Philippa Hyde – soprano    Mark Baigent – oboe

Tassilo Erhardt & Sarah Deborah – violins

Joanne Miller – viola   George Ross – cello

 Robert Rawson – double bass   David Wright – harpsichord/organ

Wednesday 26th June 2024

Harpsichord Concerto in F minor (BWV 1056)     J.S.Bach (1685 – 1750)

         I: Allegro moderato        II: Largo               III: Presto

Aria ‘Gelido in ogni vena’ from ‘Farnace’     Antonio Vivaldi (1675 – 1741)

Like ice in every vein, I feel my blood flow, the shade of my lifeless son falls over me; I am terrified. And worse than that pain, I see that I was cruel to an innocent soul, to the heart of my heart.

Cello Concerto in C minor (RV401)                     Antonio Vivaldi

         I: Allegro non molto       II: Adagio    III: Allegro ma non molto

Solo Cantata ‘Weichet nur’ (BWV 202)                 J.S.Bach

I: Give way now, dismal shadows, frost and wind take you rest…  II: The world becomes new again on hills and in valleys… The day is free from cold.  III: Phoebus hurries with swift horses through the new-born world… He wants to become a lover.  IV: Therefore love also seeks his delight when purple laughs in the meadows…  V: When the spring breezes blow and waft through the colourful fields, it is love’s custom also to sneak out…  VI: This is good fortune when two souls obtain one jewel, resplendent with health and blessing.  VII: To become adept in love is better than Flora’s passing pleasures…  VIII: May the union of chaste love, beloved couple, be free from the fickleness of change! IX: See in contentment a thousand bright and prosperous days…

Chaconne for solo violin                                     J.S.Bach

Aria ‘Alma Redemptoris Mater’                           Jan Zelenka (1679 – 1745)

Loving Mother of the Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea, assist your people who have fallen yet strive to rise again. You who bore the holy Creator, while nature marvelled, virgin before and after Gabriel’s ‘Ave’, have mercy on sinners.

Oboe Concerto in G minor                         Johann Pepusch (1667 – 1752)

         I: Adagio     II: Allegro    III: Adagio   IV: Allegro

Aria ‘Ich esse mit freuden’                                  J.S.Bach                                                                               (from Cantata 84)

I eat with joy my meagre bread and sincerely do not begrudge my neighbour his. A quiet conscience, a cheerful spirit, a grateful heart that lauds and praises, multiplies blessings, sugars over needs.

The simplistic view of Baroque music is that there were two camps: the North German, sober and intellectual, with JSBach at its head and the South German/Italian, extrovert and fresh led by Vivaldi. There may be a kernel of truth here but it is a gross over simplification; there was much cross-fertilisation between the two strands of development which this imaginatively constructed programme will demonstrate.   

There are fourteen concertos for one (or more) harpsichords which Bach apparently assembled for performance at the Leipzig Collegium Musicum in the late 1730s. Directorship of the weekly concerts given by this municipal music society had to be fitted in to his already crowded timetable and so it is scarcely surprising that he should resort to making arrangements of earlier works, adapting what are reckoned to have been woodwind or string concertos into works for harpsichord. Sadly few if any of the originals have survived; thus earlier concertos for oboe or violin have been put forward as the forerunner of tonight’s concerto, and there is further recycling in that the slow movement also appears as the sinfonia to Cantata 156.

‘Farnace’, first performed in Venice in 1727 and enjoying a brief popularity further afield, very soon, like the rest of Vivaldi’s operatic work, sank into oblivion until the revival of interest some 250 years later. That music of the power and imagination of this aria was unheard for so long is as unaccountable as it is regrettable.

The performing history of Vivaldi’s string concertos is almost as bleak a tale. Quite a number were published during his lifetime which at least gave them a chance of being heard, even if public taste moved on very swiftly, leaving them as little more than historical curiosities. As with his operas, scholarly work during the latter part of the 20th century has unearthed a wealth of attractive and interesting music.

The monumental series of over 200 church cantatas is in many ways the bedrock of Bach’s output. But there are offshoots to this majesterial procession including secular cantatas employing much the same forces as in the sacred works and also a number of cantatas for solo voice and orchestra of which ‘Weichet nur’ is one of the best known. The text clearly suggests a wedding celebration but whose, where and when remains a mystery. That it should have been written to celebrate his own marriage to Anna Magdalena in 1721 is an attractive idea but has no firm evidence to support it.

We heard the chaconne from the second solo violin partita in Busoni’s somewhat overblown piano version two months ago. Tonight we hear it in its original form, clear and uncluttered but no less powerful.

The Bohemian composer Jan Zelenka is another victim of changes in taste. In his time he was highly and widely respected for his contrapuntal skill, his harmonic daring and the general excellence of his output. But soon after his death, his work fell into total neglect until his fellow countryman Bedrich Smetana began the work of resuscitation and the reasons for his high standing amongst his contemporaries can now be recognised. His considerable output numbers some 250 works with sacred music with instrumental accompaniment at its heart.

Johann Pepusch was a native of Berlin but in his mid-thirties migrated to London where he spent the remainder of his long life, active as a composer, instrumentalist and teacher. Much involved with the thriving music theatre scene of the day, his name may yet ring a distant bell as he was much involved with the music of ‘The Beggar’s Opera’. He too had an extensive and varied output of works of which the instrumental sonatas have survived the best.

And to conclude the programme we return to Bach with an aria from a church cantata written in 1727. This is another solo cantata but with a sacred (though not scriptural) text and surely is a happy synthesis of head and heart, north and south.