All the Brandenburg Concertos, the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 on the Willis organ in the Albert Hall and - as the grand finale to the 2010 Bach Day at the Proms - the Royal Philhamonic playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski and once again the the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 but arranged by Respighi and played by the Royal Philhamonic Orchestra.



Saturday 13th August 2010

The highlight and the revelations came first at the Cadogan Hall (just off Sloane Square): English Baroque Soloists conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the first of the Brandenburgs. I've heard this music so much but never before had the opportunity to hear it as a concert performance. This in particular was the treat of the treats, just to hear the music in detail and performed live in a good acoustic. Never mind that the music predates the Cadogan Hall by more than a century, the acoustic allowed all the colour and detail and skill of the players to come over. Paradoxically, the banter of the live interviews for Radio 3 highlighted what turned out to the intellectual highlight of the day.

Television presented the Brandenburg Concerto number two as the interval piece between several rather stodgy arrangements of the tunes of "Sheep may safely graze" maybe best left as Bach originally arranged them. To me, upscaling pure clear Bach to a full and luxurious big orchestra Bach as Henry Wood and Malcolm Sargent once did is now best viewed as a period piece, illustrative of how far the Proms have come but no longer necessary to popularise this repertoire; these performances didn't bring new revelations to me.

The Stokowski and Respighi are orchestral treats and I'm sure these performances will look and sound good as showpieces for BBC 5.1 surround sound and HDTV.

The Albert Hall's organ can go big and David Briggs took it big but stayed tasteful. This wasn't the little Willis organ in Big School at Clifton College but it was recognisably the same style of instrument as we grew up with at school in Bristol. But his arrangements, upscaling to full organ, missed opportunities: it's now impossible to hear Bach rearranged bigger without thinking of Walter (Wendy) Carlos’ arrangements and all the jazz interpretations. Bach’s music survives this treatment but merely playing these big tunes on the organ doesn't enlighten; this was an opportunity to play an arrangement in a wacky way using the colourful stops, but not this time!

Thanks also to Wolf from Den Haag who went the distance with me, including the trips to Peter Jones' cafe to enjoy the coffee and cake seeing the rooftops of London between the Brandenburgs. The photo is from his iPhone.

I'll remember the English Baroque Soloists with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and I'll try to listen again to Alissa Firsova's Bach Allegro.


More than a yard of tickets to the Proms