The Academy of Ancient Music is currently performing at various venues across the UK. What a pleasure to welcome them to Bath to be transported back to the 18th century as we listen to Bach’s suites played in the historic Assembly Rooms built by Wood the Younger just 20 years after the composer’s death in 1750.
During the current tour the Academy has been conducted by their permanent Music Director Richard Egarr. But on this occasion musicians were very ably led by guest conductor Pablo Beznosiuk from the first violin. A most welcome and unusual feature of the evening was the dialogue between Sara Mohr-Pietsch, the Presenter, and Beznosiuk before each suite was played. This greatly helped the audience to understand and focus on key moments illustrated concurrently by the players.
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 outstanding acoustic of the auditorium was immediately apparent in no 4 with the trumpets echoing the other instruments as though in conversation. This was followed by what for many was the highlight of the evening, the brilliant playing by the flautist Rachel Brown of the solo in no 2 demanding great virtuosity and exceptional lungs. In no 1 there was a wonderful sense of interplay among the three instrumental groups that were described by Beznosiuk as “fleeing and chasing each other”. Finally, in no 3 the evening was brought to a glorious close by one of the most beautiful tunes ever written, the ‘Air on a G String’.
The Academy has a great international reputation. If you get the opportunity to hear them you are assured of a wonderful musical experience.
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