Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri

Buxtehude: Membra Jesu Nostri
The Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Orpheus Britannicus, Newe Vialles, Andrew Arthur (director)
Resonus Classics RES10238. 70’17

Buxtehude’s cycle of seven cantatas, under the collective title of Membra Jesu nostri patientis sanctissima, is one of the finest sacred vocal works of the 17th-century. It reflects on The holy limbs of our suffering Jesus, using texts from the Medieval hymn Salve mundi salutare, probably written by Arnulf of Leuven (d1250). Each cantata focusses on a specific part of Christ’s crucified body: feet, knees, hands, sides, breast, heart, and face, adding to the hymn text words from the Bible. It is composed for five solo singers, who usually also make up a chorus although, in this case, the chorus is the 24-strong Chapel Choir of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, conducted by Andrew Arthur, the Director of Music at Trinty Hall. They are accompanied by the College’s professional period ensemble Ensemble-in-Residence, Orpheus Britannicus (founded by Andrew Arthur), with the five viols of Newe Vialles (directed by Henrik Persson and Caroline Ritchie) playing for the sensuous sixth cantata, Ad cor (To The Heart). Continue reading

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.

Strozzi.jpg

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.

Continue reading

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

BBC Proms: Reformation Day

BBC Proms: Reformation Day
Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
Prom 48: A Patchwork Passion
Prom 49: Bach’s St John Passion
Royal Albert Hall, 20 August 2017

Prom 47: Bach’s ‘Little Organ Book’ past and present
William Whitehead, Robert Quinney, organ

The BBC Proms’ acknowledgement of the anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation came with three concerts on Sunday 20 August, starting with a lunchtime organ recital featuring the premieres of three pieces from The Orgelbüchlein Project played by its founder/director, the organist William Whitehead. The programme opened and closed with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E flat (from the Clavierübung III, BWV 552), played by Robert Quinney (who also played Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata in A major (Op. 65/3)). It also included the fourth of Schumann’s Fugues on B-A-C-H and two of Bach’s own Orgelbüchlein chorale preludes played by William Whitehead and, just before the final Bach Fugue, Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s ‘Prelude to the Grand Organ Fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach’: a duet for both organists. Continue reading

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers
I Fagiolini, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, The 24, Robert Hollingworth
Decca 4831654. 80’23

During this 450th Monteverdi anniversary year there will be many performances and recordings of the 1610 Vespers. But for this ‘not the 1610’ recording, I Fagiolini have reconstructed a Vespers service inspired by a Dutch tourist’s 1620 record of hearing Monteverdi direct a Vespers on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. The psalms and the plainchant on this recording are from that feast, using music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. The Monteverdi contribution comes from his Selva morale e spirituale, published in 1641, but containing music written much earlier. Whereas the 1610 Vespers are intended for feasts of the Virgin or other female saints, the 1641 collection contains psalms for feasts of male saints. Continue reading

The Courts of Earth and Heaven

Crickhowell Music Festival: The Courts of Earth and Heaven
Crickhowell Choral Society, Stephen Marshall
St Edmund’s, Crickhowell, 30 April 2017

Handel: Eternal source of light divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne)
Delalande: Regina coeli 
Campra: Quam dilecta
Vivaldi: Gloria (RV588 – the ‘other’ Gloria!)

A walking weekend in the Brecon Beacons happened to coincide with the annual Crickhowell Music Festival. I have reviewed the whole Festival in the past but, on this occassion, could only manage one performance, given in St Edmund’s Church, Crickhowell by the Crickhowell Choral Society and a ‘festival’ orchestra, together with a very impressive group of soloists. One of the things that most impressed me on my earlier visit was the ability of their director Stephen Marshall to attract outstanding and international renown singers such as, on this occasion, Grace Davidson, Nicholas Mulroy, and Catherine King.

The ambitious programme featured music from England, France, and Italy. It opened with Handel’s 1713 Birthday Ode – a homage to Queen Anne, and indeed, to Purcell, whose style he so perfectly absorbed. The opening arioso ‘Eternal lource of light divine’ is one of the most beautful musical creations of all time, with Handel’s understanding of Purcell’s style made obvious. It makes for a very exposed start to a concert, and one which tenor Nicholas Mulroy coped with magnificently. His high lyrical tenor voice hasn’t quite the timbre of a countertenor that Handel intended, but was nonetheless quite exquisite, in this, and in later movements. Grace Davidson’s soprano aria ‘Let all the wingéd race’ was similarly impressive. Both of these key singers demonstrated their excellent ability at singing Baroque ornaments properly, rather than using the often heard reliance on vibrato alone. Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: The English Concert

Spitalfields Music: The English Concert
Christ Church Spitalfields. 9 December 2015

Dandrieu: Trio Sonata Op 1/2; Charpentier: Magnificat H73; Charpentier: In nativitatem Domini nostri Jesu Christi canticum; Stradella: Cantata per il Santissimo Natale ‘Ah! Troppo è ver’.

Following their paired-down concert at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse a few days earlier (reviewed here), The English Concert transferred their magic to the magnificent East London church of Christ Church Spitalfields for one of the Spitalfields Winter Festival showpiece concerts. Contrasting the seasonal music of France and Italy, the music spanned the period from the mid-17th to the early 18th century.

The evening started with Jean-François Dandrieu, a composer well-known to organists for his lively Noël variations, but otherwise overlooked in favour of the likes of Rameau and Couperin. The delightful Trio Sonata in D from his 1706 Livres de Sonates en trio demonstrated Italian influence, not least in its use of counterpoint and the Corellian walking bass in the opening Largo, and its vivacious concluding Presto. A true trio, with Joseph Crouch’s cello (or, in this case, perhaps more correctly Continue reading