Sunday, 23 November 2014

Anne Akiko Meyers plays ‘The American Masters’ (Barber, Corigliano, and Bates)



Anne Akiko Meyers - The American Masters
Barber, Corigliano, Bates; Anne Akiko Meyers, London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin; eOne Records
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Nov 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

New and classic American concertos from young American violinist

American Anne Akiko Meyers was a child prodigy – performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11, and the New York Philharmonic when she was only 12. She studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Indiana University, and at Juilliard. She is well known for her support of new music and the integration of non-classical musical forms, especially that of jazz, and serves on the advisory board of Composers Concordance and Young Concert Artists.

American Anne Akiko Meyers was a child prodigy – performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11, and the New York Philharmonic when she was only 12. She studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Indiana University, and at Juilliard. She is well known for her support of new music and the integration of non-classical musical forms, especially that of jazz, and serves on the advisory board of Composers Concordance and Young Concert Artists.

Meyers cut her first album at the Abbey Road Studios in London aged 18 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Included on this recording was the 'Violin concerto' by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Max Bruch's (1838-1920) 'Violin Concerto No. 1'. This new recoding, her 30th, also features Barber's 'Violin concerto' along with two world premieres, 'Lullaby for Natalie' by John Corigliano (1938-) and 'Violin concerto' by Mason Bates (1977-) performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

What I've been doing - my full catalogue now back online

My full catalogue of music is now back on-line for browsing on my website, the site includes texts, links to the recordings on my SoundCloud page as well as sample pdf's and some programme notes. Just contact me if you want further information or copies of the music.

I am making my motets from Tempus per Annum available for free download. Tempus per Annum is my collection of motets for the church's year, each one setting a Latin introit for a Sunday or major feast. When complete there will be over 70 motets and I am three quarters of the way through. I am gradually putting them on the CPDL website, and have just finished listing the 13 motets for Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany.

My more popular works are now available for sale on-line from tutti..co.uk, and they have a special page devoted to my two new works which are being premiered in December 2014, Advent prose (premiered by Chapelle du Roi at St John's Smith Square on 6 December) and Faith, Hope, Charity for cello and choir (premiered by London Concord Singers and Corinne Morris on 18 December at St Botolph without Bishopsgate).

Handel Jephtha

Handel Jephtha - Coro - The Sixteen
Handel Jephtha; Gilchrist, Bickley, Bevan, Blaze, Brook, the Sixteen, Christophers; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Vividly text based new recording showcasing some fine solo performances

This new recording of Handel's final oratorio Jephtha comes from Harry Christophers and the Sixteen on their Coro label. Recorded after live performances (see my review of their Barbican performance), the disc features one of the strongest English-speaking casts possible to assemble with James Gilchrist in the title role with Susan Bickley, Sophie Bevan, Robin Blaze and Matthew Brook.

The choice of recommendable recordings of Jephtha on disc is not hugely wide. Two of the finest are now getting a bit long in the tooth, the recordings by John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. There has not been a rush to add to the list, though James Gilchrist recorded the role for BIS in 2011 with Fabio Biondi and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. This new disc provides a highly recommendable alternative, straightforward and direct and giving a fine showcase for the performances by Gilchrist in the title role.

James Gilchrist as Jephtha in Frederic Wake-Walker's staging at the 2012 Buxton Festival
James Gilchrist as Jephtha in
Frederic Wake-Walker's staging at the 2012 Buxton Festival
In addition to The Sixteen's 2013 concert performance of the work, I also saw James Gilchrist in Buxton Festival's 2012 staged account of the work and can testify to quite how intense and powerful his performance in the title role is. Susan Bickley was also in the Buxton performances, as well as singing the role for the London Handel Festival. She is one of the finest exponents of the role of Storge today and makes a strong pair with Gilchrist.

Jephtha was effectively Handel's last oratorio, he was 66 when it was first performed and he had had to suspend work on it because of illness. Simply completing the work seems to have been something of a struggle. It is easy to romanticise (and we know still very little about Handel personally) but you cannot help feel that the composer identified in some way. Working with the Revd Thomas Morrell as librettist, Handel had found a way in his final works to make his own musical statement, sometimes using musical means to subvert Morrell's moral message. Morrell's texts might not be the greatest that Handel set, but they served a purpose. And for all his prosy moralising, Morrell was a good classicist and his version of the story is stronger for the echoes of Greek myth that he brings into it.

Christophers favours a rather less theatrical feel than some. That is not to say that the performance is not dramatic, but this is very definitely a dramatic oratorio rather than an opera in disguise. Some people may be disappointed that the soloists are not encouraged to wring the last drop out of their performances, but the results are vividly involving and highly musical.

Friday, 21 November 2014

#SafeToSing - the power of music

Twitter image from @BeckMarr for #SafeToSing event in Manchester
Two gay men were attacked on a tram in Manchester earlier this month after receiving homophobic taunts because they were singing songs from the musical Wicked. One was knocked unconscious and suffered a split lip and broken nose, as well as losing all confidence. The response of the Manchester and Lesbian Gay Chorus was to organise the Safe To Sing event on Monday 11 November. Joined by a number of other choirs and hundreds of supporters, the singers sang songs and handed out cup-cakes to passengers on Manchesters tram system including a singalong version of Wicked's hit song Defying Gravity.

The Manchester Police force has confirmed that it is treating the attack as an homophobic hate crime, and Greater Mancheser police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd said that the singalong showed read face.

LGBTv made a short video about the event which you can see after the break:

Panufnik 100: A Family Celebration

Panufnik with daughter and fellow composer, Roxanna, in Twickenham 1987
The Andrzej Panufnik centenary year reaches a rousing conclusion on 30 November 2014 with a whole day of events at Kings Place involving Panufnik's music as well as that of his daughter Roxanna and also incuding a film. The Brodsky Quartet, pianist Clare Hammond and mezzo-soprano Heather Shipp with be performing songs and chamber music by Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik. There will be a screening of Kryzysztof Rzaczynski's film My Father, the Iron Curtain and Me, detailing Panufnik's son Jem's attempts to discover more about his father's life in Poland and dramatic escape in 1954. A further concert of chamber music from the Brodsky Quartet, Robert Smissen and Richard May will include music by Andrzej Panufnik as well as the premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's quartet Memories of my Father.

The day will be rounded off with a Warsaw Cabaret Evening in which Jacqui Dankworth, Charlie Wood and Clare Hammond perform songs from the 1930's including music by Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutoslawski.

A Golden Age - The Sixteen in early baroque polyphonic music

The Temple Church
Lotti, Caldara, D.Scarlatti, Melgas, Rebelo; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Temple Music Foundation at Temple Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Exciting and sometimes bravura exploration of early baroque polyphonic music from Italy and Portugal

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen gave a concert at Temple Church for the Temple Music Foundation on 20 November 2014, whose title was A Golden Age. A trap for the unwary perhaps as the concert concentrated on polyphonic music written in the early Baroque period with composers paying conscious or unconscious homage with music in the stile antico. Thus we had music by Italian composers Lotti, Caldara and Domenico Scarlatti, plus a pair of their Portuguese contemporaries Diogo Dias Melgas and Joao Lourenco Rebelo.

The concert opened with the eight-part Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti (c1667 - 1740). It comes from a larger work and was written for the court at Dresden, and remains notable for the intense combination of polyphony with a more intense romantic sensibility using those incredible suspensions. Given a precise, beautifully placed and expressive performance by the Sixteen, it was sung from behind the audience with the singers in the round church.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Medici Castrato

The Medici Castrato - Raffaello Pe - Glossa
The Medici Castrato; Raffaels Pe, Chiara Granata, David Miller; Glossa
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 18 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative look at the music from the career of the castrato who sang in Monteverdi's Orfeo

The chances are that you have never heard of Gualberto Magli, but he was the castrato who took part in the premiere of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. A pupil of Giulio Caccini, Magli spent most of his life in the service of the Medici in Florence. This imaginative new disc on the Glossa label uses his career as a peg to hang some very fine performances of 17th century music. Counter-tenor Raffale Pe, with harpist Chiara Granata and theorbo player David Miller, take us on a journey from Monteverdi's Mantua and Caccini's Florence, to Naples and Brandenburg, with music by Monteverdi, Caccini, Sigismondo d'India, Francesco Lambardi, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Girolamo Montesardo, Alessandro Ciccolini, and Johann Nauwach.


Gualberto Magli was a pupil of Giulio Caccini, and as such had access to the group known as the Camertata Fiorentini which came up with the idea of sung speech (recitar cantando) and the dramma in musica which became opera. From 1604 Magli was in the service of the Medici in Florence, and in 1607 Magli was lent by his employer, to Duke Francesco Gonzaga in Mantua for the premiere of Monteverdi's favola in musica, L'Orfeo. We know from the correspondence between the Duke and his brother (Cardinal Ferdinando) that Magli found learning the music difficult. In 1611 he was sent by the Medici to Naples to improve his skills at the harp, an instrument which he would have played whilst singing. On his return to Florence, things must have turned sour at some point because in 1615 he left Florence to enter the service of Elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg, but does not seem to have spent much time there. Magli then disappears from the record, till his death in 1625 in his native Florence.

Peer Gynt the opera

Nils Harald Sødal - photo Erik Berg/DNO
Nils Harald Sødal - photo Erik Berg/DNO
Ibsen's Peer Gynt, a play originally designed for reading rather than performing, was fitted out with music in the 19th century by Edvard Grieg. Both text and music for the stage version underwent many iterations. More recently the play has proved tempting for those who wish to see, in Ibsen's picaresque tale, a mirror for our own times (see Hilary's review of the Iggy Pop inspired re-invention at the Barbican). Now the Norwegian National Opera (Den Norske Opera, DNO) has commissioned an operatic version of the play, bringing the piece into the opera house where it might always seem to have belonged.

They commissioned the work from the Estonian-born composer Juri Reinvere, whose first opera Pudistus (Purge) was premiered by Finish National Opera in 2012. Reinvere's Peer Gynt sets a German text which incorporates bits of other Ibson plays, as well as bits of Shakespeare and the Edda, but the work is being premiered in Norwegian. Reinvere has in fact provided his own libretto and the work is very much a re-invention, with Ibsen's character having different encounters and going on different journeys. Reinvere's Peer Gynt premieres at Oslo Opera House on 29 November 2014 and there are performances until 17 January 2015. The work is conducted by John Helmer Fiore and directed by the young Norwegian director Sigrid Strøm Reibo. Further information from the DNO website.

Reinvere was born in Tallinn (in 1971) and studied there and at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. He currently lives in Berlin, and uses his own poetry as the basis for his music

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Julian Rachlin appointed Guest Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia

Julian Rachlin - photo credit Julia Wesley
Julian Rachlin - photo credit Julia Wesley
The exciting Lithuanian-born violin virtuoso Julian Rachlin has been appointed the Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia from the 2015/2016 season. The orchestra has a tradition of working with instrumentalists as conductors; Rachlin will joining Lars Vogt who has been appointed Music Director from 2015/16, following on from violinist Thomas Zehetmair whose 10 year tenure finished in May this year.

Rachlin's concert with the orchestra, From Player to Podium brought the ensemble to London's Milton Court on 14 November 2014 when they performed Schnittke, Mozart and Beethoven with Rachlin as the soloist Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 'Turkish' as well as conducting the remainder of the programme. Rachlin made his conducting debut with the Royal Northern Sinfonia in October 2013 and the connection between conductor and orchestra was such that he was quickly invited back.

The Royal Northern Chamber Orchestra is based at the Sage Gateshead and is, amazingly, the UK's only full-time chamber orchestra as well as being the leading professional orchestra in the north east. It is the only UK orchestra to have a purpose-built home for all its rehearsals, concerts and recordings.

Wolfgang Holzmair and Sholto Kynoch in Die Winterreise

Wolfgang Holzmair
Schubert Die Winterreise; Wolfgang Holzmair, Sholto Kynoch; Wimbledon International Music Festival at St John's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Intense, inward, highly personal account of Schubert's great song-cycle

On 18 November 2014, the distinguished Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair performed Schubert's song-cycle Die Winterreise at St John's Church, Wimbledon as part of the Wimbledon International Music Festival. Holzmair was accompanied by pianist Sholto Kynoch, who is artistic director of the Oxford Lieder Festival.

Holzmair and Kynoch came onto the platform, Holzmair closed his eyes and the cycle started. For much of the time Holzmair had his eyes closed, was looking down or was looking at a distant place far in his memory. Holzmair's account of Die Winterreise was extremely intense and inward, it was a profound personal journey. We did not witness the disintegration of the protagonist before our eyes as happened with Simon Keenlyside (see my review), nor did he beard us Ancient Marriner like to tell his tale like Sir John Tomlinson (see my review). Instead it seemed to be pain recollected. And there was undoubtedly pain, but it was highly internalised and the final song, Der Leiermann was quietly disturbing. The result might not have been to all tastes, but it was quite remarkable and profoundly consistent. It was also one of the swiftest accounts of the song cycle that I have heard in a long time, though never felt rushed.

Orpheus Sinfonia - Revolution: The Beethoven Effect

Thomas Carroll and the Orpheus Sinfonia at the Cadogan Hall
Thomas Carroll and the Orpheus Sinfonia
at the Cadogan Hall
The Orpheus Sinfonia is an orchestra of young professionals which is designed to give those coming out of college greater support and opportunities. Conducted by Thomas Carroll, the group gives a varied programme of performances and they started this season performing Richard Strauss with Dame Felicity Lott. 

On 27 November 2014 at St. George's Church, Hanover Square, they present Revolution: The Beethoven Effect in which Thomas Carroll conducts the orchestra in a concert exploring how Beethoven's symphonies and how they transformed our view of what a symphony is. Music from his symphonies will be performed alongside images, and there will be excerpts from his letters read by the actor Michael Bodie. Beethoven's Eroica Symphony will be performed complete in the second half of the concert.

The Beethoven concert is the start of Orpheus Sinfonia's new season Beneath the score and Thomas Carroll will be both conducting and presenting.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Boxberg's Sardanapalus - a window onto 17th century German opera

Boxberg Sardanapalus - Pan Classics
Boxberg Sardanapalus; United Continuo Ensemble, Bernhard Epstein; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 30 2014
Star rating: 4.0

German opera from 1698 performed with flair and verve

Neither Christian Ludwig Boxberg nor his opera Sardanapalus had appeard on my radar until I came across this disc on Pan Classics. Recorded live at the Wilhema Theater in Stuttgart, Bernhard Epstein directs the United Continuo Ensemble (director Jorg Meder), with tenor Jan Kobow, soprano Rinnat Mariah, mezzo-soprano Theodora Baka, soprano Cornelia Samuels, counter-tenor Franz Vitzthum, bass Markus Flaig, tenor Soren Richter, bass Felix Schwandtke, soprano Kirline Cirule and tenor Philipp Nicklaus.

Boxberg's Sardanapalus at the Ekhof Festival in 2012 - Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein/Lutz Ebhardt
Boxberg's Sardanapalus at the Ekhof Festival in 2012
Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein/Lutz Ebhardt
Christian Ludwig Boxberg (1670 - 1729) was the son of the court organist at Sonderhausen and Boxberg studied in Leipzig where Reinhard Keiser (1674 - 1739) also studied. Keiser would go on to work at the Hamburg Gansemarkt Opera, which was founded as Germany's first opera house by Nikolaus Adam Strungk (1640 - 1700). In 1693 Strungk (now the Dresden Court Kapellmeister) opened Central Germany's first civic opera house in Leipzig. Boxberg worked there as a singer, performing in the opening production, Strungk's Alceste.

Between 1696 and 1700 Boxberg wrote at least seven librettos for Strungk to set for performance in Leipzig. In 1700, debt problems caused Strungk to retire, allowing Boxberg to write the music for two operas. But disputes with Strungk's heirs over who ran the opera house prevented more and he became an organist. Boxberg's operas for Leipzig do not survive. We have only libretti and printed laudatory remarks by a contemporary, Erdman Neumann.

All things early: Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival

Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival and Exhibition
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Nov 15 2014
All things Early Music, with demonstrations, lectures and recitals including closing concerts from Fretwork and Brecon Baroque.

This weekend the Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival and Exhibition hit, well Greenwich actually. With music literally coming from every nook and cranny this was an early music lover's paradise. Run by the Early Music Shop with Trinity Laban Conservatoire and the Greenwich Foundation in the picturesque setting of the Old Royal Naval College, with its spectacular Painted Hall and Chapel, there were three days of performances from young and old, as well as the chance to explore and try out instruments of all shapes and sizes.


The performances fell into two categories: concerts and demonstrations of instruments either new or repaired. The maker's demonstration recitals had the addition of being instructional - the performers talked about their instruments, giving a bit of history or why that particular instrument (and hence the maker/restorer) worked for them.

I caught a couple of the demonstrations. The first was the viol and violin performance by Liam Byrne (bass viol) and Conor Gricmanis (baroque violin). Playing solo and duet music from Thomas Morley (1557-1602), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Alfonso Ferrabosco II (c. 1575-1628), Diego Ortiz (1510-1570), Robert Dubuisson (c. 1622–1680), and Matthew Locke (1621-1677), this pair filled the King William Undercroft with a glorious and restful sound. Unusually, in the Ortiz the bass viol had the tune, while the violin maintained a soft tenor line, allowing the delicate high notes of the bass to be heard.

John Tavener celebration at Bach Choir

The Bach Choir - John Tavener Celebration
Since John Tavener's death, there have been a number of works premiered; pieces which John Tavener had composed in his last year. What was one of his last large scale choral pieces, Oh where, tell me where? was written for The Bach Choir (the second piece which Tavener wrote for the group) and premiered by them last month in Shanghai. The Bach Choir, conductor David Hill, give the UK premiere of the piece in London on 25 November 2014 at the Royal Festival Hall as part of an all Tavener concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra and soloists soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, tenor James Oxley and cellist Raphael Wallfisch. The programme includes The Protecting Veil, A Song for Athene and Requiem.

O where, tell me where? is a meditation based on three well-known Scottish songs and scored for fourteen-part chorus and tubular bells. Further information from The Bach Choir's website. You can see the choir's new video celebrating Tavener's life and work after the break.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Stephen Montague premiere celebrates 300 years of St. John's

Stephen Montague
Stephen Montague
Stephen Montague's From the Ether will be given its world premiere on 25 November 2014 at St John's Smith Square, by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra conductor Russell Keable. The work is one of three works commissioned by St John's Smith Square as part of their celebrations of the church's 300th anniversary. For From the Ether Montague has taken the 300 year history of the venue as his starting point, and fragments of music from the ages permeate the piece. Montague uses his performers spatially, and there will be players up in the balconies and at the rear of the hall as well as on stage, and in addition there are three independent tape parts.

The concert is also being given in memory of the orchestra's founder Leslie Head. Sir John Tomlinson will be joining the orchestra for three of RVW's Songs of Travel and the programme will also include Walton's Variations on  Theme of Hindemith and Sibelius's Fifth Symphony. Further information from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra's website.

Yehudi Menuhin School at Wimbledon Festival

St John's Church, Wimbledon
St John's Church, Wimbledon
Pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School at the Wimbledon International Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2014
Lunchtime chamber music concert by young rising stars of the future

For the first of four free lunchtime concerts by young artists at St Juhn's Church, Waterloo, as part of the Wimbledon International Music Festival, pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School performed a programme of chamber music on Friday 14 November 2014. The programme included a trio of works all written during the First World War, Janacek's Violin Sonata, Bartok's Piano Suite Op 14 and Delius's Violoncello Sonata plus a pair of works written by pupils from the school as part of the Flander Fields project.

Opera by numbers - Covent Garden's new Idomeneo

Idomeneo - picture copyright ROH Catherine Ashmore
Idomeneo - picture copyright ROH Catherine Ashmore
Mozart Idomeneo; Polenzani, Fagioli, Bevan, Bystrom, dir Kusej, cond Minkowski; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 15 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Missed opportunities in regie-theater production, but fine music making

Idomeneo, Mozart's first mature opera, has not done well in London theatres. The Royal Opera's last production, directed by Johannes Schaaf, was in 1989 and was generally unloved and not revived. Engliish National Opera's first ever production, by Katie Mitchell in 2010, seems to have had a similar fate. Both were very much Director's Opera. and now the Royal Opera House's new production directed by Martin Kusej falls into a similar category. The production debuted on 3 November 2014 and we saw the performance on 15 November with Matthew Polenzani as Idomeneo, Franco Fagioli as Idamante, Sophie Bevan as Illia, Malin Bystrom as Elettra, and Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Arbace, conducted by Marc Minkowski. Set designs were by Annette Murschetz with costumes by Heide Kastler.

The basic idea of Martin Kusej's production was intriguing, using the plot to examine the dynamics of regime change with Idamante's death a political act rather than a religious one. The new narratvive has a strong dynamic, but the problem is that Idomeneo is not primarily narrative driven, it is an opera seria albeit a very later 18th century one. Comentators still seem embarrased by Mozart's fascination with the opera seria genre (he returned to it with aparent alacrity in the last year of his life with La Clemenza di Tito). Despite much tinkering, the opera seria of Mozart's day remained a drama of interaction and releactions, rather than action and narrative.

Martin Kusej's narrative change altered the ballance of these relationships. Mozart's music for Idomeneo examined his personal dilemmas with the conflict between personal and public, and the music is profound and sympathetic, quite far from a totalitarian dictator. To make this work in his new narrative, Martin Kusej had to come up with a new imperative force and turned the High Priest into a sinister eminence grise with a gang of heavies.

All thiis might have worked if what we saw on stage had been gripping theatre. But it wasn't. Murchetz and Kastler's designs mixed sludge coloured costumes with a black and white set. With sets on a revolve, Martin Kusej seemed to use set change as a tool to enliven the production. The rest was equally full of lazie regie-theater short hand. Krystan Adam's High Priest was a long-haired, leather-clad ex-rocker with a bunch of long haired Hells Angels as heavies. Idomeneo's troops were all black clad and wearing black sun glasses. Ideas which were hardly radical 20 years ago.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Faramondo from Göttingen

Faramondo - Accent
Handel Faramondo; Fons, Devin,Starushkeviych, Lowrey, Engletjes, Sparbo, Göttingen Festival Orchestra, Laurence Cummings; Accent
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 3 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Finely dramatic account of one of Handel's most under-rated operas

Handel's Faramondo has done badly on disc now this new recording on Accent from the Göttingen International Handel Festival 2014 remedies that. Laurence Cummings conducts the FestspielOrchester Göttingen with Emily Fons, Anna Devin, Anna Starushkevych, Njal Sparbo, Maarten Engeltjes, Christopher Lowrey, Edward Grint and Iryna Dziashko.

Handel's opera Faramondo has had a very bad press and Winton Dean witheringly described the plot as a whirlpool of inconsequence in his masterly survey of all Handel's operas. It had to wait until 2009 for its first decent recording (with Max Emanual Cencic and Philippe Jaroussky) and now here comes another recording on Accent made live at the 2014 Göttingen Festival with Emily Fons as Faramondo, Anna Devin as Clotilde, Anna Starushkevych as Rosimonda, Njal Sparbo as Gustavo, Maarten Engeltjes as Adolfo, Christopher Lowrey as Gernando, Edward Grint as Teobaldo and Iryna Dziashko as Childerico.

Premiered in 1737, it was Handel's first opera written in his collaboration with the rival Opera of the Nobility. The previous season had seen both companies struggle and Handel had had a stroke and been for a cure, so 1737/8 saw them combine forces. Handel wrote Faramondo for a strong cast, with the castrato Cafarelli in the title role. Regarded as one of the finest castrati, Cafarelli had a single season in London and never seems to have hit form there. The opera managed a total of eight performances before disappearing.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Four new trumpet concertos from Simon Desbruslais

Psalm - Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos - Signum Classics
Trumpet Concertos by Deborah Pritchard, Robert Saxton, John McCabe; Simon Desbruslais, Orchestra of the Swan, David Curtis, Kenneth Woods; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Four new British trumpet concertos, brilliant, seductive and engrossing

The trumpet as a concertante instrument rather missed out on the 19th century, there are baroque and classical concerto and modern concertos but none in the middle (there are no concertos between Hummel's 1803 concerto and early 20th century French concertos). This lack of repertoire is something which trumpeter Simon Desbruslais is working towards remedying, and on this new disc on Signum Classics he performs concertos by Deborah Pritchard, Robert Saxton, and John McCabe with the Orchestra of the Swan and conductors Kenneth Woods and David Curtis, with three of the concertos being new commissions.

Desbuslai played Robert Saxton's 1992 concerts, Psalm: A Song of Ascents in 2008 and asked Robert Saxton to wite another concerto which became the 2013 concerto Shakespeare's Scenes. And this led to the commission to Deborah Prichard, who was one of Saxton's pupils and a commission to John McCabe. The result is a remarkable group of concertos for the instrument (or rather instruments, not all use the standard trumpet).

Friday, 14 November 2014

Soumik Datta Arts - Indian and Western classical musics meet

Soumik Datta
Soumik Datta
Soumik Datta is a British-Indian virtuoso sarod player who studied composition at Trinity College of Music and trained with the sarod maestro Pandit Buddhadev Das Gupta. His charity Soumik Datta Arts  develops new projects and aims to develop new talent in the collaboration between Indian classical and Western Music, reflecting Soumik Datta's own work both performing  Indian classical music and writing new material for collaborations with other performers. We heard a private concert, in aid of Soumik Datta Arts, last night (13 November 2014) at which Soumik Datta and the tabla player Shahbaz Hussain performed Indian classical music, as well as some of Soumik Datta's own songs where they performed with the singer/songwriter Rosabella Gregory.

Rosalba Gregory and Shahbaz Hussain
Rosalba Gregory and Shahbaz Hussain
For the first half Soumik Datta on sarod, Shahbaz Hussain on tabla and accompanied by a background drone from two tanpura players, gave us two different ragas. The sarod is a lute-like 19-stringed instrument. It is fretless, which means the player can execute the glissandi so necessary to Indian classical music, and has a set of sympathetic strings. My knowledge of Indian classical music is minimal, but their performance was mesmerising and highly virtuoso. Soumik Datta is a charming and highly communicative performer, whilst clearly a virtuoso of his instrument, so that he entranced an audience which mixed long time knowledgeable supporters (including his parents) with newcomers like us. This was real chamber music, and the communication between the Datta and Hussain was palpable, and it was lovely to be able to hear it in an unamplified, intimate setting rather than with the amplification necessary for larger venues.

In the second half we had a group of songs from Soumik Datta's latest album, Anti-Hero, made with his group Circle of Sound. These combined the sarod and tabla with Rosabella Gregory's piano and vocals. Whilst there were moments where the performers seemed to be still negotiating round the differences in styles and tunings between the two instruments, there were many moments of enticing and fascinating synthesis too. You can get the album as free download from Soumik Datta's website

Anthems for Doomed Youth - The Myrthen Ensemble

Myrthen Ensemble
Anthems for Doomed Youth; The Myyrthen Ensemble; Wimbledon International Music Festival at St John's Church, Wimbledon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 12 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Intense and moving recital from this young ensemble

The Myrthen Ensemble is a group of young singers and accompanist who, in the mould of The Songmakers' Almanac, perform concerts together, sacrificing a degree of recital independence for the ability to create something which is greater than the some of its parts. On Wednesday 12 November 2014 the Myrthen Ensemble, soprano Katherine Broderick, mezzo-soprano Clara Mouriz, tenor Benjamin Hulett, baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist Joseph Middleton, presented their programme Anthems for Doomed Youth at St John's Church, Wimbledon as part of the Wimbledon International Music Festival.

There were four groups of songs , each with a loose theme and with songs from a different group of countries. Germany and Austria had songs of death and of ghosts by Schubert, Mahler and Wolf, France and Spain had songs by Faure, Duparc, poulenc, Grannados and Debussy on departures and returns (or failures to return), America and Russia had songs by Barber, Ned Rorem, Montsalvatge, Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky on the pain of army life, and The British Isles had songs by Ireland, Somervell, Finzi, James Macmillan and Ivor Gurney on the effects and aftermath of war. The result was a powerful and compelling programme.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2014

Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
This year's Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival (hcmf) runs from Friday 21 to Sunday 30 November 2014 in a action packed week-and-a-bit of events. The composer in residence this year is James Dillon and there are four concerts devoted entirely to his works, from the London Sinfonietta, BBC Singers, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Arditti Quartet. In addition the Arditti String Quartet has its own 40th birthday celebration concert with a new work for them by Marco Stroppa.  Other birthdays being celebrated include Christian Wolff at 80, and Evan Parker at 70.

There are new works from Larry Goves, Alexander Schubert and Pedro Álvarez, whilst the renowned hcmf// shorts programme presents an entire day of free music on Monday 24 November, in a series of short free concerts which give you a varied and concentrated burst of something amazing. Other events include a performance of Salvatore Sciarrino's Lohengrin for singer and ensemble which was premiered in Bergen in 2013.

See the hcmf website for the full programme.

No Exceptions, No Exemptions - Great War Songs

No Exceptions, No Exemptions - Great War Songs - Robin Tritschler
No Exceptions, No Exemptions - Great War Songs; Robin Tritschler, Malcolm Martineau; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 11 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Superbly well thought out and finely performed recital by composers involved in the First World War

I have to confess, when I first saw this CD my heart sank; a disc of First World War Songs seemed a rather too hackneyed prospect. But this new disc from Robin Tritschler and Malcolm Martineau on Signum Classics is definitely one to gladden the heart. Tritschler and Martineau devote their recital to composers who took part in the First World War. 

Robin Tritschler - photo credit Gareth Wong
Robin Tritschler
photo credit Gareth Wong
The result is a remarkable programme which combines the known and the unknown in highly seductive performances. The songs are rarely about war directly, instead we have a varied sequence of side tangents full of joy, desire and melancholy. The list of composers makes remarkable reading, Alberic Magnard, George Butterworth, Sergei Prokofief, Frederick Delius, Rudi Stephan, Cecil Coles, Ernest Farrar, Darius Milhaud, William Denis Browne, Frederick Kelly, Frederick Keel, Edgar Bainton, Benjamin Dale, Claude Debussy, Michael Head, Albert Roussel, Piere Vallanes, Arthur Bliss, Ivor Gurney, Andrew Caplet and Charles Ives. 

The first disc, At the Front, covers composers who were actually fighting in the trenches which means that of the 10 composers, 7 died during the war. The selection includes composers from all major combattants British composers, plus Frenchmen like Alberic Magnard who died whilst defending his property from the Germans and Rudi Stephen, a German who was killed by a Russian sniper on the Galician Front. The only exception is Prokofiev who seems to have endeavoured not to get involved!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Sing as we trip it: the Fairy Queen spreads her magic dust at the Middle Temple Hall

Thomas Guthrie and the cast of The Fairy Queen at Middle Temple Hall, photo credit Andrea Liu
Thomas Guthrie and the cast of The Fairy Queen
photo credit Andrea Liu
Purcell's The Fairy Queen at Middle Temple Hall, dir Thomas Guthrie
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Oct 31 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Magical staging of Purcell's semi-opera in the 16th century hall

Purcell's magical opera spread fairy dust at the Middle Temple Hall. Directed by and starring Tomas Guthrie this was a sublime and surreal interpretation, updating without modernising Purcell's concept.

'The Fairy Queen' was first performed in 1692 in London and was revised by Purcell the next year when he added extra songs such as the song 'Fill up the bowl' for the drunken poet. Purcell loosely based 'The Fairy Queen' on Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', written almost 100 years earlier. Much of the plot has already happened before the opera begins and assumes that the audience are familiar with Shakespeare's play. Unlike more modern dramatic operas Purcell's music is pretty much incidental to the play - the songs are sung by fairies, supernatural personifications, and sundry characters such as in the 'kissing song' which is sung by Coridon and Mopsa and not by the main protagonists. Not quite the puritan modern audiences might think, Purcell intended that the role of Mopsa be sung by a countertenor and Coridon by a bass, leading to humorous misunderstandings.

Originally there would have been spoken dialogue, with the musical numbers coming at the end of each act. However the entire play is rarely performed now as it is about five hours long. Without this dialogue what remains is a somewhat surreal performance. In order to make some kind of sense of it all Guthrie had added some new text (in rhyming couplets) and changed the human characters from lovers to people to do with the theatre – an actor, a director, and two somewhat lost audience members - to provide a storyline into which Purcell's music could fit.

The Sixteen - Monteverdi Vespers

The Sixteen - © MolinaVisuals
The Sixteen - © MolinaVisuals
Monteverdi Vespers of 1610; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 10 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Serious and intense account of Monteverdi's sacred masterpiece

The Sixteen and conductor Harry Christophers do an annual UK tour, The Choral Pilgrimage, which takes a programme of unaccompanied choral music all round the country. This year they have decided to fit in a shorter tour between the 2014 and 2015 pilgrimages and are doing eight dates with both the choir and orchestra performing Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610. We caught their performance at Cadogan Hall on Monday 10 November 2014 with soloists Grace Davidson, Charlotte Mobbs, Mark Dobell, Jeremy Budd, Ben Davies and Eamonn Dougan.

A number of question marks hang over Monteverdi's most iconic work of sacred music. Published in 1610, the work was intended as a calling card to help Monteverdi get a new job. It worked, in 1613 he became music director at St Mark's Venice though in fact he had been rather aiming at a top job in Rome. The Vespers is forever associated with St Mark's, though Monteverdi almost certainly never thought of that church when writing it. Added to which, the published volume not only includes the music for vespers but a mass as well, and the vespers music includes pieces (the sacred concertos) which don't really fit and are assumed to be replacements for antiphons. The music works superbly as a coherent whole, but we have no record that Monteverdi ever thought of it being performed together or that he did so himself. And on top of this, there is a question over what key some pieces are in. As given in traditional modern performances, the Magnificat is at such a high pitch that it can make for a spine tingling, edge of the seat performance taking both vocal soloists and cornetts to the top of their range. Commentators argue for a downward transposition, which sensible but far less fun.

Thankfully Harry Christophers opted for a very full, traditional version of the work. All the movements were performed and we had the longer, more complicated version of the Magnificat in the higher key. He also used a relatively large group of performers, with 20 singers and 24 instrumentalists. The continuo group consisted of organ, chitarrone, harp and dulcian. The soloists were members of the choir, but sensibly we had a named set them rather than  different soloists for each movement as can happen. These being sopranos Grace Davidson and Charlotte Mobbs, tenors Mark Dobell and Jeremy Budd and basses Ben Davies and Eamonn Dougan.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Mozart at Clandon

The Marble Hall at Clandon Park
The Marble Hall at Clandon Park
The National Trust's house Clandon Park was built in the 1730's to designs by the Italian architect Giacomo Leoni. The wonderful Marble Hall was finished in the 1740's and the gardens laid out in the 1780's by Capability Brown. At around the same time as the gardens were being finished Mozart's mature operas were being premiered in Vienna and Prague. This confluence is examined on Saturday November 22, when Ian Peter Bugeja and his group Les Bougies Baroques give a concert, Mozart | Drama Personified, in the Marble Hall at Clandon House.

Bugeja will be the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto K453 and the group is joined by soloists Joseph Padfield, Cenk Karaferya, Dorothea Herbert and Nazan Fikret, with Johannes Kammler, Gustav Hasfjord, and Jack Holton for arias and ensembles from Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro and The Magic Flute, plus Mozart's Symphony No. 31 'Paris'. Tickets are £12, to book, call or e-mail the Guildford Tourist Information Centre: www.visitguildford.com 01483 444334, tic@guildford.gov.uk

The Maltese conductor-harpsichordist/fortepianist Ian Peter Bugeja founded Les Bougies Baroques in 2012. The group represents the new generation of period performance, and was created by Bugeja with the aim of giving young professional performers the experience of performing in a period instrument ensemble and in January 2014 they closed the Valetta International Baroque Festival. You can see them, performing with counter-tenor Cenk Karaferya on YouTube.

Britten's War Requiem raises £100,000 for Veteran's Aid

Bryn Terfel in Britten’s Remembrance Sunday Britten War Requiem from Royal Choral Society and London Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall © Chris Christodoulou
Bryn Terfel in Britten’s Britten War Requiem
© Chris Christodoulou
On Sunday 8 November 2014, the Royal Choral Society and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Richard Cooke (music director of the Royal Choral Society) performed Britten's War Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Bryn Terfel, Evelina Dobraceva and Stephan Rügamer. The event was in aid of Veteran's Aid and has netted over £100,000 for the charity. The concert is being broadcast tonight, 11 November, on Classic FM.

Founded in 1932, Veterans Aid, provides ex-servicemen and women in crisis with immediate support. The concert was presented association with The Lady R Foundation, a charity founded by The Dowager Viscountess Rothermere, to bring comfort and relief to the forgotten, the overlooked and the stigmatised in today’s society.

Reissue of Handel's Rinaldo from Rene Jacobs and Vivica Genaux

Handel - Rinaldo - Jacobs
Handel Rinaldo; Genaux, Kalna, Persson, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Jacobs; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 27 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Highly theatrical but very distinctive account of Handel's first London opera

This is a re-issue of Rene Jacobs highly theatrical and imaginative 2002 recording of Handel's Rinaldo on Harmonia Mundi with Vivica Genaux in the title role, Inga Kalna as Armida, Miah Persson as Almirena, Lawrence Zazzo as Goffredo, James Rutherford as Argante, Christophe Dumaux as Eustazio and Dominique Visse as Mago cristiano and Rene Jacobs conducting the Freiburger Barockorchester.

The recording has strong rivals, Christopher Hogwood's recording on Decca has Cecilia Bartoli as Almirena, and David Daniels as Rinaldo. And Glyndebourne's 2011 production (see my review of the 2011 Proms performance) with Sonia Prina in the title role and Ottavio Dantone conducting is on DVD. Many people will, of course, be hoping that there is some sort of record of Glyndebourne's 2014 revival of the work (see my review) with Iestyn Davies as Rinaldo.

Jacobs' cast is idiomatic without being starry. Genaux gives a wonderfully fluent account of the role of Rinaldo, not at all phased by the technical demands and singing with a lovely evenness of tone, and firmness throughout the range. The role clearly fits her voice well, the role is one of those which lies at the upper end of the counter-tenor range. And her account of Rinaldo's music is terrific, though perhaps not as overtly emotional as Daniels' performance. This is something that I rather like, and I enjoyed Genaux' performance greatly, but some people might find it cool.

BREMF 2015 - plans and an appeal

Francesca Caccini
Francesca Caccini
Next year's Brighton Early Music Festival runs from 23 October 2015, to 8 November 2015 and has as its there Women! They will be presenting a wide variety of works featuring women or by women composers, including a celebration of the 350th anniversary of the French baroque composer Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de las Guerra. There will also be music by Hildegard of Bingen, Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Barbara Strozzi, along with an opera by Francesca Caccini.  There will also be a programme featuring women in mythology from Emma Kirkby and Jakob Lindberg, and a screening of the 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer with live medieval music.

The festival is appealing for help to put on a production of Francesca Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggerio dall'Isola d'Alcina, which was written in 1625 and is possibly the first opera by a woman. Francesca Caccini was the daughter of Giulo Caccini who was involved in the Florentine group which originated opera. BREMF has set up a crowd-funded appeal to help raise money for the staging. The festival will be applying to the Arts Council, but needs to raise £5000 by the end of this month. You can help by visiting their on-line crowdfunding page.

Monday, 10 November 2014

London: Court, Theatre and Cathedral

St George's Church, Brighton
London: Court, Theatre and Cathedral, music by Handel and Purcell; Hebbert, Alexander, Morgan, Ponsford, Pritchard, Humphreys, Grint, The BREMF Singers, The BREMF Players, John Hacorn; the Brighton Early Music Festival at St George's Church, Brighton Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 09 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Celebrating Handel and Purcell with a pair of large scale choral works

With its theme of Cities, Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) 2014 has taken us to Paris, Rome, Santiago de Compostela and many points East. The festival came to a close rather closer to home, in 17th and 18th century London. On Sunday 9 November 2014 at St George's Church, Kemp Town, Brighton, London: Court, Theatre and Cathedral celebrated the music of Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel. John Hancorn conducted by the BREMF Singers and the BREMF Players, leader Alison Bury, with soloists Augusta Hebbert and Molly Alexander, sopranos, Tim Morgan and Simon Ponsford counter-tenors, Nick Pritchard tenor and George Humphreys and Edward Grint basses in a programme of Purcell's Ode to St Cecilia and Suite from Abdelazar or the Moor's Revenge, and Handel's Utrecht Te Deum and Eternal Source of Light Divine from the Birthday Ode for Queen Anne. 

Purcell's Ode to St Cecilia was written for a group of Gentlemen Lovers of Musick who met at the Stationers Hall each year on 22 November to celebrate St Cecilia's Day. It was one of a number of such odes that Purcell would write for them and was premiered in 1692. It is a very grand work, written on a large scale with an orchestra including recorders, oboes, trumpets and drums, and it needs six soloists. The work's flexibility and profligacy with the solos, there are no arias as such just short solo sections within the whole texture, suggests that the original soloists were members of the choir. It is recorded that Purcell himself sang the solo Tis Nature's Voice.