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Princess Maria Walpurga of Bavaria is not someone I'd come across before; daughter of the Elector of Bavaria, married into the Saxon Royal Family, she lived her married life in 18th century Dresden. Perhaps the fact that we'd just come back from a visit there meant that I was more likely to spot the fact that she cropped up on two different recordings.

Giovanni Ferrandini taught her singing; he was appointed court musician to the Elector of Bavaria at the age of 17 and delivered one opera per year. He went on to dedicate music to the Princess and when she married, music by Ferrandini was in her luggage. Perhaps it was Ferrandini's rather old-fashioned use of gambas which appealed to her, he was certainly gifted at creating lovely textures. review

The Princess was also an amateur composer and her opera, Talestri, was one of the earliest projects of the Batzdorfer Hofkapelle, an instrumental ensemble based at the medieval Batzdorf Castle, near Dresden. Their disc of Vesper Psalms by Lotti also exploits a Dresden connection. Despite his many years in Venice, Lotti spent time in Dresden in charge of the music at the Catholic Chapel - in a converted theatre in the Taschenberg Palace – now a very fine hotel.

Lotti is mainly associated in my mind with his unaccompanied masses, useful fodder for the Sunday morning services at the Catholic Church where I sing at Latin mass. But Lotti's Vesper Psalms are on a gloriously bigger scale and deserve to be better known. They were obviously too large-scale for general use in Dresden and were later used in cut down versions. review

Naxos continue to be a mine of interesting recordings of lesser known composers. Simon Mayr has cropped up before both here and elsewhere - his opera Medea in Corinto was recorded by Opera Rara with Jane Eaglen. Naxos's latest offering is from Ingolstadt, the Bavarian town where he was born. The disc offers up two cantatas. Whilst listening I could not help feeling that this was another case of choosing pieces for the suitableness for recording rather than picking the composer's finest works. review

In the case of flautist Cesare Ciardi, the modern flautist Robert Fabbriciani has gone to the trouble of orchestrating and editing the music. Devotion indeed. review

I am a great devotee of the one-voice-to-a-part school of performance for Bach and treasure the recordings of his works which follow this Lutheran tradition. As an aside, I was recently reading of research which suggested that the church for which Mozart's Requiem was commissioned continued this tradition; certainly an interesting line of performance practice to pursue. Of course it does not pay to be too dogmatic. But performances like that of Helmut Müller-Brühl and the Cologne Chamber Orchestra on Naxos are very much in what I think of as the Handel oratorio tradition; performances which use the type of forces Handel might have done if he'd included Bach passions in his Lenten oratorio seasons.

The trouble is that performing Bach's St. Matthew Passion with just eight singers requires a group of outstanding and well balanced singers, there is great potential for disaster if the performance does not work. Using a choir and the traditional line-up minimises risk and is far easier to bring off in the end, regardless of the theoretical basis for the performance.

Hyperion's re-issue of Her Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts disc of Andrea Gabrieli's motets and Missa Pater Peccavi is a welcome opportunity to hear scholarship in action. The group use just one voice to a part and in the motets mix and match voices and instruments on different parts, just as Gabrieli's contemporaries would have done. A lively and informed

By contrast, the New London Chamber choir's 1985 disc of De La Rue's Requiem and Josquin's Mass: Hercules Dux Ferrariae, is very definitely in 20th century choral territory, rather than authentic single voices. The results are musical however; with James Wood in charge, how could they not be. And neither work is exactly common in the catalogue. review

Projecting our contemporary medium-scale choral view onto works from the past is a useful way of enabling people to experience great music. I have no time for dogmatism; there should be room for performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion by just eight singers or even 800 singers. For me, the key is that the work’s musical origins must be acknowledged and the conductor solves the problems arising from performing a work with large-scale forces when it was written for a far smaller group. The failures occur when conductors fail to acknowledge that there is a problem to be solved.

Performance practice issues of an entirely different sort crop up in Wagner. With the 20th century development of the sheer power of the orchestra, sopranos and tenors have had to be increasingly iron-lunged - or fatally alter the balance between voice and orchestra. So it is always a pleasure to dip into recordings of the past where such problems are more likely to be absent. Beecham was a fine Wagner conductor whose recording career does not really reflect the place the composer held in Beecham's repertoire. His early 1950s recordings with Flagstad (on Somm) are not a replacement for more substantial fare, but they are enjoyable nonetheless. Anyone interested in what they could achieve together should try and obtain a copy of their pre-war live recording of Tristan.

The problem with Handel's Italian cantatas - such as those on the new disc from Veronika Winter on Capriccio - is that they were written for some of the finest singers of the day. They not only show up technical weaknesses, but require the singer to go beyond mere technique to use the virtuoso vocal lines for expressive means.

The same is true of the operas; but perhaps their greater scale means that individual singers are less under the microscope, so that one singer’s weaknesses are balanced by another's strengths. But the issue of personal taste come in here; often I find myself objecting to a particular voice or the way a singer tackles the music, only to find them commended in another review. Alan Curtis's reconstruction of Handel's Fernando - basically Sosarme with the cuts in recitative opened up - is on balance a fine recording and usefully allows us to hear Handel's first thoughts. But Curtis's cast is not one of his strongest and this is definitely one where some weaknesses are balanced by other strengths.

Sometimes CDs come my way because I have an interest in the music as a performer myself. The disc of Schumann's secular choral music is one such; here is repertoire which I don't normally review but with which I am familiar as a singer. Also, there still seems to be something a little un-sexy about unaccompanied choral music, the great 19th century examples don't seem to generate the same wow factor in people the way other genres do. review

The Orpheus Vocal Ensemble, as listed on this disc, gave me a curious conundrum; their listing gives 4 sopranos, 7 altos, 6 tenors and 6 basses – can they really perform like this. I'd be interested to hear more on how they achieve such a well-balanced sound with so few singers on the top line.

It is the singers who are the main interest on How can I keep from singing, a showcase for the trebles of St. Paul's Cathedral. There are all sorts of things on the disc, many solos sung by all the trebles. It shouldn't always work, but it does thanks to the superb musicianship shown by the boys. review

Finally two more contemporary discs. Naxos are issuing more music by Laurent Petitgirard, following up on the success of his Elephant Man opera. The latest disc is a compilation of recordings from 1992 and 2005, some of which must have been sitting in someone's attic awaiting release by an enterprising record company. review

The BBC and Signum have followed up their Tippett song recital from John Mark Ainsley with a wonderful disc of Tippett's choral music: unaccompanied and with organ accompaniment. I was amazed how much had fallen out of the catalogue. Let us hope lots of people buy it to encourage them to continue this profitable collaboration. review

Robert Hugill



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