Handel Around the World Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Steven Devine,director, Ian Bostridge,tenor Queen Elizabeth Hall. 1 February 2023
Handel Around the World was originally intended to be the title of an Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concert tour that extended into Asia but political and other issues meant that was cancelled. This concert, now part of the OAE’s Songs of Travel series, is a compilation of some of the pieces that were to have been performed during that tour. Compiled by Ian Bostridge and OAE colleagues, the selection of arias from Handel operas and oratorios covered quite a bit of the world including Lombardy, Turkey, Sicily, Armenia, Egypt, Scotland, an unidentified island – and Edgware, where the first performance of Acis and Galatea took place, at Cannons House.
La Notte Concertos & Pastorales for Christmas Night Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort Delphian DCD34278. 65’52
Vivaldi Concerto RV 104 ‘La notte’; Concerto for Strings RV 270a ‘Il riposo -per il santissimo Natalé Biber Sonata ‘Pastrorella’ Pavel Joseph Vejvanoský Sonata Laetitiae Johann Rauch Sonata No X ‘Pastorella’ Anon Sonate ‘Wie schön leuchtet die Morgenstern’; Anon Sonate ‘Musikalisch Uhrwerk’; Gottfried Finger Pastoralle Johann Schmelzer Sonata a 3 ‘Pastorale’
This delightful recording from Bojan Čičić and his The Illyria Consort explores the musical Christmas traditions in 17th-century Catholic Europe, notably Italy and the Hapsburg domains of Austria, Moravia, and Bohemia. This was a period when ‘rustic’ effects were introduced into Christmas instrumental music, usually reflecting the shepherds watching their flocks in the fields at night. And night is where the recording starts, with Vivaldi’s multisectional La notte Concerto (RV 104) – not obviously a Christmas piece, but a nice start to the festivities.
Johann Jakob Walther: Scherzi da violino Bojan Čičić, Illyria Consort Delphian DCD34294. 2 CDs. 51’00 + 49’48
Bojan Čičićand his Illyria Consort continue their exploration of the lesser-known corners of the often virtuosic violin repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, this time focussing on Johann Jakob Walther (1650-1717). His Scherzi da violino solo con il basso continuo per l’organo ò cimbalo, accompagnabile anche con una viola ò leuto, was published in 1676 and this double CD includes all 12 Scherzi, several in first recordings. This little-known composer is a generation before JS Bach’s cousin, Johann Gottfried Walther, and is not related. However, it is the latter’s 1732 Lexicon that gives us the limited information that survives on Johann Jakob. He spent three years in Florence before becoming leader of the Dresden court orchestra, finally ending up in Mainz. A writer in the 19th-century referred to him as the “Paganini of his age”, and this recording shows why.
Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713 – 1780) Keyboard Works Volume 2 Steven Devine, harpsichord Resonus Classics RES10300. 77’17
Overture ‘nach dem Franzoischen Gout’, Krebs-WV 820 (1741) Partita in B-flat major, Krebs-WV 823 (1743) Sonata in A minor, Krebs-WV 838 (c1763)
Steven Devine follows up his 2021 Krebs: Keyboard Works Volume 1 with the aptly titled Krebs: Keyboard Works Volume 2, again with a crustation-themed cover photo. Please see the review of Volume 1 for more background information, a crustation explanation, and a warning about the title of this 4 volume series. This second volume focuses on three multi-movement pieces, demonstrating Krebs’ diverse style over a 24-year period ranging from Baroque and Galant to Classical genres, a contrast also demonstrated by the differing styles of Bach’s sons, all of whom shared JS Bach as a teacher.
The Ghost in the Machine Emily Baines, recorders, Amyas First Hand Records FHR 113. 62’41
The launch concert on Wednesday 15 December has been cancelled. It will return in the New Year
It has long been the case that many ‘early music’ recordings and performances are preceded and supported by a considerable amount of research by the performers. This recording from Amyas is one particularly interesting example. It is based on 10 years of research by Emily Baines (culminating in her doctorate) into the evidence of 18th-century performance style found in mechanical musical instruments of the period, such as barrel organs and musical clocks with tiny organs inside them.
Johann Ludwig Krebs: Keyboard Works Vol 1 Steven Devine, harpsichord Resonus Classics RES10287. 72’0)
Partita in A minor, Krebs-WV 825 Fugues in C major, E major, F major, F minor, G major, and A minor, Krebs-WV 843/848 Concerto in G major “in Italiänischen Gusto”, Krebs-WV 821
Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780) is another of those overlooked composers, despite there being a large amount of surviving music. He is probably best known as Bach’s favourite organ pupil, and the focus (reflected in the CD cover photo) of Bach’s comment Er ist der einzige Krebs in meinem Bache – “He is the only crayfish (Krebs) in my brook (Bach)”, a reference to Krebs’ ability as an organist, rather than being the only Krebs pupil as Bach also taught Krebs’ father. His music falls into a slightly awkward gap between the High Baroque style of late Bach and the new Galant and Classical styles that rendered much of ‘Old Bach’s’ music out of date.
In stil moderno: Castello, Strozzi & Claudio Monteverdi Academy of Ancient Music Streamedfrom West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. 14 April 2021
Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677) : L’eraclito amoroso & Lagrime mie Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): Et e pur dunque vero & Si dolce e’l tormento Dario Castello (c1602-1631) : Sonate concertante in stil moderno, Libro Secondo
The second in the three-concert series of AAM Live 2021events was initially billed as a farewell to their outgoing Music Director, Richard Egarr, who is now replaced by Laurence Cummings who directed the first of their AAM Live 2021 concerts, reviewed here. Although Egarr may have been an inspiration behind this programme of music from 17th-century Venice, the concert listed two directors, the AAM’s principal violinist Bojan Čičić and keyboard player Steven Devine. They were joined by mezzo Helen Charlston. Continue reading →
Beyond Beethoven Works for natural horn & fortepiano Anneke Scott, Steven Devine Resonus ClassicsRES10267. 77’51
Ferdinand Ries: Grande Sonate in F major, Op. 34 Friedrich Eugen Thürner: Grande Sonate in E major, Op. 29 Friedrich Starke: Adagio und Rondo, Op. 105 Hendrik Coenraad Steup: Sonate in E flat major, Op. 11
The early years of the 19th-century saw the rise of pieces for horn and piano, following Beethoven’s 1800 Sonata in F major, Op. 17. Catching on to the coat-tails of Beethoven were composers such as the four featured on this Beyond Beethoven recording, all little known except, perhaps, to horn players. They were all close contemporaries, born within 11 years of each other, with links between themselves, Beethoven, and his Op. 17 Sonata. Anneke Scott and Steven Devine perform on original instruments: a c1810 cor solo by Lucien Joseph Raoux, and an 1815 fortepiano by Johann Peter Fritz from the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, formally at Finchcocks and now in Waterdown House, the home of the Finchcocks Charity in Tunbridge Wells.
Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Volume 2 Steven Devine, harpsichord Resonus Classics RES10261. 2 CDs. 73’03+75’42
Following his Volume 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier reviewed here), Steven Devine returns with a very welcome recording of Bach’s second book of Preludes & Fugues, published around 20 years after the first book. Unlike the Book 1 Preludes and Fugues (BWV 846-869) which survive in Bach’s autograph, Book 2 (BWV 870-893) has two principal sources with contribtions by Bach’s family, but only one withs any evidence of Bach’s hand.
York Early Music Festival Innovation: the Shock of the New! 10-12 July
My principal reason for going to York was to review the biennial York Early Music International Young Artists Competition which took place over the last three days of the annual York Early Music Festival. The Festival lasted from 5 to 13 July and was given under the banner of Innovation: the Shock of the New! taking inspiration from the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci. Alongside talks and community events were a range of concerts, mostly from York-connected and UK ensembles, but with welcome continental visitors including Concerto de Margherita, one of the EEEmerging groups, fortepianist Andreas Staier, the Italian/Jewish Ensemble Lucidarium, and the distinguished Belgian consort Vox Luminis. I was able to attend the last four of the Festival concerts, together with the three days of the Competition.
Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier I
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus Classics RES10239. 2 CDs. 55’06+56.13
This is the first of two double-CD volumes of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier), and covers the Preludes and Fugues 1 to 24 (BWV846-869) that form Book 1 of ‘The 48’. This musically intelligent and absorbing recording by Steven Devine demonstrates that performing Bach (or any music, for that matter) is far more the merely playing all the notes in the right order. His subtle use of articulation and rhetoric and his understanding of the Baroque idea of building up musical ideas from small motifs make for an absorbing recording that will invite repeated listening. He manages to negotiate that fine line between presenting a personal interpretation and those over-mannered performances that might be fine for a live recital but is usually off-putting on the repeat listening that a recording allows. With obvious respect to Bach and these extraordinary miniatures of musical craft, Devine brings a wide range of interpretations, matching the underlying mood of each Prelude and Fugue perfectly. Continue reading →
More Choice Morsels of Early English Song
Kate Semmens & Steven Devine
Devine Music DMCD009. 75’14
Following on from their earlier CD Delicatessen, Steven Devine and Kate Semmens delve further into the English song repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries, with the imaginatively entitled CD Delicatessen II. As the programme notes explain, the rapid move to town and cities and the decline of rural life may well have contributed to the yearning in popular song for the pastoral life, in this case, a close memory rather than the mythical Arcadian fantasy world of most of the songs. This recording draws on sources such as the 1756 ‘Appolo’s Cabinet: or the Muses’ Delight’, clearly aimed at amateurs with its attendant instructions for singing and instrumental playing. In contrast to these simple settings are more substantial pieces by the famed composers of the day, such as John Stanley, Thomas Arne, Maurice Greene, John Blow, and William Boyce. Continue reading →
Le cor mélodique Mélodies, Vocalises & Chants by Gounod, Meifred & Gallay Anneke Scott&Steven Devine Resonus Classics RES10228. 75’57
The horn must have a claim to have one of the longest and most complex histories of all musical instruments, with the exception of the flute and the human voice. From the Scandinavian Lur (dating back some 12,000 years, and surviving today in the form of the crest on packs of butter), ancient animal horns (surviving today as the Jewish Shofar), via the Byzantine Oliphant, the Roman Cornu, and hunting and military horns came the gradual absorption into art music during the 17th century. Initially, these were valveless instruments only capable of playing very restricted notes but time and the addition of plumbing and valves gave the orchestral instrument a much greater range, but at some cost to the distinctive sound of the naturally produced notes of the harmonic scale, modified only by the mouth and hand of the player. In this recording, horn specialist Anneke Scott explores one of the developmental stages of the horn: the mid-19th-century transition from the natural to the piston horn, using three horns and three playing techniques, each related to the specific ideas of the composers. Continue reading →
The Gonzaga Band
Resonus RES10218. 68’27
Music by Castello, Monteverdi, Marini, Schütz, Grandi, Pesenti,
Tarditi, Carrone, Donati, and Rè
The Gonzaga Band, as the name suggests, was founded to explore the
music of late Renaissance Italy, their name inspired by the Mantua seat of the Gonzaga family, where Claudio Monteverdi had been their maestro della musica. However, this recording is centred in Venice, around 150km east of Mantua. The year 1629 is when Schütz, then Hofkapellmeister of the Saxon court in Dresden, made a second visit to Venice to learn more about the music of Monteverdi and his contemporaries. Monteverdi had been maestro di cappella at St Mark’s since 1613, and the style of Giovanni Gabrielli, under whom Schütz studied in Venice a couple of decades earlier, was beginning to be superceded by the new style of the early Baroque. Whilst there, Schütz published the first volume of his Symphoniae Sacrae. The same year also saw the publication of music by Dario Castello, Alessandro Grandi, Biagio Marini and others. This recording explores the extraordinarily productive musical life of Venice during that single year of 1629, with pieces from the musical greats of the city, as well as lesser-known composers. Continue reading →
Complete solo keyboard works
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus RES10214. 3CDs 79’26, 65’45, 73’28
This important recording of the solo keyboard works of Jean-Philippe Rameau brings together in a three-CD set, pieces previously only available as separate downloads from the Resonus website. For those who haven’t kept up with these recordings, or who want a hard copy of these performances, this three-for-the-price-of-one package is a must-buy. The three discs were recorded in St John the Evangelist, Oxford in December 2013 and April 2014, and in the Chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge in August 2017. All use the same double-manual harpsichord by Ian Tucker based on a 1626 Andreas Ruckers of Antwerp, with a ravalement added in 1763 by Hemsch of Paris. The pitch is a=415, and it is tuned in the non-specific Tempérament Ordinaire, in this context presumably meaning a modified meantone temperament. The three CDs follow a sensible order, giving an excellent overview of Rameau’s stylistic development from 1706 to 1747. Sadly, the title of ‘Complete solo keyboard works’ is correct: although he spent much of his early life as an organist, unlike many other French composers of the period, he left no compositions for the organ, although there are modern transcriptions available, in score, and on CD. Continue reading →
Bach: St Matthew Passion
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, Mark Padmore
The Anvil, Basingstoke. 31 March 2018
During Easter Saturday, I watched a broadcast from Berlin of the powerful Simon Rattle/Peter Sellars staging of the St Matthew Passion that I had reviewed back in 2014 at the Proms. And in the evening, an unstaged, but equally powerful Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performance in Basingstoke’s Anvil. The common factor was Mark Padmore, appearing as the Evangelist and, in the case of the OAE, as director. I don’t object in principle to stagings of the Bach Passions. Sellar’s use of the space in and around the orchestras was very effective, and I also liked Jonathan Miller’s inspiringly human reading in the mid-1990s, and Deborah Warner’s 2000 ENO staging of the St John Passion, which drew the audience directly into the unfolding drama. But sometimes just being presented with the music itself, without additional layering, is the way to focus on the complex human emotions that Bach portrays. Continue reading →
Telemann: Complete Trio Sonatas with Recorder and Viol
Chandos/Chaconne CHAN0817. 67’00
This excellent recording explores the compositions that Telemann considered to be his best – his Trio Sonatas. Da Camera (Emma Murphy, recorders, Susanna Pell, treble and bass viols, Steven Devine, harpsichord) performs eight such Sonatas, four from the 1739 Essercizii musici and four from the collection of Telemann manuscripts surviving in Darmstadt, mostly dating from the 1720s. The Darmstadt pieces are particularly interesting in that Da Camera use the combination of instruments specified by Telemann, with recorder and dessus de viole (treble viol), rather than the more usually heard combination of recorder and violin. Telemann’s indication makes perfect sense, the delicately expressive and sensitive sound of the treble viol both blending and contrasting perfectly with the recorder. Continue reading →
Bach and Handel: Great Balls of Fire
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Steven Devine
Kings Place. 1 March 2018
Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 4 no. 1
Handel: Organ Concerto Op. 7 no. 5
Bach:Brandenburg Concerto no. 5
Under the banner of the Kings Place ‘Turning Points’ series (which aims to explore the hidden secrets of the great composers) and a very silly concert title (‘Great Balls of Fire’), the OAE presented three examples of the 18th-century keyboard concerto, contrasting two of Handel’s Organ Concertos with Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. Composed for entirely different audiences and occasions, the Bach and Handel pieces reflect key moments in the development of music. A pre-concert talk by the chief executive of the OAE, given in the rather booming style of a schoolmaster (I use the gender-specific term deliberately) lecturing a lower-sixth general studies course, gave some background to the concert and the three pieces were to hear. The concert itself lasted just one hour, without interval. It was followed by a Q&A session with the performers and an encore, voted for by the audience from a list of three. Continue reading →
Telemann, Bach, & Scarlatti
Da Camera with Carolyn Sampson
Kings Place. 20 September 2017
I reviewed Da Camera’s very first concert, in March 1999 at Hampstead’s Burgh House, noting that “Emma Murphy is a superb recorder player … she combines outstanding virtuosity with musical intelligence and sensitivity”, and that harpsichordist Steven Devine was (amongst other things) “clearly blessed with enviable technical skills”. In 2001, I commented on their “well-balanced programme, a friendly and informal stage manner, fine musicianship and superb playing” – a comment that they quoted in the programme for this Kings Place concert. In a later review, I praised Susanna Pell for producing a “wide range of tones and textures from her gamba, both in accompanying and in solo pieces”. Since those early days, they have each developed their own independent careers (and, indeed, families), but have now returned to the musical fray with a series of concerts and a new Telemann CD. Continue reading →
Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli: Sonate da Camera 1-6
Bojan Čičić & The Illyria Consort
Delphian DCD34194. 63’46
For a British musician, now is a very good time to be reminded of the extraordinary contribution that immigrant musicians have made to our musical history, from at least the early 1500s. This CD reflects that in at least two ways. Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was born in Liverno in 1694. Although supposition that he studied with Corelli seems ill-founded, he certainly absorbed and developed Corelli’s style. He moved to England in, or just before 1719, possibly at the invitation of John Manners (then Marquess of Granby, and soon to become the 3rd Duke of Rutland), who was to be his only known patron in England. Almost immediately on his arrival Carbonelli became leader of the Drury Lane Theatre orchestra, a post which also involved performing concertos and sonatas. In 1735, like many of his fellow Italian immigrant musicians, he anglicised his name, in his case to John Stephen Carbonell. Continue reading →
Bach: Brandenburg Concertos Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
St John’s, Smith Square. 2 May 2017
It is not that often that all six Brandenburg Concertos are performed in one concert. One issue is the logistics of gathering so many instrumentalists together, several for just one piece. Another is the length, in this case overrunning an ambitious estimate by some 20 minutes. On this occasions, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed the six concertos in the sensible order of 1, 3, 5 interval 4, 6, 2, providing some key contrast, and saving the most powerful concerto to the end. There had been some shifting of personal before the start of the concert, with the former second violinist Huw Daniel stepping up to concertmaster to replace the indisposed Pavlo Beznosiuk, and Naomi Burrell stepping in to take his place in the line up. Continue reading →
Discover Danzi (concert and CD)
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 →
Songs of Love, War and Melancholy the operatic fantasies of Jacques-François Gallay
Anneke Scott, natural horn, Steven Devine, piano, Lucy Crowe, soprano
Resonus Classics. RES10153 66’41
Fantaisie brillante sur l’opéra ‘Les Martyrs’ de Donizetti (Op. 49),
Fantaisie sur une cavatine de ‘Belisario’ de Donizetti (Op. 42),
‘Fuis, laisse-moi’ de ‘Roberto Devereux’ de Donizetti,
Fantasia sopra un motivo dell’opera ‘Bianca e Fernando’ di Bellini (Op. 47/2),
Troisième Mélodie sur une cavatine de ‘La Sonnambula’ de Bellini (Op. 28),
‘Une Larme Furtive’ de ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti,
Fantaisie sur l’opéra ‘L’Elisir d’amore’ de Donizetti (Op. 46),
Fantaisie brillante sur un motif de ‘Norma’ de Bellini (Op. 40),
‘L’Appel du Chasseur’ des ‘Soirées Italiennes’ de Mercadante.
This CD explores the fascinating (and little-known) world of the French ‘opera fantasy’, an early to mid 19th century musical genre where leading instrumentalists, already well-used to having to create their own repertoire, arranged extracts from Italian operas for their own instrument. One of the leading exponents of that art was the renowned principal horn-player of the Théâtre Italian, Jacques-François Gallay. Five of his Continue reading →
‘Women in Baroque Music’ St John’s, Smith Square & Westminster Abbey, 18/19 May 2015
I 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
J C Bach: Adriano in Siria
Britten Theatre. 14 April 2015
Johann Christian Bach, JSB’s youngest son, arrived in London in 17 62, aged 26. He stayed for the rest of his life, earning the epitaph of the ‘London Bach’. Two years later, the 8-year old Mozart arrived in London with his family. During his 15-month stay, Mozart wrote his first symphonies and opera arias and absorbed the influence of the many musicians that had flocked to post-Handelian London. JC Bach was a particular influence on the young Mozart. He later wrote of Bach: “I love him with all my heart, and have the highest regard for him.”. This influence is reflected in Classical Opera’s choice of Continue reading →