The Courts of Earth and Heaven

Crickhowell Music Festival: The Courts of Earth and Heaven
Crickhowell Choral Society, Stephen Marshall
St Edmund’s, Crickhowell, 30 April 2017

Handel: Eternal source of light divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne)
Delalande: Regina coeli 
Campra: Quam dilecta
Vivaldi: Gloria (RV588 – the ‘other’ Gloria!)

A walking weekend in the Brecon Beacons happened to coincide with the annual Crickhowell Music Festival. I have reviewed the whole Festival in the past but, on this occassion, could only manage one performance, given in St Edmund’s Church, Crickhowell by the Crickhowell Choral Society and a ‘festival’ orchestra, together with a very impressive group of soloists. One of the things that most impressed me on my earlier visit was the ability of their director Stephen Marshall to attract outstanding and international renown singers such as, on this occasion, Grace Davidson, Nicholas Mulroy, and Catherine King.

The ambitious programme featured music from England, France, and Italy. It opened with Handel’s 1713 Birthday Ode – a homage to Queen Anne, and indeed, to Purcell, whose style he so perfectly absorbed. The opening arioso ‘Eternal lource of light divine’ is one of the most beautful musical creations of all time, with Handel’s understanding of Purcell’s style made obvious. It makes for a very exposed start to a concert, and one which tenor Nicholas Mulroy coped with magnificently. His high lyrical tenor voice hasn’t quite the timbre of a countertenor that Handel intended, but was nonetheless quite exquisite, in this, and in later movements. Grace Davidson’s soprano aria ‘Let all the wingéd race’ was similarly impressive. Both of these key singers demonstrated their excellent ability at singing Baroque ornaments properly, rather than using the often heard reliance on vibrato alone. Continue reading

Monteverdi: Messa a Quattro voci

Monteverdi: Messa a Quattro voci – Vol 1.
The Sixteen
Coro COR16142. 71’29

Monteverdi: Dixit Dominus (Primo), Confitebor tibi Domine (Secondo), Lauda Jerusalem; Cavalli: Magnificat; Monteverdi: Laetatus sum, Nisi Dominus, Laudate pueri, Laetaniae della Beata Vergine, Beatus vir.

Monteverdi: Messa a quattro voci et salmi of 1650 Volume IIn the last two years of his life, Monteverdi collected a substantial amount of his music for publication (the Madrigali guerrieri et amorisi, 1638, and Salve morale et spirituale, 1641), reflecting his musical output over the previous decades. After his death, one of his publishers had the good sense, or the commercial sense, to put together some unpublished manuscripts to form the 1650 Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. This is the first of two CDs from The Sixteen of music from this posthumous collection: the Mass setting of the title will be on the second volume. This CD includes a selection of liturgical pieces, but not in any specific liturgical context, with several Vespers Psalms, a Litany to the Virgin Mary and a Magnificat by Cavalli who probably assisted in the preparation of the publication. Continue reading

A Time to Dance

Alex Roth: A Time to Dance
Ex Cathedra. Jeffry Skidmore
Hyperion CDA68144. 71’52

A Time to Dance; Magnificat and Nunc dimittis ‘Hatfield Service’; Men & Angels.

The Birmingham based choir, Ex Cathedra has long been at the forefront of British choral music, notably through their educational work and concerts and recordings of early music and Baroque music from Central and South America, a particular research interest for their inspirational director, Jeffry Skidmore. But they also venture into more recent repertoire, as evidenced by their latest CD of music by Alex Roth.

Commissioned for the Summer Music Society of Dorset for their 50th anniversary, the cantata A Time to Dance was first performed by Ex Cathedra in 2012. It is in four sections, representing jointly the seasons and the times of day, with an opening Processional and Prologue and a concluding Epilogue and After-dance, and lasts about an hour. Another quadruple influence is present in the opening Processional, based on the ‘For every thing there is a season’ passage from Ecclesiastes and its emphasis on times, seasons, love and dance. The remaining sections are based on 29 poems, ranging from Ovid via Donne, Herrick, Blake, and Yeats to the more recent Robert Bridges. The music is influenced by Shakespeare, Bach and Jeffry Skidmore, with whom the composer has worked over recent years. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 4/5

‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey, 18/19  May 2015

SJSS 2I couldn’t get to the lunchtime concert on day 3 of the festival, but it was given by soprano Rowan Pierce and the young group Medici, under the title of ‘Future Baroque’, with music by Handel, Bach, Royer, Telemann, Corelli and Vivaldi. Unless I have missed something, this was another event that seemed to bypass the festival’s theme, although it did include as its final work Agitata da due venti, a surviving fragment from Vivaldi’s opera L’Adelaide and later also included in his Griselda, composed for the virtuoso soprano Margherite Giacomazzi.

‘Leçons des ténèbres’
Julia Doyle & Grace Davidson, sopranos,
Jonathan Manson, bass viol, Steven Devine, harpsichord, organ & director

The Monday evening concert (St John’s, Smith Square, 18 May) Continue reading

The Sixteen’s Vespers – Guildford Cathedral

Such is the profile and schedule of The Sixteen that I was surprised to find that their short tour of the Monteverdi Vespers was the first time they had toured with orchestra and choir together. Of their eight venues (six cathedrals, and two concert halls), I saw them in Guildford Cathedral (on 30 Jan), a pared-down Gothic building designed in the 1930s and finally opened in 1961. The acoustics are good, at least from my seat close to the performers, who were positioned in what would have been termed ‘the crossing’ (in front of the choir and chancel) if there had been proper transepts. Very professional looking TV cameras broadcast to monitors to the sell-out audience down the long nave. The sequence of movements was what has become the traditional one, as were several other aspects of the performance including, arguably, taking the sequialtera passages too fast. The (more substantial) Magnificat was sung at higher pitch. With 20 singers and 24 instrumentalists, this was an aurally powerful performance, although the tiny box organ was only occasionally audible. The use of such organs is common in the UK although I urge you to try and hear the Vespers (and any Bach cantatas, for that matter) performed with a church organ (for example, see my review of the Cantar Lontano recording in the October 2014 Early Music Review). The rest of the continuo group was cello, violone, chitarrone, harp and dulcian, with string/recorders and cornett/sackbuts divided left and right. The vocal soloists, all stepping forward from the choir, were sopranos Grace Davidson and Charlotte Mobbs, tenors Mark Dobell and Jeremy Budd and basses Ben Davies and Eamonn Dougan – all most impressive. Relatively limited use was made of the available space, the main exception being the tenor/theorbo duet Nigra Sum which was performed from halfway down the central aisle, and Jeremy Budd singing Audi coelum from the pulpit. The echo passages were sung from somewhere towards the altar.   As with their other cathedral venues, the singers in the Sonata sopra Sancta Maria were the local cathedral choristers, in this case Guildford’s very able girls choir.