Review: An early music excursion – Bach, Vivaldi and more, by Inspiratio Ensemble

 Inspīrātĭo Ensemble, St Mary’s Church, Hayling Island, April 28

Some favourite local musicians playing some very favourite composers provided every reason to venture into deepest Hayling Island. It’s peculiar how one sometimes listens less to those composers whose music one likes best while seeing what else there is but Bach, Handel and Vivaldi produced pieces by the score (!) so there’s never a shortage.  

Inspiratio is a new venture that can only add further riches to what is already a vibrant local music community and today were Catherine Lawlor, vln, Mikhail Lezdkan, clo, Amy Muller, pno, and Piers Burton-Page providing some witty, epistolary narrative in what became increasingly obviously not the voice of J.S. Bach.

The cello repertoire would have to be re-invented if the foundations now provided by the Bach Suites had not been stumbled on by Pablo Casals. Mikhail’s account of No. 1 is calm to the point of understatement compared to some but the Courante was still acrobatic and his amicable sound was sympathetically housed by the Saxon surroundings.

In an all-Bach first half, the famous Air combined Catherine’s singing violin line with Mikhail’s ambulatory accompaniment but it was the Well-Tempered Violin and Cello that probably took more than just me by surprise. Three Preludes from that encyclopedia of keyboard invention, arranged Lezdkan, made for entirely convincing chamber music for strings. And there is no case to be purist about it because the composer himself never heard them in what is now their familiar piano versions. They were an unqualified success and with a few more such arrangements should be rushed in the direction of a recording studio as soon as possible. 

However, if the Bach letters as imagined by Piers sounded more full of bonhomie than we imagine Bach was then the vivacious Badinerie arrived in time to remind us that he couldn’t have been curmudgeonly all the time. His music surely needs no advertisement by now but that session did a good job of advertising his personality as well as his talent for writing music for advertisements.

The value of such a worthwhile event isn’t measurable in monetary terms but even then, the interval refreshments and ‘retiring donation’ arrangements were flawlessly giveaway.

Not quite a generation older than Bach were Vivaldi and Albinoni, for whose music Inspiratio were augmented by Amy Muller kindly and fluent on the piano for a Viv Sonata for Cello and Piano that invited us to try to separate out the fine differences between these contemporaries. By turns, reflective and lively with something like a gigue finale, it could easily have fooled me on the grounds that the cello by now can’t help but sound like Bach.

Albinoni’s dolorous Adagio had glimpses of a much later lark beginning to ascend in Catherine’s violin and it’s only Albinoni’s because he said it was (apparently) in a more pre-copyright age.

But I’m more confident in telling Bach from Handel who, on most days, are my two composers of choice. The giveaways, in a three-handed Inspiratio Sonata for Violin and basso continuo, were the stately opening and decorous trills, the Queen of Sheba echoes in the second movement and those of the Water Music hornpipe in the finale. I’d be guessing if I said this was Catherine’s most demanding challenge of the afternoon, not quite so much if I said I’ve seen her do more technically rigorous things before, not at all if I said she achieves them all so readily and I’d be hugely confident if I said this was the best way I’ve spent a Sunday afternoon for quite some time.

They will be there again, with Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn – still very great composers – on Sunday June 23 and I intend to be so, too.  

David Green

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