Saturday, 28 November 2015

Gounod's La Colombe from Opera Rara

Gound - La Colombe - Opera Rara
Gounod La Colombe; Erin Morley, Javier Camarena, Michele Losier, Laurent Naouri, the Halle, Sir Mark Elder; Opera Rara
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 27 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Gounod's delightful opera comique performed with deft lightness

Opera Rara continues its exploration of smaller scale French operas with a new recording of Gounod's opera comique La Colombe. The cast features Erin Morley, Javier Camarena (who we saw last year at a Rosenblatt Recital), Michele Losier and Laurent Naouri with Sir Mark Elder conducting the Halle.

La Colombe is one of a group of smaller scale works with spoken dialogue which Gounod wrote in the late 1850's. The works all belong to the opera comique genre even though they were not performed at the Opera Comique itself. Two (Le Medecin malgre lui and Philemon et Baucis) were written for Leon Carvalho's Theatre Lyrique where, between the two Faust was premiered as well. The third of the group, La Colombe was premiered in Baden Baden. Carvalho's wife was a lyric coloratura soprano so it helped if composers wrote parts for her in their operas, which Gounod naturally did, and in fact she sang the role of Sylvie in La Colombe in Baden Baden.

Sir Mark Elder & the Halle recording Gounod's La Colombe
Sir Mark Elder & the Halle recording Gounod's La Colombe
By this date Gounod had already had two works performed at the Paris Opera (Sapho and La nonne sanglante), neither of which was a success and it is in the smaller scale works that Gounod's melodic gifts were able to flower.

La Colombe is still relatively unknown in Gounod's repertoire, but those readers who follow the Buxton Festival will certainly be aware of it as the opera has been performed there twice (see my review of the 2013 production).

The plot is pretty slim. Horace (tenor, Javier Camarena) has spent all his money on a young lady, Sylvie (soprano Erin Morley) who does not love him. Now destitute he lives in the country with his manservant Mazet (mezzo-soprano Michele Losier). Sylvie comes to visit with her majordomo (baritone Laurent Naouri) and is in fact seeking to get Horace's tame dove (because one of her rivals has a talking parrot). She invites herself to dinner. As there is no food, Horace decides that the dove must be sacrificed and Sylvie realises that he still loves her. All ends happily especially as Mazet reveals that it wasn't the dove at all but the hated rival's parrot which they ate.

Gounod treats all this with a light touch and Mark Elder and his cast respond to the music with a similar combination of deft lightness, and sheer delight. Gounod's gives each of the four soloists a moment or two of solo spotlight, but it is as much for the ensembles as the solos that the works charm comes.

We start with an orchestral Introduction which almost hints at Offenbach before giving us a lovely singing cello melody. Erin Morley is certainly appealing as Sylvie the rather demanding young lady. There is a certain tremulous quality to Morley's voice which works well in this repertoire and she is definitely adept as all the twiddly bits, but is also nicely affecting in her second act solo. Javier Camarena makes as fine Horace, singing with a lovely sweet, narrow tone which suits the role well. He is a very stylish singer and would seem quite a find in this repertoire, making his Romance in Act One appealingly poetic and giving us a lovely lyric solo in Act Two.

Horace's servant Mazet, the travesty role, is played with great zest by Michele Losier. Her couplets at the opening of Act One are charming, sung with a warm vibrato and shapely sense of phrase. But her diatribe against women at the end of the act is a terrific tour de force. Laurent Naouri is a great delight as the grumpy Maitre Jean, singing with a lovely sense of character and you feel that he is having great fun.

As I have said, the various duets, terzetto and quartets make the whole thing a delight and the entire performance zips along with great fun (it is after all a farce, albeit one with a heart). Mark Elder (music director of the Halle and artistic director of Opera Rara) and the Halle bring a deftness of touch to the music along with the requisite pin-sharp playing which makes me look forward to further Opera Rara discs from this ensemble.

The opera is performed in French with French dialogue (French coach Nicole Tibbels, repetiteur Jeff Cohen), including some melodrama, and both the spoken and sung French is done with a creditable sense of style (it probably helped having a Frenchman and a French Canadian in the cast!).

The Cd booklet comes complete with the full sung text and dialogue, plus the usual extensive articles and historic pictures that we expect from any Opera Rara production.

This set makes a lovely follow up to Opera Rara's account of Offenbach's charming and neglected Fantasio and I do hope that we will be able to look forward to more French rarities.

Charles Gounod (1818-1893) - La Colombe (1860) [79.59]
Sylvie - Erin Morley
Horace - Javier Camarena
Mazet - Michele Losier
Maitre Jean - Laurent Naouri
Sir Mark Elder
The Halle
Recorded at Halle St Peter,s Ancoats, Manchester, June 2015
OPERA RARA ORC53 2CD's [40:48, 39:11]

Elsewhere on this blog:

Thomas Tallis: Chronology, Contexts, Discoveries

Despite his long career, serving four different English monarchs we know very little about Thomas Tallis and much of what we know about his music relies on stylistic analysis and inference rather than firm facts. Part of the problem is that, unlike his younger contemporary William Byrd, Tallis was never in the courts so we have little in the way of legal trail. And none of his manuscripts survive, so the composer's intentions must be inferred from the degree of involvement his is presumed to have had in the surviving material.

All this means that the smallest new fact can have a significant effect. On 16 November 2015, the Tudor Partbooks project and Sidney Sussex College organised a study day at Sidney Sussex College, Thomas Tallis: Chronology, Context, Discoveries where Roger Bowers, John Milsom, Kerry McCarthy, Andrew Johnstone, Magnus Williamson and David Skinner presented papers, and David Skinner's ensemble Alamire provided musical illustrations. This culminated in a short concert at Jesus College Chapel in which three works which had been presented at the conference were performed, Magnus Williamson's reconstruction of a polyphonic Sarum Litany of 1555 with Tallis's O Sacrum Convivium, Thomas Tallis's five-part setting of Thomas Cranmer's English Litany of 1544 in a new edition by Andrew Johnstone, and David Skinner's new edition of Se lord and behold, a contrafactum of Tallis's Gaude gloriosa dei mater set to words by Queen Katherine Parr.

Gateway to Dover Priory
Gateway to Dover Priory
Things started off with Roger Bowers' From the Archives: Thomas Tallis at Dover Priory in which Bowers had examined the surviving archives for Dover Priory and other similar size monasteries to glean what he could about Tallis's period of employment there. Dover Priory was a modest establishment, not wealth and Tallis seems to have been employed to direct the singing boys who provided the daily Ladymass and sang the Marian antiphon, and he was also required to play the organ on Holy Days for the monks. There do not seem to have been any trained adult voices, so polyphony would be restricted to whatever he could teach the boys. A work such as Tallis's Euge celi porta probably dates from this period with Tallis himself singing the lowest part (the tenor).

It is clear that this was a modest post and not worth travelling for, so Tallis was probably in his early 20's and most likely from Eastern Ken. From other part-books of the period it is clear that his work seems to have been thought worth copying. His earliest music would seem to date from his teenage years which suggests that he trained in a major establishment. Suggestions were made, and the household chapel of William warren, Archbishop of Canterbury (also the patron of Dover Priory) seemed a likely possibility. We were then treated to a performance of Euge celi porta by four members of Alamire.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Birthday treats - Roderick Williams, Ashley Solomons and Florilegium at the Wigmore Hall

Ashley Solomon & Florilegium
Ashley Solomon & Florilegium
Buxtehude, Tunder, Biber, Bach, Telemann; Roderick Williams, Florilegium (director Ashley Solomon); Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Nov 25 2015
Star rating: 4.5

A Baroque 'Schubertiade' to help celebrate a birthday and an anniversary

Florilegium, director Ashley Solomon, are approaching their 25th anniversary and baritone Roderick Williams is celebrating his 50th with a number of appearances at the Wigmore. This concert of 17th and 18th century music at the Wigmore Hall on 25 November 2015 was birthday treats all round, with music by Buxtehude, Tunder, Biber, Bach and Telemann including Bach's cantata Ich habe genug BWV82

Roderick Williams
Roderick Williams
The programme was very varied, in the style of a Baroque 'Schubertiade', and just as intimate. We started off with Buxtehude’s Venetian-influenced sonata scored for two violins, viola and viola da gamba with extensive use of double-stopping making for a richer texture. Buxtehude’s father-in-law Franz Tunder came next, with two settings of 17th-century devotional texts for bass voice and strings. These pieces showed the influence of Monteverdi with their hypnotic repetitions of the text and the sense of space. Roderick Williams’ rock-solid technique showed no sign of strain in the subterranean low notes and he travelled seamlessly through the registers of his rich and flexible baritone. We also had a foretaste of the exquisite phrasing he was to use in the Bach in the second half.

Lully, Hasse and Gertrude Jekyll

Woodhouse Copse
Woodhouse Copse
Woodhouse Copse is an Arts and Crafts house in Surrey with gardens originally laid out by Gertrude Jekyll. The garden is now the venue for an annual opera festival which gives you the chance to combine the lovely garden with some strikingly unusual baroque opera by Lully, and Hasse.
There are two opera venues, an outdoor amphitheatre complete with a pit, and an indoor opera hall. The artistic director is Monika Saunders, and music director is Marcio da Silva,

The first programmes are performed in the indoor hall. First, Lully's Armide, which was premiered in Paris in 1686, will be performed fully staged by Woodhouse Opera and OrQuesta baroque ensemble conducted by Marco da Silva on 20 and 21 February 2015 following a ten day baroque academy. On 4 & 5 June 2016 there is a double bill of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Hasse's Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra, a serenata written for a wedding in Naples in 1725. Then on September 10 & 11, there Puccini's La Boheme staged in the lakeside Theatre.

There is also Carlo Goldoni's The Liar in a new version by David Crook, with music by Leonard Lawrence (25, 26 June), and there are concerts too with a programme about Alma Mahler, and the Hieronymus Quartet's continuing Beethoven quartet cycle.

The Shepherd on the Rock - Ailish Tynan, Emma Johnson & Finghin Collins

Ailish Tynan
Ailish Tynan
Schubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Spohr; Ailish Tynan, Emma Johnson, Finghin Collins; Temple Music at Inner Temple Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 25 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen as the centrepiece of a vivid and entrancing recital

What to programme with Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock? On her recent disc with clarinettist Julian Bliss, soprano Ailish Tynan gave us a voyage round the 19th century's love affair with the clarinet (see my review). For her recital for Temple Music at Inner Temple Hall, Ailish Tynan was joined by clarinettist Emma Johnson and pianist Finghin Collins to give us a voyage around Schubert himself, mixing the composer's music with that of his great predecessors and contemporaries. So we had Beethoven's Variations on 'La ci darem las mano' from Don Giovanni WoO 28, Mozart's concert aria Ah, lo previdi, K 272, Schubert's songs Wanderers Nachtlied II D 768, Gretchen am Spinnrade D 118 and Die Forelle D 550, three of Louis Spohr's Sechs deutsche Lieder Op.103, Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata in A minor D 821 transcribed for clarinet, and of course Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen D 965.

Emma Johnson
Emma Johnson
The recital was held in Inner Temple Hall, rather than Temple Music's regular venue of Middle Temple Hall. The occasion was a celebration of Inner Temple Hall's recent acquisition of a new Steinway piano, and very impressive it was too.

The recital opened with Emma Johnson and Finghin Collins performing Beethoven's Variations on 'La ci darem la mano' from Don Giovanni which was probably written for a benefit concert at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1795. The work was originally written for two oboes and cor anglais, but the transcription suited the clarinet and piano well. Rather impressively Emma Johnson played this, and all her contributions to the evening, from memory. After a straightforward statement of the melody, Beethoven gives us a varied sequence of variations by turns perky, characterful, showy, thoughtful and darkly dramatic, finishing with a delightfully jazz-like fugal variation. Throughout Emma Johnson played with great style and a charm, allied to superb technical skill. She was well supported by Finghin Collins who got a chance to show off in one of the later variations.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Shepherd on the Rock - music for voice, clarinet and piano

the Shepherd on the Rock - Ailish Tynan, Julian Bliss, Christopher Glynn
Chopin, Brahms, Schumann, Strauss, Schubert: Julian Bliss, Ailish Tynan, Christopher Glynn; Signum Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2015
Star rating: 4.0

The Shepherd on the Rock at the centre of a programme of music for clarinet, soprano & piano

Having decided to programme Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) for soprano, clarinet and piano, what else do you include in the programme. On this disc from Signum Classics, clarinettist Julian Bliss and soprano Ailish Tynan are accompanied by Christopher Glynn in a varied programme which mixes Schubert songs, Schumann's Fantasiestucke for Clarinet and Piano, with arrangements and transcriptions of music by Chopin and Richard Strauss.

Julian Bliss and Christopher Glynn start the programme with Bliss's arrangement for clarinet and piano of Chopin's Introduction and Polonaise brillante in C major, Op. 3 a work originally written for cello and piano during Chopin's last period in his native Poland. We start with a lyrical, almost song-like clarinet accompanied by a flowery piano, then in the polonaise both performers bring out the stylish rhythms of the piece but there is a nice complementarity about the combination of Bliss's lyrical line and Glynn's rhythmic underpinning.

Ailish Tynan and Christopher Glynn follow this with a group of Brahms songs. Das Maedchen spricht has charming appeal, and is quite busily complex. In the quietly thoughtful Unbewegte laue Luft the performers start with a certain intensity and develop into real rapture. Es traumte mir is intensely quiet, with Tynan and Glynn creating a really magical atmosphere. In O kuhler Wald they are intense and thoughtful with Tynan creating a sense of confiding in us. The lightly perky Stanchen is full of charm. In all the songs Tynan sings with a vibrant, focussed line with lovely bright tone and a real feeling for the shape of the phrase and she is finely partnered by Glynn.

Thomas Elwin and Maite Aguirre at the Gresham Centre

Thomas Elwin
Thomas Elwin
The young British tenor Thomas Elwin is giving a recital on Saturday 28 November 2015 with pianist Maite Aguirre. Elwin was one of the founder members of the vocal ensemble Voces8 and his recital is being given in the Gresham Centre, home to Voces8 and the VCM charity. The recital is one of the Gresham Centre's Masters Series.

The programme will include songs by Strauss, Bellini and Liszt and arias by Mozart and Donizetti, as well as piano solo pieces by Granados and Larregla. Thomas Elwin is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music, London, and the Opera Studio of Oper Stuttgart. In 2015/16 his performances include Belmonte (Die Entfuhrung) in Bregenz, Bach in Stuttgart and Nathanael (Tales of Hoffman), Kuska (Khovanshchina) and Borsa (Rigoletto) for Oper Stuttgart. Maite Aguirre is a London-based Spanish pianist who is also assistant conductor at Grange Park Opera.

Further information from the TicketGun website.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

ABO introduces Find Your Way

Catherine Arlidge at a CBSO Family Concert
Catherine Arlidge at a CBSO Family Concert
With the decline in public investment in arts organisations, and the perception that the audience for classical music is ageing, there is a great need for the development of a new generation of leaders. In response to these challenges the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) has introduced Find Your Way, a new development programme which offers tailored coaching and mentoring programmes to four aspiring leaders. The programme was developed following sessions at the ABO's conference at Gateshead in January 2015 when leadership and succession planning were discussed.

The first four participants on the programme are Flo Ambrose (performance and programming manager, Royal College of Music), Catherine Arlidge (violin, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), Tim Davy (tours & projects manager, London Symphony Orchestra), and Sue Voysey (artistic planning manager, Hallé Concerts Society). Participants will work with Richard Wigley, arts consultant and former general manager of the BBC Philharmonic, on Individual Development Plans, have one-to-one mentoring at CEO-level, be offered shadowing opportunities at their host organization, participate in a Fresh Thinking session at the ABO Conference and mentor prospective future participants.

Mozart - Il re pastore

Mozart - Il re pastore - Classical Opera
Mozart Il re pastore; Sarah Fox, John Mark Ainsley, Ailish Tynan, Benjamin Hulett, Anna Devin, Classical Opera, Ian Page; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 17 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Difficult to imagine it being done better, Mozart's pastoral opera

Mozart's opera Il re Pastore dates from 1775 and was commissioned by his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg as part of entertainments for Archduke Maximilian Franz who was visiting Salzburg. Classed as a serenata, the piece was not intended to be as elaborate as a full scale opera seria. In their survey of the complete operas by Mozart, Ian Page and Classical Opera have reached Il Re Pastore. Their new recording on Signum Classics features Sarah Fox, John Mark Ainsley, Ailish Tynan, Benjamin Hulett, and Anna Devin with Ian Page conducting the orchestra of Classical Opera, with Steven Devine (harpsichord), Joseph Crouch (cello) and Cecelia Bruggemeyer (bass) providing continuo.

Mozart's production of operas slowed down somewhat in the 1770's because in 1771 his employer died and was replaced by a new Archbishop of Salzburg who insisted that Mozart stay at home and fulfil his duties at the Archepiscopal court. Il re pastore, because it was commissioned for entertainment actually at Salzburg, is thus one of the few operas from this period when Mozart's music was developing as he reached his late teens.

The opera sets a libretto by Metastasio originally written for Empress Maria Theresa's birthday and at whose first performance all five solo roles were sung by her children; as such it was very apt choice to entertain her youngest son when he visited Salzburg. As we might expect from Mozart at this period (he had already written symphonies no. 25 and 29 and Exsultate Jubilate) the music is confident in style and highly capable. But more than that, it shows Mozart really coming to grips with a sense of characterisation in the music and real atmosphere. Unlike some of his previous operas, this is clearly music by Mozart and it never resorts to the generic note-spinning.

So it is somewhat a shame that the libretto is rather standard and somewhat trivial. Alessandro (Alexander the Great) gets involved in the love life of a young shepherd who is in fact the real heir to the throne of a city whose tyrannical usurper he has just overthrown. Being Metastasio there are unnecessary complications partly because no-one quite dare tell Alessandro that he is wrong!

Music in the time of Goya

The National Gallery's current exhibition Goya: The Portraits is certainly well worth visiting, and on Friday 27 November there is an additional musical reason too. At 6pm in room 36 (one of the Barry Rooms) there is a concert entitled Music in the time of Goya. The Iberian and Latin American Music Society presents an exploration of the elegant musical aesthetic of Goya's era and its effect on the Romantic imagination of 19th-century composers such as Enrique Granados, and beyond to the 20th-century works of Manuel de Falla, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco and the film music of Roque Baños. 

Expect a colourful programme of fiery Spanish fandangos, seguidillas andboleros alongside well-known classical favourites by Beethoven, Ravel, Scarlatti and Sor, performed by an exciting collective of leading young Iberican artists with special guest, flamenco artist, Nina Corti. Other performers include Violeta Barrena (violin), Elena Jáuregui (violin), Cressida Wislocki (viola), Evva Mizerska (cello), Isabel María Martínez (guitar), Amaia Azcona (soprano), Eduardo Frías (piano), and Helen Glaisher-Hernandez (piano).

Further information from the Concert Diary website. Admission is free, but places are allocated on first-come first-served basis.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Leeds Lieder Festival launch

Leeds Lieder Festival
Last night (23 November 2015) we had a taster of the treats to come at the 2016 Leeds Lieder Festival, as the festival's director Joseph Middleton and the 2016 artistic director Roderick Williams were joined by storyteller Jo Blake-Cave to perform songs from Brahms's Die schöne Magelone, then Williams and Middleton in conversation with Sara Mohr-Pietsch explained a bit more about the festival.

Brahms' Die schöne Magelone is problematic for performers because Brahms extracted songs from Ludwig Tieck's narrative and without the supporting structure of Tieck's story the songs do not make a coherent narrative group. Different performers choose different options. Here, Roderick Williams and Joseph Middleton performed nine of the songs whilst Jo Blake-Cave narrated Tieck's story in her own inimitable way. Williams and Middleton gave us a very fine performance, with Williams singing from memory in a performance that was vividly direct and poetic, with a strong emphasis on the words.

Roderick Williams
Roderick Williams
The Leeds Lieder Festival was founded in 2004 by Jane Anthony, giving a lieder festival every other year in Leeds. With Anthony as the festival's overall director, each individual festival is curated by a different artistic director. So far, artistic directors have included Graham Johnson, Roger Vignoles, Malcolm Martineau, Julius Drake and Iain Burnside. On Jane Anthony's untimely death in 2014, Joseph Middleton was appointed director and the artistic director for 2016 is Roderick Williams.

The festival runs from 1 to 3 April 2016 in Leeds, but Joseph Middleton explained that they are hoping to expand the audience for lieder so that they are presenting lieder concerts in Leeds every month between October 2015 and the festival. Middleton commented that he had come late to lieder, and initially the genre went straight over his head. You cannot simply listen to it passively but must work, hence the plan to increase exposure. He added that it is hard to hear song recitals outside London and that Music Clubs find it hard to sell them, which is a shame as it is such a rich and vivid art form.

Joseph Middleton
Joseph Middleton
When asked about the programme for the 2016 festival, Roderick Williams laughed and explained that the first thing the artistic director does is get out their address book and contact their friends. His artistic plans for the festival are very much involved with the idea of telling stories, and the storyteller Jo Blake-Cave is participating in the festival, and the opening concert includes the actor Rory Kinnear.

The opening concert is Rory Kinnear with Roderick Williams, Mark Padmore and Julius Drake in Songs of the Sea, other highlights include Katarina Karneus and Joseph Middleton in Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, the distinguished soprano Elly Ameling in conversation, the Myrten Ensemble (Mary Bevan, Anna Huntley, Nicky Spence, Joseph Middleton) in Brahms, Schumann, Barber and Faure, Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn in a new Edward Rushton piece, Nicky Spence and Iain Burnside in Britten, Finzi and a new Cheryl Frances Hoad piece. The closing recital is Iain Burnside's Shining Armour, his new narration round Brahms' Die schöne Magelone performed by Roderick Williams, Victoria Newlyn and Iain Burnside.

There are also a whole series of concerts leading up to the festival, so do check out the festival's website.

Stylistic dichotomy - Orfeo ed Euridice from Laurence Equilbey & Franco Fagioli

Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice - Franco Fagioli
Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice, highlights of Orphee et Eurydice; Franco Fagioli, Malin Hartelius, Emmanuelle de Negri, Accentus, Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equilbey
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2015
Star rating: 3.0

A stylistic dichotomy in this period Orfeo with title role lacking classical purity

For their latest disc on Archiv, conductor Laurence Equilbey, her Insula Orchestra and choir Accentus give us almost two works for the price of one. The disc encompasses elements of both Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna 1762) and later Orphee et Eurydice (Paris 1774) with Franco Fagioli as Orfeo, Malin Hartelius as Euridice and Emmanuelle de Negri as Amore. They perform complete Gluck's original 1762 version Orfeo ed Euridice and then on a third disc, entitled Orpheo, there is a 65 minute compilation which has highlights of both the 1762 version and the later 1774 Paris version. Essentially producing a potted historically informed version of the Ricordi Edition, the version of the opera most common in the 20th century. Laurent Equilbey hopes that this compilation will appeal to people who would be put of by the purist complete 1762 opera. (see my interview with Laurence Equilbey)

Gluck produced a number of versions of Orfeo/Orphee, the 1762 Vienna version in Italian with alto castrato in the title role, a revision of this for soprano castrato (now very rarely performed) and the 1774 Paris version in French which expanded the original court entertainment into a full-length evening with an haut-contre replacing the alto castrato. In fact the original had a strong French influence with a lot of dance and the integration of the chorus into the action.

Remembering Raymond Banning

Lorraine and Raymond Banning
Lorraine and Raymond Banning
Raymond Banning was Professor of Piano at Trinity College of Music, as well as being a concert pianist. He died on 2 December 2012 at the age of 60 having suffered from a rare and rapidly-progressing form of young-onset dementia. On 2 December 2015, the third anniversary of Raymond's death, his widow Lorraine Womack-Banning, who is also a pianist, will be giving a concert at the 1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, London, SE1 8UE. The programme includes the world premiere of S G Potts’s The Raymond Variations for Piano (set 1): Variations on the Andantino Themes from the Raymond Overture by Ambroise Thomas. The concert also includes music by Granados, Bizet and Debussy.

Further information from The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog.

Monday, 23 November 2015

More than just a piano recital - Chopin's mazurkas at St John's Smith Square

Warren Mailley-Smith - © Ben Ealovega
Warren Mailley-Smith - © Ben Ealovega
The pianist Warren Mailley-Smith is currently performing all of Chopin's works for solo piano in a concert series at St John's Smith Square, a total of 11 recitals in all. For his recital on 27 November 2015 he has invited the Mazury Dance Company to join him.

The programme for this recital includes the Mazurkas No 11, 12, 13,14 and 15; the Waltz No 14 in E minor and the Polonaise in B flat, in addition to the rarely performed Sonata No. 1 and Twelve Etudes Opus 25.

To give Chopin's reworking of the traditional Polish dance-rhythms some context, the Mazury Dance Company will perform Mazur Straszny Dwor (the Mazur from the opera, The Haunted Manor by Stanislaw Moniuszko) immediately before the recital. The company is London-based, founded at the Polish YMCA in 1949 and they celebrated their 65th anniversary in 2014 with a tour to Poland.

Jazz inspired - the Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall

Britten Sinfonia
Britten Sinfonia
Stravinsky, Zappa, Ogerman, Milhaud, Bainbridge; Eddie Gomez, Steven Osborne, Britten Sinfonia, Kristjan Järvi; Saffron Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 21 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Varied but mixed jazz-inspired programme including new work from Simon Bainbridge

Steven Osborne - credit Ben Ealovega
Steven Osborne
credit Ben Ealovega
The Britten Sinfonia's jazz-themed programme, which debuted at the London Jazz Festival earlier this week, made an appearance a Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden on Saturday 21 November 2105 which gave us the opportunity to visit this relatively new cultural destination for the first time, and it was recently announced the the Britten Sinfonia will be resident at the hall from next year.

The Britten Sinfonia was joined by legendary double bass player Eddie Gomez, who has performed with the Bill Evans Trio and with luminaries such as Miles Davis, pianist Steven Osborne (best known for his classical repertoire from Beethoven to Britten but here showing his engagement with jazz and improvisation), drummer Sebastiaan de Krom and conductor Kristjan Järvi. The programme included Stravinsky's Tango and Ragtime, Frank Zappa's Igor's Boogie and The Perfect Stranger, excerpts from Claus Ogerman's Symbiosis, Darius Milhaud's La creation du monde, and Simon Bainbridge's Counterpoints (which received its world premiere earlier this week).

We started with Igor Stravinsky's crisp and stylised piano solo Tango, played by Steven Osborne, one of the first pieces Stravinsky wrote in the USA after emigrating in 1940. This was very much Stravinsky's own distinctive take on the tango genre. Steven Osborne followed it with a darkly dramatic solo improvisation, more free jazz than Stravinsky.

Frank Zappa's tiny Igor's Boogie came next, in an arrangement for chamber ensemble by Philip Cashian. Invigorating and brightly vivid, the piece created very much its own intriguing sound world. Stravinsky's Ragtime for 11 instruments was performed without a conductor, with violinist Jacqueline Shave directing from the leader's desk. The work grew out of the more popular-style ragtime sections of The Soldier's Tale. The work's distinctive sound world comes from Stravinsky's use of a cimbalom as continuo instrument. Here the performers gave a pin sharp rhythms and tight focus, to create a fabulous performance. It was intriguing to hear the way Stravinsky took familiar ragtime rhythms and moved them into strange and interesting places.

Britten Sinfonia become resident at Saffron Hall

Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall - © Roger King
Britten Sinfonia at Saffron Hall - © Roger King
The Britten Sinfonia has been a regular visitor to Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden since the hall's opening concert in 2013. Now this partnership has been cemented with the orchestra being announced as resident at the hall for the 2016-17 season. The orchestra already has strong links with the East of England with residencies in Norwich and at the University of Cambridge, as well as being an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican in London.

The ensemble's residency at Saffron Hall promises a programme of outstanding and musically diverse concerts. And as both the Britten Sinfonia and Saffron Hall have strong learning and participation programmes, it is to be hoped that they develop some synergy and the plans are for a sustained programme of music education and participatory activities for both secondary and primary schools and wider communities across the region.

Saffron Hall is an award-winning 740-seat performance space built in the grounds of Saffron Walden County High School. In a remarkable piece of sharing, the hall functions both as a facility for the school and as a venue for public concerts. It opened in 2013 and since then performers have included the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Maxim Vengerov, Penguin Cafe, Nicola Benedetti, Courtney Pine and The Sixteen.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

In the sky I am walking

In the sky I am walking - Rebecca Hardwick, George Chambers - photo Minjas Zugik
In the sky I am walking - Rebecca Hardwick, George Chambers
photo by Minjas Zugik taken at a performance prior to that at the Greengrassi Gallery
Karlheinz Stockhausen In the sky I am walking; Rebecca Hardwick, George Chambers; Greengrassi Gallery
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2015
Star rating: 5.0

An astonishing event based around Stockhausen's challenging work for just two singers

In the sky I am walking - Rebecca Hardwick - photo Minjas Zugik
Rebecca Hardwick - photo Minjas Zugik
In the classic white cube of the Greengrassi Gallery in Kennington on Friday 20 November 2015, tenor George Chambers and soprano Rebecca Hardwick gave us a remarkable programme of music for just two voices, centred on an iconic work from the 1970's, Karlheinz Stockhausen's In the sky I am walking which was written as part of his ALPHABET for Liege. To accompany the Stockhausen, George Chambers and Rebecca Hardwick performed Ode Machines 5 & & from Cornelius Cardew's The Great Learning (another iconic work from 1968/71), and a newly commissioned work Black Eyes from the young composer Daniel-Lewis Fardon.

The performance area was set with music-stands (the Daniel-Lewis Fardon and the Cornelius Cardew were performed from music, the Karlheinz Stockhausen from memory) plus cushions, brass bowls (one holding petals), and a pair of bar chimes. The audience was seated on benches around the performers; the event was so popular that extra chairs had to be brought out. Against the gallery's white walls it felt like and art installation rather than a concert. And perhaps that is what it was, at least Karlheinz Stockhausen's work is very much a piece of visual theatre and not just a song-cycle as the composer specified not just notes but the performer's movements.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Competition winners and a Gluck premiere - news from Bampton Classical Opera

Galina Averina, winner of Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition
Galina Averina
November 14, 2015 was the final of Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition, a biennial competition founded in 2013 to celebrate Bampton Classical Opera’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK. 67 singers aged between 21 and 30 entered this year, and at the final the winner was Russian soprano Galina Averina (currently in her second year of Opera School at the Royal College of Music) and the runner-up Welsh soprano Céline Forrest (currently a young artist at the National Opera Studio). The adjudicators were tenor Bonaventura Bottone, and conductors Andrew Parrott and Peter Robinson, who is also a vocal coach at the Royal Academy of Music. Galina is awarded £1,500, and Céline £500.

Celine Forrest,runner up in Bampton Classical Opera's Young Singers Competition
Celine Forrest
Looking ahead to next year, Bampton Classical Opera will be performing a double bill of Gluck's Philemon et Baucis and Arne's The Judgement of Paris. Gluck's one-act mythological opera was written for the wedding celebrations of Ferdinand, Duke of Genoa and Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria in 1769, some years after the premiere of Orfeo ed Euridice. Bampton's performance will be the work's first staging in modern times and the UK premiere of the work. It will be performed in a new English translation by Gilly French, in a performing edition based on the manuscript in the Royal College of Music.

The companion work is Arne's The Judgement of Paris, a short opera in the late Baroque style written in 1742. The text is by Congreve and was originally written for a famous competition in 1701 seeking new English operas. Both operas will be conducted by Paul Wingfield, designed and directed by Jeremy Gray with movement by Triona Adams.

The Deanery Garden, Bampton, Oxfordshire: Friday, Saturday 22, 23 July 2016
The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, Glos: Monday 29 August 2016
St John’s Smith Square, London: Tuesday 13 September 2016

Creating La Boheme in wartime Paris - an encounter with Nina Brazier

 Ryedale Festival Opera - The Coronation of Poppea, with Elizabeth Holmes (Poppea) and Stephanie Marshall (Nero) Photo Emma Lambert
 Ryedale Festival Opera - The Coronation of Poppea,
with Elizabeth Holmes (Poppea) and Stephanie Marshall (Nero) Photo Emma Lambert
You have one of the most iconic operas of all time, limited resources, no chorus and just a piano for accompaniment: how does a director bring La Boheme to life for an audience which mixes those who have seen it dozens of times and those for whom it is a first opera? I met up with the young director Nina Brazier to talk about her new production of Puccini's La Boheme which debuted at the Clapham Opera Festival yesterday (20 November 2015).

Nina Brazier
Nina Brazier
We started by talking about re-interpreting opera in new productions and the pressure on a director, particularly a young director, to do something difference. Nina felt that it was important that your 'take' on a piece should offer a reason for doing it in the first place, and that you shouldn't re-imagine an opera in such a way that it was unrecognisable. 

The challenge is to bring out the particular individuality without distorting the work

She sees the challenge as being to bring out the particular individuality without distorting the work. And it is a greater challenge in a fringe environment with limited resources, but Nina seems to view this as exciting rather than difficult. She is even up-beat about just having a piano accompaniment and no chorus, seeing the stripped-back nature of the production another challenge which means the staging has to work harder, and it can add intimacy and focus to a production. The director also needs to use imagination in finding other moments of interest in the music and staging to compensate for the times when things like the chorus is lacking.

With a reduced accompaniment, the advantage, from a casting point of view, is that younger, lighter voices can be used and most of the performers in Clapham are singing their roles for the first time. The production offers a way in for singers who are just bedding a role down and not yet ready for a big house.

Composing on the periphery - Quator Tana, plus my pre-concert talk

Quatuor Tana - photo Nicolas Draps
Quatuor Tana - photo Nicolas Draps
The Quatuor Tana, whom I last saw playing Gabriel Jackson & John Taverner at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival in 2014 (see my review), is playing at Conway Hall this Sunday (22 November, 6.30pm) in their Sunday Concerts programme. The quartet is playing an interesting programme of quartets from different 19th & 20th century traditions, with Arriaga's Quartet No.1 in D minor (Spanish/Basque), Shostakovich's Quartet No.8 in C minor Op.110 (Russian), Turina's La Oración Del Torero (Spanish) and Dvořák's Quartet in F Op.96 ‘American’ (Czech)

I will be giving the pre-concert talk for the event, so come along at 5.30pm to hear my talk Composing on the periphery.

Based in Belgium, Quatuor Tana was formed in 2010 to promote contemporary chamber music repertoire. The quartet places no boundaries when selecting style or genre and often presents classical repertoire alongside contemporary works.

Full information from the Conway Hall website.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Music for Youth Proms

Massed ensemble at the Music For Youth Proms
Massed ensemble at the Music For Youth Proms
For three nights, 23-25 November 2015, Music For Youth takes over the Royal Albert Hall and presents 3000 young musicians in the Music for Youth Proms. Each night 1000 young musicians take part in a concert like no other: full-scale symphony orchestras are showcased side by side with some of the best jazz bands, chamber groups, rock bands and choirs from across the UK. And each night a Massed Ensemble of over 500 musicians performs new work, specially commissioned for this occasion, with Martin Read's Mary Rose, The Mighty Sky based on work by Beth Nielsen Chapman, and Russell Hepplewhite's 800 Miles as the Albatross Flies.

On Monday 23 November, Hampshire Music Service presents Mary Rose, a composition project by Martin Read involving choir, orchestra, new music by local students, drama and dance. The piece is based on the story of the Mary Rose – Henry VIII's ship – a local story representing the various aspects of the tragic circumstances surrounding the ship’s sinking in the Solent.

On Tuesday 24 November, The Mighty Sky Choirs and Orchestra features musicians from Kirklees Music School, Daventry Music and Performing Arts Centre and Chiltern Music Academy for a visual and musical spectacular. Involving over 350 young people, the project created to inspire and expand their understanding of astronomy. The Mighty Sky album by Beth Nielsen Chapman is at the heart of the project, a collection of songs bordering blues, country, folk and pop which has now been arranged for soloist, choir and orchestra.

On Wednesday 25 November,in partnership with English Touring Opera, nearly 500 children from the Oval Cluster of primary schools in Lambeth sing in a performance of 800 Miles as the Albatross Flies, a new dramatic song cycle by Russell Hepplewhite. Exactly 100 years ago the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton attempted to sail to South Georgia in the tiny James Caird lifeboat, across the most dangerous seas in the world, in order to save his stranded crew. The new piece sees 500 badly equipped and poorly trained Lambeth children attempt to recreate the journey with disastrous consequences. The singers are joined by young percussionists, among other players, and features singer-actors from Lilian Baylis Technology College, as well as an albatross

Seasons - Oliver Davis and Antonio Vivaldi

Seasons - Oliver Davis, Vivaldi
Oliver Davis Anno, Anno Epilogue, Vivaldi The Four Seasons; Grace Davidson, Kerenza Peacock, The Trafalgar Sinfonia, Ivor Setterfield; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 13 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Vivaldi's iconic work paired with new setting of the accompanying poems

Everyone seems to want to record Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and to stand out, you need a take on it. Thankfully this new recording on Signum Classics from violinist Kerenza Peacock with Ivor Setterfield conducting the Trafalgar Sinfonia is quite straight forward without any untoward quirks, instead it is the pairing which brings the interest. The young composer Oliver Davis has set the four poems which preface each of the concertos (poems which may even be by Vivaldi himself), sung by Grace Davidson. This new work Anno prefaces The Four Seasons on the disc and then Davis has written a short Anno Epilogue to round things off.

Oliver Davis graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 1994 and his work since then has included soundtracks, albums, television scores as well as concertos and ballet. His debut album Flight was a series of violin concertos written for Kerenza Peacock, the solo violinist on this disc.

The poems from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons closely parallel the musical programme (which is why people think Vivaldi wrote the poems). Oliver Davis's setting, in the original Italian, divides the setting of each poem into three sections mirroring the three movements of Vivaldi's concertos. Throughout the new work, Anno, I noticing a number of influences on the sound of the music. The one which I mainly kept coming back to was Britten's Les Illuminations, there is something about Davis's writing for soprano and strings which kept echoing the earlier work, particularly in the textures of the piece. And frankly Britten's song cycle is no bad model to have, and overall Davis creates a distinct and attractively appealing sound.

Composers competition celebrates Shakespeare's sexuality

The Fourth Choir has announced a choral composition competition to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, which falls on 23 April 2016. The winner receives a prize of £1000 and their composition will be premiered by the Fourth Choir on 23 April 2016 in London’s historic Middle Temple Hall. 

The choir has created the competition so that as part of the celebrations for the anniversary, we are celebrating Shakespeare's sexuality. To that end the competition is it set one of Shakespeare's sonnets which were originally written to an unknown young man. 

Composers must write a setting for unaccompanied choir (SATB or SSATB) of one of the following Shakespeare Sonnets:
  • Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws (Sonnet 19)
  • Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed (Sonnet 27)
  • Against my love shall be as I am now (Sonnet 63)
  • My love is strengthened, though more weak in seeming (Sonnet 102)
  • To me, fair friend, you never can be old (Sonnet 104)
  • Two loves I have of comfort and despair (Sonnet 144)
The Adjudication Panel will consist of the Fourth Choir’s Artistic Director, Dominic Peckham, its Associate Music Director, Andrea Brown, and its Resident Composer, Alexander Campkin. There is no entry fee for the competition,, the closing date is 15 January 2016, and further information on how to enter can be found at

L’ospedale - a work which still resonates today

L'Ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
L'ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
L’ospedale, Libretto by Antonio Abati, composer unknown, incorporating madrigals by Gesualdo; Jonathan Sells, Rebecca Moon, Thomas Herford, Michal Czerniawski, Nicholas Merryweather, Lucy Page, Solomon's Knot, dir: James Hurley, cond: James Halliday; Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Nov 17 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Unique modern revival of a highly pertinent baroque opera

Lucy Page - L'Ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
Lucy Page
L'ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
The 'baroque collective' Solomon's Knot have resuscitated an opera unperformed for some 350 years and brought it, via Aldeburgh’s Open Space residency programme, to Wilton’s Music Hall in the East End (seen 17 November 2015). Naomi Matsumoto of Goldsmith’s, University of London, rediscovered the score when researching for her thesis on the origins of the operatic mad scene. 

She and Solomon's Knot have created a performable work that resonates for today’s audiences sold on the notion that we are own best doctors – until something goes wrong, and then we are at the mercy of expensive and charismatic doctors. Directed by James Hurley and conducted by James Halliday, the cast included Jonathan Sells, Rebecca Moon, Thomas Herford, Michal Czerniawski, Nicholas Merryweather and Lucy Page.

Nicholas Merryweather - L'Ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
Nicholas Merryweather
L'ospedale - Solomon's Knot - photo Robert Workman
It is thought that L’ospedale was intended for small private gatherings at court or of academics. The libretto by Renaissance Italian satirist Antonio Abati is full of puns and the music, by an unknown composer, has been supplemented for this production by two madrigals by Gesualdo. The space at Wilton’s was ideal acoustically and in terms of the intimacy it offers. The six-piece band (strings and continuo) led by James Halliday was raised high on the Wilton’s stage with the action taking place on the flat, the audience seating on two sides around a hospital bed exposed or hidden by a curtain. Everything looks a bit grubby. A hospital vending machine sells unhealthy snacks. It certainly felt immediate. And recognisable to anyone who has been inside a hospital.

The action of the opera is framed by spoken recordings over the PA from the allegorical figure ‘Health’, first touting platitudes about the importance of exercise and personal responsibility, and later patronising the frazzled medical profession.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Art meets music in a limited edition print disc celebrating the alto guitar

Altgitarr Nils Klöfver
Until I received an email from Swedish guitarist Nils Klöfver, I had never heard of an alto guitar. The instrument was developed 50 years ago in Sweden by luthier Georg Bolin and guitarist Per-Olof Johnson. It is an extended range guitar with eleven strings (though Bolin sometimes made 13 string ones as well). It arose because Per-Olof Johnson was looking for a way to play lute music using guitar playing technique. The design introduced two main elements, to provide conventional lute tuning by tuning the first six strings a minor third higher (hence the name "alto guitar") and to add five extra strings to accommodate low notes. The name for the guitar in Swedish is Altgitar.

This is the name that Nils Klöfver has given to his new disc of music for the alto guitar. Recorded to celebrate the instrument's 50th anniversary, the disc includes music by Bach and Weiss, including Bach's Lute Suite.

But the album has another twist too. It is produced in vinyl and Nils Klöfver has collaborated with artist Jenny Svenberg Bunnel who has produced drawings of Nils and the disc comes with one of three prints of the drawings as its cover. These are produced on a batch of art paper which was produced in the 1970's. The discs are limited edition, individually numbered and signed by the artist.. Something for the wall or something for the turntable. Don't worry, you get a digital download as well.

There is an introductory video on YouTube, with full information from the Altgitarr website.