Bach and Gorecki marathon!

The Royal Northern Sinfonia, a regular guest of the Lakeland Sinfonia Concert Society, recently presented a programme consisting of five of Bach’s six Brandenburg concerti and a couple of works by Gorecki. From the perspectives of both audience and players, this represented quite a marathon. The Brandenburgs are infused with a wealth of counterpoint and such variety of instrumental colour as to make them unique in the literature of this form. But… and it’s a big ‘but’… asking a great deal of an audience to absorb the delights of five of them with consistent enjoyment. Somewhere during the evening attention would perhaps wander and thus significant contrast of material (greater than that offered by Gorecki) was required. I also think that the order in which the concerti were presented could have been improved; a brighter, more fully-scored work (No. 2 or 4, say,) might have been a more attractive finale to a long evening, rather than the dark, sombre No. 6 that is scored for just six players.

That said, the music-making in these pieces was of the highest quality. The number of players involved varied – any number between 18 and 6 – but always there was total commitment, excellent ensemble work and precision, fine balance between the concertino (solo) and ripieno (accompanying instruments), stylistic authenticity and exceptional musical dexterity from everybody, but especially from the soloists (the harpsichordist certainly earned his money!).

During the pre-concert talk it was convincingly argued that Gorecki offered a connecting link to Bach. Unfortunately, a more practical problem raised its head during the performance of his Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings. The strings, with their long, full-toned lines, completely overpowered the poor harpsichordist who was obviously (but almost inaudibly) working his fingers to the bone. The composer’s wonderfully-scored Three pieces in the Olden Style for Strings with their luscious sonorities, exotic harmonies and telling dynamic contrasts were delivered with much tlc and were a compelling foil, indeed, to J.S.Bach.