Mitridate, Re di Ponto

Mozart: Mitridate, Re di Ponto
The Royal Opera, Christophe Rousset
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 26 June 2017

By the time he composed Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Mozart has already written 13 symphonies, three operas, four masses, two oratorios, and around 20 sonatas for strings or keyboard. He was just 14. This revival of Graham Vick’s 26 year-old production exposes the extraordinary artifice that was the realm of opera seria, overblowing and exaggerating every aspect of Mozart’s youthful exploration of love and family feuding.

The opera opened with what looked like the aftermath of a nasty accident. It seemed as though Aspasis had crash landed through the top of a vast cloth-covered sideboard, leaving only the upper part of her body visible. It took a while to realise that it was not a sideboard, but her costume – one of a number of vast rectangular tent-like creations of huge width that some of the singers had to contend with for much of the evening. One of several, presumably unintended, audience laughs came when a closing set panels left just enough space for Aspasia to walk through without turning sideways. She later appeared as though sitting behind a large bedecked dinner table, as pictured. Indeed the striking costume design was one of the main features of this production, which included a number of impressively choreograph set-piece dances, at one stage complete with a lot of foot-stomping, stick-banging and skirt-twirling, the whole more in Japanese than Anatolian (or 18th century European) style.
Continue reading

The Italian Job

The Italian Job
Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian States
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Rachel Chaplin and Gail Hennessy, oboes, Peter Whelan, bassoon
Avie AV2371. 76’23

Music by Albinoni, Caldara, Corelli, Tartini, Torelli, and Vivaldi

The Italian Job: Baroque Instrumental Music from the Italian StatesFor the past year La Serenissima have been performing a series of concerts based on music from different cities in Italy. This CD, recorded in St John’s, Smith Square after one such concert, forms a summary of the extraordinary music from that concert series. the cities, and composers, represented are Venice (Albinoni, Caldara, Vivaldi), Bologna (Torelli), Padua (Tartini) and Rome (Corelli). Apart from some glorious music, one of the features of this recording is the instrumental colour, with prominent roles for oboes, bassoons, trumpets, trombone, timpani and strings.  Continue reading

Hitchcock: The Lodger + organ

Hitchcock: The Lodger
with live improvised organ accompaniment by David Briggs
Royal Festival Hall. 24 June 2017

The history of improvisation on the organ is almost as old as the history of the organ itself. From medieval times to the present day, the ability to compose at will has been an essential part of an organists skills, whether adding a simple counter melody to a plainchant to improvising a complete symphony. Although the tradition is not as strong in the UK as it is in, for example, France, recent decades have seen a UK revival in the art of composing at sight. On this occasion, it was a specific branch of improvising that was on display, that of accompanying a silent film. There are many organists, past and present, who specialise in the cinema organ genre, but this performance was given by a classical organist, David Briggs, formerly organist at three cathedrals, and now best known for his organ transcriptions of symphonies by Mahler et al, as well as for his film accompaniments.  Continue reading

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 18 June 2017

The Grange, in Northington, Hampshire, achieved it current form in the early 19th century, when the architect William Wilkins (later to design the National Gallery) encased a 17th century house in grand Greek revival style. Further work by Robert Smirke, architect of the British Museum, and Charles Robert Cockerell completed the scheme. It came to public notice in 1975 when the owners, a junior branch of the Baring banking family, attempted to demolish the building. The exterior was listed by the Government, on IMG_20170618_142530147.jpgaccount of its appearance and landscape importance, and placed into the guardianship of English Heritage, who instigated major restoration of the exterior of the building and opened the site to the public. It reached much wider appreciation in 1998 when the new Grange Park Opera took a 20 year lease from the Baring landlords, and started a summer opera season. In 2002 they built an award-winning new opera house within the shell of the old orangery, investing several million pounds in the project. They also did a considerable amount of work inside the shell of the building, including reinstating the dramatic staircase (pictured below). Disagreements with the Baring family led to Grange Park Opera decamping to a new home at the Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey, not surprisingly taking many of the internal fittings from their Grange opera house with them. Continue reading

Classical Opera: Apollo et Hyacinthus

Mozart: Apollo et Hyacinthus
Classical Opera, Ian Page, Thomas Guthrie
St John’s, Smith Sq. 13 June 2017

‘Lambach’ Symphony in G; Grabmusik, Apollo et Hyacinthus

As part of their ambitious Mozart 250 project (presenting Mozart’s music on the anniversary of their composition, culminating in 2041), Classical Opera presented the last of four concerts focussed on 1767, Mozart’s 11th year, with a staged performance of Apollo et Hyacinthus, preceded by his ‘Lambach’ Symphony in G and the Grabmusik, also staged.  This was a very clever and extremely well performed concert, exploring music that is not as well-known as it should be, with very sensitive stagings conceived and directed by Thomas Guthrie. The ‘Lambach’ Symphony in G (K45a) is believed to have been written in 1766 by the 10-year old Mozart. It was found in two manuscripts in Lambach Abbey, Austria. Like many other early Mozart works, it is beguiling in its elegant simplicity and harmonic inventiveness, here added to by having the first movement main theme first appearing in the bass, although on this occasion it wasn’t all that prominent. While it was playing, people walked across the St John’s stage, their relevance becoming clear when the bustling final movement of the Symphony segued directly, and very effectively, into the opening of the Grabmusik. Continue reading

Matthew Wadsworth: Late Night Lute

Late Night Lute
Matthew Wadsworth, lute and theorbo
Deux-Elles DXL 1175

Dowland, Rosseter, Johnson, Piccinini, Kapsberger, and Stephen Goss

I Late Night Lute Album Cover - Matthew Wadsworthcan vividly remember the first time I heard Matthew Wadsworth playing, in 1999, in the bowels of the Royal Academy of Music, during the debut of what was then a student group, all four of whom (Kati Debretzeni, Alison McGillivray, Matthew Wadsworth, and Robert Howarth) have gone on to achieve prominence in the world of music. This CD stems from an overheard comment at a late night gathering of friends, when somebody searching through CDs commented “I need lute, late night lute”. In the intervening years, the frequency of invitations to present late night lute concerts reinforced the feeling that there was indeed something of the night about lute music.  Continue reading

Handel: Radamisto

Handel: Radamisto
Guildhall School of Music and Drama
Milton Court Theatre. 12 June 2017

Watching people watching opera was the premise behind John Ramster’s production of Handel’s Radamisto at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Milton Court Theatre. A Heads of State meeting has been arranged in a museum, displaying artifacts from the ancient kingdoms of Armenia and what is now eastern Turkey. As they take their seats on opposite sides of the stage, the bristle between them is palpable. A crusty army figure on one side, and a thrusting young woman on the other, with the museum and security flunkies flitting about between them. And then the entertainment begins, in the form of Radamisto. The interaction between the two VIPs, as well as their own interaction with the opera, became key to the development of this production. Continue reading

Grange Park Opera: Jenůfa

Leoš Janáček: Jenůfa
Grange Park Opera, BBC Concert Orchestra, William Lacey
Theatre in the Woods, West Horsley Place. 11 June 2017

IMG_20170611_190222524_HDR.jpg

Not for the first time in recent years, an opera company has planned, designed, funded and constructed a brand new opera house having been required, for various reasons, to move from the original home. In the most recent case of Grange Park Opera, the background to the move from their founding home at The Grange, Hampshire, was not without controversy, and the new opera house is not quite finished, or, indeed, fully funded. But nonetheless they managed to put on an impressive indication of what will be the new home for the next 99 years, the Theatre in the Woods, hidden away behind the massive medieval pile of West Horsley Place (pictured), rather unexpectedly inherited by former television personality and writer, Bamber Gascoigne, from his Duchess Great Aunt. Continue reading

Gabrieli Consort: A Rose Magnificat

A Rose Magnificat
The Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square. 8 June 2017

Leighton Of a Rose  /  Tallis Videte Miraculum á 6
Warlock As dew in Aprylle  /  White Magnificat á 6
Macmillan  /  Sheppard  /  Park Ave maris stella
Wylkynson Salve Regina á 9  /  Howells Salve Regina
Lane There is no rose  /  Matthew Martin Rose Magnificat (world premiere)

This fascinating concert collected together a seemingly random selection of pieces from old to very new, all dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Grouping the pieces in twos or three enhanced the experience of contrast, starting with the pairing of Kenneth Leighton’s setting of the 15th century text Of a Rose with Tallis’s magnificent 6-part Videte Miraculum. Soprano Ruth Provost was the soloist in the Leighton, weaving the refrain Of a Rose around and through the rhythmically homophonic choir texture. The contrasting tight-knit and multi-stranded polyphony of Tallis, with his distinctive ‘false relations’ provided a perfect contrast. This pair was followed by the slithering close harmonies of Warlock’s short and rhythmically complex double choir As dew in Aprylle, contrasted with White flamboyant and expansive six-plus part Magnificat, the continuous inner movement and long melismas of the latter giving the piece a timeless quality. Continue reading

Les Talens Lyriques: Zefiro Torna

Zefiro Torna
Les Talens Lyriques
St John’s, Smith Square. 7 June 2017

This concert celebrated the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, as well as the 25th anniversary of Les Talens Lyriques. Tenors Emiliano Gonzalez Toro and Anders J. Dahlin joined with director and keyboard player Christophe Rousset, cellist Emmanuel Jacques, and violinists Gilone Gaubert-Jacques and Josépha Jégard to explore Monteverdi’s more intimate, but nonetheless dramatic music. Each half concluded with opera extracts, but started with extracts from four of Monteverdi’s madrigal books. Throughout these madrigals, we had to work around the curious implications of two men both singing about the same love interest. Continue reading

Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6

Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34194. 63’46

For a British musician, now is a very good time to be reminded of the extraordinary contribution that immigrant musicians have made to our musical history, from at least the early 1500s. This CD reflects that in at least two ways. Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was born in Liverno in 1694. Although supposition that he studied with Corelli seems ill-founded, he certainly absorbed and developed Corelli’s style. He moved to England in, or just before 1719, possibly at the invitation of John Manners (then Marquess of Granby, and soon to become the 3rd Duke of Rutland), who was to be his only known patron in England. Almost immediately on his arrival Carbonelli became leader of the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra, a post which also involved performing concertos and sonatas. In 1735, like many of his fellow Italian immigrant musicians, he anglicised his name, in his case to John Stephen Carbonell. Continue reading

Set upon the Rood

Set upon the Rood
New music for choir and ancient instruments
Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber
Delphian DCD34154. 68’20

Barnaby Brown (triplepipes)
Bill Taylor (lyre)
John & Patrick Kenny (ancient horns)

This recording features the music I heard in the second half of the concert reviewed here during the 2016 London Festival of Contemporary Church Music. The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge and their director Geoffrey Webber join with four members of the European Music Archaeology Project: Barnaby Brown, playing the triplepipe and aulos, lyre player Bill Taylor and John and Patrick Kenny playing the ‘Loughnashade horn’ and carnyx. Continue reading

Il Cembalo di Partenope

Il Cembalo di Partenope: ‘A Renaissance harpsichord tale’
Catalina Vicens
Carpe Diem Records CD-16312. 66’35

The world’s oldest playable harpsichord (Naples, 1525)

Vicens CD.JPGHarpsichordist Catalina Vicens’ new CD ticks a lot of boxes. Firstly, it is recorded on the world’s oldest playable harpsichord, built in Naples c1525, and now housed in the National Music Museum of Vermillion, South Dakota, USA, where it has been recently restored. Secondly, her programme of 24 pieces represents the wide range of musical styles of the period of the instrument, played with a compelling sense of musical and period style. And, thirdly, it comes with the bonus of an imaginative story (downloadable as an audiobook) by Catalina Vicens, based on the instrument and “inspired by music, history and legends”. Continue reading

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
I Fagiolini, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, The 24, Robert Hollingworth
Decca 4831654. 80’23

During this 450th Monteverdi anniversary year there will be many performances and recordings of the 1610 Vespers. But for this ‘not the 1610’ recording, I Fagiolini have reconstructed a Vespers service inspired by a Dutch tourist’s 1620 record of hearing Monteverdi direct a Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The psalms and the plainchant on this recording are from that feast, using music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The Monteverdi contribution comes from his Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1641, but containing music written much earlier. Whereas the 1610 Vespers are intended for feasts of the Virgin or other female saints, the 1641 collection contains psalms for feasts of male saints. Continue reading

Recital on the Wetheringsett Tudor organ

Recital on the ‘Wetheringsett’ organ, c1525
St Swithun’s, Church Street, Worcester WR1 2RH
Friday 23 June, 2017. 1.10
Andrew Benson-Wilson

the Wetheringsett organ which is a medieval replica coming on local to Halifax Minster from SuffolkThe ‘Wetheringsett’ organ is a reconstruction of a Tudor organ based on the soundboard of an organ that was found during alterations to a farmhouse in the village of that name in Suffolk. Until it was hidden away within the walls of the farmhouse, is seems to have been used as a dairy door. The many holes in the wood were initially thought to indicate some sort of protection from the evil eye, until a local organ builder recognised it as the soundboard of an organ – the bit hidden away inside the instruments where the feet of the pipes sit, and through which the air is channelled from the windchest to the pipes. Analysis of the number and size of the holes can give a pretty accurate account of the size, range and number of stops of the organ. Tree-ring dating suggests that the wood dates from around 1525, leading to suggestions that this could be the organ known to have been purchased by a large parish church in Debenham in that year.

Under the aegis of the Early English Organ Project this organ, along with a smaller instrument based on another soundboard found in Wingfield Church, Suffolk, was reconstructed by organ builders Goetze & Gwynne in 2002. Under the management of the Royal College of Organists, the Wetheringsett organ is now resident in the church of St Swithun’s in the centre of Worcester, a delightful Georgian church with box pews and a later 18th century organ.

For this recital, I will be playing English music from before, during, and just after the 1520s, with pieces from c1360 to one of Thomas Tallis’s two extraordinarily monumental Felix Namques, dating from around 1560. In contrast I will play a Voluntary by Samuel Wesley on the 1795 Grey organ, published just a few years after the date of the organ.

Robertsbridge Codex, c1360
Adesto / Firmissime / Alleluya Benedictus
John Dunstaple (Buxheimer Orgelbuch, c1460)
Sub Tuam Protectionem
Anon, c1530 (Roy 56)
Felix Namque (in 5/4)
Anon / Thomas Preston (d1563)
Uppon la mi re
Hugh Aston (c1485-1556)
A hornepype
Samuel Wesley (1766-1837)
Voluntary in B flat. Op 6/9 8’
Thomas Tallis (c1505-1585)
Felix Namque I (1562)

Admission is free, with a retiring collection.

The World Encompassed

The World Encompassed
Orlando Gough, Fretwork, Simon Callow
Signum Classics SIGCD453. 2CDs 41’19+41’56

This recording is based on the fact that Sir Francis Drake is known to have taken four viol players with him on his 1577-80 circumnavigation of the world, using the musicians for prayers and entertainment on board, and for diplomatic uses with the people they met. He also had trumpeters and drummers, but they are excluded from this recording, which takes as its premise the sort of music that the musicians might have played to the people they met, and also to their friends on their return to England, using their memory of the native music that they heard during their travels. Alongside music of the period by the likes of Parsons, Taverner, White, and Picforth, the principal musical contribution comes from Orlando Gough (b 1953) who was commissioned by Fretwork to compose a sequence of 13 pieces for viol consort based on the local music that Drake and friends might have heard.  Continue reading

Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto

Cimarosa: Il Matrimonio Segreto
Popup Opera
London Museum of Water and Steam. 25 May 2017

IMG_20170525_204825350.jpgIn a rather stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the opening night of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (reviewed here), a few days later saw me in the industrial surroundings of the London Museum of Water and Steam, near Kew Bridge. The event was one of the touring one-night performances by Popup Opera of Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage), one of the most popular comic operas from the 18th century. It was first performed in at the Imperial Theatre in Vienna, and is famed for having the longest encore known, when Emperor Leopold II demanded that the whole thing be repeated from the start, feeding the musicians before their return. In contrast to the elaborate Posh Frocks & Picnics atmosphere of the other place, pre-event dining at this venue seemed to be restricted to eating something unrecognisable out of a cardboard box. The setting was a cleared floor area in the Steam Hall of what, since its construction in 1838, was once a pumping station supplying parts of London with water.  Continue reading

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works – Volume 1, 2 & 4

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works
Volume 1 & 2 – Preludes & Fugues I & II
Ed. David Schulenberg
Breitkopf & Härtel 2013/14.
Volume 1
: Edition Breitkopf EB8801.
140 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 626 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18372-4 | Softbound + CD-ROM
Volume 2: Edition Breitkopf EB8802.
148 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 658 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18373-1 | Softbound + CD-ROM

Volume 4 – Toccatas and Fugues, Individual Works
Ed. Jean-Claude Zehnder
Breitkopf & Härtel 2012.
Edition Breitkopf EB8804.
184 pages | 32 x 25 cm | 793 g | ISMN: 979-0-004-18375-5 | Softbound + CD-ROM

Further to my reviews of Volumes 3 and 8 of the Breitkopf & Härtel complete Bach organ works (see here and here), I have now been sent the remaining six published editions. Two more are in preparation. The first two volumes contain the pieces generally known nowadays (but not in Bach’s day) as Preludes and Fugues, the other (Volume 4) pieces called ‘Toccata’ and other miscellaneous individual pieces with various titles. The pieces are presented in key order, starting with C major. As with the two other volumes reviewed earlier, the production quality is excellent, with clear and good-sized print, generally (but not always) helpful page turns and, most importantly, very detailed notes on the pieces and the editorial process. All three volumes include CD-ROMs with additional pieces and variants on the main pieces. The Introductions are in German and English, but the Commentary is only in German. However an English version can be found on the CD-ROM or downloaded from the Breitkopf website. The editor for the two volumes of Preludes and Fugues is David Schulenberg, with volume 4 edited by Jean-Claude Zehnder, both well established Bach scholars.  Continue reading

Andrew Hicks: Composing the World

Composing the World: Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos
Andrew Hicks
Oxford University Press USA, 2017
Hardback. 344 pages, 235x156mm, ISBN 9780190658205

The idea that music and the universe were somehow linked has its roots in Plato and resurfaced in the medieval era and beyond as man sought to explain the world around them and its rather awkward relation to their concept of a creator God. Recent advances in scientific research have reduced belief in extra-terrestrial involvement in creation, but have also increased interest in the historic link between music and astrology. Andrew Hicks’ book Composing the World, with its subtitle of Harmony in the Medieval Platonic Cosmos, addresses this, starting with the introductory statement “We can hear the universe!”, the 2016 proclamation that the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory (LIGO) had detected a “transient gravitational-wave signal.” What LIGO heard was described as “the vibration of cosmic forces unleashed with mind-boggling power across a cosmic medium of equally mind-boggling expansiveness: the transient ripple of two black holes colliding more than a billion years ago”. Continue reading

Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie

Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923502. 2CDs: 59’55+67’08

This is another in the series of recordings of French Baroque music directed by György Vashegyi with his own Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra. It was recorded in Budapest’s Müpa concert hall alongside a performance given as the closing concert of the 2014 Budapest Spring Festival during the International Rameau Year, in conjunction with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. That was the modern-day première. Few would consider it Rameau’s finest opera, but in the true fashion of French Baroque opera, it is full of spectacular music. Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Cavalli Hipermestra

Francesco Cavalli: Hipermestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 21 May 2017

For somebody who believes an oracle that he will be murdered by one of his nephews, it was particularly unfortunate that Danao, King of Argos, had 50 of them, Hip 1.jpgthe sons of his brother Egitto, King of Egypt. As it happened, Danao had 50 daughters, so married them all off to his nephews with the instruction that they must all murder their husbands on their wedding night. With one exception, Danao’s plan worked, the exception being his daughter Hipermestra and her new husband Linceo, who had fallen for each other. The subsequent plot of Cavalli’s 1658 opera is based on the complex series of events that occurred after the 50 potential murderous nephews were now reduced to a more manageable one. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music

‘Baroque at the Edge: pushing the boundaries’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey
12-20 May 2017

IMG_20170515_091152885.jpgAfter reforming, renaming, and regrowing itself from the long-running Lufthansa Festival, the London Festival of Baroque Music has become, phoenix-like, one of the most important early music festivals in London. Under the banner of ‘Baroque at the Edge: pushing the boundaries‘, this year’s LFBM used the music of Monteverdi and Telemann, from either end of the Baroque (and both with anniversaries this year) to explore ‘some of the chronological, geographical and stylistic peripheries of Baroque Music’. With one exception, all the concerts were held in the Baroque splendour of St John’s, Smith Square. Continue reading

European Union Baroque Orchestra: Farewell

European Union Baroque Orchestra
Maria Keohane, Lars Ulrik Martensen
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square. 19 May 2017

IMG_20170519_163842318.jpgOne of the key events of the London Festival of Baroque Music was final concert of the current incarnation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra, and orchestra I have been reviewing enthusiastically for many years. After extensive annual training auditions attracting around 100 applicants, aided by leading period performers, around 30 instrumentalists are selected each year to tour a series of concerts around Europe. But this concert was also, very sadly, the very last EUBO concert in its present state as a UK-managed organisation. Founded 32 years ago as a UK initiative (during the 1985 European Music Year), and managed ever since from its base near Oxford, the vote by a small percentage of the UK population to drag the UK out of the European Union means that it is no longer viable to run an EU venture from the UK. In its 32 years, EUBO has encouraged and nurtured around 1000 young musicians, giving some of the finest period instrumentalists around an early grounding in performance practice at the start of their careers. For the future, after a hiatus of a year to allow for the transfer, when there will be no auditions or orchestra , EUBO will restart from a new base, and with new management, based in the music centre AMUZ in Antwerp. Continue reading

The Twisted Twenty

The Twisted Twenty
Penny Fiddle Records PFR1701CD. 36’02

albumcover.PNG
Enter a caption

The Twisted Twenty is the name of the group, and of this, their first CD. With no catalogue number, and no web presence for the recording company, this has more than a feel of a self-produced affair. There is certainly nothing wrong in that. It is one of the few ways in which young musicians can get their music out there. There is a strong tradition of folk music within the world of classical musicians, notably in Scotland in the 18th century, the focus for much of this short (just 36 minutes) CD.  Continue reading

The Masque of Moments

The Masque of Moments
Theatre of the Ayre, Elizabeth Kenny
Linn Records. CKD 542. 68′

The Masque was a form of aristocratic entertainment with medieval roots that reached its English peak in the early 17th century during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Closely related to similar continental forms such as the Italian Intermedio, it included music, dance, acting, mime and singing, often to elaborate sets. They were usually based on Classical mythology combined with more than a hint of current political or royal intrigues. As well as professional performers, the promoters or subjects of the masque were often also involved in the production. For many years, Elizabeth Kenny and her group Theatre of the Ayre have studied the genre, and this is their latest manifestation of that research.  Continue reading

Poppea

Monteverdi: Poppea
Hampstead Garden Opera, Musica Poetica
Jacksons Lane Theatre, HIghgate. 13 May 2017

Poppea_Poster.jpgThe 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth will include many performances of L’incoronazione di Poppea. It was his last known opera, first performed just months before his death. But I think this one, by the young singers and instrumentalists of Hampstead Garden Opera and Musica Poetica, will prove to be one of the most memorable for me. An impressively simple staging, excellent singing and acting, and an exceptionally well judged realisation of the instrumental accompaniments, combined with the friendly acoustic of the Jacksons Lane Theatre to produce an absorbing and thought-provoking interpretation of Monteverdi’s exploration of love, lust, and power. Continue reading

OAE: The Brandenburgs

Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017

It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up. Continue reading

The Courts of Earth and Heaven

Crickhowell Music Festival: The Courts of Earth and Heaven
Crickhowell Choral Society, Stephen Marshall
St Edmund’s, Crickhowell, 30 April 2017

Handel: Eternal source of light divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne)
Delalande: Regina coeli 
Campra: Quam dilecta
Vivaldi: Gloria (RV588 – the ‘other’ Gloria!)

A walking weekend in the Brecon Beacons happened to coincide with the annual Crickhowell Music Festival. I have reviewed the whole Festival in the past but, on this occassion, could only manage one performance, given in St Edmund’s Church, Crickhowell by the Crickhowell Choral Society and a ‘festival’ orchestra, together with a very impressive group of soloists. One of the things that most impressed me on my earlier visit was the ability of their director Stephen Marshall to attract outstanding and international renown singers such as, on this occasion, Grace Davidson, Nicholas Mulroy, and Catherine King.

The ambitious programme featured music from England, France, and Italy. It opened with Handel’s 1713 Birthday Ode – a homage to Queen Anne, and indeed, to Purcell, whose style he so perfectly absorbed. The opening arioso ‘Eternal lource of light divine’ is one of the most beautful musical creations of all time, with Handel’s understanding of Purcell’s style made obvious. It makes for a very exposed start to a concert, and one which tenor Nicholas Mulroy coped with magnificently. His high lyrical tenor voice hasn’t quite the timbre of a countertenor that Handel intended, but was nonetheless quite exquisite, in this, and in later movements. Grace Davidson’s soprano aria ‘Let all the wingéd race’ was similarly impressive. Both of these key singers demonstrated their excellent ability at singing Baroque ornaments properly, rather than using the often heard reliance on vibrato alone. Continue reading

Mondonville: Isbé

Mondonville: Isbé
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD 924001. 3 CDs: 61’25+48’55+63’04

For many years the only way to hear French Baroque music performed with any degree of authenticity was by listening to French performers. Although that is still the case to an extent, the level of understanding of French performing techniques has become far better known throughout the world. One example is the series of recordings from Budapest from the Orfeo Orchestra and Purcell Choir under their founder and director György Vashegyi. I reviewed their CD of Mondonville’s Grands Motets here, and their performance of Rameau’s Naïs in Budapest here, and now turn to their more recent recording of his opera Isbé.  Continue reading