London International Festival of Early Music

London International Festival of Early Music
Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition Finals
Blackheath, 7-8 November 2019

London International Festival of Early Music now seems to be firmly ensconced in Blackheath after some years in Greenwich under a variety of earlier names. Hosted by the Early Music Shopan exhibition of instruments and music (in the Blackheath Halls) forms the centre of the three-day festival. The three-day programme of concerts and events around the exhibition includes makers demonstration recitals, performer platforms for younger musicians, workshops and more formal concerts by professionals. Every other year, the festival hosts the finals of Society of Recorder Players/Moeck Solo Recorder Competition, the winner getting a recital during the following year’s festival. Last year they introduced the first of their Early Music Young Ensemble Competition Finals. Last year’s review can be seen here. Continue reading

Prom 38: Solomon’s Knot – Bach Cantatas

Prom 38: Bach Cantatas
Solomon’s Knot

Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

Cantata 130 ‘Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir
Cantata 19 ‘Es erhub sich ein Streit
Cantata 149, ‘Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg
Cantata 50, ‘Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft

I have reviewed the Solomon’s Knot collective many times since their early days and have always been very impressed by their distinctive style of musical presentation. Although they perform a wide repertoire of early and contemporary music, it is in the music of Bach that their style seems to be particularly appropriate. This was their Proms debut – a late-night concert of four Bach cantatas all composed for the Feast of St Michael, his dragon-slaying antics making for some dramatic music. The 8 singers perform from memoty, with an attractively informal stage manner, directly addressing the audience and drawing us into the world that they are depicting. As times it is almost like listening in to a conversation between a group of friends. They move centre-stage for choruses individually, like a discussion group slowly forming, and then stand in a tight-knit shallow arc, When one of them is singing a solo, others will often stand nearby, as if listening to and encouraging a friend.  Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: Solomon’s Knot

Spitalfields Music: Solomon’s Knot
Bach B minor Mass
Shoreditch Town Hall. 11 December 2016

The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival concluded in spectacular style with the welcome return of Solomon’s Knot, a group that had impressed previous Spitalfields audiences – and have also impressed me in the past with their innovative approach to music performance. Their full title is the Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective, a name that sums up their approach. Founded in 2008, they perform with small forces, singing from memory, with no conductor and with a relaxed stage presence, helped by an informal dress code. For this Bach B minor Mass, they transfixed the audience with an extraordinarily powerful performance.

They used Joshua Rifkin’s edition of the piece, and his proposal that the work was intended to be sung as an ensemble piece for eight one to a part solo singers. The need for two extra singers for the concluding section led to Solomon’s Know using the 10 singers throughout to reinforce the choruses. The 20-strong orchestra, led by violinist James Toll, completed the well-balanced line-up of musicians. The fact that the singers do not use scores directly involves the audience in the music, as the singers eyes scan the audience and as they visibly respond to the music they are singing. 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

Christmas in Leipzig: Schelle, Kuhnau, Bach

Christmas in Leipzig
Solomon’s Knot
St John’s, Smith Sq. 21 December 2015

Schelle: Machet die Tore weit; Kuhnau: Magnificat; Bach: Magnificat in E flat (BWV243a).

WP_20151219_20_19_47_Pro.jpgReturning for their fifth visit to the St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival, the Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective presented a concert based on Advent and Christmas music from Leipzig, with pieces by the three successive Thomaskantor’s. The seating in St John’s was reconfigured from the usual facing-the-stage layout to one where the orchestra and choir were to one side, projecting about two-thirds of the way into the floor space, with the audience arranged on three sides. This was undoubtedly excellent for about one-third of the audience who found themselves sitting directly in front of them, but most of the audience had only a side (or a rear-end view) of the performers. Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: Christmas Oratorio

Spitalfields Music: Christmas Oratorio
Solomon’s Knot
St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. 15 December 2015

In what they described as a “subtle dramatisation”, the Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective performed four of the six cantatas that make up Bach’s so-called ‘Christmas Oratorio’ as the closing concert of this years Spitalfields Music Winter Festival. And they did it with the eight singers all singing from memory. What could so easily have been a bit of a gimmick turned out to be a thought-provoking experience, at least from the audience’s perspective. One of the aims of Solomon’s Knot is to ‘remove the barriers (visible and invisible) between performers and spectators’. This performance certainly did that. Initially having eight singers gazing directly at us seemed like opening your front door to a massed gathering of Mormons, all earnest looking in matching dark suits and (in this case, red) ties. Or perhaps we had stumbled into some sort of revivalist meeting – or an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering.

The ‘dramatisation’ was certainly subtle. There was no obvious acting, merely glances between the performers, a slight re-positioning on stage, a couple moving together and, later, a sedate confrontation with a rather buttoned-up Herod. But what was immediately apparent was that they were singing directly to us, making direct eye contact with the audience. The group went out of their way Continue reading

l’Ospedale – The Hospital of Incurable Madness

l’Ospedale – The Hospital of Incurable Madness
Solomon’s Knot
Wilton’s Music Hall, 10 November 2015

WP_20151110_18_40_16_ProThere are many operas that would appear to be taking place in a mental asylum, but the setting of the 17th-century ‘dramma burlesco’, l’Ospedale really is just that. It is based on a libretto by Antonio Abati and is set to music by an unknown seventeenth-century composer. As Naomi Matsumoto (who researched and prepared the score) explains in her programme essay, there are possible connections to the Hapsburg Court of the Holy Roman Emperor where an entertainment called l’Hospitale de’Pazzi is known to have been performed in 1667. Given its later history and famed inhabitants, Vienna does seem a rather apt location for the first performance – as was the delightful and historic surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall for this, the first staged performance for centuries. Continue reading

Die Tageszeiten – Les Passions de l’Ame & Solomon’s Knot

Bach & Telemann’s Die Tageszeiten
L
es Passions de l’Ame, Meret Lüthi, Artistic Director
Solomon’s Knot, Jonathan Sells, Artistic Director
St George’s, Hanover Square.  17 March 2015

JS Bach: Orchestral Suite No 3 in D, Singet dem Herrn; GP Telemann: Cantata Cycle: Die Tageszeiten TWV20:39

The latter years of a composer’s life frequently see reflections on earlier times and a reversion to earlier compositional styles. But Telemann, one of the most prolific composers of the Baroque era, took the opportunity to take a peek into the musical future with his rarely performed cycle of four cantatas, Die Tageszeiten (Times of the Day), It was written in 1755 at the time when Telemann’s composing output was in decline and shows several musical insights into the forthcoming classical era. This was a difficult period in Telemann’s life – his eldest son was dead, leaving him to care for his grandson alongside his own declining eyesight and health. Although generally described as a ‘cantata cycle’, it has something of the feel of a fledgling oratorio to it, not least in its combination of elements of traditional sacred cantata and opera, both genres that Telemann had excelled in during his time in Hamburg. This performance, part of the London Handel Festival, brought together the Bern-based orchestra Les Passions de l’Ame, led by violinist Meret Lüthi, and the eight singers of Solomon’s Knot, directed by Jonathan Sells, who also sang bass.

Each of the four sections is in the same format (Aria – Recitative – Aria – Chorus), reflecting morning, midday, evening and night, and sung respectively by soprano, alto, tenor and bass – in this performance each voice type shared by two singers. Having a different soloist for the second, more reflective and sacred part of the second aria in each section emphasised the text’s link with the passing of life’s stages and the life of the Christian Soul. As if to emphasis this point, the last example was sung from the pulpit.

It was clear from the start that this was rather different to Telemann’s usual style, the opening Sinfonie seeming to switch style from Wagner to Vivaldi in just a few bars, linked by a nimble little viola figure.  The instrumental colour and texture that Telemann drew from his accompaniment continued to fascinate, another example being the halos of strings depicting first the shimmering morning stars and, later, the dew rising from an evening alpine meadow. A noisy brook murmured, the west wind swayed branches, bees raided the flowers with constant buzzing, and the death bell tolled, all meticulously reflected in Telemann’s score.

One of the delights of the score is Telemann’s use of colloquial descriptions of tempo and mood, for example noting the slow movement of the opening Sinfonie as “Dallying and dainty” and the second evening Aria as “Drowsily”. Each section uses a specific instrumental colour, most notably a viola da gamba for midday, played exquisitely by Heidi Gröger. Zoe Matthews provided the bassoon’s depiction of night.

During the first half on the evening, the two groups had performed separately, Les Passions de l’Ame giving an inventive and inspirational performance of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No 3 in D, the Ouverture being not too fast, and the ever-popular Air being not too slow, with a particularly delicate reading of the melody by Meret Lüthi.  Solomon’s Knot then gave a stunning performance of Bach’s motet Singet dem Herrn, the eight singers producing a rich timbre that suited both the madrigalian intensity and joyful bounce of Bach’s varied textures. As with Die Tageszeiten, they all sang from memory, creating an ideal connection with the audience. They all took solo roles in the latter piece, most impressive being soprano Zoë Brown and counter-tenor Michal Czerniawski.

This was an excellent performance by Les Passions de l’Ame and Solomon’s Knot, both individually and together. I hope this partnership will continue.