Glyndebourne: Cavalli Hipermestra

Francesco Cavalli: Hipermestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 21 May 2017

For somebody who believes an oracle that he will be murdered by one of his nephews, it was particularly unfortunate that Danao, King of Argos, had 50 of them, Hip 1.jpgthe sons of his brother Egitto, King of Egypt. As it happened, Danao had 50 daughters, so married them all off to his nephews with the instruction that they must all murder their husbands on their wedding night. With one exception, Danao’s plan worked, the exception being his daughter Hipermestra and her new husband Linceo, who had fallen for each other. The subsequent plot of Cavalli’s 1658 opera is based on the complex series of events that occurred after the 50 potential murderous nephews were now reduced to a more manageable one. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music

‘Baroque at the Edge: pushing the boundaries’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey
12-20 May 2017

IMG_20170515_091152885.jpgAfter reforming, renaming, and regrowing itself from the long-running Lufthansa Festival, the London Festival of Baroque Music has become, phoenix-like, one of the most important early music festivals in London. Under the banner of ‘Baroque at the Edge: pushing the boundaries‘, this year’s LFBM used the music of Monteverdi and Telemann, from either end of the Baroque (and both with anniversaries this year) to explore ‘some of the chronological, geographical and stylistic peripheries of Baroque Music’. With one exception, all the concerts were held in the Baroque splendour of St John’s, Smith Square. Continue reading

European Union Baroque Orchestra: Farewell

European Union Baroque Orchestra
Maria Keohane, Lars Ulrik Martensen
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square. 19 May 2017

IMG_20170519_163842318.jpgOne of the key events of the London Festival of Baroque Music was final concert of the current incarnation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra, and orchestra I have been reviewing enthusiastically for many years. After extensive annual training auditions attracting around 100 applicants, aided by leading period performers, around 30 instrumentalists are selected each year to tour a series of concerts around Europe. But this concert was also, very sadly, the very last EUBO concert in its present state as a UK-managed organisation. Founded 32 years ago as a UK initiative (during the 1985 European Music Year), and managed ever since from its base near Oxford, the vote by a small percentage of the UK population to drag the UK out of the European Union means that it is no longer viable to run an EU venture from the UK. In its 32 years, EUBO has encouraged and nurtured around 1000 young musicians, giving some of the finest period instrumentalists around an early grounding in performance practice at the start of their careers. For the future, after a hiatus of a year to allow for the transfer, when there will be no auditions or orchestra , EUBO will restart from a new base, and with new management, based in the music centre AMUZ in Antwerp. Continue reading

Poppea

Monteverdi: Poppea
Hampstead Garden Opera, Musica Poetica
Jacksons Lane Theatre, HIghgate. 13 May 2017

Poppea_Poster.jpgThe 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth will include many performances of L’incoronazione di Poppea. It was his last known opera, first performed just months before his death. But I think this one, by the young singers and instrumentalists of Hampstead Garden Opera and Musica Poetica, will prove to be one of the most memorable for me. An impressively simple staging, excellent singing and acting, and an exceptionally well judged realisation of the instrumental accompaniments, combined with the friendly acoustic of the Jacksons Lane Theatre to produce an absorbing and thought-provoking interpretation of Monteverdi’s exploration of love, lust, and power. Continue reading

OAE: The Brandenburgs

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017

It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up. Continue reading

The Courts of Earth and Heaven

Crickhowell Music Festival: The Courts of Earth and Heaven
Crickhowell Choral Society, Stephen Marshall
St Edmund’s, Crickhowell, 30 April 2017

Handel: Eternal source of light divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne)
Delalande: Regina coeli 
Campra: Quam dilecta
Vivaldi: Gloria (RV588 – the ‘other’ Gloria!)

A walking weekend in the Brecon Beacons happened to coincide with the annual Crickhowell Music Festival. I have reviewed the whole Festival in the past but, on this occassion, could only manage one performance, given in St Edmund’s Church, Crickhowell by the Crickhowell Choral Society and a ‘festival’ orchestra, together with a very impressive group of soloists. One of the things that most impressed me on my earlier visit was the ability of their director Stephen Marshall to attract outstanding and international renown singers such as, on this occasion, Grace Davidson, Nicholas Mulroy, and Catherine King.

The ambitious programme featured music from England, France, and Italy. It opened with Handel’s 1713 Birthday Ode – a homage to Queen Anne, and indeed, to Purcell, whose style he so perfectly absorbed. The opening arioso ‘Eternal lource of light divine’ is one of the most beautful musical creations of all time, with Handel’s understanding of Purcell’s style made obvious. It makes for a very exposed start to a concert, and one which tenor Nicholas Mulroy coped with magnificently. His high lyrical tenor voice hasn’t quite the timbre of a countertenor that Handel intended, but was nonetheless quite exquisite, in this, and in later movements. Grace Davidson’s soprano aria ‘Let all the wingéd race’ was similarly impressive. Both of these key singers demonstrated their excellent ability at singing Baroque ornaments properly, rather than using the often heard reliance on vibrato alone. Continue reading

Ex Cathedra: In a Strange Land

In a Strange Land
Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore
Cadogan Hall, 26 April 2017

The latest in the Choral at Cadogan series of concerts featured the Birmingham based choir, Ex Cathedra, with their founder and director, Jeffrey Skidmore. Since they started in 1969, they have built an enviable reputation for their performing and educational work, and the encouragement they give to younger singers. On this occasion, they fielded 10 singers for music reflecting issues of captivity, religious conflict, freedom and a yearning for homeland, based on the verse from Psalm 137, How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?, . Their wide-ranging programme, including some of Ex Cathedra’s greatest hits, explored the search for heaven and earth in the Old and the New World during the 16th and 17th centuries with music from England, France, Holland, and Spain, together with the world of the Aztecs and Incas in present day Mexico and Bolivia. Continue reading

Musica Poetica: Tunder World

Tunder World: The Baroque Keyboard
Musica Poetica: Simon Lloyd & Oliver John Ruthven, organs
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, 27 April 2017

Amongst their other musical activities, the enterprising young group, Musica Poetica, are currently running a year-long monthly series of lunchtime concerts based on the music and times of Franz Tunder (1614-1667) the anniversary of whose death is this year, just three years after the anniversary of his birth. For this concert, they focussed on the keyboard music of Tunder, together with his possible teacher, Frescobaldi, his contemporary Froberger (who also died in 1667) and his successor as organist of the Lübeck Marienkirche, as his son-in-law, Dieterich Buxtehude.  Continue reading

Leuven: ‘Voices of Passion’

Alamire Foundation
Passie van de Stemmen (Voices of Passion)
Huelgas Ensemble & Park Collegium
Park Abbey, Leuven. 22/23 April 2017

Musically, Leuven, the historic city about 15 miles east of Brussels (and the capital of the Flemish Brabant province), has been rather overlooked by their fellow Belgian cities of Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels. But as the medieval seat of the Dukes of Brabant, it was central to the geographical area that saw one of the most important developments in Renaissance choral music, variably referred to as Burgundian, Brabant, Franco-Flemish. Nowadays this approximates to the Low Country regions of northern France, Belgium, and the south Netherlands. It is therefore entireWP_20170422_18_09_47_Pro (2).jpgly appropriate that since 1991 it has been the home of the Alamire Foundation, the International Center for the Study of Music in the Low Countries, founded in conjunction with the Catholic University of Leuven and Musica, Impulscentrum voor muziek, Neerpelt. It is resident in the Huis van de Polyfonie (House of Polyphony, pictured), one of the gatehouses to Leuven’s historic Park Abbey. Continue reading

SJSS: Holy Week Festival

Siglo de Oro & New London Singers
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 15 April 2017

WP_20170415_12_49_34_Pro (2).jpgThe St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival (also reviewed here and here) concluded with a vocal workshop and lunchtime concert with Siglo de Oro and an evening concert from the New London Singers. The morning workshop was led by Patrick Allies, director of Siglo de Oro, and focussed on Bach’s motet Jesu meine freude, giving useful insights into the structure, text and musical contents of this most complex piece. Siglo de Oro’s lunchtime concert sandwiched this piece between two shorter meditative pieces by Purcell Hear my Prayer, and Remember not, Lord, our offences, concluding with Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater a 10.  Continue reading

Tallis: Songs of Reformation

Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation
Alamire, David Skinner
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

WP_20170415_18_59_25_Pro.jpgAfter the Holy Week Festival showcase Good Friday afternoon St John Passion came a concert focussed on one of England’s finest composers, Thomas Tallis. Living though the reigns of five monarchs (from Henry VII to Elizabeth), and composing in the latter four of them, Tallis managed to negotiate the complex religious twists and turns of Tudor life. The highlights of the evening came at the end, with the first modern performance of David Skinner’s reconstruction of a piece composed by Tallis  (an early version of the famous Gaude gloriosa Dei mater), but with new words (See, Lord, and behold) added by Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s eighth and final Queen. Continue reading

Bach & Fauré

Bach & Fauré
Tenebrae & Aurora Orchestra
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

For many years now there has been a music festival at St John’s, Smith Square during the run-up to Easter, and similarly at Christmas. The Easter version has been re-branded as the ‘Holy Week Festival’ and is curated by St John’s itself and the choir TenebraeWP_20170415_12_08_45_Pro (2).jpg. It still includes the annual favourite Good Friday afternoon Bach Passion from Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, but has also introduced some other new faces to the Eastertide Smith Square festivities. I was away for several of the events, but did manage to catch three contrasting events, starting with a curious concert by Tenebrae themselves, together with the Aurora Orchestra, both of whom seem to have caught the public imagination in recent years, not least by some impressive publicity. Continue reading

Clare Reformation 500 Project

The Clare Reformation 500 Project
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Clare Baroque, Graham Ross
St John’s, Smith Square. 30 March 2017

Bach Gott der Herr ist Sonn und SchildEin feste Burg ist unser Gott
Brahms Warum ist das Licht gegeben den Mühseligen?
Mendelssohn Wer nur den lieben Gott laßt walten
Vaughan Williams Lord, thou hast been our refuge

As part of their Clare Reformation 500 Project, the choir and associated period instrument orchestra of Clare College, Cambridge, gave a concert of music inspired by the musical legacy of Martin Luther’s 1517 Reformation. It was the culmination of the Lent Term series of Sunday services in the College chapel, each featuring a liturgical performance of a Bach cantata, using a variety of instrumental groups to accompany them. On this occasion they used Clare Baroque which, despite its name, was not a student orchestra but was made up of many of the ‘usual suspects’ from London’s early music performers, led by the ex-Clare violinist (and Director of Performance in the University Faculty of Music) Margaret Faultless. Continue reading

Handel in Italy

Handel in Italy
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh, Gillian Webster
St John’s, Smith Square. 28 March 2017

Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Op. 6 No. 4; Handel: Donna che in ciel HWV233; Dixit Dominus HWV232

Although, in true British fashion, George Frederic Handel is usually claimed as the quintessential English composer, some of his most exciting music was composed during the four years he spent in Italy (1706-10). Early training seemed to set Handel on course to be an organist and church musician, to the extent that he travelled to Lübeck in 1703 with a view to succeeding the great Buxtehude at the Marienkirche. But three years in Hamburg’s opera world (1703-6) changed that ambition, and resulted in an invitation by a Medici to come to Italy. He was already well-versed in the Italian music through his early training with Zachow in Halle, but his ability to immediately absorb national styles quickly became apparent, as it later did on his arrival in London in 1710. Continue reading

ENO: Partenope

Handel Partenope
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 22 March 2017

Partenope is an entertaining, if over-long, venture into cross-dressing, disguise, sexual and political intrigue and, at least in the original 1730 production, some impressive special effects, including a battle that employed a stage army. The story is a slight, but attractive one, with scope for drama, betrayal, intrigue, humour and sexual goings on.

Partenope is the Queen and mythological founder of Naples, who legend believes was also one of the Sirens who attempted to lure Odysseus onto the rocks. She has three admirers: Arsace, Armindo and Emilio. As the opera opens, her favourite, Arsace, is surprised to see his former lover (Rosmira) turn up disguised as a man (Eurimene). As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a women and only recognisable to Arsace, she proceeds to mock and goad Arsace to the extent that the Queen demands that they fight a duel. Arsace, wanting to reveal Eurimene’s true identity, demands that they should both fight topless. Unfortunately for the dirty old men in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira.

This was the first revival of Christopher Alden’s 2008 production. It is set in 1920s Paris around the complex interconnected lives of surrealist artists and the exotically (and erotically) wealthy. Continue reading

Haydn: Harmoniemesse

Haydn: Harmoniemesse, etc.
London Youth Choir & Chamber Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh, 
Robbie Jacobs
St Andrew Holborn, 9 March 2017

Ian Grandage: Dawn, Sunset; Ola Gjeilo: Northern Lights; Rheinberger: Morgenlied and Abendlied; Rachmaninov: Bogoroditse Dyevo.
Haydn: Harmoniemesse

On a day when the BBC reported on research into the sad state of music education in English secondary schools, it was good to be reminded of the many musical activities that are available to young people. Two examples were on show at this event: Gabrieli Roar and the London Youth Choir.

Gabrieli Roar was founded in 2010, and is a partnership between the Gabrieli Consort and a range of British youth choirs, enabling the latter to perform alongside professional musicians and providing support and encouragement, particularly in areas of low cultural provision. The London Youth Choir (LYC) was established in 2012. It runs five choirs for children aged from 3 to 21 years living or educated in Greater London. The choirs are auditioned, and choir members pay £55 a term subscription. It has been a part of Gabrieli Roar since 2015. Continue reading

Müpa Budapest: Early Music Festival

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Müpa Budapest
Early Music Festival
27 February – 4 March 2017


 

Müpa Budapest is the sensibly shortened title of Művészetek Palotája, the national cultural centre situated on the Danube just south of the centre of the Pest side of Budapest. The building opened in 2005 (as the Palace of the Arts), and was designed by the young Hungarian architects Zoboki, Demeter and Partners. It includes the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall (Bartók Béla Nemzeti Hangversenyterem), the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház), also suitable for smaller scale concerts, several other performing spaces and an outpost of the Ludwig WP_20170227_18_18_52_Pro.jpgMuseum, best known for its Vienna contemporary art gallery. The centre hosts an enormous range of activities throughout the year and, for the past three years, has been running a short early music festival, this year consisting of six events. I was invited to review five of them, between 27 February to 4 March, featuring performers based in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Budapest.


Hasse: Piramo e Tisbe
Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
Müpa: Festival Theatre , 27 February 2017

The first event tWP_20170227_19_36_18_Pro (2).jpgook place in the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház). Designed for speech and drama, it also proved very effective as a small scale music performance space, seating around 460. A substantial acoustic screen (pictured) is used to reduce the size of the large theatrical stage, focussing the sound of musicians and helping to project the sound to the audience. The acoustics are clear, with sufficient reverberation to create an effective music listening environment. Continue reading

Thierry Pécou: Outre-mémoire

Thierry Pécou: Outre-mémoire
Ensemble Variances
St John’s, Smith Square. 22 February 2017

Villa-Lobos: Le Cygne noir
Thierry Pécou (b 1965): Outre-mémoire

There are many ways to listen to music. One is to just let it waft over you, without knowing anything about it. The other end of the spectrum is to study the background to the composition and composer, the social situation in which it was composed, the composers notes about it, the score (if accessible), and anything else you can get hold of. Those attending this performance of Thierry Pécou’s 2004 Outre-mémoire (Beyond memory) who adopted the first approach would have missed a vast amount of information that is (possibly) essential to understanding the 75 minutes long piece.

For those who just watched and listened, what they heard was an extraordinary range of musical textures, using piano, normal and bass flute and clarinet, and cello, together with tiny high-pitched little bells, a gong, fingers waggling in a bowl of water, rustled blue plastic bags, and several sound effects produced from the instruments themselves. Continue reading

The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna

The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna
Boxwood & Brass
St John’s, Smith Square. 20 February 2017

The words Harmonie, or Harmoniemusik (translatable as ‘windband music’), are little known in the UK, although they are important aspects of the late Classical and early Romantic musical eras in continental Europe. With arguable roots in earlier military bands, the formation of wind instrument consorts started to grow into prominence from about 1750, and reached its zenith in the 1780s in Vienna. It became the preserve of aristocratic households, and its decline around 1830 was a symptom of the decline in aristocratic resources in post-Napoleonic Europe. Emperor Joseph II formalised the line-up of his own court Harmonie to pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns together with a 16′, usually string, bass. This was the nine-strong line-up of Boxwood & Brass for this concert, although they also perform in the various other Harmonie formats.

It is the ambition of Boxwood & Brass to bring the extensive Harmonie repertoire to a wider UK audience. To that end, they combine their performing and musical skills with an impressive academic and musicological background. Several are linked to the University of Huddersfield Centre for Performance Research and many already have, or are approaching, doctorates in music. Their recent début CD, Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon (reviewed here) featured original compositions for Harmonie. This St John’s, Smith Square concert included one original composition together with two examples of the important genre of arrangements for Harmonie. Continue reading

AAM: Bach and the Italian Concerto

Bach and the Italian Concerto
Academy of Ancient Music
Milton Court Concert Hall, 15 February 2017

Bach: Concerto for oboe d’amore in D major
Vivaldi: Concerto for violin in G minor
Albinoni: Concerto for oboe in D minor
Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in A minor
Bach: Italian Concerto
A Marcello: Concerto for oboe in D minor

Groups like the Academy of Ancient Music often perform with soloists drawn from their own ranks, with understandably excellent results. This was one such occasion, when four of the AAM’s regular orchestral players stepped into the soloist limelight. The focus was on the influence of Italian music on Bach, with a sub-plot of the Italian music that Bach transcribed for harpsichord organ. Indeed Alistair Ross, the AAM’s principal keyboard continuo player, suggested during the pre-concert talk that he could perform the entire concert programme on his own on organ and harpsichord.

The instrumental focus of the concert was on the oboe and oboe d’amore, played by Frank de Bruine. He opened with the latter instrument in Bach’s Concerto for oboe d’amore in D, the husky tone of the oboe d’amore (pitched lower than the normal baroque oboe) revealing exactly why it was one of Bach’s favourite instruments. Continue reading

Palisander: Beware the Spider!

CONCERT: Antidotum Arachne
Palisander
St John’s, Smith Square. 16 February 2017

CD: Palisander Beware the Spider!
PALG-33. 37’51

The St John’s, Smith Square Young Artists scheme gives emerging soloists and ensembles a platform to showcase their talents through three SJSS concerts, a chance to commission new music, and opportunities to develop skills in marketing, education and outreach. The latest batch of six  (for the year 2016/17) includes the recorder quartet Palisander. They already seem pretty adept at marketing, and took the opportunity of the first of their three concerts (given under the title Antidotum Arachne) to launch their debut CD, Beware the Spider!.

The concert and (rather short) CD explore the world of the Tarantella, a curious aspect of folk medicine in 16th and 17th century Italy where victims of venomous spider bites were not offered any medicinal cure or relief but were regaled by local musicians (often funded by the municipality) with a variety of musical pieces, some known as Tarantella, intended to cure them of their otherwise fatal symptoms. In a well-chosen and varied programme, Palisander’s CD and concert reflected aspects of the various symptoms along with arrangements of original Tarantellas by Miriam Nerval, who also provided the programme notes for the CD and concert. For a few of the pieces they were joined by Toby Carr, playing theorbo and baroque guitar. Continue reading

LPO: Haydn’s Creation

Haydn: The Creation
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, 
Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall. 4 February 2017

This continuation of the Southbank ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ series of concerts featured Joseph Haydn’s 1798 Creation. As with two of the pieces in the previous London Philharmonic Orchestra concert (reviewed here), it focussed on the beginning of the world, in this case as depicted in the late Bronze Age writings of the Old Testament. Haydn once said that when he thought of God he could write only cheerful music, and this is evident in his often seemingly irreverent take on God’s creation. Sir Roger Norrington has a similar twinkle in his eye, and was an ideal conductor for Haydn’s often (but perhaps not always intentionally) amusing moments.

As well as his pioneering work in the interpretation of music of earlier times, Norrington is also an enthusiastic supporter of audiences. He has a winning way, which he used on this occasion for another of his themes – applause. Continue reading

Bach organ music

‘Pull out all the Stops’
Robert Quinney, organ
Royal Festival Hall, 3 February 2017

Bach:
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 ;
Vater unser im Himmelreich, BWV 682 ;
Four Duets BWV 802-805;
Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV 547
Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 ;
Canonic Variations on Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her, BWV 769;
Prelude and Fugue in G, BWV 541

In years long past, the Royal Festival used to run a weekly ‘Wednesday at 5.55’ organ recital series, attracting performers from around the world and introducing many in the rather closeted world of English organists to music and interpretations from many different countries. Despite the enormous amount of money spent of the refurbishment of the organ (and the hall), that remarkable series has now been reduced to just four organ recitals a year, albeit full evening, rather than post-work, events. The Festival Hall organ was built in 1954 in a deliberately eclectic style, reflecting the historic organs from many different cultures, most notably the German baroque tradition that had hitherto been little understood in the UK. Along with the hall itself, it was designed to be acoustically precise. Recent alterations to both hall and organ and added slightly more of an acoustic bloom to the sound, and allowed some of the previously almost inaudible low notes to be heard.

The organ restoration project was promoted as ‘Pull out all the stops’, something that organists need little encouragement to do. Robert Quinney’s thunderous opening of THE Toccata and Fugue in D minor did just that, albeit just by pressing a button, rather than actually pulling out any stops. Continue reading

Musicall Compass: Lamentations

Lassus Lamentations & folk laments
Musicall Compass & Moira Smiley
St John’s, Smith Sq. 1 February 2017

The Musicall Compass have undertaken some fascinating projects in the past, combining vocal music with, for example, dance in a memorable performance of Buxtehude’s Memba Jesu Nostri in Christ Church Spitalfields. On this occasion they interspersed the nine five-voice Lamentations of Orlando di Lasso with folk laments from Eastern Europe, sung by Moira Smiley. Written to be performed during the three days leading up to Easter, the Lamentations set verses from Jeremiah’s rather morbid reflections on the decline of Jerusalem: ‘How doth the city sit solitary .. she has become a widow’. Three settings are sung on each day, each finishing with the lament Ierusalem, Ierusalem, convertere ad Dominum Deum tuum (Jerusalem, Jerusalem, return unto the Lord thy God). Continue reading

LPO: Rebel, Milhaud, Adams

Belief and beyond Belief: Rebel, Milhaud, Adams
London Philharmonic Orchestra, 
Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall, 28 January 2017

Jean-Féry Rebel: Simphonie nouvelle – Les élémens 
Darius Milhaud: La Création du monde
John Adams: Harmonielehre

During 2017, the Southbank Centre and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are presenting the ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ festival, “exploring what it means to be human” through “the music, art, culture, science, philosophy, ritual and traditions that have risen out of religion in its many guises”.  The link between those aspirations and the music heard in this concert was perhaps a little vague, but nonetheless this was an adventurous bit of programming from the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski, drawing together three completely different musical worlds (French baroque, 1920s jazz-era Paris and 1980s America) involving, in effect, three different orchestras. If there was a theme, it was perhaps the way that three very different composers tried to draw inspiration from apparent chaos. Rebel starts by depicting the chaos of the beginning of the world, as understood by 18th century cosmology; Milhaud combined creation myths with the seemingly chaotic world of 1920s Paris jazz; while Adams moved himself out of a creative block created by the chaotic post-Schoenberg clash between musical minimalism and complexity. Continue reading

EUBO: Heaven’s Sweetness

Heaven’s Sweetness
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) & Singers of Barock Vokal
Alfredo Bernardini, director & oboe
St John’s, Smith Sq. 27 January 2017

Bach 
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D BWV 1069a (original version); 
Cantata: Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen BWV 123; 
Cantata: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt BWV 151;
Cantata: Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut BWV 117.

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage and indoorPart of the 2015 expansion of the European Union Baroque Orchestra’s activities has been the EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy (EMBA), a cooperative project aimed at finding new and creative ways of addressing the unequal provision of baroque music education and performance across the European Union. The touring orchestra (EUBO) still forms the core activity of the EMBA, reforming each year with a new intake of talented young period instrumentalists chosen from educational auditions held each spring. For more than 30 years EUBO has provided specialist training and experience, and has encouraged and supported many of the top period instrument specialists around today. One such is the distinguished oboist and director Alfredo Bernardini, a member of the very first EUBO in 1985 and the director of this EUBO tour.

The current EUBO incarnation represents 14 different EU countries. They have been performing together since last July, and last performed in London in November 2016 (reviewed here) with a programme based on Handel and his London contemporaries. For this concert they focussed on Bach, performing three of the cantatas that he wrote for Leipzig festivals along with one of his most complex Orchestral Suites, here performed in the rarely heard original version, lacking the trumpets and timpani of the later version. Continue reading

The Grand Tour: Naples

The Grand Tour: Naples
La Serenissima, Tabea Debus, Vladimir Waltham, Adrian Chandler
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 January 2017

Music by: A Scarlatti, Durante, Porpora, Sarro, Leo

The penultimate concert in La Serenissima’s current series of ‘Grand Tour’ concerts at St John’s, Smith Square focussed on the music of Naples. A complex history of multiple occupations from the founding Greeks through to the 16th century Spanish (with brief Austrian and French incursions in the early 18th century) made it one of the most cosmopolitan (and the second largest) of all European cities in the later 17th and early 18th centuries. As such, it attracted artists and musicians of extraordinary ability.

Alessandro Scarlatti (pictured) was one of the founders of the Naples opera scene. He first moved there in 1684, aged around 24, as Maestro di Cappella to the Spanish Viceroy, and spent much of his following life there. All the other composers in La Serenissima’s concert were influenced by him. He left little instrumental music alongside his operas, but one such was the Sinfonia di Concerto Grosso II in D (for recorder, trumpet, strings & continuo) that opened this concert. It can be a surprise to those not used to period instruments to realise that the trumpet and recorder can be combined as fellow solo instruments, as Bach demonstrated so well. Scarlatti was less adventurous in his combining of these instruments in this concerto, with the two instruments generally kept apart, and the two melodic Adagio movements only using the recorder. Continue reading

George Benjamin: Written on Skin

George Benjamin: Written on Skin
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. 13 January 2017

Since it premiered in 2012, Written on Skin, George Benjamin’s first full-length opera (to a text by Martin Creed), has been hailed as one of the masterpieces of the contemporary opera world, bringing such accolades as “the work of a genius 0326 WRITTEN ON SKIN PRODUCTION IMAGE c ROH. PHOTO STEPHEN CUMMISKEY.jpgunleashed”. This 90 minute work was composed over two years of concentration and virtual isolation, while Benjamin eschewed all other composition, teaching, and conducting work. It was commissioned by the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, along with the Royal Opera House and opera houses in Amsterdam, Toulouse, and Florence. A request to base the opera on something related to the Occitan area of Provence led to a mediaeval tale about a troubadour employed by a local lord who has a love affair with the lord’s wife. When he finds out, the lord kills the troubadour, cooks his heart and feeds it to his wife. When she finds out what she has eaten, she swears to never eat or drink again to keep her lover’s taste in her mouth. She avoids the lord’s anger and his sword by leaping from a window to her death. Continue reading

Bach Through Time

‘Cello Unwrapped’ – Bach Through Time
Christophe Coin, cello & piccolo cello

Kings Place. 11 January 2017

Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercar No. 3 in D
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Dall’Abaco: Capriccio No. 8 in G; Capriccio No. 6 in E minor (collage)
Bernhard Romberg: Praeludium in C minor
Félix Battanchon: Pièce caractéristique (Enterrement de Carnaval c1850)
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 6 in D, BWV 1012 (performed on cello piccolo)

Following on from last years’ Baroque Unwrapped series of concerts, the latest in the Kings Place ‘Unwrapped’ series is devoted to the cello (see here). Included within that series are threWP_20170111_21_41_56_Pro.jpge concerts under the title of Bach Through Time, the first of which featured Christophe Coin playing solo cello – or, in this case, two solo cellos with three different bows. He opened with one of the very first compositions for solo cello, the third of Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercars, a lively piece in the trumpet key of D major which included many triad fanfare motifs. This Gabrielli (no relation) was part of the rich musical foundation of the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna and also worked for the d’Este family in Moderna. Continue reading

2016

During 2016 this review website received nearly 23,000 hits, from over 110 countries around the world. That makes a total of 36,000 hits since it started 20 months ago. There has been been 360 posts of CDs, concerts and early music festivals, as well as a few of my own recitals. It is a real privilege to hear such amazing music and musicians.