Thursday, 17 April 2014

La Calisto in Highgate

Hampstead Garden Opera - La Calisto
Hampstead Garden Opera is performing Cavalli's 1651 opera La Calisto at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, the fringe theatre above the Gatehouse Pub in Highgate,  from April 25 to May 4, 2014. Sung in Anne Ridler's English translation, Cavalli's opera depicts  the perils and pains of love and mixes the comedy and tragedy with a strong admixture of farce and cross-dressing beloved of the original Venetian 17th century audience. 

Hampstead Garden Opera's production is directed by Joe Austin (who recently assisted David Alden in the revival of Peter Grimes at ENO), and we seem to be promised a version of La Calisto which takes the heroine into our bewildering modern world.  The opera will be conducted by Oliver-John Ruthven with accompaniment from the period instrument ensemble Musica Poetica London with an impressive cast of young singers, as the performances are double cast. 

Benjamin Grosvenor and the Escher String Quartet

Benjamin Grosvenor -
Benjamin Grosvenor -
Temple Music Foundation's concert season continued on 15 April with a concert in Middle Temple Hall from the young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor and the Escher String Quartet from America. Grosvenor played piano solos by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Liszt, whilst the quartet played Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E flat major Op.12, then the five performers came together for a performance of Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A major Op.81

Escher String Quartet - Photo Credit: Laura Rose
Escher String Quartet
Photo Credit: Laura Rose
The Escher String Quartet are Adam Barnett-Hart, Aaron Boyd, Pierre Lapointe and Dane Johansen. The quartet is based in New York, and was founded in 2005, but they have played extensively in the UK and were BBC New Generation Artists from 2020-2012.

The quartet opened with Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E flat major which was written in 1829 when the composer was 20 and by which time he had already written the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture and the Octet. In 1829 Mendelssohn made his first trip to Britain, a trip which would inspire the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony. Mendelssohn finished the quartet whilst he was in London that year.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Rita or Deux Hommes et une Femme

Donizetti: Rita - Opera Rara ORCD50
Donizetti Rita or Deux Hommes et une Femme: Karneus, Banks, Maltman, Halle Orchestra, Elder: Opera Rara
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 20 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Sparkling performance of a rare Donzetti late comedy, just don't read the plot

Donizetti's opera Rita (which he seems to have called Deux Hommes et une Femme) seems to have been written in the 1840's but for various reasons lay unperformed till 1860, well after Donizetti's death. This new recording from Opera Rara rolls back the sentimentalisation of the plot from 1860 and goes back to the original autograph and libretto to give us Donizetti's original sung by Katarina Karneus, Barry Banks and Christopher Maltman with the Halle Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder.

The libretto is by the Belgian playwright Gustave Vaez, with whom Donizetti would go on to collaborate on the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor. In fact if the article in the booklet is right in its dating of Donizetti's first work on Rita to 1839, then the opera can be seen as Donizetti trying out a new colleague.

Into 2015 with world premieres

Scottish Chamber Orchestra © Marco Borggreve
Scottish Chamber Orchestra © Marco Borggreve
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has announced plans for 2014/15. This will be the sixth term for Robin Ticciati as Principal Conductor (and he has committed until at least 2018).  The orchestra is presenting two world premieres during the season plus a Scottish premiere and two UK premieres. 

The season opens in October with Robin Ticciati conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 4 (with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill) paired with the premiere of the new harp concerto Aeolus by Toshio Hosokawa. Hosokawa's Meditation (dedicated to the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan) also receives its UK premiere during the season. The other SCO commission is by Scottish composer John McLeod whose Out of the Silence is premiered in January 2015. This work is written as a tribute to the composer Carl Nielsen whose 150th anniversary is celebrated in 2014. Candlebird by SCO Associate Composer Martin Suckling receives its Scottish premiere, and Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson's Garden of Devotion gets its UK premiere.

Other threads running through the season include Schumann, whose complete symphonies have been recorded by Ticciati and the SCO for release in September 2014 on Linn. And the Piano Classis series features pianists such as Mitsuko Uchida, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Ingrit Fliter, Llyr Williams and Francesco Piemontesi. Further information from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra website.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Danny Boy indeed

David Schofield and Daniel Parkinson (RNCM Concert Hall stage) cr Tom Gradwell
David Schofield &  Daniel Parkinson 
on the RNCM Concert Hall stage
picture credit Tom Gradwell
Students from the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (RNCM) are releasing a charity single in aid of the college's £3 million campaign to transform the 40-year-old concert all into a state of the art venue. RNCM postgraduate conductor Daniel Parkinson and students from the School of Strings have teamed up with British pianist and Junior RNCM alumnus David Schofield to release a new version of the Londonderry Air, which will be released in all on-line stores on May 19. The single was recorded at the college earlier this month, the single was arranged for piano and strings by pianist and composer Stephen Hough (himself an RNCM alumnus) with original orchestration by Ross Clarke.

When I was a student in Manchester in the 1970's the college was not long open, and I remember many fabulous concerts there particularly as the hall's organ had just been installed in the fascinatingly five-sided concert hall. My memories of a performance of Poulenc's Organ Concerto are particularly vivid, so it is great to hear that the venue is being brought up to date.

The RNCM campaign officially launched in October 2013 and has so far received support from scientist and TV presenter Professor Brian Cox, BBC 6 Music presenter Stuart Maconie, Classic FM’s John Suchet and, among others, international pianist Lang Lang. The College has so far raised almost half of its £3 million target and work on the transformation is well underway. Plans include a complete redevelopment of the Concert Hall to include a new air-conditioning and heating system, new flooring and seating, advanced technical facilities and lighting, plus a balcony and raised floor area to considerably increase capacity. The backstage production areas of both the Concert Hall and RNCM Theatre will also be reconfigured to support increased student numbers and provide a professional learning environment at industry standard.

Further information from the RNCM website

Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide

Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide - Choir of Clare College, Cambridge - Graham Ross - HMU 907616
Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Graham Ross: Hamonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Sequence of plainchant and polyphony for Passiontide spanning the 16th to 21st centuries

Graham Ross and the choir of Clare College, Cambridge have followed up their Advent disc with a Passiontide one on Harmonia Mundi. Stabat Mater dolorosa is a sequence of Passiontide music linked by plainchant, the chant all being taken from the Stabat Mater. The result is a highly satisfying whole, with motets and anthems stretching from the 16th to the 21st centuries with music by Victoria, Lassus, Tallis, Stainer, Gesualdo, Graham Ross, John Sanders, Lotti, Bach, Byrd, Bruckner and Durufle.

The choir numbers 27, with women singing soprano and alto. Founded in 1971, the choir leads choral services three times a week in Clare College Chapel in Cambridge.

The choir sings the verses of the plainchant Stabat Mater, opening the disc with the first two and then interleaving the motets with a few verses at a time in a very satisfying way. The full choir sings the chant in an admirably poised and flexible manner, precise yet expressive.

Chapelle du Roi - Tenebrae

Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi are back at St. John's Smith Square on 16 April for their annual Holy Week concert, Tenebrae

The original Tenebrae service was held at sunset with the candles extinguished one by one, and the service seems to have inspired Renaissance composers to write some of their greatest music either for the Tenebrae Responds, or for settings of the readings themselves taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. 

Chapelle du Roi will perform Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah, Victoria's Tenebrae Responds and motets by Victoria, Guerrero, Tallis and Byrd, plus a set of motets by the Spanish 16th century composer Bernardino de Ribera which are receiving their first London performance after their discovery by the scholar Bruno Turner. De Ribera was Maestro di Capilla in Avila when Victoria and Sebastian de Vivanco were choirboys.

If you are interested in exploring De Ribera's music further then Rupert Damerell and the Zenobia Consort are performing his music at their International Singing Week at the Real Monasterio de Santo Tomas in Avila, Spain from 27 July to  1 August 2014 (see website for further info, opens as PDF)

Monday, 14 April 2014

Operatic triumphs in the Olivier Awards

Nicholas Sharratt, Grant Doyle, Roderick Earle in King Priam: ETO © Richard Hubert Smith,
Nicholas Sharratt, Grant Doyle, Roderick Earle
in King Priam for ETO
© Richard Hubert Smit
At last night's Olivier Awards, English Touring Opera won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera for their season at the Linbury Studio Theatre, with Tippett's King Priam and Britten's Paul Bunyan (the other nominees were Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in La Donna del Lago at Covent Garden and Placido Domino in Nabucco at Covent Garden)

The award for Best New Opera Production went to the Royal Opera for their production of Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes (the other nominees were the Opera Group/Opera North production of David Bruce's The Firework Makers Daughter at the Linbury Studio Theatre, and ENO's new production of Wozzeck  at the London Coliseum). A full list of winners and nominees at the Olivier Awards website.

Bach - St John Passion

Page 1 of the MS of Bach's St John Passion
The Britten Sinfonia and Britten Sinfonia Voices are performing Bach's St. John Passion this Easter, with performances in at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (16 April), the Barbican (18 April - Good Friday), Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden (19 April - Easter Saturday) and Norwich Theatre Royal (20 April - Easter Sunday). 

The performances are directed by the Britten Sinfonia's leader, Jacqueline Shave with a strong cast including Nicholas Mulroy as the Evangelist, Matthew Brook as Christus (and singing the bass solos), plus Julia Doyle, Iestyn Davies, Jeremy Budd, and Eamonn Dougan as Pilate.

Magnificent Extravagance - Gergiev and LSO in Scriabin

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra continued their exploration of Scriabin's music at the Barbican last night with a concert with put Scriabin's Symphony No. 3 in C minor, The Divine Poem alongside Messiaen's early Les offrandes oubliees and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21 played by the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov.

Messiaen's Les offrandes oubliees - meditations symphonique was written in 1930, the year Messiaen left the Paris Conservatoire but already his distinctive compositional voice is very clear. The work is designed as a meditation of Christ's sacrifice and work's three movements originally had titles linking them clearly to this theme. Written for a large orchestra, the LSO had over 50 strings on stage with triple woodwind, the sound world of the piece is clearly Messiaen, though some of the complexities of his later writing are not yet present. The opening movement was a long sinuous plainchant melody over held chords, the textures were completely magical but only occasionally did the sound recall mature Messiean. The middle section was an ecstatic dance, leading to a quietly intense closing movement. Here Gergiev and the LSO showed stunning control in the movement. It concluded with a long passage for divisi violins and violas which was expressive yet quiet; quite astonishing.

Sunday, 13 April 2014


Don't forget our fabulous competition to win a signed copy of Rosalind Plowright's new recital CD, La belle Dame sans Merci

Her first ever recital disc, it contains songs by Alessandro Stradella, Johannes Brahms, Manuel de Falla, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Kurt Weill, Benjamin Britten, Roger Quilter, Ernest Kaye, Charles Villiers Stanford and Frank Bridge, including Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populare Espanoles and Stanford's La belle Dame sans Merci. Rosalind is accompanied by pianist Philip Mountford.

See our competition page for further details.

Troppo cruda, troppo fiera - Handel duets at the Grosvenor Chapel

Oxford Baroque
Oxford Baroque
Troppo Cruda, Troppo Fiera: Robyn Allegra Parton, Raffaele Pe, Oxford Baroque: London Handel Festival at the Grosvenor Chapel
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 12 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Delightful programme of Handel's rarely performed chamber duets

Robyn Allegra Parton
Robyn Allegra Parton
Handel wrote Italian chamber duets throughout his life, returning to the form at various periods though the majority date from his Italian trip or earlier. But these delightful works remain under appreciated, more famous perhaps for the fact that Handel re-used material from them for Messiah than in their own right. Oxford Baroque, with soprano Robyn Allegra Parton and counter-tenor Raffaele Pe brought a programme of Handel's duets and cantatas to the London Handel Festival, at the Grosvenor Chapel on Saturday 12 April.

Raffaele Pe
Raffaele Pe
Handel's duets are a distinct form from his chamber cantatas, in the duets the two voices sing continuously both with the same text, rather than answering each other in arias as in the multi-voice chamber cantatas. They are designed for private performance and one can imagine Handel accompanying a pair of star singers in the salons of his various employers and patrons in Hanover, Italy and London. Of the ones performed by Oxford Baroque, most were early and may date to Handel's period in Hanover, whilst Se tu non lasci amore dates from his London period.

The Grosvenor Chapel does not provide a large performing area, but these are chamber pieces after all. Soprano Robyn Allegra Parton and counter-tenor Raffaele Pe were accompanied by David Gerrard on harpsichord, Richard Mackenzie on lute and baroque guitar and Gavin Kibble on cello.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Dai Fujikura's Ampere

Ampere - Dai Fujikura - Minabel Records
Dai Fujikura's second release on his Minabel label, Ampere, again showcases the composer's fascination with complex textures in a selection of works for orchestra and for solo instruments. The disc includes his concerto for piano and orchestra, Ampere, played by pianist Noriko Ogawa with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thierry Fischer, Fluid Calligraphy for solo violin played by Barbara Luneburg, Stream State for orchestra performed by the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez, Poyopoyo for solo horn performed by Nobuaki Fukukawa, Perla for bass recorder played by Inbar Solomon and My Butterflies for wind orchestra played by DePaul University Ensemble 20+ conducted by Michael Lewanski.

Fujikura's piano concerto, Ampere (2008) was written for soloist Noriko Ogawa. It is Fujikura's first piano concerto, and written for a fellow Japanese expatriot. For the work Fujikura talked of integrating the piano and orchestra so that they are 'one big piano', with the orchestra processing and reflecting back the material played by the soloist.

As One Who Has Slept: A Tribute to John Tavener

Reverie - photo credit Charlie Ding
Photo credit - Charlie Ding
As One Who Has Slept: A Tribute to John Tavener: Reverie, Conductor – Robbie Jacobs: Brandenburg Festival, St Dunstan in the West
Reviewed by Natalie Burch on April 10 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Music by Tavener, Part, MacMillan, Tompkins, Gibbons and Howells by young new choir

In celebration of the life of renowned choral composer John Tavener, last night’s Brandenburg Festival concert (10 April) at St Dunstan in the West brought us an intimate selection of British choral works sung by one of London’s top up and coming young choirs: Reverie conducted by Robbie Jacobs. A fairly recent addition to the London choral scene, Reverie draws on a successful group of young professionals under the directorship of Robbie Jacobs to bring us a fresh sound with a remarkably sensitive and innovative use of musical colour. The group focuses largely on repertoire from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and their dedication to pursuing this often undervalued sector of the repertoire is evident from their collaborations with current young composers, youth choirs and ensembles.

The programme, a selection of twelve choral works from the English choral tradition, was a perfect match for the reverent atmosphere of St Dunstan in the West. The generous acoustic of the church worked well with the frequent plain-chant and drone textures, creating an almost pious level of listening amongst the audience reflected in the total enraptured stillness after each piece. Appropriate, perhaps, as we were commemorating the life of John Tavener who died only last year.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Powder her face – Thomas Adès at AmbikaP3

Amanda Roocroft and actors in Powder Her Face: ENO: copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Amanda Roocroft and actors in Powder Her Face
copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Thomas Ades Powder her Face: ENO at AmbikP3
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Apr 4 2014
Star rating: 4.0
New production of Ades' opera in an dramatic new space

This new production by the ENO of Thomas Adès’ Powder her face at AmbikaP3 was a thrilling exposé of a decadent life’s fall from grace. Very topical, given the current rounds of sexual exploitation by celebrities, this work also forces the audience to confront the duel standards by which society views sexual equality.

The libretto by Philip Hensher, known for his journalism and novels, could have taken a more damning view of female celebrity, but instead its straightforward exploration of excesses, prejudices, and scandal allows the audience to be shocked by a world we hoped had gone away but that we know is still bubbling beneath the surface. Adès’ music conducted by Timothy Redmond added an emotional depth to Hensher’s writing. Fragmentary hints of tango and tearoom dances helped consolidate the era of decadence and gave life to the words.

London International A Cappella Choir Competition

St John's Smith Square
There's a chance to hear some fine choirs from around the world in the London International A Cappella Choir Competition which takes place at St Johns Smith Square from 21 - 26 April 2014. The concert was planned as a celebration of St John Tavener's 70th birthday and is now being held in his memory. Hosted by the Tallis Scholars, who give the opening concert, the event enables us to hear the Byrd Ensemble from Seattle (USA), Costanzo Porta from Cremona (Italy), Coro El Leon d Oro from Luanco (Spain), Dysonans Chamber Choir from Poznan (Poland), Voces Musicales from Tallin (Estonia), Vox Lundensis from Lund (Sweden), New Dublin Voices from Dublin (Ireland) along with the Erebus Ensemble from Bristol, Renaissance from Durham, Reverie from London and the Victoria Consort from Oxford. The choirs will be performing one of Tavener's works alongside an eclectic mix of renaissance polyphony and recent pieces (including Jonathan Harvey and Howard Skempton).

The Tallis Scholars open things with their concert on 21 April, performing Gibbons, Parsons, Tallis, Tye, Victoria, Vivanco and Tavener. Then there are the competition rounds 1 to 3 on the evenings of 23, 24 25 April with the final on Saturday 26 April. At the final the judges will be Peter Phillips, James O'Donnell, Emma Kirkby and Mark Williams. There is also the chance to hear the choirs around London at lunchtime, with the Erebus Ensemble at St George's Bloomsbury (22/4), Vox Lundensis at St Bride's Fleet Street (23/4), the Byrd Ensemble at St Mary At Hill, and Costanzo Porta at St George's Bloomsbury (both 24 April), plus El Leon d'Oro will be at St Mary At Hill at 7pm on 24 April. Voces Musicales will be at St Mary At Hill at 6pm on 25 April and Renaissance will be at St. Magnus the Martyr at 6pm on 25 April.

Further information from St Johns Smith Square website.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Judgement of Paris

Daniel Purcell - The Judgement of Paris - Resonus Classics RES128
The year is 1700, the cause of opera sung in English seems to have stalled. Henry Purcell has been dead for 5 years and the score of his Fairy Queen lost so no further performances possible. His other semi-operas continue to be performed and Dido and Aeneas would be dismembered for inclusion into a play. But it is an expensive genre, and with no subsidy from the Royal court English opera, whether fully sung or semi-opera, founders.

A group of aristocrats led by Lord Halifax decide to remedy this and hold a competition. William Congreve writes a libretto, The Judgement of Paris, and composers are invited to set it. Four composers enter, Daniel Purcell, John Eccles, Gotfried Finger and John Weldon. Purcell, Eccles and Finger have links to the two theatre companies, with Weldon the outsider though he studied with Daniel Purcell's older brother (or cousin) Henry.

Weldon wins, Finger is annoyed and leaves London. Finger's opera has not survived, the other three have and in fact at the Proms some years ago all were performed in competition. Eccles's opera has gained a little currency in recent years but Daniel Purcell's is relatively unknown. Now Daniel Purcell's The Judgement of Paris it has been recorded by Julian Perkins, Spiritato and the Rodolfus Choir with Anna Dennis, Amy Freston, Clara Hendricks, Samuel Boden and Ashley Riches, the Resonus Classics label.

In case you missed it - March on Planet Hugill

Arianna in Creta at London Handel Festival c. Chris Christodoulou

Musical March

March started in prison as we visited HMP and YOU Bronzefield for Pimlico Opera's terrific production of Sister Act, performed largely with a cast of prisoners. Still in a music theatre vein, we went to the Rosemary Branch Theatre to hear the premiere of Riptide: The Slasher Musical by Mark and Simon Nathan.

Operatic excursions

I returned to Covent Garden to catch the latest revival of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment with Juan Diego Florez and Patrizia Ciofi (along with a guest appearance from Kiri Te Kanawa). And I also caught the opening of English Touring Opera's Magic Flute, in Hackney as part of their spring tour. Chelsea Opera Group's took us to Verona for Bellini's re-telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet, I Capuleti et i Montecchi. Borodin's opera Prince Igor made a rare visit to London in the production by Novaya Opera. We also caught a look at Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten

Celebrating 200 years with a world premiere

The Old Sunday School - Macclesfield Heritage Centre
The Old Sunday School
Macclesfield Heritage Centre
On Saturday April 12 2014 the Northern Chamber Orchestra is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Macclesfield Heritage Centre with a concert which includes the world premiere of Adam Gorb's A Celebration! written specially for the occasion. The concert also includes music by Rossini and RVW, and the orchestra is joined by pianist Steven Osborne for Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto with the evening finishing with the premiere of Gorb's new piece. Gorb is a Macclesfield resident, as well as being Head of School of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, so it is apt that he helps to celebrate 200 years of Macclesfield's heritage.

The Macclesfield Heritage Centre started out life as the Macclesfield Sunday School, built for the education of the silk industry workers' children. The Heritage Centre is now administered and managed by the  Silk Heritage Trust along with the Macclesfield Silk Museum and The Paradise Mill. They have been celebrating the Heritage Centre's bicentenary with a year of events from April 2013 to April 2014. Further information from the Macclesfield Heritage Centre and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

EUBO appeal

European Union Baroque Orchestra
The European Union Baroque Orchestra provides training and experience for young performers, giving a series of tours annually and working with a different group of performers each year. This year they are planning performances of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (with puppets from the puppet theatre Favoletta) and an their Handel programme Peace and Reconciliation which includes Handel's Utrecht Te Deum and Jubilate, Birthday Ode for Queen Anne plus Herbert Howells Take Him Lord for Cherishing.  (Performances take place in June in Etternach, Rotterdam and Nantes).

With the change in the way that the European Union funding works, they are short of cash for these tours and are appealing for funds.  You can donate on-line, or contact Noora Heiskanen on 

You can read my review of their wonder full Handel CD, Pure Handel, on this blog.
Watch an informative video after the break

BBC Music Magazine Awards

Peter Grimes - Britten - Aldeburgh Music
The BBC Music Magazine Awards also took place this week, giving awards to recordings in a variety of categories. There is a greater public involvement in the deciding of these awards, as the jury produces a list of nominations and then the public votes on the various recordings via the BBC Music Magazine website. The awards ceremony took place at Kings Place, with live performances from Bryn Terfel (on of the performers on the DVD in the DVD (Performance) award), Rachel Podger (winner of the instrumental award) and Igor Levit (winner of the.newcomer award)

The winner of the recording of the year, and concerto category, was cellist Alisa Weilerstein's sice of the Elgar and Carter concertos on Decca with Staatskappelle Berlin and Daniel Barenboim. The opera award was Peter Grimes on Signum Classics, Steuart Bedford and the Britten-Pears Orchestra's live recording which accompanied the performances on Aldeburgh Beach, with performers including Alan Oke, Giselle Allan and David Kempster. The choral category was won by Paul McCreesh's recording of Britten's War Requiem with Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley, Christopher Maltman, Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wrocław Philharmonic Choir, Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme on Signum/Winged Lion.

Opera Awards 2014

Stuart Skelton receiving award for Male Singer at the Opera Awards: credit Jim Winslet
Stuart Skelton
photo credit Jim Winslet
The second Opera Awards took place on Monday 7 April at the Grosvenor House Hotel, presenting awards for Male Singer, Female Singer, Opera Production and a wide variety of other categories recognising achievement in the operatic field last year. The judges this year were John Allison (editor of Opera Magazine),  Elaine Padmore (former director of opera at Covent Garden), Peter Jonas (former artistic director of Bavarian State Opera), Nicholas Payne (of Opera Europa) and the opera critics Hugh Canning, George Loomis and Fiona Maddocks; all either opera directors or critics so the results probably reflect a certain critical view of the opera world today.

Duncan Rock performing at the Opera Awards - credit Jim Winslet
Duncan Rock
photo credit Jim Winslet
Live performances at the ceremony were given by Phoebe Haines, (an Opera Awards Foundation Bursary Winner), Duncan Rock, (Young Singer of the Year nominee 2013 and 2014), Susana Gasper and Stuart Skelton (winner of the Male Singer Award). Phoebe Haines was accompanied by Marek Ruszczynski, a current National Opera Studio student also receiving an Opera Awards Foundation Bursary. The other performers were all accompanied by Gary Matthewman.

The winner of the Male Singer category was Stuart Skelton (who recently reprised his terrific Peter Grimes at ENO) and the Female Singer was Diana Damrau (a singer whom we don't hear enough of in London). The Young Singer category was won by Jamie Barton (who also won the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World), and the Readers Awards went to tenor Joseph Calleja (recently singing the title role in Gounod's Faust at Covent Garden).

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Voces8: A Purcell Collection

Voces8 - The Purcell Collection - SIGCD375
Purcell airs, choruses and anthems; Voces8, Les Inventions: Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 8 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Voces8 bring their distinctive musicianship to bear on a selection of Purcell's major works

For this new disc from vocal ensemble Voces8 on the Signum Classics label, the group is joined by French period instrument ensemble Les Inventions for A Purcell Collection, described as 'An invitation to stroll through the world of one of England's greatest composers'. The disc includes a wide variety of items from anthems and opera choruses to welcome songs and odes with most items being selected from longer works.

Voces8 is an eight-voice ensemble generally singing one voice to a part. On this disc they are Andrea Harris and Emily Dickens (sopranos), Christopher Wardle and Barnaby Smith (counter-tenors), Oliver Vincent and Samuel Dressel (tenors), Paul Smith and Dingle Yandell (basses). They bring a superb musicianship to bear on works which might often be associated with a larger group of singers.

To enjoy this disc you have to be comfortable with three basic premises. That most of the works in the disc are excerpted from larger pieces, that the music is all performed as by a vocal consort rather than larger choir, and that the voices are relatively closely recorded so that there is not much space around the voices. There is no conductor, Patrick Ayrton (of Les Inventions) and Barnaby Smith (of Voces8) are billed as joint artistic directors.

Colin Currie and the SCO

Colin Currie - photo Marco Borgreve
Colin Currie - photo Marco Borgreve
Percussionist Colin Currie is the soloist when the Scottish Chamber Orchestra returns to James MacMillan's percussion concerto Veni, Veni Emmanuel, a work which the orchestra commissioned and premiered in 1992. Conducted by John Storgards, they perform the concerto with music by Sibelius and Vaughan Williams in Edinburgh and Glasgow (10, 11 April). 

Later in the month violinist Nicola Benedetti and conductor Jeremie Rhorer (founder of the period instrument group Le Cercle de L'Harmonie) will be touring a programme of Mozart and Beethoven (23-26 April). Further information from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra website.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Duke Bluebeard's Castle

Duke Bluebeard's Castle - SIGCD372
Bartok Duke Bluebeard's Castle: John Tomlinson, Michelle DeYoung, Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen: Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 7 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Thrilling live recording of Bartok's opera.

The role of Bluebeard in Bartok's opera is one that John Tomlinson has recorded before. It suits him and the dark grain of his voice, and he is on terrific for on this live recording made in Vienna with Michelle DeYoung as Judith and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The recording is on the Signum label.

Bartok wrote the work in 1910, setting a Hungarian text by the poet Bela Balazs. Rather oddly, considering the subject matter, Bartok dedicated it to his new wife! The opera has a very restricted action with Bluebeard and Judith simple opening the doors one by one. Not much is lost in a good concert performance, which means the work is ideal recording material if the performance is sufficiently vivid, as is this one.

Co-Opera Co Summer Development Programme

Co-Opera Co's Summer programme will be Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen directed by Natascha Metherell, conducted by Martin Handley. The opera will be performed in August 2014 and singers will get the experience of working with over 20 of Co-Opera Co's Associate Artists who will be participating in the the creative team for Cunning Little Vixen and the development workshops leading up to it. Co-Opera Co are now looking for singers for the programme. They are also looking for support to enable the widest range of young singers to be able to take part, visit their Sponsor a Singer page for further information about support.

Co-Opera Co is an opera company aimed at providing training and experience for young opera singers. The company was founded in 2008 by opera singer Kate Flowers and lighting designer Paul Need, providing training and experience for young professionals with the aid of eminent professionals from all areas of the profession. Further information from the Co-Opera Co website.

Matthew Schellhorn plays Ian Wilson's Stations

Matthew Schellhorn: Ian Wilson - Stations
Pianist Matthew Schellhorn launches his new CD, his first solo disc, on 8 April 2014 with a concert at St George's Cathedral, Southwark. Matthew Schellhorn's new disc, on Diatribe Records, is of Ian Wilson's monumental Stations inspired by the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The work last over 70 minutes and is not intended as being programmatic, Wilson has simply named his movements Stations 1 to 14. 

Schellhorn's concert at St George's Cathedral is in aid of the Holy Land, Schellhorn will play Stations and the concert will include meditations by His Grace the Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Win a copy of Rosalind Plowright's La belle Dame sans merci

Rosalind Plowright - La belle Dame sans merci
Mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright has a new disc out next month on Romeo Records, her first recital disc.  

La belle dame sans merci includes songs by Alessandro Stradella, Johannes Brahms, Manuel de Falla, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Kurt Weill, Benjamin Britten, Roger Quilter, Ernest Kaye, Charles Villiers Stanford and Frank Bridge, including Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populare Espanoles and Stanford's La belle Dame sans merci. Rosalind is accompanied by pianist Philip Mountford. 

We have a copy of the CD to be won. Full details after the break.

Royal Opera new season

Mariusz Kwiecien as King Roger in Santa Fe in 2012
Mariusz Kwiecien as King Roger in Santa Fe in 2012
The 2014/15 season at Covent Garden has much to enjoy. There are two new Verdi opera productions (I due Foscari and Un ballo in maschera), Giordano's Andrea Chenier with Jonas Kaufmann, Szymanowski's King Roger with Mariusz Kwiecien, Brecht and Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and Mozart's Idomeneo. And finally, Rossini's Guillaume Tell returns. There is a great deal to look forward to, with a programme of contemporary opera in the Linbury Studio.

All this innovation has to be paid for, and there are plenty of repeats of old favourites (16 La Traviatas, 10 Rigolettos, 11 La Bohemes) though these are leavened by some interesting casting. There are also the gaps, no Janacek, no Richard Strauss, no Russian opera, and nothing 20th century English.

Antonio Pappano conducts a new production of Verdi's I due Foscari directed by Thaddeus Strassberger with Placido Domingo (in another baritone role), Francesco Meli and Maria Agresta. (Strassberger was responsible for the Bard Summerscape production of Chabrier's Le Roi Malgre Lui which came to Wexford and was not much liked). I due Foscari was last staged at Covent Garden in 1995

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Pure Magic! L'Ormindo at the Globe

Harry Nicoll in L'Ormindo © Stephen Cummiskey
Harry Nicoll in L'Ormindo
© Stephen Cummiskey
The Royal Opera House's latest collaboration is on rather a smaller scale than usual. Cavalli's L'Ormindo is being performed in the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at the Globe, a reconstruction of an English 17th century indoor theatre. Both theatre and opera are of roughly the same date, Cavalli's opera was premiered in Venice in 1644. However, as Kasper Holten admits in the programme they are cheating somewhat as Cavalli's operas were performed in proscenium arched commercial theatres in Venice. But the theatre is a wonderful space, a chance to hear a genuinely intimate performance of a baroque opera in a candle-lit space. We went along on 4 April 2014 see and hear for ourselves.

Directed by Kasper Holten, designed by Anja Vang Kragh with Christian Curnyn conducting the Orchestra of the Early Opera Company, the production had an interesting combination of modernist and period backgrounds. Holten, directing his first baroque opera, was highly sympathetic to Cavalli's work, creating a very pacy performance which thankfully did not try to make the piece something that it wasn't. L'Ormindo was chosen because of its humorous and theatrical plot, and this was a very funny and very theatrical production.

Holten used the whole theatre, with the gods being lowered from the ceiling  and various people popping up through the trap in the floor, people shouted from balconies, eavesdropped from the circle and clambered over the audience. In fact, Holten got the actors to use the audience shamelessly, there was no sense of the traditional fourth wall, and the singers talked to the audience, involved them and even sat on knees. I have nothing but admiration for the singers, having to perform their craft with us audience members inches away from them. We were sitting at the side of the stage, close enough to almost be part of the action.

A Soldier's Tale at the Barnes Festival

St Mary's Church, Barnes
St Mary's Church, Barnes
The second Barnes Music Festival ran for two weeks from 22 March to 6 April with a theme marking the 80th Anniversary of the death of Elgar, Delius and Holst. I caught up with the festival on Friday 4 April, attending a lunch-time recital at St Mary's Church, Barnes. The 12th century church was re-built after a fire in 1978 and the re-configured interior, architect Edward Cullinan, offers a fine open space ideal for concerts.

Christopher Foster
Christopher Foster
Bass-baritone Christopher Foster and pianist Audrey Hyland performed their programme, A Soldier's Tale which wove 20th century songs into a poetic narrative sequence which told the notional story of a young man becoming a soldier. It was perhaps ironic that a recital about war should have a protagonist who had been in the wars himself. Foster came onto the platform bearing a flask of hot tea and announced himself as having been ill. The atmosphere of the recital was relaxed and Foster gave a fine performance, but it was clear that his voice did not always do what was wanted.

They opened with a group of seven Housman settings by Arthur Somervell, Butterworth and CW Orr, starting with Somervell's Loveliest of trees and ending with Somervell's Into my heart an air that kills which is thematically linked to the first song. Housman's poetry is very much related to the Boer War, but the composers of these songs found his sentiments fitted exactly with their view of the First World War. For me the outstanding song of this group was Butterworth's The lads in their hundreds, a poignant poem in a very fine settings. Somervell's There pass the careless people and White in the moon the long road lies both had dark-tinged complexities to them, whilst CW Orr's Along the Field seemed to have some French influences in its chromatic harmony. Butterworth's lovely On the idle hill of Summer started drowsily evocative and then got more complex.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Rhinegold Live: Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber

Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, and Pam Chowhan at Conway Hall; photo credit Melanie Spanswick
Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, and Pam Chowhan at Conway Hall
photo credit Melanie Spanswick
Rhinegold Live is a new venture from the publishers of Classical Music Magazine. It is a concert series taking place at Conway Hall, all tickets are free (you have to register at the Rhinegold Live website) and entrance includes a glass of wine. The concerts last an hour with a Q & A with the artists afterwards. It all seemed a little good to be true, so I went along to Conway Hall on 3 April to the opening event of the season.

Each concert is selected by the editor of one of the magazines in the opening concert was Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, with pianist Pam Chowhan, in their cello duet programme, A Tale of Two Cellos. Subsequent concerts include Andrew Litton playing transcriptions of Oscar Peterson (2/6), Charles Owen in Bach's Partitas for piano (9/9) and a song recital from soprano Mary Bevan and pianist Richard Peirson (10/11).

Celebrating Richard Strauss and Paul Tortelier

Paul Tortelier
Paul Tortelier
Corinne Morris's career as a cellist was cut short by injury, but after a five year gap she is back performing thanks to sports medicine. On 8 April 2014 at The Forge, Camden, Morris is giving a concert celebrating both the centenary of her mentor the great cellist Paul Tortelier and the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss's birth. Morris will be playing Strauss's Cello Sonata, music by Beethoven, Schumann and Martinu, plus the UK premiere of Nimrod Borenstein's Soliloquy.

Antonio Poli at Rosenblat Recitals

Antonio Poli at the Wigmore Hall for Rosenblatt Recitals © Jonathan Rose
Antonio Poli
© Jonathan Rose
Beethoven, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Respighi, Tosti, Donaudy, Cilea & Rossini: Antonio Poli, Jan Philip Schulze: Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Imaginative recital spanning German, Russian and Italian repertoire from this up and coming tenor

Italian tenor Antonio Polio has sung Cassio (Otello) and Don Ottavio (Don Giovanni) at Covent Garden. His current repertoire includes lyric tenor roles in both Italian and German opera and he will be singing Tamino (Die Zauberflote) in Bari later this year. So it was with great interest that I attended Poli's  recital at the Wigmore Hall with pianist Jan Philip Schulze for Rosenblatt Recitals on 2 April 2014. Their varied programme included arias and songs by Beethoven, Robert and Clara Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Respighi, Tosti, Stefano Donaudy, Cilea and Rossini.

Poli spent a period as a member of the 'Young Ensemble' at the Semper Oper in Dresden. This background perhaps showed in the firm and direct way he addressed Beethoven's two songs, Wonner der Wehmut and Freude und leidvoll, both dating from 1810 and setting lyrics by Goethe. Poli's is a lyric voice with an admirably firm centre. He captured the impulsive passion of the pieces and brought out the hints of Florestan in the latter.