Friday, 19 January 2018

Launch of Voces8's new disc, with Jonathan Dove

Voces8 Equinox
Last night (18 January 2018) the Gresham Centre played host to the launch of the new album, Equinox, from Voces8. The album has at its centre a performance of Jonathan Dove's The Passing of the Year and the themes of the album reflect both the passing of the seasons and the cycle of life of the Christian soul. Jonathan Dove is composer in residence with the group, and not only are they featuring is music on recordings, performance and in their educational work, but Dove is writing a new piece for them to be premiered in 2019 in celebration of his 60th birthday.

At the Gresham Centre we heard a selection of music from the disc, including the premiere of Graham Lack's This Ember Night, as well as movements from Dove's The Passing of the Year with Dove on piano. Dove explained that the work had been written for the larger scale forces of the London Symphony Chorus and he paid tribute to the skill of the eight singers from Voces8 on their remarkable performance. The group also performed another of Dove's pieces, In Beuaty may I walk, which was originally written for the Glyndebourne Chorus as a leaving present for Anthony Whitworth-Jones.

Equinox is released on Voces8's own label, VCM Records.

London A Cappella Festival

Estonian Voices
Estonian Voices
This year's London A Cappella Festival has a wide variety of styles of a cappella singing on offer, ranging from Tuvan throat-singing and beatbox, to the Tallis Scholars and Estonian Voices. The festival opens on 24 January 2018 at Kings Place, with Estonian Voices a vocal sextet who mix jazz, folk and pop.

The festival runs to 27 January, when the Swingles close things again at Kings Place, along the way there are The Tallis Scholars, the Beatbox Collective, Huun-Huur-Tu (a Tuvan throat-singing group) and more at Kings Place and LSO St Lukes. On Saturday 27 January there is also a range of workshops at Kings Place.

Full details from the London A Cappella Festival website.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Hortus Musicus - Jerusalem

Jerusalem - Hortus Musicus - ERP
Jerusalem; Hortus Musicus; ERP
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 16 2018 Star rating: 3.5
Early music and traditional melodies woven together by this Estonian Early Music group

This new disc from the Estonian group Hortus Musicus on ERP (Estonian Record Production) presents a sequence of Early Music, traditional Arab melodies and traditional Jewish melodies under the title Jerusalem, exploring what the idea of the Holy City has meant to the different peoples.

The sequence begins with Walther von der Vogelweide's Palästinalied and then we weave together 14th century Spanish and French music, one of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, music by Neidhart von Reuenthal and then the traditional melodies. These latter are treated in the same way as the Early Music, and Robert Staak's booklet note emphasises the interweaving commonality between traditional music and Early Music.

The group's treatment of the music is quite free.

Five Loops for the Bathyscaphe

Britten Sinfonia - At Lunch
The Britten Sinfonia starts its 2018 At Lunch series with the premiere of a new work for piano trio and recorded voices which will be performed at West Road Concert Hall (23 January 2018), Wigmore Hall (24 January 2018) and St Andrew's Hall, Norwich (26 January 2018). Five Loops for the Bathyscaphe is Leo Chadburn's evocation of a journey to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, made by oceanographers Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh on 23rd January 1960, with a five-hour descent in the Bathyscaphe Trieste. Chadburn combines his own music, 'intended to give the impression of near stasis, analogous to the emptiness of the deep, dark ocean' whilst 'the recorded voices act as timekeepers, speaking numbers, fragments of scientific text and lines derived from Piccard’s poetic recollection of the experience'.

The work will be performed by Jacqueline Shave (violin); Caroline Dearnley (cello) and Huw Watkins (piano), with the recorded voices of Chadburn and Gemma Saunders, in a programme alongside Biber’s Anunciation Sonata, Mozart’s Piano Trio in B flat, Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and Philip Glass’s Orbit.

Further information from the Britten Sinfonia website.

Sébastien Daucé introduces his programme for the London Festival of Baroque Music

London Festival of Baroque Music
The 2018 London Festival of Baroque Music was launched on Tuesday 16 January 2018 with an event in the grand spaces of the former Conservative Club in St James's Street. This year's festival has Sébastien Daucé as Guest Artistic Director and he introduced highlights of the festival (which runs from 11 to 19 May 2018) and was joined by members of his Ensemble Correspondance, Mathilde Vialle (viola da gamba) and Thibaut Roussel (theorbo), to perform Francois Couperin's Suite No 1 in E minor for viola da gamba, harpsichord and theorbo. 

Sébastien Daucé
Sébastien Daucé
There is very much a French theme to this year's festival, under the title of Treasures of the Grand Siecle, and performers include Le Poème Harmonique (director Vincent Dumestre), Fuoco E Cenere (director Jay Bernfield), Le Concert de l'Hostel-Dieu (director Franck Emmanuel Comte), Duo Coloquintes, Arnaud de Pasquale, Les Kapsbergirls, Doulce Memoire (director Denis Raisin Dadre) and Sébastien Daucé's own group Ensemble Correspondances.

The music at the festival is focused on the court of Louis XIV. At the launch Sébastien Daucé talked about Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Histoires sacrées, oratorios written after his sojourn in Rome. Charpentier's manuscripts for the works contain stage directions and other indications that some sort of staging might have been done (as was done for oratorio in Rome). So Sébastien Daucé and director Vincent Huguet have put together a staging of three to answer the question, could these works be staged?

Sébastien Daucé and Ensemble Correspondances will also be performing at the festival's final concert, when Daucé's edition of Le Ballet Royal de la Nuit will be performed. Le Ballet Royal de la Nuit was a hugely influential ballet du court performed in 1653 at the court of the young Louis XIV to mark the end of the Fronde. It was huge in scale and marked the appearance of the 15 year old Louis as the Sun, cementing the idea of him as The Sun King. The music for the ballet was thought to have disappeared but the violin part was discovered six years ago and from this Daucé has re-constructed the ballet. The full ballet lasted all night, so only an extract will be performed. Daucé calls the music striking and strange.

The late night sequence of concerts will be based around the idea of Tombeaux, the memorial pieces which one composer would write for another. And as a step out from Le Grand Siecle, Iestyn Davies will be taking the title role in Gluck's Orfeo ed Eurydice with David Bates and La Nuova Musica. The choir of Westminster Abbey, conducted by James O'Donnell will be giving a programme of Te Deums, pairing Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Te Deum in D H146 with Purcell's Te Deum in D Z232.

Full details from the London Festival of Baroque Music website.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Introduction to Opera - week 2: Various Voices

My Introduction to Opera: Verdi, Wagner & After lectures for The Course at the University Women's Club in Mayfair, continue.

This week, Various Voices, a look at the different types and styles of operatic voice with music by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner, and performances from Rita Hunter, Joan Sutherland, Michael Spyres and many more.

Further information from The Course website.

Alexandra Harwood and I Musicanti bring Sleep to Sunday afternoon at St John's

Alexandra Harwood
Alexandra Harwood
I Musicanti's Sunday afternoon concert series, Alexandra and the Russians, at St John's Smith Square continues on 21 January 2018 with a performance of Alexandra Harwood's Sleep which is based on the original Russian version of Snow White and focuses on her deep sleep. Harwood's work is written for string sextet, the same line-up as Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence which concludes the concert. I Musicanti, artistic director Leon Bosch, open with Anton Arensky's String Quartet no 2 in A minor, op 35, an homage to Tchaikovsky scored for the slightly unusual line-up of violin, viola and two cellos.

Our correspondent Ruth caught I Musicanti's September 2017 concert in this series, you can read her review on this blog. The series Alexandra and the Russians concludes on Sunday 3 June and features Prokofiev’s quintet, Glinka’s septet, Dmitri Smirnov’s Dialogues in the Dark and a final reflection on a Russian folktale by Alexandra Harwood.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

Handel's Lotario recorded live at the Göttingen festival

Handel - Lotario - Gottingen -Accent
Handel Lotario; Marie Lys, Sophie Rennert, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen, Jorge Navarro Colorado, FestpielOrchester Göttingen, Laurence Cummings; ACCENT
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 16 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Handel's rarely done Lotario emerges as far less of a problem opera in this engaging performance from a young cast

The latest of the live recordings on the Accent label from the Göttingen International Handel Festival is something of a rarity. Laurence Cummings directs the FestpielOrchester Göttingen in Handel's Lotario with a cast which includes Sophie Rennert, Marie Lys, Ursula Hesse von den Steinen, Jorge Navarro Colorado, Jud Perry and Todd Boyce.

Lotario is a strange piece. Premiered by Handel in 1729 as part of the so-called Second Academy, the re-launch after the demise of the original Royal Academy of Music, it was written for a new company including soprano Anna Strada (for whom Handel would write the title role in Alcina) and a new castrato, Antonio Bernacchi. There was clearly a degree of nervousness about the reception of the opera, Lotario is one of a group of Handel operas where the recitative is cut back to the bone. Winton Dean in his masterly book on Handel's operas is completely scathing but Michael Pacholke in his CD booklet note describes the it as masterly compression. This perhaps reflects the way Handel's later operas are being re-assessed in the light of performances. (At the 2017 London Handel Festival, William Relton's production of Handel's Faramondo show how this piece could be made to work on stage, see my review).

I didn't see these performances of Lotario at last year's Göttingen International Handel Festival (the disc was recorded live), but it is clear from this performance that Laurence Cummings and the stage director, Carlos Wagner, drew strong performances from the young cast. Whatever you think of the dramaturgy of the piece - dodgy or masterful compression - there is no doubt that the cast bring out the drama. There might not be much recitative, but it counts.

Handel Lotario - Göttingen 2017 - Jorge Navarro Colorado, Jud Perry (Photo Alciro Theodoro da Silva)
Handel Lotario - Göttingen 2017
Jorge Navarro Colorado, Jud Perry (Photo Alciro Theodoro da Silva)
The arias are something of a mixed bag, rather many of them noodle along nicely (Winton Dean complains rightly of too many simile arias). It does not help that the plot is such that the 'argument' is highly complex.

There is a widowed Queen, Adelaide (Marie Lys), a usurper, Berengario (Jorge Navarro Colorado) and a rescuer, Lotario (Sophie Rennert). Adelaide is wooed by both Lotario and by Berengario's son, Idelberto (Jud Perry), there is also Berengario's wife, who is vicious. Adelaide manages to say no to everyone, till the final lieto fine. There are some good moments, and enough striking arias to make you curious about the piece.

Adelaide (Marie Lys) stands out partly because she is the only soprano in the cast. But her aria which concludes Act one, when she sings defiance of Berengario is a knock out. Lys shows great control in her first powerful Act Two aria, and the second in that act has her almost duetting with the violins (the accompaniments in the opera are full of felicities) over a marching bass. Her sole aria in Act Three is full of bright firm tone as she shows she is still implacable in the cause of right, so it is a shame we do not hear more of her here (she simply crops up again in the final duet with Lotario).

The role of the usurper Berengario is one of Handel's fascinating vacillating villains.

Jette Parker Young Artists - new intake

Michael Mofidian
Michael Mofidian
The Royal Opera House has announced the names of the five young artists who will be joining the Jette Parker scheme in September 2018, two of whom will almost certainly be familiar to London audiences. 

The Scottish-Iranian bass-baritone Michael Mofidian has popped up on this blog a few times, most recently in recital at Kings Place, and at the Oxford Lieder Festival, he was also Leporello in British Youth Opera's recent performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni

Patrick Terry
Patrick Terry
The American countertenor Patrick Terry sang Ruggiero in Handel's Alcina with Royal Academy Opera and Boy/Angel 1 in George Benjamin's Written on Skin with Melos Sinfonia. He has been covering Guildenstern in Brett Dean's Hamlet at Glyndebourne, and will be singing The Refugee in Jonathan Dove's Flight for Royal Academy Opera and the title role of Handel's Teseo with La Nuova Musica at the London Handel Festival. 

The other three new young artists are the Chilean soprano Yaritza Véliz, the Chinese mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu and the Argentinean baritone Germán E Alcántara.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Fatal Passions in Leeds and beyond

Opera North - Fatal Passion
Opera North is presenting its first ever production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera this Spring in a production directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Richard Farnes which opens at the Grand Theatre, Leeds on 3 February 2018. Hungarian soprano Adrienn Miksch, makes her UK debut as Amelia with Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon as Madame Arvidson, Mexican tenor Rafael Rojas as Gustavus (following his performances with the company in the title role of Andrea Chénier (2015) and as Calaf in Turandot (2017)), and Armenian soprano Tereza Gevorgyan as Oscar. Gevorgyan was supported by Opera North throughout her studies with the National Opera Studio in 2014/15 and made her Opera North debut as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi in 2015. As can be seen from the character names, the production uses Verdi's intended Swedish setting for the opera.

The season opens on 19 January with a revival of Tim Albery's production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly conducted by Martin Pickard with Anne Sophie Duprels in the title role, and Lithuanian tenor Merūnas Vitulskis, making his UK as Pinkerton. Also in the season is a revival of Alessandro Talevi's production of Mozart's Don Giovanni conducted by Christopher Altstaedt with William Dazeley, Alistair Miles, Elizabeth Atherton, Jennifer Davies, Nicholas Watts and Kathryn Rudge.

The Spring tour starts in Leeds (19 January to 3 March) before moving to The Lowry, Salford, the Theatre Royal, Nottingham and the Theatre Royal, Newcastle.

The company's Whistle Stop Opera returns with a lively 30 minute introduction to Don Giovanni which will take place at various community venues across Leeds and in each of Opera North’s touring venues, with ‘pop-up’ performances in cafés and bars. And there are audio-described performances of Madama Butterfly are planned at all four venues to meet the needs of blind and visually impaired audience members, with discounted seats for essential companions and the opportunity to go on a touch tour to experience the set and costumes at first hand before the show.

The company's other venue in Leeds, the Howard Assembly Room, is presenting Italian Nights illustrating Italy’s rich musical heritage with a series of concerts from some of the world’s leading musicians including Louis Lortie, the Brodsky Quartet, James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook, and I Fagiolini. There are also film showings, Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, Almodóvar’s All About my Mother and Kurosawa’s Ran, exploring the themes of desire, betrayal and revenge in a family setting, with a series of stories set in the same countries as the season’s operas.

Full details from the Opera North website.

A Fancy: 17th century English theatre music

A fancy - Le Caravanserail, Bertrand Cuiller - Harmonia Mundi
Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, Giovanni Battista Draghi, Samuel Akeyrode, Louis Grabu, John Blow, Christopher Gibbons, James Hart; Rachel Redmond, Le Caravenserail, Bertrand Cuiller
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
An engaging French-influenced trawl through English 17th century theatre music

This disc from the French group, Le Caravanserail and conductor Bertrand Cuiller, on Harmonia Mundi explores English 17th century music so rather sensibly they have opted for a native-English speaking soloist, Scottish soprano Rachel Redmond. The selection of music is taken mainly from English theatre music selected from pieces by Matthew Locke, Henry Purcell, Giovanni Battista Draghi, Samuel Akeyrode, Louis Grabu, John Blow, Christopher Gibbons, and James Hart.

Rather than group the music by composer, Cuiller has chosen to create five tableaux, each with a group of pieces which moves from opening number (often an overture or curtain tune) to closing, so part two ends with Purcell's O Solitude whilst part five (and the whole disc) ends with James Hart's Adieu to the Pleasures and Follies. This approach has the benefit of not having to worry about the music which survives without a particular attribution to a play, or to the large instrumental suites which survive because of the amount of interstitial music required.

Not surprisingly Cuiller and his group bring out the French and Italian influences in this music.

Junge Deutsche Philharmonie in Birtwistle, Herrmann and more in Cologne

Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (photo Achim Reissner)
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (photo Achim Reissner)
Herrmann, Liebermann, Gershwin, Birtwistle, Bernstein; Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, Ingo Metzmacher; Kölner Philharmonie
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Jan 7 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A jazz-inspired concert that had a packed house at the Kölner Philharmonie enjoying every beat and wanting more

Continuing his despatches from Cologne, our correspondent Tony enjoys the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, conducted by Ingo Metzmacher, in a jazz-inspired concert at Kölner Philharmonie on Sunday 7 January 2018, with Bernard Herrmann's Taxi Driver - a night piece for orchestra, Harrison Birtwistle's Panic (with soloist Xavier Larsson Paez), Rolf Liebermann's Concerto für Jazzband and Sinfonieorchester, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (with soloist Alexandre Tharaud) and Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from ‘West Side Story’.

Members of the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie - admirably led by their konzertmeisterin, Annika Fuchs - found themselves on fire (and flying high) in a thoroughly entertaining, polished and engaging performance that would, I feel, be hard to beat by any youth orchestra in the world.

They were safely under the direction of Ingo Metzmacher who, incidentally, conducted the première of Hans Werner Henze’s sixth symphony in 1994 and three years later conducted the première of his ninth. From my point of view, that places him in the top league.

Bernard Herrmann’s score for Taxi Driver got the evening off to a good and invigorating start putting some fizz into the bottle straightaway. Written for the soundtrack of Hitchcock’s 1976 film of the same name, directed by Martin Scorsese and set in New York City following the Vietnam War, the film starred Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It is considered culturally, historically and aesthetically significant by the US Library of Congress who selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Bach to the piano

Harpsichordist Virginia Black is returning to her roots as a pianist, and having played Bach's keyboard concertos on the harpsichord is now joining the Bristol Ensemble to perform them on the piano at King's Place on Thursday 18 January 2018. The concert features the concerto in A major BWV 1055 and the concerto in D minor BWV 1052, plus Haydn's Symphony no. 49 (La Passione) and Mozart's Divertimento in F major K138.

Black started playing the piano at the age of 7, and was given her first grand piano at age 12, a Bechstein which she still has and plays. Aged 17, she played Beethoven's Piano concerto no. 3 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in Birmingham Town Hall, and went on to the Royal Academy of Music, studying both piano and harpsichord.

Further information from the Kings Place website.

Tombeaux - A secular requiem

Richard MacKenzie - Tombeaux
Tombeaux - A secular requiem; Richard MacKenzie; Magnatune
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
An engaging exploration of a very particular genre of French 17th century lute music

This lovely disc from lutenist Richard MacKenzie on Magnatune is an exploration of a repertoire which was almost entirely new to me. Under the title Tombeaux: A Secular Requiem MacKenzie presents a sequence of mainly French 17th century tombeaux, memorial pieces for lute. We have music by Francis Pilkington, Anthony Holborne, Jacques de Gallot, Ennemond Gaultier le vieux, Denis Gaultier, François Dufault, Francesco Corbetta, Robert de Visée, François Campion, Gallot d'Irelande, Georg Gebel and Tobias Hume.

The music is mainly 16th century, stretching from 1605 right through to 1738. Many of the composers were simply names to me, and their pieces generally explore a small group of dance forms, the pavan, courante and allemande, with the occasional gailliard and sarabande. MacKenzie enlivens things by playing the music on four different instruments, a Baroque lute, a Renaisance lute, a Baroque guitar and a theorbo. The result provides some interesting timbral contrasts, with some instruments providing a remarkable depth of tone.

The disc is recorded quite closely, so that we get quite an intimate experience of what can be relatively quiet instruments. There is still plenty of air round the sound, so the results are very appealing but with an interesting meatiness and bit to some of the textures.

Mendelssohn in Cologne: Elijah at the Kölner Philharmonie

Manuscript of Mendelssohn's Oratorio 'Elijah' used at the first performance in Birminghamin 1846
Manuscript of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah
used at the first performance in Birminghamin 1846
Mendelssohn Elijah; Hyuna Ko (soprano), Alexandra Thomas (alto), Markus Francke (tenor), Christoph Scheeben, Neues Rheinisches Kammerorchester, Köln and KölnChor, Wolfgang Siegenbrink; Kölner Philharmonie
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Jan 6 2018 Star rating: 5.0
A brilliant offering of Mendelssohn’s Elijah conducted by a master of the choral repertoire, Wolfgang Siegenbrink

Our correspondent, Tony, hears Mendelssohn's Elijah, performed in Cologne at the Kölner Philharmonie on Saturday 6 January 2018, with Neues Rheinisches Kammerorchester, Köln and KölnChor, and Hyuna Ko (soprano), Alexandra Thomas (alto), Markus Francke (tenor), Christoph Scheeben (bass) conducted by Wolfgang Siegenbrink

Mendelssohn’s epic Old Testament oratorio, Elijah, was first performed at the Birmingham Triennial Festival in 1846 which, sporadically, shared their festival with Leeds and Norwich while the other triumvirate festival, Three Choirs Festival, rotates to this very day with the cathedral towns of Hereford, Gloucester and Worcester. The German première, however, took place in Leipzig on the composer’s birthday (3 February 1848) only a few months after his death.

Mendelssohn had a tenuous relationship with the Norfolk & Norwich Triennial Festival inasmuch as he was approached by the festival’s secretary in 1843 to become conductor of the 1845 Festival. However, there’s no record of his reply. Presumably he declined because the German-British composer/conductor, Sir Julius Benedict, a friend of Beethoven and Weber, was appointed that year.

Three years later he was approached once again and on this occasion asked for an oratorio. He declined on the grounds that he was too busy but indicated that he would write something for a future festival. Sadly, this did not happen as he died in November 1847. Elijah was first performed at the N&N Triennial in 1848 and was for a long period the festival’s most popular oratorio receiving no fewer than 13 performances between 1848 and 1930.

The work, however, depicting events in the life of the Biblical prophet, Elijah, was composed in the spirit of Mendelssohn’s Baroque predecessors, Bach and Handel, whose music he loved so dearly.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Monteverdi in the round: Covent Garden's Ulysses at the Roundhouse

Monteverdi: The Return of Ulysses - Royal Opera at the Roundhouse ((c) ROH & Roundhouse, photo Stephen Cummiskey)
Monteverdi: The Return of Ulysses - Royal Opera at the Roundhouse ((c) ROH & Roundhouse, photo Stephen Cummiskey)
Monteverdi Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The return of Ulysses); Roderick Williams, Christine Rice, Caitlin Hulcup, Catherine Carby, Samuel Boden, dir: John Fulljames, cond: Christian Curnyn, orchestra of the Early Opera Company; Royal Opera at the Roundhouse
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A remarkable achievement, filling the Roundhouse with the sombre gravity of Monteverdi's drama

Monteverdi: The Return of Ulysses - Roderick Williams, Catherine Carby - Royal Opera at the Roundhouse ((c) ROH & Roundhouse, photo Stephen Cummiskey)
Roderick Williams, Catherine Carby -
((c) ROH & Roundhouse, photo Stephen Cummiskey)
Following on from its successful performances of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Roundhouse in 2015, the Royal Opera has returned to the circular performing space with further Monteverdi, this time Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The return of Ulysses), directed by John Fulljames, with Roderick Williams as Ulysses and Human Frailty and Christine Rice as Penelope. We caught the third performance of the run, on Saturday 13 January 2018. Unfortunately Christine Rice was ill, and not able to sing, so Caitlin Hulcup had stood in at a weeks notice, she sang the part from the pit with Rice acting the role.

The remaining cast consisted of David Shipley (Antinous and Time), Catherine Carby (Fortune and Minerva), Samuel Boden (Telemachus), Susan Bickley (Eurycleia), Francesca Chiejina (Melantho), Mark Milhofer (Eumaeus), Stuart Jackson (Irus), Nick Pritchard (Amphinomus), Tai Oney (Peisander), Andrew Tortise (Eurymachus), with the Return of Ulysses Community Ensemble which consisted of 40 singers drawn from the Royal Opera House, Thurrock Community Chorus and from the Roundhouse youth programmes. Christian Curnyn conducted the orchestra of the Early Opera Company. Set designs were by Hyemi Shin, costumes by Kimie Nakano, lighting by Paule Constable, movement by Maxine Braham and the sound design was by Ian Dearden for Sound Intermedia. The opera was sung in Christopher Cowell's English translation.

Monteverdi: The Return of Ulysses - Samuel Boden, Christine Rice - Royal Opera at the Roundhouse ((c) ROH & Roundhouse, photo Stephen Cummiskey)
Samuel Boden, Christine Rice
(c) ROH & Roundhouse, photo Stephen Cummiskey
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria is a far different work than L'Orfeo. Written for the newly created public theatre in Venice, Ulysses is a less grand, more concentrated work. It uses smaller performing forces, and is more diverse in its mix of short scenes of both comedy and tragedy. L'Orfeo, written to celebrate a wedding in Mantua, has a grandness about it which means the expanding the work to fit far larger venues than the original seems quite natural. This is trickier with Ulysses. Fulljames and his team took their cue from the democratic nature of the Roundhouse space, and decided to set the opera in the round with the orchestra at the centre, and the acting space on a torus round the orchestra. The simple but elegant set design was completed with a circular suspended ring on which surtitles were projected. No-one had a perfect view all the time, but the action moved and the results were immediate and engaging. In an introductory speech, Roderick Williams joked that the performers were close enough to the audience that, if a phone went of, one of them would be able to come and take it off the owner!

A slight curiosity was the the orchestra slowly rotated, and that the acting torus rotated in the opposite direction though this was done subtly and I noticed that Penelope's scenes did not rotate and indication of the stasis of her existence.

Costumes were loosely modern, but quite classic and in neutral tones, with just the odd piece of armour and a real bow. When Minerva (Catherine Carby) flies Telemachus (Samuel Boden) in, they appeared on a tandem which Carby was pedalling, and circled the torus furiously. Though it was something of a curiosity to have Eumaeus' sheep represented by white balloons, but the popping of these throughout the opera was very effective.

A big theme of the production was the idea of exile and refugees, with Fulljames seeing Ulysses, Telemachus, the suitors and their ensemble as all casualties of the horrors of war. So that the suitors were accompanied by a large band of fellow refugees, come to rest on Ithaca (the community ensemble), and we saw Penelope (Christine Rice), Eurycleia (Susan Bickley) and Melantho (Francesca Chiejina) feeding them. The tone of the production, for all the visual felicities, was serious without being preachy and even the scenes with Stuart Jackson's grossly fat Irus had an edge to them. The ending gave cause for hope without being a relapse into an unlikely lieto fine.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Aiming at paradise: songs from Alisa Firsova, Bryan Hymel & Irini Kyriakidou Hymel

Alisa Firsova
A private concert on Thursday mixed the intriguing talents of pianist/composer Alisa Firsova, tenor Bryan Hymel, soprano Irini Kyriakidou-Hymel and poet Peter Wolrich. The link was the Chateau de Canisy in Normandy where Firsova was resident for a number of years and came to know Wolrich. She set a sequence of Wolrich's poems, from Paradise Poems inspired by his periods at Canisy. And so the evening presented Firsova's Here in Canisy Op.22, Ascend to Freedom & In search of Paradise Op.37 and Unity Op.26.

But because Bryan Hymel is a distinguished dramatic tenor, Firsova had crafted an intriguing programme which combined her music with showcasing Hymel in a number of arias for roles he does not yet sing, 'Wintersturme' from Wagner's Die Walkure and 'Walther's Prize Song' from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, as well as hearing Irini Kyriakidou-Hymel in 'Elsa's Dream' from Lohengrin. And Firsova wove these together with Liszt's Lugubre Gondola II and Liszt's arrangement of Wagner's Liebestod, plus her own arrangement of the 'Adagietto' from Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

It was lovely to hear relatively intimate performances of the Wagner arias, and Firsova's own songs (preceded by Wolrich reading the relevant poems) proved fascinating with Firsova weaving a seductive web of piano round the voices.

Blood, sex, violence & incest, but subtlety too: Richard Strauss' Salome at Covent Garden

Richard Strauss: Salome - Malin Byström, Duncan Meadows - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Photo ROH/Clive Barda)
Richard Strauss: Salome - Malin Byström, Duncan Meadows - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Photo ROH/Clive Barda)
Richard Strauss Salome; Malin Byström, John Daszak, Michaela Schuster, Michael Volle, dir: David McVicar / Barbara Lluch, cond: Henrik Nánási; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 12 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Lyric soprano Malin Byström makes a lithe and wonderfully petulant teenage heroine in a strong revival

David McVicar's production of Richard Strauss' Salome at Covent Garden (revived by Barbara Lluch) remains as powerful and stylish as ever. The production has returned for the third time (seen Friday 12 January 2018), with Swedish soprano Malin Byström in the title role, plus David Butt Philip as Narraboth, Christina Bock as the Page, Michael Volle as Jokanaan, John Daszak as Herod and Michaela Schuster as Herodias, conducted by Henrik Nánási.

Richard Strauss: Salome - John Daszak, Michaela Schuster - Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (Photo ROH/Clive Barda)
John Daszak, Michaela Schuster - (Photo ROH/Clive Barda)
McVicar's production uses the image of the grim down-stairs of Herod's palace (designs Es Devlin) as a metaphor for the nastiness at the heart of Herod's court. There is plenty of blood and sexual activity (not to mention the famously naked executioner, Naaman, played by Duncan Meadows). But Devlin's designs are remarkably elegant,  particularly the stunning spiral staircase which leads down to the murk. Quite what the real nastiness is, is not quite apparent until the Dance of The Seven Veils when Herod and Salome re-enact a series of rituals/encounters which suggest the history of abuse behind Herod's suggestion that Salome dance for him.

Malin Byström really brought out the contrast between the girlish elegance of Salome's demeanour and the virulent intensity, not to mention peversity of her desires. The 1940s setting helped, so that Byström's dress could easily have been that of an older teenager or young 20 year old, and Byström's performance was remarkably lithe, almost elfin-like at times.

Richard Strauss never did produce the revised orchestration of Salome which would have enabled lighter sopranos to sing the title role, though he talked about it. But with good management, the role remains possible for certain types of lyric. Byström debuted her Salome last June (2017) in Amsterdam, and she has recently started singing the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier so is clearly moving into heavier territory.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Silence and Music

Silence and Music - Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli Consort
Stanford, Elgar, RVW, Howells, Grainger, James MacMillan, Benjamin Britten, Peter Warlock; Gabrieli Consort, Paul McCreesh; Winged Lion/Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A beautifully performed and intelligently programmed disc of British part-songs

Silence and Music from Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort on their Winged Lion / Signum Classics label features a further exploration of the British part-song repertoire. The disc features music by Stanford, Elgar, RVW, Howells, Grainger, James MacMillan, Benjamin Britten and Peter Warlock.

The selection of pieces is evocative and thoughtful, mixing the well known and the lesser-known. There is folk-song here, but even this selection is fascinating including as it does Percy Grainger's disturbing tale The Three Ravens in addition to Brigg Fair, as well as three moving RVW pieces Bushes and Briars, The Winter is Gone and The Turtle Dove.

McCreesh uses a choir of 20 singers, though such is their unanimity and flexibility that they can sound like  far fewer singers, and they are joined by soloists Robert Murray (Brigg Fair) and Neal Davies (The Turtle Dove and The Three Ravens), plus harmonium player Tim Roberts (The Three Ravens). Unlike a lot of conductors in this repertoire, McCreesh is a generalist who has made his name in period performance, and perhaps one can detect some of the way his ear works in the fine beauty and control of these performances.

The programme almost functions as a cycle through the day, opening with a flash of blue in Stanford's The Blue Bird and coming to rest with RVW having had Britten's The Evening Primrose. Stanford's The Blue Bird is concentrated and controlled, with a lovely clarity of line and a fine-grained elegance of sound. This song exemplifies the many virtues of the performances on this disc, and the confidence that McCreesh has in his singers is reflected in the way that the solo line is sung, as intended, by the sopranos rather by a soloist.

Rowan Pierce and William Carter in Purcell

Rowan Pierce
Rowan Pierce
We attended a delightful private recital on Wednesday night (10 January 2018) when Rowan Pierce (soprano) and William Carter (lute) performed a selection of Purcell songs. The recital was for supporters of a new disc of Purcell songs which Rowan Pierce is recording with William Carter and Richard Egarr (harpsichord).

Rowan sang a range of Purcell songs from the well known, such as Music for a while, Sweeter than roses, O Solitude and The Evening Hymn, to lesser known ones such as O lead me to some peaceful gloom and the charming Knotting song. It was a great pleasure to hear these song in a relatively intimate setting. William Carter also treated us to a pair of Dowland lute pieces, the Lachrymae pavan and Fortune my foe.

Rowan Pierce has popped up a few times on this blog in 2017, she won The Grange Festival International Singing Competition, as well as taking the Song Prize [see my article], sang Iris in Handel's Semele with Christophe Rousset and the Academy of Ancient Music [see my article], and sang in Handel's Israel in Egypt with William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Proms [see my article] and Handel's Jephtha from the London Festdival of Baroque Music with Stephen Layton and the Academy of Ancient Music [see my article]. She is one of the Academy of Ancient Music's Rising Stars so expect to be hearing more of her in 2018

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Vale of Glamorgan Festival

Ewenny Priory
Ewenny Priory
This year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival runs from 9 - 16 May 2018 with concerts in the Vale of Glamorgan, including St David's Hall and Hoddinnot in Cardiff, to Penarth Pier Pavilion and Ewenny Priory. The focus this year is on the music of the Danish composer Bent Sørensen, with his works being spread across the festival in six concerts. The festival opens with Alexandre Bosch conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in programme which includes Bent Sorensen's Trumpet Concerto and music by Thierry Escaich and Qigang Chen. Qigang Chen is a Chinese composer who trained with Messiaen, and his Jiang Tcheng Tse (For the Sake of Art) is receiving its European premiere, the work having been co-commissioned by the festival.

Also at the festival there is solo cello music from Alice Neary, music for flute and piano from Jose Zalba Smith & Jan Willem Nelleke, solo piano music from Ivan Illic, music for flute and piano from Matthew Jones and Annable Thwaite, plus two concerts from the Danish group Ensemble MidVest. Composers featured in the festival include David Roche, John Metcalf, Helen Woods and many more.

Full information from the Vale of Glamorgan festival website.

'Always on my mind' from a Slovenian youth orchestra

A delightful video that I was sent over the Christmas period, features Wayne Carson, Johnny Christopher, & Mark James' Always on my mind arranged for solo trombone and orchestra by Marjan Peternel, played by trombonist Matjaž Kafol and the 2017 Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra conducted by Nejc Bečan. The item comes from one of two sell-out concerts that that the orchestra gave at Gallus Hall, Cankarjev doma, Ljubljana, Slovenia, in December 2017. The video director is Primož Zevnik.

The orchestra is a youth orchestra, based at the Gimnazija Kranj,  which is a school in Slovenia.

Kyrie - The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, in Poulenc, Kodaly and Janacek

Kyrie - Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha - Signum
Poulenc, Kodaly, Janacek; Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 13 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Three striking 20th century works setting sacred texts on this disc from St John's

Andrew Nethsingha and the Choir of St John's College, Cambridge have put together a programme of 20th century music to sacred texts on his disc on the St John's imprint on Signum, with Francis Poulenc's Mass in G, Zoltan Kodaly's Missa Brevis and Leos Janacek's Otcenas.

None of the works was written for a choir of boys and men, and for all the frequency that the Poulenc and the Kodaly crop up in collegiate choirs, this change in focus and timbres produces some striking new reflections on the pieces.

Having last heard the Poulenc on The Sixteen's recent recording [see my review], that from Andrew Nethsingha and his choir highlights some striking differences. There is a transparency, delicacy and clarity to the textures on this disc, arising from the sound of the trebles on the top line. Yet it is not undernourished, there is a wiry strength too. The solo treble lines might seem to be just a thread, but rhythms are punchy and there is a wonderful edge to the more jagged harmonies. There is lightness and control, but steel too in the Sanctus & Benedictus, and the beautiful thread of solo treble at the opening of the Agnus Dei leads to a magical ending.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Irish National Opera launches

Irish National Opera logo
Whilst most opera lovers have heard of the Wexford Festival, opera provision in the Irish Republic during the rest of the year has proved a little uneven over the years. Perhaps making a virtue out of necessity, the Irish Arts Council has create Irish National Opera by merging existing companies; the first time that there has been a national opera company Ireland. Irish National Opera launched this week with a gala concert in Dublin, and has announced a striking series of plans.

For the remainder of this season there is Mary Plazas in a touring production Thomas Ades' Powder Her Face, and then Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro staged by Patrick Mason with Tara Erraught, Jonathan Lemalu, Ben McAteer, Máire Flavin and Suzanne Murphy; the company's first full production, it will be presented in Wexford and Dublin. In the Summer, Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice is presented in association with the Galway International Festival, with Sharon Carty as Orfeo, directed by Emma Martin.

In the Autumn, Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s The Second Violinist is revived at the Barbican Centre in London, and there is a touring production of Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann, then Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, and Verdi's Aida conducted by Fergus Sheil (who is artistic director of the company) with Orla Boylan and Gwynne Hughes Jones as Aida and Radames.

2018 sees the company touring to 13 venues in Ireland, and it is looking to increase this to 26 venues by 2019. The ambition is also to broaden the repertoire, as well as looking to stage Wagner's Ring Cycle in Dublin for the first time since 1913!.

Full details from the Irish National Opera website.

Carter's Double Concerto from the Riot Ensemble

The Riot Ensemble
The Riot Ensemble is giving a rare performance of Elliott Carter's Double Concerto at LSO St Luke's on Friday 12 January 2018. The ensemble will be joined by soloists Adam Swayne (piano) and Goska Isphording (harpsichord) for the Carter concerto. This was written in 1961 and premiered by harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick and pianist Charles Rosen (who described the work as "Carter's most brilliantly attractive and apparently most complex work"); in the work Carter divides the orchestra into two groups each led by one of the soloists.

The Riot Ensemble will be pairing the work with two works by two emerging American composers, Molly Joyce, one of seven composers chosen in the ensembles 2017 Call for Scores, will have a world premiere of a new work, and there will be the UK Premiere of Pierce Gradone’s To Paint Their Madness.

Full details from the Riot Ensemble website.

Allan Clayton and James Baillieu in recital at the Wigmore Hall

Allan Clayton (photo Laura Harling)
Allan Clayton (photo Laura Harling)
Purcell (realised Britten), Schubert, Schumann: Kerner Lieder; Allan Clayton, James Baillieu; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 10 2018 Star rating: 4.0
Allan Clayton brings questing intelligence and great lyrical beauty, supported by James Baillieu's fine partnership

The tenor Allan Clayton was joined by pianist James Baillieu for a much anticipated recital at the Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 9 January 2017. Their programme was quite a classic one, with groups of songs by Purcell and by Schubert, then Schumann's Kerner Lieder, Op.35.  The Purcell songs were sung in Britten's realisations, and included A Morning Hymn, An Evening Hymn, Music for a While, There's not a swain on the plain and In the Black Dismal Dungeon of Despair. The Schubert group consisted of Ganymed D544, Schäfers Klagelied D121, Wandrers Nachtlied II D768, Auf dem See D543, Erster Verlust D226, and Willkommen und Abschied D767.

James Baillieu (photo Kaupo Kikkas)
James Baillieu (photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Allan Clayton scored significant personal success this Summer with his performances in the title role of Brett Dean's opera Hamlet at Glyndebourne, and there is a large-scale element to his lyric tenor voice which, combined with his somewhat larger-than-life stage persona, meant that he filled the Wigmore Hall effortlessly, creating a remarkable buzz in the auditorium (with an audience including many young people). But whilst climaxes in the songs showed the sheer power of Clayton's voice, this was something held in reserve, and he revelled in the hall's ability to allow a singer to capture an audience with a simple thread of sound.

Clayton has a profoundly beautiful voice, but he certainly did not coast along on the back of this and throughout the recital you were aware of his constant searching for expressive devices and details. Perhaps not everything worked perfectly and there was sometimes something rather deliberate about his phrasing, but you sensed that this was a singer who was restlessly questing rather than simply presenting an unquestioning approach to standard repertoire.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Introduction to Opera: Verdi, Wagner & After

My Introduction to Opera: Verdi, Wagner & After lectures for The Course at the University Women's Club in Mayfair, start this week.

For this week we have Opera:What to listen for, a run down on how opera developed and how it is constructed. Music by Monteverdi, Mozart, Rossini and Verdi.

Further information from The Course website.

Gwilym Simcock joins the Northern Chamber Orchestra for a celebratory jazz-influenced evening

Gwilym Simcock
Gwilym Simcock
The Northern Chamber Orchestra's 50th anniversary season continues on 12 January 2018 when the orchestra is joined by Gwilym Simcock for a concert at The Stoller Hall, Manchester, the new concert hall at Chetham's School of Music. 

Simcock's music spans the classical and jazz fields, and for the concert Simcock and the orchestra will be playing his Cumbrian Thaw for piano and strings, alongside his arrangement of Debussy's Children's Corner. The programme is completed by Tippett's Sellinger’s Round and Haydn's Symphony No 85 ‘La Reine’.

Simcock is an alumnus of  Chetham's School of Music, and young musicians from the school will be rehearsing with him and the orchestra and joining the performance of Children's Corner.

Further information from the Stoller Hall website.

Undeservedly neglected: Rimsky-Korsakov romances from Sergey Rybin, Anush Hovhannisyan, Yuriy Yurchuk

Rimsky-Korsakov Romances - Stone Records
Rimsky-Korsakov Romances; Anush Hovhannisyan, Yuriy Yurchuk, Sergey Rybin; Stone Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Lesser known parts of Rimsky-Korsakov's repertoire reveal themselves in this valuable recording

There is one song on this new disc from Stone Records which is familiar, Rimsky-Korsakov's The Rose enchants the Nightingale; I think I first heard it performed in the 1970s by Cathy Berberian. But the remainder of the disc is remarkably new territory. Pianist Sergey Rybin, together with soprano Anush Hovhannisyan and baritone Yuriy Yurchuk present a selection of Rimsky-Korsakov's Romances.

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote 79 romances in all, and here we have settings of Aleksey Tolstoy, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Pushkin and others with subjects ranging from nature and man's place in it, to the fantastical and fairy tales, and of course the oriental.

The style is principally melodic. In a letter of 1897 Rimsky-Korsakov explained "I think that in their requests for melodiousness, singability and expansiveness, singers and the public at large are right ... short melodies, fragmentation, music departing from harmonies and demand for dissonances - are things in themselves undesirable." and later in the same letter, "pure melody ... has to remain alive for without it the fate of music is decadence".

Monday, 8 January 2018

Celebrating the centenary of The Planets

The London Schools Symphony Orchestra
The London Schools Symphony Orchestra
It is 100 years since the first performance of Gustav Holst's The Planets and the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) is marking the anniversary with a concert at the Barbican. Conducted by Sir Richard Armstrong the orchestra will play Holst's The Planets along with Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, to be performed by soprano Louise Alder who is an LSSO alumnus.

Holst's The Planets had quite a long genesis, it was composed between 1914-1916. Because of the war, the pieces were first tried out in a version for two pianos and the first orchestral performance in 1918 was in fact to an invited audience at the Queen's Hall. There also is a particular link between the LSSO and The Planets, Holst composed the work whilst he was musical director at Morley College, the present-day home of the LSSO.

Founded in 1951, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra is a symphony orchestra drawn from students in London schools, and the orchestra gives three concerts per year at the Barbican.

Louise Alder Young Singer of the Year at the 2017 International Opera Awards and taking the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Full details from the Barbican website.

A very personal sense of communication: Christopher Purves in Handel with Arcangelo

Christopher Purves (Photo Chris Gloag)
Christopher Purves (Photo Chris Gloag)
Handel arias, concerti grossi and overtures; Christopher Purves, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 7 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Christopher Purves in fine form in this programme of Handel's bass arias

Christopher Purves, Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo have recorded a follow-up to their 2012 disc of Handel arias on Hyperion, with a further disc of Handel's bass arias to be released later this year. In celebration of this, Christopher Purves joined Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo at Milton Court concert hall on Sunday 7 January 2018 for an all Handel programme. 

The arias were drawn both from the 2012 disc and the new one so that we heard 'Sibilar gli angui d'Aletto' from Rinaldo,  'Gelido in ogni veno' from Siroe, 'Opprest with never ceasing grief' from Belshazzar, 'Ah, canst thou but prove me' from Athalia, 'O ruddier than the cherry' from Acis and Galatea, 'Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori' from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, 'Racks, gibbets, sword and fire' from Theodora, 'How art thou fall'n' and 'Turn, not O Queen' from Esther. The orchestra also played the overtures from Agrippina and Theodora, the Concerto Grosso in D major Op.6 no.5 and Concerto Grosso in F major, Op.3 no.4.

The programme took the familiar form of alternating groups of arias with the orchestral pieces, though in each half we started with arias and Christopher Purves never left the platform, sitting at the side during the orchestral items listening actively. In fact, it is a format which is surprisingly difficult to bring off well. Many of the arias were designed to provide a form of emotional release following the tension generated during the preceding recitative, and without any preparation it can be tricky to understand the context. Excellent details were provided in the programme book, but the combination of the small point size of the printing and low light levels meant that this could only be consulted after the event. So, it says much for the highly communicative nature of Christopher Purves performance that so many of the items had significant impact.

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