Monday, 22 April 2019

Tony Cooper reports on this year’s BBC Proms, the world’s biggest classical-music festival

Sir Henry Wood with Promenade Concert Performers  by William Whiteley Ltd albumen cabinet card, circa 1897 5 in. x 8 in. (128 mm x 204 mm) Purchased, 2013 Primary Collection NPG P1837
Sir Henry Wood with Promenade Concert Performers  (circa 1897) by William Whiteley Ltd
albumen cabinet card, circa 1897 © National Portrait Gallery, London
As the world’s biggest classical-music festival, the BBC Proms (running from Friday 19 July to Saturday 14 September) offers eight weeks of world-class music-making from a vast array of leading orchestras, conductors and soloists from the UK and around the world. Across more than 90 concerts - and a similar number of free events designed to extend and further enrich the Proms experience - the festival aims to offer a summer of music that allows for the most diverse and exciting musical journeys.

David Pickard, Director, BBC Proms, says: 'The Proms in 2019 gives a snapshot of all that is most exciting in our musical world today. It is the chance to hear some of the most celebrated ensembles and artists from across the globe, a showcase for the vibrant orchestral life that exists in the UK and a celebration of the diversity of contemporary music in the 21st century. All of this is underpinned by the proud tradition of 'Promming' which allows audiences to enjoy this vast range of music for just £6 per concert. As we celebrate 150 years since Sir Henry Wood’s birth, the Proms continues to explore new ground whilst celebrating the founding principles of the festival - to bring the best classical music to the widest possible audience. With every Prom broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 available across a multi-platform and many televised on the BBC, the Proms reaches far and beyond the Royal Albert Hall. This season marks, too, the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Proms founder-conductor, Sir Henry Wood, whose criteria was to bring the best classical music to the widest possible audience.'

Sir Henry Wood conducting at the Proms (Photo from Royal Academy of Music's Sir Henry Wood Collection)
Sir Henry Wood conducting at the Proms
(Photo from Royal Academy of Music's Sir Henry Wood Collection)
Therefore, this year’s Proms will present one of its most diverse programmes yet whilst remaining faithful and true to Wood’s mission statement offering a wealth of genres and styles in a range of contexts whether it be Murray Perahia performing Beethoven or a Prom dedicated to the genius of Nina Simone with Ledisi and Jules Buckley. The quality and range of what’s on offer showcases the very best of music.

Sir Henry Wood (affectionately known as ‘Old Timber’) was arguably one of the world’s first audience developers committed to increasing access to the arts. The Proms’ proudest tradition is that of daily Promming tickets - a Henry Wood innovation to reach the broadest audience possible. This season marks the fourth year that up to 1400 Promming tickets will be available for £6 for every Prom. And to further mark the Promming tradition, a special ‘Proms at . . . ‘ will see all tickets for such an event priced at £6 whilst at the Royal Albert Hall, 100,000 tickets will be available for £15 and under for all concerts.

As an educationalist, conductor and champion of young people, Henry Wood (who, incidentally, was artistic director and conductor of the old Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival from 1908 to 1930) provided countless opportunities for aspiring young artists to get involved in classical music - a proud tradition that the Proms continues to reflect today. For instance, this season celebrates the 20th anniversary of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Artists’ scheme featuring 12 of its alumni.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Remarkable revival: the Academy of Ancient Music presents Handel's Brockes Passion in a new critical edition

Handel: Brockes Passion - Cody Quattlebaum, Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr - Barbican (Photo Robert Workman)
Handel: Brockes Passion - Cody Quattlebaum,
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
Barbican (Photo Robert Workman)
Handel Brockes Passion; Robert Murray, Cody Quattlebaum, Elizabeth Watts, Ruby Hughes, Tim Mead, Gwilym Bowen, Nicky Spence, Morgan Pearse, Rachael Lloyd, Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egar; Barbican Hall   
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 April 2019 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A Handel rarity rediscovered in a richly evocative performance

Handel's Brockes Passion remains relatively unknown in his output despite being a large scale work dating from his prime. The Academy of Ancient Music dusted the piece off at the Barbican Hall on Good Friday (19 April 2019) in a strong performance directed by Richard Egarr, with soloists Robert Murray (Evangelist), Cody Quattlebaum (Jesus), Elizabeth Watts (Daughter of Zion), Ruby Hughes (Faithful Soul), Rachael Lloyd, Tim Mead (Judas), Gwilym Bowen (Peter), Nicky Spence (Faithful Soul) and Morgan Pearse. And there wasn't just a performance, the ensemble has sponsored a new critical edition of the work by Leo Duarte, who was playing first oboe in the performance [see my interview with Leo talking about his love of libraries and old manuscripts].

Handel: Brockes Passion - Elizabeth Watts, Academy of Ancient Music - Barbican (Photo Robert Workman)
Handel: Brockes Passion - Elizabeth Watts, Academy of Ancient Music
Barbican (Photo Robert Workman)
Handel wrote his setting of the passion by Barthold Heinrich Brockes in 1716 and it was performed in Hamburg in 1719, under the direction of Handel's friend and erstwhile colleague at Hamburg Opera, Johannes Matheson. It proved popular and would have a number of performances in Hamburg, but Handel never kept a copy of the autograph manuscript (this has disappeared) and never performed the work in London. In fact, he included music from a number of London and Italian period works in the piece and in turn would mine the Brockes Passion for music for his early oratorios. The surviving manuscripts of the work include one which was partially copied by J.S.Bach and this version was performed in Leipzig under Bach's direction, Handel's setting seems to have influenced Bach's St John Passion.

Duarte's new edition makes significant changes to the version of the work known (via the last critical edition in the mid-1960s) including adding 63 extra bars! The Academy of Ancient Music used quite a large ensemble for the piece, and the programme included a fascinating article about the logistical differences between the Hamburg performances and the sort of ensembles Handel was writing for in London at the period, and the one-to-a-part type ethos of Bach in Leipzig. So we have four oboes (lovely) and two bassoons in addition to a significant body of strings (17) and a choir of 20.

Handel: Brockes Passion - Robert Murray, Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr - Barbican (Photo Robert Workman)
Handel: Brockes Passion - Robert Murray,
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr - Barbican (Photo Robert Workman)
The work is the genre known as a Passion Oratorio, and was designed explicitly for concert use whereas Bach's Passions were designed for church use. The difference is that Bach's Passions use the Biblical narrative for the recitative with added arias whereas Brockes' text resets the entire story in his own, very clotted and emotional, verse. There is still an Evangelist (Robert Murray) and Jesus (Cody Quattlebaum), plus sundry disciples, Peter (Gwilym Bowen), Judas (Tim Mead), James (Cathy Bell) and John (Kate Symonds-Joy), but the largest single role (with a whopping 14 arias plus duets) was the Daughter of Zion (Elizabeth Watts), with another large role being the Faithful Soul (Ruby Hughes, with certain arias given to Nicky Spence and Morgan Pearse).

The role of the Daughter of Zion and the Faithful Soul was to comment, to apply the story to our situation and the express feelings about the Crucifixion narrative. It is from these arias that Bach selected his Brockes settings which he used for the arias in his own Passions, but Bach's balance between aria comment and Biblical narrative is completely different to Brockes's own (rather surprisingly Handel set Brockes text in full, without making any changes). In part two, the solo roles drop away and even Jesus falls silent (his last words being delivered as reported speech by the Evangelist!), and instead we have a long meditation from the Daughter of Zion and the Faithful Souls.  It turns the work from one of pure narrative into being about our reaction to it.

Listening to Handel's Brockes Passion is a strange experience, because a lot of the music is familiar or half familiar from other contexts. There is a lot of strong and imaginative music in the piece, but it is also very long and frankly, despite Elizabeth Watts considerable talents there were moments when I looked at the libretto and thought, Oh no! another aria for the Daughter of Zion. It is important that performances like this one be given uncut, so that we can experience the work in full but I imagine that if the work is to become a more regular visitor to the concert hall then it will need trimming and re-shaping.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Education is key: I chat to conductor Nicholas Chalmers about Nevill Holt Opera & its new theatre

Nevill Holt Hall (left) and the stables (right) which house Nevill Holt Opera (photo Robert Workman)
Nevill Holt Hall (left) and the stables (right) which house Nevill Holt Opera (photo Robert Workman)
Opera at the historic Nevill Holt estate started in 2005 (the hall itself dates back to 1300), initially via a relationship with Grange Park Opera, but in 2013 Nevill Holt Opera was started as an independent company under the artistic directorship of conductor Nicholas Chalmers. The young company's confidence has grown and in 2018 the temporary theatre within the 18th century stables at Nevill Holt was replaced by an outstanding permanent theatre. This season the company is performing Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, and I met up with Nicholas Chalmers to talk about the season, the new theatre and the company's distinctive vision for opera and education in the East Midlands.

Nicholas Chalmers (Photo Mark Pinder)
Nicholas Chalmers (Photo Mark Pinder)
Founding a new company is always a challenge, and from the outset the intention was to focus on the East Midlands for the audience. Whilst the location of Nevill Holt (near Market Harborough in Leicestershire) is relatively convenient for those in North London, the entrepreneur David Ross (who owns the Nevill Holt Estate) was interested in developing the local audiences in an area where operatic and music provision is poor. Ross also has an interest in a series of Academies in the area (through the David Ross Education Trust), which focus on music and sport, and so education was a big requirement also.

Nicholas Chalmers, who was on the music staff of English National Opera from 2008 to 2011, has a background in establishing companies of a similar scale to Nevill Holt, as he worked at Northern Ireland Opera with director Oliver Mears (now director of opera at the Royal Opera House) and is a founding artistic director of Second Movement. With Second Movement, Nicholas created Rough for Opera, the scratch night for opera which provides a place for composers and librettists to try new work out; Nicholas describes it as 'a safe environment to get things wrong'.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Local boy returns home

Puccini: La Boheme - OperaUpClose with Julian Debreuil (centre) Photo
Puccini: La Boheme - OperaUpClose with Julian Debreuil (centre)
Photo  Alistair Kerr
Bass-baritone Julian Debreuil, who sings the role of The Gardener in The Gardeners, is performing Colline in Puccini’s La Boheme on tour with OperaUpClose and the company’s performance in Portsmouth on 25 April 2019 represents a home-coming for Debreuil who originally hails from the city. There is a rather nice article in the Porsmouth local, The News, which includes a lovely mention of The Gardeners:

‘Once this tour is done Julian has got a busy diary with plenty of concerts, and a new opera, The Gardeners, by Robert Hugill making its debut at Conway Hall in London in June.’ - The News

Don’t forget that we are still Crowd-funding, please do visit our Help the Gardeners to Grow crowdfunder page, to support our talented young artists and give them the exposure they deserve.

Commemoration and celebration: Sir James MacMillan conducts the BBC Singers in an intense sequence of his own music and that of Gesualdo at the St John's Smith Square Holy Week Festival

Sir James MacMillan (Photo Hans van der Woerd)
Sir James MacMillan (Photo Hans van der Woerd)
James MacMillan Strathclyde Motets, A Choral Sequence from the St John Passion, Tenebrae Responsories, Carlo Gesualdo Responsories for Maundy Thursday; BBC Singers, Sir James MacMillan, Tenebrae, Nigel Short; St John's Smith Square  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 April 2019 
Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A Holy-week sequence which combined MacMillan conducting his own music and with that of Gesualdo, ending with a Tenebrae service giving MacMillan's music a liturgical context

Maundy Thursday (18 April 2019) at the St John's Smith Square Holy Week Festival was both a commemoration and a celebration. The main concert was given by the BBC Singers and the repertoire reflected the liturgical season, but the ensemble had invited Sir James MacMillan to conduct his own music in celebration of his 60th birthday. MacMillan chose a selection of his Strathclyde Motets interweaved with the first Nocturn of Carlo Gesualdo's Responsories for Maundy Thursday, concluding with MacMillan's A Choral Sequence from the St John Passion. The evening ended with Nigel Short and Tenebrae performing MacMillan's own Responsories as part of a Tenebrae service for Good Friday.

James MacMillan's Strathclyde Motets are a remarkable sequence of 28 communion motets, setting Latin texts, written between 2005 and 2010 for Strathclyde University Chamber Choir. A project which developed from the initial commission for one motet into a deliberate intention to create a body of music which was accessible to amateur choir. Being accessible, of course, does not mean easy and the pieces are remarkably varied and complex in their approaches to expressing the meaning of the texts.
In Cum vidisset Jesus we could hear MacMillan's debt to the polyphonic writing of earlier composers, whilst it remained always his own voice, and in Qui metitabitur we hear that familiar MacMillan motif, the Gaelic psalm-singing inspired chant with its distinctive twiddles in the melody which MacMillan makes so expressive. In Videns Dominus the use of chant was combined with some thrilling juxtapositions of texture, and throughout the motets it was noticeable that MacMillan really explored the way differences in texture could highlight the text. For all the dramatic moments in Mitte manum tuam, it was the quietly intense conclusion which really counted. Pascah nostrum immulatus est was built out of three contrasting elements, strong vibrant harmonies, a radiant alto solo and a rhapsodic soprano solo, which MacMillan welded into a single, remarkable whole. The final Strathclyde motet was Domine no secundum peccata nostra in which MacMillan repeated sections of the text to create a strikingly different musical structure that that suggested by the first reading of the text. For this motet we had the addition of violin, played by Zara Benyounes, with the violin moving from accompanying to adding an extra line, providing another layer of texture and contrast.

Threading their way through these motets were Carlo Gesualdo's Responsories for Maundy Thursday. Gesualdo's writing in these motets (published in 1611) is notable for his use of chromaticicism, dissonance and remarkable harmonic shifts to express the intensity of Christ's suffering. We heard the three motets from Nocturn I, 'In monte Oliveti', 'Tristis est anima mea' and 'Ecce vidimus eum', plus the 'Benedictus' which concludes the whole collection.

What was notable about the performances was that the harmonic language was taken as read, the music's difficulty taken in the BBC Singers' stride. These performances were not about Gesualdo's complexity for its own sake, the dissonance and chromatic shifts were there as expressive devices alongside a beauty of tone and expressive feel for the music. So 'In monte Oliveti' started with a smooth, even balance sound and a sense of the harmonies being suspended in mid air. The naturalness of the way the harmony was sung meant that 'Tristis est anima mea' had a lovely radiance, and the chromatic shifts lent 'Ecce vidimus eum' a restless quality. In all the motet, you sensed that MacMillan as conductor did not dwell on the harmonic details, instead he let the music flow. The last Gesualdo was the large scale hymn 'Benedictus Dominus Deus' which alternates polyphonic setting with chant, and here Gesualdo's writing is less rhythmically complex and more direct, but with some wonderful word painting and remarkable moments.

MacMillan's St John Passion was premiered in 2008 and repeated by the same forces (Christopher Maltman, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Colin Davis) in 2010. In the passion MacMillan uses settings of Latin texts as punctuation and commentary, and A Choral Sequence from the St John Passion takes these and welds them into a single entity. Richard Pearce played the St John's Smith Square organ, providing short, intense organ perorations between each of the movements, and occasionally adding organ commentary to the choral textures. The sequence started with Bach's Passion Chorale which is used within MacMillan's music.

Whilst originally written for a non-professional choir (the London Symphony Chorus), this music is certainly not deliberately accessible. 'Astiterunt reges terrae' was vivid and impulsive with astonishingly violent harmonies, whilst 'Judas, mercator pessimus' contrasted strong harmonies with consoling moments to intense effect. 'Peccantem me quotidie' rose from the depth, into a powerful, highly contrapuntal climax which magically eased in the final phrase. For 'Crucifixus etiam pro nobis' the choir's sense of suspended harmony made it feel that time stopped, with just the organ providing commentary. For the final 'Stabat mater' MacMillan used a series of striking and powerful juxtapositions, with the Latin 'Stabat mater' text paired with a lullaby, and the music mixed an evocative and gentle cantus firmus with some thrilling quasi Gaelic psalm singing from the tenors. Juxtapositions which created something truly thrilling yet evocatively magical.

The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 and is on BBC iPlayer for 30 days, do listen.

The magic continued after the main concert when, in near darkness with candles gradually extinguished, Nigel Short and Tenebrae participated in a liturgical event (St John's Smith Square is, remarkably, still a consecrated church) based on the Tenebrae service, mixing plainchant with three of James Macmillan's own powerful and intense Tenebrae Responsories.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • The topsyturvydom effervesced: HMS Pinafore from Charles Court Opera (★★★½) - opera review
  • A very human St John Passion: Solomon's Knot in Bach without conductor and from memory (★★★★) - concert review
  • Piano day: two venues, three pianists, two pianos - Sunday morning at Wigmore Hall and Sunday evening at Conway Hall - concert review
  • Barrie Kosky’s imaginative production of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story returns to the Komische Oper, Berlin - music theatre review
  • Small-scale delights at the edge of Handel’s London: Chandos Anthems & Trio Sonatas at St Lawrence Whitchurch (★★★½)  - concert review
  • The stars shine in Verdi's La forza del destino at Covent Garden despite a rather disappointing production (★★★½) - opera review
  • 'Costly Canaries': Mr Handel's Search for Super-Stars at the London Handel Festival (★★★½)  - concert review
  • In search of Youkali: the life & songs of Kurt Weill at Pizza Express Live  - concert review
  • Opera speaks to everyone: I chat to soprano Alison Buchanan about Pegasus Opera & their new double bill Shaw goes Wilde  - interview
  • A musical encounter between two traditions: classical guitarist Christoph Denoth's exploration of tango - Tanguero: Music from South America  (★★★★) - CD review
  • Barrie Kosky’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide at Komische Opera, Berlin
    (★★★★ - musical theatre review
  • Neapolitan extravagance and a strange wedding present: Handel's Aci, Galatea e Polifemo  - (★★★★concert review
  • Italian charm with a French accent in Vivaldi's La Senna Festeggiante from Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Home

Thursday, 18 April 2019

The topsyturvydom effervesced: HMS Pinafore from Charles Court Opera

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Joseph Shovelton, Hannah Crerar, Jennie Jacobs, Alys Roberts, Catrine Kirkman, Matthew Kellett - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Joseph Shovelton, Hannah Crerar, Jennie Jacobs, Alys Roberts, Catrine Kirkman, Matthew Kellett - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan HMS Pinafore; Joseph Shovelton, Matthew Palmer, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett, Alys Roberts, Jennie Jacobs, John Savournin, David Eaton; Charles Court Opera at the King's Head Reviewed by Anthony Evnas on 16 April 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Charles Court Opera returns to the King's Head with more topsyturvydom

Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Matthew Kellett - Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Gilbert & Sullivan: HMS Pinafore - Matthew Kellett -
Charles Court Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Tuesday 16 April saw Charles Court Opera return to the King’s Head Theatre with their latest take on Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. Sullivan’s joyous tunesmithery with its musical japes is a perennial favourite with audiences and, not surprisingly, a sold-out crowd squeezed into the King’s Head to see a cast of eight strut their stuff. Joseph Shovelton was Sir Joseph Porter and Matthew Palmer, Captain Corcoran. Philip Lee and Alys Roberts were the young lovers Ralph Rackstraw and Josephine, whilst Matthew Kellett and Hannah Crerar were Able Seamen Dick Deadeye and Bobstay. Catrine Kirkman was cousin Hebe and Jennie Jacobs doubled as Sir Joseph’s sister and Little Buttercup. It was directed by John Savournin.

Back in the day taking aim at the navy with this quintessentially English parody of a nautical melodrama would have tickled the fancy with “quaint suggestions” and “unexpected whimsicality”, gently poking fun at social mores. It’s a country mile from today’s satirical asperity.

Launching the BBC Proms with beatboxing and Jacob Handl

Launch of the 2019 BBC Proms in the Grand Hall of Battersea Arts Centre
Launch of the 2019 BBC Proms in the Grand Hall of Battersea Arts Centre
The programme for the 2019 BBC Proms has been announced, and last night the BBC had a launch event in the Grand Hall of Battersea Arts Centre (devastated by fire in 2015 and magnificently restored by architects Haworth Tompkins). There were introductions from Alan Davey, Controller of Radio 3 (I liked his comment that the range of music being presented went from Perrotin to Thorvaldsdottir), David Pickard, director of the Proms, and Yolanda Brown from CBeebies.

Pickard explained that the big anniversary this year was the 150th anniversary of the birth of the founder of the Proms, Sir Henry Wood, and the 2019 programme is include 33 of the 717 novelties that he was responsible for introducing into the UK (including works by Janacek and Schoenberg). Wood was aware that Proms with popular works drew the largest audience and used this to grow the audiences for the less well known pieces, something which still applies today. The BBC took over the Proms as long ago as 1927 (!) and the combination of the two organisations made sense in terms of the Reithian value placed on education, and the fact that by broadcasting the Proms the BBC widened the access to them, making them less London-centred and less elitist, all you needed was a wireless.

Jayson Singh and members of Solomon's Knot performing at BAC for the BBC Proms launch
Jayson Singh and members of Solomon's Knot performing at BAC for the BBC Proms launch
There were performances from artists who are appearing at the Proms this year. First of all four members of Solomon's Knot (Zoe Brookshaw, Kate Symonds Joy, Ruari Bowen and Jonathan Sells) sang Jacob Handl's Ecce Quamodo, the motet with which they had finished their performance of Bach's St John Passion at the Wigmore Hall the previous night [see my review]. The group is performing a programme of Bach at a late-night contrast. In complete contrast, beatboxer Jason Singh also did a short set (Singh is performing in the Prom which is being given at Battersea Arts Centre), then at the end Solomon's Knot and Singh combined forces to striking effect, mixing Handl with beatboxing.

Full details of the 2019 BBC Proms are at the Proms website.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Introducing Rokas Valuntonis, the young Lithuanian pianist in London

Rokas Valuntonis
Rokas Valuntonis
As part of its CMF Presents ... series, on Thursday 2 May 2019 the City Music Foundation (CMF) is presenting the young London-based Lithuanian pianist Rokas Valuntonis in recital at London's oldest parish church, St Bartholomew the Great. Valuntonis will be performing an interestingly mixed programme starting with Tchaikovsky and ending with Liszt's Mephisto Waltz No. 1, with Chopin, Schumann, Scriabin, Scarlatti and Debussy in between.

Rokas Valuntonis studied at the Lithuanian Music and Theatre Academy and the Sibelius Academy in Finland, followed by studies with Eugen Indjic in Paris. He is currently completing an Artist Diploma at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is a City Music Foundation Artist. He won the 2018 Campillos International Piano Competition in Spain. You can read a little more about him in the interview he did with International Piano Magazine.

Full details from the City Music Foundation website.

A very human St John Passion: Solomon's Knot in Bach without conductor and from memory

Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
Bach St John Passion (1725 version); Solomon's Knot; Wigmore Hall  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 April 2019 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Solomon's Knot brings intimacy and directness to their account of the rarely performed 1725 version of the passion

The ensemble Solomon's Knot brought its trademark qualities of directness and intimacy to the Wigmore Hall last night (Tuesday 16 April 2019) in a performance of Bach's St John Passion given by eight singers (Clare Lloyd-Griffiths, Zoe Brookshaw, Michal Czerniawski, Kate Symonds-Joy, Thomas Herford, Ruairi Bowen, Jonathan Sells and Alex Ashworth) and an instrumental ensemble of fourteen, leader James Toll. Performed without a conductor, the singers sang from memory with all participating in the choruses and chorales, sharing the arias and the two tenors sharing the role of the Evangelist.

This was not, strictly, a dramatised performance but having the singers without either music or conductor means that the communication with the audience becomes paramount, there is nowhere to hide. And it wasn't just whilst performing, one of the delights of the evening was watching the performers reacting whilst others were singing. The singers stood in a semi-circle, with individuals stepping forward during solos and the recitative then stepping back for chorales and choruses, this meant that tenors Thomas Herford and Ruari Bowen were particularly mobile, and this created a nice sense of dynamism to the performance. Only during the longer arias did the singers sit down.

The performance flowed well, there were no awkward pauses and both singers and instrumentalists created a real forward flow of the drama. This was in no way an operatic performance, but it was one which valued the drama of the music and the text. One particularly notable sequence was the long scene before Pilate where the interaction between Thomas Herford (Evangelist), Jonathan Sells (Pilate) and Alex Ashworth (Christ) combined with the vivid choruses to create really involving drama.

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

An afternoon with Farinelli

Portrait of Farinelli by Jacopo Amigoni (c. 1755)
Portrait of Farinelli by Jacopo Amigoni (c. 1755)
The castrato Farinelli remains one of the most fascinating yet tantalising figures of the 18th century, partly because of his contemporary popularity and the extreme reactions his performances generated. Yet, as with most singers of the past, no amount of reading of treatises enables us to be quite certain exactly what sound the voices made, and with a castrato there is the added frustration that even the voice type has died out (the last known castrato died in 1922). So to recapture Farinelli, all we really have is the music written for him, taking advantage of his phenomenal vocal technique.

Les Bougies Baroques (led by Piotr Jordan & conducted by Ian Peter Bugeja) are being joined by mezzo-soprano Maria Oustrokhova and counter-tenor Cenk Karaferya for a concert exploring Farinelli through his music at the amazing Rotherhithe shaft of the Brunel Museum on Sunday 28 April 2019 at 4.30pm

The concert includes music by Nicolo Porpora (who was Farinelli's teacher) and Riccardo Broschi (Farinelli's brother who wrote a significant quantity of music for him) as well as Vinci, Hasse, Leo, Ariosto, Giacomelli and Galuppi. One name is missing from the list; Handel failed in his attempts to engage Farinelli and may never have met him. The singer does not seem to have had any Handel in his repertoire and the one time he sang in a Handel opera in London it was not under Handel's direction and Farinelli brought his own arias!

Further information and tickets from the TicketTailor website.

Piano day: Sunday morning at Wigmore Hall and Sunday evening at Conway Hall

Alexandra Dariescu
Alexandra Dariescu
Debussy, Tailleferre, Boulanger, Fauré, Messiaen, Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Chaminade; Alexandra Dariescu at Wigmore Hall, Cliodna Shanahan & Simon Callaghan at Conway Hall  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 April 2019
Two venues, three pianists, two pianos and a wonderful array of music including three French women

We had something of a piano day at Planet Hugill last Sunday, 14 April 2019. In the morning we attended Alexandra Dariescu's recital at Wigmore Hall where she took us to early 20th century Paris with music by Debussy, Lili Boulanger, Germaine Tailleferre, Gabriel Fauré and Olivier Messiaen. Then in the afternoon I gave the pre-concert talk, A Partial History of the Piano Duet: from domestic entertainment to ballet score at Conway Hall, before Cliodna Shanahan and Simon Callaghan performed a programme of music for piano duet (two pianists, one piano) by Mozart, Schubert, Ravel and our third French woman composer of the day, Cécile Chaminade.

Simon Callaghan (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Simon Callaghan (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
I first attended one of the Wigmore Hall's Sunday morning concerts in the 1980s when sherry and terrible coffee was dispensed at the foot of the staircase (the hall itself was founded in 1901), and the audience seemed to be full of regulars. The Sunday morning concerts seem to still have its familiar audience which lends the occasion a slightly more informal feel, and they still dispense sherry and coffee (but the coffee has certainly improved!). The Sunday concerts at Conway Hall have a long history (they are one of Europe's longest running concert series, dating back to the 19th century though the hall itself younger) yet despite age and a list of distinguished past performers, the event itself is charmingly unassuming and approachable, again with its own regular concert goers. So whilst the two have rather different atmospheres, the one perhaps more casual than the other both have an audience of knowledgeable regulars.

Alexandra Dariescu bookended her programme with two substantial works by Claude Debussy written in 1903/1904, Estampes and L'ile joyeuse. Estampes opened with an atmospheric account of 'Pagodes', exoticism viewed through the filter of Debussy's harmony. By 'La soirée dans Grenade' we noticed a big feature of Dariescu's Debussy, the combination of clarity and strength, haunting fragments of phrases rising out of evocative harmonies. And of course, dazzling fireworks in Jardins sous la pluie. L'ile joyeuse impressed with the way the melodies arose of the textures, with Dariescu imbuing the piece with feverish energy, reaching a terrific climax.

Cliodna Shanahan
Cliodna Shanahan
Germaine Tailleferre is perhaps best known as being the female member of Les Six. She was around 20 or 21 when she wrote Romance, Pastorale and Impromptu (though Pastorale was revised later on). Lyrical with imaginative harmonies, we could hear the influence of Fauré but also flashes of something like her dazzling contemporary Francis Poulenc. By 1954, Les Six was over and the French music scene was very different. Tailleferre's Deux Pieces consisted of two short pieces, both rather conservative for the 1950s, but full of elegance with a striking harmonic voice.

Lili Boulanger's Prelude in D flat and Trois Morceaux were similarly early; how could they not be as she died in 1918 aged 21. The prelude introduced us to a remarkable harmonic language, almost Debussy's La cathedrale engloutie seen through a dark glass. Trois Morceaux similarly evoked Debussy with added harmonic spice.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Unbridled fantasy: UK premiere of Richard Ayres' The Garden

Commissioned to celebrate the London Sinfonietta's 50th anniversary, Richard Ayres' The Garden receives its UK premiere on Wednesday 17 April 2019 when Geoffrey Patterson conducts the ensemble, with bass Joshua Bloom at the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall. Ayres' music theatre piece with video by Martha Colburn, is a darkly comic tale inspired by the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and Dante's Divine Comedy. Conductor Geoffrey Patterson is an alumnus of the London Sinfonietta Academy.

The Garden was co-commision by Asko|Schönberg and the London Sinfonietta (with initial development funded by The Royal Opera). The work was premiered in the Netherlands by Asko|Schönberg last September (2018) conducted by Bas Wiegers with Joshua Bloom as soloist in a performance described by Trouw as 'Unbridled fantasy in the backyard' (Ongebreidelde fantasie in de achtertuin).

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

Barrie Kosky’s imaginative production of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story returns the musical to its harshness and explosive power

Bernstein: West Side Story - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo: Iko Freese
Bernstein: West Side Story - Komische Oper, Berlin (Photo: Iko Freese
Bernstein West Side Story; Alma Sadé, Johannes Dunz, Sigalit Feig, dir: Barry Kosky, cond: Koen Schoots; Komische Oper, Berlin  
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 5 April 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
With a riveting and upbeat score by Leonard Bernstein coupled with Stephen Sondheim’s pretty, witty and bright lyrics, it underpins the world success of West Side Story

Amazingly, in the repertoire of Komische Oper since November 2013, this well-deserved revival of Barrie Kosky’s production of West Side Story - based on an original idea by legendary Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins - returned this iconic and well-loved musical to its harshness and explosive power in a fast-paced production that hit the mark in every conceivable way.

The Komische Oper, Berlin's latest revival of Barrie Kosky's production of Bernstein's West Side Story (seen 5 April 2019) featured Alma Sadé as Maria, Johannes Dunz as Tony, and Sigalit Feig as Anita, conducted by Koen Schoots.

Highly acclaimed for his innovative ballets structured within the traditional framework of classical-dance movements, Robbins not only created West Side Story - a major achievement in the history of American musical theatre highlighted by its excitable and volatile dance sequences not least, too, by its innovative setting - but also dance sequences for other signature musicals such as Call Me Madam (1950), The King and I (1951) and The Pyjama Game (1954).

In the same year as Pyjama Game, Robbins also adapted, choreographed and directed a musical version of Peter Pan but I think it’s fair to say that his Broadway career is underpinned by West Side Story whose scenario (based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) surrounds the tragic story of the star-crossed lovers torn apart by racial fanaticism played out through the rivalry and bitterness of New York gangs fighting for supremacy on the streets of Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Offering a riveting and upbeat score by Bernstein coupled with Stephen Sondheim’s pretty, witty and bright lyrics, West Side Story (from a book by Arthur Laurents: German translation by Frank Thannhäuser and Nico Rabenald) was a pathfinder in so many ways not least by its extended dance sequences that progressed and styled its own narrative.

Broadway had never seen anything quite like it when it opened at the Winter Garden Theatre, New York, in 1957. Neither had the West End when it arrived at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, in 1958, carrying its Broadway magic with it. The show was the talk of the town and I had the great pleasure of seeing it. A highly-impressive production, it was staged on a grand scale with a huge budget but Barrie Kosky’s production for Komische Oper (assisted by Esther Bialas who, incidentally, designed the costumes for ENO’s new production of The Merry Widow) was equally impressive and economical, too, in its staging.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Small-scale delights at the edge of Handel’s London: Chandos Anthems & Trio Sonatas at St Lawrence Whitchurch

St Lawrence Whitchurch - © Copyright John Salmon
St Lawrence Whitchurch - © Copyright John Salmon
Handel Chandos Anthems & Trio Sonatas; London Handel Orchestra, soloists from the Royal College of Music, Adrian Butterfield; London Handel Festival at St Lawrence Whitchurch Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Handel's Chandos Anthems in the church for which they were written, sung by the sort of forces he would have expected

Handel’s London stretches all the way to the end of the Northern Line and so the London Handel Festival made a visit to the parish church of St Lawrence Whitchurch, Little Stanmore, where Handel was resident composer in 1717 and 1718. This is no ordinary parish church. The mediaeval tower survives, but the rest of the church was rebuilt and extravagantly decorated by James Brydges – later to become the first Duke of Chandos – with brilliantly coloured biblical scenes on the ceiling and at the front, and (rather more tasteful) trompe-l’oeil on the side walls.

At St Lawrence Whitchurch on 10 April 2019, the Festival theme of Handel’s Divas gave way to programme of small-scale instrumental chamber music and two of the Chandos Anthems performed by a one-per-part ensemble of singers and instrumentalists, probably the forces for which the Anthems were composed. Adrian Butterfield conducted the London Handel Orchestra with soloists from the Royal College of Music, Camilla Harris soprano, Michael Bell tenor, Matthew Keighley tenor, Hugo Herman-Wilson baritone It seems much of the music in the programme was recycled by Handel, not just from his own past and future work but from other composers of the day: Tamerlano, Athalia and the Brockes Passion would have been picked up by the expert ear, and anybody could have spotted arias and choruses from Messiah.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

The stars shine in Verdi's La forza del destino at Covent Garden despite a rather disappointing production

Verdi: La forza del destino - Jonas Kaufmann - Royal Opera (photo ROH/Bill Cooper)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Jonas Kaufmann
Royal Opera (photo ROH/Bill Cooper)
Verdi La forza del destino (1869 version); Jonas Kauffman, Liudmyla Monastyrska, Ludovic Tezier, Aigul Akhmetshina, Ferruccio Furlanetto, Alessandro Corbelli, dir: Christoph Loy, cond: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 
Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Superb singing let down by a production which lacks the headlong energy that this Shakespearean opera needs

Covent Garden's new production of Verdi's La forza del destino is double cast, but in a way which is somewhat mix and match, so that when we caught up with Christof Loy's production on Friday 12 April 2019, we heard Jonas Kaufmann as Don Alvaro, Liudmyla Monastyrska as Donna Leonora, Ludovic Tezier as Don Carlos and Aigul Akhmetshina as Preziosilla, with Robert Lloyd as the Marquis of Calatrava, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Padre Guardiano and Alessandro Corbelli as Fra Melitone. Antonio Pappano conducted.

The production was originally seen at Dutch National Opera and the associate director was Georg Zlabinger. Designs were by Chritian Schmidt, choreography by Otto Pichler and lighting by Olaf Winter.

Verdi: La forza del destino - Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tezier - Royal Opera (photo ROH/Bill Cooper)
Verdi: La forza del destino - Jonas Kaufmann, Ludovic Tezier
Royal Opera (photo ROH/Bill Cooper)
Verdi's opera is a deliberately sprawling work (the composer deliberately chose the source play because of its huge range), with a complex textual history. Verdi never did quite solve some of the problems and modern directors often tinker, but Loy stayed with Verdi's final (1869) version which places Alvaro and Carlos' duet and duel early on in Act Three, followed by the crowd scenes culminating in Rataplan.

During the overture, we saw scenes from Donna Leonora and Don Carlo's childhood, setting up the family tensions. And throughout the opera, this room would be important as it formed the basis for elements of the set for all the other scenes, even the scenes in the military camp included the door frame and panelling, showing that the catastrophe of the opening Act was never far away. And to emphasise this, at crucial moments a huge video of the event would play back, looming the event huge on the rear wall. The crucial final scene took place back in the same room as the opening with, at one point, the older Leonora and Alvaro re-creating the poses of the young Leonora and her brother!

You felt that individual scenes had been composed by Loy as tableaux, moments like the reception of Leonora into the monastery seemed deliberately painterly and other scenes had a static visual quality. This element of the tableaux was emphasised by the black drop curtain coming down between each scene, and some of the gaps between scenes were unconscionably long. This drained the energy from performance, something which this most Shakespearean of operas needs. I found myself missing David Pountney's 2018 production for Welsh National Opera [see my review]; for all its faults, this captured the headlong energy of the piece, and had the advantage of Pountney's re-studying of the work's essential dramaturgy, combining the roles of Curra (Leonora's maid) and Preziosilla into an all controlling fate figure.

The effect of all this was to throw the singing into high relief, and very fine it was too. But La forza del destino is not an opera that can be carried by the singing, it is too diverse and no amount of beauty and skill in Leonora's 'Pace, pace mio Dio' can make up for flabby drama in the preceding Acts (when we see Leonora in the final scene of Act 4 she has been absent from the stage since the middle of Act Two).

Friday, 12 April 2019

'Costly Canaries': Mr Handel's Search for Super-Stars at the London Handel Festival

Anna Maria Strada by John Verelst (circa 1732)
Anna Maria Strada by John Verelst (circa 1732)
Costly Canaries': Mr Handel's Search for Super-Stars - Handel, Porta, Vivaldi, Bononcini, Steffani; Hannah Poulsom, Marie Elliott, Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham; London Handel Festival at St George's Church, Hanover Square Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
An engaging narrative woven round three of Handel's divas, and some terrific music

The theme of this year's London Handel Festival is Handel's Divas!, and at St George's Church, Hanover Square last night (11 April 2019) Bridget Cunningham and London Early Opera explored Handel's relationship with three of his divas. Narrated by Lars Tharp, 'Costly Canaries': Mr Handel's Search for Super-Stars introduced us to Margherita Durastanti, sung by Hannah Poulsom, Anastasia Robinson, sung by Marie Elliott and Anna Maria Strada del Po, sung by Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie, with music from Handel's Agrippina, Radamisto Muzio Scevola, Floridante, Ottone, Flavio, Giulio Cesare, Riccardo Primo, Lotario, Partenope, Sosarme, Arianna in Creta, Athalia, Alcina and Messiah, plus music by Vivaldi, Porta, Bononcini and Steffani.

We started at the beginning, with Handel's overture to Agrippina (premiered in Venice in 1709) setting the scene with its rich toned opening and engaging faster sections. That Handel's divas had careers outside England was demonstrated via the inclusion of the graceful and elegant 'Amatoben, tu sei la mia speranza' from Vivaldi's Il verta in cimento which Anna Strada del Po (Anna Gorbachyova-Ogilvie) sang in Venice in 1720, nine years before she first sang for Handel.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

In search of Youkali: the life & songs of Kurt Weill at Pizza Express Live

Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya and Bertolt Brecht in 1930 (© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz)
Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya and Bertolt Brecht in 1930
© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz
The Art Song Series at Pizza Express' The Pheasantry in the King's Road continues apace under the artistic directorship of pianist William Vann. Providing a welcome opportunity to hear classical song in a more casual setting (and eat pizza too). Last night's concert In search of Youkali: the life and songs of Kurt Weill (10 April 2019) featured Katie Bray (mezzo-soprano), Phil Cornwell (double bass) and William Vann (piano) in an exploration of Kurt Weill's music ranging from his songs with Bertolt Brecht, through other occasional songs to his American musical period including his final song. A loose theme running through the programme was the song Youkali which is about the search for a lost paradise, and fragments of the song were used to link Weill's songs, with the song itself being heard at the end. A haunting end to a striking evening.

Weill's songs are remarkably memorable and remarkably robust, so that they are performed in a variety of different styles and ways. Weill himself was conventionally classically trained under Ferrucio Busoni, but collaboration with the playwright Brecht as well as love for the great singing actress Lotte Lenya led Weill to move in the direction of music theatre, a progress which continued when he moved to America in the 1930s. The challenge is exemplified by the opening song of the recital, Nannas Lied which Weill wrote for Lotte Lenya but which she claims never to have sung. Do you sing it straight, turn it into a cabaret number or go the full sprech-stimme?

Leeds Lieder April 2019

Leeds Lieder 2019
The ninth Leeds Lieder Festival runs from 25 to 29 April 2019, bringing world-class artists to Leeds for a varied programme under the artistic directorship of pianist Joseph Middleton. The festival opens with a recital from baritone Benjamin Appl with pianist Graham Johnson in Heine settings by Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Liszt and Clara Schumann and ends with soprano Miah Persson and Joseph Middleton in Clara Schumann, Robert Schumann, Grieg and Sibelius.

In between there is a fine selection of recitals, workshops, talks and events. The guest of honour this year is Angelika Kirchschlager who will be performing Schumann, Brahms and Schubert with Julius Drake as well as giving a public masterclass. The 2019 Leeds Lieder Commission is from composer Mark Simpson whose Three Verlaine Settings will be premiered by Nicky Spence (tenor) and Malcolm Martineau (piano).

Young artist recitals are being given by BBC New Generation Artist, soprano Fatma Said, Queen Elisabeth Competition winner baritone Samuel Hasselhorn and Kathleen Ferrier Award winners bass William Thomas and pianist Michael Pandya. Twenty singers and pianists will become Leeds Lieder Young Artists and work in masterclasses with Angelika Kirchschlager, Amanda Roocroft, Malcolm Martineau and Ann Murray, as well as competing for the inaugural Leeds Lieder/Schubert Institute Song Prize.

For amateur singers there are Bring and Sing events, as well as a Pop-up Poetry event. And 1000 school children from Leeds are taking place in Leeds Lieder Education events with performances at Leeds Town Hall.

Leeds Lieder might concentrate on its annual Spring weekend, but there are events throughout the year.

Full details from the Leeds Lieder website.

New opera & cast of thousands - Radius Opera works with volunteers for Tim Benjamin's new opera

Tim Benjamin - The Fire Of Olympus; or, On Sticking It To The Man
Composer Tim Benjamin's new opera The Fire Of Olympus; or, On Sticking It To The Man is being premiered by Radius Opera this Autumn on a tour which opens in Burnley and visits seven other venues. A re-imagining of the Prometheus story into the world of the 1960s, the opera includes a role for a large chorus which will be supplied by recording. 

To create the recording, Radius Opera is involving hundreds of volunteers, visiting choirs across the North of England over the next three months and leading workshops which singers take on the role of “the public” in the opera. Whilst the workshops do include singing they also include other more unusual techniques such as body percussion, improvisation, whispering, and shouting. For one participant in Skipton the workshop involved 'doing all kinds of things we’d never done before. It was challenging, we learned new things, and we had a lot of fun too.' Each choir’s work is recorded, and is being combined into a single huge choir that will be played back in surround sound in the finished opera.

Radius Opera is still looking for choirs interested in taking part, further details from the company's website.

The Fire Of Olympus; or, On Sticking It To The Man opens on Saturday 14 September 2019 at Burnley Mechanics, and then tours venues. See the Radius Opera website for details.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Ten Wee Drams

Sarah Watts - Ten Wee Drams - Raasay Distillery
Sarah Watts has been hosting annual clarinet and bass clarinet courses on the Isle of Raasay for ten years. To celebrate this, she commissioned the composition of ten pieces which will be premiered at the Raasay Distillery on 11 April 2018. Ten Wee Drams consists of a set of works for solo bass and contrabass clarinet by nine composers based in Scotland, Piers Hellawell, Alasdair Nicolson, Stuart MacRae, Iain Matheson, Oliver Searle, Jane Stanley, Pete Stollery, William Sweeney, and Sarah Watts, plus emerging composer Adam Lee, winner of the Ten Wee drams student competition.

The concert takes place in the Distillery Gathering Room, which has stunning views over Skye, and Sarah Watts will perform Ten Wee Drams. This event is free to attend and there will be a licensed bar, tea, coffee, and cakes.

Opera speaks to everyone: I chat to soprano Alison Buchanan about Pegasus Opera & their new double bill 'Shaw goes Wilde'

Philip Hagemann: Ruth - Alison Buchanan - Pegasus Opera in 2018 (Photo Sharron Wallace)
Philip Hagemann: Ruth - Alison Buchanan - Pegasus Opera in 2018 (Photo Sharron Wallace)
Under the title Shaw goes Wilde Pegasus Opera is presenting a double bill of one-act operas by the American composer Philip Hagemann at the Susie Sainsbury Theatre, Royal Academy of Music this week (12-14 April 2019), showcasing operas based on Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and The Rose and George Bernard Shaw’s The Music Cure, directed by Louise Bakker. The operas star soprano Alison Buchanan (who is artistic director of Pegasus Opera), baritone Peter Brathwaite (who sings in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners in June this year), and baritone Oliver Brignall. I popped along to rehearsals last week to catch up with Alison, and to hear a little of the music.

This is not the first time that Pegasus Opera has performed Philip Hagemann's music, the company presented another double bill of his operas last year, Ruth and The Dark Lady of the Sonnets [see the review in The Stage]. It turns out, as Alison explains, that she and Philip Hagemann are old friends. She sang in Zandonai's Conchita at the Wexford Festival in 2000 and Philip Hagemann and his partner were there and made contact with her. It turned out that Alison was moving to the USA as she was marrying am American, so the contact with Philip continued. She sang with his choir, and through his involvement with the Opera Index competition she met a lot of people. Through Hagemann Rosenthal Associates, Philip Hagemann and Murray Rosenthal are theatrical producers in the USA. It was their suggestion for Pegasus Opera to do Hagemann's pieces, and in fact they are sponsoring the production. For a small company like Pegasus Opera, Alison saw this as a way for them to be current, to perform material which had little UK exposure and, in the settings of classic authors, gives audiences an interesting way into opera.

Philip Hagemann: The Dark Lady of the Sonnets -  Pegasus Opera in 2018 (Photo Sharron Wallace)
Philip Hagemann: The Dark Lady of the Sonnets -  Pegasus Opera in 2018 (Photo Sharron Wallace)
Alison describes Philip Hagemann's music as tonal and lyrical. Shaw's Music Cure elicits music which is very witty (and from the excerpt I heard in rehearsal, delights in its references to other operas), whilst Wilde's The Nightingale and the Rose is a darker, fairy-tale. Hagemann started out as a teacher and is noted choral conductor, so he has a good understanding of voices and write well for them. One of his most famous pieces is a Christmas novelty number Fruitcake!

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

A musical encounter between two traditions: classical guitarist Christoph Denoth's engaging exploration of tango - Tanguero: Music from South America

 Tanguero: Music from South America; Christoph Denoth; Signum Classics
Tanguero: Music from South America; Christoph Denoth; Signum Classics Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 April 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A classical guitarist's engaging exploration of tango music from South America.

This disc from the Swiss guitarist Christoph Denoth on the Signum Classics label is an encounter between two traditions, the Western classical guitar and the South American tango. The two are, of course, related and the South American guitar tradition has at various times helped re-vivify Western classical guitar playing. And in a figure like Astor Piazzolla, who trained with Nadia Boulanger in Paris and who created the complexities of tango nuevo, there is something of a coming together of these traditions.

But Denoth's style of playing is firmly in the Western classical tradition and this disc represents his own encounter with South American tango, music he heard whilst he was touring South American countries and which he has sought to absorb into his own playing. On this disc he aims 'to exploit the acoustic range of the guitar in order to integrate the tango and its untame beauty into classical music'.

On the disc are twenty one pieces by thirteen South American composers, in Denoth's own arrangements for classical guitar. So we have seven pieces by Piazzolla ranging from Libertango to Milonga del Angel, plus music by Angel Villoldo, Gerardo Matos Rodriguez, Carlos Gardel, Eladia Blaquez, Roland Dyens, Egberto Gismonti, Joao Teixeira Guimaraes, Dilermando Reis, Antonio Lauro, Abel Fleury, Jorge Cardoso and Julia Sagreras, composers from Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Uraguary, as well as Tunisia. The music explores the 20th century tango from pioneers such as Angel Villoldo (1861-1919) through to contemporary exponents such as Jorge Cardoso (born 1949) and Egberto Gismonti (born 1947).

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