Tag Archives: Laudonia

Laudonia: Grand Tour

St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh

Sir John Clerk of Penicuik’s robust cantata for soprano, violins and basso continuo, Leo Scotiae Irritatus (The Lion of Scotland Enraged), was either left uncompleted or its conclusion has not come down to us. Doubtless that sense of unfinished business would chime with the view of supporters of Scottish independence who gathered at Holyrood in the afternoon before new early music group Laudonia took the stage at St Cecilia’s Hall on Saturday.

They might also have appreciated the clear implication in the Latin words the 2nd Baronet of Penicuik set in 1699 that there were those who wished failure on the Panama-colonising Darien Scheme, the collapse of which led in part to the union of the parliaments of Scotland and England a few years later.

Perhaps wisely, the musicians of Laudonia chose not to delve too deeply into politics. Instead violinist Aaron McGregor introduced this pivotal work in their programme by noting that its composer later appeared to think music too frivolous a pursuit for an 18th century landed gentleman and member of the new amalgamated legislature.

The group’s programme focused on the music Clerk heard, played and wrote before he assumed those responsibilities, on his Grand Tour through Germany, Austria, Italy and France after his law studies in Leiden in the Netherlands – a “gap year” that took him to the court of Leopold I in Vienna and the studio of Arcangelo Corelli in Rome for violin and composition lessons.

Structured around four solo cantatas sung by soprano Susan Hamilton, Laudonia’s Grand Tour was very specific and specialist in one sense, but also made perfect sense as an entertaining programme.

Hamilton’s voice has acquired heft in its lower reaches – immediately apparent in the opening religious cantata by Johann Rosenmuller, a bright and jolly affair for all its lyrical slaughter and blood. It also introduced us to Austrian trumpet player Martin Patscheider, whose precision on the natural horn often made it sound uncannily like a modern instrument.

His partnership with Hamilton’s voice, on music by Daniel Purcell and Alessandro Mallani as well, was crucial to the recital and the balance the group achieved in this intimate space was remarkable, the theorbo of Jamie Akers and harpsichord of John Kitchen as clear as the frontline of trumpet, violins and cello, with Rick Standley on bass violone.

Kitchen had his solo moments in music by Draghi and Pasquini, played on the remarkably loud 1709 instrument he had borrowed from the University of Edinburgh collection housed in the venue, and first violin Bojan Cicic had a virtuoso showcase in Correlli’s La Follia variations. Almost as notable for the ferocious supporting cello work by Lucia Capellaro, it was far and away the best-known piece in the programme, its screen soundtrack use recently including an adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend.

Occupying the same slot in the first half sequence, Antonio Cesti’s Non Si Parli Piu D’Amore was another highlight, full of tricky intervals for the soprano and switches of mood. Melani’s Qual Mormorio Giocondo, which brought the programme to a close, is more obviously structured but was a well-chosen finale piece to showcase the full range of a very fine new ensemble.

Keith Bruce

Picture: Bojan Cicic by Nick Rutter

Laudonia on the road

Soprano Susan Hamilton tells Keith Bruce how her new early music group follows in very specific musical footsteps.

Over three centuries after its first flourishing, the Grand Tour is back in fashion. At the end of September, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra opens its season with Maxim Emelyanychev’s Grand Tour, as their principal conductor takes a programme culminating in Beethoven’s Eroica to seven venues across Scotland. 

At the start of the month, however, there is another Grand Tour of Scotland and London by a new early music group, Laudonia, led by soprano Susan Hamilton. It is most appropriately named, because it celebrates the musical journey across Europe that prominent Scot Sir John Clerk of Penicuik undertook in the 1690s.

The Second Baronet of Penicuik is a crucial figure in Scots history, whose legal mind and political work put him right at the centre of events when he returned from his travels. After the collapse of the Darien Scheme in Panama threatened the economic stability of the country, he was one of the signatories of the Act of Union and one of the first Scots members of the Parliament of Great Britain, with responsibility for the financial affairs of Scotland.

He had studied law in Leiden in the Netherlands but was also a fine musician and composer and, in the last years of the 17th century, embarked on a Grand Tour that was musical in its focus and included lessons in violin and composition from no less a figure than Arcangelo Corelli.

Although much of his own work was lost in a fire that devastated Penicuik House in 1899, his emotional cantata Leo Scotiae Irritatus (The Lion of Scotland Enraged) will open the second half of the concert programme that Hamilton and her instrumental colleagues have devised for Laudonia’s first tour.

The soprano co-founded the Dunedin Consort in her twenties, but in recent years has devoted herself mostly to teaching. Now, she says, “I’ve found my wings again.”

Encouraged by her partner, Austrian arts manager Christoph Crepaz, who is Honorary Consul for his home country in Scotland, she began to assemble the ideas for Laudonia, which borrows the Roman name for the Lothians of Scotland. As with so much else, the Covid pandemic interrupted their schedule, but because the project began before Brexit it had established a foothold in both countries, and the group has already performed in Austria and at the Scottish Parliament.

This Grand Tour is Laudonia setting out its stall for the wider public for the first time, and Hamilton has assembled a stellar instrumental ensemble around her, led by Croatian early music specialist Bojan Cicic. He is joined by Aberdeen University-based Aaron McGregor on second violin, Lucia Capellaro on cello, and Mr McFall’s Chamber bassist Rick Standley on violone. With keyboard maestro John Kitchen on harpsichord and Jamie Akers playing theorbo, the other lead instrumentalist is Austrian natural trumpet player Martin Patscheider.

“I love the soprano and trumpet combination, especially in the church venues we are playing,” says Hamilton. “The obligato instrument you are singing with makes such a different to how you sing.”

There’s a certain amount of speculation about the music the travelling Scotsman could have heard in the programme she and Laudonia have put together, but it follows the route of Sir John Clerk’s youthful peregrinations across Europe, south through Germany and stopping in Vienna before a long stay in Rome, where he was taught by Corelli three times a week.

Alongside the Sonata La Follia showpiece for violin, Corelli is represented by the D Major Sonata a Quattro which adds a trumpet to the mix. The Trumpet Song from the music Daniel Purcell wrote for Thomas D’Urfey’s play Massaniello, is justified on the basis that it was spanking new in 1699 when Clerk was travelling through London on his way home.

That was where Giovanni Battista Draghi worked too, and Kitchen will play his Harpsichord Suite in A Major. If Clerk did not meet that Italian composer, it is very likely he did run into his brother Antonio, also a composer, in Vienna.

Clerk’s own memoirs recount his meetings with another Italian composer, Benardo Pasquini, in Rome and his music is included in the programme alongside that of his countrymen Antonio Cesti, with the solo cantata Non Si Parli Piu d’Amore (Let There Be No More Talk About Love), and Alessandro Melani’s Qual Mormorio Giocondo (Like the Cheerful Murmuring), again featuring trumpet obligato. Both Cesti and Melani worked at Leopold the First’s Viennese court, and Clerk records meeting the Holy Roman Emperor.

The dark horse of the pack is perhaps German composer Johann Rosenmuller, whose O felicissimus Paradysi aspectus (O Most Happy Sight of Paradise) opens the programme and also pairs the soprano voice with trumpet. Rosenmuller did not have the luxury of a Grand Tour, but instead made a Great Escape from his homeland to Italy, forced to flee when angry parents discovered the exact nature of his enthusiasm for choirboys.

Laudonia’s Grand Tour opens at Holy Trinity Church in Melrose on Friday, September 1 and continues to Edinburgh’s St Cecilia’s Hall (Saturday Sept 2), Dunkeld Cathedral (Sunday Sept 3), Inverness Cathedral (Tuesday Sept 5), Queen’s Cross Church, Aberdeen (Wednesday Sept 6) and St Mary Abbot’s Church in London’s Kensington on Friday September 8. All concerts at 7.30pm.