Mondonville: Grands Motets

Mondonville: Grands Motets
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923508. 43’20+52’47

De profundis (1748), Magnus Dominus (1734), Nisi Dominus (1743), Cantate Domino (1742)

Mondonville.jpgJean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in Narbonne in the south-west of France. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, joining the Concert Spirituel and the Chapelle Royale as a violinist. Although continuing is career as a violinist, he soon rose through the musical ranks (becoming director of the Concert Spirituel and Maître de musique de la Chapelle) and also became famed as a composer of opera and sacred music. Although never quite reaching the musical heights of his predecessors Lully and Rameau, his compositions reflect the changing mood in the middle third of 18th century France. Continue reading

Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2

Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2 (1734)
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Audax Records ADX13707. 67’22

Diderot.jpgJean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in the south-west of France to an aristocratic family whose fortune was in decline. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately published a volume of violin Sonatas. He initially came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour and also joined the Concert Spirituel and, later, the Chapelle royale. The first of his 17 grands motets  was performed at around the same time. In 1734, this Opus 2 set of six Trio Sonatas was published. The quality and technical virtuosity of the writing for the two violins says a lot about his own abilities as a violinist. Extensive use of double stops for both players are just the start of it.

Continue reading

ENO: Partenope

Handel Partenope
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 22 March 2017

Partenope is an entertaining, if over-long, venture into cross-dressing, disguise, sexual and political intrigue and, at least 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, intrigue, humour and sexual goings on.

Partenope is the Queen and mythological founder of Naples, who legend believes was also one of the Sirens who attempted to lure Odysseus onto the rocks. She has three admirers: Arsace, Armindo and Emilio. As the opera opens, her favourite, Arsace, is surprised to see his former lover (Rosmira) turn up disguised as a man (Eurimene). As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a women and 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 the dirty old men in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira.

This was the first revival of Christopher Alden’s 2008 production. It is set in 1920s Paris around the complex interconnected lives of surrealist artists and the exotically (and erotically) wealthy. Continue reading

Haydn: The Seasons 1801

Haydn: The Seasons 1801
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 480. 2 CDs. 133’08

Those that have followed the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh over the years will know that they rarely do things by halves. In their early years, this included such seminal recordings as, for example, their 1994 reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas recorded with massed forces in Roskilde Cathedral, the latter chosen because of its important historic organ. In recent years they have built close connections with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. This much heralded recording of the 1801 version of Haydn’s The Seasons is the latest of those collaborations. The opening thunderous wallop on the timpani will warn you that this is a recording of some drama and punch. Using a new performing edition (and English translation) by Paul McCreesh this is the first recording to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for in some of the early performances, with a string section of 60, 10 horns and a choir of 70, using the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir.

Often overlooked in favour of The Creation, The Seasons is in many ways a more forward-looking work, with more of a hint of the romanticism that was eventually going to overtake all the arts. Continue reading

In Nomine: Heaven and Hell c1600

In Nomine
Heaven and hell in the European musical landscape c1600
Les Harpes
L’Encelade ECL 1502. 63.

Freddy Eichelberger & Les Harpies  - In nomine (2017As the subtitle suggests, In Nomine explores how the concepts of heaven and hell were portrayed in Europe during the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque period. Its publicity suggests that it “plunges into a demonic world of evanescent dreams and telluric rumblings and then, as a counterpoint, whisks us up to the celestial heights of hope, salvation and the sublime…“. The result is something of a musical pot pourri, jumping from track to track and style to style with little sense of linking cohesion and with some alarming pitch and key changes between tracks. It jumps from music clearly intended for performance in church, and pieces that equally clearly were not.

It was recorded in the ancient church of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan in the Hautes-Pyrenees. The main focus is the extraordinary 1557 Renaissance organ, positioned on its own gallery to one side of the nave. It was reconstructed, Continue reading

Haydn: Harmoniemesse

Haydn: Harmoniemesse, etc.
London Youth Choir & Chamber Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh, 
Robbie Jacobs
St Andrew Holborn, 9 March 2017

Ian Grandage: Dawn, Sunset; Ola Gjeilo: Northern Lights; Rheinberger: Morgenlied and Abendlied; Rachmaninov: Bogoroditse Dyevo.
Haydn: Harmoniemesse

On a day when the BBC reported on research into the sad state of music education in English secondary schools, it was good to be reminded of the many musical activities that are available to young people. Two examples were on show at this event: Gabrieli Roar and the London Youth Choir.

Gabrieli Roar was founded in 2010, and is a partnership between the Gabrieli Consort and a range of British youth choirs, enabling the latter to perform alongside professional musicians and providing support and encouragement, particularly in areas of low cultural provision. The London Youth Choir (LYC) was established in 2012. It runs five choirs for children aged from 3 to 21 years living or educated in Greater London. The choirs are auditioned, and choir members pay £55 a term subscription. It has been a part of Gabrieli Roar since 2015. Continue reading

Müpa Budapest: Early Music Festival

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Müpa Budapest
Early Music Festival
27 February – 4 March 2017


 

Müpa Budapest is the sensibly shortened title of Művészetek Palotája, the national cultural centre situated on the Danube just south of the centre of the Pest side of Budapest. The building opened in 2005 (as the Palace of the Arts), and was designed by the young Hungarian architects Zoboki, Demeter and Partners. It includes the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall (Bartók Béla Nemzeti Hangversenyterem), the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház), also suitable for smaller scale concerts, several other performing spaces and an outpost of the Ludwig WP_20170227_18_18_52_Pro.jpgMuseum, best known for its Vienna contemporary art gallery. The centre hosts an enormous range of activities throughout the year and, for the past three years, has been running a short early music festival, this year consisting of six events. I was invited to review five of them, between 27 February to 4 March, featuring performers based in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Budapest.


Hasse: Piramo e Tisbe
Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
Müpa: Festival Theatre , 27 February 2017

The first event tWP_20170227_19_36_18_Pro (2).jpgook place in the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház). Designed for speech and drama, it also proved very effective as a small scale music performance space, seating around 460. A substantial acoustic screen (pictured) is used to reduce the size of the large theatrical stage, focussing the sound of musicians and helping to project the sound to the audience. The acoustics are clear, with sufficient reverberation to create an effective music listening environment. Continue reading

Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem

Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem
Chœur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, Leonardo García Alarcón
Ricercar RJC 378. 57’30 

Passio Secundum JohannemIf you can listen to the first two tracks of this recording without being smitten by the extraordinary musical and emotional power, you are probably on a different musical planet to me. The richly sonorous and harmonically intense opening chorus (a Responsory for Holy Week) segues straight into the opening section of the Passio Secundum Johannem. The orchestral introduction is a glorious harmonic construction, leading to the evocative voice of mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli, singing the role of Testo (the Evanglelist).  Continue reading

Froberger & Blow: St Giles-in-the-Fields

Friday 24 March 2017, 1pm
St Giles-in-the-Fields
60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays organ music by Froberger & Blow

This recital traces the influence of Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-67) on the English organist and composer, John Blow (1649-1708).

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Froberger was an enormous influence on keyboard composers from the 17th to early 19th century, not least for his role in spreading the Italian style of his teacher Frescobaldi around Europe, and assimilating various European musical styles into his own compositions. Although only two of his works were published in his lifetime, Froberger’s compositions were widely circulated in manuscript copies.  They were known to have been studied by the likes of Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Muffat, Kerll, Weckmann, Louis Couperin, Kirnberger, Böhm, Handel, Bach, and even Mozart and Beethoven. He was a close friend of Matthias Weckmann, who helped to spread the Italian style to the important North German organ composers in Hamburg.

John Blow (1649-1708) was the teacher of Purcell, and his predecessor (and successor) as organist of Westminster Abbey. He was just 18 when Froberger died and was about 4 when Froberger made his disastrous visit to London. The influence of Froberger came through manuscripts that Blow copied, adding his own distinctive English Baroque ornaments in the process.

Continue reading

Frescobaldi: Organ works

Girolamo Frescobaldi: Organ works
Bernard Foccroulle
Ricercar RJC 372. 72’20

Organ WorksGirolamo Frescobaldi is one of the most important composers of the transitional period between the late Renaissance and the early Baroque. His keyboard music and his written performing instructions form the bedrock of the 17th century Baroque style, in particular the Stylus phantasticus that dominated the musical style in Italy and Germany. Through pupils like Froberger and other disciples, his music spread throughout Europe and influenced composer, including Bach and his North German organ composer predecessors like Weckmann, Tunder and Buxtehude and English composers like John Blow. Continue reading

Cifras Imaginarias

Cifras Imaginarias
Musica para Tañer a Dos Vihuelas
Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman
outhere A428. 53’21

Cifras ImaginariasThis recording does exactly what it says on the cover, recreating an imaginary books of vihuela duets in the style and manner of the sole surviving example of such a collection. There are many examples of music for two lutes from the 16th century, but only one for two vihuelas. To make up for that omission, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman have joined forces to arrange a variety of pieces for two vihuelas in the style of the mid-16th century.

This is a fascinating recording on several levels. Firstly, it is a real delight to listen to. The sound of the two instruments combines and matches perfectly. Abramovich and Heringman play as one with an impressive sense of togetherness, and the recording also brings the two players aurally together. Even with headphones, it is not easy to pick out which instrument is which. The nature of the music is such that this is important. Continue reading

Thierry Pécou: Outre-mémoire

Thierry Pécou: Outre-mémoire
Ensemble Variances
St John’s, Smith Square. 22 February 2017

Villa-Lobos: Le Cygne noir
Thierry Pécou (b 1965): Outre-mémoire

There are many ways to listen to music. One is to just let it waft over you, without knowing anything about it. The other end of the spectrum is to study the background to the composition and composer, the social situation in which it was composed, the composers notes about it, the score (if accessible), and anything else you can get hold of. Those attending this performance of Thierry Pécou’s 2004 Outre-mémoire (Beyond memory) who adopted the first approach would have missed a vast amount of information that is (possibly) essential to understanding the 75 minutes long piece.

For those who just watched and listened, what they heard was an extraordinary range of musical textures, using piano, normal and bass flute and clarinet, and cello, together with tiny high-pitched little bells, a gong, fingers waggling in a bowl of water, rustled blue plastic bags, and several sound effects produced from the instruments themselves. Continue reading

Organs in Dialogue

Organs in Dialogue
Javier Artigas & João Vaz
1779 & 1864 organs of Clérigos Church, Oporto, Portugal
Arkhé Music 2016002. 64’07

Music by Boaventuba, Portugal, Ferbenac, Gill, Lidón, Bondaczuk.

During the 18th century, Iberian churches often adopted the earlier Italian plan of having two organs, each in (usually) identical architectural cases positioned on balconies and speaking towards each other across the choir. The practice has its roots in St Mark’s Venice in the 16th century. Clérigos Church in Oporto is one such example, its two organs dating from 1779 with major restorations in 1864. Rather like French organs, organ building in the Iberian peninsula reached a technical peak in the 18th century at a time when the music written for the organ was experiencing something of a decline. This CD reflects both those aspects; of organ building and composition. Continue reading

The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna

The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna
Boxwood & Brass
St John’s, Smith Square. 20 February 2017

The words Harmonie, or Harmoniemusik (translatable as ‘windband music’), are little known in the UK, although they are important aspects of the late Classical and early Romantic musical eras in continental Europe. With arguable roots in earlier military bands, the formation of wind instrument consorts started to grow into prominence from about 1750, and reached its zenith in the 1780s in Vienna. It became the preserve of aristocratic households, and its decline around 1830 was a symptom of the decline in aristocratic resources in post-Napoleonic Europe. Emperor Joseph II formalised the line-up of his own court Harmonie to pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns together with a 16′, usually string, bass. This was the nine-strong line-up of Boxwood & Brass for this concert, although they also perform in the various other Harmonie formats.

It is the ambition of Boxwood & Brass to bring the extensive Harmonie repertoire to a wider UK audience. To that end, they combine their performing and musical skills with an impressive academic and musicological background. Several are linked to the University of Huddersfield Centre for Performance Research and many already have, or are approaching, doctorates in music. Their recent début CD, Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon (reviewed here) featured original compositions for Harmonie. This St John’s, Smith Square concert included one original composition together with two examples of the important genre of arrangements for Harmonie. Continue reading

José Luis González Uriol in Lisbon

José Luis González Uriol in Lisbon
1765 Fontanes de Maqueira organ, São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon
Arkhé Music. 72’23

Music by Cabezón, Trabaci, Bruna, Kerll, Sola, Cabanilles, Nassarre, Zipoli, Lidón.

José Luis González Uriol is one of the most influential Iberian organists and teachers, and this recording is a homage to him, and also to the organ in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, built by João Fontanes de Maqueira in 1765, and restored in 1994 as part of Lisbon’s European City of Culture celebrations. Unusually for organs, it had survived virtually unaltered since it was built, and retains 98% of its original pipework. The recording was made on 17 October 1994, just after the opening of the restored organ in a recital by González Uriol. A combination of factors, including the death of the recording producer Joaquim Simões de Hora (who was also heavily involved in the restoration project), meant that the recording has never been released until now. Continue reading

AAM: Bach and the Italian Concerto

Bach and the Italian Concerto
Academy of Ancient Music
Milton Court Concert Hall, 15 February 2017

Bach: Concerto for oboe d’amore in D major
Vivaldi: Concerto for violin in G minor
Albinoni: Concerto for oboe in D minor
Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in A minor
Bach: Italian Concerto
A Marcello: Concerto for oboe in D minor

Groups like the Academy of Ancient Music often perform with soloists drawn from their own ranks, with understandably excellent results. This was one such occasion, when four of the AAM’s regular orchestral players stepped into the soloist limelight. The focus was on the influence of Italian music on Bach, with a sub-plot of the Italian music that Bach transcribed for harpsichord organ. Indeed Alistair Ross, the AAM’s principal keyboard continuo player, suggested during the pre-concert talk that he could perform the entire concert programme on his own on organ and harpsichord.

The instrumental focus of the concert was on the oboe and oboe d’amore, played by Frank de Bruine. He opened with the latter instrument in Bach’s Concerto for oboe d’amore in D, the husky tone of the oboe d’amore (pitched lower than the normal baroque oboe) revealing exactly why it was one of Bach’s favourite instruments. Continue reading

Palisander: Beware the Spider!

CONCERT: Antidotum Arachne
Palisander
St John’s, Smith Square. 16 February 2017

CD: Palisander Beware the Spider!
PALG-33. 37’51

The St John’s, Smith Square Young Artists scheme gives emerging soloists and ensembles a platform to showcase their talents through three SJSS concerts, a chance to commission new music, and opportunities to develop skills in marketing, education and outreach. The latest batch of six  (for the year 2016/17) includes the recorder quartet Palisander. They already seem pretty adept at marketing, and took the opportunity of the first of their three concerts (given under the title Antidotum Arachne) to launch their debut CD, Beware the Spider!.

The concert and (rather short) CD explore the world of the Tarantella, a curious aspect of folk medicine in 16th and 17th century Italy where victims of venomous spider bites were not offered any medicinal cure or relief but were regaled by local musicians (often funded by the municipality) with a variety of musical pieces, some known as Tarantella, intended to cure them of their otherwise fatal symptoms. In a well-chosen and varied programme, Palisander’s CD and concert reflected aspects of the various symptoms along with arrangements of original Tarantellas by Miriam Nerval, who also provided the programme notes for the CD and concert. For a few of the pieces they were joined by Toby Carr, playing theorbo and baroque guitar. Continue reading

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano
James Akers, romantic guitar, Gary Branch, fortepiano
Resonus RES10182. 67’47

Music by Ferdinando Carulli, Anton Diabelli, Ignaz Moscheles, Mauro Giuliani

The title of Classical Vienna is a bit misleading, and is not perhaps as you know might know it. Firstly the dates of the composers and pieces are rather late for the usual definition of the Classical period of music. Secondly, using an alternative meaning of the word ‘classical’, the combination of guitar and fortepiano is not exactly a mainstream aspect of Vienna’s musical life. For those not familiar with the sound world of period instruments, the notion of music for guitar and piano might seem bizarre. But as demonstrated on this recording, it works perfectly well. Gary Branch’s contribution to the extensive programme notes explains the history of the Viennese fortepiano and why it was suitable to balance with a guitar. Continue reading

O Sing unto the Lord

O Sing unto the Lord
Sacred music by Henry Purcell
Saint Thomas Choir, New York, Concert Royal, John Scott
Resonus RES10184. 54’03

O sing unto the Lord, Z44; Remember not, Lord, Z50; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei, Z135; Evening Hymn, Z193; O God, thou art my God, Z35; Morning Hymn, Z198; I was glad, Z19; Hear my prayer, O Lord, Z15; Voluntary in G major, Z720; Te Deum in D major, Z232.

Following on from their recent issues of Bach and Rachmaninoff, Resonus continue their series of recordings from the Saint Thomas Choir, New York, under their conductor, the late John Scott, with this release of a 2010 recording of Purcell. The well-balanced programme includes major works for choir and orchestra, such as the substantial opening O sing unto the Lord, as well as more intimate pieces such as the Morning and Evening Hymns, here separated by the early anthem O God, thou art my God with its famous Hallelujah, later turned into the hymn Westminster Abbey. This amply demonstrated the extraordinary range of Purcell’s musical style and his harmonic inventiveness. Continue reading

LPO: Haydn’s Creation

Haydn: The Creation
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, 
Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall. 4 February 2017

This continuation of the Southbank ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ series of concerts featured Joseph Haydn’s 1798 Creation. As with two of the pieces in the previous London Philharmonic Orchestra concert (reviewed here), it focussed on the beginning of the world, in this case as depicted in the late Bronze Age writings of the Old Testament. Haydn once said that when he thought of God he could write only cheerful music, and this is evident in his often seemingly irreverent take on God’s creation. Sir Roger Norrington has a similar twinkle in his eye, and was an ideal conductor for Haydn’s often (but perhaps not always intentionally) amusing moments.

As well as his pioneering work in the interpretation of music of earlier times, Norrington is also an enthusiastic supporter of audiences. He has a winning way, which he used on this occasion for another of his themes – applause. Continue reading

Bach organ music

‘Pull out all the Stops’
Robert Quinney, organ
Royal Festival Hall, 3 February 2017

Bach:
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 ;
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 682 ;
Four Duets BWV 802-805;
Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 547
Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 ;
Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her, BWV 769;
Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541

In years long past, the Royal Festival used to run a weekly ‘Wednesday at 5.55’ organ recital series, attracting performers from around the world and introducing many in the rather closeted world of English organists to music and interpretations from many different countries. Despite the enormous amount of money spent of the refurbishment of the organ (and the hall), that remarkable series has now been reduced to just four organ recitals a year, albeit full evening, rather than post-work, events. The Festival Hall organ was built in 1954 in a deliberately eclectic style, reflecting the historic organs from many different cultures, most notably the German baroque tradition that had hitherto been little understood in the UK. Along with the hall itself, it was designed to be acoustically precise. Recent alterations to both hall and organ and added slightly more of an acoustic bloom to the sound, and allowed some of the previously almost inaudible low notes to be heard.

The organ restoration project was promoted as ‘Pull out all the stops’, something that organists need little encouragement to do. Robert Quinney’s thunderous opening of THE Toccata and Fugue in D minor did just that, albeit just by pressing a button, rather than actually pulling out any stops. Continue reading

Musicall Compass: Lamentations

Lassus Lamentations & folk laments
Musicall Compass & Moira Smiley
St John’s, Smith Sq. 1 February 2017

The Musicall Compass have undertaken some fascinating projects in the past, combining vocal music with, for example, dance in a memorable performance of Buxtehude’s Memba Jesu Nostri in Christ Church Spitalfields. On this occasion they interspersed the nine five-voice Lamentations of Orlando di Lasso with folk laments from Eastern Europe, sung by Moira Smiley. Written to be performed during the three days leading up to Easter, the Lamentations set verses from Jeremiah’s rather morbid reflections on the decline of Jerusalem: ‘How doth the city sit solitary .. she has become a widow’. Three settings are sung on each day, each finishing with the lament Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God). Continue reading

LPO: Rebel, Milhaud, Adams

Belief and beyond Belief: Rebel, Milhaud, Adams
London Philharmonic Orchestra, 
Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall, 28 January 2017

Jean-Féry Rebel: Simphonie nouvelle – Les élémens 
Darius Milhaud: La Création du monde
John Adams: Harmonielehre

During 2017, the Southbank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are presenting the ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ festival, “exploring what it means to be human” through “the music, art, culture, science, philosophy, ritual and traditions that have risen out of religion in its many guises”.  The link between those aspirations and the music heard in this concert was perhaps a little vague, but nonetheless this was an adventurous bit of programming from the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski, drawing together three completely different musical worlds (French baroque, 1920s jazz-era Paris and 1980s America) involving, in effect, three different orchestras. If there was a theme, it was perhaps the way that three very different composers tried to draw inspiration from apparent chaos. Rebel starts by depicting the chaos of the beginning of the world, as understood by 18th century cosmology; Milhaud combined creation myths with the seemingly chaotic world of 1920s Paris jazz; while Adams moved himself out of a creative block created by the chaotic post-Schoenberg clash between musical minimalism and complexity. Continue reading

EUBO: Heaven’s Sweetness

Heaven’s Sweetness
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) & Singers of Barock Vokal
Alfredo Bernardini, director & oboe
St John’s, Smith Sq. 27 January 2017

Bach 
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D BWV 1069a (original version); 
Cantata: Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen BWV 123; 
Cantata: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt BWV 151;
Cantata: Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut BWV 117.

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage and indoorPart of the 2015 expansion of the European Union Baroque Orchestra’s activities has been the EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy (EMBA), a cooperative project aimed at finding new and creative ways of addressing the unequal provision of baroque music education and performance across the European Union. The touring orchestra (EUBO) still forms the core activity of the EMBA, reforming each year with a new intake of talented young period instrumentalists chosen from educational auditions held each spring. For more than 30 years EUBO has provided specialist training and experience, and has encouraged and supported many of the top period instrument specialists around today. One such is the distinguished oboist and director Alfredo Bernardini, a member of the very first EUBO in 1985 and the director of this EUBO tour.

The current EUBO incarnation represents 14 different EU countries. They have been performing together since last July, and last performed in London in November 2016 (reviewed here) with a programme based on Handel and his London contemporaries. For this concert they focussed on Bach, performing three of the cantatas that he wrote for Leipzig festivals along with one of his most complex Orchestral Suites, here performed in the rarely heard original version, lacking the trumpets and timpani of the later version. Continue reading

Siglo de Oro: Drop down, ye heavens

Drop down, ye heavens
Advent antiphons for choir and saxophone
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies, director, Sam Corkin, saxophones
Delphian DCD34184. 64’45

I reviewed the concert given by Siglo de Oro during the 2016 Spitalfields Winter Festival (here), and have now been sent the CD that includes most of the music from that concert, including the eight ‘O antiphons’ commissioned by the group. These are based on the Catholic tradition of including special Magnificat antiphons, each beginning with the letter ‘O’, during Advent week services. The well-known Advent hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel, is a paraphrase of one of these antiphons. Each of the new commissions (all in English) adds the distinctive sounds of a saxophone to the choir. Acting as a foil to the eight new commissions are three Renaissance O antiphons are included, by Pierre Certon, Antoine de Mornable, and Josquin des Prez. Continue reading

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love
Mottects or Grave Chamber Music (1630)
I Fagiolini, Fretwork
Regent REGCD497. 72’53

Martin Peerson is one of those composers that can so easily slip under the radar. Little is known of his early life, and records of his adult life are confused by the various ways of spelling his name. It is likely that he was born in March (not the month, but a small market town in Cambridgeshire) around 1572, and became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1604 a madrigal of his was performed at an ‘entertainment’ in Highgate arranged by Ben Jonson for James I and his Queen Anne of Denmark. This appears to have been his only involvement with the musical life of royalty during his career. He had Catholic sympathies, although managed to pass as sufficiently Protestant to be award a Bachelor of Music from Oxford in 1613. He then held posts at Canterbury and St Paul’s Cathedral and, possibly, Westminster Abbey (a “Martin Pearson” is recorded there in the 1620s).  Continue reading

The Grand Tour: Naples

The Grand Tour: Naples
La Serenissima, Tabea Debus, Vladimir Waltham, Adrian Chandler
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 January 2017

Music by: A Scarlatti, Durante, Porpora, Sarro, Leo

The penultimate concert in La Serenissima’s current series of ‘Grand Tour’ concerts at St John’s, Smith Square focussed on the music of Naples. A complex history of multiple occupations from the founding Greeks through to the 16th century Spanish (with brief Austrian and French incursions in the early 18th century) made it one of the most cosmopolitan (and the second largest) of all European cities in the later 17th and early 18th centuries. As such, it attracted artists and musicians of extraordinary ability.

Alessandro Scarlatti (pictured) was one of the founders of the Naples opera scene. He first moved there in 1684, aged around 24, as Maestro di Cappella to the Spanish Viceroy, and spent much of his following life there. All the other composers in La Serenissima’s concert were influenced by him. He left little instrumental music alongside his operas, but one such was the Sinfonia di Concerto Grosso II in D (for recorder, trumpet, strings & continuo) that opened this concert. It can be a surprise to those not used to period instruments to realise that the trumpet and recorder can be combined as fellow solo instruments, as Bach demonstrated so well. Scarlatti was less adventurous in his combining of these instruments in this concerto, with the two instruments generally kept apart, and the two melodic Adagio movements only using the recorder. Continue reading

Parthenia Nova

Parthenia Nova
Richards, Fowkes & Co Opus 18 organ: St George’s Hanover Square
Simon Thomas Jacobs
Fugue State Records FSRCD009. 77’40

Parthenia Nova

The 2012 opening of the new organ in St George’s Hanover Square was an important event in the London organ world. The church itself has a strong musical identity, not least by being Handel’s own parish church when he lived a couple of streets away. It was the first organ in London by any American organ builder, in this case Richards, Fowkes & Co. Despite some concessions to present day Church of England use, it is at heart a relatively uncompromising take on the 16th and 17th century organs on North Europe, the specialism of the organ builders. It is housed in a case spread across the west end of the church gallery. The central portion of the case is an historically important 18th century one, although nothing remains of the organ that it originally contained. Continue reading

George Benjamin: Written on Skin

George Benjamin: Written on Skin
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 13 January 2017

Since it premiered in 2012, Written on Skin, George Benjamin’s first full-length opera (to a text by Martin Creed), has been hailed as one of the masterpieces of the contemporary opera world, bringing such accolades as “the work of a genius 0326 WRITTEN ON SKIN PRODUCTION IMAGE c ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.jpgunleashed”. This 90 minute work was composed over two years of concentration and virtual isolation, while Benjamin eschewed all other composition, teaching, and conducting work. It was commissioned by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, along with the Royal Opera House and opera houses in Amsterdam, Toulouse, and Florence. A request to base the opera on something related to the Occitan area of Provence led to a mediaeval tale about a troubadour employed by a local lord who has a love affair with the lord’s wife. When he finds out, the lord kills the troubadour, cooks his heart and feeds it to his wife. When she finds out what she has eaten, she swears to never eat or drink again to keep her lover’s taste in her mouth. She avoids the lord’s anger and his sword by leaping from a window to her death. Continue reading