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Concert reviews

Festival Early Music Utrecht 2014

Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Part One

"Fux and his Bohemian followers" [1]
Collegium Vocale 1704, Collegium 1704/Václav Luks
29 August, TivoliVredenburg

"Regina Lucti" [2]
Tiburtina Ensemble/Barbora Sojková
30 August, St Willibrordkerk

"The Habsburg Mayor of Augsburg" [3]
Per-Sonat/Sabine Lutzenberger
30 August, Pieterskerk

Gallus: "The Slovenian Lassus" [4]
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
30 August, TivoliVredenburg

"Maiestas Dei: Medieval polyphony from Bohemia [5]
Schola Gregoriana Pragensis/David Eben
1 September, St Catharinakerk

Jean Guyot de Châtelet & Philippe Schöndorff [6]
1 September, Pieterskerk

Caldara: San Giovanni Nepomuceno [7]
Soloists, Collegium 1704/Václav Luks
1 September, TivoliVredenburg

"Praga Magna" [8]
Cappella Mariana/Vojtech Semerád
2 September, Pieterskerk

On 29 August of this year the 33rd edition of the Festival Early Music in Utrecht started with a concert by the Czech ensemble Collegium 1704 and Collegium Musicum 1704, directed by Václav Luks. He is one of the festival's artists in residence, alongside Gunar Letzbor who last year had the honour to open the festival. The subject of this year's festival is the Habsburgs, a dynasty of rulers who played a crucial role in Europe for many centuries which came to an end in the early 19th century. Their members were great lovers and protectors of the arts, and especially music. There can be little doubt that most of them loved music - some were even active as composers - but music, and the arts in general, first and foremost had the purpose of displaying the political power of the Habsburg dynasty. It is not so easy to work out a theme like this, if only because so much music and so many composers can be connected to the Habsburgs. Moreover, as was said under Charles V, in the Habsburg empire the sun never set as Spain and the Spanish colonies in Latin America were also part of it. The festival wisely omitted the music from the latter part - music from Spain was given special attention in an earlier edition. It rather confined itself to the Austrian branch of the Habsburg dynasty. At the same time it is not always possible to establish a connection between a composer or a composition and the Habsburg dynasty. We often don't know exactly when a piece was written and for which occasion, or when and where it was performed. The programmers were right in not operating too strictly in this regard. Vienna and Prague were centres of the Habsburg rule, and therefore music written and/or performed in these cities and their surroundings - whether linked to the Habsburgs or not - was included in the programme.

Bohemia was part of the Habsburg empire and parts of its (music) history were brought to life in various concerts. The Tirburtina Ensemble [2] performed some of the earliest music in the festival in a concert under the title "Regina lucti". The music was connected to a turbulent period in Bohemian history, the second half of the 13th century. In 1278 King Ottokar II died in a battle and he was succeeded by Wenceslaus II, who married Judith of Habsburg in 1285. He was crowned in 1297, but the celebrations were cut short when Judith died only a couple of days after the coronation. The programme started with a lament on the death of Ottokar II and ended with lamentations on the death of Judith. It included liturgical pieces in Latin and songs in the vernacular but also in German, by composers as Walther von der Vogelweide, Neidhart von Reuenthal and Heinrich von Meissen, also known as 'Frauenlob'. This can be explained from the fact that their works were well-known in Bohemia. Obviously a programme like this is inevitably speculative in some extent as we mostly cannot be sure which music was performed at which occasion. In this case some pieces are specifically connected to historical events, such as the deaths of Ottokar and Judith respectively. The other pieces could serve to give an impression of the context of the time, including plainchant. The Tiburtina Ensemble is a Czech group of female singers two of whom also play the harp, and the fiddle player Thomas Wimmer. Together they created a fascinating musical picture of a part of history which is hardly known outside the region itself. The singing and playing was of the highest level and took profit from the ideal acoustic in the St Willibrord Church.

With the concert of the Schola Gregoriana Pragensis [5] we moved forward almost two centuries. This ensemble focuses on early plainchant and polyphony from Bohemia. The central figure in its programme at the festival was Petrus Wilhelmi de Grudencz (1392-c1480) who was born in Poland and entered the service of emperor Frederick III in the 1440s. His music was performed well into the 17th century, but the name of its composer had been forgotten. It was in the 1970s that his identity could be established. He composed music in Latin and in the vernacular; in some cases his Latin works were arranged and set to a Czech text. Some pieces were performed by the whole ensemble, but the items in two and three parts with solo voices. The concert ended with some pieces for the feast of St Martin's Day. From early times eating goose was part of the celebrations of this day, and this was reflected in two of the pieces by Grudencz. The Schola also sang plainchant which is often considered as a repertoire used everywhere across Europe. In fact, there is much difference in texts and music from one region to another, and it was quite interesting to hear plainchant from Bohemia. The ensemble has visited the festival before, and every time their performances were superb. This year's concert wasn't any different: the singing was outstanding and the acoustic greatly helped this music to make a lasting impression. The Schola delivers a good combination of research and musicianship.

These two concerts included music from Bohemia. The ensemble Per-Sonat [3] turned the attention to Augsburg in the early 16th century. Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) was nicknamed 'Mayor of Augsburg' because he spent much time there. Moreover, for his political and artistic ambitions he depended on the money of the Fuggers, a dynasty of merchants and bankers from Augsburg. The programme included music from the Augsburger Liederbuch in which the most prominent composers of the time are represented, such as Josquin Desprez, Alexander Agricola, Heinrich Isaac and Ludwig Senfl. Per-Sonat performed a mixture of sacred and secular works. Moreover some instrumental works were included, which is remarkable considering that purely instrumental music was rather rare at the time, except pieces for keyboard and for lute. The vocal items were performed with voices and instruments which makes sense and is historically plausible. There was nothing fundamentally wrong with these performances, but they couldn't exactly hold my attention. The reason was probably that the delivery was a bit too straightforward and stiff. I am not saying that the interpreters should have brightened it up, but a little more flair - all within the bounds of what is historically feasible - wouldn't have been amiss. I also think that the voices didn't blend that well and that the balance within the ensemble - especially between voices and instruments - was less than ideal. In this music all parts are equally important, and here too often it seemed as if the voices were accompanied by the instruments.

Some composers who in one way or another can be connected to the Habsburg dynasty are not that well-known today, even though they were held in high esteem in their own time. That goes for Philippus de Monte and Jacobus Gallus (or Handl). Paul Van Nevel devoted a whole concert of his Huelgas Ensemble [4] to music by the latter, who was labelled as "the Slovenian Lassus" in the programme book. He worked for some time in Bohemia and died in Prague. Here the main collections of his music were printed. It seems that he had no formal ties with the Habsburg court of Rudolf II, but knew members of the court. His compositions met with criticism because of their complexity. That comes especially to the fore in his polychoral works. One of them, Media vita, opened the concert. In some pieces Van Nevel underlined characteristics of various pieces through a kind of 'choreography'. In Quid ploras mulier every line of the first group is echoed - in form of an answer - by a second group. The latter, consisting of four singers, was seated in a circle, with the first choir standing around them. Whether this rather subtle dialogue was fully understood in every corner of the concert hall is doubtful. Homo quidem consists of a sequence of canons. Was this the reason that at some moment the singers started to walk around on the platform in a circle? After all, in a canon the voices also pursue each other. There were various examples of text expression which justifies the comparison with Lassus. The connection between text and music was not always clear, at least not to me. An example is Gallus' best-known piece, Mirabile mysterium, which is full of chromaticism, to such an extent that it verges on atonality. In the text I can't see any justification for that. Is this a kind a musical experiment? It was definitely a most intriguing concert of music by a composer who should receive much more attention. The performances of the Huelgas Ensemble made a strong case for Gallus. It is just a shame that the venue was less than ideal for the sacred part of the programme which requires a little more reverberation.

Philippus de Monte appeared on the programme of two concerts, by Cinquecento and the Cappella Mariana respectively. Cinquecento [6] focused on the connection between the Habsburg courts in Prague and Vienna and composers of the Franco-Flemish school, and in particular musicians from Liège. Pieces by Philippus de Monte were mixed with compositions by Philippe Schöndorff and Jean Guyot de Châtelet, both from Liège. The former was an unknown quantity until Cinquecento recorded his complete oeuvre. Very recently Hyperion released a disc by this ensemble which includes some chansons by the latter composer. In this concert we heard three motets and a magnificent and long alternatim setting of the Te Deum. Just as Schöndorff's music turned out to be well worth being performed and recorded, Guyot seems to be a composer whose oeuvre deserves to be explored. As always the singing of Cinquecento was outstanding; the voices just blend perfectly. However, in some pieces the alto Franz Vitzthum was a bit too dominant; he should have reduced his volume a little. Another issue is the Italian pronunciation of Latin which seems not justifiable.

De Monte was the central figure in the concert by the Cappella Mariana, directed by Vojtech Semerád [8]. He worked for Maximilian II and Rudolf II in Vienna and Prague. He composed a large number of masses and motets, but is especially important as a composer of Italian madrigals of which he wrote more than a thousand. In this concert we heard the Missa super Confitebor tibi Domine, based on a motet by Lassus. The sections of the mass were alternated by two of his madrigals and instrumental pieces by Liberale Zanchi, an Italian-born composer who was organist at the court in Prague around 1600. This alternation was not such a great idea, because it forced the ensemble to change its line-up and placing which caused unrest, broke the tension and tempted the audience to applause which was hardly appropriate. The madrigals were very nice, especially the 7-part Già fu chi m'hebbe cara. The ensemble paid much attention to the text, but that didn't have that much impact because the acoustic of the Pieterskerk made it hard to hear all the details. The ensemble had been well advised to select some motets instead. The mass came off much better, thanks to the excellent singing - including dynamic inflections -, and the cornetts and sackbuts playing colla voce. The programme ended with the Letaniae Deiparae Mariae Virginis by Jacob Regnart, substitute Kapellmeister to De Monte. It was a brilliant close to a compelling programme, despite the acoustical problems in the madrigals.

The opening concert by Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 [1] included music which was partly not related to the Habsburgs. The starting point was rather Johann Joseph Fux, for many years Kapellmeister at the imperial court in Vienna. A setting of the Te Deum, probably written for the coronation of Charles VI as King of Bohemia in Prague in 1723, opened the programme. It is an exuberant piece with an important role for trumpets and timpani. Although it includes some solo passages it is basically a piece for choir, and here one could admire the ensemble of choir and orchestra which Václav Luks has managed to strongly weld together. This was followed by two compositions by Frantisek Ignac Antonin Tuma and Jan Dismas Zelenka respectively, who belonged to Fux's pupils. First we heard a wonderful setting of the Stabat mater for solo voices and orchestra by Tuma. The solo episodes were quite expressive. Especially notable was 'Eja mater' for alto with an obbligato part for trombone, an instrument which had largely fallen out of fashion almost everywhere, except in Vienna. The performance was characterised by a subtle expression, thanks to the excellent efforts of soloists, choir and orchestra. The second half of the concert was devoted to Zelenka´s Missa Divi Xaverii which dates from 1729. It is more 'conventional', as it were, than the late masses which are frequently performed. Those are more daring in harmony and include many melodic twists and turns. That doesn't mean that this mass is less interesting - this is Zelenka, and in his music always something notable happens. Particularly interesting in this mass are the obbligato parts for transverse flutes and oboes. A duet of soprano and alto, with two transverse flutes, was especially delightful and so was an obbligato part for oboe d'amore. This mass is in no way inferior to the late masses. Soloists, choir and orchestra delivered an outstanding and expressive performance. The festival could hardly have started better than with this concert.

Václav Luks returned with his orchestra and five soloists for a performance of the oratorio San Giovanni Nepomuceno by Antonio Caldara [7]. For many years he was court composer in Vienna and wrote a large number of operas, oratorios and sacred music. His oeuvre is huge, and he was a man of high reputation. Although in recent years more attention has been given to his oeuvre, it is still largely unexplored. In the 2011 festival Diego Fasolis conducted some of this sacred works, which bore witness to the fine quality of his music. This impression was confirmed by the oratorio which Luks had chosen to perform. It is based on the story of the martyr John Nepomucene who died in 1393. The oratorio is a little different from most oratorios of the time in that it doesn't end happily: the bad guy, King Wenceslaus, is killed when his people revolts. Before that he has tortured and killed John of Nepomuk because he refuses to confirm the King's suspicions that his wife has been unfaithful to him. This oratorio is a brilliant work with many great arias. It begins immediately after the overture with a virtuosic aria of the King's minister, excellently sung by Václav Cizek who mastered the demanding coloratura very well. The first part ends with a spectacular aria of the Queen (Hana Blaziková) with an obbligato trumpet part, played by Hans-Martin Rux. The characters were portrayed very convincingly. Tomás Král (bass) and Sophie Harmsen (mezzo-soprano) deserve special mention: the former depicted the cruelty and tyrannic unreasonableness of King Wenceslas with great persuasiveness, whereas Ms Harmsen gave an incisive account of the part of John Nepomucene. The orchestra was colourful and energetic, and the performance as a whole was so evocative that one didn't miss any sort of staging (which would be historically unjustifiable anyway).

Part Two

Fux, Haydn, Mozart [9]
Olga Pashchenko, harpsichord, fortepiano
30 August, Lutheran Church

"Queens of Bohemia" [10]
Catalina Vicens, harpsichord
1 September, Lutheran Church

Kozeluch, Vorisek, Schubert [11]
Petra Somlai, fortepiano
2 September, Lutheran Church

"Il Rossignolo" [12]
Mark Edwards, harpsichord
3 September, Lutheran Church

"A dynasty of founders" [13]
Ensemble Servir Antico/Catalina Vicens
3 September, St Willibrordkerk

"The secret link between De Monte and Byrd" [14]
Gallicantus/Gabriel Crouch
3 September, Pieterskerk

Georg Anton Benda [15]
Maude Gratton, clavichord
4 September, Lutheran Church

"Chansons and motets for Ferdinand I" [16]
Ensemble Clément Janequin/Dominique Visse
4 September, Pieterskerk

De Monte, Isaac [17]
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
4 September, TivoliVredenburg

"Gradus ad Parnassum: Palestrina, Fux, Muffat, Wagenseil, Haydn [18]
Jean Rondeau, harpsichord
5 September, Lutheran Church

"The Holy Walburgis" [19]
Psallentes/Hendrik Vanden Abeele
5 September, St Willibrordkerk

Josquin, Isaac, La Rue [20]
Stile Antico
5 September, Cathedral [Dom]

Fux, Haydn [21]
Francesco Corti, harpsichord
6 September, Lutheran Church

"Universi populi" [22]
Discantus/Brigitte Lesne
6 September, Pieterskerk

As I have written in the first paragraph, Vienna and Prague were centres of the Habsburg rule, and that is the reason musical developments in these cities were part of the festival's programme as well, even if the music had no strict connection to the courts of members of this dynasty. That goes especially for some of the music for keyboard which was the subject of a special series of recitals.

The earliest music in this series was played by Catalina Vicens [10]. Her starting point was the fact that Maria of Austria (1528-1603) and Elizabeth Stuart (1596-1662) were skilfull keyboard players. The connection of the latter with the Habsburg dynasty is rather loose: in 1613 she married the German Prince Frederick V, and they were crowned King and Queen of Bohemia in 1629, only to be deposed after one year by Ferdinand II of Habsburg. The connection between the music and these two royals is different. Ms Vicens played music by the Flemish composer Carl Luython who worked at the court in Vienna, but whether his music was played by, let alone written for, Maria of Austria is hard to prove. That is different with the music from the collection Parthenia, printed in 1613 and specifically intended as a gift for Elizabeth Stuart. Ms Vicens had selected some pieces by Byrd, Bull and Gibbons from this collection which she recently recorded complete. The mixture of these pieces with three compositions by Luython was very interesting as it showed the difference in style between England and Italy, where Luython had studied for several years. As so many Italian composers he experimented with harmony which came especially to the fore in his Ricercar which is full of chromaticism. In English music of the time 'false relations' are quite common, but these are more or less 'accidental' and part of the polyphonic discourse; they have no expressive function. The Ricercar and the virginal pieces received impressive performances.

Another composer who was keen to experiment was Alessandro Poglietti, who since around 1660 was in the service of Leopold I in Vienna. His experiments regarded the imitation of all sorts of things, such as birds and current affairs. An example of the latter opened the programme of Mark Edwards [12]: the Toccata fatta sopra l'assedio di Filippsburgo which describes the fall of the South-German town of Philippsburg in 1676 (the imperial army defeated the French occupation of the town). Another is the Suite sopra la Ribellione di Ungheria which in several movements describes things such as the prison, the trial and the decapitation. In the Aria Allemagna con alcuni variationi spra l'età della maestà vostra the variations are musical caricatures, for instance of Bohemian bagpipes, Dutch flageolets and Hungarian violins. Birdsong is the subject of a series of pieces in imitation of the nightingale. The cuckoo was represented by pieces from the pen of Frescobaldi and Johann Caspar Kerll respectively. Poglietti's pieces are the keyboard counterpart of imitations for violin or for instrumental ensemble by, for instance, Biber. Edwards played them very well, without falling into the trap of exaggerating the effects Poglietti has included in his pieces. Whether one wants to hear this kind of stuff regularly is a matter of taste.

Around the mid-1700s the style of composing for the keyboard started to change. It was also the time a new instrument made its appearance: the fortepiano. For some time the various keyboard instruments coexisted, and composers did not specify whether a piece should be played at which instrument. That leaves the choice to the present-day performer. Maude Gratton [15] was about to play five sonatas by Georg Anton Benda on the harpsichord, but due to a shoulder injury she decided to perform them on the clavichord instead. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise: not for her, of course, but for Benda's sonatas. It is perfectly legitimate to play them on the harpsichord and their melodic twists and turns come off on it very well, but the unexpected pauses are even more effective on the clavichord. This instrument also allows for dynamic contrasts, and Ms Gratton explored this possibility quite effectively. This resulted in very compelling performances full of tension. These sonatas are excellent stuff and are unjustly neglected.

The developments in keyboard music were also demonstrated in two recitals in which the music of Johann Joseph Fux was mixed with pieces by composers of next generations. Although in Fux's oeuvre keyboard music is rather marginal they show some of the characteristics of his style, such as the mixture of the French and the Italian taste. That came to the fore in two partitas which were played by Francesco Corti [21]. In his programme he also included the Ciaccona in D. Although Fux's pupils mostly renounced the dominance of counterpoint, this was not the end of its role in music as two sonatas by Haydn showed. The Sonatas in A (H XVI,26) and in D (H XVI,37) are from the late 1660s and here Haydn makes use of counterpoint in his own way. Corti played them particularly well, and especially the largo e sostenuto from the latter sonata. Fux was nicely played too, but here some movements were probably a bit too fast, at the cost of a good articulation. The same goes for the last movement of Haydn's Sonata in D.

This recital was a most interesting contrast to the one of the day before, when the French harpsichordist Jean Rondeau [18] played a similar programme which demonstrated how the role of counterpoint gradually disappeared. He started off with two ricercares from the renaissance, attributed to Palestrina, Fux's role model. The latter was represented by three pieces, Harpeggio e Fuga, a kind of toccata and fugue, again the Ciaccona in D and the Sonata IV. One of his pupils was Gottlieb Muffat, an interesting link between the baroque era and the classical period. Although he is relatively conservative in his compositions he sometimes uses old patterns in a new context. Rondeau played a suite from his Componimenti musicali. Another pupil, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, paved the path for the classical style in keyboard writing, and especially the writing in a diverting manner. His Sonata in F from his op. 1 is a good example. Rondeau ended his recital with the adagio from Haydn's Sonata in A flat (H XVI,46) which is also from the late 1760s, but of a different character than the sonatas which Corti had selected, and originally called a divertimento. In 2012 Rondeau won the harpsichord competition in Bruges at the age of just 21, and that arouses expectations which were certainly fulfilled in this recital.

It was Olga Pashchenko [9] who in her recital marked the transition from the harpsichord to the fortepiano. She also started with pieces by Fux, Capriccio and fugue in g minor and once again the Ciaccona in D. She then played the Fantasy and fugue in C (KV 394) by Mozart, not on the fortepiano but on the harpsichord. That is a rather unusual but legitimate choice. In this period of time the choice of keyboard is often a matter of what works best, and this piece worked well on the harpsichord, although Pashchenko used the short caesuras to change the registration in order to create dynamic contrasts. The fantasia was played with a good sense of drama. For the last pieces she turned to the fortepiano: the Sonata in D (H XVI,24) and the Capriccio (Fantasia) in C (H XVII,4) by Haydn. The sonata dates from 1773 which is the time Haydn still played the harpsichord. From that perspective Pashchenko could have performed it at the harpsichord too, but she chose the fortepiano and effectively explored its features; the adagio was particularly beautiful. The Capriccio was written much later, in 1789, and here the fortepiano is the obvious choice. The humour in this piece was not lost on Ms Pashchenko.

Petra Somlai [11] then played her whole recital at the fortepiano, an original 19th-century instrument with Viennese action, built by Alois Graf around 1820. In her programme Bohemia and Vienna came together: Leopold Kozeluch and Jan Václav Vorisek were from Bohemia, the former worked in Prague, the second in Vienna. The recital ended with an inspired performance of the Drei Klavierstücke D 946 by Schubert. From a historical point of view the pieces by the two Bohemian composers were the most interesting, because their works don't appear that often on concert programmes or on disc. The Rhapsodie in a minor, op. 1,3 by Vorisek is the typical example of a showstopper which would sound rather vulgar on a modern concert grand. On the historical keyboard the player can explore the whole dynamic range without the fortissimi becoming exaggerated and gross. The Viennese action also allows for a speechlike style of playing which is still the norm in the early 19th century in the German-speaking world. Petra Somlai delivered outstanding performances, starting with Kozeluch's Sonata in f minor, op. 38,3 which opens with an expressive largo which turns attacca into an allegro agitato.

In an empire as large as that of the Habsburg dynasty there were not that many composers who did not live and work under their rule or were not in one way or another directly or indirectly linked to them. The main problem is which choice to make. In the first days no less than six concerts were devoted to music from the Middle Ages and the renaissance, in the remaining part of the festival seven further concerts with this kind of repertoire took place.

The ensemble Psallentes, directed by Hendrik Vanden Abeele [19], focuses on plainchant from the Middle Ages and the renaissance. Most of the time this ensemble performs with male voices, but in the concert in the St Willibrordkerk we heard a schola of women with music from an antiphonary devoted to St Walburgis which is from Zutphen, a town in the east of the Netherlands. Walburgis was an 8th-century English noblewoman who played an important part in the Christianization of a large portion of German-speaking, so-called East-Frankish Europe. Therefore she may be considered as one of the mother-saints of the Holy Roman Empire. The manuscript leaves the performers in the dark as far as performance practice is concerned. That goes especially for the interpretation of the rhythm. Should these chants be sung 'with equal notes' or rhythmical? In the concert the two options were demonstrated. The difference is not spectacular but clearly noticeable nevertheless. It is nice if performers share their dilemma's with the audience, in particular in a festival specifically devoted to early music. Although all the chants were monophonic it was a compelling concert, attended by a large audience which bears witness to the growing interest in plainchant. The programma also testified that what we generally call plainchant is far from uniform and differs by time and region. The singing was excellent and this was certainly one of the most fascinating concerts from this part of the festival.

Another ensemble which concentrates on plainchant is Discantus, directed by Brigitte Lesne [22], also consisting of women's voices only. The difference is that they also include polyphonic pieces into their programmes. The concert was devoted to music from sources in Prague which in the 14th century was an international centre of arts. The musical traditions of Bohemia were mixed with influences from various regions in Europe. The programme included pieces from the 12th to the 15th centuries in various liturgical forms, such as antiphons, responsories and motets. Some pieces were troped, meaning that the standard texts are extended with new words and phrases. In their content they reflected the growing Marian cult as well as the veneration of the Bohemian patrons Ludmilla and Wenceslaus. The singing was very good, although in episodes for reduced voices I noted some weaknesses in the upper range of one of the singers. One feature of Discantus' performances is the use of bells. It may be true that these played a part in ancient liturgy, but I fail to see why it has to be used in every single piece. It is becoming a little stereotypical. That said, this was another fine concert, and especially interesting for bringing liturgical music from a specific part of Europe which is not known elsewhere.

"This programme tries to draw attention to the role played by women in the early Habsburg dynasty", according to the programme book, referring to the concert by the ensemble Servir Antico, directed by Catalina Vicens [13]. That was reflected by the choice of music in which often women figure, but most of the texts were quite common and can hardly serve to specifically shed light on the role of women in the Habsburg dynasty. Moreover, as many pieces were performed instrumentally and as a result their texts were not printed in the booklet, one often had to guess what they were about. I felt that the music was rather forced into the straitjacket of the concert's subject. That didn't detract in any way from the qualities of the performances. The vocal items were nicely sung by Els Janssens-Vanmunster who has the right voice for this repertoire which blends perfectly with the instruments. These were skilfully played by Catalina Vicens (organetto), Baptiste Romain (fiddle) and Felix Striker (slide trumpet). Alongside some pieces by Dufay, such as Conditor alme siderum we heard anonymous pieces and compositions by rather unknown masters: Johannes de Sarto, Wolfgang Chranekker and Hermann Edlerawer.

Four ensembles performed music from the late 15th and the 16th centuries: Gallicantus, The Tallis Scholars, Stile Antico and the Ensemble Clément Janequin. It was most interesting to hear how they approached this repertoire.
The Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips [17], concentrated on two composers who had close ties with the Habsburgs: Heinrich Isaac and Philippus de Monte. They started off with two motets and the Missa Sine nomine for eight voices by the latter. This was a rather disappointing affair. Although Phillips' approach has mellowed a little, the singing of his ensemble is still pretty straightforward, with little attention to the text, strictly legato and hardly any dynamic inflections. That works very well in early English polyphony such as the Eton Choirbook or Taverner, but not in later music, and especially not the continental repertoire from the 16th century. I liked the interpretation of the Cappella Mariana a lot better. The second half was more satisfactory, and I liked especially Tota pulchra es by Isaac, sung with one voice per part. It has to be said that this repertoire doesn't come off that well in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg; it really needs a church to blossom. That makes the comparison with Stile Antico [20] which had the luxury of singing in the Cathedral rather difficult. However, it was also a matter of interpretation that Isaac's large motet Virgo prudentissima was much better in their concert than in that of the Tallis Scholars. Stile Antico performed it in a more differentiated way, both in regard to the treatment of the text and as far as the dynamic contrasts are concerned.
He was one of the three composers who worked under the rule of Maximilian I and Charles V and to whom their concert was devoted. The other two were Josquin Desprez and Pierre de La Rue. The programme started with the motet Jubilate Deo by Cristóbal de Morales, composed at the occasion of the peace between Charles V and the French King François I in 1538. Morales was one of the few composers from the Spanish part of the Habsburg empire which were included in this festival. Obviously Josquin's chanson Mille regretz had to be sung as this seems to have been Charles V's favourite composition. Not only Josquin's original setting was performed, but also a six-part version by Nicolas Gombert, both sung with one voice per part. These were the only pieces which had needed a somewhat different acoustic. The concert as a whole was impressive and deservedly rewarded with a long applause from the large audience.

The Ensemble Clément Janequin, directed by Dominique Visse [16], performed motets and chansons "for Ferdinand I," as the concert's title promised. You sometimes have to take such things with a grain of salt, because often it is impossible to prove that a particular work is written for a specific person or situation. In this case the pieces selected for the concert were probably not especially cmposed for the emperor. However, the title is plausible to the extent that they all come from a collection that was published in Antwerp in 1540 by Tielman Susato and was dedicated to Ferdinand. It presents the crème de la crème of the composer guild in Europe, with names such as Finders, Mouton, Willaert, La Rue, Gombert and Rachafort. Also on the program were some - at least today - less well-known composers such as a certain Maistre Jhan, John Heugel and Rupert Unterholtzer. It was a varied program with secular works on French text - just a piece of Sixt Dietrich was in German - and motets in Latin. A special aspect of the program was the canon: several works were sung in which the composer made use of this form which at the time was very popular. An example is Jean Mouton, whose motet Nesciens virgo mater virum is a quadruple canon for eight voices. Concerts of this ensemble are always entertaining, even if the choice of repertoire is sometimes debatable. In this case, Visse had restrained himself and, with a couple of exceptions, not chosen pieces of dubious content. The ensemble sang beautifully, as almost always, but you should have no problems with the often quite penetrating sound of Visse's voice. In a number of pieces that became covered by the much milder tone of the other falsettist of the ensemble, Yann Rolland. Why in almost all pieces the ensemble was supported by an organ is a mystery to me.

The British vocal ensemble Gallicantus, led by Gabriel Crouch [14], made his debut at the festival with a programme devoted to two composers who at first glance seem unconnected: Philippus de Monte and William Byrd. Yet there is a link: De Monte sent Byrd his motet Super flumina Babylonis, a setting of verses 1 to 4 from Psalm 137 (136), in which the Jews, being in exile in Babylonia, complain about their fate. Byrd answered this gesture with its own setting of the same psalm, in which he set the verses 4 to 7. These two motets are found in the same source, which strongly suggests that these pieces are indeed connected. Both pieces are scored for eight voices, but the composers use this scoring quite differently. De Monte splits the voices into two groups, which results in a clearer audibility of the text. Byrd, on the other hand, creates a dense polyphonic texture which makes the text much harder to understand. The juxtaposition of these two pieces was not only historically interesting, but also musically, because they showed a clear stylistic difference between the English polyphony and that of the continent. These two motets brought the concert to an end, in which compositions of these two masters alternated. The Monte's motets are often very expressive, but didn't fully come off in the performances. Gallicantus's singing was a little too straightforward; a more flexible approach, as I heard earlier in the festival from the Cappella Mariana, would have done more justice to his expression. The ensemble's approach worked better in Byrd who was certainly able to write expressive music. That came especially to the fore in Laudibus in sanctis, a plastic setting of Psalm 150, and Ne irascaris Domine, a piece with a more sombre character. The program notes referred to 'political' motets: therein Byrd would express his concern about the plight of the Roman Catholics, like himself, under the Protestant Elizabeth I. That is quite possible, but hardly provable. The lyrics Byrd chose for his motets were common at the time and can not serve as evidence of political motives as such.

Part Three

"Italian music in Austria" [23]
Ricercar Consort
30 August, TivoliVredenburg

"Chamber music for Leopold I" [24]
Juilliard415 Chamber Ensemble
1 September, TivoliVredenburg

"Music in the Kunstkammer" [25]
Capriccio Stravagante, Profeti della Quinta/Skip Sempé
1 September, TivoliVredenburg

"Salon 1723" [26]
Collegium 1704/Václav Luks
2 September, TivoliVredenburg

Bertali: Missa Redemptoris [27]
Concerto Palatino, La Dolcezza/Bruce Dickey
3 September, TivoliVredenburg

Biber: "Motets" [28]
Flux/Lidewij van der Voort, David Van Bouwel
3 September, TivoliVredenburg

Schmelzer: Violin sonatas; Kerll: Organ Works [29]
Odile Edouard, violin; Freddy Eichelberger, organ 4 September, Geertekerk

"Bertali's Sacred Works" [30]
L'Armonia Sonora/Mieneke van der Velden
4 September, TivoliVredenburg

Bertali & Sances: Salmi concertati [31]
L'Arpeggiata/Christina Pluhar
5 September, TivoliVredenburg

Biber: Rosenkranz-Sonaten [32]
Gunar Letzbor, violin; Ars Antiqua Austria
5 & 6 September, TivoliVredenburg

This third and last part of my review of this year's festival focuses on vocal and instrumental music of the 17th and early 18th centuries. However, with the concert of Capriccio Stravagante and Profeti delle Quinte [25] we are still in the 16th century. Most pieces dated from the later decades of that century and showed some traces of what was to come. The subject was the phenomenon of the Kunstkammer, the cabinet of curiosities as it was founded by royals in the late renaissance and the baroque period. The collection which emperor Ferdinand I (1503-1564) assembled in 1558 in the Hofburg is considered the first such cabinet in Vienna. Nothing is known about what it included, but a part of the collection of Rudolf II (1552-1612) has been preserved. This was the inspiration for the concert of these two ensembles. During the concert, in 'Cloud Nine' in Tivoli Vredenburg, images of objects from such a cabinet were shown. In the programme book Skip Sempé wrote: "The Viennese Kunstkammer, with its richly decorated works of art, requires a program in which ornamentation plays an equally important role." We heard a number of pieces in their original form as well as in arrangements by composers from around 1600, especially in the form of diminutions. The line between the pictures and the music seemed rather thin to me, but all right. The music was beautiful and the performances generally good, especially the instrumental part by Capriccio Stravagante. I was less enthusiastic about the singing of Profeti della Quinta. It sounded sometimes rather shaky, also in intonation, especially at the top of the spectrum. I must add that the acoustic in this room seems far from ideal for vocal music.

The Ricercar Consort [23] - this time consisting of Céline Scheen (soprano), Giovanna Pessi (harp) and Philippe Pierlot (viola da gamba) - performed music which could have been sung and played at the court in Vienna around the mid-17th century. The court was under the spell of the Italian style, and Italian musicians and composers played a key role at the court. Two of them were Giovanni Felice Sances and Antonio Bertali; at the same time the Austrian-born Johann Heinrich Schmelzer was the main violinist. The concert took place at midnight, but these composers are well worth postponing bedtime, and I also wanted to hear Ms Scheen in this repertoire. She is undoubtedly one of the best sopranos in the early music scene right now, and this repertoire fits her like a glove. Technically it is very demanding, for example in regard to ornamentation, and Ms Scheen effortlessly lives up to the music's requirements. She has a very clear and flexible voice, which is necessary in this repertoire. Of course, there are more singers who have the required qualities. But a singer must also have the right temperament. Over the years I have heard many recordings of this repertoire, which are technically very good, but which are short on expression. You don't need to be afraid of that when Céline Scheen is singing. She really goes to the bottom of the music just like her colleagues. That made their concert a highly enthralling event.

Schmelzer was then one of the main figures in a concert by the Juilliard415 Chamber Ensemble [24]. This concert was the result of The Juilliard School of Music being the festival's conservatoire in residence. It is one of the world's most prestigious conservatories. Until recently that prestige did not concern early music. For a long time it has missed the boat as far as historical performance practice is concerned. It is perhaps a sign of the contempt with which it has long been treated by the musical establishment. Finally Juilliard has seen the light: five years ago it founded an early music department and the results of the research and teaching could be heard during the festival. I visited a concert under the title "Chamber music for Leopold I". Alongside works by Schmelzer we heard pieces by Biber, Buonamente and Romanus Weichlein, the unknown quantity for most music lovers in the program. His Sonata II is a beautiful piece and shows once again that obscurity doesn't imply a lack of quality. The players fortunately had not picked the most famous pieces, but one of his ballets - a lesser-known aspect of his oeuvre. It received a plastic interpretation and was played with panache. Most of the works were for two violins and two violas, but there were also two sonatas for the less usual scoring of three violins and bc: the Sonata II a 3 violini by Buonamente and Schmelzer's Sonata a 3 violini. I noticed some difference in tone between the violinists, which may be due to their personalities, but perhaps also to the instruments used. Over the years I've heard unconvincing performances of Austro-German repertoire by Anglo-Saxon ensembles. Dynamically they are often too flat and articulation is mostly not sharp enough. In general I could appreciate these performances; the players seemed to understand what this kind of repertoire requires. Nevertheless, there could have been sharper accents and the theatrical aspect could have been stronger. But the developments at the Juilliard School are pleasing and the results encouraging.

Schmelzer's violin sonatas are not played that often. Because of that the performance of four of his sonatas from the collection Sonatae unarum fidium of 1664 by Odile Edouard [29] was especially interesting. They were mixed with four organ pieces by Johann Caspar Kerll, Schmelzer's colleague at the Viennese court and an organ virtuoso. Freddy Eichelberger played them at the large organ of the Geertekerk. That was inevitable as some of these pieces include a pedal part. However, it was hardly the ideal medium: it dates from 1803 and is not tuned in the mean-tone temperament this music requires. Because of that the harmonic peculiaries didn't really come off. Ms Edouard gave fine performances of Schmelzer's sonatas, although the intonation was sometimes a little suspect, especially at the upper end of her part. But she did really well in the virtuosic passages, and phrasing and articulation were very good and so was the dynamic shading.

The most virtuosic violinist of the next generation was Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber. He has become most famous for his so-called Rosenkranz-Sonaten, also called Mystery Sonatas. Gunar Letzbor [32], one of the artists in residence, performed the complete set, spread over two evenings. There is no lack of CD recordings of these sonatas. There are probably around 20 available. I do not know all of them, but I suspect that no violinist approaches these sonatas as does Letzbor. He dares to produce downright ugly sounds whenever he deems it necessary in the interest of expression. That was especially the case in Sonata VII, where the scourging of Jesus is depicted. Although, in general, should not consider this music as "programme music" there are elements of illustration, and this sonata is the most famous example. Letzbor produced rough tones here and it seemed as if he wanted to saw his violin into two pieces. I had always thought that Reinhard Goebel maltreated his instrument, but Letzbor added a little extra. In order to understand his interpretation, it is important to take note of his views on these sonatas, which he describes in the programme book. The closing sentences seem essential to me: "What Biber gives us is, despite its spiritual, religious and musical content, still only an empty vessel we must fill with our personal life experiences and feelings. The essence of the mysticism is the inexplicable, the impossibility of comprehending things purely with intellect. Mysticism begins at the outer edge of cognitive thinking, where feeling breaks through the dominance of the spirit and wonderment can begin. Becoming 'one' with the all-encompassing is wheer every meditation - including that of the rosary - begins". This vision resulted in a highly fascinating, exciting and dramatic interpretation in which expression beat beauty. That's not to say that his interpretation has completely convinced me. In particular the scoring of the basso continuo, including a guitar and a colascione, seems questionable, in particular if these are used as percussion instruments now and then. The second concert ended with a brilliant and moving performance of the Passacaglia for solo violin. The long applause of the audience was well deserved. Letzbor is his own master, and has views which he defends in an eloquent manner. The early music scene should cherish this kind of artists. Letzbor is one of those performers you want to return some time in the future.

In comparison to his instrumental music Biber's vocal oeuvre is more or less neglected. Some of his festal masses are performed now and then, such as the Missa Alleluia by Gunar Letzbor on the first Sunday of the festival, but his smaller-scale sacred pieces are seldom performed and recorded. The ensemble Flux [28], directed by Lidewij van der Voort and David Van Bouwel, had selected some of these pieces, mixed with instrumental and vocal works by contemporaries. In his vocal music Biber is less experimental, but here the characteristics of his style are also recognizable, especially in the obbligato instrumental parts. His Nisi Dominus includes a virtuosic violin part, whereas the Salve Regina has a demanding viola da gamba part. In this concert the latter piece ended with an episode for two violins and viola, but according to the worklist in New Grove it is for soprano, viola da gamba and bc. Where did the parts for the violins and the viola come from? In Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt by Samuel Capricornus we heard another virtuosic gamba party, beautifully played by Nima Ben David. Capricornus was briefly in Vienna (1649), but worked the longest time in Stuttgart. Furthermore we heard pieces by Giovanni Giacomo Arrigoni, one of the organists at the Viennese court (Benedicta sit), Massimiliano Neri, who never seems to have worked in Vienna but was ennobled by Ferdinand III (Sonata V), Giovanni Valentini, who worked at the Viennese court under Ferdinand II (Domine, deduc me), and the above-mentioned Johann Caspar Kerll (Sonata III in g minor). This interesting programme was very nicely played by the ensemble, clearly articulated, colourful and with differentiated dynamics. Soloists were Peter Kooij and the young soprano Kristen Witmer. I had never heard of the latter; she made a very good impression with her beautiful voice and her stylish interpretation. In regard to text expression there is still room for improvement, but it would not surprise me if we will regularly encounter her in the early music circuit in the years to come. Peter Kooij was excellent, as always, especially in his text expression. And every word is understandable which is worth noticing as this is certainly not a common feature of vocal performances.

Antonio Bertali has already been mentioned; he served the court in Vienna from 1624 until his death in 1669. In 1649 he was appointed Kapellmeister. He is certainly not an unknown quantity and his music is represented on various discs. However, it is mostly his instrumental music which is played now and then, whereas his vocal music is seldom performed. It was therefore of great importance that this part of his oeuvre was explored in several concerts, two of them evening concerts in TivoliVredenburg. From an acoustical point of view that was not ideal: a church would have been more appropriate. On the other hand, this allowed for a large audience to become acquainted with this repertoire, and as both concerts were broadcast live by Dutch radio even more people were able to hear that it is well worth performing and listening to.

However, let me start with a late night concert by the ensemble L'Armonia Sonora [30], led by Mieneke van der Velden. Sacred works by Antonio Bertali and one of his sonatas were mixed with sacred pieces and the Lamento sopra la morte Ferdinandi III by Schmelzer. The latter piece received a incisive performance, with a key role of violinist François Fernandez. Some vocal works had a well-known text, such as Beatus vir and Salve Regina, both of Bertali, but it would have been nice if the audience could have followed the lyrics of O Jesu, summa Charitas by Schmelzer and Omnes Sancti Angeli by Bertali. They were printed in the programme book, but for some reason the whole hall was dimmed except the stage, and without light you can't read. As vocal soloists we heard again Kristen Witmer and Peter Kooij, now together with the alto Daniël Elgersma and the tenor Endrik Üksvärav. The latter began his career as a choral conductor in Estonia, but now focuses more on a career as a singer. His voice is well suited for early music, as his beautiful solos proved. He took master classes with, among others, Peter Kooij, and two other young singers are among the latter's pupils. That is a good experience and the benefits were clearly audible. The individual performances in solo passages were very good and the singers together made for a strong ensemble. Add to this the colourful and engaged playing of the instrumentalists and the interesting repertoire and one understands that this concert brought the day to a nice conclusion.

In the first evening concert with music by Bertali Bruce Dickey directed his own ensemble Concerto Palatino and the ensemble La Dolcezza of violinist Veronika Skuplik and eight vocal soloists [27]. The main work was the Missa Redemptoris which Dickey discovered not long ago. It is a work for 21 voices and fits in the tradition of 'festal masses', as they were composed not only in Vienna, but also for Salzburg Cathedral - just think of the huge Missa Salisburgensis by Biber. No wonder that cornetts and sackbuts play an important role in this work in which tutti passages alternate with episodes for one or more solo voices. The soloists and the two ensembles created a good ensemble, which resulted in a splendid performance bringing to light the qualities of Bertali as a composer of vocal music. The first part was interesting because of several dramatic works by Bertali, especially Vidi Lucifero, a piece for the feast of St Michael which describes how the devil (Lucifer) brags that he will dethrone God but is defeated by the archangel Michael. This piece is described as a motetto sollenne, but could also be called an oratorio as in texture and character it is clearly related to the oratorios by Giacomo Carissimi. The bulk of the piece consists of solo parts for two basses, here Harry van der Kamp and Wolf Matthias Friedrich. They created ??a real drama. Both are genuine basses, but even they sounded not strong enough on the lowest notes. At that time there must have been singers with a very wide range, especially at the lower end. The same problem - albeit to a lesser extent - manifested itself in Omnes Sancti Angeli for bass and three instruments, sung by Van der Kamp. Before the break we heard another oratorio-like piece, Dialogus inter Germanicus et Mariam Peccatorem, by a certain J. Andreas Kern, about whom nothing is known. The two solo roles were beautifully sung by María Cristina Kiehr and David Munderloh. The latter, as well as his colleague Daniel Auchincloss, were announced as countertenors. In Bertali's mass they sang the parts often performed by falsettists. There are good historical arguments for an employment of high tenors but sometimes the high notes were not flawless. Between the vocal works a few sonatas Bertali were played, in various combinations of strings and winds. All in all it was a beautiful concert with mostly completely unknown music - that is what one should expect in a festival.

It makes sense to compare this concert with the performance by L'Arpeggiata directed by Christina Pluhar [31], two days later. First of all, a part of the programme was again devoted to Bertali, alongside Giovanni Felice Sances. Secondly, the 'personnel' in both concerts was partly identical: members of Concerto Palatino and La Dolcezza, including violinist Veronika Skuplik, Bruce Dickey (cornett) and Simen Van Mechelen (sackbut), were also part of Pluhar's ensemble. Instrumentally this concert was more convincing than that of Wednesday, because it had more splendour and a greater sense of drama. Vocally it was the other way round. The vocal ensemble Bruce Dickey and Veronika Skuplik had brought together showed a greater stylistic unity and was more of a real ensemble. In the concert by L'Arpeggiata there were too many voices with a character of their own, at the expense of ensemble. It was particularly damaged by the incessant vibrato of some singers like soprano Anna Reinhold and tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro. Raquel Andueza is a very good singer, but had to overstrain her voice. This hall is probably too large for her. Remarkable was the voice of alto Vincenzo Capezzuto, which sounded like a treble. But over the years I have heard many trebles who sang with more expression than Capezzuto. O dulce nomen Jesu by Sances was disappointing, and Capezzuto's gestures completely inappropriate. The programme was performed without interruption. I didn't miss the break, because the music by Bertali and Sances was fascinating. It was a good idea to connect the pieces by short organ improvisations by Haru Kitamika. This way the public was deprived of the opportunity to disrupt the tension and cohesion with applause. There was plenty of that after the concert. In my view that applause concerned first of all the composers and Pluhar's idea of programming their music. As far as the performances are concerned, there was much to enjoy, but there were also some considerable weaknesses.

Lastly, under the title "Salon 1723" the Collegium 1704 [26] played a programme of music that might have been performed in Prague around that year. It opened and closed with two of the six trio sonatas by Zelenka. These are often played and recorded - rightly so, because they are not only technically demanding, but also musically fascinating. The sometimes obstinate melodic development is vintage Zelenka - these pieces are simply not comparable with anything else. They were very nicely played by the members of the ensemble. Violinist Helena Zemanova, oboists Xenia Löffler and Katharina Andres and bassoonist Jane Gower should be especially mentioned. Between Zelenka's sonatas we heard pieces by the lesser-known composers Antonin Reichenauer, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianelli and Johann Georg Orschler. Their sonatas were most entertaining or even more than that, because various movements had quite theatrical traits which came off very well. In some cases the line-up of the basso continuo with cello, double bass, theorbo and harpsichord seemed to me a little overdone.

Another festival has come to an end, and it was a most interesting edition because of the repertoire. It is especially enjoyable that various composers who were hardly known or whose oeuvre was only partly known, have been put in the spotlight. That concerns particularly the vocal oeuvre by Bertali and the music by Fux who turned out to be a much more interesting figure than is often thought. There is every reason to further explore his oeuvre. The artistic level was very high, and only in some cases I was not really satisfied.
The number of visitors increased once again, which shows that people may feel the effects of the financial crisis but that this festival is just too important for them to stay away. The reopening of the concert hall TivoliVredenburg is certainly a positive thing, but raises once again the issue of the connection between music and space. The festival is faced with the choice between what is ideal from an artistic point of view and what is financially feasible.

Next year the theme will be England, with music of the renaissance, Henry Purcell and by composers in the shadow of Handel. That is something to look forward to.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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