Schnitger Festival Groningen

Schnitger Festival Groningen
31 October – 5 November 2017

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Arp Schnitger is one of the most famous organ builders of all time. Working from around 1660 to 1719, most of his organs were built in North Germany and The Netherlands. For several decades, his instruments have been linked with the performance of Bach, although they were built within the North European organ tradition (centred on Hamburg and culminating in Buxtehude in Lübeck) rather than the Saxon and Thuringian organs of Central Germany that Bach was more familiar with. That said, Bach was certainly influenced by such instruments and the music composed for them, in his early life. Unlike many in the organ building world, then and now, Schnitger showed great respect for the work of his predecessors, and many of his organs retain pipework and cases going back to late mediaeval times. Around one-third of the surviving Schnitger organs are in the Netherlands, mostly in the Groningen province, and three in the city of Groningen, including the famous organs in the Aa-Kerk and the Martinikerk. A map of surviving Schnitger organs can be found here.

The Groningen Schnitger Festival is now in its fifth year. It is organised by the Groningen Orgelstad foundation, set up to strengthen and expand the range of organ activities in the city of Groningen. Usually taking place over a single weekend, this year’s six-day festival was special for a number of reasons, not least,  the opening of a new organ in the Lutherse Kerk (pictured below) based on the Schnitger organ that was built for the church in 1699. Schnitger gifted it to the church and community where he and his workforce attended when working in Groningen, as did his successors, including the organ builder Hinsz who is buried in the church. The original two-manual organ had a pedal division added in 1717, to Schnitger’s plans, and was further extended over time until it was replaced by a new organ around 1896. Since 2001 the tradition of cantata services was reintroduced into the Lutherse Kerk services, leading to the foundation (by church organist Tymen Jan Bronda) in 2006 of the period instrument Luthers Bach Ensemble and the wish for an organ suitable for use with Bach cantatas. The Swiss-based, but Groningen born organ builder Bernhardt Edskes was commissioned to build the new organ, based on the 1717 incarnation of the original Schnitger organ.

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Original documents of Schnitger’s 1699/1717 organ survive, and the new organ was based on that original organ, the only difference in the specification of the new organ is that it includes an 8′ rather than 4′ Praestant as the foundation stop of the principal manual. The original pitch of the organ was Kammerton, equating to present day a’ = 415Hz, the usually accepted pitch for Baroque German music. A novel addition to the instrument is a separate one manual continuo keyboard at the front of the organ gallery, controlling six of the stops from both divisions of the main organ through what is generally known as a ‘long action’.

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Tuesday 31 October
Opening concert of the new Lutherse Kerk organ
Luthers Bach Ensemble, Ton Koopman, Tymen Jan Bronda

This was an auspicious day for the opening of the new Lutherse Kerk organ. It was not only Reformation Day, but the day of the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door, as well as the 400th anniversary of the completion of church’s original Arp Schnitger organ, which the new organ replicates. After opening speeches (including one by ‘Bach’), and the handing over of a ceremonial tuning knife and key, Ton Koopman appeared, initially dressed in the same ‘Bach’ outfit, to conduct the Luthers Bach Ensemble in Bach’s cantata on the battle hymn of the Reformation Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (BWV 80). It was performed in JS Bach’s rarely heard original form, without the trumpets and timpani added by his son. I couldn’t see the soloists from my seat, but I think it was Stefanie True who sang the aria Komm in mein Herzen Haus. 

Lutherse Kerk organist Tymen Jan Bronda then played Bach’s organ version of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (RV 208). It was a curious piece to choose for the first solo organ piece on the new organ. Its tricky extended cadenza-like passages were a real test of the player and the organ’s action. More effective, and certainly more suited to the organ, was Weckmann’s 3-verse Ach wir armen Sünder and Buxtehude’s multi-sectional Toccata in d (BuxWV 153), both very well played by Bronda. The Buxtehude came after Ton Koopman’s performance of Haydn’s Organ Concerto in C (H.XVIII:1), played from the smaller ‘continuo’ keyboard in the conducting position on the organ gallery. Although of no obvious relevance to the Schnitger organ, Haydn’s jovial three-movement piece suited Ton Koopman’s flamboyant style of organ playing, with his frequent additions to the text. The concert finished with Bach’s double choir motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (BWV 225), here performed with the instruments doubled the vocal parts. An impressive, if a rather eclectic introduction to the flexibility of the new organ. Later in the evening, a Memorial Cantata Service celebrated the Reformation anniversary, repeating the earlier Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott cantata.

Wednesday 1 November
Lunchtime recital: organ and trumpet
Tymen Jan Bronda & Dave Hendry
Lutherse Kerk

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The organ as a solo instrument was more to the fore in the Wednesday lunchtime concert of music for organ and trumpet. Particularly effective organ solos were Scheidemann’s intabulation on Bassano’s motet Dic nobis Maria (a rare survival of one of the essential skills of a German organist in the 16th and 17th centuries) and Buxtehude’s multisection Magnificat 1. Toni, where the reeds on the new organ were heard to good effect. After the well-known opening Te Deum by Charpentier, David Henry played Bach’s Wohl mir das ich Jesum habe (Jesu joy etc) on an unusual (at least to me) type of slide trumpet, where the slide was at the back (the player’s end) of the trumpet. I think these are sometimes known as Zug trumpets, and are partially related to the Purcellian Flatt trumpet.

Berry van Berkum
improvised accompaniment to Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod
Der Aa-kerk

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The Aa-kerk in Groningen houses one of the two famous Schnitger organs. The name of the church comes from its original title of Onze Lieve Vrouwe ter Aa (‘Our Lady at the Aa’, the name of the nearby river). Arp Schnitger built an organ for the church in 1695, but it was destroyed in 1710 when the church tower collapsed. An earlier Van Hagerbeer organ was built in 1667 but only lasted 4 years before being destroyed by fire. The current organ was built in 1702 for the Academiekerk (Broerekerk) in Groningen using some pipework from the previous 1679 instrument. After some work by A A Hinsz in the later 18th century, the organ was moved to the Aa-Kerk in 1815, the church remaining organless in the intervening century. After a complicated history of reconstructions and additions, it was restored back to an earlier historic period in 2011, but not that of the 1702 organ. There is a small organ dating from 1550 (also transferred in from elsewhere) on a side gallery. The building is no longer used as a church but is a venue for concerts and other events.

Berry van Berkum improvised an organ accompaniment to Fritz Lang’s 1921 film Der Müde Tod (Destiny). The film tells the story of a woman’s quest to be reunited with her dead lover by means of a series of tests initiated by Death. These take place in a Caliph’s palace during Ramadan, during the carnival in Venice (a sequence that, for the film’s date, included a rather surprising glimpse of a naked female breast), and in the court of a Chinese emperor. Berkum’s accompaniment used a wide range of musical textures and relied on creating a background aural atmosphere, rather than reflecting any of the actions on the screen, even such obvious ones as the sound of the watchman’s horn, the striking of a clock or a drunkard stumbling downstairs. Until the last few minutes, the volume was sensibly kept down, making the final moments all the more dramatic.

Thursday 2 November
‘Van Buxtehude tot Bach’
Nederlandse Bachvereniging
Jos van Veldhoven, Leo van Doeselaar
Lutherse Kerk

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The Nederlandse Bachvereniging was founded in 1921 to introduce less romantic renderings of Bach’s St Matthew Passion. They have since become well-known for their All of Bach website, uploading a recording of a Bach work every week. For their Lutherse Kerk concert, they highlighted the importance of the church organ to Bach as well as his influences. They opened with one of Bach’s most dramatic cantata Sinfonias, to Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, with its prominent organ solo part – and organ concerto in all but name. As with the later Sinfonia to Wir müssen durch viel, Leo van Doeselaar, the titular organist of the Martinikerk Schnitger organ, displayed an excellent sense of the rhythmic energy of Bach’s writing as well as a sure grasp of the ornamentation and articulation needed to project the often complex musical lines.

Bach predecessor as Leipzig Cantor was Johann Kuhnau. He is usually overshadowed by Bach, so it was good to hear his Gott sei mir gnädig, the slurred string notes of the opening creating an emotive mood. the five-part string texture adds to the intensity of the piece. It was followed by the Bach’s extraordinary chorale prelude Vater unser in Mimmelreich from the Clavier-Übung III. This is one of the hardest of all Bach’s organ pieces to play – and, perhaps, to listen to. Its dense five-part texture starts in trio sonata form, with rhythmically complex melodic lines, before the chorale theme is introduced as a two-part canon, each hand having to play the theme as well as the flowing trio lines. Leo van Doeselaar’s performance was exemplary, as was his choice of registration, contrasting the Dulciaan and Sexquialter stops.

Bach’s sensuous Vergnügte Ruh followedagain with distinctive organ contributions, hear revealing the tension of the organ’s tempered tuning. Countertenor Alex Potter grasped the emotive depth of the piece beautifully.  Two other Bach Sinfonias opened the second half, before the concluding Nimm von uns Herr by Buxtehude, the Lübeck organist that the young Bach famously walked 200 miles to hear. Based on the Vater unser melody heard earlier, its richly textured orchestration well-controlled by conductor Jos van Veldhoven.

Friday 3 November
Schnitger Field Trip – Noordbroek & Godlinze
Sietze de Vries

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This tour of two of the many Schnitger organs in the vicinity of Groningan was arranged by the festival in conjunction with the Stichting Oude Groninger Kerken. It was led by the distinguished organ improviser Sietze de Vries (organist of the Groningen Martinikerk  and Artistic Director of the Groningen Organ Education Centre, standing in for the indisposed Peter van der Zwaag), who introduced both of the instruments before demonstrating with extraordinarily skilful improvisations broadly in the style of Bach and the earlier North German organ composers, whose music he has clearly taken to his heart. The Noordbroek organ was built by Schnitger in 1696 and worked on by his son Johann Jürgen Schnitger, Hinsz, and Freytag (in 1809) before van Oeckelen moved it away from its Baroque roots in 1855. Over the past 50 years, it has been restored back to its 1809 specification and is now one of the finest examples of the Schnitger school organ style, albeit with about half of the stops being by Hinsz or Freytag.

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After talking about the history of the organ, Sietze de Vries (pictured above) improvised for around 25 minutes, in a range of quasi-Baroque musical styles, exploring the rich colours of the organ (Six of the 24 stops are reeds) and the shimmering Schnitger choruses, ending with a spectacular multi-sectional chorale fantasia on Ein feste Burg. The Romano-Gothic brick-built church includes some fine ceiling murals dating, I would think, from the late 15th century.

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The Pancratius church in Godlinze is a much smaller, but similarly highly decorated church, with a one-manual 1704 Schnitger organ. It originally had two manuals, with an Unterwerk (reflected in the double-decker case front) but was changed to one manual in 1785 by Hinsz. 1919 alterations were removed in a 1985 restoration back to its 1785 specification. The current specification, together with links to its earlier specifications and other details, can be found here.

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After a detailed demonstration of the various stops of the organ, Sietze de Vries improvised a brilliant set of variations on Vater unser in the style generally closer to the Sweelinck-inspired Hamburg organists of the early to mid 17th century. Some of the stops of the organ and an example of the ceiling paintings are pictured below. The tour ended back in the Lutherse Kerk where Bernhardt Edskes, the builder of the new organ, gave a talk on the construction of the new Schnitger organ.

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Orgelprobe: Commissioned by the Dom in Hamburg
Sietze de Vries
Lutherse Kerk

Despite having stood-in to spend all day talking about and playing the organs on the day tour, Sietze de Vries then gave an early evening concert on the new Lutherse Kerk organ. In his 1719 Exemplarische Organisten Probe published in 1731 in his Grosse General-Baß-Schule, Johann Mattheson (the Hamburg diplomat, music theorist, composer and, very nearly, the murderer, but later, friend, of Handel) described the terms and conditions that the Hamburg Cathedral Council set for the audition of prospective applicants for the post of Cathedral organist, where Mattheson was Kantor and a Canon. Candidates had to improvise a sequence of the pieces that they would need for the cathedral services. Mattheson’s account stands alongside the famous 1655 report of Matthias Weckmann’s audition at Hamburg’s St Jacobi church.

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Sietze de Vries recreated that Orgelprobe on the new Schnitger organ, starting with a Prelude and a grand Fugue followed by a 20 minute set of variations on the Advent chorale Nun freut euch, in a style that suggested influences from Bach, Böhm, Walther and Krebs.  He followed this with an improvisation on Purcell’s Evening Hymn with its distinctively English ‘false relations’, reflecting the task of accompaniment a singer. He concluded with a powerful Toccata, opening with a distinctive 17th-century style North German pedal solo, followed by channelling of Buxtehude and Bruhns, before concluding with a chaconne based on the bass of  Purcell’s Evening Hymn – a wonderful, and skilful, combination of disparate musical styles. As an encore, he moved to the small continuo console for a delicate prelude on Nun danket, with some added Purcellian false relations. An excellent demonstration of organ improvisation and playing.

Organ Night with five organists & two organs
Der Aa-kerk & Martinikerk

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The evening event took place in the Aa-Kerk and Martinikerk and featured, as the title suggests, five organists, playing very different short programmes. It started on the 1702 Schnitger organ in Der Aa-kerk, an organ containing much pipework from well after Schnitger’s time. Stephan van de Wijgert played Mendelssohn (Prelude and Fugue in E minor) and Schubert – a clever arrangement of the four-hand piano Fantasie in F minor, D940, with its delightfully melodic opening motif.  Geerten Liefting improvised a Prelude and Fugue and a minimalist interpretation of Vater unser. A street barrel-organ greeted us as we left the Aa-kerk for a walk that Schnitger must have been very familiar with, through the expanse of the Vischmarkt (pictured) and across the Grote Markt to the Martinikerk and the first sight during the festival of the world-famous 1691 Schnitger organ.

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The Martinikerk organ was first built in 1482 by Johan ten Damme (replacing an earlier organ), with advice from the famous humanist scholar Rudolf Agricola, then Groningen’s town clerk. The current instrument still contains pipework from this 1482 organ. The organ was enlarged in Renaissance style in 1542 and further rebuilt by Anthoni Verbeeck in 1627/8, Jan Helman in 1685-90, Arp Schnitger in 1691/2, Frans Caspar Schnitger and Albertus Anthoni Hinsz in 1729/30 and by Hinsz in 1740. Nineteenth and early 20th-century additions have generally been removed in the current organ, restored by Ahrens between 1974/84 back to the 1740 position. It now has three manuals and 53 stops. Schnitger’s work including building the massive pedal towers on either side of the original Gothic, containing a rare example of a 32′ Prestant, while Hinsz later added the Rückpositive.

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Peter van der Zwaag played music from Spain, Italy, France, and England from the later Renaissance and early Baroque period, concluding with a performance of William Byrd’s massive Seconde Grownde that build to an enormous climax on a 16′ plenum with pedal reeds – a sound that Byrd would never have experienced, the English organs of his time being around two-thirds of the size of the smallest of the Martinikerk’s 3 manuals. Wouter Koelewijn played music by Huge Distler, a representative of the rather spiky neo-baroque school of 20th-century organ composition. He concluded with the four-movement Partita on Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. As the clock moved toward 11pm, the final player was Gonny van der Maten, playing Bach, including Schmucke dich and the majestic Praeludium et Fuga in C minor (BWV 546), given a particularly powerful performance on full pleno throughout.

Saturday 4 November
Masterclass with Stef Tuinstra
Martinikerk

Stef Tuinstra founded the Noord-Nederlandse Orgel Academie (NNOA), and arranges many organ activities in the Groningen province. He is organist of the Nieuwe Kerk and Martinikerk in Groningen. This masterclass was given in conjunction with the Prins Claus Conservatorium. The first few student performers played Bruhns and Bach but, as the comments were, not surprisingly, in Dutch I had trouble following Tuinstra’s advice. Helpfully, a Spanish student followed, resulting in an English commentary. Her impressive performance of Bruhn’s large-scale multi-sectional E minor Praeludium was followed by equally impressive comments from Stef Tuinstra on the piece and the performance, starting with the question “Why play without shoes?”. Describing it as a ‘theatre piece’ Tuinstra stressed the varying moods of the piece, ranging from pathos to anger, and encouraged a performance that engaged all the player’s emotions. His impressively detailed accompanying handout mentioned the ‘orchestral’ style of organ performance mentioned amongst others, by Michael Praetorius in 1619. He also noted the importance of thinking like a singer when looking at musical structure and phrases.

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His comments on registration were particularly apposite, for example, suggesting that the expansive first fugue is played on the 8′ Principal stop alone, rather than a fuller, reedy sound, in order to reflect the sadness and suffering inherent in the mood of that section. He advised against using pedal mixtures when the higher overtones would confuse the polyphony of the upper voices, and stressed the need to give the massive 32′ pedal flue pipes time to speak. He also advised again spreading chords, harpsichord style, on the organ.

Lunchtime Concert for organ and baroque violin
Reitze Smits, organ & Mariëtte Holtrop, violin
Lutherse Kerk 

Back at the Lutherse Kerk, a lunchtime concert explored the combination of organ and violin in works by Bach, Bonporti, and Vivaldi. It opened with Bach’s flamboyant early Preludium in G (BWV 568), to which Reitze Smits added spread chords, harpsichord style. There followed four arrangements from cantata arias, including Kommst du nun von Himmel herunter also arranged by Bach as one of the Schubler Chorales. The organ as continuo accompanying instrument was evident in Bonporti’s Invenzio Quarta, a piece I didn’t know. The final piece was an organ solo, Bach’s arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in D (BWV 596), the absence of the specified 32′ pedal stop notwithstanding. The dying sounds of the Finale were accompanied by the sound of a mobile phone.

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Organ and baroque orchestra
Ensemble Cordevento
Erik Bosgraaf, recorder, 
Matthias Havinga, organ
Lutherse Kerk

A mid-afternoon concert combined the organ with the Baroque orchestra Ensemble Cordevento and the recorder player Erik Bosgraaf, with Matthias Havinga playing the organ. The five members of Ensemble Cordevento played with light and delicate textures, although this meant that there were times when the recorder dominated. This was most notable when heard against the organ in an arrangement of Bach’s organ Trio Sonata V, when the notion of the three equal parts was occasionally turned into a flute solo with accompaniment. It had been preceded by Bach’s curious, incomplete, and rarely heard, Pedal Excercitium (BWV 598), hear extended by about 50% by a cadenza.

The highlight of the concert was the first performance of Mixtures, a 16′ long work commissioned by the festival from the South Korean composer Seung-Won Oh, now living in Chicago, but present for this premiere. Dense chord clusters and orchestral sound-worlds, of varying volumes and intensities, were interspersed with recorder recitatives and interventions and cadenza-like passages from the organ in a kaleidoscope of aural colour and texture. Gentler moments of repose balanced the sometimes frenetic activity, the whole creating a very evocative and ethereal sense of otherworldliness and mystery. As with many first performances of new works, it would have been good to have heard the work twice, towards the start and at the end.

Zangavond met Lutherliederen
Tymen Jan Bronda
Lutherse Kerk

During the first part of the evening, members of the Lutherse Kerk joined the organist Tymen Jan Bronda and the church choir to sing a range of Lutheran chorales with the new organ. Historically, this was the principal use for the organ in the Lutheran service, despite the importance of solo organ music in the service, and the enormous repertoire of solo organ pieces that were created.

Pop concert by Orgel Vreten
Der Aa-kerk

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Keen to avoid leaving anybody out of the Festival fun, the Aa-kerk was taken over by the pop group Orgel Vreten. Their performance was built around two Hammond organs and a third keyboard together with percussion, bass guitar and the group’s ‘character’ who played a variety of instruments including an enormous euphonium. They even managed a brief moment on the Aa-kerk’s Schnitger organ, treating it with a great deal more respect than they had shown to their own Hammond organs, who were frequently stood on and climbed over. The enthusiastic audience ranged from aged about 8 upwards and included many people who had been at the more conventional organ events of the week. It is a little out of my usual reviewing remit, so I have no idea how to categorise their music, although I have seen it referred to as ‘space rock’. It all seemed to be their own compositions and was certainly great fun. Rather against my original assumptions, I stayed until the end.

Sunday 5 November
Cantatedienst – Municipal Musical Morning Service 
Ensemble Ars Cantandi, Bremer Barockorkest, Markus Nitt
Organist: Stef Tuinstra
Martinikerk

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The Martinikerk was packed for a special Sunday ecumenical service initiated by the Lutheran Congregation, the United Protestant Church, the Arminian church and the Student Platform for Philosophy and Belief. The cantata during the service was Bach’s Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort (BWV 126), appropriate for the Luther anniversary as he wrote some of the text himself. The German Ensemble Ars Cantandi combined with the Bremer Barockorkest to perform from the back of the church, beneath the Schnitger organ, but using one of the ubiquitous little box chamber organs as continuo rather than the main organ. There was fine singing from tenor Max Ciolek and bass Carsten Krüger (supported by his three young children), both of whom had tricky arias to sing. As well as the main collection, for missionary work, there was a retiring collection for the music, with a suggested donation of €10 per person.

The Schnitger organ was heard to great effect accompanying the singing of the chorales, and in Stef Tuinstra’s impressive improvised chorale preludes. Unlike the English tradition of playing pre-composed four-part harmony for accompanying hymns, the German and Dutch Lutheran tradition is for the organist to be only given the melody, improvising the harmonies below, often varying them for each verse. All but one of the chorale preludes were in the quasi-baroque style, but it was good to hear one that ventured into a more contemporary musical idiom.

Closing Concert
“A present for all townsfolk and festival goers” 

Bernard Foccroulle, organ, & Ensemble Inalto
Martinikerk

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The final concert of the Schnitger Festival 2017 was a free event in the Martinikerk given by the Belgian organist Bernard Foccroulle and the Ensemble Inalto of cornetts and sackbutts, playing from the organ gallery. The programme spanned the 100 years gap between Samuel Scheidt (b1587) & Schein (b1586) and Bach (b1685) with the 50-year interval filled by Buxtehude (b1637). The latter two composers were represented by large-scale organ works – Bach with the Praeludium en Fuge in E flat that opens and closes the Clavier-Übung III (BWV 552), and the Passacaglia, both using the immense power of the full organ throughout. The Martinikerk organ has one of those choruses that you can listen to for hours without tiring of the sound of the mixtures – they coalesce with the principal chorus to produce a magnificently unified sound. Buxtehude’s joyous Toccata in F was given a particularly impressive interpretation, using the different divisions of the organ, and with the reeds dominating in the first fugal section.  The cornetts and sackbutts joined the organ for the 5th verse of Scheidt’s Veni Redemptor Gentium, after the 1st verse had been played as an organ solo. In several of the other pieces, the organ acted as continuo to the five instruments. I was particularly impressed with the playing of Ensemble Inalto. Their performance of the gentle Sonata a 4 by Störl by exquisite.

And so finished the fifth Groningen Schnitger Festival – a special one that leaves the city with its fourth ‘Schnitger’ organ, one specifically suited to the performance and accompaniment of the music of Bach with the resident Luthers Bach Ensemble.

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Versus: The Garnier Organ

Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire

Versus
Henry Fairs
The Garnier Organ, Elgar Concert Hall
University of Birmingham
Regent Records REGCD516. 74’35

This is the first recording of the new Garnier organ in the Elgar Concert Hall of Birmingham University. It is played by the organ’s curator, Henry Fairs. He is Head of Organ Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire and was closely involved with the installation of the Garnier organ. A well-chosen programme demonstrates the organ, and its companion continuo organ, as well as some impressive playing by Fairs. He opens and closes with major Bach works, the better-known opening Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue (BWV 564) given a subtly individual reading that adds interest without approaching the mannerisms of some organists who feel the need to do something different. An example is performing the sprightly fugue on a massive chorus based on a 16′ manual reed. The lesser-known concluding Praeludium in C (BWV 566a), which might originally have been in E major) is given a similarly grand interpretation.
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Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music

Ein neues Lied: Martin Luther and music
Renaissance Singers, Gawain Glenton
St George’s Bloomsbury
29 October 2017

The Renaissance Singers were founded in 1944. They played an important part in the revival of interest in Renaissance sacred polyphony as the early music movement grew and developed. They continue under the musical direction of David Allinson. For this exploration of the music of Martin Luther and the early Lutheran Church, they were directed by Gawain Glenton. The anniversary of the founding of Lutherism was just a few days away from this concert (on 31 October), so it was a timely reminder of theimportance of music to Luther.  Continue reading

Festival d’Ambronay

Festival d’Ambronay
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.

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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.
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Da Camera & Carolyn Sampson

Telemann, Bach, & Scarlatti
Da Camera with Carolyn Sampson
Kings Place. 20 September 2017

I reviewed Da Camera’s very first concert, in March 1999 at Hampstead’s Burgh House, noting that “Emma Murphy is a superb recorder player … she combines outstanding virtuosity with musical intelligence and sensitivity”, and that harpsichordist Steven Devine was (amongst other things) “clearly blessed with enviable technical skills”. In 2001, I commented on their “well-balanced programme, a friendly and informal stage manner, fine musicianship and superb playing” – a comment that they quoted in the programme for this Kings Place concert. In a later review, I praised Susanna Pell for producing a “wide range of tones and textures from her gamba, both in accompanying and in solo pieces”. Since those early days, they have each developed their own independent careers (and, indeed, families), but have now returned to the musical fray with a series of concerts and a new Telemann CD. Continue reading

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik
Innsbruck, 21-23 August 2017

The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music runs annually for about three weeks during August. It was founded in 1976 and since the start has focussed on Baroque opera, in recent years usually performing three each season. Between 1991 and 2009 René Jacobs was the director of the opera programme and, from 1997, the entire festival. Since 2010 the festival has been directed by Alessandro De Marchi, who instigated the International Singing Competition for Baroque Opera Pietro Antonio Cesti, named after Antonio Cesti, a 17th-century Italian singer and composer who served at the Innsbruck court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria.  The focus this year was on the music of Monteverdi, and included a staged performance of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend for three days, so my review is necessarily limited in scope.  Continue reading

BBC Proms: Reformation Day

BBC Proms: Reformation Day
Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
Prom 48: A Patchwork Passion
Prom 49: Bach’s St John Passion
Royal Albert Hall, 20 August 2017

Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
William Whitehead, Robert Quinney, organ

The BBC Proms’ acknowledgement of the anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation came with three concerts on Sunday 20 August, starting with a lunchtime organ recital featuring the premieres of three pieces from The Orgelbüchlein Project played by its founder/director, the organist William Whitehead. The programme opened and closed with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat (from the Clavierübung III, BWV 552), played by Robert Quinney (who also played Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata in A major (Op. 65/3)). It also included the fourth of Schumann’s Fugues on B-A-C-H and two of Bach’s own Orgelbüchlein chorale preludes played by William Whitehead and, just before the final Bach Fugue, Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s ‘Prelude to the Grand Organ Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach’: a duet for both organists. Continue reading

Festival de Saintes

Festival de Saintes
Abbaye aux Dames: la cité musicale, Saintes
14-22 July 2017

The Abbaye aux Dames was founded in 1047 by the Count of Anjou as a Benedictine abbey for women, usually of aristocratic origin. Around 1120, the Abbey church was altered and the spectacularly carved west end facade and belIMG_20170717_094834230.jpgl tower were added. Internally, the Romanesque triple-aisled basilica was altered, rather inelegantly, by inserting two enormous domed cupolas into the original external walls, resulting in a bit of an architectural mess. After two major fires in the 17th century (which destroyed the cupolas), the church was restored, and impressive new convent buildings were added, with cells for 45 nuns. During the Revolution, the Abbey first became a prison (1792), and then a barracks (1808). In the 1920s, the Abbey complex was purchased by the town of Saintes. In the 1970s, restoration of the monastic IMG_20170716_191740421.jpgbuildings (abandoned since the war) was started and, in 1972, an annual Festival of Ancient Music was created, later becoming the Festival de Saintes. In 1988 the Abbey was launched as a cultural centre by President François Mitterrand, and in 2013 it became la cité musicale, housing a Conservatoire of Music and a range of year-round musical activities, including many for young people. The former nun’s cells now sleep visitors and guests of the Festival.
Continue reading

OAE ‘Bach goes to Paris’

‘Bach goes to Paris’
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 28 June 2017

Campra Suite: Les Fêtes Vénetiennes
JCF Fischer Suite no. 7 from Le journal de printemps
Bach Suite no. 4
Rameau Suite: Les Indes Galantes
Bach Suite no. 3

‘Bach goes to Paris’? No, of course he didn’t, but in a way Paris, or at least, France, came to Bach, through the experience of other musicians and of studying scores, notably De Grigny’s Livre d’Orgue, which he copied out by hand. But, if he had have gone to Paris, I wonder what he would have made of Campra’s Les Fêtes Vénetiennes, an early example of the opéra-ballet genre. Much revised and revived after its 1710 opening, it clocked up around 300 performances over the following 50 years. With sections with titles such as the Triumph of Folly over Reason during the Carnival, Serenades and gamblers, and The acrobats of St Mark’s Square, or Cupid the acrobat, the lively series of depictions of carnival time in Paris gave a wonderful introduction to the livelier side of French music of the period. Particularly notable were Stephen Farr’s delightful little harpsichord twiddles during the rests in the Gigue, and Jude Carlton’s inventive percussion including, at one stage, castanets. it ends in a surprisingly elegant Chaconne – an example of French bon gout that was perhaps absent in some of the earlier moments. 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

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

SJSS: Holy Week Festival

Siglo de Oro & New London Singers
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 15 April 2017

WP_20170415_12_49_34_Pro (2).jpgThe St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival (also reviewed here and here) concluded with a vocal workshop and lunchtime concert with Siglo de Oro and an evening concert from the New London Singers. The morning workshop was led by Patrick Allies, director of Siglo de Oro, and focussed on Bach’s motet Jesu meine freude, giving useful insights into the structure, text and musical contents of this most complex piece. Siglo de Oro’s lunchtime concert sandwiched this piece between two shorter meditative pieces by Purcell Hear my Prayer, and Remember not, Lord, our offences, concluding with Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater a 10.  Continue reading

Bach & Fauré

Bach & Fauré
Tenebrae & Aurora Orchestra
St John’s, Smith Square: 
Holy Week Festival. 12 April 2017

For many years now there has been a music festival at St John’s, Smith Square during the run-up to Easter, and similarly at Christmas. The Easter version has been re-branded as the ‘Holy Week Festival’ and is curated by St John’s itself and the choir TenebraeWP_20170415_12_08_45_Pro (2).jpg. It still includes the annual favourite Good Friday afternoon Bach Passion from Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, but has also introduced some other new faces to the Eastertide Smith Square festivities. I was away for several of the events, but did manage to catch three contrasting events, starting with a curious concert by Tenebrae themselves, together with the Aurora Orchestra, both of whom seem to have caught the public imagination in recent years, not least by some impressive publicity. Continue reading

Clare Reformation 500 Project

The Clare Reformation 500 Project
Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Clare Baroque, Graham Ross
St John’s, Smith Square. 30 March 2017

Bach Gott der Herr ist Sonn und SchildEin feste Burg ist unser Gott
Brahms Warum ist das Licht gegeben den Mühseligen?
Mendelssohn Wer nur den lieben Gott laßt walten
Vaughan Williams Lord, thou hast been our refuge

As part of their Clare Reformation 500 Project, the choir and associated period instrument orchestra of Clare College, Cambridge, gave a concert of music inspired by the musical legacy of Martin Luther’s 1517 Reformation. It was the culmination of the Lent Term series of Sunday services in the College chapel, each featuring a liturgical performance of a Bach cantata, using a variety of instrumental groups to accompany them. On this occasion they used Clare Baroque which, despite its name, was not a student orchestra but was made up of many of the ‘usual suspects’ from London’s early music performers, led by the ex-Clare violinist (and Director of Performance in the University Faculty of Music) Margaret Faultless. Continue reading

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works – Volume 3

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works
Volume 3 – Fantasias & Fugues
Ed. Pieter Dirksen
Breitkopf & Härtel 2016.
Edition Breitkopf EB8803. ISMN: 979-0-004-18374-8
159pp + CD-ROM

Bach Orgelwerke IIIThe new 10 volume Breitkopf & Härtel critical edition of Bach’s organ music is arriving in dribs and drabs. I reviewed volume 8 here last July, and have now been sent Volume 3. It contains all the pieces entitled ‘Fantasia’ together with isolated Fugues. In that context, it is worth stressing that there are no surviving authorized and complete Fantasia and Fugue pairs, not even the well-known Fantasia & Fugue in G minor (BWV 542). Indeed, many of the popular Preludes and Fugues were also put together by later editors, rather than by Bach.

Peter Dirksen’s detailed introductory notes (in German and English), include a discussion of discussion the historic background to the Continue reading

Bach: St Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, James Gilchrist, Kati Debretzeni,John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG725. 2CDs. 2h40′

Some 28 years after their famed 1988 Archiv recording (made under studio conditions in Snape Maltings), the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists return to the St. Matthew Passion. This extraordinary piece can evoke enormous emotional responses, regardless of the religious views of the listener. I vividly remember taking my young daughter to a performance of their 1988 Matthew, sitting in the front row, and watching the bass player just a few yards away gently shedding tears as she played. For this version, on their own label, they opt for a live recording, made in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as the culmination of a six-month tour.  Continue reading

AAM: Bach and the Italian Concerto

Bach and the Italian Concerto
Academy of Ancient Music
Milton Court Concert Hall, 15 February 2017

Bach: Concerto for oboe d’amore in D major
Vivaldi: Concerto for violin in G minor
Albinoni: Concerto for oboe in D minor
Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in A minor
Bach: Italian Concerto
A Marcello: Concerto for oboe in D minor

Groups like the Academy of Ancient Music often perform with soloists drawn from their own ranks, with understandably excellent results. This was one such occasion, when four of the AAM’s regular orchestral players stepped into the soloist limelight. The focus was on the influence of Italian music on Bach, with a sub-plot of the Italian music that Bach transcribed for harpsichord organ. Indeed Alistair Ross, the AAM’s principal keyboard continuo player, suggested during the pre-concert talk that he could perform the entire concert programme on his own on organ and harpsichord.

The instrumental focus of the concert was on the oboe and oboe d’amore, played by Frank de Bruine. He opened with the latter instrument in Bach’s Concerto for oboe d’amore in D, the husky tone of the oboe d’amore (pitched lower than the normal baroque oboe) revealing exactly why it was one of Bach’s favourite instruments. Continue reading

EUBO: Heaven’s Sweetness

Heaven’s Sweetness
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) & Singers of Barock Vokal
Alfredo Bernardini, director & oboe
St John’s, Smith Sq. 27 January 2017

Bach 
Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D BWV 1069a (original version); 
Cantata: Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen BWV 123; 
Cantata: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt BWV 151;
Cantata: Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut BWV 117.

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage and indoorPart of the 2015 expansion of the European Union Baroque Orchestra’s activities has been the EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy (EMBA), a cooperative project aimed at finding new and creative ways of addressing the unequal provision of baroque music education and performance across the European Union. The touring orchestra (EUBO) still forms the core activity of the EMBA, reforming each year with a new intake of talented young period instrumentalists chosen from educational auditions held each spring. For more than 30 years EUBO has provided specialist training and experience, and has encouraged and supported many of the top period instrument specialists around today. One such is the distinguished oboist and director Alfredo Bernardini, a member of the very first EUBO in 1985 and the director of this EUBO tour.

The current EUBO incarnation represents 14 different EU countries. They have been performing together since last July, and last performed in London in November 2016 (reviewed here) with a programme based on Handel and his London contemporaries. For this concert they focussed on Bach, performing three of the cantatas that he wrote for Leipzig festivals along with one of his most complex Orchestral Suites, here performed in the rarely heard original version, lacking the trumpets and timpani of the later version. Continue reading

Bach Through Time

‘Cello Unwrapped’ – Bach Through Time
Christophe Coin, cello & piccolo cello

Kings Place. 11 January 2017

Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercar No. 3 in D
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Dall’Abaco: Capriccio No. 8 in G; Capriccio No. 6 in E minor (collage)
Bernhard Romberg: Praeludium in C minor
Félix Battanchon: Pièce caractéristique (Enterrement de Carnaval c1850)
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 6 in D, BWV 1012 (performed on cello piccolo)

Following on from last years’ Baroque Unwrapped series of concerts, the latest in the Kings Place ‘Unwrapped’ series is devoted to the cello (see here). Included within that series are threWP_20170111_21_41_56_Pro.jpge concerts under the title of Bach Through Time, the first of which featured Christophe Coin playing solo cello – or, in this case, two solo cellos with three different bows. He opened with one of the very first compositions for solo cello, the third of Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercars, a lively piece in the trumpet key of D major which included many triad fanfare motifs. This Gabrielli (no relation) was part of the rich musical foundation of the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna and also worked for the d’Este family in Moderna. Continue reading

Bach: B Minor Mass

Bach: B Minor Mass
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stephen Layton
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2016

The annual St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival is now in its 31st year, the last 20 of which have been curated by Stephen Layton, conductor of Polyphony, who traditionally give the final concert, and Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge whose choir gives the penultimate concert of the series. This year’s penultimate concert was a re-run of last year’s, reviewed here. I will not repeat the comments I made about last year’s concert, so it is worth reading that review before this one.

This year the Trinity College choir was 46-strong, two up from last year, with 16 additional alumni singers bought in to reinforce the 30-strong current student choir. Several of the alumni singers have been making their way in the post-university musical world, with at least two receiving honorable mentions on this website. This year a mezzo-soprano was added to the line up, alongside the countertenor  Iestyn Davies. Mezzo Helen Charlston is one of the alumni I have already spotted as a singer of real promise and, although she only had a brief moment front stage (at the start, in the duet Christe), she again demonstrated a excellent voice.

Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: Solomon’s Knot

Spitalfields Music: Solomon’s Knot
Bach B minor Mass
Shoreditch Town Hall. 11 December 2016

The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival concluded in spectacular style with the welcome return of Solomon’s Knot, a group that had impressed previous Spitalfields audiences – and have also impressed me in the past with their innovative approach to music performance. Their full title is the Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective, a name that sums up their approach. Founded in 2008, they perform with small forces, singing from memory, with no conductor and with a relaxed stage presence, helped by an informal dress code. For this Bach B minor Mass, they transfixed the audience with an extraordinarily powerful performance.

They used Joshua Rifkin’s edition of the piece, and his proposal that the work was intended to be sung as an ensemble piece for eight one to a part solo singers. The need for two extra singers for the concluding section led to Solomon’s Know using the 10 singers throughout to reinforce the choruses. The 20-strong orchestra, led by violinist James Toll, completed the well-balanced line-up of musicians. The fact that the singers do not use scores directly involves the audience in the music, as the singers eyes scan the audience and as they visibly respond to the music they are singing. Continue reading

Bach: transcriptions for Viola da Gamba

J S Bach: transcriptions for Viola da Gamba
Susanne Heinrich
dagamba100. 79’30

Partia 3 in E Major (D Major), BWV1006; Sonata 2 in a minor, BWV 1003; Partia 2 in d minor, BWV1004

Js Bach Transcriptions for Viola Da GambaAlthough this CD was released in 2012, it has only just emerged from an embarrassing pile of CDs, still in their wrappers, that I found in one of my rare tidy-ups. I have missed four years of listening to some outstanding playing from Susanne Heinrich. As her own very personal programme note explains, this is something of a labour of love. A youthful player of the violin, Susanne Heinrich attempted the Bach solo violin works, but never with much success. Her viola da gamba playing was already beginning to take over from the violin, and she lamented the fact that Bach left so little music for the viol. But the draw towards his solo violin works never left her, leading to a much later attempt to play them on the gamba – very far from an easy thing to do.

That led to a considerable amount of work in trying to work out how they could be played successfully on the gamba, raising questions as to Continue reading

London Bach Society’s Bachfest 2016

Bachfest 2016
London Bach Society 70th anniversary

St John’s, Smith Square & St George, Hanover Square. 4-8 November 2016

Image result for bachThe London Bach Society was founded 70 years ago by Dr Paul Steinitz under the rather unambitious title of the ‘South London Bach Society’, but soon lost the ‘South’ part of the name. 1946 might not seem to be the ideal time to concentrate on things musical (and, indeed, devoted to a German composer), but they were not alone: The Arts Council and BBC Third Programme were launched around then, as were a number of orchestras. From the start, the focus of the LBS was to ‘get back to Bach in its original form’ at a time when Bach performance was very far from what we could no consider as being in any way ‘authentic’ with enormous choirs and orchestras, and a funereal approach to tempo and romantic notions of instrumentation, phrasing and articulation. To this end, the Steinitz Bach Players was founded, in 1968, bringing together a small group of professional musicians interested in period performance techniques on period instruments.

Two years after Paul Steinitz’s death in 1988, his widow founded an annual Bach festival, initially known as the London Bach Festival, but now rebadged as the London Bach Society’s Bachfest. It celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. This year’s 70th anniversary Bachfest featured three concerts and an event for the Society’s 18-30 Bach Club. Continue reading

James Gilchrist Directs: Bach and Purcell

James Gilchrist Directs: Bach and Purcell
Academy of Ancient Music
James Gilchrist, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Rachel Brown
Milton Court, 19 October 2016

The Academy of Ancient Music’s 2016-17 London and Cambridge concert series features two occasions when guest directors are being invited to plan programmes and direct the orchestra. The first of these was with the tenor, James Gilchrist. Renowned as a Bach performer (most notably in the role of Evangelist in the Passions) Gilchrist has been a regular soloist with the AAM. After a musical grounding as a boy chorister at New College, Oxford and a choral scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, Gilchrist helped to pay his way through the rest of his medical training by singing in professional choirs such as The Sixteen, Tallis scholars and Cardinall’s Musick. He moved from his earlier career as a doctor to become a full-time musician twenty years ago.

On this occasion, the word ‘curator’ rather than ‘director’ is more appropriate. Gilchrist selected the vocal works from Purcell and the two Bach cantatas, handing over to the AAM’s leader, violinist Pavlo Beznosiuk, to select Continue reading

Dynamisch: the ‘Wind Organ’

Dynamisch
Die Orgeln der Stadtkirche Biel
Pascale Van Coppenolle
Tulip Records. Ture 201521. 2CDs 75’03+ 64’24

CD1. ‘From Hexachord to Chromatiscism’: Scheidt, Byrd, Frescobaldi, Bull, Sweelinck, Bach, Liszt
CD2. ‘Wind organ’ improvisations: Whistle for a While (Hans Koch, bass clarinet), Clusterizing (organ solo), Zebra (Jonas Kocher, accordion), Fusion (Hannah E. Hänni, voice), Sprinkling (Luke Wilkins, violin).

The city of Biel (official known as Biel/Bienne) in the Swiss canton of Berne lies on the boundary of the German and French speaking areas of Switzerland, hence its bilingual name. Rather appropriately, its town church contains two organs which also speak in two (or more) languages, from ancient to (very) modern, as represented on this fascinating double CD.

The first CD is based on the use by composers of the Hexachord, the first six notes of the major scale, usually written as Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la. The first three pieces (Scheidt, Byrd, and Frescobaldi) are played on a modern (Metzler, 1994) version of the late Gothic organ of 1517 that briefly survived in the church until the Reformation authorities dismantled it just 10 years later. It has two manuals with pull-down pedals. The compass of the two manuals is the usual Gothic/Renaissance one of C-a” and F-a”, Continue reading

BBC Prom 60: Bach & Bruckner

BBC Prom 60: Bach & Bruckner
Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester, Philippe Jordan
Royal Albert Hall, 30 August 2016

Bach: Cantata No 82, Ich habe genug; Bruckner: Symphony No 9 in D minor

Such was the power and influence of the period instrument movement that, for several decades, mixed period concerts like just didn’t happen. As the mainstream modern instrument orchestras become more knowledgeable and confident in their ability to play the earlier repertoire, such concerts are less rare nowadays, but this was still a particularly bold pairing of Bach’s moving meditation on death Ich habe genug, with Bruckner’s rather grander final symphony, generally assumed to be his own contemplation on death.

Bruckner dedicated his 9th Symphony to ‘the dear Lord God’. It would appear that the Lord God wasn’t playing ball, as Bruckner died while still composing the massive work, leaving only sketches of the final, fourth, movement. God also seemed to be attending to other things after Bruckner’s death, as Continue reading

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works – Volume 8

JS Bach: Complete Organ Works – Volume 8
Organ Chorales of the Leipzig Manuscript
Ed. Jean-Claude Zehnder
Breitkopf & Härtel 2015
Edition Breitkopf EB8808
184pp + CD

Editions of Bach’s organ works are something of a minefield, even when there are clear autograph scores available. In many cases that is not the case, so the role of the editor and the availability and accuracy of available sources becomes an important consideration. Of all the publishers to be involved in Bach, Breitkopf & Härtel are perhaps the most appropriate. Founded in Leipzig in 1719  four years before Bach took up his post there, they were the first to publish the complete works of Bach, between 1851 and 1900 for the Bach-Gesellschaft. Unfortunately, at the moment, I only have access to one volume of their latest complete Bach Organ Works, so cannot comment on the 10 volume set as a whole.

The chorales from the Leipzig Manuscript are known by a variety of names, one of which is the ‘Eighteen Chorales’. This is misleading, not least because there are arguably either 15, 17 or 18 chorales in the collection. The first 13 Continue reading

Leipzig Bachfest 2016

Leipzig Bachfest 2016
‘Secrets of Harmony’
June 10-19 2016

Under the title of ‘Secrets of Harmony’, this year’s Leipzig Bachfest featured 114 events and welcomed visitors from 35 countries. Alongside the mainstream concerts were b@ch for us! events for young people and BACHmosphere concerts in venues like the Markt and the grand Hauptbahnhof. For many years now I have been able to review the whole of the Leipzig Bachfest but unfortunately, this year, my time in Leipzig was limited to just a few days. So I missed most of the opening weekend and the final few days.

Sunday 12 June

My first event was the German-French Choir Academy, the Continue reading

Varietas: Jean-Christophe Dijoux

Varietas
Jean-Christophe Dijoux, harpsichord
Geniun GEN 16420. 81’31

Works by Handel, Buxtehude, Böhm, JS and CPE Bach, Mattheson, and Telemann

Jean-Christophe Dijoux was the winner of the harpsichord category of the 2014 Leipzig International Bach Competition, and this CD stems from that success.  Born in Réunion, Dijoux studied in Paris, Freiburg and Basel, spent a year touring with the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO), and won awards for continuo playing at the 2013 International Telemann Competition. Using two harpsichords (built by Matthias Kramer of Berlin after 1701 and 1754 originals) and four different temperaments, he explores music with a connection to Hamburg. Both instruments have 16’ stops, adding an impressive gravitas to the sound.

Improvisation is at the heart of music of this period, and very clearly also of Dijoux’s own playing style. That is evident from Continue reading