Categories
Book

The Musical Life of Joseph Martin Kraus…

by Bertil H. Van Boer
Indiana University Press, 2014.
[viii] + 371 pp, $55.99.
ISBN 978 0 253 01274 6

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s someone who has long enjoyed listening to Kraus’s music, it has come as something of a disappointment that he seems to have been a rather unlikeable person. Most of the letters that comprise the first part of this volume are full of requests for money from his parents, and complaints about his lot in life; of course, these are very real considerations for all of us, and it makes it all the more remarkable that he chose to strive to make a musical career rather than become the lawyer his parents would have preferred. And while reading the letters, one constantly has to put on one’s Jane Austen hat and try to understand what he writes in the context of the period – not to mention all the arcane references he shares with his family. In this one is sometimes aided by Van Boer’s footnotes to the 116 letters, but some of his comments are fairly pointless (“The promised piece of music is unidentified”, Letter 54, note 2 is but one example of notes dedicated to mysterious people and things), while others are contentious (discussing the Handel Centenary that Kraus attended in London in 1785, “Presumably the Dettingen “Te Deum,” not the Utrecht “Te Deum.”,” Letter 77, note 2 – need one speculate at all, I would ask).

The book has four appendices, devoted to the composer’s will (and a discussion of the value and dispersal of his estate), and three sets of letters written to Fredrik Silverstolpe (Kraus’s first biographer) – 11 from members of the family and the answers to two questionnaires he had sent them, three that the family had asked Kraus’s former teachers to write and nine from the composer Roman Hofstetter, who was one of the young Kraus’s major influences. The latter tells Silverstolpe (among other things) that “the late Herr Kraus had for the most part nothing good to say about Italian composers”; from his own letters, it seems this extended to the majority of French and German composers, too.

I suppose the real value of this volume (aside from the many titbits of information about travel and postage in the late 18th century) is the insight it gives into the daily drudgery of composers’ lives at this time, constantly struggling to make ends meet, and at the beck and call of fickle royal employers (in Kraus’s case constantly at risk of being ousted by one or other of the factions at the Swedish court); it makes it all the more remarkable that he produced such beautiful music.

Brian Clark

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Book

Messiah: Understanding and Performing Handel’s Masterpiece

by Helmuth Rilling in collaboration with Kathy Saltzman Romey
Carus-Verlag (CV F 24.070), 2015.
128pp, €16.50.
ISBN 978 3 89948 223 2.

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his strikes me as the work of an old-fashioned conductor born in 1933 – six years older than me. However, I kept my eyes on the musicology, and was refreshed when the early-instrument movement became common. I sang the work regularly in my teens, at first in the old-fashioned way from the Novello Prout edition of 1902 and later in the over-marked Watkins Shaw edition of 1959. Later I played continuo in the more fashionable style, generally reading from a complete score. I was honoured to be asked to produce a new edition of Messiah by Oxford University Press, published in 1998.[note]My Oxford University Press full-score edition of 1998 lists the 1754 and 1758 payments and parts on p. viii. The premiere in Dublin probably had 20 singers from the two Dublin choirs of Christ Church and St Patrick’s Cathedral. The 1749 must have been larger forces, both for choir and instruments, the latter having senza & con ripieno: there’s no such evidence for the later performances.[/note] I haven’t done any work on it since then.

Rilling has some good points, especially in pointing to Jennens’ complex and skilful arrangement of the Biblical text to inspire the composer. But two basic points are not discussed. (a) How many singers are appropriate for a choir? Information from the Foundling Hospital in the mid 1750s gives fairly accurate details of the forces concerned. I’m surprised that Rilling did not quote them – around 13 singers including soloists: perhaps stage performances may have had a few more singers. Rilling gives no attempts of the size of the choir or the orchestra, yet he quotes specific smaller groups without relating them to the full-scale modern orchestras that he seems to anticipate. (b) What pitch is being used? Rilling comments on high parts without referring to the lower semitone pitch, which must make some difference. And (c) he misunder­stands the presence of dynamics. The general indication of volume in the period is that the opening of a movement uses the full forces played with confidence, but piano is basically to make oboes and bassoons silent and the strings play at a lower level (though not necessarily as soft as piano).

In fact, Rilling fails by adding markings other than those that are obvious for the score but not necessarily for individual forte and piano. What he needs to think about is the shaping of individual phrases. That’s why there are so few indications of musicality within music of the period. More important than marking dynamics is the shaping of the phrase. The first Accompagnato begins with four bars of strings. The dynamic is quite low (but not low enough to warrant piano). The tenor enters on the chord in bar 4 with Com-fort ye. This has three notes: the singer requires presence, but not particularly high volume. The other half of the bar – for two violins & viola – contrasts, but the absence of a bass makes it plausible to keep the strings at a moderate volume: the two sounds are different but the strings do not need to be echoes. Bar 5 starts with the strings, but con Rip (added in 1749) implying a louder volume, but probably not a forte.[note]The OUP edition has included f and p where there are con & senza ripieno marks; Carus omits f and p.[/note] The voice enters on a top E on the second minim, with a longer phrase: Comfort ye my people. The long Com– should have a brief accent from the first letter (C), then cutting back lower at once followed by a crescendo –om– then lightening fort, semiquaver #f and #g, continuing noticeably to ye my leading slightly on to the semiquaver at the end of the bar ye, ending the phrase with a slight rise on the first note of bar 7 people, followed by diminuendo. Throughout there’s a vast pattern of shaping small phrases.

Similarly, choruses should sing in the same way. The opening of the Hallelujah Chorus presents problems since the crucial word has no fixed stress. Bars 4 & 5 make sense with a strong first syllable, but more plausible is accenting the third syllable in bar 6, but in bar 7 the strong point is the first note in the bar again, with a slight diminuendo for the strings to follow more quietly. I’m not necessarily following the accents on the Hallelujahs; they need to be shaped.

This sort of detail is rare. I think that the shaping of most baroque music is discovered within the phrases, without dynamics that became essential in the 19th century, and we eventually find modern 20th-century scores that can have a separate dynamic on and between each note – let alone pieces that flippantly have dynamics in silent bars! There’s too much about size and volume, while the shaping of phrases is ignored. It is ironic that the Carus edition (55.056) of 2009, by Ton Koopman and Jan H. Siemons is recommended by Rilling, but is more in accord with earlier editions over shortening upbeats. Rilling needs to be much more subtle. The premiere of my edition was given by the Huddersfield Choral Society for the famous Christmas events. The choir was quite large, the orchestra a substantial chamber orchestra, a big organ, a packed audience and a marvellous conductor who hadn’t played the piece before. The musical style isn’t entirely dependent on the size of the choir. Rilling oversimplifies by not commenting on different forces – both size and whether modern or early instruments.

However, the remarks on each number will encourage conductors and performers to think about the work, even if it is rather too general and often repetitive.

Clifford Bartlett

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Categories
Recording

Music in the time of Velázquez

Ensemble La Romanesca, José Miguel Moreno
62:45
Glossa GCD C80201

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is hard to believe that this sparkling recital was originally issued in 1993; the repertoire it explores, that of 17th-century Spanish secular music, remains relatively little known. Much of the vocal half of the disc is devoted to the theatre music of Juan Hidalgo, who was closely associated with the great dramatist Calderón. Marta Almajano’s delicate and precise soprano negotiates his teasing and rhythmically complex lines with aplomb – try the delightful ‘Cuydado, Pastor’ for an appetite whetter. I particularly enjoyed Sebastián Durón’s lovely ‘Sosieguen, descansen’, with its haunting gamba-obbligato’d triple-time refrain. Unfortunately the booklet only gives the texts in Spanish; with such dramatically conceived music, translations would have been very helpful. Moreno and the instrumentalists of Ensemble La Romanesca come to the fore in the remaining half of the disc, with a dazzling display of variations on well-known grounds of the period, e. g., the lovely Sanz Canarios, along with a couple of more extended fantasias; that by Salaverde is especially memorable.

Alastair Harper

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Recording

Schultzen: Recorder Sonatas & anonymous Viola da Gamba sonatas

Barbara Heindlmeier recorder, Ensemble La Ninfea
70:33
Raumklang RK 3402

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the first recording of the six recorder sonatas by Schultzen which were published by Roger in Amsterdam and survive in a copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Although they appear in Roger’s 1737 catalogue they are known to have existed as early as 1704 and the identity of A. H. Schultzen, the composer named on the print, is somewhat mysterious. The writers of the booklet notes, which are a little confusing at this point, have concluded that he is Andreas Heinrich Schulze, an organist at Hildesheim who attended the same school as Telemann. He appears in Walther’s Musikalisches Lexicon (Leipzig 1732) where there is also a separate adjacent entry for A. Schultsen, a composer of six recorder sonatas who may or may not be the same person. The specified instrumentation is “flauto solo con cimbalo overo fagotto” but La Ninfea’s varying continuo line-up of combinations of gamba, baroque lute, theorbo, harpsichord and organ is very effective and I like the little preludes which introduce some of the movements. The lovely warm performances by Christian Heim and Marthe Perle, who share the solos in the three anonymous gamba sonatas, contrast well with Barbara Heindlmeier’s incisively played allegros and elaborately ornamented slow movements in the recorder sonatas. Readers who wish to play this attractive music themselves will be pleased to know that the very legible Roger edition of the Schultzen sonatas is available on the Petrucci web site. The gamba sonatas are from the library of Princess Louisa Frederica of Württemberg (1722-1791) and are now in the library of the University of Rostock. There doesn’t appear to be an available edition but they would be well worth publishing.

Victoria Helby

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Recording

Allegri: Unpublished works from the manuscripts of the Collectio Altæmps

Musica Flexanima Ensemble, Fabrizio Bigotti
74:06
Tactus TC 550007
Allegri Missa “In lectulo meo” a8, Salutis humanæ sator a8, Cantata (attrib), 5 Canzone
Anerio 3 Canzone
Bonomi In lectulo meo

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he three sets of partbooks which were copied for Duke Giovanni Angelo Altaemps in the early 17th century constitute the most significant set of sources for early Baroque Roman music, both polychoral and small-scale concertato. They are also a rare source for non-Frescobaldi Roman instrumental canzonas, of which five by Gregorio Allegri and three by Giovanni F. Anerio are included here. All are for two instruments and continuo and show well-developed sophistication and variety, especially those by Anerio; it is good to have them recorded here for the first time. They are played by the popular Roman combination of violin and cornett, or in two cases by two violins (oddly, there is no mention of the cornett player among the list of instrumentalists). These are the unpublished works of the CD’s title and are the only works from the Altaemps partbooks here, apart from the motet by the Flemish Bonhomme/Bonomi which provided the model for Allegri’s Mass. The latter is found in a Cappella Sistina choirbook, as are the lamentations and hymn, while the cantata is attributed to the composer in a Naples manuscript. All are competently sung, though the instrumental performances definitely outshine the vocal ones. The singing is patchy, often pedestrian and with suspect tuning but occasionally rising above that to provide convincing moments. The acoustic is overly resonant and the recording tends to emphasise the choir’s insecurities. The cantata is poorly performed, making it difficult to judge its merits; it needs a more leisurely pace and more attention to the words. There are better recordings of most of this vocal music but this is certainly worth listening to for the instrumental canzonas. The booklet does not provide texts, which is a pity, but they can be accessed on the Tactus website.

Noel O’Regan

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Categories
Recording

Guillemain: Sonates en quatuors

Ensemble Barockin’
56:26
Raumklang RK 3304
Sonatas in d & G (op. 12, 1743), c & D (op. 17, 1756)

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]MR will readers will surely be able call to mind Quantz’s advocacy of the quartet and his admiration for Telemann’s works in the genre. Well, here’s music that seriously rivals GPT and that’s a clause I never thought I’d type. The instrumentation is the same as the ‘Paris’ set – flute, violin, gamba and continuo – and the musical style is much same with a judicious balance of conversation and counterpoint and even a touch of drama. The playing is very accomplished and the straightforward approach to the continuo (as requested by the composer) is more than welcome. There are a few lumps and bumps in the note though I enjoyed the Guillemain biography. Either the engineers or her colleagues could have done the flautist a few more favours in terms of the instrumental balance but overall this is a welcome discovery. Two of the works are claimed as first recordings.

David Hansell

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Categories
Recording

Piccinini: Lute Music

Mónica Pustilnik lute
62:30
Accent ACC 24193

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]wo books of music by Alessandro Piccinini survive: his Intavolatura di Liuto e di Chitarrone Libro Primo (1623) and Intavolatura di Liuto (1639). The chitarrone (i.e. theorbo) pieces from the first book are one of the few major sources of music for that instrument, and have been recorded frequently in recent years. Piccinini’s lute pieces are less well known, so it is nice to hear some of them in this recording by Mónica Pustilnik. The second book was published a year after Piccinini’s death by his son, Leonardo Maria Piccinini, who collected his father’s music together to create a second volume. Of the sixteen tracks, half are from the first book, and half from the second.

The CD gets off to a slow, gentle start with a Sarabanda all francese (bk.2, p.20). The long third section seems to be a separate piece of music, with a change of rhythm to 3/2, of tonality from C major to C minor, and interspersed with scalic runs of quavers. Pustilnik adds little ornaments of her own here and there.

Her interpretaion of Corrente 9 (bk.2, p.38) is carefully phrased, but lacks the drive one might have expected to keep the dance flowing. Ricercar Primo (bk.2, p.12) – not Ricercare Primo from book 1 – develops a slow, rising, chromatic theme. Pustlinik opts for a somewhat free interpretation, but the result is a speed which keeps changing. The first two bars are at crotchet=76; by bar 6 it has accelerated to crotchet=100; the speed starts to slow down in bar 36 (the first bar with semiquavers), so that by the penultimate bar it is down to crotchet=56, almost half the speed it was, and Piccinini’s climax is emasculated.

Piccinini’s inventiveness may be heard in Aria di Saravanda in Varie Partite (bk.1, p.44), including um-chings with occasional strums reminiscent of a baroque guitar, broken chords, and a variation high up the neck at the 10th fret. Most extraordinary is his Toccata Cromatica 12 (bk1, p.45), with sequences of dotted rhythms, strange chromatic turns, a wide range with a trill up to the 12th fret and a scale down to the 12th course in the bass. Pustlinik sustains it well, bringing out its contrasting moods. She adds some nice touches of her own for the repeats of Corrente 6 (bk.1, p.51), and I enjoyed her sparkling interpretation of Corrente 7 (bk.2, p.30), a piece which to me sounds more French than Italian.

Two of the longest tracks are a Chiaccona… alla vera Spagnola (bk.2, Cappona p.55; Mariona p.49), which consist of a constantly changing set of variations over a simple 4-bar ground.

Pustlinik plays a single-strung archlute by Francisco Hervas. The treble notes are stronger than the rest, but that may be due to the recording engineer rather than the instrument.

Stewart McCoy

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Recording

Roman: The 12 flute sonatas: Nos. 1–5

Dan Laurin voice flute, Paradiso Musicale
70:04
BIS-2105 SACD

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman’s twelve flute sonatas were published in Stockholm in 1727, the year in which he was appointed as court Kapellmeister. Telemann advertised that he was the agent for their sale in Hamburg and praised them “for their lively and very charming composition” and for the quality of the printing (which you can see on the IMSLP web site). Roman claimed that they were youthful works so they may have been composed during his prolonged stay in London from 1716 to 1721 where he studied, played the violin for Handel and would have encountered Italian music and musicians. They certainly pre-date his visit to Italy but he owned and translated into Swedish Gasparini’s L’armonico pratico al cimbalo which was first published in Venice in 1708. This fact has been used to justify harpsichordist Anna Paradiso’s colourful and often dissonant continuo playing, which in any case is invited by Roman’s dramatic style of composition. This is flute music of a high quality which works well on the voice flute (tenor recorder in D), avoiding the need for transposition. The SACD sound is so good that you can hear Dan Laurin’s breathing and a faint jingle from the harpsichord but this should not put you off this excellent recording. The disc forms part of a series of recordings of Roman’s music by the same musicians and I look forward to hearing their performances of the remaining seven sonatas in the set.

Victoria Helby

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Recording

Bach St Matthew Passion BWV244b

Charles Daniels Evangelist, Peter Harvey Christus, Yorkshire Bach Soloists, Peter Seymour
153:33 (2 CDs)
Signum Classics SIGCD385

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]eter Seymour’s Yorkshire Baroque Soloists give us a thoughtful, moderately-paced account of the early version of Bach’s Matthäuspassion, helped greatly by a score carefully prepared by Peter Seymour and splendidly sung by Charles Daniels and Peter Harvey. Charles Daniels has that exquisite vocal and linguistic fluency that makes you relish every syllable and hang on to the edge of your seat; and Peter Harvey’s seasoned account of the part of Jesus, where in this performance the halo of single strings led by Lucy Russell have the clarity of a consort of viols, gets better each time he does it. He forms the secure bass of choir 1, so sings the arias too – as is proper: “Mache dich” is as splendid as it could ever be, with plenty of oboe da caccia coming though the texture.

In terms of vocal quality, Choir 2 has better blend, with the admirable Matthew Brook a violone-like bass, utterly gripping in “Gibt mir”, and the clarity of Julian Podger’s splendid tenor line (only heard on its own, alas, in “Geduld”) well-matched by Nancy Cole, a very promising young singer. Peter Seymour is well-known for searching out and nurturing local talent, and Nancy has studied at York, as has the more experienced Helen Neeves. Choir 1 has another young local, Bethany Seymour, on the top line. In Part 1, I found her rather tight vibrato, apparent even in the chorus numbers, unattractive and her lack of breath control in “Ich will dir mein Herze” distracting; however, in the recit and “Aus Liebe” we hear a totally different singer! Here her clarity and ability to float the lines are winsome. But it is Sally Bruce-Payne who is of star quality throughout; she combines a real rich, deep vocal quality with a clarity and verbal flexibility that is not always evident in real alto voices. By contrast, Charles Daniels’ sub in Choir 1, Joseph Cornwell, sounds rather strained in “O Schmerz”. Peter and Pilate are sung convincingly by Johnny Herford, and Bethan Thomas, singing the soprano bit parts, has the kind of voice I like.

The single strings have the advantage of letting us hear all the woodwind detail with even greater clarity. All the flutes are from the North East, and we hear their detail even in the turba choruses. The opening chorus is unhurried and well balanced, and I like the way the recording – in a relatively small space in a York church – is so clear and immediate. But we have a vocal line for the chorale in the very first chorus: is this right in this early version? I thought that it was most likely to have been played on the organ – but then this is a small box organ, and almost certainly has no sesquialtera.

The occasional accidentals that are different in the early version are intriguing, and of course the major differences from the 1736 version are the simple chorale to conclude Part 1, and a lute instead of the later gamba in “Komm süßes Kreuz” which gives it a less tortured, more domestic feel. Here I’d have preferred an organ to the lute stop of a harpsichord as providing a better contrast to the lute.

But overall, this is a musical and coherent performance, as you would expect from a group who have played together a good bit, made distinguished by some fine singing by many of the singers and lovely playing especially by the strings.

David Stancliffe

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Categories
Recording

In Search of Dowland: Consort Music of John Dowland and Carl Rütti

B-Five Recorder Consort
58:45
Coviello COV91415

[dropcap]D[/dropcap]owland’s collection of five-part consort music, Lachrimae or Seaven Teares was completed in 1603 while the composer was employed as a lute player at the court of the Danish king Christian IV and dedicated to the king’s sister Queen Anne of Scotland. It was published in England the following year. Seven “passionate pavans” based on Dowland’s famous song “Flow my teares” are central to the collection which also includes livelier dance music. Three of the Lachrimae pavans are included on this disc, together with some of the galliards and almains. These are interleaved with a five-movement contemporary work by the Swiss composer Carl Rütti, commissioned by B-Five in 2013 to mark Dowland’s 450th birthday and the tenth anniversary of the consort. Dowland’s Lachrimae were “set forth for the Lute, Viols, or Violons” but work very well on five recorders, as every recorder player will know. Rütti’s haunting Dowland-Suite is based on Dowland motifs, sometimes clearly stated and sometimes considerably transformed, and the five movements recount stages in his life. B-Five have designed their performance so that these motifs are heard in an adjacent Dowland piece, and the result is a very pleasing and coherent programme. I’m not too keen on the few percussive thumps in the last movement of the Rütti, which sound as if someone has dropped their music and got rather annoyed about it, but they are probably more effective in a live concert. Otherwise, it’s all beautifully played with precise articulation and intonation on a set of renaissance recorders made by Adrian Brown.

Victoria Helby

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