The Wallfisch Band, Simon Wallfisch, Emma Brain-Gabbott and Stuart Jackson, Kings Place, London


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The Independent Culture

With the big concert venues given over to ballet and the collected works of Raymond Gubbay, small venues have filled the breach, and none more enterprisingly this year than Kings Place: this elegant venue has at last found its game, of which its Bach Unwrapped series is the latest manifestation.

The New Year event began with what programme-essayist Simon Heighes describes as a musical orphan, because no one knows who composed the ‘Overture in G minor BWV 1070’. One of Bach’s pupils claimed that Bach was the father, and it duly went into the first complete Bach edition at the end of the 19th century.

Later scholars speculated that it might have been by Bach’s eldest son but, as even that is doubtful, people are reluctant to programme it. This is a pity because it’s a vivid work, if to an unbiased ear clearly not by Bach: the style and atmosphere is Italianate, and suggestive of a later era.

Its variegated movements allowed the Wallfisch Band to show what it can do: this period-instrument orchestra describes itself as ‘pedagogic’ in that it works on the master-apprentice principle, with young players at the start of their careers sharing desks with musicians in their distinguished maturity.

As its charismatic leader Elizabeth Wallfisch explained, seasonal illnesses had carried off three of the scheduled singers for the Bach cantatas which formed the kernel of the programme, but we got to hear some excellent new ones instead.

Taking the alto part was Anna Fraser, an Australian who normally sings soprano, and who here revealed a voice with a clean line and unexpectedly interesting colours. Fresh from the Zurich Opera House, baritone Simon Wallfisch has a flexible and open sound which is ideally suited to this kind of music, while soprano Emma Brain-Abbott has soaring power, but Stuart Jackson was the big discovery.

This 25-year-old tenor may still be studying at the Royal Academy of Music, but the ethereal sweetness of his tone plus his accomplished artistry surely mark him out for a brilliant future. There was much to enjoy, moreover, in strictly instrumental terms.

Oboist Leo Duarte made the most of Bach’s sublime settings for his instrument against a string backdrop, and under the fingers of Albert-Jan Roelofs the chamber-organ cast spells one doesn’t normally associate with that humble little instrument.