Handel: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day Bach Choir of Bethlehem Bach Festival Orchestra, Greg Funfgeld Analekta AN 2 9541
The first thing to understand is that this is not the Bach Choir of Bethlehem – or at least, not of that Bethlehem. This Bethlehem is in Pennsylvania – and the Bach Choir is a 120-year-old amateur choir. It is the oldest Bach choir in America and gave the first performances in the USA of Bach’s B minor Mass and the Christmas Oratorio. This recording reflects their anniversary.
Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber (1644-1704) Requiem in F minor Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (c1620-1680) Sonata IX in G Andreas Christophorus Clamer (1633-1701) Partita I in E minor Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber Sonata VIII à 5 in G František Ignác Antonín Tůma (1704-1774) Stabat mater in G minor
The Pluto-Ensemble was founded by Marnix De Cat to “perform music based on Truth of the human being, with a message of beauty and joy”. It takes its name from the planet Pluto, “the third mistery-planet of the Aquarius-era. After Uranus and Neptunus, influencing the heart and the mind, Pluto is the re-creator of man as a higher being”. Their companions for this recording of music from Hapsburg Vienna and Salzburg is the Hathor Consort (directed by Romina Lischka) takes its name from the Egyptian mother goddess Hathor.
Literary history is full of laments, from the very earliest writings. They occur in all religions and have been the foundation of much musical expression in all parts of the world. So an entire CD devoted to such Lamento is not such an unusual approach to building a satisfying musical programme. And this recording from the French ensemble Café Zimmermann fulfils the brief excellently with music from the 17th-century German speaking realms.
Journeys to the New World Hispanic Sacred Music from the 16th & 17th centuries The Queen’s Six Signum ClassicsSIGCD626. 66’23
The Queen’s Six are all based at Windsor Castle where they are Lay Clerks at St George’s Chapel. They promote themselves as providing a “unique style of entertainment” with a repertoire that “extends far beyond the reach of the choir stalls: from austere early chant, florid Renaissance polyphony, lewd madrigals and haunting folk songs, to upbeat Jazz and Pop arrangements”. Perhaps fortunately, on this recording they remain firmly in the choir stalls for some Renaissance New World polyphony dating from the mid-16th century to c1700.
Duarte Lobo (c1565-1646) was one of the most prominent composers of the Portuguese Golden Age, gaining an international reputation during his lifetime. He is not to be confused with the Spanish Alonso Lobo (1555-1617). Early musical studies at Évora Cathedral led to posts as maestro di cappella at Évora Cathedrak, the Hospital Real de Todos-os-Santos, Lisbon, and at Lisbon Cathedral where he remained for nearly 50 years. This very welcome recording includes many premiere recordings of this remarkable composer in outstanding performances by Cupertinos, under Lius Toscano.
Georg Friedrich Händel: Neun Deutsche Arien Penelope Appleyard, Florisma Convivium Records CR043. 52’00
Handel’s Neun Deutsche Arien (Nine German Arias) were composed around 1725, some sixteen years after his arrival in London. In sharp contrast to his compositions at the time (which included the operas Tamerlano, Rodelinda, and Alessandro), these nine short arias, all but one in da capo form, are intimate small-scale pieces for a solo singer, a solo instrument and continuo bass. Continue reading →
From the GROUND up David Hill, Peterborough Cathedral organ Regent REGCD539. 67’48
There is more to this recording than a ‘mere’ display of 20th-century British organ music, most based on a ground bass, usually in its particular incarnation as a Passacaglia, played on a grand English cathedral organ by one of England’s most distinguished organists. But that alone is enough to recommend the recording. It encompasses a wide range of music styles, generally influenced by German organ composers, dating from 1910 to the present day, together with a lovely little contrasting contribution from Orlando Gibbons, from the early 17th-century. Two major gems of the repertoire and a substantial new piece are balanced by a sequence of short pieces.
Lachrimæ Lyræ: Tears of Exile Sokratis Sinopoulos, Lacheron, François Joubert-Caillet Outhere/Fuga Libera, FUG 753. 65’38
If you thought the sound of a consort of viols was etherial, plaintive and evocative, wait till you hear this exotic combination of a viol consort combined with a Greek lyra. Taking John Dowland’s 1604 Lachrimæ or Seaven Teares as its point of departure, the recording aims to “paint a transverse and stateless picture of melancholy, set against the joyful hope of a shining future that appears in these improvisations and timeless Anglo-Byzantine dances”. Continue reading →
Henry Aldrich: Sacred Choral Music Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford James Morley Potter, David Bannister, The Restoration Consort Convivium Records CR052. 80′
You would be forgiven if, like me, you had never heard of Henry Aldrich (1648-1710). He was something of a polymath, combing roles as Dean of Christ Church, Oxford and later Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University with interests in logic, architecture and music, composing works for the Christ Church Chapel (which doubles as Oxford’s Cathedral). He is probably best known today, if at all, for his 1750 book on logic Artis Logicæ Compendium, but he also designed the church of All Saints, Oxford (now the library of Lincoln College) and the Peckwater Quadrangle in Christ Church. This timely recording brings some of his music to well deserved public attention. Continue reading →
What’s next Vivaldi? Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini Outhere/Alpha ALPHA624. 70’56
If you manage to get past the unremitting frenzy of the opening Vivaldi La Tempesta di Mare Concerto there is a chance that you might be able to appreciate the rest of this extraordinary recording. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has been described as an “irresistible force of nature: passionate, challenging and totally original in her approach”, in the citation for her 2014 Royal Philharmonic Society award as Instrumentalist of the year). When combined with the energy of Il Giardino Armonico the result is potent.
Bachs Mentoren (Bach’s Mentors) Peter Waldner Tastenfreuden 4. 75’16
This recording was self-pubished by Peter Waldner in 2012 as part of his Tastenfreuden series but has only just been sent to me for review. It includes music by the North German composers Buxtehude, Reincken and Bõhm, noted as Bach’s “mentors”, played on harpsichord, octave spinet and muselar. The word “mentor” might a little wide of the mark, as there is no evidence any of these three musicians actually taught the young Bach, although he was certainly strongly influenced by them in his early years.
Duo1702+ – Coffee Edition Louise Hjorth Hansen, recorder Katrine I. Kristiansen, organ Gateway DUO170201. 58’56
“Baroque music in the name of coffee – induced by Covid-19” is the sub-text of this recording from Duo1702 and friends. Made in response to the Covid crisis, the two Danish members of Duo1702, Louise Hjorth Hansen, recorder, and Katrine Kristiansen, organ, are joined by five of their musical friends to perform music by Bach, Finger, Telemann, Morten Ræhs, Purcell, and Vivaldi. Their intention is to recreate the atmosphere of the Zimmermann Kaffeehaus in Leipzig where Bach and his sons made music to the accompanyment of coffee drinking.
Laus Polyphoniae: Polyphony connects 21-30 August 2020
In normal circumstances I would be on my way to Antwerp for their annual Laus Polyphoniae festival, but current events have led to it moving on-line for a virtual festival. Under the title of Polyphony Connects, their programme looks back on past editions of Laus Polyphoniae as well as looking to the future. Combining music from different centuries in archive recordings and live events, it also includes documentaries, introductions, a book presentation, an international summer school, and an educational music holiday.
Purcell: Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II. Vol II The Sixteen, Harry Christopers Coro COR16173.72’27
The Sixteen continue their series of music written by Purcell for royal occasions with this 2019 recording. Designed to promote King Charles II as a strong and stable (a familiar phrase) and divinely appointed monarch, the music is by turn delicate and grand, celebrating the nobility of the King and his apparent political triumphs. The highlight is the 1683 Welcome to all the pleasures notably the jubilant concluding chorus in praise of St Cecilia: In a consortof voices.Continue reading →
The contrast between the music of JS and CPE Bach continues to puzzle many music lovers. Born 29 years apart, CPE Bach’s compositional style was well into the early classical era well before the death of his father, whose music had for some time been considered rather out of date. This 2018 recording focusses on the music of the last few years of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s life. It shows his music at its most developed with more than a hint of the forthcoming Romantic era. His use of the empfindsamer Stil (sensitive style) is very evident in the choice of music in this programme. Continue reading →
Stay, ye angels. J S Bach Cantatas
Gaechinger Cantorey, Hans-Christoph Rademann
David Franke (1746 Hildebrandt organ, Naumburg) Accentus Music ACC30466. 73’47
The crowning glory of this recording is the use of one of the finest Baroque (and Bach) organs in the world – the 1746 Zacharias Hildebrandt organ in the Stadtkirche Sankt Wenzel in Naumburg, Saxony- Anhalt, Germany. It was Hildebrandt’s finest and most substantial organ and involved advice from Bach himself. They had met in 1723 when Bach opened Hildebrandt’s first organ in the delightful little village church of Störmthal, just south of Leipzig. Bach and the organ builder Gottfried Silbermann (who had earlier fallen out with Hildebrandt) carried out the final examination of the instrument. It was restored back to its 1746 state in the year 2000.Continue reading →
JS Bach: The Trio Sonata Project Tripla Concordia, Walter Van Hauwe
Outhere/Arcana A114. 63’08
The tradition of rearranging music for different forces is a long one, and one that Bach himself used frequently. The Bach ‘Trio Sonata Project’ is inspired by this practice, and includes one piece that Bach himself arranged from an earlier work of his (BWV 1027). The other transcribed pieces are BWV 527, 997, 1028 & 1029. Three of them were originally for viola da gamba and harpsichord, one for lute, and one from the famous set of organ Sonatas. Continue reading →
The Dubhlinn Gardens
Anna Besson, Reinoud Van Mechelen
A Nocte Temporis
ALPHA 447. 69’17
Described as “an evening in the high society of 18th century Dublin, where traditional music was ‘civilising’ itself for the salon…”, the Dubhlinn Gardens recording draws on traditional Irish music and the outcome of a research project by flautist Anna Besson. She writes that “I discovered traditional Irish music at the age of ten, and began to train with Irish flautists … my affinity for the wooden flute drew me to the Baroque transverse flute and historical performance. The Dubhlinn Gardens is the outcome of this twofold musical practice, and results from extensive research into the most popular airs in eighteenth-century Ireland, from a time when traditional and ‘art’ music were in no way opposing concepts…”. Continue reading →
Mr Handel’s Musicians
Teatro del Mondo
Benoit Laurent, Marie Deller, Andreas Küppers
Perfect Noise PN1703. 63’20
We would normally associate Mr Handel’s Musicians with the various singers that he did battle with, to the extent of threatening to throw some of them out of the window. This 2017 recording redressed the balance in favour of some of the instrumentalists that worked with or were in the wider musical circle of Handel during his time in London. Continue reading →
Mottetti e Canzoni Virtuose
La Guilde des Mercenaires, Adrien Mabire
L’encelade ECL1703. 66’36
The principal interest in this 2018 recording of virtuoso Venetian music is in the choice of organ as accompanying instrument. Most of the programme notes are about the use of the organ in the 16th and 17th century, and its prominence in the repertoire of the time. The important thing, and the factor that sets this recording way above most others of a similar repertoire, is that they use a full-sized ‘church’ organ, rather than those weedy little box ‘continuo’ organ that are nearly always used by early music groups. Continue reading →
Imaginario: De un Libro de Música de Vihuela Armonía Concertada María Cristina Kiehr, Ariel Abramovich
with Jacob Heringman & John Potter
Outhere/Arcana A460. 61’37
This recording is based on an imaginarly Vihuela songbook as might have been published in Valladolid or Seville sometime around 1575. That premise is based on and inspired by seven surviving earlier vihuela songbooks, dating from between 1536 and 1576. Versions of pieces from those earlier songbooks have been arranged by lutenists Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman in Spanish style. The result is an attractive and musically sensible reinterpretation of some delightful music, brilliantly performed by María Cristina Kiehr and Ariel Abramovich, with occasional contributions from Jacob Heringman and a single offering from John Potter.Continue reading →
John Sheppard: Media Vita in Morte Sumus
Alamire, David Skinner
Resonus/Inventa INV1003, Digital EP. 16’30
There is an interesting back story to this 16-minute downloadable EP of John Sheppard’s famous Media Vita in Morte Sumus (In the midst of life we are in death). Much performed and recorded, this piece can last up to 30-minutes in length, making it a complex prospect for recording and concert programming. This recording is based on recent research that reassesses the structure of the piece, reducing it to this entirely appropriate and more manageable shorter version. Continue reading →
Beethoven: Complete Works for Cello and Piano
Robin Michael, cello, Daniel Tong, fortepiano
Resonus Classics RES10254. 2CDs. 76’09+71’59
The key thing about this recording is that it uses period instruments – not always to be assumed in Beethoven recordings even in these more enlightened times. If your experience of the five cello Sonatas has so far been with a modern cello and piano, you are in for a treat, listening to the music as Beethoven might have heard it, at least in his head as far as the later Sonatas are concerned. The five sonatas range from Beethoven’s early years to the sad years of his hearing loss. Continue reading →
Fantasia Bellissima: The Lviv Lute Tablature Bernhard Hofstotter TYXart TXA18115. 41’51
Confusion reigned from the start of the programme notes, at least for me, with their reference throughout to the Cracow Lute Tablature. It turns out that is now known as the Lviv Lute Tablature, as highlighted on the CD cover. The complicated history is covered at length in Dr. Kateryna Schöning’s excellent notes. The music dates from around 1550 to the early 17th-century and was collected by several different people. The manuscript disappeared between the 17th-century and 1937 when it turned up in a Viennese antiquarian bookshop. It was sold and ended up in the attractive city of Lviv in north-western Ukraine. Continue reading →
JS Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin
ECM New Series 2551/52. 2CDs, 59’21+67’12
After first recording the Bach solo violin works in 1982 on a modern violin, albeit with more than a nod to the then-current notions of early performance practice, Thomas Zehetmair now returns with a Baroque instrument and two period bows, one for the Partitas, and the other for the Sonatas. It is recorded in a very generous acoustic, far removed from the possible chamber acoustic that Bach may have had in mind. But the violin speaks clearly though the background bloom, aided by Zehetmair’s careful articulation. Continue reading →
Carl Maria von Weber: Complete Keyboard Duets
Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate (fortepiano)
Deux Elles DXL 1184. 72’23
Weber: Six Petites pièces faciles Op.3; Six Pièces, Op.10a; Huit Pièces,Op.60
Mozart: Andante with variations, K501
Weber is one of those composers who are chiefly remembered for a single work, in his case, the opera Der Freischütz. This recording of his three sets of piano duets (two players on one piano) sheds a wider light into the life of this important composer. It follows two earlier recordings of Mozart Piano Duets (reviewed here and here) from Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate. They use two historic pianos dating from c1795 (Mozart) and 1826 (Weber).Continue reading →
Divertimenti Viennesi Von Dittersdorf, Vanhal & JM Haydn Musica Elegentia, Matteo Cicchitti Brilliant Classics 96127. 2 CDs 54’02+34’13
Karl Ditters Von Dittersdorf (1739-1799): Six String Trios
Jan Křtitel Vaňhal (1739-1813): Divertimento in G Major
Johann Michael Haydn (1737-1806): Divertimento in C Major
This recording features three string-playing composers who were active in Vienna in the second last half of the 18th century: Karl Ditters Von Dittersdorf, Jan Křtitel Vaňhal (or, in his modern Czech spelling, Johann Baptist Wanhal) and Johann Michael Haydn. Dittersdorf and Vanhal were two members of the famous ‘Composers’ Quartet’ alongside Joseph Haydn and Mozart. The performers are Musica Elegentia: Gian Andrea Guerra (violin), Mauro Righini (violin & viola) and Matteo Cicchitti (violone & director), with Gian Andrea Guerra having by far the most important role. Continue reading →
Franz Schubert: Die Nacht
Anja Lechner, cello, Pablo Márquez, guitar
ECM New Series, ECM 2555.
The guitar was a popular instrument in Vienna in Schubert’s time, with several contemporary guitar arrangements of Schubert songs. One such, from the collection of the poet Franz von Wschehrd, has been used as the basis for this recording, along with transcription by the performers of the Romanze from Rosamunde and Der Leiermann. They are contrasted with three guitar Nocturnes by Johann Burgmüller, a younger contemporary of Schubert. Continue reading →
Brahms: Sonatas for Cello and Piano & Klavierstucke
Kate Bennett Wadsworth, Yi-heng Yang
Deux-Elles DXL1181. 67′
Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello, Op. 38 Klavierstücke, Op. 76: 4-8 Sonate für Klavier und Violoncello, Op. 99
This 2018 recording, which I somehow didn’t get round to reviewing at the time, offers a refreshing insight into cello and piano performance practice during Brahm’s time, the result of detailed research by cellist Kate Bennett Wadsworth and pianist Yi-heng Yang. In this, their debut recording, a rethinking of the performing tradition of the past century aims to bring back the “freshness and vitality that they had when they were new”. Continue reading →
This is a combination of an arrangement for string orchestra of Bach’s Goldberg Variations with a set of variations composed in 2017 by Henning Kraggerud, the leader of the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. It was inspired by the life of the Swedish-speaking Finn, Zachris Topelius (1818-1898), a historian and a writer of essays, poems, fairytales and children’s stories, who helped to develop a Finnish identity as it moved towards eventual independence. Continue reading →