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RELEASED 5/22: STANLEY’S Concerto for Strings; CROFT’S Burial Service; BOYLE’S Solomon

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Yulia Van Doren, soprano; Thomas Cooley, tenor. Originally performed in December 2013.
NOTE: This video will expire on July 6, 2020.

RELEASED 5/8: MENDELSSOHN The Fair Melusine, SCHUMANN Concerto for Violoncello, BRAHMS Serenade No. 2

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Steven Isserlis, violoncello. Originally performed in March 2012.
NOTE: This video will expire on June 29, 2020.

RELEASED 5/8: FASCH’S Concerto for Two Flutes; VIVALDI, PORPORA & BROSCHI Opera arias; TELEMANN’S Concerto in D major; RAMEAU’S Orchestral suite from La Guirlande 

Nicholas McGegan, conductor; Vivica Genaux, mezzo-soprano. Originally performed in October 2011.
NOTE: This video will expire on June 22, 2020.

RELEASED 5/1: BEETHOVEN’S CONCERTO FOR FORTEPIANO, REICHA’S OVERTURE, SCHUBERT’S SYMPHONY NO. 3

Conducted by Nicholas McGegan, originally performed in February 2008.
NOTE: This video will expire on June 15, 2020.

RELEASED 4/17: HANDEL’S SAUL

Conducted by Nicholas McGegan, recorded live at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California, April 6 & 7, 2019. Libretto, program notes, and biographies available here.

RELEASED 3/26: RAMEAU’S LES PALADINS SUITE D’ORCHESTRE and LECLAIR’S SCYLLA ET GLAUCUS SUITE D’ORCHESTRE

Conducted by Nicholas McGegan, recorded live at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California. Les Paladins recorded September 11 & 12, 2004; Scylla et Glaucus recorded March 9 & 15, 2003.

The Burial Service

I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.

I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though after my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.

Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower: he fleeth as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay.

In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins art justly displeased? Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears unto our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, thou most worthy judge eternal, suffer us not at our last hour for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.

I heard a voice from heav’n saying unto me, Write, from henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: ev’n so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours. Amen.

 

Solomon, a Serenata

PART I

OVERTURE (Largo–Allegro–Larghetto)

CHORUS
Behold , Jerusalem! behold thy king,
Whose praises all the nations sing!
To Solomon the Lord has giv’n
All arts and wisdom under heav’n:
For him the tuneful virgin throng
Of Zion’s daughters, swell the song:
While young and old their voices raise,
And wake the echoes with his praise.

RECITATIVE (She)

From the mountains, lo! he comes,
Breathing from his lips perfumes;
While zephyrs on his garments play,
And sweets through all the air convey.

AIR

Tell me, lovely shepherd, where
Thou feed’st at noon thy fleecy care?
Direct me to the sweet retreat,
That guards thee from the midday heat:
Lest by the flocks I lonely stray,
Without a guide, and lose my way:
Where rest at noon, thy bleating care,
Gentle shepherd, tell me where?

AIR (He)
Fairest of the virgin throng,
Dost thou seek thy swain’s abode?
See yon fertile vale along
The new-worn path the flocks have trod:
Pursue the prints their feet have made,
And they shall guide thee to the shade.

RECITATIVE (She)
As the rich apple, on whose boughs
Ripe fruit with streaky beauty glows,
Excels the trees that shade the grove,
So shines, among his sex, my love.

AIR

Beneath his ample shade I lay,
Defended from the sultry day;
His cooling fruit my thirst assuag’d,
And quench’d the fires that in me rag’d;
‘Till sated with the luscious taste,
I rose and blest the sweet repast.

RECITATIVE (He)
Who quits the lily’s fleecy white,
To fix on meaner flow’rs the sight?
Or leaves the rose’s stem untorn,
To crop the blossom from the thorn?
Unrival’d thus thy beauties are;
So shines my love among the fair.

AIR

Balmy sweetness, ever flowing,
From her dropping lip distils;
Flowers on her cheeks are blowing,
And her voice with music thrills.

Zephyrs o’er the spices flying,
Wafting sweets from every tree,
Sick’ning sense with odours cloying,
Breathe not half so sweet as she.

RECITATIVE (She)
Let not my prince his slave despise,
Or pass me with unheeding eyes,
Because the sun’s discolouring rays
Have chas’d the lily from my face.
My envious sisters saw my bloom,
And drove me from my mother’s home;
Unshelter’d all the scorching day
They made me in their vineyard stay.

AIR

Ah simple me! my own, more dear,
My own, alas! was not my care:
Invading love the fences broke,
And tore the clusters from the stock,
With eager grasp the fruit destroy’d,
Nor rested, till the ravage cloy’d.

AIR (He)

Fair and comely is my love,
And softer than the blue-ey’d dove;

Down her neck the wanton locks
Bound like the kids on Gilead’s rocks;
Her teeth like flocks in beauty seem,
New shorn, and dropping from the stream;
Her glowing lips by far out-vie
The plaited threads of scarlet dye;
Whene’er she speaks the accents wound,
And music floats upon the sound.

RECITATIVE (She)

Forbear, O charming swain, forbear!
Thy voice enchants my list’ning ear;
And while I gaze, my bosom glows,
My flutt’ring heart with love o’erflows,
The shades of night hang o’er my eyes,
And ev’ry sense within me dies.

AIR

O fill with cooling juice the bowl!
Assuage the fever in my soul!
With copious draughts my thirst remove,
And soothe the heart that’s sick of love.

PART II

SINFONIA (Allegro assai)

RECITATIVE (He)

The cheerful spring begins today;
Arise, my fair one, come away!

RECITATIVE (She)

Sweet music steals along the air—
Hark!—my beloved’s voice I hear!

AIR (He)

Arise, my fair, and come away,
The cheerful spring begins today:
Bleak Winter’s gone with all his train
Of chilling frosts, and dropping rain.
Amidst the verdure of the mead,
The primrose lifts her velvet head:
The warbling birds, the woods among,
Salute the season with a song:
The cooing turtle in the grove
Renews his tender tale of love:

The vines their infant tendrils shoot:
The fig-tree bends with early fruit:
All welcome in the genial ray:
Arise, my fair, and come away!

CHORUS

All welcome in the genial ray,
Arise, O fair one! come away!

DUET

Together let us range the fields,
Impearled with the morning dew;
Or view the fruits the vineyard yields,
Or the apple’s clustering bough:
There in close embower’d shades,
Impervious to the noon-tide ray,
By tinkling rills, on rosy beds,
We’ll love the sultry hours away.

RECITATIVE (He)

How lovely art thou to the sight,
For pleasure form’d, and sweet delight!
Tall as the palm-tree is thy shape,
Thy breasts are like the clust’ring grape.

AIR

Let me, love, thy bole ascending,
On the swelling clusters feed:
With my grasp the vine-tree bending,
In my close embrace shall bleed.
Stay me with delicious kisses,
From thy honey-dropping mouth;
Sweeter than the summer breezes,
Blowing from the genial south.

RECITATIVE (She)

O that a sister’s specious name
Conceal’d from prying eyes my flame!
Uncensur’d then I’d own my love,
And chastest virgins should approve:
Then fearless to my mother’s bed
My seeming brother would I lead:
Soft transports should the hours employ,
And the deceit should crown the joy.

AIR

Soft! I adjure you, by the fawns,
That bound across the flow’ry lawns,
Ye virgins, that ye lightly move,
Nor with your whispers wake my love!

RECITATIVE (He)

My fair’s a garden of delight,
Enclos’d, and hid from vulgar sight;
Where streams from bubbling fountains stray,
And flowers enrich the verdant way.

AIR

Softly arise, O southern breeze!
And kindly fan the blooming trees;
Upon my spicy garden blow,
That sweets from ev’ry part may flow.

CHORUS

Ye southern breezes gently blow,
That sweets from ev’ry part may flow.

PART III

AIR (He)

Arise, my fair, the doors unfold,
Receive me, shivering with the cold.

RECITATIVE (She)

My heart amidst my slumbers wakes,
And tells me my beloved speaks.

AIR (He)

Arise, my fair, the doors unfold,
Receive me, shiv’ring with the cold:
The chill-drops hand upon my head,
And night’s cold dews my cheeks o’erspread:
Receive me, dropping to thy breast,
And lull me in thy arms to rest.

RECITATIVE (She)

Obedient to thy voice I hie;
The willing doors wide open fly.
Ah! whither art thou gone?
Where is my lovely wand’rer flown?

AIR

Ye blooming virgins, as you rove,
If chance you meet my straying love,
I charge you tell him how I mourn,
And pant, and die for his return.

CHORUS of Virgins

Who is thy love, O charming maid!
That from thy arms so late has stray’d?
Say what distinguish’d charms adorn,
And finish out his radiant form?

AIR (She)

On his face the vernal rose,
Blended with the lily glows;
His locks are as the raven black,
In ringlets waving down his back;
His eyes with milder beauties beam,
Than billing doves beside the stream;
His youthful cheeks are beds of flow’rs,
Enripen’d by refreshing show’rs;
His lips are of the rose’s hue,
Dropping with a fragrant dew;
Tall as the cedar he appears,
And as erect his form he bears.

This, O ye virgins, is the swain,
Whose absence causes all my pain.

RECITATIVE (He)

Sweet nymph, whom ruddier charms adorn,
Than open with the rosy morn;
Fair as the moon’s unclouded light,
And as the sun in splendor bright;
Thy beauties dazzle from afar,
Like glitt’ring arms that gild the war.

RECITATIVE (She)

O take me! stamp me on thy breast!
Deep let the image be imprest!
For love, like armed death, is strong,
Rudely he drags his slaves along:
If once to jealousy he turns,
With never-dying rage he burns.

DUET

Thou soft invader of the soul!
O love, who shall thy pow’r control!
To quench thy fires whole rivers drain,
Thy burning heat shall still remain.
In vain we trace the globe to try,
If pow’rful gold thy joys can buy:

The treasures of the world will prove
Too poor a bribe to purchase love.

CHORUS

In vain we trace the globe to try,
If pow’rful gold thy joys can buy:
The treasures of the world will prove
Too poor a bribe to purchase love.

PROGRAM NOTES: Stanley, Croft, Boyce

by Bruce Lamott

The trio of eighteenth century composers heard this evening were major figures in the musical life of Georgian England, and their work influenced the future of Anglican church music as well as the revival of what we know as Early Music. But the arrival of musical émigrés in London following the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 all but eclipsed the work of these indigenous English composers in the eyes of music history. The longest shadow, of course, was cast by the German-born Handel, but he shared the limelight with Italians, notably the opera composer Bononcini and violin virtuoso Geminiani, and, later in the century, other Germans, including Johann Christian Bach.

After Handel’s arrival on the London scene in 1712, comparisons by critics to native-born composers were inevitable, and rarely did the local team win. The most inspired works of his English contemporaries were dubbed “Handelian,” though given his penchant for assimilating if not borrowing outright the music of others, undoubtedly passages of Handel could just as well be termed “Stanley-esque” or “Croftian.” We know, for instance, that Handel was among the many organists who went to hear Stanley’s organ “voluntaries” (solos played before, during, and after the Anglican service). And when he attended ceremonies of state in St. Paul’s or Westminster Abbey, Handel would also have heard Croft’s affinity for passages of “For ever, for ever, Hallelujah” in his celebratory anthems.

The legacy of William Croft (1678-1727) has had a significantly enduring presence in the music of the Burial Service. It was first written perhaps for the funeral of Prince George of Denmark in 1708, or his wife, Queen Anne in 1714, and has been used in every state funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey ever since. From the rites for Queen Caroline in 1737 (which reportedly had nearly  80 vocal performers, and 100 instrumentalists from his Majesty’s Band and  the opera), these timeless settings have been sung at obsequies for  Lord Nelson (1806), the Duke of Wellington (1852), Winston Churchill (1965), Princess Diana (1997), and most recently, Baroness Margaret Thatcher (April 2013).  According to the liturgy indicated by Book of Common Prayer for the Burial of the Dead the seven Funeral Sentences are said or sung, the first three during the processional, the rest at the graveside.

Croft succeeded his mentor John Blow as organist of Westminster Abbey in 1704, a post he was to occupy until his death over twenty years later.  Though he wrote anthems for soloists, choir, and orchestra in the newer “sectionalized” style, divided into movements, he adopted an archaic (‘stile antico’) style for the Burial Service. Unaccompanied (though sources indicate that organ doubling was used on occasion), and mostly homophonic, with scrupulous attention to the declamation of the text, these austere and intimate settings suggest the tradition of Anglican chant, harmonized in four parts and sung in the solemn rhythm of speech. (After hearing this work, there can be little doubt that “Since by Man Came Death” in Messiah is decidedly Croftian.)

Stripped of tortured chromaticism and contrapuntal complexity, these settings have stood in sharp contrast to the funereal outpourings of grief supplied by the concerted music spanning several style musical style periods. Croft’s admiration for Purcell is reflected in his judicious inclusion of Purcell’s motet, “Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts,” from the Funeral Music for Queen Mary. (This gave rise to the thought that they were indeed intended for Purcell’s funeral, but Croft would have been only seventeen at the time.)  Croft freely admits, “in the rest of that service composed by me, I have endeavoured as near as possibly I could, to imitate that great master and celebrated composer, whose name will for ever stand high in the rank of those who have laboured to improve the English style.”

Of John Stanley (1712-86), composer Gerald Finzi wrote, “Here is a composer of whose work even less is known [than Boyce] and who has suffered from the Handel fetish as much as any of his contemporaries.”  Blind since childhood, Stanley was one of a succession of notable blind organists from Francesco Landini in the fourteenth century to Jean Langlais in the twentieth; even Louis Braille was an accomplished organist. Though organists can be relatively self-reliant in playing solo improvisations and accompanying hymns—as Stanley did for 52 years at the Temple and St. Andrew’s—Stanley was also a conductor, succeeding Handel in leading the annual Lenten oratorio performances for 25 years after Handel’s death. At age 66, he was appointed Master of the King’s Band of Musicians, and even took over the duties of leading violinist when the concertmaster died. Dr. Burney said that “few persons have passed a more active life in every branch of his art than this extraordinary musician.”

Stanley was twenty-nine when his Six Concertos, Opus 2, were published in 1749. Tonight’s B Minor Concerto is full of surprises. The dotted rhythms in the opening Largo suggest a typical French overture, but instead of the expected Allegro fugue, a contrapuntal Adagio follows, full of suspended dissonances in the manner of sixteenth century ecclesiastical music. Though presumably a concerto grosso (that is, featuring more than one soloist), the solo cello and violin rarely interact. The solo violin doesn’t interrupt the extended cello solo in the second movement, but appears only momentarily. And when the violin predominates in the next movement, the cello becomes not a “concerted” partner, but a supportive continuo player. Only in the fourth movement fugue do the soloists achieve parity. The third movement also plays on expectations. Though a slow transition often precedes an allegro movement, they don’t recur; Stanley, however, reiterates it twice more, and concludes not with the allegro but with another solemn passage similar to the first movement in archaic style. This alternation of tempos and styles—more characteristic of the seventeenth century than the eighteenth—creates a scena for the violinist in the manner of operatic recitative and arioso.

Foremost among English composers in the second half of the eighteenth century, William Boyce (1711-79) was a prolific composer who was mentored by Maurice Greene (1696-1755), Croft’s successor as organist of the Chapel Royal. Despite the onset of deafness while a young man, he succeeded Greene as Master of the King’s Musick in 1755. Tonight’s Solomon was his first major success, the first of many; among his later works are twelve trio sonatas, six volumes of songs, stage and liturgical works, and Eight Symphonys (1760). Saddled by posterity with the onerous comparison “except Handel,” Boyce was one of the most celebrated English musicians of his time, called upon to supply ceremonial music for the Georgian court after Handel’s death in 1759. But his music was all but forgotten until a twentieth century revival and increasing interest in that stylistic no-man’s-land between the Baroque and Classic periods previously known as “pre-Classical.”

Boyce’s Cathedral Music (1760-73) was a pioneering work in what was to become the Early Music Revival, not only in its preservation of Renaissance repertoire but in its editorial policies. Begun in collaboration with Greene, it is a monumental compilation of English church music dating from the sixteenth century to his own compositions.  It not only kept these Renaissance compositions in the repertoires of English cathedral choirs well into the twentieth century,  but his expressed intention to preserve this music ‘in its original purity,’ spared it from the heavy-handed editing (such as added dynamics and articulations, “corrected” harmonies and voice-leading, and lugubrious tempo indications) of his contemporaries and 19th century successors.

Perhaps Solomon: A Serenata would be better known to modern audiences if billed by its musical species—an oratorio erotico. English audiences certainly knew its charms, and it received more performances than any other oratorio of its kind through the end of the century (except, of course, Handel’s). For Boyce’s work is based not on Solomon the mediator of harlots (as in Handel’s 1748 Solomon), but on the Song of Solomon, as it is titled in the Anglican Authorized, or King James Version of the Bible. This compilation of erotic and pastoral poetry has very little to do with King Solomon and even less to do with God, mentioned but once both in the Bible and in Boyce’s libretto. It is rather the amorous dialogue of a couple, “The Beloved” and “The Lover” from courtship to consummation, with brief interjections by a narrator and chorus. Its patently sexual imagery made its inclusion in the Hebrew Bible problematic until Jewish and Christian interpreters from the second century AD added a spiritual fig leaf by claiming it as an allegory of the love of God for Israel or the union of Christ and his Church. But Boyce makes no such religious allusion.

The libretto was provided by a linen merchant and amateur poet named Edward Moore (1712-57), relying on an anonymous paraphrase of the biblical source. Living in Ireland, Moore may have arranged for a private but unchronicled performance in Dublin after Boyce signed off the score with “March 1741/2,” as both the libretto and score were published months before the first recorded performance at Ruckholt House, Essex in August and September of 1743. It’s possible therefore that Solomon might have first appeared in close proximity to the celebrated Dublin premiere of Handel’s Messiah on April 13, 1742.

Like its Biblical source, Solomon lolls about in Arcadian bliss without an antagonist or conflict – an Acis and Galatea without the complication of the monster Polyphemus. In Part I the lovers express their amorous intentions separately, joining in connubial rapture in Part II. Moore names the two characters “He” and “She,” though the London advertisement [“A Serenata, call’d Solomon. Set to Musick by Mr. Boyce…as it was perform’d at Ruckholt-House by Mr. Lowe and Mr. Brett…”] clearly suggests that Mr. Brett, likely a countertenor, may well have sung the role of ‘She.’ (Such a performance today would certainly give this work a timely relevance.)

There is a clarity and simplicity in Boyce’s Solomon which clearly parts company with the High Baroque traditions of the opera seria and Handelian oratorio. The vocal lines are not overtly virtuosic, as Boyce had no Italian divas or castrati to placate, and the orchestral textures are tunefully transparent, interacting with the voices in traded phrases and echoed responses. Clearly delineated phrases and buoyant dance rhythms, graced by a sighing appoggiatura at phrase ends, reflect the increasingly popular galant style. English taste was then turning away from the artificiality of Italian opera in favor of the bawdy ballad opera, most notably John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728) with music arranged by another of Boyce’s teachers, the German emigré Johann Christoph Pepusch.

The overture and opening chorus (“Behold Jerusalem, behold thy kin”) seem conventional enough for a sacred oratorio. The stately dotted rhythms of a French overture are mirrored by a grand chorus paraphrasing the Old Testament text. However, the first Air (“Tell Me Lovely Shepherd”) dispels the grandeur in a lilting melody with the flirtatious “Scotch snap” (a short note followed by a longer one, as in “Com-in’ through the rye”) of the popular songs sung in the London pleasure gardens. This Air was Boyce’s most familiar contribution to the English song repertoire, and one of few remnants of Solomon in continuous performance.

Another notable air performed well into the nineteenth century was the tenor’s “Softly rise, O Southern breeze,” with bassoon obbligato, shimmering strings, and choral response.  This is the typical contribution of the chorus throughout the work, echoing the sentiments of the soloists much as they do in the anthems of Purcell, and singing independently only in the opening paean and a brief unaccompanied “Chorus of Virgins” in Part II.

Though Boyce encountered no objections to Solomon in his lifetime, towards the end of the century, some of the more explicit phrases were “bowdlerized”– even before Thomas Bowdler himself sanitized the works of Shakespeare. (Example: “Thy breasts are like the clust’ring grape” became “Thy breasts are of a thousand fair.”) What cannot be censored, however, is the playful sensuality of the music itself, as He and She, “in close embower’d shades…on rosy beds, love the sultry hours away,” in this unabashedly erotic oratorio.

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