Garsington Opera: The Skating Rink

The Skating Rink
David Sawer & Rory Mullarkey
Garsington Opera, Wormsley. 14 July 2018

Just days after the world premiere of a new opera (at Grange Park Opera, reviewed here), here is another one, this time The Skating Rink, performed at Garsington Opera, now firmly established as a feature in the spectacular landscape of Wormsley Park. Their new commission was written by David Sawer to a libretto by Rory Mullarkey, based on the novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. Set in a small seaside town on the Costa Brava in the late 1990s, the story is based around the beautiful young ice skating champion, Nuria, and her relationships first with Remo Moran and then with the obsessive and much older Enrico. Political machinations during the run-up to a local election year provide background intrigue, including such lines, presumably aimed at the well-heeled Garsington audience, as “I’m not a monster / I’m a Socialist” and the repeated refrain of “Fuck this Country/ Fuck the Government”. Getting rid of illegal immigrants runs through the storyline, focussed on an opera singer, Carmen, who has fallen hard times and the young girl Caradad, attractive beneath the shabbiness of her clothes. A large community cast provided further ‘vagrants’ and scene-shifters.

Gaspar, a local poet and an illegal immigrant himself, is at the bottom of a food chain hierarchy and is tasked with evicted Carmen and Caradad from the campsite at which he is the night watchman. He quickly falls for Caradad (pictured below), but she soon goes missing, running off through the audience. His search for her brings him into the murky world of what turns out to be a murder plot, combined with embezzlement, deception, lust for power, and obsession.

8Garsington Opera 2018 Susan Bickley (Carmen), Claire Wild (Caridad), Sam Furness (Gaspar) credit Johan Persson_0.jpg

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Pushkin – the opera

Pushkin – the opera
Konstantin Boyarsky & Marita Phillips
Orchestra and Chorus of Novaya Opera, Jan Latham-Koenig
Grange Park Opera, West Horsley Place, 12 July 2018

We all have a great many great-great-great grandparents, but few of us are able to write an opera about two of them. Marita Phillips is one such, a descendent of the scandalous elopement and 1891 marriage between the grandson of Tsar Nicholas I and the granddaughter of Pushkin. Pushkin and Nicholas were born within 3 years of each other in 1796 and 1799 respectively. While exiled by Nicholas’s father, Tsar Alexander I, for writing the poem Ode to Liberty, Pushkin wrote Boris Godunov and Eugene Onegin. Ode to Liberty was seen as influencing the 1825 Decembrist Uprising that followed Nicholas’s unexpected appointment as Tsar, creating an uneasy relationship between the two men, at the core of this opera, which opens with the gruesome nooses that followed the Decembrist Uprising.

Written over an astonishing 15 years period, the story covers key aspects of Pushkin’s life in and around the court of Nicolas I, with an emphasis on the complex relationship with his wife Natalia Goncharova. She was around 13 years younger than him. They met when she was just 16, and already a renown beauty. She attracted the attention of the sumptuously monikered Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès, the adopted son of the Dutch Ambassador. The relationship between the two was open to some discussion, leading in Phillips’ text to the accusatory question of “buggery or incest”. Perhaps unfortunately, this question was reinforced by the fact that Georges d’Anthès looked remarkably like outrageously camp Mr Humphries from the 1970s television sitcom Are you Being Served, making his later attraction to Natalia a bit of a surprise. He pursued Natalia to the extent that a duel between him and Pushkin, leading to Pushkin’s death, his depiction as the ‘white wolf’ predicted by the exotic character of the gypsy.  Continue reading

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni
Il Riposo, L’Amoroso, and Il Grosso Mogul
Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics CCS SA 403318. 75’24

Although the Four Seasons sounds much better in Italian, it doesn’t hide the fact that this is yet another recording of the inevitable old favourite. Despite there being squillions of other recordings available, a new one will probably guarantee good sales, not least because people do seem to like what they know. And they do know the Four Seasons, even if the CD title of Le Quatro Stagioni might confuse them a little. Vivaldi wrote more than 200 concertos for violin and orchestra, For the more discerning listener, there has to be something distinctive to separate any new recording out from the competition. And, boy, haven’t some people tried something distinctive. Rachel Podger and her Brecon Baroque avoid the ‘distinctive’ route and instead focus on intelligent music-making, aided by sensitive articulation, sensible speeds and appropriate accompaniments.  Continue reading

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken
Vox Luminis, Ensemble Masques, Lionel Meunier
Alpha:
ALPHA287. 85’17

Gott hilf mir, denn das Wasser geht mir bis an die Seele, BuxWV 34
Befiehl dem Engel, dass er komm, BuxWV 10
Jesu, meine Freude, BuxWV 60
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, BuxWV 41
Jesu, meines lebens leben, BuxWV 62
Trio Sonatas, BuxWV 255, 267, and 272

Although the CD publicity and Peter Wollny’s programme essay credit Dietrich Buxtehude with the Lübeck Abendmusik, the famous series of Thursday early evening concerts during the five weeks leading up to Christmas were in fact founded by Buxtehude’s predecessor as organist of the Marienkirche, Franz Tunder. He died in 1667, so the roots of the evening entertainment funded by local businessmen, and free to all-comers, are well before the music heard on the recording, most of which comes from Buxtehude’s later years. As organist, rather than Kantor, of the Marienkirche, Buxtehude was not required to compose music for the weekly liturgy, so he was able to devote more time to his compositions, independent of the pressure of service writing. This resulted in a magnificent series of vocal, choral and instrumental works, much of which is still not as well known as his highly influential organ music. It was these Abendmusik concerts that attracted the young Bach and Handel to Lübeck, as well as the prospect of succeeding Buxtehude, even with the requirement to marry his sole unmarried daughter, by then considerably older than either of them. Incidentally, Buxtehude had married his predecessor’s daughter, as had Tunder and many other generations of Marienkirche organists.

This impressive recording helps to reset that balance with a well-chosen sequence of vocal and instrumental pieces, including three of his beautifully expressive Trio Sonatas. Although not specifically intended for service use, Buxtehude’s cantatas offer an insight into the Pietist sentiments of 17th-century Lübeck, with an exquisitely profound underlying sensitivity and sensuousness. Continue reading

Rameau: Complete solo keyboard works

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Complete solo keyboard works
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus RES10214. 3CDs 79’26, 65’45, 73’28

This important recording of the solo keyboard works of Jean-Philippe Rameau brings together in a three-CD set, pieces previously only available as separate downloads from the Resonus website. For those who haven’t kept up with these recordings, or who want a hard copy of these performances, this three-for-the-price-of-one package is a must-buy. The three discs were recorded in St John the Evangelist, Oxford in December 2013 and April 2014, and in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in August 2017. All use the same double-manual harpsichord by Ian Tucker based on a 1626 Andreas Ruckers of Antwerp, with a ravalement added in 1763 by Hemsch of Paris. The pitch is  a=415, and it is tuned in the non-specific Tempérament Ordinaire, in this context presumably meaning a modified meantone temperament. The three CDs follow a sensible order, giving an excellent overview of Rameau’s stylistic development from 1706 to 1747. Sadly, the title of ‘Complete solo keyboard works’ is correct: although he spent much of his early life as an organist, unlike many other French composers of the period, he left no compositions for the organ, although there are modern transcriptions available, in score, and on CD.  Continue reading

The Abduction from the Seraglio – Grange Festival

Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio
Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud
The Grange Festival, 24 June 2018

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The fledgeling Grange Festival, now in its second year, followed its impressive production of Handel’s Agrippina (reviewed here) with a pantomime interpretation of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, here under the title of The Abduction from the Seraglio in its new English translation by David Parry. The veteran director John Copley (the 85-year-old honoured with a very old photograph in the programme) kept things light and frothy, doing nothing to make up for the perceived the lack of character development in Mozart’s comic Singspiel. The replacement of sung recitative with spoken text meant the sequence of arias and consort numbers were not part of an unfolding musical fabric, and the rather light direction meant that it got close to the style of present-day musical theatre. Judging by their response, it suited the tastes of the Hampshire audience well, with little to trouble their intellect or to take their mind off the long dinner interval or the spectacular scenery outside. How they giggled at moments like judging girls on the grounds of being “not too fat”, or Osmin’s calling Pedrillo a “mincing little nancy”, albeit on this occasion because he was (counterintuitively) “ogling women that you fancy”: a triumph of rhyme over rhetoric. Continue reading

Iford Arts: Partenope

Handel: Partenope
Contraband, Christopher Bucknall
Iford Arts, 23 June 2018

Since 1995, Iford Arts have been promoting the summer opera season in the magnificent Peto Gardens of Iford Manor, just south of Bradford-upon-Avon. The manor was the home of the Edwardian architect and landscape designer Harold Peto from 1899 until his death in 1933. Peto created the Italianate gardens that clamber up the hillside above the classically-fronted mediaeval Iford Manor, with terraces littered with architectural bits and bobs, including a recreation of an Italianate cloister. The cloister is turned into an intimate opera venue, with the hillside gardens providing a spectacular setting for pre-opera picnics and mid-opera biscuits. Sadly, this year is the last year that Iford Manor will be hosting Iford Arts and Opera at Iford, and the search is on for a new venue for them to continue to build their impressive Young Arts and Education Outreach programmes and to continue providing high standard opera in the Bath hinterlands. This year they presented three operas, Candide, Madam Butterfly, and Handel’s Partenope, alongside other events.

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Handel’s Partenope is an entertaining venture into cross-dressing, sexual and political intrigue, disguise, and, in the original 1730 production, some impressive special effects, including a battle that employed a stage army. The story is a slight, but attractive one, with scope for drama, betrayal, humour and sexual goings-on. Partenope is Queen of Naples. She has three princely admirers: Arsace, Armindo, Eurimene (a newcomer), and later, Emilio, heading an invading army, bent on a marriage alliance or war. Soon after the opera opens, Partenope’s favourite, Arsace, notices the striking similarity between the curious ‘Armenian’ Prince Eurimene to his former lover, Rosmira, not realising that it is indeed her, but disguised as a man. As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a woman and ultimately only recognisable to Arsace, she proceeds to mock and goad Arsace to the extent that the Queen demands that they fight a duel. Arsace, wanting to reveal Eurimene’s true identity, demands that they should both fight topless. Unfortunately for any pervs in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira. It was first performed in February 1730, in the King’s Theatre. Continue reading

Kerll: Complete Organ Works – Vol I

Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-1693)
Complete Organ Works
Vol I: Toccaten I–VIII (Ed. John O’Donnell)
34 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-18121-7 • Softbound
Doblinger DM 1203

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Johann Caspar Kerll was born 1617 in Adorf in the far south of Saxony. Son of an organist, he was sent to Vienna in his early teens to study with the Court Kapellmeister, Giovanni Valentini. He was soon noticed in Court circles and when he was about 20 years-old was sent to Brussels by the Hapsburg governor of the Spanish Netherlands as organist for the new palace. Over the next 10 years, he combined his Brussels post with musical travels, including studying in Italy with Carissimi where he probably met Froberger and might have studied with him. He also spent time back in Vienna, in Dresden, and Moravia, eventually becoming Court Kapellmeister in Dresden in 1656. He returned to Vienna in 1674, where he might have been a teacher of Pachelbel, then deputy organist at the Stephensdom. He is one of those unfortunate composers many of whose works have been lost, including eleven operas. He is best known now for his keyboard music, and this first volume of his organ works, consisting of 8 Toccatas,  demonstrates why. Continue reading

Tage Alter Musik Regensburg: 2018

Tage Alter Musik Regensburg
18-21 May 2018

Seventeen concerts of early music in just four days is the promise of the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival. It is held annually over the Pentecost/Whitsun weekend, alongside non-musical Regensburg celebrations, including a beer festival and fairground that brings the local youth out in their distinctive Bavarian outfits. Tage Alter Musik takes place within the architectural and historic delights of this beautiful city on the Danube – the entire city centre is a World Heritage site. Venues for the concerts include austere Gothic, glittering Baroque/Rococo, and the historic Reichssaal in the Altes Rathaus, for centuries the permanent seat of the Parliament of the Holy Roman Empire. The weekend runs from Friday evening, with two concerts, followed by five concerts on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the latter including a concert that started at 00:15 in the morning!

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Handel’s Agrippina at The Grange

Handel: Agrippina
Academy of Ancient Music, Robert Howarth
The Grange Festival, Hampshire. 16 June 2018

Handel’s Agrippina was first performed in 1709 during the Venice Carnival when he was just 23. It was towards the end of his three-year stay in Venice and used a considerable amount of borrowed material from Handel and other composers. It was an immediate success, with a further 26 performances, but was not revived again until modern times. It is now considered his first major operatic success. With its story of intrigue, rivalry, and deception in historic Rome, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani’s libretto for Agrippina is said to reflect his own political rivalry with Pope Clement XI. The plot tells of Agrippina’s ruthless plan to usurp her husband Emperor Claudius and place her son, the youthful Nerone, on the throne. The sexually provocative Poppea joins in the fray in a complex plan to undo Agrippina’ plot, not least in her attempts to discredit Ottone, who Claudius wants to create Emperor as a reward for saving his life. It certainly had many political and cultural undertones at the time, and perhaps still does today.

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François Couperin 350th Anniversary Concert

Christ’s Chapel of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift in Dulwich
14 Gallery Rd, London SE21 7AD

Sunday 8 July 2018, 7.45 – 8.30

Guirlandes Alleluiatiques
François Couperin 350th Anniversary Concert

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Extracts from François Couperin’s Messe pour les Couvents, contrasted with the final cycle of Charles Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique, ending with the extraordinary
Fantaisie sur le Te Deum et Guirlandes Alleluiatiques.

Played on the 1760 England / 2009 William Drake organ.

Christ’s Chapel is part of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift,
which is next to the Dulwich Art Gallery. Free street parking.
10 minutes walk from West Dulwich station.
Admission free – retiring collection.
Organ details here.

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Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare

Handel: Giulio Cesare
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 10 June 2018

It is no surprise that David McVicar’s 2005 production of Handel’s glorious Giulio Cesare proved to be so popular. Revived twice in the years just after its first performance, it now, after a gap of a few years, reaches its third revival. The first night on 10 June was the 38th performance at Glyndebourne, and the remaining performances are already sold out. Handel’s opera, and McVicar’s interpretation, really do tick all the boxes, added to which is the outstanding cast of the current run (three of whom survive from the original cast) and the return of the original conductor, William Christie.  Continue reading

Mozart: La finta semplice

Mozart: La finta semplice
Classical Opera & The Mozartists, Ian Page
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2 June 2018

The Classical Opera & The Mozartists’ ambitious Mozart 250 project started in 2015, the anniversary of Mozart’s childhood London visit, aged 8, and the composition of his first symphony. Each year they are programming concerts reflecting Mozart’s, and his contemporaries, compositions dating from 250 years ago. So 2018 is centred on music from 1768. Their two concerts earlier this year explored the music surrounding the 12 year-old  Mozart in Vienna in 1768 (reviewed here), with pieces by Haydn, Jommelli, JC Bach, Hasse, Vanhal, and an extract from Mozart’s La finta semplice; followed by a rare performance of Haydn’s Applausus Cantata: Jubilaeum Virtutis Palatium (reviewed here)But tonight it was Mozart’s turn, with a semi-staged performance of his first opera buffa, La finta semplice. It is all too easy to denigrate Mozart’s early works, to the extent that the chronological sequence of the Mozart 250 project could have been a risk, at least for the first few years. But it has turned out to be very much not the case. Part of the responsibility for that is the excellent performances of Classical Opera & The Mozartists, lifting what can be rather less than outstanding music into memorable performances. Continue reading

Johann Speth: Complete Organ Works – Vol I & II

Johann Speth (1664-c1720)
Complete Organ Works Vol I & II (Ed. Ingemar Melchersson)
Vol I:
  32 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-20126-7 • Softbound • DM 1449
Vol II:  44 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-20127-4 • Softbound • DM 1450
Doblinger (Diletto Musicale) DM 1449/1450 

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With one or two exceptions, the organ music of South Germany during the Baroque era is usually overlooked in favour of the far more musically advanced North German organist-composers – and, of course, Bach. These two volumes of the only surviving music of Johann Speth helps to redress that balance – or, perhaps, to explain it. Speth was born in 1664 in Speinshart in the north of Bavaria, about 30 km south-east of Bayreuth. Speinshart has a substantial monastery complex, and little else, then and now. The original Romanesque monastery buildings were reconstructed in High Baroque style between 1681 and 1706, and may have been in a poor state prior to that. Earlier assumptions that Speth must have studied music at the monastery have been disproved, not least on the grounds that the abbey’s music school did not exist until well into the 18th-century. But he may well have received lessons from a musician connected with the monastery. The first we know of Speth is in 1692 when he applied for, and got, the post of organist in Augsburg Cathedral. The calling card he offered with his job application was the music contained in these two Doblinger volumes, published the following year under the title of Ars magna Consoni et Dissoni.  Continue reading

Simon Rattle – Bruckner: Symphony No.9

Bruckner: Symphony No.9
Abrahamsen: 3 Pieces for orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
Royal Festival Hall, 30 May 2018

Although he has already taken up his appointment as Music Director to the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle’s contract with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is only just ending. In a magnificent farewell gesture, the Berlin Philharmonic escorted him home with two farewell concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. The first featured Bruckner’s Symphony No.9 in the four-movement version that Rattle has championed in recent years, using the version of the uncompleted Finale proposed by Nicola Samale, John A. Phillips, Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, and Giuseppe Mazzuca in 2012. This is not the forum for a discussion on the merits of what, for the time being, seems to be the final say on the Finale or, indeed whether the Symphony should end with the extraordinary third-movement Adagio. But it does seem clear that Bruckner intended there to be a fourth movement Finale. 440 bars survive in full score, with around 117 bars in sketch form. The completion by Samale, Phillips, Cohrs, and Mazzuca expands those 557 bars to 653, adding 96 conjectural bars based on existing material.  Continue reading

Purcell and Michael Nyman

Purcell & Michael Nyman
Iestyn Davies & Fretwork
Milton Court, 28 May 2018

Michael Nyman: No Time in Eternity
Purcell: Two Fantazies in four parts; Music for a While
Michael Nyman: Music after a While (world premiere)
Purcell: An Evening Hymn
Michael Nyman: Balancing the Books; The Diary of Anne Frank: If; Why
Purcell; Fantazy in four parts; Fantazy upon one note
Michael Nyman: Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence

Many early music period instrument groups play and commission contemporary works, but the viol consort Fretwork is one of the most active in this field, with over 40 commissions over their 32-year life. Their latest commission is from Michael Nyman with Music after a While, an instrumental response to Purcell’s Music for a While, and given it’s world premiere during this concert. Early music, and particularly the compositions of Purcell, have been life-long influences on Nyman, as reflected for example, in his Purcell-inspired score for the film The Draughtsman’s Contract. A student of Thurston Dart, Nyman’s early career including editing Purcell and Handel, and his performing band combined period and modern instruments. He has worked many times before with Fretwork. Continue reading

Invictus: a Passion

Goodall – Invictus: a Passion
Handel – Foundling Hospital Anthem
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Stephen Darlington, Mark Dobell, Kirsty Hopkins
Lanyer Ensemble, Oxford Baroque
St John’s, Smith Square. 25 May 2018

Invictus: A Passion was commissioned (at the suggestion of its composer Howard Goodhall) by the Choir of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas and their Director of Music and Fine Arts, Sid Davis. It was the second Goodall work to be commissioned by them and they gave the first performance on Palm Sunday 2018. This was its European premiere. The piece is described as “a contemporary reflection on the themes of the traditional Christian Passion story with particular attention to the role and perspective of women”. Interspersed with extracts from Æmelia Lanyer’s 1611 passion story Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (one of the first books by a female poet in the English language) are texts from “various periods of historic turmoil, written or inspired by women which eloquently portray humility in the face of tyranny”. These include Gethsemane by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Mary Magdalene and the Other Mary by Christina Georgina Rossetti and Slave Auction by Ellen Watkins Harper. Its themes include “persecution of the innocent, malevolent authority exerting itself against ideas that threaten and challenge, the redemptive power of love, and the resilience of the human spirit”.  Continue reading

Fantasia Incantata

Fantasia Incantata
Ensemble Libro Primo

Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018. 50’53

G. B. Viviani: Sonata Prima
N. Matteis: Passaggio Rotto
B. Marini: Sonata Quarta ‘Per sonar con due Corde’
G. G. Kapsberger: Preludes, Toccatas, Gagliarda, Corrente, Passacaglia
G. A. Pandolfi Mealli: Sonata Seconda ‘La Cesta’
H. I. F. Biber: Sonata IV ‘Darstellung im Tempel’

This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus:  a style described by Johann Mattheson as “sometimes agitated, sometimes hesitant, sometimes one- and sometimes many-voiced; often also shortly after the beat: without rhythm; but not without the intention to please, to rush nor to amaze.” This seemingly anarchic compositional style was a major influence on Italian and German composers of the period, its rapid changes of mood, pulse and metre creating an almost operatic sense of drama. As the programme note describes, this style was “a natural conveyance of a highly elaborate improvisatory performance practice“. That sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing. Continue reading

Peter Williams Memorial Recital

Peter Williams Memorial Recital
David Ponsford & Ghislaine Reece-Trapp
St George’s, Hanover Square. 24 May 2018

Peter Williams (1937–2016) was a renowned Bach scholar, organist, harpsichordist, music and publications editor, and writer. His notable publications include seminal works on Bach, Bach’s organ music, and historic organs. One of his most important books was his 1966 ‘European Organ 1450-1850’. a key introduction to the different styles of the wider European organ culture, published at a time when most UK organists had little experience of continental organs. This was followed in 1993 by ‘The Organ in Western Culture, 750-1250’. His three-volume ‘Organ Music of J. S. Bach’ (Cambridge University Press 1980, revised as a single volume in 2003) is still essential reading for anybody wanting to understand the complex background of Bach’s most famous repertoire. His most recent book, ‘Bach: A Musical Biography‘ was published posthumously in 2016, a few months after his death.  Some of the obituaries can be found here and here and here.

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London Festival of Baroque Music 2018

London Festival of Baroque Music
Treasures of the Grand Siècle
11-19 May 2018

The London Festival of Baroque Music (LFBM) is now in its 35th year. Previously known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, it is London’s leading early music festival, not least for the number of non-UK performers that it has traditionally featured. Last year’s change in the management means that the executive director of the festival is now Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, the festival’s principal London home. For the 2018 festival, he is joined by a guest artistic director, Sébastien Daucé. They are bringing to London a sizeable chunk of French music, musicians and culture under the title of Treasures of the Grand Siècle. Described as an “immersive exploration” of the music of the French Baroque from the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles, the festival features some 22 events over 9 days. It is a comparatively rare opportunity in the UK to hear French Baroque music performed by French musicians including, for the latter part of the festival, Sébastien Daucé’s own group, Ensemble Correspondances. Along with several other musicians performing, I first heard Ensemble Correspondances and Sébastien Daucé when I as reviewing at last years Ambronay festival, reviewed here.

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Rondeau Mélancolique

Rondeau Mélancolique
László Rózsa, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney

Veterum Musica VM 017. 62’22

The CD notes open with a quote from Laurence Sterne’s ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ (London, 1768): “Tis going, I own, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance in quest of melancholy adventures. But I know not how it is, but I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in them“. It helps to describe the mood of the music on the recording, which focusses on the more intimate, delicate and sensuous music of the often flamboyant and dramatic of the French Baroque courts from the time of Louix XIV onwards into the mid-17th-century. It was period of change for French music, as the influence of Italy slowly began to make itself felt, particularly after the death of Lully, whose dominance of the French music scene had stifled any imported musical ideas. Continue reading

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi
Marlis Petersen, Marta Fumagalli
Arcana A444, 71’18
Arcana_A444_PERGOLESI_Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri_Giulio Prandi

Messa in Re maggiore;  Mottetto: “Dignas laudes resonemus”

Whether you assume that Pergolesi only wrote one work or are an aficionado, this CD of two previously unrecorded pieces (the Messa in Re maggiore and the operatic “Dignas laudes resonemus”) is an important one. The editions used are the outcome of recent musicological research by the Centro Studi Pergolesi in Milan. The Messa in Re maggiore is performed in the second of two surviving versions, dating from 1733/4, incidentally, the same year as the first version of Bach’s B minor Mass. It is in the two-movement Neapolitan form of Kyrie and Gloria. It is a joyful work, with an almost skittish concluding Amen. Pergolesi’s use of vocal and orchestral colour and texture can range from the utmost delicacy to thundering drama, as exemplified in the dramatic opening of the Messa in Re maggiore. The dark opening to the Qui tollis is followed by a subdued section that seems to foreshadow the Sturm und drang of the later Hadyn generation. These two works explore Pergolesi’ theatrical style of writing, in the Neapolitan tradition.  Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2
Emma Abbate & Julian Perkins
Resonus RES10210. 70’43

Mozart: Sonatas in F major K497 and C major K19d
Mozart, completed Levin: ‘Sonata’ in G major K357
Clementi: Sonata in E-flat

I reviewed Volume 1 of this two-disc series here. That review gives the background to Mozart’s piano duets and the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of early keyboard instruments. For this recording, Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins choose two different fortepianos from the collection, a Viennese grand piano by Michael Rosenberger c1800 and a 1820s square piano by London’s Clementi & Co. The recital opens with the most substantial and important work, the Sonata in F, K497, running the risk of overpowering the other pieces. Unfortunately, for some reason, the programme notes do not follow the recorded order of the pieces.  Continue reading

Pour La Duchesse du Maine

Pour La Duchesse du Maine
Ensemble La Francaise
Polymnie ‎POL 503 134. 55′

Bernier: Cantate Médée
Mouret: Concert de Chambre
Bourgeois: Cantate Ariane

This recording presents two cantatas and an orchestral suite representing the type of music enjoyed by the colourful Duchesse Du Maine (Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon) during the early years of the 17th-century. Unhappily married off at the age of 15 to the Duke de Maine, the legitimised son of Louse XIV and his mistress Mme de Montespan, the ‘princess of the blood’ saw the arrangement as a disgrace, and soon find ways to distance herself, not least by being pretty insulting to her husband (like her, suffering from a physical disability) and taking several lovers. In her mansion at Seaux (pictured below), she set up an alternative court and arranged lavish entertainments for which she became known as La Reine des Abeilles (Queen Bee).

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Baptiste Romain: In Seculum Viellatoris

In Seculum Viellatoris
‘The Medieval Vielle’
Baptiste Romain, Le Miroir de Musique
Ricercar RIC 388. 67’00

Baptiste Romain devotes this recording to the different varieties of the medieval bowed fiddle, or vielle, with a selection of troubadour songs, dances and polyphonic compositions from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. The exploration opens with the haunting sound of soprano Grace Newcombe singing Ar ne kuthe ich sorghe non, the well-known tune here with an English text replacing the original Latin (a ‘contrafactum’), copied around 1274. The voice is accompanied by a crwth (or crowde), a Gaelic relative of the Nordic lyre that was popular in England and Wales in the Middle Ages, competing for popularity with the fiddle. There are five tracks with a singer, the remaining 11 are instrumental, with Baptiste Romain playing vielle, rubeba, crwth, or bagpipes, supported by well-judged accompaniments (often with just one or two instruments) from members of the ensemble Le Miroir de Musique. There are two pieces by Pedigon, a Provençal troubadour around 1200 who was famed for his playing of the fiddle (pictured below).

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Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum

Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
Delphian DCD34208. 59’27

Hieronymus Praetorius is one of the finest, but one of the least-known, of the magnificent sequence of North German organist-composers centred around Hamburg during the 17th century.  He represents what to many is a surprising reflection of the state of music in Hamburg in the years before the influence of the Amsterdam-trained generation of Sweelinck pupils. These included Hieronymus’s own sons, Jacob II and Johannes, together with Samual Scheidt, Heinrich Scheidemann and Melchior Schildt.  In the ‘family-business’ world of German organists, Hieronymus was the son of an organist (Jacob I) and eventually replaced him as organist of the Hamburg Jacobikirche.  Continue reading

Baroquestock: The Haydn Boys

 Baroquestock
IstanteClassical: The Haydn Boys
Heath Street Baptist Church. 28 April 2018

One of the most exciting music venues to hit London in recent years has been a rather unassuming Baptist church in Heath Street, Hampstead. Bowing to the inevitable, they have reduced their services to Sunday mornings, but have encouraged a wide variety of activities during the rest of the week, including lunchtime and evening concerts. In 2016  a complete weekend was devoted to the ‘Hampstead Baroque Festival’ which concluded in a Bratwurst, Beer & Bach concert given by the then newly-formed period-instrument collective Istante, ‘ensemble in residence’ at Heath Street Baptist Church. Last year, this festival morphed into the more imaginatively named Baroquestock. I reviewed the opening concert when they hosted one of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s ‘Night Shift’ events, aimed at just the sort of younger-than-usual classical music audience that Heath Street had already been attracting. In an imaginative, albeit brave bit of programming, the concert was devoted to a performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, complete with ‘Schoenbergers’. My review is here, noting that the “large and enthusiastic crowd was yet another indication that adventurous musical programming and providing something a little different from the normal run of musical events can draw the crowds”.

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XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso

XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso
Tabea Debus, recorders
TYXart XA18105.  79’51

XXIV Fantasie per il Flauto - Tabea Debus

Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for solo Flute paired with pieces commissioned by the City Music Foundation from the 12 contemporary composers: Leo Chadburn, Ronald Corp, Moritz Eggert, Arne Gieshoff, Dani Howard, Oliver Leith, Colin Matthews, Fumiko Miyachi, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Alastair Penman, Max de Wardener and Frank Zabel.

There is more than enough classical music around to keep performers happy for hundreds of years to come, but without new composers and compositions, music as a creative art form will die. So this recording from recorder player Tabea Debus is particularly important. In conjunction with the City Music Foundation, she commissioned 12 contemporary composers to write companion pieces to Telemann’s 12 Fantasies, originally written for solo flute, but here performed very effectively on a range of different recorders. I reviewed some of the new pieces during a Baroque at the Edge festival earlier this year (see here), but this CD brings them all together in a fascinating sequence of Telemann and contemporary takes on Telemann. Some of the new pieces follow the relevant Telemann Fantasias, some introduce them – and some are interspersed within the Telemann movements.  Continue reading

Ensemble Tempus Fugit: Calcutta

Calcutta
Ensemble Tempus Fugit
Tara Theatre, Earlsfield. 22 April 2018

I’ve often wondered what the distinctive little building next to Earlsfield Station was as my fast train into London thundered past. It turns out to be the Tara Theatre (the home of Tara Arts, founded in 1977) an Indian-influenced extension to what was originally an 1891 drapers store. It was a very appropriate venue for Calcutta, the innovative music & theatre project created by Ensemble Tempus Fugit, with musical direction from harpsichordist Katie De La Matter and stage direction by Francesca Bridge-Cicic.

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The concert was based on life in Calcutta (now Kolkata, and the capital of West Bengal state) around 1780. Developed from three villages in the late 17th-century (and named after one of them), Calcutta soon became a thriving fortified port under the British East India Company, eventually becoming the capital of the British Indian territories up until 1911. British residents (or, perhaps more accurately, their wives) brought musical instruments out with them, including harpsichords, but soon became fascinated by the local musicians and Indian classical music. Ensemble Tempus Fugit’s research revealed two such East India Company officer wives: Margaret Fowkes, who invited local Indian classical musicians into her front room, and her friend Sophia Plowden, who arranged for some Indian tunes to be written down.  Continue reading