York Early Music Festival

York Early Music Festival
Innovation: the Shock of the New!
10-12 July

My principal reason for going to York was to review the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition which took place over the last three days of the annual York Early Music Festival. The Festival lasted from 5 to 13 July and was given under the banner of Innovation: the Shock of the New! taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci. Alongside talks and community events were a range of concerts, mostly from York-connected and UK ensembles, but with welcome continental visitors including Concerto de Margherita, one of the EEEmerging groups, fortepianist Andreas Staier, the Italian/Jewish Ensemble Lucidarium, and the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis. I was able to attend the last four of the Festival concerts, together with the three days of the Competition.

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Academy of Ancient Music: Dido and Aeneas

Dido and Aeneas
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr, Thomas Guthrie
The Barbican, 2 October 2018

For anybody who was not already familiar with the story of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, the Academy of Ancient Music’s semi-staged performance (directed by Thomas Guthrie) at The Barbican opened with something of a plot-spoiler. The first half was a 40-minute exploration of the funeral rites of the dead Dido, albeit a couple of hours or more before she was ‘laid in earth’. Actually, laid in earth she wasn’t, instead lying on a funeral catafalque over which Belinda, Aeneas and assorted mourners (the AAM chorus, who opened the show with some rhythmic drum bashing) acted out their reaction to her death as they remembered her. And when I write ‘she’ in fact it was a half-size puppet of the upper half of Dido who represented her throughout the evening. The full panoply of puppets came to the fore in the second half performance of Dido and Aeneas itself where the entire cast of soloists and chorus sported puppets – torsos for Dido and Aeneas, heads and gauze cloths for the rest. Continue reading

Music in a Cold Climate

Music in a Cold Climate: Sounds of Hansa Europe
In Echo, Gawain Glenton (director)
Delphian DCD34206. 67’32

In Echo is a new period instrument group, directed by the cornettist Gawain Glenton. Their core instrumental line-up of cornetto, violin, sackbut (doubling violin), bass viol and keyboards has been expanded for this their debut recording by an additional violin/viola, bass viol and, in one piece, a violone. Their programme retraces the route of musicians active in the Hanseatic League (Hansa) during its heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. The league was a trading partnership encompassing several countries, from Tallinn to London via the Germanic free cities of Lübeck, Hamburg, and Bremen and similar ports in Holland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The CD programme notes mention that the represented composers “each looked beyond their own shores and toward a sense of shared European culture and understanding” – a timely reminder today of the importance of freedom of travel for musicians. For this recording, In Echo also commissioned a new composition to complement the early pieces – Andrew Keeling’s Northern Soul. Continue reading

AAM: Italy in England

Italy in England: When Handel met Corelli
Academy of Ancient Music, Bojan Čičić, Frank de Bruine,
Milton Court. 19 October 2017

Corelli Concerto Grosso in D major Op. 6 No. 4
Handel Concerto for Oboe No. 3 in G minor
Geminiani Concerto Grosso Op. 5 No. 3 (after Corelli)
GB Sammartini Sinfonia in G major
Avison Concerto Grosso in D minor No 3 ‘The garden of harmony’ (after Scarlatti)
G Sammartini Concerto for Oboe in E flat major
Handel Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 5

Aided by some excellent programme notes by Lindsay Kemp, we were led gently through an exploration of the influence of Italian musicians, notably Corelli, on performers and composers in England during the 18th century, many of whom were themselves, immigrants. The opening Corelli Concerto Grosso demonstrated the influence of the concerto grosso form. The opening Adagio is written in the score as nine simple chords, but Bojan Čičić’s beautifully elegant violin flourishes turned it into a complete musical experience and demonstrated the importance of ornamentation in music of this period. Directing the Academy of Ancient Music from the leader’s position Čičić demonstrated his extraordinary musicianship, the delicacy of his violin tone always blending with the orchestral timbre, even when in a clear solo role – a very welcome change from violinist directors whose sound dominated their companions. As a director, his sense of timing and the cooperative way he worked with his companions were an inspiration. An example was the timing of the final ‘that’s it folks’ cadence of the opening Concerto grosso – a lovely moment after a frenetic movement where all the players seemed to be bowing as fast as they possibly could.  Continue reading

Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6

Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34194. 63’46

For a British musician, now is a very good time to be reminded of the extraordinary contribution that immigrant musicians have made to our musical history, from at least the early 1500s. This CD reflects that in at least two ways. Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was born in Liverno in 1694. Although supposition that he studied with Corelli seems ill-founded, he certainly absorbed and developed Corelli’s style. He moved to England in, or just before 1719, possibly at the invitation of John Manners (then Marquess of Granby, and soon to become the 3rd Duke of Rutland), who was to be his only known patron in England. Almost immediately on his arrival Carbonelli became leader of the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra, a post which also involved performing concertos and sonatas. In 1735, like many of his fellow Italian immigrant musicians, he anglicised his name, in his case to John Stephen Carbonell. 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

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

Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo. 1621

Dario Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo 1621
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
AAM Records AAM005. 68’39

Sonatas 1-12: for two violins; violin and cornetto; violin and violetta; violin and trombone; cornetto and violetta; violin and dulcian; cornetto, violin and dulcian; two violins and dulcian; two violins and trombone.

AAM005 Castello

Very little is known about Dario Castello. His birth and death dates are unknown, but are possibly something like 1590-1660. His two volumes of Sonate concertate were published in Venice in 1621 and 1629. The prefaces of his two volumes suggest that he was on the musical staff of San Marco under Monteverdi, and also leader of a group of piffari, playing cornetto or dulcianAlthough Castello was a common name in Venice, Dario wasn’t, so was probably a pseudonym. Records suggest that there were three Venetian Castello instrumentalists, one of whom seems to be Dario’s son.

His two volumes of Sonate concertate were immensely popular at the time, and remain so today. The first book consists of 12 Sonatas for two or three solo instruments and continuo. The second set of Sonatas range from one to four solo instruments. They are often heard today played by trio sonata groups, with two violins and continuo. But this Academy of Ancient Music recording of the complete 1621 Libro Primo introduces the wide range of instruments that Castello specified in his score, with the addition of a cornetto, violetta (here interpreted as basso violetta da brazzo, an instrument an octave lower than a violin), dulcian and trombone to the two violins.   Continue reading

European Union Baroque Orchestra: Handel etc.

Handel and his London Colleagues
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, director, Jan Van Hoecke, recorder
Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival
St Margaret’s, Lee Terrace, Blackheath. 22 November 2016

Galliard: Dances from Pan & Syrinx;  Handel: Concerto Grosso Op 6/2;  Babell: Recorder Concerto Op 3/1; Handel: Ballet music from Alcina; Sammartini: Recorder Concerto in F
Geminiani; Concerto Grosso Op 3/2; Handel: Water Music Suite No 3.

For most of my reviewing career, one of the musical highlights has been the visit of the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) to the UK. This extraordinary orchestra was founded in the UK in 1985, during European Music Year and the anniversaries of Bach, Handel and Scarlatti. Over the intervening 30 years or so, through their concerts and recordings, they have carved out an enviable reputation as an exciting orchestra whose professional and musical standards are always of the very highest. Many people listening to a EUBO concert for the first time are amazed to find out their unusual story. Not only is the orchestra made up of young post-graduate instrumentalists, broadly around the mid-20s age range, but every year the entire orchestra is disbanded, to be reformed the following year after a round of auditions.

Eubo Blackheath 2.jpg

Around 100 musicians attend one of two four-day residential training courses. All attendees gain from specialist training in their instrument as well as experience of playing in small groups and as an orchestra. From these courses, Continue reading

Iford Arts: Agrippina

Although perhaps not quite reaching the social cachet of Glyndebourne or Garsington, the opera season at Iford Manor is always a delight, both for the setting and the standard of the music. A few miles south-east of Bath, the manor house is surrounded by the famous Peto garden, with an Italian cloister that is turned into a delightfully intimate opera house for the season. Unlike their companion’s ‘posh frocks and picnic’ focussed events, the dress code is ‘smart casual’ and picnicking opportunities come before, rather than during the opera, with a welcome coffee and biscuits filling the 20 minute interval. All this encourages a welcome focus on the music, rather than the surrounding social razzmatazz.

WP_20150801_18_17_59_ProThis year’s early music opera was Handel’s wonderful Agrippina, one of his most approachable operas despite, or perhaps because of, having been written when Handel was around 24, at the end of his enormously productive three years in Italy. This period produced some of his finest music, as reflected in the fact that Agrippina borrows extensively from Handel’s previous works – and, in turn, many extracts were later borrowed for later works. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Four Seasons & String Concerti – European Union Baroque Orchestra

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.

Andrew Benson-Wilson
First published in Early Music Review, December 2014

VivaldiCD713

The Baroque Trumpet  

As if to counter the normal accusation that trumpeters sidle on stage towards the end of the evening to take the bulk of the applause for their brief, but usually spectacular, contribution (to the chagrin of the violinists and continuo players who have laboured away all evening for a great deal less recognition), the Academy of Ancient Music devoted a whole evening to music for trumpets (Milton Court, 18 Feb).   It turned out to be a curious affair, starting with the (unusually) far from note perfect little opening fanfare from the evening’s director, David Blackadder.  A suite of three Bach Cantata Sinfonia’s followed (from cantatas 29, 150 & 249), my principal gripe being that Alistair Ross, the organ soloist in the opening Sinfonia, was not acknowledged as such in the programme.  A related gripe was that the weedy little box organ was more-or-less inaudible above the over-strong string playing, a question of balance that should have been sorted out in rehearsal or at the previous day’s concert in Cambridge.  It is a major failing of most Bach performances (not just in the UK) that the sound of the organ is not heard as it would have been in Bach’s day, when the organ accompaniment would usually have been a full-scale church, rather than tiny continuo, organ.  The evening continued with a range of music for up to three trumpets (played by David Blackadder, Phillip Bainbridge and Robert Vanryne) by the likes of Biber, Corelli, Vivaldi, and Telemann, with the Bach Concerto for two violins thrown in for balance, the latter played by Bojan Čičić and Rebecca Livermore.  The trumpet focus seemed to be on the spectacular, rather than the melodic, which was a shame as one of Blackadder’s greatest achievements is often in the gently melodic moments that the baroque trumpet can excel in.  Overall, the programme didn’t really hang together as a musical unity.  Perhaps trumpeters are better off wandering in towards the end?

[https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/03/30/the-baroque-trumpet/]