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

BBC Proms at …: Purcell and his contemporaries

BBC Proms at …: Purcell and his contemporaries
Katherine Watson, Samual Boden, Callum Thorpe
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, 13 August

Purcell: Timon of Athens – Curtain Tune, I Spy Celia, I See She Flies Me, The Fairy Queen (excerpts), The Tempest (attrib. Purcell); Blow: Venus and Adonis (excerpts); Locke: The Tempest – Curtain Tune, The Tempest – Dance of the Fantastick Spirits (perhaps by Draghi).

As part of their ‘Proms at …’’ season, the BBC decanted from its usual home in the Royal Albert Hall to one of the most intimate performances spaces in London, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of the Shakespeare’s Globe complex on the South Bank. Since its opening in 2014, this reconstruction of a typical Jacobean (early 17th century) theatre has housed a number of excellent (and sold-out) musical events and small-scale operas, adding considerably to the range of London music venues. Sadly, under Sam Wannamaker.jpgthe new Globe management, those events seems to have ground to a halt, with only one listed in the current season – and that a hang-over booking from the previous management. So it was fortuitous that the BBC Proms chose the theatre for one of its ‘BBC at …’ events (alongside such venues as a multi-story car park in Peckham), not least because it enabled people to see the inside of this fabulous, but very uncomfortable, theatre for just £14, rather than the up to £62 the Globe are asking for their own next concert there. Continue reading

Conversations

Conversations
Nevermind
Alpha 235. 74’09

Quentin: Concerto a 4 parties, oeuvre XII; Quatuor; Sonata III, oeuvre XV; Sonata IV a 4 parties, oeuvre VIII; Trio Sonata 5, oeuvre X
Guillemain: Sonata no.3, 1er livre; Sonata no.4, 2eme livre 

Nevermind: Conversations | Alpha ALPHA235Nevermind is a rather quirkily named group of four musicians (Anna Besson, flute, Louis Creac’h, violin, Robin Pharo, viola da gamba, Jean Rondeau, harpsichord) who met while studying at the Conservatoire Supérieur National de Paris (CNSM). They share an interest in early music, jazz and traditional music. In 2014, they won the Special Price of the Van Wassenaer Competition in Utrecht. They take their name from a quotation by the 19th century poet, Musset – “To love is what counts, never mind who the partner is! Never mind the bottle as long as it makes us drunk”.  In this, their debut CD, they present the music of two little-known French composers, Jean-Baptiste Quentin (1705-1770) and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (c1690-c1750).

Jean-Baptiste Quentin (c1690-c1750) was a violinist and viola player in the Académie Royale de Musique and at the Paris Opéra. He was Continue reading

Regina Coeli: A-cappella music by Suriano & Aichinger

Regina Coeli
A-cappella music by Suriano, Aichinger, Haller and Palestrina
Basilica Alte Kappelle, Regensburg
Regensburger Vokalsolisten & Motettenchor. Josef Kohlhäufl
TYXart TXA15058. 68’55

Suriano: Missa Nos autem gloriari; Aichinger: Missa de Beata Virgine, Regina Coeli etc; Haller: Laudes Eucharisticae etc. Palestrina: Missa sine nomine – Credo. 

Regina Coeli - A-cappella-Music by Suriano, Aichinger, Haller and PalestrinaThis CD reflects the tradition of polyphonic singing in the style of Palestrina that developed during the 19th century in the collegiate church of Our Lady of the Old Chapel in Regensburg, a tradition that later extended to the Cathedral and its famous Domspatzen boys choir. The recordings are intended as a tribute to the conductor Josef Kohlhäufl, director of music at the Alte Kappelle from 1984 to 2011, who revived the polyphonic tradition during his tenure.

These recordings were made in 1998 and 2000, the earlier recordings, of Michael Haller, with the Regensburger Motettenchor being rather different in both recorded sound and vocal style than the latter offerings. Continue reading

Bantock: Omar Khayyám

Granville Bantock: Omar Khayyám
BBC Symphony Orchestra & BBC Singers, Norman Del Mar (1979)
Lyrita:
Itter Broadcast Collection REAM2128. 4 CDs: 73’06, 61’41, 68’05, 54’25.

Bantock: Omar Khayyám (172’ 33),
Fifine at the Fair (30’15),
Sappho (42’58),
The Pierrot of the Minute (11’27)

Disc 1: Part One – Quatrains 1-47
Disc 2: Part One – Quatrains 48-54, Part Two – Quatrains 55-81
Disc 3: Part Three – Quatrains 82-101; Fifine at the Fair
Disc 4: Sappho; The Pierrot of the Minute – Johanna Peters/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Sir Granville Bantock is a curious figure in English musical history. Born in 1868 to wealthy but non-artistic parents, his career was directed towards the Indian Civil Service until ill-health forced a brief diversion into chemical engineering before starting full time music study aged about 20. He toured several of his light musicals, and had a brief attempt at journalism. His subsequent musical career was similar to so many musicians who fail to make the big time, achieving a degree of fame in provincial settings, but rarely breaking into the internationally important London scene. After a spell as conductor in Wallasey and Liverpool he settled in Birmingham, eventually becoming Professor of Music the University, for which he was knighted aged 61. He was a champion of many composers, including Sibelius, Prokofiev, and Delius, and also admired the music of R. Strauss and Wagner.

Despite his musical influences, his 800+ works seem to have carefully avoided the more adventurous musical paths of his contemporaries and heroes, Continue reading

Héloïse Werner: Scenes from the End

Scenes from the End
Héloïse Werner, soprano
Jonathan Woolgar, composer, Emily Burns, director
Camden Fringe 2016
Camden People’s Theatre 11 August 2016

The image of opera as a posh frocks and picnics event at places like Glyndebourne has long since been shattered; not by the paired-down touring companies that pander to the country house set during the summer months, but by the wealth of small scale innovative opera companies working on new scores in smaller, more approachable spaces. One example of the latter is ‘Scenes from the End’, an extraordinary one-woman performance piece about grief, developed and performed by soprano Héloïse Werner. Working with composer Jonathan Woolgar (who also wrote the text), Werner’s 45 minute piece explores themes of grief and death in a compelling combination of music, theatre, spoken word, projection and recorded sound.

Performed during the Camden Fringe in the tiny (and noisy) black-box Camden People’s Theatre, this was opera at its most intimate. Continue reading

Ars Antiqua: Ramon Llull

Ars Antiqua: Ramon Llull – chronicle of a medieval voyage
Capella de Ministrers &
Musica Reservata Barcelona
CDM 1637. 66’13

This is a rather curious CD, subtitled “Ramon Llull – chronicle of a medieval voyage: conversion, study and contemplation”. When I first saw the CD, with its mention of Ramon Llull (Raymond Lully), I wondered if this was a discovery of a previously unknown mediaeval composer. But it turns out the Llull/Lully has nothing to do with the music on the recording. The ‘bouquet of pieces’ on the disc are apparently an offering to the admirers of Llull on the 700th anniversary of his death. A rather curious offering, considering that for most of his life, Llull had little or anything to do with music, and certainly not for the sort of music on this CD.

Llull was born in Palma, Majorca, around 1230, shortly after the Muslims had been conquered and enslaved, and the Balearic Islands Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets

Mozart: Piano Duets – Vol 1
Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate
Resonus  RES10172. 68’04

Mozart: Sonata in D, K381; Sonata in C, K521; Sonata in B-flat, K358, JC Bach: Sonata in A.

This is the first of two volumes of Mozart’s complete piano duets, played on original fortepianos by Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate. It was recorded in Finchcocks House, Kent, and was the last recording made their before the house was closed and much of Richard and Katrina Burnett’s important collection of early keyboard instruments was sold. These two pianos, together with another 12 instruments from the collection, remain within the Finchcocks Charity for Musical Education which will continue to sponsor research and training a new generation of early keyboard restorers, tuners and technicians.

Although Mozart’s piano duets are a little-known part of his compositional output, they are a genre that he returned to throughout his life. They Continue reading

Boismortier: Six Sonatas Op 51

Boismortier: Six Sonatas Op 51
Elysium Ensemble
Resonus RES10171. 71’24

Despite their name the Elysium Ensemble, at least on this recording, consists of just two people, Greg Dikmans and Lucinda Moon, playing flute and violin respectively. Founded in 1985, the Australia-based Elysium Ensemble has in recent years concentrated on the instrumental duet, with research and concerts exploring the concept of ‘Dialogue: the Art of Elegant Conversation’. The foundation of this is the concept of rhetoric, or “the art of discourse and communication, of speaking with elegance and eloquence.” With roots in Aristotle’s discussions on oratory, and 18th century musicians and writers such as Quantz, they explore the concept of rhetoric in music through Boismortier’s Six Sonatas pour une flute traversiere et un violin par accords, published in Paris in 1734.

Boismortier (1689-1755) is one of those composers that crops up in occasional concert programmes, but is far from a household name amongst musicians. Continue reading

Sweelinck: Complete Keyboard Works

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Complete Keyboard Works
Volume 1 – Toccatas (Ed. Harald Vogel, Peter Dirksen)

128 pages • 23 x 30,5 cm • 460 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-18206-2
Edition Breitkopf EB 8741
Volume 2 – Fantasias (Ed. Peter Dirksen,  Harald Vogel)

224 pages • 23 x 30,5 cm • 825 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-18272-7
Edition Breitkopf  EB 8742

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (dubbed the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam) was one of the most important keyboard composers at that musically fascinating period at the end of the Renaissance period and the start of the Baroque. Born in 1562, he was employed by the city of Amsterdam as organist of the Oude Kerk for 44 years until his death in 1621. Organ music in the Calvanist church was limited to occasional playing of pieces to familiarise the congregation with the choral melodies, before or after the service, but not during. So Sweelinck’s duties as city organist were generally to give concerts for the public and visitors. This have him time to build up an extensive teaching practice, attracting a generation of North German organists who returned to develop the influential Hamburg organ school that dominated the 17th century, culminating in the music Buxtehude in nearby Lübeck. His music was known throughout northern Europe, with two of his pieces includrf within the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

Breitkopf have published his complete keyboard works in four volumes, Continue reading

Iford Arts: ‘A Fairy Queen’

Iford Arts: ‘A Fairy Queen’
Early Opera Company, Tim Nelson
Iford Manor. 3 August 2016

Iford Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, was the home of the Edwardian architect and landscape designer Harold Peto from 1899 until his death in 1933. He created the Italianate gardens that clamber up the hillside above the classical-fronted mediaeval Iford Manor house, with terraces of formal architectural bits and bobs including a tiny recreated Italian cloister.Iford.jpgSince 1996, the cloister has been home to summer opera productions, presented by Iford Arts. Their latest season concluded with ‘A Fairy Queen’ presented by Iford Arts and their regular orchestra from Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company.

Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen is notoriously difficult to perform or stage. The music, designed to accompany the masques that form part of the various acts, only lasts long enough for half a normal concert. Performed complete, with Betterton’s rather awkward version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, it seems to lasts for ever. I remember the 2009 Glyndebourne Festival Continue reading

Hymnes – tribute to Nicolas de Grigny

Hymnes  – tribute to Nicolas de Grigny
Olivier Latry, Jean-Baptiste Robin, Benoît Mernier, Pierre Farago, Vincent Dubois (Organ)
Basilique Saint-Remi, Reims.
Aeolus AW-11101. 60’19+57’25

AE-11101 "Hymnes"This fascinating double CD stems from the 800th anniversary (in 2011) of the laying of the first stone of the Cathedral of Reims, where Nicolas de Grigny, the finest organist composer of the French Baroque era, served as organist from 1696 until his premature death in 1703. The current organ in the cathedral is not suitable for the performance of their most famous composer’s music, but the nearby Basilique St-Remi has a Bertrand Cattiaux organ, built in 2000, with the registrations required for the French Baroque repertoire. In an enterprising initiative, the “Association Renaissance des grandes orgues de la Basilique St-Remi” started a musical project in homage to de Grigny by inviting five contemporary composers to write a new work for organ based on one of de Grigny’s five hymn settings. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise
Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain
Ambronay AMY047. 65’05

Nouveau disque : Les Orphelines de VeniseMuch of Vivaldi’s music was written for the Venetian Ospedali della Pietà, one of many such orphanages set up to cater for the many unwanted, and usually female, babies that seemed to appear some nine months after the carnival season. Although originally funded as charities, they quickly established a reputation for their musical activities, attracting large crowds and provided a secure, and indeed rather opulent, financial establishment. Firmly on the tourist essential to-do list, these female choirs attracted such comments as the one by Charles de Brosses in 1739 who wrote that “there is nothing so pleasant as to see a pretty young nun in a white habit, with a bunch of pomegranate blossoms over her ear directing the orchestra … their voices are delightful in their elegance and lightness”.

There are many debates over exactly how Vivaldi’s works were performed at the Pietà, not least because many of the works apparently written for the girls appear in SATB format, with tenor and bass parts. Some choirs have Continue reading

Bousset: Airs Sérieux

Jean-Baptiste de Bousset: Airs Sérieux
Le Jardin Secret, Elizabeth Dobbin
Fuga Libera FUG736. 56’42

For many years I was invited to review the International Young Artists’ Early Music Network Competition, held every other year in York. Apart from initially getting to know the young musicians competing in the final, one of the most rewarding aspects was that competitors would keep me in touch with their developing careers, which usually included them sending me their first CD a few years later. The winner of the 2007 competition was Le Jardin Secret (centred on soprano Elizabeth Dobbin) who, rather unusually for competitions, also won the audience prize. In their case, I seem to have missed out their first two CDs, but have new received this, their third, CD.

Jean-Baptiste de Bousset (1662-1725) is not the most prominent of French Baroque composers, but his contribution to the world of solo song was immense, notably with his collection of Airs Sérieux, 850 of which were published between 1690 and 1725. As the liner notes explain, the air sérieux was a sub-genre of the air français, which had its roots in the late 16th century and, in turn, traces its own roots to the earlier air de cour that originated in 1571. Initially intended for performance in the Royal Court, the air sérieux developed into music for intimate settings in private saloons, rather than for the Court, usually arranged by, and for women. Continue reading

Handel in Italy: Vols 1 & 2

Handel in Italy: Vols 1 & 2
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
Benjamin, Mary & Sophie Bevan
Signum Classics
SIGCD423. 43’00. Released August 2015
SIGCD462. 55’12. To be released on 9 September 2016

Some of Handel’s most exciting and dramatic music was composed during the three short years he spent in Italy, starting when he was just 21. Despite offers of financial assistance from a Medici Prince, Handel famously ‘made his way on his own bottom’, as his biographer Mainwearing put it. Mainwearing suggests that prior to his visit, Handel ‘could see nothing’ in Italian music which, if it is true, is rather surprising, as Italian music had been at the forefront of much of the European Baroque, not least because of the developments in opera, oratorio and cantata. Handel very quickly absorbed the taste and style of Italian musicians both from Rome and also from his shorter visits to Venice, Florence and Naples. In his compositions from this period, he often outdid the Italians in writing in their style – as he did in England later in his life.

These two CDs (recorded together in 2013)  give a comprehensive account of the compositions for solo voice from that period. Interestingly, the three singers are all from the same extended Bevan family who, collectively and individually, have become prominent fixtures on the vocal scene. Continue reading

Handel: Alcina

Handel: Alcina
Ryedale Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
 ‘Experience Scheme’
Oriental Club London, 29 July 2016

After two performances during the Ryedale Festival (16 and 18 July), Ryedale Festival Opera brought their production of Handel’s Alcina to the courtyard of the Oriental Club in London. In collaboration with eight young instrumentalists from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s ‘Experience Scheme’, conducted from the harpsichord by Ian Tindale, this was a staged and impressively costumed production, but with minimal props and no sets or scenery, and given an impressively light directorial touch from Nina Brazier.

Like Handel’s operas Orlando and Ariodante, the story is based on a tale from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, the epic early 16th century poem of knightly chivalry and fantasy set amidst the wars between Christians and Saracens in the time of Charlemagne. Continue reading

BBC Prom 17: Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

BBC Prom 17: Berlioz, Beethoven, Brahms
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (SWR)
Sir Roger Norrington, Robert Levin
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2016

Few in the audience would have realised what a poignant and emotional, event this Prom was to be until after the encore, when the leader Natalie Chee took a microphone and addressed the packed Royal Albert Hall to explain that, due to spending cuts, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra is to merge with the SWR Symphony Orchestra in September, and that this was their very last concert. Founded in the dark days of 1945 Sir Roger Norrington © BBC / Chris Christodoulouthis distinguished orchestra has built an enormous international reputation, not least during the years from 1998 to 2011 when Sir Roger Norrington was their chief conductor, bringing his noted ‘historically informed’ performance practice to this modern instrument orchestra, producing a distinctive style – the ‘Stuttgart sound’. The two merging orchestras are both under the auspices of Südwestrundfunk (South West Radio), the public broadcaster for Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and have very different repertoires and styles. It was entirely appropriate that Roger Norrington, now their Conductor Emeritus, was the conductor for their final concert.

Berlioz’s sparkling and witty overture to Beatrice and Benedict opened the evening, with Norrington’s characteristic attention to detail being at the forefront. Continue reading

BBC Prom 9: Mozart & Mendelssohn

BBC Prom 9: Mozart & Mendelssohn
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Rosa Feola, Jérémie Rhorer
Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2016 

Mozart: Symphony No 39, ‘Ah, lo previdi’; Mendelssohn: ‘Italian’ Symphony; ‘Infelice’.

Making their Proms début, the French period instrument orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, their conductor and founder, Jérémie Rhorer, and the Italian soprano, Rosa Feola, presented a fascinating programme comparing music by Mozart and Mendelssohn. Perhaps because of what might have been seen as a fairly safe programme, this relatively unknown orchestra managed to achieve a full house of some 5000 people – quite an achievement. Regular Proms goers should have got used to period instrument orchestras in the vast expanse of the Royal Albert Hall, but newcomers expecting a wall of sound would probably have been surprised by the delicacy of the sound.

There is always a risk of trying to force the sound into the space but, sensibly, Continue reading

St Giles-in-the-Fields: Samuel Wesley (b1766)

St Giles-in-the-Fields 60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG
Friday 29 July 2016: 1pm.
1
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays organ music by
Samuel Wesley (1766- 1837)

Samuel Wesley was born in Bristol 250 years ago. He was the son of Charles Wesley the hymn-writer and nephew of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. He was a 2014-07-04-1716.jpgchild prodigy, writing his first oratorio, Ruth, aged 6. When he was 8, the composer Dr William Boyce referred to him as the ‘English Mozart’. His family moved to London when he was about 12, living in Marylebone. He led a colourful life, some of his apparent eccentricities possibly being caused by a serious head injury when he was about 21. An organ virtuoso, Samuel Wesley was the leading pioneer of the Bach revival in England. Bach seems to have been a strong influence on his Opus 6 Organ Voluntaries, published between about 1807 and 1820, and the focus of this recital.

The wonderful William Drake reconstruction of the Dallam/Smith/England/Lincon/Gray & Davison organ, contains some of the oldest pipework in London. It is very well-suited to Wesley’s music as, in its current form, it represents the English organ in the early years of the 19th century, with strong reminders of the earlier 17th and 18th English organ style.

Organ information: http://npor.emma.cam.ac.uk/NPORView.html?RI=P00119
Free admission, retiring collection.
The church is just behind Centre Point/Tottenham Road Court station.

 

 

 

Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies

Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies
Church Sonatas by Bertali, Schmelzer, Biber
Cappella Murensis, Les Cornets Noirs, Johannes Strobl
Audite 97.539. 71’36

Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies; Bertali: Sonata a 13, Sonata Sancti Placidi a 14; Biber: Sonata VI a 5, Sonata VIII a 5; Schmelzer: Sonata XII a 7;

Muffat: Missa in labore requiesGeorg Muffat is one of the most interesting composers of the high Baroque period, not least because of his ability to combine musical genres from many different countries. Born in Savoy, he studied with Lully in Paris before becoming organist in Strasbourg Cathedral before moving to Vienna, Prague and then Salzburg, where he worked with Biber in the court of the Prince Archbishop. After further study in Rome he moved to Passau. It was there that we find the first mention of the monumental Missa in Labore Requies, Muffat’s only surviving sacred work. The score came into Haydn’s hands, passing on his death into the Esterházy archives and final to the National Library in Budapest.

Until 1991 it was almost completely ignored, with doubt as whether Muffat was the composer, and the reason for its composition is still in doubt. Continue reading

Destouches & Delalande: Les Éléments

Destouches & Delalande: Les Éléments
Ensemble les Surprises, L-N Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay AMY046. 75’47

Les ÉlémentsThe creation of the opera-ballet Les Éléments has links with the courtly and musical politics of Paris. Louis XIV died in 1715, leaving as his successor a five-year old fragile child. One of the focuses of the Regency was to ensure that the young Louis XV would survive at least as long as it took for him to father a successor to the throne. Dance was seen as a suitable approach to both encourage his own development, and to show to others that he was capable of succeeding his long-lived father and, eventually, to do his bit for the future of the royal line. To this end, several ballets were commissioned, usually giving the King a moment to strut his stuff in front of the assembled courtiers.

One such was Les Éléments, performed in 1721 in a small theatre constructed in the galleries of the Tuileries palace, a less intimidating space Continue reading