EUBO: Heaven’s Sweetness

Heaven’s Sweetness
European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) & Singers of Barock Vokal
Alfredo Bernardini, director & oboe
St John’s, Smith Sq. 27 January 2017

Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D BWV 1069a (original version); 
Cantata: Liebster Immanuel, Herzog der Frommen BWV 123; 
Cantata: Süßer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt BWV 151;
Cantata: Sei Lob und Ehr dem höchsten Gut BWV 117.

Image may contain: 2 people, people on stage and indoorPart of the 2015 expansion of the European Union Baroque Orchestra’s activities has been the EUBO Mobile Baroque Academy (EMBA), a cooperative project aimed at finding new and creative ways of addressing the unequal provision of baroque music education and performance across the European Union. The touring orchestra (EUBO) still forms the core activity of the EMBA, reforming each year with a new intake of talented young period instrumentalists chosen from educational auditions held each spring. For more than 30 years EUBO has provided specialist training and experience, and has encouraged and supported many of the top period instrument specialists around today. One such is the distinguished oboist and director Alfredo Bernardini, a member of the very first EUBO in 1985 and the director of this EUBO tour.

The current EUBO incarnation represents 14 different EU countries. They have been performing together since last July, and last performed in London in November 2016 (reviewed here) with a programme based on Handel and his London contemporaries. For this concert they focussed on Bach, performing three of the cantatas that he wrote for Leipzig festivals along with one of his most complex Orchestral Suites, here performed in the rarely heard original version, lacking the trumpets and timpani of the later version. Continue reading

Meister: Il giardino del piacere

Meister: Il giardino del piacere
Ensemble Diderot, Johannes Pramsohler
St John’s Smith Sq. 8 May 2016

Meister: Il Giardino del piacere: La Musica Nona, Duodecima & Terza; Pachelbel: Partie II (Musicalische Ergötzung) & Partie V; Keller Chaconne; Biber: Partia VI (Harmonia artificioso-ariosa)

For the launch concert of their latest CD (of the music of Johann Friedrich Meister, reviewed here), Ensemble Diderot contrasted three of Meister’s 1695 La Musica  sonatas with music by his near contemporise Pachelbel, Keller and Biber. We know little of Meister. He seems to have come from Hanover or thereabouts, and certainly worked in the Ducal Court there. After a dispute about pay, he moved to the Lübeck area before moving north to Flensburg in Schleswig (then part of Denmark and now the most northerly city in Germany) where he was organist of the Marienkirche and also work for the local Ducal Court.  His collection Il giardino del piacere, overo Raccolta de diversi fiori musicali, come sonate, fughe, imitationi, ciaccone, passagaglie, allemande, correnti &c. was published in Hamburg in 1695, shortly before his death.

His music seems to sum up the varied and exciting music of that period in German musical history, a time still dominated by the stylus phantasticus, or fantasy style of free and often rather anarchic musical structures. The latter is shown in the fact that none of the three pieces played had the same format. Although all open with a Sonata, usually with a central fugal section, the following dances seem to be in almost random order and style, although they all end with a Gigue. The two pieces by Pachelbel were similar in structural style, although they both included a distinctive and lively Treza movement. The Biber Partita VI (that ended the concert) was built around an imaginative central set of 13 variations, with an opening Praeludium and closing Finale. The Pachelbel Musicalische Ergötzung was played with two piccolo violins, with scordatura tuning, making a nice tonal contrast to the sound of normal baroque violins.

Diderot.jpgJohannes Pramsohler and his three fellow musicians of Ensemble Diderot relished the contrast between and within the various pieces, playing with an exquisite combination of consort and individuality. Their intonation was perfect throughout, and they managed to bring exaggeration to the already exciting music without ever pushing things too far. I particularly liked the fact that, despite having a clear group leader, his playing never dominated. These were true Trio Sonatas, where the balance between the three voices is vital – and Roldán Bernabé and Gulrim Choi had important contributions on second violin and cello. Philippe Grisvard’s harpsichord continue was delicate and sensitive, correctly avoiding the temptation to do too much.

Johannes Pramsohler introduced the music in a delightfully informal, but occasionally rather lengthy manner.

Tabea Debus: Cantata per Flauto

Cantata per Flauto
Tabea Debus & Ensemble
TYXart TXA15060. 73’01

Hasse: Cantata per Flauto; Tsoupaki: Charavgi für Blockflöte; van Eyck: Variations on ‘Come again, sweet love doth now invite’; Sarro: Concerto in d-moll; Jarzebski: Diligam Te Domine, Venite Exultemus; Töpp: a due; Telemann: Concerto in C; Purcell: An Evening Hymn.

Tabea Debus - Cantata Per Flauto, CDFollowing her first CD, Upon a Ground (reviewed here), recorder player Tabea Debus here works with a larger group of instruments and with a wider range of music, including two pieces by present-day composers.  The first track (the opening of Hasse’s Cantata per Flauto – a recent discovery, found in the collection of the Viceroy of Naples) sets the mood perfectly, and makes it absolutely clear why you will love this CD. Tabea Debus’s spirited, virtuosic and musically compelling playing is immediately obvious, as is her evident sense of humour, demonstrated in this case by an extraordinary sense of articulation and phrasing and a lovely little cadenza. In the second movement Adagio, the recorder weaves a complex musical line, elaborated by ornaments (many presumably improvised) in the manner of an operatic aria. This reflects the CD’s title and principal focus: of the recorder as a ‘singing’ or ‘vocal’ instrument, closely linked to the human voice, and the Continue reading

Bach: Mass in B Minor

Bach: Mass in B Minor
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment,
Stephen Layton
St John’s, Smith Sq. 22 December 2015

WP_20151219_20_16_52_Pro.jpgThe 30th St John’s, Smith Square Christmas Festival ended on 23 December with the traditional Messiah, with Stephen Layton directing Polyphony and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The evening before saw what has become another tradition, the appearance of the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge (where Stephen Layton is Director of Music), also with the OAE. I missed their concert last year, but I think it was the same work with the same group of soloists (Katherine Watson soprano, Iestyn Davies countertenor, Gwilym Bowen tenor, Neal Davies, bass). Although it lacks the seasonal element of Messiah, it is an extraordinary and uplifting work, whatever your belief in the words and sentiments might be. It also has an fascinating history, reflecting insights into Bach’s character and emotional response to his own compositions. Part of that complex history is that Bach never called it the B minor Mass, only part of it is actually in B minor, and he never heard it performed. 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

Tallis Scholars: Puer natus est nobis

Puer natus est nobis: Tallis/Pärt/Sheppard
The Tallis Scholars
The St John’s, Smith Sq. 19 December 2015

Tallis: Missa Puer natus est nobis; Arvo Pärt: Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen, Magnificat, I am the true vine; Sheppard: Sacris solemniis, Gaude, gaude, gaude.

WP_20151219_20_17_59_Pro.jpgAfter a short tour in The Netherlands, the Tallis Scholars brought their programme of music by Thomas Tallis, Arvo Pärt and John Sheppard to St John’s, Smith Square as part of the SJSS 30th annual Christmas festival. Tallis’s Missa Puer natus est nobis (based on the introit for the Mass of Christmas Day) were threaded through the programme, but it opened with Arvo Pärt’s 1988 Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen and 1989 Magnificat in recognition of Pärt’s 80th anniversary.

The seven ‘O’ antiphons reflect the various prophesies of Isaiah that were later interpreted by Christians as predicting Christ’s virtues. Pärt’s seven miniatures (printed in the wrong order in Continue reading