Max Reger: Complete organ works

Max Reger Edition: Sämtliche Orgelwerke
Martin Schmeding, organ
Cybele Records. Cybele 175 051500. 16+1 SACDs. 19h 24’36

Max Reger (1873-1916) was one of the most distinguished German musicians of the 19th century and a prolific composer, organist, pianist, conductor, and teacher. After time in Weiden and Munich he moved to Leipzig as musical director at the Leipzig University Church, professor at the Leipzig Royal Conservatory and, later, as music director to the court of Duke of Saxe-Meiningen and the Meiningen Court Theatre. Despite an enormous output of everything short of an opera, he is best known today for his organ music.

He is one of those organ composers that can bring out strong feelings in the rather cloistered world of organ players and listeners. He is frequently misunderstood in terms of his musical language; the sheer bombastic enormity of many of the pieces disguising the fact that they are often essentially an extension of mainstream Baroque compositional ideas, notably those of his hero Bach, a composer he regarded as ‘the beginning and end of all music‘. To the detailed counterpoint of Bach, he added Continue reading

BBC Prom 17: Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

BBC Prom 17: Berlioz, Beethoven, Brahms
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (SWR)
Sir Roger Norrington, Robert Levin
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2016

Few in the audience would have realised what a poignant and emotional, event this Prom was to be until after the encore, when the leader Natalie Chee took a microphone and addressed the packed Royal Albert Hall to explain that, due to spending cuts, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra is to merge with the SWR Symphony Orchestra in September, and that this was their very last concert. Founded in the dark days of 1945 Sir Roger Norrington © BBC / Chris Christodoulouthis distinguished orchestra has built an enormous international reputation, not least during the years from 1998 to 2011 when Sir Roger Norrington was their chief conductor, bringing his noted ‘historically informed’ performance practice to this modern instrument orchestra, producing a distinctive style – the ‘Stuttgart sound’. The two merging orchestras are both under the auspices of Südwestrundfunk (South West Radio), the public broadcaster for Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and have very different repertoires and styles. It was entirely appropriate that Roger Norrington, now their Conductor Emeritus, was the conductor for their final concert.

Berlioz’s sparkling and witty overture to Beatrice and Benedict opened the evening, with Norrington’s characteristic attention to detail being at the forefront. Continue reading

Regensburg: Tage Alter Musik 2016

Regensburg: Tage Alter Musik
13-16 May 2016

Click for OptionsIf sixteen concerts of early music in just four days sound like your sort of thing, Regensburg is the place to be over the Pentecost/Whitsun weekend every year. Their Tage Alter Musik festival is not for the faint hearted, but the musical rewards are enormous, as are the architectural and historic delights of this beautiful Bavarian city on the Danube – the entire city centre is a World Heritage site. Venues for the concerts include extreme Baroque/Rococo, austere Gothic and the historic Reichssaal. This year was the 32nd such festival. One of the attractions of Tage Alter Musik for a reviewer from the UK is that most of the performers that they engage do not visit the UK, so it is an excellent chance to hear what our continental neighbours are up to.

Friday 13 May

WP_20160513_21_59_03_Pro.jpgThe weekend traditionally opens on Friday evening with the famous Regensburg cathedral boys’ choir, the Regensburger Domspatzen, Continue reading

Telemann: Suites and concertos for recorder

Telemann: Suites and concertos for recorder
Erik Bosgraaf, Ensemble Cordevento
Brilliant Classics 95248. 75’46

Suite in E-flat, TWV 55:Es2; Suite in A minor, TWV 55:a2;
Concerto in F, TWV 51:F1; Concerto in C, TWV 51:C1.

Telemann: Complete Suites and Concertos for RecorderTelemann taught himself to play the recorder, violin and zither before the age of 10, and continued to practice the recorder well into his teens – something very few youngsters do today. He seems to have retained a love for the recorder, judging by the number of pieces he wrote for it, including these Suites and Concertos. Incidentally, the two Suites are both titled Ouverture in their manuscripts, and are examples of Telemann’s so-called concert en ouverture style of composition, which combines elements of the traditional suite with the overture. Apart from the E-flat suite (which is intended for the flute pastorelle, which perhaps means the panpipes), all the music is from the same manuscript surviving in the Hesse Court library in Darmstadt, suggesting that they were composed for Michael Böhm, Telemann’s brother-in-law and a virtuoso woodwind player. They are all written for alto recorder.

Both types of piece reflect Telemann’s cross-cultural inspiration, taking bits of French and Italian style with a dollop of the inevitable Polish influence. Continue reading

1880: Brahms, Rott & Bruckner

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.

Hans RottThe 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

Tabea Debus: Cantata per Flauto

Cantata per Flauto
Tabea Debus & Ensemble
TYXart TXA15060. 73’01

Hasse: Cantata per Flauto; Tsoupaki: Charavgi für Blockflöte; van Eyck: Variations on ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’; Sarro: Concerto in d-moll; Jarzebski: Diligam Te Domine, Venite Exultemus; Töpp: a due; Telemann: Concerto in C; Purcell: An Evening Hymn.

Tabea Debus - Cantata Per Flauto, CDFollowing her first CD, Upon a Ground (reviewed here), recorder player Tabea Debus here works with a larger group of instruments and with a wider range of music, including two pieces by present-day composers.  The first track (the opening of Hasse’s Cantata per Flauto – a recent discovery, found in the collection of the Viceroy of Naples) sets the mood perfectly, and makes it absolutely clear why you will love this CD. Tabea Debus’s spirited, virtuosic and musically compelling playing is immediately obvious, as is her evident sense of humour, demonstrated in this case by an extraordinary sense of articulation and phrasing and a lovely little cadenza. In the second movement Adagio, the recorder weaves a complex musical line, elaborated by ornaments (many presumably improvised) in the manner of an operatic aria. This reflects the CD’s title and principal focus: of the recorder as a ‘singing’ or ‘vocal’ instrument, closely linked to the human voice, and the Continue reading

Viri Galilaei

Viri Galilaei
Choir of Merton College, Oxford
Delphian DCD34174. 75’36

Although the sub-title, ‘Favourite anthems from Merton’, might not be quite accurate for every potential listener, this collection of anthems certainly represents a fascinating insight into Oxbridge choral tradition and its music. It opens with the premiere recording of Jonathan Dove’s Te Deum, a paean of praise with an exciting accompaniment that shows off their new organ. In a very mixed programme, we then have Tallis’s exquisite little If ye love me, before Elgar arrives with Give unto the Lord before giving way to Thomas Morley, a rather dramatic switch of musical styles. And so it continues, with Rutter, Parry, Quilter, Finzi, Harris and Patrick Gowers interweaved between Byrd and more Tallis.

It should be stressed that this is a mixed voice student choir, not the boys and mens choir found in some Oxbridge foundations and most English cathedral choirs. Continue reading

Handel: Trio Sonatas

Handel: Trio Sonatas
The Brook Street Band
Avie AV2357. 76’10

Sinfonia in B flat HWV 339; Trio Sonatas in F HWV 392, B flat HWV 50a ‘Esther’, G minor HWV 393; in E HWV 394; C minor HWV 386a; C HWV 403 ‘Saul’.

Trio Sonatas for Two Violins and Basso ContinuoThe Brook Street Band, named after the London street where Handel lived for the last 36 years of his life, celebrate their 20th anniversary this year. As well as his well known Opus 2 and 5 sets of Trio Sonatas, Handel left a number of isolated examples of the genre, three of them normally referred to as the ‘Dresden’ sonatas where the manuscript is housed. To these three (HWV 392-4), are added two other proper trio sonatas (386a and 403) and two other pieces arranged by the Brook Street Band in a trio sonata format, the early Sinfonia and an early version of the overture to Esther, both of which helpfully lack an viola part. Many of the movements are examples of Handel’s re-use of material, and there are a number of familiar melodies that crop up with an otherwise lesser known group of pieces. Notable amongst Continue reading

Magnificat: Scattered Ashes

Scattered Ashes
Josquin’s Miserere and the Savonarolan Legacy
Magnificat, Philip Cave
Linn CKD517. 2 CDs. 84’00.

Josquin des Prez: Miserere mei, Deus; Palestrina; Tribularer, si nescirem; Le Jeune; Tristitia obsedit me; Lassus: Infelix ego; Lhéritier: Miserere mei, Domine;  Gombert: In te, Domine, speravi; Clemens non Papa: Tristitia obsedit me; Byrd: Infelix ego.

Magnificat vocal ensemble celebrate their 25th anniversary with this CD of extraordinarily powerful large-scale polyphonic works by Renaissance masters, all influenced by the equally extraordinary Italian Dominican friar and prophet, Girolamo Savonarola. His rather alarming prophesies (including declaring Florence to be the ‘New Jerusalem’, the destruction of all things secular, and a biblical flood), his denouncement of the Medicis, clerical corruption, and the exploitation of the poor, together with his extreme puritanical views (resulting in the Bonfire of the Vanities) led, not surprisingly, to his getting himself caught up in Italian and Papal politics.

The Duke of Ferrara, of the Ferrara d’Este family, was a supporter of Savonarola. After his execution, the Duke asked his newly appointed composer, Continue reading

Un Fior Gentile

Un Fior Gentile
L’ars nova di magister Antonio Zacara da Teramo
Ensemble Micrologus
Baryton CDM0023. 68’41

This is a re-release and re-packaging of a recording made in 2003 (first released in 2008) which stemmed from musicologist Francesco Zimei, the Institute of Musical History of Abruzzo, and a conference in Teramo that aimed to revive the music of the fascinating character, Antonio Zacara da Teramo. Antonio was active around 1400. The rather unkind nickname Zacara (which could mean a small thing, a thing of little value, or a splash of mud) stems from his being rather short in stature, and having a range of physical deformities (possible a result of what later became known as phocomelia) including several missing fingers, as depicted in the Codex Squarcialupi illustration. Continue reading

Philip Glass: Akhnaten

Philip Glass: Akhnaten
English National Opera
The Coliseum. 4 February 2016

What a lot of balls! For those expecting yet another press tirade about an English National Opera production (although very rarely from me), I stress that I use these words absolutely literally. For, in this powerful staging of Philip Glass opera, jugglers were a key part of the staging, courtesy of the Gandini Juggling Company whose director also choreographed the opera. It was directed by Phelim McDermott of Improbable Theatre Company and conducted by Karen Kamensek, an expert on the music of Philip Glass, making an excellent ENO debut.

As the name suggests, Glass’s Akhnaten explores aspects of the story of the historical Egyptian pharaoh, Akhenaten (note the different spelling), Continue reading

Handel: Orlando

Handel: Orlando
The English Concert, Harry Bicket
The Barbican. 1 March 2016

In the past I have been rather frustrated by The Barbican’s habit of promoting concert performances of operas, largely because I have known that most of them had been fully, and often very sumptuously, staged on the continent. But I gradually grew to appreciate the ability to concentrate on the music without the distraction of staging, scenery and sometimes weird directorial instructions to the singers. And, to be fair to The Barbican, there have been some staged operas in recent years from the likes of William Christie. The English Concert started a series of concert performances of Handel operas last year, and continued with their production of Orlando. Judging by this outstanding performance of Orlando, they really have got the practice of concert performances down to a fine art. Continue reading

Jacques le Polonois: Pièces de Luth

Jacques le Polonois: Pièces de Luth
Paul Kieffer
Aevitas AE-12157. 67’13

Screenshot_2016-03-06-08-03-22~2Jacques le Polonois (aka Jakub Polak and Jakub/Jacob/Jacques Reys) was born around 1545 in Poland. He was court lutenist to Henry III (briefly the elected King of Poland before returning to France, with Polonois, where he had inherited the throne) and Henri IV of France. As a lute playing composer, his pieces tested the technical abilities of other players. Much later writers wrote (with uncertain evidence) of his ‘good and quick hand’, mentioning that he ‘got the very soul out of the lute’. His extemporisation skills were praised. He left around 60 works for the lute, nearly half of which are included on this recording, many first recordings. Many include the word Polonaise in the title, referring to his county of origin, rather than the national style of his music, which was firmly French. Versions of his names, Jacob and Reys, also appear in several titles.

His contrapuntal works are cleverly conceived for the lute, using a variety of devices to enable multiple voices to be played. He was clearly fond Continue reading

Fretwork: Passacaille

Passacaille
Fretwork
Kings Place, 12 February 2016

JS Bach Piece d’Orgue, Contrapunctus 7, Passacaglia; Purcell: Chaconny; Charpentier: Concert pour les violes; Marini Passacalio; Legrenzi Sonata Sesta, Sonata Quinta; Forqueray: Pieces a trois violes; Handel: Passacaille.

Reiko Ichise

The viol consort repertoire took a long time to lie down and die. From its prime in the early years of the 17th century, its decline took different forms in different countries. Most countries retained the bass viol as a continuo instrument, with France (and, to a certain extent, Germany) developing a repertoire for solo bass viol. Italy had long since concentrated on the violin rather than the viol family. In England it was Purcell who briefly rescued the viol consort from its death throes with his remarkable late-flowering Fantasias c1680. But there were also other late-flowerings in France and Italy from the likes of Charpentier, Forqueray and Legrenzi.

In their Kings Place concert, the viol consort Fretwork explored some of these late examples of viol consort music in their programme ‘Passacaille’, the concert title giving a clue as to the nature of several of the pieces. They also ‘borrowed’ the music of Bach and Handel to add another theme their programme. They opened with Bach and a transcription of the central part of his Pièce d’Orgue (Fantasia in G minor: BWV572) Continue reading

A New Song: Bach and the German Baroque

A New Song: Bach and the German Baroque
Oxford Baroque
Kings Place, 11 February 2016

JS Bach: Singet dem Herrn ein nein neues Lied (BWV 225), Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230), Jesu, meine Freude (BWV 227); J Ludwig Bach: Das ist meine Freude; Schütz Singet dem Herr ein neues Lied (SWV 35), and pieces by Gabrieli, Calvisius, Johann Walther, Hassler, Erbach, Roth, Handl.

The Kings Place ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ series continued with a fascinating concert by Oxford Baroque exploring the rich history of the German motet, generally focussing on the late Renaissance, but with three of Bach’s motets and one by his second cousin and near contemporary, Johann Ludwig Bach. As is so often the case with programmes like this, the sheer power and musical conviction of JS Bach’s motets put all the other composers into the shade, but I guess the audience would have been smaller if JS Bach wasn’t represented.

As David Lee pointed out in his programme note, writers often assume that Bach’s motets are an essay in an outdated form, rather like Purcell’s Fantasias for the viols. But they are in fact a continuation of an important Lutheran tradition. Described (by JG Walther, in 1732) as a “composition on a biblical text, to be sung with only continuo instruments, richly ornamented with fugues and imitations”, they reflect Luther’s insistence on the importance of music as “the greatest treasure in the world”.

WP_20160211_21_22_46_Pro.jpgA simple chorale-like setting of Ein neues Lied wir heben an by Johann Walther (1496-1570) was segued into Schütz’s sumptuous 8-part setting of Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, the voices swinging from left to right in the Italian polychoral tradition. It was noticeable how Schütz used longer melismas for the passage referring to the joyful noise of the harp, trumpets and cornets. The one non-German composer was Giovanni Gabrieli, with his gentle double-choir O Domine Jesu Christe, here using high-low and well as left-right contrasts. Christian Erbach is a composer that deserves far more exposure than he usually gets. He was represented here by his Domine, Dominus noster, the rhythmic complexity and complex inner movement marking out a composer of distinction. The slightly later Martin Roth also impressed with his Allein zu dir, with its contrasting chorale-like sections and bouncy left-right altercations. However I found the lengthy organ introduction that preceded it rather curious; not least because of the harpsichord-like rapidly spread chords.

Johann Ludwig Bach’s Das ist meine Freude was an attractive piece in a later idiom, the repeated opening phrase being a notable feature throughout. Jacob Handl’s a capella Ecce Quomodo moritur Justus was a gentle introduction to the second half, and was followed by the equally early motet by Sethus Calvisius, a composer unknown to me, and I suspect many others. He was a predecessor of Bach’s as Cantor of the Leipzig Thomasschule, and Bach purchased copies of his music when he was in Leipzig.  Unser leben währet siezig Jahr slipped in and out of triple rhythms and also contrasted faster and slower sections.

After a further two JS Bach motets, Oxford Baroque finished with a gentle Gute Nacht encore. The eight singers occasionally revealed what was possibly limited rehearsal time, and I found the vibrato of the two otherwise impressive sopranos, although mild by some standards, a little too prominent for my tastes. But otherwise they all sang with a commendable sense of style, conviction and occasional gusto. It was refreshing to see a choir singing without an obvious director, any needed coordination coming from within the group. They were accompanied by a viola da gamba, violone, and organ. It was good to be able to actually hear the organ during the Bach motets.

Tallis Scholars: Puer natus est nobis

Puer natus est nobis: Tallis/Pärt/Sheppard
The Tallis Scholars
The St John’s, Smith Sq. 19 December 2015

Tallis: Missa Puer natus est nobis; Arvo Pärt: Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen, Magnificat, I am the true vine; Sheppard: Sacris solemniis, Gaude, gaude, gaude.

WP_20151219_20_17_59_Pro.jpgAfter a short tour in The Netherlands, the Tallis Scholars brought their programme of music by Thomas Tallis, Arvo Pärt and John Sheppard to St John’s, Smith Square as part of the SJSS 30th annual Christmas festival. Tallis’s Missa Puer natus est nobis (based on the introit for the Mass of Christmas Day) were threaded through the programme, but it opened with Arvo Pärt’s 1988 Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen and 1989 Magnificat in recognition of Pärt’s 80th anniversary.

The seven ‘O’ antiphons reflect the various prophesies of Isaiah that were later interpreted by Christians as predicting Christ’s virtues. Pärt’s seven miniatures (printed in the wrong order in Continue reading

O Come, Emmanuel!

O Come, Emmanuel!
Ensemble Plus Ultra
St John’s, Smith Sq. 17 December 2015

Victoria: Missa Ave Regina caelorum; Byrd: Lady Mass Advent Propers; Hieronymus Praetorius: Magnificat quinti toni, and pieces by Morales, Michael Praetorius etc.

As part of the 30th annual St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival, Ensemble Plus Ultra contributed a programme of Advent and Christmas music from Spain, England, and Germany. The rather curious opening had three female singers on stage, while five men approached down the two side aisles, deconstructing the Advent chant Veni, veni Emmanuel by passing it between all three groups. The rest of the first half was a very effective interspersing of Victoria’s 1600 Missa Ave Regina caelorum with Byrd’s 1607 five-part Propers for Lady Mass during Advent. This was preceded by Victoria’s 1581 double choir setting of the Missa Ave Regina caelorum antiphon, upon which the parody mass was based. Although the Continue reading

Ex Cathedra: Gaudete!

Gaudete!
Ex Cathedra Consort, Jeffrey Skidmore
Milton Court. 5 December 2015

Ex Cathedra Consort - credit Paul Arthur
Photo: Paul Arther

Under the inspired leadership of their artistic director Jeffrey Skidmore, Ex Cathedra has, since 1969, excelled in bringing the highest quality of choral music and related educational projects to the Birmingham area, only occasionally making very welcome visits to London. They run several youth choirs, the main Ex Cathedra choir and the fully professional Ex Cathedra Consort, and also work in schools and hospitals. Many top professional singers have come through their ranks. They continue to combine musical excellence with programmes based on research by their director, notably into South American music of the Baroque era.

Their latest venture down south was to Milton Court with their programme Gaudete!. The first half was Continue reading

Music at German Courts, 1715-1760


Music at German Courts, 1715-1760: Changing Artistic Priorities
Ed. Samantha Owens, Barbara M. Reul, Janice B. Stockigt
The Boydell Press 2015
Paperback. 504pp. ISBN 9781783270583

First published in hardback in 2011, this important book is now available in paperback. With 15 contributors, from Germany, Poland, the United States, Canada, and Australia, it covers the detailed history of the complex world of 15 Germanic Courts, of varying sizes. Many people’s knowledge of such institutions often only comes from the brief background knowledge of Bach’s various tenures in local Courts, before his eventual move to Leipzig. The essays in this book puts Bach’s career into a wider perspective, and one that is relatively little known. The Germanic system of often very small scale princely courts might have made for a complex hierarchy of aristocracy and governance, and some tricky questions of inheritance, but it made for an extraordinary flowering of art and music, as each little domain tried to outdo its neighbour.

Rather like those pub-quiz questions about the hierarchy of angels (ranging from Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones Continue reading

Brazilian Adventures – Ex Cathedra

Brazilian Adventures
Ex Cathedra
, Jeffrey Skidmore
Hyperion CDA68114. 77’46

José Maurício Nunes Garcia: Missa pastoril para a noite de natal;
André da Silva Gomes: Missa a 8 vozes e instrumentos;
José Joaquim Emerico Lobo de Mesquita: Padre nosso, Ave Maria, Gloria;
Luís Álvares Pinto: Beata virgo, Oh! Pulchra es, Lição de solfejo;
Theodoro Cyro de Souza: Ascendit Deus; Anon: Matais de incêndios

I vividly remember a concert that Ex Cathedra gave in London about 10 years ago when they performed music by the Bolivian composer Juan de Araujo. At the time, a number of groups had been exploring South American music of the baroque ere, but Ex Cathedra was the only one that really seemed to understand it. One group preceded their concert with a talk by a South American specialist who spoke enthusiastically about the use of percussion instruments, and then proceeded with a concert with no percussion at all! The sensitive and musical use of percussion was one of the many aspects of the music that Ex Cathedra got exactly right. However percussion doesn’t get as much of a look as in their earlier concerts, or related CDs.

A reflection of those earlier Ex Cathedra takes on South American music can be heard on tracks 1 and 22 of this CD, Continue reading

J S Bach: Organ Works Vol III

J S Bach: Organ Works Vol III
Robert Quinney
Coro COR16132. 61’31

J.S. Bach: Organ Works Vol. IIIThis timely (but subtle) release for the season includes three choral preludes on the Advent choral Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, the Italianate Pastorella and the Canonic Variations on the Christmas choral, Vom Himmel hoch, together with the Prelude and Fugue in C (BWV 547) which some commentators have associated with Christmas performance. These works are enclosed within the well-known Fantasia and Fugue in G minor (BWV 542) and the final exhilarating Prelude and Fugue in G (BWV 541).

Robert Quinney plays the 1976 Metzler organ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, built in the case of the 1694/1708 ‘Father’ Bernard Smith organ, and retaining several Smith pipes in the Hauptwerk chorus. Although not up to the ‘authenticity’ Continue reading

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus
The Royal Opera, Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn.
Sam Wannamaker Playhouse, 23 October 2015

Luigi Rossi is not a familiar name amongst opera goers but, on the strength of this performance of his opera Orpheus, he deserves to be. This is the last in the Royal Opera House series of five productions based on the Orpheus myth, starting with Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Roundhouse (review here) and reaching a climax with Gluck’s version, reduced to just three characters (review here)

Composed in 1647 (to a libretto by fellow Italian Francesco Buti), Rossi’s Orpheus is generally acknowledged to be the first opera specifically commissioned for France – one outcome of the appointment of an Italian Cardinal as the Prime Minister to Queen Anne of Austria, the Regent to the young Louis XIV, and his attempts to introduce Italian culture to the French Court. Buti’s libretto is a curious affair, adding a bewildering array of miscellaneous characters to the story together with extended Continue reading

Acqua Alta

Acqua Alta
Serikon, Erik Westberg
Footprint FRCD073. 79’30

Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon X à 8, Canzon II á 4, Omnes gentes plaudite minibus; Andrea Gabrieli: Domine ne in furore; Claudio Merulo: Sanctus à 16; Alexander Campkin: Colour Blinds the Eye; Adrian Willaert: De profundis; Barbara Strozzi: Salve Regina; Dario Castello: Sonata Duodecima – Libro II; Giovanni Rovetta: Domine Deus noster; Jan Sandström: Acqua alta.

What a fascinating CD! With music ranging from the Renaissance, via the early Baroque to a composer born in 1984, the programme explores the musical colours of Venice and a none-too-subtle focus on its current environmental issues. Acqua Alta is a collaboration between the Renaissance ensemble Serikon, conductor Erik Westberg and the Artists for the Environment organization, and apparently also involves a meteorologist and climate specialist. With Venice flooding from rising sea levels with increasingly frequently and with higher water levels, it is an obvious city to focus on.   Continue reading

Tallis – Ave, Dei patris filia

Tallis – Ave, Dei patris filia
The Cardinal’s Musick, Andrew Carwood
Hyperion CDA68095. 71’58

Honor, Virtus Et Potestas; Candidi Facti Sunt Nazarei; Homo Quidam Fecit Coenam; Ave, Dei Patris Filia; Christ Rising Again; Out from the Deep; Short Service: O Lord, Open Thou Our Lips; Venite; E’en Like the Hunted Hind; Expend, O Lord; Te Deum; Benedictus; The Lord Be With You; Litany.

The latest release in The Cardinall’s Musick Tallis Edition focuses on some lesser-known, but nonetheless fascinating pieces. The piece that gives the CD its title is one of Tallis’s earliest works, but probably not the first. It is nearly 16 minutes of rather convoluted praise to the Virgin Mary in which Tallis shows a considerable amount of early promise, not least in some of what was to become his trademark harmonic twists and turns. Detective work by David Allison has not only reconstructed the work from its surviving incomplete state, but has also explored the similarities between it and Robert Fayrfax’s setting of the same text. I would have preferred it to have started the disc (not least to match the order of the liner notes), but it appears after three opening Latin Responsories, the only other pieces in Latin.

The three Responsories have a complex structure of plainchant Continue reading

OAE @ 30 – Bostridge sings Handel

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

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

Loquebantur: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks

Loquebantur: Music from the Baldwin Partbooks
The Marian Consort (dir. Rory McCleary) & Rose Consort of Viols
Delphian DCD34160. 66’12

Parsons: The Song Called Trumpets; Tallis: Loquebantur variis linguis; Mundy: Adolescentulus sum ego; Byrd: Canon Six in One, O salutaris hostia; Aston: Hugh Astons Maske; Gerarde: Sive vigilem; Bevin: Browning; Ferrabosco: I Da pacem Domine; Lassus: Ubi est Abel; Hollander: Dum transisset Sabbatum; Tallis: Suscipe quaeso Domine; Taverner: Quemadmodum; Mundy: Adhaesit pavimento; Baldwin: Coockow as I me walked; Sheppard: Ave maris stella.

I reviewed The Marian Consort in their concert during the Regensburg Tage Alter Musik festival, where they sang music from the Robert Dow partbooks, dating from the mid-1580s. My review of their CD of that music can be found hereTheir latest CD explores another manuscript from Christ Church Oxford, the Baldwin Partbooks, a very personal collection of pieces that Baldwin would have got to know during his time as a lay clerk at St George’s Windsor and in the Chapel Royal. He is also known as the copyist of My Ladye Nevells Booke. One of the six vocal partbooks is missing, so some detective work and reconstruction has been required. At the end of the manuscript are some untexted, and presumably instrumental, pieces here played by the Rose Consort of Viols. Continue reading

The Divine Poem: Knussen, Sibelius & Scriabin

The Divine Poem: Knussen, Sibelius & Scriabin
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Vladimir Jurowski
 conductor, Leonidas Kavakos violin
Royal Festival Hall, 3 October 2015

Oliver Knussen: Scriabin settings for chamber orchestra
Jean Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Alexander Scriabin: Symphony No.3 in C (The Divine Poem)

In a cleverly designed programme featuring two of this year’s anniversary composers, we had the chance to compare the music of Sibelius and Scriabin, born just seven years later. The contrast between the two could not have been greater.

From the very first murmuring of the muted strings of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, the clear image was of the wistful forests and endless lakes of his beloved Finish landscape. Continue reading

Three Bach Magnificats

Three Bach Magnificats
Arcangelo
St John’s, Smith Square, 1 October 2015

JC Bach: Magnificat a 4 in C Major W.E22
JS Bach: Magnificat in D major, BWV 243
CPE Bach: Magnificat in D major H.772 (1749)

Concert or CD programmes that contrast JS Bach with his contemporaries, including members of his own family, can be tricky affairs. It is rare that the best of other composers’ work comes near to the quality of one of JS’s everyday pieces, churned out for the following Sunday services. In their St John’s, Smith Square concert, Arcangelo managed to pull it off, albeit to the detriment of the first composer, Johann Christian (the ‘London’ Bach), who opened the evening with his 1760 Magnificat a 4 in C Major. Written during his early years in Milan (where he was cathedral organist) two years before his conversion to Catholicism, Continue reading

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
Barbican, 29 September 2015

The Academy of Ancient Music completed their trilogy of Barbican performances of Monteverdi operas with Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in what was build as a ‘concert hall staging’, but was as close to a fully-staged opera as you could get without props or scenery. Rather like the recent Monteverdi Choir / London Baroque Soloists production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at the Royal Opera House, the stage depth was divided into three parts, with the instrumentalists occupying the centre ground. The Gods spent most of their time on the higher level behind the orchestra, with mortals at the front of the stage. Both had forays into the audience, accompanied by rather overdone spotlights brightly illuminating those of the audience sitting near the aisles. Continue reading