Tuesday, 21 November 2017

He Wishes....

Looking forward to the premiere of my W.B. Yeats songs tomorrow, He Wishes ... with Donna Lennard (soprano) and Gavin Roberts (piano), plus music by Cecilia McDowall, Stephen McNeff, Julian Phillips, Leslie Phillips.

Songs and Sounds 

22nd November 8pm 
Old Paradise Yard SE1 7LG

Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton launch Leeds Lieder 2018

Soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton (director of Leeds Lieder) gave a recital of songs by Schumann, RVW, Frank Bridge and William Walton at 22 Mansfield Street on Monday 20 November 2017 to help launch Leeds Lieder's 2018 programme.

Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton began their programme with a selection of lieder from Robert Schumann's Myrthen. Sampson and Middleton will be joined by tenor Julian Pregardien to perform the complete Myrthen (Robert Schumann's wedding present to his wife Clara) as the opening concert of Leeds Lieder on Thursday 19 April 2018.

The programme on Monday was completed by a lovely selection of English lyrics, with RVW's Orpheus with his lute, and Silent noon, William Walton's Three Edith Sitwell Songs and Frank Bridge's When most I wink, Go not happy day, Adoration, Come to me in my dreams and Love went a-riding, a rare opportunity to hear a larger group of Bridge songs.

Joseph Middleton and Carolyn Sampson at Rhinegold Live
Joseph Middleton and Carolyn Sampson (at Rhinegold Live in 2015)
Leeds Lieder runs from 19 to 22 April 2018. Under the banner Poetry into Song the festival features an action packed four day with recitals by Julian van Mellaers (Kathleen Ferrier Award winner), Louise Alder, Kathryn Rudge, Matthew Rose, and Nick Pritchard, and concludes with bass-baritone Robert Holl and pianist Graham Johnson performing Schubert's Winterreise. The festival commission this year is a new song cycle by Daniel Kidane which will be premiered by tenor Nick Pritchard and pianist Ian Tindale.

The festival will also be speed-dating (Joseph Middleton's description!) a group of local poets and composers from national conservatories to produce new works which will be showcased during the festival. The festival also features a full programme of talks and masterclasses.

Joseph Middleton has been director of Leeds Lieder for three years, and has found it fascinating 'sitting on the other side of things', finding out how to fund raise, how to engage artists, and how to build a thread which runs through the concerts in the whole weekend. Whilst he passionately wants to keep art song alive, he feels that Londoners have a rather warped view of the medium because the Wigmore Hall features so much art song. But outside London, organisations like Leeds Lieder are rarer. 

Audience numbers are up for the festival, and the 2017 festival had a 36% increase in ticket sales over the previous year. The festival also does a lot of education work, not only working with schools on projects but taking the best artists into schools. And each year the culmination of the schools project is when all the children come to Leeds Town Hall to sing.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

99 Words: Voce Chamber Choir launches its debut CD

99 Words to my Darling Children,
99 Words to my Darling Children, Roxanna Panufnik's setting of Sir John Tavener's last message to his family, is the centre piece of the concert from Voce Chamber Choir, artistic director Suzi Digby, on 24 November 2017 at the Church of Our Most Holy Redeemer, Exmouth Market, Camberwell. 

The concert is the launch for the choir's debut CD, 99 Words and the concert will feature works from the CD including Panufnik's new piece, narrated by Theodora Taverner, alongside works by John Taverner, and the choir will also be performing movement from Victoria's Requiem. Suzi Digby and the choir will also be joined by cellist Guy Johnston and organist Jeremiah Stephenson.

Full details from the Voce Chamber Choir website.

Afluencias: music from Brazil

Villa Lobos, Torres, Pitombeira, Bujes, Huff, Coelho; Paula Bujes, Pedro Huff; Drama Musica
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Lively disc of new music for violin and cello duo from Brazil

This intriguing new disc is entirely devoted to 20th and 21st century music from Brazil, on the Drama Musica label. And rather enterprisingly all the music on the disc is for violin and cello duo. Paula Bujes (violin) and Pedro Huff (cello) [see the duo's Facebook page] perform music by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Dierson Torres, Liduino Pitombeira, Adriano Coleho and two of their own pieces.

We open with Deux Choros (bis), Villa-Lobos' only work for violin and cello duo. A first movement full of folk-ish hints pits a vigorous cello against a lyrical violin, with the second movement combining rhapsodic moments with rich double stopping and meaty harmonies.

Dierson Torres' Toada e desafio explores what happens when two strong but independent lines interact, again with some vigorous folk-inspired music. Liduino Pitombeira's Jaguaribe is a three movement suite which describes the various musical genres of the areas the river passes through. Again we feel the influence of folk music, but like much of the music on the disc, it is digested into the more complex textures of the music. So we start with strong gestures and rhapsodic moments, and explore a variety of textures, including lyrically intense lines, and tough harmonies. There is something of a restless and uncompromising feeling to the work.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Over 5000 followers on Twitter

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Joyce DiDonato thrills as Rossini's Semiramide at Covent Garden

Rossini: Semiramide - Michele Pertusi - Royal Opera (Photo Bill Cooper)
Rossini: Semiramide - Michele Pertusi - Royal Opera (Photo Bill Cooper)
Rossini Semiramide; Joyce DiDonato, Daniela Barcellona, Lawrence Brownlee, Michele Pertusi/Mirco Palazzi, dir: David Alden, cond: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2017 Star rating: 4.5
On the Covent Garden stage for the first time in over a century, Rossini's last Italian opera benefits from some spectacular vocal and dramatic fireworks

Rossini: Semiramide - Joyce DiDonato - Royal Opera (Photo Bill Cooper)
Joyce DiDonato - Royal Opera (Photo Bill Cooper)
Whilst Rossini's Semiramide is his serious opera which has lingered longest in the repertoire when all but his comic operas were ignored, thanks to a series of divas keen to play the title role, the opera was last staged at Covent Garden well beyond living memory. The last production was more than a century ago, though there were three concert performances in the 1980s, yet remarkably the performance on Sunday afternoon, 19 November 2017, was the 75th at the Royal Opera House, a testament to the work's previous popularity.

David Alden's production is shared with the Bavarian Staatsoper, Munich, where it has already premiered, and featured Joyce DiDonato in the title role, with Daniela Barcellona as Arsace, Lawrence Brownlee as Idreno,  Jacquelyn Stucker as Azema, Balint Szabo as Oroe, and Konu Kim as Mitrane. Michele Pertusi was due to sing Assur but he was taken ill during the performance, so Pertusi sang Act One and Mirco Palazzi (who was due to sing the role next month) sang the second act. Sets were by Paul Steinberg and costumes by Buki Shiff, lighting by Michael Bauer and choreography by Beate Vollack. Antonio Pappano conducted the Royal Opera House Orchestra. The work was performed in the critical edition by Philip Gossett and Alberto Zedda.

Alden's production set the work in an unspecified contemporary Middle-Eastern country, the iconography of the design reflecting the sort of 'dictator art' from such regimes, with a huge statue of Nino (Semiramide's late husband), and large pictures of the happy ruling family.  Patterns from Islamic tiles also featured heavily, but there was also a hint of the museum in the large-scale rooms. The setting for the climactic scene at the end of Act One rather resembled the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Grand dramatic sweep and an elusive heroine: Nico Muhly's Marnie premieres at ENO

Nico Muhly: Marnie - English National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Nico Muhly: Marnie - The hunt scene - English National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Nico Muhly Marnie; Sasha Cooke, Daniel Okulitch, James Laing, Lesley Garrett, dir: Michael Mayer, cond: Martyn Brabbins; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 18 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A confident and large-scale contemporary grand opera which successfully translates Winston Graham's psychological thriller to the stage

Nico Muhly: Marnie - Sasha Cooke & dancers - English National Opera (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Sasha Cooke & dancers - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Alfred Hitchcock's film Marnie (with Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery) is undoubtedly familiar (though I have to confess never to have seen the film), but Winston Graham's novel (on which the film was based) is less so. But it is Graham's novel which forms the basis for Nico Muhly's new opera, Marnie, with a libretto by dramatist Nicholas Wright, which premiered at English National Opera on Saturday 19 November 2017. Sasha Cooke was Marnie and Daniel Okulitch as Mark Rutland with a cast including James Laing, Lesley Garrett, Kathleen Wilkinson, Diana Montague, Alasdair Elliott, Eleanor Dennis, Matthew Durkan, Darren Jeffery, Alexa Mason, Charlotte Beament, Katie Coventry, Emma Kerr and Katie Stevenson. The production, which  is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was conducted by Martyn Brabbins (his first engagement as ENO's music director), and directed by Michael Mayer with sets by Julian Crouch & 59 Productions Ltd, costumes by Arianna Phillips, lighting by Kevin Adams and movement by Lynne Page.

Muhly and Wright's Marnie is a big work, lasting nearly three hours including an interval, it is a large scale show designed to take advantage of the size of the Coliseum stage and use the chorus to full advantage. Unusually for a contemporary opera, this is grand opera, there are large scale crowd scenes and a big dramatic sweep (the climactic scene takes places on the hunting field).

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Musicaroo Top 50 Music BlogsPlanet Hugill has been placed at number 45 in the website Musicaroo's Top 100 Independent Music Blogs.

Distant Love: Ashley Riches & Anna Huntley in Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz, Duparc & more

Ashley Riches (Photo Debbie Scanlon)
Ashley Riches (Photo Debbie Scanlon)
Beethoven, Mahler, Poulenc, Schubert, Schuman, Duparc, Berlioz, Amy Woodforde-Finden, Frank Bridge, Brahms, Albert Roussel, Rogers & Hammerstein; Anna Huntley, Ashley Riches, Nigel Foster; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte at the centre of an imaginative programme themed on Distant Love

The London Song Festival's Circles, Cycles and Revolutions continued on Friday 17 November 2017 at Hinde Street Methodist Church with Distant Love. Mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, baritone Ashley Riches and pianist Nigel Foster performed a programme which had Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte at its centre, surrounded by songs on the themes of distant love by Mahler, Poulenc, Schubert, Schumann, Duparc, Berlioz, Amy Woodforde-Finden, Frank Bridge, Brahms, Albert Roussel and Rogers & Hammerstein. The songs were interspersed with readings from the actress Sarah Berger with authors ranging from Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte to Oscar Wilde to Hemingway and Pablo Neruda.

Anna Huntley (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Anna Huntley (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
The programme was divided into sections, To War, Messages to the Beloved, Parted by War, Parting at Homecoming (The end of the Holiday Romance), The Distant Beloved, Desolation, This nearly was mine!, with the readings and songs flowing continuously. Berger's readings were sometimes simply short and aphoristic, sometimes trenchant and sometimes poignant. In Desolation, readings from Otomo no Yakamochi, Vera Brittain and Pablo Neruda created some profoundly poignant moments, whilst readings from Rose Macauley and Nora Bamford in the Parted by War section provided some intriguingly different female points of view, and having words by Oscar Wilde and by Wendy Cope ensured an element of trenchant humour whilst still being profoundly relevant.

We started with Mahler's Aus! Aus! from Des Knaben Wunderhorn sung as a duet with Ashley Riches and Anna Huntley beautifully capturing the two very different points of view, he all vibrant swagger and she elegantly melancholy. Next Anna Huntley sang one of Francis Poulenc's harmonisations of Polish folk melodies, Wianak from Huit Chansons Polonaises. Nigel Foster gave us Poulenc's elegantly Chopin-esque piano accompaniment whilst Huntley articulated the elegant longing in the song, and sang it in Polish too. Huntley was a last minute replacement for Soraya Mafi, but throughout the evening you could hardly detect that Huntley had jumped in at a couple of weeks notice. Understandably Huntley sang from music, whereas Ashley Riches mostly sang from memory, but Huntley is a highly communicative singer and we were delightfully engaged.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Britten Sinfonia's At Lunch starts today

Britten Sinfonia - At Lunch - 2017-18
The Britten Sinfonia's 2017-2018 season of At Lunch concerts begins today at the Wigmore Hall (17/11/2017), with each concert in the series being performed in London, Cambridge (West Road Concert Hall) and Norwich (St. Andrew's Hall). Today's concert is led and curated by Swiss pianist, composer and producer Nik Bärtsch as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival with Bärtsch presenting his latest work (a joint commission between the orchestra and the festival), plus music by Sarah Kirkland Snider and Judd Greenstein and a new work from Mark Bowler (winner of the orchestra's OPUS2017 competition). The programme is in Cambridge on 21/11/2017 and Norwich on 24/11/2017.

Further ahead, in January 2018 At Lunch presents a new work by Leo Chadburn, for electronics and string trio, plus Biber’s Annunciation Sonata, Mozart’s Piano Trio in B flat, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Philip Glass’s Orbit, whilst in April 2018 there is Caroline Shaw's new piano quartet, and in July 2018 it is the turn of the Britten Sinfonia Academy, a dynamic chamber orchestra for talented secondary school-aged musicians from the east of England.

Further information from the Britten Sinfonia website.

Fables re-sung

Liszt, Schumann, Wolf, Caplet, Bennett; Anna Sideeris, Brian McAlea, Lara Marie Müller, Dylan Perez; re-sung at Bloomsbury Baptist Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2017
Story telling to the fore in this imaginative programme of fables

Pianist Dylan Perez' re-sung concert series presents young singers more casual, rush-hour concerts at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. I caught the concert on Wednesday 15 November 2017 when baritone Brian McAlea, soprano Lara Marie Müller, soprano Anna Sideris and Dylan Perez presented Liszt's Die Lorelei, Schumann's Waldesgesprach, Wolf's Die Bekehre and Ganymed, Andre Caplet's Trois fables de Jean de la Fontaine and Richard Rodney Bennett's Songs before sleep, under the general theme of Fables.

And it was the feeling of story-telling which predominated in the recital.

Respighi and Debussy from Lisa Ueda and Daniele Rinaldo

Daniele Rinaldo & Lisa Ueda at Abbey Road Studios
Daniele Rinaldo & Lisa Ueda
at Abbey Road Studios
On Tuesday 14 December 2017 we went to a recital for the launch of a new disc by violinist Lisa Ueda and pianist Daniele Rinaldo. On Heritage Records, their disc features three violin sonatas all written around 1917, those of Debussy, Janacek and Respighi. For their recital Lisa and Daniele treated us to Ravel's Piece on form du Habanera, Debussy's Violin Sonata and Respighi's Violin Sonata.

The last major work that he wrote, Debussy's violin sonata was the third in a projected sequence of six instrumental sonatas that he planned to write. The premiere took place on 5 May 1917, the violin part played by Gaston Poulet, with Debussy himself at the piano. It was his last public performance.

Whilst Debussy's violin sonata is well known, that of Respighi is still relatively unknown. Respighi studied the violin and viola with Federico Sarti at the Liceo Musicale in Bologna, and composition with Giuseppe Martucci. He become an excellent violinist and pianist (as well as violist) and he played viola for a season for the Imperial Orchestra in St. Petersburg where he met and subsequently studied composition with Rimsky-Korsakov (having first learned Russian to an adequate standard as well!).

Written in 1917, at the same time as the Fountains of Rome and Ancient Airs and Dances in 1916-17, the sonata was first performed in Bologna on 3rd March 1918 by violinist Federico Sarti (with whom Respighi had studied) and Respighi himself at the piano. It is a big work, lasting 25 to 30 minutes and requires a pair of performers who can function as equals; perhaps because it was written for himself and his teacher, the sonata is challenging for both violinist and pianist.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

In the wake of oppression: Weinberg and Prokofiev's fifth symphonies

Weinberg, Prokofiev - Sinfonia Iuventus - Warner Classics
Mieczyslaw Weinberg, Sergei Prokofiev Fifth Symphonies; Sinfonia Iuventus, Gabriel Chmura; Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 10 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Powerful performances from this young Polish orchestra of two symphonies written in the wake of Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony

Writing symphonies was a dangerous business in the Soviet Union. After the attacks on Shostakovich's music and the withdrawal of his Symphony No. 4, Shostakovich trod a fine line in his subsequent works and other composers took similar care. On this Warner Classics disc from the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus conducted by Gabriel Chmura we have symphonies by two of Shostakovich's contemporaries, Mieczyslaw Weinberg and Sergei Prokofiev.

Polish-born Weinberg fled Poland in 1939 and ended up in Soviet Russia where he would become a friend of Dmitri Shostakovich. Weinberg's music has been undergoing something of a Renaissance recently and this disc gives a welcome opportunity to hear Weinberg's Symphony No. 5. The work was premiered in 1962 and was a direct response of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 which only received its premiere in 1961 following the composer's withdrawal of the work in 1936. Shostakovich's symphony was premiered by Kiril Kondrashin, and it was to Kondrashin that Weinberg dedicated his Symphony No. 5. Weinberg's music was not formally banned, but it was entirely ignored by the Soviet establishment. Weinberg's father-in-law was assassinated in 1948, and Weinberg himself arrested in 1953 and was only saved by Stalin's death.

Stravinsky's Rake at Wilton's

Robert Murray and Susannah Hurrell in rehearsal for The Rakes Progress with OperaGlass Works (Photo OperaGlass Works)
Robert Murray and Susannah Hurrell in rehearsal for The Rakes Progress
with OperaGlass Works (Photo OperaGlass Works)
A new opera company, OperaGlass Works, is presenting its first production on Friday 17 November 2017. Selina Cadell directs Stravinsky's The Rakes Progress at Wilton's Music Hall from 17 to 25 November 2017, with Robert Murray as Tom, Susanna Hurrell as Anne, David Soar as Nick Shadow and Victoria Simmonds as Baba, with Laurence Cummings conducting the Southbank Sinfonia and a chorus from Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

OperaGlass Works has been set up by actress Selina Cadell and dramaturg Eliza Thompson; it is a company of directors, designers, singers, actors and musicians who have come together in response to the huge and many changes that the opera world has seen in the past 25 years. the company plans to present chamber operas in intimate spaces, to empower singers and musicians to perform directly to their audience.

Selina Cadell directed Handel's Arianna a Creta for the London Handel Festival, what was an imaginative solution to a problem opera (see my review). The idea for The Rakes Progress arose from a workshop that Selina led at the National Theatre exploring the relationship of Auden’s libretto to Stravinsky’s music. Tenor Robert Murray, who first met Selina through the National Opera Studio, took part that workshop.

Full information from Wilton's website.

Friday Afternoons at Snape Maltings and beyond

Children at Snape Maltings' Friday Afternoons project (Photo: Snape Maltings)
Children at Snape Maltings' Friday Afternoons project (Photo: Snape Maltings)
On 17 November 2017 (the nearest Friday to Britten's birthday) 800 young people, from 21 schools across Suffolk, including primary, high and special educational needs schools, will come together at Snape Maltings to perform songs by Luke Styles, Jonathan Dove, Nico Muhly, Gwyneth Herbert, Jason Yarde and Benjamin Britten’s Friday Afternoons.

Conceived as a response to Britten's centenary in 2013 and inspired by Britten's songs Friday Afternoons, which were written for use in his brother's school's Friday afternoon singing, Friday Afternoons is a UK-wide and international singing project led by the Snape Maltings. Each year Friday Afternoons commissions a new set of songs, over time creating a significant resource of songs especially written for young people’s voices. Now in its fifth year, the annual project champions the joy of collective singing and encourages as many young people as possible to join in. Composer Luke Styles has written this year’s new set with librettist Alan McKendrick which were premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival in June.

All the resources to learn the songs, including scores, recordings, teaching resources and interactive material from Charanga, are available to download free of charge from the Friday Afternoons website www.fridayafternoonsmusic.co.uk

There will also be Friday Afternoons events on 17 November all over the country, including Music Education Hubs, schools and arts organisations from Nottingham, Saffron Walden, Sevenoaks, Aberdeenshire, Wakefield, Ryedale and London. Viewers will be able to watch a selection of the performances taking place across the UK on the Friday Afternoons website at a later datethe Friday Afternoons website www.fridayafternoonsmusic.co.uk

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Gediminas Gelgotas - new violin concerto and music for double bass

Lithuanian composer Gediminas Gelgotas who is founder and artistic director of the New Ideas Chamber Orchestra, is writing a new violin concerto which is to be premiered at the Kissinger Sommer Festival, which takes place in Bad Kissingen (in the Bavarian region of Lower Franconia) on 7 July 2018. The performers will be Kristjan Järvi and the Baltic Sea Philharmonic with violinist David Nebel. Järvi and Gelgotas are long-time friends and collaborators, I reported earlier this year on Gelgotas and his New Ideas Chamber Orchestra playing one of Järvi's pieces (see my article).

The full programme for the Baltic Sea Philharmonic's 7 July 2018 concert also includes Järvi's Aurora and a suite from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

In other Gelgotas news, double bass player Roman Patkoló has recently recorded Gelgotas piece' for double bass and piano, Santification. The piece is a re-working of Gelgota's first symphony "Extracultural" which was originally premiered in 2015 at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with Kristjan Järvi conducting the New Ideas Chamber Orchestra NICO and the NDR Symphony Orchestra.

Mad King Suibhne returns

Noah Mosley's Mad King Suibhne at Bury Court Opera in 2017
Noah Mosley's Mad King Suibhne at Bury Court Opera in 2017
Noah Mosley's opera Mad King Suibhne premiered at Bury Court Opera earlier this year (see my review) and Ella Marchment's production is now being revived in an update version as part of the Helios Collective's Formations masterclasses. Ricardo Panela plays Suibhne with Jennifer Parker, Isolde Roxby, Kieran White and Henry Grant Kerswell, Noah Mosley conducts. There are two performances, on 16 & 17 November 2017 at Lilian Baylis House, London, NW6 3AX, as part of a triple bill with hunger by Joanna Ward and Ryan Hay, and The Storm by Lewis Coenen-Rowe. Further information from the Helios Collective website and tickets from TicketSource.

The production of Mad King Suibhne is also travelling to Messums in Wiltshire for two performances in their 13th century barn on 1 & 2 December 2017, further information from the Messums website.

The contemporary string quartet: Borusan Quartet in Pärt, Uçarsu, Glass, Vasks

Company - Borusan Quartet - Onyx
Arvo Pärt, Hasan Uçarsu, Philip Glass, Pēteris Vasks; The Borusan Quartet; Onyx Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 10 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Contemporary music for quartet from a Turkish ensemble makes for thoughtful and intense listening

The Borusan Quartet (Esen Kıvrak, Olgu Kızılay, Efdal Altun, Çağ Erçağ) is a Turkish ensemble founded in 2005. On this new disc from Onyx Classics the quartet explores four contemporary works for string quartet, Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's Summa, Turkish composer Hasan Uçarsu's String Quartet No. 2 'The Untold', American composer Philip Glass's String Quartet no. 2 'Company' and Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks's String Quartet No.4. In these four works we get four different contemporary approaches to the idea of the string quartet and what it means to today's composers.

Arvo Pärt's Summa was originally a setting for four voices of the Latin 'Credo', but in 1991 he produced a version of the work for string quartet. Recognisably Pärt in tinntinabuli style, the quartet bring out the vibrant polyphony of the music rather than its beautiful surface in a highly thoughtful performance.

Hasan Uçarsu's String Quartet No. 2 'The Untold' is a four movement work where the middle two movements form the core of the piece, with the first and last forming something of a prologue and epilogue, the one the mirror image of the other. The opening 'Prologue' combines dramatic pizzicato with a high, rather insistent violin part, the result is highly dramatic almost filmic.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Imaginative Rememberance Day concert in Brighton

Matthew Trusler (Photo Sheila Rock)
Matthew Trusler (Photo Sheila Rock)
Bach (orchestrated Stokowski), Britten, Butterworth, RVW; Matthew Trusler, Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth; The Dome, Brighton
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 12 2017 Star rating: 3.5
A mesmerising performance from soloist Matthew Trusler, and a furious account of RVW's Fourth symphony

Whilst in Brighton for the final weekend of BREMF, we took the opportunity to catch Barry Wordsworth and the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra in a rather imaginative Remembrance Day concert on 12 November 2017 at Brighton Dome. There was a pair of works written in the run up to World War 2, Britten's Violin Concerto with Matthew Trusler as the soloist and RVW's Symphony No. 4, plus a work by a composer who died in World War 1, Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad: Rhapsody, with Stokowski's orchestration of Bach's Toccata & Fugue in D minor making a slightly out of place concert opener.

Trusler was the finely lithe-toned soloist in the bitter sweet opening to Britten's concerto, which was written in the late 1930s and premiered in New York in 1940. It is a dark and restless work, reflecting deep emotions and Trusler brought great energy and even anger to later sections of the opening Moderato whilst in the recapitulation creating something wonderfully atmospheric. There was furious energy in the Vivace second movement, along with some spectacular string crossing.

A raw spine tingling delight: Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse from Shadwell Opera

Paul Curievici, Pauls Putnins, Owain Browne - Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse - Shadwell Opera (photo Nick Rutter)
Paul Curievici, Pauls Putnins, Owain Browne - Maxwell Davies: The Lighthouse - Shadwell Opera (photo Nick Rutter)
Peter Maxwell Davies The Lighthouse; Paul Curievici, Owain Browne, Pauls Putnins, dir: Jack Furness, cond: Finnegan Downie Dear; Shadwell Opera at the Hackney showroom
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Nov 12 2017 Star rating: 4.0
An eloquent and emotionally brutal piece of theatre

Shadwell Opera returned to the Hackney Showroom last week (seen 12 November 2017) with performances of Peter Maxwell Davies’ chamber opera The Lighthouse. Singers Paul Curievici, Owain Browne and Pauls Putnins; tenor, baritone and bass playing the three lighthouse keepers and the officers of their relief ship in a production directed by Jack Furness. The twelve piece ensemble was under the musical direction of Finnegan Downie Dear.

Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic masterpiece invites us to unravel the unexplained real life disappearance of three men from the Flannan Isles in 1900; a mystery that has been the basis for many a ghostly tale even acting as inspiration for Dr. Who’s Horror of Fang Rock. The relief ship Hesperus - talk about the kiss of death - arrived to find the men’s quarters looking as if they had been left in a hurry, the lamp still in perfect working order. The men had disappeared into thin air.

Spirit messages & madness: Jessica Duchen on the true story behind her Ghost Variations

Jessica Duchen: Ghost Variations
A troubled violin virtuoso, a lost concerto, a composer on the edge of madness and a world on the brink of war; these are the fascinating elements which writer Jessica Duchen has brought together in her novel Ghost Variations. Based on a real incident, the novel tells the story of the Hungarian violinist Jelly d’Arányi who discovers the existence of Schumann's Violin Concerto (embargoed by the composer's family for fear it display the madness which was about to engulf him), and ends up on a tortured struggle to premiere the piece against the opposition of the Nazis (who saw the existence of the Schumann concerto as an ideal replacement of the Mendelssohn concerto, banned because the composer was Jewish).

Music threads its way through the novel, and Jessica has created a concert version of the novel which she performs with violinist David Le Page and pianist Viv McLean. Ghost Variations: The Concert of the Novel is coming to Burgh House, Hampstead on 19 November 2017, and I met Jessica last week to find out a little more of the background to novel and concert.

Jessica Duchen (photo: Corinna Desch)
Jessica Duchen (photo: Corinna Desch)
Given that Ghost Variations is based on such a compelling true story, I was curious as to why Jessica had written a novel, rather than turn it into narrative history, but she wryly explained that narrative non-fiction is extremely difficult to place when the subject is classical music, publishers regard it as very niche indeed. The story is so extraordinary, and unbelievable that Jessica decided to work it into a novel, something she found fun to do and which enabled her to place the novel with a publisher. The novel was produced by Unbound (a publisher which uses crowd-funding to help produce works) in 2016.

The central theme of the book is based around an image of the heroine, the composer and the world all on the edge of something dark, and during the five years that it took Jessica to write the work this theme of a world on the edge became increasingly relevant to the present day.

The engine of the story is the spirit messages which Jelly d'Aranyi and her sister Adila receive via Ouija board telling them of the existence of the concerto and the need to bring it to light. Were these genuine? Jessica feels that the sisters believed them to be, she talked to people who knew Jelly and Adila and it was clear that both believed the messages to be genuine. And Jessica's task as a novelist was to convince the reader that the sisters believed the messages. The novel includes a number of other strong characters including Baron Erik Palmstierna, the Swedish ambassador who retired just after the events depicted in the novel and wrote a series of books based on the spirit messages channelled by Jelly's sister Adila!

Jessica stumbled on the story by accident whilst working on Jelly d'Aranyi for another project, her novel Hungarian Dances, Jessica filed the story of the concerto's discovery under 'things that are interesting but don't know what to do with'! Only much later did she develop it into the novel.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Bach's Christmas Oratorio concludes BREMF 2017

Bach Christmas Oratorio; Hannah Ely, Rebecca Leggett, Hugo Hymas, Simon Wallfisch, BREMF Singers & Players, John Hancorn; Brighton Early Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 12 2017 Star rating: 3.5
An excellent team of young soloists illuminates an otherwise somewhat fuzzy performance

The 2017 Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) finished with a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio on Sunday 12 November 2017 in St Martin's Church, Lewes Road, Brighton. John Hancorn conducted the BREMF Singers and the BREMF Players (leader Alison Bury) with an excellent team of young soloists Hannah Ely, Rebecca Leggett, Hugo Hymas and Simon Wallfisch. The audience was provided with the music for five of the chorales and invited to join in the singing of them.

The performers gave us a generous five of the six parts of the oratorio, missing out Part 4. Unfortunately, the exigencies of travelling home to London afterwards meant that we had to miss the second half, and heard only the first three parts.

St Martin's Church is a large, elaborately decorated building with plenty of space for the performers (32 in the choir, 16 in the orchestra) and a generous acoustic to match. The opening chorus, 'Jauchzet, frohlocket' gave a good indication of the strengths and weaknesses of the performance. There was good crisp orchestral playing, but a little dominated by the (excellent) trumpets, a gentle chorus sound with a nice bounce, but ensemble took a little time to settle and throughout the performance, the larger scale numbers seemed to have uneven moments of ensemble, perhaps because of the unfamiliar acoustic. The result was a performance that had its share of fuzzy moments. Balance rather favoured the choir in the bigger numbers, and we could have done with a larger body of strings to support them and a bigger organ. The smaller, more intimate moments worked best, notably the more gentle chorales and the arias, as it the young soloists who really drew the attention.

Illuminating the text: predominantly youthful cast in BREMF's staging of Monteverdi's first opera

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Brighton Early Music Festival (Photo Robert Piwko)
Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Brighton Early Music Festival (Photo Robert Piwko)
Monteverdi L'Orfeo; Rory Carver, Helen Charlston, Jenni Harper, Richard Moore, Andrew Robinson, dir: Thomas Guthrie, musical dir: Deborah Roberts, Oliver Webber; Brighton Early Music Festival at The Old Market
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Npv 11 2017 Star rating: 4.5
An outstanding performance in the title role illuminates this intimate production of Monteverdi's masterpiece

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Rory Carver - Brighton Early Music Festival (Photo Robert Piwko)
Rory Carver - BREMF (Photo Robert Piwko)
Having staged one of opera's important pre-cursors, the 1589 Florentine Intermedi, a few years ago Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) has turned its attention to the first great opera, Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, as part of the 2017 festival's exploration of classical music's root.

Thomas Guthrie staged the work at Hove's The Old Market (we caught the second of three performances on Saturday 11 November 2017) with Deborah Roberts and Oliver Webber as joint musical directors. Rory Carver was Orfeo with an ensemble of eight singers sharing the other roles, Jenni Harper, Helen Charlston, Benedict Hymas, Dominic Bevan, Richard Moore, Andrew Robinson, Victoria Adams and Emily Burn. Instrumental support was provided by the Monteverdi String Band (leader Oliver Webber), the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, Aileen Henry (harp), James Bramley (chitarrone) and Claire Williams (harpsichord, organ, regal).

This was a relatively small scale production, a welcome opportunity to experience the work on the sort of intimate scale that reflected the work's origins as a courtly entertainment. But Thomas Guthrie's setting was anything but courtly, as he took his inspiration from 1960s Mods and the film Quadrophenia. The anonymous designer had done a good job creating some very strong period looks for cast and chorus, Rory Carver's suit was particularly sharp, and both Jenni Harper and Helen Charlston had strikingly differentiated costumes for their various characters.

Bar a few suspended trees, there was no set but some very effective lighting. For much of the time Guthrie used his chorus as backstop, the noise of movement in the Act One party scene was however somewhat distracting, whilst in the Hades acts I worried about the lack of synchronicity between the choristers ceremoniously carrying candles. Having the cast twist/jive to the dances was a mistake, it looked embarrassing and elicited titters from the audience.

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Helen Charlston, Dominic Bevan, Rory Carver - Brighton Early Music Festival (Photo Robert Piwko)
Helen Charlston, Dominic Bevan, Rory Carver
BREMF (Photo Robert Piwko)
The effect of the staging was to place a strong focus on the singers, the majority of whom were young (Rory Carver is still studying at the Royal College of Music). All concerned were impressive in their ability to convince us that they knew what they were singing about (the opera was performed in Italian). A truism perhaps, but it is important given the predominance of recitative in Monteverdi's operas. For all the singers, the text was clearly important both clarity of diction and using it to colour the music.

Rory Carver was Orfeo, and his account of 'Possente Spirto' made my spine tingle in a way which has not happened for a long time. Technically adept, his way with the ornamentation was nicely naturalistic, but it was the way he created a strong sense of Orfeo's presence and the young man's intense journey. Orfeo is a huge role, and that Carver sang it so well and held us so spellbound is a great credit and I look forward to seeing far more of him.

Both Jenni Harper and Helen Charlston created a series of nicely differentiated characters. Harper was an unusual La Musica, poised contained and deliberately rather sexy,, whilst her La Speranza was intense and a little desperate, keen to leave the gates of Hades. Euridice is trickier and frankly Monteverdi and his librettist Striggio seem less interested in her (I rather miss the final intense dialogue between Orpheus and Euridice in Gluck's version), but Harper was poised and elegant. Helen Charleston's La Messagera was searing, this is a gift of a role and Charlston did not disappoint. In complete contrast her Proserpina was poised and sexy.

Benedict Hymas impressed greatly singing Pastore ! and one of spirits in Hades, personable and stylish, he then dazzled us with his account of Apollo's final aria and duet with Orfeo. Dominic Bevan provided strong support as Pastore 2, a spirit in Hades and Eco whilst Victoria Adams brought great strength of personality to Pastore 3. It is perhaps tricky casting a young singer as Caronte, bass voices can be notoriously slow to develop. Richard Moore had all the notes, but as yet not quite the resonance, instead he gave us great commitment and admirable firmness of purpose. (His outfit, leather jacket jeans, red-handkerchief in rear right-hand pocket, seemed to reference gay stereotypes which were not developed).

Andrew Robinson, sporting a dashing pork-pie hat (a la Madness) was perhaps less fierce than usual as Plutone, but impressive nonetheless and contributed firm support as Pastore 4 and a spirit in Hades. Emily Burn made a demure Ninfa.

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Benedict Hymas, Rory Carver - Brighton Early Music Festival (Photo Robert Piwko)
Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Benedict Hymas, Rory Carver - Brighton Early Music Festival (Photo Robert Piwko)
These soloists were supplemented with a nine-person non-professional chorus, who rose admirably to the demands the staging made of them. The instrumental playing also reflected the intimacy of the performance, there were few moments as grand as the opening toccata, played on-stage by members of the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, but the opera was full of discreet virtuosity and some lovely instrumental timbres.

Occasional corners of the staging revealed, perhaps, the time limits of rehearsals but overall this was a fine ensemble account of this great opera. The whole cast illuminated Striggio's text and Monteverdi's music but it was Rory Carver's performance that really stays in the memory.

Elsewhere on this blog:

Sunday, 12 November 2017

'The quintessence of German Romanticism' - Schumann's Liederkreis from Ailish Tynan & James Newby

James Newby (Photo Ben Mckee)
James Newby (Photo Ben Mckee)
Schumann Liederkreis Op.24 & 39; Ailish Tynan, James Newby, Nigel Foster; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 10 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Vivid story-telling in performances of two of Schumann's great song cycles

Pianist Nigel Foster's London Song Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary with the biggest festival yet, Circles, Cycles and Revolutions. We caught up with the festival on Friday 10 November 2017 at Hinde Street Methodist Church when Nigel Foster accompanied soprano Ailish Tynan and baritone James Newby (winner of the 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Award) in an all Schumann programme, Die beiden Grenadiere, Der arme Peter, Liederkreis Op.39 (setting Eichendorff) and Liederkreis Op.24 (setting Heine), all the songs written in Schumann's amazing song year of 1840.

The programme opened with James Newby singing a group of Heine settings. Die beiden Grenadiere is a lyric ballad about two returning French veterans distressed at the French defeat and capture of the Emperor. Newby captured the sense of storytelling in the narrative building to a fine climax which is then punctured by Schumann's downbeat postlude. Newby's voice as dark and nicely vibrant. A highly communicative singer, he is visually expressive as well as colouring the words but a tendency to hide behind the music stand rather muted communications with his audience.

Ailish Tynan
Ailish Tynan
Die arme Peter is a short, three-song cycle about a young man whose sweetheart marries someone else. The first song, with its delightful hurdy-gurdy in the piano, moved into a darker mood as attention turned from the wedding to poor Peter. Newby and Foster traced the downward arc of the cycle from her, to Peter's demise, Newby growing in intensity and drawing us into the story.

Ailish Tynan then sang the Liederkreis Op.39 setting poems by Eichendorff. There is no storyline, and Roger Vignoles called this cycle 'the quintessence of German Romanticism - all the stuff you think of: forests and hunting horns and castles on the Rhine', and of course Die hexe Loreley. Ailish Tynan and Nigel Foster took a story-telling approach to the cycle, giving each song its own particular dramatic atmosphere. Tynan, perhaps I should say, held her music in her hand allowing little to come between her and her audience. She is a born story-teller, giving each song the right combination of line and text. So 'In der Fremde' started off in sombre mood with impetuous joy in 'Intermezzo'. The vivid narrative of 'Waldesgespräch' was really brought alive, and her incarnation of Loreley at the end mesmerising.

'Die Stille' was quietly confiding, then in 'Mondnacht' Foster played the lovely clear piano introduction and Tynan's voice simply floated to join him. 'Schöne Fremde' was again impetuous, pushing forward, and the performance captured the strange atmosphere of 'Auf einer Burg' with its oddly up in the air postlude. Words tumbled over each other in 'In der Fremde' but Schumann's sombre postlude cast a different light on the song. The lyric sadness of 'Wehmut' led to the magical piano prelude to 'Zwielicht', Tynan sang the song with quiet intensity yet bringing out the complex concepts in the second half. 'Im Walde' opened with joy, yet the wedding disappeared, leaving an intense loneliness. Finally the impulsive, vivid excitement of 'Frühlingsnacht'.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

So what exactly is an haut-contre?

Samuel Boden (Photo: Marco Borggreve)
Samuel Boden (Photo: Marco Borggreve)
The haut-contre, that high tenor voice so necessary for French baroque repertoire, is a fascinating and relatively rare thing. So it was particularly interesting to be able to get up close, so to speak, at a private event for Arcangelo's patrons and supporters when Jonathan Cohen (Arcangelo's artistic director) was joined by tenor Samuel Boden (who features on the group's latest disc of music by John Blow) to perform music by Charpentier and to talk about what exactly is the haut-contre.

It has been a busy year for Arcangelo, they have just finished a residency at the Wigmore Hall where they were the first Baroque group to do so, and the group's recording of Bach cantatas with Iestyn Davies won the Baroque Vocal category in the 2017 Gramophone Awards, whilst their disc of music by John Blow, An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell & other works on Hyperion, with Samuel Boden and Thomas Walker, is winning plaudits.

Jonathan Cohen and Samuel Boden started the evening with an excerpt from Charpentier's La descente d'Orphée aux Enfers which led to a discussion about the importance of clarity of language when singing French baroque music. Samuel Boden's mother is a language teacher which has helped him, recognising that the words are as important as the music. In a sense, the music is there to colour the words, and of course sung French of the period is far more formal than spoken French. For Samuel, the expressive language allows you to tell a story with just the singer, a lute or a harpsichord in a relatively intimate room. They then performed some more Charpentier, this time a powerful excerpt from Acteon.

An appealing surface with friction underneath: composer Marcus Paus on the music on his new disc

Marcus Paus
Marcus Paus
The Norwegian composer Marcus Paus has a new CD out. On Sheva Contemporary, it is entitled Odes & Elegies and features instrumental solo and concertante works with Tom Ottar Andreassen (flute), Jan Bertelsen (oboe d'amore), Ole Eirik Ree (cello), Bjarne Magnus Jensen (violin), Henning Kraggerud (violin), Norwegian Radio Orchestra / Ingar Bergby, Oslo Camerata, and The Arctic Chamber Orchestra. When I spoke to Marcus by Skype he explained that all the works on the disc involve a soloist (they are a mix of solo pieces and concertante works) and he feels that the soloist as protagonist in the works introduces a certain overall theme of solitude to the disc.

Many of the works on the disc have concrete themes, and Marcus explained that this was one of his favourite ways of working, using his music to empathise with something pre-existing. He feels that though his music is not quite descriptive, this empathy is innate in his musical make-up. He refers to himself as a musical dramatist, whatever the form of the piece, and his music conveys something that is human.

The visual arts is a strong theme in Marcus's music, two works on the disc are inspired by visual artists (Marble Songs was composed in response to an exhibition by the Norwegian sculptor Håkon Anton Fagerås and Vita is inspired by the Norwegian Sculptor Emmanuel Vigeland) and each of his four quartets is named for a painter. Both Marcus's parents are singers and he grew up thinking about music as belonging to the other arts, and some of his earliest experiences were of music in film. But his parents also wrote their own music, so a link between music and the written word is also important for Marcus. He is happiest writing music to something, or for someone. He likes writing for people he knows well (such as Loves last rites on the disc, written for violinist Henning Kraggerud), this gives him a chance to get to know them better and for them to experience his music on a more visceral level.

Asking a composer to describe their music is always a tricky question, but Marcus says that this is a question that every composer needs to ask themselves. He thinks of his music as melodic, it speaks in terms of melody, and has a frankness and directness. A lot of his music is tonal, but it is not always traditional even though it is not abrasive. He adds that his language can be more dissonant than it seems. This is evidently important to him, he wants his music to speak on various levels and for there to be a level of pain and poignancy under the melody. This is what he is attracted to in music, an appealing surface with friction underneath.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Waddesdon Imaginarium, Winter Light at Waddesdon

Waddesdon Imaginarium (courtesy of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama)
Waddesdon Imaginarium (courtesy of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama)
At dusk on Sunday 11 November 2017, a ten-minute light and sound performance will be projected onto Waddesdon Manor (the National Trust house near Aylesbury, and former home of the Rothschild family). The Waddesdon Imaginarium will be repeated eight times each evening, Wednesday to Sunday, until 2 January 2018 as part of Waddesdon's Christmas Winter Light contemporary art programme. The spectacular video has been created using the latest in video projection mapping technologies by video design students from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Seven students on the BA (Hons) Video Design for Live Performance at the Guildhall School have worked with the house's curatorial team and have scanned in 3D no less than 50 objects from Waddesdon’s collection, as well as mapped the front elevation of the building to enable the projection, and calculated the projection requirements (14 large format projectors) necessary for the enormous 1,700 square metre facade. In addition, around 40 students on other music pathways including the BMus (Hons) Electronic Music have been commissioned to create original music to accompany the projection. Uniquely, Waddesdon will be using three musical interpretations to accompany the 3D video projection performances, offering visitors different experiences of the Imaginarium.

Inspired by the architecture, gardens and history of Waddesdon, visitors will be see roaming porcelain animals, dancing musical clocks, fluttering clouds of butterflies and moths, and 18th-century portraits creating a fantastical visual story of Waddesdon. Waddesdon’s 2017 Winter Light programme also includes Electric Menagerie, a series of eleven light-based artworks inspired by the real and fantastical animals associated with Waddesdon and the Rothschild family, created by American artist Lauren Booth.

Full details from the Waddesdon website.

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