musica Dei donum
Festival Early Music Utrecht 2017
Part One Part Two Part Three
"In the eyes of the Counter Reformation" 
Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
26 August, Jacobikerk
"Vigilia alla laude di Sancta Maria" 
26 August, Geertekerk
"From Du Mont to Charpentier: Politics, religion and music under Louis XIV" 
Ensemble Correspondances/Sébastien Daucé
26 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Sacred airs de cour" 
28 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
Tallis: Sacred works 
28 August, Pieterskerk
"English decadence and a Portuguese heretic" 
28 August, Cathedral (Dom)
Benevolo: "Roman polychorality in the time of the Counter Reformation" 
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
28 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Heretic angels: Pre-Reformation in Bosnia" 
28 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
"Open secret: William Byrd's London" 
Capriccio Stravagante/Skip Sempé; La Compagnia del Madrigale
29 August, Geertekerk
"Utopia, or The world turned upside down" 
Servir Antico/Catalina Vicens
30 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
"Fragmentum: In search of lost sounds" 
Ordo Virtutum/Stefan Johannes Morent
30 August, Willibrordkerk
"Virginalists with a story" 
1 September, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
"Thomas a Kempis and the Devotio Moderna" 
Le Miroir de Musique/Baptiste Romain
1 September, Pieterskerk
2017 is Reformation year: on 31 October 1517, Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses. This year many events took and take place which are connected to the commemoration of the Lutheran Reformation. Obviously the Festival Early Music Utrecht could not ignore it, but it decided to follow its own route. Rather than exclusively focusing on Luther and the effects of his Reformation in the German-speaking lands, it took as its subject "Music of the Reformations". The plural refers to the fact that before Martin Luther the Church saw various reform movements in different regions of Europe, and also the fact that Luther was not the only Reformer. Two of his colleagues - Huldrich Zwingli and Jean Calvin - also broke away from the Church. In England Henry VIII founded the Church of England, albeit for political rather than religious reasons. Lastly, the Reformation provoked the Counter Reformation, which was an attempt of the Roman Catholic Church to regain the lost ground. The choice to broaden the horizon resulted in a wide spectrum of music from several centuries and several parts of Europe.
Even before Luther, reform movements were active in the church. They were particularly opposed to its wealth and the luxurious lifestyle of many of its representatives. For the church it was important to integrate them and to prevent the teaching of the church from being called into question. In the 13th century the first mendicant orders were founded: the Franciscans and the Dominicans. At the same time lay movements emerged which resulted in the creation of lay brotherhoods, who had their own musical repertoire, known as laude. This repertoire is very extensive and consists mainly of songs in honour of the Virgin Mary. Texts and music are usually anonymous and have come down in manuscript. The ensemble laReverdie  had selected pieces from two of these manuscripts for its programme. Historical sources indicate that professional instrumentalists were involved in the performance of laude. This explains the use of instruments such as recorder, hurdy-gurdy and fiddle, in addition to percussion; obviously the instrumental parts were improvised as music before the 17th century never included independent instrumental parts. All the pieces are in Italian, because that was the language of the laity, and almost always each stanza is followed by a refrain. Some pieces are quite long: the concert started with a lauda of 15 strophes, each followed by a refrain. It says something about the character of the music and the interpretation that this never led to boredom. The variation in the line-up - women's voices or men's voices alone, a mixture of both, solo versus ensemble, with and without instruments - and a very lively performance resulted in a fascinating concert. There was some excellent singing, although the vocal contributions of the ensemble's director Elisabetta de Mircovich were sometimes a bit shaky. The musicians showed great skills in the playing of their instruments.
Another pre-Lutheran reform movement was the Devotio Moderna. A key figure was the Dutch deacon Geert Groote (1340-1384) who laid the foundation of the Brethren of Common Life. Le Miroir de Musique, directed by Baptiste Romain , had put together a programme around the figure of Thomas a Kempis (c1380-1471), who was strongly influenced by Groote. He was represented in the programme with a number of pieces attributed to him. The other works were all anonymous, as is usually the case with religious music from that time; the identity of the composer was not considered important. Some of the works had a Latin text; one of them was a Kyrie magne Deus. The title already suggests that this includes tropes: textual extensions of a liturgical text. The contrast between the standard text and the additions was underlined by a variety in the line-up. But most of the programme consisted of music on Dutch texts. This is not surprising: the Devotio Moderna was a lay movement and Groote had translated parts of the Bible (including the Psalms) into Dutch. The selected pieces were all from two manuscripts from the circle of the Devotio Moderna, which are preserved in Brussels and Berlin respectively. They show a wide variety of forms, several of which were covered in the programme. Le Miroir de Musique is one of the best and most interesting ensembles in the field of Renaissance music. It has already recorded several CDs which I have reviewed on this site; each of them is a winner. It is to be hoped that the programme performed during this concert will also be released on CD. The repertoire is very intimate and often meditative; that came out perfectly in the ensemble's performances. The text was always in the centre and was perfectly audible, thanks to the excellent diction of the singers. They also deserve compliments for their pronunciation, which - as far as I could tell - was nearly perfect, while only one of them, tenor Tore Tom Denys, is a Dutch native speaker. For me, this concert was one of the best of the festival.
A reformation often occurs in a period of uncertainty and unease and a reformation movement as such also creates unrest. This was certainly also the case in England in the 16th century. It experienced its own Reformation, when Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome. However, even before that there was some discontent about the state of affairs in the country. Catalina Vicens, with her ensemble Servir Antico , shed light on this stage in English history. The central figure in the programme was Thomas More who was the most important representative of humanism in England and was a good friend of Desiderius Erasmus. On the basis of his humanist ideals - for the record: that's something different from what is nowadays termed 'humanism' - he criticised the social developments of his time. Initially he saw Henry VIII as the embodiment of his ideals, but was quickly disappointed. He is best known for his book Utopia, in which he paints his ideal society on an imaginary island. Catalina Vicens had put together an interesting programme of vocal and instrumental works based on this theme. The vocal works were on the one hand expressions of dissatisfaction with the world as it existed, such as Robert Fayrfax's Benedicite! What dreamed I?, which contains the phrase: "Me thought the world was turned upside down". Another example is What causeth my woeful woe by William Newark: "What causeth me woeful thoughtes to think, syn thoughtes leg chief causers of my woe." Catalina Vicens had composed the music herself for a text by More, partly in English and partly in the language that he had designed for his island Utopia. Music was one of the pillars of happiness on the island; hence Henry VIII's carol Pastime with good company. The fact that More's hope for change ended up being in vain is proven by the fact that he was locked up in the London Tower at the end of his life. Fayrfax' Somewhat musing is about a comparable case. The programme ended with an anonymous religious work, Benedicite, praise ye the Lord - the latter words are repeated from beginning to end. It underlines More's religious conviction: in 1935 he was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935; his feast day is June 22nd. The two singers, María-Cristina Kiehr and Tore Tom Denys, and the instrumentalists (Caroline Ritchie, vihuela d'arco; Baptiste Romain, fiddle; Ori Harmelin, lute and Catalina Vicens, organ and organetto) brought this fascinating programme to life. Notable was the use of historical pronunciation, which cannot be appreciated enough.
It was under Henry VIII that England broke with the Church of Rome. One can call this the English Reformation, but at first it was purely politically motivated. Even so, it resulted in radical changes in the field of sacred music. The complex polyphony, sometimes in large scorings for up to 13 voices, which was characteristic for the early 16th century, made way for simpler compositions in which more attention was paid to the text. The latter was also the reason that Latin was replaced by the vernacular. The developments were demonstrated by the ensembles Alamire, led by David Skinner, and Graindelavoix, directed by Björn Schmelzer . The latter's programme included some impressive examples of the complex musical buildings, created by composers from the early 16th century. The main work in the programme was the Missa Ave Maria by Thomas Ashwell. This mass, and the compositions by John Browne - taken from the Eton Choirbook - showed exactly what the objections of the reformers were all about. The text is extremely difficult to follow, even if you are particularly keen on it. In the liturgy, for which this music was intended, the faithful - even if they knew Latin - will have hardly understood a word. Graindelavoix is an ensemble known for its original approach to the repertoire. It is not so much concerned about the sound of the ensemble but gives much freedom to the individual singers. In previous performances I have had much problems with this kind of singing. This time they were rather modest: I liked the way the mass was sung. I found Browne's Stabat mater less satisfying: here the individualistic approach resulted in a lack of ensemble; too often single voices attracted too much attention. I am not so fond of the chromium steel sound of many English ensembles. A greater dynamic differentiation, colouring of the voices and more attention to the text are desirable, but Schmelzer, in my opinion, goes too far. In this repertoire I feel more at home with the approach of Paul Van Nevel, who a few years ago recorded some pieces from the Eton Choirbook with his Huelgas Ensemble. But, having said that, Graindelavoix's concert was by no means dull.
Much more in the English tradition is David Skinner's ensemble Alamire , which brought a programme with works by Thomas Tallis. He experienced first hand the musical developments connected to the religious upheavals of his time. What was initially a political break with Rome became increasingly a matter of doctrine. The influence of the Reformation on the continent was felt especially under Henry VIII's son Edward VI, when a protestantization took place that resulted in the creation of liturgical texts in English, from which the worship of Mary - who had inspired so many composers before - had disappeared. The programme offered a few samples of traditional polyphony, such as Videte miraculum, but also the simple If ye love me and the syllabic and homophonic O Lord in thee is all my trust, consisting of three stanzas. The most interesting piece - and by far the longest - was See, Lord, and behold. It is a setting of a text written by Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, and is a prayer for protection against and revenge on enemies. The piece is not complete, but since it is an adaptation of a previously composed work by Tallis (Gaude gloriosa) it can be reconstructed. It is an impressive specimen of polyphony which is quite demanding because of its length alone. It was given an incisive performance by Alamire. Some particularly expressive and even dramatic episodes were nicely singled out, especially by means of dynamics. In general, Skinner and his singers delivered an interpretation which was more differentiated than one sometimes hear from English ensembles.
One of the effects of the Reformation in Germany was that convents were disbanded. This had severe consequences for the liturgical repertoire sung at these convents. Choirbooks which were no longer usable were often cut to pieces and used to strengthen the bindings of other books. But this did not only happen because of the Reformation. Even before music manuscripts which had become obsolete were recycled in some way or another. As a result much of the repertoire from the Middle Ages has come down to us fragmentarily. The ensemble Ordo Virtutum, directed by Stefan Johannes Morent , aims at bringing the liturgical music sung at German convents to life again through concerts and recordings. During the festival it presented a series of offertories, antiphons, responsories, psalms and alleluias from several convents in Germany: Maulbronn, Alpirsbach, Hirsau, Bebenhausen and Salem, mostly dating from the 15th century; three pieces were from the 12th century. They were all connected to specific Sundays, feast-days or saint's days. This way the audience got a good impression of the variety of the repertoire. Especially nice was the complete performing of a lesson (Lectio Evangelii) which is often strongly abbreviated in recordings. The six singers presented the repertoire in a most convincing way: sonorous voices which blended perfectly. The acoustic of the Willibrordkerk was just right: reverberant but not too much, which resulted in the text always being clearly audible.
The ensemble Dialogos, directed by Katarina Livljanic , focuses on the musical past of the Balkans. However, the performance at the festival was not just about 'early music', as Livljanic emphasized in her introduction. The starting point was a number of texts on an ancient Bosnian tombstone that inspired her to look for old religious texts, especially from the Bosnian Church, which was under threat of both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church. Some sources contain music which was used as the starting point for a search for music which could be used for texts that have been handed down without a musical notation. In this programme most music was part of a still living tradition, handed down orally from one generation to the next. This music differs greatly from what we in Western Europe consider to be 'early music', both in terms of melody and harmony. I'm not sure whether this kind of repertoire would be easily accessible if presented on disc or in the form of a 'conventional' concert. Livljanic had quite rightly chosen a theatrical setting and that was precisely what made for an extremely fascinating experience, in which the lyrics and the events to which they refer came to life. The texts were projected on the wall; that was essential to understand what it was about. There is no need to talk about 'interpretation' here. In a way the source of the music was involved in the performance: the traditional chants were sung by Kantaduri, an ensemble that devotes itself to the musical traditions with which the singers partly grew up themselves.
The Reformation provoked the Counter Reformation, which was not just an attempt to turn the clock back. Some of the criticism of reformers was taken seriously, especially in regard to the musical part of the liturgy. The Council of Trent laid down several principles, among them the removal of secular elements, for instance the use of chansons and madrigals as cantus firmus in mass compositions. The texts should also be given more attention and should be audible. To that end homophony was preferred. One of the composers who specifically responded to the ideals of the Council was Jacobus de Kerle, today a minor figure in the music scene, but quite famous in his time. He was one of the composers represented in the programme of the Huelgas Ensemble, directed by Paul Van Nevel . Kerle published a collection of prayers which are largely homophonic. From this collection Descendat Domine was taken. However, Kerle was also able to write in the traditional polyphonic style which was demonstrated by the Agnus Dei from his Missa Da pacem Domine. The second composer was Vincenzo Ruffo, who worked for many years in places like Modena and Milan. He was a brilliant composer and is now best known for his large number of instrumental capricci. He also made use of homophony; in the hymn Ave maris stella he turns to a specific form of homophony, the falsobordone. In contrast, his madrigal Vergine bella is an impressive specimen of his skills in imitative counterpoint. The third and last composer was Victoria: his oeuvre is dominated by polyphony, but it is not so complex and dense that it goes at the cost of transparency and audibility of the text. Although working in Rome and writing music which shows strong similarity with the oeuvre of Palestrina, his music has a stronger amount of expression and emotion, and that came well off in the ensemble's performance of two sections from his Missa Dum complerentur. The lines in the polyphony were beautifully shaped, there was some fine dynamic differentiation and Van Nevel cleverly explored the acoustic of the Jacobikerk. Ruffo's madrigal was the only piece performed with one voice per part and the singers sitting in a circle. This created a strong sense of intimacy.
With the next concerts we move to the 17th century. One could argue that the programme which was performed by the Ensemble Correspondances, directed by Sébastien Daucé , represented the Counter Reformation in France. Henry du Mont played a major role in the music scene at the court; in contrast Marc-Antoine Charpentier worked in the fringe of music life as he never had a position at the court. He was suspect because of his Italian leanings, and it is quite ironic that Italian influences are also clearly discernible in the oeuvre of Du Mont. He was represented with some grands motets, a form of sacred music for solo voices, choir and orchestra which was to become the main genre for about a century and for which Du Mont himself laid the foundation. Some of his motets include quite dramatic episodes, such as O mysterium. Also included was Sub umbra noctis, a highly expressive petit motet for bass solo, intended for the Elévation. The first part opened with a motet by Charpentier, Miseremini, written for All Souls' Day, and an impressive example of Charpentier's skills in setting a text in a dramatic fashion. The second half was entirely devoted to him. Although he never had any position at the court, he admired Louis XIV and wrote several compositions connected to the monarchy and Louis himself. In honorem S Ludovici Regis Galliae canticum is an example of the latter, whereas the famous Te Deum was composed for one of Louis' military victories. Daucé took some very high tempi, especially in the opening fanfare, sometimes at the cost of a clear articulation. I prefer a more modest tempo. However, the concert as a whole was a great success; actually it was one of the highlights of this year's festival. It is admirable that the vocal group is a true ensemble whereas at the same time every member of it has the capability to act as a soloist. The brilliance of the grands motets came perfectly off. Most important of all was that the text expression was explored to the full. It is certainly not only German or Italian music which is able to move an audience. Although this repertoire can be connected to the Counter Reformation, it was also - and probably even in the first place - written to reflect the brilliance of Louis XIV and his court; after all, at that time monarchs were considered God's representatives on earth.
Much more directly connected to the ideals of the Counter Reformation were the songs which were performed by the Duo Serenissima , consisting of Elisabeth Hetherington (soprano) and David Mackor (tenor, lute, guitar). These songs are originally known as airs de cour, one of the most popular genres in the 17th century. Etienne Moulinié, Pierre Guédron and Antoine Boësset are the most famous composers of such songs. However, in this case we heard songs with new, sacred texts, so-called parodies spirituelles. They fall into the category of contrafacta. The authors of such texts explored the popularity of the original songs to communicate the doctrines of the church. Even outside France airs de cour were used for sacred texts; we heard two examples in English and in Dutch respectively. Elisabeth Hetherington has a beautiful voice and sang these songs stylishly, for example in regard to ornamentation. David Mackor is an excellent performer of plucked instruments, but also has a pleasant voice. Despite my generally positive impression of the performances there were a couple of issues. Hetheringtons's singing was not free of vibrato, although it was relatively small. Unfortunately, in a number of songs some stanzas were omitted. It is also a pity that the texts were pronounced in modern French.
One of the centres of the Counter Reformation was Rome. Here there was no absolutist monarch who could use sacred music for his own glory (although the Pope was not free of absolutist touches). Music was first and foremost used to glorify the Christian faith and more in particular to demonstrate the superiority of the Roman Catholic Church. Large-scale masses were especially useful. They are specimens of a style baptized 'colossal baroque' by musicologists. The most famous example is Biber's Missa Salisburgensis, which once was attributed to Orazio Benevolo (or Benevoli). He is the composer of the Missa Si Deus pro nobis, scored for 16 voices. However, the composer suggests that every part can be split into two, bringing the total number of parts to 32. That is the form in which this mass was performed by Le Concert Spirituel, directed by Hervé Niquet . The sections of the mass were separated by motets from the pen of Palestrina and a canzona by Frescobaldi. The performance was pretty good, especially considering that it is not easy to coordinate such a large ensemble, divided into eight different groups. The rather dry acoustic of the large hall of TivoliVredenburg was helpful in this regard; it increased the clarity and transparency of the ensemble of voices and instruments. On the other hand: some of the dynamic explosions were more than the hall could handle. It shows that a large church is the more natural venue for music like this. But thanks to the fine singing and playing and Niquet's sensible directing this performance demonstrated the qualities of Benevolo's music. This composer definitely deserves more attention.
In some cases the connection between the concert and the main subject of the festival was rather loose. Capriccio Stravagante and La Compagnia del Madrigale  focused on the musical climate in the days of Elizabeth I, who was a staunch Protestant, under whose rule the position of Catholics was rather precarious. One of them was William Byrd. As Elizabeth greatly appreciated him as a composer he did not see the need to move to the continent, as some of his colleagues did. However, the music he composed for the Catholic liturgy was mostly performed in secret masses or in the homes of Catholic members of the bourgeoisie. That should have consequences for the performance, but for some reason this is hardly taken into account in modern performances and recordings. Was this the reason that the sacred music by Byrd which was selected for this concert was sung with one voice per part? The acoustic of the Geertekerk is rather intimate and therefore highly appropriate. But whether the interpretation of the Italian ensemble La Compagnia del Madrigale did justice to Byrds music is questionable. I know the ensemble as perhaps the best madrigal ensemble of our time, but the performance of motets by an English composer is an entirely different matter. The main problem was a lack of ensemble which was quite surprising considering that they sing together so frequently. I mainly heard individual voices rather than an ensemble. Rossana Bertini, the first soprano of the ensemble, was especially problematic: she was too loud and produced a rather unpleasantly sharp sound. In Ye sacred Muses, Byrd's moving consort song written at the occasion of the death of his teacher Tallis, she was somewhat better, even though her voice did not blend that well with the viol consort. The instrumental part of this concert was played by Capriccio Stravagante under the direction of Skip Sempé. That was the more satisfying part of the event. In addition to the consort music, played by recorders or viols, a number of keyboard works were performed as 'keyboard consorts' by Sempé, Olivier Fortin and Emmanuel Frankenberg on virginals, harpsichord and organ. The concert ended with The Cries of London by Richard Dering. He was one of the composers who contributed to this genre: a mixture of cries from market vendors and music for viol consort. The singers tried to make the best out of it and relatively speaking it was their most successful contribution to the concert. However, their English pronunciation was sometimes wide off the mark, as an Australian visitor told me. But one can hardly blame them that it all sounded less natural than in the hands of an English ensemble. And, let us be honest, a piece like this is nice to hear once in a while, but it should not be taken too seriously and has too little substance to be listened to regularly.
William Byrd was also one of the key figures in the harpsichord recital by Pierre Hantaï ; the other was John Bull. Both were Catholics, but whereas Byrd remained in England and enjoyed more freedom than most of his Catholic colleagues, Bull settled on the continent. The fact that Catholics, except Byrd, were not allowed to publish any sacred music may have encouraged them to concentrate on instrumental music, including music for keyboard. The virginals - the general term for strung keyboard instruments - were popular among the higher echelons of society. It is probably no coincidence that Catholic composers are in the majority in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, the main source of English keyboard music of the renaissance. Several genres were represented in the programme, such as pavan and galliard, variations on popular tunes and fantasias. An impressive example of the latter was Bull's Fantasia No. 12 in d minor. Another popular genre was the ground, a composition on a repeated bass pattern. The most brilliant piece in the programme was Byrd's My Lady Nevell's Ground which received an inspired performance. More playful were pieces like Byrd's The woods so wilde. Obviously more restrained were pieces based on sacred subjects, such as Bull's In nomine No. 4 and Reford's Eterne rex altissime.
"Ludwig Senfl on guilt and penance" 
Per-Sonat, Concerto Palatino/Sabine Lutzenberger
29 August, Geertekerk
Tobias Michael 
Ensemble Polyharmonique/Alexander Schneider
29 August, Pieterskerk
"The Wittenberg Nightingale" 
30 August, Pieterskerk
"Great joy: A year in songs" 
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier
30 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
"Calvinists in the Netherlands" 
31 August, Leeuwenbergh
"A songbook of reformist psalm composers" 
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry van der Kamp
31 August, Pieterskerk
"Dieterich Buxtehude, the Great" 
Netherlands Bach Society/Jos van Veldhoven
31 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Johann Christoph: the profound Bach" 
Gli Angeli Genève/Stephan MacLeod
1 Sept, Jacobikerk
"Luther's heritage" 
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier
1 Sept, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
"Telemann: Du aber Daniel" 
Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot
2 Sept, Catharinakathedraal
Whereas in the first part of my review I focused on the concertos which were related to pre-Reformation reform movements and developments within the Catholic Church during and after the Reformation, including the Counter Reformation, in this second part I turn to the concerts which were devoted to the repertoire which was written in the wake of the Reformation, not only in Germany, but also in France and the Netherlands.
Two concerts shed light on the early stages in the development of Lutheran sacred music. The first was given by the vocal ensemble Per-Sonat and Concerto Palatino, directed by Sabine Lutzenberger . The starting point was Luther's Ninety-five Theses in which he laid down the principle of sola gratia: man can only be justified by faith alone through God's grace. That's why the programme focused on pieces about guilt and penance. One of them was Ludwig Senfl's motet Da Jesus an dem Kreuze hing. The nine stanzas were performed in different combinations of voices and instruments. Also included was Senfl's setting of one of the penitential psalms, De profundis clamavi. The prominent role of Senfl in the programme can be justified by the fact that he stood in contact with Luther and composed a motet for him. It has been assumed he was leaning towards the Reformation, but there is no evidence of that. However, there can be little doubt that he disagreed with the attempts of the ecclesiastical and political authorities to silence the reformer. Luther arranged the same psalm into a German chorale: Aus tieffer not schrey ich zu dir. Guilt and penance is also the subject of Psalm 5, Verba mea auribus; from a setting by Orlandus Lassus a couple of verses were performed. The programme ended with the first part of Heinrich Isaac's motet Virgo prudentissima, an example of the Marian cult which was one of the features of the Catholic Church Luther criticised. With Bernd-Oliver Fröhlich, Julian Podger and Harry van der Kamp, Sabine Lutzenberger had surrounded herself with excellent singers, who delivered outstanding performances. Even so, the concert didn't entirely satisfy me. There were two reasons for that. Firstly the balance: Lutzenberger is a soprano, but sometimes sings in the Huelgas Ensemble as a mezzo-soprano, which suggests that she does not have a very high voice. This explains that in a number of pieces the cornetto, played by Bruce Dickey, took care of the upper part. Unfortunately it was too prominent and overshadowed the second voice. Perhaps - and this is the second issue - this also had something to do with the acoustic. The Geertekerk is better suited to chamber music than to liturgical music intended for large churches and cathedrals. I would have preferred to hear this concert in the Pieterskerk.
That is where the concert of the vocal ensemble Utopia and the instrumental ensemble InAlto took place . They investigated the sources of the chorale - the form that is so closely linked to the Lutheran Reformation and was one of the most important sources of inspiration for composers of sacred music in Germany. The programme was divided into three sections, each devoted to one specific chorale. As in the previous concert we heard settings of De profundis clamavi, again from the pen of Senfl and in a version by Lassus. Aus tiefer Not was heard in four different settings by Mattheus Le Maistre, Johann Crüger, Arnoldus von Bruck and Lupus Hellinck. Next followed Vater unser im Himmelreich, Luther's adaptation of the Pater noster. The Latin text was sung in a setting by Josquin Desprez - Luther's favourite composer - and the German version in pieces by Balduin Hoyoul and Johann Walter. The latter was the main composer of sacred music on German texts and settings of chorales. He was also represented in the last section, devoted to Easter. Luther's chorale Christ lag in Todesbanden was performed in settings by Walter, Hoyoul and Caspar Othmayr. This section was opened and closed by a text which is not connected to Luther's chorale, but also is about Easter: Victimae paschali laudes, which was performed in settings by Josquin and Lassus respectively. The concert ended with Walter's tribute to Luther, notably on a Latin text: Beati immaculati. The two ensembles provided technically immaculate and musically compelling interpretations. Utopia consists of five singers whose voices blend wonderfully; one of them is the soprano Griet De Geijter, who has a splendid voice. InAlto is an excellent ensemble with one cornetto and four sackbuts. The balance between singers and instrumentalists was just right, also thanks to the acoustic of the Pieterskerk. The contrasts between the Latin and German chants were underlined by a different positioning in the church. This was clearly well thought-over. The text was always clearly understandable. The programme will appear on CD shortly and that is certainly something to look forward to.
The ensemble Vox Luminis devoted a concert to repertoire from the Lutheran tradition connected to the various moments in the ecclesiastical year: Advent, Christmas, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, Whitsun, the feast of the Trinity and New Year . The chorale played a key role in the programme. Some of the main composers of sacred music were represented, although some of them are little known today: Michael Altenburg, Michael Praetorius, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Othmayr, Samuel Scheidt, Thomas Selle and Bartholomäus Gesius. The most famous piece was undoubtedly Praetorius' Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen. An exuberant piece for Christmas was Hammerschmidts Freude, Freude, große Freude. Hertz, the chamber music hall of TivoliVredenburg, was not quite suited to the dynamic outbursts in this piece. Selle's Veni Sancte Spiritus was probably the most virtuoso work of the evening, especially because of its extremely high upper part, perfectly sung by Zsuzsi Tóth. I greatly enjoyed this concert in which the various combinations of singers did wonders. However, I very much would have preferred an acoustically more appropriate venue, preferably a larger church.
Other concerts explored the next stages in the development of Lutheran sacred music. The Ensemble Polyharmonique, led by Alexander Schneider , turned to music which was not intended for the church but for more intimate surroundings. For that reason the Geertekerk might have been a more suitable venue than the Pieterskerk. Two composers of different generations were represented. The first was Tobias Michael, one of Bach's predecessors as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. We heard five pieces from the collection Musicalische Seelenlust I: sacred madrigals, comparable with those from Johann Hermann Schein's Israelis Brünlein. The ensemble devoted an entire disc to the oeuvre of Michael; it was one of my discs of the year in 2016. Michael's text setting is very expressive. Among the texts are some which we better know in settings by other composers, such as Unser Trübsal, die zeitlich und leichte ist and Ich liege und schlafe. The latest disc of this ensemble is devoted to the oeuvre of Andreas Hammerschmidt, not formally a pupil of Schütz, but strongly influenced by him. The five pieces in the programme did not differ substantially from those Michael. The title of the collection from which they were taken is telling: Chor-Music auff Madrigalmanier (choral music in the manner of the madrigal). However, they are sometimes quite dramatic and more modern than Michael's spiritual madrigals. That goes for example for Ach, was erhebstu dich, which underlines the vanity of pride, wealth and money. Hammerschmidt strongly emphasizes it by repeating the phrase "Eytelkeit, ach Eytelkeit" (vanity, oh vanity). This was nicely brought out in the performance. The text expression in Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn is no less impressive than in Schein's madrigal on the same text. The performances were simply brilliant. The ensemble consists of five excellent voices which blend perfectly. Colour, dynamics, the treatment of the text - it was all first class. These tools were used effectively to demonstrate that Michael and Hammerschmidt have written music of great beauty and expressive power.
Since long Dieterich Buxtehude is known as one of the last and main representatives of the north-German organ school, but certainly since Ton Koopman recorded his complete cantatas he is now also generally ackowledged as one of the main contributors to Lutheran sacred music. The Netherlands Bach Society, directed by Jos van Veldhoven , devoted an entire concert to this part of his oeuvre. The core of the programme were three chorales. The concert opened with an occasional work, the wedding cantata Schlagt, Künstler, die Pauken. Then followed the cantata Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr, which was preceded by several other settings. First we heard the chorale unison, then an organ arrangement by Heinrich Scheidemann, generally considered one of the founders of the north-German organ school, a vocal setting by Hans-Leo Hassler, another organ arrangement by Johann Sebastian Bach and the closing chorale from his St John Passion, 'Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein'. The first part ended with another cantata, Jesu, meines Lebens Leben, appropriately introduced by one verse from the Klag-Lied, which Buxtehude wrote at the death of his father. The second part opened with the festive cantata Frohlocket mit Händen alle Völker, comparable with Bach's Ratswahl cantatas. The main theme in this part of the concert was Luther's chorale Vater unser im Himmelreich. Again we first heard the chorale unison and then as a sacred concerto for two voices (here sopranos) and bc by Johann Hermann Schein. The concert ended with Buxtehudes cantata based on this chorale, Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott. The line-up in Buxtehude's cantatas is a subject of debate. There are arguments for a performance with one voice per part, but a choir is also a possibility, at least in cantatas for four or five voices. Buxtehude used large ensembles in his Abendmusiken, but when and where his cantatas were performed is usually not known. One might also argue that the line-up can or should be adapted to the venue. The Klag-Lied, for example, is written for a solo voice and organ. Here the chosen verse was sung by a few sopranos with strings and bc. There was little reason to argue about the standard of the performances. In addition to five excellent soloists (Maria Keohane and Lucia Caihuela, soprano; Margot Oitzinger, contralto; Thomas Hobbs, tenor; Stephan MacLeod, bass) we heard an excellent choir and a fine instrumental ensemble. Here and there the soloists used a bit more vibrato than desired and Oitzinger was a bit too weak in volume, but overall they made excellent contributions to the concert. It is also important - because of the alternation of passages for solo voices and choir - that both groups were on the same wavelength. Jos van Veldhoven provided for a high degree of cohesion. In this concert, the newly-installed organ of the large hall (more about that later) played an important role. Bart Naessens delivered good performances of the organ works and played the basso continuo in the vocal items.
Buxtehude was also included in another concert by the vocal ensemble Vox Luminis, entitled 'Luther's heritage' . The concert ended with the same cantata as was performed by the Netherlands Bach Society, Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr and as an encore Jesu, meines Lebens Leben was also performed. This allowed for an interesting comparison between the two performances: Vox Luminis with a small vocal group, the Bach Society with a larger choir. I enjoyed both; they were excellent in their own right. It has to be said that the line-up of Vox Luminis would probably have been less suitable for the large hall. However, I would have preferred this concert to have taken place in a larger space, like a church, especially because of a more appropriate acoustic. The concert opened with a piece by Johann Christoph Bach who was known in the Bach family as the "expressive composer". The dialogue Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig attests to that. Another member of the Bach dynasty, Johann Michael, is known for his motets for double choir; here we heard Herr, ich warte auf dein Heil. Again in the programme was Johann Schelle: Ach Gott und Herr, wie groß und schwer is an arrangement of the chorale of the same name for various combinations of voices. One of the most famous chorales is Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan which was performed in a setting by Johann Pachelbel, whose vocal oeuvre is overshadowed by his organ works. However, he was an important link in the development of German church music. As in their previous concert Vox Luminis delivered outstanding performances. In addition to the voices it included a fine group of instrumentalists which played their parts very nicely.
I already mentioned Johann Christoph Bach. Gli Angeli Genève, directed by Stephan MacLeod , devoted a concert to him, performing two lamentos and two dialogues. The form of the lamento was very popular in the 17th century and was used in operas as well as for separate pieces. Johann Christoph Bach's two lamento's are fairly well-known. Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte is for alto solo and was given an incisive performance by Alex Potter. Different in character, more dramatic, is the lamento for bass, Wie bist du denn, o Gott, in Zorn auf mich entbrannt, which was sung by MacLeod. In addition to the demanding bass part, this piece also has a virtuoso violin part, played excellently by Leyla Schayegh. I'm not a great admirer of MacLeod's voice and way of singing, but that's mainly a matter of taste. He gave a good interpretation of this piece, in which the textual contrasts were well converted. Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig - also sung by Vox Luminis - is an example of another popular genre of the time, the dialogue, here between soprano, alto and tenor on the one hand and the bass on the other. In addition to Alex Potter and Stephan MacLeod we heard Aleksandra Lewandowska (soprano) and Thomas Hobbs (tenor). The last work in the programme is also quite well known and is available on CD in various performances: the wedding cantata Meine Freundin, du bist schön. Although based on the Song of Songs from the Old Testament, it is a mixture of spiritual and secular elements. It shows that there was no strict separation between them at the time: both spheres flowed effortlessly into one another. This cantata stands out because of the expressive setting of the text and also of non-textual elements that can only be deduced from the notes of Johann Sebastian's father Johann Ambrosius. The main roles in this work are for the soprano and the bass, representing the bride and groom respectively, but there are also tutti sections with a dancing character - here sung by the four soloists with four ripienists - and a virtuoso violin part. This cantata received an engaging and eloquent performance.
Whereas Bach is generally considered to have been close to Luther's ideals in regard to music for the church, Telemann is probably more associated with those of the Enlightenment and with instrumental music rather than sacred music. This is partly correct, but also one-sided. Telemann incorporated Luther's chorales more than once in his compositions and he also composed occasional music for commemorations of the Reformation or events connected to it. The more of his sacred music is performed, the more its quality is revealed. That certainly goes for the three works which were performed by the Ricercar Consort, directed by Philippe Pierlot , with four excellent soloists who took care of both the solos and the tutti. The soprano Maria Keohane was the soloist in Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht, one of two settings of Psalm 6 from Telemann's pen. She delivered an impressive performance, and the obbligato instrumental parts for oboe and violin were also nicely executed. The concert started with the funeral cantata entitled Trauer Actus. This title immediately makes one think of Bach's Actus tragicus, and indeed there are several similarities, for instance the inclusion of parts for recorders and viola da gamba. The starting point is the chorale Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig; an arrangement of this chorale opens and closes the work. The concert ended with another funeral cantata, Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin. The instrumental scoring includes a recorder and two viole da gamba. The two solo parts are for soprano and bass, beautifully sung by Maria Keohane and Peter Kooij respectively. The A part of the bass aria contains quite dramatic elements, which in Kooij's interpretation came out excellently. The two remaining voices, which were only heard in the tutti, were nicely sung by Pascal Bertin (alto) and Jeffrey Thompson (tenor).
Let's turn to other regions in Europe where the Reformation left its mark in music. In France the Reformation was initiated by John Calvin, largely independent of Luther, although he became acquainted with Luther's thinking after his break with the church. In contrast to what is often thought Calvin had a basically positive attitude to music, but - probably more than Luther - he was aware of music's destructive potential. He started to rhyme psalms, but realised that he didn't have enough talent for that. Therefore he turned to the court poet Clément Marot to take care of this job. This resulted in the first edition of what has become known as the Huguenot or Genevan Psalter; it appeared in 1539 and included 21 psalms. The Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, directed by Harry van der Kamp , performed a programme of works by composers who have been involved in the arrangement of psalms in French translation or rhyme: Claude Goudimel, Paschal de L'Estocart and Claude Le Jeune. Not only psalms but also secular works were included. That way we got some idea of the world in which the Geneva Psalter came into existence and the literary forms the poets made use of. Où est la mort from the Octonaires de la Vanité du Monde by L'Estocart was interesting because of the harmonies which betray Italian influence. Notable was Le Jeune's setting of Psalm 114 in a version in vers mesurés by Jean-Antoine de Baïf, which has a strongly rhetorical character. Psalm 110 is one of the most dramatic psalms; several composers from the baroque have explored it, such as Handel. But Sweelinck's arrangement, which was performed during this concert, is no less dramatic, albeit in a very different way. This came perfectly off in the passionate interpretation of the Gesualdo Consort. The other works were also carried out excellently, with pure intonation and a historical pronunciation of French. The latter cannot be appreciated enough.
In few countries John Calvin had more influence than in the Netherlands. Although it is highly doubtful whether the majority of its population was ever truly calvinist the Reformed Church became the dominant force in the religious landscape, even though the elite either remained Catholic or was rather indifferent. Many of the latter later belonged to the Arminians, a movement which became independent after a conflict within the Reformed church which ended with a General Synod in 1618. The Camerata Trajectina  devoted a series of three concerts to the sacred repertoire sung mostly in the homes of Protestants of different convictions: Lutherans, Anabaptists and Calvinists. I only heard the last of the series, with music from Calvinist circles. The starting point was the Genevan Psalter which had been translated by Petrus Datheen. As he translated the original French texts quite literally, his versions were not of high quality, especially as the text did often not match the music. An attempt by Marnix van St. Aldegonde to present his own versification as an alternative failed. Interestingly, the Camerata Trajectina sung one of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck's psalm settings - he used the original French text - on the translation by Marnix van St Aldegonde and this worked pretty well. The melodies of the psalms became so popular that they were used for new lyrics, often of a political nature, mostly related to the war against Spain. But religious conflicts were also the subject of such contrafacta, such as that between Calvinists and Arminians. As is often the case with Camerata Trajectina, the concept was better than the performances. Nico van der Meel has a nice voice, which is well suited to the repertoire, but I was less impressed by his three colleagues Hieke Meppelink (soprano), Sytze Buwalda (alto) and Marcel Moester (bass). The voices did not blend that well, largely due to too much vibrato. I also noted a certain sloppiness in the pronunciation of the texts. The first items were sung in a historical pronunciation, but it was not consistently applied. In the contrafacta, the texts sometimes sounded very modern. In a few songs the singers tried to sing in dialect, but if art singers turn to that kind of tricks it seldom works; here it sounded rather artificial. That said, this concert was an interesting contribution to the theme of the festival. Considering that hundreds of collections of sacred songs to be sung by the faithful at home were published during the late 16th and the 17th and 18th centuries, this part of the musical landscape deserves much more attention than it receives.
JS Bach: "Bubbles with Bach" 
La Divina Armonia/Lorenzo Ghielmi, organ
25 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Klaglied: Buxtehude, Böhm, Weckmann" 
Olga Pashchenko, organ
26 August, TivoliVredenburg
JS Bach: "Clavier-Übung, part 3" 
Benjamin Alard, organ
28 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Between conflict and reconciliation" 
Lorenzo Ghielmi, organ
29 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Music between throne and chopping block" 
Charles Daniels, tenor; Fred Jacobs, theorbo; Les Voix Humaines
29 August, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
JS Bach: "Clavier-Übung, part 5" 
Benjamin Alard, organ
30 August, TivoliVredenburg
"Ode to Heinrich Isaac" 
Hespèrion XXI, Capella Reial de Catalunya/Jordi Savall
30 August, TivoliVredenburg
"150 Psalms, VI" 
The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips
1 Sept, TivoliVredenburg
Telemann: Fantasias for viola da gamba solo 
Philippe Pierlot, viola da gamba
2 Sept, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
Telemann: "Telemann's Harmonische Gottesdienst" 
2 Sept, Geertekerk
Telemann: Fantasias for violin solo 
Manfredo Kraemer, violin
2 Sept, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)
Telemann: "From Orpheus to Ino" 
Inga Kalna, soprano; Il Pomo d'Oro/Francesco Corti
2 Sept, Geertekerk
In this third part of my review I focus on the remaining concerts, some of which could not be connected to the main theme of the festival.
The latter is the case with the concert by Les Voix Humaines, consisting of the gambists Susie Napper and Margaret Little, with the tenor Charles Daniels and the theorbist Fred Jacobs . There programme included music written during the Commonwealth and the Restoration. Although the Commonwealth under Cromwell was dominated by puritanism, which had a strong effect on the state of musical affairs, it was the result of the English Civil Wars, which were of a political rather than religious nature. From that perspective there is no obvious connection between the programme and the theme of the festival. That said, the negative view of the Puritans on music affected the musical landscape: there was no room for sacred music and public performances were forbidden. As a result music was mostly performed in the intimacy of the homes of the aristocracy and the highest echelons of the bourgeoisie. Composers concentrated on writing music which could be performed in such surroundings, like consort music and songs. One of the most prominent composers of music for viola da gamba was Christopher Simpson; his compositions are considerably more virtuosic than what was written before. Another important composer of instrumental chamber music was John Jenkins; he was one of the first to compose for the violin. William Lawes and especially his brother Henry composed many songs for voice and lute or viols. Those songs are hardly known and for that reason the selection of some of their songs was praiseworthy. Things changed when the monarchy was restored in 1660. When Charles II returned from his French exile he strongly preferred the music he had heard over there and disliked the English fancy. This probably explains the inclusion of some French music in the programme: two pieces for theorbo by Nicolas Hotman. After the Restoration the baroque style started to manifest itself in England; especially the music of Henry Purcell attests to that. He was represented by a couple of songs. It was a compelling and entertaining programme, with splendid performances and some touches of humour.
Within the festival there was another 'mini-festival', entitled '150 Psalms'. On the last Friday and Saturday four choirs or vocal ensembles sang all 150 psalms in settings of 150 different composers. Although this event was in some way independent from the Early Music Festival and the concerts were included in a separate programme book, it made sense to include it in this year's festival as the Reformation paid much attention to the Book of Psalms. I already mentioned the arrangement of Psalms by Luther and the versification in the Genevan Psalter. At the same time, it was a logical move to distinguish it from the early music programme as a substantial part of the concerts in the '150 Psalms' project consisted of music from the 20th and 21st centuries. I only heard one of the concerts of the Tallis Scholars, directed by Peter Phillips , in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg, not the ideal venue for sacred choral music. The programme included a few curious items, such as a setting on the English text of Psalm 41 by Haydn (Maker of all! Be Thou my guard!). Perhaps even more curious was a setting of Psalm 92 on the original Hebrew text by Franz Schubert. One wouldn't expect such a piece from his pen; he composed it at the request of a Jewish cantor in Vienna. Much more obvious was the setting of the Hebrew text of Psalm 118 by the Jewish composer Salomone Rossi. Notable was also Psalm 103 by the Danish composer Mogens Pedersøn, a contemporary of Heinrich Schütz. It is a syllabic and strophic setting for which Pedersøn used the melody linked to the chorale Nun lob mein Seel den Herren in Germany. The contemporary piece in the programme was Psalm 63 by Nico Muhly, which received its first performance. However, the majority of the pieces was from the renaissance period: Merulo, Victoria, Monte, Mouton, Guerrero and La Rue. I am not a great admirer of the Tallis Scholars; their interpretation has little to do with historical performance practice. I have quite a few problems with their way of singing, including the fact that the singers use too much vibrato, which affects the ensemble and the transparency. There is also too little differentiation in their interpretation according to time and region. It was certainly an interesting programme, but musically not really satisfying.
A concert which was in no way connected to the festival's main theme was the one given by Hespèrion XXI and the Capella Reial de Catalunya, directed by Jordi Savall . The reason was that 1517 was not only the year Martin Luther published his 95 propositions, but also the year of the death of Heinrich Isaac, one of the main composers of the Renaissance, who is still in the shadow of Josquin Desprez today. That's why it is important that a musician like Jordi Savall devoted a programme to him (which is already available on CD). The concert was put together in the form of a biography: the different stages of Isaac's life and career passed on the basis of his compositions. The end of the Hundred Years War (1475) was linked with the motet Sustinuimus pacem, Isaac's departure from Innsbruck with his perhaps most famous work, the chanson Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen. This returned at the end - and there is a connection with Luther after all - in the spiritual adaptation O Welt, ich muß dich lassen. This was not the only contrafactum in the programme. The concert ended with the motet Christus, filius Dei, which was performed during the coronation of Charles V as emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1519; it is an adaptation of Isaac's earlier motet Virgo prudentissima, which he had composed for the coronation of Maximilian I in 1493. The concert was a worthy tribute to a great composer, who deserves more attention. Only a few pieces from his vast collection of liturgical music, the Choralis Constantinus, for instance, are available in recordings. Savall, as always, allowed himself some liberties which are debatable, such as a large line-up in the chanson Innsbruck, ich muß dich lassen and a too frequent use of bells. However, that does not diminish my appreciation of this concert. Savall had some excellent singers at his disposal here, including the soprano Ingeborg Dalheim and the mezzo-soprano Kristin Mulders, which deserve a special mention. Among the instrumentalists were a number of Savall's old pals, such as Sergi Casademunt, Lorenz Duftschmid, Philippe Pierlot, Jean-Pierre Canihac and Harry Ries. This ensured that there was much coherence in the performances of the instrumental parts.
Another anniversary that the festival could not ignore, was that of Georg Philipp Telemann's death in 1767. He was given special attention during the last two days. In the 1730s he composed several sets of fantasias for solo instruments: transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord. Only the former are pretty well known and regularly recorded. For a long time the fantasias for viola da gamba were considered lost, but in 2015 they were rediscovered by the German gambist Thomas Fritzsch, who in the booklet to his recording states that the quality of these pieces suggests that Telemann may have been a better gambist than he himself suggested. They can be considered an extremely important addition, not only to the oeuvre of Telemann, but also the repertoire for the viola da gamba. Telemann mixes here the galant idiom with the traditional German counterpoint; the latter comes to the fore in the use of double stopping and fugues. Philippe Pierlot had selected seven fantasias and delivered beautiful performances of great intensity. The quality of these compositions was revealed to the full in his interpretations. He added a suite of a true gamba virtuoso, Johann Schenck, of German descent, but for many years working in Amsterdam. In his Sonata No. 5 Schenck also makes use of double stopping. This piece comes from a collection in which the influence of the Italian style is clearly present.
Recently a few recordings of the violin fantasias were released, but for various reasons they didn't entirely satisfy me. I don't know if we can expect a CD recording by Manfredo Kraemer , but if such a recording will be released, it could well be the best in the catalogue. Technically his playing was not always immaculate, but his interpretation was impressive. Stylistically, these fantasies are more old-fashioned than those for the viola da gamba and largely inspired by Corelli. Counterpoint takes an important place here; Telemann regularly makes use of double stopping and fugues. When we consider that these pieces were meant for amateurs, one can only admire the apparent technical skills of the amateurs of those days. Kraemer provided highly rhetorical, eloquent interpretations, with a great deal of attention to articulation and dynamic shading. The dance rhythms also came off very well.
The French ensemble Il Caravaggio , consisting of mezzo-soprano, transverse flute, violin, viola da gamba and harpsichord, played a programme which included two of the so-called Parisian quartets and two solo cantatas. Unfortunately, this concert was disappointing. The quartets were played fairly well: I appreciated the playing of flautist Jean Brégnac and gambist Ronald Martin Alonso, but I didn't find the tone of violinist Anthony Marini very appealing, as it was rather sharp and scanty, with little variation in colour. But it was mainly the performance of mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold which I disliked. She sang a cantata from the collection Harmonischer Gottesdienst and a setting of Psalm 6. She has not a particularly beautiful voice - which, of course, is a matter of taste - and her diction and German pronunciation left something to be desired. The worst thing was an incessant and wide vibrato, which got on my nerves. In the interpretation she also missed the point in the cantata on Psalm 6, Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht in deinem Zorn. At the end, on the text "und zuschanden werden plötzlich" (and be ashamed suddenly), Telemann asks for a fast pace and an abrupt end. But the tempo was too slow, and on the final word the musicians slowed down again, thus nullifying the effect Telemann intended.
But that concert was by far not as bad as that by the soprano Inga Kalna and the ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro, directed by Francesco Corti . On the programme were arias from Orpheus, one of the few operas from Telemann's pen which has survived complete, in alternation with movements from some orchestral suites, as well as the dramatic cantata Ino. The latter, which was to be performed in the second half, I haven't heard, as I left the building during the interval. That is against my habit; I have never left a concert in the festival early. But what happened in the first part was more than I and my ears could endure. Inga Kalna bellowed through the recitatives and arias, at full force, without any differentiation. Add to that an incessant and wide vibrato, which made me feel as if I had been carried back 50 years in time. I don't say this often, but in this case it has to be said: this is simply not acceptable. The festival invites musicians and musicologists to talk about new developments in the field of historical performance practice. That is seriously compromised, if, at the same time, it allows performers to deliberately ignore essential aspects of that performance practice.
I haven't mentioned the opening concert yet. There is a good reason for that. It usually sets the tone for the festival. That was no different this time, but there was something special about it which had no direct connection to the theme of the festival. Since the concert hall Muziekcentrum Vredenburg was built - today, after its reconstruction, known as TivoliVredenburg - plans have been made to build an organ. Originally that was to be a symphonic organ, to be used in repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries. For several reasons these plans were never realized. After the rebuilding of the concert hall the plan was revived, but then it was suggested that a baroque organ should be built, to be used in the basso continuo of sacred music of the 17th and 18th centuries as well as obligato parts in, for instance, the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. It was the Utrecht firm Van Vulpen which was commissioned to build an organ, after a design by Peter van Dijk. Because of the shape of the large hall a special construction had to be made which looks rather futuristic as the picture shows. It took a central role in the opening concert, which was given by Lorenzo Ghielmi, one of this year's artists in residence, and his ensemble La Divina Armonia . Ghielmi opened the evening with two organ works, the Prelude and fugue in C (BWV 545), to which he had added the adagio from Toccata, adagio and fugue in C (BWV 564), and the Aria variata alla maniera italiana in a minor (BWV 989). These were followed by two cantatas. First Geist und Seele wird verwirret (BWV 35), in which the organ plays a prominent role as it has an obbligato part in the two sinfonias which introduce the two parts of the cantata as well as in the arias. The concert ended with one of Bach's cantatas for Reformation Day, Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild (BWV 79). This concert offered a first impression of the qualities of the organ. It seemed to be a real asset, but some of the shortcomings were also revealed. The communication between the player and the ensemble is not without problems as the performance of the two cantatas showed. But probably the main problem is the rather dry acoustic of the concert hall, which is perfectly suited to larger-scale music, but is not ideal for organ music. There is almost no reverberation, which has an especially negative effect on music for organ alone. But then, for such music this organ was not meant in the first place. In Cantata 35 its power was a real improvement in comparison to the small organs, which are mostly used for obbligato parts. In Cantata 79 its role is confined to the playing of the basso continuo, and here it had surprisingly little impact. However, that may well be due to the stops the organist used. It is probably advisable to use more or different stops, especially when the orchestra includes oboes and horns, as is the case in this cantata. Overall the performance was alright, but not something to get excited about. The organ works were nicely played by Ghielmi, and he did very well in the obbligato parts. Giuseppina Bridelli delivered pretty good performances in Cantata 35, although the last aria was a bit disappointing. Her lower register was also rather weak. The choral parts in Cantata 79 were sung by twelve singers, including the soprano and bass soloists (Alice Rossi and Wolf-Matthias Friedrich); I had preferred here a smaller line-up, maybe even just four voices. The duet for soprano and bass was the best part of the performance.
In the next days several recitals offered the opportunity to get a more balanced impression of the qualities of the organ and the way it can be used for the performance of baroque repertoire. Lorenzo Ghielmi  returned with a programme of music by organists who were connected to various courts in the Reformation era. Marcantonio Cavazzoni, Hofhaimer, Schlick, Cabezón and Byrd were all associated with the courts of a king, an emperor or the pope. Byrd experienced the consequences of the Reformation: as a Catholic he worked at the Protestant court of Elizabeth; he was only tolerated because of his qualities. Hans Buchner lost his job as an organist in Konstanz as a result of the Reformation, his pupil Hans Kotter lost a position as an organist precisely because of his Protestant conviction. Correa de Arauxo was included as the representative of the Counter Reformation, with a piece about the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. There was nothing wrong with Ghielmi's interpretations, but the limitations of the organ made itself felt here, especially because of the lack of a mean-tone temperament this repertoire needs. It is also questionable whether some pieces are intended for a large organ. Sometimes smaller is better, also in regard to organ music.
To some extent the lack of the correct temperament manifested itself in the programme Olga Pashchenko  played, which was devoted to German organ music of the 17th century. In most of the pieces a mean-tone temperament would have been better and would have resulted in more spicy harmonies. Pashchenko made up for it with outstanding performances. In Weckmann's Toccata in a minor, a typical example of the stylus phantasticus, she effectively explored the contrasts between the various sections and Georg Böhms Prelude in g minor also received an compelling interpretation. Dieterich Buxtehude played a central role in the programme, with two beautiful pieces based on a basso ostinato: the Ciaccona in e minor and the Passacaglia in d minor. One of the most expressive compositions of the 17th century in Germany is undoubtedly the Klag-Lied that Buxtehude wrote at the death of his father as I have already mentioned above. This piece comprises seven stanzas for a solo voice and organ, which are rarely performed complete, so it was very praiseworthy that Pashchenko didn't cut any stanza. It was also nice to hear good old Emma Kirkby as a soloist, whose voice has lost hardly any of its beauty and who is still a model of stylish interpretation. Pashchenko also played some pieces based on chorales, among them Böhm's arrangement of Vater unser im Himmelreich.
During the festival the French keyboard player Benjamin Alard performed the four collections that Johann Sebastian Bach called Clavier-Übung. The first, second and fourth books are for harpsichord, the third includes the so-called Organ Mass, a somewhat imprecise term for chorale arrangements related to the Lutheran Catechism. Alard played this third part complete in two recitals on the organ in TivoliVredenburg. In the first recital  he performed seven chorale arrangements which come in pairs: one large-scale arrangement for two manuals and pedals and one more intimate arrangement for manual alone. The latter can also be played on the harpsichord; Alard had included one of them in a previous harpsichord recital with two partitas from Clavier-Übung I. In particular in the large-scale chorale arrangements the dry acoustic made itself felt, whereas in the manualiter arrangements it was less of a problem as they are close to chamber music. The second recital  was devoted to the arrangements of Luther's versions of Kyrie and Gloria (Kyrie, Gott Vater in Ewigkeit; Christe aller Welt Trost; Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist) as well as two arrangements of Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr. These pieces were embraced by Prelude and fugue in E flat, which also open and close the entire collection. Alard was mostly rather modest in his registrations, but managed to explore effectively the various colours represented in the organ disposition. His clear articulation ensured that the musical discourse was easy to follow. In the first recital the chorales were sung by the soprano Gerlinde Sämann. Both in the prelude and in the fugue the various sections - which in the fugue are opened by different subjects, together a symbol of the Holy Ghost - were clearly distinguished. In the opening episode of the prelude, which has the form of a French overture, I would have liked a sharper articulation. I also found the registration a bit too aggressive.
The recitals justify the conclusion that this organ is a real asset for TivoliVredenburg and the festival. We'll have to wait and see how its role will develop. In previous editions of the festival organ recitals have also been programmed, but usually on instruments which are not suitable for early music. It has to be said that organ music seems not to attract much interest from the visitors of the festival. In most cases the audience was rather limited. Maybe the presence of an organ in the large hall of TivoliVredenburg will bring this part of the repertoire closer to the audience. However, its main role will be the performance of basso continuo parts in large-scale vocal works. Whereas in the opening concert it was hardly audible in the basso continuo in Bach's Cantata 79, it had much more presence in the Buxtehude concert by the Netherlands Bach Society. It all depends on how it is used.
Time to take stock. The festival was again a great success, if we look at the number of paying visitors. For the eighth year in succession it had increased. One wonders how long this trend will continue, considering that the number of classical music lovers at large does not grow - on the contrary. It was a good move of the festival to approach the main theme of this year, 500 year Reformation, from a somewhat different angle. Inevitably there is always something missing. I have already mentioned the large repertoire of sacred songs as included in many hymn books from the 16th to 18th centuries (and even later), which has received little attention. However, this is probably also due to the fact that not that many ensembles focus on this kind of music. It would also have been interesting to pay some attention to music of the Reformation from North America. This should not be seen as criticism: it is simply impossible to cover the whole range of the repertoire which in one way or another can be connected to the Reformation or to reformations in the broader sense of the word.
One of the features of the festival is that one has the opportunity to hear repertoire one hasn't heard before. That was certainly the case this year. There were also various ensembles that I hardly knew, or not at all. Sometimes the acquaintance was a pleasant surprise, sometimes a disappointment. One can always disagree about aspects of interpretation. Basically that is a good thing, because in some cases it is not possible to establish what is right and what is wrong. However, that does not mean, in my opinion, that everything is acceptable. I sometimes fear that the world of historical performance practice is falling victim to postmodernism. In art, this movement is characterised by eclecticism and relativism. This means that musicians don't bother to incorporate elements into their interpretations which are not tenable from a historical perspective, such as jazz influences in improvisations. Relativism manifests itself when musicians and ensembles deliberately ignore the achievements of historical performance practice. The audience seem not to care, because such escapades are enthusiastically applauded. I would like to see the festival being more critical in this regard. If historical performance practice is the raison d'être of this festival, it has to be careful not to compromise it by inviting ensembles which seem to be not really interested in it.
Next year the festival will be devoted to Burgundian music, with Josquin Desprez as 'composer in residence'.
Johan van Veen (© 2017)
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