Wednesday, 18 August 2010


14/8/10, Cadogan Hall (Proms)

A double concert, 1 hr 10 mins starting at 11.30, and then another 1 hr 10 mins at 1.30. We had a sandwich in Sloane Square in G and J in between. All the Brandenburgs played by the English Baroque Soloists with/under John Eliot Gardner, who actually conducted only three of the six, sitting out the others at the side of the stage with the Radio 3 announcer Violet Elizabeth Bott, and entertaining both audiences (on the radio and in the hall) with his witty apercus in between each concerto.

I learnt a lot about music which is (some of it, at any rate) almost tediously familiar. They weren't played in order, presumably because there's no evidence of the order in which they were written, only the order in the manuscript in which they were found in 1849. Bach presented them to a member of an obscure branch of the Hohenzollerns, the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, although they hadn't been written for him and his household lacked the musicians to play them.

We started with No 1, which begins with two horns (up in the Cadogan Hall balcony) playing what sounds like completely different music to the rest of the band: an extraordinarily discordant row. After the opening allegro they came down into the body of the kirk and played much more harmoniously in a subsequent movement. I thought it was just me, so was relieved to hear Eliot Gardiner remark on how discordant the opening is.

Then we had No 6, for strings alone (but no violins), followed by No 4, which JEG returned to conduct.

The second concert started with No 3, which has just two movements separated by a cadenza which Bach didn't write but (if memory serves) the principal violinist played at length.

No 5 is extraordinary, according to JEG, because it's arguably the first "modern" keyboard concerto in which the harpsichord goes beyond its conventional continuo role at the start of the piece to become a true solo instrument in the middle... and then lapsing back to continuo in the final movement. It was very effective -- and all the more so because we'd been primed to look out for it.

We ended with No 2 conducted by JEG, the only one of the six to feature a trumpet, and very stirring it is too.

I enjoyed this greatly, possible because it was the middle of the day and I was wide awake. Should we have more concerts in the mornings?

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