Review: Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr: Bach's Brandenburg Concerto's

On Sunday night Perth audiences were treated to a musical feast of baroque favourites with the Academy of Ancient Music under the leadership of Richard Egarr, performing all 6 of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

It was a refreshing performance, and Egarrs’ phrasing of some of the most popular melodies in the baroque repertoire breathed new life into what can often come across as hackneyed.  Quite a feat with this music really, the musicians under his guidance were obviously enjoying themselves and it was evident in their interpretation.  I was expecting a more dissonant reading, which seems to be the fashion for period instrument interpretations, but this was a smooth sounding, elegant interpretation.

While I agree with Maestro Egarr’s notes that the instrumentation being pared down to one player per part emphasises the chamber qualities of these much admired works, and allowing for a ’balanced dialogue between “soloists” and “tutti”, in the acoustics of the Hall it was sometimes difficult to hear the oboes and recorders over the other players and some of the finer details were lost. 

There was much to admire in the virtuosity of David Blackadder on trumpet, I missed the traditional ‘blast’ one has come to expect from the trumpet in Concerto No 2, and to this listener the impact of the orchestral fabric of this piece was lessened as a result.  According to the program notes, this was decision to do with the pitch of the instruments, but in this instance I thought that the trumpet blended in too well with the ensemble, and not enough was made of the contrast between the brass and woodwind textures here.  A little more volume would have helped immensely.

That small criticism aside, Maestro Egarr coaxes virtuosic performances from every member of his ensemble be in soloist or not, the difficulty lying in choosing a standout as all soloists well and truly played their parts with the requisite skill and élan.

The way that Maestro Egarr interacts with the audience with anecdotes on Bach and the story behind the creation of these concertos and their subsequent relegation to the shelves of forgotten musical history for the hundred years or so between their composition and their discovery served to make this a satisfying musicological journey as well as an aural one.  It is clear he is passionate about these works and he has a talent for communicating this passion not only through his music but through his delightful introductions.

On the subject of Maestro Egarr, his harpsichord playing was thrilling, especially when we were treated to his interpretation of the cadenza in Concerto No 5, which impressed the audience enough to break with tradition and applaud between movements.

This standard of musicality was echoed in the rest of this remarkable ensemble, and were deservedly rewarded with a standing ovation.