CD review: A magical 500-year leap backwards into the wonders of the Eton Choirbook

A page from the Eton Choirbook representing a motet by composer John Browne, whose reationship with the fabled school started as a choirboy in the 1460s.

There was an in-joke among English choristers in the late 15th century: “The French sing, Italians shake, Germans wail and the Enlish rejoice” (Galli cantant, Italiae capriant, Germani ululant, Anglici jublilant, in the original Latin).

The national slurs are silly, of course, but it’s pretty much impossible not to reach a state of bliss after listening to a new album featuring seven pieces chosen by English a capella choir Tonus Peregrinus from the Eton Choirbook, one of the rare sources of English sacred music from the closing decades of the 1400s. Continue reading


CD Reviews: Bostonians’ Haydn Creation impresses; viola stands out in hands of Sarah-Jane Bradley

Joseph Haydn, The Creation (Linn)

Boston Baroque and its founding artistic director Martin Pearlman have done Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) proud in a sparkling new recording of The Creation, one of the masterworks of the oratorio repertoire.

The Viennese composer was so impressed by the oratorios of George Frideric Handel, that he had to write one of his own. The 1798 result, based on the Book of Genesis and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, was an instant hit, its popularity quickly spreading to other parts of Europe. Continue reading

Keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach show how messy rules of interpretation really are

C.P.E. Bach signed a guestbook with a clever little play on the famous family name.

Musicologists, historians and performers like to believe that interpretation is based on pretty clear rules. But when it comes to any music written before Thomas Edison invented his wax cylinder, interpretation is really the product of educated guesswork, sometimes handed down from composer to pupil to pupil to pupil.

But we’ve all played the telephone game, right?

So, back to guesswork. Continue reading

CD Reviews: Pure pianistic sunshine from Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco vs the dark moods of Guillaume Lekeu

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 (Naxos)

Pure sunshine and boundless energy come to mind in listening to two neglected piano concertos by Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968).

Fellow countryman Alessando Marangoni, who has been rollicking his way through the pianistic bonbons Gioachino Rossini scattered in his wake after retiring from the opera world, attacks these three-movement showpieces with the relish of a child who has just landed in the world’s finest sandbox with a shiny new shovel and bucket. Continue reading

CD Reviews: Voices speak through orchestral instruments in Bruce Haynes’ New Brandenburgs, Henryk Górecki collection

Bande Montréal Baroque and Eric Milne recording their new album at the Church of St Augustin-de-Mirabel last year.

Two new albums speak directly — and very differently — to how the human voice can be expressed through orchestral instruments: Continue reading

CD Reviews: Elora Festival Singers and Latvian choir mix global quality with local content

Elora Festival Singers with semi-recumbent founder, Noel Edison.

I Saw Eternity (Naxos)

A choir is a strange beast, no matter what size it is. On one hand, it needs to function like a single-cell organism, delivering music in perfect synch and in perfect tune. On the other, it is a rainbow collection of of individual personalities, backgrounds and abilities.

The best choirs are an alchemical feat, where the two elements are mixed to produce musical gold. Continue reading

The mysteries of expressing colour and texture in sound come into focus with music of Debussy and Messiaen

“The Colors of Music,” submitted by Michigan public school student Caden Roberts in a Jackson Symphony art contest.

To many, it must be a mystery how classical music people talk about colour and light and texture in describing the intermingling of intangible sound waves. The secret to understanding this translation is not to think literally, but to think in metaphors and evocations, as when reading poetry. Continue reading