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. 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 website. 

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Prom 38: Solomon’s Knot – Bach Cantatas

Prom 38: Bach Cantatas
Solomon’s Knot

Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

Cantata 130 ‘Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir
Cantata 19 ‘Es erhub sich ein Streit
Cantata 149, ‘Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg
Cantata 50, ‘Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft

I have reviewed the Solomon’s Knot collective many times since their early days and have always been very impressed by their distinctive style of musical presentation. Although they perform a wide repertoire of early and contemporary music, it is in the music of Bach that their style seems to be particularly appropriate. This was their Proms debut – a late-night concert of four Bach cantatas all composed for the Feast of St Michael, his dragon-slaying antics making for some dramatic music. The 8 singers perform from memoty, with an attractively informal stage manner, directly addressing the audience and drawing us into the world that they are depicting. As times it is almost like listening in to a conversation between a group of friends. They move centre-stage for choruses individually, like a discussion group slowly forming, and then stand in a tight-knit shallow arc, When one of them is singing a solo, others will often stand nearby, as if listening to and encouraging a friend.  Continue reading

Prom 37: L’Enfance du Christ

Prom 37. Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ
Halle Orchestra, Maxime Pascal
Britten Sinfonia Voices, Genesis Sixteen
Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

L’Enfance du Christ is a curious work to programme in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall for a Berlioz anniversary Prom. The gently reflective nature of the unfolding story seems to demand a sense of intimacy, whereas works such as the Te Deum cry out for such a setting. The genesis of L’Enfance du Christ is a fascinating one. Berlioz wrote a tiny organ piece into an architect’s album during a card-playing party in 1850. Realising the nature of his creation, he immediately added some words and gave birth to the famous ‘Shepherds’ Farewell’ (L’adieu des bergers). He added it to his next concert with a hoax billing as by a forgotten 17th-century composer, named after the architect who asked for the little musical momento. Four years later, it would later form the centre-point of what he termed a ‘sacred trilogy’ – L’Enfance du Christ, a three-section oratorio. Continue reading

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie
Ensemble OrQuesta
Grimborn Opera Festival
Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London
13 August 2019

As the name of suggests, Grimeborn is not Glyndebourne. Its mid-summer season is based at the Arcola Theatre, a converted textile factory in Dalston, East London, and focuses on new operas and experimental productions of more established repertoire. The cramped space forces directors, singers and instrumentalists to rethink opera presentation. There is only space for very few instrumentalists in a tiny gallery which is only accessible by ladder. The singers are performing within a few feet of the audience, which sits on three sides of the small central stage area, creating directorial issues in how the singers relate to the audience. It is about as far as you can get from the ideal space to perform French Baroque opera, with its enormous casts of singers and dancers, large orchestral forces and elaborate stage settings, but that is exactly what Ensemble OrQuesta are doing in their production of Rameau’s tragédie en musiqueHippolyte et Aricie.  Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Die Zauberflöte

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ryan Wigglesworth
Glyndebourne Festival, 6 August 2019

This is the 7th production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne, and the popularity of Mozart’s singspiel seems undiminished, judging by the sell-out of the entire run. This time it was directed by the Canadian partnership of André Barbe and Renaud Doucet, the former providing the designs, the latter the direction. If you are the sort of opera-goer who struggles with even the simplest plots and prefers to just let the music and the visual spectacle wash over you, this may be the Magic Flute for you. Musically, it was outstanding, with fine singing from a strong cast and excellent playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by Ryan Wigglesworth. André Barbe’s scenery was inventive, based on enlarged versions of his pen and ink sketches and clever use of perspective. That said, there are many questions about Renaud Doucet’s overall direction, not least in the liberties taken with the plot to fit with his own ideas about what he sees as the ‘problems’ with the original concept and libretto. 

Image result for zauberflote glyndebourne

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Prom 22: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich & Outi Tarkiainen

Prom 22: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich & Outi Tarkiainen
BBC Philharmonic, John Storgårds
Royal Albert Hall, 5 August 2019

Rachmaninov: Isle of the Dead
Outi Tarkiainen: Midnight Sun Variations BBC commission: world premiere
Shostakovich: Symphony No 11 ‘The Year 1905’

Pairing Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead with Shostakovich’s 1tth Symphony foretold an evening that wasn’t going to be a bundle of fun. The opening gloomy 5:8 rhythms of the boatman rowing a corpse to the Isle of the Dead, as memorably depicted in Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel, set the mood. This photo shows a much better and clearer version to that printed in the programme – there are at least six versions.

Image result for Leipzig Isle of the DeadArnold Böcklin: Die Toteninsel  

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Prom 21: Olivier Latry

Prom 21: The Art of Transcription
Olivier Latry, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 4 August 2019

In what must be the most inept bit of programming in musical history, the BBC Proms has seen fit, for yet another year, to programme the only organ recital of the Proms at 11am on a Sunday, when most organists will be earning a pittance playing for church services. I cannot think of another instrument where the choice of a specific day and time could exclude a key part of the potential audience. That said, there was a pretty impressive audience for this concert, far more than at the previous Sunday’s evening Prom of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles. And what a treat they had. Olivier Latry is one of the organists at Notre Dame who when not on his week’s turn of duty there has built an enviable reputation at a touring recitalist and teacher. His programme focused on the art of transcription, an aspect of organ performance that dates back to early Renaissance times but reached its peak in England in the 19th century when W T Best became Liverpool Corporation Organists (in 1855) and, over a period spanning around 40 years, gave three organ recitals a week in St George’s Hall. He was the first organist to give a recital in the Royal Albert Hall, in 1871.

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Vox Luminis: Kantaten der Bach Familie

Kantaten der Bach Familie 
HeinrichJohann ChristophJohann Michael & Johann Sebastian Bach
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
Ricercar  RIC 401. 66’30

Since Vox Luminis was formed around 15 years ago, they have established themselves as one of the leading performers of early music, usually just with choir and continuo, but also appearing with up to a full orchestra. Under their director, Lionel Meunier, their many award-winning CDs have highlighted fascinating areas of the repertoire, as does this one with its exploration of the sacred cantatas of Bach’s earlier family. Although we have long given up the notion that Bach sprung in the musical world from nowhere, our knowledge of the pre-Bach Bach’s and the musical world in Thuringia and Saxony that nurtured the Bach brood over many generations is still rather limited. This recording reveals just some of the extraordinary riches that await exploration from the 17th century Bachs. The focus is on three pre-JS Bach’s, Heinrich (1615-92), first cousin of JA BAch’s father, and his two sons Johann Christoph (1642-1703), and Johann Michael (1648-94), whose daughter, Maria Barbara married her cousin JS Bach. 

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Prom 13. Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles

Olivier Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
Nicolas Hodges, Martin Owen, David Hockings, Alex Neal
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2019

Olivier Messiaen wrote Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) between 1971/4 as a commission celebrating the bicentenary of the US Declaration of Independence. He was strongly influenced by a visit to Utah, finding inspiration in the birds and the extraordinary landscapes. Each of the three parts of the 12-movement work concludes with a powerful movement dedicated to the dramatic geological sites of Utah, Bryce Canyon and the nearby Cedar Breaks and Zion Park. Messiaen had sound-colour synaesthesia and the “red, orange, violet” of the sandstone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon led to his focussing the extended 7th movement Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange” (Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks) in his own key of third-mode E major, a mode that he saw as a bright red-orange colour. He contrasts this image with the blue of the Steller’s Jay, one of many birds that feature throughout the piece from places as far afield as Australia, Hawaii. and the Sahara. The monumental final few bars of this movement are the aural climax of the entire piece.

Brice CanyonBryce Canyon © ABW Continue reading

St. Anne’s International Bach Festival

Music-at-Hill Golden Jubilee
24th St. Anne’s International Bach Festival

St. Mary-at-Hill, Lovat Lane, City of London
19 & 26 July 2019

The Music-at-Hill Concert Society was founded 50 years ago as the St Anne’s Music Society based in the church of St Anne & Agnes Church in Gresham Street, then the home of London’s Lutheran congregation. The church and the music society moved to St Mary-at-Hill in 2013. Music-at-Hill arranges weekly Friday lunchtime concerts, often of early music. During the four weeks in July leading up to the date of Bach’s death, they present the annual St. Anne’s International Bach Festival now in its 24th year, run in conjunction with its partner organisation, the City Bach Collective, who run regular Bach Cantatas for the St Anne’s Lutheran congregation in St Mary-at-Hill. The final two Fridays of the four-week festival featured two lunchtime recitals and a Gala Bach Concerto Finale from the City Bach Collective.

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Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Bach: influenced by Reincken

Mayfair Organ Concerts
The Grosvenor Chapel
South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2PA
Tuesday 13 August 2019, 1:10

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays music by
J S Bach
influenced by Johann Adam Reincken

WP_20150721_15_17_12_Pro.jpg

Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722) was organist of Hamburg’s famous Katharinenkirche and a close friend of Buxtehude.  This recital is linked to a recital of his music given earlier this year at St George’s, Hanover Square. That recital included his monumental chorale fantasia on An Wasserflüssen Babylon composed around 1650. At around 20 minutes long, it the longest known piece of its type in the whole 17th century North German repertoire. It was known by Bach who, while at school in Luneburg, aged around 15 copied the entire piece out from a copy owned by Georg Böhm. It is believed that he also travelled to Hamburg to hear Reincken play. In 1720, shortly before Reincken’s death, Bach visited Hamburg and improvised a lengthy fantasia on the same chorale in homage to Reincken, who commented: “I thought that this art was dead, but I see that it lives in you”. Bach also transcribed several of Reincken’s instrumental pieces for keyboard.

This recital includes one of Bach’s Reincken transcriptions, a Toccata that is clearly influenced by Reincken’s dramatic style, and Bach’s chorale prelude on An Wasserflüssen Babylon, which includes a very obvious reference to Reincken’s chorale fantasia. It ends with Bach’s giant Fantasia in G minor, which may have been played during Bach’s 1720 visit to Hamburg. The accompanying Fugue is based on a popular Dutch tune and might have been Bach’s homage to Reincken, who was born in The Netherlands. 

Toccata in D minor  BWV 913
An Wasserflüssen Babylon BWV 653
Sonata in A minor (after Reincken
Hortus musicus) BWV 965
Fantasia in G minor BWV 542i

The organ is by William Drake
Admission is free, with a retiring collection

Prom 6: Rite of Spring

Prom 6. Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music and the Juilliard School
James Ehnes, Edward Gardner
Royal Albert Hall, 19 July 2019

Anna Thorvaldsdottir: Metacosmos
Benjamin Britten: Violin Concerto
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

As a companion to the First Night’s offering of Janáček’s 1927 Glagolitic Mass (revied here)the BBC Prom 6 moved back 15 years to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, both monuments to the development of 20th-century classical music. It was performed by the joint orchestras of the Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music and New York’s Juilliard School a partnership that I first heard playing Bach in the 2015 Leipzig Bachfest. The violin soloist James Ehnes was a Julliard student, and conductor Edward Gardner was a student at the RAM.  

The opened with the UK premiere of Metacosmos by the Icelandic composer, Anna Thorvaldsdottir. After studies in America, she is now resident in London and is composer-in-residence with the Royal Academy of Musi and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. Metacosmos was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic Society. The composers’ programme note describes the piece as “constructed around the natural balance between beauty and chaos – how elements can come together in (seemingly) utter chaos to create a unified, structured whole. The idea and inspiration behind the piece, which is connected as much to the human experience as to the universe, is the speculative metaphor of falling into a black hole – the unknown – with endless constellations and layers of opposing forces connecting and communicating with each other, expanding and contracting, projecting a struggle for power as the different sources pull on you and you realize that you are being drawn into a force that is beyond your control”. Continue reading

BBC Proms: Janáček – Glagolitic Mass

Prom 1. Janáček: Glagolitic Mass
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, BBC Singers
Karina Canellakis
Royal Albert Hall, 19 July 2019

The 125th season of the BBC Proms celebrates the 150th anniversary of the birth of their founder-conductor, Sir Henry Wood, whose bust looks down on the orchestras and Prommers throughout the season. One of the threads through the Proms are the ‘Novelties’, Wood’s own description of various UK and world premieres that he conducted. Another theme is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. This opening concert (from the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and the BBC Singers, directed by Karina Canellakis) acknowledged both with a world premiere and one of Wood’s novelties together with a focus on Czech composers. As well as featuring a female composer, this was also the first time that a female conductor had opened the Proms, one of the seven women conductors this season. It was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and on BBC2 and BBC4, and is available on BBC iPlayer for thirty days afterwards. Continue reading

York Early Music International Young Artists Competition 2019

York Early Music International Young Artists Competition 2019
National Centre for Early Music
York, 11-13 July 2019

Founded in 1985, the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition (until 2009 under the auspices of the Early Music Network) is firmly ensconced in the National Centre for Early Music in the splendidly restored former medieval church of St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York. This year was the 18th incarnation of the biennial event, which for some years has formed part of the annual York Early Music Festival and is supported by the National Centre for Early Music, BBC Radio 3, Arts Council England and Linn Records. The full list of competition rules can be seen here but, briefly, there must be a minimum of two members aged 36 years or under with an average age of 32 or under. The repertory must be from the middle ages to the nineteenth century, using historically informed playing techniques, instruments and stylistic conventions. The ten finalists were chosen from 58 applications to provide a balance sequence of concerts in the final, covering the whole ‘early music’ period. The BBC Radio broadcast of selections of pieces from the final can be heard here.

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York Early Music Festival

York Early Music Festival
Innovation: the Shock of the New!
10-12 July

My principal reason for going to York was to review the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition which took place over the last three days of the annual York Early Music Festival. The Festival lasted from 5 to 13 July and was given under the banner of Innovation: the Shock of the New! taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci. Alongside talks and community events were a range of concerts, mostly from York-connected and UK ensembles, but with welcome continental visitors including Concerto de Margherita, one of the EEEmerging groups, fortepianist Andreas Staier, the Italian/Jewish Ensemble Lucidarium, and the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis. I was able to attend the last four of the Festival concerts, together with the three days of the Competition.

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Henry Purcell: Symphony while the swans come forward

Henry Purcell
Symphony while the swans come forward
Le Sfera Armonioso, Mike Fentross, Johannette Zomer
Challenge Classics CC 72783. 78’57

In this live recording, Le Sfera Armonioso present extracts from Purcell’s History of DioclesianThe Indian QueenKing Arthur and The Fairy Queen. So far, so good. But this is a curious recording, raising questions about early music vocal and instrumental performance practice. To start with the positive: Le Sfera Armonioso clearly takes the period instrument issue seriously, to the extent that for this project they commissioned two new trumpets from Graham Nicholson, who also plays on the recording. They are replicas of the c1700 William Bull silver trumpet, owned by Purcell’s principal trumpeter, John Shore and housed in the Museum of Warwick. These trumpets have no finger holes, relying solely on the players’ lips to produce the notes, with the inevitable distinctive tunings, obvious from the start with the opening Symphony for trumpets and violins from Purcell’s History of Dioclesian. More information about the trumpets, and some extracts from the recording can be found hereContinue reading

Favourites: Telemann and his Subscribers

‘Favourites’
Telemann and his Subscribers
Tabea Debus, recorder
TYXart TXA18107. 66’34

Recorder player Tabea Debus is one of the most impressive young musicians of her generation. She has already featured many times in this review website for her CDs and concert performances (see here). Her latest recording is a clever combination of two genuine Telemann pieces for recorder (the Sonata in C, TWV 41:C2 and Concerto in F, TWV 51:F1) forming a sandwich with a filling of four suites of pieces collated and arranged by Tabea Debus from Telemann and three of the composers who subscribed to Telemann’s music publications. Telemann was one of the pioneers of music publishing funded by inviting pre-publication subscriptions – an early form of crowd-funding. Amongst those subscribers were Bach, Handel and Blavet, the three composers whose pieces are collected into suites on this recording. Continue reading

Claire M Singer: gleann ciùin

Claire M Singer: gleann ciùin
New Music Biennial

London Contemporary Orchestra, Clare M Singer, organ
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 5 July 2019

The New Music Biennial festival weekend in Londons’ Southbank Centre (and the following weekend in Hull) features 20 new commissions, together with other pieces composed within the last 15 years. The new works are each around 15 minutes long and are repeated after an on-stage chat with one of the BBC Radio 3 presenters. All the pieces will be broadcast on Radio 3 on their New Music Show or during the weekday 2pm Afternoon Concert slot. It is presented in conjunction with the PRS for Music Foundation and the BBC. The first of the new compositions to be performed was gleann ciùin by Claire M Singer, a composer who has used her time in charge of the magnificent 1877 Henry Willis organ in Islington’s Union Chapel to set up the annual Organ Reframed festival and to explore the more unusual sound possibilities of a mechanical action pipe organ. The occasion was also a rare outing for the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s recently restored 1966 Flentrop organ. It generally lives in a basement below the stage with a lift to hoist it up to the stage when needed – many people do not even know it is there.

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A Fancy: Fantasy on English Airs & Tune

A Fancy: Fantasy on English Airs & Tune
Rachel Redmond, Le Caravansérail, Bertrand Cuiller
Harmonia Mundi. HMM 902296. 66’04

Rachel Redmond - A Fancy: Fantasy on English Airs & Tunes

This recording was released in September 2017, but I have only become aware of it, having heard a concert performance during the 2019 Tage Alter Musik Regensburg (reviewed here). As well as being a musically outstanding recording, with excellent singing from soprano Rachel Redmond and playing from Le Caravansérail, directed by Bertrand Cuiller, this is an intelligent way of presenting the music of the English Baroque era. Much of the music of the post-Restoration period (from the mid-17th century) was written for the theatre, where plays included lots of music to set the scene and provide interludes. The resulting pieces are often short, and can be difficult to programme into a concert setting. In this recording, Le Caravansérail has concocted what is, in effect, a five-act mini-opera taking samples of music for the theatre by composers such as Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, John Blow to make a coherent and well-balanced whole. Continue reading

Handel: Belshazzar

Handel: Belshazzar
The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra, Harry Christophers
The Grange Festival
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 28 June 2019

I think that few opera-goers would argue that Handel oratorios should not be staged as operas, despite the risk of letting opera directors loose on them. They are generally full of operatic images and action and usually lack the textural and plot bafflement and cross-dressing of many of Handel’s proper operas, although their Biblical stories come with their own element of bafflement. Their English language text can be rather clunky, as it certainly is in Belshazzar, but the momentum of the music and the large role for a choir makes them a particularly effective musical and theatrical show.

Following on from their recent partnership with the Academy of Ancient Music for Figaro The Grange Festival partnered with the choir and orchestra of The Sixteen (celebrating their 40th birthday) for a fully staged version of Handel’s Belshazzar. the story is taken from the Book of Daniel, and recounts the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus the Great and the freeing of the Jewish nation from captivity. Directed by Daniel Slater with Robert Innes Hopkins as the designer, the setting, staging and direction was, with a  few exceptions, excellent. A wall of Pink Floyd proportions was initially spread across the stage front, with the tip of a Breughelesque Tower of Babel peeking above the ramparts. Said tower swivelled through 180 degrees to reveal the internal settings. Continue reading

Tage Alter Musik Regensburg 2019

Tage Alter Musik Regensburg 2019
Bavaria, Germany. 7-10 June 2019

The Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival takes place annually from Friday to Monday over the Pentecost/Whitsun weekend, whose dates move linked to Easter. The 2019 festival, the 35th, took place over the weekend of 7-10 June, rather later than in previous years and the latest Pentecost weekend until 2030. With 15 concerts over these four days, it is a total immersion of early music performed in some spectacular buildings in Regensburg city centre. The historic city of Regensburg has its roots in the Celtic settlement of Radasbona and the Roman Castra Regina fort, remnants of which can still be seen. It was the early Medieval capital of Bavaria. The 12th-century bridge over the Danube increased its importance as a Free Imperial City within the Holy Roman Empire. It adopted the Reformation in 1542 but retained its Catholic Cathedral and Abbeys. From 1663 to 1806, it was the permanent seat of the Imperial Diet of the Holy Roman Empire, the so-called ‘Perpetual Diet’. The whole of the historic city centre is now a World Heritage Site. Continue reading

Le nozze di Figaro

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
The Grange Festival

Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 19 June 2019

What seemed to be the entire stage was visible to the arriving audience, a blank black space devoid of any scenery or clue as to the setting for the awaited Le nozze di Figaro. It was only when the Overture started that a rear curtain parted to reveal a shallow space at the back of the stage with tables set out for the servants of a great house. Said servants wandered in, some via the audience, with the usual paraphernalia of traditional country house of centuries gone, with guns and game slung over the shoulders of gamekeepers and bonny housemaids doing things with flowers. Were it not for the fact the much of adjoining The Grange mansion had long since been demolished, we could have been in the basement of the next door building.

For those who do not know The Grange, what does survive is the important early Georgian Neo-Classical cement-rendered exterior, surrounding a mid-17th-century brick house, one wall of which is now exposed following the removal of the extensive Private and Bachelor wings. The interior is in a wonderfully evocative almost completely unrestored state. At the end of the surviving screen wall of the private wing is the remains of the early 19th-century conservatory, later converted into a ballroom. In 2002, this was further converted into a magnificent multi-award-winning opera house by Grange Park Opera who were the instigators and focus of opera productions at The Grange between 1998 and 2016. They have now relocated to the new Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey to be replaced at The Grange by the three-year-old Grange Festival. Continue reading

Art of Moog: Bach and beats

Art of Moog: Bach & beats
Waterloo Festival
The Cello Factory, Waterloo, 18 June 2019

Bach was influenced by a wide range of musical styles of his time, travelling to learn about other musical traditions and copying manuscripts of other composers. If he had been around, not in the 1700s, but in the 1960s, when the likes of Pink Floyd, Keith Emmerson, and Rick Wakeman were active; when Wendy Carlos’s ‘Switched-On Bach’ was released and, a few years later, when Kraftwerk highlighted their genre of electronic synth-pop, then he would surely have appreciated the world of synthesised music. Indeed, his own instrument, the organ, is a giant wind-blown synthesiser, with the names and sounds of most of its stops replicating Renaissance instruments. The four-strong group Art of Moog base their music on Bach, Wendy Carlos and Kraftwerk under the banner of ’21st-century Hyper-Bach on Synthesizers’.

Their concert for the Waterloo Festival was given in the delightful Cello Factory, an art gallery in the streets close to London’s Waterloo Station. Three distinguished early-music harpsichord players (Robin Bigwood, Steven Devine & Marin Perkins) gathered around a collection of keyboards, synthesisers, vocoders and other complicated looking little boxes, together with the equally distinguished recorder player Annabel Knight, who clipped an EWI5000 (an Electronic Wind Instrument) onto a lanyard around her neck. This was not going to be a ‘normal’ period instrument early music event – indeed, we were told that what we were about to hear was “absolutely bonkers”. Continue reading

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8-20 Parts

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 & 20 Parts
Alamire, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
David Skinner, Stephen Farr
Resonus: Inventa Records. INV001. 2 CDs: 57’46 + 42’39 

I have waited years for a comprehensive recording of Hieronymus Praetorius and this one ticks all the boxes. I first got to know his organ music many years ago, finding in him a very rare example of a North German organ composer from before the generation of Sweelinck students that dominated Hamburg and North German musical life in the 17th century (of which his sons were a key part). That progression eventually led to the peak of the North German Baroque, Dieterich Buxtehude. Although there were indications of the post-Sweelinck style, his musical language was distinct, if occasionally rather impenetrable, and clearly represented an important late Renaissance style of organ composition and performance. The joy of this double CD set is that several organ pieces are included, along with some of the magnificent multi-part motets, with up to 20 independent voices. Continue reading

Welcome home, Mr Dubourg

Welcome home, Mr Dubourg
Irish Baroque Orchestra, Peter Whelan
Linn CKD 532. 60’58

Welcome home, Mr Dubourg | Linn CKD532

If the compositions of Matthew Dubourg (1703-1767) are not familiar to you (and they certainly weren’t to me), this recording will remedy that, as well as taking a fascinating peek at musical life in Dublin in the 18th century. Dubourg was born in London, the son of a dancing master. He seems to have had a youthful talent, apparently playing a Corelli Violin Sonata in one of Thomas Britton’s house concerts, aged 9, and standing on a stool. He then studied with the celebrated violinist, Francesco Geminiani. From 1728 to 1764 he was based at Dublin Castle as “His Majesty’s Chief Composer and Master of the Music in Ireland”. He was a major force the musical life of Dublin, together with Geminiani, who was his friend and teacher for many years. He is probably best known for a comment that Handel made while conducting Dubourg when, after a more-than-usually extensive cadenza when, according to Charles Burney, Dubourg “wandered about in different keys a great while, and seemed indeed a little bewildered, and uncertain of the original key”, he was heard to remark as the cadential trill was played – “Welcome home, Mr Dubourg”. After the first performance of Messiah in Dublin, Handel wrote that “as for the instruments they are really excellent, Mr Dubourg being at the head of them”. Continue reading

Leonardo da Vinci: La Musique Secrète

Leonardo da Vinci: La Musique Secrète
Doulce Mémoire, Denis Raisin-Dadre

Alpha ALPHA456. CD & book. 78’05

This is the second recording I have been sent linked to this year’s 500th-anniversary celebrations of Leonardo da Vinci. I Fagiolini included a wide range of music, including newly composed pieces in their reflection, but very little music of Leonardo’s own time. This release from Doulce Mémoire makes up for that by focussing on music of the time and, notably, on Leonardo’s own instrument, the lira da braccio, here played with commendable sensitivity by Baptiste Romain. The CD is accompanied by a sumptuous 127-page book, with excellent reproductions of 15 paintings, including close-ups of many of them. In his choice of music, Denis Raisin-Dadre aims to seek out the ‘hidden music’ within these paintings. Continue reading

Aminta e Fillide & Venus and Adonis

Aminta e Fillide & Venus and Adonis
Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Milton Court. 3 June 2019

In a double bill of operas, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama puts its Opera, Music, and Production Arts students through their paces. Directed by Victoria Newlyn with designers also from Guildhall teaching staff, it featured an enormous number of students covering all aspects of opera. The two operas were well-chosen, contrasted John Blow’s English High Baroque opera (semi-opera/masque) Venus and Adonis, composed in 1683, just before Handel was born, and Handel’s youthful cantata Aminta e Fillide written when he was 22 during his Italian years in the style that would change English music for much of the 18th-century. Continue reading

Sibelius: States of Independence

Sibelius: States of Independence
Elgar, R Straus, Sibelius

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Thierry Fischer, Alina Ibragimova
Royal Festival Hall, 31 May 2029

Elgar: Serenade for strings
R Strauss: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.8
Sibelius: Symphony No.2

We are used to period instrument performances of music of the Baroque and Classical era but not yet, perhaps, so familiar with 19th and 20th-century repertoire played on instruments that the composer would have known. Prominent amongst the promoters of this manner of performance is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, most notably in their more recent foray into the 19th-century repertoire, including recent performances of Mahler and Liszt. They have now moved the explorations forward into the early 20th-century with this focus on Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony, composed in 1902. It was contrasted with Elgar’s 1892 Serenade for strings and Richard Strauss’s rarely performed 1882 Violin Concerto. The whole concert spanned just 20 years of a period of rising European nationalism and raised issues of the contrast between national and international music. It closed the OAE’s 2018/19 season under the banner of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness which, in turn, is part of their six-year ‘Chapters of Enlightenment’ season that started in 2017. Continue reading

Gluck: Bauci e Filemone & Orfeo

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Bauci e Filemone & Orfeo (from Le feste d’Apollo)
Classical Opera/The Mozartists. Ian Page
Queen Elizabeth Hall. 29 May 2019

As a continuation of their Mozart 250 project, Classical Opera travelled back 250 years to explore the year 1769 with extracts from Gluck’s Le feste d’Apollo, composed for the wedding celebrations of 15-year-old Ferdinand, Duke of Parma and the 23-year-old Austrian Archduchess Maria Amalia, youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. She was against the idea of this dynastic match from the start, not least because she was in love with a Bavarian Prince, who was deemed socially beneath her. Given that background, it must have been a bit of a strain for her to sit through the three short operas that make up Gluck’s Le feste d’Apollo, two of which were performed in this concert. The opening extract Bauci e Filemone is a rather soppy story of the power of love, whilst the well-known story of Orfeo tells a similar, but rather darker tale of love and relationships. Continue reading

Lasso: Lagrime di San Pietro

Lasso: Lagrime di San Pietro
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, Peter Sellars 

Orlande de Lassus (or Orlando de Lasso, as he was referred to in the Barbican programme notes) ranks alongside Palestrina and Victoria as amongst the finest composers of the Renaissance. Born in the Hapsburg Netherlands around 1530, he travelled around many European centres of music before settling, aged about 26, in Munich in the court of the Duke of Bavaria where he stayed for the rest of his life, dying in 1594. He probably taught both the Gabrieli’s and attracted attention from many influential figures. He was ennobled by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian II, and knighted by the Pope. His Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of St Peter) was composed in 1594, just weeks before his death. It is the culmination of his compositional career. It sets 20 of Luigi Tansillo’s poems reflecting on the remorse felt by Peter after his denial of Christ, and his memory of Christ’s response. The 20 poems are set in the form of madrigali spirituali, with a concluding Latin motet Vide homo, quae pro te patior. Number symbolism is strong. The 21 verses are composed for 7 voices, form 3 times 7 pieces, and move through 7 of the 8 church modes in order, omitting the 8th tone, but using the rare tonus peregrinus for the final motet.  Continue reading