Friday, 29 February 2008

68. Antonio Vivaldi - L'Estro Armonico (1711)
















Recording

Title: L'Estro Armonico
Performer: Frederico Guglielmo, L'Arte dell'Arco
Director: Christopher Hogwood
Year: 2002
Length: 1 hour 50 minutes

Review

After a couple of very short concertos we get a set of 12 Vivaldi concertos for strings, and they are great. Vivaldi shows a lot of his range here, the concertos aren't simply lively Vivaldiesque things, they are also surprisingly sad in their slow movements or even menacing.

There are moments in these concertos where the orchestra attacks a chord in an almost aggressive way which works great. Other than that there are also moments of menace, for example at the beginning of the second concerto in a way very reminiscent of Vivaldi's Winter in the Four Seasons.

You can see a definite evolution since Corelli's set of concertos at the beginning of the century, the solo instruments although not exactly 'fighting' the orchestra or dialoguing with it have a place here which they didn't in Corelli. Great stuff.

Final Grade


9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

L'estro Armonico op. 3 ("Harmonic Inspiration" in Italian) is a collection of twelve concertos for 1, 2 and 4 violins written by Antonio Vivaldi in 1711. It largely augmented the reputation of Vivaldi as Il Prete Rosso; (The Red Priest). The collections were mostly put together in a chronological order.

J.S. Bach later transcribed concertos from this work for harpsichord solo (no.9, no.12), for organ solo (no.8, no.11) and for four harpsichords and strings (no.10).

Concerto n.1:

Thursday, 28 February 2008

67. Antonio Vivaldi - Concerto for Two Trumpets (1711)











Recording

Title: Mad About Vivaldi
Performers: Mark Bennett, Michael Harrison, The English Concert
Director: Trevor Pinnock
Year: 1991
Length: 7 minutes

Review

Yet another small trumpet concerto, this time by two trumpets and this time by Vivaldi. The main difference from yesterday's Telemann concerto is in the use that Vivaldi makes of the orchestra.

Vivaldi uses the orchestra as completely complementary to the solo trumpets , almost at the same level of importance in terms of sound. And actually makes for a more interesting piece, it isn't as heavenly as Telemann, the trumpets have a lot more fun here, as they would in Vivaldi's hands.

Interestingly Vivaldi never again made concerts for Trumpet, probably because of their limited range, and that is possibly why the Orchestra is as important here, as a way for Vivaldi to minimise the shortcomings of the trumpet. A fantastic piece of work.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Vivaldi had a medical problem which he called the tightening of the chest (probably some form of asthma). His medical problem, however, did not prevent him from learning to play the violin, composing or taking part in many musical activities. At the age of 15 (1693), he began studying to become a priest. In 1703, at the age of 25, Vivaldi was ordained a priest, and soon nicknamed Il Prete Rosso, "The Red Priest", probably because of his red hair.

Not long after his ordination, in 1704, he was given a dispensation from celebrating the Holy Mass because of his ill health. From that point onward he appears to have withdrawn from active practice, but did remain a priest.

The concert:

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

66. Georg Philipp Telemann - Trumpet Concerto in D Major (c. 1708 - 14)
















Recording


Title: The Art Of The Baroque Trumpet Vol.1
Performer: Niklas Eklund
Director: Nils-Erik Sparf
Year: 1995
Length: 7 minutes

Review

This is a lovely little concerto here. I really like the trumpet when used in the context of a concerto, it just rises above the orchestra in a beautiful way. Telemann is probably not one of the most famous of Baroque composers, it is hard off the top of my head to remember a lot of works by him, except for the fact that he was incredibly prolific.

That said the fact that he was so prolific leads to a monkeys and typewriters scenario, there are bound to be some really good things in the middle of his 3000 compositions, and this is certainly one of them.

The format of the concerto is the typical slow-fast-slow-fast and the alternation really works in a way that shows off the capacities of the trumpet. This is a lovely little work.

Final Grade


9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Guinness Book of World Records lists Telemann as the most prolific composer of all time with more than 800 credited works. More recent studies, for example the thematic catalogues of his works published in the 1980s and 1990s, have shown that Telemann actually wrote over 3,000 compositions, many of which are now lost. Some of his pieces, thought lost, were recently uncovered by the musicologist Jason Grant. Many of the manuscripts were destroyed during World War II. (Another composer, Simon Sechter, could be considered more prolific, since he is thought to have written over 8000 pieces, but 5000 of these were short fugues.)

The whole thing:

65. Jean-Phillipe Rameau - Pieces De Clavecin (1706- 47)

















Recording


Title: Pieces de Clavecin
Performer: Christophe Rousset
Year: 1989
Length: 2 hours 10 minutes

Review

Over two hours of Harpsichord can take their toll on you, but frankly this is a lovely recording. Rameau is just such an innovator and has such a sense of drama even in his Harpsichord pieces that it ends up being a quite impressive couple of hours. And the dullness of an harpsichord is nothing compared to the organ. Now I will soon have to review a 12 Cd collection of Couperin Harpsichord works and then we can talk again.

Rameau makes lovely use of what is really a pretty limited instrument, but he stretches it to its most exciting possibilities. From some lovely imitative pieces representing birds or a chicken to some fascinating experiments on harmony like Les Cyclopes (my favourite harpsichord piece at the moment) Rameau just never puts a foot wrong.

Of course some pieces will not be as impressive as the others, but in the end this is a beautiful recording and I could not recommend it more to anyone who is a fan of the harpsichord.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Along with François Couperin, Rameau is one of the two masters of the French school of harpsichord music in the 18th century. Both composers made a decisive break with the style of the first generation of harpsichordists, who confined their compositions to the relatively fixed mould of the classical suite. This reached its apogee in the first decade of the 18th century with successive collections of pieces by Louis Marchand, Gaspard Le Roux, Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, Jean-François Dandrieu, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, Charles Dieupart and Nicolas Siret.

But Rameau and Couperin have a very different style anyway and Rameau cannot be considered the follower of the older composer. They seem not to have known one another (Couperin was one of the official court musicians while Rameau was still an unknown; fame would only come to him after Couperin’s death). Besides, Rameau published his first book of harpsichord pieces in 1706 while Couperin - who was fifteen years his senior - waited until 1713 before publishing his first “ordres”. Rameau’s pieces seem less intended to exploit the particular qualities of the harpsichord than Couperin’s; they place less importance on ornamentation and are more satisfying when played on the piano. When the respective size of their contributions to the harpsichord repertoire is taken into consideration, Rameau’s music perhaps shows more variety. It includes pieces in the pure tradition of the French suite, imitative (“Le rappel des oiseaux“, “La poule“) and character (“Les tendres plaintes“, “L'entretien des Muses“) pieces, and works of pure virtuosity which resemble Scarlatti ((“Les tourbillons,” “Les trois mains“), as well as pieces which reveal the experiments of a theorist and musical innovator (“L'Enharmonique“, “Les Cyclopes“) which had a marked influence on Daquin, Royer and Jacques Duphly. The suites are grouped in the traditional way, by key.

Les Cyclopes:



nice.

Monday, 25 February 2008

64. Johann Sebastian Bach - Preludes, Fantasias, Toccatas & Fugues (c.1705-48)

















Recording

Title: Organ Works Vol.8
Performer: Gerhard Weinberger
Year: 2000
Length: 1 hour 8 minutes

Review

As I have made clear on this blog previously I have a particular distaste for Organ Music, and unfortunately although I recognise the merits of Bach's works it has not converted me to the instrument. I did not need converting on Bach's capacities as a composer however and this recording has pleasantly confirmed my ideas.

As Organ music goes this is the best stuff you can get, Bach's Toccatas and Fugues are well known for good reason, they are incredibly expressive and impressive. The very famous BWV 565 is missing from this recording because its authorship is disputed, but the ones that are here make up for it in spades.

That said I really dislike the Organ and I hear the music and always think: This is great, I wish it was in some other instrument. Fortunately many of Bach's Organ works have been transcribed for other instruments, but they do in the end belong on the organ which I have difficulty stomaching.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Bach was best known during his lifetime as an organist, organ consultant, and composer of organ works in both the traditional German free genres such as preludes, fantasias, and toccatas, and stricter forms such as chorale preludes and fugues. He established a reputation at a young age for his great creativity and ability to integrate foreign styles into his organ works. A decidedly North German influence was exerted by Georg Böhm, with whom Bach came into contact in Lüneburg, and Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck, whom the young organist visited in 1704 on an extended leave of absence from his job in Arnstadt. Around this time, Bach copied the works of numerous French and Italian composers to gain insights into their compositional languages, and later arranged violin concertos by Vivaldi and others for organ and harpsichord. His most productive period (1708–14) saw the composition of several pairs of preludes and fugues and toccatas and fugues, and of the Orgelbüchlein ("Little organ book"), an unfinished collection of 45 short chorale preludes that demonstrate compositional techniques in the setting of chorale tunes. After he left Weimar, Bach's output for organ fell off, although his best-known works (the six trio sonatas, the Clavierübung III of 1739, and the "Great eighteen" chorales, revised late in his life) were all composed after this time. Bach was extensively engaged later in his life in consulting on organ projects, testing newly built organs, and dedicating organs in afternoon recitals. One of the high points may be the third part of the Clavierübung, a setting of 21 chorale preludes uniting the traditional Catholic Missa with the Lutheran catechism liturgy, the whole set interpolated between a mighty Prelude and Fugue on the theme of the Trinity.

BWV 540/1, Toccata in F major:

Sunday, 24 February 2008

63. Antonio Vivaldi - Gloria, RV 589 (1700s)
















Recording

Title: Gloria - Magnificat
Performers: Taverner Consort and Players
Director: Andrew Parrott
Year: 1992
Length: 30 minutes

Review

So we get to Vivaldi, one of the defining voices of the baroque, and one of the most popular as well. From this Gloria we can easily see why he is so popular, his music has a joy that can only come from spending a life surrounded by young women who he taught how to play music at an orphanage in Venice.

In fact this Gloria was composed for those girls to sing, and even if it is a very respectful piece as any setting of the Gloria it is also quite playful, and that is something that always comes out in Vivaldi. Even the serious movements of this have some embellishment that is a little ray of sunshine.

Then it is supremely catchy, once heard it is hard to unhear Vivaldi, from the trademark rapid violins to the choral work here, it all conspires to make some quite catchy music, and also one of the most pleasant choral works to date.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Many of Vivaldi's compositions reflect a buoyant, almost playful, exuberance which are in direct contrast with the dignified seriousness of much Baroque music in his time. Most of Vivaldi's repertoire was rediscovered only in the first half of the 20th century in Turin and Genoa and was published in the second half. Vivaldi's music is innovative, breaking a consolidated tradition in schemes; he gave brightness to the formal and the rhythmic structure of the concerto, repeatedly looking for harmonic contrasts and invented innovative melodies and themes. Moreover, Vivaldi was able to compose non-academic music, particularly meant to be appreciated by the wide public and not only by an intellectual minority. The joyful appearance of his music reveals in this regard a transmissible joy of composing. These are among the causes of the vast popularity of his music. This popularity soon made him famous in other countries such as France which was, at the time, very independent concerning its musical taste.

Gloria:

Saturday, 23 February 2008

62. Arcangelo Corelli - Twelve Concerti Grossi, op.6 (c.1700s)











Recording


Title: Concerti Grossi, op.6
Performers: The Bradenburg Consort
Director: Roy Goodman
Year: 1992
Length: 2 hours 20 minutes

Review

Ahh, the High Baroque starts here, and it really does. Corelli sounds more like the baroque of Vivaldi and Bach than any previous composer. Firstly the style of music, the concerto, really starts coming into its own at this stage and there are few collections of Baroque Concertos more impressive than Corelli's Concerti Grossi.

These are some beautiful pieces of music, almost cinematic in their emotion and feel, they are immediately striking to anyone who listens to them. Each of the twelve Concerti has their own identity which is quite clear, and the first 8 are quite different from the last 4 which include dances.

There is a kind of mixing of fast and slow movement here, but unlike later concertos with the Fast-slow-fast these concerti have more than three movements, having around 6 in most cases, but the high baroque sound is here, and it will be here to stay. Truly impressive music, beautiful and epic, superb.

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

n 1685 Corelli was in Rome, where he led the festival performances of music for Queen Christina of Sweden and he was also a favorite of Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, grand-nephew of another Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni who in 1689 became Pope Alexander VIII). From 1689 to 1690 he was in Modena; the Duke of Modena was generous to him. In 1708 he returned to Rome, living in the palace of Cardinal Ottoboni. His visit to Naples, at the invitation of the king, took place in the same year.

The style of execution introduced by Corelli and preserved by his pupils, such as Francesco Geminiani, Pietro Locatelli, and many others, was of vital importance for the development of violin playing. It has been said that the paths of all of the famous violinist-composers of 18th-century Italy lead to Arcangelo Corelli who was their "iconic point of reference." (Toussaint Loviko, in the program notes to Italian Violin Concertos, Veritas, 2003)

Concerto Grosso n.8 parts 1 and 2:

Friday, 22 February 2008

61. Antonio Caldara - Maddalena ai Piedi di Cristo (c. 1698)
















Recording

Title: Maddalena ai Piedi di Cristo
Performers: Schola Cantorum Basilensis Orchestra, Maria Cristina Kiehr, Andreas Scholl et al.
Director: Rene Jacobs
Year: 1996
Length: 2 hours 5 minutes

Review

Caldara is not a name I had heard before and that makes him a good find here, because this is a pretty great work. We are no coming inexorably to High Baroque when instrumental music starts being as important as vocal music and you can see those seeds very much here, even if this is still a vocal piece.

It is a vocal piece with a difference however, the arias are accompanied with some tremendous instrumental playing which becomes as much part of the music as the voice itself, a particular highlight for me is Pompe Inutili on the first CD, almost a Cello and Voice Concerto, beautiful cello solo allied to some of the best singing we have had. A real highlight.

But then the whole Oratorio is quite beautiful, Caldara eschews choirs here, there is no need for them, when he needs pomp he uses instruments to give it to us and it works perfectly. Just a little gem.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Caldara was born in Venice (exact date unknown), the son of a violinist. He became a chorister at St Mark's Cathedral also in Venice, where he learned several instruments, probably under the instruction of Giovanni Legrenzi. In 1699 he relocated to Mantua, where he became maestro di cappella to the Duke. He remained there until 1707, then moved on to Barcelona as chamber composer to Charles VI of Austria, then pretender to the Spanish throne with his royal court at Barcelona. There, he wrote some operas that are the first Italian operas performed at Spain. He moved on to Rome, becoming maestro di cappella to Prince Ruspoli. While there he wrote "Faithfulness in Love Defeats Treachery" for the public theatre at Macerata. In 1716, he obtained a similar post in Vienna to serve the Imperial Court, and there he remained until his death.

Spera Consolati:

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

60. Henry Purcell - Come Ye Sons Of Art, Away (1694)
















Recording

Title: Purcell Complete Odes And Welcome Songs - volume 8
Performers: Choir Of New College Oxford, The King's Consort
Director: Robert King
Year: 1992
Length: 25 minutes 40 seconds

Review

Purcell has saved the best for last and this is definitely my favourite Purcell from the list, although my favourite Purcell composition is not here, the Music for Queen Mary's Funeral we do get some music for Queen Mary's Birthday.

This is a great ode and as would be appropriate to a Birthday it is a cheery one. Purcell gives us a delightful collection of music here, with a lot of variety while keeping a theme of music celebrating its patron.

Purcell definitely has a light touch here even including in jokes on the third movement when he refers to the Shores meaning the two trumpeters in his orchestra. And this is all tempered with some great pomp particularly in the last choir which gives an approapriately bombastic ending to a great Ode.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

He died at his house in Dean's Yard, Westminster, in 1695, at the height of his career; he was in his mid-thirties. The cause of Purcell's death is unclear: one theory is that he caught a chill after returning late from the theatre one night to find that his wife had locked him out; another is that he succumbed to chocolate poisoning; perhaps the most likely is that he died of tuberculosis. The beginning of Purcell's will reads:

In the name of God Amen. I, Henry Purcell, of the City of Westminster, gentleman, being dangerously ill as to the constitution of my body, but in good and perfect mind and memory (thanks be to God) do by these presents publish and declare this to be my last Will and Testament. And I do hereby give and bequeath unto my loving wife, Frances Purcell, all my estate both real and personal of what nature and kind soever...

Purcell is buried adjacent to the organ in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph reads, "Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that blessed place where only his harmony can be exceeded."

So that's the end of Purcell.

No music form Come Ye Sons Of Art, so you get Msuic for the funeral of Queen Mary:

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

59. Henry Purcell - The Fairy Queen (1692)
















Recording

Title: The Fairy Queen
Performers: Schutz Choir of London, London Classical Players, et al.
Director: Roger Norrington
Year: 1999
Length: 2 hours 15 minutes

Review

This is a strange kind of opera, well it would be more accurate to call it a semi-opera, a type of opera quite endemic to the British Isles, it also makes for some pretty uninteresting Opera from the point of view of dramatic expression.

This is not so much an opera as a collection of vignettes that were supposed to fill in the spaces between the acts of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. The vignettes themselves are quite unrelated to the play in many of the cases, they are related however to the event when this was first played in the court of King William III.

Watching or listening to it today out of context is just baffling, maybe it should be integrated with the play making it last for more than 4 hours and it would still make little sense.

Musically, however it is lovely, some of Purcell's best music but it is so disjointed that it even hardly feels like a whole work and more like several little works. Some of them are funny, some tragic, some nonsensical. Oh well.

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The English tradition of semi-opera, to which The Fairy-Queen belongs, demanded that most of the music within the play be introduced through the agency of supernatural beings, the exception being pastoral or drunken characters. All the masques in The Fairy-Queen are presented by Titania or Oberon. Originally Act I contained no music, but due to the work's enormous success it was revived in 1693, when Purcell added the scene of the Drunken Poet and two further songs later on in the work; "Ye gentle spirits of the air" and "The Plaint". As said above, each masque is subtly related to the action in the play during that particular act in a metaphorical way. In this manner we have Night and Sleep in Act II, which is apt as that act of the play consists of Oberon's plans to use the power of the "love-in-idleness" flower to confuse various loves, and it is therefore appropriate for the allegorical figures of Secrecy, Mystery et al to usher in a night of enchantment. The masque for Bottom in Act III includes metamorphoses, songs of both real and feigned love, and beings who are not what they seem. The Reconciliation masque between Oberon and Titania at the end of Act IV prefigures the final masque. The scene changes to a Garden of Fountains, denoting King William's hobby, just after Oberon says "bless these Lovers' Nuptial Day". The Four Seasons tell us that the marriage here celebrated is a good one all year round and "All Salute the rising Sun"/...The Birthday of King Oberon". The kings of England were traditionally likened to the sun (Oberon = William. Significantly, William and Mary were married on his birthday, 4 November.). The Chinese scene in the final masque is in homage to Queen Mary's famous collection of china. The garden shown above it and the exotic animals bring King William back into the picture and Hymen's song in praise of their marriage, plus the stage direction bringing (Mary's) china vases containing (William's) orange trees to the front of the stage complete the symbolism.

Hornpipe from Fairy Queen:

Sunday, 17 February 2008

58. Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Te Deum (1690s)

















Recording

Title: Te Deum
Performer: Les Arts Florissants
Director: William Christie
Year: 1989
Length: 23 minutes

Review

The prelude of this Te Deum will make a smile come to the face of anyone in Europe, as it has been co-opted decades ago as the music for the Eurovision Broadcasting thing, meaning that if you have Eurovision Song Contest or more frequently as a child growing up in a Formula 1 obsessed house on every single Formula 1 broadcast. So this is probably the most familiar tune to me on the list up until now.

But frankly that shouldn't taint what is a pretty great piece of music, if we ignore the Prelude which has all the pomposity associated with Louis XIV the rest of the Te Deum is just as great. And great is definitely the word here, grandiose is what Charpentier is going for and he does it beautifully.

The choirs are pretty amazing with the last movement neatfully mirroring the prelude in it's greatness. Fun, beauty and grandiosity in a little Charpentier pack. Get it.

Final Grade


9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Beginning around 1672, he worked with Molière, after Molière's falling out with Jean-Baptiste Lully. During the 1680s Charpentier served as maître de musique at the Jesuits' Paris church of St. Louis. In addition, Charpentier served as the music teacher to Philippe, Duke of Chartres. Charpentier was appointed maître de musique à la Sainte Chapelle in 1698, a post he held until his death in 1704. One of his most famous compositions during his tenure was the Mass "Assumpta Est Maria" (H.11).

Eurovision, Charpentier's Te Deum Prelude:

Saturday, 16 February 2008

57. Juan De Araujo - Dixit Dominus (c.1689)

















Recording

Title: Moon, sun & all things
Performers: Ex Cathedra
Director: Jeffrey Skidmore
Year: 2004
Length: 8 minutes 30 seconds

Review

This piece is particularly interesting because it comes from the context of the Spanish colonies in Latin America and in that sense it is of quite great historical importance, particularly as it is music without much visibility in the wider world.

Unfortunately, however this particular track from what is a fascinating CD is not that interesting. It is pretty much a throwback to polychoral music, nothing is particularly new or innovative, even if a lot of the sounds on the album clearly are inspired by native music that is not the case with this particular work, which sounds very much European.

So interesting because it was composed in Bolivia, but not much else. Does not fascinate me.

Final Grade


7/10

Trivia


From Goldbergweb:

South America’s greatest composer of the Early- to Mid-Baroque, Juan de Araujo was the last significant voice of the older Iberian tradition, before the invasion by Elizabetta Farnese’s Italians in Madrid (and in short order the Américas) around 1715.

Here you go:

Thursday, 14 February 2008

56. Alessandro Scarlatti - Cantatas (1688 - 1720)














Recording

Title: Scarlatti - Hasse, Salve Regina- Cantatas & Motets
Performers: Deborah York, James Bowman, The King's Consort et al.
Director: Robert King
Year: 1996
Length: 50 minutes

Review

This is some beautiful music indeed, the Cantata is usually seen as the poor cousin of the opera, but actually its lack of emphasis on being performed means that it compensates by its beautiful musical flourishes.

Each and every piece of music here by Alessandro Scarlatti is extremely interesting and very, very beautiful, actually it feels a lot more like later Baroque of the style of Vivaldi and so forth than most of the music we have heard before.

The recording also contains works by two other composers, but the Cantatas are truly the highlight for me, they have an immense range of emotion, form mournful to jubilant and everything in between sung marvellously, particularly the Cantatas by Deborah King. And the Largo Infelici Miei Lumi is particularly amazing,with some lovely dissonances.

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Scarlatti's music forms an important link between the early Baroque Italian vocal styles of the 17th century, with their centers in Florence, Venice and Rome, and the classical school of the 18th century, which culminated in Mozart. His early operas (Gli Equivoci nel sembiante 1679; L’Honestà negli amori 1680, containing the famous aria "Già il sole dal Gange"; Pompeo 1683, containing the well-known airs "O cessate di piagarmi" and "Toglietemi la vita ancor," and others down to about 1685) retain the older cadences in their recitatives, and a considerable variety of neatly constructed forms in their charming little arias, accompanied sometimes by the string quartet, treated with careful elaboration, sometimes by the harpsichord alone. By 1686 he had definitely established the "Italian overture" form (second edition of Dal male il bene), and had abandoned the ground bass and the binary form air in two stanzas in favour of the ternary form or da capo type of air. His best operas of this period are La Rosaura (1690, printed by the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung), and Pirro e Demetrio (1694), in which occur the arias "Rugiadose, odorose", and "Ben ti sta, traditor".

None of this is on youtube, but there is a lovely video of Teresa Berganza singing Violette by Scarlatti:


Wednesday, 13 February 2008

55. Jean-Baptiste Lully - Armide (1686)
















Recording

Title: Armide
Performers: Collegium Vocale, La Chapelle Royale et al.
Director: Philippe Herreweghe
Year: 1992
Length: 2 hours 30 minutes

Review

Finally something by Lully, but as much as I love him I am still slightly disappointed, why not have Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme or the Divertissement Royal instead of what is quite an insipid opera by Lully Standards?

Lully is all about the pomp and circumstance and there isn't enough of that here, he is never best at vocal work unfortunately. Still there are some prize moments here, and for that this opera is a worthy addition to the list. It is an epic, although I could not find the libretto for it unfortunately, leaving me to guess what was happening from reading a synopsis of the Opera.

Lully is at his best in the instrumental interludes or when a choir comes in allowing him to do his best Sun-King sound. But you kind of keep waiting for these moments through the recitatives and arias, there is nothing of the calibre of Dido's Lament here or anywhere near it. And this is a pity for such a great composer.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Roughly eight decades following Monteverdi's L’Orfeo, Jean-Baptiste Lully produced Armide with his longtime collaborator, playwright Jean-Philippe Quinault. Together they had developed the tragédie en musique/tragédie lyrique, which served as a new form of opera that combined elements of classical French drama with ballet, the French song tradition and a new form of recitative. Armide was one of Lully’s last operas and is therefore extremely developed in style.

The opera's instrumental overture is divided into two parts, all with the same highly professional sound, as if to accompany the entrance of a highly revered authority. It is in fact, according to the Norton Anthology of Western Music, a “majesty suitable to the king of France, whose entrance into the theater the overture usually accompanied when he was in attendance” (NAWM p. 520). At points it is playful and bouncy, but while always remaining ceremonious. The first section of the overture is in fact slower than the second, which speeds up the rhythm, before returning to the slower pace of the beginning.

The most famous moment in the opera is Act II, scene 5, a monologue by the enchantress Armide, considered “one of the most impressive recitatives in all of Lully’s operas” (NAWM p 520). Armide, accompanied by only a continuo, alternates between glorying in her own power and succumbing to piercing angst. Clutching a dagger, she expresses to us her unyielding desire to kill the knight Renaud, who has foiled her plan to keep captive the knights of the Crusades, whom she had imprisoned for the sake of her own pleasure. Though not orchestrally elaborate, the techniques of dramatic interpretation of rhythm, impressive use of stressing on downbeats, and exaggerated use of rests beautifully complicate this piece.

Chaconne from Armide:

Monday, 11 February 2008

54. Henry Purcell - Dido And Aeneas (1683 or 1689)
















Recording

Title: Dido & Aeneas
Performers: Academy Of Ancient Music And Chorus, Catherine Bott etc.
Director: Christopher Hogwood
Year: 1992
Length: 1 hour

Review

Another short British Opera, there is a major problem with these short operas, much like in John Blow's Venus And Adonis the story is extremely simple to be able to fit it in one hour, with prolonged arias which take their time to put plot across and interludes and dances, there is very little left in terms of a plot.

Plot is not, however, the only reason to listen or see an opera, and Dido and Aeneas rewards the listener in other ways. There are some delightful sections here, but none more so than Dido's Lament, near the end of the third act, a beautiful aria. Meanwhile there are some pretty amazing parts by the Sorceress which in the case of this recording is played by a man with an appropriately demonic voice.

It is hard to grade this opera, because while it works brilliantly as music it works less well as a theatrical item. Because even if most people think of Opera as music it is much more than that, it is a play with music. Another reason to hate the Josh Grobans and Boccelis of this world, although Bocelli would have problems following stage directions without bumping into the scenery.

Final Grade

9/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

This work is somewhat problematic, since no score in Purcell's hand is extant, and the only seventeenth century source is a libretto, possibly from the original performance. The difficulty is that no later sources follow the act divisions of the libretto, and the music to the prologue is lost. Part of this stems from the practice of the time of using such entertainments to add spice to another piece, such as a play, breaking up the original work and only using parts of it, rather than putting it on as a complete work.([2] pg. iv) It is a monumental work in the Baroque opera, remembered as one of Purcell's (and perhaps England's) foremost operatic works. It may be considered Purcell's only true opera, as compared with his other musical dramatic works such as King Arthur and The Fairy-Queen, as well as the first English opera. It owes much to John Blow's Venus and Adonis, including structure and overall effect.

Maria Ewing as Dido at the end of the Opera, starting with the amazing lament:

Sunday, 10 February 2008

53. John Blow - Venus and Adonis (c.1683)


















Recording

Title: Venus & Adonis
Performers: New London Consort, Catherine Bott, Michael George, Libby Crabtree
Director: Philip Pickett
Year: 1992
Length: 53 minutes

Review

This is the first British opera that we have knowledge of and it is quite an interesting one. Firstly it is much shorter than any one we have had up until now, lasting under one hour and then it is quite a simple affair. The plot is an extremely uncomplicated one.

This is the story of how Adonis goes hunting and Venus waits for him and eventually he comes back dying from a wound and then dies. So not much happening there, but there are some fascinating vignettes peppering the thing like the lesson that Cupid gives to the little cupids while they and Venus are waiting for the return of Adonis.

In the end it is quite derivative music, coming from a mix of French and Italian tradition, but with a humour all of its own, a very interesting piece with some truly great moments like the lesson and the mourning of Adonis.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Between 1680 and 1687 he [John Blow] wrote his only stage composition of which any record survives, the Masque for the entertainment of the King, Venus and Adonis. In this Mary Davies played the part of Venus, and her daughter by Charles II, Lady Mary Tudor, appeared as Cupid.

Some people from the Old Country do a production of Venus and Adonis, here's the third act:

52. Henry Purcell - Fantasias (1680)
















Recording

Title: Fantazias
Performers: Rose Consort of Viols
Length: 53 minutes
Year: 1995

Review

If you asked my who my favourite viol composers are I would have to say François Couperin or Msrs. De Ste. Colombe (Pére and Fils) or Marin Marais, Purcell would not be in the top 5 really. And after listening to this recording the situation hasn't really shifted that much, I would thank the people on the editing team of this book to try to sell me British music for the sake of it. Ok, I know that after Purcell there will be no significant British composer until the 20th century (with the exception of Handel who was actually German, much like the Royal Family), but there is no need to toot your own horn.

Rant over, this is in no way bad, actually it is pretty good, only that I feel that better stuff was left out of the list for this to be included. But this is some pretty atmospheric music for Viol consort, and yes it is good. After a deep breath and a glass of water I have to admit to quite liking it, and that Purcell while being out of my Top 5 might just possibly make my Top 10. I am sorry I'm grumpy.

Purcell's Fantasias and In Nomines for the Viol are mainly sombre affairs, with the occasional light beam shinning through it, one of the best things about them however is the way in which Purcell is not afraid to create dissonances or to linger in a not for a very long time, making the work quite unexpected at times. But it isn't AMAZING, it's just nice.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Purcell is among the Baroque composers who has had a direct influence on modern rock and roll; according to Pete Townshend of The Who, Purcell was among his influences, particularly evident in the opening bars of The Who's "Pinball Wizard." The title song from the soundtrack of the film A Clockwork Orange is from Purcell's "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary". Meanwhile, noted cult New Wave artist Klaus Nomi regularly performed "The Cold Song" from King Arthur during his career, including a version on his debut self-titled album, Klaus Nomi, from 1981; his last public performance before his untimely death was an interpretation of the piece done with a full orchestra in December 1982 in Munich.


Here an In Nomine, which are basically Fantasias based on the In Nomine setting:

Friday, 8 February 2008

51. Michel-Richard de Lalande - Grand Motets (1680-1700)
















Recording


Title: Te Deum
Performers: Les Arts Florissants
Director: William Christie
Length: 1 hour
Year: 1990

Review

If I had to chose a country with my favourite baroque music it would probably be France, which is actually quite under-represented in this list, particularly Lully is quite under-represented, having only one opera on the whole freaking list. But here we get the Lully of church music.

And it is fantastic, music for the court of Louis the XIV was quite spectacular as you can imagine, he wasn't called the sun king because of his love of sunbathing, but because he had tremendous delusions of grandeur, and so did the music that surrounded him, and that is really a lot of fun to listen to.

De Lalande gives us the most epic Church music that we got until now, this is devotion by people who didn't feel that humble, or humble at all, Louis was pretty much on the same level as God and this music reflects that. There are of course moments of tender devotion here, but what grabs your attention are the great instrumental and choral epics which go "Hey, God, how's it hanging?". Brilliant, beautiful and powerful stuff.

Final Grade


10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Delalande was arguably the greatest composer of French grands motets, a type of sacred work that was more pleasing to Louis XIV because of its pomp and grandeur, written for soloists, choir and comparatively large orchestra. According to tradition, Louis XIV organized a contest between composers, giving them the same sacred text and a time to compose the musical setting. He alone was the judge. Delalande was one of four winners assigned to compose sacred music for each quarter of the year (the other composers being Coupillet, Collasse and Minoret). Delalande's was the most important quarter of the year because of the Christmas holiday. Later he had full responsibility for the church music for the complete year.

Lully hacked this post and put his own Te Deum here, (i.e. no Lalande videos on Youtube), Lully puts his foot in it:

Thursday, 7 February 2008

50. Henry Purcell - Chacony In G Minor (c. 1678)
















Recording

Title: Ayres For The Theatre
Performer: The Parley Of Instruments
Director: Peter Holman
Year: 1987
Length: 4 minutes 22 seconds

Review

I find it quite hard to review these very short pieces of music, because no matter how familiar I get with the piece, it is only 4 minutes of it, it takes me longer to write this review than listen to it. Actually I can listen to it 4 times while writing this.

Now that I have written some filler so this review doesn't look as pathetically short as it is going to be let's get on with talking about the music. Let's? Why not, maybe we should... what about now?

Ok this is a Chaconne, or Chacony or however you want to spell it, here because Brits don't understand "foreign" it's a Chacony, which is a form of music noted for its repetitive figures, where Purcell excels here is in making this constant repetition interesting, the ornamentation of the simple base line is actually quite a beautiful thing, nothing mind-blowing, but very nice.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

In music, a chaconne (IPA: [ʃaˈkɔn]; Italian: ciaccona) is a musical form whose primary formal feature involves variation on a repeated short harmonic progression.

Originally a quick dance-song which emerged during the late 16th century in Spanish culture, possibly from the New World, the chaconne was characterized by suggestive movements and mocking texts. By the early eighteenth century the chaconne had evolved into a slow triple meter musical form. The chaconne is understood today—in a rather arbitrary way—to be a set of variations on a harmonic progression, as opposed to a set of variations on a melodic bass pattern (to which is likewise artificially assigned the term passacaglia). In actual usage in music history, the term "chaconne" has not been so clearly distinguished from passacaglia as regards the way the given piece of music is constructed.

Here is the thing, this is a longer version than the recording and it is with a full orchestra it seems... the above version is better:

49. Henry Purcell - Anthems (1676 - 94)
















Recording

Title: The Complete Anthems and Services 6
Performers: Choir Of New College Oxford, The King's Consort
Director: Robert King
Year: 1992-93
Length: 1 hour 7 minutes

Review

Of the next 12 albums on this list 6 of them will be Purcell, this is just to show you what a significant composer he was, particularly in a British context, we start with a collection of his Anthems. This recording is one of 11 CDs of Purcell anthems, a bit like Purcell Anthems NOW 6.

This is quite admirable music even if it leaves me slightly cold, Purcell was basically jazzing up church music, but adding some pretty good instrumental parts including little symphonies. This has the side-effect, however of making the music lose some of its focus.

Clearly Charles II had problems with his attention span and Purcell does his best to grab his attention here, of course as with all church music this is a bit hard, and unfortunately Purcell manages it more with fireworks than actual beauty in the music itself. The fact that a soloist can sing for 8 minutes and then he says Amen and this huge choir repeats the Amen is really meant to wake you up while dozing of in church... "Oh the anthem is ending, mayhap we have to stand up or some suchest shit" - sayeth his majesty.

An interesting development in church music which does not hold a candle to Biber.

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia


From Wikipedia:

In 1679, he wrote some songs for John Playford's Choice Ayres, Songs and Dialogues, and also an anthem, the name of which is not known, for the Chapel Royal. From a letter written by Thomas Purcell, and still extant, we learn that this anthem was composed for the exceptionally fine voice of the Rev. John Gostling, then at Canterbury, but afterwards a gentleman of His Majesty's chapel. Purcell wrote several anthems at different times for this extraordinary voice, a basso profondo, which is known to have had a range of at least two full octaves, from D below the bass staff to the D above it. The dates of very few of these sacred compositions are known; perhaps the most notable example is the anthem "They that go down to the sea in ships". In thankfulness for a providential escape of the King from shipwreck, Gostling, who had been of the royal party, put together some verses from the Psalms in the form of an anthem and requested Purcell to set them to music. The work is a very difficult one, including a passage which traverses the full extent of Gostling's voice, beginning on the upper D and descending two octaves to the lower.

Here's a nice anthem, not on the disc tough:

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

48. Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber - Mystery Sonatas (c.1674)
















Recording

Title: The Rosary Sonatas
Performers: Andrew Manze, Richard Egar, Alison McGillivray
Year: 2003
Length: Around 2 hours 12 minutes

Review

This piece, which is alternatively called Rosary or Mystery sonatas by Biber, is probably one of the most impressive pieces of work up until now. This is not only beautiful music but extremely ahead of its time, this remind me a lot more of Vivaldi's works for violin or Bach's Cello Suites than anything previously.

Then the music is great, each of the sonatas represents a mystery of the rosary, hence the name. If you have ever seen a rosary you will have noticed that the beads are in little clusters, well each of these clusters is a mystery and each bead is a different happening in that mystery. Mysteries include the birth of Christ, the crucifixion, resurrection etc. every major supernatural happening in the new testament. Biber makes a sonata for each of the fifteen mysteries, the 5 joyful, sorrowful and glorious ones, well Biber is missing the 5 luminous ones but those were only added by John Paul II, which came a bit later.

Instead of going all traditional and doing a choral work or oratorio around these mysteries, Biber is considerably more abstract and conceptual, he makes some violin sonatas, accompanied by continuo and using scordatura, meaning weird tunings of the violin. Kind of like you will have prepared pianos much later, Biber was using prepared violins. In the resurrection sonata for example two of the strings are switched so they make a cross on the violin. That's cool. Which means of course that this is all incomprehensible music on paper, unless your violin is tuned as it is supposed to be according to that particular piece. This means either you are a fast tuner or you have 15 violins if you want to play this all in a row or in a concert.

Fortunately this recording adds a little bonus track with Manze explaining everything about scordatura with sound examples. The whole work is fascinating and Biber saves the best for last, the Passacaglia which closes the work is one of the best and most beautiful violin pieces of this or any other age.

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Biber was born in Wartenberg (now Stráž pod Ralskem, Czech Republic). He received his first position in 1668 as musician in the court of Archbishop Karl Liechtenstein-Kastelkorn at Olmutz. But Biber failed to return from a visit to Innsbruck without permission. On this visit he met the at the time famous violin maker Jakob Stainer, who mentioned him in a later document as "the outstanding virtuos Herr Biber". He was first a violinist at the castle of Kroměříž and the Salzburg court. In 1684 he became Kapellmeister in Salzburg, where he died twenty years later.

His prolific works show a predilection for canonic use and harmonic diapason that pre-date the later Baroque works of Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach. He was known as a violin virtuoso and is best known for his violin works, many of which employ scordatura (unconventional tunings of the open strings).

An excerpt of the Passacaglia:

Monday, 4 February 2008

47. Dietrich Buxtehude - Organ Music (c. 1668 - 1707)
















Recording

Title: Organ Music 5
Performer: Julia Brown
Year: 2005
Length: 87 minutes

Review

Well this was a really long album of Organ music and although I can recognise its qualities, which are quite obvious I was never a fan of Organ music, and this has not converted me.

Buxtehude is clearly the great precursor of people like Bach when it comes to organ, you can see a direct line between track on this recording and the future Tocattas and Fugues by JSB. Buxtehude has an extremely free style for his time and this makes him all the more original. In that it is quite an admirable recording.

But Organ music is just dull after the first half hour or so, I have actually been to many a Organ concert in my life, as that is the happening thing in my hometown of Evora where there is a great ancient organ in the 12th century Cathedral and there are concerts there all the time for obvious reasons, and it is a beautiful location, but even then you start thinking when is this going to end after a short while. It is just my least favourite instrument in the world, so there.

Final Grade

7/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The 19 organ praeludia (or preludes) form the core of Buxtehude's work and are ultimately considered his most important contributions to music literature of the seventeenth century. They are sectional compositions that alternate between free improvisatory sections and strict contrapuntal parts, usually either fugues or pieces written in fugal manner; all make heavy use of pedal and are idiomatic to the organ. These preludes, together with pieces by Nikolaus Bruhns, represent the highest point in the evolution of the north German organ prelude, and the so-called stylus phantasticus. They were undoubtedly among the strongest influences of JS Bach, whose organ preludes, toccatas and fugues frequently employ similar techniques.

Tocatta in D by Buxtehude, the process of playing the Organ is actually quite fascinating:

Sunday, 3 February 2008

46. Heinrich Schutz - The Christmas Story (c. 1660)
















Recording

Title: Christmas Vespers
Performer: Gabrielli Consort and Players
Director: Paul McCreesh
Year: 1998-99
Length: Around 35 minutes

Review

This is a piece which is really interesting in the way that it prefigures the work of Bach, namely his Passions, it is a kind of Oratorio on the birth of Christ, and it does have a lot in common with what Germans would be doing in the next century.

This is never as grandiose as any of Bach's Passions, and it is of course much shorter, but it does have some subtlety that is perhaps lost in the epic Passions. This is a quite smart work in its use of instrumentation in order to represent the various characters being mentioned in the story.

Schutz makes excellent use of recitative in order to link all the different Intermediums which work as Arias here, sometimes choral and sometimes sung by a soloist. In the end the work is not particularly impressive but it is giving us a taste of things to come, and for that it is an important recording performed flawlessly as always by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrielli Consort & Players.

Final Grade

8/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

Almost no secular music by Schütz has survived, save for a few domestic songs (arien) and no purely instrumental music at all (unless one counts the short instrumental movement entitled "sinfonia" that encloses the dialogue of Die sieben Worte), even though he had a reputation as one of the finest organists in Germany.


Some kids sing Schutz:

45. Francesco Cavalli - La Calisto (1651)
















Recording

Title: La Calisto
Performer: Maria Bayo, Marcello Lippi, et al.
Director: Rene Jacobs
Year: 1994
Length: 2 hours 45 minutes

Review

This was a great opera, funnier than anything by Monteverdi (who lacks in the funnies) and musically catchier as well. There is a very obvious distinction between the two composers, Cavalli was composing for the people of Venice, not for the nobility.

The opera is amazing, but really need to be seen to get its full impact, thankfully there is a DVD of exactly the same performers and production which is really worth getting. So do!

You will laugh, you will cry... well maybe not cry but the portrayal of the gods is just so amusing, they are completely human, and not the most dignified kind of human as well, the libretto is just amazing. And then the music is also astounding, props to my man Marcello Lippi who sings a lot of the opera in falsetto as Jupiter gets transformed into Diana, Bayo is also great as Calisto. Unmissable.

Final Grade

10/10

Trivia

From Wikipedia:

The opera received its first performance on 28 November 1651 at the Teatro San Apollinare, Venice. At the time, the San Apollinare was equipped with complex stage machinery, which the theatre intended to use in the premiere production of La Calisto to impress audiences with stage spectacle. However, the first performances had small audiences, as the run of 11 performances from 28 November to 31 December 1651 attracted only about 1200 patrons to a theatre that housed 400. In addition, Faustini died during the first run, on 19 December.

Juno sends the furies to punish Calisto: