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Brandenberg Concerto No. 3 – Dewsbury Town Hall

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

History hints that Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, was not necessarily the most discerning of connoisseurs. In 1721 Johann Sebastian Bach presented him with six magnificent concertos for a wide variety of instruments; there is no evidence that his musicians played them and they were not included among the musical items listed on his death. Opera North Chamber Orchestra’s concert at Dewsbury, which included two of them, suggests that Christian Ludwig missed a treat!

Apart from the splendid music there were two pleasing features to this concert. It marked the first appearance since her appointment of the Orchestra of Opera North’s new leader, Katie Stillman, only the second to fill that post in 46 years. And secondly the programming, as curated by cellist Jessica Burroughs, was masterly in its organisation and inter-connectedness. After Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 1, during the applause Annette Saunders vacated the harpsichord seat, slipped round the back to the piano and gave us Henri Dutilleux’s Hommage a Bach, delicately phrased and very Bachian. Meanwhile the orchestra members were rearranging themselves for Arvo Part’s Fratres and began instantly. A similar perfect transition took us from Nico Muhly’sDrones & Muhlywith Stillman and Saunders (not especially memorable, but maintaining the mood perfectly) before Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 (its unusual line-up already in place during the Muhly piece) brought the concert to a glorious conclusion. All in all, the concert flowed seamlessly from first note to last.

As for the music, the first Brandenburg Concerto is for a particularly large chamber orchestra – with horns, oboes and bassoon – and the colouring for different groups or pairs of instruments is particularly impressive: the pairing of horn and violin in the third movement, oboe and bassoon in the first Trio of the last movement, horn and oboe in the deliciously lively second Trio. Alone among the concertos, it boasts a fourth movement, a stately minuet the link between dance episodes.

The third concerto is surprisingly short, but amply justified the naming of the concert after it. All strings – three violins, three violas, three cellos, double bass – it’s possessed with an unstoppable energy from the first movement onwards. After the vestigial slow movement, the orchestra brought the same zest, poise and precision to the final movement.

As the only other substantial piece in the programme Fratres provided the opportunity for Katie Stillman to shine in the challenging solo part, demanding subtlety as well as virtuosity. With the rest of the orchestra supplying a sort of drone behind the violin and regular repeated incursions of the claves, often in unison with the violin, it proved more hypnotic as it went on.

Reviewed on April 17, 2024 and repeated at the Howard Assembly Room on April 18.

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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