ROSL Annual Music Competition

ROSL (Royal Over-Seas League) Annual Music Competition
Mixed Ensembles Section Final
Princess Alexandra Hall, Over-Seas House, London. 19 March 2019

The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) has, since 1952, run an annual music competition through their ROSL ARTS, open to young Commonwealth classical musicians under the age of 30. A series of section finals for solo performers leads to a Gold Medal Final which, this year, will be held in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 30 May. Past winners of the section finals and the Gold Medal have gone on to become well-known names. Alongside the section finals for solo performers (in wind & brass, voice, strings, and keyboard), are two ensemble finals, for strings and mixed ensembles. More than £75,000 is offered in awards, with a £15,000 first prize for solo performers and two chamber ensemble awards of £10,000. Winners of the solo sections receive £5,000 each. Details of the 2019 competition can be found here. Continue reading

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Orpheus Britannicus, Newe Vialles, Andrew Arthur (director)
Resonus Classics RES10238. 70’17

Buxtehude’s cycle of seven cantatas, under the collective title of Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima, is one of the finest sacred vocal works of the 17th-century. It reflects on The holy limbs of our suffering Jesus, using texts from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare, probably written by Arnulf of Leuven (d1250). Each cantata focusses on a specific part of Christ’s crucified body: feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face, adding to the hymn text words from the Bible. It is composed for five solo singers, who usually also make up a chorus although, in this case, the chorus is the 24-strong Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, conducted by Andrew Arthur, the Director of Music at Trinty Hall. They are accompanied by the College’s professional period ensemble Ensemble-in-Residence, Orpheus Britannicus (founded by Andrew Arthur), with the five viols of Newe Vialles (directed by Henrik Persson and Caroline Ritchie) playing for the sensuous sixth cantata, Ad cor (To The Heart). Continue reading

Bach: Chorale Partitas

J S Bach
Chorale Partitas, BWV 766-768 & 770

Stephen Farr, organ
Resonus Classics RES10120. 55’46

Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen BWV 770
Christ, der du bist der helle Tag BWV 766
O Gott, du frommer Gott BWV 767
Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig BWV 768

Stephen Farr continues his series of Bach organ recordings with the four Chorale Partitas – variations sets of Lutheran chorales. None of them exists in autograph, so dating is problematical. They are almost certainly early works, possibly composed around the time Bach was at Arnstadt, or perhaps even earlier while Bach was under the influence of Georg Böhm, who Bach knew, and probably studied with while he was at school in Lüneburg. Böhm wrote many variation sets (as did Pachbel), a compositional style that goes back the Sweelinck, the Amsterdam instigator of the North German/Hamburg school of the early to mid-17th-century. It is not clear whether Bach’s examples were intended for performance during church services or, indeed, on the organ. Most are equally suitable for clavichord or harpsichord in a domestic setting. Continue reading

Sweeter than Roses: Songs by Henry Purcell

Sweeter than Roses
Songs by Henry Purcell
Anna Dennis, soprano
Sounds Baroque, Julian Perkins
Resonus Classics RES10235.. 67’33

Henry Purcell is one of the greatest composers of English vocal music, with his ability to tease out the depths of meaning in mere words through his sensitive melodic and harmonic skills. Publisher Henry Playford’s preface to Orpheus Britannicus sums this talent up perfectly when he describes Purcell’s “extraordinary Talent in all sorts of Musick is sufficiently known, but he was especially admir’d for the Vocal, having a peculiar Genius to express the energy of English Words, whereby he mov’d the Passions of all his Auditors“. Another commentator, Henry Hall, organist of Hereford Cathedral, describes this well in his prefatory poem to Orpheus Britannicus when he mentions “Each syllable first weigh’d, or short, or long, / That it might too be Sense, as well as Song”. These contemporary descriptions of Purcell’s skill at setting words to music are at the heart of this recording, with Bruce Wood’s and Julian Perkin’s excellent programme notes (which includes the above quotes) giving specific examples of Purcell’s art as well as setting Purcell’s so-very-English music in the context of the musical style of the rest of Europe that so clearly influenced him. Continue reading

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)
Keyboard music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti, Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics, BRI95556. 74’25

Little is known about Johannes (or Joannis, Jan) de Lublin (or ‘z Lublina’) was a Polish organist and composer. He was a Canon of the monastery in Kraśnik, near Lublin and seems to have graduated from the University of Kraków and remained there as organist in the Marian Church. He moved to Kraśnik, near Lublin sometime before 1540, when the Tabvlatvra Ioannis de Lyvblyn Canonic. Reglariv de Crasnyk was bound. The music in the collection was gathered over some years, an contains a wide range of music, both sacred and secular. It was intended as a primer for organists, and contains important information about organ tuning and the principals of composing a piece around a plainchant melody, something all organists were expected to do. It is the largest known organ tablature with more than 350 compositions and a theoretical treatise. It follows in the tradition of earlier examples such as the Faenza Codex and the Buxheimer Organ Book from the previous century. Continue reading

Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal

Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal
The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal,  Hampton Court Palace
Carl Jackson
Resonus RES10229. 68’22

 


Suscipe quaeso Domine, Missa Puer natus est nobisIn pace in idipsum,
Miserere nostri Domine
, Mass for Four Voices, Loquebantur variis linguis.

There can be very few other examples of early music recordings where the composer, the choir, and the recording venue are so closely matched. This CD from the present-day Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace was recorded in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, a surviving part of the Tudor Palace of Henry VIII. Tallis was a Gentleman of the Tudor Chapel Royal from the early 1540s until his death in 1585 and would have certainly sung and played the organ in this very chapel. Several of the compositions on this recording may well have been performed in the same Hampton Court Chapel. Before the period-appropriate comments overwhelm, it is worth pointing out that it is probably only some of the external walls and the magnificent ceiling (pictured on the CD cover) that date from the time of Tallis. The enormous Renaissance Palace of Hampton was built by Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, who was also the Cardinal Archbishop of York and Papal Legate, with a clerical ranking higher than that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, then and now, England’s premier Archbishop. He only managed to retain his Palace for about ten years before falling from grace as a result of failing to secure Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It was ‘surrendered’ to Henry VIII who set about rebuilding and expanding it. It was completed in 1540 at about the time that Tallis joined the Chapel Royal. Continue reading

Machaut: The Gentle Physician

Guillaume de Machaut
The Gentle Physician
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68206. 59’34

This is the sixth recording in The Orlando Consort’s complete Machaut series. It focusses on Machaut’s songs of courtly love and its various ups and, more usually, downs. Lady Fortune is not always a comforting friend, and the opening and closing De Fortune ballads reflect both the positive and negative aspects of her personality. The ‘gentle physician’ (dous mireof the title is Hope, mentioned as the only remedy for unhappy lovers in the extended S’onques dolereusement, also known as Le lay de confort. Machaut (c1300-77) was, and still is, one of the finest 14th-century poet-composers, He was one of the first to whom we have biographical knowledge and a substantive collection of pieces, but also one of the last of the tradition of poet-composers. Part of the ars nova tradition of the Franco-Burgundian region, his compositions set the scene for the late Gothic and early Renaissance style. Continue reading

A Neapolitan Stabat Mater

A Neapolitan Stabat Mater
A new perspective from G B Pergolesi’s masterpiece
Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu, Franck-Emmanuel Comte
Chronos ICSM 012.


This is a recording of Pergolesi’s famed Stabat Mater, but not quite as you may know it. Composed in 1736 for the Neapolitan  Confraternita dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo, the Stabat Mater was said to have been completed (along with a companion Salve Regina) moments before Pergolesi died of tuberculosis in a nearby monastery. Despite criticism of its operatic style, it’s fame quickly spread, with several composers, including Bach, making arrangements of it. This recording by Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu is based on an unpublished score found in the library of the Académie du Concert in Lyon, France, now in the Lyon municipal library. Alongside some minor modifications in the instrumental parts, the key departures from the usual text are that the second solo voice is a baritone rather than an alto, presumably because of the lack of a castrati singer, and the setting of O quam tristis is for five voices. That, on its own, would be of sufficient interest, but this recording also inserts traditional Neapolitan music including polyphonic versions of the Stabat Mater and Miserere, some (very) secular songs (Donna Isabella, La Carpinese) and two tarantellas.  Continue reading

A Salon Opera

A Salon Opera
Flauguissimo Duo
Resonus RES10233. 51’03

The period-instrument flute and guitar ensemble Flauguissimo Duo make their recording debut with A Salon Opera, a fascinating programme of works for flute and guitar set at least initially, in early nineteenth-century Vienna. The music reflects the musical life of the home, rather than the concert hall or opera house, although both are represented. The opening piece, Paganini’s elegiac Cantabile in D, sets the intimate salon scene beautifully. Despite possible initial assumptions, this is not background music to salon chit-chat, but music to be listened to. Several of the pieces are arrangements by Flauguissimo Duo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute and Johan Löfving, guitar), including three contrasting pieces by Schubert, reflecting the intimate so-called Viennese ‘Schubertiade evenings’ where the composer would perform many of his works. A guitarist himself, the programme notes suggest that many of Schubert’s pieces were composed using the guitar that hung above his bed. Continue reading

Antoine de Févin

Antoine de Févin
Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68265. 79’14

Missa Ave Maria, Ascendens Christus in altum, Sancta Trinitas a5/a6,
Salve sancta parens, Missa Salve sancta parens,

Antoine de Févin (c1470-1511/12) is a relatively unknown composer of the Renaissance Franco-Flemish period He was born around 20 years after Josquin des Prez, but died about 10 years before him. For the past few years of his life, he worked in the Chapelle Royale of Louis XII of France, who apparently thought highly several chansons. His compositional style is similar to Josquin’s, who he admired. The opening Missa Ave Maria is based on Josquin’s well-known Ave Maria. His contrapuntal writing is not as strict as some of his Renaissance contemporaries. He clearly enjoys contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal passages and freely switches from one to the other. There are several magical moments, one of the finest between the Agnus II of the Missa Ave Maria where two outstanding high voices (Kate Ashby and Claire Eadington) weaves threads between themselves. Continue reading

A Pleasing Melancholy

A Pleasing Melancholy
John Dowland and others
Chelys Consort of Viols, Emma Kirkby
BIS 2283. 72’13

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One of the concerts I reviewed during the 2018 London International Exhibition of Early Music was given by the  Chelys Consort of Viols with soprano Rebecca Hickey stepping in at short notice to replace the indisposed Dame Emma Kirkby. Their programme, and this CD, ‘A Pleasing Melancholy’, was built around all seven of John Dowland’s 1604 Lachrimae settings, interspersed with songs by Robert Jones, Tobias Hume, William Wigthorpe, John Danyel and Tobias Hume,. The title refers to a quote from Robert Burton’s 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy – “Many men are melancholy by hearing music, but it is a pleasing melancholy that it causeth“. My review of that concert mentioned that “a ‘pleasing melancholy’ it proved to be, with excellent playing by the five viol players of Chelys and guest lutenist Jamie Akers, and outstanding singing from Rebecca Hickey, who many will know from Stile Antico“. This CD is for those who were not at the concert, or for whom there really is nothing like a Dame. Continue reading

LPO Isle of Noises: Handel & Purcell

Isle of Noises
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Schütz Choir, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall, 30 January 2019

Handel: Suites from The Water Music 
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

The London Philharmonic Orchestra opened their year-long series Isle of Noises (a celebration of British music) with a concert that, by all the normal conventions of concert programming over the past 50 years or so, shouldn’t have happened. Since the early music period-instrument revolution, and as the pioneering work of the early period specialists took root, most traditional orchestras took fright and stopped performing any music from Mozart or before. Gone were the days of a Mozart concerto opening a concert that would finish with Mahler. In recent years, some of those same early music specialists have enthused modern instrument players and orchestras, by far the most prominent being Sir Roger Norrington, perhaps most notably for his work with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. Continue reading

Vox dilecti mei: Renaissance songs of love

Vox dilecti mei – Renaissance songs of love
Hans-Jurg Meier – wingert in der frühe

The Modena ConsortUlrike HofbauerKeren Motseri
Pan Classics PC 10289. 64’32

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This recording by The Moderna Consort has only just come my way, but is well worth a belated review. I first heard soprano Ulrike Hofbauer when ensemble savādi won the 2003 Early Music Network International Young Artists’ Competition. She was singing with soprano Kristine Jaunalksne and harpist Marie Bournisien. I was struck then by the purity and clarity of her voice, and that of Kristine Jaunalksne. This CD was recorded in 2012 by Radio SRF 2 and released in 2013. It documents a recital programme that combined contemporary music by the Swiss composer Hans-Jurg Meier with Renaissance music from the likes of Josquin, Brumel, Isaac, Senfl, di Lasso, and Palestrina, all inspired by the curious Biblical Song of Songs, the collection of obviously erotic texts that religious commentators over the centuries have struggled to imbue with any spiritual and religious meaning. Continue reading

Stradella: La Doriclea

Stradella: La Doriclea
Il Pomo d’Oro, Andrea De Carlo
Arcana A454. 3CDs. 3h7’21

You would be forgiven for not being all that familiar with the music of Alessandro Stradella (16431682) or, at least, not in its original form. Despite fame during his lifetime, Stradella’s reputation didn’t endure much beyond his murder in Genoa. This following an earlier assassination attempt in Turin, the result of a rather dangerous love life. Perhaps it is no surprise that there are as many operas written about him, as he wrote himself. He is perhaps best known today as the posthumous provider of music for Handel to pinch, notably in  Israel in Egypt. But he is also justifiably held to be responsible for many musical innovations in Baroque music, not least as the instigator of the Concerto Grosso and in the development of new forms, including what became the ubiquitous da capo Aria form of 18th-century opera. Continue reading

Requiem masses for murdered royalty

Requiem masses for murdered royalty
Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet
Barbican. 25 January 2019

Plantade Requiem in D minor, in memory of Marie-Antoinette
Berlioz Tristia
Cherubini Requiem in C minor, in memory of Louis XVI

 

Le Concert Spirituel and their founder-director Hervé Niquet brought the programme of their 2017 recording of the Plantade and Cherubini Requiems to The Barbican, together with Berlioz’s rarely performed Tristia, a sequence of three ‘sad pieces’ published in 1852 from three short pieces composed in 1831, 1842, and 1844. An unusual, but interesting programme with music that, perhaps because of the nature of the pieces, was compelling, but never really reached the heights of musical perfection. Cherubini’s Requiem was the first to be performed, in 1817, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy and in memory of Louis XVI. It was followed in 1823 by Plantade’s Messe des morts on the 30th anniversary of the death of Marie-Antoinette. Plantade knew Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, and there are elements of the earlier musical style of their court in his Requiem together with the style of the music of the Revolution. As with the Cherubini, there are no solo voices. Both works are intended for liturgical performance. Continue reading

Purcell: King Arthur

Purcell: King Arthur
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
Alpha Classics. Alpha 430. 2CDs 57’41+40’18

It is often assumed that English opera started with Handel, and missed out on the entire 17th-century development of opera. This is probably due to that very English concept of semi-opera, with musical bits and bobs inserted into a play, with the music based around the supporting cast, rather than the key personnel.  Although, some of the famous bits from Purcell are known but, apart from Dido and Aeneas, we rarely hear the complete music of The Fairy Queen or King Arther. Rarer still is a performance that includes the spoken text of the plays in which the music was performed. I remember the bemused looks on Glyndebourne faces as their Fairy Queen opened with around 45 minutes of spoken text. This outstanding recording, from the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis and their director Lionel Meunier will help to bring more attention to the world of 17th-century English semi-opera. Musically, King Arthur is gorgeous, Dryden’s text creating several moments for Purcell to weave his magic with. Continue reading

Wednesdays at 5.55

Wednesdays at 5.55
Organ Recitals at the Royal Festival Hall
W Harry Hoyle
Clontarf Press 2018
Hardback. 230 pages, 235x156mm, ISBN 978-1-999685706

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For many organ music lovers, the phrase Wednesdays at 5.55 will have a particular resonance. Between 1954 and 1989, London’s Royal Festival Hall held early evening organ recitals on the influential and controversial Harrison & Harrison organ, inaugurated in 1954. During those years there were a total of 545 organ recitals given by nearly 200 international organists attracting at its peak audiences of around 1500. This record of these recitals, and the music and performers involved, is very clearly a labour of love for the author, W Harry Hoyle. The publicity blurb sums up the book well – “Drawing on the Southbank Centre archive, private paper collections and the memories of many performers, in this comprehensive and engaging book he tells the story of how the series was planned, which organists performed, the repertoire they played and how the recitals were received by the press and by the public. He also reviews the social changes that led to the ending of ‘Wednesdays at 5.55’ and the search for the best way to present the highlights of the organ repertoire on this unique instrument“. And that is exactly what it does, in an absorbing and informative read. Continue reading

Mozart: Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne

Mozart: Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne
Classical Opera, Ian Page
Signum Classics, SIGCD547. 66’24

Mozart:<em>Grabmusik</em> and <em>Bastien und Bastienne</em> K.50; Classical Opera

This recording is almost certainly the first performance of Mozart’s original setting of Bastien und Bastienne since its original (and only) performance at the home of the person who commissioned it 250 years ago in 1768 – Dr Franz Mesmer, of mesmerism fame. The opening Grabmusik is also given in its original 1767 form, lacking a final recitative and chorus added in the 1770s. Both works are examples of Classical Opera and The Mozartists pioneering Mozart 250 project which, between 2015 and 2041, will explore the music that was written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years earlier. Grabmusik & Bastien und Bastienne represent the years 1767/8, when Mozart was 11/12 years old. Continue reading

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Mary Bevan, Christian Curnyn
Kings Place, 10 January 2018

Barbara Strozzi: L’amante modesto, Pace arrabbiata, Lagrime Mie, Canto di bella bocca,
E pazzo il mio core, Le tre Gratie a Venere, 
Silenzio nocivo
Claudio Monteverdi: Volgendo il ciel, Il ballo delle ingrate

For several years now, Kings Place has selected a specific theme for each year under the banner of ‘Unwrapped’. Past examples have included Time Unwrapped, Cello Unwrapped, Baroque Unwrapped, and Minimalism Unwrapped. Their offering for 2019 is the enticing named Venus Unwrapped. The year-long series of around 60 concerts aims to “unlock the secret history of music by women”. It opened with a focus on Barbara Strozzi, one of the best known of the very few female composers of the Baroque era – or, indeed, of any era if musical history is to be believed. The painting below (The Viola da Gamba Player) is believed to be off Barbara Strozzi.

Strozzi.jpg

The distinguished conductor Christian Curnyn directed a group of singers and instrumentalists from the Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, with Mary Bevan as the main billed soloist, although several other singers had prominent roles.

Continue reading

Lacrime Amare: Bianca Maria Meda motets

Lacrime Amare
Bianca Maria Meda motets (1691)
Cappella Artemisia, Candace Smith
Brilliant Classics 95736. 79’04

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Jesu mi clementissime, Vibrate, Anime belle, O quante contra me, In foco ardentissime,
O lacrime amare, Volo vivere, No non tentate, Spirate vos zeffiri

This is potentially an important recording from Cappella Artemisia, an all-female choir and orchestra, founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy. Little is known of Bianca Maria Meda. She was born around 1665 and died around 1700 and was a Benedictine nun in San Martino del Leano Pavia. Her only published work is the Mottetti a 1, 2, 3, e 4 voci, con violini (Bologna, 1691). Judging by the quality of the nine examples on this recording, she was a very accomplished composer. Cappella Artemisia is an all-female choir and orchestra who specialise in music composed in, and for, 16/17th-century Italian convents. It founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy.  Continue reading

Kress: Violin Concertos from the Darmstadt court

Kress: Violin Concertos from the Darmstadt court
Johannes Pramsohler, Darmstadt Baroque Soloists
Audax ADX13716. 68’07

Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerto For Violin And Trumpet
Johann Jakob Kress: Violin Concerto In C Minor
Johann Friedrich Fasch: Violin Concerto In D Major
Johann Jakob Kress: Violin Concerto In C Major

Johann Samuel Endler: Orchestra Suite With Obligato Violin

Johannes Pramsohler continues his imaginative exploration of the lesser-known byways of the Baroque violin repertoire with this evocation of musical life in early 18th-century Darmstadt. The new young Landgrave, Ernst Ludwig, focussed his attention on the musical life of his Court, continuing the work of his mother who, as Regent during his minority, had encouraged the Court orchestra to adopt the fashionable French style. Ernst Ludwig engaged Graupner to develop the Italian style, leading to a distinctive ‘mixed German’ style, championed in this recording by the composer and Court concertmaster Johann Jakob Kress. Continue reading

Baroque at the Edge

Baroque at the Edge
Saint James, Clerkenwell, St Luke’s Old Street
Saturday 6 January 2019

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With a headline of “Imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Purcell a folk-fiddler, or Monteverdi a minimalist…”, the second annual Baroque at the Edge festival made a fitting opening to the 2019 London musical calendar. Founded in 2018 by Lindsay Kemp and Lucy Bending, the team behind the London Festival of Baroque Music and the earlier Lufthansa Festival, the festival invites musicians with a classical, jazz, or folk background to “take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them” with the promise of “No rules, no programme notes, no lectures: all you need to know is how to listen”. The festival was spread over a three day weekend, with most of the events taking place on Saturday, 6 January, after a Friday night piano recital and before a Sunday family folksinging workshop and linked lunchtime concert. Continue reading

Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Stephen Layton

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2018

Whatever joys the St John’s Smith Square Christmas Festival comes up with year after year (this is the 33rd), the climax comes with the final two (always sold-out) concerts conducted by the festival director, Stephen Layton, firstly with his own Trinity College Cambridge choir, and then with his professional choir, Polyphony. In recent years both concerts have been accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE). The first of the two concerts is usually Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3 & 6), sung by the student choir of Trinity College, the second, Messiah, sung by Polyphony.

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Continue reading

Les Surprises: Baroque Christmas around the World

Baroque Christmas around the World
Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 December 2018

I have reviewed the French group Les Surprises several times on CD, and in concerts during festivals in France, but this was their first visit to the UK. Their well-chosen sequence of music was from the Baroque era from France and Quebec, Spain and Ibero-America, China and Italy. Five instrumentalists supported soprano Eugénie Lefebvre, her clear and focused voice excelling in a wide range of musical styles. I particularly liked her distinctive diction, with consonants that many English singers would envy.

Continue reading

A Renaissance Christmas

A Renaissance Christmas
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers

Coro, COR16167. 67’11

A Renaissance Christmas

The publicity blurb that came with this CD refers to it as “a perfect alternative to traditional carols”, and it certainly is. Perhaps trying to seek forgiveness for their 2015 release, The Complete Traditional Christmas Carols Collection (recorded in 1991), The Sixteen here concentrate on music from the Renaissance era. They bring their particular brand of highly professional choral singing to a well-balanced sequence of pieces from composers born between 1505 and 1580, a period when the Renaissance reached its zenith as religion in Europe reached one of its periodic nadirs. Continue reading

Gesualdo Six: There is no rose

There is no rose
The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 December 2018

Although only formed four years ago, The Gesualdo Six have gained an impressive following, not least at St John’s, Smith Square where they were one of the four members of the second Young Artists Scheme in 2015/16. They used that residency to launch their Composition Competition at SJSS, with the second following in 2019. For their concert in this year’s SJSS Christmas Festival, they gave a mixed programme of Christmas music ranging from plainchant and the early 15th century Trinity Carol Roll and music by Taverner and Tallis, through to living composers, including their own director Owain Park. Continue reading

Il Santissimo Natale

Il Santissimo Natale
The English Concert & Choir, Laurence Cummings
St John’s, Smith Square, 12 December 2018

The 33rd St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival continued with a very welcome first-half performance (by The English Concert and Choir, directed by Laurence Cummings) of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Missa per il Santíssimo Natale. Scarlatti is usually overlooked in comparison with other composers, both in his many operas and his few compositions for the church. His il Santíssimo Natal Mass was composed in 1707, during Scarlatti’s brief time as maestro di cappella at the Basilica of S Maria Maggiore in Rome. The two jubilant Kyries contrasted with a reflective central Christe. The gentle mood continued into the opening of the Gloria, before the bouncy rhythms returned. As in the later parts of the Mass, frequent changes of mood were a compositional feature, dissolving from one to the other with delightful ease, helped by some well-judged directed from conductor Laurence Cummings. The final Agnus sequence is a gently expansive movement, providing a suitably reflective conclusion to an impressive composition, Scarlatti’s operatic experience never far from the surface, without imposing. Continue reading

Mater Inviolata

Mater Inviolata
European music for the Christ-Child and His Mother
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
St John’s, Smith Square, 11 December 2018

The 33rd St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival has taken a slightly more eclectic approach to the traditional seasonal offerings, although its roots in early music remain, as exemplified by this concert by The Brabant Ensemble, directed by Stephen Rice. Their programme focussed on Mary, the focus for devotion in the late Renaissance era. The geographical focus was, as the group’s name suggests, the old Duchy of Brabant, covering present-day parts of Belgium and the Netherlands. The Franco-Flemish composers included Josquin, Lassus, and Josquin’s contemporary Pierre de la Rue in the 500th year of his death together with the latter composers, Clemens non Papa, Crecquillon, and Mouton, with his well-known Nesciens mater. Continue reading

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
CORO. COR16166. 66’37

Star of Heaven: The Eton Choirbook Legacy

You need to read the title of this recording carefully – The Eton Choirbook Legacy, the key word being ‘Legacy’. Alongside pieces by Walter Lambe, William Cornysh and Robert Wylkynson from the famous c1500 Eton College Choirbook are compositions by five contemporary composers, commissioned by the Sixteen’s Genesis Foundation to contrast with and compliment the Eton pieces. Four are direct responses to Eton Choirbook pieces, the fifth is Stephen Hough’s four-movement Hallowed, composed for the British Museum’s recent ‘Living with Gods’ exhibition. Continue reading