David Shavreen reviews Hazel Brooks & David Pollock
The concert given by Hazel Brooks and David Pollock on Sunday, 10th July for Blenheim Concerts broke new ground in a number of ways. It explored a range of unfamiliar English music dating from the late 17th and early 18th century, played on period instruments, and it interspersed the music with amusing anecdotes about the musical life of the capital at the time Two giants dominated, Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel, and they were duly represented, but delightful music was also provided by lesser lights.
The concert began with an early sonata by Daniel Purcell. Those sonatas were not yet in the classical form but were built up of contrasting quick and slow movements where the dominant instrument was the baroque violin, with the very beautiful Italian-style harpsichord, as was customary at the time, providing the background.
After the sombre restraints of the Commonwealth, the Restoration brought a relaxation of public mores and the ribald pleasures of the theatre. Music flourished and swung uneasily between the Italian and French courtly styles. In 1670 an accomplished Italian violinist, Nicole Matteis with a formidable mastery of the violin arrived in London and won the plaudits of the local connoisseurs. His Suite In A minor proved to be a delightful showpiece for the brilliant playing of Hazel Brooks. Equally exciting was the next item which had been discovered in a manuscript collection of choral and organ pieces without any attribution. It was in effect a suite containing the usual collection of dance measures: Allemande, Sarabande, Courante, Gavotte and Jig, but all spelt in the Italian forms and bearing a strong resemblance to the cheerful symphonies of Dr. Boyce.
After the interval came a sonata by that much revered master of the time. the organist and composer Joseph Gibbs. One of the most admired musicians of the day, he left behind him a mere handful of works including a set of highly original violin sonatas of which we were treated to the delightful sonata in D minor.
Then the harpsichord, played with great delicacy all afternoon, came into its own with a set of miniatures by Purcell including the popular Lilliburlero which was borrowed by Protestant Englishmen to mock the cause of James II and the Irish Jacobites. The final piece by Handel was a suitably magisterial work with which to end the concert.
On reflection the use of period instruments increases the pleasure. Music at its best can transcend the limitations resulting from the discrepancy between the sounds at the disposal of the composer and those produced by modern instruments, but for most works the enjoyment is enhanced when a closer fit asserts itself. The softer, more delicate sounds, the greater articulation and clarity, the absence of vibrato, and the subsequent greater purity of line, made for an enhanced enjoyment of this fascinating music. Our thanks to the two musicians who gave us such pleasure.