John Eccles: Semele - NEW!
AAM Records [2 CDs]
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and Recording of the Month – BBC Music Magazine
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ and Classical Album of the Week – The Guardian
Disc of the Month – Opera
Editor's Choice – Gramophone
Record of the Week – BBC Radio 3
Critics' Choice – Financial Times
Classical Album of the Week – The Week
Editor's Choice – Limelight
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Planet Hugill
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – Classical Source
The Academy of Ancient Music, Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and Julian Perkins are proud to present the first professional recording of John Eccles’s scintillating Semele (c.1707), the first setting of the great English libretto by William Congreve, better known in G. F. Handel’s version of 1744.
Jupiter, King of the Gods – Richard Burkhard, baritone
Juno, Queen of the Gods – Helen Charlston, mezzo soprano
Iris, handmaid to Juno – Héloïse Bernard, soprano
Cupid, God of Love – Bethany Horak-Hallett, mezzo soprano
Somnus, God of Sleep – Christopher Foster, bass
Apollo, Sun God and God of Prophecy – Jolyon Loy, baritone
Cadmus, King of Thebes – Jonathan Brown, baritone
Semele, daughter of Cadmus – Anna Dennis, soprano
Ino, sister of Semele – Aoife Miskelly, soprano
Athamas, a prince of Bœotia – William Wallace, tenor
Chief Priest – Graeme Broadbent, bass
Second Priest / First Augur – Rory Carver, tenor
Third Priest / Second Augur – James Rhoads, tenor
Julian Perkins, Director & Harpsichord
Academy of Ancient Music
'A real discovery… the documentation is outstanding; so much context to pore over in the 200-page book… But it’s the music that’s the winner; the more I listen the more I love this. What a resurrection it is.'
BBC Radio 3 Record Review – Record of the Week
'..a scintillating triumph... Thanks to Perkins's deft casting, each principal's vocalism and dramatis persona are wonderfully matched... The Academy of Ancient Music's playing is just as fascinating. Perkins directs from the harpsichord with a demonic intensity. When individual band members take over the storytelling, their solos gild Eccles's invention with their own... Perkins commands a gamut of responses to the ensembles' charms, from crystal-clear voicing to big, fat homophonic swells. ... this is a superb reconstruction of a lost Eccles masterpiece.'
BBC Music Magazine – Recording of the Month
'…the pace whips along, as jewel-like solos flash past, interspersed with vividly descriptive instrumental numbers… Julian Perkins gets a fizzing performance out of the Academy of Ancient Music, enough to make Eccles seem a rival to Handel…'
Financial Times – Critics' Choice
'It is difficult to imagine greater justice currently being done to this opera than it receives here. Testament to the depth of thought and preparation that has gone into the performance is fully laid out in the superbly produced accompanying 200-page booklet … The hero of the performance is undoubtably Julian Perkins, who conducts as if every bar means the world to him, pacing the work with assurance and drawing splendid playing from the strings of the AAM … All the major roles are outstandingly taken … as this outstanding recording proves, it’s a damn good opera. As such it fully servers to take a place in the repertoire of British companies.'
Opera – Disc of the Month
''This opera oozes drama’ writes Julian Perkins in his note, and goes on to prove his point. Pacing, not least in the expressive recitatives, is fluid and natural, the playing of AAM strings tingles with theatrical life and the young cast is uniformly fine … superb'.
Gramophone – Editor's Choice
'The Academy of Ancient Music’s new recording of John Eccles’ Semele is nothing short of a revelation…. The sheer virtuosity of the Symphony that opens act III is breathtaking, especially when captured in Alexander Van Ingen and Dave Rowell’s superbly present recording. Performed to the very highest vocal, instrumental and scholarly standards, this is simply unmissable.'
'With the Academy of Ancient Music, the director Julian Perkins reveals a work that exceeds the superficially attractive, his charged reading embracing high drama and deep emotion. Excellent performances from Richard Burkhard (Jupiter), Anna Dennis (Semele) and the remarkable Helen Charlston (Juno).'
'The work recorded here, [Eccles’] opera Semele, is definitely no tiddler, especially when performed with the forthright flourish that the director and harpsichordist Julian Perkins’s musicians and singers bring to the task … Among the universally strong cast, Anna Dennis makes the most of every word as the confused heroine who bites off rather more than she can chew. Richard Burkhard is properly muscular as Jupiter; William Wallace quivers nicely as the agitated Athamas, Semele’s intended; while Bethany Horak-Hallett makes such an eloquent Cupid that I only wish this god of love had flown into view more often. Handsomely packaged with copious documentation, this is a recording that by rights should put Eccles on the map.'
'Colourful musical gem… impeccably produced… The role of Semele herself is beautifully sung by Anna Denns, and the rest of the large cast is excellent, too. Julian Perkins conducts them and the AAM players in a performance that’s gratifyingly light on its feet… puts this Semele, and its composer, firmly on the map.'
'I enjoyed this disc immensely… what Perkins and his performers bring out is that this Semele is as vivid as a drama as its successor… Reviving one of the forgotten gems of English opera, this first professional recording of Eccles and Congreve’s drama is revelatory, bringing out the work’s wit, charm and drama…'
'...lavishly packaged, presented and researched new account… gives this work the passionate advocacy it has long been waiting for… Perkins directs a crisp, energised account from the orchestra, with plenty of character in the continuo playing.'
Limelight – Editor's Choice
'Long deprived of a modern edition, Eccles' music is beginning to resurface as evidenced by this recording of his Semele … Julian Perkins leads a dozen excellent soloists and the joint forces of the Cambridge Handel Opera Company, Cambridge Early Music and the Academy of Ancient Music … This new version is a real revelation.'
Les amis d’Ovide
'No stone has been left unturned in producing Eccles’ Semele; it is given a performance it truly deserves, shining light on a composer and opera unduly neglected. A recommended listen for those with an interest in music of this period. There is much to enjoy musically and musicologically in this diligent and all-encompassing release.'
The Classic Review
'… if one were to select a pinnacle of the English Baroque, they would be hard-pressed to find a more representative example than this … With world premiere recordings being issued with ever-greater frequency, it can be challenging to find those works that contribute something worthwhile to the canon, much less provide an eye-opening exploration of something revelatory, but Semele does just that.'
The Whole Note
'Eccles tended to work on a smaller scale than the operatic but he is notably deft when it comes to instrumental touches, such as violin obbligati, the structurally important use of the wind machine, and of tempest-styled intensity. It’s this adrenalin that I also ascribe to Julian Perkins, who directs the Academy of Ancient Music from the harpsichord. I’ve just listened to his vivacious playing of the keyboard music of the obscure English composer John Worgan (Toccata TOCC 0375) who was active compositionally after Eccles had retired, and his performance of sometimes somewhat eccentric music is wonderfully vivid, as is his direction of Semele. He encourages bracing tempi without allowing them to become breathless or short-winded. Pacing of the recitatives is finely judged (the opening recitative of Act II between Juno and Iris is a perfect case in point – not wilfully rushed but maintaining its own natural rhythm). Orchestral discipline is assured, and individual contributions are poised. The Symphony that opens Act III is pizzicato laced and full of interest. ...your ear will be enjoying this tightly produced, outstandingly well sung and splendidly performed Italianate opera.'
Margaret Catchpole - NEW!
Naxos [3 CDs]
World première recording of Margaret Catchpole: Two Worlds Apart – a tale of misguided loyalty, passion and fate.
Dating from 1979, Stephen Dodgson's opera tells the story of Suffolk heroine, criminal and chronicler, Margaret Catchpole. It immerses us in the internal battle between her good character and values, and her heartfelt loyalty to the man she loves, the smuggler Will Laud.
Margaret Catchpole – Kate Howden, mezzo-soprano
Will Laud – William Wallace, tenor
John Luff – Nicholas Morris, bass
John Barry – Alistair Ollerenshaw, baritone
Crusoe – Richard Edgar-Wilson, tenor
Mrs Cobbold – Diana Moore, mezzo-soprano
Dr Stebbing – Peter Willcock, bass
Judge – Matthew Brook, bass
Mrs Palmer – Julia Sporsén, soprano
Guard – Jon Stainsby, baritone
Alice/Lucy – Robyn Allegra Parton, soprano
Farmer Denton – Michael Bundy, bass
Mrs Denton – Leonora Dawson-Bowling, mezzo-soprano
First labourer – Jonathan Hanley, tenor
Second labourer – Mark Saberton, baritone
Julian Perkins, Conductor
'...The Perpetuo ensemble play beautifully throughout, the whole directed impeccably by Julian Perkins.'
'...recalling the light instrumental textures and immaculate word setting of works by Britten, the opera has a powerful presence and flawless skilfulness. ...the whole cast of 15 is impressive.'
'The recording is of a concert performance, given at Snape Maltings in 2019 to mark the bicentenary of Catchpole’s death, with a largely Suffolk-born cast. Australian mezzo-soprano Kate Howden provides Antipodean representation – and much more besides – as Catchpole. William Wallace beguiles as bad boy Will Laud and Alistair Ollerenshaw is strong as the reliable, eventual ‘public benefactor’ John Barry. Unusually for an opera with an eponymous heroine, there’s even a happy ending.'
BBC Music Magazine ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Conductor, Julian Perkins, does a superb job with Chamber Orchestra, Perpetuo. The musical Interludes between the scenes were not only a delight but moved the story forward in an interesting way. ...The singers on the recording are wonderful interpreters of this highly textured score. Made up of a cast of fifteen they constitute an impressive line-up. Dodgson writes well for them and the music contributes much to their characterisation. It’s not only about the voice but the delivery. Much attention is paid to speech patterns and rhythm. ...It’s a long time since I have been so gripped by an opera narrative and so involved in all its characters and that is due to the cohesiveness of the piece. But the biggest surprise to me was the wonderful score. Naxos has produced a marvellous recording and the sleeve notes are excellent. Highly recommended – this opera will appeal to a wide audience.'
'Throughout, Dodgson links his scenes with atmospheric orchestral interludes which greatly add to the interest of the opera, and Perkins gets fine performances of these from the members of Perpetuo. These interludes partly contribute to the work's leisurely feel, but yet they are musically so strong, and Perkins and his players make them an integral part of the opera. ...the singers' diction is excellent which means that you hardly need a crib to follow the action. ...The recording is notable for the vividness of the performances and the tidiness of detail in a contemporary piece is admirable. Dodgson's final opera has full justice done to it on disc.'
'...the sound is impeccable both in quality and balance between singers and orchestra.'
David's Review Corner
John Worgan: harpsichord music - NEW!
The organist and harpsichordist John Worgan (1724–90) was one of the most highly respected musicians in London. Handel admired his playing, and Burney described him as ‘very masterly and learned’. All that survives of his harpsichord music are a New Concerto, an independent Allegro non tanto and two collections, one of six sonatas and the other of thirteen teaching pieces. They encompass an eclectic variety of styles and a surprisingly wide range of emotions – proud, spirited, witty, impulsive, touching, vivacious – making Worgan sound something like an English Domenico Scarlatti.
Read more here about this world-première recording of Worgan's harpsichord music.
Julian Perkins, double-manual harpsichord from the workshop of Jacobus Kirckman, 1772 (Tracks 1–15, 29–31)
Timothy Roberts, double-manual harpsichord by Klaus Ahrend, 1973, after Dulcken (Tracks 16–28)
'Famous in his lifetime, the 18th century composer John Worgan seems to have dropped off the radar but this disc should tickle the palate with its exploration of Worgan's idiosyncratic Scarlatti-on-acid style ... There are numerous musical references which tempt and tantalise, though luckily the articles by Roberts and Perkins fill in a lot of the gaps, whether it be evoking the pathos of a Vauxhall song or sending up opera seria, and Perkins even refers to the music as 'bawdy'. By having two different harpsichords, we start off with a wide colour palate and both players use their instruments to the utmost so that along the way there is lively selection of colours and timbres which at times matches the wildness in Worgan's music.'
Planet Hugill ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
'Perkins, who is a thoroughly engaging performer as he recently showed when directing John Eccles’ opera Semele on disc with the Academy of Ancient Music, seems to enjoy prodding Worgan still further, drawing out almost music box sonorities in the Bizzaria of the two-movement Fourth Sonata, and taking pleasure in the Old School Sarabande with Variations, which is the Sixth Sonata. He plays on an suitably evocative instrument. ... [These pieces] have real character and a sense of personality, they cover a wide array of moods and are splendidly brought to life here in all their wit and charm.'
'The Sonatas are given imaginative and compelling performances from Julian Perkins. He adds considerably ... through an improvisatory approach to performance and copious added ornaments and flourishes that may reflect the accounts of Worgan’s own playing. Examples include a lovely bit of cheekiness at the end of the Gavott of Sonata V and a wild little coda at the end of the Sarabande.'
Early Music Reviews
Franz Schubert: 3 violin sonatas
American Record Guide Critics’ Choice 2020
Franz Schubert had two approaches to the violin – one a particularly virtuosic and fiendish style which evolved from his earliest orchestral works through to his late G major String Quartet. The other, more subtle, using a narrower range of notes, avoiding the extremes, is found in these Sonatas of 1816, which perfectly balance the violin and piano in technically and musically concise forms. Their concision led publisher Anton Diabelli to call them ‘Sonatinas’ and they have been known as such for 200 years: a misnomer that is an injustice to these fascinating and wonderfully poised works.
Read more here about this project.
'I knew at the outset that Peter Sheppard Skærved and Julian Perkins had found the essence of this music and greatly enjoyed playing it. They have a wonderful intimacy and informality. They find things in the music that elude everyone else, and their interpretive decisions invariably feel valid. The intimate, warm recorded sound is perfect for these performances.'
American Record Guide
'‘Blurtext’, not urtext – a fascinating and stylish approach to the score... The exemplary recording replicates well the intimacy and delicately subtle nuances of the music making.'
'The playing by both musicians is exemplary. Had the artists “merely” rendered the music as printed, I think this disc would merit attention. But the adventurous path they actually traveled makes this a very special recording... This Schubert disc is a fine achievement, and one I am delighted to recommend.'
'...Skærved and Perkins let the music do the talking, and it speaks confidently and compellingly.'
'...Much thought, care and affection has gone into this project… a CD that deserves the attention of anyone interested in historical instruments and an intelligent approach to playing them.'
Early Music Review
'Skærved always excels not only in his playing but also in his exploration of and critical approach to the original musical sources, and this CD is no different. Some interesting choices on repeats and frequent moments of surprise… a clear sense of period style is always present.'
The Whole Note
Carl Maria von Weber: Complete Keyboard Duets
Today, Carl Maria von Weber is remembered almost solely for his fantastical opera, Der Freischütz. This collection of his complete keyboard duets offers a different view of an important early Romantic personality.
Music for piano four hands, involving two players at a single keyboard, was a 19th-century way of bringing the grandeur of the symphony and the opera into living rooms. Performed here on period instruments by Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate, these pieces capture to perfection the genre’s cheerful intimacy and operatic flair.
Read more here about this project.
BBC Music Magazine
'Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate play with a fine sense of cohesion, the two pairs of hands balanced perfectly in tone and volume. The two period pianos add a much-needed sense of the sound of the period, allowing a sensitivity of touch and articulation. Incidentally, they are an excellent example of musicians surviving coronavirus lockdown with an enterprising series of on-line live streams from their home...'
'The use of a fortepiano brings a whole range of colour and timbres to the music, and as ever with Weber, his music responds to the clarity and sparkle which period instruments and style brings. And in the Allegro of the Opus 60 pieces, we even get to hear the Graf piano's delightful bassoon stop (I kid you not!)... Sitting two abreast at a fortepiano is a very intimate experience and here Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate sound as if they are enjoying themselves. They play the music with real affection, and with a lovely sense of friendship and connection with the music.'
Sweeter than Roses
Julian Perkins and Sounds Baroque