York Early Music Festival

York Early Music Festival
Innovation: the Shock of the New!
10-12 July

My principal reason for going to York was to review the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition which took place over the last three days of the annual York Early Music Festival. The Festival lasted from 5 to 13 July and was given under the banner of Innovation: the Shock of the New! taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci. Alongside talks and community events were a range of concerts, mostly from York-connected and UK ensembles, but with welcome continental visitors including Concerto de Margherita, one of the EEEmerging groups, fortepianist Andreas Staier, the Italian/Jewish Ensemble Lucidarium, and the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis. I was able to attend the last four of the Festival concerts, together with the three days of the Competition.

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Sweeter than Roses: Songs by Henry Purcell

Sweeter than Roses
Songs by Henry Purcell
Anna Dennis, soprano
Sounds Baroque, Julian Perkins
Resonus Classics RES10235.. 67’33

Henry Purcell is one of the greatest composers of English vocal music, with his ability to tease out the depths of meaning in mere words through his sensitive melodic and harmonic skills. Publisher Henry Playford’s preface to Orpheus Britannicus sums this talent up perfectly when he describes Purcell’s “extraordinary Talent in all sorts of Musick is sufficiently known, but he was especially admir’d for the Vocal, having a peculiar Genius to express the energy of English Words, whereby he mov’d the Passions of all his Auditors“. Another commentator, Henry Hall, organist of Hereford Cathedral, describes this well in his prefatory poem to Orpheus Britannicus when he mentions “Each syllable first weigh’d, or short, or long, / That it might too be Sense, as well as Song”. These contemporary descriptions of Purcell’s skill at setting words to music are at the heart of this recording, with Bruce Wood’s and Julian Perkin’s excellent programme notes (which includes the above quotes) giving specific examples of Purcell’s art as well as setting Purcell’s so-very-English music in the context of the musical style of the rest of Europe that so clearly influenced him. Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2

Mozart: Piano Duets: Vol 2
Emma Abbate & Julian Perkins
Resonus RES10210. 70’43

Mozart: Sonatas in F major K497 and C major K19d
Mozart, completed Levin: ‘Sonata’ in G major K357
Clementi: Sonata in E-flat

I reviewed Volume 1 of this two-disc series here. That review gives the background to Mozart’s piano duets and the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of early keyboard instruments. For this recording, Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins choose two different fortepianos from the collection, a Viennese grand piano by Michael Rosenberger c1800 and a 1820s square piano by London’s Clementi & Co. The recital opens with the most substantial and important work, the Sonata in F, K497, running the risk of overpowering the other pieces. Unfortunately, for some reason, the programme notes do not follow the recorded order of the pieces.  Continue reading

Mozart: Piano Duets

Mozart: Piano Duets – Vol 1
Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate
Resonus  RES10172. 68’04

Mozart: Sonata in D, K381; Sonata in C, K521; Sonata in B-flat, K358, JC Bach: Sonata in A.

This is the first of two volumes of Mozart’s complete piano duets, played on original fortepianos by Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate. It was recorded in Finchcocks House, Kent, and was the last recording made their before the house was closed and much of Richard and Katrina Burnett’s important collection of early keyboard instruments was sold. These two pianos, together with another 12 instruments from the collection, remain within the Finchcocks Charity for Musical Education which will continue to sponsor research and training a new generation of early keyboard restorers, tuners and technicians.

Although Mozart’s piano duets are a little-known part of his compositional output, they are a genre that he returned to throughout his life. They Continue reading

Bach: French Suites

Bach: French Suites
Julian Perkins, clavichord
Resonus RES10163. 58’11+67’26

Bach: French Suites BWV 812-817; Froberger: Partita 2 in d; Telemann: Suite in A.

The programme notes explain the rational for recording these pieces on clavichord rather than harpsichord, with a convincing argument based on the four-octave compass of the pieces and the didactic nature of their composition, in this case, for his recent (and second) wife Anna Magdalena. This is private, domestic music for home performance or teaching purposes, rather than the more elaborate pieces Bach wrote for public performance, using the larger compass of the harpsichord, for example the three non-organ parts of the Clavierübung. It is also the case that the clavichord was the principal home practice instrument for organists, because the arm to finger weight transfer required is similar for both instruments.

Julian Perkins’ playing is sensitive and musical. He makes excellent use of ornaments, both realised from the score and also added improvisational ornaments, Continue reading

Zelenka: the Bohemian Bach

Zelenka: the Bohemian Bach
Spiritato & Barts Chamber Choir
St John’s, Smith Square. 20 October 2015

Zelenka: Il Serpente di Bronzo, Il Diamante, Missa dei Filii, Trio Sonata 3 in Bb, Trumpet Fanfares; Bach?: Cantata Nun ist da Heil und die Kraft.

Zelenka (1679-1745) is one of those composers that people might just have heard of, but few will be familiar with music of his music. For those in rather select audience at St John’s, Smith Sq, this was a chance to remedy the latter situation in a programme more-or-less devoted to Zelenka’s music. Born close to Prague he moved to Dresden around 1710 as a violone player in the Hofkapelle. After a period travelling in Italy and studying in Vienna, he returned to Dresden where he became more involved in composing for the Court Church(left), which had taken on a new significance after the closure of the city opera house in 1720. His career path didn’t go quite to plan. Having been temporary Kapellmeister for a short period of time, he was pipped to the post of Senior Kapellmeister by JA Hasse in 1733. He was then appointed as a church composer. A few years later JS Bach, who knew and admired Zelnka’s compositions, was appointed as an (honorary) Royal Court Composer as a result of his well-known petition accompanying his 1733 ‘Dresden Mass’ – the Kyrie and Gloria of what later part of the Mass in B minor (See PS below). On his death, his compositions were purchased by the Saxon Court as valuable objects rather than performing scores, and remained hidden away in their archives until the 1950s.

The key piece of the evening was the concluding Missa dei Filii, one of the so-called “Missae ultimae” composed during the last years of his life. A substantial Continue reading