Euan Murdoch is travelling Around the World in 60 Days and blogging about it…
Several people have asked me whether all the performances I’ve attended so far have begun to morph into each other, the answer is a definitive no! Your brain and soul have unlimited storage for extraordinary moments and to date, I’ve chosen my concerts carefully. Writing this blog has also helped me retain the highlights and explore the connections between events.
On Good Friday I drove to Oxford with a friend for Haydn’s Seven Last Words performed by the Doric String Quartet in the remarkable Magdalen College Chapel. The whole experience was like being on the set of a film. The intimacy of the venue, where the audience of no more than 100 sat opposite each other in beautifully carved choir stalls, heightened every note of this music. The Dorics were sensational, especially first fiddle Alex Redington who revelled in the this acoustic and thrived with the improvisatory material. It is hard to imagine a better setting for this special work.
English pianist Imogen Cooper is known as a Schubert specialist. Her Wigmore recital last week was packed out. You could have cut the expectant air before she appeared through the drawing room door and on to the small stage. Again this space really heightened the experience. You felt as if you were with her in her home and she was playing for a small gathering of friends. It’s hard to describe what makes her Schubert so magical, technically it’s masterful and musically it’s fresh and full of contrasts, however, the voicing and pacing of each work just seems perfect. She guides the audience through a whole evening of Schubert without ever wanting any other composer’s music, it would spoil the occasion. This was a truly sublime evening.
As a lover of period instrument performance, it has been a great week. Last Tuesday’s fine performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater by OAE whetted my appetite for the Eastertide Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall in celebration of Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s 70th birthday. Sandwiched in between these was a wonderful evening at Wigmore with Floregium featuring Bach’s Easter Oratorio BMV 249. The small stage was full to overflowing with 18 musicians including four singers, three trumpets, timpani, woodwind, strings and continuo. Fabulous rousing stuff!
And then to the Bach Marathon on Easter Monday…I have to confess that I only managed a half marathon but, while there’s a slight sense of disappointment in not lasting the full nine hours, it was a blast. The afternoon session at this massive venue that accommodates an audience of more than 5,000 spanned everything from a Bach Easter Cantata with full choir and orchestra to the Goldberg Variations and the D major Cello Suite. Interspersed with these works were panel discussions with John Eliot, musicians, musicologists and even a Professor of Behavioural Neurology. The whole event was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 including the final chorale of the Cantata for Easter Day BMV4 that we all learnt together before we went live to air. This was an incredible event and perfect for those of us who enjoy total immersion, especially when it’s all Bach. Given the size and response of the audience, clearly I’m not alone.
The final word goes to the Wigmore Coffee Concert on Sunday morning given by Imani Winds an African-American wind quintet. This was their UK debut and they seemed genuinely excited by the opportunity to perform for us. So far, they’re the only ensemble to introduce all the pieces at this venue and each took it in turn. I sensed that it may have ruffled a few feathers amongst the regulars but they managed to win most of the audience over by the end. Their encore, a Swahili tune played without music and beautifully arranged for this combo, was performed standing right at the front of the stage facing out. This allowed them to communicate with each other and with us. The concert started out with several arrangements that were well-played but missed the mark for me. However, they also performed works for this combination by Americans Samuel Barber and Elliott Carter. Both were great and revealed their excellent ensemble and individual virtuosity.
It’s always a brave move to break convention but when it’s done well, it really does bring artists and audiences closer together.
– Euan, 01.04.2013