Tomorrow is New Year's day so the trick is to avoid the Strauss waltzes (and the Radetzky march with its terrible audience clapping) on TV and Radio.
Saturday, 31 December 2005
Friday, 23 December 2005
On Tuesday it was the Chelsea Green carol concert; organised by the local businesses the choir of St. Luke's Church, Chelsea and Enterprise Brass braved the cold to sing carols and generally try and us in a Christmas mood, even old humbugs like me. And yes, I did actually hum along to some of the carols (fortified by smoked salmon, sausages and mulled wine!).
Then the choir from the local school came to sing under the Christmas tree at work. I imagined that I could avoid them but their singing permeated the entire building in a rather attractive manner. A relatively small group of children produced a surprisingly confident, well focussed and enjoyable sound. But now, I'm happy to forego carols for another year (or two!).
Wednesday, 21 December 2005
I was interested to read that the National Theatre in Prague has only just staged the original version of Janacek's Jenufa for the first time; previously they had only ever staged the adaption made by the theatre's then director at the time the opera was first performed in Prague. Janacek had to agree to the changes as a condition of the opera being performed. Its a good thing that such unnecessary adaptions (correcting perceived faults in orchestration etc.) are being consigned to the dustbin.
Another review that caught my eye was Magdala Opera's production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Nottingham. Roderic Dunnett gave it a very positive review, which is very heart warming as the opera company is based on a chorus, many of whose members started adult life with no musical training, even no sense of pitch or no idea how to sing. Their aim is to bring more people to opera through their performances. More power to their elbow.
According to Opera's 'We hear that...' column, the Royal Opera House are having yet another go at Salome, with David McVicar scheduled to do a new production in 2008. I think this will be their 3rd new production since they ditched their old one which I saw starting in the late 70's/early 80's, with Hildegarde Behrens, Josphine Barstow, Gwynneth Jones and Grace Bumbry (at various times). I often wonder whether companies sometimes regret ditching old standard productions when they have so much trouble getting a new one right. But I suppose in an age of shared productions it is probably almost cost effective to bring a new co-production in as to re-furbish substantial and expensive sets.
Covent Garden seem to be investing quite heavily in David McVicar, I hope that he continues to deliver.
Tuesday, 20 December 2005
These were all assembled on CD but frustratingly neither the Opal nor the EMI CD's are available at the moment. Isn't it about time the bigger companies had some sort of press to order arrangement for out of print CD's. I know it would be expensive but it would certainly be useful
Friday, 16 December 2005
My motet went very well and there were quite a few approving comments at the interval and afterwards. We recorded the concert so I look forward to hearing the results. The trickier items in the programme went well and I think we did justice to Gabriel Jackson's 12-part motet, Cecilia Virgo.
About my own performance I was less than completely happy; I made a stupid mistake in a short solo and by the middle of the 2nd half was getting tired. The busy Christmas season was getting to me. So now its onward and upward, next term we start rehearsing Duarte Lobo's Requiem, Gabriel Jackson's Sacrum Convivium, another volume from Vagn Holmboe's Liber Canticorum and the amazing Purcell/Sandstrom Hear my prayer, along with a couple of pieces by the 18th century Roseingraves - a father and son who worked in the Cathedrals in Dublin.
Tuesday, 13 December 2005
The concert includes one of my pieces, I Vespri di Santa Cecilia, which should be rather fun. This time I'm not doing the tenor solo; the first time Concord did the piece I had the dubious pleasure of singing solo in my own piece. The work calls for 6 soloists and double choir so that we have a 14-part work. All great fun.
One of the pieces we're doing is Britten's Hymn to St. Cecilia and for some reason I've been wandering around all week humming the lovely tune that he gives the soprano soloist to the words dear white children casual as birds
Monday, 12 December 2005
In the evening we returned to the Barbican for the LSO's concert of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. Unfortunately the illness bug was still around and Ben Heppner was ill and was replaced by David Rendall. Rendall's performance was a little careful but very enjoyable, but I had been looking forward to seeing what Heppner made of the role. A full review will appear in due course.
Sunday, 11 December 2005
The double violin concerto was played by the leaders of the 1st and 2nd violins. Haim’s tempi in the outer movements were swift and the violins favoured articulation over line so that there were times when the solo parts sounded preciously like pecking. I longed for a little more space and sense of pure line. Though the performance was creditable it seemed to trivialise the work somehow. The oboist played his concerto confidently and fluently, producing a lovely deep modulated sound. But it was only in the slower middle movement that he had time to pause, dwell and consider; in the outer movements things seemed to just dash past. The singers’ two arias were moving, leaving me longing for more.
After the interval the 2 singers blended beautifully in the duets in Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. But somehow I wanted more. The text is so over-wrought that Pergolesi’s lovely melodies can easily seem to skate over the subject matter. Singers and Ensemble, particularly the ensemble, needed to find more depth, more suffering in the work.
One curiosity is that Bach produced a version of the work adapted to fit Psalm 51 with a more elaborate accompaniment (a fully independent viola part, for instance). Given the Bachian nature of the programme it would have been interesting to hear it. But perhaps the work would not have had such cachet with the paying public.
The hall was full and the theatre was busy with its Xmas show, Tintin, so that the facilities were stretched to breaking point.
I've also started producing marketing copy and graphics for the concert as these are needed by the firm who are doing the ticketing. Its the first time I've used a ticketing firm and it will be interesting to see how this affects sales. I'm hoping to have the web page for the concert up later today; I'll keep you posted
Friday, 9 December 2005
Thursday, 8 December 2005
It is some years since I have sung carols; I try to avoid them in general unless we can include a number of seriously interesting or unusual ones. But for once it was fun re-visiting all the old favourites in Carols for Choirs.
Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Tuesday, 6 December 2005
Monday, 5 December 2005
On Sunday I was singing at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, as usual. It was one of those days where the cycle of the Christian year clashed with the vagaries of singers’ timetabling; we were a little low on numbers but the time of the year rendered Bruckner’s Virga Jesse suitable. So sing it we did, with the lower 3 parts just 1 or 2 singers per part – not the ideal forces for such a big work, but it went very well.
Sunday, 4 December 2005
Friday, 2 December 2005
Thursday, 1 December 2005
Having just finished reviewing a book about French grand opera I thought that it was about time that I reacquainted myself with some of the prime examples of the genre. Like many people, I suspect, I am more familiar with operas written for the Paris Opera by Italian composers (Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, Verdi’s Les Vepres Sicilenne and Don Carlos), than I am with the works of Meyerbeer, Halevy and Auber.
This quest is trickier than it sounds and has the potential for great expense. After all, 5 Act operas in this genre are not short so the CD’s do not always come cheap. Trawling through the internet, I discovered that the strongest available recording of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots is still the one with Joan Sutherland. The later Erato recording with a French cast including Francoise Pollet has dropped out of the catalogue, though Malibran has a couple of fascinating early recordings. Even stranger, there is no studio recording for Le Prophete available, the main recording I could find was a live one from
The situation is similar with Auber; apart from Fra Diavolo his operas are heavily under represented in the catalogue. It seems strange that such an influential operatic form could have dropped so out of favour. What you can get, of course, are the estimable Opera Rara recordings of Meyerbeer’s Italian operas; oh, that they would start exploring early 19th century French opera. Still, I have their set of the BBC Les Vepres Siciliennes on my Christmas List and I am waiting with baited breath for the issue of the BBC Don Carlos. This latter is the only recording of Verdi’s first thoughts; the true grand opera Don Carlos, rather than the later
Anyway, I managed to get the Erato recording of Les Huguenots out of the record library and we started listening to it last night. (1st Act and part of 2nd Act). What struck me was how light (for want of a better word) the music sounded. Given that this was a 5 act opera on a seriously serious subject, I had thought the sound world would be darker. But of course, I am falling into the same trap as everyone else and wearing my post-Wagnerian ears. So next time I listen, I promise to do better.
David commented that parts of it sounded, to him, like