Click on the reviewer name to read the full review
Wednesday 12 October 2016
Purcell's The Fairy Queen - "the evening was a delightful succession of phantasmagoric tableaux"
"The Academy of Ancient Music’s presentation of Purcell’s fantastical semi-opera The Fairy Queen is the stuff of dreams"
The Barbican opened its new season with a wonderfully realised semi-staged performance by Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music of Purcell’s semi-opera ,The Fairy Queen, based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Though containing stunning symphonies and songs much plundered for recitals, it actually consists of five largely plotless masques, so director Daisy Evans wisely jettisoned any attempt to superimpose a narrative, offering instead a sort of controlled chaos as the performance was overrun by stage hands and technicians still bustling round the orchestra centre-stage, only gradually revealed as the singers.
And what singers they were: Iestyn Davies’s superlative counter-tenor, revealing his acting chops still in very good order in “No, no, no, no kissing at all”; Gwilym Bowen a charismatic young high tenor beside fellow tenor Charles Daniels’s clean timbre; bass Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation artist, swaggering with great panache as the drunken poet, while late stand-in soprano Rowan Pierce gave a heart-piercing account of “O let me ever weep”. Underpinned by the Academy’s informed musicianship – as vibrant in its fanfares as it was sensitive in its pianissimos – the evening was a delightful succession of phantasmagoric tableaux, conjured by Jake Wiltshire’s subtle shifts of lighting. The first of three Purcell semi-operas programmed over the next three years at the Barbican, this performance argues strongly for making a point to catch the next one.
Wednesday 27 July 2016
Just Bach - at Cambridge Summer Music Festival
"A packed St John's College Chapel audience is enthralled by JS Bach"
A full audience in St John's College Chapel on Tuesday evening was enthralled by a programme of JS Bach performed by the renowned Academy of Ancient Music. That every seat was filled pointed up the first question put by Cambridge Summer Music Festival director John McMunn to the AAM's director and first violin, Pavlo Beznosiuk at the pre-concert talk: "Why do we all come back to Bach?"
Putting aside the possibility that a chasm has opened up between the language of music which has raced ahead in its evolution and public taste, Beznosiuk talked about the universality of Bach - who achieved so much with such apparent effortlessness - and of our experience while listening to him of becoming aware of something much bigger than ourselves.
Interestingly, this 'all-Bach' programme began with the Overture in G minor BWV1070, thought in fact not to be by JS Bach at all but by one of his own talented children, possibly Wilhelm Friedemann. It was pointed out that this work with its long fugal passages and hypnotic and repeated phrases contains shifts of harmony that Bach never would have penned. And certainly, even to an amateur's ear, this music didn't sound like Bach's. This is not to sell it short though, and the AAM's delivery enhanced its beauty providing a perfect introductory context within which the following works, genuinely by Bach, could be better appreciated.
Next came the celebrated 'double' violin concerto in D minor. If Bach had written only this he'd have been among the immortals, and the eight musicians (sometimes only seven, depending on requirements) performed it to perfection. The AAM, as Pavlo Beznosiuk stressed, aims here for a truer, less symphonic balance between violins and band avoiding a kind of 'us and them' approach. In fact the small band, it is thought, approximating to the kind of 'orchestra' with which Bach would have been familiar, brings to the forefront in performance his matchless clarity of texture, to use Beznosiuk's metaphor, more in the manner of a delicate line drawing than one fully fleshed out.
After the interval the Fifth Brandenburg concerto in D major, perhaps the most intimate of the six, showcased the exhilarating virtuosity of Alastair Ross in the lengthy harpsichord cadenza where it is hard not believe that Bach was indulging himself in a bit of showing off. The manuscript score of all six concertos was found in the mid-19th century in the Brandenburg archives having remained in the Margrave of Brandenburg's library disregarded since its commission. It is unthinkable that these concertos, some of the greatest orchestral compositions of the Baroque era and unheard until 130 years after their composition, might easily have been lost forever.
The concert concluded with a strings version of the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. This suite, French-inspired in form, contains as its second movement the famous Air, one of Bach's 'tunes,' like Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, which practically everyone knows. The AAM had decided to change the advertised programme round so that we left with the lovely musical gavottes, bourrée and gigue still in our ears as we disappeared into the night.
It would be invidious to single anyone out, as each and every member of this distinguished group of musicians plays as one. The AAM is a class act. Its exquisite timing and virtuosity have made it one of the best inheritors and communicators of some of the greatest music ever written, and it was obvious from the pleasure on the faces of performers and audience alike that there could be no better way of spending two hours than in sharing appreciation and admiration for this wonderful legacy of the past.
Tuesday 26 July 2016
"Just Bach" - on tour in Europe (St Florian, Austria)
“The Upper Austrian Stiftskonzerte Festival concluded after sixteen events (and 5,700 visitors) on Sunday with a wonderful concert by the British Academy of Ancient Music… the joy of music making is written all over the orchestra’s faces. Rebecca Livermore was in Bach’s Double concerto for two violins, strings and basso continuo, and proved a witty and eloquent dialogue partner to the concertmaster.”
Tuesday 26 July 2016
"Just Bach" - on tour in Europe (St Florian, Austria)
“The Stiftskonzerte audience were absolutely thrilled with the Academy of Ancient Music’s performance. ‘Just Bach’ was the motto of the concert by the leading British period instrument orchestra.”
Wednesday 18 May 2016
The AAM with Vivica Genaux - on tour in Asia (Shanghai, Hong Kong)
“The concert of the AAM at the Shanghai Heluting Concert Hall on May 7 provided an opportunity to the audience to experience the most authentic interpretation of baroque music.
Led by Richard Egarr with his strength, great passion and power was created by the orchestra. The freedom in the tempo and the intensive expressiveness showed the true spirit of baroque music.
Vivica Genaux played a leading role in the concert. Her verve and singing is as if she leads the beat of the audience's hearts."
Monday 16 May 2016
The AAM with Vivica Genaux - on tour in Asia (Beijing, China)
“As baroque is the theme of this year's NCPA May Festival, the joining of four divas, including Vivica Genaux at the concert of the AAM, Julia Novikova with Salzburger Hofmusik and Sumi Jo, decorates the festival with great beauty.
The AAM is very familiar to audiences in Beijing, while Vivica is new to them. As one of the most famous and popular coloratura mezzo-sopranos, she shows outstanding technique in interpreting the selections of baroque arias.”
BEIJING MORNING POST
Friday 13 May 2016
The AAM with Vivica Genaux - on tour in Asia (Beijing, China)
“In recent years many leading baroque music groups visited China, especially in Beijing and Shanghai. Among them the most famous and foremost is AAM founded by Christopher Hogwood. On their third visit to Shanghai, an extremely impressive concert was given on 7 May, featuring pieces by Handel and Vivaldi.
Before the performance, Richard Egarr gave a brief introduction to the players and their instruments, as well as the pieces they were going to play. The light in the hall was not as dark as usual, and this helped to shorten the distance between the audiences and the musicians; when the music started, it was if everyone was really in the baroque era.
Either to a music lover or a music critic, the concert can be described as perfect. Their playing of Water Music was full of nobility, with a pure sound.
The AAM showed their great virtuosity in the concert and, more importantly, through the virtuosity they revealed the essence of baroque music."
Wednesday 27 April 2016
Vivaldi in Dresden at Milton Court Concert Hall, London
“The Academy of Ancient Music’s recent geo-political exploration of Vivaldi’s influence in Dresden was another success of the season.
‘Vivaldi in Dresden’ was an exciting evening of music making ‘built on the idea of orchestral reputation’, exploring the orchestral music of Vivaldi, as well as J.S. Bach and Georg Philipp Telemann.
It was my first time seeing a live performance of the AAM, and it was easy to understand why the orchestra holds such an international reputation. The programme placed in context and brought to life a handpicked selection of music from a specific time period, while covering vast geographical distances.”
BRITISH SOCIETY FOR EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY STUDIES
Tuesday 22 December 2015
JS Bach's Christmas Oratorio
at Barbican Hall, London
"Among the main attractions are the big choruses, resplendent with trumpets and drums, uplifting in their D major brightness and celebratory verve. The AAM’s three period trumpets rang out proudly at the Barbican over the delicate sound of its period flutes and strings. Egarr is not a conductor who focuses on showing off his colleagues’ prowess. Speeds were upbeat, but not so as to rush the music off its feet... Everything was expressive.
Another attraction is the run of great arias for the mezzo, who gets the best of the soloists’ music. Barbara Kozelj was rapt and understated in each, especially the lovely “Schliesse, mein Herze”... Lorna Anderson took over at short notice as the soprano, dovetailing neatly with her echo in “Flösst, mein Heiland”. James Gilchrist was the skilful tenor/Evangelist and the increasingly impressive bass Ashley Riches brought authority and clear German to his recitatives." ★ ★ ★ ★
"Under the direction of Richard Egarr, who conducted from the harpsichord, the Academy of Ancient Music revealed all of the precision and control for which it is renowned, whilst also bringing the necessary levels of exuberance to the pieces. Although all six cantatas work to a fairly similar formula, the variation contained within each, combined with the sheer quality of playing, ensured that the lengthy evening never dragged.
One of the particular delights of the playing was the way in which brass, string, wind, organ and percussion lines were all clearly delineated, but together created the most coherent, blended whole. The same was true of the chorus where each vocal line could clearly be heard, while strong balance across all of the voices was maintained.
Some of the evening’s many highlights occurred when the excellent soloists sang arias in which their voices could interact with a solo instrument. Ashley Riches took the bass part and his voice revealed depth and warmth while maintaining clarity by not indulging in too excessive a vibrato. His performance of ‘Grosser Herr, o starker König’ was particularly fine as the solo trumpet rang out.
As the Evangelist James Gilchrist brought an ethereal lightness to his tenor instrument, but impeccable enunciation, strong shaping of sound and the ability to apply a little more weight when necessary generated some intensely moving moments. His performance of ‘Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet’ also benefited from the wonderful flute solo, while ‘Nun mogt ihr stolzen Feinde schrecken’ provided a model lesson in how to micromanage dynamic variation and achieve rhythmic tension.
Barbara Kozelj’s alto had a sumptuous and rounded quality and interacted well with Pavlo Beznosiuk’s solo violin in ‘Schliesse, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder’. Lorna Anderson had stepped in to replace Susan Gritton at very short notice, but her soprano positively glistened and shone in ‘Nur ein Wink von seinen Händen’. Her voice also worked well with Riches’ in their ‘duets’ (combining recitative and chorale) ‘Er ist auf Erden kommen arm’, ‘Immanuel, o süsses Wort!’ and ‘Wohlan, dein Name soll allein’. ★ ★ ★ ★
Wednesday 25 November 2015
Angels and saints with Bojan Čičić
at Dorset County Museum, Dorchester
“To put it simply, The Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) is one of the finest Baroque ensembles in the world. Founded in the early 1970’s by the late Christopher Hogwood, the orchestra established a new benchmark for the performance of Baroque and early music. String players reverted to using gut strings, not modern steel ones; yes, more temperamental, but essential in recreating the lighter sound of the period. Modern orchestras tune to a higher pitch, whereas Baroque orchestras tune to a lower pitch. These changes, and more, quickly became essential for the authentic performance of Baroque music, and AAM led the way. So, how wonderful it was to hear this renowned ensemble in Dorchester, courtesy of generous funding by a private donor.
Their programme, “Angels and Saints”, featured music by Vivaldi, Vejanovsky, Leclair, Manfredini, and Biber, and was skilfully directed by the Croatian violinist Bojan Čičić, who also featured as soloist in many of the works. Throughout the concert, AAM’s performances were exemplary; so lively and invigorating, it was such a joy to listen to them. Bojan Čičić, in particular, deserves much praise for his virtuoso performance of the Vivaldi concerti, and also the Biber Passacaglia for solo violin; his clarity of articulation was exemplary, as was his beauty of tone in the slower movements. That, coupled with the ensemble’s total mastery of the Baroque style, made for a truly memorable concert.
For a few hours, the pressures and events of modern life were put to one side, as the capacity audience listened attentively to the concert.”
Monday 19 October 2015
Music from the dark side
at Milton Court Concert Hall, London
"Joseph Martin Kraus is all but forgotten now, just another 18th-century boy who rebelled against his family’s wishes that he pursue a sensible career in law and instead fell in love with art. Look him up and you’ll find references to 'the Swedish Mozart', a nickname that has more to do with the brevity of his life than with the music he composed during it.
"In his native Germany and then in Stockholm, where he teetered between poverty and celebrity, Kraus’s drug was Sturm und Drang: a cocktail of wild drama and intense melancholy that glanced back to the baroque and anticipated the gothic. His pale, doomy Symphony in C minor is inflected with an Italianate vocalism that was brought to the fore in Pavlo Beznosiuk’s performance with the Academy of Ancient Music, its tense skeins of violins and violas underpinned by the solemn tone of the bassoon and the horrified glare of the horns.
"Although Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide is the reference point in Kraus’s 1783 symphony, earlier and later voices crowd in: a hint of sonata da chiesa formality, a suggestion of a distraught bel canto heroine, Beethovenian didacticism and the breathlessness of a consumptive. (Kraus died of tuberculosis at the age of 36.)
"Richly imagined, it was the highlight of Music from the dark side, not least for its harmonic audacity. Haydn’s Symphony No.49 'La Passione' and Mozart’s Symphony No.25 sounded carefree by comparison, although both are marked with sombre, sexy minuets and both were vulnerable to soggy octaves in the AAM’s bass line. In Frantisek Benda’s Concerto for violin and strings in D minor there was more vocalism from Beznosiuk in the delicate, double-stopped cadenzas and the balmy Adagio un poco Andante, an aria in all but name." ★ ★ ★ ★
Wednesday 30 September 2015
Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
at Barbican Hall, London
"The Academy of Ancient Music completed its season of Monteverdi operas at the Barbican Hall with Il Ritorno d’Ulisse.
"The musicians were placed centre stage with Richard Egarr directing from the harpsichord, and the singers performing around them.
"Ian Bostridge was a restlessly moving Ulysses the wanderer. Barbara Koselj’s melancholy Penelope was the still centre of the opera, fending off the importunate suitors, outstanding amongst them Lukas Jakobski’s brutish Antinous. Elizabeth Watts was a feisty Minerva, cackling at the mortals as she engineered events.
"A superb evening." ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
"The opera premiered during Venice’s 1639-40 carnival season, most probably in the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo, and this presentation captured something of how it might have felt to have experienced either an afternoon or evening performance in the venue. . .
"Richard Egarr kept the Academy of Ancient Music on a beautifully even keel throughout the performance while the evening was dedicated to Andrew Porter who died in April and who, in the words of Nicholas Kenyon, ‘was the most erudite and perceptive music critic of his generation’." ★ ★ ★ ★
". . . Richard Egarr maintained fluency, skilfully managing the opera’s flexible shifts between recitative and aria-idioms (madrigalistic word-painting, declamation and rhetorical emphasis, affective elaboration), and the stylistic mosaic cohered into a unified whole which drove persuasively towards its powerful climax. The closing image of a circle of gentle light - Penelope within, Ulisse without - was compelling. It almost seemed a pity to break the spell with applause, however much one wished to celebrate and thank the performers for their unwavering commitment and musical excellence."
"The last of the Academy of Ancient Music’s concert-hall stagings of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican had an extra, melancholy dimension. The performance of Il ritorno d’Ulisse was dedicated to the memory of the critic Andrew Porter, who died in April, and who was an inspiring model for subsequent generations of writers on music on both sides of the Atlantic.
"The slow, reflective way in which the drama in Ulisse unfolds made it entirely appropriate for such a tribute. Whether the staging (a joint effort from Alexander Oliver and Timothy Nelson) added much to it as music theatre, though, was more debatable. With Richard Egarr leading the performance from the harpsichord, the singers performed in front and behind the instrumentalists, making entrances through the auditorium and singing from the balcony too. For all the effort, little was gained visually or dramatically – quite the opposite – and it sometimes seemed as if the singers were relying too much on the external trappings to give the performance the shape and sense of musical purpose that could have come from a more sharply honed delivery of such expressively plastic vocal lines.
"It was usually in the scenes that involved Ian Bostridge’s Ulysses that things sparked into life. Bostridge’s voice seems to acquire more richness and tonal range, especially in the lower registers, with every challenge he takes on, and he used its baritonal qualities to great effect here, bringing expressive variety to the free-flowing recitative that few others in the cast could match, and transcending the rather silly bits of costume that had been wished upon him. In contrast, Barbara Kozelj seemed a rather stoic and contained Penelope, very much the stay-at-home wife. The other dramatic sparks came from Elizabeth Watts’ tremendously feisty and thrillingly well-sung Minerva, and from the bass Lukas Jakobski as both a truculent Neptune and a suitably boorish Antinous, one of Penelope’s suitors." ★ ★ ★ ★
"And so the Academy of Ancient Music’s triptych of Monteverdi operas at the Barbican comes to an end, three years after it began with Orfeo. If 2014’s Poppea was the cycle’s sexually-charged climax, then this Ulisse is the dark, contemplative coda – a sobering moment of morality after the victorious excesses of opera’s most venal couple. . .
"Directing from the harpsichord, Richard Egarr kept the pace measured but always energised, encouraging a wonderfully free-form reading of the score (such as it is), which always placed expressive impact and emotional authenticity over absolute fidelity. . ." ★ ★ ★ ★
THE ARTS DESK
". . . We don't know what orchestra Monteverdi used for the work, but it was written for a commercial theatre in Venice so was probably not lavish. Richard Egarr used a small compliment of strings led by Pavlo Besnoziuk, with two theorbos, two harpsichords and harp.
"And it was the musical values which made this performance so satisfying. That it was staged, meant that we had the advantage of the performers being off the book but it was the way all performed Monteverdi's music with a coherent sense of style and continuing feel of drama that really counted." ★ ★ ★ ★
"The Academy of Ancient Music's three-year cycle (or should that be odyssey?) of all Monteverdi's surviving operas came to its conclusion with the latest work of the trio, re-telling the story (from Homer) of Odysseus’s (Ulisse) homecoming to Ithaca after the Trojan War and his fending off the suitors to the wife he has left behind. It was, perhaps, a more low-key performance compared with the previous two in this series, but no less powerful for that. Alexander Oliver’s staging (with Timothy Nelson) made effective use of a raised platform at the back of the stage, the space around the AAM, and other parts of the auditorium to bring to life this drama peopled by gods and mortals.
"Oliver himself took the (mainly) comic role of Iro, a gluttonous suitor of Penelope, vividly characterising the self-deprecating aspect of the role as well as his stuttering, desperate lament in Act Three prior to his death. Other character parts were convincingly taken by Christopher Gillet as the faithful shepherd Eumete (who proves a trusty guide to Ulisse); Daniela Lehner’s suitably vulnerable L’Umana Fragilita (Human Frailty); and Elizabeth Watts, powerful and commanding as Minerva, and making particularly jibing and hectoring braying sounds when disguised as a shepherd. . .
"Having singled out these performances, it is fair to say that the cast cohered excellently, which is to give as much credit to the unfussy staging, paralleling the directness of Monteverdi’s score, where verbal clarity and emotional and psychological truth serve as the guiding principles rather than musical effects in themselves. The AAM’s contribution, however, was not routine, but drove the production with an ideal dramatic pace, and offered a wide palette of instrumental colour despite the small ensemble used (a dozen players). Richard Egarr’s lead from the harpsichord was conspicuously animated. Notable episodes were the raw, rumbustious interlude in Act Two as the suitors appear, and the unearthly prelude to the appearance of the gods’ realm in Act Three.
"A successful conclusion to this Monteverdi series, then, and a full house demonstrated the appetite that exists, even in a concert hall, for the exploration of 17th-century opera. Perhaps this will be a spur to the exposure of other repertoire which has lain in the overlooked historical period between Monteverdi and Handel.
Tuesday 11 August 2015
Gardner conducts Mendelssohn
at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart
"Was that really the Academy of Ancient Music, playing so roughly, almost raucously at
times, in Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony on Sunday? Yes, it was, and it was
"The Academy, a period instrument band, was founded in London in 1973 by
Christopher Hogwood, one of the purest of early music purists, who died in September,
and it pioneered a streamlined, polite style of performance that came to dominate the
British antiquarian scene for a time. Richard Egarr, a harpsichordist and conductor of
more volatile temperament, is the current music director.
"But on Sunday afternoon, it was the English maestro Edward Gardner leading the
orchestra in a program of Mendelssohn at Alice Tully Hall as part of the Mostly Mozart
Festival, and he elicited real electricity in the playing. In the symphony and another
Scottish themed work, Mendelssohn’s moody concert overture “The Hebrides,” Mr
Gardner — who had also conducted two concerts by the Mostly Mozart Festival
Orchestra over the weekend — challenged the Academy players with fast tempos, and
they responded with hard driving performances vividly evoking turbulent seas and
"But there were also moments of great delicacy, as with the evanescent pizzicatos at
the end of the symphony’s Vivace non troppo movement, a quintessential Mendelssohn
scherzo in all but name.
"Virtuosity was rife in the playing, especially that of the clarinetist Katherine
Spencer and the timpanist Benedict Hoffnung, though Mr. Gardner’s constant risks
exacted an occasional toll in the symphony. The French horns, in particular, seemed a
little too casual in their approach to pitch, but the performance was everywhere
atmospheric and exciting.
"Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, with the Russian-born Alina Ibragimova as soloist,
afforded an opportunity for the Academy to display some of its old polish, too, and it did
so handsomely. But first there was the question of how well Ms Ibragimova and her
instrument, so persuasive in a festival performance of sonatas by Prokofiev just days
before, would mesh with the style and instruments of the Academy.
"Period performance is to some degree relative. So called modern instruments are
often — as with the Anselmo Bellosio violin Ms. Ibragimova plays, from about 1775 —
old instruments fitted out with modern trappings: chin-rests, steel strings and the like.
So for the Mendelssohn performance, it may have been a simple matter for Ms
Ibragimova to turn her violin into a so called period instrument, or something close.
"She used gut strings instead of steel and wielded a lighter bow.
As for the changing pitch standards of Mendelssohn’s era, she and the orchestra
settled on an A of 430 cycles a second, below the modern standard (440) but well above
generally accepted Baroque pitch (415). The rest was up to Ms Ibragimova and her
"She did her part beautifully, with consistent purity of tone and utter ease of motion,
sounding every bit as comfortable with Mendelssohn as she had with Prokofiev. And Mr
Gardner, who is the outgoing music director of the English National Opera, proved as
fine an accompanist as you would have expected.
"The ovation at the end of the afternoon was suitably raucous, but alas, it produced
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Saturday 11 July 2015
Gardner conducts Mendelssohn
at the Cheltenham Music Festival
"Two weekends ago Alina Ibragimova was playing the Mendelssohn Concerto in the Bavarian town of Bad Kissingen. Last weekend the violinist performed it in another spa town during the concluding concert of this year's Cheltenham Music Festival.
"Her collaborators this time were the Academy of Ancient Music, clattering natural brass and timpani punctuating sinewy strings delivering just a tinge of vibrato to create a taut, dynamic context which stripped this much-played work of every veneer of over-romanticisation.
"Instead Ibragimova gave us a highly physical account, yet not without its oases of deep reflection. Here there was poignancy as well as Mendelssohn's specified passion, and conductor Edward Gardner empathised totally, relishing the diverse character of the period woodwind instruments, not least in Ibragimova's smilingly busy finale. What a joy this was.
"And the woodwinds had been much to the fore in the Hebrides Overture opening this all-Mendelssohn programme, one highlight being the absolutely wonderful clarinet solo in the recapitulation's second subject.
"Mendelssohn's Symphony no.3, the 'Scottish', is in my book his greatest (and my Chandos CD of Mendelssohn-expert Gardner conducting the CBSO in this fabulous work is almost worn-out with repeated playing). It has profundity, colour, atmosphere, and a structural strength which is not without its own surprises.
"Its reading here was compelling and dramatic. Horns rasped nobly amidst an orchestra which responded enthusiastically to a work which Gardner unfolded with a glad awareness of its magnificence. Both Wagner and Mahler were to learn from it, though I doubt either of them were ever aware of their subconscious debt." ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Thursday 14 May 2015
Venice and the Mediterranean at Milton Court Concert Hall, London
"Fusion between Christian Venice and the Ottoman east started up at least as early as the 15th century . . . So what Egyptian-born oud (read oriental lute) player Joseph Tawadros and that febrile Australian Richard Tognetti with members of the Academy of Ancient Music in cheerful tow were trying to do last night had honourable precedents. Their vibrant mix turned out to be exactly the sort of high level east-west happening not on the programme of this year’s Proms.
"Tognetti’s Vivaldi sometimes bent the vibrant master’s concertos to eastern modes, and even brought in Tawadros – with whom he’s already worked in an Australian Chamber Orchestra concert – to double his line in 'Summer' from an interestingly dispersed Four Seasons. The real revelation, though, was to hear in the oud player’s compositions a rhythmic élan complementing the Venetian’s ancient airs and dances . . .
"The main revelation was to hear Tognetti get his international team of string players to loosen up and fiddle furiously in the unison style of those eastern orchestras which anyone who’s travelled in a bus through the Middle East and been fed them non-stop through the loudspeaker system will have indelibly fixed in the mind . . .
"Predictably, Tognetti applied plenty of improvisatory freedom to the four staggered seasons, encouraging others to follow suit – the weirdest result being the Gothic harpsichord doodlings beneath the frozen chords of the central movement in 'Autumn'. Perhaps I have too much of the grand manner of Nigel Kennedy and, more recently, the revelatory Alexander Sitkovetsky in my head to tune in to Tognetti’s more ethereal and not always pitch-perfect upper register flights, and the legato smoothing of some of Vivaldi’s dances took some adjustment. But in wild Middle Eastern oscillations, Tognetti and his fellow strings were totally idiomatic. That’s another achievement to chalk up for this adventurous band." ★ ★ ★ ★
THE ARTS DESK
Friday 03 April 2015
JS Bach's St Matthew Passion (1727)
at Barbican Hall, London
"Interpretatively, Egarr is vivid, at times unsparing. The Passion narrative, dominated by James Gilchrist’s intense, effortless Evangelist and Matthew Rose’s beautifully sung, authoritative Jesus, flowed tensely into the choruses and chorales, while the arias formed a sequence of heightened emotional responses, immediate rather than meditative, to unfolding events ... the Choir of the AAM sang with refined fervour throughout. Orchestrally, it was impeccable." ★ ★ ★ ★
Monday 23 February 2015
Bojan Čičić directs Bach at the Assembly Rooms, Bath
"Now in the fourth year since its re-establishment, Bath’s Bachfest continues to flourish, with the programming making it all the more rewarding. In the Academy of Ancient Music’s concert, Bojan Čičić and Rebecca Livermore were the engaging soloists in Bach’s D minor Concerto for Two Violins, BWV 1043. Čičić was then joined by flautist Rachel Brown and harpsichordist Nicholas Parle in the Triple Concerto in A minor, BWV 1044, whose final movement vies with the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto for virtuosity. Tellingly contrasted were the Suite No.3 in D, BWV 1068 – famous for its Air and unassumingly delivered here – and the Overture in G minor, once attributed to JS Bach, but possibly the work of his son Wilhelm Friedemann. Contrapuntal writing was evident, but it was the hallmarks of the new galant style – resolutely avoided by Bach senior – that revealed the gulf between the two generations. ★ ★ ★ ★"
Thursday 05 February 2015
Mozart Piano concertos at Barbican Hall, London
"There may never have been an unremarkable year in Mozart's short life, but 1786 stands out as one most astounding, as this concert by the Academy of Ancient Music with Robert Levin reminded us ... Levin allowed the piano to sing ... He managed the piano's light exchanges with the orchestra beautifully ... This performance became not about the period instruments themselves, but about what the instruments revealed in the music. ★ ★ ★ ★"
Saturday 31 January 2015
Mozart's Piano concertos at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
"This all-Mozart programme was particularly fitting, arriving in Birmingham two days after the composer’s birthday, and there was no danger of boredom setting in with performances as delightfully enjoyable as these from Robert Levin and the Academy of Ancient Music . . .
Levin clearly delights in performing the works of a composer he is so immersed in the scholarship of. He positively bounded onto the stage and was rarely to be seen without a smile at this or that detail in the music. In the overture and symphony, he was no mere time-beater. Rather he would thrust and parry with his bare fists, draw phrases in the air and generally 'throw shapes'. While this was most entertaining to behold, the real action was taking place in the orchestra. The AAM fielded just twelve violinists with first and second violins seated opposite one another across the front of the stage. This music demands such an arrangement and Levin pointed up all Mozart’s interesting second violin lines wherever they featured in the music. The small ensemble size enabled the woodwind players to be seated much further forward thereby ensuring their parity with the strings in the proceedings. These were all works in which Mozart made soloists of the woodwind principals and their sublime contributions were always clearly audible in contrast with many a modern instrument orchestra performance . . . ★ ★ ★ ★"
Wednesday 10 December 2014
Handel's Messiah at Barbican Hall, London
"Egarr’s interpretation is primarily devotional, offsetting the music’s expressive range with a certain rigour, even severity. Handel repeatedly tinkered with the score and never produced a definitive text. Orchestrally, Egarr kept it simple, approximating the forces used for the 1742 Dublin premiere — a handful of strings, trumpets and drums, with a single bassoon to prop the bass line ...
Vocally, much of it was remarkable. The choir of the AAM sang with focused clarity throughout: the counterpoint was wonderfully precise and their diction exceptional. There was a fine quartet of soloists. Robert Murray was the elegant tenor, Stephan Loges the charismatic, dark-voiced bass. Particularly outstanding, however, were soprano Ailish Tynan and counter-tenor Tim Mead. Her ardour perfectly balanced his controlled, authoritative hauteur. The duet 'He shall feed his flock', in which the soprano takes over the alto line and lifts it heavenwards, was breathtaking. ★ ★ ★ ★"
Saturday 08 November 2014
JS Bach's Orchestral Suites
On tour in North America (Washington DC)
"The Academy of Ancient Music, one of Britain’s foremost early-music groups, gave a splendid concert Saturday night at Strathmore under the direction of harpsichordist Richard Egarr … Unfair as it may be to single anyone out, the extended flute solos of the second Suite were brilliantly played by Rachel Brown. Cellist Jonathan Rees was a particularly sensitive continuo player, and violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk gave beautiful shape and contour to the third Suite’s famous 'Air'. The Academy’s trio of baroque trumpeters — Richard Fomison, Richard Thomas and Tim Hayward — played with great refinement and a combined sound of pure gold."
THE WASHINGTON POST
Friday 07 November 2014
JS Bach's Orchestral Suites
On tour in North America (Carnegie Hall, New York)
"Although there is variety in the Suites’ dance movements, they can start sounding the same. This wasn’t a problem here. Each movement had its own colouring, enhanced by the fact that with a small ensemble no one instrument can overpower the soloist. Egarr, playing from the keyboard (as support for the basso continuo), kept a moderate pace throughout and was clearly well-attuned to the Suites’ nuances."
SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL
"These performances were revelatory in many ways. The AAM’s single-player approach enabled each part to be heard with clarity, and allowed the musicians flexibility. The first-violin parts were performed brilliantly by Pavlo Beznosiuk. His nuanced playing demonstrated a sure grasp of the baroque idiom, not least regarding ornamentation and counterpoint ... Rachel Brown was outstanding in the B minor Suite, projecting a plaintive sound in the Sarabande and tossed off with ease rapid passages, not least the leaping figures of the concluding Badinerie ... Throughout, Egarr, directing from the harpsichord, did a fine job both of maintaining balance and in setting tempos that did not race, but rather allowed the music to unfold at a pace that made listening a real pleasure."
Thursday 16 October 2014
The Grand Tour: Handel in London
at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge
"If the austere name of the 'Academy of Ancient Music' sounds off-putting and highbrow, think again. Under the direction of the breezy, curly-headed Richard Egarr, the orchestra’s opening season concert gifted a Cambridge audience with two hours of non-stop joyous music-making care of Handel, Boyce and Arne. It was an onslaught of melody brought to us by a crackingly good band able to rub up 250-year-old compositions and make them shine like new."
Saturday 04 October 2014
Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea at Barbican Hall, London
"Directing the instrumentalists of the Academy of Ancient Music, Robert Howarth created a ceaseless flow of recitative, arias, duets, trios and laments, forming exciting contrasts. As Monteverdi’s formal arrangements constantly evolved, Howarth’s flexible control of tempo perfectly reflected the score’s changeability of mood.
Throughout the performance, the capacity audience was held transfixed, unmoving and utterly captivated. The 17th century aspiration to speak to the passions of men — and to depict the human reality of those passions in conflict — was wonderfully fulfilled."
"This was a joy of an evening. Underpinning it all were the delicate tempo-relations and foot-stamping attack of the AAM, directed from the harpsichord by Robert Howarth. This was a wonderful performance."
THE ARTS DESK
"Robert Howarth’s lead from the keyboard was consistently lively and dramatic. The rest of the instrumental support was lithe and efficient. This was a forthright and unflinching interpretation of a drama which deals as much with political machinations as the affairs of the heart. In the season of party-political conferences, a reminder of the manoeuvrings behind the closed doors of power was salutary."
"Monteverdi’s score segues seamlessly between the venal and the venereal, an aspect handled with consummate subtlety in this fluently conducted performance under Robert Howarth. His ensemble consisted of only 11 players, but it was enough to differentiate between the intimate sensuality of harp and theorbos and the more forceful tuttis. Lynne Dawson’s ravishing final duet with Sarah Connolly’s Nero was a highlight and Connolly sang with her customary style and panache. ★ ★ ★ ★"
LONDON EVENING STANDARD
Tuesday 29 July 2014
Bach's Mass in B minor at the Three Choirs Festival, Worcester Cathedral (July 2014)
"Few will dispute that the Mass contains much of Bach’s best music, some of it recycled from earlier compositions which had found favour with the public. And in Worcester Cathedral, despite the afternoon heat, it was given the best of performances by the cathedral choirs of Worcester, Hereford and Gloucester – professionals to a man or boy – supported by the superb Academy of Ancient Music with Peter Nardone, artistic director of the Festival, on the conductor’s rostrum."
SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL
Wednesday 28 May 2014
Celebrating JS Bach in Milton Court, London (May 2014)
"The programme was framed by two of the orchestral suites, for which Egarr, at the harpsichord, was the engine powering a spirited group of players. The strings were only one to a part – there were more trumpeters than violinists. But if the strings were in danger of being overwhelmed at times, those moments were fleeting. It helped that the natural trumpets, not usually the most subtle of instruments, were played extraordinarily well."
Monday 24 February 2014
Tognetti directs the AAM at the Assembly Rooms, Bath (February 2014)
"Tognetti's name sits comfortably alongside the likes of Torelli, Veracini and Vivaldi, whose influence was core to the Dresden aesthetic and, in terms of technique, he is up there in the highest league. In this Bath Bachfest concert, interest also focused on his debut as guest director of the Academy of Ancient Music, baroque specialists in their own right."
Wednesday 18 December 2013
Handel's Messiah in Barbican Hall, London (December 2013)
"Christmas performances of Handel's oratorio come in many shapes and sizes, from a substantial modern orchestra accompanying 500 voices at the Royal Albert Hall to this more modest version with just 20 members of the period-instrument Academy of Ancient Music backing the 21 vocalists of the ensemble's attendant choir, all conducted by Bernard Labadie. Yet in the warm Barbican acoustic, the sounds they produced felt not just adequate, but close to ideal."
"In a performance of wonderful musical intensity and great beauty, let us start at the end. After the Georgian triumphalism of Worthy is the Lamb, the Amen chorus opened with disarming simplicity and calm, no sense of haste or grandeur. It was as if we had not only reached the end of the work, but the end of all things; the story had been told and everything had been accomplished. It was a spiritually brilliant and utterly compelling conclusion to an evening of wonders."
Sunday 24 November 2013
Purcell, Handel and Arne with Anna Prohaska in Milton Court, London (November 2013)
"A sequence of instrumental and vocal numbers from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (1692) brought all the performers together. Similarly to Prohaska, the AAM showed nimble variety, switching between a stately opening ‘Air’, a dainty dance for the Fairies, and jauntier items for the Green Men and the Haymakers, plus a ‘Monkeys’ Dance’. The vocal highlight was ‘The Plaint’, in which Prohaska’s mournful melodies were closely imitated by the solo oboe. In ‘See, see, even the Night herself is here’ the still and steady unfolding of the tune in the upper strings equally well evoked the monotony of the hours of darkness as well as the text’s murmuring streams and pleasing dreams. Prohaska’s seamless, silvery lines interwove with these instrumental textures magically."
Monday 18 November 2013
English baroque on tour in Australia — Sydney (November 2013)
"It took a little getting used to at first, seeing the 15 musicians of the Academy of Ancient Music trooping onto the City Recital Hall stage decked out in full tails. Somehow one has come to expect a little less formality in period instrument performances. It took very little time, however, to realise we were in the presence of early music royalty and so if the atmosphere was more Royal Ascot than brown rice all was pretty much as it should be.
"Leading harpsichordist and conductor Richard Egarr was our genial host, regaling us with useful information (and the odd anecdote) in an engaging and light-hearted manner. We were warned, for example, of the “thorny counterpoint” that we might expect from Matthew Locke’s suite from The Tempest. The warning proved unnecessary I’m pleased to say as the orchestra launched into an evening of highly attractive music played with enormous style. The AAM are impeccable of intonation (which cannot be said of all such bands) and very, very stylish. Ornamentation is effortless and executed with precision and a sense of total ensemble. Nowhere was that more evident than in Locke’s Curtain Tune representing the tempest itself where string tone was deployed with great colour to depict the surging, watery musical lines.
"Of course, no-one does ‘entertainment’ in this period quite like Henry Purcell – the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day (no offence to Purcell intended). The suite of songs and dances from his most spectacular stage work, The Fairy Queen, sparkled from the off and, with an added bassoon and trumpet, featured dances for monkeys, green men and the titular sprites."
English baroque on tour in Australia — Melbourne (November 2013)
"Opening the program was 17th-century English theatre music united thematically by texts from Shakespeare. Matthew Locke's instrumental music from The Tempest defies stylistic preconceptions of the Baroque featuring some strange and unsettling harmonies, wandering melodic lines and curious dissonance.
A suite from Purcell's The Fairy Queen featured arias from Macliver interspersed with jaunty instrumental dances. Macliver's gentle characterisation of "When I Have Often Heard" was well suited, but best was the restraint of the moving The Plaint ("O let me weep") and "See, Even Night Herself is Here".
Thomas Arne's brief overture No. 6 in B flat major and the sinfonia from Handel's Saul demonstrated the band's performance style through fast bow, antiphonal entries, slowly resolving dissonance, sharp ensemble that retains degrees of freedom internally and a marvellous, often playful energy."
THE AGE, MELBOURNE
Tuesday 12 November 2013
English baroque on tour in Australia — Sydney (November 2013)
"Harpsichordist Richard Egarr, the academy's current director, brings outstanding and serene musicianship to their music making that shows that the historical lessons of Hogwood's generation have been absorbed and sublimated and overzealous historicism has been resisted.
"This program, featuring the pristine transparency of Sara Macliver's singing, returned to the academy's heartland, the clarity and comeliness of the English Baroque.
"And what a glorious mastery over these sometimes-troublesome instruments the musicians display!
"The Plaint, from an extended suit of music from Purcell's The Fairy Queen, follows the model of tragic lament for female voice over a repeated bass found most famously in the same composer's Dido and Aeneas.
"Macliver's interrupted phrases had haunting beauty as she touched the echoing, most resonant notes of her range, the sense of desolation almost over-basted. Baroque oboist Frank de Bruine added stylised lamenting sighs with a light woody sound of delicate glow and the whole blended together in a memorable texture of translucent expressiveness."
THE AGE, SYDNEY
Friday 08 November 2013
English baroque on tour in Australia — Adelaide (November 2013)
"Period instruments, obviously very good ones, played with minimum vibrato, but still producing surprisingly bulky, vigorous and warm sound. Dynamics? Not too fussed about rules, but letting the music determine its own levels. Elegant phrasing.
"Though their prowess was made clear in their instrumental items by Locke (Instrumental Suite from The Tempest), Purcell (dances from The Fairy Queen) Arne (Overture no 6 in B flat major) and Handel (Sinfonia from Saul), they were at their most expressive and most technically impressive when accompanying.
"Sara Macliver was born to sing the baroque. Her voice is that of a grown-up boy soprano, pure, strong, flexible as a rubber band, with the merest trace of tremolo but never a wobble - technically though a fully mature artist with enviable reserves of breath.
"Her expressive range goes from here to everywhere, her ornaments - fluttering trills - used with discrimination. "Oh let me weep", she begged plaintively with oboes in close attendance, then raged furiously, threatening vengeance as Handel's sorceress Melissa.
"And for a truly grand finale, the ecstatic Let the Bright Seraphim, with David Blackadder blowing the loud uplifted angel-trumpet - triumph epitomised in music."
"How AAM presently rates under Richard Egarr, who succeeded Hogwood in 2006, is clear the moment this band puts bow to gut string in its current, English-themed Musica Viva concert tour."
"The playing has an intriguing relaxed but energised grace that contrasts with the hyper excitability of some period instrument bands. Matthew Locke's pint-sized instrumental pieces for Thomas Shadwell's version of The Tempest were gorgeously smooth - to the point where one could hardly distinguish individual instruments - but rhythmically scintillating. Egarr is a brilliant director who supplies much of the academy's creative edge."
"A powerhouse of a harpsichordist, he conducts from the keyboard with big, vigorous gestures that sweep up his players and propel the music forward. Yet everything is immaculately well mannered. Not one note in the Locke was forced or strained."
"The other big revelation in this concert is the singing of Perth soprano Sara Macliver. Excerpts from Purcell's The Fairy Queen showed she is easily the equal of this band. It really seemed that she was born to sing with them."
Monday 28 October 2013
Alina Ibragimova plays Haydn and Mozart in Milton Court Concert Hall, Barbican (October 2013)
"The pieces performed generally represented the more playful side of the two composers’ output although that does not mean they were any lighter or less accomplished than their most soul searching works. With outstanding violinist Alina Ibragimova as the soloist and director for the concertos, and Pavlo Beznosiuk directing the symphonies as the violin leader, the AAM took instantly to the excellent acoustic of this new concert venue to generate a remarkable and uplifting evening."
Saturday 28 September 2013
Monteverdi L'Orfeo in Barbican Hall, London (September 2013)
"I have witnessed something extraordinary. Four hundred years after it was commissioned by the Duke of Mantua, Monteverdi’s Orfeo - the first surviving work worthy of the epithet “opera” was presented at the Barbican as verismo; and, more to the point, it worked... Hearing the Academy of Ancient Music under its musical director, Richard Egarr and the emotional intensity and narrative clarity with which the singers delivered this favola in musica, the sheer innovative genius of Monteverdi was revealed in all its glory."
"When I interviewed him in 2008, John Mark Ainsley told me he thought he had done everything he could with Monteverdi’s Orfeo and wouldn’t be undertaking it again. How delighted I am that he has recanted, because this performance by the Academy of Ancient Music showed that he has enriched and deepened his interpretation further, both in his rendering of the music’s rhythmic subtleties and his perception of the character’s tragic journey... He was worthily framed by a crack team of superb baroque stylists, among whom Thomas Hobbs and Daniela Lehner stood out for clean tone and elegant phrasing. The chorus shone gloriously in the great madrigals, and Richard Egarr led the band of the AAM in playing of irresistible colour and exuberance."
"The Academy of Ancient Music began life as “a refugee operation for period-instrument players”, in the words of its founder Christopher Hogwood. Forty years on, and 300 recordings later, it’s a leader in the field, especially when it comes to innovative historic collaborations: it was the AAM that played Handel afloat at the Thames Jubilee pageant last year, and which brought the sound world of Vermeer to vivid life at London’s National Gallery this summer. Now under the inspired leadership of Richard Egarr, the band kicked off its 40th-anniversary season with a bold new concert staging of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo at the Barbican, where it is an associate ensemble."
THE FINANCIAL TIMES
"This is the 40th anniversary year of the Academy of Ancient Music, and it’s such a privilege to know that this wonderful orchestra has been growing in musical stature as its audience has been growing in understanding of this repertoire. Richard Egarr directed a gloriously authentic performance, the dances the very apotheosis of joyful movement (shame there was none to be seen) and the ‘arias’ accompanied with loving skill, shaping the singers’ utterances with complete naturalness. Every section shone, and the AAM Choir sang with crystalline clarity"
"Richard Egarr's direction of the Academy of Ancient Music orchestra is energetic and large scale, an approach announced in the magnificent opening fanfare which here didn't so much dance as march into action. The continuo accompaniment is tasteful and varied, if not quite as colourful as seems to be the fashion in some French baroque ensembles. Orchestral playing is unerringly excellent, supporting the singers as gracious equals and Egarr doesn't underline anything - the sighing beauty of the string and woodwind lines, and the blaring majesty of the brass is left to speak for itself."
Saturday 20 July 2013
Handel and Corelli at the BBC Proms, Cadogan Hall (July 2013)
"Although accomplished and distinctive pieces in their own right, the selected items were revealing in demonstrating the sources from which Handel developed his own fluent style in melody, grounded upon harmonic sequences that are vibrant and almost physiologically compelling. Once cultivated, it was a style Handel was to maintain for the rest of his creative life, and substantively he drew upon the considerable body of vocal music (mainly cantatas) that he wrote in the short space of the three years he spent in Italy by recycling music in his later operas and oratorios."
"Most striking about the Academy of Ancient Music’s playing is its neatness: every phrase is so precisely shaped, so clean. Presumably this is down to impeccable preparation as well as an intrinsic feeling in the group for how Baroque music should sound. But their playing also sounds fresh, new, surprising. In lesser hands, their rather uniform repertoire of Handel and similar Baroque composers might get a little tedious, but the AAM find a way to bring it all to life, with the infectious, bookish enthusiasm of a favourite university lecturer."
"Interspersed between the Cantatas were tiny oddities for harpsichord duet by Pasquini, performed here (on a rather extraordinary push-me-pull-you double harpsichord) with characteristic flourish by Egarr and Alastair Ross. These vivid morsels set in relief the more sustained and swooning virtuosics of some of Corelli’s Op. 6 Concerti Grossi, unaccountably getting their first ever outing at the Proms. The Concerto in F major Op. 6 No 12 opens with one of the most glorious suspension sequences of the period, and the Academy of Ancient music gave it their all."
THE ARTS DESK
Sunday 23 June 2013
Vivaldi's The Four Seasons in Hong Kong (June 2013)
"With only sixteen players including the soloist – far bigger than a chamber ensemble but only a fraction of a standard orchestra – the Academy was destined to make the evening intimate and relaxed, and the archlute added a tinge of lightness to the continuo. For Baroque composers, the role of the soloist was less prominent and assertive than for Romantic composers, perhaps even for those in the Classical period. Director and violin soloist of the evening, Pavlo Beznosiuk, played this primus inter pares role well. Clearly calling the shots on tempo and emphasis, he communicated with the rest of the orchestra with no more than gentle nods and swaying of the body."
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Vivaldi, Handel and Purcell in Seoul Arts Centre, South Korea (June 2013)
"Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is one of the most familiar classical music pieces here ― it is the default ringback tone for mobile phone users and one of the most frequently suggested pieces for novices. As such, it has lost freshness for many people due to its overexposure. But in Tuesday’s Academy of Ancient Music’s concert, the Italian composer’s 292-year-old piece was reincarnated into a more classical yet somehow softer, vibrant, light-hearted and romantic serenade to the changing seasons.
"Outside the concert hall the rain fell, with people scurrying to escape the downpour. But inside, the air was filled with romance, warmth and comfort, an aura in which the Baroque-era upper class might have cherished the music. "
THE KOREA HERALD
Thursday 25 April 2013
Scholl sings Handel, Haydn and Mozart in National Concert Hall, Dublin (April 2013)
"Mozart's 'duck and dive' Finale finds the orchestra responding with impeccable precision to Egarr's direction in presenting the good-humoured music with elfin sprightliness in its galloping gait...
"The evening's other soloist is the German countertenor Andreas Scholl. Scholl's voice, wonderfully controlled, has a kind of porcelain fragility in Mozart's 'Abendempfidung' and 'Das Veilchen' lieder, which Richard Egarr supports with cobweb fortepiano tracery."
Friday 29 March 2013
JS Bach's St John Passion in Barbican Hall, London (March 2013)
"Having sat stunned and weepy for a good few minutes at the end of this performance, I’m happy to evangelise and proclaim that no better team could be assembled anywhere for the original 1724 version of this world-changing musical Passion... All Good Friday boxes sublimely ticked, then: pity, terror, consolation, even a dash of anticipatory joy. The fireworks of Easter can only seem tawdry by comparison."
THE ARTS DESK
"A chance to hear the Academy of Ancient Music performing the St John Passion with an ensemble of top soloists is surely hard to better; given an impeccable period orchestra, sterling chorus, and a group of soloists headed by the indomitable Evangelist of James Gilchrist and the wonderful Sarah Connolly, one knew even before the first note was played that this was liable to be an exceptional start to any Easter weekend. And so it proved."
"The AAM, under the directorship of Richard Egarr is as good an orchestra as any modern ensemble, and when in force, as for the Passion, there is no taint of the fuddy duddy image which can linger around ‘early music’ groups. This is no bunch of self congratulatory musicians, playing metronomically, but rather are a force to be reckoned with. Bach may not have written opera – but in the hands of the AAM this is a close as it gets."
Tuesday 26 March 2013
JS Bach's St Matthew Passion in King's College Chapel, Cambridge (25 March 2013)
"Last night’s performance of Bach’s great masterpiece in King’s College chapel was about as honest a rendition as I can remember, one that spoke to its audience with open-eyed wonder and amazement at the music being performed and at the scenes being acted out.
"On stage was a heady combination of innocence and experience, of freshness and maturity. It was intensely moving and entirely unforgettable."
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
"Standing out amid countless seasonal performances of Bach’s Passions, the St Matthew Passion that opened this year’s “Easter at King’s” festival in Cambridge boasted some unbeatable attributes. Most eye-catchingly, of course, there was King’s College Chapel as backdrop. But with its peerless choir providing the musical backbone, a mostly outstanding team of soloists was able to shine under the baton of Stephen Cleobury."
Monday 25 February 2013
JS Bach's Orchestral Suites at Bath Bachfest (February 2013)
"After a discussion between Mohr-Pietsch and Beznosiuk on the characteristics of the different dances employed in the suites (the rondo… “energetic, earthy,” sarabande… “the speed changed in the 17th century when Louis XIV got fatter and slower,” the polonaise… “a characteristic kick on the second beat,” the menuet… “we all know that one, or think we do…”), flutist Rachel Brown joined the ensemble for Suite No 2 in B minor (BWV 1067).
"As well as the intimacy of sound that authentic instruments create, the Academy of Ancient Music play with a balance of tightness and looseness that the best jazz bands aspire to, and eye contact between the musicians was marked at all times. This was particularly noticeable with Brown herself, who kept constant eye contact with her fellow musicians and the audience."
"The director chose to play the fourth and third suites first and last respectively reflecting the larger forces used (trumpets, timpani, oboes and strings): this compared with the second and first suites played in between in that order (oboes, bassoons, strings and solo flute). This ensured the greatest contrast in the programme. The harpsichord provided the continuo. There is a great sense of joy about all four suites, although each is quite different, reflecting Bach’s glorious compositions of traditional dances (e.g. rondos, sarabandes, polonaises and menuets) which as Beznosiuk observed are probably all too complex for dancing."
THE EPOCH TIMES
"Was this a glimpse of Heaven? Four Bach suites, played by experts, linked by a continuing lively dialogue between a knowledgeable presenter, Sara Mohr-Pietsch, and the director of the academy, Pavlo Beznosiuk, accompanied by demonstrations of Bach's use of dance rhythms, harmonic complexity, and the incredible variety of his counterpoint. Music of transcendent genius, recreated with flair and authenticity."
THIS IS BATH
Wednesday 13 February 2013
JS Bach's Orchestral Suites at The Courtyard, Hereford (February 2013)
"Directed unobtrusively from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr, the music bounced with rhythmic verve as Bach interwove the simple dance forms with contrapuntal magic, or it moved us with sheer beauty of line as he unfolded his sublime melodies, none more so than in the celebrated Air in Suite No.3 (of G-string fame though it’s not actually on the G-string.) Virtuosity abounded throughout the ensemble, whether expressed in the impeccable, crack-free utterances of the ‘natural’ valve-less trumpets, the delicate bowing of gut strings, or the stunningly agile cross-fingering of the almost key-less woodwind, revealed at its best in the solo lines of flautist Rachel Brown and bassoonist Ursula Leveaux, which were allowed just the right amount of prominence."
Tuesday 12 February 2013
JS Bach's Orchestral Suites at Turner Sims, Southampton (February 2013)
"The AAM again brought out the character of each dance, the one instrument on each part listening to the others and blending perfectly. As period performance ensembles go, this was out of the top draw – a well-structured programme played in an unpretentious style. With a relaxed presence on stage, standing around the harpsichord – where Richard Egarr is as much a part of the ensemble as its director – the AAM made each work sound easy. But most importantly, they shone a powerful light on the many moods of Bach’s Orchestral Suites, as, it seems, Bach himself would have heard them."
Wednesday 30 January 2013
JS Bach's St Matthew Passion at Kings Place, London (January 2013)
"There was a lot of mutual admiration and interplay among the players of the Academy of Ancient Music too, as the small, double-orchestra forces rivalled and duetted. Bach as epic works well, but this was chamber music that was nimble and nuanced. Obbligato moments for flutes (a heady “Buss und Reu”), oboe, two different solo violins and of course the gut-tearing viola da gamba for “Komm susses Kreuz” were highlights.
"This Passion may have been out of season, but there’s something in the beautiful austerity of Bach’s writing that does lend itself so well to winter. A cold evening spent in the company of the AAM and King’s Choir may have been penitential, but it was in no way a penance."
THE ARTS DESK
Monday 19 November 2012
Handel and friends at the Foundling Museum, London (17 November 2012)
"A lively, well-organised tour of the Museum and its treasures and a no less vivid talk from Edward Blakeman on the great man as seen through the eyes of his contemporaries prefaced the AAM’s concert of trios and solo works by Handel and his friends, one of whom, Mattheson, was close enough a friend to fight Handel in a duel.
"It’s become easy to take the AAM for granted as its members guide their loyal audience into the spirit of the music they’re playing, and they make it seem so easy. These sonatas were a case in point, the programme book-ended by two swaggering Handel trios declaiming Baroque self-confidence with an almost Pickwickian assertiveness and putting into context the astonishing emotional range of the concert’s other composers."
Thursday 27 September 2012
Handel's royal music at the Barbican Hall, London (September 2012)
"The Academy of Ancient Music began what is being termed as its 'Association' at the Barbican Centre with a suitably pomp- and fanfare-filled concert of music by Handel. As well as marking the beginning of its residency, this concert also concluded the most high-profile summer in the ensemble’s forty-year history. Millions around the world watched the AAM perform Handel’s Water Music on the second of the musical barges at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
"That Christopher Hogwood’s band of early-music musicians, a curiosity that became a revolutionary force, should have obtained a residency at one of the most prominent concert venues is wonderful news.
"The long introduction to Zadok the Priest, music that is horribly well-known, was sweetly pastoral – quiet and very calm. The other Coronation Anthems were lovelier still, always understated rather than bombastic. Even the canon-fire drums in Music for the Royal Fireworks would not have upset the Georgian taste for poise and restraint. Throughout the evening, Egarr found malleable qualities in his musicians, bending them into well-graduated changes of mood and speed.
"The AAM will make a fantastic addition to the Barbican’s music programme, offering plump, vivacious, colourful interpretations as they move away from safe programmes and too-careful restraint. This was an encouraging start to an important partnership."
Sunday 29 July 2012
JS Bach's The Art of Fugue at the BBC Proms (July 2012)
"Two Cadogan Hall Proms deserve long mentions but must make do with short. Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani's arrangement of The Art of Fugue, premiered by Esfahani and members of the Academy of Ancient Music, made Bach's counterpoint glisten so brightly you could imagine — faint hope — you could comprehend its intricate workings."
Monday 23 July 2012
"It started conventionally enough, on harpsichord (Esfahani) but quickly diversified — and it was clear from the juggling on music stands of spare flaps of manuscript and different editions that this version was breaking new ground. It didn’t take long for the famous opening ‘contrapunctus’ subject that worms its way through the whole work and which is so freighted with potential to be taken up by other instruments; and Esfahani didn’t slavishly follow the work’s usual four-stave format into a sequence of four-instrument settings, frequently starting an entry with, say, an oboe, then handing the extension over to another instrument. There were frequent doublings to ratchet up emphasis and expression, with that slightly precarious early-music tuning for added piquancy, and passages of continuo-style support lending a bit of buoyancy."
Friday 08 June 2012
Handel's royal music at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
"For anyone looking to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with class and style (a packed Symphony Hall indicated that many were) Saturday’s concert by the Academy of Ancient Music ticked all the right boxes.
"Considering the programme (Handel’s Royal Music) and those involved it could hardly go wrong. Here was music perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the moment – the four Coronation Anthems, selections from the Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks, and two Messiah choruses – being performed by one of Europe’s leading period-instrument ensembles.
"Some purists might have taken issue with Richard Egarr’s semaphoric conducting instead of directing from the keyboard, and the 21-voice Choir of the AAM — surprisingly punchy considering its size — sang with more Received Pronunciation than the tangy accents of the 18th century; but in other respects it was deliciously authentic.
"Particularly impressive were the string players, who used virtually no vibrato but sensitive bowing to produce notes that blossomed and wilted like flowers. Woodwinds, as expected, added pungent colour and edge (the contrabassoon, not folded over like its modern counterpart, looked and sounded suitably monstrous); and valveless horns and trumpets rasped, brayed and bubbled (in the trills) with barely a split note between them.
"There was also a sense of fun, notably in the two suites when allegros flew and crackled, and the players clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves. The anthems, too, showed a remarkable level of eloquent singing and playing and sounded wonderfully uplifting.
"So, a good time for everyone, which will be repeated several times. For once Birmingham was first in line for this seven-concert European tour. London will have to wait until September.
Sunday 29 April 2012
Monteverdi and contemporaries with Jonathan Cohen at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (April 2012)
"UI was at the Academy of Ancient Music’s ‘Dawn of the Cantata’ concert last night in Cambridge. As so often when this group works with distinguished guest artists, it was really quite wonderful. Seeing the word ‘cantata’ in a concert title inevitably makes one think of Bach, but this was devoted to Italian works from the first half of the seventeenth century. Not music that’s usually on UI‘s radar, but entirely convincing. Miscellaneous arias and duets from Monteverdi – ‘Zefiro torna’, ‘Se vittorie sí belle’, ‘Ardo e scoprir’, and ‘Ohimé ch’io cado’ – and Cavalli’s ‘Restino imbalsamente’ accompanied the second scene of Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria and Il combattimento di Trancredi e Clorinda. ‘Orchestral’ works from such luminaries as Falconieri, Castello, Marini, and Zanetti were given as fillers, directed with gracious subtlety from the keyboards by Jonathan Cohen and played with the usual vim of AAM principals (even if the battalion of continuo players reverberated too much for West Road’s horrid acoustic). Cohen, indeed, directed with an unerring humility throughout the evening, his impressive pacing of the larger Monteverdi numbers in particular a highlight that few might have noticed.
"We had three soloists. Benjamin Hulett, a young tenor blessed with clarity, duetted for most of the evening with James Gilchrist, and their voices matched well. There were gorgeous open spaces in ‘Zefiro torna’, quivering anxieties at ‘E non temer’ in ‘Se vittore si belle’ (‘… do not fear the mortal wounds of love’s arrows’), and some fine word painting in ‘Ardo e scoprir’. Gilchrist was magnificent in Il combattimento, his shaping of the narrative timed well and the text delivered with such passion and diction that a translation was almost unnecessary, the emotions as clear as in Schubert.
"The star, though, was the bewitching soprano Anna Prohaska. This young lyric soprano du jour has already worked with Sir Simon Rattle, Claudio Abbado, Mariss Jansons, and even Daniel Barenboim, and one can easily see why. Committed to early music, Prohaska’s voice takes UI, at least, back to recordings of the golden age of singing – there is such colour and flexibility at her disposal, and extra power will surely come with time. Sensuous in these ditties of love, she was happy to push boundaries to inflect individual words with emotional power, but her ineffable control kept things from going too far. Her Melanto in Il ritorno was an all-too-brief triumph, her knowing resistance to flattery quickly eroded and her tone heading through pungency to lightness with an obvious delight in the opportunities presented by the Italian language. The nobility brought to Clorinda’s final transfiguration – ‘S’apre il ciel, io vado in pace’ – was shocking, so full in tone that the mere fact of the character’s death disappeared, as it should. It was the cap to an excellent concert."
Sunday 29 April 2012
Monteverdi and contemporaries with Jonathan Cohen at Wigmore Hall, London (April 2012)
"There are some musical compositions that have always been a bit of a gamble, for composers, performers and even listeners. They might be exceptionally difficult, require extraordinary forces, or show such originality as to be perpetually startling. Monteverdi’s dramatic madrigal Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda meets all three of these criteria, and perhaps it was the inclusion of this bizarre, remarkable work in the Academy of Ancient Music’s Dawn of the Cantata programme which made the concert such an exciting prospect to such a huge number of listeners – a sold-out Wigmore Hall and thousands of home listeners courtesy of BBC Radio 3’s live broadcast – not to mention the dozen or so performers involved.
"Doubtless, though, this excitement was due in a large part to these performers themselves. The Academy of Ancient Music is a period-instrument band that radiates pure enjoyment in its music-making: as unfussy, unpretentious and devoid-of-cobwebs a bunch of historical performance buffs as is likely to be found anywhere in the world. This essential spirit was communicated directly upon their entrance; hardly had their chairs been filled that we were launched into the joyous polyphony of Falconieri’s Ciaccona in G major, featuring a brilliant dialogue between virtuosic violinists Pavlo Beznosiuk and Bojan Čičić.
"No sooner had this opener come to a close than a funky, off-beat, slap-bass-like theorbo line led into the night’s first vocal number: a Monteverdian madrigal entitled ‘Zefiro torno’. Tenors Benjamin Hulett and James Gilchrist blended beautifully in their zephyrean, florid lines – now in harmony, now in antiphony – and both seemed perfectly in tune with the joyous spirit of the text, until an almost Romantic twist, surprising in its harmonic richness, left the singers mourning the poet’s loneliness and isolation. Another wonderfully expressive madrigal, ‘Se vittorie sì belle’, saw all performers emitting genuine happiness in their shared musical experience; this was particularly noticeable with keyboardist Jonathan Cohen, whose engagement with his fellow musicians was tangible in his bouncy, floppy-haired, youthfully enthusiastic direction of the ensemble.
"After another instrumental number, a Sonata à 4 by Dario Castello, which perhaps didn’t sparkle as brightly as the Falconieri, soprano Anna Prohaska joined the group for a scene from Cavalli’s opera La Calisto. If her copper-hued shift dress, jet-black sculpted hair and upper-arm bangles reminded me slightly of a sarcophagus, there was nothing mummified about her fresh, light voice, which trickled Cavalli’s notes delightfully over an enthralled audience. I did feel that perhaps she was a touch reserved in her expression; a musical trait that was displayed theatrically in the duet which closed the first half. Hulett’s Eurymachus seemed far keener on Melantho in a love scene from Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Prohaska remaining wisely distanced from his passionate outpourings. The vocal blend was once again exceptional, with both singers’ beautifully light, youthful voices coming together, like their characters’ love, in long, exquisite unisons which seeped outwards only to return to the final, softest of endings.
"Before the final showdown of the concert, we were treated to two further expositions of the excellence of the Academy’s instrumental ensemble, that transformed Marini’s simplistic Pastorello into a rich and beautiful work, through quietly, unobtrusively passionate and communicative playing. Zanetti’s rustic Salterello, a jolly-good-jaunt of a piece featuring a violin duet over a rhythmically united ensemble, provided an excellent link between Monteverdian madrigals. ‘Ohimé ch’io cado’ saw Prohaska showing both her cheeky and technical sides as she leaped between high and low registers with a perpetual energy underlined by the band.
"But the concert’s gamble was to come. Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, surely one of Monteverdi’s most bizarre pieces, is a tragic tale of love and war, part-recited by the tenor narrator, part-acted by the protagonists, and fully depicted by the ensemble. Monteverdi’s revolutionary writing sees entire sections of relentless, grating, repeated chords – representing war – contrasting strongly with beautiful lyrical sections – representing love.
"Above this incredible instrumental schizophrenia, James Gilchrist sang the part of the narrator with true passion, not to mention compassion. His richer, more mature voice contrasted with those of the young lovers Tancredi (Hulett) and Clorinda (Prohaska) – who mistake one another for warrior enemies and fight until Clorinda is slain – and his engagement with the music, words, and audience proved him to be a masterful musical storyteller. Fuelled by battle, touched by love, moved by pity: Gilchrist was truly magnificent in the scope and skill of his extraordinary recitation, and all in the hall could not fail to be swept away by his performance. Thus, the gamble proved to be the concert’s trump-card: thanks, that is, to Gilchrist’s emotive genius, Hulett’s and Prohaska’s beautiful naivety, and the Academy of Ancient Music’s energy, exuberance and downright excellence."
Thursday 01 March 2012
JS Bach, Biber and Vivaldi with Alina Ibragimova at Wigmore Hall, London (February 2012)
"The Academy of Ancient Music may be a grande dame among “period instrument” bands, but under Richard Egarr’s directorship it has spruced up its act. This season he’s had the bright idea of pairing a number of eye-catching themes with a glamorous guest soloist. On their current mini-tour, the theme is “The Rise of the Concerto”, and the guest is violinist Alina Ibragimova.
"Ibragimova is surely the most searching and intelligent of the current crop of 20-something violinists. She’s drawn to baroque concertos and a baroque style of playing, which might seem surprising. Her white-hot playing is too big to be contained by the proprieties of “period-instrument” performance. In fact the constraints of baroque performance style allow a different sort of passion to emerge, though it takes a while to register its quiet voice. Ibragimova’s tone was actually quite modest and vibrato, when it appeared, was a momentary swelling at the end of a long note.
"But what emotional fervour rose out of that plaintive, reedy sound. Vivaldi’s D major concerto fully lived up to its title: “The Unquiet One”. It launched with a wild movement that at times sounded like Balkan gipsy dance. It was thrilling, partly because Ibragimova often seemed as if she might run ahead of the tempo — but never did (this happened throughout the concert, and the complicit smiles between the band showed they were ready for it).
"In Bach’s A minor violin concerto, Ibragimova showed the ability to mould a phrase as if it were a piece of rhetoric. The sudden plunge in the bass, the hesitation in the phrase that followed, and the careful moulding of the repeating bass upbeat in the slow movement, all had a speaking eloquence.
"In no way was the band overshadowed; in fact the lovely Chopinesque left-hand anticipations of harpsichordist Alastair Ross, in Bach’s E major sonata for violin and harpsichord, was one of the evening’s highlights.
"But the most striking performance of all was the first, when Ibragimova was alone on the Wigmore stage.Her performance of Heinrich Biber’s G minor passacaglia began with wispy hesitancy, and was always pliant rather than forceful. But by the end it had taken on an epic breadth."
IVAN HEWETT / THE TELEGRAPH
Thursday 01 March 2012
"There is a segment of the concert-going public for whom all baroque music – or at least every Vivaldi concerto – sounds the same. There is another segment that can’t get enough of it, that sees, amid the structural rigidity, an unsurpassed intricacy and spirit. This concert, in which Alina Ibragimova directed the Academy of Ancient Music, gave the latter camp a mass of evidence to support its case. Yes, there was a pair of Vivaldi concertos but they were colourful and short, and Ibragimova’s programme, built round the nascent concerto form, revealed a welcome energy and diversity of expression.
"Each half included music by one of the backroom boys of the baroque: Salzburg composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. It was a bold idea to start the concert with his Passacaglia, in which the solo violin tricks us into hearing its own accompaniment. Later we heard the Battalia, a foretaste not only of Romantic programme music but of Modernist aleatoric techniques: each of the instrumental “soldiers” goes off to battle singing a different song, all out of tune. Ibragimova sallied down the aisle for this – not something you often see at the Wigmore.
"If that was a crowd-pleaser, so were the Vivaldi concertos, L’inquietudine and the double concerto in D minor from L’estro armonico, both transmitting the kick of an energy drink. Bach was represented by the Sonata in E major – a shamefully little-known dialogue for violin and harpsichord (the ultra-musical Alastair Ross) – and the familiar concertos in A minor and E major.
"An intelligently conceived package, then, which grew in intensity as Ibragimova’s pristine exterior began to melt. This was her debut as soloist/director and it showed. Stylistically she can’t hold a candle to Rachel Podger, the UK’s leading baroque violinist, but while this concert (part of a tour ending next week at Bury St Edmunds) may reveal her inexperience, she has at least shown that, with supportive colleagues, she can let go: the fast movements of L’inquietudine cast her as earth-spirit, leading her colleagues – and, at one remove, her audience – in a feverish dance."
ANDREW CLARK / FINANCIAL TIMES
Tuesday 28 February 2012
JS Bach, Biber and Vivaldi at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge with Alina Ibragimova (February 2012)
"The AAM is currently going through a phase of thematic and storyline programming, and why not: better that than endless unearthings of Gibbons or Stamitz. This one builds from Ibragimova standing alone through Biber’s challenging Passacaglia, to Bach concerti at the close of each half. Alina Ibragimova is a violinist of the highest order, easily straddling the supposed divide between period and modern performance and doing so with pizazz. On this evidence, she is also a nuanced and insightful director.
"The Bach concerti were of stunning quality. Heavily rehearsed but still fresh and improvisatory, these soloist-focussed works nevertheless managed to keep their chamber-like quality. In BWV 1041′s opening Allegro, contrapuntal lines came out strongly, passed merrily throughout the orchestra and with shards passing tantalisingly to and from Ibragimova. Bach’s concerti can be rather busy at times (including those for keyboard) as he melds his own style with the more demonstrative traits of Vivaldi, but the AAM’s strings kept their tone happily balanced between overly dry and overly zesty, keeping the textures as clear as one could realistically hope for, if a little staid in a rather lumbering accompaniment to Ibragimova’s jilted Andante. That said, Ibragimova revelled in Bach’s suspensions and harmonic clashes, particularly in some enjoyably horrid moments in the closing Allegro assai. Here fugal intrigue was capricious in the extreme – and at some speed too.
"The second Bach was even better, with Ibragimova coming to the fore less coyly. The Allegro was played with grounded freedom and fiery invention, subtly inflected phrasing balanced by attention to structure, and a teasing out of counterpoint. In the Adagio Ibragimova seemed completely lost in Bachian bliss, an angry passion allowed to smoulder by Rodolfo Richter’s reticent direction of the accompanying strings. The chasing phrasing at speed, the constantly shifting variation and off-kilter emphases of the Allegro assai were signs of baroque playing at its taut, pungent best. This was not monumental or profound Bach, but that is not what the music suggests (the E Major’s Andante aside). Instead, it was both fun and unerringly musical.
"Fun also characterised the Vivaldi concerti. More purely virtuosic than the Bach, the ‘L’inquietudine’ was given a showpiece treatment looking forward to Paganini and the like. The finale was at times scorchingly intense, the Larghetto embracing Vivaldi’s corkscrew effects with a tongue-in-cheek zeal. Joined by Richter and cellist Joseph Crouch, freshness was again amply evident for one of the concertante works from L’estro armonico, even if the purity of the slow Largo e spiccato inevitably paled next to aural memories of Bach’s transcription of the piece.
"Richard Egarr might have been proud of the humour employed for Biber’s Battalia, an otherwise irredeemable romp of a comic-book battle, which at one point features at least nine out-of-tune soldiers’ songs at the same time. Biber’s Passacaglia made one long to hear Ibragimova’s solo Bach, her massive but but never less than poignant tone rendering the composer’s rather long-winded iterations of a lamento theme almost entrancing. Technical skill was never in doubt, especially as whizzing rockets fired up in scales from the slow, low bass. Perhaps the only weak spot came in the Bach sonata, when we needed a little more personality from the harpsichord: it seemed a rendition in tension with itself, not sure whether to be a true duo or a solo vehicle. Still, the bigger Bach made such slight slips fully worthwhile."
Thursday 01 March 2012
JS Bach, Biber and Vivaldi with Alina Ibragimova at Bath Assembly Rooms (February 2012)
"Four notes. That’s all it took for Alina Ibragimova to entrance her audience in the first of Bath’s Bachfest concerts, the new heir to the city’s former Bath Bach Festival. As she began to play, there was an instant, magical hush in the audience; the glitter of the glass chandeliers seemed to blur into the background. By the end of the fiendish solo violin piece, it scarcely seemed surprising that one audience member uttered a breathless but clearly audible ‘wow’.
"JS Bach might be the raison d’etre of this two-day, three-concert series, but the four notes that the Russian violinist drew us in with weren’t from a work by him, but by the 17th-century violin virtuoso and composer Heinrich Biber. The simple four-note descending motif opens his magnificent, desolate Passacaglia, perhaps a model for Bach’s own famous D minor Chaconne for solo violin, and played here by Ibragimova with fearless technique and innocent wisdom.
"Bach’s Sonata in E for violin and harpsichord (Alastair Ross joined Ibragimova) drew softer colours, the violin flickering like candlelight. Ibragimova’s natural ease in this repertoire shone through, as it did too in the Bach A minor Concerto, for which she was joined by the outstanding Academy of Ancient Music, marking her debut with them as a soloist and director. Vivaldi’s L’inquietudine Concerto buzzed with restless energy; but even then the musicians seemed to find an extra ounce for the dizzying tempos of his D minor Concerto for two violins and cello, which also saw Rodolfo Richter and Joseph Crouch stepping into the spotlight.
"Biber’s tongue-in-cheek Battalia was pulled off with panache. Written in 1673, this eight-movement work often feels as if it’s slipped through time to the 20th century, with col legno bow-tapping, snap pizzicatos, a dissonant movement which finds the ‘dissolute company’ (Biber’s words) all doing their own musical thing, a prepared cello à la John Cage which provides a backdrop for a military fife player – the soloist, who, in this performance, decided to hop off the stage and take a wander around the audience.
"But it was back onto stage for the final number: another burst of E major Bach. At moments in the Concerto the tempos seemed on the edge of plausibility, but they never toppled over, and this was a performance of exquisite, lyrical joy. Ibragimova’s spontaneous smile at the end, so different from the fierce concentration with which she’d begun, seemed to echo the audience’s delight."
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE
Sunday 26 February 2012
"Making her debut as soloist/director with the AAM, Ibragimova's serene demeanour as always belied her cast-iron technique and her unerring ability to bring a freshness and spontaneity to the music. Comparing Bach's concertos with those of Vivaldi and offering Heinrich Biber as their starting point made for a revelatory sequence. Ibragimova began with Biber's solo G minor Passacaglia from his Rosary Sonatas, each note of the simple theme given an innocent intensity, with tension gradually built while pointing up the ever-more elaborate filigree patterning of the variations.
"Bach's E major Sonata, BWV 1016, with harpsichordist Alistair Ross, then served to further attune the ear to a denser texture and burgeoning technical complexities, so that the A minor Concerto, BWV 1041, could emerge in shimmering new light. The mercurial flow that Ibragimova brought to the phrasing, together with the translucent beauty of her tone-colours, made for a riveting experience and the purity of the Adagio in the E major concerto, BWV 1042, was simply sublime.
"Yet it was the fiery passion of Ibragimova's Vivaldi that captured the imagination most vividly: first in the Concerto in D minor RV 234, L'Inquietudine, and then with Rodolfo Richter and Joseph Crouch in the Concerto for two violins and cello, RV 565, all breathtaking stuff. Not everything was ethereal: Biber's Battaglia spelled down-to-earth humour, and the AAM revelled in the contrast."
Saturday 25 February 2012
JS Bach, Biber and Vivaldi with Alina Ibragimova at Dartington Hall (February 2012)
"A fascinating musical journey signalling the early development of the concerto marked the first collaboration between outstanding young Russian violinist, Alina Ibramigova, and the Academy of Ancient Music, and Alina’s first shot at directing a leading period-instrument orchestra.
"Opening with Biber’s fiendishly difficult Passacaglia for solo violin, it was clear that the packed audience was in for a special treat, which Bach’s E major Violin Sonata then confirmed, enhanced by some particularly sympathetic harpsichord accompaniment from Alastair Ross.
"Bach’s A minor Violin Concerto brought the full ensemble into play, with a superb performance which Alina clearly imbued with her own individual conception of the work. Vivaldi’s turbulent D minor Concerto continued in the same vein, and where William Carter’s contribution on Baroque guitar proved especially effective in emphasising the often Mediterranean rhythms and enriching the harmonic texture overall.
"Alina was joined by violinist, Rodolfo Richter and Joseph Crouch (cello) in a truly stunning reading of Vivaldi’s Triple Concerto, which simply bristled with unparalleled virtuosity. The ensemble captured the simple humour of Biber’s Battalia to sheer perfection, followed by a quite breath-taking performance of Bach’s E major Violin Concerto.
"Dartington’s resplendent Great Hall had echoed to arguably some of the best string-playing for some time.
"But whether the interpretations themselves would sit quite as comfortably with the most erudite scholar of Baroque playing-practice is up for discussion."
Friday 23 December 2011
Handel's Messiah at St John's Smith Square, London
Oxygen was at a premium on a wet, unseasonably warm December evening, but Polyphony and the Academy of Ancient Music banished every trace of stuffiness from the atmosphere through the light and air of their musicianship. The audience rose twice to its collective feet: once for the dubious tradition of standing for the ‘Hallelujah!’ chorus, and again at the end to honour a Messiah of exceptional felicity, clarity and detail. It wasn’t lead in the pencil that Stephen Layton used as a baton for this performance, it was hair from a unicorn’s tail; for only a choral wizard could have conjured up such iridescent lights and intriguing shades, majestic heights and depths of despond from the pages of Handel’s score.
Watson shed a shining light on her solo numbers: she filled ‘Rejoice greatly’ with buoyancy and optimism, imbued ‘How beautiful are the feet’ with enchanting lyricism and dealt effortlessly with the extended lines of ‘If God be for us’ (in which she was splendidly accompanied by the solo violin of Rodolfo Richter, inexhaustible and still sweet of tone two-and-a-half hours into the performance).
The Academy of Ancient Music is always busy with Messiah around Christmas time, but there was nothing routine about this account. Layton’s unorthodox baton (or wand) technique pumped, stretched and cajoled the players into a performance that sounded not merely fresh but newly-minted. Alastair Ross’s harpsichord continuo was discreet and supportive; Robert Vanryne’s trumpet solo incisive and urgent – a proper clarion-call to the dead … The forces may have been modest, but in its impact this performance of Messiah, which was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, was a ‘symphony of a thousand’.
Thursday 15 December 2011
Handel's Messiah at the Barbican Hall, London
"The music may be reassuringly familiar, but there was nothing routine about this vibrant Academy of Ancient Music performance, thanks primarily to Richard Egarr’s endlessly imaginative direction. He has evidently thought carefully about each phrase, never content to accept a way of doing something simply because centuries of tradition dictate it. But, crucially, it never felt contrived or superficially controversial: every nuance of dynamics, tempo or phrasing was an integrated part of a stylish whole without spoiling the cherished essence.
The chorus of mainly young singers was magnificent, responding superbly to Egarr’s direction without appearing over-drilled. There was no finer moment than the joyous ‘For unto us a boy is born’ – lively but not hectic, its fiendish melismas (which have tripped up many an experienced choir) delivered with remarkable unanimity and confidence. Other highlights included a terrific ‘He trusted in God’, fast and furious like a Bach Passion crowd-scene; a truly resounding ‘Hallelujah!’; and an assured, enthralling final ‘Amen’ fugue.
The AAM strings were also on brilliant form – nowhere more so than in an exhilarating ‘Why do the nations’, and a grippingly dramatic ‘Thou shalt break them’. David Blackadder must have played the solo in ‘The trumpet shall sound’ hundreds of times, but there was no trace of staleness in his splendidly magisterial account."
Thursday 15 December 2011
"There was no doubting the skill of the instrumentalists. The strings were perfectly attuned, and David Blackadder commanded his natural trumpet with great dignity and expression. The Choir of the Academy of Ancient Music also responded well to Egarr’s energetic direction. Numbering just 21 singers, their enunciation was crystal clear, and they proved particularly adept at mastering the more complex contrapuntal numbers. Their closing ‘Worthy is the lamb… Amen’ was truly rousing."
Tuesday 29 November 2011
Sumi Jo sings Mozart at Cadogan Hall, London
"Dresses aside, there was always the Academy of Ancient Music to enjoy... Egarr's direction was vigorous, and the brass timbres gorgeous. Instrumental hues glowed even brighter in the solemn tread of the Masonic Funeral Music, another Mozart curiosity.
"Best of all was the Academy's account of the composer's Symphony No.31 (Paris): it was wonderfully lithe, with airy textures and just the right mix of punch and grace."
GEOFF BROWN / THE TIMES
Monday 28 November 2011
Sumi Jo sings Mozart at Cadogan Hall, London
"The AAM's performance throughout the concert was always beautifully judged with subtle virtuosity and great delicacy. Richard Egarr’s reading of Mozart’s music was faithful to the period and the composer, offering the audience moments of intense beauty.
"It is obvious that they pride themselves in their Mozart interpretations and their rich Mozart tradition, started approximately forty years ago by their founder Christopher Hogwood. Their rendition of Mozart’s music was simply outstanding, whether on their own or supporting Sumi Jo.
"Their moment of glory came with the performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, the “Paris”, where the period instruments gave us a luminous sound and, for me, the most satisfying moment of the entire evening. Mozart is one of my favourite composers and I can listen to his sublime music at any time and in any situation. The Academy of Ancient Music were simply glorious and the clarity of their sound was impressive at all times."
SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL
Sunday 27 November 2011
Sumi Jo sings Mozart at Cadogan Hall, London
"This Mozart concert by the Academy of Ancient Music and its Music Director Richard Egarr offered a welcome, one-night only, chance for a UK audience to hear South Korean soprano Sumi Jo.
"Egarr and the AAM supplied crisp and vivid support. Especially delightful were the characterfully delivered solos in 'Marten aller Arten', and in the charming 'Se il padre perdei' from Idomeneo.
"The main attraction was Sumi Jo – who didn't disappoint by giving two encores: a heartfelt rendition of Pamina's 'Ach, ich fuhls' from The Magic Flute followed by a dazzling display of virtuosity in Adolphe Adam's Variations on 'Ah, vous dirai-je maman' (Twinkle twinkle little star) featuring sumptuous duetting with solo flute (played with terrific dexterity by Rachel Brown). Sumi Jo relaxed into this in a way that she hadn't earlier – playfully coquettish and clearly enjoying herself. The ease with which she handled the stratospheric coloratura produced some of the best singing of the night: a real treat, ending a splendid evening."
Friday 14 October 2011
Beethoven and Paganini at Cadogan Hall, London
"Shunske Sato didn't so much accomplish the technical difficulties of the piece [Paganini's Second Violin Concerto] as demolish them: he was so relaxed and in command that he could make light of the work. He gave us big grins at each of Paganini's array of tricks... But tricksy as Paganini's writing is, Sato was able to add tricks of his own, varying dynamics and phrasing and providing little splashes of colour.
"More impressive still than Sato's virtuosity was his rapport with the orchestra: he came across as "one of the orchestra" rather than some snobbish flown in superstar. When there was a gap in the solo part, he frequently turned his back on the audience and joined in with the first violins (after the interval, he actually sat down with the first violins to play the Eroica). His humour clearly infected them, with smiles all round the players to an extent I've rarely seen in a classical orchestra. There's a point in the concerto where the violinist and triangle mimic each other, which gave us some moments of pure joy.
"The combination of great orchestral texture and a fine young soloist made this a memorable evening."
DAVID KARLIN / BACHTRACK
Thursday 22 September 2011
Birth of the symphony at Wigmore Hall, London
"We saw the strapping youth [of the symphony] in this concert, and a couple of false starts as well. Each half began with the massive certainty of the baroque, and ended with the incisive tonal drama of the new classical symphony. In between we were given a glimpse of the stylistic confusion of the intervening period. Still, there was much to enjoy in the pieces of real quality... They brought out the surprising gravity of the First Symphony by the nine-year-old Mozart, but the best performance of the evening came in the Sinfonia to Bach’s Cantata No 42, which tripped along with natural, unforced joy."
IVAN HEWITT / THE TELEGRAPH
Tuesday 20 September 2011
Birth of the symphony at Wigmore Hall, London
"The combination of the salon acoustic and my close proximity to the small band on stage made the AAM’s performance a wholly immersive experience. None of the players were stragglers. None of them could afford to be. Attention to detail was a given. And we could all witness the results of that attention. This wasn’t merely period performance. It was an intensely intimate concert. As such it was difficult not to get caught up in the performance. What shone in this concert was the remarkable energy which exuded from the stage at Wigmore Hall. A handful of players combined stunning virtuosity and breathtaking mastery of dynamic range with unequivocal signs they were enjoying the music they were making. And it needs to be bottled and preserved before we overlook it and lose it."
JON JACOB / THOROUGHLY GOOD BLOG
Friday 24 June 2011
Mozart's La finta giardiniera at Barbican Hall, London
"This concert performance by the Academy of Ancient Music, under the baton of Richard Egarr, actually aided the exploration of each figure’s emotions. The absence of sets and full drama meant that attention was focused entirely on the people, while the set-up generated its own form of interaction between the characters. The opening and close to Act I saw the cast in a line bombarding the audience with a series of different perspectives, as each sang of their own personal sadness or confusion at the turn of events. While this helped us to focus on the feelings of the individual characters, the skilful execution also aided understanding of the synergies between their perspectives, giving the piece a high degree of coherence.
Perhaps the real star of the evening, however, was the Academy of Ancient Music itself. Egarr’s intricate understanding and sure command of Mozart’s score shone through at every turn, so that there seemed nothing outlandish or inappropriate about the variety of frequently subtle and moving effects that he brought to the music."
Thursday 19 May 2011
AAM at Singapore Arts Festival
"It is no secret that baroque music rarely gets heard in Singapore. So it is always a pleasure when imported acts bring their lightness and litheness in sound textures. The AAM performed a varied programme that was intimate in sonority yet quite comfortably filled the vast expanse of the Esplanade Concert Hall. Two and a half hours passed ever so pleasurably."
THE STRAITS TIMES
Thursday 19 May 2011
AAM and Sumi Jo at Singapore Arts Festival
"What makes baroque concerts unique is the amount of leeway that the music of the era gives for personal interpretation. This improvisational looseness helped the Academy of Ancient Music to imbue its Singapore debut with enough character to intrigue even those in the audience already familiar with the repertoire."
SINGAPORE BUSINESS TIMES
Wednesday 18 May 2011
AAM and Sumi Jo at Singapore Arts Festival
"The Korean 'Queen of Coloratura' Sumi Jo made a significant departure from her usual territory of Romantic showstoppers to delve into Baroque finery. As with great singers past and present, the results were nothing short of spectacular. If one expected her to tone down her usual fire to fit the sound of the period instrument movement, there was to be nothing of the sort."
THE STRAITS TIMES
Friday 29 April 2011
JS Bach's St John Passion in Cambridge and London
"Of course, a huge contribution to the musical excellence of the evening came from the Academy of Ancient Music, playing cleanly, vividly and with unfailing support for the Choir of King's College, Cambridge and conductor Stephen Cleobury. Their sound is always something to treasure: when expressed through the rich accompaniments to the St John Passion, it becomes something even more special. So a St John Passion to remember, and hopefully a foundation stone for many things to come on the London scene from these rather wonderful musical forces."
Thursday 24 February 2011
Haydn's The Creation in Perth, Australia
"From the representation of chaos to the creation of living creatures and, finally, the union of Adam and Eve, Richard Egarr ensured the orchestra reflected Haydn's musical scene painting with Technicolor brilliance. This was a performance of extreme contrasts, dramatically charged and highly characterised from start to finish."
Wednesday 23 February 2011
Haydn's The Creation in Perth, Australia
"The 2011 Perth International Arts Festival has spoilt classical music lovers. On Tuesday night a full Perth Concert Hall was treated to a superb performance of Joseph Haydn's The Creation. It was a moving, passionate and joyous occasion - a night to savour."
AUSTRALIAN STAGE ONLINE
Tuesday 22 February 2011
JS Bach's Brandenburg Concertos in Perth, Australia
"This was chamber music of the highest order, with Egarr and a scaled-down AAM comprising some of the biggest names in the early music scene such as violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk, flautist Rachel Brown, oboist Frank de Bruine, trumpet player David Blackadder and lutenist William Carter balancing elegant virtuosic display with leaping architectonic revelations"
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN
Saturday 01 January 2011
Music by JS Bach's sons in London, UK
"My ears were opened at the Wigmore Hall in London last week by the AAM. And the director and harpsichordist Richard Egarr unblocked my mind to how beautiful a harpsichord can sound."
MATTHEW PARRIS, THE TIMES
Friday 01 October 2010
JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in Bath, UK
"The AAM, under director Richard Egarr at the harpsichord, is one of our leading period music groups – and it showed. What music, astonishing in its variety, its colours and its differing textures, each instrument making a unique contribution: and what players"
THIS IS BATH
Tuesday 26 October 2010
JS Bach's Brandenburg Concertos in Glasgow, UK
“a towering set of performances of the six Brandenburg Concertos with Richard Egarr on the harpsichord and the luminaries of the Academy of Ancient Music... opening windows and minds on these flawless masterworks”
Saturday 16 October 2010
JS Bach's cantatas and concertos in Inverness, UK
“An exceptional performance of the cantata 'Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen'. The interplay between the whole orchestra, the voice, cellos and trumpet showed the skill of Bach as a composer and the AAM as an interpreter of early music”
Friday 18 June 2010
Vivaldi's The Four Seasons in Manchester, UK
“Pavlo Beznosiuk was the violin soloist and director, and led the AAM in playing of impeccable baroque style. And it’s not just satisfying to feel that you’re hearing the notes played in the way late 17th or 18th century composers would have expected: there are plenty of places where they actually work better that way. This was highly inventive and very entertaining.”
Sunday 25 April 2010
JS Bach’s St John Passion in London, UK
“Layton has directed both this annual St John Passion and the Christmas Messiah for several seasons now. His readings, which are becoming ever more dramatic and daring, have a raw intensity. It was easy to see why these concerts have become one of the highlights in London's musical calendar.”
Wednesday 27 May 2009
Handel’s Arianna in Creta in London, UK
"Christopher Hogwood’s production of ‘Arianna in Creta’ was the first major British one in living memory, and the Barbican was packed. Such is the draw of Handel - and of Hogwood’s Academy. No praise can be too high."
Sunday 24 May 2009
Handel's Arianna in Creta in London, UK
“Superior from almost every point of view was the Academy of Ancient Music’s superbly cast account of Arianna in Creta, which I heard both at Birmingham’s beautifully restored town hall and at the Barbican. This was the third in three years of Christopher Hogwood’s rare Handel operas in concert, which are the finest things I have heard him do in London.”
THE SUNDAY TIMES
Saturday 14 February 2009
JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in Washington, USA
“The natural horns whooped and twittered to charming effect in the first concerto, the flauto traverso was a mellow, avian presence in the fifth, the twin recorders held a chipper dialogue in the fourth, and the valve-less trumpet of the second was crisp and yet not too dominant. Egarr sparkled in the harpsichord solos of the fifth concerto, earning an ovation after the cadenza and again at the end of the first movement.”
THE WASHINGTON POST
Saturday 21 March 2009
JS Bach's Brandenburg Concertos in Orange County, USA
“The advantages of the Academy's way are considerable. Lightness, verve, danceability, flexibility. The lively Egarr offered succinct commentary before each concerto, opening our ears to their means. (That one about the numerology deeply embedded into the third concerto was especially good.)”
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER