BBC Prom 63: Bach B minor Mass

BBC Prom 63: Bach B minor Mass
Les Arts Florissants, William Christie
Royal Albert Hall, 1 September 2016

However many times I hear Bach’s B minor Mass, I never stopped being amazed at its compositional history. Almost certainly never heard during his lifetime, and with many of the sections lifted from earlier compositions, it was cobbled together over many years, the first part with the aim of securing a royal appointment in the Saxony Court. Despite all that it is one of the most, and arguably, the most extraordinary piece of music ever composed.   So it was no surprise that more than 5,00o people wanted to hear its performance at the BBC Proms in the Albert Hall.

And therein lay the problem. How to perform a work, intended to be performed in an (albeit sizeable) church by the normal Baroque orchestral and choral forces, in a vast auditorium designed (if indeed it was designed for anything) for enormous forces. Nowadays most period instrument groups makes few concessions to the space and acoustics, and play the music in the way they normally do. This is what William Christie did, with a 24-strong choir and a typical Bach orchestra. This will not produce a sound to fill the hall. But it will produce a sound that Bach might recognise. And for me, that is the key thing. Prommers are, by and large, pretty intelligent people, so should be used to letting their ears adjust to the relatively subdued volume. Continue reading

Discover Danzi (concert and CD)

Discover Danzi (concert and CD)
ensembleF2
Concert: St John’s, Smith Square, 22 October 2015
CD: Franz Danzi: Music for Piano and Winds Vol 2
Devine Music. DMCD004. 70’05

Concert: Steven Devine, fortepiano, Jane Booth, basset horn, Anneke Scott, natural horn;
CD: plus Katy Bircher, flute, James Eastaway, oboe, Ursula Leveaux, bassoon & Jane Booth, clarinet.

CD: Franz Danzi: Grand Sonata in F for fortepiano and basset horn Op. 62; Sonata in E minor for fortepiano and horn Op. 44; Quintet in D Op.54/2 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano.

The St John’s, Smith Square concert by ensembleF2 was part of a series of events to promote the second in their series of Franz Danzi recordings. The concert included the first two of the CD pieces, but replaced the latter’s concluding Quintet in D with Mozart’s piano Adagio in B minor (KV540), played as an introductory prelude to the Horn Sonata. Both concert and CD contrast two of the most evocative sounds of the early classical period – the basset horn and the natural horn, the similarity of their names bearing no relation to their distinctively different tones.

The basset horn is a wonderful example of the maxim not to judge anything by its appearance. It looks like a piece of badly botched plumbing, Continue reading

Mozart: Stolen Beauties

Mozart: Stolen Beauties
Ironwood with Anneke Scott, natural & piston horns
St George Hanover Square, 21 June 2015
and ABC Classics. ABC 481 1244

Mozart: Stolen BeautiesA CD launch concert in Handel’s own parish church of St George, Hanover Square featured the programme from the CD ‘Mozart: Stolen Beauties’. Ironwood is an Australian period instrument ensemble formed in 2006. They were joined by the distinguished horn player Anneke Scott, here playing both natural (or ‘hand’) and piston horn.

The ‘beauty’ that wasn’t stolen was the concluding Mozart Quintet for horn and strings in E-flat (K407). The autograph of this work was last known of in London 1847 when it appeared at a sale. It had earlier also proved elusive when Constanze explained to a potential publisher that the horn player Joseph Leitgeb had the score, but that he ‘lived in the suburbs’ of Vienna and would therefore be ‘difficult to track down’. The horn is accompanied by the unusual formation of violin, two violas and cello, rather than with two violins. This gives a richly sonorous timbre to the work, which Mozart (himself a viola player) used to highlight the key violin contributions. The horn writing is virtuosic, using the full range of the instrument of the day. Continue reading

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy
the operatic fantasies of Jacques-François Gallay
Anneke Scott, natural horn, Steven Devine, piano, Lucy Crowe, soprano
Resonus Classics. RES10153 66’41 

Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra ‘Les Martyrs’ de Donizetti (Op. 49),
Fantaisie sur une cavatine de ‘Belisario’ de Donizetti (Op. 42),
‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ de ‘Roberto Devereux’ de Donizetti,
Fantasia sopra un motivo dell’opera ‘Bianca e Fernando’ di Bellini (Op. 47/2),
Troisième Mélodie sur une cavatine de ‘La Sonnambula’ de Bellini (Op. 28),
‘Une Larme Furtive’ de ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti,
Fantaisie sur l’opéra ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti (Op. 46),
Fantaisie brillante sur un motif de ‘Norma’ de Bellini (Op. 40),
‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ des ‘Soirées Italiennes’ de Mercadante.

This CD explores the fascinating (and little-known) world of the French ‘opera fantasy’, an early to mid 19th century musical genre where leading instrumentalists, already well-used to having to create their own repertoire, arranged extracts from Italian operas for their own instrument. One of the leading exponents of that art was the renowned principal horn-player of the Théâtre Italian, Jacques-François Gallay. Five of his Continue reading