Trevor Pinnock, Wigmore Hall, London
Wednesday 23 February 2005
It was as a lively and stylish young solo harpsichordist that Trevor Pinnock first made his name in recital and on disc in the early 1970s.
It was as a lively and stylish young solo harpsichordist that Trevor Pinnock first made his name in recital and on disc in the early 1970s. For the next 30 years he was caught up in directing his pioneering period performance ensemble, The English Concert. But having bequeathed that distinguished outfit to Andrew Manze, he has increasingly returned to solo playing. This Wigmore Hall recital showed that he has lost none of his finesse, while expanding his musical range.
He began with a neatly worked Passacaglia from a suite by J K F Fischer - a German court composer 20 years older than J S Bach who seems to have borrowed an idea or two from him.
But Bach's own Partita No 5 in G BWV 829 - the "lightest" of the six though it may be - is so much more than merely neat. Pinnock emphasised its variety by imbuing the grace notes of its Sarabande with a delectably lazy rubato, and switching to the dry rattle of the harpsichord's buff stop to characterise the naughty cross-rhythm of the Tempo di Minuetta.
His instrument, a resplendent black, gold and terracotta two-manual modern model by Titus Crijnen of Bussum, had something of the sonorous gravity of a 17th-century harpsichord by Ruckers but with a wide range of stops.
In his brief spoken comments, Pinnock praised its adaptability to the very different styles of Bach, Handel, Rameau and Scarlatti. It also offered an effective vehicle for two recently commissioned pieces by the 36-year-old composer John Webb.
The first of these, entitled Ebb (2000), comprised a spasmodic discourse against a manic background of descending scale patterns like a kind of out-of-kilter change-ringing. Its companion piece, Surge (2003), was built up over an implacable rhythmic repeat-figure. Though neither was explicitly tonal, each skilfully avoided the merely percussive effect that the harpsichord's complex overtones can all too easily impart to more densely dissonant music. Toru Takemitsu's Rain Dreaming (1986), by contrast, proved a rather acidulated number from that usually more exquisite ear.
But the climax of the concert was Rameau's Suite in E minor, typically French in pushing the same dance genres as Bach to more picturesque ends. Here, Pinnock's bright precision in the filigree figuration of "Le Rappel des Oiseaux" for once justified the cliché "spine-tingling", while his drone-bassed "Musette" sounded as drugged with noonday heat as his rustic "Tambourin" was stampingly vigorous.
Finally, Pinnock relaxed into the floridly rolling periods of Handel's Prelude, Air and Variations (the so-called "Harmonious Blacksmith") from the Suite No 5 in E major - only to return for a perfectly judged account of Scarlatti's Sonata in E major K 380, with its pastoral trills and toy fanfares, by way of encore.
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