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, Volume 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
Haydn: La Fedeltà Premiata
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.
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.
Purcell: King Arthur (1691)
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Concert: St John’s Smith Square, 30 October 2019
CD: Signum/Winged Lion SIGCD589. 2CD. 97’38
The new recording by the Gabrieli Consort & Players of Purcell’s King Arthur was launched at an impressive concert performance at St John’s, Smith Square. Lacking the two biggest-name singers from the recording (Carolyn Sampson and Roderick Williams), the concert was otherwise the same as the CD apart from the late replacement bass Robert Davies, standing in for Marcus Farnsworth and a smaller orchestra. Omitting all the spoken text of the original play, the music of King Arthur makes for a musically excellent, but texturally confusing, listen. None of the main characters of the King Arthur story appears. The music occurred at intervals during the play, generally as little masques, only occasionally as one-off songs responding to moments in the play. Continue reading
Harrison Birtwistle: The Mask of Orpheus
English National Opera
The Coliseum, 29 October 2019
The world of ancient myths is a complex one, with many of the stories coming down to us in several different, and frequently conflicting, versions. One such is the Orpheus myth, the subject of four operas currently playing at the English National Opera’s Coliseum. After the sheer silliness of Emma Rice’s reconstruction of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (reviewed here) we had Sir Harrison Birtwistle’s monumental The Mask of Orpheus (with electronic music by Barry Anderson), the premier at the Coliseum in 1986 being its only full staging until now. Birtwistle’s approach is to tell several versions of the myth all at the same time in one of the most complex operas of modern time. As the ENO publicity explains, “Harrison Birtwistle’s iconic masterpiece retells the Orpheus myth in a non-linear narrative, as the opera’s leading characters appear in three distinct guises”. It “explores the contradictions in the various versions of the famous Greek tragedy, building a three-dimensional picture that leads us from inconsolable grief to acceptance and transformation”.
Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo Op.1 (Vol 1)
Agnieszka Oszanca, cello
Challenge Classics CC72794. 68’55
Salvatore Lanzetti (c1710-1780) was a virtuoso Italian cellist and composer who introduced many new innovations in cello performance. He was born in Naples around 1710 and studied cello and composition there. After early employment in Lucca and Turin, he started touring around Europe, spending many years in London. Charles Burney noted Lanzetti’s role in popularizing the cello in England. His Opus 1 XII Sonate à Violoncello Solo e Baffo Continuo was published in Amsterdam in 1736 and was dedicated to Federico di Brunswick, known in England as Frederick, Prince of Wales. This magnificent recording from cellist Agnieszka Oszanca is an important contribution to recognizing the importance of Lanzetti to the cello world, and to the musical life of England. He was one of the many generations of musicians from the continent of Europe that have enlivened the musical life of England, then and now. Continue reading
Orgelbuch des Klosters St. Walburg zu Eichstätt (um 1700)
Toccaten, Canzonen, Praeambula und Capriccio
Ed. Raimund Schächer
ISMN: 979-0-50222-381-6, 63 pages
Cornetto-Verlag, Stuttgart. CP1436
This edition is based on a manuscript (now in Regensburg) that originally belonged to Sister Maria Anna Barbara Schmaus (1653-1730), a nun who entered the Benedictine Abbey of St. Walburg Eichstätt (midway between Munich and Nuremberg) until her death to 1730. Although she was the owner, she was probably not the scribe of the organ book. The composers of the pieces are unknown. The manuscript contains 182 organ pieces on 136 pages and was clearly intended for liturgical purposes in the Abbey. This edition includes 34 of the pieces, all short (one lasting just 13 bars), and of varying quality. Continue reading
Ed Lyon, Theatre of the Ayre
Delphian DCD34220. 61’30
This debut recording from tenor Ed Lyon reflects his own playlist of music from the 17th-century. Many of them have that catchy ear-worm tendency to provide an immediate hook, although hearing 15 such pieces one after the other might help to reduce that effect.The recital opens with Alessandro’s exquisite Misero, Cosi va, a reflection on the pain of true love and, in the opera Eliigsbalo, a welcome relief from the sheer awfulness if the titular tyrannical teenage Roman Emperor Heliogabalus. The delicately sensitive opening instrumentalist realisation of the four repeated bass notes sets the scene for a recording of vocal and instrumental brilliance.
Weiss in Nostalgia
Sylvius Leopold Weiss: Suites from the London Manuscript
Alex McCartney, Baroque lute
Veterum Musica VM019. 48’41
Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) is the go-to composer for all lute and early guitar performers. He was born, and started his professional life, in Breslau Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland) before moving to a number of the German-speaking courts, culminating in a post at the Dresden Court of Augustus II (der Starke: the Strong), where he was the most highly paid musician. The London manuscript GB-Lbl30387 contains about half of Weiss’s known music, including the two Suites recorded here (in F & d). It was purchased by the British Library in 1877, and was probably put together in Prague some time after 1730
Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld
English National Opera
Coliseum, 23 October 2019
Act II – Mount Olympus
The classical legend of Orpheus, dating back to the 6th century BCE, has been an inspiration for artists and musicians for more than 2,000 years. The related story of the death of his wife Eurydice has a more complex background. It has been the focus of musical commentaries from Monteverdi’s sublime 1607 opera L’Orfeo (one of the first known operas) to present-day pop songs and video games. Following Monteverdi, we have Gluck’s 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice, and Jacques Offenbach’s 1858/1874 comic operetta Orpheus in the Underworld (Orphée aux enfers), a satirical parody of Gluck, which formed the basis for this ENO production. Continue reading
William Babell: Concertos Op.3
for violins & small flute
Ensemble Odyssee, Anna Stegmann, Andrea Friggi
Pan Classics PC10348. 75’02
William Babell (c1690–1723) is best known today (if at all) for his technically demanding harpsichord transcriptions of Handel pieces, giving a fascinating insight into the sort of improvisatory ornaments and additions to the musical text that Handel himself was famed for. He came from a musical family, his father playing bassoon in the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra. Babell started out as a violinist in the Court Orchestra of George I, before becoming known as a harpsichordist and organist, preceding the famed John Stanley as organist at All Hallows, Bread Street, London. This excellent recording by the Amsterdam-based Ensemble Odyssee throws some light on other aspects of Babell’s short-lived musical career. His Opus 3 Concertos were collected together, in a rather random form, by Walsh three years after Babell’s death, aged just 33, apparently from “intemperate habits”. This recording uses on a new edition by Andrea Friggi (the Ensemble Odyssee harpsichordist) based on the confusing Walsh print. Continue reading
Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre
Alpha 438. 73’10
Gregorio Allegri: Miserere mei, Deus
Luigi Rossi: Un allato messagier
Claudio Monteverdi: Si dolce è ‘l martire
Anon: Domine, ne in furore tuo
Domenicho Mazzocchi: Breve è la vita nostra
Antonio Maria Abbatini: Sinfonia La comica del cielo
Marco Marazzoli: Chi fà, Un sonno ohimè
Claudio Monteverdi: Maria, quid ploras, Pascha concelebranda
The word “Anamorphosis” is described by Wikipedia as “a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to occupy a specific vantage point, use special devices or both to view a recognizable image”. In the UK it is perhaps best known through its use Holbein’s famous 1533 painting The Ambassadors where what seems to be an elongated smudge across the bottom of the painting turns out to be a skull (a memento mori) when viewed sideways from the right-hand corner of the picture. It is that notion of artistic distortion that Vincent Dumestre and his Le Poème Harmonique explore in musical terms in this recording of music from the early Baroque era, a period when the structures of the Renaissance were successively deconstructed, and viewed from a different perspective through a lens of ornamentation and elaboration.
Lament for Constantinople & other songs
The Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68236. 70’48
Music, and indeed most art forms, that comes on the cusp of a change in style can be amongst the most fascinating as composers, artists, and architects search out new approaches to their art. The music of Guillaume Dufay represents one such boundary, in his case, that between the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Although substantially Medieval in style, with its complex rhythmic structures and the curious Medieval habit of combining several texts in the same piece, often in different languages, there are clear elements of the forthcoming Renaissance style in Dufay’s music. This impressive recording by The Orlando Consort demonstrates this aspect of his music well in a sequence of 18 tracks, 12 in Rondeau form, 3 Ballades, 2 multi-texted Motets and a single Virelai. Continue reading
Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 7-12
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34214. 78’18
Following their 2017 debut recording of the first six of Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli’s Sonate de Camera (my enthusiastic review is here), Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort return to complete the set with the final six concertos. Four of the six are premier recordings. Sadly that completes the only known compositions surviving from this fascinating composer, Italian born, but settling and making a success of a career in England. My earlier review sets out the background to Carbonelli and these pieces, so I will not repeat them here. Continue reading
Dies Iræ, De Profundis, Te Deum
Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Millenium Orchestra, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón
Outhere Music: Alpha 444. 82’50
The complex rituals of the ceremonial music of the French Court of Louis XIV, with its divided Music re Roi, are perhaps summed up in these three Lully pieces – the grand motets Dies Iræ, De Profundis and Te Drum. Although Lully never held any formal posts within the Chapelle du Roi, court tradition dictated that for royal funerals, although the Mass itself was directed by the Sous-maîtres de la Chapelle, for the Prose and Aspersion of the Coffin, the music (Dies Iræ & De Profundis) was the responsibility of the Superintendant de la Musique de la Chambre – Lully. He took this opportunity to develop the genre of the grand ceremonial motet using the combined forces of the two choirs and a rich orchestration.
The London & Paris Albums
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
London: Audax ADX13718. 66’10
Paris: Audax ADX13717. 65’13
ADX13718: The Trio Sonata in England before 1680
ADX13717: The Trio Sonata in France before 1700
The impressively energetic Ensemble Diderot continue their series of recordings (on their own label) with these two offerings, comparing and contrasting Trio Sonatas from London and Paris in the latter part of the 17th-century. There are several premiere recordings, some fine examples of the early history of the Trio Sonata, and a few oddities that are nonetheless worth recording, and listening to.
Henri-Jacques de Croes: La Sonate Égarée
Linn Records CKD 597. 62’19
BarrocoTout (Carlota Garcia, flute, Izana Soria, violin, Edouard Catalan, cello, and Ganael Schneider, harpsichord) are named after a sketch in a Spanish comedy show: Barroco Tú (= Baroque yourself). They got together during their studies at the Royal Conservatoires, Brussels in 2013. They were selected for the EEEmerging (Emerging European Ensembles) project in 2015 and in 2016 won awards at the Utrecht Early Music Festival. This debut recording by Linn Records is one of their prizes for winning the 2017 York Early Music International Young Artists Competition. It is appropriate for them to choose a little known composer, in this case, the Antwerp born Henri-Jacques de Croes (1705-86).
Francesco Bartolomeo Conti: Missa Sancti Pauli
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa, GCD924004. 67’25
György Vashegyi and his Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra take time out from their impressive series of recordings of music of the French Baroque for this CD of the grand 1715 Missa Sancti Pauli by the Italian Francesco Bartolomeo Conti (c1681-1732). Conti was born in Florence and worked for most of his life in the Hapsburg court in Vienna, initially as a theorbist and mandolin player, and then as court composer and vice-Kapellmeister. Despite his comparatively low profile nowadays, he was well respected in his time, not least by Bach and Zelenka. He does, however, seem to have got into trouble for beating up a priest (see here). A composer of operas as well as sacred music, it was the latter that kept his name alive after his death, deservedly if this attractive Mass setting is anything to go by.
La Morte Della Ragione ‘The Death of Reason’
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Outhere Music. ALPHA 450. CD Book. 73’07
La Morte della Ragione (The Death of Reason) is the sort of recording that may require you to put on a seat belt before listening. Under the banner of Petrarch’s comment that “Senses reign, and Reason is dead” Il Giardino Armonico take us on a whistlestop tour through a sizeable chunk of early music history. The choice of descriptor is deliberate, as it is also very obviously a showcase for the virtuoso recorder playing of director Giovanni Antonini, which dominates much of the programme and comes vey close to be too clever by half.
Prom 71: Bach Night
Dunedin Consort, John Butt
Royal Albert Hall. 11 September
As part of this year’s Proms’ recognition of Henry Wood’s influence, this concert reflected his 1920s Wednesday Bach Night. The Dunedin Consort and John Butt performed Bach’s four Orchestral Suites, each paired with a short newly commissioned piece (all given world premieres) inspired by the dance movements that follow the opening Overture of each Suite. The first two Suites (4 &1) were followed by the new pieces while, after the interval, Suites (2&3) were preceded by the new commissions.
Korkyra Baroque Festival
31 August – 14 September 2019
The Korkyra Baroque Festival (Korculanski Barokni Festival) was founded in 2012 on the delightful Adriatic island of Korčula (aka Korkyra, Korcula) on the Dalmatian archipelago between Split and Dubrovnik in the southern part of Croatia. Drawing attention both to music and the cultural and artistic heritage of Korčula, the festival runs annually for about two weeks at the beginning of September. Concerts (of just over an hour in length) are generally first performed in the historic fortified town of Korčula and are then repeated in other towns on the island, on nearby islands,, and on the Peljesac peninsula.
Johannes de Lymburgia: Gaude Felix Padua
Le Miroir de Musique, Baptiste Romain
Ricercar RIC402. 65’39
Johannes de Limburgia was born around 1380 in the Duchy (or city) of Limburg. He seems to have worked in Liège between 1408–19, and then in Italy. Somebody of the same name was in Vicenza from 1431 to 1436. There was a canon with the same name in Liège in 1436. His music survives principally in the manuscript Bologna Q15, dating from the first half of the fifteenth century. It includes 46 of his pieces, all liturgical. An indication of his importance, at least to the compiler of the manuscript, is that only Dufay has more pieces than Limburgia. Despite that, he is very little known today, so this recording from the excellent Le Miroir de Musique and their director Baptiste Romain is very welcome. The four/five singers and three/four instrumentalists (one does both) perform a selection of liturgical pieces and Latin strophic songs in the manner of Italian Lauri.
Music-at-Hill – Midtown concerts
Friday 13 September 2019, 1:10pm
60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG
plays organ music by
Three Westminster Abbey Organists
1668 John Blow; 1679 Henry Purcell;
1695 Blow re-appointed; 1708-1727 William Croft
During the period from 1668 and 1708, Westminster Abbey appointed three distinguished organists, the first of which, John Blow, was the teacher of his two successors, Henry Purcell and William Croft. In 1679 John Blow stepped down from his Abbey post in favour of his talented student, Purcell, only returning on Purcell’s death in 1695. William Croft replaced John Blow after his death in 1708, having previously been organist at St Anne’s Soho and Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal. He is most famed today for his Funeral Sentences, performed at Handel’s funeral in 1759 and at every British state funeral since then.
William Drake’s reconstruction of the Dallam/Smith/England/Lincoln/Gray & Davison organ in St Giles-in-the-Fields is one of London’s most important historic musical instruments. It contains some of the oldest pipework in London, going back to the time of Blow and Purcell in the mid to late 17th century.
Organ information can be found here.
Free admission, retiring collection.
The church is just behind Centre Point/Tottenham Court Road tube station.
Barlaam & Josaphat
Buddha – a Christian Saint?
Dialogos, Katarina Livljanić
Outhere Music: ARCANA A458. 65’41
This recording (released on 5 October) by Katarina Livljanic and Dialogos tells an astonishing story that was completely unknown to me and, I suspect, to many other people. It is a musical reflection on the story of the Christian saints Barlaam and Josaphat, a tale that replicates, in a Christian setting, the story of the life of the Buddha. The story was known in at least four religions and was passed down in most of the medieval languages. It tells of Prince Josaphat (from the Sanskrit word Bodhisattva), the son of the Indian King Abenner who was persecuting Christians. Astrologers predicted that Josaphat would become Christian, so the king imprisoned him. But he met the hermit Saint Barlaam and converted to Christianity. Eventually his father, the King, also became Christian, and became a hermit, passing his throne to Josaphat, who also later abdicated and retired into seclusion and contemplation with his teacher Barlaam. The story comes from a 2nd to 4th century Sanskrit Buddhist text, passing into Christian mythology via Baghdad and the 8th century Arabic Book of Bilawhar and Yudasaf) and Middle Eastern Christian sources. In medieval times, the two saints were honoured (although not actually sainted) by both the Slavic Eastern Orthodox and the Roman church. There is even an illusion to it in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
Amadio Freddi: Vespers (1616)
The Gonzaga Band, Jamie Savan
Resonus RES10245. 58’10
We know very little about Amadio Freddi (c1580-1643). His death is known to be in 1634, but his age at death is reported to be either c1570 or c1580. The latter date seems more likely, as in 1592 he was in paid employment at the Basilica of S. Antonio in Padua as a boy soprano, followed in 1598 with a doubling of salary as a countertenor. He seems to have come from humble background, his father having worked as a sword polisher. The payment from S. Antonio, unique for a boy soprano at the time, may have been a reflection of his families straightened circumstances. This important recording by The Gonzaga Band is the world premiere recording of his 1616 Vespers, from his Messa, vespro et compieta, composed while he was maestro di cappella at Treviso Cathedral between 1615 and 1627. In 1627 he moved to Vicenza before returning to Padua in 1634.
Giovanni Croce: Motetti & Sacrae Cantiones
Voces Suaves & Concerto Scirocco
Outhere Music: Arcana A439. 52’19
Giovanni Croce (1557-1609) was a boy chorister in St Mark’s, Venice, becoming maestro di cappella there in 1603, a few years before his death. He was born in Chioggia on the Adriatic near Venice. He took holy orders in 1585, and appears to have been a priest, and possibly director of music, at Santa Maria Formosa while singing at St. Mark’s. His compositions provide a link between the Venetian Renaissance and the musical advances of Monteverdi. His music is constructionally and harmonically simpler than many other Venetian composers of his time, but includes examples of double chorus and echo effects within his rather conservative late Renaissance polyphony.
Il Suonar Parlante Orchestra, Vittorio Ghielmi
Outthere Music: Alpha ALPHA392. 58’58
For those educated in the Western European countries, the history and music of Central and Eastern Europe can be something of a mystery. This recording sheds some very welcome light on some of the roots of the musical tradition of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, much of it inspired by the travelling musicians and peoples known variously as Roma or Gypsies. Based on research by director Vittorio Ghielmi on Gypsy melodies found in the the Sepsiszentgyõrgy manuscript, the wide ranging programme include anonymous folk arrangements together with adaptions of such melodies by composers such as Telemann, Benda, Tartini, Vivaldi and Kirnberger.
La Morte della Ragione
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Outhere Music: Alpha ALPHA450. 73’07
La Morte della Ragione (The Death of Reason) is a concept album (CD and a 98-page illustrated book) based around Petrarch’s comment that The senses reign, and Reason now is dead’. It is also a clearly intended as a showcase for the virtuoso recorder playing of Giovanni Antonini, founder of Il Giardino Armonico. After an opening recorder flourish we hear the anonymous 16th-century pavane, La Morte della Ragione. This is seen as a reference to to Erasmus‘s In Praise of Folly, and his suggestion of two forms of madness – a sweet illusion of the spirit and the opposite, ‘one that the vengeful Furies conjure up from hell.
A wide-ranging set of scenarios are offered, ranging in date from John Dunstable (1390-c1453), via the likes of Alexander Agricola (1446-c1506), to Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), whose Galliard Battaglia concludes the CD. a battle piece involving a great many diminutions or ‘divisions’, a common technique of improvisation in the Renaissance… This grand instrumental musical fresco of time and space is a kind of self-portrait of Giovanni Antonini and his longstanding musical colleagues. To accompany this disc, a richly-illustrated booklet presents a free-ranging iconographical tour combining pictures and contemporary photos.
Prom 55: Handel’s Jephtha
Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Chorus, Richard Egarr
Royal Albert Hall, 30 August 2019
Following on from last year’s Theodora, the BBC Proms Handel cycle continued with Jephtha, Handel’s last oratorio. It was composed in 1751 as his sight was failing. At one point in the autograph score he wrote “unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye.” It is rather telling that note occurs at the chorus that concludes Act 2, How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees, All hid from mortal sight. Despite Handel’s personal difficulties at the time, and the frankly bizarre Biblical story upon which it is based, it is one of his finest oratorios, full of the most glorious music for six solo singers and chorus with a succession of attractive and dramatic arias linked by relatively short recitatives.