London Festival of Baroque Music 2018

London Festival of Baroque Music
Treasures of the Grand Siècle
11-19 May 2018

The London Festival of Baroque Music (LFBM) is now in its 35th year. Previously known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, it is London’s leading early music festival, not least for the number of non-UK performers that it has traditionally featured. Last year’s change in the management means that the executive director of the festival is now Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, the festival’s principal London home. For the 2018 festival, he is joined by a guest artistic director, Sébastien Daucé. They are bringing to London a sizeable chunk of French music, musicians and culture under the title of Treasures of the Grand Siècle. Described as an “immersive exploration” of the music of the French Baroque from the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles, the festival features some 22 events over 9 days. It is a comparatively rare opportunity in the UK to hear French Baroque music performed by French musicians including, for the latter part of the festival, Sébastien Daucé’s own group, Ensemble Correspondances. Along with several other musicians performing, I first heard Ensemble Correspondances and Sébastien Daucé when I as reviewing at last years Ambronay festival, reviewed here.

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Rondeau Mélancolique

Rondeau Mélancolique
László Rózsa, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney

Veterum Musica VM 017. 62’22

The CD notes open with a quote from Laurence Sterne’s ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ (London, 1768): “Tis going, I own, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance in quest of melancholy adventures. But I know not how it is, but I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in them“. It helps to describe the mood of the music on the recording, which focusses on the more intimate, delicate and sensuous music of the often flamboyant and dramatic of the French Baroque courts from the time of Louix XIV onwards into the mid-17th-century. It was period of change for French music, as the influence of Italy slowly began to make itself felt, particularly after the death of Lully, whose dominance of the French music scene had stifled any imported musical ideas. Continue reading

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi
Marlis Petersen, Marta Fumagalli
Arcana A444, 71’18
Arcana_A444_PERGOLESI_Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri_Giulio Prandi

Messa in Re maggiore;  Mottetto: “Dignas laudes resonemus”

Whether you assume that Pergolesi only wrote one work or are an aficionado, this CD of two previously unrecorded pieces (the Messa in Re maggiore and the operatic “Dignas laudes resonemus”) is an important one. The editions used are the outcome of recent musicological research by the Centro Studi Pergolesi in Milan. The Messa in Re maggiore is performed in the second of two surviving versions, dating from 1733/4, incidentally, the same year as the first version of Bach’s B minor Mass. It is in the two-movement Neapolitan form of Kyrie and Gloria. It is a joyful work, with an almost skittish concluding Amen. Pergolesi’s use of vocal and orchestral colour and texture can range from the utmost delicacy to thundering drama, as exemplified in the dramatic opening of the Messa in Re maggiore. The dark opening to the Qui tollis is followed by a subdued section that seems to foreshadow the Sturm und drang of the later Hadyn generation. These two works explore Pergolesi’ theatrical style of writing, in the Neapolitan tradition.  Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2
Emma Abbate & Julian Perkins
Resonus RES10210. 70’43

Mozart: Sonatas in F major K497 and C major K19d
Mozart, completed Levin: ‘Sonata’ in G major K357
Clementi: Sonata in E-flat

I reviewed Volume 1 of this two-disc series here. That review gives the background to Mozart’s piano duets and the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of early keyboard instruments. For this recording, Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins choose two different fortepianos from the collection, a Viennese grand piano by Michael Rosenberger c1800 and a 1820s square piano by London’s Clementi & Co. The recital opens with the most substantial and important work, the Sonata in F, K497, running the risk of overpowering the other pieces. Unfortunately, for some reason, the programme notes do not follow the recorded order of the pieces.  Continue reading

Pour La Duchesse du Maine

Pour La Duchesse du Maine
Ensemble La Francaise
Polymnie ‎POL 503 134. 55′

Bernier: Cantate Médée
Mouret: Concert de Chambre
Bourgeois: Cantate Ariane

This recording presents two cantatas and an orchestral suite representing the type of music enjoyed by the colourful Duchesse Du Maine (Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon) during the early years of the 17th-century. Unhappily married off at the age of 15 to the Duke de Maine, the legitimised son of Louse XIV and his mistress Mme de Montespan, the ‘princess of the blood’ saw the arrangement as a disgrace, and soon find ways to distance herself, not least by being pretty insulting to her husband (like her, suffering from a physical disability) and taking several lovers. In her mansion at Seaux (pictured below), she set up an alternative court and arranged lavish entertainments for which she became known as La Reine des Abeilles (Queen Bee).

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Baptiste Romain: In Seculum Viellatoris

In Seculum Viellatoris
‘The Medieval Vielle’
Baptiste Romain, Le Miroir de Musique
Ricercar RIC 388. 67’00

Baptiste Romain devotes this recording to the different varieties of the medieval bowed fiddle, or vielle, with a selection of troubadour songs, dances and polyphonic compositions from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. The exploration opens with the haunting sound of soprano Grace Newcombe singing Ar ne kuthe ich sorghe non, the well-known tune here with an English text replacing the original Latin (a ‘contrafactum’), copied around 1274. The voice is accompanied by a crwth (or crowde), a Gaelic relative of the Nordic lyre that was popular in England and Wales in the Middle Ages, competing for popularity with the fiddle. There are five tracks with a singer, the remaining 11 are instrumental, with Baptiste Romain playing vielle, rubeba, crwth, or bagpipes, supported by well-judged accompaniments (often with just one or two instruments) from members of the ensemble Le Miroir de Musique. There are two pieces by Pedigon, a Provençal troubadour around 1200 who was famed for his playing of the fiddle (pictured below).

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Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum

Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
Delphian DCD34208. 59’27

Hieronymus Praetorius is one of the finest, but one of the least-known, of the magnificent sequence of North German organist-composers centred around Hamburg during the 17th century.  He represents what to many is a surprising reflection of the state of music in Hamburg in the years before the influence of the Amsterdam-trained generation of Sweelinck pupils. These included Hieronymus’s own sons, Jacob II and Johannes, together with Samual Scheidt, Heinrich Scheidemann and Melchior Schildt.  In the ‘family-business’ world of German organists, Hieronymus was the son of an organist (Jacob I) and eventually replaced him as organist of the Hamburg Jacobikirche.  Continue reading

Baroquestock: The Haydn Boys

 Baroquestock
IstanteClassical: The Haydn Boys
Heath Street Baptist Church. 28 April 2018

One of the most exciting music venues to hit London in recent years has been a rather unassuming Baptist church in Heath Street, Hampstead. Bowing to the inevitable, they have reduced their services to Sunday mornings, but have encouraged a wide variety of activities during the rest of the week, including lunchtime and evening concerts. In 2016  a complete weekend was devoted to the ‘Hampstead Baroque Festival’ which concluded in a Bratwurst, Beer & Bach concert given by the then newly-formed period-instrument collective Istante, ‘ensemble in residence’ at Heath Street Baptist Church. Last year, this festival morphed into the more imaginatively named Baroquestock. I reviewed the opening concert when they hosted one of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s ‘Night Shift’ events, aimed at just the sort of younger-than-usual classical music audience that Heath Street had already been attracting. In an imaginative, albeit brave bit of programming, the concert was devoted to a performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, complete with ‘Schoenbergers’. My review is here, noting that the “large and enthusiastic crowd was yet another indication that adventurous musical programming and providing something a little different from the normal run of musical events can draw the crowds”.

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XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso

XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso
Tabea Debus, recorders
TYXart XA18105.  79’51

XXIV Fantasie per il Flauto - Tabea Debus

Telemann’s 12 Fantasias for solo Flute paired with pieces commissioned by the City Music Foundation from the 12 contemporary composers: Leo Chadburn, Ronald Corp, Moritz Eggert, Arne Gieshoff, Dani Howard, Oliver Leith, Colin Matthews, Fumiko Miyachi, Misha Mullov-Abbado, Alastair Penman, Max de Wardener and Frank Zabel.

There is more than enough classical music around to keep performers happy for hundreds of years to come, but without new composers and compositions, music as a creative art form will die. So this recording from recorder player Tabea Debus is particularly important. In conjunction with the City Music Foundation, she commissioned 12 contemporary composers to write companion pieces to Telemann’s 12 Fantasies, originally written for solo flute, but here performed very effectively on a range of different recorders. I reviewed some of the new pieces during a Baroque at the Edge festival earlier this year (see here), but this CD brings them all together in a fascinating sequence of Telemann and contemporary takes on Telemann. Some of the new pieces follow the relevant Telemann Fantasias, some introduce them – and some are interspersed within the Telemann movements.  Continue reading

Ensemble Tempus Fugit: Calcutta

Calcutta
Ensemble Tempus Fugit
Tara Theatre, Earlsfield. 22 April 2018

I’ve often wondered what the distinctive little building next to Earlsfield Station was as my fast train into London thundered past. It turns out to be the Tara Theatre (the home of Tara Arts, founded in 1977) an Indian-influenced extension to what was originally an 1891 drapers store. It was a very appropriate venue for Calcutta, the innovative music & theatre project created by Ensemble Tempus Fugit, with musical direction from harpsichordist Katie De La Matter and stage direction by Francesca Bridge-Cicic.

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The concert was based on life in Calcutta (now Kolkata, and the capital of West Bengal state) around 1780. Developed from three villages in the late 17th-century (and named after one of them), Calcutta soon became a thriving fortified port under the British East India Company, eventually becoming the capital of the British Indian territories up until 1911. British residents (or, perhaps more accurately, their wives) brought musical instruments out with them, including harpsichords, but soon became fascinated by the local musicians and Indian classical music. Ensemble Tempus Fugit’s research revealed two such East India Company officer wives: Margaret Fowkes, who invited local Indian classical musicians into her front room, and her friend Sophia Plowden, who arranged for some Indian tunes to be written down.  Continue reading

LHF: Mr Handel’s Vauxhall Pleasures

Mr Handel’s Vauxhall Pleasures
London Handel Festival
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
St George’s, Hanover Square, 4 April 2018

 

London Early Opera have released two CDs reflecting the musical life of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens during the mid 18th century (reviewed here and here). Their London Handel Festival concert drew on music from both CDs with a backdrop of projected contemporary images and a spoken text setting the scene. Pleasure Gardens like Vauxhall were a focus for musical and other entertainments in 17th and 18th century London, including ‘music, food and amorous dalliance’. Such amorous dalliances were explored in the spoken commentary, given by Lars Tharp, including a diary entry from an American noting a meeting with one of the young Vauxhall ladies, who he ‘rogered twice’ and then forgot to say his prayers. As the Air from the Water Music played, we heard a description of a river journey to Vauxhall from Westminster. It was followed by Handel’s bubbly Sinfonia to Acis and Galateathe source of a couple of later arias.  Continue reading

Bach: B Minor Mass

JS Bach: B Minor Mass
Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square. 1 April 2018

The St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival concluded with an Easter Sunday performance of the B Minor Mass. it is a piece not normally associated with Holy Week, but it reflects in glorious musical form the belief system of the Christian believer. It is one of Bach’s last works and one that he clearly wanted posterity to hear, even though he never heard it performed himself. In fact, it wasn’t performed complete until a 100 years after Bach’s death. Its compositional background is complex, with versions of some individual movements dating back to 1724 (the Sanctus) and the Kyrie and Gloria (the Missa) completed in 1733 and presented to the new Saxon Elector with a view to getting the title of Composer to the Electoral Saxon Court, which he eventually got three years later. In the last few years of his life, Bach extended the Missa to include the full Latin Ordinary of the Catholic Mass by adding the Credo (the Symbolum Nicenum), Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the concluding Dona nobis pacem, the latter a repeat of an earlier Gloria movement. Even its current title is misleading, not least because only a few of the movements are actually in B minor. Continue reading

Bach: Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Mark Padmore
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 31 March 2018

During Easter Saturday, I watched a broadcast from Berlin of the powerful Simon Rattle/Peter Sellars staging of the St Matthew Passion that I had reviewed back in 2014 at the Proms. And in the evening, an unstaged, but equally powerful Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performance in Basingstoke’s Anvil. The common factor was Mark Padmore, appearing as the Evangelist and, in the case of the OAE, as director. I don’t object in principle to stagings of the Bach Passions. Sellar’s use of the space in and around the orchestras was very effective, and I also liked Jonathan Miller’s inspiringly human reading in the mid-1990s, and Deborah Warner’s 2000 ENO staging of the St John Passion, which drew the audience directly into the unfolding drama. But sometimes just being presented with the music itself, without additional layering, is the way to focus on the complex human emotions that Bach portrays.  Continue reading

LHF: Handel Singing Competition

Handel Singing Competition: Semi-Final
London Handel Festival
Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, 28 March 2018

The annual Handel Singing Competition was founded in 2002 as an integral part of the London Handel Festival (LHF). This year it attracted 116 applicants, seemingly down in numbers from the 150 that the LHF quote as the norm. A private first round was held over several very snowy days around the end of February, although sound files could be submitted by those unable to be there. Eleven of the 116 made it through to this, the public semi-final, held on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Perhaps holding the semi-final of a singing competition during one of the busiest of the year for singers was not the brightest idea – I know of singers that did not enter because they knew they would inevitably be busy that week.

The competition is open to singers between 23 and 33 years old on 1 February 2018. The prizes are first: £5000, second: £2000, audience: £300, finalists: £300. All finalists are guaranteed lunchtime recitals during the 2019 London Handel Festival, and many past finalists are also asked to perform solos in other prestigious concerts during the Festival and abroad. The 2018 London Handel Festival, for example, includes 20 previous finalists.

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Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
Signum SIGCD479. 59’44

This recording is the second part London Early Opera’s exploration of the music of Handel as it might have been performed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 1740s. Their 2017 recording, Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1 (reviewed here) presented the first half of a conjectural reconstruction of typical evening’s entertainment, and we now have the second half, continuing the fascinating mix of orchestral, organ and vocal music. Each half of these concerts usually had around eight pieces, usually including an organ concerto, other instrumental pieces, songs and dances, performed from the central bandstand. The opening song of the second half, Spring Gardens: Flora, goddess sweetly blooming sets the scene, noting that “Belles and beaux are all invited / To partake of varied sweets . . . as breaking notes descending / Break upon the list’ning ear”. In complete contrast, it is followed by the Concerto Grosso (Op 6/4), one of a set of twelve published in 1739/40 in homage to Corelli.  Continue reading

Harmonic Spiritual Theatre

Harmonic Spiritual Theatre
Sacrifice, betrayal, passion – The Birth of Oratorio

Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore
St John’s, Smith Square, 26 March 2018

Following the mostly secular early evening concert by the Choir of Royal Holloway (reviewed here), the St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival continued with a more sacred, although not entirely Holy Week based, concert by the Birmingham based choir Ex Cathedra. The first part of the rather complex three-part title of the event comes from the title of Giovanni Anerio’s 1619 Teatro armonico spirituale di madrigal (Harmonic Theatre of Spiritual Madrigals)14 of the 62 pieces are in the form of dialogues, and two examples opened each half of the concert, Rispondi, Abramo, setting the story of Abraham and Isaac to music and Sedea lasso Gesù, reflecting the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

The latter part of the concert title reflected the early days of the development of the early Baroque oratorio, inspired by the Roman Oratory of Filippo Neri, and consisting of semi-theatrical presentations of Bible stories through the musical use of recitative and arias with continuo accompaniment. As well as the Anerio’s examples, each half of the concert ended with large-scale oratorios by Charpentier (Le reniement de St Pierre) and Carissimi (Jepthe). Inserted between these early oratorios were two groups of the sometimes very secular Monteverdi madrigals ‘made spiritual’ by Aquilino Coppini, published between 1607-9 a few years after the original publications of Monteverdi’s madrigal Books IV and V. A close friend of Monteverdi, Coppini wrote that he saw in Monteverdi’s music “… a wonderful power to move the passions exceedingly”. His alteration of the texts is extremely well done, matching Monteverdi’s original use of vowel sounds and textural accents.

The unforced tone of the ten singers of Ex Cathedra was attractive, although it occasionally came over as a little reticent, notably in the chorus sections. There were some excellent individual contributions. particularly from soprano Angela Hicks, the unaffected clarity of her voice and her impressive use of ornaments proving ideal in her portrayals of the boy Isacco in Rispondi, Abramo, the Samaritan woman in Sedea lasso Gesù and as soloist in the Monteverdi/Coppini Ure me, Somine. Tenor Declan Costello was a gentle Jesus in the Charpentier oratorio on the denial of Peter, while Greg Skidmore provided a solid bass in Charpentier’s Narrator and in Jephte.

Katie Tretheway portrayed the unfortunate daughter of Jephte, notably in the concluding lament as she bewails her virginity prior, so she thought, to becoming a burnt offering to God. In her virginal circumstances, and given her concerns, I can think of more interesting ways of spending your last two months on earth. Carissimi doesn’t even give her the biblical redemption in his oratorio, so the evening finished with the weeping children of Israel.

This concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for an unspecified future broadcast.

Concerto

Concerto
Works for one & two harpsichords
Guillermo Brachetta, Menno van Delft
Resonus RES10189. 56’24

I have reviewed harpsichordist Guillermo Brachetta recordings on Resonus favourably several times before (here) but was almost immediately put off this CD by the overly mannered playing of Bach’s opening Italian Concerto (BWV 971), particularly the first two movements. Lingering on notes to this extent not only disrupts the flow of the music and the underlying pulse but, in my view, is alien to the Baroque concept of performance style as I understand it. That said, I am glad that I continued listening to the CD as this aspect of performance is not as apparent in the later pieces, even in the pieces by WF Bach and Graun where, arguably, such flexibility of rhythm and articulation might be considered rather more appropriate. Interestingly there is also no recurrence in the other JS Bach piece, the Concerto a due Cembali in C major (BWV 1061a) performed with Menno van Delft. This is the assumed original version, from around the same time as the Italian Concerto, which was later turned into a concerto with added string accompaniment. For me, this performance is the highlight of the CD,  Continue reading

Royal Holloway: Into the Night

Into the Night
Choir of Royal Holloway
St John’s, Smith Square, 26 March 2018

As part of St John’s, Smith Square’s Holy Week Festival, the Choir of Royal Holloway College (part of the University of London) gave an early evening recital of a programme that was probably better suited to a later time slot. Their programme, ‘Into the night’ featured sacred and secular music by contemporary composers from Latvia, Lithuania, and the USA, reflecting issues of night and death. They opened and closed with music by Ēriks Ešenvalds. Evening evokes the ‘shimmering sound’ of birds at sundown, with little snatched rhythmic phrases floating above evocatively scrunchy harmonies, ending with a delightfully sung soprano solo and the line ‘Oh let me like the birds / Sing before the night’. The closing Ešenvalds piece was Long Road, with two recorders and the tinkle of little bells added to the choral clusters and a final descent into sleep. Continue reading

LHF: Handel – Amadigi di Gaula

Handel: Amadigi di Gaula
London Handel Festival
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
St George’s, Hanover Square. 24 March 2018

Amadigi di Gaula (HWV 11) is a rarely performed early opera by Handel, composed in 1715 while he was staying at Burlington House (pictured), the London home of the young Earl of Burlington, Richard Boyle. It is now, in altered form, the home of the Royal Academy. Boyle had inherited the house and adjoining estate aged 10. He was around 9 years younger than Handel and was to become an influential amateur architect in Georgian London, notably for Chiswick House. By 1715, he had already completed the first of his ‘Grand Tours’ and was fast becoming a major patron of the arts and music.

Burlington_House_1698-99.jpgAmadigi di Gaula is a curious and complex tale, based on a late 14th-century Castillian chivalric fantasy romance that also inspired Don Quixote. The tale involves Princess Oriana (not to be confused with the hero of Felix the Cat), a fictional heiress to the throne of England (the ‘Fortunate Isles’) and her protector knight, the Scottish born Amadigi of Gaul, who is love with her, as is his companion Dardano, Prince of Thrace. The evil sorceress Melissa is infatuated with Amadigi. To this end, she imprisons Oriana in a tower and Amadigi and Dardano in a nearby garden. She tries various spells to attract Amadigi, who, initially together with Dardano, is trying to rescue Oriana. After a complex series of deceptions, betrayals, jealousy and sorcery, Amadigi and Oriana are finally united, but not before Amadigi has killed Dardano and Melisa has stabbed herself as her supernatural powers fail against the power of love.

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LHF: Mr Handel’s Scholars

‘Mr Handel’s Scholars’
London Handel Festival
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
Anna Devin, Maria Ostroukhova, Nathan Vale, Derek Welton
St George’s, Hanover Square, 23 March 2018

The Handel Singing Competition was inaugurated as part of the London Handel Festival in 2002, and counts several well-known singers amongst the past finalists, if not always amongst the past winners. Several former finalists have become regular performers at subsequent festival events, and this concert was one such. It featured four past finalists, three from 2006/7 and one far more recently, from 2016: two first prize winners, one 2nd prize winner and two winners of the audience prize. Handel was known to have encouraged younger singers, and the title of ‘Mr Handel’s Scholars’ refers to the name by which his young proteges were known. Each half opened with an overture, following by a range of extracts from Handel operas and oratorios, several of which are standard fare at singing competitions.

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LHF: Handel – Acis & Galatea

Handel: Acis & Galatea
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
St John’s, Smith Square. 21 March 2018

The first of the London Handel Festival’s anniversary events was a performance of Acis and Galatea, first performed in 1718 at Cannons, the palatial mansion north-west of London where James Bridges, by then the Earl of Carnarvon and later to become Duke of Chandos, demonstrated the enormous wealth he had gathered through his position as Paymaster General to the army. Cannons became the only example in England of a Germanic-style princely court orchestra (24-strong) outside the royal family. Handel was house composer from 1717-19 working under Pepusch. It had originally been a small-scale masque, probably performed outdoors, with a small orchestra and five singers, who together formed the chorus. Considering it was the anniversary of the 1718 premiere, it was rather curious that the work was here presented in its 1739 incarnation – one that Handel himself never heard.

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The interior of St John’s, Smith Square (built at the same time of the premiere of Acis) was transformed by director Martin Parr into a cross between some sort of down-market 1980’s rave and a children’s party, with a pall of dry ice engulfing the audience as they entered, party balloons hanging over the mist enveloped orchestra, and rather innocuous drapes suspended from scaffolding, for no apparent reason. It was the first of many production issues that I felt really didn’t work. That said, and more anon, musically it was well worth the trip.

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César Franck: Trois Chorals

César Franck: Trois Chorals
Tournemire: transcriptions from Franck’s operas Hulda and Ghiselle
Yoann Tardivel, organ
HORTUS 147. 57:56

The Trois Chorals of César Franck rank amongst the highlights of both the French organ repertoire and the related instrument, the French 19th-century French symphonic organ, typified by the famed organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. They were one of the last works written just two months before he died, in 1890. Yoann Tardivel has won some impressive organ prizes. He takes an attractively reflected approach to his performance of the Three Chorales, avoided the look-at-me approach of some organists who see pieces like these as vehicles to demonstrate their own prowess, rather than demonstrating the music. Some of his speeds are a little slow by present-day standards, but this seems to add gravitas to his playing and is fine by me. He choice of registrations is excellent, and the recording is particularly well engineered with a solid bass.  Continue reading

London Handel Festival (LHF): Guildhall Cantata Ensemble

Guildhall Cantata Ensemble
London Handel Festival
St George’s, Hanover Square. 21 March 2018

This is the first of a series of forthcoming reviews of the 2018 London Handel Festival (LHF).  The theme for this year is ‘Handel in London’ and is exploring Handel’s musical output as well as his wider entrepreneurial and philanthropic life in Georgian society. The wide-ranging month-long programme of concerts and events includes anniversary performances of two works that Handel composed during his 1718 residency at the future Duke of Chandos’s mansion at Cannons: Acis and Galatea and Esther. It has been traditional for many years to include lunchtime events by student and younger groups of musicians. The first of this year’s such recitals took place in the usual base for LHF events, Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square. It featured students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with their programme of music by Buxtehude and Handel. Continue reading

Splendour

Splendour
Golden Age of North German Organ Music
Organ Music & Vocal Works by Buxtehude, Hassler, Praetorius & Scheidemann
Kei Koito, Il Canto di Orfeo
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 88985437672. 73’15

This CD features a comprehensive survey of the important 17th -century North German School of organist composers, broadly covering the generations of composers between the Hamburg Sweelinck pupils and Buxtehude. The latter’s predecessor in Lübeck, Franz Tunder, opens the programme with his ebulient Praeludium in g. The programme then broadly follows the format of a organ chorale prelude followed by the relevent chorale, sung by the Italian choir Il Canto di Orfeo, directed by Gianluca Capuano. The organ used is the well-known 1624 Hans Scherer instrument in the Stephanskirche, Tangermünde, Germany, a splendid example of the early 17th-century North German organ building tradition. It’s impressive range of colours and textures are explored to the full in Kei Koito’s choice of registrations. 
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French Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin

French Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin
Philippe Grisvard & Johannes Pramsohler
Audax ADX13710. 2CDs. 64’20+51’45

Balbastre: Sonata I in G major
Clément: Sonata No. 1 in C minor
Corrette: Sonata Op. 25, No. 4 in E minor
Duphly: Suite in F major; Suite in G major; Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin
Guillemain: Violin Sonatas, Op 8/4, 5 & 6
Luc Marchand: Suite, Op 1/1
Mondonville: Sonate en symphonie, Op. 3 No. 6; Violin Sonata in G minor, Op 3/1

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was the subject of two earlier Audax CDs, reviewed here and here. He is generally credited with moving the French harpsichord from a mere continuo supporting instrument to a role that became equal, or even supplanted, that of the violin with his 1740 publication: Pièces de clavecin en sonates avec accompagnement de violon. This started a plethora of similar pieces over the next 20 years from many different composers. It is a repertoire well worth hearing, and this recording is an important contribution to musical understanding of this middle period in French musical history, half way between the musical heights of the High Baroque in the years around 1700, to the more populist style of the latter part of the decade. Continue reading

JS Bach/JC Bach/CEP Bach: Magnificats

JS Bach, JC Bach & CPE Bach: Magnificats
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68157. 76’48

This recording has the same programme as the concert in St John’s, Smith Square in October 2015. The CD was recorded a few days after the concert, in the church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalen in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, but has only recently been released. The acoustics of this large Gothic church (with its wide nave and tiny side aisles) are more generous than St John’s, Smith Square, giving an added bloom to the sound, although the spacing of the musical forces sometimes gives more of a sense of distance that the more compact London stage avoided. Unlike the concert performance, the CD opens with JS Bach’s 1733 reworking of his earlier E flat version, written for his first Christmas in Lübeck in 1723. It is given a forthright performance without the irritating gaps between movements that I mentioned in the concert review.  Continue reading

Bach & Weiss

Bach & Weiss
Music For Baroque Violin & Lute
Johannes Pramsohler & Jadran Duncumb
Audax Records ADX13706. 77’32
 


JS Bach/Weiss: Suite in A Major (BWV 1025) arr. for violin and obligato lute
Weiss: Suite in A Minor for baroque lute
JS Bach: Partita in D Minor for solo violin (BWV 1004)

The inspiration for this CD is the opening work, an arrangement for violin and obligato lute of the Bach/Weiss A Major Suite (BWV 1025). The whole of the programme note is given over to explaining the complicated background and source history of this piece, leaving the other two works in the programme to “speak for themselves”. The distinguished lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss knew the Bach family well. He was a friend of WF Bach in Dresden and sponsor of CPE Bach’s application for a post in the Prussian court. In 1739 Weiss visited JS Bach in Leipzig, together with WF Bach, staying for around four weeks. During that time they indulged in friendly improvisation contests, including playing fantasias and fugues, Bach on harpsichord, Weiss on lute. Bach’s private secretary wrote: “Something extra special is happening here.”

For this recording, Johannes Pramsohler and Jadran Duncumb have reconstructed one possible outcome of the visit, the Suite in A Major, BWV 1025, seemingly an arrangement by JS Bach for harpsichord and violin of an original lute piece by Weiss. It is not entirely clear from the sources how Bach made his arrangement, but it seems likely that he added a violin part to a keyboard transcription of Weiss’s lute piece, presumably with some help from Weiss because, as far as we know, JS Bach was not proficient at reading lute tablature.  Continue reading

Duo Enßle-Lamprecht: Tesserae

Tesserae
Duo Enßle-Lamprecht
Anne-Suse Enßle, Philipp Lamprecht
Audax Records ADX 13712. 52’54

The rather severe-looking Duo Enßle-Lamprecht concentrates on newly commissioned music and the very early repertoire. For this recording, they explore pieces drawn from a number of medieval manuscripts, including Can vei la lauzeta mover by the 12th-century Bernart de Ventadorn (the only vocal piece on the recording), La Quinte Estampie Real from the 13th-century Manuscript du Roi, Eya herre got was mag das gesein and Stabat mater from the 13th-century Castilian Las Huelgas Codex, an Alleluja from the Swiss Codex Engelberg (c1375), three pieces by the enigmatic 14th-century ‘Monk of Salzburg’, the early 15th-century Codex Faenza, and the famous British Library MS.Add.29987 with its enormous collection of 14th-century Italian music. Performing medieval music is always a bit of a minefield. There isn’t much of it, and what there is leaves very little indication of how it should be played. Evidence for instrumentation tends to come from the occasional literary reference, or from artworks of the time.  Continue reading

CPE Bach: Clavierstucke Tangere

CPE Bach: Clavierstucke
Tangere
Alexei Lubimov

ECM New Series 2112. 67’30

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Fantasien, Sonaten, Rondi und SolfeggiRussian pianist Alexei Lubimov concentres his performances and recordings on new music and music from the Baroque era performed on period instruments. This CD presents CPE Bach’s fantasies, sonatas and rondos played on the little-known tangent piano, usually referred to in German-speaking countries as the Pantaleon, Spattisches Klavier or Tangentenflügel. It enjoyed a brief moment of glory in the 18th century as a gap between the harpsichord and clavichord and the forthcoming fortepiano. Rather like the clavichord, its strings are struck from underneath by wood or metal tangents. Unlike the clavichord, where the note continues to sound while the tangent is in contact with the string, the tangent piano has an escarpment action similar to that of a fortepiano which allows the string to freely vibrate. It has a similar extent and control of expressiveness to the clavichord but is capable of much greater volume and intensity. It makes a gloriously twangy sound. There are a few original instruments still in existence, but this recording uses a modern replica, by Chris Maene of Belgium, of a 1794 Späth and Schmahl tangent piano from Regensburg.  Continue reading