Il Santissimo Natale
The English Concert & Choir, Laurence Cummings
St John’s, Smith Square, 12 December 2018
The 33rd St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival continued with a very welcome first-half performance (by The English Concert and Choir, directed by Laurence Cummings) of Alessandro Scarlatti’s Missa per il Santíssimo Natale. Scarlatti is usually overlooked in comparison with other composers, both in his many operas and his few compositions for the church. His il Santíssimo Natal Mass was composed in 1707, during Scarlatti’s brief time as maestro di cappella at the Basilica of S Maria Maggiore in Rome. The two jubilant Kyries contrasted with a reflective central Christe. The gentle mood continued into the opening of the Gloria, before the bouncy rhythms returned. As in the later parts of the Mass, frequent changes of mood were a compositional feature, dissolving from one to the other with delightful ease, helped by some well-judged directed from conductor Laurence Cummings. The final Agnus sequence is a gently expansive movement, providing a suitably reflective conclusion to an impressive composition, Scarlatti’s operatic experience never far from the surface, without imposing. Continue reading
by Dall’Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini & Telemann
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
Signum Classics SIGCD549. 68’43
Dall’Abaco (1675-1742) Concerto a piu instrumenti in D major Op.5 No.5
Porpora (1686-1768) Cello Concerto in G major
Marcello (1673-1747) Oboe Concerto in D minor
Tartini (1692-1770) Violin Concerto in B minor D.125
Telemann (1681-1767) Viola Concerto in G major TWV 51.69.
At first sight, this appears to be a blatant promotional effort on behalf of The English Concert (who are celebrating their 45th birthday), one clue being calling it after themselves, rather than the composers or music it contains. I think that image is unfortunate, as the music and the instrumental soloists are of the highest order. It is based on the composers and performers connected with the many early 18th-century European court orchestras, several of which proved to be pioneering musical hothouses, albeit depending on the whims of the current princely ruler. The featured soloists are Nadja Zwiener (violin), Tuomo Suni (violin), Joseph Crouch (cello), Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe), Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola), all regular members of The English Concert rather than bought-in soloists. Continue reading
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
Barbican. 13 March 2018
Rinaldo is a curious opera. Cobbled together in early 1711 from some of Handel’s greatest hits from his time in Italy, it was intended a calling-card both for Handel and for the style of Italian opera that was just beginning to make its way on the London musical scene. It was the first such opera composed for the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, where the theatre’s director (Aaron Hill) was keen to promote Italian opera. As Richard Wigmore wrote in the programme note (accessible here), Hill’s priorities were “variety of incident and spectacle, with dramatic coherence a distant third”. Dramatic coherence is certainly missing from the splot, a loose version of one of Tasso’s tales of Crusader derring-do in Gerusalemme liberata. The “incident and spectacle” was certainly to the fore in the original productions, with its dramatic staging with mermaids, various flying machines, fire-breathing dragons, and a flock of live sparrows, the latter producing the inevitable results and some sharp criticism for contemporary reviewers. Continue reading
Spitalfields Music: Shakespeare in Love
The English Concert, Harry Bicket, Mary Bevan, Tim Mead
Shorditch Church, 7 December 2016
The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival is one of the highlights of the London musical calendar, sensibly positioned in early December just before the Christmas musical silliness takes hold. Founded in 1976, initially to raise interest and money for the restoration of the fabulous Nicholas Hawksmoor Christ Church Spitalfields, Spitalfields Music has grown to became a major arts and community organisation working throughout the year in the East End of London. It’s 40th year included 15 new commissions, programming more than 65 performances across East London, enabling some 5000 local people to take part in free musical activities, and working with communities ranging from 1500 local school children to care home residents. The week-long festival ranged from contemporary jazz, a Bollywood show with ‘a tuba the size of Belgium’, a show for toddlers, musical dinners in a hidden Masonic Temple together with the usual array of top-notch classical music events, with the usual focus on early and contemporary music.
I missed the first few days (including Gothic Voices in the Tower of London, The Sixteen, Melvyn Tan, and a dance and music theatre show. So for me, the festival started with The English Concert’s tribute to the music inspired by Shakespeare in his own anniversary year. A cleverly designed programme focused on Purcell’s Fairy Queen and Handel’s Guilio Cesare in the two halves, and featured soprano Mary Bevan and Countertenor Tim Mead, two of the finest singers around. Continue reading
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
The Barbican. 1 March 2016
In the past I have been rather frustrated by The Barbican’s habit of promoting concert performances of operas, largely because I have known that most of them had been fully, and often very sumptuously, staged on the continent. But I gradually grew to appreciate the ability to concentrate on the music without the distraction of staging, scenery and sometimes weird directorial instructions to the singers. And, to be fair to The Barbican, there have been some staged operas in recent years from the likes of William Christie. The English Concert started a series of concert performances of Handel operas last year, and continued with their production of Orlando. Judging by this outstanding performance of Orlando, they really have got the practice of concert performances down to a fine art. Continue reading
Spitalfields Music: The English Concert
Christ Church Spitalfields. 9 December 2015
Dandrieu: Trio Sonata Op 1/2; Charpentier: Magnificat H73; Charpentier: In nativitatem Domini nostri Jesu Christi canticum; Stradella: Cantata per il Santissimo Natale ‘Ah! Troppo è ver’.
Following their paired-down concert at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse a few days earlier (reviewed here), The English Concert transferred their magic to the magnificent East London church of Christ Church Spitalfields for one of the Spitalfields Winter Festival showpiece concerts. Contrasting the seasonal music of France and Italy, the music spanned the period from the mid-17th to the early 18th century.
The evening started with Jean-François Dandrieu, a composer well-known to organists for his lively Noël variations, but otherwise overlooked in favour of the likes of Rameau and Couperin. The delightful Trio Sonata in D from his 1706 Livres de Sonates en trio demonstrated Italian influence, not least in its use of counterpoint and the Corellian walking bass in the opening Largo, and its vivacious concluding Presto. A true trio, with Joseph Crouch’s cello (or, in this case, perhaps more correctly Continue reading
Burney’s Journeys: The Grand Tour
The English Concert, Mark Padmore
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 6 December 2015
The English Concert was reduced to one of its smallest formations with just four instrumentalists plus tenor Mark Padmore for their Wanamaker Playhouse concert, based on Charles Burney’s writings on music. In 1770 and 1772, Burney (painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds) travelled throughout Europe to collect information for his planned ‘General History of Music’, meeting many composers and performers in the process, and learning about the earlier pioneers of the music of Burney’s own day. Mark Padmore read extracts from Burney’s writings, as well as singing examples of the music that he experienced, starting on his home turf with music from Dowland and Purcell. Dowland’s ‘Come again, sweet love’ and ‘In Darknesse let me dwell’ were separated by an exquisite performance of Dowlands Lachrimae Pavan, by William Carter, lute. Continue reading