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The Musical Offering BWV1079; Ricercar a 6 for two harpsichords; Concerto in C for two harpsichords BWV1061

Ton Koopman & Tini Mathot, harpsichords
Soloists of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman conductor

Catherine Manson, David Rabinovich (violins) Deidre Dowling (viola)
Ageet Zweistra (cello) Michele Zeoli (double bass) Jan de Winne (flute)

Wigmore Hall, 25 April 2010

This was very much a concert of two halves.

The Musical Offering played complete from the Ricercar a 3 (harpsichord solo) to the Ricercar a 6 (all musicians) was an intense and memorable experience.

Koopman's ornate harpsichord (unidentified for us) was bright-toned and sounded fine right to the back of the hall. The baroque strings, which carried the main burden of the work, were glorious, each player and instrument with its own character, and their playing showing deep familiarity with this music [they've recorded it on Challenge Classics - CC72309].

This extraordinary achievement of the elderly JSB, composed for Frederick the Great - but way beyond his flute playing capability - was never intended to be performed straight through and is better not so. It demands intense concentration from listeners, and I should have welcomed an interval before the trio Sonata Sopr' Il Sogetto Reale, in which Jan de Winne's soft-toned baroque flute was not quite a match for his colleagues; with the eye to help it was acceptable, but I guess for the CD some balancing correction will have been called for?

The second half was something of a disaster. A second simiarly ornate harpsichord was brought on stage for Koopman's wife, Tini Mathot, but they were positioned so that both players were virtually invisible behind their music stands. The lighting was bizarre, with a large standard lamp to one side and a dazzling modern light for the other, and with the accompanying players ranged behind them at the back of the stage; very odd.

A repeat performance of the Ricercar a 6 on the two harpsichords was gratuitous; they clattered along with little discernible nuance or phrasing... And the concerto was no more rewarding. It surely was a version of the famous D minor two-violin concerto (not the BWV1061 in C as programmed - hear that one nicely played on two fortepianos by the Labeque sisters) and it made a disappointing finish for the concert.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Double Keyboards recital

Ton Koopman with Tini Mathot (harpsichords/organ)

JS Bach Prelude and Fugue in C BWV547 for two harpsichords
Buxtehude Praeludium in G minor BuxWV163
Couperin Sonata ‘L’Impériale’ in D minor & Chaconne in D major
CPE Bach Fantasia in F sharp minor Wq 67
Mozart Fugue in C minor K426 for two keyboards; Andante in F for mechanical organ K616
Soler Concierto in G for organ and harpsichord
Händel Suite in C minor for two harpsichords, reconstructed by Ton Koopman
Händel/J. Marsh ‘For unto us a child is born’ from Messiah HWV56 for two organs
Cabanilles Tiento in G minor
Bruna Tiento sobre la letanía de la Virgen in G minor
Tomkins A Fancy in A minor (for organ four hands)
WF Bach Concerto in F for two harpsichords

Wigmore Hall 15 June 2010

This was the last event in Koopman's "residency" at Wigmore Hall and it left mixed feelings, although the audience appeared content - especially with the sparkling Messiah chorus arrangement!

On stage were two ornate harpsichords which, with Google's invaluable help, I have established as made by Kroesbergen, Amsterdam (see Koopman play one on YouTube). Also two chamber organs, one ornate, the other plain. Surprisingly, in Francis Knight's mainly historical programme notes there was no identification of the instruments, which early music enthusiasts do expect.*

Ton Koopman at this stage of his long career seems to be something of a hustler, always pushing forward unrelentingly, tempi generally on the fast side and avoiding expressiveness and eschewing rubato; charm in short supply. And in the first half there was some untidiness.

Most successful were a Soler concerto and little four-handed organ duets at one organ, and they ended well with a forward-looking W F Bach concerto.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* [There have been CDs [Erato] whch doubtless would have their details]