Mozart Chamber Music: Vol. 1

Mozart Chamber Music Vol. 1
Ensemble DeNOTE
Devine Music DMCD007. 70’43

Mozart DMCD007

Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K.454
‘Kegelstatt’ Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano in E flat, K.498
Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478

There is more to this recording than meets the eye – or, indeed, the ear. At one level it is an excellent recording of some, perhaps lesser-known, music by Mozart, played on period instruments with considerable (and appropriate) style by Ensemble DeNOTE. On that basis alone, it is well worth getting hold of. But what marks this out as being very different from a normal run-of-the-mill Mozart CD is its background. It grew out of 2016 staged performances of Mozart given by DeNOTE as part of their (Arts Council funded) Mozart Project Live!, itself an extension of the earlier Mozart Project, an award-winning interactive digital book with contributions from DeNOTE’s director, fortepianist, John Irving. For their Mozart Project Live! they performed extracts from the three pieces on this recording, along with spoken and acted introductions from two actors, in period dress but clutching 21st-century tablets, and audio and video material from the digital book. But there was not enough time for complete performances of the three pieces demonstrated, hence this recording.  It contrasts three works from the 1780s for two, three and four instruments, all including the fortepiano.

The opening K.454 Sonata for Piano and Violin was written in 1784 for the Viennese debut of the Mantuan violinist Regina Strinasacchi (a former student of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice), then in her early 20s. It was written in some haste, to the extent that Mozart had no time to write out his piano part. For the public performance, apparently in the company of the Emperor Joseph II, he put a blank sheet of paper on the music desk, but played from memory and, presumably, a great deal of improvisation. It is a piece full of contrast, unusually starting with an expansive Largo before bursting into a lively Allegretto. The compositional blend between the two instruments is notable, each sharing the limelight alongside lengthy passages where the two combine in close consort. The players’ subtle additions to the text are entirely appropriate.

The incorrectly named Kegelstatt Trio (for Clarinet, Viola and Piano) (the name was intended for another piece, not this one) breaks the conventional rules of composition, the three movements (Andante, Menuetto, Rondeaux: Allegretto) bearing little relation to the expected three-movement sequence. Although the instruments (unique at the time) in the final movement, the fortepiano takes centre stage for a while, before the other two instruments have their moments in the foreground. Incidentally, Mozart is said to have played the viola for this, not the piano.

The concluding Piano Quartet in G minor (K.478) also has a back story – or might have. Although commissioned (as a set of three) for Vienna’s amateur performers, the piano part turned out to be far too difficult for them to play. Along with that, the thought of four amateur musicians attempting to play this complex work was deemed, at best, undesirable. Refusing to write something easier, the commission was cancelled, leaving this one Quartet, one of the first of its kind in musical history. That is the story, but recent scholarship, outlined in the CDs liner notes, casts doubt on this story. In the dark key of G minor, it is certainly of an emotional depth and intensity that requires musical and expressive experience possibly beyond many amateurs. Only in the final movement does any semblance of domestic music-making begin to appear. As with the other pieces on this recording, the four instruments are treated as equals and, as with the other pieces, the recording balance is well judged between them, the fortepiano (a copy of a c1795 Walter) being at just the right volume to blend without dominating.

The individual performances, from Marcus Barcham-Stevens, violin, Oliver Wilson, viola, Ruth Alford, cello, Jane Booth, clarinet, and John Irving, fortepiano, are excellent. But, more importantly, the overall result greatly exceeds the sum of the individual parts – as it always should in consort playing.

The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann

The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann
Le Concert Brisé, William Dongois
Accent ACC24302. 68′ 

This is an important recording as it brings the music of Heinrich Scheidemann to a wider audience than just organists. Unfortunately, many organists are not aware enough of the organ compositions of this major North German composer of the early Baroque era. He was one of the most important pupils of Sweelinck in Amsterdam in the early 17th century, moving on (as did several other Sweelinck pupils) to an important organist post in Hamburg; at the enormous organ of Hamburg’s Catharinenkirche, recently restored back to the time of Bach’s famous visit, but still containing many pipes from Scheidemann’s time. He was part of an extraordinary tradition of North German organ playing that led to Buxtehude and, ultimately, the young Bach. It seems that the only surviving Scheidemann pieces are for organ, plus a few for a stringed keyboard. So this instrumental interpretation, although not without a number of issues for the purist, is a very welcome addition to the many CDs of Scheidemann’s organ music.  Continue reading

L’Héritage de Rameau

LHéritage de Rameau
Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Yves Rechsteiner
Ambronay Editions AMY050. 54’54

CD

Music by Rameau, Rebel and Francoeur

I heard Ensemble Les Surprises and Yves Rechsteiner perform music from this recording during the 2017 Ambronay Festival (review here), noting that is was the first time the group had played without using a full-sized French Classical church organ, relying instead on a small chamber organ. That is more than made up for by this recording, which uses the important 1783 François-Henri Clicquot organ in the historic priory church of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Souvigny (Allier).

The premise of this recording is the programme of the Concert Spirituel given on 8 December 1768 in Paris. It refers to a ‘Suite of symphonies by Rameau executed with full orchestra on the organ by Balbastre’. It seems that Balbastre (the leading organist in pre-Revolutionary Paris) had reconstructed an organ concerto from existing works by Rameau, having already played many solo organ transcriptions from Rameau’s opera for the Concerts Spirituel. Despite being a keen organist, Jean-Philippe Rameau left no organ music. Yves Rechsteiner has already published and recorded his own arrangements of some of Rameau’s operatic and instrumental works for organ solo. For this recording, he has reconstructed three organ concertos from Rameau’s works as they might have been performed by Balbastre (a pupil of Rameau) in the 1768 Concert Spiritual.  Continue reading

Repicco: Assassini, Assassinati

Assassini, Assassinati
Repicco
Ambronay Editions, AMY308. 60’43

Assassini, assassinati - Repicco

Works by Albertini, Marini, Castaldi, Pandolfi Mealli, Stradella,

I have written before of the excellent work that eeemerging and the Cultural Centre Ambronay do to support young musicians. One such is the arrangement by which the top two ensembles in each of the eeemerging rounds are offered a recording through the Collection Jeunes Ensembles of Ambronay Editions. A recent example is this CD, Assassins, Assassinations, the debut recording of the two-person ensemble Repicco, (violinist Kinga Ujszàszi and Jadran Duncumb, theorbo). The rather grizzly link between the Italian Baroque composers represented in the recording is that they were all either murdered or murderers. This is a genre of recording that, I trust, has a limited range, particularly when it comes to present days composers. It certainly says something about political and social life in Italy during the period known as the ‘Iron century’, a time dominated by powerful families and warring cities.  Continue reading

Versus: The Garnier Organ

Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire

Versus
Henry Fairs
The Garnier Organ, Elgar Concert Hall
University of Birmingham
Regent Records REGCD516. 74’35

This is the first recording of the new Garnier organ in the Elgar Concert Hall of Birmingham University. It is played by the organ’s curator, Henry Fairs. He is Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire and was closely involved with the installation of the Garnier organ. A well-chosen programme demonstrates the organ, and its companion continuo organ, as well as some impressive playing by Fairs. He opens and closes with major Bach works, the better-known opening Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue (BWV 564) given a subtly individual reading that adds interest without approaching the mannerisms of some organists who feel the need to do something different. An example is performing the sprightly fugue on a massive chorus based on a 16′ manual reed. The lesser-known concluding Praeludium in C (BWV 566a), which might originally have been in E major) is given a similarly grand interpretation.
Continue reading

Ristori: Cantatas

G A Ristori: Cantatas for Soprano
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Maria Savastano, soprano, Jon Olaberria, oboe
Audax Records ADX 13711. 68’12

Ensemble Diderot has built an enviable reputation for their instrumental recordings, based on the violin playing of their founder director Johannes Pramsohler. But on this occasion, they appear as a backing group to soprano Maria Savastano, who gets prominent billing. Sensibly, the programme is based on a single, and lesser-known Italian composer, Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692-1753). He was probably born in Bologna but spent much of his life in Dresden in the court of the Electors of Saxony, surviving the musical cull after Augustus the Strong’s death in 1733, presumably on account of his having been music tutor to the new Elector when he was Crown Prince.  The Elector’s wife, Maria Antonia, wrote the text of the three cantatas on this recording. The daughter of the Bavarian Elector, she was an accomplished singer and poet.

Continue reading

Schabernack

Schabernack: A treasure trove of musical jokes
Les Passions de l’Ame, Meret Lüthi
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. 88985415492. 56’46

Music by Fux, Schmeltzer, Biber, and Walther

Schabernack - A Treasure Trove of Musical Jokes
Schabernack 
translates as ‘prank, practical joke, hoax or shenanigans’, and the underlying theme of this CD by the impressive group Les Passions de l’Ame emphasises that aspect of the musical world of the Austrian and Hungarian Empires during the Baroque period.  The CD cover promises “Characters from the commedia dell’arte, playful birds, an astonishing virtuosity and a colourful instrumentation – the vivid imagination in late 17th century Austrian-German instrumental music loves to surprise”. But humour is only part of the inspiration for this recording. At the time, these Hapsburg domains were part of the defence of Europe from attacks from the east by the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman influence was spreading into Viennese life and music, with Turkish, or Janissary, music and instruments becoming part of the musical language of the time. Continue reading

Edinburgh 1742

Edinburgh 1742
Ensemble Marsyas
Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, horns,
Emilie Renard, mezzo-soprano, Peter Whelan, directot
Linn CKD567. 68′

The rather underwhelming title of this CD doesn’t really do justice to the wealth of surprises within. Barsanti’s Horns might be just one possible alternative, and a listen to track 2, the Allegro from Francesco Barsanti’s Concerto grosso in D (Op3/3) will explain why. Horn players Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters and timpanist Alan Emslie mount an extraordinary attack on the senses with some of the most thrilling writing for horns and timpani that I can think off. The return with gusto at the end of the innocently entitled Menuet. This recording includes the first five of Barsanti’s ten Opus 3 Concerti grossi, all with dramatic writing for the horns and times, and four of his arrangements of Scottish songs, enclosing a central burst of Handel.

Francesco Barsanti (c1690-1775) was one of many Italian musicians that came to England during the 18th century, arriving in London in 1723. He earnt his living from teaching, music copying and occasional oboe playing. He was a companion of his fellow import from Lucca, Francesco Geminiani, who invited to join his short-lived Masonic lodge. He spent a year or so in York around 1732, and moved to Edinburgh in 1735 to join the Edinburgh Musical Society and playing in their professional orchestra. He returned to London with a Scottish wife in 1743, the year that his Opus 3 concertos were published. They followed much earlier collections of recorder and flute Sonatas (opus 1 and 2) in the 1720s. Back in London he started playing the viola rather than the oboe, and became involved with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Madrigal Society.

Emilie Renard joins in the Barsanti fun with one of Handel’s most dramatic arias, Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from the 1735 Alcina, metaphorically depicting an angry tigress trying to protect her young from approaching hunters, to the inevitable accompaniment of the two horns. Emilie Renard enters into the drama of the aria with some brilliantly executed runs and ornaments, although she seems to have developed a rather alarming depth of vibrato since I raved about her singing in years gone by. This is followed by Handel’s arrangement of two movements from The Water Music as a Concerto for horns in F (HWV 331), seemingly first performed in 1723, and the little March in F for two horns and bassoon (HWV346, known as the ‘March in Prolemy’ on account of its appearance in the overture to his 1729 opera Tolomeo. 

As a contrast to the energy of the horn dominated programme comes a selection from Barsanti’s Old Scots Airs, published some time before the 1743 concertos, and here performed with violin and harpsichord. They reflect the enormous interest in all things Scottish in the decades after the Act of Union.

Michael Talbot’s notes give a fascinating insight into the Edinburgh Musical Society and the life of the hitherto overlooked immigrant musician Barsanti. The performances from Ensemble Marsyas, and the direction of Peter  Whelan, are excellent. They met during studies in Basel and touring with the influential European Union Baroque Orchestra.

Returning to the opening query about the CDs title, I still haven’t managed to work out the relevance of the year 1742. Perhaps I have missed something obvious, but the date doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere in the CD notes. A follow up CD of the rest of Barsanti’s 1743 Opus 3 concertos, written for trumpet and two oboes is inevitable, and I look forward to it.

 

Secret History

John Potter: Secret History
Josquin/Victoria

ECM New Series ECM2119

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

Lully: Armide

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

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

Path of Miracles

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

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

Waley-Cohen(s): Permutations

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

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

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

The Italian Job

The Italian Job
Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian States
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Rachel Chaplin and Gail Hennessy, oboes, Peter Whelan, bassoon
Avie AV2371. 76’23

Music by Albinoni, Caldara, Corelli, Tartini, Torelli, and Vivaldi

The Italian Job: Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian StatesFor the past year La Serenissima have been performing a series of concerts based on music from different cities in Italy. This CD, recorded in St John’s, Smith Square after one such concert, forms a summary of the extraordinary music from that concert series. the cities, and composers, represented are Venice (Albinoni, Caldara, Vivaldi), Bologna (Torelli), Padua (Tartini) and Rome (Corelli). Apart from some glorious music, one of the features of this recording is the instrumental colour, with prominent roles for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, trombone, timpani and strings.  Continue reading

Matthew Wadsworth: Late Night Lute

Late Night Lute
Matthew Wadsworth, lute and theorbo
Deux-Elles DXL 1175

Dowland, Rosseter, Johnson, Piccinini, Kapsberger, and Stephen Goss

I Late Night Lute Album Cover - Matthew Wadsworthcan vividly remember the first time I heard Matthew Wadsworth playing, in 1999, in the bowels of the Royal Academy of Music, during the debut of what was then a student group, all four of whom (Kati Debretzeni, Alison McGillivray, Matthew Wadsworth, and Robert Howarth) have gone on to achieve prominence in the world of music. This CD stems from an overheard comment at a late night gathering of friends, when somebody searching through CDs commented “I need lute, late night lute”. In the intervening years, the frequency of invitations to present late night lute concerts reinforced the feeling that there was indeed something of the night about lute music.  Continue reading

Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6

Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34194. 63’46

For a British musician, now is a very good time to be reminded of the extraordinary contribution that immigrant musicians have made to our musical history, from at least the early 1500s. This CD reflects that in at least two ways. Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was born in Liverno in 1694. Although supposition that he studied with Corelli seems ill-founded, he certainly absorbed and developed Corelli’s style. He moved to England in, or just before 1719, possibly at the invitation of John Manners (then Marquess of Granby, and soon to become the 3rd Duke of Rutland), who was to be his only known patron in England. Almost immediately on his arrival Carbonelli became leader of the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra, a post which also involved performing concertos and sonatas. In 1735, like many of his fellow Italian immigrant musicians, he anglicised his name, in his case to John Stephen Carbonell. Continue reading

Set upon the Rood

Set upon the Rood
New music for choir and ancient instruments
Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber
Delphian DCD34154. 68’20

Barnaby Brown (triplepipes)
Bill Taylor (lyre)
John & Patrick Kenny (ancient horns)

This recording features the music I heard in the second half of the concert reviewed here during the 2016 London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge and their director Geoffrey Webber join with four members of the European Music Archaeology Project: Barnaby Brown, playing the triplepipe and aulos, lyre player Bill Taylor and John and Patrick Kenny playing the ‘Loughnashade horn’ and carnyx. Continue reading

Il Cembalo di Partenope

Il Cembalo di Partenope: ‘A Renaissance harpsichord tale’
Catalina Vicens
Carpe Diem Records CD-16312. 66’35

The world’s oldest playable harpsichord (Naples, 1525)

Vicens CD.JPGHarpsichordist Catalina Vicens’ new CD ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, it is recorded on the world’s oldest playable harpsichord, built in Naples c1525, and now housed in the National Music Museum of Vermillion, South Dakota, USA, where it has been recently restored. Secondly, her programme of 24 pieces represents the wide range of musical styles of the period of the instrument, played with a compelling sense of musical and period style. And, thirdly, it comes with the bonus of an imaginative story (downloadable as an audiobook) by Catalina Vicens, based on the instrument and “inspired by music, history and legends”. Continue reading

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
I Fagiolini, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, The 24, Robert Hollingworth
Decca 4831654. 80’23

During this 450th Monteverdi anniversary year there will be many performances and recordings of the 1610 Vespers. But for this ‘not the 1610’ recording, I Fagiolini have reconstructed a Vespers service inspired by a Dutch tourist’s 1620 record of hearing Monteverdi direct a Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The psalms and the plainchant on this recording are from that feast, using music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The Monteverdi contribution comes from his Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1641, but containing music written much earlier. Whereas the 1610 Vespers are intended for feasts of the Virgin or other female saints, the 1641 collection contains psalms for feasts of male saints. Continue reading

The World Encompassed

The World Encompassed
Orlando Gough, Fretwork, Simon Callow
Signum Classics SIGCD453. 2CDs 41’19+41’56

This recording is based on the fact that Sir Francis Drake is known to have taken four viol players with him on his 1577-80 circumnavigation of the world, using the musicians for prayers and entertainment on board, and for diplomatic uses with the people they met. He also had trumpeters and drummers, but they are excluded from this recording, which takes as its premise the sort of music that the musicians might have played to the people they met, and also to their friends on their return to England, using their memory of the native music that they heard during their travels. Alongside music of the period by the likes of Parsons, Taverner, White, and Picforth, the principal musical contribution comes from Orlando Gough (b 1953) who was commissioned by Fretwork to compose a sequence of 13 pieces for viol consort based on the local music that Drake and friends might have heard.  Continue reading

Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie

Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923502. 2CDs: 59’55+67’08

This is another in the series of recordings of French Baroque music directed by György Vashegyi with his own Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra. It was recorded in Budapest’s Müpa concert hall alongside a performance given as the closing concert of the 2014 Budapest Spring Festival during the International Rameau Year, in conjunction with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. That was the modern-day première. Few would consider it Rameau’s finest opera, but in the true fashion of French Baroque opera, it is full of spectacular music. Continue reading

The Twisted Twenty

The Twisted Twenty
Penny Fiddle Records PFR1701CD. 36’02

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The Twisted Twenty is the name of the group, and of this, their first CD. With no catalogue number, and no web presence for the recording company, this has more than a feel of a self-produced affair. There is certainly nothing wrong in that. It is one of the few ways in which young musicians can get their music out there. There is a strong tradition of folk music within the world of classical musicians, notably in Scotland in the 18th century, the focus for much of this short (just 36 minutes) CD.  Continue reading

The Masque of Moments

The Masque of Moments
Theatre of the Ayre, Elizabeth Kenny
Linn Records. CKD 542. 68′

The Masque was a form of aristocratic entertainment with medieval roots that reached its English peak in the early 17th century during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Closely related to similar continental forms such as the Italian Intermedio, it included music, dance, acting, mime and singing, often to elaborate sets. They were usually based on Classical mythology combined with more than a hint of current political or royal intrigues. As well as professional performers, the promoters or subjects of the masque were often also involved in the production. For many years, Elizabeth Kenny and her group Theatre of the Ayre have studied the genre, and this is their latest manifestation of that research.  Continue reading

Mondonville: Isbé

Mondonville: Isbé
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924001. 3 CDs: 61’25+48’55+63’04

For many years the only way to hear French Baroque music performed with any degree of authenticity was by listening to French performers. Although that is still the case to an extent, the level of understanding of French performing techniques has become far better known throughout the world. One example is the series of recordings from Budapest from the Orfeo Orchestra and Purcell Choir under their founder and director György Vashegyi. I reviewed their CD of Mondonville’s Grands Motets here, and their performance of Rameau’s Naïs in Budapest here, and now turn to their more recent recording of his opera Isbé.  Continue reading

The Edge of Time

The Edge of Time
Anna Friederike Potengowski (bone flutes), 
Georg Wieland Wagner (percussion)
Delphian DCD34185. 64’32

Having been not entirely enthusiastic about Dragon Voices, the last recording from the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP), it is nice to make up for that with my enthusiasm for the latest from that project, with this recording featuring Palaeolithic bone flutes and percussion. All my earlier concerns about the choice of repertoire are overcome with this imaginative look at the musical possibilities of the reconstructions of four bone flute, based on originals dating back around 40,000 years ago. Continue reading

JM Haydn: Der Kampf der Buβe und Bekehrung

Johann Michael Haydn: Der Kampf der Buβe und Bekehrung
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Carus 83.351. 79’55

Johann Michael Haydn: Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung. OratoriumDespite being a lesser-known work by a lesser-known composer, the oratorio Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung (The Struggle for Penance and Conversion) is well worth getting to know. It is the second, and only surviving part, of a three-part oratorio, each part written by a different composer – not unusual in the fast-paced musical world of Salzburg at the time. The reason was the arrival of three sopranos bought back from Italy by the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1768. A piece was quickly required to show off their musical talents and, because of the lack of time, three composers agreed to compose a part of the libretto. Johann Michael Haydn (the younger brother of Joseph) took the central part, and this oratorio is the result.  Continue reading

Kapsberger: Toccata/Touched

Alex McCartney: Toccata: Touched
Works by GG Kapsberger
Veterum Musica. VM015. 45’27

This recording is clearly something of a labour of love, albeit a rather short one, at just 45’27. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c1580-1651) was the son of an Austrian colonel, and was possibly born in Venice. He spent much of his musical life in the household of Cardinal Barberini in Rome (alongside Frescobaldi, amongst others) where he quickly built a reputation for virtuoso theorbo playing. To what extent his published theorbo pieces reflect his live performances is unclear, but they are sometimes frankly rather odd, not least with his unconventional use of rhythm and harmony. Contemporary commentators hinted strongly that his compositions were not as good as his performances.  Continue reading

Dragon Voices: Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe

Dragon Voices: Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe
John Kenny
Delphian DCD34183. 66’42

The link between music and archaeology is a comparatively new field of study, helped in recent years by the enterprising European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) in conjunction with the University of Huddersfield. I reviewed another CDs from the project here and a live concert featuring John Kenny some of the instruments on this CD here. The instruments featured here are Celtic, and include two examples of the carnyx, a two-metre-long bronze trumpet surmounted by a stylised animal head that flourished from around 200 BCE and 200 CE. The upper part of one was found in 1816 in a peat bog at Deskford, Scotland, and was reconstructed in 1993. The other is the Tintignac carnyx, discovered in southern France in 2004 and reconstructed for this project. The third instrument is a reconstruction of the Irish Loughnashade horn, also found in a peat bog, and dating from the first century BCE. Continue reading

Baldwin Partbooks II: Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child
Music from the Baldwin Partbooks II
Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD474. 75’18

Tallis: Gaude gloriosa Dei mater, Magnificat, Videte miraculum; and pieces by Taverner, White, Fayrfax, and Sheppard.

SIGCD474_HiW.jpgThe Baldwin Partbooks were copied in the 1570s and 80s by a member of the choirs of St George’s Windsor and the Chapel Royal, John Baldwin. They included printed pieces as well as Baldwin’s manuscript copies of music, from an earlier age, resulting in one of the most important surviving collections of polyphony from the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. This, combined with a focus on music dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is the focus of the music on this volume, the second in the Contrapunctus series on music of the Baldwin Partbooks (the first was In the Midst of Life, SIGCD408).  Continue reading

Bach: St John Passion

Bach: St John Passion
Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell
Avie AV2369. 2CDs 33’08+74’34.

This recording stems from a series of semi-staged performances in Cleveland and New York in March 2016. Videos of extracts of a live event can be viewed here. The project was referred to as ‘A Dramatic Presentation’, and involved the main protagonists singing from memory to each other and the audience, who were treated as part of the crowd in some of the turbo choruses, with half the choir moving from the stage to stand by the audience, notably during the scenes with Pilatus. A timely reminder, perhaps, of The immediacy and emotional intensity of the live performances can only be imagined from the recording, but the directness and strength of feeling remains. Continue reading

Queen Mary’s Big Belly

Queen Mary’s Big Belly
Hope for an heir in Catholic England
Gallicantus, Elizabeth Kenny, Gabriel Crouch
Signum Classics SIGCD464. 77’42

Music by van Wilder, Mundy, Tye, Lassus, Tallis, Newman, Sheppard

The catchy title of this recording (which quotes a 1688 pamphlet) is based a brief, but curious, incident during the turbulent Tudor times when, in April 1555, it was announced that Queen Mary had given birth to a son. The following day this was revealed to be the 16th century version of fake news. The complex history and importance of this event is beyond the scope of this review, but is easily obtainable and is covered in the detailed CD notes. Curiously, no author is credited for these notes, although I think it was Magnus Williamson, whose ‘insight and guidance’ is a credited elsewhere. Continue reading