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FRIENDS OF MUSIC -- AIX MUSICA (article first published : 2004-08-6)

Aix la Chapelle is the French name for Aachen, in north-west Germany, and a chamber group from that ancient city have called themselves Aix Musica. With help from two locals they presented an unusual and attractive recital of baroque music for the most recent Friends of Music concert at the Durban Jewish Centre.

The Aix players are Nigel Fish, well remembered here as the leader for many years of the cello section in the KZN Philharmonic; Johannes Poth, harpsichord; and Melitta Wolf; recorder. For this concert they were joined by Jitske Brien, violin, and Colleen Oxtoby, viola da gamba, which looks and sounds rather like a cello and is the bass member of the viol family, predecessors of the violin.

Johannes Poth’s harpsichord was brought from Germany for the group’s concerts in South Africa. It is a tiny instrument compared with a modern piano, with a keyboard of only three octaves, and is a copy of an original made about 250 years ago. On the inside of the lid is engraved the famous and rather doleful observation made by the German theologian Thomas a Kempis nearly 600 years ago: Sic transit gloria mundi; thus passes the glory of the world.

The programme covered works by Georg Philipp Telemann, Dario Castello, Johann Jakob Froberger, Matthew Locke and Girolamo Frescobaldi, all of them writing music in the seventeenth century. Telemann was top of the pops in his day, but listening to his music now it is hard to believe that he outlived both J.S. Bach and Handel. In retrospect, those supreme masters were miles ahead of their time. Nevertheless, Telemann’s music is of high value: sprightly allegros and eloquent slow movements, sometimes with harmonies that look to the future. And the same could be said about the other composers featured.

The playing was outstanding. Nigel Fish’s authority on the cello was always evident and Melitta Wolf, playing with great vigour and drama, showed that the recorder (a precursor of the flute) has a potential that far exceeds its role as an instrument for schoolchildren. Jitske Brien (violin) produced her usual graceful playing, and in rather lesser roles Johannes Poth and Colleen Oxtoby displayed high skills with the harpsichord and viola da gamba.

The evening’s Prelude Performers, financed by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were Jimmy and the Crickets, a group four young brass players who are full or part-time members of the KZN Philharmonic. Wearing black shirts and pants and looking rather like a crisp military unit, they played jazz for fifteen minutes, showing great verve and cohesion. I was sorry when their allocated time came to an end. Most enjoyable. - Michael Green




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