Strozzi: Virtuosa of Venice

Barbara Strozzi: Virtuosa of Venice
Fieri Consort
Fieri Records FIER003VOV. 67’18

The Fieri Consort was founded in 2012 by members of the Genesis Sixteen training programme to perform music from 16th and 17th-century Italian repertoire. This is their third CD and focusses on the music of the distinguished Italian composer Barbara Strozzi and her contemporaries Giovanni Girolamo Kasperger, Bartolomeo Selma y Salaverde, Benedetto Ferrari, Claudio Monteverdi. Strozzi is a fascinating musician, not least as a female musician in a man’s world. She had liberal and artistic parents – her father was the poet Giulio Strozzi. When she was 18 (in 1637) he founded the Accademia degli Unisoni specifically to display his daughter’s musical skills. She quickly became famed across Venice as a singer who could ‘steal the souls of her listeners through their ears with sweetness’. Continue reading

CPE Bach: Works for violin & keyboard

CPE Bach: Works for violin & keyboard
Tamsin Waley-Cohen, James Baillieu
Signum SIGCD573. 3 CDs. 153’12.

My heart sank when I read the blub for the recording, announcing “The full power and range of Stradivarius plus modern Steinway grand in the service of CPE Bach’s eight violin sonatas”. The liner notes go on to opine that “CPE Bach would have embraced the colour and dynamic possibilities that a Steinway and Stradivarius can create”. This was an argument that was dismissed decades ago by most in the organ world when it came to the performance of JS Bach’s organ music on large-scale romantic organs – or indeed, performance on modern orchestral instruments with 20th-century techniques, such as vibrato. But as I listened I grew more tolerant of the sound and the playing. Continue reading

Tomkins: Choral Works

O Give Thanks Unto the Lord
Tomkins: Choral Works
The Choir of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace
Carl Jackson, conductor, Rufus Frowde, organ
Resonus RES10253. 74’25

Following last year’s recording of Byrd’s Great Service by the Odyssean Ensemble (reviewed here), led by the Musical Directors of the Chapels Royal in HM Tower of London, comes this recording of Thomas Tomkins (another organist to the Chapels Royal) from the Choir of another Chapel Royal on the other side of London, in Hampton Court. This follows their early recording of an early Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656) was a pupil of Byrd’s, as referenced by a song dedication To my ancient, and much reverenced Master, William Byrd. Although composing some time after Byrd, Tomkins’ compositions are very much in the Tudor idiom despite the changes of the Stuart era. Continue reading

William Byrd: The Great Service & Anthems

William Byrd: The Great Service & Anthems
Odyssean Ensemble, Colm Carey, Christian Wilson
Linn Records CKD 608. 59’25

CKD 608 Sleeve

This is the debut recording from The Odyssean Ensemble. It was released several months ago but returned to my mind while reviewing a more recent recording of Thomas Tomkins from the Choir of the Chapels Royal of Hampton Court Palace. The Odyssean Ensemble is a professional choir, directed by Colm Carey, the current director of music of another Chapels Royal at HM Tower of London, with the deputy director Christian Wilson playing the organ. A little bird tells me that the third of London’s Chapels Royal, the senior of the three, at St James’ Palace is also preparing a recording.  Continue reading

Sweelinck: Fantasias, Toccatas & Variations

Sweelinck: Fantasias, Toccatas & Variations
Richard Eggar
Linn Records CKD 589. 76’13

Cover CKD 589

As Richard Egarr mentions at the start of his liner note, Sweelinck’s music is “mostly delivered in a severe, dry and austere manner”. His rather scholarly and intense keyboard music certainly leads towards a performance broadly within that description. Indeed, after one of my all-Sweelinck organ recitals, I was complimented with the comment “you can tell from your playing that Sweelinck was Calvinist”. Continue reading

Music for Milan Cathedral

Music for Milan Cathedral
Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
Delphian DCD34224. 66’26

Rather sensibly, Siglo de Oro has called this recording Music for Milan Cathedral, rather than The Motets of Hermann Matthias Werrecore which, in effect, is what it is. Werrecore (c1500->1574) is an almost totally unknown composer who became maestro di cappella of Milan Cathedral in 1522 and stayed until 1550. Confusion with another composer with a similar name didn’t help him become better known, nor did the prominence of other composers connected with Milan, including one of Werrecore’s predecessors, Josquin des Prez (c1450-1521). This excellent recording by Siglo de Oro is a well-deserved attempt to revive interest in this fascinating composer whose music, by the standards on this recording, is well worth exploring.

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Fugue State Films: The English Organ

The English Organ
Daniel Moult, organ, Will Fraser, director 
Fugue State Films. 4 DVDs, 3 CDs, booklet

This extraordinary project is the result of a year-long tour of forty locations in England, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. The package includes four DVDs and three CDs, amounting to around ten hours of music from the early 16th century to the present day, together with an illustrated booklet with track listings and the specifications of all the organs. They are described and played by Daniel Moult, who also provides the commentary on the first DVD, which is a documentary in three 70′ parts on the development of the English organ. The following three DVDs and the three CDs provide further musical examples and, on the DVDs, further demonstrations of all the featured organs. Continue reading

Olwen Foulkes: Indoor Fireworks

Indoor Fireworks
Olwen Foulkes, recorder
Ensemble Augelletti
Barn Cottage Records, bcr021. 73’00

The recording is based on music that was performed in London theatres during the late 17th and early 18th-centuries. As well as the advertised play, an evening at the theatre would also have included musical and other entertainments before, during and after the play. Olwen Foulkes has researched this repertoire, using contemporary adverts in the Daily Courant for the Theatre Royal between 1702 and 1720 which listed many of these other entertainments. This impressive recording, her second with Barn Cottage Records, features examples of such entertainments, with examples from the composers Vivaldi, Locke, Corelli, Baston, Paisible, Grano, Tollet, Finger and Sammartini, either written for, or arranged by Olwen, for recorder and the small instrumental ensemble Ensemble Augelletti. Continue reading

Noëls baroques à Versailles

Noëls baroques à Versailles
Gaétan Jarry, organ
Les Pages du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles
Grandes Orgues 1710, Chapelle Royale – Versailles
Chateau de Versailles CVS025. 70’40


The third in the L’âge d’or de l’orgue français series is a seasonal offering of French Noëls from Versailles. The tradition of Parisian organists playing variations on Noëls at Christmas lasted for well over 100 years from the late 17th to the end of the 18th century. Although musically their peak was in the early years of the 18th-century, with the examples of Louis-Claude Daquin and Dandrieu, their height of popularity seems to have come at the end of the century with Claude Balbastre, when French music had become somewhat debased as the Revolution approached. Such were the crowds that turned up to hear Balbastre play at the Midnight Mass, that riot police were called. The Archbishop of Paris eventually banned such services at Balbastre’s church of Saint Roch. Continue reading

Make we Merry

Make we Merry: Christmas Music for Upper Voices
Benenden School Chapel Choir
London Metropolitan Brass, Edward Whiting, David Bednall
Regent REGCD547. 65’18

I would normally avoid the more obvious Christmas CD offerings, but this delightful recording deserves to be an exception. The choir of Benenden Girls’ School are joined by the young London Metropolitan Brass (who unfortunately have the same name as an amateur brass band), percussionist Kizzy Brooks and organist/composer David Bednall for the premiere recording of Bednall’s Make We Merry, a half-hour sequence of eight carols setting for upper voices, brass, percussion and organ. It was commissioned for Benenden Chapel Choir in 2018, and followed earlier collaborations with David Bednall. Continue reading

Dandrieu: Magnificats

Dandrieu: Magnificats Vol 1
Jean-Baptiste Robin
Grandes Orgues 1710, Chapelle Royale – Versailles
Chateau de Versailles CVS023. 70’51

The second in the L’âge d’or de l’orgue français series featuring the 1710 organ in the  Versaille Chapelle Royale focuses on Jean-François Dandrieu (1681-1738). From 1721, he was one of the four organists of the Chapelle Royale. He had an early introduction to Court musical life when, aged five, he played the harpsichord to the Palatine Princess Elisabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, wife of Philippe d’Orléan, Louis XIV’s brother. He succeeded the famed Nicholas Lèbegue as organist of Saint-Merry, Paris in 1704/5. From 1733 he added to these posts the position of organist to the now-demolished St Barthélémy, a role previously held by his uncle and which after his death, was passed on to his daughter. Continue reading

La Serenissima: The Godfather

The Godfather
Masters of the German & Italian Baroque
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Signum Classics SIGCD602. 66’09

For long the undoubted champions of the music of Vivaldi, as their name suggests, La Serenissima are spreading their musical wings to explore the musical triumvirate of Telemann, Pisendel and JS Bach, all three closely connected, together with the composers Fasch, Vivaldi and Brescianello, who also had links with the principal trio. As La Serenissima note on their website, the links are that Pisendel was godfather to one of Telemann’s children; Telemann was godfather to CPE Bach;. JS Bach admired both Pisendel and Telemann and composed for the violinist Pisendel; Vivaldi helped Pisendel with his A minor concerto movement; Fasch was a friend of Pisendel and Telemann, and Pisendel played concertos by Brescianello, an Italian who helped to spread disseminate Italian instrumental music throughout the German-speaking lands. Continue reading

Bach: Violin Concertos

Bach: Violin Concertos
Kati Debretzeni (violin)

English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner
SDG732. 70’15

This recording has the makings of becoming an all-time favourite version of the Bach Violin Concertos. Quite apart from the exceptional playing by Kati Debretzeni, we get the bonus of two additional concertos. In addition to the well-known A minor and E major, (BWV 1041/1042) concertos, Kati gives us two others, the disputed D minor (BWV 1052) and the world premiere recording of her own arrangement of the E major harpsichord concerto (BMV 1053), transposed down to D. The detailed programme notes give full details of the rationale and implications of the two additional concertos, and their arrangements for violin. Continue reading

Ensemble Masques: Routes du Cafe

Routes du Cafe
Ensemble Masques, Oliver Fortin

Alpha Classics, Alpha 543. 71’39

Coffee is an essential contribution to the lives of many travelling musicians. This fascinating CD from Ensemble Masques pays musical homage to coffee with two cantatas devoted to coffee, and instrumental music of Turkish origin or influence reflecting it’s origins in Constantinople. The programme is arranged in the form of an Ottoman fasil (suite), the two cantatas contrasted by Ottoman-style improvisations (taksim). We are taken on a tour through the cities of Europe where coffee-culture took hold – Paris, London, Constantinople and Leipzig – the latter, predictably, with Bach’s ‘Coffee’ Cantata Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211.

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St Catharine’s College: O Gemma Clarissima

O Gemma Clarissima
Music in Praise of St Catharine
The Choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, Edward Wickham
Resonus Classics RES10246. 72’02

Quite by chance, I realize that I am reviewing this recording on the Feast of St Catherine, 25 November. The patron saint of wheelwrights, millers, students, and young unmarried girls, the Cambridge college that now bears her name (which they spell ‘Catharine’) was founded in 1473 as ‘Katherine Hall’. The famous torture wheel that she is usually depicted with was, apparently, destroyed by an angel before it touched her, killing many. After her beheading, more angels whisked her remains off to the Mount Sinai monastery, which became and remains a centre of devotion. A monastery in Rouen also became a pilgrimage site after a monk brought back a finger that “broke off” when he prayed for a relic.

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Hilliard/Garbarek: Remember me, my dear

Remember me my dear
Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble
ECM New Series ECM 2625. 

Remember me, my dearThe 25-year collaboration between four a capella male voices of The Hilliard Ensemble and the Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek is one of the most extraordinary stories in the world of music. Although far from being the first example of cross-over partnerships, it was one of the most innovative. Engineered (in more ways than one) by ECM’s Manfred Eicher, the result was Officium, one of the most influential recordings of recent decades. Two others followed, plus extensive concert touring. After 40 years of performing and recording, The Hilliard Ensemble retired in 2014. Part of their final year of performances were appearances with Jan Garbarek, one of which is the focus of this live recording. Continue reading

Dancing with the Sun King

Dancing with the Sun King
Michel Pignolet de Monteclair & Jean-Fery Rebel
Ensemble Odyssee
Pan Classics PC10410. 62’20

Dancing with the Sun King | Pan Classics PC10410

Michel Pignolet de Monteclair: Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites
Jean-Fery Rebel: Boutade, Caprice, Les Caracteres de la Danse

For a demonstration of just how colourful French Baroque orchestral music can be, this recording by Ensemble Odyssee of music from the time of Louis XIV can’t be beaten. The bulk of the recording is devoted to the 1697 Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair, one of the lesser-known composers of the period. Separating the three Suites are individual pieces by Monteclair’s contemporary, Jean-Fery Rebel (Boutade Caprice) and the concluding 1715 Les Caracteres De La Danse. Continue reading

J S Bach: Harmonic Seasons

J S Bach: Harmonic Season
Manuel Tomadin
1737 Treutmann organ, Stiftskirche Grauhof bei Goslar, Germany
Brilliant Classics 95786. 79’471

The title of this recording reflects the way the 12 pieces are arranged, reflecting Bach’s own predilection for grouping pieces together in organised sets. In this case, the “Seasons” are indeed “Harmonic”. The four groups of pieces each start with a Prelude and Fugue or Fantasia, and the groups descend in key order through the “perfect, divine triad” from G to E to C, the first major, the subsequent two both in the minor key. The final tonal and harmonic resolution comes with the concluding C major Prelude and Fugue. Continue reading

Lulier: Cantate e Sonate

Lulier: Cantate e Sonate
Accademia Ottoboni, Francesca Boncompagni, Marco Ceccato
ALPHA 406. 54’16

 

The composer Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c1660-1700) has been overshaded by most of his contemporary’s from 17th-century Italy and, on the showing of the music on this recording, the reason seems to be sadly clear. There is a phrase I sometimes use on occasions like this – that a composer has been “plucked from well-deserved obscurity”. I am afraid that it applies here.  Continue reading

Prières pour Notre Dame

Prières pour Notre Dame
Music for organ and upper voices
Colin Walsh – Cavaillé-Coll organ of St Ouen, Rouen 
Romsey Abbey Choir, George Richford
Regent REGCD538. 67’27


Dupré: Versets pour les Vêpres
Lili Boulanger: Pie Jesu
Demessieux: Rorate coeli,  Attende Domine
Poulenc: Litanies à la Vierge noire

This evocative recording features music by four French composers performed on the magnificent 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ of St Ouen, Rouen, a former Benedictine foundation – as is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, from where the Senior girls of the Romsey Abbey Choir (aged between 16 and 19) provide an ideal contrast to the power of the organ.

Rouen St Ouen organ

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Arne: Judgement of Paris

Thomas Arne: The Judgement of Paris
Brook Street Band, John Andrews
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7361. 67’50

If it wasn’t for his Rule Britannia (1710-1778), Thomas Arne would probably be more-or-less forgotten today. Although he wrote music for nearly 100 stage works, most of his scores are lost, many destroyed in the 1808 Covent Garden fire. Such was the fate of the full score of The Judgement of Paris, although parts if it had been published. The version performed here is based on that publication, with the missing recitatives and choruses reconstructed by Ian Spink for his Musica Britannica edition. It was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre in March 1742 and, three months later, in Dublin alongside his masque Alfred. His wife Cecilia Young sang the role of Venus. Continue reading

Landini: L’Occhio del Cor

Francesco Landini: L’Occhio del Cor
Songs of Invisible Love
La Reverdie, Christophe Deslignes
Arcana A462. 64’56 

Although famed today as a musician, organ & organetto player and composer in his day, Francesco Landini (c1330-1397) was equally as well- known as a poet. In 1368 he was named Poet Laureate in Venice, an honour he shared with Petrarch. He was organist of San Lorenzo in Florence from 1365 until his death where his (previously lost) tombstone can be seen, albeit tucked away in a corner  His poetry only survives today by the fact that he set so much of it to music, as explored in this recording from La Reverdie with organetto player Christophe Deslignes. Landini’s name is open to question, the former assumption that he was the son of a painter is now disputed and, with it, the related link with the Landini family. That name will be hard to shake off, but nowadays prefered names are the contemporary Francesco da Firenze, Francesco degli Organi or Francesco il Cieco (Francesco the blind) Continue reading

Devotion

Devotion
Sacred and secular songs by Henry Purcell
Ensemble Unmeasured, Julia Doyle
Deux-Elles DXL1183. 62’42

Ensemble Unmeasured takes its name for the unmeasured preludes and toccatas of the 17th century “but also refers to the magic of music itself, which cannot be measured or quantified”. In this debut disc, they are joined by soprano Julia Doyle, one of the finest singers of early music around for an exploration of Purcell’s ravishing and intense music. Continue reading

Beethoven transformed

Beethoven TransformedVolume 1
Chamber Music for Harmonie
Boxwood & Brass
Resonus Classics RES10249, 61’40


Beethoven arr. Czerny: Septet Op.20
Beethoven: Sextet Op.71

Beethoven Transformed is a two-year project by Boxwood & Brass exploring wind music in early 19th-century Vienna and, in particular, the rearrangement of Beethoven’s music by other composers for Harmonie (wind band). What are today considered as venerated ‘masterpieces’ were treated with considerable liberty in such arrangements. This recording also throws some welcome light on the world of Harmonie, the wind bands so popular in central Europe, notably in Vienna, but little known today outside that area. Just listening to the first few moments of Beethoven’s Op.20 Septet opens up a world of exotic instrumental colour and texture that relies on the use of period instruments. Continue reading

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Concert: St John’s Smith Square, 30 October 2019
CD: Signum/Winged Lion SIGCD589. 2CD. 97’38

Purcell King Arthur 1691

The new recording by the Gabrieli Consort & Players of Purcell’s King Arthur was launched at an impressive concert performance at St John’s, Smith Square. Lacking the two biggest-name singers from the recording (Carolyn Sampson and Roderick Williams), the concert was otherwise the same as the CD apart from the late replacement bass Robert Davies, standing in for Marcus Farnsworth and a smaller orchestra. Omitting all the spoken text of the original play, the music of King Arthur makes for a musically excellent, but texturally confusing, listen. None of the main characters of the King Arthur story appears. The music occurred at intervals during the play, generally as little masques, only occasionally as one-off songs responding to moments in the play. Continue reading

Salvatore Lanzetti: Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo Op.1

Salvatore Lanzetti
Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo Op.1 (Vol 1)
Agnieszka Oszanca, cello
Challenge Classics CC72794. 68’55

Salvatore Lanzetti (c1710-1780) was a virtuoso Italian cellist and composer who introduced many new innovations in cello performance. He was born in Naples around 1710 and studied cello and composition there. After early employment in Lucca and Turin, he started touring around Europe, spending many years in London. Charles Burney noted Lanzetti’s role in popularizing the cello in England. His Opus 1 XII Sonate à Violoncello Solo e Baffo Continuo was published in Amsterdam in 1736 and was dedicated to Federico di Brunswick, known in England as Frederick, Prince of Wales. This magnificent recording from cellist Agnieszka Oszanca is an important contribution to recognizing the importance of Lanzetti to the cello world, and to the musical life of England. He was one of the many generations of musicians from the continent of Europe that have enlivened the musical life of England, then and now. Continue reading

17th-Century Playlist

17th-Century Playlist
Ed Lyon, Theatre of the Ayre
Delphian DCD34220. 61’30

This debut recording from tenor Ed Lyon reflects his own playlist of music from the 17th-century. Many of them have that catchy ear-worm tendency to provide an immediate hook, although hearing 15 such pieces one after the other might help to reduce that effect.The recital opens with Alessandro’s exquisite Misero, Cosi va, a reflection on the pain of true love and, in the opera Eliigsbalo, a welcome relief from the sheer awfulness if the titular tyrannical teenage Roman Emperor Heliogabalus. The delicately sensitive opening instrumentalist realisation of the four repeated bass notes sets the scene for a recording of vocal and instrumental brilliance.

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Weiss in Nostalgia

Weiss in Nostalgia
Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Suites from the London Manuscript
Alex McCartney, Baroque lute
Veterum Musica VM019. 48’41

Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) is the go-to composer for all lute and early guitar performers. He was born, and started his professional life, in Breslau Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland) before moving to a number of the German-speaking courts, culminating in a post at the Dresden Court of Augustus II (der Starke: the Strong), where he was the most highly paid musician. The London manuscript GB-Lbl30387 contains about half of Weiss’s known music, including the two Suites recorded here (in F & d). It was purchased by the British Library in 1877, and was probably put together in Prague some time after 1730

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Babell: Concertos Op.3

William Babell: Concertos Op.3
for violins & small flute
Ensemble Odyssee, Anna Stegmann, Andrea Friggi
Pan Classics PC10348. 75’02

William Babell: Concertos op. 3

William Babell (c16901723) is best known today (if at all) for his technically demanding harpsichord transcriptions of Handel pieces, giving a fascinating insight into the sort of improvisatory ornaments and additions to the musical text that Handel himself was famed for. He came from a musical family, his father playing bassoon in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra. Babell started out as a violinist in the Court Orchestra of George I, before becoming known as a harpsichordist and organist, preceding the famed John Stanley as organist at All Hallows, Bread Street, London. This excellent recording by the Amsterdam-based Ensemble Odyssee throws some light on other aspects of Babell’s short-lived musical career. His Opus 3 Concertos were collected together, in a rather random form, by Walsh three years after Babell’s death, aged just 33, apparently from “intemperate habits”. This recording uses on a new edition by Andrea Friggi (the Ensemble Odyssee harpsichordist) based on the confusing Walsh print. Continue reading

Anamorfosi

Anamorfosi
Allegri, Monteverdi
Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre
Alpha 438. 73’10

Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
Luigi Rossi: Un allato messagier
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è ‘l martire
Anon: Domine, ne in furore tuo
Domenicho Mazzocchi: Breve è la vita nostra
Antonio Maria Abbatini: Sinfonia La comica del cielo
Marco Marazzoli: Chi fà, Un sonno ohimè
Claudio Monteverdi: Maria, quid ploras, Pascha concelebranda

The word “Anamorphosis” is described by Wikipedia as “a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point, use special devices or both to view a recognizable image”. In the UK it is perhaps best known through its use Holbein’s famous 1533 painting The Ambassadors where what seems to be an elongated smudge across the bottom of the painting turns out to be a skull (a memento mori) when viewed sideways from the right-hand corner of the picture. It is that notion of artistic distortion that Vincent Dumestre and his Le Poème Harmonique explore in musical terms in this recording of music from the early Baroque era, a period when the structures of the Renaissance were successively deconstructed, and viewed from a different perspective through a lens of ornamentation and elaboration.

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