Hymne à la Vierge

Hymne à la Vierge
A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste. Music of the French Baroque – 2

Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment, Eamonn Dougan
Kings Place, 26 November 2016

Charpentier: Ave Regina H. 45, Litanies a la Vierge H. 90, Pro omnibus festis BVM H.333, Pulchra es a3 H.52, Regina Caeli H.46, Alma Redemptoris H.44, Litanies a la Vierge H.83;
F. Couperin: Concerto Royale No. 1
Monsieur de Saint-Colombe: Les Pleurs;
Marin Marais: Pieces de viole, Livre III: Suite No. 7 in G, Allemande le Magnifique
Robert de Visée: Prélude, Allemande, Les Sylvains de Mr Couprin, par Mr de Viseé

As the title suggested, this concert focussed on vocal music for Marian devotion, and in particular, that written by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. There is an unproven suggestion that he travelled to Rome to study painting, although he certainly built the foundations of his future musical career whilst studying with Carissimi. On his return, he joined the household of Marie of Lorraine, the Duchess of Guise in the privileged role of house composer. The musical bond between the Duchess and Charpentier was clearly strong, not least in their mutual admiration for Italian music and in devotion to the Virgin Mary. For around 17 years, until Marie’s death, Charpentier wrote for the musicians of her household, producing some of the most beautiful music from the whole French Baroque era, most of it in praise of the BVM. He later moved to posts at the Jesuit St Paul-St Louis and eventually to the Royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle.

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Le coucher du soleil

Le coucher du soleil
A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste. Music of the French Baroque – 1
Instruments of Time and Truth, Edward Higginbottom, Robyn Allegra Parton
Kings Place, 25 November 2016

F Couperin: Sonate: La Pucelle, Première Leçon de Ténèbres, L’apothéose de Corelli;
Jacquet de La Guerre: Pièces de clavecin
Clérambault: Cantate Abraham
Leclair: Violin Sonata in C Major, Op 2/3
Mondonville: Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon: In decachordo psalterio, Regina terrae, Benefac Domine;
Rameau: Deuxième concert from Pièces de clavecin en Concert

The Kings Place year-long ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series of concerts drew close to its end with a ‘A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste’, devoted to music of the French Baroque in a period where bon gout was the watchword. The concert by the Oxford based Instruments of Time and Truth, directed by Edward Higginbottom (an acknowledged expert on French music) looked at the increasing influence of Italian music after the rather musically insular period of the reign of the Sun King.

The concert opened and closed with François Couperin. His first trio sonata, La Pucelle (c1692), was written under an Italian pseudonym. His concluding L’apothéose de Corelli, was his more open attempt to show how the disparate Italian and French styles could, and should, be combined. The programme note quoted several comments from the time expressing the differences between the styles, including a reference to a lady of the Court of Louis XIV fainting with delight or terror at hearing an Italian inspired violinist playing his ‘rapid passages’. Louis XIV’s response to such Italian virtuosity was to invite a simple melody from a French violinist with the comments that ‘That is my taste’.

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The Concerto in England: Handel & contemporaries

The Concerto in England: Handel & contemporaries
Avison Ensemble
Kings Place. 30 September 2016

Concertos by Avison, Garth, Handel, Herschel and Stanley.

As part of the Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season, the Newcastle-based Avison Ensemble explored the world of the 18th century concerto, and the equally interesting world of English provincial musical life. Charles Avison (pictured) was a Newcastle born organist and composer who absorbed the musical style of Geminiani and Scarlatti during a short period in London before being enticed back to Newcastle with the promise of prestigious organist post complete with a new organ. He made a handsome living through teaching and arranging subscription concerts. He was also a fierce reviewer of other composers, including Handel.

Avison’s 1758 Concerto Grosso in D (Op6/9) was an excellent example of the rather conservative type of piece that he wrote for the Newcastle Music Society. A rather bucolic opening reminiscent of hunting horns over a drone Continue reading

Fretwork: Passacaille

Kings Place, 12 February 2016

JS Bach Piece d’Orgue, Contrapunctus 7, Passacaglia; Purcell: Chaconny; Charpentier: Concert pour les violes; Marini Passacalio; Legrenzi Sonata Sesta, Sonata Quinta; Forqueray: Pieces a trois violes; Handel: Passacaille.

Reiko Ichise

The viol consort repertoire took a long time to lie down and die. From its prime in the early years of the 17th century, its decline took different forms in different countries. Most countries retained the bass viol as a continuo instrument, with France (and, to a certain extent, Germany) developing a repertoire for solo bass viol. Italy had long since concentrated on the violin rather than the viol family. In England it was Purcell who briefly rescued the viol consort from its death throes with his remarkable late-flowering Fantasias c1680. But there were also other late-flowerings in France and Italy from the likes of Charpentier, Forqueray and Legrenzi.

In their Kings Place concert, the viol consort Fretwork explored some of these late examples of viol consort music in their programme ‘Passacaille’, the concert title giving a clue as to the nature of several of the pieces. They also ‘borrowed’ the music of Bach and Handel to add another theme their programme. They opened with Bach and a transcription of the central part of his Pièce d’Orgue (Fantasia in G minor: BWV572) Continue reading

A New Song: Bach and the German Baroque

A New Song: Bach and the German Baroque
Oxford Baroque
Kings Place, 11 February 2016

JS Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein nein neues Lied (BWV 225), Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230), Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227); J Ludwig Bach: Das ist meine Freude; Schütz Singet dem Herr ein neues Lied (SWV 35), and pieces by Gabrieli, Calvisius, Johann Walther, Hassler, Erbach, Roth, Handl.

The Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series continued with a fascinating concert by Oxford Baroque exploring the rich history of the German motet, generally focussing on the late Renaissance, but with three of Bach’s motets and one by his second cousin and near contemporary, Johann Ludwig Bach. As is so often the case with programmes like this, the sheer power and musical conviction of JS Bach’s motets put all the other composers into the shade, but I guess the audience would have been smaller if JS Bach wasn’t represented.

As David Lee pointed out in his programme note, writers often assume that Bach’s motets are an essay in an outdated form, rather like Purcell’s Fantasias for the viols. But they are in fact a continuation of an important Lutheran tradition. Described (by JG Walther, in 1732) as a “composition on a biblical text, to be sung with only continuo instruments, richly ornamented with fugues and imitations”, they reflect Luther’s insistence on the importance of music as “the greatest treasure in the world”.

WP_20160211_21_22_46_Pro.jpgA simple chorale-like setting of Ein neues Lied wir heben an by Johann Walther (1496-1570) was segued into Schütz’s sumptuous 8-part setting of Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, the voices swinging from left to right in the Italian polychoral tradition. It was noticeable how Schütz used longer melismas for the passage referring to the joyful noise of the harp, trumpets and cornets. The one non-German composer was Giovanni Gabrieli, with his gentle double-choir O Domine Jesu Christe, here using high-low and well as left-right contrasts. Christian Erbach is a composer that deserves far more exposure than he usually gets. He was represented here by his Domine, Dominus noster, the rhythmic complexity and complex inner movement marking out a composer of distinction. The slightly later Martin Roth also impressed with his Allein zu dir, with its contrasting chorale-like sections and bouncy left-right altercations. However I found the lengthy organ introduction that preceded it rather curious; not least because of the harpsichord-like rapidly spread chords.

Johann Ludwig Bach’s Das ist meine Freude was an attractive piece in a later idiom, the repeated opening phrase being a notable feature throughout. Jacob Handl’s a capella Ecce Quomodo moritur Justus was a gentle introduction to the second half, and was followed by the equally early motet by Sethus Calvisius, a composer unknown to me, and I suspect many others. He was a predecessor of Bach’s as Cantor of the Leipzig Thomasschule, and Bach purchased copies of his music when he was in Leipzig.  Unser leben währet siezig Jahr slipped in and out of triple rhythms and also contrasted faster and slower sections.

After a further two JS Bach motets, Oxford Baroque finished with a gentle Gute Nacht encore. The eight singers occasionally revealed what was possibly limited rehearsal time, and I found the vibrato of the two otherwise impressive sopranos, although mild by some standards, a little too prominent for my tastes. But otherwise they all sang with a commendable sense of style, conviction and occasional gusto. It was refreshing to see a choir singing without an obvious director, any needed coordination coming from within the group. They were accompanied by a viola da gamba, violone, and organ. It was good to be able to actually hear the organ during the Bach motets.

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
Choir and Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Robert Howarth
Kings Place, 15 January 2016

Music by Monteverdi, Grandi, and Cavalli

The 2016 Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season will include some 45 concerts in a variety of formats. Opening the season in grand style were the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment in a spectacular programme of music from the very start of the Baroque era by Monteverdi, Grandi and Cavalli. “This is not the 1610 Vespers” warned conductor Robert Howarth at the start. Although retaining the structure of a Vespers service, the music was drawn from Monteverdi’s 1640/41 Selva morale e spirituale and the posthumous Messa e salmi of 1650.

The Vespers opened with the traditional Deus and Response, in the jubilant fanfare-like version written by Alessandro Grandi. Continue reading