The Edge of Time
Anna Friederike Potengowski (bone flutes), Georg Wieland Wagner (percussion)
Delphian DCD34185. 64’32
Having been not entirely enthusiastic about Dragon Voices, the last recording from the European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP), it is nice to make up for that with my enthusiasm for the latest from that project, with this recording featuring Palaeolithic bone flutes and percussion. All my earlier concerns about the choice of repertoire are overcome with this imaginative look at the musical possibilities of the reconstructions of four bone flute, based on originals dating back around 40,000 years ago. Continue reading
Johann Michael Haydn: Der Kampf der Buβe und Bekehrung
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Carus 83.351. 79’55
Despite being a lesser-known work by a lesser-known composer, the oratorio Der Kampf der Buße und Bekehrung (The Struggle for Penance and Conversion) is well worth getting to know. It is the second, and only surviving part, of a three-part oratorio, each part written by a different composer – not unusual in the fast-paced musical world of Salzburg at the time. The reason was the arrival of three sopranos bought back from Italy by the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1768. A piece was quickly required to show off their musical talents and, because of the lack of time, three composers agreed to compose a part of the libretto. Johann Michael Haydn (the younger brother of Joseph) took the central part, and this oratorio is the result. Continue reading
Alex McCartney: Toccata: Touched
Works by GG Kapsberger
Veterum Musica. VM015. 45’27
This recording is clearly something of a labour of love, albeit a rather short one, at just 45’27. Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger (c1580-1651) was the son of an Austrian colonel, and was possibly born in Venice. He spent much of his musical life in the household of Cardinal Barberini in Rome (alongside Frescobaldi, amongst others) where he quickly built a reputation for virtuoso theorbo playing. To what extent his published theorbo pieces reflect his live performances is unclear, but they are sometimes frankly rather odd, not least with his unconventional use of rhythm and harmony. Contemporary commentators hinted strongly that his compositions were not as good as his performances. Continue reading
Siglo de Oro & New London Singers
St John’s, Smith Square: Holy Week Festival. 15 April 2017
The 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
Thomas Tallis: Songs of Reformation
Alamire, David Skinner
St John’s, Smith Square: Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017
After 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
Dragon Voices: Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe
Delphian DCD34183. 66’42
The link between music and archaeology is a comparatively new field of study, helped in recent years by the enterprising European Music Archaeology Project (EMAP) in conjunction with the University of Huddersfield. I reviewed another CDs from the project here and a live concert featuring John Kenny some of the instruments on this CD here. The instruments featured here are Celtic, and include two examples of the carnyx, a two-metre-long bronze trumpet surmounted by a stylised animal head that flourished from around 200 BCE and 200 CE. The upper part of one was found in 1816 in a peat bog at Deskford, Scotland, and was reconstructed in 1993. The other is the Tintignac carnyx, discovered in southern France in 2004 and reconstructed for this project. The third instrument is a reconstruction of the Irish Loughnashade horn, also found in a peat bog, and dating from the first century BCE. Continue reading
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 Tenebrae. 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
Virgin and Child
Music from the Baldwin Partbooks II
Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD474. 75’18
Tallis: Gaude gloriosa Dei mater, Magnificat, Videte miraculum; and pieces by Taverner, White, Fayrfax, and Sheppard.
The Baldwin Partbooks were copied in the 1570s and 80s by a member of the choirs of St George’s Windsor and the Chapel Royal, John Baldwin. They included printed pieces as well as Baldwin’s manuscript copies of music, from an earlier age, resulting in one of the most important surviving collections of polyphony from the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. This, combined with a focus on music dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is the focus of the music on this volume, the second in the Contrapunctus series on music of the Baldwin Partbooks (the first was In the Midst of Life, SIGCD408). Continue reading
Bach: St John Passion
Apollo’s Fire, Jeannette Sorrell
Avie AV2369. 2CDs 33’08+74’34.
This recording stems from a series of semi-staged performances in Cleveland and New York in March 2016. Videos of extracts of a live event can be viewed here. The project was referred to as ‘A Dramatic Presentation’, and involved the main protagonists singing from memory to each other and the audience, who were treated as part of the crowd in some of the turbo choruses, with half the choir moving from the stage to stand by the audience, notably during the scenes with Pilatus. A timely reminder, perhaps, of The immediacy and emotional intensity of the live performances can only be imagined from the recording, but the directness and strength of feeling remains. Continue reading
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 Schild; Ein 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
Queen Mary’s Big Belly
Hope for an heir in Catholic England
Gallicantus, Elizabeth Kenny, Gabriel Crouch
Signum Classics SIGCD464. 77’42
Music by van Wilder, Mundy, Tye, Lassus, Tallis, Newman, Sheppard
The catchy title of this recording (which quotes a 1688 pamphlet) is based a brief, but curious, incident during the turbulent Tudor times when, in April 1555, it was announced that Queen Mary had given birth to a son. The following day this was revealed to be the 16th century version of fake news. The complex history and importance of this event is beyond the scope of this review, but is easily obtainable and is covered in the detailed CD notes. Curiously, no author is credited for these notes, although I think it was Magnus Williamson, whose ‘insight and guidance’ is a credited elsewhere. Continue reading
Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1
London Early Opera
Bridget Cunningham, Daniel Moult, Kirsty Hopkins, Sophie Bevan
Signum SIGCD428. 48’18
Preceding the two recordings of Handel in Italy (reviewed here), London Early Opera explored the music of Handel (and his contemporaries Thomas Arne and John Hebden) as it might have been plerformed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Pleasure Gardens like Vauxhall were a focus for musical, and other entertainments in 17th and 18th century London. This fascinating programme (but very short, at just over 48 minutes) is based on a conjectural reconstruction of part of a typical evening at Vauxhall in the early 1740s, and includes a wide variety of music including orchestral, organ and vocal music. Continue reading
JS Bach: Complete Organ Works
Volume 3 – Fantasias & Fugues
Ed. Pieter Dirksen
Breitkopf & Härtel 2016.
Edition Breitkopf EB8803. ISMN: 979-0-004-18374-8
159pp + CD-ROM
The new 10 volume Breitkopf & Härtel critical edition of Bach’s organ music is arriving in dribs and drabs. I reviewed volume 8 here last July, and have now been sent Volume 3. It contains all the pieces entitled ‘Fantasia’ together with isolated Fugues. In that context, it is worth stressing that there are no surviving authorized and complete Fantasia and Fugue pairs, not even the well-known Fantasia & Fugue in G minor (BWV 542). Indeed, many of the popular Preludes and Fugues were also put together by later editors, rather than by Bach.
Peter Dirksen’s detailed introductory notes (in German and English), include a discussion of discussion the historic background to the Continue reading
Bach: St Matthew Passion
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, James Gilchrist, Kati Debretzeni,John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG725. 2CDs. 2h40′
Some 28 years after their famed 1988 Archiv recording (made under studio conditions in Snape Maltings), the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists return to the St. Matthew Passion. This extraordinary piece can evoke enormous emotional responses, regardless of the religious views of the listener. I vividly remember taking my young daughter to a performance of their 1988 Matthew, sitting in the front row, and watching the bass player just a few yards away gently shedding tears as she played. For this version, on their own label, they opt for a live recording, made in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as the culmination of a six-month tour. Continue reading
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
Mondonville: Grands Motets
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923508. 43’20+52’47
De profundis (1748), Magnus Dominus (1734), Nisi Dominus (1743), Cantate Domino (1742)
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in Narbonne in the south-west of France. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour, joining the Concert Spirituel and the Chapelle Royale as a violinist. Although continuing is career as a violinist, he soon rose through the musical ranks (becoming director of the Concert Spirituel and Maître de musique de la Chapelle) and also became famed as a composer of opera and sacred music. Although never quite reaching the musical heights of his predecessors Lully and Rameau, his compositions reflect the changing mood in the middle third of 18th century France. Continue reading
Mondonville: Trio Sonatas Op 2 (1734)
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
Audax Records ADX13707. 67’22
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville (1711-1772) was born in the south-west of France to an aristocratic family whose fortune was in decline. He moved to Paris in 1733 and almost immediately published a volume of violin Sonatas. He initially came under the patronage of Madame de Pompadour and also joined the Concert Spirituel and, later, the Chapelle royale. The first of his 17 grands motets was performed at around the same time. In 1734, this Opus 2 set of six Trio Sonatas was published. The quality and technical virtuosity of the writing for the two violins says a lot about his own abilities as a violinist. Extensive use of double stops for both players are just the start of it.
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 22 March 2017
Partenope is an entertaining, if over-long, venture into cross-dressing, disguise, sexual and political intrigue and, at least in the original 1730 production, some impressive special effects, including a battle that employed a stage army. The story is a slight, but attractive one, with scope for drama, betrayal, intrigue, humour and sexual goings on.
Partenope is the Queen and mythological founder of Naples, who legend believes was also one of the Sirens who attempted to lure Odysseus onto the rocks. She has three admirers: Arsace, Armindo and Emilio. As the opera opens, her favourite, Arsace, is surprised to see his former lover (Rosmira) turn up disguised as a man (Eurimene). As a man, Eurimene becomes a rival for the Queen’s affections whilst, as a women and only recognisable to Arsace, she proceeds to mock and goad Arsace to the extent that the Queen demands that they fight a duel. Arsace, wanting to reveal Eurimene’s true identity, demands that they should both fight topless. Unfortunately for the dirty old men in the audience, Eurimene gives in at this point and reveals herself as Rosmira.
This was the first revival of Christopher Alden’s 2008 production. It is set in 1920s Paris around the complex interconnected lives of surrealist artists and the exotically (and erotically) wealthy. Continue reading
Haydn: The Seasons 1801
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 480. 2 CDs. 133’08
Those that have followed the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh over the years will know that they rarely do things by halves. In their early years, this included such seminal recordings as, for example, their 1994 reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas recorded with massed forces in Roskilde Cathedral, the latter chosen because of its important historic organ. In recent years they have built close connections with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. This much heralded recording of the 1801 version of Haydn’s The Seasons is the latest of those collaborations. The opening thunderous wallop on the timpani will warn you that this is a recording of some drama and punch. Using a new performing edition (and English translation) by Paul McCreesh this is the first recording to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for in some of the early performances, with a string section of 60, 10 horns and a choir of 70, using the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir.
Often overlooked in favour of The Creation, The Seasons is in many ways a more forward-looking work, with more of a hint of the romanticism that was eventually going to overtake all the arts. Continue reading
Heaven and hell in the European musical landscape c1600
L’Encelade ECL 1502. 63.
As the subtitle suggests, In Nomine explores how the concepts of heaven and hell were portrayed in Europe during the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque period. Its publicity suggests that it “plunges into a demonic world of evanescent dreams and telluric rumblings and then, as a counterpoint, whisks us up to the celestial heights of hope, salvation and the sublime…“. The result is something of a musical pot pourri, jumping from track to track and style to style with little sense of linking cohesion and with some alarming pitch and key changes between tracks. It jumps from music clearly intended for performance in church, and pieces that equally clearly were not.
It was recorded in the ancient church of Saint-Savin-en-Lavedan in the Hautes-Pyrenees. The main focus is the extraordinary 1557 Renaissance organ, positioned on its own gallery to one side of the nave. It was reconstructed, Continue reading
Haydn: Harmoniemesse, etc.
London Youth Choir & Chamber Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh, Robbie Jacobs
St Andrew Holborn, 9 March 2017
Ian Grandage: Dawn, Sunset; Ola Gjeilo: Northern Lights; Rheinberger: Morgenlied and Abendlied; Rachmaninov: Bogoroditse Dyevo.
On a day when the BBC reported on research into the sad state of music education in English secondary schools, it was good to be reminded of the many musical activities that are available to young people. Two examples were on show at this event: Gabrieli Roar and the London Youth Choir.
Gabrieli Roar was founded in 2010, and is a partnership between the Gabrieli Consort and a range of British youth choirs, enabling the latter to perform alongside professional musicians and providing support and encouragement, particularly in areas of low cultural provision. The London Youth Choir (LYC) was established in 2012. It runs five choirs for children aged from 3 to 21 years living or educated in Greater London. The choirs are auditioned, and choir members pay £55 a term subscription. It has been a part of Gabrieli Roar since 2015. Continue reading
Early Music Festival
27 February – 4 March 2017
Müpa Budapest is the sensibly shortened title of Művészetek Palotája, the national cultural centre situated on the Danube just south of the centre of the Pest side of Budapest. The building opened in 2005 (as the Palace of the Arts), and was designed by the young Hungarian architects Zoboki, Demeter and Partners. It includes the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall (Bartók Béla Nemzeti Hangversenyterem), the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház), also suitable for smaller scale concerts, several other performing spaces and an outpost of the Ludwig Museum, best known for its Vienna contemporary art gallery. The centre hosts an enormous range of activities throughout the year and, for the past three years, has been running a short early music festival, this year consisting of six events. I was invited to review five of them, between 27 February to 4 March, featuring performers based in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Budapest.
Hasse: Piramo e Tisbe
Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
Müpa: Festival Theatre , 27 February 2017
The first event took place in the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház). Designed for speech and drama, it also proved very effective as a small scale music performance space, seating around 460. A substantial acoustic screen (pictured) is used to reduce the size of the large theatrical stage, focussing the sound of musicians and helping to project the sound to the audience. The acoustics are clear, with sufficient reverberation to create an effective music listening environment. Continue reading
Alessandro Scarlatti: Passio Secundum Johannem
Chœur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, Leonardo García Alarcón
Ricercar RJC 378. 57’30
If you can listen to the first two tracks of this recording without being smitten by the extraordinary musical and emotional power, you are probably on a different musical planet to me. The richly sonorous and harmonically intense opening chorus (a Responsory for Holy Week) segues straight into the opening section of the Passio Secundum Johannem. The orchestral introduction is a glorious harmonic construction, leading to the evocative voice of mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli, singing the role of Testo (the Evanglelist). Continue reading
Friday 24 March 2017, 1pm
60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays organ music by Froberger & Blow
This recital traces the influence of Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-67) on the English organist and composer, John Blow (1649-1708).
Froberger was an enormous influence on keyboard composers from the 17th to early 19th century, not least for his role in spreading the Italian style of his teacher Frescobaldi around Europe, and assimilating various European musical styles into his own compositions. Although only two of his works were published in his lifetime, Froberger’s compositions were widely circulated in manuscript copies. They were known to have been studied by the likes of Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Muffat, Kerll, Weckmann, Louis Couperin, Kirnberger, Böhm, Handel, Bach, and even Mozart and Beethoven. He was a close friend of Matthias Weckmann, who helped to spread the Italian style to the important North German organ composers in Hamburg.
John Blow (1649-1708) was the teacher of Purcell, and his predecessor (and successor) as organist of Westminster Abbey. He was just 18 when Froberger died and was about 4 when Froberger made his disastrous visit to London. The influence of Froberger came through manuscripts that Blow copied, adding his own distinctive English Baroque ornaments in the process.
Girolamo Frescobaldi: Organ works
Ricercar RJC 372. 72’20
Girolamo Frescobaldi is one of the most important composers of the transitional period between the late Renaissance and the early Baroque. His keyboard music and his written performing instructions form the bedrock of the 17th century Baroque style, in particular the Stylus phantasticus that dominated the musical style in Italy and Germany. Through pupils like Froberger and other disciples, his music spread throughout Europe and influenced composer, including Bach and his North German organ composer predecessors like Weckmann, Tunder and Buxtehude and English composers like John Blow. Continue reading
Musica para Tañer a Dos Vihuelas
Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Heringman
outhere A428. 53’21
This recording does exactly what it says on the cover, recreating an imaginary books of vihuela duets in the style and manner of the sole surviving example of such a collection. There are many examples of music for two lutes from the 16th century, but only one for two vihuelas. To make up for that omission, Ariel Abramovich and Jacob Heringman have joined forces to arrange a variety of pieces for two vihuelas in the style of the mid-16th century.
This is a fascinating recording on several levels. Firstly, it is a real delight to listen to. The sound of the two instruments combines and matches perfectly. Abramovich and Heringman play as one with an impressive sense of togetherness, and the recording also brings the two players aurally together. Even with headphones, it is not easy to pick out which instrument is which. The nature of the music is such that this is important. Continue reading
Thierry Pécou: Outre-mémoire
St John’s, Smith Square. 22 February 2017
Villa-Lobos: Le Cygne noir
Thierry Pécou (b 1965): Outre-mémoire
There are many ways to listen to music. One is to just let it waft over you, without knowing anything about it. The other end of the spectrum is to study the background to the composition and composer, the social situation in which it was composed, the composers notes about it, the score (if accessible), and anything else you can get hold of. Those attending this performance of Thierry Pécou’s 2004 Outre-mémoire (Beyond memory) who adopted the first approach would have missed a vast amount of information that is (possibly) essential to understanding the 75 minutes long piece.
For those who just watched and listened, what they heard was an extraordinary range of musical textures, using piano, normal and bass flute and clarinet, and cello, together with tiny high-pitched little bells, a gong, fingers waggling in a bowl of water, rustled blue plastic bags, and several sound effects produced from the instruments themselves. Continue reading
Organs in Dialogue
Javier Artigas & João Vaz
1779 & 1864 organs of Clérigos Church, Oporto, Portugal
Arkhé Music 2016002. 64’07
Music by Boaventuba, Portugal, Ferbenac, Gill, Lidón, Bondaczuk.
During the 18th century, Iberian churches often adopted the earlier Italian plan of having two organs, each in (usually) identical architectural cases positioned on balconies and speaking towards each other across the choir. The practice has its roots in St Mark’s Venice in the 16th century. Clérigos Church in Oporto is one such example, its two organs dating from 1779 with major restorations in 1864. Rather like French organs, organ building in the Iberian peninsula reached a technical peak in the 18th century at a time when the music written for the organ was experiencing something of a decline. This CD reflects both those aspects; of organ building and composition. Continue reading
The Harmonie in Beethoven’s Vienna
Boxwood & Brass
St John’s, Smith Square. 20 February 2017
The words Harmonie, or Harmoniemusik (translatable as ‘windband music’), are little known in the UK, although they are important aspects of the late Classical and early Romantic musical eras in continental Europe. With arguable roots in earlier military bands, the formation of wind instrument consorts started to grow into prominence from about 1750, and reached its zenith in the 1780s in Vienna. It became the preserve of aristocratic households, and its decline around 1830 was a symptom of the decline in aristocratic resources in post-Napoleonic Europe. Emperor Joseph II formalised the line-up of his own court Harmonie to pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns together with a 16′, usually string, bass. This was the nine-strong line-up of Boxwood & Brass for this concert, although they also perform in the various other Harmonie formats.
It is the ambition of Boxwood & Brass to bring the extensive Harmonie repertoire to a wider UK audience. To that end, they combine their performing and musical skills with an impressive academic and musicological background. Several are linked to the University of Huddersfield Centre for Performance Research and many already have, or are approaching, doctorates in music. Their recent début CD, Franz Tausch: Music for a Prussian Salon (reviewed here) featured original compositions for Harmonie. This St John’s, Smith Square concert included one original composition together with two examples of the important genre of arrangements for Harmonie. Continue reading