Her Heavenly Harmony


Her Heavenly Harmony
Profane Music from the Royal Court
The Queen’s Six
Resonus RES10164. 62’19

Music by Tomkins, Byrd, Morley, Weelkes, Byrd & Tallis.

The UK seems to breed small-scale a capella male choral groups. The aptly named Queen’s Six are one of a particular branch of that breed, with their matching suits and shirts (and, it seems, overcoats) and carefully posed publicity photographs. They are half of the contingent of lay clerks (adult choir singers) at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, an official residence of the Queen as well as her private weekend home. Living within the castle walls, and performing eight or more services a week in the Royal Chapel; the six male singer’s vocal credentials couldn’t be greater. They were formed in 2008 on the 450th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth I, Continue reading

Bach: French Suites

Bach: French Suites
Julian Perkins, clavichord
Resonus RES10163. 58’11+67’26

Bach: French Suites BWV 812-817; Froberger: Partita 2 in d; Telemann: Suite in A.

The programme notes explain the rational for recording these pieces on clavichord rather than harpsichord, with a convincing argument based on the four-octave compass of the pieces and the didactic nature of their composition, in this case, for his recent (and second) wife Anna Magdalena. This is private, domestic music for home performance or teaching purposes, rather than the more elaborate pieces Bach wrote for public performance, using the larger compass of the harpsichord, for example the three non-organ parts of the Clavierübung. It is also the case that the clavichord was the principal home practice instrument for organists, because the arm to finger weight transfer required is similar for both instruments.

Julian Perkins’ playing is sensitive and musical. He makes excellent use of ornaments, both realised from the score and also added improvisational ornaments, Continue reading

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

Forgotten Vienna

Forgotten Vienna
Amadè Players, Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Dominika Fehér & George Clifford (violins)
Nicholas Newland (director)
Resonus RES10157. 71’43

I reviewed the concert version of this CD in March (see here) and will repeat some of what I wrote then. Eighteenth-century Vienna attracted many émigré musicians from Hungary, the Czech lands of Moravia, Silesia and Bohemia, and other smaller city-states within the Hapsburg Empire.  Alongside composers such as Mozart and Haydn, they were important contributors to the development of the classical style during the mid to late 18th century. They included the composers Ditters and Waṅhal, the focus of this CD.  Both were known to have to have played in a string quartet alongside Haydn and Mozart, so they were clearly a key part of Viennese musical life.  ‘AKA’ was a bit of a sub-plot of the detailed programme notes – Ditters is usually referred to in his ennobled form of ‘Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’, while Waṅhal was also known as Vanhal, Vaňhal, Vanhall, Wanhall, Wannhall or Van Hall. Continue reading

Bound to Nothing: The German Stylus Fantasticus

Bound to Nothing: The German Stylus Fantasticus
Fantasticus
Resonus. RES10156. 71’15

Buxtehude: Sonata in A Major (Op2/5), Praeludium in g (BuxWV 163);
Erlebach: Sonata II in E Minor, Sonata III in A;
Krieger: Sonata X in A,
JJ Walther: Cappricio in C; Kühnel: Sonata VIII in A.

I think I would be rather nervous of meeting Bach face to face, but Buxtehude seems to have been an altogether more companionable and jovial chap; something very ably demonstrated in the opening Sonata in A on this CD. Buxtehude is one of the key composers in the Stylus phantasticus – as it is usually spelt, unless your group’s name happens to be Fantasticus. With its roots in the music of Frescobaldi and the like in early 17th century Italy, the style was taken up with gusto by many later German composers. Written references to the style are rare, although Kircher in 1650 and Mattheson around 1740 (well after it had declined in popularity) both had a go at describing it – as did Frescobaldi. Mattheson referred to it as “most free and unrestrained … now swift, now hesitating … without theme or subject that are worked out”. The latter is evident in fugal passages that often start off correctly enough, but then fizzle out in a dazzling display of figuration – a common aspect of Buxtehude’s organ works, here represented by the G minor Praeludium, played on the harpsichord. Continue reading

Tartini & Veracini: Italian Violin Sonatas

Tartini & Veracini: Italian Violin Sonatas
Rie Kimura & Fantasticus
Resonus RES10148. 57’58

Although Tartini is better known nowadays, no doubt because of the myths surrounding his ‘Devil’s Trill’ sonata, it was the virtuoso violinist Veracini that was hitting the headlines in early 17th century Italy, Dresden and London. There is a certain degree of comeuppance in the fact that Tartini was described (by Charles Burney) as a humble and timid man, whereas the now relatively unknown Veracini was considered ‘foolishly vainglorious’. When Veracini descended upon London, Roger North was scathing in his criticism of the influx of Italian violinists, based on hearing Veracini play – in a style he described as ‘not better than insane’.

Veracini’s two Sonata on this CD, from his 1744 Sonate Accademiche perhaps Continue reading

As our sweet Cords with Discords mixed be: English Renaissance Consort Music

As our sweet Cords with Discords mixed be: English Renaissance Consort Music
Consortium5
Resonus RES10155. 67’15

Music by Robert Parsons, William Byrd, John Dowland, Christopher Tye, Edward Blankes, Jerome Bassano, William Brade and Antony Holborne 

There are some people, even in the fairly rarefied early music world, who would rather pluck out their eyes than listen to a recorder consort. In normal circumstance I would just warn such people that this probably isn’t the CD for them. But this is an exception that might convert some doubters. Consortium5 (Oonagh Lee, Kathryn Corrigan, Gail Macleod, Roselyn Maynard, Emily Bloom) have established themselves as some of the most exciting and committed performers of early and contemporary music on recorders. And this CD demonstrates why they deserve that reputation.  Continue reading

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy

Songs of Love, War and Melancholy
the operatic fantasies of Jacques-François Gallay
Anneke Scott, natural horn, Steven Devine, piano, Lucy Crowe, soprano
Resonus Classics. RES10153 66’41 

Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra ‘Les Martyrs’ de Donizetti (Op. 49),
Fantaisie sur une cavatine de ‘Belisario’ de Donizetti (Op. 42),
‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ de ‘Roberto Devereux’ de Donizetti,
Fantasia sopra un motivo dell’opera ‘Bianca e Fernando’ di Bellini (Op. 47/2),
Troisième Mélodie sur une cavatine de ‘La Sonnambula’ de Bellini (Op. 28),
‘Une Larme Furtive’ de ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti,
Fantaisie sur l’opéra ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti (Op. 46),
Fantaisie brillante sur un motif de ‘Norma’ de Bellini (Op. 40),
‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ des ‘Soirées Italiennes’ de Mercadante.

This CD explores the fascinating (and little-known) world of the French ‘opera fantasy’, an early to mid 19th century musical genre where leading instrumentalists, already well-used to having to create their own repertoire, arranged extracts from Italian operas for their own instrument. One of the leading exponents of that art was the renowned principal horn-player of the Théâtre Italian, Jacques-François Gallay. Five of his Continue reading

The Saxon Alternative – Telemann: Music for Wind Band

The Saxon Alternative – Telemann: Music for Wind Band
Syrinx
Resonus Classics RES10154. 62’04

Overtures TWV 44:7, 55:c3; 44:2; 55:B3; 44:14

The sound of the Baroque wind band was (and still is) more often heard on the continent than in the UK, so this CD from Syrinx is a refreshing reminder of just how attractive baroque wind instruments can be.  It would be interesting to research the extent to which the weather was an explanation for this, as the wind band was often used in Germany for outside entertainment, always rather risky in the UK. Two of the five Telemann Overtures on this CD feature the traditional French-inspired German Continue reading

Bach: Clavier-Übung III – Stephen Farr

J.S.Bach: Clavier-Übung III
Stephen Farr organ
The 1975 Metzler organ,Trinity College, Cambridge
Resonus Classics RES10120.  105’08

Bach’s Clavier-Übung III is one of his most important contributions to the whole organ repertoire. Published for ‘connoisseurs’ in 1739, the 27 pieces include music of the utmost intensity and contrapuntal complexity, alongside more approachable pieces such as the well-known ‘Giant’ Fugue, Wir glauben all an einen Gott. Bettina Varwig’s detailed programme notes reveal that this collection could be Bach’s defiant response to his critic, and former pupil, Scheibe who criticised him for writing in “an antiquated, bombastic style that eschewed the current taste for pleasant, natural, singable music”.  It is about as far as he could get from that new style, one taken up with gusto by his son CPE Bach.

Stephen Farr’s choice of the 1975 Metzler organ in Trinity College, Cambridge, is a good one. An early UK example of continental organs designed with Continue reading

Et in Arcadia ego: Italian Cantatas and Sonatas. Concentus VII

Et in Arcadia ego: Italian Cantatas and Sonatas
Concentus VII
Resonus RES10142  67’16

Handel Mi Palpita il Cor, Pensieri notturni di Filli, Sonata pour l’Hautbois; Alessandro Scarlatti Filli tu sai s’io t’amo; Francesco Mancini Recorder Sonata 1 in d; Antonio Lotti Ti sento, O Dio bendato.

Emily Atkinson (soprano), Louise Strickland (recorder), Belinda Paul (oboe & recorder), Amélie Addison (cello) & Martin Knizia (harpsichord)

This CD, from a relatively new London-based group, explores music performed in the Roman Academy of Arcadia (Pontificia Accademia degli Arcadi).  It was founded in 1690, a year after the death of, and in homage to, Queen Christina of Sweden, a major patron of the arts who moved to Rome after her 1654 abdication.  The Academy took its inspiration from an idealised world of rural innocence, and advocated a simple and direct style in music and poetry. The two opening Handel’s cantatas, the pastoral Pensieri notturni di Filli and the more dramatic Mi Palpita il Cor, demonstrate the attractive and approachable style of his early years in Italy.  Music from Naples and Venice complete the programme.

Alessandro Scarlatti’s cantata Bella s’io t’amo includes a recently discovered opening recitative – the arias are notable for the use of obligato recorder, unusual in Scarlatti’s cantatas. The CD notes include English translations of the texts, which generally focus on the complicated love lives and amours of the likes of Clori and Phyllis.

One of the delights of the cantatas on this CD is that they are accompanied by recorders or oboe as well as the harpsichord and cello continuo group.  Louise Strickland and Belinda Paul demonstrated excellent articulation and use of baroque ornaments in their contributions to the bucolic sound world, and in the two instrumental sonatas, for oboe and recorder respectively that contrast with the vocal works.

The continuo playing by Amélie Addison and Martin Knizia is sensitive and entirely appropriate for the period and genre.  The simple harpsichord realisations are particularly welcome – far too many harpsichords over-do continuo realisations.

Emily Atkinson has an attractive and clear voice, her gentle inflexions adding to the Arcadian mood of the cantatas. Only in final aria of Pensieri notturni di Filli does the voice begin to show signs of struggle with Handel’s tricky flurry of notes.

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[https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/04/03/et-in-arcadia-ego-italian-cantatas-and-sonatas-concentus-vii/]