Cristóbal de Morales (1500 – 1553): O Crux, ave, spes unica – Stile Antico – YouTube

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September 2, 2014

De Morales' setting of  O Crux, ave, spes unica which you can hear below performed below by Stile Antico consists of two  verses from Vexilla Regis the hymn written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) in honour of the True Cross. The hymn's strong connection to the Cross made it eminently suitable to be at feasts and occasions dedicated to The Crucifixion such as Vespers between Passion Sunday and the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14th). The hymn can be sung in its entirety but very often particular verses will be sung – particularly as motets as here. It's also been altered and added to over the centuries amongst these not least being the addition of the verse:

O Crux, ave, spes unica,
O Redemptoris gloria,
auge piis iustitiam
reisque dona veniam.

Enjoy :-).

mfi

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John Rutter – A Clare Benediction – Choir of Escolania del Escorial

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September 1, 2014

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John Rutter's beautiful "Clare Benediction" has been sung by so many choirs that it's difficult to choose between them but amongst the many performances I've heard this one by the boys of the Escolania del Escorial must surely rank as one of the best ever. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Léo Delibes (1836–1891): Lakmé

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August 31, 2014

Delibes' Lakmé is the source of the ubiquitous soprano Flower Duet (Sous le dôme épais). It's based on an autobiographical novel by Pierre Loti Le Mariage de Loti sometimes called Raraha with a libretto by Edmond Gondinet and Philippe Gille. Loti's writing accounts for the, very fashionable, exoticism. Delibes composed it in 1882 and it received its first performance on  April 14th 1883 by the Paris Opéra-Comique at the Salle Favart. It was a popular piece in its time and stayed in the repertoire for many years. This popularity isn't really surprising it's a melodic masterpiece which calls not only for top class soprano singing but also for fine singing by the two principal male characters certainly it's well worth your while spending some time on if you've never seen and heard it in its entirety before. The performance below by Opera Australia is very fine –  keep your ears out for the Bell Song, Où va la jeune indoue? (Where does the young Indian girl go?). You'll find a synopsis here Lakme Synopsis - The Story of Delibes' Opera and can download the libretto as an RTF (wordpad) file from here Opera Manager - Opera Libretto. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Jonathan Battishill (1738-1801): O Lord, look down from heaven

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August 30, 2014

Battishill started his musical career as a choirboy at St Paul's which developed after his voice changed into a fine tenor, but it was his ability as an organ player and his prodigious musical memory that really impressed his contemporaries. He had hoped for a position at St. Paul's as organist but a tendency to excessive consumption of alcohol – particularly after his wife eloped to Dublin with an actor, put paid to that hope. He retained nevertheless a close connection to St. Paul's where he is buried. His anthem O Lord, look down from heaven takes its text fron Isaiah 64 and was most likely composed with the acoustic of St Paul's in mind it's a curiously old-fashioned piece that reminds many quite strongly of Elizabethan era music. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Domine ante te omne desiderium

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August 29, 2014

This terse but wonderful six-part setting of two verses from Psalm 37 (Psalm 38 in protestant Bibles) is an early piece which exists only in manuscript. I love how the first verse is so … … … tenative and how it gathers pace, and conviction, as Byrd moves the motet forward to describing in music the Psalmist's feelings.
Enjoy :-)

mfi

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Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741): Canta in prato, ride in monte RV623

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August 28, 2014

This wonderfully joyful composition is another one of Vivaldi's 'Roman' motets, I think he must have composed it for one of the soloists in his operas it's certainly in a very operatic style and lets a talented singer show off without having to work terribly hard to do so. Robert King describes it as 'Vivaldi at his most beguiling and uncomplicated' and really that sums it up nicely. It's a charming piece replete with nightingale trills and evocations of rustic flutes sung below by Anke Herrmann (soprano) accompaned by the Academia Montis Regalis conducted by Alessandro de Marchi. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (±1525-1594): Dilectus meus mihi

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August 27, 2014

'My beloved is mine' is the seventeenth of Palestrina's motets in the set of twenty-nine that set verses from the Song of Songs. As with all these settings Palestrina's setting is very concise and in some ways quite plain the better to make it easily performable by groups of varying compositions and levels of ability. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Bo Hansson (1950 – ): Slowly rises the narrow whirl of longing

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August 26, 2014

Breathlessly we will taste the words that never
Burned on our tongue

Hansson set Hultman Löfvendahl's Swedish language poem Den plats bland träden (The place amongst the trees) in 2000 for the Stockholm Musikgymnasiums Kammarkör. Both he and the poet were happy with the work and collaborated on this English language version of the piece. It's a comment on the increasing transience of modern human interaction and communication that starts very very quietly and then oh so gently and gradually building layer upon layer of sound and tempo around a rising central pitch transforms itself several times over. Each transformation is more intense – and transient, than the last rather like much in modern life. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Nunc Dimittis from the Great Service

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August 25, 2014

Byrd's settings for the Great Service took Anglican music forward from its hesitant and somewhat experimental phase into somewhat more splendid territory. He probably wrote the Magnificat (about which I wrote last Friday see: William Byrd (±1539-1623): Magnificat from the Great Service | Saturday Chorale) and the Nunc Dimittis last it's beautiful music which manages to obey the requirement that the text should be set clearly while making use of juxtaposition and contrast to great dramatic effect. It's been described as the 'finest unaccompanied setting of the Service in the entire repertory of English church music' I have to say I agree. Enjoy :-)-

mfi

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Sunday Concert: Jessye Norman & Kathleen Battle – Spirituals in Concert – Complete – Youtube

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August 24, 2014

The by now legendary concert with James Levine conducting and Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle singing solos. It's a very hard-to-get-hold-of recording, and believe me I've tried. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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Georg Friedrich Handel (1685 – 1759): Lascia ch’io pianga – Escolania de Montserrat

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August 23, 2014

It's easy to understand why Handel re-used this piece of music again and again – it's quite simply beautiful. It began its life as a dance piece in Almira (1705) and was reworked by him two years later as the aria Lascia la spina in Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno before recycling it again in 1711 for his enormously successful opera Rinaldo. It's been popular ever since and is firmly ensconced in concert repertoire. It's sung below in a more than creditable performance by ten years old Eduard Boadas accompanied by Pau Tolosa who is thirteen both of whom are choristers at the Benedictine Abbey of Our Lady of Montserrat and attend its famous music school the Escolania de Montserrat. Enjoy :-).

mfi

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William Byrd (±1539-1623): Magnificat from the Great Service

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August 22, 2014

byrd_signature_01_small Although he was a devout Catholic Byrd nevertheless produced music for his royal protector's church. Not very much of it to be sure and none of it was published under his name,  people sometimes assume that because he believed so strongly that the Anglican church was in error that the music he produced for its services must necessarily be somehow lesser than the music he produced for his fellow Catholics and their persecuted church. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the Magnificat from the Great Service testifies.

It's a relatively late work that must date from the last years of the century and both its musical breadth and its lavish ten-part structure (SAATBSAATB)  makes me think that he wrote it for the Chapel Royal.  He pays musical homage to the previous generation's canticle settings  but handles them in a far more imaginative and sophisticated way. There's a lot of juxtaposition and contrast which Byrd exploits to dramatic effect. The effect is both sonorous and beautiful I cannot help but think that Elizabeth would have been very pleased with him. Enjoy :-)

mfi

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