Vivaldi’s Four Seasons Academy of Ancient Music Richard Egarr, Rachel Podger Live from The Barbican First broadcast 27 June 2021. Available on-line until 29 June.
Corelli: Concerto Grosso No 1 in D major, Op 6 Maria Grimani: Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte Corelli: Concerto Grosso No 2 in F major, Op 6 Vivaldi: The Four Seasons
Vivaldi’s Four Season’s is an inevitable war-horse guaranteed to attract audiences – in this case, a reduced socially-distanced audience for the live performance together with on-line viewers who have the option to view, for a modest fee, until 8pm on Tuesday 29 June. There are limits as to what performers can do with the Four Seasons, one being musical taste. But there is no limit as to the context in which a performance is set. And that is what makes this airing interesting, with its rare performance of the Sinfonia to Pallade e Marte by Maria Grimani, alongside two of Corelli’s well-known Concerto Grossi.
Handel: Messiah Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr Live-stream from The Barbican, 19 December 2020
In what is becoming the ‘new normal’, the annual Academy of Ancient Music’s London performance of Handel’s Messiah was live-streamed (from behind a paywall) from London’s Barbican Hall. The socially-distanced, modest-sized period instrument orchestra (5,4,2,2,1 strings) and 17-strong choir filled the entire width of the stage with no apparent loss of acoustic focus in the recorded sound – the acoustics were excellent. Like any well-designed concert hall, the Barbican Hall retains the same acoustics whether or not there is an audience presence, the empty seats designed to have the same acoustic properties when empty as when sat upon. As far as I can tell, the concert is no longer available to watch, although this website might lead you to a possible viewing. The programme notes can be accessed here.
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
The Grange Festival Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 19 June 2019
What seemed to be the entire stage was visible to the arriving audience, a blank black space devoid of any scenery or clue as to the setting for the awaited Le nozze di Figaro. It was only when the Overture started that a rear curtain parted to reveal a shallow space at the back of the stage with tables set out for the servants of a great house. Said servants wandered in, some via the audience, with the usual paraphernalia of traditional country house of centuries gone, with guns and game slung over the shoulders of gamekeepers and bonny housemaids doing things with flowers. Were it not for the fact the much of adjoining The Grange mansion had long since been demolished, we could have been in the basement of the next door building.
For those who do not know The Grange, what does survive is the important early Georgian Neo-Classical cement-rendered exterior, surrounding a mid-17th-century brick house, one wall of which is now exposed following the removal of the extensive Private and Bachelor wings. The interior is in a wonderfully evocative almost completely unrestored state. At the end of the surviving screen wall of the private wing is the remains of the early 19th-century conservatory, later converted into a ballroom. In 2002, this was further converted into a magnificent multi-award-winning opera house by Grange Park Opera who were the instigators and focus of opera productions at The Grange between 1998 and 2016. They have now relocated to the new Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey to be replaced at The Grange by the three-year-old Grange Festival. Continue reading →
Dido and Aeneas
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr, Thomas Guthrie
The Barbican, 2 October 2018
For anybody who was not already familiar with the story of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, the Academy of Ancient Music’s semi-staged performance (directed by Thomas Guthrie) at The Barbican opened with something of a plot-spoiler. The first half was a 40-minute exploration of the funeral rites of the dead Dido, albeit a couple of hours or more before she was ‘laid in earth’. Actually, laid in earth she wasn’t, instead lying on a funeral catafalque over which Belinda, Aeneas and assorted mourners (the AAM chorus, who opened the show with some rhythmic drum bashing) acted out their reaction to her death as they remembered her. And when I write ‘she’ in fact it was a half-size puppet of the upper half of Dido who represented her throughout the evening. The full panoply of puppets came to the fore in the second half performance of Dido and Aeneas itself where the entire cast of soloists and chorus sported puppets – torsos for Dido and Aeneas, heads and gauze cloths for the rest. Continue reading →
Dario Castello: Sonate Concertate in Stil Moderno, Libro Primo 1621
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
AAM Records AAM005. 68’39
Sonatas 1-12: for two violins; violin and cornetto; violin and violetta; violin and trombone; cornetto and violetta; violin and dulcian; cornetto, violin and dulcian; two violins and dulcian; two violins and trombone.
Very little is known about Dario Castello. His birth and death dates are unknown, but are possibly something like 1590-1660. His two volumes of Sonate concertate were published in Venice in 1621 and 1629. The prefaces of his two volumes suggest that he was on the musical staff of San Marco under Monteverdi, and also leader of a group of piffari, playing cornetto ordulcian. Although Castello was a common name in Venice, Dario wasn’t, so was probably a pseudonym. Records suggest that there were three Venetian Castello instrumentalists, one of whom seems to be Dario’s son.
His two volumes of Sonate concertate were immensely popular at the time, and remain so today. The first book consists of 12 Sonatas for two or three solo instruments and continuo. The second set of Sonatas range from one to four solo instruments. They are often heard today played by trio sonata groups, with two violins and continuo. But this Academy of Ancient Music recording of the complete 1621 Libro Primo introduces the wide range of instruments that Castello specified in his score, with the addition of a cornetto, violetta (here interpreted as basso violetta da brazzo, an instrument an octave lower than a violin), dulcian and trombone to the two violins. Continue reading →
Bach, Handel, Scarlatti – Gamba Sonatas
Steven Isserlis, cello, Richard Egarr, harpsichord
Bach: Sonata in G major, G minor, D major, BWV1027/9;
Scarlatti: Sonata in D minor, Kk90; Handel: Violin Sonata in G minor, HWV364b.
This recording comes with several health warnings, not least the fact that none of the five featured Sonatas are quite what they seem. The three Bach sonatas were, as the CD title implies, intended for the viola da gamba. The Scarlatti Sonata was probably intended for solo harpsichord although there is an argument that it, and some of its fellow sonatas, could have been performed as a violin sonata. The Handel Sonata was originally for oboe but was transcribed for the violin with a scribbled note that it could be played on the viola da gamba. None were intended for the cello. Continue reading →
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 →