Thursday, 30 March 2006

Having made a start on my new mass, Kyrie drafted out and Agnus Dei started, I began to realise that I'm in danger of repeating myself. The music written so far is rather close to the motets that I've been writing recently. So I have stirred my stumps and started sketching out a new orchestral work.


For years, I have been thinking about a piece based on a Sylvia Townsend Warner short story from The Kingdoms of Elfin, the one about the Welsh fairies who use faith to move mountains. Instead of an extended choral piece, I'm doing it for orchestra; quite a challenge. So far there are just a dozen bars and I'm struggling with the music for the fairies; I can hear the shapes and texture of the music but am having trouble getting the actual notes right. This is a problem I sometimes have; I hear a texture or a shape rather than detailed melody and harmony, so I have to experiment to try and re-create the particular texture. The fairies are coming out rather Tippett-like (think Midsummer Marriage, but I'm not going to look at the score of that work or I'll end up writing real pastiche.


I have also acquire some rather neat PDF creating software so that I can now produce PDF's out of Finale, my music writing programme. The result looks rather handsome on the web, there's a sample here.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

New season at Covent Garden

Covent Garden has announced its plans for the 2006/2007 season. Not surprisingly Wagner is not on the agenda as the 2007/08 season will open with the new Ring, the shame seems to be that having decided to miss of Wagner, Covent Garden have missed off most other German composers as well. Still the season includes some gems, with a good scattering of young talent being exposed as well as welcome returns of old faces.

The emphasis of the season is in French opera. There is a revival of David McVicar’s Faust, still with Angela Gheorghiu as Marguerite but with a mainly new cast that includes Christine Rice (who is appearing 3 times this season). More of a novelty is a pair of concert performances of Halevy’s La Juive with Dennis O’Neill as Eleazar and Alastair Miles as Cardinal Brogni, The much anticipated new Carmen is directed by Francesca Zamballo, so expect colour and efficiency rather than deep insight - Covent Garden will be looking for a production that they can roll out regularly. There are 2 casts with Pappano and Philippe Auguin sharing the conducting honours. Anna Caterina Antonacci and Marina Domashenko share the title role; I’m rooting for Antonacci and can’t wait to see her. Ildebrando D’arcangelo and Laurent Naouri are sharing Escamillo; its good to see Naouri making appearances in the UK, usually we have to go and see him in France. Don Jose is shared between Jonas Kaufmann (German) and Marco Berti (Italian). As you can see, not many native French language speakers. And that brings me to another point. What edition are they doing? The press release doesn’t say; we don’t even get a hint as to whether they are using dialogue or recitative.

A rather more exciting new prospect (already seen at the Met, in New York), is Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment (in French) with Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Florez, with Bruno Campanella conducting. Laurent Pelly directs; having done nothing in London in years he now has 2 productions within a year (his La Belle Helene is at the Coliseum later this year). Florez is probably one of the few tenors around willing to do the tricky tenor role in the French version.

A nod in the direction of the Mozart Centenary is given with a new production of La Finta Giardiniera with Sir John Eliot Gardiner making a welcome return to the Covent Garden podium. The strong cast includes Camilla Tilling, Kurt Streit and Sophie Koch. Wonderful resources for what is, I find, a rather trivial piece.

Richard Jones’s wonderful production of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is coming back (no I haven’t seen it, but it sounds as if it was fabulous and we hope to get to see it this time). Pappano is conducting and John Daszak is singing Zinovy Ismailov; Daszak seems to be gradually making it up the slippery ladder. Also of note, Gwynne Howell is singing the Old Convict; he made is Covent Garden debut in 1970.

Also coming back is Francesca Zamballos’s Queen of Spades. Not quite such a successful production, but we get to see Katarina Dalayman as Lisa and Gerald Finley as Prince Yeletsky with Semyon Bychkov conducting, so the evening will definitely be worth listening to.

Surprisingly, Handel’s Orlando is coming back in Francisco Negrin’s production. It was unloved by some critics, but we liked it. With any luck the rather daft choreography has gone. Bejun Mehta is in the title role; he sang Medoro in the original run but had to stand in for Alice Coote when she was ill. Rosemary Joshua is Angelica and Camilla Tilling is Dorinda; Charles Mackerras conducts. Definitely a date to be put in the diary.

Thomas Ades’s Tempest is coming back, we might go and see it if only to see if he has revised the work and to see how it shapes up again. Ades was quite close to the deadline in finishing it, so I hope he has taken the opportunity to take a step back and re-think some things. The original cast are, by and large, returning.

Another new production is a rather curious double bill of L’Heure Espagnol and Gianni Schicchi with Christine Rice (in the Ravel) and Bryn Terfel (in the Puccini), all produced by Richard Jones. Might be good, might be awful! The Ravel cast includes Bonaventura Bottone, Yann Beuron, Christopher Maltman and Andrew Shore, so its definitely well cast. In the Puccini, Joan Rodgers makes a welcome appearance, along with Marie McLaughlin and Robert Lloyd.

More new productions include Simon Rattle conducting the Salzburg Easter Festival production of Pelleas et Melisande with Simon Keenlyside, Angelika Kirchschlager and Gerald Finley. The cast makes my mouth water even if the opera doesn’t really. Karita Mattila is singing the title role in Fidelio in Jurgen Flimm’s production from the New York Met with Pappano conducting.

Erwin Schrott, who made such a hit in the new Marriage of Figaro returns in the title role of Don Giovanni; let’s hope he takes his shirt off like Simon Keenlyside did! Jonathan Lemalu is Leporello and Anna Netrebko is Donna Anna.

Other revivals include an interesting young cast in La Boheme, Elijah Moshinsky’s unsubtle Il Trovatore with Nicola Luisotti conducting, he’s new to Covent Garden; Marcelo Alvarez, Stephanie Blyth and Anthony Michaels-Moore star in a cast which almost makes me want to see the production again – I can always close my eyes. Verdi’s Stiffelio comes back in Elijah Moshinsky’s production with Mark Elder conducting, Jose Cura and Sondra Radvanovsky singing. Violeta Urmana is donning Tosca’s red frock in a revival of Jonathan Kent’s new production. Rigoletto and Cosi van Tutte also come back, the latter with Colin Davis.

A final notable revival. Charles Mackerras is conducting Katya Kabanova with Janice Watson in the title role and Felicity Palmer as her mother-in-law. Kurt Streit, Chris Merrit and Toby Spence are also in the cast – a trio of very fine tenors!

Another item to look forward to is a concert performance of Massenet’s Thais conducted by Andrew Davis with Renee Fleming, Thomas Hampson and Joseph Calleja. Fleming seems to be doing something of a Thais tour as she is singing the role in concert at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris, but with Gerald Finley.

The season at the Linbury theatre includes the premiere of Dominque Le Gendre’s Bird of the Night and a small scale production of Owen Wingrave

The Royal Ballet’s new season includes 4 new ballet’s for the main auditorium. These include Will Tuckett’s new version of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, should be fun.

Tuesday, 28 March 2006

Tosca

On Saturday we went to see English Touring Opera's new production of Tosca at the Cambridge Arts Theatre. My review is here on MusicWeb.


Tosca is one of those operas that can be difficult to get the tone of the production right, especially on a small scale. Its Grand Guignol gestures can easily degenerate into ham; I remember my mother going to see a very small scale production (with piano I think) in our home town of Grimsby. I'd warned her in advance that it might not be convincing. She reported back that she'd enjoyed the singing but that the staging was a little over-done; Cavaradossi appearing in Act 2 covered in obviously fake stage blood, etc.


But even in larger houses, where the bigger scale of the theatre suits large scale gestures an effects there are pit-falls, notably at the ending. English National Opera revived Jonathan Miller's fascist era production with Jane Eaglen in the title role. At the end Eaglen was called upon to run up a long, long ramp before throwing herself out of a window. A woman of Eaglen's size looks ungainly running and it completely destroyed the moment. Here, and in one or two other smaller places, I'd wished the staff producers had had the confidence to re-work the production to suit Eaglen's physique more.

Recent CD Review

My review of David Stanhope's latest piano recital is here on Music Web International.

A well planned recital well executed with dazzling playing. But don’t go
rushing out to buy this disc especially for the Rachmaninov Preludes ...

Monday, 27 March 2006

Castrati Ho

The press is currently full of articles about castrati, as the Handel House has a fascinating new exhibition on the subject. The only known recording of a castrato is that of Alessandro Moreschi, who worked in the Papal choir during the early 20th century. The problem with this recording is the Moreschi is relatively elderly and his technique involves the rather bizarre attacking of notes via grace notes as far as a 10th away from the destination note. This gives his vocal line a peculiar gulping, swooping quality.


This was discussed at length in a fascinating BBC Radio 3 programme, some years ago. During that programme, someone made the point that judging from the recording you could almost imagine that Moreschi wasn't a castrato at all, but using falsetto. It was postulated that he might have masqueraded as a castrato to further his career. This is an interesting point, and one that probably is never going to be resolved. But it leaves us with an even bigger question over the Moreschi recordings.

Saturday, 25 March 2006

Don Carlos

Building a Library on BBC Radio 3 this morning covered all the available versions of Verdi's Don Carlos, Italian and French, 4 Act and 5 Act. The reviewer's ultimate conclusion was impeccable, he chose the Pappano recording which is the only adequate studio recording in French. Whilst navigating the different versions of the opera, there was an essential point that he neglected to make, probably through time. The BBC recording conducted by John Matheson (just released on Opera Rara) is not just the fist recording in French, it is a recording of the Original score as performed in Paris, with some of the cuts opened up. Whereas the Pappano version is basically Verdi's revision from the 1880's, but sung in French and with some of the cuts opened up. Where Verdi revised a passage from the 1867 version for the 1882/84 version, this latter revision is the one performed by Pappano. Matheson performs the 1867 score.


This variance of the opera has allowed conductors to play fast and loose with the edition of Don Carlos. This should not be the case, if you want to perform Verdi's final thoughts then do the 5-act Modena version in French. Otherwise do the 1867 Paris version in French. Don't to the 5-act Moden version, and then intercut bits of earlier Verdi. This is something which, to me, is essential and I feel should have been made clear in the radio broadcast.

Friday, 24 March 2006

More on Luc Arbogast

Someone has posted further information on Luc Arbogast. The comments here include a links to French web sites with further information about him.

Consummatum est

Well, last night's concert at St. James's Church, Piccadilly, went off in fine style. The Salomon Orchestra were in fine fettle and the programme came out just right. Conductor Adrian Brown proved an excellent mid-wife for my 2 new pieces. The Elegy for Baritone and Orchestra is a substantial, rather dense work which sets Rilke's long poem in its entirety, making it a big sing for the baritone soloist. Baritone, David Greiner, was brilliant and his diction was superb so you could follow the text throughout. I was rather worried about the effect of the piece on the audience, whether they'd be put of by the sheer density of the text and the setting but that proved to be the opposite and it was extremely well received.


In the Barbarian's Camp came off very well, with all the tricky poly-rhythmic passages falling into place. For the second time in a week I found myself having a conversation about how my music was trickier than it looked, that what you saw on the page was deceptive. There were a couple of moments in the final fanfares (re-workings of the brass piece, The Barbarian's are Coming) where I realised that I could improve the balance of the orchestration, but I was on the whole very, very pleased at the way the 8-part brass texture had been expanded to a full orchestral work. The closing quiet string chords, appearing from under the loud brass and wind, had a wonderfully Unanswered Question-ish feel.


There was a recording made. Gil Limor again worked his magic and I look forward to hearing the results.

Thursday, 23 March 2006

Cometh the Day

We here it is at last, the day of the Salomon Orchestra concert at St. James's Church, Piccadilly. We had an excellent rehearsal on Tuesday and I look forward to the concert immensely. The listing in Time Out magazine looks good, and is at the head of the events for today, so here's hoping that we get an audience. We have had some advanced ticket sales, but I'm still worried about numbers; I don't want another concert where the orchestra out numbers the audience, no matter how enthusiastic the audience might be. Here's hoping.


David, the baritone soloist, rang yesterday to say that he thought I'd missed out a line of the poem. Looks as if I'll have to re-visit the setting. I've already been thinking of doing so - after the rehearsal on Sunday, when I heard the piece with orchestra for the first time, I was aware that there were places which could be improved. D. joked that I didn't have time to change them before the concert.


What is curious is the presence of small, Mahlerian touches in the orchestration; something of which I was not consciously aware, but I have always loved Mahler's orchestral songs. The 2 pieces at tonight's concert have in common that they were both explicitly orchestrated. I usually write in full score or at least short score, but both Barbarians and Elegy were written for unspecified forces and then orchestrated late.

Rite of Spring

The other night, we finally caught up with the BBC Television dramatisation of the events behind the premiere of The Rite of Spring, mixing drama with a complete performance of the ballet (danced by Finnish National Ballet). As drama, it worked pretty well but I thought that the script was guilty of trying to encapsulate Diaghilev and Nijinsky's entire relationship in the 45 minute drama (the programme lasted 90 minutes of which 45 were devoted to the performance of the ballet). I was particularly worried about the way the drama of creating the new ballet played out against the backdrop of Nijinsky falling in love with Romola. I'd have to go back to Richard Buckle's biography to check the facts, it all felt a little too pat.


What was a revelation was the ballet itself, performed whilst the audience actually did catcall and boo. The revelation was that it seemed so contrived and dated, hardly revolutionary at all and not terribly interesting. It is perhaps significant that when Diaghilev came to revive The Rite of Spring in a subsequent season, no-one could remember any of the steps (and Nijinsky was too ill by this time), so that Massine choreographed an entirely new score.


One piece of history was not re-enacted; the moment when Nijinsky gets so annoyed with the dancer playing the Chosen Maiden that he demonstrates the choreography himself. The result was to startling that everyone agreed that it was a shame that Nijinsky did not create a role for himself in the ballet. The dancer playing the Chosen Virgin was in fact chosen because she was the tallest in the company, not the most gifted.


The ballet classes and rehearsals had an interesting element of realism, the 'dancers ' did not all have the perfect bodies that we anticipate nowadays!


On a final, picky note, I was worried that Marie Rambert was referred to as Marie Rambert, I suspect that she was still called Miriam Ramberg at that time, though again I'd have to consult the biographies to check.

Monday, 20 March 2006

What next?

Having completed a clutch of motets for Tempus per Annum I'm trying to work out what to work on next. I am currently sketching out a new mass, mainly because I don't have a recent, uptodate, ordinary 4-part mass; hopefully something with a bit of substance. I'm experimenting with the technique used by renaissance and baroque composers, where the incipit for each movement is the same - but I'm not really very good at sticking to rules like this.


But I have various other ideas which are circling round, none having settled yet. There's a 1-act play which is a modern version of a Jacobean revenge tragedy - its ideal in length but has only 2 characters which is tricky, if I do another opera then I'd like a few more characters, its less taxing for me and for the singers. There's another play based on the case of a Winchester school-boy who was dying and who was fought over by Catholics and Protestants; the play uses a lot of dialogue so, though I like the subject matters there's work to be done in creating a libretto. Then of course, there's the on-going idea to create an oratorio on the subject of Cranmer. But this requires reading of his biography again and the gathering of suitable episodes and texts. Not to mention the vexed problem of trying to estimate how long a libretto you need, I have a terrible tendency to over-write the text and this leads to length problems later.


Besides all this, there is the eternal desire to write more songs, if only I could find some poems that appealed to me; not to mention the on-going problem that if you set a contemporary poet you get into copyright problems. Not even contemporary poets, I've just discovered that Lord Alfred Douglas is in copyright until 2015.


And perhaps I should write another orchestral work, I've got an idea using a solo cello but not sure what shape the work will take.


Knowing me, I'll probably continue writing the mass and more motets until something else really hits me over the head.

Saturday morning found me, briefly, at Jaques Samuels Pianos in the Edgware Road where baritone, David Greiner, was rehearsing for Thursday's concert. We then drove to Oxford to put up poster boards around the University Church to advertise the Cranmer concert that evening. The wind rather foiled us and David had to keep going back to sort the boards out.


The afternoon rehearsal was something of a public dress rehearsal. The University Church gets lots of visitors and of course they sat down and watched the choir singing. We gave out leaflets for the concert, but I don't know if this generated any extra audience, most visitors probably just regarded the singing as a lovely extra element of ambience in the church.


The concert itself went very well. We got a good audience, to my great relief, with a number of people coming specially because of the Cranmer connection; one lady came all the way from the USA for the concert! All items sounded good, but it was profoundly moving to hear my setting of Cranmer's final speech in the exact location where it had been spoken. The loveliest moment, for me, was not so much the concert as the rehearsal as by the time the choir came to rehearse The Testament of Dr. Cranmer the church was locked and it was just me listening alone in that lovely building. Quite magical.


Then Sunday morning we had the first orchestra rehearsal for the Salomon Concert, Getting up a bit earlier than we would have liked. It is always a wonderful relief to hear pieces for the first time and discover that they do sound as you intended. This is particularly true of orchestral works where the orchestration can make such a big effect. Even the poly-rhythmical passages are sounding right, and you're never sure about those until you actually hear them. There is no easy way for having the 4/4 and 6/8 played simultaneously (where the quaver is constant) and notated easily, so I've ended up with some passaged which are really in 4/4 but are notated in 6/8 so the players can follow the beat. Making this sound right is tricky, but its one of the limitations of Western notation.

Saturday, 18 March 2006

First Contact

Last night we had the first rehearsal for my setting of the 2nd Duino Elegy which is being premiered on Thursday. The piece involves a baritone and full orchestra but last night it was just the baritone, David Greiner, conductor, Adrian Brown, and a pianist. Even with these reduced forces it was wonderful hearing the work for the first time.


I'm always a nervous when encountering a work in performance for the first time; it's the same at the first choir rehearsal of a work. The worry is about whether it will work, but also what the effect on the performers will be. This latter is particularly true when working with amateurs who are my friends as they let me know what they think; which is what friends are for! As ever, the work went well last night and it does work. I can't wait for the first orchestral rehearsal, on Sunday, to hear it with the orchestra.


And so, back to choral mode today as we go off to Oxford for the Cranmer memorial concert.

Friday, 17 March 2006

ENO's new Season

ENO have announced their plans for the 2006/07 season. There has been much muttering about how unready the company was and how the previous regime had not made sufficient plans. I'm not sure how much of this is really true; what probably matters more is that Berry and Tomasi have had to come up with a season which will attract ENO's traditional audience back and also balance the books.


This means that the season has a somewhat lighter feel, they are bringing back On the Town and doing a new production of Kismet. Additionally, there's a new production of The Gondoliers.


The other aspect of the season which is designed to satisfy their traditional punters is the return of a number of ENO favourites from the past; like the present season casting seems rather stronger than of late and sees the welcome return of some favourites.


Emma Bell is doing her first La Traviata with Rhys Meirion, a former company principal, as Alfredo. Its a new production, by Conal Morrison from Dublin's Abbey Theatre and for some reason, re-sets the opera in 19th century Dublin? Rather a curious idea, but worth suffering just to hear/see Bell's Violetta.


Another strong return is Amanda Roocroft singing the title role in a new production of Jenufa. The production was first seen in 2004 at Houston Grand Opera. This is Roocroft's first ENO role since singing Ginevra in Ariodante in 1993, an appalling gap. In what is probably something of a coup, Kostelnicka is being sung by Catherine Malfitano. With Paul Charles Clarke making his ENO stage debut (something he should have surely done years ago).


The new production of Marriage of Figaro has 2 distinct casts which highlight current talent including Lisa Milne (Countess), Susan Gritton (Countess), Jonathan Lemalu (Figaro), Sarah Tynan (Susanna) Jonathan Veira (Dr. Bartolo), plus stalwarts such as Diana Montague , Stuart Kale, Yvonne Howard. The production is by Olivia Fuchs, which means it should be rather interesting; perhaps interesting enough for me to go and see it (there again perhaps not).
The new Gondoliers has more returning old faces; the Duchess of Plaza Toro is Anne Murray and Don Alhambra is DOnald Maxwell. The delectable Sarah Tynan re-appears as Gianetta, Martin Duncan produces; definitely one for the diary.


Handel's Agrippina is being done in the production originally seen in Brussels, directed by David McVicar. Agrippina is often seen as one of Handel's lighter, more satirical operas and this is used as an excuse for doing rather jokey productions. Given McVicar's track record (a mixed Alcina at ENO and the terrible Bollywood Julius Caesar for Glyndebourne), I won't hold my breath about the production. But the casting is just top notch; Sarah Connolly as Agrippina, Christine Rice as Nero, Rebecca Evans as Poppea (one of Handel's sex-kitten roles) plus Stephen Wallace and Lawrence Zazzo.


Mary Plazas returns in a revival of Stephen Pimlott's 1993 La Boheme. A more unconventional choice is Philip Glass's Satyagraha directed by first time opera director Phelim McDermott (founders of the theatre company Improbable, responsible for Shock Headed Peter). There is also a new production of Death in Venice directed by Deborah Warner, conducted by Kwame Ryan and with Ian Bostridge in the main role. This is going to be one of the hot tickets of the season, I just hope Bostridge has the stamina to actually do the performances.


Finally a revival of La Clemenza di Tito with Alice Coote making her role debut as Sesto. Emma Bell and Paul Nilon return to the production and its being conducted by ENO's new musical director Edward Gardner.


The company have already announce that they are dropping Sean Doran's designation of Britten as house composer, but have promised more Britten operas. It remains to be seen whether they will extend their committment to English opera. This season includes G&S and Handel but to make a true committment we need a further foray into more distant waters. With all the push to renew core repertoire, I have a horrible feeling that any expectations of opera by Delius, Rutland Boughton or Ethel Smyth are going to be disappointed.


The full season preview is on the ENO site here.

Latin Curiosity

The Journal of the Prayer Book Society has just arrived through my letter box. They are a group devoted to the use of the traditional Book of Common Prayer in Anglican Church services, so there is an ad for my Oxford Cranmer concert in this edition of the journal. Also in the journal is an article about the use of the Book of Common Prayer in Oxford and Cambridge colleges, which includes a fascinating piece of trivia.


The founders of the Church of England were insistent that services be conducted in English so that the congregation could fully comprehend what was going on. But it was assumed that congregations in the centres of learning, Cambridge, Oxford, Eton and Winchester, would all know enough Latin to follow a church service in that language. So during the reign of Elizabeth 1st, services in Latin were allowed in these places. A Latin version of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer was produced in 1670 and it is still allowed to be used in Cambridge, Oxford, Eton and Winchester. At the University Church, Oxford on the Thursday before the start of term, there is always a service using the Latin Book of Common Prayer from 1670. It sounds fascinating.

Thursday, 16 March 2006

Preparations

Last night we had the last rehearsal in London for the Oxford Cranmer memorial concert on Saturday. Logistics meant that I had to rehearse some of my own pieces, which was a great novelty. I have not conducted much recently, and on reflection I think I still prefer sitting listening to someone else shaping my music. I have never really had a strong urge to go out and conduct/perform my pieces, I much prefer the role of arranging/fixing performances.


Tomorrow, the baritone soloist for the Salomon concert on Thursday flies in and we start rehearsals with him.


The dining room table at home is starting to acquire a series of piles of paper; music to take, lists of things to remember, instructions from the on-line box offices we're using (TicketsOxford in Oxford and TicketWeb in London). There are still some last minute details to sort out and the vexed question of locating a set of stands for the singers to use. Not to mention the rather nail-biting issue of watching the progress of ticket sales on-line!

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Irreverent thoughts

The disc I'm reviewing at the moment includes a performance of Gorecki's lovely motet Totus Tuus. I performed in last year with London Concord Singers and its a piece that calls for discipline and control. But whilst rehearsing the endlessly repeated Maria, Maria, I had the irreverent desire to do an arrangement of it which, at the most unsuitable moments, broke into snatches of Maria from West Side Story and How do you solve a problem like Maria? from The Sound of Music. Impossible of course, you'd never solve the copyright issues, but somehow each time I hear Totus Tuus now, I hear these other songs bouncing away in the background.

Review of Attila

My review of Saturday's Attila, performed by the Chelsea Opera Group is now on-line here, at Music and Vision.

Tuesday, 14 March 2006

Thais (again)

Massenet's opera Thais seems to be rather in the air at the moment; Grange Park Opera are doing it in June (yes, we're going). Now the Chatelet Theatre in Paris have sent out details of their 2006/2007 season and it includes a series of performances of the opera, with Renee Fleming in the title role and Gerald Finley in the rather intractable role of Athanael (he has to spend rather a lot of time being good, which is always rather difficult in opera and can end up coming over as unsufferably priggish).


Now I've just been reading obituaries for the soprano Anna Moffo who, in my mind, is associated with the opera. This is because in the late '70s when we saw performances of Thais at the Royal Northern College of music, the only available recording had Moffo in the title role. It wasn't ideal (she sang the part using a rather annoying sexy vibrato). But then when Beverley Sills recorded the role, one critic commented that Sills sounded like a barmaid!

Recent CD Reviews

Two more reviews on MusicWeb-International.

My review of Portsmouth Cathedral's recording of music from Nelson's funeral is here

Not a disc to be dipped into, but listened to carefully it will transport you to
an earlier era. ...


And my review of songs by English Women composers is here

Will appeal to many simply by the composers represented and that
song-cycle by Ivor Gurney. Wonderfully communicative performances but
listen first to see how you feel about Colwell’s voice. ...

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Yesterday was rather schizophrenic as I was simultaneously working on arrangements for 3 different concerts. For next Saturday's Cranmer concert, in Oxford, this involved making lists and printing the programmes. We've had one rehearsal for this and there's another one next week, so things are progressing nicely. For the orchestral concert, at St. James's Piccadilly on March 23rd, I have been finding Studio space for the baritone soloist, David Greiner, to rehearse. He's flying in on Friday, having spent the week rehearsing an operatic triple bill in Germany.


Then at the same time, I'm finalising the music for the concert at the Chelsea Festival in June, so the dining table is currently covered with the necessary scores so that I can get a set to Paul Ayres, the conductor. Of course, with my own pieces, especially the new one, I keep tinkering with them and must come to a cut off point and decide that no more work can be done before the concert.


One feature of the concert, which is themed on music dedicated to the virgin mary, is a sequence which I hope will alternate plainchant and organ music based on chant; I've currently got some organ volumes out of the Library, some lovely 17th century organ Magnificats by Titelouze; all I need now are the plainchant magnificats and tracking those down seems to be rather a trial.


Last night we went see Chelsea Opera Group at the Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, the first time we've been to the hall since the opening celebrations. It is a fine venue, though the forces needed for Verdi's Attila stretched the platform to its limits. As ever with concert halls, the anciliary spaces are not always ideal; the access to the stairs leading up to the auditorium are a bit cramped when the hall is full, as are the toilets. These are areas it is difficult to get right, after all the Coliseum rebuild has left it with brand new Gents toilets which are larger than the old ones but are remarkably awkwardly designed with a built in bottle neck.


My review of the opera performance will appear in Music and Vision in due course.

Recent CD Review

My review of Elisabeth Speiser's Carissimi disc (including the Mary Stuart Lament) is here on MusicWeb-International.


Much to admire ... wonderfully vivid. If you can live with Speiser’s vibrato
then I can recommend the disc. ...

Wednesday, 8 March 2006

I heard today that my song, The Sleep was premiered on Saturday 4th March. David Robertson organised and evening at the King's School in Worcester which explored the life of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in words and music. My song sets Barrett Browning's poem of that name.


It was written when I was having one of my periodic trawls of out-of-copyright poets; this was the only poem of Barrett Browning's that appealed to me, I'm afraid to say. The remainder were either too famous or a little too Victorian. The song was written as a present for a singer with whom I was working in 2001.


Last night we had the first rehearsal for the Cranmer concert on March 18th; the first run through of the music with the choir and conductor Paul Brough. It was the first time I'd worked with Paul so it was all very exciting.

Opera Review - Sir John in Love

My review of Sir John in Love is now online at Music and Vision, here.

Sunday, 5 March 2006

First Sunday in Lent today, so we stop using the organ at church and change from plainchant Credo III to plainchant Credo I. I particularly love Credo I, it dates from the 11th century whereas Credo III is 17th century.


Last night's Sir John in Love at the Coliseum was wonderfully entertaining and a review will appear in due course. Mistress Page was played by Marie McLaughlin who I remember first singing Musetta (in La Boheme) in Scottish Opera in the late 70's .

Xenakis

The Ancient Monuments Society Newsletter has just arrived; not the most obvious of music-related things. But one of the things they note is the arrival of a new biography of Xenakis, but Nouritza Matossian(from www.centralbooks.co.uk). Xenakis trained as an engineer and worked with Le Courbusier; the mathematics he used on Le Corbusier's Le Tourette fed into Xenakis's first orchestral work Metastaseis. It would be rather fun to try and link up performances of Xenakis's music with Le Corbusier buildings. A fascinatingly different take on gesamkunstwerk.

Friday, 3 March 2006

I'm continuing to make progress with my series of motets, Tempus per Annum; the motets for Easter Sunday and the Sunday after Easter came off the press with remarkable ease. Surprisingly they've both turned out rather contemplative rather then shouting with joy, which is rather fun. The current motet, for the 2nd Sunday after Easter is another Jubilate Deo ominis terra, for the English version I'm ringing the changes and using the text Shout with joy to God, a little happy-clappy perhaps but it makes a change.


The Psalm in the middle is rather curious, I still don't quite know what to make of the text Say unto God, How terrible are thy works, O Lord! in the multitude of thy strength thy enemies shall lie to thee. . There's a lovely irony about the phrase, 'Say unto God, How terrible are thy works', because terrible, like awful, has rather changed its meaning in current parlance; so nowadays the phrase makes you think of Kevin McCloud on Grand Designs excoriating the shoddy work of a builder. But as for 'in the multitude of thy strength thy enemies shall lie to thee.', why do we (or God for that matter) need to worry about God's enemies lying to him. Its moments like that that I wish my Latin were better (but as the Latin is a translation anyway we're not much closer, perhaps I should learn Hebrew).

Recent CD Review

My review of the Oxford Camerata's disc of choral music by Gombert is here on MusicWeb.

A fine programme, beautifully performed and I hope that it enables us to
hear much more of the music of this underrated composer....

Thursday, 2 March 2006

MusicWebLog

I keep a separate WebLog of the discs I review and it is published from time to time on MusicWeb International, the latest version is here. So if you've every wondered what I think about when reviewing....

Watch my Lips

We finally caught up last night with Stephen Poliakoff's latest offering on BBC1 Gideon's Daughter. Nothing much of note musically except for one scene. Gideon (Bill Nighy) and Stella (Miranda Richardson) are watching a rehearsal of a choir in an otherwise empty church. The choristers are all very ordinary and chatter amongst themselves, eat food messily etc. and then they start singing, gloriously. In fact they start somewhere in the middle of Tallis's Spem in Alium. I think that Poliakoff's point is something about the transforming nature of music, but the point was blunted (if not wasted) because the choristers hardly looked as if they were singing at all and certainly were not working hard enough to produce sounds as ravishing as came out of the speakers of our TV.


This is a point that directors frequently neglect; singing is hard work and if an actor is to look successful miming then they must be working hard. Glenn Close took singing lessons before recording her film in which she played an opera singer; I've not seen it so I can't comment about how successful she was. In an Inspector Morse episode, Frances Barber played an opera singer and made a complete hash of trying to pretend she was singing an aria (from Tosca I think). Whereas in the TV adaption of one of Jilly Cooper's novels, they employed Rosalind Plowright to play an opera singer with spectacularly successful results (the series also had Alison Moyet playing a pop diva).


I know this seems a small point, but each time I see someone on Film or TV purportedly singing, but actually completely failing, I get annoyed; given the amounts of money these things cost, surely they can get a little thing like singing right.