Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice

Barbara Strozzi: Star of Venice
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment
Mary Bevan, Christian Curnyn
Kings Place, 10 January 2018

Barbara Strozzi: L’amante modesto, Pace arrabbiata, Lagrime Mie, Canto di bella bocca,
E pazzo il mio core, Le tre Gratie a Venere, 
Silenzio nocivo
Claudio Monteverdi: Volgendo il ciel, Il ballo delle ingrate

For several years now, Kings Place has selected a specific theme for each year under the banner of ‘Unwrapped’. Past examples have included Time Unwrapped, Cello Unwrapped, Baroque Unwrapped, and Minimalism Unwrapped. Their offering for 2019 is the enticing named Venus Unwrapped. The year-long series of around 60 concerts aims to “unlock the secret history of music by women”. It opened with a focus on Barbara Strozzi, one of the best known of the very few female composers of the Baroque era – or, indeed, of any era if musical history is to be believed. The painting below (The Viola da Gamba Player) is believed to be off Barbara Strozzi.

Strozzi.jpg

The distinguished conductor Christian Curnyn directed a group of singers and instrumentalists from the Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, with Mary Bevan as the main billed soloist, although several other singers had prominent roles.

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BBC Proms: Israel in Egypt

Handel: Israel in Egypt (original 1739 version)
Orchestra & Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall. 1 August 2017

A combination of Handel, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and William Christie is bound to sell out the vast auditorium of the Royal Albert Hall, but the first performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, in 1739, was not so successful. Many stayed away because of the biblical context of the work, and those that came were not overly impressed. The reasons are complex, but are generally to do with Handel’s move from opera to the new musical form of oratorio. The slightly earlier oratorio Saul, written just before Israel and Egypt, was a great success, no doubt because the musical style included more elements of opera. Israel in Egypt was far more hard-core, not least in the use of choruses. The first part, nearly always omitted in present day performances, is a continuous sequence of 12 choruses. Part Two has 7 and Part Three 8, but these are broken up by a few arias, duets, and recitatives. Handel made many subsequent changes to the score, and it is usually now performed in the 1756 version, with its odd recitative start (which refers back to the non-existent Part One) and no Symphony. It was the inclusion of Part One, and what was supposed to be (but I think was not quite) the original 1739 version, that made this Proms performance so special. Continue reading

Handel in Italy

Handel in Italy
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Paul McCreesh, Gillian Webster
St John’s, Smith Square. 28 March 2017

Corelli: Concerto Grosso in D Op. 6 No. 4; Handel: Donna che in ciel HWV233; Dixit Dominus HWV232

Although, in true British fashion, George Frederic Handel is usually claimed as the quintessential English composer, some of his most exciting music was composed during the four years he spent in Italy (1706-10). Early training seemed to set Handel on course to be an organist and church musician, to the extent that he travelled to Lübeck in 1703 with a view to succeeding the great Buxtehude at the Marienkirche. But three years in Hamburg’s opera world (1703-6) changed that ambition, and resulted in an invitation by a Medici to come to Italy. He was already well-versed in the Italian music through his early training with Zachow in Halle, but his ability to immediately absorb national styles quickly became apparent, as it later did on his arrival in London in 1710. Continue reading

Spitalfields Music: Christmas Oratorio

Spitalfields Music: Christmas Oratorio
Solomon’s Knot
St Leonard’s, Shoreditch. 15 December 2015

In what they described as a “subtle dramatisation”, the Solomon’s Knot Baroque Collective performed four of the six cantatas that make up Bach’s so-called ‘Christmas Oratorio’ as the closing concert of this years Spitalfields Music Winter Festival. And they did it with the eight singers all singing from memory. What could so easily have been a bit of a gimmick turned out to be a thought-provoking experience, at least from the audience’s perspective. One of the aims of Solomon’s Knot is to ‘remove the barriers (visible and invisible) between performers and spectators’. This performance certainly did that. Initially having eight singers gazing directly at us seemed like opening your front door to a massed gathering of Mormons, all earnest looking in matching dark suits and (in this case, red) ties. Or perhaps we had stumbled into some sort of revivalist meeting – or an Alcoholics Anonymous gathering.

The ‘dramatisation’ was certainly subtle. There was no obvious acting, merely glances between the performers, a slight re-positioning on stage, a couple moving together and, later, a sedate confrontation with a rather buttoned-up Herod. But what was immediately apparent was that they were singing directly to us, making direct eye contact with the audience. The group went out of their way Continue reading