HMSC @ 35: Lions of St Mark

Lions of St Mark
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
35th-anniversary concert
St John’s, Smith Square
27 October 2017

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (named after a reference in Matthew Locke’s music for Charles II’s 1661 coronation) celebrated their 35th anniversary in style with an impressive concert in St John’s, Smith Square, a few yards from the site of Charles II’s coronation and a short walk from the site of their debut concert in St Martin’s-in-the-Fields. It says something for their early promise, and the recording industry of the early 1980s, that they were offered a recording contract during the interval of that concert. Times have changed in the recording world, but HMSC continue to reinforce their reputation as pioneers of period instrument and performance practice. Two of the original members were playing (Jeremy West and Stephen Saunders), and several more were in the audience. They have replenished themselves over the years, and now include one player who is younger than the group. They also brought in two recently graduated sackbutt players for the 8 and 10-part works that concluded each half.

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The Grand Tour: Naples

The Grand Tour: Naples
La Serenissima, Tabea Debus, Vladimir Waltham, Adrian Chandler
St John’s, Smith Square. 18 January 2017

Music by: A Scarlatti, Durante, Porpora, Sarro, Leo

The penultimate concert in La Serenissima’s current series of ‘Grand Tour’ concerts at St John’s, Smith Square focussed on the music of Naples. A complex history of multiple occupations from the founding Greeks through to the 16th century Spanish (with brief Austrian and French incursions in the early 18th century) made it one of the most cosmopolitan (and the second largest) of all European cities in the later 17th and early 18th centuries. As such, it attracted artists and musicians of extraordinary ability.

Alessandro Scarlatti (pictured) was one of the founders of the Naples opera scene. He first moved there in 1684, aged around 24, as Maestro di Cappella to the Spanish Viceroy, and spent much of his following life there. All the other composers in La Serenissima’s concert were influenced by him. He left little instrumental music alongside his operas, but one such was the Sinfonia di Concerto Grosso II in D (for recorder, trumpet, strings & continuo) that opened this concert. It can be a surprise to those not used to period instruments to realise that the trumpet and recorder can be combined as fellow solo instruments, as Bach demonstrated so well. Scarlatti was less adventurous in his combining of these instruments in this concerto, with the two instruments generally kept apart, and the two melodic Adagio movements only using the recorder. Continue reading

Forgotten Vienna: Amadè Players – St John’s, Smith Square

Forgotten Vienna: Amadè Players.
St John’s, Smith Square, 31 March 2015
Carl Ditters Concerto for Two Violins in C, Anon (Not-Haydn) Concerto for Horn in D, Johann Baptist Waṅhal  Symphony in aRequiem in E flat.
Dominika Fehér & George Clifford, violins, Ursula Paludan Monberg, natural horn, Amadè Players, Nicholas Newland, director, Choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Eighteenth century Vienna attracted many émigré musicians from Hungary, the Czech lands of Moravia, Silesia and Bohemia, and other smaller city states within the Hapsburg Empire.  Alongside composers such as Mozart and Haydn, they were important contributors to the development of the classical style during the mid to late 18th century. They included the composers Ditters and Waṅhal, the focus for the concert by the Amadè Players (St John’s Smith Square, 31 March 2015).  Both were known to have to have played in a string quartet with Haydn and Mozart, so were clearly a key part of Viennese musical life.  ‘AKA’ was a bit of a sub-plot of the impressively detailed programme notes – Ditters is usually referred to as ‘Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf’ (his post 1773 ennoblement name), while Waṅhal was also known as Vanhal, Vaňhal, Vanhall, Wanhall, Wannhall or Van Hall.

An extension of the post-doctoral research interests of the Amadè Players’ director, Nicholas Newland, the programme featured the British premières of Ditters’ Ccncerto for two violins (c1762) and Waṅhal’s Symphony in A minor (c1769) as well as the world première of the latter’s Requiem Mass in E flat, the second and smaller of the two Requiems he wrote in memory of his parents. A rather better-known piece came with the Horn Concerto in D, formally listed as being by Haydn, but now thought to be by one of a pair of Bohemian composers.

Dominika FehérAppropriately, given the programme’s focus, the opening double violin concerto featured an excellent young Hungarian violinist Dominika Fehér (right).  She was joined by the equally impressive George Clifford, concertmaster of the Amadè Players. During the 1760s, Ditters was listed as violin soloist more than any other player in Vienna, and it is assumed that this work was written for him to perform, perhaps with his brother. The original manuscript includes his written cadenzas. It is an attractive work, with idiomatic violin writing, even if some of the figuration and harmonic movement is slightly predictable. Both players complimented each other well, notably in the central slow movement where they moved in parallel.

The not-Haydn Horn Concerto was given an extraordinary performance by the Danish Ursula Paludan Monberg_cropUrsula Paludan Monberg (left). I have raved about her playing in Early Music Review, notably after an exquisite performance of the notorious Quoniam tu solis from Bach’s B minor Mass in Bach’s own Leipzig Thomaskirche (with the English Concert, in 2012)  and last year’s performance of Handel’s Theodora at the Barbican. Despite having to hobble on stage on crutches with a broken foot, she was on top form playing the notoriously tricky natural horn. I was particularly impressed with her control of tone, using her hand in the horn’s bell – a technique that had only just been introduced at the time of this piece.  She played her own cadenzas, giving herself a monumental task, not least in the range of the notes, including what I think must be the lowest note I have ever heard played on a natural form.

After the interval, the orchestra expanded to include oboes and horns for the Waṅhal Symphony in a. Dr Charles Burney wrote that Waṅhal’s “symphonies had afforded me such uncommon pleasure, that I should not hesitate to rank them among the most complete and perfect compositions for many instruments, which the art of music can boast”. I am not sure if I would be quite so complimentary, but this example was certainly an impressive work. Despite the presence of four horns, they were only really used to fill out chords until a couple of flourishes towards the end of the bustling final movement.

The concert finished with Waṅhal’s E flat Requiem Mass, a relatively short work with an attractively lyrical Lux Aeterna. The choir of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge made an impressively coherent sound. It is possible that this was written during (or for) one of Waṅhal’s periodic visits to the Croatian city of Varaždin, one of the seats of the Counts Erdödy and, between 1756 and the disastrous fire of 1776, the capital of Hapsburg Croatia. As it happens, my main exposure to Waṅhal’s music has been during my visits to the Varaždin Baroque Evenings festivals – I have been a member of the festival jury, and have given several organ recitals there. Varaždin’s imposing Stari Grad fortress contains a portrait of Waṅhal, and the baroque Erdödy Palace is now the Varaždin School of Music.

A CD with the same title, Forgotten Vienna, will be released later this year on the Resonus Classics label.

[https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/04/05/forgotten-vienna-amade-players-st-johns-smith-square/]