Festival d’Ambronay/Festival eeemerging
Centre culterel de recontre d’Ambronay
28-30 September 2018
The 39th Festival d’Ambronay saw the conclusion of an annual triptych devoted to the theme of Vibrations, in this case with the subtext of ‘Cosmos’. Spread over four weekends, it was described as “An evocation in music of a cosmos alternately spiritual or material, intimate or grandiose, in-depth or elevation … An evocation of the stars, elements and spirituality, a look at the harmony of man and the universe“. As well as hosting the annual festival, the Centre culterel de recontre d’Ambronay is also the base for the eeemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles), a European Union-wide cooperation project dedicated to the selection, training and promotion of young early music ensembles. It brings together partners from the UK, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia, Italy and Germany in a four-year cooperation project. Alongside festival events, the third weekend of the four-weekend festival was devoted to the ensembles selected for the 2018 eeemerging round, with six young groups of musicians performing, alongside one of the previous eeemerging ensembles and one of the most established groups in recent history. The comparison between the young musicians and some of the more established performers in the festival was of particular interest, leaving me with the view that the latter, with few exceptions, have a lot to learn from the former.
Ensemble Les Surprises
Ambronay Editions AMY051. 58’16
Music by Pachelbel, Buxtehude, Bruhns, Bernhard, Scheidemann, Reincken
Taking its title from Biber’s Mystery Sonatas (although not actually including any of those pieces), this recording from Les Surprises delves into the mysteries of life and death with an exploration of late 17th-century North German sacred cantatas of Buxtehude, Bruhns and Bernhard. What was particularly interesting for me to listen to, as an organist, were the arrangements of two well-known ground bass organ pieces for instruments. The CD opens with a version of Pachelbel’s Ciaconna in F minor, based on a repeated descending four-note bass line. We are then plunged straight into the world of death, with the Klag Lied, Buxtehude’s extraordinarily moving reflection on the death of his own father, whose last days were spent in his son’s home in Lübeck. It is followed by Nicolaus Bruhns’ cantata for bass voice meditation on death, De profundis clamavi and the second of the instrumental arrangements of organ pieces, Buxtehude’s Passacaglia in D minor. The programme notes (perhaps rather too unquestionably) the admittedly rather good theory that this is based on the lunar month and the phases of the moon, with its 28 variations and four sections, each with a distinctively different mood. Continue reading
The Curious Bards
Traditional & Popular Music of 18th-Century Ireland & Scotland
Harmonia Mundi (harmonia#nova) HMN916105. 62’47
The Curious Bards was founded in 2013 by musicians from the music conservatories of Lyon, Paris and Basel, sharing an interest both in early music and traditional Irish, Celtic and Gaelic music. They aim to unite these musical worlds through research and historical musical discoveries. For this CD, they use a range of instruments including triple harp, violin, viola da gamba, a transverse flute, a tin whistle, and a cittern specially constructed by William Gibson for this recording, based on a 1778 Irish original in Dublin’s Collins Barracks Museum, part of the National Museum of Ireland. Continue reading
L‘Héritage de Rameau
Ensemble Les Surprises, Louis-Noël Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay Editions AMY050. 54’54
Music by Rameau, Rebel and Francoeur
I heard Ensemble Les Surprises and Yves Rechsteiner perform music from this recording during the 2017 Ambronay Festival (review here), noting that is was the first time the group had played without using a full-sized French Classical church organ, relying instead on a small chamber organ. That is more than made up for by this recording, which uses the important 1783 François-Henri Clicquot organ in the historic priory church of Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, Souvigny (Allier).
The premise of this recording is the programme of the Concert Spirituel given on 8 December 1768 in Paris. It refers to a ‘Suite of symphonies by Rameau executed with full orchestra on the organ by Balbastre’. It seems that Balbastre (the leading organist in pre-Revolutionary Paris) had reconstructed an organ concerto from existing works by Rameau, having already played many solo organ transcriptions from Rameau’s opera for the Concerts Spirituel. Despite being a keen organist, Jean-Philippe Rameau left no organ music. Yves Rechsteiner has already published and recorded his own arrangements of some of Rameau’s operatic and instrumental works for organ solo. For this recording, he has reconstructed three organ concertos from Rameau’s works as they might have been performed by Balbastre (a pupil of Rameau) in the 1768 Concert Spiritual. Continue reading
28 September to 1 October 2017
Since 1980, when it was founded, the Ambronay Festival has been a key part of the early music world. In recent years, the activities of the Ambronay Cultural Encounter Centre (based in the former Abbey buildings adjoining the magnificent Romanesque Abbey church) have expanded, and now includes impressive provision for young musicians. For the past couple of years, Ambronay has been part of the European Union supported eeemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles), an EU-wide cooperation project dedicated to the selection, training and promotion of young early music ensembles. The last of the four long weekends of the annual Ambronay Festival (which runs annually from mid-September to early October) is devoted to these eeemerging ensembles, but several of them also performed in the previous three weekends of the Festival. The theme for this year’s Festival was ‘Vibrations: Souffle’, roughly translating as Vibrations: Breathing, part of a triptych of festivals under the same Vibrations theme.
I attended the penultimate weekend of the Festival, from Thursday 28 September to Sunday 1 October 2017. The first two day’s concerts took place in Lyon, about 60km south-west of Ambronay.
l’Arte del Madrigale
Ambronay Edition AMY308. 62’36
Music by Giaches de Wert, Agostini, Luzzaschi, Gastoldi, de Rore, Gesualdo, Monteverdi, Marenzio, Piccinini, Gonzaga.
Since 2013, Seconda Pratica has been involved with the Eemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles, part of the Creative Europe programme), a scheme that assists young early music ensembles. This recording is a part of their third year of support from Eemerging and the Ambronay European Baroque Academy. Like so many early music performers, Voces Suaves grew out of studies at that powerhouse of early music, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basle. It was founded in 2012 with 9 singers. The music features some of the perhaps lesser-known madrigal composers of the Renaissance, notably from the repertoire amongst the extraordinary artistic heritage the Este and Gonzaga courts in Ferrara and Mantua and in Florence. Continue reading
Nova Europa: Melodies d’un Monde en Mutation
Ambronay Edition AMY307. 63’06
What a fascinating recording!
Seconda Pratica is an 11-strong young music ensemble specializing in 17th and 18th century repertoire, aimed at a 21st century audience. They aim “to engage with historic repertoire in a revitalizing way without ever losing sight of our inevitable modernity”. Since 2013, Seconda Pratica has been part of the Eemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles, part of the Creative Europe programme), which supports young early music ensembles. This recording is a part of their third year of support from Eemerging and the Ambronay European Baroque Academy.
In this recording, Seconda Pratica explore the musical and cultural heritage colonisation of South America by the 17th century Portuguese and Spanish. Continue reading
Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise
Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain
Ambronay AMY047. 65’05
Much of Vivaldi’s music was written for the Venetian Ospedali della Pietà, one of many such orphanages set up to cater for the many unwanted, and usually female, babies that seemed to appear some nine months after the carnival season. Although originally funded as charities, they quickly established a reputation for their musical activities, attracting large crowds and provided a secure, and indeed rather opulent, financial establishment. Firmly on the tourist essential to-do list, these female choirs attracted such comments as the one by Charles de Brosses in 1739 who wrote that “there is nothing so pleasant as to see a pretty young nun in a white habit, with a bunch of pomegranate blossoms over her ear directing the orchestra … their voices are delightful in their elegance and lightness”.
There are many debates over exactly how Vivaldi’s works were performed at the Pietà, not least because many of the works apparently written for the girls appear in SATB format, with tenor and bass parts. Some choirs have Continue reading
Destouches & Delalande: Les Éléments
Ensemble les Surprises, L-N Bestion de Camboulas
Ambronay AMY046. 75’47
The creation of the opera-ballet Les Éléments has links with the courtly and musical politics of Paris. Louis XIV died in 1715, leaving as his successor a five-year old fragile child. One of the focuses of the Regency was to ensure that the young Louis XV would survive at least as long as it took for him to father a successor to the throne. Dance was seen as a suitable approach to both encourage his own development, and to show to others that he was capable of succeeding his long-lived father and, eventually, to do his bit for the future of the royal line. To this end, several ballets were commissioned, usually giving the King a moment to strut his stuff in front of the assembled courtiers.
One such was Les Éléments, performed in 1721 in a small theatre constructed in the galleries of the Tuileries palace, a less intimidating space Continue reading
Conversations avec Dieu
Le Concert Étranger. Itay Jedlin
Ambronay AMY045. 77’17
Motets and Cantatas by Hammerschmidt, Scheidt, Telemann and Bruhns. Organ pieces by Scheidemann and Scheidt. Instrumental pieces by Monteverdi, Hammerschmidt and Rosenm:uller.
One of the musical traditions of German Lutheran church music was the sacred cantata or motet addressed directly to God, often in a conversational style, with a response to the plea coming either from God or, more frequently, from Jesus or other believers. This CD explores several examples of this genre, with a focus on the composer Andreas Hammerschmidt, given an overdue bit of exposure. Although he was well known in his day, and composed more than 400 works, his music is not often performed today. It is in a relatively simple style, in comparison with his contemporaries, and shows the gradual development of a true German Baroque style, built on the influence of Italian models. Five of his vocal works are included here, together with an instrumental Pavane. Continue reading
Handel – Haym: Trio Sonatas
Ambronay AMY304. 55’19
Handel: Trio Sonatas, Op.2 Nos 5 & 7, arrangements from operas; Haym: Trio Sonatas, Op.1, Nos 1, 3 & 4.
What a delightful CD. Part of the ’eeemerging’ (Emerging European Ensembles) project led by the Ambronay cultural centre, it selects promising young musicians and helps them set up their careers, including the chance to make their first CD – like this one, from L’Aura Rilucente, a five-strong group formed in 2011 in Milan. Their fascinating programme includes three Trio Sonatas by Nicola Francesco Haym, usually only known (if at all) as the librettist for some of Handel’s operas (for example, Ottone, Flavio, Tamerlano, Rodelinda. Also known as a cellist, Haym’s composing activities have been almost entirely overlooked, so his inclusion on this CD is a real musical service. Continue reading