French Baroque music meets Indian Classical Dance

French Baroque music meets Indian Classical Dance
BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Sofi Jeannin
Sanskriti UK & Ankh Dance
Milton Court, 19 October 2018

Lully: Te Deum 
Rameau: In convertendo Dominus;
extracts from 
Les Indes galantes, Les fêtes d’Hébé Castor et Pollux 

In what was a rather brave bit of programming for a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast, the BBC Singers and the Academy of Music, directed by Sofi Jeannin, the new Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers, presented an evening of French Baroque music, the second half of which was accompanied by two contrasting forms of Indian dance. The first half was of liturgical pieces, starting with Lully’s jubilant 1677 setting of the Te Deum. This was first heard at Fontainebleau and later became the piece that led to Lully’s death after he stabbed himself in the foot with his conducting baton during Chapel Royal celebrations for the Sun King’s recovery from surgery – surgery that Lully decided, fatally, to refuse. No such calamity occurred here as Sofi Jeannin demonstrated her commendably straightforward style of conducting, her focus clearly on the music itself rather than on any sense of self-aggrandisement. She coped well with the complications of this particular occasion, which included a late start after an overrun of the previous Radio 3 show, and complicated coordination between dances, singers, instrumentalists, a BBC announcer and the paraphernalia of a live BBC broadcast.  Continue reading

Rameau: Naïs

Rameau: Naïs
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD924003. 2CDs 72’44 + 72’26

I have been looking forward to this CD ever since I heard this performance of Naïs in concert in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest’s Müpa arts centre on 4 March 2017 during a short early music festival. The recording dates for the CD are given as 4-6 March 2017 and, although there is nothing on the sleeve notes (or evidence on the recording) to suggest that it is a ‘live’ recording, I think it is probably based on a recording of that 4 March concert, presumably with two days of patching afterwards.

Rameau’s Naïs, a Pastorale heroïque, was written in 1749 the aftermath of Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. This concluded the War of the Austrian Succession between Hapsburg Austria and Hungary, Saxony, the Dutch Republic and Great Britain against France and Prussia, and confirmed Marie Theresa’s succession to the Hapsburg thrones of Hungary and Austria. Rameau gave it the subtitle of Opéra pour La Paix (Opera for Peace), its original title of Le triomphe de la paix being amended after concerns about just how triumphant the treaty had actually been for France. Before the story of Naïs starts, the dramatic opening Prologue depicts the tussle for supremacy between Jupiter and Neptune, clearly reflecting the agreement between Louis XV of France and Britain’s George II that concluded the war. Continue reading

Rameau: Complete solo keyboard works

Jean-Philippe Rameau
Complete solo keyboard works
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus RES10214. 3CDs 79’26, 65’45, 73’28

This important recording of the solo keyboard works of Jean-Philippe Rameau brings together in a three-CD set, pieces previously only available as separate downloads from the Resonus website. For those who haven’t kept up with these recordings, or who want a hard copy of these performances, this three-for-the-price-of-one package is a must-buy. The three discs were recorded in St John the Evangelist, Oxford in December 2013 and April 2014, and in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in August 2017. All use the same double-manual harpsichord by Ian Tucker based on a 1626 Andreas Ruckers of Antwerp, with a ravalement added in 1763 by Hemsch of Paris. The pitch is  a=415, and it is tuned in the non-specific Tempérament Ordinaire, in this context presumably meaning a modified meantone temperament. The three CDs follow a sensible order, giving an excellent overview of Rameau’s stylistic development from 1706 to 1747. Sadly, the title of ‘Complete solo keyboard works’ is correct: although he spent much of his early life as an organist, unlike many other French composers of the period, he left no compositions for the organ, although there are modern transcriptions available, in score, and on CD.  Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music 2018

London Festival of Baroque Music
Treasures of the Grand Siècle
11-19 May 2018

The London Festival of Baroque Music (LFBM) is now in its 35th year. Previously known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, it is London’s leading early music festival, not least for the number of non-UK performers that it has traditionally featured. Last year’s change in the management means that the executive director of the festival is now Richard Heason, director of St John’s, Smith Square, the festival’s principal London home. For the 2018 festival, he is joined by a guest artistic director, Sébastien Daucé. They are bringing to London a sizeable chunk of French music, musicians and culture under the title of Treasures of the Grand Siècle. Described as an “immersive exploration” of the music of the French Baroque from the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV and the Palace of Versailles, the festival features some 22 events over 9 days. It is a comparatively rare opportunity in the UK to hear French Baroque music performed by French musicians including, for the latter part of the festival, Sébastien Daucé’s own group, Ensemble Correspondances. Along with several other musicians performing, I first heard Ensemble Correspondances and Sébastien Daucé when I as reviewing at last years Ambronay festival, reviewed here.

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Rameau: Dardanus

Rameau: Dardanus
English Touring Opera, The Old Street Band, Jonathan Williams
Hackney Empire, 6 October 2017

I have been a little lukewarm about some previous English Touring Opera productions, but this staging of Rameau’s Dardanus ticked all the boxes. The first box tick comes for performing this work in the first place, an example of the adventurous approach to programming of the English Touring Opera and their first venture into the complex world of French Baroque opera. It formed part of their Hackney Empire opening to their autumn tour of the country, with Dardanus visiting Oxford, Buxton, Snape, Saffron Walden and Exeter. Its companion opera, Handel’s Giulio Cesare has a much larger tour, calling additionally at Portsmouth, Norwich, Durham, Bath, Keswick, and Great Malvern. Giulio Cesare, rather curiously, divided into two separate and overlapping, parts, under the titles of The Death of Pompey and Cleopatra’s Needle, with the last half hour of the first repeated at the start of the second, to the chagrin of some reviewers. Continue reading

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik 2017

Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik
Innsbruck, 21-23 August 2017

The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music runs annually for about three weeks during August. It was founded in 1976 and since the start has focussed on Baroque opera, in recent years usually performing three each season. Between 1991 and 2009 René Jacobs was the director of the opera programme and, from 1997, the entire festival. Since 2010 the festival has been directed by Alessandro De Marchi, who instigated the International Singing Competition for Baroque Opera Pietro Antonio Cesti, named after Antonio Cesti, a 17th-century Italian singer and composer who served at the Innsbruck court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria.  The focus this year was on the music of Monteverdi, and included a staged performance of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend for three days, so my review is necessarily limited in scope.  Continue reading

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie

Rameau: Hippolyte et Aricie
Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva
Music at Woodhouse: Baroque Opera Acadmey
Woodhouse Copse, Holmbury St. Mary, Surrey. 1 July 2017

Music at Woodhouse is based at Woodhouse Copse, an attractive 1926 Arts & Crafts style cottage orné and garden designed by Oliver Hill, a follower of Lutyens, with planting planned by Gertrude Jekyll. A former indoor swimming pool has been IMG_20170701_192809782_HDR.jpgconverted into a small concert room, and there is also a larger lakeside amphitheatre and stage. As well as small-scale professional productions, it has also recently started week-long academies for young opera singers, culminating in public performances. When they invited me to review Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie , I was warned that ‘it isn’t Glyndebourne’, but even Glyndebourne singers have to start somewhere and this seemed a pretty attractive venue for a week of music making and learning. Ten singers were accepted onto the academy, led by music direct Marco de Silva and harpsichordist Stephanie Gurga. Three of the roles had dual casting on the Saturday and Sunday performances. Continue reading

OAE ‘Bach goes to Paris’

‘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

Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie

Jean-Philippe Rameau: Les Fêtes de Polymnie
Purcell Choir, Orfeo Orchestra, György Vashegyi
Glossa GCD923502. 2CDs: 59’55+67’08

This is another in the series of recordings of French Baroque music directed by György Vashegyi with his own Purcell Choir and Orfeo Orchestra. It was recorded in Budapest’s Müpa concert hall alongside a performance given as the closing concert of the 2014 Budapest Spring Festival during the International Rameau Year, in conjunction with the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. That was the modern-day première. Few would consider it Rameau’s finest opera, but in the true fashion of French Baroque opera, it is full of spectacular music. Continue reading

Müpa Budapest: Early Music Festival

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Müpa Budapest
Early Music Festival
27 February – 4 March 2017


 

Müpa Budapest is the sensibly shortened title of Művészetek Palotája, the national cultural centre situated on the Danube just south of the centre of the Pest side of Budapest. The building opened in 2005 (as the Palace of the Arts), and was designed by the young Hungarian architects Zoboki, Demeter and Partners. It includes the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall (Bartók Béla Nemzeti Hangversenyterem), the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház), also suitable for smaller scale concerts, several other performing spaces and an outpost of the Ludwig WP_20170227_18_18_52_Pro.jpgMuseum, best known for its Vienna contemporary art gallery. The centre hosts an enormous range of activities throughout the year and, for the past three years, has been running a short early music festival, this year consisting of six events. I was invited to review five of them, between 27 February to 4 March, featuring performers based in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Budapest.


Hasse: Piramo e Tisbe
Europa Galante, Fabio Biondi
Müpa: Festival Theatre , 27 February 2017

The first event tWP_20170227_19_36_18_Pro (2).jpgook place in the Festival Theatre (Fesztivál Színház). Designed for speech and drama, it also proved very effective as a small scale music performance space, seating around 460. A substantial acoustic screen (pictured) is used to reduce the size of the large theatrical stage, focussing the sound of musicians and helping to project the sound to the audience. The acoustics are clear, with sufficient reverberation to create an effective music listening environment. 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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Divine Noise – Theatrical music for two harpsichords

Divine Noise – Theatrical music for two harpsichords
Menno van Delft, Guillermo Brachetta
Resonus RES10145. 74:26

Rameau: Platée Suite arr Brachetta; F. Couperin: Le Pais du Parnasse; Le Roux: Suite in F

You really do need to like the sound of the harpsichord to appreciate this CD, with its two powerful French harpsichords doing battle with each other and, on occasion, the eardrums. Guillermo Brachetta’s arrangement of pieces from Rameau’s Platée lasts about 50 minutes, and runs the whole gamut of the French Baroque vocal, instrumental and dance style. And it is an extraordinary style, aided by a very clever arrangement and the forthright and imaginative playing by Guillermo Brachetta and his former teacher, Menno van Delft. Continue reading

Rameau & Handel

Rameau & Handel
Ensemble Zäis (dir. Benoît Babel) & Paul Goussot (organ)
Parity PARATY714127. 68’20

Handel: Organ Concertos Op7/4, Op4/4, Op4/1;
Rameau:
transcription for organ and orchestra from Pièces de clavecin en concerts and Hippolyte et Aricie.

Rameau & Handel: Dom BedosHandel and Rameau are both frustrating composers for organists. Both were very keen organists throughout their life, but Rameau left no organ music, and Handel very little. I have given many organ recitals solely devoted to Handel’s music, but only by drawing on music almost certainly intended for harpsichord. It works well, but I would love to have heard Handel (and Rameau) improvising on the organ. This CD is something of a nod towards that very happening. The unspoken premise of this recording seems to be that Handel and Rameau (born two years apart) meet near the west coast of France (which Handel certainly never ventured even close to) in a church housing one of the largest and most comprehensive French baroque organs ever built – the 1750 Dom Bedos organ of Saint-Croix in Bordeaux. There happens to be an orchestra present. They set about a run-through of some of their pieces, Handel expanding on his Organ Concertos and Rameau transcribing some of his orchestral and harpsichord ensemble works for organ and orchestra. Both improvise at will.  Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 4/5

‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey, 18/19  May 2015

SJSS 2I couldn’t get to the lunchtime concert on day 3 of the festival, but it was given by soprano Rowan Pierce and the young group Medici, under the title of ‘Future Baroque’, with music by Handel, Bach, Royer, Telemann, Corelli and Vivaldi. Unless I have missed something, this was another event that seemed to bypass the festival’s theme, although it did include as its final work Agitata da due venti, a surviving fragment from Vivaldi’s opera L’Adelaide and later also included in his Griselda, composed for the virtuoso soprano Margherite Giacomazzi.

‘Leçons des ténèbres’
Julia Doyle & Grace Davidson, sopranos,
Jonathan Manson, bass viol, Steven Devine, harpsichord, organ & director

The Monday evening concert (St John’s, Smith Square, 18 May) Continue reading

Purcell & Charpentier: Te Deum

Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Spiritato!  Iestyn Davies
St John’s, Smith Square. 29 April 2015

Purcell: Suite from Abdelazer, Jehova Quam Multi Sunt Hostes Mei, Te Deum and Jubilate in D. Rameau: Suite from Les Indes Galantes, Charpentier: Te Deum

I wouldn’t normally review a concert given by a boys’ school choir, but the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is well-known for their music education and performances.  The Schola Cantorum supports the liturgy of the school services, but is better known as one of the few school choirs that are regularly called upon for professional engagements. These have ranged from the Harry Potter films to a recent live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of James MacMillan’s complex St Luke Passion. Individual boy singers are also often to be heard at Covent Garden and the Coliseum.

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