Chiltern Arts Festival Launch Concert - Academy of Ancient Music and Lucie Horsch

Launch Concert 1 – Review and comments: AAM Bach & Telemann

Review from David Taylor

The stunning debut concert promoting the new Chiltern Arts Festival (next February) played to a packed All Saints’ Church in Marlow, and set the bar at a very high level. The Academy of Ancient Music, described by Classic FM as “the finest period instrument in the world”, lived up to that reputation in effervescent style, with playing of exquisite delicacy by their soloists: Rodolfo Richter (Director and violin), Alastair Ross (harpsichord), Ashley Solomon (transverse flute and recorder) and the eighteen-year-old (and immensely promising) Lucie Horsch (recorder).

A clearly thrilled audience welcomed each of the four items in the programme: two contrasting pieces by Telemann, sandwiched between two of JS Bach’s much-loved Brandenburg Concerti. This was a memorable concert and has set the scene for what looks bound to be a superb programme over the coming months, with an impressive array of top-rated artists for such a new venture: talk about hitting the ground running!

"Bach at his astonishing best"

A combination of intimacy, subtlety and precision in the AAM strings was established instantly, and the same qualities were quickly apparent as the three soloists rapidly made their mark. The admirable harpsichord playing was already shining through but had a unique opportunity to impress in the extraordinary first movement cadenza: Bach at his astonishing best. We were able, too, to appreciate the skills and touches of apt theatricality of the flute and violin soloists.

The second work was a real highlight: apparently this is the only existing concerto for recorder and flute, and Telemann’s magical scoring suggests that the lack of others in this genre is a great shame. Part of the success was due to the refined and winning playing of the two outstanding wind soloists. Their perfect rapport and interplay, and their sensitive affinity for the music, rendered this an undiluted joy, with a delicate fine touch.

"…undiluted joy, with a delicate fine touch"

After the interval, Telemann’s second contribution – the lesser-known ‘Burlesque de Quixotte’, a musical setting of Don Quixote – allowed the AAM strings to shine. Admirable programme notes enabled the audience to follow the pseudo-knight’s adventures sure-footedly – more so, it seemed, than the movements of Sancho Panza’s donkey in the quixotically-contrasting trio that was the perfect foil to Rocinante’s elegant minuet. This is a wonderfully whimsical example of Baroque programmatic music, where villagers’ mockery of Quixote’s ‘squire’, the plangent lover’s sighs and the roguish highlight of the windmill-tilting are all conveyed evocatively. Throughout, rhythmic security and dynamic variety showed the consummate control and musicality of the AAM strings.

And finally, back to Bach and Brandenburg. The fourth Concerto is perhaps one of the most familiar, but this performance still managed to delight and surprise in equal measure, as the three soloists (violin and two recorders) took centre stage and provided some exquisite textures especially in the fugue, where Richter’s violin explored some splendid tonal contrasts and Ashley Solomon and Lucie Horsch renewed the intensity of their musical relationship. Behind them, the strings and harpsichord continuo complemented their flamboyant technique flawlessly.

"…exquisite textures… splendid tonal contrasts"

As the audience streamed out of All Saints’, with its majestic riverside setting, there was a buzz of excitement and exhilaration, with the prospect of some superb concerts to come, the next being top Soprano Carolyn Sampson at St Mary’s Church in Old Amersham on October 1st. And this all happens even before the start of the Chiltern Arts Festival week from February 3rd to 11th, with a glittering cast of soloists and ensembles including Tenebrae, Tasmin Little, the Brodsky Quartet and some up-and-coming new acts. We shall certainly hear a great deal more of this exciting new venture, which is set to add considerable lustre to the local landscape.

David Taylor, MA (Oxon) FRSA