Pieter Hellendaal: Violin Sonatas

Pieter Hellendaal: Violin Sonatas
Antoinette Lohmann, Furor Musicus
, GLO 5271. 72’21

In what is billed as a “hand-numbered limited edition” on the paper slip on the off-white card CD case (which, as you can see above, doesn’t show up too well against a white background), violinist Antoinette Lohmann and Furor Musicus offer world premiere recordings of Violin Sonatas by Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799). He was an Anglo-Dutch composer, organist and violinist, sometimes referred to as  “The Elder”, to differentiate him from his musician son. He was born in Rotterdam and, aged 30, moved to England where he lived for the rest of his 78-year life. Continue reading

All the Angels: Handel and the first Messiah

All the Angels: Handel and the first Messiah
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 26 June 2015

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of the Shakespeare Globe on London’s South Bank, has come up with an enterprising series of candlelit musical events and, increasingly, theatrical events using music as an integral part of the production. The latest of the latter genre is ‘All the Angels: Handel and the first Messiah, a play by Nick Drake that explores Handel’s visit to Dublin where the first performance of Messiah took place on 13 April 1742.

Based reasonably accurately on the facts of Handel’s life and the Dublin story, the play was set in period, albeit there were several present day contributions to the script, for example “Fair City: Not!” and a mention of zero-hours contracts. The Continue reading

Mark Rylance v Iestyn Davies

As television screens seemed to be filled with lingering shots of Mark Rylance in his role as Thomas Cromwell in BBC’s Wolf Hall, he returned to his old hunting ground at the Shakespeare Globe to take the role of the dotty Philippe V of Spain, patron of Farinelli, in Claire van Kampen’s play with music ‘Farinelli and the King’ (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 24 Feb).  In a role that he could have been born to play, the mercurial Rylance mischievously teased and inveigled the audience into the world of the complexly depressive King, starting with the very opening scene where he chats to his goldfish as he tries to catch it with a fishing rod.

Better known as the composer of the music for many of the Globe’s Shakespeare productions (and, perhaps, also as Mrs Rylance) this was Claire van Kampen’s debut as a playwright.  She has produced a play that is full of humour and sensitive insight into the world of madness and depression, as well as a fascinating insight into the world of Farinelli in the court of the crazy king.  In a similarly excellent performance, the appropriately named Melody Grove played the King’s wife, Isabella, who had procured Farinelli from London to aid the King.   Sam Crane acted the role of Farinelli, but in an clever twist to the play, we also had the outstanding countertenor Iestyn Davies taking on the singing side of Farinelli’s life, the combination of both sides of Farinelli’s personality on stage at the same time adding a fascinating psychological aspect to the evening.  This worked a great deal better than I thought it would, and proved to be an illuminating insight into the often divided personalities of performers, with Farinelli’s insecure and reticent side becoming all too evident as the evening progressed, and as his relationship with Philippe and Isabella grew stronger.

The miniature band of musicians was directed from the harpsichord by Robert Howarth, although unfortunately his pre-play playing was drowned out by the chatter of the excitably audience.  I was rather glad that, despite Rylance’s extraordinary (and unashamedly crowd-pleasing) acting, it was for Iestyn Davies that the audience reserved its strongest applause.  And so they should.


A spy at The Globe

The Shakespeare Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse continued with its enterprising series of candle-lit musical events with ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’ (8 Feb 2015).  The four singers of Alamire (along with The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble) presenting extracts from the British Library’s sumptuous manuscript (Roy 8.g.vii) produced in Antwerp at the workshop of Petrus Imhoff, who changed his name to the more musically appropriate Alamire (A-la-mi-re, as he often signed his name).

Like many musicians of his time, Alamire was a spy who was well acquainted with many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Maximillian, Charles V and Christian II of Denmark.  He acted for Henry VIII against the exiled Yorkist pretender, Richard de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk.  He also presented Henry VIII with many musical gifts, including this enormous parchment manuscript, but amid accusations of counter-espionage he didn’t even receive thanks for his efforts, or his gifts.  It was therefore perhaps apt that it turns out that the manuscript was in fact second hand, having been originally intended for Louise XII of France and Anne of Brittany.  But, on the death of both of them, Alamire changed the dedication, and some of the words, to Henry and Catherine of Aragon who, like Louise and Anne, were desperate for a child.  And so it is that London now has a collection of 34 motets works by the likes of Mouton, Josquin, Isaac and de la Rue.

Alamire’s director, David Skinner, conducted and introduced the story behind the manuscript.  The whole manuscript has been recorded by substantially larger Alamire forces.  The singing (from Clare Wilkinson, Nicholas Todd, Greg Skidmore and Rob Macdonald) was outstanding, as was the instrumental contributions, although I found the tenor shawm a rather better blend with the cornett and sackbuts than the alto shawm.


Locke’s Tempest by candlelight

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment continued their collaboration with The Globe’s new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse with an imaginative performance of Matthew Locke’s music for the 1674 production of The Tempest (or Enchanted Island), devised and directed by Elizabeth Kenny with stage direction and text adaptation by Caroline Williams. Following the Musica Brittannica edition, the music included additional pieces by Pelham Humphrey, Reggio, Banister, Purcell and Hart. The five OAE instrumentalists were joined by three singers, two boy trebles together with two actors who cleverly acted all the parts in the extracts from the rather curious version of Shakespeare’s play for which Locke provided the music. Despite the oddities of the text, this Tempest was extraordinarily popular at the time, with frequent revivals over the following 150 years. Although 21st century eyes and ears might not rate the play quite so highly, setting Locke’s relatively well-known music in the context of at least part of the spoken text and stage action does help with understanding the context of music like this. Along with Purcell’s examples, this repertoire is difficult to slot into the mainstream European musical tradition of the late 17th century. The Wanamaker Playhouse is a gloriously intimate space for such performances, the candle lighting added much to the atmosphere. This was a lively and, at times, very funny production, not least when one of the actors portrayed a sword fight by playing both characters at the same time. The impressive singers were Katherine Watson, Frazer B Scott and Samuel Boden.