Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Keyboard Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056


Ricercar a 6 from The Musical Offering, BWV 1079

Violin Concerto in A minor BWV 1041

Allegro assai

Weichet nur betrübte Schatten, BWV 202

Aria. Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten
Recitative. Die Welt wird wieder neu
Aria. Phoebus eilt mit schnellen Pferden
Recitative. Drum sucht auch Amor sein Vergnügen
Aria. Wenn die Frühlingslüfte streichen
Recitative. Und dieses ist das Glücke
Aria. Sich üben im Lieben
Recitative. So sei das Band der keuschen Liebe
Aria. Sehet in Zufriedenheit

Rachel Podger director
Xiaowen Shang harpsichord
Emmanuel Coppey violin
Danni O’Neill soprano
Academy Chamber Orchestra

All performers at this event are conforming to our safety requirements of being at least two metres apart.

The opening movement of Bach’s Keyboard Concerto, BWV 1056, plunges us into a dramatic world of F minor. There’s a darkness and concision to the musical language: the insistent syncopations and wiry motifs create a tension, and the keyboard swiftly takes on a role of ornamental intrigue. The central movement is a world away from that angst. Bach draws on a melody from Telemann's Flute Concerto in G major, TWV 51:G2. By writing this just for the keyboardist’s right hand, Bach creates a sense of wandering improvisation: fingers trace the simplest of shapes over pizzicato accompaniment (Bach then went on to reuse this melody again in his cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV 156, where the solo is taken up by an oboe). The final movement of the Concerto, Presto, is full of playful call and response, imitative figures and dramatic sequences.

What was this highly dramatic and contrasting music for? The Bach scholar Peter Wollny surmises that Bach prepared the Concerto manuscript for his visit to Dresden in 1738 where he would have given private concerts in court for nobility. On such an occasion, the Concerto would have been performed with the resident orchestra.

Encounters with royalty certainly got Bach’s creative juices flowing. His well-documented trip to Postdam in 1747 came about because his son Carl Philipp Emanuel was employed as one of King Frederick II of Prussia’s court musicians. The King, as the Spenersche Zeitung reported in detail, invited Bach to try out his pianoforte. Once seated at this instrument, Bach received a musical theme from the King on which to improvise a three-voice fugue. Bach did so – seemingly too well – as the King then challenged him to improvise a six-voice fugue on the same theme. And though the Berlin newspaper reports that Bach accomplished this ‘just as skilfully as on the previous occasion, to the pleasure of His Majesty’, it seems that Bach wasn’t too pleased with his improvisation.

Upon returning home to Leipzig, Bach revisited the theme and expanded on his improvised inventions. The Musical Offering (‘Das Musikalische Opfer’) was born, and its publication two months later was dedicated to the monarch. Its inscription Regis Iussu Cantio et Reliqua Canonica Arte Resoluto ('the theme given by the King, with additions, resolved in the canonic style'), the initials of which spell out the word 'Ricercar', reflect Bach’s interests in exhausting the contrapuntal possibilities of a single theme. The Ricercar a 6 comes from this collection. In this context, is it perhaps less the 'searching out' of a key as part of the genre’s preludial function, but rather the searching out of and exploring the limits to contrapuntal permutation.

It is traditionally thought that Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041 was composed for the Duke’s court in Cöthen and revived for the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. Its construction, particularly the densely wrought ritornello structure of the first movement, makes for exhilarating interaction between the violin soloist and the orchestra. For the central Andante, this transforms into a lyrical spotlight: the violinist weaves a spell of improvisatory rhythms, sketching out arpeggios that reach for sunshine. The triple-time third movement brings us firmly back down to earth in a gigue. Again, there’s a tantalising concision to the musical language that builds to a climax: the solo violinist, as if charged upon the energy of the orchestra’s imitative entries, dazzles in a passage of bariolage.

We know little about the wedding cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, BWV 202. The only surviving autograph is a copy made by thirteen-year-old student Johannes Ringk in 1730. Klaus Hofmann wonders whether Ringk was the soprano soloist in Bach’s performance. Others disagree, connecting the cantata to Bach’s wedding to Anna Magdalena on 3 December 1721 in Köthen (at which Ringk would have been barely a toddler). But the text speaks of a warm spring day – ‘the day is free of cold’ and Flora’s splendour looks glorious. Perhaps, then, the cantata dates from a different wedding altogether. Elements of the compositional style suggest that it originates from Bach’s time in Weimar.

Most striking is Bach’s creation of musical tableaus. The evocative opening sets the scene for the dissipation of winter: arpeggiated patterns in the strings rise like mist, forming a pillowy sonority over which the oboe’s arioso soars. Descriptive figurations continue in the second aria, in which the bustling continuo clearly represents the ride of Phoebus’s horses. The third aria describes Cupid in the fields, whose movement is depicted by the obbligato violin in affectionate and teasing phrases. This unusually pictorial style and the instrumentation – specifically the lack of trumpets, timpani, or other instruments associated with pageantry – suggests that the cantata was used in a civil wedding not involving noble or royal persons. But a celebration it nonetheless was. With the gavotte that brings the cantata to its close, Bach ushered in the party proper, as cantata blurred into a night of dancing and merriment.

Mark Seow

Fergus McCready

Ryan Delgado Barreiro

Harpsichord continuo
Edward Reeve

First violin
Rachel Podger
Emmanuel Coppey
Guo Yu

Second violin
Yaoré Talibart
Charlotte Spruit
James Chen

Miguel Sobrinho
Yinuo Zhu

Daniel Hamin Go
Lithmal Edirisinghe

Double bass
Evangeline Tang

Xiaowen Shang is a pianist and versatile musician, interested in early, classical and contemporary music. She has a wide range of repertoire from Renaissance composers such as Orlando Gibbons to modern composers such as John Cage. Xiaowen is also enthusiastic to collaborate with other musicians, composers and artists, including improvising with silent films, playing concerts with animation and premiering new works.

Xiaowen is currently studying with Joanna MacGregor at the Royal Academy of Music in London, entering her third year as an undergraduate. She received many awards in her school career, and in 2018, obtained a full Entrance Scholarship to the Academy. In 2019, Xioawen won First Prize at the Worshipful Company of Musicians' Harriet Cohen Bach Competition at the Academy in 2019, receiving an invitation to join the Company's Yeomen programme.

Notable performances include performing the Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto and the Mozart's Ninth Piano Concerto with the Dartington Music Festival Orchestra in the Dartington Music Festivals of 2018 and 2019. In addition, she gave a successful solo recital in Geneva, and was invited to repeat her performance in March 2020. In October 2019, she performed a programme of Beethoven, Chopin and contemporary repertoire at the Bloomsbury Festival.

Born in Paris, Emmanuel Coppey started learning the violin at the age of four. After entering the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 14, where he studied with Svetlin Roussev and Philippe Graffin, he graduated with a Master's degree in 2019. He is now studying with György Pauk at the Royal Academy of Music and with Augustin Dumay at the Queen Elisabeth Music Chapel, where he was recently accepted as Artist in Residence.

During various music courses, Emmanuel received advice from János Starker, Mauricio Fuks, Ana Chumachenco, Boris Kuschnir, Roman Simović, Barnabás Kelemen and Pavel Vernikov. He has received awards from competitions in Płock and, and from the Ravel Academy, and has played as Concertmaster in various youth orchestras, including that of the Verbier Festival.

Emmanuel has received scholarships from the Royal Academy of Music, Adami and Fondation de la Vocation. He is part of the PYMS Piano Quartet, acting in community projects internationally to make classical music more accessible with Renaud Capuçon, Nicolas Baldeyrou, Pascal Moraguès and Marc Coppey.

He has appeared several times in radio shows, on Musiq3, Radio France and Accent4. His most memorable concerts include a tour playing the complete Bach Sonatas and Partitas, Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, Beethoven's Triple and Violin concertos and Bruch's First Violin Concerto. He plays a Pressenda violin, on loan from the Royal Academy of Music.

Danni O'Neill is studying on the Preparatory Opera Course in her second year of her Master's at the Royal Academy of Music with part scholarship. She is taught by Raymond Connell, Caitlin Hulcup and coached by James Baillieu. In 2019, she was awarded the Michael Head Prize for English Song, and her studies and travel have also been generously funded by David Williams and The Streynshams Trust.

In 2018 she graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London as a choral scholar and won the University Chamber Music Prize. She currently works as a freelance choral and solo singer alongside her studies, and she was a member of the NYCGB Fellowship and Genesis Sixteen, since when she has performed with The Sixteen, conducted by Eamonn Dougan and Harry Christophers, in the UK, on tour to Australia and in Singapore. She has performed and recorded with the Southwell Festival Voices, Tredici, Echo, The Carice Singers, Erebus Ensemble, various projects as a Genesis Alumni including Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream with Ryan Wigglesworth and James MacMillan's Le grand inconnu at the Barbican. She is also co-founder of Recordare Chamber Choir with Harry Bradford and Kirsty O’Neill.

As a soloist, Danni has performed in some prestigious venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Canterbury Cathedral, Winspear Centre in Edmonton - Canada and St John's Smith Square. Recent engagements include Ensemble Pro Victoria’s Bach St John Passion, Handel’s Messiah in Christ Church Priory, Sea Scapes by Tim Bowers with guitarist Sergiu Hudrea, music by Alma Mahler with Ed Liebrecht for the University of Surrey, Peasblossom in Royal Academy Opera's production of Britten's A Midsummer Nights Dream, St Paul's Opera Gala, Nanetta in Verdi’s Falstaff for RAO Opera Scenes, Phyllis in Love Opera and Green Opera’s online production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe, and she has recorded many learning tracks over lockdown for Run by Singers and The Self Isolation Choir.

Forthcoming performances include Lucette in Massenet's Cendrillon in the Vocal Faculty Opera Scenes, Academy Voices' 'Transcending Borders' series, a recital featuring Handel's Nine German Arias at St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street, and 'Nordic Reflections' at King's Place with The Carice Singers.