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. I have written many articles on organ topics and early music, as well as the little book ‘The Performance of Early Organ Music’. 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 review website. Although it generally covers early music concerts, CDs, books and editions, it also allows me to venture into broader musical fields.
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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

The Real Traviata

The Real Traviata: The Song of Marie Duplessis
René Weis
Oxford University Press
Softback. 400 pages, 216x142mm, ISBN 978-0198828297

“A young woman of exquisite demeanour . . . chaste oval features, gorgeous dark eyes, a nose of the most exquisite and delicate curve” was how Marie Duplessis (1824-1847) was described in an obituary after her death aged just 23. The writer went on to describe her “beautifully turned feet” and “soft skin, the texture of camellias”. Such gushing homilies might be considered a trifle over-enthusiastic, but Marie Duplessis’s ultimate legacy to history was becoming the inspiration for Alexandre Dumas the younger’s novel La Dame aux Camélias and later Verdi’s La traviata, based on an 1852 play of that book. The Real Traviata, first published in 2015 and now available in paperback, tells the story of this remarkable young woman. Continue reading

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus Classics RES10239. 2 CDs. 55’06+56.13

This is the first of two double-CD volumes of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), and covers the Preludes and Fugues 1 to 24 (BWV846-869) that form Book 1 of ‘The 48’. This musically intelligent and absorbing recording by Steven Devine demonstrates that performing Bach (or any music, for that matter) is far more the merely playing all the notes in the right order. His subtle use of articulation and rhetoric and his understanding of the Baroque idea of building up musical ideas from small motifs make for an absorbing recording that will invite repeated listening. He manages to negotiate that fine line between presenting a personal interpretation and those over-mannered performances that might be fine for a live recital but is usually off-putting on the repeat listening that a recording allows. With obvious respect to Bach and these extraordinary miniatures of musical craft, Devine brings a wide range of interpretations, matching the underlying mood of each Prelude and Fugue perfectly. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music

London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, Grosvenor Chapel. 10-18 May 2019

The 2019 London Festival of Baroque Music is the 36th in a festival series that for most of its life was under the banner of the Lufthansa Festival. It is now managed by Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, its principal venue. This year’s theme was ‘Crossing the Border’, exploring themes of travel and discovery. The festival website notes that “Throughout history musicians and musical ideas have crossed borders freely and frequently. Although national styles and identities have always developed and often have been celebrated in music, the musicians who have created and performed this music have honed their skills and talents by exploring influences and characteristics from a wide range of influences”. In these complex UK times, it was a timely reminder of the importance of travel for music and musicians. The Baroque era was a particularly important one for international cultural influences, not least in the UK where many continental musicians moved to England, and the aristocratic Grand Tour, one result of which was the foundation of the art collections of many 18th-century country houses.  Continue reading

The Duarte Circle: Antwerp 1640

The Duarte Circle: Antwerp 1640
Transports Publics, Korneel Bernolet, Thomas Baeté

Musica Ficta MF8028. 68’02

What a delightful recording! Even without reading any of the notes, or knowing nothing of the backstory, the music on this disc will enchant you. The fact that it has such a fascinating background just adds to the magic. The music is based on concerts given in Antwerp in the years around 1640 in the household of the Duarte family, a wealthy Portuguese/Jewish family who lived as Catholics whilst maintaining their own Jewish heritage and faith. Amongst their number was the composer Leonora Duarte (1610-1678), whose seven surviving Sinfonias for five viols form the backbone of the recording. Information about the instruments and the pieces the family played comes from a letter from somebody who was at one of those concerts.

The Duart family left Portugal to escape the Inquisition, setting in Antwerp and becoming wealthy jewellery and diamond merchants. Leonora’s parents were trained as musicians and, amongst others, knew the famed harpsichord Antwerp maker, Ruckers. They mixed comfortably with the artistic and influential circles of Antwerp, counting Vermeer, Rubens, Huygens, and the influential English aristocrat, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle.  Leonora was around 30 in 1640, one of six children, all well trained in music, although Leonora is the only one with any surviving pieces. Continue reading

LHF. Handel: Athalia

London Handel Festival
Handel: Athalia
(HWV52)
London Handel Orchestra & Singers, Laurence Cummings.
St John’s, Smith Square, 29 April 2019

In what must have been an extraordinary week of music in Oxford, in July 1733 Handel was invited by Oxford University to provide musical entertainment (for his own profit) during the so-called, and rarely enacted, ‘Publick Act’, a higher degree ceremony and general benefactor’s shindig. Over an eight-day period, Handel presented Esther, the Utrecht Te Deum, and Deborah in the Sheldonian Theatre, and Acis and Galatea in Christ Church College. Alongside those performances was the premiere of the oratorio Athalia, given in the late afternoon of 10 July after the Vice-Chancellor’s speech, and repeated the following morning at 9.30 before the presentation of honorary degrees. This performance was the closing event of the 2019 London Handel Festival, and was conducted by their Artistic Director, Laurence Cummings with their house band and choir, the London Handel Orchestra & Singers. Continue reading

Baroquestock. Rameau: Dardanus

Baroquestock Festival
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Dardanus
OperaVera, IstanteCollective, Jonathan Williams
Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead. 3 May 2019

Under the banner of “Early music and home-made food” the now annual Baroquestock festival in Hampstead’s Heath Street Baptist Church set off on a week of music and food with a delightfully ambitious concert-performance of Rameau’s opera Dardanus. This is part of conductor Jonathan Williams’ Rameau Project and follows a fully staged 2017 performance that he conducted for English Touring Opera. This was a wonderful opportunity to hear French Baroque opera, an unfortunate rarity in Handel-dominated UK opera circles. On this occasion, we had the privilege of being able to concentrate on the music itself, without the distraction of staging, scenery, costume, or directorial interference. The intimacy of the Heath Street church, combined with an impressive acoustic to make for a very different, and very welcome, alternative to the full-blown opera house experience. Further Baroquestock events this week (under the overall title of ‘Fine Lines’) include Mozart & Haydn with Royal Tiramisu, BeerBachFocaccia, a Jacket Potato Ceilidh, a Zelenka marathon, and folk music.

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Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible

Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible
I Fagiolini, Robert Hollingworth, Martin Kemp
Milton Court Concert Hall, 28 April 2019
CD Coro COR16171. 71’34
I Fagiolin Leonardo.jpg

The latest I Fagiolini touring concert programme and CD is based on the Leonardo da Vinci 500th anniversary.  They launched the CD in London’s Milton Court with a talk by Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor in History of Art at Trinity College Cambridge illustrated by examples of Leonardo’s work and extracts from the I Fagiolini CD. The title ‘Shaping the Invisible’ comes from Leonardo’s own description of music. It is often forgotten how important music was in his life – indeed, despite his achievements as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, pioneer of flight, anatomist, scientist, Vasari records that music was probably the focus of his first job outside Florence when he moved to Milan.  ‘Shaping the invisible’ is also the title of the new commissioned piece by Adrian Williams and poet Gillian Clarke, reflecting Leonardo’s scientific investigations and fascination with flight. Continue reading

LHF: Handel Venceslao

London Handel Festival
Handel: Venceslao
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
St George’s, Hanover Square, 26 April 2019

As the London Handel Festival (LHF) draws towards its closing events, they presented the last, and one of the more interesting of Handel’s three pasticcio operas (the other two being Elpidia and Ormisda in 1724/5. These were made up of music pinched from other composers and loosely gathered together into a single opera. Venceslao was first performed in 1731 and contained music ‘borrowed’ from Giacomelli, Hasse, Lotti, Orlandini, Porpora, Porta, and Vinci. The Venceslao of the title is Wenceslas, but not the one that looked out on the Feast of Stephen. This one was Bohemian King Wenzel (1271-1305) who became King of Poland as Wenceslas II. He also appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, but in very unflattering form. He was a descendant of St Wenceslaus I, the 10th-century Duke of Bohemia who inspired the Christmas carol – he posthumously upgraded to King.

Toruń_-_Wacław_Czeski.jpg

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Rameau: Les Indes galantes

Rameau: Les Indes galantes
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924005. 2CDs 60’45+62’56

CD I
Prologue
Première Entrée: Les Incas du Pérou
CD II
Deuxième Entrée: Le Turc généreux
Troisième Entrée: Les Sauvages

The place to go to hear fine performances of French Baroque music appears to be Budapest, Hungary, where the pan-European named Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra and their director György Vashegyi have their home base in Müpa Budapest. I first heard them live there in 2017, and have since praised a number of their CDs. The latest is this recording of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Opéra-ballet: Les Indes galantes. It was first performed in Paris in 1735, but with only the Prologue and two of the ultimate four entrées. Thereafter it had a curious career, with several different variations performed in different years. The version used in this recording is from 1761, with Rameau’s various improvements since its première, but with the third entrée (Les fleurs) and a scene from the second entrée (Le Turc généreux) omitted. It was recorded in the days preceding a live concert performance in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall of Müpa Budapest. Continue reading

The journey to the cross: Music for Maundy Thursday

The journey to the cross: Music for Maundy Thursday
The BBC Singers, Sir James MacMillan
St John’s, Smith Sq. 18 April 2019 

MacMillan: Strathclyde Motets; Choral Sequence from the St John Passion
Gesualdo: Responsories for Maundy Thursday

The BBC Singers invited the celebrated Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan to devise and conduct a programme of choral music for Maundy Thursday in celebration of his 60th birthday. MacMillan chose to contrast selections from his Strathclyde Motets with movements from Gesualdo’s Responsories for Maundy Thursday. It concluded with MacMillan’s dramatic Choral Sequence from the St John Passion. The Strathclyde Motets started as an initial commission for one motet for the Strathclyde University Chamber Choir. Between 2005 and 2010 it was expanded into the current 28 communion motets on Latin texts, intended for amateur choirs, but far from straightforward in the vocal techniques needed.

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Sansara: Northern Rites

Northern Rites
Sansara, Tom Herring
St John’s, Smith Sq. 18 April 2019

As an early evening prelude to the main event of music by Sir James MacMillan, the young vocal group Sansara gave a short concert of music by MacMillan and contemporary Scandinavian composers, including arrangements of Scandinavian songs, many with roots in ancient Celtic traditions that influenced MacMillan’s compositions. The very effectively segued sequence of pieces opened with Bengt Ollén’s evocative arrangement of Trillo, a song calling seafarers home. The sounds of the waves were vocalised by the female singers on the stage, while the male singers recreated the sound of foghorns from the sides of the hall. Several of the later pieces had an aural texture of chord clusters, drones and high soprano voices, including MacMillan’s setting of Robert Burns’ The Gallant Weaver. His Child’s Prayer was dedicated to the 16 children who died in the 1996 Dunblane Massacre, here represented by 16 repetitions of the word ‘Welcome’; the texture peaking at the word ‘Joy’. The use of a text that welcomed Jesus “with joy and love in my heart / on this glad Communion day” was a curious choice to recognise the murder of 16 schoolchildren. Continue reading

Bach: St John & Matthew Passions

JS Bach: St John Passion
 The Choir of Westminster Abbey, St James’ Baroque, James O’Donnell
Westminster Abbey. 16 April 2019

JS Bach: St Matthew Passion
Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore
St John’s, Smith Square. 17 April 2019

Hearing Bach’s two best-known Passions on successive evenings in two nearby venues, and with contrasting performers, gave me a chance to compare aspects of the two Passions and performing styles. One was given by a choir with a 600-year history, the other by a choir approaching its 50th anniversary.  Both used period instrument orchestras. They were given in very different conditions to the performances of Bach’s day, and to very different groups of people – Bach to an involved congregation with a reasonable unified belief system, us as a passive audience with a variety of beliefs. However much a present-day believer might know the story that Bach sets to music, few will understand the context of early 18th-century Lutheran theological thought in Saxony. Non-believers or doubters will find the text at best puzzling, and at worse an illogical fabrication based on generations of earlier and equally illogical myth-makers. Continue reading

LHF: Costly Canaries

London Handel Festival
“Costly Canaries”
London Early Opera, Brigit Cunningham
St George’s, Hanover Square, 11 April 2019

London Early Opera’s programme explored the ‘Costly Canaries’ gathered by Handel from around Europe during the early years of the Royal Academy of Music, the aristocratic corporation founded 300 years ago, in 1719. Handel was ‘Master of the Orchestra’ with responsibility for composing his own works to Italian libretti, adopting mostly Italian operas for performance in London, and engaging singers and players, usually from Italy. Enormous fees were paid to many of these singers, leading to Mainwaring description of them as ‘costly canaries’. The three singers that Handel procured highlighted in this concert were Margherita Durastanti, Anastasia Robinson (an Italian born and trained, but English singer) and, later, Anna Maria Strada del Pò. They joined others such as Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, the two singers whose fabricated rivalry was whipped up by Academy audiences. These imported stars were paid extraordinary amounts of money, leading to the ultimate collapse of the Academy in 1729. Continue reading

Le Guerre des Te Deum

Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard & Francois Colin de Blamont
Le Guerre des Te Deum
Chœur Marguerite Louise, Ensemble Stradivaria, Daniel Cuiller
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS007. 66’38

This recording reflects an extraordinary incident that took place in Paris on 12 May 1745. Following the victory of Louis XV at the Battle of Fontenoy, part of the War of the Austrian Succession the day before, a ceremonial Te Deum was to be sung at the Queen’s Mass in the Royal Chapel in Versailles. The composer Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard, assistant Master of the Royal Chapel, had one that had been performed the year before. He rededicated it as the Cantique d’action de grâces pour les conquêtes de Louis XV and issued the scores to the musicians. Just as the Queen took her place in the Chapel, the composer Francois Colin came rushing in and tried to replace the scores with a Te Deum of his own. He was the Superintendant de la Musique de la Chambre and Maître de la Chapelle Royale and according to tradition, the Te Deum should have been his responsibility. Too late to stop the performance of Blanchard’s version, Blamont enlisted help from the battlefield where the Duc de Richelieu, who wrote on behalf of the King, expressing his strong disapproval. Shortly afterwards, Blamont’s Te Deum was performed at another Mass, officially in a ‘King’s Mass, although the Louis XV was still on the battlefield. Blanchard’s Te Deum was officially withdrawn from Court celebrations.  Continue reading

J Praetorius & Schildt organ works

Jacob Praetorius & Melchior Schildt
Selected organ works
Bernard Foccroulle
Ricercar RIC400. 68’05

Praetorius: Fantasia sopra Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; Praeambulum in F;
Vater unser im Himmelreich; Von allen Menschen abgewandt
Schildt: Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn; Magnificat 1. toni; Praeambulum in G

1467/1637 Stellwagen organ, Jacobikirche, Lûbeck

Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651) and Melchior Schildt (1592-1667) were two of the leading pupils of the Amsterdam organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Praetorius was the son of the Hamburg organist Hieronymus Praetorius whose own father, Jacob Praetorius the Elder (d. 1586) was also an organist/composer. The family are not related to Michael Praetorius. Like his forebears, Jacob Praetorious was organist of the Hamburg Petrikirche and was the teacher of Matthias Weckmann. Melchior Schildt also came from a family of musician, in his case from Hannover. After three years as court organist to the King of Denmark, he replaced his father as organist of the Marktkirche in 1629 and remained there until his death. Only six of his organ works have survived.

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LHF: Handel vs Porpora

London Handel Festival
“Handel vs Porpora”
Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu, Giuseppina Bridelli, Franck-Emmanuel Comte
St George’s, Hanover Square, 8 April 2019

In a very rare (if not perhaps the first) appearance by a non-UK orchestra in the London Handel Festival, the Lyon-based Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu and their director Franck-Emmanuel Comte and mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli highlighted a particularly turbulent period of British musical history, between 1733 to 1737. The theme for this year’s London Handel Festival (LHF) highlights the rivalry between the female singers that Handel composed for. In contrast, this concert highlighted the rivalry between Handel himself and the Italian composer Nicola Porpora. In 1733, after yet another clash with Handel, the star castrato Senesino resigned from Handel’s opera company and joined the new Opera of the Nobility, set up by the Prince of Wales in opposition to his father, George II, who supported Handel’s Royal Academy of Music. Porpora was invited to be the musical director of the new company. Their first opera was Porpora’s Arianna in Nasso, as a direct challenge to Handel’s Arianna in Creta. Despite having poached most of Handel’s key singers, such as Cuzzoni and Montagnana, the Opera of the Nobility went bankrupt and was dissolved in 1737. Handel’s own company suffered a similar fate, and the rump of the two opera companies combined for the 1737-38 season. Continue reading

Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Reincken

Mayfair Organ Concerts
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays 
Johann Adam Reincken (1643-1722)
St George’s, Hanover Square, London W1S 1FX
30 April 2019 @ 1:10pm 

Toccata in G (Andreas Bach Book)
Toccata in A (Anon?)
Chorale Fantasia: An Wasserflüssen Babylon

Johann Adam Reincken was one of the most important and influential 17th-century North German organist-composers. He forms a unique link between the Sweelinck influenced organists of the earlier part of the century and JS Bach. Little is known about his life, and very few of his organ compositions survive. He was born to North German parents in Deventer in The Netherlands around 1643. An earlier supposed birthdate of 1623 is now accepted as incorrect. He moved to Hamburg in 1654, aged just 11, to study with the famed organist of the Katharinenkirche, Heinrich Scheidemann, a pupil of Sweelinck. After a brief return to Deventer, he came back to Hamburg in 1659 as Scheidemann’s assistant, replacing him as organist in 1663 on Scheidemann’s death. As was the custom of the time, he married one of Scheidemann’s daughters in 1665. He remained there for 60 years until his death in 1722. As well as his church duties, he co-founded the Hamburg Opera and was involved in the city’s musical life. He is known from two pictures dating from around 1674; the portrait painting and the now well-known ‘Musical Company’ painting by Johannes Voorhout.

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Giuseppe Peranda: Sacred Music from Dresden

Giuseppe Peranda: Sacred Music from Dresden
Abendmusiken Basel, Jorg-Andreas Botticher
Coviello COV91904. 75’45

Giuseppe Peranda: Missa in A minor, Repleti Sunt OmnesAccurite Gentes,
Fasciculus myrrhae, Timor Et Tremor, Factum Est Proelium
Vicenzo Albrici: Sinfonia à 2
David Pohle Sonata à 6,

The recording sheds a fascinating insight into musical life in mid-17th-century Dresden. After a hiatus in the 1630/40s as a result of the Thirty Years War, the Kapellmeister Heinrich Schütz attempted to revive the musical life of the Court, but with little success or encouragement. In 1656 a new Elector, Johann Georg II, reorganised musical life, built on the fact that Italians were now more prominent than German-speaking musicians, and were paid far more. He promoted Giuseppe Peranda to Kapellmeister who, along with with Vincenzo Albrici, established a new direction in sacred music, with a stronger emphasis on melody and rhythmic inventiveness – the hallmark of the Italian early Baroque. Their music was developed from the style of Carissimi and, earlier, Viadana. On Schütz’s death in 1672, the Court Chaplain commented, no doubt reflecting Schütz’s own views, that: “a new style of singing reigns, extravagant, dance-like, not the least devout and more appropriate to the theatre”. Although no doubt intended as a criticism of the new style, it is a very effective description of the Baroque idiom, of which Giuseppe Peranda is a fine example. Continue reading

LHF: Handel Singing Competition 2019

Handel Singing Competition 2019
London Handel Festival
Semi-Final: Grosvenor Chapel, 5 March 2019
Final: St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 April 2019

The Handel Singing Competition has been a key part of the London Handel Festival since 2002. The finalists form a key part of future festivals, with invitations to return over the years ahead. The current festival includes such 20 past finalists, including specific solo recitals for the two main prize-winners (see here and here). Many successful careers have gained from the exposure that the competition offers although, for any potential applicants,  it is worth noting that some of the most famous of those were not first prize winners. Indeed, an unsuccessful finalist in the very first 2002 competition is currently top-of-the-bill at English National Opera (Lucy Crowe), and an unsuccessful finalist from last year is one of the stars of the current Royal Opera House/LHF Berenice (Jacquelyn Stucker). Of the LHF’s own list of seven of those who have gone on to “internationally recognised soloists”, only one was a first prize winner. And, over the years, I have also spotted several excellent singers in the semi-finals that don’t even make it into the finals. For that reason, I usually try to review the semi-final, but this year I went to both. Continue reading

Mozart in London

Mozart in London
A musical exploration of Mozart’s childhood visit to London, 1764-65
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Signum Classics SIGCD534. 2 CDs. 77’36&67’14

The Classical Opera/Mozartists Mozart 250 project has been underway for four years, with a number of successful recordings and events already under their belt. This (rather delayed) review of a double CD set released in May 2018 takes us back to the beginning of the project: the ‘Mozart in London’ Festival weekend of events at Milton Court in February 2015. The weekend included talks, discussions and concerts over a three-day period. My review of two of those events can be found here. Several other Mozart 250 reviews are here. The ‘250’ of the title refers to the years since Mozart’s childhood visit to London (23 April 1764), during which he composed his first significant works. The plan is to “follow the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, works and influences”, culminating in 2041, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s death. These two CDs were recorded live during the various concerts of the 2015 weekend. They are an impressive record (quite literally) of the start of one of the most impressive and ambitious musical projects of our time. Continue reading

LHF: Lauren Lodge-Campbell

London Handel Festival
Lauren Lodge-Campbell
St George’s, Hanover Square, 4 April 2019

The second of the major prize-winners from last year’s Handel Singing Competition, was Lauren Lodge-Campbellwinner of both the second and audience prizes. I heard in last year’s semi-finals rather than the final, and was very impressed with her, commenting that “She had a compelling stage presence and an impressively powerful voice, helped no doubt by being a rarity amongst singers in actually opening her mouth properly. Intonation, articulation and control of vibrato were all excellent“.  The result of the final was a rare occasion when I agreed with the LHF judges as to the top two places! Lauren Lodge-Campbell is a British/Australian soprano. She studied in Australia and London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was a member of the 2018 Iford Arts New Generation Artists Programme and, in 2019, will join William Christie’s Le Jardin des Voix, the young artist programme of Les Arts Florissants.

Lauren Lodge-Campbell.jpg

For this lunchtime recital, she included the two pieces from her 2018 semi-final and at least one from the final. She opened with Ho perduto il caro sposo, the opening aria of Rodalinda, a nice link to the theme of the 2019 Festival with its focus on Handel’s Divas as it was originally sung by Francesca Cuzzoni. Lauren Lodge-Campbell caught the mood of the mourning well, revealing the strength of Rodelinda’s character. I liked the way all four performers timed the silences in the opening phrases. One of Handel’s Nine German Arias followed, Die ihr aus dunklen Grüften composed in the style of a trio sonata with its elegant cello line that moves from repeated note harmonic support to melody.

With plaintive notes and am’rous moan (from Samson) followed, with some lovely playing from violinist Sophie Simpson. Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s agile voice and excellent articulation were evident here, as were as some well-executed ornaments. She has a fast, but slight vibrato which fortunately did not interfere with articulation or pitch, but I hope she manages to avoid it getting any stronger over time, as happens with so many talented young singers of the earlier repertoire. Wind was something of theme for the recital, with the dramatic Combattuta da due venti (Faramondo) being one of the examples. Handel’s Violin Sonata in A (HWV 361), was followed by the autumnal winds of Bach’s Angenehmer Zephryrus (BWV 205).

O though bright sun . . . With darkness deep’ featured the gorgeous little seven-note accompaniment motif that casts some soothing balm on Theodora’s prison cell depression. Bach’s famous Laudamus te from the B minor Mass was beautifully sung, Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s air of youthful innocence reminiscent of some of the soprano arias in the Passions. The final piece was Scoglio d’immota fronte with its depiction of a storm-tossed sea. You can watch part of Lauren’s prize-winning performance of the same piece during last years competition here, Here use of da capo elaborations was impressive, as was her control and articulation of the virtuoso passages.

As well as her singing and excellent contact with the audience, I was also very impressed at the way that Lauren introduced the three instrumentalists, made sure they were acknowledged in applause and gave them a solo spot to themselves in her showcase concert: a courtesy that all singers should consider. Along with Sophie Simpson, violin, were Jacob Garside, cello, and Satoko Doi-Luck, harpsichord, with some excellent playing from all three.

Although last year I agreed with the judges in their choice of the top two prizes, this was yet another occasion when a singer that really impressed me didn’t even get into the final – one of the reasons I usually review the semi-final. That was soprano Charlotte La Thrope who I first heard when she was part of the Iford Arts New Generation Artists Scheme. I had described then her as “a young singer to watch out for” and also praised her acting ability. In her semi-final, she fully engaged with the audience, demonstrated excellent intonation over wide-ranging melodic lines, sang with clearly articulated runs, ornamented the da capos well, and controlled her minimal vibrato well. She is currently one of the Monteverdi Choir Apprentices.

Photo: Bertie Watson