The Tallis Scholars: Isaac and Mouton, Wigmore Hall, 9 March 2017

Been going a very long time

Heinrich Isaac died 500 years ago this month. Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars have been around for most of that time…

…OK, not really, but they have been around since the mid 1970s, which is one heck of a long time. What a superb and professional troupe they are.

The concert was billed as being Isaac and Mouton, but in truth it was almost all about Isaac.

Here is a link to the Wigmore Hall resource for the concert we saw/heard. The centrepiece of the first half of the concert was Isaac’s wonderful Missa de apostolis. The second half had more, shorter works; motets, including one by Mouton but the rest all by Isaac.

We spotted Michael Heseltine in the audience a few rows behind us, when we returned from the interval. A bit of a coincidence, as Janie was seeing Angela the next day; Angela was Hesser’s right hand person, back in the day.

We’ve seen The Tallis Scholars before and I have a few of their recordings of Renaissance and Early Baroque music: Brumel, Gombert and Taverner, all excellent. Indeed we listened to this Taverner one – click here – when we got home. 

But before getting home we were treated to a delightful encore of Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen, a choral work attributed to (and probably the best known work of) Isaac. It was one of the greatest hits of the Renaissance. In truth, Isaac almost certainly didn’t write the words and possibly didn’t even write the music. But Isaac did live in Innsbruck at one time and did leave the place, perhaps in sorrow as suggested by the song, c1485. That was around the same time as, in Blighty,  Dick The Shit was feeding worms underneath a forthcoming Leicestershire car park and the Tudor era was just kicking off.

We’re talking nearly 100 years ahead of Greensleeves publication, so Innsbruck, ich muss dich lassen might well have been at Number One in the Renaissance charts for some 5000 weeks.

In these circumstances, it seemed only sensible for me to get my head around the words, chords and music – click here.

I’ve been working on that lovely song periodically since. It’ll go down an absolute storm on my baroq-ulele. I’m nowhere near as adept as The Tallis Scholars, needless to say, but they are nowhere near as Baroque-and-roll as me.  You never know, my version might just be the summer hit sensation of 2017.

Here are the King’s Singers giving it a go:

 

 

Richard Egarr, Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Concert, 9 January 2017

From the ridiculous to the sublime. A delightful concert of early music. Richard Egarr on the harpsichord with English music spanning the late 16th to late 17th century; Byrd, Purcell and Blow.

After our ill-fated Friday evening of avant-garde jazz, from a doyen of the free (or in this case BOGOF – buy one get one free) jazz movement – click here – the Richard Egarr was to be just the ticket.

There was one small problem though; a tube strike. In the interests of practicality and sanity, I put my principled doubts about Uber to one side, down-loaded the app and organised transport through Uber.  The transport only cost a little more than the concert tickets that way.

But we got there and I’m so glad we went.

Once we were at the Wigmore Hall, the music transported us to a happy place without any difficulty.

This was the first Radio 3 Lunchtime concert of the year at the Wigmore Hall. Sara Mohr-Pietsch came on the stage to explain how it works to the live audience and started her little spiel by saying, “hello and good afternoon to both of you”, seeming to address the remark to me and Daisy in the front row.

Perhaps she realised what an effort we in particular had made to get from W3 to W1 on a strike day. Seriously, the hall was pretty much full, so I suppose Sara meant to say “all of you”. Her spiel got better after that.

The audience doesn’t get to hear her radio introductions, so I struggled to work out exactly which piece was which and exactly when Richard Egarr’s short breaks were taking place, until I listened again again on iPlayer.

Which reminds me to tell you, if you get to this Ogblog article quickly enough, you don’t have to take our word for it how lovely this concert sounded.

It is to be rebroadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 15 January 2017 at 13:00, or you can catch it on the iPlayer radio thingie – for another three or four weeks – click here or below. At the very least you should be able to get more information about the concert on these links even if you miss the 30 day licence window to listen in.

 

 

 

A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith, Wigmore Hall, 6 January 2017

A little knowledge/research can be a dangerous thing, when exploring a field in which you lack expertise. I realise that, in our post-truth, post-expert society, that statement is controversial, but here is a cautionary tale to prove my point.

Many months ago, when I read in the Wigmore Hall brochure that Vijay Iyer was to be the next artist to hold the Jazz residency at the venue, I read his mini CV in the brochure and Googled him. I thought; “looks diverse and interesting; let’s book his first Wigmore Hall concert and see if we like it”.

What I didn’t do was look more closely at the spec. for that first concert and think about whether that particular concert would be to our taste.

Roll the clock forward until lunchtime on the day of the concert itself. I had just finished playing real tennis, having been taught a lesson by one of the better players that my modest improvement in the last few months – click here – was, at best, modest.

I called Janie, wondering why she hadn’t even read the Whatsapp message I sent her about this evening’s arrangements. She was clearly in a stressy mood. “I’m so frustrated with my morning. I can’t get hold of anybody. I have wasted so much time. I’m starting to really stress about getting to the flat on time for the concert this evening…”

There was no point prolonging such a call.

By the time Janie was sufficiently unstressy to call me back to try and finalise the arrangements, I was all stressy because, as I said to her, “I need to wrap up warm and leave the house in five minutes to get to the doctors’ surgery on time for my jabs”.

“You’re not having jabs,” said Janie, “you are having one jab. Jab, singular. No-one but no-one makes as much fuss about having one jab as you do.”

Well, actually, that’s not what the new practice Nurse, Liz, said to me a few minutes later.

I apologised to Nurse Liz on arrival for being a big baby and she said, “just don’t look at me”, then distracted me momentarily while she did the job. “That was easy enough”, said Liz.

I explained to Liz that my mother had an anecdote about me, which she used to tell all-too regularly. When I was very small, on one occasion the doctor and my parents had to chase me around the house ahead of one of my jabs, only for one of my parents (probably mum) to pin me down under the dining room table, allowing the doctor to get down on her hands and knees to vaccinate me right there.

“The NHS was a truly community, personalised service back then, eh?” I said. Nurse Liz laughed and said that she’s had to chase a fair few people around her surgery room in her time too.

In the end Janie got to the flat in good time and I had almost calmed down from the ordeal of my jabs…sorry, I mean jab.

We got to the Wigmore Hall in good time. Despite the stresses of the day, neither of us wanted a glass of wine before the concert – we both had juice. Surely the music would be our de-stressing therapy.

We sat in our seats, where an enormous, beaten-up looking electronic keyboard instrument/speaker was blocking our view of the Wigmore Hall’s exquisite Steinway. Janie tackled a poor unsuspecting young steward on this point, only to be rebutted.

Then Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith emerged. Vijay switched on his electronic instrument, which made a loud hum which reminded me of my father’s old Grundig TK35 reel-to-reel tape recorder, which I loved dearly (the machine, not the hum). I always attributed that hum to the thermionic valves within the machine.

Grundig TK35, ram-packed with thermionic valves. Photograph by Michael Keller, from Rad-io.de.

But I digress.

Then the so-called music started. Not least the screechy sounds produced by Wadada Leo Smith on his trumpet.

You see, the bit I hadn’t researched properly before choosing the concert was the other half of the pairing for this gig. Had I done so, I’d have learned that:

Wadada Leo Smith is an American trumpeter and composer, working primarily in the fields of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation…

Janie and I have had previous experience of the free jazz movement – click here if you want a good laugh – Cecil Taylor Quartet featuring Anthony Braxton, supported by Polar Bear, Royal Festival Hall, 8 July 2007.

I guess the pairing of Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith is not entirely “free jazz”, more like BOGOF – “buy one get one free” jazz.

Anyway, that noise was not going to calm us down and make us feel relaxed for the weekend.

Worse – unlike our experience at the Festival Hall nearly 10 years ago, tonight’s concert was primarily a one piece wonder (80 minutes or so) and we were sitting front row central, so the type of early escape we had managed from the Festival Hall in 2007 was out of the question without being rude and disturbing to other punters.

Neither of us were in the best of moods when we left after two encores and some unintelligible speechifying, which put a proverbial cherry on top of our concert experience.

We consoled ourselves with some delicious Persian food from Mohsen and some more soothing music back home as we ate.

I broke it gently to Janie that there were tube strikes planned for Monday, so we would need carefully to plan our trip to the lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall that day.

“Who are we seeing Monday lunchtime?”, asked Janie.

“A solo recital,” I said, “I believe it is the trumpeter from this evening.”

“YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN”, hollered Janie.

That was a poor choice of joke for that moment. Actually we’re seeing a harpsichord recital, which should be lovely.

We know a lot more about early music; we didn’t need research or third party expertise to choose that one.

Old And New Music From The Ends Of the Silk Route, Wigmore Hall, 2 December 2016

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This was a wonderful concert.

It was supposed to include the Uyghur musician Sanubar Tursan on vocals and dutar – click here for a sample including a hat with a nod to my Vermont and a dutar with a nod to my baroq-ulele, but sadly that artist was unable to show.

Still, we got plenty to see and here; Wu Man on pipa (we’d seen her before, in a late night “gig at the Wig” a couple of years ago) and Basel Rajoub and his Soriana project.

I got all excited about this concert when I went on line earlier in the week and listened to some Basel Rajoub/Soriana music; so much so that I downloaded a couple of albums to get familiar with this Syrian/Jazz fusion music:

Further motivation for the Syrian aspect of the music came from Gresham Society trip earlier in the week, where I saw, amongst other things, a wonderful antique picture of musicians in Aleppo (Basel Rajoub’s home town).

The concert was clearly rejigged to accomodate Sanubar’s absence, so the Wigmore Hall on-line stub – click here – and indeed the main programme did not have a running order, but a separate flyer did – uploaded and shown above.

The concert started with Wu Man alone, then Basel Rajoub’s Soriana Project, then Wu Man joined Soriana so they all played together. The all playing together biuts were the most interesting for live performance. The artists clearly enjoyed playing together.

I didn’t realise how much the pipa had Central Asian origins along with the dutar, but this link to Wu Man and Sanubar Tursan explaining it all helped me understand it.

It is a shame the concert needed to be rejigged, but frankly most of us were perfectly content. Janie really enjoyed the fusion sounds, although she claimed last night to have tired a little of me playing the Basel Rajoub recordings. Perhaps you can have too much of a good thing.

The World of Orlando Gibbons, Phantasm, Wigmore Hall, 24 October 2016

This had allegedly been a day off, although I did plenty of work during the day. Still, Janie and I played tennis in the morning and had  a very pleasant late lunch and late afternoon together.

Then to the Wiggy for this concert, booked a long time ago and I had no recollection what it was about.

Ah yes, a rare opportunity to hear consort music by Orlando Gibbons, performed by the esteemed viol ensemble Phantasm.

They were great on the night.

Here’s a link to the Wigmore Hall stub for this concert, so you can see what we heard, as it were. 

All the music was wonderful but, as Laurence Dreyfus quite rightly puts it in his programme notes, it is the six part pieces that really stand out.

Listening to them is like peering into a kaleidoscope…[t]he term ‘syncopation’ simply does not cover it

Syncopation – surely not “The Funky Gibbons”? – no, perhaps not. Very soothing music as it happens.

Dreyfus also mentions in the notes that it is so difficult to keep time for these pieces that even seasoned performers can miss their entry beat…

…and indeed he came a cropper himself on one occasion. Dreyfus took it on the chin and they started O Lord In Thy Wrath again.

Indeed, Laurence Dreyfus seems a rather sweet, self-effacing chap. When he introduced the encore, Pavane in F by John Jenkins, the elderly gentleman next to me said, rather loudly, to his wife…

John Who?

…Laurence Dreyfus smiled sweetly and said, a little louder, directly to the gentleman…

John Jenkins.

…I liked that.

The Gibbons music reminded me a little of the Corelli sonatas I enjoy so much, but of course these pieces were written so much earlier – incredibly sophisticated and rich sounds for their period.

Wonderful musicians all, Phantasm. Of course they spend almost as long tuning their viols as playing; that’s viol music for you.

I’m thinking I should invest in a good recording of these consort pieces. Glenn Gould is said to have listened to little else at times, but then he was as mad as a bag of frogs, so perhaps not a role model for listening choices.

Still, I loved the Gibbons consort sound and Janie dozed and listened appropriately.

Excellent review by Michael Church in The Independent – click here.

Yummy Chinese grub taken away from The Four Seasons on Queensway to round off the evening.

Update: I couldn’t resist downloading Phantasm’s recording of Gibbons Consort music – click here for link – delightful sound on the recording too. Not the same as live, of course, when is it ever, but lovely soothing sound.

Christian McBride and Chick Corea, Wigmore Hall, 8 July 2016

An early concert (19:00) at the Wigmore Hall, as there is to be a late concert tonight as well. Hence we needed to head straight from the Tate to the Wig late afternoon after our gallery afternoon.

We enjoyed a drink and some nibbles while keeping an eye on the Murray v Berdych score, the latter activity being quite prevalent in the bar. Kindly, Murray finished off Berdych just before the bell for the concert.

Now I had been looking forward to this concert for yonks. Chick Corea would have been on my bucket list if bucket lists had been invented back in the day when I first came across him.

I enjoyed the sound (piano and double bass), although Christian McBride, as with his previous gig with Edgar Meyer, does too much of the “mutual admiration society” body language for my liking.

Chick Corea is clearly an old campaigner who just turns up and does his thing. Christian McBride is clearly in awe. None of this aspect pleased Janie at all. Nor did the jazz style.

“This is corny old rubbish”, whispered Janie to me after Chick Corea’s solo effort. A little unfair, I thought. You don’t win 60+ Grammy nominations for corny old rubbish.

In short, the concert pleased me more than it did Janie. It’ll be interesting to hunt for reviews over the next few days. Meanwhile, the Wigmore Hall stub will need to suffice.

Adam Walker & Mahan Esfahani, Wigmore Hall, 24 June 2016

These “Wigmore Hall Lates” always seem like a good idea when we book them, but unless we are out and about that evening, they always seem like a big effort late in the evening just for an hour long concert.

I placated Daisy for this one by preparing a dinner from Big Al DeLarge’s Emporium, Tavola.  A veal ragu pasta preceded by a cold spinach soup.

Anyway, after the shock of the referendum result, we really didn’t much feel like going out but we did need some sustenance for the soul as well as for the body. This concert did the job.

It is only a few weeks since we last saw Mahan Esfahani at Saffron Hall with John and Mandy. I don’t think we’d seen Adam Walker before, at least not as a soloist.

Anyway the concert – set out in all its piece-by-piece glory here on the Wigmore Hall archive – was truly lovely and just what we needed. We both slept a little during the concert, but in a good way.

The positive thing from the Wigmore Hall’s perspective, is that these late concerts do seem to be attracting a younger crowd, which must be part of the purpose. The not such good news is that, in the absence of a big name, the hall is far from full for these.

Anyway, Janie and I both agreed that, in the end, it had been worth the effort to go out for a one hour concert starting at 10:00. But then, my flat is mighty close to The Wig.

 

I Fagiolini, Wigmore Hall Lunchtime Concert, 11 April 2016

Daisy and I arranged a Monday off, in part because “that’s quite often what we do these days”, but this one in particular because I fancied this lunchtime concert at “The Wiggy”.

It turned out to be a fortuitous choice of date, as it coincided with Pady Jalali’s unexpected but delightful visit, which I shall report once I have finished this short piece; a link to which should appear, as if by magic, as a ping-back on this one once it is done. (Clever stuff, this WordPress blogging).

Pady toyed with the idea of joining us for the concert, but the train times from Manchester didn’t really work sensibly for that, so just Daisy and I enjoyed the concert, from our front row mafia vantage point.

Janie is not a great fan of Renaissance English Madrigals, especially those of the fa-la-la variety, but even she admitted that this short concert was a wonderful way to get a small dose of them without the irritation that arises from a large dose.

There was a lyric sheet available for 50p which I avoided. Not for the matter of 50p, you understand, but because making it too obvious that the lyrics were mostly about shepherds, shepherdesses, the merry month of May and a fa-la-la-la-la… would not have added to Daisy’s enjoyment. Worse, me singing along would not have added to anyone’s enjoyment.

The concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, will be broadcast again on 17th April and should be available on this link until 8th or 9th May. Yes, available until the merry month of May fa-la-la-la-la…

The ensemble entered wearing straw hats and carrying a hamper, an old badminton racket etc. The idea was to give the feeling of a spring picnic; an idea that worked better live than on radio, I’d suggest.

There were three examples of modern madrigal in our concert too – the running order is archived here – but for the encore I Fagiolini returned to the safer ground of traditional month of May-type material; Now is the Month of Maying by Thomas Morley. Plenty of fa-la-las to send us on our way.

Twee? Yes. But it was a lovely concert which set us up very nicely indeed for a relaxing afternoon and evening with friends.

 

Les Arts Florissants, Airs Sérieux et a Boire – Volume 2, Wigmore Hall, 4 April 2016

A concert of early French Baroque songs. They don’t come around in London all that often. I really wanted to hear and see this stuff.

Janie was not sure she wanted me to book this one, but when I said that I would go to see this one on my own rather than miss it, up went her hand asking me to procure a second ticket for her.

In truth, this stuff isn’t quite Janie’s thing; in some ways not mine either. Les Arts Florissants perform these Baroque songs semi-staged, putting various materials together into a thematic programme that feels a bit like an oratorio.

The centre piece of this programme is Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Amor Vince Ogni Cosa, but the evening is interspersed with songs by other composers; Etienne Moulinié, Michel Lambert & Sébastien Le Camus. Heck, click the link to see how Les Arts Florissants describe the programme on their own web site. 

Here is the Wigmore Hall Archive concert details.

The semi-staging is a bit twee and melodramatic. Janie quite enjoyed observing the audience in the interval, noting that most of the audience was similarly twee.

But the music is simply superb. Every one of the performers is a virtuoso. William Christie, the Godfather of Les Arts Florissants, singled out soprano Emmanuelle de Negi for special praise at the end of the concert.

I thought the young theorbo player was utterly exceptional, so was surprised not to find his name credited in the programme. A little bit of detective work, not least the Les Arts Florissants link above, reveals him to be Thomas Dunford, age 28. Here is a very interesting article about him and I agree totally that he is one to watch.

The other problem, from Janie’s point of view, was the very helpful surtitles, translating the song lyrics from French/Italian into English. This is a problem for Janie, because the subject matter of the songs is all nymphs, shepherds, unrequited love and such. She hates English Renaissance songs on such subjects but usually doesn’t realise that French and Italian songs of that period are similar naff topics.

I’m not sure why, but early Baroque songs sung in Italian always sound just a bit shouty, whereas the ones sung in French don’t, even if both are composed the same French composer; Marc-Antoine Charpentier for example. Perhaps he writes the ones to be sung in Italian in the Italian Baroque style. Not as shouty as Monteverdi, but still quite shouty.

Yet, in the hands of these wonderful musicians, even the elements that would normally irritate us are trifling details; it was a really lovely concert. The performers came back to perform two encores; both extracts from the eponymous Charpentier work, Les Arts Florissants. We’d have gladly stayed around for a third or fourth encore. A special evening.

The concert was broadcast live on Radio 3, btw. Janie couldn’t work out how the surtitles and semi-staging work for radio. I explained that they don’t but those are the elements she didn’t much like, so what’s not to like about the broadcast?  If you are reading this within a month of the concert, you can listen on BBC iPlayer by clicking this link here. There might still be some useful information on this link after a month, for all I know.

 

 

 

“Esperar, Sentir, Morir”, Le Poème Harmonique, Wigmore Hall, 26 March 2016

 

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By the standards of a wet Easter Saturday, the day had been quite sporty and exciting. Daisy and I played tennis, despite the shocking weather – the rain holding off long enough for us to get our game in, merely through gloom and howling winds. Then we stopped off in Ealing to buy some sports kit supplies “while stocks last”. Later, we watched England play Sri Lanka in a must-win game of the World T20, which England did in the end win, but not without a scare or two.

As the drizzle and high winds turned to heavy rain and near-hurricane, we agreed that we would have abandoned a lesser outing, such as a trip to the movies. But we were very much looking forward to seeing Le Poème Harmonique at the Wigmore Hall, so it would take more than wind and piss to keep us from tonight’s gig.

It’s ages since I gave business to the Wigmore Hall CD stand, as it is usually a better idea to sample and purchase downloads of music in the comfort of one’s own home. But on this occasion we got to the hall well early (unnecessarily allowing extra time for the inclement weather ) and I wanted to read more than was in the programme as well as hear some more later, so I bought a couple of CDs:

The first is early Spanish baroque, much based on folk music, quite similar to some of the stuff we were due to hear. I’m listening to the delightful Briceño as I type.

The second is later French baroque, unconnected with tonight’s concert but a recent recording by this ensemble and should be home turf for them. It is incredibly beautiful music, wonderfully rendered by this troupe on this recording.

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It came as no surprise to run into my friend from the gym Eric Rhode and his wife Maria, forming part of our baroque concert front row Mafia.

It was a wonderful concert; incredibly accomplished musicians all. Claire Lefilliâtre has a wonderful soprano voice, well-accustomed and suited to baroque singing. Mira Glodeanu is a baroque violin specialist; I’m sure we have seen her before with other ensembles.

The concert was a mixture of Spanish and Italian baroque blending “street dance music”, such as it was back then, with courtly song music. The title of the concert, “Esperar, Sentir, Morir”, means “To Hope, To Feel, To Die” and is the title of the “closing number”. There were three encores after the closing number, but you know what I mean.

For the courtly music, leader Vincent Dumestre deploys his theorbo, but for the “street” numbers, he plays a beautiful looking and sounding baroque guitar. The bass viol player, Lucas Peres, plays the bass viol “on his lap, guitar style” for some of the jauntier numbers. The bass viol is about the size of a cello. The invention of bass guitar must have come as a massive relief to jaunty bass viol players everywhere.

But it is percussionist, Joël Grare, (or as he describes himself, “self-taught child of rock and drummer-percussionist”) who hogs the limelight in the raunchier numbers. He has an extensive collection of percussive toys on the stage, together with a baroque drum being kept warm on an electric blanket. His percussion is a mixture of sound and movement – some of his castanet interludes included some sort of baroque tap-dancing. For one song, he and the soprano briefly engaged in some flamenco/tango style interactions. Joel deploys puckish head movements and facial expressions as he moves around and percusses.

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Checking out Grare the next day, I came across the album Grare: Paris – Istanbul – Shanghai, which I downloaded after a tiny sample and which Daisy and I have already enjoyed hearing several times. It is quite extraordinary fusion music and is absolutely delightful listening. I’m sure we’ll be listening to this relaxing music for many years to come.

So, not a cheap date in the end, but it was an exceptionally good one.