Friday, August 27, 2010

No music too familiar...

I'd like to make a brief post while it is still on my mind.
Some music is played so often that one thinks one can never hear it as new. Young Bizet's Suites Arl├ęsiennes surely are among these. Some of Handel's Water Music, too, especially if one is old enough to have heard the Hamilton Harty arrangements on 78rpm. Since the introduction of LP, the Brandenburg concertos of J. S. Bach, in innumerable performances.
I happened to have heard today, having the radio on, the first L'Arl├ęsienne suite (but unfortunately did not get the announcement) played as if it was new. All it takes is for a gifted conductor to have studied it afresh, to learn how Bizet composed it and perhaps divine why. Such a pleasure. Such a pity that he died so young.
This morning, on "Performance Today", they played the BBC's broadcast recording from a week ago at the Promenade concerts of John Eliot Gardiner's interpretation of the First Brandenburg Concerto, giving free rein to the pair of unvalved French horns. There was also a bit of interview. Gardiner likes to teach, and he is a very good teacher. In any case, he is my favorite conductor, and, since he is only nine years my junior, if I hear nothing by him or about him for a while, I may hope that he is well and all.
All those concertos tend to puzzle scholars and performers: some don't like clarino trumpets, others dislike recorders, but the unruly horns (and the English Baroque Soloists manage them uncommonly well) even played perfectly are certainly obtrusive. Gardiner is not worried (there are dozens of performances both live and recorded that allow the engineers to keep the horns in the background), and it was interesting and, yes, for the aspects of the structure of the composition that they emphasized, very pleasurable to hear him lead them in this way. As I listened I thought that it made that concerto sound rather more akin to Handel's Water Music than it usually does. Though Bach surely was experimenting with scoring, I wondered whether he wasn't providing the margrave with proofs of his ability to provide music especially for festive performance outdoors. If he knew the Handel, it would have been the Water Music, since the Royal Fireworks is much later. Of course, it is not as if no one else composed such music, including brass, in the early 18th century.
Here we only get bits of Proms, but I wonder if the concert included all six of them.