Solomon’s Knot: Magnificat

Magnificat
Christmas in Leipzig
Solomon’s Knot
Sony Music  19075992622. 75’09

Solomon'S Knot - Magnificat-Christmas in Leipzig

Schelle Machet die Tore weit
Kuhnau Magnificat in C
Bach Magnificat in E flat, BWV243a

The three composers represented on this recording from Solomon’s Knot were successive Kantor’s of Leipzig’s Thomaskirche between 1677 to Bach’s death in 1750. Johann Schelle (1648-1701) was a former choirboy under Heinrich Schütz in Dresden and Thomaskirche Kantor from 1677 to his death in 1701. Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) may have been a cousin of Johann Schelle, and certainly worked with him, becoming organist at St Thomas aged just 24 and still a law student. He succeeded Schelle as Kantor in 1701 and was Bach’s immediate predecessor. Bach took over in 1723, and stayed until his death in 1750. Continue reading

Favourites: Telemann and his Subscribers

‘Favourites’
Telemann and his Subscribers
Tabea Debus, recorder
TYXart TXA18107. 66’34

Recorder player Tabea Debus is one of the most impressive young musicians of her generation. She has already featured many times in this review website for her CDs and concert performances (see here). Her latest recording is a clever combination of two genuine Telemann pieces for recorder (the Sonata in C, TWV 41:C2 and Concerto in F, TWV 51:F1) forming a sandwich with a filling of four suites of pieces collated and arranged by Tabea Debus from Telemann and three of the composers who subscribed to Telemann’s music publications. Telemann was one of the pioneers of music publishing funded by inviting pre-publication subscriptions – an early form of crowd-funding. Amongst those subscribers were Bach, Handel and Blavet, the three composers whose pieces are collected into suites on this recording. Continue reading

Handel: Rinaldo

Handel: Rinaldo
The English Concert, Harry Bicket

Barbican. 13 March 2018

Rinaldo is a curious opera. Cobbled together in early 1711 from some of Handel’s greatest hits from his time in Italy, it was intended a calling-card both for Handel and for the style of Italian opera that was just beginning to make its way on the London musical scene. It was the first such opera composed for the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, where the theatre’s director (Aaron Hill) was keen to promote Italian opera. As Richard Wigmore wrote in the programme note (accessible here), Hill’s priorities were “variety of incident and spectacle, with dramatic coherence a distant third”. Dramatic coherence is certainly missing from the splot, a loose version of one of Tasso’s tales of Crusader derring-do in Gerusalemme liberata. The “incident and spectacle” was certainly to the fore in the original productions, with its dramatic staging with mermaids, various flying machines, fire-breathing dragons, and a flock of live sparrows, the latter producing the inevitable results and some sharp criticism for contemporary reviewers. Continue reading

Froberger: A Celebration

Froberger: A Celebration
Benjamin Narvey, Adrian Lenthall, Tom Foster

British Clavichord Society
Art Workers Guild, London WC1. 19 November 2016

Image result for frobergerComposers with an eye for future recognition should ideally aim to die around the age of either 25 or 75, thereby gaining an anniversary every 25 years or so. Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-67) died aged 51, which means that he has anniversaries this year and next year, but not again for another 49 years. Hopefully the burst of interest in these two years will carry his name forward, as he is an often overlooked composer. But he was an enormous influence on keyboard composers from the 17th to early 19th  century, not least for spreading the Italian style of his teacher Frescobaldi around Europe, and assimilating various European musical styles into his own compositions, notably from France.

Although only two of his works were published in his lifetime, Froberger’s   Continue reading

Opera Settecento – Catone in Utica

Handel/Leo/Hasse’ Catone in Utica
St George’s, Hanover Square.
17 March 2015

Opera Settecento.  Tom Foster, musical director.
Erica Eloff & Christina Gansch, sopranos, Emilie Renard, mezzo, Christopher Robson, counter-tenor, Christopher Jacklin, bass-baritone.  

This might be the year that we grow to love pasticcio operas, with Fabio Biondi’s well received reconstruction of Vivaldi’s compilation L’Oracolo in Messenia at The Barbican (see my review at https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/03/30/vivaldis-loracolo-in-messenia/) and now Opera Settecento’s excellent concert performance of Handel’s 1732 Catone in Utica, given in Handel’s own church of St George’s, Hanover Square as part of the London Handel Festival.

Handel used to present one pasticcio opera each season, a collecting together of arias, generally by other composers, some of it already well-known to the audience, to slot into the recitative of an opera. In the case of Catone in Utica, Handel drew principally on Leonardo Leo’s 1729 Catone, to a libretto by Metastasio.  Handel reduced Leo’s recitatives and jettisoned all but eight of his arias, adding six by Johann Adolf Hasse (although not from Hasse’s own 1732 version of Catone), along with other arias by Porpora, Vivaldi and Vinci. He also removed one of Metastasio’s characters, leaving just five protagonists. As with most pasticco operas, the recitatives are all-important in carrying the plot. However the arias were more plot-neutral, and were therefore more easily transferred from other operas to suit the strengths of Handel’s available singers.

Metastasio’s libretto is based on the historic Cato the Younger (Marcus Cato ‘Uticensis’), an adversary of Julius Caesar in the last days of the Roman Republic. After Caesar’s defeat of Pompey, Cato and Pompey’s widow Emilia have fled to Utica, near Carthage, on the North African coast. Caesar arrives and tries to toady up to Cato, much to the disgust of Emilia and the confusion of Marzia, Cato’s daughter.  She seems to be rather taken with Caesar, despite her father’s wish that she marry Arbace, Prince of Numidia. Cato rejects Caesar’s offer to share the dictatorship of the empire (and marriage to Marzia, already Caesar’s secret lover), and is eventually defeated by Caesar’s army, leading to his suicide and the start of the dictatorship of Imperial Rome.

Catone in Utica - George Frederick Handel - St George’s, Hanover Square - 17th March 2015Musical Director - Tom FosterMarzia - Erica EloffEmilia - Christina GanschArbace - Emilie RenardCatone - Christopher RobsonCesare - Christopher Jacklin

In Handel’s version, Cesare is changed to a bass, Cato was sung by the castrati Senseino, and Arbace was a contralto trouser role. One of the strengths of Opera Settecento’s performance was the excellent choice of singers. Christopher Jacklin was the imposing Cesare, his opening aria, Non paventa del mare le procella from Porpora’s Siface (one of four based on storm-tossed seas) being a spectacularly virtuosic showpiece with an enormous range, wide vocal leaps and rapid scales, all delivered with aplomb. Vivaldi’s So che nascondi was a similarly bravura aria.

Catone in Utica - George Frederick Handel - St George’s, Hanover Square - 17th March 2015 Musical Director - Tom Foster Marzia - Erica Eloff Emilia - Christina Gansch Arbace - Emilie Renard Catone - Christopher Robson Cesare - Christopher JacklinEmilia was sung by Christina Gansch, a young Austrian soprano who impressed me (and the judges) when I heard her singing in the final of Innsbruck’s Cesti Baroque Opera Singing Competition in 2013. Her opening aria, Chi mi toglie (from Hasse’s Attalo) demonstrated her beautifully warm and well-rounded tone. She later excelled in Sento in riva a l’altre sponde (from the same Hasse opera), accompanied by hushed strings and featuring an excellent expansion of the melodic line in the da capo.  Her concluding virtuosic showpiece Vede il nocchier la sponda, again with outstanding treatment of the da capo and a wonderful cadenza, drew enthusiastic approval from her fellow singersAlthough this was a concert performance, I was very impressed with Christina Gansch’s acting ability.

Catone in Utica - George Frederick Handel - St George’s, Hanover Square - 17th March 2015 Musical Director - Tom Foster Marzia - Erica Eloff Emilia - Christina Gansch Arbace - Emilie Renard Catone - Christopher Robson Cesare - Christopher JacklinErica Eloff was Marzia.  Her arias ended all three of the Acts, positively with È follia se nascondete, mournfully with So che godendo vai and stunningly virtuosic with the conclusion of the opera, Vò solcando un mar crudele.

Emilie Renard seems to be cornering the market in trouser roles, always helped by her choice of clothing and attractive acting Catone in Utica - George Frederick Handel - St George’s, Hanover Square - 17th March 2015 Musical Director - Tom Foster Marzia - Erica Eloff Emilia - Christina Gansch Arbace - Emilie Renard Catone - Christopher Robson Cesare - Christopher Jacklinability. Here she was Arbace, her showpiece coming with Vivaldi’s Vaghe luci, luci belle, featuring outstanding da capo ornamentation and vocal flourishes. The role of Catone was to have been taken by counter-tenor Andrew Watts, but his indisposition led to his very short notice replacement by Christopher Robson, much to his credit.  Sadly, he was not on good form vocally, with an over-use of portamento and awkward breaks of register, although his concluding Per darvi alcun pegno was touching as Catone resigns himself to his fate.

I was very impressed with Tom Foster’s light touch direction from the harpsichord, as well as his sensitive continuo realizations, allowing himself just one real flourish as Arbace and Cesare, rather awkwardly reveal their joint love for Marzia. The youngish instrumentalists of the Orchestra of Opera Settecento played with musical sensitivity, with a notable contribution from cellist Natasha Kraemer. Oboeist Leo Duarte was responsible for producing the score, based on a manuscript from Hamburg.