The Celebrated Distin Family

The Celebrated Distin Family: Music for Saxhorn Ensemble
The Prince Regent’s Band
Resonus RES10179. 55’40

Music by Mayerbeer, Berlioz, Donizetti, Verdi, Handel, Arne and the Distin family

Unless you have been weaned on the sound of brass bands (which I wasn’t) the sounds and the instruments on this recording might appear rather unusual. It features no fewer than seven saxhorns, ranging from contralto to contrabass, along with five different cornets, and a ventil horn, all dating from around 1850-1900 (pictured below). The five players of the period brass ensemble, The Prince Regent’s Band, share these out amongst themselves as they explore the music of the extraordinary Distin family who, between 1835 and 1857, journeyed around Europe and North America performing and promoting new designs of brass instruments. They were instrumental, so to speak, in the development of new valved instruments, one being the saxhorn, designed by Adolphe Sax (who they met in Paris in 1844) but improved by the Distins, who gave the instrument its name.

Instruments used in the recording: 

Continue reading

Froberger: A Celebration

Froberger: A Celebration
Benjamin Narvey, Adrian Lenthall, Tom Foster

British Clavichord Society
Art Workers Guild, London WC1. 19 November 2016

Image result for frobergerComposers with an eye for future recognition should ideally aim to die around the age of either 25 or 75, thereby gaining an anniversary every 25 years or so. Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-67) died aged 51, which means that he has anniversaries this year and next year, but not again for another 49 years. Hopefully the burst of interest in these two years will carry his name forward, as he is an often overlooked composer. But he was an enormous influence on keyboard composers from the 17th to early 19th  century, not least for spreading the Italian style of his teacher Frescobaldi around Europe, and assimilating various European musical styles into his own compositions, notably from France.

Although only two of his works were published in his lifetime, Froberger’s   Continue reading

Seconda Pratica: Nova Europa

Nova Europa: Melodies d’un Monde en Mutation
Seconda Pratica
Ambronay Edition  AMY307. 63’06

Nova EuropaWhat a fascinating recording!

Seconda Pratica is an 11-strong young music ensemble specializing in 17th and 18th century repertoire, aimed at a 21st century audience. They aim “to engage with historic repertoire in a revitalizing way without ever losing sight of our inevitable modernity”. Since 2013, Seconda Pratica has been part of the Eemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles, part of the Creative Europe programme), which supports young early music ensembles. This recording is a part of their third year of support from Eemerging and the Ambronay European Baroque Academy.

In this recording, Seconda Pratica explore the musical and cultural heritage colonisation of South America by the 17th century Portuguese and Spanish. Continue reading

Handel: Serse

Handel: Serse
Early
Opera Company, Christian Curnyn
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 November 2016

Serse was the first opera that the newly formed Early Opera Company performed, some 22 years ago. A well-received recording was released in 2013*, and they returned to it for their latest appearance at St John’s, Smith Square, an ideal space for baroque music. Serse is one of Handel’s more curious operas. Written in 1738 towards the end of his opera-writing career, its innovative compositional style was rather lost on the audience, as was the libretto, with Charles Burney referring to the latter as “one of the worst Handel ever set to Music”. He identified the issue as being that the work contained “a mixture of tragic-comedy and buffoonery”, which is exactly what Handel intended. Other commentators noted Handel’s use of many short arias, without the usual convention of the da capo, linking it to the musical style of the many ‘ballad-operas’ that had become the rage. It only managed five performances, but after its modern resurrection has become one of Handel’s best known operas.

The first of the short arias is the opening Ombra mai fù, which became one of Handel’s most famous pieces, albeit under the incorrect name of Handel’s Largo (it is marked Larghetto). I wonder how many people outside the opera-loving world realise that this aria is sung by a clearly dotty King to a tree that he has taken a fancy to? Serse’s dottiness continues throughout the opera, to the bemusement of the other characters. In this concert performance, the only prop Continue reading

‘Raubgut’

‘Raubgut’ Laura Schmid – recorders
Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival
Moeck/Society of Recorder Players Solo Recorder Playing Competition
Winners Recital 2016
All Saints’ Church, Blackheath. 12 November

The intriguing title of Laura Schmid’s recital is a German word that means something like ‘robbery’ or ‘stolen goods’. It connects two words, with contrasting positive and negative meanings. It was the basis to Laura’s recital (given as a result of her winning the 2015 Moeck/Society of Recorder Players Solo Recorder Playing Competition) which featured music appropriated and recreated in the 18th century by other composers from France, Italy and Germany. Continue reading

‘Great King of Gods’

‘Great King of Gods’
Magdalena Consort, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, Silas Wollston
Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival
St Margaret’s, Lee Terrace, Blackheath. 22 November 2016

Music by Gibbons, Byrd, and Tomkins

The predecessor building of the 17th century former Greenwich Royal Navel College (now part of the University of Greenwich, and usually the home of the Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival ) was the curiously named Palace of Placentia (or Pleasaunce). It survived from 1443 to 1660 and was the birthplace and, later, the principal home of Henry VIII and his daughters, Queen Mary, and Elizabeth I. James I and Charles I continued to use it as their main residence up to the Civil War, when it fell into disrepair. Records of musical activities are scant but, according to the rather curiously worded programme notes, there is a reference from the time of James I of the Chapel Royal singing anthems for him with ‘organs, cornets, sagbot, and other excellent instruments of music‘.

The concert given by the Magdalena Consort and His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts aimed to recreate some of the drama of those early 17th century royal Continue reading

European Union Baroque Orchestra: Handel etc.

Handel and his London Colleagues
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, director, Jan Van Hoecke, recorder
Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival
St Margaret’s, Lee Terrace, Blackheath. 22 November 2016

Galliard: Dances from Pan & Syrinx;  Handel: Concerto Grosso Op 6/2;  Babell: Recorder Concerto Op 3/1; Handel: Ballet music from Alcina; Sammartini: Recorder Concerto in F
Geminiani; Concerto Grosso Op 3/2; Handel: Water Music Suite No 3.

For most of my reviewing career, one of the musical highlights has been the visit of the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) to the UK. This extraordinary orchestra was founded in the UK in 1985, during European Music Year and the anniversaries of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. Over the intervening 30 years or so, through their concerts and recordings, they have carved out an enviable reputation as an exciting orchestra whose professional and musical standards are always of the very highest. Many people listening to a EUBO concert for the first time are amazed to find out their unusual story. Not only is the orchestra made up of young post-graduate instrumentalists, broadly around the mid-20s age range, but every year the entire orchestra is disbanded, to be reformed the following year after a round of auditions.

Eubo Blackheath 2.jpg

Around 100 musicians attend one of two four-day residential training courses. All attendees gain from specialist training in their instrument as well as experience of playing in small groups and as an orchestra. From these courses, Continue reading

Max Reger: Complete organ works

Max Reger Edition: Sämtliche Orgelwerke
Martin Schmeding, organ
Cybele Records. Cybele 175 051500. 16+1 SACDs. 19h 24’36

Max Reger (1873-1916) was one of the most distinguished German musicians of the 19th century and a prolific composer, organist, pianist, conductor, and teacher. After time in Weiden and Munich he moved to Leipzig as musical director at the Leipzig University Church, professor at the Leipzig Royal Conservatory and, later, as music director to the court of Duke of Saxe-Meiningen and the Meiningen Court Theatre. Despite an enormous output of everything short of an opera, he is best known today for his organ music.

He is one of those organ composers that can bring out strong feelings in the rather cloistered world of organ players and listeners. He is frequently misunderstood in terms of his musical language; the sheer bombastic enormity of many of the pieces disguising the fact that they are often essentially an extension of mainstream Baroque compositional ideas, notably those of his hero Bach, a composer he regarded as ‘the beginning and end of all music‘. To the detailed counterpoint of Bach, he added Continue reading

The Grand Tour: Bologna & Verona

The Grand Tour: Bologna & Verona
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
St John’s, Smith Square. 9 November 2016

Music by Torelli, Bononcini, Brescianello, and Dall’Abaco

La Serenissima have set out on a musical version of the 18th century Grand Tour of Italy, with a series of 6 concerts at St John’s, Smith Square. The started their tour with a concert in September devoted to music from Venice, their usual musical home, and for this concert travelled on to Verona and Bologna. The concert was in two distinct parts, starting with music performed in the enormous Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, at the time the largest church in Christendom. Well before the completion of the Basilica, a musical foundation had been established (in 1436), and in 1476 a magnificent organ was built on one side of the choir. This was enlarged, and a corresponding organ added to the gallery on the other side of the choir, in 1596. Both organs survive to this day, in more-or-less original condition, and are amongst the most important surviving historic organs in the world.

In San Petronio, music was performed from the organ galleries, using the music desks built into the gallery frontage, and using the large organs as accompaniment to the singers and instrumentalists. Music was therefore Continue reading

Bach: transcriptions for Viola da Gamba

J S Bach: transcriptions for Viola da Gamba
Susanne Heinrich
dagamba100. 79’30

Partia 3 in E Major (D Major), BWV1006; Sonata 2 in a minor, BWV 1003; Partia 2 in d minor, BWV1004

Js Bach Transcriptions for Viola Da GambaAlthough this CD was released in 2012, it has only just emerged from an embarrassing pile of CDs, still in their wrappers, that I found in one of my rare tidy-ups. I have missed four years of listening to some outstanding playing from Susanne Heinrich. As her own very personal programme note explains, this is something of a labour of love. A youthful player of the violin, Susanne Heinrich attempted the Bach solo violin works, but never with much success. Her viola da gamba playing was already beginning to take over from the violin, and she lamented the fact that Bach left so little music for the viol. But the draw towards his solo violin works never left her, leading to a much later attempt to play them on the gamba – very far from an easy thing to do.

That led to a considerable amount of work in trying to work out how they could be played successfully on the gamba, raising questions as to Continue reading

Scheidemann: Magnificats

Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663)
Complete Organ Works
Vol 2: Magnificat Cycles (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
128 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-13660-0 • Softbound
Schott Music
 ED 9729

8 Magnificat Cycles; Anonymus: Chorale Fantasy (Magnificat VIII.toni)

Complete Organ WorksHeinrich Scheidemann is one of the most interesting of the students of Sweelinck, the Amsterdam organist and teacher, who influenced many organists, particularly in Hamburg. His pupils helped to develop the important  17th century North German school of organ playing and composition that led eventually to Dietrich Buxtehude, a composer that the young Bach admired and travelled to hear. In this period the organists in the Hamburg churches had almost as much status as the preachers, and were expected to elaborate musically on many aspects of the Lutheran service. Scheidemann was organist of the Catherinenkirche in Hamburg. He taught his successor there, Reincken, and also possibly Buxtehude. Continue reading

London Bach Society’s Bachfest 2016

Bachfest 2016
London Bach Society 70th anniversary

St John’s, Smith Square & St George, Hanover Square. 4-8 November 2016

Image result for bachThe London Bach Society was founded 70 years ago by Dr Paul Steinitz under the rather unambitious title of the ‘South London Bach Society’, but soon lost the ‘South’ part of the name. 1946 might not seem to be the ideal time to concentrate on things musical (and, indeed, devoted to a German composer), but they were not alone: The Arts Council and BBC Third Programme were launched around then, as were a number of orchestras. From the start, the focus of the LBS was to ‘get back to Bach in its original form’ at a time when Bach performance was very far from what we could no consider as being in any way ‘authentic’ with enormous choirs and orchestras, and a funereal approach to tempo and romantic notions of instrumentation, phrasing and articulation. To this end, the Steinitz Bach Players was founded, in 1968, bringing together a small group of professional musicians interested in period performance techniques on period instruments.

Two years after Paul Steinitz’s death in 1988, his widow founded an annual Bach festival, initially known as the London Bach Festival, but now rebadged as the London Bach Society’s Bachfest. It celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. This year’s 70th anniversary Bachfest featured three concerts and an event for the Society’s 18-30 Bach Club. Continue reading

Les Voyages de l’Amour

Les Voyages de l’Amour
Music by Boismortier, Rebel, Corrette
Ensemble Meridiana
Chaconne CHAN 0812. 57’39

Boismortier: Simphonie pour l’arrivée des Génies Elémentaires (Les Voyages de l’Amour ); Premier ballet de Village, Op. 52; Sonata, Op. 14/3; Concerto a 5, Op. 37; Sonata a trois parties, Op. è37/4.
Corrette: Concerto comique VI: ‘Le Plaisir des Dames’.
Rebel: Les Caractères de la Danse; Sonate Sixiéme.

Boismortier’s 1736 opéra-ballet, Les Voyages de l’Amour tells of the journey of Love in his quest to find a pure heart that will love him sincerely and without ulterior motive, having tired of making others happy without     finding that happiness himself. Having searched through towns, villages and the royal court, he eventually finds his true love in the person of the shepherdess Daphné. In this glittering programme, Ensemble Meridiana take a similar journey through Baroque France in a musical search for that elusive true love, travelling through similar setting to those of Boismortier’s Amour, concluding with Michel Corrette’s ‘Amusing and Highly Entertaining’ wedding feast.

Boismortier’s music makes up the bulk of the CD, starting with the multi-sectional Simphonie pour l’arrivée des Génies Elémentaires, Continue reading

Bach: Christmas Oratorio

J. S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Dunedin Consort, John Butt
Linn Records. CKD499.  2 CDs, 141′

Album review: Dunedin Consort, Bach Christmas Oratorio (Linn Records)The Dunedin Consort under their director (and noted Bach scholar) John Butt are amongst the most prominent exponents of Bach’s music around. So this timely release of their take on the Christmas Oratorio is particularly welcome. With a distinguished group of period instrumentalists, and some outstanding vocal soloists, this is one of the most impressive interpretations I have heard. Whatever your religious beliefs, or lack of them, this music digs deep. John Butt’s scholarly interpretations are an integral part of the Dunedin story and, for this recording, his study of the performing conditions of the first performances in Leipzig in 1734 led to decisions about the vocal forces for the recording.

As John Butt points out in his programme notes, Bach seems to have been sensitive to the work load of his singers and instrumentalists over the busy Leipzig Christmas period, and alternated grand cantatas Continue reading

Vivaldi: Juditha triumphans

Vivaldi: Juditha triumphans
Venice Baroque Orchestra, Guildhall Consort, Andrea Marcon
Barbican, 2 November 2016

You can imagine the headlines in today’s gutter press. “Woman seduces man, gets him drunk, then beheads him. Claims God told her to do it”. She would probably spend the rest of her life in a institution for the criminally insane. But in the Bible (or, at least, in the Bible of the Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but not the Protestants, who count the Book of Judith as apocryphal, or the Jews), she was hailed as a national heroine who lived to the age of 105. Musically her story inspired Tallis’s Spem in alium, and works by Scarlatti, Mozart and Parry. In art, she inspired the likes of Cranach, Donatello, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Goya and Klimpt (pictured). She is also the subject matter for Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbariewritten exactly 300 years ago, in 1716. The story of Judith’s ‘triumph over the barbarians of Holofernes’ would have had a strong contemporary reference to Venetians, whose army had just defeated the Ottoman invaders in Corfu. Judith clearly represents Venice, and the Assyrian general Holofernes, the Ottomans.

Described on the title page of the score as a ‘sacred military oratorio’, Continue reading

Handel: Apollo e Daphne

Handel: Apollo e Daphne
Ensemble Marsyas
Linn Records CKD 543. 69′

Il pastor fido (Overture), HWV8a [22:25]; Arias in F major HWV410/411; Apollo e Dafne HWV122 [40:20]

Handel’s early works, particularly those written during his period in Italy have a very special vitality, musical elegance and sense of melodic delight. The secular cantata  Apollo e Daphne is one such, started in Venice in 1709. but not completed until he briefly moved to Hanover, in 1710, as Court Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. It is the music performed during his time in Hanover that is the focus for this recording from the Irish/Scottish Ensemble Marsyas. Apollo e Daphne lacks an overture, so the curiously lengthy example from Il pastor fido has been included here, although at more than half the length of the cantata it makes for an unnecessary imbalance to the following cantata. That imbalance is further exaggerated by adding two curious Arias in F for wind band between the overture and cantata (here with added percussion), with a segue between the second Aria and the opening recitative of Apollo e Daphne. It’s a rather odd musical construction, but that should not detract from the many delights of this recording.

The silly story of Apollo e Daphne provides many opportunities for Handel’s sense of musical drama to be explored, along with with some gorgeous melodic moments from the two singers and, particularly, from the many solo and obligate instrumental contributions. And it is the latter that make this such an impressive recording.  Continue reading

Buxtehude: Complete Organ Works Vol 1

Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Complete Organ Works
Vol 1: Compositions Pedaliter
 – 18 Praeludia BuxWV 136-153 (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
120 pages • 23 x 30.5 cm • 455 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-16866-0 • Softbound
Edition Breitkopf EB 6661

Dietrich Buxtehude holds a special place in the hearts of most organists, although this is occasionally because he is the only pre-Bach German composer that they are aware of. But, despite many years of musicological research and publications, he still remains a somewhat enigmatic composer. There is still no agreement as to his birth date or place, and what his name really was. He seems to have been born  in Helsingborg (in present day Sweden, but then part of Denmark)  as Diderich, but later changed the spelling from the Danish to a more Germanic Dietrich (or Dieterich). His surname also appears in several versions, including Box de Hude.

Producing modern editions of his organ music is fraught with potential difficulties, not least because no surviving copies of Buxtehude’s autograph copies have been found. Continue reading

Don Giovanni: Behind the curtain

Don Giovanni: Behind the curtain
Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Pablo González
Glyndebourne, Lewis. 28 October 2016

An interesting new departure for the Glyndebourne Tour is ‘Don Giovanni: Behind the curtain’, with the subtitle of ‘The essence of opera revealed’. Using the cast and orchestra of the real thing, but with a ‘community choir’ replacing the chorus for the final scene, this was an informal introduction to opera in general, and Don Giovanni in particularly. Created by presenter Paul Rissmann and the revival director Lloyd Wood, this was a lively and informal educational event.

The overture started as usual but then, during the opening scene, Paul Rissmann bounced on stage to interrupt the proceedings Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Don Giovanni

Glyndebourne: Don Giovanni
Glyndebourne Touring Opera, Pablo González
Glyndebourne, Lewis. 30 October 2016

Following their ‘posh frocks and picnics’ summer opera Festival, Glyndebourne hit the road during the autumn taking a reduced Touring Opera programme to places like Milton Keynes, Canterbury, Norwich, Woking, and Plymouth in November and December. They start the tour with around six performances at Glyndebourne itself, with a more relaxed dress code than the Festival and without the 90 minute dinner interval. With a slightly less elevated cast accompanied by the ‘Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra’ (rather than the Festival’s usual team of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and London Philharmonic Orchestra), the sets and production are otherwise essentially the same as in the Festival. This year they are touring a revival of Jonathan Kent’s 2010 Festival production of Don Giovanni (with Revival Director Lloyd Wood) and a new production of Madame Butterfly.

I didn’t see the 2010 production of Don Giovanni, or this summer’s Festival revival, so for me this was a new show. Set in a post-Mussolini Italy, the broody set, designed by Paul Brown, is focused on a massive central cube that presents all four of its sides, plus different incarnations of the central space, to the audience. It is a powerful image, but not without potential issues. Its overpowering presence centre stage pushes most of the action to the front or the side of the stage: no bad thing in itself, but giving a rather cramped feeling Continue reading

Programme notes: Weckmann recital

The Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair
Tuesday 1 November 2016

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674)

 Praeludium A . 5 . Vocum
Canzon in G
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmain
Fantasia ex D
Toccata ex d
Komm, heiliger Geist, Herr Gott

 Matthias Weckmann is one of the most influential 17th century organist composers of the North German school. He was born in Thuringia, studied in Dresden with Schütz, a pupil of G. Gabrieli, and in Hamburg with Jacob Praetorius, a Sweelinck pupil. He settled in Hamburg in 1655 as organist of the Jacobikirche where he remained until his death. He is buried beneath the Jacobikirche organ. It was said that Weckmann “moderated the seriousness of Praetorius with the sweetness of Scheidemann, and also introduced many new elegant discoveries“. After Andrew’s Benson-Wilson’s performance of his monumental set of chorale variations on Es ist das Heil kommen her at St George’s, Hanover Square (on 11 October), today’s programmes looks at a selection of Weckmann’s free works, together with two contrasting three-verse works based on chorales.

The Praeludium A . 5 . Vocum is anonymous in the original manuscript, but there are stylistic reasons why it is likely to be by Weckmann, one being the contrast between the ‘old fashioned’ five-part contrapuntal sections (in the ‘serious’ style of Jacob Praetorius) with the rather wild Italianate flourishes of the outer Toccata passages. It is the sort of work that might have opened a service in the Hamburg Jacobikirche.

The Canzon in G could have been written by Weckmann’s friend Froberger or his teacher, Frescobaldi, so Italianate is it in style. In typical three-section canzona style, it starts with a simple four note ascending phrase which is then developed and partnered with increasingly lively countersubjects and smaller motifs.

The set of three variations on the chorale Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmain is written in the Mode decimus, described as being ‘ very charming and sweet’. The chorale has ten sung verses, so these three organ verses would have been inserted between some of them. The second verse is typical of Scheidemann’s ‘sweetness’. The final verse is one of Weckmann’s most unusual chorale verses, with its extraordinary chromatic descending phrases in the final section –  unique in the North German organ repertoire.

The Fantasia ex D is also in the form of a canzona in five parts, showing the structural form of the canzona as a forerunner of the fugue. Could this be an example of the ‘merry fugue’ that Weckmann is known to have played at the conclusion of his famous Hamburg audition in 1655?

The Toccata ex D opens in the Italian Toccata style with a series of slowly rising chords leading to free-running passages which are eventually accompanied by repeated chords that dissolve into a typical slow durezze (typical of Frescobaldi) and a short coda.

The concluding Komm, heiliger Geist, Herr Gott is based on a chorale that was always sung at the start of Hamburg services. The three verses of the hymn relate to the mood of the three organ verses. The opening verse acts as a prelude, but is unusual in that the chorale theme is in the treble. The second verse is a chorale fantasia with an ornamented treble cantus firmus, often in canon with the pedals. The solo registration used is based on one that Weckmann is known to have learnt from his teacher, Jacob Praetorius, who may have learnt it from his teacher, Sweelinck in Amsterdam. The final verse has the chorale theme in the pedals, in long notes, below two complex voices in the manuals, opening in a style typical of Sweelinck.
© Andrew Benson-Wilson 2016

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Andrew Benson-Wilson specialises in the performance of early organ music, ranging from14th century manuscripts to the late Classical period.  His playing is informed by experience of historic organs, understanding of period performance techniques and several internationally renowned teachers.  The first of his two CDs of the complete Tallis organ works (with Chapelle du Roi) was Gramophone Magazine ‘Record of the Month’.  The Organists’ Review commented that his “understanding of the historic English organ and its idiom is thorough, and the beautifully articulated, contoured result here is sufficient reason for hearing this disk.  He is a player of authority in this period of keyboard music”.

A review of his recent performance of Weckmann’s monumental Es is das Heil at St George’s, Hanover Square noted that “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”.

Andrew’s concerts have ranged from the enormous 1642 Festorgel organ in Klosterneburg Abbey in Austria to a tiny 1668 chamber organ in a medieval castle in Croatia – via St John’s, Smith Square.  According to one reviewer, his St John’s, Smith Square recital was ” one of the most rewarding organ recitals heard in London in years – an enthralling experience”.  More recent concerts include return visits to the 1723 Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal, Leipzig (where Bach gave the opening recital) and the famous 1558 Ebert organ in Innsbruck’s Hofkirche.

Andrew is a regular writer on early music and organ topics.  His little book, “The Performance of Early Organ Music” is used as a required text in a number of Universities.  After 20 years as the principal reviewer for Early Music Review magazine, Andrew now writes for his own review website: andrewbensonwilson.org.

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The Grosvenor Chapel organ was built in 1991 by William Drake, within the original 1732 Abraham Jordon case.

Great GG/AA – f”’                     Swell C – f”’                              Pedal C-f            
Open Diapason        8                   Open Diapason     8                  Stopt Diapason      16
Stopt Diapason        8                   Stopt Diapason      8                 Principal                  8
Principal                   4                   Principal                4                   Trumpet                16
Flute                         4                     Fifteenth                2
Twelfth                     2 2/3             Mixture                  III
Fifteenth                  2                   Cornet Treble        III                Swell to Great
Furniture                 III                  Cornet Bass           III                Swell to Pedal
Sesquialtera             III-IV           Trumpet                8                   Great to Pedal
Cornet                      V                     Hautboy                8
Trumpet Treble        8                   Tremulant
Trumpet Bass          8

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)

WP_20150721_16_52_02_Pro.jpg

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.

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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.