Innsbruck Festival of Early Music: 2016

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik
16-19 August 2016

The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, although its roots go back a further 14 years or so. After some preliminary events, the festival proper ran for the last two weeks in August. It usually features three fully staged operas, although this year the third of them was reduced to a one-night concert performance of the Ruhrtriennale festival’s production of Gluck’s Alceste, conducted by René Jacobs who until 2009 was artistic director of the Innsbrucker Festwochen and, incidentally, the singer at the first concert of the first festival on 24 August 1976.

Rather surprisingly, given the anniversary nature of this year’s festival, the theme was ‘Tragicommedia’ although the events that I saw were rather more ‘commedia’ than ‘tragic’. As with last year, I was unfortunately only able to attend Continue reading

Gothic Voices: Mary Star of the Sea

Mary Star of the Sea
Gothic Voices
Linn CKD541. 74’00

CKD 541 iTUNES SLEEVE FINAL smallJoanne Metcalf: Il nome del bel fior;
Andrew Smith: Stond wel, Moder, under rode; and pieces by Godric of Finchale, Leonel Power, Dunstaple, Richard Smert, and Anonymous.

This beautiful recording contrasts music by contemporary composers Joanne Metcalf and Andrew Smith with 12th to 15th century settings of Marian texts, many of them anonymous.

The first part explores the mythical and spiritual qualities of Mary, with three extracts from Joanne Metcalf’s Il nome del bel fior (a ten-part setting of extracts from Dante’s Paradiso) together with her Music for the star of the sea. The opening track is particularly beautiful, with Catherine King singing Joanne Metcalf’s haunting meditation on the single word ‘Maria’. The earlier pieces reflect the different musical styles that were developing during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The second part focuses on the more human aspects of Mary, Continue reading

BBC Proms at …: Purcell and his contemporaries

BBC Proms at …: Purcell and his contemporaries
Katherine Watson, Samual Boden, Callum Thorpe
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, 13 August

Purcell: Timon of Athens – Curtain Tune, I Spy Celia, I See She Flies Me, The Fairy Queen (excerpts), The Tempest (attrib. Purcell); Blow: Venus and Adonis (excerpts); Locke: The Tempest – Curtain Tune, The Tempest – Dance of the Fantastick Spirits (perhaps by Draghi).

As part of their ‘Proms at …’’ season, the BBC decanted from its usual home in the Royal Albert Hall to one of the most intimate performances spaces in London, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of the Shakespeare’s Globe complex on the South Bank. Since its opening in 2014, this reconstruction of a typical Jacobean (early 17th century) theatre has housed a number of excellent (and sold-out) musical events and small-scale operas, adding considerably to the range of London music venues. Sadly, under Sam Wannamaker.jpgthe new Globe management, those events seems to have ground to a halt, with only one listed in the current season – and that a hang-over booking from the previous management. So it was fortuitous that the BBC Proms chose the theatre for one of its ‘BBC at …’ events (alongside such venues as a multi-story car park in Peckham), not least because it enabled people to see the inside of this fabulous, but very uncomfortable, theatre for just £14, rather than the up to £62 the Globe are asking for their own next concert there. Continue reading


Alpha 235. 74’09

Quentin: Concerto a 4 parties, oeuvre XII; Quatuor; Sonata III, oeuvre XV; Sonata IV a 4 parties, oeuvre VIII; Trio Sonata 5, oeuvre X
Guillemain: Sonata no.3, 1er livre; Sonata no.4, 2eme livre 

Nevermind: Conversations | Alpha ALPHA235Nevermind is a rather quirkily named group of four musicians (Anna Besson, flute, Louis Creac’h, violin, Robin Pharo, viola da gamba, Jean Rondeau, harpsichord) who met while studying at the Conservatoire Supérieur National de Paris (CNSM). They share an interest in early music, jazz and traditional music. In 2014, they won the Special Price of the Van Wassenaer Competition in Utrecht. They take their name from a quotation by the 19th century poet, Musset – “To love is what counts, never mind who the partner is! Never mind the bottle as long as it makes us drunk”.  In this, their debut CD, they present the music of two little-known French composers, Jean-Baptiste Quentin (1705-1770) and Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (c1690-c1750).

Jean-Baptiste Quentin (c1690-c1750) was a violinist and viola player in the Académie Royale de Musique and at the Paris Opéra. He was Continue reading

Regina Coeli: A-cappella music by Suriano & Aichinger

Regina Coeli
A-cappella music by Suriano, Aichinger, Haller and Palestrina
Basilica Alte Kappelle, Regensburg
Regensburger Vokalsolisten & Motettenchor. Josef Kohlhäufl
TYXart TXA15058. 68’55

Suriano: Missa Nos autem gloriari; Aichinger: Missa de Beata Virgine, Regina Coeli etc; Haller: Laudes Eucharisticae etc. Palestrina: Missa sine nomine – Credo. 

Regina Coeli - A-cappella-Music by Suriano, Aichinger, Haller and PalestrinaThis CD reflects the tradition of polyphonic singing in the style of Palestrina that developed during the 19th century in the collegiate church of Our Lady of the Old Chapel in Regensburg, a tradition that later extended to the Cathedral and its famous Domspatzen boys choir. The recordings are intended as a tribute to the conductor Josef Kohlhäufl, director of music at the Alte Kappelle from 1984 to 2011, who revived the polyphonic tradition during his tenure.

These recordings were made in 1998 and 2000, the earlier recordings, of Michael Haller, with the Regensburger Motettenchor being rather different in both recorded sound and vocal style than the latter offerings. Continue reading

Bantock: Omar Khayyám

Granville Bantock: Omar Khayyám
BBC Symphony Orchestra & BBC Singers, Norman Del Mar (1979)
Itter Broadcast Collection REAM2128. 4 CDs: 73’06, 61’41, 68’05, 54’25.

Bantock: Omar Khayyám (172’ 33),
Fifine at the Fair (30’15),
Sappho (42’58),
The Pierrot of the Minute (11’27)

Disc 1: Part One – Quatrains 1-47
Disc 2: Part One – Quatrains 48-54, Part Two – Quatrains 55-81
Disc 3: Part Three – Quatrains 82-101; Fifine at the Fair
Disc 4: Sappho; The Pierrot of the Minute – Johanna Peters/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Sir Granville Bantock is a curious figure in English musical history. Born in 1868 to wealthy but non-artistic parents, his career was directed towards the Indian Civil Service until ill-health forced a brief diversion into chemical engineering before starting full time music study aged about 20. He toured several of his light musicals, and had a brief attempt at journalism. His subsequent musical career was similar to so many musicians who fail to make the big time, achieving a degree of fame in provincial settings, but rarely breaking into the internationally important London scene. After a spell as conductor in Wallasey and Liverpool he settled in Birmingham, eventually becoming Professor of Music the University, for which he was knighted aged 61. He was a champion of many composers, including Sibelius, Prokofiev, and Delius, and also admired the music of R. Strauss and Wagner.

Despite his musical influences, his 800+ works seem to have carefully avoided the more adventurous musical paths of his contemporaries and heroes, Continue reading

Héloïse Werner: Scenes from the End

Scenes from the End
Héloïse Werner, soprano
Jonathan Woolgar, composer, Emily Burns, director
Camden Fringe 2016
Camden People’s Theatre 11 August 2016

The image of opera as a posh frocks and picnics event at places like Glyndebourne has long since been shattered; not by the paired-down touring companies that pander to the country house set during the summer months, but by the wealth of small scale innovative opera companies working on new scores in smaller, more approachable spaces. One example of the latter is ‘Scenes from the End’, an extraordinary one-woman performance piece about grief, developed and performed by soprano Héloïse Werner. Working with composer Jonathan Woolgar (who also wrote the text), Werner’s 45 minute piece explores themes of grief and death in a compelling combination of music, theatre, spoken word, projection and recorded sound.

Performed during the Camden Fringe in the tiny (and noisy) black-box Camden People’s Theatre, this was opera at its most intimate. Continue reading

Ars Antiqua: Ramon Llull

Ars Antiqua: Ramon Llull – chronicle of a medieval voyage
Capella de Ministrers &
Musica Reservata Barcelona
CDM 1637. 66’13

This is a rather curious CD, subtitled “Ramon Llull – chronicle of a medieval voyage: conversion, study and contemplation”. When I first saw the CD, with its mention of Ramon Llull (Raymond Lully), I wondered if this was a discovery of a previously unknown mediaeval composer. But it turns out the Llull/Lully has nothing to do with the music on the recording. The ‘bouquet of pieces’ on the disc are apparently an offering to the admirers of Llull on the 700th anniversary of his death. A rather curious offering, considering that for most of his life, Llull had little or anything to do with music, and certainly not for the sort of music on this CD.

Llull was born in Palma, Majorca, around 1230, shortly after the Muslims had been conquered and enslaved, and the Balearic Islands Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets

Mozart: Piano Duets – Vol 1
Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate
Resonus  RES10172. 68’04

Mozart: Sonata in D, K381; Sonata in C, K521; Sonata in B-flat, K358, JC Bach: Sonata in A.

This is the first of two volumes of Mozart’s complete piano duets, played on original fortepianos by Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate. It was recorded in Finchcocks House, Kent, and was the last recording made their before the house was closed and much of Richard and Katrina Burnett’s important collection of early keyboard instruments was sold. These two pianos, together with another 12 instruments from the collection, remain within the Finchcocks Charity for Musical Education which will continue to sponsor research and training a new generation of early keyboard restorers, tuners and technicians.

Although Mozart’s piano duets are a little-known part of his compositional output, they are a genre that he returned to throughout his life. They Continue reading

Boismortier: Six Sonatas Op 51

Boismortier: Six Sonatas Op 51
Elysium Ensemble
Resonus RES10171. 71’24

Despite their name the Elysium Ensemble, at least on this recording, consists of just two people, Greg Dikmans and Lucinda Moon, playing flute and violin respectively. Founded in 1985, the Australia-based Elysium Ensemble has in recent years concentrated on the instrumental duet, with research and concerts exploring the concept of ‘Dialogue: the Art of Elegant Conversation’. The foundation of this is the concept of rhetoric, or “the art of discourse and communication, of speaking with elegance and eloquence.” With roots in Aristotle’s discussions on oratory, and 18th century musicians and writers such as Quantz, they explore the concept of rhetoric in music through Boismortier’s Six Sonatas pour une flute traversiere et un violin par accords, published in Paris in 1734.

Boismortier (1689-1755) is one of those composers that crops up in occasional concert programmes, but is far from a household name amongst musicians. Continue reading

Sweelinck: Complete Keyboard Works

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
Complete Keyboard Works
Volume 1 – Toccatas (Ed. Harald Vogel, Peter Dirksen)

128 pages • 23 x 30,5 cm • 460 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-18206-2
Edition Breitkopf EB 8741
Volume 2 – Fantasias (Ed. Peter Dirksen,  Harald Vogel)

224 pages • 23 x 30,5 cm • 825 g • ISMN: 979-0-004-18272-7
Edition Breitkopf  EB 8742

Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (dubbed the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam) was one of the most important keyboard composers at that musically fascinating period at the end of the Renaissance period and the start of the Baroque. Born in 1562, he was employed by the city of Amsterdam as organist of the Oude Kerk for 44 years until his death in 1621. Organ music in the Calvanist church was limited to occasional playing of pieces to familiarise the congregation with the choral melodies, before or after the service, but not during. So Sweelinck’s duties as city organist were generally to give concerts for the public and visitors. This have him time to build up an extensive teaching practice, attracting a generation of North German organists who returned to develop the influential Hamburg organ school that dominated the 17th century, culminating in the music Buxtehude in nearby Lübeck. His music was known throughout northern Europe, with two of his pieces includrf within the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

Breitkopf have published his complete keyboard works in four volumes, Continue reading

Iford Arts: ‘A Fairy Queen’

Iford Arts: ‘A Fairy Queen’
Early Opera Company, Tim Nelson
Iford Manor. 3 August 2016

Iford Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, was the home of the Edwardian architect and landscape designer Harold Peto from 1899 until his death in 1933. He created the Italianate gardens that clamber up the hillside above the classical-fronted mediaeval Iford Manor house, with terraces of formal architectural bits and bobs including a tiny recreated Italian cloister.Iford.jpgSince 1996, the cloister has been home to summer opera productions, presented by Iford Arts. Their latest season concluded with ‘A Fairy Queen’ presented by Iford Arts and their regular orchestra from Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company.

Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen is notoriously difficult to perform or stage. The music, designed to accompany the masques that form part of the various acts, only lasts long enough for half a normal concert. Performed complete, with Betterton’s rather awkward version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, it seems to lasts for ever. I remember the 2009 Glyndebourne Festival Continue reading

Hymnes – tribute to Nicolas de Grigny

Hymnes  – tribute to Nicolas de Grigny
Olivier Latry, Jean-Baptiste Robin, Benoît Mernier, Pierre Farago, Vincent Dubois (Organ)
Basilique Saint-Remi, Reims.
Aeolus AW-11101. 60’19+57’25

AE-11101 "Hymnes"This fascinating double CD stems from the 800th anniversary (in 2011) of the laying of the first stone of the Cathedral of Reims, where Nicolas de Grigny, the finest organist composer of the French Baroque era, served as organist from 1696 until his premature death in 1703. The current organ in the cathedral is not suitable for the performance of their most famous composer’s music, but the nearby Basilique St-Remi has a Bertrand Cattiaux organ, built in 2000, with the registrations required for the French Baroque repertoire. In an enterprising initiative, the “Association Renaissance des grandes orgues de la Basilique St-Remi” started a musical project in homage to de Grigny by inviting five contemporary composers to write a new work for organ based on one of de Grigny’s five hymn settings. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise
Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain
Ambronay AMY047. 65’05

Nouveau disque : Les Orphelines de VeniseMuch of Vivaldi’s music was written for the Venetian Ospedali della Pietà, one of many such orphanages set up to cater for the many unwanted, and usually female, babies that seemed to appear some nine months after the carnival season. Although originally funded as charities, they quickly established a reputation for their musical activities, attracting large crowds and provided a secure, and indeed rather opulent, financial establishment. Firmly on the tourist essential to-do list, these female choirs attracted such comments as the one by Charles de Brosses in 1739 who wrote that “there is nothing so pleasant as to see a pretty young nun in a white habit, with a bunch of pomegranate blossoms over her ear directing the orchestra … their voices are delightful in their elegance and lightness”.

There are many debates over exactly how Vivaldi’s works were performed at the Pietà, not least because many of the works apparently written for the girls appear in SATB format, with tenor and bass parts. Some choirs have Continue reading

Bousset: Airs Sérieux

Jean-Baptiste de Bousset: Airs Sérieux
Le Jardin Secret, Elizabeth Dobbin
Fuga Libera FUG736. 56’42

For many years I was invited to review the International Young Artists’ Early Music Network Competition, held every other year in York. Apart from initially getting to know the young musicians competing in the final, one of the most rewarding aspects was that competitors would keep me in touch with their developing careers, which usually included them sending me their first CD a few years later. The winner of the 2007 competition was Le Jardin Secret (centred on soprano Elizabeth Dobbin) who, rather unusually for competitions, also won the audience prize. In their case, I seem to have missed out their first two CDs, but have new received this, their third, CD.

Jean-Baptiste de Bousset (1662-1725) is not the most prominent of French Baroque composers, but his contribution to the world of solo song was immense, notably with his collection of Airs Sérieux, 850 of which were published between 1690 and 1725. As the liner notes explain, the air sérieux was a sub-genre of the air français, which had its roots in the late 16th century and, in turn, traces its own roots to the earlier air de cour that originated in 1571. Initially intended for performance in the Royal Court, the air sérieux developed into music for intimate settings in private saloons, rather than for the Court, usually arranged by, and for women. Continue reading

Handel in Italy: Vols 1 & 2

Handel in Italy: Vols 1 & 2
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
Benjamin, Mary & Sophie Bevan
Signum Classics
SIGCD423. 43’00. Released August 2015
SIGCD462. 55’12. To be released on 9 September 2016

Some of Handel’s most exciting and dramatic music was composed during the three short years he spent in Italy, starting when he was just 21. Despite offers of financial assistance from a Medici Prince, Handel famously ‘made his way on his own bottom’, as his biographer Mainwearing put it. Mainwearing suggests that prior to his visit, Handel ‘could see nothing’ in Italian music which, if it is true, is rather surprising, as Italian music had been at the forefront of much of the European Baroque, not least because of the developments in opera, oratorio and cantata. Handel very quickly absorbed the taste and style of Italian musicians both from Rome and also from his shorter visits to Venice, Florence and Naples. In his compositions from this period, he often outdid the Italians in writing in their style – as he did in England later in his life.

These two CDs (recorded together in 2013)  give a comprehensive account of the compositions for solo voice from that period. Interestingly, the three singers are all from the same extended Bevan family who, collectively and individually, have become prominent fixtures on the vocal scene. Continue reading

Handel: Alcina

Handel: Alcina
Ryedale Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
 ‘Experience Scheme’
Oriental Club London, 29 July 2016

After two performances during the Ryedale Festival (16 and 18 July), Ryedale Festival Opera brought their production of Handel’s Alcina to the courtyard of the Oriental Club in London. In collaboration with eight young instrumentalists from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s ‘Experience Scheme’, conducted from the harpsichord by Ian Tindale, this was a staged and impressively costumed production, but with minimal props and no sets or scenery, and given an impressively light directorial touch from Nina Brazier.

Like Handel’s operas Orlando and Ariodante, the story is based on a tale from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, the epic early 16th century poem of knightly chivalry and fantasy set amidst the wars between Christians and Saracens in the time of Charlemagne. Continue reading

BBC Prom 17: Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

BBC Prom 17: Berlioz, Beethoven, Brahms
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (SWR)
Sir Roger Norrington, Robert Levin
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2016

Few in the audience would have realised what a poignant and emotional, event this Prom was to be until after the encore, when the leader Natalie Chee took a microphone and addressed the packed Royal Albert Hall to explain that, due to spending cuts, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra is to merge with the SWR Symphony Orchestra in September, and that this was their very last concert. Founded in the dark days of 1945 Sir Roger Norrington © BBC / Chris Christodoulouthis distinguished orchestra has built an enormous international reputation, not least during the years from 1998 to 2011 when Sir Roger Norrington was their chief conductor, bringing his noted ‘historically informed’ performance practice to this modern instrument orchestra, producing a distinctive style – the ‘Stuttgart sound’. The two merging orchestras are both under the auspices of Südwestrundfunk (South West Radio), the public broadcaster for Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and have very different repertoires and styles. It was entirely appropriate that Roger Norrington, now their Conductor Emeritus, was the conductor for their final concert.

Berlioz’s sparkling and witty overture to Beatrice and Benedict opened the evening, with Norrington’s characteristic attention to detail being at the forefront. Continue reading

BBC Prom 9: Mozart & Mendelssohn

BBC Prom 9: Mozart & Mendelssohn
Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, Rosa Feola, Jérémie Rhorer
Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2016 

Mozart: Symphony No 39, ‘Ah, lo previdi’; Mendelssohn: ‘Italian’ Symphony; ‘Infelice’.

Making their Proms début, the French period instrument orchestra, Le Cercle de l’Harmonie, their conductor and founder, Jérémie Rhorer, and the Italian soprano, Rosa Feola, presented a fascinating programme comparing music by Mozart and Mendelssohn. Perhaps because of what might have been seen as a fairly safe programme, this relatively unknown orchestra managed to achieve a full house of some 5000 people – quite an achievement. Regular Proms goers should have got used to period instrument orchestras in the vast expanse of the Royal Albert Hall, but newcomers expecting a wall of sound would probably have been surprised by the delicacy of the sound.

There is always a risk of trying to force the sound into the space but, sensibly, Continue reading

St Giles-in-the-Fields: Samuel Wesley (b1766)

St Giles-in-the-Fields 60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG
Friday 29 July 2016: 1pm.
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays organ music by
Samuel Wesley (1766- 1837)

Samuel Wesley was born in Bristol 250 years ago. He was the son of Charles Wesley the hymn-writer and nephew of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church. He was a 2014-07-04-1716.jpgchild prodigy, writing his first oratorio, Ruth, aged 6. When he was 8, the composer Dr William Boyce referred to him as the ‘English Mozart’. His family moved to London when he was about 12, living in Marylebone. He led a colourful life, some of his apparent eccentricities possibly being caused by a serious head injury when he was about 21. An organ virtuoso, Samuel Wesley was the leading pioneer of the Bach revival in England. Bach seems to have been a strong influence on his Opus 6 Organ Voluntaries, published between about 1807 and 1820, and the focus of this recital.

The wonderful William Drake reconstruction of the Dallam/Smith/England/Lincon/Gray & Davison organ, contains some of the oldest pipework in London. It is very well-suited to Wesley’s music as, in its current form, it represents the English organ in the early years of the 19th century, with strong reminders of the earlier 17th and 18th English organ style.

Organ information:
Free admission, retiring collection.
The church is just behind Centre Point/Tottenham Road Court station.




Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies

Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies
Church Sonatas by Bertali, Schmelzer, Biber
Cappella Murensis, Les Cornets Noirs, Johannes Strobl
Audite 97.539. 71’36

Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies; Bertali: Sonata a 13, Sonata Sancti Placidi a 14; Biber: Sonata VI a 5, Sonata VIII a 5; Schmelzer: Sonata XII a 7;

Muffat: Missa in labore requiesGeorg Muffat is one of the most interesting composers of the high Baroque period, not least because of his ability to combine musical genres from many different countries. Born in Savoy, he studied with Lully in Paris before becoming organist in Strasbourg Cathedral before moving to Vienna, Prague and then Salzburg, where he worked with Biber in the court of the Prince Archbishop. After further study in Rome he moved to Passau. It was there that we find the first mention of the monumental Missa in Labore Requies, Muffat’s only surviving sacred work. The score came into Haydn’s hands, passing on his death into the Esterházy archives and final to the National Library in Budapest.

Until 1991 it was almost completely ignored, with doubt as whether Muffat was the composer, and the reason for its composition is still in doubt. Continue reading

Destouches & Delalande: Les Éléments

Destouches & Delalande: Les Éléments
Ensemble les Surprises, L-N Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay AMY046. 75’47

Les ÉlémentsThe creation of the opera-ballet Les Éléments has links with the courtly and musical politics of Paris. Louis XIV died in 1715, leaving as his successor a five-year old fragile child. One of the focuses of the Regency was to ensure that the young Louis XV would survive at least as long as it took for him to father a successor to the throne. Dance was seen as a suitable approach to both encourage his own development, and to show to others that he was capable of succeeding his long-lived father and, eventually, to do his bit for the future of the royal line. To this end, several ballets were commissioned, usually giving the King a moment to strut his stuff in front of the assembled courtiers.

One such was Les Éléments, performed in 1721 in a small theatre constructed in the galleries of the Tuileries palace, a less intimidating space Continue reading

Montanari: Violin Concertos

Montanari: Violin Concertos
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Audax Records ADX13704. 60’02

‘Dresden’ Concerto in c; Opus 6 Concertos Nos 1, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Montanari: Violin ConcertosAntonio Maria Montanari (1676-1737) was one of the most celebrated violinists in Rome during the period when Handel was there. He played in the orchestras of many of Rome most extravagant families and cardinals, including the Borghese, Ruspoli, Colonna and Pamphilj. He played in the first performance of Handel’s La Resurrezion in 1708. After Corelli’s death in 1713, Montanari took over some of his concertmaster roles. He is little known today, but his Opus 6 collection of violin concertos was one of the most advanced sets of the period. This inspiring CD of six of his concertos (all but one being first recordings – the Concerto in A Major, Op1/8 has been recorded by EUBO, the European Union Baroque Orchestra) will do much to return him to his former fame. Continue reading

Handel: Apollo e Daphne

Handel: Apollo e Daphne
The Brook Street Band
17 July 2016

Given their name (referring to the London street where Handel made his home) it was not surprising that The Brook Street Band chose to celebrate their 20th anniversary with a concert of Handel: his cantata, Apollo e Daphne preceded by two Trio Sonatas and the ‘Oxford’ Water Music.  Normally appearing as a quartet of two violins, cello and harpsichord, they added a flute for part of the Water Music, and oboes, bassoon and viola for the cantata. All the instrumental pieces had an interesting back story, Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Le nozze di Figaro

Glyndebourne: Le nozze di Figaro
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,
Jonathan Cohen
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 15 July 2016

Le nozze di Figaro was the first opera to be performed at Glyndebourne at its opening festival in May 1934, and it has been a regular ever since. This performance was a return of the 2012 production, directed by Michael Grandage, with Ian Rutherford as the revival director. I didn’t see the 2012 version, so am not able to compare or note any differences, but the sumptuous sets, and costumes are the same. Those who wanted more of the story of Figaro could also have seen Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne a few weeks earlier, for the back-story to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, with Figaro relieved of his interim job as a barber and returned as the servant of Count Almaviva and his Countess.

The setting was clearly Seville, although the dating takes a little while to reveal itself. Glorious architectural depictions of Moorish architecture Continue reading

Primary Robins

Primary Robins
The Grange, 13 July 2016

Primary Robins is a project set up by Pimlico Opera with the aim of “using music and theatre to expand the outlook and enrich the lives of schoolchildren who have little exposure to songs and music”, as part of their own aim “to advance personal development, particularly with younger people”. Pimlico Opera is one of the two opera companies founded by Wasfi Kani (in 1987), the other being Grange Park Opera (in 1998). As part of Primary Robins, musicians have been working with schools in Hampshire, Durham, Kent and Nottingham to provide weekly singing lessons to some 1600 children.

As an afternoon curtain raiser to Grange Park Opera’s performance of Tristan & Isolde, a group of 120 children (all year-5, aged 10-11) from three of Hampshire primary schools crowded onto the Grange Park Opera stage Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Tristan & Isolde

Tristan & Isolde
Grange Park Opera, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins
The Grange, Hampshire. 13 July 2016

For reasons that will become apparent, this is more than just a review of an opera.WP_20160713_15_21_12_Pro.jpgGrange Park Opera has been one of the UK’s musical successes since it first set up shop in 1998 in the derelict shell of The Grange, a country house in the centre of Hampshire. Owned by the Baring banking family, The Grange dates from the early nineteenth century when William Wilkins, architect of the British Museum, transformed an earlier 17th century brick building into Britain’s most important example of the Greek revival architecture, notable for its imposing temple-style portico. It was saved from demolition in 1975 after a public outcry and the intervention of the Government, who spot-listed the exterior shell of the building, in recognition of its important as a landscape feature. English Heritage took over custodianship of the building, although the ownership remained with the Baring family.

Over the years since 1998, Grange Park Opera have invested vast amount of (private) money into transforming The Grange, funding and building an award-winning opera house within the shell of the former orangery and Continue reading

Bruhns: Complete Cantatas

Bruhns: Complete Cantatas
Harmonices Mundi
Brilliant Classics 95138. 75’47+63’19

Bruhns - Complete Cantatas | Brilliant Classics 95138BRNicolaus Bruhns (1665-1697) is one of the most important organist/composers of the North German 17th century Baroque: that extraordinary outpouring of music that over the whole century developed and honed a distinctive style that the likes of Handel and Bach carried forward into the 18th century. The favourite pupil of the famed Lübeck organist, Dietrich Buxtehude, Bruhns came from a family of musicians. He came from Husem, then part of Denmark, but his family had strong musical connections with Lübeck. After a time in Copenhagen, Bruhns returned to Husem as city organist, where he remained until his untimely death, aged just 31.

Only 12 vocal works and 5 organ pieces survive, but all are of an exceptionally high standard, technically and musically. All 12 of his Continue reading

Elizabeth’s Lutes

Elizabeth’s Lutes
Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica. 56’05

Elizabeth's Lutes cover artThe music on this recording reflects the music in and around Elizabeth I’s court. A keen lute player herself, at the height of her Golden Age, she employed some 70 musicians in her court. Rather surprisingly, the first piece is by Orlande de Lassus, Susanne un jour, somebody with no Elizabethan connection at all. But this became very popular throughout Europe, and is played here in a contemporary version found in the Matthew Holmes Manuscript in Cambridge University Library. Continue reading

Dowland: Lachrimae

John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears
Phantasm, Elizabeth Kenny, lute
Linn Records CKD527. 57’00

Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven TearsWhat a gorgeous CD! As well as Dowland’s famed seven ‘tears’ (lasting around 26’) we also have a balancing succession of dances, many based on Dowland songs. The pieces in the 1604 Lachrimae publication were used by generations of other composers’ in their own versions and variations. Key to viol consort music like this is the balance between the instruments. Unlike some of their concerts, where the treble viol can dominate, here the balance is perfect, not just between the five viols, but also with the delicate tone of the lute, played with superb conviction and musicality by Elizabeth Kenny. Continue reading