Friday 16 December 2016

Handel House Christmas Showcase

Hunter Coblentz - Handel House composer in residence
Hunter Coblentz - Handel House composer in residence
Handel House Christmas Showcase; Eleanor Minney, Olwen Foulkes, Mirjam Münzel, John Crockatt, Satoko Doi-Luck, Aidan Phillips, Alice Privett, Kate Conway, BLOCK4, Hunter Coblentz; St George's Church, Hanover Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 15 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Young artists showcase with music old and new, including Hendrix and a world premiere

The Christmas Showcase from Handel & Hendrix in London is an annual celebration of their young artists schemes, providing a showcase for the Handel House Talent, Ensemble in Residence and Composer in Residence. At St George's Church, Hanover Square on Thursday 15 December 2016 we heard the six members of the 2015/2016 Handel House Talent scheme, Eleanor Minney (mezzo-soprano), Olwen Foulkes (recorders), Mirjam Münzel (recorders), John Crockatt (violin), Satoko Doi-Luck (harpsichord) and Aidan Phillips (harpsichord), and the Ensemble in Residence BLOCK4 (Emily Bannister, Lucy Carr, Katie Cowling and Rosie Land), as well as hearing the premiere of a new piece by composer in residence Hunter Coblentz. Beside Coblentz, the composers on offer were highly varied with Handel and Hendrix (of course), plus Corelli, Rameau, Schütz, Bach, Couperin and Fiorenza, plus five carols for the audience to join in.

BLOCK4 with their Paetzold recorders
BLOCK4 with their Paetzold recorders
There had been some drama before the event started as the organist, who was to accompany the audience carols on the Richards, Fowkes & Co organ of St George's, was taken ill but thankfully Satoko Doi-Luck (one of the Handel House Talent) stood in and accompanied the carols (in addition to playing the harpsichord and the smaller Handel House organ).

After an opening carol and a welcome from Elizabeth Nicholson (general manager of Handel & Hendrix in London), we heard from Olwen Foulkes (recorder), who with Satoko Doi-Luck (harpsichord) and Kate Conway (cello) performed Arcangelo Corelli's Sonata in C major, Op.5 No. 10. Originally for violin, Foulkes performance gave no hint of the change of instrument and sounded completely idiomatic. After a nicely fluid Adagio (with some vibrant playing from cellist Kate Conway), there was a perky Allemande where we could appreciate the evenness of Conway's tone. The Sarabande was stately which gave space for plenty of divisions in the recorder part (and leaps too), the finishing with the distinctly lively Gavotta which was very characterful and finished with some spectacular finger-work.

ext came harpsichordist Aidan Phillips who performed Rameau's Suite in E minor from Livre II, Pieces de Clavecin. The opening Allemande was lively and richly texture, and Phillips playing gave a nice swing to it. The Gigue en Rondeau had a lively sense of motion, whilst the Tambourin was wonderfully characterful with its rustic effects, and the final rondo La Villageoise started with a strong sense of character and developed some nicely showy moments.

Mezzo-soprano Eleanor Minney start with some unaccompanied plainchant, Hodie Christus natus est sung in a lovely poised manner, and then went directly into Schütz's Bringt her dem Herrn in which the verses were in the manner of expressively free arioso, full of rhetorical flourishes, each concluding with a perky Alleluia.

The first half finished with three items from the recorder ensemble, Block 4, who were the artists in residence for 2016, and will continue to be so in 2017. For their first item, the Fugue in C minor by Handel, they introduced us to the recorders designed by Herbert Paetzold, curiously large things (more like an installation than an instrument) which were designed to mimic the sound of an organ pipe. Soft-grained in tone and not loud (not surprisingly given their size), they made a lovely blended sound which worked very well for the Handel fugue. Next came an arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's Foxey Lady, played by one standard recorder and three Paetzold ones, with the admixture of a little electronix as well. The result was surprisingly successful, and rather appealing. Finally a song from medieval London, Lumps of Pudding, played on standard recorders. Initially a rather soulful solo, and then developing into a really lively ensemble.

The Paetzold recorders reappeared after the interval as the members of BLOCK4 joined Satoko Doi-Luck (on the Handel House chamber organ) and soprano Alice Privett, conducted by Hunter Coblentz to give the premiere of Coblentz's Pessoa: I seem to be growing calm, a commission from the Handel House as part of the composer in residence scheme. A setting of a poem by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), Coblentz was clearly fascinated by the way the Paetzold recorders could blend with the organ, and adding humming from soprano Alice Privett meant that it was difficult to tell one from the other, except that Coblentz deliberately staggered the parts so you would get glimpses. The long opening section was wordless, quiet and concentrated, with the voice gradually emerging, moving from hum to wordless vocalise and finally the poem. Coblentz's music was tonal but using chromatic harmonies and note clusters, and for the final section setting the text he kept the singer unaccompanied for much of the time with the organ and recorders providing punctuation. The result seemed to capture the spirit of poem with its presage of imminent death.

Violinist John Crockatt played Bach's Fugue in G minor (from the Sonata No 1 BWV 1001), his playing elegant yet vibrant in tone, and he brought a nice sense of intimacy to the performance. And I marvelled again at how Bach manages to suggest a multi-voiced fugue on a single violin.

Satoko Doi-Luck returned to give her own solo, playing Louis Couperin's Passacaille in C on the harpsichord. A dark, quite dense textured piece with was full of little flurries of ornament, there were episodes of more transparent textures and higher registrations, but Couperin kept returning to the surprisingly sombre and dark textures.

Finally recorder player Mijam Münzel, accompanied by Satoko Doi-Luck on harpsichord, played the Sonata a flauto solo by Nicola Fiorenza (1700-1764). The opening movement, marked Amoroso e Largo, was languorous, full of drooping phrases and chromatic intensity. The perky Allegro had plenty of fast fingerwork and snappy rhythms, whilst the Largo was somewhat melancholy with a wandering melody with little chromatic twists. The final Allegro was again full of snappy rhythms.

After a final word from Michelle Graabek (Handel & Hendrix learning and participation officer) there was time for a final carol.

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