There is no rose
The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park
St John’s, Smith Square, 14 December 2018
Although only formed four years ago, The Gesualdo Six have gained an impressive following, not least at St John’s, Smith Square where they were one of the four members of the second Young Artists Scheme in 2015/16. They used that residency to launch their Composition Competition at SJSS, with the second following in 2019. For their concert in this year’s SJSS Christmas Festival, they gave a mixed programme of Christmas music ranging from plainchant and the early 15th century Trinity Carol Roll and music by Taverner and Tallis, through to living composers, including their own director Owain Park. Continue reading
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
JS Bach: B Minor Mass
Gabrieli Consort and Players, Paul McCreesh
St John’s, Smith Square. 1 April 2018
The St John’s, Smith Square Holy Week Festival concluded with an Easter Sunday performance of the B Minor Mass. it is a piece not normally associated with Holy Week, but it reflects in glorious musical form the belief system of the Christian believer. It is one of Bach’s last works and one that he clearly wanted posterity to hear, even though he never heard it performed himself. In fact, it wasn’t performed complete until a 100 years after Bach’s death. Its compositional background is complex, with versions of some individual movements dating back to 1714 (the Crucifixus) and the Kyrie and Gloria (the Missa) completed in 1733 and presented to the new Saxon Elector with a view to getting the title of Composer to the Electoral Saxon Court, which he eventually got three years later. In the last few years of his life, Bach extended the Missa to include the full Latin Ordinary of the Catholic Mass by adding the Credo (the Symbolum Nicenum), Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the concluding Dona nobis pacem, the latter a repeat of an earlier Gloria movement. Even its current title is misleading, not least because only a few of the movements are actually in B minor. Continue reading
Lions of St Mark
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
St John’s, Smith Square
27 October 2017
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (named after a reference in Matthew Locke’s music for Charles II’s 1661 coronation) celebrated their 35th anniversary in style with an impressive concert in St John’s, Smith Square, a few yards from the site of Charles II’s coronation and a short walk from the site of their debut concert in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. It says something for their early promise, and the recording industry of the early 1980s, that they were offered a recording contract during the interval of that concert. Times have changed in the recording world, but HMSC continue to reinforce their reputation as pioneers of period instrument and performance practice. Two of the original members were playing (Jeremy West and Stephen Saunders), and several more were in the audience. They have replenished themselves over the years, and now include one player who is younger than the group. They also brought in two recently graduated sackbutt players for the 8 and 10-part works that concluded each half.
Haydn: The Seasons 1801
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 480. 2 CDs. 133’08
Those that have followed the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh over the years will know that they rarely do things by halves. In their early years, this included such seminal recordings as, for example, their 1994 reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas recorded with massed forces in Roskilde Cathedral, the latter chosen because of its important historic organ. In recent years they have built close connections with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. This much heralded recording of the 1801 version of Haydn’s The Seasons is the latest of those collaborations. The opening thunderous wallop on the timpani will warn you that this is a recording of some drama and punch. Using a new performing edition (and English translation) by Paul McCreesh this is the first recording to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for in some of the early performances, with a string section of 60, 10 horns and a choir of 70, using the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir.
Often overlooked in favour of The Creation, The Seasons is in many ways a more forward-looking work, with more of a hint of the romanticism that was eventually going to overtake all the arts. Continue reading
Serikon, Erik Westberg
Footprint FRCD073. 79’30
Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon X à 8, Canzon II á 4, Omnes gentes plaudite minibus; Andrea Gabrieli: Domine ne in furore; Claudio Merulo: Sanctus à 16; Alexander Campkin: Colour Blinds the Eye; Adrian Willaert: De profundis; Barbara Strozzi: Salve Regina; Dario Castello: Sonata Duodecima – Libro II; Giovanni Rovetta: Domine Deus noster; Jan Sandström: Acqua alta.
What a fascinating CD! With music ranging from the Renaissance, via the early Baroque to a composer born in 1984, the programme explores the musical colours of Venice and a none-too-subtle focus on its current environmental issues. Acqua Alta is a collaboration between the Renaissance ensemble Serikon, conductor Erik Westberg and the Artists for the Environment organization, and apparently also involves a meteorologist and climate specialist. With Venice flooding from rising sea levels with increasingly frequently and with higher water levels, it is an obvious city to focus on. Continue reading
The Psalms of David are a key part of the liturgy of Christian and Jewish worship, and were rather nicely described by the (un-named) programme note writer of The Cardinall’s Musick concert (Cadogan Hall, 5 Feb) as a “collection of praises and complaints, benedictions and moans … dealing with the problems of ordinary life”. Their programme looked at two of the many possible musical genres, comparing the European Catholic tradition of the 16th century with that of the English church of the same period, described by director Andrew Carwood as a collection of “sorbets and grand dishes”.
The 10 singers were used in many different formations, only coming together at the end of each half, firstly for the Allegri Miserere and then Byrd’s joyful Laudibus in sanctis. After the opening Jubilate Deo by Giovanni Gabrieli, the first half was built around three of Victoria’s large-scale double-choir Vespers Psalm settings, Nisi Dominus, Dixit Dominus and Laudate Dominum. These were contrasted with more intimate settings, notably Palestrina’s Super flumina Babylonis, with its closely-wrought stepwise musical lines, and the Ad Dominum cum tribularer by Lassus with its contrast between high and low voices. The often intense English settings were intended for a very different liturgical purpose, usually as anthems during Evensong or Mattins, or for more private devotions. Only with the opening Gibbons’ ‘O clap your hands together’ and the final Byrd Laudibus in sanctis did the English music approach the grandeur of Victoria’s settings. Indeed, it was the intimate and madrigal-like ‘O Lord in thy wrath’ and Laboravi in gemitu meo (by Gibbons and Weelkes respectively) that were the emotional highlights for me.
The rather youthful photographs of Andrew Carwood and Cardinall’s Musick belied the fact that they are in their 25th year. They were on excellent form on this occasion, their forthright vocal style ideal for the large-scale works as well as seeking out the emotional intensity of the more intimate works.