Elizabeth Kenny: Ars longa

Ars longa
Old and new music for theorbo
Elizabeth Kenny
Outhere/Linn  CKD603. 75’34

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This recording from Elizabeth Kenny focuses on the early development of the chitarrone/theorbo towards the end of the 16th century, its 18th-century peak of sophistication, and its reinvention for modern composers in the 21st-century.  The music contrasts the early pioneers of Piccinini and Kapsberger, the later stylistic development of Robert de Visée 21st-century pieces by Sir James MacMillan, Benjamin Oliver and Nico Muhly. The programme note includes one of the best descriptions of the chitarrone/theorbo that I have read. Continue reading

Prom 71: Bach Night

Prom 71: Bach Night
Dunedin Consort, John Butt
Royal Albert Hall. 11 September

As part of this year’s Proms’ recognition of Henry Wood’s influence, this concert reflected his 1920s Wednesday Bach Night. The Dunedin Consort and John Butt performed Bach’s four Orchestral Suites, each paired with a short newly commissioned piece (all given world premieres) inspired by the dance movements that follow the opening Overture of each Suite. The first two Suites (4 &1) were followed by the new pieces while, after the interval, Suites (2&3) were preceded by the new commissions.

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The Orgelbüchlein Project

The Orgelbüchlein Project
A 21st-century completion of Bach’s Orgelbüchlein
Compiled and edited by William Whitehead
Volume 4: Christian Life and Conduct (Chorales 87–113)

152 pages  • ISMN 979-0-57701-498-2  • Softbound
Edition Peters EP73145

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The Orgelbüchlein Project is one of the most exciting and ambitious musical projects of recent years. Bach’s Orgelbüchlein was intended to be a set of 164 chorale preludes covering the whole liturgical year. It was started during Bach’s time in Weimar (1708-17) with a few additions after he arrived in Leipzig. In a tiny manuscript book, Bach wrote the titles of all 164 Lutheran chorales at the top of the pages, but only managed to complete settings of 46 of them. Most titles were allocated a single page, with some given more space. When he came to write out the chorale preludes, he occasionally ran out of space and packed in a few more bars at the bottom of the pages in the more compact (but old-fashioned) German tablature letter notation. The title page of the autograph copy (pictured below) notes Bach’s intention for the collection that “a beginning organist receives given instruction on performing a chorale in a multitude of ways while achieving mastery in the study of the pedal, since the chorales contained herein the pedal is treated entirely obbligato . . . that my fellow man may hone his skill.” The Orgelbüchlein Project is an international project, founded and curated by organist William Whitehead, to complete the Orgelbüchlein by commissioning composers to write settings for the 118 missing chorale preludes.

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Pull out all the stops

Pull out all the stops
James McVinnie (organ) & Bedroom Community
Royal Festival Hall, 24 September 2015

The 2014 restoration of the influential and controversial Royal Festival Hall’s 1954 organ has seen a resurgence of organ recitals, although these are not (yet?) up to the frequency of the long-running Wednesday at 5.55 series that introduced the London public to continental organists and organ music. The title of the organ restoration project, and of the subsequent recital series, is ‘Pull out all the stops’, a reference an episode in the organ’s history. It refers to WP_20150924_20_52_21_Proa 1971 performance of Ligeti’s extraordinary organ work Volumina given by Xavier Darasse. The opening of Volumina requires the organist to pull out every single stop on the organ (something rarely, if ever, done), depress as many manual and pedal keys as he can by flattening his arms on the keys, and only then to switch the organ on. After a couple of seconds of an enormous crescendo as the bellows began to activate the pipes, all the fuses on the organ blew, prematurely ending the piece, and the recital. Continue reading