AAM SpotifySundays | with John McMunn

A weekly ‘concert’ taken from the finest recordings in the extensive Academy of Ancient Music catalogue: join us each Sunday at 3pm on Spotify as we unveil a new playlist of music, personally chosen by AAM players, directors, soloists and guests.

The new Chief Executive of the Academy of Ancient Music John McMunn joins us Sunday 20 September 2020 to share his favourite recordings on our #SpotifySundays playlist. Coming from the Gabrieli Consort and Players with a background in vocal performance, John brings a wealth of experience to AAM and keen vision for the future of the ensemble.

Trained as a musicologist at Harvard and Cambridge Universities and as a singer at the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School, John performed for nearly a decade as a soloist in opera and concert, with notable appearances including roles for English National Opera; the Aldeburgh, Buxton and City of London Festivals; and oratorio appearances with Academy of Ancient Music and the Philharmonia, BBC Symphony and Ulster Orchestras, among others.

Following a move into management, John held fundraising and marketing roles at Tenebrae Choir and Academy of Ancient Music, and was Artistic Director of the 2016 Cambridge Summer Music Festival. Since October 2016 he has served as General Manager of Gabrieli, leading an expansion of the organisation’s touring work into new markets in Asia and Australia, overseeing the development of their innovative choral training scheme Gabrieli Roar, and garnering numerous international awards for recorded and live performance including the Helpmann Award for Best Chamber/Instrumental Ensemble Performance (2019) and BBC Music Magazine’s Recording of the Year (2020).


‘AAM’s Orchestral Suites recording was the first major project I worked on during my previous stint with the organisation. I remember – listening to it on repeat whilst editing the CD booklet – being struck by the clarity of Richard Egarr’s single-string interpretation. The music dances exactly as it should. It’s playful, responsive, detailed and – for contrapuntal writing of such density – light as a feather. I could have chosen any of the Suites for this playlist, but in the end the humour and wit of the opening of the fugal section in the Ouverture to No.3 tipped it.

Before working in arts management, I had a first career as a singer in which lieder was a permanent fixture and always close to my heart. I stumbled across these songs looking for the AAM Chamber Ensemble’s recording of the Beethoven Septet, but in the end found them so beautiful I chose to include them instead. John Mark Ainsley is at the height of his poetic powers here, singing with utter commitment and delicate textual nuance. Steven Lubin’s support at the fortepiano offers a kaleidoscopic array of colours, but with an intimacy evocative of the songs’ humble domestic origins. I could listen to these all day.

GF HANDEL Organ concerto in B flat major, Op.7 No.1

Richard Egarr has a well-deserved reputation for the improvisational flair he brings to Handel’s keyboard works, and this is captured beautifully across AAM’s Op.7 recording of 2009. At times it is almost as if Egarr is making it up as he goes along, feeling his way through the music, sounding it out as if for the first time. With the orchestra shadowing his every footstep, the listener is drawn in and taken along for the most enjoyable of rides.

I was lucky enough to take Robert Levin’s chamber music course as an undergraduate at Harvard for two years. The only practical musical course offering at the University, ‘Music 180’ offered a weekly masterclass with the great artist in repertoire ranging from the Baroque to newly commissioned works. I have always been in awe of Levin’s breadth of knowledge and unceasingly curious musical mind, but it was only after I left Harvard to pursue further studies at Cambridge University that I discovered his extensive work in what might be termed ‘historical performance’. This recording – part of a cycle of Mozart keyboard concertos still to be finished – is just a taste of Levin’s technical prowess and endlessly inquisitive (and utterly fearless) personality on the concert platform. I look forward to welcoming him back to AAM as soon as possible to complete the rest of the cycle!

JS BACH St Matthew Passion, BWV244: No.64 ‘Am abend’ & No.65 ‘Mache dich’

I served as a Choral Scholar in the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge for two years whilst completing an MPhil in Musicology, singing daily services in the College’s iconic Chapel under the late Sir Stephen Cleobury’s careful direction. Stephen was a remarkable man – a force of nature intellectually and musically, with seemingly endless reserves of energy and an uncompromising vision for both himself and those lucky enough to work with him. This final aria from Stephen’s final recording with AAM is my tribute to him and an expression of profound gratitude for all he did for me across two different careers in the Arts. That it is sung (beautifully) by my dear friend, William Gaunt, is but icing on the cake.

For my bonus track I’ve chosen Edward Elgar’s little known ‘Coronation March’, written for the coronation of King George V in 1911 and performed here by Gabrieli under founder and artistic director Paul McCreesh. I have been lucky enough to work with Paul and Gabrieli for the past four years, and this recording – from 2018’s acclaimed English Coronation release – gets to the core of that work. The music itself is ‘bonkers’ (as Paul would say) – a coronation march that begins in the minor mode and in three, as if the funeral of the old king and the elevation of a new one were elided in music – but Paul’s approach is almost as insane. Recorded live in Ely Cathedral with a full symphony orchestra of early 20th century instruments, this may be the new benchmark recording of the work, one vastly underappreciated and indeed nearly unknown to modern listeners. Special mention must be made of the final grand organ entry, captured here in all its glory by the recording team at Classic Sound. Turn it up and enjoy the ride!