I heard a concert by the Academy of Ancient Music on 8/15/20, part of the Live From London series produced by VOCES8. The concert was preceded by interviews by Paul Smith (CEO and co-founder of VOCES8) with Richard Egarr (music director of Academy of Ancient Music) and a few instrumentalists in the ensemble.
The series is billed as “an online festival of the world’s finest vocal music.” The Academy of Ancient Music is an instrumental ensemble and they weren’t performing with singers, so it seemed a little curious that they were included. I suppose it’s a nice change in the context of an entire series, but wouldn’t it have been nice if they had added a solo singer for a couple arias or something?
Paul Smith mentioned in his pre-concert welcome that the government had just that week loosened their restrictions on aerosols, so I imagine we’ll be seeing some changes in upcoming concerts?
Smith introduced the first set, speaking primarily about the Bach G minor harpsichord concerto. He said that Bach was the first to write a keyboard concerto - - up to that point the harpsichord was seen as a supporting player in other concertos. They preceded the Bach with the Chacony in G minor from Purcell’s harpsichord concerto. From the first chord I knew the concert was going to be a treat, they had such a warm, vibrant, juicy sound.
Hm, I didn’t really detect any solo harpsichord content in the Purcell. It took a while in the Bach, it started off being subsumed in the texture, which is not what you’re used in a concerto. A concerto typically starts with the ensemble saying, “Blah blah blah” and then the soloist making a grand entrance, saying, “I’M HERE!” In this case, the harpsichord was part of the initial “Blah blah blah,” then seemed to raise his hand and say, “Um, may I say something?” And then he said it.
The triple meter of the third movement brought out a nice swing in the group and some delightful flashy playing by Egarr.
A few notes about watching these concerts online: first, the sound (coming from Richard’s Dell desktop computer) is fantastic. And the visual presentation is first class, with just enough variety in the shots chosen to make it interesting to watch visually. One of the fun elements of this particular concert was seeing close-ups of Smith’s hands on the harpsichord, and also watching him conduct from the harpsichord (and watching the other instrumentalists watching him).
The next piece was the Vivaldi concert for two cellos. It was introduced by the two principal cellos of the AoAM, Sarah McMahon and Joseph Crouch. They had been friends since college, had played together many times, but had never played this piece together before. The opening was rather startling, it seemed to open with just the two cellos, playing low in their range, sawing away, seeming to growl at each other. One of the advantages of seeing/hearing a concert online, as opposed to from the upper balcony of a concert hall (where I always sit, I’m a cheap ass bitch), is that I could easily see which cellist was playing what and when. The two players were fantastic, they played with shape and verve.
Next up, the Bach violin concerto in E major, played by the leader (aka concertmaster) of the ensemble, Bojan Čičić. I’m not so familiar with the orchestral repertoire, so I was surprised and a little relieved to hear that I knew the opening tune, probably from appearing on various commercials over the years. Here's a performance by Hilary Hahn:
Čičić played with a lively sense of color, he didn’t shy away from an unrefined, rugged sound here and there. The second movement opened with an intriguing moodiness and Čičić’s entrance on a single sustained note took a little while to assert itself, which I thought was an interesting choice. And wow, I recognized the third movement, too, probably from another bank commercial (14:50 in the Hahn video).
The next piece, a movement from the Vivaldi concerto for two violins, was the dull low point of the concert. Beautiful music, and nicely played by Čičić and James Toll, but it just wasn’t very interesting. To ME.
The finale from the overture to *Solomon* was snappy and exciting, a welcome sorbet between courses. The concert ended with Leo Duarte playing an oboe concerto by a composer I’d never heard of, Alessando Marcello. It really had the flavor of 18th century Venice. Not a lot of harmonic complexity, but well crafted and providing a great platform for some tasty playing by the soloist. Duarte held nothing back, his playing was the highlight of the concert - - elegant, confident, and full of emotion in the slow second movement. Here he is playing a movement from a Handel oboe concerto:
Their encore was a Handel aria, “Where’er you walk” from *Semele,* with Duarte playing the vocal line, adding some lovely oboe ornaments and a tasteful cadenza on the da capo . Charming, a sweet way to end the concert.
Chacony in G minor, Z.730 by Henry Purcell
Harpsichord Concerto No.7 in G minor, BWV1058 by Johann Sebastian Bach Richard Egarr harpsichord
Concerto for 2 Cellos in G minor, RV531 by Antonio Vivaldi
Sarah McMahon, Joseph Crouch cello
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV1042 by Bach
Bojan Čičić violin
Concerto in A minor, op. 3 no. 8, RV 522: II. Larghetto Antonio by Vivaldi
Finale from Overture to Solomon by George Frederic Handel
Oboe Concerto in D minor by Alessandro Marcello
Leo Duarte oboe