I am an organ recitalist, based in England, specializing in early music. As well as my performing, writing has always been an important part of my musical activities. I have written many articles on organ topics and early music, as well as the little book ‘The Performance of Early Organ Music’. For 20 years, until its demise, I was the principal concert and organ CD reviewer for Early Music Review magazine. My reviewing is now on this review website. Although it generally covers early music concerts, CDs, books and editions, it also allows me to venture into broader musical fields.
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Wednesdays at 5.55

Wednesdays at 5.55
Organ Recitals at the Royal Festival Hall
W Harry Hoyle
Clontarf Press 2018
Hardback. 230 pages, 235x156mm, ISBN 978-1-999685706

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For many organ music lovers, the phrase Wednesdays at 5.55 will have a particular resonance. Between 1954 and 1989, London’s Royal Festival Hall held early evening organ recitals on the influential and controversial Harrison & Harrison organ, inaugurated in 1954. During those years there were a total of 545 organ recitals given by nearly 200 international organists attracting at its peak audiences of around 1500. This record of these recitals, and the music and performers involved, is very clearly a labour of love for the author, W Harry Hoyle. The publicity blurb sums up the book well – “Drawing on the Southbank Centre archive, private paper collections and the memories of many performers, in this comprehensive and engaging book he tells the story of how the series was planned, which organists performed, the repertoire they played and how the recitals were received by the press and by the public. He also reviews the social changes that led to the ending of ‘Wednesdays at 5.55’ and the search for the best way to present the highlights of the organ repertoire on this unique instrument“. And that is exactly what it does, in an absorbing and informative read. Continue reading

Mozart: Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne

Mozart: Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne
Classical Opera, Ian Page
Signum Classics, SIGCD547. 66’24

Mozart:<em>Grabmusik</em> and <em>Bastien und Bastienne</em> K.50; Classical Opera

This recording is almost certainly the first performance of Mozart’s original setting of Bastien und Bastienne since its original (and only) performance at the home of the person who commissioned it 250 years ago in 1768 – Dr Franz Mesmer, of mesmerism fame. The opening Grabmusik is also given in its original 1767 form, lacking a final recitative and chorus added in the 1770s. Both works are examples of Classical Opera and The Mozartists pioneering Mozart 250 project which, between 2015 and 2041, will explore the music that was written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years earlier. Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne represent the years 1767/8, when Mozart was 11/12 years old. Continue reading

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Mary Bevan, Christian Curnyn
Kings Place, 10 January 2018

Barbara Strozzi: L’amante modesto, Pace arrabbiata, Lagrime Mie, Canto di bella bocca,
E pazzo il mio core, Le tre Gratie a Venere, 
Silenzio nocivo
Claudio Monteverdi: Volgendo il ciel, Il ballo delle ingrate

For several years now, Kings Place has selected a specific theme for each year under the banner of ‘Unwrapped’. Past examples have included Time Unwrapped, Cello Unwrapped, Baroque Unwrapped, and Minimalism Unwrapped. Their offering for 2019 is the enticing named Venus Unwrapped. The year-long series of around 60 concerts aims to “unlock the secret history of music by women”. It opened with a focus on Barbara Strozzi, one of the best known of the very few female composers of the Baroque era – or, indeed, of any era if musical history is to be believed. The painting below (The Viola da Gamba Player) is believed to be off Barbara Strozzi.

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The distinguished conductor Christian Curnyn directed a group of singers and instrumentalists from the Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, with Mary Bevan as the main billed soloist, although several other singers had prominent roles.

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Lacrime Amare: Bianca Maria Meda motets

Lacrime Amare
Bianca Maria Meda motets (1691)
Cappella Artemisia, Candace Smith
Brilliant Classics 95736. 79’04

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Jesu mi clementissime, Vibrate, Anime belle, O quante contra me, In foco ardentissime,
O lacrime amare, Volo vivere, No non tentate, Spirate vos zeffiri

This is potentially an important recording from Cappella Artemisia, an all-female choir and orchestra, founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy. Little is known of Bianca Maria Meda. She was born around 1665 and died around 1700 and was a Benedictine nun in San Martino del Leano Pavia. Her only published work is the Mottetti a 1, 2, 3, e 4 voci, con violini (Bologna, 1691). Judging by the quality of the nine examples on this recording, she was a very accomplished composer. Cappella Artemisia is an all-female choir and orchestra who specialise in music composed in, and for, 16/17th-century Italian convents. It founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy.  Continue reading

Kress: Violin Concertos from the Darmstadt court

Kress: Violin Concertos from the Darmstadt court
Johannes Pramsohler, Darmstadt Baroque Soloists
Audax ADX13716. 68’07

Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerto For Violin And Trumpet
Johann Jakob Kress: Violin Concerto In C Minor
Johann Friedrich Fasch: Violin Concerto In D Major
Johann Jakob Kress: Violin Concerto In C Major

Johann Samuel Endler: Orchestra Suite With Obligato Violin

Johannes Pramsohler continues his imaginative exploration of the lesser-known byways of the Baroque violin repertoire with this evocation of musical life in early 18th-century Darmstadt. The new young Landgrave, Ernst Ludwig, focussed his attention on the musical life of his Court, continuing the work of his mother who, as Regent during his minority, had encouraged the Court orchestra to adopt the fashionable French style. Ernst Ludwig engaged Graupner to develop the Italian style, leading to a distinctive ‘mixed German’ style, championed in this recording by the composer and Court concertmaster Johann Jakob Kress. Continue reading

Baroque at the Edge

Baroque at the Edge
Saint James, Clerkenwell, St Luke’s Old Street
Saturday 6 January 2019

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With a headline of “Imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Purcell a folk-fiddler, or Monteverdi a minimalist…”, the second annual Baroque at the Edge festival made a fitting opening to the 2019 London musical calendar. Founded in 2018 by Lindsay Kemp and Lucy Bending, the team behind the London Festival of Baroque Music and the earlier Lufthansa Festival, the festival invites musicians with a classical, jazz, or folk background to “take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them” with the promise of “No rules, no programme notes, no lectures: all you need to know is how to listen”. The festival was spread over a three day weekend, with most of the events taking place on Saturday, 6 January, after a Friday night piano recital and before a Sunday family folksinging workshop and linked lunchtime concert. Continue reading

Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Stephen Layton

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2018

Whatever joys the St John’s Smith Square Christmas Festival comes up with year after year (this is the 33rd), the climax comes with the final two (always sold-out) concerts conducted by the festival director, Stephen Layton, firstly with his own Trinity College Cambridge choir, and then with his professional choir, Polyphony. In recent years both concerts have been accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE). The first of the two concerts is usually Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3 & 6), sung by the student choir of Trinity College, the second, Messiah, sung by Polyphony.

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Les Surprises: Baroque Christmas around the World

Baroque Christmas around the World
Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 December 2018

I have reviewed the French group Les Surprises several times on CD, and in concerts during festivals in France, but this was their first visit to the UK. Their well-chosen sequence of music was from the Baroque era from France and Quebec, Spain and Ibero-America, China and Italy. Five instrumentalists supported soprano Eugénie Lefebvre, her clear and focused voice excelling in a wide range of musical styles. I particularly liked her distinctive diction, with consonants that many English singers would envy.

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A Renaissance Christmas

A Renaissance Christmas
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers

Coro, COR16167. 67’11

A Renaissance Christmas

The publicity blurb that came with this CD refers to it as “a perfect alternative to traditional carols”, and it certainly is. Perhaps trying to seek forgiveness for their 2015 release, The Complete Traditional Christmas Carols Collection (recorded in 1991), The Sixteen here concentrate on music from the Renaissance era. They bring their particular brand of highly professional choral singing to a well-balanced sequence of pieces from composers born between 1505 and 1580, a period when the Renaissance reached its zenith as religion in Europe reached one of its periodic nadirs. Continue reading

Gesualdo Six: There is no rose

There is no rose
The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 December 2018

Although only formed four years ago, The Gesualdo Six have gained an impressive following, not least at St John’s, Smith Square where they were one of the four members of the second Young Artists Scheme in 2015/16. They used that residency to launch their Composition Competition at SJSS, with the second following in 2019. For their concert in this year’s SJSS Christmas Festival, they gave a mixed programme of Christmas music ranging from plainchant and the early 15th century Trinity Carol Roll and music by Taverner and Tallis, through to living composers, including their own director Owain Park. Continue reading

Il Santissimo Natale

Il Santissimo Natale
The English Concert & Choir, Laurence Cummings
St John’s, Smith Square, 12 December 2018

The 33rd St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival continued with a very welcome first-half performance (by The English Concert and Choir, directed by Laurence Cummings) of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Missa per il Santíssimo Natale. Scarlatti is usually overlooked in comparison with other composers, both in his many operas and his few compositions for the church. His il Santíssimo Natal Mass was composed in 1707, during Scarlatti’s brief time as maestro di cappella at the Basilica of S Maria Maggiore in Rome. The two jubilant Kyries contrasted with a reflective central Christe. The gentle mood continued into the opening of the Gloria, before the bouncy rhythms returned. As in the later parts of the Mass, frequent changes of mood were a compositional feature, dissolving from one to the other with delightful ease, helped by some well-judged directed from conductor Laurence Cummings. The final Agnus sequence is a gently expansive movement, providing a suitably reflective conclusion to an impressive composition, Scarlatti’s operatic experience never far from the surface, without imposing. Continue reading

Mater Inviolata

Mater Inviolata
European music for the Christ-Child and His Mother
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
St John’s, Smith Square, 11 December 2018

The 33rd St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival has taken a slightly more eclectic approach to the traditional seasonal offerings, although its roots in early music remain, as exemplified by this concert by The Brabant Ensemble, directed by Stephen Rice. Their programme focussed on Mary, the focus for devotion in the late Renaissance era. The geographical focus was, as the group’s name suggests, the old Duchy of Brabant, covering present-day parts of Belgium and the Netherlands. The Franco-Flemish composers included Josquin, Lassus, and Josquin’s contemporary Pierre de la Rue in the 500th year of his death together with the latter composers, Clemens non Papa, Crecquillon, and Mouton, with his well-known Nesciens mater. Continue reading

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
CORO. COR16166. 66’37

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy

You need to read the title of this recording carefully – The Eton Choirbook Legacy, the key word being ‘Legacy’. Alongside pieces by Walter Lambe, William Cornysh and Robert Wylkynson from the famous c1500 Eton College Choirbook are compositions by five contemporary composers, commissioned by the Sixteen’s Genesis Foundation to contrast with and compliment the Eton pieces. Four are direct responses to Eton Choirbook pieces, the fifth is Stephen Hough’s four-movement Hallowed, composed for the British Museum’s recent ‘Living with Gods’ exhibition. Continue reading

English Concert

Instrumental Concertos
by Dall’Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini & Telemann
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
Signum Classics SIGCD549. 68’43

Dall’Abaco (1675-1742) Concerto a piu instrumenti in D major Op.5 No.5
Porpora (1686-1768) Cello Concerto in G major
Marcello (1673-1747) Oboe Concerto in D minor
Tartini (1692-1770) Violin Concerto in B minor D.125
Telemann (1681-1767) Viola Concerto in G major TWV 51.69.

At first sight, this appears to be a blatant promotional effort on behalf of The English Concert (who are celebrating their 45th birthday), one clue being calling it after themselves, rather than the composers or music it contains. I think that image is unfortunate, as the music and the instrumental soloists are of the highest order. It is based on the composers and performers connected with the many early 18th-century European court orchestras, several of which proved to be pioneering musical hothouses, albeit depending on the whims of the current princely ruler. The featured soloists are Nadja Zwiener (violin), Tuomo Suni (violin), Joseph Crouch (cello), Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe), Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola), all regular members of The English Concert rather than bought-in soloists. Continue reading

ENO: Britten War Requiem

Britten: War Requiem
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 16 November 2018

English National Opera has a record of performing Benjamin Britten operas, as well as creating operas from the Bach Passions and other choral works, so it was no surprise that they would turn to Benjamin Britten’s famed War Requiem. As with the Bach Passions, when I first saw them staged, I was a little apprehensive as to what I was to see. Just how would they stage a work with such vastly contrasting moods and scenes, combining the heart-wrenching poems of Wilfred Owen and the words of a traditional Latin Requiem Mass? Britten himself accented this contrast by giving the two male soloists who sing the Owen poems their own chamber orchestra, to be positioned closest to the audience and with its own conductor. The Requiem settings are for a large chorus and orchestra and a soprano soloist, together with boys choir and accompanying organ which are to be situated some distance away from the main orchestras.

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London International Exhibition of Early Music

London International Exhibition of Early Music
Early Music Young Ensemble Competition Finals
Blackheath, 8-10 November 2018

The London International Exhibition of Early Music is the latest incarnation of an annual event organised over many years by the Early Music Shop. It has had a number of names over the years, the most recent one being the Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival, although it had been resident in Blackheath for a couple of years. My review of last year’s festival can be found here. Concerts have always been an important addition to the musical instrument exhibition, ranging from demonstration recitals on behalf of instrument makers, Performers Platforms, competition winner’s recitals and, this year, for the first time, the Early Music Young Ensemble Competition Finals, alongside more formal evening concerts by some leading names in the early music world. This year’s complete events diary can be seen here. The instrument exhibition itself takes place in the newly restored Blackheath Halls, with the concerts taking place in nearby churches. Continue reading

Le cor mélodique

Le cor mélodique
Mélodies, Vocalises & Chants by Gounod, Meifred & Gallay
Anneke Scott & Steven Devine
Resonus Classics RES10228. 75’57

The horn must have a claim to have one of the longest and most complex histories of all musical instruments, with the exception of the flute and the human voice. From the Scandinavian Lur (dating back some 12,000 years, and surviving today in the form of the crest on packs of butter), ancient animal horns (surviving today as the Jewish Shofar), via the Byzantine Oliphant, the Roman Cornu, and hunting and military horns came the gradual absorption into art music during the 17th century. Initially, these were valveless instruments only capable of playing very restricted notes but time and the addition of plumbing and valves gave the orchestral instrument a much greater range, but at some cost to the distinctive sound of the naturally produced notes of the harmonic scale, modified only by the mouth and hand of the player. In this recording, horn specialist Anneke Scott explores one of the developmental stages of the horn: the mid-19th-century transition from the natural to the piston horn, using three horns and three playing techniques, each related to the specific ideas of the composers. Continue reading

Steinitz Bach Players 50th

London Bach Society’s Bachfest 2018
Steinitz Bach Players, Rodolfo Richter
St John’s, Smith Square, 6 November 2918

For the fourth and final day of their 2018 Bachfest, the London Bach Society (LBS) celebrated the 50th anniversary of their own orchestra, the Steinitz Bach Players, with this St John’s, Smith Square concert. The orchestra was founded, along with the London Bach Society, by Paul Steinitz (1909-88), one of the pioneers of the British Bach revival. Made up of leading freelance period instrumentalists, the orchestra performs under different directors during the annual Bachfest. On this occasion, they performed without a conductor, but with direction from the violin by Rodolfo Richter, a practice that I am sure Bach himself would have approved of.   Continue reading

Partimenti Napoletani

Partimenti Napoletani
Music for Keyboard Instruments by Paisiello, Durante & Dol
Nicoleta Paraschivescu
with Katharina Heutjer, violin
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19075896222. 54’06

Partimenti Napoletani. Music for Keyboard Instruments by Paisiello, Durante & Dol

Although this recording would make a very acceptable recital of music for harpsichord and organ (and occasional violin) there is far more to it than that. In fact, unless you already know what a partimento is, I suggest you have a listen before you read any more, because what I am about to reveal might surprise you, given the nature of the music you will hear. You can find extracts of all the pieces here, but I particularly recommend the first and the fifth one on the list – Paisiello’s Partimento in D and Durante’s Intavolatura in A minor. Continue reading

Purcell: The Fairy Queen

Purcell: The Fairy Queen
Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh

St John’s, Smith Square. 1 November 2018

The Gabrieli Consort and Players could probably perform The Fairy Queen in their sleep, such is their experience of Purcell’s music, and this particular work, over many years. They have performed it at the BBC Proms, the Barbican, the Spitalfields Festival and many other venues around the world. They now plan to record it, along with King Arthur, early in the New Year, with the same forces as appeared in this St John’s, Smith Square performance. Their crowdfunding campaign page can be found here.

One of the continuing successes of the Gabrieli’s and their director Paul McCreesh is their ability to reinvent themselves and to continually question and push boundaries in their approach to their music making. For this particular recording (and this concert) they stress that “Gabrieli also brings a forensic understanding of contemporaneous performance techniques to this repertoire, including a new bow hold for string players which transforms articulation and influences tempi; wind instruments using more basic, coarser reeds, for a more martial sound; and natural trumpets performing on instruments without holes, playing entirely through the adjustment of embouchure – a high wire act!“. This was also the premiere of a new performing edition, prepared by McCreesh and Christopher Suckling, their principal bass violinist. It was performed at the low ‘French’ pitch of 392Hz and the violins played using French bow holds.  If this suggests an academic approach to music making, the experience of this concert proved to be anything but. It was a compelling and exuberant performance, semi-staged, albeit with only one ‘prop’ – in the shape of an enormous bleached-white wig for Mopsa, aka Charles Daniels. Continue reading

Other Worlds

”Other Worlds’
London Contemporary Orchestra and Choir
Robert Ames, conductor
Barbican 31 October 2018

Giacinto Scelsi: Uaxuctum
John Luther Adams: Become Ocean

It was an achievement that this concert took place at all. Giacinto Scelsi’s Uaxuctum is one of the most complicated orchestral works to perform. Although composed in 1969, nobody attempted to perform in until 1987. This was its UK premiere. The score includes four amplified solo singers and a chorus singing the most complex microtonal music in up to twelve parts. The large orchestra includes a solo ondes-martenot, vibraphone, clarinets, horns, trumpets, trombones, bass and double bass tubas, and timpani. A battery of other percussionists play instruments such as a two-hundred litre. The subtitle of Uaxuctum is ‘The Legend of the Maya City, destroyed by themselves for religious reasons’, and the music evokes that atmosphere of despair that led to the apparent self-destruction, around 900 CE, of this Mayan city (in what is now Guatemala) after a few centuries of varying fortunes since their conquest in the 4th century, . Its five movements move from evocative mysticism to violent outbursts in an arch form, the final movement reflective of the first. It last just over 20 minutes.  Continue reading

Echoes of Venice/NCEM Young Composers

‘Echoes of Venice’
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
Turner Sims, University of Southampton. 30 October 2018

As part of their 25th-anniversary celebrations (which also included the release of this excellent CD), The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble (ECSE) joined with the National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) in the 2018 NCEM Young Composers Award. UK composers aged 25 and under were invited to compose a piece to be performed by The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble. Composers were”encouraged to “look to Venice for inspiration, and to treat the cornetts and sackbuts as ‘wordless voices’, closer in spirit to a vocal ensemble than to a modern brass ensemble“. They were offered this brief outline of Venetian art and writing. During the final of the award in May, the ECSE performed the six shortlisted pieces and helped to select two prizewinners, one for those 18 and under, and one for 19 to 25 year-olds. All the finalist’s pieces can be heard on the NCEM Young Composers Award website here. The two winning pieces were performed during this Turner Sims concert: ‘Bridge of Sighs’ by Lilly Vadaneaux (18 years and under) and ‘Isole’ by Andrew Blair (19-25 years). Extracts from the concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s Early Music Show at 2pm on Sunday 18 November and will be available for a few weeks after that. Continue reading

Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas

Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas
Jadran Duncumb
Audax ADX13713. 57’19

Hasse: Sonata in A; Sonata in E flat major
Weiss: Sonata in D minor; Prelude in C minor; Passacaglia in D major

Rather like the mythical dying swan, the lute went through something of a peak as it approached its ultimate decline, along with the Baroque era that had provided it with so much music. The pieces here recorded by Silvius Leopold Weiss and Johann Adolph Hasse, close colleagues in the Dresden court orchestra, are amongst the last gasps of a centuries-old genre and represent a final flowering – until, of course, the last few decades. The two Hasse Sonatas were originally composed for harpsichord, but survive in a simplified transcription for lute, although for this premiere recording Jadran Duncomb has reinstated some of the original keyboard notes of the opening Sonata in A. This, and the Sonata in E flat (which is far from simplified in the lute arrangement), represent the move towards the Gallant style. They are from a set of four Sonatas dedicated to the wife of French Dauphin, the daughter of the Saxon Elector.  Continue reading

Une Voix Française: 20th-Century Organ Masterworks

Une Voix Française
A French Voice: 20th-Century Organ Masterworks
Renée Anne Louprette
Acis APL01609. 69’58

Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) Te Deum
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) Improvisation 
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) Fugue
Jehan Alain (1911-1940) Variations on a Theme by Clément Jannequin
André Isoir (1935-2016) Six Variations on a Huguenot Psalm
Louis Vierne (1870-1937) Fantasy Pieces, Second Suite

This recording is an excellent reflection a small part of the important contribution to the history of organ composition by France, a powerhouse of organ design and composition with a tradition going back to the early 17th century. Since then, France has produced some of the best-known organ composers, with names such as Titelouze, Couperin, De Grigny, Widor, Vierne, and Messiaen among others. Focussing on the first half of the 20th century, Renée Anne Louprette‘s well-chosen programme includes a few well-known pieces, but there are some really interesting lesser-known works that sets this recording apart. Jeanne Demessieux’s dramatic opening Te Deum, is one example. It was composed for a recital she gave in 1958 in the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, so it is an appropriate start for a recording made on the important 1993 NP Mander organ in nearby St. Ignatius Loyola church. Renée Anne Louprette was Associate Director of Music at this church from 2005 to 2011, and clearly knows and understands the instrument very well. The thundering opening soon subsides into a sequence of more rhapsodic passages, before the power of the opening and full resources of the organ returns. Continue reading

Festival d’Ambronay/Festival eemerging: 2018

Vibrations: Cosmos
Festival d’Ambronay/Festival eeemerging
Centre culterel de recontre d’Ambronay
28-30 September 2018

The 39th Festival d’Ambronay saw the conclusion of an annual triptych devoted to the theme of Vibrations, in this case with the subtext of ‘Cosmos’. Spread over four weekends, it was described as “An evocation in music of a cosmos alternately spiritual or material, intimate or grandiose, in-depth or elevation … An evocation of the stars, elements and spirituality, a look at the harmony of man and the universe“. As well as hosting the annual festival, the Centre culterel de recontre d’Ambronay is also the base for the eeemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles), a European Union-wide cooperation project dedicated to the selection, training and promotion of young early music ensembles. It brings together partners from the UK, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia, Italy and Germany in a four-year cooperation project. Alongside festival events, the third weekend of the four-weekend festival was devoted to the ensembles selected for the 2018 eeemerging round, with six young groups of musicians performing, alongside one of the previous eeemerging ensembles and one of the most established groups in recent history. The comparison between the young musicians and some of the more established performers in the festival was of particular interest, leaving me with the view that the latter, with few exceptions, have a lot to learn from the former.

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French Baroque music meets Indian Classical Dance

French Baroque music meets Indian Classical Dance
BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Sofi Jeannin
Sanskriti UK & Ankh Dance
Milton Court, 19 October 2018

Lully: Te Deum 
Rameau: In convertendo Dominus;
extracts from 
Les Indes galantes, Les fêtes d’Hébé Castor et Pollux 

In what was a rather brave bit of programming for a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast, the BBC Singers and the Academy of Music, directed by Sofi Jeannin, the new Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers, presented an evening of French Baroque music, the second half of which was accompanied by two contrasting forms of Indian dance. The first half was of liturgical pieces, starting with Lully’s jubilant 1677 setting of the Te Deum. This was first heard at Fontainebleau and later became the piece that led to Lully’s death after he stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting baton during Chapel Royal celebrations for the Sun King’s recovery from surgery – surgery that Lully decided, fatally, to refuse. No such calamity occurred here as Sofi Jeannin demonstrated her commendably straightforward style of conducting, her focus clearly on the music itself rather than on any sense of self-aggrandisement. She coped well with the complications of this particular occasion, which included a late start after an overrun of the previous Radio 3 show, and complicated coordination between dances, singers, instrumentalists, a BBC announcer and the paraphernalia of a live BBC broadcast.  Continue reading

Bach: St Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion
English Touring Opera
Temple Church, London. 18 October 2018

English Touring Opera (ETO) is an ambitious organisation that run extensive annual tours of staged operas around the UK, alongside one-off projects like their current adaptation of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. They start their tours in London, usually at the Hackney Empire, where they have just staged Radamisto and a triple-bill of Dido and Aeneas, Carissimi’s Jonas, and Gesualdo madrigals. Details of their current tour can be found here. For the Matthew Passion, as in previous such projects, they enrol local amateur choirs, community groups, and schools. For their London performance, these were the Collegium Musicum of London Chamber Choir (whose musical director is assistant organist at The Temple Church) and an almost exclusively female flock of children from the Holy Trinity and Saint Silas Church of England Primary School in Camden. The orchestra was the professional period instrument Old Street Band. Continue reading

Zachow: Complete Organ Works

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow: Complete Organ Works
Chorale Settings • Chorale Partitas • Free Organ Works
144 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-14049-2 • Softbound
Edition Schott ED 9922

Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712) is best known as the teacher of the young Handel in their hometown of Halle. He was organist of the principal city church, the Marienkirche, also known as the Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen and Liebfrauenkirche, a post held earlier in the 17th century by Samuel Scheidt.  The little 1664 organ on a gallery above the altar that Zachow and Handel certainly knew still exists. JS Bach was offered the post in succession to Zachow, but turned it down, leaving it until 1746 for his son WF Bach to eventually become the organist. Zachow’s father was from nearby Leipzig where he was town piper. His church music was criticised as being too long and complicated by the pietest clergy, who preferred something more approachable. He taught Handel violin, oboe organ, and harpsichord along with music theory. He teaching was clearly successful, as Handel became organist of the Halle Cathedral aged just 17. His later compositions show several influences from Zachow, as well as borrowings.

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Music for Windy Instruments

Music for Windy Instruments: Sounds from the Court of James I
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
Resonus RES10225. 59’50

In celebration of their 25th anniversary, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble present this enticing recording of some of the Royal Music performed at the Court of James I. The music comes from a set of manuscript part-books, now housed in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum (Mu. MS 734). The chosen pieces are from the first layer, which was copied around 1615. Further recordings are clearly planned. Only five of the six part-books survive, the missing part reconstructed, often from other examples of the pieces, most of which are instrumental arrangements of sacred and secular vocal music by Continental composers, including the likes of Orlando de Lassus, Peter Philips, Alfonso Ferrabosco I & II, plus many lesser-known composers. Continue reading

ENO: Salome

Richard Strauss: Salome
English National Opera, Martyn Brabbins, Adena Jacobs
The Coliseum, 3 October 2018

In a production that veered from My Little Pony, via Lolita, to the Texans Chainsaw Massacre, there were two clear winners: the music of Richard Strauss, given a superb reading by Martyn Brabbins and the Orchestra of English National Opera, and mezzo Allison Cook in her strangely compelling and insightful interpretation of the complex role of Salome – a role and ENO debut. Usually depicted as the archetypical seductive femme fatale, for most of this production, directed by Adena Jacobs in an ENO debut, she seemed far more like a confused, hormone-ridden teenage girl, becoming increasingly fragile, delicate, and in need of protection. Perhaps I was viewing it through the mind of a father, rather than a voyeur, but it was an incredibly powerful image. Her first appearance was as a black-clad, demanding and confident long-haired princess arguing to see the imprisoned Jokanaan. As events unfolded, she mutated into a slight and vulnerable bare-breasted child-woman in minuscule schoolgirl gym knickers and with makeup smeared all over her face.

Salome 5.jpg Continue reading