Kate Lindsey: Ariana

Kate Lindsey: Arianna
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Outthere/Alpha Classics Alpha 576. 72/13

Cover Alpha 576

A Scarlatti: L’Arianna (Ebra d’amor fuggia)
Handel: Ah! Crudel, nel pianto mio
Haydn: Arianna a Naxos

Arianna is a programme from the American mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey, focussed on contrasting cantatas by three composers on the myth of Ariadne (aka Arianna). She was the daughter of King Minos of Crete and granddaughter of the Sungod Helios. She stars in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, saving Theseus from the maze, falling in love with him, and then being cast off onto the Island of Naxos. Continue reading

The Early Horn

The Early Horn
Ursula Paludan Monberg
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68289. 78’32

One of the most astonishing developments in musical instrument technology came with the elevation of the horn from its role a rather elemental rallying call to 17th-century aristocratic huntsmen to a sophisticated member of 18th-century court orchestras and chamber groups. One of the key aspects of this development was the technique of hand-stopping to alter the pitch. This was combined with the division of the 15 or so feet of tubing of the wound hunting horn into two parts, the smaller changeable crock allowing for changes of key. This recording explores the wide range of music composed for the natural horn during the 18th-century. Continue reading

BBC Prom 74: Handel – Theodora

Handel: Theodora
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Royal Albert Hall, 7 September 2018

Of all Handel oratorios, the one that is probably most likely to put you off Christianity (or put you even further off Christianity) is Theodora. Set during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, the story is of two love-struck Christians who refuse to honour the Roman gods, and then vie with each other as to which of them is to be put to death as a result, each insisting on taking the place of the other until the exasperated Valens, President of Antioch, has them both sent to their heaven. It was unusual for an opera or oratorio to end badly for the leading lights, which perhaps explains its lack of success at the time. The text doesn’t bear much scrutiny either, the earlier arias of the Christian contingent and their confidence that the Lord would provide protection ‘here and everywhere’,  and the chorus’s response that the Everlasting One was ‘Mighty to save in perils, storm and death’, seemed a little ill-judged in the forthcoming circumstances.   But, setting aside the silly plot, the text and music express aspects of love, religious freedom, bloody-mindedness, and the assumptions that Christians are far more musically intelligent than ‘heathens’. The latter is a particular feature of Handel’s music, with the choir switching between Heathen and Christian to distinctly different music, the former generally rather four-square, clumpy, and harmonically unadventurous, the latter tuneful and svelte.  Continue reading

JS Bach/JC Bach/CEP Bach: Magnificats

JS Bach, JC Bach & CPE Bach: Magnificats
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68157. 76’48

This recording has the same programme as the concert in St John’s, Smith Square in October 2015. The CD was recorded a few days after the concert, in the church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalen in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, but has only recently been released. The acoustics of this large Gothic church (with its wide nave and tiny side aisles) are more generous than St John’s, Smith Square, giving an added bloom to the sound, although the spacing of the musical forces sometimes gives more of a sense of distance that the more compact London stage avoided. Unlike the concert performance, the CD opens with JS Bach’s 1733 reworking of his earlier E flat version, written for his first Christmas in Lübeck in 1723. It is given a forthright performance without the irritating gaps between movements that I mentioned in the concert review.  Continue reading

Christopher Purves sings Handel

Christopher Purves sings Handel
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Milton Court, 7 January 2018

Distinguished bass/baritone singer Christopher Purves has long been a mainstay of the opera and concert stage. His broad repertoire perhaps evidenced by the fact that my last three reviews of him were in operas by Mozart, George Benjamin, and Georga Enescu. On this occasion, he was the focus of the evening. But this wasn’t one of the usual, and rather predictable, ‘star singer and backing orchestra’ events. Purves and Arcangelo shared the honours in a well-planned partnership of vocal and orchestral music. Purves remained on stage throughout, sitting at the side during Arcangelo’s moments. His jovial introductions to the pieces were relaxed and approachable, not least his opening comment that we were about to hear music for some “complete and utter bastards as well as a couple of real sweeties”. Although many of the protagonists in the programme were clearly in the former category, there were enough of the latter to bring some relief to the bluff and bluster of many of Handel’s music for bass.

Continue reading

Iestyn Davies: Bach Cantatas

Bach: Cantatas 54, 82, 170
Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68111. 64’52

Vergnügte Ruh’, beliebte Seelenlust BWV170, Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54, Ich habe genug BWV82, Sinfonias from Cantatas BWV52 & 174. 

With an appropriate sense of timing, this CD was released on the day that it was announced that the distinguished countertenor Iestyn Davies was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. For non-UK readers, this is the archaically entitled ‘Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ and is awarded for ‘outstanding achievement’. There are at least four higher categories of ‘British Empire’ awards for him to look forward to. This is the third recording he has made with Arcangelo for Hyperion, but this one is very clearly a recording designed specifically to promote Iestyn Davies. His name is given stronger emphasis on the CD cover than the likes of Bach, let alone Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen, all also pretty good musicians. Continue reading

BBC Proms at …: Purcell and his contemporaries

BBC Proms at …: Purcell and his contemporaries
Katherine Watson, Samual Boden, Callum Thorpe
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, 13 August

Purcell: Timon of Athens – Curtain Tune, I Spy Celia, I See She Flies Me, The Fairy Queen (excerpts), The Tempest (attrib. Purcell); Blow: Venus and Adonis (excerpts); Locke: The Tempest – Curtain Tune, The Tempest – Dance of the Fantastick Spirits (perhaps by Draghi).

As part of their ‘Proms at …’’ season, the BBC decanted from its usual home in the Royal Albert Hall to one of the most intimate performances spaces in London, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, part of the Shakespeare’s Globe complex on the South Bank. Since its opening in 2014, this reconstruction of a typical Jacobean (early 17th century) theatre has housed a number of excellent (and sold-out) musical events and small-scale operas, adding considerably to the range of London music venues. Sadly, under Sam Wannamaker.jpgthe new Globe management, those events seems to have ground to a halt, with only one listed in the current season – and that a hang-over booking from the previous management. So it was fortuitous that the BBC Proms chose the theatre for one of its ‘BBC at …’ events (alongside such venues as a multi-story car park in Peckham), not least because it enabled people to see the inside of this fabulous, but very uncomfortable, theatre for just £14, rather than the up to £62 the Globe are asking for their own next concert there. Continue reading

Glyndebourne: Le nozze di Figaro

Glyndebourne: Le nozze di Figaro
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,
Jonathan Cohen
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 15 July 2016

Le nozze di Figaro was the first opera to be performed at Glyndebourne at its opening festival in May 1934, and it has been a regular ever since. This performance was a return of the 2012 production, directed by Michael Grandage, with Ian Rutherford as the revival director. I didn’t see the 2012 version, so am not able to compare or note any differences, but the sumptuous sets, and costumes are the same. Those who wanted more of the story of Figaro could also have seen Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia at Glyndebourne a few weeks earlier, for the back-story to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, with Figaro relieved of his interim job as a barber and returned as the servant of Count Almaviva and his Countess.

The setting was clearly Seville, although the dating takes a little while to reveal itself. Glorious architectural depictions of Moorish architecture Continue reading

Alina Ibragimova – Bach: Violin Concertos.

Bach: Violin Concertos
Alina Ibragimova, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperian CDA68068. 69’02

Bach: Violin Concertos BWV 1041, 1042, 1055R, 1056R, 1052R

JS Bach:Violin Concertos [Alina Ibragimova; Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen ] [HYPERION: CDA68068]I first encountered Alina Ibragimova when she was part of a little student group playing in a lunchtime concert in 2007. Two years later (after she had already won several prestigious awards and released three CDs, of works by KA Hartmann, Roslavets, and Symanowski) I reviewed her extraordinary solo Bach recital at her alma mater, the Yehudi Menhuin School. In my review (in Early Music Review) I wrote that “I don’t think I have ever heard a more promising musician on any instrument – or, indeed, such an intensely musical (and moving) performance of Bach’s unaccompanied violin works . . . She has an extraordinarily compelling stage manner – quite, focused and seemingly at one with her instrument, she quietly walks on stage, stands and plays, looking at her violin with intense concentration and involvement with the music.  Alina Ibragimova has an exquisite musical talent and an inspiring musical mind.” Her subsequent CD of the Bach solo violin works (CDA67691/2) remains one of my favourite interpretations. And, for many people, the highlight of the 2015 BBC Proms was Alina’s two late-night solo Bach performances.  So another Alina Ibragimova Bach recording is something to look forward to.

The first surprise might be to find five Bach violin concertos listed, rather than the normally expected two, in A minor and E major. There is evidence that Bach rearranged many of his earlier instrumental pieces for other instruments, often for performance at the Leipzig Collegium Musicum. These included the two well-known violin concertos, which he transcribed for harpsichord. All too often, the scores of the original pieces have been lost, just leaving the revised versions. This recording includes three reverse reconstructions of these earlier versions. The first of these (BWV1055) seems to have been originally for oboe d’amore, but works well for violin, albeit with an emphasis on the lower registers. BWV 1056 is well-known as the Harpsichord Concerto in F, but could have derived from a violin or oboe original. BWV1052 is a backward reconstruction of the violin concerto, later reworked for harpsichord. Incidentally, for those who care about such things, the BWV numbers quoted on the CD refer to the later re-workings – the reconstructions included on this CD should have the suffix ‘R’ – BWV1055R etc. Richard Wigmore’s comprehensive notes set the works in context.

Alina Ibragimova plays with a lovely sense of freedom of the musical line, with attention to the little phrases and motifs that are the foundation of Bach’s extended musical lines. At times her playing can sound almost improvisatory, which suits the music perfectly. She has a light and delicate touch, both during the extraordinarily complex passages (during which she wears her virtuosity lightly) and also on those lovely occasions when she brings the volume down to a just audible level. Her slow movements are particularly beautiful, but it is a shame that the theorbo is frequently too prominent, often adding a distracting counter-melody. With that one exception, the accompanying forces of Arcangelo play with sensitivity, allowing Alina’s voice to be heard even at its most touchingly delicate.

An exceptional CD.

Three Bach Magnificats

Three Bach Magnificats
Arcangelo
St John’s, Smith Square, 1 October 2015

JC Bach: Magnificat a 4 in C Major W.E22
JS Bach: Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
CPE Bach: Magnificat in D major H.772 (1749)

Concert or CD programmes that contrast JS Bach with his contemporaries, including members of his own family, can be tricky affairs. It is rare that the best of other composers’ work comes near to the quality of one of JS’s everyday pieces, churned out for the following Sunday services. In their St John’s, Smith Square concert, Arcangelo managed to pull it off, albeit to the detriment of the first composer, Johann Christian (the ‘London’ Bach), who opened the evening with his 1760 Magnificat a 4 in C Major. Written during his early years in Milan (where he was cathedral organist) two years before his conversion to Catholicism, it is firmly rooted in the Italian operatic tradition with occasional hints of the forthcoming Classical style. Contributions from the four soloists are slight, the chorus being prominent as is the often bustling orchestral accompaniment. His nod towards Dad’s music came with the grand final fugal Et is saecula saeculorum. Continue reading

Lachrimae: Anna Prohaska

Lachrimae
Anna Prohaska & Arcangelo
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 2 August 2015

The latest in the series of candle-lit concerts in the Jacobean Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on London’s South Bank featured soprano Anna Prohaska with Arcangelo and a programme based around the theme of melancholy, under the title of ‘Lachrimae’. Devised by Anna Prohaska, the pieces chosen reflected the wide range of compositional possibilities used by early Baroque composers from England and Italy. The music ranged from intimate Purcell settings to dramatic Italian opera scenes.

Anna ProhaskaI first reviewed Anna Prohaska in 2012 Wigmore Hall concert (broadcast live on Radio 3) and noted that “… If I had read Anna Prohaska’s CV (full of names like the Berliner Philharmoniker, Weiner Philharmoniker, Deutsche Staatoper Berlin) before I heard her sing, I would have wondered why on earth the Academy of Ancient Music had booked her”. But, for the ‘early music’ vocal scene, she was a real find. I don’t know what, or how, she sings with these orchestral big boys, but her beautifully eloquent and pure voice is just the thing for this repertoire, as was her presentation. She is of impeccable musical stock – her father and mother were an opera director and singer, her grandfather and great-grandfather a conductor and composer respectively.  She has a very attractively un-diva like and engaging stage manner, giving the impression of singing with us, rather that at us, and involving us in the emotional turmoil of the various pieces.  She has an exquisitely warm timbre with a slightly mezzo-ish tinge and demonstrated a thorough understanding of her chosen repertoire (and its wide range of emotions), with fine da capo elaborations and the rare ability to trill properly. Her use of rhetoric to accent emotive moments was spot on, as was her heart-wrenching cries of “Gabriel” in Purcell’s ‘Tell me, some pitying angel’ – one of those moments when silence can be more intense than music. Continue reading

Candlelit Arcangelo

Arcangelo & Neal Davies
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 9 May 2015

Bach, Albinoni, Telemann

The latest of the candlelit concerts in the Shakespeare Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was given by Arcangelo (9 May). They were founded in 2010 by Jonathan Cohen, and appear in formats ranging from a duo to a chamber orchestra. On this occasion they were a small string group plus oboe, theorbo, and continuo organ/harpsichord, joined at the end by baritone Neal Davis (replacing his indisposed cousin Iestyn Davies).

The programme was one of contrasts, ranging from the frolics of Telemann’s Don Quichotte Suite to Bach’s serene cantata Ich habe genug. The size of Continue reading