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Friday, 1 July 2016

Sorching performances & superb chorus redeem a grey Nabucco

Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille in Nabucco © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013
Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille in Nabucco © ROH / Catherine Ashmore 2013
Verdi Nabucco; Dmitri Platanias, Liudmyla Monastyrska, John Relyea, Jean-Francois Borras, Miriam Treichl, dir: Daniele Abbado, cond: Renato Balsadonna
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Fine individual performances and superb choral singing enliven a rather grey production

Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille and Dimitri Platanias in the title role of Nabucco (ROH) © Catherine Ashmore
Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille and Dimitri Platanias in the title role
Nabucco © ROH / Catherine Ashmore
The Royal Opera House's recent revival of Daniele Abbado's 2013 production of Verdi's Nabucco was designed to showcase Placido Domingo in the title role, but as is the way of these things Domingo did not sing all the performances, and towards the end of the run there were other changes. We caught the final performance, on 30 June 2016, by which time conductor, Nabucco, Ismaele and Fenena had all changed. We saw Dimitri Platanias as Nabucco, Jean-Francois Borras as Ismaele, John Relyea as Zaccaria, Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille, Miriam Treichl as Fenena, Renato Balsadonna conducted.

Daniele Abbado's production, with designs by Alison Chitty, loosely updates the piece to the mid-20th century. Nazi persecution of the Jews is evoked, but only loosely and Chitty's sets are quite abstract. She has created a series of striking settings, within which Abbado moves his players in a manner which could be set in any period. The predominant colours are grey and beige, though this may have been exacerbated by the fact the Luca Scarzella's videos on the rear wall were only partially visible from our seats in the Amphitheatre, and for what we could see the colours were profoundly muted.

The biggest problem for us was that there seemed to be little visual differentiation between the Israelites and the Babylonians. With Abbado's preference for having chorus members as observers in scenes where they were not involved, this meant that it was often difficult to tell which group the chorus was playing at the time. Perhaps this was the idea!

In fact, it is a rather old-fashioned production and relies on the cast to bring it alive, and here it helped that we were treated to some extremely strong performances.

Vivid ensemble - Stephen McNeff & Olivia Fuchs' Banished at Trinity Laban

Banished, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance 2016 (Copyright) Lidia Crisafulli
Banished, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance 2016 (Copyright) Lidia Crisafulli
Stephen McNeff, Olivia Fuchs Banished; Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, director Elaine Kidd, conductor Jessica Cottis; Blackheath Halls
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 29 2016
Star rating: 4.5

The story of the first female convicts transported to Australia showcases a fine young ensemble in this stunning new opera

Banished, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance 2016 (Copyright) Lidia Crisafulli
Banished,
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance
2016 (Copyright) Lidia Crisafulli
Banished is a new opera by Stephen McNeff, with a libretto by Olivia Fuchs based on the play Female Transport by Steve Gooch. The opera was written specifically for the students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and was premiered by them at Blackheath Halls on Wednesday 30 June 2016. The production was directed by Elaine Kidd, designed by Louie Whitemore, lighting by Ben Ormerod and Jessica Cottis conducted the orchestra of students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire. The cast included Rebekah Smith as Sarah, Lucy Bray as Pitty, Katy Huntley as Winnie, Susanna Buckle as Nance, Rebecca Leggett as Charlotte, Emily Gray as Madge, Laurence Panter as the Captain, Caspar Lloyd James as the Surgeon, Tom McKenna as Sarge and Lars Fischer as Tommy. 

Stephen McNeff has had it in his mind to write an opera based on Steve Gooch's play for some time; he first bought a copy of the play 30 years ago. But it was only when doing a project with students from Trinity Laban in 2013 that the idea really germinated. The project involved the students working on the records about the first women transported to Australia in the 18th century, records which are held at the National Maritime Museum just over the road from the college. The sense of identification between the young students and the young women transported, the feeling that in another era 'this could have been me' helped to project the opera into reality. It has a large number of roles for women (some six female soloists, and a chorus of twelve women with four male soloists), one of the reasons why McNeff was interested in the piece. He points out that, unlike the majority of major roles written for women, the work has a positive end.

Perhaps the closest parallel for McNeff and Fuchs' new opera is Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites, both concentrate on a group of women in harrowing circumstances, and we watch as they draw together with strength. Both operas are written in a sequence of small scenes, with an emphasis on group dynamic. But unlike Poulenc's opera, the women do not die at the end and McNeff and Fuchs have deliberately made the climax, the arrival in Sydney, uplifting and transformative.

Monteverdi, Purcell and more from the Academy of Ancient Music in 2016/17

Academy of Ancient Music
Highlights of the Academy of Ancient Music's (AAM) 2016-2017 season include Richard Egarr directing Purcell's The Fairy Queen, the first in a cycle of Purcell's (semi) operas. The ensemble's cycle of Monteverdi operas finished last season, but 2016-2017 sees them adding a coda to this with Monteverdi's Vespers celebrating the 450th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Jordi Savall will make his much anticipated debut directing the orchestra, whilst tenor James Gilchrist will also direct AAM for the first time.

Richard Egarr, who is celebrating his 10th anniversary as AAM's music director, will be conducting Purcell's The Fairy Queen in a semi-staged performance at the Barbican which opens the season. This will be directed by Daisy Evans with soloists Mhairi Lawson, Iestyn Davies, Samuel Boden and Charles Daniels. Actor Timothy West will be the narrator.

Monteverdi is the focus for two concerts directed by Richard Egarr, reflecting the composer's 450th birthday. The orchestra is joined by sopranos Carolyn Sampson and Rowan Pierce for a programme of Monteverdi's motets and instrumental music by his contemporary Dario Castello. The season will close with Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 with soloists Rowan Pierce, Charles Daniels, Thomas Hobbs and Richard Latham.

Jordi Savall will be directing the orchestra in a programme of music by Rameau and Lully, plus Handel's Water Music. Tenor James Gilchrist will be co-directing a concert with the orchestra's leader Pavlo Beznosiuk exploring the music of Purcell and Bach. Whilst principal second violin Bojan Cicic and principal oboe Frank de Bruine will be directing a programme of music by Bach, Vivaldi and Albinoni, which will also include Bach's Italian Concerto played by Alastair Ross.

Robert Howarth will be directing a Bach Reconstructed programme, which explores Bach's original versions of pieces he subsequently revised and reconstructed. The orchestra is joined by soloists Mary Bevan, Reginald Mobley, John Mark Ainsley and Matthew Brook for Bach's Mass no. 3 in G minor, the sinfonia to Cantata No. 49, and the original version of Orchestra Suite No. 3.

The concerts all take place at the Barbican, where the orchestra is an associate ensemble, either in the Barbican Hall or Milton Court Concert Hall. A number of the concerts are repeated at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge as part of the orchestra's residency there.

Full information from the Academy of Ancient Music website.

Vocal pedal power - SongCycle 2016

SongCycle 2016
To help raise money for Help Musicians UK, a group of singers and a pianist are planning to cycle from Glasgow to London, a distance of 500 miles in 11 days from 24 July to 31 July 2016. The team is led by Scottish tenor Nicky Spence (recently seen in Jenufa at ENO), and includes Ailish Tynan (whose recording of Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock on Signum we heard last year), Mary Bevan (whom we saw last year in Luigi Rossi's Orpheus at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse), Louise Alder (recently seen in Idomeneo at Garsington), Simon Lepper (Cardiff Singer of the World official accompanist), Nick Pritchard (whom we saw in Francesca Cavalli's opera at BREMF last year), Emma Kerr (whom we saw in the Arnold/Donizetti double bill at the Guildhall School last year), Timothy Connor and Peter Aisher (both of whom we saw in Albert Herring at the Royal College of Music last year), and Brindley Sherratt (recently seen in Eugene Onegin at Garsington) will join them for the last leg. But this is no ordinary sponsored cycle ride, along the way they will be hosting a number of events to raise money and boost the awareness of the charity’s work.

And it all kicks off on 24 July at Scottish Opera HQ in Glasgow, with performances from the riders and the young people of The Scottish Opera Connect Company. Along the way they will be visiting musical landmarks, and taking part in events with communities from major cities and further afield. They will also be visiting musicians whom the charity helps, and all the money raised will go towards helping musicians in need.

On 31 July, at the London Coliseum, there will be a final performance with some special guests; I just hope the team have enough breath left after all that cycling.

The route is as follows:

24 July – Glasgow – Biggar
25 July – Biggar – Hawick
26 July – Hawick – Newcastle
27 July – Newcastle – York
28 July – York – Manchester
29 July – Manchester – Birmingham
30 July – Birmingham – Oxford
31 July – Oxford – London

Beside sponsoring a rider, there are a number of ways you are encourage to get involved including organising a recital or concert with proceeds going direct to SongCycle, becoming a SongCycle Regional Volunteer, supporting the riders by welcoming them at each location, or simply by donating to their JustGiving page.

Full information from the SongCycle 2016 webpage.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Two visionaries - Stockhausen and Scriabin from Vanessa Benelli Mosell

Vanessa Benelli Mosell - Light - Decca
Scriabin, Stockhausen; Vanessa Benelli Mosell; Decca
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 17 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Contrasting combination of musics by two 20th century visionaries

Vanessa Benelli Mosell is a young Italian pianist who has won acclaim with her performances of the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, a composer with whom she studied. On this new disc, a follow up to her [R]evolution disc on Decca, she performs Stockhausen's Klavierstuck XII alongside Scriabin's 24 Preludes Op.11, Trois Morceau Op.2 and Etude Op.8, No. 12.

Scriabin's 24 Preludes Op.11 were written over a period of eight years (from 1888 to 1896) and were one of the composer's first published works. The pieces were not written sequentially, and Scriabin wrote them in various places during his travels. The work came about originally thanks to a challenge from his patron Mitrofan Beliaiev who published the Op.11 preludes in 1897. Scriabin took Chopin's preludes as his model and like Chopin, Scriabin's preludes cover all 24 major and minor keys and they follow the same key sequence: C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor and so on, alternating major keys with their relative minors, and following the ascending circle of fifths.

Vanessa Benelli Mosell feels that the preludes are a good introduction to the music of Scriabin, saying that 'it is essential to know it and to listen to it before exploring further subsequent music by Scriabin'.

The preludes are not, however, straightforward though the fact that each is short means that the music is quickly apprehended.

City of London Sinfonia goes folk

City of London Sinfonia's Meet the Music outreach programme
City of London Sinfonia's Meet the Music outreach programme
The City of London Sinfonia (CLS), artistic director Stephen Layton, have come up with twin themes running through their 2016-2017 season. Folk Tunes Tall Tales sees the orchestra collaborating with a variety of musicians to explore folk traditions and story telling, whilst their Great British Choral Anthems series will perform major choral works in British cathedrals.

In November 2016, CLS will be joined by folk-singer Sam Lee and conductor Hugh Brunt for a concert at St John's Hackney in their CLoSeR series performing folk-song inspired works by Britten, Grainger and Delius alongside Sam Lee's own work. In December there is An English Folk Christmas by Candlelight at St John's Smith Square with music by RVW, as well as works by Warlock, Bolton and Stephen Cleobury. CLS will be joined by the Holst Singers and conductors Jeremy Cole and Michael Collins.

January sees CLS at Wilton's Music Hall celebrating Burns Night with The Devil's Violin with Burns Night Ceilidh. Another CLoSeR concert, CLS is joined by ceilidh band Licence to Ceilidh and fiddler Henry Webster. And the music will include not just Scottish, but Irish, Italian and Appalachian music, as well as Piazzolla and Locatelli. In March it is the turn of Japan with  Japanese Journey: Kakyoku Songs, an evening of Japanese folk music with soprano Charlotte de Rothschild which has been recorded on disc and will be touring to Japan. The final concert of the season sees the CLoSeR series returning to the Village Underground in Shoreditch where Michael Collins directs a performance of Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, with choreographer Tony Adigun.

For CLS's Great British Anthems Tour, Stephen Layton conducts a programme of Handel coronation anthems, Bach's Suite No. 3 in D and James MacMillan's Oh Give Thanks Unto the Lord with choirs drawn from the cathedrals visited. The tour takes in Truro, Hereford, Lichfield, Southwell, York, and Chester.

CLS's community and outreach programme Meet the Music see the orchestra making music in schools, hospitals and communities, Current projects include Wellbeing through Music performing music in hospitals and care homes. Education projects include working with young children in communities which are geographically or economically isolated.

Short and bitter-sweet- Yaniv d'Or's Latino Ladino

Yaniv d'Or
Yaniv d'Or
Latino Ladino; Yaniv d'Or, Amit Tiefenbrunn, Barrocade, Ensemble NAYA; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Jun 26 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Irresistible rhythms in a journey to the south exploring Ladino music

British-Israeli, Libyan-born counter-tenor Yaniv d’Or treated Sunday evening's Wigmore Hall (26 June 2016) audience to a journey to the 'South'. He traced the route of his Sephardi ancestors as they were expelled from Spain in 1492 and sailed around the Mediterranean and to Latin America, taking with them their Ladino language, their Jewish rituals and a tradition of sacred and secular songs.

D’Or shared the platform with a dozen versatile instrumentalists: gamba-player Amit Tiefenbrunn with his Israel-based Barrocade and Ensemble NAYA. They created a seductive soft-grained sound reminiscent of Jordi Savall’s Hesperion XXI with – as expected with this kind of music – a hypnotic energy. Feet were tapping in the audience, and backs swaying to the irresistible rhythms. We were transported.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Zurich International Orchestra Series at Cadogan Hall

Valery Gergiev
Valery Gergiev
The tenth Zurich International Orchestra Series at Cadogan Hall presents sixteen concerts with eleven international orchestras in the 2016-2017 season. Highlights include a chance to hear Edward Gardner conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, and Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra celebrating the 125th anniversary of Prokofiev's birth. Soloists include Alison Balsom in Hummel, Freddy Kempf in Rachmaninov, Natalie Clein in Dvorak and Pavel Kolesnikov in Tchaikovsky.

Valery Gergiev will conduct the Maryinsky Orchestra in all of Prokofiev's symphonies, plus the violin concertos with Kristof Barati, spread across three concerts. The Brussels Philharmonic under their chief conductor Stephane Deneve will be exploring the music of the young French composer Guillaume Connesson in two concerts, alongside Beethoven, Respighi, and Rachmaninov, plus Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante with Jerome Pernoo.

The Spanish State Symphony Orchestra and conductor Grzegroz Nowak will be performing a programme which includes music by Falla, Rodrigo and Gimenez, plus Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony. Vladimir Fedoseyev conducts the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra in Borodin, RVW and Tchaikovsky, including the Piano Concerto No. 1 with Pavel Kolesnikov.

Libor Pesek and the Czech National Symphony Orchestra will perform a programme of Dvorak and Smetana, and are joined by Natalie Clein for Dvorak's Cello Concerto. The Zurich Chamber Orchestra is joined by trumpeter Alison Balsom and pianist Gabriela Montero for a programme which includes concertos by Hummel and Mozart, as well as Shostakovich's Concerto for Piano and Trumpet.

The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and their chief conductor Edward Gardner play Grieg (of course) and Bartok, plus Elgar's Cello Concerto with the Norwegian cellist Truls Mork. The Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra under its new chief conductor Utaka Sado are performing three concerts with a repertoire including Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Brahms, with Angel Hewitt in Mozart's Piano Concerto No.4,  and Emma Johnson in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

The series returns to Norway for the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, conductor Michael Sanderling, who perform Beethoven's first and last symphonies, with soloists Anita Watson, Samantha Price, Alexander James Edwards and Thomas Faulkner. For the final concert in the series, we return to Russia with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Yuri Simonov, performing Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 with Freddy Kempf.

Full information from the Cadogan Hall website.

Silence, Music and Roaring - Gabrieli events

Gabrieli Roar at Southwark Cathedral
Gabrieli Roar at Southwark Cathedral in February 2016
Gabrieli Roar, Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli's partnership with a network of British youth choirs, returns on 4 July 2016. A choir made up of nearly 200 young voices from six youth choirs (Bradford Catholic Youth Choir, Cantate, Hertfordshire County Youth Choir, Inner Voices, London Youth Choir, Taplow Youth Choir) will be joining the 50 professional singers from the Gabrieli Consort to perform a programme of music by Wesley, Tallis, Elgar, Mendelssohn, Byrd and Howells at Ely Cathedral on 4 July 2016, with organist William Whitehead. The concert will be part of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival.

Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort will be presenting a new programme of a cappella music, Silence and Music on 7 and 8 July 2016. The programme takes its title from a part-song by RVW and the programme explores how poets and composers reflect upon the natural world as a metaphor for our own emotional experience with music by Britten, Warlock, Elgar, Stanford and Finzi. On 7 July 2016, the programme is being performed at the Voices of London Festival and on 8 July at the Oundle Festival.

Where'er you walk - Arias for Handel's favourite tenor

Where'er you walk - Allan Clayton - Classical Opera - Signum
Handel, Boyce, Arne; Allan Clayton, Mary Bevan, Orchestra of Classical Opera, Ian Page; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 18 2016
Star rating: 5.0

A survey of the music written for John Beard, the great tenor for whom Handel wrote Jephtha and Samson

Tenor Allan Clayton joined Ian Page and the Orchestra of Classical Opera for a concert celebrating the tenor John Beard (for whom Handel wrote the title roles in Jephtha and Samson) at the Wigmore Hall last year (see my review). They also went into the recording studio and this new disc from Signum Records is the fruit, a recital of music sung by or written for John Beard (c1715-1791). The bulk of the items are by Handel with arias from Esther, Il pastor fido, Ariodante, Alcina, Alexander's Feast, Berenice, L'Allegro, Solomon, Samson, Judas Macabaeus, Jephtha and Semele, but we also get items from JC Smith's The Fairies, and Thomas Arne's Artaxerxes.

Beard was trained at the Chapel Royal, but clearly had a notable voice as at the age of 19 he went straight from the Chapel Royal to singing in Handel's Il pastor fido and sang for Handel until the composer's death. His dramatic talents were such that Handel would write the title role in Samson for Beard at a time when tenors were usually relegated to fathers, generals or villains. The title role in Jephtha would follow, as would Septimus in Theodora. But there was a gap in this long relationship, we are not sure why; perhaps a falling out, perhaps Beard was too busy with his career singing songs in theatres like Drury Lane or Covent Garden. But in the final years of Handel's life Beard was his tenor of choice, singing not just in Jephtha and Theodora, but in revivals of many of the other oratorios.

This disc from Allan Clayton, Ian Page and the Orchestra of Classical  Opera takes us on an historical survey of the works Handel sung by Beard from Esther in which he sang whilst still at the Chapel Royal (and may well be the work which brought him to Handel's notice), to Jephtha the final work which Handel wrote for him. This is quite a range, the roles cover works nowadays often sung by dramatic tenors such as Samson as well as lyric ones such as Jupiter in Semele and the tenor role in L'Allegro.

Allan Clayton has just the right combination of suaveness and robustness to do justice to the whole range of roles.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Emotional punch - La Fanciulla del West at Grange Park Opera

Grange Park Opera - La Fanciulla del West - Claire Rutter & ensemble - photo Robert Workman
Minnie and the boys
Grange Park Opera - La Fanciulla del West - Claire Rutter & ensemble - photo Robert Workman
Puccini La Fanciulla del West; Claire Rutter, Lorenzo Decaro, Stephen Gadd, dir: Stephen Medcalf/Peter Relton, cond: Stephen Barlow, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 26 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Claire Rutter heads a strong revival of Puccini's gold-rush opera

Grange Park Opera revived Stephen Medcalf's 2008 production of Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, revival director Peter Relton (seen 26 June 2016), thus giving us a chance to hear Claire Rutter's Minnie, a role that she has sung with some success in the USA. Stephen Gadd played Jack Rance, with Lorenzo Decaro as Dick Johnson, Alberto Sousa as Nick, Michel de Souza as Sonora and Jihoon Kim as Ashby. Stephen Barlow conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Grange Park Opera - La Fanciulla del West - Lorenzo Decaro, Claire Rutter - photo Robert Workman
Lorenzo Decaro, Claire Rutter - photo Robert Workman
Puccini's Californian gold-rush opera is a very specific and particular mechanism, it is not the sort of piece which responds to dramaturgical conceits and creative dissonance in the staging. Richard Jones' 2014 staging at ENO successfully updated the time-period by keeping the structure intact (see my review), whereas the 1950's Las Vegas casino setting for Stephen Barlow's production at Opera Holland Park was less successful (see my review). Medcalf's production, designed by Francis O'Connor, gave us an imaginatively traditional view of the opera. The action illuminated with naturalistic detail within O'Connor's rather stylised sets.

Act One is simply a long bar dominated by an array of glass bottles, with a glimpse of the dance floor to the right so that we see the men dancing with each other without it dominating the action, and later we see Minnie (Claire Rutter) dancing on her own after the waltz with Dick Johnson (Lorenzo Decaro). Act Two was just Minnie's hut, a slightly skeletal structure within a bleak landscape which became the setting for the lynching in Act Three, the comings and goings enlivened by the use of a manual power railway car, which became the platform for the hanging. At the end, naturalism disappears as Minnie and Dick leave into a glowing sunset.

Act One benefited from lots of small cameos from the Grange Park Opera ensemble as each of the miners was nicely delineated, showcasing the strength of the ensemble. For all the importance of the soloists, this is very much an ensemble opera and here we had Simon Gikes as Trin, Harry Thatcher as Bello, Paul Milosavljevic as Harry, Adam Tunnicliffe as Joe, Thomas Isherwood as Happy, Lancelot Nomura as Larkens, and Thomas Humphreys as Jack Wallace.

Grange Park Opera - La Fanciulla del West - Claire Rutter, Stephen Gadd - photo Robert Workman
Grange Park Opera - La Fanciulla del West - Claire Rutter, Stephen Gadd - photo Robert Workman
Keeping them all in order was Minnie (Claire Rutter), by no means an amazonian tom-boy, Rutter's Minnie was feminine but strong on personality.

7 and a half visions of Love

Luke Navin 7 and a half visions of Love
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 21 2016
Unashamedly romantic and lyrical piano music

Luke Navin is a young composer studying at Oxford, and like many young artists nowadays he has produced a showreel. In Navin's case a CD recording his performances of his own piano pieces. Entitled 7 and a half visions of Love the disc consists of seven movements which tell the story of a love affair from first infatuation through the inevitable parting and acceptance.

Navin's style is highly romantic, and he describes his music as being influenced by late Romantic works from Italy and Russia. This is not an understatement, this is unashamedly tonal and romantic music, lyrical with a nice sense of melody. But there is also something filmic about the music, perhaps because each movement has a feeling of narrative (his notes in the CD booklet are quite detailed about each movement).

What we hear feels semi-improvised and at times I was worried that Navin did rely a little too much on some rather regular piano figures in the left hand to support his melodic ideas. You feel that the music would repay a little more development, and perhaps orchestration for ensemble. Definitely in the easy listening category, it certainly feels like the soundtrack to an unwritten film.

Listened to end-to-end, I wanted a bit less romantic yearning in the music and a bit more anger and grit; you felt that Navin could do with listening to a bit less Rachmaninov. But individual movements have real melodic charm.

The album is available on SpotifyiTunes and from Amazon.co.uk.
You can also get an idea of Navin's style from his YouTube channel.

Hitchcock & Herrmann's Psycho with live score

Hitchcock - Psycho - poster
Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film Psycho has become iconic. Now Ben Palmer and the Orchestra of St Paul's are offering the chance to hear the score live alongside a high-definition screening of the film. On Sunday July 3, 2016 at the Roundhouse there will be two screenings of the film (at 4.30pm and 8.30pm) at which Ben Palmer and the Orchestra of St Paul's will play the musical sound-track.

Hermann wrote the scores for seven Hitchcock films, from The Trouble with Harry (1955) to Marnie (1964), including Vertigo, North by Northwest, as well as Psycho. He was also sound consultant on The Birds (1963), though there was no music in the film, only electronically made bird sounds. Herrmann's soundtrack for Psycho was written for string orchestra rather than full symphonic forces, mirroring the black-and-white cinematography of the film. Hitchcock himself said that '33% of the effect of Psycho was due to the music.' 

Further information from the Roundhouse website.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Mahogany Opera's Various Stages invites artists to submit projects for 2017

Various Stages
Mahogany Opera's Various Stages Festival returns in 2017, showcasing the company's research and development programme, and the company is inviting artists to submit project ideas. The programme was formed to test creative and challenging ideas for opera and music theatre. Selected artists are given the opportunity to put their creative projects through a range of open and closed workshops and public work-in-progress showings, with close support.

Artists and producing companies are invited to submit projects with innovative ideas combining music and drama, which they would like the opportunity to develop through Various Stages. Entrants should be keen to take bold creative risks and push the boundaries of style and form, and have an existing relationship with a venue, promoter or production house which could endorse and support the project. In January, selected ideas will be workshopped with a range of different artists. This will culminate in a two-day Various Stages Festival in February 2017, featuring showcases, critical feedback sessions and networking opportunities. National and international venues, promoters, artists and producers will be in attendance, and some events are open to the public.

Full information from the Mahogany Opera website. The deadline for submission is 29 July 2016.

Celebrating 50 years - Harrogate International Festivals

Jack Liebeck
Jack Liebeck
Harrogate International Festivals is 50 this year, and celebrating the fact with a whole range of events in the town from 1 to 31 July 2016. To mark the 50th anniversary there is a commission from composer Howard Skempton to be played by the Brodsky String Quartet, who also celebrate the anniversary with Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 11, written 50 years ago and Golijov’s Tenebrae, written 25 years ago. Sir Willard White is giving a recital with Julius Drake, as well as giving a masterclass, and there will be a BBC New Generation Showcase with Narek Hakhnazaryan (cello), Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), and Annelien Van Wauwe (clarinet) for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast. A series of lunchtime young musician showcase recitals includes baritone Benedict Nelson, the Aurora Trio, pianist Galina Averina and clarinettist Anna Hashimoto.

Other visitors include the Los Angeles-based Angel City Chorale, a multicultural ensemble, performing a new work by Grammy Award winning composer, Christopher Tin. Whilst Einstein’s Universe combines a lecture by Professor Brian Foster, with musical sketches by violinist Jack Liebeck, followed by an evening recital by Liebeck and pianist Katya Apekisheva. I Fagiolini, will present their recent recording project, Amuse-Bouche in an atmospheric Concert by Candlelight. The festival finale is the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, with violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and conductor Libor Pesek performing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto.

The orchestra in residence is the John Wilson Orchestra, who will perform a number of events including a tea dance. There is also the chance to have a wine tasting with Oz Clarke, pairing wine with Baroque music from the Armonico Consort. Harrogate Music Festivals’ 2016 theme is ‘Discover, Explore and Experiment’, with a number of events that will cross-over to Harrogate International Festivals literature events.

Full information from the festival website.

Grandeur and intimacy - Verdi's Don Carlo at Grange Park Opera

Auto da fe scene - Verdi Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera - photo Robert Workman
Auto da fe scene - Verdi: Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera - photo Robert Workman
Verdi Don Carlo; Stefano Secco, Virginia Tola, David Stout, Clive Bayley, Ruxandra Donose, Alastair Miles, dir: Jo Davies, cond: Gianluca Marciano, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 25 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A miracle of compression, Verdi's grand opera at Grange Park

Verdi's Don Carlo is a challenge for any opera company, but mounting his grand opera (even in his revised four-act version) in a small opera house like Grange Park Opera was always going to be tricky. In the event the production, directed by Jo Davies, sets designed by Leslie Travers, was a triumph of compression. Don Carlo was Italian tenor Stefano Secco, with Operalia winner Virginia Tola as Elisabetta. Clive Bayley was Philippo, David Stout was Rodrigo, Alastair Miles was the Grand Inquisitor, and Ruxandra Donose was Princess Eboli. Costumes were by Gabrielle Dalton, movement by Lynne Hockney and lighting by Anna Watson, Gianluca Marciano conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. The opera was performed in the four-act revised version which Verdi produced in 1884. The original 1867 five-act version, premiered in Paris, proved too long for Italian opera houses and Verdi took advantage of the revision to produce a tauter version. Sadly at Grange Park it was sung in the contemporary Italian translation rather than the original French.


Ruxandra Donose, Clive Bayley - Verdi Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera - photo Robert Workman
Ruxandra Donose, Clive Bayley - Verdi: Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera - photo Robert Workman
Key to the production were Leslie Travers striking and elegant sets, based around a pair of massive yet movable walls which provided a suggestion of the ecclesiastical architecture and a sense of stripped back massiveness, whilst being imaginatively multi-use; decorative slots doubled as candle holders, and the upper level embrasures formed balconies for the chorus in the auto-da-fe scene. At the centre was a moveable glazed element which came and went, sometimes with candles in it (for the opening and closing scenes), sometimes trees and sometimes replaced by a grill. The set had all the substance needed to bring the opera off, with all the functional requirements, yet managed to be simple and elegant. Within this, Jo Davies took a similarly stripped back and straightforward approach to the drama, so that the stage was never fussily cluttered. Even the auto-da-fe scene had a clarity to it, though Davies was marshalling multiple groups of singers (courtiers, priests and Flemish deputies) plus soloists. My only real complaint was the rather unnecessary changes to the opera's closing scene.

Perhaps a key to Jo Davies approach was that she did not have a particular axe to grind, instead told the complex story with directness and intense sympathy for the leading characters. The costumes were loosely period, with the women in black gowns which were essentially 19th century but with 16th century detailing, and similarly the men wore trousers but carried swords. The colour palate was very restricted, simply blacks and browns with the odd flash of white standing out (the women's collars, Philippo's shirt in his solo scene in Act Three).

Middle period Verdi is increasingly difficult to cast, and Grange Park Opera fielded a cast which would have made many a big opera house proud. It wasn't perfect, but the principals all played to their individual strengths and made a great team. Central to this was the tireless tenor voice of Stefano Secco. I have to admit that I found his voice a little too edgy, he seemed to sing a half a notch too loud for the theatre, and occasional high note had a tightness to them. But he paced himself well and had plenty of stamina for the great final scene, and sang Verdi's music with an admirable fluency, supplying a superbly well filled line that would be the envy of many casting directors in this opera. He had a rather solid, middle-aged persona, lacking the dynamism necessary yet on the smaller stage at Grange Park this mattered less and when he came forward we could see and hear every detail.
David Stout, Stefano Secco - Verdi Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera - photo Robert Workman
David Stout, Stefano Secco - Verdi: Don Carlo - Grange Park Opera - photo Robert Workman

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Inner Landscapes - chamber music by Douglas Finch

Inner Landscapes - Douglas Finch
Douglas Finch Inner Landscapes, piano & chamber music; Aleksander Szram (piano), Lisa Nelsen (flute), Mieko Kanno (violin), Toby Tramaseur (violin), Caroline Szram (cello); Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 22 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Intense and thoughtful, the interior world of Douglas Finch revealed in music spanning 30 years

This disc, Inner Landscapes, on the Prima Facie label, is a survey of the chamber music and piano music of Douglas Finch, covering some 30 years of his composing career from 1984 to 2013. The pianist Aleksander Szram plays Finch's Lyric, Chorale I, II & II, and Uclulet (Landscape IV) and is joined by Lisa Nelsen (flute), Mieko Kanno (violin),  Toby Tramaseur (violin), Caroline Szram (cello) for Ruins, Fantasy on a Russian Folksong, Summer and Lamentations.

Finch was born in Canada and trained initially at the University of Western Ontario and the Juilliard. He moved to the UK in 1993 when he co-founded the Continuum Ensemble with Philip Headlam. From 1999 to 2006 Finch was Head of Keyboard at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, where he is now Professor of Piano and Composition.

The music on the disc is arranged roughly chronologically from Ruins (1984) to Chorale III (2013), but what strikes the listener is not so much the changes to Finch's style as the way he keeps returning to the same themes. In his introductory note the composer says 'On reflection, it appears to me that I have been moving in circles, rather than in any kind of straight line of 'progress'. For one thing, I keep returning to the sonorities of the piano. The overtones and natural decay - the slow deaths of struck, vibrating strings - seem to be in accord with my predilection for themes of solitude, mourning and spiritual longing.'

Much of the music is quiet and intense, and the disc's title Inner Landscapes is very apt.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

My encounter with Stuart Stratford, music director of Scottish Opera

Music Director Stuart Stratford conducting Rusalka. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit James Glossop
Music Director Stuart Stratford conducting Rusalka. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit James Glossop
The conductor Stuart Stratford has cropped up quite a bit on this blog over the years, conducting at Opera Holland Park and at the Buxton Festival as well as at English National Opera, not to mention other performances such as Shostakovich's Khovanshchina for Birmingham Opera

Anne Sophie Duprels as Rusalka and Peter Wedd as the prince. Scottish Opera 2016. Credit James Glossop
Dvorak Rusalka - Anne Sophie Duprels, Peter Wedd
Scottish Opera 2016, conductor Stuart Stratford. Credit James Glossop
Now Stuart has a new string to his bow, since June last year he has been music director of Scottish Opera, where he has recently conducted Jenufa and Rusalka. I met up with Stuart in the cafe at Holland Park, before one of his performances of Mascagni's Iris at this year's Opera Holland Park.  I was interested to know Stuart's thoughts on, and plans for, Scottish Opera now that he has started to get into the job. But, as we were in Holland Park, conversation inevitably turned to Mascagni's Iris.

We both agreed that Iris was a real rarity (see my review), and Stuart is not only enthusiastic about the opera, but finds it fantastic the way Opera Holland Park dusts off unjustly neglected operas. This season's Iris is sold out and an opera like Montemezzi's L'amore di tre rei (which Opera Holland Park performed in 2015) was a huge success. But to make such projects work you really have to take your audience with you, something Opera Holland Park has clearly been able to do. Stuart cites Simon Rattle's period in Birmingham with the CBSO as a prime example, with the audience really coming to trust Rattle and not thinking twice about coming to a concert, whatever was programmed. Stuart sees this as the art of giving people what you think they need.


Mascagni's music is vastly underestimated


Youthful La Boheme - Christine Collins Young Artists at Opera Holland Park

Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo and Christopher Cull as Marcello in La Boheme at Opera Holland Park. Photo Robert Hugill
Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo and Christopher Cull as Marcello in La Boheme at Opera Holland Park. Photo Robert Hugill
Puccini La Boheme; Alice Privett, Stephen Aviss, Christopher Cull, Elizabeth Karani, Julien Van Mellaerts, Richard Walshe, dir: Stephen Barlow/Rose Purdie, cond: Paul Wingfield; Christine Collins Young Artists performance at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 24 2016
Youthful enthusiasm and teamwork in the annual young artists performance

 Alice Privett as Mimi and Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo in  La Boheme  at Opera Holland Park. Photographer  Robert Workman
 Alice Privett as Mimi and Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo
in La Boheme at Opera Holland Park. Photo Robert Workman
This year's Christine Collins Young Artists performance at Opera Holland Park was Puccini's La Boheme on 24 June 2016, in Stephen Barlow's new production, designed by Andrew D Edwards. Associate director Rose Purdie was responsible for directing the Young Artists, and associate conductor Paul Wingfield was in the pit with the City of London Sinfonia, with Alice Privett as Mimi, Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo, Christopher Cull as Marcello, Elizabeth Karani as Musetta, Julien Van Mellaerts as Schaunard and Richard Walshe as Colline, plus David Woloszko, James Harrison and Michael Bradley from the main cast as Benoit, Alcindoro and Parpignol.

I had not seen Stephen Barlow's production which debuted on 11 June, so this was my first experience. At Opera Holland Park, the director and designer have to decide what to do about the facade of Holland Park House, which is a very visible presence around the stage. The options are simply to use it, disguise it or ignore it. Barlow and Edwards chose to use it, setting the tale of Bohemians in Paris in the 16th century. Little in the text conflicts with this setting, and it works as well as moving the piece to the 1950s, but it remains a surprise to see Rodolfo (Stephen Aviss) and Marcello (Christopher Cull) in doublet and hose!

Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo in  La Boheme  at Opera Holland Park. Photographer  Robert Workman
Stephen Aviss as Rodolfo
in  La Boheme at Opera Holland Park. Photo Robert Workman
The production was deliberately theatrical, the students' garret was a stage with a stage, with the design evoking the stage at the Globe Theatre, and Marcello's painting was a full cloth back-drop. Throughout the opera these cloth back-drops were visibly changed by stage-hands (in 16th century gear), and for the end of Act One we had a street scene, with an illuminated moon and for the final climactic note from Rodolfo and Mimi (Alice Privett) we saw them in silhouette against the moon. During Act Three, when there was no backdrop and the city gates were set up in front of Holland Park House, a stage hand produced a snow effect.

In the programme book there was printed a quote from Arthur Ransome, 'Bohemia is not a place - It's a state of mind' and like Stephen Medcalf's production at Grange Park Opera last year (see my review) the theatrical element was meant to evoke this, the sense that these young people are in Bohemia because they want to be, and that Bohemia could be anywhere.

It helped having young singers performing the roles, looking the part of young people in a garret.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Mid-century classics and more - Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's 2016/17 season

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra 2016/17 season - image credit BSO
Kirill Karabits, chief conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, will be launching the orchestra's 2016/17 season with performances of William Walton's Symphonies 1 & 2, both of which will be recorded for future release on the Onyx Classics label. A special focus on mid 20th century symphonies will also include Martinu's Symphony No. 4 (conducted by Aleksandar Markovic the new music director of  Opera North), Shostakovich's Symphony No. 8 (conducted by Kirill Karabits in a programme which also includes Prokofiev's Violin Concerto with Valeriy Sokolov) and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra in a programme with Bartok's Dance Suite.

Another focus is on the music of Elgar in the context of his Romantic contemporaries with the Cello Concerto (paired with Dvorak's Symphony No. 8), In the South (paired with Richard Strauss's Aus Italien), Elgar's Violin Concerto (with Kirill Karabits and Guy Braunstein, paired with Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 3), and Karl Heinz-Steffens conducting Elgar's Symphony No. 1.

The orchestra's new artist in residence is Serbian violinist Nemanja Radulovic, who will be performing Khachaturian's Violin Concerto, Barber's Violin Concerto and a recital with repertoire spanning Bach to Wieniawski.

The orchestra's BSO Participate programme works with 18 Music Hubs across the South and South West, so that in addition to the orchestra's 120 public performances it will be participating in around 500 workshops, creative sessions, tea dances and community activities. 125 000 people are expected to attend a BSO concert, with more than 60,000 children, young people and community groups engaging with other activities. Free concerts for primary schools will enable more than 10,000 children (aged 7 to 11) to experience high quality live music, with the Kids for a Quid scheme enabling 3000 under 18s to see live symphonic music last season.

Full details from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's website.

Jenufa returns to the London Coliseum

English National Opera - Jenufa - Laura Wilde, Nicky Spence and ENO Chorus - photo Donald Cooper
English National Opera - Jenufa - Laura Wilde, Nicky Spence and ENO Chorus - photo Donald Cooper
Janacek Jenufa; Laura Wilde, Michaela Martens, Nicky Spence, Peter Hoare, dir: David Alden, cond: Mark Wigglesworth; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 23 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A debut from Laura Wilde set against a real ensemble performance from ENO

English National Opera - Jenufa - Michaela Martens - photo Donald Cooper
Michaela Martens - photo Donald Cooper
David Alden's 2006 production of Janacek's Jenufa was revived at English National Opera on 23 June 2016, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth. Designed by Charles Edwards with costumes by Jon Morrell, and lighting by Adam Silverman the production featured Laura Wilde as Jenufa (in her UK debut), Michaela Martens as the Kostelnicka, Peter Hoare as Laca, Nicky Spence as Steva, and Valerie Reid as Grandmother Burya.

The production transposes the action to a rather grim 1950's Eastern bloc factory with Alden resolutely avoiding any sense of the folkloric. When I first saw the production (see my review) I liked the directness of Alden's production but this time round I found myself less appreciative; perhaps the new cast threw things into a different focus.

It is pointless complaining too much about Alden's expressionist style, though the production did seem to have rather too much wall-hugging. Much as in his production of Britten's Peter Grimes (seen at the London Coliseum in the 2008/9 and 2013/14 season), Alden seems to be interested in creating a world of broken people, almost grotesques, against which Jenufa (Laura Wilde) seems the only normal person. This makes the villagers and mill-hands in the first act come across as profoundly unlikeable. And with such an extreme, expressionist production style, the descent into madness of the Kostelnicka (Michaela Martens) seems less significant. But this re-imagining does not falsify the story, in the way the Alden does in other productions, and his concept of Jenufa and Laca (Peter Hoare) as a pair of broken people ultimately finding each other, makes Janacek's glorious conclusion all the more moving.

Another factor in the way the production comes over must be the style and speed of Mark Wigglesworth's performance with the ENO Orchestra. Wigglesworth seemed to prize weight and drama over narrative and propulsion. Whereas Charles Mackerras on the Chandos recording comes in at just over 120 minutes, the performance at ENO seemed to take rather longer (maybe as much as 15 minutes longer than this). Neither Wigglesworth nor Alden seemed interested in the underlying speech rhythms of Janacek's music so that Act One in particular came over as dramatic, stylised and not a little stolid, rather than having a sense of the naturalism and vitality that it can have. This was no longer a depiction of village life but more of an examination of the villagers' psyches.

Stylish seriousness and intelligent style: Idomeneo at Garsington

Garsington Opera 2016 - Idomeneo - Toby Spence - credit Clive Barda
Garsington Opera 2016 - Idomeneo - Toby Spence - credit Clive Barda
Mozart Idomeneo; Toby Spence, Louise Alder, Caitlin Hulcup, Rebecca von Lipinski, dir: Tim Albery, cond: Tobias Ringborg; Garsington Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 22 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Elegant and intense new production of Mozart's early masterpiece.

Mozart's first mature opera, Idomeneo received a new production at Garsington Opera, the first time the opera has been performed there since 1996. The opera was given in the Munich version. We caught the second performance on 22 June 2016, with Toby Spence as Idomeneo, Caitlin Hulcup as Idamante, Louise Alder as Ilia, Rebecca von Lipinski as Elettra, Timothy Robinson as Arbace, Robert Murray as the High Priest. Designs were by Hannah Clark, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and movement by Tim Claydon. Tobias Ringborg conducted the Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus. 

Garsington Opera 2016 - Idomeneo - Caitlin Hulcup, Louise Alder - credit Clive Barda
Garsington Opera 2016 - Idomeneo - Caitlin Hulcup, Louise Alder
credit Clive Barda
With its themes of the aftermath of war, refugees and regimes in conflict, Mozart's Idomeneo is still highly topical and relevant. Tim Albery's intelligent production had the advantage that it drew on all these links, without lecturing us and telling us what to think. Hannah Clark's elegantly minimal set was simply wooden cladding, with an image of the sea in the middle of the back-drop and a pair of containers left apparently abandoned on the shore. One of these containers was used to house the Trojan prisoners, whilst the other provided the necessary interiors; for the first act it was where Ilia, the captive Trojan princess was living, providing an interior with all the elegance of Gustavian Sweden.

Costumes for the aristocracy were all 18th century whilst the Cretan townsfolk and fishermen were in timeless indigo work-wear which evoked both mid 20th century and times past (as well as the stylish present). There were other modern details, luggage, cigarettes etc, so that this wasn't a slavish evocation of the period. Overall look was in fact rather Scandinavian, as if we were intended to read 18th century Sweden for Crete.

Idomeneo is the most Gluckian of Mozart operas, the text is based on a French opera and many of the scenes evoke similar events in Gluck operas. And many elements of Mozart's score are to be found in Gluck, including the dramatic use of the chorus, the dance element (though Garsington omitted the ballet) and significant amounts of accompanied recitative. And it is the powerful accompanied recitative which gives the work its distinctive timbre. The production seemed to respond to this with a staging notable for its clarity and elegance, without ever compromising the drama. It was however, heavily cut and whilst this was done intelligently, there were unfortunate losses along the way; the whole opera took only around two and a half hours.

Toby Spence made quite a youthful Idomeneo, vigorous and virile whilst reacting to the events around him with fiery intensity.

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