The Genius of J.S Bach: Figo Baroque Ensemble & James Gough – Clifton Cathederal, Bristol

Thursday 28th June, 2018

Another Clifton International Festival of Music event, this time of a composer and a style I was slightly more familiar with, in a venue I wasn’t. I’ve admired the brave, modernist architecture of Clifton Cathedral from the outside before, but have never been in. That was almost reason alone for purchasing the ticket. That and it being a Baroque Ensemble, a style I have come to like recently. That and leaving present gift vouchers burning a hole in my pocket.

Walking into the Cathederal was fairly awe inspiring, natural light flooding in to the open and welcoming space, highlighting the repeated hexagonal and triangular patterns and making the concrete almost shine. The smooth, coolness of the material, with the makers lines evident, was soothing and calming. It was a relaxing way to start a concert.

Although I know a little bit of Bach and I’ve heard some other Baroque trios and quartets before I still wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, so it was a relief to have an introduction where the musicians and host admitted they didn’t really understand some of the terminology either. It was also lovely to have the musicians on our level, not raised up on a stage, but with us, almost among us. It felt intimate, even on this grand scale.

We started with Jacob Garside on solo cello. Oh. I liked. The melancholic, low bass sounds were a surprise. Perhaps I’ve just not heard enough cello up close in magnificent surroundings (the acoustics *kisses fingers*) or perhaps this is a fine example of both composer and player. Then Jacob was joined by Sergio and Simone and the trio talked us through how they not only play baroque style music, but that they play it on baroque style instruments. Strings made from sheep’s intestines and bows that curve the other way. Sergio played a continuo, of which I’d never heard before, but looked amazing. Together they took us through Violin Sonata in G major (if you know what any of this means, they played in baroque tones with different tuning than modern players would use). All I know is that my ears and my heart liked what they heard. It was moving and graceful and was over far too quickly.

During the interval I had a brief look round the Cathederal. What a space. I could have begun to be a believer, save for the pro life propaganda (leaflets proclaiming “safe spaces” outside abortion clinics were a bad thing). All the openness and light and being together in God’s love falls somewhat by the wayside when women are treated as objects of men’s control. All women should have the right to make choices about their bodies, that’s being pro life. I retook my seat feeling slightly off kilter as result.

The second half began with Simone playing solo violin, Sonata in A minor. Oh. If I had liked the cello. Well. This was something on another plain. It was delicate. There was a sweetness and a softness to the sound, the tones were simply beautiful. Simone was using his whole body to play, at times on tiptoes, giving us his all. I was moved. I may have cried. It was wonderful.

Our final piece was to be on the organ. James Gough performing Passacaglia in C minor. The organ, like the building is modern, the music is not. It is a beast. James worked his way round every knob and switch he could I think. It struck me that these are just the medieval equivalent of an effects pedal for a modern electric guitar. Bach to the White Stripes. I wasn’t expecting that as a connection this evening! What can I say about this piece of music? It was thrilling. Thrilling. I had goosebumps on goosebumps and it sent shivers through me. Every time I thought it couldn’t get any more tense, the spring was wound even tighter until the music exploded. I was left breathless. It was a stunning end to a brilliant concert, that left me left hungry for more baroque and more Bach.

You know how sometimes music leaves you almost punch drunk? This was one of those. I sort of floated/staggered out not knowing where I was.

The Genius of J.S Bach, I should coco.



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