Le Guerre des Te Deum

Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard & Francois Colin de Blamont
Le Guerre des Te Deum
Chœur Marguerite Louise, Ensemble Stradivaria, Daniel Cuiller
Château de Versailles Spectacles CVS007. 66’38

This recording reflects an extraordinary incident that took place in Paris on 12 May 1745. Following the victory of Louis XV at the Battle of Fontenoy, part of the War of the Austrian Succession the day before, a ceremonial Te Deum was to be sung at the Queen’s Mass in the Royal Chapel in Versailles. The composer Esprit-Joseph-Antoine Blanchard, assistant Master of the Royal Chapel, had one that had been performed the year before. He rededicated it as the Cantique d’action de grâces pour les conquêtes de Louis XV and issued the scores to the musicians. Just as the Queen took her place in the Chapel, the composer Francois Colin came rushing in and tried to replace the scores with a Te Deum of his own. He was the Superintendant de la Musique de la Chambre and Maître de la Chapelle Royale and according to tradition, the Te Deum should have been his responsibility. Too late to stop the performance of Blanchard’s version, Blamont enlisted help from the battlefield where the Duc de Richelieu, who wrote on behalf of the King, expressing his strong disapproval. Shortly afterwards, Blamont’s Te Deum was performed at another Mass, officially in a ‘King’s Mass, although the Louis XV was still on the battlefield. Blanchard’s Te Deum was officially withdrawn from Court celebrations.  Continue reading

J Praetorius & Schildt organ works

Jacob Praetorius & Melchior Schildt
Selected organ works
Bernard Foccroulle
Ricercar RIC400. 68’05

Praetorius: Fantasia sopra Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; Praeambulum in F;
Vater unser im Himmelreich; Von allen Menschen abgewandt
Schildt: Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn; Magnificat 1. toni; Praeambulum in G

1467/1637 Stellwagen organ, Jacobikirche, Lûbeck

Jacob Praetorius (1586-1651) and Melchior Schildt (1592-1667) were two of the leading pupils of the Amsterdam organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Praetorius was the son of the Hamburg organist Hieronymus Praetorius whose own father, Jacob Praetorius the Elder (d. 1586) was also an organist/composer. The family are not related to Michael Praetorius. Like his forebears, Jacob Praetorious was organist of the Hamburg Petrikirche and was the teacher of Matthias Weckmann. Melchior Schildt also came from a family of musician, in his case from Hannover. After three years as court organist to the King of Denmark, he replaced his father as organist of the Marktkirche in 1629 and remained there until his death. Only six of his organ works have survived.

Continue reading

LHF: Handel vs Porpora

London Handel Festival
“Handel vs Porpora”
Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu, Giuseppina Bridelli, Franck-Emmanuel Comte
St George’s, Hanover Square, 8 April 2019

In a very rare (if not perhaps the first) appearance by a non-UK orchestra in the London Handel Festival, the Lyon-based Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu and their director Franck-Emmanuel Comte and mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli highlighted a particularly turbulent period of British musical history, between 1733 to 1737. The theme for this year’s London Handel Festival (LHF) highlights the rivalry between the female singers that Handel composed for. In contrast, this concert highlighted the rivalry between Handel himself and the Italian composer Nicola Porpora. In 1733, after yet another clash with Handel, the star castrato Senesino resigned from Handel’s opera company and joined the new Opera of the Nobility, set up by the Prince of Wales in opposition to his father, George II, who supported Handel’s Royal Academy of Music. Porpora was invited to be the musical director of the new company. Their first opera was Porpora’s Arianna in Nasso, as a direct challenge to Handel’s Arianna in Creta. Despite having poached most of Handel’s key singers, such as Cuzzoni and Montagnana, the Opera of the Nobility went bankrupt and was dissolved in 1737. Handel’s own company suffered a similar fate, and the rump of the two opera companies combined for the 1737-38 season. Continue reading

Mozart in London

Mozart in London
A musical exploration of Mozart’s childhood visit to London, 1764-65
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Signum Classics SIGCD534. 2 CDs. 77’36&67’14

The Classical Opera/Mozartists Mozart 250 project has been underway for four years, with a number of successful recordings and events already under their belt. This (rather delayed) review of a double CD set released in May 2018 takes us back to the beginning of the project: the ‘Mozart in London’ Festival weekend of events at Milton Court in February 2015. The weekend included talks, discussions and concerts over a three-day period. My review of two of those events can be found here. Several other Mozart 250 reviews are here. The ‘250’ of the title refers to the years since Mozart’s childhood visit to London (23 April 1764), during which he composed his first significant works. The plan is to “follow the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, works and influences”, culminating in 2041, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s death. These two CDs were recorded live during the various concerts of the 2015 weekend. They are an impressive record (quite literally) of the start of one of the most impressive and ambitious musical projects of our time. Continue reading

Bach: Partitas

J S Bach: Partitas Clavier-Übung I
Menno van Delft, clavichord
Resonus Classics. RES10212. 2 CDs: 59’21+73.49

Clavier-Übung I – Partitas BWV 825-830

Bach’s Six Partitas were published in 1731 under the title of  Clavier-Übung, the first of four publications under that name, culminating in the monumental third and fourth publications, the ‘German Organ Mass’ and the Goldberg Variations, Clavier-Übung VI. Each Partita had been published separately between the years of 1726 and 1730 but seem to have been intended as a combined set of six, as was the pattern of many such musical collections of the time, including Bach’s own preceding English and French Suites. They are the only one of the four Clavier-Übung set that does not specify a particular keyboard instrument, but Menno van Delft makes a convincing argument for the use of a clavichord, the domestic instrument of choice, particularly for organists, rather than a harpsichord. Continue reading

Delicatessen II: Early English Song

Delicatessen II
More Choice Morsels of Early English Song
Kate Semmens & Steven Devine
Devine Music DMCD009. 75’14 

Following on from their earlier CD Delicatessen, Steven Devine and Kate Semmens delve further into the English song repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, with the imaginatively entitled CD Delicatessen II. As the programme notes explain, the rapid move to town and cities and the decline of rural life may well have contributed to the yearning in popular song for the pastoral life, in this case, a close memory rather than the mythical Arcadian fantasy world of most of the songs. This recording draws on sources such as the 1756 ‘Appolo’s Cabinet: or the Muses’ Delight’, clearly aimed at amateurs with its attendant instructions for singing and instrumental playing. In contrast to these simple settings are more substantial pieces by the famed composers of the day, such as John Stanley, Thomas Arne, Maurice Greene, John Blow, and William Boyce. 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

CHelys.jpg

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

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

Vox dilecti.jpg

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

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

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

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

Imagine.jpg

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

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

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

English Concert

Instrumental Concertos
by Dall’Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini & Telemann
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
Signum Classics SIGCD549. 68’43

Dall’Abaco (1675-1742) Concerto a piu instrumenti in D major Op.5 No.5
Porpora (1686-1768) Cello Concerto in G major
Marcello (1673-1747) Oboe Concerto in D minor
Tartini (1692-1770) Violin Concerto in B minor D.125
Telemann (1681-1767) Viola Concerto in G major TWV 51.69.

At first sight, this appears to be a blatant promotional effort on behalf of The English Concert (who are celebrating their 45th birthday), one clue being calling it after themselves, rather than the composers or music it contains. I think that image is unfortunate, as the music and the instrumental soloists are of the highest order. It is based on the composers and performers connected with the many early 18th-century European court orchestras, several of which proved to be pioneering musical hothouses, albeit depending on the whims of the current princely ruler. The featured soloists are Nadja Zwiener (violin), Tuomo Suni (violin), Joseph Crouch (cello), Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe), Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola), all regular members of The English Concert rather than bought-in soloists. Continue reading

Le cor mélodique

Le cor mélodique
Mélodies, Vocalises & Chants by Gounod, Meifred & Gallay
Anneke Scott & Steven Devine
Resonus Classics RES10228. 75’57

The horn must have a claim to have one of the longest and most complex histories of all musical instruments, with the exception of the flute and the human voice. From the Scandinavian Lur (dating back some 12,000 years, and surviving today in the form of the crest on packs of butter), ancient animal horns (surviving today as the Jewish Shofar), via the Byzantine Oliphant, the Roman Cornu, and hunting and military horns came the gradual absorption into art music during the 17th century. Initially, these were valveless instruments only capable of playing very restricted notes but time and the addition of plumbing and valves gave the orchestral instrument a much greater range, but at some cost to the distinctive sound of the naturally produced notes of the harmonic scale, modified only by the mouth and hand of the player. In this recording, horn specialist Anneke Scott explores one of the developmental stages of the horn: the mid-19th-century transition from the natural to the piston horn, using three horns and three playing techniques, each related to the specific ideas of the composers. Continue reading

Partimenti Napoletani

Partimenti Napoletani
Music for Keyboard Instruments by Paisiello, Durante & Dol
Nicoleta Paraschivescu
with Katharina Heutjer, violin
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19075896222. 54’06

Partimenti Napoletani. Music for Keyboard Instruments by Paisiello, Durante & Dol

Although this recording would make a very acceptable recital of music for harpsichord and organ (and occasional violin) there is far more to it than that. In fact, unless you already know what a partimento is, I suggest you have a listen before you read any more, because what I am about to reveal might surprise you, given the nature of the music you will hear. You can find extracts of all the pieces here, but I particularly recommend the first and the fifth one on the list – Paisiello’s Partimento in D and Durante’s Intavolatura in A minor. Continue reading

Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas

Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas
Jadran Duncumb
Audax ADX13713. 57’19

Hasse: Sonata in A; Sonata in E flat major
Weiss: Sonata in D minor; Prelude in C minor; Passacaglia in D major

Rather like the mythical dying swan, the lute went through something of a peak as it approached its ultimate decline, along with the Baroque era that had provided it with so much music. The pieces here recorded by Silvius Leopold Weiss and Johann Adolph Hasse, close colleagues in the Dresden court orchestra, are amongst the last gasps of a centuries-old genre and represent a final flowering – until, of course, the last few decades. The two Hasse Sonatas were originally composed for harpsichord, but survive in a simplified transcription for lute, although for this premiere recording Jadran Duncomb has reinstated some of the original keyboard notes of the opening Sonata in A. This, and the Sonata in E flat (which is far from simplified in the lute arrangement), represent the move towards the Gallant style. They are from a set of four Sonatas dedicated to the wife of French Dauphin, the daughter of the Saxon Elector.  Continue reading

Une Voix Française: 20th-Century Organ Masterworks

Une Voix Française
A French Voice: 20th-Century Organ Masterworks
Renée Anne Louprette
Acis APL01609. 69’58

Jeanne Demessieux (1921-1968) Te Deum
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) Improvisation 
Jacques Ibert (1890-1962) Fugue
Jehan Alain (1911-1940) Variations on a Theme by Clément Jannequin
André Isoir (1935-2016) Six Variations on a Huguenot Psalm
Louis Vierne (1870-1937) Fantasy Pieces, Second Suite

This recording is an excellent reflection a small part of the important contribution to the history of organ composition by France, a powerhouse of organ design and composition with a tradition going back to the early 17th century. Since then, France has produced some of the best-known organ composers, with names such as Titelouze, Couperin, De Grigny, Widor, Vierne, and Messiaen among others. Focussing on the first half of the 20th century, Renée Anne Louprette‘s well-chosen programme includes a few well-known pieces, but there are some really interesting lesser-known works that sets this recording apart. Jeanne Demessieux’s dramatic opening Te Deum, is one example. It was composed for a recital she gave in 1958 in the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, so it is an appropriate start for a recording made on the important 1993 NP Mander organ in nearby St. Ignatius Loyola church. Renée Anne Louprette was Associate Director of Music at this church from 2005 to 2011, and clearly knows and understands the instrument very well. The thundering opening soon subsides into a sequence of more rhapsodic passages, before the power of the opening and full resources of the organ returns. Continue reading

Music for Windy Instruments

Music for Windy Instruments: Sounds from the Court of James I
The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
Resonus RES10225. 59’50

In celebration of their 25th anniversary, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble present this enticing recording of some of the Royal Music performed at the Court of James I. The music comes from a set of manuscript part-books, now housed in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum (Mu. MS 734). The chosen pieces are from the first layer, which was copied around 1615. Further recordings are clearly planned. Only five of the six part-books survive, the missing part reconstructed, often from other examples of the pieces, most of which are instrumental arrangements of sacred and secular vocal music by Continental composers, including the likes of Orlando de Lassus, Peter Philips, Alfonso Ferrabosco I & II, plus many lesser-known composers. Continue reading