Tony Way

November 3, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Ablaze With Light (The Rose Singers/Peter Foggitt)

William Petter spent his short life in the bosom of the English choral establishment. Born into a musical family, he was a chorister at New College, Oxford; played piano, organ violin and guitar; studied voice at the Royal Academy of Music; sang in choirs and as a tenor soloist. He also studied for a neuroscience degree before becoming music director at the historic Anglo-Catholic church of St Magnus the Martyr, London Bridge. On top of all that, he was a composer of considerable promise, as this disc reveals. But at age 34 he was dead of clear-cell sarcoma. Petter’s music is delightfully packed with the kind of youthful excesses enjoyed by choral scholars: close harmonies, jazz-style sections, soaring soprano lines and plenty of solo opportunities. This is particularly true of the Vigil Mass which takes the plainsong Missa de angelis as its basis. The more austere St Magnus Mass pays homage to Franck Martin’s double-choir Mass and its use of solo cello in two movements creates some hauntingly atmospheric moments. Three motets reveal Petter’s ingenuity and range of expression. Hushed and fervent, The Lord’s Prayer contrasts with the Easter joy of The Good Shepherd has Risen. Come down, O love…

October 4, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Celebratory Cantatas (Bach Collegium Japan/Suzuki)

Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan have never been content to rest on their considerable laurels. Having completed the Herculean task of recording all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred cantatas in 2013, they have continued to explore the master’s diverse range of secular cantatas, arriving at this volume of celebratory works. Along the way Suzuki and his forces have revealed the richness of Bach’s musical imagination and his sense of humour in these works. The very first volume of the series recorded back in 2003 contains arguably his most popular secular cantata, the so-called Coffee Cantata (BWV211), in a robust account with soprano Carolyn Sampson as the wayward, coffee-drinking daughter and bass Stephan Schreckenberger as her strict and exasperated father. In the fourth volume, the glorious wedding cantata, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten (BWV202) is radiantly sung by soprano Joanne Lunn, while in the seventh volume the Peasant Cantata (BWV212) is given a lively and well-paced performance featuring soprano Mojca Erdmann and bass Dominik Wörner. Other volumes in the series neatly group together various works: academic cantatas, cantatas for birthdays and funerals; reminding us that most of these cantatas were written to order. The state events that occasioned the works in this…

September 29, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Monteverdi: The Other Vespers (I Fagiolini/Hollingworth)

Robert Hollingworth has, with customary thought and flair, thrown his little beans (I Fagiolini) into an interesting musical salad to honour Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and his own group’s 30th. His starting point is the only contemporary account of Monteverdi conducting Vespers: a Dutch tourist espied the maestro working away from St Mark’s on June 24, 1620 (the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist). Drawing key elements from Monteverdi’s monumental 1641 collection of liturgical music, Selva Morale e Spirituale (The moral and spiritual wood) Hollingworth fashions a Vespers service for that feast, embellished with vocal and instrumental music of the period. There is much exuberant singing and playing to enjoy in this programme, which eschews the perhaps more famous 1610 collection of Vespers music. (Mind you, 1641 contains the ever-popular Beatus vir with its walking bass.) Hollingworth is happy to give his cornettists, Gawain Glenton and Andrea Inghisciano free rein in the realm of ornamentation. The results are brilliant and impart a splendid sense of occasion. Florid vocal passages are also handled with consummate ease and clarity (Dixit Dominus) while intimate devotional moments, like Donati’s Dulcis amor Iesu! are equally touching. Together with The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble and…

September 22, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Dvořák: Stabat Mater (Czech Philharmonic/Bělohlávek)

Like encountering some extraordinary Pietà, listening to Dvořák’s grandiose evocation of Mary at the foot of the Cross leaves a lasting impression on the imagination. Written at a time when the composer was finally gaining recognition, it was to be the best and the worst of times. To have lost one child (as Dvořák did in 1875) was tragedy enough, but to lose his remaining two children the following year would have been more than most parents could bear. The surging opening of the Stabat Mater in particular witnesses to this deep grief. Bělohlávek and his forces harness all of this turbulent emotion, creating towering climaxes that immerse the listener in the crucifixion drama. Lasting nearly 20 minutes, the sonata-form first movement signals Dvořák’s intent to create a work in which his skills as symphonist, melodist, nationalist and believer are all given potent expression. To a large extent Dvořák succeeds in this artistic quest. The nine shorter, succeeding movements are creatively varied. After the Quis est homo in which we hear the well balanced solo quartet at close quarters, the pulsing, choral Eja Mater, fons amoris ushers one of the most striking movements of the work, Fac, ut ardeat. Here South Korean bass…

August 4, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: St John Passion (Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski)

Great respect has characterised Marc Minkowski’s decision to allow some 30 years of his career to pass before recording the St John. In choosing to use only eight singers he is at pains to create an intimate but intense reading of this most powerful work. This performance is based on the original 1724 version, but appends two arias from the revisions Bach made a year later, as well as employing later additions to the original orchestration (contrabassoon and theorbo) and a harpsichord in the continuo. Minkowski is intent on bringing out the radical musical drama that must have shocked, or at least perplexed, the good burghers of Leipzig that Good Friday afternoon in 1724. Eschewing the textural contrast between soloists and chorus, Minkowski differentiates between the various musical elements by adopting brisk tempos for choruses and deftly connecting them to recitatives, creating an almost frenetic telling of the story, in which Evangelist Lothar  Odinius plays an impressive role. The arias offer varied meditations on the action. Australian countertenor David Hansen delivers an impassioned account of the aria Von der Stricken. Fellow alto, Delphine Galou, sings the more famous Es ist vollbracht with great empathy. No one performance will ever have…

August 4, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Josquin: Missi Di Dadi, Missa Une Mousse de Biscaye (The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips)

Move over John Cage and Henry Cowell. Chance music, it seems, existed long before last century. How surprising and intriguing to discover that the roll of the dice may well have determined the compositional method of a Mass that could have been written by the great polyphonist, Josquin des Prés. (Josquin was employed by the Sforza family, some of the biggest gamblers in 15th-century Milan.) Movements of the Missa Di Dadi (Dice Mass) are preceded by images of dice showing different numbers. These indicated to the tenors the proportional length of the base melody (a chanson by Robert Morton) to the other parts. As Peter Phillips points out in his engaging notes, these indications are a bit haphazard and fortunately the publisher (presumably not a gambler) wrote out the actual tenor part to avoid confusion. While all of this is quite amusing – and despite not knowing for certain the Mass is by Josquin – the music is certainly worthy of attention. The customary precision and blend of The Tallis Scholars is in evidence throughout, but the final Agnus Dei is particularly moving. Missa Une mousse de Biscaye also lacks firm evidence of authorship by Josquin. Based on a secular…

August 4, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Giaches de Wert: Sacred Motets (Stile Antico)

In his day, Giaches de Wert (1535-96) was the foremost composer of madrigals, most notably serving in the musically progressive Gonzaga court at Mantua and influencing the young Monteverdi. He had a considerable 12 books of madrigals to his name. What is less well known is that he also produced three books of motets which also display his madrigalian prowess. Many of the texts he set were not standard liturgical texts, but rather biblical stories that lent themselves to more programmatic treatment. Wert’s music was not the only colourful aspect of his life. Early on he married Lucrezia Gonzaga and produced at least six children. His appointment to Mantua was full of intrigue: several moves were made to discredit him, but he stuck to his work, despite being labelled a cuckold. (His wife had been having an affair with the composer who was passed over for Wert’s job.) Lucrezia came to a sticky end some years later when she was involved in a murderous plot to seize a noble title. Wert eventually had an affair of his own, with the widowed noblewoman and poet, Tarquinia Molza. Such was Wert’s musical worth that when this scandal was discovered, Tarquinia was banished…

July 7, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Pergolesi & Bach: Stabat Mater, Cantatas (Lucy Crowe, Tim Mead, La Nuova Musica/David Bates)

Hot on the heels of Iestyn Davies’ distinguished recording of Bach alto cantatas comes another disc containing two of the same from another British countertenor. Tim Mead, a former choral scholar of King’s College, Cambridge has forged a busy and successful career on the operatic and concert stage. He displays admirable agility in the final aria of Widerstehe doch der Sünde (BWV54). While Davies may have the edge in bringing the words to life, there is certainly much to enjoy in Mead’s account; not only his mellifluous tone but the fine playing of La Nuova Musica, which this year celebrates the tenth anniversary of its founding by artistic director, David Bates. Vergnügte Ruh! Beliebte Seelenlust! (BWV170) also demonstrates Mead’s affinity with Bach’s musical idiom through his unforced vocal technique. His more outwardly expressive approach provides a thoughtful and nuanced contrast to Davies. By way of contrast the Bach cantatas are paired with Pergolesi’s ever-popular Stabat Mater. Mead is joined by soprano, Lucy Crowe who visited Australia in 2012 to be soprano soloist in the ACO’s performances of Beethoven’s Ninth. Although the voices are in the main well matched, there are occasions in this performance where I feel the performers are…

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