December 1 2018
St Mary’s Church, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Inspirational, intensely dramatic performances of Bach and his predecessors
When you’re in the presence of Solomon’s Knot it’s as if the rest of the audience disappears and the 10 singers and 17 players are performing for you alone. From the moment they walk onto the stage you can’t take your eyes off them: their music-making is so physical and they inhabit so deeply the meaning of the texts and the music which brings them to life. They combine the flamboyance of opera singers with the intimacy of chamber musicians. And it’s all done from memory.
This year the theme was Christmas in Leipzig featuring music by J.S. Bach and two men who directed music in the city before him. Most people haven’t heard of Johann Kuhnau and Johann Schelle today but those in the audience must be scratching their heads wondering why, as Solomon’s Knot showed that they more than deserved their fame in the years before Bach.
Schelle’s Machet die Tore weit opened the programme in arresting style, full of energy, light, agile, strong on melody and with a directness of approach which must have made Schelle popular as a composer for public festivities.
Kuhnau’s Magnificat is full of expressive word-painting and all the singers relished the chance to bring the text alive. Soprano Clare Lloyd-Griffiths really did rejoice with the word ‘exultavit’, just as elsewhere humility, power, pride, glory, hunger and joy were all concepts which Solomon’s Knot packed with dramatic energy and conveyed with narrative urgency. And they sang Latin as if they were native speakers.
These qualities were also to the fore in their performance of Bach’s great Magnificat whose structural pillars are the three trumpet-and-drum emblazoned choruses: the opening ‘Magnificat anima mea’ with its exuberant torrents of semiquavers; the central ‘Fecit potentiam’ which evoked the Lord’s might with some impressively muscular singing (and some wonderfully wrenching dissonances at the end); and the final ‘Gloria’ which exuded a magnificent sense of space and freedom.
Singing and instrumental playing was stylish, razor-sharp and joyously exhilarating. In a word, inspirational.
Solomon’s Knot, 10 singers and 17 instrumentalists who perform without a conductor