Wednesday, 22 October 2014

La Belle Excentrique

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

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

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

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

Nathan Vale at Temple Music

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Vivaldi Opus 5 violin sonatas

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

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

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

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

There’s life on the moon

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

Enjoyably funny performance of rarely performed Haydn opera

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

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

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

Monday, 20 October 2014

In support of the Malala Fund

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

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

Launching new repertoire for trumpet

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

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

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

Handel's Ottone at English Touring Opera

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

Stylish and convincing revival of a Handel rarity

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bach cello suites

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Chetham's Symphony Orchestra

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

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

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

Further information and tickets from the Barbican website.

Miracle in the Gorbals

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 October 2014

George Benjamin wins 2014 Critics’ Circle Award for Outstanding Musician

George Benjamin
George Benjamin
Composer George Benjamin has won the Award for Outstanding Musician in the 2014 Critics' Circle Awards. In presenting the award, Chair of the Critics’ Circle’s Music Section, Guy Dammann, referred to Benjamin's 'beautifully crafted work', and how his opera Written on Skin 'seems to have awakened a new force in the composer and opened up deeper reaches in his musical imagination'. Also receiving awards were soprano Mary Bevan, composer Charlotte Bray and pianist Igor Levit, each being awarded in the Critics’ Circle Awards for Exceptional Young Talent in music, which go to performers under 35

Benjamin's opera Written on Skin was premiered in 2013, and he and Martin Crimp are working on a new opera to be premiered at Covent Garden in 2018. Mary Bevan is currently singing Susanna in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at the London Coliseum, and will be performing in the Royal Opera's production of L'Orfeo at the Roundhouse. Charlotte Bray's debut disc is being released this month by NMC Records with Sir Mark Elder conductor the Aldeburgh World Orchestra. Igor Levit's recording of Bach's six keyboard partitas, was named Gramophone Magazine's recording of the month for October 2014.

Founded in 1913, the Critics’ Circle is the professional association of British and Britain-based critics; each section of the Critics’ Circle has its own Awards. The Music Section awards were reinstated in 2011 and are now in their fourth year. The Critics’ Circle Awards are voted for by the 89 members of the Critics’ Circle’s Music Section, in recognition of musical activities in the United Kingdom during the previous calendar year.

Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake

Angelika Kirchschlager - copyright Nikolaus Karlinsky
Angelika Kirchschlager
copyright Nikolaus Karlinsky
Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt; Angelika Kirchschlager, Julius Drake; Temple Song
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

19th century lieder from four masters in highly involving performances

Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager and pianist Julius Drake gave a lieder recital at Middle Temple Hall on Wednesday 15 October 2014 as part of the Temple Song series. Kirchschlager and Drake's programme concentrated on four composers, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann and Liszt with a mixture of well known and lesser known songs. Many of the songs were relatively short, though Kirchschlager also included Schubert's Der Erlkönig and Schumann's Die Löwenbraut.

Kirchschlager and Drake started with the group of Brahms songs. Meine Liebe ist grun set a text by Robert and Clara Schumann's 16 year old son, Felix (already suffering from the TB which would kill him at 25). The song is lyrically impassioned and impulsive, a very suitable response to what is a young man's poem. Kirchschlager gave it a vibrant and free performance, her voice beautifully well modulated and with a superb feel for the words. Throughout the recital she was a vibrantly communicative performer, making the lieder seem like sung poetry, as it should be, but never distorting the music.

Salomon Orchestra in Suk's Asrael Symphony

Guy Johnston - photo Ben Wright
Guy Johnston
photo Ben Wright
The Salomon Orchestra's concert on Tuesday 14 October 2014 at St John's Smith Square, had an all Czech flavour. Conducted by Philip Hesketh, the first half consisted of Dvorak's Cello Concerto with Guy Johnston as the soloist, and in the second half the massive Asrael Symphony by Josef Suk,  Dvorak's pupil and son-in-law. Suk's music is infrequently performed nowadays and the Salomon Orchestra performance was a welcome opportunity to make the piece's acquaintance.

Dvorak's Cello Concerto was written in 1894-95 and he commenced writing it when he was still in the USA but the work is tinged with home-sickness as well as a tribute to the memory of his recently deceased sister-in-law, Josefina Kaunitzova, née Čermakova with whom Dvorak had been in love. (See my review of the film Dvorak in Love).  The piece is one of the composer's best known works though it does not always get the stylistic attention that it deserves in performance, with performers veering towards Bad Brahms.

Guy Johnston, Philip Hesketh and the orchestra were full alert to the work's Czech feel, with a lovely combination of lyrical melody and crisply infectious rhythms. Before the concert started one of my companions had asked, half jokingly, whether you could dance to it! All the performers ensured that you certainly could. Rhythms were sprung and crisp, combined with a lovely lyrical flexibility. Johnston gave a poised and lyrical performance. As a performer he was passionate without overdoing the romanticism of the part or stretching the phrases too much, Dvorak's classical lines were always present.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

London Song Festival

Richard and Pauline Strauss
Richard and Pauline Strauss
Pianist Nigel Foster's London Song Festival starts its autumn run on 21 October 2014 when he is joined by soprano Ailish Tynan and baritone Simon Wallfisch for Music of a Foreign Land. The festival this year takes place at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, London NW3 1NG and runs until 27 November with concerts marking the anniversaries of Richard Strauss, Joseph Marx and Isaac Nathan.

In Music of Foreign Land in 21 October, Tynan, Wallfisch and Foster will be performing songs inspired by foreign countries with music by Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Hahn and Ravel, along with Bantock, Holst and Howells plus settings of Byron by the Anglo-Australian composer Isaac Nathan (1790-1864). In fact for Nathan's Hebrew Melodies it was the composer who persuaded Lord Byron to provide words to use for Nathan's arrangements of tunes used in synagogue services.

On 30 October, soprano Ilona Domnich will be performing Richard Strauss's Brentano Lieder along with music by Russian composer and poet Alexander Blok (1880-1921), Vicktor Ullman (1898-1944) the Austrian composer who died in Auschwitx and the young composer Michael Csanyi-Wills.

Soprano Regina Nathan and Foster will be re-creating a recital that Richard Strauss gave in 1903 with his wife Pauline de Ahna, and Jacqueline Straubinger-Bremar will talk about her father's friendship with the composer (11 /11). Then on 18 November the music of the Austrian composer Joseph Marx (1882-1964) will be explored as Sinead O'Kelly and Dominic Sedgwick join Foster to perform Marx's Italienisches Liederbuch, plus music by Schumann and Strauss.  The final recital in the series, Entartete Musick, is on 27 November when Foster and baritone Peter Braithwaite perform a music linked to the 1938 Nazi exhibition of degenerate art, with music by Kurt Weill and Hanns Eister.

Distinguished tenor Ian Partridge will be giving a masterclass on 8 November 2014.

Girl of the Golden West

The cast and ENO chorus in The Girl of the Golden West - © Robert Workman
The cast and ENO chorus in The Girl of the Golden West - © Robert Workman
Puccini The Girl of the Golden West; Bullock, Auty, English National Opera, dir. Jones, cond. Wilson; London Coliseum
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Oct 10 2014
Star rating: 3.5

First production at ENO of Puccini's American opera

This is first new production of 'Girl of the Golden West' ('La fanciulla del west') by the ENO in 50 years. Directed by Richard Jones it was an entertaining little opera, but also a bit of a mixed bag - superb playing by the orchestra sometimes drowned out the singers, odd American(ish) accents came and went, and although the costuming was a little strange, the scenery was neatly done and atmospheric.

Written by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) 'La fanciulla del west' was his first opera after the troubles and rewrites of 'Madam Butterfly'. Based on a play (1905, published as a story in 1911) by American David Belasco (1853-1931) who had also been responsible for 'Butterfly', the libretto was written by Guelfo Civinini (this translation back into English by Kelley Rourke) – a new departure for Puccini whose long time collaborator Giuseppe Giacosa had recently died.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Desperate Heroines

Mozart Desperate Heroines; Sandrine Piau, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, Ivor Bolton; Naive
Mozart Desperate Heroines; Sandrine Piau, Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, Ivor Bolton; Naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 8 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Poised and technically fine account of soprano arias from Mozart operas

For this disc, French soprano Sandrine Piau returns to Mozart for a recital disc for the first time in 13 years. She is joined on this disc on Naive, by Ivor Bolton and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg in arias from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, La finta giardiniera, Mitridate re di Ponto, Idomeneo, Lucio Silla and Il re pastore.

The disc is entitled Desperate Heroines and whilst some of the women are more desperate than others, there is no doubting the rather fascinating selection that Piau has come up. Her voice retains the light flexibility which it had 13 years ago and on the disc she veers generally towards the lighter roles, Susanna rather than the Countess, Illia rather than Elettra.

War and Peace in Wimbledon

Artists appearing at the 2014 Wimbledon International Music Festival
This year's Wimbledon International Music Festival takes as its theme, War and Peace. Running from 8 to 23 November 2014 in various venues in and around Wimbledon the festival will be kicking off with the Academy Choir and Baroque Players performing Haydn's Nelson Mass, whilst the final concert sees the Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor Robin O'Neill, performing Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen his response to the destruction of Munich and Dresden in 1945.

In between, artistic director Anthony Wilkinson (see my interview with Anthony) has put together a programme which explores all sorts of aspects of war. There is Spanish Civil War with Hungarian duo the Katona Twins performing guitar music, the young British artists of the Myrthen Ensemble in Anthems for Doomed Youth with music by Schubert, Wolf, Mahler and many others, Russian pianist Denis Kozhukin performs Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7, his war sonata. Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale will be given a staged performance at Wimbledon College of Art.

Away from war, the distinguished Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair sings Schubert's Die Winterreise, the Borodin Quartet is joined by Michael Collins for Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, and York2 play the piano four hands versions of Holst's The Planets, Debussy's La Mer and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and the Fibonacci Sequence performs a pair of concerts exploring Schubert's chamber music.

On a lighter note, the Musicians of the Globe explore penny broad-sheet ballads in Death by Custard. And the festival ends not only with the Philharmonia Orchestra in concert, but with Jessica Duchen's Alicia's Gift at the Orange Tree Theatre.

Full information from the Wimbledon International Music Festival website.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Resurrecting a Caldara rarity

La concordia de'pianeti
Antonio Caldara La concordia de'pianeti; La Cetra; Andrea Marcon; Archiv
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 23 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Engaging performance of Caldara's rediscovered, grand out-door serenata

Antonio Caldara (1670 - 1736) isn't a familiar name. Born 14 years before Handel and Bach, he trained at St. Mark's Venice. He had a rather varied career, taking service with the French client Duke of Mantua, and the pretender to the Spanish throne before reaching Venice and Francesco Ruspoli, Prince of Cerveteri. Finally, in 1716 he took a position at the Viennese court and remained there for the rest of his life.

Caldara's employer in Venice, Emperor Charles VI was fond of opera and was a composer himself. Charles had strong views on music and liked an opulent sound. Caldara's music from Vienna eschewed the airy Italianate sound of his early works, and used large scale forces to create a richness of tone. Caldara wrote an extensive sequence of operas and oratorios in Vienna. This new disc from Archiv gives us the first recording of his serenata La concordia de'pianeti with Andrea Marcon conducting La Cetra barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel with soloists Delphine Galou, Veronica Cangemi, Ruxandra Donose, Franco Fagioli, Carlos Mena, Daniel Behle and Luca Tittoto. The work was recorded in conjunction with the work's first modern performance.

Whilst it might be called a serenata, La concordia de'pianeti is a large scale work lasting 108 minutes and requiring seven strong soloists. It was designed for display, but written for out of doors. It was premiered in 1723 when Emperor Charles and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, visited Znojmo Castle after Charles had been crowned King of Bohemia in Prague. Elisabeth was pregnant and the plot, such as it is, has the Gods on Olympus celebrating this event. The original performers were costumed and on two grand 'cars'; it was described not as an opera but a theatrical composition. The original cast included the castrato Carestini (who would create the title role in Ariodante for Handel) as Apollo (here sung by Franco Fagioli).

Cecilia Bartoli in St Petersburg

Cecilia Bartoli - St Petersburg
Araia, Raupach, Dall'Oglio, Madonis, Manfredini, Cimarosa; Cecilia Bartoli, I Barocchisti, Diego Fasolis; DECCA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 25 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Bartoli's latest exploration, rare and fascinating arias from 18th century St Petersburg

This latest disc from mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli is full of arias you have never heard from unknown operas by obscure composers, but that is nothing new. In her recent discs, Bartoli has showed a knack for discovering and re-animating forgotten repertoire. On this disc from Decca, recorded with Diego Fasolis and I Barocchisti, investigates the music written for the opera in St Petersburg in the 18th century. During this period the Russian Court relied on foreign models for much of its high culture and for opera they looked to Italy. On this disc there are arias from operas by Francesco Araia, Hermann Friedrich Raupach, Vincenzo Manfredini, Domenico Dall'Oglio and Luigi Madonis, and Domenico Cimarosa. This latter being the best known of the group. The music is all taken from manuscripts houses in St Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre Library, coming from the Italian Collection.

Neapolitan composer Francesco Araia was in Russia from 1735 to 1759, under Empresses Anna Ioannovna (Peter the Great's niece) and Elizabeth (Peter the Great's daughter by his second wife). Araia was the first composer to have an opera performed in Russia and the first to set a Russian libretto. Appropriately enough Bartoli opens with the aria Vado a morir from La forza dell'amore e dell'odio, that first opera performed in Russia which received its premiere in 1736 at the Winter Palace. This is a graceful piece with a melancholy lyric vocal line which shows off Bartoli's voice to the best.

Die Fledermaus

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
Opera Danube is a new operetta company aiming to give a platform for young singers. On 17 and 18 October at St John's Smith Square they will be performing Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus. They will be joined by the Orpheus Sinfonia, the orchestra which aims to give young professional instrumentalists a chance, with a group of fine young singers including Alberto Sousa (whom we saw in Grange Park Opera's La Traviata), Lauren Zolezzi (whom we saw in the Guildhall Schooll's Pinocchio), Dominic Sedgwick (seen recently in recital), Eli Rolfe Johnson (whom we saw in Opera Lyrica's Cosi fan Tutte), Thomas Herford, Robert Gildon and Kate Symmonds Joy. They will be conducted by Oliver Gooch. There is no dialogue alas, but there is a spoken narration being provided by Simon Butteriss.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Blogger in action - Verismo: Puccini and his contemporaries

Rosalind Plowright
Rosalind Plowright
I am lecturing on Verismo: Puccini and his contemporaries on Wednesday 15 October as part of a Divas and Scholars study day at the Cadogan Hall in which the mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright will be conducting a masterclass and singing, and I will be lecturing. 

All the music being performed, by Rosalind and by the young singers, will be coming from Verismo operas. Further information from the Cadogan Hall website.

Peer Gynt: a man of mourning

Peer Gynt with the Troll’s daughter/Solveig. Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus
Peer Gynt with the Troll’s daughter/Solveig.
Photo credit: Monika Rittershaus
Ibsen Peer Gynt; Théâtre National de Nice; Barbican Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 8 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Modern fusion - Ibsen's anti-hero re-invented as a modern pop-star

Théâtre National de Nice's interpretation of 'Peer Gynt', based on the play by Henrik Ibsen, at the Barbican centre revamps this timeless Norwegian story of procrastination and remorse. Irina Brook's 21st century vision for Peer (now PG the rock star) includes new poetry by the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Sam Shepard, and songs by Iggy Pop.

The stars of the show were Icelandic Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson (PG), Indian born dancer Shantala Shivalingappa (Solveig) and the very good Mireille Maalouf (as Peer's long suffering mother) around whom the other characters and musicians revolve. Each of the other characters plays more than one part, or is a musician as well as an actor, depending on the scene's requirements.

Handel's Alcina with DiDonato and Coote

Joyce DiDonato in Act 1 of Handel's Alcina at the Barbican with the English Concert - photo credit MARK ALLAN/BARBICAN
Joyce Di Donato in Act 1 of Handel's Alcina
with Harry Bicket and the English Concert
photo credit Mark Allan/Barbican
Handel Alcina; DiDonato, Coote, English Concert, Bickett; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 10 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Full of stars and hot on drama, finely involving account of Handel's masterpiece

To say that the English Concert's performance of Handel's Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere. This, and the strength of  the casting, reflected the distance we have travelled in the last 30 years in making Handel opera mainstream. The casting also recognised that Alcina isn't strictly a star vehicle, the performance only works if all the principals are strong. And what was impressive was that we had a strong team, none of whom was a baroque music specialist. Alcina was sung by Joyce DiDonato, Ruggiero by Alice Coote, Morgana by Anna Christy, Bradamante by Christine Rice, Oronte by Ben Johnson, Melisso by Wojtek Gierlach and Oberto by Anna Devin, with the English Concert directed from the harpsichord by Harry Bicket.

This was a concert performance and the singers were using scores, but it certainly wasn't a score bound performance, all the singers projected drama as if they were in the opera house. Someone had thought about the dramaturgy, there were entrances and exits and more importantly the performers reacted to each other. Baroque opera does not need a lot of staging to make it work, and here Alcina received just enough. It helped that the cast were all extremely vivid performers; it wasn't just Joyce DiDonato's Alcina who prowled round the stage, and she and Alice Coote made their first entrance entwined like the lovers that their characters are.

Bicket and the English Concert gave a sparking account of the overture, brisk but not too rushed with a nice crispness. My main gripe was that there was only one harpsichord, played by Bicket himself, along with a theorbo and for me the continuo just wasn't strong enough.

The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that I have not mentioned any chorus. Handel wrote Alcina in 1735 for the theatre at Covent Garden where his rather reduced company had moved after the creation of the rival Opera of the Nobility. To the not-inconsiderable draw of the castrato Carestini, Handel was able to add a dance troupe and a small chorus. Alcina has short choruses and dances woven into its texture in a way which few other Handel operas have. Here, the choruses were sung by four of the soloists (Anna Devin, Christine Rice, Ben Johnson and Wojtek Gierlach), with the entire cast singing the very final sequence when Alcina's victims come alive again.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Dominic Sedgwick and Nigel Foster at the London Sketch Club

RVW, Ireland, Gillingwater, Strauss, Schubert, Marx, Butterfield; Dominic Sedgwick, Nigel Foster; London Sketch Club
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 09 2014
Imaginative recital from this talented young baritone.

A series of concerts at the London Sketch Club in Chelsea is a new venture which debuted last month. We went along to the second of the concerts, on Thursday 9 October 2014 when baritone Dominic Sedgwick and pianist Nigel Foster gave a programme of songs by RVW, John Ireland, Daniel Gillingwater, Richard Strauss, Schubert, Joseph Marx and George Butterfield.

Silhouettes from the London Sketch Club
Silhouettes from the London Sketch Club
The London Sketch Club is a social club for graphic artists, founded in 1898 and currently based at a studio in Dilke Street, Chelsea. The concert took place in the main studio surrounded by evocative silhouettes of past members of the club.

Faire is the Heaven - Masterpieces of the English Romantics

Robert King
Naylor, Stanford, Bairstow, Walton, Harris, Britten, Leighton, Howells; Choir of the King's Consort, Robert King; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 8 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Old favourites and rarities in this lovely programme of English Romantic choral music

The King's Consort's concert at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 8 October 2014 was something a little out of the usual line for this period group. Renowned for their recordings of Monteverdi and Purcell, and more recently Parry and Stanford, they presented a concert of music by late 19th and early 20th century English composers. Conducted by Robert King, the Choir of the King's Consort performed unaccompanied sacred music by Naylor, Stanford, Bairstow, Walton, Harris, Britten, Leighton and Howells. The programme mixed works well known to many singers, such as Harris's Faire is the Heaven with lesser known pieces. Much of the repertoire is familiar from regular usage in services, but is seen less frequently in the concert hall.

With over 20 singers on stage, the choir certainly made a goodly sound in the Wigmore Hall. The overall sound quality was admirably firm, with a lovely sense of line (perhaps to be expected in a group which sings a lot of early music). They opened with Vox dicentis: Clama, a large scale setting of text from Isaiah written by Edward Woodall Naylor (1867 - 1934) who worked in Cambridge and wrote a significant body of church music as well as an opera. Vox dicentis: Clama was written in 1911 for King's College, Cambridge. It is a fascinating piece, rather flexibly structured in responding to the text and sometimes difficult to place. Whilst the harmony is often conservative, Naylor's writing can be quite interestingly fluid. It received an admirable performance, with the choir giving full weight to both the drama and the subtler moments.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Hampstead Arts Festival

St John's Church, Downshire Hill
St John's Church, Downshire Hill
This year's Hampstead Arts Festival runs from 1 to 22 November, finishing rather appropriately on St. Cecilia's Day. Many of this year's concerts involve Baroque music, with cellist Natalie Clein playing all of Bach's cello suites (1,4/11), Angela Hewitt lecturing on, and performing Bach's complete Art of Fugue (10/11) and harpsichord superstar Mahan Esfahani giving a lecture-recital to launch his complete works of Rameau recording on Hyperion (13/11).

But it isn't all 17th  and 18th century, there a two jazz concerts, involving Gwilym Simcock, veteran guitar virtuoso John Etheridge (22/11) and an acoustic quartet led by trumpeter Freddie Gavita (15/11). And, the Wihan String Quartet (from Prague) perform Suk, Mozart and Dvorak (6/11), then tenor Ben Johnson and pianist Sebastian Wybrew will be giving a song recital (20/11). There also a sequence of spoken word events with speakers including Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Michael Berkeley and Glenda Jackson.

Concerts all take place at St John's Church, Downshire Hill, NW3 1NU, with the spoken word events at Burgh House.

Alice Coote - Handel arias

Alice Coote - Handel Arias - The English Concert - Hyperion
Handel arias from Hercules, Ariodante, Alcina, Radamisto, Giulio Cesare; Alice Coote, the English Concert, Harry Bicket; Hyperion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 23 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Fine disc of Handel arias in highly distinctive performances

The mezzo-soprano Alice Coote has sung Handel roles for some considerable time and has continued to keep Handel in her repertoire whilst developing more romantic roles, in Mozart, Berlioz, Richard Strauss, Mahler and Elgar. This new disc from Hyperion Records sees Coote joined by Harry Bicket and the English Concert for a selection of arias from Handel's Italian operas, Radamisto, Alcina, Giulios Cestare in Egitto and Ariodante as well as from the oratorio Hercules.

Coote has not recorded many of her Handel roles and this disc provides a welcome chance to hear her in a variety of repertoire. Coote recently sang the title role in Handel's Xerxes with English National Opera. As anyone who heard her can testify, Coote's voice has a richly upholstered feel to it with an approach to baroque music which sometimes recalls the singers of a previous generation more than her contemporaries. This disc captures her voice well, with its rich tone, sense of line and lovely, strong lower register. There is not too much sense of vibrato and a strong core to the voice, and this combines with a fine technique including a lovely trill.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Ruxandra Donose at Rosenblatt Recitals

Roger Vignoles, Ruxandra Donose - photo Jonathan Rose
Roger Vignoles, Ruxandra Donose - photo Jonathan Rose
Bizet, Offenbach, Massenet, Faure, Verdi, Saint-Saens, Enescu, Bretan, Rossini; Roxandra Donose, Roger Vignoles; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 06 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Style and elegance in this recital of French and Romanian music from the Romanian mezzo-soprano

Following a change of artist for the opening of the Rosenblatt Recitals season, their second recital at the Wigmore Hall on 6 October 2014 was similarly affected and an ailing Carmen Giannattasio was replaced by the Romanian mezzo-soprano Ruxandra Donose accompanied by Roger Vignoles. Donose sang a selection of arias by Bizet, Offenbach, Massenet, Verdi, Saint-Saens and Rossini, along with songs by Faure, and the Romanian composers George Enescu and Nicolae Bretan.

In a spoken introduction, Donose explained that as the recital had been arranged at short notice, she had simply gathered together a selection of her favourite arias and songs which she wanted to enjoy with us. And, rather impressively, she sang everything from memory.

Donose and Vignoles started with a trio of arias from French opera. Bizet's Carmen, premiered at the Opera Comique in 1875, Offenbach's La belle Helene premiered at the Theatre des Varietes in 1864 and Massenet's Werther which was refused by the Opera Comique in 1887 (as too serious) and premiered in Vienna in 1892.


The vocal ensemble Exaudi, director James Weeks, is presenting Exposure2014 at the Bishopsgate Institute in London on 18 October 2014. The concert will showcase the work of contemporary composers many from a new generation of professional composers, at a pivotal moment in their careers. The concert is free and tickets are available in advance from Rob Johnson the group's manager ( 

The concert, which features four world premieres and one UK premiere, will include music by the  Canadian composer Michael Oesterle, Christian Wolff the American experimental composer who celebrates his 80th birthday this year, the young Irish composer Garett Sholdice, the Italian composer Stefano Gervasoni who was a protege of Luigi Nono, the Dutch percussionist Arnold Marinissen, the British composer Laurence Crane who studied with Nigel Osborne, the UK-based American composer Amber Priestley and the English composer Alex Hills who studied with Michael Finnissy. James Weeks will be talking to the composers Laurence Crane, Garrett Sholdice, Michael Oesterle and Stefano Gervasoni before each of their works.

Exaudi will also be performing a slightly different version of the Exposure2014 programme at Durham University on 29 November.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Love said to me..

Love said to me - Caroline MacPhie
Love said to me...; Caroline MacPhie and Joseph Middleton; Stone Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Songs inspired by or written by women in a fascinating recital from this up and coming young soprano

This new disc, on Stone Records, from soprano Caroline MacPhie and pianist Joseph Middleton, Love said to me... , is a collection of songs either inspired by or written by women. Focussing on the period from the late 19th century to the present day, MacPhie includes songs by Richard Strauss, Francis Poulenc, Charles Koechlin, Hugo Wolf, Muriel Herbert and Elizabeth Maconchy, plus songs by Rhian Samuel and Cheryl Frances-Hoad which were specially written for the disc.The repertoire is nicely varied, and includes such rarities as Charles Koechlin's Sept chansons pour Gladys and a group of Ophelia songs by Richard Strauss, Elizabeth Maconchy, Rhian Samuel and Cheryl Frances Hoad.

Max Richter and Daniel Hope at the Royal Albert Hall

Max Richter
Max Richter
Max Richter, Daniel Hope, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glober on Oct 04 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Atmospheric and quirky re-composition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons

The main focus of Saturday's (4 October) concert at the Royal Albert Hall was to promote the release of a recording of Max Richter's recomposition of Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons' starring violinist Daniel Hope. This performance was accompanied by members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (it is a different orchestra on the CD) and was paired with 'The Blue Notebooks' performed by Richter on piano, keyboard and computer, and the Max Richter Ensemble.

Daniel Hope
Daniel Hope
Max Richter (1966-) was born in Germany but grew up in Britain studying first at Edinburgh University, then Royal Academy of Music in London, and subsequently with Luciano Berio in Florence. He claims influences from Bach to the Beatles, punk rock, and ambient electronica, but his own style is rooted in minimalism, blending classical orchestration with electronic and computational techniques.

As well as orchestral and solo pieces he has written for films, opera and ballet, and collaborated with visual artists, for example 'Rain Room' at the Barbican Centre last year. 'The Four Seasons Recomposed' had its premiere (also with Hope) at the Barbican Centre two years ago.