Bridget Cunningham - Handel Travel Series with Signum Records
It has always been an ambition of mine to research and record more of Handel’s music, and for several years I have enjoyed conducting his Messiah and operas, and playing his harpsichord suites. So I was delighted to launch the new Handel Travel CD series with London Early Opera and Signum Records, which aims to capture musical snapshots of moments in Handel’s life and to discover more about Handel as a person. By looking at the full compass of his travels around Europe, we are able to gain insights into the influences that inspired Handel’s rich lifetime of compositions.
Today we are fortunate to have many leading scholars working on Handel’s music and I am increasingly aware that audiences are keen to gain more knowledge about Handel’s music as well as simply enjoying ‘a night out at the opera’. In fact, this could be echoing an earlier theme since Handel himself expressed of the audience’s enjoyment of Messiah to Lord Kinnoull, ‘My lord, I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better’.
So far we have released three discs, with the fourth released worldwide on 17th March 2017, celebrating St Patrick’s Day with Handel in Ireland Vol. 1. This CD of harpsichord music aims to give a glimpse into Handel’s fascinating time in Dublin where he directed and improvised from the keyboard in a city that John Mainwaring described as: ‘famous for the gaiety and splendour of its court, the opulence and spirit of its principal inhabitants, the valour of its military and the genius of its learned men’.
In 1741 at the age of 56, following a financially difficult time in London and with fashions turning against Italian opera, Handel went to Dublin for nine months where he performed several concerts to raise money for charity. This visit to Ireland teases us with questions as to why Handel went there - what else was performed apart from Messiah? Who did he work with and what else did he do there? These questions are especially intriguing given the context of Ireland’s devastating Great Frost and famine of 1740. Despite these factors, Dublin itself was a thriving musical city, and the second largest in the British Isles after London. Handel’s concerts there were incredibly successful and earned him eternal admiration from the Irish people.
Our new disc Handel in Ireland tells the story of this fascinating trip in both music and text, and you can read more about it in this new blog post.
This harpsichord CD will be followed by a second volume containing the orchestral repertoire performed in Dublin, as part of a ongoing series with London Early Opera, which has already seen releases of several successful volumes of Handel’s music, including Handel in Italy and Handel at Vauxhall. Handel in Italy Vol. 1 & 2 features the leading professional singers Mary, Sophie and Benjamin Bevan and contains operatic and oratorio arias, cantatas, trios, and keyboard works to complete an overview of Handel’s Italian sojourn.
Why give such attention to the early years of a composer when his long life produced such a rich vein of mature works? Given such intense musical activities in Italy, it comes as no surprise that Handel produced a vast quantity of great music which also underwent fundamental changes during this time as he worked on opera, oratorios, instrumental compositions and, importantly, the secular cantatas which so often provided fertile ground from which Handel ‘borrowed’ in the 1730s. Such early Italian melodic ideas were frequently reincarnated as operatic arias and the grand melodic lines of now-familiar oratorio favourites. One way to understand Handel’s later style lies in these youthful Italian years; as well as writing great compositions, this time fuelled his career and spawned unrivalled fluidity and longevity in both the operatic and oratorio genres.
Other recordings in this series survey Handel’s music for the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens during the late 1740s. Questions arise as to the nature of these Gardens in the 18th century: who worked there, who went there, what music was performed, what did this magical place look like?
London Early Opera are fortunate to be working with leading historian David Coke who has written an introductory essay for the CDs and is co-author of the award-winning book, Vauxhall Gardens A History (Yale University Press) with Dr Alan Borg. For a long time, we have been authoritatively persuaded that the music performed at Vauxhall Gardens in the 18th century is hardly worth our notice – merely background noise to other entertainments at the gardens.
The Handel at Vauxhall recordings recreate an evening at Vauxhall Gardens to reflect the glorious music making of Handel and his contemporaries. These recordings offer some revelatory realisations: far from being background noise, music at Vauxhall featured the best and the most original works that England had to offer, not only in terms of composition, but also in terms of its performance, which was executed by some outstanding musicians of the time under the artistic direction of the owner of the Gardens, Jonathan Tyers.
Music was the main attraction of the gardens; much of it was written specifically for performance there and almost all of it was newly-penned by composers such as Handel, Arne, Gladwin, Worgan, Boyce and Stanley. Some music would certainly have been too sophisticated ‘for the general ear’, while the rest would have had a broader appeal - including understandable and accessible words set to excellent modern melodies. Music on the recordings includes Handel’s ‘Hush ye Pretty Warbling Choir’ from Acis and Galatea and the Hornpipe Compos’d for the Concert at Vauxhall.
Our aim in this series is to match research into lesser known aspects of Handel’s œuvre with wonderful baroque players and international singers on premiere recordings, in order to share insights into Handel’s music and to capture the spirit of enjoyment and passion we can only imagine must have fuelled his musical journeys.
The London-based Scottish polymath Dr Arbuthnot enthused to Alexander Pope about Handel:
‘Conceive the highest that you can of his ability and they [sic] are much beyond anything you can conceive’.
ABOUT BRIDGET (CONTACT: email@example.com)
Bridget Cunningham MMus BA(Hons) ARCM
Bridget Cunningham is an international conductor, prizewinning harpsichordist, music presenter and musicologist who trained at the Royal College of Music, London. She is currently conducting, researching and recording a new series of Handel CDs with London Early Opera for Signum Records, including Handel in Ireland, Handel in Italy and Handel at Vauxhall which give a deeper insight into Handel’s music and his travels. The CDs have been reviewed with international acclaim; ‘Splendid in every respect.’ BBC Radio 3 CD Review, October 2015
Bridget has performed at several prestigious festivals and venues including, Festi Classique, France; Innsbruck Festival, Austria; and St John’s Smith Square, London. She has conducted several projects including Purcell’s Fairy Queen and recordings of music by George Butterworth. She also guest conducts several companies including Music of the Spheres Ensemble and the all female choir Vivaldi’s Women.
Her solo harpsichord performances include playing for Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace and giving lecture recitals at Art Galleries including the National Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts, London. She has performed on several Radio and Television broadcasts including BBC 4 Vivaldi’s Women, BBC Radio 4 Front Row and BBC Radio 3 In Tune and has made a film for Handel and Hendrix in London.
‘The playing is so beautifully focused...Splendid in every respect’ BBC Radio 3 CD Review
‘A dazzling disc’ The Observer, 2015.
‘Bridget Cunningham and her performers certainly succeed in bringing out both the virtuosity and variety of Handel’s Italian period’ Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill
‘Handel in Italy reaching for the heavens...’ Andrew McGregor BBC Radio 3 RecordReview September 2016
‘Bridget Cunningham’s musical direction and her insightful research in compiling these two recordings is spot on. Her detailed programme notes are exemplary, and her harpsichord solos on both volumes are also particularly interesting, both for their choice from the less-explored part of Handel’s repertoire, and for their spirited and lively playing. Bridget Cunningham’s London Early Opera have other projects and recordings on the go. I look forward to hearing more from them’ Andrew Benson Wilson 2016.
...‘deliciously played by Daniel Moult and springily accompanied by London Early Opera’s fine band, under the expert baton of Bridget Cunningham’ Early Music Review, 2016.
‘Conductor Bridget Cunningham has recorded a fascinating new CD, Handel at Vauxhall’ BBC Radio 4 Front Row