Friday, 15 December 2017

Piazzolla's seductive Maria de Buenos Aires from Mr McFall's Chamber

Piazzolla - Maria de Buenos Aires - Mr McFall's Chamber - Delphian
Astor Piazzolla Maria de Buenos Aires; Valentina Montoya Martinez, Nicholas Mulroy, Juanjo Lopez Vidal, Mr McFall's Chamber, Victor Villena; DELPHIAN
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 13 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Disturbing yet sexy, a faithful account of Piazzolla's operita from Buenos Aires by way of Edinburgh

Astor Piazzolla and Horacio Ferrer's operita Maria de Buenos Aires is a fascinating beast, part opera, part musical theatre, part installation and all tango nuevo. For their 20th anniversary in 2016, Mr McFall's Chamber returned to the operita, and this recording on Delphian is the fruit  of those performances.

This is Buenos Aires by way of Edinburgh, but the ensemble is directed from the bandoneon by Victor Villena, with Valentina Montoya Martinez as Maria and the tenor solos sung by Nicholas Mulroy. The important spoken role of The Duende is taken by Juanjo Lopez Vidal.

The performance uses Piazzolla's original line-up of 11 players, (Cyril Garac & Robert McFall violins, Brian Schiele viola, Su-a Lee cello, Rick Standley double bass, Alison Mitchell flute/piccolo, Malcolm MacFarlane guitar, Phil Alexander percussion, Ian Sandilands & Stuaart Semple percussion, Victor Villena bandoneon/music director) and the whole instrumental combination has a wonderful authentic feel, Piazzolla's seductive textures and timbres along with some rattling good tunes. Perhaps occasionally there is a lack of danger, but such faithfulness to both text and spirit is good to have. Victor Villena makes the bandoneon a real character in piece, thrilling at times. And good to have a bandoneon, the last time I heard the piece live it was with reduced scoring and an accordion.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Christmas roundup: Messiah and the Christmas Oratorio

Part of "Worthy is the Lamb", the final chorus of Messiah by Handel, from the composer's autograph score
Part of "Worthy is the Lamb", the final chorus of Messiah by Handel, from the composer's autograph score
Christmas, of course, is the season of Messiah (except that Handel wrote the work as a Lenten oratorio and the piece deals with Christ's birth, ministry and passion). As usual there is a wide selection of Messiah performances on offer in London. No-one this year seems to be doing a particular version of the piece, all are offering the standard edition based on the Messiah performances late in Handel's life.

But there are performances by candlelight (St Martin the Fields & Royal Festival Hall), performances on period instruments (Kings Place, St James's Piccadilly, Barbican, St John's Smith Square), a performance with massed choirs (Royal Albert Hall), and of course a wide range of soloists on offer with a nice array of young singers.

And interestingly, this year there is a rash of performances of Bach's Chrismas Oratorio, with performances ranging from the Dunedin Consort at the Wigmore Hall (small scale, period instrument) to the London Philharmonic at the Royal Festival Hall (large scale, modern instrument). If you want to hear the work complete with all six cantatas then it is the LPO for you, all other performances offer a selection.

Full listings after the break:

Seasonal celebrations from Southwell Music Festival

Southwell Festival Voices and Marcus Farnsworth (Photo Nick Rutter)
Southwell Festival Voices and Marcus Farnsworth (Photo Nick Rutter)
Whilst the main 2017 Southwell Music Festival was in August, it is making a seasonal appearance at Southwell Minster on 22 December 2017. The festival's professional choir, Southwell Festival Voices will be conducted by the festival's artistic director Marcus Farnsworth in a progamme of seasonal music from mediaeval to modern, Hildegard von Bingen to Irving Berlin, with traditional carols alongside contemporary classics. They will be joined by the actor David Oakes, currently best known for his portrayal of Prince Ernest in ITV’s hit drama, Victoria. Oakes will be reading a selection of poetry and prose including works by John Betjeman and Charles Dickens.

Full information from the Southwell Festival website.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Bach the Universe and Everything: Antimatter Matters



The next in Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) and The Institute of Physics intriguing series at Kings Place, Bach the Universe and Everything, takes place on Sunday 17 December 2017. The series situates Bach’s cantatas in the context of today’s research and for Antimatter Matters, the OAE will be performing one of Bach’s festive Cantatas, Darzu ist erschienen, with soloists Helen Charlston, James Way and Edward Grint, directed from the harpsichord by Steven Devine.

Bach composed the cantata in 1723, his first year in Leipzig, for the Second Day of Christmas. The theme of the work is Jesus as the conqueror of the works of the devil, and this will be contrasted with a talk from CERN Physicist Professor Tara Shears. A world expert in antimatter, she’ll explain how these elusive particles involve symmetries that are almost but not quite perfect, and what they have to do with Bach’s music.

Full details from the Kings Place website.

Royal Welcome Songs for King James II

The Sixteen - Purcell - Welcome Songs fro King James II
Henry Purcell Royal Welcome Songs for King James II; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 8 2017 Star rating: 4.5
What might seem like a poor subject elicits some wonderfully imaginative music from Purcell

On this disc from Coro we get a pair of Henry Purcell's Welcome Songs for King James II performed by The Sixteen, conductor Harry Christophers. Occasional pieces which showcase Purcell's imaginative talent, the Sixteen perform them with a selection of other occasional pieces, many written during the same period.

The Sixteen's Purcell series is a welcome extension of the choir's residency at the Wigmore Hall which gave us the opportunity to hear a number of Purcell's odes and welcome songs, part of his output which does not seem to get enough exposure. Part of the problem, of course, is the sheer concept of the Royal Ode or Welcome Song, complete with text in some way complimenting the monarch. Frequently these can be trivial and verge on the risible.

With Purcell's Welcome Songs for King James II, you sense that an element of knowingness might be creeping in. The two in this disc Ye tuneful muses, raise your heads and Sound the trumpet, beat the drum date from 1686 and 1687 respectively, written for James II'return to town from the extended summer, on a date which co-incided with his birthday.

The King's behaviour at the time, as he seemed to veer towards absolutism and impatience with ordinary norms, could hardly have inspired respect and Purcell's attitude to the words is occasionally perfunctory.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Long, long ago

There is music for Advent and Christmas from Londinium and conductor Andrew Griffiths in Long, Long Ago at the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2DQ on Friday 15 December 2017. 

In a typically inventive programme the choir is presenting a mixture of well known and unusual repertoire from the Renaissance to the present day. I have it on good authority that O Magnum Mysterium by the Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi is worth the trip alone, but there is also Jonathan Harvey's The Angels, Herbert Howells' Long, long ago and Heinrich Schütz's Das Wort ward Fleisch alongside well-known pieces by Elizabeth Poston, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Edward Naylor, John Tavener, Peter Warlock, Anton Bruckner and more.

All that, wine and mince pies! Further information from the Londinium website.

Forget character development, sit back and enjoy the fun: Rimsky-Korsakov'sChristmas Eve

Yevgeniya Mravina as Oksana in the premiere of Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve
Yevgeniya Mravina as Oksana
in the premiere of
Rimsky-Korsakov's Christmas Eve
Rimsky-Korsakov Christmas Eve; Natasha Jouhl, Jonathan Stoughton, Anne-Marie Owens, Jeremy White, Keel Watson, cond: Timothy Burke; Chelsea Opera Group at the Cadogan hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 10 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A folk-inspired shaggy dog story, in a performance full of charm and verve

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote over a dozen operas, but they still only rarely crop up in the UK. His opera Christmas Eve, based on a Gogol story, was staged by English National Opera in 1988 but has not been seen much since so Chelsea Opera Group's performance of the opera at the Cadogan Hall on 10 December 2017 was more than welcome.

Conducted by Timothy Burke, there was a strong cast with Anne-Marie Owens as Solokha, Richard Roberts as the Devil, Keel Watson as Panas and Patsyuk, Jeremy White as Chub, Jonathan Stoughton as Vakula, Natasha Jouhl as Oksana, Kevin Hollands as the mayor, Alun Rhys-Jenkins as the sacristan, Sarah Pring as the woman with a violet nose (I kid you not!) and the Tsarina, and Sally Harrison as the woman with an ordinary nose.

Perhaps one reason that many of Rimsky-Korsakov's operas do not quite take in the West is that they resemble shaggy-dog stories, filling the stage full of folk-inspired characters. Christmas Eve is technically about the smith, Vakula (Jonathan Stoughton) and his wooing of the proud Oksana (Natasha Jouhl) who sends him off on a journey to get her a pair of slippers like those worn by the Tsarina. Only this gets almost lost in the welter of subsidiary plots, with Vakula's mother Solokha the witch (Anne-Marie Owens) and her antics with the Devil (Richard Roberts) and her other lovers, Chub (Jeremy White), mayor (Kevin Hollands) and sacristan (Alun Rhys-Jenkins), whilst Chub (who is Oksana's father) also seems to be the town drunkard along with his mate Panas (Keel Watson). And when Vakula does get to the court at St Petersburg (thanks to the co-operation of the devil), Rimsky-Korsakov seems as interested in the journeys there and back, giving us some wonderful orchestral interludes.

If you worried about character development, then there wasn't any; only Oksana changes as she realises she cares for Vakula when he disappears, presumed dead. But if you sat back and relaxed, then it was great fun.

Monday, 11 December 2017

An unsurpassed example of modern unaccompanied vocal writing - Mater ora filium

My choir London Concord Singers, conductor Jessica Norton, is giving its Christmas concert on Thursday 14 December 2017 with a concert celebrating 20th century British music. 

The programme centres on Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor, written in 1921 and imbued with the composer's love of British 17th music, notably the music of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. Though its premiere was given in concert form, the work was intended for R.R. Terry and the choir of Westminster Cathedral, and it was for Westminster Cathedral that Herbert Howells wrote a group of Marian motets early in his career, and a pair of these are also being included in the concert. On a far larger scale is Arnold Bax's Mater ora filium also dating from the 1920s; setting a medieval text, Bax was inspired by Byrd's Mass for five voices. The work was considered by composer Patrick Hadley to be 'an unsurpassed example of modern unaccompanied vocal writing'. The programme is completed with Christmas music by William Mathias, Kenneth Leighton and Julian Merson.

The concert is at the church of St Botolph without Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TL and starts at 8pm, tickets price £12.00 include a glass of wine after the concert. Full details and tickets from EventBrite.

Strong revival, balanced cast: Cav & Pag returns to Covent Garden

Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Martina Belli, Bryan Hymel - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana - Martina Belli, Bryan Hymel - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo Pagliacci; Bryan Hymel, Elina Garanca, Carmen Giannattasio, Mark S Doss, Simon Keenlyside, dir: Damiano Michieletto / Rodula Gaitanou, cond: Daniel Oren
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 9 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A powerful revival of this Italian neo-realist production, with a pair of striking casts

Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Simon Keenlyside - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Leoncavallo: Pagliacci - Simon Keenlyside
Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Catherine Ashmore)
Damiano Michieletto's Italian neo-realist production of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci (new in 2015, see my review) has returned to Covent Garden, revived by Rodula Gaitanou with a substantially new cast (seen 9 December 2017). In fact there were more cast changes than planned as Bryan Hymel, the scheduled Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, also sang Canio in Pagliacii after the scheduled Canio, Fabio Sartori, pulled out.

The rest of the casting was equally as full of interest. In Cavalleria Rusticana, Elina Garanca was Santuzza with Mark S Doss as Alfio, Martina Belli as Lola and Elena Zilio as Mamma Lucia. In Pagliacci, Simon Keenlyside was Tonio, Carmen Giannattasio as Nedda, Luis Gomes as Beppe and Andrzej Filonczyk as Silvio. Daniel Oren conducted.

Returning to Michieletto's prodction I found that the way he intertwined the two operas (the cast of one appearing in the other) bothered me less. Cavalleria Rusticana has stood up well and is a powerful account of this opera, whereas the music of Pagliacci notably the harlequinade, which Michieletto uses as a dream/nightmare sequence for Canio, does not quite have the psychological depth which Michieletto places on it. But the plot of Pagliacci, with its travelling players and commedia dell'arte performance, is difficult to bring off in any setting but the period one.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Russian Revolution Centenary Concert: Ilona Domnich, Paul Whelan, Nigel Foster & Gabriel Woolf

Arthur Ransome in Russia in 1917
Arthur Ransome in Russia in 1917
Rachmaninov, Borodin, Mussorgsky, Alyabyev, Tchaikovsky; Ilona Domnich, Paul Whelan, Nigel Foster; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Dec 8 2017 
Star rating: 4.5
A rare & intimate evening, first-hand accounts of the Russian Revolution interwoven with song

The legend displayed outside the Hinde Street Methodist Church read "a place to rest, think, dream, be still", and there was plenty to think about in this final concert of the London Song Festival on 8 December 2017. A commemoration of the Russian revolution, first hand accounts spoken by Gabriel Woolf were interwoven with songs, performed by Ilona Domnich, Paul Whelan and Nigel Foster, that whilst not coincident with the ravages of the revolution gave, more broadly, an appreciation of the abstruse nature of the Russian character.

“You will not grasp her with your mind
Or cover with a common label”
(Fyodor Tyutchev)

The inscrutable Soul of Russia, to this Britisher, seems chock full of contradictions.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Composer, conductor, singer: I chat to Owain Park about his concerts at the Temple Winter Festival

Owain Park (Photo Tom Gradwell)
Owain Park (Photo Tom Gradwell)
Owain Park is a busy young man, as he combines working with his vocal group The Gesualdo Six with a burgeoning conducting career, work as a composer including writing a commission for Nigel Short and Tenebrae's recent tour, not to mention singing. Owain will be wearing two of these hats during the Temple Winter Festival (111-15 December 2017) when he and The Gesualdo Six will be giving a lunchtime recital, and in another concert Owain will be conducting the BBC Singers.

The Gesualdo Six's concert at the Temple Christmas Festival combines early and modern music for Advent and Christmas from Byrd to Cheryl Frances-Hoad, along with some arrangements. Owain explained that the programme brings together pieces from the group's 2016 Christmas tour, having undergone a process of streamlining, and the intention was to make a programme which was attractive to as wide and audience as possible, and he emphasises that the tickets are cheap too. They will be performing Jonathan Harvey's Annunciation re-scored for six voices, and Owain sees the piece as having links with the early pieces in the programme. The group has done quite a few performances at St John's Smith Square (where they were Young Artists in 2015-2016), and Owain comments that it is nice to be appearing elsewhere in London.

Owain's other concert at the festival is with the BBC Singers, the first time he has conducted the choir. It is an all contemporary programme which is being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 (so no pressure there!), including music by Howard Skempton, and a new piece by Joanna Marsh.

Marsh is a composer whose work Owain has performed with The Gesualdo Six, and he recently conducted a work by Marsh in a programme with Capella Cracoviensis in Krakow. It was his first time working with Capella Cracoviensis and there are plans for him to go back for another concert in 2018, something he is looking forward to as he found them a great group to work with.

Working with groups like The Gesualdo Six, Owain is working with people with whom he is familiar, and with The Gesualdo Six he has also booked the singers and organised the concerts. But with the BBC Singers and Capelle Cravociensis, he has no such links and is finding it fascinating to be involved on a purely musical basis rather than involved with the whoe programme. He comments that he has found it no more relaxing, as it simply involves different challenges.

In fact, Owain does have a number of links with the BBC Singers, the group has already performed a number of Owain's piece and he knows David Hill, the choir's previous chief conductor, and has sung with some of the singers in the group. Add to that, the programme he is conducting with them is mostly of pieces that he knows well.

Friday, 8 December 2017

Britten, Poulenc, Dove, Humperdinck: Spring opera at the colleges

Spring at the London colleges sees opera popping up, with works by Poulenc, Britten and Jonathan Dove popping up, with Humperdinck in Manchester There are celebrations too, as the Royal College of Music's new Flentrop organ is unveiled, and the Royal Academy of Music completes the re-build of its theatre. But all have a lively programme of other events, well worth exploring.

The Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Spring opera is Poulenc's Les Dialogues des Carmélites which is being directed by Martin Lloyd Evans and conducted by Dominic Wheeler. Other events include an immersive light and sound installation at Tower Bridge’s Bascule Chamber created by video design artists from the Guildhall School, in the Alumni Recital Series pianist Clare Hammond, winner of the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist Award, will be performing a programme of Haydn, Unsuk Chin, Guildhall professor Julian Anderson, Beethoven, Scriabin, Stravinsky and a new work by Guildhall alumnus Edmund Finnis.

Over at the Royal College of Music they are celebrating their new organ with a special festival. Built by Flentrop Orgelbouw, the new organ will be showcased in music by RCM alumni Vaughan Williams, Parry and Stanford are performed alongside new works by RCM composers, and Thomas Trotter will be finishing the festival with a recital. Liam Steel will be directing Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The Royal Academy of Music also has something to celebrate with the opening of the re-built theatre and a new recital hall. The theatre is being christened with Jonathan Dove's Flight which Martin Duncan directs, and Gareth Hancock conducts. The British Chamber Music Series is showcasing British music from the 20th and 21st centuries with works by 13 living composers.

The Royal Northern College of Music's Spring opera is Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel which is directed by Stephen Medcalf and conducted by Anthony Kraus.. (My apologies for managing to miss this off the original posting). They also have a Christmas opera, and Olivia Fuchs' production of Massenet's Cendrillon opens tomorrow (10 December 2017).

An evening of vital music making: Reversal of Fortunes

Georg Philipp Telemann
Georg Philipp Telemann
Bach, Telemann; Academy of Ancient Music, Bojan Cicic, Rachel Brown, Rachel Beckett, Alastair Ross; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 07 2017 Star rating: 5.0
Contrasting works from the two rivals and friends, in an engaging evening of concertos

In 1722, Georg Philipp Telemann applied for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig; he was approved and offered the job but declined because his existing employer, the City of Hamburg, gave him a raise (a very modern situation). The post of Thomaskantor eventually went to Leipzig's third choice, one J.S Bach. This story reflects the relative situations of the two composers (who were friends) during their lifetimes; it was Telemann, with his more approachable, graceful style, who was the more famous in complete contrast to nowadays when much of his large surviving output is unknown.

It was this situation which formed the basis for the Academy of Ancient Music's concert at Milton Court Concert Hall on Thursday 7 December 2017, Reversal of Fortune. Directed from the violin by Bojan Cicic, AAM was joined by Rachel Brown (flute and recorder), Rachel Beckett (recorder) and Alastair Ross (harpsichord) to perform Bach's Brandenburg Concertos Nos. 4 & 5, Telemann's Concerto for Flute and Recorder in E minor and Ouverture-suite, 'Burlesque de Don Quixote'.

Bach's Brandenburg Concertos were presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721, but probably originally written far earlier. Unfortunately the gift does not seem to have elicited the sort of official recognition which Bach would have liked. The concertos themselves represent Bach's response to the Italian concerto genre as publicised by Vivaldi, and it was a very distinctive and personal response, witness the huge harpsichord solo in Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 and the sheer length of the opening movement of Brandenburg Concerto No. 4.

Bach probably envisioned the pieces as large scale chamber music, rather than orchestral works, so AAM's performance of Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with just single strings was completely apposite.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Richly sophisticated: odes by John Blow from Arcangelo

John Blow - An Ode on the death of Henry Purcell - Arcangelo
John Blow An ode on the death of Mr Henry Purcell; Samuel Boden, Thomas Walker, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen; Hyperion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 1 2017 Star rating: 5.0
Blow's ode for his great pupil in an attractive programme of odes by this neglected composer

John Blow is very much the nearly man of English 17th century music, forever in the shadow of his great pupil Henry Purcell. And on this new Hyperion disc from Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo, we have a group of Blow's occasional odes with An Ode on the death of Mr Henry Purcell as its centre piece. The main soloists are tenors Samuel Boden and Thomas Walker, and they are joined by sopranos Emma Walshe and Zoe Brookshaw, counter-tenor David Allsopp, tenor Nicholas Madden and basses William Gaunt and Callum Thorpe

Though John Blow became Purcell's teacher and famously stepped down from his post as organist at Westminster Abbey in Purcell's favour, in fact the master was only 10 years older than the pupil and the outputs of the two composers intertwine in ways made obscure by the dearth of accurate period detail and dates. So, on this disc the final solo in Begin the song was originally written forr the wide-ranging bass voice of John Gostling and bears a striking resemblance to a passage in one of Purcell's anthems, but we have no way of knowing who inspired whom.

Grants from the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation to support education and outreach in music and the arts

The Ulster Orchestra has been awarded £27,180 to provide side by side coaching and mentoring for university music students from Northern Ireland for over three years. As there is no vocational third level music college in Northern Ireland, this scheme offers a unique opportunity for young local musicians to rehearse and perform alongside a professional orchestra.

The grant is one of a number recently announced by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation. Other recipients include:
  • Chetham's School of Music which receives a grant of £90,000 over three years to fund a full fee bursary based on talent and financial need.
  • Chineke! Orchestra receives £15,000 towards their orchestral learning and participation project in schools in Gloucester, Birmingham and Southampton at no cost to the schools involved.
  • The National Youth Theatre REP Company receives £75,000 over 3 years to fund places for young talented 18-25 year olds to train with highly regarded, established theatre practitioners 
  • Northampton Theatres Trust Ltd has been awarded £30,000 to fund the expansion of their Youth Theatre and an additional 40 places will be offered to young people from BAME backgrounds and the scheme will last over three years.
  • Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax, receives £30,000 for the Open Doors project, a schools theatre outreach programme, created in order to increase participation in the arts for children in disadvantaged areas across Calderdale. The programme lasts for over three years. 
  • Northampton Music and Performing Arts Trust receives £23,000 to run a ‘Reach the Stars’ programme, whic provides bespoke practical music education run by professional music therapists for children and young people with additional needs.
  • Punchdrunk has been awarded £15,000 towards the Lost Lending Library project, which involves arts based learning activities in the most deprived areas of London.
  • Wales Millennium Centre has been given funding of £15,000 which will give added value by way of training and experience opportunities in the Shared Apprenticeship scheme. Encouraging and developing future generations of stage technicians, electricians and other behind the scenes roles; it will lead to EDI Level 3 in Technical Theatre across Wales.
  • William Mathias Music Centre, Caernarfon offer high quality music tuition and performance opportunities, the grant of £5,000 will be focused towards costs of specialist tutors

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

David Braid: Songs, solos and duos

David Braid - songs, solos and duets - metier
David Braid songs, solos and duos; metier
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 6 2017 Star rating: 3.5
Contemporary composer David Braid in intimate and lyrical mode

This new disc of music by David Braid from metier features a selection of the composer's chamber music and songs featuring Emily Gray (mezzo-soprano), Claire Overbury (flute), Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Elena Zucchini (guitar), Sergei Podobedov (piano), Rossitza Stoycheva (piano) and David Braid (archtop guitar). A big feature of much of the music on the disc is Braid's use of the archtop guitar, an electric guitar more usually found in jazz but which Braid uses to surprisingly subtle effect.

The centrepiece of the disc is Songs of contrasting subjects for mezzo-soprano and archtop guitar, in which Emily Gray and David Braid perform Braids five songs setting texts by Shakespeare and Bunyan. Whilst the song texts all include an element of contrast, Braid's settings are quietly intense and frequently spare. The opening song 'She goes but softly' sets the mood with its invocation for voice almost alone. The songs are gently lyrical, and often rather haunting, 'Music to hear' makes very effective use of Gray's lovely lower register, with the final song 'Is it thy will' being bleak and poignant. Braid frequently writes highly effective single lines for the guitar, with just a little harmony shaded in to great effect, so much so that when he resorts to more standard techniques like strumming it sounds like padding.

Gray also features on the disc's opening number, the song Upon silver trees, in which Gray is accompanied by Braid on archtop guitar and Sergei Podobedov on piano. The resulting fascinating combination of timbres complements the lyrically evocative vocal line beautifully.

Five days of seasonal music: Temple Winter Festival

Temple Church
Temple Church
Temple Church Choir
Temple Church Choir
On 11 December 2017, The Temple Church Choir and the Temple Singers, conductor Roger Sayer, launch the 2017 Temple Winter Festival, five days of seasonal musical festivities at Temple Church. The opening concert features music from Sweelinck & Buxtehude to Messiaen & Lauridsen. Other highlights include Ben Nicholas and the choir of Merton College in a programme of Advent and Christmas music, and they are joined by reader Anthony Andrews, Peter Philips and the Tallis Scholars in Monteverdi, Palestrina & Isaac, and Owain Park and the Gesualdo Six, and Owain Park also conducts the BBC Singers (look out for my interview with Owain on the blog this coming Saturday).  The final concert is vocal ensemble Voces 8 in a mixture of ancient and modern.

Full information from the Temple Winter Festival website.

Despatch from Berlin: Berlin Philharmonic in Stravinsky & Rachmaninov, the Staatskapelle Berlin in Bartok, Dukas & Stravinsky

By VollwertBIT (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Staatsoper, Unter den Linden, Berlin
Photo: VollwertBIT (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Bartok, Dukas; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Simon Rattle, Staatskapelle Berlin , Francois-Xavier Roth; Berlin
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Nov 30 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A symphony of late romantic influence and one that easily stirs the emotions

Our correspondent, Tony, continues his exploration of Berlin with a pair of concerts featuring contrasting works from the 1930s, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in Rachmaninov's Third Symphony, plus music by Stravinsky, at the newly restored Staatsoper, Unter den Linden, and the Staatskapelle Berlin under François-Xavier Roth at the Konzerthaus in Bartok's Second Violin Concerto with violinist Renaud Capuçon, plus music by Dukas & Stravinsky,

Russian-born composer, Sergei Rachmaninov, wrote his Third Symphony in 1936 whilst living in Switzerland where he built a family home located just outside of Hertenstein near Lake Lucerne. Named Villa Senar, it was the composer’s summer residence for most of the 1930s. He died in 1943 after immigrating to the United States and, apparently, wanted to be buried at Senar but with the outcome of the Second World War this thwarted his wishes.

However, Rachmaninov’s three symphonies reflect three very different phases in his creative development. The First (written in 1895) conjures up a stormy combination of contemporary trends in Russian symphonic music whilst the Second (1907) reflects the opulence of the music of, say, Tchaikovsky and the Third (1936), a legacy of Senar and, I feel, a work of late romantic influence but one, too, exploring new ideas.

First heard in Britain in November 1937 with the London Philharmonic under Sir Thomas Beecham, the symphony - which easily stirs the emotions - first saw the light of day a year earlier with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Critical opinion was divided whilst public opinion proved negative but the composer stuck to his guns and remained totally convinced of its worth.

An excellent symphony in its conception, composition and orchestration, Rachmaninov rated it as one of his finest works. And it was written after a harrowing and difficult decade for him following exile from his Russian homeland and all that entails. Therefore, its lukewarm reception was a huge disappointment to him.

I don’t think he would have been disappointed, though, with this performance by Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic. They were magnificent and gave a performance to chalk up. It was simply delightful and the players duly received a rousing reception from a packed house at curtain-call.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Cutlass Crew

The Price - W11 Opera in 2016
The Price - W11 Opera in 2016
W11 Opera for Young People produces an annual opera written specifically for young people to perform. This year they present the premiere of The Cutlass Crew, a new opera written specially for the company by Stuart Hancock, pehaps best known as a composer for films, and writer Donald Sturrock. The Cutlass Crew is being performed at POSK Theatre, Hammersmith on 9 & 10 December (with performances at 3.30pm and 7.00pm).

The Cutlass Crew is based on the true story of Lady Mary Killigrew who, in 1583, formed a Cutlass Crew of her female servants and sets sail to plunder as pirates. We are promised entertaining, swashbuckling fun for the whole family.

W11 Opera provides a unique opportunity for young people of all backgrounds and enjoys a strong community base. For many of its young participants, it is their first introduction to musical theatre of any kind. Last year they presented the premiere of Russell Hepplwhite's The Price (see my review).

Full details from the W11 Opera website.

Stolen Rhythm: instrumental & orchestral music by Cheryl Frances Hoad

Stolen Rhythm - Cheryl Frances Hoad; David Cohen, Ivana Gavric, Nicholas Daniel, Rambert Orchestra, Paul Hoskins; Champs Hill Records
Cheryl Frances Hoad; David Cohen, Ivana Gavric, Nicholas Daniel, Rambert Orchestra, Paul Hoskins; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 24 2017 Star rating: 4.5
Inspired by music of the past, this selection of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's music is full of good things

Stolen Rhythm is a new disc of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's music on the Champs Hill Records label, in which each piece is some sort of homage to the music of the past. The works on the disc include Katharsis for solo cello and ensemble from David Cohen (cello), Rambert Orchestra, Paul Hoskins (conductor, music director of Rambert), The Forgiveness Machine from the Phoenix Piano Trio, Quark Dances from Rambert Orchestra and Paul Hoskins, Homages from pianist Ivana Gavric and A refusal to mourn from Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Rambert Orchestra and Paul Hoskins.

Katharsis was written in 2013 to a commission from cellist David Cohen and the work was premiered that year by the performers on this disc. The work's inspirations include the cello suites of Bach and Britten, so that we have movements entitled 'Prelude', 'Moto perpetuo', 'Minuet & trio', 'Sarabande', 'Gavotte' and 'Canto' but the language is very much Frances-Hoad's own albeit with the past filtering through. The music dives straight in with lyrically impassioned music and there is a sense of the cello soloist at the centre of an ensemble rather than spotlit.

Vividly live re-creations: Giuseppina Bridelli, L'Arpeggiata & Christina Pluhar in Luigi Rossi

La lyra d'Orfeo - Luigi Rossi, Maurizio Cazzati, Lorenzo Allegri; Giuseppina Bridelli, L'Arpeggiata, Christina Pluhar; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 1 2017 Star rating: 4.5
17th century Italian opera in an engaging sequence from this remarkable group

L'Arpeggiata, director Christina Pluhar, is an early music group like no other. The group brings an element of freedom, improvisation and fantasy to msc, and performers often cross the boundaries into traditional music and other fields.

For the L'Arpeggiata's concert at Wigmore Hall on 1 December 2017 it was joined by mezzo-soprano Giuseppina Bridelli for La lyra d'Orfeo, a 75 minute sequence devoted mainly to arias from Luigi Rossi's operas. So we heard music from Il palazzo incantato and Orfeo, plus instrumental items from Maurizio Cazzati and Lorenzo Allegri.

Luigi Rossi (1597-1653) is not the best known of Italian 17th century opera composers, perhaps because he was based oin Rome where politics and the Church sometimes got in the way of presenting opera. Il palazzo intantato, based on Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, was commissioned for Carnival 1642 by Cardinal Antonio Barberini. When the Barberini family fell and fled to Paris, Rossi followed and his opera Orfeo was written for Paris, in the ill fated attempt to graft Italian opera onto the French court (the opera was given a staging by the Royal Opera at the Globe Theatre in 2015, see my review).

The programme flowed continuously, with gaps for re-tuning and some spontaneous applause. There were a couple of moments when I was not entirely clear whether we were listening to the programme exactly as printed, and some of the arias rather merged into each other. Others seem to have been given the L'Arpeggiata treatment and were imaginatively re-scored from the originals.

But none of this mattered.

Monday, 4 December 2017

More than just ambient: Reflections on a Dead Sea

Danny Mulhern - Reflections on a Dead Sea
Danny Mulhern Reflections on a Dead Sea; Danny Mulhern, London Contemporary Orchestra; 1631 Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 04 2017 Star rating: 3.5
Film & TV composer Danny Mulhern's atmospheric evocations

This disc from Danny Mulhern, Reflections on a Dead Sea on 1631 Records is an expansion of Mulhern's score for the award winning short film The Dead Sea, written and directed by Stuart Gatt, about the refugee crisis. There are 10 tracks on the disc, recorded in collaboration with members of the London Contemporary Orchestra.

Mulhern works mostly with small ensembles, mixing live instruments, synthesis and beats, combining contemporary classical with ambient/electronic, and even if you do not recognise his name you probably have heard his music as he has written scores for TV programmes and films, including Silent Witness and the BBC wildlife documentary The Natural World.

Concerto first: Pedro Da Silva & OOTS premiere work for Portuguese guitar

Pedro Da Silva (Photo Elias Wessel)
Pedro Da Silva (Photo Elias Wessel)
The Portuguese guitar is an instrument associated with the traditional music from Fado in Portugal, but the New York-based Portuguese composer and guitarist Pedro Henriques da Silva takes the beyond that role using a multitude of unusual techniques and sonorities. Da Silva will be premiering his own concerto for Portuguese guitar (the first for the instrument) with the Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), conductor David Curtis, at Stratford ArtsHouse in Stratford-upon-Avon on 5 December 2017. The concerto is part of a programme New York comes to Stratford which also includes Aaron Copland's Music for Movies and Music for the Theatre and Clouds for piano and orchestra by the Argentine-born, New York-based composer Lucia Caruso, who takes the solo role and who also happens to be Pedro da Silva's wife.

Caruso and Da Silva are the founders of the Manhattan Camerata, an ensemble which a style based on classical music techniques and instruments, incorporating improvisation and elements from different cultures around the world, integrating world instruments in a variety of styles and genres. Da Silva's new concerto reflects these techniques, as he incorporates influences from Portuguese music, Bulgarian rhythms, as well as some scales and French Impressionism, as well as using classical guitar playing techniques, and innovations such as an electric bow, something normally used on electric guitar.

Further details from the Orchestra of the Swan website.

James Way and Nigel Foster in Die schöne Müllerin

James Way (photo Natalie Burch)
James Way (photo Natalie Burch)
Schubert Die schöne Müllerin 
James Way, Nigel Foster
London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Dec 1 2017 
Star rating: 3.5
A sensitive and beautiful account of Schubert's first song cycle from a talented young tenor

One of the little pleasures of winter in the smoke is to step out of the hustle and bustle away from the early evening chill and into a secret oasis of calm for a musical tipple.

2017 marks the 10th anniversary of the London Song Festival an annual event founded by the pianist Nigel Foster to promote "the Cinderella" of the music world, song repertoire. And in Hinde Street Methodist Church on the first day of meteorological Winter (1 December 2017), a step from the frenetic St. Christopher’s Place, Nigel Foster and tenor James Way paired up for a performance of Schubert’s poignant song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.


Sunday, 3 December 2017

A reflection of 19th century style & coruscating performances: Berlioz' Les Troyens

Berlioz - Les Troyens - Erato
Berlioz Les Troyens; Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, Marie-Nicole Lemieux, Orchestre philharmonique de Strasboug, John Nelson; ERATO
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 29 2017 Star rating: 5.0
John Nelson conducts Berlioz opera in live performances with a substantially Francophone cast and a terrific amount of style

British performing groups and Anglo-phone singers have played an important role in the history of Berlioz' Les Troyens from the Glasgow Grand Opera staging in the 1930s conducted by Erik Chisholm, to Sir Thomas Beecham's post-war concert performance (available on disc), the landmark 1950s production at Covent Garden (available on disc), Colin Davis' account of the opera at Covent Garden and on disc for Philips (along with a new critical edition of the opera), and Davis' own second go with the London Symphony Orchestra (available on disc), not to mention John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique's performances at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris in the centenary year with an Italian Cassandre and American Didon and Enée (available on DVD).

The Parisian tradition of performing the work does not seem to have translated into an important post-war recording tradition, and one of the great post-war Didon and Cassandres, Regine Crespin's recording is regrettably only excerpts. All this means that French as she is sung by native speakers has not been terribly important to Les Troyens on disc.

At first sight, this new recording of Les Troyens from Erato is no different, with its American conductor, John Nelson [see my interview with John Nelson], American Didon & Enée, and Canadian Cassandre, especially as this uses a modern instrument orchestra (as compared to John Eliot Gardiner's recording using the original saxhorns for the brass instruments).

Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, John Nelson rehearsing Les Troyens (Photo Grégory Massat)
Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, John Nelson rehearsing Les Troyens
(Photo Grégory Massat)
But there are different layers of authenticity. At least a dozen of the 16 soloists on this new set are Francophone (that Canadian mentioned above is Marie-Nicole Lemieux who is French Canadian). And both Joyce DiDonato and Michael Spyres (the Didon & Enée) have extensive experience in singing 19th century French opera, and are supreme stylists in this repertoire. This feeds into another aspect to the recording, it might be modern instrument but John Nelson's whole approach reflects Berlioz' place in the tradition of early to mid-19th century French opera. This is the least post-Wagnerian of accounts of the opera.

Les Troyens might never have been performed at the Paris opera, but its whole construction and the forces used (four bassoons, six harps, eight horns, nine trombones, six tubas) reflects those available at the Paris Opera, not to mention the libretto's reflection of French Grand Opera, albeit through Berlioz' quirky genius, and the roles of Didon & Enée are in the tradition of those written for Cornélie Falcon and Gilbert Duprez (who sang the title role in Berlioz' Benvenuto Cellini in its abortive Paris Opera performances).

The French slant to the recording is obviously important to conductor John Nelson, his booklet note explicitly mentions the 'mostly French cast, a French orchestra and two French choirs' along with a chorus from Karlsruhe where the opera was first performed complete. (see my interview with John Nelson).

In other respects, this is a very traditional version of the opera, no Sinon scene and Berlioz' revised, compressed ending. The results are very good indeed, and the recording (made at two concerts plus subsequent patch sessions) has a great combination of immediacy and clarity.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The greatest opera in the French language: John Nelson talks about his recording of 'Les Troyens'

John Nelson rehearsing Berlioz's Les Troyens (Photo Gregory Massat)
John Nelson rehearsing Berlioz's Les Troyens (Photo Gregory Massat)

The distinguished American conductor John Nelson has a wide repertoire, but is perhaps best known as a conductor of Berlioz' music. Having previous recording Berlioz' operas Benvenuto Cellini and Béatrice et Bénédict, Les nuits d'été and the Te Deum, Nelson's recording of Les Troyens has just been issued on the Erato label following recording at a pair of live concerts in Strasbourg with the Orchestre philharmonique de Strasbourg and a cast including Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres and Marie-Nicole Lemieux. I was luck enough to be able to interview John Nelson by email to talk about the new recording (see my review of Les Troyens) and his inspirations in his conducting career.

John Nelson (Photo Marco Borggreve)
John Nelson (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Berlioz's 'Les Troyens' is an opera with which you seem to have been much associated (conducting it at Carnegie Hall & the Met), is this deliberate or simply happenstance?

A bit of both. The Carnegie Hall concert version was deliberate- a project conceived by Matthew Epstein in 1972 to get my name on the map. The Met production two years later was a beautiful happenstance for which I was hired to assist Rafael Kubelik in the American premier of the staged opera. He fell ill after the second performance and I stepped into the pit with Christa Ludwig (Dido) and Jon Vickers (Aeneas) staring down at me! That success resulted in my being engaged to conduct the same work at the Grand Theatre in Geneva, Switzerland for my European debut.

Your recording of 'Les Troyens' was made from live performances, as was your recording of Berlioz's 'Benvenuto Cellini'. Is this a way of recording you prefer, or simply economic necessity?
It is what I prefer. All kinds of musical compromises occur when dealing with staging and sets. In a concert version one can concentrate on musical values. "Prima la musica!"

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