EIF 2015 review: Richard Egarr

First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2015

A Richard Egarr recital is rarely relaxing. High octane, muscular, a rush of blood to the head, yes; relaxing, no. The Amsterdam-based harpsichordist (and conductor; on Sunday he’s at the helm of Scottish Opera’s HMS Pinafore) blustered onto stage, bobbed about to find the sweet spot on the harpsichord stool and raised a cheeky eyebrow to the audience. There was an edge of slight chaos in the air. Repeats in the music seemed to be dropped at random; ends of movements were often slap-dash or downright abrupt. Moments of calm between the storm arrived unannounced — but when they did arrive they were suddenly stark, raw and searching.

Egarr’s all-Bach programme contained the Third and Sixth English Suites and the Fifth and Sixth French Suites. Those labels don’t indicate national characteristics in the music, particularly, especially not in the English case; in fact the suites comprise medleys of German, French and Italianate dance movements, all centred around the slow, deeply sensual expression of the Sarabande. Egarr’s fast outer movements were slightly frantic, as though they could have gone off the rails at any point (they didn’t). Chunky fists of notes in the Prelude of the Third and the vast, obsessive Prelude of the Sixth English Suite sounded all the more furious under heavily sustained articulation — there was hardly any moment in this recital when no string was resonating, and even with the sweetest of harpsichords that amounts to a whole lot of, well, harpsichord.

Yet I was gripped by the energy of it all, by the urgency of the ornamentation, by the aching crunches in the Allemandes. Most of all I loved the sudden segues into some very quiet, very beautiful places in the Sarabandes.