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
Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017
It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up. Continue reading
Bach: Violin Concertos
Cecilia Bernardini, Dunedin Consort, John Butt
Linn. CKD 519. 60′
Concerto for violin and oboe in C minor, BWV 1060R
Violin Concerto in E major, BWV 1042
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 21
Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041
Concerto for two violins in D minor, BWV 1043
This is a spectacular CD from the ever excellent Dunedin Consort and their leader, violinist Cecilia Bernardini, this time in a solo role. She opens and closes the programme in partnership, first with her father, the distinguished oboist, Alfredo Bernardini, and then with fellow violinist Huw Daniel. Apart from the short central Sinfonia from the cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, with its exquisite oboe solo, the rest of the nicely symmetrical programme is devoted to the playing of Cecilia Bernardini, with Bach’s E major and A minor violin concertos. And what playing it is. Subtly sensitive, and superbly articulated, she demonstrates a real grasp of Bach’s often complex melodic lines. Her delicacy of tone is matched by her fellow instrumentalists, the chamber-like quality of their playing, and John Butt’s direction and harpsichord continuo playing, being just right for the music, which was almost certainly intended for small-scale performance amongst fellow music lovers. Continue reading
Vivaldi The Four Seasons & String Concerti European Union Baroque Orchestra, Huw Daniel, Bojan Čičič, Johannes Pramsohler, Zefire Valova violins. Lars Ulrich Mortensen. 52’50.
Obsidian CCL CD713
Not another Four Seasons, you might think. But this is different, in several ways. Firstly it is from the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) who regular readers will know I am a fan of. Secondly the four violinists are all ex-members, and later concertmasters, of EUBO. And thirdly because this not only also includes the charmingly inoffensive little Concerto RV124, but also Vivaldi’s sonnets, read in Italian by another EUBO alumnus, Antonio de Sarlo (the CD booklet includes the texts). And finally, although not obvious from the CD, this whole project was accompanied by a commissioned puppet show for children using Vivaldi’s music – hopefully this will be released on DVD in the future, but a video can be found on the EUBO website.
The Concerto RV124 introduces the first of the spoken Sonnets. The four soloists then take their turns at portraying the various seasons with Huw Daniel as Spring, Bojan Čičič, Summer, Johannes Pramsohler, Autumn, and Zefire Valova as Winter. All four excel throughout, but particularly in the slow movements when their collective ability to play on the edge of their tone with such musical conviction is outstanding.
For some reason, the recording balance of director Lars Ulrich Mortensen’s harpsichord is frequently far too prominent, becoming a distractingly percussive intrusion. Currently shorn of their usually EU funding, EUBO is trying to survive on the occasional concert and on the sale of CDs like this until stable financial support can be found. Anybody who has ever heard the talented young players of EUBO (who reform each year – or did, until their recent financial problems) will know how excellent they are, and how important a training experience it is for its members, many of whom go on to distinguished careers. The CD can be ordered from http://www.eubo.eu/shop/CD713.
First published in Early Music Review, December 2014