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.
1360 to 1699 Organ music from the Gothic period to the late 17th century Andrew Benson-Wilson Christ Church Spitalfields Commercial St, London E1 6LY Monday 24 October 2022, 7.30
The magnificent 1735 Richard Bridge organ in the sumptuously restored Nichola Hawksmoor Christ Church Spitalfields is the most important historical restoration of any 18th-century English organ. For around a century, it was the largest organ in the UK. After many decades of silence, William Drake completed his restoration in 2015, taking the specification and technical details back to that of 1735, with the addition of three pedal stops.
Although obviously ideally suited to English music of the period, this recital will explore the wider potential of the English 18th-century organ to interpret music from other eras and countries. It starts with one of the earliest known pieces of organ music (dedicated, appropriately, to “those playing music”), dating from the mid-14th century, and the first known ‘prelude’ from 1448. The famous pioneers of early organ music follow (Francesco Landini, Conrad Paumann and Paul Hofhaimer), before a fascinating anonymous piece from a manuscript in the circle of Henry VIII, dating from around 1530.
Having explored the early development of organ music, the remaining pieces show the different regional styles that developed across Europe from the late Renaissance and early Baroque, ranging from Germany, England, Italy, Portugal, Spain and France. Composers represented are Hieronymus Praetorius, John Lugge, Girolamo Frescobaldi, Pedro de Araújo, Correa de Arauxo, Matthias Weckmann and Nicolas de Grigny. As well as representing different musical and organ-building styles (including one of the dramatic battle scenes from the Iberian peninsular), there are remarkable links between many of the composers and compositions.
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.
Bach: Sonatas Plamena Nikitassova & Peter Waldner Musik Museum 46, CD13045. 74’30
This recording is one of a series produced by the Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum in Innsbruck. Although the title is just ‘Sonaten’, the programme is actually a selection of Violin Sonatas, three with obligato harpsichord (BWV 1016, 1017 & 1019), one for solo violin (BWV 1005) and an arrangement, possibly by Bach, of the first movement of that solo sonata for harpsichord (BWV 968).
Mayfair Organ Concerts. The Grosvenor Chapel. 9 August 2022
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays music by Two Baroque Giants – Buxtehude & de Grigny
Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) Praeludium in d minor BuxWV 140 Ciacona in e minor BuxWV 160
Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703). Recit de Tierce pour le Benedictus Dialogue de flûtes pour l,’Elevation Dialogue (Agnus Dei II) from Premier livre d’orgue (1699)
Buxtehude Te deum laudamus BuxWV 218 Praeludium – Te deum laudamus – Pleni sunt coeli -Te martyrum – Tu devicto
Although Buxtehude and de Grigny were born 35 years apart, the music in this recital was composed at about the same time, around 1690/1700. They were composed for very different social, religious and musical settings, Buxtehude for Lutheran Lübeck in North Germany, and de Grigny for Catholic Reims in France. The organs they played were very different, but one of the joys of the English 18th-century-inspired Grosvenor Chapel organ is that it includes elements of both German and French instruments. Bach owned music by both composers and even added some of his own ideas to de Grigny’s Premier livre d’orgue. Bach’s youthful 200-mile walk to Lübeck to meet the ageing Buxtehude is well known.
Two Baroque Giants – Buxtehude & de Grigny Andrew Benson-Wilson, organ The Grosvenor Chapel South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2PA Tuesday 9 August 2020, 1:10
Music by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) and Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703).
Although Buxtehude and de Grigny were born 35 years apart, the music played in this recital was composed at about the same time, around 1690/1700. They were composed for very different social, religious and musical settings, Buxtehude for Lutheran Lübeck, North Germany, and de Grigny for Catholic Reims, France. The organs they played were also very different, but one of the joys of English 17th/18th organs is that they include elements of both the German and the French instruments.
The overriding figure in the music of these two is JS Bach. He knew their music and owned manuscripts of both composers, even adding some of his own ideas to de Grigny’s 1699 Premier livre d’orgue. Bach’s youthful walk to Lübeck to hear the ageing Buxtehude is well known.
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.
Pyrotechnia : Fire & Fury from 18th-century Italy Bojan Čičić and The Illyria Consort Delphian DCD34249. 72’52
Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in D, RV205 “fatto per Maestro Pisendel“ Vivaldi: Violin Concerto in D, RV213a “per Signora Anna Maria“ Tartini: Violin Concerto in E, D 48 “Rondinella vaga e bella“ Locatelli: Violin Concerto in D, Op3/12 “Il laberinto armonico“
‘Fireworks’ is a term often used to describe virtuosic playing or advanced musical textures but in this case, the connection with the word is real. This CD from violinist Bojan Čičić and his Illyria Consort gets its title from the book Pyrotechnia, the earliest guide to recreational fireworks. It was published in 1635 by the gunner, John Babington. The four violin concertos chosen to display Bojan Čičić’s own virtuosity all have movements ending in a capriccio, a virtuosic display cadenza that became the norm in the later Classical and Romantic era concertos. Several of Vivaldi’s own improvised cadenzas have survived through copies made by his own pupils.
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.
Enigma Fortuna Zacara da Teramo complete works La Fonte Musica, Michele Pasotti Alpha Classics, ALPHA 640. 4 CDs, 3h57’53
Antonio Zacara da Teramo (nicknamed Zàcara because of his short stature) seems to have been born in or shortly after 1360 in the Abruzzi region close to the Adriatic coast. Confusion over his name (his music survives under such names as Zacar, Zaccara, Zacharie, Zachara, and Çacharius amongst others), led to the assumption that he was actually several different composers. His parental family were scribes and manuscript illustrators, and his early years were in the same profession, despite being severely disabled, with several fingers and toes missing. He moved to Rome in 1391, where he sang in Pope Boniface IX’s papal choir as well as being a scriptor litterarum apostolicarum (Papal secretary). He later was part of the chapel of antipope John XXIII in Bologna during the 1414 Schism. This four-CD box set from La Fonte Musica, directed by Michele Pasotti, is a world premiere of Zacara’s complete works.
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.
Bach Organ Works Vol. X: Art of Fugue Margaret Phillips Richards, Fowkes and Co. organ, 2012 St George’s Hanover Square, London Regent Records REGCD558. 2 CDs. 120’58
The Art of Fugue, BWV1080 Canonic Variations on ‘Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her’, BWV769 The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus XIV completion by Kevin Korsyn
The final volume of Margaret Phillips’ complete Bach organ works is a version of The Art of Fugue, arranged for organ. I say ‘arranged’ because there is no indication of which instrument Bach intended his monumental work – if, indeed, he ever intended it for performance at all. It was written and published in open-score, with a separate musical stave for each of the four voices. There are no orchestral instruments of the time that could play all the lines on the same instrument, leading to the assumption that it was intended for the harpsichord. Performance on the organ is common, although there are many questions to be considered, not least the choice of registrations.
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.
The Library of a Prussian Princess Ensemble Augelletti Barn CottageRecords BCR024. 60’25
Music by J S Bach, Handel, Corelli, Geminiani, C P E Bach, and Princess Anna Amalia
The Prussian Princess of the title is Anna Amalia (1723-1787), the younger sister of Frederick the Great. Despite the brutal childhood she shared with her brother, she managed to maintain a love of music, often in secret and aided by her brother. After a failed attempt to marry her off in her early 30s, she became the Abbess of the secular Imperial Abbey of Quedlinburg, a position of enormous wealth and power. Shortly after she started serious musical studies with Johann Philipp Kirnberger, a pupil of Bach and had a (still existing) organ built for her Berlin palace. She amassed an enormous library of music which is now part of the Berlin State Library. This imaginative and beautifully performed recording by Ensemble Augelletti is based on music from that library, including four pieces by Anna Amalia herself.
Philippe de Monte: Madrigals and Chansons Ratas del viejo Mundo Outhere/Ramée RAM2004. 50’59
The curiously named Ratas del viejo Mundo (Rats of the Old World) take a nibble at the music of Philippe de Monte (1521-1603). Although praised in his day, de Monte is now a rather under-rated composer, at least in comparison to the many other Flemish musicians who made their name in the wider European context. Like many of his compatriots, he soon moved to Italy where he made his name in Naples and Rome. He spent a brief time in England in the choir of Philip II of Spain before becoming Kapellmeister in the chapel of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II.
Johann Gottlieb Goldberg: Complete Trio Sonatas Ludus Instrumentalis, Evgeny Sviridov Ricercar RIC 426. 69’57
Trio Sonata in C, DürG 13 (was BWV 1037) Trio Sonata in A minor, DürG 11 Trio Sonata in G minor, DürG 12 Trio Sonata in B flat, DürG 10 Prelude and Fugue in g, arranged from Dür G 5 Sonata for 2 violins, viola & continuo in C minor, DürG 14
Johann Gottlieb Goldberg (1727-56) has been overlooked as little more than the name attached to the famous JS Bach variations, rather than a respected composer in his own right. This excellent recording from Ludus Instrumentalis should help to set the record straight. Goldberg was born near Danzig. In 1737 he met Wilhelm Friedemann Bach in Dresden, a trip instigated by the art-loving Count von Keyserlingk who was impressed with the 10-year old’s musical skills. After initial studies with WFB in Dresden, he moved to Leipzig in 1746, perhaps to study with JS Bach. The Bach variations were later composed for Goldberg to play for the insomniac Keyserlingk. Goldberg died aged 29 of consumption but, despite his young age, was described by a writer at the end of the 18th century as being on the same level as Bach and Handel.
Master & Pupil Exploring the Influences and Legacy of Claudio Monteverdi Sestina Music, Mark Chambers Resonus/Inventa INV1007. 71’18
Following a crowdfunding scheme, the Belfast based early music group Sestina have released their debut CD, Master and Pupil. The title ‘Master and Pupil’ (and yes, it is blurred on the CD cover) relates to the notion of musical apprenticeship, with inspiration passing down through the generations from master to pupil. For this recording, Sestina concentrates on the influences on, and the influences of, the music of Claudio Monteverdi both from his own teachers and on his own pupils. This approach reflects Sestina’s own philosophy, which is based on younger musicians being “placed under the wings of experienced professionals in an apprentice-like fashion”.
In ancient Greek, ΙΕΡΟΣ | HIEROS means ‘sacred’, a theme portrayed by the Ensemble Céladon vocal trio in this recording. It alternatesmedieval music with contemporary compositions (all a cappella) in an examination of “the musical evolution of the sacred”, contrasting 13th-century conductus from the School of Notre-Dame to the six works by French composer Jean-Philippe Goude (b1952).