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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Concert: St John’s Smith Square, 30 October 2019
CD: Signum/Winged Lion SIGCD589. 2CD. 97’38

Purcell King Arthur 1691

The new recording by the Gabrieli Consort & Players of Purcell’s King Arthur was launched at an impressive concert performance at St John’s, Smith Square. Lacking the two biggest-name singers from the recording (Carolyn Sampson and Roderick Williams), the concert was otherwise the same as the CD apart from the late replacement bass Robert Davies, standing in for Marcus Farnsworth and a smaller orchestra. Omitting all the spoken text of the original play, the music of King Arthur makes for a musically excellent, but texturally confusing, listen. None of the main characters of the King Arthur story appears. The music occurred at intervals during the play, generally as little masques, only occasionally as one-off songs responding to moments in the play. Continue reading

Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus

Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 29 October 2019

The world of ancient myths is a complex one, with many of the stories coming down to us in several different, and frequently conflicting, versions. One such is the Orpheus myth, the subject of four operas currently playing at the English National Opera’s Coliseum. After the sheer silliness of Emma Rice’s reconstruction of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (reviewed here) we had Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s monumental The Mask of Orpheus (with electronic music by Barry Anderson), the premier at the Coliseum in 1986 being its only full staging until now. Birtwistle’s approach is to tell several versions of the myth all at the same time in one of the most complex operas of modern time. As the ENO publicity explains, “Harrison Birtwistle’s iconic masterpiece retells the Orpheus myth in a non-linear narrative, as the opera’s leading characters appear in three distinct guises”. It “explores the contradictions in the various versions of the famous Greek tragedy, building a three-dimensional picture that leads us from inconsolable grief to acceptance and transformation”.

Continue reading

ENO: Orpheus in the Underworld

Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld
English National Opera
Coliseum, 23 October 2019

Act II – Mount Olympus

The classical legend of Orpheus, dating back to the 6th century BCE, has been an inspiration for artists and musicians for more than 2,000 years. The related story of the death of his wife Eurydice has a more complex background. It has been the focus of musical commentaries from Monteverdi’s sublime 1607 opera L’Orfeo (one of the first known operas) to present-day pop songs and video games. Following Monteverdi, we have Gluck’s 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice, and Jacques Offenbach’s 1858/1874 comic operetta Orpheus in the Underworld (Orphée aux enfers), a satirical parody of Gluck, which formed the basis for this ENO production. Continue reading

Prom 71: Bach Night

Prom 71: Bach Night
Dunedin Consort, John Butt
Royal Albert Hall. 11 September

As part of this year’s Proms’ recognition of Henry Wood’s influence, this concert reflected his 1920s Wednesday Bach Night. The Dunedin Consort and John Butt performed Bach’s four Orchestral Suites, each paired with a short newly commissioned piece (all given world premieres) inspired by the dance movements that follow the opening Overture of each Suite. The first two Suites (4 &1) were followed by the new pieces while, after the interval, Suites (2&3) were preceded by the new commissions.

Continue reading

Korkyra Baroque Festival

Korkyra Baroque Festival
Korčula, Croatia
31 August – 14 September 2019

DSC06923

The Korkyra Baroque Festival (Korculanski Barokni Festival) was founded in 2012 on the delightful Adriatic island of Korčula (aka Korkyra, Korcula) on the Dalmatian archipelago between Split and Dubrovnik in the southern part of Croatia. Drawing attention both to music and the cultural and artistic heritage of Korčula, the festival runs annually for about two weeks at the beginning of September. Concerts (of just over an hour in length) are generally first performed in the historic fortified town of Korčula and are then repeated in other towns on the island, on nearby islands,, and on the Peljesac peninsula.

DSC06887 Continue reading

La Morte della Ragione

La Morte della Ragione
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Outhere Music: Alpha ALPHA450. 73’07

La Morte della Ragione (The Death of Reason) is a concept album (CD and a 98-page illustrated book) based around Petrarch’s comment that The senses reign, and Reason now is dead’. It is also a clearly intended as a showcase for the virtuoso recorder playing of Giovanni Antonini, founder of Il Giardino Armonico. After an opening recorder flourish we hear the anonymous 16th-century pavane, La Morte della Ragione. This is seen as a reference to to Erasmus‘s In Praise of Folly, and his suggestion of two forms of madness – a sweet illusion of the spirit and the opposite, ‘one that the vengeful Furies conjure up from hell.

A wide-ranging set of scenarios are offered, ranging in date from John Dunstable (1390-c1453), via the likes of Alexander Agricola (1446-c1506), to Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), whose Galliard Battaglia concludes the CD. a battle piece involving a great many diminutions or ‘divisions’, a common technique of improvisation in the Renaissance… This grand instrumental musical fresco of time and space is a kind of self-portrait of Giovanni Antonini and his longstanding musical colleagues. To accompany this disc, a richly-illustrated booklet presents a free-ranging iconographical tour combining pictures and contemporary photos.

Continue reading

Prom 55: Handel’s Jephtha

Prom 55: Handel’s Jephtha
Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Chorus, Richard Egarr
Royal Albert Hall, 30 August 2019

Following on from last year’s Theodora, the BBC Proms Handel cycle continued with Jephtha, Handel’s last oratorio. It was composed in 1751 as his sight was failing. At one point in the autograph score he wrote “unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye.” It is rather telling that note occurs at the chorus that concludes Act 2, How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees, All hid from mortal sight. Despite Handel’s personal difficulties at the time, and the frankly bizarre Biblical story upon which it is based, it is one of his finest oratorios, full of the most glorious music for six solo singers and chorus with a succession of attractive and dramatic arias linked by relatively short recitatives.

Continue reading

Antwerp: Laus Polyphoniae 2019

Laus Polyphoniae 2019
Mary of Burgundy & The Burgundian Court
Antwerp, Flanders. 16-20 August

The 26th annual Laus Polyphoniae explored the flourishing cultural scene in the time of Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482), one of the most powerful women in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages. She came to power in the Netherlands in 1477, aged 20, but found that her father, Charles the Bold, had left an empty state treasury, hostile neighbouring countries and domestic revolts. Thanks to her diplomatic skills, the young Duchess managed to calm the situation, notably in Flanders. She was the most sought-after bride in Europe with many suitors, eventually marrying Maximilian of Austria, thereby linking the House of Burgundy to that of the powerful Habsburgs. She died in 1482, at just 25 years old after a fall from her horse. The week-long Laus Polyphoniae festival featured secular and religious music relating to Mary of Burgundy and her time, performed by ensembles from Belgium and abroad, including Stile Antico, Ensemble Leones, Comet Musicke, Utopia and Huelgas Ensemble. I was able to attend for most of the first five days, including the International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) events on the first weekend.  Continue reading

Prom 47: Bach & Bruckner

Prom 47: Bach & Bruckner
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Andris Nelsons
Michael Schönheit, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 23 August 2019

J S Bach
Fantasia in G minor, BWV 542, Jesus bleibet meine Freude (arr: Schmidt-Mannheim),
Prelude in E flat major, BWV 552i, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645,
Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552ii
Anton Bruckner
Symphony No 8 in C Minor (1890 Novak version)

The idea of pairing Bruckner with organ music at the Proms is not new and makes sense, not least because Bruckner gave several organ recitals in the Royal Albert Hall. Bearing in mind that most people would have come to this Prom to hear Bruckner 8 rather than a short sequence of well-known organ works, there seems to have been a misjudgement in both the choice of organ pieces and the performance. The Royal Albert Hall organ is capable of the most enormous sounds, with power that will easily out-blast the largest symphony orchestra, as evidenced during the Glagolitic Mass in Prom 1 (reviewed here). It is also capable of producing a vague impression of the sort of sound that Bach might have known, albeit at considerable loss of power and aural presence. Michael Schönheit, the organist of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, fell into the uncomfortable gap between these two possibilities, choosing registrations that muddied the music but made no real aural presence in the hall. Continue reading

Antwerp: International Young Artist’s Presentation

International Young Artist’s Presentation
Laus Polyphoniae 2019
Cultural Centre ‘De Kern’, Wilrijk
Antwerp, 18 August 2019

The International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) is an annual coaching and presentation scheme given in Antwerp for young ensembles playing historical instruments. Ensembles are invited to present innovative and original programmes and to experiment with aspects of presentation and performance. The groups selected for the annual scheme are given three days of coaching sessions (led by Peter Van Heyghen and Raquel Andueza) which are followed by two days of public concerts over the first weekend of the Laus Polyphoniae festival. Each group repeats their concert twice on each day to an audience who move from venue to venue. On the first day, various concert organisers from around Europe attend and give feedback to the ensembles. Following these concerts, further advice is offered to the ensembles about their future careers. they are given the title of “IYAP Selected Promising Ensemble 2019”. The scheme is an initiative of Musica: Impulse Centre for Music and the AMUZ Antwerp. The weekend public concerts take place in a variety of settings, this year focused on the district of Wilrijk and the Cultural Centre De Kern.

Continue reading

Prom 38: Solomon’s Knot – Bach Cantatas

Prom 38: Bach Cantatas
Solomon’s Knot

Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

Cantata 130 ‘Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir
Cantata 19 ‘Es erhub sich ein Streit
Cantata 149, ‘Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg
Cantata 50, ‘Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft

I have reviewed the Solomon’s Knot collective many times since their early days and have always been very impressed by their distinctive style of musical presentation. Although they perform a wide repertoire of early and contemporary music, it is in the music of Bach that their style seems to be particularly appropriate. This was their Proms debut – a late-night concert of four Bach cantatas all composed for the Feast of St Michael, his dragon-slaying antics making for some dramatic music. The 8 singers perform from memoty, with an attractively informal stage manner, directly addressing the audience and drawing us into the world that they are depicting. As times it is almost like listening in to a conversation between a group of friends. They move centre-stage for choruses individually, like a discussion group slowly forming, and then stand in a tight-knit shallow arc, When one of them is singing a solo, others will often stand nearby, as if listening to and encouraging a friend.  Continue reading

Prom 37: L’Enfance du Christ

Prom 37. Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ
Halle Orchestra, Maxime Pascal
Britten Sinfonia Voices, Genesis Sixteen
Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

L’Enfance du Christ is a curious work to programme in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall for a Berlioz anniversary Prom. The gently reflective nature of the unfolding story seems to demand a sense of intimacy, whereas works such as the Te Deum cry out for such a setting. The genesis of L’Enfance du Christ is a fascinating one. Berlioz wrote a tiny organ piece into an architect’s album during a card-playing party in 1850. Realising the nature of his creation, he immediately added some words and gave birth to the famous ‘Shepherds’ Farewell’ (L’adieu des bergers). He added it to his next concert with a hoax billing as by a forgotten 17th-century composer, named after the architect who asked for the little musical momento. Four years later, it would later form the centre-point of what he termed a ‘sacred trilogy’ – L’Enfance du Christ, a three-section oratorio. Continue reading

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie
Ensemble OrQuesta
Grimborn Opera Festival
Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London
13 August 2019

As the name of suggests, Grimeborn is not Glyndebourne. Its mid-summer season is based at the Arcola Theatre, a converted textile factory in Dalston, East London, and focuses on new operas and experimental productions of more established repertoire. The cramped space forces directors, singers and instrumentalists to rethink opera presentation. There is only space for very few instrumentalists in a tiny gallery which is only accessible by ladder. The singers are performing within a few feet of the audience, which sits on three sides of the small central stage area, creating directorial issues in how the singers relate to the audience. It is about as far as you can get from the ideal space to perform French Baroque opera, with its enormous casts of singers and dancers, large orchestral forces and elaborate stage settings, but that is exactly what Ensemble OrQuesta are doing in their production of Rameau’s tragédie en musiqueHippolyte et Aricie.  Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Die Zauberflöte

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ryan Wigglesworth
Glyndebourne Festival, 6 August 2019

This is the 7th production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne, and the popularity of Mozart’s singspiel seems undiminished, judging by the sell-out of the entire run. This time it was directed by the Canadian partnership of André Barbe and Renaud Doucet, the former providing the designs, the latter the direction. If you are the sort of opera-goer who struggles with even the simplest plots and prefers to just let the music and the visual spectacle wash over you, this may be the Magic Flute for you. Musically, it was outstanding, with fine singing from a strong cast and excellent playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by Ryan Wigglesworth. André Barbe’s scenery was inventive, based on enlarged versions of his pen and ink sketches and clever use of perspective. That said, there are many questions about Renaud Doucet’s overall direction, not least in the liberties taken with the plot to fit with his own ideas about what he sees as the ‘problems’ with the original concept and libretto. 

Image result for zauberflote glyndebourne

Continue reading

Prom 22: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich & Outi Tarkiainen

Prom 22: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich & Outi Tarkiainen
BBC Philharmonic, John Storgårds
Royal Albert Hall, 5 August 2019

Rachmaninov: Isle of the Dead
Outi Tarkiainen: Midnight Sun Variations BBC commission: world premiere
Shostakovich: Symphony No 11 ‘The Year 1905’

Pairing Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead with Shostakovich’s 1tth Symphony foretold an evening that wasn’t going to be a bundle of fun. The opening gloomy 5:8 rhythms of the boatman rowing a corpse to the Isle of the Dead, as memorably depicted in Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel, set the mood. This photo shows a much better and clearer version to that printed in the programme – there are at least six versions.

Image result for Leipzig Isle of the DeadArnold Böcklin: Die Toteninsel  

Continue reading

Prom 21: Olivier Latry

Prom 21: The Art of Transcription
Olivier Latry, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 4 August 2019

In what must be the most inept bit of programming in musical history, the BBC Proms has seen fit, for yet another year, to programme the only organ recital of the Proms at 11am on a Sunday, when most organists will be earning a pittance playing for church services. I cannot think of another instrument where the choice of a specific day and time could exclude a key part of the potential audience. That said, there was a pretty impressive audience for this concert, far more than at the previous Sunday’s evening Prom of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles. And what a treat they had. Olivier Latry is one of the organists at Notre Dame who when not on his week’s turn of duty there has built an enviable reputation at a touring recitalist and teacher. His programme focused on the art of transcription, an aspect of organ performance that dates back to early Renaissance times but reached its peak in England in the 19th century when W T Best became Liverpool Corporation Organists (in 1855) and, over a period spanning around 40 years, gave three organ recitals a week in St George’s Hall. He was the first organist to give a recital in the Royal Albert Hall, in 1871.

Continue reading

Prom 13. Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles

Olivier Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
Nicolas Hodges, Martin Owen, David Hockings, Alex Neal
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2019

Olivier Messiaen wrote Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) between 1971/4 as a commission celebrating the bicentenary of the US Declaration of Independence. He was strongly influenced by a visit to Utah, finding inspiration in the birds and the extraordinary landscapes. Each of the three parts of the 12-movement work concludes with a powerful movement dedicated to the dramatic geological sites of Utah, Bryce Canyon and the nearby Cedar Breaks and Zion Park. Messiaen had sound-colour synaesthesia and the “red, orange, violet” of the sandstone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon led to his focussing the extended 7th movement Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange” (Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks) in his own key of third-mode E major, a mode that he saw as a bright red-orange colour. He contrasts this image with the blue of the Steller’s Jay, one of many birds that feature throughout the piece from places as far afield as Australia, Hawaii. and the Sahara. The monumental final few bars of this movement are the aural climax of the entire piece.

Brice CanyonBryce Canyon © ABW Continue reading