musica Dei donum
Festival Early Music Utrecht 2013
Part One Part Two Part Three
Georg Muffat: Missa in labore requies 
Soloists of the St. Florianer Sängerknaben (soprano, alto), Markus Forster (alto), Markus Miesenberger, Bernd Lambauer (tenor), Gerhard Kenda, Matthias Helm (bass), Ars Antiqua Austria/Gunar Letzbor
August 23, Cathedral [Dom]
Ursula Dütschler, harpsichord 
Froberger, JW Hertel, D Scarlatti
August 23, Nieuwegracht 19b
Le Jardin Secret 
"Music of consolation for an exiled King"
August 24, Lutheran Church
Lassus: "Lassus in a time of crisis" 
Egidius Kwartet & guests
August 24, Pieterskerk
Le Parnasse Français/Louis Castelain 
"The grand motet: a journey across Europe"
August 24, Jacobikerk
Lassus: "Unlimited versatility" 
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
August 26, Cathedral [Domkerk]
Lassus, De Monte
August 26, Pieterskerk
In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht was signed, which brought a period of wars and military conflicts to an end. The Peace of Utrecht is commemorated this year, not the least in the city where the conference which led to the treaty took place. Inevitably the Festival Early Music chose it as its theme for the 2013 festival, the 32nd edition of this major event in the early music world. However, there isn't much music which is directly related to the Peace of Utrecht. Therefore the subject was extended to 'Europe': in his foreword in the programme book José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, writes: "Utrecht became the cradle of a new concept of European identity, a concept formed in the spirit of the early 18th century and based on rationality and common interest rather than armed conflict". Later on he states: "Indeed culture is the cement that binds Europe together".
This is not the place to dwell further on the idea of Europe as a cultural identity as far as the baroque era is concerned. Maybe I return to this subject in more detail later in my weblog. Suffice to say that it inspired to the election of four composers as composers in residence because of the 'European' character of their oeuvre: Johannes Ciconia, Orlandus Lassus, Johann Jacob Froberger and Georg Muffat. Only the latter specifically intended to create a musical language which was truly 'European'. In the case of the other three composers their oeuvre shows the various styles in vogue in their time. Looking at the programme one could say that it is the cross-fertilization between the various styles which is the thread of this year's festival.
The opening concert was devoted to Georg Muffat, who seems to have composed almost only instrumental music. This reflects his ideals just mentioned. However, Gunar Letzbor performed his only sacred composition, the 24-part Missa in labore requies . It is not known for sure when it was written, but stylistically it very much resembles the sacred music written in Salzburg towards the end of the 17th century, for instance by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. It is known that Muffat composed some operas which have been lost. Apparently he hasn't written any religious music, which is a big shame as this work shows his qualities in the setting of a text. Very effective are the daring harmonies in the 'Crucifixus', and the use of mutes by the trumpets in various episodes. Also notable are the gently swaying rhythms in the 'Laudamus te' (Gloria) and the beginning of the Sanctus. The cornetts, trumpets and sackbuts play an important role in this mass, and that causes some problems in regard to balance. Add to that the complicated acoustic of the Cathedral, and one understands that it is anything but easy to perform this work. Letzbor avoided too swift tempi, and paid much attention to the delivery. Whether the audience at the far end of the church have been able to hear everything is questionable, though. That goes especially for the passages which were sung by the boys of the St. Florianer Sängerknaben. Some voices were not that strong, but the singing was rather good. From a historical point of view the use of boys' and men's voices is to be preferred, and musically the performances were convincing. The splendour of this mass came off pretty well. Next year Gunar Letzbor will be one of the artists in residence of the festival and I hope the St. Florianer Sängerknaben will again participate.
As the capacity of the Cathedral is limited, the opening concert is reduced to less than an hour and is then repeated. The audience which have attended the first performance is then expected to spread across the inner city where salon concerts are given in private homes and public buildings. I landed in an apartment where the harpsichordist Ursula Dütschler played a programme with a suite by Froberger, two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti and two sonatas by Johann Wilhelm Hertel . The latter were especially interesting as Hertel is a lesser-known master of the generation of the sons of Bach and the two sonatas are from a set of six which has only recently been rediscovered. Ms Dütschler has made a recording of these sonatas. If the whole set is of the same quality as the two sonatas she played her recording is something to look out for. They include several elements which we also know from the keyboard oeuvre of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
Orlandus Lassus is another true cosmopolitan composer whose travels brought him into contact with the various styles in Europe. He spoke several languages and set texts in Dutch, German, French, Italian and Latin. For many years he was at the helm of one of the most splendid chapels in Europe, at the court of Munich. It gave him unique opportunities for composing and performing music according to his own ideals. However, the position of composers and performing musicians was always insecure. Political events could have serious financial repercussions, and as a result of that the possibilities for performing music could be strongly reduced. Lassus also had to deal with such a situation. The Egidius Kwartet performed a programme under the title of "Lassus in a time of crisis" . Between 1575 and 1580 the financial empire of his patron, Duke Albrecht, collapsed. The chapel was severely reduced, and Lassus started to compose motets for the unusual scoring of just two voices. The Egidius Kwartet, extended by two additional singers, performed a variety of pieces: Latin motets and secular works on French and on German texts. These were alternated by two-part instrumental bicinia, played by Susanne Braumann and Lucia Krommer on viola da gamba. The vocal ensemble produces a beautiful and balanced sound, based on an excellent blending of the voices. The delivery was pretty good, although the acoustic of the Pieterskerk doesn't make that very easy. Thanks to the choice of repertoire and the interpretation this concert was the perfect start of a journey across the oeuvre of one of the greatest composers of the renaissance.
Paul Van Nevel is artist in residence in this year's festival. In three concerts with his Huelgas Ensemble he sheds light on various aspects of the oeuvre of Lassus. The first concert was entitled "Unlimited versatility" . It was divided into seven sections: "the melancholic", "the architect", "the believer", "the humorist", "the homo ludens", "the humanist" and "the lover". The traits of his personality are only relevant if they are expressed in his music. That seems to be the case, and in that respect he probably was quite unique in his time. One of the most odd pieces was performed in the section homo ludens: the first lines of the Psalm Super flumina Babylonis are completely taken apart into single syllables or groups of syllables. An example of "fiddling", as Van Nevel called it, but then of a more intellectual kind. Such intellectual games were quite popular among representatives of the Franco-Flemish school. The programme received a brilliant performance, in which the various combinations of voices guaranteed an ideal balance within the ensemble, without any voice group dominating. The delivery was as good as the acoustic of the Cathedral allows, due to the declamatory approach of Van Nevel. Notable was also the subtle dynamic shading. Subtlety is the name of the game in Van Nevel's performances anyway, as the humor in some pieces isn't laid on thick.
The renowned vocal ensemble Cinquecento made its festival debut with a programme of music by Lassus and his contemporary Philippus de Monte . The latter's music was a foretaste of what is to come next year when De Monte will be one of the composers in residence. That is fully deserved: this concert proved that the relative neglect of his oeuvre is unjustified. Cinquecento sang three beautiful motets: Gaudent in caelis, Miserere mei and In monte Oliveti and two parts from his Missa Ultimi miei sospiri. Also on the programme a motet on a secular text, Nymphae, parentes, followed by Lassus' Dulces exuviae on a text from Virgil' Aeneis. The latter piece was also performed earlier by the Huelgas Ensemble. Although several members of Cinquecento also sing in Van Nevel's ensemble now and then, their approach is quite different. Whereas the latter opts for a declamatory way of singing, Cinquecento's performance is more linear, in the tradition of ensembles like Pro Cantione Antiqua and the Hilliard Ensemble. I don't know what comes closer to the truth - if there is something like that in these matters. The singing of Cinquecento is superb by any standard. The upper voices are sung by male altos - Terry Wey and Marnix De Cat (replacing Jakob Huppmann) - which naturally tend to dominate, but the lower voices have enough presence to create a satisfying balance. The highlight of the concert was Lassus' magnificent Magnificat super Praeter rerum seriem. It is to be hoped that Cinquecento will be back next year with music by De Monte.
During the 17th century the Italian style disseminated across Europe. Many composers, in particular in Germany, enthusiastically embraced the brilliant concertante style which developed in Italy in the early decades of the century. In the second half the French style started to attract attention as well, partly in competition with the Italian taste. That was largely due to Jean-Baptiste Lully, himself of Italian birth, and the dominant composer in France. Some German composers went to France to study with him or at least to become acquainted with the developments at the music scene. The orchestral suite as it was written by various German composers was a result of this interest in French music. Le Parnasse Français, conducted by Louis Castelain , paid attention to another genre of French music which was imitated by non-French composers, although their music of this kind was written for performance in France: the grand motet. It was due to its specific texture that it was not easy to perform such works outside France. Grands motets, mostly on texts from the Book of Psalms, were scored for solo voices, 5-part small and large choir with orchestra. Lully not only laid the foundation for French opera, and with it the orchestral suite, but also for the grand motet. Plaude laetare Gallia, a Canticum pro baptismo Delphini, is an exception in that it is written on a free poetic text and was composed for the christening of the dauphin, a reason for 'Gallia' - according to the text - to enjoy and sing. This motet opened the concert, and was followed by a Regina coeli by Clérambault.
The other composers in the programme were foreigners. Antonio Biffi (1666/7-1733) was maestro di cappella of San Marco in Venice, and was invited to compose a grand motet by Philippe d'Orléans, nephew of Louis XIV and an ardent lover of Venetian music. Biffi's Miserere follows the pattern of the grand motet, but includes more solo episodes than was usual in French compositions of this kind. Some sections which, according to the booklet, are scored for soprano, were sung by an unnamed male alto from the choir. That seems rather odd as in France falsetto singing was not really appreciated. The sections scored for 'countertenor' were shared by the same singer and the hautecontre Jeffrey Thompson. The latter has a nice voice, but I didn't like his sometimes wild outbursts. I was more impressed by the balanced and tasteful performances of the tenor Marc Mauillon. The sopranos Eugénie Warnier and Hasnaa Bennani should have reduced their vibrato. A German composer who was strongly attracted to the French style was Georg Philipp Telemann. During a stay in Paris he composed the motet Deus judicium tuum, which bears witness to his mastery of the French style. Purcell's verse anthem My beloved spake was also included in the programme, because it was supposedly influenced by the French style. There is little doubt about Purcell being influenced by French music, but I didn't hear much French here. The verse anthem goes back to the late renaissance, this anthem has little in common with the grand motet as far as its structure is concerned and it is considerably more dramatic than the French motet.
With the textbook at hand I could follow the lyrics, but the delivery was less than ideal as the encore showed: I couldn't decide whether the text was in Latin or in German. However, the concert as a whole was quite enjoyable, and especially the unknown piece by Biffi was a nice surprise.
In 1688 the English King James II was forced to leave his country in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. During his stay in France he could enjoy the richness of music life. Le Jardin Secret  presented a programme of music which he could have heard during that time, both Italian and French music. The programme could hardly have opened with a more suitable piece than an aria from L'Europe Galante by André Campra. Not only because the title and character of this work itself, but also because Campra was one of the most Italian-influenced composers of the French baroque. The other was Marc-Antoine Charpentier, who was also represented in the programme. Pièce de résistance was a piece by Giacomo Carissimi, probably Charpentier's teacher during his stay in Rome. It is a lament on the death of Mary I Stuart, Queen of Scotland, who was executed in 1587, not - as the programme notes suggested - because she was Catholic, but because she plotted against Elizabeth I. This piece demands a rhythmically free approach and a declamatory performance of the text. Elizabeth Dobbins certainly met the requirements, but even so the performance was a bit bland. That seems mainly due to a lack of variety in the colouring of her voice. It could have been more dramatic and engrossing. Fortunately the other vocal items came off quite well. However, the Italian pronunciation of Latin texts was disappointing as was the omission of a historically accurate pronunciation of French.
Jos Van Immerseel, harpsichord 
August 24, auditorium University
David Van Bouwel, harpsichord 
Diruta, Frescobaldi, Froberger, Luzzaschi, E Pasquini, M Rossi
August 26, Lutheran Church
Roberta Invernizzi, soprano; Salvo Vitale, bass; Ghislieri Choir & Consort/Giulio Prandi 
August 26, Jacobikerk
Emma Kirkby, soprano; Jakob Lindberg, lute 
"In darkness let me dwell"
August 27, aula University
Jean-Marc Aymes, harpsichord 
August 27, Lutheran Church
Lassus: Sacrae Cantiones (1562) 
August 27, Pieterskerk
Stile Antico 
"Lassus & Gombert: Principes musicorum"
August 27, Cathedral [Dom]
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel 
Lassus, Le Jeune
August 27, Pieterskerk
Froberger: "A personal anthology" 
Bob van Asperen, harpsichord
August 28, Lutheran Church
The Brabant Ensemble/Stephen Rice 
Lassus, De Rore
August 28, Pieterskerk
Currende/Erik Van Nevel 
Hassler, Lassus, Le Febure, Utendal
August 28, Cathedral [Dom]
Les Cyclopes/Bibiane Lapointe, Thierry Maeder 
"Froberger's motets in context" (Bertali, Froberger, Hofer, Weckmann)
August 28, Pieterskerk
Laurent Stewart, harpsichord 
Froberger, Louis Couperin
August 29, Lutheran Church
One of the composers in residence of this year's festival is Johann Jacob Froberger. Not long ago I read in a CD booklet that his music isn't played very often. That seems rather exaggerated: there are plenty of discs with his music on the market and he is regularly included in keyboard recitals. He has also been played in previous editions of this festival. However, the series of harpsichord recitals in which he is the central figure didn't attract that large an audience. I didn't check how many people attended the first recital, given by Jos Van Immerseel, but in the next week the Lutheran Church was only completely filled during the recital by Bob van Asperen. I doubt whether that has anything to do with the harpsichord as such: last year's recitals around Sweelinck were far better attended, if memory serves me well.
Today Jos Van Immerseel is mostly associated with 19th-century music, both in his capacity as a soloist on the fortepiano and as conductor of his orchestra Anima Eterna. His first instrument was the harpsichord, though, and it was nice to hear him with a programme of music by Byrd and Froberger . The combination could cause some surprise as these two composers seem to represent two different worlds. It was probably Van Immerseel's intention to show the development in the keyboard music of the 17th century, and if that is the case that came off pretty well. Byrd's music is dominated by counterpoint; as an example Van Immerseel played his Fantasia in a minor (MB 13). Rhythmic liberties are out of order here, in contrast to the two toccatas and the capriccio by Froberger which he played and which have strong improvisatory traits. These contrasts were worked out well. Froberger's oeuvre also includes some very personal touches, especially his various lamentos. Van Immerseel closed his recital with the Suite XII in C which opens with a lamento on the death of Ferdinand IV, son of the Habsburg emperor Ferdinand III. It ends with a rising figure depicting his admission into heaven. I know recordings in which that episode is repeated, but that defies any logic. Van Immerseel, very much aware of the role of rhetorics in music, played it just once, as I expected. This suite brought a compelling performance to a close.
On Monday the Belgian harpsichordist David Van Bouwel  played an interesting programme in which he shed light on the connection between Froberger and his teacher Frescobaldi, but also via him the keyboard composers of the previous generation, represented here by Luzzasco Luzzaschi - Frescobaldi's teacher - and Ercole Pasquini. The programme showed the emergence of the stylus phantasticus which has strong improvisatory traits. The juxtaposition of strictness and freedom was demonstrated in the various forms: on the one hand ricercar, fantasia and canzona, in which counterpoint dominates, on the other hand the toccata and the capriccio which are more subjective and show more rhythmic freedom. Van Bouwel's performance was rather introverted. There is nothing wrong with it, and I enjoyed his recital. In some cases a more dramatic approach would have been preferable, for instance in the Toccata VII by Michelangelo Rossi, another Frescobaldi pupil.
On Tuesday Jean-Marc Aymes  played a programme of music by Frescobaldi and Froberger. He wanted to show that Froberger was influenced by the Italian master, but in the end was his own man - that is to say, in the music which has come down to us. It should not be forgotten that his first book with keyboard music has been lost. Aymes also wanted to demonstrate that there is some influence from the North-German organ school and its roots in Sweelinck and the English virginalists in Froberger's oeuvre. Aymes' interpretation was lively and full of contrast, and clearly more extraverted than Van Bouwel's. The Suite XIV allowed a direct comparison: Aymes' performance was more colourful and differentiated. The theatrical traits - for instance sudden general pauses - came off very well. This is music in the stylus phantasticus after all.
Bob van Asperen has recorded the complete keyboard works by Froberger (Aeolus). His concert on Wednesday was entitled "A personal anthology" . I assumed that meant that he would play his personal choice from Froberger's output, but in fact there was a hidden meaning in it. The word "personal" also regarded the quite subjective character of the music he had chosen. Four of the five suites he played start with a movement which has a title. It can refer to an event, like a journey to England. It also can indicate a piece of a reflective character, like the "meditation on my future death", which opens the Suite XX. In some cases Van Asperen read the explanation by Froberger himself. He played these movements quite well, expressive but without any sentimentality. In the fast movements I found it sometimes hard to follow the discourse, because of the fast tempi and as a result an articulation which was less clear than I would have liked. The five suites made the French style dominate; the only exception was the Toccata III in G whose improvisatory character was perfectly realised.
The series came to an end with a recital by Laurent Stewart, who played music by Froberger and Louis Couperin . That makes a lot of sense as they knew each other well and influenced each other. Froberger adopted elements of the French style - although some of them were already present in his oeuvre before he met his French colleague - and Couperin, for his part, included elements of the Italian style into his music. As to document the acquaintance of the two masters Stewart started off his recital with the Prélude à l'imitation de Froberger by Louis Couperin. It was followed by the Suite XXX by Froberger which Bob van Asperen had played the day before. In previous editions of the festival the organisation tried to avoid such duplications, but apparently that has not been done this year. That is a shame, because as a result we have heard several pieces twice and a large part of Froberger's oeuvre not at all. One could argue that the duplication allows a comparision between the interpreters, but I assume that this is something most people in the audience are not that much interested in. It is also often a matter of detailed analysis - something for specialists, not for the general lover of early music. Anyway, if there is something to say about the two interpretations it is probably that Stewart's tempi are generally a little slower, and that his playing is more poetic than Van Asperen's. That is no criticism of the latter: there is more than one legitimate approach to music, and I assume that the interpretation has also something to do with the performer's own personality. Stewart ended with the Suite XX, which opens with a Méditation sur ma mort future, another piece Van Asperen had played. This movement was played very slowly - a little too slowly for my taste, but thanks to the poetic playing of Stewart it was certainly not dull and one never had the feeling that it was just dragging on. He also played Froberger's Partita Auff die Maÿerin and a short suite by Louis Couperin, ending with a beautiful chaconne. Laurent Stewart's recital was the beautiful closing chord of an interesting and rewarding series of recitals.
However, that is not all as far as Froberger is concerned. Although he - in contrast to most of his contemporaries - composed in only one genre, his oeuvre includes two vocal pieces. Alleluia Absorpta est mors and Apparuerunt apostolis are sacred concertos for three voices, two violins and bc. The former is a piece for Easter, the latter for Pentecost. They are written in the style of the stile nuovo which had emerged in Italy in the early decades of the 17th century. I wouldn't say that these are world-shaking discoveries, but they are nice additions to the repertoire and there is no reason to neglect them. They were nicely sung by Eva Zaïcik (mezzo-soprano), Robert Getchell (tenor) and Andreas Wolf (bass) with Les Cyclopes, directed by Bibiane Lapointe and Thierry Maeder . These two sacred concertos were presented within their historical context. Because of that the programme started with two pieces by Antonio Bertali, who was from 1649 to 1669 Kapellmeister at the imperial court in Vienna, where Froberger also worked for a number of years. The strings gave a fine performance of the Sonata Tausend Gulden. It was followed by the Lamento della Regina d'Inghliterra in which Queen Henrietta Maria deplores the death of her husband, King Charles I. This piece asks for true recitar cantando (speechlike singing), and that is something which was lost on Eugénie Warnier. She sang mostly very loud, confusing volume with expression. The text was not communicated convincingly, and the whole performance was rather undifferentiated. Her incessant vibrato didn't make things any better. The sacred concerto Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste by Matthias Weckmann, a close friend of Froberger's, written at the occasion of the plague which made many victims in Hamburg in 1663, came off much better, thanks to the excellent interpretation by Eva Zaïcik and Andreas Wolf. The desolation which this piece expresses was perfectly communicated.
Let me turn to Lassus. In several concerts his work was presented together with music by his contemporaries. However, I would like to start with a most interesting concert with motets from the collection Cantiones Sacrae of 1562 . Anne Smith, originally a recorder player, intensively studies the relationship between rhetorics and the music of the renaissance. She selected some of her best students at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and brought them together in an ensemble with the telling name Oratori. She refers to a book by Joachim Burmeister of 1601 who frequently mentions motets from Lassus' Cantiones Sacrae as examples of the use of 'musical figures' as ornaments to enhance the meaning of the text. The composer is an orator, and the performer must be aware of the figures he uses to communicate the meaning of the text. He also needs to emphasize elements in the text, for instance through dynamics, articulation or variation in tempo. This is a very interesting subject, but also a bit frustrating for an audience: one needs a 'dictionary' in order to understand which figures are used for which purpose. Some things are obvious enough, but there are also many passages where one has to guess which figures are used. Even so, the concert was an equivocal success: the five singers had very fine voices which blended perfectly. The delivery was something which they have to work on, and the general use of a German pronunciation of Latin is rather questionable.
The British vocal ensemble Stile Antico sang music by Lassus and by his older colleague Nicolas Gombert . The differences between these two composers are quite striking, especially in regard to the treatment of the text. I have never been able to discover any connection between text and music in Gombert's oeuvre. This concert only offered a limited opportunity for a direct comparison: Gombert was represented by sections from his Missa Quam pulchra es and Lassus by motets on texts from the Song of Songs. It was especially the two settings of the Magnificat which showed a clear difference. Lassus doesn't miss the opportunity to illustrate the words 'dispersit superbos', but nothing of this kind can be found in Gombert's Magnificat 1. toni. He creates a cathedral of sound which is quite impressive and which came off brilliantly in the performance of Stile Antico. The ensemble is well aware of the differences between the two composers as their performance of Lassus' motets showed. It was more detailed, paid more attention to the text and the dynamic shading was more inspired by elements in the text. They could have gone further, though: the closing phrase of Veni in hortum meum was given a more expressive performance by Oratori. Stile Antico's performances were impressive, but could have been more differentiated, also in the way Latin is pronounced.
This concert raised the question to what extent the music of the renaissance is under the influence of rhetorics. Does that only concern the music from the second half of the 16th century, or even only Lassus? What about Gombert or composers of previous generations? Did they use figures to express the meaning of a text?
One could also ask whether performers who are not explicitly referring to rhetorics are unaware of its role in the music of the renaissance. Take Paul Van Nevel, for instance. I haven't heard or read anything from him about this subject, but in his performances with his Huelgas Ensemble he pays much attention to the text. That was also obvious in a concert in which he compared Lassus with his French contemporary Claude Le Jeune . Both knew each other's work quite well and - according to Van Nevel - quoted each other's compositions. In this concert several texts could be heard twice, first in a version by Lassus, then in a setting by Le Jeune. One has to conclude that there are more similarities than differences. Le Jeune is best known for his psalm settings and his chansons. Two specimens of the latter could be heard, one of them the superior Povre coeur which is notable for its daring harmonies. They reminded me of Lassus' secular motet Anna, mihi dilecta which the Huelgas Ensemble had performed the day before. It was once again a superb concert which was especially important as it shed light on the qualities of Le Jeune, whose music is still unjustly neglected.
The Brabant Ensemble, directed by Stephen Rice, confronted Lassus with Cipriano de Rore , today best known for his madrigals, such as Anchor che col partire. His sacred output is hardly known. In his programme notes Rice stated that Lassus and De Rore both paved the way for the stile nuovo which would manifest itself in the early 17th century. They did so especially in their treatment of the text. That didn't come off that well in the performances of The Brabant Ensemble. They sang very well, but have too much a lineair approach; the treatment of the text isn't detailed enough. In this respect the performances by Oratori and the Huelgas Ensemble were more convincing. Especially beautiful was De Rore's Missa super Doulce mémoire, based on the famous chanson by Pierre Sandrin. The musical material from this chanson was clearly audible in several passages of the mass.
In a way the programme of The Brabant Ensemble was continued by Currende, under the direction of Erik Van Nevel . Works by Lassus were mixed with pieces by his exact contemporary Alexander Utendal and two composers of the next generation: Hans Leo Hassler and Johannes Le Febure. Even more than in the previous concert the programme showed that a new style was in the wings. In Domine Deus meus Hassler juxtaposes high and low voices and repeats the phrase "in aeternum cantabo" several times in order to emphasize the infinity of God's praise. In Ad Dominum cum tribularer he makes use of chromaticism for the text: "In my distress I cried to the Lord". The concert ended with a piece for double choir by Le Febure, Doctor bonus. The close connection between text and music was emphasized in the performances by a clear articulation and eloquent dynamic shading. It was a most interesting and enjoyable concert.
I attended two concerts which had nothing to do with the theme of this year's festival. Firstly, a performance of a work which, according to the booklet, was only recently discovered in manuscript . The composer was Davide Perez (1711-1778) who is a rather unknown quantity, although one of his oratorios was performed in a previous edition of the festival. The work in question is the Mattutino de’ Morti which was composed in Lisbon in 1770. It integrates the liturgy for pilgrims into the Office for the Dead, and was composed for use in the yearly commemoration of deceased pilgrims and brothers. Shortly after the premiere the Order of St. Cecilia adopted the work for use in the yearly services in honour of deceased musicians. If this is a real rediscovery is something I can't check. I noticed that New Grove mentions an edition printed in London in 1774. It is a pretty long piece which was slightly cut but can be heard complete in the upcoming CD recording (deutsche harmonia mundi). The scoring is for six solo voices (SSATBB), choir and an orchestra in which trumpets and horns play a prominent role. This makes a performance quite noisy, which can be explained from the text which is about the Last Judgement. If you know the text of the Dies irae, then you get the idea. The solo parts are operatic in character, including cadenzas. The connection between text and music is sometimes rather odd, as so often in sacred music of the classical era. Perez's work was preceded by the Stabat mater from the pen of Emanuele d'Astorga (1680-1751) which is much more baroque in style. It is hard to understand why this work is so seldom performed. Wouldn't it be better to perform this piece once in a while instead of Pergolesi's Stabat mater for the umpteenth time?
The performance was impressive. Choir and orchestra were excellent, and four of the six soloists were members of the choir. The other solo parts were sung by Roberta Invernizzi and Salvo Vitale; the latter had some very low notes to sing, which he did to perfection. However, it should not be overlooked that the soloists and the choir used more vibrato than is historically justified. It is something I can't get used to, and don't want to get used to. It is simply ugly. It is to be hoped that the CD recording will be better in this respect.
Secondly, I didn't want to miss the rare opportunity to hear Emma Kirkby live, as it has been a long time ago that she participated in the festival. At midnight she performed a programme with music suitable for this time of the day, under the title "In darkness let me dwell" . Some items she had prepared especially for this occasion. It is astonishing how fresh her voice still sounds, which is due to a very careful choice of repertoire. She has never overstretched her voice by singing repertoire which doesn't suit it, like opera. With time her voice certainly has changed as it has become stronger and more varied in colour, but something has never changed: the subtlety of her interpretation and her differentiated treatment of the text are as good as ever. That comes especially to the fore in songs for voice and lute which she performed in this concert. Its title refers to a famous song by Dowland, which was one of the highlights of the evening. A very curious piece was John Danyel's Can doleful notes which is notable for its daring harmony. That came off perfectly thanks to Ms Kirkby's precise intonation. Tarquinio Merula's Canzone spirituale sopra la Nanna is one of the most popular pieces among sopranos at the early music scene. I have never found Emma Kirkby particularly convincing in this kind of repertoire, but it was given a fine performance here, especially because of her text interpretation. One easily forgives her a lack of colour and a too narrow dynamic range. She also sang some French songs, which suit her very well. Her pronunciation is perfect, but it is regrettable that she doesn't care for a historical pronunciation. In this respect much work has to be done as this subject still seems not to be an integral part of historical performance practice. However, as far as interpretation of a text and expression are concerned, many young singers could use Emma Kirkby as a model.
Ciconia: Motets 
Mala Punica/Pedro Memelsdorff
August 24, Geertekerk
Les Haulz et les Bas 
"Ciconia: Music and Politics in the late Middle Ages"
August 28, St.-Willibrorduskerk
Tasto Solo/Guillermo Pérez 
"Ciconia: Instrumental arrangements from the 15th century"
Augst 29, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh
Pratum Integrum/Pavel Serbin 
G Muffat, Schwartzkopf, Telemann
August 29, Geertekerk
Los Músicos de su Alteza 
"Music from the time of the War of Succession and the Peace of Utrecht"
August 29, Pieterskerk
Kate Clark, renaissance flute; Paul O'Dette, lute 
August 30, Lutheran Church
Tetraktys/Kees Boeke 
"Three contemporaries of Ciconia"
August 30, St.-Willibrorduskerk
Lassus: Missa Surge propera 
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini
August 30, Cathedral [Dom]
Lassus: Missa super Dixit Joseph 
Odhecaton/Paolo Da Col
August 30, Pieterskerk
La Morra/Corina Marti, Michal Gondko 
"Ciconia: Musicus famosissimus"
August 31, St.-Willibrorduskerk
Lassus: "Orlando di Lasso & Roland de Lassus" 
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier
August 31, Jacobikerk
So far only two of the composers in residence has been paid attention to. It is time to pass the concerts in review which were devoted to the other two composers: Georg Muffat and Johannes Ciconia.
Considering the fact that Muffat is the only composer of the baroque era who not only was an advocate of the goût réuni, but developed that into a programme of creating an international style in the interest of peace he didn't get that much attention. One could argue that his oeuvre is relatively small, but even so I think more could have been made of that. I could only attend one concert where his instrumental music was performed, given by the Russian baroque orchestra Pratum Integrum . That ensemble has made a name for itself through various CD productions, and they are in the process of recording the complete orchestral overtures by Telemann. As far as I can remember it had never been in Utrecht before, and the acquaintance was a most pleasant one. The second half of the concert was devoted to Telemann, with an overture and a concerto for two violins, which were given engaging performances. It made me realise that so far this festival has almost completely ignored Telemann's oeuvre. If we are talking about 'European' composers he certainly belongs to that category as he was better acquainted with the various styles in Europe than most of his colleagues, even though he wasn't exactly a globetrotter. In the first half Pratum Integrum played two sonatas from Armonico tributo by Muffat. They were well played, but I found the approach a little too abrasive. Some French elegance would not have been amiss. The first part ended with a most interesting piece by Theodor Schwartzkopff (1659-1732), a little-known composer who has left a rather small oeuvre. However, if this concerto is indicative of the overall quality of his compositions they deserve to be further explored. The strings are joined here by two oboes, trumpet and bassoon which play in several combinations. The wind players of the orchestra delivered very fine performances. It is to be hoped that Pratum Integrum will be back in a next edition of the festival.
Staying in the baroque era the ensemble Los Músicos de su Alteza, directed by Luis Antonio González, paid attention to music written in Spain around 1700 . Whereas elsewhere in Europe the goût réuni referred to the mixture of the French and the Italian style, in Spain it was the blending of the Spanish tradition with the Italian style. In regard to text expression the pieces by Francisco Valls, José de Torres and Sebastián Durón reflect the growing influence of Italian music, at the same time the composers stuck to the texture of Spanish vocal music, which includes coplas. Fairly recently I reviewed two discs by this ensemble, and my positive impressions were confirmed during this concert. The ensemble delivered lively and theatrical performances, with outstanding contributions of Olalla Alemán (soprano) and José Pizarro (tenor). This is another ensemble I hope to see once again in the festival.
Let me turn to the fourth composer in residence, Johannes Ciconia. He is one of the most fascinating composers of the early renaissance. It is especially the rhythmic complexity of many of his compositions which is astonishing and makes the performance of his music quite complicated. His inclusion in the quartet of composers in residence can be justified by the fact that, born in Flanders, he worked most of his life in Italy and that in his music both the French and Italian idioms are represented. He is not unique in that, though, and one could argue that various other composers could have been selected instead. Fortunately during the various concerts he was put into his historical context and several of his contemporaries also appeared on the programmes. Pedro Memelsdorff has extensively studied this repertoire and the performance practice of the time. With his ensemble Mala Punica  he has made several recordings and frequently performs in festivals, including the Utrecht festival. His style of performance is easily recognizable and probably also controversial. The singing sometimes turns into a kind of Sprechgesang and includes some very strong dynamic shading. In comparison to other performances the rhythms are strongly emphasized, almost the cost of melody. Also notable is Memelsdorff's lively gesturing like a modern conductor, even if only two singers are on the stage. I find that rather odd, and I wonder whether that is really necessary. However, he defends his views convincingly, and the singers dealt with the complicated rhythms brilliantly. Whatever one thinks about the performance practice, it was a compelling and memorable concert.
Two ensembles played instrumental music from Ciconia's time. Les Hautz et les Bas specialises in the loud wind instruments of the 15th century, such as the shawm, the buisine, the sackbut and the bagpipes. The title of their concert, "Music and Politics in the late Middle Ages" , refers to the representational function of such instruments. The music on the programme was connected to various occasions where wind instruments may have been used, for instance the Council of Konstanz. Instrumental pieces of this time have no indications in regard to the instruments to be used. An estampie from the Robertsbridge Codex, for instance, is often played at the organ, but a performance with wind instruments is just as legitimate. The technical skills of the members of the ensemble were impressive, and it was a most enjoyable concert. However, sometimes I felt that they put on a show rather than adhered to what is historically plausible.
Music of a completely different kind was performed by the ensemble Tasto Solo  which focuses on the role of keyboard instruments, such as the organetto and clavisimbalum; a harp is also used in its performances. On the one hand we heard transcriptions of vocal items from contemporary sources, on the other hand arrangements in the style of the time by members of the ensemble. This was the most important part of instrumental music at the time: there was little music specifically intended for instruments. Whereas loud instruments were mainly played in large spaces and often in the open air, this music has an intimacy which makes it most suitable for private surroundings. That was perfectly realised by Tasto Solo, and the venue was quite appropriate as well. Tasto Solo is one of the most interesting ensembles on the early music scene. It is no coincidence that it was in the Netherlands for the third time in its relatively short existence.
Tetraktys is a specialist in the Italian music of the Trecento. It played a programme with music by Ciconia and three of his contemporaries: Paolo da Firenze, Bartolino da Padova and Andrea da Firenze . In his programme notes the ensemble's director, Kees Boeke, gave a description of the characteristics of these composers. In a live concert that is not so easy to note: a CD recording offers the opportunity for comparison and play back. Most people will probably just have enjoyed the music and the way the composers had set the refined poetry. Just as refined were the performances, with Julia von Landsberg (soprano) and Carlos Mena (alto) who have the perfect voices for this repertoire. The text is very important here, and the singers paid much attention to that. The church was probably not the most ideal venue for this repertoire.
That also goes for the concert by the ensemble La Morra  in which we heard a number of pieces by Ciconia in chronological order, resulting in a kind of musical biography. This way the various styles and genres in his oeuvre came to the fore. Although a direct comparison with Tetraktys is impossible because of the difference in repertoire, La Morra's performances are probably a little 'lighter', more relaxed and I also had the impression that they prefer quicker tempi. Again the singers - Eve Kopli (soprano), Hanna Järveläinen (mezzo-soprano) and Javier Robledano Cabrera (alto) - delivered excellent performances. Interesting were the items which Corina Marti played at the clavisimbalum.
Lastly, we turn to Lassus again. It was mostly vocal music by him and from his time which was performed. Therefore the recital by Kate Clark and Paul O'Dette  was especially interesting. In the 16th century vocal music was still dominant, and instruments played mostly madrigals or chansons, either as an instrumental ensemble - for instance a consort of instruments of the same family - or solo with or without accompaniment. In the second half of the century composers started to write diminutions: variations on a popular melody. This repertoire is quite popular nowadays, but we usually hear such diminutions on instruments like the recorder, the cornett or the violin. Kate Clark specialises on the renaissance flute and its repertoire, and in this programme she presented a number of diminutions, either by composers of the 16th century or by her own making, according to the style of the time. She proved that the flute is just as qualified as the above-mentioned instruments for this kind of repertoire. She included some evergreens in her programme, like Tant que vivray, Anchor che col partire and Doulce mémoire. In between Paul O'Dette played a number of lute pieces. The subject of improvisation needs to be dealt with more extensively, and so does the role of the transverse flute in the renaissance.
The Concerto Italiano isn't immediately associated with sacred polyphony of the renaissance. It has rather concentrated on the madrigal repertoire and in recent years turned its attention increasingly to the music of the baroque era. In the Cathedral it performed a programme with the Missa Surge propera, preceded by the motet which Lassus used as cantus firmus, and followed by a number of motets . Notable was the participation of an organ and two theorbos. Instruments playing colla voce was a widespread practice in the renaissance, and one may assume that Lassus must have practised it as he had a large number of instrumentalists at his disposal in Munich. However, in the concerts during the festival we haven't heard anything of this kind. In this case the organ had a clear presence, but the theorbos we could have done without as they were hardly audible - at least where I was seated, although pretty close to the stage. The performances were nice enough, but the sopranos allowed themselves some vibrato now and then which is definitely out of place here. The baritone Marco Scavazza has a voice which is not exactly nice to listen to. It didn't harm the ensemble, but he also sang the plainchant which was a less than pleasant experience. It needs to be said that the delivery was also less than ideal: one motet in the programme was replaced by another, but I couldn't figure out what was sung instead.
The same problem was notable in the concert by the ensemble Odhecaton, directed by Paolo Da Col . The concept of this concert was the same: the Missa Dixit Joseph was preceded by the motet which delivered the thematic material for the mass, and it was followed by four motets. The delivery of the lower voices was quite good, but as soon as Alessandro Carmignani - officially an alto, but with the range of a soprano - started to sing, nothing of the text could be heard. He has a nice voice, but is too dominant. Moreover he produces more sound than text as I have noticed in various recordings as well. That was especially regrettable in the motets in which there is often a quite clear connection between text and music. Rather odd were the unnaturally long pauses within various sections of the mass which halted the flow of the musical discourse. Odhecaton is a fine ensemble and there certainly was much to enjoy, but I couldn't suppress a slight feeling of disappointment.
The last concert I visited was devoted to secular music by Lassus. Vox Luminis had selected some madrigals and chansons for up to 10 voices which were performed in the Jacobikerk . That in itself is questionable: this is chamber music and a more intimate acoustic such as that in the Geertekerk would have been preferable. I had the impression that sometimes the ensemble forced itself to fortissimi which may not have been really necessary. That said, there were some superior madrigals and chansons in the programme, such as La nuit froide et sombre and Un triste coeur. I had preferred the more popular items - some on morally rather questionable texts - being omitted; more madrigals and chansons would have been nice. The performances were outstanding throughout: Vox Luminis has proved itself in previous festivals and on disc as one of the best vocal ensembles in the early music scene, and they fully lived up to their reputation.
Time for a recap. The theme of this year's festival, 'Europe', could have been worked out in various ways. Instead of the four composers in residence others could have been chosen. That said, the four which were selected guaranteed a high-quality and varied programme. It is admirable that the tournament was able to put together such a fine programme despite the effects of the financial crisis. Last year the festival reached a record attendance of 50,000. This year that number increased by 10 percent. One wonders where this will end, especially as more and more people will going to feel the effects of governmental savings. Among the concerts I attended the recitals around Froberger didn't attract that many people. I have not figured out yet what the reason might be. I was especially happy with the attention given to Lassus whose oeuvre is huge and of impressive quality. There is still much to discover here. As I wrote before, the performance practice was a bit one-sided as the participation of instruments was hardly practised. Of the four composers in residence Georg Muffat was a little underexposed.
Obviously I haven't attended all the concerts, but among those I did attend there was not a single one that was really disappointing. The general level of performance was very high. As I have noted above the texts were often hard to understand. This is a problem - also connected to the venues where concerts took place - which needs more attention.
Next year composers at the service of the Habsburg emperors in Vienna and Prague will be in the centre of the festival. Again four composers will be given special attention: Heinrich Isaac, Philippus de Monte, Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber and Johann Joseph Fux. Artists in residence will be Gunar Letzbor and Václav Luks. Next year will also see the inclusion of a musical contest, the Van Wassenaer Competition which up until now took place in Amsterdam. This could well be a nice addition to the festival.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)
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