Music in New France & Québec

Music in New France & Québec
Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal
St John’s, Smith Square, 15 February 2018

The Canadian choir, Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal (SMAM) was founded in 1974 by Christoper Jackson. For their UK debut, they presented a programme of music from Québec and the area of the North Americas generally known between 1534 and 1763, as ‘New France’, the northern part of which is now in Canada. In similar, if less flamboyant fashion to the Spanish and Portuguese Christian conquerors in Central and South America, the imported French musicians adopted some aspects of the aboriginal music styles, represented in this concert by a series of anonymous pieces sung in Abenaki, an almost extinct indigenous language.  The programme also included some of the earliest motets and plainchants composed in French North America alongside polyphony introduced by the first French settlers, whose only surviving sources are now in Québec libraries. As well as the early pieces, we also heard the European premiere of Ja de longtemps by Québec composer Maurice-G. Du Berge, setting an eyewitness account of the early explorations of the St. Lawrence River. Continue reading

Philip Glass’s Satyagraha

Philip Glass: Satyagraha
English National Opera, Improbable
Coliseum. 1 February 2018

One of the surprises of the contemporary opera world is that the 2007 ENO premiere of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha broke all box office records, becoming the most popular contemporary work to be performed by ENO. Its uncompromising approach to text and music seems to have appealed to the public, to the extent that it has just opened for its third revival. It follows ENO’s 2016 revival of Akhnaten, the third of a trilogy of operas, of which Satyagraha is the second. It is a difficult work to categorise. It is not a conventional opera, sung throughout in Sanskrit without an understandable libretto, in a sequence of seemingly unrelated tableaux, in random time frames, each with its own musical timbre. Through-composed, it switches from lengthy solos and ensemble pieces to enormous chorus scenes, in this production backed by spectacular visuals. The orchestra only uses strings and woodwind.

ENO Satyagraha Toby Spence ENO Chorus (c) Donald Cooper

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Ensemble Rost

Ensemble Rost
‘The mysterious Rost Manuscript’
Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London. 30 January 2018

Ensemble Rost is a trio of musicians (Danish, German, and French) who met in 2013 at the Royal Danish Music Academy in Copenhagen. They formed to explore (and named themselves after) the important Codex Rost (or Rost Manuscript), a collection of 157 pieces, mostly sonatas or sonata-like works. The period of composition dates from about 1640 to 1687 and is written down in three part books, all accessible online. As well as several named composers, the collection also contains 81 anonymous pieces, some of which might be by Franz Rost himself. Ensemble Rost is particularly interested in the Sonatas for their own rather unusual lineup of violin, viola and keyboard. The viola is referred to in different ways: Viola, Bracia, and Alto, leading to questions as to whether these all refer to the same instrument.

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Mozart 250: 1768 – a retrospective

Mozart 250: 1768 – a retrospective
The Mozartists, Ian Page, Chiara Skerath
Wigmore Hall. 23 January 2018

Classical Opera’s ambitious ‘Mozart 250’ project is now in its fourth year. The project started in 2014, taking its title from the number of years since Mozart’s childhood visit to London (1764) when he composed his first significant works. The project aims to “follow the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, works and influences”, by performing annual concerts and operas based on the music composed 250 years earlier, culminating in 2041, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s death. The Mozartists (the concert-performing wing of Classical Opera) opened the 2018 incarnation of the project with an insight into the music that was composed in 1768, the year that Mozart turned 12. It wasn’t a good year for him. It started with his recovery from smallpox and continued with rejection from the Viennese musical coterie, who prevented the production of Mozart’s first opera, La finta semplice. Classical Opera performed this later this year, as well as his Bastien und BastienneContinue reading

The Orgelbüchlein Project

The Orgelbüchlein Project
A 21st-century completion of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein
Compiled and edited by William Whitehead
Volume 4: Christian Life and Conduct (Chorales 87–113)

152 pages  • ISMN 979-0-57701-498-2  • Softbound
Edition Peters EP73145

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The Orgelbüchlein Project is one of the most exciting and ambitious musical projects of recent years. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein was intended to be a set of 164 chorale preludes covering the whole liturgical year. It was started during Bach’s time in Weimar (1708-17) with a few additions after he arrived in Leipzig. In a tiny manuscript book, Bach wrote the titles of all 164 Lutheran chorales at the top of the pages, but only managed to complete settings of 46 of them. Most titles were allocated a single page, with some given more space. When he came to write out the chorale preludes, he occasionally ran out of space and packed in a few more bars at the bottom of the pages in the more compact (but old-fashioned) German tablature letter notation. The title page of the autograph copy (pictured below) notes Bach’s intention for the collection that “a beginning organist receives given instruction on performing a chorale in a multitude of ways while achieving mastery in the study of the pedal, since the chorales contained herein the pedal is treated entirely obbligato . . . that my fellow man may hone his skill.” The Orgelbüchlein Project is an international project, founded and curated by organist William Whitehead, to complete the Orgelbüchlein by commissioning composers to write settings for the 118 missing chorale preludes.

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François Couperin: Lumière et Ombre

François Couperin: Lumière et Ombre
Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset
Barbican/Milton Court. 14 January 2018

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We are used to hearing French Baroque music in the grand style of the likes of Lully and Rameau, but the more delicate and sensitive music of François Couperin (referred to as le Grand to differentiate him from the rest of his extended musical family) is often overlooked. 2018 is the 350th anniversary of his birth, so is a good time to reassess his music. These two concerts in Milton Court, together with a panel discussion, explored some of his chamber and harpsichord music, concluding with his three Leçons de ténèbres. The two concerts were titled Lumière and Ombre, each containing solo harpsichord, vocal and instrumental music. Continue reading

Bach, the Universe & Everything

Bach, the Universe & Everything
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kings Place. 14 January 2018

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s regular Kings Place Sunday morning ‘Bach, the Universe & Everything‘ series is billed as a “Sunday service for inquiring and curious minds; a place to bond with music lovers and revel in the wonders of science.”. In conjunction with The Institute of Physics, each event includes a Bach cantata and a talk from a distinguished scientist. This first event of 2018 reflected the Kings Place theme for 2018, ‘Timed unwrapped‘, with a talk by Professor Helen F Gleeson on Time and Perception. These are very popular events, but it was my first visit. Although not in the style of the many totally secular Sunday ‘services’ that have sprung up around the country in these post-religious days, there were elements of a church service in the organ pieces played before the start (of non-conformist, rather than C of E length), a reading, a choir ‘anthem’, notices, a hymn (in this case, of course, a Lutheran chorale) and a ‘collection’ at the bar in return for coffee and cake.

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Return of Ulysses

he KingMonteverdi ‘The Return of Ulysses’
Royal Opera House, Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn
The Roundhouse. 10 January 2018

After the success of their 2015 production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Roundhouse (reviewed here), the Royal Opera House returned with an English language version of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, under the title of ‘The Return of Ulysses’. As its name suggests, the Roundhouse is a large circular building in Camden, North London, built in 1854 by a railway company as the Great Circular Engine House and used, albeit only for a few years, as a maintenance depot. It had a central turntable to switch engines into the surrounding maintenance bays. John Fulljames’s production for the Royal Opera House maintains the link with this central turntable with a doughnut-shaped staging with an outer raised ring for the singers with the orchestra in the central circle. Both rotated, the instrumentalists going very slowly clockwise (a bit slower than the hour hand of a watch) and the singers intermittently rotating anti-clockwise. on their circular stage.

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Salome

Richard Strauss: Salome
Royal Opera House. 8 January 2018

This third revival of David McVicar’s 2008 production of Salome is directed by Bárbara Lluch and conducted by Henrik Nánási. Although I saw the ROH’s predecessor to this production in the late 1990s, this was my first viewing of McVicar’s production. He adds several additional layers to Strauss’s (and Oscar Wilde’s) already complex take on the sparse biblical/Josephus story. Although Strauss’s music is firmly rooted in the post-Wagnerian idiom of the fin de siècle pre-Expressionist era, the nature of the plot continues to disturb and shock; perhaps more so today, when it is all too easy to relate aspects of opera plots like this to present day news items, people, and social concerns.

The setting was a large rather decrepit basement with bare walls, exposed pipework and a smattering of naked young women. Anybody expecting to have to wait an hour or so for the famous dance before a flash of female flesh had ample opportunities early on – but none in the actual dance. A sweeping staircase to one side led up to an almost hidden upper dining room where Herod and friends are feasting. All the action takes place in the basement space as the upstairs party slowly descend to the depths, in more ways than one. Most of the cast remained onstage throughout, along with several non-singing actors, mostly standing around watching events unfold. Towards the end, it was male nudity that was more apparent, with the executioner, for no apparent reason, stripping to the buff before descending into the cistern to behead Jokanaan. Although silent, as depicted in the libretto and music, this turned out to be a messy affair, the executioner returning completely covered in blood, front and back, top to toe. Continue reading

Christopher Purves sings Handel

Christopher Purves sings Handel
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Milton Court, 7 January 2018

Distinguished bass/baritone singer Christopher Purves has long been a mainstay of the opera and concert stage. His broad repertoire perhaps evidenced by the fact that my last three reviews of him were in operas by Mozart, George Benjamin, and Georga Enescu. On this occasion, he was the focus of the evening. But this wasn’t one of the usual, and rather predictable, ‘star singer and backing orchestra’ events. Purves and Arcangelo shared the honours in a well-planned partnership of vocal and orchestral music. Purves remained on stage throughout, sitting at the side during Arcangelo’s moments. His jovial introductions to the pieces were relaxed and approachable, not least his opening comment that we were about to hear music for some “complete and utter bastards as well as a couple of real sweeties”. Although many of the protagonists in the programme were clearly in the former category, there were enough of the latter to bring some relief to the bluff and bluster of many of Handel’s music for bass.

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Baroque at the Edge

Baroque at the Edge Festival
LSO St Lukes & St James Clerkenwell. 6 January 2018

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With a headline of “Imagine if Bach was a jazzman, Vivaldi a folk-fiddler, or Handel a minimalist…”, the new Baroque at the Edge festival launched itself onto the London musical scene. Headed up by Lindsay Kemp and Lucy Bending (the pair who for many years ran the London Festival of Baroque Music and its predecessor the Lufthansa Festival), the festival invited musicians from the classical, jazz, and folk world to “take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads”. They promised “No rules, no programme notes, no lectures: all you need to know is how to listen”. The Baroque at the Edge title was also given to the May 2017 LFBM festival, the last to be directed by Lindsay Kemp and managed by Lucy Bending – a nice link to their then unannounced new festival. The Baroque at the Edge festival included six concerts and a family event, spread over a three day weekend. After an opening Friday night piano recital, the Saturday (6 January) featured four events, starting with a lunchtime concert in the impressive late Georgian church of St James, Clerkenwell.

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Bach in Advent: Clavier-Übung III

Bach in Advent
David Titterington, Siglo de Oro, Patrick Allies
Bach Clavier-Übung III ‘German Organ Mass’
St John’s, Smith Square. 21 December 2017

During the three-week run-up to Christmas, St John’s, Smith Sq has been running a series of free early evening organ recital, given by the curator of the SJSS Klais organ, David Titterington, and focussed on the music of JS Bach. The two I had intended to hear before evening concerts were both cancelled, but I did catch the evening concert that concluded the series. This was a performance of the major pieces from Bach’s Clavier-Übung III, occasionally referred to this Bach’s monumental work, the largest single collection of his organ music. It was published in 1739 and includes a wide range of musical style, in the form of chorale preludes (in pairs, with larger pedaliter and smaller manualiter arrangement) based on the German Lutheran Mass, together with four duets, the whole enclosed with a large-scale Praeludium and Fugue – the latter known in the UK as the ‘St Anne Fugue’ after the hymn tune which the theme resembles.  Continue reading

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics & Monteverdi Trilogy

 Opera: Passion, Power and Politics
Highlights from the Monteverdi Trilogy
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists
Victoria & Albert Museum. 15 December 2017

As part of the V&A’s Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition, the Monteverdi Choir returned to the site of their very first concert, 50 years ago in the museum’s Raphael Cartoon gallery to conclude their 2017 tour of Monteverdi’s three operas with a concert of extracts from all three. In the tradition of the V&A’s ‘Friday Lates’, they started at 6.30 with a series of Promenade Performances given in different galleries of the museum, starting with the L’Orfeo Overture performed from the gallery of the Grand Entrance before moving to the adjoining Medieval & Renaissance galleries for Duo seraphim, performed from the three projecting balconies. The audience was then shepherded through the massive Hertogenbosch choir screen for from two extracts from Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, a flash-mob style Coro di Feaci and Ulysses’s Dormo ancora sung by Furio Zanasi in the Renaissance chapel originally in Florence’s Santa Chiara church. Continue reading

Heigh Ho Holiday

Heigh Ho Holiday
Christmas Revels in 17th-century London

The City Musick, William Lyons
St John’s, Smith Square. 13 December 2017

King James I issued his ‘Declaration of Sports’ in 1617, noting that he had heard that people had been ‘barred from all lawfull Recreation, & excercie vpon the Sundayes afternoone, after the ending of all Diuine Seruice‘. So wrote Wiliam Lyons, director of The City Musick in his programme note for this concert, as an example of the encouragement of festivals and holy days during the early 17th century, despite opposition from Puritans and Catholic gentry. These occasions included Christmastide festivals, a time when the virtuosi musicians of the local city waits came into their own, perhaps with the opportunity to relax a little from their normal role of providing music for civic ceremonies, processions, dances, masques etc. Their musical repertoire was wide, as was the range of instruments that they played, both aspects revealed in this concert by a 21st-century incarnation of the waits – the seven musicians of The City Musick. Continue reading

Lully: Alceste

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

Lully: Alceste

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

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Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale

Monteverdi: Selva morale e spirituale
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Barbican, 9 December 2017

Monteverdi’s 8th book of madrigals, the Selva morale e spirituale (Moral and Spiritual Forest”), was published in 1641 when Monteverdi was in his 70s. It seems to have been intended as a culmination of his musical career at St Marks Venice, and contains a vast array of compositional styles, as reflected in this Barbican concert by the eight singers and eight instrumentalists of Les Arts Florissants. They opened with one of the most dramatic pieces from the collection, the extended seven-voice Gloria, the clear articulation of the singers allowing the flourishes of the musical lines to shine. Here, as in many of the other pieces, the two violinists made significant contributions. Continue reading

Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning

Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square
7 December 2017

The 500th anniversary of the Reformation gave the Gabrieli Consort & Players the chance to revisit the music of their most successful recording, Praetorius’s Mass for Christmas Morning. The recording dates from 1994 and was recorded in the splendour of Denmark’s Roskilde Cathedral. That venue was chosen because of the historic Roskilde organ, dating back to 1544 with additional work in 1611, 1654 and the 1690s, the whole restored back to its pre-1700 state. For this short tour, the Gabrieli Consort & Players visited Hull, Bradford and London’s St John’s, Smith Square, on each occasion joining with local choirs to expand the resources.  Continue reading

Schumann Street

 Schumann Street
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
Huguenot houses in Spitalfields
9 December 2017

The 2018 incarnation of the Spitalfields Winter Festival concluded with Schumann Street, an ambitious weekend ‘installation’ based in eight of the historic former Huguenot houses in the streets next to the traditional home of the festival, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Hawksmoor’s architectural masterpiece. The festival was founded (by Richard Hickox) in 1977 specifically to help to save Christ Church from demolition. For many years, concertgoers stepped over the rough brick floors to hear a glittering array of top-flight early music performers and established contemporary composers, one example of the latter being the 1991 performance of John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil. A timeline of the Spitalfields Festival and its associated activities, most notably in community and education projects, can be seen here. Since then, Christ Church has completed a major restoration but, unfortunately, no longer hosts the festival that was instrumental, in so many ways, in its continuing existence and restoration.

For the Schumann Street installation,  which had four runs over the weekend, each of eight Huguenot houses accommodated two performances, all sixteen based on Schumann’s 1840 Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love). Although usually performed with a male voice and piano, it was dedicated to a soprano. For this event, the 16 performers (individuals or groups) were given free rein to interpret the verses in their own way and style. The audience met in the crypt of Christ Church, where we were divided into eight groups and were eventually, after quite a delay, led to one of the houses. From then on, we were all left to our own devices, with a map to show where the houses were, but no indication of who would be performing where or when, or any idea of the length of the 16 performances.  Continue reading

In the Light of Air

In the Light of Air
Pauline Oliveros, Anna Thorvaldsottir
London Contemporary Orchestra
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
8 December 2017

The new-look, or should I say the new-hear Spitalfields Music Festival continued with In the Light of Air, the title of the main piece of the evening, by Anna Thorvaldsottir. It was preceded by a sequence of works by the American founder of ‘Deep Listening’, Pauline Oliveros from her Anthology of Text Scores. The theme was mindfulness and meditative, with the audience encouraged to join in and respond to the music. Most of the pews had been removed, leaving the instrumentalists in the centre of an open space. Continue reading

Renegade New Classical

Renegade New Classical
Nik Colk Void, Daniel Brandt
s t a r g a z e
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
6 December 2017

Once upon a time, pop music was divided into just two genres – Beatles or Rolling Stones, with a possible sub-set of John or Paul. Things are more complicated nowadays. Every single piece within the broad contemporary music scene has its own distinctive moniker. For this concert, we were told that we would see “the realms of classical collide with minimal techno, experimental and electronic music. Electronic it certainly was, as the rustle of the players sorting their music out was picked up by their microphones, followed by an enormous amplified explosion from the banks of speakers. I was relieved there wasn’t any lightning forecast.   Continue reading

House of Monteverdi

House of Monteverdi
Spitalfields Music Festival 2017
St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch
2 December 2017

Things have changed at Spitalfields Music, as the opening night of their annual Winter Festival demonstrated. They have traditionally concentrated on early and contemporary music and, to a certain extent, continue that focus, although the target audience now seems very different from previous years. For the first of their new-style Winter festivals, they have bought in an Artistic Curator, André de Ridder, a conductor who crosses musical borders, not least in his involvement with electronic and pop music. His concept was for a festival made up of a series of ‘mini-festivals’, combining different genres and musicians. The focus is on much younger composers and performers that hitherto. The opening mini-festival, House of Monteverdi, was a 4½ hour marathon featuring four featured young composers, together with the four members of the Hermes Experiment, who jointly composed one of their pieces. The four world premieres and two UK premieres were contrasted and alternated with (and were sometimes influenced by), extracts from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals – the Songs of Love and War.  Continue reading

Monteverdi Apprentices

Monteverdi Apprentices
Final Recital
The Warehouse, 26 November 2017

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The Monteverdi Apprentice programme gives young musicians, on the verge of entering the profession, the chance to spend a year working alongside experienced professionals from the Monteverdi stable, with opportunities for performing as ensemble members or soloists with the various groups under the Monteverdi umbrella. The scheme started in 2007, initially for singers only. It runs every other year and, with one exception, alternates singers with string players. For the 2016/17 cohort, nine instrumentalists were chosen from around 100 applications. This was their final recital together, although many of them will be performing in the two forthcoming Monteverdi Bach cantata tours.  Continue reading

Schnitger Festival Groningen

Schnitger Festival Groningen
31 October – 5 November 2017

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Arp Schnitger is one of the most famous organ builders of all time. Working from around 1660 to 1719, most of his organs were built in North Germany and The Netherlands. For several decades, his instruments have been linked with the performance of Bach, although they were built within the North European organ tradition (centred on Hamburg and culminating in Buxtehude in Lübeck) rather than the Saxon and Thuringian organs of Central Germany that Bach was more familiar with. That said, Bach was certainly influenced by such instruments and the music composed for them, in his early life. Unlike many in the organ building world, then and now, Schnitger showed great respect for the work of his predecessors, and many of his organs retain pipework and cases going back to late mediaeval times. Around one-third of the surviving Schnitger organs are in the Netherlands, mostly in the Groningen province, and three in the city of Groningen, including the famous organs in the Aa-Kerk and the Martinikerk. A map of surviving Schnitger organs can be found here.

The Groningen Schnitger Festival is now in its fifth year. It is organised by the Groningen Orgelstad foundation, set up to strengthen and expand the range of organ activities in the city of Groningen. Usually taking place over a single weekend, this year’s six-day festival was special for a number of reasons, not least,  the opening of a new organ in the Lutherse Kerk (pictured below) based on the Schnitger organ that was built for the church in 1699. Schnitger gifted it to the church and community where he and his workforce attended when working in Groningen, as did his successors, including the organ builder Hinsz who is buried in the church. The original two-manual organ had a pedal division added in 1717, to Schnitger’s plans, and was further extended over time until it was replaced by a new organ around 1896. Since 2001 the tradition of cantata services was reintroduced into the Lutherse Kerk services, leading to the foundation (by church organist Tymen Jan Bronda) in 2006 of the period instrument Luthers Bach Ensemble and the wish for an organ suitable for use with Bach cantatas. The Swiss-based, but Groningen born organ builder Bernhardt Edskes was commissioned to build the new organ, based on the 1717 incarnation of the original Schnitger organ.

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Original documents of Schnitger’s 1699/1717 organ survive, and the new organ was based on that original organ, the only difference in the specification of the new organ is that it includes an 8′ rather than 4′ Praestant as the foundation stop of the principal manual. The original pitch of the organ was Kammerton, equating to present day a’ = 415Hz, the usually accepted pitch for Baroque German music. A novel addition to the instrument is a separate one manual continuo keyboard at the front of the organ gallery, controlling six of the stops from both divisions of the main organ through what is generally known as a ‘long action’.

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Tuesday 31 October
Opening concert of the new Lutherse Kerk organ
Luthers Bach Ensemble, Ton Koopman, Tymen Jan Bronda

This was an auspicious day for the opening of the new Lutherse Kerk organ. It was not only Reformation Day, but the day of the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, as well as the 400th anniversary of the completion of church’s original Arp Schnitger organ, which the new organ replicates. After opening speeches (including one by ‘Bach’), and the handing over of a ceremonial tuning knife and key, Ton Koopman appeared, initially dressed in the same ‘Bach’ outfit, to conduct the Luthers Bach Ensemble in Bach’s cantata on the battle hymn of the Reformation Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 80). It was performed in JS Bach’s rarely heard original form, without the trumpets and timpani added by his son. I couldn’t see the soloists from my seat, but I think it was Stefanie True who sang the aria Komm in mein Herzen Haus. 

Lutherse Kerk organist Tymen Jan Bronda then played Bach’s organ version of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (RV 208). It was a curious piece to choose for the first solo organ piece on the new organ. Its tricky extended cadenza-like passages were a real test of the player and the organ’s action. More effective, and certainly more suited to the organ, was Weckmann’s 3-verse Ach wir armen Sünder and Buxtehude’s multi-sectional Toccata in d (BuxWV 153), both very well played by Bronda. The Buxtehude came after Ton Koopman’s performance of Haydn’s Organ Concerto in C (H.XVIII:1), played from the smaller ‘continuo’ keyboard in the conducting position on the organ gallery. Although of no obvious relevance to the Schnitger organ, Haydn’s jovial three-movement piece suited Ton Koopman’s flamboyant style of organ playing, with his frequent additions to the text. The concert finished with Bach’s double choir motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225), here performed with the instruments doubled the vocal parts. An impressive, if a rather eclectic introduction to the flexibility of the new organ. Later in the evening, a Memorial Cantata Service celebrated the Reformation anniversary, repeating the earlier Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott cantata.

Wednesday 1 November
Lunchtime recital: organ and trumpet
Tymen Jan Bronda & Dave Hendry
Lutherse Kerk

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The organ as a solo instrument was more to the fore in the Wednesday lunchtime concert of music for organ and trumpet. Particularly effective organ solos were Scheidemann’s intabulation on Bassano’s motet Dic nobis Maria (a rare survival of one of the essential skills of a German organist in the 16th and 17th centuries) and Buxtehude’s multisection Magnificat 1. Toni, where the reeds on the new organ were heard to good effect. After the well-known opening Te Deum by Charpentier, David Henry played Bach’s Wohl mir das ich Jesum habe (Jesu joy etc) on an unusual (at least to me) type of slide trumpet, where the slide was at the back (the player’s end) of the trumpet. I think these are sometimes known as Zug trumpets, and are partially related to the Purcellian Flatt trumpet.

Berry van Berkum
improvised accompaniment to Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod
Der Aa-kerk

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The Aa-kerk in Groningen houses one of the two famous Schnitger organs. The name of the church comes from its original title of Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Aa (‘Our Lady at the Aa’, the name of the nearby river). Arp Schnitger built an organ for the church in 1695, but it was destroyed in 1710 when the church tower collapsed. An earlier Van Hagerbeer organ was built in 1667 but only lasted 4 years before being destroyed by fire. The current organ was built in 1702 for the Academiekerk (Broerekerk) in Groningen using some pipework from the previous 1679 instrument. After some work by A A Hinsz in the later 18th century, the organ was moved to the Aa-Kerk in 1815, the church remaining organless in the intervening century. After a complicated history of reconstructions and additions, it was restored back to an earlier historic period in 2011, but not that of the 1702 organ. There is a small organ dating from 1550 (also transferred in from elsewhere) on a side gallery. The building is no longer used as a church but is a venue for concerts and other events.

Berry van Berkum improvised an organ accompaniment to Fritz Lang’s 1921 film Der Müde Tod (Destiny). The film tells the story of a woman’s quest to be reunited with her dead lover by means of a series of tests initiated by Death. These take place in a Caliph’s palace during Ramadan, during the carnival in Venice (a sequence that, for the film’s date, included a rather surprising glimpse of a naked female breast), and in the court of a Chinese emperor. Berkum’s accompaniment used a wide range of musical textures and relied on creating a background aural atmosphere, rather than reflecting any of the actions on the screen, even such obvious ones as the sound of the watchman’s horn, the striking of a clock or a drunkard stumbling downstairs. Until the last few minutes, the volume was sensibly kept down, making the final moments all the more dramatic.

Thursday 2 November
‘Van Buxtehude tot Bach’
Nederlandse Bachvereniging
Jos van Veldhoven, Leo van Doeselaar
Lutherse Kerk

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The Nederlandse Bachvereniging was founded in 1921 to introduce less romantic renderings of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. They have since become well-known for their All of Bach website, uploading a recording of a Bach work every week. For their Lutherse Kerk concert, they highlighted the importance of the church organ to Bach as well as his influences. They opened with one of Bach’s most dramatic cantata Sinfonias, to Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, with its prominent organ solo part – and organ concerto in all but name. As with the later Sinfonia to Wir müssen durch viel, Leo van Doeselaar, the titular organist of the Martinikerk Schnitger organ, displayed an excellent sense of the rhythmic energy of Bach’s writing as well as a sure grasp of the ornamentation and articulation needed to project the often complex musical lines.

Bach predecessor as Leipzig Cantor was Johann Kuhnau. He is usually overshadowed by Bach, so it was good to hear his Gott sei mir gnädig, the slurred string notes of the opening creating an emotive mood. the five-part string texture adds to the intensity of the piece. It was followed by the Bach’s extraordinary chorale prelude Vater unser in Mimmelreich from the Clavier-Übung III. This is one of the hardest of all Bach’s organ pieces to play – and, perhaps, to listen to. Its dense five-part texture starts in trio sonata form, with rhythmically complex melodic lines, before the chorale theme is introduced as a two-part canon, each hand having to play the theme as well as the flowing trio lines. Leo van Doeselaar’s performance was exemplary, as was his choice of registration, contrasting the Dulciaan and Sexquialter stops.

Bach’s sensuous Vergnügte Ruh followedagain with distinctive organ contributions, hear revealing the tension of the organ’s tempered tuning. Countertenor Alex Potter grasped the emotive depth of the piece beautifully.  Two other Bach Sinfonias opened the second half, before the concluding Nimm von uns Herr by Buxtehude, the Lübeck organist that the young Bach famously walked 200 miles to hear. Based on the Vater unser melody heard earlier, its richly textured orchestration well-controlled by conductor Jos van Veldhoven.

Friday 3 November
Schnitger Field Trip – Noordbroek & Godlinze
Sietze de Vries

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This tour of two of the many Schnitger organs in the vicinity of Groningan was arranged by the festival in conjunction with the Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken. It was led by the distinguished organ improviser Sietze de Vries (organist of the Groningen Martinikerk  and Artistic Director of the Groningen Organ Education Centre, standing in for the indisposed Peter van der Zwaag), who introduced both of the instruments before demonstrating with extraordinarily skilful improvisations broadly in the style of Bach and the earlier North German organ composers, whose music he has clearly taken to his heart. The Noordbroek organ was built by Schnitger in 1696 and worked on by his son Johann Jürgen Schnitger, Hinsz, and Freytag (in 1809) before van Oeckelen moved it away from its Baroque roots in 1855. Over the past 50 years, it has been restored back to its 1809 specification and is now one of the finest examples of the Schnitger school organ style, albeit with about half of the stops being by Hinsz or Freytag.

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After talking about the history of the organ, Sietze de Vries (pictured above) improvised for around 25 minutes, in a range of quasi-Baroque musical styles, exploring the rich colours of the organ (Six of the 24 stops are reeds) and the shimmering Schnitger choruses, ending with a spectacular multi-sectional chorale fantasia on Ein feste Burg. The Romano-Gothic brick-built church includes some fine ceiling murals dating, I would think, from the late 15th century.

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The Pancratius church in Godlinze is a much smaller, but similarly highly decorated church, with a one-manual 1704 Schnitger organ. It originally had two manuals, with an Unterwerk (reflected in the double-decker case front) but was changed to one manual in 1785 by Hinsz. 1919 alterations were removed in a 1985 restoration back to its 1785 specification. The current specification, together with links to its earlier specifications and other details, can be found here.

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After a detailed demonstration of the various stops of the organ, Sietze de Vries improvised a brilliant set of variations on Vater unser in the style generally closer to the Sweelinck-inspired Hamburg organists of the early to mid 17th century. Some of the stops of the organ and an example of the ceiling paintings are pictured below. The tour ended back in the Lutherse Kerk where Bernhardt Edskes, the builder of the new organ, gave a talk on the construction of the new Schnitger organ.

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Orgelprobe: Commissioned by the Dom in Hamburg
Sietze de Vries
Lutherse Kerk

Despite having stood-in to spend all day talking about and playing the organs on the day tour, Sietze de Vries then gave an early evening concert on the new Lutherse Kerk organ. In his 1719 Exemplarische Organisten Probe published in 1731 in his Grosse General-Baß-Schule, Johann Mattheson (the Hamburg diplomat, music theorist, composer and, very nearly, the murderer, but later, friend, of Handel) described the terms and conditions that the Hamburg Cathedral Council set for the audition of prospective applicants for the post of Cathedral organist, where Mattheson was Kantor and a Canon. Candidates had to improvise a sequence of the pieces that they would need for the cathedral services. Mattheson’s account stands alongside the famous 1655 report of Matthias Weckmann’s audition at Hamburg’s St Jacobi church.

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Sietze de Vries recreated that Orgelprobe on the new Schnitger organ, starting with a Prelude and a grand Fugue followed by a 20 minute set of variations on the Advent chorale Nun freut euch, in a style that suggested influences from Bach, Böhm, Walther and Krebs.  He followed this with an improvisation on Purcell’s Evening Hymn with its distinctively English ‘false relations’, reflecting the task of accompaniment a singer. He concluded with a powerful Toccata, opening with a distinctive 17th-century style North German pedal solo, followed by channelling of Buxtehude and Bruhns, before concluding with a chaconne based on the bass of  Purcell’s Evening Hymn – a wonderful, and skilful, combination of disparate musical styles. As an encore, he moved to the small continuo console for a delicate prelude on Nun danket, with some added Purcellian false relations. An excellent demonstration of organ improvisation and playing.

Organ Night with five organists & two organs
Der Aa-kerk & Martinikerk

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The evening event took place in the Aa-Kerk and Martinikerk and featured, as the title suggests, five organists, playing very different short programmes. It started on the 1702 Schnitger organ in Der Aa-kerk, an organ containing much pipework from well after Schnitger’s time. Stephan van de Wijgert played Mendelssohn (Prelude and Fugue in E minor) and Schubert – a clever arrangement of the four-hand piano Fantasie in F minor, D940, with its delightfully melodic opening motif.  Geerten Liefting improvised a Prelude and Fugue and a minimalist interpretation of Vater unser. A street barrel-organ greeted us as we left the Aa-kerk for a walk that Schnitger must have been very familiar with, through the expanse of the Vischmarkt (pictured) and across the Grote Markt to the Martinikerk and the first sight during the festival of the world-famous 1691 Schnitger organ.

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The Martinikerk organ was first built in 1482 by Johan ten Damme (replacing an earlier organ), with advice from the famous humanist scholar Rudolf Agricola, then Groningen’s town clerk. The current instrument still contains pipework from this 1482 organ. The organ was enlarged in Renaissance style in 1542 and further rebuilt by Anthoni Verbeeck in 1627/8, Jan Helman in 1685-90, Arp Schnitger in 1691/2, Frans Caspar Schnitger and Albertus Anthoni Hinsz in 1729/30 and by Hinsz in 1740. Nineteenth and early 20th-century additions have generally been removed in the current organ, restored by Ahrens between 1974/84 back to the 1740 position. It now has three manuals and 53 stops. Schnitger’s work including building the massive pedal towers on either side of the original Gothic, containing a rare example of a 32′ Prestant, while Hinsz later added the Rückpositive.

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Peter van der Zwaag played music from Spain, Italy, France, and England from the later Renaissance and early Baroque period, concluding with a performance of William Byrd’s massive Seconde Grownde that build to an enormous climax on a 16′ plenum with pedal reeds – a sound that Byrd would never have experienced, the English organs of his time being around two-thirds of the size of the smallest of the Martinikerk’s 3 manuals. Wouter Koelewijn played music by Huge Distler, a representative of the rather spiky neo-baroque school of 20th-century organ composition. He concluded with the four-movement Partita on Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. As the clock moved toward 11pm, the final player was Gonny van der Maten, playing Bach, including Schmucke dich and the majestic Praeludium et Fuga in C minor (BWV 546), given a particularly powerful performance on full pleno throughout.

Saturday 4 November
Masterclass with Stef Tuinstra
Martinikerk

Stef Tuinstra founded the Noord-Nederlandse Orgel Academie (NNOA), and arranges many organ activities in the Groningen province. He is organist of the Nieuwe Kerk and Martinikerk in Groningen. This masterclass was given in conjunction with the Prins Claus Conservatorium. The first few student performers played Bruhns and Bach but, as the comments were, not surprisingly, in Dutch I had trouble following Tuinstra’s advice. Helpfully, a Spanish student followed, resulting in an English commentary. Her impressive performance of Bruhn’s large-scale multi-sectional E minor Praeludium was followed by equally impressive comments from Stef Tuinstra on the piece and the performance, starting with the question “Why play without shoes?”. Describing it as a ‘theatre piece’ Tuinstra stressed the varying moods of the piece, ranging from pathos to anger, and encouraged a performance that engaged all the player’s emotions. His impressively detailed accompanying handout mentioned the ‘orchestral’ style of organ performance mentioned amongst others, by Michael Praetorius in 1619. He also noted the importance of thinking like a singer when looking at musical structure and phrases.

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His comments on registration were particularly apposite, for example, suggesting that the expansive first fugue is played on the 8′ Principal stop alone, rather than a fuller, reedy sound, in order to reflect the sadness and suffering inherent in the mood of that section. He advised against using pedal mixtures when the higher overtones would confuse the polyphony of the upper voices, and stressed the need to give the massive 32′ pedal flue pipes time to speak. He also advised again spreading chords, harpsichord style, on the organ.

Lunchtime Concert for organ and baroque violin
Reitze Smits, organ & Mariëtte Holtrop, violin
Lutherse Kerk 

Back at the Lutherse Kerk, a lunchtime concert explored the combination of organ and violin in works by Bach, Bonporti, and Vivaldi. It opened with Bach’s flamboyant early Preludium in G (BWV 568), to which Reitze Smits added spread chords, harpsichord style. There followed four arrangements from cantata arias, including Kommst du nun von Himmel herunter also arranged by Bach as one of the Schubler Chorales. The organ as continuo accompanying instrument was evident in Bonporti’s Invenzio Quarta, a piece I didn’t know. The final piece was an organ solo, Bach’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (BWV 596), the absence of the specified 32′ pedal stop notwithstanding. The dying sounds of the Finale were accompanied by the sound of a mobile phone.

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Organ and baroque orchestra
Ensemble Cordevento
Erik Bosgraaf, recorder, 
Matthias Havinga, organ
Lutherse Kerk

A mid-afternoon concert combined the organ with the Baroque orchestra Ensemble Cordevento and the recorder player Erik Bosgraaf, with Matthias Havinga playing the organ. The five members of Ensemble Cordevento played with light and delicate textures, although this meant that there were times when the recorder dominated. This was most notable when heard against the organ in an arrangement of Bach’s organ Trio Sonata V, when the notion of the three equal parts was occasionally turned into a flute solo with accompaniment. It had been preceded by Bach’s curious, incomplete, and rarely heard, Pedal Excercitium (BWV 598), hear extended by about 50% by a cadenza.

The highlight of the concert was the first performance of Mixtures, a 16′ long work commissioned by the festival from the South Korean composer Seung-Won Oh, now living in Chicago, but present for this premiere. Dense chord clusters and orchestral sound-worlds, of varying volumes and intensities, were interspersed with recorder recitatives and interventions and cadenza-like passages from the organ in a kaleidoscope of aural colour and texture. Gentler moments of repose balanced the sometimes frenetic activity, the whole creating a very evocative and ethereal sense of otherworldliness and mystery. As with many first performances of new works, it would have been good to have heard the work twice, towards the start and at the end.

Zangavond met Lutherliederen
Tymen Jan Bronda
Lutherse Kerk

During the first part of the evening, members of the Lutherse Kerk joined the organist Tymen Jan Bronda and the church choir to sing a range of Lutheran chorales with the new organ. Historically, this was the principal use for the organ in the Lutheran service, despite the importance of solo organ music in the service, and the enormous repertoire of solo organ pieces that were created.

Pop concert by Orgel Vreten
Der Aa-kerk

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Keen to avoid leaving anybody out of the Festival fun, the Aa-kerk was taken over by the pop group Orgel Vreten. Their performance was built around two Hammond organs and a third keyboard together with percussion, bass guitar and the group’s ‘character’ who played a variety of instruments including an enormous euphonium. They even managed a brief moment on the Aa-kerk’s Schnitger organ, treating it with a great deal more respect than they had shown to their own Hammond organs, who were frequently stood on and climbed over. The enthusiastic audience ranged from aged about 8 upwards and included many people who had been at the more conventional organ events of the week. It is a little out of my usual reviewing remit, so I have no idea how to categorise their music, although I have seen it referred to as ‘space rock’. It all seemed to be their own compositions and was certainly great fun. Rather against my original assumptions, I stayed until the end.

Sunday 5 November
Cantatedienst – Municipal Musical Morning Service 
Ensemble Ars Cantandi, Bremer Barockorkest, Markus Nitt
Organist: Stef Tuinstra
Martinikerk

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The Martinikerk was packed for a special Sunday ecumenical service initiated by the Lutheran Congregation, the United Protestant Church, the Arminian church and the Student Platform for Philosophy and Belief. The cantata during the service was Bach’s Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort (BWV 126), appropriate for the Luther anniversary as he wrote some of the text himself. The German Ensemble Ars Cantandi combined with the Bremer Barockorkest to perform from the back of the church, beneath the Schnitger organ, but using one of the ubiquitous little box chamber organs as continuo rather than the main organ. There was fine singing from tenor Max Ciolek and bass Carsten Krüger (supported by his three young children), both of whom had tricky arias to sing. As well as the main collection, for missionary work, there was a retiring collection for the music, with a suggested donation of €10 per person.

The Schnitger organ was heard to great effect accompanying the singing of the chorales, and in Stef Tuinstra’s impressive improvised chorale preludes. Unlike the English tradition of playing pre-composed four-part harmony for accompanying hymns, the German and Dutch Lutheran tradition is for the organist to be only given the melody, improvising the harmonies below, often varying them for each verse. All but one of the chorale preludes were in the quasi-baroque style, but it was good to hear one that ventured into a more contemporary musical idiom.

Closing Concert
“A present for all townsfolk and festival goers” 

Bernard Foccroulle, organ, & Ensemble Inalto
Martinikerk

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The final concert of the Schnitger Festival 2017 was a free event in the Martinikerk given by the Belgian organist Bernard Foccroulle and the Ensemble Inalto of cornetts and sackbutts, playing from the organ gallery. The programme spanned the 100 years gap between Samuel Scheidt (b1587) & Schein (b1586) and Bach (b1685) with the 50-year interval filled by Buxtehude (b1637). The latter two composers were represented by large-scale organ works – Bach with the Praeludium en Fuge in E flat that opens and closes the Clavier-Übung III (BWV 552), and the Passacaglia, both using the immense power of the full organ throughout. The Martinikerk organ has one of those choruses that you can listen to for hours without tiring of the sound of the mixtures – they coalesce with the principal chorus to produce a magnificently unified sound. Buxtehude’s joyous Toccata in F was given a particularly impressive interpretation, using the different divisions of the organ, and with the reeds dominating in the first fugal section.  The cornetts and sackbutts joined the organ for the 5th verse of Scheidt’s Veni Redemptor Gentium, after the 1st verse had been played as an organ solo. In several of the other pieces, the organ acted as continuo to the five instruments. I was particularly impressed with the playing of Ensemble Inalto. Their performance of the gentle Sonata a 4 by Störl by exquisite.

And so finished the fifth Groningen Schnitger Festival – a special one that leaves the city with its fourth ‘Schnitger’ organ, one specifically suited to the performance and accompaniment of the music of Bach with the resident Luthers Bach Ensemble.

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Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival

Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival
Blackheath, 9 November 2017

The grandly monikered Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival continues its recent flirtation with the more elevated, but not so Royal, Blackheath. Alongside their musical instrument exhibition in Blackheath Halls, a range of concerts and makers’ demonstrations takes place in local churches. I visited on the first day of the weekend festival, starting with a new innovation for the festival: Performance Platforms. These were held in a tiny Quaker Meeting House, too small to accommodate the audience, and with extremely unhelpful acoustics for performers and audience. My invitation to review described these afternoon events as “a platform for predominantly younger musicians to showcase their ability to a discerning audience”. I can’t comment on the audience, but the first of the two events certainly fitted the younger musicians descriptions.

Performers Platform: Purcell School Baroque Ensemble

The Purcell School is one of the principal specialist music schools in the UK. Located in Bushey, it caters for day and residential pupils from the age of 9 to 18 and nurtures some very talented young musicians, as was evident in this short concert. They opened, appropriately, with Purcell and three extracts from Abdelazer, including the Rondeau that Britten made famous. Their guest leader encouraged a rather inappropriate focus on gusto and power, rather than musical sensitivity and delicacy. To balance that, there followed a fine demonstration of musical sensitivity, and the outstanding talent of these fledgeling musicians, with Eliza Haskins’ outstanding performance of two movements of Vivaldi’s Concerto for recorder (RV 442). Eliza Haskins demonstrated a clear understanding of Baroque ornamentation in the Largo and real virtuosity (and an impressive grasp of articulation) in the Allegro Molto. I also liked the way she interacted with her fellow instrumentalists, making her interpretive intentions clear. Unfortunately, the programme note only included the first part of her name, so the audience will not be able to follow what is likely to be a promising future career. A tiny video clip of Eliza Haskins (pictured) playing the Vivaldi can be found here.

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Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music

Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music
Renaissance Singers, Gawain Glenton
St George’s Bloomsbury
29 October 2017

The Renaissance Singers were founded in 1944. They played an important part in the revival of interest in Renaissance sacred polyphony as the early music movement grew and developed. They continue under the musical direction of David Allinson. For this exploration of the music of Martin Luther and the early Lutheran Church, they were directed by Gawain Glenton. The anniversary of the founding of Lutherism was just a few days away from this concert (on 31 October), so it was a timely reminder of theimportance of music to Luther.  Continue reading

HMSC @ 35: Lions of St Mark

Lions of St Mark
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
35th-anniversary concert
St John’s, Smith Square
27 October 2017

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (named after a reference in Matthew Locke’s music for Charles II’s 1661 coronation) celebrated their 35th anniversary in style with an impressive concert in St John’s, Smith Square, a few yards from the site of Charles II’s coronation and a short walk from the site of their debut concert in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. It says something for their early promise, and the recording industry of the early 1980s, that they were offered a recording contract during the interval of that concert. Times have changed in the recording world, but HMSC continue to reinforce their reputation as pioneers of period instrument and performance practice. Two of the original members were playing (Jeremy West and Stephen Saunders), and several more were in the audience. They have replenished themselves over the years, and now include one player who is younger than the group. They also brought in two recently graduated sackbutt players for the 8 and 10-part works that concluded each half.

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Rodelinda

Handel: Rodelinda
English National Opera
The Coliseum. 26 October 2017

I avoid checking back on my past reviews before going to an opera revival, but will sometimes do so after the event to see if my views have changed. In the case of this revival of Richard Jones’ production of Handel’s Rodelinda, they haven’t. A very popular production at the time, and gaining enthusiastic applause from the opening night of the revival, this left me less than inspired, with a few specific exceptions.

To start with the positive exceptions, I cannot praise the ENO orchestra high enough for their absorption of period style in recent years, despite remaining a modern instrument band. It has been a long road, aided by the influence of a series of inspirational conductors, the most recent being the excellent Christian Curnyn (who also conducted the first run in 2014). He is the current ENO go-to conductor for Handel, succeeding Laurence Cummings who did so much to start the ENO period performance revival. The orchestra played with stylistic conviction, and Christian Curnyn continued to confirm his reputation as a leading interpreter of Handel – his control of the pacing was exemplary. Continue reading

Baroque Voices at The Music Room

Baroque Voices at The Music Room
Rachel Ambrose Evans, Joy Smith
The Music Room, 26 October 2017

One of the most rewarding aspects of this reviewing lark has been spotting talented young musicians in the early stages of their musical careers. There are several well-known singers who I first noticed singing in choirs, and many instrumentalists who I first heard in their student days. One such singer is the soprano Rachel Ambrose Evans, who I first noticed after a tiny step-out-from-the-choir role in a Proms concert and, shortly afterwards, as a chorus fairy in a production of the Fairy Queen, noticing on both occasions what I consider to be an ideal ‘early music’ voice. That early music voice was very apparent in Rachel’s concert with harpist Joy Smith in The Music Room, hidden away above an antique emporium close to London’s Oxford Street, and until now used as an exhibition and events space. It was part of a new series of lunchtime concerts. Continue reading

AAM: Italy in England

Italy in England: When Handel met Corelli
Academy of Ancient Music, Bojan Čičić, Frank de Bruine,
Milton Court. 19 October 2017

Corelli Concerto Grosso in D major Op. 6 No. 4
Handel Concerto for Oboe No. 3 in G minor
Geminiani Concerto Grosso Op. 5 No. 3 (after Corelli)
GB Sammartini Sinfonia in G major
Avison Concerto Grosso in D minor No 3 ‘The garden of harmony’ (after Scarlatti)
G Sammartini Concerto for Oboe in E flat major
Handel Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 5

Aided by some excellent programme notes by Lindsay Kemp, we were led gently through an exploration of the influence of Italian musicians, notably Corelli, on performers and composers in England during the 18th century, many of whom were themselves, immigrants. The opening Corelli Concerto Grosso demonstrated the influence of the concerto grosso form. The opening Adagio is written in the score as nine simple chords, but Bojan Čičić’s beautifully elegant violin flourishes turned it into a complete musical experience and demonstrated the importance of ornamentation in music of this period. Directing the Academy of Ancient Music from the leader’s position Čičić demonstrated his extraordinary musicianship, the delicacy of his violin tone always blending with the orchestral timbre, even when in a clear solo role – a very welcome change from violinist directors whose sound dominated their companions. As a director, his sense of timing and the cooperative way he worked with his companions were an inspiration. An example was the timing of the final ‘that’s it folks’ cadence of the opening Concerto grosso – a lovely moment after a frenetic movement where all the players seemed to be bowing as fast as they possibly could.  Continue reading

OAE: Semele

Handel: Semele
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Christophe Rousset
Royal Festival Hall, 18 October 2017

Handel’s Semele is a curious work. Described at the time as a “musical drama . . . after the manner of an oratorio”, it is positioned rather awkwardly between opera and oratorio. It was first performed in concert format during the 1744 Lenten oratorio season, the decidedly secular story causing an inevitable shock to those expecting a piously biblical seasonal oratorio. Nowadays it is usually performed as a fully staged opera, but this dramatically performed concert performance gave us a chance to absorb the music, without interference from a director. Despite fairly obviously moralistic undertones, the story is about as far from the biblical oratorio as you can get. Continue reading