Friday, 4 September 2015

Prom 65: Alice Coote's Being Both - a missed opportunity

Alice Coote
Alice Coote
Being Both, music from Handel's Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Hercules, Messiah, Semele, Theodora; Alice Coote, The English Concert, Harry Bicket; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 04 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote's vibrant if wayward musical performance
 
Alice Coote's late-night appearance at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 5 September 2015 was a version of her show Being Both with premiered at the Brighton Festival earlier this year (to mixed reviews, see Rupert Christiansen's review on the Telegraph website). Accompanied by Harry Bicket and the English Concert, Alice Coote sang arias from Handel's Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Herculese, Messiah, Semele and Theodora, with a staging directed by Susannah Waters with choreography by Christopher Tudor. It was billed as an exploration of gender and sexuality, based on the fact that as a female singer Alice Coote is asked to incarnate both male and female characters when singing roles in Handel operas and oratorios.

This is a potentially fascinating subject, but I am not sure that Alice Coote and Susannah Waters show actually enlightened us in any way. The stage action seems to have been simplified somewhat from the full show, which may go some way to explaining my puzzlement with the concept. Dressed all in black, with jacket and trousers, but looking every inch female, Alice Coote opened by singing a few lines from Myself I shall adore from Handel's Semele, unaccompanied and transposed down somewhat. She followed this with an account of Sta nell'Ircana from Alcina performed stood on a box and accompanied by a gestural language which cropped up repeatedly in the show. These gestures seemed to be intended to be of significance, including as they did phallic gestures and whatever the opposite female gesture might be called. Frankly I found it puzzling and distracting.

The show continued in this vein, with a strong sense of a dramaturgical flow which I could not quite fathom, as if Alice Coote was telling a story which I could not grasp. Singing He was despised from Messiah whilst apparently lying in a bath, and playing with a razor seemed only one of the more puzzling elements. The result was a staging which seemed a little self-indulgent even if deeply felt, and this was not helped by the fact that Alice Coote's musical performance was similarly idiosyncratic.

Tempos were often a bit wayward, and she has a tendency to pull the music about in a way which can seem rather old-fashioned (or refreshingly non-historically informed, depending on one's point of view). There is no doubt of her strong technical command, but this is combined with a very idiosyncratic sense of style, so that some moments had me gasping with amazement whilst others induced profound annoyance. The audience, however, was clearly sympathetic in the main and the end of the 75 minute show was greeted with rapturous applause.

Sta nell'Ircana (Alcina) was beautifully, if lightly done with a lovely even tone even if some of the phrasing seemed slightly too 19th century in style for my taste and she was accompanied by some superb horn playing. Resign thy club (Hercules) was finely sung but as Alice Coote prowled around the stage her voice tended to come and go (always a problem in the Royal Albert Hall) and words disappeared, there was also a hint of unevenness in the passagework.

Scherza infida (Ariodante) was sung with a beautiful shape to the phrases and rich tone. It was deeply felt though this did mean that the tempo slowed somewhat. The bassoon obbligato was simply fabulous, with a lovely nutty tone. Oh, that I on wings could rise (Theodora) was sung with high bright tone, but the light intimate style of singing meant that it was not always well projected. This was one of a trio of soprano arias which Coote included in the show, demonstrating the wide range of her voice (though I have no knowledge of whether any transpositions were applied).

The orchestra got so show off their paces finely in the ballet music from Act 2 of Ariodante which concluded with Ginevra's short yet dramatic recit. This led into the performance of He was despised (Messiah) referred to above, which was musically strong with lovely straight tone and strongly felt meaning, allied to the sort of tempo which Kathleen Ferrier would have been used to.

Myself I shall adore, the solo soprano aria from Semele, was finally sung in full though Alice Coote started this unaccompanied and the instruments gradually joined her. Any joy in the musical performance however, was distracted by the rather over dramatic use of a torch. This was followed by another soprano aria, Se pieta  which is Cleopatra's aria from Giulio Cesare. Rather annoyingly the programme said little about the inclusion of these soprano arias,  though Cleopatra is a role that has been sung by Cecilia Bartoli.

Dopo notte from Ariodante was simply stunning in terms of the vocal control which Alice Coote showed, though starting the aria up-stage did mean that the opening was slightly rocky in terms of ensemble. Her performance was not the conventional bravura, even though all the notes were certainly there, but was quietly intense and internal. After all the virtuoso showing off, we finished with the quiet contemplation of There, in myrtle shades from Hercules with the solo cellist coming forward to sit next to Alice Coote on stage.

This show seemed rather like a missed opportunity; there is much to explore in the subject of gender, sexuality and Handel's characters, but it did not feel as if these interesting questions were really being addressed. However, Alice Coote is never a boring performer and there was much to enjoy in this show. But I am not sure that the stage action contributed to our enjoyment of the arias and Coote's personality is such that a simple concert performance would have been equally mesmerising, and possibly more vivid. She was accompanied throughout with discreet poise by Harry Bicket and the English Concert.

The Prom is available on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days. This review also appears in OperaToday.com.

Being Both: music from Handel's Alcina, Ariodante, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Hercules, Messiah, Semele and Theodora
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
The English Concert; Harry Bicket (conductor)
Susannah Waters (stage director); Christopher Tudor (movement director)
BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall; 3 September 2015

Elsewhere on this blog:
from Longborough's young artists - opera review
  • Home
  • Thursday, 3 September 2015

    Opera Acts: Singers and Performance in the Late Nineteeth Century

    Opera acts - Karen Henson
    Karen Henson; Opera Acts: Singers and Performance in the Late Nineteeth Century; Cambridge University Press
    Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 31 2015
    Star rating: 4.0

    Fascinating account of opera singing in the late 19th century, focussing on four key singers and the physicality of their performances

    The late 19th century is often regarded as a low-point in operatic singing, the singers falling into a gap between the last generation to work collaboratively with composers (such as Giuditta Pasta with Bellini), and the 20th century singers whose career was defined by the recording process. But I have long been fascinated by such figures as Celestine Galli-Marie who created the role of Bizet's Carmen, about whom a great deal of myth and legend as accumulated, and Jean de Reske whose repertoire ranged from Gounod's Romeo and Wagner's Tristan (in the same season). So I was eager to see this new study in Cambridge University Press's series Cambridge Studies in Opera, Karen Henson's Opera Acts: Singers and Performance in the Late Nineteeth Century in which she explores opera singing in the 1880's and 1890's. 

    Baritone Victor Maurel and Verdi
    Baritone Victor Maurel and Verdi
    Starting from Verdi's phrase 'not singing' ('che ... non cantasse') which he used about Lady Macbeth, Henson looks at how singers were hemmed by a generation of composers who expected to have a greater degree of control over exactly what the singer did, and so the singers expressed themselves in other ways. By exploring in detail four singers of the period (along with eight 'supporting cast'). Karen Henson looks at how singers used physicality as a way of personal expression. This wasn't naturalism as we think of it, but an emphasis on physicality. The four singers in question each had a major relationship with a contemporary composer, though judging from contemporary reports none of the four had spectacular voices. It was in their physical acting, their presence (singing physignomically in Henson's phrase) that they expressed the drama of the music. The four singers are baritone Victor Maurel who created Iago in Verdi's Otello and the title role in Falstaff, mezzo-soprano Celestine Galli-Marie who created the title role in Bizet's Carmen, soprano Sybil Sanderson for whom Massenet wrote a number of roles including the title role in Thais and tenor Jean de Reske who played an important role in singing Wagner.

    Sybil Sanderson as Massenet's Esclarmonde
    Sybil Sanderson
    as Massenet's Esclarmonde
    Writing about such singers is difficult, Karen Henson has had to do a great deal of archive digging, and has to rely on contemporary descriptions. For much of the time she is not addressing the subject directly but what she terms 'prowling around'. A case in point is Wagner tenor Jean de Reske who converted from a baritone, yet still sang Gounod's Romeo and Wagner's Tristan. Karen Henson has to rely on unsatisfactory descriptions and has to make an educated best guess as to what he sounded like.

    This is very much an academic book (Karen Henson is Associate Professor at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami), and her writing style reflects this in not always being the easiest of reads, and to appreciate the arguments you have to read copious quotes from contemporary descriptions. But it is worth pursuing, the arguments and information are completely fascinating.

    Celestine Galli-Marie as
    Bizet's Carmen
    Though Verdi denied Victor Maurel a part in creating the roles that he premiered, Maurel's profoundly actorly approach clearly had a strong influence on the composer. Karen Henson starts with Victor Maurel's assumption of a major French role, Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet, and then the first French performances of Aida to discover how Victor Maurel approached roles and comes to a strong conclusion about his importance to Verdi's later composing career.

    Celestine Galli-Marie's role in creating Carmen in Bizet's opera is the stuff of legend, but Karen Henson argues that it was not naturalism/realism that the singer brought to the role but a sense of theatricality. This was based on her background in a performing family (her father was an opera singer, her sisters performed in operetta and cafe-concerts), and a history of intervening visually (costumes, gestures) in the way characters were performed on stage. Interestingly, Celestine Galli-Marie seems to have had quite a light voice, so by the time you have read Karen Henson's chapter on her the image of a Carmen with a rich dark voice and heavily realistic acting is well and truly scotched.

    The soprano Sybil Sanderson had a long relationship with Massenet (he had a tendency to become enamoured of female singers and write roles for them). With Sybil Sanderson, Massenet not only wrote the music but seems to have influenced (controlled?) her visual image including numbers cartes de visites. Whilst it is easy to think of Sybil Sanderson as a purely passive receptacle, Karen Hansen argues for her far more active involvement in the visual presentation (of photographs and of the operas).

    Jean de Reske as Wagner's Siegfried
    Jean de Reske as
    Wagner's Siegfried
    Polish tenor Jean de Reske came from a theatrical family, both his brother Edouard and sister Josephine were singers. He is the only one our quartet for whom an aural record exists, a distant shadow on a Mapleson cylinder from the New York Met. Jean de Reske started out as a lyric baritone and then retrained as a tenor. This re-training seems to have involved not developing power (as happened with heldentenor Lauritz Melchoir who started as a baritone), but in creating flexibility in the voice's upper register. He never seems to have had a superb voice, but he succeeded in being able to suggest the necessary lightness of Gounod's Romeo, whilst also singing Wagner. He brought seriousness to this, and it is in the actorly details, a sense of the words and declamation that he impressed. You sense that some passages were almost spoken and he certainly does not seem to have had a voice which could ride the greatest tide of the orchestra. Other commentators refer to being able to hear the pitch! Partly this is in response to the fact that in the 1890's, Wagner's operas were regarded as being forbidding and unperformable and Jean de Reske played an important role in internationalising performances, combining elements of both German and Italian traditions along with an emphasis on non-musical elements.

    Karen Henson concludes the book with a short look at the careers of Emma Calve (the second Carmen), Victor Capoul Jean-Baptiste Faure, Marie Heilbron, Paul Lherie (the first Don Jose), Paole Marie (Celestine Galli-Marie's sister) and Jean de Reske's siblings, Edouard and Josephine. The result is to provide a fascinating patchwork of image of how singers of the period made their mark in both singing and 'not singing'.

    I doubt that this book is the last word on the subject, but it is certainly a fascinating contribution to the debate about singers of the recent past. It is a wonderful corrective to the rose-tinted spectacle view of early performers. Reading Karen Henson really makes you think about what those audiences in the 1880's and 1890's actually heard and saw, and how much control the singer involved had.


    Jean de Reske recorded at the Met in New York in 1901 on a Mapleson Cylinder.

    Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Home
  • Wednesday, 2 September 2015

    The byways of French Romantic music with the Palazzetto Bru Zane

    Palazzetto Bru Zane
    The Palazzetto Bru Zane, Centre de musique romantique Francaise, has released its 2015/16 programme and for anyone interested in the forgotten byways of French 19th century music then the season is full of delights. Though to call the works in the programme byways is unfair, as much of the French music which Palazzetto Bru Zane champions was highly popular in its day. As ever, the organisation's live concerts are linked to recordings, so you can expect to see recordings. And as the release this year of a CD of Saint-Saens opera La Barbares showed us, there are plenty of hidden gems. The 2015/16 season examine the work of two composers, Edouard Lalo and Benjamin Godard, whose output particularly their operas enable us to examine the influence of Wagner on French opera. In addition there is a chance to hear an opera by one of the founders of the early 19th century French style, Gaspare Spontini.

    The music of Edouard Lalo is hardly a forgotten byway, but whilst a handful of works get exposure his operas less so. Le Roi d'Ys does get the occasional outing, rather more in the French speaking world than in the UK, but his final opera La Jacquerie will be a new experience for most. Completed after Lalo's death, it was premiered in Monte Carlo in 1895. Patrick Devin conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de France with Veronique Gens as Blanche, Charles Castronovo and Edgaras Montvidas sharing the role of Robert. The first concert performance was at Opera Berlioz Montpellier last month, and it is repeated in Paris, at the Auditorium of Radio France, on 11 March 2016. The opera is accompanied by a festival in Venice, a cycle of eight concerts from 26 September to 10 November 2015 encompassing Lalo's chamber music, the Violin Concerto gets a rare UK outing when Jeremie Rhorer conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra with James ehnes in the solo part, at the Royal Festival Hall on 10 December 2015. A recording of Lalo's complete melodies is being released on the Aparte label in Octobr, and the complete orchestral concertante works come out on disc, on Alpha Classics, with Jean-Jacques Kantorow conducting the Orchestra Philharmonique Royal de Liege, in February 2016.

    Benjamin Godard
    Benjamin Godard
    If the name Benjamin Godard means anything to you, it is for the Berceuse from his opera Jocelyn (1888). But he had an extensive career including six operas. His opera Dante, based on the life of the Renaissance poet, was premiered in 1890 at the Opera Comique in Paris. There are concert performances at the PrinzRegentenTheater in Munich (31 January 2016), and the Opera Royal de Versailles (2 February 2016) with Ulf Schirmer conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus, with Edgaras Montvidas as Dante and Veronique Gens as Beatrice. For these performances a new edition of the opera has been made, base on the composer's autograph.  A varied selection of Godard's works will be presented at the Palazzetto Bru Zane's festival in Venice from 9 April to 15 May 2016. And there are excerpts from two of his symphonies in concert at Studio 1 im Funkhaus, Munich (20 September 2015).

    The work of Gaspare Spontini was much admired by Berlioz, and Spontini's La Vestale has vestigial hold on the repertory (albeit often in the Italian translation). But his opera L'Olympie was premiered 1819 at the Academie Royale de Musique, Paris (the body which became the Paris Opera), though is is little known nowadays (Gerd Albrecht recorded it on the Orfeo label in 1984). There is a chance to catch up when Jeremie Rhorer conducts Le Cercle de l'Harmonie at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on Friday 3 June 2016, with Karina Gauvin as Olympie and Charles Castronovo as Cassandre. The performance is part of a Palazzetto Bru Zane festival in Paris (3 June to 9 June 2016) which includes a lovely overview of French romantic music with performers including Marie-Nicole Lemieux in French song, and Quatuor Mosaique in quartets by Godard, Gounod and Debussy.

    There is a lot more besides, and you can find full details on their website, bru-zane.com. The organisation is also highly active publishing, and they have now set up a website (bruznemediabase.com)combining articles, visual images and documents to make them more widely available. You can read more about the Palazzetto Bru Zane in my article about their programme of French piano music at the Institut Francais earlier this year.

    Tuesday, 1 September 2015

    A new world of colour and drama - Mozart: Stolen Beauties

    Mozart: Stolen Beauties
    Chamber music with French horn by Mozart, Michael Haydn and Punto; Anneke Scott, Ironwood, ABC Classics
    Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 12 2015
    Star rating: 4.0

    Vivid colour and bravura technique

    This new disc on the Australian label ABC Classics comes from horn player Anneke Scott and the Australian period instrument ensemble Ironwood, and it takes Mozart's Quintet in E flat major for horn, violin, two violas and cello, KV487/386c and pairs it with a group of works from the early 19th century showcasing the development of horn playing during this period, with the use of added valve blocks utilising a technique which mixes hand-horn and valve techniques. The other main items on the disc are nearly all in fact arrangements of Mozart with an anonymous Ari varie pour corno (sur 'La ci darem la mano') and Barham Livius's Concertante for pianoforte, horn, viola and violoncello arranged from a Sonata by Mozart (Trio in E flat marjo, KV498 Kegelstatt), plus Michael Haydn's Romance in A flat major for horn and string quartet MH806 which is a version of the slow movement of Mozart's Horn Concerto in E-flat major, KV447. Also on the disc are a group of duos by the 19th century horn virtuoso Giovanni Punto.

    Anneke Scott - photo credit Sophie Raymond
    Anneke Scott - photo credit Sophie Raymond
    Anneke Scott has recently spent some time exploring the early 19th century natural horn techniques used in Paris notably with music by Jacques-Francois Gallay (see my review of her most recent disc). Whilst the Parisian horn players eschewed valves in favour of entirely hand techniques, other countries adopted the new technology. On this disc Anneke Scott plays a natural horn made in Paris in 1835 to which has been added a sauterelle, a detachable block with two valves. So the player has the combination of hand stopping techniques and valves at their disposal. A key factor in the choosing of this horn was the existence of Barham Livius's own horn, now in the Horniman Collection in London, which has just such a sauterelle and his arrangement of the Mozart Kegestatt Trio uses both hand and valve techniques. For the remaining works on the disc, Anneke Scott played the horn with the sauterelle removed, using purely hand stopping techniques. There is a fascinating video on YouTube where she discusses this (see below).

    The use of hand stopping techniques on a natural horn to produce the chromatic notes results in a lovely array of different sounds as the horn traverses the chromatic scale. This, combined with the very different sound world created by the fortepiano (a Viennese action one after Anton Walter, c 1790) and the use of late 18th century style bows which come between baroque and modern style, means that even the familiar music on the disc inhabits a pungent sound-world which we are not always used to.

    Sunday, 30 August 2015

    Bela Bartok's quartets at Kings Place

    Bela Bartok
    In 1949/50 season the South Place Sunday Concerts Society gave the first complete cycle of Bela Bartok's quartets in the UK. It was a radical piece of programming in pot-war Britain. The concerts were performed by the Hurwitz, Aeolian, Blech, Amadeus and Martin quartets, and coupled one of Bartók's six quartets with a quartet from Beethoven's first cycle of six quartets in the Op.18 set, published in 1800, and one of Mozart’s mature quartets. Bartok's quartets, written between 1908 and 1939, are some of the seminal works of the 20th century.

    To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Bartok's death, in New York in September 1945, the Chilingirian Quartet will be re-constructing the cycle at Kings Place starting 8 November 2015. Further information from the Kings Place website.

    Saturday, 29 August 2015

    An Avila diary, singing Victoria and Vivanco with Peter Phillips

    Participants from the Zenobia Musica course in Avila, conducted by Peter Phillips, in Avila Cathedral - photo Avfotos.com
    Participants from the Zenobia Musica course performing in Avila,
    conducted by Peter Phillips, in Avila Cathedral - photo Avfotos.com
    We are a group of around four dozen singers, mixed nationalities including Spanish, French, Swiss, Hungarian, British and Italian. We are rehearsing in the Residencia of the Monastery of San Tomas in Avila, Spain; the Residencia is an island of 1950's style in a very historic location, a monastery where the Kings and Queens of Spain stayed and where the son of Ferdinand and Isabella (The Catholic Monarchs) buried. The Residencia is our home for five days and we have just under three days to perfect a programme of triple choir music by Victoria and Vivanco before Peter Phillips (of The Tallis Scholars) comes in to rehearse us for concerts in Avila Cathedral and at the nearby town of Las Navas.


    The walls of Avila - photo David Hughes
    The walls of Avila - photo David Hughes
    The course is organised by Zenobia Musica who run such courses in Avila and Madrid, and it is led by Rupert Damerell, an English organist and conductor who is based in Madrid, and the English conductor and composer Alexander Campkin. It is their task to prepare us for our final rehearsals with Peter Phillips, who will conduct us in Victoria's motet Laetatus Sum, Missa Laetatus Sum and Magnificat Sexti Toni and Vivanco's motets Christus Factus Est and Pater Dimitte

    We are a varied group, students, accountants, aerospace engineers, bloggers on vacation, choral conductors getting a taste of life the other side of the baton, all united in a love of the music of Vittoria, who was born in Avila and sang in the cathedral as a child.

    In the courtyard of the Residencia the day's rehearsal is preceded by a 30 minute warm up, though perhaps this is a misnomer as the sun is already warm and people seek what shade there is. Meals are taken in the refectory, which leads off one of the cloisters (there are three, including the cloister of silence, and the Royal cloister). The refectory is a rather amazing room with an elaborate 18th (or 19th century) plaster ceiling and an alarming looking (and thankfully unused) pulpit. Meals are basic but plentiful, served by rather energetic if humourless ladies, the whole event rather reminding me of University days. And in fact, during term time the Residencia serves as a hall of residence.

    Friday, 28 August 2015

    Handel House Talent and Composer-in-Residence showcases

    Handel House Talent
    The members of Handel House Talent
    The first year of the Handel House Talent scheme is coming to an end, with the young instrumentalists and singers performing, researching and collaborating at the Handel House Museum and there is a final chance to hear them during September and October. There is also a chance to hear the results of composer Edwin Hillier's residency. And a final festive showcase for all of them at St George's Church, Hanover Square.


    Edwin Hillier
    Edwin Hillier
    The members of the Handel House Talent scheme are all giving final recitals, with some collaborations too. Caoimhe de Paor (recorder) performs lesser known Dutch composers and Vivaldi (10 September), Elspeth Robertson (recorders) and Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord) perform music from the Medieval through to 20th century and avant garde (17 September), George Ross (cello) and Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) perform Italian music by Boccherini, Geminiani, Evaristo Felice dall'Abaco and Domenico Gabrielli, Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) and Johan Lovfing (theorbo) explore music written in the reign of Louis XIII (1 October), Cathy Bell (mezzo-soprano) and Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) explore music inspired by Orlando Furioso (8 October), Katarzyna Kowalik (harpsichord) looks at the more imaginative baroque pleasures in The Secret Garden (15 October), and Caoimhe de Paor and Elspeth Robertson are participating in masterclasses with Peter Holtslag (3 September).

    Composer in residence Edwin Hillier has programmed a series of concerts. He collaborates with Tre Voci cello ensemble performing transcriptions of medieval and renaissance vocal music, improvisations and new music including one of Hillier's pieces (19 November). The Hermes Experiment will be performing music from Handel's time to the present including a new work by Dublin-based composer Elis Czerniak (22 November). Carla Rees (alto/bass flute) and Michael Oliva (electronics) from Rarescale will perform contemporary and baroque music including a new piece by Chinese-Swedish composer Weiwei Jin (26 November). The new music group, explorensemble will be performing music by Romitelli and Stockhausen and a new commission from Oliver Christophe Leith (26 November).

    On Thursday 10 December at St George's Church, Hanover Square there is a Festive Showcase when the Handel House Talent members will all perform, there will be a new piece from Edwin Hillier.

    To coincide with the exhibition Handel: A Life with Friends, there is a walking tour with curator Ellen Harris, Visiting Handel's Neighbours (20 September), and Ellen Harris will also be giving an illustrated lecture (28 November).

    Joshua Bell and Sir Neville Marriner with Academy of St Martin in the Fields

    Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
    Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
    Joshua Bell celebrates his fifth season as music director of Academy of St Martin in the Fields, performing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (with Prokofiev and Mozart symphonies), and Brahms's Double Concerto (with cellist Stephen Isserlis, with Dvorak, Beethoven and Schumann arranged Britten), and the orchestra's founder Sir Neville Marriner returns to conduct Mozart and Bizet, with pianist Till Fellner. 

    The music director of the New York Phiharmonic, Alan Gilbert, conducts Brahms, Beethoven and Haydn with pianist Inon Barnatan. Academy principals and a former principal, double bass Leon Bosch, viola Robert Smissen, and cellist Stephen Orton perform John Woolrich's new piece To the Silver Bow with Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. The Academy Chamber Ensemble will be performing Rossini, Mozart, Schubert, Prokofiev, Dohnanyi and Brahms. 

    Further information from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields website.

    Thursday, 27 August 2015

    RE:Imagine: City of London Sinfonia in 2015/2016

    RE:Imagine
    The 2015/2016 season RE:Imagine from the City of London Sinfonia (CLS) combines re-imagined works and premieres of new interpretations, as well as giving the promise of immersive musical experiences. There is music from Vienna, Paris, Vienna and England in a highly varied programme which has a thread of Bach arrangements running through it.

    At Southwark Cathedral, CLS conducted by Stephen Layton present Venice:Darkness to Light (14 October 2015) which combines Bach's arrangement of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with Elin Manahan Thomas, a Vivaldi concerto arranged by Bach with Stephen Farr with a new Bach arrangement by Ugis Praulins, plus John Adams' Black Gondola his re-interpretation of Liszt, and Stravinsky's re-imagining of Pergolesi in Pulcinella.

    The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre is the venue for The Viennese Salon on 24 January 2016 in which Michael Collins directs Franz Hasenorl's arrangement of Richard Strauss's Til Eulenspiegel, Collin Matthews' interpretation of Berg's Four pieces for Clarinet, David Matthew's arrangement of Strauss' Capriccio. There will be songs from Dame Felicity Lott, and new Bach arrangements by David Matthews. There will also be Kafe und Kuchen and the possibility of a waltzing lesson.

    On 20 April 2016, Stephen Layton conducts Roderick Williams, Helen Charlston, the Holst Singers and Southwark Cathedral Girls Choir in Paris Reflected at Southwark Cathedral with music by Debussy, Ravel, Faure, and Bach plus Durufle's Requiem and an arrangement of Bach by Charlotte Bray. There is also a wine-tasting of French wines. Roderick Willliams joins Stephen Layton and CLS again on 9 March 2016 for a celebration of English song with muic by RVW, Gerald Finzi's arrangement of Ivor Gurney, Arnold's arrangement of Walton and Roderick Williams' own arrangement of Bach.

    For CLoSer, their informal concert series at Village Underground, there is a celebration of dance with music by Debussy, arranged by Schoenberg, and Copland accompanied by live dance, plus Bach; cello suites transcribed for clarinet and performed by Michael Collins on 22 September 2015, and Mahler's Song of the Earth in a chamber arrangement with Anna Huntley and Gwilym Bowen and Luke Styles arrangement of Bach on 17 February 2016.

    Tuesday, 25 August 2015

    Hawks, Horses and Peterborough Sings!

    Errolyn Wallen
    Errolyn Wallen's new work Hawks and Horses setting Shakespeare is premiered on 30 August 2015 (at 6pm) at St John's Smith Square in a concert by the massed voices (150 in total) of Peterborough Voices, Peterborough Youth Choir, and Peterborough Male Voice Choir with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by William Prideaux. Also in the concert is RVW's Five variants of Dives and Lazarus, Lennox Berkeley's Serenade, Op.12 and Debussy's Danse sacree et danse profane. Hawks and Horses gets a second outing on 6 September 2015 at the Broadway Theatre, Peterborough.

    Hawks and Horses is an imaginative setting of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91, inspired by the ancient cathedral city of Peterborough and its surrounding landscape. The piece was commissioned by the music education charity Peterborough Sings! whose artistic director is William Prideaux.

    Peterborough Sings! is the result of a rather amazing circumstance. In 2011 Peterborough Male Voice Choir founded Peterborough Youth Choir and a women's choir, Peterborough Voices, under the umbrella of Peterborough Sings! thus making a choral organisation of over 300 singers. As part of a 'Sing for Life' project, Peterborough Male Voice Choir were asked to help set up a women's choir. The project team hoped to recruit 40 women to form a choir and to perform in concert in aid of Cancer Research. Advertised locally and online, an amazing 220 applicants came to the auditions. After rehearsals and settling in, a group of 120 women sang in their first concert in October 2011. After the concert the women wanted to keep going, and as a result Peterborough Voices was born. The Peterborough Youth Choir was formed the same year to give young people the opportunity to sing.

    Entangled Fortunes - chamber music by Edward McGuire from Red Note Ensemble

    Edward McGuire - Entangled Fortunes
    Edward McGuire Elegy, Euphoria, String Trio, Entangled Fortunes, Quintet 2; Red Note Ensemble; Delphian Records
    Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 12 2015
    Star rating: 4.0

    Serious, fascinating, independent - the chamber music of Edward McGuire

    Edward McGuire is a Scottish composer whose music combines a ruggedly independent spirit, with seriousness of purpose and a lively infusion of Scottish traditional music. On this new disc Entangled Fortunes from Delphian Records we hear five of his major chamber pieces, played by members of the Scottish contemporary music ensemble Red Note. The works, Elegy, Euphoria, String Trio, Entangled Fortunes, and Quintet 2, were created over a 30 year period and are testimony to a fertile imagination and an often creative engagement with Scottish music.

    Edward McGuire (born 1948) studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music (with James Illife) and in Stockholm with Ingvar Lidholm. But these bald facts do not really help introduce his music. Perhaps of equal relevance is the fact that McGuire is a Marxist, writes music simply because he has to, and plays the flute with the Scottish traditional music group The Whistlebinkies. But whilst echoes of Scots music occur throughout this disc, the music is robustly independent and finely constructed. It eschews ingratiating obviousness, this isn't neo-folk music nor light music, and instead uses a strength of construction which requires a serious of purpose from the listener but pays rewards. The five works on the disc are all substantial single movement pieces, each lasting between 10 and 16 minutes.

    The pieces are played by members of Red Note, Jacqueline Shave (violin), Jane Atkins (viola) Robert Irvine (cello), Ruth Morley (flutes), YannGhiro (clarinets), Simon Smith (piano), Tom Hunter (percussion). Red Note was founded in 2008 and plays a highly varied repertoire of contemporary music with a number of major collaborations such  as their Reels to Ragas project with tabla player Kuljit Bharma and piper Fraser Fifield. During 2015 they are performing a new song cycle by Rory Boyle with mezzo soprano Karen Cargill, and in 2016 will be giving a European tour Louis Andriessen's De Staat with Antwerp-based ensemble I Solisti. They run their own informal new music events, Noisy Nights, in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

    175 years young - Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra celebrate

    Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra  © Mark McNulty
    Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra   © Mark McNulty
    Under chief conductor Vasily Petrenko, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will be celebrating the orchestra's 175th anniversary during the season (their website has a blog recording people's memories) as well as completing the refurbishment of the Philharmonic Hall. Petrenko has been in place since 2006. 

    Petrenko starts his season with the orchestra with a pair of concert pairing Strauss's mammoth Alpine Symphony with Berio's Folksongs and Canteloube's Song of the Auvergne (both sung by Jennifer Johnson) and Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, closely followed by Andrew Manze conducting a pairing of Holst's The Planet with a new Robin Holloway piece and RVW 8 (Manze returns with an all RVW programme in May 2016). The remainder of the action packed season includes Petrenko conducting Mendelssohn's Elijah with Susan Gritton, Patricia Bardon, Jeremy Ovendon and Thomas Oliemans, Ton Koopman conducting Handel, Bach and Haydn, four concerts from the Lithuanian violin virtuoso Julian Rachlin, the world premiere of Ludovico Einaudi's Piano Concerto, and music by Hugo Alfven.

    Nathalie Stutzman is also in residence both singing Schubert's Die Winterreise and conducting the St Matthew Passion with John Mark Ainsley as the Evangelist and Christopher Purves as Christus. Other artists in residence include the folk group The Unthanks, who will be performing folk music with the orchestra, and harpist Catrin Finch who performs Mozart and Glere

    There is also a chamber music series in the more intimate St George's Hall Concert Room.  All in all over 60 concerts in the season.

    Sunday, 23 August 2015

    The music of Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek

    Cyrillus Kreek
    Until I heard performances by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the music of Cyrillus Kreek was unknown to me. An important figure in Estonian musical history, knowledge of him and his music does not seem to have particularly travelled. Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962) was one of the composers who laid the foundations for Estonian national music. Like many of his contemporaries such as RVW (1872-1958), Percy Grainger (1882-1961), Bela Bartok (1881-1945) and Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), the basis for his work was folk-song. Kreek was one of the first people to use a phonograph to collect folk songs (something espoused by Kodaly, and Percy Grainger but never used by RVW).

    Kreek's father was a poor schoolmaster in Estonia, and Cyrillus Kreek was the ninth child. Born Karl Ustav, he became Kirill when his father's job required the family to become Russian Orthodox (Estonia was a Russian colony at the time) and later he used Cyrillus for his musical work. The young Cyrillus was musical, all the family seem to have been, and despite their frugality he was bought a trombone, participated in local choirs and music societies and finally 100 roubles were borrowed to send Cyrillus to St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1908 (there was of course, no conservatoire in Estonia and this was the nearest and most obvious). During his time there he was labelled by Alexander Glazunov, after one examination, as 'No talent, but diligent'.

    Saturday, 22 August 2015

    Wolf-Ferrari's 'Le donne curiose' in London

    Wolf Ferrari's Le donne curiose at the Met in New York
    Wolf Ferrari's Le donne curiose at the Met in New York
    in 1912
    Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's opera Le donne curiose is the opera which made his name. Based on the comedy by Carlo Goldoni, it is a witty and intricate work which premiered in 1903. Wolf-Ferrari was half German, half Italian and through his life he was torn between the two heritages. His works were often more popular in Germany than Italy, and Le donne curiose was premiered in Munich in 1903, and only received its first performance in Italian in 1912 (at the Met in New York, conducted by Tullio Serafin). It eventually reached Italy when Tullio Serafin conducted it in Milan in 1913. But, until the First World War, Wolf Ferrari's operas were some of the most performed in the world.

    They seem to have rather dropped off the radar, apart from the overtures, and we have a chance to see the opera for ourselves in November (2, 4, 6, 9) at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, directed by Stephen Barlow, and designed by Yannis Thavoris and conducted by Mark Shanahan


    Wolf Ferrari - Suite Veneziana

    Wolf-Ferrari - Suite Veneziana
    Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari Suite Veneziana, Tritico, Divertimento; Oviedo Filarmonia, Friedrich Haider; PhilArtis Vienna
    Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 07 2015
    Star rating: 3.5

    Charming and beguiling, incidental music by Wolf-Ferrari

    This new disc of music by Wolf-Ferrari from Friedrich Haider and the Oviedo Filarmonia on the PhilArtis Vienna label, puts together some of the music from the operas with three of Wolf-Ferrari's orchestral suites. All three, Suite Veneziana, Trittico and Divertimento were written in the 1930's at a time of worry for the composer with the combination of a heart condition, the political situation (being half Italian and half German he had found the First World War a personal strain), not to mention a decline in performances of his works. There seems to be frustratingly little information on the background to the music. The CD booklet, with its attractively discursive article On the trail of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari with Friedrich Haider is of little help, and at one point admits that the composer left behind little information apart from the music itself.

    Having enjoyed the composer's Violin concerto (which I reviewed recently), written a few years later than the works on this disc, I have to confess that I found the music on this disc a little disappointing. The individual movements are all highly attractive but the music rarely adds up to something bigger, and each of the three suites sounds more like a selection of incidental music to a play (not for the first time when considering Wolf-Ferrari's music, Richard Strauss and his music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme came to mind).

    Friday, 21 August 2015

    Music by Roger Sacheverell Coke from Simon Callaghan

    Roger Sacheverell Coke - Simon Callaghan - SOMM Roger Sacheverell Coke Preludes, Opp.33 & 34, Variations Op.37; Simon Callaghan; SOMM
    Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 03 2015
    Star rating: 4.0

    Undeservedly forgotten music by a forgotten composer
    Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) seems to have virtually disappeared off the musical map. Yet he attended Eton, was an accomplished pianist and composer, spent his life writing and had a series of high profile performances and broadcasts. On this amazing, brave disc, pianist Simon Callaghan has unearthed two of Roger Sacheverell Coke's substantial works for piano solo, the 24 Preludes Opp. 33 & 34 and 15 Variations and Finale and recorded them for the Somm label.

    Simon Callaghan - photo credit Ben Ealovega
    Simon Callaghan
    photo credit Ben Ealovega
    Roger Sacheverell Coke was born into a well-to-do Derbyshire family in 1912 with a strong tradition of military service. Roger's father died during the first battle of Ypres and his body was never found; his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate. Roger's love of art and music were indulged by his mother and there was never any question of his following the family's military traditions. For his 21st birthday his mother converted the coach house and stable block into a music studio with a gallery capable of holding and audience of several hundred. He studied music with John Frederic Staton and with Alan Bush, and piano with Mabel Lander.

    But he suffered from mental health disorders which seem to have been schizophrenia, had a heavy addiction to cigarettes (a was a hundred-a-day bloke), and was gay. His composing seems to have been a retreat, his composed 12 full scale chamber works, over 100 songs, orchestra works, six piano concertos, four symphonic poems, three symphonies, a substantial body of solo piano music and an opera The Cenci based on Shelly's play. Written to his own libretto between 1940 and 1950, it had a single performance in 1959 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens (Coke bore all the costs). It was a complete failure, condemned by the critics. His music had fallen out of fashion.

    Listening to the music on this disc, Roger Sacheverell Coke's style seems to hark back to the first half of the twentieth century. The influences that jump out at you are Rachmaninov and Medtner, with some Scryabin thrown in. But closer inspection reveals other hints too, you feel that Bax is not too far away and John Ireland to. The music was all written in the period 1938 to 1941 and is vastly different in its unashamed romanticism compared to the music of Coke's almost exact contemporary Benjamin Britten. In fact during this period Coke's music had been extensively performed and he had been encouraged by such luminaries as Rachmaninov, Moiseiwitsch and Goosens, but for some reason he was never take up by a publisher. Coke seems to have been fated to remain on the side lines.

    Thursday, 20 August 2015

    Singing Words - Oxford Lieder Festival 2015

    Having explored all of Schubert's songs last year, the Oxford Lieder Festival and artistic directer Sholto Kynoch are exploring Singing Words: Poets and their Songs in the 2015 festival which runs from Friday 16 October to Saturday 31 October. There are lots of concerts and this can only be the merest selection. Things open with a one day symposium on Words into music: Poets, Composers & Song at Wadham College and a recital from Sarah Connolly and Graham Johnson at the Sheldonian Theatre in the evening with songs by Schubert, Brahms and Wolf. And the festival closes with Christoph Pregardien and Roger Vignoles in settings of Heinrich Heine by Schumann and Schubert.

    Sarah Fox, Anna Huntley, Victor Sicard, Geraldine McGreevy, Benjamin Hulett, Stephanie Marshall, Johnny Herford, Gary Matthewman, and Graham Johnson explore the songs of Faure. Louise MacDonald and Ingrid Sawyers pair Schumann's Mary Stuart settings with newly commissioned works by Judith Bingham, Dee Isaacs and Eddie McGuire inspired by the Scots Queen's poetry and letters, and there is a study event too. There is a study day on Berlioz with an evening recital of Berlioz's songs from Dorottya Lang, James Gilchrist and Julius Drake, and another on Song in Translation which concludes with a recital by Toby Spence and Christopher Glynn of Schubert's Die schone Mullerin in a new English translation by Jeremy Sams.

    Other concerts are given by an amazing list of performers including Katarina Karneus, James Ghilchrist, Gillian Keith, Matthew Hargreaves, Lucy Hall, Wolfgang Holzmair, Robert Holl, Roderick Williams, Alison Rose, Victoria Newlyn, Elizabeth Watts, Anna Stephany, Nick Pritchard, Robert Murray, Mark Stone, Gareth Brynmor John, Anna Tilbrook, Simon Lepper, Gavin Roberts, Imogen Cooper, Roger Vignoles, Iain Burnside, Sholto Kynoch, and Finnegan Downie Dear.

    Full information from the Oxford Lieder Festival website. And you can see a film about the festival, after the the break.

    Wednesday, 19 August 2015

    Wartime Consolations

    Linus Roth - Wartime Consolations - Challenge Classics
    Wartime Consolations - Hartmann, Weinberg, Shostakovich; Linus Roth, Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, Ruben Gazarian, Jose Gallardo; Challenge Classics
    Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 03 2015
    Star rating: 5.0

    Intense yet relatively unknown works which deserve to be heard

    The works on this disc are the sort that I listen to and wonder why on earth they are not more well known. The main works on the disc, on the Challenge Classics label, are concertante works for violin and orchestra by two composers whose work seems to still be only on the fringes whereas both deserve to be far better known. Violinist Linus Roth with the Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, conductor Ruben Gazarian, plays wartime works by Karl Amadeus Harmann (his Concerto Funebre) and Mieczyslaw Weinberg (his Concertino and his Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes), plus the sole surviving movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Sonata for violin and piano.

    A student of Anton Webern, and an admirer of Arnold Schoenberg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) is one of the 20th century's intriguing and frequently underrated composers. During the Nazi period in Germany, Hartmann remained in Germany but went into inner-exile by refusing to have his pieces performed in the country. His Concerto Funebre is a four movement work for violin and strings which premiered in 1940 in Switzerland and reflects the composer's lack of hope, and perhaps his determination that freedom would prevail.