28 Jan 2023

Book review: The Pursuit of Musick

The Pursuit of Musick: Musical Life in Original Writings & Art
Available from October 2022 at www.taverner.org

The first time I reviewed a book by Andrew Parrott I confidently called him the éminence grise of early music (Composers’ Intentions? Gramophone, 2015) and by and large my view remains unchanged. [...]

It's an astonishingly varied collection of primary sources, numbering over 2,500 entries, some familiar from the standard reference works such as the indefatigable Strunk's Source Readings in Music History (Norton), and some less familiar, as well as paintings long studied by art historians but less so by music students. The immediate attraction of this collection is in the juxtaposition of such diverse primary sources in a format which will truly pay dividends in sheer serendipity.

Some 600 years’ musical activity are spanned from plainchant notation, memorably referred to as a moment when 'the curtain goes up' on music-making by Taruskin (The Oxford History of Western Music), to 1770 when Charles Burney began his chronicle of music history. Parrott has organised his sources in a 3-part structure: music & society, music & ideas, music & performance; divided across 25 main chapters, each beginning with enormously useful, but brief, thematic introductions (most by Hugh Griffith). [...]

For the full text of the article please see Gramophone magazine (February 2023)

27 Jan 2023

Wenn ich nur Dich hab

Wenn ich nur Dich hab
Ensemble La Silla, Richard Resch, Gianluca Geremia
Carpe Diem CD16330

This collection of early baroque North German sacred music uncovers several treasures, including premiere recordings of works by Gottfreid Phillip Flor and Johann Friedrich Meister. It is also the debut solo album from tenor Richard Resch and Ensemble La Silla.

And what a debut! Inter Brachia Salvatoris mei --likely by Christian Flor--is incredibly vivid as adventurous harmonies percolate through mournful, gentle strings. Resch sings with a balance of tenderness and authority, keeping text to the fore. He is rich in his lower register and his tone remains effortless as the impassioned phrases climb higher and all the while he is accompanied by the warm embrace of a superb string ensemble. Following this, I feel that Johann Friedrich Meister's substantial cantata Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht offers more opportunity than Resch takes for dramatic characterisation, especially in the opening section. His tone is engaging but unremittingly beautiful throughout, even on the quirkily repeated final word plötzlich.

I found the second cantata: Redet untereinander by Gottfreid Phillip Flor wonderous in all aspects. It’s a busy text and spiced with opportunities for imaginative word-setting which the composer clearly relished and offset with ecstatic string-playing from the start. Surely this was a catalyst for a young Handel who seems to have borrowed the instrumental opening of the final chorale Jesu lass mich frölich enden for Rinaldo’s duet Scherzano sul tuo volto? Yet it is Resch’s long flowing phrases in Franz Tunder’s An Wasserflüssen Babylon could well be the high point of this whole album, even if it does end rather too abruptly for my tastes. But then Buxtehude’s mesmeric ostinato bass in the psalm Herr, wenn Ich nur Dich hab is a good contender for the same accolade where great blushes of passion from the violin parts intertwine skilfully with the voice. This album is a very welcome addition to the catalogue.

For the full text of the article please see Gramophone magazine (February 2023)

4 Jan 2023

Tom and Will

For the joint 400th anniversary of Byrd and Weelkes in 2023, The King’s Singers and Fretwork have joined forces for a new album whose programme reflects the contrasts, and occasional parallels, between these two composers, finds Edward Breen

I love the British music scene and am convinced it’s one of our great exports, from Sumer is icumen in to Brit Pop and beyond. So, when I heard about this joint project of Renaissance music from The King's Singers and Fretwork, my attention was piqued immediately. Just consider that title: ‘Tom and Will’. The Will is, unsurprisingly, William Byrd whose 400th anniversary we celebrate in 2023. How about Tom? It turns out it's not him-of-40-part-motet fame, but another one, Thomas Weelkes, known for his exquisite setting of When David Heard and several madrigal evergreens, and it turns out that he also died in 1623 albeit at a younger age.

This project will be special to those of us who, back in the early ‘80s, were introduced to madrigals through The King's Singers' celebrated ‘Madrigal History Tour’ (EMI, 1983) or later through their all-vocal snapshot of the Elizabethan era ‘The Golden Age’ (EMI, 1995). Their clear, fresh sound was hugely skilful but presented with a light touch which helped bring this nuanced music alive. Crucially, they sang madrigals with more obvious humour than others had before them. Like so many early music enthusiasts, I also remember Fretwork's ‘Goe Nightly Cares’ (Virgin 1990), an album of Byrd and Dowland with Michael Chance giving arguably some of his best performances: the thrust of those Galliards, the sinewy sounds of their instruments, the clear soaring falsetto tone! The melancholy was so visceral that even now the mood of that pitch-perfect programme still lingers in my memory. It is therefore with some joy that I anticipate this new collaboration: it's a musical partnership that has been waiting to happen for some time.


For the full text of the article please see Gramophone magazine (January 2023)