Olwen Foulkes: Directed by Handel

Directed by Handel
Music from Handel’s London Theatre Orchestra
Olwen Foulkes, recorder
Barn Cottage Recordings, bcr019. 64’04

The decline of the recorder as a serious classical music instrument has long been predicted, for reasons that are quite beyond me. As an example, some years ago I was shocked to hear somebody involved with a well-known young artists competition in the north of the UK comment that a recorder player or consort would never win first prize. But evidence shows that recorder music and players are going from strength to strength, not least with through an impressive cohort of young performers making their way onto the professional circuit. One such is Olwen Foulkes a recent prize-winning graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Music where she obtained a Distinction and DipRAM award for her MMus degree. I first heard and reviewed her at the 2016 Royal Academy of Music’s early music prize competition, where she was part of the prizewinning group, of two recorder players plus cello and harpsichord continuo. This is her debut recording.  Continue reading

Secret Fires of Love

Secret Fires of Love
Studio Rhetorica, Robert Toft
Daniel Thomson, Thomas Leininger & Terry McKenna

Talbot Productions TP1701. 65’11

Studio Rhetorica, Daniel Thomson, Thomas Leininger & Terry McKenna | Secret Fires of Love

This recording is issued under the banner of Studio Rhetorica, a cover for the research work of Robert Toft, Canadian vocal coach and researcher, and this CD’s producer and musical director. The recording was planned to demonstrate examples of his research and approach to musical performance. To explain this, I quote from the extensive programme note on performance. This states that the performers (Australian tenor, Daniel Thomson, Canadian lutenist Terry McKenna, and German harpsichordist Thomas Leininger) “take a fresh approach to Renaissance and Baroque songs by treating the texts freely to transform inexpressive notation into passionate musical declamation. Daniel Thomson adopts the persona of a storyteller, and like singers of the past, he uses techniques of rhetorical delivery to re-create the natural style of performance listeners from the era would have heard (all the principles of performance Daniel employs are documented in period treatises on singing and speaking). This requires him to alter the written scores substantially, and his dramatic singing combines rhetoric and music in ways that have not been heard since the Renaissance and Baroque eras“. I suggest that several people would dispute the latter part of the final sentence.

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(Ex)Tradition

(Ex)Tradition
The Curious Bards
Traditional & Popular Music of 18th-Century Ireland & Scotland
Harmonia Mundi (harmonia#nova) HMN916105. 62’47


The Curious Bards was founded in 2013 by musicians from the music conservatories of Lyon, Paris and Basel, sharing an interest both in early music and traditional Irish, Celtic and Gaelic music. They aim to unite these musical worlds through research and historical musical discoveries. For this CD, they use a range of instruments including triple harp, violin, viola da gamba, a transverse flute, a tin whistle, and a cittern specially constructed by William Gibson for this recording, based on a 1778 Irish original in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum, part of the National Museum of Ireland. Continue reading

Bach: Organ Chorales

JS Bach
Organ Chorales of the Leipzig manuscript/Schübler Chorales
Vincent van Laar
Aliud ACDBN 103-2. 2CDs 60’32+52’34

There are many recordings of these pieces, so a new one needs to be judged by what it can offer that others cannot. One question is about the nature of performing in recital and for a recording. It is generally accepted that performers can be much freer in their interpretation when playing live than in recording. An interpretational flourish in a recital is a take-it-or-leave event, which may well not repay repeated listening. So recordings tend to be ‘safer’ interpretations. Some recordings are, in effect, ‘live’, in that they are either taken from a live recital, or are performed as if live, without editing or re-takes. On this recording, Vincent van Laar generally plays in the ‘safe’ zone, but there are a few occasions when he steps into a more personal mode. And it is these moments that make this recording worth considering.  Continue reading

Music in a Cold Climate

Music in a Cold Climate: Sounds of Hansa Europe
In Echo, Gawain Glenton (director)
Delphian DCD34206. 67’32

In Echo is a new period instrument group, directed by the cornettist Gawain Glenton. Their core instrumental line-up of cornetto, violin, sackbut (doubling violin), bass viol and keyboards has been expanded for this their debut recording by an additional violin/viola, bass viol and, in one piece, a violone. Their programme retraces the route of musicians active in the Hanseatic League (Hansa) during its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. The league was a trading partnership encompassing several countries, from Tallinn to London via the Germanic free cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen and similar ports in Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The CD programme notes mention that the represented composers “each looked beyond their own shores and toward a sense of shared European culture and understanding” – a timely reminder today of the importance of freedom of travel for musicians. For this recording, In Echo also commissioned a new composition to complement the early pieces – Andrew Keeling’s Northern Soul. Continue reading

Bach: Du treuer Gott

J S Bach: Du treuer Gott
Leipzig Cantatas BWV 101 – 103 – 115

Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe
Outhere music LPH027.62’26
Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott BWV 101
Mache dich, mein Geist, bereit BWV 115
Ihr werdet weinen und heulen BWV 103

Following two earlier CDs (LPH006 and LPH012) that focussed on cantatas written during Bach’s first year in Leipzig, this recording looks at the second cycle of cantatas, composed in 1724/5. Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer is based on the chorale melody better known as Vater unser im Himmelreich, the Lutheran version of the Lord’s Prayer. Apart from the first aria (with its delightfully jovial flute solo), this well-known melody is heard in all movements. The two recitatives are interesting, with both alternating the chorale melody with recitative passages, the first in a particularly dramatic mood, the second with some evocative harmonic sequences. The central bass aria also switches between chorale and aria. Bach uses a strong orchestration, with three trombones, three oboes, an oboe da caccia, and a cornett – an unusual use of an instrument that would have been seen as distinctly old-fashioned at the time. The final aria, a reflective duet for soprano and alto, combines flute and oboe da caccia.  Continue reading

Telemann: Fantasias for Viola da Gamba

Telemann: Fantasias for Viola da Gamba
Robert Smith
Resonus RES10195. 79’15

Telemann is the gift that keeps on giving. His latest offering was the discovery in 2015 of the previously lost set of Gamba Fantasies. In accordance with his very successful business approach, they were published two at a time over six fortnights in 1735. Aimed at the upper performing end of the amateur market, they also present many challenges for the professional musician. As Robert Smith writes in his own programme notes, a performer can approach these pieces with no preconceived ideas of how they might be performed. Unlike, for example, the Bach Cello Suites with many decades of recording and teaching, these Telemann Fantasias have a clean performing slate. Continue reading

Bach and Friends

Bach and Friends
Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay AMY048. 79’54

Music by Böhm, Buxtehude, J. C. F. Fischer, Georg Muffat, Pachelbel, and Scheidemann

Ambronay Editions continue their support for younger musicians with a first recording by the organist, harpsichordist and musical director Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas. I have previously reviewed him (here) as the director of the group Ensemble Les Surprises. This programme contrasts music for harpsichord and organ, genres quite often interchangeable in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Many manuscripts of the period include pieces suitable for one or other instruments, or both. The absence of an independent pedal does not always imply performance on a stringed keyboard instrument. That said, the pieces on this recording are generally well suited to the chosen instrument, although the title of Bach and Friends is a little off-kilter. Few could be seriously considered as personal friends of Bach. But all influenced him in one way or another, even if, like Scheidemann, they died well before Bach was born. Continue reading

Renaissance: Groningen Lutherse Kerk

Renaissance: Groningen Lutherse Kerk
Tymen Jan Bronda, organ
Colophon LBE 2017. 76’59

Music by Frescobaldi, Scheidemann Buxtehude, Bõhm, Weckmann, and Bach.

The 2017 Groningen Schnitger Festival (reviewed here) focussed on the opening of the new organ in the Lutherse Kerk, a reconstruction of the Schnitger organ that was built for the church in 1699, with extensions to Schnitger’s plans in 1717. Schnitger gifted the organ to the Lutheran community in recognition of the time he and his German workforce spent in the church while working in Groningen on the now internationally famous organs in the Martinikerk and Aa-Kerk. Since 2001 the Lutherse Kerk reintroduced the tradition of Bach cantatas into the services, leading to the foundation of the period instrument Luthers Bach Ensemble and plans for an organ suitable for use with Bach cantatas. The Groningen born but Swiss-based organ builder Bernhardt Edskes was commissioned to build the new organ, based on the 1717 incarnation of the original Schnitger organ. This CD by church organist Tymen Jan Bronda is the first to be made of the new Schnitger organ.  Continue reading

Schmelzer: Sonatas

Schmelzer: Sonatas
Le Concert Brisé, William Dongois
Accent ACC24324. 69’21

Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c1623-1680) was born in central Austria, moving to Vienna sometime in the 1630s where he spent the rest of his life working in the court of the Hapsburg emperors. He lived at a time when the cornett was beginning to lose position to the violin as the principal treble instrument. This is evidenced by Schmelzer’s own career, which started as a cornettist in the Vienna Stephansdom before making his name as a violin virtuoso, becoming court violinist to Ferdinand II/III and Leopold I. This CD redresses the balance towards the earlier instruments a little, by including arrangements for the cornett of pieces intended for the violin or other string instruments ‘played on the shoulder’. It also includes samples of the extraordinarily colourful instrumentations used by Schmelzer (and his Germanic colleagues), for example in the Sonata La carolietta written for violin, cornett, trombone and fagotto, and, in the Sonata à 5 adding a trumpet to that line-up.  Continue reading

Mallorca Edition Historic Organs

Mallorca Edition Historic Organs
Martin Schmeding
CYBELE 6SACD 
001404. 6 SACDs. 7h 39’31
1. Padre Antonio Solèr (1729-1783): Sonatas, Fugues and Fandango
2. Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757): Sonatas
3. José Lidon (1748-1827): Complete Works for Organ
4. Sebastián Aguilera de Heredia (1561-1627): Organ Works
5. Pablo Bruna (1611-1679): Organ Works

Following his 17-part Max Reger Edition Martin Schmeding turns his hand to music from the Iberian Baroque. In addition to the 5 CDs of music, a 6th CD includes talks (in German) with Martin Schmeding and the organ builder Gerhard Grenzing who restored two of the three organs used. 

The first question when approaching this set of CDs is what is the best order to play the CDs? The published order makes no sense to me. Chronologically the order should be 4, 5, 2, 1, 3 (from the earliest to most recent). I would strongly recommend listening in that order, not least because it will help to give a  sense of the evolution of Iberian keyboard music. But if you want to annoy your neighbours and frighten the cat, start with CD1 and the opening blast of en-chamade trumpets. Spain is rather like France in that the peak period for the organ in construction terms was mid to late eighteenth century, but by then the music composed for the organ was, arguably, in musical decline. Starting with the earliest composers will demonstrate that development, and will also help you to appreciate the earlier repertoire without the blast of the later composers still ringing in your ears. But if you are one of those people who assume all organ music is dull and boring, then start with the later composers, whose music is certainly more fun.  Continue reading

Liszt: Une Divine Tragédie

 Liszt: Une Divine Tragédie
Thomas Ospital, organ
Editions Hortus: 149. 67’16

Orphée (transcription: Louis Robilliard)
Fantaisie et Fugue Ad nos, ad salutarem undam
Funérailles (transcription: Louis Robilliard)
Am Grabe Richard Wagners
Consolation IV

According to the programme notes, this recording takes the form of a ‘mini-opera’ (or Divine Tragedy), centred around Liszt’s monumental Ad nos, ad salutarem undam. The other four pieces on the CD, two of them modern transcriptions for organ, frame Ad nos, creating a wordless story that may (or may not) be based on the opening transcription (by Louis Robilliard) of Orphée. This arch-form piece introduces us to the concept of performing Liszt on a French, rather than German romantic organ, including an unusual cinema organ effect in the Molti più lento section. The organ is the 1989 van den Heuvel organ in the church of Saint-Eustache, Paris, an enormous instrument built in the grand tradition of the 19th-century French symphonic organ combined with many elements of the 20th-century neo-baroque that so influenced later French music from Messiaen to the then Titular Organist, Jean Guillou. A complex set of electronic wizardry was added in 2010, creating new interpretational and registration possibilities. Unfortunately, the CD includes practically no information about the organ, but it is readily available online. Continue reading

Croce: Motetti & Sacrae Cantiones

Croce: Motetti & Sacrae Cantiones
Voces Suaves, Concerto Scirocco
Arcana A439. 52’19

 

Giovanni Croce (also known as Il Chiozzotto) was a choirboy in St Mark’s Venice under Zarlino, eventually becoming maestro di cappella around six years before his death in 1609, four years before Monteverdi took up the same post. He was also connected to Santa Maria Formosa, possible as a priest as well as a singer. Although renowned in his own day, he has been overshadowed by his most illustrious predecessors and successors. His music is not as grand as the Gabrielli’s, or a refined as Monteverdi, although the influence of the former is clear, notably in his polychoral writing.  Continue reading

Think Subtilior

Think Subtilior
Cercle des fumeux & Songs and Sounds
Ensemble Santenay
Ricercar RIC386. 51’13

Think Subtilior (Cercle des fumeux & Songs and Sounds)

Ensemble Santenay is a group of four musicians who met during their studies of medieval music in Trossingen, Germany. Using the simplest of instrumentation (flute, fiddle, lute, and organetto) and one (soprano) singer, their approach to performance combines innovation with simplicity. Their choice of repertoire for this CD is apt: the so-called Arts Subtilior period from the end of the 14th-century. Stemming from the Parisian confraternity of ‘eccentric young intellectuals’, Cercle des fumeux, the style spread to Avignon, Northern Italy and Cyprus. Arts Subtilior uses simple but expertly crafted musical means and complex rhythms to express emotion. What Ensemble Santenay uniquely bring to the music is their esoteric introductions to several of the pieces: little soundscapes with titles like ‘haze, ephemeral, emanation, exhalation and perfume’. These are based on improvisations on some of the musical themes of the songs and the sounds of the instruments, all subjected to some technical wizardry by their musical produced Thor-Harald Johnsen. The longest, ’emanation’, lasts nearly three minutes and features the organetto phasing in and out of flute sounds within an atmospheric background.  Continue reading

Lully: Alceste

Jean-Baptiste Lully: Alceste
Les Talens Lyriques, Namur Chamber Choir, Christophe Rousset
Launch concert: Opéra Royal, Versailles, 10 December 2017
CD: Aparté AP164, 2CDs. 80’+70.59′

Lully: Alceste

Alceste ou Le Triomphe d’Alcide is an early example of Lully’s tragédie en musique in its fledgeling form of a Prologue followed by five Acts. It uses a libretto by Philippe Quinault, based on Euripides’ Alcestis. The first performance was given in January 1674 by the recently formed Académie Royale de Musique (later known as the Opéra de Paris) at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, adjoining the then residence of the King, the Louvre Palace. The occasion was the Louis XIV’s victory against the Spanish held Franche-Comté during the complexities of the Franco-Dutch War. Lully had only recently taken control of the opera scene in Paris and Versailles, and this was the second of the many operas created during this monopoly. Even though Versailles was not, at the time, the seat of Louis XIV (and indeed, most of it was not yet built), the sumptuous Opéra Royal (built around 100 years later, in 1770) was an appropriate venue for Les Talens Lyriques to launch this CD, with a concert performance.

IMG_20171210_141343569.jpg

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Mozart Chamber Music: Vol. 1

Mozart Chamber Music Vol. 1
Ensemble DeNOTE
Devine Music DMCD007. 70’43

Mozart DMCD007

Sonata for Piano and Violin in B flat, K.454
‘Kegelstatt’ Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano in E flat, K.498
Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478

There is more to this recording than meets the eye – or, indeed, the ear. At one level it is an excellent recording of some, perhaps lesser-known, music by Mozart, played on period instruments with considerable (and appropriate) style by Ensemble DeNOTE. On that basis alone, it is well worth getting hold of. But what marks this out as being very different from a normal run-of-the-mill Mozart CD is its background. It grew out of 2016 staged performances of Mozart given by DeNOTE as part of their (Arts Council funded) Mozart Project Live!, itself an extension of the earlier Mozart Project, an award-winning interactive digital book with contributions from DeNOTE’s director, fortepianist, John Irving. For their Mozart Project Live! they performed extracts from the three pieces on this recording, along with spoken and acted introductions from two actors, in period dress but clutching 21st-century tablets, and audio and video material from the digital book. But there was not enough time for complete performances of the three pieces demonstrated, hence this recording.  It contrasts three works from the 1780s for two, three and four instruments, all including the fortepiano.

The opening K.454 Sonata for Piano and Violin was written in 1784 for the Viennese debut of the Mantuan violinist Regina Strinasacchi (a former student of the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice), then in her early 20s. It was written in some haste, to the extent that Mozart had no time to write out his piano part. For the public performance, apparently in the company of the Emperor Joseph II, he put a blank sheet of paper on the music desk, but played from memory and, presumably, a great deal of improvisation. It is a piece full of contrast, unusually starting with an expansive Largo before bursting into a lively Allegretto. The compositional blend between the two instruments is notable, each sharing the limelight alongside lengthy passages where the two combine in close consort. The players’ subtle additions to the text are entirely appropriate.

The incorrectly named Kegelstatt Trio (for Clarinet, Viola and Piano) (the name was intended for another piece, not this one) breaks the conventional rules of composition, the three movements (Andante, Menuetto, Rondeaux: Allegretto) bearing little relation to the expected three-movement sequence. Although the instruments (unique at the time) in the final movement, the fortepiano takes centre stage for a while, before the other two instruments have their moments in the foreground. Incidentally, Mozart is said to have played the viola for this, not the piano.

The concluding Piano Quartet in G minor (K.478) also has a back story – or might have. Although commissioned (as a set of three) for Vienna’s amateur performers, the piano part turned out to be far too difficult for them to play. Along with that, the thought of four amateur musicians attempting to play this complex work was deemed, at best, undesirable. Refusing to write something easier, the commission was cancelled, leaving this one Quartet, one of the first of its kind in musical history. That is the story, but recent scholarship, outlined in the CDs liner notes, casts doubt on this story. In the dark key of G minor, it is certainly of an emotional depth and intensity that requires musical and expressive experience possibly beyond many amateurs. Only in the final movement does any semblance of domestic music-making begin to appear. As with the other pieces on this recording, the four instruments are treated as equals and, as with the other pieces, the recording balance is well judged between them, the fortepiano (a copy of a c1795 Walter) being at just the right volume to blend without dominating.

The individual performances, from Marcus Barcham-Stevens, violin, Oliver Wilson, viola, Ruth Alford, cello, Jane Booth, clarinet, and John Irving, fortepiano, are excellent. But, more importantly, the overall result greatly exceeds the sum of the individual parts – as it always should in consort playing.

The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann

The Art of Heinrich Scheidemann
Le Concert Brisé, William Dongois
Accent ACC24302. 68′ 

This is an important recording as it brings the music of Heinrich Scheidemann to a wider audience than just organists. Unfortunately, many organists are not aware enough of the organ compositions of this major North German composer of the early Baroque era. He was one of the most important pupils of Sweelinck in Amsterdam in the early 17th century, moving on (as did several other Sweelinck pupils) to an important organist post in Hamburg; at the enormous organ of Hamburg’s Catharinenkirche, recently restored back to the time of Bach’s famous visit, but still containing many pipes from Scheidemann’s time. He was part of an extraordinary tradition of North German organ playing that led to Buxtehude and, ultimately, the young Bach. It seems that the only surviving Scheidemann pieces are for organ, plus a few for a stringed keyboard. So this instrumental interpretation, although not without a number of issues for the purist, is a very welcome addition to the many CDs of Scheidemann’s organ music.  Continue reading

L’Héritage de Rameau

LHéritage de Rameau
Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Yves Rechsteiner
Ambronay Editions AMY050. 54’54

CD

Music by Rameau, Rebel and Francoeur

I heard Ensemble Les Surprises and Yves Rechsteiner perform music from this recording during the 2017 Ambronay Festival (review here), noting that is was the first time the group had played without using a full-sized French Classical church organ, relying instead on a small chamber organ. That is more than made up for by this recording, which uses the important 1783 François-Henri Clicquot organ in the historic priory church of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Souvigny (Allier).

The premise of this recording is the programme of the Concert Spirituel given on 8 December 1768 in Paris. It refers to a ‘Suite of symphonies by Rameau executed with full orchestra on the organ by Balbastre’. It seems that Balbastre (the leading organist in pre-Revolutionary Paris) had reconstructed an organ concerto from existing works by Rameau, having already played many solo organ transcriptions from Rameau’s opera for the Concerts Spirituel. Despite being a keen organist, Jean-Philippe Rameau left no organ music. Yves Rechsteiner has already published and recorded his own arrangements of some of Rameau’s operatic and instrumental works for organ solo. For this recording, he has reconstructed three organ concertos from Rameau’s works as they might have been performed by Balbastre (a pupil of Rameau) in the 1768 Concert Spiritual.  Continue reading

Repicco: Assassini, Assassinati

Assassini, Assassinati
Repicco
Ambronay Editions, AMY308. 60’43

Assassini, assassinati - Repicco

Works by Albertini, Marini, Castaldi, Pandolfi Mealli, Stradella,

I have written before of the excellent work that eeemerging and the Cultural Centre Ambronay do to support young musicians. One such is the arrangement by which the top two ensembles in each of the eeemerging rounds are offered a recording through the Collection Jeunes Ensembles of Ambronay Editions. A recent example is this CD, Assassins, Assassinations, the debut recording of the two-person ensemble Repicco, (violinist Kinga Ujszàszi and Jadran Duncumb, theorbo). The rather grizzly link between the Italian Baroque composers represented in the recording is that they were all either murdered or murderers. This is a genre of recording that, I trust, has a limited range, particularly when it comes to present days composers. It certainly says something about political and social life in Italy during the period known as the ‘Iron century’, a time dominated by powerful families and warring cities.  Continue reading

Versus: The Garnier Organ

Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire

Versus
Henry Fairs
The Garnier Organ, Elgar Concert Hall
University of Birmingham
Regent Records REGCD516. 74’35

This is the first recording of the new Garnier organ in the Elgar Concert Hall of Birmingham University. It is played by the organ’s curator, Henry Fairs. He is Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire and was closely involved with the installation of the Garnier organ. A well-chosen programme demonstrates the organ, and its companion continuo organ, as well as some impressive playing by Fairs. He opens and closes with major Bach works, the better-known opening Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue (BWV 564) given a subtly individual reading that adds interest without approaching the mannerisms of some organists who feel the need to do something different. An example is performing the sprightly fugue on a massive chorus based on a 16′ manual reed. The lesser-known concluding Praeludium in C (BWV 566a), which might originally have been in E major) is given a similarly grand interpretation.
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Ristori: Cantatas

G A Ristori: Cantatas for Soprano
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Maria Savastano, soprano, Jon Olaberria, oboe
Audax Records ADX 13711. 68’12

Ensemble Diderot has built an enviable reputation for their instrumental recordings, based on the violin playing of their founder director Johannes Pramsohler. But on this occasion, they appear as a backing group to soprano Maria Savastano, who gets prominent billing. Sensibly, the programme is based on a single, and lesser-known Italian composer, Giovanni Alberto Ristori (1692-1753). He was probably born in Bologna but spent much of his life in Dresden in the court of the Electors of Saxony, surviving the musical cull after Augustus the Strong’s death in 1733, presumably on account of his having been music tutor to the new Elector when he was Crown Prince.  The Elector’s wife, Maria Antonia, wrote the text of the three cantatas on this recording. The daughter of the Bavarian Elector, she was an accomplished singer and poet.

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Schabernack

Schabernack: A treasure trove of musical jokes
Les Passions de l’Ame, Meret Lüthi
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. 88985415492. 56’46

Music by Fux, Schmeltzer, Biber, and Walther

Schabernack - A Treasure Trove of Musical Jokes
Schabernack 
translates as ‘prank, practical joke, hoax or shenanigans’, and the underlying theme of this CD by the impressive group Les Passions de l’Ame emphasises that aspect of the musical world of the Austrian and Hungarian Empires during the Baroque period.  The CD cover promises “Characters from the commedia dell’arte, playful birds, an astonishing virtuosity and a colourful instrumentation – the vivid imagination in late 17th century Austrian-German instrumental music loves to surprise”. But humour is only part of the inspiration for this recording. At the time, these Hapsburg domains were part of the defence of Europe from attacks from the east by the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman influence was spreading into Viennese life and music, with Turkish, or Janissary, music and instruments becoming part of the musical language of the time. Continue reading

Edinburgh 1742

Edinburgh 1742
Ensemble Marsyas
Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, horns,
Emilie Renard, mezzo-soprano, Peter Whelan, directot
Linn CKD567. 68′

The rather underwhelming title of this CD doesn’t really do justice to the wealth of surprises within. Barsanti’s Horns might be just one possible alternative, and a listen to track 2, the Allegro from Francesco Barsanti’s Concerto grosso in D (Op3/3) will explain why. Horn players Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters and timpanist Alan Emslie mount an extraordinary attack on the senses with some of the most thrilling writing for horns and timpani that I can think off. The return with gusto at the end of the innocently entitled Menuet. This recording includes the first five of Barsanti’s ten Opus 3 Concerti grossi, all with dramatic writing for the horns and times, and four of his arrangements of Scottish songs, enclosing a central burst of Handel.

Francesco Barsanti (c1690-1775) was one of many Italian musicians that came to England during the 18th century, arriving in London in 1723. He earnt his living from teaching, music copying and occasional oboe playing. He was a companion of his fellow import from Lucca, Francesco Geminiani, who invited to join his short-lived Masonic lodge. He spent a year or so in York around 1732, and moved to Edinburgh in 1735 to join the Edinburgh Musical Society and playing in their professional orchestra. He returned to London with a Scottish wife in 1743, the year that his Opus 3 concertos were published. They followed much earlier collections of recorder and flute Sonatas (opus 1 and 2) in the 1720s. Back in London he started playing the viola rather than the oboe, and became involved with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Madrigal Society.

Emilie Renard joins in the Barsanti fun with one of Handel’s most dramatic arias, Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from the 1735 Alcina, metaphorically depicting an angry tigress trying to protect her young from approaching hunters, to the inevitable accompaniment of the two horns. Emilie Renard enters into the drama of the aria with some brilliantly executed runs and ornaments, although she seems to have developed a rather alarming depth of vibrato since I raved about her singing in years gone by. This is followed by Handel’s arrangement of two movements from The Water Music as a Concerto for horns in F (HWV 331), seemingly first performed in 1723, and the little March in F for two horns and bassoon (HWV346, known as the ‘March in Prolemy’ on account of its appearance in the overture to his 1729 opera Tolomeo. 

As a contrast to the energy of the horn dominated programme comes a selection from Barsanti’s Old Scots Airs, published some time before the 1743 concertos, and here performed with violin and harpsichord. They reflect the enormous interest in all things Scottish in the decades after the Act of Union.

Michael Talbot’s notes give a fascinating insight into the Edinburgh Musical Society and the life of the hitherto overlooked immigrant musician Barsanti. The performances from Ensemble Marsyas, and the direction of Peter  Whelan, are excellent. They met during studies in Basel and touring with the influential European Union Baroque Orchestra.

Returning to the opening query about the CDs title, I still haven’t managed to work out the relevance of the year 1742. Perhaps I have missed something obvious, but the date doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere in the CD notes. A follow up CD of the rest of Barsanti’s 1743 Opus 3 concertos, written for trumpet and two oboes is inevitable, and I look forward to it.

 

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