Mondonville: Grands Motets

Mondonville: Grands Motets
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923508. 43’20+52’47

De profundis (1748), Magnus Dominus (1734), Nisi Dominus (1743), Cantate Domino (1742)

Mondonville.jpgJean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in Narbonne in the south-west of France. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, joining the Concert Spirituel and the Chapelle Royale as a violinist. Although continuing is career as a violinist, he soon rose through the musical ranks (becoming director of the Concert Spirituel and Maître de musique de la Chapelle) and also became famed as a composer of opera and sacred music. Although never quite reaching the musical heights of his predecessors Lully and Rameau, his compositions reflect the changing mood in the middle third of 18th century France. Continue reading

Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2

Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2 (1734)
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Audax Records ADX13707. 67’22

Diderot.jpgJean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in the south-west of France to an aristocratic family whose fortune was in decline. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately published a volume of violin Sonatas. He initially came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour and also joined the Concert Spirituel and, later, the Chapelle royale. The first of his 17 grands motets  was performed at around the same time. In 1734, this Opus 2 set of six Trio Sonatas was published. The quality and technical virtuosity of the writing for the two violins says a lot about his own abilities as a violinist. Extensive use of double stops for both players are just the start of it.

Continue reading

Haydn: The Seasons 1801

Haydn: The Seasons 1801
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 480. 2 CDs. 133’08

Those that have followed the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh over the years will know that they rarely do things by halves. In their early years, this included such seminal recordings as, for example, their 1994 reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas recorded with massed forces in Roskilde Cathedral, the latter chosen because of its important historic organ. In recent years they have built close connections with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. This much heralded recording of the 1801 version of Haydn’s The Seasons is the latest of those collaborations. The opening thunderous wallop on the timpani will warn you that this is a recording of some drama and punch. Using a new performing edition (and English translation) by Paul McCreesh this is the first recording to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for in some of the early performances, with a string section of 60, 10 horns and a choir of 70, using the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir.

Often overlooked in favour of The Creation, The Seasons is in many ways a more forward-looking work, with more of a hint of the romanticism that was eventually going to overtake all the arts. Continue reading

In Nomine: Heaven and Hell c1600

In Nomine
Heaven and hell in the European musical landscape c1600
Les Harpes
L’Encelade ECL 1502. 63.

Freddy Eichelberger & Les Harpies  - In nomine (2017As the subtitle suggests, In Nomine explores how the concepts of heaven and hell were portrayed in Europe during the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque period. Its publicity suggests that it “plunges into a demonic world of evanescent dreams and telluric rumblings and then, as a counterpoint, whisks us up to the celestial heights of hope, salvation and the sublime…“. The result is something of a musical pot pourri, jumping from track to track and style to style with little sense of linking cohesion and with some alarming pitch and key changes between tracks. It jumps from music clearly intended for performance in church, and pieces that equally clearly were not.

It was recorded in the ancient church of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan in the Hautes-Pyrenees. The main focus is the extraordinary 1557 Renaissance organ, positioned on its own gallery to one side of the nave. It was reconstructed, Continue reading

Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem

Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem
Chœur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, Leonardo García Alarcón
Ricercar RJC 378. 57’30 

Passio Secundum JohannemIf you can listen to the first two tracks of this recording without being smitten by the extraordinary musical and emotional power, you are probably on a different musical planet to me. The richly sonorous and harmonically intense opening chorus (a Responsory for Holy Week) segues straight into the opening section of the Passio Secundum Johannem. The orchestral introduction is a glorious harmonic construction, leading to the evocative voice of mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli, singing the role of Testo (the Evanglelist).  Continue reading

Frescobaldi: Organ works

Girolamo Frescobaldi: Organ works
Bernard Foccroulle
Ricercar RJC 372. 72’20

Organ WorksGirolamo Frescobaldi is one of the most important composers of the transitional period between the late Renaissance and the early Baroque. His keyboard music and his written performing instructions form the bedrock of the 17th century Baroque style, in particular the Stylus phantasticus that dominated the musical style in Italy and Germany. Through pupils like Froberger and other disciples, his music spread throughout Europe and influenced composer, including Bach and his North German organ composer predecessors like Weckmann, Tunder and Buxtehude and English composers like John Blow. Continue reading

Cifras Imaginarias

Cifras Imaginarias
Musica para Tañer a Dos Vihuelas
Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman
outhere A428. 53’21

Cifras ImaginariasThis recording does exactly what it says on the cover, recreating an imaginary books of vihuela duets in the style and manner of the sole surviving example of such a collection. There are many examples of music for two lutes from the 16th century, but only one for two vihuelas. To make up for that omission, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman have joined forces to arrange a variety of pieces for two vihuelas in the style of the mid-16th century.

This is a fascinating recording on several levels. Firstly, it is a real delight to listen to. The sound of the two instruments combines and matches perfectly. Abramovich and Heringman play as one with an impressive sense of togetherness, and the recording also brings the two players aurally together. Even with headphones, it is not easy to pick out which instrument is which. The nature of the music is such that this is important. Continue reading

Organs in Dialogue

Organs in Dialogue
Javier Artigas & João Vaz
1779 & 1864 organs of Clérigos Church, Oporto, Portugal
Arkhé Music 2016002. 64’07

Music by Boaventuba, Portugal, Ferbenac, Gill, Lidón, Bondaczuk.

During the 18th century, Iberian churches often adopted the earlier Italian plan of having two organs, each in (usually) identical architectural cases positioned on balconies and speaking towards each other across the choir. The practice has its roots in St Mark’s Venice in the 16th century. Clérigos Church in Oporto is one such example, its two organs dating from 1779 with major restorations in 1864. Rather like French organs, organ building in the Iberian peninsula reached a technical peak in the 18th century at a time when the music written for the organ was experiencing something of a decline. This CD reflects both those aspects; of organ building and composition. Continue reading

José Luis González Uriol in Lisbon

José Luis González Uriol in Lisbon
1765 Fontanes de Maqueira organ, São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon
Arkhé Music. 72’23

Music by Cabezón, Trabaci, Bruna, Kerll, Sola, Cabanilles, Nassarre, Zipoli, Lidón.

José Luis González Uriol is one of the most influential Iberian organists and teachers, and this recording is a homage to him, and also to the organ in the Monastery of São Vicente de Fora, Lisbon, built by João Fontanes de Maqueira in 1765, and restored in 1994 as part of Lisbon’s European City of Culture celebrations. Unusually for organs, it had survived virtually unaltered since it was built, and retains 98% of its original pipework. The recording was made on 17 October 1994, just after the opening of the restored organ in a recital by González Uriol. A combination of factors, including the death of the recording producer Joaquim Simões de Hora (who was also heavily involved in the restoration project), meant that the recording has never been released until now. Continue reading

Palisander: Beware the Spider!

CONCERT: Antidotum Arachne
Palisander
St John’s, Smith Square. 16 February 2017

CD: Palisander Beware the Spider!
PALG-33. 37’51

The St John’s, Smith Square Young Artists scheme gives emerging soloists and ensembles a platform to showcase their talents through three SJSS concerts, a chance to commission new music, and opportunities to develop skills in marketing, education and outreach. The latest batch of six  (for the year 2016/17) includes the recorder quartet Palisander. They already seem pretty adept at marketing, and took the opportunity of the first of their three concerts (given under the title Antidotum Arachne) to launch their debut CD, Beware the Spider!.

The concert and (rather short) CD explore the world of the Tarantella, a curious aspect of folk medicine in 16th and 17th century Italy where victims of venomous spider bites were not offered any medicinal cure or relief but were regaled by local musicians (often funded by the municipality) with a variety of musical pieces, some known as Tarantella, intended to cure them of their otherwise fatal symptoms. In a well-chosen and varied programme, Palisander’s CD and concert reflected aspects of the various symptoms along with arrangements of original Tarantellas by Miriam Nerval, who also provided the programme notes for the CD and concert. For a few of the pieces they were joined by Toby Carr, playing theorbo and baroque guitar. Continue reading

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano

Classical Vienna: Music for Guitar and Piano
James Akers, romantic guitar, Gary Branch, fortepiano
Resonus RES10182. 67’47

Music by Ferdinando Carulli, Anton Diabelli, Ignaz Moscheles, Mauro Giuliani

The title of Classical Vienna is a bit misleading, and is not perhaps as you know might know it. Firstly the dates of the composers and pieces are rather late for the usual definition of the Classical period of music. Secondly, using an alternative meaning of the word ‘classical’, the combination of guitar and fortepiano is not exactly a mainstream aspect of Vienna’s musical life. For those not familiar with the sound world of period instruments, the notion of music for guitar and piano might seem bizarre. But as demonstrated on this recording, it works perfectly well. Gary Branch’s contribution to the extensive programme notes explains the history of the Viennese fortepiano and why it was suitable to balance with a guitar. Continue reading

O Sing unto the Lord

O Sing unto the Lord
Sacred music by Henry Purcell
Saint Thomas Choir, New York, Concert Royal, John Scott
Resonus RES10184. 54’03

O sing unto the Lord, Z44; Remember not, Lord, Z50; Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei, Z135; Evening Hymn, Z193; O God, thou art my God, Z35; Morning Hymn, Z198; I was glad, Z19; Hear my prayer, O Lord, Z15; Voluntary in G major, Z720; Te Deum in D major, Z232.

Following on from their recent issues of Bach and Rachmaninoff, Resonus continue their series of recordings from the Saint Thomas Choir, New York, under their conductor, the late John Scott, with this release of a 2010 recording of Purcell. The well-balanced programme includes major works for choir and orchestra, such as the substantial opening O sing unto the Lord, as well as more intimate pieces such as the Morning and Evening Hymns, here separated by the early anthem O God, thou art my God with its famous Hallelujah, later turned into the hymn Westminster Abbey. This amply demonstrated the extraordinary range of Purcell’s musical style and his harmonic inventiveness. Continue reading

Siglo de Oro: Drop down, ye heavens

Drop down, ye heavens
Advent antiphons for choir and saxophone
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies, director, Sam Corkin, saxophones
Delphian DCD34184. 64’45

I reviewed the concert given by Siglo de Oro during the 2016 Spitalfields Winter Festival (here), and have now been sent the CD that includes most of the music from that concert, including the eight ‘O antiphons’ commissioned by the group. These are based on the Catholic tradition of including special Magnificat antiphons, each beginning with the letter ‘O’, during Advent week services. The well-known Advent hymn O come, O come, Emmanuel, is a paraphrase of one of these antiphons. Each of the new commissions (all in English) adds the distinctive sounds of a saxophone to the choir. Acting as a foil to the eight new commissions are three Renaissance O antiphons are included, by Pierre Certon, Antoine de Mornable, and Josquin des Prez. Continue reading

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love

Martin Peerson: A Treatie of Humane Love
Mottects or Grave Chamber Music (1630)
I Fagiolini, Fretwork
Regent REGCD497. 72’53

Martin Peerson is one of those composers that can so easily slip under the radar. Little is known of his early life, and records of his adult life are confused by the various ways of spelling his name. It is likely that he was born in March (not the month, but a small market town in Cambridgeshire) around 1572, and became a choirboy at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1604 a madrigal of his was performed at an ‘entertainment’ in Highgate arranged by Ben Jonson for James I and his Queen Anne of Denmark. This appears to have been his only involvement with the musical life of royalty during his career. He had Catholic sympathies, although managed to pass as sufficiently Protestant to be award a Bachelor of Music from Oxford in 1613. He then held posts at Canterbury and St Paul’s Cathedral and, possibly, Westminster Abbey (a “Martin Pearson” is recorded there in the 1620s).  Continue reading

Parthenia Nova

Parthenia Nova
Richards, Fowkes & Co Opus 18 organ: St George’s Hanover Square
Simon Thomas Jacobs
Fugue State Records FSRCD009. 77’40

Parthenia Nova

The 2012 opening of the new organ in St George’s Hanover Square was an important event in the London organ world. The church itself has a strong musical identity, not least by being Handel’s own parish church when he lived a couple of streets away. It was the first organ in London by any American organ builder, in this case Richards, Fowkes & Co. Despite some concessions to present day Church of England use, it is at heart a relatively uncompromising take on the 16th and 17th century organs on North Europe, the specialism of the organ builders. It is housed in a case spread across the west end of the church gallery. The central portion of the case is an historically important 18th century one, although nothing remains of the organ that it originally contained. Continue reading

Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo. 1621

Dario Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo 1621
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
AAM Records AAM005. 68’39

Sonatas 1-12: for two violins; violin and cornetto; violin and violetta; violin and trombone; cornetto and violetta; violin and dulcian; cornetto, violin and dulcian; two violins and dulcian; two violins and trombone.

AAM005 Castello

Very little is known about Dario Castello. His birth and death dates are unknown, but are possibly something like 1590-1660. His two volumes of Sonate concertate were published in Venice in 1621 and 1629. The prefaces of his two volumes suggest that he was on the musical staff of San Marco under Monteverdi, and also leader of a group of piffari, playing cornetto or dulcianAlthough Castello was a common name in Venice, Dario wasn’t, so was probably a pseudonym. Records suggest that there were three Venetian Castello instrumentalists, one of whom seems to be Dario’s son.

His two volumes of Sonate concertate were immensely popular at the time, and remain so today. The first book consists of 12 Sonatas for two or three solo instruments and continuo. The second set of Sonatas range from one to four solo instruments. They are often heard today played by trio sonata groups, with two violins and continuo. But this Academy of Ancient Music recording of the complete 1621 Libro Primo introduces the wide range of instruments that Castello specified in his score, with the addition of a cornetto, violetta (here interpreted as basso violetta da brazzo, an instrument an octave lower than a violin), dulcian and trombone to the two violins.   Continue reading

Joan Cabanilles: Organ pieces

Joan Cabanilles: Keyboard Music Vol 1
Timothy Roberts (organ)
1724 organ of the Basilica of Sant Jaume, Vila-real (Castellón/Valencia)
Toccata Classics TOCC 0391. 64’48

Tocata 1 de primero tono, Passacalles 2 de primero tono, Tocata 4 de quinto tonoTiento 12 de falsas, de cuarto tono, Tiento 31 partido de mano derecha, de primero tonoTiento 82 lleno, por Bequadrado de quinto tono, Tiento 9 partido de mano derecha, de secondo tonoTocata 2 de mano izquierda, de quinto tono, Tiento 63 de contras, de cuarto tonoTiento 55 de primero tono, Tiento 14 partido de dos tiples, de cuarto tono.

Joan (more usually spelt as Juan) Cabanilles (1644–1712) is a curious composer. His compositions fully absorb the late Renaissance counterpoint of the earlier, and better known, Spanish organ composer Francisco Correa de Araujo (1584–1654) but apply to that foundation layers of often virtuosic Baroque figuration that can range in style from the simplistic to the frankly perverse. He was born in Valencia, and seems to have remained there throughout his life, engaged in little more than the usual activities of a priestly musician in a cathedral city. He was organist of the cathedral, but doesn’t seem to have ever become the cathedral’s musical director. Although he composed a vast amount of organ music, it was not published in his lifetime and none of his original manuscripts survive. His music only exists in copies, of varying degress of accuracy, most now housed in the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona. The Biblioteca began a problematical complete edition in 1927, which remains incomplete to this day.  Continue reading

A Giant Reborn: the restored 1735 Richard Bridge organ of Christ Church, Spitalfields

A Giant Reborn
The restored 1735 Richard Bridge organ of Christ Church, Spitalfields, London
Gerard Brooks
Fugue State Records FSRCD010. 2CDs. 77’02+66’35

Music by Prelleur, Handel, Greene, Stanley, Bull, Barrett, Purcell, Croft, Heron, Boyce, Walond, Arne, Nares, Reading, James, Keeble

Spitalfields CD.jpgThe completion of the restoration of the famous 1735 Richard Bridge organ in Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields was one of the most important musical events in London during 2015. My review of John Scott’s opening recital, and details of the organ, can be seen here. Tragically it was one of the last recitals that John Scott gave before his death . Equally tragically, the master organ builder William Drake, the finest restorer of historic organs in the UK, died the year before the organ’s completion, so never heard what must now stand as his memorial.

Christ Church, Spitalfields was built between 1714 and 1729 as part of the ’Fifty New Churches’ Act of Parliament of 1711. It is one of the six East London churches WP_20150605_18_45_24_Prodesigned by the famed Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The organ was built in 1735 by Richard Bridge, who became one of the leading organ builders of the day. Spitalfields seems to have been only his second commission, perhaps explaining the comparatively low price of £600 for such a substantial instrument. For the following 100 years or so, it was the largest organ in the country. It suffered the inevitable changes over the years, but retained enough of its original pipework to form the basis for a historically based reconstruction, returning it broadly to its original specification and construction. It was dismantled in 1998 while the church was being restored and was then restored to its 1735 specification, with very few concessions. Its completion in 2015 makes this by far the most important pre-1800 organ in the UK.

This is the first recording of the restored organ. As well as being a comprehensive account of the instrument’s forces, it is also a fascinating reflection of the organ music in 18th century England, covering most of the principal composers, many of which are little known outside of their organ compositions. Rather like Continue reading

Iestyn Davies: Bach Cantatas

Bach: Cantatas 54, 82, 170
Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68111. 64’52

Vergnügte Ruh’, beliebte Seelenlust BWV170, Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54, Ich habe genug BWV82, Sinfonias from Cantatas BWV52 & 174. 

With an appropriate sense of timing, this CD was released on the day that it was announced that the distinguished countertenor Iestyn Davies was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. For non-UK readers, this is the archaically entitled ‘Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ and is awarded for ‘outstanding achievement’. There are at least four higher categories of ‘British Empire’ awards for him to look forward to. This is the third recording he has made with Arcangelo for Hyperion, but this one is very clearly a recording designed specifically to promote Iestyn Davies. His name is given stronger emphasis on the CD cover than the likes of Bach, let alone Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen, all also pretty good musicians. Continue reading

The Cardinal King

The Cardinal King
Music for Henry Benedict Stuart in Rome, 1740-91
Cappella Fede, Harmonia Sacra, Peter Leech, Hazel Brooks
Toccata Classics TOCC 0300. 73’20 

Bolis: Cinque Assoluzzione: 1, 2, 5; Laudate pueri Dominum, Miserere, Letanie della Madonna Santissima; Zamboni Splende fredda lunaO memorie funeste, O come se’ gentile, Feritevi, ferite; Costanzi :Ave Maria; Tessarini: Allettamento Secondo & Terzo; Jommelli: Oculi omnium.

What a great CD, with the bonus of an fascinating back-story! It reflects the music of the exiled court in Rome of Henry Benedict Stuart (1725–1807) during the latter half of the 18th century. Henry Stuart is one of the most interesting characters in the complex world of 18th British politics, religion and royal succession. He was the grandson of deposed King James II of England (and VII of Scotland), son of the ‘Old Pretender’, brother of the ‘Young Pretender’ Bonnie Prince Charlie, and the last in the acknowledged direct line of Jacobite succession to the crown of Great Britain.By the time he was born, in Rome, the Crown had already passed to the German Hanoverians, despite there being more than 50 far better claimants to the throne in terms of blood relations to Queen Anne. But the British Parliament had passed a law preventing a Catholic from inheriting the throne. Unlike his father and brother, Henry Stuart made no active claim to the throne, although he was referred to by his own followers as King Henry IX of England and Ireland (and I of Scotland). Just after his birth he was created Duke of York in the Jacobite Peerage, and recognised as such in Catholic Europe but not in Great Britain. Continue reading

A Wells Christmas

A Wells Christmas
Wells Cathedral Choir
Jonathan Vaughn, organ, Matthew Owens, conductor
Resonus RES10176. 61’54

Music by David Willcocks, Andrew Carter, John Rutter, Kenneth Leighton, Thomas Hewitt Jones., Bob Chilcott, Jefferson McConnaughey, Matthew Owens.

The Wells choir dates back to the year 909 with the earliest mention of singing boys, the full choral tradition going back around 800 years.For more than 1000 years, the tradition of cathedral choirs is one of the foundations of the UK music industry, nurturing an enormous number of young musicians (albeit almost exclusively the male offspring of white middle-class parents) and then providing employment for some of them in later life. After a 1991 equal opportunities challenge in the European Court, Salisbury became the first cathedral to start a girls choir and the male domination has been lowly decreasing. Wells started their girls choir 3 years later, although curiously they do not usually sing together with the companion boys choir. However this CD uses both It is billed as “an irresistible array of popular carols and more recent offerings” and a “scintillating and varied programme vividly realised by the combined boy and girl choristers and Vicars Choral”.

Unlike the other two Christmas CDs I have reviewed here, this CD uses the full forces of the cathedral organ, both in accompaniment role Continue reading

Song of the Nativity

Song of the Nativity
The Sixteen, Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16146. 73’58

The Sixteen’s Christmas offering combines traditional with contemporary-lite pieces that, according to the Coro website “by their unashamed simplicity, captures the joy and sincerity of this most wonderful of seasons. This album provides a perfect peaceful and uplifting antidote to the hectic pre-Christmas rush.”. That sums it up pretty well. The composers represented range from  Henry Walford Davies (b.1869) to still-living composers ranging from Morten Lauridsen (b.1943) to the youngest composer, Will Todd (b.1970). With what I assume is aimed at a Classic FM audience that The Sixteen seem to have captivated, there is nothing to frighten the musical horses but, equally little, if anything, to encourage younger or more adventurous composers.

The early pieces work best, but the contemporary compositions left me yearning for something more, err, contemporary.

To Bethlehem

To Bethlehem
Carols and Motets for Christmas
Kantorei of Kansas City, Chris Munce
Resonus RES10175. 61.29

Music by Renaissance composers Giovanni Bassano, Melchior Vulpius, Jakob Reiner and Blasius Amon and contemporary composers Matthew Culloton, Ivo Antognini, R. Douglas Helvering and Kim André Arnesen.

The inevitable flood of Christmas recordings is an inevitable result of commercial pressures, but I confess that they do not rate as my favourite reviewing task. But one of this year’s batch that did stand out, however, was this recording from the Kantorei of Kansas City, a Missouri-based choir that resulted from a choir put together for a wedding in 2009. They have since consolidated into a collection of professional singers under a non-conducting artistic director. This recording is a neat combination of Renaissance pieces with very impressive pieces by contemporary composers, all I think American. It is the latter pieces that really stand out, particularly, dare I say, in comparison to some of the rather tame contemporary Christmas pieces composed in the UK, as judged by home-grown Christmas CDs. Continue reading

Voces Suaves: l’Arte del Madrigale

l’Arte del Madrigale
Voces Suaves
Ambronay Edition AMY308. 62’36

Music by Giaches de Wert, Agostini, Luzzaschi, Gastoldi, de Rore, Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Marenzio, Piccinini, Gonzaga.

L'arte del madrigaleSince 2013, Seconda Pratica has been involved with the Eemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles, part of the Creative Europe programme), a scheme that assists young early music ensembles. This recording is a part of their third year of support from Eemerging and the Ambronay European Baroque Academy. Like so many early music performers, Voces Suaves grew out of studies at that powerhouse of early music, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in BasleIt was founded in 2012 with 9 singers. The music features some of the perhaps lesser-known madrigal composers of the Renaissance, notably from the repertoire amongst the extraordinary artistic heritage the Este and Gonzaga courts in Ferrara and Mantua and in Florence.  Continue reading

Love & Lust

Love & Lust
Elizabeth Hungerford, soprano, Andrew Arceci, viola da gamba
No record label noted. Ref: 8 89211 78745. 56’42

All in a Garden Green (Anonymous – 16th century)
She Loves It Well (Tobias Hume – 1579-1645)
Chi passa per ‘sta strada (Filippo Azzaiolo – 1530/40-1569)
Touch Me Lightly (Tobias Hume – 1579-1645)
Amarilli mia bella (Giulio Romolo Caccini – 1551-1618)
Amarilli Variations (Modo 2, 3, And 4) (Jacob Van Eyck- 1590-1657)
Joy to the Person of My Love (Anonymous – 17th century)
Canzonetta Spirituale sopra alla nanna (Tarquinio Merula – 1594/95-1665)
Death (Tobias Hume – 1579-1645)
Life (Tobias Hume – 1579-1645)
Prelude (E Minor) – (Christopher Simpson – 1602/06-1669)
I Attempt from Love’s Sickness (Henry Purcell – 1659-1695)
Beauty, Since You so Much Desire (Thomas Campion – 1567-1620)
Tobacco (Tobias Hume – 1579-1645)
1Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (Claudio Monteverdi – 1567-1643)

Love and LustThis CD was recorded in 2013 and appears to have been available as a download, but was issued as a CD in 2014 or 15. It appears to be self-produced, as there is no record label mentioned, although the bar code number listed above is searchable. The CD liner notes give translations of the texts, but not strictly in the order of the tracks. No track or total timings are given, which might limit its use for broadcasters. There is a brief note about the two performers, but no other information about the programme or the background to the pieces. But there is a full page listing of some 150 people who “the artists wish to thank” – presumably the result of a crowdfunding campaign.

All that merely reflects that performers have to start somewhere, and self-producing and self-promoting is pretty much standard nowadays. What is important is what you get if you can get hold of this CD. And that is a far more professional offering Continue reading

The Celebrated Distin Family

The Celebrated Distin Family: Music for Saxhorn Ensemble
The Prince Regent’s Band
Resonus RES10179. 55’40

Music by Mayerbeer, Berlioz, Donizetti, Verdi, Handel, Arne and the Distin family

Unless you have been weaned on the sound of brass bands (which I wasn’t) the sounds and the instruments on this recording might appear rather unusual. It features no fewer than seven saxhorns, ranging from contralto to contrabass, along with five different cornets, and a ventil horn, all dating from around 1850-1900 (pictured below). The five players of the period brass ensemble, The Prince Regent’s Band, share these out amongst themselves as they explore the music of the extraordinary Distin family who, between 1835 and 1857, journeyed around Europe and North America performing and promoting new designs of brass instruments. They were instrumental, so to speak, in the development of new valved instruments, one being the saxhorn, designed by Adolphe Sax (who they met in Paris in 1844) but improved by the Distins, who gave the instrument its name.

Instruments used in the recording: 

Continue reading

Seconda Pratica: Nova Europa

Nova Europa: Melodies d’un Monde en Mutation
Seconda Pratica
Ambronay Edition  AMY307. 63’06

Nova EuropaWhat a fascinating recording!

Seconda Pratica is an 11-strong young music ensemble specializing in 17th and 18th century repertoire, aimed at a 21st century audience. They aim “to engage with historic repertoire in a revitalizing way without ever losing sight of our inevitable modernity”. Since 2013, Seconda Pratica has been part of the Eemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles, part of the Creative Europe programme), which supports young early music ensembles. This recording is a part of their third year of support from Eemerging and the Ambronay European Baroque Academy.

In this recording, Seconda Pratica explore the musical and cultural heritage colonisation of South America by the 17th century Portuguese and Spanish. Continue reading

Max Reger: Complete organ works

Max Reger Edition: Sämtliche Orgelwerke
Martin Schmeding, organ
Cybele Records. Cybele 175 051500. 16+1 SACDs. 19h 24’36

Max Reger (1873-1916) was one of the most distinguished German musicians of the 19th century and a prolific composer, organist, pianist, conductor, and teacher. After time in Weiden and Munich he moved to Leipzig as musical director at the Leipzig University Church, professor at the Leipzig Royal Conservatory and, later, as music director to the court of Duke of Saxe-Meiningen and the Meiningen Court Theatre. Despite an enormous output of everything short of an opera, he is best known today for his organ music.

He is one of those organ composers that can bring out strong feelings in the rather cloistered world of organ players and listeners. He is frequently misunderstood in terms of his musical language; the sheer bombastic enormity of many of the pieces disguising the fact that they are often essentially an extension of mainstream Baroque compositional ideas, notably those of his hero Bach, a composer he regarded as ‘the beginning and end of all music‘. To the detailed counterpoint of Bach, he added Continue reading

Bach: transcriptions for Viola da Gamba

J S Bach: transcriptions for Viola da Gamba
Susanne Heinrich
dagamba100. 79’30

Partia 3 in E Major (D Major), BWV1006; Sonata 2 in a minor, BWV 1003; Partia 2 in d minor, BWV1004

Js Bach Transcriptions for Viola Da GambaAlthough this CD was released in 2012, it has only just emerged from an embarrassing pile of CDs, still in their wrappers, that I found in one of my rare tidy-ups. I have missed four years of listening to some outstanding playing from Susanne Heinrich. As her own very personal programme note explains, this is something of a labour of love. A youthful player of the violin, Susanne Heinrich attempted the Bach solo violin works, but never with much success. Her viola da gamba playing was already beginning to take over from the violin, and she lamented the fact that Bach left so little music for the viol. But the draw towards his solo violin works never left her, leading to a much later attempt to play them on the gamba – very far from an easy thing to do.

That led to a considerable amount of work in trying to work out how they could be played successfully on the gamba, raising questions as to Continue reading

Les Voyages de l’Amour

Les Voyages de l’Amour
Music by Boismortier, Rebel, Corrette
Ensemble Meridiana
Chaconne CHAN 0812. 57’39

Boismortier: Simphonie pour l’arrivée des Génies Elémentaires (Les Voyages de l’Amour ); Premier ballet de Village, Op. 52; Sonata, Op. 14/3; Concerto a 5, Op. 37; Sonata a trois parties, Op. è37/4.
Corrette: Concerto comique VI: ‘Le Plaisir des Dames’.
Rebel: Les Caractères de la Danse; Sonate Sixiéme.

Boismortier’s 1736 opéra-ballet, Les Voyages de l’Amour tells of the journey of Love in his quest to find a pure heart that will love him sincerely and without ulterior motive, having tired of making others happy without     finding that happiness himself. Having searched through towns, villages and the royal court, he eventually finds his true love in the person of the shepherdess Daphné. In this glittering programme, Ensemble Meridiana take a similar journey through Baroque France in a musical search for that elusive true love, travelling through similar setting to those of Boismortier’s Amour, concluding with Michel Corrette’s ‘Amusing and Highly Entertaining’ wedding feast.

Boismortier’s music makes up the bulk of the CD, starting with the multi-sectional Simphonie pour l’arrivée des Génies Elémentaires, Continue reading