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.
Born in Florida, William Carter trained as a modern guitarist with Bruce Holzman at The Florida State University before falling in love with the earlier plucked instruments and the world of historical performance. He travelled to London as a Fulbright Scholar, where he studied the lute with Nigel North and quickly established himself as one of the leading players on old instruments.
Concert tours and festival appearances followed throughout Europe, Asia and North and South America both as an orchestral player and as a soloist. Carter has an extensive discography (including 10 CDs with Palladians) and has featured on numerous recordings by the AAM and the English Concert amongst others.
He is also an enthusiastic teacher, and is Professor of Baroque Studies and Lute at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. 2005 saw a new development in William’s career as his exploration of the world of the baroque guitar led to the release of his first solo album La Guitarre Royalle: The music of Francesco Corbetta, which was widely praised and named in Gramophone’s Critics’ Choice list for 2005. His most recent album of Bach’s solo lute music was featured on BBC Radio 3 and chosen as one of the 10 best Bach recordings of 2018 by Gramophone.
I first heard this album when I was a student in Florida. Like Christopher Hogwood’s Messiah[which has featured already in previous weeks] it was a revelation, but while Messiah presented a well known work in a new light [something that other period instrument groups like Concentus Musicus and the English Concert were also doing] here was something that provided a real moment of ‘Wild Surmise’ with its evidence of a huge ocean of unknown and astonishing music. Exploring the unknown along with presenting the familiar is something that has consistently set the AAM apart from many other period groups. Among the things to enjoy after the extraordinary opening chord I call your attention to the rock solid rhythm of the Chaconne [Le Feu] and the Tambourins, the beautiful counterpoint in the Sicilienne and the expert and spirited wind playing throughout.
The Academy of Ancient Music was an excellent orchestra from the start but it probably would have never had the sort of success that it did without Christopher Hogwood’s close relationship with so many great singers. Here are two of the very finest, both of them on marvellous form. This is, for my money, the best recording ever made of the Stabat Mater. It’s interesting to think that this piece was one of the last works of Pergolesi just as Les Elemens was of Rebel – but Rebel was retired and in his 70s at the time of composition; Pergolesi in his 20s. Which sounds like the work of the older man?
Handel: Organ Concerto in G minor, Op. 4, No. 3: I. Adagio; Organ Concerto in F Major, Op. 4, No. 4 – Richard Egarr
This is a recording I played on, and although the lute has only a very small part in these works everything worked and sounded so well that I enjoyed it tremendously. The orchestra just sounds fabulous, I think, with a wonderful blend between oboes and strings. That wasn’t done in the recording booth-I was there and that’s really how it sounded. No. 3 begins with a beautiful adagio in which the organ [unusually] is given the role of accompanying a dialogue between violin and cello. They vie with each other throughout, the violin [Pavlo Beznosiuk] adding passionate and elaborate swirls of ornamentation, but the cello [Catherine Jones] is given the last word and by simply using the weight and speed of the bow she creates such an amazing sound on her final two notes [C-D] that there is no possible answer. These are probably my favourite two notes in the AAM’s entire discography even if they serve as a warning to baroque musicians like myself who can be occasionally addicted to ornamentation!
Concerto No. 4 which follows shows Richard Egarr in excellent finger and spirit. He plays with such a wonderful variety of touch that the sound of the organ is always welcome and never tiring to the ear. This is, I’m afraid to say, a sadly rare skill on this instrument, which, when played imaginatively is capable of giving such pleasure. Notice the beautiful, feather light touch in the 2nd movement, the speaking quality in the left hand throughout and [from the orchestra] the way the fugue subject of the last movement diminuendos slightly as it ascends to make room for the repeated notes which follow. This subject is usually played with all the grace of a fat man jumping into a swimming pool but here it’s just as it should be.
Geminiani [who had learned with Corelli] here amplifies and at the same time takes the hard work out of his teacher’s famous solo violin sonatas by turning them into full scale orchestral works. While I love the original version, I have to say that these works give just as much [and sometimes more] pleasure.
No. 1 is a case in point, where in the opening movement Geminiani creates an opulent splendour that a solo violin with continuo can only dream of. Andrew’s playing is so eloquent throughout and listening to this again makes me hope that he’ll return to the violin one day.
Concerto No. 3 uses the concertino cello [David Watkin] to wonderful effect. One among many enjoyable moments is provided by Andrew’s ornamentation near the end of the first movement which has wandered backwards from Rachmaninoff’s ‘Variations on a theme of Paganini’ into the eighteenth century. Geminiani ends this concerto with a minor chord [the original ends on an octave] and the effect, after so much C major before, is a little strange. Andrew [in true AAM fashion] heard all points of view and in the end allowed the minor chord to stay, although I don’t think he was entirely convinced by it.
The Ninth concerto finishes with a usually energetic Giga which Andrew reimagined as quiet and wistful. It was a valuable lesson for me to realise that a grand baroque Concerto Grosso can end with a whimper. Of all the AAM recordings under Andrew’s direction this is my favourite.
My father owned this record and really loved it. He would occasionally conduct the stereo speakers if my mother wasn’t around to call him an idiot, but it does have that kind of effect on those who love the London symphonies. The orchestra had just finished recording all the Mozart symphonies and they were in great shape to tackle late Haydn.
ENCORE: The Cackle Sisters: ‘I left her standing there [with a doo-dad in her hair]’– YouTube
It’s been fun to make a list like this but not actually all that easy to choose. AAM has recorded so many interesting programmes that I could do it again and then yet again with completely different choices – Purcell’s theater music, Schütz Christmas music, Telemann double and triple concertos, Castello sonatas etc, etc!
For my encore I’ve chosen something American – The Cackle Sisters. They had several years of fame in the late 30s and 40s and they recorded 6 songs [three 78 records] as well as making appearances at the Grand Ole Opry and the Purina Mills Checkerboard Time Radio Hour. Their real surname was DeZurik but they were generally known as ’The Cackle Sisters’. I’ve chosen their 1st recorded side done in 1938 for Vocalion; ‘I left her standing there [with a doo-dad in her hair]’. It’s a tragic story of love and betrayal but once they get going [about one minute in] I defy anyone to not feel better about things!