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

LHF: Costly Canaries

London Handel Festival
“Costly Canaries”
London Early Opera, Brigit Cunningham
St George’s, Hanover Square, 11 April 2019

London Early Opera’s programme explored the ‘Costly Canaries’ gathered by Handel from around Europe during the early years of the Royal Academy of Music, the aristocratic corporation founded 300 years ago, in 1719. Handel was ‘Master of the Orchestra’ with responsibility for composing his own works to Italian libretti, adopting mostly Italian operas for performance in London, and engaging singers and players, usually from Italy. Enormous fees were paid to many of these singers, leading to Mainwaring description of them as ‘costly canaries’. The three singers that Handel procured highlighted in this concert were Margherita Durastanti, Anastasia Robinson (an Italian born and trained, but English singer) and, later, Anna Maria Strada del Pò. They joined others such as Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, the two singers whose fabricated rivalry was whipped up by Academy audiences. These imported stars were paid extraordinary amounts of money, leading to the ultimate collapse of the Academy in 1729. Continue reading

Le Guerre des Te Deum

Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard & Francois Colin de Blamont
Le Guerre des Te Deum
Chœur Marguerite Louise, Ensemble Stradivaria, Daniel Cuiller
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS007. 66’38

This recording reflects an extraordinary incident that took place in Paris on 12 May 1745. Following the victory of Louis XV at the Battle of Fontenoy, part of the War of the Austrian Succession the day before, a ceremonial Te Deum was to be sung at the Queen’s Mass in the Royal Chapel in Versailles. The composer Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard, assistant Master of the Royal Chapel, had one that had been performed the year before. He rededicated it as the Cantique d’action de grâces pour les conquêtes de Louis XV and issued the scores to the musicians. Just as the Queen took her place in the Chapel, the composer Francois Colin came rushing in and tried to replace the scores with a Te Deum of his own. He was the Superintendant de la Musique de la Chambre and Maître de la Chapelle Royale and according to tradition, the Te Deum should have been his responsibility. Too late to stop the performance of Blanchard’s version, Blamont enlisted help from the battlefield where the Duc de Richelieu, who wrote on behalf of the King, expressing his strong disapproval. Shortly afterwards, Blamont’s Te Deum was performed at another Mass, officially in a ‘King’s Mass, although the Louis XV was still on the battlefield. Blanchard’s Te Deum was officially withdrawn from Court celebrations.  Continue reading

J Praetorius & Schildt organ works

Jacob Praetorius & Melchior Schildt
Selected organ works
Bernard Foccroulle
Ricercar RIC400. 68’05

Praetorius: Fantasia sopra Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; Praeambulum in F;
Vater unser im Himmelreich; Von allen Menschen abgewandt
Schildt: Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn; Magnificat 1. toni; Praeambulum in G

1467/1637 Stellwagen organ, Jacobikirche, Lûbeck

Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651) and Melchior Schildt (1592-1667) were two of the leading pupils of the Amsterdam organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Praetorius was the son of the Hamburg organist Hieronymus Praetorius whose own father, Jacob Praetorius the Elder (d. 1586) was also an organist/composer. The family are not related to Michael Praetorius. Like his forebears, Jacob Praetorious was organist of the Hamburg Petrikirche and was the teacher of Matthias Weckmann. Melchior Schildt also came from a family of musician, in his case from Hannover. After three years as court organist to the King of Denmark, he replaced his father as organist of the Marktkirche in 1629 and remained there until his death. Only six of his organ works have survived.

Continue reading

LHF: Handel vs Porpora

London Handel Festival
“Handel vs Porpora”
Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu, Giuseppina Bridelli, Franck-Emmanuel Comte
St George’s, Hanover Square, 8 April 2019

In a very rare (if not perhaps the first) appearance by a non-UK orchestra in the London Handel Festival, the Lyon-based Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu and their director Franck-Emmanuel Comte and mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli highlighted a particularly turbulent period of British musical history, between 1733 to 1737. The theme for this year’s London Handel Festival (LHF) highlights the rivalry between the female singers that Handel composed for. In contrast, this concert highlighted the rivalry between Handel himself and the Italian composer Nicola Porpora. In 1733, after yet another clash with Handel, the star castrato Senesino resigned from Handel’s opera company and joined the new Opera of the Nobility, set up by the Prince of Wales in opposition to his father, George II, who supported Handel’s Royal Academy of Music. Porpora was invited to be the musical director of the new company. Their first opera was Porpora’s Arianna in Nasso, as a direct challenge to Handel’s Arianna in Creta. Despite having poached most of Handel’s key singers, such as Cuzzoni and Montagnana, the Opera of the Nobility went bankrupt and was dissolved in 1737. Handel’s own company suffered a similar fate, and the rump of the two opera companies combined for the 1737-38 season. Continue reading

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Reincken

Mayfair Organ Concerts
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays 
Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722)
St George’s, Hanover Square, London W1S 1FX
30 April 2019 @ 1:10pm 

Toccata in G (Andreas Bach Book)
Toccata in A (Anon?)
Chorale Fantasia: An Wasserflüssen Babylon

Johann Adam Reincken was one of the most important and influential 17th-century North German organist-composers. He forms a unique link between the Sweelinck influenced organists of the earlier part of the century and JS Bach. Little is known about his life, and very few of his organ compositions survive. He was born to North German parents in Deventer in The Netherlands around 1643. An earlier supposed birthdate of 1623 is now accepted as incorrect. He moved to Hamburg in 1654, aged just 11, to study with the famed organist of the Katharinenkirche, Heinrich Scheidemann, a pupil of Sweelinck. After a brief return to Deventer, he came back to Hamburg in 1659 as Scheidemann’s assistant, replacing him as organist in 1663 on Scheidemann’s death. As was the custom of the time, he married one of Scheidemann’s daughters in 1665. He remained there for 60 years until his death in 1722. As well as his church duties, he co-founded the Hamburg Opera and was involved in the city’s musical life. He is known from two pictures dating from around 1674; the portrait painting and the now well-known ‘Musical Company’ painting by Johannes Voorhout.

Reincken. Kniller, c1674.jpg

Continue reading

LHF: Handel Singing Competition 2019

Handel Singing Competition 2019
London Handel Festival
Semi-Final: Grosvenor Chapel, 5 March 2019
Final: St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 April 2019

The Handel Singing Competition has been a key part of the London Handel Festival since 2002. The finalists form a key part of future festivals, with invitations to return over the years ahead. The current festival includes such 20 past finalists, including specific solo recitals for the two main prize-winners (see here and here). Many successful careers have gained from the exposure that the competition offers although, for any potential applicants,  it is worth noting that some of the most famous of those were not first prize winners. Indeed, an unsuccessful finalist in the very first 2002 competition is currently top-of-the-bill at English National Opera (Lucy Crowe), and an unsuccessful finalist from last year is one of the stars of the current Royal Opera House/LHF Berenice (Jacquelyn Stucker). Of the LHF’s own list of seven of those who have gone on to “internationally recognised soloists”, only one was a first prize winner. And, over the years, I have also spotted several excellent singers in the semi-finals that don’t even make it into the finals. For that reason, I usually try to review the semi-final, but this year I went to both. Continue reading

Mozart in London

Mozart in London
A musical exploration of Mozart’s childhood visit to London, 1764-65
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Signum Classics SIGCD534. 2 CDs. 77’36&67’14

The Classical Opera/Mozartists Mozart 250 project has been underway for four years, with a number of successful recordings and events already under their belt. This (rather delayed) review of a double CD set released in May 2018 takes us back to the beginning of the project: the ‘Mozart in London’ Festival weekend of events at Milton Court in February 2015. The weekend included talks, discussions and concerts over a three-day period. My review of two of those events can be found here. Several other Mozart 250 reviews are here. The ‘250’ of the title refers to the years since Mozart’s childhood visit to London (23 April 1764), during which he composed his first significant works. The plan is to “follow the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, works and influences”, culminating in 2041, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s death. These two CDs were recorded live during the various concerts of the 2015 weekend. They are an impressive record (quite literally) of the start of one of the most impressive and ambitious musical projects of our time. Continue reading

LHF: Lauren Lodge-Campbell

London Handel Festival
Lauren Lodge-Campbell
St George’s, Hanover Square, 4 April 2019

The second of the major prize-winners from last year’s Handel Singing Competition, was Lauren Lodge-Campbellwinner of both the second and audience prizes. I heard in last year’s semi-finals rather than the final, and was very impressed with her, commenting that “She had a compelling stage presence and an impressively powerful voice, helped no doubt by being a rarity amongst singers in actually opening her mouth properly. Intonation, articulation and control of vibrato were all excellent“.  The result of the final was a rare occasion when I agreed with the LHF judges as to the top two places! Lauren Lodge-Campbell is a British/Australian soprano. She studied in Australia and London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was a member of the 2018 Iford Arts New Generation Artists Programme and, in 2019, will join William Christie’s Le Jardin des Voix, the young artist programme of Les Arts Florissants.

Lauren Lodge-Campbell.jpg

For this lunchtime recital, she included the two pieces from her 2018 semi-final and at least one from the final. She opened with Ho perduto il caro sposo, the opening aria of Rodalinda, a nice link to the theme of the 2019 Festival with its focus on Handel’s Divas as it was originally sung by Francesca Cuzzoni. Lauren Lodge-Campbell caught the mood of the mourning well, revealing the strength of Rodelinda’s character. I liked the way all four performers timed the silences in the opening phrases. One of Handel’s Nine German Arias followed, Die ihr aus dunklen Grüften composed in the style of a trio sonata with its elegant cello line that moves from repeated note harmonic support to melody.

With plaintive notes and am’rous moan (from Samson) followed, with some lovely playing from violinist Sophie Simpson. Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s agile voice and excellent articulation were evident here, as were as some well-executed ornaments. She has a fast, but slight vibrato which fortunately did not interfere with articulation or pitch, but I hope she manages to avoid it getting any stronger over time, as happens with so many talented young singers of the earlier repertoire. Wind was something of theme for the recital, with the dramatic Combattuta da due venti (Faramondo) being one of the examples. Handel’s Violin Sonata in A (HWV 361), was followed by the autumnal winds of Bach’s Angenehmer Zephryrus (BWV 205).

O though bright sun . . . With darkness deep’ featured the gorgeous little seven-note accompaniment motif that casts some soothing balm on Theodora’s prison cell depression. Bach’s famous Laudamus te from the B minor Mass was beautifully sung, Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s air of youthful innocence reminiscent of some of the soprano arias in the Passions. The final piece was Scoglio d’immota fronte with its depiction of a storm-tossed sea. You can watch part of Lauren’s prize-winning performance of the same piece during last years competition here, Here use of da capo elaborations was impressive, as was her control and articulation of the virtuoso passages.

As well as her singing and excellent contact with the audience, I was also very impressed at the way that Lauren introduced the three instrumentalists, made sure they were acknowledged in applause and gave them a solo spot to themselves in her showcase concert: a courtesy that all singers should consider. Along with Sophie Simpson, violin, were Jacob Garside, cello, and Satoko Doi-Luck, harpsichord, with some excellent playing from all three.

Although last year I agreed with the judges in their choice of the top two prizes, this was yet another occasion when a singer that really impressed me didn’t even get into the final – one of the reasons I usually review the semi-final. That was soprano Charlotte La Thrope who I first heard when she was part of the Iford Arts New Generation Artists Scheme. I had described then her as “a young singer to watch out for” and also praised her acting ability. In her semi-final, she fully engaged with the audience, demonstrated excellent intonation over wide-ranging melodic lines, sang with clearly articulated runs, ornamented the da capos well, and controlled her minimal vibrato well. She is currently one of the Monteverdi Choir Apprentices.

Photo: Bertie Watson 

 

ENO: Magic Flute

Mozart: Magic Flute
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 2 April 2019

Sometimes an opera production just needs to grow on you. This is the case for the most recent ENO production of Magic Flute, directed by Simon McBurney, which has returned for its third run since opening in 2013.  Is was then the first new ENO production of The Magic Flute for around 25 years, and replaced Nicholas Hytner’s much-loved if rather traditional take. My review of the opening of McBurney’s version commented that: “In contrast to the previous production, this Magic Flute is dark, mysterious and more than a little weird. A flood of ideas drenched the stage, aided by a commentator sitting in a box in the corner, chalking up comments onto a large video screen. But there seems, at least to me, on first sight, little coherence to link it all together. Masonic references are played down, but the element of a cult is still stressed through colour-coded camps in conflict . . . It may well be that, in 25 years time, I will miss this production.  But, in the meantime, it will certainly take me some time to get used to it”. Continue reading

Handel: Berenice

Handel: Berenice
Royal Opera House / London Handel Festival
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 1 April 2019

Handel’s Berenice was first performed in May 1737 in the Covent Garden Theatre, now the home of the Royal Opera House.  It was a tricky time for Handel and the London opera scene, with two opera houses competing for a limited audience. Handel promoted a large-scale 1736/7 season, but none of his new operas (Armino, Giustino, and Berenice) was successful. Handel also suffered a serious decline in his health, not least suffering a stroke in April 1737 that paralysed his right hand. It seems that Berenice only had three performances, probably rehearsed and directed by John Christopher Smith Jnr.  It returns to the present day Covent Garden (or, at least, the bowels of the present day Covent Garden) for the first time since its premiere, in the newly restored basement Linbury Theatre, in a Royal Opera House production in conjunction with the London Handel Festival. Continue reading

LHF: Helen Charlston

London Handel Festival
Helen Charlston, Baroque Ensemble LUX
St George’s, Hanover Square, 1 April 2019

This year’s London Handel Festival has the theme of  ‘Handel’s Divas’, and explores the female singers associated with Handel. One of the key events of the annual festival is the Handel Singing Competition, with the winners and finalists of each year’s competition playing a key part in following festival events. Last year’s winner was mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston with Lauren Lodge-Campbell winning the second and audience prizes. I heard both in last year’s semi-finals rather than the final, and was very impressed with both: it was a rare occasion when I agree with the LHF judges! Both give solo lunchtime recitals this week, starting with Helen Charlston. Her programme featured the (exclusively male) heroes and villains found in Handel’s operas and solo cantatas, giving Helen Charlston ample opportunity to display a wealth of different personalities and moods.  Continue reading

Bach: Partitas

J S Bach: Partitas Clavier-Übung I
Menno van Delft, clavichord
Resonus Classics. RES10212. 2 CDs: 59’21+73.49

Clavier-Übung I – Partitas BWV 825-830

Bach’s Six Partitas were published in 1731 under the title of  Clavier-Übung, the first of four publications under that name, culminating in the monumental third and fourth publications, the ‘German Organ Mass’ and the Goldberg Variations, Clavier-Übung VI. Each Partita had been published separately between the years of 1726 and 1730 but seem to have been intended as a combined set of six, as was the pattern of many such musical collections of the time, including Bach’s own preceding English and French Suites. They are the only one of the four Clavier-Übung set that does not specify a particular keyboard instrument, but Menno van Delft makes a convincing argument for the use of a clavichord, the domestic instrument of choice, particularly for organists, rather than a harpsichord. Continue reading

Delicatessen II: Early English Song

Delicatessen II
More Choice Morsels of Early English Song
Kate Semmens & Steven Devine
Devine Music DMCD009. 75’14 

Following on from their earlier CD Delicatessen, Steven Devine and Kate Semmens delve further into the English song repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, with the imaginatively entitled CD Delicatessen II. As the programme notes explain, the rapid move to town and cities and the decline of rural life may well have contributed to the yearning in popular song for the pastoral life, in this case, a close memory rather than the mythical Arcadian fantasy world of most of the songs. This recording draws on sources such as the 1756 ‘Appolo’s Cabinet: or the Muses’ Delight’, clearly aimed at amateurs with its attendant instructions for singing and instrumental playing. In contrast to these simple settings are more substantial pieces by the famed composers of the day, such as John Stanley, Thomas Arne, Maurice Greene, John Blow, and William Boyce. Continue reading

ROSL Annual Music Competition

ROSL (Royal Over-Seas League) Annual Music Competition
Mixed Ensembles Section Final
Princess Alexandra Hall, Over-Seas House, London. 19 March 2019

The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) has, since 1952, run an annual music competition through their ROSL ARTS, open to young Commonwealth classical musicians under the age of 30. A series of section finals for solo performers leads to a Gold Medal Final which, this year, will be held in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 30 May. Past winners of the section finals and the Gold Medal have gone on to become well-known names. Alongside the section finals for solo performers (in wind & brass, voice, strings, and keyboard), are two ensemble finals, for strings and mixed ensembles. More than £75,000 is offered in awards, with a £15,000 first prize for solo performers and two chamber ensemble awards of £10,000. Winners of the solo sections receive £5,000 each. Details of the 2019 competition can be found here. Continue reading

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Orpheus Britannicus, Newe Vialles, Andrew Arthur (director)
Resonus Classics RES10238. 70’17

Buxtehude’s cycle of seven cantatas, under the collective title of Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima, is one of the finest sacred vocal works of the 17th-century. It reflects on The holy limbs of our suffering Jesus, using texts from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare, probably written by Arnulf of Leuven (d1250). Each cantata focusses on a specific part of Christ’s crucified body: feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face, adding to the hymn text words from the Bible. It is composed for five solo singers, who usually also make up a chorus although, in this case, the chorus is the 24-strong Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, conducted by Andrew Arthur, the Director of Music at Trinty Hall. They are accompanied by the College’s professional period ensemble Ensemble-in-Residence, Orpheus Britannicus (founded by Andrew Arthur), with the five viols of Newe Vialles (directed by Henrik Persson and Caroline Ritchie) playing for the sensuous sixth cantata, Ad cor (To The Heart). Continue reading

Bach: Chorale Partitas

J S Bach
Chorale Partitas, BWV 766-768 & 770

Stephen Farr, organ
Resonus Classics RES10120. 55’46

Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen BWV 770
Christ, der du bist der helle Tag BWV 766
O Gott, du frommer Gott BWV 767
Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig BWV 768

Stephen Farr continues his series of Bach organ recordings with the four Chorale Partitas – variations sets of Lutheran chorales. None of them exists in autograph, so dating is problematical. They are almost certainly early works, possibly composed around the time Bach was at Arnstadt, or perhaps even earlier while Bach was under the influence of Georg Böhm, who Bach knew, and probably studied with while he was at school in Lüneburg. Böhm wrote many variation sets (as did Pachbel), a compositional style that goes back the Sweelinck, the Amsterdam instigator of the North German/Hamburg school of the early to mid-17th-century. It is not clear whether Bach’s examples were intended for performance during church services or, indeed, on the organ. Most are equally suitable for clavichord or harpsichord in a domestic setting. Continue reading

Sweeter than Roses: Songs by Henry Purcell

Sweeter than Roses
Songs by Henry Purcell
Anna Dennis, soprano
Sounds Baroque, Julian Perkins
Resonus Classics RES10235.. 67’33

Henry Purcell is one of the greatest composers of English vocal music, with his ability to tease out the depths of meaning in mere words through his sensitive melodic and harmonic skills. Publisher Henry Playford’s preface to Orpheus Britannicus sums this talent up perfectly when he describes Purcell’s “extraordinary Talent in all sorts of Musick is sufficiently known, but he was especially admir’d for the Vocal, having a peculiar Genius to express the energy of English Words, whereby he mov’d the Passions of all his Auditors“. Another commentator, Henry Hall, organist of Hereford Cathedral, describes this well in his prefatory poem to Orpheus Britannicus when he mentions “Each syllable first weigh’d, or short, or long, / That it might too be Sense, as well as Song”. These contemporary descriptions of Purcell’s skill at setting words to music are at the heart of this recording, with Bruce Wood’s and Julian Perkin’s excellent programme notes (which includes the above quotes) giving specific examples of Purcell’s art as well as setting Purcell’s so-very-English music in the context of the musical style of the rest of Europe that so clearly influenced him. Continue reading

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)
Keyboard music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti, Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics, BRI95556. 74’25

Little is known about Johannes (or Joannis, Jan) de Lublin (or ‘z Lublina’) was a Polish organist and composer. He was a Canon of the monastery in Kraśnik, near Lublin and seems to have graduated from the University of Kraków and remained there as organist in the Marian Church. He moved to Kraśnik, near Lublin sometime before 1540, when the Tabvlatvra Ioannis de Lyvblyn Canonic. Reglariv de Crasnyk was bound. The music in the collection was gathered over some years, an contains a wide range of music, both sacred and secular. It was intended as a primer for organists, and contains important information about organ tuning and the principals of composing a piece around a plainchant melody, something all organists were expected to do. It is the largest known organ tablature with more than 350 compositions and a theoretical treatise. It follows in the tradition of earlier examples such as the Faenza Codex and the Buxheimer Organ Book from the previous century. Continue reading

Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal

Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal
The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal,  Hampton Court Palace
Carl Jackson
Resonus RES10229. 68’22

 


Suscipe quaeso Domine, Missa Puer natus est nobisIn pace in idipsum,
Miserere nostri Domine
, Mass for Four Voices, Loquebantur variis linguis.

There can be very few other examples of early music recordings where the composer, the choir, and the recording venue are so closely matched. This CD from the present-day Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace was recorded in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, a surviving part of the Tudor Palace of Henry VIII. Tallis was a Gentleman of the Tudor Chapel Royal from the early 1540s until his death in 1585 and would have certainly sung and played the organ in this very chapel. Several of the compositions on this recording may well have been performed in the same Hampton Court Chapel. Before the period-appropriate comments overwhelm, it is worth pointing out that it is probably only some of the external walls and the magnificent ceiling (pictured on the CD cover) that date from the time of Tallis. The enormous Renaissance Palace of Hampton was built by Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, who was also the Cardinal Archbishop of York and Papal Legate, with a clerical ranking higher than that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, then and now, England’s premier Archbishop. He only managed to retain his Palace for about ten years before falling from grace as a result of failing to secure Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It was ‘surrendered’ to Henry VIII who set about rebuilding and expanding it. It was completed in 1540 at about the time that Tallis joined the Chapel Royal. Continue reading

Machaut: The Gentle Physician

Guillaume de Machaut
The Gentle Physician
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68206. 59’34

This is the sixth recording in The Orlando Consort’s complete Machaut series. It focusses on Machaut’s songs of courtly love and its various ups and, more usually, downs. Lady Fortune is not always a comforting friend, and the opening and closing De Fortune ballads reflect both the positive and negative aspects of her personality. The ‘gentle physician’ (dous mireof the title is Hope, mentioned as the only remedy for unhappy lovers in the extended S’onques dolereusement, also known as Le lay de confort. Machaut (c1300-77) was, and still is, one of the finest 14th-century poet-composers, He was one of the first to whom we have biographical knowledge and a substantive collection of pieces, but also one of the last of the tradition of poet-composers. Part of the ars nova tradition of the Franco-Burgundian region, his compositions set the scene for the late Gothic and early Renaissance style. Continue reading

A Neapolitan Stabat Mater

A Neapolitan Stabat Mater
A new perspective from G B Pergolesi’s masterpiece
Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu, Franck-Emmanuel Comte
Chronos ICSM 012.


This is a recording of Pergolesi’s famed Stabat Mater, but not quite as you may know it. Composed in 1736 for the Neapolitan  Confraternita dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo, the Stabat Mater was said to have been completed (along with a companion Salve Regina) moments before Pergolesi died of tuberculosis in a nearby monastery. Despite criticism of its operatic style, it’s fame quickly spread, with several composers, including Bach, making arrangements of it. This recording by Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu is based on an unpublished score found in the library of the Académie du Concert in Lyon, France, now in the Lyon municipal library. Alongside some minor modifications in the instrumental parts, the key departures from the usual text are that the second solo voice is a baritone rather than an alto, presumably because of the lack of a castrati singer, and the setting of O quam tristis is for five voices. That, on its own, would be of sufficient interest, but this recording also inserts traditional Neapolitan music including polyphonic versions of the Stabat Mater and Miserere, some (very) secular songs (Donna Isabella, La Carpinese) and two tarantellas.  Continue reading

A Salon Opera

A Salon Opera
Flauguissimo Duo
Resonus RES10233. 51’03

The period-instrument flute and guitar ensemble Flauguissimo Duo make their recording debut with A Salon Opera, a fascinating programme of works for flute and guitar set at least initially, in early nineteenth-century Vienna. The music reflects the musical life of the home, rather than the concert hall or opera house, although both are represented. The opening piece, Paganini’s elegiac Cantabile in D, sets the intimate salon scene beautifully. Despite possible initial assumptions, this is not background music to salon chit-chat, but music to be listened to. Several of the pieces are arrangements by Flauguissimo Duo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute and Johan Löfving, guitar), including three contrasting pieces by Schubert, reflecting the intimate so-called Viennese ‘Schubertiade evenings’ where the composer would perform many of his works. A guitarist himself, the programme notes suggest that many of Schubert’s pieces were composed using the guitar that hung above his bed. Continue reading

Antoine de Févin

Antoine de Févin
Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68265. 79’14

Missa Ave Maria, Ascendens Christus in altum, Sancta Trinitas a5/a6,
Salve sancta parens, Missa Salve sancta parens,

Antoine de Févin (c1470-1511/12) is a relatively unknown composer of the Renaissance Franco-Flemish period He was born around 20 years after Josquin des Prez, but died about 10 years before him. For the past few years of his life, he worked in the Chapelle Royale of Louis XII of France, who apparently thought highly several chansons. His compositional style is similar to Josquin’s, who he admired. The opening Missa Ave Maria is based on Josquin’s well-known Ave Maria. His contrapuntal writing is not as strict as some of his Renaissance contemporaries. He clearly enjoys contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal passages and freely switches from one to the other. There are several magical moments, one of the finest between the Agnus II of the Missa Ave Maria where two outstanding high voices (Kate Ashby and Claire Eadington) weaves threads between themselves. Continue reading

A Pleasing Melancholy

A Pleasing Melancholy
John Dowland and others
Chelys Consort of Viols, Emma Kirkby
BIS 2283. 72’13

CHelys.jpg

One of the concerts I reviewed during the 2018 London International Exhibition of Early Music was given by the  Chelys Consort of Viols with soprano Rebecca Hickey stepping in at short notice to replace the indisposed Dame Emma Kirkby. Their programme, and this CD, ‘A Pleasing Melancholy’, was built around all seven of John Dowland’s 1604 Lachrimae settings, interspersed with songs by Robert Jones, Tobias Hume, William Wigthorpe, John Danyel and Tobias Hume,. The title refers to a quote from Robert Burton’s 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy – “Many men are melancholy by hearing music, but it is a pleasing melancholy that it causeth“. My review of that concert mentioned that “a ‘pleasing melancholy’ it proved to be, with excellent playing by the five viol players of Chelys and guest lutenist Jamie Akers, and outstanding singing from Rebecca Hickey, who many will know from Stile Antico“. This CD is for those who were not at the concert, or for whom there really is nothing like a Dame. Continue reading

LPO Isle of Noises: Handel & Purcell

Isle of Noises
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Schütz Choir, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall, 30 January 2019

Handel: Suites from The Water Music 
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

The London Philharmonic Orchestra opened their year-long series Isle of Noises (a celebration of British music) with a concert that, by all the normal conventions of concert programming over the past 50 years or so, shouldn’t have happened. Since the early music period-instrument revolution, and as the pioneering work of the early period specialists took root, most traditional orchestras took fright and stopped performing any music from Mozart or before. Gone were the days of a Mozart concerto opening a concert that would finish with Mahler. In recent years, some of those same early music specialists have enthused modern instrument players and orchestras, by far the most prominent being Sir Roger Norrington, perhaps most notably for his work with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. Continue reading

Vox dilecti mei: Renaissance songs of love

Vox dilecti mei – Renaissance songs of love
Hans-Jurg Meier – wingert in der frühe

The Modena ConsortUlrike HofbauerKeren Motseri
Pan Classics PC 10289. 64’32

Vox dilecti.jpg

This recording by The Moderna Consort has only just come my way, but is well worth a belated review. I first heard soprano Ulrike Hofbauer when ensemble savādi won the 2003 Early Music Network International Young Artists’ Competition. She was singing with soprano Kristine Jaunalksne and harpist Marie Bournisien. I was struck then by the purity and clarity of her voice, and that of Kristine Jaunalksne. This CD was recorded in 2012 by Radio SRF 2 and released in 2013. It documents a recital programme that combined contemporary music by the Swiss composer Hans-Jurg Meier with Renaissance music from the likes of Josquin, Brumel, Isaac, Senfl, di Lasso, and Palestrina, all inspired by the curious Biblical Song of Songs, the collection of obviously erotic texts that religious commentators over the centuries have struggled to imbue with any spiritual and religious meaning. Continue reading

Stradella: La Doriclea

Stradella: La Doriclea
Il Pomo d’Oro, Andrea De Carlo
Arcana A454. 3CDs. 3h7’21

You would be forgiven for not being all that familiar with the music of Alessandro Stradella (16431682) or, at least, not in its original form. Despite fame during his lifetime, Stradella’s reputation didn’t endure much beyond his murder in Genoa. This following an earlier assassination attempt in Turin, the result of a rather dangerous love life. Perhaps it is no surprise that there are as many operas written about him, as he wrote himself. He is perhaps best known today as the posthumous provider of music for Handel to pinch, notably in  Israel in Egypt. But he is also justifiably held to be responsible for many musical innovations in Baroque music, not least as the instigator of the Concerto Grosso and in the development of new forms, including what became the ubiquitous da capo Aria form of 18th-century opera. Continue reading

Requiem masses for murdered royalty

Requiem masses for murdered royalty
Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet
Barbican. 25 January 2019

Plantade Requiem in D minor, in memory of Marie-Antoinette
Berlioz Tristia
Cherubini Requiem in C minor, in memory of Louis XVI

 

Le Concert Spirituel and their founder-director Hervé Niquet brought the programme of their 2017 recording of the Plantade and Cherubini Requiems to The Barbican, together with Berlioz’s rarely performed Tristia, a sequence of three ‘sad pieces’ published in 1852 from three short pieces composed in 1831, 1842, and 1844. An unusual, but interesting programme with music that, perhaps because of the nature of the pieces, was compelling, but never really reached the heights of musical perfection. Cherubini’s Requiem was the first to be performed, in 1817, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy and in memory of Louis XVI. It was followed in 1823 by Plantade’s Messe des morts on the 30th anniversary of the death of Marie-Antoinette. Plantade knew Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, and there are elements of the earlier musical style of their court in his Requiem together with the style of the music of the Revolution. As with the Cherubini, there are no solo voices. Both works are intended for liturgical performance. Continue reading

Purcell: King Arthur

Purcell: King Arthur
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
Alpha Classics. Alpha 430. 2CDs 57’41+40’18

It is often assumed that English opera started with Handel, and missed out on the entire 17th-century development of opera. This is probably due to that very English concept of semi-opera, with musical bits and bobs inserted into a play, with the music based around the supporting cast, rather than the key personnel.  Although, some of the famous bits from Purcell are known but, apart from Dido and Aeneas, we rarely hear the complete music of The Fairy Queen or King Arther. Rarer still is a performance that includes the spoken text of the plays in which the music was performed. I remember the bemused looks on Glyndebourne faces as their Fairy Queen opened with around 45 minutes of spoken text. This outstanding recording, from the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis and their director Lionel Meunier will help to bring more attention to the world of 17th-century English semi-opera. Musically, King Arthur is gorgeous, Dryden’s text creating several moments for Purcell to weave his magic with. Continue reading