Christmas Oratorio, Kings Place 2017
This was very much a chamber performance, rooted in the give and take of a fine ensemble, each member of which seems instinctively aware of what his or her fellows are doing. Feinstein played first flute, directing part of the proceedings with a series of graceful gestures as he did so. Small forces confer a blinding clarity on the score, entirely appropriate for a work that celebrates the coming of light into the world. The four singers, however, were exceptional, their voices finely blended in the choruses. Charles Daniels was the committed Evangelist, Faye Newton the bright-toned, effortless soprano. Bass Ben Davies sounded terrific in Grosser Herr, O starke König.
Christmas Oratorio, Kings Place 2017
Had The Feinstein Ensemble and London Bach Singers been available in 1734, Bach wouldn’t have regretted using them. Wednesday night’s one-to-a-part performance (with just four singers) of the first three and the last of the cantatas of ‘The Christmas Oratorio’ at King’s Place was a compact and intense experience from the opening swirl of the flute to the final triumphant trumpet-spattered chorale Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen.
Directed with the lightest of touches by Martin Feinstein (from the flute) the 20 performers demonstrated how one instrument – or voice – to a part can allow fluidity with both tempo and texture, while maintaining a blend such that, even with three trumpets and timpani, the four voices were not overwhelmed, and no section of instruments dominated. Particularly impressive were the seamless transitions between some of the movements: the first five numbers of Part III, for example, segued straight into each other, with the final chorale of the set (Dies hat er alles uns getan) being given an elegant pull-up to mark the end of the section.
It is difficult to spotlight moments of special delight in such an outstanding performance, but the woodwind playing in the Sinfonia introduction to Part II was particularly satisfying – the flutes summoning up the 18th-century trope of the pastoral, underscored by the keening wheeze of shepherds’ bagpipes depicted by the pairs of oboi d’amore and oboi da caccia. Pedro Segundo’s timpani playing in the more grandiose movements was a masterpiece of energetic restraint, the hard sticks producing the precise percussive rhythm that is so essential in the opening movement. The sudden soft tone of the instrumental underlay in the Frieden auf Erde section of the angel chorus was enchanting, as was the fluidity of tempo in the chorale Ich will dich mit Fleiss bewahren.
The singers were carefully chosen, with enough heft to be heard over the instruments in the big choruses (and to blend with each other), yet each armed with a voice that delivered a range of subtle shades in the solo numbers. Faye Newton’s gentle-but-firm interpretation of Nur ein Wink contrasted well with the venom with which she imbued the preceding recitative (Du Falscher), and her clarion tones in the big choruses gave the trumpets a run for their money. Tim Travers Brown’s counter-tenor tends to a little shrillness at the top of the range, but this was no bad thing for the tutti sections; lower in the register, though (as in Schlafe, mein Liebster) it settled to a creamy lullaby tone. Charles Daniels is a long-established master in the field, and, as usual, undaunted by the requirement to sing Evangelist, the tenor arias and the tenor chorus part, he turned in a polished performance – a brilliant essay in fitting dynamic and tone of voice to the text being sung; his account of Frohe Hirten, with light touch and articulated runs, was magical. The bass, Ben Davies, too, is a regular on the baroque scene, and his voice works perfectly with this music, its richness and edge making for an incisive sonority that provided solid grounding in the choral numbers, and made his trumpet-aria Grosser Herr, O starker König a joy to listen to.
The Feinsteins don’t often present a choral work, but when they do, it is very much worth attending, and this one provided the choicest sparkling aperitif for the Christmas season
Musical Offering, Kings Place 2017
The playing was full of verve and clarity.
Mass in B Minor, Kings Place 2016
Full of excitement and raw energy: the crucifixus was quiet and menacing; the slow exposition of the counterpoint in the early section of et expecto felt as though each singer was daring the others to top the dissonances; the changes in tempo sparkled, and the trumpets accompanied the voices in soaring glory. This was the performance that moved the listener to tears, and this was the performance that gave life to Bach’s visionary genius.
COMPLETE BRANDENBURGS, QEH 2012
I’ve heard the Brandenburg Concertos so many times, and in so many contexts. Yet what the Feinstein Ensemble did with them had revelatory freshness.
St John Passion, QEH 2011
An immaculate sense of pace and mood kept everyone riveted through both the hurtling momentum of Christ’s arrest and trial and the protracted anguish of the crucifixion.
Vivaldi Recorder Concerti
(released 2013 on Barn Cottage Records)
In the brilliant work in C Major, Feinstein’s tempo makes the first and third movements’ passagework sound all the more virtuosic, though he relaxes to play the slow movement with affecting lyricism. The somber Concerto in C Minor that follows displays yet another side of Feinstein’s musical personality; though it’s still brilliant, it offers more frequent opportunities for introspective reflection. Throughout these concertos, Feinstein and his Ensemble produce sonorities generally close to those suggested by historically informed practitioners; yet they eschew the abrasive contrasts that characterize performances of ensembles like Il Giardino Armonico and The Venice Baroque Orchestra and allow more subtle increases and decreases in dynamic level to underline the logic of the melodies’ movement. Warmly recommended.
Showcasing Martin Feinstein and his six-member period instrument ensemble, Feinstein has a lovely tone and a great deal of fun playing these works. Articulation is superb, all the parts come through clearly.
Cantatas, Bach Weekend at Southbank Centre 2012
This concert was one of many pleasures in the Southbank’s annual Bach Weekend, presided over by flautist Martin Feinstein and his ensemble. The ensemble have a splendid vigour and clarity of sound and with the London Bach Singers they rose fully to the challenge of the Chorale Cantatas which were the weekend’s finale.
Virtuoso flute concertos played with great authenticity and consummate musicianship… Feinstein has acquired a formidable command of Bach’s very particular style. The ‘Sturm und Drang’ movements bristle and threaten, while those in ‘Empfindsamer Stil’ charm with deeply felt sentiment. Feinstein is a graceful player and decisive conductor. Taking their cue from him, the string orchestra members produce cleanly articulated and shapely phrases. The balance between the flute and string orchestra is always beautifully judged and the interplay between them most sensitive.
They play with a lightness and delicacy, yet also with a security and force that are a sheer delight. As for Feinstein himself, his flute-playing is beyond praise – I have never heard better.
Martin Feinstein, with his cool, limpid tone, is an adroit soloist, articulating deftly and negotiating the fireworks of the D minor Concerto’s finale with aplomb.
BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE