Festival d’Ambronay

Festival d’Ambronay
28 September to 1 October 2017

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

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

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

Union Chapel, Islington. 13 October 2017

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

Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann

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

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays
Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann

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

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

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

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Sally Beamish: The Judas Passion

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

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

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

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Enescu: Oedipe

Georga Enescu: Oedipe
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski
Choir of the George Enescu Philharmonic, Romanian Radio Children’s Choir
Royal Festival Hall, 23 September 2017

A pupil of Faure and a teacher of Yehudi Menuhin, the Romanian composer and violinist George Enescu occupied a key, but usually overlooked, position in the musical world of the first half of the last century, a time of musical experimentation that he, by and large, avoided. Oedipe was his only opera and has been largely forgotten since its first performance in 1936 in Paris. It took him around 2o years to write. According to Menuhin, he kept the score by his bed so that he could jot down ideas easily.

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Unusually amongst the many tellings of the Oedipus myth, Enescu covers the whole of Oedipus’s life, from birth to apparent death. Edmond Fleg’s libretto (much reduced from his original version, which would have entailed an opera spanning two evenings) draws on Oedipus Rex for Act 3 and uses part of the plot of Oedipus at Colonus for Act 4.  Continue reading

Da Camera & Carolyn Sampson

Telemann, Bach, & Scarlatti
Da Camera with Carolyn Sampson
Kings Place. 20 September 2017

I reviewed Da Camera’s very first concert, in March 1999 at Hampstead’s Burgh House, noting that “Emma Murphy is a superb recorder player … she combines outstanding virtuosity with musical intelligence and sensitivity”, and that harpsichordist Steven Devine was (amongst other things) “clearly blessed with enviable technical skills”. In 2001, I commented on their “well-balanced programme, a friendly and informal stage manner, fine musicianship and superb playing” – a comment that they quoted in the programme for this Kings Place concert. In a later review, I praised Susanna Pell for producing a “wide range of tones and textures from her gamba, both in accompanying and in solo pieces”. Since those early days, they have each developed their own independent careers (and, indeed, families), but have now returned to the musical fray with a series of concerts and a new Telemann CD. Continue reading

BBC Proms: La Clemenza

Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
BBC Prom 59. Royal Albert Hall. 28 August 2017
 

The tradition of bringing one of the season’s Glyndebourne Festival Opera productions to the Proms continued this year with their version of Mozart’s often overlooked opera La Clemenza di Tito. Although I didn’t see the fully staged version at Glyndebourne, I did see the live webcast of the performance, and my feelings about the much-reduced staging in the Albert Hall is influenced by that.

Director Claus Guth and designer Christian Schmidt’s Glyndebourne staging divided the world of Tito into two, a clean modernist upper floor executive office positioned above a reed-clogged swamp where much of the action took place. A video played during the overture (or didn’t, depending on which performance you saw) which explained, apparently, the director’s interpretation of why Tito relationship with his boyhood chum Sextus went sour. The transfer to the Proms retained the dual levels, but with Tito’s domain behind the orchestra on the upper steps of the stage, the swamp rather pathetically alluded to by about half a dozen clumps of reeds and a rock on the stage in front of the orchestra. But, as is so often the case with semi-staged or concert performances of opera, this rather helpfully pulled the opera away from being the inspiration of the director towards being that of Mozart. Continue reading

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik
Innsbruck, 21-23 August 2017

The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music runs annually for about three weeks during August. It was founded in 1976 and since the start has focussed on Baroque opera, in recent years usually performing three each season. Between 1991 and 2009 René Jacobs was the director of the opera programme and, from 1997, the entire festival. Since 2010 the festival has been directed by Alessandro De Marchi, who instigated the International Singing Competition for Baroque Opera Pietro Antonio Cesti, named after Antonio Cesti, a 17th-century Italian singer and composer who served at the Innsbruck court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria.  The focus this year was on the music of Monteverdi, and included a staged performance of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend for three days, so my review is necessarily limited in scope.  Continue reading

Secret History

John Potter: Secret History
Josquin/Victoria

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It’s been a while since the names of John Potter and ECM have been linked in an ‘early music’ recording, the last being back in Potter’s Hilliard Ensemble days. This recording was made in 2011, and was the first time this group of musicians had got together. It pre-dates their later recording Amores Pasados published in 2015. The result is a radical re-think of Renaissance music performance, not least in reducing complex polyphony to just one or two vocal lines, sung by John Potter and Anna Maria Friman, the remaining voices being played on vihuelas (an early form of guitar, tuned like a lute) by Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Haringman, and Lee Santana. In the opening eight-part Mouton Nesciens mater for example, they sing the two paired superius lines, in the form of a canon at the fifth, very occasionally switching to one of the other six voices. The three vihuelas play the remaining pairs of voices, which are all also in the same strict canonic form. An extraordinary feat of contrapuntal writing, reduced to comparative simplicity.  Continue reading

BBC Proms: Reformation Day

BBC Proms: Reformation Day
Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
Prom 48: A Patchwork Passion
Prom 49: Bach’s St John Passion
Royal Albert Hall, 20 August 2017

Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
William Whitehead, Robert Quinney, organ

The BBC Proms’ acknowledgement of the anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation came with three concerts on Sunday 20 August, starting with a lunchtime organ recital featuring the premieres of three pieces from The Orgelbüchlein Project played by its founder/director, the organist William Whitehead. The programme opened and closed with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat (from the Clavierübung III, BWV 552), played by Robert Quinney (who also played Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata in A major (Op. 65/3)). It also included the fourth of Schumann’s Fugues on B-A-C-H and two of Bach’s own Orgelbüchlein chorale preludes played by William Whitehead and, just before the final Bach Fugue, Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s ‘Prelude to the Grand Organ Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach’: a duet for both organists. Continue reading

Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht

Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht / Brahms: Andante from Sextet Op18/1
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: Night Shift
Baroquestock Summer BBQ weekend special
Heath St Baptist Church, Hampstead. 17 August 2017

This turned out to be a Tale of Two Churches. On my way to Hampstead for the first event of the Baroquestock Summer BBQ weekend at Heath Street Baptist Church in Hamstead, I stopped off at the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn, known for many years as the Musicians’ Church, and an important venue for rehearsals and concerts for many musicians and choir. There I joined a flashmob drawing attention to the recent decision by the church (now run as a ‘plant’ of the evangelical Holy Trinity Brompton) to stop all rehearsal and concert bookings – an extraordinary decision that has caused a justifiable uproar.

IMG_20170817_194155010_HDR.jpgIn sharp contrast to the situation in, of all places, the Musicians’ Church, Heath Street Baptist Church in Hamstead is one of many London churches that have actively embraced music and musicians, running a regular series of lunchtime concerts as well as occasional musical festivals, the latter recently under the title of Baroquestock in food-related weekend festivals. Their latest Baroquestock weekend includes concerts by Spiritato and Istante Classical, the latter including Haydn’s La Poule Symphony to the accompaniment of BBQ chicken. Their opening event was a performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, to the culinary accompaniment of, you’ve guessed – Schoenbergers!  Continue reading

Lully: Armide

Lully: Armide
Les Talens Lyrique, Choeur de chambre de Namur, Christophe Rousset
Aparte AP135. 2CDs. 75’+74′

In sharp contrast to the pared down version of Lully’s Armide I reviewed here, this CD is the real thing, in a stunning performance by Les Talens Lyrique under Christophe Rousset, with a fine cast of soloists and the Choeur de chambre de Namur in support. It is a live recording of a concert given in the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez of the Philharmonie de Paris in December 2015, although there is no evidence of an audience or other extraneous noises that I could hear. Continue reading

Grimeborn: Armide

Lully: Armide
Ensemble OrQuesta Baroque

Grimeborn. Arcola Theatre. 9 August 2017

IMG_20170809_204353174.jpgAs the deliberately chosen name suggests, Grimeborn is not Glyndebourne, its location in the Arcola Theatre, a converted textile factory in Dalston, East London, being just one of the differences. Founded in 2007, the Grimborn opera festival focuses on new operas and experimental productions of more established repertoire. The limited space and budget in comparison to its more glamorous inspiration is one of its main strengths, as it forces directors, singers and instrumentalists to rethink basic opera practice. One key factor for the singers is that, rather like the more glamorous Iford Opera season, the singers are performing within a few feet of the audience, sitting on three sides of the central stage area.  Continue reading

BBC Proms: Berlioz Faust

Berlioz: The Damnation of Faust
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Monteverdi Choir, National Youth Choir of Scotland, Trinity Boys Choir
BBC Prom 31: Royal Albert Hall. 8 August 2017

Whoever thought of turning Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust into a staged opera seems, to me, to be missing the point. Quite apart from the extraordinary challenge of depicting the dramatic scenes on stage, the sheer drama of which would distract from what the music and the libretto is telling us, it is clear that Berlioz intended this as music to be listened to, not watched. That said, there was plenty to see in this Proms performance given by the period instruments of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique together with the Monteverdi Choir, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and Trinity Boys Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner. Continue reading

Itinéraire Baroque: A Telemann year

Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert
‘A Telemann Year’

27-30 July 2017

IMG_20170731_122006589.jpgThe annual Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert festival is based in the communes of Ribérac and Verteillac in the northern part of the Dordogne region of south-western France. It was founded by Robert Nicolas Huet and Ton Koopman, the former a local resident and now President and Director of the organising committee, the latter the Artistic Director and an occasional import from The Netherlands, together with his musical friends and family. The festival was initially the one-day event that still gives the now festival its name – the Itineraire Baroque, a musical tour of some of the extraordinary Romanesque churches of the region. But it has now expanded to fill four days over the last weekend in July with a wide range of concerts of Baroque music.

The focus for this year’s festival (the 16th) was Georg Philip Telemann (on the 250th anniversary of his death), a composer now usually overlooked by Bach and Handel (both of whom he knew personally), but who in his time was held in equally high esteem. A self-taught musician, he started to study law in Leipzig, but quickly moved into the city’s musical world. After short spells in princely courts, he moved to Frankfurt and eventually Hamburg where he directed the music in all the city churches. He was the first choice for the Leipzig post that Bach, the third choice, eventually accepted in 1723. He left an enormous amount of music, demonstrating his musical talent and ability to absorb national styles into his own music, notably from France and Poland. Continue reading

Path of Miracles

Owain Park: Footsteps & Joby Talbot: Path of Miracles
Tenebrae, Nigel Short
Signum Classics. SIGCD471. 79’22

This release combines the re-release of a 2005 recording of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles with Footsteps, a companion work composed by Owain Park, recorded in 2016. Both are commissions by Tenebrae, the Park piece apparently in answer to requests from amateur singers for a less complex piece than the Talbot. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s music

Pamber Priory
Pamber End, nr Basingstoke, Hampshire, RG26 5QD
Sunday 24 September 2017, 3pm

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Jane Austen’s music

Music from Jane Austen’s own music manuscripts,
played on the 1784 Richard Seede chamber organ by

Andrew Benson-Wilson

All proceeds go to the RadCan charity, in support of the Basingstoke Radiotherapy Unit (registered charity 1140906). Tickets £12 (children £6) to include post-concert refreshments, available from Jo Kelly on 01256 328702

Further information – Pamber Priory Poster 2017.

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BBC Proms: Israel in Egypt

Handel: Israel in Egypt (original 1739 version)
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall. 1 August 2017

A combination of Handel, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and William Christie is bound to sell out the vast auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall, but the first performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, in 1739, was not so successful. Many stayed away because of the biblical context of the work, and those that came were not overly impressed. The reasons are complex, but are generally to do with Handel’s move from opera to the new musical form of oratorio. The slightly earlier oratorio Saul, written just before Israel and Egypt, was a great success, no doubt because the musical style included more elements of opera. Israel in Egypt was far more hard-core, not least in the use of choruses. The first part, nearly always omitted in present day performances, is a continuous sequence of 12 choruses. Part Two has 7 and Part Three 8, but these are broken up by a few arias, duets, and recitatives. Handel made many subsequent changes to the score, and it is usually now performed in the 1756 version, with its odd recitative start (which refers back to the non-existent Part One) and no Symphony. It was the inclusion of Part One, and what was supposed to be (but I think was not quite) the original 1739 version, that made this Proms performance so special. Continue reading

Iford Arts: Jephtha

Iford Arts: Jephtha
Contraband, Christopher Bucknall
Iford Manor, 25 July 2017 

Jephtha was Handel’s last oratorio, composed in 1751 as his sight was failing to the extent that at one point in the autograph score he wrote “unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye.” It is rather telling that note occurs at the chorus that concludes Act 2, How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees, All hid from mortal sight. Despite Handel’s personal difficulties at the time, and the frankly bizarre Biblical story upon which it is based, it is one of his finest oratorios, full of the most glorious music for six solo singers and chorus with a succession of attractive and dramatic arias linked by relatively short recitatives.

This Iford Arts production, in the delightfully intimate surroundings of the Italianate cloister at Iford Manor, was directed by Timothy Nelson, with Christopher Bucknall directing the 14 instrumentalists of JEPH17_198.jpgContraband. It was set in recent times in a fundamentalist (and militaristic) Christian community of cult-like weirdness, led by the controlling Zebel (Frederick Long), with behaviours frequently bordering on what might have been found in a lunatic asylum of Handel’s day. As it happened, on my drive down to Iford, I listened to a Radio 4 broadcast of an account of the 1993 siege of a fundamentalist sect at Waco in Texas. The comparisons were chilling. Continue reading

Festival de Saintes

Festival de Saintes
Abbaye aux Dames: la cité musicale, Saintes
14-22 July 2017

The Abbaye aux Dames was founded in 1047 by the Count of Anjou as a Benedictine abbey for women, usually of aristocratic origin. Around 1120, the Abbey church was altered and the spectacularly carved west end facade and belIMG_20170717_094834230.jpgl tower were added. Internally, the Romanesque triple-aisled basilica was altered, rather inelegantly, by inserting two enormous domed cupolas into the original external walls, resulting in a bit of an architectural mess. After two major fires in the 17th century (which destroyed the cupolas), the church was restored, and impressive new convent buildings were added, with cells for 45 nuns. During the Revolution, the Abbey first became a prison (1792), and then a barracks (1808). In the 1920s, the Abbey complex was purchased by the town of Saintes. In the 1970s, restoration of the monastic IMG_20170716_191740421.jpgbuildings (abandoned since the war) was started and, in 1972, an annual Festival of Ancient Music was created, later becoming the Festival de Saintes. In 1988 the Abbey was launched as a cultural centre by President François Mitterrand, and in 2013 it became la cité musicale, housing a Conservatoire of Music and a range of year-round musical activities, including many for young people. The former nun’s cells now sleep visitors and guests of the Festival.
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Puccini: Suor Angelica

Puccini: Suor Angelica
LunchBreak Opera
St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate. 13 July 2017

Image may contain: textLunchBreak Opera is a new venture, launched earlier this year. Its first production was Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica, given in nine fully staged and costumed lunchtime and early evening performances (10-14 July) in St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate, London – a prime position, next to Liverpool Street Station. Lasting just 50 minutes it is ideal for lunchtime and post-work entertainment. Continue reading

Nonclassical Club Night

Nonclassical Club NIght
Freya Waley-Cohen, The Hermes Experiment, Liam Byrne
The Victoria, Dalston. 12 July 2017

Nonclassical is an enterprising musical set up combining a record label with monthly club nights around London, founded in 2004 by composer Gabriel Prokofiev. The club nights bring classical music, both newly composed and more traditional, to the rock club scene, with events usually held in pub entertainment rooms. If the aim was to attract the sort of audience that wouldn’t be seen dead in places like the Wigmore Hall, it has certainly succeeded. The audience stands, drinks in hand, around a stage packed with loudspeakers. Between the acts, DJs continue the theme of inventive new music. The associated record label includes extracts from the live gigs as well as remixes of new compositions. Continue reading

Ceruleo: Paradise Lost

Ceruleo: Paradise Lost
Guildhall Artist Fellowship Recital
Music Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 10 July 2017

The five-strong group Ceruleo (two sopranos, cello, theorbo, and harpsichord) got together at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2014. They have just completed a one year Artist Fellowship there, the first time a this has been awarded to a group. During their year, they gave several performances of their programme ‘Deplorable Fire’ commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, including a live performance on BBC Radio 3. They presented their Paradise Lost programme, based on John Milton’s poem (published 350 years ago in 1667) as their final recital of their Fellowship year. The music was interspersed by extracts from Paradise Lost. Continue reading

Regensburg Tage Alter Musik

Regensburg: Tage Alter Musik
2-5 June 2017

With 16 concert in four days, held over the Pentecost/Whitsun weekend, the annual Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival is quite a challenge for a reviewer, but a sumptuous feast for those who manage to attend all the concerts, most of which are sold out. IMG_20170602_150315400.jpgThe entire centre of the historic Danube city of Regensburg has been declared a World Heritage site, and all the venues for the festival are in important historic buildings. These range from extreme Baroque and Rococo to austere Gothic churches, and the historic Reichssaal, part of the Altes Rathaus, and for centuries the permanent seat of the Parliament of the Holy Roman Empire. This was the 33rd festival and featured groups from 12 countries, and musicians from a great many more. The Tage Alter Musik website can be see here, with links through to detailed programmes and group websites. Continue reading

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie
Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva
Music at Woodhouse: Baroque Opera Acadmey
Woodhouse Copse, Holmbury St. Mary, Surrey. 1 July 2017

Music at Woodhouse is based at Woodhouse Copse, an attractive 1926 Arts & Crafts style cottage orné and garden designed by Oliver Hill, a follower of Lutyens, with planting planned by Gertrude Jekyll. A former indoor swimming pool has been IMG_20170701_192809782_HDR.jpgconverted into a small concert room, and there is also a larger lakeside amphitheatre and stage. As well as small-scale professional productions, it has also recently started week-long academies for young opera singers, culminating in public performances. When they invited me to review Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie , I was warned that ‘it isn’t Glyndebourne’, but even Glyndebourne singers have to start somewhere and this seemed a pretty attractive venue for a week of music making and learning. Ten singers were accepted onto the academy, led by music direct Marco de Silva and harpsichordist Stephanie Gurga. Three of the roles had dual casting on the Saturday and Sunday performances. Continue reading

Waley-Cohen(s): Permutations

Permutations Unveil 
Compositions by Freya Waley-Cohen
Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin
Signum Classics SIGCD496. 27’46

This short recording is of two pieces by composer Freya Waley-Cohen, written for her older sister, the violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen. The key work, Permutations (c18′), is described as a “roaming performance artwork”. It has a fascinating compositional background. It was commissioned as part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2017 season and composed during a residency at Aldeburgh and is intended as an exploration of the relationship between architecture and music.

Permutations consists of six independent lines of solo violin music, all pre-recorded by Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and replayed within an architectural setting designed by Finbarr O’Dempsey & Andrew Skulina. Both the music and its setting were planned simultaneously during the Aldeburgh residency, with each acting as a muse for the other. The architectural setting has six flexible and adaptable enclosures, one for each of the six violin parts. A central space allows all six violin lines to be heard in balance, or the listener could move around, and adjust the acoustics of the space to hear various combinations of the six contrapuntal lines. Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Die Walküre

Grange Park Opera: Die Walküre
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Barlow
Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place, Surrey
29 June 2017

Grange Park Opera closed the final season of their 18 year tenure at The Grange, Hampshire with a performance of Tristan & Isolde, so it was appropriate that their opening season in their new home in the Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place they should include more Wagner, in the shape of Die Walküre, the second part of Wagner’s Ring cycle. The first, 1870, performance was as an isolated opera: it wasn’t performed in a Ring cycle until 1876, so viewing it on its own has a degree of authenticity. And, shorn of the complexity and stamina of being part of a complete Ring cycle, witnessing the stand-alone opera allowed us to focus on the complexities of interpersonal interaction and relationships.  Continue reading

OAE ‘Bach goes to Paris’

‘Bach goes to Paris’
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 28 June 2017

Campra Suite: Les Fêtes Vénetiennes
JCF Fischer Suite no. 7 from Le journal de printemps
Bach Suite no. 4
Rameau Suite: Les Indes Galantes
Bach Suite no. 3

‘Bach goes to Paris’? No, of course he didn’t, but in a way Paris, or at least, France, came to Bach, through the experience of other musicians and of studying scores, notably De Grigny’s Livre d’Orgue, which he copied out by hand. But, if he had have gone to Paris, I wonder what he would have made of Campra’s Les Fêtes Vénetiennes, an early example of the opéra-ballet genre. Much revised and revived after its 1710 opening, it clocked up around 300 performances over the following 50 years. With sections with titles such as the Triumph of Folly over Reason during the Carnival, Serenades and gamblers, and The acrobats of St Mark’s Square, or Cupid the acrobat, the lively series of depictions of carnival time in Paris gave a wonderful introduction to the livelier side of French music of the period. Particularly notable were Stephen Farr’s delightful little harpsichord twiddles during the rests in the Gigue, and Jude Carlton’s inventive percussion including, at one stage, castanets. it ends in a surprisingly elegant Chaconne – an example of French bon gout that was perhaps absent in some of the earlier moments. Continue reading