performance of four Pièces de Violes, Troisième Livre by the French virtuoso viol player and composer Marin Marais. In the opening Prélude the dynamic expressiveness of her bowing gave the sound of the viol all the élan of a singing voice while in the following dance movements, the effort and footfalls of the dance were felt in her playing often with the smoothest  and most delicately contoured ornamental passages.

As we were told, the Trio in C Major by Johann Quantz was unusual in that it explored the differences and similarities in sound quality between the recorder and the transverse flute. It made me think of some equally rare pieces where a boy treble is matched against a trained female soprano. The pure natural qualities of the recorder were contrasted with the more highly polished flowing tones of the flute though both often melted beautifully into one another as well.

Boismortier’s Gentilesse Op.45 No.5 was, especially in its outer movements, splendidly jolly music. The French titles Gaiment and Gracieusement perfectly summed up Passacaglia’s performance of the work.

Bach’s Italian Concerto BWV 971 gave Robin Bigwood his moment in the spotlight as a soloist. This was a fine rich sounding performance and while Bach’s Allegro movements are as always, particularly splendid, the interest and imagination of the slow movement with its insistent bass note was no less fascinating in Bigwood’s performance.

It was the Vivace of Telemann’s Duo in d minor for two recorders that really excited me in Monday’s marvellous performance by Annabel Knight and Louise Bradbury and I loved the three players in James Oswald’s The Marvel of Peru from Airs for the Seasons. The suggestion of Scottish bagpipes was certainly there with great good humour in the concluding Musette – although the inspiration could equally well have been the French musette de cour, a kind of bagpipe not unlike the Irish version which is pumped with the arm rather than blown.

To conclude their concert, Passacaglia chose their own special setting of La Primavera, Spring from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. I thought this worked splendidly well with the two recorders suggesting birdsong even better than on strings and in the central slow movement the tinkling harpsichord and insistent viola da gamba captured the spirit of the music perfectly. I imagine Vivaldi himself would have been both amazed and delighted by this performance and possibly astonished that it is still being kept alive in the twenty-first century!    


Passacaglia Review