I am an organ recitalist, based in England, specializing in early music. As well as my performing, writing has always been an important part of my musical activities. I have written many articles on organ topics and early music, as well as the little book ‘The Performance of Early Organ Music’. For 20 years, until its demise, I was the principal concert and organ CD reviewer for Early Music Review magazine. My reviewing is now on this review website. Although it generally covers early music concerts, CDs, books and editions, it also allows me to venture into broader musical fields.
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Mysterien-Kantaten

Mysterien-Kantaten
Ensemble Les Surprises
Ambronay Editions AMY051. 58’16

Mysterien Kantaten

Music by Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Bernhard, Scheidemann, Reincken

Taking its title from Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (although not actually including any of those pieces), this recording from Les Surprises delves into the mysteries of life and death with an exploration of late 17th-century North German sacred cantatas of Buxtehude, Bruhns and Bernhard. What was particularly interesting for me to listen to, as an organist, were the arrangements of two well-known ground bass organ pieces for instruments. The CD opens with a version of Pachelbel’s Ciaconna in F minor, based on a repeated descending four-note bass line. We are then plunged straight into the world of death, with the Klag Lied, Buxtehude’s extraordinarily moving reflection on the death of his own father, whose last days were spent in his son’s home in Lübeck. It is followed by Nicolaus Bruhns’ cantata for bass voice meditation on death, De profundis clamavi and the second of the instrumental arrangements of organ pieces, Buxtehude’s Passacaglia in D minor. The programme notes (perhaps rather too unquestionably) the admittedly rather good theory that this is based on the lunar month and the phases of the moon, with its 28 variations and four sections, each with a distinctively different mood.  Continue reading

Gonzaga Band: Venice 1629

Venice 1629
The Gonzaga Band
Resonus RES10218. 68’27

Music by Castello, Monteverdi, Marini, Schütz, Grandi, Pesenti,
Tarditi, Carrone, Donati, and Rè

The Gonzaga Band, as the name suggests, was founded to explore the
music of late Renaissance Italy, their name inspired by the Mantua seat of the Gonzaga family, where Claudio Monteverdi had been their maestro della musica. However, this recording is centred in Venice, around 150km east of Mantua. The year 1629 is when Schütz, then  Hofkapellmeister of the Saxon court in Dresden, made a second visit to Venice to learn more about the music of Monteverdi and his contemporaries. Monteverdi had been maestro di cappella at St Mark’s since 1613, and the style of Giovanni Gabrielli, under whom Schütz studied in Venice a couple of decades earlier, was beginning to be superceded by the new style of the early Baroque.  Whilst there, Schütz published the first volume of his Symphoniae Sacrae. The same year also saw the publication of music by Dario Castello, Alessandro Grandi, Biagio Marini and others. This recording explores the extraordinarily productive musical life of Venice during that single year of 1629, with pieces from the musical greats of the city, as well as lesser-known composers.  Continue reading

Couperin: Pièces d’Orgue

François Couperin (1668-1733)
Pièces d’Orgue
Ed. Jon Baxendale
184 pages • ISMN: 979-0-2612-4441-1 • Hardback
Cantando Musikkforlag AS.  C4441

Piéces d'Orgue

François Couperin is one of those composers that is well-known to organists, although many of them will not know much about his non-organ compositions. He is also known to many non-organist music lovers, although many of them will not know much about his organ music. Like many organist-composers, Couperin’s organ works were published very early in his musical career, before his move into court circles and a compositional career mostly devoted to harpsichord, chamber and sacred vocal music. His father, Charles, was organist at the church of Saint-Gervais in Paris, just north of the Île de la Cité and the river Seine, where he had succeeded his brother Louis, the founder of the Couperin musical dynasty and a distinguished composer and performer. Charles died when François was about 11, specifying François as his successor. As Jon Baxendale discusses in his excellent Background Notes, this was the result of the practice of survivance, where an organist was able to specify his own successor, leading to such ‘family business’ situations. In the case of the Couperin family, the role remained in the family well into the 19th-century. François formally succeeded to the post when he reached the age of 18, the intervening years being taken up by increasingly intense training for his forthcoming role, during which he was paid a proportion of the stipend by the church authorities.

François Couperin was born 10 November 1668, and this 350th anniversary year is an apt moment for a new critical edition of his Pieces d’orgue. This collection of liturgical organ works dates from 1690, when he was 22. It consists of two Mass settings, with examples of the organ pieces that would have been played during the Latin Mass, most of them to be played in alternatim with the choir. One setting is intended for use in parish churches (à l’usage ordinaire des Paroisses Pour les Fêtes Solemnelles), the second for convents or abbey churches (Convents de Religieux et Religieuses). The latter setting is less complex than the first, and was written for a smaller organ, an indication that musical standards would have been higher in the parish churches, with a professional organist, than in the convents where the organ was played by one of the inmates.  Continue reading

BBC Prom 33: Thea Musgrave & Brahms

Thea Musgrave: Phoenix Rising
Brahms: A German Requiem
BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Richard Farnes
Royal Albert Hall, 7 August 2018

I was surprised to find that, despite being composed 21 years ago, this was the first time that Thea Musgrave’s Phoenix Rising (a BBC commission) had been performed at the Proms. It made for a fascinating pairing with Brahm’s German Requiem in this performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus conducted by Richard Farnes, making his Proms debut. Phoenix Rising represents the conflict between the forces of evil and good, darkness and light. The title came during composition and is taken from a sign outside a coffee shop in Virginia. At its core, it is a double concerto for horn and timpani, set within a dramatic kaleidoscope of symphonic colour and texture. The horn player, Martin Owen, is supposed to be offstage, but at the Royal Albert Hall there is always the risk that he would never be seen again, and was therefore positioned high up on the far left of the stage, behind timpanist Antoine Bedewi, and in front of one of the four percussionists spread out across the rear stage.

Thea Musgrave.jpgThea Musgrave. © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
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Prom 29/30: The Brandenburg Project

Prom 29/30: Brandenburg Concertos Project
Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard
Royal Albert Hall, 5 August 2018

One of the more unusual of this year’s BBC Proms were two related concerts given by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under their conductor Thomas Dausgaard. Over an afternoon and evening Prom, they performed all six Bach Brandenburg Concertos, each accompanied by companion pieces, commissioned by the orchestra, to partner each of the Brandenburgs. An ambitious project, that got close to working, but ultimately, from my point of view, didn’t. As an early music specialist, I do find modern instrument performances of Bach problematical. Although they certainly didn’t over-romanticize their interpretations, the sound world was one I wasn’t used to, at least, not since my youth. And with so many composers eager to write for period instruments, I think a real opportunity has been missed, from the Proms point of view, although the project has certainly done the Swedish Chamber Orchestra no harm.

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Andrew Benson-Wilson plays Scheidt: Tabulatura Nova I

The Grosvenor Chapel
South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2PA
Tuesday 11 September, 1:10

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Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays
Samual Scheidt (1587-1654)
Tabulatura Nova I

Andrew’s series of concerts featuring the North German pupils of Sweelinck, the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’, continues with two recitals of music by one of his most distinguished pupils, Samual Scheidt. His influential three-volume Tabulatura Nova was published in 1624. It is one of the most important of all collections of organ music. Its 58 pieces are a comprehensive demonstration of compositional styles. This recital, played on the William Drake organ in the Grosvenor Chapel, features three large-scale pieces from Volume 1 of the Tabulatura Nova.

Cantio Sacra: Wie gleuben all an einen Gott
Fantasia: Io son ferito lasso 
Cantio Belgica: Ach du feiner Reuter

The next Scheidt recital will be on the famous Frobenius organ in the chapel of The Queen’s College Oxford, on Wednesday 24 October 2018, starting at 1:10. It will be of pieces from Volume 3 of the Tabulatura Nova, in the form of Lutheran Organ Vespers.

Both concerts are free admission, with retiring donations welcomed.

Itinéraire Baroque: 2018

Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert
26-29 July 2018

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The annual Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert festival is now in its 17th year. It is based around the towns of Ribérac and Verteillac in the northern part of the Dordogne-Périgord region of western France. It was founded by Robert Huet and Ton Koopman, the former a local resident and director of the organising committee, the latter the artistic director and occasional import from The Netherlands, along with musical friends and family. It started as the one-day event that gave the festival its name – the Itineraire Baroque, a musical tour of some of the little-known Romanesque churches of the region. It was intended as much to draw attention to these often locked churches as for any musical intent. It has now expanded to cover four days over the last weekend in July. The theme for this year’s festival was ‘Looking towards Spain’, although only a few concerts made more than a casual nod in that direction. In fact, as a weekend dominated by Netherlanders, it was no surprise that several of the concerts focussed on the historic battles between the Dutch and the Spanish, viewed from a Dutch point of view – perhaps ‘Trying to get rid of Spain’ would have been a more accurate title. The programme for this year’s festival can be found here.

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BBC Prom 26: Serpent and Fire

Serpent and Fire
Il Giardino Armonico, Anna Prohaska
Royal Albert Hall. 2 August 2018 

Serpent and Fire is probably a better concert title that ‘Two Suicidal African Queens’, but Anna Prohaska’s exploration of the musical characters of Dido and Cleopatra certainly delved the emotional issues that caused both Queen’s demise. Despite her plea to ‘forget my fate’, Dido’s end is etched in all music-lovers minds, and it closed this late-night BBC Prom. Purcell’s Ah! Belinda providing the opening, introducing the Anna Prohaska’s beautifully clear and pure voice, and her use of the gentlest of vocal inflexions, quite correctly, as an ornament, for which I will readily forgive her the occasional tendency to slightly slur notes together. She later joined the very rare catalogue of early music singers who can produce a proper trill, rather than just relying on vibrato. The curious pauses in Ah! Belinda were the first of a number of directorial oddities provided by conductor Giovanni Antonini.

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Gottlieb Muffat: Ricercatas & Canzonas

Gottlieb Muffat
32 Ricercatas & 19 Canzonas (Ed. Erich Benedikt)
Vol  1: Ricercatas I-XIX
52 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-19074-5 • Softbound
Doblinger DM 1336

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Gottlieb Muffat is one of those unfortunate composers who is overshadowed by his father, in his case, Georg Muffat. The latter was one of the key instigators of an international keyboard style, infusing the Italian keyboard influence of Frescobaldi with musical influence from France. Gottlieb is generally known, if at all, through his connections with Handel, who ‘borrowed’ an extraordinary amount of his music, notably in the Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day, Samson, Joshua, and Judas Maccabeus. mostly from the six Suites in the 1736 Componimenti Musicali. 

This edition of Gottlieb Muffat’s 32 Ricercares and 19 Canzonas (Die 32 Ricercaten und 19 Canzonen) was first published by Doblinger in 2003 but has now been reissued in a smart new cover. Volume I (of three) includes the first 19 Ricercatas, plus an additional variant of Ricercata VII. The first three Ricercatas of this volume set are highly ornamented, in the manner of Georg Muffat, but there are few, if any, ornaments in the other Ricercatas. Muffat’s own table of ornaments from the Componimenti Musicali are included in this volume and are essential reading if you are to grasp the musical style of the period. As complex as they may seem (for example, there are 9 different types of trill), understanding them is essential in performance. Incidentally, knowledge of ornaments like this will also help to make sense of some of John Blow’s music, such was the international influence of the Frescobaldi/Froberger ‘school’. Having grasped the concept from the first three Ricercare, adding ornaments to the other pieces would be entirely appropriate.  Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Saul

Handel: Saul
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Laurence Cummings
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 22 July 2018

Glyndebourne’s new production of Handel’s Saul was one of the highlights of the 2015 season, gaining rave reviews from, amongst others, me – see here, which also gives more background to the oratorio and the production. Glyndebourne has a long tradition of staging Handel oratorios, and I have no problem at all with that, subject to my normal reservations about what some some opera directors get up to with their productions. This was not entirely devoid of some concern on those grounds, but the sheer spectacle of Barrie Kosky’s direction and the musical integrity of Ivor Bolton’s direction allayed most of my concerns. The same applies to this revival, at least musically, on this occasion conducted by the equally distinguished Laurence Cummings, directing the same Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Glyndebourne’s resident period instrument orchestra.

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West Green Opera: Candide

Bernstein: Candide
West Green Opera, 21 July 2018

According to the pre-event announcement from somebody at the front of the stalls, West Green Opera are one of only three permitted staged productions of Candide in the UK during this ‘Bernstein 100’ anniversary year. If so, that is quite an achievement for one of the lesser known summer opera venues. But West Green Opera are already looking forward and upward, this year featuring the first appearence of a smart new, albeit commercially loaned, opera house construction trialling a possible site for a more permanent addition to West Green House, a few miles east of Basingstoke. Leased from the National Trust, the gardens and the summer opera season have both blossemed in recent years, and their ambitions are clearly not yet satisfied. The earlier opera venue was in a tent blocking the view of the house elevation pictured below.

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The new opera house is beyond the ha-ha in the corner of an adjoining field. It is much larger than its earlier incarnation, and they have yet to build an audience large enough to fill it completely, at least for this performance of Candide. But this new accommodation is certainly an improvement on the previous tent, although one of the hottest days of the year did test audience, and presumably, cast stamina somewhat. The back-stage provision is a vast improvement on the earlier Heath Robinson affair, and the stage and orchestra area is much larger.

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Garsington Opera: The Skating Rink

The Skating Rink
David Sawer & Rory Mullarkey
Garsington Opera, Wormsley. 14 July 2018

Just days after the world premiere of a new opera (at Grange Park Opera, reviewed here), here is another one, this time The Skating Rink, performed at Garsington Opera, now firmly established as a feature in the spectacular landscape of Wormsley Park. Their new commission was written by David Sawer to a libretto by Rory Mullarkey, based on the novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. Set in a small seaside town on the Costa Brava in the late 1990s, the story is based around the beautiful young ice skating champion, Nuria, and her relationships first with Remo Moran and then with the obsessive and much older Enrico. Political machinations during the run-up to a local election year provide background intrigue, including such lines, presumably aimed at the well-heeled Garsington audience, as “I’m not a monster / I’m a Socialist” and the repeated refrain of “Fuck this Country/ Fuck the Government”. Getting rid of illegal immigrants runs through the storyline, focussed on an opera singer, Carmen, who has fallen hard times and the young girl Caradad, attractive beneath the shabbiness of her clothes. A large community cast provided further ‘vagrants’ and scene-shifters.

Gaspar, a local poet and an illegal immigrant himself, is at the bottom of a food chain hierarchy and is tasked with evicted Carmen and Caradad from the campsite at which he is the night watchman. He quickly falls for Caradad (pictured below), but she soon goes missing, running off through the audience. His search for her brings him into the murky world of what turns out to be a murder plot, combined with embezzlement, deception, lust for power, and obsession.

8Garsington Opera 2018 Susan Bickley (Carmen), Claire Wild (Caridad), Sam Furness (Gaspar) credit Johan Persson_0.jpg

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Pushkin – the opera

Pushkin – the opera
Konstantin Boyarsky & Marita Phillips
Orchestra and Chorus of Novaya Opera, Jan Latham-Koenig
Grange Park Opera, West Horsley Place, 12 July 2018

We all have a great many great-great-great grandparents, but few of us are able to write an opera about two of them. Marita Phillips is one such, a descendent of the scandalous elopement and 1891 marriage between the grandson of Tsar Nicholas I and the granddaughter of Pushkin. Pushkin and Nicholas were born within 3 years of each other in 1796 and 1799 respectively. While exiled by Nicholas’s father, Tsar Alexander I, for writing the poem Ode to Liberty, Pushkin wrote Boris Godunov and Eugene Onegin. Ode to Liberty was seen as influencing the 1825 Decembrist Uprising that followed Nicholas’s unexpected appointment as Tsar, creating an uneasy relationship between the two men, at the core of this opera, which opens with the gruesome nooses that followed the Decembrist Uprising.

Written over an astonishing 15 years period, the story covers key aspects of Pushkin’s life in and around the court of Nicolas I, with an emphasis on the complex relationship with his wife Natalia Goncharova. She was around 13 years younger than him. They met when she was just 16, and already a renown beauty. She attracted the attention of the sumptuously monikered Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès, the adopted son of the Dutch Ambassador. The relationship between the two was open to some discussion, leading in Phillips’ text to the accusatory question of “buggery or incest”. Perhaps unfortunately, this question was reinforced by the fact that Georges d’Anthès looked remarkably like outrageously camp Mr Humphries from the 1970s television sitcom Are you Being Served, making his later attraction to Natalia a bit of a surprise. He pursued Natalia to the extent that a duel between him and Pushkin, leading to Pushkin’s death, his depiction as the ‘white wolf’ predicted by the exotic character of the gypsy.  Continue reading

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni
Il Riposo, L’Amoroso, and Il Grosso Mogul
Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics CCS SA 403318. 75’24

Although the Four Seasons sounds much better in Italian, it doesn’t hide the fact that this is yet another recording of the inevitable old favourite. Despite there being squillions of other recordings available, a new one will probably guarantee good sales, not least because people do seem to like what they know. And they do know the Four Seasons, even if the CD title of Le Quatro Stagioni might confuse them a little. Vivaldi wrote more than 200 concertos for violin and orchestra, For the more discerning listener, there has to be something distinctive to separate any new recording out from the competition. And, boy, haven’t some people tried something distinctive. Rachel Podger and her Brecon Baroque avoid the ‘distinctive’ route and instead focus on intelligent music-making, aided by sensitive articulation, sensible speeds and appropriate accompaniments.  Continue reading

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken
Vox Luminis, Ensemble Masques, Lionel Meunier
Alpha:
ALPHA287. 85’17

Gott hilf mir, denn das Wasser geht mir bis an die Seele, BuxWV 34
Befiehl dem Engel, dass er komm, BuxWV 10
Jesu, meine Freude, BuxWV 60
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, BuxWV 41
Jesu, meines lebens leben, BuxWV 62
Trio Sonatas, BuxWV 255, 267, and 272

Although the CD publicity and Peter Wollny’s programme essay credit Dietrich Buxtehude with the Lübeck Abendmusik, the famous series of Thursday early evening concerts during the five weeks leading up to Christmas were in fact founded by Buxtehude’s predecessor as organist of the Marienkirche, Franz Tunder. He died in 1667, so the roots of the evening entertainment funded by local businessmen, and free to all-comers, are well before the music heard on the recording, most of which comes from Buxtehude’s later years. As organist, rather than Kantor, of the Marienkirche, Buxtehude was not required to compose music for the weekly liturgy, so he was able to devote more time to his compositions, independent of the pressure of service writing. This resulted in a magnificent series of vocal, choral and instrumental works, much of which is still not as well known as his highly influential organ music. It was these Abendmusik concerts that attracted the young Bach and Handel to Lübeck, as well as the prospect of succeeding Buxtehude, even with the requirement to marry his sole unmarried daughter, by then considerably older than either of them. Incidentally, Buxtehude had married his predecessor’s daughter, as had Tunder and many other generations of Marienkirche organists.

This impressive recording helps to reset that balance with a well-chosen sequence of vocal and instrumental pieces, including three of his beautifully expressive Trio Sonatas. Although not specifically intended for service use, Buxtehude’s cantatas offer an insight into the Pietist sentiments of 17th-century Lübeck, with an exquisitely profound underlying sensitivity and sensuousness. Continue reading

Rameau: Complete solo keyboard works

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Complete solo keyboard works
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus RES10214. 3CDs 79’26, 65’45, 73’28

This important recording of the solo keyboard works of Jean-Philippe Rameau brings together in a three-CD set, pieces previously only available as separate downloads from the Resonus website. For those who haven’t kept up with these recordings, or who want a hard copy of these performances, this three-for-the-price-of-one package is a must-buy. The three discs were recorded in St John the Evangelist, Oxford in December 2013 and April 2014, and in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in August 2017. All use the same double-manual harpsichord by Ian Tucker based on a 1626 Andreas Ruckers of Antwerp, with a ravalement added in 1763 by Hemsch of Paris. The pitch is  a=415, and it is tuned in the non-specific Tempérament Ordinaire, in this context presumably meaning a modified meantone temperament. The three CDs follow a sensible order, giving an excellent overview of Rameau’s stylistic development from 1706 to 1747. Sadly, the title of ‘Complete solo keyboard works’ is correct: although he spent much of his early life as an organist, unlike many other French composers of the period, he left no compositions for the organ, although there are modern transcriptions available, in score, and on CD.  Continue reading

The Abduction from the Seraglio – Grange Festival

Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio
Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud
The Grange Festival, 24 June 2018

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The fledgeling Grange Festival, now in its second year, followed its impressive production of Handel’s Agrippina (reviewed here) with a pantomime interpretation of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, here under the title of The Abduction from the Seraglio in its new English translation by David Parry. The veteran director John Copley (the 85-year-old honoured with a very old photograph in the programme) kept things light and frothy, doing nothing to make up for the perceived the lack of character development in Mozart’s comic Singspiel. The replacement of sung recitative with spoken text meant the sequence of arias and consort numbers were not part of an unfolding musical fabric, and the rather light direction meant that it got close to the style of present-day musical theatre. Judging by their response, it suited the tastes of the Hampshire audience well, with little to trouble their intellect or to take their mind off the long dinner interval or the spectacular scenery outside. How they giggled at moments like judging girls on the grounds of being “not too fat”, or Osmin’s calling Pedrillo a “mincing little nancy”, albeit on this occasion because he was (counterintuitively) “ogling women that you fancy”: a triumph of rhyme over rhetoric. Continue reading

Iford Arts: Partenope

Handel: Partenope
Contraband, Christopher Bucknall
Iford Arts, 23 June 2018

Since 1995, Iford Arts have been promoting the summer opera season in the magnificent Peto Gardens of Iford Manor, just south of Bradford-upon-Avon. The manor was the home of the Edwardian architect and landscape designer Harold Peto from 1899 until his death in 1933. Peto created the Italianate gardens that clamber up the hillside above the classically-fronted mediaeval Iford Manor, with terraces littered with architectural bits and bobs, including a recreation of an Italianate cloister. The cloister is turned into an intimate opera venue, with the hillside gardens providing a spectacular setting for pre-opera picnics and mid-opera biscuits. Sadly, this year is the last year that Iford Manor will be hosting Iford Arts and Opera at Iford, and the search is on for a new venue for them to continue to build their impressive Young Arts and Education Outreach programmes and to continue providing high standard opera in the Bath hinterlands. This year they presented three operas, Candide, Madam Butterfly, and Handel’s Partenope, alongside other events.

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Handel’s Partenope is an entertaining venture into cross-dressing, sexual and political intrigue, disguise, and, in the original 1730 production, some impressive special effects, including a battle that employed a stage army. The story is a slight, but attractive one, with scope for drama, betrayal, humour and sexual goings-on. Partenope is Queen of Naples. She has three princely admirers: Arsace, Armindo, Eurimene (a newcomer), and later, Emilio, heading an invading army, bent on a marriage alliance or war. Soon after the opera opens, Partenope’s favourite, Arsace, notices the striking similarity between the curious ‘Armenian’ Prince Eurimene to his former lover, Rosmira, not realising that it is indeed her, but disguised as a man. As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a woman and ultimately only recognisable to Arsace, she proceeds to mock and goad Arsace to the extent that the Queen demands that they fight a duel. Arsace, wanting to reveal Eurimene’s true identity, demands that they should both fight topless. Unfortunately for any pervs in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira. It was first performed in February 1730, in the King’s Theatre. Continue reading

Kerll: Complete Organ Works – Vol I

Johann Caspar Kerll (1627-1693)
Complete Organ Works
Vol I: Toccaten I–VIII (Ed. John O’Donnell)
34 pages • ISMN: 979-0-012-18121-7 • Softbound
Doblinger DM 1203

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Johann Caspar Kerll was born 1617 in Adorf in the far south of Saxony. Son of an organist, he was sent to Vienna in his early teens to study with the Court Kapellmeister, Giovanni Valentini. He was soon noticed in Court circles and when he was about 20 years-old was sent to Brussels by the Hapsburg governor of the Spanish Netherlands as organist for the new palace. Over the next 10 years, he combined his Brussels post with musical travels, including studying in Italy with Carissimi where he probably met Froberger and might have studied with him. He also spent time back in Vienna, in Dresden, and Moravia, eventually becoming Court Kapellmeister in Dresden in 1656. He returned to Vienna in 1674, where he might have been a teacher of Pachelbel, then deputy organist at the Stephensdom. He is one of those unfortunate composers many of whose works have been lost, including eleven operas. He is best known now for his keyboard music, and this first volume of his organ works, consisting of 8 Toccatas,  demonstrates why. Continue reading

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
Fantaisie sur le Te Deum et Guirlandes Alleluiatiques.

Played on the 1760 England / 2009 William Drake organ.

Christ’s Chapel is part of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift,
which is next to the Dulwich Art Gallery. Free street parking.
10 minutes walk from West Dulwich station.
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