Friday, 31 October 2014

Well-tuned Words

Well Tuned Words - Amanda Sidebottom, Erik Ryding - Quill Classics
John Dowland, Thomas Campion, John Danyel; Amanda Sidebottom, Erik Ryding; Quill Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 18 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Thoughtful selection of lute songs by Dowland and his contemporaries

Often when listening to lute songs from John Dowland and his contemporaries were do rather hear them all as the same genre and style, but this new disc from lutenist Erik Ryding and soprano Amanda Sidebottom on Quill Classics encourages us to listen again and to hear the stylistic differences between the songs of John Dowland, and his contemporaries Thomas Campion and John Danyel. Many familiar songs are here, Campion's Never Weather-beaten Sail, Dowland's If my complaints, Can she excuse, 'Now, O Now, I needs must part' and I must complain along with Campion's setting of this latter.

New York born Ryding provides his own liner note, a fascinating essay about the differences between the three composers. Thomas Campion was very much a classicist, considering rhyming verse as a medieval barbarism, whereas John Danyel's poet brother Samuel came out in print in support of rhyme. Campion's settings were highly influenced by Italian monody, and the vocal line supported by just a chordal accompaniment which contrasts strongly with Dowland's elaborate contrapuntal accompaniments.

The Cunning Peasant

Despite writing eleven operas, Dvorak is still best known for his penultimate, Rusalka, which was written in 1901. This year Buxton Festival revived his 1887 comedy The Jacobin (see my review) which was one of the most successful of Dvorak's operas during his lifetime. Now the Guildhall School of Music and Drama is doing a new production of Dvorak's earlier comedy The Cunning Peasant which will be performed on 3, 5, 7, 10 November) at the Silk Street Theatre. The production is directed by Stephen Medcalf and conducted by the Guildhall School's head of opera, Dominic Wheeler. The production is cast with students from the opera course, with some roles double cast, and will be sung in an English translation by the former head of opera, Clive Tims.

Dvorak's lyrical comedy is very much an ensemble piece. Set in a Czech village, with all the requisite folk overtones, it follows the vicissitudes of various characters including a pair of lovers where the girl is being chased by the local Prince, who of course gets his comeuppance. The plot was quite heavily influenced by The Bartered Bride and The Marriage of Figaro.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

David Bates and La Nuova Musica

La Nuova Musica - photo credit Ben Ealovega
La Nuova Musica
photo credit Ben Ealovega
Last night (29 October 2014) we heard David Bates and his group La Nuova Musica giving a private concert. They were joined by sopranos Lucy Page and Mary Bevan, counter-tenor Tim Mead and baritone Jonathan McGovern in a programme of music by Rameau, Cesti, Conti and Handel. (Lucy Page was a lucky last-minute replacement for an ailing Lucy Crowe.)

The group opened with Tendre amour, the quartet from Rameau's Les Indes Galantes (premiered in Paris in 1725), then Jonathan McGovern sang Care note amorose from the opera L'Orontea by PMA Cesti (1623 - 1669). L'Orontea was premiered in Innsbruck in 1656 where Cesti was employed by the Archduke of Austria (La Nuova Musica will be performing it at Wigmore Hall in December). Then there followed the sinfonia and a group of arias from L'Issipile by FB Conti (1681 - 1732), sung by Tim Mead (who sang two characters, the hero and the villain), and Mary Bevan. The opera was premiered in Vienna in 1732 where Conti was court composer (La Nuova Musica recently gave a performance at the Wigmore Hall). Lucy Page sang O Sleep, why dost thou leave me from Handel's Semele (premiered in London in 1744), and finally all four soloists sang Voglio Tempo from Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (premiered in Rome in 1707), with Lucy Page as Belleza.

A young group, La Nuova Musica was founded seven years ago by David Bates, and their programme of arias by Handel, Ariosti and Bononcini with Lawrence Zazzo (see my review of the concert at the Spitalfields Festival) has recently appeared on Harmonia Mundi. The groups has a busy year ahead, it has four recordings planned Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, Conti's L'Issipile, Handel's Acis and Galatea and Couperin's Lecons de Tenebreas. Concerts for 2015 include Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with Lucy Crowe and Tim Mead, Handel's Israel in Egypt at the Salisbury Festival, Handel's Acis and Galatea at St John's Smith Square with Mary Bevan, Ed Lyon and Christopher Purves and Cesti's L'Orontea at the Wigmore Hall.




Camerata Alma Viva: from Handel to Hendrix

Camerata Alma Viva
Hendrix, Handel, Schoenberg, Reich; Camerata Alma Viva; St. Johns Smith Square
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Oct 23 2014
Star rating: 3.0

A range of styles from young conductorless ensemble

Camerata Alma Viva is a group of young musicians who all met while playing quartets together at a Gábor Takács-Nagy school. Deciding that they wanted to keep the feel of a quartet, but play on a larger scale, they set up their ensemble which performs without a conductor.

Tonight’s concert (Thursday 23 October) at St John Smiths Square showcased their talents across a range of styles, taking in Handel, Schoenberg, Reich and a new composition by Nimrod Borenstein. Their finale was a rousing version of ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix - this arrangement made good use of the extra instruments to provide the reverb and tortured feedback sounds instead of the usual post amplification modification.

George Frideric Handel’s (1685-1759) ‘Passacaglia from Suite in G minor HWV 432’ was originally written sometime before 1720 for keyboard, but has been rewritten for numerous instrumental combinations over the years. Tonight’s version was arranged by violinist Eric Mouret, who also arranged the Handel/Hendrix finale. Starting towards the rear of the hall the musicians processed, while playing, to the stage. Each was performing as a soloist, moving in time with their own physical interpretation of their part – yet it all came together. Their combined sound was very simple and sweet – perfect for this period piece.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Chad Hoopes plays Mendelssohn and Adams violin concertos

Mendelssohn, Adams; Chad Hoopes, MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jarvi; naive
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Oct 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Fascinating pairing of violin concertos from young American violinist

Listening to his first recording it is hard to believe that Chad Hoopes is only 19. His surety and understanding of the music is as clear as his talent. His approach though, is one without overt sentimentality, letting the music speak for itself.

Hoopes won the junior first prize at the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2008 and since then has played with major orchestras across his native USA (San Francisco Symphony, Utah Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Houston Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra), Canada, as well as Europe (including Brussels, Wales and Norway).

In 2011-12 he was the Artist-in-Residence for Classical Minnesota Public Radio, and last year won the Cleveland Arts Prize. He is currently studying performance at the Kronberg Academy in Germany, but has previously trained at the Cleveland Institute of Music, the National Arts Centre in Ottowa, and at the Heifetz Institute, USA. He plays a 1713 Antonio Stradivari violin on loan from Jonathan Moulds.

Les Martyrs is coming

Gilbert Duprez, the first Polyeucte in Donizetti's Les Martyrs
Gilbert Duprez, the first Polyeucte in
Donizetti's Les Martyrs
Yesterday I had the joy of being about to attend one of Opera Rara's recording sessions for their latest recording, Donizetti's Les Martyrs. I heard Michael Spyres, Joyce El-Khoury, David Kempster, Brindley Sherratt, Clive Bayley and Wynne Evans, with the Opera Rara Chorus and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sir Mark Elder recording the finale to act two of Donizetti's Les Martyrs. The session I attended was the sixth of sixteen and this is a large scale, very grand opera with significant forces. It was heartening to be able to experience it in studio conditions, something which is becoming increasingly rare nowadays. And it was illuminating to hear such detailed work being done on a work with which I was completely unfamiliar.

Luckily we don't have to wait for the recording to hear the opera as the same forces are giving a concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday, 4 November 2014, further information from the South Bank Centre website.

Donizetti's opera Les Martyrs has its origins in his opera Poliuto which was written for Naples to be performed in 1838. The libretto was written by Salvadore Cammarano based on Pierre Corneille's play Polyeucte written in 1641–42, the story of which reflected the life of the early Christian martyr Saint Polyeuctus. The opera ends with Polyeucte/Poliuto and his wife being killed as Christians by the Romans. Cammarano was at pains to play down the Christian martyrdom aspect of the plot, and introduced a sub-plot whereby Poliuto is jealous of his wife's previous relationship. This didn't work and the King of Naples banned the performances. A furious Donizetti, left Naples to take up a contract at the Paris Opera, taking Poliuto with him.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Haydn plaque for London

18 Great Pulteney Street, London where Haydn lived in 1791
18 Great Pulteney Street, Soho
where Haydn lived in 1791
Haydn's first visit to London was in 1791-1792 and he came back in 1792-94. He was initially brought over by the impresario Johan Peter Solomon to perform his music at the Hanover Square rooms. The visits brought about some of Haydn's best known pieces, the Surprise, Military, Drumroll and London symphonies; the Rider quartet; and the "Gypsy Rondo" piano trio. For his first visit, Haydn stayed with Solomon in Great Pulteney Street in Soho. Surprisingly there is no plaque to Haydn in London and the Haydn Society of Great Britain wants to remedy this by installing a plaque to Haydn at 18 Great Pulteney Street where he stayed.

The society has all the necessary permissions in place, and they must commission and put up the plaque. To help raise money they have started a Kickstarter campaign. None of the buildings associated with Haydn actually exists now, but the society has permission to  put a plaque in the building which is currently on the site of 18 Great Pulteney Street.

Hilliard Ensemble - Transeamus

Transeamus - The Hilliard Ensemble Transeamus; The Hilliard Ensemble; ECM New Series
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 28 2014 The final disc from this ensemble after a 40 year career


This disc is virtually impossible to review, not because you cannot have a critical opinion about it (quite the contrary), but because this is the last disc from the Hilliard Ensemble (David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold and Gordon Jones). After a forty year career they are retiring and this is the final of their many discs. Transeamus (Latin for 'we are going') is the ECM New Series label where many of the group's other discs are.

For the group's first disc they recorded music from the court of Henry VIII. And whilst they have never regarded themselves as an early music group (contemporary music has always been strongly in the mix) this early repertoire is one with which they are strongly associated.

Wigmore Hall Spring season preview

Jonas Kauffmann - © Gregor Hohenberg / Sony Music
Jonas Kauffmann
© Gregor Hohenberg/Sony Music
New year at the Wigmore Hall opens with quite a bang with bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni and pianist Wolfram Reiger in Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Schubert (2/1/2015), soprano Robert Invernizzi, contralto Sonia Prina and Ensemble Claudiana in a programme of madrigals and chamber cantatas by Monteverdi, Handel, Bach and others (3/1/2015) and tenor Jonas Kaufmann and pianist Helmut Deutsch in Schumann's Kernerlieder and songs by Strauss (4/1/2015). Don't get killed in the rush for tickets. The season continues in a strong manner with a fine mixture of established names and young artists and March finishes with the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competiiton. What follows is my very personal selection

Sir Andras Schiff will be playing an 1820 Viennese forte-piano in Schubert sonatas (9/1), and Beethoven (13/1) and is joined by tenor Mark Padmore for Beethoven and Schubert (15/1)

The Songsmiths (Elizabeth Watts and Mary Bevan sopranos, Anna Huntley mezzo-soprano, Marcus Farnsworth baritone, Jonathan Lemalu bass-baritone and Audrey Hyland piano) have a programme called Secrets and Obsessions with songs from Balfe to Brahms to Butterworth (18/1). And mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately is joined by pianist Joseph Middleton in an all Schumann programme (19/1) for a BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime recital. Counter-tenor Christopher Ainslie, pianist James Baillieu and viola player Xandi van Dijk perform Songs of Night and Travel from Dowland and Purcell to Strauss, Wolf and Brahms (21/1). Baritone Florian Boesch and pianist Roger Vignoles are performing Ernst Krenek's 1920's song cycle Reisebuch aus den osterreichischen Alpen (29/1), and no I have never heard it either.

Monday, 27 October 2014

On the Pilgrim Trail in Brighton with Resonet and the BREMF Community Chorus

BREMF Community Choir
BREMF Community Choir
in rehearsal at St Bartholomew's Church
The Pilgrim Trail - Santiago!; Resonet, BREMF Community Choir; Brighton Early Music Festival at St Bartholomew's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 26 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Enlivening and imaginative presentation of pilgrims songs from Santiago de Compostela

One of the joys of the Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) is the way that the festival combines national and international ensembles, with local performers to give the events a real local specificity. I still have happy memories of a Joglaresa concert of music for the Dancing Girls in Seville, enlivened by the participation of the BREMF Community Choir and a troupe of women who had attended a belly dancing workshop! 
Mercedes Hernandez
Mercedes Hernandez

The BREMF Community Choir was back in action (without the belly dancers) supporting the Spanish group Resonet in its programme The Pilgrim Trail - Santiago! at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton on 26 October 2014. Resonet  - Mercedes Hernandes soprano, Paulo Gonzalez recorders, bagpipe, hurdy gurdy and shawm, Carlos Castor percussion and psaltery, Fernando Reyes citole and director - performed pilgrims' songs from the 12th century Codex Calixtinus.

The Codex Calixtinus, compiled around 1160, includes music not only for the masses for the two annual festivities of St James in Santiago de Compostela, but music for the visiting pilgrims too. It is apparent that music was played constantly in a way that is difficult to appreciate today. The pilgrims songs are written so that the performers combine skilled singers and cantors, with general participation from the populace.

Popes, Power and Patronage in Brighton

BREMF Consort of Voices
BREMF Consort of Voices
Rome: Popes, Patronage and Power; BREMF Consort of Voices, Deborah Roberts; Brighton Early Music Festival at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 25 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Fascinating and illuminating exploration of the early musical history of the Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel was founded by Pope Sixtus in the 1470's and Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) looked at the first 150 years of the chapel's musical history in their intriguing programme Rome: Popes, Patronage and Power at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton on Saturday 25 October 2014. Deborah Roberts conducted the BREMF Consort of Voices and Nigel Pittman was the narrator.

The first half of the programme concentrated on the earlier period, with music by Josquin Des Prez and his contemporaries,  Marbriano de Orto and Gaspar Weerbeke. The concert opened with the Kyrie from Guillaume Dufay's influential Missa L'homme arme and the first half was structured around mass movements from different composers Missa L'Homme Arme. The second half concentrated on the music of Palestrina, alongside that of his younger contemporary Cristobal de Morales and his successor Felice Anerio. The evening ended with a performance of Gregorio Allegri's Miserere. This rather varied musical diet was woven into a whole via a narration from Nigel Pittman (written by Deborah Roberts and Nigel Pittman) which traced the sometimes scandalous history of the various popes and the music that they commissioned.

Guillaume Dufay (1397 - 1474) died just before the Sistine Chapel was started, but such was his renown that his music was in the choir's collection (which was unusual at a time when singers concentrated on living composers). The Kyrie from his Missa L'Homme Arme introduced us to sound world where the individual vocal lines have great complexity and rhythmic flexibility and where the metre is not limited by bar lines, but which comes together into a lovely whole. For the performances in the first half, the consort used the singers as a pool from which to select performers in groups, the top lines were generally taken by altos with a mixture of altos and tenors on the middle lines.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Maria Stuarda in Burry Port

Amelia Earhart landing in Burry Port, South West Wales
Amelia Earhart landing in Burry Port, South West Wales
Donizetti's Maria Stuarda returns to Wales this week, not in Welsh National Opera's production which we saw in Cardiff in 2013, but to Burry Port in Camarthenshire where it will be performed at the Memorial Hall by Burry Port opera.  Burry Port is perhaps most famous for being where Amelia Earhart landed after her record breaking trans-Atlantic flight.

Burry Port is in South West Wales, and Burry Port Opera has been putting on opera at the Memorial Hall every year since 1951. They are an operatic society, with a chorus made up of locals and with professionals in the main roles and they are the only society promoting Grand Opera in South West Wales. Their first opera was Blodwen by Joseph Parry, the first opera to be written completely in Welsh. This year they are performing Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, with Suzanne Manuell in the title role (Manuell shared the role of Aida in this year's Dorset Opera), Adele O'Neill as Elisabetta, plus Andrew Morris, Adrian Powter, Kees Huymans, Anita Appleton. The director is Keith J Clarke, and conductor is the society's musical director Ryan Lee.The production runs from 29 October to 1 November 2014, further information from the Burry Port Opera website.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Die Winterreise with Simon Keenlyside and Emanuel Ax

Simon Keenlyside at the Wigmore Hall- Photo credit Simon Jay Price
Simon Keenlyside at the Wigmore Hall
- Photo credit Simon Jay Price
Schubert Die Winterreise; Simon Keenlyside, Emanuel Ax; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 24 2014
Star rating: 5.0

A strong musical pairing take us on a very poignant journey

We were lucky enough to attend the second of Simon Keenlyside and Emanuel Ax's performances of Schubert's song-cycle Die Winterreise, setting poems by Wilhelm Müller at the Wigmore Hall on 24 October 2014. A packed house heard this distinguished pairing take us on a very vividly characterised journey, with Keenlyside giving a highly dramatically projected, yet mesmerising performance.

All performances of Die Winterreise require the performer to go on a journey, for some this is very external and dramatic, whilst for others it is highly internalised. Keenlyside, who has performed the work in a dramatic theatrical context, gave a very externalised performance, effectively creating the character of the slightly naive young man before our eyes. But this was not to say that he neglected the songs' inner drama too, and we saw the young man go on his journey and suffer internally and externally. Keenlyside moved around the platform a great deal, and it was clear that this was carefully thought out to a dramatic purpose, not simple pacing. The result, ultimately, was not the darkest performance of the work that I have heard but it was perhaps one of the most characterful and certainly the most poignant and richly textured.

Vocally Keenlyside was in superb form, singing with a lovely firm and resonant line, combining a richness of lower register to a nice freedom in the upper. (We were not told what keys he was performing in, or what edition). Throughout he sang within the music, never distorting the line or the words for dramatic effect. He put the colours in his voice to great use, sometimes providing extreme lyric beauty but also bleached, bleak tone. He had clearly formed a strong musical partnership with Emanuel Ax who throughout provided characterful yet self-effacing accompaniment. This was a very equal partnership, and the musicality came from both, but with Ax content to allow the singer the limelight. He never pulled focus.

Bringing the Jacobean bang up to date

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - photo credit Nick Gutteridge
Photo credit Nick Gutteridge
Jazz by Oak and Candlelight; Jacqui Dankworth, Brodsky Quartet; Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Oct 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

A treat of jazz, blues, folk, and pop in a Jacobean theatre

'Jazz by oak and candlelight', an evening of music performed by the Brodsky Quartet and Jacqui Dankworth in the beautiful setting of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, was a treat of jazz, blues, folk, and pop – all rescored for this versatile ensemble.

A Jacobean theatre is not the most obvious of places in which to stage a jazz evening but the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse is an intimate and atmospheric venue, lit by candles and subtle lighting with a glorious black and gold back to the stage. The quartet entered the stage through a central door as though entering a private room while Jacqui Dankworth arrived from the back of the pit, climbing onto the stage via some stairs on its front edge.

Jacqui Dankworth - photo credit: John Kentish
Jacqui Dankworth
photo credit: John Kentish
Although it only opened in January this year the playhouse has been long envisioned. The shell was built at the same time as the main theatre but, due to lack of funds, the interior had to wait. It is based on plans found in the 1960's at Worcester College, Oxford which originally were thought to have been drawn by the 17th century London architect Inigo Jones, but were later attributed to John Webb (Jones' sometime assistant). These plans were realised by Jon Greenfield into an award winning, authentic structure. Its first production was John Webster's 1612–13 tragedy 'The Duchess of Malfi' on the 15th January (see Robert's review of the play on this blog).

The Brodsky Quartet (Daniel Rowland, Ian Belton, Paul Cassidy, and Jacqueline Thomas) and Jacqui Dankworth have been working together for more than 15 years. Their first collaboration was as part of an education project for CoMA (Contemporary Music for All) working with teenagers. Two of the songs arising from this appeared on tonight's programme: 'Abyss' by Kate Curtiss and 'Happy Hat' by Victoria Parfitt.

For Jacqui this concert was also a family affair. Her parents Sir John Dankworth and the singer Dame Cleo Laine had been very involved in touring America to raise funds for the Globe project and some of the arrangements for the music performed tonight were written by her father, her brother Alec Dankworth, and her husband Charlie Wood. This included Alec Dankworth's arrangement of the Federico García Lorca poem 'Narciso', Jacqui's own 'Time takes it time' and 'Please Answer', and the instrumental 'Patience' by Charlie Wood, inspired by a poem Jacqui heard on the World Service when she could not sleep.

Brodsky Quartet - Photo credit: Eric Richmond
Brodsky Quartet
Photo credit: Eric Richmond
Jacqui's voice has great flexibility. From the spare and haunting folk of the opening number 'She moves through the Fair' (arranged by Paul Cassidy) to the final trip-hop 'Play Dead' (by Björk, Jah Wobble, and David Arnold arranged by the quartet) she approached each song afresh. Big band show tunes took over for 'Speak low', (Kurt Weill arranged John Dankworth) and the Frank Sinatra/ Hollywood String Quartet 'Close to You' (also arranged by the Quartet). But it was the blues number 'Sittin' On Top Of The World' by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon where her voice really shone out, making the most of her range and vocal possibilities.

The different styles of arrangements kept the quartet on their toes - but this was nothing that they could not handle: performing with their customary skill and sensitivity. The vocal cello duet 'Like someone in Love' by Jimmy van Heusen and Johnny Burke (arranged by Jacqueline Thomas) was a lovely encore.

Finally,a set of Shakespearean poems - 'Shall I compare thee', 'Go lovely Rose', and 'The Triple Fool' (set by Harvey Brough - otherwise known as Harvey from Harvey and the Wallbangers) were included as a nod to the Globe.

Along with the plays and education events, the Globe have planned a series of candlelit musical evenings running through the winter of which this 'Jazz by oak and candlelight' was one of many. The next concert will be 'Judith Weir: Master of the Queen's Music' on the 27th October which includes 'King Harald's Saga', 'Blue-Green Hill', and 'Psalm 148', along with music by Sir Henry Walford Davies, Sir Arthur Bliss, Edward Elgar, Malcolm Williamson, Arnold Bax, and Peter Maxwell Davies.

A quick note for those who might be worried – the playhouse is all seating, even in the pit – and unlike the Globe it is closed to the weather.

Elsewhere on this blog:

Friday, 24 October 2014

Recording Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate

Ethel Smyth's operatic career divides firmly into two halves. Leipzig trained herself, her first three operas, large scale romantic pieces (Fantasio, Der Wald, The Wreckers) were all performed on the continent in German speaking areas. But the First World War put paid to any further performances in this area. From that point, Smyth's musical career was firmly based in England and her later three operas (Entente Cordiale, The Boatswain's Mate and Fete galante) reflect this, being written on a smaller scale and in a more varied manner. The Boatswain's Mate is a relatively small-scale but delightful comedy based on a story by WW Jacobs. It is an unashamedly feminist piece, but shows a nice gift for comedy and is perhaps her most revived work. Rather surprisingly there is no recording of it. Now Retrospect Opera is planning to remedy that. They plan recording sessions in January 2015, with professional forces conducted by Odaline de la Martinez (who has recorded Smyth's The Wreckers).  The recording will use Smyth's own chamber version of the piece, made to help it gain greater currency.

I saw a company performing it in Cambridge in the 1980's and can testify to it being a delightful and ofte funny piece. Retrospect Opera is looking for support for the recording and they have a crowd-funding page to encourage people to contribute. All significant contributions will get a copy of the recording.

Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

The Tallis Scholars - photo credit Eric Richmond
The Tallis Scholars - photo credit Eric Richmond
Metamorphosis - Palestrina, Gibbons, Part, Sheppard, Tavener, Stravinsky, Gallus, Mouton, Holst; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 23 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Compare and contrast programme, with settings of the same text from different traditions

For their programme, Metamorphosis, at the Cadogan Hall on Thursday 23 October 2014, Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars gave us an interesting mix and match programme in which the same text was performed in settings from the English, Latin, Russian and other traditions. We had settings of the Magnificat by Palestrina, Orlando Gibbons and Arvo Part, the Lord's Prayer from John Sheppard, John Tavener, Stravinsky, Palestrina and Jacobus Gallus, the Ave Maria by Jean Mouton, Stravinsky and Part, and the Nunc Dimittis by Gibbons, Part, Palestrina and Gustav Holst. The results made a satisfying programme and a very fascinating survey.

Second view: La Fanciulla del West at the London Coliseum

Leigh Melrose as Sonora and the cast of The Girl of the Golden West  © Robert Workman
Leigh Melrose and the cast of The Girl of the Golden West  © Robert Workman
Puccini La Fanciulla del West; Bullock, Auty, Colclough, English National Opera dir. Jones, cond. Wilson; London Coliseum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 22 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Thrilling drama and fine ensemble in Puccini's gold-rush opera

We finally managed to catch up with English National Opera's first ever production of Giacomo Puccini's La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West) at the London Coliseum on Wednesday 22 October 2014 (see Hilary's review on this blog). Susan Bullock was Minnie, Peter Auty was Dick Johnson, Craig Colclough was Jack Rance with Graham Clark as Nick and Leigh Melrose as Sonora. The production was directed by Richard Jones, with sets by Miriam Baethner, costumes by Nicky Gillibrand, lighting by Mimi Jordan Sherin and choreography by Lucy Burge. Keri-Lynn Wilson conducted.

Many of Puccini's operas are complex theatrical mechanisms which do not really respond to extreme tinkering. Richard Jones acknowledged this in an interview on BBC Radio 3's Music Matters. Jones's production gave us just about what the libretto and music ask for, albeit with a typical Jones spin.

The production is a co-production with Santa Fe Opera which means it must fit in with Santa Fe's limited stage facilities. We did have gold-rush miners, but the theatrical world was an hermetically sealed one. We saw little outside world, just the interiors of the Polka Saloon, and Minnie's cabin, plus the frontage of the Marshall's office. And all reflected Jones's liking for crowded theatrical spaces. In style the look was more 1950's than 1850's though the costumes were more in period.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Elina Garanca - Meditation

Elina Garanca
Meditation; Elina Garanca, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrucken Kaiserslautern, Karel Mark Chichon; Deutsche Gramophon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 30 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Quite personal selection of music, beautifully sung

This new disc from mezzo-soprano Elina Garanca, Karel Mark Chichon and the Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrucken Kaiserslautern on Deutsche Grammophon is entitled Meditation and features a potentially interesting intersection between the operatic and the sacred, with music by Gounod, Mascagni, Mozart, Bizet, Puccini, Allegri and Adolphe Adam, with contemporary works by Ugis Praulins and Peteris Vasks.

In a sense the title of the disc is misleading, much of the music is not meditative but passionate and operatic. There are sacred works by operatic composers, Gounod's Sanctus from his St Cecilia Mass, and his sacred song Repentir, the Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Vesperae solennes de confessore, Adolphe Adam's Christmas song Cantique de Noel, and Puccini's Salve Regina, which is also strictly a sacred song. Added to these are works arranged from music by operatic composers, an Agnus Dei by Bizet, an Ave Maria arranged from the Intermezzo from Mascagni's Ave Maria.

Shortlist announced for British Composer Awards

Jon Opstad - photo Hannah Opstad
Jon Opstad (Stage Works category)
photo Hannah Opstad
The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) has published the 35 works shortlisted for the 2014 British Composer Awards. The winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Goldsmiths’ Hall, London on Tuesday 2 December 2014. There will be a chance to hear some of them when BBC Radio 3’s Hear and Now broadcasts the event at 10pm on Saturday 6 December. The keynote speaker for the evening will be Dame Evelyn Glennie who will also present the Awards.

Over 300 works were submitted by over 250 composers (either British or UK resident, except for the International category). The short list has 35 works by 32 composers from those in their twenties up to one centenarian (the late Elliot Carter in the International category). Three composers were shortlisted twice this year: Kerry Andrew, Harrison Birtwistle and John McCabe. Kerry Andrew for Woodwose: A Community Opera in the Community or Educational Project category (see our review) and Dart's Love in the Stage Works category (see my review from 2013). Harrison Birtwistle has been shortlisted Songs from the same Earth (Vocal category) and for The Moth Requiem (Choral category). John McCabe for his Sonata after William Byrd's Haec Dies (Instrumental Solo or Duo category) and Joybox (Orchestral category).

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

La Belle Excentrique

La Belle Excentrique - Patricia Petibon, Susan Manoff, Deutsche Grammophon
Le Belle Excentrique; Patricia Petibon, Susan Manoff; Deutsche Grammophon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Highly idiosyncratic performances of French melodies, full of delight, charm and wit

I last saw Patricia Petibon as Blanche in Olivier Py's production of Poulenc's Carmelites in Paris in 2013. For this new disc on Deutsche Grammophon the French soprano is exploring an altogether racketier world, though she is joined by Py for two items. The two open the disc with Leo Ferre's Jolie mome, first sung by Juliet Greco and from then on the disc is a fascinating mixture of French song from Gabriel Faure through to Leo Ferre, via Eric Satie, Francis Poulenc, Maurice Ravel, Manuel Rosenthal, Reynaldo Hahn and Francine Cockenpot. That this is no ordinary song recital might be judged from its title, which comes from Eric Satie's work for piano duet La Belle Excentrique movements from which are also featured on the disc, as are other Satie piano pieces. And the Rosenthal songs have added percussion, from Francois Verly. The performers have also improvised short linking passages, named after well known 19th century danseuses at the Moulin Rouge. Petibon is accompanied by pianist Susan Manoff, and Manoff is joined by pianist David Levi for the Satie piano duets. Other instrumentalists featured on the disc include Christian Pierre LaMarca, Francois Verly,David Venitucci and Nenanja Radulovic

Many of the items on the disc are short, and the movements from the Satie pieces are scattered around as linking items. The recital is not so much a series of groupings of songs, as a single long span which takes the listener from the Parisian verve of the opening, through moods of reflection, tragi-comedy and love, to animal antics and a final series of farewells. The music hall is never far away. Satie's La Belle Excentrique, a serious fantasy for piano four hands, was written in 1900 for the dancer Caryathis whilst his song Allons-y-Chochotte was probably written for the music-hall performer Paulette Darty, as was the waltz Je te veux. And Manuel Rosenthal's Chansons du Monsieur Bleu, three of which Petibon sings, were first performed by the actress and music hall performer Marie Dubas.

Nathan Vale at Temple Music

Nathan Vale
Nathan Vale
Schubert, Wolf, folksongs; Nathan Vale, Audrey Hyland; Temple Music at Inner Temple Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 21 2014
Poised and stylish performance from young tenor in a new Emerging Artists Series

Temple Music launched a new Emerging Artists Series with the recital by tenor Nathan Vale and pianist Audrey Hyland at Inner Temple Hall on Tuesday 21 October 2014. Vale started with a group of songs by Schubert all of which seemed to have as their theme love in its many guises and this continued with the group of Wolf songs. Finally Vale and Hyland closed with a varied group of folksongs from the British Isles.

I missed Vale's recent lunch time recital at the Royal Opera House, so was pleased to be able to catch up with his performance at Inner Temple Hall. Singing from memory throughout, and looking relaxed despite having the audience quite close to him, Vale was a poised and characterful recitalist. He has a naturally beautifully lyric tenor voice but clearly does not rest on his laurels and all the songs were given powerfully characterful performances.

In his Schubert songs, I loved the way he sang beautifully joined up phrases whilst still giving the words their full value. Im Fruhling was vibrant with a real sense of relaxed delight, whilst Fischerweise was characterfully carefree. Vor meine Weige had great lyric beauty but a sense of melancholy too. Wiedersehn was sung with burnished tone and a shapely long line. For Des Fischers Liebesgluck he gave us an evocative serenade-like piece, whilst in Geheimes he evoked the blissful delights to come in the beloved's arms. Finally in this group was the vivdly busy Versunken. Vale's performances here were all complemented by the vital and responsive playing of Hyland at the piano.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Vivaldi Opus 5 violin sonatas

Vivaldi Opus 5
Vivaldi Sonatas Opus 5; Baltic Baroque, Grigori Maltizov; ERP
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Vivaldi's opus 5 violin sonatas in fine performances from this Baltic group

This new disc from Baltic Baroque, director Grigori Maltizov, in the Estonian Record Productions (ERP) label presents the six sonatas from Antonio Vivaldi's Opus 5, sonatas for one and two violin with basso continuo here played by violinists Maria Krestinskaya, Evgeny Sviridov and Anfisa Kalina with Reinut Tepp and Imbi Tarum (harpsichord), and Sofia Maltizov (cello), directed by Grigori Maltizov.

Vivaldi's sonatas, written in 1716, were published in Amsterdam under the rather cumbersome title of VI Sonate, Quatro a Violino Solo e Basso e due a deu Violini e Basso Continuo di Antonio Vivaldi, Opera Quinta O vero Parte Seconda del Opera Seconda, which translates as six sonatas by Antonio Vivaldi, four for violin and basso, and two for two violins and basso continuo Op4 or the second part of the preceding Op.2. The sonatas come from a busy period in his life when he was producing operas in Venice as well as liturgical works for the Pieta. But such publications of sonatas was an important part of getting a composer's name known. Vivaldi's Opus 1, published in 1705 is a collection of 12 violin sonatas, with opus 2 following in 1709. Opus 3 and 4 were collections of violin concerti and represented an important break-through for Vivaldi. Opus 5 was a follow up to the Opus 2 sonatas, and in fact the numbering of the sonatas is continuous. Those on Opus 5 start at 13. Amsterdam, where the sonatas were published, was an important European centre for publishing.

There’s life on the moon

Ronan Busfield (Cecco - disguised as Lunar Emperor), English Touring Opera // Haydn, Life on the Moon (Il mondo della luna). Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.
Ronan Busfield
Photo credit - Richard Hubert Smith
Haydn Life on the Moon; English Touring Opera, dir. McCrystal, cond. Bucknall; Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Oct 17 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Enjoyably funny performance of rarely performed Haydn opera

The English Touring Opera (ETO) have a comic hit on their hands with Haydn’s 'Life on the Moon’ seen last night (Friday 17 October) at Hackney Empire.

Sung tonight in English, 'Il mondo della luna’ was written by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni, for the wedding of his patron Nikolaus Esterházy’s second son in 1777. Its small scale of seven performers reflects the materials at Haydn’s disposal, an in-house orchestra of 14 plus whatever soloists he could persuade the Prince to procure.

A contemporary and friend of Mozart, Haydn is perhaps best known for his instrumental work and 'The Creation’. My ancient copy of David Boyden's An Introduction to Music describes Haydn as being "the father of the symphony and string quartet" but also waxes lyrical about Haydn’s good humour and love of a musical joke. It can be no surprise, therefore, to realise that of Haydn’s 16 operas, 12 were variants on opera buffa – most written for Prince Esterházy’s opera troupe in the twenty years between 1762 and 1783.

Monday, 20 October 2014

In support of the Malala Fund

Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani teenager who came to world prominence when she was shot by a Taliban gunman on her school bus in 2012. She has become a campaigner for education for girls in her country and was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. Composer James McCarthy is writing a new work, Malala which has been commissioned by the Crouch End Festival Chorus and will be premiered by them, conducted by David Temple, at the Barbican on 28 October 2014 at a concert in support of The Malala Fund which supports education for girls all over the world.

McCarthy's new work a dramatic work written for choir, girl's choir, tenor soloist and orchestra with a text by Karachi-based novelist and journalist Bina Shah. Crouch End Festival Chorus will be performing it with Michael Tippett's oratorio A Child of Our Time, inspired by the assassination of a German official in 1938 by a young Polish Jew. Crouch End Festival Chorus is joined by the City of London Shjool for Girls Senior Choir, hornsey School for Girls Choir, St Michael's Catholic Grammar School Choir and the London Orchestra da Camera, conductor David Temple. The soloists are Erica Eloff (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Alan Oke (tenor) and Ashley Riches (baritone).

Launching new repertoire for trumpet

Simon Desbruslais - Psalm
Hummel's Trumpet Concerto was premiered in 1804 and the next major addition to the trumpet concerto repertoire did not come until 1906. It was partly to help remedy this lack of major concerto repertoire for the trumpet that trumpeter Simon Desbruslais's new recording on Signum Classics came about. At the CD launch at the Royal Academy of Music on Sunday 19 October 2014, Simon explained that when he was doing a doctorate at Oxford (which he completed in 2013), he made contact with the composer Robert Saxton who taught there and discovered Saxton had written a trumpet concerto, Psalm: A Song of Ascents (1992). A performance of this in Oxford in 2008 by Desbruslais and the Oxford Sinfonia led to the idea of Saxton writing a second piece and following on from this the concept of a recording. The young composer Deborah Pritchard, at the time studying with Saxton, was asked to write a concerto as was John McCabe, a friend of Saxton's. The three new pieces were performed by Desbruslais at a concert in 2012 and all four then recorded with the Orchestra of the Swan, conducted by David Curtis and Kenneth Woods for the Signum disc Psalm: Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos.

With pianist Jakob Fichert, Simon Desbruslais gave us a taster of three of the concertos. At Simon's request, Pritchard's concerto provides a rare outing for the piccolo trumpet, and is inspired by James Turrell's skypaces. Whilst Saxton's new concerto Shakespeare Scenes takes Shakespeare as its theme, and McCabe combines ideas of Spring with the Olympics (which took place in 2012 when the concerto was being written).

Evidently Simon has further ideas for expanding the trumpet repertoire, so watch this space. Meanwhile, 
Psalm: Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos is available to pre-order from Amazon (the disc is released in early November).

Handel's Ottone at English Touring Opera

Louise Kemeny (Teofane), Gillian Webster (Gismonda), Rosie Aldridge (Matilda), Andrew Radley (Adelberto), Grant Doyle (Emireno), Clint van der Linde (Ottone), English Touring Opera // Handel, Ottone. Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.
Louise Kemeny, Gillian Webster, Rosie Aldridge, Andrew Radley,
Grant Doyle, Clint van der Linde,Photo: Richard Hubert Smith.
Handel Ottone; English Touring Opera, dir. Conway, cond. Kenny; Hackney Empire
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 18 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Stylish and convincing revival of a Handel rarity

For its Autumn 2014 tour, English Touring Opera (ETO) returned to the 18th century with operas by Handel and Haydn, and a programme of Bach cantatas. The Handel's opera, Ottone, was a real rarity, and we saw the opening of the production at the Hackney Empire on Saturday 18 October 2014 with Clint van der Linde as Ottone, Louise Kemeny as Teofane, Andrew Radley as Adalberto, Gillian Webster as Gismonda, Rosie Aldridge as Mathilde and Grant Doyle as Emireno. The production was directed by James Conway, artistic director of English Touring Opera, in designs by takis with lighting by Lee Curran. Jonathan Peter Kenny conducted the Old Street Band.

Handel wrote Ottone in 1723 for what was perhaps the finest cast yet assembled in England, the castrato Senesino, star soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, alto castrato Gaetano Berenstadt and soprano Margherita Durastantini. It was Cuzzoni's first opera for Handel and it was enormously successful, not only receiving a goodly number of performances but also being revived regularly and even being taken to Paris.

This success has puzzled many commentators. The opera's libretto is based on one by Pallavicino written for Dresden and set by Antonio Lotti in 1719. But it was subjected to some severe compression by Handel and his librettist Nicola Haym. The final act in particular seems, on paper, to not make sense. Another problem with the opera is that the title role, Ottone, is so wet and passive as to be almost a dim-wit. Senesino, who sang Ottone, specialised in pathetic roles (in the 18th century in the sense 'affecting the emotions') but Ottone seems to us pathetic in the modern sense.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bach cello suites

Bach Cello Suites - Viola de Hoog - Vivat
Bach The Six Cello Suites; Viola de Hoog; Vivat
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 29 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Bach's cello suites played period style on two lovely cellos

The Vivat label continues its interesting journey through exploration of period practice, with a disc of Bach's cello suites played by the Dutch cellist Viola de Hoog.

What sound quality comes into your mind when you think of the Bach suites for solo cello? Probably, like me, the performances you heard first were ones either by Pablo Casals, or someone influenced by him; which means a richly expressive, dark, chocolatey sound with a very romantic use of vibrato and late-romantic style playing. But the cello has changed a remarkable amount in the period of its development. It is entirely possible that the ordinary cello during Bach's life-time could have been played standing up, like a modern double bass, and that is not to mention the small-scale cellos which were played on the arm like a fiddle and used for the more virtuoso pieces. Then there is the fact that strings were gut, lower tension than today with lower bridges and softer bows. All this makes for a difference in sound quality as the notes die away quicker after a hard attack, the sound is less dense. And the lower bridge and softer bow means that spread chords are less dramatic.

In the video (see below) she made about the recording, Viola de Hoog talks about being inspired to make the recording by the instrument that the plays, on this disc she uses a Guadagnini cello of around 1750 for suites 1 to 5, but she uses a five string cello built in Bohemia in 1730 for the sixth suite. Unusually the Bohemian five-string cello is bigger than the four-string Guadagnini whereas they are usually smaller.  Her bows are both modern copies of baroque bows and she uses gut strings (the lower two silver wound). The extra string (a high E string) means that polyphonic writing is easier, as does the scordatura in the fifth suite (the A string is tuned down a tone to G). But in fact, in the cello suites Bach uses far less polyphonic writing than in the solo violin works. Instead he relies in implied polyphony with the lowest note touched in as part of a single line, spreading the chord and relying on the sonorousness of the cello's lower register to count.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Chetham's Symphony Orchestra

Thursday 23 and Friday 24 October 2014 bring the chance to hear the wonderful Chetham's Symphony Orchestra in action. Conducted by Paul Mann the orchestra is performing Bernstein, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky at the Royal Northern College of Music (23/10) and the Guildhall School's new Milton Court Concert Hall (24/10) 

They will perform Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 'Pathétique' , Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto and the Symphonic Suite from Leonard Bernstein’s score to the 1954 film On the Waterfront. The violin soloist is Elizaveta Saul, a Chetham’s student from Belarus who was the winner of Chetham’s 2013 Concerto Competition.

Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra is formed of students from Manchester's Chetham's School of Music, aged 14-18. Judging by previous performances of theirs that I have heard, we can expect a performance close to that of the professional ensembles.

Further information and tickets from the Barbican website.

Miracle in the Gorbals

Miracle in the Gorbals - Birmingham Royal Ballet - photo Bill Cooper
Miracle in the Gorbals - photo Bill Cooper
Flowers of the Forest triple bill; Birmingham Royal Ballet; Sadler's Wells Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Thrilling revival of the Helpmann/Bliss/Burra Miracle in the Gorbals at centre of an imaginative evening of dance.

Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) brought its latest triple bill to London, at Sadler's Wells Theatre on 17 October 2014. Shadows of War featured three ballets, each with its own echo of war. Kenneth MacMillan's La Fin du Jour to Ravel's Piano Concerto, with designs by Ian Spurling depicted the bright young things of the 30's just before war started. David Bintley's Flowers of the Forest to Malcolm Arnold's Four Scottish Dances and Benjamin Britten's Scottish Ballad, with designs by Jan Blake and John Goodwin, contrasted a post-card view of Scotland with a darker reality. The centrepiece of the programme, and the source of great interest, was Gillian Lynne's revival/re-creation of Robert Helpmann's Miracle in the Gorbals to designs by Adam Wilshire after the original Edward Burra designs, with an original score by Arthur Bliss was a war-time ballet having been first conceived and performed by the Royal Ballet in 1944. Paul Murphy conducted the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with Jonathan Higgins as solo in the Ravel, and Higgins and Ross Williams as soloists in the Britten.

Sir Robert Helpmann was one of the main-stays of the Royal Ballet (then the Sadler's Wells Ballet) during the Second World War, because as an Australian he was not eligible for military service. A talented dancer and actor, his presence as the ballet's leading man and the shortage of choreographers led him into choreography as well and he produced a group of major works during the war. Of these only Hamlet, to music by Liszt, seems to have survived in the repertoire (I saw it at its revival in 1981). Unfortunately Miracle in the Gorbals did not (it seems to have last been performed in 1958). Rather bravely Birmingham Royal Ballet invited the choreographer Gillian Lynne, who had danced in the ballet under Helpmann, to re-create it. Lynne (who is now 88) admits in a note in the programme book that none of those survivors who danced in the original could remember a step, so she had to start from scratch. Neither do Edward Burra's designs survive, we just have black and white photographs, and Adam Wilshire had to do some similar archaeology, including sourcing 1940's street clothes from vintage shops.