Secret History

John Potter: Secret History
Josquin/Victoria

ECM New Series ECM2119

It’s been a while since the names of John Potter and ECM have been linked in an ‘early music’ recording, the last being back in Potter’s Hilliard Ensemble days. This recording was made in 2011, and was the first time this group of musicians had got together. It pre-dates their later recording Amores Pasados published in 2015. The result is a radical re-think of Renaissance music performance, not least in reducing complex polyphony to just one or two vocal lines, sung by John Potter and Anna Maria Friman, the remaining voices being played on vihuelas (an early form of guitar, tuned like a lute) by Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Haringman, and Lee Santana. In the opening eight-part Mouton Nesciens mater for example, they sing the two paired superius lines, in the form of a canon at the fifth, very occasionally switching to one of the other six voices. The three vihuelas play the remaining pairs of voices, which are all also in the same strict canonic form. An extraordinary feat of contrapuntal writing, reduced to comparative simplicity.  Continue reading

Lully: Armide

Lully: Armide
Les Talens Lyrique, Choeur de chambre de Namur, Christophe Rousset
Aparte AP135. 2CDs. 75’+74′

In sharp contrast to the pared down version of Lully’s Armide I reviewed here, this CD is the real thing, in a stunning performance by Les Talens Lyrique under Christophe Rousset, with a fine cast of soloists and the Choeur de chambre de Namur in support. It is a live recording of a concert given in the Grande Salle Pierre Boulez of the Philharmonie de Paris in December 2015, although there is no evidence of an audience or other extraneous noises that I could hear. Continue reading

Path of Miracles

Owain Park: Footsteps & Joby Talbot: Path of Miracles
Tenebrae, Nigel Short
Signum Classics. SIGCD471. 79’22

This release combines the re-release of a 2005 recording of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles with Footsteps, a companion work composed by Owain Park, recorded in 2016. Both are commissions by Tenebrae, the Park piece apparently in answer to requests from amateur singers for a less complex piece than the Talbot. Continue reading

Waley-Cohen(s): Permutations

Permutations Unveil 
Compositions by Freya Waley-Cohen
Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin
Signum Classics SIGCD496. 27’46

This short recording is of two pieces by composer Freya Waley-Cohen, written for her older sister, the violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen. The key work, Permutations (c18′), is described as a “roaming performance artwork”. It has a fascinating compositional background. It was commissioned as part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2017 season and composed during a residency at Aldeburgh and is intended as an exploration of the relationship between architecture and music.

Permutations consists of six independent lines of solo violin music, all pre-recorded by Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and replayed within an architectural setting designed by Finbarr O’Dempsey & Andrew Skulina. Both the music and its setting were planned simultaneously during the Aldeburgh residency, with each acting as a muse for the other. The architectural setting has six flexible and adaptable enclosures, one for each of the six violin parts. A central space allows all six violin lines to be heard in balance, or the listener could move around, and adjust the acoustics of the space to hear various combinations of the six contrapuntal lines. Continue reading

The Italian Job

The Italian Job
Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian States
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Rachel Chaplin and Gail Hennessy, oboes, Peter Whelan, bassoon
Avie AV2371. 76’23

Music by Albinoni, Caldara, Corelli, Tartini, Torelli, and Vivaldi

The Italian Job: Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian StatesFor the past year La Serenissima have been performing a series of concerts based on music from different cities in Italy. This CD, recorded in St John’s, Smith Square after one such concert, forms a summary of the extraordinary music from that concert series. the cities, and composers, represented are Venice (Albinoni, Caldara, Vivaldi), Bologna (Torelli), Padua (Tartini) and Rome (Corelli). Apart from some glorious music, one of the features of this recording is the instrumental colour, with prominent roles for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, trombone, timpani and strings.  Continue reading

Matthew Wadsworth: Late Night Lute

Late Night Lute
Matthew Wadsworth, lute and theorbo
Deux-Elles DXL 1175

Dowland, Rosseter, Johnson, Piccinini, Kapsberger, and Stephen Goss

I Late Night Lute Album Cover - Matthew Wadsworthcan vividly remember the first time I heard Matthew Wadsworth playing, in 1999, in the bowels of the Royal Academy of Music, during the debut of what was then a student group, all four of whom (Kati Debretzeni, Alison McGillivray, Matthew Wadsworth, and Robert Howarth) have gone on to achieve prominence in the world of music. This CD stems from an overheard comment at a late night gathering of friends, when somebody searching through CDs commented “I need lute, late night lute”. In the intervening years, the frequency of invitations to present late night lute concerts reinforced the feeling that there was indeed something of the night about lute music.  Continue reading

Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6

Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34194. 63’46

For a British musician, now is a very good time to be reminded of the extraordinary contribution that immigrant musicians have made to our musical history, from at least the early 1500s. This CD reflects that in at least two ways. Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was born in Liverno in 1694. Although supposition that he studied with Corelli seems ill-founded, he certainly absorbed and developed Corelli’s style. He moved to England in, or just before 1719, possibly at the invitation of John Manners (then Marquess of Granby, and soon to become the 3rd Duke of Rutland), who was to be his only known patron in England. Almost immediately on his arrival Carbonelli became leader of the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra, a post which also involved performing concertos and sonatas. In 1735, like many of his fellow Italian immigrant musicians, he anglicised his name, in his case to John Stephen Carbonell. Continue reading

Set upon the Rood

Set upon the Rood
New music for choir and ancient instruments
Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber
Delphian DCD34154. 68’20

Barnaby Brown (triplepipes)
Bill Taylor (lyre)
John & Patrick Kenny (ancient horns)

This recording features the music I heard in the second half of the concert reviewed here during the 2016 London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge and their director Geoffrey Webber join with four members of the European Music Archaeology Project: Barnaby Brown, playing the triplepipe and aulos, lyre player Bill Taylor and John and Patrick Kenny playing the ‘Loughnashade horn’ and carnyx. Continue reading

Il Cembalo di Partenope

Il Cembalo di Partenope: ‘A Renaissance harpsichord tale’
Catalina Vicens
Carpe Diem Records CD-16312. 66’35

The world’s oldest playable harpsichord (Naples, 1525)

Vicens CD.JPGHarpsichordist Catalina Vicens’ new CD ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, it is recorded on the world’s oldest playable harpsichord, built in Naples c1525, and now housed in the National Music Museum of Vermillion, South Dakota, USA, where it has been recently restored. Secondly, her programme of 24 pieces represents the wide range of musical styles of the period of the instrument, played with a compelling sense of musical and period style. And, thirdly, it comes with the bonus of an imaginative story (downloadable as an audiobook) by Catalina Vicens, based on the instrument and “inspired by music, history and legends”. Continue reading

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
I Fagiolini, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, The 24, Robert Hollingworth
Decca 4831654. 80’23

During this 450th Monteverdi anniversary year there will be many performances and recordings of the 1610 Vespers. But for this ‘not the 1610’ recording, I Fagiolini have reconstructed a Vespers service inspired by a Dutch tourist’s 1620 record of hearing Monteverdi direct a Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The psalms and the plainchant on this recording are from that feast, using music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The Monteverdi contribution comes from his Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1641, but containing music written much earlier. Whereas the 1610 Vespers are intended for feasts of the Virgin or other female saints, the 1641 collection contains psalms for feasts of male saints. Continue reading

The World Encompassed

The World Encompassed
Orlando Gough, Fretwork, Simon Callow
Signum Classics SIGCD453. 2CDs 41’19+41’56

This recording is based on the fact that Sir Francis Drake is known to have taken four viol players with him on his 1577-80 circumnavigation of the world, using the musicians for prayers and entertainment on board, and for diplomatic uses with the people they met. He also had trumpeters and drummers, but they are excluded from this recording, which takes as its premise the sort of music that the musicians might have played to the people they met, and also to their friends on their return to England, using their memory of the native music that they heard during their travels. Alongside music of the period by the likes of Parsons, Taverner, White, and Picforth, the principal musical contribution comes from Orlando Gough (b 1953) who was commissioned by Fretwork to compose a sequence of 13 pieces for viol consort based on the local music that Drake and friends might have heard.  Continue reading

Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie

Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923502. 2CDs: 59’55+67’08

This is another in the series of recordings of French Baroque music directed by György Vashegyi with his own Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra. It was recorded in Budapest’s Müpa concert hall alongside a performance given as the closing concert of the 2014 Budapest Spring Festival during the International Rameau Year, in conjunction with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. That was the modern-day première. Few would consider it Rameau’s finest opera, but in the true fashion of French Baroque opera, it is full of spectacular music. Continue reading

The Twisted Twenty

The Twisted Twenty
Penny Fiddle Records PFR1701CD. 36’02

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The Twisted Twenty is the name of the group, and of this, their first CD. With no catalogue number, and no web presence for the recording company, this has more than a feel of a self-produced affair. There is certainly nothing wrong in that. It is one of the few ways in which young musicians can get their music out there. There is a strong tradition of folk music within the world of classical musicians, notably in Scotland in the 18th century, the focus for much of this short (just 36 minutes) CD.  Continue reading

The Masque of Moments

The Masque of Moments
Theatre of the Ayre, Elizabeth Kenny
Linn Records. CKD 542. 68′

The Masque was a form of aristocratic entertainment with medieval roots that reached its English peak in the early 17th century during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Closely related to similar continental forms such as the Italian Intermedio, it included music, dance, acting, mime and singing, often to elaborate sets. They were usually based on Classical mythology combined with more than a hint of current political or royal intrigues. As well as professional performers, the promoters or subjects of the masque were often also involved in the production. For many years, Elizabeth Kenny and her group Theatre of the Ayre have studied the genre, and this is their latest manifestation of that research.  Continue reading

Mondonville: Isbé

Mondonville: Isbé
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924001. 3 CDs: 61’25+48’55+63’04

For many years the only way to hear French Baroque music performed with any degree of authenticity was by listening to French performers. Although that is still the case to an extent, the level of understanding of French performing techniques has become far better known throughout the world. One example is the series of recordings from Budapest from the Orfeo Orchestra and Purcell Choir under their founder and director György Vashegyi. I reviewed their CD of Mondonville’s Grands Motets here, and their performance of Rameau’s Naïs in Budapest here, and now turn to their more recent recording of his opera Isbé.  Continue reading

The Edge of Time

The Edge of Time
Anna Friederike Potengowski (bone flutes), 
Georg Wieland Wagner (percussion)
Delphian DCD34185. 64’32

Having been not entirely enthusiastic about Dragon Voices, the last recording from the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP), it is nice to make up for that with my enthusiasm for the latest from that project, with this recording featuring Palaeolithic bone flutes and percussion. All my earlier concerns about the choice of repertoire are overcome with this imaginative look at the musical possibilities of the reconstructions of four bone flute, based on originals dating back around 40,000 years ago. Continue reading

JM Haydn: Der Kampf der Buβe und Bekehrung

Johann Michael Haydn: Der Kampf der Buβe und Bekehrung
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Carus 83.351. 79’55

Johann Michael Haydn: Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung. OratoriumDespite being a lesser-known work by a lesser-known composer, the oratorio Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung (The Struggle for Penance and Conversion) is well worth getting to know. It is the second, and only surviving part, of a three-part oratorio, each part written by a different composer – not unusual in the fast-paced musical world of Salzburg at the time. The reason was the arrival of three sopranos bought back from Italy by the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1768. A piece was quickly required to show off their musical talents and, because of the lack of time, three composers agreed to compose a part of the libretto. Johann Michael Haydn (the younger brother of Joseph) took the central part, and this oratorio is the result.  Continue reading

Kapsberger: Toccata/Touched

Alex McCartney: Toccata: Touched
Works by GG Kapsberger
Veterum Musica. VM015. 45’27

This recording is clearly something of a labour of love, albeit a rather short one, at just 45’27. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c1580-1651) was the son of an Austrian colonel, and was possibly born in Venice. He spent much of his musical life in the household of Cardinal Barberini in Rome (alongside Frescobaldi, amongst others) where he quickly built a reputation for virtuoso theorbo playing. To what extent his published theorbo pieces reflect his live performances is unclear, but they are sometimes frankly rather odd, not least with his unconventional use of rhythm and harmony. Contemporary commentators hinted strongly that his compositions were not as good as his performances.  Continue reading

Dragon Voices: Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe

Dragon Voices: Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe
John Kenny
Delphian DCD34183. 66’42

The link between music and archaeology is a comparatively new field of study, helped in recent years by the enterprising European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) in conjunction with the University of Huddersfield. I reviewed another CDs from the project here and a live concert featuring John Kenny some of the instruments on this CD here. The instruments featured here are Celtic, and include two examples of the carnyx, a two-metre-long bronze trumpet surmounted by a stylised animal head that flourished from around 200 BCE and 200 CE. The upper part of one was found in 1816 in a peat bog at Deskford, Scotland, and was reconstructed in 1993. The other is the Tintignac carnyx, discovered in southern France in 2004 and reconstructed for this project. The third instrument is a reconstruction of the Irish Loughnashade horn, also found in a peat bog, and dating from the first century BCE. Continue reading

Baldwin Partbooks II: Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child
Music from the Baldwin Partbooks II
Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD474. 75’18

Tallis: Gaude gloriosa Dei mater, Magnificat, Videte miraculum; and pieces by Taverner, White, Fayrfax, and Sheppard.

SIGCD474_HiW.jpgThe Baldwin Partbooks were copied in the 1570s and 80s by a member of the choirs of St George’s Windsor and the Chapel Royal, John Baldwin. They included printed pieces as well as Baldwin’s manuscript copies of music, from an earlier age, resulting in one of the most important surviving collections of polyphony from the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. This, combined with a focus on music dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is the focus of the music on this volume, the second in the Contrapunctus series on music of the Baldwin Partbooks (the first was In the Midst of Life, SIGCD408).  Continue reading

Bach: St John Passion

Bach: St John Passion
Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell
Avie AV2369. 2CDs 33’08+74’34.

This recording stems from a series of semi-staged performances in Cleveland and New York in March 2016. Videos of extracts of a live event can be viewed here. The project was referred to as ‘A Dramatic Presentation’, and involved the main protagonists singing from memory to each other and the audience, who were treated as part of the crowd in some of the turbo choruses, with half the choir moving from the stage to stand by the audience, notably during the scenes with Pilatus. A timely reminder, perhaps, of The immediacy and emotional intensity of the live performances can only be imagined from the recording, but the directness and strength of feeling remains. Continue reading

Queen Mary’s Big Belly

Queen Mary’s Big Belly
Hope for an heir in Catholic England
Gallicantus, Elizabeth Kenny, Gabriel Crouch
Signum Classics SIGCD464. 77’42

Music by van Wilder, Mundy, Tye, Lassus, Tallis, Newman, Sheppard

The catchy title of this recording (which quotes a 1688 pamphlet) is based a brief, but curious, incident during the turbulent Tudor times when, in April 1555, it was announced that Queen Mary had given birth to a son. The following day this was revealed to be the 16th century version of fake news. The complex history and importance of this event is beyond the scope of this review, but is easily obtainable and is covered in the detailed CD notes. Curiously, no author is credited for these notes, although I think it was Magnus Williamson, whose ‘insight and guidance’ is a credited elsewhere. Continue reading

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1
London Early Opera
Bridget Cunningham, Daniel Moult, Kirsty Hopkins, Sophie Bevan
Signum SIGCD428. 48’18

Preceding the two recordings of Handel in Italy (reviewed here), London Early Opera explored the music of Handel (and his contemporaries Thomas Arne and John Hebden) as it might have been plerformed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Pleasure Gardens like Vauxhall were a focus for musical, and other entertainments in 17th and 18th century London. This fascinating programme (but very short, at just over 48 minutes) is based on a conjectural reconstruction of part of a typical evening at Vauxhall in the early 1740s, and includes a wide variety of music including orchestral, organ and vocal music.  Continue reading

Bach: St Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, James Gilchrist, Kati Debretzeni,John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG725. 2CDs. 2h40′

Some 28 years after their famed 1988 Archiv recording (made under studio conditions in Snape Maltings), the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists return to the St. Matthew Passion. This extraordinary piece can evoke enormous emotional responses, regardless of the religious views of the listener. I vividly remember taking my young daughter to a performance of their 1988 Matthew, sitting in the front row, and watching the bass player just a few yards away gently shedding tears as she played. For this version, on their own label, they opt for a live recording, made in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as the culmination of a six-month tour.  Continue reading

Mondonville: Grands Motets

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

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

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

Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2

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

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

Continue reading

Haydn: The Seasons 1801

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

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

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

In Nomine: Heaven and Hell c1600

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

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

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

Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem

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

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

Frescobaldi: Organ works

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

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