Just as Bach unfailingly lifts the spirits, Bath’s BachFest – a complement to the longer-established MozartFest – is guaranteed to brighten the gloom of February. In the final concert of this year’s festival the English Concert was directed from the harpsichord by Francesco Corti, winner of the 2022 Diapason d’Or for his solo recordings. As soloist in the opening Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052, Corti’s virtuosity was perceptible, but only just: in the context of Bath Abbey the sound of this particular instrument was not quite robust enough to hold its own against the string forces, albeit scaled down in number.
That concerto was adapted from a showpiece for violin and, since Bach was an inveterate recycler, players and editors have more recently felt able to follow his example. The Concerto for two oboes and bassoons was assembled from movements of the Easter Cantata BWV42 and the Easter Oratorio BWV249a, chosen for their long, eloquent woodwind lines. Bach would surely have approved of both the motivation and the playing here.
Three of the six Brandenburg concertos made up the rest of the programme. Corti ensured a lively effervescence in the outer movements of the third, BWV 1048 and the mellow combination of two violas, two violas da gamba and cello in the sixth, BWV 1051 carried well, with some exemplary playing. By way of finale, the first Concerto, BWV 1046, with its pair of hunting horns held high added to the winds, had about it an almost rustic exuberance, solemnity dispelled.
Music by Henry Purcell was the main focus of the morning recital given by Fretwork with the soprano Ruby Hughes in the church of St Mary’s, Bathwick. The interleaving of music for viol consort with songs was neatly achieved: Hughes moulded her sound, occasionally almost a whisper, to match that of the viols, but could also throw a full-voiced volley up into the air, ear-catching if not always seamless. Her clear articulation and her ability to animate key sentiments of Purcell’s exemplary word-setting was what made his songs the most satisfying element here. O Solitude, poet Katherine Philips’s adaptation of Girard de Saint-Amant’s original, was delivered with deepest feeling, adding to the intimacy created by Fretwork in Purcell’s viol fantasias.
Bach, Handel and Rameau also featured, with real novelty coming in the form of Telemann’s Fantasia in G minor for viola da gamba, TWV 40:32, discovered almost three centuries after its composition. Richard Boothby played it with consummate grace.