Orchetstra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Christian Curnyn
recorded in St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, released 27 December 2020
This recording of Messiah was made over a couple of days in the lead up to Christmas under London’s just-applied Tier 4 Covid-19 regulations. It was rehearsed and recorded in the sumptuous mid-to-late 19th century Anglo-Catholic church of St Paul’s, Knightsbridge. One of the first of the Oxford Movement churches, it’s 1843 galleried preaching-box design gained some Victorian bling with the addition of Bodley’s 1892 chancel with its rood screen and reredos which, along with the 1870/1920 wall painting and panels, form the visual background to the performance.
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Jonathan Cohen
Kati Debretzeni, Nicola Benedetti, Rudolfo Richter
Katharina Spreckelsen, Sarah Humphrys
OAE Player. 19 November 2020
Avision Concerto Grosso no.5 in D minor
Vivaldi Concerto in D for two violins RV 513
Vivaldi Concerto in D for two violins RV 514
Vivaldi Concerto in A minor for two oboes RV 536
Bach Concerto in D minor for two violins BWV 1043
Purcell Rondeau from Abdelazer
The second of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s premieres on their digital platform OAE Player was a concert of Vivaldi and Bach double concertos recorded at the Snape Maltings in front of a socially-distanced audience. Many people will have already heard or seen an expanded version of the programme as one of the live concerts of the much reduced 2020 BBC Proms season. The principal violin soloist for both concerts should have been Alina Ibragimova, but the death of her father (the distinguished double bass player Rinat Ibragimov) the day before the Prom resulted in Nicola Benedetti stepping in for the Proms and this concert, which seems to have been recorded the following day in the far more suitable acousics of the Snape Maltings.
Apollo e Dafne
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Roderick Williams
Rowan Pierce, Katharina Spreckelsen
OAE Player. 9 November 2020
Telemann Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus TWV 1: 364
JS Bach Cantata, Ich habe Genug BWV 82
Handel Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No. 2/1
Handel Apollo e Dafne HWV 122
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) has responded to the Covid crisis by opening a new digital platform, OAE Player. For this Premiere Night concert, they were billed as returning to their resident home at the Southbank Centre for the first time since the first lockdown although, as you will read, that turned out to be not quite the reality. Each of the filmed concerts (there are currently twenty available on the OAE Player) are available to watch individually for a great deal less than a concert ticket (and without the costs of travel) or there is an option of accessing all the concerts with an annual pass.
Bach: Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3, 6)
The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Stephen Layton
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2019
For many years now, the highlights of the London Christmas and Easter concert season has been the final two concerts of the St John’s, Smith Square Christmas/Easter festivals. One is usually Bach, the other Messiah, both directed by Stephen Layton, the first with his student Trinity College choir, the second with his professional vocal group Polyphony. In recent years both have been accompanied by the period instruments of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Both pairs of concerts sell out way in advance, the student choirs helping with audience numbers by rallying parents and friends. Continue reading
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ryan Wigglesworth
Glyndebourne Festival, 6 August 2019
This is the 7th production of Die Zauberflöte at Glyndebourne, and the popularity of Mozart’s singspiel seems undiminished, judging by the sell-out of the entire run. This time it was directed by the Canadian partnership of André Barbe and Renaud Doucet, the former providing the designs, the latter the direction. If you are the sort of opera-goer who struggles with even the simplest plots and prefers to just let the music and the visual spectacle wash over you, this may be the Magic Flute for you. Musically, it was outstanding, with fine singing from a strong cast and excellent playing from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by Ryan Wigglesworth. André Barbe’s scenery was inventive, based on enlarged versions of his pen and ink sketches and clever use of perspective. That said, there are many questions about Renaud Doucet’s overall direction, not least in the liberties taken with the plot to fit with his own ideas about what he sees as the ‘problems’ with the original concept and libretto.
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.
Bach: Christmas Oratorio
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Stephen Layton
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 December 2018
Whatever joys the St John’s Smith Square Christmas Festival comes up with year after year (this is the 33rd), the climax comes with the final two (always sold-out) concerts conducted by the festival director, Stephen Layton, firstly with his own Trinity College Cambridge choir, and then with his professional choir, Polyphony. In recent years both concerts have been accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE). The first of the two concerts is usually Bach’s Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1, 2, 3 & 6), sung by the student choir of Trinity College, the second, Messiah, sung by Polyphony.
Handel: Giulio Cesare
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 10 June 2018
It is no surprise that David McVicar’s 2005 production of Handel’s glorious Giulio Cesare proved to be so popular. Revived twice in the years just after its first performance, it now, after a gap of a few years, reaches its third revival. The first night on 10 June was the 38th performance at Glyndebourne, and the remaining performances are already sold out. Handel’s opera, and McVicar’s interpretation, really do tick all the boxes, added to which is the outstanding cast of the current run (three of whom survive from the original cast) and the return of the original conductor, William Christie. Continue reading
Bach: St Matthew Passion
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Mark Padmore
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 31 March 2018
During Easter Saturday, I watched a broadcast from Berlin of the powerful Simon Rattle/Peter Sellars staging of the St Matthew Passion that I had reviewed back in 2014 at the Proms. And in the evening, an unstaged, but equally powerful Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performance in Basingstoke’s Anvil. The common factor was Mark Padmore, appearing as the Evangelist and, in the case of the OAE, as director. I don’t object in principle to stagings of the Bach Passions. Sellar’s use of the space in and around the orchestras was very effective, and I also liked Jonathan Miller’s inspiringly human reading in the mid-1990s, and Deborah Warner’s 2000 ENO staging of the St John Passion, which drew the audience directly into the unfolding drama. But sometimes just being presented with the music itself, without additional layering, is the way to focus on the complex human emotions that Bach portrays. Continue reading
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
Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 7 no. 5
Bach: 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
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.
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Christophe Rousset
Royal Festival Hall, 18 October 2017
Handel’s Semele is a curious work. Described at the time as a “musical drama . . . after the manner of an oratorio”, it is positioned rather awkwardly between opera and oratorio. It was first performed in concert format during the 1744 Lenten oratorio season, the decidedly secular story causing an inevitable shock to those expecting a piously biblical seasonal oratorio. Nowadays it is usually performed as a fully staged opera, but this dramatically performed concert performance gave us a chance to absorb the music, without interference from a director. Despite fairly obviously moralistic undertones, the story is about as far from the biblical oratorio as you can get. Continue reading
Sally Beamish: The Judas Passion
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Nicholas McGegan
St John’s, Smith Square, 25 September 2017
One of many puzzles that leap from the pages of the Bible is the curious position of Judas Iscariot in the wider scheme of things. The synoptic gospels do not agree on his role or the story of his apparent ‘betrayal’ of Jesus: actually, a literal ‘handing-over’ or ‘delivery’ of Jesus if the word paradidomi is more correctly translated. Two of the gospels suggest that the ‘devil’ entered him, something that Jesus had already proved adept at dealing with by a bit of casting out. Why didn’t he do so on this occasion? And if, as seems likely, Jesus foresaw, and may have actively encouraged Judas’s paradidomi, then it was not an act of free will and should not be punishable, let alone seen as the ultimate betrayal for which the ‘loving and forgiving God’ has left the hapless Judas to be almost alone among the irrevocably damned, notwithstanding his clear remorse. And if preordained, why the personal condemnation of the man who fulfils the prophecy – “It would be better for that man if he had never been born”? It was one of many New Testament events that were, apparently, preordained in the Old Testament, the juggling of which has caused many problems of Christian interpretation.
Edward Armitage: The Remorse of Judas, 1866. Tate Britain
Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
BBC Prom 59. Royal Albert Hall. 28 August 2017
The tradition of bringing one of the season’s Glyndebourne Festival Opera productions to the Proms continued this year with their version of Mozart’s often overlooked opera La Clemenza di Tito. Although I didn’t see the fully staged version at Glyndebourne, I did see the live webcast of the performance, and my feelings about the much-reduced staging in the Albert Hall is influenced by that.
Director Claus Guth and designer Christian Schmidt’s Glyndebourne staging divided the world of Tito into two, a clean modernist upper floor executive office positioned above a reed-clogged swamp where much of the action took place. A video played during the overture (or didn’t, depending on which performance you saw) which explained, apparently, the director’s interpretation of why Tito relationship with his boyhood chum Sextus went sour. The transfer to the Proms retained the dual levels, but with Tito’s domain behind the orchestra on the upper steps of the stage, the swamp rather pathetically alluded to by about half a dozen clumps of reeds and a rock on the stage in front of the orchestra. But, as is so often the case with semi-staged or concert performances of opera, this rather helpfully pulled the opera away from being the inspiration of the director towards being that of Mozart. Continue reading
Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht / Brahms: Andante from Sextet Op18/1
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: Night Shift
Baroquestock Summer BBQ weekend special
Heath St Baptist Church, Hampstead. 17 August 2017
This turned out to be a Tale of Two Churches. On my way to Hampstead for the first event of the Baroquestock Summer BBQ weekend at Heath Street Baptist Church in Hamstead, I stopped off at the church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn, known for many years as the Musicians’ Church, and an important venue for rehearsals and concerts for many musicians and choir. There I joined a flashmob drawing attention to the recent decision by the church (now run as a ‘plant’ of the evangelical Holy Trinity Brompton) to stop all rehearsal and concert bookings – an extraordinary decision that has caused a justifiable uproar.
In sharp contrast to the situation in, of all places, the Musicians’ Church, Heath Street Baptist Church in Hamstead is one of many London churches that have actively embraced music and musicians, running a regular series of lunchtime concerts as well as occasional musical festivals, the latter recently under the title of Baroquestock in food-related weekend festivals. Their latest Baroquestock weekend includes concerts by Spiritato and Istante Classical, the latter including Haydn’s La Poule Symphony to the accompaniment of BBQ chicken. Their opening event was a performance of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, to the culinary accompaniment of, you’ve guessed – Schoenbergers! Continue reading
Handel: Israel in Egypt (original 1739 version)
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall. 1 August 2017
A combination of Handel, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and William Christie is bound to sell out the vast auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall, but the first performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, in 1739, was not so successful. Many stayed away because of the biblical context of the work, and those that came were not overly impressed. The reasons are complex, but are generally to do with Handel’s move from opera to the new musical form of oratorio. The slightly earlier oratorio Saul, written just before Israel and Egypt, was a great success, no doubt because the musical style included more elements of opera. Israel in Egypt was far more hard-core, not least in the use of choruses. The first part, nearly always omitted in present day performances, is a continuous sequence of 12 choruses. Part Two has 7 and Part Three 8, but these are broken up by a few arias, duets, and recitatives. Handel made many subsequent changes to the score, and it is usually now performed in the 1756 version, with its odd recitative start (which refers back to the non-existent Part One) and no Symphony. It was the inclusion of Part One, and what was supposed to be (but I think was not quite) the original 1739 version, that made this Proms performance so special. Continue reading
‘Bach goes to Paris’
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 28 June 2017
Campra Suite: Les Fêtes Vénetiennes
JCF Fischer Suite no. 7 from Le journal de printemps
Bach Suite no. 4
Rameau Suite: Les Indes Galantes
Bach Suite no. 3
‘Bach goes to Paris’? No, of course he didn’t, but in a way Paris, or at least, France, came to Bach, through the experience of other musicians and of studying scores, notably De Grigny’s Livre d’Orgue, which he copied out by hand. But, if he had have gone to Paris, I wonder what he would have made of Campra’s Les Fêtes Vénetiennes, an early example of the opéra-ballet genre. Much revised and revived after its 1710 opening, it clocked up around 300 performances over the following 50 years. With sections with titles such as the Triumph of Folly over Reason during the Carnival, Serenades and gamblers, and The acrobats of St Mark’s Square, or Cupid the acrobat, the lively series of depictions of carnival time in Paris gave a wonderful introduction to the livelier side of French music of the period. Particularly notable were Stephen Farr’s delightful little harpsichord twiddles during the rests in the Gigue, and Jude Carlton’s inventive percussion including, at one stage, castanets. it ends in a surprisingly elegant Chaconne – an example of French bon gout that was perhaps absent in some of the earlier moments. Continue reading
Francesco Cavalli: Hipermestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 21 May 2017
For somebody who believes an oracle that he will be murdered by one of his nephews, it was particularly unfortunate that Danao, King of Argos, had 50 of them, the sons of his brother Egitto, King of Egypt. As it happened, Danao had 50 daughters, so married them all off to his nephews with the instruction that they must all murder their husbands on their wedding night. With one exception, Danao’s plan worked, the exception being his daughter Hipermestra and her new husband Linceo, who had fallen for each other. The subsequent plot of Cavalli’s 1658 opera is based on the complex series of events that occurred after the 50 potential murderous nephews were now reduced to a more manageable one. Continue reading
Bach: Brandenburg Concertos
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017
It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up. Continue reading
Bach: Christmas Oratorio 1-3, Singet dem Herrn
Choir & Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Masaaki Suzuki
Cadogan Hall. 9 December 2016
Bach’s Christmas Oratorio was originally performed as six separate cantatas on the major feast days of the Christmas Day, starting on 25 December. Unlike present day marketing operations and shops, Christmas in Lutheran Leipzig started on Christmas Day, not sometime in late-October. The first three cantatas were performed on the successive days, 25, 26, and 27 December 1734, with performances in both the Thomaskirche and Nicolaikirche. The last three cantatas were performed on 1, 2, and 6 January 1735, again with performances in both churches (with the exception of Part 3 and 5, which were only performed at the Nicolaikirche).
Notwithstanding the separate nature of the six cantatas, Bach clearly saw them as a unified whole, grouping them together under the single title of Weihnachts-Oratorium, and giving the whole set a logical key structure and theme development. As in many of his major works, Bach borrowed from his previous compositions (including three entirely secular cantatas), making for fascinating thoughts about the creation of a religious masterpiece balanced against the practical considerations of coming up with so many cantatas in such a short space of time and Bach’s allocating of religious texts to music composed for secular purposes. It is a shock to realise that, despite the importance that this work apparently meant to Bach, the Christmas Oratorio was not performed again until 1857.
Shorn of the setting of a Lutheran service in wintry Leipzig, present day performances are inevitably compromises. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment came up with the sensible plan of splitting the piece over two successive evenings, Continue reading
Hymne à la Vierge
A Weekend of Excessively Good Taste. Music of the French Baroque – 2
Orchestra of the Age Enlightenment, Eamonn Dougan
Kings Place, 26 November 2016
Charpentier: Ave Regina H. 45, Litanies a la Vierge H. 90, Pro omnibus festis BVM H.333, Pulchra es a3 H.52, Regina Caeli H.46, Alma Redemptoris H.44, Litanies a la Vierge H.83;
F. Couperin: Concerto Royale No. 1
Monsieur de Saint-Colombe: Les Pleurs;
Marin Marais: Pieces de viole, Livre III: Suite No. 7 in G, Allemande le Magnifique
Robert de Visée: Prélude, Allemande, Les Sylvains de Mr Couprin, par Mr de Viseé
As the title suggested, this concert focussed on vocal music for Marian devotion, and in particular, that written by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. There is an unproven suggestion that he travelled to Rome to study painting, although he certainly built the foundations of his future musical career whilst studying with Carissimi. On his return, he joined the household of Marie of Lorraine, the Duchess of Guise in the privileged role of house composer. The musical bond between the Duchess and Charpentier was clearly strong, not least in their mutual admiration for Italian music and in devotion to the Virgin Mary. For around 17 years, until Marie’s death, Charpentier wrote for the musicians of her household, producing some of the most beautiful music from the whole French Baroque era, most of it in praise of the BVM. He later moved to posts at the Jesuit St Paul-St Louis and eventually to the Royal chapel of Sainte-Chapelle.
Ryedale Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment ‘Experience Scheme’
Oriental Club London, 29 July 2016
After two performances during the Ryedale Festival (16 and 18 July), Ryedale Festival Opera brought their production of Handel’s Alcina to the courtyard of the Oriental Club in London. In collaboration with eight young instrumentalists from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s ‘Experience Scheme’, conducted from the harpsichord by Ian Tindale, this was a staged and impressively costumed production, but with minimal props and no sets or scenery, and given an impressively light directorial touch from Nina Brazier.
Like Handel’s operas Orlando and Ariodante, the story is based on a tale from Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, the epic early 16th century poem of knightly chivalry and fantasy set amidst the wars between Christians and Saracens in the time of Charlemagne. Continue reading
Weber: Der Freischütz
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London Philharmonic Choir, Sir Mark Elder
Royal Festival Hall. 7 June 2016
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment have been celebrating their 30th anniversary year with a remarkably wide range of music, culminating with this Birthday Concert performance of Weber’s Der Freischütz. Perhaps most noted for their exploration of Baroque and Classical music, it can be forgotten that the OAE have also performed many pieces from the Romantic era, with remarkable success – indeed, their second concert, 30 years ago, under Roger Norrington, was devoted entirely to Weber. And so it was with this powerful semi-dramatised performance.
‘Not all orchestras are the same’ is one of the OAE’s mottos, and they do seem to relish pushing boundaries. That was also the case with Weber and Der Freischütz, one of the opening salvos of the German Romantic movement. Set in a forest Continue reading
1880: Brahms, Rott & Bruckner
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sir Simon Rattle
Royal Festival Hall. 22 April 2016
Brahms: Tragic Overture; Hans Rott: Scherzo (Symphony in E); Bruckner: Symphony No.6.
Having helped to sort out the early music world over the past 30 years, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is now turning its hand to the high Romantics. Hot on the heels of their 14 April RFH performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony (reviewed here), they now turn their hands to Bruckner and his rarely performed 6th Symphony, with Sir Simon Rattle. Their programme was built around the year 1880, and compared the music of three works composed in that year by three very different composers, one almost completely unknown.
The evening started, slightly unfortunately, with the Tragic Overture of Brahms, the bête noire of Bruckner and Hans Rott (pictured), and several others of a progressive ilk, such as Mahler. Unfortunate, because of the effect that Brahms’ withering comments on Hans Rott’s First Symphony had on the young composer. The unfortunate Rott (1858-84) was a student contemporary of Mahler and Hugo Wolf at the Vienna Conservatory, and studied organ with Bruckner, who saw him as his ‘favourite pupil’. Although Rott hadn’t impressed a conservatory competition panel with a piano reduction of the first movement, he went on to expand it into a four movement symphony. For reasons unknown, and certainly ill-advised, the then 22 year-old Rott showed the score to Brahms, an enemy of anything musically progressive, and of Bruckner and the Vienna conservatory. Brahms advised the already vulnerable young man to ‘give up composing’, leading to a possibly hallucinatory incident that resulted in him being committed Continue reading
Mahler: Resurrection Symphony
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Philharmonia Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski
Royal Festival Hall. 12 April 2016
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is a remarkable institution. They are equally at home as a tiny Baroque trio sonata format, a string quartet in a crowded pub or, as they were on this occasion, with nearly 120 players fronting a choir of more than 130 singers in one of the major works of the late Romantic repertoire. They bring an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and expertise of period instruments and performing styles, and nurture, support and influence the conductors that they invite to direct their concerts. With Sir Simon Rattle soon to lead them in Bruckner, this was Vladimir Jurowski’s chance to put them through their paces with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the so-called ‘Resurrection’.
This often performed giant of the repertoire is very rarely, if ever, heard with the instrumental sound of Mahler’s time. And although that is only just over 100 years ago, the sound difference to the modern orchestra is almost as great as that between Mahler’s time and Mozart’s, 100 years before. The most Continue reading
Bach, Secular and Sacred
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, John Butt
St John’s, Smith Square. 10 March 2016
Sinfonia (cantata 42), Lutheran Mass 3 & 4, Brandenburg Concerto 2.
“To make divine things humans and human things divine – such is Bach, the greatest and purist moment in music of all time”. This quote on the ‘miracle of Bach’ from Pablo Casals was mentioned in the programme note setting the concert in context. Built around two of Bach lesser known Lutheran Masses (Missa Brevis), the evening opening with Bach bustling Sinfonia from the cantata Am Adend aber desselbigen Sabbats, composed in 1725, the lengthy instrumental opening (pictured) was apparently intended to give the singers a bit of a break after a busy week. It has a jovial, extended and rather convoluted initial theme which bubbles along until a concluding, and very clever, skipped beat. A conversation between strings and two oboes and bassoon, this is the type of piece that Bach probably scribbled down before breakfast but, 300 years later, stands as an extraordinary example of his genius and skill at turning a string of notes into something inspired and divine.
The other instrumental work was Brandenburg 2, with its notorious discussion between the unlikely combination of clarino trumpet, recorder, oboe, and violin. Continue reading
Compulsive Lyres and Fowl Play
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall. 14 February 2016
Haydn: Symphony No.83 (La Poule); Mozart: Concerto in C for flute & harp, K.299; Joseph de Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George: Overture, L’amant anonyme; Beethoven: Symphony No.2.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Department for Thinking up Silly Concert Titles had a field day with this one, coming up with ‘Compulsive Lyres and Fowl Play’. Under the benevolent direction of Sir Roger Norrington, the OAE’s programme was centred on the fascinating character Joseph de Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George (b1745), the son of a wealthy French plantation owner in Guadeloupe, and his African slave. Educated back in France from the age of 7, he first became known as a fencer, graduating from the Academy of fencing and horsemanship aged 21 and somehow collecting the title of chevalier (knight) on the way. Quite how he achieved his skills in music is not known, but the composers Lolli and Gossec had already dedicated works to him before he was 21. He quickly became one of the leading Parisian violinists and orchestra leaders. He briefly lived in the same house as Mozart (the mansion of his mentor, the Duke of Orléans in Paris), and was leader of the enormous Masonic Loge Olympique orchestra, for which Haydn wrote his Paris Symphonies.
It was one of those Paris Symphonies that opened the programme, No 83 in G minor, the so-called La Poule, nicknamed after the hen-like clucking Continue reading
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
OAE @ 30 – Bostridge sings Handel
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ian Bostridge, Steven Devine
St John’s, Smith Sq. 14 October 2015
Telemann: Overture/Suite in F; Ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebt; So stehet ein Berg Gottes from Der Tod Jesu;
Handel: Concerto grosso in D minor Op. 3 No. 5; Scherza infida from Ariodante; Love sounds th’ alarm from Acis and Galatea; Silete venti; Water Music Suite No. 1
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are so much a part of musical life that it is hard to realise that they are just 30 years. Founded some years after (and in direct response to) the raft of director-controlled period instrument groups, so influential in those early days, they reacted against the control of individual conductors by setting up their own self-managed orchestra, employing their own conductors as and when required, but often directing themselves. Seemingly able to bring together a disparate group of highly individual and highly qualified musicians, each with their own views (and without, it seems, too much blood letting), they set a precedence for the musical world.
Early involvement with a youthful Simon Rattle probably taught him as much as he taught them, and they soon attracted conductors of the calibre of Ivan Fischer, Roger Norrington, Mark Elder and, more recently, Vladimir Jurowski, all now honoured as Principal Artists. The distinguished Bach scholar and conductor John Butt has just joined that impressive list. They often perform without a conductor, producing excellent results through the encouragement and support of one their own. They opened their 30th birthday season in such a fashion when Steven Devine, one of their principal keyboard players and an increasingly distinguished conductor in his own right, took over the conducting reigns (from the harpsichord) for a programme of Telemann and Handel with tenor Ian Bostridge. Continue reading
Monteverdi Vespers of 1610
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Robert Howarth (Director)
City of London Festival. St Paul’s Cathedral. 2 July 2015
There are many ways of performing Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers, and conductor Robert Howarth’s interpretation with the Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment must count as one of the finest; not just in the technical decisions (which are complex) but in the sheer magnificence of the performance itself. St Paul’s Cathedral is not an easy space to sing into, but the 23 singers of the OAE showed exactly how to do it. It was interesting comparing them to the 106 singers of LSO chorus in last week’s performance of the Haydn Creation, the OAE soloists and chorus producing a far clearer and more focussed sound. Continue reading