Dufay: Lament for Constantinople

Guillaume Dufay
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

Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 7-12

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

Lully: Dies Iræ, De Profundis, Te Deum

Jean-Baptiste Lully
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.

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Ensemble Diderot: The London & Paris Albums

The London & Paris Albums
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
London: Audax ADX13718. 66’10
Paris: Audax ADX13717. 65’13

Ensemble Diderot: The London Album | Audax ADX13718

Ensemble Diderot: The Paris Album | Audax ADX13717

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.

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Henri-Jacques de Croes: La Sonate Égarée

Henri-Jacques de Croes: La Sonate Égarée
BarrocoTout
Linn Records CKD 597. 62’19

CKD 597 Cover

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).

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Conti: Missa Sancti Pauli

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.

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La Morte Della Ragione

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) (CD + Book) | Alpha ALPHA450

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.

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Prom 71: Bach Night

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.

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Korkyra Baroque Festival

Korkyra Baroque Festival
Korčula, Croatia
31 August – 14 September 2019

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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.

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Johannes de Lymburgia: Gaude Felix Padua

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.

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Andrew Benson-Wilson: Three Westminster Abbey organists

Music-at-Hill – Midtown concerts

Friday 13 September 2019, 1:10pm

St Giles-in-the-Fields
60 St Giles High Street. London, WC2H 8LG

Andrew Benson-Wilson
plays organ music by
Three Westminster Abbey Organists
1668 John Blow; 1679 Henry Purcell;
1695 Blow re-appointed; 1708-1727 William Croft

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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

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.

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Amadio Freddi: Vespers (1616)

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.

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Croce: Notetti & Sacrae Cantiones

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.

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Gypsy Baroque

Gypsy Baroque
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.

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La Morte della Ragione

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.

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Prom 55: Handel’s Jephtha

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.

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Anime Amanti

Anime Amanti
Roberta Mameli, Luca Pianca
Alpha Classics ALPHA291. 68’16

Anime Amanti

Songs by Monteverdi, Caccini, Strozzi, d’India, Merula. Pianca

The opening Lamento di Arianna, the only surviving part of Monteverdi’s opera L’Arianna. sets the scene for a beautifully performed programme of music from the earliest days of opera. Roberta Mameli’s evocative and rich vocal timbre is an ideal vehicle to display the extraordinary range of emotions depicted in this sensuous music. Her coherence of tone over a very wide range aligns with effective control of her natural vibrato, notably on long-held notes where she uses gentle vibrato as an ornament. She is very well supported by the impressively restrained theorbo playing of Luca Pianca.

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Tröstlicher Lieb stets ich mich üb

 Tröstlicher Lieb stets ich mich üb
Lieder und Tänze der Renaissance
Intavolaturen und Originalsätze für 2 Lauten, Cembalo, Orgel, Flötenquartett
Cornetto COR 10051. 46’09

This very short (46’09) CD of Songs and Dances from the Renaissance focusses on the practice of intabulating (transcribing) vocal pieces for instruments, a common practice in the 15th and 16th-centuries. In many examples, the addition of divisions (additional notes added to the original slow-moving vocal lines) gave more of a musical flow to pieces. Many early organ and keyboard treatises are based on the practice of adding divisions to intabulations, making it, arguably, the foundation of all later keyboard music.  Continue reading

Antwerp: Laus Polyphoniae 2019

Laus Polyphoniae 2019
Mary of Burgundy & The Burgundian Court
Antwerp, Flanders. 16-20 August

The 26th annual Laus Polyphoniae explored the flourishing cultural scene in the time of Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482), one of the most powerful women in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages. She came to power in the Netherlands in 1477, aged 20, but found that her father, Charles the Bold, had left an empty state treasury, hostile neighbouring countries and domestic revolts. Thanks to her diplomatic skills, the young Duchess managed to calm the situation, notably in Flanders. She was the most sought-after bride in Europe with many suitors, eventually marrying Maximilian of Austria, thereby linking the House of Burgundy to that of the powerful Habsburgs. She died in 1482, at just 25 years old after a fall from her horse. The week-long Laus Polyphoniae festival featured secular and religious music relating to Mary of Burgundy and her time, performed by ensembles from Belgium and abroad, including Stile Antico, Ensemble Leones, Comet Musicke, Utopia and Huelgas Ensemble. I was able to attend for most of the first five days, including the International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) events on the first weekend.  Continue reading

Prom 47: Bach & Bruckner

Prom 47: Bach & Bruckner
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Andris Nelsons
Michael Schönheit, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 23 August 2019

J S Bach
Fantasia in G minor, BWV 542, Jesus bleibet meine Freude (arr: Schmidt-Mannheim),
Prelude in E flat major, BWV 552i, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645,
Fugue in E flat major, BWV 552ii
Anton Bruckner
Symphony No 8 in C Minor (1890 Novak version)

The idea of pairing Bruckner with organ music at the Proms is not new and makes sense, not least because Bruckner gave several organ recitals in the Royal Albert Hall. Bearing in mind that most people would have come to this Prom to hear Bruckner 8 rather than a short sequence of well-known organ works, there seems to have been a misjudgement in both the choice of organ pieces and the performance. The Royal Albert Hall organ is capable of the most enormous sounds, with power that will easily out-blast the largest symphony orchestra, as evidenced during the Glagolitic Mass in Prom 1 (reviewed here). It is also capable of producing a vague impression of the sort of sound that Bach might have known, albeit at considerable loss of power and aural presence. Michael Schönheit, the organist of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, fell into the uncomfortable gap between these two possibilities, choosing registrations that muddied the music but made no real aural presence in the hall. Continue reading

Antwerp: International Young Artist’s Presentation

International Young Artist’s Presentation
Laus Polyphoniae 2019
Cultural Centre ‘De Kern’, Wilrijk
Antwerp, 18 August 2019

The International Young Artist’s Presentation (IYAP) is an annual coaching and presentation scheme given in Antwerp for young ensembles playing historical instruments. Ensembles are invited to present innovative and original programmes and to experiment with aspects of presentation and performance. The groups selected for the annual scheme are given three days of coaching sessions (led by Peter Van Heyghen and Raquel Andueza) which are followed by two days of public concerts over the first weekend of the Laus Polyphoniae festival. Each group repeats their concert twice on each day to an audience who move from venue to venue. On the first day, various concert organisers from around Europe attend and give feedback to the ensembles. Following these concerts, further advice is offered to the ensembles about their future careers. they are given the title of “IYAP Selected Promising Ensemble 2019”. The scheme is an initiative of Musica: Impulse Centre for Music and the AMUZ Antwerp. The weekend public concerts take place in a variety of settings, this year focused on the district of Wilrijk and the Cultural Centre De Kern.

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Prom 38: Solomon’s Knot – Bach Cantatas

Prom 38: Bach Cantatas
Solomon’s Knot

Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

Cantata 130 ‘Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir
Cantata 19 ‘Es erhub sich ein Streit
Cantata 149, ‘Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg
Cantata 50, ‘Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft

I have reviewed the Solomon’s Knot collective many times since their early days and have always been very impressed by their distinctive style of musical presentation. Although they perform a wide repertoire of early and contemporary music, it is in the music of Bach that their style seems to be particularly appropriate. This was their Proms debut – a late-night concert of four Bach cantatas all composed for the Feast of St Michael, his dragon-slaying antics making for some dramatic music. The 8 singers perform from memoty, with an attractively informal stage manner, directly addressing the audience and drawing us into the world that they are depicting. As times it is almost like listening in to a conversation between a group of friends. They move centre-stage for choruses individually, like a discussion group slowly forming, and then stand in a tight-knit shallow arc, When one of them is singing a solo, others will often stand nearby, as if listening to and encouraging a friend.  Continue reading

Prom 37: L’Enfance du Christ

Prom 37. Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ
Halle Orchestra, Maxime Pascal
Britten Sinfonia Voices, Genesis Sixteen
Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

L’Enfance du Christ is a curious work to programme in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall for a Berlioz anniversary Prom. The gently reflective nature of the unfolding story seems to demand a sense of intimacy, whereas works such as the Te Deum cry out for such a setting. The genesis of L’Enfance du Christ is a fascinating one. Berlioz wrote a tiny organ piece into an architect’s album during a card-playing party in 1850. Realising the nature of his creation, he immediately added some words and gave birth to the famous ‘Shepherds’ Farewell’ (L’adieu des bergers). He added it to his next concert with a hoax billing as by a forgotten 17th-century composer, named after the architect who asked for the little musical momento. Four years later, it would later form the centre-point of what he termed a ‘sacred trilogy’ – L’Enfance du Christ, a three-section oratorio. Continue reading

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie
Ensemble OrQuesta
Grimborn Opera Festival
Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London
13 August 2019

As the name of suggests, Grimeborn is not Glyndebourne. Its mid-summer season is based at the Arcola Theatre, a converted textile factory in Dalston, East London, and focuses on new operas and experimental productions of more established repertoire. The cramped space forces directors, singers and instrumentalists to rethink opera presentation. There is only space for very few instrumentalists in a tiny gallery which is only accessible by ladder. The singers are performing within a few feet of the audience, which sits on three sides of the small central stage area, creating directorial issues in how the singers relate to the audience. It is about as far as you can get from the ideal space to perform French Baroque opera, with its enormous casts of singers and dancers, large orchestral forces and elaborate stage settings, but that is exactly what Ensemble OrQuesta are doing in their production of Rameau’s tragédie en musiqueHippolyte et Aricie.  Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Die Zauberflöte

Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ryan Wigglesworth
Glyndebourne Festival, 6 August 2019

This is the 7th production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne, and the popularity of Mozart’s singspiel seems undiminished, judging by the sell-out of the entire run. This time it was directed by the Canadian partnership of André Barbe and Renaud Doucet, the former providing the designs, the latter the direction. If you are the sort of opera-goer who struggles with even the simplest plots and prefers to just let the music and the visual spectacle wash over you, this may be the Magic Flute for you. Musically, it was outstanding, with fine singing from a strong cast and excellent playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by Ryan Wigglesworth. André Barbe’s scenery was inventive, based on enlarged versions of his pen and ink sketches and clever use of perspective. That said, there are many questions about Renaud Doucet’s overall direction, not least in the liberties taken with the plot to fit with his own ideas about what he sees as the ‘problems’ with the original concept and libretto. 

Image result for zauberflote glyndebourne

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Prom 22: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich & Outi Tarkiainen

Prom 22: Rachmaninov, Shostakovich & Outi Tarkiainen
BBC Philharmonic, John Storgårds
Royal Albert Hall, 5 August 2019

Rachmaninov: Isle of the Dead
Outi Tarkiainen: Midnight Sun Variations BBC commission: world premiere
Shostakovich: Symphony No 11 ‘The Year 1905’

Pairing Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead with Shostakovich’s 1tth Symphony foretold an evening that wasn’t going to be a bundle of fun. The opening gloomy 5:8 rhythms of the boatman rowing a corpse to the Isle of the Dead, as memorably depicted in Arnold Böcklin’s painting Die Toteninsel, set the mood. This photo shows a much better and clearer version to that printed in the programme – there are at least six versions.

Image result for Leipzig Isle of the DeadArnold Böcklin: Die Toteninsel  

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Prom 21: Olivier Latry

Prom 21: The Art of Transcription
Olivier Latry, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 4 August 2019

In what must be the most inept bit of programming in musical history, the BBC Proms has seen fit, for yet another year, to programme the only organ recital of the Proms at 11am on a Sunday, when most organists will be earning a pittance playing for church services. I cannot think of another instrument where the choice of a specific day and time could exclude a key part of the potential audience. That said, there was a pretty impressive audience for this concert, far more than at the previous Sunday’s evening Prom of Messiaen’s Des canyons aux étoiles. And what a treat they had. Olivier Latry is one of the organists at Notre Dame who when not on his week’s turn of duty there has built an enviable reputation at a touring recitalist and teacher. His programme focused on the art of transcription, an aspect of organ performance that dates back to early Renaissance times but reached its peak in England in the 19th century when W T Best became Liverpool Corporation Organists (in 1855) and, over a period spanning around 40 years, gave three organ recitals a week in St George’s Hall. He was the first organist to give a recital in the Royal Albert Hall, in 1871.

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Vox Luminis: Kantaten der Bach Familie

Kantaten der Bach Familie 
HeinrichJohann ChristophJohann Michael & Johann Sebastian Bach
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier
Ricercar  RIC 401. 66’30

Since Vox Luminis was formed around 15 years ago, they have established themselves as one of the leading performers of early music, usually just with choir and continuo, but also appearing with up to a full orchestra. Under their director, Lionel Meunier, their many award-winning CDs have highlighted fascinating areas of the repertoire, as does this one with its exploration of the sacred cantatas of Bach’s earlier family. Although we have long given up the notion that Bach sprung in the musical world from nowhere, our knowledge of the pre-Bach Bach’s and the musical world in Thuringia and Saxony that nurtured the Bach brood over many generations is still rather limited. This recording reveals just some of the extraordinary riches that await exploration from the 17th century Bachs. The focus is on three pre-JS Bach’s, Heinrich (1615-92), first cousin of JA BAch’s father, and his two sons Johann Christoph (1642-1703), and Johann Michael (1648-94), whose daughter, Maria Barbara married her cousin JS Bach. 

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Prom 13. Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles

Olivier Messiaen: Des canyons aux étoiles
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo
Nicolas Hodges, Martin Owen, David Hockings, Alex Neal
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2019

Olivier Messiaen wrote Des canyons aux étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) between 1971/4 as a commission celebrating the bicentenary of the US Declaration of Independence. He was strongly influenced by a visit to Utah, finding inspiration in the birds and the extraordinary landscapes. Each of the three parts of the 12-movement work concludes with a powerful movement dedicated to the dramatic geological sites of Utah, Bryce Canyon and the nearby Cedar Breaks and Zion Park. Messiaen had sound-colour synaesthesia and the “red, orange, violet” of the sandstone hoodoos of Bryce Canyon led to his focussing the extended 7th movement Bryce Canyon et les rochers rouge-orange” (Bryce Canyon and the red-orange rocks) in his own key of third-mode E major, a mode that he saw as a bright red-orange colour. He contrasts this image with the blue of the Steller’s Jay, one of many birds that feature throughout the piece from places as far afield as Australia, Hawaii. and the Sahara. The monumental final few bars of this movement are the aural climax of the entire piece.

Brice CanyonBryce Canyon © ABW Continue reading