Violetta da Gamba: Concert Konzerthaus Berlin (27 Oktober 2007)
This Baroque musikfest was being held at the Konzerthaus, and what had caught my attention was an early afternoon recital by Wieland Kuijken, the master gamba player, accompanied at the cembalo by his son Piet. I have always had great admiration for this great family of Flemish musicians, which also includes violinist Sigiswald, founder and leader of the superb La Petite Bande, and flutist Barthold.
The atmosphere at the Konzerthaus was an ancient music version of the days I have just spent in Kronberg. The halls were full of stands exhibiting all sorts of baroque instruments, recordings and sheet music, which I could obviously not resist. Baroque flutes, harpsichords and gambas are not my stuff, but I managed to find some early music transcribed for the cello, which I immediately added to my collection.
This recital was not in the usual Konzerthaus Grosse Saal. It was in the much smaller Weber-Saal, just as pretty, just as Rococo. In fact, there being just normal chairs disposed in rows, one had the impression of being in a private room, maybe attending a Hauskonzert in the salons of Gräfin von Pfeifenbach. The chairs were all facing a gorgeous harpsichord, painted in a soft shade of green with the usual gilt fioriture, and the words “Laudet eum in cymbalis” inscribed on the equally adorned inner surface of the open lid. A quite ordinary chair and music stand were placed beside it for the gambist. The audience was as sui generis as the venue. Not the usual see and be seen Philharmonie crowd, but rather an assembly of older and younger Authentic music fans, clad in older and younger versions of shabby jeans and sweaters and sneaker numbers. In fact, I reflected (that sometimes happens) on how curiously similar the Early and Avant Garde music crowds are. Same faces and same attire, very different from the Beethoven and Mahler fan club, probably much more genuine too.
Enter Wieland Kuijken, carrying his viola da gamba, and his son Piet, who must look like his mother as it would be hard to find any common traits between these two gentlemen. Despite their dissimilarity, neither one of them has le physique du rôle. Diminutive, bald Wieland, with round gold-rimmed glasses and a bashful smile could be a cobbler, a luthier or one of Santa’s elves. Tall, thin, dark-haired and bearded Piet could be a Spanish inquisitor or a calligrapher monk in the Name of the Rose.
The program consisted of gamba sonatas by Bach pater (the second, BWV 1028 in D major) et filius Carl Philip Emmanuel (C major); a harpsichord sonata (K. 200 in C major - the K. obviously standing for Kirkpatrick, not for Koechel...) by Domenico Scarlatti; and 32 Couplets des Folies and le Tombeau de Rameau by Marin Marais.
It was a very good idea to start with CPEB. Not one to recoil from banal remarks, I will reaffirm that it is obvious why one always refers to JSB and sons, instead of to CPEB, JCB and WFB and father. Although he is an elegant and often surprisingly inventive composer, CPEB, I will risk saying, did not really rise above his station as a court composer, as compares to the brilliant trio of civil servants Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian himself.
Let us get back to this truly beautiful recital. The CPEB graciously disposed of, Wieland and Piet turned to the magnificence of Bach, giving the piece all the reverent perfection it deserves. But here, one cannot but start musing over the gamba-harpsichord vs. cello-piano issue, especially having versions such as Casals-Baumgarten, Rose-Gould and Maisky-Argerich in mind. This is not the place, and I am not the person to discuss that question authoritatively, but let me just say that there is definitely an issue here, which is absolutely irrelevant in CPEB, for instance, and does not apply to Scarlatti and Marais, for other reasons. I can’t resist saying that Bach’s music being so powerful, it transcends the media he himself had at his disposal, and, I believe, is better served by cello and piano. Open to discussion, of course.
With a splendid sample of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonata output, very well played by Piet Kuijken, we again had an example of absolute excellence in a genre. The Scarlatti sonatas are without the shadow of a doubt one of the greatest monuments of keyboard music, which certainly deserve more scrutiny than they get, at least from me! I’ll have to remember that.
The conclusion was just as admirable. Marin Marais is definitely the master of the viola da gamba, and a master composer tout court. Here, there is absolutely no question of using another instrument. Although I am very tempted to try my hand at these extraordinary pieces on the cello, and I know that cello versions do exist, it will just be to satisfy my adventuresome inclinations. These are pieces written for and to the glory of the viola da gamba. They could not have been served better than by Wieland and Piet Kuijken.
Violetta da Gamba
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