ON their classic 1962 album Nat King Cole sings, George Shearing plays, those two great artists combined to give a truly memorable rendition of Jerome Kern’s 1936 song Pick Yourself Up. Dorothy Fields lyrics start with the lines “Take a deep breath, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again”, and those words could well describe the trials and tribulations that have faced Bath Bach fest artistic director Amelia Freedman and her team, before and during this year’s festival.
With the flowing Coved situation over the past year, it has been a real battle to organise this year’s event. Having got to the starting line with a first-class programme in hand – five live and live-streamed concerts in the Assembly Rooms – all looked like plain sailing and a time to relax and enjoy the music.
After the first night, when Bach fest debutantes Arcangelo (founded in 2010 by its director, harpsichord player Jonathan Cohen) had got the festival away to an excellent start, supporters and those who had done such sterling work to get the festival ready for presentation were looking forward to a musical treat during the next two days.
As an ensemble and backing to soprano Carolyn Sampson and countertenor Tim Mead, Arcangelo (pictured) proved themselves to be a very welcome addition to the Bath Bach fest family. The final combination by musicians and singers of JS Bach’s setting of a German paraphrase of Psalm 51, provided an admirable finale to the evening. wetting the audiences musical juices for what was to come.
Alas what was to come the very next day was storm Eunice which completely upset the second day of the festival. Red warnings poured out from the Met Office encouraging people not to venture out, and this, combined with the cancellation of much public transport, left Guitarist Xuefei Yang with an audience far smaller than her talents and interesting programme, Vivaldi, Chinese traditional, JS Bach and Gasper Sanz, deserved. Eunice also left fine vocal ensemble Tenebrae stranded in their London base, causing the first cancellation of a concert in Bath Bach fest’s 11-year history.
Day three found Amelia Freedman and the team having taken a deep breath, picked themselves up, and dusted themselves off, all ready to start all over again.
Early visitors to the Assembly Rooms (and those viewing at home) had the pleasure of sharing their mid-Saturday with recorder player Michala Petri and harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and their delightful interpretations of Handel’s Sonata in D minor, CPE Bach’s Trio sonata in D major, Scarlatti’s Two harpsichord sonatas in D minor and three JS Bach works, finishing with a splendid duet for recorder and harpsichord, Sonata in G minor.
No problems, thankfully, for the final concert by the Academy of Ancient Music under the guidance of their new director, harpsichord player Laurence Cummings. A lovely programme of works by JS Bach, Muffat, Sonata No 5 in G major, Handel, Trio Sonata in G major and Telemann, Concerto Polonois in B flat major, served to underline how top-class musicians can make even the most complex of compositions appear easy to play. AOAM was joined for JS Bach’s delightful collection of dance rhythms, Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, by flautist Rachel Brown, and it was a true marriage of musical talents each side enjoying and complimenting the others skills.
When you realise that Jerome Kern, the composer of Pick Yourself Up, was writing dance music for the same sort of audience in the first half of the 20th century that JS Bach was composing for 200 years before, it would be interesting to have heard what they would have composed if transferred in time.