When naming a recital programme for two composers, say “Biber and Bach”, it is usually a good idea to actually include both composers on said recital programme. Sunday’s recital with Georg Kallweit and Benjamin Bayl of the Akademie für alte Musik Berlin apparently didn’t get the memo, and only played music by one of the announced composers: Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644–1704). Of course, this was due to a change in the programme after the recital had been announced, and so we had to make do without the advertised Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. And really, that proved to be the only disappointment, if one even can call it that, of the evening.

© Nordlands Musikkfestuka
© Nordlands Musikkfestuka

The concert featured music for violin and harpsichord, both on their own and together, focusing on music written by composers in the generations before and after Biber. And Biber himself, of course, the three of his so-called Mystery Sonatas forming the backbone of the concert. Biber’s music is marked by contrasts, fluctuating between wildly different moods, serene melancholy going straight into a furiously virtuosic passage before retreating back into anguished despair. This was especially apparent in the first sonata played, no. 4, The Presentation in the Temple: a ciacona, variations over a repeated set of chords. Kallweit fluctuated with apparent effortlessness between all of these contrasting moods, covering a wide range of expressions, from dazzlingly virtuosic arpeggios to meditative, almost still-standing lines; from dancing one moment, to anguish the next.

In the Biber sonatas, and also the concluding sonata by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, Bayl showed himself as a most capable and intelligent accompanist, and the interplay between him and Kallweit was exemplary. One very interesting thing was that Bayl used not only the harpsichord, but also a small organ in the same piece, at times playing the two instruments at the same time. In general, Bayl gave Kallweit a lot of room, and the accompaniment was at times very sparse, something that suited the music exceptionally well.

In addition to the four sonatas for violin and continuo, the recital also featured smaller solo pieces for each of the players, interspersed between the bigger sonatas. Bayl played two harpsichord pieces by Johann Froberger, the Capriccio XIII, a pleasant little piece, and a tombeau for the death of Monsieur Blancherocher. A tombeau is a piece of music written to commemorate a death, and this Monsieur Blancherocher was a famous French lutenist who died falling down the stairs. The tombeau featured some very apparent tone-painting, with the harpsichord illustrating church bells at one point in the piece, and concluding with a long, descending scale – Blancherocher falling down the stairs. It was, if it’s possible to say this about a piece of this nature, actually rather charming.

Kallweit’s solo piece was a partita by Johann Joseph Vilsmayr, a student of Biber. The piece, like the Biber sonatas, contains a wide range of emotions and proved an excellent showcase for both Kallweit’s virtuosity and his ability to sustain long phrases. Although the sarabande was a little lacking in terms of feeling like a dance, it was a little more flowing and free than I would have wanted it, the faster movements, especially the gavotte with its amusing twists and turns, were very good indeed.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, there was no Bach programmed at this recital, Carl Philipp Emanuel or otherwise. But at the end of the concert, Bach (albeit Johann Sebastian) finally came in the guise of an encore. Kallweit and Bayl played a heartfelt and earnest version of the first movement from Bach’s Violin Sonata in G major BWV1021, Kallweit by heart and Bayl by iPad. A fitting end to a lovely little concert.

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