St John’s Smith Square – Welcome Back!

St John’s Smith Square – Welcome Back!
The return of public concerts to a socially distanced audience.

Following a successful pilot concert with a live audience in July, St John’s Smith Square are delighted to be able to welcome audiences back to enjoy live performances this Autumn.  Between now and the end of 2020 a programme of 63 public concerts is planned. There will also be 50 digital events as part of the St John’s DIGITAL EXCHANGE programme, some of which are hybrid versions of concerts featured in the live programme and some of which are bespoke events created specifically for our digital audience. The 35th Christmas Festival, running from 8th to 23rd December, will include 22 public concerts, whilst the inaugural digital ‘Christmas Festival London’ will feature content from these live concerts alongside specially created material and will run from the 8th December through to 5th January 2021. The programme for November and December (including the Christmas Festival) will be announced in full on 5th October, whilst the programme for the month of October, consisting of 21 public concerts and 17 digital events is launched today (Tuesday 15th September).

The October programme includes a wide range of orchestral and chamber music along with solo recitals. The regular lunchtime concert series resumes, the Digital Exchange series (made possible by public funding from The National Lottery through Arts Council England) continues – including a new strand of ‘Song from St John’s’, the Beethoven string quartet cycle concludes with the late quartets, and there is a welcome return for the Occupy the Pianos festival.

The month commences with a lunchtime concert from soprano Siân Dicker accompanied by Krystal Tunnicliffe and organised in conjunction with the Oxford Lieder Festival. In the first of two concerts by pianist Mark Bebbington, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Jan Latham-Koenig, baritone Roderick Williams is the guest in an effervescent programme of French repertoire. The Revolutionary Drawing Room will be concluding their three-year cycle of the Beethoven string quartets, featuring the complete late quartets over two weekends and including a new work by the composer Rachel StottJames Platt (bass) and Michael Pugh (piano) continue the ‘Song from St John’s’ series, which will also feature on exclusive online performance of Messiaen’s ‘Harawi’ by soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and SJSS Young Artist, Joseph Havlat (piano). Following a recording residency in September, The English Concert, directed by Kristian Bezuidenhout give a star-studded programme of Purcell Odes. Historically informed performance continues as a focus in a recital by horn player Anneke Scott with the Consone Quartet.

Having launched the Digital Exchange programme back in July with our pilot concert featuring a live audience, organised in conjunction with the DCMS, The Gesualdo Six (previous SJSS Young Artists) give two performances with the trumpeter Matilda Lloyd including one where audiences are invited to simply ‘pay what they can afford’. The Young Musician’s Symphony Orchestra make a welcome return with a programme of Wagner and Beethoven. The wonderful Klais organ at St John’s is featured in a recital by the sub-organist of Westminster Abbey, Peter Holder whilst St John’s’ status as a still consecrated church is marked with a Sung Eucharist to mark the feast day of the patron saint of Westminster, St Edward the Confessor. Virtuoso pianist Rolf Hind with the incredible vocal talent of Loré Lixenberg, along with digital artist Sasha Balmazi-Owen launch the next instalment in our contemporary festival, Occupy the Pianos, featuring the world premiere of an SJSS commission from composer Elaine Mitchener. A previous SJSS commission is featured in The Minerva Piano Trio’s (SJSS Young Artists 2016/17) performance of David Knott’s arrangement of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe, whilst current SJSS Young Artists, Improviso offer a programme based around the ever popular ‘Folia’. Prior to this concert Improviso will be leading an online workshop, introducing the art of improvisation and inviting musicians to join them online in a digital improvisation based on ‘La Folia’. Another of SJSS’s current young artists, the pianist Joseph Havlat, will give a recital of Czech piano music by Dvořák and his son-in-law, Suk whilst the month comes to a close with two concerts by the Chineke! Chamber Ensemble, presenting music by Vaughan-Williams and Schubert alongside the Four American Spirituals of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Richard Heason, Director of St John’s Smith Square said: “Since we closed our doors at the end of the concert on 16th March we have been focussing our energy and efforts on finding a route back towards live music taking place in St John’s Smith Square once again. We are delighted that we are able now to safely welcome audiences back, albeit in a measured and controlled way, and that we can share the joy of live music. We are immensely grateful to all those who have supported us so generously throughout the period of lockdown including individuals who made donations or gifted the value of tickets they were holding for events no longer able to happen, and Arts Council England who enabled the launch of our Digital Exchange programme with a grant from the Emergency Response Fund (crucial support, both financially and as a boost to our confidence at a very dark time). We also thank all the artists who have collaborated with such open generosity over recent weeks and months and who have committed themselves so fully to these re-opening plans. We look forward, now, to welcoming back our audiences, for whom we exist, whilst continuing to support those unable to join us yet through our Digital Exchange programme.”

The health and safety of our audience, artists and staff is of paramount importance and we have worked extensively to ensure St John’s Smith Square is a ‘Covid Secure’ venue for all those attending events. In line with the latest Government guidance, we have carried out a thorough risk assessment and made changes to the way we operate.  Our aim is to minimise exposure to risk as far as possible so that everyone can focus on enjoying the music. 

Our new safety measures include:

  • Reduced audience numbers and socially-distanced seating (our maximum capacity is less than 20% of our pre-pandemic capacity)
  • Increased and enhanced cleaning between and during events, including regular anti-viral and anti-bacterial fogging
  • A one-way system and queue management
  • All concerts are without an interval
  • Mandatory temperature checks on entry to the building
  • Automated non-contact hand sanitiser stations
  • Asking all visitors to wear face-coverings (unless exempt)
  • Providing PPE to our staff
  • Audience entry and exit via portico doors (with lift access as usual for patrons with limited mobility)
  • Regular ventilation of the hall
  • Digital or ‘print at home’ ticketing
  • Entry for pre-booked tickets only

St John’s Smith Square will continue to review the situation and adapt these measures where necessary to respond to any changes in Government guidance. Full information of future concerts, along with FAQs can be found on the St John’s website.

Gesualdo Six – Canon & Invention

Canon & Invention
The Gesualdo Six
‘Arts of Fugue’ series of broadcast concerts
St John’s, Smith Square, 4 August 2020

As UK music performers slowly begin to peep out from beneath the Covid-19 covers, London’s St John’s Smith Square has initiated a short series of ‘Arts of Fugue’ concerts, tracing the development of the Fugue. They will be broadcast at 8pm every Tuesday during August as part of the Digital Exchange Programme. They opened the series with the 2016 St John’s Smith Square Young Artists, the choral group The Gesualdo Six. They were socially-distanced on stage for a concert pre-recorded in front of a much-reduced and socially-distanced audience. Continue reading

Isolation Songbook

‘Isolation Songbook’
Helen Charlston, Michael Craddock, Alexander Soares
City Music Foundation
St Pancras Clock Tower Concerts, 29 July 2020

Image may contain: indoor

Since mid-March, musicians have been denied their chance to play in public and many have also been denied their financial livelihoods. Their response to this has varied, from adapting to the joys of Zoom teaching to producing their own impressively imaginative lockdown videos on social media. If have so far avoided the temptation of reviewing these for a variety of reasons, not least because they are readily available anyway, so comments from me would be largely irrelevant. But we are now seeing the slow emergence of live concerts, albeit nearly always on-line. Continue reading

Handel Singing Competition 2020

London Handel Festival
Handel Singing Competition: Semi-Final
St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 March 2020

UPDATE: It is intended that the final of the competition will be held at some future date.

I would normally wait until the final of the annual Handel Singing Competition before mentioning some of those who I heard in the semi-final but, with the Coronavirus cancellation of the entire London Handel Festival, this turns out to be the only review of the festival that I will be writing. The final would have been this evening, 24 March, so it seems an appropriate time to post this review of the semi-final. The reason I try to attend semi-finals of competitions like this is that I frequently hear people who, in my view, should have got through to the final but, for reasons best known to the judges, don’t make it. The London Handel Festival’s annual Handel Singing Competition is no exception to this situation.

Continue reading

A. Scarlatti: Sedecia – Re di Gerusalemme

A. Scarlatti: Sedecia – Re di Gerusalemme
Alessandro Stradella Consort, Estévan Velardi
Brilliant Classics BRI95537. 2CDs 62’24 + 67’40

This is a reissue of a 1999 studio recording by the  Alessandro Stradella Consort of Alessandro Scarlatti’s 1706 oratorio Sedecia: Re di Gerusalemme. It shares many characters with Verdi’s 1841 opera Nabucco, both based on an Old Testament story of military ambition and corrupted power.

Continue reading

Early Music Day (at home): 7:30pm

Early Music Day
Stay at Home Edition

Happy Birthday, J S Bach!

Click the links below to take you to publically available videos of the pieces that we would have performed during the informal 45′ afternoon Bach organ and solo instrument recitals that would have taken place in London’s St Giles-in-the-Fields on Early Music Day at 4, 5 & 6pm. This is the programme for the final 7:30pm concert, given by

Art of Moog & Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ) 

The poster for the series of events can be found here, as amended after the earlier pull out of Art of Moog because of the Coronavirus. Their 7:30pm evening concert with the historic St Giles-in-the-Fields organ is recreated with video links although sadly, none will have the combined Art of Moog and pipe organ. All the organ pieces below would have been combined with the Art of Moog instrumentalists.

An introduction to the Art of Moog
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUJ8XSBHYnE

Art of Moog: Live at Kings Place – Selections
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_B3Y1tXAhw

Art of Fugue Contrapunctus 1
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5KjVEYzYAw
Benjamin Alard
l’église d’Arques-la-Bataille

Art of Fugue Contrapunctus 2
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0HeE4MF01g&list=PL6cXnOI-FfSgtlLkIE5D1nXf660II0Pdd&index=8&t=0s
Glenn Gould

Adagio from The Easter Oratorio BWV 249
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CklCJk6kNFg
Art of Moog

Prelude in E minor
https://youtu.be/4_5efQbjybk
Art of Moog

Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV 721
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3CNS2iK790
Ton Koopman
1643 Hans Heinrich Bader organ, St. Walburgiskerk, Zutphen

Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPMeBNU9fes
Wolfgang Zerer

Christ lag in Todesbanden
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqwgeKOgezg
Wolfgang Zerer

Adagio from the viola da gamba sonata BWV 1029
https://youtu.be/3eAzorClu78
Art of Moog

Toccata D Moll BWV 565
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xeqQo7bCvE
Jacques van Oortmerssen
1992 Glauco Ghilardi organ: S. Maria Assunta, Smarano

These concerts were to have been given in aid of the
Royal Society of Musicians
.

If you are willing to support this important musical charity, you can donate directly via this link https://www.rsmgb.org/fundraising/.  UK taxpayers can claim GiftAid. Please mention “Early Music Day” in the comments section of your donation.

#earlymusicday

Early Music Day (at home): 6pm

Early Music Day
Stay at Home Edition

Happy Birthday, J S Bach!

Click the links below to take you to publically available videos of the pieces that we would have performed during the informal 45′ afternoon Bach organ and solo instrument recitals that would have taken place in London’s St Giles-in-the-Fields on Early Music Day at 4, 5 & 6pm. This is the programme for the third, 6pm concert, given by

Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ)
playing organ chorales from Bach’s Leipzig manuscript
Poppy Walshaw (cello)

The poster for the series of events can be found here, as amended after the earlier pull out of Art of Moog because of the Coronavirus. Their 7:30pm evening concert with the historic St Giles-in-the-Fields organ will be similarly recreated with similar video links although sadly, none will have the combined Art of Moog and pipe organ.

Allein Gott in Der Hõh sei Ehr BWV 662
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QW2J10wRT2k
Jacques van Oortmerssen

Cello Suite No.3 in C. BWV 1009
Prélude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Bourrées, Gigue
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFtZ9tQiFxM
Colin Carr

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland BWV 666
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQP-necHTK4
Bine Katrine Bryndorf

Komm, Gott, Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist BWV 667
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CdBLy6VePyk
Simon Thomas Jacobs
Richards, Fowkes & Co organ, St George’s Hanover Square

These concerts were to have been given in aid of the
Royal Society of Musicians
.

If you are willing to support this important musical charity, you can donate directly via this link https://www.rsmgb.org/fundraising/.  UK taxpayers can claim GiftAid. Please mention “Early Music Day” in the comments section of your donation.

#earlymusicday

Early Music Day (at home): 5pm

Early Music Day
Stay at Home Edition

Happy Birthday, J S Bach!

Click the links below to take you to publically available videos of the pieces that we would have performed during the informal 45′ afternoon Bach organ and solo instrument recitals that would have taken place in London’s St Giles-in-the-Fields on Early Music Day at 4, 5 & 6pm. This is the programme for the second, 5pm concert, given by

Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ)
playing organ chorales from Bach’s Leipzig manuscript
Annabel Knight (flute)

The poster for the series of events can be found here, as amended after the earlier pull out of Art of Moog because of the Coronavirus. Their 7:30pm evening concert with the historic St Giles-in-the-Fields organ will be similarly recreated with similar video links although sadly, none will have combined Art of Moog and pipe organ.

Von Gott will ich nicht lassen BWV 658
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnsMlPv3MZk
Sietze de Vries

Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland BWV659
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gQ-7caubYk
John Scott
Taylor & Boody organ in the Gallery of Saint Thomas Church, New York

Partita for solo flute BWV 1013
Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Bourrée angloise
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onB39cumbF4
Marten Root

Jesus Christus, unser Heiland BWV 665
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFd8VBV5eCg
Bine Katrine Bryndorf

These concerts were to have been given in aid of the
Royal Society of Musicians
.

If you are willing to support this important musical charity, you can donate directly via this link https://www.rsmgb.org/fundraising/.  UK taxpayers can claim GiftAid. Please mention “Early Music Day” in the comments section of your donation.

#earlymusicday

Early Music Day (at home): 4pm

Early Music Day
Stay at Home Edition

Happy Birthday, J S Bach!

Click the links below to take you to publically available videos of the pieces that we would have performed during the informal 45′ afternoon Bach organ and solo instrument recitals that would have taken place in London’s St Giles-in-the-Fields on Early Music Day at 4, 5 & 6pm. This is the programme for the first, 4pm concert, given by

Andrew Benson-Wilson (organ)
playing organ chorales from Bach’s Leipzig manuscript
Poppy Walshaw (cello)

The poster for the series of events can be found here, as amended after the earlier pull out of Art of Moog because of the Coronavirus. Their 7:30pm evening concert with the historic St Giles-in-the-Fields organ will be similarly recreated with similar video links although sadly, none will have the combined Art of Moog and pipe organ.

Fantasia supra Komm, Heiliger Heist BWV 651
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vohG88Mj2f4
William Porter
North German style organ in Smarano, Italy

Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor BWV 1008
Prélude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Menuetts, Gigue
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mg3nVSe–f4
Eva Lymenstull

O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig BWV 656
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YawozgUoYEI
Wolfgang Zerer
St Catherine’s Church, Hamburg

These concerts were to have been given in aid of the
Royal Society of Musicians
.

If you are willing to support this important musical charity, you can donate directly via this link https://www.rsmgb.org/fundraising/.  UK taxpayers can claim GiftAid. Please mention “Early Music Day” in the comments section of your donation.

#earlymusicday

 

Early Music Day (at home)

Early Music Day
Stay at Home Edition

Happy Birthday, J S Bach!


Early Music Day events around Europe are cancelled because of Coronavirus, including my own concerts in St Giles-in-the-Fields.

A live broadcast from behind closed doors is not possible, so at the start time of the four concerts I will post a programme of publically available videos of the pieces that we would have performed.

The first three will reflect the informal afternoon Bach organ and solo instrument recitals which would have taken place at 4pm, 5pm & 6pm, followed by a selection of the pieces that Art of Moog and I might have played in the 7:30pm evening concert although sadly, none will have the combined Art of Moog and St Giles-in-the-Fields pipe organ.

These concerts were to have been given in aid of the
Royal Society of Musicians
.

If you are willing to support this important musical charity, you can donate directly via this link https://www.rsmgb.org/fundraising/.  UK taxpayers can claim GiftAid. Please mention “Early Music Day” in the comments section of your donation.

#earlymusicday
@earlymusicday

 

Beethoven: 1808 Reconstructed

Beethoven: 1808 Reconstructed
Philharmonia Orchestra
Philharmonia Voices, Rodolfus Choir
Esa-Pekka Salonen, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Stephen Fry
Royal Festival Hall, 15 March 2020

Symphony 6 (Pastoral); Ah! perfido, Op.65; Gloria from Mass in C; Piano Concerto 4; Symphony 5; Sanctus & Benedictus from Mass in C; Fantasia in G minor for piano, Op.77; ‘Choral Fantasy’ in C minor for piano, chorus & orchestra, Op.80

In the first of his several pop-up moments, the genial compere Stephen Fry announced that this was probably “the last mass gathering there will be at for some time”. The empty seats in what was an almost sold-out concert reflected the sorry story, as did the Government announcements the following day. But this day was Beethoven’s, with the Philharmonia Orchestra‘s recreation of Beethoven’s famous 1808 ‘Akademie’ concert. Given just a few days before Christmas at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, the original concert consisted entirely of the works of the one composer. It included the first performances of several major works, including the 5th & 6thSymphonies, the 4th Piano Concerto and the hastily put-together Choral Fantasy. Continue reading

Mozart in Italy Festival

Mozart in Italy Festival
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Cadogan Hall, 6-8 March 2020

The Mozartists (and their companions, Classical Opera) continue with their ambitious MOZART 250 project with a weekend exploration of music written by Mozart and others in the year 1770 when he was 14 years old. The project started in 2015 on the anniversary of Mozart’s childhood visit to London and continues with annual explorations of the music that Mozart wrote exactly 250 years earlier, alongside music that Mozart might have heard during the same year. Following their 2015 ‘Mozart in London’ weekend, this weekend focussed on the time Mozart spent in Italy. The Cadogan Hall weekend included three formal concerts together with related talks and performances. There was a focus on different versions of Mitridate, re di Ponto, by Mozart and others, together with extracts from little-known operas by Guglielmi, Piccinni, Mysliveček and Jommelli that Mozart heard in Verona, Milan, Bologna and Naples. Continue reading

Sir George Benjamin: A Duet and a Dream

A Duet and a Dream
Philharmonia Orchestra & Voices, Sir George Benjamin
Pierre-Laurent Aimard piano, James Hall counter-tenor
Royal Festival Hall, 5 March 2020

Knussen: Choral
Messiaen: Le merle bleu (The blue rock thrush) from Catalogue d’oiseaux
Benjamin: Duet for piano & orchestra
Benjamin: Dream of the Song
Janáček: Sinfonietta

A nicely balanced programme of music dating from 1926 to 2015 saw Sir George Benjamin conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in two of his own pieces, together with one of the piano works of his teacher, Messiaen, the 1972 Choral by the influential composer Oliver Knussen with Janáček’s rousing Sinfonietta as a finale. The opening Choral was composed for wind, percussion and double basses, the number 4 appearing to be an underlying thread in the instrumentation. As well as four double basses, there were similar quartets of slithering trombones, fluttering flutes, saxophones, oboes, bassoons and percussionists. It was composed Knussen’s vision of “several funeral procession converging into a point in the distance”, the slow pulse and evolving instrumental colour reinforcing this image. Continue reading

Hildegard von Bingen: Eco Sum Homo

Hildegard von Bingen
Eco Sum Homo
Tiburtina Ensemble, Barbora Kabatkova
Ricercar RIC383. 64’17

The hypnotically soaring melodies of the 12th-century visionary polymath Hildegard of Bingen have retained their prominence amongst (mostly female) early music vocalists despite, or perhaps because of, several decades of prominence since the first recordings appeared around 1980. The Prague-based Tiburtina Ensemble continue this tradition with their CD Eco Sum Homo – the title (I am a man) reflecting one of the many philosophical interpretations possible with this tantalisingly complex woman. Rather like Rudolf Steiner in more recent times, she combined her mysticism with a wide range of disparate interests and beliefs which can attract followers from many different disciplines and interests. Continue reading

LPO: 2001 New Century, New Sounds

2001: New Century, New Sounds
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall, 8 February 2020

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major
Péter Eötvös: Snatches of a Conversation for trumpet, speaker and ensemble
Scriabin: Symphony No. 2 in g minor

The first concert of London Philharmonic Orchestra’s fascinating 2020 Vision project celebrated Beethoven’s 250th birthday with “a conversation between the past, the present and the future of music”. Their opening programme contrasted pieces from 1801, Subsequent programmes over the next few months will cover successive years in each of the three centuries. They opened with an adventurous programme of Beethoven, Scriabin and Péter Eötvös. Although Beethoven’s 1st Symphony was published in 1801, compositional sketches go back to 1795, and it was first performed the year earlier in April 1800 in the Hoftheater nächst der Burg in Vienna. It was something of a calling-card for Beethoven who had only recently arrived in Vienna. But it made an excellent start to the LPO’s New Century, New Sounds series of concerts. Continue reading

Cavalli: La Calisto

Francesco Cavalli: La Calisto
Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva

Cockpit Theatre, 31 January 2020

I arranged to see Cavalli’s La Calisto on the evening of the UK’s Brexit, sandwiching it between two pro-EU vigils in central London. I thought it would take my mind off the goings-on in Parliament Square, but soon had second thoughts. It opens with a Prologue where Nature, Eternity and Destiny meet to decide whether any humans are worthy of elevation to everlasting fame and divinity – a glory for which some humans actively promote themselves. The opera proper starts after the earth has been mistakenly destroyed by poor decision making by the powers that be. Giove arrives with his side-kick Mercurio to take back control and “restore calm to earth”. He finds the nymph Calisto in a deep depression at the sad state of things, and promptly tries to seduce her. It is soon apparent that Giove is a serial philanderer, adulterer and a serial liar of monumental proportions. So much for taking my mind off current political things.

Image may contain: 2 peopleGiove & Calisto (John Holland-Avery & Helen May)
Continue reading

New William Drake organ at Chelsea Old Church

Celebrity Opening Concert – William Drake organ
Nathan Laube

Chelsea Old Church, 19 January 2020

Opening recitals on new organs raise several issues. The performance must, of course, be excellent in itself, regardless of the occasion. But the organ also needs to be demonstrated in a manner that future organ recitals do not need to. I have given several recitals (including, for example, at St John’s, Smith Square) where I have used little more than half of the available stops, to produce a sound that the composer might just recognise. But for an opening recital, a thorough exploration of the sounds of the new instrument is expected. If the organ is built in a specific historic style, the expectation may be that the music of that period dominates. But many organs are built in an eclectic style, capable, in theory, of coping with music from several different historical periods. Continue reading

Solomon’s Knot: Magnificat

Magnificat
Christmas in Leipzig
Solomon’s Knot
Sony Music  19075992622. 75’09

Solomon'S Knot - Magnificat-Christmas in Leipzig

Schelle Machet die Tore weit
Kuhnau Magnificat in C
Bach Magnificat in E flat, BWV243a

The three composers represented on this recording from Solomon’s Knot were successive Kantor’s of Leipzig’s Thomaskirche between 1677 to Bach’s death in 1750. Johann Schelle (1648-1701) was a former choirboy under Heinrich Schütz in Dresden and Thomaskirche Kantor from 1677 to his death in 1701. Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) may have been a cousin of Johann Schelle, and certainly worked with him, becoming organist at St Thomas aged just 24 and still a law student. He succeeded Schelle as Kantor in 1701 and was Bach’s immediate predecessor. Bach took over in 1723, and stayed until his death in 1750. Continue reading

Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3, 6)
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stephen Layton

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2019

For many years now, the highlights of the London Christmas and Easter concert season has been the final two concerts of the St John’s, Smith Square Christmas/Easter festivals. One is usually Bach, the other Messiah, both directed by Stephen Layton, the first with his student Trinity College choir, the second with his professional vocal group Polyphony. In recent years both have been accompanied by the period instruments of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Both pairs of concerts sell out way in advance, the student choirs helping with audience numbers by rallying parents and friends. Continue reading

Vox Luminis: Dixit Dominus

Dixit Dominus
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
St John’s, Smith Square, 18 December 2019

Attrib. Buxtehude? Magnificat BuxWV Anhang 1
Bach Nun komm der heiden Heiland BWV 61
Handel Dixit Dominus HWV 232

With the exception of Bach’s Advent cantata Nun komm der heiden Heiland, this was a St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival event refreshingly devoid of any specific reference to Christmas. The renown Belgian group Vox Luminis and their director, Lionel Meunier, made a very welcome return for a performance of music from German composers of the 17th and early 18th century, each writing in different styles and for different audiences. Continue reading

Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning

Michael Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
DRET Youth Choir & Primary All Stars
St John’s, Smith Square, 17 December 2019

The Gabrieli Consort & Players revived their popular 1994 recording reconstructing a typical Central German Lutheran Christmas Mass from around 1620. With an extraordinary range of instruments and singers spread around the stage and galleries of St John’s, Smith, this was a spectacular performance. The sheer logistics of it all were remarkable, with frequent movement of singers and instruments around the concert hall. Continue reading

A Baroque Odyssey: Les Arts Florissants @ 40

A Baroque Odyssey
40 Years of Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, Paul Agnew
The Barbican, 8 December 2019

Eavesdropping on a birthday party can be fun, even if you sometimes wish it wouldn’t go on for quite so long. This one did, apparently finishing around 10.30, although I had to leave before 10 to catch my last train home. In celebration of their proud 40-year history, Les Arts Florissants are touring a mixed programme of Handel, Purcell and the French composers Charpentier, d’Ambruis, Lully and Rameau. Under their founding Director William Christie and  Associate Musical Director Paul Agnew, five soloists, a large orchestra and 23-strong choir demonstrated just why they have been so important over the past 40 years. Like any good party, it is perhaps best to leave what happened in the room, in the room, so I will not attempt a critical review – which is probably just as well because I am not sure that I could think of anything critical to say. Continue reading

Charpentier: A Christmas Oratorio

Solomon’s Knot
Charpentier: A Christmas Oratorio
St John’s, Smith Square, 9 December 2019


In nativitatem Domini Canticum
H416
Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ H483/483b

In a refreshing change from the usual Christmas music offering, the Solomon’s Knot Collective took us to 17th-century Paris for two of the pieces that Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed for the Christmas season. The 1685 Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ was composed for Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Guise, also known as Mademoiselle de Guise. She was Charpentier’s principal patron. It was performed in the chapel of the Guise family’s Paris home, the Hôtel de Guise, and included several household staff as singers or instrumentalists, with Charpentier himself sang haute-contra. A mini-opera in scope and structure, the piece includes a reference to the death a few years earlier of the Duchesse’s nephew, the 5-year old heir to her line of the Guise family, as well as a shepherdess’s touching elegy on the death of her favourite sheep.

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Joglaresa: Sing We Yule!

Sing We Yule!
Joglaresa, Belinda Sykes
St Bartholomew the Less, 8 December 2019

Formed by Belinda Sykes in 1992, Joglaresa is one of the most inventive and imaginative medieval music groups around. Their lively approach to music-making might not be the most ‘authentic’ around, but they bring enticing energy and brilliant communicative skills to performance. In their early years, they were strongly influenced by the music of the Islamic Middle East, based on the specific training and musical inspiration of Belinda Sykes. But that seemed less evident in their latest incarnation in this Sunday afternoon performance in London’s St Bartholomew-the-Less. It was a short-notice event added after earlier sell-out concerts, and itself also sold out.

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The Sixteen at Christmas

The Sixteen at Christmas
Harry Christophers, Frances Kelly (
harp)
The Anvil, Basingstoke, 4 December 2019

As their 40th anniversary year draws to a close, The Sixteen’s seasonal tour of their ‘Sixteen at Christmas‘ programme stopped by at Basingstoke’s Anvil concert hall for a varied selection of music for Advent and Christmas. Their focus was on traditional medieval and 20th and 21st-century composers, most of the latter influenced by former. Until the Ding dong encore, it avoided all the usual carols of childhood memory. The key piece was the concluding Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, a sequence of pieces based on medieval texts that he started writing during a 1942 Atlantic crossing. Continue reading

Handel: Aminta e Fillide

Handel: Aminta e Fillide
Fair Oriana
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
The Handel Friends
St George’s, Hanover Square, 28 November 2019

It was entirely appropriate that this concert, given under the auspices of The Handel Friends, should take place in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square, just round the corner from his surviving home. After 30-minutes of instrumental music and sumptuous interval refreshments (all part of the deal) came an inspirational performance of Handel’s pastoral cantata Aminta e Fillide, performed with the soprano duo Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard).

Aminta 4.jpegPenelope Appleyard & Angela Hicks (Fair Oriana) Continue reading

Philip Glass Orphée

Philip Glass: Orphée
English National Opera, Geoffrey Paterson
The Coliseum, 15 November 2019

The last of English National Opera’s quartet of operas based on the Orpheus myth was Philip Glass’s 1991 Orphée. As was apparent with the three earlier operas, the story of Orpheus, like all such myths, are open to many different interpretations. Glass used Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée as the basis for his opera, setting the text of the film to music. Both Cocteau and Glass approached their pieces after the death of close friends/partners, and their telling of the myth hovers between the world of the living and the dead, revealing the perils of artistic self-obsession and immortality. Continue reading

London International Festival of Early Music

London International Festival of Early Music
Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition Finals
Blackheath, 7-8 November 2019

London International Festival of Early Music now seems to be firmly ensconced in Blackheath after some years in Greenwich under a variety of earlier names. Hosted by the Early Music Shopan exhibition of instruments and music (in the Blackheath Halls) forms the centre of the three-day festival. The three-day programme of concerts and events around the exhibition includes makers demonstration recitals, performer platforms for younger musicians, workshops and more formal concerts by professionals. Every other year, the festival hosts the finals of Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition, the winner getting a recital during the following year’s festival. Last year they introduced the first of their Early Music Young Ensemble Competition Finals. Last year’s review can be seen here. Continue reading

La Fedeltà Premiata

Haydn: La Fedeltà Premiata
Guildhall Opera
Guildhall School of Music &Drama
Silk Street Theatre, 4 November2019

Haydn’s La Fedeltà Premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) was premiered in 1781 at the reopening of the Esterháza court theatre after its destruction in a fire. His Lo speziale had been the first opera in the previous theatre in 1768. The plot is bizarre, even by the standards of 18th-century opera. The Roman city of Cumae worships the goddess Diana, but have managed to upset her, resulting in the curse that “Every year two faithful lovers will be sacrificed to the sea monster until a heroic soul offers his own life. Only then will peace return to the land of Cumae“. In this production, Cumae is Arcadia, its underground station sign prominently displayed on the curtains before the start.

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Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice

Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice
English National Opera, Harry Bicket
The Coliseum, 31 October 2019

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice was the third of the current English National Opera (ENO) series of four operas based on the Orpheus myth that I saw, although it was the first to be performed in the series. It was also the earliest of the series, the most telling omission being Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. In a nod to the Berlioz anniversary year, Orpheus and Eurydice was performed from the 1859 edition by Berlioz rather than Gluck’s own 1762 Vienna score or his 1774 Paris revision.

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