Britten Sinfonia with Joanna MacGregor

FRANK CLIFF St Andrew's Hall (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)


St Andrew's Hall (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

Joanna MacGregor is a musician whose performing skills span the world of classical, jazz and contemporary music.

She also conducts, and 'Bach Meets Moondog' is a project she has devised; a concert whose first half consists of music by Louis 'Moondog' Hardin together with Bach's 'Art of Fugue' in the second half.

The music of Moondog, born in 1916, mixes jazz, classical and native American music.

The connection with Bach, perhaps somewhat tenuous, is that he had a fascination for the rule of canonic writing, actually composing five books called the 'Art of the Canon'.

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The 14 pieces of his music which made up the first half were arranged by MacGregor.

It is minimalist and repetitive but in MacGregor's hand the music has tremendous vitality and variety, from the sheer dynamic energy of Rabbit Hop, The Mystical Invocation, A triple canon on a single tone inspired by the chant of Buddhist monks to Heath on the Heather, a 23-part Canon developing a large crescendo for a magnificante finish to the first half.

They accomplished technically; especially the fabulous playing of saxophonist Andy Sheppard, but one wondered how the music would sound unclothed of MacGregor's orchestration.

After such dynamism how would the mighty Bach fare?

Pretty well is the answer. MacGregor had taken eight movements of the Art of Fugue, investing them with her own creative genius, from straightforward pianism, through conventional orchestration, to high flights of creativity, which produced a perfect foil to the music of the first half.

A triumph for MacGregor, and for the Britten Sinfonia who demonstrated their virtuosity and versatility par excellence.

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