Edinburgh 1742

Edinburgh 1742
Ensemble Marsyas
Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters, horns,
Emilie Renard, mezzo-soprano, Peter Whelan, directot
Linn CKD567. 68′

The rather underwhelming title of this CD doesn’t really do justice to the wealth of surprises within. Barsanti’s Horns might be just one possible alternative, and a listen to track 2, the Allegro from Francesco Barsanti’s Concerto grosso in D (Op3/3) will explain why. Horn players Alec Frank-Gemmill and Joseph Walters and timpanist Alan Emslie mount an extraordinary attack on the senses with some of the most thrilling writing for horns and timpani that I can think off. The return with gusto at the end of the innocently entitled Menuet. This recording includes the first five of Barsanti’s ten Opus 3 Concerti grossi, all with dramatic writing for the horns and times, and four of his arrangements of Scottish songs, enclosing a central burst of Handel.

Francesco Barsanti (c1690-1775) was one of many Italian musicians that came to England during the 18th century, arriving in London in 1723. He earnt his living from teaching, music copying and occasional oboe playing. He was a companion of his fellow import from Lucca, Francesco Geminiani, who invited to join his short-lived Masonic lodge. He spent a year or so in York around 1732, and moved to Edinburgh in 1735 to join the Edinburgh Musical Society and playing in their professional orchestra. He returned to London with a Scottish wife in 1743, the year that his Opus 3 concertos were published. They followed much earlier collections of recorder and flute Sonatas (opus 1 and 2) in the 1720s. Back in London he started playing the viola rather than the oboe, and became involved with the Academy of Ancient Music and the Madrigal Society.

Emilie Renard joins in the Barsanti fun with one of Handel’s most dramatic arias, Sta nell’Ircana pietrosa tana from the 1735 Alcina, metaphorically depicting an angry tigress trying to protect her young from approaching hunters, to the inevitable accompaniment of the two horns. Emilie Renard enters into the drama of the aria with some brilliantly executed runs and ornaments, although she seems to have developed a rather alarming depth of vibrato since I raved about her singing in years gone by. This is followed by Handel’s arrangement of two movements from The Water Music as a Concerto for horns in F (HWV 331), seemingly first performed in 1723, and the little March in F for two horns and bassoon (HWV346, known as the ‘March in Prolemy’ on account of its appearance in the overture to his 1729 opera Tolomeo. 

As a contrast to the energy of the horn dominated programme comes a selection from Barsanti’s Old Scots Airs, published some time before the 1743 concertos, and here performed with violin and harpsichord. They reflect the enormous interest in all things Scottish in the decades after the Act of Union.

Michael Talbot’s notes give a fascinating insight into the Edinburgh Musical Society and the life of the hitherto overlooked immigrant musician Barsanti. The performances from Ensemble Marsyas, and the direction of Peter  Whelan, are excellent. They met during studies in Basel and touring with the influential European Union Baroque Orchestra.

Returning to the opening query about the CDs title, I still haven’t managed to work out the relevance of the year 1742. Perhaps I have missed something obvious, but the date doesn’t seem to be mentioned anywhere in the CD notes. A follow up CD of the rest of Barsanti’s 1743 Opus 3 concertos, written for trumpet and two oboes is inevitable, and I look forward to it.

 

Dunedin: Vespers 1610

Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine
Dunedin Consort, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, John Butt
Linn Records. CKD 569. 2CDs 94′

During this 450th anniversary year of Monteverdi’s birth, there have been a plethora of performances and recordings of his 1610 Vespro della Beata Vergine. It’s not an easy work to address, not least because of the many complex musicological and performance issues that surround it.

The first point of call for anybody remotely interested in such things is to read the programme notes. The second is to glance at the track list. If it has more than 12 separate items, then it is probably placed in a quasi-liturgical, and almost certainly spurious, setting, with additional plainchant and instrumental pieces intended to represent how it might if it were performed liturgical. But it is most unlikely ever to have been thus performed.  Scholarship changes almost daily, but it seems likely that this is Monteverdi showing what he is capable of, exploring differing style of music on the cusp of the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque (the prima pratica to the seconda praticca), and possibly (rather like Bach’s B Minor Mass) as a calling card; in Monteverdi’s case, for potential posts in Venice and Rome.  Continue reading

The Masque of Moments

The Masque of Moments
Theatre of the Ayre, Elizabeth Kenny
Linn Records. CKD 542. 68′

The Masque was a form of aristocratic entertainment with medieval roots that reached its English peak in the early 17th century during the reigns of James I and Charles I. Closely related to similar continental forms such as the Italian Intermedio, it included music, dance, acting, mime and singing, often to elaborate sets. They were usually based on Classical mythology combined with more than a hint of current political or royal intrigues. As well as professional performers, the promoters or subjects of the masque were often also involved in the production. For many years, Elizabeth Kenny and her group Theatre of the Ayre have studied the genre, and this is their latest manifestation of that research.  Continue reading

Handel: Apollo e Daphne

Handel: Apollo e Daphne
Ensemble Marsyas
Linn Records CKD 543. 69′

Il pastor fido (Overture), HWV8a [22:25]; Arias in F major HWV410/411; Apollo e Dafne HWV122 [40:20]

Handel’s early works, particularly those written during his period in Italy have a very special vitality, musical elegance and sense of melodic delight. The secular cantata  Apollo e Daphne is one such, started in Venice in 1709. but not completed until he briefly moved to Hanover, in 1710, as Court Kapellmeister to the Elector of Hanover. It is the music performed during his time in Hanover that is the focus for this recording from the Irish/Scottish Ensemble Marsyas. Apollo e Daphne lacks an overture, so the curiously lengthy example from Il pastor fido has been included here, although at more than half the length of the cantata it makes for an unnecessary imbalance to the following cantata. That imbalance is further exaggerated by adding two curious Arias in F for wind band between the overture and cantata (here with added percussion), with a segue between the second Aria and the opening recitative of Apollo e Daphne. It’s a rather odd musical construction, but that should not detract from the many delights of this recording.

The silly story of Apollo e Daphne provides many opportunities for Handel’s sense of musical drama to be explored, along with with some gorgeous melodic moments from the two singers and, particularly, from the many solo and obligate instrumental contributions. And it is the latter that make this such an impressive recording.  Continue reading

Gothic Voices: Mary Star of the Sea

Mary Star of the Sea
Gothic Voices
Linn CKD541. 74’00

CKD 541 iTUNES SLEEVE FINAL smallJoanne Metcalf: Il nome del bel fior;
Andrew Smith: Stond wel, Moder, under rode; and pieces by Godric of Finchale, Leonel Power, Dunstaple, Richard Smert, and Anonymous.

This beautiful recording contrasts music by contemporary composers Joanne Metcalf and Andrew Smith with 12th to 15th century settings of Marian texts, many of them anonymous.

The first part explores the mythical and spiritual qualities of Mary, with three extracts from Joanne Metcalf’s Il nome del bel fior (a ten-part setting of extracts from Dante’s Paradiso) together with her Music for the star of the sea. The opening track is particularly beautiful, with Catherine King singing Joanne Metcalf’s haunting meditation on the single word ‘Maria’. The earlier pieces reflect the different musical styles that were developing during the 13th and 14th centuries.

The second part focuses on the more human aspects of Mary, Continue reading

Dowland: Lachrimae

John Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven Tears
Phantasm, Elizabeth Kenny, lute
Linn Records CKD527. 57’00

Dowland: Lachrimae or Seven TearsWhat a gorgeous CD! As well as Dowland’s famed seven ‘tears’ (lasting around 26’) we also have a balancing succession of dances, many based on Dowland songs. The pieces in the 1604 Lachrimae publication were used by generations of other composers’ in their own versions and variations. Key to viol consort music like this is the balance between the instruments. Unlike some of their concerts, where the treble viol can dominate, here the balance is perfect, not just between the five viols, but also with the delicate tone of the lute, played with superb conviction and musicality by Elizabeth Kenny. Continue reading

Magnificat: Scattered Ashes

Scattered Ashes
Josquin’s Miserere and the Savonarolan Legacy
Magnificat, Philip Cave
Linn CKD517. 2 CDs. 84’00.

Josquin des Prez: Miserere mei, Deus; Palestrina; Tribularer, si nescirem; Le Jeune; Tristitia obsedit me; Lassus: Infelix ego; Lhéritier: Miserere mei, Domine;  Gombert: In te, Domine, speravi; Clemens non Papa: Tristitia obsedit me; Byrd: Infelix ego.

Magnificat vocal ensemble celebrate their 25th anniversary with this CD of extraordinarily powerful large-scale polyphonic works by Renaissance masters, all influenced by the equally extraordinary Italian Dominican friar and prophet, Girolamo Savonarola. His rather alarming prophesies (including declaring Florence to be the ‘New Jerusalem’, the destruction of all things secular, and a biblical flood), his denouncement of the Medicis, clerical corruption, and the exploitation of the poor, together with his extreme puritanical views (resulting in the Bonfire of the Vanities) led, not surprisingly, to his getting himself caught up in Italian and Papal politics.

The Duke of Ferrara, of the Ferrara d’Este family, was a supporter of Savonarola. After his execution, the Duke asked his newly appointed composer, Continue reading

Bach: Violin Concertos

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

CKD519This 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

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

MonteverdiIl ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman (conductor)
Linn CKD451.  3 CDs. 176’

Monteverdi’s 1640 Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria is not as well-known as his Orfeo (1607) or L’incoronazione di Poppea (1643), partly because of the difficulties in preparing a performing edition from the rather scant surviving evidence. For this recording, made in the studio shortly after a semi-staged production in Boston in April 2014, Boston Baroque’s director, Martin Pearlman, uses his own relatively conservative edition. As well as the orchestral ritornellos Pearlman has added a few orchestral colourings (using strings, cornetts and recorders) to the continuo line (of two theorbos, guitar, cello, two harpsichords, organ and an attractively buzzy regal). The use of instruments such as the cello (a later development from the bass instruments of Monteverdi’s time) suggests a certain relaxing of strict instrumental authenticity, but this does not detract from an otherwise impression edition. There is a nice balance between the over-orchestrations of yesteryear and severely austere continuo-only interpretations. Indeed, one of the highlights is Pearlman’s use of the various instrumental colours, with particularly effective contributions being made by the continuo theorbo players. Continue reading