Palisander: Beware the Spider!

CONCERT: Antidotum Arachne
Palisander
St John’s, Smith Square. 16 February 2017

CD: Palisander Beware the Spider!
PALG-33. 37’51

The St John’s, Smith Square Young Artists scheme gives emerging soloists and ensembles a platform to showcase their talents through three SJSS concerts, a chance to commission new music, and opportunities to develop skills in marketing, education and outreach. The latest batch of six  (for the year 2016/17) includes the recorder quartet Palisander. They already seem pretty adept at marketing, and took the opportunity of the first of their three concerts (given under the title Antidotum Arachne) to launch their debut CD, Beware the Spider!.

The concert and (rather short) CD explore the world of the Tarantella, a curious aspect of folk medicine in 16th and 17th century Italy where victims of venomous spider bites were not offered any medicinal cure or relief but were regaled by local musicians (often funded by the municipality) with a variety of musical pieces, some known as Tarantella, intended to cure them of their otherwise fatal symptoms. In a well-chosen and varied programme, Palisander’s CD and concert reflected aspects of the various symptoms along with arrangements of original Tarantellas by Miriam Nerval, who also provided the programme notes for the CD and concert. For a few of the pieces they were joined by Toby Carr, playing theorbo and baroque guitar. Continue reading

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

Discover Danzi (concert and CD)

Discover Danzi (concert and CD)
ensembleF2
Concert: St John’s, Smith Square, 22 October 2015
CD: Franz Danzi: Music for Piano and Winds Vol 2
Devine Music. DMCD004. 70’05

Concert: Steven Devine, fortepiano, Jane Booth, basset horn, Anneke Scott, natural horn;
CD: plus Katy Bircher, flute, James Eastaway, oboe, Ursula Leveaux, bassoon & Jane Booth, clarinet.

CD: Franz Danzi: Grand Sonata in F for fortepiano and basset horn Op. 62; Sonata in E minor for fortepiano and horn Op. 44; Quintet in D Op.54/2 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano.

The St John’s, Smith Square concert by ensembleF2 was part of a series of events to promote the second in their series of Franz Danzi recordings. The concert included the first two of the CD pieces, but replaced the latter’s concluding Quintet in D with Mozart’s piano Adagio in B minor (KV540), played as an introductory prelude to the Horn Sonata. Both concert and CD contrast two of the most evocative sounds of the early classical period – the basset horn and the natural horn, the similarity of their names bearing no relation to their distinctively different tones.

The basset horn is a wonderful example of the maxim not to judge anything by its appearance. It looks like a piece of badly botched plumbing, Continue reading

Inspired by Italy: European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO)

Inspired by Italy: European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen, director, Zefira Valova, concertmaster
St John’s, Smith Square, 22 October 2015

Handel: Ouverture to Alessandro HWV21, Sonata in G HWV399, Concerto Grosso in F Op. 3 No. 4; Vivaldi: String Sinfonias in D RV124 & G minor RV157; Albinoni: Concerto for 2 oboes in F Op. 9 No. 3; Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Op. 6 No. 4.

The European Union Baroque Orchestra was formed in 1985, and has recently successfully negotiated its way through a difficult period of financial uncertainty. It celebrated its renewed, if short term security with the first short series of concerts for the newly formed orchestra of young musicians. They are selected anew each year through combined educational and selection courses and then usually meet five or six times a year to rehearse and then tour a new programme. One of the key features of EUBO is giving the musicians the chance to experience life as a touring orchestral musician, evidenced on this occasion by Continue reading

Zelenka: the Bohemian Bach

Zelenka: the Bohemian Bach
Spiritato & Barts Chamber Choir
St John’s, Smith Square. 20 October 2015

Zelenka: Il Serpente di Bronzo, Il Diamante, Missa dei Filii, Trio Sonata 3 in Bb, Trumpet Fanfares; Bach?: Cantata Nun ist da Heil und die Kraft.

Zelenka (1679-1745) is one of those composers that people might just have heard of, but few will be familiar with music of his music. For those in rather select audience at St John’s, Smith Sq, this was a chance to remedy the latter situation in a programme more-or-less devoted to Zelenka’s music. Born close to Prague he moved to Dresden around 1710 as a violone player in the Hofkapelle. After a period travelling in Italy and studying in Vienna, he returned to Dresden where he became more involved in composing for the Court Church(left), which had taken on a new significance after the closure of the city opera house in 1720. His career path didn’t go quite to plan. Having been temporary Kapellmeister for a short period of time, he was pipped to the post of Senior Kapellmeister by JA Hasse in 1733. He was then appointed as a church composer. A few years later JS Bach, who knew and admired Zelnka’s compositions, was appointed as an (honorary) Royal Court Composer as a result of his well-known petition accompanying his 1733 ‘Dresden Mass’ – the Kyrie and Gloria of what later part of the Mass in B minor (See PS below). On his death, his compositions were purchased by the Saxon Court as valuable objects rather than performing scores, and remained hidden away in their archives until the 1950s.

The key piece of the evening was the concluding Missa dei Filii, one of the so-called “Missae ultimae” composed during the last years of his life. A substantial Continue reading

OAE @ 30 – Bostridge sings Handel

OAE @ 30 – Bostridge sings Handel
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Ian Bostridge, Steven Devine
St John’s, Smith Sq. 14 October 2015

Telemann: Overture/Suite in F; Ich weiss, dass mein Erlöser lebt;  So stehet ein Berg Gottes from Der Tod Jesu;
Handel: Concerto grosso in D minor Op. 3 No. 5; Scherza infida from Ariodante; Love sounds th’ alarm from Acis and Galatea; Silete venti; Water Music Suite No. 1

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are so much a part of musical life that it is hard to realise that they are just 30 years. Founded some years after (and in direct response to) the raft of director-controlled period instrument groups, so influential in those early days, they reacted against the control of individual conductors by setting up their own self-managed orchestra, employing their own conductors as and when required, but often directing themselves. Seemingly able to bring together a disparate group of highly individual and highly qualified musicians, each with their own views (and without, it seems, too much blood letting), they set a precedence for the musical world.

Early involvement with a youthful Simon Rattle probably taught him as much as he taught them, and they soon attracted conductors of the calibre of Ivan Fischer, Roger Norrington, Mark Elder and, more recently, Vladimir Jurowski, all now honoured as Principal Artists. The distinguished Bach scholar and conductor John Butt has just joined that impressive list. They often perform without a conductor, producing excellent results through the encouragement and support of one their own. They opened their 30th birthday season in such a fashion when Steven Devine, one of their principal keyboard players and an increasingly distinguished conductor in his own right, took over the conducting reigns (from the harpsichord) for a programme of Telemann and Handel with tenor Ian Bostridge. Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 4/5

‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey, 18/19  May 2015

SJSS 2I couldn’t get to the lunchtime concert on day 3 of the festival, but it was given by soprano Rowan Pierce and the young group Medici, under the title of ‘Future Baroque’, with music by Handel, Bach, Royer, Telemann, Corelli and Vivaldi. Unless I have missed something, this was another event that seemed to bypass the festival’s theme, although it did include as its final work Agitata da due venti, a surviving fragment from Vivaldi’s opera L’Adelaide and later also included in his Griselda, composed for the virtuoso soprano Margherite Giacomazzi.

‘Leçons des ténèbres’
Julia Doyle & Grace Davidson, sopranos,
Jonathan Manson, bass viol, Steven Devine, harpsichord, organ & director

The Monday evening concert (St John’s, Smith Square, 18 May) Continue reading

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 1

‘Women in Baroque Music’
London Festival of Baroque Music
St John’s, Smith Square, 15 May 2015

This long weekend of Baroque music was both a 1st  and a 31st  event. The first event of the new London Festival of Baroque Music, and the 31st of a continuing festival that had hitherto been known as the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music. The Lufthansa Festival was an extraordinary example of collaboration between a sponsor (that in latter years also included Rolls Royce) and a music festival. Shorn of the funding of a major international sponsor, the LFBM_cropfirst London Festival of Baroque Music inevitably revealed its reduced financial resources, covering an 5-day extended weekend rather than earlier 8 or more days, and with a reduction in the number of groups from outside the UK. But a wealth of individual sponsors and some crowd-funding through social media has come up with the wherewithal to make for a rich and fulfilling series of concerts. And a capacity audience for the opening concert in St John’s, Smith Square showed the strength of public support. Continue reading

Purcell & Charpentier: Te Deum

Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Spiritato!  Iestyn Davies
St John’s, Smith Square. 29 April 2015

Purcell: Suite from Abdelazer, Jehova Quam Multi Sunt Hostes Mei, Te Deum and Jubilate in D. Rameau: Suite from Les Indes Galantes, Charpentier: Te Deum

I wouldn’t normally review a concert given by a boys’ school choir, but the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is well-known for their music education and performances.  The Schola Cantorum supports the liturgy of the school services, but is better known as one of the few school choirs that are regularly called upon for professional engagements. These have ranged from the Harry Potter films to a recent live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of James MacMillan’s complex St Luke Passion. Individual boy singers are also often to be heard at Covent Garden and the Coliseum.

Continue reading

Tenebrae by Candlelight

Tenebrae by Candlelight
Chapelle du Roi – Alistair Dixon director
St John’s, Smith Square, 1 April 2015

Palestrina: Lamentations, Gesualdo: Tenebrae Responds, Victoria: O Domine Jesu, Mass: Ave Regina, Ave Regina Coelorum, de Monte: Super Flumina Babylonis, Tallis: Lamintations I&II,  In Jejunio et Fletu, Derelinquit Impius, Byrd: Emendemus in Melius, Guerrero: O Domine Jesu.

The regular pre-Christmas and pre-Easter concerts in St John’s, Smith Square given by the vocal group Chapelle du Roi continued with one of their best yet as they celebrated ‘Tenebrae by Candlelight’.  ‘Celebrated’ is a loose term, as this was not a liturgical reconstruction, but a reflection on the music for Holy Week generally intended for use during the Tenebrae service.  The monastic service of Tenebrae was a combination of the office of Matins, normally sung just before sunrise, and the sunrise service Continue reading

Handel Peace & Celebration – European Union Baroque Orchestra

Handel Peace & Celebration European Union Baroque Orchestra, Choir of Clare College Cambridge, Alex Potter, Lar Ulrick Mortensen.
Obsidian CD711 69’ 34”
    £13 from http://www.eubo.eu/shop/CD711.

Zadok the Priest, Let thy hand be strengthened, Concerto Grosso Op3/2, My heart is inditing, Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, The King shall rejoice.

This is live recording (with a little judicious patching) of a St John’s, Smith Square concert (under the title ‘Handel: A Royal Celebration’) that I reviewed in last December’s issue of Early Music Review.  It is a timely issue in the anniversary year of the accession of the first Hanoverian King, George I.  The talented young musicians of EUBO (a training orchestra re-formed each year) come to the fore in the Concerto Grosso Op 3/2, with its distinctive Largo featuring two cellos and oboe (played exquisitely by Guillermo Turina Serrano, Nicola Paoli and Clara Geuchen).  The rest of the piece involves outstanding playing by the two violinists Zefira Valova (the concertmaster for this tour, and formally a EUBO member) and Roldán Bernabé-Carrión.

For the rest of the disc they are in an accompaniment role.  The outstanding feature of the vocal works is the opening movement of the Birthday Ode, ‘Eternal source of light divine’, beautifully sung by Alex Potter, with the terrifying trumpet solo played with absolute conviction and surety by EUBO trumpeter Sebastian Philpott. You should buy this CD for this track alone – it is spine-tingling!  I noted in my concert review that the other soloists were drawn from the Clare College choir, “with varying degrees of success”.  The choir as a whole however do sound good, although there is occasionally a bit of a wobble from the alto line.  In these shaky financial times, EUBO needs the support of funders more than ever.  Buying this CD is a particularly good investment in the future of young musicians.

First published in Early Music Review, April 2014.

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/]