Sunday, 10 June 2018

Handel again, and Shostakovich

Many decades ago, back in the 1980s, I heard Handel's cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo for the first time. The venue was the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford (where Handel once gave a series of concerts). The singers at that time were Emma Kirkby and David Thomas (I cannot remember who the third one was). Ever since that far-off event, this cantata has remained one of my favourite works, and the sheer musical invention of this work composed in Naples in 1708 by the 23 year old Saxon continues to amaze. Sheer genius. I listened to it yesterday performed by a stellar line-up of Sandrine Piau, Sara Mingardo and Laurent Naouri, with Emmanuelle Haïm directing the Concert d'Astrée. Bliss.

The only conceivable connection between Handel's Cantata a tre and Shostakovich's G minor piano quintet is that both works are among my personal favourites. I have known the Shostakovich work for many years, ever since I heard a 1949 recording by Shostakovich at the piano with the Beethoven Quartet. The quintet was written in 1940 and shows that, even in the unstable musical environment of the 20th century, great music with real feeling could still be written. The work followed my listening to Handel's cantata — what a contrast! — and was given by the Talich Quartet with Yakov Kasman as pianist. Very moving, as always.

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