The Well Tempered Clavier, András Schiff, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 7 September 2017

It’s years since we have been to the proms. I used to go regularly, even before I met Janie.

Then in our early days together…indeed for many, many years, we would take The Duchess (Janie’s mum), as she liked the place and the concerts. But once the Duchess went off the idea of going out to concerts, we focused our concert-going on smaller, more intimate venues such as The Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square.

Anyway, Janie called me excitedly earlier in the week, as she was with Joyce Ma, who had excellent tickets for this concert and couldn’t use them. Would we like them?

It was hard to say no to such a kind and generous offer. We both love Bach and we both thought it would make a real change for us to visit the Proms again.

Further, as Janie was spending the day with Charlotte and I was spending the day at Lord’s with Chris – it was a very practicable arrangement for Janie and I to meet up and go on to the concert via a scrub and change at the flat – click here.

This concert was the very first time that the whole of Book One of The Well Tempered Clavier had been performed at the Proms. Interesting choice for a late night concert, as the 21:00 start meant for a 23:00 finish.

Imagine my delight when we entered the hall and I realised that Joyce had chosen pretty much exactly the seats I would have chosen myself “back in the day”, when I used to choose my seats with a connoisseur’s precision.

András Schiff performed the whole of The Well Temered Clavier Book One from memory, which seemed the most extraordinary feat in itself to me. He also performed with a wonderfully light touch and supreme confidence.

Michael Church in The Independent gave the performance a rave five star review – click here.

Fiona Maddocks in The Guardian also went for five stars – the Schiff is reviewed right at the end of her composite piece – here.

Boyd Tonkin at theartsdesk.com also gave a rave review and shows some lovely photos – here.

Both Janie and I nodded off at times – that is a compliment in a way because the music was so relaxing. In truth, The Well Tempered Clavier is not, to my taste, the most interesting work for listening rapt with attention. But it is delightfully easy on the ear if you listen to relax. This performance was a classic of a classic; it was just wonderful to end our day with it.

Janie took her own photos when Schiff took his well-deserved standing ovation and bow:

More…more…more…
No encore? Humph…just kidding!

A very special evening – thanks again, Joyce!

Ferio Saxophone Quartet, St John’s Smith Square, 8 December 2016

Slightly scruffy look for SJSS, even at lunchtime

You don’t see a lot of all saxophone combos. So much so, that when I saw the Ferio Saxophone Quartet concert listed for Thursday lunchtime on a day that I had kept clear for a client meeting that had been deferred until the new year, I thought, “I’ll give that a try”.

Naturally, I cut things a bit fine, trying to finish off some work before heading off for SJSS and then realising that I hadn’t really allowed much margin for error on timing.

Fortunately a Circle Line train came quite quickly. Then, at South Kensington, all of a sudden I could hear a Saxophone combo on the train, playing Hit The Road Jack very well indeed. I looked along the carriage and there indeed were several saxophonists giving it plenty. I managed to snap a couple of them with my smart phone camera.

“Perhaps the Ferio lot are also cutting it a bit fine for the gig,” I thought, “although they look a bit scruffy for SJSS, even at lunchtime.”

Between Sloane Square and Victoria, the combo played Blue Moon very well indeed. But clearly they weren’t the Ferio lot, as the “Anonymous Saxtet” got off the tube at Victoria, after relieving me and others of our small change (voluntarily I hasten to add).

I concluded that saxophone combos are like buses and tubes. You wait what seems like a lifetime for one, then two come along one after the other.

In the end I got to SJSS just a tiny bit late, but in true lunchtime concert fashion they let us latecomers slide in at the back of the hall and then move forward after the first piece. The first piece was a Bach Prelude and Fugue and I reckon I caught most of the Prelude as well as the Fugue.

When I moved forward between pieces, a kindly couple made extra space for me so I could remove my hat and coat quickly, take up an excellent seat and then they also gave me a look at their programme (I picked up my own copy at the end). I’m sure that nice couple would even have shared their sandwiches with me had they brought sandwiches, but they hadn’t. SJSS lunchtime concerts are not really “eat your sandwiches in the concert” type lunchtime concerts.

This was the Ferio String Quartet Concert I heard – link to SJSS site here.

Just in case SJSS archiving isn’t up to snuff, here is the same page saved on Ogblog.

They were very good indeed, the Ferio Saxophone Quartet. I especially enjoyed their arrangement of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which was the centrepiece of the concert really.

The concert was very well attended – 150+ people, I’d guess, perhaps even 200 if you count the sniffly but very attentive outing of schoolkids.

The Ferios are doing a short residency at SJSS and there are a couple more gigs to go next spring. Here is a link to a short vid the quartet made about the concert I heard and their residency.

The next concert, on 23 April 2017, is all British music entitled Best of British, which seems to me a wasted opportunity. Left up to me, that concert would have been named:

Yes, Sax Please, We’re British…

…but unfortunately such marketing matters never seem to be left up to me. I can’t imagine why not.

Brad Mehldau, Wigmore Hall, 17 December 2015

What in the name of Jove possessed me to book a concert at the Wigmore Hall on the last Thursday before Christmas?  Surely I knew that, despite all the plans to work less, Janie would be up to her eyes in overwork, running late and all the related stress that brings.

At 18:57, when she still hadn’t got to the flat, I really thought we were in trouble. But then she arrived and good fortune got us to a single yellow line (parking therefore permitted) within striking distance of the hall within striking distance of the appointed hour.  Even time to order interval drinks – just!

This was the gig – click here.  Actually that doesn’t explain it very well.  Brad has been commissioned to write a three piece programme inspired by The Well-Tempered Clavier.  the centrepiece of the performance was Brad playing the Well-Tempered movements that inspired him followed by the commissioned pieces.

The programme explains it better (see below).  But even that doesn’t fill you in on the other stuff he played:

  • An improvisation before the interval inspired by the C major Prelude
  • An improvisation after the third commissioned piece, based on the G major Allemande (Brad omitted to say where this came from – unlike the others, clearly not the Well-Tempered – I think it must be the slightly earlier G Major Partita – perhaps he expected us all simply to know)
  • An improvisation following the F minor Prelude and Fugue
  • An improvisation following the E flat major Prelude, the improvisation also being a variation on Martha My Dear
  • An improvisation around Pinball Wizard, with no Bach in sight.

Anyway, Janie found it all a bit scholarly, but the chance of Janie being well-tempered about anything, least of all a clavier, was always going to be low at the end of such a day.  In truth, I found Brad’s “straight” playing of the Bach rather wooden, almost as if he couldn’t bear to “swing it at all” when playing the actual piece, so that the jazz variation would come to the fore.  In reality, Bach masters swing it quite a bit on the keyboard stuff.  I liked the commissioned works and the first three of the improvisations; less so the Martha and Pinball ones.

There was a heavy mee-jah presence in the hall, so Brad is clearly perceived to be a jazz master worth seeing by the cognoscenti still.  I would have enjoyed it more on a Saturday night in January, though.  Fighting through the after-work Christmas shoppers does not set us up ideally for a evening of Bach, jazz, jazz-Bach or Bach-jazz.

Brad 17 December 2015

Anthony Marwood, James Crabb & Graham Mitchell, followed by Patricia Hammond and The Versatility Serenaders, Wigmore Hall, 10 July 2015

After the chaos of the Alexander McQueen at the V&A – click here, the Wigmore Hall felt like a sanctuary.

We had arranged a cold plate supper in advance, which worked fine, then enjoyed this excellent late night concert of violin, accordion and double bass music.

Click here for Wigmore Hall stub that explains it all.

The  main concert was excellent – we particularly liked the Piazzolla but it all worked well, even the Bach. Very relaxing and enjoyable.

I liked the Patricia Hammond & The Versatility Serenaders more than Janie; she finds early and pre-jazz not quite to her taste. Still, we stuck around for a while before heading home.

La Nuova Musica, St John’s Smith Square, 20 March 2015

This was a lovely concert at St John’s Smith Square, on a Friday evening. Just what the doctor ordered.

SJSS is a good setting for all manner of music, but especially sacred music like Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater could have been written for the place.

Janie is especially partial to a bit of Stabat Mater of the Pergolesi variety, which is probably why we booked this one. That and the fact that it was on a Friday evening, a favourite slot of ours for some truly relaxing music.

This concert was a great way to start the weekend after a busy week.

Julia Fischer Playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, Wigmore Hall, 13 & 14 February 2010

Janie and I spent two consecutive evenings at The Wig, where we enjoyed the enchanting sound of Julia Fischer playing:

  • Bach’s three violin sonatas on the Saturday;
  • Bach’s three violin partitas on the Sunday.

The music is, of course, simply divine. I’m no expert, but Julia’s interpretation is full of texture and flavour to my ears.

No mucking about, I bought the CD set there and then – I still listen to them quite often.

The concerts had this superb review in the Guardian – deservedly so.

Truly memorable evenings and a very special way to spend Valentine’s Night too.

Joanna MacGregor and Britten Sinfonia, Reverb: Roundhouse, 23 January 2010

We went to two classical concerts with early music leanings at the Roundhouse in the space of three days as part of the Reverb series; we loved both.

This was the first of the two, on the Saturday.

We hadn’t seen Joanna MacGregor before, although we had heard of her. I was aware that she had been a Gresham professor of music.

There was real flare and excitement to this concert; a really interesting blend of early music, south american music and contemporary and jazz themes.

In the moment, I bought a couple of Joanna MacGregor albums on the night:

We’ve listened to these albums a lot and had a lot of enjoyment from them, although they bear little resemblance to the music we heard that night.

Subsequently I bought another one, Play, which reflected at least a couple of the items we heard in the concert.

Here is an interesting video interview with MacGregor on the Telegraph website, made just before this concert.

Anyway, the concert was lovely and left us very excited ahead of the next one, a mere two days away.

Baroque In High Definition, Academy of Ancient Music, Wigmore Hall 25 September 2009

The conceit of this tasty concert was to play baroque music that has been used in movies in the last 25 years.

It would have made little difference to us had we remained ignorant of the movie link, but possibly the conceit helped to pull in an audience, not that the Academy of Ancient Music needs much help at the Wigmore Hall on a Friday evening. Perhaps it helped the night before in Cambridge.

Richard Egarr has a very pleasant manner, as do the named soloists for this gig.

This is what we heard:

Just what the doctor ordered after a hard week’s work. Or under any circumstances really.

Calefax, Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Concert, 22 June 2009

After all the excitement of the cricket World Twenty20 finals yesterday,  we’d booked a day off the following day and a lunchtime concert at “The Wig”.

Calefax, the Dutch reed quintet, performing their (Raaf Hekkema’s) arrangement of the Goldberg Variations.

The concert was lovely. Different, but lovely.

It was a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert – not currently available on iPlayer at the time of writing but you never know unless you click here.

Still, if you want to hear a snippet, you need look no further than the Quodlibet below.

The English Concert, Wigmore Hall, 15 March 2009

Was this the first time we saw Mahan Esfahani? Probably.

Was this the first time we heard a composition by J G Goldberg (he of Goldberg variations fame)? For sure.

A delightful concert as always by this low key but consistently masterful lot.

Pretty much all you need to know on this one page

There’s a tiny bit more about it on ClassicalSource.com – click here and skim to the correct date.

A very relaxing end to the weekend.