Thursday, 17 August 2017

Jazz influence and stylistic virtuosity: Daryl Runswick's piano music

Daryl Runswick - dot music - prima facie
Daryl Runswick dot music, sonatina, Six Studies on b-o-u-l-e-z, Introduction and Fugue in B minor; Tony Hymas; prima facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 16 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A 70th birthday survey of Runswick's piano writing spanning 30 years

Recorded in 2016, this disc on prima facie provides something of a celebration of composer Daryl Runswick's 70th birthday (he was born in 1946). Pianist Tony Hymas performs four of Runswick's piano works which span almost 30 years of Runswick's music making and showcase the stylistic diversity of his art.

Hymas opens with the disc's title track, dot music, a 2000/2001 piece (revised 2013-2016) named for Runswick's music notation where he writes just the black dots on the stave (no stems, rests and bar-lines) and leaves the performer free to interpret/improvise based on the graphic distance between the notes (an interesting compromise between classic notation and a fully graphic score). In three movements, the first is a free flowing prelude marked Scherzando, the second spare yet lyrical with a sense of individual notes being placed, whilst the finale alternates spiky fast and rhythmic material with sparer sections.

LPO Junior Artists expands

LPO Junior Artists
LPO Junior Artists with conductor Rebecca Miller
The London Philharmonic Orchestra's scheme to reach young players in communities under represented in professional UK orchestras, the LPO Junior Artists scheme, has just completed a highly successful pilot year. And the good news is that, thanks to the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, the scheme is not only continuing but expanding to include a new strand for younger students. The foundation has allocated £30,000 over three years, to help the orchestra continue and expand its vital work promoting diversity and inclusion among UK professional orchestral musicians and within their administrations.

For the pilot phase of the programme, the 2016/17 Junior Artists were offered four individual lessons with their LPO mentors, a mock audition with feedback from LPO musicians and rehearsal and concert visits. Alongside this, the they took part in Insight sessions on the orchestral profession, conservatoires and solo performance (including a discussion with soprano Angel Blue, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and conductor Rebecca Miller), plus skills development sessions.

This year the orchestra teamed up with music services, junior conservatoires and teachers across London to nominate talented young musicians to audition. Eight Junior Artists have now been recruited for 2017/18, (Sehyogue Aulakh, Uma Baron, Shona Beecham, William Campbell, Elodie Chousmer-Howelles, Rianna Henriques, Nolitha Olusanya and Meera Patel), with full activities running from September to June 2017. This part of the scheme is for musicians aged 15 to 19, and the new LPO Junior Artists: Overture will offer musicians aged 11 to 14 the opportunity to meet the Orchestra, develop their skills and build their understanding of progression routes available to them, including three Overture Weekend Days in Brighton and London.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

From Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to Cambridge Summer Music Festival

Cambridge Summer Music Festival
Ian Maclay recently retired as the managing director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra having joined the orchestra in 1972 and become managing director in 1982, and again in 2001. But Maclay is not putting his feet up, and it has been announced that he will be taking over as artistic director of Cambridge Summer Music Festival, with the 2018 festival being the first under Maclay's charge.

This year's Cambridge Summer Music Festival ran from 12 - 29 July 2017, presenting music in iconic Cambridge venues. This year's festival was the last to be directed by Juliet Abrahamson who was festival director fro 1994 to 2015 and did much to shape the present festival.

What a remarkable score: Oklahoma!

Robert Fairchild (centre) as Will Parker in Oklahoma! with the John Wilson Orchestra. Photograph: Mark Allan/BBC
Robert Fairchild (centre) as Will Parker in Oklahoma! with the John Wilson Orchestra at the BBC Proms.
(Photo Mark Allan/BBC)
Until I caught the BBC television broadcast of Rogers and Hamerstein's Oklahoma! from the BBC Proms on Sunday (13 August 2017, a televising of the original Prom from Friday 11 August) I had never seen Oklahoma! from beginning to end. John Wilson's performance with the John Wilson Orchestra and Nathaniel Hackmann, Scarlett Strallen, Robert Fairchild, Lizzy Connolly, Marcus Brigstocke, Belinda Lang, and David Seadon-Young gave us every note of the original 1943 Broadway performance.

It made me realise what a remarkable score it is. Whilst later Rogers and Hamerstein musicals dealt with awkward issues such as domestic violence, and racism, Oklahoma! is more about the every day lives of country folk, and part of the musical's revolutionary nature was the way the two developed Oklahoma! as a play with music where the music arises out of the drama and helps to push it along. Musicals like Jerome Kern's Showboat took remarkable steps towards creating a grown-up, serious medium, but the way Rogers and Hamerstein eschewed the traditional Broadway musical construction means that Oklahoma! has every right to be considered one of the first really modern musicals. So we get only one reprise in the second act, the title tune only occurs in the penultimate number and the long first act concludes with a 15 minute dream ballet. The show opens not with a big opening number, but with Curly (Nathaniel Hackmann) singing off stage

But what makes the show stand out is not this, it is the fact that you can hum virtually every one of the songs. I might never have seen the show all the way through, but most of the major numbers are embedded in our collective consciousness. However it takes serious musicological productions like this to make us re-assess works, forgetting the corney excerpts that stick in the mind.

Mind you, 1943 was clearly an interesting year when it came to the Broadway musical. Granted, the year saw the premiere of the revue Bright Lights of 1944 and of Cole Porter's Something for the Boys (Ethel Merman's fifth Cole Porter musical), but there was also What's Up? (Lerner and Loewe's first collaboration, choreographed and directed by George Balanchine), Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus and Oscar Hamerstein's Carmen Jones (with an all black cast, none of whom had been on the Broadway stage before).

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Crossing the century: Leonard Elschenbroich in Dutilleux, Messiaen, Debussy, Ravel and Saint-Saens

Siecle - Leonard Elschenbroiich - Onyx
Dutilleux, Messiaen, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saens; Leonard Elschenbroich, Alexei Grynyuk, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, John Wilson, Stefan Blunier
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 15 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The young German cellist traces a fascinating line across the century between Dutilleux and Saint-Saens' concertos

On previous discs, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich has shown interest in exploring thematic and cultural links between works, a disc last year on Onyx explored Kabalevsky and Prokofiev's reactions to life under Soviet rule (see my review). That disc mixed chamber pieces and concertos, and on this new disc from Elschenbroich on Onyx Classics there is a similar mix. He starts with Henri Dutilleux's 1967-70 Cello Concerto 'Tout un monde lointain...' with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and John Wilson, and ends with Camille Saint-Saens' 1872 Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor op.33 with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Stefan Blunier. Between these Elschenbroich is joined by pianist Alexei Grynyuk to trace the century of French cello music, drawing a line from Dutilleux to Saint-Saens which includes the 'Louange a L'Eternite de Jesus' from Olivier Messiaen's 1940 Quatuor pour la fin du temps, Claude Debussy's 1915 Sonata in D minor for cello & piano, and Maurice Ravel's 1907 Piece en forme d'habanera.

It makes for fascinating and engrossing listening, especially as we start with the Dutilleux and move backwards to end with the Saint-Saens. Excellent programming in that the mystical translucence of Dutilleux gradually gives way to the showy brilliance of Saint-Saens, but it means that we hear the links between the works in a new way.

Support pianist Kimiko Ishizaka's recording of her own completeion of Bach's The Art of Fugue

Kimiko Ishizaka
Kimiko Ishizaka
In March 2016, I heard the pianist Kimiko Ishizaka perform Bach's The Art of Fugue, including the premiere of her own completion, in Cologne (see my review), and she repeated the performance at St John's Smith Square, London in September that year (see my article). I also interviewed Kimiko that year when we talked about her Bach playing (see my interview). Now she is recording Bach's The Art of Fugue with her own completion.

There is a Kickstarter project, to help support the recording project which aims to not only enable the production of a recording (which will be available as a down-load with a very limited edition CD), but to support Kimiko's performances of the work in the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg and Carnegie Hall, New York, and produce and an Open Score edition of the music.

Rewards range from a copy of the recording download and a PDF of Kimiko's score, to tickets for concerts in Hamburg, New York, and at the Huygens Festival in the Netherlands.

Full details from the page.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Remarkable double portrait: Echo and Espoir from Michael Spyres and Joyce El-Khoury

Michael Spyres - Espoir - Opera Rara
Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi, Halevy, Auber, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Herold, Weber/Berlioz; Joyce El-Khoury, Michael Spyres, The Hallé, Carlo Rizzi; Opera Rara
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 12 2017
Star rating: 5.0

French and Italian repertoire intertwine in two fascinating discs exploring the music sung by two major French singers

This pair of discs from Opera Rara are available separately, but the repertoire is very much linked and the two form a pair exploring the music associated with two major French singers of the early to mid-19th century, Gilbert-Louis Duprez and Julie Dorus-Gras. Both discs feature Carlo Rizzi and the Hallé. Espoir features tenor Michael Spyres in arias from operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Halévy, Verdi Auber, and Berlioz, whilst Echo features soprano Joyce El-Khoury in arias from operas by Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Weber/Berlioz, Rossini, Hérold, and Berlioz, with each disc featuring the two singers in duet .

Joyce El-Khoury - Echo - Opera Rara
Gilbert-Louis Duprez (1806-1896) is best known for his uses of powerful chest-voice top C's in Rossini's Guillaume Tell (something Rossini deplored) rather than the voix mixte which had been used previously. But his repertoire was far wider than that, and these discs allow us to get to know Duprez alongside his colleague at the Paris Opéra, Julie Dorus-Gras (1805-1896). Their appearances together included Rossini's Guillaume Tell, Halévy's Guido et Ginévra and Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini. In a sense we already know their voices, as Spyres and El-Khoury incarnated Duprez and Dorus-Gras when they recorded Donizetti's Les Martyrs for Opera Rara (see my review), an opera which Duprez and Dorus-Gras premiered.

These discs provide valuable background to Opera Rara's explorations of Donizetti's French repertoire, giving us the opportunity to hear recordings of arias from operas current at the time, sung by his favoured singers.

In fact, Duprez had an Italian sojourn, one during which his voice seems to have darkened and grown heavier. He started out singing Rodrigo from Rossini's Otello, but the later roles which Donizetti wrote for him including Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor and the roles in Les Martyrs and La Favourite show how it changed, and when Duprez returned to Paris he was singing the title role in Otello. Dorus-Gras seems to have had a highly flexible technique, she was known for singing both the soprano roles in Meyerbeer's Robert le diable, and she was highly commended by Berlioz. She and Duprez sang in the premiere of Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini but this did not go entirely well and Duprez only sang in three performances. More intriguingly, when Dorus-Gras sang the title role in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in London, the conductor was Berlioz!

New opera: Philadelphia/Hackney co-production based on Peter Ackroyd's novel

Peter Ackroyd's novel The Trial of Elizabeth Cree: A novel of the Limehouse murders has been turned into an opera by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell. The new opera is being premiered in September 2017 by Opera Philadelphia and is a co-commission with the Hackney Empire, and the production is being co-produced by Opera Philadelphia, the Hackney Empire and Chicago Opera Theater. The production is directed by David Schweizer and in Philadelphia features Daniela Mack as Elizabeth Cree, conducted by Corrado Rovaris.

Puts's and Campbell’s new opera is set in London in the 1880s, and interweaves multiple narratives, including the trial of the titular heroine for the poisoning of her husband, and a series of brutal murders committed by a Jack the Ripper-style killer, while depicting London scenes that range from the British Library Reading Room to the high-spirited, working-class music hall. Elizabeth Cree is a mystery that fuses history with imaginative fiction.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Alexandra Dariescu's The Nutcracker and I

For her concerto debut disc, pianist Alexandra Dariescu chose to pair Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 with her own transcriptions for piano of movements from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker (see my review). Now Dariescu is deepening her relationship with the ballet and premiering a new show The Nutcracker and I, which is far more than just a piano recital, at the Guildhall School's Milton Court concert hall on 19 December 2017.

Alexandra Dariescu
Alexandra Dariescu
The Nutcracker and I is a multi-media performance piece for piano soloist, ballerina and digital animation. Directed by Nick Hillel, the evening will feature Alexandra Dariescu and ballet dancer Désirée Ballantyne, with choreography by Jenna Lee. Ballantyne will be dancing behind a gauze screen on which animations by Yeast Culture. Dariescu will be playing fifteen movements from the ballet, in arrangements by Mikhail Pletnev, Stepan Esipoff, Percy Grainger and three brand new variations by Gavin Sutherland.

The premiere of The Nutcracker and I, by Alexandra Dariescu is part of the Guildhall School’s Alumni Recital Series. Alexandra Dariescu is currently on the Guildhall School’s Creative Entrepreneurs programme, run in partnership with social enterprise Cause4. It is an intensive 12-month programme, which helps entrepreneurs develop ideas offering training in vision development, business planning and marketing, sales and funding and individual support. The aim of the scheme is to enable entrepreneurs to develop sustainable business and to secure vital seed funding.

Following the premiere, there will be 16 performances in Moscow’s International Performing Arts Centre as well as Stavanger International Chamber Music Festival in Norway and multiple tours to China.

Further details about The Nutcracker and I from the Guildhall School's website.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Premiere of Brian Elias' new cello concerto at the BBC Proms

Leonard Elschenbroich
Leonard Elschenbroich
Brian Elias Cello Concerto; Leonard Elschenbroich, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ryan Wigglesworth; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on Aug 9 2017
Star rating: 3.0

A complex and rewarding work: premiere of Elias' new cello concerto

Despite torrential rain making for slippery pavements, and a replacement cello soloist having to be found as the much anticipated Natalie Clein was indisposed, a pretty well full house audience duly assembled in the Royal Albert Hall on the night (9 August 2017) to welcome in Brian Elias' new cello concerto, performed by cellist Leonard Elschenbroich, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Ryan Wigglesworth at the BBC Proms.

Following Britten's Ballad of Heroes, in came the robust new cello soloist Leonard Elschenbroich, who has been described as 'one of the most charismatic cellists of his generation', projecting the new work with enormous enthusiasm and verve, duly delivering the four movements 'with no break'.

Full of colour and contrasts, well orchestrated, this interesting work was well received by the enthusiastic audience but I couldn't help but feel needed greater definition so that the listener could better distinguish one movement from the next amidst so much overlapping of material.

Singing Wagner - a conversation between Claire Rutter and Dame Anne Evans

Bryan Register, Claire Rutter in Wagner's Die Walküre at Grange Park Opera (photo Robert Workman)
Bryan Register (Siegmund), Claire Rutter (Sieglinde) in Wagner's Die Walküre
at Grange Park Opera (photo Robert Workman)
Having had long experience in the Italian repertoire from Elvira (I puritani) and Violetta (La Traviata) to the title roles in Norma, Aida and Tosca, soprano Claire Rutter recently sang the role of Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walküre at Grange Park Opera (see my review), not only the first time she has sung the role in a staged production but her first major role in the German repertoire.  Claire was coached in the role of Sieglinde by Dame Anne Evans, a renowned Wagnerian soprano famous for her more lyrical approach to the roles. I recently joined Claire and Dame Anne to talk about what it takes to be a Wagner singer.

Anne Evans as Brunnhilde in Wagner's Die Walküre at WNO in 1984 (Photo Clive Barda)
Anne Evans as Brunnhilde in Wagner's Die Walküre
at WNO in 1984 (Photo Clive Barda)
Dame Anne feels that many people have the wrong idea about singing Wagner, and think that singers simply fall out of their cradle singing that way. But she insists that it is something that has to be learned, along with the stamina to be able to sing in five-hour operas. She feels that she was lucky, and was able to approach Wagner in a very traditional way by singing small roles first and she has in fact sung 11 different roles in The Ring. This started whilst she was a student in Geneva; she spent two years at the conservatoire opera school which was attached to Geneva Opera where she sang Rhinemaidens and Norns. This continued at the London Coliseum with English National Opera where she sang a Valkyrie and a Norn. Reginald Goodall heard her singing the 'Ho jo to ho' in The Valkyrie and said 'you will sing Brünnhilde one day', and she thought this was a ridiculous idea.

The experience of being part of a company is something which both Dame Anne and Claire had, as Claire was one of the last contract singers at Scottish Opera. But nowadays this type of experience has largely disappeared in the UK, though many German opera companies provide young singers with the experience of being in a company and trying out a large variety of roles, including singing smaller Wagnerian ones.

This sort of experience is important because it is necessary for a singer to get into the correct style of singing Wagner. Here also, Dame Anne takes quite a strong position. She was famous for singing Brünnhilde in a more lyrical fashion, and she points out that Wagner was 'mad about Bellini's Norma' and that this should influence the style of singing his music, and that it needs a lot of portamento. She is very dismissive of what she calls the 'awful Bayreuth bark' and adds that Goodall always said not too much metal in the voice, he wanted a round sound.

Claire came to Wagner far later, have sung a great many other mainly Italian roles, but she feels that she is able to put this experience into the mix. And she also noticed that her Italian roles improved after she started singing Sieglinde.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Miracles and Footsteps: Tenebrae in Joby Talbot and Owain Park

Joby Talbot - Path of Miracles - Tenebrae - Signum Classics
Park Footsteps, Talbot Path of Miracles; Tenebrae, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, Nigel Short; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 2 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Joby Talbot's remarkable 2005 work meditating on pilgrimage with a new companion by young British composer Owain Park

Joby Talbot's Path of Miracles was written for Tenebrae and was due to be premiered on 7 July 2005. The London bombings that day prevented the work's premiere (it was subsequently premiered later that year) but the recording went ahead. For Tenebrae's 15th anniversary Nigel Short have revived Path of Miracles on an extended tour. The work's original 2005 recording is now issued on Signum Classics with a specially commissioned companion work, Footsteps by Owain Park.

Path of Miracles is a remarkable, large-scale work. In four movements, it lasts over an hour and throughout the piece Talbot's control of the emotional texture is superb as he creates an extended meditation on pilgrimage and what it is to be a pilgrim. The work is centred on the pilgrimage to Santiago and the four movements are named after the main stations on the Camino Frances (the French route), Roncevalles, Burgos, Leon, Santiago.

But the text is far more than simply descriptive. The work's librettist, Robert Dickinson, has assembled a striking patchwork of texts in a variety of languages, ranging from medieval texts such as the Codex Calixtinus and a 15th century work in the Galician language, Magres de Santiago, passages from the Roman liturgy, and Dickinson's own poetry.

Joshua Bell renews his contract with Academy of St Martin in the Fields for a further three years

Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Joshua Bell and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Violinist Joshua Bell has been the Academy of St Martin in the Field's (ASMF) music director since 2011, only the second person to hold the title (succeeding Sir Neville Marriner). ASMF has recently announced that Bell has extended his contract for a further three years. Bell has a long relationship with the orchestra, first playing with them under Marriner in 1998 when Bell was just 21 and their first collaboration was an album of Bruch and Mendelssohn violin concertos - Joshua Bell’s first concerto disc.  Bell's tour to Australia with ASMF in 2017 (his first visit to the sub-continent) won in two categories at the 2017 Helpmann Awards.

Bell is artist residence at the 2017 Edinburgh International Festival and his performances include a concert with ASMF. Further ahead they will be appearing together at Wigmore Hall and in January 2018, Bell and ASMF give the UK premiere of Edgar Meyer's Overture for Violin and Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, alongside Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Beethoven's Symphony No. 2, a programme which tours to Dublin, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Nottingham and Friedrichshafen in Germany, finishing at Bristol's Colston Hall when it will be recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

Full details and further concert dates from ASMF website.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Quickening approaches

The new disc of my songs, Quickening: songs to texts by English and Welsh poets will be out on the PARMA Recordings' Navona Records label on 8 September (with performances from Anna Huntley, Rosalind Ventris, Johnny Herford, Will Vann). Read more about the disc, with full texts and programme notes, along with a tempting sample, on the on-line programme notes pages

Revolutions: Voices of Change - NYCGB's first ever concert livestream

National Youth Choir of Great Britain
National Youth Choir of Great Britain
Conductor Stephen Layton conducts the National Youth Choir of Great Britain for the first time on 25 August 2017 at a concert in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. For those of us not able to get to the concert, the choir is making it available to watch as a multi-camera, high quality audio livestream via their Facebook page, powered by Musicgurus. The first time the ensemble has done such a project.

It is quite a programme, entitled Revolutions: Voices of Change, the music ranges from Poulenc and Messiaen, through Martin's Mass for Double Choir to music by Vytautas Miškinis, Uģis Praulins and Pawel Łukaszewski, as well as the premiere of Ēriks Ešenvalds' Salutation.

Full details of Revolutions: Voices of Change from the NYCGB website.

Holding our attention: Roberta Mameli in Stradella's Santa Pelagia

Stradella - Santa Pelagia
Stradella Santa Pelagia; Ensemble Mare Nostrum, Andrea De Carlo; Arcana
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 25 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Stradella's oratorio in a delightful new recording

Alessandro Stradella's Santa Pelagia is a little bit of a mystery. The sole surviving manuscript of the oratorio does not quite give up all the work's secrets and this new recording on Outhere Music's Arcana label is a radically new version. Andrea De Carlo directs Ensemble Mare Nostrum with Roberta Mameli as Santa Pelagia, Raffaele Pe as Religione, Luca Cervoni as Nonno and Sergio Foresti as Mondo.

The manuscript of the work lacks a definitive composer, but other contributing factors confirm authorship, we just don't know where or when (or why) it was written. The libretto is in all probability by a Roman prince, Lelio Orsini who had written libretti for other Stradella oratorios for private performance at his palazzo. On stylistic grounds, the work's instrumental prelude and two violin parts are probably not by Stradella. So this performance removes them, giving us a performance that though stripped down, relishes the richness of an accompaniment provided by nine continuo instruments.

The story largely ignores the dramatics of Saint Pelagia the Penitent's life and instead forms a moral fable Santa Pelagia (Roberta Mameli) choosing between worldly pleasures (as personified by Mondo, Sergio Foresti) and religion (as personified by Religione, Raffaele Pe). The final character is Bishop Nonnus (Nonno, Luca Cervoni) whose sermon caused Saint Pelagia to convert, be baptised and enter a hermitage.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Filling a need: I chat to artistic director, Marcus Farnsworth, about the Southwell Music Festival

Southwell Music Festival (Photo Nick Rutter)
Southwell Music Festival (Photo Nick Rutter)
This year is the fourth Southwell Music Festival, the festival founded by baritone Marcus Farnsworth which takes place in and around Southwell Cathedral (also known as Southwell Minster) in Nottinghamshire. This year's festival takes place from 24 to 28 August 2017, and showcases a wide variety of repertoire with the centrepiece concert being in the minster nave on Saturday 26 August which is a celebration of Mozart, with pianist James Baillieu the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K467 and Mozart's Mass in C minor K427 with soloists Sophie Bevan and Rachel Kelly. Marcus Farnsworth conducts the Festival Voices and Festival Sinfonia, the latter being led by the festival's associate artistic director Jamie Campbell.

The Festival Voices and Festival Sinfonia are both professional ensembles with performers fixed from all over Europe. Marcus Farnsworth explained that many players have been coming to the festival since it was founded in 2014, with a healthy mix of those returning and new faces. The Festival Sinfonia is far more than a scratch band, and Marcus feels that because the players get to perform a lot of chamber music during the festival, the orchestra generates a fine sense of ensemble.

Last year the strings of the orchestra's performance of Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen was such a success that this year the festival is presenting a Strings in the Quire concert. This reflects the way the festival tries to tailor programmes to the different venue available. Marcus sees the different parts of the minster as having different acoustics, so the Norman nave is good for big choral pieces as the acoustic is not too resonantly booming, whilst the more resonant Early English Quire is good for strings.

Fragments of Porgy

The Basement Orchestra
The Basement Orchestra
Gerswhin Porgy and Bess (Excerpts); Talia Cohen, Masimba Ushe, Basement Orchestra, Guy Jones; Grimeborn Festival at Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Aug 5 2017
Star rating: 3.0

Fascinating and brilliantly performed: the rise of reform opera

“If I am successful it will resemble a combination of the drama and romance of Carmen and the beauty of Meistersinger

Pity though it is not to hear the majesty of Gershwin’s unifying symphonic vision of Porgy and Bess, it’s easy to understand the universal appeal of the beautiful melodies in the musical theatre arrangement performed on Saturday 5 August 2017, by the Basement Orchestra as part of Arcola Theatre’s Grimeborn season. “I am not ashamed of writing songs at any time so long as they are good songs”. There’s an understatement.

On Saturday evening in a small sweaty studio, under the musical direction of Guy Jones with a forty five piece orchestra, we were given a forty five minute whistle stop tour of some of the most recognisable hits of the twentieth century with the voices of Talia Cohen and Masimba Ushe.

Talia Cohen all laid back charm, and the sonorous and charismatic bass-baritone of Masimba Ushe were at their best in ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ and ‘Bess you is my woman now’. But put under pressure by the size and over exuberance of the orchestra, in such a small venue, they were often swamped. Still, wrapped in such glorious music it was one of the most fleeting forty five minutes of my life.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A certain sense of order

Rosie Middleton and Rebecca Cuddy in A Certain Sense of Order scratch showing at The Cockpit, 7 March 2017. Photo by Claire Shovelton
Rosie Middleton, Rebecca Cuddy in A Certain Sense of Order
scratch showing at The Cockpit, 7 March 2017.
Photo by Claire Shovelton
I first caught A Certain Sense of Order at a try-out at Second Movement's Rough for Opera in March this year (see my article). The opera is now receiving its formal premiere as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival’s 10th Anniversary on 10 and 11 August 2017 at RADA Studios Club Theatre, 16 Chenies Street, London, WC1E 7EX in a production by Tick tock. It is a collaborative piece, created by Catherine Kontz, Naomi Woo & Sasha Amaya with music by Catherine Kontz.

Judging by the 20 minute extract that I saw in March, it is an intriguing abstract piece, based around an Anne Sexton poem and the performance features singers Rebecca Cuddy & Rosie Middleton.

Full details from the Tête à Tête website.

Parfums - Christiane Karg in settings of symbolist & impressionist poets

Christiane Karg - Parfums
Ravel, Debussy/Adams, Britten, Koechlin, Duparc; Christiane Karg, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, David Afkham; Berlin Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 22 2017
Star rating: 5.0

Settings of French poetry in luxuriant yet classical accounts from Christiane Kaarg

The songs on this disc, Parfums, from Berlin Classics are all settings of French 19th century poems influenced by Impressionism and Symbolism, Tristan Klingsor, Beaudelaire, Victor Hugo, Verlaine and Leconte de Lisle, sung by soprano Christiane Karg accompanied by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, conductor David Afkham.

The disc starts conventionally enough with Ravel's Shéhérezade and finishes with Duparc's L'invitation au voyage, La vie anterieure and Phidyle. But in between the items are rather intriguing, with John Adams' orchestration of Debussy, Le livre de Beaudelaire, Britten's Quatre Chansons Francaises written when he was just 14, and one of Charles Koechlin's Trois Melodies, 'Epiphanie'.

The first song of Shéhérezade, 'Asie' introduces us to the many virtues which Christiane Karg brings to the disc. She sings with a seductive sense of line, but is not over indulgent. There is clarity and flexibility to her phrasing, and an underlying classicism. Overall there is an immense sympathy for the language, there are real sung poems. And not just luxuriance, there are plenty of impulsive moments and drama. La Flûte enchantée has a languid sense of recitative to the language, with a shapely langour to the phrasing. The lovely solo flute is just one example of the fine clarity and suppleness the orchestra brings to the accompaniment. The final Ravel is languidly seductive, yet with a clear eyed clarity.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

New David Matthews to staged Shostakovich 14: ESO new season

The English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods
The English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods
The English Symphony Orchestra, artistic director Kenneth Woods, has an impressive 2017/18 season which includes the premieres of David Matthews' Symphony No. 9, a new work by Jesse Jones (a joint commission with St John's Smith Square), and Philip Sawyers' Violin Concerto, (with soloist Alexander Sitkovetsky), Trumpet Concerto (with soloist Simon Desbruslais) and Valley of Vision, as well as Kenneth Woods' new orchestral version of Brahms' Piano Quartet in A major, Op.26. And the orchestra has also recorded new orchestral works by David Fraser for Avie Records. 

Other works in the season include Walter Piston's Sinfonietta, Saariaho's Terra Memoria, and a staged version of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14 with soloists baritone Matthew Sharpe (ESO Artist in Residence) and soprano April Fredrick (ESO Affiliate Artist) which features the work of photographer Alexey Titarenko and videographer Helga Landauer.  The orchestra will be joined by dancers from Academy Arts Theatre for a staging of Copland's complete ballet Appalachian Spring which is paired with Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale with actors from Worcester Repertory Theatre.

Based in the West Country, the orchestra's season includes concerts in Cheltenham Town Hall, Malvern Priory, Malvern Theatres, Hereford Shirehall and Huntingdon Hall as well as touring to London and Bristol.

Full details from the ESO website.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

The Gluepot Connections

Andrew Griffiths and Londinium (Photo Sheila Burnett)
Andrew Griffiths and Londinium (Photo Sheila Burnett)
It was Sir Henry Wood who christened The George Pub (on the corner of Great Portland Street and Mortimer Street, in central London) 'The Gluepot' because his musicians so often got stuck there, and the name stuck. Adjacent to The Queens Hall and not far from the BBC, it formed a meeting point for musicians and artists during much of the 20th century. Elizabeth Lutyens once wrote that if a bomb had been dropped on The George, it would have wiped out much of the British musical profession. 

Elizabeth Lutyens
Elizabeth Lutyens
The list of habituées is quite remarkably varied (from Lutyens and Humphrey Searle to William Walton, John Ireland and Arnold Bax). Not necessarily all at the same time, of course, but there are intriguing linkages such as William Walton funding Elizabeth Lutyens' first commission, or Isabel Nicholas being married first to Constant Lambert and then to Alan Rawsthorne, both Gluepot habituées. (Nicholas also had affairs with Jacob Epstein, Alberto Giacometti and, supposedly, Francis Bacon).

It is this connection which links the composers on the choir Londinium's first disc, The Gluepot Connection, an exploration of the unaccompanied choral music of this fascinating group of composers. The choir, artistic director Andrew Griffiths, recently had their recording sessions in All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak (with recording engineer Adrian Peacock) and I went along to listen, and to chat to Andrew Griffiths.

Friday, 4 August 2017

A very tasty amuse bouche: Chabrier’s Une Education Manquée

Susanna Fairbairn, Christine Buras - Chabrier: Une Education Manquée - Pop-up Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Susanna Fairbairn, Christine Buras - Chabrier: Une Education Manquée
Pop-up Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Chabrier Une Education Manquée, Pop-Up Opera, William Cole, Isabelle Kettle; Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Aug 2 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Pop-up Opera's irreverent production pops up at Grimeborn

Grimeborn, the East London’s festival of opera at the Arcola Theatre, was hosting Pop-up Opera in a revival of it’s sold out production of the lively Une Education Manquée on Wednesday 2 August 2017. Christine Buras and Susanna Fairbairn played Helene and Gontran, the young bride and groom, with Oskar McCarthy the inebriate pedagogue Pausanias under the musical direction of William Cole, in a production directed by Isabelle Kettle.

Chabrier’s rarely performed operette  is little more than a whimsy – a 45 minute romp on the theme "boy + girl = ?". It tells the tale of newly wed teenagers struggling with the expectations of their wedding night. A thunderstorm, a nightgown en desordre seasoned by teenage hormones and viola – "try this at home".

Apart from it’s gentle wit, part of the charm of this bagatelle is the cheery score; a shame that William Cole’s vivacious playing just can’t provide the same ebullience as an orchestra. The occasional disfigurement of French aside Susanna Fairburn and Christine Buras were whimsical and charming as the lovers with Oskar McCarthy doing a nice comic turn in the buffo duet cataloguing his achievements in teaching. With this irrepressibly perky cast, Pop-up’s irreverent style and "horticultural references that may or may not be euphemistic" the evenings jollification tripped along nicely making for a very tasty amuse bouche.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

From the engaging to the intense: Schütz and Bach at the Proms

Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Heinrich Schütz, JS Bach; Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 02 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Schütz motets and Bach cantatas in a programme celebrating the Reformation

The late night prom on Wednesday 2 August 2017 marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with music by two composers associated with the Lutheran church in North German, Heinrich Schütz and Johann Sebastian Bach.

John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists performed Schütz's Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, SWV 41, Nicht uns, Herr, sondern deinem Namen, SWV 43 and Danket dem Herren, denn er is freundlich, SWV 45, and Bach's Cantata No.79 'Gott der Herr is Sonn und Schild' and Cantata No.80 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott' at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Promenade Concerts.

Schütz's music for the Protestant court in Dresden seems to resist being allocated to particular roles in the Lutheran liturgy, though some of the items in his Psalmen Davids (1619) seem to have been used in the celebrations of the Reformation Centenary in 1617, a huge event where Schütz's motets were performed by 40 singers and instrumentalists plus 18 trumpeters and two timpanists. The three Schütz pieces in the programme are all linked to this event. For the pieces, Schütz seems to have combined the Venetian poly-choral style (Schütz spent three years in Venice studying with Giovanni Gabrieli) with the Lutheran texts.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Russian soul - Dmitri Hvorostovsky in Sviridov's Russia Cast Adrift

Sviridov - Russia Cast Adrift - Dmitri Hvorostovsky - Delos
Georgy Sviridov Russia Cast Adrift; Dmitri Hvorostovsky, St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra, Style of Five, Constantine Orbelian; Delos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 1 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A powerful orchestral song cycle from a 20th century Russian composer little known in the West

Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky first recorded Georgy Sviridov's song cycle Russia Cast Adrift in 1996, that recording was of the work's original version for voice and piano. Now on this disc from Delos, Hvorostovsky returns to the cycle, this time in an orchestration by Evgeny Stetsyuk. Dmitri Hvorostovsky is joined by the St Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra and the Style of Five Ensemble, conducted by Constantine Orbelian.

Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) is a neo-romantic composer whose work received great acclaim in Russia but which is still relatively unknown in the West. Sviridov's fondness for setting Russian romantic-era poets including Pushkin is perhaps significant in this, and the cycle on this disc continues this vein as it sets poetry by Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) all written during the period 1914-1920, the most dramatic and turbulent period in Russian history. Yesenin's topics include the beauty of the Russian landscape, love for Mother Russia, Christian faith, loneliness and longing, all with an underlying dark tone which Sviridov's music picks up on.

With its lyricism, powerful emotional tone and richly dark emotional depths, this is very much the style Sviridov's music which was admired in Russia, as it expresses feelings for Russia and the Russian soul.

As a young singer Hvorostovsky knew Sviridov and not only performed Russia Cast Adrift, but also had works written for him by Sviridov.  By recording an orchestrated version of Russia Cast Adrift he attempts to realise the composer's unrealised plans for an orchestral version of the cycle.

Stephen McNeff's Tales of Beatrix Potter at the Edinburgh Fringe

Stephen McNeff originally provided incidental music for Adrian Mitchell's stage adaptation of Beatrix Potter's stories for London's Unicorn Theatre. It has been developed since then, and now Tales of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck is being presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 5 to 26 August by Jimmy Jewell and Children's Classic Concerts with soprano Michelle Todd.

Performances are 5 to 26 August at 12pm (no 14 August) at Underbelly Circus Hub (Beauty), The Meadows, Edinburgh, EH9 9EX

Full details from the Underbelly Circus Hub website.

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