Vox Luminis: Kantaten der Bach Familie

Kantaten der Bach Familie 
HeinrichJohann ChristophJohann Michael & Johann Sebastian Bach
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
Ricercar  RIC 401. 66’30

Since Vox Luminis was formed around 15 years ago, they have established themselves as one of the leading performers of early music, usually just with choir and continuo, but also appearing with up to a full orchestra. Under their director, Lionel Meunier, their many award-winning CDs have highlighted fascinating areas of the repertoire, as does this one with its exploration of the sacred cantatas of Bach’s earlier family. Although we have long given up the notion that Bach sprung in the musical world from nowhere, our knowledge of the pre-Bach Bach’s and the musical world in Thuringia and Saxony that nurtured the Bach brood over many generations is still rather limited. This recording reveals just some of the extraordinary riches that await exploration from the 17th century Bachs. The focus is on three pre-JS Bach’s, Heinrich (1615-92), first cousin of JA BAch’s father, and his two sons Johann Christoph (1642-1703), and Johann Michael (1648-94), whose daughter, Maria Barbara married her cousin JS Bach. 

Continue reading

Henry Purcell: Symphony while the swans come forward

Henry Purcell
Symphony while the swans come forward
Le Sfera Armonioso, Mike Fentross, Johannette Zomer
Challenge Classics CC 72783. 78’57

In this live recording, Le Sfera Armonioso present extracts from Purcell’s History of DioclesianThe Indian QueenKing Arthur and The Fairy Queen. So far, so good. But this is a curious recording, raising questions about early music vocal and instrumental performance practice. To start with the positive: Le Sfera Armonioso clearly takes the period instrument issue seriously, to the extent that for this project they commissioned two new trumpets from Graham Nicholson, who also plays on the recording. They are replicas of the c1700 William Bull silver trumpet, owned by Purcell’s principal trumpeter, John Shore and housed in the Museum of Warwick. These trumpets have no finger holes, relying solely on the players’ lips to produce the notes, with the inevitable distinctive tunings, obvious from the start with the opening Symphony for trumpets and violins from Purcell’s History of Dioclesian. More information about the trumpets, and some extracts from the recording can be found hereContinue reading

Favourites: Telemann and his Subscribers

‘Favourites’
Telemann and his Subscribers
Tabea Debus, recorder
TYXart TXA18107. 66’34

Recorder player Tabea Debus is one of the most impressive young musicians of her generation. She has already featured many times in this review website for her CDs and concert performances (see here). Her latest recording is a clever combination of two genuine Telemann pieces for recorder (the Sonata in C, TWV 41:C2 and Concerto in F, TWV 51:F1) forming a sandwich with a filling of four suites of pieces collated and arranged by Tabea Debus from Telemann and three of the composers who subscribed to Telemann’s music publications. Telemann was one of the pioneers of music publishing funded by inviting pre-publication subscriptions – an early form of crowd-funding. Amongst those subscribers were Bach, Handel and Blavet, the three composers whose pieces are collected into suites on this recording. Continue reading

A Fancy: Fantasy on English Airs & Tune

A Fancy: Fantasy on English Airs & Tune
Rachel Redmond, Le Caravansérail, Bertrand Cuiller
Harmonia Mundi. HMM 902296. 66’04

Rachel Redmond - A Fancy: Fantasy on English Airs & Tunes

This recording was released in September 2017, but I have only become aware of it, having heard a concert performance during the 2019 Tage Alter Musik Regensburg (reviewed here). As well as being a musically outstanding recording, with excellent singing from soprano Rachel Redmond and playing from Le Caravansérail, directed by Bertrand Cuiller, this is an intelligent way of presenting the music of the English Baroque era. Much of the music of the post-Restoration period (from the mid-17th century) was written for the theatre, where plays included lots of music to set the scene and provide interludes. The resulting pieces are often short, and can be difficult to programme into a concert setting. In this recording, Le Caravansérail has concocted what is, in effect, a five-act mini-opera taking samples of music for the theatre by composers such as Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, John Blow to make a coherent and well-balanced whole. Continue reading

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8-20 Parts

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 & 20 Parts
Alamire, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts
David Skinner, Stephen Farr
Resonus: Inventa Records. INV001. 2 CDs: 57’46 + 42’39 

I have waited years for a comprehensive recording of Hieronymus Praetorius and this one ticks all the boxes. I first got to know his organ music many years ago, finding in him a very rare example of a North German organ composer from before the generation of Sweelinck students that dominated Hamburg and North German musical life in the 17th century (of which his sons were a key part). That progression eventually led to the peak of the North German Baroque, Dieterich Buxtehude. Although there were indications of the post-Sweelinck style, his musical language was distinct, if occasionally rather impenetrable, and clearly represented an important late Renaissance style of organ composition and performance. The joy of this double CD set is that several organ pieces are included, along with some of the magnificent multi-part motets, with up to 20 independent voices. Continue reading

Welcome home, Mr Dubourg

Welcome home, Mr Dubourg
Irish Baroque Orchestra, Peter Whelan
Linn CKD 532. 60’58

Welcome home, Mr Dubourg | Linn CKD532

If the compositions of Matthew Dubourg (1703-1767) are not familiar to you (and they certainly weren’t to me), this recording will remedy that, as well as taking a fascinating peek at musical life in Dublin in the 18th century. Dubourg was born in London, the son of a dancing master. He seems to have had a youthful talent, apparently playing a Corelli Violin Sonata in one of Thomas Britton’s house concerts, aged 9, and standing on a stool. He then studied with the celebrated violinist, Francesco Geminiani. From 1728 to 1764 he was based at Dublin Castle as “His Majesty’s Chief Composer and Master of the Music in Ireland”. He was a major force the musical life of Dublin, together with Geminiani, who was his friend and teacher for many years. He is probably best known for a comment that Handel made while conducting Dubourg when, after a more-than-usually extensive cadenza when, according to Charles Burney, Dubourg “wandered about in different keys a great while, and seemed indeed a little bewildered, and uncertain of the original key”, he was heard to remark as the cadential trill was played – “Welcome home, Mr Dubourg”. After the first performance of Messiah in Dublin, Handel wrote that “as for the instruments they are really excellent, Mr Dubourg being at the head of them”. Continue reading

Leonardo da Vinci: La Musique Secrète

Leonardo da Vinci: La Musique Secrète
Doulce Mémoire, Denis Raisin-Dadre

Alpha ALPHA456. CD & book. 78’05

This is the second recording I have been sent linked to this year’s 500th-anniversary celebrations of Leonardo da Vinci. I Fagiolini included a wide range of music, including newly composed pieces in their reflection, but very little music of Leonardo’s own time. This release from Doulce Mémoire makes up for that by focussing on music of the time and, notably, on Leonardo’s own instrument, the lira da braccio, here played with commendable sensitivity by Baptiste Romain. The CD is accompanied by a sumptuous 127-page book, with excellent reproductions of 15 paintings, including close-ups of many of them. In his choice of music, Denis Raisin-Dadre aims to seek out the ‘hidden music’ within these paintings. Continue reading

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus Classics RES10239. 2 CDs. 55’06+56.13

This is the first of two double-CD volumes of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), and covers the Preludes and Fugues 1 to 24 (BWV846-869) that form Book 1 of ‘The 48’. This musically intelligent and absorbing recording by Steven Devine demonstrates that performing Bach (or any music, for that matter) is far more the merely playing all the notes in the right order. His subtle use of articulation and rhetoric and his understanding of the Baroque idea of building up musical ideas from small motifs make for an absorbing recording that will invite repeated listening. He manages to negotiate that fine line between presenting a personal interpretation and those over-mannered performances that might be fine for a live recital but is usually off-putting on the repeat listening that a recording allows. With obvious respect to Bach and these extraordinary miniatures of musical craft, Devine brings a wide range of interpretations, matching the underlying mood of each Prelude and Fugue perfectly. Continue reading

The Duarte Circle: Antwerp 1640

The Duarte Circle: Antwerp 1640
Transports Publics, Korneel Bernolet, Thomas Baeté

Musica Ficta MF8028. 68’02

What a delightful recording! Even without reading any of the notes, or knowing nothing of the backstory, the music on this disc will enchant you. The fact that it has such a fascinating background just adds to the magic. The music is based on concerts given in Antwerp in the years around 1640 in the household of the Duarte family, a wealthy Portuguese/Jewish family who lived as Catholics whilst maintaining their own Jewish heritage and faith. Amongst their number was the composer Leonora Duarte (1610-1678), whose seven surviving Sinfonias for five viols form the backbone of the recording. Information about the instruments and the pieces the family played comes from a letter from somebody who was at one of those concerts.

The Duart family left Portugal to escape the Inquisition, setting in Antwerp and becoming wealthy jewellery and diamond merchants. Leonora’s parents were trained as musicians and, amongst others, knew the famed harpsichord Antwerp maker, Ruckers. They mixed comfortably with the artistic and influential circles of Antwerp, counting Vermeer, Rubens, Huygens, and the influential English aristocrat, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle.  Leonora was around 30 in 1640, one of six children, all well trained in music, although Leonora is the only one with any surviving pieces. Continue reading

Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible

Leonardo: Shaping the Invisible
I Fagiolini, Robert Hollingworth, Martin Kemp
Milton Court Concert Hall, 28 April 2019
CD Coro COR16171. 71’34
I Fagiolin Leonardo.jpg

The latest I Fagiolini touring concert programme and CD is based on the Leonardo da Vinci 500th anniversary.  They launched the CD in London’s Milton Court with a talk by Martin Kemp, Emeritus Professor in History of Art at Trinity College Cambridge illustrated by examples of Leonardo’s work and extracts from the I Fagiolini CD. The title ‘Shaping the Invisible’ comes from Leonardo’s own description of music. It is often forgotten how important music was in his life – indeed, despite his achievements as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, pioneer of flight, anatomist, scientist, Vasari records that music was probably the focus of his first job outside Florence when he moved to Milan.  ‘Shaping the invisible’ is also the title of the new commissioned piece by Adrian Williams and poet Gillian Clarke, reflecting Leonardo’s scientific investigations and fascination with flight. Continue reading

Rameau: Les Indes galantes

Rameau: Les Indes galantes
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924005. 2CDs 60’45+62’56

CD I
Prologue
Première Entrée: Les Incas du Pérou
CD II
Deuxième Entrée: Le Turc généreux
Troisième Entrée: Les Sauvages

The place to go to hear fine performances of French Baroque music appears to be Budapest, Hungary, where the pan-European named Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra and their director György Vashegyi have their home base in Müpa Budapest. I first heard them live there in 2017, and have since praised a number of their CDs. The latest is this recording of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Opéra-ballet: Les Indes galantes. It was first performed in Paris in 1735, but with only the Prologue and two of the ultimate four entrées. Thereafter it had a curious career, with several different variations performed in different years. The version used in this recording is from 1761, with Rameau’s various improvements since its première, but with the third entrée (Les fleurs) and a scene from the second entrée (Le Turc généreux) omitted. It was recorded in the days preceding a live concert performance in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall of Müpa Budapest. Continue reading

Le Guerre des Te Deum

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

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

J Praetorius & Schildt organ works

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

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

1467/1637 Stellwagen organ, Jacobikirche, Lûbeck

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

Continue reading

LHF: Handel vs Porpora

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

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

Giuseppe Peranda: Sacred Music from Dresden

Giuseppe Peranda: Sacred Music from Dresden
Abendmusiken Basel, Jorg-Andreas Botticher
Coviello COV91904. 75’45

Giuseppe Peranda: Missa in A minor, Repleti Sunt OmnesAccurite Gentes,
Fasciculus myrrhae, Timor Et Tremor, Factum Est Proelium
Vicenzo Albrici: Sinfonia à 2
David Pohle Sonata à 6,

The recording sheds a fascinating insight into musical life in mid-17th-century Dresden. After a hiatus in the 1630/40s as a result of the Thirty Years War, the Kapellmeister Heinrich Schütz attempted to revive the musical life of the Court, but with little success or encouragement. In 1656 a new Elector, Johann Georg II, reorganised musical life, built on the fact that Italians were now more prominent than German-speaking musicians, and were paid far more. He promoted Giuseppe Peranda to Kapellmeister who, along with with Vincenzo Albrici, established a new direction in sacred music, with a stronger emphasis on melody and rhythmic inventiveness – the hallmark of the Italian early Baroque. Their music was developed from the style of Carissimi and, earlier, Viadana. On Schütz’s death in 1672, the Court Chaplain commented, no doubt reflecting Schütz’s own views, that: “a new style of singing reigns, extravagant, dance-like, not the least devout and more appropriate to the theatre”. Although no doubt intended as a criticism of the new style, it is a very effective description of the Baroque idiom, of which Giuseppe Peranda is a fine example. Continue reading

Mozart in London

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

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

Bach: Partitas

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

Clavier-Übung I – Partitas BWV 825-830

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

Delicatessen II: Early English Song

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

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

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Orpheus Britannicus, Newe Vialles, Andrew Arthur (director)
Resonus Classics RES10238. 70’17

Buxtehude’s cycle of seven cantatas, under the collective title of Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima, is one of the finest sacred vocal works of the 17th-century. It reflects on The holy limbs of our suffering Jesus, using texts from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare, probably written by Arnulf of Leuven (d1250). Each cantata focusses on a specific part of Christ’s crucified body: feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face, adding to the hymn text words from the Bible. It is composed for five solo singers, who usually also make up a chorus although, in this case, the chorus is the 24-strong Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, conducted by Andrew Arthur, the Director of Music at Trinty Hall. They are accompanied by the College’s professional period ensemble Ensemble-in-Residence, Orpheus Britannicus (founded by Andrew Arthur), with the five viols of Newe Vialles (directed by Henrik Persson and Caroline Ritchie) playing for the sensuous sixth cantata, Ad cor (To The Heart). Continue reading

Bach: Chorale Partitas

J S Bach
Chorale Partitas, BWV 766-768 & 770

Stephen Farr, organ
Resonus Classics RES10120. 55’46

Ach, was soll ich Sünder machen BWV 770
Christ, der du bist der helle Tag BWV 766
O Gott, du frommer Gott BWV 767
Sei gegrüßet, Jesu gütig BWV 768

Stephen Farr continues his series of Bach organ recordings with the four Chorale Partitas – variations sets of Lutheran chorales. None of them exists in autograph, so dating is problematical. They are almost certainly early works, possibly composed around the time Bach was at Arnstadt, or perhaps even earlier while Bach was under the influence of Georg Böhm, who Bach knew, and probably studied with while he was at school in Lüneburg. Böhm wrote many variation sets (as did Pachbel), a compositional style that goes back the Sweelinck, the Amsterdam instigator of the North German/Hamburg school of the early to mid-17th-century. It is not clear whether Bach’s examples were intended for performance during church services or, indeed, on the organ. Most are equally suitable for clavichord or harpsichord in a domestic setting. Continue reading

Sweeter than Roses: Songs by Henry Purcell

Sweeter than Roses
Songs by Henry Purcell
Anna Dennis, soprano
Sounds Baroque, Julian Perkins
Resonus Classics RES10235.. 67’33

Henry Purcell is one of the greatest composers of English vocal music, with his ability to tease out the depths of meaning in mere words through his sensitive melodic and harmonic skills. Publisher Henry Playford’s preface to Orpheus Britannicus sums this talent up perfectly when he describes Purcell’s “extraordinary Talent in all sorts of Musick is sufficiently known, but he was especially admir’d for the Vocal, having a peculiar Genius to express the energy of English Words, whereby he mov’d the Passions of all his Auditors“. Another commentator, Henry Hall, organist of Hereford Cathedral, describes this well in his prefatory poem to Orpheus Britannicus when he mentions “Each syllable first weigh’d, or short, or long, / That it might too be Sense, as well as Song”. These contemporary descriptions of Purcell’s skill at setting words to music are at the heart of this recording, with Bruce Wood’s and Julian Perkin’s excellent programme notes (which includes the above quotes) giving specific examples of Purcell’s art as well as setting Purcell’s so-very-English music in the context of the musical style of the rest of Europe that so clearly influenced him. Continue reading

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)

Johannes de Lublin tabulature (c1540)
Keyboard music from Renaissance Poland
Corina Marti, Renaissance harpsichord
Brilliant Classics, BRI95556. 74’25

Little is known about Johannes (or Joannis, Jan) de Lublin (or ‘z Lublina’) was a Polish organist and composer. He was a Canon of the monastery in Kraśnik, near Lublin and seems to have graduated from the University of Kraków and remained there as organist in the Marian Church. He moved to Kraśnik, near Lublin sometime before 1540, when the Tabvlatvra Ioannis de Lyvblyn Canonic. Reglariv de Crasnyk was bound. The music in the collection was gathered over some years, an contains a wide range of music, both sacred and secular. It was intended as a primer for organists, and contains important information about organ tuning and the principals of composing a piece around a plainchant melody, something all organists were expected to do. It is the largest known organ tablature with more than 350 compositions and a theoretical treatise. It follows in the tradition of earlier examples such as the Faenza Codex and the Buxheimer Organ Book from the previous century. Continue reading

Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal

Thomas Tallis: Gentleman of the Chapel Royal
The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal,  Hampton Court Palace
Carl Jackson
Resonus RES10229. 68’22

 


Suscipe quaeso Domine, Missa Puer natus est nobisIn pace in idipsum,
Miserere nostri Domine
, Mass for Four Voices, Loquebantur variis linguis.

There can be very few other examples of early music recordings where the composer, the choir, and the recording venue are so closely matched. This CD from the present-day Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace was recorded in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court, a surviving part of the Tudor Palace of Henry VIII. Tallis was a Gentleman of the Tudor Chapel Royal from the early 1540s until his death in 1585 and would have certainly sung and played the organ in this very chapel. Several of the compositions on this recording may well have been performed in the same Hampton Court Chapel. Before the period-appropriate comments overwhelm, it is worth pointing out that it is probably only some of the external walls and the magnificent ceiling (pictured on the CD cover) that date from the time of Tallis. The enormous Renaissance Palace of Hampton was built by Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Thomas Wolsey, who was also the Cardinal Archbishop of York and Papal Legate, with a clerical ranking higher than that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, then and now, England’s premier Archbishop. He only managed to retain his Palace for about ten years before falling from grace as a result of failing to secure Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It was ‘surrendered’ to Henry VIII who set about rebuilding and expanding it. It was completed in 1540 at about the time that Tallis joined the Chapel Royal. Continue reading

Machaut: The Gentle Physician

Guillaume de Machaut
The Gentle Physician
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68206. 59’34

This is the sixth recording in The Orlando Consort’s complete Machaut series. It focusses on Machaut’s songs of courtly love and its various ups and, more usually, downs. Lady Fortune is not always a comforting friend, and the opening and closing De Fortune ballads reflect both the positive and negative aspects of her personality. The ‘gentle physician’ (dous mireof the title is Hope, mentioned as the only remedy for unhappy lovers in the extended S’onques dolereusement, also known as Le lay de confort. Machaut (c1300-77) was, and still is, one of the finest 14th-century poet-composers, He was one of the first to whom we have biographical knowledge and a substantive collection of pieces, but also one of the last of the tradition of poet-composers. Part of the ars nova tradition of the Franco-Burgundian region, his compositions set the scene for the late Gothic and early Renaissance style. Continue reading

A Neapolitan Stabat Mater

A Neapolitan Stabat Mater
A new perspective from G B Pergolesi’s masterpiece
Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu, Franck-Emmanuel Comte
Chronos ICSM 012.


This is a recording of Pergolesi’s famed Stabat Mater, but not quite as you may know it. Composed in 1736 for the Neapolitan  Confraternita dei Cavalieri di San Luigi di Palazzo, the Stabat Mater was said to have been completed (along with a companion Salve Regina) moments before Pergolesi died of tuberculosis in a nearby monastery. Despite criticism of its operatic style, it’s fame quickly spread, with several composers, including Bach, making arrangements of it. This recording by Le Concert de l’Hostel Dieu is based on an unpublished score found in the library of the Académie du Concert in Lyon, France, now in the Lyon municipal library. Alongside some minor modifications in the instrumental parts, the key departures from the usual text are that the second solo voice is a baritone rather than an alto, presumably because of the lack of a castrati singer, and the setting of O quam tristis is for five voices. That, on its own, would be of sufficient interest, but this recording also inserts traditional Neapolitan music including polyphonic versions of the Stabat Mater and Miserere, some (very) secular songs (Donna Isabella, La Carpinese) and two tarantellas.  Continue reading

A Salon Opera

A Salon Opera
Flauguissimo Duo
Resonus RES10233. 51’03

The period-instrument flute and guitar ensemble Flauguissimo Duo make their recording debut with A Salon Opera, a fascinating programme of works for flute and guitar set at least initially, in early nineteenth-century Vienna. The music reflects the musical life of the home, rather than the concert hall or opera house, although both are represented. The opening piece, Paganini’s elegiac Cantabile in D, sets the intimate salon scene beautifully. Despite possible initial assumptions, this is not background music to salon chit-chat, but music to be listened to. Several of the pieces are arrangements by Flauguissimo Duo (Yu-Wei Hu, flute and Johan Löfving, guitar), including three contrasting pieces by Schubert, reflecting the intimate so-called Viennese ‘Schubertiade evenings’ where the composer would perform many of his works. A guitarist himself, the programme notes suggest that many of Schubert’s pieces were composed using the guitar that hung above his bed. Continue reading

Antoine de Févin

Antoine de Févin
Missa Ave Maria & Missa Salve sancta parens
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Hyperion CDA68265. 79’14

Missa Ave Maria, Ascendens Christus in altum, Sancta Trinitas a5/a6,
Salve sancta parens, Missa Salve sancta parens,

Antoine de Févin (c1470-1511/12) is a relatively unknown composer of the Renaissance Franco-Flemish period He was born around 20 years after Josquin des Prez, but died about 10 years before him. For the past few years of his life, he worked in the Chapelle Royale of Louis XII of France, who apparently thought highly several chansons. His compositional style is similar to Josquin’s, who he admired. The opening Missa Ave Maria is based on Josquin’s well-known Ave Maria. His contrapuntal writing is not as strict as some of his Renaissance contemporaries. He clearly enjoys contrasting homophonic and contrapuntal passages and freely switches from one to the other. There are several magical moments, one of the finest between the Agnus II of the Missa Ave Maria where two outstanding high voices (Kate Ashby and Claire Eadington) weaves threads between themselves. Continue reading

A Pleasing Melancholy

A Pleasing Melancholy
John Dowland and others
Chelys Consort of Viols, Emma Kirkby
BIS 2283. 72’13

CHelys.jpg

One of the concerts I reviewed during the 2018 London International Exhibition of Early Music was given by the  Chelys Consort of Viols with soprano Rebecca Hickey stepping in at short notice to replace the indisposed Dame Emma Kirkby. Their programme, and this CD, ‘A Pleasing Melancholy’, was built around all seven of John Dowland’s 1604 Lachrimae settings, interspersed with songs by Robert Jones, Tobias Hume, William Wigthorpe, John Danyel and Tobias Hume,. The title refers to a quote from Robert Burton’s 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy – “Many men are melancholy by hearing music, but it is a pleasing melancholy that it causeth“. My review of that concert mentioned that “a ‘pleasing melancholy’ it proved to be, with excellent playing by the five viol players of Chelys and guest lutenist Jamie Akers, and outstanding singing from Rebecca Hickey, who many will know from Stile Antico“. This CD is for those who were not at the concert, or for whom there really is nothing like a Dame. Continue reading

Vox dilecti mei: Renaissance songs of love

Vox dilecti mei – Renaissance songs of love
Hans-Jurg Meier – wingert in der frühe

The Modena ConsortUlrike HofbauerKeren Motseri
Pan Classics PC 10289. 64’32

Vox dilecti.jpg

This recording by The Moderna Consort has only just come my way, but is well worth a belated review. I first heard soprano Ulrike Hofbauer when ensemble savādi won the 2003 Early Music Network International Young Artists’ Competition. She was singing with soprano Kristine Jaunalksne and harpist Marie Bournisien. I was struck then by the purity and clarity of her voice, and that of Kristine Jaunalksne. This CD was recorded in 2012 by Radio SRF 2 and released in 2013. It documents a recital programme that combined contemporary music by the Swiss composer Hans-Jurg Meier with Renaissance music from the likes of Josquin, Brumel, Isaac, Senfl, di Lasso, and Palestrina, all inspired by the curious Biblical Song of Songs, the collection of obviously erotic texts that religious commentators over the centuries have struggled to imbue with any spiritual and religious meaning. Continue reading

Stradella: La Doriclea

Stradella: La Doriclea
Il Pomo d’Oro, Andrea De Carlo
Arcana A454. 3CDs. 3h7’21

You would be forgiven for not being all that familiar with the music of Alessandro Stradella (16431682) or, at least, not in its original form. Despite fame during his lifetime, Stradella’s reputation didn’t endure much beyond his murder in Genoa. This following an earlier assassination attempt in Turin, the result of a rather dangerous love life. Perhaps it is no surprise that there are as many operas written about him, as he wrote himself. He is perhaps best known today as the posthumous provider of music for Handel to pinch, notably in  Israel in Egypt. But he is also justifiably held to be responsible for many musical innovations in Baroque music, not least as the instigator of the Concerto Grosso and in the development of new forms, including what became the ubiquitous da capo Aria form of 18th-century opera. Continue reading