So to Eastminster United last night for the opening concert of the Toronto Bach Festival. We got three concerti bookended by (I think) a sinfonia from one of the cantatas; an excuse to show off the trumpets and timpani recruited for Sunday’s oratorios, and an arrangement of the Air on the G String. Festival director John Abberger contributed a scholarly programme note on the general issue of Bach concerti. Bottom line, there aren’t very many of them but they can be rearranged for a pretty wide range of instrumental options. Last night we got the Concerto for Oboe BWV1056, Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1044 and the much better known Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 BWV 1046.
I guess most of the Bach “orchestral” music that I’ve heard has been played by, well, an orchestra and hearing it played by a much smaller ensemble (on period instruments of course) was interesting, educational and enjoyable. We are talking two violins, viola, cello, bass and harpsichord here reinforced by oboe in the first piece, flute in the second and a wind group of three oboes, bassoon and two horns in the Brandenburg. The Berlin Phil this was not!
There was some lovely playing. Abberger is a really good oboe player of course and Grégoire Jeay was excellent on flute. Whether soloing or continuoing (is that even a word?) Christopher Bagan was excellent on the harpsichord. The highlight for me though was Julia Wedman as first violin (piccolo violin in the Brandenburg) and soloist in the middle concerto. She plays beautifully but it was her sheer exuberance and the joy she conveyed through her body language that made it for me. Lovely.
Final note. It’s funny how something can sound different when one is seeing as well as hearing it. I must have heard recordings of the Brandenburgs many, many times (how often I’ve really listened to them is perhaps another story) but watching live made the way in which the strings swap music back and forth with the woodwinds so much more obvious!
The festival continues for the rest of the weekend with solo violin music at Eastminster at 4pm and 8pm with a couple of oratorios tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to have been able to hear the oratorios but I’m (von) Ottering tomorrow.