Mercoledi Musicale

It seems that every second Mercoledi Musicale* seems to mark the passing of an artist that I spent much of my musical life listening to. On June 20th of this year the remarkable Jeanne Lamon died at her home in Victoria.

The tribute banner at Tafelmusik’s website.

The American born Lamon came to Canada as a guest artist with the nascent (1979) Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and became it’s music director in 1981. For 33 years she led the orchestra and moulded it into one of the finest baroque ensembles in the world. In 2014 she stepped down and I remember the final Ottawa concert with her as director that year at the ChamberFest. The ovation at the end had the vaults of Dominion-Chalmers echoing.

Here is Jeanne Lamon, with that incredible smile reflecting her delight, doing two of the things she did best: shining as a performer and then stepping to the side and allowing others to shine as bright.

The Galileo Project was the first of their multi-media programmes where the ensemble performed with narrative, projects and movement but without sheet music. It was fitting that Tafelmusk marked the death of this great artist with a broadcast of the programme last week. A tribute to the riches and love she brought and gave to music here in Canada.

And here, just because I love Handel and it shows off the fine ensemble that Jeanne Lamon nurtured for three decades, is an extract from their The House of Dreams programme.

*This is the 281st Mercoledi Musicale that I’ve posted and the 3000th post since I began the blog on November 12th 2006. But more about that tomorrow.

The word for July 7th is:
Nascent /ˈnāsənt,ˈnasənt/: [adjective]
Just coming into existence and showing sign of future potential.
Early 17th century: from the Latin nascent “being born”, from the verb nasci.

Mercoledi Musicale

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Georg Frederick Handel in 1685 in Halle, Germany.  He was to move to England at the age of 25 and spent most of his life there composing some of the greatest music of his, or any other, time.

Jerome Hines – Hercules
Archivio storico – La Scala

When I was growing up performances of Handel were pretty limited – a few of the oratorios, of course Messiah, and some of the organ pieces and that was pretty much it.  There were revivals of some of the operas in Europe, normally in bastardized versions with basses singing castrato roles, da capos and whole arias cut, and with large orchestras.  In 1958 one such memorable (?) La Scala production of Hercules was given with  Jerome Hines, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Franco Corelli and Fedora Barbieri.  None of those singers, as marvellous as they were,  could be considered a Handel singer by a stretch of anyone’s imagination – though at over 6 feet tall Jerome Hines (left) was an impressive looking Hercules.

Fortunately at the same time there was an emerging Handel Renaissance in English music circles led by people such as Charles Farncombe with his Handel Opera Society, and Sir Anthony Lewis.  Edward Dent and Winton Dean became strong advocates for the operas and Dean’s critical studies* of the operas and oratorios became seminal works in the resurgence of interest and performances of Handel’s works.

And at the same time a generation of singers was appearing in the United Kingdom who were displaying both the ability and the techniques to sing Handel in a manner closer to the style of his time.  Janet Baker, Elizabeth Harwood, Heather Harper, Anthony Rolf Johnson, Richard Lewis, James Bowman, Valerie Masterson et al sang in operas and oratorios with the Handel Society, Sadler’s Wells which became the now endangered English National Opera**, and Covent Garden.

Sutherland-SamsonIt was at the later theatre  that on November 15, 1958 as the first night of Handel’s oratorio Samson with Jon Vickers as the hero drew to a close that a young soprano stepped out of the crowd of Israelites to triumphantly celebrate the victory of the blind hero over the Philistines.

Let the bright seraphim
in burning row,
Their loud, uplifted angel trumpets blow.

Let the cherubic host,
in tuneful choirs,
Touch their immortal harps
with golden wires.

Let the bright seraphim
in burning row,
Their loud, uplifted angel trumpets blow.

She was never to step back into the crowd again.


Several months later Joan Sutherland was to star in a revival of Lucia di Lammamoor which set her on the road to operatic stardom.  She became La Stupenda and for the next thirty years was to dominate world operatic stages.  In all those years, to my ears at least, I don’t believe she ever produced anything as thrilling as this joyous cry to the angels, summoning them to honour the fallen Samson.

On this day in 1711: The London première of Rinaldo by George Frideric Handel, the first Italian opera written for the London stage.

*I thought I’d check the the availability of Dean’s books and discovered that I can get a used copy of his Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios and Masques for only $404.00 or new for $754.00.  Seminal works indeed.

**My good friend David over at I’ll Think of Something Later has forwarded a petition to me addressed to the Board of Directors of the ENO.  They are proposing to make massive cuts to their permanent staff that will cripple and possibly destroy the company.  He has asked me to sign it – which given the many wonderful performances I’ve attended there in the past I was more than willing to do.  Should you so desire might I ask you to do the same – the arts are more important to the life’s blood of a country than politicians believe.  Just click here if you are so inclined:

And Suddenly There Was With the Angel

Having begun Advent with the Handel-Jennens Messiah with it’s prophecies of the fulfillment of the Word, I can think of no better way of greeting the Eve of Christmas than the joyous announcement of that fulfillment.

Luke 2: 8(And) there were (in the same country) shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Luke 2: 9-11
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2: 13-14
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

… and on our earth peace, good will toward all men.

Fourth Sunday in Advent


Shepherd of Israel, who by a dream guided your servant Joseph to embrace your promise of salvation: lead us in the way of grace and peace, so that we may bear your promise into the world.

Proposed collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
Anglican Church of Canada – 2014

Probably the first time I heard Messiah was a CBC broadcast in the early 1950s.  There’s more than a good chance that it came from Massey Hall, conducted by Sir Ernest MacMillian with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir.  And again I’m just guessing but given the tradition of the time  Lois Marshall would have been  the soprano soloist.   The rest I could only guess at: it may well have been the performers  captured to disc in 1954 by RCA.

And if there is any doubt that recording (long out of print) shows that Sir Ernest was having nothing to do with the “authentic practices” style that was just starting to emerge. ( Though it should be noted that Sir Ernest did use a harpsichord for the recitatives on the recording – and at the keyboard was Greta Kraus, one of the great harpsichordists of the time.) His forces are large – the Choir numbered well over 100 voices – and the orchestra could have just as well served for any of the late romantic composers.  The soloists, Marshall, Mary Palmateer, Jon Vickers and James Milligan, are all exceptional voices but there is a certain measured heaviness to their delivery.  Some of that heaviness may be the result of Sir Ernest’s tempi – it is reverential to the point of adding almost a minute to every piece when compared with today’s lighter period performances. But it is just as much a “period” performance as anything I have posted in the past three Sundays – the period being the mid-1900s.

Bass James Milligan‘s The People that Walked in Darkness certainly stressed the darkness – of tone and pace.  Sadly Milligan’s career was cut short by a heart attack at the age of 31 – only four months after his much praised debut as the Wanderer at Bayreuth in 1961.

Isaiah 9:2
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Despite the size of the TMC what I find astounding is the diction – though perhaps that is to be expected in a choir trained in the English choral tradition.  Here the tempi set by Sir Ernest seem more the measured phrases of a prophesy rather than the joyful celebration of the Messiah’s birth.

Isaiah 9:6
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

One of the glories of Messiah is that for all the iterations that it has gone through the wonder of Jennens’ libretto elevated by Handel’s music continues to move us almost three hundred years after it’s creation.

Handel says he will do nothing next Winter, but I hope I shall perswade him to set another Scripture Collection I have made for him, & perform it for his own Benefit [taking the bulk of the box office] in Passion Week. I hope he will lay out his whole genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other Subject. The Subject is Messiah.

Charles Jennens to his friend Edward Holdsworth
July 10 1741

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