Opera: Passion, Power and Politics & Monteverdi Trilogy

 Opera: Passion, Power and Politics
Highlights from the Monteverdi Trilogy
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists
Victoria & Albert Museum. 15 December 2017

As part of the V&A’s Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition, the Monteverdi Choir returned to the site of their very first concert, 50 years ago in the museum’s Raphael Cartoon gallery to conclude their 2017 tour of Monteverdi’s three operas with a concert of extracts from all three. In the tradition of the V&A’s ‘Friday Lates’, they started at 6.30 with a series of Promenade Performances given in different galleries of the museum, starting with the L’Orfeo Overture performed from the gallery of the Grand Entrance before moving to the adjoining Medieval & Renaissance galleries for Duo seraphim, performed from the three projecting balconies. The audience was then shepherded through the massive Hertogenbosch choir screen for from two extracts from Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, a flash-mob style Coro di Feaci and Ulysses’s Dormo ancora sung by Furio Zanasi in the Renaissance chapel originally in Florence’s Santa Chiara church. Continue reading

Bach: St Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, James Gilchrist, Kati Debretzeni,John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG725. 2CDs. 2h40′

Some 28 years after their famed 1988 Archiv recording (made under studio conditions in Snape Maltings), the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists return to the St. Matthew Passion. This extraordinary piece can evoke enormous emotional responses, regardless of the religious views of the listener. I vividly remember taking my young daughter to a performance of their 1988 Matthew, sitting in the front row, and watching the bass player just a few yards away gently shedding tears as she played. For this version, on their own label, they opt for a live recording, made in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as the culmination of a six-month tour.  Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 3

‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square, 17  May 2015

The third day of the festival started with ‘Sing Baroque’, with Robert Howarth, one of the Robert HowarthOrchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s regular conductors, leading a Sunday morning workshop on the choral sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria – “for all aspiring Baroque singers – no experience necessary!”. This is certainly not the sort of event that should be reviewed, but I will comment on the experience of watching a conductor at work from the other side of the podium. Conducting styles vary by personality (and over historic time), but there is a generation of younger conductors who focus on using collaboration, cooperation and genuine good humour (rather than dictatorship or bullying) as the key to communicating their ideas. It was clear that Robert Howarth is one of those. As well as giving the gathered singers an excellent insight into the music and aspects of performing it, Robert Howarth also made it an extremely entertaining occasion. Music’s gain is stand-up comedy’s loss.

The Sunday afternoon included a guided tour of The Wallace Collection exploring ‘Music, Dance and Gallentry in 18th-century French Art’, followed by a concert focusing on the harpsichord music of Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) given by Béatrice Martin. Continue reading

The OAE Night Shift – Classical Music: minus the rules

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kati Debretzeni, director & violin
Frances Kelly, harp, Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 12 May 2015

Despite being no spring chicken myself, the audience at most classical music concerts make me feel rather young –  perhaps naively. Not so the OAE’s innovative Night Shift events, specifically aimed at young people and therefore making me feel rather old. Although these events have taken place in pubs and bars, I usually experience them, like this one, as late-night one-hour events repeating part of the earlier evening OAE concert. On this occasion, the OAE included three of the  pieces played in the earlier concert reviewed below (Telemann’s Violin Concerto in Bb and Handel’s Concerto for harp & lute and he Concerto Grosso, Op 6/1), unfortunately omitting Stevie Wishart’s new work which had just been given its world premiere. I would have loved to have heard what the young audience thought of that work.

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The Queen Elizabeth Hall stage lighting was given a sexy twist Continue reading

The Rough with the Smooth

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kati Debretzeni, director & violin
Chi-Chi Nwanoku, double bass, Frances Kelly, harp, Elizabeth Kenny, theorbo
Queen Elizabeth Hall, 12 May 2015

Telemann: Overture (Suite) in B flat, TWV.55:B8 (Ouverture burlesque), Concerto in B flat for violin, TWV.51:B1,
Stevie Wishart: Concerto à double entendre (World premiere)
Handel: Concerto in B flat for violin & orchestra, HWV.288 (Sonata a 5), Concerto in B flat, Op.4 No.6 for lute & harp, Concerto grosso in G, Op.6 No.1

Nestling in between the familiar OAE territory of Telemann and Handel was the world premiere of Stevie Wishart’s The Rough with the Smooth: Concerto à double entendre. Lasting about 23 minutes, it was structurally based on the traditional form of the concerto grosso, the three-movements headed Prelude and Fugue, Air, and Passacaglia. So far, so Baroque. But Stevie Wishart is a composer with roots in early and contemporary music. So rather than highlighting the melodic aspects of the instruments that are usually key to Baroque music, Wishart focused on the “resonance, overtones and sympathetic vibration” of the string orchestra, commenting that “the entire orchestra play only open strings and harmonics so that melodies only surface through a barrage of ‘sound clouds’ and gentle noise.” Continue reading

The 2014 Lufthansa Festival – end of an era?

As the 2015 London Festival of Baroque Music approaches, I thought I would re-publish my review of last year’s festival, under the then title of the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music.

“This year’s Lufthansa Festival (the 30th) marked the end of an era.  It was the last to benefit from the 30-year sponsorship of Lufthansa (and, for the past 12 years, also Rolls-Royce plc), one of the most remarkable musical/financial partnerships in the modern history of music.  The Festival will continue with the same wealth of performers and performances under the name of the London Festival of Baroque Music, and is seeking funding Continue reading