Friday, 10 April 2020

Taking Zarathustra on-line: orchestra of Opera North from their homes in Yorkshire join conductor Tobias Ringborg in Sweden for Strauss' epic tone poem

When the orchestra of Opera North's concerts at Leeds Town Hall and Huddersfield Town Hall with conductor Tobias Ringborg were cancelled, the players in the orchestra were, to put in mildly, annoyed. Two players, Daniel Bull (cello) and Lourenço Macedo Sampaio (viola), had the idea to continue on-line, so conductor Tobias Ringborg conducted the first five minutes of Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra (one of the works due to be performed) in an empty church in Stockholm with just a piano, then 40 individual players from the orchestra recorded their own contribution to be added. The results are remarkable, and can be seen on YouTube.

Whilst we look forward with anticipation to Opera North's 2020/21 season (booking for which has just opened), we can look back on previous productions available on-line,  including Wagner's complete Ring Cycle and the recent revival of Alessandro Talevi's production of Britten's Turn of the Screw.

The 17th century opera by an Italian composer, premiered in Vienna with a Spanish libretto: Antonio Draghi's El Prometeo

Antonio Draghi El Prometeo; Capella Mediterranea, Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Leonardo Garcia Alarcon
Antonio Draghi El Prometeo; Cappella Mediterranea, Choeur de Chambre de Namur, Leonardo Garcia Alarcon; Alpha Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Something of a delightful curiosity, a 17th century opera in Spanish, composed by an Italian for performance in Vienna

Now this is a real curiosity, an opera written by an Italian composer, premiered in Vienna with a Spanish libretto. Antonio Draghi's El Prometeo (Prometheus) premiered in 1669, and is here revived on Alpha Classics by Leonardo Garcia Alarcon, Cappella Mediterranea and choeur de chambre de Namur with soloists Fabio Trumpy, Scott Conner, Mariana Flores, Giuseppina Bridelli, Borja Quiza, Zachary Wilder, Ana Quintans, Damil Ben Hsain Lachiri, Victor Torres, Anna Reinhold, Alejandro Meerapfel, and Lucia Martin-Carton. The final act of the opera does not survive, so has been completed by Leonardo Garcia Alarcon, and the recording was made following performances at Dijon Opera in 2018.

The composer Antonio Draghi was born in Rimini, Italy where his initial career was as a singer, and he sang in operas by Monteverdi and Cavalli, including in the premiere of Cavalli's Erismena. He arrived in Vienna in 1658 and spent the rest of his life in Imperial service, first as precentor in the Imperial chapel, then writing opera libretti and finally writing operas. He wrote some 160 dramatic works - operas, theatre pageants, ballets, oratorios. Most of these are unpublished, and like a lot of composers in Imperial service, once the work was performed the manuscript went into the Imperial library and works very rarely got further circulation (something that equally applies to the operas of Caldara).

Draghi was probably the brother of Giovanni Battista Draghi who was brought to London by King Charles II in the 1660s, and who pops up in Samuel Pepys' diary when G.B. Draghi sang to Pepys an Italian opera of his own composition

Draghi: El Prometo - Opera de Dijon (PHoto © Gilles Abegg - Opéra de Dijon)
Draghi: El Prometo - Opéra de Dijon (PHoto © Gilles Abegg - Opéra de Dijon)
The discovery of this particular opera was thanks to the realisation that the title of the piece was actually El Prometeo (Spanish) rather than Il Prometeo (Italian). The complete libretto survives, but unfortunately the music for the final act has still not been found in the Viennese archives, so in order to be able to perform the work Leonardo Garcia Alarcon wrote the final act.

The opera was mounted in 1669 at the Hofburg in Vienna in honour of the birthday of the Queen of Spain.

Notes from Musicians' Kitchens

Note from Musicians' Kitchens
One thing that most of us are doing, thanks to the present crisis, is cooking more, at least to judge from my Instagram and Twitter feeds. Now the mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston has come up with a way to develop this, to extend our love of cooking to help musicians affected by the crisis.

Notes from Musicians' Kitchens is a collection of recipes collected from musicians all over the world, and each has a story attached. A subscription-only digital recipe resource, with a £10 one-off access fee, of which 100% goes to Help Musicians UK. The aim is also to publish a cookbook which will hopefully be sold worldwide.

Whilst we are all in isolation, Notes For Musicians’ Kitchens is a means of digitally breaking bread with each other, of sharing and appreciating our diverse food cultures, of creating new memories. And once lockdown is over, just think of all the new recipes you will have ready to share with friends.

For those that would like to contribute more, there is a JustGiving page to raise funds for Help Musicians.

Scala Radio Presents Beethoven: The Basics with Andy Bush is a new 4-part series coming to Scala Radio on Sundays at 1pm from the 12th April.

Titlepage of ms. of the Eroica Symphony, with Napoleon's name scored through by the composer
Titlepage of ms. of the Eroica Symphony, with Napoleon's name scored through by the composer
Scala Radio is presenting a new series exploring the music of Beethoven, as part the general Beethoven explosion for the 250th anniversary. The series, which debuts on Sunday 12 April 2020 (Easter Sunday) at 1pm, is called Beethoven: The Basics with Andy Bush and is intended to explore Beethoven and his music from the point of view of 'an absolute beginner'. 

Presenter Andy Bush is a radio broadcaster, writer and illustrator known for his love of indie music and comedy scene but here he is exploring a developing passion for Beethoven and his music. Bush will be finding out more from broadcasters, musicians, composers and other self-confessed Beethoven fans, and there will of course be plenty of Beethoven's music, well-known and lesser-known gems.

You can read more about the series in an interview with Andy Bush on the Scala Radio website.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Art Saves Us: concert support the NHS staff on Good Friday

Art Saves Us is a new on-line art, music and poetry hour launched to support the work of the NHS staff, and supported by cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. The second concert will take place at 3pm (BST) on Friday 10 April 2020 (Good Friday) on Zoom.

The line-up includes British poet and librettist, David Harsent, Chinese soprano, Yao Hong (Vice President of the China National Opera House), American-Serbian pianist, Ivan Ilic, opera singer and actor Zhang Jun (noted for his expertise in the ancient Chinese opera art of ‘Kunqu’ and recipient of the UNESCO Artist for Peace Award), Chinese cellist, Jiaxin Lloyd Webber and Royal Academician, painter and printmaker, Chris Orr, who has generously donated a painting to be auctioned to raise money for the cause.

Art Saves Us was founded by Shanghai-born, London-based Kailan Lucas, who is an American lawyer, and her creative focus is on Sino-European cultural exchanges in the worlds of art, literature and music.

Further events are planned for 17 and 24 April with more to be added in due course as the current health crisis unfolds. Event access will be a nominal £1 to help support the NHS.

Link to access event:

Exquisite sketches: songs by Reynaldo Hahn from Anastasia Prokofieva & Sergey Rybin on Stone Records - L'heure exquise

L'heure exquise - songs by Reynaldo Hahn; Anastasia Prokofieva, Sergey Rybin; Stone Records
L'heure exquise - songs by Reynaldo Hahn; Anastasia Prokofieva, Sergey Rybin; Stone Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A Russian duo brings a lightness and freshness to Hahn's lovely melodies

Despite a considerable musical output covering works for the stage and large-scale orchestral works, it is for his songs that Reynaldo Hahn is best known. There is a handful of well-known ones, melodies which singers love to bask in, but there are plenty more which repay investigation.

On this new disc of Reynaldo Hahn's songs L'heure exquise on Stone Records, soprano Anastasia Prokofieva and pianist Sergey Rybin given us a wide selection, from Si mes vers avaient des ailes! which was an instant success in 1888 (when he was 14!) right through to Au fil de l'eau and Mon reve etait d'avoir.. from the 1934 film La Dame aux Camelias, to a pair of songs from 9 Mélodies retrouvées published posthumously in 1955.

The selection casts its net widely though the majority of songs date from before 1914, which reflects Hahn's output which declined partly because he served during World War I, and then after the war devoted time to conducting, being general manager of Cannes Casino Opera House and writing criticism for Le Figaro. But it is also because Hahn belonged to the pre-World War One world, to the beau monde, and as he got older and Paris belonged to Stravinsky and Les Six, musically Hahn did not move and stayed true his revered teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, Massenet.

The CD booklet includes an excellent essay by Richard Stokes which provides plenty of background on the songs and their texts, but in fact gives us no hint of the criteria for selection, or for arrangement. Certainly Prokofieva and Rybin ignore the published order of the songs, selecting individual songs from collections, but then everyone does.

Hahn was renowned as a performer, there are recordings of him accompanying the soprano Ninon Vallin, but also he was notable for accompanying himself (you can hear a selection on YouTube), and he made enough recordings to fill three CDs (once available but now no-longer). He had a small but useful voice, and listening to him perform makes you consider what is the most important factor in these songs. A number of singers quite clearly enjoy luxuriating in the sheer beauty of some of Hahn's melodies.

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Daily on-line music lessons from the Benedetti Foundation

Violinist Nicola Benedetti at a workshop
Violinist Nicola Benedetti at a workshop
The Benedetti Foundation, created by violinist Nicola Benedetti, aims to unite the world of music education through uncovering and sharing its best practices, and celebrating its greatest advocates. With concerts, workshops and schooling shut down because of the current crisis, the foundation is going on-line. Every day at 12pm BST, one of its team of tutors will be on-line with workshops and music lessons for anyone, and the sessions are hosted on the Benedetti Foundation Facebook page for those unable to watch live.

Nicola herself will be hosting Live at Five across her social media channels on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. On Tuesdays she will discuss a topic on her YouTube channel, on Thursdays Technique with Nicky will present a topic from what has polled on Tuesday and this will be hosted on Facebook and on Sundays Dinner with Nicky will be hosted live on Instagram and feature an interview with a special guest sharing dinner and drinks, thoughts about the current situation, music making and much, much more.

The Benedetti Foundation on Facebook and on Instagram.
Nicola Benedetti on Facebook and on Youtube

Pay it forward - free concert tickets at St John’s Smith Square for NHS staff

St John's Smith Square
St John's Smith Square
Whilst St John's Smith Square is closed for performances it is looking forward to the time when the hall is able to re-open, and has started a fundraising campaign to help fund free concert tickets for NHS staff, inspired by the 'clap for our carers' initiative. 

With an initial target of 500 tickets, gifts received during the four-week campaign will be used to create an NHS free tickets fund. When the hall is able to reopen to the public, NHS workers will be invited to register for the free tickets scheme and redeem their tickets for a concert of their choice at St John's.

St John's Smith Square Director Richard Heason comments:
"The current situation has left many of us feeling quite helpless yet wanting to do something positive to let NHS staff know how much we appreciate all that they are doing for us. As an organisation that lives and breathes music, we wanted to give people a way of saying thank you through music".

Full details from the Crowdfunder page.

At Home in the World: the Bagri Foundation inviting submissions for five new on-line public commissions.

Phoenix Will Rise, Rana Begum and Marina Tabassum, Is This Tomorrow? Alserkal Avenue + Whitechapel Gallery Dubai, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
The Bagri Foundation, which was founded in 1980 with a mission to realise unique, unexpected ideas that weave traditional Asian culture with contemporary thinking, is inviting submissions for a brand-new online commissioning series entitled At Home in the World.

Artists, writers, musicians, curators, film-makers, researchers and academics are being invited to submit proposals to be one of five new online public commissions, to be presented across the foundation's online platforms.

The title At Home in the World is inspired by the Vietnamese philosopher and Buddhist Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s collection of autobiographical stories which impart mindfulness teachings, insights and life lessons.

Proposals can be submitted by single artists or artist collectives that meet the below criteria:
  • Artists must be from an Asian country or Asian diaspora as per the Foundation’s remit.
  • Applicants must have experience conceiving and executing works or projects
  • The work submitted must not have already been exhibited publicly
  • The work must be able to be shared digitally
  • The work must fit into one or more of these five identified categories:
    • Visual Arts – painting, sculpture, artists video, photography
    • Film – short films in any genre, filmed performance such as dance or performance art
    • Sound – music, sound art, podcasts
    • Written Word – poetry, essay, fictional narrative
    • Lectures/Courses – workshops, talks and courses delivered virtually and ideally participatory
The Foundation has a strong interest in traditional arts and culture of Asia and its influence on contemporary practices, and therefore would love to see proposals that embrace this.

Full details from the Bagri Foundation website.

There in spirit: English Touring Opera's St John Passion on-line with extra contributions from performers around the country

Bach: St John Passion - English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire (Photo Andreas Grieger)
Bach: St John Passion - English Touring Opera
at the Hackney Empire (Photo Andreas Grieger)
The cancellation of English Touring Opera's current tour meant not just the loss of its performances of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Handel's Giulio Cesare and Bach's St John Passion, but also the voluntary choirs all over the country that were scheduled to join in the Bach performances by singing the chorales would no longer get the chance to perform. So on Easter Sunday (12 April 2020) at 4pm, English Touring Opera will be broadcasting its archive video of the St John Passion performance at the Hackney Empire [recorded on 5 March 2020, see my review] but with a difference. 

Blended into the recording in the chorales will be performances recorded in their own homes by choirs from Keswick to Truro (and by company members) so that the broadcast performance will in some way reflect the participation of all those singers who have been unable to perform live.

Subscribe to English Touring Opera's YouTube Channel to see the St John Passion on Easter Sunday.

Not just Monteverdi's teacher: the choir of Girton College, Cambridge explores the sacred music of Marc'Antonio Ingegneri

Marc'Antonio Ingegneri Missa Laudate pueri Dominum a 8; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Guildhall School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Gareth Wilson; Toccata Classics
Marc'Antonio Ingegneri Missa Laudate pueri Dominum a 8; Choir of Girton College, Cambridge, Historic Brass of the Guildhall School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Gareth Wilson; Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
This latest project from Girton College reveals Monteverdi's teacher to have been a not inconsiderable talent with a programme of sacred music which ranges from five to 16 parts

Marc'Antonio Ingegneri is mainly remembered as the teacher of Claudio Monteverdi, with Ingegneri's own music being almost ignored. On this new disc from Toccata Classics, the choir of Girton College, Cambridge, and the Historic Brass of the Guildhall School and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, conductor Gareth Wilson, perform Marc'Antonio Ingegneri's Missa Laudate pueri Dominum a8 plus a selection of his motets.

Girton College Choir first performed Ingegneri's music in 2018 as part of a Palestrina-based project, and this led to the choir extending its 2019 tour to Milan and surrounding area (celebrating the college's 150th anniversary) to include Cremona Cathedral and to perform Ingegneri's music there, where he was maestro di capella.

The CD booklet includes a fascinating article by Giampiero Innocente on the impact of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) on the music of the church and the way the council encouraged churches to use music to celebrate the Church Triumphant as a way to counter the Protestant Reformation. In Cremona, the attitude of the canons and the clergy of the cathedral changed and music moved from purely Gregorian chant to something more developed. In 1573 Marc'Antonio Ingegneri became the cathedral's maestro di capella. He was born in Verona but had lived in Cremona since 1570. Ingegneri thus transformed the music at the cathedral, including the introduction of instruments, and much of the repertoire focuses on the idea of celebrating the Church Triumphant.

We start with a terrific triple choir motet, Cantate et psallite domine which combines instruments and singers into a glorious mix, the three choirs singing separately and coming together to celebrate the greatness and power of the creator. Like many of the motets, the music is written in homophonic blocks, so there results are glorious but the text is relatively clear.

With Ingegneri's mass, we go down to 'just' eight parts.

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Riot Ensemble announces programme of on-line commissions in response to the performance shutdown

Riot Ensemble/Zeitgeist composers (clockwise from top left): Xue Han, Alexandra Dubois, Ailie Robertson,   Àngela Gómez Vidal, Leonardo Marino, Soosan Lolavar, Raphaël Languillat image1.jpeg
Riot Ensemble/Zeitgeist composers (clockwise from top left): Xue Han, Alexandra Dubois, Ailie Robertson,   Àngela Gómez Vidal, Leonardo Marino, Soosan Lolavar, Raphaël Languillat
The Riot Ensemble has announced a creative response to the current crisis, creating a series of on-line commissions in the face of the performance shutdown. The ensemble, whose recent annual call for scores drew a record 437 submissions, has launched the commissions in partnership with Zeitgeist, the on-line gallery of contemporary work.

The Zeitgeist Commissions will be a series of solo commissions, with works by seven young composers forming the first group, to be released on the ensemble's newly established YouTube Channel. The composers will each write a solo work for one of the Riot Ensemble musicians, as follows:

Xue Han (China/Canada) for Andrew Connington (trombone)
Alexandra du Bois (USA) for Pétur Jónasson (electric guitar)
Ailie Robertson (Scotland) for Louise McMonagle (cello)
Angela Gómez Vidal (Spain) for Ausias Garrigos (bass clarinet)
Leonardo Marino (Italy) for Goska Isphording (harpsichord) 
Soosan Lolavar (Iran/UK) for Sarah Saviet (violin)
Raphaël Languillat (France) for Sam Wilson (percussion)

The ensemble has also transformed its residency at Southampton University into student composer Zeitgeist Commissions, inviting student composers to write solo pieces for the ensemble's members which will be recorded and included in the sequence of commissions. The Riot Ensemble is also inviting other university music departments to take part in the scheme.

Looking forward to a time when live music performance is possible again, the ensemble has announced a pair of commissions as a result of the recent Call for Scores. From the 437 entries received from 49 countries, Jenny Hettne (Sweden) and Alec Hall (Canada/US) will be commissioned to write new works for the ensemble.

The Other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia

The Other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia, Vivaldi, Hasse, Gluck, arias from Il Tigrane; Isabel Baykdarian, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Constantine Orbelian; DELOS
The Other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia, Vivaldi, Hasse, Gluck, arias from Il Tigrane; Isabel Bayrakdarian, Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Constantine Orbelian; DELOS
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 April 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The young Canadian-Armenian soprano explores three Baroque operas based on the same libretto set in historical Armenia

In 1710, the librettist Pietro Andrea Bernardoni wrote a libretto for an opera in Vienna by Antonio Maria Bononcini, the plot for which was taken from Armenian history. As is the wont with these things, the libretto would travel and be set by a variety of composers, including Antonio Vivaldi (in a joint effort, an act each, with Benedetto Micheli and Nicola Romaldi), Johann Adolph Hasse and the young Christoph Willibald Gluck. One of the fascinating things about the opera is that the heroine is called Cleopatra, with no link to the Queen of Egypt.

On her new recital disc, The Other Cleopatra, the USA-based, Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian explores Cleopatra's arias from the operas Il tigrane by Hasse, Vivaldi and Gluck, with the Kaunas City Symphony, conductor Constantine Orbelian, on Delos, with the music by Hasse and by Gluck being recorded for the first time.

The titular Cleopatra on this disc is Cleopatra of Pontus (110-58 BCE), the daughter of Mithridates VI of Pontus, who married King Tigranes II of Armenia, regarded as the greatest king in Armenian history, for which his wife made no little contribution. The plot of the opera, though has no basis in history as it presents Mitridate and Tigrane as enemies, so that Tigrane becomes that epitome of Baroque opera the noble hero undergoing testing times.

The disc gives us a fascinating glimpse of how three composers handled the same subject, whilst also showing us some of the period's operatic practices, whereby librettos were adapted for each production so that a different composer might use different aria texts for the same scene.

Vivaldi's opera Il Tigrane written for the 1724 carnival season in Rome (the opera was thought to have been based on a libretto by Abbate Francesco Silvane for Venice in 1691, but now Berndoni's libretto is considered to be the source). The opera falls in the middle of Vivaldi's operatic career, and in fact was something of a pasticcio and Vivaldi wrote Act II (which survives) whilst Benedetto Micheli took Act I, and Nicola Romaldi too Act III, neither of which survive. We hear three arias, 'Qui mentre mormorando' where Cleopatra sings of her love of King Tigrane, despite him being an enemy; this aria is short yet delightful with delicate murmuring strings and then, in a famous scene, Cleopatra falls asleep. With 'Squarciamipure il seno', she responds passionately to her father's forbidding of her love for Tigrane, and it is a highly dramatic and rather striking aria though occasionally Bayrakdarian seems to bend the pitch somewhat too much. Then in 'Lascera l'amata salma' she expects to die. It is rather a galant aria which seems to look forward to Elysium rather than exploring the emotional torture Cleopatra is going through.

Hasse's Tigrane was written for performance in 1729 at the Teatro San Bartolomeo in Naples, using a libretto based on that for Vivaldi's opera. It is an early opera by Hasse, he had travelled from his native Saxony in 1722 and lived in Naples for six or seven years. His best known operas all date from after 1730, when he was appointed Kapellmeister at the court of Dresden.

We hear five arias from Hasse's opera. From Act I, 'Vuoi chi'io t'oda?' when Cleopatra responds angrily to the suggestions from a rival that she give up her love of Tigrane, and 'Che gran pena' the final scene of Act I where she is overcome with remorse having quarrelled with Tigrane. 'Vuoi chi'io t'oda?', which features some strong low notes, and the rather galant Che gran pena' give a sense of Bayrakdarian's vibrant style of performance.

From Act II we hear, 'Strappane pure il seno', Cleopatra's response to her father when he forbids her love for Tigrane, a fast, vivid number, and 'Degli'Elisi alle Campagne' when she announces she wishes to die, which is more gently pastoral.  From Act III, we hear 'Presso a l'onde', her response to Tigrane's news that he would die rather than accept life without her, a graceful aria with some wide leaps which is perhaps more grateful to sing than expressive of Cleopatra's emotional situation. We also hear the overture to Hasse's opera, the only purely orchestra work on the disc. It starts fast, with prominent horn parts,  and develops into a substantial piece with slower galant sections. As well as the arias, Bayrakdarian gives us the recitatives as well providing important connective tissue.

Gluck's Il Tigrane seems to be his fourth opera, with a libretto by Carlo Goldoni based on that previously used by Vivaldi and Hasse, which was performed in Crema (near Cremona) in 1743, eleven arias and a duet survive from the opera. It is very much Gluck in pre-Reform mode. We hear 'Nero tubo il ciel imbruna' from Act I, again from the conclusion to that act after Cleopatra's argument with Tigrane, full of busy moments and dramatically angular lines; it is a long aria, and we can clearly hear Gluck's mature style hovering in the background. Then comes 'Priva del caro bene', when she wants to die rather than not marry Tigrane, a gentler piece but again with a certain interesting angularity to the line. Finally, there is 'Presso l'onda' from Act III as per Hasse's opera, which makes quite a powerful conclusion to the disc.

Isabel Bayrakdarian is not a period music specialist, but a young artist with a wide lyric range from Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro to Blanche in Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites, not to mention Teresa in Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini. She has quite a big, vibrant voice which navigates with ease the passage-work required, whilst she is adept also with the varying tessitura's of the roles. Cleopatra in Hasse's opera seems to lie particularly low.

None of the operas on the disc seems ground-breaking, but Bayrakdarian's gathering of three different composers writing for the same character in the same (-ish) librettos makes a different way of approaching the music. The performances from Orbelian and the Kaunas City Symphony match Bayrakdarian's performances, not unstylish, quite modern in style but with sufficient historically informed style to make them not seem old-fashioned.

This seems to have very much been a personal project of Bayrakdarian's, arising partly out of research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she is associate professor of voice and opera, and of course party out of the historical Armenian setting of the operas (Bayrakdarian was born in Armenia, and emigrated to Canada with her parents when she was a girl). She writes a lively introduction in the CD booklet, which includes plot summaries, texts and translations.

The Other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) - Il Tigrane (excerpts) (1724)
Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783) - Il Tigrane (excerpts) (1729)
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) - Il Tigrane (excerpts) (1743)
Isabel Baykdarian (soprano)
The Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra
Jory Vinikour (harpsichord continuo)
Constantine Orbelian (conductor)
Recorded at Kaunas Philharmonic, September 2019
DELOS DE3591 1CD [64.06]

Elsewhere on this blog
  • The most successful opera composer of the 19th century? A look at Meyerbeer and his operas  - feature article
  • A new recording of Handel's first version of Messiah (Dublin 1742) with a largely German speaking cast - Cd review
  • Filling an important gap: the sacred music of Henry Aldrich, Oxford divine and contemporary of Purcell, performed on Convivium Records by the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford - CD review
  • A dialogue with the past: the chamber music of Riccardo Malipiero from the Rest Ensemble - CD review
  • Sullivan at his peak, but without Gilbert: Haddon Hall gets its first professional recording  - CD review
  • A major addition to the symphonic repertoire: Erkki-Sven Tüür's Symphony No. 9 ;Mythos', commissioned for the centenary of the Republic of Estonia  - CD review
  • All opera is community opera: I chat to director Thomas Guthrie  - interview
  • The Leipzig Circle: piano trios by Schumann, Gade & Mendelssohn from the Phoenix Piano Trio  - CD review
  • Singing in Secret: The Marian Consort in Byrd's mass for four voices and propers for All Saints  - CD review
  • A particular place & time: Peter Sheppard Skaerved explores the 1685 Klagenfurt Manuscript with a contemporary violin by Antonio Stradivari  - CD review
  • Islands and seasons: pianist Tom Hicks in John Ireland and Tchaikovsky   - CD review
  • A seductive mix-tape: pianist Alessandro Viale's Minimal Works  on KHA - CD review
  • Home

Monday, 6 April 2020

Jess Gillam's Virtual Scratch Orchestra

Jess Gillam's Virtual Scratch Orchestra
Saxophonist Jess Gillam is inviting performers to join her Virtual Scratch Orchestra which will debut on 17 April 2020. The idea is that performers will play David Bowie's Where are we now? from Gillam's debut album, Rise, each recording their performance at home and the results will then be mixed together.

Jess Gillam said: ‘For me, music is all about people! People uniting, people sharing and people listening. At a very difficult time, when it is not currently possible to be physically together to share and make music, hopefully this is a way in which we can create something together from afar. ‘Where Are We Now?’ is one of my favourite songs by David Bowie. It’s hauntingly beautiful and seems very appropriate as we all reflect on the world and what is happening around us. This is the first song he released after a long period of silence in 2013.

There are full instructions, parts to download and a click track, on Jess Gillam's website. You have to have sent the recordings in by Friday 10 April 2020 at 6pm, and the results will debut on Gillam's Instagram page at 6pm on Friday 17 April 2020.

Bach, the Universe and Everything on-line: Can Bacterium Compute?

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - Bach, the Universe and Everything on-line: Can Bacterium Compute?
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) has a regular Sunday morning series, Bach, the Universe and Everything at Kings Place which combines the performance of a Bach cantata with a science lecture, a slightly surprising combination but one that works.

The concert for Sunday 5 April 2020 (Palm Sunday) was cancelled but nothing daunted, the OAE and Professor Susan Stepney from the University of York have gone on-line to present the concert, with each member of the OAE recording their part separately and the results then being mixed together. Stepney's talk looks at how harnessing the power of bacteria might lead to exciting new developments in the future of computing, alongside Bach's Cantata BWV 172 'Erschallet, ihr Lieder', with soloists Zoe Brookshaw, Sinead O'Kelly, Laurence Kilsby and Dominic Sedgwick, directed by Steven Devine, and there is also music by Buxtehude and Lassus.

You can see the event at the OAE's YouTube channel, and also download a programme (PDF).

Music without Quarantine

Music without Quarantine is offering on-line concerts, where a number of performers come together each in their own home. There are regular concerts at 6pm (UK time, 7pm European time) on Wednesdays. On 8 April 2020, the on-line event will feature harpsichordist Diego Ares (from Basel), pianist Danae Doerken (from Berlin), cellist Benedict Klockner (from Paris), pianist Mario Pri-suelos (from Madrid), violinsit Ivan Pochekin (from Madrid), Evgeny Serebriany from Moscow, pianist Kiveli Doerken (from Berlin) and violinist Mikhail Pochekin (from Salzburg), in a programme of music by Soler, Couperin, Paganini, Ysaye, Chopin, Suk, Ares and the contemporary Spanish composer Tomas Marco.

Then on Good Friday, 10 April 2020 (at the same time, 6pm UK time, 7pm European time), there is a special concert of music by Bach with Danae Doerken in the Partita in A minor BWV 827, Benedict Klockner in the Suite in C minor BWV 1011 and Mikhail Pochekin in the Sonata in A minor.

Full details from the Music without Quarantine on Facebook.

The first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms, Karina Canellakis, appointed principal guest conductor at the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Karina Canellakis (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Karina Canellakis (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
In 2019, the young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history by becoming the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms [she conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in Janacek, Dvorak and Zosha di Castri, see my review], and now the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) has announced that Canellakis will be its principal guest conductor from September 2020.

Canellakis made her debut with the LPO in October 2018, in Sibelius, Dvorak and Bartok. She won the Sir George Solti Conducting Award in 2016, and is currently chief conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and principal guest conductor of the Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin. In fact, she began her career as a violinist, training at the Curtis Institute, then playing n the Berlin Philharmonic as a member of its Orchester-Akademie, playing regularly with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and appearing as guest leader with orchestras like the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. She studied conducting at the Juilliard, and made her professional conducting debut in 2013 with the International Contemporary Ensemble in New York.

Canellakis will conduct four concerts during the London Philharmonic Orchestra's 2020/21 season at the Royal Festival Hall, with repertoire including Beethoven's Symphony No. 8, John Adams' concerto for string quartet, Absolute Jest, Komanov's Fall by Brett Dean (the LPO's composer in residence), Brahms and Beethoven. She will also conduct one of the orchestra's FUNharmonics family concerts.

Full details from the London Philharmonic Orchestra's website.

The most successful opera composer of the 19th century? A look at Meyerbeer and his operas

Meyerbeer: Le prophète - Deutsche Oper, Berlin 2017 (Photo Bettina Stöß)
Giacomo Meyerbeer was one of the most successful, perhaps the most successful, opera composers of the 19th century. With the decline of Meyerbeer’s reputation during the 20th century, we have lost sight of the significant influence that his operas had on his contemporaries, including Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. In a series of articles, I will be looking at the intriguing relationships between the 19th century’s two greatest opera composers (Wagner and Verdi) and the most performed opera composer of the century (Meyerbeer). But before we look at his influence, I first wanted to explore a little more about Meyerbeer and his music.

Giacomo Meyerbeer, engraving from a photograph by Pierre Petit (1865)
Giacomo Meyerbeer,
engraving from a photograph by Pierre Petit (1865)
Giacomo Meyerbeer was born in Prussia, near Berlin, and his studies included periods under Antonio Salieri, and as a fellow student of Carl Maria von Weber. After some initial success, he travelled to Italy and a series of Italian operas culminated in Il crociato in Egitto (1824, La Fenice, Venice) which brought him to international prominence. On moving to Paris, his opera Robert le Diable (1831) was the first in a sequence of French Grand Operas which built on the genre established by Auber’s La muette de Portici (1828) and Gioacchino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (1829). Meyerbeer would dominate French Grand Opera until his death in 1864 and the posthumous performance of L’Africaine (1865). Thanks to his continuing contacts with the Prussian court, Meyerbeer also wrote a German opera thus achieving what would be an ambition for the young Richard Wagner, to write German opera for the Germans, Italian opera for the Italians and French opera for the French.

It is perhaps worth bearing in mind that Meyerbeer was an entirely different generation from Verdi and Wagner. Born in 1791, he was an almost exact contemporary of Rossini (1792-1868). Musically he was not an innovator, but more of a synthesizer, his works for Paris combine Italian vocal lines, innovative orchestration and harmony, these latter two very much derived from his German background and training, along with contemporary innovations in theatrical techniques.

French Grand Opera of the period 1828 to 1850 developed partly in response to the changing demographic of the opera going public. The rise of the middle-class audience meant that people were no longer interested in operas based on Greek gods and goddesses or glorifying the rulers of the regime. And the 1820s was a striking decade in the French capital, Louis XVIII died and Charles X was crowned, and at some point during the decade Victor Hugo, Eugene Delacroix, Berlioz, Stendhal, Rossini, Madame de Satael, Gericault and many more were active.

Catch up on what you've missed on Planet Hugill

Many of us have got extra time on their hands at the moment. I have taken advantage of it make sure the Planet Hugill index pages are up to date, so why not browse them and catch up with reviews and articles that you may have missed:

Sunday, 5 April 2020

A life on line: the Metropolitan Opera in Poulenc, Verdi and John Adams, the corno da tirarsi, and not forgetting the Louloubelles

With the removal of live performance and the usual personal interactions of musical life, all our lives have changed significantly. Like many people, my cultural life has moved far more on-line, becoming an end in itself rather than simply a way of catching up on live events which have been missed. Many people and organisations seem to be experimenting with the possibilities that technology brings.

Groups like Eboracum Baroque are giving regular coffee concerts via Zoom, and members of The Telling are giving weekly on-line workshops, whilst I know that a number of amateur groups, my own choir London Concord Singers included, have been experimenting with using Zoom for rehearsals, though the technology is too limited to be able to sing together.

What can be achieved, though, is remarkable and the Oxford Lieder Festival replaced its Spring Song weekend with a series of on-line events, Social DistanSong which including performances which singer and pianist had recorded remotely, a remarkable feat and an imaginative response to the challenge, often using Social Media to distribute.

Soprano Louise Alder has created the Louloubelles, a close-harmony group which has been giving some delightful renditions of mid-Century popular songs (and the Flower Maiden's scene from Parsifal). Tenor, Jorge Navarro Colorado has recorded one of Paul Carr's songs, accompanied remotely by Paul, on YouTube but also a multi-tracked Gastoldi madrigal. Horn player Anneke Scott is playing #AChoraleADay on the corno da tirarsi, an unusual Baroque horn which Bach wrote for. And a number of organists seem to be taking the time to work their way through Bach, and publish and on-line #BachAThon. And there are many more

My own activity has gone on-line too. Next week I will be starting to conduct interviews via Skype, something I have done before but which is now a necessity. However, it means that we can still keep talking to each other and exploring musical culture. And having caught up on our television watching (you can only cope with so many Scandi-Noir series) we have been exploring on-line opera offerings.

Poulenc: Les Dialogues des Carmelites - Metropolitan Opera
Poulenc: Les Dialogues des Carmelites - Metropolitan Opera
This week it seems to have been the turn of the Metropolitan Opera, New York.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Remembering Jeffery Babb

Jeffery Babb
Jeffery Babb
In music, as in many other subjects, an inspiring teacher can make the world of a difference to the way children, and adults, approach a subject. The death was announced this week of the conductor Jeffery Babb, perhaps not a name well-known to everyone, but if you were involved in music-making in North Lincolnshire then he was someone who almost certainly touched your life.

When I was in my teens (in the late 1960s) I joined Grimsby, Cleethorpes & District Youth Orchestra (GCDYO), playing first in the intermediate orchestra and then from 1971 in the senior orchestra. Through this organisation I came into contact with Jeffery Babb who was principal music director of GCDYO (a post he held for around 40 years). He was an inspirational conductor, managing to make young players not only want to perform, but to perform new and interesting works to the best of their ability.

One of my first exposures was sitting on the back desk of the violas in the senior orchestra, and opening a new piece of music, planned as part of the orchestra's concerts during the Vaughan Williams' centenary year in 1972. I had never played anything like 'The Dance of Job's Comforters' from RVW's Job, with its shifting harmonies and almost sleazy saxophone solo. In fact, I had never come across a saxophone performing in classical music, and had no idea that music could sound like this. We went on to perform a good half of Job, touring it to Germany and it inspired in me a love of RVW's music which persists still. More than that, it made me realise that classical music stretched beyond the Bach, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky that I heard at home.

There were other amazing pieces, symphonies by Edmund Rubbra and by William Boyce, a cassation by Malcolm Williamson called The Stone Wall which called for audience participation.

I was only exposed to Jeffery Babb's conducting for a limited time, after all he shared the conducting honours in GCDYO, but even so his charismatic and inspirational leadership made a significant difference to my musical outlook.

Jeffery Babb was head of music at Wintringham School, Grimsby from 1962 to 1988, he conducted the Grimsby, Cleethorpes & District Youth Orchestra for 40 years, the Grimsby Bach Choir for 22 years and the Youth Music Weeks from 1972 to 2003. The youth orchestra's Facebook page has a fine tribute to Jeffery Babb from the present chairman and musical director, Leo Solomon, who knew him far better than I.

His 90th birthday was celebrated in 2018 with an amazing concert at Grimsby Methodist Central Hall, I went along with a cousin who had also performed under his baton, and he was present. It was a wonderful way to remember him.

Friday, 3 April 2020

BBC Radio 3's Culture in Quarantine

As a result of the current restrictions, the BBC has had to re-think its content. Many of us are coming to rely on BBC Radio 3 for its content, the BBC has introduced some interesting innovations as part of an on-going response to the challenges presented.

When Max Richter's Sleep was first broadcast in Radio 3 it broke two Guiness World Records, for the longest broadcast of a single piece of music, and the longest live broadcast of a single piece of music. The work is being re-broadcast from 11pm on Saturday 11 April to 7am on Sunday 12 April, as part of Slow & Mindful, a new night-time slot in the period running up to Easter which will include music from the monks of Downside, Belmont and Pluscarden Abbeys.

BBC Radio 3's 'drive time' slot, In Tune has had to re-invent itself, with performers introducing music via the phone and featuring Home Sessions, music recorded at home. In addition, Postcards from Composers will feature music from leading British Composers who have been invited to write sonic postcards of hope for audiences at home. The short pieces, for solo instruments, will be specially commissioned and will run throughout the schedule.

With live concerts being cancelled, Radio 3 is replacing its live coverage with recordings from the archives, but to support groups whose appearances have been cancelled, they are being invited to pick a repeat of an earlier broadcast which will enable musicians to get valuable income which accrues from broadcasts. Highlights include the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Edward Gardner in Elgar’s the Dream of Gerontius with mezzo-soprano Christine Rice and tenor Paul Groves among the soloists (14/04/2020 – as originally transmitted in March 2011); the Berlin Philharmonic and Sir Simon Rattle in Bach’s St Matthew Passion as part of the 2014 Proms, with soloists including baritone Christian Gerhaher, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, and tenor Mark Padmore (10/04/2020 – as originally broadcast on 6 September 2014, see my review) as well as highlights from Rattle’s opening season as Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain with Vasily Petrenko presenting a programme of Vaughan Williams, Turnage, and Beethoven with soloists including soprano Ailish Tynan, tenor Toby Spence, and baritone Gerald Finley (16/04/2020 – as originally broadcast in August 2013).

The season is part of a wider BBC Arts, Culture in Quarantine. More details from the BBC website.

Introducing the Baroque Spoons: the OAE launches an ambitious bid for 100,000 subscribers on YouTube

Given that music making has had to go almost exclusively on-line, it seems that everyone is trying to boost their subscribers on YouTube (if you have favourite performers, do them a favour and find their channel on YouTube and subscribe, it can really make a difference).

On Wednesday, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launched an ambitious bid to get 100,000 subscribers on its YouTube channel before September 2020. The OAE's chief executive, Crispin Woodhead explains the difference this could make:

'The more subscribers a channel has, the better placed the videos will be in YouTube’s organic ‘suggested content’ algorithm. For the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, this will increase the exposure of the organisation’s videos and therefore provide work and generate revenue for the players during a worrying time of cancelled engagements and lost income.'

To celebrate the launch, the OAE released a new video, a history of the Baroque Spoons. And yes, Wednesday was April Fools' Day.

Enjoy the video, then head over to the OAE's YouTube channel and click subscribe.

The Telling's Free live-streamed workshops prove popular

 Gardens of Delight - Ciconia, Hildegard of Bingen, Machaut, Zacara; The Telling; FHR
Last Friday, 27 March 2020, in response to cancellations of live performances, The Telling launched a weekly series of on-line workshops. This first workshop proved very popular with 100s of people joining Hastings-based singer Ariane Prüssner on Zoom.

This week, the workshops continue at 11am today when Prüssner will will teach participants how to sing the beautiful Sephardic song La Rosa, which was on The Telling's recent Cd, Gardens of Delight, [see my review]. The following week on Friday 10 April 2020, Clare Norburn will join Ariane to present a concert, including a mass sing-along of the pieces the participants learnt in the previous two workshops.

So put 11am on Fridays into your diary now.
To join today's workshop visit,, anyone can join you don't need a webcam or a camera.

A new recording of Handel's first version of Messiah (Dublin 1742) with a largely German speaking cast

 Handel Messiah; Dorothee Mields, Benno Schachtner, Benedikt Kristjansson, Tobias Berndt, Gaechinger Cantorei, Hans-Christoph Rademann; Accentus
Handel Messiah; Dorothee Mields, Benno Schachtner, Benedikt Kristjansson, Tobias Berndt, Gaechinger Cantorei, Hans-Christoph Rademann; Accentus
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 April 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The quirky first, Dublin version of Handel's masterpiece from a German choir with a long history of performing Baroque music

Anyone with a moderately long memory will associate the name of the Gaechinger Cantorey with the conductor Helmut Rilling who directed the choir (then called the Gächinger Kantorei) for several decades and developed an impressive pedigree in Baroque music albeit in a style which was larger scale and less attuned to period practice than is the case nowadays. Founded in 1954 by Rilling, since the 2013 the ensemble has been directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann and the choir was refounded and re-named as a smaller ensemble with a period instrument orchestra, rather more in the contemporary historically informed style. Whilst Bach remains the ensemble's focus, Rademann and his performers have also been exploring Handel.

On this set from Accentus, Hans-Christoph Rademann conducts the Gaechinger Cantorey in George Frideric Handel's Messiah with soloists Dorothee Mields (soprano), Benno Schachtner (alto), Benedikt Kristjansson (tenor), Tobias Berndt (bass), using Handel's 1742 Dublin version of the oratorio.

Handel: Messiah - Gaechinger Cantorey recording session, September 2019
Handel: Messiah - Gaechinger Cantorey recording session, September 2019
Messiah went through gradual and continual changes throughout Handel's life, from the 1750s it settled into something like modern standard version (see my selection of recordings at the foot of this review). For anyone unfamiliar with it, the 1742 Dublin version has a number of interesting and striking differences. Handel originally wrote the work in 1741 before he travelled to Dublin, and before he knew who his soloists were which was a very unusual procedure for him. Handel's writing was quite conservative, and to a certain extent the work's performances in London in the 1740 were closer to his intentions as he simplified things for Dublin. Following the successful premiere in Dublin, its London outings were relatively unsuccessful until in 1750 Handel used Messiah to inaugurate the chapel of the Foundling Hospital and what became the annual Foundling Hospital performances went a long way to generating the work's present success. Each performance had some modification, those made in 1745 (many at the librettist Charles Jennens' behest) went a long way toward moving the work towards the one we know, and when in 1754 the alto castrato Gaetano Guadagni joined the roster of soloists, Handel created a separate part for him (rather than allocating him to the female alto part, thus creating a version which had five soloists, soprano, contralto, castrato, tenor and bass).

The other point of interest in this recording is that a work traditionally associated with the British choral tradition is being sung in English by a German choir, itself with a long Baroque performing edition, and by a quartet of soloists for whom English is not their mother tongue. The results are impressive and engaging, and the disc certainly repays listening.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Filling an important gap: the sacred music of Henry Aldrich, Oxford divine and contemporary of Purcell, performed on Convivium Records by the Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford

Henry Aldrich Sacred choral music; The Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, David Bannister, The Restoration Consort, James Morley Potter; Convivium
Henry Aldrich Sacred choral music; The Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, David Bannister, The Restoration Consort, James Morley Potter; Convivium
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 31 March 2020
Filling an important gap in catalogue, this disc introduces us to the music of Purcell's contemporary who was Dean of Oxford.

No, I hadn't heard of Henry Aldrich either. He was a late 17th century divine who was heavily involved in the campaign against King James II's attempts to re-Catholicise the University of Oxford, and in 1689 Aldrich became Dean of Christ Church where he was in place for 21 years. He also served as Vice-Chancellor of the University from 1692 to 1695. Aldrich seems to have been something of a polymath, a logician, a skilled architect, a musician and a composer; during the 1690s he was heavily involved in the cathedral's music programme and also sang in the choir. He also held regular musical gatherings in his rooms at college.

This new disc on Convivium Records focuses on Henry Aldrich's sacred music, with The Cathedral Singers of Christ Church, Oxford performing 13 of Aldrich's anthems and the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from his Service in F major, conducted by James Morley Potter with David Bannister, organ. Also, on the disc is Aldrich's music for the 1682 Oxford Act, with the Restoration Consort (Conor Gricmanis & Alison Earll violins, Gavin Kibble viola da gamba).

Aldrich seems to have written mainly sacred music, for use in services at the cathedral. There are four complete services, seven full anthems and sixteen verse anthems, plus Aldrich's arrangements with English text of Latin motets by Palestrina, Carissimi, Byrd and Tallis.

On this disc we hear the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Service in F, five verse anthems, six full anthems, plus music which Aldrich wrote for the 1682 Oxford Act. From 1672, this annual event at the Sheldonian often featured music by Aldrich, and we hear the ode Conveniunt doctae sorores and Aldrich's only surviving instrumental music, all from the 1682 Oxford Act.

#OperaHarmony: creating micro-operitas on-line in response to the crisis

Opera director Ella Marchment has come up with an intriguing response to the shuttering of opera companies and the close confines required by the current crisis, #OperaHarmony. Micro-operas presented on-line, pairing composer and librettist, and teaming them with director and performers who all record their contributions to create a mini-opera which is shared on line.

Marchment has evidently got a strong response, and #OperaHarmony already has its first composer/librettist pairing, composer Heathcliff Blair and librettist/director John Ramster are planning a work on the Spanish flu epidemic.

As well as working as a director and teacher at venues such as Guildhall School of Music and Drama, The Julliard School, Dutch National Opera, Wexford Festival Opera and The Royal College of Music, Ella is one of the founders of SWAP'ra [see my article], and Ella has herself been responsible for the development of a significant body of new opera with her ensemble the Helios Collective, and the company premiered my opera The Genesis of Frankenstein at the CLF Art Café in 2015 [available on Vimeo].

More about #OperaHarmony on its Facebook page.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

An on-line contribution from Klemens and Uta Sander to Oxford Lieder's Social DistanSong

Last year, the Austrian baritone Klemens Sander jumped in at 24 hours' notice to perform Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin at the Oxford Lieder Festival, and it was intended that Sander return to give a full recital at Oxford Lieder's 2020 Spring Song. As this has been cancelled, as part of the festival's on-line Social DistanSong, Klemens Sander and his wife Uta have recorded a selection of Schubert songs which are available on the Oxford Lieder Festival website. There is also a video of that 2019 Die schöne Müllerin performance with Sander accompanied by Sholto Kynoch.

This latest posting from the festival also includes Stewart Campbell discusses his PhD research, offering insights into the role of song in the contemporary world, full details from the festival's Social DistanSong website.

The Czech Philharmonic celebrates its 125th anniversary with its 2020/21 season, the third with chief conductor Semyon Bychkov

Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo Petra Hajska)
Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Photo Petra Hajska)
The 2020/21 season marks the Czech Philharmonic's 125th anniversary, and the season will also by Semyon Bychkov's third as chief conductor. Bychkov will be launching the season on 17 November 2020 with a concert commemorating the 1989 Velvet Revolution, with the commemorative concert planned to become an annual event. On 17 November, Bychkov will conduct the orchestra in Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony and Mystery of Time by the Czech composer Miloslav Kabeláč (1908-1979).

During the season Bychkov will be conducting world premières of works commissioned from Bryce Dessner, Detlev Glanert and Thomas Larcher, with other concerts given by orchestra's two principal guest conductors, Jakub Hrůša and Tomáš Netopil. Netopil will be conducting Bohuslav Martinu's Ariane, whilst Sir John Eliot Gardiner will conduct Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen. David Robertson will conduct the first performance of the third of the nine newly commissioned works from Czech composers, Miloš Orsoň Štědroň's Bimetal.

2019/20 saw the completion of Semyon Bychkov's The Tchaikovsky Project, and during 2020/21 he and the orchestra will launch a new Mahler initiative featuring the composer's music alongside works by his contemporaries. Many of these concerts will be filmed for Czech Phil Media, the orchestra's new audio-visual label.

In addition to its regular concerts at Prague's Rudolfinum, the orchestra will be performing at the Dvořák Prague International Festival and Smetana's Litomyšl Festival, as well as giving concerts in Vienna, Slovakia and Spain, and giving a major European tour to Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and London.

Programme of the first Czech Philharmonic concert  (Photo: archive of the Czech Philharmonic)
Programme of the first Czech Philharmonic concert  (Photo: archive of the Czech Philharmonic)
The orchestra gave its first concert as the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in 1896, when Antonin Dvorak conducted a programme of his own works, though the origins of the idea go back earlier to the 1860s when Bedrich Smetana wished to create a Czech symphonic tradition, and to 1882 when the Society for the Maintenance of a Large Orchestra in Prague was created.  At first the orchestra was made up of members of the orchestra of the National Theatre, but as a result of a strike in 1901 the two organisations became independent of each other.

Full details from the Czech Philharmonic's website.

A dialogue with the past: the chamber music of Riccardo Malipiero from the Rest Ensemble

Riccardo Malipiero chamber works; Rest Ensemble; Brilliant Classics
Riccardo Malipiero chamber works; Rest Ensemble; Brilliant Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 March 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Four chamber works from the 20th century Italian composer Riccardo Malipiero, combined twelve-tone technique with a dialogue with the past in terrific performances from this Italian ensemble

What does the name Malipiero mean to you in terms of composition? For me it primarily evokes the editor of the early editions of Vivaldi's Gloria which used to be standard issue for choral societies, though I was hazily aware that Malipiero was also a composer.

In fact the Malipieros were a dynasty of composers, Francesco Malipiero (1824-1887) was a composer of operas in the mid 19th century and his grandson, Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973) was an important composer, editor of Monteverdi and Vivaldi, and teacher. As well as a significant body of compositions, Malipiero edited a complete Monteverdi edition and much Vivaldi (editions which have been superceded but which played an important role in the development of the 20th century performance traditions of these composers). He was also a notable teacher, whose pupils included Luigi Nono (1924-1990), Roger Sessions (1896-1985) and his own nephew Riccardo Malipiero (1914-2003), who is the subject of a new disc.

I have to confess that, until I listened to this disc of Riccardo Malipiero's chamber music on Brilliant Classics, I had never come across the composer's works. Here we have four works spanning a significant part of Malipiero's career from 1956 to 1987, Sonata for violin and piano, Ciaccona di Davide for viola and piano, Mosaico II for violin solo and Trio for piano, violin and cello, performed by the Rest Ensemble, Rebecca Raimondi (violin), Daniele Valabrega (viola), Michele Marco Rossi (cello) and Alessandro Viale (piano). Any you may recognise some of the performers from pianist Alessandro Viale's recent Minimal Works CD [see my review].

Rest Ensemble
Rest Ensemble
Malipiero's early works all used free atonality but from the mid-1940s he devoted himself to the twelve-tone technique and became one of the pioneers of that technique in Italy. In 1949, he organized the First Congress of twelve-tone music in Milan which was attended by such composers as John Cage, Luigi Dallapiccola, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, René Leibowitz, and Bruno Maderna.

Apart from the Ciaccona di Davide, which was recorded in the 1970s, all the recordings on this disc are premieres, and the ensemble's intention was not only to plug a gap in the recording catalogue but to encourage other ensembles to perform the works. What is perhaps notable about Malipiero's chamber music on this disc is that, despite his modernism, he writes for traditional classical ensembles so that we have the usual line-ups of violin and piano, viola and piano, solo violin and piano trio, so there is no reason why other adventurous performers should not explore the works.

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