La Serenissima: The Godfather

The Godfather
Masters of the German & Italian Baroque
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Signum Classics SIGCD602. 66’09

For long the undoubted champions of the music of Vivaldi, as their name suggests, La Serenissima are spreading their musical wings to explore the musical triumvirate of Telemann, Pisendel and JS Bach, all three closely connected, together with the composers Fasch, Vivaldi and Brescianello, who also had links with the principal trio. As La Serenissima note on their website, the links are that Pisendel was godfather to one of Telemann’s children; Telemann was godfather to CPE Bach;. JS Bach admired both Pisendel and Telemann and composed for the violinist Pisendel; Vivaldi helped Pisendel with his A minor concerto movement; Fasch was a friend of Pisendel and Telemann, and Pisendel played concertos by Brescianello, an Italian who helped to spread disseminate Italian instrumental music throughout the German-speaking lands. Continue reading

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)

Purcell: King Arthur (1691)
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Concert: St John’s Smith Square, 30 October 2019
CD: Signum/Winged Lion SIGCD589. 2CD. 97’38

Purcell King Arthur 1691

The new recording by the Gabrieli Consort & Players of Purcell’s King Arthur was launched at an impressive concert performance at St John’s, Smith Square. Lacking the two biggest-name singers from the recording (Carolyn Sampson and Roderick Williams), the concert was otherwise the same as the CD apart from the late replacement bass Robert Davies, standing in for Marcus Farnsworth and a smaller orchestra. Omitting all the spoken text of the original play, the music of King Arthur makes for a musically excellent, but texturally confusing, listen. None of the main characters of the King Arthur story appears. The music occurred at intervals during the play, generally as little masques, only occasionally as one-off songs responding to moments in the play. Continue reading

Mozart in London

Mozart in London
A musical exploration of Mozart’s childhood visit to London, 1764-65
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Signum Classics SIGCD534. 2 CDs. 77’36&67’14

The Classical Opera/Mozartists Mozart 250 project has been underway for four years, with a number of successful recordings and events already under their belt. This (rather delayed) review of a double CD set released in May 2018 takes us back to the beginning of the project: the ‘Mozart in London’ Festival weekend of events at Milton Court in February 2015. The weekend included talks, discussions and concerts over a three-day period. My review of two of those events can be found here. Several other Mozart 250 reviews are here. The ‘250’ of the title refers to the years since Mozart’s childhood visit to London (23 April 1764), during which he composed his first significant works. The plan is to “follow the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, works and influences”, culminating in 2041, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s death. These two CDs were recorded live during the various concerts of the 2015 weekend. They are an impressive record (quite literally) of the start of one of the most impressive and ambitious musical projects of our time. Continue reading

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 2
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
Signum SIGCD479. 59’44

This recording is the second part London Early Opera’s exploration of the music of Handel as it might have been performed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens in the 1740s. Their 2017 recording, Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1 (reviewed here) presented the first half of a conjectural reconstruction of typical evening’s entertainment, and we now have the second half, continuing the fascinating mix of orchestral, organ and vocal music. Each half of these concerts usually had around eight pieces, usually including an organ concerto, other instrumental pieces, songs and dances, performed from the central bandstand. The opening song of the second half, Spring Gardens: Flora, goddess sweetly blooming sets the scene, noting that “Belles and beaux are all invited / To partake of varied sweets . . . as breaking notes descending / Break upon the list’ning ear”. In complete contrast, it is followed by the Concerto Grosso (Op 6/4), one of a set of twelve published in 1739/40 in homage to Corelli.  Continue reading

Path of Miracles

Owain Park: Footsteps & Joby Talbot: Path of Miracles
Tenebrae, Nigel Short
Signum Classics. SIGCD471. 79’22

This release combines the re-release of a 2005 recording of Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles with Footsteps, a companion work composed by Owain Park, recorded in 2016. Both are commissions by Tenebrae, the Park piece apparently in answer to requests from amateur singers for a less complex piece than the Talbot. Continue reading

Waley-Cohen(s): Permutations

Permutations Unveil 
Compositions by Freya Waley-Cohen
Tamsin Waley-Cohen, violin
Signum Classics SIGCD496. 27’46

This short recording is of two pieces by composer Freya Waley-Cohen, written for her older sister, the violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen. The key work, Permutations (c18′), is described as a “roaming performance artwork”. It has a fascinating compositional background. It was commissioned as part of Aldeburgh Festival’s 2017 season and composed during a residency at Aldeburgh and is intended as an exploration of the relationship between architecture and music.

Permutations consists of six independent lines of solo violin music, all pre-recorded by Tamsin Waley-Cohen, and replayed within an architectural setting designed by Finbarr O’Dempsey & Andrew Skulina. Both the music and its setting were planned simultaneously during the Aldeburgh residency, with each acting as a muse for the other. The architectural setting has six flexible and adaptable enclosures, one for each of the six violin parts. A central space allows all six violin lines to be heard in balance, or the listener could move around, and adjust the acoustics of the space to hear various combinations of the six contrapuntal lines. Continue reading

The World Encompassed

The World Encompassed
Orlando Gough, Fretwork, Simon Callow
Signum Classics SIGCD453. 2CDs 41’19+41’56

This recording is based on the fact that Sir Francis Drake is known to have taken four viol players with him on his 1577-80 circumnavigation of the world, using the musicians for prayers and entertainment on board, and for diplomatic uses with the people they met. He also had trumpeters and drummers, but they are excluded from this recording, which takes as its premise the sort of music that the musicians might have played to the people they met, and also to their friends on their return to England, using their memory of the native music that they heard during their travels. Alongside music of the period by the likes of Parsons, Taverner, White, and Picforth, the principal musical contribution comes from Orlando Gough (b 1953) who was commissioned by Fretwork to compose a sequence of 13 pieces for viol consort based on the local music that Drake and friends might have heard.  Continue reading

Baldwin Partbooks II: Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child
Music from the Baldwin Partbooks II
Contrapunctus, Owen Rees
Signum Classics SIGCD474. 75’18

Tallis: Gaude gloriosa Dei mater, Magnificat, Videte miraculum; and pieces by Taverner, White, Fayrfax, and Sheppard.

SIGCD474_HiW.jpgThe Baldwin Partbooks were copied in the 1570s and 80s by a member of the choirs of St George’s Windsor and the Chapel Royal, John Baldwin. They included printed pieces as well as Baldwin’s manuscript copies of music, from an earlier age, resulting in one of the most important surviving collections of polyphony from the reigns of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor. This, combined with a focus on music dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is the focus of the music on this volume, the second in the Contrapunctus series on music of the Baldwin Partbooks (the first was In the Midst of Life, SIGCD408).  Continue reading

Queen Mary’s Big Belly

Queen Mary’s Big Belly
Hope for an heir in Catholic England
Gallicantus, Elizabeth Kenny, Gabriel Crouch
Signum Classics SIGCD464. 77’42

Music by van Wilder, Mundy, Tye, Lassus, Tallis, Newman, Sheppard

The catchy title of this recording (which quotes a 1688 pamphlet) is based a brief, but curious, incident during the turbulent Tudor times when, in April 1555, it was announced that Queen Mary had given birth to a son. The following day this was revealed to be the 16th century version of fake news. The complex history and importance of this event is beyond the scope of this review, but is easily obtainable and is covered in the detailed CD notes. Curiously, no author is credited for these notes, although I think it was Magnus Williamson, whose ‘insight and guidance’ is a credited elsewhere. Continue reading

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1

Handel at Vauxhall: Vol 1
London Early Opera
Bridget Cunningham, Daniel Moult, Kirsty Hopkins, Sophie Bevan
Signum SIGCD428. 48’18

Preceding the two recordings of Handel in Italy (reviewed here), London Early Opera explored the music of Handel (and his contemporaries Thomas Arne and John Hebden) as it might have been performed at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Pleasure Gardens like Vauxhall were a focus for musical, and other entertainments in 17th and 18th century London. This fascinating programme (but very short, at just over 48 minutes) is based on a conjectural reconstruction of part of a typical evening at Vauxhall in the early 1740s, and includes a wide variety of music including orchestral, organ and vocal music.  Continue reading

Haydn: The Seasons 1801

Haydn: The Seasons 1801
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 480. 2 CDs. 133’08

Those that have followed the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh over the years will know that they rarely do things by halves. In their early years, this included such seminal recordings as, for example, their 1994 reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas recorded with massed forces in Roskilde Cathedral, the latter chosen because of its important historic organ. In recent years they have built close connections with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. This much heralded recording of the 1801 version of Haydn’s The Seasons is the latest of those collaborations. The opening thunderous wallop on the timpani will warn you that this is a recording of some drama and punch. Using a new performing edition (and English translation) by Paul McCreesh this is the first recording to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for in some of the early performances, with a string section of 60, 10 horns and a choir of 70, using the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir.

Often overlooked in favour of The Creation, The Seasons is in many ways a more forward-looking work, with more of a hint of the romanticism that was eventually going to overtake all the arts. Continue reading

Handel in Italy: Vols 1 & 2

Handel in Italy: Vols 1 & 2
London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham
Benjamin, Mary & Sophie Bevan
Signum Classics
SIGCD423. 43’00.
SIGCD462. 55’12. 

Some of Handel’s most exciting and dramatic music was composed during the three short years he spent in Italy, starting when he was just 21. Despite offers of financial assistance from a Medici Prince, Handel famously ‘made his way on his own bottom’, as his biographer Mainwearing put it. Mainwearing suggests that prior to his visit, Handel ‘could see nothing’ in Italian music which, if it is true, is rather surprising, as Italian music had been at the forefront of much of the European Baroque, not least because of the developments in opera, oratorio and cantata. Handel very quickly absorbed the taste and style of Italian musicians both from Rome and also from his shorter visits to Venice, Florence and Naples. In his compositions from this period, he often outdid the Italians in writing in their style – as he did in England later in his life.

These two CDs (recorded together in 2013)  give a comprehensive account of the compositions for solo voice from that period. Interestingly, the three singers are all from the same extended Bevan family who, collectively and individually, have become prominent fixtures on the vocal scene. Continue reading

Bird – The Oriental Miscellany

William Hamilton Bird (c1750-c1804) – The Oriental Miscellany
Jane Chapman (harpsichord) Yu-Wei Hu (baroque flute)
Signum SIGCD415.  74’14

This CD would be attractive enough to listen to without knowing any of the back-story. But it is a fascinating one. William Bird was part of the musical life of the British community in Calcutta in the late 18th century. His Oriental Miscellany (“being a collection of the most favourite Airs of Hindoostan, compiled and adapted for the Harpsichord”), was first published in 1789. It was the first Western attempt to notate traditional Indian music, and contains 30 songs written in a straightforward and approachable style, appropriate for gentle amusement. The list of subscribers Continue reading

Handel: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, 1740

Handel: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato 1740
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD392. 2 CDs.  77’12+64’26=141’38.

 L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Concerto Grosso in G (Op 6/1), Concerto Grosso in E Minor (Op 6/3), Organ Concerto in B-Flat (O  7/1)

Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato is one of his most attractive and approachable, but also his most complex and confusing, works. It is not clear what it is. It is not an opera, an oratorio, ode or cantata, but was loosely described at the time as ‘an entertainment’. There is no plot, no human characters or underlying narrative. The title is in Italian, the text in English. The three ‘characters’ of the title represent the contrasting temperaments of mirth (Allegro) and melancholy (Penseroso), joined, in the third part, by Moderato, the voice of reason, restraint and, it seems, “chaste love”. Two of the ‘roles’ are each sung by three different voices (Allegro by tenor, boy treble and bass; Moderato by baritone, soprano and tenor), with Allegro on one occasion sung as a duet. Continue reading