Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Desecration of the World

(article by Gilles Hertzog in La Règle du Jeu)

We have had the Confederacy of Dunces, as old as the Earth itself, the enemies of sense and reason. Today, more daunting still, the Confederacy of desecrators of the world, the manufacturers of Objects that pollute and defile our environment, uncivilising millions of our contemporaries, who become in their turn desecrators themselves. Let us descend into the arena.

The latest targets of these shock-troops of desecration: the Doges' palace in Venice, surrounded this summer by giant billboards advertising Coca-Cola, and Versailles, squatted again, after Jeff Koons, by the infantile kitsch of a minstrel named Murakami.

The homage of vice to virtue? Or outright profanation? Sovereign Merchandise or celebratory kitsch, the same enterprise has been at work in Venice and Versailles. Under the guise of a homage to Beauty-in-Majesty in these consecrated domains, the idea is to negate these universal symbols of Art; to have done, almost, with the very idea of Beauty, of which these anachronistic incarnations are an insolent reminder. The last obstacles to be undermined before the ultimate triumph of the "free and fun" hodge-podge which the diktat of Merchandise spreads over the world; before the final submission to the empire of Objects, in a universe governed by money and appropriated by Technology, which conquers the old Apollonian ideal of harmony and the pact of beauty between ourselves and the world.

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Passion of Johann Sebastian

I featured previously Rinaldo Alessandrini talking about the vocal quality of Bach's instrumental music. Here are some excerpts from a concert performance of the St Matthew Passion given by Philippe Herreweghe and Concerto Vocale Ghent, where you will not only (I hope) hear the instruments speak,but also the instrumental quality of Bach's writing for the voice, something clearly understood by Herreweghe.

I: Erbarme dich, mein' Gott - Damien Guillon, countertenor

Fabio Biondi - Portrait of the Artist

Portrait of the Sicilian violinist Fabio Biondi
A film by Olivier Simonnet (2005)
Co-production: Camera Lucida/Mezzo
Running time: 26'

Fabio Biondi: brilliant instrumentalist and director from the violin of the ensemble Europa Galante, which he founded in 1989. A rebellious child, he began the violin aged 11. The violinist talks about his Sicilian childhood, his first steps as a musician, his father and grandfather, both music-lovers, about Rome and Parma, his career and his absolute devotion to his instrument.

Extract from interview with Fabio Biondi:-

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Countertenors - Mehta & Jaroussky

Two forthcoming releases by countertenors: Bejun Mehta sings Haendel and Philippe Jaroussky sings Caldara

Georg Friederich Haendel:-
Ombra Cara - Opera arias
Bejun Mehta - countertenor
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
cond: René Jacobs
1 x CD + Bonus DVD (The Making of) 15'25"
Release Date: 8th November 2010

Caldara in Vienna
Forgotten castrato arias by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736)
Philippe Jaroussky - countertenor
Concerto Koeln
dir: Emmanuelle Haim
1 x CD Release Date: 1st November 2010

Dutch masterpiece acquired by Fitzwilliam Museum

Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629), Young woman tuning a lute
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge has enriched its world-class collection with a Caravaggio-inspired Dutch oil on canvas. Young woman tuning a lute (1626-7) by Hendrick ter Brugghen, is now on public display within the Fitzwilliam’s fine collection of Dutch paintings thanks to a £225,000 donation by UK charity The Art Fund. The work was previously on loan to the Museum.

This is the Museum’s first acquisition of a work by ter Brugghen, one of the leading painters amongst the Utrecht followers of Caravaggio. It is one of only a handful of works by this artist in the UK. Ter Brugghen, who died at a young age, was an important innovator for later Dutch 17th century genre paintings. More recently he has been recognised as an unorthodox but significant influence on the work of artists such as Vermeer.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Il Mondo della Luna

Joseph Haydn:-
Il Mondo della Luna
live recording from the Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 2009
directed by Tobias Moretti
Dietrich Henschel, Vivica Genaux, Bernard Richter, Christina Landshamer, Maite Beaumont, Markus Schafer
Concentus Musicus Wien
cond: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Running time: 167'
+ Interview with Nikolaus Harnoncourt: 26'
DVD & Blu-ray
Released 27th September 2010

Dolcissime sirene: Il canto delle Dame

Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), Young woman playing a violin
Institute of Arts, Detroit
Il Canto delle Dame - 17th century Italian women composers
Maria Cristina Kiehr - soprano
Concerto Soave
dir: Jean-Marc Aymes
recorded in the Abbey church, Ambronay 23rd-26th May 2010
released 21st October 2010
Ambronay Editions

(review by Jean-Christophe Pucek in Passée des Arts)

Just like their fellow painters, women composers have taken long to emerge from the shadows to which the picture of a predominantly masculine art have relegated them. For every Artemisia Gentileschi and Barbara Strozzi, now fairly well documented, how many other discoveries are yet to be made? Il Canto delle Dame, just released by Ambronay Editions, offers a selection of pieces composed by Italian women during the 17th century. In this recording we rediscover, under the direction of Jean-Marc Aymes, the soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr, whose taste is matched only by her talent, and the ensemble Concerto Soave.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Stile Antico at National Public Radio

During their just completed tour of America, English Renaissance vocal ensemble Stile Antico gave a 'Tiny Desk' concert at the offices of National Public Radio in Washington, which was recorded on video. In a completely flat and lifeless acoustic setting, deprived of the architectural space which brings this music to life, the resulting minimal sound nevertheless reveals aspects of compositional structure in a way not often heard in a recording or performance.

Stile Antico have broken new ground in the performance of vocal music of this period, not only in not having a conductor, relying instead on eye contact between the singers for control of dynamics and phrasing, but more importantly in intermingling the members of the various voice groups, so that sopranos, altos, tenors and basses do not stand in separate sections.

We know from numerous contemporary illustrations of singers huddled around a single lectern that the modern practice of choral 'apartheid' in the positioning of the singers simply did not exist in the Renaissance period. This greatly facilitates the blending of the voices which is so vital in the performance of this music, particularly in the modern era of mixed choirs rather than the male voice only choirs of the period.

The 'performance' features William Byrd's Vigilate, The Lord's Prayer by John Sheppard, Byrd's Ecce virgo concipiet, and Tota pulchra es by Hieronymus Praetorius.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bruegel - The wine of the feast of St Martin

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Wine of the Feast of St Martin
Museo del Prado, Madrid
The painting above, hitherto believed to have been painted by a follower of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569), has just been definitively attributed to the master himself, following the discovery of his signature during restoration work on the painting at the Prado Museum in Madrid. The Spanish Ministry of Culture simultaneously announced that it has been purchased for the nation for 7 million Euros.

The Wine of the Feast of St Martin, previously in the private collection of the Duke of Medinaceli in Spain, depicts a crowd scrambling madly to get a sample of the year's first vintage from a wine-barrel, and is now believed to have been painted between 1565 and 1568, making it a work of the master's mature years. This complex and ambitious canvas brings the total number of fully authenticated works by Bruegel the Elder to 41. It will now hang in the Prado alongside the museum's only other Bruegel painting, The Triumph of Death.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Triumph of Death
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Scandalous Epicurus

Picasso, Reclining Nude and Flute Player, 1932

(Philippe Sollers in Le Nouvel Observateur, 21st October 2010)

Mention the word 'epicurean' and straightaway a wall of cliches and prejudices gets in the way. By definiton, an 'epicurean' is a grossly sensual person, a sort of prominent provincial bourgeois who thinks only of eating, drinking and making love. This obtuse materialist can see no further than his own body. We have to believe that the philosophy of Epicurus (3rd century B.C.) had, and still has, the effect of an atom bomb from which we must protect ourselves at all costs. A deep thinker in a 'garden'? Someone who reveals to you, with perfect serenity, the nature of things? Who accepts the company of anyone at all regardless of their social background? Who even goes so far as to surround himself with women? Horrors! Read him, and you will understand why all those esteemed systems of thought, like all authorities, have grave reasons to discredit this prophetic vision. Epicurus, Lucretius, two names best avoided.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bach in Rome - Alessandrini and the Brandenburgs

In 2005 Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano recorded Bach's Brandenburg Concertos for Naive. The disc was accompanied by a bonus DVD of the recording sessions in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, featuring an extensive interview with Alessandrini, who discusses Bach and his attitude towards Italian music, the Italian approach to Bach, and the relation between life and Baroque art.  Enjoy!

Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos - Part I/IV

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, central panel
The second of Matthew Collings' excellent series on Renaissance painting, Renaissance Revolutions, has just been broadcast, featuring Hieronymus Bosch's triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted c.1505.

Watch it on BBC iPlayer (UK only)

The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych painted by the early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450–1516), housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid since 1939. Dating from between 1490 and 1510, when Bosch was about 40 or 50 years old, it is his best-known and most ambitious work. The masterpiece reveals the artist at the height of his powers; in no other painting does he achieve such complexity of meaning or such vivid imagery.

Cantate Contarini

These are 17th century cantatas associated with the Venetian Contarini family. As well as living in Venice, the family had a country property in Piazzola sul Brenta in Padua which they turned into a veritable baroque palace. It included two theatres, one of which was used as a music conservatoire. Marco Contarini built up an extensive music library and these anonymous cantatas are from the collection.

Villa Contarini, Piazzola sul Brenta
Marta Infante (mezzo soprano)
Ars Atlántica:-
Santi Mirón (viola da gamba)
Bruno Forst (harpsichord)
Manuel Vilas (arpa doppia & direction)
recorded at the church of San Vivente, Pombeiro (Lugo), Spain, 14 - 16 July 2008.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cantar Lontano

One of the highlights of this year's Ambronay Festival was undoubtedly Marco Mencoboni and Cantar Lontano's performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610. Deliberately shunning all modern editions of this masterpiece, Cantar Lontano prefer to work directly with the original scores from 1610, an approach which, combined with the scholarship of Mencoboni himself, opens up new perspectives on Monteverdi's art.

Here are two excerpts from the concert given on 10th September 2010 in the abbey church at Ambronay, unfortunately not best served by the church's acoustics, which tend to flatten out the spatial element of the music:-

Venetian vedute in London

Venice. Canaletto and his rivals

London, National Gallery, 13th October 2010 to 16th January 2011.
Washington, National Gallery of Art, 20th February 2011 to 30th May 2011.

1. Gaspare Vanvitelli (1652/1653-1736)
The Mole from the basin Of St Mark, 1697
Oil on canvas - 98 x 174 cm
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado
Photo : Museo Nacional del Prado

(review by Didier Rykner in La Tribune de l'Art, 20th October, 2010)

I admit I went to the National Gallery dragging my feet a little. I have never been particularly enamoured of Canaletto, nor of Venetian view painting in general, their paintings seeming at times very repetitive and in many cases mediocre. This was a mistake, an absurd prejudice, which this remarkable exhibition at the London museum amply demonstrates.

Instead of a simple and possibly monotonous Canaletto retrospective, the organisers have chosen to show his central role in 18th century Venetian landscape painting. Exhibition organiser Charles Beddington gives us a veritable lesson in art history, enabling even the most philistine to understand how this genre developed in Venice, from the first vedute identified by Gaspar Van Wittel (called Vanvitelli), which dates from 1697 (Fig. 1), to the late achievements of Francesco Guardi, who died in 1793, ending a tradition that lasted just over a century (even if mediocre imitators continued until the early nineteenth century).

Viva Vivica!

If you were impressed with Vivica Genaux's rendition of Qual guerriero in campo armato, there are plenty more vocal fireworks on show in this selection of arias released in September 2009 with Fabio Biondi. There is a good variety here, some more lyrical arias to offset the rapidfire acrobatics. Watch the video through to the end to hear excerpts from the vertiginous Destin avaro, from La Fida Ninfa, which in Genaux's hands becomes a piece of volcanic poetic force.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Capilla Flamenca promo

A slightly odd promotional video for Capilla Flamenca's new recording of Agricola's Missa In Myne Zyn (see earlier post):-

Alexander Agricola (ca. 1456-1506) was born in Ghent and was not only a contemporary of Josquin Desprez but also one of the most exciting composers of his period.

Of the eight Masses by Agricola that have survived, the Missa in myne zyn is the most demanding to perform and the most elaborate, making use of every possible technique to include the thematic material of Agricola's own 3-part song In minen sin. The secular pieces recorded here lend themselves particularly well to the techniques of ornamentation and improvisation that the composer himself suggests.

Agricola's writing perfectly suits the one-to-a-part performing style which Capilla Flamenca has championed for years.

Order the cd with this music via Outhere Music

Canaletto and his rivals

A major exhibiton of Canaletto and other 18th century Venetian view painters has just opened at the National Gallery in London. This exhibition presents the finest assembly of Venetian views since the much-celebrated display in Venice in 1967. It features works by Canaletto and all the major practitioners of the genre.

Remarkably, considering the dominant role of British patronage in this art form, 'Venice: Canaletto and His Rivals' is the first exhibition of its kind to be organised in the UK.

Bringing together around 60 major loans from public and private collections across Europe and North America, the exhibition highlights the rich variety of Venetian view painting.

"These paintings are still fulfilling the basic function for which they were created, and that's to remind people, when they are away from Venice, of the great marvellous experience of this city rising from the water," Dawson Carr, curator at the National Gallery, told AFP.

The London exhibition displays Canaletto's work alongside contemporaries such as Gaspare Vanvitelli, the founding father of Italian view painting, and Luca Carlevarijs, the first view painter to depend on foreign patronage. Also included are paintings by Michele Marieschi, Canaletto's nephew Bernardo Bellotto, and Francesco Guardi, who outlived Canaletto by 25 years.

Canaletto was the undisputed master of the genre, capturing "the grandeur of the place, a great city rising from the water, and the special light and atmosphere of Venice", said Carr. He added: "We of course all have digital cameras and we can snap, snap, snap but no matter how good the camera or the photographer, somehow a photograph just can't do what this kind of painting does."

The exhibition runs from October 13 to January 16, 2011.

Useful links:-
A golden age of Venetian art - review by Jackie Wullschlager in the Financial Times.
How Canaletto and the Venetian artists light up the National Gallery - Jonathan Jones' blog in the Guardian.
Canaletto's Venice: a city for pleasure seekers - article by Nick Trend in the Daily Telegraph.
Canaletto's Venice paintings - small selection of 12 paintings in the Daily Telegraph.

Canaletto at the Web Gallery of Art (large collection of paintings).
Guardi at the Web Gallery of Art.
Bellotto at the Web Gallery of Art.
Marieschi at the Web Gallery of Art.
Carlevarijs at the Web Gallery of Art.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Armida al campo d'Egitto

As well as sacred works, Rinaldo Alessandrini has recorded two of Vivaldi's operas, L'Olimpiade in 2002, and, in March this year, Armida al campo d'Egitto. I mentioned in an earlier post his unique way of working with his singers and musicians, which involves building up a close working relationship over a long period of time. He shuns international ''star' singers, preferring to work with a close-knit group, all Italian. The impression, which is borne out in the promotional clip below, is that they understand exactly what he is trying to achieve in these recordings, indeed almost of a secret society, with everyone working to the same end.

You may well rub your eyes but, yes, it's true: the location is the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music in Rome!

Alessandrini's vision of Vivaldi's music is tactile, even sensual, orientated towards a physical experience of time itself (just watch how he conducts!). In my view this recording represents a milestone in the deepening of our understanding of this music. I look forward for comparison to the release next month of Fabio Biondi's recording of Ercole su'l Termodonte, with the wonderful Vivica Genaux (of whom more anon).

Around 45 operas by Vivaldi have survived (though not all complete). Of these at a guess around 2 dozen have been committed to disc. Vivaldi himself boasted of having written 94! - and lost works are being rediscovered all the time, including, recently, a flute concerto in Scotland! Who knows what joys await us?

Download links

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Viva Vivaldi!

When Italian mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli started singing Vivaldi in the late '90s it was nothing short of a revelation; however since then considerable advances have been made in the interpretation of this music. Many would argue now that her voice is too inflexible, too 'operatic' for this repertoire, but at the time it caused a sensation I can assure you; one shouldn't forget that at the time she was giving the first performance of many of these arias in more than 250 years! In a celebrated concert given at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees in Paris in 2000, with Giovanni Antonini and Il Giardino Armonico, she tackles some of the arias I posted earlier. These clips give some idea of where things stand in 2010 as opposed to 2000.

First Anche il mar par che sommerga from Bajazet, which you saw sung by Patrizia Ciofi in a previous post:-

Next, Domine Deus from the Gloria RV 589:-

Well, perhaps that wasn't the best vehicle for her talents. This however is much better: Siam navi all'onde algenti from L'Olimpiade. The sharp-eyed among you may spot in the audience the writer Philippe Sollers, along with Julia Kristeva and Marcelin Pleynet...and is that Jacques Delors in the front row?:-

And finally, Gelido in ogni vena, from Farnace. Impeccable sense of theatre, an astonishing ability to get right inside the text, and carry her audience with her - Bartoli at her spellbinding best!

Raphael Tapestry Show Extended

The exhibition of Raphael's cartoons and tapestries for the Sistine Chapel at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London has been extended by one week due to popular demand, and will now end on Sunday 31st October.
Raphael's tapestries depict the Acts of St. Peter and St. Paul and are on permanent display in the Vatican Pinacoteca. They were commissioned by Pope Leo X to be placed in the Sistine Chapel alongside the frescoes depicting scenes from the Old Testament and life of Jesus, created by Michelangelo and other fifteenth century artists. In 1519 the tapestries were displayed for the first time in the Sistine Chapel, causing amazement and admiration among those who saw them

Promotional video by the V&A:-

Catholic Communications Network, in association with Clifton Diocese, have produced a series of podcasts to accompany the exhibiton. Fathers Christopher Whitehead and Michael McAndrew of the Clifton Diocese are joined by Dr James Hanvey, Director of Heythrop College, University of London, to discuss the works.

They can be downloaded here.

Madonna del Prato - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Also, the first of Matthew Collings' series for the BBC on Renaissance paintings has just been aired. Its subject is the Madonna del Prato by Raphael.

You can watch it on BBCi player (UK only) here:

Renaissance Revolution 1: Raphael - The Madonna of the Meadow

Monday, 18 October 2010

Coca-Cola Casanova

More on the Venice billboard advertising controversy. Here is the text of the Venice in Peril appeal to the Italian Minister of Culture, signed by Norman Foster et al.

Vast ads in Venice, Our appeal to the Italian Minister of Culture.

You can get an idea of how pervasive the advertising has become from the photos in this article from the Art Tribune:-

Venice invaded by giant adverts.

Gloria! Gloria!

In 2009 Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano recorded both extant settings by Vivaldi of the Gloria, RV 588 and 589. Although both were written around the same time, the two works are very different. Here is the promotional video from Naive, in which Alessandrini indicates some of these differences:-

The performance sequences are taken from a film made by Philippe Beziat of the recording sessions, which mixes excerpts from both settings. Unfortunately it also contains some annoying "video theatre", but is still well worth watching, not least because it shows Alessandrini's unique method of working with his musicians and singers. The location is the church of San Bernardino in Crema.

Here are Alessandrini's liner notes for the CD booklet:-

Perhaps one of the most stimulating exercises for a musicologist or a musician is to write about Italian sacred music of the eighteenth century. Unlike opera, where the works obey an ever more rigidly structured code (beginning with the division into recitatives and arias), in which the composer increasingly adheres to preconceived models that conform to his audience’s expectations, sacred music takes care to avoid submitting to ideology of any kind. While in theory at least it accepts a set of precepts (which will be discussed further on), sacred music does not (will not, cannot) free itself from operatic influence. The composer is well aware of the public’s mood when it enters the church, looking forward to hearing the fashionable castrato who is in town at the moment, perhaps under contract with the local opera house: he will show off his talents in motets that will have little in common with a vague concept of spirituality or mysticism (which we have in reality derived from what is nowadays a Romantically tinged subculture). He will, quite simply, be singing operatic music set to a Latin text. The presence of the choir and of certain unignorable rules of musical ethics (chiefly the use of counterpoint) will help create unpredictable, surprising structures.

The great aesthetic revolution accomplished in the early seventeenth century had far-reaching consequences for sacred music. Hitherto characterised by an inescapable contrapuntal style and assigned to exclusively vocal forces (at most doubled by the organ), church music was obliged to change course as the new expressive tendencies stemming from the seconda pratica took shape. Now came the introduction of instruments and the concertato style; the slow disintegration of forms (above all in the Office of Vespers), with figural music increasingly replacing plainchant; and the emergence of the messa bassa, where the liturgical text, now murmured in an undertone by the celebrant, left the congregation’s ears free to delight in a continuous and uninterrupted succession of motets and various other types of music for the entire duration of the service. The sole remaining bulwark of tradition was the contrapuntal style, which assumed the rhetorical value of music intended for purposes of worship, and was employed from time to time to remind the faithful that they were nevertheless still in church. But its original function was lost, since the fugues and points of imitation once assigned to the purity of a few voices were now decked out in the brilliant, ringing sonorities of instruments, or in the sensual, sinful strains of singers whose vocal technique grew ever more refined. Various parameters now came into play: the noisiness of the orchestral forces, growing in size according to the importance of the feast-day; the participation of singers and instrumentalists of greater artistic prestige for the most solemn festivals; the rhythm of performance, which would be slower if the majesty of the ceremony required this to attain a supposed state of contemplation of the Divine. But all this offers food for discussion: one of the aims of performance was to involve the congregation, who as they listened would recognise in the Church Militant on earth a reflection of the Church Triumphant in heaven.

Venice seems to have been a magical place for sacred music: the far-sightedness of the ecclesiastical authorities and the city’s democratic customs, far removed from the sometimes repressive cultural strategies to be found elsewhere (in Rome, for example), made it an ideal setting for this kind of spectacle. The tourist guides of the time speak with astonishment of the Vespers performed on the square in front of S. Maria della Salute, while the cappella of S. Marco was graced by the finest instrumentalists and singers of the day.
In the case of more highly structured compositions like the two settings of the Gloria recorded here, the rhetorical values called into question by the composer will certainly be more numerous, but most of them will still refer to easily recognisable rhetorical and theatrical situations. The word ‘Gloria’, for example, unequivocally suggests ringing sonorities that may be assimilated with musical evocations of war. Thus the utilisation of oboes and trumpets becomes inevitable. The text ‘Gratias agimus tibi’ suggests an act of thanksgiving interpreted in the theatrical sense with an almost pagan hieraticism and solemnity.
Vivaldi’s two settings of the Gloria present an enormous variety of musical solutions: some agree on their approach to the same text, while others diverge. The opening movements are cheerful, radiant: here the glory of the Lord is revealed on the earth with joy, far from any feeling of agitation, yet sometimes astounding us with unexpected modulations. The complexities of the writing in the two settings of ‘Et in terra pax’ help to give the movement greater substance, even if the contrapuntal voice-leading is toned down by melodic lines which have nothing classical about them. But whereas RV 588 is full of polyphonic indiscretions recalling older styles (‘Domine Fili Unigenite’, ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’), RV 589 is distinguished by an intensive recourse to theatrical models, attaining a moment of sheer pathos in the alto aria ‘Domine Deus, Agnus Dei’, in which Vivaldi seeks to create a dramatic space by placing the soloist at a distance from the chorus, which comments on human fragility (‘Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis’). There is even a nod to current fashion with the dotted quaver rhythms à la française in ‘Domine Fili Unigenite’), a concession to the urbane style popular on the other side of the Alps.
In general, it should be borne in mind that the emotional charge that sixteenth-century polyphony sought to achieve, even if it was perhaps at one remove from the congregation, lost its force in the High Baroque period, although the aim was still to control the emotions of the assembly of the faithful, who were expected to recognise in music a sign of the divine. But the people were now given what they wanted, while maintaining the illusion that a reflection of the divine could be found even in the pastoral sensuality of the siciliana ‘Domine Deus Rex coelestis’ (RV 589).

It is worth saying something about the closing fugues of the two settings, which are two different reworkings of a fugue from a Gloria for two choirs and orchestra by Ruggieri. I have no idea why Vivaldi did not want to venture on an original composition at this point. Contrary to popular opinion, he was a competent contrapuntist. The various fugues he essayed in his concertos, especially the concerti ripieni (without soloists), do not find him unprepared or ill at ease. Quite the reverse, in fact. Both elaborations of the material (that of RV 589 is later than RV 588) show a marked feeling for form exemplified in their subtle modifications of phrase length and instrumentation, which lighten the rhetoric and make the piece more effective in its concision.
Finally, a word on the introductions which open the two Glorias. That of RV 588 belongs to the main work without a shadow of a doubt, while the connection of the motet Ostro picta with RV 589 can be deduced only from the fact that they share the same key. One may see in these introductions another contemporary device for padding out the musical event to excess by enriching and decorating it with music that is liturgically superfluous, though certainly effective and impressive.

Rinaldo Alessandrini

Download part 1 | Download part 2 | Download part 3

Download part 1 | Download part 2 | Download part 3

Download part 1 | Download part 2 | Download part 3

Download part 1 | Download part 2 | Download part 3

p/w: muzik

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Alexander Agricola - Missa In Myne Zyn

Released 16th September 2010
on Ricercar

The vocal and instrumental ensemble Capilla Flamenca - literally, the Flemish Chapel - takes its name from the old sacred music of the court of Emperor Charles V. When this king left the Netherlands in 1517, he invited his best musicians to accompany him to Spain to continue a "living polyphony"

The current Capilla Flamenca recruits specialist musicians mainly from Flanders, and seeks to revive this splendid music composed in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in all its authenticity. On this recording the core group of Capilla Flamenca (countertenor - tenor - baritone - bass) is joined by additional singers, an "alta capella" (wind instruments), a "bassa capella" (stringed instruments), and an organ.

The transparent polyphonic sonority of the group springs from the interactive and creative work of the musicians. They devote themselves with great attention to the historical detail, technique and poetic interpretation of polyphonic works. From this polyphonic repertoire Dirk Snellings, in collaboration with renowned musicologists, constructs original projects, opening new perspectives.

Dirk Snellings talks about Agricola (in Flemish) along with excerpts from a performance in the Begijnhofkerk Sint-Truiden:-

A Taste of the Afterlife, review in Flanders Today by Marie Dumont.

Vocal vertigo and the mysteries of a Mass by Agricola, feature on France Musique (in French)

(review by Jean-Christophe Pucek in Passee des Arts):-

In 1998, a key recording by the Huelgas Ensemble (recently reissued in an indispensable box set) drew the attention of music lovers to a late-medieval composer who lived at the same time as the more famous Johannes Ockeghem (c. 1420-1497) and Josquin des Prez (c.1450-1521), Alexander Agricola. Since then, precious few recordings have followed in its wake; which, it is true, made abundantly clear the problems of interpretating these particularly demanding works. All the more gratifying, then, to see the release today by Ricercar of the complete Missa In myne Zyn performed by the excellent Capilla Flamenca, one of the best ensembles specializing in this repertoire.

Until recently, the life of Alexander Agricola remained, like that of many musicians from the late Middle Ages, rather obscure. We are indebted to musicologists Fabrice Fitch and Rob C. Wegman, for having unearthed archival material which enlightens us a little more. We now know that our composer was born in Ghent, probably around 1456, and not in 1446 as previously thought, based on the text of the lament Musica, quid defles, attributed by some to Juan de Anchieta (ie 1462-1532) and published in 1538, indicating he had died at the age of 60. Agricola was the natural child of Lijsbette Naps (died 1499), a shrewd businesswoman, and Heinrici Ackermann, an individual involved in shady financial dealings, whose name, nevertheless, the musician chose, in its latinized form (Ackermann and Agricola both mean "farmer"). His parents never married and apparently his mother alone bore the cost of raising her two sons, Jan and Alexander, the former being perhaps the cantor of whom one finds traces in 's-Hertogenbosch in the decades 1480-1490. Of the musical training of Alexander Agricola we know nothing. Perhaps he received the rudiments at the Church of St. Nicolas of Ghent to which his mother made a large donation in 1467. The first mention of his name is sometime in 1476, when he is at Cambrai, then we lose track of him for 15 years. One can surmise that he may have been cantor at the court of France, whose central figure at that time was Ockeghem, as we have a letter from King Charles VIII, dated 1492, in which he urges Piero de' Medici to dispatch Agricola, who had been exercising his talents in Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence since 1491, back to him immediately. It seems that the composer took his time complying with the royal order, since he first went to the court of Ferdinand I of Naples before returning to France. Apart from a brief stay in Naples again in 1494 with Alfonso II, no one knows anything of the specific activities of Agricola until August 6, 1500, when he joined the chapel of Philip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy. Many trips followed, including two to Spain, and it was during the second of these that Agricola died of a fever, in Valladolid in mid-August 1506.

The Missa In myne Zyn ("In my mind"), based on a popular song whose melody is heard only sporadically during the Mass, should probably be dated during the Burgundian period, the last period of activity of Agricola. While incomplete (the Kyrie is lost), it provides a perfect illustration of the sophistication and complexity of his music, in which we cannot detect, despite lengthy stays in that country, any Italian influence. The invention of the composer, like that of a Hieronymus Bosch in the field of painting, is abundant, as he uses his mastery of counterpoint to develop an extremely free style, where surprises abound. His highly individualized treatment of vocal lines, his extraordinary ability to vary the rhythms and melodies by using repetition or imitation, are at odds with the musical landscape of his time, occupying another dimension than, for example, the fluidity and cultivated restraint of his compatriot and exact contemporary Obrecht (1457/58-1505) or the utterly "classical" clarity of Josquin. The same quality of fantasy is found in other works available on this disc whether chansons, motets or pieces which were designed for instrumental performance.
To do justice to this repertoire, of whose requirements the description above gives but a pale reflection, one requires interpreters who manage to combine vocal mastery and freedom of tone, so as not to transform into frozen monuments works much of whose great vitality lies in their own irregularities. It is an understatement to say that the four singers (all male) of Capilla Flamenca (pictured above) are on this road. Having tackled in other recordings secular works of Agricola, they essay the Missa In myne Zyn with all the virtuosity acquired through a lengthy immersion in the composer's musical world, coupled with a superlative vocal technique - how can one not be astonished at the way they master the dizzying kaleidoscope of the Sanctus? - but also with genuine humility, which allows them, by letting themselves be transported by the inventions of Agricola, trusting in his music, to offer us the most authentic interpretation. The perfect antidote to the slick aesthetic often employed in such works, mostly by English ensembles, Capilla Flamenca do not suppress any of the coarseness of the discourse, bringing out all of its riches in an ideal balance between roughness and sensuality. Both radiant and informed, their interpretation is a great success, driven by a vision that has real consistency and an undeniable elan. The instrumental pieces are of the same stamp, and if the fact of interposing them between the different sections of the Mass may be historically questionable, they are welcome pauses for breath that allow the listener to avoid becoming saturated. Deserving of particular mention is Pater meus agricola, which anticipates the wonderful fantasies that flower a little later in the sixteenth century, and of which the three gambists united on the recording offer a splendid reading.

For enthusiasts of late medieval music, and for those who wish to discover Agricola in conditions close to ideal, I heartily recommend this recording of the Missa In myne Zyn. It confirms the excellence of this composer; and my hope is to find one day his other seven Masses interpreted as beautifully as they are here, by Capilla Flamenca, who demonstrate, disc after disc, that early music can be a reality as alive as it is moving.

Versailles vs "Art" - c'est la guerre!!

A huge controvery is currently raging in France around the exhibition in the Royal Apartments at Versailles of works by the Japanese-American artist Takashi Murakami. This is only the latest in a series of exhibitions organised by the Director of the Palace of Versailles Jean-Jacques Aillagon, inaugurated in 2008 with an exhibition of works by Jeff Koons. Here is M. Aillagon himself, inviting us to rejoice with him:-

Over 12,000 people have signed two anti-Murakami petitions initiated by two factions: the Coordination Défense de Versailles and Versailles Mon Amour (VMA), which also organised a demonstration at the chateau gates during the exhibition opening last month. The group objects to the “Disneyfication” of the lavish former residence of Louis XIV, a trend it says was kickstarted by the Jeff Koons show.

It appears Aillagon has now been forced into a partial climbdown, announcing that the 2011 display would probably not take place in the royal apartments, but in another part, such as the Orangery, gardens or the royal opera. Although the museum officially denies a direct relation between the change and the protests, it stated in a rather transparent explanation that the decision was made by Aillagon, for the purpose of avoiding ‘repetition.’ The Murakami exhibition, however, will continue in situ until December.

Murakami was named by Time Magazine in 2008 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and his works are among the most highly valued in the contemporary art market.

Like Koons, many of them are openly pornographic; one of the most notable examples was the headline-making sale of one of his sculptures, sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 2008 for an unexpectedly high $15 million. The 1998 work, titled ‘My Lonesome Cowboy,’ is a large fibreglass and iron figure of a naked young anime-esque male masturbating.

Now one of the protest groups, the Coordination Défense de Versailles, has announced its intention to instigate a lawsuit against the directors of the Palace of Versailles and the exhibition's organisers. Here is an extract from the press release announcing the lawsuit:-

♦Conscious of representing the universal reprobation of the French people and lovers of Versailles from around the world, against the intrusion of Murakami into the Royal Apartments,

♦Estimating at more than 90% the opinions of the media expressed against this attack on the respect due to this global symbol of excellence, art and French culture, and this site of French heritage and identity,

♦ And noting the historic and unprecedented apology by the Japanese delivered to the French Embassy in Tokyo (after our denunciation of a "cultural Hiroshima at Versailles" on Japanese television on September 22, 2010) condemning Murakami's exhibition in the Royal Apartments, the unacceptability of such an insult to our national jewel, our culture, our civilization and this uniquely prestigious site; because this denunciation covers all shades of the population, regardless of any political, social or religious affiliations, as evidenced by such pronouncements, responding to our campaign which began in 2008, from former President of the Republic, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former Culture Minister Christine Albanel; academicians Jean d'Ormesson, Marc Fumaroli, President of the Friends of the Louvre, Jean Clair, chief curator of the Heritage and former director of the Picasso Museum, the actor and writer Richard Bohringer, the Former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, of the United Left opposition to the City Council of Versailles, of the entire staff of the palace, tour guides, lecturers and of over 95% of visitors, of signatories to our petition of all popular allegiances, not to mention other expressions of astonishment and indignation from around the world.


The VMA, for its part, has denounced Murakami as "a parasite who feeds on an existing work of art - Versailles" and condemned "an art market which has the nerve to produce works which purportedly have ‘aesthetic’ qualities but its only criteria are financial. This market is built up through a network of collectors, dealers, auction houses, museums and media which together churn out these names and push prices up.”

I leave you to judge for yourselves... however, I permit myself one remark: the issue here goes beyond merely "contemporary" vs "traditional" art, or even civilisation vs barbarism, but is really about what kind of world we live in... and who is really our contemporary... this "Take-a-shit"... or Louis XIV?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Four Sopranos: Vivaldi's Bajazet

Fabio Biondi's recording of Vivaldi's opera Bajazet (1735) is accompanied by a bonus DVD containing video footage from the recording sessions, giving a fascinating insight into the vocal techniques required for this extremely challenging repertoire. Here are four very different soprano arias highlighting the kinds of virtuosity this music demands.

Firstly, American mezzo Vivica Genaux attacks Irene's impossibly florid aria Qual guerriero in campo armato. Her singing bristles with an unreal energy and boasts an unusual agility and accuracy in taking on those rapid-fire trills and the seemingly endless stream of semiquavers.

Next, the only genuine soprano, Patrizia Ciofi, gives a blistering, trill-rich account of Idaspe’s aria Anche il mar par che sommerga.

Elīna Garanča’s less strident, velvety mezzo suits the troubled personality of Andronico. Besides the ease with which she meets the challenges of singing Baroque music (it’s her first foray into the genre), she also displays more emotional nuance in her delivery. Andronico has the most singing parts of the cast, and many of his arias are prime examples of melodic and rhythmic elegance. In the following clip she tackles the heroic aria Spesso tra vaghe rose. Interestingly, in interviews for the French media Ms Garanča has stated that she merely acceded to Mr Biondi’s repeated and insistent requests to sing on the ‘Bajazet’ project, but doesn’t see her voice as particularly suited to the Baroque repertoire.

Serbian mezzo Marijana Mijanovic’s dark sound (actually more a contralto than a mezzo) gives her Asteria a steely core, and she’s no slouch with the semiquavers, either. Her androgynous timbre is slightly more forceful than Ms Garanča’s. The adrenaline peaks in Asteria’s final, distressing aria in the third act, Svena, uccidi, abbati, attera.

The entire opera is a treasure, and they couldn't have picked a better cast. Vivica Genaux, Elina Garanca, and David Daniels are especially strong, and Fabio Biondi's orchestra is always clean and polished. The recording quality is also top-notch.

Download links
(APE = 700 mb | MP3  = 209 mb | Scans = 52 mb)
p/w: aliomodo

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Domenico Scarlatti - Stabat Mater - Les Cris de Paris

Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)
Stabat Mater (1715)

from the concert 'Mare Nostrum - A Mediterranean Journey'
given in the Chapelle de la Trinité, Lyon
16th September 2010
Les Cris de Paris
directed by Geoffroy Jourdain

Part I

Part II

Part III

(from All Music Guide)

The period from 1714-1719, which Domenico Scarlatti spent in Rome employed by the Vatican as the maestro di cappella at St. Giulia, produced a considerable body of sacred and liturgical music, much of it worthy of further attention and performance. Foremost among these is his setting of the devotional Stabat Mater text. The work, completed in 1715, employs a choir of ten parts accompanied by organ and is rendered in a style that often seems archaic, but at moments introduces newer and powerfully expressive textures and harmonies. Despite the lush vocal sonority afforded by the large vocal forces, it is with local nuances and contours and subtle combinations of parts that Scarlatti engages the listener. At first glance, Scarlatti's Stabat Mater seems like a misplaced work from the sixteenth century, with its gently arching melodic lines, delicate points of imitation, and elegant surface. Occasional harmonic clues betray the piece's later date—a meditative plagal passage that frees itself of harmonic urgency, a cadence that points in an unforeseen direction. Despite the large ensemble, Scarlatti's polyphonic fabric is pulled taught and polished, with only a hint of harmonic depth added by the organ; in passages where the vocal forces are most reduced, the clarity of phrase and declamation solidly place the work in the eighteenth century, despite its seemingly antiquated style. One of this piece's most compelling characteristics is the fluidity with which it connects the words and music. The devotional poem, cast in 10 stanzas of two tercets each, is not poured squarely into a corresponding series of musical passages, but rather stretched and molded into a larger and more organic form. The first four verses of the poem are bound together by a continuous musical passage and a recurring motive that is treated communally by the singers. The insistent rhetorical questions of the poem, "Quis est homo qui non fleret...Quis non posset contristari...?" (Who would not weep seeing the mother of Christ in such torment? Who would not feel compassion...?), are met first with an increasing musical urgency created by carefully wrought counterpoint, then a moment of pensive repose. In the subsequent passage, the music shifts from sheer declamation of words to expression of ideas and images, as shifting meters, variegated textures, and more angular writing enhance the poet's description of Christ's suffering. The adorations that follow, in which the poet affirms his devotion to Christ and desire to weep with Mary at the foot of the cross, eventually culminate in a masterfully crafted fugue on "Fac me cruce custodiri" (Grant that I may be protected by the cross) and a joyous chorus of "Amen."