The King's Consort/ Robert King, The Wigmore Hall, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In these days of phone-ins, quizzes and prizes, you'd think an annual competition to come up with the most appropriate music (for that year) to see out the old year would be de rigueur.

One proposal might be to have a last gasp at the music of composers whose anniversaries had been celebrated. Here we were treated to a Bach marathon - all six Brandenburg concertos end to end - performed by the formidable King's Consort under its director, the indefatigable Robert King.

It was musically intelligent not to perform the six chronologically. Since little is certain about the origins of these pieces, let alone the number order, the order of Brandenburg 1, 6, 4 (interval), 3, 5 and 2 made an entirely satisfying programme.

Each concerto is written for an entirely different line-up of soloists and instrumentalists - here with one performer to a part. In King's reading, with the exception of Brandenburg 5, two continuo harpsichords were featured, King playing and directing from one, Matthew Halls from the other. This "double-clanking" produced a thrilling sound, but in Brandenburg 4 the two solo recorders had a hard time being heard, either being swamped by the strings or by the clanking.

In concerto 1, Andrew Clark and Gavin Edwards were supremos on natural horns, providing terrific chomping and glittering virtuosity at breakneck speed. Concerto 6 features "old" instruments - gambas - and "new" instruments - violas. What wonderful colours! Concerto 4 saw the players almost "boogieing", with violin soloist Stéphanie-Marie Degand really flying. Concerto 3 is for three violins, three violas and three cellos, and everybody gets a solo spot. The cellos magnificently negotiated their tricky arpeggiated passage. As with the other concertos, rhythms were tight, tempi fast.

The best overall performance was of Brandenburg 5, where Matthew Halls was absolutely sensational in the 1st movement cadenza. But throughout, the sense of dance and lilting rhythms, and a "getting-off" on each other's playing, was joyful and uplifting.

The evening ended with Brandenburg 2 where trumpeter Neil Brough, playing a period instrument without valves, was absolutely astonishing: high, accurate, effortless, awe-inspiring. That was the way to bring in the New Year!

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