Will Yeoman

November 3, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Machaut: Sovereign Songs (The Orlando Consort)

Some music is so old it sounds new. Perhaps the songs of that great exponent of the medieval Ars Nova, poet and composer Guillaume de Machaut (c.1300-1377), falls into that category. More likely, however, it’s because Machaut was a genius that his music sounds as fresh and novel as it must have to its first listeners. This is the fourth volume in UK vocal ensemble The Orlando Consort’s survey of Machaut’s songs, using a new performing edition (The Complete Works of Guillaume de Machaut) published by the University of Michigan Press. The first volume focused on the nine songs from Machaut’s masterpiece Le Voir Dit; the second, The Dart of Love, showcased some of the composer’s favoured genres; the third, A Burning Heart, zeroed in on Machaut’s take on courtly love. In Sovereign Beauty, countertenor Matthew Venner, tenors Mark Dobell and Angus Smith, and baritone Donald Greig return to some of Mauchaut’s earlier works, in which he was experimenting with the ballade, rondeau, virelai, lay and motet – later examples of which featured in The Dart of Love. All, without exception, are possessed of a spare, haunting beauty, from works for solo voice such as the virelai Foy porter to…

September 15, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Trios (Yo-Yo Ma, Chris Thile & Edgar Meyer)

It’s as difficult to know where to start describing the brilliance of this album as it is to avoid superlatives. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolin player Chris Thile and bassist Edgar Meyer are masters of their respective instruments. All are fluent in different musical styles and genres. All have collaborated with each other, either as duos or as part of a larger ensemble, on many occasions. All have performed and recorded JS Bach’s works for solo cello or violin to critical acclaim, so one can immediately assume a certain facility and intimacy when playing Bach together. Here, they present a programme comprising arrangements of mostly keyboard works, the only exception being the Viola da Gamba Sonata No 3 in G Minor. There is the Trio Sonata No 6 in G, the Passepied from the Partita No 5 in G, an excerpt from The Art of Fugue and a selection of preludes and fugues and chorale preludes. There are flashes of extreme virtuosity, such as the breakneck section in the E Minor Fugue BWV548, originally for organ. There are almost heartbreakingly beautiful renderings of some of Bach’s most famous chorale preludes, such as Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, BWV721 and Wachet auf, ruft…

August 31, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Music for the 100 Years’ War (The Binchois Consort)

As with previous recordings by The Binchois Consort – such as Music for Henry V and the House of Lancaster – Music for the 100 Years’ War places a cappella sacred music in its historical context through a judicious mix of scholarship and speculation. The motivation in this case was to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt on October 25, 1415. But as the consort’s director Andrew Kirkman and Philip Weller write in their detailed booklet note, “In doing so [the programme] also casts its net wider, embracing other aspects and events” of the war of which Agincourt “formed but one part – albeit a heroic and iconic part.” Here, therefore, are carols, motets and sections of masses which might have been performed during Henry V’s campaign by members of “an enormous retinue”, which included a fully functioning liturgical and musical chapel. Such is the quality of the music and the performances that one can be left in no doubt that the creativity which grew out of the greater culture of the time and nourished it in turn can be equally inspiring today. This is music that sounds as fresh as though it were written just yesterday…

August 25, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Britten • Purcell: Chaconnes and Fantasias (Emerson String Quartet)

Benjamin Britten’s interest in the music of his great Baroque predecessor Henry Purcell extended far beyond basing his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra on the Rondeau from Purcell’s Abdelazer suite. Purcell’s songs were championed in Britten’s own idiosyncratic arrangements for piano and voice.Purcell’s music for string consort also exerted a fascination for Britten whose String Quartet No 2 contains a Chacony: a direct homage to Purcell’s  ‘chaconne’ for four-part string ensemble. Britten made a performing edition of Purcell’s Chacony in the late 1950s (revised in 1963), and this is the version used by the Emerson String Quartet – here celebrating their 40th anniversary with the first release on Decca’s new Decca Gold label – in a fascinating programme which also includes a selection of Purcell’s Fantazias for viol consort along with Britten’s Second and Third String Quartets. Despite some three centuries and enormous stylistic differences separating the two composers, their music complements each other’s rather well – which is unsurprising, given Britten’s updating of archaic forms and Purcell’s love of dissonance and complexity.Unsurprising too, in this instance, given the Emersons’ insightful and highly expressive readings, which find the modern in Purcell and the ancient in Britten while maintaining a…

August 18, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Mendelssohn: Complete Symphonies (Chamber Orchestra of Europe, RIAS Kammerchor/Nézet-Séguin)

“There has never been in the history of music a child prodigy to equal Mendelssohn,” pianist and author Charles Rosen once wrote. “As a teenager, he was a much better composer than either Beethoven or Mozart at the same age.” And yet, as Rosen continues, “Mendelssohn’s precocity was a curse as well as a gift. Because of it, he never matched the extravagance of his greater contemporaries.” That may be true. Though what does extravagance have to do with genius? Anyway, as those of us who love Felix Mendelssohn’s music know, there’s a lot more to admire in his substantial oeuvre than those great masterpieces of his teenage years, the Octet and the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Violin Concerto and maybe some of the Songs Without Words. Like the five symphonies, for instance, which achieve a startling unity and variety within single works and in relation to each other through Mendelssohn elegantly working out the implications of existing models. The First wears its debt to Mozart on its sleeve but is impeccably crafted and exhilarating to listen to. The Second, the extraordinary symphony-cantata known as the Hymn of Praise, seeks to reconcile the Baroque cantata and oratorio…

August 11, 2017
CD and Other Review

Review: Monteverdi • Rossi • Sartori: La Storia di Orfeo (Philippe Jaroussky, I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis)

This startling new recording presents a modern form of pasticcio or, as countertenor and project originator Philippe Jaroussky says, a work that was “conceived as a kind of opera in miniature or as a cantata for two solo voices and chorus.” It also reminds us there were other fine operas on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice written after Striggio and Monteverdi’s famous favola in musica. (As there were, of course, before it, such as Rinuccini and Peri’s 1600 L’Euridice. Here again we have the tragic and all-too-familiar story of Orpheus’s doomed attempt to rescue his beloved Eurydice, who had perished after being bitten by a serpent, from Hades’ realm. But by stitching together elements of three operas written decades apart – Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607), Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo (1647) and Antonio Sartorio’s L’Orfeo (1672) – we are introduced not just to bracing chiaroscuro effects that serve to heighten the drama; such anachronisms also demonstrate the changing styles of, and tastes in, music over nearly 70 years of the Baroque period. This was clearly a labour of love for Jaroussky (Orpheus). And what a fine thing to get such collaborators as Hungarian soprano Emöke Baráth (Eurydice), I Barocchisti, Coro della Radiotelevisione…

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