Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Early Music Luminary Richard Egarr Makes a Long-Awaited Mostly Mozart Festival Debut

Fans of classical music may find it hard to believe that harpsichord virtuoso Richard Egarr is finally making his Mostly Mozart Festival debut at Lincoln Center this July 27 and 28 at 7:30 PM. The tireless leader of the Academy of Ancient Music records and tours relentlessly – one can only imagine that it’s his grueling schedule that’s kept him from being part of the festival until now. This time out he’ll join the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and flute soloist Jasmine Choi in a program that includes Handel’s Concerto Grosso and Sonata à Cinque plus portions of his iconic Water Music suite. There’ll also be iconic Bach on the bill: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, plus his Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. As a bonus for those who can get to Lincoln Center early, guitarist Jiji opens the night at 6:30, playing works by Albeniz, Paganini, Marais and Bach. You can get in for $35.

Egarr plays with masterful baroque precision but also High Romantic ferocity. Those attributes are far from incompatible considering that the repertoire he’s so passionate about was radical in its day. To get a sense of his approach, give a spin to his epic double-cd recording of the Bach Partitas, BWV 825-830, streaming at Spotify. From the spiky curlicues of the ornamentation of the prelude that opens the first partita, to the majestic mathematics of the finale of the sixth, the way Egarr make the harpsichord sparkle and then whir is breathtaking. But Egarr doesn’t merely content himself with working up a storm on the keys. He’s gone inside the music to find the secret codes that the composer loved so much.

The most dramatic is the passion play in the sixth partita. As Egarr explains with considerable relish in the liner notes – after all, he’s solved the puzzle – Bach’s first clue is to provide the time signature as “perfect time” rather than a prosaic 4/4. The harpsichordist explains how the composer creates numerological Biblical imagery to illustrate a familiar tale that’s usually a very grim one – this ends with a triumphant flourish.

Within these bejewelled mazes of harmony, Egarr doesn’t limit himself to standard, metronomic rhythm, either, as you’ll hear in the lilting sarabande on the way to that big payoff. Although it’s less noticeable, he takes his time getting into the mighty anthem that opens the second partita before it goes scampering and brightens somewhat. And in the same vein as a jazz player providing a bonus outtake that was too hot to leave off the album, he offers two versions of the pouncing finale to the third partita. On the surface, a lot of this looks back to Bach’s mentor, Buxtehude, but the harmonic and rhythmic innovations are vastly more complex. For those with the cash, this weekend’s Mostly Mozart Festival program offers a real trip in time back to what was once  the world’s cutting edge in serious concert music.

Advertisements

July 23, 2018 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Bach Brandenburg Concertos – The Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr

If there was ever an iconic classical piece that deserved a fresh interpretation, this is it. The operative question, of course, is how to do it in a way that hasn’t been done before. Answer: the oldest trick in a musician’s book. Transpose it! In this case, Richard Egarr – who took over the Academy of Ancient Music from Christopher Hogwood in 2006 – justified the move as a return to the deeper tuning of the French-made instruments that would likely have been utilized had the suite been performed during Bach’s lifetime. Along with lowering the pitch a full note, he decided on a new arrangement with period or period-style instruments, one instrument per voice in the original score. Egarr likens the overall sound to giving the score a big, relaxing glass of wine, a wonderfully apt comparison. The darkest passages, notably the adagio in Concerto #3 and the andante in #4 gain considerable gravitas from this treatment, the ensemble clearly inspired to deliver a joyously energetic performance.

 

In contrast to other Brandenburgs, this is far more lively: the tonal quality is more sparse, vastly brighter than usual. A side-by-side comparison with a favorite recording will confirm this. By contrast, a long out-of-print 1957 version conducted by Charles Munch with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is beautiful but distant, like an old flame, lush and richly memorable but ultimately less interesting than the exciting newer version. The production here is also strikingly well thought out, particularly in the case of Egarr’s harpshichord. It doesn’t sound like the instrument was close-miked, making it part of the ensemble rather than allowing it to compete with the strings during more expansive passages. Instead, its spiky textures remain in the background, even during solo parts, drawing the listener in with fresh ears. It’s a remarkable opportunity to hear the Concertos in a way closer to how Bach intended, removing or at least distancing them from their three contemporary associations of bedtime, the month of December and pledge drive.

 

The two-cd set on the esteemed Harmonia Mundi label is sturdily packaged along with a booklet including liner notes in English, French and German with a facsimile of Bach’s title page from the manuscript presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg on its cover. This is a treat for fans, a fine way to get reacquainted with the piece or to discover the Concertos for the first time. For those who don’t know them, the answer is that that you probably do, especially if you listen to NPR. This is court music: lively, bright, warm and reassuring, and in the case of this recording both richly soothing and robustly played. We don’t really know what happened with Bach’s manuscript, other than that he dedicated it to a relatively minor figure in the German nobility, whose library it was discovered in after both had died. Did Bach sell it or give it away, hoping for a commission? We know that the composer cannibalized parts of it for several other works. Did the Margrave not like the piece? That’s a question that can never be answered. There’s no accounting for taste, anyway.   

April 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment