Harry Christophers & The Sixteen

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Program: #15-26   Air Date: Jun 22, 2015

This great (and now prolific!) ensemble follows up their recent Monteverdi disc with recordings celebrating the Golden Age of Spain and courtly masques of the Restoration.


NOTE: All of the music on this program is from the recent releases from the ensemble the Sixteen directed by Harry Christophers. All recordings are on the Coro label. For more information: http://www.thesixteen.com/

I. Henry Purcell: The Indian Queen (Coro COR16129).

 From Harry Christophers: Henry Purcell was a brilliant music dramatist and in The Indian Queen there is a plethora of detail, colour and characterisation to be explored in every symphony, air and dance. Purcell's instrumental writing leaps off the page with string writing that is second to none and a wealth of variety capped by exquisite writing for trumpet, oboes and recorders.

Based on Dryden’s play, Henry Purcell’s music from The Indian Queen deals with the conflict between the Mexican and Peruvians and principally with Queen Zempoalla. The Indian Queen is a classic story of love and war and, as with all good stories, things don’t go quite as planned for the eponymous Queen… 

There is so much exceptional vocal music to revel in but none better than the extraordinary recitative You twice ten hundred deities for the magician Ismeron which opens Act III, and was described by the historian Charles Burney as “the best piece of recitative in our language”.

Like Mozart and Schubert, Henry Purcell lived all too short a life – he lived just over 30 years – and for that reason it was left to his brother Daniel to complete The Indian Queen. Daniel was no Henry but his final Hymeneal masque allows a little light relief. Act V, which was the last music that Henry wrote, is a perfect Didoesque ending to The Indian Queen proper and just proves how we as music lovers suffer when these geniuses die young.

2. Indian Queen, Z 630 by Henry Purcell  
3. The Masque of Hymen by Daniel Purcell 

II. Flights of Angels (Coro COR16128).

 FLIGHTS OF ANGELS The Sixteen CD cover
 From Harry Christophers: The Sixteen take a trip back to 16th-century Spain and more specifically to one of the biggest, richest and most cosmopolitan cities on earth - Seville. It was during this 'golden age', when arts and culture flourished, that Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo made their mark. Between them these two composers captured an astonishing variety of moods within their music, from ecstasy and joy to despair, longing and devotional stillness.

The two composers were closely connected - Guerrero had a long and prestigious career in Seville and during his early years was much in demand as a singer and composer, establishing an exceptional reputation before his 30th birthday. Alonso Lobo assisted him at the Cathedral for two years before he was appointed maestro de capilla at Toledo in 1593. He returned to Seville in 1604 and remained in charge of the music there until his death some 12 years later.

For our 15th Choral Pilgrimage, we are going to explore the wealth of Renaissance music emanating from Spain and in particular, the glorious city of Seville. In the 16th century, Spain was regarded as the most influential country in Europe, truly imperial with the acquisition of vast new lands in the Americas, a plethora of universities and a wealth of great art and music. Two of the most influential composers of the Renaissance, who spent their life in Spain and for many years in the service of Seville Cathedral, were Francisco Guerrero and Alonso Lobo, master and disciple.

There are surely few composers who can boast a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; Guerrero made his in 1588 and published a book about his incredible journey. He was reputed to have been a person of gentleness and charm and in possession of a beautiful high tenor voice, and it is that singing quality that comes across in his works - every line is a joy to sing. The acclaimed music scholar Robert Stevenson wrote that the moods he captured included ecstasy, gaiety, melancholy, longing, submission and repose, many of which are captured in ‘Agnus Dei I and II’ from his Missa Congratulamini mihi.

Lobo was a choirboy at Seville Cathedral where Guerrero was maestro de capella. His eight-part setting of Ave Maria is a technical tour de force, but one which in no way impedes its rich sonority and sheer beauty. However there is a single work, that in my opinion makes Lobo deserving of a lasting reputation, and that is Versa est in luctum. Written for the obsequies of Philip II in 1598, it is not only contemplative but also daring, with one of the most heartfelt dissonances I know in Renaissance music.

Both Guerrero and Lobo’s works were performed for nearly two centuries after their deaths, in cathedrals throughout Spain, Portugal and the New World. Let us ensure today that they can achieve the same renown. 

Guerrero Duo seraphim
Lobo Kyrie from Missa Maria Magdalene
Lobo Libera me
Guerrero Gloria from Missa Surge propera    
Guerrero Laudate Dominum
Guerrero Maria Magdalene    

Guerrero Credo from Missa de la batalla escoutez
Guerrero Vexilla regis   
Lobo Ave Regina coelorum  
Lobo Ave Maria
Lobo Versa est in luctum   
Guerrero Agnus Dei I and II from Missa Congratulamini mihi


III. Handel: Jephtha (Coro COR16121).

 Handel: Jephtha
From James Mannheim at AllMusic.comJephtha (1751) was Handel's last oratorio. It does not have quite the dramatic sweep of Messiah or Israel in Egypt, but it contains many moments equal to anything in Handel. These include the choruses, several of which are among the most dramatically effective fugues ever composed. One attractive feature of this excellent recording of the oratorio under the directorship of Harry Christophers is that these choruses are crystal clear in texture, with all the words intelligible: hard enough for the soloists, who likewise won't have you turning to the booklet, and well-nigh remarkable for a chorus. Christophers' group the Sixteen consists of 18 members here, plus an orchestra of 30, so this is a fairly sizable performance by current standards. At no time does the performance feel bulky or anything other than perfectly under control. Best of all are the soloists, who get the dramatic best out of the story. The oratorio is based on the story of Jephtha in the Book of Judges, who swore if granted victory to sacrifice the first creature he met. Unfortunately that turns out to be his daughter, Iphis. Unlike in the Bible, the oratorio's libretto by the Rev. Thomas Morell provides a deus ex machina in the form of an angel, but that leaves plenty of histrionics for tenor James Gilchrist in the title role. Especially effective are Sophie Bevan in the role of Iphis and countertenor Robin Blaze as her boyfriend, Hamor, but really there is not a weak spot in this performance, honed by several live realizations in front of a demanding Barbican crowd in London. A strong candidate for any Handel library.

James Gilchrist

Susan Bickley
Sophie Bevan
Robin Blaze
Matthew Brook
Grace Davidson

The Sixteen
Harry Christophers

Composer Info

Henry Purcell, Daniel Purcell, Francisco Guerrero, Alonso Lobo, Handel.

CD Info

Coro COR16129, Coro COR16128, Coro COR16121