Wednesday, 23 April 2014

New organ for Merton College Chapel

Dobson Pipe Organs Ltd Opus 91, 2013 - Merton College Chapel
The chapel at Merton College Oxford has a new organ. The instrument, from Dobson Pipe Organs in Iowa; only the third American made organ to be shipped to the UK since World War II (more information about the organ with pictures on Dobson's web site). To celebrate, Merton College is having an Organ Festival

On Saturday 26 April 2014 John Scott launches the organ with a concert which certainly puts it through its paces, going from Scheidt to Marcel Dupre by way of Bach, Franck and Peter Racine Fricker. 

Sunday 27 April there is Sung Eucharist with David Briggs' Messe Solennelle (from the Merton Choirbook) and afternoon concert of Bach, Buxtehude, Couperin and Sweelinck and at the Evensong that evening the Bishop of Oxford dedicates the organ.

Further ahead, James O'Donnell gives a recital on 24 May performing Bach, Vierne, Durufle, Wammes and Francis Pott. On 7 June Benjamin Cholas performs Bach, Franck, Sweelinck, Vierne, Francis Jackson and the Elgar Sonata. There are recitals in the autumn from Daniel Hyde (11/10/2014) and Clive Driskill-Smith (15/11/2014)

Israel in Egypt at King's College

Nicholas Cleobury, Choir of Kings College, Cambridge
Nicholas Cleobury,
Choir of Kings College, Cambridge
Handel Israel in Egypt: Choir of King's College Cambridge, Academy of Ancient Music, Stephen Cleobury: King's College Chapel
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Handel's choral tour-de-force at King's College

The performance of Handel's Israel in Egypt in King's College Chapel on 19 April was the part of the 2014 Easter Festival at King's College, Cambridge. The choir of King's College Chapel and the Academy of Ancient Music were conducted by Stephen Cleobury, with soloists Clare Debono, Katherine Watson, Robin Blaze, Thomas Hobbs, Edward Grint, and James Oldfield. They performed the traditional version of Israel in Egpyt in two acts, based on Handel's own 1756 performances of the work.

The original Israel in Egpyt, in three act, was premiered in 1739 and Handel had included a revised version of his funeral anthem for Queen Caroline The Ways of Zion do Mourn. This grafting did not seem to take and Handel's subsequent revivals were all variations on the two act theme. For some reason the standard vocal Novello vocal score for the oratorio (in two acts) includes no overture. On disc, conductors often choose to add one which makes for a satisfying start. Stephen Cleobury chose not to, so that we launched straight into a vivid recitative from Thomas Hobbs.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Daring new works for piano and voice from Thomas Larcher

Thomas Larcher - What Becomes - HMU 907604
What Becomes - music by Thomas Larcher: Tamara Stefanovich, Mark Padmore, Thomas Larcher: Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Recent works by Swiss pianist/composer Thomas Larcher including a daring new song-cycle for Mark Padmore

This disc from composer Thomas Larcher on Harmonia Mundi combines his music for solo piano, played by Tamara Stefanovich, with his song cycle A Padmore Cycle where the composer accompanied tenor Mark Padmore. Larcher's spare, enigmatic style is not immediately obvious nor quickly assimilated and it is heartening to see (and hear) such contemporary repertoire on a major label.

Swiss-born Larcher studied piano and composition in Vienna, first being known primarily as a pianist and writing piano and chamber music mainly in private. Since 1998 he has defined himself primarily as a composer. As a trained pianist, it was perhaps inevitable that Larcher the composer would have a strong reaction to the piano. In his article in the CD booklet he talks about trying to get away from the piano's natural sound and how, for him, Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto and Bartok's Second Piano Concerto represent 'the last authentic high points in which statement, form and virtuosity are still coherent.'

Larcher was keen to elicit new sounds from the instrument and the conclusion of this train of compositional thought was Smart Dust (2005) for prepared piano. Larcher instructs the piano to be prepared with rubber wedges and gaffer tape. I have to confess that when I read about the work, my first reaction was to think that prepared pianos were a little old hat, but in Larcher's music, as played here by Tamara Stefanovich, something magical happens. Yugoslav born Stefanovich studied at the Curtis Institute and the Cologne Hochschule fur Musik.

Codebreaker - evoking Turing in music

James McCarthy - Codebreaker
On Saturday 26 April the Hertfordshire Chorus is celebrating the life of Alan Turing, the mathematical genius. At the Barbican Centre, the chorus with their conductor David Temple and the London Orchestra da Camera will be giving the world premiere of James McCarthy's Codebreaker

McCarthy's work uses Turing's own words alongside those of well known poets such as Wilfred Owen, Sara Teasdale, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde and Robert Burns to create a picture of the brilliant mathematician who not only worked on breaking the Enigma codes during the Second World War, but laid the foundations of computer science and committed suicide in 1954 after being prosecuted for homosexual acts. As anyone who has ever tried to read Turing's own mathematical writings can testify, Turing's work can be difficult to follow and understand, and conveying mathematical theory in music is remarkably difficult.

James McCarthy is no stranger to tackling difficult subjects in his music, his previous commission for the Crouch End Festival Chorus was 17 Days, about the Chilean mining accident of 2010. McCarthy is also working on another piece for Crouch End, centred on Malala Yousafzai (the Pakistani school pupil and education activist who was shot by gunmen in 2012) with a text by novelist and journalist Bina Shah.

The concert on 26 April is completed with music by Mendelssohn, Beethoven and RVW. You can learn more about Codebreaker from the Hertforshire Chorus on Youtube (see after the break), and tickets are available from the Barbican Centre website.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Power duo Pergolesi

Sonia Prina
Sonia Prina
Pergolesi Stabat Mater: Roberta Invernizzi, Sonia Prina, the English Concert, Bernard Labadie: the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Star duet partnership Roberta Invernizzi and Sonia Prina in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater

The English Concert's appearance, conducted by Bernard Labadie, at the Wigmore Hall on 17 April 2014 was clearly designed to showcase the talents of soprano Roberta Invernizzi and contralto Sonia Prina; both Italian and developing something of a reputation as a duet partnership in early music. At the Wigmore Hall they sang Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, with Sonia Prina as soloist in Vivaldi's Stabat Mater RV621 and Robert Invernizzi as soloist in Pergolesi's Salve Regina with the concert introduced with Vivaldi's Sinfonia al Santo Sepolcro RV 169.

Roberta Invernizzi
Roberta Invernizzi
A full Wigmore Hall stage had the 15 players of the English Concert (strings, theorbo and organ led by Adrian Butterfield. They played Vivaldi's Sinfonia al Santo Sepulcro, one of his few instrumental pieces that we can securely attribute to a sacred usage. A highly charged dramatic Adagio led to an intense, fugal Allegro, the whole piece being rather powerful but relatively short.

Pergolesi's Salve Regina was one of a pair of works (the other being the Stabat Mater) written whilst the composer was staying in a Franciscan monastery in Naples shortly before his death from TB (at the age of 26). Both works have stylistic links and there are clear influences from Pergolesi's operatic writing (something for which he was criticised by contemporaries).

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Ruins and reflections: Londinium celebrates Tenebrae

Andrew Griffiths - Picture credit: Benjamin Ealovega
Andrew Griffiths
Picture credit: Benjamin Ealovega
Last night (Wednesday 16 April) Londinium celebrated Easter week with a concert inspired by the rite of Tenebrae . Conducted by their musical director Andrew Griffiths Londinium ably tackled a programme about loss, and found poignancy and beauty in the atmospheric setting of St Sepulchre without Newgate .

Traditionally candles in the church would be extinguished through the service on the Wednesday before Easter, and the church remain in darkness until the Easter vigil. Texts from the Book of Lamentations in the Old Testament attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem in 568 BC, would be recited or sung in meditation on the separation of Jesus (and the congregation) from God before the resurrection.

Each of the pieces performed reflected in some way the composer’s sense of loss, whether this was Catholic or secular, and a recognition of the power of the texts to touch people throughout history.

CPE Bach's St. John Passion

Kirill Karabits - credit Sasha Gustov
Kirill Karabits - credit Sasha Gustov
CPE Bach St John Passion: BBC Singers, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Kirill Karabits: Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Striking rediscovery of a hitherto lost CPE Bach passion

With this year being the 300th anniversary of CPE Bach's birth, it was pleasing to be able to welcome a performance of his St John Passion of 1784 (a work only relatively recently re-discovered) at the Cadogan Hall, on 16 April 2014, as part of the Choral at Cadogan series.

The BBC Singers and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) were conducted by Kirill Karabits (chief conductor of the BSO and responsible for the re-discovery of CPE Bach's passion), and they were joined by tenor Robin Tritschler as Evangelist. The programme was completed with choral and orchestral music by Telemann and CPE Bach.

Though CPE Bach's only teacher was his father Johann Sebastian Bach, CPE Bach'es compositional style owed more to his godfather Telemann (and other composers of the galant style) and in fact CPE Bach took over Telemann's position in Hamburg as Kantor of the city's oldest school and director of music of the city's five principal churches.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Orpheus Sinfonia takes us to Paris

The Orpheus Sinfonia provides opportunity and support for young musicians just starting in the profession. Under the direction of Thomas Carroll, the orchestra is visiting Paris for the concert at St George's Church, Hanover Square on 24 April 2014. The programme includes music from visitors with Mozart's Paris Symphony, written there when the composer was 22, and Stravinsky's Petrushka which was premiered in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Native composers include Saint Saens with his Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso 1863 (with Akiko Ono, violin) and Ravel's La Valse (written as a ballet for Diaghilev but rejected by him and premiered in concert form). Further information form the Orpheus Sinfonia website.

Juan Diego Florez - L'Amour

Juan Diego Florez - Amor
Boieldieu, Bizet, Delibes, Donizetti, Adam, Massenet, Thomas, Offenbach and Gounod; Juan Diego Florez, Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale Bologna, Roberto Abbado
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 19 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Juan Diego Florez's first all French disc, with some spectacular repertoire

For his new disc on Decca, Juan Diego Florez moving into new territory and exploring roles which he does not (yet) have in his repertoire. Accompanied by Roberto Abbado and Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Florez sings a variety of French operatic arias ranging widely from Boieldieu and Adam to Massenet and Offenbach. The arias, with their showpiece high lyrical writing, very much recall tenors such as Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Kraus and Leopold Simoneau. By and large the arias stick to Florez's existing territory so we get Bizet's La Jolie Fille de Perth, Iopas' aria from Berlioz's Les Troyens and Romeo from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. The main exception to this is the pair of arias from Massenet's Werther, a role often sung by heavier, spinto tenors though it was also in Alfredo Kraus's repertoire.

I have to confess that listening to this disc, I was rather in two minds. On the one hand it is a finely crafted selection of French arias, sung with a degree of style in good French. On the other hand, Florez's technique remains firmly Italianate. Though not necessarily a large voice (but it has developed in robustness over the last few years), he produces his upper register with an Italianate openness which I find sits uneasily with the style of music.  If you listen to Simoneau (and Kraus) in this repertoire then their upper notes are sung with more head and less chest, they are floated more than Florez seems to want to do. But I feel rather guilty at wishing he sang differently, because technically he is so superb and I cannot imagine many contemporary singers being able to cope with the technical demands of some of these arias.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Young people to the fore at Opera North

Duncan Rock (Marcello), Ji-Min Park (Rodolfo) and Barnaby Rea (Colline) in studio rehearsals for La Boheme in Leeds.Photo credit: Tom Arber
Duncan Rock (Marcello),  Ji-Min Park (Rodolfo)
& Barnaby Rea (Colline)  in rehearsals for La Boheme.
Photo credit: Tom Arber
Any opera company needs to balance more adventurous repertoire with standard classics, because these are the operas which new audiences (and old ones) want to come back to. But there is an element of necessity to the programming in helping to balance the books. 

Opera North is making a great virtue of necessity in its forthcoming revival of Phyllida Lloyd's 1993 production of Puccini's La Boheme (opening on 29 April at the Grand Theatre, Leeds and touring until 17 May). A double cast provides an opportunity to hear some of the best young singers around today and the company is pairing it with the launch of a membership scheme for Under 30's and students.

The scheme, which is free to join, includes offers of free or £10 tickets for Opera North's productions at the Grand Theatre and Leeds Town Hall, discounts on events at the Howard Assembly Room, food and drink discounts at selected nearby restaurants and bars, and invitations to special events. The scheme is being launched at a special La Boheme on 7 May - for £10, those aged 19-29 (and full time students of all ages) will receive a ticket to the evening performance of La Bohème as well as entry and a free glass of bubbly at an interval launch party themed around 1950s Paris fashion (Phyllida Lloyd's production is set in 1950's Paris).

Caccini's L'Euridice

Caccini - L'Euridice - naive
Giulio Caccini - L'Euridice: Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto Italiano: naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Vivid live performance of one of the first ever operas

Opera as we know it seems to have been invented around the turn of the 16th century in Florence. Thanks to an element of controversy with two different composers staking some claim, we have two of the earliest operas surviving as published musical texts. It was Jacopo Peri's L'Euridice that was premiered at the wedding celebrations of Maria de Medici and Henri IV of France in Florence in 1600. But students of composer Giulio Caccini took part and Caccini insisted they sing his music, so the first performance was a hybrid. Peri soon went into print with a version that had only his music. Then Caccini, not to be outdone, published his version.

It is Giulio Caccini's L'Euridice that Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano have recorded here, on naive, taken from live performances at the Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musick, with a cast including Silvia Frigato, Furio Zanasi, Gianpaolo Fagotto, Luca Dordolo, Sara Mingardo, Monica Piccinini, Antonio Abete, Matteo Bellotto and Mauro Borgioni.

Not forgettable: Górecki’s final symphony

Henryk Gorecki
Henryk Gorecki
Gorecki, Tansman & Stravinsky: Julian Rachlin, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Andrey Boreyko; South Bank Centre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on April 12 2014
Star rating: 4.5

World premiere of Henryk Gorecki's fourth and final symphony

Alexandre Tansman with his first wife Anna Eleonora Brociner
Alexandre Tansman
with his first wife
Anna Eleonora Brociner
This memorial concert has been a long time in the planning but was worth the wait. Henryk Mikołaj Górecki’s (1933-2010) magnificent fourth and final symphony, originally planned for a premiere in 2010, was a masterclass in restricted material composition, and made great use of the newly restored organ at the Royal Festival Hall.

Symphony no. 4 (Tansman Episodes) was original commissioned by the London Philharmonic Orchestra and South Bank Centre. Although completed in 2006 by Górecki as a short score, it was only orchestrated by his son Mikolaj, a composer in his own right, after Górecki’s death. The Tansman episodes are in fact a musical transcription of Tansman’s name (A-(Le)A-E-(S)Eb-A-D-E-(Re)D, (T)C-A-(S)Eb-(Mi)E-A).

Supporting the Górecki was Alexander Tansman’s (1897-1986) Stèle in memoriam Igor Stravinsky and Stravinsky’s (1882-1971) Violin concerto in D, with young Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Julian Rachlin as the violin soloist.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

La Calisto in Highgate

Hampstead Garden Opera - La Calisto
Hampstead Garden Opera is performing Cavalli's 1651 opera La Calisto at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, the fringe theatre above the Gatehouse Pub in Highgate,  from April 25 to May 4, 2014. Sung in Anne Ridler's English translation, Cavalli's opera depicts  the perils and pains of love and mixes the comedy and tragedy with a strong admixture of farce and cross-dressing beloved of the original Venetian 17th century audience. 

Hampstead Garden Opera's production is directed by Joe Austin (who recently assisted David Alden in the revival of Peter Grimes at ENO), and we seem to be promised a version of La Calisto which takes the heroine into our bewildering modern world.  The opera will be conducted by Oliver-John Ruthven with accompaniment from the period instrument ensemble Musica Poetica London with an impressive cast of young singers, as the performances are double cast. 

Benjamin Grosvenor and the Escher String Quartet

Benjamin Grosvenor -
Benjamin Grosvenor -
Temple Music Foundation's concert season continued on 15 April with a concert in Middle Temple Hall from the young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor and the Escher String Quartet from America. Grosvenor played piano solos by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Liszt, whilst the quartet played Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E flat major Op.12, then the five performers came together for a performance of Dvorak's Piano Quintet in A major Op.81

Escher String Quartet - Photo Credit: Laura Rose
Escher String Quartet
Photo Credit: Laura Rose
The Escher String Quartet are Adam Barnett-Hart, Aaron Boyd, Pierre Lapointe and Dane Johansen. The quartet is based in New York, and was founded in 2005, but they have played extensively in the UK and were BBC New Generation Artists from 2020-2012.

The quartet opened with Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E flat major which was written in 1829 when the composer was 20 and by which time he had already written the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture and the Octet. In 1829 Mendelssohn made his first trip to Britain, a trip which would inspire the Hebrides Overture and the Scottish Symphony. Mendelssohn finished the quartet whilst he was in London that year.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Rita or Deux Hommes et une Femme

Donizetti: Rita - Opera Rara ORCD50
Donizetti Rita or Deux Hommes et une Femme: Karneus, Banks, Maltman, Halle Orchestra, Elder: Opera Rara
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 20 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Sparkling performance of a rare Donzetti late comedy, just don't read the plot

Donizetti's opera Rita (which he seems to have called Deux Hommes et une Femme) seems to have been written in the 1840's but for various reasons lay unperformed till 1860, well after Donizetti's death. This new recording from Opera Rara rolls back the sentimentalisation of the plot from 1860 and goes back to the original autograph and libretto to give us Donizetti's original sung by Katarina Karneus, Barry Banks and Christopher Maltman with the Halle Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder.

The libretto is by the Belgian playwright Gustave Vaez, with whom Donizetti would go on to collaborate on the French version of Lucia di Lammermoor. In fact if the article in the booklet is right in its dating of Donizetti's first work on Rita to 1839, then the opera can be seen as Donizetti trying out a new colleague.

Into 2015 with world premieres

Scottish Chamber Orchestra © Marco Borggreve
Scottish Chamber Orchestra © Marco Borggreve
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has announced plans for 2014/15. This will be the sixth term for Robin Ticciati as Principal Conductor (and he has committed until at least 2018).  The orchestra is presenting two world premieres during the season plus a Scottish premiere and two UK premieres. 

The season opens in October with Robin Ticciati conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 4 (with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill) paired with the premiere of the new harp concerto Aeolus by Toshio Hosokawa. Hosokawa's Meditation (dedicated to the victims of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan) also receives its UK premiere during the season. The other SCO commission is by Scottish composer John McLeod whose Out of the Silence is premiered in January 2015. This work is written as a tribute to the composer Carl Nielsen whose 150th anniversary is celebrated in 2014. Candlebird by SCO Associate Composer Martin Suckling receives its Scottish premiere, and Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson's Garden of Devotion gets its UK premiere.

Other threads running through the season include Schumann, whose complete symphonies have been recorded by Ticciati and the SCO for release in September 2014 on Linn. And the Piano Classis series features pianists such as Mitsuko Uchida, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Ingrit Fliter, Llyr Williams and Francesco Piemontesi. Further information from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra website.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Danny Boy indeed

David Schofield and Daniel Parkinson (RNCM Concert Hall stage) cr Tom Gradwell
David Schofield &  Daniel Parkinson 
on the RNCM Concert Hall stage
picture credit Tom Gradwell
Students from the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester (RNCM) are releasing a charity single in aid of the college's £3 million campaign to transform the 40-year-old concert all into a state of the art venue. RNCM postgraduate conductor Daniel Parkinson and students from the School of Strings have teamed up with British pianist and Junior RNCM alumnus David Schofield to release a new version of the Londonderry Air, which will be released in all on-line stores on May 19. The single was recorded at the college earlier this month, the single was arranged for piano and strings by pianist and composer Stephen Hough (himself an RNCM alumnus) with original orchestration by Ross Clarke.

When I was a student in Manchester in the 1970's the college was not long open, and I remember many fabulous concerts there particularly as the hall's organ had just been installed in the fascinatingly five-sided concert hall. My memories of a performance of Poulenc's Organ Concerto are particularly vivid, so it is great to hear that the venue is being brought up to date.

The RNCM campaign officially launched in October 2013 and has so far received support from scientist and TV presenter Professor Brian Cox, BBC 6 Music presenter Stuart Maconie, Classic FM’s John Suchet and, among others, international pianist Lang Lang. The College has so far raised almost half of its £3 million target and work on the transformation is well underway. Plans include a complete redevelopment of the Concert Hall to include a new air-conditioning and heating system, new flooring and seating, advanced technical facilities and lighting, plus a balcony and raised floor area to considerably increase capacity. The backstage production areas of both the Concert Hall and RNCM Theatre will also be reconfigured to support increased student numbers and provide a professional learning environment at industry standard.

Further information from the RNCM website

Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide

Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide - Choir of Clare College, Cambridge - Graham Ross - HMU 907616
Stabat Mater dolorosa - Music for Passiontide: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Graham Ross: Hamonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Sequence of plainchant and polyphony for Passiontide spanning the 16th to 21st centuries

Graham Ross and the choir of Clare College, Cambridge have followed up their Advent disc with a Passiontide one on Harmonia Mundi. Stabat Mater dolorosa is a sequence of Passiontide music linked by plainchant, the chant all being taken from the Stabat Mater. The result is a highly satisfying whole, with motets and anthems stretching from the 16th to the 21st centuries with music by Victoria, Lassus, Tallis, Stainer, Gesualdo, Graham Ross, John Sanders, Lotti, Bach, Byrd, Bruckner and Durufle.

The choir numbers 27, with women singing soprano and alto. Founded in 1971, the choir leads choral services three times a week in Clare College Chapel in Cambridge.

The choir sings the verses of the plainchant Stabat Mater, opening the disc with the first two and then interleaving the motets with a few verses at a time in a very satisfying way. The full choir sings the chant in an admirably poised and flexible manner, precise yet expressive.

Chapelle du Roi - Tenebrae

Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi are back at St. John's Smith Square on 16 April for their annual Holy Week concert, Tenebrae

The original Tenebrae service was held at sunset with the candles extinguished one by one, and the service seems to have inspired Renaissance composers to write some of their greatest music either for the Tenebrae Responds, or for settings of the readings themselves taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. 

Chapelle du Roi will perform Tallis's Lamentations of Jeremiah, Victoria's Tenebrae Responds and motets by Victoria, Guerrero, Tallis and Byrd, plus a set of motets by the Spanish 16th century composer Bernardino de Ribera which are receiving their first London performance after their discovery by the scholar Bruno Turner. De Ribera was Maestro di Capilla in Avila when Victoria and Sebastian de Vivanco were choirboys.

If you are interested in exploring De Ribera's music further then Rupert Damerell and the Zenobia Consort are performing his music at their International Singing Week at the Real Monasterio de Santo Tomas in Avila, Spain from 27 July to  1 August 2014 (see website for further info, opens as PDF)

Monday, 14 April 2014

Operatic triumphs in the Olivier Awards

Nicholas Sharratt, Grant Doyle, Roderick Earle in King Priam: ETO © Richard Hubert Smith,
Nicholas Sharratt, Grant Doyle, Roderick Earle
in King Priam for ETO
© Richard Hubert Smit
At last night's Olivier Awards, English Touring Opera won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera for their season at the Linbury Studio Theatre, with Tippett's King Priam and Britten's Paul Bunyan (the other nominees were Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez in La Donna del Lago at Covent Garden and Placido Domino in Nabucco at Covent Garden)

The award for Best New Opera Production went to the Royal Opera for their production of Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes (the other nominees were the Opera Group/Opera North production of David Bruce's The Firework Makers Daughter at the Linbury Studio Theatre, and ENO's new production of Wozzeck  at the London Coliseum). A full list of winners and nominees at the Olivier Awards website.

Bach - St John Passion

Page 1 of the MS of Bach's St John Passion
The Britten Sinfonia and Britten Sinfonia Voices are performing Bach's St. John Passion this Easter, with performances in at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge (16 April), the Barbican (18 April - Good Friday), Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden (19 April - Easter Saturday) and Norwich Theatre Royal (20 April - Easter Sunday). 

The performances are directed by the Britten Sinfonia's leader, Jacqueline Shave with a strong cast including Nicholas Mulroy as the Evangelist, Matthew Brook as Christus (and singing the bass solos), plus Julia Doyle, Iestyn Davies, Jeremy Budd, and Eamonn Dougan as Pilate.

Magnificent Extravagance - Gergiev and LSO in Scriabin

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra continued their exploration of Scriabin's music at the Barbican last night with a concert with put Scriabin's Symphony No. 3 in C minor, The Divine Poem alongside Messiaen's early Les offrandes oubliees and Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21 played by the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov.

Messiaen's Les offrandes oubliees - meditations symphonique was written in 1930, the year Messiaen left the Paris Conservatoire but already his distinctive compositional voice is very clear. The work is designed as a meditation of Christ's sacrifice and work's three movements originally had titles linking them clearly to this theme. Written for a large orchestra, the LSO had over 50 strings on stage with triple woodwind, the sound world of the piece is clearly Messiaen, though some of the complexities of his later writing are not yet present. The opening movement was a long sinuous plainchant melody over held chords, the textures were completely magical but only occasionally did the sound recall mature Messiean. The middle section was an ecstatic dance, leading to a quietly intense closing movement. Here Gergiev and the LSO showed stunning control in the movement. It concluded with a long passage for divisi violins and violas which was expressive yet quiet; quite astonishing.

Sunday, 13 April 2014


Don't forget our fabulous competition to win a signed copy of Rosalind Plowright's new recital CD, La belle Dame sans Merci

Her first ever recital disc, it contains songs by Alessandro Stradella, Johannes Brahms, Manuel de Falla, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Kurt Weill, Benjamin Britten, Roger Quilter, Ernest Kaye, Charles Villiers Stanford and Frank Bridge, including Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populare Espanoles and Stanford's La belle Dame sans Merci. Rosalind is accompanied by pianist Philip Mountford.

See our competition page for further details.

Troppo cruda, troppo fiera - Handel duets at the Grosvenor Chapel

Oxford Baroque
Oxford Baroque
Troppo Cruda, Troppo Fiera: Robyn Allegra Parton, Raffaele Pe, Oxford Baroque: London Handel Festival at the Grosvenor Chapel
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 12 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Delightful programme of Handel's rarely performed chamber duets

Robyn Allegra Parton
Robyn Allegra Parton
Handel wrote Italian chamber duets throughout his life, returning to the form at various periods though the majority date from his Italian trip or earlier. But these delightful works remain under appreciated, more famous perhaps for the fact that Handel re-used material from them for Messiah than in their own right. Oxford Baroque, with soprano Robyn Allegra Parton and counter-tenor Raffaele Pe brought a programme of Handel's duets and cantatas to the London Handel Festival, at the Grosvenor Chapel on Saturday 12 April.

Raffaele Pe
Raffaele Pe
Handel's duets are a distinct form from his chamber cantatas, in the duets the two voices sing continuously both with the same text, rather than answering each other in arias as in the multi-voice chamber cantatas. They are designed for private performance and one can imagine Handel accompanying a pair of star singers in the salons of his various employers and patrons in Hanover, Italy and London. Of the ones performed by Oxford Baroque, most were early and may date to Handel's period in Hanover, whilst Se tu non lasci amore dates from his London period.

The Grosvenor Chapel does not provide a large performing area, but these are chamber pieces after all. Soprano Robyn Allegra Parton and counter-tenor Raffaele Pe were accompanied by David Gerrard on harpsichord, Richard Mackenzie on lute and baroque guitar and Gavin Kibble on cello.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Dai Fujikura's Ampere

Ampere - Dai Fujikura - Minabel Records
Dai Fujikura's second release on his Minabel label, Ampere, again showcases the composer's fascination with complex textures in a selection of works for orchestra and for solo instruments. The disc includes his concerto for piano and orchestra, Ampere, played by pianist Noriko Ogawa with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thierry Fischer, Fluid Calligraphy for solo violin played by Barbara Luneburg, Stream State for orchestra performed by the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez, Poyopoyo for solo horn performed by Nobuaki Fukukawa, Perla for bass recorder played by Inbar Solomon and My Butterflies for wind orchestra played by DePaul University Ensemble 20+ conducted by Michael Lewanski.

Fujikura's piano concerto, Ampere (2008) was written for soloist Noriko Ogawa. It is Fujikura's first piano concerto, and written for a fellow Japanese expatriot. For the work Fujikura talked of integrating the piano and orchestra so that they are 'one big piano', with the orchestra processing and reflecting back the material played by the soloist.

As One Who Has Slept: A Tribute to John Tavener

Reverie - photo credit Charlie Ding
Photo credit - Charlie Ding
As One Who Has Slept: A Tribute to John Tavener: Reverie, Conductor – Robbie Jacobs: Brandenburg Festival, St Dunstan in the West
Reviewed by Natalie Burch on April 10 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Music by Tavener, Part, MacMillan, Tompkins, Gibbons and Howells by young new choir

In celebration of the life of renowned choral composer John Tavener, last night’s Brandenburg Festival concert (10 April) at St Dunstan in the West brought us an intimate selection of British choral works sung by one of London’s top up and coming young choirs: Reverie conducted by Robbie Jacobs. A fairly recent addition to the London choral scene, Reverie draws on a successful group of young professionals under the directorship of Robbie Jacobs to bring us a fresh sound with a remarkably sensitive and innovative use of musical colour. The group focuses largely on repertoire from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and their dedication to pursuing this often undervalued sector of the repertoire is evident from their collaborations with current young composers, youth choirs and ensembles.

The programme, a selection of twelve choral works from the English choral tradition, was a perfect match for the reverent atmosphere of St Dunstan in the West. The generous acoustic of the church worked well with the frequent plain-chant and drone textures, creating an almost pious level of listening amongst the audience reflected in the total enraptured stillness after each piece. Appropriate, perhaps, as we were commemorating the life of John Tavener who died only last year.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Powder her face – Thomas Adès at AmbikaP3

Amanda Roocroft and actors in Powder Her Face: ENO: copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Amanda Roocroft and actors in Powder Her Face
copyright Richard Hubert Smith
Thomas Ades Powder her Face: ENO at AmbikP3
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Apr 4 2014
Star rating: 4.0
New production of Ades' opera in an dramatic new space

This new production by the ENO of Thomas Adès’ Powder her face at AmbikaP3 was a thrilling exposé of a decadent life’s fall from grace. Very topical, given the current rounds of sexual exploitation by celebrities, this work also forces the audience to confront the duel standards by which society views sexual equality.

The libretto by Philip Hensher, known for his journalism and novels, could have taken a more damning view of female celebrity, but instead its straightforward exploration of excesses, prejudices, and scandal allows the audience to be shocked by a world we hoped had gone away but that we know is still bubbling beneath the surface. Adès’ music conducted by Timothy Redmond added an emotional depth to Hensher’s writing. Fragmentary hints of tango and tearoom dances helped consolidate the era of decadence and gave life to the words.

London International A Cappella Choir Competition

St John's Smith Square
There's a chance to hear some fine choirs from around the world in the London International A Cappella Choir Competition which takes place at St Johns Smith Square from 21 - 26 April 2014. The concert was planned as a celebration of St John Tavener's 70th birthday and is now being held in his memory. Hosted by the Tallis Scholars, who give the opening concert, the event enables us to hear the Byrd Ensemble from Seattle (USA), Costanzo Porta from Cremona (Italy), Coro El Leon d Oro from Luanco (Spain), Dysonans Chamber Choir from Poznan (Poland), Voces Musicales from Tallin (Estonia), Vox Lundensis from Lund (Sweden), New Dublin Voices from Dublin (Ireland) along with the Erebus Ensemble from Bristol, Renaissance from Durham, Reverie from London and the Victoria Consort from Oxford. The choirs will be performing one of Tavener's works alongside an eclectic mix of renaissance polyphony and recent pieces (including Jonathan Harvey and Howard Skempton).

The Tallis Scholars open things with their concert on 21 April, performing Gibbons, Parsons, Tallis, Tye, Victoria, Vivanco and Tavener. Then there are the competition rounds 1 to 3 on the evenings of 23, 24 25 April with the final on Saturday 26 April. At the final the judges will be Peter Phillips, James O'Donnell, Emma Kirkby and Mark Williams. There is also the chance to hear the choirs around London at lunchtime, with the Erebus Ensemble at St George's Bloomsbury (22/4), Vox Lundensis at St Bride's Fleet Street (23/4), the Byrd Ensemble at St Mary At Hill, and Costanzo Porta at St George's Bloomsbury (both 24 April), plus El Leon d'Oro will be at St Mary At Hill at 7pm on 24 April. Voces Musicales will be at St Mary At Hill at 6pm on 25 April and Renaissance will be at St. Magnus the Martyr at 6pm on 25 April.

Further information from St Johns Smith Square website.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Judgement of Paris

Daniel Purcell - The Judgement of Paris - Resonus Classics RES128
The year is 1700, the cause of opera sung in English seems to have stalled. Henry Purcell has been dead for 5 years and the score of his Fairy Queen lost so no further performances possible. His other semi-operas continue to be performed and Dido and Aeneas would be dismembered for inclusion into a play. But it is an expensive genre, and with no subsidy from the Royal court English opera, whether fully sung or semi-opera, founders.

A group of aristocrats led by Lord Halifax decide to remedy this and hold a competition. William Congreve writes a libretto, The Judgement of Paris, and composers are invited to set it. Four composers enter, Daniel Purcell, John Eccles, Gotfried Finger and John Weldon. Purcell, Eccles and Finger have links to the two theatre companies, with Weldon the outsider though he studied with Daniel Purcell's older brother (or cousin) Henry.

Weldon wins, Finger is annoyed and leaves London. Finger's opera has not survived, the other three have and in fact at the Proms some years ago all were performed in competition. Eccles's opera has gained a little currency in recent years but Daniel Purcell's is relatively unknown. Now Daniel Purcell's The Judgement of Paris it has been recorded by Julian Perkins, Spiritato and the Rodolfus Choir with Anna Dennis, Amy Freston, Clara Hendricks, Samuel Boden and Ashley Riches, the Resonus Classics label.

In case you missed it - March on Planet Hugill

Arianna in Creta at London Handel Festival c. Chris Christodoulou

Musical March

March started in prison as we visited HMP and YOU Bronzefield for Pimlico Opera's terrific production of Sister Act, performed largely with a cast of prisoners. Still in a music theatre vein, we went to the Rosemary Branch Theatre to hear the premiere of Riptide: The Slasher Musical by Mark and Simon Nathan.

Operatic excursions

I returned to Covent Garden to catch the latest revival of Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment with Juan Diego Florez and Patrizia Ciofi (along with a guest appearance from Kiri Te Kanawa). And I also caught the opening of English Touring Opera's Magic Flute, in Hackney as part of their spring tour. Chelsea Opera Group's took us to Verona for Bellini's re-telling of the story of Romeo and Juliet, I Capuleti et i Montecchi. Borodin's opera Prince Igor made a rare visit to London in the production by Novaya Opera. We also caught a look at Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten

Celebrating 200 years with a world premiere

The Old Sunday School - Macclesfield Heritage Centre
The Old Sunday School
Macclesfield Heritage Centre
On Saturday April 12 2014 the Northern Chamber Orchestra is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Macclesfield Heritage Centre with a concert which includes the world premiere of Adam Gorb's A Celebration! written specially for the occasion. The concert also includes music by Rossini and RVW, and the orchestra is joined by pianist Steven Osborne for Beethoven's Second Piano Concerto with the evening finishing with the premiere of Gorb's new piece. Gorb is a Macclesfield resident, as well as being Head of School of Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, so it is apt that he helps to celebrate 200 years of Macclesfield's heritage.

The Macclesfield Heritage Centre started out life as the Macclesfield Sunday School, built for the education of the silk industry workers' children. The Heritage Centre is now administered and managed by the  Silk Heritage Trust along with the Macclesfield Silk Museum and The Paradise Mill. They have been celebrating the Heritage Centre's bicentenary with a year of events from April 2013 to April 2014. Further information from the Macclesfield Heritage Centre and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.