Thursday, 31 August 2006
Evening service was a sequence of music and readings given by the Schola and the Consort, the Nave choir had the evening off. Highlights included Sir John Tavener’s The Lamb and the Agnus Dei from Poulenc’s Mass. The plainchant hymn Congregati sunt was lovely, though the plainchant Ave Verum Corpus was taken so slowly, it was almost romantic (perhaps it is). After Compline the Festival said goodbye to Andrew Carwood, who had to dash off to another Festival and his place at the head of the Schola was taken by Matthew Martin who had been playing the Nave organ all week.
This was the last day at which we went to the 9.00am matins sung by the Schola as there was no service on Friday. This service took place in the chancel, the remainder of the services taking place in the Nave. We managed to have the same seats each time, in front of the screen next to the choir organ. This meant we had a good sight/sound of everything and even got to hear the clickety/clack of the organ mechanism – very authentic and atmospheric.
Wednesday, 30 August 2006
I did manage to start re-re-reading Diarmaid Macculloch's biography of Cranmer with a view to creating a libretto for a full length oratorio, but quailed at the size of the task. Though I have made a list of around 50 quotes from Cranmer's own writings (and I'm not half way through yet).
I did though, make some sketches towards a Magnificat. No, I had no plans to write one, but hearing a sequence of such magnificent settings at Edington, gave me ideas.
So now I'm at home. Not writing songs, not putting the finishing touches to my setting of Isaiah 6 and not continuing with my new orchestral tone poem (which is rather languishing). I've started writing a Magnificat.
Ho hum, I'm sure there's a reason for all this skipping about that my unconscious does.
An interesting co-incidence was that the first reading was from Isaiah chapter 6; I’ve just finished my setting of the entire chapter (slightly edited) for unaccompanied chorus, so the reading somehow felt mine. The music was suitable impressive. Thomas Tomkins’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis from the Fifth Service received a fine performance from the Nave choir with some excellent soloists drawn from the choir. The Consort combined with the Schola to perform John Sheppard’s magnificent 6-part motet Verbum caro factum est. The setting alternates polyphony with a fabulous high soprano part with plainchant – quite magical.
The consort and the nave choir combined to give a lively, crisp and infectiously rhythmical accuunt of William Walton carol (I said we had to pretend is was December 27th) All this time. The closing voluntary was a rather fun organ duet by SS Wesley.
Wednesday morning’s Sung Eucharist used Giovanni Croce’s Missa secunda: tertii toni sung by the Consort. It is an attractive, practical mass and its on the list of my suggestions for my church choir. (St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan St., Chelsea). The Nave choir sang Vittoria’s motet Lauda Sion with some excitingly rhythmic interplay between the two choirs. They also contributed Mozart’s Ave Verum.
The evening service was replaced by an afternoon one, broadcast live by Radio 3. This included the premiere of Antony Pitts’s Before Abraham was, I AM. Though we missed the service live, we did manage to catch up with it later thanks to the wonders of the BBC Radio 3 web-site.
Tuesday, 29 August 2006
I kept a rough diary whilst at the festival, so am publishing it in instalments on the blog, there will probably be an entry each day for the next 5 days, covering the 6 days of the festival that we attended.
All the services were very popular and the church was full to bursting for the 2 main services each day. A surprising number of people came along at 9.00am for Matins.
Things started off on Sunday evening with Compline sung by all 3 choirs. The service included Tallis’s Te lucis ante terminum sung alternim with plainchant and John Sheppard’s In manus tuas which brought back memories of the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble performing the work at my birthday concert last year at the Barbican (co-incidentally 2 of the 8:15 singers were participating in the festival). The service finished with a lovely performance of Pierre Villette’s Hymne a la Vierge, closing with some fabulous bluesy chords.
At Sung Eucharist on Monday the mass setting was Vittoria’s Missa O Quam Gloriosum, with the boys of the nave choir producing a lovely line in the music. Juan Esquivel’s Ego sum panis vivus, beautifully sung by the Consort, was not known to me and I hope to encounter it again. The Hymn Thee we adore was sung to a new tune by John Barnard. The service concluded with a masterly performance of Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor; though it was perhaps slightly perverse to conclude a very long service with a 15 minute voluntary. The service was very, very popular partly because the preacher was Lord Carey.
Monday evening’s service was Evensong sung just by the Nave choir. Sydney Watson’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were interesting and sounded very practical; Watson (1903 – 1991) is a name that is new to me. Finzi’s Welcome sweet and sacred feast was fabulous and it is now very high on my list of works that I’d like to sing.
The organ prelude at Monday’s Compline was the Sanctus and Benedictus from an organ mass published in 1531 by Pierre Attaignant; the same source that we mined for our organ Magnificat at the FifteenB concert at this years Chelsea Festival.
Monday, 28 August 2006
The plot concerns the familiar pseudo-Biblical characters, but not as we know them. To make the piece work it must be performed with the utmost commitment. The slightest hint of send-up would be fatal. Dorset Opera, performing at the Coade Hall at Bryanston School on Saturday August 20th, gave the piece wholeheartedly without the slightest trace of a knowing smile. Much to their credit.
Salome (Christine Arand, soprano) is virginal and naïve (emphasised by her 1950’s sub-Dior costume, complete with white gloves and hat). She has been abandoned as a child and was taken under the wing of Jean (Ian Storey, tenor) and his followers. For some reason that is unclear, Salome has come to Jerusalem looking for her mother. She spends the whole opera in love with Jean, in a simple pure way. They have a love scene, when Jean admits he loves her, just before Jean’s death.
Both Jean and Salome seem to be able to wander in and out of the royal palace at will. Jean’s principal function seems to be to make pronouncements which either annoy Herodiade or inflame the populace.
Herodiade (Rosalind Plowright, mezzo-soprano, in superb disdainful mode) abandoned child Salome and first husband so she could marry Herod (Franco Pomponi, baritone). Apart from one brief moment when she considers what she has lost by denying herself as a mother, Herodiade is a full on bitch.
Herod is weak. He’s infatuated with Salome despite the fact he’s only glimpsed her. When not salivating about her, he’s agitating against the Roman occupiers. This he does very incompetently and has to be rescued by Herodiade, who seems a better political operator and the dominant figure in the partnership.
The extra characters are Vitellius (Jeffrey Carl), the Roman commander, and Phanuel (Bernard Deletre, bass) a sage and philosopher whose role seems to be to fill in gaps and further the plot. He is the only person in whom Herodiade has confided the truth of Salome’s birth.
The production, by William Relton, designed by Cordelia Chisholm used a basic neoclassical set which could be dressed in various ways helped by Paul Need’s atmospheric lighting. Into this set, the production was firmly set in the 1950’s. The results were remarkably convincing, allowing for the faults of Massenet’s dramaturgy.
Herodiade is not the largest of roles in the opera, but Plowright dominated whenever she was on stage. She is a singer with the gift of being able to project a character even when not singing. The role sounds like one of those high mezzo/low soprano French roles, as such it was perhaps a tad her for her. But she sang superbly and was wonderfully dramatic, oozing disdain at every pore.
As Herod, Franco Pomponi gave a fine, musical performance with a lovely account of Visions Fugitive, the opera’s best known number. He could probably have made more of the more overheated sections; at one point he even dreams of Salome in a drug induced stupor.
Arand’s Salome was successfully virginal and suitably passionate in her love scenes with Jean. All in all it was an attractive account of the role, but without ever sending a tingle down your spine.
Jean was Ian Storey, an English tenor of whom I am woefully lacking in knowledge. He proved to have a fine, heroic tone. Like Salome, Jean is a character who barely develops, spending most of the opera thundering his message. Storey had his foot in plaster but managed to make his use of a crutch seem a part of his character. Neither he nor Salome quite let go enough in their love scene, but perhaps Massenet’s music is not quite dramatic enough either.
Bernard Deletre made much of a character who was essentially superfluous. The production fudged his role as sage and astrologer and simply had him wandering around in white linen suite with a stick.Jeffrey Carl was excellent as Vitellius and Jan Garritsen made his mark as the high priest. It was this latter who led the remarkable, unaccompanied Jewish prayer.
Massenet’s music for the opera was remarkably varied, encompassing not only this prayer but a drinking song for the Roman soldiery.
William Relton’s production was remarkably effective in the way it used the 1950’s setting to effect. Relton proved adept at manipulating the chorus in the big scenes, though some of the staging of the principals seemed a little stiff.
The chorus were remarkably convincing and enthusiastic. Only occasionally did weakness reveal that they were a purely amateur group who had first come together 2 weeks previously. It is one of Dorset Opera’s wonders, the way they mix amateur and professional to such creditable effect.
The orchestra, a professional group, coped very well with the unfamiliar music but did not quite do justice to the loveliness of Massenet’s orchestration. The strings, particularly, lacked the requisite sheen.
This year Dorset Opera lost their Arts Council grant. So, despite giving fine performances in which amateur singers and back stage crew are given the chance to perform in professional standard opera, they must now go it alone.
Next year its Turandot
My review of Handel's Rinaldo on Naxos is here.
A performance that fails to live up to its promise; enthusiasts might want to have it, for completeness but if you are unfamiliar with Handel’s opera
seria, save up and get a better recording ...
My review of Naxos's portrait of Peter Maxwell Davies is here.
An excellent introduction to Maxwell Davies's music...
Friday, 18 August 2006
As usual, I won't be travelling with a PC or laptop, so postings to this site will probably only resume on our return.
The problem with contemporary poetry is that before songs can be used or printed, you need to address the copyright issues. But I find that it is a certain type of contemporary voice to which I am attracted, I have great difficulties find much pre-1900 poetry which I feel I want to set. I'm not sure why. So I've decided to set the poems I fancy and worry about copyright later, if I can't get permission then they can sit in the draw with all the other unperformed songs!
Thursday, 17 August 2006
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!
And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said:
Woe is me, for I am undone!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King,
The LORD of hosts.
I've been successfully motoring through this but this week came to a grinding halt. This can often happen in long pieces, somehow my unconscious (or whatever comes up with the music in the first place) needs to catch up with itself. I messed about with it for a bit but could not get an further forward.
When this happens I can either wait, move to another section of the work or write any gibberish and keep going, knowing that I must come back to the relevant section. This latter is what I did here, this morning I wrote the 3 troublesome bars knowing that I must re-work them, but it got me going and I have now reached the last section, hurrah!
My new mass is finished and preview copies sent out to a few people. I decided to make the best of it not having a name and keep it as Missa Sine Nomine. I hope to have the opening of the Kyrie up on my web-site soon. Now that I can produce PDF's of piece, this makes life far easier, I've even been able to email PDF's of the Kyrie to people. The wonders of modern technology.
A creditable, dramatic live performance; if you are interested in early Meyerbeer or influences on Rossini, then buy it. ...
Technorati Tags: Classical Music, CD Review, Opera
Tuesday, 15 August 2006
Snetzler (born Johannes Schnetzler) was Swiss. He seems to have come to England in the 1730's; his first documented English organ dates from 1741 though there may be one from 1731. Initially he built organs for the immigrant community. But then built 27 stop organ with a Roccoco case for St. Margaret's Church, King's Lynn. This made his reputation. From then on he made chamber/house organs and church organs, becoming an English citizen in 1760 and retiring back to Switzerland in 1781.
Few of his church organs survive in anything like their original state. Whilst his chamber organs are rather better preserved, only 2 survive in their original location. That at Lodge Canongate, Edinburgh, which dates from 1756 and has been altered and that at Cobham Hall which is rather larger (its a house organ rather than a chamber organ) and is uniquely well preserved mechanically. A very similar organ is now owned by the National Museums of Wales having been commission by Sir Watkin Willams Wynn and having a case designed by Robert Adam. This organ, dating from 1774, was rebuilt in 1864 but has been put back to its original state.
The Cobham Hall organ is played occasionally. The Friends of Cobham Hall arrange Events which include organ recitals. Though I think it deserves to be better known. Can't someone organise a CD of a recital there please!
"Yesterday morning I went to hear the first rehearsal of the new opera Alcina and, whilst Mr Handel was playing his part, I could not help thinking him a necromancer in the midst of his own enchantments."
It set me thinking about productions of the opera. At ENO their production, by David McVicar, uses references to the theatre and to music; Alcina's enchantment is the magic of the theatre. When her magic fails, we see her sitting despondently at a harpsichord and the glorious setting of Act 1 is revealed as being nothing more than a stage set.
But I wonder whether you could go further, setting the opera in the London of Handel's day and dressing Alcina as a man in a full bottom wig, a Handel clone. Thus Alcina's enchantment of young men would have interesting resonances with the suggestions about Handel's own sexuality. I'm not quite sure how this scenario would quite play out, I'm no producer. Certainly the dressing of Alcina as a man would raise whole issues as to whether the young men Alcina enchants see him/her as a man or as a woman. But it certainly sounds an interesting area to speculate on.
Technorati tags: Classical Music, Opera
Monday, 14 August 2006
It was a tiring morning as we rehearsed from 10am to 11.30pm or so and mass was from 12.00am to 1.15pm. Still there was a good congregational turnout including a number of people coming to St. Mary's especially for the mass.
Then in the evening, I had a group of singing friends round to try out one or two new pieces. I've just finished an unnamed 4-part mass and wanted to check it out before I print copies to send to people. Having canvassed the singers about a possible name, I think it will be Missa Sine Nomine, which just about says it all. I was very pleased with the sound of the mass, these things come over far better when sung than on the computer. I think the singers enjoyed it as well, which is a bonus.
We also tried through the new piece (3 movements) which I've written for London Concord Singers anniversary concert in November. Its for unaccompanied 8-part choir so we could only really try the piece out with piano, but it was useful to check what people thought of the pieces (tricky, but fun I'd like to think) and iron out any errors.
Saturday, 12 August 2006
Friday, 11 August 2006
Armitage writes interestingly about his view of the librettists task and how the librettist can become disengaged from the project once the libretto is written, even though the text itself is a collaboration. I suppose this is inevitable. Most composers write opera by setting a text and once given the text, they set it alone. Though of course there are lots of tweaks along the way.
Amanda Holden wrote an article about her experiences writing the libretto for Turnage's Silver Tassie which included the composer turning up on her doorstep at odd hours with ideas for changes and new sections/arias.
It helps, I suppose, if the librettist has a clear idea of his/her position in the food chain. I once had tea with Alan Bush and his wife, Nancy, and conversation wandered from Hanns Eisler, the ostensible reason for the visit, to Bush's operas. These mainly had libretto's by his wife but Joe Hill, the man who never died had a libretto by American playwright Barry Stavis. Evidently, on first hearing the work Stavis moaned to Nancy Bush that you could not hear his words.
A post-script to the above is that whilst I was at Manchester University in the 1970's the Royal Northern College of Music put Bush's Watt Tyler on at Sadlers Wells Theatre (I presume there must have been performances in Manchester but if so, they were before I arrived). I missed it and have bemoaned the lack ever since. Interestingly the lead tenor role was played by Robin Leggate`
Thursday, 10 August 2006
The advanced party from the choir arrived in Tallinn on Thursday 27th July to find the old town delightful but full of tourists (at least we’d have a potential audience). The scene of our Saturday evening concert, the Lutheran Cathedral on the top of Toompea hill, proved to be even more fascinating and delightful than appeared in the website. The walls are covered in the coats of arms of the German merchants for whom it was built, but the high boxed pews made us wonder whether we’d see anything of our audience apart from the tops of our heads.
More of the choir arrived on Friday, coming by various means. Whereas the Thursday crowd all came on the same Estonian Air plane, the Friday arrivals came by various means including bus from Riga, plane from Helsinki and ferry from Helsinki. One had even managed a quick trip to the Savolinna opera festival to see the Bologna opera company doing Donizetti’s ‘La Fille du Regiment’. Friday was free time and then in the evening we all went out for a communal meal. Wandering around town we were please to note that a number of our flyers were up in the churches and the tourist office.
Come Saturday afternoon we had to stop feeling like tourists and start being choristers again. Its always tricky getting back into rehearsal mode when away on these trips. Our rehearsal in the Lutheran Cathedral was enlivened by the presence of large numbers of tourists, but the building is big enough to accommodate both us and the sight-seers, we might even have got some extra audience.
As it turned out, we need not have worried, we got an excellent audience both in terms of attentiveness and size. The programme was a typical London Concord Singers one, motets by Parsons, Bassano, Merulo, Byrd plus Britten, Richard Rodney Bennett and Urmas Sisask. It lasted about an hour and was well received. Afterwards the organist of the church presented the choir with a commemoration plate.
Afterwards we retired to a neighbouring hostelry to celebrate; but not for tool long, because we had to be up and about next morning.
Sunday morning we sang at the huge Charles XI church. Built in the late 19th century it was the centre of the Estonian National Lutheran church. Impressive and classically plain inside with just a fresco over the alter, we sat in the balcony in front of the organ. Communication was tricky, as we had to speak German to the organist and the service sheets were only in Estonian. Still, we managed to fit 5 motets into the service and the church was most helpful arranging for us to fit in as much music as possible. We managed to join in the service with the help of hymn books, service sheets (both in Estonian) and a rudimentary knowledge of Estonian gained in order to sing Tormis’s ‘St. John’s Day Songs’ in our London concert.
Most of the choir were familiar with Anglican and Roman Catholic services, quite a number of us sing at them. But it was fascinating to participate in a Lutheran service; much of it similar in structure but much of it not. Not speaking the language, we missed out completely on the Sermon.
Service once over, the formal part of the weekend was over. We concluded with a group meal in the evening at a Russian restaurant and then went our various ways.
Creditable performances but there are finer performances and I would
advise you to save up for one of these...
Wednesday, 9 August 2006
Interestingly, one of her solutions was the Summer Music festival in Blackthorpe Barn, which is close to her home. This is a festival which has been enjoyed by other friends who have a weekend place in Norfolk. They came back singing the praises of the concert which they attended at the Barn. The festivals are run, on a shoe string, by the Barn's owner, George Agnew. Evidently he eschews the red tape required to get a grant from the Arts Council, something that I can sympathise with (FifteenB haven't managed to get a grant since 1998).
So next year in July, perhaps we'll have to make room for a trip to Norfolk.
Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Perhaps its an age thing; now I'm in my 50's I feel less inclined to put up with discomfort and mid-week after a day at work I don't often feel so inclined to go to a concert. But its also a feature of the Albert Hall itself.
The thing that makes the concerts so accessible, the Hall's very size, means that it is one size fits none, really. Or is that me being a pessimist? Still, the Hall's owners have done a wonderful job of sprucing it up in the last few years. It makes the concert going experience a please (apart from the scarcity of mens loos).
Of course, the Proms is not the only thing going on at the moment. There are also visits from 2 great Russian opera companies. Now here I music exhibit one of my many achilles heels, I have a rather take-it-or-leave-it attitude to much Russian opera. I have a soft spot for the odd Rimsky-Korsakov extravaganza and Boris Goudonov is an opera that I have loved in the past. But the repertoire as a whole does not make me shout, Oh, Goody!. And, of course, the prices are greater than for our own opera companies.
So we come to money again, do I want to pay the prices necessary to see these pieces or not? This year the answer has been not, I'm afraid.
But there is one final issue. I rather like having a holiday from the regular round. The month of August is one where I have no regular evening choir rehearsals, no Sunday morning commitments at church choir and if there is little concert or opera going then it gives us a bit of space. Not a lot, we're away twice this summer and we are going to the Edington Festival for a week. But that is definitely outside the regular round of things.
So I'll happily browse the reviews of Proms and various visiting companies, but I rarely feel a twinge of regret. There'll always be another time!
Monday, 7 August 2006
Nearer in time, on Saturday 19th August we're off to see Dorset Opera's new production of Massenet's Herodiade with Rosalind Plowright. Bliss.
And I've bought the first tranche of tickets for English Touring Opera's Baroque Tour. We're seeing Dido and Aeneas and Carissimi's Jephte (not an opera and rather short to boot, but an interesting pairing nonetheless> at The Hackney Empire. Not an ideal venue for these operas but we have not been to the theatre since it was refurbished (shame!). The theatre's web site must win awards for being one of the most annoying and awkward to use.We hope to catch up with more of the ETO Baroque Tour and should be aiming to see Monteverdi's Orfeo in Cambridge.
PS. If you are wondering how we got on singing in Tallinn, a full report follows shortly.
My review of Berlioz La Damnation de Faust from Naxos is here on MusicWeb International.
A creditable and convincing performance by predominantly French forces;
as such it is worth finding room for on the library shelves...
My review of the Tallis Scholars re-issue of early performances of Palestrina masses, is here, also on MusicWeb International.
Other, more intensely passionate styles might appeal, but if you want a
performance of Missa Benedicta es then you can’t go wrong with the
stylish perfection of The Tallis Scholars. ...