Puccini: Suor Angelica

Puccini: Suor Angelica
LunchBreak Opera
St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate. 13 July 2017

Image may contain: textLunchBreak Opera is a new venture, launched earlier this year. Its first production was Puccini’s one-act opera Suor Angelica, given in nine fully staged and costumed lunchtime and early evening performances (10-14 July) in St Botolph’s Church, Bishopsgate, London – a prime position, next to Liverpool Street Station. Lasting just 50 minutes it is ideal for lunchtime and post-work entertainment. Continue reading

Nonclassical Club Night

Nonclassical Club NIght
Freya Waley-Cohen, The Hermes Experiment, Liam Byrne
The Victoria, Dalston. 12 July 2017

Nonclassical is an enterprising musical set up combining a record label with monthly club nights around London, founded in 2004 by composer Gabriel Prokofiev. The club nights bring classical music, both newly composed and more traditional, to the rock club scene, with events usually held in pub entertainment rooms. If the aim was to attract the sort of audience that wouldn’t be seen dead in places like the Wigmore Hall, it has certainly succeeded. The audience stands, drinks in hand, around a stage packed with loudspeakers. Between the acts, DJs continue the theme of inventive new music. The associated record label includes extracts from the live gigs as well as remixes of new compositions. Continue reading

Ceruleo: Paradise Lost

Ceruleo: Paradise Lost
Guildhall Artist Fellowship Recital
Music Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 10 July 2017

The five-strong group Ceruleo (two sopranos, cello, theorbo, and harpsichord) got together at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2014. They have just completed a one year Artist Fellowship there, the first time a this has been awarded to a group. During their year, they gave several performances of their programme ‘Deplorable Fire’ commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, including a live performance on BBC Radio 3. They presented their Paradise Lost programme, based on John Milton’s poem (published 350 years ago in 1667) as their final recital of their Fellowship year. The music was interspersed by extracts from Paradise Lost. Continue reading

Regensburg Tage Alter Musik

Regensburg: Tage Alter Musik
2-5 June 2017

With 16 concert in four days, held over the Pentecost/Whitsun weekend, the annual Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival is quite a challenge for a reviewer, but a sumptuous feast for those who manage to attend all the concerts, most of which are sold out. IMG_20170602_150315400.jpgThe entire centre of the historic Danube city of Regensburg has been declared a World Heritage site, and all the venues for the festival are in important historic buildings. These range from extreme Baroque and Rococo to austere Gothic churches, and the historic Reichssaal, part of the Altes Rathaus, and for centuries the permanent seat of the Parliament of the Holy Roman Empire. This was the 33rd festival and featured groups from 12 countries, and musicians from a great many more. The Tage Alter Musik website can be see here, with links through to detailed programmes and group websites. Continue reading

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie
Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva
Music at Woodhouse: Baroque Opera Acadmey
Woodhouse Copse, Holmbury St. Mary, Surrey. 1 July 2017

Music at Woodhouse is based at Woodhouse Copse, an attractive 1926 Arts & Crafts style cottage orné and garden designed by Oliver Hill, a follower of Lutyens, with planting planned by Gertrude Jekyll. A former indoor swimming pool has been IMG_20170701_192809782_HDR.jpgconverted into a small concert room, and there is also a larger lakeside amphitheatre and stage. As well as small-scale professional productions, it has also recently started week-long academies for young opera singers, culminating in public performances. When they invited me to review Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie , I was warned that ‘it isn’t Glyndebourne’, but even Glyndebourne singers have to start somewhere and this seemed a pretty attractive venue for a week of music making and learning. Ten singers were accepted onto the academy, led by music direct Marco de Silva and harpsichordist Stephanie Gurga. Three of the roles had dual casting on the Saturday and Sunday performances. Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Die Walküre

Grange Park Opera: Die Walküre
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Barlow
Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place, Surrey
29 June 2017

Grange Park Opera closed the final season of their 18 year tenure at The Grange, Hampshire with a performance of Tristan & Isolde, so it was appropriate that their opening season in their new home in the Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place they should include more Wagner, in the shape of Die Walküre, the second part of Wagner’s Ring cycle. The first, 1870, performance was as an isolated opera: it wasn’t performed in a Ring cycle until 1876, so viewing it on its own has a degree of authenticity. And, shorn of the complexity and stamina of being part of a complete Ring cycle, witnessing the stand-alone opera allowed us to focus on the complexities of interpersonal interaction and relationships.  Continue reading

OAE ‘Bach goes to Paris’

‘Bach goes to Paris’
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 28 June 2017

Campra Suite: Les Fêtes Vénetiennes
JCF Fischer Suite no. 7 from Le journal de printemps
Bach Suite no. 4
Rameau Suite: Les Indes Galantes
Bach Suite no. 3

‘Bach goes to Paris’? No, of course he didn’t, but in a way Paris, or at least, France, came to Bach, through the experience of other musicians and of studying scores, notably De Grigny’s Livre d’Orgue, which he copied out by hand. But, if he had have gone to Paris, I wonder what he would have made of Campra’s Les Fêtes Vénetiennes, an early example of the opéra-ballet genre. Much revised and revived after its 1710 opening, it clocked up around 300 performances over the following 50 years. With sections with titles such as the Triumph of Folly over Reason during the Carnival, Serenades and gamblers, and The acrobats of St Mark’s Square, or Cupid the acrobat, the lively series of depictions of carnival time in Paris gave a wonderful introduction to the livelier side of French music of the period. Particularly notable were Stephen Farr’s delightful little harpsichord twiddles during the rests in the Gigue, and Jude Carlton’s inventive percussion including, at one stage, castanets. it ends in a surprisingly elegant Chaconne – an example of French bon gout that was perhaps absent in some of the earlier moments. Continue reading

Mitridate, Re di Ponto

Mozart: Mitridate, Re di Ponto
The Royal Opera, Christophe Rousset
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 26 June 2017

By the time he composed Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Mozart has already written 13 symphonies, three operas, four masses, two oratorios, and around 20 sonatas for strings or keyboard. He was just 14. This revival of Graham Vick’s 26 year-old production exposes the extraordinary artifice that was the realm of opera seria, overblowing and exaggerating every aspect of Mozart’s youthful exploration of love and family feuding.

The opera opened with what looked like the aftermath of a nasty accident. It seemed as though Aspasis had crash landed through the top of a vast cloth-covered sideboard, leaving only the upper part of her body visible. It took a while to realise that it was not a sideboard, but her costume – one of a number of vast rectangular tent-like creations of huge width that some of the singers had to contend with for much of the evening. One of several, presumably unintended, audience laughs came when a closing set panels left just enough space for Aspasia to walk through without turning sideways. She later appeared as though sitting behind a large bedecked dinner table, as pictured. Indeed the striking costume design was one of the main features of this production, which included a number of impressively choreograph set-piece dances, at one stage complete with a lot of foot-stomping, stick-banging and skirt-twirling, the whole more in Japanese than Anatolian (or 18th century European) style.
Continue reading

Hitchcock: The Lodger + organ

Hitchcock: The Lodger
with live improvised organ accompaniment by David Briggs
Royal Festival Hall. 24 June 2017

The history of improvisation on the organ is almost as old as the history of the organ itself. From medieval times to the present day, the ability to compose at will has been an essential part of an organists skills, whether adding a simple counter melody to a plainchant to improvising a complete symphony. Although the tradition is not as strong in the UK as it is in, for example, France, recent decades have seen a UK revival in the art of composing at sight. On this occasion, it was a specific branch of improvising that was on display, that of accompanying a silent film. There are many organists, past and present, who specialise in the cinema organ genre, but this performance was given by a classical organist, David Briggs, formerly organist at three cathedrals, and now best known for his organ transcriptions of symphonies by Mahler et al, as well as for his film accompaniments.  Continue reading

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 18 June 2017

The Grange, in Northington, Hampshire, achieved it current form in the early 19th century, when the architect William Wilkins (later to design the National Gallery) encased a 17th century house in grand Greek revival style. Further work by Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum, and Charles Robert Cockerell completed the scheme. It came to public notice in 1975 when the owners, a junior branch of the Baring banking family, attempted to demolish the building. The exterior was listed by the Government, on IMG_20170618_142530147.jpgaccount of its appearance and landscape importance, and placed into the guardianship of English Heritage, who instigated major restoration of the exterior of the building and opened the site to the public. It reached much wider appreciation in 1998 when the new Grange Park Opera took a 20 year lease from the Baring landlords, and started a summer opera season. In 2002 they built an award-winning new opera house within the shell of the old orangery, investing several million pounds in the project. They also did a considerable amount of work inside the shell of the building, including reinstating the dramatic staircase (pictured below). Disagreements with the Baring family led to Grange Park Opera decamping to a new home at the Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey, not surprisingly taking many of the internal fittings from their Grange opera house with them. Continue reading

Classical Opera: Apollo et Hyacinthus

Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus
Classical Opera, Ian Page, Thomas Guthrie
St John’s, Smith Sq. 13 June 2017

‘Lambach’ Symphony in G; Grabmusik, Apollo et Hyacinthus

As part of their ambitious Mozart 250 project (presenting Mozart’s music on the anniversary of their composition, culminating in 2041), Classical Opera presented the last of four concerts focussed on 1767, Mozart’s 11th year, with a staged performance of Apollo et Hyacinthus, preceded by his ‘Lambach’ Symphony in G and the Grabmusik, also staged.  This was a very clever and extremely well performed concert, exploring music that is not as well-known as it should be, with very sensitive stagings conceived and directed by Thomas Guthrie. The ‘Lambach’ Symphony in G (K45a) is believed to have been written in 1766 by the 10-year old Mozart. It was found in two manuscripts in Lambach Abbey, Austria. Like many other early Mozart works, it is beguiling in its elegant simplicity and harmonic inventiveness, here added to by having the first movement main theme first appearing in the bass, although on this occasion it wasn’t all that prominent. While it was playing, people walked across the St John’s stage, their relevance becoming clear when the bustling final movement of the Symphony segued directly, and very effectively, into the opening of the Grabmusik. Continue reading

Handel: Radamisto

Handel: Radamisto
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Milton Court Theatre. 12 June 2017

Watching people watching opera was the premise behind John Ramster’s production of Handel’s Radamisto at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Milton Court Theatre. A Heads of State meeting has been arranged in a museum, displaying artifacts from the ancient kingdoms of Armenia and what is now eastern Turkey. As they take their seats on opposite sides of the stage, the bristle between them is palpable. A crusty army figure on one side, and a thrusting young woman on the other, with the museum and security flunkies flitting about between them. And then the entertainment begins, in the form of Radamisto. The interaction between the two VIPs, as well as their own interaction with the opera, became key to the development of this production. Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Jenůfa

Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa
Grange Park Opera, BBC Concert Orchestra, William Lacey
Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place. 11 June 2017

IMG_20170611_190222524_HDR.jpg

Not for the first time in recent years, an opera company has planned, designed, funded and constructed a brand new opera house having been required, for various reasons, to move from the original home. In the most recent case of Grange Park Opera, the background to the move from their founding home at The Grange, Hampshire, was not without controversy, and the new opera house is not quite finished, or, indeed, fully funded. But nonetheless they managed to put on an impressive indication of what will be the new home for the next 99 years, the Theatre in the Woods, hidden away behind the massive medieval pile of West Horsley Place (pictured), rather unexpectedly inherited by former television personality and writer, Bamber Gascoigne, from his Duchess Great Aunt. Continue reading

Gabrieli Consort: A Rose Magnificat

A Rose Magnificat
The Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square. 8 June 2017

Leighton Of a Rose  /  Tallis Videte Miraculum á 6
Warlock As dew in Aprylle  /  White Magnificat á 6
Macmillan  /  Sheppard  /  Park Ave maris stella
Wylkynson Salve Regina á 9  /  Howells Salve Regina
Lane There is no rose  /  Matthew Martin Rose Magnificat (world premiere)

This fascinating concert collected together a seemingly random selection of pieces from old to very new, all dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Grouping the pieces in twos or three enhanced the experience of contrast, starting with the pairing of Kenneth Leighton’s setting of the 15th century text Of a Rose with Tallis’s magnificent 6-part Videte Miraculum. Soprano Ruth Provost was the soloist in the Leighton, weaving the refrain Of a Rose around and through the rhythmically homophonic choir texture. The contrasting tight-knit and multi-stranded polyphony of Tallis, with his distinctive ‘false relations’ provided a perfect contrast. This pair was followed by the slithering close harmonies of Warlock’s short and rhythmically complex double choir As dew in Aprylle, contrasted with White flamboyant and expansive six-plus part Magnificat, the continuous inner movement and long melismas of the latter giving the piece a timeless quality. Continue reading

Les Talens Lyriques: Zefiro Torna

Zefiro Torna
Les Talens Lyriques
St John’s, Smith Square. 7 June 2017

This concert celebrated the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, as well as the 25th anniversary of Les Talens Lyriques. Tenors Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Anders J. Dahlin joined with director and keyboard player Christophe Rousset, cellist Emmanuel Jacques, and violinists Gilone Gaubert-Jacques and Josépha Jégard to explore Monteverdi’s more intimate, but nonetheless dramatic music. Each half concluded with opera extracts, but started with extracts from four of Monteverdi’s madrigal books. Throughout these madrigals, we had to work around the curious implications of two men both singing about the same love interest. Continue reading

Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto

Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
Popup Opera
London Museum of Water and Steam. 25 May 2017

IMG_20170525_204825350.jpgIn a rather stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the opening night of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (reviewed here), a few days later saw me in the industrial surroundings of the London Museum of Water and Steam, near Kew Bridge. The event was one of the touring one-night performances by Popup Opera of Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage), one of the most popular comic operas from the 18th century. It was first performed in at the Imperial Theatre in Vienna, and is famed for having the longest encore known, when Emperor Leopold II demanded that the whole thing be repeated from the start, feeding the musicians before their return. In contrast to the elaborate Posh Frocks & Picnics atmosphere of the other place, pre-event dining at this venue seemed to be restricted to eating something unrecognisable out of a cardboard box. The setting was a cleared floor area in the Steam Hall of what, since its construction in 1838, was once a pumping station supplying parts of London with water.  Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Cavalli Hipermestra

Francesco Cavalli: Hipermestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 21 May 2017

For somebody who believes an oracle that he will be murdered by one of his nephews, it was particularly unfortunate that Danao, King of Argos, had 50 of them, Hip 1.jpgthe sons of his brother Egitto, King of Egypt. As it happened, Danao had 50 daughters, so married them all off to his nephews with the instruction that they must all murder their husbands on their wedding night. With one exception, Danao’s plan worked, the exception being his daughter Hipermestra and her new husband Linceo, who had fallen for each other. The subsequent plot of Cavalli’s 1658 opera is based on the complex series of events that occurred after the 50 potential murderous nephews were now reduced to a more manageable one. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music

‘Baroque at the Edge: pushing the boundaries’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey
12-20 May 2017

IMG_20170515_091152885.jpgAfter reforming, renaming, and regrowing itself from the long-running Lufthansa Festival, the London Festival of Baroque Music has become, phoenix-like, one of the most important early music festivals in London. Under the banner of ‘Baroque at the Edge: pushing the boundaries‘, this year’s LFBM used the music of Monteverdi and Telemann, from either end of the Baroque (and both with anniversaries this year) to explore ‘some of the chronological, geographical and stylistic peripheries of Baroque Music’. With one exception, all the concerts were held in the Baroque splendour of St John’s, Smith Square. Continue reading

European Union Baroque Orchestra: Farewell

European Union Baroque Orchestra
Maria Keohane, Lars Ulrik Martensen
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square. 19 May 2017

IMG_20170519_163842318.jpgOne of the key events of the London Festival of Baroque Music was final concert of the current incarnation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra, and orchestra I have been reviewing enthusiastically for many years. After extensive annual training auditions attracting around 100 applicants, aided by leading period performers, around 30 instrumentalists are selected each year to tour a series of concerts around Europe. But this concert was also, very sadly, the very last EUBO concert in its present state as a UK-managed organisation. Founded 32 years ago as a UK initiative (during the 1985 European Music Year), and managed ever since from its base near Oxford, the vote by a small percentage of the UK population to drag the UK out of the European Union means that it is no longer viable to run an EU venture from the UK. In its 32 years, EUBO has encouraged and nurtured around 1000 young musicians, giving some of the finest period instrumentalists around an early grounding in performance practice at the start of their careers. For the future, after a hiatus of a year to allow for the transfer, when there will be no auditions or orchestra , EUBO will restart from a new base, and with new management, based in the music centre AMUZ in Antwerp. Continue reading

Poppea

Monteverdi: Poppea
Hampstead Garden Opera, Musica Poetica
Jacksons Lane Theatre, HIghgate. 13 May 2017

Poppea_Poster.jpgThe 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth will include many performances of L’incoronazione di Poppea. It was his last known opera, first performed just months before his death. But I think this one, by the young singers and instrumentalists of Hampstead Garden Opera and Musica Poetica, will prove to be one of the most memorable for me. An impressively simple staging, excellent singing and acting, and an exceptionally well judged realisation of the instrumental accompaniments, combined with the friendly acoustic of the Jacksons Lane Theatre to produce an absorbing and thought-provoking interpretation of Monteverdi’s exploration of love, lust, and power. Continue reading

OAE: The Brandenburgs

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017

It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up. Continue reading

The Courts of Earth and Heaven

Crickhowell Music Festival: The Courts of Earth and Heaven
Crickhowell Choral Society, Stephen Marshall
St Edmund’s, Crickhowell, 30 April 2017

Handel: Eternal source of light divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne)
Delalande: Regina coeli 
Campra: Quam dilecta
Vivaldi: Gloria (RV588 – the ‘other’ Gloria!)

A walking weekend in the Brecon Beacons happened to coincide with the annual Crickhowell Music Festival. I have reviewed the whole Festival in the past but, on this occassion, could only manage one performance, given in St Edmund’s Church, Crickhowell by the Crickhowell Choral Society and a ‘festival’ orchestra, together with a very impressive group of soloists. One of the things that most impressed me on my earlier visit was the ability of their director Stephen Marshall to attract outstanding and international renown singers such as, on this occasion, Grace Davidson, Nicholas Mulroy, and Catherine King.

The ambitious programme featured music from England, France, and Italy. It opened with Handel’s 1713 Birthday Ode – a homage to Queen Anne, and indeed, to Purcell, whose style he so perfectly absorbed. The opening arioso ‘Eternal lource of light divine’ is one of the most beautful musical creations of all time, with Handel’s understanding of Purcell’s style made obvious. It makes for a very exposed start to a concert, and one which tenor Nicholas Mulroy coped with magnificently. His high lyrical tenor voice hasn’t quite the timbre of a countertenor that Handel intended, but was nonetheless quite exquisite, in this, and in later movements. Grace Davidson’s soprano aria ‘Let all the wingéd race’ was similarly impressive. Both of these key singers demonstrated their excellent ability at singing Baroque ornaments properly, rather than using the often heard reliance on vibrato alone. Continue reading

Ex Cathedra: In a Strange Land

In a Strange Land
Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore
Cadogan Hall, 26 April 2017

The latest in the Choral at Cadogan series of concerts featured the Birmingham based choir, Ex Cathedra, with their founder and director, Jeffrey Skidmore. Since they started in 1969, they have built an enviable reputation for their performing and educational work, and the encouragement they give to younger singers. On this occasion, they fielded 10 singers for music reflecting issues of captivity, religious conflict, freedom and a yearning for homeland, based on the verse from Psalm 137, How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?, . Their wide-ranging programme, including some of Ex Cathedra’s greatest hits, explored the search for heaven and earth in the Old and the New World during the 16th and 17th centuries with music from England, France, Holland, and Spain, together with the world of the Aztecs and Incas in present day Mexico and Bolivia. Continue reading

Musica Poetica: Tunder World

Tunder World: The Baroque Keyboard
Musica Poetica: Simon Lloyd & Oliver John Ruthven, organs
St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, 27 April 2017

Amongst their other musical activities, the enterprising young group, Musica Poetica, are currently running a year-long monthly series of lunchtime concerts based on the music and times of Franz Tunder (1614-1667) the anniversary of whose death is this year, just three years after the anniversary of his birth. For this concert, they focussed on the keyboard music of Tunder, together with his possible teacher, Frescobaldi, his contemporary Froberger (who also died in 1667) and his successor as organist of the Lübeck Marienkirche, as his son-in-law, Dieterich Buxtehude.  Continue reading

Leuven: ‘Voices of Passion’

Alamire Foundation
Passie van de Stemmen (Voices of Passion)
Huelgas Ensemble & Park Collegium
Park Abbey, Leuven. 22/23 April 2017

Musically, Leuven, the historic city about 15 miles east of Brussels (and the capital of the Flemish Brabant province), has been rather overlooked by their fellow Belgian cities of Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels. But as the medieval seat of the Dukes of Brabant, it was central to the geographical area that saw one of the most important developments in Renaissance choral music, variably referred to as Burgundian, Brabant, Franco-Flemish. Nowadays this approximates to the Low Country regions of northern France, Belgium, and the south Netherlands. It is therefore entireWP_20170422_18_09_47_Pro (2).jpgly appropriate that since 1991 it has been the home of the Alamire Foundation, the International Center for the Study of Music in the Low Countries, founded in conjunction with the Catholic University of Leuven and Musica, Impulscentrum voor muziek, Neerpelt. It is resident in the Huis van de Polyfonie (House of Polyphony, pictured), one of the gatehouses to Leuven’s historic Park Abbey. Continue reading

SJSS: Holy Week Festival

Siglo de Oro & New London Singers
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 15 April 2017

WP_20170415_12_49_34_Pro (2).jpgThe St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival (also reviewed here and here) concluded with a vocal workshop and lunchtime concert with Siglo de Oro and an evening concert from the New London Singers. The morning workshop was led by Patrick Allies, director of Siglo de Oro, and focussed on Bach’s motet Jesu meine freude, giving useful insights into the structure, text and musical contents of this most complex piece. Siglo de Oro’s lunchtime concert sandwiched this piece between two shorter meditative pieces by Purcell Hear my Prayer, and Remember not, Lord, our offences, concluding with Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater a 10.  Continue reading

Tallis: Songs of Reformation

Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation
Alamire, David Skinner
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

WP_20170415_18_59_25_Pro.jpgAfter the Holy Week Festival showcase Good Friday afternoon St John Passion came a concert focussed on one of England’s finest composers, Thomas Tallis. Living though the reigns of five monarchs (from Henry VII to Elizabeth), and composing in the latter four of them, Tallis managed to negotiate the complex religious twists and turns of Tudor life. The highlights of the evening came at the end, with the first modern performance of David Skinner’s reconstruction of a piece composed by Tallis  (an early version of the famous Gaude gloriosa Dei mater), but with new words (See, Lord, and behold) added by Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s eighth and final Queen. Continue reading

Bach & Fauré

Bach & Fauré
Tenebrae & Aurora Orchestra
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

For many years now there has been a music festival at St John’s, Smith Square during the run-up to Easter, and similarly at Christmas. The Easter version has been re-branded as the ‘Holy Week Festival’ and is curated by St John’s itself and the choir TenebraeWP_20170415_12_08_45_Pro (2).jpg. It still includes the annual favourite Good Friday afternoon Bach Passion from Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, but has also introduced some other new faces to the Eastertide Smith Square festivities. I was away for several of the events, but did manage to catch three contrasting events, starting with a curious concert by Tenebrae themselves, together with the Aurora Orchestra, both of whom seem to have caught the public imagination in recent years, not least by some impressive publicity. Continue reading

Clare Reformation 500 Project

The Clare Reformation 500 Project
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Clare Baroque, Graham Ross
St John’s, Smith Square. 30 March 2017

Bach Gott der Herr ist Sonn und SchildEin feste Burg ist unser Gott
Brahms Warum ist das Licht gegeben den Mühseligen?
Mendelssohn Wer nur den lieben Gott laßt walten
Vaughan Williams Lord, thou hast been our refuge

As part of their Clare Reformation 500 Project, the choir and associated period instrument orchestra of Clare College, Cambridge, gave a concert of music inspired by the musical legacy of Martin Luther’s 1517 Reformation. It was the culmination of the Lent Term series of Sunday services in the College chapel, each featuring a liturgical performance of a Bach cantata, using a variety of instrumental groups to accompany them. On this occasion they used Clare Baroque which, despite its name, was not a student orchestra but was made up of many of the ‘usual suspects’ from London’s early music performers, led by the ex-Clare violinist (and Director of Performance in the University Faculty of Music) Margaret Faultless. Continue reading

Handel in Italy

Handel in Italy
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh, Gillian Webster
St John’s, Smith Square. 28 March 2017

Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Op. 6 No. 4; Handel: Donna che in ciel HWV233; Dixit Dominus HWV232

Although, in true British fashion, George Frederic Handel is usually claimed as the quintessential English composer, some of his most exciting music was composed during the four years he spent in Italy (1706-10). Early training seemed to set Handel on course to be an organist and church musician, to the extent that he travelled to Lübeck in 1703 with a view to succeeding the great Buxtehude at the Marienkirche. But three years in Hamburg’s opera world (1703-6) changed that ambition, and resulted in an invitation by a Medici to come to Italy. He was already well-versed in the Italian music through his early training with Zachow in Halle, but his ability to immediately absorb national styles quickly became apparent, as it later did on his arrival in London in 1710. Continue reading