The Sixteen at Christmas

The Sixteen at Christmas
Harry Christophers, Frances Kelly (
harp)
The Anvil, Basingstoke, 4 December 2019

As their 40th anniversary year draws to a close, The Sixteen’s seasonal tour of their ‘Sixteen at Christmas‘ programme stopped by at Basingstoke’s Anvil concert hall for a varied selection of music for Advent and Christmas. Their focus was on traditional medieval and 20th and 21st-century composers, most of the latter influenced by former. Until the Ding dong encore, it avoided all the usual carols of childhood memory. The key piece was the concluding Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, a sequence of pieces based on medieval texts that he started writing during a 1942 Atlantic crossing. Continue reading

La Serenissima: The Godfather

The Godfather
Masters of the German & Italian Baroque
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Signum Classics SIGCD602. 66’09

For long the undoubted champions of the music of Vivaldi, as their name suggests, La Serenissima are spreading their musical wings to explore the musical triumvirate of Telemann, Pisendel and JS Bach, all three closely connected, together with the composers Fasch, Vivaldi and Brescianello, who also had links with the principal trio. As La Serenissima note on their website, the links are that Pisendel was godfather to one of Telemann’s children; Telemann was godfather to CPE Bach;. JS Bach admired both Pisendel and Telemann and composed for the violinist Pisendel; Vivaldi helped Pisendel with his A minor concerto movement; Fasch was a friend of Pisendel and Telemann, and Pisendel played concertos by Brescianello, an Italian who helped to spread disseminate Italian instrumental music throughout the German-speaking lands. Continue reading

Bach: Violin Concertos

Bach: Violin Concertos
Kati Debretzeni (violin)

English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner
SDG732. 70’15

This recording has the makings of becoming an all-time favourite version of the Bach Violin Concertos. Quite apart from the exceptional playing by Kati Debretzeni, we get the bonus of two additional concertos. In addition to the well-known A minor and E major, (BWV 1041/1042) concertos, Kati gives us two others, the disputed D minor (BWV 1052) and the world premiere recording of her own arrangement of the E major harpsichord concerto (BMV 1053), transposed down to D. The detailed programme notes give full details of the rationale and implications of the two additional concertos, and their arrangements for violin. Continue reading

Handel: Aminta e Fillide

Handel: Aminta e Fillide
Fair Oriana
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
The Handel Friends
St George’s, Hanover Square, 28 November 2019

It was entirely appropriate that this concert, given under the auspices of The Handel Friends, should take place in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square, just round the corner from his surviving home. After 30-minutes of instrumental music and sumptuous interval refreshments (all part of the deal) came an inspirational performance of Handel’s pastoral cantata Aminta e Fillide, performed with the soprano duo Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard).

Aminta 4.jpegPenelope Appleyard & Angela Hicks (Fair Oriana) Continue reading

Early Music Day: 21 March 2020

Early Music Day
Saturday 21 March 2020

Early Music Day.jpg

Happy Birthday, J S Bach!
St Giles-in-the-Fields, London

Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ)
Poppy Walshaw (cello), Annabel Knight (flute)
Art of Moog: 21st Century Hyper-Bach on Synthesizers

St Giles organ

Informal 45′ afternoon Bach organ and solo instrument recitals
(Free entry – donations welcomed)

4pm. Andrew Benson-Wilson + Poppy Walshaw
(Cello Suite 2 in d)
5pm. Andrew Benson-Wilson + Annabel Knight
(Flute Partita)
6pm. Andrew Benson-Wilson + Poppy Walshaw
(Cello Suite 3 in C)

Evening concert @ 7.30
(£15. Ticketing details to be confirmed)

ART OF MOOG
21st-Century Hyper-Bach on Synthesizers

(with the 1679/1699/1856/2006 St Giles-in-the-Fields organ) Continue reading

Ensemble Masques: Routes du Cafe

Routes du Cafe
Ensemble Masques, Oliver Fortin

Alpha Classics, Alpha 543. 71’39

Coffee is an essential contribution to the lives of many travelling musicians. This fascinating CD from Ensemble Masques pays musical homage to coffee with two cantatas devoted to coffee, and instrumental music of Turkish origin or influence reflecting it’s origins in Constantinople. The programme is arranged in the form of an Ottoman fasil (suite), the two cantatas contrasted by Ottoman-style improvisations (taksim). We are taken on a tour through the cities of Europe where coffee-culture took hold – Paris, London, Constantinople and Leipzig – the latter, predictably, with Bach’s ‘Coffee’ Cantata Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211.

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St Catharine’s College: O Gemma Clarissima

O Gemma Clarissima
Music in Praise of St Catharine
The Choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, Edward Wickham
Resonus Classics RES10246. 72’02

Quite by chance, I realize that I am reviewing this recording on the Feast of St Catherine, 25 November. The patron saint of wheelwrights, millers, students, and young unmarried girls, the Cambridge college that now bears her name (which they spell ‘Catharine’) was founded in 1473 as ‘Katherine Hall’. The famous torture wheel that she is usually depicted with was, apparently, destroyed by an angel before it touched her, killing many. After her beheading, more angels whisked her remains off to the Mount Sinai monastery, which became and remains a centre of devotion. A monastery in Rouen also became a pilgrimage site after a monk brought back a finger that “broke off” when he prayed for a relic.

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Hilliard/Garbarek: Remember me, my dear

Remember me my dear
Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble
ECM New Series ECM 2625. 

Remember me, my dearThe 25-year collaboration between four a capella male voices of The Hilliard Ensemble and the Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek is one of the most extraordinary stories in the world of music. Although far from being the first example of cross-over partnerships, it was one of the most innovative. Engineered (in more ways than one) by ECM’s Manfred Eicher, the result was Officium, one of the most influential recordings of recent decades. Two others followed, plus extensive concert touring. After 40 years of performing and recording, The Hilliard Ensemble retired in 2014. Part of their final year of performances were appearances with Jan Garbarek, one of which is the focus of this live recording. Continue reading

Dancing with the Sun King

Dancing with the Sun King
Michel Pignolet de Monteclair & Jean-Fery Rebel
Ensemble Odyssee
Pan Classics PC10410. 62’20

Dancing with the Sun King | Pan Classics PC10410

Michel Pignolet de Monteclair: Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites
Jean-Fery Rebel: Boutade, Caprice, Les Caracteres de la Danse

For a demonstration of just how colourful French Baroque orchestral music can be, this recording by Ensemble Odyssee of music from the time of Louis XIV can’t be beaten. The bulk of the recording is devoted to the 1697 Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair, one of the lesser-known composers of the period. Separating the three Suites are individual pieces by Monteclair’s contemporary, Jean-Fery Rebel (Boutade Caprice) and the concluding 1715 Les Caracteres De La Danse. Continue reading

J S Bach: Harmonic Seasons

J S Bach: Harmonic Season
Manuel Tomadin
1737 Treutmann organ, Stiftskirche Grauhof bei Goslar, Germany
Brilliant Classics 95786. 79’471

The title of this recording reflects the way the 12 pieces are arranged, reflecting Bach’s own predilection for grouping pieces together in organised sets. In this case, the “Seasons” are indeed “Harmonic”. The four groups of pieces each start with a Prelude and Fugue or Fantasia, and the groups descend in key order through the “perfect, divine triad” from G to E to C, the first major, the subsequent two both in the minor key. The final tonal and harmonic resolution comes with the concluding C major Prelude and Fugue. Continue reading

Lulier: Cantate e Sonate

Lulier: Cantate e Sonate
Accademia Ottoboni, Francesca Boncompagni, Marco Ceccato
ALPHA 406. 54’16

 

The composer Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c1660-1700) has been overshaded by most of his contemporary’s from 17th-century Italy and, on the showing of the music on this recording, the reason seems to be sadly clear. There is a phrase I sometimes use on occasions like this – that a composer has been “plucked from well-deserved obscurity”. I am afraid that it applies here.  Continue reading

Philip Glass Orphée

Philip Glass: Orphée
English National Opera, Geoffrey Paterson
The Coliseum, 15 November 2019

The last of English National Opera’s quartet of operas based on the Orpheus myth was Philip Glass’s 1991 Orphée. As was apparent with the three earlier operas, the story of Orpheus, like all such myths, are open to many different interpretations. Glass used Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée as the basis for his opera, setting the text of the film to music. Both Cocteau and Glass approached their pieces after the death of close friends/partners, and their telling of the myth hovers between the world of the living and the dead, revealing the perils of artistic self-obsession and immortality. Continue reading

Prières pour Notre Dame

Prières pour Notre Dame
Music for organ and upper voices
Colin Walsh – Cavaillé-Coll organ of St Ouen, Rouen 
Romsey Abbey Choir, George Richford
Regent REGCD538. 67’27


Dupré: Versets pour les Vêpres
Lili Boulanger: Pie Jesu
Demessieux: Rorate coeli,  Attende Domine
Poulenc: Litanies à la Vierge noire

This evocative recording features music by four French composers performed on the magnificent 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ of St Ouen, Rouen, a former Benedictine foundation – as is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, from where the Senior girls of the Romsey Abbey Choir (aged between 16 and 19) provide an ideal contrast to the power of the organ.

Rouen St Ouen organ

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London International Festival of Early Music

London International Festival of Early Music
Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition Finals
Blackheath, 7-8 November 2019

London International Festival of Early Music now seems to be firmly ensconced in Blackheath after some years in Greenwich under a variety of earlier names. Hosted by the Early Music Shopan exhibition of instruments and music (in the Blackheath Halls) forms the centre of the three-day festival. The three-day programme of concerts and events around the exhibition includes makers demonstration recitals, performer platforms for younger musicians, workshops and more formal concerts by professionals. Every other year, the festival hosts the finals of Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition, the winner getting a recital during the following year’s festival. Last year they introduced the first of their Early Music Young Ensemble Competition Finals. Last year’s review can be seen here. Continue reading

Vocal Traditions in Conflict

Vocal Traditions in Conflict
Descent from Sweet, Clear, Pure and Affecting Italian Singing to Grand Uproar
Richard Bethell
Peacock Press
Softback. 410 pages, 254x178x28mm, ISBN: 978-1912271498

This masterly tome comes from Richard Bethell (Secretary of the National Early Music Association) and is clearly a labour of love. Based on 20 years of research into comparative singing styles, Bethell challenges the opera house singing style of the past century as compared to that of the “long 18th-century” between 1650 to 1830. The last 50 or more years have seen a revolution in instrumental playing of early music, including a realisation that vibrato was a rarely used ornament rather than a persistent effect. But the singing world has failed to respond to the lessons learnt, often resulting in glaring inconsistencies in early music concerts between the orchestra and singers.  Continue reading

Arne: Judgement of Paris

Thomas Arne: The Judgement of Paris
Brook Street Band, John Andrews
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7361. 67’50

If it wasn’t for his Rule Britannia (1710-1778), Thomas Arne would probably be more-or-less forgotten today. Although he wrote music for nearly 100 stage works, most of his scores are lost, many destroyed in the 1808 Covent Garden fire. Such was the fate of the full score of The Judgement of Paris, although parts if it had been published. The version performed here is based on that publication, with the missing recitatives and choruses reconstructed by Ian Spink for his Musica Britannica edition. It was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre in March 1742 and, three months later, in Dublin alongside his masque Alfred. His wife Cecilia Young sang the role of Venus. Continue reading

Landini: L’Occhio del Cor

Francesco Landini: L’Occhio del Cor
Songs of Invisible Love
La Reverdie, Christophe Deslignes
Arcana A462. 64’56 

Although famed today as a musician, organ & organetto player and composer in his day, Francesco Landini (c1330-1397) was equally as well- known as a poet. In 1368 he was named Poet Laureate in Venice, an honour he shared with Petrarch. He was organist of San Lorenzo in Florence from 1365 until his death where his (previously lost) tombstone can be seen, albeit tucked away in a corner  His poetry only survives today by the fact that he set so much of it to music, as explored in this recording from La Reverdie with organetto player Christophe Deslignes. Landini’s name is open to question, the former assumption that he was the son of a painter is now disputed and, with it, the related link with the Landini family. That name will be hard to shake off, but nowadays prefered names are the contemporary Francesco da Firenze, Francesco degli Organi or Francesco il Cieco (Francesco the blind) Continue reading

Devotion

Devotion
Sacred and secular songs by Henry Purcell
Ensemble Unmeasured, Julia Doyle
Deux-Elles DXL1183. 62’42

Ensemble Unmeasured takes its name for the unmeasured preludes and toccatas of the 17th century “but also refers to the magic of music itself, which cannot be measured or quantified”. In this debut disc, they are joined by soprano Julia Doyle, one of the finest singers of early music around for an exploration of Purcell’s ravishing and intense music. Continue reading

Beethoven transformed

Beethoven TransformedVolume 1
Chamber Music for Harmonie
Boxwood & Brass
Resonus Classics RES10249, 61’40


Beethoven arr. Czerny: Septet Op.20
Beethoven: Sextet Op.71

Beethoven Transformed is a two-year project by Boxwood & Brass exploring wind music in early 19th-century Vienna and, in particular, the rearrangement of Beethoven’s music by other composers for Harmonie (wind band). What are today considered as venerated ‘masterpieces’ were treated with considerable liberty in such arrangements. This recording also throws some welcome light on the world of Harmonie, the wind bands so popular in central Europe, notably in Vienna, but little known today outside that area. Just listening to the first few moments of Beethoven’s Op.20 Septet opens up a world of exotic instrumental colour and texture that relies on the use of period instruments. Continue reading

La Fedeltà Premiata

Haydn: La Fedeltà Premiata
Guildhall Opera
Guildhall School of Music &Drama
Silk Street Theatre, 4 November2019

Haydn’s La Fedeltà Premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) was premiered in 1781 at the reopening of the Esterháza court theatre after its destruction in a fire. His Lo speziale had been the first opera in the previous theatre in 1768. The plot is bizarre, even by the standards of 18th-century opera. The Roman city of Cumae worships the goddess Diana, but have managed to upset her, resulting in the curse that “Every year two faithful lovers will be sacrificed to the sea monster until a heroic soul offers his own life. Only then will peace return to the land of Cumae“. In this production, Cumae is Arcadia, its underground station sign prominently displayed on the curtains before the start.

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Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice

Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice
English National Opera, Harry Bicket
The Coliseum, 31 October 2019

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice was the third of the current English National Opera (ENO) series of four operas based on the Orpheus myth that I saw, although it was the first to be performed in the series. It was also the earliest of the series, the most telling omission being Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. In a nod to the Berlioz anniversary year, Orpheus and Eurydice was performed from the 1859 edition by Berlioz rather than Gluck’s own 1762 Vienna score or his 1774 Paris revision.

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Purcell: King Arthur (1691)

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Concert: St John’s Smith Square, 30 October 2019
CD: Signum/Winged Lion SIGCD589. 2CD. 97’38

Purcell King Arthur 1691

The new recording by the Gabrieli Consort & Players of Purcell’s King Arthur was launched at an impressive concert performance at St John’s, Smith Square. Lacking the two biggest-name singers from the recording (Carolyn Sampson and Roderick Williams), the concert was otherwise the same as the CD apart from the late replacement bass Robert Davies, standing in for Marcus Farnsworth and a smaller orchestra. Omitting all the spoken text of the original play, the music of King Arthur makes for a musically excellent, but texturally confusing, listen. None of the main characters of the King Arthur story appears. The music occurred at intervals during the play, generally as little masques, only occasionally as one-off songs responding to moments in the play. Continue reading

Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus

Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 29 October 2019

The world of ancient myths is a complex one, with many of the stories coming down to us in several different, and frequently conflicting, versions. One such is the Orpheus myth, the subject of four operas currently playing at the English National Opera’s Coliseum. After the sheer silliness of Emma Rice’s reconstruction of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (reviewed here) we had Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s monumental The Mask of Orpheus (with electronic music by Barry Anderson), the premier at the Coliseum in 1986 being its only full staging until now. Birtwistle’s approach is to tell several versions of the myth all at the same time in one of the most complex operas of modern time. As the ENO publicity explains, “Harrison Birtwistle’s iconic masterpiece retells the Orpheus myth in a non-linear narrative, as the opera’s leading characters appear in three distinct guises”. It “explores the contradictions in the various versions of the famous Greek tragedy, building a three-dimensional picture that leads us from inconsolable grief to acceptance and transformation”.

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Salvatore Lanzetti: Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo Op.1

Salvatore Lanzetti
Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo Op.1 (Vol 1)
Agnieszka Oszanca, cello
Challenge Classics CC72794. 68’55

Salvatore Lanzetti (c1710-1780) was a virtuoso Italian cellist and composer who introduced many new innovations in cello performance. He was born in Naples around 1710 and studied cello and composition there. After early employment in Lucca and Turin, he started touring around Europe, spending many years in London. Charles Burney noted Lanzetti’s role in popularizing the cello in England. His Opus 1 XII Sonate à Violoncello Solo e Baffo Continuo was published in Amsterdam in 1736 and was dedicated to Federico di Brunswick, known in England as Frederick, Prince of Wales. This magnificent recording from cellist Agnieszka Oszanca is an important contribution to recognizing the importance of Lanzetti to the cello world, and to the musical life of England. He was one of the many generations of musicians from the continent of Europe that have enlivened the musical life of England, then and now. Continue reading

Orgelbuch des Klosters St. Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)

Orgelbuch des Klosters St. Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)
Toccaten, Canzonen, Praeambula und Capriccio
Ed. Raimund Schächer
ISMN: 979-0-50222-381-6,  63 pages
Cornetto-Verlag, Stuttgart. CP1436

Orgelbuch des Klosters Sankt Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)

This edition is based on a manuscript (now in Regensburg) that originally belonged to Sister Maria Anna Barbara Schmaus (1653-1730), a nun who entered the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburg Eichstätt (midway between Munich and Nuremberg) until her death to 1730. Although she was the owner, she was probably not the scribe of the organ book. The composers of the pieces are unknown. The manuscript contains 182 organ pieces on 136 pages and was clearly intended for liturgical purposes in the Abbey. This edition includes 34 of the pieces, all short (one lasting just 13 bars), and of varying quality. Continue reading

17th-Century Playlist

17th-Century Playlist
Ed Lyon, Theatre of the Ayre
Delphian DCD34220. 61’30

This debut recording from tenor Ed Lyon reflects his own playlist of music from the 17th-century. Many of them have that catchy ear-worm tendency to provide an immediate hook, although hearing 15 such pieces one after the other might help to reduce that effect.The recital opens with Alessandro’s exquisite Misero, Cosi va, a reflection on the pain of true love and, in the opera Eliigsbalo, a welcome relief from the sheer awfulness if the titular tyrannical teenage Roman Emperor Heliogabalus. The delicately sensitive opening instrumentalist realisation of the four repeated bass notes sets the scene for a recording of vocal and instrumental brilliance.

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Weiss in Nostalgia

Weiss in Nostalgia
Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Suites from the London Manuscript
Alex McCartney, Baroque lute
Veterum Musica VM019. 48’41

Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) is the go-to composer for all lute and early guitar performers. He was born, and started his professional life, in Breslau Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland) before moving to a number of the German-speaking courts, culminating in a post at the Dresden Court of Augustus II (der Starke: the Strong), where he was the most highly paid musician. The London manuscript GB-Lbl30387 contains about half of Weiss’s known music, including the two Suites recorded here (in F & d). It was purchased by the British Library in 1877, and was probably put together in Prague some time after 1730

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ENO: Orpheus in the Underworld

Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld
English National Opera
Coliseum, 23 October 2019

Act II – Mount Olympus

The classical legend of Orpheus, dating back to the 6th century BCE, has been an inspiration for artists and musicians for more than 2,000 years. The related story of the death of his wife Eurydice has a more complex background. It has been the focus of musical commentaries from Monteverdi’s sublime 1607 opera L’Orfeo (one of the first known operas) to present-day pop songs and video games. Following Monteverdi, we have Gluck’s 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice, and Jacques Offenbach’s 1858/1874 comic operetta Orpheus in the Underworld (Orphée aux enfers), a satirical parody of Gluck, which formed the basis for this ENO production. Continue reading

Babell: Concertos Op.3

William Babell: Concertos Op.3
for violins & small flute
Ensemble Odyssee, Anna Stegmann, Andrea Friggi
Pan Classics PC10348. 75’02

William Babell: Concertos op. 3

William Babell (c16901723) is best known today (if at all) for his technically demanding harpsichord transcriptions of Handel pieces, giving a fascinating insight into the sort of improvisatory ornaments and additions to the musical text that Handel himself was famed for. He came from a musical family, his father playing bassoon in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra. Babell started out as a violinist in the Court Orchestra of George I, before becoming known as a harpsichordist and organist, preceding the famed John Stanley as organist at All Hallows, Bread Street, London. This excellent recording by the Amsterdam-based Ensemble Odyssee throws some light on other aspects of Babell’s short-lived musical career. His Opus 3 Concertos were collected together, in a rather random form, by Walsh three years after Babell’s death, aged just 33, apparently from “intemperate habits”. This recording uses on a new edition by Andrea Friggi (the Ensemble Odyssee harpsichordist) based on the confusing Walsh print. Continue reading

Anamorfosi

Anamorfosi
Allegri, Monteverdi
Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre
Alpha 438. 73’10

Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
Luigi Rossi: Un allato messagier
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è ‘l martire
Anon: Domine, ne in furore tuo
Domenicho Mazzocchi: Breve è la vita nostra
Antonio Maria Abbatini: Sinfonia La comica del cielo
Marco Marazzoli: Chi fà, Un sonno ohimè
Claudio Monteverdi: Maria, quid ploras, Pascha concelebranda

The word “Anamorphosis” is described by Wikipedia as “a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point, use special devices or both to view a recognizable image”. In the UK it is perhaps best known through its use Holbein’s famous 1533 painting The Ambassadors where what seems to be an elongated smudge across the bottom of the painting turns out to be a skull (a memento mori) when viewed sideways from the right-hand corner of the picture. It is that notion of artistic distortion that Vincent Dumestre and his Le Poème Harmonique explore in musical terms in this recording of music from the early Baroque era, a period when the structures of the Renaissance were successively deconstructed, and viewed from a different perspective through a lens of ornamentation and elaboration.

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