Live Music

Florilegium: Brandenburg Concertos, Bath International Music Festival

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Posted on 3rd June 2013

Florilegium: The Brandenburg Concertos 

Bath International Music Festival

Bath Assembly Rooms

June 2, 2013

One of the challenges of performing a great musical work known to all is managing to break or elude the listener’s expectations and make the music come alive in the moment. From the opening bars of Bach’s Suite No. 2 in B Minor, it was clear that the British period ensemble Florilegium would be up to the challenge.

This was the first of two concerts that, on the last day of the Bath International Festival, saw all six of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos performed. The second concert followed a couple of hours later, leading off with Suite No 1 in C major. Unfortunately, separate tickets were needed for the two 75-minute concerts.

Florilegium, lead by flutist Ashley Solomon, has been around for more than 20 years and the ensemble plays with all the understanding and intimacy that such a time together can foster without any of the complacency that can also intrude. The concertos, each showcasing a different instrument, were programmed for musical effect and not by number or supposed chronology. The opening concert featuring numbers 2, 5 and 4. (The remaining three were performed in the order of 3, 6 and 1.)

The second concerto (in F major) features the trumpet, Richard Fomison impressing deeply on the valveless trumpet. The ensemble – two violins, viola, flute, cello, double bass and harpsichord – played with the verve and swing of a true jazz band.

There was no interval – a feature of many of the concerts this year – though a short break ensued while the harpsichord was re-tuned. And with good reason. Next up was the fifth concerto, which when composed in 1720 was the first such to present the harpsichord as a solo voice – most prominently in a magnificent three-minute solo passage (surely the concentrate of hours of Bach’s renowned improvising) which Terence Charlston played with great virtuosity and taste.

The closing concerto, the fourth, featured the violin (Bojan Cicic) in conversation with two recorders (Solomon and Rebecca Prosser). As impressive as all the soloists were – and they were – special mention must be made of the ensemble playing that was at the heart of the concert’s success.

Florilegium are frequently visitors to Bath so look out for them (in Listomania, naturally) on their next visit. (Incidentally, “florilegium” is a Latin word for a compilation of excerpts of writings, usually but not always religious in nature.)

Matthew Zuckerman


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