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In 1980, fascinated by the colours and sounds that period instruments could bring to Baroque music, a twenty-year-old music student at Cambridge University gathered together a small choir and ensemble to present a series of concerts. The programmes were acclaimed, the public attended in large numbers, and The King’s Consort was born. Two years later in London, Robert King’s ensemble became a professional orchestra and choir. As it discovered and performed new repertoire, so TKC’s reputation spread. In 1987, having given many concerts, and after making a handful of recordings for smaller companies, Robert King proposed four projects to the founder of Hyperion. Ted Perry’s reaction was immediate: ‘I like all four: we’ll record them.’ The first disc, of duets by Purcell and Blow, became the first of a series of best-sellers.
Ninety Hyperion CD releases later, containing music from across more than 250 years, The King’s Consort is one of the world’s most recorded period-instrument orchestras, releasing a huge and colourful array of repertoire from the Baroque and Classical eras, selling more than a million discs and winning a vast array of international awards. TKC has given thousands of concerts in five continents of the world—in North and South America, the Far East, a toe-dip into Asia, in almost every European country and, of course, widely across the British Isles—performing in many of the greatest concert halls and festivals across the globe. TKC has staged operas as far apart as Paris and Tokyo, played before Kings, Queens, Presidents, Ambassadors and hundreds of thousands of music lovers, recorded for Hollywood and broadcast to millions on television and radio, always presenting works—both familiar and unfamiliar—with its vital, infectious performing style.
As TKC celebrates its 25th anniversary, we hope you will enjoy this wonderfully varied selection of its music (which opens with a thrilling ‘taster’ of delights to come in the autumn of 2005 with the fourth volume of Monteverdi’s sacred music).
Vivaldi Allegro from Concerto in F major RV574
Several of Vivaldi’s ‘concerti con molti istromenti’ (‘concertos with several instruments’) were written for the opera house. Here the orchestra in Vivaldi’s day regularly included, in addition to the usual strings and continuo instruments, a pair of oboes, a bassoon and a pair of horns. With exactly that scoring, the concerto RV574 is almost certainly one of those ‘opera-house’ concertos. A cryptic dedication which baffled scholars for many years was recently deciphered as being to Prince Giuseppe Maria de’ Gonzaga, the music-loving younger brother of the duke of the small territory of Guastalla. As the prince was Vivaldi’s dedicatee for the printed libretto of an opera performed under his direction at S Angelo in early 1714 it could well be that this splendid concerto was written as entr’acte music for that opera.
Handel Un puro ardor from Cecilia, volgi un sguardo HWV89
Handel’s cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo was first performed between the two parts of the ode Alexander’s Feast at Covent Garden on 25 February 1736, when Handel’s setting of the Dryden text proved to be too short to make a full evening’s entertainment. The presence of an Italian cantata amongst an English-texted work can be explained by the fact that Handel’s leading soprano in 1736, Anna Strada del Pò, was Italian. In its first version the cantata gave the soprano only a recitative and a final duet. Strada was clearly unhappy with such a small part, so before the performance Handel added the aria ‘Sei cara’ which contains a glorious middle section, ‘Un puro ardor’, where the soprano floats her melody over ravishing string harmonies.
Michael Haydn Gloria from Missa Sanctae Ursulae (conclusion)
Some three dozen masses by Michael Haydn survive. Often eclipsed by his more famous brother Joseph, he worked for almost all his professional life in Salzburg, where his music was much admired. His Mass dedicated to St Ursula was written for the convent of Frauenwörth, a Benedictine Abbey set on a beautiful island in the Bavarian Chiemsee: completed in 1793 it well represents his late style. The Gloria is one of his finest and closes with a compelling fugue, ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’: Haydn is at his most uplifting and thrilling, giving weight to Hoffmann’s opinion that ‘as a composer of sacred music Michael Haydn ranks amongst the finest’.
Lully Marche des Combattants arranged by Robert King
Lully is often thought of as being the ultimate Frenchman, but he was actually born in Florence, moving to France in his teens. In his adopted land he rapidly became by far and away the most important composer of his age, working for over thirty years at the Court of Louis XIV. Lully was arrogant, difficult, tyrannical with his musicians, but immensely talented. He adored the theatre, and especially loved its spectacle, writing dozens of ballets and operas, containing splendid dances and entr’actes. The Marche des Combattants is found in Lully’s tragédie lyrique of 1684, Amadis, and here is played in an arrangement by Robert King which employed one of the largest and most colourful Baroque orchestras ever assembled in London.
Vivaldi Sum in medio tempestatum RV632 (first movement)
This motet is one of the latest of Vivaldi’s surviving motets, preserved in Dresden thanks to a collection of sacred music built up by the Bohemian composer and double bass player Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679–1745), and was probably written for one of a group of singers attached to the Saxon court who trained in Venice in the 1720s and joined the Hofkapelle in 1730. The text likens the human condition to that of a ship amid stormy seas, a setting which never failed to excite Vivaldi’s musical senses. One of the most exuberant of all his motet movements, the work not only provides exciting string writing, full of vivid pictorialisation, but requires a singer of quite extraordinary agility.
Kuhnau Zwingt die Saiten in Cythara from Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
Johann Kuhnau was cantor of the Thomaskirche, Leipzig immediately before Bach in 1723. A remarkable composer in his own right, he trained and practised as a lawyer, was a prolific theorist, a talented linguist, and even wrote a satirical novel on what he considered to be the shallow and superficial trends in contemporary music. Having received his early musical education in Dresden, Kuhnau may be the only significant musical figure to have experienced the environments of both Schütz and Bach. Chorale cantatas are surprisingly rare before Bach but Kuhnau’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern shows complete mastery of the form as well as providing one of the earliest uses of horns in church music. In the cheerfully lyrical closing chorus, the famous Lutheran chorale returns.
Hummel Trumpet Concerto in E third movement
A pupil and friend of Mozart who also knew Beethoven and was recommended by Haydn to become Prince Esterhazy’s Konzertmeister at Eisenstadt, Hummel stands at the cusp between the Classical and Romantic eras. If Joseph Haydn’s trumpet concerto of 1800 was the last concerto written to use the trumpet’s old-fashioned clarino or Baroque style, Hummel’s concerto of 1803 was to prove to be the first ‘modern’ one, demonstrating the instrument’s technical range and ability to play in keys distant from its home key. The virtuoso trumpeter of the day, Anton Weidinger (1767–1852), had developed a new version of his trumpet, pitched in E, with at least five keys. The tonality of Hummel’s concerto, E major, was an unusual one, and the work proved to be technically as difficult, if not more so, than Haydn’s work. The finale is splendidly light-hearted and even manages to conceal a march by Cherubini whilst providing the trumpet soloist with virtuosic flourishes across a variety of keys.
Ruggieri Quoniam tu solus sanctus from Gloria RVANH23
Vivaldi’s private collection of music included the autograph score of a setting of the Gloria, extravagantly written for two choirs and two orchestras and dated 9 September 1708, by the shadowy figure Giovanni Maria Ruggieri. Ruggieri appears to have worked in Venice as a civil servant whilst composing instrumental music, operas and church music; Vivaldi obviously appreciated his talent and borrowed extensively from this work in his own famous Gloria. How he got hold of the score is a mystery, but it was very possibly his father, Giovanni Battista, who obtained it. Ruggieri is one of those innumerable forgotten composers whose works deserve to be heard more frequently: his Gloria is a valuable work, not only for its obvious influence on Vivaldi and exemplification of the Venetian polychoral tradition but also for its musical merit and remarkable originality.
Gabrieli Sonata XX a 22
Written for twenty-two instruments and basso continuo, playing in five separate choirs, Giovanni Gabrieli’s sublime Sonata XX is the composer’s largest-scale instrumental work and shows, in his handling of the large ensemble, complete mastery of the form. The opening six-part choir presents calm solemnity with a gently dotted, rising melody and a contrasting falling motif comprising adjacent pairs of notes. The second choir enters with the traditional dactylic canzona rhythm (long, short, short). The third choir is of lower pitched instruments, given here to four sackbuts, and is followed by a lighter-scored fourth choir. The fifth choir has writing that is busier and more active, well suited to string instruments. Only after some minutes do we hear the first, sumptuous tutti, repeated a few bars later with more emphasis. Gabrieli moves to a less formal section, featuring a variety of combinations of choirs and occasionally combining all five. The duration of these dialogues becomes shorter and suddenly, as if unable to wait any longer, a high sackbut breaks loose in an exultant rhythm. Here is the excuse for which the whole ensemble has apparently been waiting, and the combined forces let loose a mighty sonic block. Gabrieli returns to a brief section of inter-choral dialogue before the string choir branches off with an exploratory section in a newly discovered triple metre. Eventually it is brought back to book and returns to the earlier, conventional duple metre—but the seeds have been sown, and each choir takes up the new, elegantly poised triple metre, building to an inescapable climax. As the sonata moves towards its end, each instrument in turn celebrates with its own fanfare, closing one of the most remarkable instrumental pieces of the age.
Boccherini Virgo virginum praeclara from Stabat mater Op 61
Boccherini’s compositional output is substantial and largely instrumental; his vocal music, on the other hand, is sparse, so his setting in 1781 for soprano and strings of the Stabat mater text might seem somewhat surprising. For its genesis, and for its subsequent revision in 1800 for two sopranos and a tenor, we must remember the unique popularity enjoyed by Pergolesi’s 1736 setting of the same text, which had become the most-published and most-imitated single work of the century. Boccherini chooses the same melancholy key of F minor and bittersweet mood of tender supplication, juxtaposed with vocal writing that would more normally be associated with the opera. Throughout a remarkable succession of solos, duets and trios there is a constant flow of invention from a composer nearing the end of his life, setting one of the most poignant of all sacred texts with a Christian conviction that comes straight from the heart. In ‘Virgo virginum praeclara’ the instrumental texture of solo violin, accompanied by pizzicato cello, viola countermelody and the second violin’s gently rocking figurations creates a rich cushion of sound for a ravishing soprano melody.
Handel Largo from Concerto grosso Op 3 No 2
Handel’s six concerti grossi, Opus 3, first appeared in print in 1734, a time when the composer’s finances were in a particularly poor state. His operas were no longer drawing the crowds, a rival opera company attracting his former audiences and poaching many of his star singers. The publisher John Walsh had met with success in printing the concerti grossi of Geminiani, Corelli and Venturini, and in publishing six concertos by Handel hoped to do the same again. The music was mostly recycled movements from operas, oratorios and anthems: one theory is that Handel may not even have known Walsh was going to publish the works—musical piracy was rife in the eighteenth century. The second concerto in the set contains a ravishing Largo movement, with repeated chords in the upper strings and arpeggios from two cellos accompanying a solo oboe’s glorious melody.
Vivaldi Gloria in excelsis Deo RV589 (first movement)
This famous work was revealed to the musical world in a Vivaldi ‘week’ held at Siena in 1939, and has ever since been hailed as one of the composer’s greatest—and most popular—works. The audacious simplicity of the unison octaves with which it opens and the opening choral fanfares are as dynamic as anything in Vivaldi’s output. But Vivaldi is more adventurous than we might think, for at the mid-point of the movement he embarks on a bold tonal excursion that takes him as far as C sharp minor, a key remote from the initial D major, from which he deftly finds his way back to the tonic.
Mozart Epistle Sonata in C major K278
Mozart had held an honorary position at the court of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg since 1769 but, following the death of Count Schrattenbach, the new Prince-Archbishop, Count Colloredo, gave Wolfgang a formal, salaried post. The sixteen-year-old Wolfgang’s appointment as Konzertmeister to the Archbishop in July 1772 brought on a flurry of composition, including the first three ‘Epistle’ or ‘Church’ sonatas, written as short instrumental pieces to fill the gap between the readings of the Epistle and the Gospel. Surviving from between 1772 and 1780 are seventeen of these sonatas. Three of the later sonatas are scored for larger orchestra, and with the sonata K278 in C we find Mozart at his most thrilling, writing what is close to a symphonic movement.
Monteverdi Christe redemptor omnium
A good deal of the sacred music that Monteverdi wrote for Venice is now lost, and most of what does survive is contained in two collections. The Selva morale e spirituale was a monumental publication which summed up the thirty years of Monteverdi’s work at Venice and contained a wealth of music and a wide range of styles. Seven hymns are contained, scored mainly for one or two voices with violins; only this one is for three voices, with a pair of violins playing both within the setting and between the verses. In the Selva morale collection it appears with the text ‘Deus tuorum militum’ underlaid, but Monteverdi indicates that it can be used for any hymn in the same metre. Here it is performed with the text of the Office Hymn for Christmas Vespers, ‘Christe redemptor omnium’.
Knüpfer Gelobet sei Gott from Die Turteltaube lässt sich hören
The position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was one of the most respected and important musical posts in central Germany, including fine musicians such as Schein, Knüpfer, Schelle, Kuhnau and, of course, J S Bach. With the exception of Bach, most of their compositions are woefully and unjustly neglected. Sebastian Knüpfer was appointed Thomaskantor in 1657 at the age of only twenty-four, and for the next nineteen years brought to Leipzig’s sacred music a splendour and magnificence that was formerly unknown. Knüpfer’s contemporaries admired him for his great erudition: he was said to compose ‘with such sweetness and skilfulness that he delighted even the saddest hearts, and his name is spoken with admiration not only in Leipzig but also outside’. The Whitsun concerto Die Turteltaube lässt sich hören (‘The voice of the turtledove is heard’) was written for a performance in May 1667. The scoring is grand, including four trumpets, but Knüpfer skilfully saves the full splendour of the tutti for this concluding hymn of praise to the Holy Trinity.
Bach Allegro from Sonata in G major BWV530 arranged by Robert King
Unlike most of Bach’s organ music, the six Orgel-Trios were not composed for use in a church service, but were instead were written for J S Bach’s eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann, whilst he was learning the organ. Bach senior clearly also found the works useful, for he kept a copy of the sonatas for himself, perhaps using them to teach other pupils. Bach makes no concession to the learner, and all the sonatas require total independence of hands and feet. Indeed, their texture is much closer to that of the instrumental trio sonata, so it is perhaps not such a surprise to find that these sonatas include arrangements of earlier instrumental works. In the light of the composer’s own predilection for recycling instrumental works, the lure of re-orchestrating Bach’s works has always attracted performers, and with evidence that Bach himself did just this, performers have for many years looked towards the Orgel-Trios as the basis for ‘new’ instrumental works. The third movement of the highly Italianate Sonata in G major is a marvellously worked fugue.
Handel The trumpet’s loud clangour from An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day HWV76
According to the dates on his autograph score Handel composed his splendid Song for St Cecilia’s Day in just ten days during September 1739 (the more usual title nowadays, An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day was only given in a publication of 1771). Inspired by John Dryden’s outstanding text of 1687, Handel produced a splendid ode in praise of both music and its patron saint; a first-rate succession of choruses and arias also brings fine obbligatos for many of the orchestra’s instruments, including flute, lute, organ, cello and violins. ‘The trumpet’s loud clangour’ is a dramatic celebration of the war-like qualities of the trumpet; with its opening dialogue between tenor and trumpet, a stirring timpani part and then the entry of the full chorus, this is one of Handel’s most exciting movements.
Purcell Hear my prayer, O Lord Z15
Hear my prayer, O Lord is almost certainly part of a larger piece that Purcell did not complete. Dating from 1680–82, the work is in eight parts, and sets the first verse of Psalm 102. With a despairing text and large vocal forces at his disposal, Purcell’s imagination was raised to its highest level, yet the melodic material is, on its own, quite simple. The first phrase ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord’ uses just two melancholy notes a minor third apart, but it is the turning chromaticism of ‘crying’ that gives the scope for such plangency. The harmonic language, always (after the opening phrases) in at least six parts, is exceptional, even for Purcell, but the most extraordinary feature of the anthem is the build-up which Purcell orchestrates from the outset—here is an inexorable vocal crescendo, culminating on a monumental dischord on the last repetition of ‘come’.
Handel Kings shall be thy nursing fathers from My heart is inditing
An English Coronation service has always been an occasion of great magnificence, and one whose pomp and ceremony is enhanced by music of equal splendour. King George I died on 11 June 1727, and his successor, George II, was proclaimed King four days later. By 9 September it was known that ‘Mr Hendel, the famous Composer to the opera, is appointed by the King to compose the Anthem at the Coronation which is to be sung in Westminster Abbey at the Grand Ceremony’. Handel began work immediately on the music, for he had four major anthems to write. The last of these in the service, My heart is inditing, took the traditional text for the coronation of a Queen, ‘My heart is inditing’. In the final movement, King and Queen alternate, with a masculine, forthrightly stepping motif for ‘Kings shall be thy nursing fathers’, and a more domestic counter-motif for ‘and queens thy nursing mothers’, before the stateliness of the occasion reasserts itself, the trumpets and drums enter, and the anthem ends in a blaze of glory with Handel’s choral writing and orchestral accompaniment at its most convincing and magnificent.
Robert King © 2005