The Albion Project: Fretwork

The Albion Project
Gabriel Prokofiev, Nonclassical
Kings Place, 12 November 2021

The Albion Project is an initiative from the viol consort Fretwork. They commissioned composers to arrange a wide range of significant works of British music for viol consort. This was performed in Hall 2 (a black box studio) of Kings Place as part of their 2021 London Unwrapped series of concerts. The new arrangements and remixes were performed with and together with a digital narrative from Gabriel Prokofiev (assisted by Blasio Kavuma), who linked and underlay Fretwork’s live music for five viols with extracts from live recordings, computer beats, loops, audio manipulation and various other technical wizardries. It was an attempt to answer the question – what is British identity, and what is that in music?

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Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice

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.

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Bach and Handel: Great Balls of Fire

Bach and Handel: Great Balls of Fire
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Steven Devine
Kings Place. 1 March 2018

Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 4 no. 1
Organ Concerto Op. 7 no. 5
 Brandenburg Concerto no. 5

Under the banner of the Kings Place ‘Turning Points’ series (which aims to explore the hidden secrets of the great composers) and a very silly concert title (‘Great Balls of Fire’), the OAE presented three examples of the 18th-century keyboard concerto, contrasting two of Handel’s Organ Concertos with Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. Composed for entirely different audiences and occasions, the Bach and Handel pieces reflect key moments in the development of music. A pre-concert talk by the chief executive of the OAE, given in the rather booming style of a schoolmaster (I use the gender-specific term deliberately) lecturing a lower-sixth general studies course, gave some background to the concert and the three pieces were to hear. The concert itself lasted just one hour, without interval. It was followed by a Q&A session with the performers and an encore, voted for by the audience from a list of three.  Continue reading

Bach, the Universe & Everything

Bach, the Universe & Everything
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Kings Place. 14 January 2018

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s regular Kings Place Sunday morning ‘Bach, the Universe & Everything‘ series is billed as a “Sunday service for inquiring and curious minds; a place to bond with music lovers and revel in the wonders of science.”. In conjunction with The Institute of Physics, each event includes a Bach cantata and a talk from a distinguished scientist. This first event of 2018 reflected the Kings Place theme for 2018, ‘Timed unwrapped‘, with a talk by Professor Helen F Gleeson on Time and Perception. These are very popular events, but it was my first visit. Although not in the style of the many totally secular Sunday ‘services’ that have sprung up around the country in these post-religious days, there were elements of a church service in the organ pieces played before the start (of non-conformist, rather than C of E length), a reading, a choir ‘anthem’, notices, a hymn (in this case, of course, a Lutheran chorale) and a ‘collection’ at the bar in return for coffee and cake.

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Da Camera & Carolyn Sampson

Telemann, Bach, & Scarlatti
Da Camera with Carolyn Sampson
Kings Place. 20 September 2017

I reviewed Da Camera’s very first concert, in March 1999 at Hampstead’s Burgh House, noting that “Emma Murphy is a superb recorder player … she combines outstanding virtuosity with musical intelligence and sensitivity”, and that harpsichordist Steven Devine was (amongst other things) “clearly blessed with enviable technical skills”. In 2001, I commented on their “well-balanced programme, a friendly and informal stage manner, fine musicianship and superb playing” – a comment that they quoted in the programme for this Kings Place concert. In a later review, I praised Susanna Pell for producing a “wide range of tones and textures from her gamba, both in accompanying and in solo pieces”. Since those early days, they have each developed their own independent careers (and, indeed, families), but have now returned to the musical fray with a series of concerts and a new Telemann CD. Continue reading

Bach Through Time

‘Cello Unwrapped’ – Bach Through Time
Christophe Coin, cello & piccolo cello

Kings Place. 11 January 2017

Domenico Gabrielli: Ricercar No. 3 in D
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008
Dall’Abaco: Capriccio No. 8 in G; Capriccio No. 6 in E minor (collage)
Bernhard Romberg: Praeludium in C minor
Félix Battanchon: Pièce caractéristique (Enterrement de Carnaval c1850)
JS Bach: Cello Suite No. 6 in D, BWV 1012 (performed on cello piccolo)

Following on from last years’ Baroque Unwrapped series of concerts, the latest in the Kings Place ‘Unwrapped’ series is devoted to the cello (see here). Included within that series are threWP_20170111_21_41_56_Pro.jpge concerts under the title of Bach Through Time, the first of which featured Christophe Coin playing solo cello – or, in this case, two solo cellos with three different bows. He opened with one of the very first compositions for solo cello, the third of Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercars, a lively piece in the trumpet key of D major which included many triad fanfare motifs. This Gabrielli (no relation) was part of the rich musical foundation of the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna and also worked for the d’Este family in Moderna. Continue reading

Le coucher du soleil

Le coucher du soleil
A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste. Music of the French Baroque – 1
Instruments of Time and Truth, Edward Higginbottom, Robyn Allegra Parton
Kings Place, 25 November 2016

F Couperin: Sonate: La Pucelle, Première Leçon de Ténèbres, L’apothéose de Corelli;
Jacquet de La Guerre: Pièces de clavecin
Clérambault: Cantate Abraham
Leclair: Violin Sonata in C Major, Op 2/3
Mondonville: Pièces de clavecin avec voix ou violon: In decachordo psalterio, Regina terrae, Benefac Domine;
Rameau: Deuxième concert from Pièces de clavecin en Concert

The Kings Place year-long ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series of concerts drew close to its end with a ‘A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste’, devoted to music of the French Baroque in a period where bon gout was the watchword. The concert by the Oxford based Instruments of Time and Truth, directed by Edward Higginbottom (an acknowledged expert on French music) looked at the increasing influence of Italian music after the rather musically insular period of the reign of the Sun King.

The concert opened and closed with François Couperin. His first trio sonata, La Pucelle (c1692), was written under an Italian pseudonym. His concluding L’apothéose de Corelli, was his more open attempt to show how the disparate Italian and French styles could, and should, be combined. The programme note quoted several comments from the time expressing the differences between the styles, including a reference to a lady of the Court of Louis XIV fainting with delight or terror at hearing an Italian inspired violinist playing his ‘rapid passages’. Louis XIV’s response to such Italian virtuosity was to invite a simple melody from a French violinist with the comments that ‘That is my taste’.

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The Concerto in England: Handel & contemporaries

The Concerto in England: Handel & contemporaries
Avison Ensemble
Kings Place. 30 September 2016

Concertos by Avison, Garth, Handel, Herschel and Stanley.

As part of the Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season, the Newcastle-based Avison Ensemble explored the world of the 18th century concerto, and the equally interesting world of English provincial musical life. Charles Avison (pictured) was a Newcastle born organist and composer who absorbed the musical style of Geminiani and Scarlatti during a short period in London before being enticed back to Newcastle with the promise of prestigious organist post complete with a new organ. He made a handsome living through teaching and arranging subscription concerts. He was also a fierce reviewer of other composers, including Handel.

Avison’s 1758 Concerto Grosso in D (Op6/9) was an excellent example of the rather conservative type of piece that he wrote for the Newcastle Music Society. A rather bucolic opening reminiscent of hunting horns over a drone Continue reading

Fitzwilliam & Friends: Purcell + Pergolesi +

Fitzwilliam & Friends: Purcell + Pergolesi +
Fitzwilliam String Quartet, Julia Doyle, Clare Wilkinson
Kings Place. 29 September 2016

Music by Purcell, Marcus Barcham Stevens, Jackson Hill, Rachel Stott, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater

Image result for julia doyle sopranoKings Place’s 2016 ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series continued with a fascinating combination of musical styles performed by the period instrument Fitzwilliam String Quartet together with their ‘Friends’, soprano Julia Doyle (pictured) and mezzo Clare Wilkinson, two of the finest singers around, with Laurence Cummings, harpsichord and organ. They opened collectively with three groups of pieces selected from Purcell’s Fairy Queen, King Arthur, and Dido and Aeneas. Julia Doyle and Clare Wilkinson were outstanding soloists in piece such as If Love’s a Sweet Passion’, The Plaint, Fairest Isle and Dido’s Lament. I was particularly impressed with Julia Doyle’s beautiful singing and her excellent use of ornaments: she is one of the few singers who can manage a proper trill, rather than just relying on vibrato.

With the departure of the ‘friends’, the Fitzwilliam Quartet continued with Purcell’s Fantazia 7 followed by three of the specially commissioned Continue reading

Fretwork: Passacaille

Kings Place, 12 February 2016

JS Bach Piece d’Orgue, Contrapunctus 7, Passacaglia; Purcell: Chaconny; Charpentier: Concert pour les violes; Marini Passacalio; Legrenzi Sonata Sesta, Sonata Quinta; Forqueray: Pieces a trois violes; Handel: Passacaille.

Reiko Ichise

The viol consort repertoire took a long time to lie down and die. From its prime in the early years of the 17th century, its decline took different forms in different countries. Most countries retained the bass viol as a continuo instrument, with France (and, to a certain extent, Germany) developing a repertoire for solo bass viol. Italy had long since concentrated on the violin rather than the viol family. In England it was Purcell who briefly rescued the viol consort from its death throes with his remarkable late-flowering Fantasias c1680. But there were also other late-flowerings in France and Italy from the likes of Charpentier, Forqueray and Legrenzi.

In their Kings Place concert, the viol consort Fretwork explored some of these late examples of viol consort music in their programme ‘Passacaille’, the concert title giving a clue as to the nature of several of the pieces. They also ‘borrowed’ the music of Bach and Handel to add another theme their programme. They opened with Bach and a transcription of the central part of his Pièce d’Orgue (Fantasia in G minor: BWV572) Continue reading

A New Song: Bach and the German Baroque

A New Song: Bach and the German Baroque
Oxford Baroque
Kings Place, 11 February 2016

JS Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein nein neues Lied (BWV 225), Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230), Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227); J Ludwig Bach: Das ist meine Freude; Schütz Singet dem Herr ein neues Lied (SWV 35), and pieces by Gabrieli, Calvisius, Johann Walther, Hassler, Erbach, Roth, Handl.

The Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series continued with a fascinating concert by Oxford Baroque exploring the rich history of the German motet, generally focussing on the late Renaissance, but with three of Bach’s motets and one by his second cousin and near contemporary, Johann Ludwig Bach. As is so often the case with programmes like this, the sheer power and musical conviction of JS Bach’s motets put all the other composers into the shade, but I guess the audience would have been smaller if JS Bach wasn’t represented.

As David Lee pointed out in his programme note, writers often assume that Bach’s motets are an essay in an outdated form, rather like Purcell’s Fantasias for the viols. But they are in fact a continuation of an important Lutheran tradition. Described (by JG Walther, in 1732) as a “composition on a biblical text, to be sung with only continuo instruments, richly ornamented with fugues and imitations”, they reflect Luther’s insistence on the importance of music as “the greatest treasure in the world”.

WP_20160211_21_22_46_Pro.jpgA simple chorale-like setting of Ein neues Lied wir heben an by Johann Walther (1496-1570) was segued into Schütz’s sumptuous 8-part setting of Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, the voices swinging from left to right in the Italian polychoral tradition. It was noticeable how Schütz used longer melismas for the passage referring to the joyful noise of the harp, trumpets and cornets. The one non-German composer was Giovanni Gabrieli, with his gentle double-choir O Domine Jesu Christe, here using high-low and well as left-right contrasts. Christian Erbach is a composer that deserves far more exposure than he usually gets. He was represented here by his Domine, Dominus noster, the rhythmic complexity and complex inner movement marking out a composer of distinction. The slightly later Martin Roth also impressed with his Allein zu dir, with its contrasting chorale-like sections and bouncy left-right altercations. However I found the lengthy organ introduction that preceded it rather curious; not least because of the harpsichord-like rapidly spread chords.

Johann Ludwig Bach’s Das ist meine Freude was an attractive piece in a later idiom, the repeated opening phrase being a notable feature throughout. Jacob Handl’s a capella Ecce Quomodo moritur Justus was a gentle introduction to the second half, and was followed by the equally early motet by Sethus Calvisius, a composer unknown to me, and I suspect many others. He was a predecessor of Bach’s as Cantor of the Leipzig Thomasschule, and Bach purchased copies of his music when he was in Leipzig.  Unser leben währet siezig Jahr slipped in and out of triple rhythms and also contrasted faster and slower sections.

After a further two JS Bach motets, Oxford Baroque finished with a gentle Gute Nacht encore. The eight singers occasionally revealed what was possibly limited rehearsal time, and I found the vibrato of the two otherwise impressive sopranos, although mild by some standards, a little too prominent for my tastes. But otherwise they all sang with a commendable sense of style, conviction and occasional gusto. It was refreshing to see a choir singing without an obvious director, any needed coordination coming from within the group. They were accompanied by a viola da gamba, violone, and organ. It was good to be able to actually hear the organ during the Bach motets.

“Bach is the father, we are the children”

“Bach is the father, we are the children”
Aurora Orchestra, John Butt
Kings Place, 17 January 2016

JC Bach: Symphony No. 6; CPE Bach: Sinfonia in D; JS Bach Brandenburg Concertos 1 & 3; Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 1, Adagio and Fugue.

It is still a bit of a shock to be reminded that when Mozart commented that ‘Bach is the father, we are the children’ he was not referring to JS Bach, but to his second son CPE Bach. But is was through JS Bach’s youngest son, Johann Christian, that Mozart first became aware of the Bach family when just eight years old. Earning the nickname of the ‘London Bach’ (not the ‘English Bach’ as the programme note suggests), JC Bach had made his name as an opera composer in London. The 1764 meeting in London with the child Mozart led to a life-long friendship. The Aurora Orchestra (playing modern instruments) featured all three Bachs in a programme that launched their five-year long series of concerts featuring all 27 of Mozart’s piano concertos.

The opening JC Bach Symphony in G minor (Op 6/6) was written in his early London years. It opens with a short and bustling Allegro before the horror-movie style opening of the extended and rather mysterious central Andante. The Continue reading

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
Choir and Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment, Robert Howarth
Kings Place, 15 January 2016

Music by Monteverdi, Grandi, and Cavalli

The 2016 Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season will include some 45 concerts in a variety of formats. Opening the season in grand style were the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment in a spectacular programme of music from the very start of the Baroque era by Monteverdi, Grandi and Cavalli. “This is not the 1610 Vespers” warned conductor Robert Howarth at the start. Although retaining the structure of a Vespers service, the music was drawn from Monteverdi’s 1640/41 Selva morale e spirituale and the posthumous Messa e salmi of 1650.

The Vespers opened with the traditional Deus and Response, in the jubilant fanfare-like version written by Alessandro Grandi. Continue reading

The Electrictionary

The Electrictionary
The Early Music Experiment
Kings Place. 7 August 2015

ElectrictionaryThe Tête à Tête Opera Festival at Kings Place included the premiere of a fascinating new one-hour long opera, The Electrictionary, with music by Alexis Bennett, words by Timothy Knapman, and direction by Dominic Gerrard It was performed by four solo singers and the instrumentalists of The Early Music Experiment & guests.  The Electrictionary was conceived by the composer to explore the power of language and the issue of new words. It is intended “to confront progress, pedantry, class, slang and neologisms, in search of the ultimate dictionary with a riotously eclectic score mixing jazz-funk, classical and the avant-garde”. The use of various styles of music aims “to draw parallels between the deep history of words and the similarly complex origins of the multitude of musical styles that surround us every day”.  The orchestra featured baroque specialists (albeit playing modern instruments) alongside jazz/funk musicians, and the wide-ranging structure of the piece included a combination of baroque recitative and aria, the spoken elements of Singspiel, and present-day music theatre and film music.  Continue reading

King’s College Minimalism at Kings Place

Included within the year-long Kings Place ‘Minimalism Unwrapped’ festival, Stephen Cleobury and the Choir of King’s College Cambridge devised a programme based around plainchant (4 Feb).  They combined this with their own celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the completion of their Chapel and reflections on the College’s (and their sister foundation of Eton College) founder Henry VI and their patron, the Virgin Mary.  The result was a complete Sarum Rite plainsong Vespers In Nativitate Beatae Maria Virginis (including Dunstable’s Ave Maria Stella and Magnificat secundi toni) and a recreated Mass sequence De Beatae Maria Virginis, incorporating music from the Old Hall Manuscript by Damett, Bittering, Power and ‘Roy Henry’.  Each half ended with a piece from the Eton Choir Book.  The Vespers was enclosed within Robert Parsons’ Ave Maria and the Old Hall Salve Regina by Robert Hacomplaynt, the interestingly surnamed Provost of Kings from 1509-28.  The more elaborate flowing melismas of the Vesper antiphons provided contrast to the simpler melodic lines of the  Psalms.  Despite any possible arguments of authenticity, I do find the habit of over-lengthening the silence in the middle of a chant verse, and then almost overlapping the end of one verse with the start of the next, rather curious.  The 16 choral scholars (nearly all undergraduates, judging by their academic gowns) were joined by 17 boy choristers for the large-scale pieces that opened and closed each half.   Although it was a slightly curious notion to include music of this period in a festival of minimalism – and, of course, it would have sounded very different if the King’s College Choir had been singing on home turf – this was a fascinating and musically compelling insight into musical and liturgical history.  It was also a fine example of the outstanding music making that goes on day by day in our cathedrals and college foundations.