Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3, 6)
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stephen Layton
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2019
For many years now, the highlights of the London Christmas and Easter concert season has been the final two concerts of the St John’s, Smith Square Christmas/Easter festivals. One is usually Bach, the other Messiah, both directed by Stephen Layton, the first with his student Trinity College choir, the second with his professional vocal group Polyphony. In recent years both have been accompanied by the period instruments of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Both pairs of concerts sell out way in advance, the student choirs helping with audience numbers by rallying parents and friends. Continue reading
London Handel Festival
Helen Charlston, Baroque Ensemble LUX
St George’s, Hanover Square, 1 April 2019
This year’s London Handel Festival has the theme of ‘Handel’s Divas’, and explores the female singers associated with Handel. One of the key events of the annual festival is the Handel Singing Competition, with the winners and finalists of each year’s competition playing a key part in following festival events. Last year’s winner was mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston with Lauren Lodge-Campbell winning the second and audience prizes. I heard both in last year’s semi-finals rather than the final, and was very impressed with both: it was a rare occasion when I agree with the LHF judges! Both give solo lunchtime recitals this week, starting with Helen Charlston. Her programme featured the (exclusively male) heroes and villains found in Handel’s operas and solo cantatas, giving Helen Charlston ample opportunity to display a wealth of different personalities and moods. Continue reading
Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Mary Bevan, Christian Curnyn
Kings Place, 10 January 2018
Barbara Strozzi: L’amante modesto, Pace arrabbiata, Lagrime Mie, Canto di bella bocca,
E pazzo il mio core, Le tre Gratie a Venere, Silenzio nocivo
Claudio Monteverdi: Volgendo il ciel, Il ballo delle ingrate
For several years now, Kings Place has selected a specific theme for each year under the banner of ‘Unwrapped’. Past examples have included Time Unwrapped, Cello Unwrapped, Baroque Unwrapped, and Minimalism Unwrapped. Their offering for 2019 is the enticing named Venus Unwrapped. The year-long series of around 60 concerts aims to “unlock the secret history of music by women”. It opened with a focus on Barbara Strozzi, one of the best known of the very few female composers of the Baroque era – or, indeed, of any era if musical history is to be believed. The painting below (The Viola da Gamba Player) is believed to be off Barbara Strozzi.
The distinguished conductor Christian Curnyn directed a group of singers and instrumentalists from the Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, with Mary Bevan as the main billed soloist, although several other singers had prominent roles.
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
Handel Singing Competition: Semi-Final
London Handel Festival
Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, 28 March 2018
The annual Handel Singing Competition was founded in 2002 as an integral part of the London Handel Festival (LHF). This year it attracted 116 applicants, seemingly down in numbers from the 150 that the LHF quote as the norm. A private first round was held over several very snowy days around the end of February, although sound files could be submitted by those unable to be there. Eleven of the 116 made it through to this, the public semi-final, held on the Wednesday of Holy Week. Perhaps holding the semi-final of a singing competition during one of the busiest of the year for singers was not the brightest idea – I know of singers that did not enter because they knew they would inevitably be busy that week.
The competition is open to singers between 23 and 33 years old on 1 February 2018. The prizes are first: £5000, second: £2000, audience: £300, finalists: £300. All finalists are guaranteed lunchtime recitals during the 2019 London Handel Festival, and many past finalists are also asked to perform solos in other prestigious concerts during the Festival and abroad. The 2018 London Handel Festival, for example, includes 20 previous finalists.
Bach: B Minor Mass
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Stephen Layton
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2016
The annual St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival is now in its 31st year, the last 20 of which have been curated by Stephen Layton, conductor of Polyphony, who traditionally give the final concert, and Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge whose choir gives the penultimate concert of the series. This year’s penultimate concert was a re-run of last year’s, reviewed here. I will not repeat the comments I made about last year’s concert, so it is worth reading that review before this one.
This year the Trinity College choir was 46-strong, two up from last year, with 16 additional alumni singers bought in to reinforce the 30-strong current student choir. Several of the alumni singers have been making their way in the post-university musical world, with at least two receiving honorable mentions on this website. This year a mezzo-soprano was added to the line up, alongside the countertenor Iestyn Davies. Mezzo Helen Charlston is one of the alumni I have already spotted as a singer of real promise and, although she only had a brief moment front stage (at the start, in the duet Christe), she again demonstrated a excellent voice.