Thursday, 27 December 2007

Chapelle du Roi

On Friday we went to one St. John's Smith Square to hear Alistair Dixon and La Chapelle du Roi performing their programme, Christmas at the Chapel Royal. They were performing two movements from Tallis's Missa Puer Natus est Nobis which was probably written for Christmas 1554 for Queen Mary, when it was thought she was pregnant by Philip of Spain. Similarly the superb, and v. grand, motet Suscipe Quaeso was probably written for an earlier state occasion and may well have been performed by choir which included the members of Philip's chapel as the range of the piece is less than the standard range. Besides Tallis, the group also included a couple of Sheppard's Latin Responds, lovely pieces which were also written at this time. Plus a pair of carols.

The group numbered just 9 singers (3 sopranos, 2 male altos, 2 tenors, 2 basses) so for much of the time many of them were singing just 1 to a part. Dixon does not seem to go for a superbly blended sound as in some other English groups, instead we get fine musicianship, a lovely sense of line and a feeling that each voice/line is distinctive. That is not to say that the group don't blend, they do, but sensibly Dixon seems to value the distinctiveness of each of his talented voices.

The other large Tallis piece in the programme was his Te Deum for Meanes, a work which was probably written under Edward VI as it uses an earlier translation of the text. A superb work, given a stirring performance, it made a strong end to the programme.

This was a fine programme, beautifully performed, a good example of intelligent Christmas programming.

On a personal note, I should add that one of the Altos also appears in the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble and is featured on my new disc.

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Paderewski songs is here, on Music Web International.

A lovely recital and should be of interest to everyone with a fondness for songs ...

Review of "The Testament of Dr. Cranmer"

John Quinn's review of my new CD, has just appeared on Music Web International, here.

This well produced disc features committed performances from musicians who serve Robert Hugill well ... John Quinn

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Poster


The poster for our Celebration mini-festival at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, when we'll be celebrating the release of the new CD.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

The new folk song

On Sunday we caught part of the European Broadcasting Union's advent music jamboree, broadcast live on Radio 3. At one point we heard a couple of Christmas carols sung by an English cathedral choir. Afterwards the announcer gave full details of on carol, but the other was not explained. The carol in question was the arrangement of We wish you a merry Christmas from the Carols for Choirs book. This book has become so ubiquitous that perhaps the announcer did not think it necessary to explain. Certainly I recognised the arrangement immediately and could easily sing along, having performed it myself countless number of times.

With amateur choirs the use of the Carols for Choirs books is such that the arrangements of the popular carols from Books 1 and 2 are pretty well ingrained into folk memory. Proof of this came last night when we attended the annual Chelsea Green carols service. Whilst drinking mulled wine and eating food provided by the local shops, people sang carols accompanied by a choir from St. Luke's Church, Chelsea and a brass group. When it came to Hark the Herald Angels Sing and a couple of other carols, a group of young women launched quite unprompted into the Carols for Choirs descants for these carols. So natural do these feel that I am sure for many people, the carols without the Carols for Choirs descants feel rather odd.

So for a whole class of people, these versions of the carols are the dominant ones.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Through a glass darkly

When the composer Handel is mentioned, what image comes into your head - a large, overweight, elderly man wearing a full-bottomed wig, prone to gluttony and attacks on recalcitrant singers and rather a-sexual? Of course, this owes something to reality, but even in his later years Handel was also a good raconteur, had a coterie of extremely loyal and devoted friends and was a keen connoisseur of art (the inventory taken at the time of his death is quite mouth-watering.)

But, of course, it is the lively anecdote and highly coloured images of the elderly man which stay in our mind. As there is an absence of personal material, it makes the real man difficult to re-create.

There is all the more problem when it comes to the young Handel. During his period in Italy he was in his early 20’s. Handel as Orpheus, Ellen Harris’s book about Handel’s Italian Cantatas includes a portrait of him done at the time. We see, not the overweight philosopher of the late portraits, but a young, vibrant, slender and attractive man. No wonder Handel was popular with his patrons, his improvising was dazzling, and his music was brilliant. Combine this with his entertaining personality and attractive person and you can imagine that some of his patrons were rather smitten. Harris detects something of a whiff of the homo-erotic about the texts of Handel’s cantatas and the general atmosphere in the salons where he was employed.

This all adds up to a very different picture to our standard one of Handel. But the composer suffers from the problem common to elderly and productive composers; we tend to view their output and their personalities through the distorting glass of their later persona.

A similar thing happens to Ralph Vaughan Williams. He lived to his late 80’s and remained productive until the end. RVW was 63 when his ground-breaking 4th symphony was premiered. His 3 major symphonies (nos. 4, 5 and 6) span the years 1935 to 1946, so that he was 74 when the last of these was premiered. With its remarkably pianissimo final movement, it was regarded as his swan-song. But the composer went on to write 3 more!

In the face of all this public acclaim, the composer created a gruff persona for himself, prone to startling announcements “I don’t know if I like it, but it’s what I meant”, and hiding his sophisticated talent in a miasma of apparent amateurism.

So we tend to view the early RVW through this smoke screen. It means that we miss out on the passionate young man, one whose musical voice was late in coming. But just look at the pictures where you see a slimmer figured RVW with dashing dark wavy hair. This is a young student who was briefly considered as a trainee Apostle whilst at Cambridge and who had links with a number of Apostles at a time when the group had a very homosexual cast to it. RVW also had strong links to the Bloomsbury group (his first wife Adeline was a cousin of Virginia Woolf’s), he and Adeline did a great deal of entertaining and participating in the social whirl and demi-monde whilst they lived in Cheyne Walk.

This is the man who wrote the passionate piano concerto (for Bax’s mistress, Harriet Cohen) and the remarkable ballet Job, works which lead to the 4th symphony. It is this personality which can be glimpsed in the letters which RVW exchanged with his contemporary Gustav Holst (collected in the book Heirs and Rebels). Holst died when the composer was in his early 60’s so had little influence on the late, Grand Old Man of Music image.

For both these composers, RVW and Handel, we have to take a step back and make an effort to discard their later persona and view their younger passionate selves. It is interesting to consider how this sort of view might easily apply to others. One obvious candidate is Elgar, whose passionate music is so at odds with the persona of the crusty old colonel which he constructed.

Conversely it is fascinating to play what if and consider what might have happened to composers who died young? What would our view of early and middle Mozart be if the composer had lived to a productive and ripe old age, similarly with Beethoven?

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Review of Last night's Barbican Concert

Emmanuelle Haim and Les Concerts d’Astree have a new CD to promote so they are doing a tour, performing the repertoire on the CD. They arrived at the Barbican Centre yesterday to perform Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach’s Magnificat (the 2nd, D major version).

This is all well and good. After all, any concert directed by Haim is never less than interesting and with her own group there is the good possibility that sparks will fly. Add to this the temptation of hearing Natalie Dessay singing the Soprano 1 solos and you had a delectable package; even though the total amount of music being performed totalled around 65 minutes.

I know that one should count quality not quantity, but even so the concert seemed a little under nourished as regards content. Surely the group could have added another overture or two, just to make the proceeding seem less like an exact re-run of the CD.

Though as regards cast, this was not a re-run of the CD. Only Dessay was common to CD and concert and she dropped out due to ill health. In fact Haim managed to lose both her 1st soprano and her tenor, but replaced them admirably with Amy Freston and Paul Agnew.

In fact, when you look at the solo roles in the two works, having such a stellar cast seemed rather over the top. In Handel’s Dixit Dominus the soloists have a tendency to interject into the choral textures. Handel uses a 5-part choir and the 5 solo roles match this. So much so that you can’t help feeling that he intended to have the solos sung by the choir leaders.

If this had happened it would have removed the rather annoying amount of walking about that the soloists had to do, getting up to sing a small interjection and then sitting down again.

That said the performance was certainly up to standard. Haim used a large-ish choir (25 strong); both they and the instrumental ensemble gave a good crisp performance. Haim seems to aim for dramatic textures when it comes to her choruses, no pale English reticence here. This means that some sophistication of texture and line is lost but the result is undeniably vivid and exciting. The soloists (Amy Freston, Salome Haller, Tim Mead, Paul Agner and Robert Gleadow) followed suit and contributed some fine, involving solo singing.

After the interval the band grew bigger as Bach adds wind and brass to Handel’s string band. Also he allots each soloist an aria apiece so that all the singers get the chance to show off properly. As they did, in fine style; Amy Freston was beautifully accompanied in her first aria by the oboe do’amore of Patrick Beaugiraud. Another highlight for me was the duetting of Tim Mead and Paul Agnew in Et misericorida.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Is it me, is it the Barbican or is it something else. But our concert tonight at the Barbican has a new pair of soloists, Natalie Dessay and Lothar Odinius are both ill and are replaced by Amy Freston and Paul Agnew. The last time this happened (in Handel's Ariodante) the replacement singer proved quite a find. But I remember another concert with Le Concert D'Astree when one of the singers was ill and the concert went ahead in reduced form.

The problem is that our concert going outside the Barbican is rather random, the Barbican is the only place where we actually have a subscription (to their excellent Great Performers series). So I cannot work out whether this run of cancellation and ill health is simply bad luck or something. Still, I look forward to hearing Miss Freston again. We have caught her a couple of times in smaller roles (Miss Wordsworth in Albert Herring for Glyndebourne on Tour), so it will be interesting to hear her in full Baroque Mode (Handel:Dixit Dominus and Bach:Magnificat)

PRS

We were away for the weekend, but waiting for me in the post was the latest distribution from the PRS (the Performing Rights Society). This inestimable body attempts to provide composers with some sort of recompense when their works are performed. If you are commissioned for a new work then, of course, you'll get the commissioning fee but if a group decides simply to perform on of your works whose music is available, then no fee is forthcoming. Instead, performing groups and venues pay a fee to the Performing Rights Society and the society attempts to divide the indivisible and spread these monies around all of the performed composers.

Inevitably live performances of contemporary classical music provides quite a small branch of the market and you would hardly get rich on royalties from these performances unless you were really prolific. Nonetheless it is heartening that such payments are made, recognising as they do the investment of time and effort that a composer puts into a piece and preserving the on-going link between performer and work.

After all, if an artist paints a picture and it is sold, the artist loses any commercial interest in the work if it is sold one (though I believe reproduction rights for the image are different). So someone could have pictures changing hands and being displayed without ever being aware of the fact or benefiting from it in any way.

Naturally, for a composer it is in the area of broadcast royalties and mechanical copyright protection that the larger fees are available. But live performance is the basic fabric of our art and the PRS ensures that we get some little recognition.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Review of Dr. Cranmer

There is a new review (in French) of my CD The Testament of Dr. Cranmer on resmusica.com here.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

A Premiere per month

Not only do I have premières of works at the concerts I am organising at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square in January and February, but on March 15th London Concord Singers will be premièring Do not go gentle into that good night for choir and French Horn. Then in April, a new Verse Anthem will be premièred at a friend's Wedding.

The choir and horn piece was inspired by a piece by Richard Rodney Bennett for male voice chorus and French Horn. This was written for the New York City Gay Men's Chorus. London Concord Singers gave the first UK performance of the work and it made a strong effect on me. My own setting though, is for mixed voice chorus and French Horn.

Celebration Leaflet - Page 2

Celebration Leaflet - Page 1



Here's the first page of the new publicity leaflet for the January and February concerts at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, London, when we are celebrating the release of my CD.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Concord Concert

Well, its that time of year and Thursday will see me performing in this year's Christmas Concert with the London Concord Singers. We'll be at the Grosvenor Chapel in Mayfair for a concert which mixes Christmas music from Sir Arthur Sullivan with seasonal sacred music from Martin Dalby, Kenneth Leighton, Gabriel Jackson, Pierre Villette and Stanford.

I have become particularly fond of Leighton's What Love is This? and rather alarmingly bits of the tenor part have been creeping into the piano accompaniment of my latest song.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Chelsea Festival

Thursday saw the end of season event for the Friends of the Chelsea Festival, this celebrated a very successful 2007 Festival and gave a brief preview of the 2008 Festival.

Things to look forward to in 2008 include concerts from Barbara Bonney, Nigel Kennedy and Nicola Benedetti, along with Dido and Aeneas with Phillip Picket and the New London Consort.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of John Nelson's recording of the Berlioz Te Deum is here, on MusicWeb International.
A highly recommendable recording, which captures something of the large scale of Berlioz's creation....

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of the Rheinberger choral works disc on Chandos is here, on MusicWeb International.
Lovely works, well recorded … this should suit if you want to explore Rheinberger's choral music. ...

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

There are all sorts of things I ought to be doing - sorting out the music for next year's concerts, finishing the current scene of my new opera, adding to the motets in my sequence Tempus per Annum. I do have excuses, my toner is running low and so printing music will have to wait until I've ordered a new one. The new opera requires me to sit at the piano and bash away at it, digging into the accompaniment of the scene, which currently exists in skeleton form. This is something I tend to put off then do in a rush, usually making me late for work or whatever engagement I have.

But I am not doing any of the things I ought to be, instead I am writing songs. Now it could be argued that this is a GOOD THING as 1) I don't write songs very often, always meaning to do more and 2) my recent settings of Ivor Gurney came 2nd and 4th in the English Poetry and Song Society's Ivor Gurney competition.

So I am writing a few more, even though I have constant trouble finding poems which appeal. Of course, when I do find them they are usually in copyright which creates additional problems. Having done a setting of a poem which perfectly appealed to me I am now working on something else setting a poem which is less appealing. The theory being that it is good for me to occasionally write settings of tricky poems.

Which brings me to another conundrum which I have never really solved. When setting modern verse, where the sense goes counter to the metre, which do you follow. With stanzas or lines ending mid-sense and the sense continuing into the following line, do you let the structure of the poem guide you or the sense of the prosody. Usually I follow the sense of the words but I then feel guilty that I am not making more of the structural feel of the poet's work.

Though I have always had a tendency to pull text apart. When setting prose I can usually be relied upon to edit the text, missing out, adding and repeating words to create a satisfying whole, satisfying to me that is! I have a similar habit in poetry, though I try not to miss bits out. Usually the results ignore the structural form of the piece. My setting of Lord Alfred Douglas's sonnet on the death of Oscar Wilde rather ignored the piece's sonnet form and set it like a piece of poetic prose.

This of course reflects my uneasy relationship with words. I work best setting poetic prose, like the Bible or Thomas Cranmer. When setting a poem which has metre and rhyme I feel constrained and, I think, rather worried that the result will simply turn into a te-tum te-tum te-tum te-tum type of song, familiar from my cabaret years.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Review of Turn of the Screw

Turn of the Screw is an opera which I admire rather than love. Partly it is my lack of sympathy with the ghost story form, but more importantly I have always found the governess to be faintly annoying. Her actions make me impatient and I long to give her a good shake and knock some common sense into her.

That said, there was much to admire in ENO's new production, which we saw on Saturday 3rd December. Borrowed from the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, it is the first of two David McVicar borrowings this season. (The second is the Scottish Opera Der Rosenkavalier.)

Turn of the Screw is problematic in large opera houses, it uses only 13 instruments in the ensemble and is very much a chamber piece. The opera works best in small spaces, Grange Park Opera's production made quite an impression. McVicar and his designer, Tanya McCallin, do not attempt to make the acting space smaller. Instead it is opened up to its fullest to create the dark lowering spaces of Bly. Only occasionally does the dark backdrop open to let light flood in. These dark spaces are hauntingly lit by Adam Silverman's lighting scheme.

The stage is populated by odd items of Victorian furniture (beds, a piano, etc.) which are moved about by the servants. McVicar's Bly is a place full of people, servants coming and going. In a sense this only serves to highlight the Governess's isolation as the only person of her class in the house. This is further concentrated by the way the characters function in the wide open spaces, the space serving to concentrate the attention on the singer.

As the Governess, Rebecca Evans was truly impressive. Her rich toned voice filled the auditorium and she made every word tell, her diction rendering the surtitles redundant. She was ably supported by Ann Murray as Mrs. Grose. Usually this characters is played by a well-upholstered matron. But Murray created an angular, anxious maiden Aunt. The role suited her voice rather better than her previous excursion her, when she sang the Duchess of Plaza Toro.

The children, played by Jacob Moriarty and Nazan Fikret, were scarily impressive. Moriarty is very slight but sang with a true voice and was eerily controlled. The moment, at the end of Act 1, when he kisses the Governess was quite disturbing. Though McVicar did not play down the sexual charge between Miles and Quint, this sexualisation of the relationship between Miles and the Governess was quite fascinating.

The ghosts themselves were impressively played by Timothy Robinson and Cheryl Barker. Another of McVicar's innovations was to have Quint lifting Miss Jessel out of her grave, a very striking image coming so quickly after the children bury the doll. Robinson did not completely dispel the ghost of Peter Pears but his assumption of the role was perfectly complete. Barker surprised me at how her rich and dramatic voice was made to suit Miss Jessel perfectly.

The ensemble, under Garry Walker, played superbly and also managed to fill the auditorium. Never once did the ensemble sound undernourished.

This was an impressive and moving production; McVicar was in subtle and understated mode and there were none of the showy tricks which have found their way into his recent Handel productions and his Covent Garden Rigoletto. I hope that he is asked to do more Britten in London.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Friday, 30 November 2007

ENO and bel canto

In the new issue of the ENO Friends magazine there is an interview with John Berry (ENO Artistic Director) about the forthcoming new production of Lucia di Lammermoor. ENO are not renowned for doing bel canto repertoire, they have never had a significant amount of Bellini or Rossini in their catalogue and Donizetti has mainly been represented by his two comedies.

Rather oddly, Berry says that Lucia is not categorised as core repertoire. Which seems a strange comment as it is surely a piece that appears regularly (if not frequently) in most opera houses. Berry goes on to say comment that the reason why the bel canto repertoire has been neglected is the translation issue, that it is difficult to find good translations and the singers to sing them. This seems a fair point, but in other areas of the repertoire, ENO has had no trouble finding singers to learn new translations of the operas. Surely casting Donizetti is no harder than casting Handelian opera seria?

Berry's comments are interesting and relevant, up to a point. But I can't help feeling that there is an additional unspoken point which ought to have been made, that in the past there has perhaps been a lack of sympathy with the bel canto repertoire.

Gleanings from December's Opera magazine

Franz Welser-Möst comments about the health of an opera house; the best indicator being, not the spectacular first nights but the revivals, if you have great Three Ladies in the Magic Flute or good Flower Maidens. And Mike Ashman unearths one of the original Flower Maidens, Carrie Pringle by name, who may even have been Wagner's mistress. One of those people who flit into history and then disappear.

Richard van Allen is one of those singers who seems to have disappeared from our stages. It turns out that he is suffering from cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. But his interview in Opera is interesting and illuminating. He trained as a teacher at Worcester Teacher Training College. Amazingly, the music tutor there was Harold Watkins Shaw, the Handel scholar. In his early days he sang with Opera for All. They took the scenery around with them and erected it themselves. Van Allen drove the scenery van because he happened to have a driving licence. Puts the current problems touring operas into perspective rather doesn't it?

Van Allen must be one of the last of the generation of singers who learned their craft without ever being able to read music, (Rita Hunter and Charles Craig were similar). In the early days Van Allen used to rely on a tape recorder weighing 45 pounds, hardly portable.

In Australia, the State Opera of Adelaide presented Un Ballo in Maschera conducted by Baroque specialist Graham Abbott. Sounds as if it might have been a fascinating evening, with the intimate preferred to the bombastic. This also happened at the Caramoor Festival in the USA where Il Trovatore was given in a fascinating Bel Canto version. There Conductor Will Crutchfield gave a very full edition of the score.

And in Sydney, Venus in Tannhäuser looked like Cruella de Vil and was a stern mistress of discipline, whatever turns you on I suppose. Cheryl Barker sang all 3 soprano roles in Il Trittico, quite a feat if you think about it. If she is singing the more dramatic Janacek and Strauss roles, it will be interesting to see whether she can keep her voice lithe enough for Suor Angelica and Lauretta.

John Allison went to Belgium to see the new Hans Werner Henze opera. Someone has described him as the Meyerbeer of our times - discuss! Still, Allison said that the final ecstatic dance sounded like Mahler on Prozac. Judging from the photo, the production itself was very stylish.

And in Canada, the Canadian Opera Company staged their first ever French Don Carlos, amazing as it seems. Though the reviewer then confuses this by saying that the 5-Act Italian version had been given in French in the past. So I'm not really sure what he meant, perhaps he means the original Paris version. Anyhow, the cast seem to have been pretty polyglot.

Marseille have premiered a new opera, Marius et Fanny by Vladimi Cosma based on the Marcel Pagnol tales. I wonder how it compares to Harold Rome's musical based on the same source, which provided Ezio Pinza's first Broadway role after South Pacific.

We saw Yannis Kokkos's production of Cherubini's Medea (Italian version) at the Chatelet in Paris with Anna Caterina Antonacci in the title role. The production has made its way to Greece where it was performed in the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, quite a venue. The same opera also showed up in Utrecht, also in the Italian version.

And Peter Maxwell Davies's The Lighthouse has made its way to Italy (to Montepulciano) for only its 2nd production in Italy (the last one was 20 years ago). The performers all had Anglophone names, so this was hardly full cultural assimilation. Over in Spoleto they did Handel's Ariodante with a production inspired by Princess Margaret in the 1950's.

In Boston it was the turn of Lully's Psyche, the operas first American outing. Rather bizarrely, the piece has its origins in a fete belliqueuse for some 30,000 soliders on the nearly built fortifications of Dunkirk. The mind boggles.

At the Met, theatre director Mary Zimmerman directed a new Lucia di Lammermoor and seems to have shown the same distrust of the operatic genre as some of the recent non-opera specialists over here.

Still in New York, Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers made its American debut. Unfortunately they performed it in the traditional English version - Martin Bernheimer comments on the prim Victorian verse and the clumsy libretto. I must confess that I was surprised at this latter comment as I have never found Brewster's libretto clumsy. Granted the English translation is cumbersome, but Smyth always admitted this and it was done in a hurry by a hack. Smyth and Brewster wrote the opera in French, though I don't think it has ever been performed in this version. Duchy Opera commissioned a new translation from Amanda Holden and it is a shame that this was not used.

Back in the UK, veteran composer Stephen Dodgson has had a new opera, Nancy, premiered by St. Albans Chamber Opera. Dodgson is now in his 80's, so there is hope for us all yet.

We hear that... notes that Patricia Bardon will be singing in ENO's new Riders to the Sea in the Autumn. Great news to hear that the opera will be returning to London at last.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Recording news

There is a review of my new disc, "The Testament of Dr. Cranmer", on the Classical Source web site, here.

Recent CD Review

My review of a reconstruction of an 18th century mass from Peking is here, on MusicWeb International.
Mixes scholarship with charm and intelligence in a way which illuminates a forgotten corner of Sino-European musical cross-fertilization ...

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a new organ recital is here, on MusicWeb International.
If you enjoy the sound of the American symphonic pipe organ from the 1940s and 1950s then buy this disc. Morris displays a superb technique and dazzling control of the tonal colour ...

And a recital by a promising new lute player here.
Sakamoto has a strong technique and much promise. I look forward to hearing more from him when he matures and develops ...

Friday, 23 November 2007

Maria Stuarda

In the early 19th century, England and Scotland were distant enough from operatic Italy to warrant them being seen as suitable locations for Romantic opera. Thanks to Scott's novels, historical Scotland was seen as a suitably exotic backdrop. Of course, these operas were no more historically accurate than any other location; Rossini's La Donna del Lago was no more Scottish than his Maometto secondo represents a real episode in Turkish/Venetian history.

The Romantic movement was very interested in the exotic other and this crops up in many ways in many operas. The other can be a foreigner in our land Il Turco in Italia or one of us visiting a foreign land L'Italiana in Algeri. Historical setting was, of course, de rigeur. But whereas in the 18th century Opera Seria, the historical setting was very much irrelevant, during the 19th century this came to reflect local colour. Rossini's La Donna del Lago is very important in this respect as it pre-figures in its Romantic view of Scotland, much that Rossini's succesors Bellini and Donizetti, would come to do. You only have to comapare La Donna del Lago to Semiramide. In the latter, Rossini pretty much ignores the historical background and location, his treatment of the story is in direct line to the earlier Opera Seria, whereas in La Donna del Lago Rossini goes to some trouble to evoke the lake-side setting. This is taken to the ultimate extreme in his
last opera Guillaume Tell with its stunning re-creation of the historical Switzerland, the Alps and the lake.

Historical England also came in for re-incarnation: Rossini's Elizabetta Regina d'Inghilterra bears very little resemblance to her historical counterpart, but is notable because her opening aria is the pre-cursor for Rosina's opening aria - a fascinating example of Rossini's re-use of material.

But it is in the operas of Donizetti that we come across a large number of English and Scottish settings. Whilst we have difficulty taking the exotic location of Emilia di Liverpool seriously, we can be more sympathetic to the historicism in Rosamunda d'Inghilterra which concerns the antics of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry's mistress the Fair Rosamund. But where Donizetti really seems to score is in his sequence of operas based on the Tudor dynasty.

These start with Elisabetta al Castello di Kenilworth and continue with Anna Bolena, Donizetti's first big hit, then Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda. English Opera companies seem to have a fascination with Maria Stuarda above all the rest. It is, of course, a superb opera but not significantly better than some of Donizetti's other ones. Perhaps our fascination with the historical Mary Stuart has something to do with it, and Schiller's invented scene between the 2 queens is quite superb. But the role of Elizabeth is rather short, the original Elisabetta complained about the paucity of this role. Usually in UK performances this role is given to a soprano strong on Character (Pauline Tinsley, Rosalind Plowright) who can make much of the character's appearances in the opera.

Though ENO has done very little early Italian opera in recent years they have done 2 productions of Maria Stuarda, one for Janet Baker and one for Anne Murray. The opera was performed at Grange Park in recent years with Majella Cullagh in the title role and English Touring Opera toured it last year. So it was with some surprise that I learned that Chelsea Opera Group were planning the opera. But on reflection, the last ENO production was some years ago and the promised revivals have never come so apart from ETO in Hackney last year, Maria Stuarda has been pretty absent from the capital.

Chelsea Opera Group have a strong cast, headed by Majella Cullagh. This will be COG's last appearance at Cadogan Hall, for their next appearance in March 2008 they are back in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, when Nelly Miricioiu will be singing Lady Macbeth in the original version of Verdi's opera.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

English opera at Buxton Festival

Next season's Vaughan Williams centenary seems to be persuading a number of companies to explore English opera. The Buxton Festival, currently on a roll having had a very successful 2007 season, will be performing RVW's opera Riders to the Sea along with Holst's Savitri and The Wandering Scholar. Savitri is a slightly severe 3-hander based on Indian mythology, in which a woman argues with death for the life of her husband. I remember seeing Dame Janet Baker in it, in performances with Scottish Opera in the 1980's. The Wandering Scholar is a very late work, Holst died before he could hear it, or correct the manuscript. Holst's operas are often curious works and I will be very interested to hear this one. RVW's Riders to the Sea of course needs no introduction.

Continuing in English vein, Buxton will also be doing a stage version of Handel's oratorio Samson with Tom Randle in the title role. More information here.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Review of Maconchy double bill

My review of Independent Opera's double bill of Elizabeth Maconchy operas is here, on Music and Vision.

Last Night's LSO concert

To the Barbican last night for an LSO concert; Richard Hickox conducting Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Barber's Knoxvill 1915 and Orff's Carmina Burana.

For the Bernstein and the Orff Hickox used a very large orchestra (16 first violins and a total personnel roster of nearly 100 people). The Barbican stage can barely contain these numbers and I still remain unconvinced that it is the best place for such large scale works. From our seat in the front stalls, the orchestra seemed to dominate the choir in both works. In the Orff particularly I would have liked a greater number of choral singers than could be accommodated on the Barbican stage.

For the Bernstein the choral contribution was polished but I found the singing lacked the energy and incision needed in the piece. The most moving moment was the treble solo in the 2nd movement, beautifully sung by Jesus Duque from the Tiffin Boys Choir.

Barber's Knoxville 1915 is one of those pieces that I am sure I have never heard in concert before, but which is familiar all the same. The programme did not include the words so we had to hang on Laura Claycomb's every note. By and large she succeeded in getting all the words across and floated a beautiful sound in the lyrical passages.

I have always thought that Carl Orff had a lot in common with Gustav Holst. Both produced one very popular work and then showed no interest in following this up, but explored other less popular veins. Though the other 2 works in Orff's Trionfi trilogy explore some of the same areas as Carmina Buran, they do so without this works intoxicating melodic flair.

I first sang Carmina Burana as a student under a pupil of Orff's. He conducted the rehearsals with great emphasis on rhythm and articulation. We quite often practised without any pitch at all. He laid great stress on the words and they way we projected them, almost spitting them out. This is something which can create a strong effect in the piece, but is too often neglected by choirs. The LSO chorus sang beautifully but in the passages like the quiet sections of the first movement, O Fortuna, their delivery lacked energy and vividness. As in the Bernstein, they somehow could not get energy across the orchestra and there was rather an over emphasis on beautiful singing. In the louder passages the balance rather favoured the orchestra, but there was some beautiful singing from the semi-chorus in the quieter moments.

The soloists were probably about the best you could get in this work. The Swan was, correctly, sung by a tenor, Barry Banks, rather than a counter-tenor. His theatrical delivery was matched by an assured vocal performance, this was the Swan as it should be with the tenor at the top of, or beyond, his comfortable range. The baritone soloist is similarly taken to the very top (and bottom) of his vocal comfort zone. This seemed to hold no fears for Christopher Maltman who turned in a beautifully sung but very dramatic account of the baritone solos. Laura Claycomb did exactly what the soprano solo is asked to do, floated high notes beautifully.

In many ways this was a fine performance. The soloists were superb and the orchestra were on top form, if only the performance had taken place in a venue which would have allowed the chorus to expand to match them.

Friday, 16 November 2007

To Sadlers Wells last night to see Independent Opera's impressive double bill of operas by Elizabeth Maconchy. It turns out that the atmospheric lighting was by Matthew Haskins who lit my opera Garrett when we premiered it in 2001 at Hoxton Hall, small world.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of excerpts from Handel's Serse is here, on MusicWeb International.
We must be a little forgiving as it was recorded 20 years ago. Even so slightly disappointing. There is some fine musicianship on display but it does not add up to a satisfying disc ...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tomorrow night we are off to see Independent Opera's enterprising double bill of Elizabeth Maconchy's operas at Sadlers Wells. This young opera company have constantly surprised me with their choices of opera. Designed to give young professionals opportunities and support (there is now a foundation which gives grants and help) they could have happily jogged along mining the small scale end of the standard operatic repertoire. But last year they mounted a very creditably production of Handel's Orlando and now the Maconchy double bill.

One thing, though, is nagging in my brain. I can remember reading an interview with Elizabeth Maconchy and her librettist, Ursula Vaughan Williams, at the time of a previous outing for their one act opera, The Sofa. Both were pretty elderly but very sprightly and lively to interview. Unfortunately I can find no trace of the interview. Frustrating.

Review of Turandot

My review of Midsummer Opera's performance of Turandot (with the complete Alfano ending) is here, on Music and Vision.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

EPSS and more

Off to Bristol on Sunday to the English Poetry and Song Society recital at Bristol Music Rooms - an attractive mix of the well known and the lesser known with songs by Gurney, Parry and Stanford, plus the winners from their most recent competition (including one of my own). This meant that we got 3 different settings of Gurney's most well known poem, 'Severn Meadows', which was fascinating. Bryan Blyth Daubney's song, I felt, shone out as the clear winner amongst the competition songs.

On the way home we managed to catch the BBC broadcast of the John Foulds World Requiem from the Albert Hall. It was a fascinating work, even over the car radio, and I look forward to hearing the recording though we did wish that we could have been present in the Albert Hall. It was interesting to hear the various moments in the work which seemed to almost approach Messiaen. Soprano Jean-Michelle Charbonnet had a rather too vibrato laden voice for my taste, but otherwise the performance seemed to be exemplary. May we hope for a repeat next year?

Monday, 12 November 2007

Gleanings from this month's Opera magazine

Jessica Duchen introduces Korngold's Wunder der Heliane which the LPO are doing on Nov 21st. This is one of these overblown symbolist laden plots where I sometimes think I'd be better off not knowing what's going on and just sit back and listen to the music.

And Nicola LeFanu introduces her mother, Elizabeth Maconchy's operatic output. Independent Opera are doing a double bill of Maconchy's works this week at Sadlers Wells. Rather poignantly, the libretto of The Sofa is by Ursula Vaughan Williams, who died recently.

Lilian Baylis always makes good copy:-
'Now then you bounders, I know you enjoy Faust and Torvatore, but you've jolly well got to like these other things we do for you or we shall have to shut up shop.'
In her article on Baylis, Elizabeth Schafer refers to Joan Cross's unpublished autobiography. From the bits quoted it sounds fascinating and I would hope we could have it published. Another source was the Old Vic/Sadlers Wells magazine; articles by Ethel Smyth on opera in England (was it a wash out), Edward Dent on Rossini and an introduction to the first English production of The Snow Maiden.

Rose Bampton has died. You might not know her name, but she was 99, a remarkably link with a bygone age. She sang alongside Ponselle and gave the New York premiere of Barber's Dover Beach.

In New York, Gerard Mortier has published news of his first season at NYCO (Rakes Progress, Francis of Assisi, Einstein on the Beach, Nixon in China and Death in Venice with Ian Bostridge. All very 20th century but nothing to really frighten the horses. Mortier has also said that he's not interested in taking NYCO into the Cinema (like the Met) but opera houses should be taking people out of the cinema and into the opera house. Quite So!

A 21st century opera, Margaret Garnier, made its way to New York. But Martin Bernheimer describes it as another let's pretend modern opera for people who hate modern opera.

In St. Louis, there was a gala for Colin Graham, including an old St. Louis discovery, Syliva McNair. She seems to be retired from opera which is a shame. One of those talented, where-did-they-go people. The new opera at St. Louis was another versio of Anna Karenina with a libretto by Graham. Graham emphasised less the social drama and more Levin's philosophical musings - probably not what people want when they think of Anna Karenina.

In Australia, Deborah Jones was less than convinced by Previn's A Street car Named Desire, commenting that it might have been better not to have set Blanche's famous phrase to music, leaving it spoken. Still, I'd have liked to have heard Yvonne Kenny in the role. Jones also felt that the word setting was 'uncongenial or the vocal line too high for comfortable apprehension'. Quite. Another plus seems to have been seeing Teddy Tahu Rhodes's washboard stomach!

In Vienna, a production of Le Nozze di Figaro centred round a football team, where do these ideas come from.

Over in Halle, the annual Handel Festival has finished. Again I've not been, though always mean to. The performances of Riccardo Primo with Lawrence Zazzo, Geraldine McGreevy and Nuria Rial sound as if they were well worth catching. Stephen Lawless's production of Ariodante was set on what seems to have been comic book Scotland. Still it did have Caitlin Hulcup in the title role and Gillian Keith as Ginevra. Bernd Hoppe and I seem to disagree over Christopher Robson in the old ENO production, so I'm not sure whether his approbation of Axel Köhler is good or bad.

Over in Potsdam they were enterprisingly doing Purcell's King Arthur and Lampe's The Dragon of Wantley. The productions sound as if they were promising, I think the Purcell was brought to England and played at the newly restored Theatre Royal in Bury St. Edmunds. The reviewer mentions another Lampe opera, Margery, or A Worse Plague than the Dragon, now I wonder what that's like?

Chris Merritt seems to have made a brief reappearance at Pesaro. The reviewer mentions his early career there in Rossini and then his later career in character roles. But the linking between this is, I think, a foray into bigger more dramatic tenor roles which may not have been entirely sound. Still the production of Otello, the Rossini one, did have Juan Diego Florez in it even if his wig was awful (and it doesn't look to bad in the photo.)

Max Loppert's review of the Robert Carsen Ring is interesting. Hugh Canning loved it when it was in Cologne, but Loppert disliked the Venice incarnation. Always a fascinating problem, do the 2 of them simply disagree or was there a fault in translation from Cologne to Venice. Sharing and borrowing productions can often be a tricky business and in a new atmosphere, things which previously worked no longer seem to.

Back in London, We Hear That... holds forth the promise of lots of Handel in London; David Daniels as Jonathan in ENO's new Saul, Rosemary Joshua in ENO's new Partenope directed by Christopher Alden and Graham Vick doin Tamerlano with Chrisianne Stotijn at Covent Garden. Quite wonderful. Also in London, Jonathan Miller is doing a new La Boheme in 2009 for ENO. It doesn't seem that long since the present one was new.

Susan Graham is going to be doing her first Marschalling, in Houston, and Renee Fleming will be doing Rossini's Armida at the Met.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Tomorrow we should have been going to hear John Foulds's A World Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall. But instead we are winging our way to Bristol where one of my songs is being performed at a recital devoted to Ivor Gurney and his teachers at Bristol Music Club in Clifton. Its an afternoon recital and has a beautifully put together programme which mixes Gurney and his teachers with 5 contemporary Gurney settings from the most recent English Poetry and Song Society competition. So we'll have to hope we can catch the John Fould's on the Radio on the way home.

Something to look forward to

We've just booked tickets for Opera North's London visit in February 2008 when they are bringing Peter Grimes (with Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts in the title role) and Pinocchio, the new opera by Jonathan Dove and Alastair Middleton. Dove and Middleton were responsible for the wonderful not-quite-opera that was the Christmas show at the Young Vic last year and I look forward to Pinocchio enormously.

The performances take place at Sadlers Wells and also there in June are a pair of semi-staged performances of Vaughan Williams's opera The Pilgrims Progress. This is sad in some ways as the presence of the opera at Sadlers Wells in semi-staged version almost certainly means that no-one is doing a fully staged version in London for the anniversary year. I have not heard whether ENO are reviving their production of Sir John in Love, but it would seem criminal for them not to bring it back in the autumn.

For the June performances of The Pilgrims Progress, Richard Hickox will be conducting a very fine cast including Roderick Williams as the Pilgrim, Neal Davies as Bunyan with Sarah Tynan, Pamel Helen Stephen, Timothy Robinson, James Gilchrist, Robert Hayward and Graeme Danby in the cast.

Oh, that's of course another reason why people don't perform the opera, it requires a large cast plus a good chorus. In fact, the only time I have seen it staged was at the Royal Northern College of Music in 1992, directed by Joseph Ward (who sang Lord Lechery in the premiere. This performance had Stephen Wallace, in drag, as Madam Bubble (he went on to play the Fairy Queen, in drag, for Grange Park Opera); Jeffery Lloyd-Roberts in a number of tenor roles, Henry Waddington as Pontius Pilate and even Alice Coote as an Angel of the Lord.

Review of La Straniera

My review of last Saturday's concert performance of Bellini's La Straniera is here, on Music and Vision.

Friday, 9 November 2007

The news of my new CD continues to find its way into the press and I continue to be tickled each time I come across a reference to it; most recently in Choir and Organ magazine.

After much logistical heartache, we have now managed to fix a date for our concert celebrating the launch of the CD. So on Saturday 26th January at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble, organist Paul Ayres, and conductor Paul Brough will be giving a concert to celebrate the CD launch.

The choir will be performing Mundy's Vox Patris Coelestis complete; they sang part of the work at their first concert in 2005. My Evening Service will be premiered, in its version for 4-part choir and organ; the Magnificat from the Evening Service was recorded on the CD in the 3-part choir and organ version. They will also be performing my motet Lucis Creator Optime. Paul Ayres will also be giving some organ solos. The concert will be followed by a reception. More details to follow.

This means that we are giving a short, 2-concert season at St. Peter's because on Saturday 23rd February, FifteenB with Paul Ayres, this time conducting, and Malcolm Cottle on organ, will be giving a concert as well. They will be performing Haydn's Little Organ Mass, plus my Tagore setting Crossing, for choir and organ, and premiering the new version of the choruses from my 1998 Passion setting.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Cesare Siepi's early recordings is here, on MusicWeb International.
An excellent introduction to the work of an outstanding Italian bass, heard in his impressively youthful prime. ...

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Review of Londinium City Voices concert

My review of Thursday's concert by Londinium City Voices, conductor Nicholas Jenkins, is here on Music and Vision. The concert included Richard Strauss's rarely performed Die Göttin im Putzzimmer.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Review of Teseo

My review of English Touring Opera's production of Handel's Teseo is here, on Music and Vision.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of the Naxos disc of Kuhlau flute trios is here, on MusicWeb International.
Do try the disc, you will hear some charming music and some superb flute playing....

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Review of the Coronation of Poppea

My review (along with some pictures) of the ENO Coronation of Poppea is here, on Music and Vision.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a fascinating disc of music of Ophecleide is here.
A highly enjoyable and entertaining recital which reveals the immense possibilities of a neglected instrument ...

And my review of a recent lute recital is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
Sakamoto has a strong technique and much promise. I look forward to hearing more from him when he matures and develops ...

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Yet more CD glee

The new CD continues to filter its way out into the internet, its now on
www.mdt.co.uk (advanced orders only as yet). And has also made it to Amazon.co.uk, though they seem to think the music on the disc was written by various composers, I didn't know my style was so eclectic.

Recent CD Review

My review of a new disc of Stefan Wolpe's songs is here, on MusicWeb International.
Wolpe is underrated and this makes available some of his striking vocal music. That the pieces require work on our part would probably be regarded as no bad thing by the composer. ...

Friday, 19 October 2007

EPSS Gurney Competition

My song, To his Love, has come joint 2nd in the English Poetry and Song Society's Ivor Gurney competition. My song Requiem was also short-listed. The winner of the competition was Severn Meadows by Brian Daubney and I shared 2nd place with Song and Pain by Celia Harper.

To his Love will be included (along with the other 4 prizewinning songs) in a recital by Charlotte Newstead (soprano), Nicolas Barlow (baritone) and John Marsh (piano) entitled Ivor Gurney and his teachers. They may also include other songs off the short-list, so Requiem might be performed as well. The recital is at 3pm, Sunday 11th November, Bristol Music Club, St. Paul's Road, Clifton. (Tickets £7, £5 from Providence Music 0117 927 6536)

The recital will include songs by Parry, Stanford, Vaughan Williams and Gurney.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of the latest Callas compilation from EMI is
here, on MusicWeb International.

Not an ideal survey of Callas's career, but at under £12 for 2 well filled CDs you do get a lot of Callas for your money ...

Catch up - 2

Last Thursday we went to see Ross Pople and the London Festival Orchestra at Cadogan Hall as part of their S.W.Mitchell Piano Virtuoso series. This time is was Nikolai Demidenko who played Mozart's 9th Piano Concerto. This was followed by Demidenko on his own playing a pair of Schubert Impromtus and the LFO rounded off the evening with a sparkling performance of Schubert's 5th Symphony.

Now I must confess that I tend to have a bit of a blind spot where Mozart Piano Concertos are concerned (heresy I know), but Demidenko's superbly crafted performance certainly won me over. The curious thing was that the auditorium was by no means full. I would have thought that a pianist of Demidenko's stature would automatically warrant a full house, particularly in a venue as attractive as the Cadogan Hall.

The series continues later in the year.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Catch up (1)

Owing to family matters, I have not managed to mention my last 2 musical outings, so here are brief notes about them.

On Friday we went to see Sally Potter's new production of Carmen at the London Coliseum with Alice Coote in the title role. First of all, the good bits. Edward Gardner conducts a fine, lively account of the score with Alice Coote giving a beautifully sung and completely unhackneyed version of the title role. Potter brings a number of different arts to the staging including tango dancing, break dancing and video. She assembles these with breathtaking daring and some of the set pieces are truly wonderful to look at.

BUT....

Neither ENO website nor the programme book gives any detail about what edition of the score they are using. No mention of whether we are going to here Guiraud, standard opera comique, Fritz Oeser or one of the other more recent editions. The only positive note is that the ENO website includes excerpts from the recent Chandos recording, which uses a brand new edition based on Bizet's own publication of the vocal score.

As it turns out, the matter of the edition becomes secondary because Potter omits all dialogue of any form. The version performed is the standard opera comique version (I think) with ALL spoken dialogue omitted. The passages which were written to underscore the dialogue become dance/music-and-movement numbers. This completely undercuts the careful balance that Bizet gave to the opera, carefully grading the movement between dialogue, melodrama and full singing. All this goes for naught.

It also means that the first time we hear Don Jose open his mouth, it is to sing to Micaela. All his previous dialogue is cut so all he can do when Carmen first appears is silently emote, unfortunately this is not Julian Gavin's strong point. Alice Coote's Carmen is similarly hampered, we never hear her laughing, we never hear her taunting Don Jose. Whether because of this, or for other reasons, Coote's Carmen is not particularly gypsy-ish; but in omitting the gypsy element Coote and Potter have omitted the really dark, fatalistic element from Carmen's character. Coote sings Carmen beautifully, but this beautiful singing is really her dominant characteristic. I now need urgently to see Coote singing the role in a proper production with a more complex account the role.

A further sin, in my book, is the for large chunk of the score Christopher Cowell's translation bears little resemblance to the original. One of the problems is that in updating the piece to the present, Potter has chosen to make Don Jose a security guard rather than a soldier. This means that the changing of the guard in Act 1 goes for nothing, the children's chorus has become a rather bizarre chorus of first communicants? Perhaps Potter sees the first Act as the pull between good and evil, as the factory girls are now become ladies of the night.

Don Jose's dilemma in Act 3, when the trumpet sounds La retraite, becomes instead a risible sequence with his mobile phone. The result is that, instead of suffering because he wants to obey his regiment, Jose becomes just another guy who puts work above his woman.

The worst change, from my point of view, comes at the opening of Act 4, where the chorus are all modern day sight-seers. The parade of toreadors and picadors etc is replaced by dancers and break-dancers (very exciting indeed) and at one point the chorus sings that they have no idea what is going on (neither do we). This scene is excellently staged, it just doesn't have much to do with Bizet's drama.

Act 2 takes place in a modern bar, with one of Potter's best ideas; a group of flamenco dancers played en travestie by some v. tall men, the result is rather Almodovar and shows what she can do. This act, though suffers quite badly from the general problems with personen regie, there are times when Potter just does not seem to know what to do with people and leaves them stranded. This applies in all the acts.

Despite the piece seeming more like a Readers Digest version of the opera, the lack of dialogue harms the piece's dramatic impetus. So that despite some excellent singing and playing, the result comes over as rather heavy.

This is one of those projects where someone, early on in the process, should have explained to Potter exactly what an opera staging could (and couldn't be). ENO should have then have had the courage of its convictions by either allowing Potter to create a stage work loosely based on Bizet (as others like Peter Brook have done in the past) alternatively they should have ensured that Potter kept a minimum of dialogue and kept the changes to the text within the bounds of propriety.

This was a great missed opportunity and certainly a step back for a company which has always, in the past, prided itself on using correct, proper and up to date editions of scores. We can just about forgive Covent Garden for its fondness for old and out of date editions when they field international casts who might not have time to rehearse acres of French dialogue. But ENO, with fine English speaking casts have no excuse and so should be priding themselves on using proper editions of the pieces they perform.

Though I enjoyed some of the big moments, I cannot think of a reason why I will ever need to see this production again, which is a profound shame and a great waste of talent.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Thursday, 11 October 2007

CD Review

The Browns are a group of 5 young pianists, all brothers and sisters. All have studied, or are still studying at the Julliard School of Music. Their first disc, just titled The 5 Browns, and their second, No Boundaries, both did spectacularly well and they have just released a new one, The Browns in Blue. The disc is firmly aimed at the light classical market providing an attractive mixture of styles and types of music, both familiar and not so familiar. The title of this disc, The Browns in Blue, is a bit puzzling as few of the pieces are blues, though the disc does mine a vein of gloom and melancholy.

There are 5 pianists (Ryan, Melody, Gregory, Deondra and Desirae) play on 5 pianos, but all 5 pianists do no play together for all the items on the disc. In fact there are 7 solos (Ryan, Melody and Gregory get 2 each, the others 1), 1 duet (Desirae and Deondra), 1 trio (Desirae, Deondra and Melody) and 3 quintets. In addition the 5 pianists accompany the trumpet of Chris Botti and the voice of Dean Martin, Desirae and Deondra in duet accompany the violin of Gil Shaham.

So there are only 3 items where we can hear all 5 of the pianists together, plus 2 where they accompany another person. For me this wasn't anywhere near enough. I am very fond of piano teamwork and feel that the group should have taken more risks and played more group items. Perhaps they should look at the work (and teaching) of Percy Grainger who was very fond of piano teamwork and used to use pieces for multiple pianos as teaching aids in his summer schools in the USA.

The disc opens with all 5 Browns playing the 18th Variation from Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. This introduces their principal virtues, a lovely sense of line, melodious tone and a superb blend. There is no sense here of 5 personalities struggling against each other, just a well honed 5-person ensemble. I wished they had recorded the whole piece, instead of an excerpt.

This is followed by Desirae and Deondra, plus Gil Shahan (violin) playing the Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals (Saint-Saens). The duetting pianists produce beautifully even arpeggios, again with superb blend. They make fine, thoughtful accompanists, never trying to overshadow Shahan's fine solo line. But why couldn't we have had this piece played just on multiple pianos!

Ryan then turns in a neatly understated performance of Piazolla's Retrato de Alfredo Gobbi from History of the Tango. Technically Ryan is excellent, but the virtues which go towards making the ensemble a fine, integrated ensemble do not necessarily make for a superb solo pianist. This thought continued over into Melody, Deondra and Desirae's performance of Debussy's Clair de Lune. This was technically excellent with a good sense of line, and beautifully transparent textures, but the performance just did not make me shiver, the way it should.

Gregory brings a good rhythmic feel to Aunt Hagar's Blues, then Desirae and Deondra return with the Romance from Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2 for 2 pianos. They give a beautifully played, balanced account, but it lacks the depth and real feeling of underlying darkness that Rachmaninoff can need.

Melody then plays Brahms's Intermezzo in A Major followed by Ryan in Schubert's Gretchen am Spinnrade. Both performances are neat enough and very musical, but neither is striking enough to stand out and Ryan's Schubert lacks necessary urgency. Currently the group's strengths are piano team work and they should play to their strengths.

The 5-some team are back with Novacek's Reflections on Shenandoah. I found their performance entrancing, the piece is an inventory of piano techniques, but as a piece of music I was not so enamoured. Shenandoah is a sea chanty, but Novacek's version seems to have too many reflections and not enough guts and thunder for my taste.

Desirae gives a technically assured account of a transcription of Gershwin's Embraceable You, enveloping Gershwin's melody in pellucid ripples of notes. Then Gergory Brown produces the most assured solo account on the disc with Chopin's Nocturne in C minor, full of the darkness and depth that it requires.

The 5 Browns then reappear with a rather curious piece, a Fantasia on Dives and Lazarus which is credited to Vaughan Williams, Anderson and Sibelius. This is not a straightforward account of the RVW string piece, but if you forget this you get some fine piano teamwork and an attractive piece.

Melody plays The Swan from Carnival of the Animals, but as a solo with the melody embedded in virtuoso piano ripples; technically excellent playing again. Deondra's account of Grieg's Ich liebe dich is pleasant without standing out.

Chris Botti joins the group for the Home Blues from An American in Paris. Here the playing is supremely assured but too often the 5-some are relegated to accompanying Botti's fine trumpet. Couldn't we have had the whole of the Gershwin piece, played by just the 5-some.

The bonus track is something of a curiosity, the 5-some accompanying Dean Martin singing Everybody Loves Somebody.

There is some fine piano playing on the disc, though the solo items too often are efficient without enough personality. The group needs to decide on which area to concentrate, I would imagine that it would be tricky for individual members to develop a pronounced solo career and distinctive style whilst preserving the lovely integrated character of their piano teamwork.

I would love to hear this group again in a programme of larger scale works for all 5 pianists. I am aware, though, that I am not quite the audience at which the CD is targeted and it will undoubtedly prove deservedly popular.

The Browns in Blue
The 5 Browns
RCA 71322

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Homoerotic opera?

Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride includes a very strong depiction of the close friendship between two men, Oreste and Pylade. In fact, the opera includes no male/female romantic involvement, as Iphigenie is Oreste's sister and Pylade's main (only) depicted relationship is with Oreste. This is pretty unusual in the standard late 18th/ 19th century operatic canon.

Most operas in the standard repertoire are almost exclusively heterosexual with very little homo-erotic shading. Of course casting can alter this, with young men being played by women. In the 19th century, the playing of young men by women was favoured by heterosexual men as it gave them the opportunity of casting glances at the beautifully displayed female legs. I am unclear whether there was explicit lesbian interest in such works, but judging by 20th century reactions I presume there was. This also applies to female/female relationships in operas as it was quite common for the diva to have some sort of friend in the plot and convention allowed them a quite intense relationship. In Bellini's Norma for instance, the relationship between Norma and Adalgisa is close and by far the most satisfactory relationship depicted, neither woman has an entirely satisfying relationship with Pollione. But 18th and 19th centurys arts allowed for passionate relationships between women in a way which was not, completely, reflected in male relationships.

If we consider male/male relationships in opera, then there are very few close relationships depicted. Men are more conventionally rivals, or relations (father/son) etc. Gluck's opera is unusual in that it does allow a close friendship for the two men. To find another such close friendship we must jump to the 1860's and look at
Verdi's Don Carlos. Though the love between Carlos and Elizabeth is the engine which drives the complex plot, the friendship between Carlos and Posa is strong and intense. They get a powerful duet, hymning their friendship, and Verdi uses the theme from this as a leitmotif in the opera. Bizet's Pearl Fishers also depicts a strong relationship between 2 men, but this friendship is complicated by the fact that they are both rivals for the same woman, still it does give rise to another powerful male/male duet.

But, frankly, that seems to be about it. Though opera is capable of depicting all sorts of vagaries and uncertainties in relationships, even though the synthesis of words and music is a combination which can give rise to subtle distinctions in relations and the shimmering uncertainties of operas like Pelleas and Melisande, uncertainty of male sexuality is not an area that is covered and strong male/male relations are rarely coloured with homoerotic uncertainty.

But in a world where homosexual composers such as Tchaikovsky strongly identified with their heroines, we should not be surprised that the 19th century opera world largely ignore the explicit depiction of homoeroticism. This is an area where producers are still reluctant to extend the dramatic footprint of opera. I have always wondered whether you could make the staging of La Traviata or Carmen work if the part was played en travestie so that the principal relationship becomes a homosexual one. This is one way of bringing the 19th century obsession with a fallen woman into the 21st century. Perhaps producers would find it difficult to cast these works if the strong sexuality displayed was a male one. Would Carmen's Habanera work if it was sung by a woman playing a young man?

From this month's Opera

Gleanings from the October edition of Opera Magazine.

The big feature, of course, is an assessment of the life and career of Luciano Pavarotti. But Janet Baker and Max Loppert contributed tributes to the critic Alan Blyth who died recently. Margaret Atwood and Andrew Porter paid tribute to Richard Bradshaw, the conductor of Canadian Opera who died in August. Another obituary is for Teresa Stich-Randall, who is best known by me as the Sophie on the Karajan Rosenkavalier. Towards the end of her life she lived in Vienna and drove and Alfa Romeo sports car (so she must have had good taste) which she called 'the red devil'.

The interview is with Sylvie Valayre, who sang Lady Macbeth with Glyndebourne this summer. I caught the performance at the Proms and, though I found her interesting, it was not my favourite account of the role. But then, I was hearing it in the Albert Hall!. The soprano has her own website, www.sylvievalayre.com. It is far less formal than some singers' web sites, mainly because it is controlled by the soprano herself rather than her agency or record company. The late Regine Crespin is a thread that keeps running through items recently, Valayre did not actually study with her but sat in on some of her classes. And you've got to love someone who says that the role she'd like to play is Leporello!

A new production of Tosca appeared on the floating stage in Bregenz; alas Tosca did not leap into the lake at the end (though evidently Senta did in the Flying Dutchman production in 1973!). Over in Toulouse, Philippe Fenelon's 4th opera, Faust, has premièred; to its credit it has vocal lines which are singable and actually project the text. Sounds quite positive.

Alas in Goettingen, Stephen Petitt did not like the new production of Handel's Giulio Cesare. Of the singers who did come in for commendation, Petitt mentions Laura Cherici ' doing a Bartoli, only better', now that sounds fascinating. At another festival, Wexford, Kurt Weill's Der Silbersee was on offer with Anita Dobson (from EastEnders) as Frau von Luber. Rodney Milnes was not impressed, shame because I still have extremely fond memories of the production at the late lamented Camden Festival (with Nigel Robson). Still at Wexford, Milnes was also unimpressed by Rusalka, being as the production included a character playing the Moon, I'm not surprised.

Over in Mexico City, Respighi's orchestration of Monteverdi's Orfeo made an appearance. The only comment here can be, why? Respighi lowers the pitch, reduces the no. of acts from five to three, transposes some roles into lower range and added interludes which precede each act. Well, I suppose it makes it available for opera houses, but I'm still not convinced.

Dorset Opera have just done the Berio ending of Puccini's Turandot whilst Midsummer Opera continue to champion the uncut Alfano ending (hurrah!). Midsummer Opera are performing the work with uncut Alfano on November 4th at the theatre in Catford. Over at Clonter Opera, Jamie Hayes set Don Giovanni in the 1960's with the Commendatore being battered to death with a cricket bat.

I missed Christine Brewer's performance as Brunnhilde at the proms, but Peter Reed said that she ' had that generosity and involvement of singing that reminded me of the great Gwynneth Jones'. I hope that we get a chance to hear her in the role in the UK again soon.


Telarc have issued a 2 CD set of Dukas's Ariane et Barbe-Bleue, one of those rarely performed pieces which it is lovely to come across (I never did catch the Opera North production with Anne Marie Owens). Julian Grant, in his review, describes Ariane as a 'scary composite of an earnest Mary Poppins mixed with Camille Paglia', scary indeed. It is one of those problem low soprano/high mezzo roles, commonly called Falcon after the soprano who created Rachel in La Juive. Again Crespin threads her way in, as Grant feels the role would have been ideal for her in the 1960's.

Finally, it seems that Michael Berkely is composing a new opera (hurrah!), this time to a libretto by Ian McEwan. It will be interesting to see how McEwan alters his style to suit the operatic purpose.
Last night, for family reasons, we had to miss the Salomon Orchestra concert at St. John's Smith Square. They were doing Rachmaninov's 3rd Symphony and Magnus Lindberg's Clarinet concerto, so it was annoying to miss it. All we can do is look forward to their next concert on Tuesday 12th February when they are performing Strauss's "Ein Heldenleben" and Sibelius's 7th Symphony.

On Thursday's we're off to Cadogan Hall for the latest London Festival Orchestra concert in their Virtuoso Piano Series. Nicolai Demindenko will by playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 K271 and the programme also includes Schubert's 5th Symphony.

Then on Friday we finally catch up with the new Carmen at the London Coliseum. Sally Potter's production has come in for mixed reviews, so we will be interested to see it.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Don Carlo - humph

The booklet about the Royal Opera House's next booking period has just arrived. This includes the premiere of Harrison Birtwistle's new opera, The Minotaur, Hurrah. Plus Nicholas Hyntner's new production of Verdi's Don Carlo. Humph.

The Humph is because the Royal Opera have decided to revert to the Italian translation. In an article Hyntner's says that he and Pappano chose the Italian version because it is more dramatic. What they actually mean is that Verdi's revised 5-act version is more dramatic, but in fact Verdi wrote it to a French text. He persisted in viewing Don Carlos as a French opera but it was performed in Italian translation in Italy because Verdi felt the opera should be performed in the local language.

After the premiere the opera was performed, in translation, in Italy. But was extensively cut. He made some modifications in the 1870's but in 1882/1883 he worked, in Paris, with a new librettist (Charles Nuttier) to create the more compact 4-act version. Some years later he sanctioned the use of the 1st Act (which meant making some adjustments to the opening act of the 4-act version). This is the so-called Modena version, the standard Italian version which is used. Except of course, none of the music was written for an Italian text, but a French text.

This is the version which the Royal Opera used last time, when they performed the opera in French. Except they introduced some passages from the original 1867 French version. This is a nonsense. I love the 1867 French version but this should not be mixed and matched with the later versions. Doing the Modena Version in the original French is the only sensible and proper course for a regular opera house.

Except, of course, it is very, very difficult to cast. So opera houses prefer using the Italian version. Pappano and Hyntner are using the Modena version, because it is more dramatic, shorter and Verdi's final thoughts on the opera. But they are singing it in Italian quite simply because it is easier to cast. Though only two of the major singers is Italian (Sonia Ganassi who is Eboli and Ferrucio Furlanetto as Philippo), the Carlos is Rolando Vilazon (couldn't he have learned it in French?), Elizabeth is Russian and Rodrigo is Simon Keenlyside.

Of course, singing in French is not the same as singing in good French. I still remember the version Domingo recorded in French (Modena Version with extra bits as an appendix), but very few of the singers actually sounded like they were singing in a known language. You only have to listen to Regine Crespin to understand what French singing should sound like. Or Callas, as Carmen, where she completely changes the sound of her voice and makes you realise how much she understood about the sound of sung French.

I can't wait for the production of course, but will wish it was in French.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

CD Review - Fable, Forms and Fears

Fable, Forms and Fears - Meyer Media MM07008

Paul Richards is a young American composer who writes in a complex, yet approachably melodic style. Born in New York in 1969, Richards comes from a musical family (his father is a cantor). He studied at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Arizona and is now professor of composition at the University of Florida. In other words, Richards is a member of that amazing group of American composers who are embedded in academe, write well crafted, well thought out music which is eminently performable. It almost goes without saying that these composers are also nowhere near as well known as they ought to be.

This new disc showcases Richards's chamber music, written between 1996 and 2003. Whilst the music on the disc is genuine chamber music, this does not mean that the instrumentation is conventional. The pieces here are written for such combinations as violin, guitar and piano, violin and guitar, piano and percussion.

In all these Richards shows a fine ear for different combinations of timbres and is immensely sympathetic to balance problems inherent in the combination of violin, guitar and piano. At no time do you feel that the piano overwhelms the other 2 instruments, as it quite easily could. Of course it helps to have sympathetic interpreters as Richards does here.

The disc opens with 'Hypercube', a work from 2001 for percussion (Kenneth L Broadway) and piano (Kevin R. Off). Here Richards makes a patchwork of six independent musical compositions according to a mathematical algorithm. The result is kaleidoscopic with some lovely imaginative textures and insistent rhythms.

Insistency (and incisiveness) of rhythm is often a common element in these pieces. 'The Great Octopus' (written 1996) for guitar and digital media is a fascinating combination of Latin American flavoured rhythms on the guitar and digital events. It is in fact a tale of an Octopus 'who, after swallowing a guitarist, begins to play his instrument'! The piece is superbly realised by Matthew Albert Gould.

'Cypriot Structures' from 2003 is a trio of pieces for violin (Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould), guitar (Matthew Albert Gould) and piano (Nathanael May). Each piece represents a site in Northern (Turkish) Cyprus ('The Walls of Famagusta', 'The Ruins at Salamis', and 'The Castle at Kyrenia'). They were commissioned for musicians in residence at Eastern Mediterranean University. The first piece, 'The Walls of Famagusta' is lively and rhythmic with a lovely exotic cast to the melodic outlines. Richards never apes foreign manners, but teases you with fragments and hints. 'The Ruins at Salamis' are altogether quieter and more atmospheric whilst the final movement 'The Castle at Kyrenia' seems to hint at gypsy elements in amongst the lively and interesting ensemble. I did not find that any of the pieces evoked memories of the places in Northern Cyprus (which I have visited). But that doesn't matter, they give plenty of scope for the imagination.

'Rush Hour' (written in 2000) is a dramatic piece for horn (Paul Basler) and piano (Keevin R. Orr). The strenuous piano part is well realised by Basler and the at times strident horn part is perhaps very apt for the subject matter of the piece.

'Asphalt Gypsy' from 1999 is a lively and tango-ish little piece for the unusual combination of violin (Beth Ilana Schneider-Gould) and guitar (Matthew Albert Gould). Richards explores the different timbres of the instruments and the piece is relished by the performers.

'A Butterfly Coughs in Africa' (2003) is written for clarinet choir. The University of Florida Clarinet choir under David Waybright give a fine performance and no allowance needs to be made for the sound of the group. Richards generates the entire charming work from the opening 5-note gesture.

The final work on the disc 'Falling on Lobsters in the Dark' was originally written for rock band but has been re-worked for the same instrumental combination as 'Cypriot Structures'. The result mirrors much of the other material on the disc, with lively, insistent rhythms combined with short, perky melodies.

Richards's style is approachable but requires work; none of these pieces is strictly easy listening. But they do respond to work; there is much to discover on repeated listening.

Recent CD Review

My review of the disc of Requiems by Ockeghem and Lassus from the Laudantes Consort is here, on Music Web International.
This disc, coupling two fine early Requiems, has much to recommend it. The Laudantes Consort combine musical values with expressiveness and a good feeling for the different timbres and vocal textures ...

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Independent Opera

Independent Opera were founded to give young singers good professional experience at the beginning of their careers. In 2006 they performed Handel's Orlando in the Lilian Bayliss Theatre at Sadlers Wells, in a staging by their young Artistic Director Alessandro Talevi. In the audience one evening was Dame Anne Evans, who was sufficiently impressed to offer to teach one of the cast members; unfortunately the young singer in question could not afford to take lessons from Dame Anne.

Out of this came the idea of the Independent Opera Scholarships and Fellowships which are awarded annually to singers, designers and directors a breathing space in the gap between college and secure employment.

At a press conference yesterday, Independent Opera introduced their scholarships as well as their forthcoming production at Sadlers Wells – an enticing double bill of operas by Elizabeth Maconchy (The Sofa and The Departure). One of the speakers at the press conference was counter tenor Christopher Ainslie, who appeared as Medoro in Orlando and also appeared in the London Handel Festival's performances of Poro this year. He spoke candidly about the financial problems that singers could face when leaving college, getting prestige engagements for 2009 does not pay for today's rent. His receipt of the Independent Opera fellowship and scholarships has given him a breathing space to focus on training and planning. The stress of his financial situation was threatening to affect his voice and he had started to consider engagements which would have been less than ideal for his vocal development.

Independent Opera will be repeating Orlando in June 2008 at the Wigmore Hall (in concert) and in Prague in 2009 (fully staged). Though Sadlers Wells is their permanent base, they have been forging links with the Wigmore Hall and Matthew Rose has been awarded the Wigmore Hall Independent Opera voice fellowship.

Review of Iphigenie en Tauride

My review of Iphigenie en Tauride from Covent Garden is here on Music and Vision.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Bruckner Masses is here.
These are fine performances which have stood the test of time. Perhaps not quite blemish free, but pretty near perfect given the taxing nature of Bruckner’s writing....

And my review of Siegfried Wagner's opera Der Kobbold is here.
Entirely creditable … makes as good a case as possible for Siegfried Wagner’s rather curious work. Some ravishing moments … he was a talented orchestrator and could write well for voices. Well worth investigating ...

Both reviews are on MusicWeb International

Monday, 1 October 2007

To the Royal Opera House on Saturday to see the final performance of their new production of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride. This was the first performance of the opera there since 1973. In 1973, the last revival of their previous production, the title role was sung by Sena Jurinac and the conductor was John Eliot Gardiner - a confluence of talent which you would not quite have expected.

The new production was a co-production between Covent Garden, Chicago and San Francisco. In each city, the title role was sung by Susan Graham. In London the band was the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing on original instruments. Did they use period bands in Chicago and San Francisco, or did Graham have to re-learn the role at a different pitch for London?

Friday, 28 September 2007

Faith, Hope and Karaoke

My friends and acquaintances have been acquiring copies of my new CDand the soprano who premièred the original version of Faith, Hope and Charity (for soprano and organ) suggested that the version on the disc (for solo violins and strings) could be considered the karaoke version. The strings only version was a very last minute production, the solo violin essentially plays the soprano line, but the results are extremely effective (and the solo playing, by Simon Baggs, on the disc is lovely). You'll have to buy the disc to find out I'm afraid,

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Recent CD Reviews

My review of the Mozart Coronation Mass from Peter Neumann is here.
Neumann’s accounts of the masses are pretty much spot-on ...

And my review of a recital of Love Letter (Lettere Amorose) by Monteverdi, Sigismondo D'India and others is here.
I enjoyed this recital immensely. Scholarship and imagination, have given us a recital which has re-imagined this repertoire without transgressing the contemporary rules of performance ...

Both reviews on Music Web International

East Finchley Arts Festival

Next week the East Finchley Arts Festival starts. This is an enterprising arts festival based in All Saints Church, East Finchley. The church has a lovely acoustic (we made my new CD there) and is the basis for a number of concerts and events. The big event next weeks is the premiere of the piano concerto by Geoffrey Hanson, the director of the festival. Rimantas Vingras, a Moscow conservatoire trained Lithuanian pianist, will be playing the piano part with Geoffrey Hanson conducting the London Mozart Players.

Other events include a programme for voice and viols with Emma Kirkby and the English Consort of Viols, the Finchley Childrens Music Group, a recorder day, a Poetry evening, a performance of the play 'Johnson is Leaving' by John Wain and the London Vintage Jazz Orchestra. A rich and varied mix.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Brokeback opera

It seems that Annie Proulx has given permission for an opera based on her story, Brokeback Mountain, about two gay cowboys. Fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Wuorinen will compose. Wuorinen (born 1938) studied with Stefan Wolpe and of his music the New York Times once said, Charles Wuorinen has taken the decrees of 12-tone music and made them sing.. Whilst he might not necessarily seem an obvious choice his opera, Haroun and the sea of stories, to a libretto by James Fenton, has had some success. Whether he can solve the problem of giving two cowboys something convincing to sing remains to be seen!

Monday, 24 September 2007

Grange Park en avant

We've just had the new season CD from Grange Park Opera. This year on the disc a description of the gardens at Nevill Holt (where the company decamps to part way through the season) is interwoven with information about the 2008 season and excerpts from the operas to be performed. A fascinating and enticing taster, with Rusalka, La Fanciulla del West and Barbe Bleu to look forward to, choosing will be difficult.

Sea of Paper

Having taken delivery of my personal batch of CD's (my new disc which comes out on Divine Art label), we've been wading through the usual sea of paper (both real and electronic) publicising the disc to friends and contacts. Its too early to get feedback from anyone yet, so all I can do is send of missives and emails and wait.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Bach Motets conducted by Robert Fountain is here on MusicWeb International.
If you are looking for a good all-round disc of the Bach motets, look elsewhere ...

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

New Recording has arrived


My copies of my new recording on the Divine Art label have arrived and look very fine. I understand they will be starting to hit the stores next month, but the record company's web site has more details plus an on-line shop here. Do buy one!

Monday, 17 September 2007

Dutch Cornucopia - London Festival Orchestra

On Thursday Ross Pople and the London Festival Orchestra gave the final concert in their Dutch Cornucopia season. The orchestra presented an attractively mixed programme of Dutch music at Cadogan Hall.

The evening started with No. 1 of Wassenaer's Concerti Armonici, these attractive pieces for string orchestra have been long known, but the 18th century edition in which they are published does not give the composer. For a time the concerti were attributed to Pergolesi but now they are known to be by the Dutch aristocrat Unico van Wassanaer. The 1st concerto is written for strings and continuo, with 4 solo violins contributing to the attractive texture. The London Festival Orchestra gave a stylish, if somewhat old fashioned, account of the work. My only real complaint being that the harpsichord were underpowered compared to the modern stringed instruments.

From the 18th century we jumped to the present day, for the Piano Concerto by the young Dutch composer Robin de Raaff, who is a pupil of George Benjamin's (to whom the concerto is dedicated). Balance was again in the forefront here as the composer has set the work for piano and some 12 instruments and percussion; each instrument of the orchestra represented by just 1 player. The intention was to allow the piano to speak easily. Given the extreme virtuosity required for the piano part, this was understandable and the results, played by the talented young pianist Ralph van Raat were dazzling in the extreme. De Raaff conjured up some ravishing textures and made the most of the contrasts available. Van Raat played from memory and was simply brilliant. This is the first of this season's S.W. Mitchell Capital Piano Virtuoso Series, and it lived up to its name. There were moments, though, when the balance seemed to be slightly misjudged. This might be miscalculation on the composer's part or just that with a new work, not everything had settled down in performance. Whatever the reason, the brass seemed to dominate when they played, meaning that the string textures (played by 1 violin, 1 viola and 1 cello) were sometimes obscured.

De Raaff's new concerto is complex and impressive, the sort of piece that I really need to hear again. It was followed, in a rather long first half, by Hendrik Andriessen's Miroir de Peine. This was a cycle of 5 French poems, by Henri Gheon, set by the father of the contemporary composer Louis Andriessen. The cycle is very French inspired and the string accompaniments were truly ravishing, creating some gorgeous textures. The lyrical soprano part was sung by Dutch soprano Hanneke de Wit. We were not provided with words and her diction was a little occluded, so to a certain extent she was singing in a vacuum. But the results were undoubtedly lovely.

After the interval we had another string piece, this time by Henrik Badings. Badings is a major 20th century name in Dutch music and he deserves to be better known. This year is his centenary and though he has written many substantial pieces, it was good that LFO managed to included something by him in the concert even if it was just his short but attractive Largo en Allegro for strings.

Theo Loevendie's The 5 Drives was the first time the full orchestra had been on the platform together. The piece is written for orchestra and improvising soloist, in this case the composer himself playing soprano sax. Loevendie is classically trained but his career spans classical and jazz. This work was effectively written for orchestra, but I found the composer's solo account a little under powered.

The evening finished with Alphons Deipenbrock's lively overture De Vogels, based on Aristophanes The Birds. Again, LFO revealed a composer about whom we ought to know more.

The orchestra under conductor, Ross Pople, gave fine accounts of all of these unfamiliar pieces.

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