Monday, 22 September 2014

Music at the London Sketch Club

London Sketch Club
The London Sketch Club was founded in 1898 as a social club for artists working in the field of commercial graphic art. The club is at 7 Dilke Street, SW3 4JE in Chelsea, where it has been since the 1950's. They are now branching out into music and there is a concert series in the studio, with some talented young performers. The series opens on Thursday 25 September 2014, at 7.30pm with a recital from the Jacquin Trio, Jessie Grimes (clarinet), Kay Stephen (viola), and Charis Hanning (piano), in an intriguing programme of Schumann, Kurtag, Copland and Mozart, including Kurtag's Hommage a R. Schumann. Then on Thursday 9 October, baritone Dominic Sedgwick and Nigel Foster, piano, are performing songs by Joseph Marx, Ivor Gurney, John Ireland, RVW, Daniel Gillingwater and Richard Strauss. Finally, the Bernadel Quartet, William Melvin and Cassandra Hamilton (violin), Richard Waters (viola) and Abigail Hyde-Smith (cello) performs quartets by Haydn Shostakovich and Beethoven on 23 October.

Tickets are available from the box office of Cadogan Hall.

Beyond the Swingles - an encounter with Jonathan Rathbone

Jonathan Rathbone - photo credit Gerald Place
Jonathan Rathbone
photo credit Gerald Place
The Vasari Singers and Jeremy Backhouse have an enviable tradition of commissioning new music and on 17 October 2014 at St. Alban's Holborn, they will be giving the premiere of Under the Shadow of his Wing by Jonathan Rathbone. Rathbone is not, perhaps, a name that is immediately familiar, and if you know his name, then it might be in connection with the Swingle Singers with whom he was associated for 12 years. But, like many, Rathbone is classically trained and moves between various musical worlds.

His new work takes its title from a line in the Compline service and the piece forms a type of vespers service, going from evening, through twilight to gloom. 85 minutes long, it was mean to be 60 but expanded in composition. The work is a sequence of settings of liturgical texts in English and Latin, including a complete Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.

It is written for two choirs and designed for a large acoustic and during the piece the choirs start behind the audience; Rathbone describes them as 'creeping out of the gloom'. Then during the work, they process around using the full space in the church; the score includes a detailed scheme of which choir should be where during the piece. Rathbone wants the audience to be surrounded by sound. Rathbone's intention is that the individual movements can all be use independently in the liturgy, and the Vasari Singers has already performed the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis at Lincoln Cathedral.

Rathbone say the style of the piece is deliberately very listenable and rather lush; he wants the audience to relax into their seat. He refers to the work's style as modern but nice, and says it is typical of his work now but admits that he has written more avant garde music in the past.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Schubert piano duets

Schubert Fantasia in F minor and works for piano duet; Marco Schiavo, Sergio Merchegiani; Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 10 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Survey of Schubert's piano duet music by two Italian pianists

This disc from Italian pianists Marco Schiavo and Sergio Marchegiani surveys Schubert's writing for piano duet with Allegro moderato and Andante D968, Four Landler, D814, Deutscher Tanz with 2 Trios and Landler D618, Introduction and variations on an Original Theme D9681 (603), Eight Variations on a French Song D624, and Fantasi in F minor D940

Marco Schiavo studied at the Conservatory of Avellino and made his international debut in 1992. Sergio Marchegiani was born in Alessandria and gave his first solo recital at the age of 10. Here they join forces for Schubert's music for two pianists at one piano.

Schubert wrote piano duets  throughout his life. Partly this was because it was what everyone did, piano duets were part of life and a safe and friendly means of contact. Making the acquaintance of the pianist Joseph von Gahy in 1817 led to an increase in Schubert's interest in the genre. But Schubert's works for piano duet fall into a variety of characters, there are the social dances of course but also the works in which he seems to be working out interesting structural problems. The piano duet as a crucible for his developing talent. There are also works which seem to have been conceived in a bigger form; a work like Miriam's Siegesgesang for soprano, choir and piano duet seems to have grown out of his interest in the work of Handel and you can almost hear the orchestral music underneath.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hortus Musicus: Estonian Composers volume III

The Estonian ensemble Hortus Musicus was established in 1972 by Andres Mustonen, who studied violin at the Tallinn State Conservatory. They specialise in early music and have access to a range of weird and wonderful instruments such as shawm, shalmey, cromorn, rauschpfeiff and curtal as well as the more obvious violins, harpsichord, recorders and oboe which gives their music a distinctive sound. But they also perform works by 20th and 21st century composers and have had works written for them, for example by fellow Estonian Arvo Pärt (1935-). Mustonen continues as artistic director, conductor, and performer with the ensemble.

Although not new (2003) this CD of music by Galina Grigorjeva (1962-) and Lepo Sumera (1950-2000) caught my eye because of a track by Sumera called 'The child of Dracula and Zombie'. This delightfully sad, shuffling dance makes good its dramatic promise. It is haunting and airy with a limping tune interspersed with air sounds which by half way have dissolved into haunting night-time cries and scary sliding strings. The tune then recurs, tight and controlled, with a straight rhythm and an urgency of going to war, as it builds up tension and dynamic with battle cries from the brass and aggressive percussion. After the climax, just when you think it must be over, the material from the start recurs and limps off into the next track.

Opera Holland Park 2015

Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre at Opera Holland Park in 2007 - photo Alastair Muir
Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre
at Opera Holland Park in 2007
photo Alastair Muir
The good news is that Opera Holland Park is reviving its 2007 production of Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re in 2015. Having wowed everyone in last year's Wolf-Ferrari rarity, Natalya Romaniw is returning in the Montemezzi. Montemezzi's opera had its premiere in 1913 and its success launched Montemezzi's career but the failure of his next opera La nave turned him away from operatic composition.

Also being revived is the 2012 production of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi which will be joining new productions of Suor Angelica and Il tabarro to make a complete Il trittico, with Anne Sophie Duprels singing Giorgetta and Angela.

There are three more new productions - Jonathan Dove's Flight, Leo Delibes' Lakme and Verdi's Aida. Flight was premiered by Glyndebourne in 1998 with a libretto by April de Angelis, initially on tour and then at the main festival in 1999. It is still, I think, Dove's best opera and was last seen in London in 2008 when British Youth Opera staged it. Delibes's Lakme is a slice of French orientalism that rarely makes the operatic stage nowadays. It was premiered in 1883 at the Opera Comique and the title role was one of Joan Sutherland's signature roles. It was last seen in London when Chelsea Opera Group gave the work in concert in 2002. As for Aida, well for all its popularity the opera is something of a graveyard. I have seen few if any non-traditional productions which work. Just about the only production that stays in the memory is the one David Prowse (I think) did for Opera North which was set in Egypt in the 19th century at the time of the Khedive.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Buxton Festival 2015

Buxton Opera House
For the 2015, the Buxton Festival is returning to its roots. The first festival in 1979 opened with Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor conducted by Anthony Hose and directed by Malcolm Fraser (the festival's founders); this was the first performance in the UK of the complete opera in the original keys. Lucia di Lammermoor returns in 2015, conducted by Stuart Stratford and directed by Stephen Unwin (who directed Dvorak's Jacobin this year and Strauss's Intermezzo in 2012). Joining Lucia is something still pretty rare on the UK operatic stage, Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco which will be conducted by Stephen Barlow and directed by Elijah Moshinsky. Giovanna d'Arco was premiered in 1845 and is Verdi's seventh opera coming two years before Macbeth.

The third festival offering will be a concert performance, Stephen Barlow conducts three performances of Charpentier's Louise (premiered in 1900 at the Opera Comique in Paris conducted by Andre Messager). The opera received its last major UK outing (I think) in 1981 when English National Opera staged it with Valerie Masterson in the title role.

Opera Settecento in Vivaldi's Griselda

Cast of Opera Settecento's performance of Vivaldi's Griselda at Cadogan Hall
Cast of Opera Settecento's performance
of Vivaldi's Griselda at Cadogan Hall
Vivaldi Griselda; Opera Settecento, Thomas Foster; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 18 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Bravura performances galore from new opera company in Vivaldi's rare gem

Opera Settecento (musical director Thomas Foster, artistic director Miranda Jackson) is a new company which has been set up to focus on Italian opera seria from the 18th century. They launched themselves with a dazzling concert performance of Vivaldi's Griselda at Cadogan Hall  on 18 September 2014. This showcased a new edition of the work which restored Vivaldi's original (and more difficult) first thoughts. The cast was an interesting mix of youth and experience, with a cast including Ronan Busfield, Hilary Summers, Kiandra Howarth, Erica Eloff, Tom Verney, and Andrew Watts. Thomas Foster directed from the harpsichord.

Vivaldi wrote Griselda in 1735 (when he was 57), for performance in Venice. At his request the title role was sung by his protegee Anna Giraud which means that the role of Griselda was written for a contralto and the character's arias are more simple and song-like (owing to Giraud's technical limitations). The remainder of the cast have the more complex pieces. The libretto was based on an older libretto but it was updated for Vivaldi by the young playwright, Goldoni. Goldoni would go on to have a distinguished career in the theatre as was as developing an important sequence of opera buffa with Galuppi. The libretto has rather an over reliance on simile arias (in act one alone we have a helmsman knowing the sea, someone buffeted by winds and a good hunter with a wild beast).

The Sixteen launches Purcell A Retrospective at the Wigmore Hall

The Sixteen at the Wigmore Hall, photo - Wigmore Hall
The Sixteen at the Wigmore Hall, photo - Wigmore Hall
Henry Purcell The Indian Queen, Daniel Purcell The Masque of Hymen; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Stylish accounts of some of Purcell's lesser known theatre and court music

Henry Purcell wrote a considerable amount of music which does not find its way regularly onto the concert platform. Last night (17 September 2014) at the Wigmore Hall, Harry Christophers and the Sixteen gave us the opportunity to hear a fascinating selection of Purcell's music in a concert to launch the Wigmore Hall's two year series, Purcell: A Retrospective devised by John Gilhooly, which will be celebrating all aspects of the composer's career. The centrepiece of Wednesday's concert was Purcell's music for The Indian Queen, a semi-opera premiered during the last year of his life. This was joined by music by Daniel Purcell, The Mask of Hymen which was written for The Indian Queen after Purcell's death. To round things out we had one of the Welcome Odes written for King Charles II, Swifter. Isis, Swifter Flow, plus O dive custos Auriacae domus written after the death of Purcell's great patron Queen Mary, and one of the composer's less ribald catches.

One of the problems with Purcell's music is that much of it is not written for symphonic forces, he requires a flexible instrumental ensemble and group of singers. The Sixteen fielded a vocal ensemble of eight singers, two sopranos, three tenors and three basses, with the alto line being sung presumably as a high tenor part. All of the singers took solos within the evening, as well as singing in the ensembles, requiring a degree of versatility and bravura. They were accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble of 16 players with oboes doubling recorders and continuo provided from organ, harpsichord, cello, harp and theorbo.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Achievements honoured at Gramophone Awards

Sir Neville Marriner being presented with his Outstanding Achievement Award at the Gramophone Awards by Alfred Brendel
Sir Neville Marriner being presented with his Outstanding
Achievement Award by Alfred Brendel
Both Sir James Galway and Sir Neville Marriner were honoured with special awards at last night's (17 September 2014) Gramophone Awards at St John's Smith Square. Sir James Galway was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award whilst Sir Neville Marriner received on Outstanding Achievement Award. Others honoured included violinist Leonidas Kavakos who received the Artist of the Year Award, Label of the Year went to Delphian Records and the Nightingale String Quartet received the Young Artist of the Year Award.

Sir James Galway's award celebrated a 50 year career which has taken him from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra to the Val Doonican Show, and lots of places in between; a serious orchestral musician as well as a popular star, not only topping the pop charts but also selling over 30 million discs worldwide. And one of the few flautists to do so.

Sr James Galway performing at last night's Gramophone Awards
Sr James Galway performing at last night's Gramophone Awards
Sir Neville Marriner, who celebrated his 90th birthday this year, received an award which reflected his amazing achievement both with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and elsewhere. Perhaps the fact that he received an award for outstanding achievement rather than lifetime reflects the fact that he is still on the podium and recently said in an interview that he would be happy to die in harness. Marriner conducts a concert of music by Howard Blake with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields on 25 November 2014.

The Label of the Year went to the enterprising and lively Scottish label Delphian Records which was founded by Paul Baxter. The Young Artist of the Year Award went to the young, all female, Danish string quartet the Nightingale String Quartet. They are the first string quartet ever to win the Young Artist of the Year Award.

Leonidas Kavakos first won a Gramophone Award 23 years ago. The Artist of the Year Award is made by public vote, and honours a violinst whose recent recordings have included the Brahms Violin Concerto, Beethoven violin sonatas and the three Brahms sonatas, all on Decca.

Recording of the year went to Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig’s for their monumental cycle of Brahms’s four symphonies. The Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, the world’s oldest orchestra, cherishes its historical ties to Brahms. The composer himself conducted the orchestra for the Leipzig premieres of his first, second and third symphonies.

You can read all the original reviews from the Gramophone in a special download, and the magazine's awards issue is available from today.

Holst in Oxford

Gustav Holst
Gustav Holst
Gustav Holst was fascinated by Indian literature and philosophy and taught himself Sanskrit so that he could improve the English translations which he used for his works based on Indian literature. He wrote four sets of Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda as well as an opera, Savitri based on a story from the Mahabharata. I remember seeing a staging of Savitri at Scottish Opera in the 1970's with Janet Baker and John Shirley Quirk; despite its short length (30 mins) the opera made a very strong impression.

Savitri forms the centrepiece of an all-Holst concert being given in Oxford on 27 September 2014 at St John the Evangelist Church, Iffley Road, Oxford, OX4 1EH. Choros Chamber Choir and Corona Strings, conducted by Janet Lince, will be performing the second and third of Holst's Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, his Fugal Concerto and Savitri. Savitri will be fully staged, directed by Nina Brazier with Yvonne Howard in the title role, plus tenor Mark Chaundy as her husband Satyavan and bass Matthew Hargreaves as Death.

Meslanges pour las Chapelle d'un Prince

Etienne Moulinie Meslanges pour la chapelle d'un prince - Ensemble Correspondance
Etienne Moulinie Meslanges pour la Chapelle d'un Prince; Ensemble Correspondances, Sebastien Dauce; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 04 2014
Star rating: 5.0

17th century music written for Louix XIII's brother in this engaging new recording

The 17th century French composer Etienne Moulinie was a name new to be. Best known, perhaps, for his secular music this new disc from Sebastien Dauce and Ensemble Correspondances on Harmonia Mundi showcases Moulinie's sacred music. The disc's title comes from Moulinie's 1658 publication which supplies most of the music on the disc. The publication, designed to showcase Moulinie's sacred music, contained works that Moulinie had written during his career as the Chef du Musique to Monsieur, the brother of King Louis XIII of France.

Moulinie worked for Gaston d'Orleans, Monsieur, for 30 years and the music on this disc reflects the establishment at Gaston's court. From 1627, when Moulinie first worked for Gaston, the musical establishment surrounding the prince included two choirboys and eight adult singers (two on each part for dessus, hautes-contres, haute-tailles, basse-tailles, basses) plus a gambist and a lutenist. From 1650 until Gaston's death the establishment was reduced with just one singer per part and a woman on the top line. Of course, on grand occasions these forces were expanded. Moulinie provided music for both entertainments and for devotions, as well as teaching Gaston's daughter La Grande Mademoiselle. Gaston's life was not without incident and he had a tendency to get involved in politics and rebellion, but Moulinie stayed with him including when Gaston was retired permanently in 1652 on the orders of Louis XIV.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The voice of Isobel Baillie

Heritage Records - Isobel Baillie

Purcell, Arne, Bach, Handel, Haydn; Isobel Baillie; Heritage Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 10 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Welcome survey of recordings by the great soprano, recorded in the 1940's

When I was a student in Manchester in the 1970's I heard performances of Had I but Jubal's lyre from Handel's Joshua sung by two major singers of the 20th century, Dame Isobel Baillie and Dame Janet Baker. Baker was, of course, in her prime whilst Baillie, then in her late 70's was well past conventional retirement age. In fact the two performances compared favourably. Baillie's performance, given as part of a lecture recital celebrating the release of her autobiography Never sing louder than lovely, were testament to her stupendous technique. This new disc from Heritage Records enables a new generation of listeners to become familiar with Isobel Baillie's clear, silvery voice with a selection of items by Purcell, Arne, Bach, Handel and Haydn.

Whilst Baillie's voice might be described as silvery, there was a strength to it as well which perhaps went with her strong character. She made her debut with the Halle Orchestra at the age of 26, but by then had already had a 10 year career singing solos in recitals and oratorios in the various churches and chapels in and around her native Manchester. This was a period when virtually everyone seemed to put on an annual Messiah. Such performances probably required a singer to develop far greater reserves of strength than we would expect nowadays. Speeds were slower, orchestras far larger; when Kathleen Ferrier sang Messiah with Barbirolli and the Halle she complained how tiring one of the movements was and Barbirolli realised that she had never sung it in Handel's original orchestration, only ever with the additional instruments.

Handel's Xerxes

Alice Coote in Xerxes at the London Coliseum
Alice Coote as Xerxes
Handel Xerxes; Alice Coote, Sarah Tynan, Andrew Watts, cond: Michael Hofstetter; English National Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 15 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Fine revival of Nicholas Hytner's classic production

Nicholas Hytner's production of Handel's Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO's stable. Receiving possibly its 8th revival on 15 September 2014, revival director Michael Walling, the production is looking as fresh as ever with David Fielding's designs still bright and crisp. ENO fielded a strong cast mixing experienced singers and newcomers. Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote sang the title role; an experienced Handelian this was her role debut. Having sung Atalanta in the last revival of the production (in 2002) Sarah Tynan moved onto sing Romilda, the more serious dramatic of the two soprano roles. The soubrette role of Atalanta was sung by Harewood Young Artist Rhian Lois, whilst another Harewood Young Artist, Catherine Young sang Amastris. Counter-tenor Andrew Watts sang Arsamenes, with Neal Davies as Ariodates and Adrian Powter as Elviro. Michael Hofstetter conducted.

Hofstetter is the Principal Conductor of the Grossess Orchester Graz and made his ENO debut with La Traviata. But his background is also in early music and he launched the overture at quite a considerable speed. The ENO Orchestra responded brilliantly but I did rather worry about the health of the performance. In fact, I need not have worried and Hofstetter proved a responsive conductor, keeping the show moving but never rushing the singers off their feet.

Whilst the production is in good health, I did rather worry that the general tone had become a little more flippant and satirical than formerly. I was assured by others present that this was not so; Nicholas Hytner was in the audience and reputedly was happy with the revival. It is, after all, 29 years since I saw the opening run with Ann Murray and Valerie Masterson and not only does memory play tricks but my own conception of Handelian opera seria has changed.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Kings Place Festival: Borodin, Tchaikovsky... and Timber

The Brodsky Quartet - photo credit: Eric Richmond
The Brodsky Quartet
photo credit: Eric Richmond
Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Michael Gordon; Brodsky Quartet, percussionists from the Aurora Orchestra and Royal College of Music; Kings Place Festival
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Sep 14 2014
Contrasting pair of concerts with Russian chamber music and Michael Gordon's percussion work on wood

The Kings Place Festival – now in its 7th year has been a riot of success, showcasing 77 acts and including more than 200 performers (for other reviews Different Trains, Classical Works, Folk Roots, and THe Night Shift). Last night, while others were listening to Steve Reich's 'Different Trains', I went to see the Brodsky Quartet play some Russian Romance by Borodin and Tchaikovsky. For a complete contrast I later saw Michael Gordon's (1956) 'Timber' for six simantras performed by percussionists from the Aurora Orchestra and the Royal College of Music – about as far from Romantic as you can get.

The Brodsky Quartet (Daniel Rowland and Ian Belton on violin, Paul Cassidy on viola, and Jacqueline Thomas on cello) started the concert with 'Scherzo in D from Les Vendredis' (1882) by Alexander Borodin (1833 - 1887). Borodin was a chemist as well as a composer and was a supporter of women's rights - helping to found a School of Medicine for women in St Petersburg. He is known as one the of 'the Five', along with Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, who, from the mid 1850's, forged a new, nationalistic style of Russian art music. Only Balakirev had had any kind of formal musical training but all were enthusiastic about progressive European composers such as Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Berlioz. Borodin in particular struggled to find time to write, leaving many compositions unfinished.

Kings Place Festival: Different Trains

Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Steve Reich Different Trains; The Duke Quartet; Kings Place Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 14 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Mesmerising performance of Reich's 1988 work for quartet and tape

For our final visit to the Kings Place Festival on Sunday 14 September 2014 we experienced two very different approaches to chamber music. In the foyer, we caught the London Chamber Music Collective playing Beethoven's String Trio Opus 9 whilst in Hall Two the Duke Quartet played Steve Reich's Different Trains.

Reich's Different Trains was written in 1988 and the idea for the piece arose out of his childhood when, between 1939 and 1942, he spent a lot of time on trains between New York and Los Angeles. In adulthood he realised that, as a Jew, if he had lived in Europe at the time then he would have been travelling on different trains indeed. He recording reminiscences, from his governess, from a retired railway porter, from Holocaust survivors and of train sounds. He then took portions of these and notate them musically. The finished work consists of a tape which includes fragments of spoken text, the music for which is echoed by the performers. What makes the piece more intense is that the live performers are amplified, and the tape sound-track includes pre-recorded contributions from three separate string quartets.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Armstrong Gibbs

Armstrong Gibbs
Armstrong Gibbs
If you have performed any English music then the name Armstrong Gibbs is probably one which you may know but cannot quite place. The Armstrong Gibbs Festival which starts on 19 September 2014 is your chance to get to know his music better.

Armstrong Gibbs (1889 - 1960) was an English composer who is perhaps best known nowadays for his songs though he wrote significantly for choirs as well, devoting much of his time to the amateur choral movements. His best known works often feature settings of poems by Walter de la Mare, who was a lifelong friend. He was a contemporary of Howells and Bax, and he studied under RVW and Adrian Boult.

There is an Armstrong Gibbs Society, and they are organising the 2014 Armstrong Gibbs Festival in the Church of St John the Baptist, Danbury, Chelmsford from 19 to 21 September 2014. Music by Armstrong Gibbs in the festival will include works for flute and piano, his String Quartet Op. 99 as well as songs by Gibbs and his contemporaries performed in the context of Afternoon Tea with Mr Gibbs, plus the celebration of the publication of the book Armstrong Gibbs - A countryman born and bred. There will also be the chance to hear a cantata by Cecilia McDowall.

Prom 70: Happy birthday Max

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies
Peter Maxwell Davies 80th birthday concert; Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Ben Gernon; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Sep 8 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Birthday celebrations for Peter Maxwell Davies

Last night at the Proms (Monday 8 September) the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (conducted by Ben Gernon) played tribute to their former conductor and composer in residence Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-) and helped celebrate his 80th birthday in style at the Royal Albert Hall.

Davies was born in Salford and knew from an early age that he wanted to be a composer. He won a scholarship to studying at the Royal Manchester College of Music where he met fellow students Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and John Ogdon. Together they are known as the Manchester School. After college he studied for a year with Goffredo Petrassi in Rome on an Italian government scholarship, later moving to Princeton University where he studied with Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt and Earl Kim.

After a year in Australia as composer in residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide, he returned to the UK, moving to the Orkney Islands in 1971 where he still lives today. He founded the St Magnus Festival in 1971 on the Islands, which is well known for its support of new composers and artists, and was involved for many years in the Dartington Hall summer school.


There is still time to enter our competition to win tickets from Divas and Scholars autumn season which includes champagne evening lecture-recitals on Verdi's Otello and Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and a study day on Puccini and Verismo with me and Rosalind Plowright. See our competition page for details.

Kings Place Festival: Classical Works, Folk Roots

Matthew Barley - © Nick White
Matthew Barley - © Nick White
Schumann, Tsintsadze, Janacek, Bartok; Matthew Barley, Vanessa Benelli Mosel; Kings Place Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 13 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Survey of folk-influenced works for cello and piano in a vivid recital

My second visit to the Kings Place Festival on Saturday 13 September centred on a recital by cellist Matthew Barley and pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell, Classical Works: Folk Roots, in which the two explored the influence of folk music on Western Classical music with pieces by Schumann, Tsintsadze, Janacek and Bartok. But I also managed to catch the six man a capella vocal ensemble the Queen's Six.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell - photo credit Roberto Masotti
Vanessa Benelli Mosell
photo credit Roberto Masotti
Matthew Barley and Vanessa Benelli Mosell started with Schumann's Adagio and Allegro Op.70, written in 1849 originally for horn and piano, but the composer suggested violin and cello alternatives and the work has understandably become a staple in cellists repertoires. In his programme note Barley described it as one of his all time favourite cello and piano pieces. Barley brought a lovely lyric singing line to the Adagio (which Schumann originally titled Romance). His tone was beautifully rich, warm and expressively mellow both in the Adagio and in the vigorous Allegro Benelli Mosell supported with strong yet tender playing on the piano.

Also dating from 1849 and written for cello and piano, Schumann's Five Pieces in Folk Style Op.102 show Schumann letting his hair down a bit and writing in a simpler, more direct style. The first, marked mit humor was a bit Hungarian and rather fun, though the pieces are more complex than their folk title implies. Langsam had a long spun-out melody with darkly romantic moments. Nicht schnell  again had a singing cello line but here with rather intense comments from the piano. Nicht zu rasch had vigorously martial moments and developed into a complex movement with some pretty nifty fingerwork from Barley. Finally the dark and romantically impulsive Stark und markiert.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Nicole Cabell - Chanson d'avril

Nicole Cabell - Chanson d'avril
Songs by Bizet, Duparc, Liszt, Ravel; Nicole Cabell, Craig Terry; Delos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 03 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Survey of French melodies with the known and lesser known from the American lyric soprano

Soprano Nicole Cabell won the BBC Singer of the World Competition in Cardiff in 2005 and has since then made a name for herself as a lyric soprano with a nice line in the more coloratura end of the market (I remember a notable appearance in Halevy's La Juive in concert with the Royal Opera House a few years ago and she has since returned for Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles). She has released a recital disc on Delos, accompanied by pianist Craig Terry in an attractive selection of French song. Starting with Bizet and Duparc, the selection goes by way of Liszt before finishing with Ravel's Sheherazade and Cinq melodies populaire grecques.

Cabell and Terry start with a group of songs by Georges Bizet, charming melodies in which the voice is given primacy and the penchant for orientalisme is to the fore (though this is the East seen firmly from a Parisian arm chair). Adieu de l'hotesse arabe (Arabian Hostess's Farewell) is typical of such. Ouvre ton coeure (Open your heart) moves to the exoticism of Spain, with a delightful bolero rhythm, whilst Pastorale is similarly Spanish theme though somewhat slower and with quite elaborate vocals. In all three Cabell brings out the lovely lyric langour of the songs, singing with a flexible and well filled line. The final Bizet song is Chanson d'avril (April song) to which Cabell brings a nice ardent vibrancy..

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Vivaldi's Griselda

Story of Griselda in the Spalliera panels from Siena, c1490
Story of Griselda in the Spalliera panels from Siena, c1490
Vivaldi's operas are slowly making a come back. His opera Griselda was premiered in Venice in 1735, and is loosely based on the story from Boccaccio's Decameron. Vivaldi's libretto was originally written in 1701 and was updated by the playwright Carlo Goldoni. Goldoni would go on to write an important sequence of operatic comedies with the composer Galuppi. Griselda was first performed in the UK at the Buxton Festival in 1983 and has hardly been seen since. Santa Fe Opera performed the work in 2011. Now a new opera company, Opera Settecento, is giving Griselda in concert at the Cadogan Hall on 18 September 2014.

As its name implies Opera Settecento specialises in baroque opera, and was set up to cast young singers alongside more established names. The musical director is Thomas Foster, with Miranda Jackson as artistic director. Griselda has a strong cast with Hilary Summers in the title role, plus Andrew Watts, Erica Eloff, Ronan Busfield, Kiandra Howarth and Tom Verney. The title role was written for a protege of Vivaldi's whose acting was more inspiring than her singing, and it is the other roles who have the spectacular arias. In fact the role of Ottone (sung her by Erica Eloff) was so complex that Vivaldi simplified one of the arias. For this production, Foster is using a new critical edition which means we get to hear all the complex arias.

Further information from the Cadogan Hall website.

Hot Off the Press - Da pacem, Domine

My latest motet Da pacem, Domine (Give peace, O Lord) is now available. It is a setting of verses from Psalm 120/121 and Eccelesiastes which form the Introit for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It is set for six part unaccompanied choir, SSATTB

The motet comes from my collection Tempus per Annum in which I am writing settings of all the Introits for the Sundays and major feasts in the Church's year, taken from the modern Roman Gradual.

Give peace, O Lord, to them that patiently wait for Thee, that Thy prophets may be found faithful: hear the prayers of They servant and of Thy people Israel. I rejoiced at things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord.

The motet is available for free download on the CPDL website  and I am slowly adding all the Tempus per Annum motets to my composer page on CPDL (I have written 60 of the 72 motets and so far managed to add 12 to CPDL so watch this space!).

Kings Place Festival: The Night Shift

Anna Dennis
Henry Purcell; Anna Dennis, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; The Night Shift at the Kings Place Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 12 2014
Star rating: 4.5

OAE's casual brand brings Purcell to Kings Place in an involving performance

The Night Shift is the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's more casual brand. The events started with more casual performances after main concerts at the South Bank and have now become established. The intention is to make the music more approachable and the concert going experience less intimidation. As part of this year's Kings Place Festival the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment brought The Night Shift to Kings Place on Friday 12 September at 8.15pm. Four players from the orchestra, Margaret Faultless and Matthew Truscott (violins), Oliver Wilson (viola) and Luise Buchberger (cello) were joined by soprano Anna Dennis for a programme of music by Purcell.

The concert took place in Hall Two at Kings Place, the smaller of the two halls and the one with flexible seating. In this case, there was none, the audience was encouraged to stand or sit on the floor. It was quite a varied audience, probably with an average age rather higher than the average audience for The Night Shift with a consequent uneasiness with the casual concert going, and a difficulty with sitting on the floor! But the audience clearly warmly appreciated the concert.

Friday, 12 September 2014

The Story Tenor - 24 songs by Gerald Finzi

The Story Tenor
This new disc from tenor John Beaumont (The Story Tenor) and pianist Charles Matthews puts together three of Gerald Finzi's song cycles, A Young Man's Exhortation, Op 14 (premiered in 1933) setting Thomas Hardy, Till Earth outwears Op 19 also setting Thomas Hardy and Oh Fair to see Op 13B setting a variety of poets. Apart from A Young Man's Exhortation the other two are more strictly song sets. Finzi tended to accumulated songs in groups rather than release them individually, though Till Earth outwears was assembled after Finzi's death. Beaumont and Matthews have recorded the songs in a single mammoth session (8 hours) and the results are intended to have the immediacy of a live recording.

Beaumont is a choral tenor of some experience and in his notes to this recording he describes how the recording, his first solo CD, came about as the result of a change in teacher, a development of his technique and a concern for singing as 'talking at pitch'. It is a concern for words and their interaction with music which is Beaumont's prime concern on this disc.

English Music in Worthing

Assembly Hall, Worthing
Assembly Hall, Worthing
The Worthing Symphony Orchestra's 2014/15 season with conductor John Gibbons starts on 14 September with a programme which includes music by Wagner, Delius and Debussy alongside Chausson's Poem de l'amour et de la mer sung by Helena Dix. English music is to the fore with Doreen Carwithen's Piano Concerto played by Anthony Hewitt (12/10), and Bliss's Piano Concerto (9/11) played by Poom Pommachart and the concerts include also music by Ireland, Farrar, and Holst. Arta Arnicane is the soloist in Alwyn's Piano Concerto No. 2 (15/2), whilst Nicola Benedetti joins the orchestra for the Brahms Violin Concerto (7/6/2015). All the concerts are at the Assembly Hall in Worthing further information from the orchestra's website.

The Little Green Swallow

Ed Ballard and Adam Temple-Smith in British Youth Opera's The Little Green Swallow - photo Bill Knight
Ed Ballard, Adam Temple-Smith and the Singing Apples
photo Bill Knight
Jonathan Dove The Little Green Swallow; British Youth Opera, dir: Stuart Barker, cond: Lionel Friend, Southbank Sinfonia; The Peacock Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 11 2014 Imaginative staging of Jonathan Dove's first full length opera

For their September season of opera this year, British Youth Opera has chosen to perform Jonathan Dove's 1994 opera, The Little Green Swallow. With this year's season restricted to one opera (and a programme of public master-classes), Dove's opera was a good choice because it requires a cast of 14 so that total number of young people involved was 28 singers (14 soloists and 14 covers), plus 18 backstage, musical and directorial assistants. The opera was directed by Stuart Barker and conducted by Lionel Friend, with designs by Simon Bejer and lighting by David Howe; Victoria Newlyn was the movement consultant and Darren East the puppetry consultant. The Southbank Sinfonia was in the pit.

Filipa van Eck and Adam Temple-Smith in British Youth Opera's The Little Green Swallow - photo Bill Knight
Filipa van Eck, Adam Temple-Smith and the Little Green Swallow
photo Bill Knight
Dove's opera was written for Musica Nel Chiostro in Batignano and, as such, had to be in Italian. Dove adapted Goldoni's play L'Augellino Belverde himself. The tale is a follow up to the one which supplied Prokofiev with the libretto for The Love of Three Oranges and re-visits many of the same characters some 20 years later. King Tartaglia (Joseph Padfield) has been away at the wars, during which time his mother Tartagliona (Elizabeth Karani), advised by the seer Brighella (Dominick Felix), has buried Tartaglia's wife Ninetta (Emma Kerr) alive in a sewer and thrown the twin children Renzo (Adam Temple-Smith) and Barbarina (Filipa van Eck) into the river. The twins have been adopted by Truffaldino (Ed Ballard), now a sausage vendor, and his wife Smeraldina (Rozanna Madylus). The subsequent plot involves two (possibly three) quests, the first is Renzo and Truffaldino's in search of the Singing Apples (Hazel McBain, Llio Evans and Katie Coventry) and the Dancing Waters and the second is Barbarina and Smeraldina's as they go in search of Renzo and Truffaldino, who have actually gone on a further quest. The whole is complicated by two talking statues Calmon (Matt Buswell) and the Little Green Swallow (Tom Verney).

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Panufnik and Lutoslawski quartets

Panufnik and Lutoslawski quartets
Panufnik String Quartets, Lutoslawski String Quartet; Tippett Quartet; Naxos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Quartets by two remarkable Polish 20th century contemporaries

This new disc from the Tippett Quartet has quartets from two of the major voices in 20th century music, both Polish. Andrzej Panufnik's three quartets are paired with Lutoslawski's string quartet in a programme which reflects the intense seriousness of the development of the string quartet form in the 20th century. The Tippett Quartet is John Mills and Jeremy Isaac (violins), Lydia Lowndes-Northcott (viola) and Bozidar Vukotic (cello). Read my interview with two members of the quartet on this blog.

Panufnik's quartets date from a relatively short period, 15 years. Prior to the 1970's he had now written much chamber music. The First String Quartet was written for the Aeolian String Quartet and premiered in 1976. The Second String Quartet 'Messages' was written in 1980 for the North Wales Music Festival and premiered by the Gabrieli String Quartet. His last quartet is among his final works, commissioned for the London International String Quartet Competition in 1991, being premiered by the winning quartet, the Wihan Quartet.

Charles Owen at Rhinegold Live

Charles Owen - Ceri Wood Photography
Charles Owen - Ceri Wood Photography
Mendelssohn, Bach, Muhly, Debussy; Charles Owen; Rhinegold Live at the Conway Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Varied and engrossing rush-hour concert from talented young pianist

The Rhinegold Live series of rush-hour concerts continued on Tuesday 9 September 2014 at the Conway Hall, with pianist Charles Owen playing a programme of music by Mendelssohn, Bach, Debussy and Nico Muhly. Afterwards there was a short Q&A with Charles and Claire Jackson, editor of International Piano.

Mendelssohn's Variations Serieuses Op.54 were written in 1841 and formed his contribution to an album published to raise funds for a statue of Beethoven to be raised in Beethoven's home town, Bonn. They are the only set of variations which Mendelssohn published in his lifetime. They start from a chorale-like theme and get progressively more complicated, requiring a virtuoso technique. What is fascinating is the way that Mendelssohn seems to be echoing the music of past-times. Whilst they might have been written to support Beethoven, there is a distinct whiff of Bach about them, albeit viewed with Romantic glasses. Owen brought a wonderful variety of tone colour to the piece, giving a committed and engrossing performance which belied the dazzling finger-work.

Build your own Musicircus - Aldeburgh's Autumn season

An Aldeburgh Musicircus
Last year's Aldeburgh Festival brought together the largest ever gathering of performers in the Aldeburgh to produce an Aldeburgh Musicircus based on John Cage's Musicircus. Now 40 of the events have been captured on video and are available on-line at The Space for people to create their own Musicircus concert experience/happening with various levels of chaos and control. The launch of the website (on Cage's birthday, 5 September) marked Aldeburgh Music's Autumn season.

Turning from the digital world to the concert hall, there is a Britten Weekend (24-26/10) built around the composer's early song cycle Nocturne performed by the conductor-less orchestra Spira Mirabilis. This will be the orchestra's first performance of a Britten work, and will have a new work by Colin Matthew's as companion piece. The weekend will also showcase the Aldeburgh Middle East Orchestral Development Programme.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Win Tickets - Our Latest Competition

Rosalind Plowright in Giordano's Andrea Chenier at Bregenz in 2011
Rosalind Plowright in Giordano's Andrea Chenier at Bregenz in 2011
Courtesy of Divas & Scholars we have two tickets to give away for their Autumn season of lectures and study days. The winner will receive two tickets for the event of their choice, either the champagne opera evenings on Verdi's Otello (24/9) or Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur (12/11), or the study day on Verismo: Puccini and his contemporaries (15/10) which includes a lecture by me, and a masterclass and talk by mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright. 

Full information on how to enter after the break.

Tippett yes, but Rozsa, Schubert and Mendelssohn too

The Tippett Quartet - photo credit Thurstan Redding
The Tippett Quartet - photo credit Thurstan Redding
(John Mills, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott, Jeremy Isaac, Bozidar Vukotic)
An encounter with members of the Tippett Quartet

The Tippett Quartet (John Mills - violin, Jeremy Isaac - violin, Lydia Lowndes-Northcott - viola, Bozidar Vukotic - cello) has recently released a disc of string quartets by Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutoslawski and whilst their name might suggest that they specialise in 20th century quartets, if you look at their repertoire it is of far greater range, stretching from Haydn and Mozart, to Miklos Rozsa and Bernard Herrmann. I met up with two of the members, first violinist John Mills and cellist Bozidar Vukotic to talk about the quartet and their ethos.

The quartet was founded 16 years ago, and Bozidar is one of the founder members. He and first violinist John have been playing together in the quartet for 12 years, with second violinist Jeremy playing for a similar time; violist Lydia is the baby at two years. In person, both John and Bozidar are enthusiastic and charming, and frankly neither looks old enough to have been playing professionally for 16 years. Both are knowledgeable about their chosen repertoire, and keen to share their enthusiasms whether it be the concert music of Bernard Herrman, the structure of Andrzej Panufnik's String Quartet No. 1 or the effect of using gut strings in Janacek.

It was Bozidar who originally put the quartet together, playing with friends from the English Chamber Orchestra; the original viola player was Lawrence Power. When asked to define the quartet's approach, Bozidar suggests individual, innovative and inclusive, saying that they like to tackle different types of music. The name Tippett Quartet was originally chosen because Tippett's own music did embrace so many different influences.

From the 17th to the 21st century - time travel at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Anoushka Shankar at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, photo credit Helena Miscioscia
Anoushka Shankar at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
photo credit Helena Miscioscia
The Globe Theatre's Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opened for business at the beginning of this year, and already the programme is showing how fascinating and versatile the venue can be. The main run of theatrical events has included both plays and operas (see my review of Cavalli's L'Ormindo), with the plays showing that in such a venue the musicians are very much part of the performance with the music acting as an equal partner rather than something which is hidden behind the scenes. On Monday I attended a presentation in the playhouse, designed to introduce the theatre and the new season. Director of Music, Bill Barclay talked about how the theatre deliberately intended music to be an equal partner.

But it isn't just about theatre, they have been presenting a concert series too and one in which the venue has been tested in the ways that it can perform. The playhouse is an as authentic as possible to early 17th century theatre, with lighting only from candles and natural light, and all hand finished surfaces. But there is an electricity supply and they can have a PA. In fact, one of their concerts this year hosted the Rubber Bandits, an Irish comedy hip-hop group, complete with video, a PA and a DJ.

Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano at the Wigmore Hall

Joyce DiDonato and Sir Antonio Pappano at the Wigmore Hall - photo credit Simon Jay Price
Joyce DiDonato and Sir Antonio Pappano at the Wigmore Hall -
photo credit Simon Jay Price
Haydn, Rossini, Santoliquido, Kern, Rogers, Moross, Bolcom; Joyce DiDonato, Antonion, Pappano; the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 6 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Highways and byways of both Italian and American song in Joyce DiDonato's recital opening the Wigmore Hall's season

Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano gave a pair of recitals at the Wigmore Hall to open the 2014/15 season and we caught the second of them on Monday 8 September 2014. The first half concentrated on works with Italian words, but with a highly varied selection which started with Haydn's Arianna a Naxos, moved via Rossini songs to I canti della sera by Francesco Santoliquido before finishing with Ernesto de Curtis's Non ti scordar di me. For the second half we moved to America with songs by Stephen Foster, Jerome Kern, Havelock Nelson, Celius Dougherty, Jerome Moross, William Bolcom, Villa-Lobos, Richard Rogers and Robert Lowry.

Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano opened with Haydn's cantata Arianna a Naxos. a large scale piece for voice and piano which describes Ariadne's reactions when she wakes up on Naxos and finds Theseus gone. The text is anonymous and we don't know for what occasion Haydn wrote it, but it was popular during his lifetime. It consists of the standard sequence of recitatives and arias, in which Ariadne is at first puzzled by Theseus's absence and then sees his ship leaving, giving rise to a wish to die. The first aria is slow and suitably pathetic, whilst final aria starts slowly but Haydn appends a presto in which Ariadne gives serious vent.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Academy of Ancient Music 2014/15

Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music - © Patrick Harrison
Richard Egarr & the Academy of Ancient Music
© Patrick Harrison
The Academy of Ancient Music's 2014/15 London season starts on 4 October at the Barbican when, directed by Richard Egarr, they give a performance of Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea with Lynne Dawson and Sarah Connolly as Poppea and Nerone, Iestyn Davies as Ottone and Marina de Liso as Ottavia, directed from the keyboard by Richard Egarr with staging by Alexander Oliver. The season continues at Milton Court when Richard Egarr directs the orchestra in works by Handel, Boyce and Arne from the 1740's and 1750's (18/10). Their musical grand tour moves to Vienna in the 1760's for Gluck's ballet Don Juan conducted by Bernard Labadie (25/11, Milton Court). The grand tour is completed with Richard Tognetti drirecting a programme of music from Venice (14/5/2015)

Slotted into this is a pair of baroque masterpieces. The group's annual performance of Handel's Messiah is at the Barbican (10/12) with Richard Egarr directing and soloists Ailish Tynan, Tim Mead, Robert Murray and Jonathan Lemalu. And James Gilchrist is the Evangelist and Matthew Rose is Jesus in Bach's St Matthew Passion with soloists Elizabeth Watts, Sarah Connolly, Andrew Kennedy and Christopher Purves (3/4/2015).

Mozart is the focus for a pair of concerts in the new year. The orchestra's found Christopher Hogwood conducts Mozart, with pianist Robert Levin (4/2/2015), and Levin returns to direct an all Mozart programme (including a Mozart arrangement of J.C.Bach) (7/6/2015)

Aikainen: Time for fun and games at the Arcola

Miika Hyytiäinen - photo credit Ulf Buschleb
Miika Hyytiäinen
 photo credit Ulf Buschleb
Miika Hyytiäinen Aikainen; Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Sep 2 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Delightful and playful experimental opera from young Finnish composer

'Aikainen' (Finnish for early/ about time) was a short experimental opera composed by Finnish Miika Hyytiäinen (1982-) and directed by Jaakko Nousiainen. Performed on Tuesday 2nd September as part of the Grimeborn alternative opera festival held at the Arcola Theatre in the heart of the East End of London.

Composer Hyytiäinen has just finished a composition diploma in Experimental Music Theatre at the University of Arts, Berlin and is starting a PhD at Sibelius Academy, Helsinki this year. Originally he studied mathematics – which has remained with him as a love of prime numbers, which are scattered throughout 'Aikainen'. He has a quirky love of technology too, his 2012 opera “Omnivore” was written for mobile phone.

Premiered in Berlin earlier this year 'Aikainen' continues this innovation. It included 3D-printed ocarinas, whose shape was based on the shape swept by the movement of a pendulum, a 3D graphical score, which dominated the stage in the shape of a Möbius strip, and a 3D video of three ladies singing (described as the three Wagnerian “norms” of virgin, mother and witch). Alongside this were other videos by Alicja Sowiar featuring fashion shows, digital clocks counting up (or down) numbers, old Amstrad-style computer games, and cartoons, plus drawings made by an artist in Berlin to represent time which were transformed into theatre by the performers and members of the audience.