JS Bach: The Miracle at Coethen, South Bank Centre, London

4.00

One advantage the Barbican and South Bank Centre have over other venues is flexibility, and their 'total-immersion' seasons represent the best possible use of that freedom.



Coethen was the German principality where Bach spent six years as court composer, and, after 48 hours of him morning, noon, and night, I have a clearer idea of how prodigious his work in that city was, and of how good it is to hear it on the instruments for which it was written.



I've heard the Brandenburg Concertos so many times, and in so many contexts, that I can hardly bear to listen to them any more. Yet what the Feinstein Ensemble did with them had revelatory freshness. No massed ranks, nor super-bright modern instruments: nine or ten players did the job each time, in constantly changing permutations. I had not realised how radically Bach changed his palette for each work: when the colour is determined by two recorders, or two violas, or a harpsichord plus flute, and when each of the other players is in effect a soloist too, the world is constantly being made anew. Rather than in chronological order, the works were arranged as a dramatic sequence, with the trumpet-led No 2 – accolades to Neil Brough and his 'natural' instrument – the fizzing climax.



One pleasure with this conductor-less ensemble was the way the players took turns to lead, with violinist Catherine Manson often performing this role. She also gave an informal solo recital of Bach's second Partita with its Herculean chaconne, but was too relaxed to do it justice: playing the same work at the Wigmore Hall two days previously, the young Armenian violinist Sergey Khachatryan provided the high-definition sheen it requires. Moreover, a trudging recital of Bach's Two- and Three-part Inventions, by the Gabrieli Consort's resident keyboardist James Johnson, was another disappointment: these short works may be modest in intention, but as Glenn Gould has shown, they too have an airy magic.



But no praise can be too high for Alison McGillivray's performance, on a baroque instrument, of two solo cello suites: I was taken aback by her dry and tentative start, but, once into her stride, she exuded all the big-boned grace one could wish. And to hear the violin concertos delivered to a packed house by just seven instruments was yet another revelation. Small is beautiful.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices