To found a new orchestra in the UK in the dark winter of 2010 was certainly an ambitious goal. Together with our chief executive Crispin Woodhead, a very talented and entrepreneurial manager whom I was fortunate to meet, we had a strong vision of an ensemble committed to chamber music values in the Baroque and Classical repertoire. Although at Arcangelo we play almost exclusively on historical instruments and gut strings, I wanted to prioritise our player’s experience in chamber music first and foremost, since I always had a suspicion that most if not all music from Monteverdi to Mozart was principally conceived as chamber music, even the grand 18th century operas or large scale Baroque oratorios.
When I conducted Le nozze di Figaro on the Glyndebourne Tour in 2012 I was always struck by the necessary integration between orchestra and singers and the need to hear the precise detail and character inside the orchestral texture. If we imagine the intimate size of the Burgtheater in Vienna where these pieces were first performed, or we consider the relatively small number of players in that contemporary orchestra and therefore the attitude or aesthetic of the time, this commitment to chamber music really starts to make sense.
We were very lucky to have started a relationship with Hyperion Records. I sense that here we are permitted, nay encouraged, to pursue artistic excellence in the recording studio and I feel proud that our first few collaborations have yielded such results. Our first orchestral disc with Iestyn Davies – the first in the ‘Arias for…’ series – won the Recital category of the 2012 Gramophone Awards. Our Handel CD with Chris Purves – ‘Finest Arias for Base Voice’ – was nominated in the Vocal category in 2013. I think this prestigious award has really helped us to galvanize, given us confidence that what we’re doing is along the right lines, and brought more international awareness about the ensemble. In our field of Early music we are moving in an international market saturated with extremely well established groups set up 30 years ago during that golden time of the period-instrument movement.
Last year Arcangelo were very fortunate to perform at some distinguished venues such as Wigmore Hall, the Musikverein in Vienna, the Philharmonie in Berlin and Carnegie Hall in New York. The fruits of our work in the studio will be released in 2014 and include our first CD of Monteverdi madrigals which takes a selection of incredible masterpieces on the theme of ‘Loss and Love’ from the Sixth to Eighth Books. This essential chamber music project focuses on Monteverdi’s genius through the work of six young solo singers and continuo who came together in a dedicated spirit of collaboration to work on important elements of this music, such as the beautiful libretti.
Later in the year Hyperion will also release our live performance of Bach’s B minor Mass and the second in the series of ‘Arias for…’; this time for Francesco Benucci with soloist Matthew Rose. Benucci was the most famous buffo bass in Vienna during the 1780s and he inspired composers such as Mozart to write great opera roles for him; such as Figaro (Le nozze di Figaro), Gugliemo (Cosi fan Tutte), and Leporello (Don Giovanni). Putting these famous arias in the context of Benucci’s career and alongside other lesser known delights I hope will make for an informative and interesting recording.
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