Bach in Sloane Square

Last night saw a superb performance of Bach, Purcell and Allegri by Solistes de Musique Ancienne, to about 100 very fortunate people in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square. The concert was billed as A Celebration of Easter, and included Purcell’s Welcome to all the Pleasures, Bach’s Concerto for Oboe and Violin (BWV 1060, in C minor), Allegri’s Miserere, and Bach’s Easter Oratorio. The performance was led by Joel Newsome, with all the orchestral parts performed by soloists.

The Purcell had some interesting harmonies, and was sung and performed well, but otherwise was not something I warmed to. The Oboe+Violin Concerto was superb, and the playing effortless, together, and unhurried. My only criticism was the placement of the soloists. The acoustics of this church – high spaces, uncovered stone columns, stone walls – meant the sound bounces around a great deal, with a long delay. Placing the soloists behind the other musicians meant that their sound was somewhat muffled by comparison with the ensemble, at least for those of us in the mid-centre of the church, even though the soloists were standing and the others were sitting. The muffling meant that we did not always hear well the oboe’s elaborations.

The Allegri took advantage of the specific features of the space, something I always applaud, with the chorus divided between the front of the church (near the altar) and the choir loft upstairs at the rear. The resulting call-and-response and echo effects were superb, and the piece provided, as the director said, an appropriate contemplative prelude to the Easter Oratorio.

The Oratorio was performed with baroque trumpets, which even leading professionals play with trepidation. Last night’s performers appeared to be using trumpets with vent holes, which certainly help secure intonation, although perhaps are not strictly historically accurate. The wobbles here were not too strong, and were in any case mostly covered by the acoustics. Personally, I am a great fan of 21st-century mash-up culture, so I celebrated the fact that modern versions of baroque trumpets were used alongside 19th century violins and bows (played with vibrato), in a room with artificial heating and decorated mostly with 19th-century British art.

The performance of the Oratorio was superb. The stillness at the end, when the audience seemed to be sitting on its hands, was because no one wanted to break the sense of having been transported elsewhere that we’d all just experienced.

Other posts on music here. Some thoughts on what music is for, here.

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