Bach in Excelsis Bach B Minor Mass Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Václav Luks Royal Festival Hall, 19 March 2023
Making his debut with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Royal Festival Hall, Czech harpsichordist Vaclav Lukspresented what was advertised as a “chamber interpretation” of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, “based on his study of the performance practices of recent decades”. Vaclav Luks is best known for his orchestra and vocal consort Collegium 1704 and his championing of the Czech composer Zelenka. I have only heard him conduct his orchestra once before, in Leipzig in 2015 when Collegium 1704 was the orchestra in residence (whole festival review here). His excitement at this RFH booking was evident, not least bringing his own score onto the podium several minutes before the start (a ritual usually undertaken by an underling), peeping out from the stage entrance and snapping a mobile phone photo of the audience. Of course, a conductor only sees the audience as he walks on and at the end, so I can fully understand his wanting a preliminary peep.
Mayfair Organ Concerts The Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair Tuesday 21 March 2023
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays music by Bõhm & Bach
Bõhm. Partita: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele Trio: Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele Bach. Fantasia pro Organo a 5 Vocum BWV 562i Bõhm. Vater unser Im Himmelreich Bach. Praeludium con Fuga in c BWV 546
This special Early Music Day concert contrasts two of Bach’s most powerful organ works with the music of one of his earliest influences. When he was 15, Bach became a student at the Michaelisschule in Lüneburg. Georg Böhm (1661-1733) had recently been appointed organist of the nearby Johanniskirche, the principal town church with its 1553 Hendrik Niehoff organ. The young Bach certainly knew Bõhm, and may have been a pupil of his – one of the earliest Bach manuscripts is a copy of a piece by Reinken that Bõhm owned.
This is my body Buxtehude Membra Jesu Nostri Figure Ensemble, Frederick Waxman The Swiss Church, Covent Garden. 15th March 2023
The “forward-thinking historical performance ensemble” Figure gave their impressive thought-provoking interpretation of Dieterich Buxtehude’s 1680 sequence of seven cantata meditations on the body of Christ, Membra Jesu Nostri. They described this as “an immersive, surround-sound performance” which allows the audience to “experience every emotion up close and stand within the Passion scene – in the body of the sound”. The sparse white-washed of the acoustically lively Swiss Church provided the perfect venue. Apart from a few chairs around the edge of the empty space, the audience stood in a space surrounded by four stages and a central platform. The seven instrumentalists were in the apse at the business end of the church. The five singers moved around the space, singing from the five platforms in various groupings. On one side wall was a projection of the texts in English while the other showed evolving drawings based on a statue that survives from Buxtehude’s time in Lübeck’s Marienkirche.
‘Tis Nature’s Voice Hail! Bright Cecilia Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings Milton Court. 9 March 2023
Matthew Locke etc. Suite from The Tempest including Pelham Humfrey’s Masque of Neptune Henry Purcell. Ode to Saint Cecilia: Hail! Bright Cecilia Z.328
Under the banner of the Academy of Ancient Music’s current concert series, ‘Tis nature’s voice! Laurence Cummings led them in a tour of English mid to late-17th-century music with a comparison between the music written by several composers for a 1674 production of The Tempest and the largest of Purcell’s Odes to Saint Cecilia, composed for the 1692 Saint Cecilia’s Day celebrations in Stationers’ Hall, a venue that still exists.
Channelling Francesca Cuzzoni Angela Hicks, Opera Settecento London Handel Festival The Charterhouse, 9 March 2023
The first of the London Handel Festival’s ‘Lunchtime in the City’ concerts featured soprano Angela Hicks and Opera Settecento in a concert following the career of the famous 18th-century soprano Francesca Cuzzoni (1696-1778), one of Handel’s most famous singers. She was born in northern Italy and, after her debut in 1714, spent eight years performing in Florence, Milan, Bologna, Turin), Padua and Venice before her first visit to London in 1722. These early Italian years were represented by the opening showpiece aria Fra catene ognor penando from Vivaldi’s Scanderbeg (RV 732) and gentler Lasciatemi in pace from Orlandini’s 1721 Nerone.
Bach : Six Motets BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Peter Dijkstra Milton Court Concert Hall,3 March 2023
This BBC Singers’ Milton Court performance of the traditional grouping of Bach’s Six Motets (BWV 225–230) was imaginative and thoughtful, notably in two specific aspects. With one exception, they were sung in reverse order of BWV numbers, that exception being Komm, Jesu, komm (BWV 229) which was sung in the middle of the cantata Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl. The concert will be broadcast on Wednesday 22 March on BBC Radio 3.
Handel: Alexander’s Feast London Handel Orchestra & Singers, Laurence Cummings London Handel Festival St George’s, Hanover Square. 23 February 2023
Handel’s birthday seemed a particularly appropriate day to open the 2023 London Handel Festival and to hear his ode for St Cecilia’s Day Alexander’s Feast. The libretto is based on John Dryden’s 1697 Alexander’s Feast, or the Power of Music, written to for Saint Cecilia’s Day. It recounts the story of a banquet held by Alexander the Great and his mistress, Thaïs, in the captured Persian city of Persepolis, during which the musician Timotheus sings and plays his lyre, arousing various moods in Alexander. The power of music takes a turn for the worse when Alexander is incited to destroy Persepolis in revenge for his dead Greek soldiers.
Anne Boleyn’s Songbook Alamire, David Skinner St Martin-in-the-Fields, 17 February 2023
This was a welcome return of Alamire’s ‘Anne Boleyn’s Songbook’, following their 2015 recording and Wannamaker Playhouse performance. The songbook is a manuscript in the Royal College of Music that seems to have belonged to Anne Boleyn. It includes the inscription ‘Mistres ABolleyne nowe this’ the ‘Mistres’ suggesting that the songbook was started before she became Queen in 1533. ‘Nowe thus’ is her father’s motto.
This programme combines pieces from the Songbook with readings from what I assume were the published love letters between Anne and Henry VIII which somehow or other ended up in the Vatican Library.
Vivaldi Double Concertos La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler St Martin-in-the-Fields. 11 February 2023
In what was described as “a carnival of double concertos from 18th century Venice – music of fantasy, flamboyance and virtuosity to the power of two”, La Serenissima and its “charismatic founder” Adrian Chandler bought its “no-holds-barred flamboyance” to St Martin-in-the-Fields. It was a reminder of St Martin’s endless ‘Vivaldi by Candlelight’ tourist concerts, although their concert promotions are rather more elevated these days. As the publicity blurb enthused: “Baroque Venice was a city of doubles – of shimmering reflections and masked revellers. And since nothing succeeds like excess, when Vivaldi wrote concertos for two soloists, the results were spectacular: a carnival of colour, illusion and sparkling sonic conversation”.
The Handel Friends “A farewell to Mr Handel’s organ“ A recital on the Handel chamber organ before its move to The Handel House Museum Andrew Benson-Wilson St George’s, Hanover Square, Tuesday 25 April 2023, 7pm
The Handel chamber organ was made in 1998 by Goetze & Gwynn for the Handel House Trust. They opened the Handel House Museum in 2001 in Handel’s own house at 25 Brook Street, his home for the last 36 years of his life. As the Handel organ was too large for the limited space available at the time, it has lived in St George’s Hanover Square, Handel’s nearby parish church. As part of the Hallelujah Project, which will enlarge the space of the museum and add the flat next door where Jimi Hendrix lived in the 1960s, the chamber organ is being moved into Handel House in May. The organ is based on the chamber organs of Richard Bridge and Thomas Parker, who built the organ which belonged to Charles Jennens, the librettist of Messiah, which still exists close to its original condition.
Handel Around the World Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Steven Devine,director, Ian Bostridge,tenor Queen Elizabeth Hall. 1 February 2023
Handel Around the World was originally intended to be the title of an Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concert tour that extended into Asia but political and other issues meant that was cancelled. This concert, now part of the OAE’s Songs of Travel series, is a compilation of some of the pieces that were to have been performed during that tour. Compiled by Ian Bostridge and OAE colleagues, the selection of arias from Handel operas and oratorios covered quite a bit of the world including Lombardy, Turkey, Sicily, Armenia, Egypt, Scotland, an unidentified island – and Edgware, where the first performance of Acis and Galatea took place, at Cannons House.
Secret Byrd An Immersive Staged Mass on the 400th anniversary of William Byrd The Gesualdo Six with Fretwork Bill Barclay, Concert Theatre Works St Martin-in-the-Fields crypt, 27 January 2023
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Byrd, The Gesualdo Six combined with the viol consort Fretwork for a theatrical recreation of a secret Catholic Mass with Byrd’s Mass for 5 Voices performed, as he intended, for a secret act of private domestic worship. It was directed by Bill Barclay, produced by Concert Theatre Works, and supported by The Continuo Foundation. The premiere performances were held in the splendidly restored crypt of London’s St Martin in the Fields.
Saint-Saëns: Sounds for the End of a Century Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor Steven Isserlis, cello, James McVinnie, organ Royal Festival Hall, 26 January 2023
Phaéton symphonic poem, Op.39 Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33 Danse macabre Symphony No.3 in C minor (‘Organ Symphony’)
The first stop on the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s 2023 ‘grand tour’ from London to Mongolia was the Paris of organist and composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921). Towards the end of the 19th century, French music looked to create its own style, breaking away from the German musical influence of the time. Saint-Saëns, although retaining the influence of Franz Liszt, was part of this but he also looked back into the past, notably the music of Rameau (1683–1764) as well as acknowledging the music of the much younger Ravel. This concert of compositions from the early 1870s to the mid-1880s paired the well-known Danse macabre and the 3rd (Organ) Symphony following the lesser-known (to me, at least) Cello Concerto and the symphonic poem Phaéton.
Biber: Rosary Sonatas Daniel Pioro, violin, James McVinnie, organ, harpsichord Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer & Purcell Room Sunday 22 January 2023
Described as “a day-long deep dive into the world of Biber’s virtuosic Rosary Sonatas, with performances and talks stretching from sunrise to sunset”, this event divided the three sections of Biber’s Rosary (or Mystery) Sonatas into separate concerts, the first starting at 8 in the morning, one at midday, and then at 4 in the afternoon. The three concerts were interspersed with two pairs of “Deep Dive” talks – “deep dive” being the phrase of the moment as far as the Southbank is concerned, with more references in the January programme booklet, although it is a new one to me. This event seems to be part of the Southbank’s process of post-Covid rethinking, trying to rebuild audiences and attract younger people.
Mandolin on Stage The Greatest Mandolin Concertos Raffaele La Ragione Il Pomo d’Oro, Francesco Corti Outhere/Arcana A524. 66’56
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Mandolin Concerto in C Major RV 425 Baldassarre Galuppi (1706-1785): Sinfonia: from Il mondo alla roversa, Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816): Mandolin Concerto in E-Flat Major; Sinfonia in B flat Francesco Lecce (1750-1806): Mandolin Concerto in G Major Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Sinfonia in D Major Hob.I:106 Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837): Mandolin Concerto in G Major
The Vivaldi Mandolin Concerto that opens this disk from Raffaele La Ragione and Il Pomo d’Oro will be well known to many people, but the other three lesser-known concertos are well worth getting to know. Using three different mandolins appropriate to each period, this recreation of the evocative sound world of this comparatively rare instrument covers the period from Vivaldi around 1700 to Hummel in 1799 via the Neapolitan composers Giovanni Paisiello and Francesco Lecce. The four concertos are interspersed with brief opera Sinfonias by Galuppi, Haydn, and Paisiello.
The Goldberg Variations is one of the most complex of all Bach’s keyboard works to understand and perform, so it is a brave move for anybody to make it their debut recording. However, Nathaniel Mander does have at least one distinguished predecessor in Glen Gould’s 1955 debut recording. It was published in 1741 under the (publisher’s) title of Clavierubung IV, following the earlier ClavierubungI, II, and III. The title implies that it is ‘Keyboard practice’, but it certainly is far more than that. Bach (who called it Aria with diverse variations for a harpsichord with two manuals) notes that it was “composed for connoisseurs, for the refreshment of their spirits”, which gives a far more appropriate impression of its status. The legend that Bach wrote the variations for Johann Gottlieb Goldberg is almost certainly not true, not least because Goldberg was just 13 at the time. But he was clearly a gifted player, and was a student of Bach’s son, Wilhelm Friedemann in Dresden, and also took lessons with J.S. Bach in Leipzig.
Andrew Benson-Wilson, organ Mayfair Organ Concerts The Grosvenor Chapel South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2PA Tuesday 21 March 2023, 1:10
Bõhm: Partita Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele Trio Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele Bach: Fantasia in c BWV 562i Bõhm: Vater unser Im Himmelreich Bach: Praeludium con Fuga in c BWV 546
This recital is a contribution to Early Music Day, the international celebration of early music that takes place annually on 21 March, the anniversary of Bach’s birth. The programme contrasts the music of one of Bach’s earliest influences with two of his mature organ works. When he was 15, Bach became a student at the Michaelisschulein Lüneburg. Georg Böhm was organist of the nearby Johanniskirche, the principal town church. The organ there was built in 1553 by Hendrik Niehoff, and is pictured below.
There is clear evidence that the young Bach knew Bõhm, and may have been a pupil of his. One of the earliest Bach manuscripts is a copy of a piece by Reinken owned by Bõhm. The two Bach pieces are powerful examples of his mature style, the first demonstrating the clear influence of French music, that he may have first experienced in Lüneburg and nearby Hamburg. The monumental Praeludium et Fuga in c shows the influence of Italian music, notably in the concerto-like Praeludium. Both Bach pieces were played as final voluntaries during the late Queen’s funeral and committal.
Charpentier at Christmas Les Arts Florissants, William Christie The Barbican, 19 December 2022
Marc-Antoine Charpentier Antiennes ‘O’ de l’Avent, H36–43 and Noëls pour les instruments, H531 and 534 Sur la Naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, H482 In nativitatem Domini Canticum, H416
A delightful alternative to the endless Messiahs and carol events in the lead-up to Christmas came with the visit of Les Arts Florissant to The Barbican for their concert, Charpentier at Christmas. Despite the decades of work by William Christie and the regular visits of his Les Arts Florissant to The Barbican, the French baroque repertoire is still not as well known as it deserves to be. This was a wonderful chance to absorb the distinctive sound of French music, singers, and orchestral colours.
The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539 Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies Delphian DCD34284. 67’14
The Mysterious Motet Book of 1539 of the title refers to a collection of sacred music assembled by the choirmaster of Milan Cathedral and sent, for reasons that are unclear, to Peter Schöffer, a Protestant publisher in Strasbourg. They were published in 1539 as Cantiones quinque vocumselectissimae. One of the mysteries is why such strongly Catholic music should be published in the equally strongly Protestant Strasbourg? In a collaboration with Cambridge University researcher Dr Daniel Trocmé-Latter, Siglo de Oro has selected 12 of the 38 Latin motets from the collection. These include pieces by Arcadelt, Willaert, and Gombert together with some lesser-known (or, indeed, completely unknown) composers such as Johannes Sarton.
Johann Sebastian Bach: Complete Organ Works Breitkopf & Härtel – 10 Volumes
Volume 9: Choral Partitas / Individually transmitted Choral Settings I Ed. Reinmar Emans and Matthias Schneider Edition Breitkopf EB8809. 184 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 783 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18378-6 | Softbound
Volume 10: Individually transmitted Choral Settings II Ed. Reinmar Emans and Matthias Schneider Edition Breitkopf EB8810. 200 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 847 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18379-3 | Softbound
Breitkopf & Härtel bring their ten-volume edition of the Complete Organ Works of Johann Sebastian Bach to an end with these two final and the offer of a complete package of all ten volumes. Volumes 9 and 10 bring together the Chorale Partitas and choral settings that have been individually transmitted rather than appearing in published collections (Clavierübung, Schübler, Orgelbüchlein, Leipzig/18). My reviews of previous Volumes can be read at these links: Volume 1, 2 & 4;Volume 3;Volume 5, 6 & 7; and Volume 8.
La Notte Concertos & Pastorales for Christmas Night Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort Delphian DCD34278. 65’52
Vivaldi Concerto RV 104 ‘La notte’; Concerto for Strings RV 270a ‘Il riposo -per il santissimo Natalé Biber Sonata ‘Pastrorella’ Pavel Joseph Vejvanoský Sonata Laetitiae Johann Rauch Sonata No X ‘Pastorella’ Anon Sonate ‘Wie schön leuchtet die Morgenstern’; Anon Sonate ‘Musikalisch Uhrwerk’; Gottfried Finger Pastoralle Johann Schmelzer Sonata a 3 ‘Pastorale’
This delightful recording from Bojan Čičić and his The Illyria Consort explores the musical Christmas traditions in 17th-century Catholic Europe, notably Italy and the Hapsburg domains of Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia. This was a period when ‘rustic’ effects were introduced into Christmas instrumental music, usually reflecting the shepherds watching their flocks in the fields at night. And night is where the recording starts, with Vivaldi’s multisectional La notte Concerto (RV 104) – not obviously a Christmas piece, but a nice start to the festivities.
Johann Jakob Walther: Scherzi da violino Bojan Čičić, Illyria Consort Delphian DCD34294. 2 CDs. 51’00 + 49’48
Bojan Čičićand his Illyria Consort continue their exploration of the lesser-known corners of the often virtuosic violin repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, this time focussing on Johann Jakob Walther (1650-1717). His Scherzi da violino solo con il basso continuo per l’organo ò cimbalo, accompagnabile anche con una viola ò leuto, was published in 1676 and this double CD includes all 12 Scherzi, several in first recordings. This little-known composer is a generation before JS Bach’s cousin, Johann Gottfried Walther, and is not related. However, it is the latter’s 1732 Lexicon that gives us the limited information that survives on Johann Jakob. He spent three years in Florence before becoming leader of the Dresden court orchestra, finally ending up in Mainz. A writer in the 19th-century referred to him as the “Paganini of his age”, and this recording shows why.
London International Festival of Early Music November 2022 Now available to view on Marquee TV
For those who, like me, were not able to get to this November’s London International Festival of Early Music (LIFEM), the five concerts from St Michael & All Angels Church, Blackheath can now be viewed on Marquee TV under the heading LIFEM 2020. The link is here. You can use the code LIFEM50 to sign up for a free seven-day trial, as well as 50% off an annual Marquee TV subscription. Concerts from the 2021 festival are also available to view.
Full of the Highland Humours Ensemble Hesperi EM Records, EMR CD074. 62’05
I have heard the impressive Ensemble Hesperi several times live (one review is here), and welcome this debut recording, the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Building on their exploration of the repertoire of 18th-century Scottish composers, and the influence of Scottish music on London’s musical life, this attractive recording reveals London’s cross-cultural influences from Scotland and Italy. The CD title comes from Henry Playford’s A Collection of Original Scotch Tunes: Full of the Highland Humours, the first collection of Scottish music known in London.
Scheidemann: Chorale Fantasias for Organ Ed. Pieter Dirksen Breitkopf & Härtel 2022 92 pages | 30.5 x 23cm | 361gm | ISMN: 979-0-004-18607-7 | Softbound Edition Breitkopf EB8938
Although the rather retro style of the cover might suggest a reprint, this is a new edition of nine Chorale Fantasias on Lutheran chorales by the pivotal North German organist composer Heinrich Scheidemann (c1595-1663). One of the key students of Sweelinck in Amsterdam (1611 to 1614), Scheidemann’s return to Hamburg was key to that city’s extraordinary 17th-century flowering of organ music: a fusion of organ design and musical development that culminated in the music of Buxtehude and, ultimately, Bach whose early experience was strongly influenced by this North German school of organ composition.
Basevi Codex Music At the Court of Margaret of Austria Dorothee Mields, Boreas Quartett Bremen AUDITE 97.783. 61’30
What a beautiful recording. Outstanding singing from Dorothee Mields, exquisitely delicate recorder playing from the Boreas Quartett Bremen, fascinating early 16th-century music from a little-known source, and an insight into the musical world of the Burgundian court in Mechelen. Despite a lovely back story to the CD and the music, this is one of those recordings that you can just lie back and listen to for sheer musical pleasure. If relaxed wafting is not for you, read on for more background.
The Orgelbüchlein Project: Volume 3 A 21st-century completion of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein Volume 3: Catechism, Penitence and Communion (Chorales 61–86) Compiled and edited by William Whitehead 119 pages • 230x323mm • ISMN 979-0-2650-2810-9 • Softbound Musica Baltica
The recent celebration of the completion of The Orgelbüchlein Project (reviewed here, with background information on the project) included the launch of the second volume (actually Volume 3) of the published chorales. This followed the earlier publication of the first volume (labeled Volume 4, and reviewed here). Since the first volume, there has been a change of publisher, the latest volume (and the remaining ones) is published by Musica Baltica. Each volume is dedicated to a specific liturgical group of chorales, in this case relating to the Catechism, Penitence and Communion (chorales 61–86 of the original Bach Orgelbüchlein).
Johann Pachelbel: Organ Works, Vol 2 Matthew Owens Organ by Bernard Aubertin Resonus Classic RES10303. 76’20
Matthew Owens follows his Pachelbel Organ Works Volume 1 (reviewed here, with background comments that I will not repeat here) with this volume, recorded on an impressive 2015 three-manual, 30-stop Bernard Aubertin organ in a private house in East Sussex. The programme follows a similar format to the first volume, with a Chorale Partita (on Christus, der ist mein Leben) a sequence of 23 Magnificat Fugues (Primi Toni), five chorale preludes and an opening (unrelated) Prelude and Fugue in D.
John Frederick Lampe: The Dragon of Wantley The Brook Street Band, John Andrews Resonus Classics RES10304. 2CDs59’44+44’12
Mary Bevan soprano, Margery Catherine Carby mezzo soprano, Mauxalinda Mark Wilde tenor, Moore of Moore Hall John Savournin bass-baritone, Gaffer Gubbins and The Drago
The German-born bassoonist and composer John Frederick Lampe is little-known today, as is this opera, but both were well-known in their time. A recording of his opera The Dragon of Wantley is well worthwhile, although the subtleties of the irony of the text and the pastiche of the music, let alone the possible allusions to the politics of the day, may escape a present-day listener. But no matter, the music is delightful and the oh-so-rhyming text is funny, in a deliberately hamfisted way.