Leading musicians from all over the world come to the heart of London in May 2012 for the internationally-renowned Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music, now in its 27th year. With 14 concerts and events taking place over nine days, the 2012 festival draws inspiration from the friendly rivalry in the air in the run up to the Olympics, the coming together of nations, and the lively cross-fertilisations of ideas across the cosmopolitan world of Baroque Europe. Highlights include the UK premiere of Vivaldi’s opera L’Olimpiade, celebrated Catalan viola da gamba player Jordi Savall and his award-winning ensemble, Le Concert des Nations, and a specially-researched programme of long-lost 18th-century sporting songs by British fiddle and vocal duo Alva.
Jordi Savall, one of the most celebrated and enterprising figures in the world of historically informed performance, opens the festival with his multinational ensemble Le Concert des Nations (SJSS, Fri 18 May, 7.30pm). Their programme reflects the marvellous diversity and cross-fertilisations of European Baroque music and includes works by Lully (French), Biber (Bohemian), Cabanilles (Spanish), Corelli (Italian) and Avison (English). The following day, British duo Alva – singer Vivien Ellis and fiddler Giles Lewin – provide a quirky vocal highlight with ‘The Sporting Life’, a specially-researched programme of long-lost 18th century songs and ballads that give an insight into the pastimes of the day – wrestling, cricket and horseracing, and forgotten sports such as stoolball, cudgels and quarterstaff (St Matthew’s, Sat 19 May, 4.30pm).
A particular highlight is Vivaldi’s opera L’Olimpiade, a tale of tangled love set against the background of the ancient Olympics, which receives its UK premiere at the festival in a concert performance. It will draw vocal athleticism from an impressive cast of British singers with the specialist Vivaldi ensemble La Serenissima under its director Adrian Chandler (SJSS, Sat 19 May, 7pm).
The festival’s spectacular finale, ‘Handel and the Rival Queens’, honours the two competing prima donnas who caused Handel such headaches, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni. Sopranos Rosemary Joshua and Mhairi Lawson take on the roles of the feisty divas, accompanied by the orchestra of the Early Opera Company under their rising-star director Christian Curnyn (SJSS, Sat 26 May, 7.30pm). The annual concert in the iconic environs of Westminster Abbey welcomes another leading soprano, Sophie Daneman, for Handel’s delectable solo motet, Silete venti. She is joined by St James’s Baroque and the Choir of Westminster Abbey under Master of the Choristers James O’Donnell, who perform Handel’s colourful Ode for St Cecilia Day and one of Bach’s most joyous motets, Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (Westminster Abbey, Thur 24 May, 7pm).
Visiting the festival from Scotland for the first time is the award-winning Dunedin Consort & Players directed by John Butt, in an all-Bach concert featuring his rarely-heard secular dramatic cantatas (SJSS, Tue 22 May, 7.30pm). Other debut artists include award-winning trio ensemble savādi – harpist Marie Bournisien and singers Kristīne Jaunalksne and Ulrike Hofbauer – in an imaginative late-night concert of duets and arias from 17th-century Venice including works by Monteverdi, Rovetta and Barbara Strozzi (SJSS, Friday 25 May, 9.30pm); the five-strong Ensemble Meridiana – whose members hail from four different countries – in a concert of Telemann trios and quartets (SJSS, Sun 20 May, 4.30pm); and Cologne-based string group Harmonie Universelle, who explore one of the great unifying figures in Baroque music, Georg Muffat, and the music that influenced him (SJSS, Wed 23 May, 7.30pm). American organist Kimberly Marshall also visits the festival for the first time, and plays the Klais organ of the event’s home, St. John’s Smith Square, in ‘Bach v. The World’, a programme that puts the spotlight on the rivalries and friendships of Baroque organ music (SJSS, Sat 26 May, 4.30pm).
Dutch chamber group Musica ad Rhenum, led by flautist Jed Wentz, team up with soprano Andréanne Paquin to explore the work of François Couperin, who had a lifelong interest in combining the two great national styles of Baroque: French and Italian (SJSS, Sun 20 May, 7.30pm). But it is the rivalry between the two countries that shines through in the concert from violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, cellist Jaap ter Linden and harpsichordist Albert-Jan Roelofs. Featuring cutting-edge chamber music by composers from both France and Italy, its starting point is the supposed rivalry between the ‘angelic’ violinist Jean-Marie Leclair and the ‘devilish’ Pietro Locatelli (SJSS, Fri 25 May, 7pm).
A thought-provoking Lufthansa Lecture from conductor and violinist Andrew Manze provides further insight into the festival’s music with a look at the state of historically informed performance and the relationship between knowledge and intuition (SJSS, Sun 20 May, 6.15pm).