December 16, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Reverie (The Australian Voices)

The most recent release by The Australian Voices is their first with current director Gordon Hamilton at the helm. As a composer, Hamilton is no stranger to eclecticism, and Reverie offers works that draw on classical, jazz and popular styles, with texts and subjects not limited to war, nonsense and political speech. The most classical offering is Hamilton’s arrangement of Australian-British composer and soldier Frederick Septimus Kelly’s Elegy – In Memoriam Rupert Brooke. It complements other reflective works by Hamilton on the disk, including a sombre meditation on the ANZAC experience, Dark Hour and the radiant, existentialist Who Are We? Graham Lack’s Reverie of Bone, with percussion by Claire Edwardes, dwells in a similar space. At odds with these more sober offerings are groove-driven works, like Lisa Young’s Misra Chappu and James Morrison’s Underwater Basket Weaving, a cute bluesy work featuring Morrison himself on trumpet. But top reason to own this disc is the diptych of politically themed works by Robert Davidson: Total Political Correctness, a musicalisation of the Trump-Kelly debate, and the viral internet sensation, Not Now, Not Ever! – Davidson’s reworking of Julia Gillard’s speech against misogyny. Hamilton says the works each “embrace… the banal in equal measure…

December 16, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Muffat: Missa In Labore Requies (Cappella Murensis)

Born in France of a German father and with Scottish forbears, Georg Muffat was something of a polyglot in more ways than one. As a result of his many travels, either for study or in search of work, Muffat was destined to introduce into Germany the fashionable baroque styles of both Italy and France, having met both Corelli and Lully. In his splendid and lavish 24-part Missa In Labore Requies, both styles happily coexist. It is thanks to Haydn, who possibly acquired the autograph score from Muffat’s son, that the Mass is still extant, even though it was neglected up until the 1990s probably because it was thought to be spurious. (It has now been authenticated.) The abbey church at Muri in Switzerland, with its four galleries and two organs is a wonderfully apt recording venue. Such spatial differentiation is reminiscent of the four organ galleries of Salzburg Cathedral. The cathedral was possibly the venue for which the work was originally written, as Muffat had to return from a study tour to assist in the celebrations for the 1,100th anniversary of the founding of the diocese. The musical forces of the Mass are divided into five groups – two choral…

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Arnold & Hugo de Lantins: Secular Works (La Miroir de Musique)

The music of the Medieval and early Renaissance is a startlingly unfamiliar language for modern ears with its strange clashes and cadences. Thanks to the tireless work of scholars, specialist performers and boutique labels, nowadays we can immerse ourselves in order to become sufficiently ‘fluent’, yet one can only wonder at what emotional responses this music must have triggered in the average 14th-century listener. Next to the big names of the Burgundian School, Arnold and Hugo de Lantins were second league but their works pop up in various codices alongside Dufay and Binchois. Little is known about Arnold but even less about Hugo – we’re not even sure they were brothers – but they were both clerics in the diocese of Liège. The first evidence of their work appeared in Northern Italy. This recital by Le Miroir De Musique, a superb ensemble of four singers and six instrumentalists, offers a lovely programme of secular chansons and rondeaux interspersed with instrumental arrangements.  The vocalists here strike an ideal balance of disciplined purity with an unforced, open vocal delivery. Clara Coutouly is especially enchanting in her solo turns Hélas amour, que ce qu’endure and Puis que je voy, belle, que ne m’aimes;…

November 17, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Lobo: Lamentations (Westminster Cathedral Choir)

Listening to Alonso Lobo’s music it is easy to understand why the great Victoria considered him an equal. Having trained under Francisco Guerrero at the cathedral of Seville, Lobo was appointed as his teacher’s assistant in 1591, but was two years later appointed to the prestigious post of maestro de capilla at Toledo cathedral. There he remained for a successful decade before returning to Seville in 1604 where he worked until his death in 1617. This impressive programme begins with Guerrero’s Easter motet, Maria Magdalena et Altera Maria followed by Lobo’s own Missa Maria Magdalene. Lobo’s homage to his master is also sumptuously cast in six parts and is full of wonderfully awe-inspiring moments, such as the Et Incarnatus and the Osanna in Excelsis. Such was Lobo’s fame his music was often copied, finding its way to other countries and even to the New World. This is particularly fortunate in the case of his Lamentations. Two sets were written, but only one is performable, and that in a manuscript from 1772. Written to be performed in a darkened church during Holy Week, each lamentation begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is set with flowing melismas, creating a mood…

November 10, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Soar

Excellence. If you want to hear some, listen to the first track of Gondwana Chorale’s debut album Soar. The opener, Dan Walker’s Concierto del Sur, offers us a breath of life as this exquisitely produced recording brings together more than 50 of the brightest young singers in modern Australia. The dynamic texture of Orlovich’s Butterflies Dance continues the journey of divine music and sound, while another highlight is Abbott’s Fool – a percussive and masterfully articulated song from Words of Wisdom, a collection of works drawing on newspaper quotes. Also of note is the strength in upper voices found in Lament to Saint Cecilia by Stanhope. Gondwana’s voices are worthy of a five-star review. But something about this album doesn’t sit right. The bold cover photography shows our blue sky and red land; inside, notes boast “new Australian works that capture the mystery and grandeur of our land” sung by children of dairy farmers and flying doctors. The inclusion here of sacred works from Guerrero, Monteverdi and Rachmaninov does not represent contemporary Australia, nor does it push to establish a national sound from a young generation of singers. And with their talent, they have the power to unite people in…

November 10, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: English Romantic Madrigals

Jeremy Dibble, indefatigable scholar of all things English, Romantic and musical, has exhumed a sizeable body of madrigals written in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Some of the composer’s names will be familiar: Elgar, Stanford and Parry. Some choristers will be familiar with Stainer, whose oratorio, The Crucifixion makes an annual appearance on Good Friday at St. Paul’s, Melbourne. The names of Leslie, Goodhart and Pearsall will more often than not draw a blank. Pearsall is best known for his arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo in Willcocks’ Carols for Choirs 1. Encouraged by societies who ran competitions with generous prizes, these composers and many others turned their hand to the form of the madrigal, attempting on the one hand to evoke something “antique” and on the other to push the form’s harmonic and textural envelope in new directions. Victorian prudery is evident in the lack of any salacious Elizabethan texts. Hard by a Crystal Fountain and Come Again, Sweet Love are definitely out. Stanford and Pearsall, each in their own way, are the best of this bunch. Stanford unashamedly displays his ‘modernist’ credentials in daring but deftly handled harmonies in God and the Universe and On Time. Pearsall in ‘antiquarian’ mode…

November 10, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Zelenka: Missa Divi Zaveri & Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio

A composer of Catholic liturgical music in a Lutheran society, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) was fighting an uphill battle for popularity even during his own lifetime. After his death, his music all but disappeared from the repertoire, and still remains firmly on the fringes of concert programming. One ensemble, however, is doing more than any to change this. For over 20 years, Czech conductor Václav Luks and his superb Collegium 1704 choir and orchestra have been turning out eloquent recordings that celebrate the  intricate counterpoint and bold harmonic gestures of the composer JS Bach so admired. Their latest is particularly interesting: a world premiere recording of the Missa Divi Zaveri, a major 1729 work thus far silenced by the poor condition (including lost parts) of its surviving manuscript. Now Luks himself has produced a complete edition, and the results are thrilling. The Mass features the largest forces Zelenka ever composed for, including four trumpets, timpani, doubled flutes and oboes as well as strings, chorus and SATB soloists. The result is truly festal in scale, possibly an informal audition for the job of kapellmeister at Dresden that would eventually go to Hasse.  With no Credo, the centre of musical gravity shifts…

October 21, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Lotti: Crucifixus

Maestro di Cappella of St. Mark’s Venice, author of over 20 operas and nearly 150 sacred works, teacher of Marcello, Galuppi and Zelenka and admired by Bach and Handel, Antonio Lotti’s diverse and successful career has latterly been distilled down to just two pieces: the unaccompanied Crucifixus settings for eight and ten voices. Now, in a recording dominated by contemporary premieres, Ben Palmer and his Syred Consort attempt to fill in the gaps and restore the reputation of this Baroque master. This is music that sells itself. In Ben Byram-Wigfield’s new editions, it emerges lively with rhythmic interest, texts carefully shaded with word-painting and contrasting solo and ensemble colours, supported by light-footed orchestral accompaniments. These are large-scale festal works of tremendous charm. Where Lotti does fall short of his near-contemporary Vivaldi is in melody. More interested in vertical texture than horizontal line (as both Crucifixus settings so clearly demonstrate), individual vocal parts do suffer from a certain anonymity.  Both Lotti’s Crucixifus a8 and his a6 setting form part of larger stand-alone, Credos. The former is presented here as part of the Missa Sancti Christophori – a composite work created from Lotti’s individual Mass movements by his pupil Zelenka (and supplemented…

October 21, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Where’er You Walk

We’re so used to hearing Handel recitals from sopranos or countertenors that one from a tenor is somewhat of a novelty, and we have to go back to Mark Padmore’s terrific 2007 release As Steals the Morn for something comparable. Basses fare even less well, and Bryn Terfel’s Handel Arias is now almost 20-years old. So English tenor Allan Clayton’s recital focusing on songs either written for or sung by the great Handelian tenor John Beard (c.1715-1791), who seems not only to have had a fine voice but acting skills to match, is most welcome. Beard created some of Handel’s most famous roles, including Samson, of which there are excerpts from not only that version but William Boyce’s; there are also arias from Ariodante, Alcina and Semele, as well as from Judas Maccabaeus, Samson, Jephtha, Alexander’s Feast and more. For As steals the morn from L’Allegro, Clayton is joined by soprano Mary Bevan; for Happy Pair from Alexander’s Feast, the Choir of Classical Opera; the recording opens with Sol nel mezzo risona del core from Il Pastor Fido, in which Bevan duets with James Eastaway’s sweetly plangent oboe. Of course the orchestral playing under the ever-musical direction of Ian Page…

October 21, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Monday’s Child

This is the third instalment in Stone Records’ fine series resurrecting Australian Art Songs that are “united in their unwarranted neglect,” as David Wickham puts it in his comprehensive liner notes.Soprano Lisa Harper-Brown and pianist Wickham both performed on the first two discs in the series; this third is a slight departure in its inclusion of works also scored for oboe and clarinet. It also features soprano Katja Webb, a graduate of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts based at Edith Cowan University, where this album was recorded. Margaret Sutherland is heavily represented, with the two cycles Five Songs and Three Songs for Voice and Clarinet, as well as The Orange Tree and The Gentle Water Bird. Three of Geoffrey Allen’s cycles, Nursery Rhymes, Stile and Stump and Four Songs are included here, along with two by Melbourne composer Dorian Le Gallienne. This collection of material is dominated by themes relating to children, from settings of nursery rhymes to more oblique references to the life cycle. Webb’s fruity soprano is lithe and adventurous, tackling this little-heard repertoire with thoughtful poise and relish; Wickham is precise and sympathetic. This is an important series noteworthy for its excavations of musical expressions…

October 13, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Liszt: The Complete Songs Volume 4

Liszt has always struck me as a latter-day John Donne: passionate, creative and a ladies’ man in his youth; turning more inwards and closer to God later in life; yet ultimately leading a conflicted life, since both states coexisted in one form or another from the start. That’s what makes Hyperion’s non-chronological complete survey of Liszt’s songs such a fascinating listening experience – apart, of course, from the quality of the songs themselves and the superlative nature of the performances. One gets the whole man, rather than just a slice. Previous volumes from Julius Drake with tenor Matthew Polenzani, mezzo Angelika Kirchschlager and bass-baritone Gerald Finley have already set the bar high. But Grammy Award-winning American mezzo Sasha Cooke is right up there, with a voice as rich and responsive as her musicality. The majority of the songs here, drawn from across a 37-year period, tend towards the introspective and one has only to listen to the lush repose of the opening Des Tages laute Stimmen Schweigen Cooke evokes as the day draws to an end. Or the tastefully characterised romantic drama of Il m’aimait tant! Or the delicate rendering of Liszt’s marvelous setting of Blume und Duft, or the…

October 13, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Roma æterna

At first glance, you may wonder whether we need yet another disc of some of the Counter-Reformation’s greatest hits. Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli, Tu Es Petrus and Sicut Cervus as well as Victoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum have been recorded countless times and surely there are many interesting and lesser-known pieces to explore? After all, Palestrina did write at least 104 masses and how many of those do we get to hear? These are quite legitimate questions, but New York Polyphony makes a plausible case for saying there’s always room for one more account of core repertory. The group’s main point of difference from previous recordings is that they perform the music one voice to a part and at a pitch to accommodate their four male voices (countertenor, tenor, baritone and bass). The fine quartet of main singers (Geoffrey Williams, Steven Caldicott Wilson, Christopher Dylan Herbert and Craig Phillips) are joined by countertenor Tim Keeler; tenor Andrew Fuchs and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody for the Palestrina mass and motet, and for some chant propers for Easter that are interwoven with the mass. Singing the Missa Papae Marcelli a fourth below its regular pitch creates quite a different sound world, particularly requiring…

September 30, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Decades: A Century of Song Volume 1 (1810-1820)

The big hitters of 19th-century song are well known, but how did they earn their reputations, who were their respected contemporaries, and how did the art form progress over time? It’s always been easy for a competent, or even an inspired composer, to get buried by the sheer overwhelming enthusiasm for a Beethoven or a Brahms, so a chance to examine the development of song from 1810 to 1910, decade by decade, might be expected to throw up a few surprises. And so it proves in the first of an excellently curated series from accompanist Malcolm Martineau and a stellar quintet of leading singers. Taking Schubert’s miracle years – 1815 and 1816 – as its starting point, Martineau chooses 16 of his finest as a peg on which to hang a thoroughgoing and eclectic selection of the greatest Lieder and song that were around at the time. Ranging across Europe, we visit Spain, Italy, Czechoslovakia, German  and France in a song lover’s magical mystery tour. The under-recorded Canadian tenor Michael Schade gets the lion’s share of the disc and the majority of the Schubert. Like Peter Schreier, to whom he bears a striking vocal resemblance, he’s a dab hand with…

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