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

Tallis Scholars: 2000th concert

Tallis Scholars: 2000th concert
St John’s Smith Square, 21 September 2015

Taverner: Leroy Kyrie; Sheppard: Missa Cantate; Gabriel Jackson: Ave Dei Patris filia; Byrd: Infelix Ego. Ye Sacred Muses, Tribue Domine.

The Tallis Scholars were founded in 1973 in Oxford and gave their first London concert in St John’s, Smith Square three years later. They returned there for their 2000th concert with an adventurous programme centred on the extraordinary, but rarely performed Missa Cantate by the enigmatic John Sheppard. This is a curious work, although the title ‘Sing’ is pretty clear, as is its festal nature. It probably dates from the mid-1550s during Queen Mary’s reign. As was usual in England in masses of this kind, the Kyrie was not set (something that escaped the attention of the programme compiler who listed a Kyrie in the text translations). To make up for that, John Taverner’s ‘Leroy’ Kyrie opened the concert, its slowly three lower unfolding melismatic lines supporting a treble cantus that might have been composed by Henry IV or V – hence the Le Roy name. This revealed what became one of the highlights of the evening: the outstanding singing by the four sopranos whose clear, unaffected and focussed voices were a constant delight.the tallis scholars early music vocal ensemble peter phillips Continue reading

Barokksolistene: The Image of Melancholy

The Image of Melancholy
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 20 September 2015

The Norwegian group Barokksolistene make a point of ‘pushing boundaries’ with their occasionally curious mixture of Norwegian folk music, early music and electronic jiggery-pokery, played on period string instruments. They brought this combination to the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for a programme based on their recent CD, The Image of Melancholy. The electronic jiggery-pokery opened the show with ambient background sounds whilst two of the Globe’s candle-lighters slowly lit the 48 candles on the six central candelabra, seemingly designed specifically to drip molten wax on to the performers below.  As the background electronics began to merge with an off-stage violin sound, the eight musicians (an enlarged string quartet, plus archlute and what was described as an organ) entered the stage one by one and sat in a circle, as if waiting for a group therapy session. It was clear from the title that this evening was unlikely to be a bundle of fun, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it actually turned out to be.

The thing that was ‘described as an organ’ turned out to be one of those little hand-pumped squeeze-box reed organs usually to be found in Indian ashrams, with what looked like a tiny midi keyboard sitting on top, linked to a laptop. I originally wondered if all the electronic sounds were coming via the latter combination, but it turned out that there was somebody sitting in the gallery producing ‘soundscapes’. By and large, these consisted of the ambience background sounds we had already heard, reminiscent of Brian Eno’s early pieces, plus some very electronic-sounding organ tones of the type used in late 1960’s alternative rock groups. Very few of the pieces we heard were without some sort of background sound like this, whether by the likes of Holborne, Dowland, Gibbons or Byrd or obscure (at least to me) Norwegian folk melodies.

Staging is key to Barokksolistene’s performances, and much thought had gone into this, with on and off stage comings and goings including, at one stage, a bizarre dance given by the group’s leader Bjarte Eike, out of sight of most of the audience behind the central door at the back of the stage. His rocking back and forth on his own in the dark reminded me of scenes from The Wicker Man. This came as the culmination of an extended passage of what I initially thought was tuning up (and still might have been), but which then morphed into this rather ritualistic scene. Eike sees himself as very much the centre of attention, visually and aurally, and despite the mood of a particular piece, was often to be found standing in the middle of the sitting circle. Not surprisingly, the concert ended with an extended violin solo with Eike standing at the front of the gallery to the accompaniment of phase-shifting ambient sound and the archlute while the candelabra rose and fell, seemingly randomly. There was a large and enthusiastic crowd of friends and family whose whooping and yelling at the end of the concert seemed slightly out of keeping given the subject matter of the evening’s concert and, particularly, the last piece, a lament on the death of the composer’s wife. But perhaps they do things differently in Norway – judging by the encores, Norwegian weddings have more than a touch of melancholia to them.

The highlight was the singing of soprano Berit Norbakken Solset (left), both in the folk songs and the early pieces, notably in Buxtehude’s bittersweet lament for his father, the Klag-Lied, and in the equally expressive Byrd ‘Ye sacred muses’, a lament on the death of Tallis with the mournful phrase “Tallis is dead, and music dies”. Instrumentally the finest sounds came from strings in the early pieces, producing a muted tone quite close to that of the viol consort which would have almost certainly been the preferred accompaniment to singers of the time. I am not sure what the likes of Dowland or Holborn would have made of the frequent foot-tapping from one of the players, but it seemed more of a performance tic than relating to any sense of rhythmic enhancement. The foot-tapping turned into foot-stomping from Bjarte Eike during some of the livelier Norwegian contributions and early English dance pieces.

Barokksolistene’s describe their take on early music as treating it as “just old pop music”. I did wonder whether the rather new-age sonic background to much of this music gave it the feel of ‘old pop music’, but from around 50 years ago.

An Emerald in a Work of Gold

An Emerald in a Work of Gold
The Marian Consort
Delphian DCD34115. 72’49

An Emerald in a Work of GoldThere is a current trend of building CD and concert programmes on collections of pieces made by others, one example being the Marian Consort & Rose Consort of Viols CD ‘An Emerald in a Work of Gold’. The music was drawn from the Robert Dow partbooks, copied in the mid-1580s and now housed in the library of Christ Church, Oxford. As well as being a major source of music of the period (with 134 pieces), Dow’s manuscripts are fine examples of musical calligraphy. The music is indicated as being suitable for voices and viols, so the pairing of the Marian Consort and the Rose Consort is appropriate, the latter providing accompaniment for five solo songs as well as instrumental solos. Continue reading

Boxwood & Brass: Divertimenti for Cognoscenti

Divertimenti for Cognoscenti
Boxwood & Brass
St Peter’s, Streatham. 15 September 2015

The imaginatively named group Boxwood & Brass specialise in Harmoniemusik (for wind instruments) from the two or three decades either side of 1800. This is a fascinating and, with the exception clarinetsof some Mozart examples, a relatively unknown repertoire. The Harmonie usually described an ensemble of up to fifteen players, generally with pairs of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons, sometimes supplemented by a wide range of other instruments. With its roots in Viennese saloon and Imperial music, a parallel tradition was growing in France through military and revolutionary bands. Apparently there are some 12,000 works for the Harmonie band. Continue reading

Anne Boleyn’s Songbook

Anne Boleyn’s Songbook
Alamire, David Skinner
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 13 Sept 2015

Having recently dusted off ‘The Spy’s Choirbook’, a manuscript by Alamire in the British Library, David Skinner and Alamire have now turned their attention to a manuscript that (arguably) belonged to Anne Boleyn, currently in the Royal College of Music (MS1070). The inscription ‘Mistres ABolleyne nowe this’ indicates the link to Anne, the ‘Mistres’ suggesting that the songbook was started before she became Queen in 1533 – and, I suggest, also before she became Marquess of Pembroke in 1532, and possibly before 1525 when her father was elevated to the peerage as a Viscount, or 1529 when he was created an Earl, both ranks giving Anne a courtesy title. ‘Nowe thus’ is her father’s motto.

David_20150916_154853 Skinner’s informative and user-friendly chats between the pieces of the concert explained his reasoning that this was indeed Anne’s songbook, not least on the basis of the contents of the book. The suggestion is that the book was started in Anne’s youth, during her time at the court of Margaret of Austria (Governor of the Haspburg Netherlands) in Mechelin, or when she was in the household of the Queen of France. Composers such as Compère, Brumel, Mouton and Josquin were all Franco-Flemish composers that Anne would have been familiar with during these times. A second layer of the book has clear references to later incidents in Anne’s complex life, not least to the early relationship between her and Henry VIII. One such example was the song Jouyssance vous donneray with the words ‘I will give you pleasure, my dear … everything will be good for those who wait’ – there is a suggestion that this is a song that Anne herself sang to Henry – who (we were gleefully told) she apparently pleasured “in the French manner” before their marriage. Continue reading

Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds

Mynstrelles with Straunge Sounds
Clare Wilkinson, Rose Consort of Viols
Delphian DCD34169. 67’20

Mynstrelles With Straunge Sounds Works Rose Consort Of Viols DelphianAnon: And I were a maiden, De tous biens plaine, Fortuna desperate; Henry VIII: Helas madame, van Ghizeghem De tous biens plaine; Josquin: De tous biens plaine, attrib. Busnoys: Fortune esperée; Josquin: Fortuna desperate; Penalosa: Vita dulcedo / Agnus Dei II; Agricola: Cecus non iudicat de coloribus; Encina: Triste España; Martini: Des biens amors, La martinella; Josquin: In te Domine speravi; Anon: In te Domine sperabo, La quercia, Biblis; Encina: Fata la parte; Anon: La Spagna; Ponce: La mi sola Laureola; Cornysh: Fa la so; Anchieta: Con amores, la mi madre; Isaac: Agnus Dei II, Josquin: Adieu mes amours.

The Rose Consort is named after an English family of viol makers active around 1600. But for this CD they have gone back 100 years or so to perform on a set of viols based on those depicted on an altarpiece in Bologna dating from 1497, around the time of the very first documentary evidence of a consort of four viols – hence the CDs sub-title of ‘The Earliest consort music for viols’. And it is from Bologna that several of the pieces hail, from the manuscript Bologna Q.18. Continue reading

Rosenkranzsonaten 1

Rosenkranzsonaten 1
Anne Schumann (violin), Sebastian Knebel (organ)
Querstand VKJK 1423. 40’24

iber Rosenkranzsonaten I-V; Buxtehude: Passacaglia in d (BuxWV161)

Buxtehude Biber Rosenkranzsonaten I Anne Schumann Sebastian Knebel QuerstandFor this 3-CD series of the Biber Rosenkranzsonaten, Anne Schumann and Sebastian Knebel have divided the work into its three sections (the ‘joyful’, ‘sorrowful’ and ‘glorious’ mysteries) and have chosen a different recording venue for each section, based on the organ in each church – a commendable approach, not least because we hear a full size church organ used as a continuo instrument, rather than the silly little box organs so often heard. Continue reading

Bound to Nothing: The German Stylus Fantasticus

Bound to Nothing: The German Stylus 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

Bach 2 the Future

Bach 2 the Future
Fenella Humphreys
Champs Hill Records CHRCD102. 79’16

Bach: Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006; Cheryl Frances-Hoad: Suite No 1; Eugène Ysaÿe: Sonata for Solo Violin No 2; Gordon Crosse: Orkney Dreaming; Biber: Passacaglia; Piers Hellawell: Balcony Scenes; Cyril Scott: Bumblebees.

This is the first volume of a project devised by violinist Fenella Humphreys. She has invited six contemporary composers to write works related to one of the six Bach works for unaccompanied violin. I am not sure of the format of future volumes, but this CD includes just one Bach piece (the Partita No 3 in E minor) together with three of the new works, one based on the E minor Partita (by Cheryl Frances-Hoad), the other two based on the other two Partitas. Continue reading

Finchcocks Schubertiade

Finchcocks Schubertiade
Elizabeth Walker & Richard Shaw
Devinemusic DMC0003. 71’44

Franz Schubert: Arpeggione Sonata (arr E. Walker), Trockne Blumen, Intro & Variations Op. 160 D.802, Lieder arrangements. Theobald Böhm: Variations sur une valse de Schubert, op 21

This CD is as much about the instruments as the music. The flute is an 1859 Louis Lot (serial number 435, out of 2150 produced during Lot’s lifetime), and appears to have its own page on social media. Lot’s flutes were based on the Böhm model that became the basis for the modern flute. In 1847, Böhm passed on the patent for his flute to Lot and his partner Godfroy. A device that allowed multiple holes to be opened by one lever allowed the flautist to play in all keys and in a wider range than before. The piano is the (1842) Pleyel in the Finchcocks Musical Museum collection, a modest grand of a type with a light action that was favoured by Chopin for its ability to “translate precisely and faithfully the feeling I want to produce”. Continue reading

Prom 39: The Abduction from the Seraglio

Prom 39: The Abduction from the Seraglio
Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2015

Franck Saurel (Pasha Selim) © BBC | Chris ChristodoulouThe annual visit to the Proms of one of the current series of Glyndebourne Festival Opera productions is always a highlight. Transferring from the relatively intimate space of Glyndebourne’s opera house to the vast Royal Albert Hall obviously has its problems, but the more-than-semi-staging (in this case, with full costumes and props, but no scenery) brings a welcome chance to focus on the music. There were several surprises for those not used to the work, not least that it is a Singspiel, with a lot of spoken text, much of which is usually omitted – but not here. This gave the chance to experience Mozart’s music in its original context of incidental music to a play. The fact that the music is of the utmost complexity only heightens the suspense of waiting for the next bit to start. Continue reading

Prom 38: Foulds’ Mantras & Messiaen’s Turangalîla

Prom 38: Foulds’ Mantras & Messiaen’s Turangalîla
BBC Philharmonic, Juanko Mena
Royal Albert Hall, 13 August 2015

In an inspired bit of programming, Messiaen’s enormous hymn to eroticism and sexual desire was coupled (so to speak) with a very rare performance of John Foulds’ Three Mantras, composed between 1919 and 1930 and all that survives of his monumental ‘Sanskrit opera’ Avatara.  

John Foulds (1880-1939) is something of a local lad for the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic. He played cello for the Halle aged 20, and later became known as a composer of light music. But behind this populist façade lay some fascinating musical ideas, well ahead of his time. Marriage to a leading authority on Indian music led to an interest in Indian mysticism and esoteric thought, very much in vogue at the time. After time in London and Paris, he moved to India, founding a symphony orchestra in Delhi. His Three Mantras were composed in Paris as preludes to the three acts of the opera Avatara. He destroyed all except these three pieces. Continue reading

Glyndebourne’s Saul

Glyndebourne’s Saul
Glyndebourne Festival Opera.  6 August 2015

I don’t normally read other reviews until I have seen for myself, but I was aware that Glyndebourne’s new production of Handel’s Saul had gone down well. And well it should. It is one of the most successful productions that I have seen. Directed by Barrie Kosky, with designs by Katrin Lea Tag and lighting by Joachim Klein, the sumptuous settings and costumes would inevitably tick most opera-goers’ boxes. Of course, Saul isn’t an opera, but one of his finest oratorios, written in 1739 and the first of his collaborations with Charles Jennens. There is now a long tradition of staging oratorios, not least at Glyndebourne, dating back to 1996 and Peter Sellars’ Theodora. And with its dramatic story of family intrigue, love and hate, a youthful hero and a king loosing his mind, it certainly has all the dramatic possibilities of opera seria.

Saul, Glyndebourne Festival 2015. Christopher Purves (Saul). Photographer Bill Cooper. Continue reading

Lachrimae: Anna Prohaska

Anna Prohaska & Arcangelo
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 2 August 2015

The latest in the series of candle-lit concerts in the Jacobean Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on London’s South Bank featured soprano Anna Prohaska with Arcangelo and a programme based around the theme of melancholy, under the title of ‘Lachrimae’. Devised by Anna Prohaska, the pieces chosen reflected the wide range of compositional possibilities used by early Baroque composers from England and Italy. The music ranged from intimate Purcell settings to dramatic Italian opera scenes.

Anna ProhaskaI first reviewed Anna Prohaska in 2012 Wigmore Hall concert (broadcast live on Radio 3) and noted that “… If I had read Anna Prohaska’s CV (full of names like the Berliner Philharmoniker, Weiner Philharmoniker, Deutsche Staatoper Berlin) before I heard her sing, I would have wondered why on earth the Academy of Ancient Music had booked her”. But, for the ‘early music’ vocal scene, she was a real find. I don’t know what, or how, she sings with these orchestral big boys, but her beautifully eloquent and pure voice is just the thing for this repertoire, as was her presentation. She is of impeccable musical stock – her father and mother were an opera director and singer, her grandfather and great-grandfather a conductor and composer respectively.  She has a very attractively un-diva like and engaging stage manner, giving the impression of singing with us, rather that at us, and involving us in the emotional turmoil of the various pieces.  She has an exquisitely warm timbre with a slightly mezzo-ish tinge and demonstrated a thorough understanding of her chosen repertoire (and its wide range of emotions), with fine da capo elaborations and the rare ability to trill properly. Her use of rhetoric to accent emotive moments was spot on, as was her heart-wrenching cries of “Gabriel” in Purcell’s ‘Tell me, some pitying angel’ – one of those moments when silence can be more intense than music. Continue reading

Proms: Monteverdi Orfeo

Proms: Monteverdi Orfeo
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
Royal Albert Hall. 4 August 2015

The 2015 Proms run until September 12For the second time this year, London sees Monteverdi’s Orfeo performed in a large circular space. After the Royal Opera House / Early Opera Company production in the Roundhouse early this year (review here) we now had the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall in front of a packed audience of well over 5000 people.

For a work that was probably first performed in a space that in its entirety (including performers and audience) would have fitted onto the front part of the RAH stage, there are obvious issues of presentation. For this rather more than semi-staged performance, John Eliot Gardiner placed his 32 instrumentalist right and left of a central triangular area, the continuo group divided between the two sides with harpsichords and organ at the front of the two sides and pairs of chittarones on either side. The strings were to the left, the woodwind to the right, with the cornetts/trumpets and sackbuts on the top of the stage steps, just below the bust of Sir Henry Wood. The soloists were drawn from the 4o-strong choir, which tumbled onto the stage during the Toccata led by a jovial chap who looked as though he had been given a frame drum for Christmas, but hadn’t got round to reading the instruction manual, consequently beating it mercilessly with his fist. The youthful chorus of Nymphs and Shepherds (men in casual black, women in bright block colours) bounced around to the merciless thump of the drum and rattle of a tambourine. The two very professional-looking dancers who took over the front stage turned out to be the key soloists Mariana Flores and Francesca Aspromonte (Eurydice and Musica who, in a nice twist, also sang the role of the Messenger). Continue reading

Compère: Magnificat, Motets and Chansons

Compère: Magnificat, Motets and Chansons
Orlando Consort
Hyperion CDA68069. 68’22

Loyset Compère is not as well-known as he deserves to be, and this recording could be the means by which his (recently re-assessed) place in musical history is acknowledged. The key to the re-assessment is the slightly embarrassing realisation that the Josquin that musicologists assumed to have been born in 1440 was not, in fact, Josquin des Prez, but another Josquin altogether. That makes Josquin des Prez around 10 years younger than thought. Similar birth date realignment concerning Obrecht and Agricola also make them younger than first thought. As David Fallows explains in his comprehensive programme notes, this leaves Loyset Compère as one of the earliest composers in the imitative style, now known to be later developed, rather than instigated, by Josquin and others. Continue reading

Mozart: Stolen Beauties

Mozart: Stolen Beauties
Ironwood with Anneke Scott, natural & piston horns
St George Hanover Square, 21 June 2015
and ABC Classics. ABC 481 1244

Mozart: Stolen BeautiesA CD launch concert in Handel’s own parish church of St George, Hanover Square featured the programme from the CD ‘Mozart: Stolen Beauties’. Ironwood is an Australian period instrument ensemble formed in 2006. They were joined by the distinguished horn player Anneke Scott, here playing both natural (or ‘hand’) and piston horn.

The ‘beauty’ that wasn’t stolen was the concluding Mozart Quintet for horn and strings in E-flat (K407). The autograph of this work was last known of in London 1847 when it appeared at a sale. It had earlier also proved elusive when Constanze explained to a potential publisher that the horn player Joseph Leitgeb had the score, but that he ‘lived in the suburbs’ of Vienna and would therefore be ‘difficult to track down’. The horn is accompanied by the unusual formation of violin, two violas and cello, rather than with two violins. This gives a richly sonorous timbre to the work, which Mozart (himself a viola player) used to highlight the key violin contributions. The horn writing is virtuosic, using the full range of the instrument of the day. Continue reading

Forgotten Vienna 2: Amadè Players

Forgotten Vienna 2: Amadè Players
St John’s, Smith Square. 1 July 2015

Carl Ordonez Sinfonia in C; CPE Bach Cello Concerto in g; Georg Mathias Monn Cello Concerto in G Minor; Alessandro Rolla Violin Concerto in G BI 520
Poppy Walshaw, cello, George Clifford, violin, Nicholas Newland, director.

WP_20150429_19_09_23_ProThe Amadé Players returned to St John’s, Smith Square for the second in their Forgotten Vienna series. The title is a bit misleading – it is not Vienna that has been forgotten, but the wealth of composers from central and eastern European lands that flocked there in the 18th century. On this occasion the composers represent Moravia, Germany, Vienna itself, and Italy.

As with their last concert, names were an issue – the first composer (from Moravia), was listed as Carl Ordonez, but is also known as Karl von Ordoñez, Carlo or Carl d’Ordonetz, Ordonnetz, d’Ordóñez, d’Ordonez and Ordoniz. Such was social life in 18th century Vienna that his ranking in the lower nobility prevented him from working as a musician, instead having a career in the civil service. His rather conservative Sinfonia in C (Brown C1), with its delightfully delicate opening Adagio, demonstrated a tentative move from the Baroque to the Classical era. There followed the first of two cello concertos, played by Poppy Walshaw. The conductor, Nicholas Newland, explained that the addition of a second concerto was to replace the originally advertised Waňhal’s Concerto for 2 Bassoons, omitted because of the lack of the requisite number of bassoons.

The first cello concerto to be played was the more advanced in style of the two. CPE Bach’s Concerto in a opening in typical Empfindsamer Stil with an orchestral unison, immediately challenged by contrary-motion scales and a yearning melody for the solo cello followed by a motif built on rapidly repeated notes – a typical CPE Bach mix of colours and textures.  The first movement ended with the first of Poppy Walshaw’s excellent cadenzas, all kept well within the bounds and style of the piece. In the slow movement, the sound of the solo cello was allowed to grow delicately out of the orchestral texture. The skittish final movement saw the cello finally break free from its former collaborative role with a virtuoso series of flourishes.

The second cello concerto, after the interval, was the little known Concerto in g by Georg Matthias Monn (aka. Johann Georg Mann). In the pre-classical Galant style, his slightly formulaic compositional style was balanced by some very tricky passages for the solo cellist, with wide-spaced melodic lines and leaps using the whole gamut of the cello. Poppy Walshaw dealt with all these challenges with apparent ease, relishing the technical complexities and flourishes. Her playing in both these concertos (a big ask for any soloist) demonstrated a natural and sensitive understanding of the music, and the importance of working with the orchestra, rather than challenging it. The stifling heat of the hottest July day since records began no doubt added to the intonation woes of the violins, but a tuning pause after the first movement might have helped.

PictureThe evening ended with the Violin Concerto in G (B1:520) by Allessandro Rolla, an Italian composer better known today as the teacher or Paganini than for his own compositions. Clearly in a later genre that the other works on the programme, this was very obviously a work written by a violin virtuoso to demonstrate his own skills. In contrast to the earlier composers, the solo moments were accompanied by the full orchestra, rather than a Baroque-style continuo group. As with Poppy Walshaw earlier, George Clifford produced a superb extended cadenza towards the end of the first movement, building on the advanced techniques already demonstrated. Switching between arco and pizzicato (and on one occasion, both at the same time) and taking the melodic line well towards the top of the violin fingerboard, Rolla would have approved.

Bach & Entourage: Sonatas for Violin and Basso continuo

Bach & Entourage
Johannes Pramsohler, violin, Philippe Grisvard, harpsichord
Audax ADX13703. 65’11

Sonatas for Violin and Basso continuo by Bach, Pisendel, Graun and Krebs

I have been watching violinist Johannes Pramsohler make his mark in the world of period violin playing over the past few years, and this CD shows that his growing reputation is well deserved. This well-chosen programme of relatively unknown Sonatas from the Bach circle, is a telling reminder that although his later fame came from his organ playing, Bach’s early childhood was spent learning the violin from his violinist father. As Pramsohler’s notes point out, it was only when the 10 year-old Bach, now orphaned, moved into his organ-playing elder brother’s house, that he started to focus on the organ. But he kept his father’s violin, his only inheritance, all his life. Although only one work is definitely by Bach, with two possibly Bach’s, Bach is suffused throughout the other works, by Pisendel, Graun and Krebs, representing the extraordinary flowering of musical talent in 18th century Weimar, Leipzig and Dresden.  The Graun and Krebs works are world premiere recordings, taking us into a slightly later musical period.  The CD ends with Bach’s extraordinary Fugue in g (BWV 1026).   Continue reading

John Scott: Gala opening recital

John Scott: Gala opening recital
on William Drake’s reconstruction of the 1735 Richard Bridge Organ
in Christ Church, Spitalfields. 30 June 2015

ABW SpitalfieldsIn one of the highlights in the English organ world for many a year, William Drake’s reconstruction of the extraordinary 1735 Richard Bridge organ in Christ Church, Spitalfields was opened last night with a Gala Concert given by John Scott. John is one of the Patrons of the Friends of Christ Church Spitalfields, who for nearly 40 years have been fundraising for the restoration of this spectacular church as well as the Bridge organ.

Christ Church, Spitalfields was built between 1714 and 1729 as part of the ’Fifty New Churches’ Act of Parliament of 1711. It is one of the six London East London churches designed by the distinctive Baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. The organ was built by Richard Bridge, one of the leading Continue reading

Beethoven and the art of arrangement: Ensemble DeNOTE

Beethoven and the art of arrangement
Ensemble DeNOTE
Omnibus Classics CC5007. 69’07

Grand Trio, Op.38 (after the Septet, Op.20); Piano Quartet, Op.16 (after the Quintet for Piano and Winds)

Whether it was a commercial or a musical project, Beethoven’s own arrangements of his works for a smaller number of different instruments form a fascinating insight into the complex musical world of the late 18th and early 19th century. The two works represented on this CD reduce the Op.20 Septet for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass to a Grand Trio for piano, clarinet and cello; and the Op.16 Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn to a Quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello. Continue reading

Haydn: Creation

Haydn: Creation
City of London Festival. London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
St Paul’s Cathedral. 24 June 2015

Haydn was a popular composer in London well before his first visit, in 1790. During that visit, according to the minimal note in the City of London Festival programme, he conducted a “hatful” of newly composed symphonies. Who writes this stuff? As well as his hatful of symphonies, he also got to know St Paul’s Cathedral, and heard one of the large-scale performances of Handel oratorios, then all the rage, in Westminster Abbey. But I don’t think WP_20150624_19_20_10_ProHaydn would have seen St Paul’s as an appropriate venue for his 1798 Creation. It was first performed in a theatre in Vienna, with its London première in the similar acoustic of the Covent Garden Theatre. In contrast with these theatre acoustics, he enormous volume of St Paul’s created musical havoc with the sound, even from my privileged seat well towards the front. What people at the back might have heard I can only imagine.

Based on the creation myth from Genesis, Milton’s Continue reading

Garsington’s Così

Così fan tutte
Garsington Opera, 7 June 2015

Garsington Opera’s 26th seasonWP_20150607_22_18_38_Pro (the 5th in their spectacular new home on the Wormsley estate) saw them spreading their wings with more educational projects and partnerships with the Royal Shakespeare Company and, in future years, Rambert and the Philharmonia Orchestra. As usual, they presented a mixed programme of popular operas, including the regularly returning Mozart, in this case with Così fan tutte.

The action was underway before the audience took their seats (in the award-winning architectural delight of the auditorium), with even more than usually well-heeled couples chatting engagingly and quaffed bubbly in the grounds. It then became apparent that they, and we, were all part of one of those weddings from hell. Outrageously dressed (and overly intoxicated) women, in high baroque wigs and dress, cavorted 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

Amores Pasados

Amores Pasados
John Potter, Anna Maria Friman, Ariel Abramovich, Jacob Herringman
ECM New Series. 481 1555

AP coverWhat is a song? The music on this CD responds to that question by crossing the bridge between art song and pop song. It combines pieces from the English 16th century lute song repertoire with compositions influenced by those works by three present day musicians, more usually associated with rock music. We hear the Genesis keyboard-player, Tony Banks, reflect on Campion’s The cypress curtain of the night and Follow thy fair sun – as well as the Campion originals. Sting’s Bury me deep in the greenwood (written for the film, Robin Hood) is firmly in the lute-song tradition.

The CD opens with former Led Zeppelin bass-player, John Paul Jones’s 15 minute, three movement Amores Pasados, written in 1989 for Red Byrd. His No dormia, is a magically evocative, and almost medieval Continue reading

Stile Antico: Music for Compline

Music for Compline
Spitalfields Festival. Stile Antico
Christ Church, Spitalfields. 5 June 2015

WP_20150605_18_45_24_ProI have followed the fortunes of Stile Antico almost from the start of what is now their 10th year. They continue to impress me with their choice of programmes, their vocal skills and their ability to work together, without the distraction of a conductor. The 13 singers stand in a shallow arc, with the voice types mixed up. The eye contact between them is not only a necessity, but it also brings the audience into their world. It is a formula that obviously works well for them, and for their enthusiastic audiences around the world.

Their Spitalfields concert was based on the music from their first CD, and explored the range of English music composed during the 16th century for the office of Compline, a meditative service sung at dusk. The Catholic setting for most of the pieces was contrasted by a few examples of later Protestant versions based 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
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

Catalina Vicens: ‘Cembalo Transalpino’

Catalina Vicens (c1622 harpsichord & 1664 virginals)
The Cobbe Collection, Hatchlands Park, East Sussex. 10 June 2015.

With the sponsorship and encouragement of the Keyboard Charitable Trust, the talented Chilean early keyboard player Catalina Vicens gave an outstanding lunchtime concert at Hatchlands, the National Trust home of The Cobbe Collection of historic keyboard instruments. Her short UK tour continues with two London concerts, tomorrow (11 June) in the Handel House Museum , and on Friday (12 June) at Fenton House.

Catalina VicensCatalina’s Hatchlands recital explored the influence of Italian Renaissance keyboard music on late 16th and early 17th century English music, focussing on some of the first music publications. England was just one of the countries that fell under the spell of Italian music and musicians as they ventured north over the Alps. Usefully played in chronological order, Catalina’s programme also provided a fascinating insight into the early development of keyboard music itself.

She started with Italian pieces played on the harpsichord attributed to Girolamo Zenti, dated 1622. Zenti also worked  in England for Charles II, so it was appropriate that the second part of the concert was played on the 1664 John Player virginals from Charles II’s Whitehall Palace.  This early repertoire includes many  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