Edinburgh International Festival
The Queen’s Hall
11.00 22nd August ONLY
A packed Queen’s Hall assembled to hear Iestyn Davies sing: it may well be that a number of us wouldn’t have cared much what he was going to sing – even the telephone directory would have gone down well with those of us who admire his fabulous voice and impeccable musicianship…
Today’s concert with the Academy of Ancient Music juxtaposed two of Bach’s church cantatas with works by Telemann – born a few years before Bach, but following a very different, and secular, musical path. Telemann’s music reflects the contemporary fashion for the French style in music, and shows his understanding of how to write for the popular market. In the first part of the concert we heard his Ouverture-Suite in D major [TWV55], the overture being followed by lively dance movements. I found the sound rather muffled, possibly because I was sitting under the side balcony, but enjoyed the performance. After the interval two violinists and a cellist with harpsichord continuo played Telemann’s Trio Sonata in E flat major [TWV 42]: the sound was less muffled [though at times the cello was not very clear] and the interplay between the instruments fascinating to watch.
And then we had Iestyn and Bach – a delight to the ear, even though we were being exhorted in no uncertain terms to abjure the delights of the world, which are but occasions of sin, and turn instead to God, where true pleasure is to be found. The first cantata – Widerstehe doch die Stunde [BWV 5] – had string accompaniment, and told us very plainly to stand firm against sin, however wonderful it might seem. The second, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben [BWV 169], accompanied by the whole orchestra, was more joyful in character, the singer affirming his love for God alone and the delight this brings. We were reminded [briefly] of the commandment to love our neighbour, and the cantata ended with a short chorale, a setting of a text by Martin Luther.
I raved last year about Iestyn Davies and the incredible effect he has even before he opens his mouth to sing. This year the voice was just as wonderful, and the music interpreted simply and honestly: it would have spoken to the hearts of any Lutheran congregation and moved them to repentance. Whether it had the same effect on the Queen’s Hall audience I don’t know, but it was received with that silence which is true applause before the audience erupted.
And then, to make up for all the seriousness that had gone before, Iestyn introduced and led the orchestra and soloists in a song calculated to lift our hearts and send us out in a more joyful mood – a drinking song by Krieger, celebrating the effects of Rhine wine – in which orchestra and singers really let their hair down: a wonderful way to end a fabulous concert.