Monday, 2 March 2015

Blown away - Massenet's Le roi de Lahore from Chelsea Opera Group

Anush Hovhannisyan - © Vigen Mnoyan
Anush Hovhannisyan - © Vigen Mnoyan
Massenet Le roi de Lahore; Hovhannisyan, Spyres, Dazeley, cond: Balsadonna; Chelsea Opera Group at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 1 2015
Star rating: 5.0

First London performance for over a century Massenet's first major success and it certainly blew the cobwebs away

Jules Massenet's Le roi de Lahore was his first big operatic success. Premiered in Paris in 1877, it was the first new work to be performed at the newly rebuilt Paris Opera and went on to have significant international success before being overtaken by his later works and being left to one side. Apparently not performed in London since 1880 (!), Chelsea Opera Group's performance of the work on Sunday 1 March 2015 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was certainly of more than passing interest, particularly as they had assembled such a fine cast. Conducted by Renato Balsadonna, the cast included soprano Anush Hovhannisyan as Sita, and tenor Michael Spyres as Alim, the king of the title, plus Jihoon Kim, William Dazeley, Justina Gringyte and Joshua Bloom. Robert Lloyd was due to sing the role of the god Indra, but his illness meant that Joshua Bloom stood in and thus sang two roles.

The opera was specifically designed for the Paris Opera, and is a large-scale five-act work complete with a ballet in act three (including a duet for two saxophones). Chelsea Opera Group performed it discreetly cut and with the ballet trimmed to just three movements, bringing the running time to three hours (including interval). Massenet took full advantage of the resources the Paris Opera had to offer, so that the large orchestra included four horns, two trumpets, two cornet, three trombones and a cimbasso, with four percussion players and timpani.

Marie-Nicole Lemieux and Roger Vignoles at the Wigmore Hall

Marie-Nicole Lemieux - photo credit Denis Rouvre
Marie-Nicole Lemieux - photo credit Denis Rouvre
Faure, Lekeu, Hahn, Koechlin, Debussy, Duparc; Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Roger Vignoles
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 28 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Stylish and idiomatic performances of an imaginative programme of French song

The French-Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux and pianist Roger Vignoles gave a recital of French song at the Wigmore Hall on Friday 27 February 2015. Their programme had the poetry of Paul Verlaine running through it, though not in a dogmatic manner. They started with Gabriel Faure's Cinq melodies 'de Venise', followed by Trois Poemes by Guillaume Lekeu, and a group of songs by Reynaldo Hahn. Then a group by Charles Koechlin, followed by Claude Debussy's Fetes galantes Book II and finally a group of songs by Henri Duparc.

Francophone singers who perform French song in recital are not commonplace and it was a pleasure to welcome Lemieux with her rich-toned yet flexible voice, lovely ease of delivery and a simply wonderful feeling for singing French poetry. Her performance clearly reflected the suppleness which comes of singing so much baroque repertoire besides later music. There is an expressive vibrato which was never intrusive. And she sings French which is both comprehensible and sounds good, we hardly needed the texts to follow the songs and that is exactly as it should be.

She and Vignoles started with Cinq melodies 'de Venise' by Gabriel Faure (1845-1924), settings of five poems by Verlaine which Faure commenced whilst in Venice in 1891. The five include some of Faure's best known, but interestingly the complete group is heard more rarely. Evidently Verlaine did not rate Faure's settings of his verse, preferring those of Reynaldo Hahn, but the songs are some of Faure's most sophisticated. Mandoline showed Lemieux to be full of characterful vitality, yet open to the work's flowing line and the essential simplicity which is at the heart of much Faure. Quite simply, she did not try too hard, and as a result reaped great rewards, finely partners by the complexity of Vignoles piano. All in all, a delight to begin the recital.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spitalfields Music Summer Festival

Emily Hall
Emily Hall
This year's Spitalfields Music Summer Festival runs from June 2 to June 16, 2015 with over 40 events at in venues in and around Spitalfields including Christ Church, Spitalfields, St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch, the Bishopsgate Institute and the church of St Peter Ad Vincula. The festival has become known for its varied and innovative approach, as well as strong community links. This is shown by the three associate artists at this years festival: composer and saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, composer Emily Hall, and early music group La Nuova Musica. All three have curated events throughout the festival and the result is a very lively mix indeed.

Shabaka Hutchings
Shabaka Hutchings
Hall's opera Folie a Deux is given its London premiere by Mahogany Opera Group. A sonic voyage into shared psychosis, Hall has written for a new instrument, an electro-magnetic harp. Directed by Frederic Wake Walker with libretto by Bjork-collaborator Sjon, the opera is at Rich Mix (6, 7 June). Also at Rich Mix, Hall is curating performances by alternative classical artists including viol player Liam Byrne, singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle, cellist Oliver Coates, writer Toby Litt and Bedroom Community artists James McVinnie and Puzzle Muteson, as well as featuring some of Hall's recent work. The wonderful women's chorus, Women Sing East, return on 8 June with a new work by Hall in collaboration with French-Norwegian visual artist Caroline Bergvall plus pop choir Lips in jazz and pop arrangements.

Other premieres will include Exaudi in a new work by James Weeks, a poetic music drama about weaving, and BCMG in the London premiere of Howard Skempton and Matthew Harris's Field Notes which mixes sound with visual art.

David Bates, artistic director of La Nuova Musica
David Bates, artistic director of La Nuova Musica
Former BBC New Generation Artist Shabaka Hutchings will present the Spitalfields Re-Sounded Blog ( where he records sounds to construct an online sound archive. Hutchings will use the sounds to inspire a new composition for a live event on 10 June at Village Underground, performed by his band The Comet is Coming and guest artist beatboxer Jason Singh.

La Nuova Musica will be performing Handel's Israel in Egypt (Christ Church, Spitalfields 4 June) and will be joined by Lucy Crowe, and Elizabeth Watts for a candle-lit performance of Couperin's Lecons de tenebres (Village Underground 8 June). Vivaldi horn concertos and music by Handel feature in their concert with horn player Alec Frank-Gemmill and mezzo-soprano Julia Riley (Shoreditch Church, 12 June). La Nuova Musica's 2013 Spitalfields concert with Lawrence Zazzo was a great highlight (see my review), and the concert included some spectacular horn playing from Alec Frank-Gemmill.

Other early music events include Stile Antico celebrating its 10th anniversary (Christ Church, Spitalfields 5 June), the Armonico Consort and Elin Manahan-Thomas in a semi-staged performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (Village Underground, 9 June), and the Carnival Band in 17th century English ballads.

There are plenty of other events, including Spitalfields Salon which is an intimate series of concerts and conversation in a Georgian House, musicians of the Royal College of Music at the Geffrye Museum, the Odyssean Ensemble at St Peter's Ad Vincula and a Baroque Supper complete with food from The English Restaurant! The Sixteen explores music and poetry from the First World War whilst the City of London Sinfonia and Polyphony explore Georgian London, and the Sacconi Quartet gives a multi-sensory performance of Beethoven quartets. Musical Rumpus, Spitalfields Music’s award-winning interactive, multi-sensory operas for toddlers returns with Purcell on 12 and 13 June.

Full information and listings from the Spitalfields Music website.

Sing Victoria in Ávila

A friend of mine, Rupert Damerell (he was the counter tenor on the 1998 recording of my Passion) runs choral courses in Spain. He is doing a course in August (19 - 23 August 2015) singing three choir music by Victoria and Vivanco in Ávila this summer, directed by Peter Phillips (of the Tallis Scholars), himself and Alexander Campkin. Aimed at good amateur singers or students, it is held in a XVIth century monastery (stunning to look at but with modern conveniences such as wifi!) in the city of Ávila with a concert in the Cathedral where Victoria and Vivanco were choirboys as Santa Teresa of Ávila looked on. Full details from the Zenobia website.

There are also still spaces for tenors and basses on the other Ávila summer course, with Ensemble Plus Ultra (25 July to 1 August), on the Iberian Requiem, with full choir, small groups, individual classes etc. - a more complete vocal course on renaissance singing. Full details from

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Love's Old Sweet Song - Kathryn Rudge and James Baillieu

Edward Elgar, Ivor Gurney, Frank Bridge, Roger Quilter, William Denis Browne, Eric Coates, James Lynam Molloy, Ivor Novello, Haydn Wood; Kathryn Rudge, James Baillieu; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 26 2015
Star rating: 4.0

A whole range of 20th century English song from Novello to Gurney in a finely crafted debut

This debut disc, on the Champs Hill Records label, from mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, accompanied by James Baillieu, is a selection of English songs from the first 50 years of the 20th century (with the exception of Britten's arrangement of The Salley Gardens). Where Rudge and Baillieu's selection differs from most other recitals on CD is that they have cast their net across a wide variety of composers so that songs by Edward Elgar, Ivor Gurney and Frank Bridge sit alongside those by Roger Quilter, William Denis Browne, Eric Coates, James Lynam Molloy, Ivor Novello and Haydn Wood. You may not immediately recognise all the names in that list, but will with recognise the songs which include Love's Old Sweet Song and Roses of Picardy.

A number of the songs on the disc come into the category of light music though this distinction was less well defined during the first part of the 20th century. What the songs have in common is that they are all well crafted. Ivor Novello's songs, for instance, have seen something of a revival in recent years owing to this very craftsmanship. It is a fascinating experience to listen to the whole programme with the music of Ivor Gurney, Eric Coates, Roger Quilter, Haydn Wood and Ivor Novello side by side. What becomes immediately apparent are the commonalities. Yes, the melodies in some items are more popular sounding and the structure of the songs can be less sophisticated. But all the songs have a similar use of melody as the essential building block.

An encounter with guitarist Christoph Denoth to talk Schubert, Dowland, Palomo, and much more

Christoph Denoth - photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega.
Christoph Denoth - photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega
The Swiss guitarist Christoph Denoth has a new album out, Homages (on the Signum Classics label), exploring Spanish guitar music were written in homage to someone. An intriguing idea forming the backbone of a strong programme including Manuel de Falla's Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy, Villa Lobos' Preludes plus music by Joaquin Malats y Marons, Luis de Navarez, Liguel Llobet, Fernando Sor, Joaquin Turina, Isaac Albeniz and Joaquin Rodrigo. Denoth's main base is in his native Switzerland, but I was able to meet him in his West London studio to talk about his new disc and how a Swiss boy who spent much of his life in the mountains chose to become a guitarist.

Christoph does regard the guitar as a choice, it always felt very natural. From an early age he played music in Basel and hearing the drums and pipes of the Basel Fasnacht (carnival) inspired him to try drums and flute out by ear. His family was not specially musical though his father, a military man, played the trumpet, and his mother listened to classical records, so there was the music of Artur Rubenstein and Dinu Lipatti in the house. But hearing the great guitarist Andres Segovia (who revolutionised guitar-playing and the attitude to the guitar in the 20th century) on the radio made the young Christoph fall in love with the sound of the guitar, and with Segovia's very particular sound. He now regards Segovia as some of his earliest memories of sound and describes his younger self as being addicted to the guitar.

Of course, the young Christoph had other phases including rock music and in fact wrote songs. Growing up in the Swiss mountains, finding a good guitar teacher was difficult. His early teachers were not specialists, many from the German school which Christoph describes and not having a great technique. His first proper guitar teacher, a professional guitarist, was his first exposure to this kind of teaching and playing.

He did not just study guitar, he included piano and conducting and in his early 20's studied with Celibidache. Sergiu Celibidache not only taught conducting but the phenomenology of music which Christoph regards as an essential subject to understanding music and being able to go deeper. At its basic, the phenomenology of music is the concept that all the different parameters (articulation, balance, phrasing and so forth) will come together in a performance. We talked at some length on this topic, which clearly appeals to Christoph and underpins much of his thinking about music.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Guildhall School Gold Medal finalists announced

Guildhall School
Each year the Guildhall School of Music and Drama awards its Gold Medal, alternate years to singers and to instrumentalists. This year the award is going to a singer and the finalists have just been announced. They are Milan Siljanov (bass-baritone), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Atkins (tenor) and Jennifer Witton (soprano). Milan, Thomas and Jennifer are studying on the Guildhall Artist Masters Opera Studies programme and Marta is studying for an Artist Diploma in Vocal Studies.

The final is on 13 May 2015 at the Barbican when each performer will do a short set with piano and then a set with orchestra, with the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dominic Wheeler. The panel of judges includes soprano Sally Matthews, broadcaster and Guildhall School alumna Sara Mohr-Pietsch, baritone Alan Opie, David Syrus who is head of music at the Royal Opera, Jonathan Vaughan who is director of the Guildhall School and Dominic Wheeler who is the director of music.

There are some interesting choices of music from Wagner to Handel (from the same singer!) and beyond, you can see the full programmes after the break. Further information from the Guildhall School website.

Cello Cello

Club Inegales (in North Gower Street, NW1 3NB) is a club run by the composer Peter Wiegold which describes itself as not a jazz club, not a new music venue, not a comedy club, not a world music venue, but a place of surprises and spontaneous performances. Besides the resident band, Notes Inegales, they have regular guests and the club is having a season devoted to all things cello. 

They kick off on 5 March 2015 with three cellists, Olly Coates, Anton Lukoszevieze and Adrian Bradbury each doing a set as well as talking about the new film, CELLO CELLO in which the three talk to John Woolrich and Peter Wiegold about all things cello. Olly Coates will be joined by Shiva Feshareki for a new work exploring processed cello sound, 2-bow technique and sound collage, and he will play an arrangement from Mica Levi's score for Under the Skin on which he collaborated, plus a new work by Caroline Haines which builds on chains of melodic parallel 5ths and samples of tape music. Anton Lukoszevieze will be playing Kenneth Gaburo's Slow-Up, Helmut Oehring's Foxfire Eins (natriumpenthothal), his own Arp Musik and Sylvano Bussotti's Sensitivo. Besides all the ground-breakng new music Adrian Bradbury will play Britten's 3rd Suite. There is Indonesian food by Ayam Happy and bar from 7pm.

Further ahead in the season there is Ensemble  Midvest (7 March), Matthew Barley (19 March), Max and Sandy Baillie (2 April) and Tre Voci (16 April)

Heavenly length? - Peter Sellars' The Indian Queen

The Indian Queen - ENO - photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
The Indian Queen - photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
Henry Purcell/Peter Sellars The Indian Queen; Crowe, Bullock, Stewart, Yi, dir: Peter Sellars cond: Laurence Cummings; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 26 2015
Star rating: 3.0

Love it or hate it - Peter Sellars' theatrical re-invention of Purcell

Unlike Purcell's music for The Fairy Queen, his music for his last semi-opera The Indian Queen would not stand up theatrically on its own. And the play to which The Indian Queen is coupled, by Robert Howard and John Dryden, is probably of archaeological interest only. Theatre director Peter Sellars' solution to this was to produce his own theatrical version of The Indian Queen, adding new spoken text as well as further music by Purcell. Done in a co-production with Perm State Opera and Teatro Real, Madrid, the production was presented at the London Coliseum as the final part of Sellars residency with English National Opera. Sellars directed, with set designs by Gronk, costumes by Dunya Ramicova and choreography by Christopher Williams. The cast included Vince Yi, Julia Bullock, Lucy Crowe, Thomas Walker, Noah Stewart, Anthony Roth Costanzo and Luthando Qave. We heard the opening night, on 26 February 2015 conducted from the harpsichord by Laurence Cummings.

The Indian Queen - ENO - photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
The Indian Queen - photo credit Richard Hubert Smith
The original play for The Indian Queen treated its 16th century South American setting as simply an exotic location, whereas Sellars in his new version sought to explore the full impact of the violence of conquistadors on the native South American culture. Sellars other problem was that the semi-opera form was predicated on only minor characters singing, the main roles being taken by non-singing actors. In order to bring the work closer to our conception of opera, Sellars had to import a great deal of extra music. So we had some of the great solo song, O Solitude, Music for a While, Sweeter than Roses plus some of his church anthems including Hear my prayer, O Lord and Remember no, Lord, our offences.

In place of the original dialogue, Sellars used a text based on the novel The Lost Chronicles of Terra Firma by Rosario Aguilar which chronicles the Spanish conquest of South America from a female point of view. The texts that we heard were written from the point of view of Dona Isabel (the wife of one of the conquistadors, Don Pedrarias Davita) and the native born mistress, Teculihuatzin, of another (Don Pedro de Alarado) and finally the daughter of these latter.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

'Too bawdy for a family audience'

The Dancing Master / I pazzi per progetto
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has come up with an intriguing double bill of operas for the forthcoming programme from the Opera Department. The first full staging of Malcolm Arnold's The Dancing Master is paired with Donizetti's  I pazzi per progetto. The two operas are directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, and conducted by the school's head of opera Dominic Wheeler. The double bill opens on 2 March 2015 at the Guildhall School, and runs until 9 March 2015. 

Arnold's The Dancing Master was composed in 1952. It has a libretto by Joe Mendoza based on Wycherley's bawdy Restoration comedy The Gentleman Dancing Master. Written with wit and flamboyance, the work was turned down by BBC executives as being 'too bawdy for a family audience'. The opera was first performed semi-staged as part of the 2012 Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton.

Donizetti's one-act farce I pazzi progetto (Madmen by Design) is almost as neglected. Premiered in Naples in 1830, continued to be performed until 1845 and then lay ignored until 1977. It is receiving its UK stage performance.

Still time to Glitter and be Gay

Song in the City
Song in the City's lunchtime recital today (26 February 2015), Glitter and be Gay finishes their sequence of recitals for LGBT History Month. This final recital explores the 20th and 21st century struggle of homosexual composers and poets through discrimination, societal struggles, the AIDs crisis, to eventual 'out and proud' emergence and recognition. There will be songs and poems by Cole Porter, Malcolm Williamson, Julian Phillips, Carol Ann Duffy, Gertrude Stein, Ned Rorem, Emily Dickinson, Aaron Copland, Lee Hoiby, Jonathan Dove, Robert Hugill, Raymond Yiu & Stephen Sondheim. As you can see, the list includes one of my own songs, a setting of AE Housman.

The concert is at 1.10pm today (26 February), in the Hall at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, London, EC2M 3TL, and will be performed by singers and actors from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. There is also a photographic exhibition The Borderline series by photographer Felipe Tozzzato, and we are promised a glass of wine courtesy of Barefoot Wine.

A remarkable sequence - Beethoven quartets and Ruth Padel's poetry

Endellion String Quartet
Endellion String Quartet
Beethoven String Quartet in B flat major, Opus 18 no. 6, String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131, Ruth Padel Beyond the Dark: Seven Moments from the Life of Beethoven; Endellion String Quartet, Ruth Padel; Aspect Foundation at the Twentieth Century Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 25 2015
Star rating: 5.0

25 years of Beethoven's quartet writing in a sequence of music and new poetry

Beethoven's six string quartets opus 18 are the first major works for string quartet which Beethoven wrote. He was 30 when he finished them and they are certainly mature works, though his views on the quartet form would continue to develop. He was already showing signs of deafness and the sequence of quartets would continue through his trials with his deafness right to the final group of remarkable late quartets (Opus 127 to 135) which he wrote in the years 1824 to 1825. It was this span of 25 years of music making which came under examination in the Aspect Foundation's latest concert at the Twentieth Century Theatre in Notting Hill. The Endellion String Quartet played Beethoven's String Quartet in B flat major, Opus 18 no. 6 (from 1800) and String Quartet in C sharp minor, Op. 131 (from 1825) and between them Ruth Padel read her new poetry sequence, Beyond the Dark: Seven Moments from the Life of Beethoven which took its inspiration from Beethoven's life in those 25 years and particularly the string quartets, and which had been commissioned by the Aspect Foundation.

Ruth Padel
The Endellion String Quartet (Andrew Watkinson and Ralph de Souza, violin, Garfield Jackson, viola, David Waterman, cello) celebrated its 35th anniversary last year. Their recording of all Beethoven's string quartets and quintets was issued in 2008.Their playing reflected this experience, with the four players operating with an intimate familiarity. It would be easy to comment that they showed an easy familiarity and functioned like a well-oiled machine, but there was nothing easy about their approach to Beethoven as the group explored the quartets' deepest regions, and certainly there was nothing machine-like about the performances as the four players lived and breathed the music together. But this was not an evening all of angst and deep searching, there was lots of vivacious energy and some supremely vibrant music-making which took you on a journey.

Beethoven's String Quartet in B flat major, Opus 18 no. 6 still owes a debt to Mozart and Haydn and the outlines of their quartets are visible in the work, but Beethoven is constantly breaking free of the earlier models. Cellist David Waterman described the opening Allegro con brio as 'wonderful to play and hopefully wonderful to listen to' and it certainly was. A movement full of energy, the players brought a real smile to the music and enjoyed the interplay of parts. They used a highly energised sound, with quite a lot of attack at times, and underlying the joy there was a sense of solidness, a sense of the benefit of the weight of experience.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Wolfgang Rihm at the Wigmore Hall

Wolfgang Rihm  - © Universal Edition / Eric Marinitsch
Wolfgang Rihm
© Universal Edition / Eric Marinitsch
Wolfgang Rihm and his music are being celebrated in a day at the Wigmore Hall devoted to Rihm's music on Saturday 28 February 2015. Rihm will be present and heard in conversation with Tom Service. There are three concerts, in the morning the Quatour Danel, clarinettist Jörg Widmann and horn player Bruno Schneider give the UK premiere of Sextet. In the afternoon tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Ulrich Eisenlohr give a concert of Schubert’s songs on poems by Ernst Schulze, complemented by Rihm’s songs from Ende der Handschrift. In the evening, after the talk from Rihm and Service, the Arditti Quartet, cellist Tanja Tetzlaff and accordionist Teodoro Anzellotti perform Rihm’s Grave in memoriam Thomas Kakuska, Fetzen for accordion and string quartet, String Quartet No. 10 and Epilog for string quintet.

A prolific composer, Rihm was born in Karlsruhe in 1952 and has written in a variety of genres. Whilst being seen as at the forefront of modernism in German music in the 1970's. Having studied with Stockhausen, Rihm's work in this period was seen as a reaction against the modernism of Boulez and Stockhausen and he was for a period associated with the New Simplicity movement. His music has also shown itself willing to open a dialogue with the past including taking Bach's passions as the starting point for works. He is Head of the Karlsruhe Conservatory Institute of Modern Music.

Method in the madness - Farinelli and the King

Melody Grove, Mark Rylance, Edward Peel - Farinelli and the King - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - photo Marc Brenner
Melody Grove, Mark Rylance, Edward Peel
photo Marc Brenner
Claire van Kampen Farinelli and the King; Rylance, Grove, Crane, Davies, dir Dove; Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 24 2015
Star rating: 4.5

Dazzlingly theatrical examination of the relationship between the castrato and the mad King of Spain

The film Farinelli, amongst its many other faults, had the major flaw that it completely ignored the most unusual and intriguing event in the singer Farinelli's life. At the age of 32 he turned his back on existing commitments and a dazzling career on the operatic stage, and he went to Spain where, the story goes, he cured King Felipe of madness by singing him the same group of arias every night. Whilst the reality was a little more nuanced than this story, the essentials are there. 

Iestyn Davies, Sam Crane - Farinelli and the King - Sam Wanamaker Playhouse - photo Marc Brenner
Iestyn Davies, Sam Crane
photo Marc Brenner
Claire van Kampen's new play Farinelli and the King, which we saw last night (24 February 2015) at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre explores the mystery by looking in detail at the relationship between the castrato Farinelli, Philippe (King Felipe) and his wife Isabella. Van Kampen's husband, Mark Rylance (former artistic director of the Globe Theatre) played Philippe, with Melody Grove as Isabella and Sam Crane as Farinelli, plus Huss Garbiya as Doctor Jose Cervi, Colin Hurley as Metastasio, Edward Peel as De La Cuadra. A feature of the play is the seriousness with which it treats the music (Van Kampen is also a composer) and the role of Farinelli was sung by the counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (it will be William Purefoy at some performances), with accompaniment from John Crockett (violin), Arngeir Hauksson (lute/recorder) and Jonathan Byers (cello), directed from the harpsichord by Robert Howarth. The production was directed by John Dove, designed by Jonathan Fensom.

The play opened with Philippe (Rylance) on his daybed trying to catch his goldfish with a fishing rod. A threat by the King's chief minister to have the monarch declared mad and removed from the throne forced Isabella (Grove) to follow the advice of the Muslim trained Doctor Cervi (Garbiyas) and go and fetch the castrato Farinelli (Crane). Farinelli's singing improves the King and he starts to function again, but there are still oddnesses and for the second act he has taken himself, Isabella and Farinelli to live in  wood so that they can 'hear the stars'.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Weight of History - War and Peace 1614 - 1714 from Jordi Savall

War and Peace 1614-1714; Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations; AliaVox
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 17 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Two Cd's and a book explore the effects of war and evoke a turbulent century
This new set from Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations in the AliaVox label is a substantial tome. Entitled War and Peace: 1614 - 1714 the set consists of two CD's of music plus a book. In it Savall looks at the turbulent century from 1614 to 1714 in Europe alongside the music which came out of it. The intention is to evoke through music the century which preceded the War of the Spanish Succession, from the Ottoman attack on Hungary in 1613 through the Thirty Years war to the Treaty of Utrecht and the fall of Barcelona. The music is many and varied, with known and unknown composers like Samuel Scheidt, Ambrosio Cotes, Lope de Vega, Johan Herman Schein, Guillaume Dumanoir, Philidor, Johann Rosenmuller, John Jenkins, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Dimitrie Cantemir, Francesco Cavalli, Joan Cereols, John Blow, Joan Cabanilles, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Antonio Caldara, Vasily Titov, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber and George Frideric Handel plus Jewish (Aramaic), Ottoman, Catalan, Spanish and French composers.

The CD's are organised historically with each event evoked by music. Sometimes the music has a concrete link with the event, so that we know that Caldara's opera Il piu bel nome was performed in Barcelona in 1708 at the wedding of Archduke Charles, pretender to the Spanish throne, who had established his court in Barcelona. And John Jenkins' The Siege of Newark is intended to described exactly that. Other events are simply evoked by suitable music, so that the opening of the War of the Spanish Succession is marked with movements from Biber's Batallia a 10.

Ruddigore: or the Witches Curse

Ruddigore -Sir Rupert Murgatroyd- Dame Hannah (Amy J Payne) with the Bridesmaids (Andrea Tweedale and Susanna Buckle) Photo Bill Knight.jpg
Dame Hannah (Amy J Payne)
with the Bridesmaids
(Andrea Tweedale and Susanna Buckle)
Photo Bill Knight
Gilbert & Sullivan Ruddigore; Charles Court Opera; Kings Head Theatre
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 18 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Hammer-horror style revival of G&S classic in intimate theatre

A collection of celebrations in Islington surrounded last night's spookily funny performance of 'Ruddigore' by the Charles Court Opera company. It was the 10th anniversary of the founding of Charles Court Opera, formed in 2005 by its Artistic Director John Savournin, and also the 45th year of the Kings Head Theatre set up by Dan Crawford in 1970.

Ruddigore - Mad Margaret (Cassandra McCowan) and Rose Maybud (Rebecca Moon) Photo Bill Knight
Mad Margaret (Cassandra McCowan)
and Rose Maybud (Rebecca Moon)
Photo Bill Knight
The Kings Head Theatre proudly claim that they were the first pub theatre since Shakespeare's day - in a pub which can trace its roots back to 1543 (although it was rebuilt in around 1864). The theatre was constructed in a space previously used as a pool hall and boxing ring, and a revamp in 2007-2008 increased the stage size, and seating capacity, and converted the tills of the pub to decimal currency.

Last night each of these seats was filled – with a certain amount of jockeying for position (some of the aisle seats are very small).

Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900) and William Schwenck Gilbert (1836-1911) produced some 14 comic operas between 1871 and 1896. Hot on the heels of their 1885 triumph 'The Mikado' the pair produced 'Ruddygore' in 1887 – but it was not a critical success, having very mixed reviews. After the opening night the plot was reworked to remove some of the more troubling elements, such as ghosts coming back to life, and even the title changed to the less horrific 'Ruddigore'. It was not revived until after the First World War when further changes were made and a new overture commissioned. This 'failure' (can 288 performances really be called a failure?) was a further cause of creative quarrel between Gilbert and Sullivan but as with 'The Mikado' they again quickly patched up their differences producing 'The Yeomen of the Guard' in 1888.

Sylvia Schwartz and Gary Matthewman in recital

Sylvia Schwartz - © Enrico Nawrath
Sylvia Schwartz - © Enrico Nawrath
On Sunday (22 February 2015) we went along to one of pianist Gary Matthewman's Lied in London recitals at Queens Gate Terrace. He and Spanish soprano Sylvia Schwartz performed songs by Schubert, Gabriel Faure, Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados. For the final group of songs in the programme, Schwartz and Matthewman returned to Schubert, but they had taken a poll from the audience so that the exact selection of songs was chosen based on the audience's top preferences.

Schwartz and Matthewman started with a group of Schubert songs, all of which touched on the subject of love, with Die Sterne, Heimliches Lieben, Abendstandchen: An Lina, Der Ungluckliche An die Sonne and Wer Kauft Liebesgotter. Schwartz has a lovely soft-grained lyric soprano voice with warm vibrato. She sang all the songs from memory, and her eager and communicative manner made them very involving in such an intimate setting.

They followed this with a group of Faure songs, Notre amour (setting Armand Silvestre), Les berceaux (setting Sully Prudhomme) and three settings of Paul Verlaine, Mandoline, En sourdine and L'Hiver a cesse. The combination of language and Faure's fluid melody seemed to suite Schwartz well, and her performances of the Faure songs made a strong impression.

Monday, 23 February 2015

On this day in history - Handel's birth and Elgar's death..

Handel's baptismal registration
Handel's baptismal registration
Today is the 330th anniversary of Handel's birth and the 81st anniversary of Elgar's death.

Handel was born on 23 February 1685 in Halle in Germany. Quite where the city was in Handel's time seems to have depended on who you asked. Handel seems to have regarded himself as Saxon, ie coming from Saxony (at the end of his life he still referred to his birthplace as 'Halle in Sachsen'. Historically the city was in the Duchy of Magdeburg but it was badly damaged in the 30 years war and taken over by the Duke of Saxony but in 1680 it was handed over to Brandenburg-Prussia whilst the Saxon court moved to Weissenfels. Handel's father was surgeon to the Duke in Weissenfels.

Coincidentally today is also the anniversary of Elgar's death. He died on 23 February 1934 in Worcester. Elgar had moved back to Worcestershire in 1923 after his wife's death. Though his writing had stopped, he had continued conducting and the famous recording of the Violin Concerto with Yehudi Menuhin was issued in 1932. And his music was undergoing something of a revival, the BBC organised festival to celebrate his 75th birthday in 1932. He began to work on his opera, The Spanish Lady and accepted a commission from the BBC for the third symphony (which would ultimately be elaborated by composer Anthony Payne).

The Tallis Scholars celebrate Arvo Part's 80th birthday

This year, Arvo Part is 80 on 11 September 2015 and so we might expect quite a number of celebrations. Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars seem to be kicking off the celebrations with a new recording and world tour. The group's recording includes Part's Sieben Magnificat-Antiphonen, Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis, Which Was the Son Of..., The Woman in the Alabaster Box, Tribute to Caesar, I Am the True Vine and Triodion. The album, Tintinnabuli, will be released on 2 March 2015 on Gimell Records

The Tallis Scholars have sung Arvo Part's music alongside their more familiar Renaissance polyphony in recent years, but this is their first album of contemporary music since their 1984 recording of Sir John Tavener's Ikon of Light. The disc promises a new aural perspective on some of Part's works as the group performs the music with just two singers to a part, as with Renaissance polyphony. Peter Phillips believes that this approach brings both clarity and intimacy to Arvo Part's music.

Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars will be performing Arvo Part's music on a 10 country tour in over 45 concerts.

Stealing away the children: the Pied Piper of Hamlyn

Michael Morpurgo, Emma Chichester Clark - The Pied Piper of Hamlyn
Colin Matthews & Michael Morpurgo The Pied Piper of Hamlyn; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Feb 8 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Magical new re-telling of an old tale in new work from Colin Matthews

Lunch time on Sunday (8 February 2015), amidst the excitement and chattering (and a few overexcited tears), the atmosphere for the new commission by the London Philharmonic Orchestra of Michael Morpurgo's (1943-) 'Pied Piper of Hamlyn' realised by composer Colin Matthews (1946-) and illustrator Emma Chichester-Clark was more palpable than usual for a premiere. But the dimming of the lights worked their usual magic and very soon all were enthralled by the music, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, and spectacle, hanging on every word from the narrators - Morpurgo himself, in dashing orange, and Natalie Walter, hot from filming Horrible Histories. A few children from Deansfield Primary School added their voices to the mix, creating a wonderful retelling of this tale.

'Pied Piper of Hamelin' is an old story, first recorded in the 13th century, and consequently is one with debated origins and meanings – are the children meant to be returned as in Morpurgo's version? Or did they all die of plague, or were killed on a children's crusade, or were relocated along with their families to Poland or Transylvania? Certainly the rats only entered the story in the 16th century - but they are now the most well known aspect. The blind and lame children were added much later by the Brothers Grimm in the early 19th century. The eco-friendly rebuilding of the polluted city as the price for releasing the children would seem to be Morpurgo's own 21st century take – and, since each generation before has rewritten the story to exemplify their own thorny social problems, why not?

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Moonstrung Air - Gregory Brown

Moonstrung Air
Moonstrung Air - music by Gregory W Brown; New York Polyphony, The Crossing, Donald Nally, Eric Dudley; Navona Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Contemporary vocal music which showcases the intriguing and intelligent work by this American composer

I first came across Greg Brown's music when reviewing New York Polyphony's recording of his Missa Charles Darwin on Navona Records. Both the work and the music intrigued me, and I ended up helping to facilitate (and taking part in) the UK premiere of Missa Charles Darwin in a new version for mixed choir in a performance given by London Concord Singers and the late Malcolm Cottle. Now Navona Records has issued a complete disc of Brown's music so that New York Polyphony's recording of Missa Charles Darwin and Three American Folk Hymns has been teamed up with more of Brown's intriguing music, with The Crossing, conducted by Donald Nally, performing Five Women Bathing by Moonlight, Vidi Aquam, and Entrai Pastores Entrai along with a recording of Spring conducted by Eric Dudley.

Gregory W Brown
Gregory W Brown
Gregory W. Brown lives and works in Western Massachusetts. He studied at the Hugh Hodgson School of Music (University of Georgia), Westminster Choir College and Amherst College, where he studied with Lewis Spratlan. His music is essentially tonal, and he writes sympathetically for the voice but that does not mean that he writes down or that his music is not complex. I know from my experience of singing Missa Charles Darwin that his style is in fact highly complex, whilst remaining tricky but achievable for an amateur group like London Concord Singers. Listening to the wider selection of Brown's music on this disc, you sense that he is familiar with and sympathetic to the style of well-made Renaissance polyphony beloved of many choristers. Brown also has an interesting view of what constitutes a settable subject and text, so that the works on this disc challenge in a number of very satisfying ways. 

Five women bathing by moonlight is a setting of a poem by Richard Wilbur, depicting a seaside party in the 1940's. The poet renders the real event as dreamlike and timeless, and it is these elements that Brown's setting picks up on. There is a lovely clarity to the sound of the choir, The Crossing which is a 24 member professional choir, but there is a clarity to the texture of Brown's writing too. His impulse is essentially lyric, but with passing dissonances and a feeling of well wrought polyphony. The piece is dreamlike, in a way which is sober and grave.

2015 Aldeburgh Festival

Snape Maltings
Three major contemporary composing talents form the centre-piece of this year's Aldeburgh Festival. The Cure a new opera by Harrison Birtwistle (80 last year) receives its premiere in a double bill with his opera The Corridor which was premiered at the 2009 festival. The festival also features a retrospective of music by Pierre Boulez, celebrating his 90th birthday, whilst George Benjamin (a mere 55) is artist in residence.

Both Birtwistle's operas have librettos by David Harsent, and both operas feature singers Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton, and will be designed by Alison Chitty and directed by Martin Duncan.

There is a three-day celebration of Pierre Boulez's life and work, including the Piano Sonata No. 3 from Florent Boffard, Livre pour quatuor from Quatuor Diotima, Barry Gavin's film Pierre Boulez - Living in the Present and Gerard McBurney's A Pierre Dream: A Portrait of Pierre Boulez which mixes live performance with interviews and film footage.

George Benjamin's residency will feature not just his music, but he will be conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the London Sinfonietta with premieres of music by Tom Coult and Saed Haddad, plus his own A Mind of Winter and At First Light. As a pianist he joins Pierre-Laurent Aimard (artistic director of the festival) for a chamber recital.

Of course, Benjamin Britten's music features strongly too with performances of Phedre with Christine Rice, Alice Coote performing songs, excerpts from The Prince of the Pagodas from the Britten-Pears Orchestra plus a film of Kenneth McMillan's magical stage version of the ballet. 

Full information from the Aldeburgh Festival website.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Pure entertainment - Vivaldi's L'Oracolo in Messenia at the Barbican

Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante and cast of Vivaldi's L'Oracolo in Messenia at the Barbican - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante
and cast of Vivaldi's L'Oracolo in Messenia at the Barbican
photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Vivaldi L'Oracolo in Messenia; Staveland, Kielland, Genaux, Europa Galante, Biondi; Barbican
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 20 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Pure entertainment and stunning performances in this operatic pasticcio by Vivaldi

Vivaldi's opera L'Oracolo in Messenia was written in 1738, in something of a hurry after Vivaldi speedily assembled a Venetian opera season after plans for an opera season in Ferrara failed. He based it on a libretto going back to 1712, by Apostolo Zeno, which had been used in a number of more recent settings including that of Giacomelli which had great success in Venice in 1734. Vivaldi thought sufficient of his opera to revise it and take it to Vienna in 1740, but he did not live to see it performed as the death of the Emperor closed theatres.

Magnus Staveland, Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante - Vivaldi's L'Oracolo in Messenia at the Barbican - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Magnus Staveland, Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante
photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Like many of Vivaldi's operas, only the libretto has survived. But L'Oracolo in Messenia was in fact a pasticcio, an assemblage of pre-existing music with Vivaldi relying heaving on Giacomelli's setting. This has enabled Fabio Biondi to reconstruct the score of the Vienna version of L'Oracolo in Messenia. He and his group Europa Galante recorded it in 2012, and they now brought it in concert to the Barbican Hall (20 February 2015) with a strong international cast (two Norwegians, an American, an Italian, a Russian, a German and a Briton) including Magnus Staveland, Marianne Beate Kielland, Vivica Genaux, Marina de Liso, Julia Lezhneva, Franziska Gottwald and Rupert Enticknap.

It is difficult for us to comprehend nowadays quite how 18th century audiences listened to and apprehended opera, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it was very much a case of 'the play's the thing'. The dominant factor was the libretto - the dramatic situations, text and characters, and then the style of the music with the composer coming a poor third. So Vivaldi gave his audience what they wanted, and used vivid plots to which he wrote toe-tapping music. His operas can seem to have less theatrical depth than say, one of Handel's large scale serious operas like Tamerlano, but Handel was very much sui generis.

Marina de Liso and Vivica Genaux - Vivaldi's L'Oracolo in Messenia at the Barbican - photo Mark Allan/Barbican
Marina de Liso and Vivica Genaux
photo Mark Allan/Barbican
For L'Oracolo in Messenia we got some of Vivaldi's finest operatic music, taken from his operas Atenaide, Motezuma, Farnace, Dorilla in tempe and Semiramide, along with music from Hasse's Siroe, re di persia, and Giacomelli's 1734 setting of the libretto, with the recitatives being based on the Giacomelli opera.

Whilst the result had its own vivid theatrical life, and was certainly worthy of recording, a nagging voice in my head did constantly worry as to why the expense of a high-profile concert tour was being undertaken for something which fundamentally a patchwork re-construction of a Carnival jeu d'esprit, rather than one of the Vivaldi's own operas, most of which are still not well known. And though the audience was good, the Barbican hall wasn't anything like full. The combination of Biondi, Europa Galante, a strong cast led by Vivica Genaux and the music of Vivaldi, all failed to bring in a full house.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Choral singers get App Happy

Naxos has released an app for choral singers. Called LoveChoir, it contains a number of features that may well make it appeal to choral singers. There are four recordings and scores including, for Handel's Messiah, Tallis's Spem in Alium, Vivaldi's Gloria and Faure's Requiem, plus information and samples on 25 further works, with the opportunity to download them in full. 

There are sections on warming up, exercises with recorded accompaniment and advice on technique, plus pronunciation guides with audio examples, guidance on reading music, a 20,000 word e-book on the history of Western choral music, with over 2 hours of musical tracks plus lots more. Different things will appeal to different singers, but the pitch bar and metronome sound useful to everyone. All for just £4.99. Of course, you have to have an iPad! See a preview on YouTube.

UK debut at last - Trio Martinu in Dvorak and Schubert

Trio Martinu
Trio Martinu
Dvorak and Schubert piano trios; Trio Martinu; Queens Gate Terrace
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 18 2015
Star rating: 4.0

UK debut of long-running trio shows great feeling and thoughtful poise

For their UK debut performance at Queens Gate Terrace on 18 February 2015, the Prague-based Trio Martinu chose the substantial pairing of Dvorak's first piano trio, the Trio in B major, Op.21, and Schubert's last, the Piano Trio in E flat major, Op.100. The group's players, Pavel Safarik (violin), Jaroslav Matejka (cello) and Petr Jirikosky (piano), have been playing together since 1993 (the group was founded in 1990) so clearly Britain has been missing out on some very fine chamber music playing and it was good to be able to hear the group finally, and especially in such an intimate setting. (Before the concert I met up with the players to chat, and you can read my interview with on this blog).

Dvorak's Trio in B major, Op.21 is his first surviving piano trio (and he would go on to write three more), and was written in 1875, the year after his Symphony No. 4. It is a substantial four-movement work. The opening movement started with a calmly beautiful introduction, before launching into the Allegro molto proper. This was lively indeed, with the players full of energy and extremely responsive to each other. There was always a sense of the different combinations of instruments collaborating naturally.

Feeling the music - an encounter with the Trio Martinu

Trio Martinu
Trio Martinu
The Prague-based piano trio, Trio Martinu, was formed in 1990 and despite having toured extensively, the group had not performed in the UK until now. I met up the with the three players prior to their UK debut performance at Queen's Gate Terrace. The group was formed at Prague Conservatory in 1990 and has been in its current line-up since 1993, with Matějka on cello, Pavel Šafařík on violin and Jiříkovský on piano. The three players all have strong careers independent of the trio, with Pavel and Jaroslav both playing in the Prague Symphony Orchestra and Petr having careers as solo pianist and conductor. As a trio they have won numerous awards including first prize in the international chamber music competition in Heerlen, the Netherlands, in 1995.

Trio Martinu in performance
Trio Martinu in performance
With the three players having performed together in the trio since 1993 I was curious about the secret of their longevity. Pavel commented that it helped that they were also good friends, going for a drink after rehearsals and talking about many topics beyond music They also think alike about making music. Whilst the group is democratic, they are three different people with different opinions, but they feel similarly about music. Partly they think this arises because of working together for such a long time, and the amount of music that they have played together.

I experience this later in the evening, when I hear them playing; they all feel the music together and often words in rehearsal are not needed. Also, in rehearsals usually things flow easily which means if there are differences, it makes compromise easy. This much is apparent even in conversation where, allowing for the difference in language, they are clearly men of few words and of shared thoughts.  In some ways it was like interviewing a single composite, without much of the lively interchange and banter you can get with other groups, but then again this might have been the language differences.

Petr thought that having other musical interests was important too, to know more than one subject and that it helped to know that there was more than one way of doing things. But whilst they are close and whilst having outside work is valuable experience, to simply live and work as a piano trio would not be possible as there just isn't the work. Only with a string quartet is it really possible to have such a dedicated career in chamber music.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Room to Play - new classical showcase at Wilton's

The Borletti-Buitoni Trust, which does a lot to support young musicians, is presenting a series of concerts at Wilton's Music Hall entitled Room to Play. On the last Wednesday of each month the concerts showcase young musicians who have recently won Borletti-Buitoni Trust awards and fellowships. Wilton's is working towards the completion of the second phase of its Capital Project to repair the building and the events are some of the first to appear in what will be the cocktail bar and performance space. Performances start at 8pm, and last an hour.

Pianist and composer Kate Whitley launches the series on 25 February 2015, performing a contemporary programme which includes her own work, plus guest artists including guitarist Sean Shibe. Sibe will have his own evening on 25 March, with Dutch recorder player Erik Bosgraaf in April, Dutch bassoonist Bram van Sambeek in May and the horn-player Alec Frank Gemmill in June.

Further information from the Wilton's web site.

gone into night are all the eyes - Trio Appassionata

Trio Appassionata - Odradek Records
Kotcheff, Moe, Kirchner, Ives; Trio Appassionata; Odarek Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 11 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Modern piano trios, from Ives through to a new commission in a sequence of well wrought pieces.

Trio Appassionata is a group formed in 2007 at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore with performers from the USA, Spain and Brazil (Lydia Chernicoff, violin, Andrea Casarubios, cello, and Ronaldo Rolim, piano). The group's repertoire generally encompasses the great 18th and 19th century piano trios but on this disc on Odradek records the group explores 20th and 21st century American composers in a programme which takes us from the Piano Trio by Charles Ives (first completed in 1911), through Leon Kirchner's Piano Trio (written in 1954), and Eric Moe's We Happy Few (written in 1990) to the new commission gone into night are all the eyes by Thomas Kotcheff (written in 2013).

The disc starts with Thomas Kotcheff's gone into the night are all the eyes, which is receiving its premiere recording. California-based Kotcheff (born 1988) studied at the Peabody Conservatory with the members of Trio Apassionata. His trio takes its title from the first line of a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, from the collection Poems of the Night, though Kotcheff does not intend the piece to be dark or melancholy and it often explores the treble register of the instruments. Kotcheff is interested in the fleeting and the transient, and the opening movement is marked evanescent. This movement is spare, the musical material made up of short motifs and a great deal of use made of silence  The constructing is concentrated and taut, and though the musical material is tonal the result is something edgy and slightly uncomfortable. The second movement, volatile, is also spare and taut with scurrying figures interrupted by harsh dissonance, mitigated by the delicate textures and high tessitura so the result is something highly fleeting. The final movement, stark, is the longest (as long as the other two put together) and it sees a change in texture with long intense lines. It is a slow, considered movement; still taut and spare, but rather dark too. Throughout the trio I was struck by hints of some of Bartok's night music.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

English Baroque double bill - Blow and Purcell

Purcell Dido and Aeneas, Blow Venus and Adonis; Opera Lyrica, dir: Cuffolo, cond: Cole; St Paul's Church, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 18 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Fine solo contributions lift this double bill of 17th century English operas

Opera Lyrica, artistic director Paola Cuffolo, is a small opera company which aims to give opportunities to young professional singers. They give simple, direct productions of operas with accompaniment from instrumental ensemble and their main London productions are usually at the Twentieth Century Theatre in Notting Hill but for the group's double bill of English baroque operas which is currently being toured, we caught them at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden last night (18 February 2015).

The two early English one act operas, Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Blow's Venus and Adonis are linked in many ways so it makes an obvious choice to pair them. Opera Lyrica performed both works in a staging by Paola Cuffolo, with Belinda Evans as Venus, Chris Webb as Adonis and James Hall as Cupid in Blow's opera, and Esther Brazil as Dido, Christopher Diffey-Wilson as Aeneas, Anna Goodhew as Belinda, Jack Lawrence-Jones as the Sorceress and Guy Withers as the Sailor. William Cole directed a small string ensemble from the harpsichord.

John Blow (1649 - 1709) was succeeded as organist of Westminster Abbey by Henry Purcell (1659 - 1695) and Blow had been Master of the Children at the Chapel Royal when Purcell was there as a boy, so the two composers had a number of links. Their two operas have a remarkable number of similarities, both written within 10 years of each other (Venus and Adonis in 1683 and Dido and Aeneas in 1688), their mythology based plots and the fact that they both set English through composed without any of the spoken dialogue usual in music theatre works.