The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Baroque and Renaissance English music this coming Friday night and Sunday afternoon

October 3, 2016
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ALERT: The strike by the players in the Philadelphia Orchestra has been settled. For details, go to this website:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20161003_Philadelphia_Orchestra_strike_ends__contract_vote_73-11.html

For more background about that strike and others, which The Ear writes about yesterday, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/10/02/classical-music-the-pittsburgh-and-philadelphia-symphony-orchestras-start-their-seasons-with-a-strike-by-the-players/

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians will open its 2016-17 season this coming weekend with two performances of a program that features English music from the Baroque and Renaissance eras.

mbm-2016

The first performance is this Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m., preceded by 6:45 lecture, in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams) of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

The second is this coming Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3:30 p.m., preceded by a 2:45 lecture, at the Holy Wisdom Monastery (below), 4200 County Highway M in Middleton.

Holy Wisdom Monastery interior

If bought in advance, tickets are $28 for the general public and $23 for students and seniors over 65; at the door tickets will be $30 and $25, respectively. Student rush tickets are $10, require a student ID and are available 30 minutes before the lectures. For more information, visit www.madisonbachmusicians.org

The program features: Sonata in Four Parts in F major “Golden Sonata” by  Henry Purcell (1659−1695); Suite No. 2 in D major from “Consort of Four Parts” by Matthew Locke (c. 1621−1677); Songs to texts by William Shakespeare by Robert Johnson (1583−1633); “Diverse bizzarie Spra La Vecchia” by Nicola Matteis (c. 1650−c. 1709); Division No. 7 for two bass viols by Christopher Simpson (c. 1606−1669); “Solus cum sola” for solo lute solo  by John Dowland (1563−1626); “The Broken Consort” Part 1, Suite no. 2 in G major by Matthew Locke; “The Carman’s Whistle” by William Byrd (c. 1540−1623); “Light of Love” by Anonymous as arranged by David Douglass; “John Come Kiss Me Now” by John Playford (1623−c. 1686) as arranged by David Douglass; “Long Cold Night” and “Queen’s Jig.”

Performers include: Dann Coakwell, tenor; David Walker, lute and theorbo; Kangwon Kim violin and concertmaster; Brandi Berry, violin; Anna Steinhoff and Martha Vallon, viola de gamba; and Trevor Stephenson, harpsichord.

mbm-playing-2016

PROGRAM NOTES

Here are some edited notes by MBM founder and director Trevor Stephenson (below):

Madison Bach Musicians is delighted to start off its 13th season with a foray into new repertoire for the group: English music from the Renaissance and Baroque.

A special feature of the program will be the recognition in song of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Both the smaller lute and the larger theorbo were considered ideal for accompanying the voice in songs, and the theorbo could project a bit better in larger ensembles.

Like the lute, the viola da gamba is also fretted, but it is bowed and not plucked. Moreover, the gamba is held between the legs, the “gams,” and its name literally means “viol of the legs.”

MBM Trevor Stephenson at Immanuel concertos

The baroque violins we’ll use in this program will be strung in the usual fashion of the 16th and 17th centuries, that is, with gut strings (from dried sheep intestine); and the bows will be of the Elizabethan “short” variety (shorter length, and with the stick arching away from the hair), which make them ideally suited for the intricate articulations and lively dance rhythms of this repertoire.

All of these instruments enjoyed great popularity in England during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Henry Purcell (below) flourished during the arts boom of the Restoration period under King Charles II and is widely known for his theater music and operas. However, he also wrote quite a bit of instrumental music.

The four parts of this sonata refers here not to numbers of movements, but to the number of simultaneous instrumental lines—in this case, four, which is notably different from the typical three-part (or trio sonata) Italianate texture of the 17th century.

purcell

The Purcell sonata is followed by an instrumental Suite in D major by Matthew Locke (c. 1621-1677). Locke was a close friend of the Purcell family and in particular of Purcell’s father, Henry Purcell Sr. The younger Henry Purcell wrote a musical elegy on Locke’s death in 1677.

Locke’s years of greatest musical activity in London began as the period of Puritanical Commonwealth rule, under Oliver Cromwell, was waning in the late 1650’s. The Commonwealth had severely restricted the theater and the arts in general. Fun fact: Locke (below) was the first composer to indicate a musical crescendo and decrescendo in a score.

matthew-locke

The texts for the songs are from various Elizabethan poets—John Fletcher, John Webster and Shakespeare himself—and all of the music was composed by lutenist Robert Johnson (below, 1583-1633).

Johnson worked closely with Shakespeare in theatrical productions at the court of James I during the first few years of the 17th century. Johnson even provided music for Shakespeare’s original production of “The Tempest.”

robert-johnson-lute

The first part of the MBM program will conclude with two works that explore a favorite 17th-century technique of ornamentation over a repeated bass line, sometimes called a ground bass or chaconne.

The first is by the Italian virtuoso violinist Nicola Matteis (below, in a painting by Gottfried Kneller, c. 1650-1709), who enjoyed a successful career in London during an era when the English were importing Italian music masters by the dozens.

nicola-matteis-by-godfrey-kneller

The second work, by Christopher Simpson (below, c. 1606-1669), explores “divisions” or variations tossed back and forth between two bass viols (gambas) while they simultaneously repeat a ground bass.

christopher-simpson

The second half of the program will feature songs for tenor and voice by John Dowland (below). We’ll also play Locke’s Broken Consort, “broken” meaning “mixed”–in that violins and gambas, which were considered in Elizabethan times to be artistically quite different instruments—were being asked by the composer to play nicely together.

John Dowland

Following that, I’ll play a rousing set of variations for harpsichord, “The Carman’s Whistle,” by William Byrd (below).

William Byrd

And to conclude the program, the consort will play a set of sprightly dances originally published in 1651 in the collection “The English Dancing Master” by John Playford (below).

john-playford

 

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Classical music: New York Polyphony opens the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival with a perfectly rendered composite portrait of Elizabethan sacred music. Plus, the winners of the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition are announced

July 11, 2016
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ALERT: In case you haven’t yet heard, the winners (below) of the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, held on Friday night in Mills Hall and accompanied by the Madison Bach Musicians, have been announced.

Eric Jurenas (center), countertenor, won First Prize; Christina Kay (right), soprano, won Second Prize; and Nola Richardson (left), soprano, won Third Prize and Audience Favorite.

Handel Aria winners 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear left the concert hall thinking: Well, this will be an easy review to write.

Just give it an A-plus.

An easy A-plus.

On Saturday night, the acclaimed a cappella quartet New York Polyphony (below) opened the 17th annual Madison Early Music Festival (MEMF) with a flawless performance.

new york polyphony

This year, the MEMF is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the death of poet and playwright William Shakespeare (below top) and the 45-year reign of Queen Elizabeth I (below bottom), who oversaw the English Renaissance.

shakespeare BW

Queen Elizabeth I

And the program – performed before a large house of perhaps 450 or 500 enthusiastic listeners — was perfectly in keeping with the festival’s theme. It used sacred music rather than stage music or secular music, which will be featured later in this week of concerts, workshops and pre-concert lectures.

In fact, the program of New York Polyphony was based on two of the group’s best-selling CDs for BIS Records and AVIE Records: “Tudor City” and “Times Goes by Turns.” It was roughly divided into two masses, one on each half. (You can hear a sample in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Adding to the variety was that each Anglican or Roman Catholic-based mass was a composite, with various sections made up like movements written by different composers. Thrown in for good measure were two separate short pieces, the “Ave Maria Mater Dei” by William Cornysh and the “Ave verum corpus” of William Byrd.

The Mass on the first half featured music by Byrd, John Dunstable, Walter Lambe and Thomas Tallis. The second half featured works music by Tallis, John Pyamour, John Plummer and excerpts from the Worcester Fragments. The section were typical: the Kyrie, Gloria in Excelsis, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.

There was nothing fancy about this concert, which marked the Wisconsin debut of New York Polyphony and which spotlighted superbly quiet virtuosity. The four dark-suited men, who occasionally split up, just stood on stage and opened their mouths and sang flawlessly with unerring pitch and superb diction.

New York Polyphony MEMF 2016

A cappella or unaccompanied singing is hard work, but the four men made it seem easy. The countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass each showed confidence and talent plus the ability to project clarity while not overshadowing each other. This was first-class singing.

The beautiful polyphony of the lines was wondrous to behold even, if like The Ear, sacred music from this era – with its chant-like rather than melodic qualities – is not your favorite fare.

New York Polyphony provided a good harbinger of the treats that will come this week at the MEMF from groups like the Newberry Consort of Chicago with soprano Ellen Hargis (below top) and the Baltimore Consort (below bottom) as well as from the faculty and workshop participants. On Friday night is an appealing program that focuses on Shakespeare’s sonnets and music.

MEMF newberry consort

Baltimore Consort

And on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., with a pre-concert lecture at 6:30 p.m., will be the All-Festival concert. That is always a must-hear great sampler of what you perhaps couldn’t get to earlier in the week. This year, it will feature the music as used in a typical Elizabethan day.

Here is a link to the MEMF website:

https://artsinstitute.wisc.edu/memf/

And here is a link the website of New York Polyphony if you want to hear more:

http://www.newyorkpolyphony.com


Classical music: Critic John W. Barker says Eliza’s Toyes impressively surveyed early British music while exploring the religious shift from Latin Catholicism to English Anglicanism. Plus, acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado dies at 80.

January 21, 2014
3 Comments

NEWS: As you have probably heard by now, the acclaimed Italian conductor Claudio Abbado (below) has died at 80. Here are links to some stories about this maestro who had such a varied and prolific career:

The New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/21/arts/music/claudio-abbado-italian-conductor-dies-at-80.html?_r=0

The Washington Post:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/claudio-abbado-age-italian-conductor-who-led-european-orchestras-into-modern-era/2014/01/20/d23c267c-30f7-11e3-8627-c5d7de0a046b_story.html

Claudio Abbado

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

It was a great pity that no more than 25 people turned out at the Gates of Heaven on Sunday afternoon for the latest program offered by Jerry Hui’s early-music group, Eliza’s Toyes (below, inside Gates of Heaven).

His program this time was a post-Christmas survey of English sacred music. The range of material ran from late-Medieval three-voice pieces through composers of the early 17th century, adding up to 13 selections in all.

Toyes in Gates - 2

This is the kind of music most regularly performed by a choir of some or another size, sometimes of mixed voices, sometimes in the British-cathedral style of all-male voices, with boys on the upper parts.

Hui (below) fielded a consort of six singers (three female, three male), so that each item was sung one singer per part — with a couple cases of a little doubling, I believe. While the result favored clarity against sonority, it must be said that, in certain full-textured items, some very lovely sonority was achieved.

Jerry Hui

My principal reservation was that the ordering of the program seemed aimed at a smooth variety of sounds, rather than at a demonstration of the momentous changes in English sacred composition. The key to those changes was the liturgical shift in the Anglican Reformation from motets setting traditional Latin texts to the new anthems with English texts.

The shift could be noted in the dominant composer of the program, the great William Byrd (1540-1623, below), represented by two Latin motets, and then an English anthem. “Sing joyfully”, which served as the dazzling finale (see the YouTube video at the bottom).

William Byrd

Byrd’s teacher, and then partner, Thomas Tallis (below), likewise spanned the reforming shifts, but was heard in one Latin motet, “O scrum convivium”, and a gorgeously harmonized Latin hymn, “O nata lux de lumina”. Earliest in the pre-Reformation lineup was Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521), whose five-voice setting of the Magnificat was in the traditional alternatim setting (odd-numbered verses of the canticle sung in chant, the even-numbered ones set polyphonically).

Thomas Tallis

On the other hand, a poignant victim of the Reformation was Peter Philips (1560-1628, below), a staunch Roman Catholic who fled his homeland for a successful career in Catholic music on the Continent. His five-voice “O beatum et sacrosanctum Deum” made a noble closer to the first part of the program.

Peter Philips

As for the Anglican, English-language composers, besides the case of Byrd, and besides the 15th-century para-liturgal songs, we had a rousing anthem by Christopher Tye (1505-1573, below top), “A sound of angels,” and, finally, a six-voice secular piece, “Music divine”, by the last survivor of the great era of Tudor music, Thomas Tomkins (1572-1656, below bottom).

christopher tye bw small

Thomas Tompkins

The six singers who have been making up Eliza’s Toyes have settled into a beautifully balanced and smooth ensemble. They listen to, and sing in sync with, each other. There is nothing else like them, as a continuing performing group for early sacred ensemble music in Madison. Although he is a UW-Madison graduate who now teaches at University of Wisconsin- Stout, Hui has kept up his association with the group, convinced of its need for continuity.

It is one more of those blessings that make Madison’s musical life so wonderfully rich!

 

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