Thursday, 24 July 2014

Rare charm: Scarlatti's Rosinda ed Emireno

Scarlatti - Rosinda ed Emireno - Pan Classics
Scarlatti Rosinda ed Emireno; Alice Borciani, Alex Potter, Musica Fiorita, Daniela Dolci; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Arias and duets from a rarely heard Scarlatti opera once attributed to his rival, Perti

Alessandro Scarlatti seems to have written around 60 operas, but few of them are in the record catalogue. Daniela Dolci and Musica Fiorita have now given us the chance to listen to extracts from one more, Rosinda et Emireno which Scarlatti wrote in 1697. The disc, on Pan Classics, gives us a selection of arias from the opera concentrating on two of the leading characters, Rosinda (played by counter-tenor Alex Potter) and Emireno (played by soprano Alice Borciani). The group punctuates the selections from Scarlatti's opera with sonatas by one of Scarletti's older contemporaries Giovanni Legrenzi.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Rosinda et Emireno is its scoring. In addition to his usual body of strings and continuo, Scarlatti uses a cornett which in 1697 was very much an old-fashioned sort of instrument. We don't know why he favoured this scoring, but it does give the opera a very distinct sound world.

McDowall and McNeff premieres

Nova Music Opera - Chamber opera double bill
Cecilia McDowall is a composer whose work I have followed both enjoyed and performed, so it was with great interest that I read that her opera Airborne is being premiered by Nova Music Opera, conductor George Vass, in a double bill with Stephen McNeff's Prometheus Drowned. Directed by Richard Williams, the two operas are being premiered at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, NW3 1NG (29,30,31 July) before being performed at the Presteigne Festival (21/8), Canterbury Festival (26/10) and at the Barber Institute, Birmingham (1/11).

McDowall's Airborne sets a libretto by Andy Rashleigh and involves a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, who falls in love with a nurse. Whilst McNeff's Prometheus Drown'd, to a libretto by Richard Williams, looks at the strange circumstances surrounding the death of the poet Shelly.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Swallow does make a Summer

British Youth Opera - Little Green Swallow
British Youth Opera's Summer season this year gives us the chance to hear Jonathan Dove's first full length opera. The Little Green Swallow was written in 1994 and has a text based on the 18th century writer Carlo Gozzi's tale which was a sequel to The Love of Three Oranges. Setting an English translation of Gozzi by Adam Pollock, Dove gives us a fairytale world of singing apples, talking statues and dangerous quests which picks up 18 years after Prokofiev's opera. BYO's production is directed by Stuart Barker and conducted by Lionel Friend. It runs at the Peacock Theatre on 8, 11 and 13 September and uses a cast of 14.

Dove's The Little Green Swallow was commissioned by the Batignano Festival and premiered there in 1994. It received its UK premiere 2005 when it was performed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (who recently performed Dove's Pinocchio). BYO have already performed Dove's opera Flight, giving the third UK production of the opera in 2008 (Flight was premiered at Glyndebourne). You can see part of BYO's production of Jonathan Dove's Flight on YouTube.

BYO is all about giving young singers opportunities and help, so the season also includes three public masterclasses, with Susan Bullock (7/9/2014), Edward Gardner (7/9/2014), and Diana Montague and David Rendall (9/9/2014). Full information on all the events from the British Youth Opera website.

Reading the silence - aspects of Handel's sexuality

Handel as a young man in Italy
Handel as a young man in Italy
The issue of Handel's sexuality is one that continues to fascinate musicologists & music historians. We might say, what does it matter? But the issue certainly seems to bother people, particularly the idea of Handel's sexuality being anything other than normative. Knowing more about who and what Handel cared for would perhaps help us to shed more illumination on his somewhat elusive personal life. Writings by Gary Thomas and Ellen T Harris have been around for some time, considering the question from various angles but more recently Thomas McGeary has come up what he says is a definitive answer.

Gary C Thomas started things with his article in Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology in 1994. To a certain extent, the article was simply Thomas throwing a stone to see what happened. He imaginatively stitched together what little we do and don't know into an apparently cohesive argument.  Ellen T. Harris in her 2001 book Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas attacked the question from a completely different angle, attempting to put a context to Handel's chamber cantatas. She posits Handel in an homosexual/homosocial milieu amongst his patrons in Italy and the cantatas seem to bear this out, and she extends this to Handel's early period in London under the patronage of the Earl of Burlington.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association in 2011, Thomas McGeary's article Handel and Homosexuality: Burlington House and Cannons Revisited has examined the matter in forensic detail, but considering only Handel's London period. I have to confess that, when I first came across McGeary's article I disliked it.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Weber's Euryanthe in the USA

Soprano Ellie Dehn as Euryanthe at Bard SummerScape. Photo by Todd Norwood.
Weber's Euryanthe is receiving its first American production in 100 years when it is staged by Bard SummerScape festival in New York's Annandale-on Hudson. Leon Botstein conducts, with a cast which includes Ellie Dehn, William Burden, Wendy Bryn Harmer (who will be singing Eva in Die Meistersinger with ENO next season) and Ryan Juster, Kevin Newbury directs. The festival's theme explores Schubert and His World so that Schubert's Fierrabras also gets an outing, along with his singspiel Die Verschworenen and Franz von Suppe's operetta Franz Schubert.

Weber's opera was written in 1823, to a very poor libretto by Helmina von Chezy, who also wrote the failed play Rosamunde for which Schubert wrote the incidental music. Notwithstanding the piece's poor dramaturgy, Weber's music was an important pre-cursor to later Romantic dramas and the work was a great influence on Wagner.

The festival runs from 25 July to 17 August, further information from the Festival website.

Heroes Meet

Gavin Bryars - Heroes Meet
Gavin Bryars: Music from the Faroe Islands - Hövdingar hittast ("Heroes Meet")
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jul9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Gavin Bryars inspired by the legends of the Faroe Islands

Three works by Gavin Bryars inspired by the Faroe Islands, From Egil's Saga, The Company of the Blind and Tróndur of Gøtu, performed by Rúni Brattaberg (bass), Eivør Pálsdóttir (soprano), Eystanljóð (choir) & Aldubáran (orchestra), Gavin Bryars (conductor), Ólavur Jakobsen (guitar), Agnar Lamhauge (double bass), Eystanljóð (choir), Leif Hansen (conductor), released on Gavin Byrars own label under the title Hövdingar hittast ("Heroes Meet")

The heroes in question on this celebration of Faroe Island culture are Egil and Tróndur of Gøtu. Gavin Bryars was born in east Yorkshire in 1943 but he became interested in the Faroe Islands as a boy and over the years they attained a magical, mysterious quality which never left him.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Rossini's Otello

Dress rehearsal for Rossini's Otello at Buxton Festival - photo Robert Workman
Dress rehearsal for Rossini's Otello at Buxton Festival
photo Robert Workman
Rossini Otello; Stephen Barlow conducts Northern Chamber Orchestra; Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Rare outing for one of Rossini's major serious operas, in the rarely done mezzo-soprano version

For their third opera of the season, Buxton Festival presented a concert performance of Rossini's opera Otello. As if this was not unusual enough, the opera was given in the version for mezzo-soprano created during Rossini's lifetime for Maria Malibran. We heard the second (20 July) performance of three, with Sara Fulgoni as Otello, Kate Ladner as Desdemona, Alessandro Luciano as Rodrigo, Nicky Spence as Iago and Henry Waddington as Elmiro. Stephen Barlow conducted the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Rossini's Otello was written in 1816, the second of nine serious operas Rossini wrote for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, with soprano Isobella Colbran as the reigning diva and an ensemble including star tenors Andrea Nozzari and Giovanni David. Rossini's Neapolitan operas are tenor heavy because the ensemble there seems to have been. Otello lies on the cusp of Rossini's dramatic development, so that the first two acts have a relatively conventional libretto, Shakespeare re-worked for an audience used to librettos by Metastasio. But the final act is far closer to Shakespeare and Rossini's music more than equals Verdi.

Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton

Michael Chance as Orfeo in Gluck's opera at the Buxton Festival - photo Robert Workman
Michael Chance as Orfeo, in the Elysian Fields
photo Robert Workman
Gluck Orfeo; Michael Chance, Northern Chamber Orchestra, conductor Stuart Stratford, director Stephen Medcalf; Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Intense, modern version of Gluck's 1762 Italian opera

Buxton Festival have been celebrating Gluck's 300th anniversary with a new production of Orfeo (seen 19 July 2014). Directed by Stephen Medcalf and designed by Francis O'Connor with lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, the opera featured counter-tenor Michael Chance in the title role with Barbara Bargnesi as Euridice and Daisy Brown as Amore. Stuart Stratford conducted the Northern Chamber Orchestra. Choreographer Paula O'Reilly was assistant director.

The Festival performed Gluck's original Italian version premiered in 1762 in Vienna. Other options could have been Gluck's French version (with an haut-contre in the title role), Berlioz's adaptation of the French version for mezzo-soprano and the so-called Ricordi edition which conflates all of these and was, until recently, the standard version.

Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton Festival - photo Robert Workman
Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton Festival
photo Robert Workman
Stephen Medcalf set the opera in a loosely contemporary period with Orfeo as an ageing rock-star. Francis O'Connor's settings were abstract and based on the huge letters spelling out Orfeo's name at the opening. Act one and act two, scene one were basically black, whilst act two scene two (the Elysian Fields) was a gloriously clear-skied Californian beach party with chorus dressed to match and providing the evening solitary splash of colour. During the overture we saw the end of Orfeo's act and how he ignored Euridice for the adulation of the crowds. Medcalf did not push the concept and much of the action remained abstract and concentrated on the protagonists. Here Medcalf's personenregie clearly paid dividends and from start to finish the performance was musically and dramatically riveting. Medcalf had clearly read the libretto and listened to the music, and his production reflected this.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Women on the edge - Rosalind Plowright in recital

Rosalind Plowright
Handel, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Falla, Weill, Britten, Stanford; Rosalind Plowright, Philip Mountford; Buxton Festival at the Pavilion Arts Centre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

The distinguished mezzo-soprano's recital based on her recent solo disc.

A subtitle for Rosalind Plowright's recital at Buxton Festival on 19 July might have been 'Women on the Edge' or even borrowing Almodovar's 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown'. Plowright's recital with pianist Philip Mountford at the Pavilion Arts Centre was based around her recently released CD, though with some judicious alterations so that we had a programme which started with Handel and worked its way through Brahms, Tchaikovsky, De Falla, Kurt Weill, Britten and Stanford to Frank Bridge. But whatever the composer, you sensed Plowright mining the darker edge of the songs.

Always an intensely dramatic performer, each song became a scene or scena with presentation as vividly dramatic as her singing. A voice as thrilling as Plowright's was never going to be an easy ride in recital. As an opera singer she specialises in dramatic parts like Herodias in Salome, and has been a notable Medea, and there were moments in the recital when you felt these characters wander into the limelight.

Things started in highly dramatic vein with Dejanira's Whither Shall I Fly from Handel's Hercules, a mad scene in all but name, Plowright gave us an intense few minutes during which you really thought she was seeing things. And her command of the baroque idiom with its flurries of passagework wasn't half bad either.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Small Nations - Big Sounds

Bartosz Woroch
Bartosz Woroch
Sinfonia Cymru, the lively Welsh chamber orchestra, is going international with its forthcoming Small Nations Big Sounds festival in Cardiff in October. The festival is part of the EU's Emerging Classical Talent in the EU project and involves a partnership with Kalmare Lans Musikstftelse and Blasarsymfonkerna (from Sweden), Fondazione Paolo Grassi (Italy) and Pille Lill Music Fund (from Estonia). The collaborating groups are organising a total of 15 concerts in Estonia, Italy, Sweden and Wales. In Cardiff, the events run from 3 to 6 October, with performances from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Sinfonia Cymru and other international performers.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Thomas Sondergard, performs a programme entitled Four Last Songs with Sondergard at St David's Hall, Cardiff on 3 October. Then Sinfonia Cymru and guest director Bartosz Woroch (himself from Poland) are joined by Camerata Nordica, the Swedish Wind Ensemble and soloists from the Fondazione Paolo Grassi and Pille Lill Music Foundation in three concerts at Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (4-6 October). The concerts will include a number of collaborations and world premieres celebrating the music and musicianship of each nation.

Further information from the Sinfonia Cymru website, and the Emerging Classical Talent in the EU website.

Dvorak's The Jacobin in Buxton

Nicholas Lester and Anne Sophie Duprels in Dvorak's The Jacobin at Buxton Festival Opera
Nicholas Lester & Anne Sophie Duprels
Dvorak The Jacobin; Northern Chamber Orchestra, Conductor Stephen Barlow, Director Stephen Unwin; Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 18 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Sparkling revival of Dvorak's village opera, reset in the Fascist era

Festival's are about exploring repertoire that is not always available elsewhere so it was a great delight to be able to welcome Stephen Unwin's new production of Dvorak's The Jacobin at the Buxton Festival. We saw the performance on 18 July 2014, with Stephen Barlow conducting the Northern Chamber Orchestra with a cast including Nicholas Lester, Anne Sophie Duprels, Anna Patalong, Matthew Newlin, James McOran-Campbell, Nicholas Folwell and Andrew Greenan. Designs were by Jonathan Fensom, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and choreography by Lucy Hinds.

It can come as something of a surprise that Dvorak wrote 11 operas, most as part of a determined effort to forge a Czech national opera. The operas vary in style from high drama to village comedies. The Jacobin, premiered in 1889, is commonly regarded as a comedy. The plot has elements common to Smetana's The Bartered Bride (premiered in 1865), the village setting with a big role for the chorus, the unwanted/arranged marriage and the return of a missing heir in disguise. Unlike, The Bartered Bride, Dvorak and his librettist Marie Cervinkova-Riegrova explore darker issues as well.

Angels and Devils - La Serenissima in Buxton

Angels & Devils - music by Leclair, Vivaldi, Guillemain
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

18th Music for two violins exploring the differences in French and Italian playing

La Serenissima's afternoon concert at the Buxton Festival on Friday 18 July 2014 took place in the early 19th century St. John's Church, Buxton. Violinists Adrian Chandler and Cecilia Bernardini explored the development of 18th century violin music. Their programme focused on two virtuosi, the French Jean-Marie Leclair and the Italian Pietro Locatelli. Playing together at a concert in Kassel, Leclair was said to have played 'like an angel' with beautiful tone, whilst Locatelli played 'like a devil' with scratchy tone bu astonishing left hand pyrotechnics. Italian violin playing developed virtuosic elements earlier, whilst French violin playing remained wedded to dance music far longer, until the advent of Italian-trained violinsts like Leclair. Chandler and Bernardini's programme included two of Leclair's sonatas for two violins alongside two of Vivaldi's for the same forces, and a sonata by Leclair's countryman Guillemain.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Homecoming - A Scottish Fantasy

Nicola Benedetti - Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy - DECCA
Bruch Scottish Fantasy, traditional Scots music; Nicola Benedetti, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Rory Macdonald; DECCA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Brilliant combination of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy with traditional Scots fiddling

What to programme with the Bruch Scottish Fantasy? This new disc from Nicola Benedetti takes a distinctive new tack by pairing the fantasy with traditional Scots music, in both orchestra arrangements and played in traditional style. Accompanied by Rory MacDonald and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Benedetti plays Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and a group of Robert Burns songs arranged by Irish composer Paul Campbell and by Petr Limonov. Then, most interestingly, Benedettis joins a group of traditional Scots musicians including Julie Fowlis, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain to play traditional Scots tunes.

Whilst this might be seen as returning to her roots, in an article on the Decca website Benedetti makes it clear that as a young classical musician in Scotland she was kept well away from traditional Scots music because the fiddling techniques required to play it are so very different. So the disc is as much an exploraton as a homecoming. But what does seem to have happened is the Scots element has provided some cross-fertilisation with the Bruch.

Branscombe Festival

Branscombe, Devon
Branscombe, Devon
The Devon village of Branscombe has its second festival this year, running from 25-27 July 2014. Founded by Ian Rosenblatt (of Rosenblatt Recitals), Branscombe Festival presents major musicians in a delightful country setting. This year, curated by Iain Burnside, there is a recital by Ailish Tynan and Luis Gomes, cellist Philip Higham playing Bach, and I Fagiolini in a programme which stretches from William Cornyshe and Monteverdi to Cathy Berberian and Britten. Plus Albert Ball's Flying Aces, the UK's only fully professional ragtime band (along with cream teas) and dance band The Leo Green Experience . There is a hog-roast for audience members on the Saturday evening, and a free concert on the beach by the Band of the Royal Marines on Sunday evening. Further information from the Branscombe Festival website.

Branscombe is a village in East Devon, with three National Trust properties in the village.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Yonghy Bongy Bo

Giles Swayne
Giles Swayne
Photo credit Alice Williamson

Swayne, McCabe, Handel; Mousai Singers, Simon Hogan, Daniel Cook, Sky Ingram, Rebecca Afonwy-Evans, Ashley Catling, Giles Underwood; JAM at the City of London Festival, St Bride's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

English premiere of Giles Swayne's Lear setting from this dynamic young choir

The final concert in JAM's season at the City of London Festival included a new commission and a revisiting of an older one. At St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street on Wednesday 16 July 2014, the Mousai Singers, Onyx Brass, organist Simon Hogan, soprano Sky Ingram, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, tenor Ashley Catling and baritone Giles Underwood with conductor Daniel Cook gave the first English performance of Giles Swayne's The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo (the same performers had premiered the work in St. David's), along with John McCabe's Songs of the Garden (a JAM commission from 2004) and Handel's Coronation Anthems. Both Giles Swayne and John McCabe were present, and the performance of Songs of the Garden was dedicated to McCabe whose 75th birthday it is this year.

Proceedings opened with a crisp performance of Handel's The King Shall Rejoice, with the choir performing with admirable firmness and discreet brilliance. The Mousai Singers are a group of young singers at the start of their professional career, most have been choristers in cathedrals and are now studying. They make a bright, forward and admirably focussed sound. They gave Handel's anthem a sense of sober rejoicing, along with some nicely firm and even passagework.

Fithy lucre: Lost in the nameless city

Lore Lixenberg
Lore Lixenberg
Fithy lucre: Lost in the nameless city
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jul 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Poetry and performance in Peckham Art Cafe hits a high point.

Originally based in Cambridge, but now in London, this is the fourth year of Filthy Lucre, the brain child of Anthony Friend and Joe Bates (Artistic Director), who wanted to create immersive musical experiences around a set artistic concept. Filthy Lucre 4 'Lost in the nameless city' explored "shining cities and urban decay, ruinlust and abandonment, suburbs, utopias and the towns they built to change" in the Clf Art Cafe in the heart of Peckham.

The Filthy Lucre orchestra, conducted by William Cole (a composer in his own right), led the way through this urban jungle, giving each new work their complete concentration. Performers Geoff Clapham, Lore Lixenberg, Rob Luft, Luke Newman and Cecil B Demented added their own interpretation of being lost.

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival on the move

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival has been an exciting fixture on the London opera scene for a number of years. It is a festival like no other, with a bewildering array of new work. What you might see can vary from traditional opera to music theatre to drama which seems hardly opera at all, but it is all challenging and all exciting. Opera at the cutting edge. This year, the festival moves from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, to Central St. Martins (24/7 - 3/8) and King's Place (7/8-10/8). There are over 30 world premieres with over 100 performances not only at Central St. Martins and Kings Place, but also on the streets and public spaces.

This year there are 12 new works by women composers, including Errolyn Warren's Anon (a WNO commission based on interviews with sex workers). Lore Lixenberg presents a one woman show April in the Amazon with music by Laurence Osborn. Leo Geyer returns to the festival (see my review of his previous opera, The Mermaid of Zennor) with Sideshows, Edward Lambert presents Catfish Conundrum (see Jill Barlow's review of his previous opera, Six Characters in Search of a Stage), Edward Henderson's Manspangled makes an appearance after its try-out at Second Movement's Rough for Opera, Stephen Crow presents his song cycle The Dorty Letters of James Joyce and English Touring Opera brings their family opera Rumbled.

Full information from the festival website.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy

Zemlinsky A Florentine Tragedy - LPO
Zemlinsky A Florentine Tragedy, Six Maeterlinck Songs; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Thrilling performances of two of Zemlinsky's major operatic and vocal works

Listening to Alexander Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy it is difficult to get Richard Strauss's Salome out of one's head, both the overheated plot and soundworld, and the common origins in Oscar Wild. Zemlinsky's opera dates from 1917, over 10 years too late (and with a world war to alter musical tastes). But the opera had great personal significance to Zemlinsky and the virtue of this thrilling new live recording from Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra is the way the programme notes link the superbly dramatic performances to Zemlinsky's private life. And by including Zemlinsky's Maeterlinck Songs the thread of personal involvement is emphasised more.

Eine florentinische Tragodie Op.16 is performed by Heike Wessels (Bianca), Sergey Skorokhodov (Guido) and Albert Dohmen (Simone), whilst Petra Lang is the soloists in Zemlinsky's Six Maeterlinck Songs Op.13. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Vladimir Jurowski and the disc is released on the LPO's own label.

Dvorak - In Love?

Dvorak - In Love?
Tony Palmer's film Dvorak - In Love? has just made its debut on DVD (on Firefly Entertainment). Now, if you didn't realise that Palmer had made a new film, you would be right! Dvorak - In Love? has a rather curious story. It was originally produced in 1988 in collaboration with Czechoslovak Television. A documentary about how Dvorak's Cello Concerto came into existence, the finished film had too political message for Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia (the work was shown in the UK on the South Bank Show). When, two years later, the Russians withdrew the film was the first documentary to be shown on Czechoslovak TV.

The film includes a complete performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto performed by Julian Lloyd Webber with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vaclav Neumann. The story the film tells involves not only a tragic love-story but also Dvorak's active involvement in the 1880's and 1890's in a movement which wanted to free Bohemia from domination by a Foreign Power (in this case the ruling Austro-Hungarian Empire). Issues which are as relevant today.

Available from Amazon: Dvorak - In Love? [DVD] [NTSC]

Premiere of Judith Bingham's The Very Distant Days

Next week, I am singing in the world premiere of Judith Bingham's The Very Distant Days as part of a concert being given by London Concord Singers, conductor Malcolm Cottle, at St Michael's Church, Chester Square, London SW1W 9HH on 24 July 2014 (at 7.30pm). Also in the programme is Vaughan Williams Five English Folksongs, one of the gems of the 20th century choral repertoire, plus a selection of sacred music spanning 600 years from Victoria and Phillips to Cecilia McDowall.

Judith Bingham's new work The Very Distant Days, a London Concord Singers commission, sets a text which intriguingly combines words by Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Bingham uses extracts from The Old Curiosity Shop and Alice in Wonderland to create a wonderfully meditative piece on ageing and growing old. London Concord Singers will be performing this alongside Zoltan Kodaly's own take on the same subject, Oregek.

Further information and ticket sales from Event Brite. If you can't get to the concert, then we will be giving the Dutch premiere of the work on 2 August 2004 in Maastricht.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Crouch End Festival Chorus competition

Couch End Festival Chorus logo
Amazingly, the Crouch End Festival Chorus is 30! (I sang with them in their first concert, and they premiered my Here be Angels in 1998). To celebrate their birthday they are running a Christmas carol competition. Open to all UK resident composers, the competition's winning entry will be performed at CEFC's Christmas Concert on 20 December 2014. Closing date for entries is 1 October 2014, further information from the CEFC website.

Autumn at St John's Smith Square

Artur Pizzaro
Artur Pizzaro
The Autumn season at St John's Smith Square is an interesting mixture of the old and the new. There is a new Young Artists Programme, plus the Sunday at St Johns, whilst music varies from premieres of works by Harrison Birtwistle, Stephen Montague and Alexander Campkin, to the Early Opera Company in Rameau and actor Simon Russell Beale as Debussy. Whilst pianist Artur Pizarro returns with his Rachminov series.

St Johns is starting its own Young Artists Programme. Always known for its support of artists early in their career, the hall has developed a Young Artists programme with four performers/groups this year, clarinettist Anna Hashimoto (8/11), the Aurea Quartet, guitarist Laura Snowden (15/9) and the Zelkova Quartet (4/12). All will be performing during the season.

Another new initiative is the series Sunday at St Johns, with chamber music and song in concerts including The Brook Street Band in Bach and Handel (28/11), and from Nicky Spence, Marcus Farnsworth and Audrey Hyland in RVW, Britten and Schubert (21/9).

City of London Festival: Korean fusion in LSO St Luke’s

Hyeon-Sik Shin from Ensemble Sinawi playing the ajaeng
Hyeon-Sik Shin from Ensemble Sinawi playing the ajaeng
Korean Fusion; Ensemble Sinawi; City of London Festival at LSO St. Luke's
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jul 8 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Traditional Korean sounds mixed with chamber, folk, and jazz to create an entirely new and individual fusion.

Ensemble Sinawi brought a taste of Korea to central London last night (Tuesday) at LSO St Luke's as part of the City of London Festival. Ensemble Sinawi are interested in continuing the practice of traditional music, focussing on the improvisational and shamanistic sinawi and the story telling of pansori. But they are also aware of the fact that they are living now, in the 21st century, and are immersed in modern music. Traditional sounds are mixed with chamber, folk, and jazz to create an entirely new and individual fusion.

In the programme notes the stringed instruments were all called 'zither' - some of which were plucked with either or both hands (gayageum), others bowed (ajaeng). Yang-Hwa Kim who played the gayageum also sang, while, on ajaeng, Hyeon-Sik Shin's frequent vocal interjections seemed to also serve as indications to the musicians that they were going to move on to the next section.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Ryedale Festival - Italy, monks, Donald Swann and more

The Ryedale Festival opened with a bang on Friday (11 July) with a performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (1610), conducted by Robert Hollingworth at Ampleforth Abbey with performers including monks from the Abbey. Festival director Christopher Glynn has an Italian theme running through the festival, with Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea being given by Ryedale Festival Opera at Ampleforth College Theatre, La Serenissima performing Vivaldi concertos (including those concertos), and the Fieri Consort in Monteverdi and Gabrieli. Festival finishes on 27 July with a gala concert being given by the Royal Northern Sinfonia, conducted by Rebecca Miller, at Hovingham Hall.

Along the way there are performances from the orchestra of Opera North, the Endellion String Quartet, the Scottish Ensembles, Genesis Sixteen, Christiane Karg (accompanied in Richard Strauss by Christopher Glynn) and Clare Hammond. There is a day devoted to the great songwriter Richard Rogers, and a celebration of Donald Swann,

The festival takes place in and around Ryedale in North Yorkshire, taking advantage of many of the lovely venues available. So if you live in the area, or are holidaying there it is certainly well worth a visit. Full information from the festival website.

Berlioz Herminie and La mort de Cleopatre

Berlioz Herminie, La mort de Cleopatre; Lisa Larsson, Het Gelders Orkest, Antonello Manacorda; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 07 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Two of Berlioz's Prix de Rome cantatas in performances in performances which don't quite make their mark in a crowded marked

Berlioz had three goes at winning the Prix de Rome (in 1827, 1828 and 1829) before finally winning in 1830. His winning work, La more de Saranapale is highly conventional, and it is the works which didn't win which hold out interest to us today. La mort de Cleopatre (from 1829) presages the final scenes of Dido's death in Berlioz's opera Les Troyens, and gives us a tempting might have been in his abandoned operatic project on Anthony and Cleopatra. Herminie (1828) has the fascination of using as its musical material the idee fixe which Berlioz re-used in his Symphonie Fantastique. The judges might not have been impressed with Berlioz's attempts - when taxed with writing music that wasn't peaceful Berlioz retorted 'Monsieur, it is rather difficult to write peaceful music for an Egyptian queen who has been bitten by a poisonous snake and who is suffering a painful death in extremes of agony' - but there is much for the modern listener.

This new disc on Challenge Classics from Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson, and Het Gelders Orkest under their principal conductor Antonello Manacorda, pairs Herminie with La mort de Cleopatre along with Berlioz's song La Captive.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Angel of Mons - premiere of Judith Bingham's oboe concerto

Red Note Ensemble - photo credit Wattie Cheung
Red Note Ensemble
photo credit Wattie Cheung
Bingham, Adams, Barber, RVW; Michal Rogalski, Red Note Ensemble; JAM at the City of London Festival, St. Andrew's Church, Holborn.
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

World premiere of Judith Bingham's oboe concerto in a dramatic and characterful programme

Michal Rogalski
Michal Rogalski
For the second of their City of London Festival concerts, JAM presented the Scottish Red Note Ensemble in a programme of music for strings and oboe, which included the world premiere of Judith Bingham's Oboe Concerto: The Angel of Mons alongside Bingham's 2012 JAM commission, The Hythe, plus RVW's Oboe Concerto and music by John Adams and Samuel Barber. Red Note Ensemble, leader Jacqueline Shave, performed at St Andrew's Church, Holborn, London EC4A 3AB on Friday 11 July. The solo oboist was Michal Rogalski.

The concert opened with Judith Bingham's Oboe Concerto: The Angel of Mons which was commissioned by JAM. The work is written for solo oboe and small string ensemble (Red Note performed with 11 players). Bingham heard the London-based Polish oboist Michal Rogalski performing with Red Note last year, which gave her the idea for writing for this combination of forces. The work is inspired by the legend of the Angel of Mons, in which an Angel appeared to British soldiers during the Retreat from Mons and helped save the allies from the German forces. The Battle of Mons and the Retreat from Mons were the first encounters between the Germans and the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Illustrating stories: ‘The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains’

Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman
I had been looking forward to Neil Gaiman's 'The truth is a cave in the Black Mountains' at the Barbican Hall, but was not sure what to expect. What we were given was a delightful evening of music by FourPlay string Quartet, stories by Gaiman, plus illustrations by Eddie Campbell, that I wish I could have seen and heard again.

I am not sure how I was introduced to the writing of Neil Gaiman - it might have been reading 'Good Omens' – but that was a long time ago. He is famous for writing 'Coraline', 'Neverwhere' and 'Stardust' – all of which have been made into films/TV – and comics/graphic novels including 'The Sandman'. Earlier this year I read the award-winning 'American Gods' which (it has been recently announced) will be adapted for TV by HBO. The BBC is planning a mini-series based on 'Anansi boys' a sequel (of sorts) to 'American Gods'. So lots for fans to look forward to.

The Australian quartet Fourplay started out in 1995 (with the purchase of pickups and distortion pedals) as four friends who were inspired by experimental quartets such as Kronos and the Brodsky Quartet. A couple of changes later and their line up now consists of Lara Goodridge (violin and vocals), Tim Hollo (viola), Shenton Gregorio (viola) and Pete Hollo (cello). Their deliberate choice to have two violas rather than two violins means that FourPlay has a deeper, warmer and potentially darker sound than the average string quartet.

Still scary - The Turn of the Screw - Christine Collins Young Artists at Opera Holland Park

Opera Holland Park- Turn of the Screw - Christine Collins Young Artists
Opera Holland Park's James Clutton and Sarah Crabtree with the
Christine Collins Young Artists and the cast of
The Turn of the Screw.
Thursday 10 July 2014 saw the second of this year's performances at Opera Holland Park by the Christine Collins Young Artists. Annilese Miskimmon's production of The Turn of the Screw (see our review of the original production) was performed by a cast made up of Young Artists; Fleur de Bray was the Governess, Bradley Smith was Peter Quint, Emily Blanch was Miss Jessel and Nick Pritchard was the Prologue. From the main cast, Diana Montague was Mrs Grose, Dominic Lynch was Miles and Rosie Lomas was Flora. The performance was conducted by Harry Ogg (read my 2013 interview with him), with the City of London Sinfonia in the pit, and the Associate Director was Deborah Cohen.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Lamento - Romina Basso and Latinitas Nostra

Lamento, music by Rossi, Carissimi, Strozzi, Monteverdi, Provenzale; Romina Basso, Latinitas Nostra; Naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 04 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Vividly thrilling exploration of the 17th century Italian lamento

Lamento is a new disc from mezzo soprano Romina Basso and Latinitas Nostra on Naive label which puts together five substantial 17th century laments, a genre which was extremely popular in the 17th century. Each is a sequence of arias and recitatives, telling a story like a miniature opera and focussing on a single tragic event. We have Lamento della regina di svezia (Lament of the Queen of Sweden) by Luigi Rossi, Lamento in morte di Maria Stuarda  by Giacomo Carissimi, Barbara Strozzi's Lagrime mie (My tears), Monteverdi's Lamento d'Arianna and Squarciato appena avea, attributed to Francesco Provenzale.

Walter Widdop, a forgotten heldentenor

Walter Widdop
Walter Widdop
If you put on any of Walter Widdop's Wagner recordings made in the late 1920's and early 1930's you hear a vibrant, evenly produced voice with perhaps a degree of tightness at the top. The clarity of production, evenness and firmness of tone impress, and his diction is superb. Whilst Widdop may not quite stand up to his greates contemporaries such as Lauritz Melchior, his existing recordings are highly impressive yet nowadays his name is barely known. In fact Walter Widdop (1892 - 1949) was one of the few English singers between the war to have a significant International career.

Born in 1892 in a village near Halifax, Widdop was the son of a stone dresser. At the age of 12 he spent half his time working in a local mill, attending school in the afternoon. He went on to work at a dye works. Widdop seems to have been a man about whom stories gathered. There are tales of him annoying co-workers with his singing, when working in a Bradford dyehouse, reputedly a burly navvy who heard him singing remarked: ‘If I’d thy voice and my brains I’d mak some brass.’ Encouraged by a local choir master he started singing in a choir. At the age of 21 he started lessons with Arthur Hinchcliffe

Always keen to better himself, music must have seemed a possible way out of the mill for the 21 year old. His first few lessons were paid for by work mates and then Widdop took paid singing engagements. His teacher, Arthur Hinchcliffe, came from a distinguished pedigree; he had learned with Charles Santley who had studied with the great Manuel Garcia jnr.  Widdop started to win competitions and he was in the Entertainment Corps during World War I.