10 Dec 2012

Time Will Tell

The full text of this review is published in Early Music Today Dec-Feb 2012-13

In his first novel, Time Will Tell, Donald Greig spins a web across three worlds of early music; the composer (Ockeghem), the academic (an isolated American called Andrew Eiger) and the modern vocal ensemble (the pun-tastic Beyond Compère), but it is not – according to the author himself - a roman à clef, but rather a springboard from which he launches into a series of beautifully observed episodes at a point when these different camps become temporarily intertwined.

Time Will Tell By Donald Greig
ISBN: 978 0 85728 624 6
Thames River Press

To read the full text of this review please visit: http://www.earlymusictoday.com/magazine/

8 Dec 2012

Mouton - Missa Dictes moy toutes voz pensées

The full text of this review appears in Early Music Today Dec-Feb 2012-13

Jean Mouton deserves more recognition, and in this new recording Peter Phillips puts forward a very strong case.

The beauty of the mass belies its cleverness in dissecting and reusing each line of Compère’s original chanson yet despite such intricate mechanisms Mouton’s music is as warm and intimate as the performance. The Tallis Scholars sound wonderfully rich in this ‘men’s voice’ scoring and the Agnus Dei II for three basses is particularly spectacular.

The Tallis Scholars / Peter Phillips
Gimell: CDGIM 047

To read the full text of this review please visit: http://www.earlymusictoday.com/magazine/ 

1 Dec 2012


The full text of this review is published in Early Music Today Dec-Feb 2012-13

The affections of baroque music are likened to the affections of the Tango in this skillfully performed programme and presented side-by-side these musics display many parallels, both structural and emotive. 

Happily, Monteverdi’s music survives recasting in Piazzolla’s style and demonstrates more plasticity than would other early baroque composers. However in substituting the style of Monteverdi for that of the Tango, we seem to have ended up with a disc of music that begins to sound the same. 

Ambronay AMY034
Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo García Alarcón
original title: Claudio Monteverdi & Astor Piazzolla : Una Utopia Argentina
collection: Association Art et Musique
To read the full text of this review please visit: http://www.earlymusictoday.com/magazine/

7 Aug 2012

The Word Unspoken

Originally written for musicalcriticism.com
07 August 2012
The extraordinary nature of William Byrd’s life and the impact that it had on his music has been well documented on disc since the late 60s when, amongst others, Sir David Willcocks and The Choir of King’s College Cambridge recorded motets by Byrd And His Contemporaries (EMI 1965) and Cantores In Ecclesia directed By Michael Howard recorded the Cantiones Sacrae of 1575 over three LPs (1969 SOL 313). Since then, recordings that have stood out for me include The Choir of New College Oxford (CRD 1983) with their steely treble sound and, most recently, the professional vocal ensembles of Andrew Carwood’s The Cardinall's Musick and David Skinner’s Alamire. These last two in particular have set the bar extremely high in terms of modern performance standards and through the clarity and passion of their interpretations they have revealed more of the layers of Byrd’s genius.

Despite this rich recorded history, there are two compelling reasons why a new disc from Galicantus is not to be overlooked: programming and performance. Starting with the latter, Gallicantus made their debut with an exceptionally beautiful disc of music by Robert White (Signum: Hymns, Psalms & Lamentations SIGCD134) which really first bought them to my attention. Their sound could generally be described as rich and well-blended with a generous bassy tone. They have two especially fine countertenors (Mark Chambers and David Allsopp) who manage to be quite present in the texture without ever allowing to the top line to skew the polyphonic balance. That in itself is worthy of note. Their second disc was called Dialogues of Sorrow (SIGCD210) and revealed the second quality – a fine nose for programming from the director Gabriel Crouch.

This new disc – The Word Unspoken – delves into the sub-text of motets by Philippe de Monte and William Byrd. This is not a new discovery; the relationship between these two composers was discussed in vol. 3 of the Byrd Edition (Andrew Carwood / The Cardinall's Musick) which ended with the same two astonishing motets as does this new disc. However, Gallicantus have rightfully spotted that the connections in the music of these two men has still not been fully explored and, as such, this disc goes a long way to offering us further understanding of this fascinating conversation all performed to a high standard with excellent notes by Sally Dunkley.

It is well known that de Monte spent time in London travelling with Philip II of Spain and we can infer that during this time the Spanish composer met William Byrd because 30 years later he sent him a copy of his motet Super flumina Bablylonis and Byrd responded in kind by sending his exquisite 8-part Quomodo cantabimus. The motet as a medium for political subtext is a theme well explored by, amongst others, Craig Monson (see in particular: "Byrd, the Catholics, and the Motet: the Hearing Reopened." In Hearing the Motet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.). If Babylonian captivity is a potent symbol for the plight of the persecuted Catholics in England, then surely the subtext is obvious when de Monte asks Byrd “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land” to which the Englishman replies: “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand fall idle.”

What has always intrigued me about this particular correspondence is the idea that Byrd might has asked his singers to perform de Monte’s motet. Would the resulting performance have been anything that de Monte himself might have recognized? Might Byrd have remembered idiocyncracies of the Spanish singing style from their visit 30 years previously and asked for them to be applied? And what of de Monte receiving Byrd’s motet in Spain, would be have understood the nuances of the style, or would he have looked first at the text?

This particular pair comes last on the CD and Gallicantus sing both with their confident blend – men’s voices for de Monte and the addition of Amy Moore and Clare Wilkinson for Byrd. I agree that it is best to avoid any appropriation of special ‘Spanish’ flavour for de Monte (he was a displaced Northerner anyway). In fact, de Monte’s motet is one of the best on the disc. However, the famous Byrd response – one of his finest moments - is, for my tastes, simply a touch too fast. Having said that, this speed – much fresher than the iconic Carwood recording - does invite some fresh speculation on the text which has made me realize I had lazily assumed Byrd’s response was wistful. Maybe there is a more positive message at work here after all?

Elsewhere on the disc these fine performances reveal some fantastic motets by de Monte and revisit some of Byrd’s finest music – all to an exceptionally high standard. Gallicantus also offer us a sublime performance Byrd’s finest Ne irascaris Domine. This is one of the most beautifully poised recordings of this motet that I have ever heard with alto, Mark Chambers, effortlessly balancing the oaky lower voices with a silvery tone. Unforgettable.

Gallicantus / Gabriel Crouch (Signum Classics)


7 Jun 2012

CD Review: Vivaldi: Teuzzone

Originally written for musicalcriticism.com
7th June 2012

Teuzzone is the twelfth opera in naïve’s Vivaldi Edition’s series and, incidentally, the first new release by Jordi Savall (Farnace was first previously on Alia Vox). The opera belongs to a period of Venetian obsession with exoticism and chinoiseries influenced by the city’s trading links. It has an interesting and engaging libretto which follows the squabbling of several interested parties over the will of the Chinese emperor. Vivaldi’s opera was not the first setting of this tale and, unsurprisingly, there is a suggestion that several arias, as was often the case with a popular libretto such as this, may have been imported from other composer’s works as baggage arias - arie di baula - on the insistence of the star singers. Pure Vivaldi or not, it’s great stuff and a great performance.

Savall is one of our leading lights in early music, his specialist repertory now spanning the medieval to the late baroque with a fluidity that never ceases to astonish and challenge the listener. The classiness, for want of a better word, of Savall’s direction is clear from the very opening of the sinfonia; the quality of the ensemble and the sounds that he coaxes from the orchestra are exceptional. The opera is well cast and each character has some really good material to perform. For me, however, the show is rather stolen by the really astonishing singing of Paolo Lopez in the title role. I’ve been unconvinced by sopranistas in the past but Lopez is most certainly the real deal and it is interesting to compare his vocal brightness against the richer tones of countertenor Antonio Giovannini (Egaro) in his Act II aria La gloria del tuo sangue. Whilst both are excellent singers it is clear that Lopez is more than just a high countertenor - his is really a different fach altogether. Lopez has a wonderful sequence of music at the beginning of Act II with an awkwardly angular cavatina Di Trombe Guerriere that he sings with an impressive control followed up with some really feisty recitative. Exciting stuff.

The performance is consistently gripping throughout from all soloists and, especially the orchestra. The music follows the keen narrative thrust of the libretto but, as always with Vivaldi, he never quite does what one would expect from a composer of his generation; more than once he sidesteps the da capo formula, often with pleasing new material. One can only hope that a staging comes to London at some point.

This release is highly recommended and one can only hope that Jordi Savall  and Le Concert des Nations have more projects like this planned for the near future.

Le Concert des Nations/ Jordi Savall (Naive OP 30513)

This review was originally posted at: http://www.musicalcriticism.com/recordings/cd-teuzzone-0612.shtml

CD Review: Vivaldi et al: L'Olimpiade

Originally written for musicalcriticism.com
7th June 2012

As the 2012 Olympics approach, London is bedecked with nationalist symbolism not only for the games but for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which would appear to have provoked us, as a nation, to rejoice in a nostalgic revisiting of 1950s taste. Whereas coronation favourites such as teacakes and sponge cake have not changed significantly with the passage of time, Baroque music is in a quite, quite different position from the way it was heard in the 1950s. The sea-change in performance practice, and ergo listening experience, was so passionately wrested from the hands of modern ensembles and the results of the new breed of skilled period instrumentalists so convincing that only now with an appropriate distance do we realise the extent to which things have changed. Modern ensembles such as the Venice Baroque Orchestra play with a fluidity and grace that was would have been unimaginable in the middle of the last century and their singers seem to have found a confident style that marries passion and clarity.

This new release is part of a growing number of high quality baroque recordings that reflect the bewildering volume of eighteenth century music that has not previously made it into modern performance, and projects like the Vivaldi programme, spearheaded by naïve - with their distinctive packaging and ear for sprightly, energetic performances - is now reaching into the vaults of forgotten music and finding some real treasures.

L’Olimpiade is no exception to the high standard of the naïve catalogue but it is a curious disc since rather than containing a complete opera, this disc covers the complete arias in Metastasio’s libretto. The sixteen composers represented in this pasticcio each set either the full opera to music or parts thereof and so this resulting disc is like a selection-box of music stretching from Caldara (1670-1736) via Vivaldi and Hasse all the way to Cherubini (1760-1840) and as a result covers quite a wide stylistic ground on its journey.

The plot itself is a charming Arcadian tale of a King’s daughter whose hand in marriage can only be won through triumph at the Olympic games. It has the usual sub-plots of disguise and concealed identity and, as always, Metastasio’s characters are so well defined that they lend themselves to great music. Indeed, under Markellos Chryssicos’ baton, the opera is both well cast and well performed with a pleasing contrast between the two sopranos Karina Gauvin and Ruth Rosique and the two mezzos Romina Basso and Franziska Gottwald.

Vivaldi’s music only appears once in Licida’s delicious sleep aria Mentre dormi deliciously sung by Gottwald and, of the other sixteen composers there are several arias worthy of note but Jommelli’s stormy Lo seguitai felice for the character Magacle - Romina Basso - is really exciting.

This is a fantastic release and despite the oddity of hearing an endless stream of arias, it is worth the time getting to know. The taut, passionate performances are of a very high quality and, of course, it’s a pleasing foil to the Olympic mania that is about to overwhelm us. For those wishing to find out more, naïve have posted footage from the recording sessions on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf3hvyXSTU8&list=UUM5yg4b4HLiM87F4RSigRlw&index=1&feature=plcp but listeners should bear in mind that the sound quality on youtube is very disappointing; what you get on the cd is, thankfully, a world apart.

Venice Baroque Orchestra/Markellos Chryssicos (Naive V5295)

This review was originally posted at:

31 Mar 2012

Icons: David Munrow

Published in Gramophone magazine
April 2012

Had he not died in 1976 David Munrow – one of the great pioneering early music specialists and a prolific broadcaster – would have turned 70 this year. And it is a testament to his life and work that he is still remembered widely today.

When LPs were dominant, Munrow was to be found in most record collections. If they were keen listeners then they might have ‘Greensleeves to a Ground’ (1976), if they were specialists ‘The Art of the Netherlands’ (1975) and if they were lighter listeners then they would almost certainly have the music from the hit BBC series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970). Indeed, it was through his work with the BBC that Munrow became a household name; his radio series Pied Piper began in 1971: aimed at younger listeners, it was enjoyed by all ages. It ran four times a week for five years racking up an astonishing 655 editions and helped establish him as what the BBC would nowadays call a ‘national treasure’.

Please refer to Gramophone Magazine April 2012 (volume89) for the full text of this article.
(Photo: EMI Archives / Reg Wilson)