<< -- 5 -- Roderic Dunnett DESTINED FOR THE TOP
Sarah Saunders is a dab hand at the recorder too; her obvious love of Telemann -- Joakim Olsson Kruse clearly feels the same -- glowed through their stimulating exchanges in the North German composer's D minor recorder sonata.
Yet the uplift for the rest of the first half came from three substantial offerings in which the members of Phoenix Rising were joined by the warm, engaging, even sensual voice of Swiss soprano Sabine Wüthrich.
Two sumptuous arias in sequence, conjoined by recitative, from Telemann ('Verfolgter Geist, wohin?') were followed by the aria 'Ruhet hin, matte Töne' from Bach's Wedding Cantata; and a sensational performance from singer and ensemble of 'Bist du bei mir', set alongside other works from Geistliche Gesänge including the feisty 'Dir, dir Jehova, will ich singen' and sumptuous 'Die güldene Sonne'. Knockout stuff.
As a woodwind player, says Sarah Saunders, what gives her special pleasure and satisfaction is to be able to work with and 'bounce off' a singer.
'In many ways our instruments are potentially close: what Sabine (in German repertoire) or Dorian (in French) are doing is close to what I'm really trying to achieve. My ambition -- my dream -- is to make the Baroque oboe sound as subtle, as inflected an instrument as the human voice. To have that kind of tonal flexibility: that would be my ideal.'
Amid the playing, Phoenix Rising always introduces a literary content.
'Bach and his Competitors' is a case in point: Georg Philipp Telemann's glorious eulogy Sonnet on the late Cappellmeister Bach, written in January 1751, just six months after his old Leipzig friend had died, puts all this rivalry in its true context: mutual energising, encouragement, respect and genuine admiration:
'Sleep on! The candle of your fame ne'er low will burn; your pupils -- and those they train in turn -- shall bring you a crown of glory.'
No such accolade, however, from a crabby younger contemporary, the composer and critic Johann Adolf Scheibe (1708-76; taken from Der Critische Musicus, Hamburg, 1737):
'Herr Bach is the most eminent among Germany's music makers. An extraordinary artist on the clavier and organ, his dexterity is amazing. It is almost incomprehensible how he can cross and stretch his own fingers and feet so peculiarly and quickly, and perform the widest leaps without a single wrong note. Whole nations would admire him, if he had more pleasantness and did not allow a bombastic, confused style to suffocate naturalness in his pieces, or obscure their beauty through excessive artifice.
'His pieces are exceedingly difficult to play, since he demands that singers and instrumentalists perform with their throats and instruments exactly what he is able to perform on the keyboard. Impossible. Every little embellishment he writes out in actual notes; this does not only deprive his pieces of the beauty of harmony, but it also renders the melody imperceptible.
'Pompousness has led both from naturalness to artificiality, from sublimity to obscurity. The onerous toil and exceptional effort one admires -- but they have been applied with in vain, for they contend with reason.'
Copyright © 22 March 2005
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK