In the 14 months since it started, this website has received more than 25,000 hits from people in more than 100 countries. Judging from the map, I have still to break into central Africa, Paraguay, Greenland, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and the scarier parts of the Middle East.
Christ’s Chapel of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift at Dulwich
400th Anniversary Concert
Sunday 10 July 2016
A recital of music on the 1760 England/2009 Drake organ, given by
The Chapel of Christ of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift
Gallery Road, Dulwich, SE21 7AD
Sunday 10 July 2016, 7.45
The College of God’s Gift 400th Anniversary Recital
Andrew Benson-Wilson will give a special organ recital to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the dedication of the the Chapel of Christs of Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift in Dulwich. Andrew will play music from the years around 1616 on the famous 1760 George England organ.
Benjamin Cosyn – ‘Voluntary’ (c1620)
Orlando Gibbons – Fantazia in Foure Parts (c1611)
John Lugge – Voluntarie.3.pts. Continue reading
The 1723 ‘Bach’ organ, Störmthal, Leipzig, Germany
Wednesday 15 June 2016
And then came Bach
Composers with Central German connections in the years before Bach. Continue reading
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays the famous 1723 Hildebrandt organ in Störmthal, Leipzig (where Bach gave the opening recital), on Wednesday 15 June 2016 at 7pm, during the Leipzig Bachfest.
The programme explores composers with Central German connections in the years before Bach – and by Bach.
The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford. 27 April 2016
Praeambulum Primi toni a 5
Ach wir armen Sünder (3v)
Magnificat Secundi Toni (4v)
Toccata ex D
Gelobet seystu, Jesu Christ (4v)
Matthias Weckmann is one of the most influential 17th century organist composers of the North German – a compositional school that started with Hieronymus Praetorius and the pupils of Sweelinck and culminated in Buxtehude and, by influence, Bach. Weckmann’s contribution was to bring elements of the Italian style to North Germany. Unlike most of his contemporaries who were born in or near Hamburg and studied in Amsterdam, Weckmann was born in Thuringia. He studied in the Dresden Court under Heinrich Schütz, a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli, and in Hamburg with Jacob Praetorius, a Sweelinck pupil. After periods in Denmark and Dresden (where he befriended Froberger, also born in 1616), Weckmann settled in Hamburg in 1655, becoming organist of the Jacobikirche and setting up the Collegium Musicum. He is buried beneath the Jacobikirche organ.
The Praeambulum Primi toni a 5 is a fine example of the mid-17th century North German style of free composition that led Continue reading
Andrew Benson-Wilson plays music by
Matthias Weckmann (1616-1674)
on the famous Frobenius organ in the Chapel of The Queen’s College, Oxford.
27 April 2016, 13:10.
A recital of organ music by the Hamburg master organist/composer, Matthias Weckmann, born 400 years ago this year. A pupil of Schütz who, in turn, was a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli, Weckmann studied and worked in Dresden and Denmark. A friend of the influential Froberger, Weckmann settled in Hamburg in 1655 as organist of the Jakobikirche. He died in 1674 and is buried beneath the Jakobikirche organ.
Praeambulum Primi toni a 5
Ach wir armen Sünder (3v)
Magnificat Secundi Toni (4v)
Toccata ex D
Gelobet seystu, Jesu Christ (4v)
Programme note here.
The Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford. 25 November 2015
German Renaissance Organ Music c1460-1577
Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473) Gloria de Sancta Maria Vergine
Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537) Salve Regina 5v.
Hans Buchner (1483-1538) Gloria patri in la quarto toni
Hans Kotter (c1485-1541) Kochersperger Spanieler
Arnolt Schlick (c1460-c1521) Da pacem
Bernhard Schmid I (1535-92) Ein gutter Wein ist lobenswerdt – Sicut mater consolatur
The start of the Renaissance is difficult to define. In organ music, around 1450 seems a reasonable date, with music from the likes of the Buxheimer Orgelbüch and the Faenza Codex combining elements of Medieval and Renaissance styles. By this stage, the organ had a fully chromatic keyboard, sometimes more than one manual, and independent stops were beginning to be separated out from the Medieval ‘Blockwerk’ – the equivalent of single mixture where one note plays a chorus of ten or more notes.
The first piece demonstrates this transitional phase. Continue reading
25 November 2015, 1:10
German Renaissance Organ Music
A rare chance to hear some of this fascinating and little-known repertoire, played on the Frobenius organ during its anniversary year.
Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473) Gloria de Sancta Maria Vergine 8v.
Paul Hofhaimer (1459-1537) Salve Regina 5v.
Hans Buchner (1483-1538) Gloria patri in la quarto toni
Hans Kotter (c1485-1541) Kochersperger Spanieler
Arnolt Schlick (c1460-c1521) Da pacem 3v.
Bernhard Schmid I (1535-92) Ein gutter Wein ist lobenswerd
Sicut mater consolatur
Admission free – retiring collection. Organ information here.
St George’s, Hanover Sq, 20 October 2015
Renaissance Organ Music: 1448-1623
The start of the Renaissance is difficult to define. In organ music, around 1450 seems a reasonable date, with music from the likes of the Buxheimer Orgelbüch and the Faenza Codex combining elements of Medieval and Renaissance styles.
The first two pieces (by Adam Ileborgh von Stendal) demonstrate this transitional phase. Ileborgh compiled his Tabulature in 1448 – its full title is Incipiunt praeludia diversarium notarum secundum modernum modum subitliter et diligentor collecta cum mensuris diversis hic infra annexis per fratrem Adam Ileborgh Anno Domini 1448 tempore sui rectoriatus in stendall. It include five tiny pieces called Praeambulum (the earliest known example of that title) and three variations on the popular song Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed. The Praeambulum super d a f et g is the longest of Continue reading
Renaissance organ music
Adam Ileborg (Tabulature, 1448)
Praeambulum super d a f et g
Mensura trium notarum super tenorem ‘Frowe al myn hoffen an dyr lyed’
Conrad Paumann (c1410-1473)
Fundamentam organisandi, 1452 Continue reading
Nicolaus Bruhns (b1665) – The surviving organ works
Praeludium in e (small)
Praeludium in g (Mons. Prunth – Atrib. Bruhns)
Adagio (di Nicolaij Bruhns)
Praeludium in G
Chorale Fantasia: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Praeludium in e (large) Continue reading
“A daynty fine verse”
St Swithun’s, Worcester, 31 July 2015
Music by Thomas Tomkins, William Hayes and from early 16th century manuscripts, played on the reconstructed c1530 ‘Wetheringsett’, and the 1795 Grey organs by
This is the listing of some of my forthcoming organ recitals from the very last issue of the now defunct Early Music Review diary, for many years put together by Helen Shabetai every month.
The recital in Worcester on 31 July will mostly be played on the ‘Wetheringsett’ organ, a reconstruction of a medieval English organ based on a fragment of an East Anglian organ dating from around 1525. Thomas Tomkins was organist at Worcester Cathedral. He was also an avid collector of earlier music, dating from around the time of the Wetheringsett organ. I will be playing music by Tomkins and from the earlier manuscripts that Tomkins owned and commented on – “A daynty fine verse” being just one of his comments. I will also play an Organ Concerto by William Hayes, an 18th century Worcester Cathedral organist, on the 1795 Gray organ. Continue reading
Village Underground. 13 May 2015
It’s not often that I find myself standing in a long queue outside a venue controlled by bouncers. But this was, after all, an I Fagiolini event (commissioned by the Barbican), and the little beans had come up with yet another of their spectaculars. The venue was Village Underground, a performance and arts venue created out of a derelict railway viaduct and adjoining warehouse. The bouncers eventually let us in, after we had shown the ‘Crime Scene Inspection Permit’ we had been told to bring with us. We were immediately shrouded in thick smoke, the little blue-light torches were had been given not being a great deal of help. In the murk, we managed to find a series of display boards showing an enigmatic sequence of photos and poetic texts, all linked by lines. Several chalked body outlines could be seen on the floor, close to various seemingly random objects that had been grouped near the display boards. The investigation permit began to make sense. As the gloomy room filled up with people it became harder to move about, an issue that became more serious when the singers and dancers joined the scene. Continue reading
‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey, 18/19 May 2015
I couldn’t get to the lunchtime concert on day 3 of the festival, but it was given by soprano Rowan Pierce and the young group Medici, under the title of ‘Future Baroque’, with music by Handel, Bach, Royer, Telemann, Corelli and Vivaldi. Unless I have missed something, this was another event that seemed to bypass the festival’s theme, although it did include as its final work Agitata da due venti, a surviving fragment from Vivaldi’s opera L’Adelaide and later also included in his Griselda, composed for the virtuoso soprano Margherite Giacomazzi.
‘Leçons des ténèbres’
Julia Doyle & Grace Davidson, sopranos,
Jonathan Manson, bass viol, Steven Devine, harpsichord, organ & director
The Monday evening concert (St John’s, Smith Square, 18 May) Continue reading
‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square, 16 May 2015
‘Canto dell dame’
María Cristina Kiehr soprano, Jean- Marc Aymes, harpsichord, organ & director.
On the cover of the festival programme book are the words “Joy / Passion / Religion / Love / Death / Adoration / Intensity. The Saturday afternoon concert of 17th century Italian music given by Concerto Soave included all of those aspects, sometimes in the same piece. Featuring five female composers, the music ranged from the very beginning of the Baroque up to the end of the 17th century. The earliest composer was Francesca Caccini (1587-1641), daughter of Giulio Caccini (represented here by Peter Philips’ harpsichord transcription of his Amarillo, mia Bella). Francesca Caccini made her debut aged 13 at the Medici Court, singing at the wedding of Henri IV of France to a Medici bride. After time in France she returned to become the leading female singer in Florence. Apart from one opera (the earliest known one by a woman) her only surviving music was published in 1618. The three pieces demonstrated the early recitativo style of Continue reading
‘Women in Baroque Music’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, 15 May 2015
This long weekend of Baroque music was both a 1st and a 31st event. The first event of the new London Festival of Baroque Music, and the 31st of a continuing festival that had hitherto been known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. The Lufthansa Festival was an extraordinary example of collaboration between a sponsor (that in latter years also included Rolls Royce) and a music festival. Shorn of the funding of a major international sponsor, the first London Festival of Baroque Music inevitably revealed its reduced financial resources, covering an 5-day extended weekend rather than earlier 8 or more days, and with a reduction in the number of groups from outside the UK. But a wealth of individual sponsors and some crowd-funding through social media has come up with the wherewithal to make for a rich and fulfilling series of concerts. And a capacity audience for the opening concert in St John’s, Smith Square showed the strength of public support. Continue reading
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kati Debretzeni, director & violin
Chi-Chi Nwanoku, double bass, Frances Kelly, harp, Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 12 May 2015
Telemann: Overture (Suite) in B flat, TWV.55:B8 (Ouverture burlesque), Concerto in B flat for violin, TWV.51:B1,
Stevie Wishart: Concerto à double entendre (World premiere)
Handel: Concerto in B flat for violin & orchestra, HWV.288 (Sonata a 5), Concerto in B flat, Op.4 No.6 for lute & harp, Concerto grosso in G, Op.6 No.1
Nestling in between the familiar OAE territory of Telemann and Handel was the world premiere of Stevie Wishart’s The Rough with the Smooth: Concerto à double entendre. Lasting about 23 minutes, it was structurally based on the traditional form of the concerto grosso, the three-movements headed Prelude and Fugue, Air, and Passacaglia. So far, so Baroque. But Stevie Wishart is a composer with roots in early and contemporary music. So rather than highlighting the melodic aspects of the instruments that are usually key to Baroque music, Wishart focused on the “resonance, overtones and sympathetic vibration” of the string orchestra, commenting that “the entire orchestra play only open strings and harmonics so that melodies only surface through a barrage of ‘sound clouds’ and gentle noise.” Continue reading
‘Handel/Leo/Hasse’ Catone in Utica
St George’s, Hanover Square. 17 March 2015
Opera Settecento. Tom Foster, musical director.
Erica Eloff & Christina Gansch, sopranos, Emilie Renard, mezzo, Christopher Robson, counter-tenor, Christopher Jacklin, bass-baritone.
This might be the year that we grow to love pasticcio operas, with Fabio Biondi’s well received reconstruction of Vivaldi’s compilation L’Oracolo in Messenia at The Barbican (see my review at https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/03/30/vivaldis-loracolo-in-messenia/) and now Opera Settecento’s excellent concert performance of Handel’s 1732 Catone in Utica, given in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square as part of the London Handel Festival.
Handel used to present one pasticcio opera each season, a collecting together of arias, generally by other composers, some of it already well-known to the audience, to slot into the recitative of an opera. In the case of Catone in Utica, Handel drew principally on Leonardo Leo’s 1729 Catone, to a libretto by Metastasio. Handel reduced Leo’s recitatives and jettisoned all but eight of his arias, adding six by Johann Adolf Hasse (although not from Hasse’s own 1732 version of Catone), along with other arias by Porpora, Vivaldi and Vinci. He also removed one of Metastasio’s characters, leaving just five protagonists. As with most pasticco operas, the recitatives are all-important in carrying the plot. However the arias were more plot-neutral, and were therefore more easily transferred from other operas to suit the strengths of Handel’s available singers.
Metastasio’s libretto is based on the historic Cato the Younger (Marcus Cato ‘Uticensis’), an adversary of Julius Caesar in the last days of the Roman Republic. After Caesar’s defeat of Pompey, Cato and Pompey’s widow Emilia have fled to Utica, near Carthage, on the North African coast. Caesar arrives and tries to toady up to Cato, much to the disgust of Emilia and the confusion of Marzia, Cato’s daughter. She seems to be rather taken with Caesar, despite her father’s wish that she marry Arbace, Prince of Numidia. Cato rejects Caesar’s offer to share the dictatorship of the empire (and marriage to Marzia, already Caesar’s secret lover), and is eventually defeated by Caesar’s army, leading to his suicide and the start of the dictatorship of Imperial Rome.
In Handel’s version, Cesare is changed to a bass, Cato was sung by the castrati Senseino, and Arbace was a contralto trouser role. One of the strengths of Opera Settecento’s performance was the excellent choice of singers. Christopher Jacklin was the imposing Cesare, his opening aria, Non paventa del mare le procella from Porpora’s Siface (one of four based on storm-tossed seas) being a spectacularly virtuosic showpiece with an enormous range, wide vocal leaps and rapid scales, all delivered with aplomb. Vivaldi’s So che nascondi was a similarly bravura aria.
Emilia was sung by Christina Gansch, a young Austrian soprano who impressed me (and the judges) when I heard her singing in the final of Innsbruck’s Cesti Baroque Opera Singing Competition in 2013. Her opening aria, Chi mi toglie (from Hasse’s Attalo) demonstrated her beautifully warm and well-rounded tone. She later excelled in Sento in riva a l’altre sponde (from the same Hasse opera), accompanied by hushed strings and featuring an excellent expansion of the melodic line in the da capo. Her concluding virtuosic showpiece Vede il nocchier la sponda, again with outstanding treatment of the da capo and a wonderful cadenza, drew enthusiastic approval from her fellow singers. Although this was a concert performance, I was very impressed with Christina Gansch’s acting ability.
Erica Eloff was Marzia. Her arias ended all three of the Acts, positively with È follia se nascondete, mournfully with So che godendo vai and stunningly virtuosic with the conclusion of the opera, Vò solcando un mar crudele.
Emilie Renard seems to be cornering the market in trouser roles, always helped by her choice of clothing and attractive acting ability. Here she was Arbace, her showpiece coming with Vivaldi’s Vaghe luci, luci belle, featuring outstanding da capo ornamentation and vocal flourishes. The role of Catone was to have been taken by counter-tenor Andrew Watts, but his indisposition led to his very short notice replacement by Christopher Robson, much to his credit. Sadly, he was not on good form vocally, with an over-use of portamento and awkward breaks of register, although his concluding Per darvi alcun pegno was touching as Catone resigns himself to his fate.
I was very impressed with Tom Foster’s light touch direction from the harpsichord, as well as his sensitive continuo realizations, allowing himself just one real flourish as Arbace and Cesare, rather awkwardly reveal their joint love for Marzia. The youngish instrumentalists of the Orchestra of Opera Settecento played with musical sensitivity, with a notable contribution from cellist Natasha Kraemer. Oboeist Leo Duarte was responsible for producing the score, based on a manuscript from Hamburg.
Upon a Ground
Tabea Debus, recorder.
ClassicClips CLCL 124. 77’ 32”
Finger: A Division on a ground by Mr. Finger; Dornel: Première Suite; Taeggio: Vestiva i colli; Bellinzani: Sonata No. 12 Op 3/12; Barre: Chaconne der Sonata L’Inconnue; Blavet: Sonata Secunda; Anonymous: Durham Ground; Pandolfi Mealli: Sonata Quarta “La Castella”; Barsanti: Sonata V in F; Purcell: A New Ground in e.
The Hülsta Woodwinds competition (in Münster, Westphalia) awards two first prizes, and Tabea Debus won one of them in 2011. This CD is one of the elements of her prize. And it certainly shows that the competition judges were on to a good thing. Tabea Debus’s playing is an absolute delight. She plays with a beautiful sense of musical line and phrasing, wearing her obvious virtuosity lightly, and producing results that are first and foremost musical.
Another excellent feature of this recording is the imaginative interpretations of the accompanying continuo instrumental players, Lea Rahel Bader (cello), Johannes Lang (harpsichord), Kohei Ota (theorboe & baroque guitar) and Jan Croonenbroeck (organ). Taeggio’s 1620 diminutions on Palestrina’s Vestiva i colli are preceded by the original piece played on a very attractive little chamber organ (by Johannes Rohlf, based on Näser, 1734). Bellinzani’s Sonata opens with a delightfully Handelian Largo with wide leaps for the solo line. After an Allegro (also with leaps and with a lovely dialogue between recorder and organ) and a harpsichord solo (to give the soloist a rest), it ends with a lively Folia.
Although the Pandolfi Mealli La Castella Sonata is performed in pure meantone, the other pieces are either in fifth-comma meantone or the so called ‘Bach’ tuning proposed by Robert Hill. And, as if to prove that recorder players do have a life, when you take the CD out of its case, you are greeted on the inside of the rear cover by a photograph of Miss Debus apparently leaping over a fence. See http://www.classic-clips.de/clcl124.html.
First published in Early Music Review, April 2014.
The Virtuoso Organist: Tudor and Jacobean Masterworks
Stephen Farr, organ, Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge Resonus RES10143. 68’35
William Byrd, John Bull, Thomas Tallis, Thomas Tomkins, John Blitheman & Orlando Gibbons. 2013 Taylor & Boody Opus 66 organ, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
The programme on this CD is designed to demonstrate the new 7-stop chamber organ in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. It is designed in a 16th to early 17th century Dutch/North German style, one arguably similar to that of the English organ of the same period, about which we know very little as far as the sound is concerned.
The programme covers the English organ repertoire from about 1540 to 1637. Tallis’s Ecce tempus idoneum and the anonymous Bina caelestis and Magnificat include chanted verses sung by the men of Sidney Sussex College Choir in the ‘alternatim’ tradition of the period. The musical highlight is Farr’s magnificent performance of Thomas Tomkins’s monumental Offertory, at over 17 minutes long, one of the most complex examples of a uniquely English genre. It was very likely influenced by the two large-scale Tallis examples in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Stephen Farr’s control of the pulse and build up of tension in this remarkable piece is exemplary – he demonstrates similar skill in Orlando Gibbons Fantasia (the Fancy in Gam ut flat) and the concluding Byrd A Fancie, from ‘My Ladye Nevells Booke’ (1591).
Tallis himself is represented by two verses on Ecce tempus idoneaum, featuring the prominent ‘false relations’ so typical of Tallis. The earliest pieces are from the enormous British Library Add. 26669 collection, dating from around 1540/50 and later owned and annotated by Tomkins – the hymn setting of Bina caelestis and a Magnificat by an anonymous composer that could well be Thomas Preston. The secular repertoire is represented by John Bull’s Galliard ‘to the Pavin in D sol re’ and Coranto Joyeuse, the latter using the delightfully pungent Vox Virginia reed stop.
Although he allows himself an occasional flourish (notably in the anonymous Bina caelestis) Farr’s playing is methodical in a way that is entirely appropriate for recordings. His interpretations will repay repeated listening, with no risk of annoying mannerisms. In live performance one might expect a little more flexibility in interpretation, but such individualisms can be tricky when set in recorded stone. His articulation and touch are attractively subtle. We can hear the occasional slight pairing of notes (for example, in track 4, John Bull’s In nomine II) but he otherwise wears his period performance credentials lightly.
The organ sounds very effective in this repertoire, and speaks into a helpful acoustic. It is tuned in a very appropriate (but not quite meantone) temperament devised for the restoration of the famous late 17th century Schnitger organ in Norden, Germany. A reasonable solution, not least as there are several parts of the English organ repertoire of this period that can sound weird in meantone temperament, even if that could well have been the tuning of the period. The CD notes include comprehensive essays on the music (by Magnus Williamson) and the organ (by the organ builder, George Taylor).
Vivaldi The Four Seasons & String Concerti European Union Baroque Orchestra, Huw Daniel, Bojan Čičič, Johannes Pramsohler, Zefire Valova violins. Lars Ulrich Mortensen. 52’50.
Obsidian CCL CD713
Not another Four Seasons, you might think. But this is different, in several ways. Firstly it is from the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) who regular readers will know I am a fan of. Secondly the four violinists are all ex-members, and later concertmasters, of EUBO. And thirdly because this not only also includes the charmingly inoffensive little Concerto RV124, but also Vivaldi’s sonnets, read in Italian by another EUBO alumnus, Antonio de Sarlo (the CD booklet includes the texts). And finally, although not obvious from the CD, this whole project was accompanied by a commissioned puppet show for children using Vivaldi’s music – hopefully this will be released on DVD in the future, but a video can be found on the EUBO website.
The Concerto RV124 introduces the first of the spoken Sonnets. The four soloists then take their turns at portraying the various seasons with Huw Daniel as Spring, Bojan Čičič, Summer, Johannes Pramsohler, Autumn, and Zefire Valova as Winter. All four excel throughout, but particularly in the slow movements when their collective ability to play on the edge of their tone with such musical conviction is outstanding.
For some reason, the recording balance of director Lars Ulrich Mortensen’s harpsichord is frequently far too prominent, becoming a distractingly percussive intrusion. Currently shorn of their usually EU funding, EUBO is trying to survive on the occasional concert and on the sale of CDs like this until stable financial support can be found. Anybody who has ever heard the talented young players of EUBO (who reform each year – or did, until their recent financial problems) will know how excellent they are, and how important a training experience it is for its members, many of whom go on to distinguished careers. The CD can be ordered from http://www.eubo.eu/shop/CD713.
First published in Early Music Review, December 2014
Mozart. Mendelssohn Chiaroscuro Quartet 58’ 06”
Mozart Quartet K421, Mendelssohn Quartet 2, Op 13
Aparté AP092. 58’ 06”
I first heard the Chiaroscuro Quartet (Alina Ibragimova, Pablo Hernan Benedi, Emilie Hornlund and Claire Thirion) when they were London students, and their talent was obvious from the start. Alongside Alina Ibragimova’s impressive (and well-deserved) solo career, the quartet are now making their mark in the world of period instrument quartets, with three CDs to date, all combining Mozart with a later composer. After comparing Mozart with Schubert and Beethoven, they now turn to Mendelssohn, drawing connections between the 18 year olds’ Quartet No 2 and Mozart’s D minor Quartet (K421), written when he was a comparatively mature 27. These talented young musicians, playing on gut strings with no vibrato to disturb the musical line, demonstrate inspiring musical minds and exceptional techniques, which they dedicate to the service of the music rather than self-aggrandisement.
In what is a rather intense programme, there are several magical moments, not least in the interpretation of the dark transition passage at the beginning of the second section of the first Mozart movement. In contrast, their almost flighty playing of the Mozart trio is a delight, and a bit of relief in what is otherwise a pretty complex work. Their tonal unity in demonstrated in the several passages where the melodic line passes from one instrument to the other – imperceptibly in their case. The Mendelssohn is an emotionally powerful work, opening with what seems to be an innocuous song-without-words but quickly developing a much darker and more complex hue. The slow movement opens with a similarly song-like theme before the viola leads into a plaintively chromatic fugue and a turbulent central section. Ever the tune-smith, Mendelssohn opens the Intermezzo with another song-without-words, before dissolves into a fairy dance.
One of the many strengths of the Chiaroscuro Quartet is their ability to play quietly, drawing the listener into their musical world. There are several examples in these two quartets, notably in transition passages. This is playing and musical interpretation of the highest degree.
My own quibble is with the complex programme notes, by Tom Service. Rather than looking for links between the two pieces on the CD, his essay concentrates on rather convoluted links to Beethoven. The language become fanciful to a degree – do we really need to be told that our hearts will be in our mouths at the audacity of Mozart’s plunge into a discombobulating E flat major?
Extracts at http://chiaroscuroquartet.com/discs
Claude Ledoux: Notizen-Fragmente (2009/13)
Jean-Pierre Deleuze: Voici l’absence – Cinq déplorations en antiphonie (2011)
Cindy Castillo, organ, Aurélie Frank, voice
PARATY 114122. 69:39’
If ever an organ was designed for the performance of contemporary music, it is the 1981 Detlef Kleuker instrument in Notre-Dame des Grâces au Chant d’Oiseau in Brussels, designed by Jean Guillou as a successor to his 1978 ‘hand of God’ organ in Alpe d’Huez. In this CD, two talented young Belgian musicians perform works composed for them by Belgian composers Claude Ledoux and Jean-Pierre Deleuze. The combination of organ and solo female voice is a beguiling one. In this case it is enhanced by a generous acoustic, fascinating music, an extraordinary organ and excellent recording techniques (the engineer gets his own CV in the booklet) – and, of course, by the musically and technically virtuosic organ playing of Cindy Castillo (left) and singing of Aurélie Frank (below). Continue reading
Giuseppe Sammartini Concertos for the Organ, op 9.
Fabio Bonizzoni, La Rizonanza 63′ 17″
This is a re-release of a 2000 recording. Giuseppe was the elder brother of the better known Giovanni Battista Sammartini. Born in 1695, he left Milan for London in 1728, where he stayed until his death in 1750, making quite a name for himself. These concertos, published after his death for “Harpsichord or Organ”, are domestic in scale, with just two violins, cello and bass alongside the organ. It is not clear when they were composed, but they have more of a Rococo than Baroque feel to them, rather enhanced by the playing style on this CD. The spiky solo registrations are not in keeping with the English organ of the period, and nor is the over-articulated performance style. Bonizzoni keeps to the two-part structure of most of the organ solos (without infilling the harmonies, a debatable point for this repertoire), but it is a shame that he doesn’t make more of the organ when in its continuo role – it is more-or-less inaudible. The notes give no information on the organ, but I have a feeling it is later than this repertoire. It is certainly not in any English or Italian early to mid 18th century style. Two lively little Sonatas by Giovanni Battista Sammartini complete the disc.
The Famous Weiss David Miller, baroque lutes 68’21
Sonata No 5 in D minor, Prelude & Fantasie in C minor, Sonata No 30 in G minor, Prelude in D major, Campanella in D major, Passagaille in D major, Giga in D major.
The thoughtful and reflective mood of the opening D minor Prelude sets the scene for this enthralling CD of lute music by Silvius Leopold Weiss. I was introduced to the music of Weiss by David Miller in a Dartington concert in the mid 90s. An almost exact contemporary of JS Bach and Handel, Weiss spent time in Rome (alongside Handel and Scarlatti) before settling as lutenist to the Dresden Court. His visit to Berlin produced the ‘Famous Weiss’ comment from the sister of the future Frederick the Great.
The two Sonatas (in practice, multi-movement Suites) from the Dresden manuscripts are nicely contrasted, the simpler D minor suite forming a foil to the more substantial, elaborate and musically advanced G minor set. Of the six other pieces from a British Library manuscript, the Prelude in C minor, with its distinctive octave opening, shows Weiss’s imaginative use of harmonic modulation, a factor specifically mentioned in relation to a competition with Bach in Dresden. As the opening Prelude demonstrates, David Miller plays with a particular sensitivity to musical ebb and flow, as well as producing a beautifully rich and refined tone.
There is an informative video made during the recording process at http://www.timespanrecordings.co.uk/david-miller—baroque-lute.html.
Mésangeau’s Experiments Alex McCartney
Suites in B flat, F minor and C.
René Mésangeau (fl 1567-1638) was one of the pioneers of what was to become the Baroque lute, not least through his experiments in lute tuning that led to the ‘standard’ Baroque lute tuning based around a D minor chord. After a time in Germany he returned to his native Paris and the Court of Louis XIII. Three Suites are included on this CD, in B flat, F minor and C, the latter Suite including two movements by an anonymous composer. Each Suite opens with an unmeasured prelude following by groups of Allemendes and Courantes, finishing with Sarabands or a Chaconne. The playing is sensitive and musical (albeit with a fair bit of finger noise), the acoustic adding a nice resonance to the sound, particularly in the many pieces at low pitch. The sleeve notes are minimal, and there is no indication of track or total timings – something to watch out for if you want anybody to broadcast tracks.
Samples and ordering from http://veterummusica.bandcamp.com/album/m-sangeaus-experiments
One of the posh frocks and picnic venues that combine musical excellence with spectacular gardens is Iford Manor, near Bath. This year’s early music offering was Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria performed by the Early Opera Company (2 Aug 2014) in a setting that could not be more Italian. Iford’s Peto Garden is full of Italian references, and the operas take place inside a pastiche 100 year-old Italian cloister – one of the most intimate opera spaces I know.
The 12-strong (and vocally strong) cast was headed by mezzo Rowan Hellier as the complex and emotional confused Penelope with Jonathan McGovern as the returning Ulysses. Penelope’s three suitors were Callum Thorpe, Russell Harcourt and Alexander Robin Baker, with Oliver Mercer as their advocate Eurymachus. Elizabeth Cragg and Annie Gill made fine contributions as Minerva and Melanto, as did Daniel Auchincloss as Eumaeus, here portrayed as a gamekeeper. The Prologue was sensibly omitted, allowing the opening focus to be on Penelope’s grief.
The audience sit within a few feet of the central stage and it is impossible not to feel personally involved in the unfolding drama. It is a real test of the singers’ sense of character and voice to be able to project to such a close audience. Justin Way directed, using Christopher Cowell’s sensible ENO English translation, and an excellent and beautifully lit staging by Kimm Kovac, using imaginative and vaguely modern dress with a hint of the abdication era. Christian Curnyn directed his seven Early Opera Company players from the harpsichord, the violins of Catherine Martin and Oliver Webber being much in evidence.
Rather surprisingly, given Glyndebourne’s devotion to Mozart, La Finta Giardiniera was the first time they have staged any of his early operas (6 July 2014). Although obviously not on a par with the da Ponte operas, these earlier works are fascinating. Had he died aged 20, I reckon Mozart would still rate pretty highly in musical history. That said, La Finta Giardiniera is not amongst the Mozart greats, and needs careful handling. Covent Garden didn’t altogether succeed in their troubled 2006 attempt although, more recently, the Academy of Music gave a commendable concert performance at The Barbican.
The plot is the usual nonsense. Nardo (who is really Roberto disguised as a gardener) loves Serpetta who loves Don Anchise who loves Sandrina (who is really the Marchioness Violante, and is also disguised as the ‘secret gardener’ of the title) who loves Count Belfiore (who previously stabbed her and left her for dead) who loves Arminda who used to love Ramiro but jilted him and would be very surprised if he happened to turn up unexpectedly. Musically, the 19-year old Mozart is starting to challenge the supremacy of opera buffa by introducing elements of opera seria, treating this buffa plot with seria intensity. The opening is pure buffa, with the characters appearing to be happy bunnies until you hear the words of the individual solos and asides. Another feature of this work is Mozart’s early development of his complex Act finales, one magnificent example coming at the end of the first act.
Director Frederic Wake-Walker set the goings-on in a Germanic Rococco-style room, the fabric of which deconstructed as the evening progresses, as did some of the characters. Christiane Karg’s Sandrina was the vocal highlight from a very strong young cast, her pure tone contrasting with the rather silly portrayals of Belfiore (Joel Prieto) as a wimp and Ramiro (Rachel Frenkel) as a Goth. Robin Ticciati (Glyndebourne’s music director) directed the ever-excellent Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with a fine sense of pace. But, even with cuts, it was a rather long three hours.