LHF: Mr Handel’s Scholars

‘Mr Handel’s Scholars’
London Handel Festival
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
Anna Devin, Maria Ostroukhova, Nathan Vale, Derek Welton
St George’s, Hanover Square, 23 March 2018

The Handel Singing Competition was inaugurated as part of the London Handel Festival in 2002, and counts several well-known singers amongst the past finalists, if not always amongst the past winners. Several former finalists have become regular performers at subsequent festival events, and this concert was one such. It featured four past finalists, three from 2006/7 and one far more recently, from 2016: two first prize winners, one 2nd prize winner and two winners of the audience prize. Handel was known to have encouraged younger singers, and the title of ‘Mr Handel’s Scholars’ refers to the name by which his young proteges were known. Each half opened with an overture, following by a range of extracts from Handel operas and oratorios, several of which are standard fare at singing competitions.

IMG_20180323_190319103_HDR.jpg

Continue reading

LHF: Handel – Acis & Galatea

Handel: Acis & Galatea
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
St John’s, Smith Square. 21 March 2018

The first of the London Handel Festival’s anniversary events was a performance of Acis and Galatea, first performed in 1718 at Cannons, the palatial mansion north-west of London where James Bridges, by then the Earl of Carnarvon and later to become Duke of Chandos, demonstrated the enormous wealth he had gathered through his position as Paymaster General to the army. Cannons became the only example in England of a Germanic-style princely court orchestra (24-strong) outside the royal family. Handel was house composer from 1717-19 working under Pepusch. It had originally been a small-scale masque, probably performed outdoors, with a small orchestra and five singers, who together formed the chorus. Considering it was the anniversary of the 1718 premiere, it was rather curious that the work was here presented in its 1739 incarnation – one that Handel himself never heard.

IMG_20180321_193228041_HDR (2).jpg

The interior of St John’s, Smith Square (built at the same time of the premiere of Acis) was transformed by director Martin Parr into a cross between some sort of down-market 1980’s rave and a children’s party, with a pall of dry ice engulfing the audience as they entered, party balloons hanging over the mist enveloped orchestra, and rather innocuous drapes suspended from scaffolding, for no apparent reason. It was the first of many production issues that I felt really didn’t work. That said, and more anon, musically it was well worth the trip.

Continue reading

César Franck: Trois Chorals

César Franck: Trois Chorals
Tournemire: transcriptions from Franck’s operas Hulda and Ghiselle
Yoann Tardivel, organ
HORTUS 147. 57:56

The Trois Chorals of César Franck rank amongst the highlights of both the French organ repertoire and the related instrument, the French 19th-century French symphonic organ, typified by the famed organ builder Cavaillé-Coll. They were one of the last works written just two months before he died, in 1890. Yoann Tardivel has won some impressive organ prizes. He takes an attractively reflected approach to his performance of the Three Chorales, avoided the look-at-me approach of some organists who see pieces like these as vehicles to demonstrate their own prowess, rather than demonstrating the music. Some of his speeds are a little slow by present-day standards, but this seems to add gravitas to his playing and is fine by me. He choice of registrations is excellent, and the recording is particularly well engineered with a solid bass.  Continue reading

London Handel Festival (LHF): Guildhall Cantata Ensemble

Guildhall Cantata Ensemble
London Handel Festival
St George’s, Hanover Square. 21 March 2018

This is the first of a series of forthcoming reviews of the 2018 London Handel Festival (LHF).  The theme for this year is ‘Handel in London’ and is exploring Handel’s musical output as well as his wider entrepreneurial and philanthropic life in Georgian society. The wide-ranging month-long programme of concerts and events includes anniversary performances of two works that Handel composed during his 1718 residency at the future Duke of Chandos’s mansion at Cannons: Acis and Galatea and Esther. It has been traditional for many years to include lunchtime events by student and younger groups of musicians. The first of this year’s such recitals took place in the usual base for LHF events, Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square. It featured students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with their programme of music by Buxtehude and Handel. Continue reading

Splendour

Splendour
Golden Age of North German Organ Music
Organ Music & Vocal Works by Buxtehude, Hassler, Praetorius & Scheidemann
Kei Koito, Il Canto di Orfeo
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, 88985437672. 73’15

This CD features a comprehensive survey of the important 17th -century North German School of organist composers, broadly covering the generations of composers between the Hamburg Sweelinck pupils and Buxtehude. The latter’s predecessor in Lübeck, Franz Tunder, opens the programme with his ebulient Praeludium in g. The programme then broadly follows the format of a organ chorale prelude followed by the relevent chorale, sung by the Italian choir Il Canto di Orfeo, directed by Gianluca Capuano. The organ used is the well-known 1624 Hans Scherer instrument in the Stephanskirche, Tangermünde, Germany, a splendid example of the early 17th-century North German organ building tradition. It’s impressive range of colours and textures are explored to the full in Kei Koito’s choice of registrations. 
Continue reading

French Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin

French Sonatas for Harpsichord and Violin
Philippe Grisvard & Johannes Pramsohler
Audax ADX13710. 2CDs. 64’20+51’45

Balbastre: Sonata I in G major
Clément: Sonata No. 1 in C minor
Corrette: Sonata Op. 25, No. 4 in E minor
Duphly: Suite in F major; Suite in G major; Troisième livre de pièces de clavecin
Guillemain: Violin Sonatas, Op 8/4, 5 & 6
Luc Marchand: Suite, Op 1/1
Mondonville: Sonate en symphonie, Op. 3 No. 6; Violin Sonata in G minor, Op 3/1

Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville was the subject of two earlier Audax CDs, reviewed here and here. He is generally credited with moving the French harpsichord from a mere continuo supporting instrument to a role that became equal, or even supplanted, that of the violin with his 1740 publication: Pièces de clavecin en sonates avec accompagnement de violon. This started a plethora of similar pieces over the next 20 years from many different composers. It is a repertoire well worth hearing, and this recording is an important contribution to musical understanding of this middle period in French musical history, half way between the musical heights of the High Baroque in the years around 1700, to the more populist style of the latter part of the decade. Continue reading

JS Bach/JC Bach/CEP Bach: Magnificats

JS Bach, JC Bach & CPE Bach: Magnificats
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68157. 76’48

This recording has the same programme as the concert in St John’s, Smith Square in October 2015. The CD was recorded a few days after the concert, in the church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalen in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, but has only recently been released. The acoustics of this large Gothic church (with its wide nave and tiny side aisles) are more generous than St John’s, Smith Square, giving an added bloom to the sound, although the spacing of the musical forces sometimes gives more of a sense of distance that the more compact London stage avoided. Unlike the concert performance, the CD opens with JS Bach’s 1733 reworking of his earlier E flat version, written for his first Christmas in Lübeck in 1723. It is given a forthright performance without the irritating gaps between movements that I mentioned in the concert review.  Continue reading

Bach & Weiss

Bach & Weiss
Music For Baroque Violin & Lute
Johannes Pramsohler & Jadran Duncumb
Audax Records ADX13706. 77’32
 


JS Bach/Weiss: Suite in A Major (BWV 1025) arr. for violin and obligato lute
Weiss: Suite in A Minor for baroque lute
JS Bach: Partita in D Minor for solo violin (BWV 1004)

The inspiration for this CD is the opening work, an arrangement for violin and obligato lute of the Bach/Weiss A Major Suite (BWV 1025). The whole of the programme note is given over to explaining the complicated background and source history of this piece, leaving the other two works in the programme to “speak for themselves”. The distinguished lutenist Silvius Leopold Weiss knew the Bach family well. He was a friend of WF Bach in Dresden and sponsor of CPE Bach’s application for a post in the Prussian court. In 1739 Weiss visited JS Bach in Leipzig, together with WF Bach, staying for around four weeks. During that time they indulged in friendly improvisation contests, including playing fantasias and fugues, Bach on harpsichord, Weiss on lute. Bach’s private secretary wrote: “Something extra special is happening here.”

For this recording, Johannes Pramsohler and Jadran Duncumb have reconstructed one possible outcome of the visit, the Suite in A Major, BWV 1025, seemingly an arrangement by JS Bach for harpsichord and violin of an original lute piece by Weiss. It is not entirely clear from the sources how Bach made his arrangement, but it seems likely that he added a violin part to a keyboard transcription of Weiss’s lute piece, presumably with some help from Weiss because, as far as we know, JS Bach was not proficient at reading lute tablature.  Continue reading

Duo Enßle-Lamprecht: Tesserae

Tesserae
Duo Enßle-Lamprecht
Anne-Suse Enßle, Philipp Lamprecht
Audax Records ADX 13712. 52’54

The rather severe-looking Duo Enßle-Lamprecht concentrates on newly commissioned music and the very early repertoire. For this recording, they explore pieces drawn from a number of medieval manuscripts, including Can vei la lauzeta mover by the 12th-century Bernart de Ventadorn (the only vocal piece on the recording), La Quinte Estampie Real from the 13th-century Manuscript du Roi, Eya herre got was mag das gesein and Stabat mater from the 13th-century Castilian Las Huelgas Codex, an Alleluja from the Swiss Codex Engelberg (c1375), three pieces by the enigmatic 14th-century ‘Monk of Salzburg’, the early 15th-century Codex Faenza, and the famous British Library MS.Add.29987 with its enormous collection of 14th-century Italian music. Performing medieval music is always a bit of a minefield. There isn’t much of it, and what there is leaves very little indication of how it should be played. Evidence for instrumentation tends to come from the occasional literary reference, or from artworks of the time.  Continue reading

CPE Bach: Clavierstucke Tangere

CPE Bach: Clavierstucke
Tangere
Alexei Lubimov

ECM New Series 2112. 67’30

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: Fantasien, Sonaten, Rondi und SolfeggiRussian pianist Alexei Lubimov concentres his performances and recordings on new music and music from the Baroque era performed on period instruments. This CD presents CPE Bach’s fantasies, sonatas and rondos played on the little-known tangent piano, usually referred to in German-speaking countries as the Pantaleon, Spattisches Klavier or Tangentenflügel. It enjoyed a brief moment of glory in the 18th century as a gap between the harpsichord and clavichord and the forthcoming fortepiano. Rather like the clavichord, its strings are struck from underneath by wood or metal tangents. Unlike the clavichord, where the note continues to sound while the tangent is in contact with the string, the tangent piano has an escarpment action similar to that of a fortepiano which allows the string to freely vibrate. It has a similar extent and control of expressiveness to the clavichord but is capable of much greater volume and intensity. It makes a gloriously twangy sound. There are a few original instruments still in existence, but this recording uses a modern replica, by Chris Maene of Belgium, of a 1794 Späth and Schmahl tangent piano from Regensburg.  Continue reading

Haydn: Applausus

Haydn: Applausus: Jubilaeum Virtutis Palatium
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Cadogan Hall, 15 March 2018

In what was almost certainly the first live UK performance of Haydn’s Applausus Cantata (Jubilaeum Virtutis Palatium, Hob XXIVa:6), the Mozartists (the concert-performing wing of Classical Opera) opened the 2018 season of their ambitious Mozart 250 project. This started in 2015, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s visit to London where, incidentally, he stayed not far from the Cadogan Hall in Ebury Street, and wrote his first symphony, aged 8. The aim is to annually explore the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously.

IMG_20180315_174251159_HDR.jpg

In 1768, this year’s focus, Mozart was 12 years old and Haydn 36 and well settled into the princely Esterházy court where he directed most of the musical life of the court. He received an invitation from the wealthy Abbey of Zwettl, about 120km west-north-west of Vienna to write an ‘applausus‘ cantata to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their abbot Rainer Kollmann, first taking his monastic vows. Although composed in quasi-operatic style, with a series of accompanied recitative leading up to da capo arias, a duet, quartet and a final chorus, there is no plot in any operatic or literal sense. The four Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude sing the praises of the Abbot in a convoluted Latin libretto, probably written by one of the monks. A personification of Theology/Wisdom moderates some of their utterances. I am sure the text meant something to the 17th-century monks of Zwettl, but I found its vaguely moralistic meanderings completely incomprehensible. The repeated references to a ‘Palace’ perhaps reflected the wealth of the monks of Zwettl, whose medieval Abbey buildings had been thoroughly reconstructed in the Baroque style a few decades earlier, complete with one of the largest and most expensive organs in Austria (1731, Egedacher) – all still existing. “How blessed I am to be an inhabitant of this building!’ is one of Prudence’s utterings, to which Justice notes that “our Palace is celebrated in the eyes of the highest”. So that’s all right then! Continue reading

Handel: Rinaldo

Handel: Rinaldo
The English Concert, Harry Bicket

Barbican. 13 March 2018

Rinaldo is a curious opera. Cobbled together in early 1711 from some of Handel’s greatest hits from his time in Italy, it was intended a calling-card both for Handel and for the style of Italian opera that was just beginning to make its way on the London musical scene. It was the first such opera composed for the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, where the theatre’s director (Aaron Hill) was keen to promote Italian opera. As Richard Wigmore wrote in the programme note (accessible here), Hill’s priorities were “variety of incident and spectacle, with dramatic coherence a distant third”. Dramatic coherence is certainly missing from the splot, a loose version of one of Tasso’s tales of Crusader derring-do in Gerusalemme liberata. The “incident and spectacle” was certainly to the fore in the original productions, with its dramatic staging with mermaids, various flying machines, fire-breathing dragons, and a flock of live sparrows, the latter producing the inevitable results and some sharp criticism for contemporary reviewers. Continue reading

Bach Inspiration

Bach Inspiration
Juliette Hurel, flute,
Maïlys de Villoutreys, soprano, Alice Julien-Laderriere, violin
Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Alpha Classics/Outhere, ALPHA 358. 67’31

Although usually outnumbered by the violin and oboe as a solo instrument, JS Bach made use of the solo flute and recorder in many of his pieces, using the recorder more often in cantatas, and the flute in chamber music. In an eclectic programme, this recording, clearly intended as a showpiece for flautist Juliette Hurel, explores some of Bach’s writing for flute. It includes four arias for soprano, sung effectively by Maïlys de Villoutreys. The opening B Minor Orchestral Suite (BWV 1067) is the key orchestral work including flute, although the 5th Brandenburg concerto (not included) comes a close second. The Trio Sonata in G (BWV 1038) reveals the flute in chamber mode (played with violinist Alice Julien-Laderriere) while the Partita in A minor (BWV 1013) reveals the flute in solo mode. Continue reading

Renaissance Singers: Portuguese penitential music

I heard a voice from heaven
Portuguese penitential music
The Renaissance Singers
St George’s, Bloomsbury, 10 March 2018

The Renaissance Singers are one of the most impressive of London’s amateur choirs, always coming up with well-planned and well-presented and exceedingly well-sung concerts of Renaissance music. The latest of these was a programme of early 17th-century Lenten music from Portugal. Featuring composers born between 1550 and 1610, the concert was based around extracts from Duarte   (Requiem) with motets by Pedro de Cristo, Filipe de Magalhāes, Aired Fernandez, and Manuel Cardoso and concluding with João Lourenço Rebelo’s extraordinary setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Intelligently written programme notes by choir member Tony Damer explored the background of the intense and expressive music composed during a period when Portugal was breaking away from the Hapsburg Spanish Empire to become an independent state under King João IV, an important patron of the arts and music.  Continue reading

CPE Bach: Complete works for keyboard & violin

CPE Bach: Complete works for keyboard & violin
Duo Belder Kimura
Resonus RES10192. 2CDs 69’32+62.51

This CD includes all of CPE Bach’s pieces for violin and keyboard, with seven Sonatas, a Fantasia, Sinfonia and Ariosa with variations (Wq. 71-80). For the first few seconds of listening to this recording, I wondered if it was playing at the correct speed, so sparkily light and delicate was the brisk opening with its precisely articulated rapid-fire trills from both violin and harpsichord. But this was the musical language of the young CPE Bach heard in the opening of his Sonata in C Wq.73, one of a group of three Sonatas composed in 1731 when Bach was just 17 and a student at the Leipzig Thomasschule. He later revised them 15 years later in Berlin, and it is not clear to what extent we are hearing the young or more mature Bach. But the combination of his father’s influence and the move away from the style of ‘Old Bach’ that was to dominate CPE Bach’s compositional style is clear. The second group of Sonatas date from 1763 (Wq. 75-78), with the harpsichord taking on a stronger role. The final two pieces (the Arioso and Fantasia) date from the 1780s, and the keyboard (a fortepiano after Walter, 1795) dominates the texture. The other pieces use a harpsichord after Blanchet (1730); the violin an original from the Gagliano school (c1730).  Continue reading

Louise Farrenc & Beethoven

Beethoven: Triple Concerto; Louise Farrenc: Symphony No 3
Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equilbey
The Barbican. 8 March 2018

A phrase that I occasionally use when reviewing a revival of music by a little-known composer is that the composer was “plucked from well-deserved obscurity”. That is a phrase that definitely cannot be used to describe the music of Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), the focus of the Barbican concert give, appropriately, on International Women’s Day by the Insula Orchestra, all wearing suffragette ribbons, apparently made by the same company that made the original purple, white, and green colours.  Born six months after Berlioz, she was a pioneering French composer, pianist, and teacher. Although she was highly esteemed during her lifetime, her impact was almost certainly reduced by not managing to write an opera, a requisite for Parisian composers in her time. Her work was almost entirely forgotten after her death until very recent years, when the long-awaited recognition of female composers and musicians led to some recordings and concerts of her composition.

Studying, working, composing and teaching at a time when the female contribution to arts, and life in general, was given little prominence, Farrenc resolutely ploughed her own course as a teacher and composer. At the time, females were not allowed to join the composition class at the Paris Conservatoire, so she took private lessons with the teacher. But she eventually became Professor of Piano at the same institution, remaining as such for 30 years, although only achieving parity of pay with her male colleagues for the last 20, and that after campaigning.  Continue reading

Telemann: Complete Trio Sonatas with Recorder and Viol

Telemann: Complete Trio Sonatas with Recorder and Viol
Da Camera
Chandos/Chaconne CHAN0817. 67’00

This excellent recording explores the compositions that Telemann considered to be his best – his Trio Sonatas. Da Camera (Emma Murphy, recorders, Susanna Pell, treble and bass viols, Steven Devine, harpsichord) performs eight such Sonatas, four from the 1739 Essercizii musici and four from the collection of Telemann manuscripts surviving in Darmstadt, mostly dating from the 1720s. The Darmstadt pieces are particularly interesting in that Da Camera use the combination of instruments specified by Telemann, with recorder and dessus de viole (treble viol), rather than the more usually heard combination of recorder and violin. Telemann’s indication makes perfect sense, the delicately expressive and sensitive sound of the treble viol both blending and contrasting perfectly with the recorder. Continue reading

CF Abel & JC Bach Quartets

“Georgian quartets among Palladian columns”
The London Abel Quartet
Marble Hill House, Twickenham, 4 March 2018

The London Abel Quartet was formed, as the name implies, to explore the music of Carl Friedrich Abel and his contemporaries. Abel was a German composer and viola da gamba player. He was born in  Köthen, where his father worked in JS Bach’s court orchestra. He later became a student at Bach’s Leipzig Thomasschule. After a spell in Dresden, he settled in London around 1759. He was joined in 1762 by Johann Christian Bach, Bach’s youngest surviving son. The pair soon started the famed Bach-Abel concerts in Soho, the first subscription concerts in England. Abel and JC Bach are both buried in buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, just behind St Pancras station. Continue reading

Maximum Reger

Maximum Reger – The Last Giant
Fugue State Films. FSFDVD011. 6 DVD. c15h

Maximum Reger

Reger_Back_Cover

Johann Baptist Joseph Maximilian (Max) Reger (1873 -1916) is generally best known, if, perhaps, not always best liked, by organists. He is a bit of a love-or-hate composer, his extended and frequently dense organ pieces can be as hard to play as they, arguably, can be to listen to. As a breed, organists tend to concentrate on a composer’s organ music (with the possible exception of Bach) rather than exploring their music for other forces. Reger is one such, along with, for example, the contemporary, but longer-lived French composer Tournemire. If Reger is known at all to non-organists, it is probably through his chamber music. This extraordinary Fugue State Films box set of 6 DVDs, including a three-part documentary ‘The Last Giant’, aims to redress the balance of bringing Reger’s non-organ music and complex life story to organists, and the music of Reger in toto to non-organists who are not familiar with his music. For filmmaker and organist Will Fraser, of Fugue State Films, it is clearly a labour of love. Continue reading

Bach and Handel: Great Balls of Fire

Bach and Handel: Great Balls of Fire
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Steven Devine
Kings Place. 1 March 2018

Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 4 no. 1
Handel: 
Organ Concerto Op. 7 no. 5
Bach:
 Brandenburg Concerto no. 5

Under the banner of the Kings Place ‘Turning Points’ series (which aims to explore the hidden secrets of the great composers) and a very silly concert title (‘Great Balls of Fire’), the OAE presented three examples of the 18th-century keyboard concerto, contrasting two of Handel’s Organ Concertos with Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. Composed for entirely different audiences and occasions, the Bach and Handel pieces reflect key moments in the development of music. A pre-concert talk by the chief executive of the OAE, given in the rather booming style of a schoolmaster (I use the gender-specific term deliberately) lecturing a lower-sixth general studies course, gave some background to the concert and the three pieces were to hear. The concert itself lasted just one hour, without interval. It was followed by a Q&A session with the performers and an encore, voted for by the audience from a list of three.  Continue reading

Brewery Band: Rolling in the Barrel

Rolling in the Barrel
Brewery Band

Antenna Studios, Crystal Palace, SE19. 25 February 2018

The latest in the monthly events run under the banner of Classical Transmission (at Crystal Palace’s pleasingly ramshackle Antenna Studios) featured the Brewery Band, a collective of early and folk musicians – Morag Johnston, fiddle, Emily White, fiddle/sackbut, James Risdon, recorders, Matthew Wadsworth, theorbo, and Kate Bennett-Wadsworth, viola da gamba. They describe themselves as “a new and flexible collective who enjoy being difficult to define. Their shared musical backgrounds and professional work mean you might hear a Shetlandic set segue into music from the 17th-century theatre, a medieval dance followed by a contemporary improvisation“. Continue reading

SJSS: Muffat Festival

Muffat Festival
The Brook Street Band
St John’s, Smith Square, 25 February 2018

With four concerts, a dance workshop and a talk spread over a weekend, the St John’s, Smith Square Muffat Festival focussed on Georg Muffat (1653-1704), that most innovative of composers, and the music that both influenced him and was, in turn, influenced by him. Curiously, of the 26 works played during the weekend, only six were actually by Muffat, a sadly missed opportunity to highlight more of his music, much of which is underperformed. The first concert (23 February) concentrated on the German Violin School, with pieces by Schmelzer, Biber and Krieger following the opening Muffat Sonata 2 from his 1682 Armonico Tributo. Dance was the focus of the second concert (24 February), with Muffat sharing the honours with Lully, Handel and Bach. The Italian Influence was explored in the first of two Sunday concerts (25 February), with pieces by Corelli and Handel and a Muffat Violin Sonata. The weekend finished with a focus on the Concerto, with more Bach and Handel along with Geminiani, all at least one generation younger that Muffat. It concluded with Muffat’s Sonata No. 5 in G from Armonico Tributo with its extraordinary extended concluding Passacaglia – one of the highlights of Muffat’s orchestral output.  Continue reading

Olwen Foulkes: Directed by Handel

Directed by Handel
Music from Handel’s London Theatre Orchestra
Olwen Foulkes, recorder
Barn Cottage Recordings, bcr019. 64’04

The decline of the recorder as a serious classical music instrument has long been predicted, for reasons that are quite beyond me. As an example, some years ago I was shocked to hear somebody involved with a well-known young artists competition in the north of the UK comment that a recorder player or consort would never win first prize. But evidence shows that recorder music and players are going from strength to strength, not least with through an impressive cohort of young performers making their way onto the professional circuit. One such is Olwen Foulkes a recent prize-winning graduate of London’s Royal Academy of Music where she obtained a Distinction and DipRAM award for her MMus degree. I first heard and reviewed her at the 2016 Royal Academy of Music’s early music prize competition, where she was part of the prizewinning group, of two recorder players plus cello and harpsichord continuo. This is her debut recording.  Continue reading

Secret Fires of Love

Secret Fires of Love
Studio Rhetorica, Robert Toft
Daniel Thomson, Thomas Leininger & Terry McKenna

Talbot Productions TP1701. 65’11

Studio Rhetorica, Daniel Thomson, Thomas Leininger & Terry McKenna | Secret Fires of Love

This recording is issued under the banner of Studio Rhetorica, a cover for the research work of Robert Toft, Canadian vocal coach and researcher, and this CD’s producer and musical director. The recording was planned to demonstrate examples of his research and approach to musical performance. To explain this, I quote from the extensive programme note on performance. This states that the performers (Australian tenor, Daniel Thomson, Canadian lutenist Terry McKenna, and German harpsichordist Thomas Leininger) “take a fresh approach to Renaissance and Baroque songs by treating the texts freely to transform inexpressive notation into passionate musical declamation. Daniel Thomson adopts the persona of a storyteller, and like singers of the past, he uses techniques of rhetorical delivery to re-create the natural style of performance listeners from the era would have heard (all the principles of performance Daniel employs are documented in period treatises on singing and speaking). This requires him to alter the written scores substantially, and his dramatic singing combines rhetoric and music in ways that have not been heard since the Renaissance and Baroque eras“. I suggest that several people would dispute the latter part of the final sentence.

Continue reading

(Ex)Tradition

(Ex)Tradition
The Curious Bards
Traditional & Popular Music of 18th-Century Ireland & Scotland
Harmonia Mundi (harmonia#nova) HMN916105. 62’47


The Curious Bards was founded in 2013 by musicians from the music conservatories of Lyon, Paris and Basel, sharing an interest both in early music and traditional Irish, Celtic and Gaelic music. They aim to unite these musical worlds through research and historical musical discoveries. For this CD, they use a range of instruments including triple harp, violin, viola da gamba, a transverse flute, a tin whistle, and a cittern specially constructed by William Gibson for this recording, based on a 1778 Irish original in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum, part of the National Museum of Ireland. Continue reading

Music in New France & Québec

Music in New France & Québec
Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal
St John’s, Smith Square, 15 February 2018

The Canadian choir, Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal (SMAM) was founded in 1974 by Christoper Jackson. For their UK debut, they presented a programme of music from Québec and the area of the North Americas generally known between 1534 and 1763, as ‘New France’, the northern part of which is now in Canada. In similar, if less flamboyant fashion to the Spanish and Portuguese Christian conquerors in Central and South America, the imported French musicians adopted some aspects of the aboriginal music styles, represented in this concert by a series of anonymous pieces sung in Abenaki, an almost extinct indigenous language.  The programme also included some of the earliest motets and plainchants composed in French North America alongside polyphony introduced by the first French settlers, whose only surviving sources are now in Québec libraries. As well as the early pieces, we also heard the European premiere of Ja de longtemps by Québec composer Maurice-G. Du Berge, setting an eyewitness account of the early explorations of the St. Lawrence River. Continue reading

Philip Glass’s Satyagraha

Philip Glass: Satyagraha
English National Opera, Improbable
Coliseum. 1 February 2018

One of the surprises of the contemporary opera world is that the 2007 ENO premiere of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha broke all box office records, becoming the most popular contemporary work to be performed by ENO. Its uncompromising approach to text and music seems to have appealed to the public, to the extent that it has just opened for its third revival. It follows ENO’s 2016 revival of Akhnaten, the third of a trilogy of operas, of which Satyagraha is the second. It is a difficult work to categorise. It is not a conventional opera, sung throughout in Sanskrit without an understandable libretto, in a sequence of seemingly unrelated tableaux, in random time frames, each with its own musical timbre. Through-composed, it switches from lengthy solos and ensemble pieces to enormous chorus scenes, in this production backed by spectacular visuals. The orchestra only uses strings and woodwind.

ENO Satyagraha Toby Spence ENO Chorus (c) Donald Cooper

Continue reading

Bach: Organ Chorales

JS Bach
Organ Chorales of the Leipzig manuscript/Schübler Chorales
Vincent van Laar
Aliud ACDBN 103-2. 2CDs 60’32+52’34

There are many recordings of these pieces, so a new one needs to be judged by what it can offer that others cannot. One question is about the nature of performing in recital and for a recording. It is generally accepted that performers can be much freer in their interpretation when playing live than in recording. An interpretational flourish in a recital is a take-it-or-leave event, which may well not repay repeated listening. So recordings tend to be ‘safer’ interpretations. Some recordings are, in effect, ‘live’, in that they are either taken from a live recital, or are performed as if live, without editing or re-takes. On this recording, Vincent van Laar generally plays in the ‘safe’ zone, but there are a few occasions when he steps into a more personal mode. And it is these moments that make this recording worth considering.  Continue reading

Ensemble Rost

Ensemble Rost
‘The mysterious Rost Manuscript’
Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London. 30 January 2018

Ensemble Rost is a trio of musicians (Danish, German, and French) who met in 2013 at the Royal Danish Music Academy in Copenhagen. They formed to explore (and named themselves after) the important Codex Rost (or Rost Manuscript), a collection of 157 pieces, mostly sonatas or sonata-like works. The period of composition dates from about 1640 to 1687 and is written down in three part books, all accessible online. As well as several named composers, the collection also contains 81 anonymous pieces, some of which might be by Franz Rost himself. Ensemble Rost is particularly interested in the Sonatas for their own rather unusual lineup of violin, viola and keyboard. The viola is referred to in different ways: Viola, Bracia, and Alto, leading to questions as to whether these all refer to the same instrument.

Image result for codex rost photo Continue reading

Music in a Cold Climate

Music in a Cold Climate: Sounds of Hansa Europe
In Echo, Gawain Glenton (director)
Delphian DCD34206. 67’32

In Echo is a new period instrument group, directed by the cornettist Gawain Glenton. Their core instrumental line-up of cornetto, violin, sackbut (doubling violin), bass viol and keyboards has been expanded for this their debut recording by an additional violin/viola, bass viol and, in one piece, a violone. Their programme retraces the route of musicians active in the Hanseatic League (Hansa) during its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. The league was a trading partnership encompassing several countries, from Tallinn to London via the Germanic free cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen and similar ports in Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The CD programme notes mention that the represented composers “each looked beyond their own shores and toward a sense of shared European culture and understanding” – a timely reminder today of the importance of freedom of travel for musicians. For this recording, In Echo also commissioned a new composition to complement the early pieces – Andrew Keeling’s Northern Soul. Continue reading