Josquin Masses: Di dadi – Une mousse de Biscaye

Josquin Masses: Di dadi – Une mousse de Biscaye
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Gimell CDGIM 048. 71’13

The Tallis Scholars add to their list of ten CDs of Josquin Masses with this recording of two fascinating, if slightly curious examples. Neither of them are definitively acknowledged to be by Josquin. But if they are, as Peter Phillips argues in his programme note, they are likely to be early works, the Missa Di dadi perhaps being a precursor of the later Missa Pange lingua. And they are both fascinating pieces, not just for the music but for the background to their composition. As their titles suggest they involve gambling, the throw of the dice, and the seduction of a young lady from Biscay.

The Missa Di dadi (the ‘Mass of the Dice’) only survives in one source, Petrucci’s Missarum Josquin liber tertius of 1514. It uses as its cantus firmus the tenor line from Robert Morton’s rondeau N’aray je jamais mieulx. Each Continue reading

Durante: Requiem

Francesco Durante: Requiem in C minor, Organ Concerto in B flat
Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Soloists from The Sixteen, Oxford Baroque
Stephen Darlington, Clive Driskill-Smith
Coro COR16147. 63’27

Durante: Requiem in C, Organ Concerto in B flat.

Better known as a teacher (of the likes of Pergolasi, Jommelli, and Piccini), the compositions of Francesco Durante (1684-1755) have been rather overlooked since his death. Born near Naples, he studied with A. Scarlatti and (possibly) Pasquini and spent a brief time in Rome before returning to Naples where he became musical director of a number of conservatories; by that time extending their original 16th century remit from the care of orphans to include specialist teaching for paying music students. Although some commentators complimented Durante on his compositions, they tended to focus on his “correct writing” and his facility with harmony and counterpoint, factors which go to make this Requiem so fascinating.

The Requiem in C minor is thought to have been first performed in S. Giacomo degli Spagnoli in Rome in 1746, although there is some doubt Continue reading

Grosvenor Chapel: Weckmann (b1616)


Mayfair Organ Concerts
The Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, Mayfair , London W1K 2PA
1 November 2016, 1:10-1:50

Matthias Weckmann  (1616-1674)

In the last of his three recitals of the organ music of Matthias Weckmann (in his anniversary year), Andrew Benson-Wilson plays the William Drake organ in the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, Mayfair in a programme of a Praeludium, Toccata, Canzon, Fantasia and two contrasting chorale-based works.

Continue reading

James Gilchrist Directs: Bach and Purcell

James Gilchrist Directs: Bach and Purcell
Academy of Ancient Music
James Gilchrist, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Rachel Brown
Milton Court, 19 October 2016

The Academy of Ancient Music’s 2016-17 London and Cambridge concert series features two occasions when guest directors are being invited to plan programmes and direct the orchestra. The first of these was with the tenor, James Gilchrist. Renowned as a Bach performer (most notably in the role of Evangelist in the Passions) Gilchrist has been a regular soloist with the AAM. After a musical grounding as a boy chorister at New College, Oxford and a choral scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, Gilchrist helped to pay his way through the rest of his medical training by singing in professional choirs such as The Sixteen, Tallis scholars and Cardinall’s Musick. He moved from his earlier career as a doctor to become a full-time musician twenty years ago.

On this occasion, the word ‘curator’ rather than ‘director’ is more appropriate. Gilchrist selected the vocal works from Purcell and the two Bach cantatas, handing over to the AAM’s leader, violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk, to select Continue reading

Jordi Savall: Tous les matins du monde

Music from the film Tous les matins du monde
Jordi Savall & Le Concert des Nations
St John’s, Smith Square, 19 October 2017

Jordi Savall.jpgAs part of the Southbank Centre’s International Chamber Music Series (currently taking place in St John’s, Smith Square while the Queen Elizabeth Hall is being refurbished), Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations presented a sell-out concert of music from the 1991 film Tous les matins du monde. Savall’s pre-concert chat with Radio 3’s Sara Mohr-Pietsch revealed some of the differences between the film’s portrayal and the actual life of Sainte-Colombe and Marais, but confirmed that Marais did crawl beneath Sainte-Colombe’s garden shed to listen to him practicing, that Sainte-Colombe developed a new style of fingering, and added a 7th string to the viol. He also explained how they achieved the voices of the two young girls singing in the film, by speeding up two adult female singers. Continue reading

English Touring Opera: three 17th-century ‘Venetian’ operas

English Touring Opera: three 17th-century ‘Venetian’ operas
Handel Xerxes, Cavalli La
Calisto, Monteverdi ‘Ulysses’ Homecoming
English Touring Opera
Hackney Empire. 8, 14, 15 October 2016

Hackney Empire.jpgEnglish Touring Opera (ETO) has built a solid reputation for their two annual opera tours around England. In their most recent season, they visited 91 venues, with two groups of fully-staged operas (sung in English) plus various wider educational and community projects. It is a remarkable organisational undertaking and a tough call for the singers in each tour, with many singing in two operas and covering a role in the third. Usually touring two or three operas in the spring and autumn, they open with one-off autumnal London showings before hitting the road. Their choice of operas usually has a theme, or is otherwise related in style and period. This year’s autumn focus is on early operas written in, or inspired by, Venice, with Handel’s 1738 Xerxes, Cavailli’s 1651 La Calisto, and Monteverdi’s 1639 “Ulysses’ Homecoming” (Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria), performed in reverse order to the dates of composition, and premièring in the magnificent surroundings of the Edwardian Hackney Empire. Continue reading

The Old Colony Collection

The Old Colony Collection
Handel and Haydn Society Chorus, Harry Christophers
Coro COR16145. 69’35

Music by James Kent, Thomas Linley, Charles Avison, Samuel Chapple, Samuel Webbe, Handel Mozart, and Mendelssohn.

The Old Colony CollectionThe Handel and Haydn Society Chorus of Boston was formed in 1815 and is the oldest still performing arts organisation in the US. It was formed to ‘improve the style of performing sacred music’ and to introduce the music of its titular composers. Interestingly their quest to perform the ‘old and the new’ actually referred to Handel as the former and Haydn as the latter. It was not all education and graft though – in his introductory note, Harry Christophers mentions that ‘inspiring libations to be had and membrers were often seen heading downstairs for a break’ – a practice referred to as ‘tuning’!

During last year’s Bicentennial, some of their early music publications came to light, one being The Old Colony Collection, its crumbling leather Continue reading

MacMillan: Seven Angels

MacMillan: Seven Angels
Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore, Martha McLorinan
St Giles Cripplegate, 15 October 2016

The first of a two Sunday Barbican concerts focussing on the choral music of Sir James MacMillan took place on Saturday afternoon in the medieval church of St Giles Cripplegate, on the opposite side of the Barbican lakes from the main concert hall and theatre. It featured the London premiere of MacMillan’s Seven Angels, commissioned by the Birmingham based Ex Cathedra and its director Jeffrey Skidmore, and first performed in Birmingham last year. The piece stemmed from an informal discussion between MacMillan and Skidmore, both Elgar fans, on the uncompleted ‘Last Judgement’ conclusion of Elgar’s intended trilogy, which started with The Apostles and The Kingdom.

Although bearing no relation to Elgar’s surviving sketches, MacMillan took similar inspiration from the Book of Revelation, one Continue reading

Bach Concertos

Bach Concertos
La Divina Armonia
Lorenzo Ghielmi, Mayumi Hiraski, Alice Rossi, Jan de Winne
Passacaille PAS 1019. 75’00

Concerto in A BWV 1055, Cantata: Non sa che sia dolore BWV 209, Concerto in E BWV 1042, Concerto in A Minor BWV 1044.
JS Bach: Concertos (BWV 1042,1044, 1052) & Cantata 'Non sa che sia Dolore' (BWV 209)This recording brings together three instrumental concertos (for harpsichord, violin and the ‘Triple Concerto’, which adds flute to the previous two), and a cantata that makes extensive use of a solo flute. Although not exactly treading new ground in terms of repertoire, this fine recording of some of Bach’s most bubbly music is well worth a listen, not least for an excellent performance of the cantata Non sa che sia dolore, with its prominent solo flute passages.

Of the three instrumental concertos, the Violin Concerto, BWV 1042, is the only one that is appearing in what is probably its original format. The other two concertos are Bach’s arrangements of his own pieces for Continue reading

Review: Weckmann ‘Es ist das Heil’ recital

Review from Classical Events
Andrew Benson-Wilson

Organ recital at St George’s Church Hanover Square, London
Tuesday 11 October 2016 13:10

This is one of series of the Mayfair Organ Concerts. The lunchtime concert was given by Andrew Benson-Wilson who specialises in the performance of early organ music, ranging from 14th century manuscripts to the late Classical Period. The original organ at St George’s was built in 1725 by Gerard Smith. The old case has been extended to contain a new organ which was completed in 2012.

The concert consisted of one work: Matthias Weckmann’s (1616-1674) monumental seven verses on the choral melody ‘Es ist das Heil kommen her’. At a playing time of about 35 minutes it is perhaps one of the longest and most extraordinary works of its time. The story follows that Luther, on hearing the melody sung by a beggar, was reduced to tears.

Salvation has come to us
from grace and sheer kindness
Works never help,
they cannot protect us.
Faith looks towards Jesus Christ
who has done enough for all of us.
He has become our mediator

Although the hymn has 14 verses there is little correlation with the seven organ verses. This evidences a performance as an individual work rather than part of a church service.

Andrew provided ample programme notes to describe the treatment of the chorale theme and gave a short introduction to the lunchtime audience. The performance had a confident and assured touch of someone who understood the musical style. His clarity of counterpoint allied to the programme notes helped the listener to identify the processes and individual lines of the music.

The original Classical Events review is here.

Dynamisch: the ‘Wind Organ’

Die Orgeln der Stadtkirche Biel
Pascale Van Coppenolle
Tulip Records. Ture 201521. 2CDs 75’03+ 64’24

CD1. ‘From Hexachord to Chromatiscism’: Scheidt, Byrd, Frescobaldi, Bull, Sweelinck, Bach, Liszt
CD2. ‘Wind organ’ improvisations: Whistle for a While (Hans Koch, bass clarinet), Clusterizing (organ solo), Zebra (Jonas Kocher, accordion), Fusion (Hannah E. Hänni, voice), Sprinkling (Luke Wilkins, violin).

The city of Biel (official known as Biel/Bienne) in the Swiss canton of Berne lies on the boundary of the German and French speaking areas of Switzerland, hence its bilingual name. Rather appropriately, its town church contains two organs which also speak in two (or more) languages, from ancient to (very) modern, as represented on this fascinating double CD.

The first CD is based on the use by composers of the Hexachord, the first six notes of the major scale, usually written as Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. The first three pieces (Scheidt, Byrd, and Frescobaldi) are played on a modern (Metzler, 1994) version of the late Gothic organ of 1517 that briefly survived in the church until the Reformation authorities dismantled it just 10 years later. It has two manuals with pull-down pedals. The compass of the two manuals is the usual Gothic/Renaissance one of C-a” and F-a”, Continue reading

French Splendour & Italian Virtuosity

‘French Splendour & Italian Virtuosity in Baroque Music’
Michal Rogalski, oboe, Katarz
yna Kowalik, harpsichord, Kate Conway, cello & viol
Music in New Malden. 9 October 2016

Whatever the success of their performing, academic, or teaching careers, for many musicians one of the most important aspect of their musical life is their involvement in local musical activities, for example, setting up and running local music festivals and events. An example of the latter is the Music in New Malden (MiNM) series of concerts, founded by Jane Booth and John Irving in 2009. Held in New Malden Methodist Church, the annual series of Sunday afternoon concerts feature professional musicians and generally focus on early music and historical performance. Admission is free, but there is a retiring collection for a range of designated charities, so far raising over £9000 for Macmillan Cancer Care, Dementia UK, Home Farm Trust, Princess Alice Hospice, Disasters Emergency Committee, Jessie’s Fund and others.

The 2016/17 series ranges from solo piano to a choir and orchestra. It opened on 9 October with a concert (by Michal Rogalski, oboe, Katarzyna Kowalik, harpsichord, and Kate Conway, cello & viol) comparing French and Italian compositional and performing style in the Baroque era. Attempts to bring these two styles together were the focus of many composers of the period. Continue reading

`Li Due Orfei: Caccini & Peri

Li Due Orfei: Caccini & Peri
Marc Mauillon & Angélique Mauillon
Arcana A393. 57’12

Recordings Mauillon Cover 916Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri were musical assistants to Emilio de’ Cavalieri for the famed celebrations for the Florentine marriage of Ferdinand de’ Medici and Christine de Lorraine. In the resulting La Pellegrino, they helped to develop a new style of singing, based on earlier concepts of singing in what was thought to be the style of Orpheus. This emphasised the declamatory solo voice in what became known as the stile rappresentativo, accompanied by a simple basso continuo, based on Orfeo’s lyre, here realised by Angélique Mauillon on a triple harp by Somerset luthier Simon Capp, after early 17th century Italian models. This recording explores the later work of the two composers, with an emphasis on the music of Caccini, with 12 examples compared to the five from Peri, together with three instrumental harp interludes by Luzzaschi and Piccinini. Continue reading

Blanchard: Magnificat à la Chapelle Royale

Blanchard: Magnificat à la Chapelle Royale
Trois motets à grand chœur
Chœur de chambre Les Eléments, Orchestra Les Passions, Jean-Marc Andrieu
Ligia: Lidi 020231-16, 77’00

Antoine Blanchard: Magnificat (1741), De Profundis (1740), In exitu Israel (1749)

Antoine Blanchard (1696-1770) is a rather shadowy figure in French musical history. There is far more information in Bernadette Lespinard’s detailed CD notes than can be found in other source that I could find on the internet in English. He is sometimes given the additional first names of Esprit-Joseph, although he never used them himself. He was a choirboy in the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral in Aix-en-Provence, and became a cleric from about 18. Transgression of the rules led to his departure from this role after only one year. He then moved to Marseilles as director of music at Saint-Victor, although he spent two years away in Toulon, detained there by the plague. Whilst building up his contacts in Paris, he worked in the choir school at Amiens Cathedral, eventually getting a Royal appointment in the Versailles Musique de la Chapelle in 1738.

The three large-scale motets à grand chœur recorded here (two are world première recordings) represent the music of the Court Chapel of Louis XV in the 1740s. Shorn of some of the daintiness and delicacy of the high baroque, Continue reading

Saint Louis: Chroniques et musiques du XIIIe siècle

Saint Louis: Chroniques et musiques du XIIIe siècle
Ensemble Vocal de Notre-Dame de Paris, Sylvain Dieudonné
Maîtrise Notre Dame de Paris. 006. 72’35

Saint Louis_crop.jpgLouis IX of France was crowned aged 12, and remained on the throne until his death some 44 years later. Despite many border disputes and land exchanges, and conflicts with both his own nobles and foreign powers, including his brother in law, Henry III of England, France managed to become one of the most powerful European states. He was an arts enthusiast and a legal reformer. A devote Catholic, he went on two unsuccessful crusades to Egypt (where he allied himself with the Mongolian Khans) and Tunis, where he died. His enduring memorials are Paris’s Sorbonne and Saint-Chapelle, one of the finest Gothic architectural creations of all time. He is the only French King to be canonised as Saint Louis.

This CD stems from a performance on the 800th anniversary of Saint Louis’s birth (on 25 April 1214) by Ensemble Vocal de Notre-Dame de Paris, given in the church of Saint-Louis Poissy. The performers are all part Continue reading

ENO: Don Giovanni

ENO: Don Giovanni
English National Opera
Coliseum. 4 October 2016

It would take a brave barrister to defend a serial rapist with the argument that “his gigantic passion beautifies and develops its object, who flushes in enhanced beauty by its reflection”. But that was one of the many attempts by 19th century commentators to interpret Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the light of their yearnings for the romantic hero, in this case from, the Swedish philosopher, Søren Keirkegaard in his discussion of aesthetic and ethics in the pseudonymous Either/Or. He goes on to refer to the Don as “the very incarnation of sensuous passion and desire” and a “simple, exuberant, uncomplicated, unreflective man”. Nowadays we are more likely to be reminded of The Archers’ Rob Titchener, Donald Trump, and the likes of Jimmy Savile and that ilk. In that vein, it is usually overlooked that the full title of the opera is Il dissoluto punito ossia il Don Giovanni – The Libertine (or Rake) Punished, namely Don Giovanni.  Continue reading

Pellingmans’ Saraband: Twenty waies upon the bels

Pellingmans’ Saraband: Twenty waies upon the bels PS0002

PictureMusic by Thomas Ravenscroft, Thomas Robinson, John Johnson, Robert Smith, Nicholas Lanier, Thomas Campion, and Anon.

The distinguished viola da gamba and lute performers, Susanna Pell and Jacob Heringman, have been musical colleagues for some 27 years, and husband and wife since 1999. But it is only comparatively recently that they have started performing together as a duo, generally near to their home in Richmond, North Yorkshire: a very welcome addition to the non-London musical scene. This is only their second CD together although, on the basis of this excellent offering, I would hope for many more.

PictureThe basis for their programme is ‘circular music’, here represented by ‘grounds and rounds’ in the form of instrumental grounds (divisions/variations), lute songs based on grounds, and rounds from Thomas Ravenscroft, here sung four male singers. For the lute songs, they are joined by the excellent soprano, Faye Newton (pictured). The exquisite clarity and focus of her voice fits the musical style perfectly. Continue reading

The Concerto in England: Handel & contemporaries

The Concerto in England: Handel & contemporaries
Avison Ensemble
Kings Place. 30 September 2016

Concertos by Avison, Garth, Handel, Herschel and Stanley.

As part of the Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season, the Newcastle-based Avison Ensemble explored the world of the 18th century concerto, and the equally interesting world of English provincial musical life. Charles Avison (pictured) was a Newcastle born organist and composer who absorbed the musical style of Geminiani and Scarlatti during a short period in London before being enticed back to Newcastle with the promise of prestigious organist post complete with a new organ. He made a handsome living through teaching and arranging subscription concerts. He was also a fierce reviewer of other composers, including Handel.

Avison’s 1758 Concerto Grosso in D (Op6/9) was an excellent example of the rather conservative type of piece that he wrote for the Newcastle Music Society. A rather bucolic opening reminiscent of hunting horns over a drone Continue reading

Fitzwilliam & Friends: Purcell + Pergolesi +

Fitzwilliam & Friends: Purcell + Pergolesi +
Fitzwilliam String Quartet, Julia Doyle, Clare Wilkinson
Kings Place. 29 September 2016

Music by Purcell, Marcus Barcham Stevens, Jackson Hill, Rachel Stott, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Image result for julia doyle sopranoKings Place’s 2016 ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series continued with a fascinating combination of musical styles performed by the period instrument Fitzwilliam String Quartet together with their ‘Friends’, soprano Julia Doyle (pictured) and mezzo Clare Wilkinson, two of the finest singers around, with Laurence Cummings, harpsichord and organ. They opened collectively with three groups of pieces selected from Purcell’s Fairy Queen, King Arthur, and Dido and Aeneas. Julia Doyle and Clare Wilkinson were outstanding soloists in piece such as If Love’s a Sweet Passion’, The Plaint, Fairest Isle and Dido’s Lament. I was particularly impressed with Julia Doyle’s beautiful singing and her excellent use of ornaments: she is one of the few singers who can manage a proper trill, rather than just relying on vibrato.

With the departure of the ‘friends’, the Fitzwilliam Quartet continued with Purcell’s Fantazia 7 followed by three of the specially commissioned Continue reading

The 1735 Spitalfields Richard Bridge organ

The 1735 Spitalfields Richard Bridge organ
Margaret Phillips
Christ Church, Spitalfields, 29 September 2016

One of the most important musical events in London in 2015 was the long-awaited opening of the 1735 Richard Bridge organ (restored by William Drake) in the Hawksmoor designed Christ Church, Spitalfields. For many decades it was the largest organ in the UK, and its musical importance is immeasurable. My review of the gala opening recital, given by (the now sadly, late) John Scott, and information about the restoration and an organ specification can be found here.

In the first of a short series of recitals, Margaret Phillips played what she admitted at the start was a “perverse” programme, including only one English piece in a concert titled ‘The Eighteenth Century English Organ’. She explained that her emphasis was on the many different colours of the Spitalfields organ. Although there is an enormous repertoire Continue reading

Telemann: Concerti for Wind Instruments

Telemann: Concerti for Wind Instruments
il Gardellino
Etcetera KTC 4004.

Telemann: Concerto in e, TWV 52 e:1; Concerto in a 6, TWV 52 e:3; Concerto in a, TWV 52 a:1; Concerto in D, TWV 51 f:1; Septet in Bes, TWV 44:43.

Recorded in 2003, this is presumably a reissue, although I couldn’t anything to confirm that. It is not listed on il Gardellino’s website. Matthessohn seems to have been one of the first to wonder how Telemann managed to compose so much music. This, and the dominance of Bach in the revival of German baroque music, has always been a bit of a problem. The opening Concerto in this CD helps by including several moments that many listeners might recognise. Matthessohn also commented that “Telemann alone is beyond all praise and lauds”, and this CD demonstrates the exceptional quality of his music. Both technically and musically, his compositional skill is self evidence, as is the breadth of his creative imagination. Continue reading

Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon

Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon
Boxwood & Brass
Resonus RES10177. 72’53

With the subtitle of ‘Franz Tausch in Context’, this début recording by Boxwood & Brass explores the music of the clarinettist and composer Tausch as he moved from Mannheim to Munich and then to Berlin. His XIII Pièces en Quatuor for two clarinets, horn and bassoon was his most substantial chamber work, and is performed here complete, in two suites. Published in 1812, the pieces might have been intended for Taush’s own saloon concerts – they are clearly music to be listened to, rather than the mere background music of some of the harmoniemusik repertoire. This is the first time that they have been recorded complete, an important occasion for Tausch and Boxwood & Brass.

The twelve pieces are each about three to five minutes long, and explore a wide range of musical styles within the late 18th century idiom. Serious thought has gone into their composition – these are not empty exercises in note-spinning, but are deftly-worked musical miniatures of exceptional quality. The influence Continue reading

Richard Boothby: ‘New discoveries for an ancient instrument’

‘New discoveries for an ancient instrument’
Richard Boothby, viola da gamba
Garrick’s Temple, Hampton on Thames,
Loki Music, 23 September 2016

WP_20160923_21_35_11_Pro.jpgOne of the most delightful of London’s music venues is Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare Garrick’s Temple to Shakespeare, by the Thames just upstream from Hampton Court Palace. Built in 1758 by the actor/manager David Garrick as part of his riverside estate, this tiny octagonal room is host to a number of cultural events, including regular summer music concerts run by Loki Music. The last of this season’s Loki concerts was given by the distinguished viola da gamba player, Richard Boothby, founder of Fretwork and the Purcell Quartet.

The first half was particularly interesting, with five of the recently discovered Fantasias for solo viola da gamba by Telemann (TWV 40:26-37). Continue reading

Hasse: Demetrio

Hasse: Demetrio
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
Cadogan Hall, 21 September 2016

Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) is one of those historically unfortunate composers who achieved great fame during their lifetimes but have since been more-or-less forgotten. A prolific composer of opera, he was hailed by Charles Burney as being superior to all other lyric composers. Married to the famed soprano Faustina Bordoni, the couple became the Posh and Becks of their day. Usually based in Dresden in the Court of the Saxon Elector Frederick III, Hasse  had special dispensation that avoided the need to travel annually to the Polish Court, where Frederick was also the elected King. He also maintained a post in Venice at the Ospedale degli Incurabili. He lived long enough to have performed in front of Bach and the young Mozart.

This was the modern première of the opera Demetrio, presented by the musically adventurous Opera Settecento.  Although the publicity suggested that we would hear the original 1732 Venice version, it was the later 1740 Dresden version that was performed. This included several new arias, but Continue reading

Weckmann – ‘Es ist das Heil’

SGHS main organ.jpg

Mayfair Organ Concerts
St George Hanover Square, St George Street, London W1S 
11 October 2016, 1:10-1.50

Matthias Weckmann  (1616-1674)
‘Es ist das Heil kommen her’

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays the monumental set of 7 verses on the Lutheran chorale ‘Es ist das Heil kommen her’ written by Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674). Lasting about 35 minutes, it is the longest such organ work from the whole of the 17th century. It includes, as the sixth verse, the most extensive and most complex Chorale Fantasia of that era.

It is played on the 2012 Richards, Fowkes & Co organ in St George’s Hanover Square, based on North German 17th/18th century organs.
Admission free – retiring collection.
Programme notes below

Continue reading

BBC Prom 63: Bach B minor Mass

BBC Prom 63: Bach B minor Mass
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Royal Albert Hall, 1 September 2016

However many times I hear Bach’s B minor Mass, I never stopped being amazed at its compositional history. Almost certainly never heard during his lifetime, and with many of the sections lifted from earlier compositions, it was cobbled together over many years, the first part with the aim of securing a royal appointment in the Saxony Court. Despite all that it is one of the most, and arguably, the most extraordinary piece of music ever composed.   So it was no surprise that more than 5,00o people wanted to hear its performance at the BBC Proms in the Albert Hall.

And therein lay the problem. How to perform a work, intended to be performed in an (albeit sizeable) church by the normal Baroque orchestral and choral forces, in a vast auditorium designed (if indeed it was designed for anything) for enormous forces. Nowadays most period instrument groups makes few concessions to the space and acoustics, and play the music in the way they normally do. This is what William Christie did, with a 24-strong choir and a typical Bach orchestra. This will not produce a sound to fill the hall. But it will produce a sound that Bach might recognise. And for me, that is the key thing. Prommers are, by and large, pretty intelligent people, so should be used to letting their ears adjust to the relatively subdued volume. Continue reading

Antonio Bertali: La Maddalena

Antonio Bertali: La Maddalena
Scherzi Musicali, Nicolas Achten
Ricercar RIC367. 67’42

Monteverdi, Guivizzani, Effrem, Rossi: Music composed for La Maddalena, a sacred drama by Gio. Battista Andreini; Bertali: La Maddalena; Mazzocchi: Lagrime Amare

Bertali: La MaddalenaThe music of Antonio Bertali deserves to be much better known, and this important recording demonstrates why. His oratorio La Maddalena was composed in Vienna in 1663. It is richly scored for six solo singers, a six-part viol consort, two cornetts, a violin and trombone plus continuo, here drawn from lirone, violone, theorbo, archlute, guitar, chitarrones, tiorbino, harp, and a variety of keyboard instruments.

Its three parts start with a dialogue between Pentimento and Amor verso Dio (Repentance and Love for God), sung by a low bass and high tenor respectively, and reflecting on the death of Christ. The sombre mood is lifted somewhat in the second part, when the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene contemplate their position, their moods changing dramatically from lamentation to some indications of hope for the future. The final part features two sinners (Peccatore), who meet up with Maria and Maddalena to compare notes. The rich orchestration of cornets Continue reading

BBC Prom 60: Bach & Bruckner

BBC Prom 60: Bach & Bruckner
Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Philippe Jordan
Royal Albert Hall, 30 August 2016

Bach: Cantata No 82, Ich habe genug; Bruckner: Symphony No 9 in D minor

Such was the power and influence of the period instrument movement that, for several decades, mixed period concerts like just didn’t happen. As the mainstream modern instrument orchestras become more knowledgeable and confident in their ability to play the earlier repertoire, such concerts are less rare nowadays, but this was still a particularly bold pairing of Bach’s moving meditation on death Ich habe genug, with Bruckner’s rather grander final symphony, generally assumed to be his own contemplation on death.

Bruckner dedicated his 9th Symphony to ‘the dear Lord God’. It would appear that the Lord God wasn’t playing ball, as Bruckner died while still composing the massive work, leaving only sketches of the final, fourth, movement. God also seemed to be attending to other things after Bruckner’s death, as Continue reading

Innsbruck Festival of Early Music: 2016

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik
16-19 August 2016

The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, although its roots go back a further 14 years or so. After some preliminary events, the festival proper ran for the last two weeks in August. It usually features three fully staged operas, although this year the third of them was reduced to a one-night concert performance of the Ruhrtriennale festival’s production of Gluck’s Alceste, conducted by René Jacobs who until 2009 was artistic director of the Innsbrucker Festwochen and, incidentally, the singer at the first concert of the first festival on 24 August 1976.

Rather surprisingly, given the anniversary nature of this year’s festival, the theme was ‘Tragicommedia’ although the events that I saw were rather more ‘commedia’ than ‘tragic’. As with last year, I was unfortunately only able to attend Continue reading

Gothic Voices: Mary Star of the Sea

Mary Star of the Sea
Gothic Voices
Linn CKD541. 74’00

CKD 541 iTUNES SLEEVE FINAL smallJoanne Metcalf: Il nome del bel fior;
Andrew Smith: Stond wel, Moder, under rode; and pieces by Godric of Finchale, Leonel Power, Dunstaple, Richard Smert, and Anonymous.

This beautiful recording contrasts music by contemporary composers Joanne Metcalf and Andrew Smith with 12th to 15th century settings of Marian texts, many of them anonymous.

The first part explores the mythical and spiritual qualities of Mary, with three extracts from Joanne Metcalf’s Il nome del bel fior (a ten-part setting of extracts from Dante’s Paradiso) together with her Music for the star of the sea. The opening track is particularly beautiful, with Catherine King singing Joanne Metcalf’s haunting meditation on the single word ‘Maria’. The earlier pieces reflect the different musical styles that were developing during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The second part focuses on the more human aspects of Mary, Continue reading