A weekly ‘concert’ taken from the finest recordings in the extensive Academy of Ancient Music catalogue: join us each Sunday at 3pm on Spotify as we unveil a new playlist of music, personally chosen by AAM players, directors, soloists and guests.
Lutenist and AAM trustee John Reeve joined us this Sunday 26 October 2020 to share his #SpotifySundays playlist. A longtime member of the AAM board as well as a keen amateur musician, John has programmed a number of little-known gems of the repertoire, including works by Thomas Arne, Georg Muffat, Francisco Corbetta and more. John remarks:
My own consciousness of historical performance began in 1964. I had learnt some Elizabethan lute pieces on the guitar, but when I heard Julian Bream play them on his lute, I realised how much the right instrument could matter. Branching out from lute music, I soon discovered the wider historical repertoire, from Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Bach to Anthony Rooley’s Dowland and Gibbons, Christopher Hogwood’s Vivaldi and Purcell, and many others. It was an amazing time. Works by unfamiliar composers were being performed and recorded at an astonishing rate: Arne, Locke and Stamitz from the AAM, for example. At the same time, new versions of familiar works by Vivaldi, Bach, Handel and Mozart were appearing. Instruments were developing fast: Rooley’s lute was very different from Bream’s, for instance, and players’ technique and understanding of historical principles evolved quickly. This hasn’t stopped, though the economic circumstances that supported it have, so that today we see the same passion to rediscover and reinterpret old music but far fewer large-scale recording projects because of our dependence on donations. The skill and musicianship of the players is, nevertheless, better than ever.
I have made a selection from my collection covering the whole 47 years of the AAM’s recording history that highlights some less-well-known but deserving music. Championing the unknown has been one of the guiding principles of the AAM and is still strong with us today, as I hope this playlist demonstrates.
CASTELLO: Sonata nona for cornetto, violin and dulcian – Josué Meléndez, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Benny Aghassi
Dario Castello is little known today, which is a pity. I have chosen this sonata because of the musicians’ amazing virtuosity and the wonderful sound of the cornetto and dulcian (an early bassoon) contrasting with the violin. Castello was a wind player and violinist at St Marks in Venice under Monteverdi and I’m sure he would have loved this version. I know Richard has wanted to record all the Castello sonatas for a long time and we will finish the project with the second book once travel restrictions are lifted.
PURCELL: Aureng-Zebe or the Great Mogul: ‘I see, she flies me’ – Judith Nelson
PURCELL: Cleomenes, the Spartan Hero: ‘No, no poor suff’ring heart’ – Emma Kirkby
ALBUM: Henry Purcell: The Indian Queen (Christopher Hogwood)
PURCELL: ‘We the spirits of the air’ – Libby Crabtree, Helen Parker, Julian Podger, John Mark Ainsley
Here are three pieces from Purcell’s substantial output for the theatre, with a focus on singing. The first two pieces showcase two top sopranos: Judith Nelson and Emma Kirkby. They are both on fine form here. Dame Emma became perhaps the voice of historical performance and is still active as a teacher and inspiration today. The third is a short, catchy piece from the unfinished Indian Queen. It shows Purcell at his most tuneful. The vocal quartet is supported brilliantly by the orchestra and the theorboes of Paula Chateauneuf and Dai Miller.
Christopher Gibbons, the son of Orlando, is one of Richard Egarr’s discoveries. The movements of this Fantasy-suite have titles that hark back to the beginning of the seventeenth century – Allman and Galliard – but it is very much of its time, the middle of that century. It looks forward to Purcell, who himself looked back to the same Jacobean era in his Fantazias for viols. This is music for a quiet evening.
Now we have another of Chris Hogwood’s star vocalists, the countertenor James Bowman, in the first movement of the ‘other’ Stabat Mater, recorded in 1976. The purity and clarity of his voice set a standard at the time and no doubt contributed to the countertenor voice becoming a staple of the ‘early music sound’. The silvery string sound complements Bowman’s ethereal voice admirably.
Georg Muffat is another composer that we don’t hear very often. He was born in Megève, in the Duchy of Savoy, worked in Paris in the time of Lully and later travelled in Alsace, Germany, Austria and Italy, where he met Corelli. His taste for Latin titles may have something to do with this international career, but it has not made his music more accessible. Florilegium Secundum is a set of suites or Fasciculi; this one is entitled Illustres Primitiae, “distinguished progenitors”. It is in nine movements, an overture and eight French dances. The influence of Lully is everywhere, and the orchestra shows its understanding of inégalité and the specific ornamentation required for this music.
Next, we have more Emma Kirkby on top form with a coloratura aria from one of Handel’s Italian Cantatas. This was an impulse buy from a shop in Birmingham and I have loved it ever since. The voice blends brilliantly with the woodwinds.
ALBUM: George Frideric Handel: Organ concertos Op. 7 (Richard Egarr)
HANDEL: Concerto in G Minor, Op.7/5 II. Andante Larghetto e https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4mDbDRhjEEP7Vd6LeiIguh?si=TWU6tVSdSq-j46L5Lm656wStaccato
I well remember the concerts of Handel Organ Concertos at the time of this recording. Richard’s virtuosity on the organ is outstanding and I have chosen a movement which shows this off. It is in the character of an improvisation on a repeating two-bar ground and a perfect vehicle for Handel to show his mastery of the keyboard. Richard embellishes the repeats extensively, finishing with a short, improvised cadenza as specified by Handel. The effect is one of spontaneity, as if it’s being improvised on the spot.
ALBUM: George Frideric Handel: Brockes-Passion (Richard Egarr)
HANDEL: ‘Die Pein vermehrte sich mit grausamen Erschüttern’ – Robert Murray
HANDEL: ‘Brich, mein Herz, zerfließ in Tränen’ – Elizabeth Watts
Of all Handel’s large-scale works, the Brockes-Passion is probably heard least, and it is to Richard’s great credit that he chose to programme this and record it last year. It was a massive team effort to review the sources from scratch and produce a new performing edition as well as producing a lavishly illustrated and fully documented CD edition. This extract comes from the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the Evangelist describing Christ’s suffering, and the Daughter of Zion reflecting on it (“Break, my heart”). Elizabeth Watts perfectly captures the pathos, verging on panic.
I had to include something from the AAM’s first ever recording. This overture is based on Arne’s opera The Judgment of Paris. The orchestral sound is still fresh, with clear, vibrato-free, strings and edgy woodwind. It may not be the sound we are used to today, but it is still valid. Who knows what Arne’s orchestra sounded like? And if we did, would it matter? What comes through is the excitement and energy of those pioneers.
ALBUM: JS Bach: St John Passion (Richard Egarr)
BACH: ‘Da sprach Pilatus zu ihm’ – James Gilchrist, Ashley Riches, Matthew Rose
BACH: ‘Nicht diesen, sondern Barrabam’
BACH: ‘Barrabas aber war ein Mörder’ – James Gilchrist
BACH: ‘Betrachte, meine Seel’ – Christopher Purves
The 2013 Good Friday Barbican performance of the first version of Bach’s St John Passion was the most moving Passion I have ever heard. The atmosphere was electric, and time passed in a flash. This recording captures much of the spirit of that afternoon. I have chosen the scene where Pilate attempts to release Jesus. The intense drama is perfectly stilled by the following Arioso: ‘Betrachte, meine Seel’, with viola d’amore and lute obbigato. This is one of only a couple of places where Bach writes explicitly for the lute. Scholars still argue about what kind of lute was meant – the key of E flat does not fit at all well on the lute of the time, tuned to D minor. I have always been puzzled why Bach used old instruments here, the lute, viola d’amore and, in ‘Es ist vollbracht’, the viola da gamba. The best answer I have had was from Reiko Ichise, the gambist. Speaking after the performance, she told me that in her view it’s about vulnerability. The lute and gamba are more fragile and intimate in sound than the keyboard or cello and underline the intensity of the moment.
One of Christopher Hogwood’s towering achievements was to record all Mozart’s symphonies, the first recording on historical instruments. In the spirit of inclusiveness, he found a lot more than most people thought existed, although some were of admittedly doubtful authorship. This one is not doubtful. It’s the first movement of No. 29, in sunny A major. To me this is a classic of the Hogwood sound. Clear crisp strings without noticeable vibrato, prominent woodwind and layered dynamics.
By contrast, here is a movement from AAM Records’ first release, the finale of Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, conducted by Richard Egarr. The emphasis is on drama and passion, not classical elegance. The sound is modern and the performance energetic and finely nuanced. I enjoy Richard’s Haydn very much. To me Haydn needs interpretation, unlike Bach, for instance, who speaks for himself. I suspect Richard and Haydn would have got on enormously. I see both as quirky, with an irreverent sense of humour and both are innovators in an understated way.
The AAM’s newest release is another Egarr discovery, this time of a manuscript that was thought lost. There were records of a Dussek Mass composed for the Esterhazy court towards the end of his life but no score, until Richard tracked it down to a library in Florence. The AAM gave what is believed to be the second ever performance last year and have now issued a recording. This is the Sanctus. It begins gently, erupting into a fugue at the words ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ and ending with the full orchestra with trumpets and choir.
For my encore I have not strayed far from the AAM or my personal musical life. This is our Principal Theorbo, William Carter, playing the baroque guitar. I first recall Bill playing the guitar at a lute weekend at the Elizabethan mansion, Hengrave Hall, in 2004. He was one of the teachers and due to give a recital on the Friday evening. He arrived rather breathless from an airport and apologised that he had brought no lute but did have a baroque guitar, “if that’s OK”. We all sat on the cavernous staircase as he casually played through some of the masterpieces of the repertoire. The playing was astonishing and the acoustic perfect. Here he is with an extended improvisation based on the Caprice de Chaconne from Corbetta’s La Guitare Royale, dedicated to Charles II. Samuel Pepys met Corbetta when he was at Court and recorded:
‘After done with the Duke of York, and coming out through his dressing-room, I there spied Signor Francisco tuning his gittar, and Monsieur de Puy with him, who did make him play to me, which he did most admirably — so well as I was mightily troubled that all that pains should have been taken upon so bad an instrument.’