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?
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.
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.
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 Musicaand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Schütz & Bach Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier St John’s, Smith Square. Easter Sunday, 17 April 2022
Chorale: Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin Schütz: Musikalische Exequien, Op.7 Bach: Actus 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.
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.
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 ofSt 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 ténèbrespour 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.
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 andFieri 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.
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.
I am the World Choral and Organ Music for International Women’s Day BBC Singers, Grace Rossiter, Anna Lapwood Live from Temple ChurchandonBBC 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.
New Worlds: Travelogue – Nicholas 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.
Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Indes Galantes Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva The Cockpit. 6 February 2022
This was French Baroque opera, but not as Rameau might have known it. Les Indes Galantes was first performed in 1735 in the form of a heroïque opéra-ballet, with elaborate dance movements dominating the vocal music. It would have involved a large orchestra, a substantial troupe of dancers, up to 21 solo singers, and spectacular staging and special effects that included, amongst other things, a storm at sea and a volcanic eruption. This delightful version, performed by Ensemble OrQuesta in the square black-box Cockpit Theatre had an ‘orchestra’ of just eight, including the director, Marcio da Silva and nine singers. The only real props were some long sticks, used in dance sequences and to delineate stage areas.
Handel: Messiah Burghclere Baroque, Theresa Caudle The Church of the Ascension, Burghclere. 22 December 20217 Revisions
However often professional musicians may appear on the national or international stage, for many of them, much of their musical activity is local, whether teaching or running their own musical events, concerts and festivals. One example is Burghclere Baroque, set up in 2020 by violinist/cornetist Theresa Caudle in her home village of Burghclere, on the Hampshire border just south of Newbury. Alongside Chamber Music and Orchestral Days, they also arrange concerts when current issues permit. Just about slipping in before the latest Covid stops such things, is this performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Church of the Ascension, Burghclere. Their invitation to the concert also invited people to attend their afternoon rehearsal, which is what I did. A formal review would not have been appropriate, so this is just a record of an event. And if you are local, and see this in time, you might manage to get to the 7pm start.
Réunion des goûts Ensemble Molière Heath Street Arts Heath Street Baptist Church and Livestream. 21 December 2021
Lully – Ouverture from Psyché Couperin – Sonade from L’Impériale, Les Nations Telemann – Quatuor No. 6 in E minor from Nouveaux quatuors en six suites Charpentier – Suites from Le Mariage Forcé Couperin – Chaconne ou Passacaille from La Françoise, Les Nations
The last concert in the 2021 series of the Heath Street Arts’ Tuesday Lunchtime Concerts (TLC) at Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead was given by Ensemble Molière under the title of Réunion des goûts. Sharing the stage with an enormous Christmas tree, their programme reflected the merging of French and Italian musical styles that had been pioneered by François Couperin and developed by Georg Philipp Telemann. It was initiated by Couperin in his L’Apothéose de Lully and Les Nations. Telemann continued the trend with his 1738 Nouveaux quatuors en six suites – the ‘Paris Quartets’.
Look, no Bass! Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment OAE Player from Thursday 25 November
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is a self-managed and democratic orchestra and gives its players considerable freedom to choose programmes and music. In their latest video offering on their OAE Player, Look, No Bass!, the OAE’s violinists present a programme of music for violins alone, highlighting the various textures and colours of their ubiquitous instrument. Their programme includes Telemann’s two Concerti for Four Violins, his programmatic Gulliver Suite Duo (from Der getreue Musikmeister), and arrangements by the OAE violinists of a Gabrieli Canzon and pieces by the English composers Matthew Locke and John Adson.
Stile Antico The Journey of the Mayflower Available free on YouTube until 28 November 2021
This is not a review, but an alert that the excellent vocal group Stile Antico have re-released their 2020 film, The Journey of the Mayflower, on theirYouTube channel. It is available free for one week until the end of 28 November 2021. In this music drama, Stile Antico explore the story of the Mayflower Pilgrims, alongside music of the period. The Mayflower Pilgrims were puritans who sailed from Plymouth in September 1620 to what would become New England, seeking a life free from religious persecution. Despite their confidence that God’s favour was with them, their journey was beset with difficulties. Their arrival also heralded an era of destruction for the native Wampanoag tribe.
The Albion Project Fretwork Gabriel Prokofiev, Nonclassical Kings Place, 12 November 2021
The Albion Project is an initiative from the viol consort Fretwork. They commissioned composers to arrange a wide range of significant works of British music for viol consort. This was performed in Hall 2 (a black box studio) of Kings Place as part of their 2021 London Unwrapped series of concerts. The new arrangements and remixes were performed with and together with a digital narrative from Gabriel Prokofiev (assisted by Blasio Kavuma), who linked and underlay Fretwork’s live music for five viols with extracts from live recordings, computer beats, loops, audio manipulation and various other technical wizardries. It was an attempt to answer the question – what is British identity, and what is that in music?