Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bach with a ferret

I have to admit to not being the greatest lover of the harpsichord and the guitar, neither of which are instruments particularly capable of sustaining a note - so I am not sure about the point of doing a vibrato on a guitar... But what is one to do on a summer's night in Vilnius, when the cinema is cr*p, no-one else is free and one can't sit in the house every evening.

Reinbert Evers, guitar and Gregor Hollmann, harpsichord, looking very fine and Northern German, took over St Catherine's church for a whole evening of Bach. I had heard Reinbert Evers on one or two occasions before and always had a slight feeling of edge-of-the-seat anxiety about getting the notes, but was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt.

The first piece (I did not have a programme, but had asked before what, in general, they were playing) had me nearly leave the place. It was a catastrophe for the guitar, with the soloist seemingly losing a large chunk of the last movement. I don't know what goes through a musician's mind if he starts a concert like this. Also, and this was the case in most of the pieces of the evening, the guitar phrasing was not always clear - things hung in the air, or suddenly appeared, and it was not certain what they belonged to. Evers has an unfortunate way of burying himself studiously in his music - which makes it look as if he sees it for the first time - this does not help getting the message of phrasing across. In addition in many groups of semiquavers notes were lost - I know that the second and fourth notes of these are not so important, but dammit, they are still written! And it was not always those notes that were lost....

The second piece, possibly a lute sonata, he played from memory - and what a difference that made! The polyphonics of some of the movements came out beautifully and everything was calm, but still engaged. He produced a very nice and warm sound with his guitar (and the amplification).

There were another three joint pieces, one organ sonata transcribed for guitar and harpsichord - I tried to imagine the organ line and thought it might have dealt more easily with the semiquavers; and for one of the other sonatas I bizarrely had the fantasy that a trumpet might have played the guitar part.

Gregor Hollmann, the wonderful harpsichordist, who just floated serenely across his music, got a small solo spot with a prelude and fugue. He really is a great harpsichordist - he plays in a cool, dry way, but clearly restraining his emotions, like he is some guy from Hamburg. This performance was wonderful and the applause showed it.

Finally, as an encore, they played the Bach(?)/Boccherini fandango - a well-known piece. It was not exactly full of Spanish passion - you would not get that from Northern Germany - but it was fun nevertheless.

Yes, well.

This evening had only two photographers scurrying around in front of the stage like rats, in the first half. Though it has to be said that they were totally inaudible, but just too damn visible and thus distracting. I was rather startled to spot one of them, in the garden during the interval, with what looked like her pet ferret on a lead - where had she kept it during the concert?