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Purcell well-oiled

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Rick Jones Rick Jones | 09:16 UK Time, Sunday, 16 August 2009


Editor's note: Radio 3's Purcell expert Rick Jones has been at The Proms again. He attended Chamber Prom 4 - SB.

I cycled to London's Cadogan Hall for today's chamber music prom at which our man Henry Purcell was represented. The Scottish Ensemble under Jonathan Morton played his Chacony in G minor at a respectable speed and free of much baroque ornamentation. They are not baroque players and one missed the colourful whine of gut strings.

Still, their straight rendition had plaintive appeal which became urgent and impassioned as the variations grew in complexity. The two cellists were doubled by double -bass, but their potentially thick bassline did not overpower the ensemble and rather purred gently like a well-oiled bike chain through the 18 revolutions. The upper strings shared the interest equally, the violas taking their turn on the Gallic dotted rhythms with the same dancing fluency as the first fiddles, while inner dissonances flashed in the midday heat.

The Ensemble's pure, conventional tone was better suited to the rest of the programme. Mozart's Divertimento in F K138 span out two quick movements around an uphill andante featuring a recurrent semitone clash like a juicy itch. The dashing rondo had the harmony of a Scottish reel.

The programme attracted the curious for the world premiere of John Woolrich's Capriccio for violin solo and string ensemble. Morton stepped to the fore. The rest of the group, all females, fanned round him as if waiting to be picked. The piece has much capricious pizzicato playing, not least when the soloist is delivering ruminative lines in his unflappable middle register. Occasionally the group takes to a note he has held like a good idea or answers a phrase with a coy reflection. Morton played with modest allure a part which in others might invite considerable self-aggrandisement.

Stravinsky's Concerto in D brought the players back to parity. Solos all round. The group took flight on a jaunty melody while the elfin viola player scrubbed assiduously at a single note as if at a patch of dirt. The out-of-place perfect cadences in the rondo suggested the cleaning operation had succeeded and brought smiles all round. When I came out, I found my chain had fallen off, which brought a curse to my lips especially as I had just oiled it and it had been spinning really smoothly on the way up.

Rick Jones lectures in the history of music at Morley College.


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