What’s next Vivaldi?

What’s next Vivaldi?
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin),
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Outhere/Alpha ALPHA624. 70’56

If you manage to get past the unremitting frenzy of the opening Vivaldi La Tempesta di Mare Concerto there is a chance that you might be able to appreciate the rest of this extraordinary recording. Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has been described as an “irresistible force of nature: passionate, challenging and totally original in her approach”, in the citation for her 2014 Royal Philharmonic Society award as Instrumentalist of the year). When combined with the energy of Il Giardino Armonico the result is potent.

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Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto

Vivaldi: Concerti per Flauto
Giovanni Antonini, Il giardino armonico
Outhere/Alpha 364. 59’45

Vivaldi: Concerti per flauto

Concerto in do maggiore per flautino, RV 444
Concerto in fa maggiore per flauto, RV 433 La Tempesta di Mare
Concerto in do maggiore per flautino, RV 443
Nisi Dominus per chalumeau, RV 608 Cum dederit
Concerto in do minore per flauto,  RV 441
Concerto in la minore per flautino,  RV 445
Concerto in fa maggiore per flauto, RV 442 Tutti gl’istromenti sordini

Giovanni Antonini is both the recorder soloist and the director of his own group, Il giardino armonico. With many Vivaldi recordings under their belt, this CD selects six Concertos for recorder and contrasts those with an arrangement of a movement from the Nisi Dominus for chalumeau, a forerunner of the clarinet. Continue reading

Venetian Cello Sonatas

Venetian Cello Sonatas: Under the shade of Vivaldi
Gaetano Nasillo
Outhere/Arcana A465. 77’24

The subtitle of this recording “Under the shade of Vivaldi” explains its remit of exploring the lesser-known composers for the cello in Venice at a time when the music of Vivaldi held sway. The pieces chosen demonstrate two moments of musical transition. The first is the use of the cello as a solo instrument, rather than as a ‘mere’ bass continuo instrument, a development that started in the mid to late 17th-century. The second example of transition is in the structure of the Sonata from the traditional four movements to the more modern three. Perhaps tellingly, the two Sonatas in the later three-movement form (by Vandini and Stratico) are the most technically advanced of the eight Sonatas. Continue reading

Olwen Foulkes: Indoor Fireworks

Indoor Fireworks
Olwen Foulkes, recorder
Ensemble Augelletti
Barn Cottage Records, bcr021. 73’00

The recording is based on music that was performed in London theatres during the late 17th and early 18th-centuries. As well as the advertised play, an evening at the theatre would also have included musical and other entertainments before, during and after the play. Olwen Foulkes has researched this repertoire, using contemporary adverts in the Daily Courant for the Theatre Royal between 1702 and 1720 which listed many of these other entertainments. This impressive recording, her second with Barn Cottage Records, features examples of such entertainments, with examples from the composers Vivaldi, Locke, Corelli, Baston, Paisible, Grano, Tollet, Finger and Sammartini, either written for, or arranged by Olwen, for recorder and the small instrumental ensemble Ensemble Augelletti. Continue reading

La Serenissima: The Godfather

The Godfather
Masters of the German & Italian Baroque
La Serenissima, Adrian Chandler
Signum Classics SIGCD602. 66’09

For long the undoubted champions of the music of Vivaldi, as their name suggests, La Serenissima are spreading their musical wings to explore the musical triumvirate of Telemann, Pisendel and JS Bach, all three closely connected, together with the composers Fasch, Vivaldi and Brescianello, who also had links with the principal trio. As La Serenissima note on their website, the links are that Pisendel was godfather to one of Telemann’s children; Telemann was godfather to CPE Bach;. JS Bach admired both Pisendel and Telemann and composed for the violinist Pisendel; Vivaldi helped Pisendel with his A minor concerto movement; Fasch was a friend of Pisendel and Telemann, and Pisendel played concertos by Brescianello, an Italian who helped to spread disseminate Italian instrumental music throughout the German-speaking lands. Continue reading

Itinéraire Baroque: 2018

Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert
26-29 July 2018

IMG_20180728_115913327.jpg

The annual Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert festival is now in its 17th year. It is based around the towns of Ribérac and Verteillac in the northern part of the Dordogne-Périgord region of western France. It was founded by Robert Huet and Ton Koopman, the former a local resident and director of the organising committee, the latter the artistic director and occasional import from The Netherlands, along with musical friends and family. It started as the one-day event that gave the festival its name – the Itineraire Baroque, a musical tour of some of the little-known Romanesque churches of the region. It was intended as much to draw attention to these often locked churches as for any musical intent. It has now expanded to cover four days over the last weekend in July. The theme for this year’s festival was ‘Looking towards Spain’, although only a few concerts made more than a casual nod in that direction. In fact, as a weekend dominated by Netherlanders, it was no surprise that several of the concerts focussed on the historic battles between the Dutch and the Spanish, viewed from a Dutch point of view – perhaps ‘Trying to get rid of Spain’ would have been a more accurate title. The programme for this year’s festival can be found here.

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Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni

Vivaldi: Le Quatro Stagioni
Il Riposo, L’Amoroso, and Il Grosso Mogul
Rachel Podger, Brecon Baroque
Channel Classics CCS SA 403318. 75’24

Although the Four Seasons sounds much better in Italian, it doesn’t hide the fact that this is yet another recording of the inevitable old favourite. Despite there being squillions of other recordings available, a new one will probably guarantee good sales, not least because people do seem to like what they know. And they do know the Four Seasons, even if the CD title of Le Quatro Stagioni might confuse them a little. Vivaldi wrote more than 200 concertos for violin and orchestra, For the more discerning listener, there has to be something distinctive to separate any new recording out from the competition. And, boy, haven’t some people tried something distinctive. Rachel Podger and her Brecon Baroque avoid the ‘distinctive’ route and instead focus on intelligent music-making, aided by sensitive articulation, sensible speeds and appropriate accompaniments.  Continue reading

The Courts of Earth and Heaven

Crickhowell Music Festival: The Courts of Earth and Heaven
Crickhowell Choral Society, Stephen Marshall
St Edmund’s, Crickhowell, 30 April 2017

Handel: Eternal source of light divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne)
Delalande: Regina coeli 
Campra: Quam dilecta
Vivaldi: Gloria (RV588 – the ‘other’ Gloria!)

A walking weekend in the Brecon Beacons happened to coincide with the annual Crickhowell Music Festival. I have reviewed the whole Festival in the past but, on this occassion, could only manage one performance, given in St Edmund’s Church, Crickhowell by the Crickhowell Choral Society and a ‘festival’ orchestra, together with a very impressive group of soloists. One of the things that most impressed me on my earlier visit was the ability of their director Stephen Marshall to attract outstanding and international renown singers such as, on this occasion, Grace Davidson, Nicholas Mulroy, and Catherine King.

The ambitious programme featured music from England, France, and Italy. It opened with Handel’s 1713 Birthday Ode – a homage to Queen Anne, and indeed, to Purcell, whose style he so perfectly absorbed. The opening arioso ‘Eternal lource of light divine’ is one of the most beautful musical creations of all time, with Handel’s understanding of Purcell’s style made obvious. It makes for a very exposed start to a concert, and one which tenor Nicholas Mulroy coped with magnificently. His high lyrical tenor voice hasn’t quite the timbre of a countertenor that Handel intended, but was nonetheless quite exquisite, in this, and in later movements. Grace Davidson’s soprano aria ‘Let all the wingéd race’ was similarly impressive. Both of these key singers demonstrated their excellent ability at singing Baroque ornaments properly, rather than using the often heard reliance on vibrato alone. Continue reading

AAM: Bach and the Italian Concerto

Bach and the Italian Concerto
Academy of Ancient Music
Milton Court Concert Hall, 15 February 2017

Bach: Concerto for oboe d’amore in D major
Vivaldi: Concerto for violin in G minor
Albinoni: Concerto for oboe in D minor
Vivaldi: Concerto for two violins in A minor
Bach: Italian Concerto
A Marcello: Concerto for oboe in D minor

Groups like the Academy of Ancient Music often perform with soloists drawn from their own ranks, with understandably excellent results. This was one such occasion, when four of the AAM’s regular orchestral players stepped into the soloist limelight. The focus was on the influence of Italian music on Bach, with a sub-plot of the Italian music that Bach transcribed for harpsichord organ. Indeed Alistair Ross, the AAM’s principal keyboard continuo player, suggested during the pre-concert talk that he could perform the entire concert programme on his own on organ and harpsichord.

The instrumental focus of the concert was on the oboe and oboe d’amore, played by Frank de Bruine. He opened with the latter instrument in Bach’s Concerto for oboe d’amore in D, the husky tone of the oboe d’amore (pitched lower than the normal baroque oboe) revealing exactly why it was one of Bach’s favourite instruments. Continue reading

‘Raubgut’

‘Raubgut’ Laura Schmid – recorders
Royal Greenwich Early Music Festival
Moeck/Society of Recorder Players Solo Recorder Playing Competition
Winners Recital 2016
All Saints’ Church, Blackheath. 12 November

The intriguing title of Laura Schmid’s recital is a German word that means something like ‘robbery’ or ‘stolen goods’. It connects two words, with contrasting positive and negative meanings. It was the basis to Laura’s recital (given as a result of her winning the 2015 Moeck/Society of Recorder Players Solo Recorder Playing Competition) which featured music appropriated and recreated in the 18th century by other composers from France, Italy and Germany. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Juditha triumphans

Vivaldi: Juditha triumphans
Venice Baroque Orchestra, Guildhall Consort, Andrea Marcon
Barbican, 2 November 2016

You can imagine the headlines in today’s gutter press. “Woman seduces man, gets him drunk, then beheads him. Claims God told her to do it”. She would probably spend the rest of her life in a institution for the criminally insane. But in the Bible (or, at least, in the Bible of the Catholics and Orthodox Christians, but not the Protestants, who count the Book of Judith as apocryphal, or the Jews), she was hailed as a national heroine who lived to the age of 105. Musically her story inspired Tallis’s Spem in alium, and works by Scarlatti, Mozart and Parry. In art, she inspired the likes of Cranach, Donatello, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Goya and Klimpt (pictured). She is also the subject matter for Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio Juditha triumphans devicta Holofernis barbariewritten exactly 300 years ago, in 1716. The story of Judith’s ‘triumph over the barbarians of Holofernes’ would have had a strong contemporary reference to Venetians, whose army had just defeated the Ottoman invaders in Corfu. Judith clearly represents Venice, and the Assyrian general Holofernes, the Ottomans.

Described on the title page of the score as a ‘sacred military oratorio’, Continue reading

French Splendour & Italian Virtuosity

‘French Splendour & Italian Virtuosity in Baroque Music’
Michal Rogalski, oboe, Katarz
yna Kowalik, harpsichord, Kate Conway, cello & viol
Music in New Malden. 9 October 2016

Whatever the success of their performing, academic, or teaching careers, for many musicians one of the most important aspect of their musical life is their involvement in local musical activities, for example, setting up and running local music festivals and events. An example of the latter is the Music in New Malden (MiNM) series of concerts, founded by Jane Booth and John Irving in 2009. Held in New Malden Methodist Church, the annual series of Sunday afternoon concerts feature professional musicians and generally focus on early music and historical performance. Admission is free, but there is a retiring collection for a range of designated charities, so far raising over £9000 for Macmillan Cancer Care, Dementia UK, Home Farm Trust, Princess Alice Hospice, Disasters Emergency Committee, Jessie’s Fund and others.

The 2016/17 series ranges from solo piano to a choir and orchestra. It opened on 9 October with a concert (by Michal Rogalski, oboe, Katarzyna Kowalik, harpsichord, and Kate Conway, cello & viol) comparing French and Italian compositional and performing style in the Baroque era. Attempts to bring these two styles together were the focus of many composers of the period. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise

Vivaldi: Les Orphelines de Venise
Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain
Ambronay AMY047. 65’05

Nouveau disque : Les Orphelines de VeniseMuch of Vivaldi’s music was written for the Venetian Ospedali della Pietà, one of many such orphanages set up to cater for the many unwanted, and usually female, babies that seemed to appear some nine months after the carnival season. Although originally funded as charities, they quickly established a reputation for their musical activities, attracting large crowds and provided a secure, and indeed rather opulent, financial establishment. Firmly on the tourist essential to-do list, these female choirs attracted such comments as the one by Charles de Brosses in 1739 who wrote that “there is nothing so pleasant as to see a pretty young nun in a white habit, with a bunch of pomegranate blossoms over her ear directing the orchestra … their voices are delightful in their elegance and lightness”.

There are many debates over exactly how Vivaldi’s works were performed at the Pietà, not least because many of the works apparently written for the girls appear in SATB format, with tenor and bass parts. Some choirs have 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

London Festival of Baroque Music – Day 3

‘Women in Baroque Music’
St John’s, Smith Square, 17  May 2015

The third day of the festival started with ‘Sing Baroque’, with Robert Howarth, one of the Robert HowarthOrchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s regular conductors, leading a Sunday morning workshop on the choral sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria – “for all aspiring Baroque singers – no experience necessary!”. This is certainly not the sort of event that should be reviewed, but I will comment on the experience of watching a conductor at work from the other side of the podium. Conducting styles vary by personality (and over historic time), but there is a generation of younger conductors who focus on using collaboration, cooperation and genuine good humour (rather than dictatorship or bullying) as the key to communicating their ideas. It was clear that Robert Howarth is one of those. As well as giving the gathered singers an excellent insight into the music and aspects of performing it, Robert Howarth also made it an extremely entertaining occasion. Music’s gain is stand-up comedy’s loss.

The Sunday afternoon included a guided tour of The Wallace Collection exploring ‘Music, Dance and Gallentry in 18th-century French Art’, followed by a concert focusing on the harpsichord music of Elizabeth Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) given by Béatrice Martin. Continue reading

Vivaldi: Four Seasons & String Concerti – European Union Baroque Orchestra

Vivaldi The Four Seasons & String Concerti  European Union Baroque Orchestra, Huw Daniel, Bojan Čičič, Johannes Pramsohler, Zefire Valova violins. Lars Ulrich Mortensen. 52’50.
Obsidian CCL CD713

Not another Four Seasons, you might think.  But this is different, in several ways.  Firstly it is from the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) who regular readers will know I am a fan of.  Secondly the four violinists are all ex-members, and later concertmasters, of EUBO. And thirdly because this not only also includes the charmingly inoffensive little Concerto RV124, but also Vivaldi’s sonnets, read in Italian by another EUBO alumnus, Antonio de Sarlo (the CD booklet includes the texts).  And finally, although not obvious from the CD, this whole project was accompanied by a commissioned puppet show for children using Vivaldi’s music – hopefully this will be released on DVD in the future, but a video can be found on the EUBO website.

The Concerto RV124 introduces the first of the spoken Sonnets.  The four soloists then take their turns at portraying the various seasons with Huw Daniel as Spring, Bojan Čičič, Summer, Johannes Pramsohler, Autumn, and Zefire Valova as Winter.  All four excel throughout, but particularly in the slow movements when their collective ability to play on the edge of their tone with such musical conviction is outstanding.

For some reason, the recording balance of director Lars Ulrich Mortensen’s harpsichord is frequently far too prominent, becoming a distractingly percussive intrusion.  Currently shorn of their usually EU funding, EUBO is trying to survive on the occasional concert and on the sale of CDs like this until stable financial support can be found.  Anybody who has ever heard the talented young players of EUBO (who reform each year – or did, until their recent financial problems) will know how excellent they are, and how important a training experience it is for its members, many of whom go on to distinguished careers.  The CD can be ordered from http://www.eubo.eu/shop/CD713.

Andrew Benson-Wilson
First published in Early Music Review, December 2014

VivaldiCD713

Vivaldi’s “L’Oracolo in Messenia”

Although initially sceptical, I have grown to respect the Barbican’s tradition of concert performances of operas.  Without the distraction of staging or directorial imposition, there is the chance to concentrate on the music itself.  One fine example of this came with the performance of Vivaldi’s pasticcio opera L’Oracolo in Messenia of 1737 (20 Feb).

Vivaldi’s habit of living and travelling with his former pupil Anna Girò (some 32 years younger than him) seems to have been instrumental in the genesis of this work, after the Archbishop of Ferrara refused him entry to his city on the grounds of his companion.  Vivaldi hurriedly arranged a season at Venice’s Teatro S Angelo which opened with L’Oracolo in Messenia.  As with so many of Vivaldi’s operas, only the libretto exists, but Fabio Biondi has reconstructed the musical score from clues as to the pieces that Vivaldi collected together, drawing on the Giacomelli work that Vivaldi used as the basis for his pasticcio.  

As is often the case in Vivaldi (and indeed in many other composers), the real musical interest often lay in the accompaniment, rather than the vocal line.  That said, there were some spectacular showpiece arias, the most extraordinary coming towards the end of Act 2 when Trasimede (the young Russian Julia Lezhneva, in one of the three trouser roles) who had hitherto had a relatively quite time suddenly burst into a stunningly virtuosic aria (Son qual nave, originally written for Farinelli by his brother Ricardo Broschi) that not only produced by far the loudest audience applause but also a young man who leapt onto the stage from the audience to present her with a bunch of flowers – not, I think, a spur of the moment thing, but nonetheless well deserved.

In a very strong vocal cast, the stand-out singers were Magnus Staveland (despite his voice sometimes seeming rather too nice for the villain Polifonte, who has murdered the previous King and all but one of his children and is now after his widow, Merope), Marianne Beate Kielland as the tragic heroine Merope, notably with her impressive mad scene, Vivica Genaux as Epitide, her clear voice having a fine lower register, albeit with rather too much vibrato for my taste, and Franziska Gottwald as the ambassador Licisco, making much of one of the lesser roles.  Of the remaining cast, Marina de Liso’s persistent vibrato was a turn-off, and Robert Enticknap, playing another nasty chap, struggled to demonstrate his ability in such a strong cast.  It takes a bit of a culture shift to appreciate the 18th century love of pasticcio opera, but this was certainly an effort by Fabio Biondi that was well worth while.  He also impressed as a director, leading his excellent group Europa Galante with his violin, and showing great respect for his singers and fellow musicians.

[https://andrewbensonwilson.org/2015/03/30/vivaldis-loracolo-in-messenia/]