Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mercoledi Musciale

Back in 1971 I was in New York City with my friend Peter; we had been invited to the opening night of Maria Stuarda starring Beverly Sills. Friends of his were in the music publishing business and had got tickets. Peter and I decided that we would pursue all sorts of cultural interests over that few days.

On the Wednesday we had a choice of two things - a matinee of the Stephen Sondheim musical Follies or a movie at the 55th St Playhouse. Now let me explain for those of you who may not know the 55th was an art cinema that turned to gay porn when The Boys in the Sand opened there in 1971. So we had to choose between what was to become a Broadway cult classic and a gay cult classic.

We made our choice. We were young, we were foolish and we missed the chance of hearing Dorothy Collins sing one of the great Sondheim songs.

Collins had been a TV and nightclub star for many years and toured in road companies and I remember seeing her in South Pacific back in the mid-60s. Follies was her first appearance on Broadway and though others have sung this song she delivers it the way Sondheim meant it to be sung. No sobs, not grand emotion but raw emotion.

And to think Peter and I could have experienced it first hand. But thank heavens from this TV appearance we have some idea of what we missed.

30 giugno - Protomartiri della Chiesa di Roma

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Scream! I Scream! We All Scream! For ...

... Ice Cream!

I tried to translate that into Italian but it just doesn't have the same ring. But it isn't really ice cream we're all screaming for its GELATO! Wonderful, rich, creamy, cold, flavourful Italian Gelato.

Today being the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (the patron Saints of Roma) most of the city was closed - except of course us. Fortunately a few of the local bars stayed open so it was still possible to get a morning cappucc but lunch was another thing. Thank heavens that work is only five blocks from the apartment and there were cold cuts in the house. That and Tropical Ice, my favourite gelateria was open - it may be a major holiday but Romans still need their gelato fix. Particularly when its sunny and the temperature is rising 32
Tropical Ice is a gelateria about 3 blocks from the apartment. On a warm evening its nice to stroll over, say hello to our friend who runs the place and get a €2,50 coppetta (cup) then slowly stroll back home - just enjoying the night and the gelato.

Within a six block radius of the apartment there are 5 gelaterie, each one of them using a different recipe. Some are more creamy than others, one is gluten-free and each one of them features gelato made with fresh ingredients depending what is in season. And though there may not be 31 flavours there are some really interesting ones out there - After Eight, Cassata Sciciliana, Zuppe Inglese, Nutella (yep Nutella gelato), Ricotta and Cinnamon, Honey and Sesame, Cherry Swirl plus all the chocolate and vanilla variations and my two favorites pistachio and caffe.

I counted just to be sure and they only have 30 flavours - 1 short but they do have that big bowl of fresh whipped cream at the end of the counter to top things off.

Though all the gelaterie in the neighbourhood are good Tropical Ice tops my list. Not only is it the best balance of flavour and creaminess but it is only three blocks away on Via Nomentana (one of the old consular roads out of the city). And the chap that runs it is friendly and always smiling - as I kid I always thought I would smile all the time if I lived in an ice cream store. I've become a regular so he knows that I take my coppetta "neat" - without whipped cream.

The ingredients are all fresh and it's made daily - the chocolate and orange is wonderful as is the pear, melon and banana. And even the simple old crema (vanilla) is heavenly.

I know I had gelato at lunch but you know its cooled off a bit and I really think the Hounds from Hell need a walk. And if Nora should happen to drag us passed the gelateria it would be rude not to say hello. Right? Okay who's with me on this one?

29 giugno - Santi Pietro e Paolo

Monday, June 28, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

And here's Tom Lehrer doing a little number to serenade Big Ben and the Boys in the country across the river.

Lehrer sang about pollution back in the late 60s - plus ça change as the French say.

28 giugno - Sant'Ireneo di Lione

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Stuff - Josephine, Hirschfeld and Sable

Though it is a little early to start our inventory - well actually it is never too early and when we arrived here 3 years ago I vowed to keep the inventory up-to-date and dutifully enter each new item when it was purchased. I really must find out where the inventory programme is on the hard drive. Let's hope it wasn't on the PC that fried last year!

Anyway I've been taking a look at a few of the things that we have hanging around the house and checking evaluation - mostly for insurance purposes. And I've been getting a few surprises - and so will my insurance company when I talk about a new policy.

Back in the late 70s early 80s we got into the habit of spending a week in Provincetown every summer with our friends Bernie and Don. It was a week of sun, food, drink, drag shows (Charles Pierce, Jim Bailey) and just relaxing - though somehow we never made it to the Tea Dance at the Boathouse. I know what the hell sort of gay men were we?????

There was (and I discover still is - 41 years in business) a gallery called Graphics Etc on Commercial St where I bought two lithographs -a caricature by Al Hirschfeld, one of the greats of graphic arts, the other by Kas Sable, whose work I recall as appearing in After Dark magazine. I still have both - the Sable has always hung in the bedroom no matter where we've lived and the Hirschfeld in the living or family room.

I will always remember the look on the face of the poor customs officer at the Canadian border when I brought this litho across. She was a young summer student and she wasn't at all sure I wasn't trying to bring pornography into the country. I had a feeling there was a discussion between her and her supervisor afterward as to what constitutes art and what is just plan smut. I haven't been able to track anything down on Sable so I'm not sure if the litho actually appreciated or not - and frankly I've always enjoyed it so it doesn't really matter.

The reason I bought the Hirschfeld was two-fold - first it was a Hirschfeld and I had seen his Broadway drawings in books since I was a wee laddie and second because it was of an entertainer that I adored: Josephine Baker. I believe it was done when she made her comeback in New York in 1973. As I have said before I was fascinated with the French Music Hall from an early age and had read about, listen to recordings of and seen pictures of La Bakir and when she appeared at the old Imperial Room in Toronto I made sure I was there to see her live. Not only did I see her perform but met her afterward and helped her into her slippers - don't ask!

On April 8, 1975 at the age of 68 she opened in a new revue at the Bobino on the Left Bank, not quite the Folies Bergere or Casino de Paris of her past but a triumph nonetheless. Four days later she was found laying in a coma surrounded by the newspapers and magazines heralding her success - she died later that day. I had a ticket for a performance the following week.

As always with a few strokes of his pen - and including his signature hidden NINAs - Hirschfeld captured the glamour, showmanship and joy of performance that accounted for Josephine Baker's success and popularity over 50 years. When I bought it back in 1980 or 81 it cost $150.00 USD - a not inconsiderable sum in those days but still within my budget. When I checked what Hirschfeld lithos were going for these days I was frankly astounded. It appears that the little stroll into Graphics etc was a wise investment move.

Hirschfeld worked almost up until his death at the age of 99 - recording in pen and ink the history of the American theatre and cinema. This video shows him at work on a drawing of Paul Newman as he appeared in Our Town in late 2002.

27 giugno - San Cirillo di Alessandria
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Monet by Eggman913

The very talented Philip Scott Johnson (Eggman913) has once again wedded image with music to create a beautiful video. This time its a tribute to two Claudes - Monet and Debussy.

Music: Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun), for orchestra, L. 86

26 giugno - San Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Heads You Lose

Today is the Feast of Saint John the Baptist - one of those secondary feast days in the church calender that becomes a major celebrations in some regions of not just Italy but the World. As an example in Québec June 24th has always been a major celebration of Saint Jean-Baptiste the patron of the province. It has since taken on a slightly more nationalistic nature but the traditions of the older celebration still hold on.

You have to admit that the story of John the Baptist is a pretty good one. Its got everything - religion, sex, politics, sex, political descent, sex, intrigue, sex, death and did I mention sex? Its no wonder it's attracted writers, artists, composers, choreographers and movie makers.

In paintings the child John is normally seen with the Madonna, his smug little cousin Jesus and his mother Elizabeth. Often he's holding a lamb or a cross and when he gets older is dressed in camel skin. However this sculptor seems to think he started his career as an ascetic - howbeit a chubby well-fed one - early in life.

The story of Salome dancing for her step-father Herod on his birthday and, at the insistence of her mother, demanding the head of John has been expanded from a few lines in two of the gospels. She is not even mentioned by name but historically it is known that the daughter of Herodias was called Salome.
The idea of Salome as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness is an old one that became more entrenched in our modern sensibilities with Oscar Wilde's play and later Richard Strauss opera based on it.

The Feast being celebrated today is his birth - which is exactly 6 months before Christmas, no doubt to jibe with the story of Mary's visit to his mother Elizabeth. The Beheading - a much lesser Feast in the calender - isn't celebrated (?) until August 29.

All the photos here were taken in the Bode Museum during our trip to Berlin late last year.

24 giugno - Natività di San Giovanni Battista

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mercoledi Musciale

Last week one of the great singers of the late 20th century died, though sadly dementia had stilled her voice for the past 15 years. Maureen Forrester was an incredible talent and an incredible person. Larger than life on stage and off she had an wonderful sense of humour and inspired sense of the dramatic. She is a singer I grew up on - her's was the first performances I saw - on television back in the days when CBC did classical without apologizing - of many of Mahler's great pieces including this performance of the 4th movement (Urlicht) of his Resurrection Symphony (Symphony #2). I have heard others do it since but this one remains the benchmark. The rather strange conductor is the equally incredible Glenn Gould. Two great talents.

Primeval Light

O red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!

When she was head of the Canada Council I dealt with her often at Ottawa Airport - she was always warm, friendly and understanding - and often a little self-deprecating in her humour. One day I finally got up the nerve to remind her a party we were both at years before in Toronto. My friend Greg and his partner Robert threw a Canada Day fete at their apartment on Avenue Road. We use to have such silly piss-elegant affairs in those days. As I recall that one was an afternoon event with "hats for ladies" and "decorations to be worn" - and there were actually a few of our friends who could and did wear their medals. Maureen Forrester lived downstairs from them and came up to join us - wearing a hat and her Order of Canada. As I recalled the champagne flowed and at the climax of the party, Walter McNutt, a well known organist, choir master and composer, sat down at the baby grand - yes it was that sort of apartment - and struck up the first few chords of O Canada. We all began singing with this rich warm contralto voice leading us as we hymned our home and native land. Completely impromptu we let her solo on the second verse and then all came together for the refrain. I am ashamed to say none of us knew the third verse. We both had a chuckle - and when she chuckled you knew it - when I said I told my friends I had sung with Maureen Forrester.

She was a singer with a remarkable ability in a wide range of music - from Bach to Handel right up to Sullivan - of Gilbert and. Her comic timing was perfect and her sense of drama made her more serious roles some of the most intense portrayals I have ever seen. A combination of her and Jon Vickers in the Confrontation scene of Pique Dame still remains in my memory.

Here she is singing one of her first operatic roles - Gluck's Orfeo. The grief stricken Orpheus, having lost his Euridice to death a second time, asks: Che faro senza Euridice - How can I live without my Euridice?

Sung the way it should be and the way she sang everything - perfect diction, clean style, perfect technique and heart ... most of all she always sang from the heart.

23 giugno - Santi Martiri di Nicomedia
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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

HRH - A Wee Bit O'Nora

Yesterday we had Nicky doing his "I'm too sexy for my kibble ..." thing so I figure its Nora's turn today. Our Nora is a little less of a poseur and pretty much ignores that infra-red light when it zeros in on her. But I still figured it was time for her to have her day in the sunshine - literally!

She was feeling a little under the weather this morning - something she ate? the sudden change in the weather? who knows but she wasn't hungry and didn't even want to fight with Nicky. All she wanted to do was curl up on the bottom shelf of the bookcase (????) and absorb some rays.

And she isn't above the odd lick or yawn just to show how bored she is with those pesky paparazzi that are always following her.

And then back to the healing rays of the sun!

22 giugno - San Tommaso Moro

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eat Your Heat Out Bolle

The media is filled with pictures of various Italian superstars flogging the latest fashion in men's clothing, fragrance or cosmetics. Of course the big star is our boy Bobby Bolle, he of the tall, Apollo muscled frame and boyish good looks. And being a dancer Roberto knows how to pose to show both the frame and the clothes (or lack there off) on it to best advantage. But when I see some of the gentlemen walking around I am starting to think that most Italian men know how to pose to show the frame and the clothes to best advantage.

I'll give you an example - our Nicky. Now Nicky is Italian through and through - why he even makes advances to Nora, is rebuffed but keeps on trying because he honestly can't understand why she wouldn't want him - if that isn't an Italian male I don't know what is????

But I digress, I was talking about posing. Well true to the show dog pedigree of his family our Nick knows exactly what poses show his trim frame and handsome mustaches to advantage. The other day he was laying in the sun and the minute he saw the camera he struck this rather elegant if slightly languid pose.

I'm not sure what he's selling but I'm buying!

21 giugno - San Luigi Gonzaga

Lunedi Lunacy

The last few weeks at work have reminded me of this classic I Love Lucy sketch.

Need I say more????

21 giugno - San Luigi Gonzaga

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sadly Déja Vu

My friend Gord sent along this poster from 1971.

There are lessons that are never learned.

20 giugno - Sant'Ettore

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sunlight on the Side of A House

I was first fully aware of who Edward Hopper was back in 1981 when I fell in love with Pennies From Heaven, a musical film fantasy with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters based on Dennis Potter's successful BBC TV Series. The settings for several scenes were right out of Hopper paintings - and the one I recognized immediately was his most famous: Nighthawks. A bit of investigation - the library, yes Virginia we went to the library back in those days - revealed more about him and his work and I number him amongst the 20th century artists that I adore.

When the Hopper exhibition at the Museo di Roma was first advertised on billboards throughout town I made a note to myself that I really had to catch it. And finally I did last weekend - further note to self: try to catch these things other than on the day before they close.

This retrospective has toured several cities here in Italy with Roma being its last stop. I had been hoping that Nighthawk would be amongst the paintings but sadly its still hanging in its usual place at the Art Institute of Chicago. But they did have a marvelous life-sized mock up of the scene and allowed you to have your photo taken in it. Being the shy person I am, I declined as really if Hopper had wanted an extra person in the scene he would have painted them in.

If his most famous painting wasn't there then certainly others quite recognizable as the work of the Nyack born artist were. Included were some of his early work from Paris, including Soir Bleu and a series of wonderful caricatures. Many of his graphic works from his earlier New York days revealed the subjects he would return to again and again but in shades of black and white.

One of the interesting features was the work ups for so many of the paintings that were included - it appears that Hopper or more specifically his wife and chief model Jo saved pretty much everything he did. When she died in 1968 - a year after Hopper - she left almost 3000 items to the Whitney Museum. Needless to say much of the exhibition was on loan from them.

At the beginning of the exhibition Hopper is quoted as, rather ingeniously, saying: All I ever wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house., And that he did do - on houses in both urban and rural settings. But he also painted lamplight in streets and parks, the flickering lights in a movie cinema, the clotted light of industrial cities, the clear air of New England, the glare of neon on an interior and the first sun of morning through an open window on the walls of a room and the body of his beloved Jo.

Morning Sun was painted in 1952 and as usual Hopper did a series of drawings before brush touched paint or canvas.

Hopper worked with Conté crayons for most of his preliminary drawings. The top drawing was obviously his initial thoughts on the composition and you can trace the line of this thinking as the drawings become more and more detailed.

What I found fascinating was his detailed notation on colours and shadings to be used once he got to work. Noting the effects he wants to achieve, the degrees of light and shadow within the painting and the shading of colours. This was the first time I was aware of an artist taking that approach - I guess much of my view on how painters work is based on how they do it in Hollywood.

Obviously these notations were meant as guidelines and there would be deviations but it is interesting to see how often those first thoughts are present in the finished work.

As with most of Hopper's work the lines are clean, at first glance the colours deceptively seem primary and the subject seems very ordinary. What makes its extraordinary is Hopper's ability to "paint sunlight".

The preliminary drawings are all from the Hopper collection at the Whitney Museum, the painting itself is in the care of the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio.

18 giugno - Sant'Erasmo di Formia
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World Cup????

The nice people at Intimissimi have come up with the joint tribute to Football and Italia.

Talk about your Jock(ie)s!!!!!

17 giugno - Santi Nicandro, Marciano e Daria

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Mercoledi Musciale

Yesterday there wasn't a single bar or for that matter shop that didn't have the World Cub game on the TV. Unfortunately it was a one-one tie between Italy and Paraguay!!! The boys are going to have to do better than that. So here to encourage them on are the Vienna Choir Boys hymning "Fortuna" and the gods of chance!

My friend Cathy sent me that one and my friend Robert sent along this rather cool schedule and score Calender for anyone who wants to keep up to date on who's doing what with whom!

16 giugno - Santi Quirico e Guilitta

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ubi Caritas ....

It is that time of year again! The weather has turned hot - almost sticky with the infamous Roman humidity. The jasmine is fragrant, almost to the point of being sickly. People are thronging the patios and sidewalks of bars and cafes. The gelaterie are doing record business as old ladies lick on their dripping whip cream topped cones giggling to each other about this oh-so-naughty lapse from their diet. People are out strolling, some walking their dogs though more often than not forgetting (?) to pick up after them. And what space on the street is not being taken up by dinners, gelataholics, strollers and doggie doo is often occupied by a host of beggars of various manner and conditions.

Now please don't misconstrue that last statement. I am not in anyway denying the existence here of people who are in real need. Sadly, despite statements from the current Government, there are a growing number of people who fit that description. Nor am I talking about the homeless who camp out in various locales about town like my friend that I talk with every Tuesday with the beautiful little dog near the Isola. Nor am I talking about the number of Sri Lankans or Africans who are selling everything from Kleenex to rip off designer leather goods in a desperate attempt to find that "better life" the people smugglers promised them. I am talking about the syndicate of professional beggars that are working the streets of Roma this time of year. And they don't restrict their "work place" to just the tourist areas of Centro; in our neighbourhood we have our regulars most of whom are there year round but they are now augmented by the "seasonal" workers.

As we tucked into our vegetarian platters (so healthy) at a very nice little local bar I heard a strange voice raised in a pleading cry of "Aiuto me." (help me). It was high pitched, the sound distorted and almost strangled; the sort of sound I remember my father made when he would attempt to speak after his second stroke. There stumbling her way along the tables was a small plump figure in a blue flowered house dress-smock of the sort my mother wore in the late 40s. She was hunchbacked, one arm seem to have been amputated at the elbow and the other was twisted and the hand gnarled in that cup-like claw arthritic hands so often become. As she went from table to table most people were putting coins into her cupped hand. She was almost aggressive in her begging though it could have been the voice and the physical condition that made it seem that way. I'm sure many people were giving her money just to be rid of the sound and the sight.

The older gentleman seated next to me - tailor-made-suited and tied and immaculately groomed - made that dismissive "boh" sound so common here. But I could not bring myself to do that. I was sitting in a nice bar, having a good meal with my tailor-made-suited and tied, immaculately dressed spouse enjoying the warmth and sun of Rome. Other than the odd ache or pain-in-the-ass client I had nothing in the world to complain about. A few euros out of my pocket meant nothing. And for a moment I stopped and thanked whatever power there was for my good life. She continued on her way down the street that strange strangled voice fading - perhaps not quickly enough for my guilty conscience.

After my regular after lunch affogato - a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with espresso and whipped cream - I made my way back to the office. As I turned the corner there was a woman in a blue flowered house dress-smock of the sort my mother wore in the late 40s - unbent, two able arms and talking in a normal voice to a man who was obviously her "manager". All that milk of human kindness that had been pumping through my veins suddenly curdled. I honestly didn't know whither to laugh or become enraged. The talent in the deception astounded me and dare I say delighted me by its shear audacity; the deception itself enraged me.

Ubi caritas - where you find charity.... well let's just say I may not find it as quickly as I have in the past.

15 giugno - San Vito

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

My friend Charlie reminded me that I had forgotten to post anything last month for Mother's Day. And indeed I had. So to make up for that oversight, courtesy of Charlie, I offer you the following examples of:

The Beauty of Motherhood

In Africa

In the Arctic

On the Riverbank

In India

In the Depths of the Ocean

Near the local Walmart

All together now:
M is for the million things she gave me.

14 giugno - Sant'Eliseo

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Its A Mystery to Me!

The small balcony of the apartment is crowded with plants - as indeed are most balconies here. However unlike our neighbours we use the outdoor space for dining during the warm/hot weather. And believe me it has suddenly become hot here - it is not quite noon yet and it is already 27C. We'd been complaining about the cool/cold damp spring so summer decided to hit us right between our sweat-soaked shoulder blades!

In one corner there are two plants that I am sure I use to know the name of but that has totally escaped me - that seems to be happening a lot these day!!! It has clumps of white, very highly scented, blossoms in the spring.

Last year and again this year there is a strange fungus? insect? something! that has attached itself to the plant. It is white, ribbed, soft and when removed and crushed almost exudes a blood coloured substance - which makes me think it is the cocoon of some type of insect.

Does anyone have any ideas as to what it is? How to get rid of it - preferably without using anything that would harm puppies or dinners - particularly puppies?

13 giugno - Sant'Antonio di Padova

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ho Visto*

A few random things that I've seen in the past month or two in Milano, Vienna and here in Roma.

I was in Milano a few Sundays ago for the de facto opening of the new Das Rheingold. As I strolled up Piazza dei Mercanti working my way through the crowds celebrating Inter's calcio victory I saw this man amongst the sketch artists, living statues, mimes, pick pockets, rip-off leather sellers and accordionists plying their various trades. He was surrounded by an attentive and appreciative crowd and his delicate and lovely creations were selling very well.

The first three days of the vacation in Vienna were wet, cold and, though I can never imagine Vienna being unpleasant, at times it was less than comfortable. But the temptation to let your mood match the weather completely disappears when you see something like this.

As we left the Peterskirche this procession came up street. Even in the rain it made for an elegant parade. For an incredible virtual tour of the St Peter's Church - which is better than any photos I could have taken just click here. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions I am not a big fan of baroque but for this church I'll make an exception.

A while back my friend and colleague Jolka and I were crossing the street from the office to visit our regular bar for morning coffee. We were greeted by this rather unusual sight in the middle of the sidewalk.

It was a Monday morning and I really wasn't quite awake yet - I was almost tempted to crawl up and take a nap. Or just lay back in that old recliner.

*I've seen

12 giugno - San Giovanni da San Facondo González de Castrillo
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Salzburger Zeitung - Bells Ringing, Choirs Singing

After four days of rain or threatening rain Sunday morning was bright and sunshiny without a cloud in the sky. The bells of Dreifaltigkeitskirche, just outside our window, had mercifully saved their tolling until the 8:00 am mass but after that point it seemed that not a quarter hour went by without bells of some sort resounding around the town – sometimes singly, other times in concert. There are, its should be noted something like 12 churches in the Old Town alone. However I'm not complaining as it is a lovely sound to wake up, shower, shave and breakfast to. And it set the mood for the mornings concert – Neapolitan music for Passion Week by Les Arts Florissants under Paul Agnew.
The lovely Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Church of the Holy Trinity) on the Marketplatz next to the Hotel Bristol. The bells woke us up on Sunday morning - we had to get up for the 11:00 am concert anyway and it beat any alarm clock.


Les Arts Florissants – a fluid collective of singers and instrumentalists – was founded back in 1978 by American conductor William Christie, chiefly to aid in the rediscovery of French Baroque music. Under his direction they fast became one of the finest period groups in the world and branched out into other genres of classical music. It always seemed to me that, unlike many of his peers, Christie knows how to bring these often forgotten pieces to life. He never forgets that they were written to be heard not studied. I found this particularly true of his performances of church music. Yes they are meant for solemn occasions – Te Deums, Requiems, Masses – but that does not mean they have to be heavy or dull. I recall once saying to a friend that their recording of the Monteverdi Vespers dances with the reflection of the sun on the canals of Venice.
The twenty members of Les Arts Florissants with Florian Carré at the portive organ and Massimo Moscardo on theorbe conducted by Paul Agnew.

Paul Agnew has had a long association with Les Arts as a leading tenor in many of their operatic and concert performances and recordings. He has only recently begun to conduct and from what I can make out is the first person other than Christie to lead the group. His career path started as a choral scholar in Oxford and continued as a member of several well known choral groups. The benefits of that path were more than shown during this concert. An economy of movement conveyed to his group of twenty singers - in various groupings - the subtle interweaving of some glorious music meant for the observance of one of the most intense periods in the church calendar.

The morning began with a short 9 part Miserere by Dominico Scalatti for cantor, chancel choir, continuo and loft choir which though lovely in itself was strange in its sonic placement. The cantor and chancel choir were behind us at the back of the auditorium, the loft choir in front which threw the audio balance off. Perhaps this would be a good time to say that the Haus fur Mozart was perhaps not the best venue for the programme being presented. A local church – the beautiful Universitätskirche has been used previously but is currently under restoration – would have been better suited but as those bells indicated most would appear to be occupied to some degree on a Sunday morning.

The next part of the programme featured 5 works including three canticles associated with Passiontide by Leonardo Leo, a quintessential Napoletano composer. The first part of the programme ended with what is perhaps his best known piece of church music, a setting of the Miserere for double choir. A complex piece with 8 voices variously alternating, imitating and in unison it was in direct contrast to the simpler Scarlatti setting that had begun the concert. Include in the Leo selections was a solo setting of the last of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the series of five Hebrew poems which gave the concert its name. Though slightly white of tone Hannah Morrison's soprano had none of the hoot so often encountered in period singers. Her diction was particularly remarkable and she sailed through Leo's complex cadenzas with ease. Her final cry of "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God" was haunting.

The second part began with a Crucifixus by Antonio Caldara. Though he was more closely associated with the Court of Charles VI in Vienna much of his music shows the influence of the Napoletana school. The choir navigated the complexity of this 16 part motet with a sure sense of style ending as all 16 voices, which had been heard throughout the piece in various combinations, came together in a remarkable congregational unison "Amen". It was a truly impressive piece of choral work.

The last and longest scheduled piece was a setting by Domenico Scarlatti of the Stabat mater - that great medieval poem invoking the image of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross. Written for St Peter's, it was a piece involving 10 individual interweaving voices and from a choral point of view had some interest but even as well performed as it was here lacked the emotional impact of so many other settings of the text.

As an encore the choir gave us two of Henry Purcell's short church anthems, as Agnew explained examples of the far reaching Napoletana influence. And I must remark that the diction in these two pieces, as it had been throughout the programme, was crystal clear even at the most complex moments. Lord, Hear My Prayer was a quiet almost cotemplative ending to a morning of exceptional choral singing.

In retrospect this was perhaps the most satisfying of the Festival presentations but again there seemed to be that spark missing that has so galvanized other years. Perhaps my tastes are changing more than I think or it may be, as I would prefer to think, that the programming needs rethinking.

11 giugno - San Barnaba aspostolo