Concert Review

J S Bach Flute Sonatas and French Suites; South Bank Centre 10 January 2000
Dorothea Seel (baroque flute) Sharona Joshua (harpsichord) Davitt Moroney (harpsichord)

Bach's 250th deathday is the occasion for wall to wall Bach this year, and Seen&Heard will sample the offerings, but judiciously! It began well at the Purcell Room, with three flute sonatas (all with dubious authenticity, we were advised, despite their popularity!). This new duo of two personable young ladies chose to present themselves with 'atmospheric lighting' which changed movement by movement; the rather forbiddingly austere QEH foyer too was, hopefully, humanised by pools of coloured light. Seen&Heard will concentrate on what was to be heard, quite sufficient without garish adornment.

The playing on copies of original instruments (flute by Tutz/Denner & harpsichord by Garlick/Couchet) was vital and fresh. The baroque flute is so gentle and intimate the front seats were not too close; this is really domestic chamber music. Balance between flute and the harpsichord's treble was satisfactory allowing a nice interchange of counterpoint. A very enjoyable three-quarters of an hour. Best was the B minor sonata, which alone boasts a Bach autograph, but there is no proof that it was conceived for the flute. The scholars are going to have a field day disabusing of cherished assumptions this year!

Davitt Moroney played the French Suites on a Michael Johnson instrument 'after Taskin', and the notes stressed French technique which permits expressivity of nuance by precise preparation of quills and delicate finger control. His instrument was quiet but well focussed and extremely beautiful, and the rhythmic subtleties kept the music constantly alive and captivating to hear, bringing to mind the rubato which Chopin brought to 19th century piano playing. This approach had particular interest after having heard a very beautifully executed, but rhythmically rather straight-laced account of Schubert (see Blackheath Sundays, same day). I do question however whether it is good programming to follow three of these suites with the other three after the interval? Variety is the spice of life and we may be in for a surfeit of Bach?

Davitt Moroney is an important recording artist and his monumental Byrd box has been reviewed recently for MotW; his most recent Hyperion CD is a complete recording on harpsichord (Phillips after Dumont) and an Italian virginal of a newly discovered manuscript of music by and copied by Marc Roger Normand Couperin, a cousin of Francois Couperin-le-Grand [Hyperion CDA67164] . There are 57 tracks including pieces by Chambonnieres, Le Begue, Lully and arrangements by Couperin of various unattributed pieces, a new treasure trove and smaller monument to Moroney's ceaselessly enquiring mind, and the scholarship which he brings to his rediscoveries. The illustrated booklet runs to 13 pages of text plus French translations and the recording is of Hyperion's usual high standard.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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