Click on the reviewer name to read the full review
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