Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Celebrating musical pilfering: Septura's Kleptomania at St John's Smith Square

The brass septet, Septura, has a new concert series at St John's Smith Square, London and West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. Called Kleptomania the series presents prize pickings of music that the group has "stolen" through transcription for brass septet: plunder from string ensembles, pianists, chamber orchestras and singers. 

They open with Stolen Strings at St John's Smith Square on 19 September 2017 with transcriptions of Elgar's Serenade,, Walton's Sonata, Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet. Future concerts include Pilfered Piano (Debussy Préludes, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition), Borrowed Baroque (Rameau Dardanus, Handel Rinaldo, Stravinsky Pulcinella) and Song Swag (Ravel Mother Goose, Fauré Mélodies, Gershwin Piano Preludes and An American in Paris)

Septura is made up of Philip Cobb (Trumpet), Simon Cox (Trumpet & Artistic Director), Huw Morgan (Trumpet), Alan Thomas (Trumpet), Matthew Gee (Trombone), Matthew Knight (Trombone & Artistic Director), Daniel West (Bass Trombone), Sasha Koushk-Jalali (Tuba) and Peter Smith (Tuba). The group is recording a series of 10 discs for Naxos Records, each focused on a particular period, genre and set of composers, creating a ‘counter-factual history’ of brass chamber music.

Full details from the Septura website.

Rattle conducts Berlioz' La damnation de Faust

Sir Simon Rattle & the London Symphony Orchestra (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Sir Simon Rattle & the London Symphony Orchestra
(Photo Tristram Kenton)
Berlioz La damnation de Faust; Bryan Hymel, Karen Cargill, Christopher Purves, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Sep 17 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A beautiful ride to Hell, although at times I wanted to feel the words a little more keenly and have my roller-coaster ride a bit rougher

The fable of selling one’s soul to the devil for a dream is a tale as old as time. Our perpetual fascination with tales of Faust, in particular, have cemented him into our storytelling culture. Goethe’s tragedy alone has inspired more composers than you can shake a stick at. Sir Simon Rattle chose Berlioz's La damnation de Faust as part of his opening season of concerts at music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday 17 September at the Barbican, Rattle conducted the LSO, London Symphony Chorus, Tiffin Boys’ Choir, Tiffin Girls’ Choir, Tiffin Children’s Chorus and soloists Bryan Hymel (Faust), Karen Cargill (Marguerite), Christopher Purves (Mephistopheles) and Gabor Bretz (Brander)

Berlioz’s concert opera or dramatic legend, as Beecham pointed out, “has a bunch of the loveliest tunes in existence”. It’s a flamboyant and powerfully evocative work full of humour, beauty and violence. It’s a rollercoaster ride from the immensity of nature through to the pandemonium of damnation. Rattle and the LSO along with a precisely drilled chorus painted a nuanced and startling vivid portrait of an inexorable journey to perdition.

I confess to a somewhat factious relationship with Berlioz’s Faust. As with my emotional response to Proust, I recognise the beauty but the protagonists’ intellectual hubris and poetic ennui can all too easily make my teeth itch. For me personally it’s success as a whole depends on the vocal interpretations. The vocal writing is not just bel canto – expression and meaning need to come first.

Christopher Purves (Mephistopheles), standing in for an indisposed Gerald Finley, was charming, cynical and mockingly unctuous. If I missed anything it would be a certain orotund authority. Karen Cargill’s Marguerite was the very picture of naivety. Her ballad of faithfulness and “D’amour l’ardente flamme” were achingly poignant – Marguerite was a sitting duck. The American tenor Bryan Hymel was steely voiced, heroic of tone with a beautiful legato so much so I could quite happily have slapped him around the face with a wet kipper. His Faust gets what’s coming to him and his demise “c’est bien”. Caveat emptor. A beautiful ride to Hell then, although at times I wanted to feel the words a little more keenly and have my rollercoaster ride a bit rougher.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Elsewhere on this blog:

Subito! debut recital from Julia Hwang

Subito! Julia Hwang - Signum
Grieg, RVW, Lutoslawski, Wieniawski; Julia Hwang, Charles Matthews; St John's Cambridge/Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 13 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Maturity and charm shine out in this debut recital from the young violinist recently graduated from St John's College

This recording by the young violinist Julia Hwang was released concurrently with her graduation. Hwang studied at St John's College, Cambridge and this disc is the fist non-choral disc on St John's imprint (on Signum Classics). Accompanied by pianist Charles Matthews, Hwang plays an eclectic programme which she describes as a personal recital, the pieces reflecting, in some part, her journey with the violin through adolescence; Grieg's Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor, Op.45, RVW's The Lark Ascending, Witold Lutoslawski's Subito and Henryk Wienawski's Fantaisie brillante sur des motifs de l'Opera 'Faust' de Gounod, Op. 20.

Grieg's third violin sonata dates from 1887, twenty years after his youthful first two sonatas, and the sonata may have been written for the young Italian violinist Teresina Tua, whom he referred to jokingly as 'the little fiddle-fairy on my troll hill'! In a conventional three movements, with the first in sonata form, at first the Norwegian lyric breeze seems far away as Hwang and Matthews start with Brahmsian passion. Hwang plays with an appealing, warm sound, with a nice depth to it. But though the work is classically structured, the Grieg of the Lyric Pieces is not far away and soon the mood gives way to the lyrical freshness, and this lyric melody continues into the second movement. The third movement is a vivid, yet sophisticated folk-dance, bright and breezy yet a long way from Grieg's Hardanger fiddle-inspired music.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Quickening on BBC In Tune - 25 September 2017

Baritone Johnny Herford, pianist William Vann and I will be on BBC Radio 3's In Tune on Monday September 2017.

We will be talking to Sean Rafferty about our new disc Quickening, and Johnny and Will will be performing songs from the album. Other guests on  the show include the Chelys Consort of Viols and Emma Kirkby.

Further information from the BBC Radio 3 website.

Lucy Goddard's American Songbook tour

Lucy Goddard's American Songbook tour
Mezzo-soprano Lucy Goddard and pianist Siwan Rhys have put together a fascinating combination of British and American contemporary song which reflects views of America from both sides of the Atlantic. American Songbook features new work by Laura Bowler and Christopher Mayo, plus music by Michael Finnissy, Charles Ives, Ruth Crawford Seeger, John Cage, Milton Babbitt and George Crumb, plus the UK premieres of three works by Morton Feldman.

The programme was previewed at an Open Session in Aldeburgh in August, and opens on 19 September at The Hurst Festival at Danny House, Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, with further performances at The Brunel Tunnel Shaft, Rotherhithe, London (6 October), The MUSICON series in Durham University Music Department (17 October), The Performance Space, City University, London (31 October).

Laura Bowler's A Damned Mob of Scribbling Women uses texts by Louise May Alcott, Gertrude Stein, Kate Chopin and Patti Smith to create a collage picture of American society. Christopher Mayo’s work promises to provide an evocative and thought-provoking reflection of Mina Loy’s Tuning in on the Atomic Bomb. Goddard and Siwan will be performing extracts from Michael Finnissy's song cycle Whitman, having worked with the composer during a Snape Malting's residency in August. The cycle takes its text principally from Whitman's Leaves of Grass.

Full details from Lucy Goddard's American Songbook website.

The Hampshire connection: Jane Austen's Mansfield Park in Jonathan Dove's operatic version at the Grange

Jonathan Dove: Mansfield Park - The Grange Festival - Emily Vine, Sarah Pring, Martha Jones, Oliver Johnston, Angharad Lyddon, Henry Neill, Jeni Bern (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove: Mansfield Park - The Grange Festival - Emily Vine, Sarah Pring, Martha Jones, Oliver Johnston, Angharad Lyddon, Henry Neill, Jeni Bern (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove, Alasdair Middleton Mansfield Park; Martha Jones, Henry Neill, Nick Pritchard, Shelley Jackson, dir: Martin Lloyd-Evans, cond: David Parry; The Grange Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 17 2017 Star rating: 4.5
An engaging and moving account of Jonathan Dove's opera based on the Jane Austen novel

Jonathan Dove: Mansfield Park - The Grange Festival - Shelley Jackson, Henry Neill, Martha Jones (Photo Robert Workman)
Shelley Jackson, Henry Neill, Martha Jones (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove's opera Mansfield Park, with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton based on Jane Austen's novel, has had long genesis. Dove first had the idea for the opera 30 years ago, it was originally premiered in 2011 in the version for singers and piano duet. Dove's new version with orchestral accompaniment was commissioned by The Grange Festival, and we caught the second performance on Sunday 17 September 2017 at the festival's Autumn season. The new production was directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans with designs by Dick Bird, with Martha Jones as Fanny Price and Henry Neill as Edmund Bertram, plus Sarah Pring, Jeni Bern, Grant Doyle, Shelley Jackson, Emily Vine, Nick Pritchard, Angharad Lyddon and Oliver Johnston. David Parry conducted an ensemble of players from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

I had never managed to catch the opera in its original guise, so this was my first experience of it. The piece is somewhat stylised, with the work divided into two books and each book into chapters, and the cast introduce each chapter by reciting the chapter number and title. Alasdiar Middleton's book is a miracle of compression, he has cut out a lot of inessentials such as minor characters and even the scenes in Portsmouth. But the great surprise was how much of the book's atmosphere had been retained, and the opera manages the difficult feat of retaining something of the feel of Austen's original.

Leaving you an emotional wreck: La Boheme at Covent Garden

La bohème, The Royal Opera - Simona Mihai, Michael Fabbiano, Nicole Car, Marius Kwiecien, Florian Sempey - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.
La bohème, The Royal Opera - Simona Mihai, Michael Fabbiano, Nicole Car, Marius Kwiecien, Florian Sempey © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.   
Puccini La Boheme; Michael Fabiano, Nicole Car, Mariusz Kwiecien, Simona Mihai, Luca Tittoto, Florian Sempey, dir: Richard Jones, cond: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Sep 16 2017 Star rating: 5.0
A beautiful, collaborative work; Richard Jones new production of La Boheme,

La bohème, The Royal Opera - © ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.
La bohème, The Royal Opera
© ROH 2017. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore.   
You can understand the temptation to keep reviving John Copley’s cherished and long-lasting production of La Boheme at Covent Garden but everything has it’s day and at some point you have to bite the bullet. Even opera luddites who might have assumed that the artistic trajectory would inevitably turn downwards would have been relieved at the outcome this Saturday, 16 September 2017 when the Royal Opera performed Richard Jones' new production of Puccini's La Boheme. Antonio Pappano conducted, with Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo, Nicole Car as Mimi, Mariusz Kwiecien as Marcello, Simona Mihai as Musetta, Luca Tittoto as Colline, and Florian Sempey as Schaunard.

Visually this is a steady as she goes production, the sets a little less romanticized than Julia Trevelyan Oman’s. No artists’ studio for our young Bohemians, the garret is claustrophobic and shorn of all but the basics for survival. A few fewer rafters might have been preferable as it can become irksome, from upstairs, to see so many de-capitated singers and the youthful horseplay in act 1 seemed a tad choreographed given that there’s little enough room to swing a cat. Act two in contrast is expansive and lavish with shopping arcade trucks gliding into place and a very grand Café Momus.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

In the Top 20

Top 50 Music Blogs Planet Hugill has made it into the Top 20 of the Top 50 Music Blogs on ScoreBig, the on-line ticket sales website.

What Would Bach Have Done?

Belle Chen
Belle Chen
In this guest posting Belle Chen, the Australian-Taiwanese pianist, sound artist, and producer, looks at the interface between classical music and electronics, and wonders what Bach would have done if presented with the possibilities of electronic music.

In 1920s, something incredible happened that expedited the diversification of music genres. The recording industry went into what is retrospectively known as the electrical age, and a flourish of musicians and composers had begun recording music and sounds, and experimenting with electronic instruments – giving birth to the beginning of electronic music.

The impact of this technology is first heard amongst the western art musicians, and when the Allies gained access to magnetic tape, a German invention that had been kept secret during the war, a whole group of classically trained composers began to use recorded music as compositional material. From musique concrete, avant-garde, to minimalism, composers such as Herbert Eimert, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and Karlheinz Stockhausen came to experiment with the new tape technology. Today, the process is known as sampling.

The result that came from experimentations with tape was profound – and with the concurrent development of electronic instruments and synthesizers, electronic music would explode into dub, ambient, hip hop, and its kaleidoscopic fusions and sub-genres that range from techno, house, jungle, nu jazz, to downtempo.

I wouldn’t pretend that I am an expert on electronic music; the curiosity to look into the history of electronic music were sparked mainly by two events – a need for a deeper understanding of techno and EDM required for the Amsterdam episode of my podcast series, and coming across Jeremy Deller’s intriguing The History of the World installation that marked the intertwined genres and cultures connected to acid house and brass bands between 1997-2004 at Tate Britain.

But there is something very comforting in knowing that early pioneers of electronic music went to conservatoires and would have studied the works of Beethoven, Liszt, and Bach. In my mind, it feels like the blood lineage of classical music is alive and boiling through more mainstream musical genres. Of course, the music sounds absolutely different – Aphex Twin sounds nothing like J.S. Bach, and the approach to composition has also changed. But the emotions are still there, the sensitivities to timbres and textures, the tension and release, and the curiosity to experiment are there.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The first Englishwoman to sing Brünnhilde at Bayreuth: Catherine Foster on singing Wagner

Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) - Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Bayreuth Festival (©Bayreuther Festspiele / Enrico Nawrath)
Catherine Foster (Brünnhilde) - Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Bayreuth Festival 2017
(©Bayreuther Festspiele / Enrico Nawrath)
Opera aficionado and Wagnermaniac, Tony Cooper, meets Nottingham-born Wagner singer, Catherine Ann Foster, the Bayreuth Festival’s Brünnhilde.

I’m sitting in the shadow of Bayreuth’s iconic Festspielhaus situated at the top of Siegfried Wagner Allee commonly known as the Gruener Huegel (Green Hill) overlooking the lovely Upper Franconian town of Bayreuth. Here I’m enjoying the company and catching up on the news of Nottingham-born Wagner singer, Catherine Ann Foster, Bayreuth Festival’s Brünnhilde, the heroine of Wagner’s epic four-work cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, comprising Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.

Catherine Foster (Photo Stephan Ernst)
Catherine Foster (Photo Stephan Ernst)
The story is loosely based on characters from Norse folklore and the epic German poem, Nibelungenlied, which chronicles the life of the dragon-slayer Siegfried at the court of the Burgundians, how he was murdered and his wife Kriemhild’s revenge.

The Ring, though, is a work not like any other to be found in the 19th-century operatic repertoire and the drama unfolds over 16/17 intensive and dramatic hours. It’s a long haul! But it was a long haul for Wagner, too. It took him the best part of 26 years to complete starting in 1848 but that included an interval of eight years when he took time off for a breather. In that time he knocked out Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Some breather, eh!

Catherine relishes the work and was with Frank Castorf’s production for the full five-year term starting in 2013 when it was staged to celebrate the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth (see Tony's review of this year's performances). Russian-born conductor (and another Bayreuth newcomer) Kirill Petrenko - who takes over the baton from Sir Simon Rattle as principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra next year - was in the pit.

Catherine, it seems, was a girl born to sing. ‘I have always loved singing,’ she exclaimed. ‘My mother told me that as soon as I could talk I was singing to my heart’s content. My singing career actually started in my local village church where I graduated to be leading chorister by the time I was 15.'

‘I have a textbook my mother found in the loft from my primary school days and the title of one of my essays was ‘‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’’ And I wrote: ‘‘Since I was about three years old I’ve always known I shall be a nurse and a singer - and that’s what I shall be!’’ followed by a picture of me as a nurse and one as a singer.’

Therefore, from small acorns mighty oak trees grow! And for Catherine, they grew fast. From church choir to grand opera, Catherine’s voice matured and blossomed to a wonderfully-dramatic, rich-sounding, high-soprano voice. And that high-soprano voice is absolutely perfect for Wagner and very much needed when singing in the vast confines of Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus which is used only for the sole purpose of staging Wagner’s Teutonic masterpieces. And none comes bigger and better than the Ring.

The Festspielhaus is, without doubt, a masterpiece of grand 19th-century theatre design and the architect, Otto Brückwald, worked to a precise specification by Wagner. It was inaugurated and launched in 1876 with a gala performance of Das Rheingold in the company of such distinguished composers as Bruckner, Grieg and Tchaikovsky as well as Wagner’s father-in-law, Franz Liszt.

So many famous singers have graced the Festspielhaus’ immortal stage, the most famous Wagner stage in the world. Now the lass from Nottinghamshire, Catherine Ann Foster, can add her name to the illustrious list.

There’s no doubt whatsoever, Catherine set the Green Hill alight over the past five years delivering a masterful and powerful performance as Brünnhilde. And she has carried the flame, passion and loyalty of this great and imposing Germanic mythological character all over the show appearing in Ring cycles at such well-appointed houses as the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin with Daniel Barenboim and the Gran Teatre del Liceu Barcelona with Josep Pons as well as at the Budapest Wagner Festival with Adam Fischer while not forgetting Pierre Audi’s breathtaking production in Amsterdam conducted by Hartmut Haenchen. Wotan would have surely been impressed!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Lativan review in Opera Magazine

Review in Opera Magazine
Earlier this year, I was in Riga, Latvia for the Riga Opera Festival and caught Aik Karapetian's new production of Gounod's Faust and Rezija Kalnina's production of Eugene Onegin at Latvian National Theatre. My reviews of the two productions are in the October issue of Opera Magazine.

Getting your chamber-music fix: Conway Hall Sunday Concerts

Conway Hall
Last Sunday (10 September 2017) the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts, director of music Simon Callaghan, started the 2017/18, providing chamber music lovers with their weekly fix. Sunday's opening concert was the Tippett Quartet with pianist Emma Abbate in Schumann and Dvorak's quintets. On Sunday 17 September the series continues with the Brownell Trio in Beethoven's Archduke Trio and trios by Hummel and Franck, with the Zelkova Quartet in Haydn, Beethoven and Debussy the week afterwards.

Further ahead, there is the final of Fulham Opera's Robert Presley Memorial Prize with a group of young singers singing arias by Verd in front of a jury which includes Sir Thomas Allen,  David Syrus and Pamela Kuhn. And Music in Motion returns with John Landor directing the Gildas Quartet in an intriguing programme of chamber music with movement.

The Monte Piano Trio's concert will give us a chance to hear Amy Beach's Trio Op.150 alongside trios by Beethoven and Dvorak, whilst the Nous Quartet brings an Italian themed concert with quartets by Boccherini, Verdi and Respighi. The Odysseus Trio is performing Bloch's Three Nocturnes alongside trios by Mozart and Brahms, and the Ligeti Quartet is combining Purcell, Stravinsky, Haydn, Ligeti and Bartok.

From unusual repertoire to unusual instrumental combinations, violinist Harriet Mackenzie is joining guitarist Morgan Szymanski for a programme which mixes baroque music with De Falla, Sarasate and Piazolla.

On November 26, Julian Perkins and Sounds Baroque are giving a programme which combines songs by Purcell with music by Draghi and Corbetta, and a contemporary piece by Stephen Dodgson. I will be giving the pre-concert talk to the programme. And in December, the series artistic director Simon Callaghan joins the Jubilee Quartet for Schnittke's Piano Quintet in a programme which includes music by Haydn, Stravinsky & Beethoven.

In addition to pre-concert talks, this season some concerts have pre-concert recitals, with short recitals from young artists at 5.30pm.

Full details from the Conway Hall website.

Late flowering: John Joubert's St Mark Passion & Missa Wellensis

John Joubert - Missa Wellensis, St Mark Passion - Resonus
John Joubert Missa Wellensis, St Mark Passion; Peter Auty, Benjamin Bevan, Wells Cathedral Choir, Matthew Owens; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 12 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Three late sacred works from the pen of John Joubert, striking pieces in fine performances from Wells

John Joubert, who was 90 this year, seems to be undergoing something of a revival. His opera Jane Eyre has just received its first recording (see my review), and now this disc from Resonus Classics of Joubert's sacred music from Wells Cathedral Choir. It is all recent, the Missa Wellensis and Locus Iste from 2013 and St Mark Passion from 2015, performed by Peter Auty (tenor), Benjamin Bevan (baritone), Richard May (cello), David Bednall (organ), and Wells Cathedral Choir, conductor Matthew Owens.

During June 2013, Joubert led a master-class in composition at Wells Cathedral School, and had the Missa Wellensis, Op.174 and Locus Iste Op.175 premiered in the cathedral as part of the festival, new music wells, where he was composer in residence. His relationship with Wells continued, and on Palm Sunday 2016, his 89th birthday, Matthew Owens and the choir gave the premiere of the St Mark Passion in a liturgical context, and repeated the work on Psalm Sunday 2017.

The 'Kyrie' of the Missa Wellensis plunges right in, with a strong and distinctive sense of Joubert's voice. The work has rather an austere feel, and the music develops harmonic rather than polyphonic interest, and there is a touching treble solo in the 'Christe'. The 'Gloria' is robust and vigorous, again with some solo contributions to 'Domine Deus'. The 'Sanctus' starts of rich in harmony and rather mystical, but develops into a thrilling 'Dominus Deus', with voices entering one by one in the 'Pleni sunt coeli' leading to a shattering 'Hosanna'. The 'Benedictus' uses solos over held chords, quiet and intense though perhaps the soloists do not quite achieve the rapture intended, and the concluding 'Hosanna' is similarly quiet. The 'Agnus Dei' has an effective and appealing simplicity, building in intensity with each repeat, leading to a final fugue. A complex and striking work.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

New music for choir and ancient instruments

Set upon the Rood, Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Delphian
James McMillan, John Kenny, Stuart MacRae, Bill Taylor, Francis Grier, Stevie Wishart, Stephen Bick; Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 12 2017 Star rating: 5.0
The imaginative combination of choir, contemporary composers and reconstructed ancient instruments creates a terrific disc

This disc is the intriguing confluence of two different series of discs, Geoffrey Webber and the choir of Gonville and Caius College's explorations of the choral repertoire including bringing to light music of the early Celtic church (see my review), and the European Music Archaeology Project's discs showcasing ancient instruments in modern performances. So here, on Delphian we have  Geoffrey Webber and the choir of Gonville and Caius College in contemporary music for choir and ancient instruments. New pieces by James MacMillan, John Kenny, Stuart Macrae, Bill Taylor, Francis Grier, Stevie Wishart and Stephen Bick using triplepipe, aulos, Loughnashade horn, chimes, carnyx, lyre, crotales and organ, played by Barnaby Brown, John Kenny, Patrick Kenny, Bill Taylor, James Leitch and Michael How.

James MacMillan's Noli Pater was a joint commission between Gonville and Caius College and the St Albans International Organ Festival and the work was premiered at the festival in 2015. It uses choir, organ and triplepipe (played by Barnaby Brown). The work starts from a low rumble in the organ, with the men singing a chant-esque melody, which MacMillan develops into something rather dramatic, and then suddenly the triplepipe appears, this provides as much texture as melody, particularly when combined with voices or organ. MacMillan then thrillingly develops the music using his varied forces, to illuminate the text. The work's thrilling climax leads to a final solo for the triplepipe. A highly dramatic piece, it certainly makes me want to hear it live.

National Youth Harp Orchestra premieres Patrick Hawes' St George and the Dragon

The National Youth Harp Orchestra
The National Youth Harp Orchestra
The National Youth Harp Orchestra is celebrating its 15th birthday with a new commission. The 30 young players in the orchestra will be performing at St James's Church, Piccadilly on Saturday 16 September and giving the first performance of Patrick Hawes' St George and the Dragon. The concert will also include music from Russian Doll by Heather Brooks, who plays in the orchestra, and studies at the Purcell School.

Patrick Hawes' previous music for harp includes his Highgrove Suite for harp and chamber orchestra, which evolved from a commission for Prince Charles' 60th birthday. St George and the Dragon uses the 30 harps in the orchestra to tell the traditional story of St George's rescue of the princess from the dragon.

Harpist Luisa Cordell founded the International Harp Ensemble, now known as the National Youth Harp Orchestra, in 2002 with just eight young harpists from Surrey, where she teaches, and it grew rapidly. In 2013 the ensemble visited the USA performing with The American Youth Harp Ensemble. During their trip they were guests of the British Ambassador and performed at the British Embassy and entertained Hillary and Bill Clinton and their family amongst other dignitaries.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mozartian influences: Salieri's La scuola de' gelosi from Bampton Classical Opera

Saleri: La scuola de' gelosi - Matthew Sprange, Rhiannon Llewellyn, Alessandro Fisher, Nathalie Chalkey, Thomas Herford - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera)
Saleri: La scuola de' gelosi - Matthew Sprange, Rhiannon Llewellyn, Alessandro Fisher, Nathalie Chalkey, Thomas Herford - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera)
Salieri La scuola de' gelosi; Matthew Sprange, Kate Howden, Samuel Pantcheff, Nathalie Chalkley Rhiannon Llewellyn, Alessandro Fisher, Thomas Herford, dir: Jeremy Gray, cond: Anthony Kraus; Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 12 2017 Star rating: 3.5
Popular in its day, Salieri's comedy might stretch the charm somewhat but it provides important background for Mozart's mature comedies

Saleri: La scuola de' gelosi - Matthew Sprange, Thomas Herford - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera)
Matthew Sprange, Thomas Herford
(Photo Anthony Hall/Bampton Classical Opera)
Having performed Salieri's La grotta di Trofonio in 2015 (see my review), Bampton Classical Opera has returned to the composer this year. Jeremy Gray's production of Salieri's La scuola de' gelosi (The School of Jealousy) debuted in Bampton in July and we caught the company's London visit on 12 September 2017 at St John's Smith Square.  The cast featured Matthew Sprange as Blasio, Kate Howden as Carlotta, Samuel Pantcheff as Lumaca, Nathalie Chalkley as Ernestina, Rhiannon Llewellyn as the Countess, Alessandro Fisher as the Count and Thomas Herford as the Lieutenant. Anthony Kraus conducted Chroma.

Salieri wrote La scuola de' gelosi for the Teatro San Moise in Venice in 1778, the librettist was Caterino Mazzola. Mazzola is perhaps best known as the adapter of Metastasio's libretto for Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, but Mazzola was also a friend of Lorenzo da Ponte and it was Mazzola who provided Da Ponte with a letter of recommendation to Salieri when Da Ponte pitched up in Vienna. With Da Ponte's help, Salieri revised La scuola de' gelosi for Vienna in 1783, when its performance launched the re-established Italian opera company. For this performance the role of the Countess was sung by Nancy Storace, who would go on to create the role of Susanna in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.

La scuola de' gelosi seems to have been one of Salieri's most popular operas, with at least fifty productions across Europe during the first 20 years of its existence. In Vienna, Salieri and Da Ponte seem to have planned a follow up, La scuola degli amanti. Da Ponte wrote the libretto and Salieri sketched some music. But Salieri abandoned the project, and Da Ponte passed the libretto to Mozart where it became Cosi fan tutte!

12 hour music marathon at St John's Smith Square

St John's Smith Square
This weekend is Open House Weekend in London, and as part of the celebrations St John's Smith Square is having a free 12 hour music marathon on Saturday 16 September. From 10am the hall will be inviting people to combine a visit to its fine Baroque interior with performances and other musical activities.

There will be 12 hours of performances, workshops and open rehearsals, from 10am to 10pm. Pianists performing include Yuki Negishi, Frances Wilson (who runs the Crosseyed Pianist blog) and Késia Decoté (whose performance will include a toy piano), Harriet Stubbs and Leo Nicholson will perform a two-piano arrangement of the first movement of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto, whilst Niamh Beddy collaborates with dancer and choreographer Alice Weber to perform Carl Vine’s Piano Sonata No. 1 and a world premiere from Stevon Russell. Other soloists include Emmanuel Sowicz on classical guitar, percussionist Beibei Wang playing Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 on the marimba and music by John Psathas, and viola player Katherine Clarke in contemporary pieces by Garth Knox and Paul Patterson.

Ensembles include Eos Trio which opens the marathon, baroque trio Musicke in the Ayre, experimental music collective Echoshed, The Wall of Sound Singing Ensemble and London International A Cappella Choral Competition 2017 competitors, Iken Scholars.

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

20-year-old Turkish pianist wins the Scottish International Piano Competition

Can Çakmur, winner of the Scottish International Piano Competition, at the final with Thomas Sondergard and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Can Çakmur, winner of the Scottish International Piano Competition, at the final with Thomas Søndergård and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Photo Robin Mitchell)
The 11th Scottish International Piano Competition finished on Sunday 10 September and the Turkish pianist Can Çakmur was named as the winner. Çakmur receives £10,000, the Sir Alexander Stone Memorial Trophy and the Frederic Lamond Gold Medal, and will perform with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in their 2018/19 season. Second prize went to Florian Mitrea from Romania, and Third prize went to the UK-based Georgian-born Luka Okros. Florian Mitrea also won the prize for the best performance of Gordon McPherson’s The Pounding Room, a new work commissioned as the test piece for this year’s competition.

The three finalists all performed a concerto on a Fazioli piano with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, under Thomas Søndergård, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Sunday 10 September. This is the first time a Fazioli piano has been the choice of piano for 100% of the finalists in an international competition. The final will be broadcast on Classic FM at 8pm on Tuesday 19 September 2017.

Born in 1997 in Ankara, Can Çakmur has studied at the Hochschule für Music Franz Liszt Weimar, and with Diane Andersen in Belgium. He had won a number of international competitions and awards, appeared in major festivals throughout his native Turkey, and performed as soloist throughout Europe.

The competition is held triennially in Glasgow, and this year there were 23 competitors from 15 countries across 3 continents. The jurors included pianists Steven Osborne and Olga Kern and the head of keyboard at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Aaron Schorr.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The Art of Dancing

The Art of Dancing - Simon Desbruslais - Signum Classics
Toby Young, Geoffrey Gordon, Deborah Pritchard, Nimrod Borenstein; Simon Desbruslais, Clare Hammond, English String Orchestra, Kenneth Woods; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 9 2017 Star rating: 4.0
An imaginative group of new concertante works for trumpet, piano and strings

Here is another disc from the English Symphony Orchestra focussing on contemporary British concertos (see my review of Harriet Mackenzie's disc of violin concertos). For this disc, on Signum Classics, trumpeter Simon Desbruslais performs 21st century concertante works for trumpet, piano and strings with pianist Clare Hammond, and the English String Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Woods, with Toby Young's The Art of Dancing, Geoffrey Gordon's Saint Blue, Deborah Pritchard's Seven Halts on the Somme and Nimrod Borenstein's Concerto for piano, trumpet and string orchestra.

The disc is something of a follow up to Simon Desbruslais' 2014 disc of contemporary British trumpet concertos (see my review) and part of his campaign to widen the repertoire of solo trumpet pieces. Whilst Dmitri Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto, with its prominent trumpet part, lies behind the music on the disc, the four composers on this disc have come up with very different works.

Toby Young's The Art of Dancing is inspired by the idea of the baroque dance suite, though here the dances are modern. After a prelude we have Garage, Acid House, Drum & Bass, Trance and Breakbeat, followed by a postlude, all intriguingly rendered acoustically. In fact, being generally unfamiliar with these genres, I came to the work with few preconceptions.

Artists coming together to support the Refugee Council

Child refugee image
A group of artists are presenting a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday 15 January 2018 to raise money for the Refugee Council. Edward Gardner conducts violinist Hilary Hahn, soprano Sophie Bevan, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, tenor Toby Spence and bass Brindley Sherratt with members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonic Choir & friends in Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor and Tippett's Child of our Time. All of the musicians and concert organisers are giving their time and energy to this cause for free.
Well over 3,000 children sought refuge in the UK in 2016. These children were forced to flee their homes due to conflict, political instability or persecution and arrived in UK completely alone. The Refugee Council’s Children’s Section works to safeguard and improve the lives of these children in England.

Full information from the Southbank Centre website.

Julien Van Mellaerts wins 2017 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition

Julien Van Mellaerts and Gamal Khamis during final of Wigmore Hall Song Competition (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
Julien Van Mellaerts and Gamal Khamis during final of Wigmore Hall Song Competition (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
The 2017 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition concluded on Thursday 7 September 2017 with the top prize going to the New Zealand baritone Julien Van Mellaerts (we caught him last year as Schaunard in the Christine Collins Young Artists performance of Puccini's La Boheme at Opera Holland Park, see my review), accompanied by Gamal Khamis.

The Pianist’s Prize went to the British pianist Ian Tindale, who had partnered soprano Harriet Burns in earlier rounds, the Jean Meikle Prize for a Duo to British pair Gemma Summerfield (soprano) and Sebastian Wybrew (piano) and the Richard Tauber Prize for best interpretation of Schubert Lieder to American finalist Clara Osowski. Second Prize went to baritone John Brancy, and Third Prize to baritone Josh Quinn.

The prizes were all awarded by a jury including Hugh Canning, Bernarda Fink, Christian Gerhaher, Soile Isokoski, David Jackson, Graham Johnson OBE, François Le Roux and Dame Felicity Lott, chaired by Director of Wigmore Hall John Gilhooly OBE.

Julien Van Mellaerts has just graduated from the Royal College of Music International Opera School where he was Fishmongers’ Company Scholar studying with Russell Smythe. He recently won first place in the 2017 Kathleen Ferrier Awards at Wigmore Hall and he is currently touring with Diva Opera, playing the role of Dandini in Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Quickening: Songs by Robert Hugill setting texts by English and Welsh poets

Quickening: Songs by Robert Hugill setting texts by English and Welsh poets
Our disc Quickening has just been released on the Navona Records label, a CD of my songs representing over 25 years of song-writing, performed by a talent group of young British artists.
Johnny Herford (baritone) and William Vann (piano) perform Winter Journey, a setting of Rowan Williams' powerful poem Winterreise for Gillian Rose: 9 December 1995, plus Four songs to texts by Ivor Gurney and Four songs by texts by A.E. Housman, both of which have songs which were finalists in English Poetry and Song Society competitions. Anna Huntley (mezzo-soprano), Rosalind Ventris (viola) and William Vann perform Quickening, a cycle of songs setting poems by Christina Rosetti.
The CD was partly funded by a successful crowd-funding which ran early this year.
Further information about Quickening is available from the Navona Records website where you can listen to sample tracks, read more about the songs, download the texts and look at the music.
The disc is available on Spotify and iTunes, as well as from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, NaxosDirect and ArchivMusic.
Johnny Herford, William Vann and I will be appearing on BBC Radio 3's drive-time programme In Tune on Monday 25 September 2017 to talk about the album with Johnny and William performing songs from the album live in the studio.

Rosalind Ventris, William Vann and Anna Huntley in the studio (Photo Andrew Walton)
Rosalind Ventris, William Vann and Anna Huntley in the studio (Photo Andrew Walton)

From curiosity to charm: a portrait of Felicien David

Felicien David - Portrait
Felicien David - A Portrait; Francois-Xavier Roth, Les Siecles, Herve Niquet, Brussels Philharmonic, Flemish Chamber Choir, Cyrille Dubois, Tristan Raes; Palazetto Bru Zane / Ediciones Singulares
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 07 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Wide-ranging portrait of Felicien David including his symphonic ode Christophe Colombe

The composer Felicien David had a long and fairly successful career as a composer in 19th century France, but like many his name is now almost only a note in the record books. Things seems to be changing, his symphonic ode Le Desert was released in 2015 (see my review) whilst his opera Herculanum was performed at the Wexford Festival last year. Now Palazetto Bru Zane and Ediciones Singulares are filling in further gaps by releasing a three CD set which aims to widen our knowledge of David's music. Francois-Xavier Roth conducts Les Siecles, the Flemish Radio Choir, Chantal Santon-Jeffery (soprano), Julien Behr (tenor), Josef Wagner (baritone) and Jean-Marie Winling (speaker) in David's second symphonic ode, Christophe Colombe, Herve Niquet conducts the Brussels Philharmonic in the overture to La Perle du Bresil, Le Jugement Dernier, and Symphony No 3 (with the Flemish Radio Choir) , and Niquet conducts the Flemish Radio Choir and Francois Saint-Yves (organ) in Six Motets, Cyrille Dubois (tenor) and Tristan Raes (piano) perform a selection of melodies, Pascal Monlong (violin), Pauline Buet (cello), David Violi (piano) perform Trio No. 1, and Jonas Vitaud (piano) performs a selection of piano music.

The largest work, by far, on the disc is the symphonic ode, Christophe Colombe. This is for soloists, speaker and orchestra and is very much a follow up for Le Desert; Felicien David was very much in the vanguard (along with Berlioz) of experiments with symphonic form. In fact, the symphonic ode was more popular than we realise; most of the works have dropped out of circulation except for Berlioz's experiments (La Damnation de Faust, Romeo et Juliette and Lelio) but the admirable book which accompanies the Cd set includes a list of 13 works in the symphonic ode category performed between 1844 and 1850!

Christopher Colombe is in four movements, The Departure, A Night in the Tropics, The Revolt and The New World, presenting not so much a narrative as a series of snapshots. The soloists play various characters, Colombus himself, a sailor Fernand and his beloved Elvire to whom he has to say goodbye, along with other sailors and even a female Indian. But it is in the more descriptive passages where David seems to be at his strongest. The narrative sections seem rather stuck in 'characteristic music' mode, whereas in the orchestral descriptions we hear a real voice, aided by the highly poetic narrative spoken by Jean-Marie Winling.

In style, it is tricky to pinpoint David's music, you can hear clear influences of Berlioz but without the really distinctiveness of Berlioz's orchestration and musical imagination, and there are also hints of Gounod too.

BBC Radio 3 Autumn season: opera, anniversaries, technology and memory

BBC Radio 3 Home page
The BBC Proms finished on Saturday, which means that BBC Radio 3 schedule gets back to normal and the Autumn season starts. Like many other organisations Radio 3 is linking up with the Victoria and Albert Museum's Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition. Other highlights include a new series from Clemency Burton-Hill exploring the impact of technology on creativity, as well as Why Music? The Key to Memory, a weekend of events at the Wellcome Collection.

Radio 3's Opera on 3 will be broadcasting all seven operas featured in the V&A's Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition, and there will also be a chance to catch up on Jonas Kaufmann's debut in the title role of Verdi's Otello in a recording from Covent Garden, and Nico Muhly's new opera Marnie will be broadcast from English National Opera.

Another big feature of the Autumn schedules is Sir Simon Rattle taking up the baton at the London Symphony Orchestra, and Radio 3 will be broadcasting live from the ten-day This is Rattle festival at the Barbican.

Why Music? The Key to Memory, is a free weekend of events and broadcasts exploring the relationship between music, memory and the mind in collaboration with Wellcome Collection. BBC Radio 3 will present a series of live events and programmes, discussions will explore everything from power of song in helping people living with dementia and how conductors learn complicated musical scores, to how jazz improvisation works. There will be performances of four world premieres, including a new work by Scottish composer Martin Suckling, composer and performer Kerry Andrew and works by three young composers taking part in the BBC Proms Inspire scheme.

In Select-Copy-Paste, Clemency Burton-Hill will will explore the impact of technology on creativity, across three episodes tracing the creative process, from conception and execution, to sharing and experiencing.

Anniversaries include the 30th anniversary of the death of Jacqueline du Pre, and Daniel Barenboim will be conducting a memorial concert with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra. The London Sinfonietta is celebrating its 50th anniversary and Radio 3 will be broadcasting the anniversary concert live as well as transmitting other events from the celebrations. Radio 3 will also be marking the 50th anniversary of the European Broadcasting Union's regular music exchanges, with a live transmission of the celebratory concert from LSO St Luke's with the BBC Concert Orchestra joined by current or former members of the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists scheme: violinist Esther Yoo and viola player Eivind Holtsmark Ringstad come together in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, and Pavel Kolesnikov is the soloist in Beethoven’s Emperor concerto.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Double vision: two views of Sondheim's Follies at the National Theatre

Dawn Hope, Imelda, Staunton, Emily Goodenough rehearse Follies, National Theatre (photo Johan Persson)
Dawn Hope, Imelda, Staunton, Emily Goodenough rehearse Follies, National Theatre (photo Johan Persson)
Stephen Sondheim's iconic music Follies has come to rest at the National Theatre in a production, directed by Dominic Cooke, with Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Philip Quast and Peter Forbes. 

Geraldine Fitzgerald as Solange & Sarah Marie Maxwell as young Solange, Follies, National Theatre (Photo Johan Persson)
Geraldine Fitzgerald as Solange &
Sarah Marie Maxwell as young Solange
(Photo Johan Persson)
The new production is strikingly different to the work's first West End outing, directed by Mike Ockrent in 1987. Having two critics see the show within a week of each other seemed too good an opportunity to miss, so here we have both my and Anthony's reactions to the production. Mine from 8 September (third night of the run) and Anthony's from one of the previews (2 September). This enables us to reflect on the way the production might have changed in the run up to opening night, but also to allow for our differing attitudes to the work itself. 

Follies is one of those works which is very much embedded in my consciousness, it was a seminal work for us in the 1980s even before the iconic Carnegie Hall performances (the recording is still well worth searching out) and songs from the show found their way into performances by many of the cabaret groups with whom I worked. It is a work about which I find it difficult to take a properly critical stance, review in danger of turning into reminiscence (how Dame Josephine Barstow as Heidi compared to Licia Albanese or Adele Leigh, for instance). So what follows is first Anthony's review (he gives it four stars) and then my own thoughts (I give it five stars).


Bruce Graham, Peter Forbes, Billy Boyle, Josephine Barstow, Di Botcher, Norma Atallah rehearding  Follies, National Theatre (Photo
Bruce Graham, Peter Forbes, Billy Boyle, Josephine Barstow, Di Botcher, Norma Atallah rehearsing Follies, National Theatre (Photo Johan Persson)
With the first tranche of tickets largely sold out, you can hear the tills ringing at the National Theatre for this hotly anticipated revival of  Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. Tickets being as rare as hens’ teeth, I managed to bag a couple for a preview.

Di Botcher as Hattie, Follies, National Theatre (Photo Johan Persson)
Di Botcher as Hattie, Follies, National Theatre (Photo Johan Persson)
Inspired by a gathering of the Ziegfeld Follies, here the Weismann Follies come together for a reunion at their soon to be razed Broadway theatre “for a final chance to glamorise the old days”. They sentimentally recreate the performances of the past as the ghosts of their former selves steal around the stage.

Sondheim’s affectionate homage to American Musical Theatre pastiches the composers of the 20s and 30s. But Follies isn’t just a collection of camp old songs. Like much of Sondheim’s work it’s an unsentimental journey; his precise lyrics and keen observations tell a bitters-weet story not just of the Follies but of the foibles and follies of us all. Past and present collide: youth and age, optimism and cynicism and the characters are forced to confront their tarnished dreams – raging against time. The hulking ruin of a set established the emotional tone of the evening. The lighting gave an impression of dust hanging in the air. “Way up there” a ghostly shadow of lost glamour was revealed and the audience hushed. Sally Durant Plummer (Imelda Staunton), a former Weismann girl shiny faced and brittle as glass is the first guest to arrive, her ebullient husband, Buddy (Peter Forbes), is a salesman. Phyllis Rogers Stone (Janie Dee), an elegant sophisticate, she too a showgirl in the Follies arrives with her husband Ben (Philip Quast), a philanthropist and politician – a snake in a suit.

Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Follies, National Theatre (Photo Johan Persson)
Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Follies, National Theatre (Photo Johan Persson)
Sally’s deterioration in the hands of Imelda Staunton is a painful thing to witness. She still carries a torch for the self obsessed Ben and from the outset her agitated excitement is a portent of a much deeper malaise. This is a master class in self delusion. Phyllis is as funny as hell, sharp and tough as old boots. It’s a protective carapace that cracks in spectacular style in the searing “Could I Leave You”. Ben has no interest but himself. The charming Buddy is still desperately in love with his wife but how that love is sustained isn’t that clear.

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