Academy of Ancient Music: Suonare è danzare
What did those funny titles mean that mystified me when I started to listen to classical music all those years ago – bourrée, courant, sarabande, allemande, pavan?
Of course, as I didn’t know then, they were different kinds of dance movement, and as the Academy of Ancient Music’s notes for Friday’s concert reminded us, ‘dance was an integral part of life in the 18th Century, informing all manner of social and political discourse and forming a necessary part of any respectable education.’
Distinguished director designate and harpsichord player, Laurence Cummings, was conducting his inaugural concert in AAM’s Live 2021 season. Two further live stream programmes will follow from West Road on 14 April & 21 May.
Friday evening’s proceedings began with one of 5 sonatas published as ‘Armonico Tributo’ by Georg Muffat, a name now perhaps not on everyone’s lips but prominent enough in 1682. As ever, under leader Bojan Ĉiĉić, the Academy of Ancient Music displayed its flawless musical accomplishments in a performance that was beautiful to listen to, the final movement revealing the sonata’s dance rhythms in a Passacaglia of 25 variations.
JS Bach was, amazingly, as much a master of the violin as he was of the keyboard, and his not so often heard Violin Continuo Sonata in E (BWV 1023), as Bojan Ĉiĉić explained, reveals him in experimental mode. The opening Prelude, for example, is for some 30 or so bars predicated on one note, while the Adagio that follows, usually a movement of reflection, becomes a kind of battle between the more simple melody performed on the violin and the rich harmonies of harpsichord and cello.
Bach was a great admirer of Georg Philipp Telemann, making him godfather to his son Carl Philipp Emanuel (the middle name is appropriately shared). Telemann’s Concerto Polonoise in B Flat Major is the product of 6 months he spent in Krakow where what he called the ‘barbaric beauty’ of Polish folk music had deeply influenced him. The rustic energy and rhythmic drive of the polonaise was accentuated to perfection in AAM’s delivery.
The consort (8 musicians in all in Friday’s concert) concluded with a suite of dances by Handel – Sonata in G Major, Opus 5, No. 4. Here the composer has self-borrowed tunes from various of his own compositions, comprising oratorios, operas and opera ballets, and recycling their popular melodies in such a way as to suggest, as Laurence Cummings remarked, that ‘greatest hit compilations are not as recent as we thought.’
As Eccesiastes says; in life there is ‘a time to mourn and a time to dance’. Friday’s concert, ‘to play and to dance’ was, as it happened, situated on a hopefully auspicious day, when the dreaded ‘R’ number for the first time since October had actually fallen below 1. We were reminded, if reminding were needed, of why we were still watching a live stream concert, not a physical one.
But as Laurence Cummings said in his greeting, he hoped AAM could ‘banish the blues that lockdown brings’. And this was certainly a concert that probably had many in his living room ‘audience’ taking him up on his encouragement to ‘dance along’ and ‘tap your toes’. AAM’s ‘Suonare è danzare’ was truly a performance to give everyone a lift.