REview: York Early Music Festival, Florilegium, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, July 10

WHILE it was vocal music that dominated Johann Sebastian Bach’s weekly schedule throughout his career, his six years as court music director in the German town of Köthen presented myriad opportunities to explore the creative possibilities of instrumental music.

In 1721, the composer – then in his mid-thirties – assembled six concertos for the unappreciative Margrave of Brandenburg, pieces that would eventually come to be recognised for their staggering range: virtuosic, textural, structural, expressive.

As the strings of Florilegium hummed and seared into life, it soon became clear that this one-night survey of the full set would place its vitality in the foreground, brisk tempi emphasising the jubilation of Bach’s more overtly dance-inspired episodes.

The cascades that Julian Perkins despatched from the keyboard with transfixing intensity in the Fifth concerto were a particular highlight, as was the breakneck bustle in the outer movements of the Third; Bojan Cičić tirelessly delivered spontaneous lyricism while Jennifer Morsches (cello) and Rosie Moon (double bass) were an ever-present powerhouse pulling the shape-shifting ensemble forward like an irresistible current.

Although this compelling urgency sometimes detracted from a sense of space in the slow movements, a poignant intimacy was still achieved, ensemble director Ashley Solomon engaging sensitively in soft-spoken dialogues from both flute and recorder.

The decision to present the set in reverse was an inspired one, with the dazzling trumpet-capped (Neil Brough) tour de force of the Second concerto preluding the full-bodied First, double reeds, horns and strings combining in wonderfully raucous polyphony to round the evening.

Review by Richard Powell