Le nozze di Figaro

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
The Grange Festival

Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 19 June 2019

What seemed to be the entire stage was visible to the arriving audience, a blank black space devoid of any scenery or clue as to the setting for the awaited Le nozze di Figaro. It was only when the Overture started that a rear curtain parted to reveal a shallow space at the back of the stage with tables set out for the servants of a great house. Said servants wandered in, some via the audience, with the usual paraphernalia of traditional country house of centuries gone, with guns and game slung over the shoulders of gamekeepers and bonny housemaids doing things with flowers. Were it not for the fact the much of adjoining The Grange mansion had long since been demolished, we could have been in the basement of the next door building.

For those who do not know The Grange, what does survive is the important early Georgian Neo-Classical cement-rendered exterior, surrounding a mid-17th-century brick house, one wall of which is now exposed following the removal of the extensive Private and Bachelor wings. The interior is in a wonderfully evocative almost completely unrestored state. At the end of the surviving screen wall of the private wing is the remains of the early 19th-century conservatory, later converted into a ballroom. In 2002, this was further converted into a magnificent multi-award-winning opera house by Grange Park Opera who were the instigators and focus of opera productions at The Grange between 1998 and 2016. They have now relocated to the new Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey to be replaced at The Grange by the three-year-old Grange Festival. Continue reading

Art of Moog: Bach and beats

Art of Moog: Bach & beats
Waterloo Festival
The Cello Factory, Waterloo, 18 June 2019

Bach was influenced by a wide range of musical styles of his time, travelling to learn about other musical traditions and copying manuscripts of other composers. If he had been around, not in the 1700s, but in the 1960s, when the likes of Pink Floyd, Keith Emmerson, and Rick Wakeman were active; when Wendy Carlos’s ‘Switched-On Bach’ was released and, a few years later, when Kraftwerk highlighted their genre of electronic synth-pop, then he would surely have appreciated the world of synthesised music. Indeed, his own instrument, the organ, is a giant wind-blown synthesiser, with the names and sounds of most of its stops replicating Renaissance instruments. The four-strong group Art of Moog base their music on Bach, Wendy Carlos and Kraftwerk under the banner of ’21st-century Hyper-Bach on Synthesizers’.

Their concert for the Waterloo Festival was given in the delightful Cello Factory, an art gallery in the streets close to London’s Waterloo Station. Three distinguished early-music harpsichord players (Robin Bigwood, Steven Devine & Marin Perkins) gathered around a collection of keyboards, synthesisers, vocoders and other complicated looking little boxes, together with the equally distinguished recorder player Annabel Knight, who clipped an EWI5000 (an Electronic Wind Instrument) onto a lanyard around her neck. This was not going to be a ‘normal’ period instrument early music event – indeed, we were told that what we were about to hear was “absolutely bonkers”. Continue reading

Aminta e Fillide & Venus and Adonis

Aminta e Fillide & Venus and Adonis
Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Milton Court. 3 June 2019

In a double bill of operas, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama puts its Opera, Music, and Production Arts students through their paces. Directed by Victoria Newlyn with designers also from Guildhall teaching staff, it featured an enormous number of students covering all aspects of opera. The two operas were well-chosen, contrasted John Blow’s English High Baroque opera (semi-opera/masque) Venus and Adonis, composed in 1683, just before Handel was born, and Handel’s youthful cantata Aminta e Fillide written when he was 22 during his Italian years in the style that would change English music for much of the 18th-century. Continue reading

Sibelius: States of Independence

Sibelius: States of Independence
Elgar, R Straus, Sibelius

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Thierry Fischer, Alina Ibragimova
Royal Festival Hall, 31 May 2029

Elgar: Serenade for strings
R Strauss: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.8
Sibelius: Symphony No.2

We are used to period instrument performances of music of the Baroque and Classical era but not yet, perhaps, so familiar with 19th and 20th-century repertoire played on instruments that the composer would have known. Prominent amongst the promoters of this manner of performance is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, most notably in their more recent foray into the 19th-century repertoire, including recent performances of Mahler and Liszt. They have now moved the explorations forward into the early 20th-century with this focus on Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony, composed in 1902. It was contrasted with Elgar’s 1892 Serenade for strings and Richard Strauss’s rarely performed 1882 Violin Concerto. The whole concert spanned just 20 years of a period of rising European nationalism and raised issues of the contrast between national and international music. It closed the OAE’s 2018/19 season under the banner of ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness which, in turn, is part of their six-year ‘Chapters of Enlightenment’ season that started in 2017. Continue reading

Gluck: Bauci e Filemone & Orfeo

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Bauci e Filemone & Orfeo (from Le feste d’Apollo)
Classical Opera/The Mozartists. Ian Page
Queen Elizabeth Hall. 29 May 2019

As a continuation of their Mozart 250 project, Classical Opera travelled back 250 years to explore the year 1769 with extracts from Gluck’s Le feste d’Apollo, composed for the wedding celebrations of 15-year-old Ferdinand, Duke of Parma and the 23-year-old Austrian Archduchess Maria Amalia, youngest daughter of Empress Maria Theresa and Emperor Francis I. She was against the idea of this dynastic match from the start, not least because she was in love with a Bavarian Prince, who was deemed socially beneath her. Given that background, it must have been a bit of a strain for her to sit through the three short operas that make up Gluck’s Le feste d’Apollo, two of which were performed in this concert. The opening extract Bauci e Filemone is a rather soppy story of the power of love, whilst the well-known story of Orfeo tells a similar, but rather darker tale of love and relationships. Continue reading

Lasso: Lagrime di San Pietro

Lasso: Lagrime di San Pietro
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, Peter Sellars 

Orlande de Lassus (or Orlando de Lasso, as he was referred to in the Barbican programme notes) ranks alongside Palestrina and Victoria as amongst the finest composers of the Renaissance. Born in the Hapsburg Netherlands around 1530, he travelled around many European centres of music before settling, aged about 26, in Munich in the court of the Duke of Bavaria where he stayed for the rest of his life, dying in 1594. He probably taught both the Gabrieli’s and attracted attention from many influential figures. He was ennobled by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximillian II, and knighted by the Pope. His Lagrime di San Pietro (The Tears of St Peter) was composed in 1594, just weeks before his death. It is the culmination of his compositional career. It sets 20 of Luigi Tansillo’s poems reflecting on the remorse felt by Peter after his denial of Christ, and his memory of Christ’s response. The 20 poems are set in the form of madrigali spirituali, with a concluding Latin motet Vide homo, quae pro te patior. Number symbolism is strong. The 21 verses are composed for 7 voices, form 3 times 7 pieces, and move through 7 of the 8 church modes in order, omitting the 8th tone, but using the rare tonus peregrinus for the final motet.  Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music

London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, Grosvenor Chapel. 10-18 May 2019

The 2019 London Festival of Baroque Music is the 36th in a festival series that for most of its life was under the banner of the Lufthansa Festival. It is now managed by Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, its principal venue. This year’s theme was ‘Crossing the Border’, exploring themes of travel and discovery. The festival website notes that “Throughout history musicians and musical ideas have crossed borders freely and frequently. Although national styles and identities have always developed and often have been celebrated in music, the musicians who have created and performed this music have honed their skills and talents by exploring influences and characteristics from a wide range of influences”. In these complex UK times, it was a timely reminder of the importance of travel for music and musicians. The Baroque era was a particularly important one for international cultural influences, not least in the UK where many continental musicians moved to England, and the aristocratic Grand Tour, one result of which was the foundation of the art collections of many 18th-century country houses.  Continue reading

LHF. Handel: Athalia

London Handel Festival
Handel: Athalia
(HWV52)
London Handel Orchestra & Singers, Laurence Cummings.
St John’s, Smith Square, 29 April 2019

In what must have been an extraordinary week of music in Oxford, in July 1733 Handel was invited by Oxford University to provide musical entertainment (for his own profit) during the so-called, and rarely enacted, ‘Publick Act’, a higher degree ceremony and general benefactor’s shindig. Over an eight-day period, Handel presented Esther, the Utrecht Te Deum, and Deborah in the Sheldonian Theatre, and Acis and Galatea in Christ Church College. Alongside those performances was the premiere of the oratorio Athalia, given in the late afternoon of 10 July after the Vice-Chancellor’s speech, and repeated the following morning at 9.30 before the presentation of honorary degrees. This performance was the closing event of the 2019 London Handel Festival, and was conducted by their Artistic Director, Laurence Cummings with their house band and choir, the London Handel Orchestra & Singers. Continue reading

Baroquestock. Rameau: Dardanus

Baroquestock Festival
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Dardanus
OperaVera, IstanteCollective, Jonathan Williams
Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead. 3 May 2019

Under the banner of “Early music and home-made food” the now annual Baroquestock festival in Hampstead’s Heath Street Baptist Church set off on a week of music and food with a delightfully ambitious concert-performance of Rameau’s opera Dardanus. This is part of conductor Jonathan Williams’ Rameau Project and follows a fully staged 2017 performance that he conducted for English Touring Opera. This was a wonderful opportunity to hear French Baroque opera, an unfortunate rarity in Handel-dominated UK opera circles. On this occasion, we had the privilege of being able to concentrate on the music itself, without the distraction of staging, scenery, costume, or directorial interference. The intimacy of the Heath Street church, combined with an impressive acoustic to make for a very different, and very welcome, alternative to the full-blown opera house experience. Further Baroquestock events this week (under the overall title of ‘Fine Lines’) include Mozart & Haydn with Royal Tiramisu, BeerBachFocaccia, a Jacket Potato Ceilidh, a Zelenka marathon, and folk music.

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

LHF: Handel Venceslao

London Handel Festival
Handel: Venceslao
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
St George’s, Hanover Square, 26 April 2019

As the London Handel Festival (LHF) draws towards its closing events, they presented the last, and one of the more interesting of Handel’s three pasticcio operas (the other two being Elpidia and Ormisda in 1724/5. These were made up of music pinched from other composers and loosely gathered together into a single opera. Venceslao was first performed in 1731 and contained music ‘borrowed’ from Giacomelli, Hasse, Lotti, Orlandini, Porpora, Porta, and Vinci. The Venceslao of the title is Wenceslas, but not the one that looked out on the Feast of Stephen. This one was Bohemian King Wenzel (1271-1305) who became King of Poland as Wenceslas II. He also appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, but in very unflattering form. He was a descendant of St Wenceslaus I, the 10th-century Duke of Bohemia who inspired the Christmas carol – he posthumously upgraded to King.

Toruń_-_Wacław_Czeski.jpg

Continue reading

The journey to the cross: Music for Maundy Thursday

The journey to the cross: Music for Maundy Thursday
The BBC Singers, Sir James MacMillan
St John’s, Smith Sq. 18 April 2019 

MacMillan: Strathclyde Motets; Choral Sequence from the St John Passion
Gesualdo: Responsories for Maundy Thursday

The BBC Singers invited the celebrated Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan to devise and conduct a programme of choral music for Maundy Thursday in celebration of his 60th birthday. MacMillan chose to contrast selections from his Strathclyde Motets with movements from Gesualdo’s Responsories for Maundy Thursday. It concluded with MacMillan’s dramatic Choral Sequence from the St John Passion. The Strathclyde Motets started as an initial commission for one motet for the Strathclyde University Chamber Choir. Between 2005 and 2010 it was expanded into the current 28 communion motets on Latin texts, intended for amateur choirs, but far from straightforward in the vocal techniques needed.

Image result for sir james macmillan Continue reading

Sansara: Northern Rites

Northern Rites
Sansara, Tom Herring
St John’s, Smith Sq. 18 April 2019

As an early evening prelude to the main event of music by Sir James MacMillan, the young vocal group Sansara gave a short concert of music by MacMillan and contemporary Scandinavian composers, including arrangements of Scandinavian songs, many with roots in ancient Celtic traditions that influenced MacMillan’s compositions. The very effectively segued sequence of pieces opened with Bengt Ollén’s evocative arrangement of Trillo, a song calling seafarers home. The sounds of the waves were vocalised by the female singers on the stage, while the male singers recreated the sound of foghorns from the sides of the hall. Several of the later pieces had an aural texture of chord clusters, drones and high soprano voices, including MacMillan’s setting of Robert Burns’ The Gallant Weaver. His Child’s Prayer was dedicated to the 16 children who died in the 1996 Dunblane Massacre, here represented by 16 repetitions of the word ‘Welcome’; the texture peaking at the word ‘Joy’. The use of a text that welcomed Jesus “with joy and love in my heart / on this glad Communion day” was a curious choice to recognise the murder of 16 schoolchildren. Continue reading

Bach: St John & Matthew Passions

JS Bach: St John Passion
 The Choir of Westminster Abbey, St James’ Baroque, James O’Donnell
Westminster Abbey. 16 April 2019

JS Bach: St Matthew Passion
Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore
St John’s, Smith Square. 17 April 2019

Hearing Bach’s two best-known Passions on successive evenings in two nearby venues, and with contrasting performers, gave me a chance to compare aspects of the two Passions and performing styles. One was given by a choir with a 600-year history, the other by a choir approaching its 50th anniversary.  Both used period instrument orchestras. They were given in very different conditions to the performances of Bach’s day, and to very different groups of people – Bach to an involved congregation with a reasonable unified belief system, us as a passive audience with a variety of beliefs. However much a present-day believer might know the story that Bach sets to music, few will understand the context of early 18th-century Lutheran theological thought in Saxony. Non-believers or doubters will find the text at best puzzling, and at worse an illogical fabrication based on generations of earlier and equally illogical myth-makers. Continue reading

LHF: Costly Canaries

London Handel Festival
“Costly Canaries”
London Early Opera, Brigit Cunningham
St George’s, Hanover Square, 11 April 2019

London Early Opera’s programme explored the ‘Costly Canaries’ gathered by Handel from around Europe during the early years of the Royal Academy of Music, the aristocratic corporation founded 300 years ago, in 1719. Handel was ‘Master of the Orchestra’ with responsibility for composing his own works to Italian libretti, adopting mostly Italian operas for performance in London, and engaging singers and players, usually from Italy. Enormous fees were paid to many of these singers, leading to Mainwaring description of them as ‘costly canaries’. The three singers that Handel procured highlighted in this concert were Margherita Durastanti, Anastasia Robinson (an Italian born and trained, but English singer) and, later, Anna Maria Strada del Pò. They joined others such as Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, the two singers whose fabricated rivalry was whipped up by Academy audiences. These imported stars were paid extraordinary amounts of money, leading to the ultimate collapse of the Academy in 1729. 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

LHF: Handel Singing Competition 2019

Handel Singing Competition 2019
London Handel Festival
Semi-Final: Grosvenor Chapel, 5 March 2019
Final: St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 April 2019

The Handel Singing Competition has been a key part of the London Handel Festival since 2002. The finalists form a key part of future festivals, with invitations to return over the years ahead. The current festival includes such 20 past finalists, including specific solo recitals for the two main prize-winners (see here and here). Many successful careers have gained from the exposure that the competition offers although, for any potential applicants,  it is worth noting that some of the most famous of those were not first prize winners. Indeed, an unsuccessful finalist in the very first 2002 competition is currently top-of-the-bill at English National Opera (Lucy Crowe), and an unsuccessful finalist from last year is one of the stars of the current Royal Opera House/LHF Berenice (Jacquelyn Stucker). Of the LHF’s own list of seven of those who have gone on to “internationally recognised soloists”, only one was a first prize winner. And, over the years, I have also spotted several excellent singers in the semi-finals that don’t even make it into the finals. For that reason, I usually try to review the semi-final, but this year I went to both. Continue reading

LHF: Lauren Lodge-Campbell

London Handel Festival
Lauren Lodge-Campbell
St George’s, Hanover Square, 4 April 2019

The second of the major prize-winners from last year’s Handel Singing Competition, was Lauren Lodge-Campbellwinner of both the second and audience prizes. I heard in last year’s semi-finals rather than the final, and was very impressed with her, commenting that “She had a compelling stage presence and an impressively powerful voice, helped no doubt by being a rarity amongst singers in actually opening her mouth properly. Intonation, articulation and control of vibrato were all excellent“.  The result of the final was a rare occasion when I agreed with the LHF judges as to the top two places! Lauren Lodge-Campbell is a British/Australian soprano. She studied in Australia and London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She was a member of the 2018 Iford Arts New Generation Artists Programme and, in 2019, will join William Christie’s Le Jardin des Voix, the young artist programme of Les Arts Florissants.

Lauren Lodge-Campbell.jpg

For this lunchtime recital, she included the two pieces from her 2018 semi-final and at least one from the final. She opened with Ho perduto il caro sposo, the opening aria of Rodalinda, a nice link to the theme of the 2019 Festival with its focus on Handel’s Divas as it was originally sung by Francesca Cuzzoni. Lauren Lodge-Campbell caught the mood of the mourning well, revealing the strength of Rodelinda’s character. I liked the way all four performers timed the silences in the opening phrases. One of Handel’s Nine German Arias followed, Die ihr aus dunklen Grüften composed in the style of a trio sonata with its elegant cello line that moves from repeated note harmonic support to melody.

With plaintive notes and am’rous moan (from Samson) followed, with some lovely playing from violinist Sophie Simpson. Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s agile voice and excellent articulation were evident here, as were as some well-executed ornaments. She has a fast, but slight vibrato which fortunately did not interfere with articulation or pitch, but I hope she manages to avoid it getting any stronger over time, as happens with so many talented young singers of the earlier repertoire. Wind was something of theme for the recital, with the dramatic Combattuta da due venti (Faramondo) being one of the examples. Handel’s Violin Sonata in A (HWV 361), was followed by the autumnal winds of Bach’s Angenehmer Zephryrus (BWV 205).

O though bright sun . . . With darkness deep’ featured the gorgeous little seven-note accompaniment motif that casts some soothing balm on Theodora’s prison cell depression. Bach’s famous Laudamus te from the B minor Mass was beautifully sung, Lauren Lodge-Campbell’s air of youthful innocence reminiscent of some of the soprano arias in the Passions. The final piece was Scoglio d’immota fronte with its depiction of a storm-tossed sea. You can watch part of Lauren’s prize-winning performance of the same piece during last years competition here, Here use of da capo elaborations was impressive, as was her control and articulation of the virtuoso passages.

As well as her singing and excellent contact with the audience, I was also very impressed at the way that Lauren introduced the three instrumentalists, made sure they were acknowledged in applause and gave them a solo spot to themselves in her showcase concert: a courtesy that all singers should consider. Along with Sophie Simpson, violin, were Jacob Garside, cello, and Satoko Doi-Luck, harpsichord, with some excellent playing from all three.

Although last year I agreed with the judges in their choice of the top two prizes, this was yet another occasion when a singer that really impressed me didn’t even get into the final – one of the reasons I usually review the semi-final. That was soprano Charlotte La Thrope who I first heard when she was part of the Iford Arts New Generation Artists Scheme. I had described then her as “a young singer to watch out for” and also praised her acting ability. In her semi-final, she fully engaged with the audience, demonstrated excellent intonation over wide-ranging melodic lines, sang with clearly articulated runs, ornamented the da capos well, and controlled her minimal vibrato well. She is currently one of the Monteverdi Choir Apprentices.

Photo: Bertie Watson 

 

ENO: Magic Flute

Mozart: Magic Flute
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 2 April 2019

Sometimes an opera production just needs to grow on you. This is the case for the most recent ENO production of Magic Flute, directed by Simon McBurney, which has returned for its third run since opening in 2013.  Is was then the first new ENO production of The Magic Flute for around 25 years, and replaced Nicholas Hytner’s much-loved if rather traditional take. My review of the opening of McBurney’s version commented that: “In contrast to the previous production, this Magic Flute is dark, mysterious and more than a little weird. A flood of ideas drenched the stage, aided by a commentator sitting in a box in the corner, chalking up comments onto a large video screen. But there seems, at least to me, on first sight, little coherence to link it all together. Masonic references are played down, but the element of a cult is still stressed through colour-coded camps in conflict . . . It may well be that, in 25 years time, I will miss this production.  But, in the meantime, it will certainly take me some time to get used to it”. Continue reading

Handel: Berenice

Handel: Berenice
Royal Opera House / London Handel Festival
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 1 April 2019

Handel’s Berenice was first performed in May 1737 in the Covent Garden Theatre, now the home of the Royal Opera House.  It was a tricky time for Handel and the London opera scene, with two opera houses competing for a limited audience. Handel promoted a large-scale 1736/7 season, but none of his new operas (Armino, Giustino, and Berenice) was successful. Handel also suffered a serious decline in his health, not least suffering a stroke in April 1737 that paralysed his right hand. It seems that Berenice only had three performances, probably rehearsed and directed by John Christopher Smith Jnr.  It returns to the present day Covent Garden (or, at least, the bowels of the present day Covent Garden) for the first time since its premiere, in the newly restored basement Linbury Theatre, in a Royal Opera House production in conjunction with the London Handel Festival. Continue reading

LHF: Helen Charlston

London Handel Festival
Helen Charlston, Baroque Ensemble LUX
St George’s, Hanover Square, 1 April 2019

This year’s London Handel Festival has the theme of  ‘Handel’s Divas’, and explores the female singers associated with Handel. One of the key events of the annual festival is the Handel Singing Competition, with the winners and finalists of each year’s competition playing a key part in following festival events. Last year’s winner was mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston with Lauren Lodge-Campbell winning the second and audience prizes. I heard both in last year’s semi-finals rather than the final, and was very impressed with both: it was a rare occasion when I agree with the LHF judges! Both give solo lunchtime recitals this week, starting with Helen Charlston. Her programme featured the (exclusively male) heroes and villains found in Handel’s operas and solo cantatas, giving Helen Charlston ample opportunity to display a wealth of different personalities and moods.  Continue reading

ROSL Annual Music Competition

ROSL (Royal Over-Seas League) Annual Music Competition
Mixed Ensembles Section Final
Princess Alexandra Hall, Over-Seas House, London. 19 March 2019

The Royal Over-Seas League (ROSL) has, since 1952, run an annual music competition through their ROSL ARTS, open to young Commonwealth classical musicians under the age of 30. A series of section finals for solo performers leads to a Gold Medal Final which, this year, will be held in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 30 May. Past winners of the section finals and the Gold Medal have gone on to become well-known names. Alongside the section finals for solo performers (in wind & brass, voice, strings, and keyboard), are two ensemble finals, for strings and mixed ensembles. More than £75,000 is offered in awards, with a £15,000 first prize for solo performers and two chamber ensemble awards of £10,000. Winners of the solo sections receive £5,000 each. Details of the 2019 competition can be found here. Continue reading

LPO Isle of Noises: Handel & Purcell

Isle of Noises
London Philharmonic Orchestra
The Schütz Choir, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall, 30 January 2019

Handel: Suites from The Water Music 
Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

The London Philharmonic Orchestra opened their year-long series Isle of Noises (a celebration of British music) with a concert that, by all the normal conventions of concert programming over the past 50 years or so, shouldn’t have happened. Since the early music period-instrument revolution, and as the pioneering work of the early period specialists took root, most traditional orchestras took fright and stopped performing any music from Mozart or before. Gone were the days of a Mozart concerto opening a concert that would finish with Mahler. In recent years, some of those same early music specialists have enthused modern instrument players and orchestras, by far the most prominent being Sir Roger Norrington, perhaps most notably for his work with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. Continue reading

Requiem masses for murdered royalty

Requiem masses for murdered royalty
Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet
Barbican. 25 January 2019

Plantade Requiem in D minor, in memory of Marie-Antoinette
Berlioz Tristia
Cherubini Requiem in C minor, in memory of Louis XVI

 

Le Concert Spirituel and their founder-director Hervé Niquet brought the programme of their 2017 recording of the Plantade and Cherubini Requiems to The Barbican, together with Berlioz’s rarely performed Tristia, a sequence of three ‘sad pieces’ published in 1852 from three short pieces composed in 1831, 1842, and 1844. An unusual, but interesting programme with music that, perhaps because of the nature of the pieces, was compelling, but never really reached the heights of musical perfection. Cherubini’s Requiem was the first to be performed, in 1817, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy and in memory of Louis XVI. It was followed in 1823 by Plantade’s Messe des morts on the 30th anniversary of the death of Marie-Antoinette. Plantade knew Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, and there are elements of the earlier musical style of their court in his Requiem together with the style of the music of the Revolution. As with the Cherubini, there are no solo voices. Both works are intended for liturgical performance. Continue reading

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Mary Bevan, Christian Curnyn
Kings Place, 10 January 2018

Barbara Strozzi: L’amante modesto, Pace arrabbiata, Lagrime Mie, Canto di bella bocca,
E pazzo il mio core, Le tre Gratie a Venere, 
Silenzio nocivo
Claudio Monteverdi: Volgendo il ciel, Il ballo delle ingrate

For several years now, Kings Place has selected a specific theme for each year under the banner of ‘Unwrapped’. Past examples have included Time Unwrapped, Cello Unwrapped, Baroque Unwrapped, and Minimalism Unwrapped. Their offering for 2019 is the enticing named Venus Unwrapped. The year-long series of around 60 concerts aims to “unlock the secret history of music by women”. It opened with a focus on Barbara Strozzi, one of the best known of the very few female composers of the Baroque era – or, indeed, of any era if musical history is to be believed. The painting below (The Viola da Gamba Player) is believed to be off Barbara Strozzi.

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The distinguished conductor Christian Curnyn directed a group of singers and instrumentalists from the Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, with Mary Bevan as the main billed soloist, although several other singers had prominent roles.

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Lacrime Amare: Bianca Maria Meda motets

Lacrime Amare
Bianca Maria Meda motets (1691)
Cappella Artemisia, Candace Smith
Brilliant Classics 95736. 79’04

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Jesu mi clementissime, Vibrate, Anime belle, O quante contra me, In foco ardentissime,
O lacrime amare, Volo vivere, No non tentate, Spirate vos zeffiri

This is potentially an important recording from Cappella Artemisia, an all-female choir and orchestra, founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy. Little is known of Bianca Maria Meda. She was born around 1665 and died around 1700 and was a Benedictine nun in San Martino del Leano Pavia. Her only published work is the Mottetti a 1, 2, 3, e 4 voci, con violini (Bologna, 1691). Judging by the quality of the nine examples on this recording, she was a very accomplished composer. Cappella Artemisia is an all-female choir and orchestra who specialise in music composed in, and for, 16/17th-century Italian convents. It founded in 1991 by Candace Smith, a Californian long resident in Italy.  Continue reading

Baroque at the Edge

Baroque at the Edge
Saint James, Clerkenwell, St Luke’s Old Street
Saturday 6 January 2019

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With a headline of “Imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Purcell a folk-fiddler, or Monteverdi a minimalist…”, the second annual Baroque at the Edge festival made a fitting opening to the 2019 London musical calendar. Founded in 2018 by Lindsay Kemp and Lucy Bending, the team behind the London Festival of Baroque Music and the earlier Lufthansa Festival, the festival invites musicians with a classical, jazz, or folk background to “take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them” with the promise of “No rules, no programme notes, no lectures: all you need to know is how to listen”. The festival was spread over a three day weekend, with most of the events taking place on Saturday, 6 January, after a Friday night piano recital and before a Sunday family folksinging workshop and linked lunchtime concert. Continue reading

Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Stephen Layton

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2018

Whatever joys the St John’s Smith Square Christmas Festival comes up with year after year (this is the 33rd), the climax comes with the final two (always sold-out) concerts conducted by the festival director, Stephen Layton, firstly with his own Trinity College Cambridge choir, and then with his professional choir, Polyphony. In recent years both concerts have been accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE). The first of the two concerts is usually Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3 & 6), sung by the student choir of Trinity College, the second, Messiah, sung by Polyphony.

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Les Surprises: Baroque Christmas around the World

Baroque Christmas around the World
Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 December 2018

I have reviewed the French group Les Surprises several times on CD, and in concerts during festivals in France, but this was their first visit to the UK. Their well-chosen sequence of music was from the Baroque era from France and Quebec, Spain and Ibero-America, China and Italy. Five instrumentalists supported soprano Eugénie Lefebvre, her clear and focused voice excelling in a wide range of musical styles. I particularly liked her distinctive diction, with consonants that many English singers would envy.

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Gesualdo Six: There is no rose

There is no rose
The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 December 2018

Although only formed four years ago, The Gesualdo Six have gained an impressive following, not least at St John’s, Smith Square where they were one of the four members of the second Young Artists Scheme in 2015/16. They used that residency to launch their Composition Competition at SJSS, with the second following in 2019. For their concert in this year’s SJSS Christmas Festival, they gave a mixed programme of Christmas music ranging from plainchant and the early 15th century Trinity Carol Roll and music by Taverner and Tallis, through to living composers, including their own director Owain Park. Continue reading