Noëls baroques à Versailles

Noëls baroques à Versailles
Gaétan Jarry, organ
Les Pages du Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles
Grandes Orgues 1710, Chapelle Royale – Versailles
Chateau de Versailles CVS025. 70’40


The third in the L’âge d’or de l’orgue français series is a seasonal offering of French Noëls from Versailles. The tradition of Parisian organists playing variations on Noëls at Christmas lasted for well over 100 years from the late 17th to the end of the 18th century. Although musically their peak was in the early years of the 18th-century, with the examples of Louis-Claude Daquin and Dandrieu, their height of popularity seems to have come at the end of the century with Claude Balbastre, when French music had become somewhat debased as the Revolution approached. Such were the crowds that turned up to hear Balbastre play at the Midnight Mass, that riot police were called. The Archbishop of Paris eventually banned such services at Balbastre’s church of Saint Roch. Continue reading

Solomon’s Knot: Magnificat

Magnificat
Christmas in Leipzig
Solomon’s Knot
Sony Music  19075992622. 75’09

Solomon'S Knot - Magnificat-Christmas in Leipzig

Schelle Machet die Tore weit
Kuhnau Magnificat in C
Bach Magnificat in E flat, BWV243a

The three composers represented on this recording from Solomon’s Knot were successive Kantor’s of Leipzig’s Thomaskirche between 1677 to Bach’s death in 1750. Johann Schelle (1648-1701) was a former choirboy under Heinrich Schütz in Dresden and Thomaskirche Kantor from 1677 to his death in 1701. Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) may have been a cousin of Johann Schelle, and certainly worked with him, becoming organist at St Thomas aged just 24 and still a law student. He succeeded Schelle as Kantor in 1701 and was Bach’s immediate predecessor. Bach took over in 1723, and stayed until his death in 1750. Continue reading

Bach: Christmas Oratorio

Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3, 6)
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stephen Layton

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2019

For many years now, the highlights of the London Christmas and Easter concert season has been the final two concerts of the St John’s, Smith Square Christmas/Easter festivals. One is usually Bach, the other Messiah, both directed by Stephen Layton, the first with his student Trinity College choir, the second with his professional vocal group Polyphony. In recent years both have been accompanied by the period instruments of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Both pairs of concerts sell out way in advance, the student choirs helping with audience numbers by rallying parents and friends. Continue reading

Vox Luminis: Dixit Dominus

Dixit Dominus
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
St John’s, Smith Square, 18 December 2019

Attrib. Buxtehude? Magnificat BuxWV Anhang 1
Bach Nun komm der heiden Heiland BWV 61
Handel Dixit Dominus HWV 232

With the exception of Bach’s Advent cantata Nun komm der heiden Heiland, this was a St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival event refreshingly devoid of any specific reference to Christmas. The renown Belgian group Vox Luminis and their director, Lionel Meunier, made a very welcome return for a performance of music from German composers of the 17th and early 18th century, each writing in different styles and for different audiences. Continue reading

Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning

Michael Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
DRET Youth Choir & Primary All Stars
St John’s, Smith Square, 17 December 2019

The Gabrieli Consort & Players revived their popular 1994 recording reconstructing a typical Central German Lutheran Christmas Mass from around 1620. With an extraordinary range of instruments and singers spread around the stage and galleries of St John’s, Smith, this was a spectacular performance. The sheer logistics of it all were remarkable, with frequent movement of singers and instruments around the concert hall. Continue reading

Make we Merry

Make we Merry: Christmas Music for Upper Voices
Benenden School Chapel Choir
London Metropolitan Brass, Edward Whiting, David Bednall
Regent REGCD547. 65’18

I would normally avoid the more obvious Christmas CD offerings, but this delightful recording deserves to be an exception. The choir of Benenden Girls’ School are joined by the young London Metropolitan Brass (who unfortunately have the same name as an amateur brass band), percussionist Kizzy Brooks and organist/composer David Bednall for the premiere recording of Bednall’s Make We Merry, a half-hour sequence of eight carols setting for upper voices, brass, percussion and organ. It was commissioned for Benenden Chapel Choir in 2018, and followed earlier collaborations with David Bednall. Continue reading

A Baroque Odyssey: Les Arts Florissants @ 40

A Baroque Odyssey
40 Years of Les Arts Florissants
William Christie, Paul Agnew
The Barbican, 8 December 2019

Eavesdropping on a birthday party can be fun, even if you sometimes wish it wouldn’t go on for quite so long. This one did, apparently finishing around 10.30, although I had to leave before 10 to catch my last train home. In celebration of their proud 40-year history, Les Arts Florissants are touring a mixed programme of Handel, Purcell and the French composers Charpentier, d’Ambruis, Lully and Rameau. Under their founding Director William Christie and  Associate Musical Director Paul Agnew, five soloists, a large orchestra and 23-strong choir demonstrated just why they have been so important over the past 40 years. Like any good party, it is perhaps best to leave what happened in the room, in the room, so I will not attempt a critical review – which is probably just as well because I am not sure that I could think of anything critical to say. Continue reading

Charpentier: A Christmas Oratorio

Solomon’s Knot
Charpentier: A Christmas Oratorio
St John’s, Smith Square, 9 December 2019


In nativitatem Domini Canticum
H416
Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ H483/483b

In a refreshing change from the usual Christmas music offering, the Solomon’s Knot Collective took us to 17th-century Paris for two of the pieces that Marc-Antoine Charpentier composed for the Christmas season. The 1685 Pastorale sur la naissance de Notre Seigneur Jésus-Christ was composed for Marie de Lorraine, Duchesse de Guise, also known as Mademoiselle de Guise. She was Charpentier’s principal patron. It was performed in the chapel of the Guise family’s Paris home, the Hôtel de Guise, and included several household staff as singers or instrumentalists, with Charpentier himself sang haute-contra. A mini-opera in scope and structure, the piece includes a reference to the death a few years earlier of the Duchesse’s nephew, the 5-year old heir to her line of the Guise family, as well as a shepherdess’s touching elegy on the death of her favourite sheep.

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Joglaresa: Sing We Yule!

Sing We Yule!
Joglaresa, Belinda Sykes
St Bartholomew the Less, 8 December 2019

Formed by Belinda Sykes in 1992, Joglaresa is one of the most inventive and imaginative medieval music groups around. Their lively approach to music-making might not be the most ‘authentic’ around, but they bring enticing energy and brilliant communicative skills to performance. In their early years, they were strongly influenced by the music of the Islamic Middle East, based on the specific training and musical inspiration of Belinda Sykes. But that seemed less evident in their latest incarnation in this Sunday afternoon performance in London’s St Bartholomew-the-Less. It was a short-notice event added after earlier sell-out concerts, and itself also sold out.

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Dandrieu: Magnificats

Dandrieu: Magnificats Vol 1
Jean-Baptiste Robin
Grandes Orgues 1710, Chapelle Royale – Versailles
Chateau de Versailles CVS023. 70’51

The second in the L’âge d’or de l’orgue français series featuring the 1710 organ in the  Versaille Chapelle Royale focuses on Jean-François Dandrieu (1681-1738). From 1721, he was one of the four organists of the Chapelle Royale. He had an early introduction to Court musical life when, aged five, he played the harpsichord to the Palatine Princess Elisabeth-Charlotte of Bavaria, wife of Philippe d’Orléan, Louis XIV’s brother. He succeeded the famed Nicholas Lèbegue as organist of Saint-Merry, Paris in 1704/5. From 1733 he added to these posts the position of organist to the now-demolished St Barthélémy, a role previously held by his uncle and which after his death, was passed on to his daughter. Continue reading

The Sixteen at Christmas

The Sixteen at Christmas
Harry Christophers, Frances Kelly (
harp)
The Anvil, Basingstoke, 4 December 2019

As their 40th anniversary year draws to a close, The Sixteen’s seasonal tour of their ‘Sixteen at Christmas‘ programme stopped by at Basingstoke’s Anvil concert hall for a varied selection of music for Advent and Christmas. Their focus was on traditional medieval and 20th and 21st-century composers, most of the latter influenced by former. Until the Ding dong encore, it avoided all the usual carols of childhood memory. The key piece was the concluding Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, a sequence of pieces based on medieval texts that he started writing during a 1942 Atlantic crossing. Continue reading

La Serenissima: The Godfather

The Godfather
Masters of the German & Italian Baroque
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Signum Classics SIGCD602. 66’09

For long the undoubted champions of the music of Vivaldi, as their name suggests, La Serenissima are spreading their musical wings to explore the musical triumvirate of Telemann, Pisendel and JS Bach, all three closely connected, together with the composers Fasch, Vivaldi and Brescianello, who also had links with the principal trio. As La Serenissima note on their website, the links are that Pisendel was godfather to one of Telemann’s children; Telemann was godfather to CPE Bach;. JS Bach admired both Pisendel and Telemann and composed for the violinist Pisendel; Vivaldi helped Pisendel with his A minor concerto movement; Fasch was a friend of Pisendel and Telemann, and Pisendel played concertos by Brescianello, an Italian who helped to spread disseminate Italian instrumental music throughout the German-speaking lands. Continue reading

Bach: Violin Concertos

Bach: Violin Concertos
Kati Debretzeni (violin)

English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner
SDG732. 70’15

This recording has the makings of becoming an all-time favourite version of the Bach Violin Concertos. Quite apart from the exceptional playing by Kati Debretzeni, we get the bonus of two additional concertos. In addition to the well-known A minor and E major, (BWV 1041/1042) concertos, Kati gives us two others, the disputed D minor (BWV 1052) and the world premiere recording of her own arrangement of the E major harpsichord concerto (BMV 1053), transposed down to D. The detailed programme notes give full details of the rationale and implications of the two additional concertos, and their arrangements for violin. Continue reading

Handel: Aminta e Fillide

Handel: Aminta e Fillide
Fair Oriana
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
The Handel Friends
St George’s, Hanover Square, 28 November 2019

It was entirely appropriate that this concert, given under the auspices of The Handel Friends, should take place in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square, just round the corner from his surviving home. After 30-minutes of instrumental music and sumptuous interval refreshments (all part of the deal) came an inspirational performance of Handel’s pastoral cantata Aminta e Fillide, performed with the soprano duo Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard).

Aminta 4.jpegPenelope Appleyard & Angela Hicks (Fair Oriana) Continue reading

Ensemble Masques: Routes du Cafe

Routes du Cafe
Ensemble Masques, Oliver Fortin

Alpha Classics, Alpha 543. 71’39

Coffee is an essential contribution to the lives of many travelling musicians. This fascinating CD from Ensemble Masques pays musical homage to coffee with two cantatas devoted to coffee, and instrumental music of Turkish origin or influence reflecting it’s origins in Constantinople. The programme is arranged in the form of an Ottoman fasil (suite), the two cantatas contrasted by Ottoman-style improvisations (taksim). We are taken on a tour through the cities of Europe where coffee-culture took hold – Paris, London, Constantinople and Leipzig – the latter, predictably, with Bach’s ‘Coffee’ Cantata Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht, BWV 211.

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St Catharine’s College: O Gemma Clarissima

O Gemma Clarissima
Music in Praise of St Catharine
The Choirs of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, Edward Wickham
Resonus Classics RES10246. 72’02

Quite by chance, I realize that I am reviewing this recording on the Feast of St Catherine, 25 November. The patron saint of wheelwrights, millers, students, and young unmarried girls, the Cambridge college that now bears her name (which they spell ‘Catharine’) was founded in 1473 as ‘Katherine Hall’. The famous torture wheel that she is usually depicted with was, apparently, destroyed by an angel before it touched her, killing many. After her beheading, more angels whisked her remains off to the Mount Sinai monastery, which became and remains a centre of devotion. A monastery in Rouen also became a pilgrimage site after a monk brought back a finger that “broke off” when he prayed for a relic.

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Hilliard/Garbarek: Remember me, my dear

Remember me my dear
Jan Garbarek and The Hilliard Ensemble
ECM New Series ECM 2625. 

Remember me, my dearThe 25-year collaboration between four a capella male voices of The Hilliard Ensemble and the Norwegian jazz saxophonist Jan Garbarek is one of the most extraordinary stories in the world of music. Although far from being the first example of cross-over partnerships, it was one of the most innovative. Engineered (in more ways than one) by ECM’s Manfred Eicher, the result was Officium, one of the most influential recordings of recent decades. Two others followed, plus extensive concert touring. After 40 years of performing and recording, The Hilliard Ensemble retired in 2014. Part of their final year of performances were appearances with Jan Garbarek, one of which is the focus of this live recording. Continue reading

Dancing with the Sun King

Dancing with the Sun King
Michel Pignolet de Monteclair & Jean-Fery Rebel
Ensemble Odyssee
Pan Classics PC10410. 62’20

Dancing with the Sun King | Pan Classics PC10410

Michel Pignolet de Monteclair: Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites
Jean-Fery Rebel: Boutade, Caprice, Les Caracteres de la Danse

For a demonstration of just how colourful French Baroque orchestral music can be, this recording by Ensemble Odyssee of music from the time of Louis XIV can’t be beaten. The bulk of the recording is devoted to the 1697 Serenade ou Concert divisee en 3 suites by Michel Pignolet de Monteclair, one of the lesser-known composers of the period. Separating the three Suites are individual pieces by Monteclair’s contemporary, Jean-Fery Rebel (Boutade Caprice) and the concluding 1715 Les Caracteres De La Danse. Continue reading

J S Bach: Harmonic Seasons

J S Bach: Harmonic Season
Manuel Tomadin
1737 Treutmann organ, Stiftskirche Grauhof bei Goslar, Germany
Brilliant Classics 95786. 79’471

The title of this recording reflects the way the 12 pieces are arranged, reflecting Bach’s own predilection for grouping pieces together in organised sets. In this case, the “Seasons” are indeed “Harmonic”. The four groups of pieces each start with a Prelude and Fugue or Fantasia, and the groups descend in key order through the “perfect, divine triad” from G to E to C, the first major, the subsequent two both in the minor key. The final tonal and harmonic resolution comes with the concluding C major Prelude and Fugue. Continue reading

Lulier: Cantate e Sonate

Lulier: Cantate e Sonate
Accademia Ottoboni, Francesca Boncompagni, Marco Ceccato
ALPHA 406. 54’16

 

The composer Giovanni Lorenzo Lulier (c1660-1700) has been overshaded by most of his contemporary’s from 17th-century Italy and, on the showing of the music on this recording, the reason seems to be sadly clear. There is a phrase I sometimes use on occasions like this – that a composer has been “plucked from well-deserved obscurity”. I am afraid that it applies here.  Continue reading

Philip Glass Orphée

Philip Glass: Orphée
English National Opera, Geoffrey Paterson
The Coliseum, 15 November 2019

The last of English National Opera’s quartet of operas based on the Orpheus myth was Philip Glass’s 1991 Orphée. As was apparent with the three earlier operas, the story of Orpheus, like all such myths, are open to many different interpretations. Glass used Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orphée as the basis for his opera, setting the text of the film to music. Both Cocteau and Glass approached their pieces after the death of close friends/partners, and their telling of the myth hovers between the world of the living and the dead, revealing the perils of artistic self-obsession and immortality. Continue reading

Prières pour Notre Dame

Prières pour Notre Dame
Music for organ and upper voices
Colin Walsh – Cavaillé-Coll organ of St Ouen, Rouen 
Romsey Abbey Choir, George Richford
Regent REGCD538. 67’27


Dupré: Versets pour les Vêpres
Lili Boulanger: Pie Jesu
Demessieux: Rorate coeli,  Attende Domine
Poulenc: Litanies à la Vierge noire

This evocative recording features music by four French composers performed on the magnificent 1890 Cavaillé-Coll organ of St Ouen, Rouen, a former Benedictine foundation – as is Romsey Abbey in Hampshire, from where the Senior girls of the Romsey Abbey Choir (aged between 16 and 19) provide an ideal contrast to the power of the organ.

Rouen St Ouen organ

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London International Festival of Early Music

London International Festival of Early Music
Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition Finals
Blackheath, 7-8 November 2019

London International Festival of Early Music now seems to be firmly ensconced in Blackheath after some years in Greenwich under a variety of earlier names. Hosted by the Early Music Shopan exhibition of instruments and music (in the Blackheath Halls) forms the centre of the three-day festival. The three-day programme of concerts and events around the exhibition includes makers demonstration recitals, performer platforms for younger musicians, workshops and more formal concerts by professionals. Every other year, the festival hosts the finals of Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition, the winner getting a recital during the following year’s festival. Last year they introduced the first of their Early Music Young Ensemble Competition Finals. Last year’s review can be seen here. Continue reading

Vocal Traditions in Conflict

Vocal Traditions in Conflict
Descent from Sweet, Clear, Pure and Affecting Italian Singing to Grand Uproar
Richard Bethell
Peacock Press
Softback. 410 pages, 254x178x28mm, ISBN: 978-1912271498

This masterly tome comes from Richard Bethell (Secretary of the National Early Music Association) and is clearly a labour of love. Based on 20 years of research into comparative singing styles, Bethell challenges the opera house singing style of the past century as compared to that of the “long 18th-century” between 1650 to 1830. The last 50 or more years have seen a revolution in instrumental playing of early music, including a realisation that vibrato was a rarely used ornament rather than a persistent effect. But the singing world has failed to respond to the lessons learnt, often resulting in glaring inconsistencies in early music concerts between the orchestra and singers.  Continue reading

Arne: Judgement of Paris

Thomas Arne: The Judgement of Paris
Brook Street Band, John Andrews
Dutton Epoch CDLX 7361. 67’50

If it wasn’t for his Rule Britannia (1710-1778), Thomas Arne would probably be more-or-less forgotten today. Although he wrote music for nearly 100 stage works, most of his scores are lost, many destroyed in the 1808 Covent Garden fire. Such was the fate of the full score of The Judgement of Paris, although parts if it had been published. The version performed here is based on that publication, with the missing recitatives and choruses reconstructed by Ian Spink for his Musica Britannica edition. It was first performed at Drury Lane Theatre in March 1742 and, three months later, in Dublin alongside his masque Alfred. His wife Cecilia Young sang the role of Venus. Continue reading

Landini: L’Occhio del Cor

Francesco Landini: L’Occhio del Cor
Songs of Invisible Love
La Reverdie, Christophe Deslignes
Arcana A462. 64’56 

Although famed today as a musician, organ & organetto player and composer in his day, Francesco Landini (c1330-1397) was equally as well- known as a poet. In 1368 he was named Poet Laureate in Venice, an honour he shared with Petrarch. He was organist of San Lorenzo in Florence from 1365 until his death where his (previously lost) tombstone can be seen, albeit tucked away in a corner  His poetry only survives today by the fact that he set so much of it to music, as explored in this recording from La Reverdie with organetto player Christophe Deslignes. Landini’s name is open to question, the former assumption that he was the son of a painter is now disputed and, with it, the related link with the Landini family. That name will be hard to shake off, but nowadays prefered names are the contemporary Francesco da Firenze, Francesco degli Organi or Francesco il Cieco (Francesco the blind) Continue reading

Devotion

Devotion
Sacred and secular songs by Henry Purcell
Ensemble Unmeasured, Julia Doyle
Deux-Elles DXL1183. 62’42

Ensemble Unmeasured takes its name for the unmeasured preludes and toccatas of the 17th century “but also refers to the magic of music itself, which cannot be measured or quantified”. In this debut disc, they are joined by soprano Julia Doyle, one of the finest singers of early music around for an exploration of Purcell’s ravishing and intense music. Continue reading

Beethoven transformed

Beethoven TransformedVolume 1
Chamber Music for Harmonie
Boxwood & Brass
Resonus Classics RES10249, 61’40


Beethoven arr. Czerny: Septet Op.20
Beethoven: Sextet Op.71

Beethoven Transformed is a two-year project by Boxwood & Brass exploring wind music in early 19th-century Vienna and, in particular, the rearrangement of Beethoven’s music by other composers for Harmonie (wind band). What are today considered as venerated ‘masterpieces’ were treated with considerable liberty in such arrangements. This recording also throws some welcome light on the world of Harmonie, the wind bands so popular in central Europe, notably in Vienna, but little known today outside that area. Just listening to the first few moments of Beethoven’s Op.20 Septet opens up a world of exotic instrumental colour and texture that relies on the use of period instruments. Continue reading

La Fedeltà Premiata

Haydn: La Fedeltà Premiata
Guildhall Opera
Guildhall School of Music &Drama
Silk Street Theatre, 4 November2019

Haydn’s La Fedeltà Premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) was premiered in 1781 at the reopening of the Esterháza court theatre after its destruction in a fire. His Lo speziale had been the first opera in the previous theatre in 1768. The plot is bizarre, even by the standards of 18th-century opera. The Roman city of Cumae worships the goddess Diana, but have managed to upset her, resulting in the curse that “Every year two faithful lovers will be sacrificed to the sea monster until a heroic soul offers his own life. Only then will peace return to the land of Cumae“. In this production, Cumae is Arcadia, its underground station sign prominently displayed on the curtains before the start.

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Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice

Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice
English National Opera, Harry Bicket
The Coliseum, 31 October 2019

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice was the third of the current English National Opera (ENO) series of four operas based on the Orpheus myth that I saw, although it was the first to be performed in the series. It was also the earliest of the series, the most telling omission being Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. In a nod to the Berlioz anniversary year, Orpheus and Eurydice was performed from the 1859 edition by Berlioz rather than Gluck’s own 1762 Vienna score or his 1774 Paris revision.

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