Tage Alter Musik Regensburg: 2018

Tage Alter Musik Regensburg
18-21 May 2018

Seventeen concerts of early music in just four days is the promise of the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival. It is held annually over the Pentecost/Whitsun weekend, alongside non-musical Regensburg celebrations, including a beer festival and fairground that brings the local youth out in their distinctive Bavarian outfits. Tage Alter Musik takes place within the architectural and historic delights of this beautiful city on the Danube – the entire city centre is a World Heritage site. Venues for the concerts include austere Gothic, glittering Baroque/Rococo, and the historic Reichssaal in the Altes Rathaus, for centuries the permanent seat of the Parliament of the Holy Roman Empire. The weekend runs from Friday evening, with two concerts, followed by five concerts on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the latter including a concert that started at 00:15 in the morning!

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Handel’s Agrippina at The Grange

Handel: Agrippina
Academy of Ancient Music, Robert Howarth
The Grange Festival, Hampshire. 16 June 2018

Handel’s Agrippina was first performed in 1709 during the Venice Carnival when he was just 23. It was towards the end of his three-year stay in Venice and used a considerable amount of borrowed material from Handel and other composers. It was an immediate success, with a further 26 performances, but was not revived again until modern times. It is now considered his first major operatic success. With its story of intrigue, rivalry, and deception in historic Rome, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani’s libretto for Agrippina is said to reflect his own political rivalry with Pope Clement XI. The plot tells of Agrippina’s ruthless plan to usurp her husband Emperor Claudius and place her son, the youthful Nerone, on the throne. The sexually provocative Poppea joins in the fray in a complex plan to undo Agrippina’ plot, not least in her attempts to discredit Ottone, who Claudius wants to create Emperor as a reward for saving his life. It certainly had many political and cultural undertones at the time, and perhaps still does today.

 

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François Couperin 350th Anniversary Concert

Christ’s Chapel of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift in Dulwich
14 Gallery Rd, London SE21 7AD

Sunday 8 July 2018, 7.45 – 8.30

Guirlandes Alleluiatiques
François Couperin 350th Anniversary Concert

Andrew Benson-Wilson

Extracts from François Couperin’s Messe pour les Couvents, contrasted with the final cycle of Charles Tournemire’s L’Orgue Mystique, ending with the extraordinary
Fantasie sur le Te Deum et Guirlandes Alleluiatiques.

Played on the 1760 England / 2009 William Drake organ.

The Christ’s Chapel is part of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift,
which is next to the Dulwich Art Gallery. Free street parking.
Admission free – retiring collection.
Organ details here.

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Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare

Handel: Giulio Cesare
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 10 June 2018

It is no surprise that David McVicar’s 2005 production of Handel’s glorious Giulio Cesare proved to be so popular. Revived twice in the years just after its first performance, it now, after a gap of a few years, reaches its third revival. The first night on 10 June was the 38th performance at Glyndebourne, and the remaining performances are already sold out. Handel’s opera, and McVicar’s interpretation, really do tick all the boxes, added to which is the outstanding cast of the current run (three of whom survive from the original cast) and the return of the original conductor, William Christie.  Continue reading

Mozart: La finta semplice

Mozart: La finta semplice
Classical Opera & The Mozartists, Ian Page
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2 June 2018

The Classical Opera & The Mozartists’ ambitious Mozart 250 project started in 2015, the anniversary of Mozart’s childhood London visit, aged 8, and the composition of his first symphony. Each year they are programming concerts reflecting Mozart’s, and his contemporaries, compositions dating from 250 years ago. So 2018 is centred on music from 1768. Their two concerts earlier this year explored the music surrounding the 12 year-old  Mozart in Vienna in 1768 (reviewed here), with pieces by Haydn, Jommelli, JC Bach, Hasse, Vanhal, and an extract from Mozart’s La finta semplice; followed by a rare performance of Haydn’s Applausus Cantata: Jubilaeum Virtutis Palatium (reviewed here)But tonight it was Mozart’s turn, with a semi-staged performance of his first opera buffa, La finta semplice. It is all too easy to denigrate Mozart’s early works, to the extent that the chronological sequence of the Mozart 250 project could have been a risk, at least for the first few years. But it has turned out to be very much not the case. Part of the responsibility for that is the excellent performances of Classical Opera & The Mozartists, lifting what can be rather less than outstanding music into memorable performances. Continue reading

Johann Speth: Complete Organ Works – Vol I & II

Johann Speth (1664-c1720)
Complete Organ Works Vol I & II (Ed. Ingemar Melchersson)
Vol I:
  32 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-20126-7 • Softbound • DM 1449
Vol II:  44 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-20127-4 • Softbound • DM 1450
Doblinger (Diletto Musicale) DM 1449/1450 

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With one or two exceptions, the organ music of South Germany during the Baroque era is usually overlooked in favour of the far more musically advanced North German organist-composers – and, of course, Bach. These two volumes of the only surviving music of Johann Speth helps to redress that balance – or, perhaps, to explain it. Speth was born in 1664 in Speinshart in the north of Bavaria, about 30 km south-east of Bayreuth. Speinshart has a substantial monastery complex, and little else, then and now. The original Romanesque monastery buildings were reconstructed in High Baroque style between 1681 and 1706, and may have been in a poor state prior to that. Earlier assumptions that Speth must have studied music at the monastery have been disproved, not least on the grounds that the abbey’s music school did not exist until well into the 18th-century. But he may well have received lessons from a musician connected with the monastery. The first we know of Speth is in 1692 when he applied for, and got, the post of organist in Augsburg Cathedral. The calling card he offered with his job application was the music contained in these two Doblinger volumes, published the following year under the title of Ars magna Consoni et Dissoni.  Continue reading

Simon Rattle – Bruckner: Symphony No.9

Bruckner: Symphony No.9
Abrahamsen: 3 Pieces for orchestra
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
Royal Festival Hall, 30 May 2018

Although he has already taken up his appointment as Music Director to the London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle’s contract with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra is only just ending. In a magnificent farewell gesture, the Berlin Philharmonic escorted him home with two farewell concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. The first featured Bruckner’s Symphony No.9 in the four-movement version that Rattle has championed in recent years, using the version of the uncompleted Finale proposed by Nicola Samale, John A. Phillips, Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs, and Giuseppe Mazzuca in 2012. This is not the forum for a discussion on the merits of what, for the time being, seems to be the final say on the Finale or, indeed whether the Symphony should end with the extraordinary third-movement Adagio. But it does seem clear that Bruckner intended there to be a fourth movement Finale. 440 bars survive in full score, with around 117 bars in sketch form. The completion by Samale, Phillips, Cohrs, and Mazzuca expands those 557 bars to 653, adding 96 conjectural bars based on existing material.  Continue reading

Purcell and Michael Nyman

Purcell & Michael Nyman
Iestyn Davies & Fretwork
Milton Court, 28 May 2018

Michael Nyman: No Time in Eternity
Purcell: Two Fantazies in four parts; Music for a While
Michael Nyman: Music after a While (world premiere)
Purcell: An Evening Hymn
Michael Nyman: Balancing the Books; The Diary of Anne Frank: If; Why
Purcell; Fantazy in four parts; Fantazy upon one note
Michael Nyman: Self-laudatory hymn of Inanna and her omnipotence

Many early music period instrument groups play and commission contemporary works, but the viol consort Fretwork is one of the most active in this field, with over 40 commissions over their 32-year life. Their latest commission is from Michael Nyman with Music after a While, an instrumental response to Purcell’s Music for a While, and given it’s world premiere during this concert. Early music, and particularly the compositions of Purcell, have been life-long influences on Nyman, as reflected for example, in his Purcell-inspired score for the film The Draughtsman’s Contract. A student of Thurston Dart, Nyman’s early career including editing Purcell and Handel, and his performing band combined period and modern instruments. He has worked many times before with Fretwork. Continue reading

Invictus: a Passion

Goodall – Invictus: a Passion
Handel – Foundling Hospital Anthem
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Stephen Darlington, Mark Dobell, Kirsty Hopkins
Lanyer Ensemble, Oxford Baroque
St John’s, Smith Square. 25 May 2018

Invictus: A Passion was commissioned (at the suggestion of its composer Howard Goodhall) by the Choir of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas and their Director of Music and Fine Arts, Sid Davis. It was the second Goodall work to be commissioned by them and they gave the first performance on Palm Sunday 2018. This was its European premiere. The piece is described as “a contemporary reflection on the themes of the traditional Christian Passion story with particular attention to the role and perspective of women”. Interspersed with extracts from Æmelia Lanyer’s 1611 passion story Salve Deus Rex Judæorum (one of the first books by a female poet in the English language) are texts from “various periods of historic turmoil, written or inspired by women which eloquently portray humility in the face of tyranny”. These include Gethsemane by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Mary Magdalene and the Other Mary by Christina Georgina Rossetti and Slave Auction by Ellen Watkins Harper. Its themes include “persecution of the innocent, malevolent authority exerting itself against ideas that threaten and challenge, the redemptive power of love, and the resilience of the human spirit”.  Continue reading

Fantasia Incantata

Fantasia Incantata
Ensemble Libro Primo

Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018. 50’53

G. B. Viviani: Sonata Prima
N. Matteis: Passaggio Rotto
B. Marini: Sonata Quarta ‘Per sonar con due Corde’
G. G. Kapsberger: Preludes, Toccatas, Gagliarda, Corrente, Passacaglia
G. A. Pandolfi Mealli: Sonata Seconda ‘La Cesta’
H. I. F. Biber: Sonata IV ‘Darstellung im Tempel’

This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus:  a style described by Johann Mattheson as “sometimes agitated, sometimes hesitant, sometimes one- and sometimes many-voiced; often also shortly after the beat: without rhythm; but not without the intention to please, to rush nor to amaze.” This seemingly anarchic compositional style was a major influence on Italian and German composers of the period, its rapid changes of mood, pulse and metre creating an almost operatic sense of drama. As the programme note describes, this style was “a natural conveyance of a highly elaborate improvisatory performance practice“. That sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing. Continue reading

Peter Williams Memorial Recital

Peter Williams Memorial Recital
David Ponsford & Ghislaine Reece-Trapp
St George’s, Hanover Square. 24 May 2018

Peter Williams (1937–2016) was a renowned Bach scholar, organist, harpsichordist, music and publications editor, and writer. His notable publications include seminal works on Bach, Bach’s organ music, and historic organs. One of his most important books was his 1966 ‘European Organ 1450-1850’. a key introduction to the different styles of the wider European organ culture, published at a time when most UK organists had little experience of continental organs. This was followed in 1993 by ‘The Organ in Western Culture, 750-1250’. His three-volume ‘Organ Music of J. S. Bach’ (Cambridge University Press 1980, revised as a single volume in 2003) is still essential reading for anybody wanting to understand the complex background of Bach’s most famous repertoire. His most recent book, ‘Bach: A Musical Biography‘ was published posthumously in 2016, a few months after his death.  Some of the obituaries can be found here and here and here.

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London Festival of Baroque Music 2018

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

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

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Rondeau Mélancolique

Rondeau Mélancolique
László Rózsa, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney

Veterum Musica VM 017. 62’22

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

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

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

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

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

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2

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

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

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

Pour La Duchesse du Maine

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

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

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

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Baptiste Romain: In Seculum Viellatoris

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

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

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Hieronymus Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum

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

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

Baroquestock: The Haydn Boys

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

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

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XII Fantasie per il Flauto senza Basso

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

XXIV Fantasie per il Flauto - Tabea Debus

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

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

Ensemble Tempus Fugit: Calcutta

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

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

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

LHF: Mr Handel’s Vauxhall Pleasures

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

 

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

Bach: B Minor Mass

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

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

Bach: Matthew Passion

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

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

LHF: Handel Singing Competition

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

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

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

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Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2

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

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

Harmonic Spiritual Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Concerto

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

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