Organs in Dialogue

Organs in Dialogue
Javier Artigas & João Vaz
1779 & 1864 organs of Clérigos Church, Oporto, Portugal
Arkhé Music 2016002. 64’07

Music by Boaventuba, Portugal, Ferbenac, Gill, Lidón, Bondaczuk.

During the 18th century, Iberian churches often adopted the earlier Italian plan of having two organs, each in (usually) identical architectural cases positioned on balconies and speaking towards each other across the choir. The practice has its roots in St Mark’s Venice in the 16th century. Clérigos Church in Oporto is one such example, its two organs dating from 1779 with major restorations in 1864. Rather like French organs, organ building in the Iberian peninsula reached a technical peak in the 18th century at a time when the music written for the organ was experiencing something of a decline. This CD reflects both those aspects; of organ building and composition. Continue reading

The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna

The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna
Boxwood & Brass
St John’s, Smith Square. 20 February 2017

The words Harmonie, or Harmoniemusik (translatable as ‘windband music’), are little known in the UK, although they are important aspects of the late Classical and early Romantic musical eras in continental Europe. With arguable roots in earlier military bands, the formation of wind instrument consorts started to grow into prominence from about 1750, and reached its zenith in the 1780s in Vienna. It became the preserve of aristocratic households, and its decline around 1830 was a symptom of the decline in aristocratic resources in post-Napoleonic Europe. Emperor Joseph II formalised the line-up of his own court Harmonie to pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns together with a 16′, usually string, bass. This was the nine-strong line-up of Boxwood & Brass for this concert, although they also perform in the various other Harmonie formats.

It is the ambition of Boxwood & Brass to bring the extensive Harmonie repertoire to a wider UK audience. To that end, they combine their performing and musical skills with an impressive academic and musicological background. Several are linked to the University of Huddersfield Centre for Performance Research and many already have, or are approaching, doctorates in music. Their recent début CD, Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon (reviewed here) featured original compositions for Harmonie. This St John’s, Smith Square concert included one original composition together with two examples of the important genre of arrangements for Harmonie. Continue reading

José Luis González Uriol in Lisbon

José Luis González Uriol in Lisbon
1765 Fontanes de Maqueira organ, São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon
Arkhé Music. 72’23

Music by Cabezón, Trabaci, Bruna, Kerll, Sola, Cabanilles, Nassarre, Zipoli, Lidón.

José Luis González Uriol is one of the most influential Iberian organists and teachers, and this recording is a homage to him, and also to the organ in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, built by João Fontanes de Maqueira in 1765, and restored in 1994 as part of Lisbon’s European City of Culture celebrations. Unusually for organs, it had survived virtually unaltered since it was built, and retains 98% of its original pipework. The recording was made on 17 October 1994, just after the opening of the restored organ in a recital by González Uriol. A combination of factors, including the death of the recording producer Joaquim Simões de Hora (who was also heavily involved in the restoration project), meant that the recording has never been released until now. Continue reading

AAM: Bach and the Italian Concerto

Bach and the Italian Concerto
Academy of Ancient Music
Milton Court Concert Hall, 15 February 2017

Bach: Concerto for oboe d’amore in D major
Vivaldi: Concerto for violin in G minor
Albinoni: Concerto for oboe in D minor
Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in A minor
Bach: Italian Concerto
A Marcello: Concerto for oboe in D minor

Groups like the Academy of Ancient Music often perform with soloists drawn from their own ranks, with understandably excellent results. This was one such occasion, when four of the AAM’s regular orchestral players stepped into the soloist limelight. The focus was on the influence of Italian music on Bach, with a sub-plot of the Italian music that Bach transcribed for harpsichord organ. Indeed Alistair Ross, the AAM’s principal keyboard continuo player, suggested during the pre-concert talk that he could perform the entire concert programme on his own on organ and harpsichord.

The instrumental focus of the concert was on the oboe and oboe d’amore, played by Frank de Bruine. He opened with the latter instrument in Bach’s Concerto for oboe d’amore in D, the husky tone of the oboe d’amore (pitched lower than the normal baroque oboe) revealing exactly why it was one of Bach’s favourite instruments. Continue reading

Palisander: Beware the Spider!

CONCERT: Antidotum Arachne
Palisander
St John’s, Smith Square. 16 February 2017

CD: Palisander Beware the Spider!
PALG-33. 37’51

The St John’s, Smith Square Young Artists scheme gives emerging soloists and ensembles a platform to showcase their talents through three SJSS concerts, a chance to commission new music, and opportunities to develop skills in marketing, education and outreach. The latest batch of six  (for the year 2016/17) includes the recorder quartet Palisander. They already seem pretty adept at marketing, and took the opportunity of the first of their three concerts (given under the title Antidotum Arachne) to launch their debut CD, Beware the Spider!.

The concert and (rather short) CD explore the world of the Tarantella, a curious aspect of folk medicine in 16th and 17th century Italy where victims of venomous spider bites were not offered any medicinal cure or relief but were regaled by local musicians (often funded by the municipality) with a variety of musical pieces, some known as Tarantella, intended to cure them of their otherwise fatal symptoms. In a well-chosen and varied programme, Palisander’s CD and concert reflected aspects of the various symptoms along with arrangements of original Tarantellas by Miriam Nerval, who also provided the programme notes for the CD and concert. For a few of the pieces they were joined by Toby Carr, playing theorbo and baroque guitar. Continue reading

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano
James Akers, romantic guitar, Gary Branch, fortepiano
Resonus RES10182. 67’47

Music by Ferdinando Carulli, Anton Diabelli, Ignaz Moscheles, Mauro Giuliani

The title of Classical Vienna is a bit misleading, and is not perhaps as you know might know it. Firstly the dates of the composers and pieces are rather late for the usual definition of the Classical period of music. Secondly, using an alternative meaning of the word ‘classical’, the combination of guitar and fortepiano is not exactly a mainstream aspect of Vienna’s musical life. For those not familiar with the sound world of period instruments, the notion of music for guitar and piano might seem bizarre. But as demonstrated on this recording, it works perfectly well. Gary Branch’s contribution to the extensive programme notes explains the history of the Viennese fortepiano and why it was suitable to balance with a guitar. Continue reading

O Sing unto the Lord

O Sing unto the Lord
Sacred music by Henry Purcell
Saint Thomas Choir, New York, Concert Royal, John Scott
Resonus RES10184. 54’03

O sing unto the Lord, Z44; Remember not, Lord, Z50; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei, Z135; Evening Hymn, Z193; O God, thou art my God, Z35; Morning Hymn, Z198; I was glad, Z19; Hear my prayer, O Lord, Z15; Voluntary in G major, Z720; Te Deum in D major, Z232.

Following on from their recent issues of Bach and Rachmaninoff, Resonus continue their series of recordings from the Saint Thomas Choir, New York, under their conductor, the late John Scott, with this release of a 2010 recording of Purcell. The well-balanced programme includes major works for choir and orchestra, such as the substantial opening O sing unto the Lord, as well as more intimate pieces such as the Morning and Evening Hymns, here separated by the early anthem O God, thou art my God with its famous Hallelujah, later turned into the hymn Westminster Abbey. This amply demonstrated the extraordinary range of Purcell’s musical style and his harmonic inventiveness. Continue reading

LPO: Haydn’s Creation

Haydn: The Creation
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, 
Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall. 4 February 2017

This continuation of the Southbank ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ series of concerts featured Joseph Haydn’s 1798 Creation. As with two of the pieces in the previous London Philharmonic Orchestra concert (reviewed here), it focussed on the beginning of the world, in this case as depicted in the late Bronze Age writings of the Old Testament. Haydn once said that when he thought of God he could write only cheerful music, and this is evident in his often seemingly irreverent take on God’s creation. Sir Roger Norrington has a similar twinkle in his eye, and was an ideal conductor for Haydn’s often (but perhaps not always intentionally) amusing moments.

As well as his pioneering work in the interpretation of music of earlier times, Norrington is also an enthusiastic supporter of audiences. He has a winning way, which he used on this occasion for another of his themes – applause. Continue reading

Bach organ music

‘Pull out all the Stops’
Robert Quinney, organ
Royal Festival Hall, 3 February 2017

Bach:
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 ;
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 682 ;
Four Duets BWV 802-805;
Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 547
Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 ;
Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her, BWV 769;
Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541

In years long past, the Royal Festival used to run a weekly ‘Wednesday at 5.55’ organ recital series, attracting performers from around the world and introducing many in the rather closeted world of English organists to music and interpretations from many different countries. Despite the enormous amount of money spent of the refurbishment of the organ (and the hall), that remarkable series has now been reduced to just four organ recitals a year, albeit full evening, rather than post-work, events. The Festival Hall organ was built in 1954 in a deliberately eclectic style, reflecting the historic organs from many different cultures, most notably the German baroque tradition that had hitherto been little understood in the UK. Along with the hall itself, it was designed to be acoustically precise. Recent alterations to both hall and organ and added slightly more of an acoustic bloom to the sound, and allowed some of the previously almost inaudible low notes to be heard.

The organ restoration project was promoted as ‘Pull out all the stops’, something that organists need little encouragement to do. Robert Quinney’s thunderous opening of THE Toccata and Fugue in D minor did just that, albeit just by pressing a button, rather than actually pulling out any stops. Continue reading

Musicall Compass: Lamentations

Lassus Lamentations & folk laments
Musicall Compass & Moira Smiley
St John’s, Smith Sq. 1 February 2017

The Musicall Compass have undertaken some fascinating projects in the past, combining vocal music with, for example, dance in a memorable performance of Buxtehude’s Memba Jesu Nostri in Christ Church Spitalfields. On this occasion they interspersed the nine five-voice Lamentations of Orlando di Lasso with folk laments from Eastern Europe, sung by Moira Smiley. Written to be performed during the three days leading up to Easter, the Lamentations set verses from Jeremiah’s rather morbid reflections on the decline of Jerusalem: ‘How doth the city sit solitary .. she has become a widow’. Three settings are sung on each day, each finishing with the lament Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God). Continue reading

LPO: Rebel, Milhaud, Adams

Belief and beyond Belief: Rebel, Milhaud, Adams
London Philharmonic Orchestra, 
Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall, 28 January 2017

Jean-Féry Rebel: Simphonie nouvelle – Les élémens 
Darius Milhaud: La Création du monde
John Adams: Harmonielehre

During 2017, the Southbank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are presenting the ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ festival, “exploring what it means to be human” through “the music, art, culture, science, philosophy, ritual and traditions that have risen out of religion in its many guises”.  The link between those aspirations and the music heard in this concert was perhaps a little vague, but nonetheless this was an adventurous bit of programming from the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski, drawing together three completely different musical worlds (French baroque, 1920s jazz-era Paris and 1980s America) involving, in effect, three different orchestras. If there was a theme, it was perhaps the way that three very different composers tried to draw inspiration from apparent chaos. Rebel starts by depicting the chaos of the beginning of the world, as understood by 18th century cosmology; Milhaud combined creation myths with the seemingly chaotic world of 1920s Paris jazz; while Adams moved himself out of a creative block created by the chaotic post-Schoenberg clash between musical minimalism and complexity. Continue reading

EUBO: Heaven’s Sweetness

Heaven’s Sweetness
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) & Singers of Barock Vokal
Alfredo Bernardini, director & oboe
St John’s, Smith Sq. 27 January 2017

Bach 
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D BWV 1069a (original version); 
Cantata: Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen BWV 123; 
Cantata: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt BWV 151;
Cantata: Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut BWV 117.

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage and indoorPart of the 2015 expansion of the European Union Baroque Orchestra’s activities has been the EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy (EMBA), a cooperative project aimed at finding new and creative ways of addressing the unequal provision of baroque music education and performance across the European Union. The touring orchestra (EUBO) still forms the core activity of the EMBA, reforming each year with a new intake of talented young period instrumentalists chosen from educational auditions held each spring. For more than 30 years EUBO has provided specialist training and experience, and has encouraged and supported many of the top period instrument specialists around today. One such is the distinguished oboist and director Alfredo Bernardini, a member of the very first EUBO in 1985 and the director of this EUBO tour.

The current EUBO incarnation represents 14 different EU countries. They have been performing together since last July, and last performed in London in November 2016 (reviewed here) with a programme based on Handel and his London contemporaries. For this concert they focussed on Bach, performing three of the cantatas that he wrote for Leipzig festivals along with one of his most complex Orchestral Suites, here performed in the rarely heard original version, lacking the trumpets and timpani of the later version. Continue reading

Siglo de Oro: Drop down, ye heavens

Drop down, ye heavens
Advent antiphons for choir and saxophone
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies, director, Sam Corkin, saxophones
Delphian DCD34184. 64’45

I reviewed the concert given by Siglo de Oro during the 2016 Spitalfields Winter Festival (here), and have now been sent the CD that includes most of the music from that concert, including the eight ‘O antiphons’ commissioned by the group. These are based on the Catholic tradition of including special Magnificat antiphons, each beginning with the letter ‘O’, during Advent week services. The well-known Advent hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel, is a paraphrase of one of these antiphons. Each of the new commissions (all in English) adds the distinctive sounds of a saxophone to the choir. Acting as a foil to the eight new commissions are three Renaissance O antiphons are included, by Pierre Certon, Antoine de Mornable, and Josquin des Prez. Continue reading

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love
Mottects or Grave Chamber Music (1630)
I Fagiolini, Fretwork
Regent REGCD497. 72’53

Martin Peerson is one of those composers that can so easily slip under the radar. Little is known of his early life, and records of his adult life are confused by the various ways of spelling his name. It is likely that he was born in March (not the month, but a small market town in Cambridgeshire) around 1572, and became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1604 a madrigal of his was performed at an ‘entertainment’ in Highgate arranged by Ben Jonson for James I and his Queen Anne of Denmark. This appears to have been his only involvement with the musical life of royalty during his career. He had Catholic sympathies, although managed to pass as sufficiently Protestant to be award a Bachelor of Music from Oxford in 1613. He then held posts at Canterbury and St Paul’s Cathedral and, possibly, Westminster Abbey (a “Martin Pearson” is recorded there in the 1620s).  Continue reading

The Grand Tour: Naples

The Grand Tour: Naples
La Serenissima, Tabea Debus, Vladimir Waltham, Adrian Chandler
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 January 2017

Music by: A Scarlatti, Durante, Porpora, Sarro, Leo

The penultimate concert in La Serenissima’s current series of ‘Grand Tour’ concerts at St John’s, Smith Square focussed on the music of Naples. A complex history of multiple occupations from the founding Greeks through to the 16th century Spanish (with brief Austrian and French incursions in the early 18th century) made it one of the most cosmopolitan (and the second largest) of all European cities in the later 17th and early 18th centuries. As such, it attracted artists and musicians of extraordinary ability.

Alessandro Scarlatti (pictured) was one of the founders of the Naples opera scene. He first moved there in 1684, aged around 24, as Maestro di Cappella to the Spanish Viceroy, and spent much of his following life there. All the other composers in La Serenissima’s concert were influenced by him. He left little instrumental music alongside his operas, but one such was the Sinfonia di Concerto Grosso II in D (for recorder, trumpet, strings & continuo) that opened this concert. It can be a surprise to those not used to period instruments to realise that the trumpet and recorder can be combined as fellow solo instruments, as Bach demonstrated so well. Scarlatti was less adventurous in his combining of these instruments in this concerto, with the two instruments generally kept apart, and the two melodic Adagio movements only using the recorder. Continue reading

Parthenia Nova

Parthenia Nova
Richards, Fowkes & Co Opus 18 organ: St George’s Hanover Square
Simon Thomas Jacobs
Fugue State Records FSRCD009. 77’40

Parthenia Nova

The 2012 opening of the new organ in St George’s Hanover Square was an important event in the London organ world. The church itself has a strong musical identity, not least by being Handel’s own parish church when he lived a couple of streets away. It was the first organ in London by any American organ builder, in this case Richards, Fowkes & Co. Despite some concessions to present day Church of England use, it is at heart a relatively uncompromising take on the 16th and 17th century organs on North Europe, the specialism of the organ builders. It is housed in a case spread across the west end of the church gallery. The central portion of the case is an historically important 18th century one, although nothing remains of the organ that it originally contained. Continue reading

George Benjamin: Written on Skin

George Benjamin: Written on Skin
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 13 January 2017

Since it premiered in 2012, Written on Skin, George Benjamin’s first full-length opera (to a text by Martin Creed), has been hailed as one of the masterpieces of the contemporary opera world, bringing such accolades as “the work of a genius 0326 WRITTEN ON SKIN PRODUCTION IMAGE c ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.jpgunleashed”. This 90 minute work was composed over two years of concentration and virtual isolation, while Benjamin eschewed all other composition, teaching, and conducting work. It was commissioned by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, along with the Royal Opera House and opera houses in Amsterdam, Toulouse, and Florence. A request to base the opera on something related to the Occitan area of Provence led to a mediaeval tale about a troubadour employed by a local lord who has a love affair with the lord’s wife. When he finds out, the lord kills the troubadour, cooks his heart and feeds it to his wife. When she finds out what she has eaten, she swears to never eat or drink again to keep her lover’s taste in her mouth. She avoids the lord’s anger and his sword by leaping from a window to her death. Continue reading

Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo. 1621

Dario Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo 1621
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
AAM Records AAM005. 68’39

Sonatas 1-12: for two violins; violin and cornetto; violin and violetta; violin and trombone; cornetto and violetta; violin and dulcian; cornetto, violin and dulcian; two violins and dulcian; two violins and trombone.

AAM005 Castello

Very little is known about Dario Castello. His birth and death dates are unknown, but are possibly something like 1590-1660. His two volumes of Sonate concertate were published in Venice in 1621 and 1629. The prefaces of his two volumes suggest that he was on the musical staff of San Marco under Monteverdi, and also leader of a group of piffari, playing cornetto or dulcianAlthough Castello was a common name in Venice, Dario wasn’t, so was probably a pseudonym. Records suggest that there were three Venetian Castello instrumentalists, one of whom seems to be Dario’s son.

His two volumes of Sonate concertate were immensely popular at the time, and remain so today. The first book consists of 12 Sonatas for two or three solo instruments and continuo. The second set of Sonatas range from one to four solo instruments. They are often heard today played by trio sonata groups, with two violins and continuo. But this Academy of Ancient Music recording of the complete 1621 Libro Primo introduces the wide range of instruments that Castello specified in his score, with the addition of a cornetto, violetta (here interpreted as basso violetta da brazzo, an instrument an octave lower than a violin), dulcian and trombone to the two violins.   Continue reading

Bach Through Time

‘Cello Unwrapped’ – Bach Through Time
Christophe Coin, cello & piccolo cello

Kings Place. 11 January 2017

Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercar No. 3 in D
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Dall’Abaco: Capriccio No. 8 in G; Capriccio No. 6 in E minor (collage)
Bernhard Romberg: Praeludium in C minor
Félix Battanchon: Pièce caractéristique (Enterrement de Carnaval c1850)
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 6 in D, BWV 1012 (performed on cello piccolo)

Following on from last years’ Baroque Unwrapped series of concerts, the latest in the Kings Place ‘Unwrapped’ series is devoted to the cello (see here). Included within that series are threWP_20170111_21_41_56_Pro.jpge concerts under the title of Bach Through Time, the first of which featured Christophe Coin playing solo cello – or, in this case, two solo cellos with three different bows. He opened with one of the very first compositions for solo cello, the third of Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercars, a lively piece in the trumpet key of D major which included many triad fanfare motifs. This Gabrielli (no relation) was part of the rich musical foundation of the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna and also worked for the d’Este family in Moderna. Continue reading

Joan Cabanilles: Organ pieces

Joan Cabanilles: Keyboard Music Vol 1
Timothy Roberts (organ)
1724 organ of the Basilica of Sant Jaume, Vila-real (Castellón/Valencia)
Toccata Classics TOCC 0391. 64’48

Tocata 1 de primero tono, Passacalles 2 de primero tono, Tocata 4 de quinto tonoTiento 12 de falsas, de cuarto tono, Tiento 31 partido de mano derecha, de primero tonoTiento 82 lleno, por Bequadrado de quinto tono, Tiento 9 partido de mano derecha, de secondo tonoTocata 2 de mano izquierda, de quinto tono, Tiento 63 de contras, de cuarto tonoTiento 55 de primero tono, Tiento 14 partido de dos tiples, de cuarto tono.

Joan (more usually spelt as Juan) Cabanilles (1644–1712) is a curious composer. His compositions fully absorb the late Renaissance counterpoint of the earlier, and better known, Spanish organ composer Francisco Correa de Araujo (1584–1654) but apply to that foundation layers of often virtuosic Baroque figuration that can range in style from the simplistic to the frankly perverse. He was born in Valencia, and seems to have remained there throughout his life, engaged in little more than the usual activities of a priestly musician in a cathedral city. He was organist of the cathedral, but doesn’t seem to have ever become the cathedral’s musical director. Although he composed a vast amount of organ music, it was not published in his lifetime and none of his original manuscripts survive. His music only exists in copies, of varying degress of accuracy, most now housed in the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. The Biblioteca began a problematical complete edition in 1927, which remains incomplete to this day.  Continue reading

A Giant Reborn: the restored 1735 Richard Bridge organ of Christ Church, Spitalfields

A Giant Reborn
The restored 1735 Richard Bridge organ of Christ Church, Spitalfields, London
Gerard Brooks
Fugue State Records FSRCD010. 2CDs. 77’02+66’35

Music by Prelleur, Handel, Greene, Stanley, Bull, Barrett, Purcell, Croft, Heron, Boyce, Walond, Arne, Nares, Reading, James, Keeble

Spitalfields CD.jpgThe completion of the restoration of the famous 1735 Richard Bridge organ in Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields was one of the most important musical events in London during 2015. My review of John Scott’s opening recital, and details of the organ, can be seen here. Tragically it was one of the last recitals that John Scott gave before his death . Equally tragically, the master organ builder William Drake, the finest restorer of historic organs in the UK, died the year before the organ’s completion, so never heard what must now stand as his memorial.

Christ Church, Spitalfields was built between 1714 and 1729 as part of the ’Fifty New Churches’ Act of Parliament of 1711. It is one of the six East London churches WP_20150605_18_45_24_Prodesigned by the famed Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The organ was built in 1735 by Richard Bridge, who became one of the leading organ builders of the day. Spitalfields seems to have been only his second commission, perhaps explaining the comparatively low price of £600 for such a substantial instrument. For the following 100 years or so, it was the largest organ in the country. It suffered the inevitable changes over the years, but retained enough of its original pipework to form the basis for a historically based reconstruction, returning it broadly to its original specification and construction. It was dismantled in 1998 while the church was being restored and was then restored to its 1735 specification, with very few concessions. Its completion in 2015 makes this by far the most important pre-1800 organ in the UK.

This is the first recording of the restored organ. As well as being a comprehensive account of the instrument’s forces, it is also a fascinating reflection of the organ music in 18th century England, covering most of the principal composers, many of which are little known outside of their organ compositions. Rather like Continue reading

Iestyn Davies: Bach Cantatas

Bach: Cantatas 54, 82, 170
Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68111. 64’52

Vergnügte Ruh’, beliebte Seelenlust BWV170, Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54, Ich habe genug BWV82, Sinfonias from Cantatas BWV52 & 174. 

With an appropriate sense of timing, this CD was released on the day that it was announced that the distinguished countertenor Iestyn Davies was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. For non-UK readers, this is the archaically entitled ‘Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ and is awarded for ‘outstanding achievement’. There are at least four higher categories of ‘British Empire’ awards for him to look forward to. This is the third recording he has made with Arcangelo for Hyperion, but this one is very clearly a recording designed specifically to promote Iestyn Davies. His name is given stronger emphasis on the CD cover than the likes of Bach, let alone Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen, all also pretty good musicians. Continue reading

2016

During 2016 this review website received nearly 23,000 hits, from over 110 countries around the world. That makes a total of 36,000 hits since it started 20 months ago. There has been been 360 posts of CDs, concerts and early music festivals, as well as a few of my own recitals. It is a real privilege to hear such amazing music and musicians.

The Cardinal King

The Cardinal King
Music for Henry Benedict Stuart in Rome, 1740-91
Cappella Fede, Harmonia Sacra, Peter Leech, Hazel Brooks
Toccata Classics TOCC 0300. 73’20 

Bolis: Cinque Assoluzzione: 1, 2, 5; Laudate pueri Dominum, Miserere, Letanie della Madonna Santissima; Zamboni Splende fredda lunaO memorie funeste, O come se’ gentile, Feritevi, ferite; Costanzi :Ave Maria; Tessarini: Allettamento Secondo & Terzo; Jommelli: Oculi omnium.

What a great CD, with the bonus of an fascinating back-story! It reflects the music of the exiled court in Rome of Henry Benedict Stuart (1725–1807) during the latter half of the 18th century. Henry Stuart is one of the most interesting characters in the complex world of 18th British politics, religion and royal succession. He was the grandson of deposed King James II of England (and VII of Scotland), son of the ‘Old Pretender’, brother of the ‘Young Pretender’ Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the last in the acknowledged direct line of Jacobite succession to the crown of Great Britain.By the time he was born, in Rome, the Crown had already passed to the German Hanoverians, despite there being more than 50 far better claimants to the throne in terms of blood relations to Queen Anne. But the British Parliament had passed a law preventing a Catholic from inheriting the throne. Unlike his father and brother, Henry Stuart made no active claim to the throne, although he was referred to by his own followers as King Henry IX of England and Ireland (and I of Scotland). Just after his birth he was created Duke of York in the Jacobite Peerage, and recognised as such in Catholic Europe but not in Great Britain. Continue reading

Bach: B Minor Mass

Bach: B Minor Mass
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stephen Layton
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2016

The annual St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival is now in its 31st year, the last 20 of which have been curated by Stephen Layton, conductor of Polyphony, who traditionally give the final concert, and Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge whose choir gives the penultimate concert of the series. This year’s penultimate concert was a re-run of last year’s, reviewed here. I will not repeat the comments I made about last year’s concert, so it is worth reading that review before this one.

This year the Trinity College choir was 46-strong, two up from last year, with 16 additional alumni singers bought in to reinforce the 30-strong current student choir. Several of the alumni singers have been making their way in the post-university musical world, with at least two receiving honorable mentions on this website. This year a mezzo-soprano was added to the line up, alongside the countertenor  Iestyn Davies. Mezzo Helen Charlston is one of the alumni I have already spotted as a singer of real promise and, although she only had a brief moment front stage (at the start, in the duet Christe), she again demonstrated a excellent voice.

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Messiah

Messiah
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Barbican, 19 December 2016

wp_20161222_18_10_35_pro-2Over the years, William Christie has done much to introduce French baroque music to British ears, and has opened our ears to Purcell. But I had not heard his take on Messiah live before. It was bound to be rather different from the usual variety of British interpretations, and it was. We are increasingly used to lightly scored performances with moderately sized choirs, in contrast to the cast of thousands of yesteryear, but this very Gallic interpretation added a layer of delicacy and dance-like joie de vivre to Handel’s music, all done in the best possible Bon Goût. Les Arts Florissants fielded a choir of 24 (quite large, by some standards today, and in Handel’s time) and an orchestra with 6, 6, 4, 4, 2 strings, together with five soloists. Both instrumentalists and the chorus were encouraged to keep the volume down, usually by a finger on the Christie lips. This seems to be in line with Handel’s intentions, as indicated by his scoring and, for example, his very limited use of the trumpets. When things did let rip, there was still a sense of restraint amongst the power. Continue reading

Renaissance Singers: A Flemish Christmas

A Flemish Christmas
Shepherds, what have you seen?

Renaissance Singers, David Allinson
St George’s Bloomsbury. 17 December 2016

Music by Clemens non Papa, Josquin, Verdelot, Gombert and Willaert.

WP_20161217_18_59_25_Pro.jpgThe Renaissance Singers have a history that goes back to 1944. They played an important part in the revival of interest in Renaissance sacred polyphony as the early music movement grew and developed. Their 2017 Christmas concert, in the architecturally important Hawksmoor church of St George’s Bloomsbury, sensibly avoided carols and concentrated on what they do best: singing Renaissance music. Under the inspired direction of their musical director, David Allinson, they presented a programme of seasonal music centered on the composer Clemens non Papa and his Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis, together with music by Josquin, Verdelot, Gombert and Willaert.

The excellent and comprehensive programme notes (by choir member Tony Damer) explained the background of the concert, including an interesting explanation for Clemens’ enigmatic nickname non Papa (‘not the Pope’) as meaning something akin to ‘not an Angel’. He was certainly a very naughty boy, described in one (not surprisingly, unsuccessful) employment reference as being ‘a drunk Continue reading

In honour of the Virgin

In honour of the Virgin
The Cardinall’s Musick
St John’s, Smith Square. 14 December 2016

facebook_1482140390703 (1).jpgThe 31st St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival features most of the usual suspects, including regulars, The Cardinall’s Musick. As is typical of their concerts, the focus was on Catholic liturgical music from the Renaissance, on this occasion in honour of the Virgin Mary. In a ‘greatest hits’ line-up of Renaissance composers, the first half was built around Lassus’s Missa Osculeter me osculo oris sui alternating with motets by Victoria; the second centered on Byrd’s Propers for the Nativity of the Virgin Mary and concluded with Palestrina’s Magnificat primi toni a 8. 

I have never quite understood how the Song of Songs managed to get accepted into the Bible. However much commentators from the Jewish or Christian tradition attempt to find allegorical links in the Song of Solomon, in the latter case, with the New Testament stories, it remains so obviously an evocation of sexual love of a most explicit kind: the closest that Solomon could get to internet porn. Continue reading

A Wells Christmas

A Wells Christmas
Wells Cathedral Choir
Jonathan Vaughn, organ, Matthew Owens, conductor
Resonus RES10176. 61’54

Music by David Willcocks, Andrew Carter, John Rutter, Kenneth Leighton, Thomas Hewitt Jones., Bob Chilcott, Jefferson McConnaughey, Matthew Owens.

The Wells choir dates back to the year 909 with the earliest mention of singing boys, the full choral tradition going back around 800 years.For more than 1000 years, the tradition of cathedral choirs is one of the foundations of the UK music industry, nurturing an enormous number of young musicians (albeit almost exclusively the male offspring of white middle-class parents) and then providing employment for some of them in later life. After a 1991 equal opportunities challenge in the European Court, Salisbury became the first cathedral to start a girls choir and the male domination has been lowly decreasing. Wells started their girls choir 3 years later, although curiously they do not usually sing together with the companion boys choir. However this CD uses both It is billed as “an irresistible array of popular carols and more recent offerings” and a “scintillating and varied programme vividly realised by the combined boy and girl choristers and Vicars Choral”.

Unlike the other two Christmas CDs I have reviewed here, this CD uses the full forces of the cathedral organ, both in accompaniment role Continue reading

Song of the Nativity

Song of the Nativity
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16146. 73’58

The Sixteen’s Christmas offering combines traditional with contemporary-lite pieces that, according to the Coro website “by their unashamed simplicity, captures the joy and sincerity of this most wonderful of seasons. This album provides a perfect peaceful and uplifting antidote to the hectic pre-Christmas rush.”. That sums it up pretty well. The composers represented range from  Henry Walford Davies (b.1869) to still-living composers ranging from Morten Lauridsen (b.1943) to the youngest composer, Will Todd (b.1970). With what I assume is aimed at a Classic FM audience that The Sixteen seem to have captivated, there is nothing to frighten the musical horses but, equally little, if anything, to encourage younger or more adventurous composers.

The early pieces work best, but the contemporary compositions left me yearning for something more, err, contemporary.