Passion: Lully, Charpentier, Desmarets Véronique Gens, Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas Les Chantres du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles ALPHA 747. 57’12
This recording showcases soprano Véronique Gens in the form of a five Act “opera imaginaire”, based on the repertoire of two of the greatest divas of the 17th-century Paris Opera: Mlle Saint-Christoph (her first name is not known) and her successor Marie Le Rochois. They both dominated the Paris opera scene between 1675 and 1698. Concentrating principally on the music of Jean-Baptiste Lully, we also hear music from operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Henry Desmarets, and Pascal Collasse, with extracts from Lully’s Amadis, Proserpine, Atys, Armide, Persée, Alceste, and Le Triomphe de l’Amour, together with Charpentier’s Médée, depicting heroines such as Alceste, Armide and Médée, and the deities Juno, Ceres and Aeolia.
Tiranno Kate Lindsey, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen Alpha Classics. Alpha 736. 75’34
Extracts from five operatic scenes from the early to mid Baroque form a showcase for American mezzo Kate Lindsey. With compositions by Alessandro Scarlatti, Handel, Monteverdi, and Bartolomeo Monari, the pieces are based on the everyday story of Roman folk: Nero, Agrippina, and Poppea. Tirany is just the start of it!
Bach: Harpsichord Concertos II Francesco Corti, il Pomno d’Oro Pentatone PTC 5186 889. 61’36
This is the second of a two-disc series of the Bach harpsichord concertos. It includes Concertos No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054, No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056, and No. 6 in F Major, BWV 1057, and, to complete the timing, the Concerto for harpsichord, flute and violin in A Minor, BWV 1044. The choice of concertos for the two discs was based on the orchestration forces, with these concertos using solo, rather than multiple strings. The balance works well in all four concertos.
J S Bach: Well-tempered Consort – II Phantasm Linn CKD657. 70’05
Phantasm’s first ‘Well-tempered Consort’ recording, reviewed here, was a rather anarchic collection of Bach keyboard pieces arranged for viol consort. This, their second recording on the same theme, is far more coherent, combining Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Of the 24 tracks, seven are from Book I, the rest from Book II. It is not surprising that there are far more fugues than preludes on the recording, with just six prelude and fugue pairs. The tracks are not in key order, but make perfect sense in terms of key relationships and mood. Four tracks are transposed down a semitone: the C# pair, and the F# and D# minor fugues.
Any reservations I might have had over their first recording are resolved here. The balance between the instruments is perfect, as it should be, particularly for the fugues. They avoid the temptation to accent fugal entries and, although there are far more subtle nuances of tone on an individual note available on a viol than on a keyboard instrument, such expressive devices are only used with sensitivity.
The programme notes are rather too romantic and flowery for my taste, as can often be the case when written by an academic. “Even the slightest musical turn of phrase might trigger intense disquisitions on the human condiction” is one such example.
It was recorded in Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford over a four day period. The recording rate of some six tracks a day is reflected in the quality of the performance. Despite the size of the space, the acoustic remains suitably domestic in scale.
Echoes of an Old Hall Music from the Old Hall Manuscript Gothic Voices Linn CKD644. 76’03
This magnificent recording from Gothic Voices takes a refreshing look at the much-recorded repertoire from the famous Old Hall Manuscript, the most substantial collection of English sacred music of the medieval period. It was compiled over several years leading up to c1420. The manuscript contains a number of examples of the influence of French composers on English music of the time. One example is the first piece on this recording, the wonderfully bouncy Arae post libamina / Nunc surgunt by Mayshuet de Joan, a French musician who spent some time in England in the mid 14th century.
Music and Instruments of the Elizabethan Age: The Eglantine Table Ed. Michael Fleming and Christopher Page The Boydel Press, Woodbridge, 2021 Hardback, 310 pages, 245x176x31mm, ISBN 978 1 78327 4212
Visitors to the National Trust’s Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire (architect Robert Smythson’s Renaissance masterpiece of “more glass than wall” fame) may have noticed a large highly decorated table in the bay window of the spectacular upper floor High Great Chamber. This is the Eglantine Table (or Aeglentyne), probably commissioned for the 1568 marriage of Bess of Hardwick to her fourth husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, followed the year after by the marriage of her two children to his two. The 3.0mx1.3m oak table includes detailed inlaid depictions of a lute, bowed instruments, recorders and other wind instruments, a gittern and cittern, together with sheet music, playing cards, backgammon and other gaming boards, and various armorial devices, including the aeglentyne/eglantine, a white briar rose.
Music for the King of Scots Inside the Pleasure Palace of James IV The Binchois Consort, Andrew Kirkman Hyperion CDA68333. 55’17
Anonymous (Carver Choirbook): Missa Horrendo subdenda rotarum machinamento; Magnificat William Cornysh: Ave Maria, mater Dei
There is more to this recordingthan meets the eye – or, indeed, the ear. At one level it is an impressively performed sequence of music from the Carver Choirbook, one of just two surviving large-scale collections of music from pre-Reformation Scotland. But it is also part of two interesting research projects: ‘Space, place, sound, and memory: Immersive experiences of the past’ and ‘Hearing historic Scotland’. These have combined to bring back to life the lost performance space of the now ruined Chapel Royal of Linlithgow Palace as it existed at the turn of the sixteenth century.
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Pigmalion Dunedin Consort, John Butt Spitalfields Music Festival, Christchurch Spitalfields Online premiere, Tuesday 6 July
Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pigmalion is an acte de ballet first performed in August 1748 at the Opéra in Paris to a libretto by Ballot de Sauvot. It was apparently composed within a week at the request of the management as a means of raising much needed revenue. It has since become one of Rameau’s finest one-act works, although performances are rare. It is based on the story in Ovid’s Metamorphoses where Pigmalion falls in love with the beautiful female statue he has just sculpted, to the chagrin of his fiancée Céphise. Pigmalion pleads with L’Amour (the goddess Venus) to bring the statue to life. As the statue comes to life and learns to sing and dance, Cupid arrives and praises Pigmalion for his artistry, followed by dancing and singing in praise of the power of love. Cupid helps Céphise to find a more appropriate lover.
Bach Rework’d A film by Matt Belcher Spitalfields Music Festival Premiere 5 July 2021
Spitalfields Music continues to promote early and contemporary music, currently through the Spitalfields Music Festival 2021 and a series of events, some online and all ‘live’ in Covid-secure conditions. One of the early online events was the premiere of a new film by Matt Belcher, commissioned by Spitalfields Music, exploring “the enduring power of Bach’s music” through the experience of four composers. The documentary explored the importance of music for them over the past year, the works by Bach that have inspired them, and their own musical responses to those works as they returned to post-pandemic performance.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Academy of Ancient Music Richard Egarr, Rachel Podger Live from The Barbican First broadcast 27 June 2021. Available on-line until 29 June.
Corelli: Concerto Grosso No 1 in D major, Op 6 Maria Grimani: Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte Corelli: Concerto Grosso No 2 in F major, Op 6 Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Vivaldi’s Four Season’s is an inevitable war-horse guaranteed to attract audiences – in this case, a reduced socially-distanced audience for the live performance together with on-line viewers who have the option to view, for a modest fee, until 8pm on Tuesday 29 June. There are limits as to what performers can do with the Four Seasons, one being musical taste. But there is no limit as to the context in which a performance is set. And that is what makes this airing interesting, with its rare performance of the Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte by Maria Grimani, alongside two of Corelli’s well-known Concerto Grossi.
Sea Voyages and Salvation Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Roderick Williams, Kati Debretzeni Recorded at New St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence First broadcast on OAE Player 8 June 2021
Graupner Fahre auf in die Höhe Telemann Concerto for 3 oboes & 3 violins in Bb BruhnsMein Herz ist bereit JS Bach Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment continue with their Covid series of on-line OAE Player concerts with Sea Voyages and Salvation, with music by Grauper, Telemann and Bruhns, culminating in Bach’s cantata Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen. Whether by design or default, two of the composers were the first and second choices for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig which Bach was eventually offered after Graupner and Telemann turned it down.
John Worgan: Complete harpsichord music Julian Perkins, Timothy Roberts Toccata TOCC0375. 76’34
John Worgan (1724–90) is one of several London-based 18th-century organist composers that have escaped the present-day acknowledgment of their more famous contemporaries. However, Worgan was well respected in his day, not least by Handel and Burney, who described him as ‘a very masterly and learned fugueist on the organ’. Nowadays he is merely an overlooked byline, with an occasional organ piece popping in anthologies. His surviving harpsichord music is even less well-known. All that survives is a set of six sonatas, thirteen teaching pieces, a ‘New Concerto’, and an independent Allegro non tanto, all included on this recording. Although very far from being fine music, they feature a fascinating variety of styles, some showing the influence of Domenico Scarlatti.
Bristol Early Music Festival Online from 7-9 May 2021
The Bristol Early Music Festival was founded in 2018, and ran its first festival the following year. Covid led to the cancellation of the 2020 festival, and this year’s weekend festival is based on videos, most commissioned by the Festival, with live Zoom question & answer sessions after most of the videos. The festival videos and further information on each event are available here. They can be accessed until May 14th, but the Q&A Zooms were only available live. The videos are free to watch, but donations are very welcome through this link. Because of the nature of the event, and the ready availability of the events, I will not attempt a critical review, but rather just make readers aware of this interesting event.
Fortuna desperata: Gothic and Renaissance Organ Music Daniel Beilschmidt University Church of St Paul, Leipzig Genuin GEN17453. 77’22
I have been a regular visitor for Leipzig over many years, and was always fascinated by the ever-changing landscape of the city, not least in the construction of the striking new university buildings on the Augustusplatz (pictured). This includes the Paulinum, the combined assembly hall and university church, built on the site of the old St Paul’s University church which was controversely blown up in 1968 by the city’s then communist authorities. As well as a large multi-purpose organ at the liturgical ‘west-end’, there is to one side of the chancel a swallow’s-nest organ that will ultimately be based on the late Gothic/early Renaissance instrument later described by Michael Praetorius in his 1619 Syntagma Musicum. In its currently incomplete state, it reflects a late 15th-century Gothic ‘blockwerk’ organ, allowing for performance of an important but little known repertoire that forms the foundation of all later organ music.
Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach Music by Baltzar, Matteis, Westhoff, Torelli, Corelli, Vilsmayr, Pisendel, Purcell and Biber Nadja Zwiener, Violin Genuin GEN 21728.65’57
Well known in the UK as the leader of The English Concert and in Germany as leader of the Bachakademie Stuttgart, Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach (Without bass — on the way to Bach) is violinist Nadja Zwiener‘s first solo CD. It explores a fascinating genre of music for solo violin preceding Bach’s famous 1720 Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. In his programme essay ‘Melodic polyphony, polyphonic melody – composing senza basso in the Baroque era’, Michael Maul points out the challenges of composing, playing and listening to music with a normal bass line, describing it as “an art of omission and of sensing the unplayed”.
Messe Da Pacem Music by Pierre Villette, Yves Castagnet and Maurice Ravel Choir of Royal Holloway, Rupert Gough Cavaillé-Coll organ of the Notre-Dame d’Auteuil in Paris Ad FontesAF004. 75’27
Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte / Requiem æternam Pierre Villette: Messe Da Pacem; Élévation; Hymne à la Vierge; Salutation angélique Yves Castagnet: Messe Breve; Veni Sancte Spiritus
This recording from the Choir of Royal Holloway brings together three composers spanning 20th-century France, including arrangements of the Ravel and Villette Messe Da Pacem by the choir’s director, Rupert Gough. It was recorded in the summer of 2019 (apparently in sweltering heat) in the church of Notre-Dame d’Auteuil in Paris, using the important newly restored Cavaillé-Coll organ, originally completed in 1855 with an inaugural recital given by Widor.
More than a dull ripieno! Baroque Sonatas for Viola Francesca Venturi Ferriolo, Hwa-Jeong Lee, Johannes Berger Da Vinci Classics C00280. 72’12
Sonatas by Johann Gottlieb Graun, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, Felice Giardini, William Flackton.
“The viola is commonly held to be of little importance in the musical context. Apparently the cause of this may be the fact that it is often played by people who are not yet very advanced with their studies, or who do not have particular natural gifts … or because this instrument offers few advantages to those who play it“.
So wrote Johann Joachim Quantz in his 1752 treatise On Playing the Flute. The intervening centuries have done little to enhance its reputation, the continuation of ‘viola jokes’ amongst orchestral players being just one example. This imaginative recording by viola player Francesca Venturi Ferriolo is an important contribution to recognising the importance of the viola, in particular during the transitional period towards the end of the Baroque era, when a wide variety of styles developed in Europe including the Galant style, the Empfindsamer Stil centred on Berlin, and the emerging Mannheim and Viennese styles.
Life Pictures: Scenes of the Life of King Christian IV English, Dutch, German & Spanish organ works before, around & after 1600 Peter Waldner 1610 Compenius Organ, Frederiksborg Castle Church, Denmark Tastenfreuden 8. 79’44
The 1610 organ in the rear gallery of the Frederiksborg Castle Chapel is one of the most important surviving historic instruments. It was originally built by Esaias Compenius for the summer residence of Duke Heinrich Julius, Prince of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, with Michael Praetorius, organist and Kapellmeister of the Duke’s castle chapel, as the consultant. Compenius and Praetorius almost certainly met during the famous 1596 Gröningen Castle Organ Congress, an event which gathered 53 of the finest organists to test the new David Beck organ in Duke Heinrich Julius’s castle chapel of Gröningen. Although much smaller than the Gröningen organ, the Compenius organ had many similarities, not least a demonstration of the wide range of tone colours that could be produced, unusually, in the case of the Compenius organ, with all 1001 pipes (over 27 stops) made of wood. After Heinrich Julius’s death, his wife gave the organ to her brother, the music-loving Danish King Christian IV, where it was installed in the Frederiksborg castle by Compenius in 1617.
Divina Spiritual and secular baroque rarities by Schmelzer and Biber Les Passions de l’Ame, Meret Lüthi Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19439763522. 62’05
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644–1704) Psalm 127: Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum; Psalm 22: Laetatus sum; Rosary Sonata No. 16 Guardian Angel; Partitas No. 2 & 7 from Harmonia artificiosa-ariosa Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c. 1623–80) Sonatas No. 7 & 8 from Sacro-profanus concentus musicus
Following previous recordings in their Biber-Schmelzer-Fux series (Spicy, Schabernack and Variety), this new CD from the Bern-based early music group Les Passions de l’Amefocusses again on the music of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644–1704) and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c1623–1680), completing their recording of all the Biber trio sonatas from his Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa. As well as the instrumental pieces they also include two Biber vocal works.
Inviolata Marian motets by Josquin des Prez, intabulated for solo lute or vihuela by lutenist-composers old and new Jacob Heringman, lute & vihuela Inventa Records, INV1004. 65’07
Inviolata, integra et casta es; Missa de Beata Virgine; Salve Regina; Ut Phoebi radiis/Ut re mi fa sol la; Stabat Mater
Jacob Heringman follows his pioneering 2020 recording of lute intabulations by Josquin des Prez with a new album of arrangements for lute and vihuela arranged by Hans Gerle, Alonso Mudarra, Enríquez de Valderrábano, Hans Neusidler, Simon Gintzler, composers of Josquin’s time, and Herringman himself. It is a fitting contribution to the 2021 500th anniversary of Josquin’s death.
Beyond Beethoven Works for natural horn & fortepiano Anneke Scott, Steven Devine Resonus ClassicsRES10267. 77’51
Ferdinand Ries: Grande Sonate in F major, Op. 34 Friedrich Eugen Thürner: Grande Sonate in E major, Op. 29 Friedrich Starke: Adagio und Rondo, Op. 105 Hendrik Coenraad Steup: Sonate in E flat major, Op. 11
The early years of the 19th-century saw the rise of pieces for horn and piano, following Beethoven’s 1800 Sonata in F major, Op. 17. Catching on to the coat-tails of Beethoven were composers such as the four featured on this Beyond Beethoven recording, all little known except, perhaps, to horn players. They were all close contemporaries, born within 11 years of each other, with links between themselves, Beethoven, and his Op. 17 Sonata. Anneke Scott and Steven Devine perform on original instruments: a c1810 cor solo by Lucien Joseph Raoux, and an 1815 fortepiano by Johann Peter Fritz from the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, formally at Finchcocks and now in Waterdown House, the home of the Finchcocks Charity in Tunbridge Wells.
Lunchtime Live David Allinson Friday 1pmlunchtime informal online talks
Amongst the many online activities of musicians during Covid 19 is a fascinating series of informal 45-minute Friday lunchtime chats from David Allinson, a distinguished early music conductor, singer and lecturer based in Canterbury, UK. With all his conducting engagements cancelled for the past year, he has taken to the internet in a most imaginative and engaging way. As well as running a number of online workshops for local Early Music Fora, since October 2020 he has been giving regular Friday lunchtime chats via his Facebook page and accessible on his website, where past sessions remain available.
La Riturnella Cavalli, Monteverdi & Barbara Strozzi Musica Antica Rotherhithe, Oliver Doyle Live-streamed from the Sands Films Music Room, 21 February 2020 Available on-line
In their online performance, La Riturnella, Musica Antica Rotherhithe concentrate on three generations of Italian Baroque composers – Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli, and Barbara Strozzi. All three are related through teacher-pupil relationships, with Monteverdi teaching Cavalli who, in turn, taught Strozzi. The imaginative programme also featured a piece by Girolamo Kapsberger and some folk songs of the period from Calabria in the far south of Italy, arranged by soprano Camilla Seale. The socially distanced performance was broadcast live from the attractive little Sands Films Music Room, located in a former granary in Rotherhithe, on the south bank of the Thames, just east of the City of London.
Cavalieri Imperiali Zenobi & Sansoni, the great cornetto masters InALTO, Lambert Colson Ricercar RIC419. 64’36
The cornett was the principal solo instrument in the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras, before losing that role to the violin. Its sound closely resembles that of the human voice, to the extent that, in a review, I once referred to a talented young soprano as being “a cornett on legs”. This excellent instrumental recording from InALTO pays tribute to two notable cornett players from the decades on either side of 1600, both of whom were knighted by an emperor.
Al Capriccio Concertos and symphonies by Johann Zach (1713–1773) Barocksolisten München, Dorothea Seel, Anne Marie Dragosits Musikmuseum MMCD 13035. 66’47
Barocksolisten München, directed by flautist Dorothea Seel, explore the music of the idiosyncratic composer Johann (Jan) Zach. He was born into a family of wheelwrights near the pilgrimage town of Brandýs nad Labem in central Bohemia, site of the murder of Duke Wenceslas. In 1724 he moved to Prague where he worked as a violinist and studied organ. His short-lived career as organist seems to have culminated in an unsuccessful application in 1737 for the position of organist at St. Vitus Cathedral. He reappears in early 1745 in Augsburg just before his appointment as Kapellmeister at the court of the Prince Elector of Mainz.
Meine Tage sind wie Schatten Alexander Utendal Psalms from Septem Psalmi poenietentiales & Magnificats Profeti della Quinta Musikmuseum 37, CD13036. 56’18
This 2018 recording in the impressive series of recordings from the Tiroler Landesmuseen in Innsbruck, (under the banner of musikmuseum), focusses on the now little-known composer Alexander Utendal (c1530-1581). His link with the Tyrol started from his early days in Hapsburg Flanders where he was a choirboy at the court of Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands. He then sang alto in the Court chapel of Archduke Ferdinand II of Tyrol, moving to Innsbruck in 1564 where he suceeded Jacob Regnart as Vice Kapellmeister. In his time, he had a strong reputation. His collection of four-part penitential psalms, printed in 1570, have been compared to those of Orlando di Lasso (published some years later). Utendal worked for linked courts, and would have known each other well.
Mattheson: The Melodious Talking Fingers Colin Booth, harpsichord Soundboard SBCD 220. 69’47
Many music lovers will have heard the name of Johann Mattheson (1681-1764), and may perhaps have heard of his 1739 Der vollkommene Capellmeister, his rather shaky polemic on music theory, but few will know much of his music. An enigmatic figure in 17th century Hamburg, he is perhaps best known today for nearly killing Handel during a fight in the Hamburg opera, Handel apparently surviving by a well-placed button that deflected Mattheson’s sword. His early career as an organist (at the long-since demolished Mariendom), singer and opera composer was combined with that of an Anglophile diplomat, serving as secretary to the English Envoy Extraordinary to the Hanseatic city-states. He is sometimes referred to as the first music critic. This recording is of his complete Die Wolklingende Fingeraprache (translated on the recording as The Melodious Talking Fingers), first published in 1735.
Apparatus musico-organisticus Baroque organ works from Tyrolean sources Peter Waldner Musikmuseum 51 MMCD 13050. 65’29
In this recording, the prolific Innsbruck-based organist Peter Waldnerplays two historic organs in the western part of the Italian South Tirol close to, and just over, the border with Switzerland. The choice of organs, and to an extent the music, is focussed on that region, not least because the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Marienberg contains the Tyrol’s only known copy of Georg Muffat’s 1690/1721 Apparatus musico-organisticus which forms the bulk of the CD.
Stile Nuovo Weihnachtsmusik Von Christoph Sätzl& Marienvesper im Dom zu Brixen 1641 Odhecaton, La Venexiana, Prishna Musikmuseum 41, CD13040. 2CDs 59’12+57’57
I have been sent several CDs published by the Music Museum of the Tiroler Landesmuseen in Innsbruck. One of which is this set of two CDs, the first of which is of early Baroque Christmas motets from Tyrol and Italy (recorded in 2016) with a second CD (recorded, live, in 2000) of Marienvespers music from Brixen Cathedral as might have been heard around 1641. The two CDs do not seem to be related, although it is not clear if this is a re-release of earlier published recordings.
Tunder Appreciated Musica Poetica, Oliver John Ruthven Veterum Musica, VM020. 44’18
This rather short recording stems from a series of lunchtime concerts that Musica Poetica gave during the 2017 Tunder anniversary year, one of which is reviewed here. The North German organist/composer Franz Tunder (1614-1667) is probably best known today for being Buxtehude’s predecessor as organist at the Lübeck Marienkirche, where he started the famous Abendmusiken series of concerts. As was the tradition in many organist posts, Buxtehude married Tunder’s daughter Anna Margarethe in 1668 when he took up the post. Around 17 Tunder choral pieces in German and Latin survive, along with some dramatic pieces for organ.