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

A Courtly Garland for Baroque Trumpet

A Courtly Garland for Baroque Trumpet
Orpheus Britannicus, Robert Farley, Andrew Arthur
Resonance Classics RES10220. 79’57

The 17th-century was a time of dramatic musical invention, both compositionally, and instrumentally, with several now mainstream instruments going through their birth pangs, or re-birth pangs. One such was the trumpet, hitherto a largely military or ceremonial instrument, with little, if any, music of real significance composed for it. It was the development of the clarino style of playing in the higher registers that freed the trumpet from its lower register, only capable of playing restricted arpeggio-like notes. The more melodic notes in the upper reaches of the harmonic series allowed for more tuneful writing. Girolamo Fantini (1600–1675) was one of the first known trumpet virtuosos, described as “the monarch of the trumpet on earth!” After five years in the service of Cardinal Scipio Borghese in Rome he was appointed principal Court trumpeter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1634, played in a concert with the famous organist/composer Frescobaldi (1583–1643), organist of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This seems to have been the first known recital of music for trumpet and organ, a popular combination to this day. Fanni is represented on this CD by four short pieces.  Continue reading

In Convertendo

In Convertendo
Sacred Music From The Düben Collection

Abendmusiken Basel, Jörg Andreas Böttiche
Coviello Classics, COV 91733.  63’25

Abendmusiken Basel group takes its name from the monthly Abendmusik concerts in the Predigerkirche, Basel: in turn, based on the famous series of concerts in Lübeck’s Marienkirche, initiated by Franz Tunder in 1646 and continued under his successor Dieterich Buxtehude. These Lübeck concerts took place on the five Sundays preceding Christmas, but the present day Basel version is on the second Sunday of the month throughout the year. As in Lübeck, the music focusses on the 17th-century, as does this impressive CD, which draws on music from the Düben Collection, now part of the library of Uppsala University. It is one of the most important sources of 17th-century German music, not least because it contains the only known copies of many works by Buxtehude. Appropriately, this recording focusses on some of the many lesser-known composers of the time, with six of the eleven pieces being world premiere recordings.  Continue reading

Rameau: Naïs

Rameau: Naïs
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD924003. 2CDs 72’44 + 72’26

I have been looking forward to this CD ever since I heard this performance of Naïs in concert in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest’s Müpa arts centre on 4 March 2017 during a short early music festival. The recording dates for the CD are given as 4-6 March 2017 and, although there is nothing on the sleeve notes (or evidence on the recording) to suggest that it is a ‘live’ recording, I think it is probably based on a recording of that 4 March concert, presumably with two days of patching afterwards.

Rameau’s Naïs, a Pastorale heroïque, was written in 1749 the aftermath of Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. This concluded the War of the Austrian Succession between Hapsburg Austria and Hungary, Saxony, the Dutch Republic and Great Britain against France and Prussia, and confirmed Marie Theresa’s succession to the Hapsburg thrones of Hungary and Austria. Rameau gave it the subtitle of Opéra pour La Paix (Opera for Peace), its original title of Le triomphe de la paix being amended after concerns about just how triumphant the treaty had actually been for France. Before the story of Naïs starts, the dramatic opening Prologue depicts the tussle for supremacy between Jupiter and Neptune, clearly reflecting the agreement between Louis XV of France and Britain’s George II that concluded the war. Continue reading

Le Cœur & l’Oreille: Manuscript Bauyn

Le Cœur & l’Oreille
Manuscript Bauyn
Giulia Nuti (harpsichord)
ARCANA A434. 74’24

Music by Louis Couperin, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, Jacques Hardel, Jean Henry D’Angelbert, René Mesangeau, Germain Pinel, and Johann Jacob Froberger

Le Cœur & l’Oreille (The Heart & the Ear) ticks all the musical boxes in a wonderful combination of a historic instrument, fascinating repertoire, inspired playing, and intriguing performance practice and musicological insights. The music performed is found in the famous Bauyn Manuscript, dating from around 1690, but containing music probably composed several decades earlier. It looks as though the manuscript was intended as a wedding gift, although analysis of the coat of arms on the cover has yet to determine who the lucky recipient was. More important is the fact that such a collection was made in the first place. When ‘old music’ was usually considered to be anything written just a few years earlier, the idea of collecting together music from a couple of generations earlier was something of a revolution, not least at a time when very little harpsichord music had been published at all. Continue reading

Mozart: Chamber Music Vol. 2

Mozart: Chamber Music Vol. 2
Ensemble DeNOTE
Devine Music DMCD008. 67’27

Duo no.1 for Violin and Viola in G, K.423
C. F. G. Schwencke: Grand Quintetto (1805)
an arrangement of Mozart’s Gran’ Partita for 13 Winds, K.361

I reviewed the 2017 first volume of this series here. It grew out of Ensemble DeNOTE’s 2016 staged performances of Mozart, part of their Mozart Project Live! It is followed by this similarly imaginative programme of music, with two very different and little-known pieces. The Duo for Violin and Viola in G has an interesting backstory. It is one of two Duos composed in 1783 at the request of Michael Haydn as he didn’t have time to complete a commission for six such Duos. Originally passed off as Haydn’s work, Mozart eventually reclaimed and issued manuscript copies of them in 1788. The G major Duo is a delightful conversation piece between the two equally important instruments. Continue reading

Larmes de Résurrection

Larmes de Résurrection
La Tempête, Simon-Pierre Bestion
Alpha Classics ALPHA 394. 77’18

Schütz: Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi
Schein: Israelsbrünnlein

If you are a confirmed authenticist, this recording is probably one to miss. But what it lacks is HIP (historically informed performance), is gains in inventiveness and imagination plus several curiosities. The music is Heinrich Schütz’s Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi  and Johann Schein’s Israelsbrünnlein, both works dating from 1623 and both influenced by Italian music. Simon-Pierre Bestion intersperces sections of the two works with each other, segueing from the ‘Story of the Resurrection’ to ‘Fountains of Israel‘ with surprising musical, if not historical or literary, ease. It was recorded in the sumptuous surroundings and acoustics of the Chapelle Royale at Versailles; a deal that includes some promotional puff in the liner notes. The acoustic is a little too generous for some of the pieces using smaller forces, although it responds to the more powerful moments. Continue reading

Mysterien-Kantaten

Mysterien-Kantaten
Ensemble Les Surprises
Ambronay Editions AMY051. 58’16

Mysterien Kantaten

Music by Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Bernhard, Scheidemann, Reincken

Taking its title from Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (although not actually including any of those pieces), this recording from Les Surprises delves into the mysteries of life and death with an exploration of late 17th-century North German sacred cantatas of Buxtehude, Bruhns and Bernhard. What was particularly interesting for me to listen to, as an organist, were the arrangements of two well-known ground bass organ pieces for instruments. The CD opens with a version of Pachelbel’s Ciaconna in F minor, based on a repeated descending four-note bass line. We are then plunged straight into the world of death, with the Klag Lied, Buxtehude’s extraordinarily moving reflection on the death of his own father, whose last days were spent in his son’s home in Lübeck. It is followed by Nicolaus Bruhns’ cantata for bass voice meditation on death, De profundis clamavi and the second of the instrumental arrangements of organ pieces, Buxtehude’s Passacaglia in D minor. The programme notes (perhaps rather too unquestionably) the admittedly rather good theory that this is based on the lunar month and the phases of the moon, with its 28 variations and four sections, each with a distinctively different mood.  Continue reading

Gonzaga Band: Venice 1629

Venice 1629
The Gonzaga Band
Resonus RES10218. 68’27

Music by Castello, Monteverdi, Marini, Schütz, Grandi, Pesenti,
Tarditi, Carrone, Donati, and Rè

The Gonzaga Band, as the name suggests, was founded to explore the
music of late Renaissance Italy, their name inspired by the Mantua seat of the Gonzaga family, where Claudio Monteverdi had been their maestro della musica. However, this recording is centred in Venice, around 150km east of Mantua. The year 1629 is when Schütz, then  Hofkapellmeister of the Saxon court in Dresden, made a second visit to Venice to learn more about the music of Monteverdi and his contemporaries. Monteverdi had been maestro di cappella at St Mark’s since 1613, and the style of Giovanni Gabrielli, under whom Schütz studied in Venice a couple of decades earlier, was beginning to be superceded by the new style of the early Baroque.  Whilst there, Schütz published the first volume of his Symphoniae Sacrae. The same year also saw the publication of music by Dario Castello, Alessandro Grandi, Biagio Marini and others. This recording explores the extraordinarily productive musical life of Venice during that single year of 1629, with pieces from the musical greats of the city, as well as lesser-known composers.  Continue reading

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni
Il Riposo, L’Amoroso, and Il Grosso Mogul
Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics CCS SA 403318. 75’24

Although the Four Seasons sounds much better in Italian, it doesn’t hide the fact that this is yet another recording of the inevitable old favourite. Despite there being squillions of other recordings available, a new one will probably guarantee good sales, not least because people do seem to like what they know. And they do know the Four Seasons, even if the CD title of Le Quatro Stagioni might confuse them a little. Vivaldi wrote more than 200 concertos for violin and orchestra, For the more discerning listener, there has to be something distinctive to separate any new recording out from the competition. And, boy, haven’t some people tried something distinctive. Rachel Podger and her Brecon Baroque avoid the ‘distinctive’ route and instead focus on intelligent music-making, aided by sensitive articulation, sensible speeds and appropriate accompaniments.  Continue reading

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken

Buxtehude: Abendmusiken
Vox Luminis, Ensemble Masques, Lionel Meunier
Alpha:
ALPHA287. 85’17

Gott hilf mir, denn das Wasser geht mir bis an die Seele, BuxWV 34
Befiehl dem Engel, dass er komm, BuxWV 10
Jesu, meine Freude, BuxWV 60
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, BuxWV 41
Jesu, meines lebens leben, BuxWV 62
Trio Sonatas, BuxWV 255, 267, and 272

Although the CD publicity and Peter Wollny’s programme essay credit Dietrich Buxtehude with the Lübeck Abendmusik, the famous series of Thursday early evening concerts during the five weeks leading up to Christmas were in fact founded by Buxtehude’s predecessor as organist of the Marienkirche, Franz Tunder. He died in 1667, so the roots of the evening entertainment funded by local businessmen, and free to all-comers, are well before the music heard on the recording, most of which comes from Buxtehude’s later years. As organist, rather than Kantor, of the Marienkirche, Buxtehude was not required to compose music for the weekly liturgy, so he was able to devote more time to his compositions, independent of the pressure of service writing. This resulted in a magnificent series of vocal, choral and instrumental works, much of which is still not as well known as his highly influential organ music. It was these Abendmusik concerts that attracted the young Bach and Handel to Lübeck, as well as the prospect of succeeding Buxtehude, even with the requirement to marry his sole unmarried daughter, by then considerably older than either of them. Incidentally, Buxtehude had married his predecessor’s daughter, as had Tunder and many other generations of Marienkirche organists.

This impressive recording helps to reset that balance with a well-chosen sequence of vocal and instrumental pieces, including three of his beautifully expressive Trio Sonatas. Although not specifically intended for service use, Buxtehude’s cantatas offer an insight into the Pietist sentiments of 17th-century Lübeck, with an exquisitely profound underlying sensitivity and sensuousness. Continue reading

Fantasia Incantata

Fantasia Incantata
Ensemble Libro Primo

Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney
Veterum Musica VM018. 50’53

G. B. Viviani: Sonata Prima
N. Matteis: Passaggio Rotto
B. Marini: Sonata Quarta ‘Per sonar con due Corde’
G. G. Kapsberger: Preludes, Toccatas, Gagliarda, Corrente, Passacaglia
G. A. Pandolfi Mealli: Sonata Seconda ‘La Cesta’
H. I. F. Biber: Sonata IV ‘Darstellung im Tempel’

This impressive recording by Ensemble Libro Primo (Sabine Stoffer & Alex McCartney) features 17th-century music for violin and theorbo written in the Stylus Phantasticus:  a style described by Johann Mattheson as “sometimes agitated, sometimes hesitant, sometimes one- and sometimes many-voiced; often also shortly after the beat: without rhythm; but not without the intention to please, to rush nor to amaze.” This seemingly anarchic compositional style was a major influence on Italian and German composers of the period, its rapid changes of mood, pulse and metre creating an almost operatic sense of drama. As the programme note describes, this style was “a natural conveyance of a highly elaborate improvisatory performance practice“. That sense of improvisatory performance infuses these performances with drama and excitement. One example is the solo violin Passagio Rotto by N. Matteis. Matteis was praised by Roger North for his “eloquent, expressive style“: words that accurately describe Sabine Stoffer’s own delightful playing. Continue reading

Rondeau Mélancolique

Rondeau Mélancolique
László Rózsa, Jonathan Rees, Alex McCartney

Veterum Musica VM 017. 62’22

The CD notes open with a quote from Laurence Sterne’s ‘A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’ (London, 1768): “Tis going, I own, like the Knight of the Woeful Countenance in quest of melancholy adventures. But I know not how it is, but I am never so perfectly conscious of the existence of a soul within me, as when I am entangled in them“. It helps to describe the mood of the music on the recording, which focusses on the more intimate, delicate and sensuous music of the often flamboyant and dramatic of the French Baroque courts from the time of Louix XIV onwards into the mid-17th-century. It was period of change for French music, as the influence of Italy slowly began to make itself felt, particularly after the death of Lully, whose dominance of the French music scene had stifled any imported musical ideas. Continue reading

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi

Giovanni Battista Pergolesi
Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi
Marlis Petersen, Marta Fumagalli
Arcana A444, 71’18
Arcana_A444_PERGOLESI_Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri_Giulio Prandi

Messa in Re maggiore;  Mottetto: “Dignas laudes resonemus”

Whether you assume that Pergolesi only wrote one work or are an aficionado, this CD of two previously unrecorded pieces (the Messa in Re maggiore and the operatic “Dignas laudes resonemus”) is an important one. The editions used are the outcome of recent musicological research by the Centro Studi Pergolesi in Milan. The Messa in Re maggiore is performed in the second of two surviving versions, dating from 1733/4, incidentally, the same year as the first version of Bach’s B minor Mass. It is in the two-movement Neapolitan form of Kyrie and Gloria. It is a joyful work, with an almost skittish concluding Amen. Pergolesi’s use of vocal and orchestral colour and texture can range from the utmost delicacy to thundering drama, as exemplified in the dramatic opening of the Messa in Re maggiore. The dark opening to the Qui tollis is followed by a subdued section that seems to foreshadow the Sturm und drang of the later Hadyn generation. These two works explore Pergolesi’ theatrical style of writing, in the Neapolitan tradition.  Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2
Emma Abbate & Julian Perkins
Resonus RES10210. 70’43

Mozart: Sonatas in F major K497 and C major K19d
Mozart, completed Levin: ‘Sonata’ in G major K357
Clementi: Sonata in E-flat

I reviewed Volume 1 of this two-disc series here. That review gives the background to Mozart’s piano duets and the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of early keyboard instruments. For this recording, Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins choose two different fortepianos from the collection, a Viennese grand piano by Michael Rosenberger c1800 and a 1820s square piano by London’s Clementi & Co. The recital opens with the most substantial and important work, the Sonata in F, K497, running the risk of overpowering the other pieces. Unfortunately, for some reason, the programme notes do not follow the recorded order of the pieces.  Continue reading