Fair Oriana: Divine Songs of Passion

Divine Songs of Passion
Fair Oriana, with David Wright & Harry Buckoke
St Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield, London EC1A
13 April 2022
(and at Sands Films Music Room on 21 April)

As part of their Holy Week Mass and Music series of events, the historic church of St Bartholomew the Great in London’s Smithfield invited the soprano duo, Fair Oriana, to perform their programme Divine Songs of Passion. This well-constructed concert was based around François Couperin’s c1714 Leçons de ténèbres pour le mercredi saint, contrasted with music by d’Anglebert, Purcell, Pergolesi and Blow. The date of the concert was appropriate, as the only surviving part of the Couperin Leçons de ténèbres is the one for the Wednesday of Holy Week. The other two sets of three Leçons composed for the following two days are lost. Although the Lamentations of Jeremiah depict the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, they have long been associated with Holy Week.

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Fair Oriana: Two Voices

Fair Oriana: Two Voices
Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard
VOCES8 records: VCM 134. 68’14

Image 1 - *PRE-ORDER* FAIR ORIANA: TWO VOICES (CD.)

Two Voices is the debut recording from the soprano duo Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard). It is described as “a unique, diverse collection of beguiling chamber music from renaissance to baroque, with splashes of folk, medieval and contemporary influence along the way”. The pieces are divided into four volumes, exploring the sentiments of happiness in love, intrigue and teasing in love, passion, and the loss of love. As well as all twelve of Thomas Morley’s 1595 a capella ‘Canzonets to Two Voices’, there are other pieces drawn from Fair Oriana’s’ concert programmes together with specially commissioned pieces from contemporary composers Fraser Wilson and Owain Park.

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Ensemble Hesperi: From Caledonia to the Capital!

From Caledonia to the Capital!
Chamber music and song by Scottish eighteenth-century composers
Ensemble Hesperi, Angela Hicks, Rory Carver
St Mary Le Bow Church, 17 September 2021

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Financial support from the Continuo Foundation allowed Ensemble Hesperi to increase their usual line up of four instrumentalists for this concert of music by 18th-century Scottish composers. Their funding also allowed the concert to be filmed for later release. Their programme was based on the composer James Oswald, known as the “Scottish Orpheus”. He was born in Fife in 1710 and was a musician and dancing master in Dunfermline before spending time in Edinburgh. He left Scotland for London in 1741 where he published several collections of Scottish tunes. He become Chamber Composer to George III and spent the last few years his life in Knebworth House, having married the widow of the Lytton owner.

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Joglaresa: Sing We Yule!

Sing We Yule!
Joglaresa, Belinda Sykes
St Bartholomew the Less, 8 December 2019

Formed by Belinda Sykes in 1992, Joglaresa is one of the most inventive and imaginative medieval music groups around. Their lively approach to music-making might not be the most ‘authentic’ around, but they bring enticing energy and brilliant communicative skills to performance. In their early years, they were strongly influenced by the music of the Islamic Middle East, based on the specific training and musical inspiration of Belinda Sykes. But that seemed less evident in their latest incarnation in this Sunday afternoon performance in London’s St Bartholomew-the-Less. It was a short-notice event added after earlier sell-out concerts, and itself also sold out.

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Handel: Aminta e Fillide

Handel: Aminta e Fillide
Fair Oriana
Opera Settecento, Leo Duarte
The Handel Friends
St George’s, Hanover Square, 28 November 2019

It was entirely appropriate that this concert, given under the auspices of The Handel Friends, should take place in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square, just round the corner from his surviving home. After 30-minutes of instrumental music and sumptuous interval refreshments (all part of the deal) came an inspirational performance of Handel’s pastoral cantata Aminta e Fillide, performed with the soprano duo Fair Oriana (Angela Hicks & Penelope Appleyard).

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Harmonic Spiritual Theatre

Harmonic Spiritual Theatre
Sacrifice, betrayal, passion – The Birth of Oratorio

Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore
St John’s, Smith Square, 26 March 2018

Following the mostly secular early evening concert by the Choir of Royal Holloway (reviewed here), the St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival continued with a more sacred, although not entirely Holy Week based, concert by the Birmingham based choir Ex Cathedra. The first part of the rather complex three-part title of the event comes from the title of Giovanni Anerio’s 1619 Teatro armonico spirituale di madrigal (Harmonic Theatre of Spiritual Madrigals)14 of the 62 pieces are in the form of dialogues, and two examples opened each half of the concert, Rispondi, Abramo, setting the story of Abraham and Isaac to music and Sedea lasso Gesù, reflecting the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.

The latter part of the concert title reflected the early days of the development of the early Baroque oratorio, inspired by the Roman Oratory of Filippo Neri, and consisting of semi-theatrical presentations of Bible stories through the musical use of recitative and arias with continuo accompaniment. As well as the Anerio’s examples, each half of the concert ended with large-scale oratorios by Charpentier (Le reniement de St Pierre) and Carissimi (Jepthe). Inserted between these early oratorios were two groups of the sometimes very secular Monteverdi madrigals ‘made spiritual’ by Aquilino Coppini, published between 1607-9 a few years after the original publications of Monteverdi’s madrigal Books IV and V. A close friend of Monteverdi, Coppini wrote that he saw in Monteverdi’s music “… a wonderful power to move the passions exceedingly”. His alteration of the texts is extremely well done, matching Monteverdi’s original use of vowel sounds and textural accents.

The unforced tone of the ten singers of Ex Cathedra was attractive, although it occasionally came over as a little reticent, notably in the chorus sections. There were some excellent individual contributions. particularly from soprano Angela Hicks, the unaffected clarity of her voice and her impressive use of ornaments proving ideal in her portrayals of the boy Isacco in Rispondi, Abramo, the Samaritan woman in Sedea lasso Gesù and as soloist in the Monteverdi/Coppini Ure me, Somine. Tenor Declan Costello was a gentle Jesus in the Charpentier oratorio on the denial of Peter, while Greg Skidmore provided a solid bass in Charpentier’s Narrator and in Jephte.

Katie Tretheway portrayed the unfortunate daughter of Jephte, notably in the concluding lament as she bewails her virginity prior, so she thought, to becoming a burnt offering to God. In her virginal circumstances, and given her concerns, I can think of more interesting ways of spending your last two months on earth. Carissimi doesn’t even give her the biblical redemption in his oratorio, so the evening finished with the weeping children of Israel.

This concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 for an unspecified future broadcast.