J.S. Bach: French Suites, BWV 812–817

J.S. Bach: French Suites, BWV 812–817

Resonus Classics (RES10163) [2 CDs]

solo

Originating from Bach's largely halcyon years in Cöthen, the French Suites are evocative vignettes of domestic music-making chez Bach. With their vocal qualities and their open, galant textures, these works seem particularly well suited to the intimate hues of the clavichord. The recording is completed with a suite each by Froberger and Telemann – both of whose music inspired Bach.

What is a clavichord? Find out in Julian's introduction for BBC Music Magazine.


Audio samples and booklet are available at Resonus Classics

'The 'French' seem to be the least favoured on record among Bach's keyboard suites, yet also perhaps the ones most played by people in their homes – including Bach's, it is generally supposed. Julian Perkins performs them on the ever-intimate clavichord, and very sweet and delicate they sound on it. Actually he uses two clavichords, both copies of German late-18th century models: the one used for Suites Nos 1, 5 and 6 has a thin but silvery singing tone, while Nos 2, 3 and 4 are heard on an instrument with a brighter, pingier sound almost like a mandolin. The ability to play loud and soft, albeit within a very narrow and low-level range – is effectively exploited by Perkins; melodies sing over their accompaniments and the soft-curved sarabandes (the Fifth especially) are shaped with beauty and feeling. ...a well-executed and attractive release, worth investigating for its different slant on the music. Perkins includes the preludes found in some sources for Suites Nos 4 and 6, and complements Bach with fine little suites by Froberger and Telemann.'

Gramophone
 

'Taking his cue from the fact that the clavichord was by far the most common instrument for domestic music making and personal practice in Germany, Julian Perkins’ playing makes a persuasive case for recording the French Suites on the clavichord, following on from Thurston Dart’s historic 1961 recording on that instrument. This is impressive clavichord playing, highly intelligent and nuanced, with singing lines and rhythmic security. Voicing and counterpoint are beautifully controlled and repeated sections are judiciously ornamented. Perkins includes the Preludes to Suites 4 and 6 found in some sources. He also frames the suites with Froberger’s Partita no. 2 in D minor FbWV 602 and Telemann’s Suite in A major TWV 32:14 (long erroneously attributed to Bach as BWV 824), acknowledging and adeptly illustrating those composers’ influence on Bach. Perkins plays on two Peter Bavington clavichords, copies of a diatonically fretted c. 1785 instrument by Bodechtel in Nürnberg and an unfretted 18th-century German instrument, probably by Silbermann. In making this recording Perkins has done an important service to both the clavichord and to J. S. Bach. As a different take on these well-known works it can be highly recommended.'

Early Music Review


'Julian Perkins’ playing is sensitive and musical. He makes excellent use of ornaments, both realised from the score and also added improvisational ornaments, all forming an integral part of the music line, rather than being the often heard ‘add-ons’ to the texture. He also adopts an attractively free approach to interpretation, entirely appropriate given the complications of the sources of these suites. [...] I recommend turning off the lights, lighting a candle, sitting back and just letting the music flow.'

Early Music Reviews


'Julian Perkins’ recording opens with a partita by one of Bach's predecessors, Johann Jakob Froberger (1616–1667), whose music Bach apparently studied. Its D minor key prepares the listener for Bach's opening French Suite and also acclimatises the ear to the delicate timbre of the clavichord, an hors d'oeuvre perhaps before the main course. A very tasty hors d'oeuvre though, and its expressiveness and careful attention to detail characterises Perkins' general approach. His dynamic control of two warm-toned clavichords is exemplary, and he draws the listener in to many stylish nuances. Preludes are added to Suites 4 and 6 in typical 18th-century fashion while Sarabandes provide an oasis of calm, particularly enjoyable after the busy Italian courantes of Suites 4 and 5. His ability to expose hidden melodic lines is effective, with ornamental creativity allowing for the 'occasional Perkinism'.'

Early Music Today


'These works sit perfectly on the clavichord and are here given lively yet intimate performances which are highly convincing.'

Lark Reviews


'The playing throughout displays fine musicianship and a thoughtful interpretive approach. Highlights include the many touching softer movements, and especially the Sarabande of the Froberger suite, in which Perkins rolls chords with a lutenist's sensitivity for timing and gestural sweep, bringing the movement to a close with a whisper-soft cadence. ...This is a beautifully produced recording that both Kenner and Liebhaber of the clavichord will enjoy having in their collections.'

Clavichord International


'The recorded sound quality is excellent, with clear distinction between the two instruments. The essay by Warwick Cole provides a good overview of the primary sources, with references and links to online reproductions of the most important manuscripts, to which Perkins adds a personal note giving the performer’s perspective.

Perkins demonstrates complete rapport with the instruments and music, evoking a wide range of colors and effects. His performances are delightfully unbuttoned but never mannered, with subtly varied use of inégale, and fluidly improvised ornamentation; his rhythms are vigorous but always plastic. Altogether, this is music making of the highest order, rewarding the attentive listener at every level of detail.'

Boston Clavichord Society


'An outstanding feature of this recording is Julian Perkins' immaculate ornaments, with eloquent variations of shape and speed to suit individual contexts, using both on- and off-beat trills and mordents with differing initial note lengths – for example the lovely gradually accelerating trills in the Sarabande from Suite 6 as opposed to the more even, quicker ones in the Gigue of Suite 4.

I commend the addition to Suites 4 and 6 of preludes from later manuscripts (the latter otherwise known as No. 9 from Book II of the Well-tempered Clavier) and the inclusion of the Froberger and Telemann works instead of the more usual fillers, the BWV 818 and 819 suites. In fact I would happily buy these CDs for the Froberger alone. The beautiful tone colours, exquisite ornamentation, thoughtful use of rubato and moving changes in dynamics make it for me the most profound offering of all.'

British Clavichord Society
 

'...Julian Perkins is a fine musician and plays the suites elegantly.'

BBC Music Magazine


'Mr. Perkins is a player with a fine sense of line and direction. He plays with vigour or meditative lyricism in a healthy, unaffected manner, and makes lovely accents in time, whether by stretching beats or within strict time. He often adds ornaments to the repetitions and appears fond of providing flourishes to lead into a repetition or at the end of a work (cf. the conclusion of French Suite No. 5). The performer comments in the notes, ''A particular thrill associated with the French Suites is the lack of any one definitive source. ...It has allowed me creative freedom in combining different versions, adding some extra movements, varying repeats and realising chordal patterns – whilst also inspiring the occasional 'Perkinism.' '' The extra movements include, for Suite 4, the delightful little Prelude BWV 815a, its arpeggios realized here very ingeniously by Mr. Perkins. He bravely plays the E Major French Suite on the fretted clavichord, and I must compliment him particularly on his rendition of the allemande, finding and expressing the diverse flow of superficially even sixteenth notes with very elegant inflections.'

Harpsichord & fortepiano

The clavichord is a rectangular keyboard instrument that initially flourished from around the early 15th century to the Classical era. Its mechanism is disarmingly simple; each key lever has a brass blade (tangent) at its end that presses up against the strings when the key is pressed down. This direct connection with the strings allows the player to control the sustain of the sound. Along with the accordion, the clavichord is unique amongst keyboard instruments in allowing the player a degree of vibrato. Something of a Cinderella of the keyboard world, the clavichord’s dulcet tones have inspired performers ranging from Oscar Peterson to András Schiff. Below, the maker-scholar Peter Bavington provides details about the two clavichords used in Julian Perkins's recording of the French Suites.
 


Unfretted clavichord made by Peter Bavington (London, 2015), after a late eighteenth-century German instrument probably by Johann Heinrich Silbermann
                                                                                                                           Photo: Andy Craggs

Both the clavichords used in this recording are free copies of eighteenth-century German originals. The smaller one (heard in the suite by Froberger and French Suites nos 1, 5 and 6) was made in 2008, and is based on a surviving clavichord by Johann Jacob Bodechtel (1768–1831), who worked in Nuremberg. Although this original was clearly not made during Bach’s lifetime, it is very traditional in design, and is typical of the kind of domestic clavichord that could have been found in a German musical family at any time during the eighteenth century. It is diatonically fretted, which means that for part of the compass the tangents of two adjacent notes strike the strings at different distances from the bridge, producing different notes (this works in exactly the same way as the frets on a guitar or lute, hence the term). The twelve notes of each octave can thus be obtained from only seven pairs of strings, each accidental being paired with a neighbouring natural note. This system has the advantage of reducing the load of strings bearing on the bridge, aiding its response; it also reduces the size of the clavichord and simplifies the tuning process. Perhaps for these reasons, diatonically fretted clavichords continued to be made alongside the larger, unfretted type until well into the nineteenth century. The only drawback is that certain combinations of notes cannot be played simultaneously, but this is rarely a problem in these suites.

In the 2008 version, the compass was slightly extended to BB–f3. As on the original, the soundboard has two bars on its underside which pass across directly under the bridge; this, and the reflective cherry wood used for the case, seem to give the instrument its bright sound and quick response.

The larger clavichord (heard in the suite by Telemann and French Suites nos 2, 3 and 4) was made in 2005. It is based on an instrument in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, which is unsigned and undated but which is almost certainly the work of Johann Heinrich Silbermann (1727–1799), nephew of the famous organ builder (and friend of J. S. Bach) Gottfried Silbermann. In an unfretted clavichord like this, each string has a separate course; this makes necessary a longer bridge to accommodate the extra strings, and the front-to-back width of the instrument has to be increased to make room for a larger soundboard. The compass is larger, too: FF–f3, which implies a greater end-to-end length to accommodate the longer bass strings, but Johann Heinrich seems to have taken care to make his clavichord as short as possible: it is, in fact, scarcely longer than the Bodechtel. This has consequences for the sound and the way the instrument plays. The bass strings, for example, are quite short for their intended pitch, which makes necessary a large number of over-wound strings (40 in all), contributing a characteristically warm, dark timbre to the bass. The soundboard is deep but not long: it is in fact exactly square, which seems to be an almost ideal shape for the soundbox. Johann Heinrich used a special system of soundboard support, providing only one bar parallel to the bridge, with three strips of wood, no thicker than 1 mm, running across underneath at 45°. This is so successful that it was closely copied in the 2005 version. Very few other changes were made: the case is of walnut, like the original, with a panelled lid, here with three panels rather than the original two. Perhaps the only other significant change is the rose in the soundboard, which is a slightly modified version of the original, made of vellum and wood veneer rather than the original card.

For this recording, both clavichords were tuned to a1 =415 Hz. The temperament on the smaller instrument (fixed because of the fretting) was Bendeler III; Werckmeister III was chosen for the larger, unfretted clavichord.

© Peter Bavington



W. A. Mozart: Keyboard duets, volume 1

W. A. Mozart: Keyboard duets, volume 1

Resonus Classics (RES10172) 

Duo

Julian Perkins joins Emma Abbate to record the first volume of Mozart's complete keyboard duets on original instruments.

Some of Mozart’s lesser-known works, his keyboard duets span most of his active life, with the earliest written at the age of nine. Often delightful and lyrical as well as humorous and exciting, these works are given an authentic air on period instruments. Included on this first volume are duets in D major K 381, C major K 521 and B-flat major, K 358. Also included is a duet by Johann Christian Bach, with whom the infant Mozart is alleged to have played keyboard duets whilst sitting on the older composer's lap.

The two original instruments used on this recording form part of the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments: a grand fortepiano by Johann Fritz (Vienna, c1815) and a travelling piano by Anton Walter (Vienna, c1805). This album represents the final recording made at Finchcocks Musical Museum, and has featured on BBC Radio 3.


Audio samples and booklet are available at Resonus Classics

'Julian Perkins & Emma Abbate play with a delightful sense of the often playful quality of these pieces, revelling in the power and vitality of the faster Italianate movements as well as the gentler central slow movements, notably in the beautifully lyrical Adagio from the concluding Sonata in B-flat, played with impressive sensitivity. Their ability to play in perfect time together is exemplary – apart from the much richer sound of the pianos, it is difficult to appreciate that two people are playing, rather than just one. For an insight into the lesser-known side of Mozart’s playing and compositional life, this is thoroughly recommended. It is also a timely recognition of the work of Richard and Katrina Burnett over the past 45 years in creating such an important musical instrument museum at Finchcocks.'

Early Music Reviews


'Successful piano duet playing places particular demands on the performers and here the two pianists are working very well together. This is a programme of more substantive works written for this particular genre. As well as the Sonatas in C major, D major & Bb major the programme also includes Johann Christoph Bach’s two movement Sonata in A major. A second volume, also on period instruments, is to follow.'

Lark Reviews


'...excellent in all respects. The Fritz piano has full and gracious tonal qualities generously exploited by Julian Perkins (who plays primo throughout) and Emma Abbate, who especially relish exploiting the colours produced by the many imitative exchanges Mozart gives the players. Cantabile Mozartian lines are also beautifully drawn; listen for example to Perkins’ playing of the principal theme of the exquisitely lovely Adagio of K358, the kind of writing that would soon be finding its way into the central movements of the piano concertos. Both players are also untroubled by greater technical demands of K521, the big episode of the central Andante opening out to glorious blossom under the hands of Perkins and Abbate. The square piano on which the little J. C. Bach sonata is played is obviously a more modest instrument, but it has an attractively wheezy bass and the two-movement sonata, consisting of an Allegretto in the fashionable sentimental style and a breezy minuet, is ideal for this repertoire.

It is worth adding that all repeats are taken, allowing the performers ample opportunity to add ornamentation, which is always tastefully and not infrequently wittily added. The sound is a little close, but very much in line with what I remember as ‘the Finchcocks sound’. I await volume 2 with considerable anticipation.'

Early Music Review

From 1971 to 2015, the Finchcocks Musical Museum near Goudhurst in Kent was home to a collection of over 100 keyboard instruments plus related artefacts. The instruments ranged from harpsichords, virginals and clavichords to cottage pianos, early grand pianos and barrel organs. Set in an Arcadian oasis, Finchcocks put on thousands of varied events and was a global mecca for both the curious uninitiated and the touring virtuoso. The Finchcocks Charity for Musical Education, founded in 1984, retains a core collection of fourteen instruments from the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection of Early Keyboard Instruments (Julian Perkins and Emma Abbate used two of these instruments for the first volume of their recording of Mozart’s piano duets). The charity will continue to sponsor research projects and to work with students, with a particular – and much-needed – focus on training a new generation of early keyboard instrument restorers, tuners and technicians. Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins are honoured to be playing a part in the charity’s future. 

 

Finchcocks
                                                                                                                             Photo: Paul Carter

A Personal Tribute

I first came to Finchcocks aged twelve and, like innumerable visitors, was enthralled by the veritable menagerie of instruments on which one could actually play at this living museum. Never a fusty institution, Finchcocks always encouraged active participation, and I clearly remember once indulging in far too much hearty food in their Cellar Restaurant before playing the recorder in the annual ‘Young Performers Recital’! A regular guest at Open Days, I will always be grateful to Finchcocks for nurturing my passion for original keyboard instruments. I wrote an article about Finchcocks and the indefatigable Richard and Katrina Burnett for the magazine Early Music Today in 2006, and introduced Emma Abbate to the wayward delights of early keyboards when we performed at Finchcocks on a Clementi square piano in 2007 – our first concert together.

The recording that I made of Mozart’s piano duets with Emma Abbate in November 2015 was the last to be made at Finchcocks. I speak for a host of musicians and music lovers in expressing relief that the sale of this Georgian ‘mini-mansion’ is not by any means the end of the story, but rather the end of a remarkable chapter.

Julian Perkins

 

The Great Hall at Finchcocks, in which Emma Abbate and Julian Perkins made their recording.
                                                                                                                   Photo: Geoffrey Partner



Smith & Handel

Smith & Handel

Chandos (CHAN 0807)

solo

This disc features the world-première recording of suites by John Christopher Smith – best known as Handel's second amanuensis who helped put Messiah on the map. Smith's own music shows that he was a fine composer in his own right, whose music was greatly inspired by the daredevil virtuosity found in many of Domenico Scarlatti's keyboard sonatas. Two harpsichords are used here; a single-manual harpsichord made by Mabyn and William Bailey in London in c1770, and a double-manual harpsichord after eighteenth-century Franco-Flemish models, made by Ferguson Hoey in Oxford in 1982.


Available on Amazon

'John Christopher Smith's main claim to fame is that he (like his German father, who bore the same anglicised name) acted as Handel's amanuensis. But these six suites reveal a strikingly individual and gifted composer, often reminiscent of Domenico Scarlatti. The exuberantly stylish Julian Perkins is just the man for the job and tellingly collides the work of master and servant with a Handel keyboard transcription at the start.'

Sunday Times
 

Album of the Week

'Smith’s music turns out to be spirited, athletic, witty, agreeable and suitable for dancing. He was clearly a capable musician who knew his market, injecting a dolorous Larghetto for those who were suffering in love or health before winding up with a Gigue. Perkins plays with just the right dash of theatricality and, I’d guess, knowledge of his own market.'

Norman Lebrecht Sinfini Music


'...His [Perkins's] performance is brilliant and fresh ... He’s an excellent musician and a strong advocate for this musical style... The thick booklet has scrupulous documentation of everything ... This effervescent music by a neglected composer is unlikely to get any other outing as well-prepared and sympathetic as this.'

American Record Guide
 

'[Smith's] music occupies a strange sort of halfway territory between the late Baroque style and the progressive early Classical mould, and Julian Perkins captures the dichotomy of mid-18th-century England's Scarlattian obsession and the emerging rococo style in his judicious playing of Smith's Six Suites of Lessons for the Harpsichord, Op 3... These playful lessons amply repay Perkins's curiosity.'

Gramophone
 

'This is a lovely combination of unfamiliar music played by a fine musician on an original single manual (c.1770) and a modern (1982) double manual harpsichord. The use of the two instruments allows for more variety than in some recordings. The bulk of the CD consists of a premiere recording of music dating from 1755, John Christopher Smith’s Six Suites of Lessons for the Harpsichord, Op 3. This is preceded by an overture by Handel, Riccardo Primo, re d’Inghilterra. Despite loving the sound of the harpsichord I sometimes find a whole CD too much. This is not the case here. A very enjoyable performance.'

Lark Reviews
 

'Julian Perkins deserves praise for his initiative in bringing this music to our attention and so do those who have supported him financially and otherwise. Productions like this make much sense as they broaden our musical horizon and fill in the blank spots on the musical map. Many music-lovers will have heard the name John Christopher Smith but never any of his music. Rather than going by what is written by scholars they should listen for themselves in order to assess the quality of Smith's music. I have greatly enjoyed these suites. Yes, the influence of others is indisputable but they don't result in epigonism. Smith's suites have a character of their own. Perkins is a fine interpreter who brings out the qualities of these suites with great eloquence. He uses two beautiful harpsichords, copies of a French and an English instrument respectively. I found the English instrument especially interesting as this is a type of harpsichord one doesn't hear that often.'

MusicWeb International
 

'While working as Handel's amanuensis, Smith Jr. (1712–1795) was a busy composer in his own right, scoring particular success with his music for The Fairies, a concoction based on A Midsummer Night's Dream that David Garrick mounted at the Drury Lane theater. His scores sit mostly silent today, but Julian Perkins does honor to his forgotten memory through this recording of young Smith's Six Suites of Lessons for the Harpsichord, Op. 3, published in London in 1755... Smith truly shines.'

Santa Fe New Mexican
 

'Harpsichordist Julian Perkins has made the first recording of Smith's six suites for the instrument – a fascinating collection of works, none of which conforms to the traditional, dance-based suite structure; instead these pieces are more akin to sonatas.

Perkins has chosen two strikingly different instruments for this recording – a 'fruity' English single-manual for the suites in flat keys, and a 'powerful' French double-manual for those in sharp keys – and uses their specific characteristics imaginatively and captivatingly. The fifth suite (in G major) is utterly delightful, in particular the Rameau-tinted Minuet and variations.'

Early Music Today


'...this is a highly entertaining album of mid-18th-century harpsichord music that aims to entertain and amuse rather than evaluate. and succeeds eminately in its goals. Recommended.'

Fanfare

 



Daniel Purcell: The Judgment of Paris

Daniel Purcell: The Judgment of Paris

Resonus Classics (RES10128)

conducting

World première recording

Anna Dennis Venus – Goddess of Love
Amy Freston Pallas – Goddess of War
Ciara Hendrick Juno – Goddess of Marriage
Samuel Boden Paris – a shepherd
Ashley Riches Mercury – Messenger of the Gods 

Rodolfus Choir
Spiritato!

Julian Perkins conductor

 

Audio samples and booklet are available at Resonus Classics

"Thanks to this well-made recording, with a cast led by soprano Anna Dennis and [tenor] Samuel Boden, an overlooked episode in English musical history is exposed."

Financial Times
 

"This is one of Resonus’s most enjoyable discoveries and it’s my own personal favourite. I’ve made it a Recording of the Month for many reasons: as well as making available some fine music which has been largely ignored, it introduces us – me, at any rate – to some fine young performers… the work is delightful – not the equal of Henry’s Dido and Æneas but as entertaining as his Indian Queen – and the performances do it excellent service."

MusicWeb International
 

"The florid writing is extremely well handled here by a splendid cast, Samuel Boden's Paris and Ashley Riches' Mercury in particular, while the opera is directed by Julian Perkins with verve and wit."

Early Music Today
 

"Daniel Purcell’s drama is absorbing and certainly musically entertaining… high-quality entertainment."

BBC Radio 3 CD Review
 

"It is a pleasure to welcome this recording for the sake of Daniel Purcell's opera but doubly so because Perkins and his forces give a delightfully involving and stylish performance which is more than recommendable on its own terms.

Samuel Boden makes a fine Paris with a lovely lyric tenor voice. His lovely seductive tones and lyrical cantilena impress particularly in his final aria when he makes his judgement in fine style. His three goddesses are Anna Dennis, Amy Freston and Clara Hendricks, each a charming delight. Dennis is suitably seductive as Venus, Hendricks is a very spirited Juno and Amy Freston a bravura Pallas. Ashley Riches makes a deeply dignified and involving Mercury at the opening.

The opera consists of a series of short numbers, 31 in all, with each goddess getting a little scene. Though I have seen it live many years ago, I have to confess to no remembrance of it in performance. But from this disc I think it would make a highly effective and delightful stage work.

Though the airs are short, the vocal writing is not uncomplicated and all soloists are stylish and involving. Spiritato! lives up to its name, giving us a spirited and sophisticated performance. There is crisp support from the Rodolfus Choir. Perkins keeps the work flowing nicely and gets a stylish performance all round."

Planet Hugill
 

"In rescuing Daniel Purcell’s… delightful short semi-opera, The Judgement of Paris (1701) from canonical oblivion, the Spiritato! ensemble, under the musical direction of Julian Perkins, has done lovers of baroque music a great service."

British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies - concert review
 

"... in the rescuing hands of Spiritato!, the Rodolfus Choir and a strong team of soloists in this celebratory performance at St John’s Smith Square, Purcell’s (largely neglected) opera sparkled at us across the silent centuries with joyful conviction, playfulness and verve."

Bachtrack - concert review



Conversazioni II: Duelling Cantatas

Conversazioni II: Duelling Cantatas

Avie Records (AV2296)

Sounds Baroque

With Sounds Baroque, featuring Anna Dennis, soprano, and Andrew Radley, countertenor.

Works by Alessandro Scarlatti, Antonio Caldara, Domenico Scarlatti, Francesco Gasparini and George Frideric Handel.

The second in a series exploring the wealth of vocal and instrumental music presented at the artistic gatherings of 18th century Rome’s Arcadian Academy. Soprano Anna Dennis and countertenor Andrew Radley engage in a vocal contest of style and beauty while period instrumentalists Sounds Baroque breathe vibrant life into spirited scores by Caldara and Domenico Scarlatti.


Available on Amazon

"The Sunday gatherings, or conversazioni, of 18th-century Rome’s Arcadian Academy spawned a vast amount of purpose-built music. Here are three secular cantatas (Scarlatti, Gasparini and Handel), each exploring not so much rivalrous duelling as dialogue. Singularly characterful works, they are delivered with stylish aplomb by the soprano Anna Dennis and the countertenor Andrew Radley."

The Sunday Times
 

"This is a lovely disc, ingeniously programmed and lovingly performed by some outstanding musicians. The booklet essays are superb, while the recording is a model of clarity and warmth. As such it makes an ideal tribute to the late Noelle Barker, whose death, following the release of the first 'Conversazioni', clearly robbed these players of a wonderful guiding light; 'a formidable teacher and a refreshingly honest friend', as the printed tribute puts it."

International Record Review
 

"This is a winner - picture yourself, in October 1708, in the sumptuous surroundings of Rome's Palazzo Bonelli, along with one's fellow Arcadian Academicians, the guests of Marquis Francesco Maria Ruspoli. A civilised entertainment of pastoral cantatas and instrumental pieces by ''Terpandro Politeo'' (Alessandro Scarlatti), his son, Domenico and their colleagues Gasparini and Caldara is galvanised by the appearance of ''Il Caro Sassone'', the brilliant young Handel, showing off his keyboard virtuosity and his startlingly dramatic vocal writing.

Sounds Baroque have put together a fine programme. The Gasparini cantata has a ravishing pastoral duet at its heart, with pifferarian drone-effects; Caldara's trio sonata is elegantly and elegiacally contrapuntal, while Alessandro Scarlatti's cantata a due has characteristically smooth and subtle word-setting - note the beautifully-handled ''dying'' close. The well-known keyboard contest between the younger Scarlatti and his exact contemporary Handel is convincingly reconstructed (a first appearance on disc?) with a pair of sonatas apiece. It is, however, Handel's extended dramatic scena that crowns the proceedings, with the hectic chase of its overture, precipitately interrupted, and completed with a suave major-key minuet; this latter returns neatly at the end, but in the minor key, and with the participants singing in strict (for Handel) canon, symbolising their continuing separation. In between are four contrasting arias; Daliso's lovely E vanita d'un cor is particularly haunting. These performances are wholly alluring; I especially enjoyed Anna Dennis's hard-to-get Amarilli. The continuo team are spot on, both supportive and stimulating, under Julian Perkins's expert direction. David Vickers's scholarly sleevenotes admirably complete a splendid recording.''

Early Music Review
 

‘As for the performance, the disc is excellent, fully the equal of its predecessor. Countertenor Andrew Radley has a nice, dark, rich voice, which pairs nicely with the smooth and clear soprano of Anna Dennis. The accompaniment is well done, as well, never obscuring the vocal lines. …it is an excellent complement to the first of these musical conversations, and certainly belongs in any Arcadian collection.’

Fanfare
 

"Sounds Baroque follow their debut album (10/11) with another engaging snapshot of the Arcadian Academy's Sunday afternoon 'conversations', magnets for the Roman intellectual elite held in the sumptuous palazzi of Marquis (later Prince) Ruspoli, Cardinal Ottoboni et al. The programme unfolds as a series of musical duels, bookended by substantial cantatas by Francesco Gasparini and Handel, and taking in a fine trio sonata by Caldara and the keyboard works that perhaps featured in the famous Roman gladiatorial contest between Handel and Domenico Scarlatti.

In Gasparini's attractive Io che dal terzo ciel, Anna Dennis, pure and limpid of tone, and the pleasing countertenor of Andrew Radley sigh and coo beguilingly as Venus and Adonis. The musette duet 'La pastorella ove il boschetto ombreggia', where the ever-lively continuo group evokes bucolic tambourines, is especially delightful. Their voices combine eloquently in the grieving suspensions of Scarlatti's Questo silenzio ombroso…

...in the Caldara the solo violins entwine soulfully and spar exuberantly by turns. As ever, Avie's presentation is first-rate, with full texts and translations, and informative essays by David Vickers and Perkins himself."

Gramophone
 

"Soprano Anna Dennis as Amarillis then bursts in with beautiful, bright, smiling tone, springy runs and bags of stamina. With a voice of such colour, she hardly needs to act... The band, Sounds Baroque, does exactly that exquisitely."

Words and Music



Conversazioni I: Cantatas from a Cardinal's Court

Conversazioni I: Cantatas from a Cardinal's Court

Avie Records (AV2197)

Sounds Baroque

With Sounds Baroque featuring Andrew Radley, countertenor.

Works by Albinoni, Caldara, Handel, and Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti.

First in a series exploring the wealth of music that may have been conceived for artistic gatherings (conversazioni) in Rome at the turn of the 18th century.


Available on Amazon

"Countertenor Andrew Radley is both swoonsome and stately, depending on the material: the somewhat melancholy progress of Albinoni's Senza il core del mio bene, for instance, befitting a love plaint of such wretched torment, while a more playful involvement suits Handel's Vedendo Amor, with its tortuous tale of mythic enslavement by Cupid."

The Independent
 

"In short, this is a perfect conversation starter (pun intended), and if one wishes to know how Ottoboni’s soirées proceeded, you could not do better. The performances are all well interpreted and musical, the recording sound appropriately intimate, and the choice of works nicely balanced. If you have an interest in these cantatas, with their lyrical poetic texts and attempts to bring out the affections musically, you will find this an excellent disc."

Fanfare
 

"Andrew Radley's career has developed fast since he left the Royal Academy of Music in 2004. There's a seductive tonal warmth (sometimes too seductive) to his voice. The countertenor does let loose the cutting edge necessary to project the dramatic angst of Handel's Mi palpita il cor ('My heart throbs'). He also interacts as a fully engaged chamber musician with Sounds Baroque and its impressive director and harpsichordist Julian Perkins. It's heartening to discover yet another group of young musicians, fuelled by intellectual curiosity and a corporate commitment to excellence, with enterprise and genuine flair. Roll on Conversazioni II."

Classic FM
 

"This cleverly constructed programme is based around the very grand Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740), whose Roman court was a centre for music-making, poetry and all the visual arts. He was a practitioner as well as a patron, writing librettos for operas and cantatas for composers such as Alessandro Scarlatti. Ottoboni collected artworks and promising composers with equal avarice and lived well beyond his very considerable means. His tastes in other directions were also far from ascetic: the booklet notes for this disc tell us that he was reported to have sired over 60 children and to have decorated his bedroom with paintings of his mistresses posing as saints...

The programme is a refreshing mix of chamber cantatas and solo keyboard works. It is instructive to hear harpsichord pieces of Domenico Scarlatti and Handel alongside each other in light of their mutual respect and even some stylistic influence on each other. I also find Scarlatti sonatas easier to absorb when heard in small doses rather than en bloc, as is usually the case. Harpsichordist Julian Perkins is a very congenial performer who conveys an air of effortless virtuosity to this handful of well-chosen works. He plays two rich but contrasting instruments, which are both modern copies of Italian instruments: one from around 1600 and the other after Grimaldi c.1700.

Handel's cantatas owed a great deal to Domenico's (hated) father Alessandro, as do those of his contemporaries Albinoni and Caldara. So again, it is clever programming to hear similar works on similar themes by each of these composers. The Sounds Baroque ensemble, which Perkins directs, takes some small liberties with the scoring in one or two works, to suit its make-up of flute, oboe, cello, lute and harpsichord. These, admirably, are acknowledged in the notes and are probably consistent with the liberty contemporary performers would have allowed themselves. All the cantatas are fine examples of the Arcadian style, in which the loves and losses of shepherds and shepherdesses are depicted with graceful - sometimes slightly ironic - charm and ingratiating melodies... Perkins again shows great quality here and he is very ably partnered by lutenist Andrew Maginley and cellist Jonathan Byers (who soars in Handel's continuo-only Vedendo Amor).

The 'pastoral' qualities of the Baroque oboe and transverse flute are well suited here and the various composers often give them delicious melodies and harmonies. Oboist Joel Raymond plays an instrument he made himself modelled on a Thomas Stanesby instrument from around 1720. It has a wonderfully warm tone and Raymond's sensitive phrasing and gift for apt ornamentation are very impressive... The two woodwinds blend beautifully in Caldara's Clori, mia bella Clori...

Of course, a CD consisting largely of solo cantatas will stand or fall by the quality of the soloist. Happily, English countertenor Andrew Radley is a fine singer and vocal dramatist. ...he uses it [the voice] with great intelligence and stylistic awareness, including some really delightful embellishment... ...I was very impressed with him and indeed with the whole ensemble. I look forward eagerly eagerly to the promised 'Conversazioni II'.''

International Record Review
 

"... beautifully illustrated... "

"Handel's Vedendo amor does have a clear Italian-period provenance; Andrew Radley demonstrates tender story-telling skills during the soft Camminando lei pian piano. The majority of cantatas are accompanied elegantly by only a basso continuo trio but Caldara's Clori, mia bella Clori also has flute and oboe – an attractive mixture of timbres, even if I imagine that their parts may have been envisaged for two violins. In gentle arias Radley's singing has affectionate intimacy and delicacy (such as Caldara's lovely last aria, Parto mio ben costante). I look forward to Volume 2. "

The Gramophone
 

"Andrew Radley's warm, nimble countertenor invariably crafts a shapely vocal line... With delightfully expressive woodwind 'conversations' topping and tailing the disc, classy continuo, and deftly imaginative programming, Sounds Baroque proves a stylish ornament to the most discerning Cardinal's Court. Roll on Conversazioni Vol. 2!"

BBC Music Magazine
 

''The debut CD from Sounds Baroque, this disc is a selection of music from the fabled Conversazioni held in Rome by Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni, who used his power and wealth to act as one of the greatest patrons of his age. Counter-tenor Andrew Radley, for whom this is also a first recording, is superb.  While the cantatas on this disc tend to wallow in lovesickness, Radley finds a myriad of different colours and vocal moods, playing swooning and discarded as well as he does springing and agitated. But this is an excellent all-round performance from Sounds Baroque: there are some lovely obbligati from oboist Joel Raymond and flautist Georgia Browne, and Julian Perkins contributes a number of expertly gauged keyboard works by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, a nod to their famous duel.''

Early Music Today / Classical Music

Performer's Perspective: countertenor Andrew Radley reminisces about the making of Sounds Baroque’s debut disc, Conversazioni I.

When Julian and I discussed the prospect of recording this disc I was naturally very excited. Rome in the late 17th and early 18th centuries must have been the most incredible place to be a musician; a magnet for all those at the top of their artistic fields whether it was music, art, sculpture, theatre design or architecture. Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni was just one of several influential patrons of the time, and reading through a list of composers and musicians who worked for him is to find a Who's Who of the musical world at the time.

It is always a pleasure to trawl through the catalogues of libraries looking for interesting music, and Julian and I have spent many a happy hour in the British Library doing just that. It may be conjecture that many of the pieces we've chosen were performed at an Ottoboni conversazione, but they are certainly representative of the many shifting stylistic trends in the composition of cantatas at this time. Some of the works chosen are better known than others (both Handel cantatas have been recorded several times), but all are testament to the incredible musical goings-on of those composers who worked in or passed through Rome.

Why make a recording? Useful as it is in terms of projecting one's work and one's name a little further afield while making a musical contribution to posterity, the joy of making this disc was primarily in getting to spend time with the music and my fellow musicians. As an opera singer, the "band" is so often on the other side of the footlights; met once or twice at a Sitzprobe before disappearing into the pit for stage rehearsals. To be able to see and hear my friends clearly and for us to respond to each other without distance or distraction from wandering wigs, creaky costumes and cumbersome sets, was a rare treat. In short we were able to concentrate entirely on the music.

Exploring, rehearsing and performing this programme has been a pleasure from beginning to end. Listening to the disc now and hearing the excellent job our sound engineer, Adrian Hunter, has done in capturing the special acoustics of our recording venue, I'm instantly taken back to the surroundings of Lutyens's church of St Jude's, Hampstead. I can clearly see the muted half-light and feel the somewhat subdued temperature of those December afternoons and evenings, and remember the joy of recording some great music with some great friends.

Andrew Radley



Ingenious Jestings: 8 Harpsichord Setts by James Nares

Ingenious Jestings: 8 Harpsichord Setts by James Nares

Avie Records (AV2152)

solo

World-première recording of James Nares’s eight harpsichord suites of 1747 recorded on two original English instruments at Kew Palace, London. Includes Handel's Suite in D minor, HWV 447.


Available on Amazon

 

 

"This is a very fine debut solo recording from Perkins who has been increasingly prominent as a harpsichord player in recent times. He displays great panache in the opening bravura prelude and keeps this high standard throughout, helped by a very secure technique and a real sensibility for this music... The booklet is beautifully presented and the whole project introducing Nares’ music is a very worthwhile one."

Early Music Review
 

“Julian Perkins deserves nothing but praise for this undertaking. There is much complaining about the demise of the classical recording industry. One of the main reasons is the continuous release of the same repertoire. With enterprising musicians like Julian Perkins one need not fear: it is this kind of creativity which keeps the recording industry alive. It shows there is still a lot to be (re)discovered, and it also shows one shouldn't always believe those musicologists who tell us that what has been buried under the dust of history should stay there because of a lack of quality. In addition Julian Perkins plays very well: imaginative, with great rhythmic precision and fine and well-chosen ornaments. Perkins has done us a great favour by recording these fine Lessons by James Nares, by playing them so beautifully and by using these two splendid harpsichords.”

MusicWeb International
 

“Perkins uses a 1764 Kirckman harpsichord from the Royal Academy of Music, and while it can have a muscly tone, his skilful command of texture (along with Nares’s) ensures that it never tires the ear, while his sound stylistic sense makes the best of the music’s robust eloquence. A suite by Handel, placed halfway through the programme and played on the lighter-toned “Royal” Shudi harpsichord built for the Prince of Wales in 1740, provides a subtle gilding to this thoughtful and well presented tribute.”

Gramophone
 

“That there is more than enough quality and variety of music here to make us grateful for the chance to hear it is beyond question… [Handel’s suite, HWV 447] is an eminently worthwhile inclusion on musical grounds, and the performance is excellent. …Julian Perkins fills his performance with subtle sources of interest that cannot fail to keep the listener sympathetically alert and greatly contented – the introduction, for example, of a degree of inequality only as a six-note motif progresses, rather than applying it in a simple blanket fashion; or the integration of a decorative gesture leading back into a repeat. …The Sarabande is played beautifully – and with a little more extravagance: surely an exemplary performance. …This whole suite is an example of very graceful and intelligent playing: if Julian Perkins should decide to make an all-Handel CD, it could be confidently recommended on the strength of his playing here. ...there is much here to praise …there is no question but that this is a disc to recommend warmly …the conclusion should be obvious – it will be money well spent.”

British Harpsichord Society
 

"Overshadowed in his day by the towering presence of Handel, James Nares here emerges as an exhilaratingly inspired Baroque master in his own right.

Classic FM
 

''The recording also includes a suite by Handel (HWV447), neatly placed in the centre between Lessons 1–4 and 5–8. Even though it was written less than a decade before Nares’s ‘setts’, Handel’s suite sounds distinctly earlier in style, partly because of its more sophisticated textures such as are typical of Handel’s keyboard music. The inclusion of this work in the programme was an excellent idea, for it helps the listener to place Nares’s lessons in context. The ‘setts’ stand up well against one of the finest English harpsichord compositions of the time, as well as sounding more modern. The instruments used by Julian Perkins are a single-manual Kirckman harpsichord of 1764 and, even more appropriately, the double-manual royal harpsichord built by Burkat Shudi for Frederick Prince of Wales in 1740 (Handel’s suite had been written for the prince’s sister the previous year, and may have been played on this instrument). Perkins exploits the latter’s various possibilities for variation in registration with considerable skill, and his performances are thoroughly convincing. He includes all the repeats throughout the collection, often adding tasteful ornamentation in the repeat (and occasionally in the first hearing). The speeds are all well judged, with sparkling allegros but sensitive and expressive playing in movements such as the G minor Largo of Lesson 3. In the booklet the trilingual text offers ample information by Perkins about Nares and his 1747 collection, along with a lucid account of the instruments by Christopher Nobbs and a brief biography of Perkins. Finally, the back cover appropriately shows Philip Mercier’s famous painting from 1733 of the Prince of Wales making music with his sisters. This first complete recording of these works would be a worthy addition to any CD collection."

Eighteenth-Century Music
 

''James Nares (1715 – 1783) is something quite other and this is a release of highest importance from several points of view. His Setts of Harpsichord Lessons as given by Julian Perkins yield nothing to the harpsichord music of, say, Purcell and Handel (who is represented by one of his Suites); I dare not mention composers of the period beginning with B... Avie has nurtured an extraordinary project, aptly compared by Perkins with the support by subscription customary in the eighteenth century. He lists three columns of generous contributors, plus many organisations and notabilities who made the recording possible... The music was recorded in The Queen's Drawing Room at Kew Palace, London, and there is a large array of beautiful illustrations and artwork, with photos of the contemporary Kirkman and Shudi harpsichords played. Forget downloading; this is a delectable totality, having a 28 page booklet produced with such care as to equal the pleasure and delight brought by the music itself in the idiomatic vivacity and sensibility of these lovely performances. The sponsors will feel their money was well spent.

Musical Pointers



Dialogues: Music of Stephen Dodgson, Volume 2

Dialogues: Music of Stephen Dodgson, Volume 2

Cameo Records (CAMEO2088)

solo

Two solo clavichord suites. With Jacob Heringman and Elizabeth Kenny, lutes; Roberto Morón Pérez, guitar; Pawel Siwczak, harpsichord.

Recorded in collaboration with Stephen Dodgson, this project follows the publication of Dodgson’s clavichord suites for Cadenza Music, for which Julian Perkins was co-editor with the composer.


Available on Amazon

"Skilled and lovingly nuanced performances by Julian Perkins are played on a 1998 clavichord by Karin Richter..."

Clavichord International
 

"The composer is named as co-producer of this disc, so we can be sure that the excellent recorded sound met his requirements. He will surely have been happy with the performances too, as they seem quite beyond criticism. ...remarkable keyboard players… The booklet notes are excellent. In brief, anyone interested in music of the utmost integrity, always very individual and often very beautiful, should not hesitate.”

MusicWeb International
 

“Apart from Herbert Howells, how many other composers in recent years have written music for this quiet and unassuming instrument? Dodgson’s First Suite, composed in 1967 and revised in 2006, is dedicated to his fellow-composer Elizabeth Maconchy. There are eight short movements, three of which are described as Fanfares. The writing is spare and seemingly undemanding but the effect is delightful. The Second Suite was composed in 1969 and was also revised in 2006. This one is dedicated to the harpsichordist Valda Aveling, and is more demanding, both musically and in its technical requirements. Each of the six movements has a title that might have been found in a collection of early keyboard music and again there are two Fanfares. The effect overall is charming and completely satisfying and Julian Perkins gives performances that reach to the heart of the music.”

International Record Review
 

"Clavichordist Perkins plays a Karin Richter instrument of 1998 after C. G. Hubert (1771), lent by Judith Wardman, which seems ideally suited to this music. Listeners will be struck by its sonorous, warm yet clear tone which enhances the music’s cantabile characteristics whilst bringing vibrancy to an array of rhythmic twists and turns. Julian Perkins’s performances of both Suites are characterized by an impressive attention to detail, and he succeeds in squeezing much musical juice from these succulent pieces. Using a wide range of different touches with infinite finger control, he brings a kaleidoscope of sonorities to the listener’s ear.

Suite No. 1 unfolds with a prelude-style movement, and here Julian Perkins captures an appropriately improvisatory feel, with a finely judged sense of rubato, and he makes effective use of Bebung on some of the longer left-hand notes. A reflective, thoughtful First Air displays a lovely, delicate touch, which continues in the rather plangent Plaint. In contrast, the livelier Pantomime and Greater Fanfare feature crisper rhythms, and I particularly enjoyed the sense of urgency in the frolicsome Tambourin. A subdued Last Fanfare makes a poignant end to this suite. Harmonically and rhythmically more adventurous, Suite No. 2 opens with proud dotted rhythms, recalling the baroque French overture, and is played here with commanding authority. Rhythmic vitality and invention continues in two Fanfares, with the febbroso (feverishly) instruction of the second playfully captured. Sandwiched between them are soulful melodic threads of A Dream, transporting the listener momentarily into a calmer world."

British Clavichord Society



G. F. Handel: Acis and Galatea

G. F. Handel: Acis and Galatea

Opus Arte (OABD7056D) [DVD]

other

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Danielle de Niese Galatea
Charles Workman Acis
Matthew Rose Polyphemus
Paul Agnew Damon
Ji-Min Park Coridon

The Royal Ballet
The Royal Opera Extra Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Wayne McGregor stage director
Christopher Hogwood conductor 

Julian Perkins harpsichord continuo
 

'Charles Workman and Danielle de Niese had bags of vocal and personal charm in the title roles, with strong contributions from Matthew Rose as Polyphemus and Paul Agnew and Ji-Min Park as attendant shepherds...'

The Daily Telegraph
 

'The period instrumentalists of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment infuse the score with crackling verve and airy grace under Christopher Hogwood's stylish hand.'

New York Classical Review

 



Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Henry Purcell: Dido and Aeneas

Opus Arte (OA1018D) [DVD]

other

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

Sarah Connolly Dido
Lucas Meachem Aeneas
Lucy Crowe Belinda
Sara Fulgoni Sorceress
Anita Watson Second Woman
Eri Nakamura First Witch
Pumeza Matshikiza Second Witch
Ji-Min Park Sailor
Iestyn Davies Spirit

The Royal Ballet
The Royal Opera Extra Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Wayne McGregor stage director
Christopher Hogwood conductor 

Julian Perkins harpsichord continuo
 

'Christopher Hogwood rises to the challenge of this poignantly sombre production by drawing superbly expressive playing from the OAE and equally fine singing from the Royal Opera Extra Chorus.'

The Times

'[Hogwood's] continuo section - harpsichord, theorbo, cello, and chamber organ - is impressive, and he can get a true rumble out of the whole band very effectively (the music before the Witches' Dance truly growls).'

Classics Today
 



G. F. Handel: Saul

G. F. Handel: Saul

CORO (COR16103) [3 CDs]

other

Christopher Purves Saul
Sarah Connolly David
Robert Murray Jonathan
Elizabeth Atherton Merab
Joélle Harvey Michal
Mark Dobell High Priest
Jeremy Budd Witch of Endor
Stuart Young Ghost of Samuel
Eamonn Dougan Abner
Ben Davies Doeg 
Tom Raskin Amalekite

The Sixteen
Harry Christophers conductor 

Julian Perkins organ solo and continuo, carillon

GRAMOPHONE RECORDING OF THE MONTH

'Christopher Purves charms, broods, fumes implacably, plots villainously and confronts his doom vividly in the manner of a Shakespearean tragedian.'  

Gramophone

'...the choruses are always beautifully contoured, as is the incisive playing of The Sixteen's house band.' 

BBC Music Magazine 



G. F. Handel: Jephtha

G. F. Handel: Jephtha

CORO (COR16121) [3 CDs]

other

James Gilchrist Jephtha
Susan Bickley Storgè
Sophie Bevan Iphis
Robin Blaze Hamor
Matthew Brook Zebul
Grace Davidson Angel

The Sixteen
Harry Christophers conductor 

Julian Perkins organ continuo

'...the most satisfyingly nuanced choral performance I have heard.'

Gramophone

'The singing is superb.'  

BBC Radio 3 CD Review

 

 

Julian Perkins also sang as a baritone on a number of recordings with some prestigious choirs and consorts, for labels including Decca, EMI and Hyperion.