Secret Byrd: An Immersive Staged Mass

Secret Byrd
An Immersive Staged Mass on the 400th anniversary of William Byrd

The Gesualdo Six with Fretwork
Bill Barclay, Concert Theatre Works
St Martin-in-the-Fields crypt, 27 January 2023


In celebration of the 400th anniversary of William Byrd, The Gesualdo Six combined with the viol consort Fretwork for a theatrical recreation of a secret Catholic Mass with Byrd’s Mass for 5 Voices performed, as he intended, for a secret act of private domestic worship. It was directed by Bill Barclay, produced by Concert Theatre Works, and supported by The Continuo Foundation. The premiere performances were held in the splendidly restored crypt of London’s St Martin in the Fields.

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OAE: Saint-Saëns

Saint-Saëns: Sounds for the End of a Century
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Maxim Emelyanychev, conductor 
Steven Isserlis, cello, James McVinnie, organ 
Royal Festival Hall, 26 January 2023

Phaéton symphonic poem, Op.39
Cello Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.33
Danse macabre

Symphony No.3 in C minor (‘Organ Symphony’)

The first stop on the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s 2023 ‘grand tour’ from London to Mongolia was the Paris of organist and composer Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921). Towards the end of the 19th century, French music looked to create its own style, breaking away from the German musical influence of the time. Saint-Saëns, although retaining the influence of Franz Liszt, was part of this but he also looked back into the past, notably the music of Rameau (1683–1764) as well as acknowledging the music of the much younger Ravel. This concert of compositions from the early 1870s to the mid-1880s paired the well-known Danse macabre and the 3rd (Organ) Symphony following the lesser-known (to me, at least) Cello Concerto and the symphonic poem Phaéton.

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Biber: Rosary Sonatas

Biber: Rosary Sonatas
Daniel Pioro, violin, James McVinnie, organ, harpsichord
Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer & Purcell Room
Sunday 22 January 2023

Described as “a day-long deep dive into the world of Biber’s virtuosic Rosary Sonatas, with performances and talks stretching from sunrise to sunset”, this event divided the three sections of Biber’s Rosary (or Mystery) Sonatas into separate concerts, the first starting at 8 in the morning, one at midday, and then at 4 in the afternoon. The three concerts were interspersed with two pairs of “Deep Dive” talks – “deep dive” being the phrase of the moment as far as the Southbank is concerned, with more references in the January programme booklet, although it is a new one to me. This event seems to be part of the Southbank’s process of post-Covid rethinking, trying to rebuild audiences and attract younger people.

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Les Arts Florissants: Charpentier at Christmas

Charpentier at Christmas
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
The Barbican, 19 December 2022

Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Antiennes ‘O’ de l’Avent, H36–43 and Noëls pour les instruments, H531 and 534
Sur la Naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ, H482
In nativitatem Domini Canticum, H416

photo: Mark Allan / Barbican

A delightful alternative to the endless Messiahs and carol events in the lead-up to Christmas came with the visit of Les Arts Florissant to The Barbican for their concert, Charpentier at Christmas. Despite the decades of work by William Christie and the regular visits of his Les Arts Florissant to The Barbican, the French baroque repertoire is still not as well known as it deserves to be. This was a wonderful chance to absorb the distinctive sound of French music, singers, and orchestral colours.

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London International Festival of Early Music

London International Festival of Early Music
November 2022
Now available to view on Marquee TV

For those who, like me, were not able to get to this November’s London International Festival of Early Music (LIFEM), the five concerts from St Michael & All Angels Church, Blackheath can now be viewed on Marquee TV under the heading LIFEM 2020. The link is here. You can use the code LIFEM50 to sign up for a free seven-day trial, as well as 50% off an annual Marquee TV subscription. Concerts from the 2021 festival are also available to view.

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Bach and Friends: The Orgelbüchlein Project Completed

Bach and Friends
The Orgelbüchlein Project Completed
A weekend of concerts featuring the complete Orgelbüchlein
24/25th September 2022


One of the most important musical innovations in recent years has been the Orgelbüchlein Project. Bach’s tiny Orgelbüchlein has the titles of 164 Lutheran chorales noted on individual pages, covering the whole of the church year. But, for reasons that are not entirely understood, he only completed 46 of them, most composed when he was organist to the Court in Weimar. The Orgelbüchlein Project was set up to commission 118 new pieces to complete the remaining chorales, the whole curated by William Whitehead. The project reached its conclusion over the weekend of 24/25 September with a complete performance of all of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein chorale preludes together with all the new commissions. The complete performance (promoted by the Royal College of Organists) took place in nine concerts in seven churches over two days with the music played by nine organists.

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BBC Proms: OAE – Bach Mass in B Minor

BBC Proms
Bach: Mass in B Minor
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, John Butt
Royal Albert Hall, 29 March 2022

How should an atheist approach Bach? And, in particular, his Mass in B minor, arguably his finest work and one that, to him, seemed to sum up a lifetime of music dedicated to Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone) – the meaning of the S.D.G that Bach appended to all his sacred works?

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BBC Proms: Nathan Laube, organ

BBC Proms
Nathan Laube, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 28 August 2022

Wagner: Grand March
Franck: Grande pièce symphonique
Alkan: Scherzando from 11 Grands préludes
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor

Yet again, the BBC Proms powers-that-be have chosen the most inappropriate time for an organ recital – a Sunday morning – when most organists are attempting to earn their keep. Although working organists can listen on catch-up, the sparse audience (sparse for the Royal Albert Hall that is, but sadly not for the average organ recital) reflected this strange programme planning. But there was also something about the programming of the concert itself which raised questions about the BBC’s approach to The Proms, which this year seems to be seen as a populist extension of Radio 2, rather than Radio 3.

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Laus Polyphoniae – Polyphony of life

Laus Polyphoniae – Polyphony of life
Antwerp
19-23 August 2022

After a three-year Covid-induced hiatus when Laus Polyphoniae ran a much-reduced series of live and online events, the 2022 Festival restored the postponed 2020 edition, under the title Polyphony of life. As usual, the festival was run by AMUZ (Flanders Festival Antwerp) in conjunction with the Alamire Foundation, the study centre for music in the Low Countries and part of KU (Katholieke Universiteit) Leuven. As the name implies, Laus Polyphoniae is devoted to the music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance when polyphony was paramount.

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International Young Artists Presentation (IYAP)

International Young Artists Presentation
Laus Polyphoniae 2022
AMUZ, Amtwerp. 20 August 2022

The International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) is an annual coaching and presentation scheme promoted by Musica and AMUZ (Flanders Festival Antwerp). It is intended for young ensembles playing historical instruments. They are invited to present innovative and original programmes and to experiment with aspects of presentation and performance. The selected groups are given three days of coaching (on this occasion, led this year by Raquel Andueza and Robert Hollingworth, which is followed by a day of public concerts at the start of the Laus Polyphoniae festival, reviewed here.

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Ensemble Molière: Good Soup

Good Soup
Molière 400th anniversary project
Ensemble Molière

Sands Music Room 29 July 2022
Available online until 4 August 2022

I live on good soup, not on fine words”
Les Femmes Savants

Ensemble Molière describes Good Soup (which celebrates the 400th anniversary of Molière’s birth) as “an exploration of Molière’s world, both through his words and the music of his time … It investigates Molière’s form of bourgeois comedy and asks what these narrative structures still have to offer”. The show brings together “baroque music, absurdist theatre, slapstick and puppetry” and “takes a critical look at our own relationship with catastrophe and the desire to escape into spectacle and happiness”. It was performed in the magical Sands Music Room in Rotherhithe, a tiny theatre original built as a film set for Sands Films. but retained for use as a delightfully quirky and intimate performance space.

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Anna Lapwood: organ recital

Anna Lapwood, organ recital
Salisbury Cathedral. 23 July 2022

Anna Lapwood is not just a breath of fresh air in the rather stuffy male-dominated world of organ music, but a mighty rushing wind, challenging the orthodoxies of the organ world and fighting, in particular, to support girls and young women in music. Unusually, she only started playing the organ aged 16 (and then rather reluctantly), but by the time she was 21 had completed an Organ Scholarship in Magdelen College, Oxford (the first female to hold that post in the history of the College), and had been appointed as the youngest ever Director of Music at an Oxbridge College. She has a prolific and well-promoted social-media presence, and an enormous range of achievements to date, as evidenced by the lengthy introduction to her recital in Salisbury Cathedral. This was the first time I had heard her play live.

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York Early Music International Young Artists Competition 2022

York Early Music International Young Artists Competition
National Centre for Early Music
St. Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York
. 16 July 2022

After a Covid-induced hiatus in 2021, the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition returned to the impressively restored medieval church of St. Margaret’s, Walmgate, York, now the National Centre for Early Music. The detailed rules and other information can be seen here, but briefly, competitors must perform in an ensemble with at least 3 members with an average age of up to 33 years and an individual age of 37 or less. These ages are one year higher than usual and only apply to the 2022 competition because of the cancelled 2021 competition. The repertory must be from the middle ages to the 19th century, and performers must use historically informed techniques, instruments and stylistic conventions.

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Biber: Mystery Sonatas

Spitalfields Music
Biber: Mystery Sonatas
Aisha Orazbayeva, violin
Hoxton Hall, 8 July 2022


This concert, part of the Spitalfield Music summer festival, featured Biber’s extraordinary Mystery (or Rosary) Sonatas (c1676). Unusually, it was spread over two separately bookable concerts, which were both repeated two days later. Biber’s extraordinary Mystery (or Rosary) Sonatas is a set of 15 Sonatas of varied forms for violin and continuo and a concluding Passacaglia for solo violin. Each Sonata has a title linked to the Mysteries of the Rosary, reflecting a medieval processional practice of 15 meditational focus points in a church. It is thought that Biber’s music was intended for such a meditation. The 15 Sonatas are divided into three groups of five, under the headings of the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries.

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AAM. New Worlds: Genius – Mozart

New Worlds: Genius – Mozart
Academy of Ancient Music
Laurence Cummings

Ya-Fei Chuang, Robert Levin
Barbican, 1 July 2022


This concert saw the conclusion of the Academy of Ancient Music‘s New Worlds series, and the finale to Laurence Cummings’ first season as the AAM Music Director. Billed as “Grandeur, poetry and pure, unstoppable genius”, this imaginative programme contrasted Mozart’s Jupiter symphony with two little-known Mozart works, the Ballet sequence from Idomeneo (K367), and the Piano Concerto á3 (K242). The programme booklet for the concert can be accessed here.

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The Mathematical Genius of Bach

Spitalfields Festival
The Mathematical Genius of Bach
Goldberg Variations

James Sparks, City of London Sinfonia, Alexandra Wood 
Christ Church Spitalfields, 30 June 2022


The opening concert of the Spitalfields Music Festival referred back to The Spitalfields Mathematical Society, a club that met from 1717 in taverns around Christ Church Spitalfields. Its aim was to give “the public at large an opportunity of increasing their knowledge, on terms so easy, as to be within the reach of every individual, who has a taste to cultivate, or curiosity to gratify.” It educated the working-class men of the district, who included “weavers, brewers, braziers, bakers, bricklayers”. It merged into the Royal Astronomical Society in the 1840s. The Festival continued the Society’s role of educating with a talk by James Sparks (University of Oxford) on the mathematical genius of Bach, illustrated with a performance of the Goldberg Variations, while the audience had access to interactive maths puzzles.

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Chineke! Voices: Vicente Lusitano

The music of Vicente Lusitano
Chineke! Voices, Joseph McHardy
St Martin-in-the-Fields, 18 June 2022

Vicente Lusitano (c1520-c1561)
Beati omnes qui timent Dominum; Hic est Michael Archangelus;
Emendemus; Ave Spes Nostra; O Beata Maria; Regina Coeli;
Quid Montes, Musae?; Salve Regina; Inviolata, integra et casta es

The latest incarnation of the Chineke! Foundation (whose aim is to champion change and celebrate diversity in classical music) is Chineke! Voices, a group of professional black and ethnically diverse singers whose debut concert at their base at St Martin-in-the-Fields was dedicated to the music of the 17th-century Portuguese composer Vicente Lusitano (c1520-c1561). Lusitano was probably the first European composer of African descent to be published in Europe (Liber primus epigramatum 1551). He was a key musical figure although, helped by a bit of fake news by another musician, Vicentino, who lost a feud with Lusitano over a complex argument on musical theory. he has largely been written out of musical history. Lusitano’s music has been researched and edited for this concert by the conductor Joseph McHardy.

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Music of Consolation: Bach, Schütz & Schein

Music of Consolation
Bach, Schütz & Schein
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
St Martin-in-the-Fields, 16 June 2022

Two days before their St Martin-in-the-Fields concert, the culmination of a seven-concert European tour, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists performed this programme in the Roman Odeon of Herodes Atticus on side of the Acropolis hill in Athens. The Romans in Britain buried at least one of their dead on the site of St Martin-in-the-Fields and, if they were around today, might recognize the Corinthian columns of the neo-Renaissance facade of James Gibb’s 1720s church, although they would be surprised at the neo-Gothic spire that he sat on top of it. The music, in contrast, was entirely Baroque from three composers born 100 years apart.

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Musica Secreta: Mother, Sister, Daughter

Mother, Sister, Daughter
Musica Secreta
, Laurie Stras
Kings Place, 10 June 2022

CD and download Lucky Music, LCKY001.

As part of their Voices Unwrapped series of concerts, Kings Place welcomed vocal group Musica Secreta and their director, Professor Laurie Stras in a CD launch programme celebrating “women’s spiritual relationships and the stories they tell” under the title of Mother, Sister, Daughter. The music revealed musically creative women from 15th and 16th-century communities of sisters, notably in the convents of Santa Lucia in Verona and San Matteo in Arcetri, Florence. It includes motets attributed to Lucrezia Borgia’s daughter, Suor Leonora d’Este, and an Office of St Clare from the convent of Galileo’s illegitimate daughter, Suor Maria Celeste Galilei, together with music by Brumel, Maistre Jhan and anonymous (and possibly female) composers. It culminated in a newly commissioned work by Joanna Marsh.

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Tallis Scholars sing Tallis

Spem in alium
The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips
Cadogan Hall, 9 June 2022

Although I have listened to and reviewed The Tallis Scholars many times over the years, I don’t think I have ever heard them sing a complete programme of Tallis. That omission was overcome with their all-Tallis concert in Cadogan Hall. It ended, perhaps inevitably, with the famous 40-part motet Spem in alium. The rest of the concert drew on a core group of 14 singers in various formations demonstrating the breadth of Tallis choral works.

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Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine

London Festival of Baroque Music
Monteverdi Vespro della Beata Vergine
The Choir of Westminster Abbey, St. James’ Baroque, James O’Donnell
Westminster Abbey. 19 May 2022

A highlight of the London Festival of Baroque Music (and its earlier incarnations) is the annual visit to Westminster Abbey to hear the famous Abbey choir in the spectacular setting. This year they gave us Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine. It was directed by James O’Donnell, the Organists and Director of Music at the Abbey, in what will probably be his last appearance in the Festival before his move to Yale University after 22 years at the Abbey.

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An Adriatic Voyage


An Adriatic Voyage
The Illyria Consort and The Marian Consort

Bojan Čičić, Rory McCleery, directors
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s Smith Square. 15 May 2022

CD: Adriatic Voyage
Seventeenth-century music from Venice to Dalmatia
Delphian DCD 34260. 58’26

Music by Francesco Sponga (aka Usper), Gabriel Spona, Gabrielo Puliti,
Vicenz Jelić, Julije Skovelić, Ivan Lukačić, and Thomasso Cecchini.

It is not often that I review a concert where only one of the composers seemed familiar, and that one confused me with a different version of his name. This excellent concert (and the extended CD version) was inspired by the record of a 1575 journey by the Venetian diplomat and naval commander Giacomo Soranzo as he set sail from Venice to Constantinople. As they sailed down the Istrian coast, (present-day Croatia) they called in at various port cities, most of which were within the territory of the Venetians and subject to the continual movement of trade and people bringing different influences to the varied local culture. The concert is by composers who lived on the Dalmatian coast in the years after Soranzo’s expedition.

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Gabrieli: A Venetian Coronation

London Festival of Baroque Music
A Venetian Coronation
Gabrieli, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square, 13 May 2022

The 2022 London Festival of Baroque Music opened with a very welcome throwback to the 1990s and Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Consort’s large-scale liturgical reconstructions, here represented by a rerun of A Venetian Coronation, a musical re-creation of the 1595 Coronation Mass for the Venetian Doge Marino Grimani. This was first performed in St John’s, Smith Square and has since been recorded twice and performed many times around the world.

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Vox Luminis: Schütz & Bach

Schütz & Bach
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
St John’s, Smith Square. Easter Sunday, 17 April 2022

Chorale: Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
SchützMusikalische Exequien, Op.7
BachActus Tragicus, BWV 106. Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4

Regular visitors to St John’s, Smith Square in pre-Covid days, the Belgium group Vox Luminis made a very welcome return to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) with a performance of his Musikalische Exequien, a piece they recorded around 10 years ago to great acclaim, and frequently perform. They contrasted this with Bach’s Actus Tragicus and Christ lag in Todesbanden to bring to a close the St John’s, Smith Square Easter Festival.

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Sansara & Fretwork: Pärt & White

Arvo Pärt & Robert White
Sansara & Fretwork
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 April 2022

For many years, St John’s, Smith Square has been the musical place to be in the run-up to Easter. This year’s Easter Festival was no exception. The seven-day event included regulars such as Polyphony, in their traditional Good Friday Passion, alongside the usual focus on other early music performances. The first two events rather countered that focus with the 1915 Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil opening the festival followed by Dupré’s 1931 Le Chemin de la Croix for organ. Another was the concert by the vocal group Sansara and the viol consort Fretwork, reviewed here, which contrasted music by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt with Robert Wight’s Lamentations à 5.

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Fair Oriana: Divine Songs of Passion

Divine Songs of Passion
Fair Oriana, with David Wright & Harry Buckoke
St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, London EC1A
13 April 2022
(and at Sands Films Music Room on 21 April)

As part of their Holy Week Mass and Music series of events, the historic church of St Bartholomew the Great in London’s Smithfield invited the soprano duo, Fair Oriana, to perform their programme Divine Songs of Passion. This well-constructed concert was based around François Couperin’s c1714 Leçons de ténèbres pour le mercredi saint, contrasted with music by d’Anglebert, Purcell, Pergolesi and Blow. The date of the concert was appropriate, as the only surviving part of the Couperin Leçons de ténèbres is the one for the Wednesday of Holy Week. The other two sets of three Leçons composed for the following two days are lost. Although the Lamentations of Jeremiah depict the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, they have long been associated with Holy Week.

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Amavi: works by Michael East

Amavi
Fantasias, verse anthems and vocal works by Michael East
Chelys Consort of Viols and Fieri Consort
St Gabriel’s Church, Pimlico. 17 March 2022

With the financial support of the Continuo Foundation, the Chelys Consort of Viols and Fieri Consort gave a concert of music by the little-known English composer, Michael East (c1580–1648, aka, Easte, Est, Este). This was part of a short UK tour of the programme, and was preceded by a reception for Continuo Foundation supporters during which members of the two groups explained the programme and described the instruments. After a Cambridge Univesity music degree and a few years in the choir of Ely Cathedral, East moved west to spend the rest of his career as choirmaster at Lichfield Cathedral. He published seven groups of compositions, including the Fantasias for five viols performed here. They are unusual in that each of them has a name, ranging from Desperavi (I despaired) to Amavi (I loved) via Vixi (I lived) and Triumphavi (I triumphed). For this concert, they were interspersed with vocal pieces by East that reflected the mood of each Fantasia.

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Academy Choir: St John Passion

Bach: St John Passion
Academy Choir & Baroque Players, Matthew Best
St John’s, Wimbledon, 12 March 2022

Choral societies have a long and noble tradition in the UK. They provide much-needed employment opportunities for the young professional musicians brought in as soloists as well as giving the opportunity to perform for the vast body of amateur singers whose membership fees keep the shows on the road. The Academy Choir is one such. It was founded in Wimbledon in 1980 and since 2000 has been based at the church of St John the Baptist, Spencer Hill, Wimbledon. It is an auditioned choir, rather than taking all-comers, and the musical standards are obviously high. Since 2017 their musical director has been Matthew Best. My invitation to review their performance of the St John Passion promised that “our concerts tend to be ‘a cut above’ what might typically be expected to be found in a suburban church, given by a local choir”, a claim that proved itself correct.

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International Women’s Day: BBC Singers

I am the World
Choral and Organ Music for International Women’s Day

BBC Singers, Grace Rossiter, Anna Lapwood
Live from Temple Church and on BBC Radio 3 and iPlayer. 8 March 2022

As part of a series of events to mark International Women’s Day, the BBC Singers, directed by Grace Rossiter, presented a live broadcast of music by leading 21st Century women composers from the Temple Church in London. It included four world premieres, one of which was commissioned by the BBC for the occasion. Alongside the vocal works were pieces played by the organist Anna Lapwood from her own new anthology of commissioned organ pieces by female composers, aimed at younger organists.

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AAM New Worlds Travelogue: Nicholas Lanier

New Worlds: TravelogueNicholas Lanier
Academy of Ancient Music
, Laurence Cummings
Anna Dennis, Thomas Walker
Milton Court & AAM LIVE stream. 18 February 2022

As part of their New Worlds series, the Academy of Ancient Music explored the life and times of the much-travelled lutenist, courtier and musical adventurer Nicholas Lanier in their Milton Hall and AAM LIVE streamed concert New Worlds | Travelogue. Lanier was from a French Huguenot family with an Italian mother. He was a court musician and composer to both King Charles I and Charles II, becoming the first Master of the King’s Music in 1625. He made several visits to Italy to acquire paintings for Charles I, during which he experienced the new style of Italian secondo pratica music from the likes of Claudio Monteverdi. He subsequently introduced the recitative style to England. He was painted by van Dyck in Antwerp and persuaded the King to bring Van Dyck to England.

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