Gesualdo Six – Canon & Invention

Canon & Invention
The Gesualdo Six
‘Arts of Fugue’ series of broadcast concerts
St John’s, Smith Square, 4 August 2020

As UK music performers slowly begin to peep out from beneath the Covid-19 covers, London’s St John’s Smith Square has initiated a short series of ‘Arts of Fugue’ concerts, tracing the development of the Fugue. They will be broadcast at 8pm every Tuesday during August as part of the Digital Exchange Programme. They opened the series with the 2016 St John’s Smith Square Young Artists, the choral group The Gesualdo Six. They were socially-distanced on stage for a concert pre-recorded in front of a much-reduced and socially-distanced audience. Continue reading

Mottetti e Canzoni Virtuose

Mottetti e Canzoni Virtuose
La Guilde des Mercenaires, Adrien Mabire
L’encelade  ECL1703. 66’36

The principal interest in this 2018 recording of virtuoso Venetian music is in the choice of organ as accompanying instrument. Most of the programme notes are about the use of the organ in the 16th and 17th century, and its prominence in the repertoire of the time. The important thing, and the factor that sets this recording way above most others of a similar repertoire, is that they use a full-sized ‘church’ organ, rather than those weedy little box ‘continuo’ organ that are nearly always used by early music groups. Continue reading

Isolation Songbook

‘Isolation Songbook’
Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock, Alexander Soares
City Music Foundation
St Pancras Clock Tower Concerts, 29 July 2020

Image may contain: indoor

Since mid-March, musicians have been denied their chance to play in public and many have also been denied their financial livelihoods. Their response to this has varied, from adapting to the joys of Zoom teaching to producing their own impressively imaginative lockdown videos on social media. If have so far avoided the temptation of reviewing these for a variety of reasons, not least because they are readily available anyway, so comments from me would be largely irrelevant. But we are now seeing the slow emergence of live concerts, albeit nearly always on-line. Continue reading

Imaginario: De un Libro de Música de Vihuela

Imaginario: De un Libro de Música de Vihuela
Armonía Concertada
María Cristina Kiehr, Ariel Abramovich

with Jacob Heringman & John Potter
Outhere/Arcana A460. 61’37

album cover

This recording is based on an imaginarly Vihuela songbook as might have been published in Valladolid or Seville sometime around 1575. That premise is based on and inspired by seven surviving earlier vihuela songbooks, dating from between 1536 and 1576. Versions of pieces from those earlier songbooks have been arranged by lutenists Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman in Spanish style. The result is an attractive and musically sensible reinterpretation of some delightful music, brilliantly performed by María Cristina Kiehr and Ariel Abramovich, with occasional contributions from Jacob Heringman and a single offering from John Potter. Continue reading

Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus

John Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus
Alamire, David Skinner
Resonus/Inventa INV1003, Digital EP. 16’30

There is an interesting back story to this 16-minute downloadable EP of John Sheppard’s famous Media Vita in Morte Sumus (In the midst of life we are in death). Much performed and recorded, this piece can last up to 30-minutes in length, making it a complex prospect for recording and concert programming. This recording is based on recent research that reassesses the structure of the piece, reducing it to this entirely appropriate and more manageable shorter version. Continue reading

Beethoven: Works for Cello and Piano

Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello and Piano
Robin Michael, cello, Daniel Tong, fortepiano
Resonus Classics RES10254. 2CDs. 76’09+71’59

The key thing about this recording is that it uses period instruments – not always to be assumed in Beethoven recordings even in these more enlightened times. If your experience of the five cello Sonatas has so far been with a modern cello and piano, you are in for a treat, listening to the music as Beethoven might have heard it, at least in his head as far as the later Sonatas are concerned. The five sonatas range from Beethoven’s early years to the sad years of his hearing loss. Continue reading

Fantasia Bellissima: The Lviv Lute Tablature

Fantasia Bellissima: The Lviv Lute Tablature
Bernhard Hofstotter
TYXart  TXA18115. 41’51

Confusion reigned from the start of the programme notes, at least for me, with their reference throughout to the Cracow Lute Tablature. It turns out that is now known as the Lviv Lute Tablature, as highlighted on the CD cover. The complicated history is covered at length in Dr. Kateryna Schöning’s excellent notes. The music dates from around 1550 to the early 17th-century and was collected by several different people. The manuscript disappeared between the 17th-century and 1937 when it turned up in a Viennese antiquarian bookshop. It was sold and ended up in the attractive city of Lviv in north-western Ukraine. Continue reading

Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin

JS Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin
Thomas Zehetmair
ECM New Series 2551/52. 2CDs, 59’21+67’12

Sei Solo - The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo

After first recording the Bach solo violin works in 1982 on a modern violin, albeit with more than a nod to the then-current notions of early performance practice, Thomas Zehetmair now returns with a Baroque instrument and two period bows, one for the Partitas, and the other for the Sonatas. It is recorded in a very generous acoustic, far removed from the possible chamber acoustic that Bach may have had in mind. But the violin speaks clearly though the background bloom, aided by Zehetmair’s careful articulation. Continue reading

Weber: Complete Keyboard Duets

Carl Maria von Weber: Complete Keyboard Duets
Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate (fortepiano)
Deux Elles DXL 1184. 72’23

Weber - Complete Keyboard Duets | Deux Elles DXL1184

Weber: Six Petites pièces faciles Op.3;
Six Pièces, Op.10a; Huit Pièces,Op.60
Mozart: Andante with variations, K501

Weber is one of those composers who are chiefly remembered for a single work, in his case, the opera Der Freischütz. This recording of his three sets of piano duets (two players on one piano) sheds a wider light into the life of this important composer. It follows two earlier recordings of Mozart Piano Duets (reviewed here and here) from Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate. They use two historic pianos dating from c1795 (Mozart) and 1826 (Weber). Continue reading

Divertimenti Viennesi

Divertimenti Viennesi
Von Dittersdorf, Vanhal & JM Haydn
Musica Elegentia, Matteo Cicchitti
Brilliant Classics 96127. 2 CDs 54’02+34’13

Karl Ditters Von Dittersdorf (1739-1799): Six String Trios
Jan Křtitel Vaňhal (1739-1813): Divertimento in G Major
Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806): Divertimento in C Major

This recording features three string-playing composers who were active in Vienna in the second last half of the 18th century: Karl Ditters Von Dittersdorf, Jan Křtitel Vaňhal (or, in his modern Czech spelling, Johann Baptist Wanhal) and Johann Michael Haydn. Dittersdorf and Vanhal were two members of the famous ‘Composers’ Quartet’ alongside Joseph Haydn and Mozart. The performers are Musica Elegentia: Gian Andrea Guerra (violin), Mauro Righini (violin & viola) and Matteo Cicchitti (violone & director), with Gian Andrea Guerra having by far the most important role. Continue reading

Schubert: Die Nacht

Franz Schubert: Die Nacht
Anja Lechner, cello, Pablo Márquez, guitar
ECM New Series, ECM 2555. 

Franz Schubert: Die NachtThe guitar was a popular instrument in Vienna in Schubert’s time, with several contemporary guitar arrangements of Schubert songs. One such, from the collection of the poet Franz von Wschehrd, has been used as the basis for this recording, along with transcription by the performers of the Romanze from Rosamunde and Der Leiermann. They are contrasted with three guitar Nocturnes by Johann Burgmüller, a younger contemporary of Schubert. Continue reading

Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Klavierstucke

Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano & Klavierstucke
Kate Bennett Wadsworth, Yi-heng Yang
Deux-Elles DXL1181. 67′

Kate-Bennett-Wadsworth-amp-Yi-Heng-Yang-Brahms-Sonatas-For-Cello-and-P-CD

Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello, Op. 38
Klavierstücke, Op. 76: 4-8
Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello, Op. 99

This 2018 recording, which I somehow didn’t get round to reviewing at the time, offers a refreshing insight into cello and piano performance practice during Brahm’s time, the result of detailed research by cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth and pianist Yi-heng Yang. In this, their debut recording, a rethinking of the performing tradition of the past century aims to bring back the “freshness and vitality that they had when they were new”. Continue reading

Variations: Goldberg & Topelius

Goldberg Variations & Topelius Variations
Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Henning Kraggerud
Simax PSC1353. 74’20

Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Kraggerud & Lund)
Henning Kraggerud: Topelius Variations

This is a combination of an arrangement for string orchestra of Bach’s Goldberg Variations with a set of variations composed in 2017 by Henning Kraggerud, the leader of the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. It was inspired by the life of the Swedish-speaking Finn, Zachris Topelius (1818-1898), a historian and a writer of essays, poems, fairytales and children’s stories, who helped to develop a Finnish identity as it moved towards eventual independence. Continue reading

Bach: Solo Cantatas for Bass

JS Bach: Solo Cantatas for Bass
David Greco, Luthers Bach Ensemble, Tyman Jan Bronda
Brilliant Classics 95942. 49’36


Cantata BWV 82: Ich habe genug
Cantata BWV 158: Der Friede sei mit dir
Cantata BWV 56: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen

These three cantatas for bass voice explore the Lutheran concept of a longing for death, relief from the torments of life, and a reuniting of the soul with God with an inevitable focus is on lamentation and consolation. They all date from the first decade of Bach’s time as Kapellmeister in Leipzig and are some of the most beautiful of all Bach’s cantatas. This example comes from the Australian baritone David Greco and the Luthers Bach Ensemble, directed by Tyman Jan Bronda. Continue reading

Heavenly Songes

Heavenly Songes
Nicholas Ludford: Missa Sabato
La Quintina, Jérémie Couleau
Parity PTY220191. 60′

Nicholas Ludford (c1490-1557) was a contemporary of the organist composers John Taverner, John Redford and Thomas Preston, and preceded Thomas Tallis and John Sheppard by a generation. Knowledge of his life is a lot clearer now than it was, thanks largely to the work of David Skinner and Nicholas Sandon. Born into a musical family, the earliest reference to him seems to be in 1517 when he rented lodgings from Westminster Abbey. This suggests employment at the Abbey or the adjacent St Margaret’s, where Ludford was later connected for the rest of his life. In 1527 Ludford became a singer and organist at the Collegiate Chapel of St Stephen’s within the Royal Palace of Westminster. The chapel was in two parts, the upper (destroyed in 1834) was the sumptuous private chapel of the Royal Family, the lower crypt chapel was for lesser mortals. The lower part of that chapel still exists in the current Houses of Parliament with the name of St Mary Undercroft. It is a ‘Royal Peculiar’ still under the control of The Queen.

Continue reading

Rosa Mystica. Musical Portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Rosa Mystica: Musical Portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir
Paul Spicer conductor, Callum Alger organ,
Somm, SOMMCD 0617. 62’45

This recording from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir presents a wide variety of musical portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, covering composers from the early 16th-century to the present day. It takes its title from Benjamin Britten’s setting of a Jesuit text by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto

Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto
Giovanni Antonini, Il giardino armonico
Outhere/Alpha 364. 59’45

Vivaldi: Concerti per flauto

Concerto in do maggiore per flautino, RV 444
Concerto in fa maggiore per flauto, RV 433 La Tempesta di Mare
Concerto in do maggiore per flautino, RV 443
Nisi Dominus per chalumeau, RV 608 Cum dederit
Concerto in do minore per flauto,  RV 441
Concerto in la minore per flautino,  RV 445
Concerto in fa maggiore per flauto, RV 442 Tutti gl’istromenti sordini

Giovanni Antonini is both the recorder soloist and the director of his own group, Il giardino armonico. With many Vivaldi recordings under their belt, this CD selects six Concertos for recorder and contrasts those with an arrangement of a movement from the Nisi Dominus for chalumeau, a forerunner of the clarinet. Continue reading

Karina Gauvin: Nuits Blanches

Nuits Blanches
Arias from the 18th-century Russian court
Karina Gauvin, Pacific Baroque Orchestra, Alexander Weimann
ATMA Classique ACD 22791. 57’04

This recording (Nuits Blanches = White Nights) explores, in theory, music from the Russian Court in the 18th-century. The “in theory” bit is because there is very little music on the CD that was directly associated with the Russian Court, although there is certainly evidence of music that would have fitted the title rather better. With the exception of Christoph Willibald Gluck (whose presence on this disc is the weakest link to the title), the composers are unlikely to be known to anyone but the most dedicated follower of Russian musical fashion. Continue reading

Bach: An Italian Journey

Bach: An Italian Journey
Luca Oberti, harpsichord
Outhere/Arcana A443. 71’18

This 2018 release is from a harpsichord player that I am not familiar with. His programme gathers together pieces with an Italian influence, including transcriptions of concertos by Vivaldi and Marcello, and pieces of Italian inspiration like the Aria Variata alla maniera Italians and the Capriccio sulla lontananza del fratello dilettissimo. It finishes, inevitably, with the Italian Concerto. Continue reading

Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier Book II

J S Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier Book II
Céline Frisch, harpsichord
Outhere/Alpha Classics: Alpha 451. 2 CDs. 69’45+76’06

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II
Following on from her CD of Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Céline Frisch (o-founder of the Café Zimmermann ensemble) now offers us Book II. It was completed twenty-two years after Book I, in 1744. It was recorded on a 1998 two manal copy by Andrea Restelli of the single manual 1738 Christian Vater harpsichord now in the Germanisches National Museum, Nuremberg. Continue reading

Giovanni Sances: Dialoghi Amorosi

Giovanni Felice Sances: Dialoghi Amorosi
Scherzi Musicali, Nicolas Achten
Ricercar RIC385. 74’53

Giovanni Felice Sances (c1600-1679) was born in Rome to a family of singers. He studied at the Collegio Germanico and took part in the opera Amor pudico in 1614. He then moved to Bologna, Venice and finally Vienna, where he eventually became Kapellmeister at the Imperial court chapel. He published his four collections of Arcadian cantade (or cantatas – one of the earliest uses of the word, although not in the recitative-aria form of later pieces with this name) in Venice around 1640, although only two volumes have survived. Continue reading

Bach: Johannes-Passion

J S Bach: Johannes-Passion
Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe
Outhere/PHI LPH031. 2CDs 107’08

 

Cover of CD of Herreweghe Bach Johannes Passion

I can often predict the way in which a performance of the Johannes-Passion is going to develop by the manner in which the opening instrumental bars are performed. The texture appears simple. Swirling low strings underpinned by the repetitive pulse of continuo bass, with two oboes slowly intertwining dissonance-laden melodic lines above them. It is one of those passages of music that can be interpreted in many ways, resulting in differing moods ranging from sinister, threatening, mysterious, to gently calming. Continue reading

Handel Uncaged: Cantatas for Alto

Handel Uncaged: Cantatas for Alto
Lawrence Zazzo
Guillermo Brachetta, Jonathan Manson, Andrew Maginley
Resonus/Inventa Records INV1002. 74’26

 

This nicely-planned programme brings together cantatas for alto voice and continuo from Handel’s remarkably productive early years in Italy. The principal item is the world premiere recording of the conglomerate cantata Amore Uccellatore. This combines two cantatas, Venne voglia (HWV 176) and Vendendo amore (HWV 175) together with an additional sequence of recitatives and arias into a single cycle of ten arias. It is from an anonymous manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge that has only recently been credited with reasonable confidence to Handel. Continue reading

Piano Sonatas by Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven

Piano Sonatas by Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven
Walewein Witten (fortepiano)
Resonus RES10242. 71’29

Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31/2 ‘The Tempest’
Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI:52
Mozart: Sonata in F major, KV 533/494

The question of what Beethoven, or Bach, would have done if they were composing for modern instruments, rather than those of their time, is often asked. The question is, of course, impossible to answer but I would hazard a guess that their music would be totally different to what it actually is. So, in a way, they would no longer be Beethoven or Bach, but a different composer, writing in a different age and for different listeners. So the first, and possibly the most important, thing about this recording is that it is performed on a fortepiano. Continue reading

The 16: Palestrina – Vol 8

Palestrina – Vol 8
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
Coro COR16175. 73’21

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594) was one of the most influential composers of the Renaissance. His grasp of polyphony is combined with an ability to draw intense emotion from what might at first appear to be rather technical musical exercises. This 2019 release is the eighth in the series of Palestrina recordings from The Sixteen. Each CD has as its core a complete Mass setting, together with pieces on a related theme. On this occasion, the Eucharist-based theme is the Last Supper and Easter with the Missa Fratres ego enim accepi – not as well known as many of Palestrina’s Mass settings. As in previous releases, there are also motets and three settings from the Song of Songs. Continue reading

Gervais: Hypermnestre

Charles-Hubert Gervais: Hypermnestre
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, Gyorgy Vashegyi
Glossa GCD924007. 2CDs 74’32+71’27

Hypermnestre is a tragédie en musique by the almost totally forgotten French composer Charles-Hubert Gervais (1671-1744). It was first performed in 1716 at the Paris Opera (the Académie Royale de Musique) and was followed by several revivals. It sets a libretto by Joseph de Lafont based on the myth of Hypermnestra, one of the 50 daughters of Danaüs (Danaus), King of Argos. Danao had been told by an oracle that he will be murdered by one of his nephews. But he had 50 of them, courtesy of his brother, King of Egypt, so decided to marry all 50 of his daughters off to their cousins, with instructions to kill their new husbands on their wedding night. That they do, with the exception of Hypermnestre who refuses to kill Lyncée because he had respected her request to remain a virgin. The plot is similar to Francesco Cavalli’s much earlier Hipermestra, was performed at Glyndebourne in 2017 (review here).  Continue reading

The Excellency of Hand

The Excellency of Hand
English Viola Da Gamba Duos
Robert Smith, Paolo Pandolfo
Resonus Classics: RES10186. 73’52

 

This CD, released in 2017, features a range of 17th-century music for viola da gamba duos by Christopher Simpson and John Jenkins together with two pieces by their contemporary,  Simon Ives, and a tiny Prelude by one of the performers. Most of the pieces are in the form of ‘divisions’, an international improvisatory method dating back to the early 16th century which involves elaborating on a theme by joining up the notes with shorter ones in a variety of forms. Such elaboration and ornamentation of a melodic line forms the basis of subsequent keyboard and instrumental music. Continue reading

Resonances of Waterloo

Resonances of Waterloo
St Salvator’s Chapel Choir (University of St Andrews),
Tim Wilkinson, Sean Heath (organ)
The Wallace Collection, Anthony George
Sanctiandree SAND0007. 71’23

Ernst Sachse: Concertino in B-flat major
Alexandre Guilmant: Morceau Symphonique
Jean Bellon: Adagio ma sostenuto (Quintette no. 12: III)
Sigismund von Neukomm: Requiem à la mémoire de Louis XVI

What an extraordinary recording! It combining musical curiosity with a fascinating peek at a history that many will recall from school. It features the joint forces of the Saint Salvator’s Chapel Choir of the University of Aberdeen and the brass instruments of The Wallace Collection, together with a historic organ dating from 1829 in a church that couldn’t be more appropriate for the programme. The principal work is the Requiem à la mémoire de Louis XVI by the Austrian composer, Sigismund von Neukomm (1778-1858). Composed in memory of the French King Louis (who was guillotined in 1793 at the height of the Revolution), it was first performed in 1815 in St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna on the anniversary of the King’s death as a landmark event during the Congress of Vienna, the two-year gathering that brought to an end the Napoleonic Wars. Continue reading

Bach: Well-Tempered Consort 1

J S Bach: Well-Tempered Consort – 1
Phantasm
Linn CKD 618. 66’55

Cover CKD 618

This CD could well become essential listening for all organists and harpsichord players, alongside the various examples of Bach organ works played on recorder consorts. Transferring Bach’s keyboard works, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, Musical Offering and Clavier-Übung III, to a viol consort reveals the sensitivity of timbre possible with bowed string instruments rather than a plucked or wind-blown one. Of course, keyboard players have their own, often complex, way of imparting musical expression to their playing within the limitations of their particular instrument, principally by using aspects of touch and articulation. But it is only the clavichord, which was arguably the instrument of choice in the Baroque era, that has the ability to change the nature of the sound of a note once it has started sounding, using the technique known as bebung which imparts a controllable vibrato to sounding notes.

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Cornhill Visions – A Century of Musical Innovation

Cornhill Visions
A Century of Musical Innovation
The Choir of St Michael’s Cornhill, Jonathan Rennert
Regent Records, REGCD550. 66’03

The City of London’s churches are something of an institution. Architecturally fascinating, they have idiosyncrative opening and service times, with most closed at the weekends. Many retain medieval links to city guilds and livery companies. With an area of just over one square mile, the City of London has 46 churches for a resident population of less than 10,000 but a working week population of around one million. It is to the latter that most of the churches cater, not least in thriving programmes of lunchtime musical events. Continue reading