Renegade New Classical

Renegade New Classical
Nik Colk Void, Daniel Brandt
s t a r g a z e
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
6 December 2017

Once upon a time, pop music was divided into just two genres – Beatles or Rolling Stones, with a possible sub-set of John or Paul. Things are more complicated nowadays. Every single piece within the broad contemporary music scene has its own distinctive moniker. For this concert, we were told that we would see “the realms of classical collide with minimal techno, experimental and electronic music. Electronic it certainly was, as the rustle of the players sorting their music out was picked up by their microphones, followed by an enormous amplified explosion from the banks of speakers. I was relieved there wasn’t any lightning forecast.   Continue reading

House of Monteverdi

House of Monteverdi
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
2 December 2017

Things have changed at Spitalfields Music, as the opening night of their annual Winter Festival demonstrated. They have traditionally concentrated on early and contemporary music and, to a certain extent, continue that focus, although the target audience now seems very different from previous years. For the first of their new-style Winter festivals, they have bought in an Artistic Curator, André de Ridder, a conductor who crosses musical borders, not least in his involvement with electronic and pop music. His concept was for a festival made up of a series of ‘mini-festivals’, combining different genres and musicians. The focus is on much younger composers and performers that hitherto. The opening mini-festival, House of Monteverdi, was a 4½ hour marathon featuring four featured young composers, together with the four members of the Hermes Experiment, who jointly composed one of their pieces. The four world premieres and two UK premieres were contrasted and alternated with (and were sometimes influenced by), extracts from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals – the Songs of Love and War.  Continue reading

Mozart Chamber Music: Vol. 1

Mozart Chamber Music Vol. 1
Ensemble DeNOTE
Devine Music DMCD007. 70’43

Mozart DMCD007

Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K.454
‘Kegelstatt’ Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano in E flat, K.498
Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478

There is more to this recording than meets the eye – or, indeed, the ear. At one level it is an excellent recording of some, perhaps lesser-known, music by Mozart, played on period instruments with considerable (and appropriate) style by Ensemble DeNOTE. On that basis alone, it is well worth getting hold of. But what marks this out as being very different from a normal run-of-the-mill Mozart CD is its background. It grew out of 2016 staged performances of Mozart given by DeNOTE as part of their (Arts Council funded) Mozart Project Live!, itself an extension of the earlier Mozart Project, an award-winning interactive digital book with contributions from DeNOTE’s director, fortepianist, John Irving. For their Mozart Project Live! they performed extracts from the three pieces on this recording, along with spoken and acted introductions from two actors, in period dress but clutching 21st-century tablets, and audio and video material from the digital book. But there was not enough time for complete performances of the three pieces demonstrated, hence this recording.  It contrasts three works from the 1780s for two, three and four instruments, all including the fortepiano.

The opening K.454 Sonata for Piano and Violin was written in 1784 for the Viennese debut of the Mantuan violinist Regina Strinasacchi (a former student of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice), then in her early 20s. It was written in some haste, to the extent that Mozart had no time to write out his piano part. For the public performance, apparently in the company of the Emperor Joseph II, he put a blank sheet of paper on the music desk, but played from memory and, presumably, a great deal of improvisation. It is a piece full of contrast, unusually starting with an expansive Largo before bursting into a lively Allegretto. The compositional blend between the two instruments is notable, each sharing the limelight alongside lengthy passages where the two combine in close consort. The players’ subtle additions to the text are entirely appropriate.

The incorrectly named Kegelstatt Trio (for Clarinet, Viola and Piano) (the name was intended for another piece, not this one) breaks the conventional rules of composition, the three movements (Andante, Menuetto, Rondeaux: Allegretto) bearing little relation to the expected three-movement sequence. Although the instruments (unique at the time) in the final movement, the fortepiano takes centre stage for a while, before the other two instruments have their moments in the foreground. Incidentally, Mozart is said to have played the viola for this, not the piano.

The concluding Piano Quartet in G minor (K.478) also has a back story – or might have. Although commissioned (as a set of three) for Vienna’s amateur performers, the piano part turned out to be far too difficult for them to play. Along with that, the thought of four amateur musicians attempting to play this complex work was deemed, at best, undesirable. Refusing to write something easier, the commission was cancelled, leaving this one Quartet, one of the first of its kind in musical history. That is the story, but recent scholarship, outlined in the CDs liner notes, casts doubt on this story. In the dark key of G minor, it is certainly of an emotional depth and intensity that requires musical and expressive experience possibly beyond many amateurs. Only in the final movement does any semblance of domestic music-making begin to appear. As with the other pieces on this recording, the four instruments are treated as equals and, as with the other pieces, the recording balance is well judged between them, the fortepiano (a copy of a c1795 Walter) being at just the right volume to blend without dominating.

The individual performances, from Marcus Barcham-Stevens, violin, Oliver Wilson, viola, Ruth Alford, cello, Jane Booth, clarinet, and John Irving, fortepiano, are excellent. But, more importantly, the overall result greatly exceeds the sum of the individual parts – as it always should in consort playing.

The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann

The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann
Le Concert Brisé, William Dongois
Accent ACC24302. 68′ 

This is an important recording as it brings the music of Heinrich Scheidemann to a wider audience than just organists. Unfortunately, many organists are not aware enough of the organ compositions of this major North German composer of the early Baroque era. He was one of the most important pupils of Sweelinck in Amsterdam in the early 17th century, moving on (as did several other Sweelinck pupils) to an important organist post in Hamburg; at the enormous organ of Hamburg’s Catharinenkirche, recently restored back to the time of Bach’s famous visit, but still containing many pipes from Scheidemann’s time. He was part of an extraordinary tradition of North German organ playing that led to Buxtehude and, ultimately, the young Bach. It seems that the only surviving Scheidemann pieces are for organ, plus a few for a stringed keyboard. So this instrumental interpretation, although not without a number of issues for the purist, is a very welcome addition to the many CDs of Scheidemann’s organ music.  Continue reading

L’Héritage de Rameau

LHéritage de Rameau
Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Yves Rechsteiner
Ambronay Editions AMY050. 54’54

CD

Music by Rameau, Rebel and Francoeur

I heard Ensemble Les Surprises and Yves Rechsteiner perform music from this recording during the 2017 Ambronay Festival (review here), noting that is was the first time the group had played without using a full-sized French Classical church organ, relying instead on a small chamber organ. That is more than made up for by this recording, which uses the important 1783 François-Henri Clicquot organ in the historic priory church of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Souvigny (Allier).

The premise of this recording is the programme of the Concert Spirituel given on 8 December 1768 in Paris. It refers to a ‘Suite of symphonies by Rameau executed with full orchestra on the organ by Balbastre’. It seems that Balbastre (the leading organist in pre-Revolutionary Paris) had reconstructed an organ concerto from existing works by Rameau, having already played many solo organ transcriptions from Rameau’s opera for the Concerts Spirituel. Despite being a keen organist, Jean-Philippe Rameau left no organ music. Yves Rechsteiner has already published and recorded his own arrangements of some of Rameau’s operatic and instrumental works for organ solo. For this recording, he has reconstructed three organ concertos from Rameau’s works as they might have been performed by Balbastre (a pupil of Rameau) in the 1768 Concert Spiritual.  Continue reading

Monteverdi Apprentices

Monteverdi Apprentices
Final Recital
The Warehouse, 26 November 2017

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The Monteverdi Apprentice programme gives young musicians, on the verge of entering the profession, the chance to spend a year working alongside experienced professionals from the Monteverdi stable, with opportunities for performing as ensemble members or soloists with the various groups under the Monteverdi umbrella. The scheme started in 2007, initially for singers only. It runs every other year and, with one exception, alternates singers with string players. For the 2016/17 cohort, nine instrumentalists were chosen from around 100 applications. This was their final recital together, although many of them will be performing in the two forthcoming Monteverdi Bach cantata tours.  Continue reading

Repicco: Assassini, Assassinati

Assassini, Assassinati
Repicco
Ambronay Editions, AMY308. 60’43

Assassini, assassinati - Repicco

Works by Albertini, Marini, Castaldi, Pandolfi Mealli, Stradella,

I have written before of the excellent work that eeemerging and the Cultural Centre Ambronay do to support young musicians. One such is the arrangement by which the top two ensembles in each of the eeemerging rounds are offered a recording through the Collection Jeunes Ensembles of Ambronay Editions. A recent example is this CD, Assassins, Assassinations, the debut recording of the two-person ensemble Repicco, (violinist Kinga Ujszàszi and Jadran Duncumb, theorbo). The rather grizzly link between the Italian Baroque composers represented in the recording is that they were all either murdered or murderers. This is a genre of recording that, I trust, has a limited range, particularly when it comes to present days composers. It certainly says something about political and social life in Italy during the period known as the ‘Iron century’, a time dominated by powerful families and warring cities.  Continue reading

Melchior Schildt

Melchior Schildt (1592-1667)
Complete Organ Works  (Ed. Klaus Beckmann)
128 pages  • ISMN: 979-0-001-13431-6 • Softbound
Edition Schott 
ED 9585

2017 is the anniversary of Melchior Schildt’s death, so it is an appropriate time to look at his, sadly, very limited, surviving organ music. He was born in 1592 in Hanover to a family of musicians stretching back more than 125 years. He studied with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck from 1609 (probably until 1612). In 1626 he was appointed court organist to the Danish king, and in 1629 returned to Hannover to replace his father as organist at the Marktkirche, where he stayed until his death.

He seems to have been ‘a bit of a character’, with several records of intemperate behaviour, one being a violent attack on the organ builder Fritzsche. Although his second marriage provided him with financial security, the relationship was troubled to the extent that Schildt’s will required their son to be removed from his mother’s care. His troubled relationship with the music profession can be seen in his further instructions for his son, forbidding him to learn any musical instrument of any kind “because those who do are held back in their university studies, and also adopt a wild and dissolute life”. Continue reading

Schnitger Festival Groningen

Schnitger Festival Groningen
31 October – 5 November 2017

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Arp Schnitger is one of the most famous organ builders of all time. Working from around 1660 to 1719, most of his organs were built in North Germany and The Netherlands. For several decades, his instruments have been linked with the performance of Bach, although they were built within the North European organ tradition (centred on Hamburg and culminating in Buxtehude in Lübeck) rather than the Saxon and Thuringian organs of Central Germany that Bach was more familiar with. That said, Bach was certainly influenced by such instruments and the music composed for them, in his early life. Unlike many in the organ building world, then and now, Schnitger showed great respect for the work of his predecessors, and many of his organs retain pipework and cases going back to late mediaeval times. Around one-third of the surviving Schnitger organs are in the Netherlands, mostly in the Groningen province, and three in the city of Groningen, including the famous organs in the Aa-Kerk and the Martinikerk. A map of surviving Schnitger organs can be found here.

The Groningen Schnitger Festival is now in its fifth year. It is organised by the Groningen Orgelstad foundation, set up to strengthen and expand the range of organ activities in the city of Groningen. Usually taking place over a single weekend, this year’s six-day festival was special for a number of reasons, not least,  the opening of a new organ in the Lutherse Kerk (pictured below) based on the Schnitger organ that was built for the church in 1699. Schnitger gifted it to the church and community where he and his workforce attended when working in Groningen, as did his successors, including the organ builder Hinsz who is buried in the church. The original two-manual organ had a pedal division added in 1717, to Schnitger’s plans, and was further extended over time until it was replaced by a new organ around 1896. Since 2001 the tradition of cantata services was reintroduced into the Lutherse Kerk services, leading to the foundation (by church organist Tymen Jan Bronda) in 2006 of the period instrument Luthers Bach Ensemble and the wish for an organ suitable for use with Bach cantatas. The Swiss-based, but Groningen born organ builder Bernhardt Edskes was commissioned to build the new organ, based on the 1717 incarnation of the original Schnitger organ.

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Original documents of Schnitger’s 1699/1717 organ survive, and the new organ was based on that original organ, the only difference in the specification of the new organ is that it includes an 8′ rather than 4′ Praestant as the foundation stop of the principal manual. The original pitch of the organ was Kammerton, equating to present day a’ = 415Hz, the usually accepted pitch for Baroque German music. A novel addition to the instrument is a separate one manual continuo keyboard at the front of the organ gallery, controlling six of the stops from both divisions of the main organ through what is generally known as a ‘long action’.

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Tuesday 31 October
Opening concert of the new Lutherse Kerk organ
Luthers Bach Ensemble, Ton Koopman, Tymen Jan Bronda

This was an auspicious day for the opening of the new Lutherse Kerk organ. It was not only Reformation Day, but the day of the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, as well as the 400th anniversary of the completion of church’s original Arp Schnitger organ, which the new organ replicates. After opening speeches (including one by ‘Bach’), and the handing over of a ceremonial tuning knife and key, Ton Koopman appeared, initially dressed in the same ‘Bach’ outfit, to conduct the Luthers Bach Ensemble in Bach’s cantata on the battle hymn of the Reformation Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 80). It was performed in JS Bach’s rarely heard original form, without the trumpets and timpani added by his son. I couldn’t see the soloists from my seat, but I think it was Stefanie True who sang the aria Komm in mein Herzen Haus. 

Lutherse Kerk organist Tymen Jan Bronda then played Bach’s organ version of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (RV 208). It was a curious piece to choose for the first solo organ piece on the new organ. Its tricky extended cadenza-like passages were a real test of the player and the organ’s action. More effective, and certainly more suited to the organ, was Weckmann’s 3-verse Ach wir armen Sünder and Buxtehude’s multi-sectional Toccata in d (BuxWV 153), both very well played by Bronda. The Buxtehude came after Ton Koopman’s performance of Haydn’s Organ Concerto in C (H.XVIII:1), played from the smaller ‘continuo’ keyboard in the conducting position on the organ gallery. Although of no obvious relevance to the Schnitger organ, Haydn’s jovial three-movement piece suited Ton Koopman’s flamboyant style of organ playing, with his frequent additions to the text. The concert finished with Bach’s double choir motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225), here performed with the instruments doubled the vocal parts. An impressive, if a rather eclectic introduction to the flexibility of the new organ. Later in the evening, a Memorial Cantata Service celebrated the Reformation anniversary, repeating the earlier Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott cantata.

Wednesday 1 November
Lunchtime recital: organ and trumpet
Tymen Jan Bronda & Dave Hendry
Lutherse Kerk

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The organ as a solo instrument was more to the fore in the Wednesday lunchtime concert of music for organ and trumpet. Particularly effective organ solos were Scheidemann’s intabulation on Bassano’s motet Dic nobis Maria (a rare survival of one of the essential skills of a German organist in the 16th and 17th centuries) and Buxtehude’s multisection Magnificat 1. Toni, where the reeds on the new organ were heard to good effect. After the well-known opening Te Deum by Charpentier, David Henry played Bach’s Wohl mir das ich Jesum habe (Jesu joy etc) on an unusual (at least to me) type of slide trumpet, where the slide was at the back (the player’s end) of the trumpet. I think these are sometimes known as Zug trumpets, and are partially related to the Purcellian Flatt trumpet.

Berry van Berkum
improvised accompaniment to Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod
Der Aa-kerk

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The Aa-kerk in Groningen houses one of the two famous Schnitger organs. The name of the church comes from its original title of Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Aa (‘Our Lady at the Aa’, the name of the nearby river). Arp Schnitger built an organ for the church in 1695, but it was destroyed in 1710 when the church tower collapsed. An earlier Van Hagerbeer organ was built in 1667 but only lasted 4 years before being destroyed by fire. The current organ was built in 1702 for the Academiekerk (Broerekerk) in Groningen using some pipework from the previous 1679 instrument. After some work by A A Hinsz in the later 18th century, the organ was moved to the Aa-Kerk in 1815, the church remaining organless in the intervening century. After a complicated history of reconstructions and additions, it was restored back to an earlier historic period in 2011, but not that of the 1702 organ. There is a small organ dating from 1550 (also transferred in from elsewhere) on a side gallery. The building is no longer used as a church but is a venue for concerts and other events.

Berry van Berkum improvised an organ accompaniment to Fritz Lang’s 1921 film Der Müde Tod (Destiny). The film tells the story of a woman’s quest to be reunited with her dead lover by means of a series of tests initiated by Death. These take place in a Caliph’s palace during Ramadan, during the carnival in Venice (a sequence that, for the film’s date, included a rather surprising glimpse of a naked female breast), and in the court of a Chinese emperor. Berkum’s accompaniment used a wide range of musical textures and relied on creating a background aural atmosphere, rather than reflecting any of the actions on the screen, even such obvious ones as the sound of the watchman’s horn, the striking of a clock or a drunkard stumbling downstairs. Until the last few minutes, the volume was sensibly kept down, making the final moments all the more dramatic.

Thursday 2 November
‘Van Buxtehude tot Bach’
Nederlandse Bachvereniging
Jos van Veldhoven, Leo van Doeselaar
Lutherse Kerk

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The Nederlandse Bachvereniging was founded in 1921 to introduce less romantic renderings of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. They have since become well-known for their All of Bach website, uploading a recording of a Bach work every week. For their Lutherse Kerk concert, they highlighted the importance of the church organ to Bach as well as his influences. They opened with one of Bach’s most dramatic cantata Sinfonias, to Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, with its prominent organ solo part – and organ concerto in all but name. As with the later Sinfonia to Wir müssen durch viel, Leo van Doeselaar, the titular organist of the Martinikerk Schnitger organ, displayed an excellent sense of the rhythmic energy of Bach’s writing as well as a sure grasp of the ornamentation and articulation needed to project the often complex musical lines.

Bach predecessor as Leipzig Cantor was Johann Kuhnau. He is usually overshadowed by Bach, so it was good to hear his Gott sei mir gnädig, the slurred string notes of the opening creating an emotive mood. the five-part string texture adds to the intensity of the piece. It was followed by the Bach’s extraordinary chorale prelude Vater unser in Mimmelreich from the Clavier-Übung III. This is one of the hardest of all Bach’s organ pieces to play – and, perhaps, to listen to. Its dense five-part texture starts in trio sonata form, with rhythmically complex melodic lines, before the chorale theme is introduced as a two-part canon, each hand having to play the theme as well as the flowing trio lines. Leo van Doeselaar’s performance was exemplary, as was his choice of registration, contrasting the Dulciaan and Sexquialter stops.

Bach’s sensuous Vergnügte Ruh followedagain with distinctive organ contributions, hear revealing the tension of the organ’s tempered tuning. Countertenor Alex Potter grasped the emotive depth of the piece beautifully.  Two other Bach Sinfonias opened the second half, before the concluding Nimm von uns Herr by Buxtehude, the Lübeck organist that the young Bach famously walked 200 miles to hear. Based on the Vater unser melody heard earlier, its richly textured orchestration well-controlled by conductor Jos van Veldhoven.

Friday 3 November
Schnitger Field Trip – Noordbroek & Godlinze
Sietze de Vries

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This tour of two of the many Schnitger organs in the vicinity of Groningan was arranged by the festival in conjunction with the Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken. It was led by the distinguished organ improviser Sietze de Vries (organist of the Groningen Martinikerk  and Artistic Director of the Groningen Organ Education Centre, standing in for the indisposed Peter van der Zwaag), who introduced both of the instruments before demonstrating with extraordinarily skilful improvisations broadly in the style of Bach and the earlier North German organ composers, whose music he has clearly taken to his heart. The Noordbroek organ was built by Schnitger in 1696 and worked on by his son Johann Jürgen Schnitger, Hinsz, and Freytag (in 1809) before van Oeckelen moved it away from its Baroque roots in 1855. Over the past 50 years, it has been restored back to its 1809 specification and is now one of the finest examples of the Schnitger school organ style, albeit with about half of the stops being by Hinsz or Freytag.

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After talking about the history of the organ, Sietze de Vries (pictured above) improvised for around 25 minutes, in a range of quasi-Baroque musical styles, exploring the rich colours of the organ (Six of the 24 stops are reeds) and the shimmering Schnitger choruses, ending with a spectacular multi-sectional chorale fantasia on Ein feste Burg. The Romano-Gothic brick-built church includes some fine ceiling murals dating, I would think, from the late 15th century.

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The Pancratius church in Godlinze is a much smaller, but similarly highly decorated church, with a one-manual 1704 Schnitger organ. It originally had two manuals, with an Unterwerk (reflected in the double-decker case front) but was changed to one manual in 1785 by Hinsz. 1919 alterations were removed in a 1985 restoration back to its 1785 specification. The current specification, together with links to its earlier specifications and other details, can be found here.

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After a detailed demonstration of the various stops of the organ, Sietze de Vries improvised a brilliant set of variations on Vater unser in the style generally closer to the Sweelinck-inspired Hamburg organists of the early to mid 17th century. Some of the stops of the organ and an example of the ceiling paintings are pictured below. The tour ended back in the Lutherse Kerk where Bernhardt Edskes, the builder of the new organ, gave a talk on the construction of the new Schnitger organ.

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Orgelprobe: Commissioned by the Dom in Hamburg
Sietze de Vries
Lutherse Kerk

Despite having stood-in to spend all day talking about and playing the organs on the day tour, Sietze de Vries then gave an early evening concert on the new Lutherse Kerk organ. In his 1719 Exemplarische Organisten Probe published in 1731 in his Grosse General-Baß-Schule, Johann Mattheson (the Hamburg diplomat, music theorist, composer and, very nearly, the murderer, but later, friend, of Handel) described the terms and conditions that the Hamburg Cathedral Council set for the audition of prospective applicants for the post of Cathedral organist, where Mattheson was Kantor and a Canon. Candidates had to improvise a sequence of the pieces that they would need for the cathedral services. Mattheson’s account stands alongside the famous 1655 report of Matthias Weckmann’s audition at Hamburg’s St Jacobi church.

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Sietze de Vries recreated that Orgelprobe on the new Schnitger organ, starting with a Prelude and a grand Fugue followed by a 20 minute set of variations on the Advent chorale Nun freut euch, in a style that suggested influences from Bach, Böhm, Walther and Krebs.  He followed this with an improvisation on Purcell’s Evening Hymn with its distinctively English ‘false relations’, reflecting the task of accompaniment a singer. He concluded with a powerful Toccata, opening with a distinctive 17th-century style North German pedal solo, followed by channelling of Buxtehude and Bruhns, before concluding with a chaconne based on the bass of  Purcell’s Evening Hymn – a wonderful, and skilful, combination of disparate musical styles. As an encore, he moved to the small continuo console for a delicate prelude on Nun danket, with some added Purcellian false relations. An excellent demonstration of organ improvisation and playing.

Organ Night with five organists & two organs
Der Aa-kerk & Martinikerk

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The evening event took place in the Aa-Kerk and Martinikerk and featured, as the title suggests, five organists, playing very different short programmes. It started on the 1702 Schnitger organ in Der Aa-kerk, an organ containing much pipework from well after Schnitger’s time. Stephan van de Wijgert played Mendelssohn (Prelude and Fugue in E minor) and Schubert – a clever arrangement of the four-hand piano Fantasie in F minor, D940, with its delightfully melodic opening motif.  Geerten Liefting improvised a Prelude and Fugue and a minimalist interpretation of Vater unser. A street barrel-organ greeted us as we left the Aa-kerk for a walk that Schnitger must have been very familiar with, through the expanse of the Vischmarkt (pictured) and across the Grote Markt to the Martinikerk and the first sight during the festival of the world-famous 1691 Schnitger organ.

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The Martinikerk organ was first built in 1482 by Johan ten Damme (replacing an earlier organ), with advice from the famous humanist scholar Rudolf Agricola, then Groningen’s town clerk. The current instrument still contains pipework from this 1482 organ. The organ was enlarged in Renaissance style in 1542 and further rebuilt by Anthoni Verbeeck in 1627/8, Jan Helman in 1685-90, Arp Schnitger in 1691/2, Frans Caspar Schnitger and Albertus Anthoni Hinsz in 1729/30 and by Hinsz in 1740. Nineteenth and early 20th-century additions have generally been removed in the current organ, restored by Ahrens between 1974/84 back to the 1740 position. It now has three manuals and 53 stops. Schnitger’s work including building the massive pedal towers on either side of the original Gothic, containing a rare example of a 32′ Prestant, while Hinsz later added the Rückpositive.

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Peter van der Zwaag played music from Spain, Italy, France, and England from the later Renaissance and early Baroque period, concluding with a performance of William Byrd’s massive Seconde Grownde that build to an enormous climax on a 16′ plenum with pedal reeds – a sound that Byrd would never have experienced, the English organs of his time being around two-thirds of the size of the smallest of the Martinikerk’s 3 manuals. Wouter Koelewijn played music by Huge Distler, a representative of the rather spiky neo-baroque school of 20th-century organ composition. He concluded with the four-movement Partita on Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. As the clock moved toward 11pm, the final player was Gonny van der Maten, playing Bach, including Schmucke dich and the majestic Praeludium et Fuga in C minor (BWV 546), given a particularly powerful performance on full pleno throughout.

Saturday 4 November
Masterclass with Stef Tuinstra
Martinikerk

Stef Tuinstra founded the Noord-Nederlandse Orgel Academie (NNOA), and arranges many organ activities in the Groningen province. He is organist of the Nieuwe Kerk and Martinikerk in Groningen. This masterclass was given in conjunction with the Prins Claus Conservatorium. The first few student performers played Bruhns and Bach but, as the comments were, not surprisingly, in Dutch I had trouble following Tuinstra’s advice. Helpfully, a Spanish student followed, resulting in an English commentary. Her impressive performance of Bruhn’s large-scale multi-sectional E minor Praeludium was followed by equally impressive comments from Stef Tuinstra on the piece and the performance, starting with the question “Why play without shoes?”. Describing it as a ‘theatre piece’ Tuinstra stressed the varying moods of the piece, ranging from pathos to anger, and encouraged a performance that engaged all the player’s emotions. His impressively detailed accompanying handout mentioned the ‘orchestral’ style of organ performance mentioned amongst others, by Michael Praetorius in 1619. He also noted the importance of thinking like a singer when looking at musical structure and phrases.

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His comments on registration were particularly apposite, for example, suggesting that the expansive first fugue is played on the 8′ Principal stop alone, rather than a fuller, reedy sound, in order to reflect the sadness and suffering inherent in the mood of that section. He advised against using pedal mixtures when the higher overtones would confuse the polyphony of the upper voices, and stressed the need to give the massive 32′ pedal flue pipes time to speak. He also advised again spreading chords, harpsichord style, on the organ.

Lunchtime Concert for organ and baroque violin
Reitze Smits, organ & Mariëtte Holtrop, violin
Lutherse Kerk 

Back at the Lutherse Kerk, a lunchtime concert explored the combination of organ and violin in works by Bach, Bonporti, and Vivaldi. It opened with Bach’s flamboyant early Preludium in G (BWV 568), to which Reitze Smits added spread chords, harpsichord style. There followed four arrangements from cantata arias, including Kommst du nun von Himmel herunter also arranged by Bach as one of the Schubler Chorales. The organ as continuo accompanying instrument was evident in Bonporti’s Invenzio Quarta, a piece I didn’t know. The final piece was an organ solo, Bach’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (BWV 596), the absence of the specified 32′ pedal stop notwithstanding. The dying sounds of the Finale were accompanied by the sound of a mobile phone.

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Organ and baroque orchestra
Ensemble Cordevento
Erik Bosgraaf, recorder, 
Matthias Havinga, organ
Lutherse Kerk

A mid-afternoon concert combined the organ with the Baroque orchestra Ensemble Cordevento and the recorder player Erik Bosgraaf, with Matthias Havinga playing the organ. The five members of Ensemble Cordevento played with light and delicate textures, although this meant that there were times when the recorder dominated. This was most notable when heard against the organ in an arrangement of Bach’s organ Trio Sonata V, when the notion of the three equal parts was occasionally turned into a flute solo with accompaniment. It had been preceded by Bach’s curious, incomplete, and rarely heard, Pedal Excercitium (BWV 598), hear extended by about 50% by a cadenza.

The highlight of the concert was the first performance of Mixtures, a 16′ long work commissioned by the festival from the South Korean composer Seung-Won Oh, now living in Chicago, but present for this premiere. Dense chord clusters and orchestral sound-worlds, of varying volumes and intensities, were interspersed with recorder recitatives and interventions and cadenza-like passages from the organ in a kaleidoscope of aural colour and texture. Gentler moments of repose balanced the sometimes frenetic activity, the whole creating a very evocative and ethereal sense of otherworldliness and mystery. As with many first performances of new works, it would have been good to have heard the work twice, towards the start and at the end.

Zangavond met Lutherliederen
Tymen Jan Bronda
Lutherse Kerk

During the first part of the evening, members of the Lutherse Kerk joined the organist Tymen Jan Bronda and the church choir to sing a range of Lutheran chorales with the new organ. Historically, this was the principal use for the organ in the Lutheran service, despite the importance of solo organ music in the service, and the enormous repertoire of solo organ pieces that were created.

Pop concert by Orgel Vreten
Der Aa-kerk

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Keen to avoid leaving anybody out of the Festival fun, the Aa-kerk was taken over by the pop group Orgel Vreten. Their performance was built around two Hammond organs and a third keyboard together with percussion, bass guitar and the group’s ‘character’ who played a variety of instruments including an enormous euphonium. They even managed a brief moment on the Aa-kerk’s Schnitger organ, treating it with a great deal more respect than they had shown to their own Hammond organs, who were frequently stood on and climbed over. The enthusiastic audience ranged from aged about 8 upwards and included many people who had been at the more conventional organ events of the week. It is a little out of my usual reviewing remit, so I have no idea how to categorise their music, although I have seen it referred to as ‘space rock’. It all seemed to be their own compositions and was certainly great fun. Rather against my original assumptions, I stayed until the end.

Sunday 5 November
Cantatedienst – Municipal Musical Morning Service 
Ensemble Ars Cantandi, Bremer Barockorkest, Markus Nitt
Organist: Stef Tuinstra
Martinikerk

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The Martinikerk was packed for a special Sunday ecumenical service initiated by the Lutheran Congregation, the United Protestant Church, the Arminian church and the Student Platform for Philosophy and Belief. The cantata during the service was Bach’s Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort (BWV 126), appropriate for the Luther anniversary as he wrote some of the text himself. The German Ensemble Ars Cantandi combined with the Bremer Barockorkest to perform from the back of the church, beneath the Schnitger organ, but using one of the ubiquitous little box chamber organs as continuo rather than the main organ. There was fine singing from tenor Max Ciolek and bass Carsten Krüger (supported by his three young children), both of whom had tricky arias to sing. As well as the main collection, for missionary work, there was a retiring collection for the music, with a suggested donation of €10 per person.

The Schnitger organ was heard to great effect accompanying the singing of the chorales, and in Stef Tuinstra’s impressive improvised chorale preludes. Unlike the English tradition of playing pre-composed four-part harmony for accompanying hymns, the German and Dutch Lutheran tradition is for the organist to be only given the melody, improvising the harmonies below, often varying them for each verse. All but one of the chorale preludes were in the quasi-baroque style, but it was good to hear one that ventured into a more contemporary musical idiom.

Closing Concert
“A present for all townsfolk and festival goers” 

Bernard Foccroulle, organ, & Ensemble Inalto
Martinikerk

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The final concert of the Schnitger Festival 2017 was a free event in the Martinikerk given by the Belgian organist Bernard Foccroulle and the Ensemble Inalto of cornetts and sackbutts, playing from the organ gallery. The programme spanned the 100 years gap between Samuel Scheidt (b1587) & Schein (b1586) and Bach (b1685) with the 50-year interval filled by Buxtehude (b1637). The latter two composers were represented by large-scale organ works – Bach with the Praeludium en Fuge in E flat that opens and closes the Clavier-Übung III (BWV 552), and the Passacaglia, both using the immense power of the full organ throughout. The Martinikerk organ has one of those choruses that you can listen to for hours without tiring of the sound of the mixtures – they coalesce with the principal chorus to produce a magnificently unified sound. Buxtehude’s joyous Toccata in F was given a particularly impressive interpretation, using the different divisions of the organ, and with the reeds dominating in the first fugal section.  The cornetts and sackbutts joined the organ for the 5th verse of Scheidt’s Veni Redemptor Gentium, after the 1st verse had been played as an organ solo. In several of the other pieces, the organ acted as continuo to the five instruments. I was particularly impressed with the playing of Ensemble Inalto. Their performance of the gentle Sonata a 4 by Störl by exquisite.

And so finished the fifth Groningen Schnitger Festival – a special one that leaves the city with its fourth ‘Schnitger’ organ, one specifically suited to the performance and accompaniment of the music of Bach with the resident Luthers Bach Ensemble.

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Versus: The Garnier Organ

Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire

Versus
Henry Fairs
The Garnier Organ, Elgar Concert Hall
University of Birmingham
Regent Records REGCD516. 74’35

This is the first recording of the new Garnier organ in the Elgar Concert Hall of Birmingham University. It is played by the organ’s curator, Henry Fairs. He is Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire and was closely involved with the installation of the Garnier organ. A well-chosen programme demonstrates the organ, and its companion continuo organ, as well as some impressive playing by Fairs. He opens and closes with major Bach works, the better-known opening Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue (BWV 564) given a subtly individual reading that adds interest without approaching the mannerisms of some organists who feel the need to do something different. An example is performing the sprightly fugue on a massive chorus based on a 16′ manual reed. The lesser-known concluding Praeludium in C (BWV 566a), which might originally have been in E major) is given a similarly grand interpretation.
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Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival

Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival
Blackheath, 9 November 2017

The grandly monikered Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival continues its recent flirtation with the more elevated, but not so Royal, Blackheath. Alongside their musical instrument exhibition in Blackheath Halls, a range of concerts and makers’ demonstrations takes place in local churches. I visited on the first day of the weekend festival, starting with a new innovation for the festival: Performance Platforms. These were held in a tiny Quaker Meeting House, too small to accommodate the audience, and with extremely unhelpful acoustics for performers and audience. My invitation to review described these afternoon events as “a platform for predominantly younger musicians to showcase their ability to a discerning audience”. I can’t comment on the audience, but the first of the two events certainly fitted the younger musicians descriptions.

Performers Platform: Purcell School Baroque Ensemble

The Purcell School is one of the principal specialist music schools in the UK. Located in Bushey, it caters for day and residential pupils from the age of 9 to 18 and nurtures some very talented young musicians, as was evident in this short concert. They opened, appropriately, with Purcell and three extracts from Abdelazer, including the Rondeau that Britten made famous. Their guest leader encouraged a rather inappropriate focus on gusto and power, rather than musical sensitivity and delicacy. To balance that, there followed a fine demonstration of musical sensitivity, and the outstanding talent of these fledgeling musicians, with Eliza Haskins’ outstanding performance of two movements of Vivaldi’s Concerto for recorder (RV 442). Eliza Haskins demonstrated a clear understanding of Baroque ornamentation in the Largo and real virtuosity (and an impressive grasp of articulation) in the Allegro Molto. I also liked the way she interacted with her fellow instrumentalists, making her interpretive intentions clear. Unfortunately, the programme note only included the first part of her name, so the audience will not be able to follow what is likely to be a promising future career. A tiny video clip of Eliza Haskins (pictured) playing the Vivaldi can be found here.

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Melchior Schildt (d1667)

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays the complete surviving organ works of
Melchior Schildt (1592-1667)

The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford
Wednesday 29 November, 1:10

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Melchior Schildt (1592-1667) was a pupil of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. After a spell as court organist to the King of Denmark in Copenhagen, he succeeded his father as organist of the Hanover Marktkirche, where he remained. This recital includes his Magnificat Primi Modi, and a beautiful intabultation on the funeral motet Herzlich lieb hab’ ich dich.

Melchior Schildt came from a family of Hanover musicians. After spending time in Wolfenbüttel and Copenhagen, he returned to Hanover, succeeding his father as organist of the Marktkirche where he remained until his death. He seems to have been quite a character. While in Wolfenbüttel, he attacked the organ builder Gottfried Fritzsche in the organ loft, nearly strangling him before Fritzsche grabbed one of his heftier organ-building tools to fend him off. The relationship with his second wife was strained, to the extent that, on his death, he arranged for his son to be removed from his mother’s care and given to a guardian. Perhaps in reflection of his own experiences, he further stipulated that his son must not learn any musical instrument for fear that he would adopt a ‘wild and dissolute’ life. He was said to have performed in a dramatic style, playing in such a way as to ‘make listeners ‘laugh or weep’.

Information on the Frobenius organ here.
Admission free – retiring collection. 

Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music

Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music
Renaissance Singers, Gawain Glenton
St George’s Bloomsbury
29 October 2017

The Renaissance Singers were founded in 1944. They played an important part in the revival of interest in Renaissance sacred polyphony as the early music movement grew and developed. They continue under the musical direction of David Allinson. For this exploration of the music of Martin Luther and the early Lutheran Church, they were directed by Gawain Glenton. The anniversary of the founding of Lutherism was just a few days away from this concert (on 31 October), so it was a timely reminder of theimportance of music to Luther.  Continue reading

Ristori: Cantatas

G A Ristori: Cantatas for Soprano
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Maria Savastano, soprano, Jon Olaberria, oboe
Audax Records ADX 13711. 68’12

Ensemble Diderot has built an enviable reputation for their instrumental recordings, based on the violin playing of their founder director Johannes Pramsohler. But on this occasion, they appear as a backing group to soprano Maria Savastano, who gets prominent billing. Sensibly, the programme is based on a single, and lesser-known Italian composer, Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692-1753). He was probably born in Bologna but spent much of his life in Dresden in the court of the Electors of Saxony, surviving the musical cull after Augustus the Strong’s death in 1733, presumably on account of his having been music tutor to the new Elector when he was Crown Prince.  The Elector’s wife, Maria Antonia, wrote the text of the three cantatas on this recording. The daughter of the Bavarian Elector, she was an accomplished singer and poet.

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HMSC @ 35: Lions of St Mark

Lions of St Mark
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
35th-anniversary concert
St John’s, Smith Square
27 October 2017

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (named after a reference in Matthew Locke’s music for Charles II’s 1661 coronation) celebrated their 35th anniversary in style with an impressive concert in St John’s, Smith Square, a few yards from the site of Charles II’s coronation and a short walk from the site of their debut concert in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. It says something for their early promise, and the recording industry of the early 1980s, that they were offered a recording contract during the interval of that concert. Times have changed in the recording world, but HMSC continue to reinforce their reputation as pioneers of period instrument and performance practice. Two of the original members were playing (Jeremy West and Stephen Saunders), and several more were in the audience. They have replenished themselves over the years, and now include one player who is younger than the group. They also brought in two recently graduated sackbutt players for the 8 and 10-part works that concluded each half.

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Rodelinda

Handel: Rodelinda
English National Opera
The Coliseum. 26 October 2017

I avoid checking back on my past reviews before going to an opera revival, but will sometimes do so after the event to see if my views have changed. In the case of this revival of Richard Jones’ production of Handel’s Rodelinda, they haven’t. A very popular production at the time, and gaining enthusiastic applause from the opening night of the revival, this left me less than inspired, with a few specific exceptions.

To start with the positive exceptions, I cannot praise the ENO orchestra high enough for their absorption of period style in recent years, despite remaining a modern instrument band. It has been a long road, aided by the influence of a series of inspirational conductors, the most recent being the excellent Christian Curnyn (who also conducted the first run in 2014). He is the current ENO go-to conductor for Handel, succeeding Laurence Cummings who did so much to start the ENO period performance revival. The orchestra played with stylistic conviction, and Christian Curnyn continued to confirm his reputation as a leading interpreter of Handel – his control of the pacing was exemplary. Continue reading

Baroque Voices at The Music Room

Baroque Voices at The Music Room
Rachel Ambrose Evans, Joy Smith
The Music Room, 26 October 2017

One of the most rewarding aspects of this reviewing lark has been spotting talented young musicians in the early stages of their musical careers. There are several well-known singers who I first noticed singing in choirs, and many instrumentalists who I first heard in their student days. One such singer is the soprano Rachel Ambrose Evans, who I first noticed after a tiny step-out-from-the-choir role in a Proms concert and, shortly afterwards, as a chorus fairy in a production of the Fairy Queen, noticing on both occasions what I consider to be an ideal ‘early music’ voice. That early music voice was very apparent in Rachel’s concert with harpist Joy Smith in The Music Room, hidden away above an antique emporium close to London’s Oxford Street, and until now used as an exhibition and events space. It was part of a new series of lunchtime concerts. Continue reading

AAM: Italy in England

Italy in England: When Handel met Corelli
Academy of Ancient Music, Bojan Čičić, Frank de Bruine,
Milton Court. 19 October 2017

Corelli Concerto Grosso in D major Op. 6 No. 4
Handel Concerto for Oboe No. 3 in G minor
Geminiani Concerto Grosso Op. 5 No. 3 (after Corelli)
GB Sammartini Sinfonia in G major
Avison Concerto Grosso in D minor No 3 ‘The garden of harmony’ (after Scarlatti)
G Sammartini Concerto for Oboe in E flat major
Handel Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 5

Aided by some excellent programme notes by Lindsay Kemp, we were led gently through an exploration of the influence of Italian musicians, notably Corelli, on performers and composers in England during the 18th century, many of whom were themselves, immigrants. The opening Corelli Concerto Grosso demonstrated the influence of the concerto grosso form. The opening Adagio is written in the score as nine simple chords, but Bojan Čičić’s beautifully elegant violin flourishes turned it into a complete musical experience and demonstrated the importance of ornamentation in music of this period. Directing the Academy of Ancient Music from the leader’s position Čičić demonstrated his extraordinary musicianship, the delicacy of his violin tone always blending with the orchestral timbre, even when in a clear solo role – a very welcome change from violinist directors whose sound dominated their companions. As a director, his sense of timing and the cooperative way he worked with his companions were an inspiration. An example was the timing of the final ‘that’s it folks’ cadence of the opening Concerto grosso – a lovely moment after a frenetic movement where all the players seemed to be bowing as fast as they possibly could.  Continue reading

OAE: Semele

Handel: Semele
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Christophe Rousset
Royal Festival Hall, 18 October 2017

Handel’s Semele is a curious work. Described at the time as a “musical drama . . . after the manner of an oratorio”, it is positioned rather awkwardly between opera and oratorio. It was first performed in concert format during the 1744 Lenten oratorio season, the decidedly secular story causing an inevitable shock to those expecting a piously biblical seasonal oratorio. Nowadays it is usually performed as a fully staged opera, but this dramatically performed concert performance gave us a chance to absorb the music, without interference from a director. Despite fairly obviously moralistic undertones, the story is about as far from the biblical oratorio as you can get. Continue reading

Boxwood & Brass

Discovering Harmoniemusik
Boxwood & Brass
The Arts Club, Waterloo. 18 October 2017

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In a dual exercise of launching their 2017/18 programmes combined with trying out a possible venue for small-scale musical events, the innovative wind-music group Boxwood & Brass held a ‘Harmoniemusik Discover Evening’ in the 1901 Arts Club (in the fascinating hinterland of Waterloo station), a former schoolmasters house now converted to an events venue in the style of a late 19th century saloon. The six members of Boxwood & Brass played music by Mozart and Beethoven, starting with their own arrangement of the opening Allegro of Mozart’s 1782 Serenade in C minor (K.388, aka Nacht Musique), the two original oboe parts redistributed amongst the pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons of their evening’s line-up. Mozart had made his own arrangement, for string quintet. This curious work is some way from the usual style of a Serenade, being far more musically intense and written in a minor key. In the intimate space, the complexity of the writing was prominent, as was the distinctive colour of the Harmoniemusik instruments.  Continue reading

Schabernack

Schabernack: A treasure trove of musical jokes
Les Passions de l’Ame, Meret Lüthi
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. 88985415492. 56’46

Music by Fux, Schmeltzer, Biber, and Walther

Schabernack - A Treasure Trove of Musical Jokes
Schabernack 
translates as ‘prank, practical joke, hoax or shenanigans’, and the underlying theme of this CD by the impressive group Les Passions de l’Ame emphasises that aspect of the musical world of the Austrian and Hungarian Empires during the Baroque period.  The CD cover promises “Characters from the commedia dell’arte, playful birds, an astonishing virtuosity and a colourful instrumentation – the vivid imagination in late 17th century Austrian-German instrumental music loves to surprise”. But humour is only part of the inspiration for this recording. At the time, these Hapsburg domains were part of the defence of Europe from attacks from the east by the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman influence was spreading into Viennese life and music, with Turkish, or Janissary, music and instruments becoming part of the musical language of the time. Continue reading

Edinburgh 1742

Edinburgh 1742
Ensemble Marsyas
Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, horns,
Emilie Renard, mezzo-soprano, Peter Whelan, directot
Linn CKD567. 68′

The rather underwhelming title of this CD doesn’t really do justice to the wealth of surprises within. Barsanti’s Horns might be just one possible alternative, and a listen to track 2, the Allegro from Francesco Barsanti’s Concerto grosso in D (Op3/3) will explain why. Horn players Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters and timpanist Alan Emslie mount an extraordinary attack on the senses with some of the most thrilling writing for horns and timpani that I can think off. The return with gusto at the end of the innocently entitled Menuet. This recording includes the first five of Barsanti’s ten Opus 3 Concerti grossi, all with dramatic writing for the horns and times, and four of his arrangements of Scottish songs, enclosing a central burst of Handel.

Francesco Barsanti (c1690-1775) was one of many Italian musicians that came to England during the 18th century, arriving in London in 1723. He earnt his living from teaching, music copying and occasional oboe playing. He was a companion of his fellow import from Lucca, Francesco Geminiani, who invited to join his short-lived Masonic lodge. He spent a year or so in York around 1732, and moved to Edinburgh in 1735 to join the Edinburgh Musical Society and playing in their professional orchestra. He returned to London with a Scottish wife in 1743, the year that his Opus 3 concertos were published. They followed much earlier collections of recorder and flute Sonatas (opus 1 and 2) in the 1720s. Back in London he started playing the viola rather than the oboe, and became involved with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Madrigal Society.

Emilie Renard joins in the Barsanti fun with one of Handel’s most dramatic arias, Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from the 1735 Alcina, metaphorically depicting an angry tigress trying to protect her young from approaching hunters, to the inevitable accompaniment of the two horns. Emilie Renard enters into the drama of the aria with some brilliantly executed runs and ornaments, although she seems to have developed a rather alarming depth of vibrato since I raved about her singing in years gone by. This is followed by Handel’s arrangement of two movements from The Water Music as a Concerto for horns in F (HWV 331), seemingly first performed in 1723, and the little March in F for two horns and bassoon (HWV346, known as the ‘March in Prolemy’ on account of its appearance in the overture to his 1729 opera Tolomeo. 

As a contrast to the energy of the horn dominated programme comes a selection from Barsanti’s Old Scots Airs, published some time before the 1743 concertos, and here performed with violin and harpsichord. They reflect the enormous interest in all things Scottish in the decades after the Act of Union.

Michael Talbot’s notes give a fascinating insight into the Edinburgh Musical Society and the life of the hitherto overlooked immigrant musician Barsanti. The performances from Ensemble Marsyas, and the direction of Peter  Whelan, are excellent. They met during studies in Basel and touring with the influential European Union Baroque Orchestra.

Returning to the opening query about the CDs title, I still haven’t managed to work out the relevance of the year 1742. Perhaps I have missed something obvious, but the date doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere in the CD notes. A follow up CD of the rest of Barsanti’s 1743 Opus 3 concertos, written for trumpet and two oboes is inevitable, and I look forward to it.

 

Dunedin: Vespers 1610

Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine
Dunedin Consort, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, John Butt
Linn Records. CKD 569. 2CDs 94′

During this 450th anniversary year of Monteverdi’s birth, there have been a plethora of performances and recordings of his 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine. It’s not an easy work to address, not least because of the many complex musicological and performance issues that surround it.

The first point of call for anybody remotely interested in such things is to read the programme notes. The second is to glance at the track list. If it has more than 12 separate items, then it is probably placed in a quasi-liturgical, and almost certainly spurious, setting, with additional plainchant and instrumental pieces intended to represent how it might if it were performed liturgical. But it is most unlikely ever to have been thus performed.  Scholarship changes almost daily, but it seems likely that this is Monteverdi showing what he is capable of, exploring differing style of music on the cusp of the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque (the prima pratica to the seconda praticca), and possibly (rather like Bach’s B Minor Mass) as a calling card; in Monteverdi’s case, for potential posts in Venice and Rome.  Continue reading

Classical Opera @ 20

Classical Opera 20th Birthday Concert
Orchestra and Choir of The Mozartists, Ian Page
The Barbican. 9 October 2017

Classical Opera was founded in 1997 and has carved out an important place in the musical world for its exploration of music of the classical era, in particular, Mozart. He is the inspiration for their ambitious Mozart 250 project, a chronological exploration of Mozart’s life, works and influences that each year will explore the music of Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously. Now joined by a companion branding as The Mozartists, their name for increasing concert, rather than opera work, they celebrated their 20th birthday with a spectacular concert in London’s Barbican. The opening sequence of pieces, interspersed with reading, focussed on themes of “birth and rebirth, compassion and forgiveness, human inspiration and . . . what Beethoven and Schiller called brotherhood”.  Continue reading

Rameau: Dardanus

Rameau: Dardanus
English Touring Opera, The Old Street Band, Jonathan Williams
Hackney Empire, 6 October 2017

I have been a little lukewarm about some previous English Touring Opera productions, but this staging of Rameau’s Dardanus ticked all the boxes. The first box tick comes for performing this work in the first place, an example of the adventurous approach to programming of the English Touring Opera and their first venture into the complex world of French Baroque opera. It formed part of their Hackney Empire opening to their autumn tour of the country, with Dardanus visiting Oxford, Buxton, Snape, Saffron Walden and Exeter. Its companion opera, Handel’s Giulio Cesare has a much larger tour, calling additionally at Portsmouth, Norwich, Durham, Bath, Keswick, and Great Malvern. Giulio Cesare, rather curiously, divided into two separate and overlapping, parts, under the titles of The Death of Pompey and Cleopatra’s Needle, with the last half hour of the first repeated at the start of the second, to the chagrin of some reviewers. Continue reading

Festival d’Ambronay

Festival d’Ambronay
28 September to 1 October 2017

Since 1980, when it was founded, the Ambronay Festival has been a key part of the early music world. In recent years, the activities of the Ambronay Cultural Encounter Centre (based in the former Abbey buildings adjoining the magnificent Romanesque Abbey church) have expanded, and now includes impressive provision for young musicians. For the past couple of years, Ambronay has been part of the European Union supported eeemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles), an EU-wide cooperation project dedicated to the selection, training and promotion of young early music ensembles. The last of the four long weekends of the annual Ambronay Festival (which runs annually from mid-September to early October) is devoted to these eeemerging ensembles, but several of them also performed in the previous three weekends of the Festival. The theme for this year’s Festival was ‘Vibrations: Souffle’, roughly translating as Vibrations: Breathing, part of a triptych of festivals under the same Vibrations theme.

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I attended the penultimate weekend of the Festival, from Thursday 28 September to Sunday 1 October 2017. The first two day’s concerts took place in Lyon, about 60km south-west of Ambronay.
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Organ Reframed: Six New Works

Organ Reframed: Six New Works
London Contemporary Orchestra, James McVinnie

Union Chapel, Islington. 13 October 2017

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Organ recitals, at least of the traditional English sort, tend to attract relatively small, rather aged, and predominantly male audiences. They usually feature music written between the time of Bach and the early 20th century. Occasionally forays into more contemporary (or contemporary sounding) music – even Messiaen, most of whose organ music was composed more than 70 years ago, can frighten off audiences. But the weekend Organ Reframed festival at the spectacular Union Chapel in Islington demonstrated that both organ and contemporary music can have a huge following, if presented in an imaginative way. Continue reading

Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann

Grosvenor Chapel
South Audley Street, Mayfair, London
Tuesday 17 October, 1:10

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays
Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann

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Andrew Benson-Wilson’s exploration of the 17th century North German organ repertoire continues with a recital of music by two influential pupils of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, the famous ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’. Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651) and Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663) both went on to prestigious posts in Hamburg churches. Praetorius taught Weckmann and Scheidemann taught Reinken and, possibly, Buxtehude.

Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651)
Praeambulum in F
Von Allen Menachem abgewandt

Heinrich Scheidemann (c1596-1663)
Praeludium in F
Magnificat Sexti Toni
Alleluja Laudem dicite Deo nostro

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Sally Beamish: The Judas Passion

Sally Beamish: The Judas Passion
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Nicholas McGegan
St John’s, Smith Square, 25 September 2017

One of many puzzles that leap from the pages of the Bible is the curious position of Judas Iscariot in the wider scheme of things. The synoptic gospels do not agree on his role or the story of his apparent ‘betrayal’ of Jesus: actually, a literal ‘handing-over’ or ‘delivery’ of Jesus if the word paradidomi is more correctly translated. Two of the gospels suggest that the ‘devil’ entered him, something that Jesus had already proved adept at dealing with by a bit of casting out. Why didn’t he do so on this occasion? And if, as seems likely, Jesus foresaw, and may have actively encouraged Judas’s paradidomi, then it was not an act of free will and should not be punishable, let alone seen as the ultimate betrayal for which the ‘loving and forgiving God’ has left the hapless Judas to be almost alone among the irrevocably damned, notwithstanding his clear remorse. And if preordained, why the personal condemnation of the man who fulfils the prophecy – “It would be better for that man if he had never been born”? It was one of many New Testament events that were, apparently, preordained in the Old Testament, the juggling of which has caused many problems of Christian interpretation.

IMG_20170925_164831117.jpgEdward Armitage: The Remorse of Judas, 1866. Tate Britain

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