REVIEW: A Musical Offering @ BREMF

Brian Butler November 7, 2019


It is said that a young J S Bach walked 400 miles just to meet the famed musician and composer Dieterich Buxtehude, whose music had a profound effect on the great man.

So it was fitting for a short Sunday afternoon concert in the Brighton Early Music Festival that it should open with Buxtehude’s Sonata No 6 for harpsichord, violin and viola da gamba.

The Bach Players specialise in this period of music and they delighted us with this opening piece in the hidden gem of St Paul’s Church in West Street Brighton. It’s a minimalist piece with short bright tunes on one instrument then mirrored by one of the others. At times it bounced along like an energetic court dance and at other times its deep, melancholic chords took sudden dramatic turns with unexpected pauses.

The main work was Bach’s late work A Musical Offering, based on a tune given to him to improvise by King Frederick II King of Prussia and its opening dates from 1747 with the rest of the piece being added much later.

Full details of the event can be seen here

Silas Wollston left his harpsichord keyboard to unpick the mysterious fun of the piece – it’s a kind of cryptic musical crossword puzzle , where Bach gives clues that need to be unravelled. Indeed there is no full score for the work – just single short tune  lines which the performers or arrangers then need to fill out.

The music is varied and encompasses several canons and a sonata as well as a fugue form, with tunes returning backwards or at half speed and where the instruments talk to each other and to us in a kind of musical statement, argument and conclusion.

It has humour, passionate sighs, haunts little jigs and a final peaceful resolution that makes it an outstanding piece.

All the players excelled in their own way and had a genuine chemistry between them – Nicolette Moonen leading with her violin, contrasted by the deep tones of Reiko Ichise on the viola da gamba and Marion Moonen on the flute – which was not today’s metallic instrument but a much more recorder-like sound.

BREMF continues until 10 November – more information or to book tickets here: