Thursday, 31 May 2007

ROH has acquired Opus Arte

The Royal Opera house has acquire the DVD production and distribution company Opus Arte UK Ltd, which seems to be something of a first. The company will be run at arms length, but it will be interesting to see how the relationship develops. There are some 40 ROH productions which can be added to the back catalogue and the hope that some of the better new ones will find their way to DVD.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

It's arrived!

The CD of the first Edit of my new recording has arrived. We had a quick listen to it all last night - quick is a relative term as it comes to over 75 minutes of music. Now all I have to do is work out whether the music sounds as I imagined and whether the recording engineer can do any improvements.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Berlioz's orchestral layout

I have had confirmation that the layout of the orchestra for the Salomon Orchestra concert on Tuesday was based on that recommended by Berlioz. They got as close as they could within the limits placed by the performing space. Nice to see people experimenting in this way rather than simply playing everything in the same standard layout.

Recent CD Review

My review of Alan Curtis's new recording of Handel's Floridante is here, on MusicWeb International.
For anyone wanting a fresh look at one of Handel’s stronger mid-period operas then you need look no further. Whilst neither the opera nor the recording are in the top flight, both have very much to recommend them. ...

Friday, 25 May 2007

Rugby and Opera in Cardiff

Its not often that I have to take account of the sporting calendar, apart from checking if Chelsea are playing at home before traversing that part of London. But we decided to go to Cardiff to see James MacMillan's new opera The Sacrifice at the new opera house there. The fact that they were doing a performance on 6th October, D's birthday, was an added incentive. We booked tickets without any problem (top price £35!), the cast looks fabulous (Lisa Milne, Christopher Purves, Sarah Tynan, directed by Katie Mitchell), the story is based on one from the Mabinogion. What could go wrong.

Well, we ran into difficulties when trying to book accommodation. After doing a quite web search I discovered that there is a pretty serious Rugby match on that afternoon at the Millennium Stadium. Humph! After much research I did manage to find rooms, at the special event price of £390 per night - thanks but no thanks. So we are staying in Bristol instead. Luckily the opera is not too long (3 hours). Next time, perhaps I'll remember to check the sporting calendar.

If you are in the Stamford area on Sunday

The choir of St. Mary's Church, Stamford, Lincolnshire are performing my Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 27th May (Whit Sunday). They are doing the work twice, first at the 9.30am service at St. Martins and then at the 11.0am service at St. Mary's.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Junket

To HQS Wellington last night for a reception to celebrate Naxos's 20th birthday. I was part of the contingent from MusicWeb International , the web site that I review CD's for. Klaus Heymann spoke for a few minutes and was presented with a medal by the UK Strauss society, but the main activity was of course the socialising and meeting up with like-minded colleagues.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Last night's concert

Last night's Salomon Orchestra concert was up to their usual high standard. They were conducted by Nicholas Collon, a talented young man who has only just graduated but seems to have got a significant amount of experience under his belt already.

Lalo's overture to Le Roi d'Ys was a wonderfully full blooded way to start the evening and the work's climax was such that you longed to find out how the opera continued. Fiona McNaught was an equally young soloist in Prokofiev's 1st Violin concerto. A surprisingly lyrical piece, it was certainly a contrast to the bombastic Lalo. Though it took a little time to settle, the performance was expressive and nicely judged.

Finally, of course, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Frankly my favourite bits were the final 2 movements, partly because the climaxes were so shattering in the relatively small auditorium at St. Johns, Smith Square. Also, it was fun watching all the percussion players mobilising for their various tasks - including the multi-player percussion bits.

But, of course, the orchestra does not just do loud and the earlier movements were equally entrancing with some fine cor anglais playing in the 3rd movement.

Collon used a slightly unusual orchestral layout, with 1st violins to the left, 2nd violins to the right, violas in between them and cellos strung out across the back. The 2 harps were placed one either side. I know that Berlioz had distinct ideas about the layout of the orchestra for this piece, so I need to do some research to find out if this layout relates to Berlioz's.

The orchestra's next concert is on Tuesday 9th October when they do another orchestral showpiece, Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

English Touring Opera Autumn tour

ETO have announced their autumn tour, a delectable pairing of Handel's Teseo with Haydn's L'Infedelta Delusa (done in English as Country Matters). The Handel opera is headlined by distinguished American counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin, with sopranos Jeni Bern and Gail Pearson. Though Teseo is the title role, the opera is dominated by the sorceress Medea. I last saw it at Covent Garden in a performance given by Lina Lalandi's English Bach Festival with Sarah Walker as a coruscating Medea.

Salomon Tonight

Tonight we're off to see the Salomon Orchestra at their regular venue, St. Johns Smith Square. The programme consists Lalo's Overture to Le Roi d'Ys, Prokofiev's 1st Violin Concerto and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. This latter should make a fantastique effect at St. John's as it is rather a large scale work for the venue.

The conductor is Nicholas Collon and the violin soloist in the Prokofiev is Fiona McNaught.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Review of Amadigi di Gaula

Handel's early operas for London (Rinaldo, Teseo, Amadigi) mined a vein of magical themes combined with spectacular productions which must have harked back to the 17th century English semi-operas. Teseo was based on Quinault's libretto for Lully's opera, even keeping the 5-act structure. For Amadigi Handel returned to a French source, this time DestouchesAmadis de Grece, setting a libretto by De La Motte, itself based on Quinault's libretto for Lully. In both Teseo and Amadigi this French source meant that the libretto dispenses with the exit aria convention. In Amadigi the hero himself was present on stage for much of the first half of the opera. On Friday 18th May, Amadigi was sung by Lawrence Zazzo at a concert performance presented at the Barbican by the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood.

Though the libretto called for some spectacular effects its cast is remarkably small. There are just 4 characters, the Princess Oriana(Klara Ek, soprano) in love with Amadigi (Lawrence Zazzo, counter-tenor), the sorceress Melissa (Simone Kermes, soprano) also in love with Amadigi and Dardano (Patricia Bardon, mezzo-soprano) also in love with Oriana. Dardano dies at the end of Act 2 and his shade has to be resurrected to witness the denoument at the end of Act 3.

Few modern stagings are up to the full technical requirements of the libretto. So the Academy of Ancient Music's concert performance enabled us to hear a fine performance which left the spectacular setting to our imaginations. But this was no dull score-bound performance. Granted the cast did sing from scores, but they made entrances and exits, addressed each other, reacted to each other, created strong characters and communicated with us vividly. Someone had obviously thought about the opera's presentation.

Zazzo is a very dramatic performer. His performance was very involving and you rarely felt the lack of a staging. Recordings do not always seem to capture his voice ideally, but heard live he gave a vivid performance. Perhaps his fioriture were not always completely ideal, but when used to such fine, dramatic ends as they were here, I was entranced.

In operas such as Amadigi and Teseo, it is easy for the performer singing the sorceress to dominate. I have seen this happen in performances of Teseo when Medea overwhelms all the other performers. At the Barbican, Simone Kermes proved to be a wonderfully dramatic and vivid Melissa, but the other members of the cast were more than equal to her so she never overwhelmed the performance. Her outstandingly dramatic dress meant that she was visually dominating. She did, perhaps, overdo the lip curling and there were moments when her tendency to over-do the dramatics led her musical performance astray. But all in all this was a magnificent portrayal.

The role of Dardano is not really properly developed in the opera, his main function seems to be to facilitate the mechanics of the plot. But, that said, he does get one of the operas most beautiful arias, Pena tiranna. Patricia Bardon sang it quite, quite beautifully, displaying a lovely firm, dark voice which seems to be hardly touched by her singing of Wagnerian roles such as Erda.

Klara Ek as Oriana was a less vivid performer but then Oriana is not a particularly dynamic character, she seems to mainly react to events. Ek won us over by the sheer musicality of her performance and her winning demeanour. She is definitely someone to watch.

It was nice to hear Handel played straight in the AAM's best manner, rather the slightly mannered performances we have been getting from some foreign bands. Under Hogwood the orchestra played well and gave a fine performance, only let down by the oboes who were evidently having a slightly off day.

This is the first of 3 Handel operas being performed by AAM over the next few years. We are due to get Flavio in 2008 and Arianna in Creta in 2009. Judging by the performance of Amadigi, we should be in for a treat. It was a shame that such a fine performance did not attract a capacity audience in the way that some more showy performers can.

Friday, 18 May 2007

New Season at the RFH

The Royal Festival Hall opens again in June, duly refurbished, and the South Bank Centre's 2007/08 Classical Music season is set out in a brochure which has just popped through my letter box. There are 5 resident ensembles, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the London Sinfonietta and the Sixteen.

So inevitably, a significant part of the classical programme is made up of performances by these groups, whereas at the Barbican there is more of a feel of buying in 'events'. This means that the Barbican seems to favour the one off, big event and has quite a lot of baroque opera etc., whereas the South Bank can put together very long running series. The new season includes a long sequence of concerts devoted to music by Messiaen and a series called Luigi Nono:Fragments of Venice which explores Nono's music in the context of Venetian music.

The result is that I find less to exclaim about in the Festival Hall programme, admirable though it is. There are just slightly too many tri-partite symphony concerts for my taste even though they are admirably constructed. Just one example, Sir Charles Mackerras is conducting Janacek's Sinfonietta, but to her it we must also listen to Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 with Mitsuko Uchida. In the 30 years since leaving university I have gradually learned to appreciate, even love, many areas of music which I then despised (at the time my main interests were late Romanticism and Baroque, with nothing in between). But I am afraid that I am still rather blind to the beauties of Mozart's piano concertos.

A quick dash through the programme though, gives the following personal highlights.

  • Catherine Bott singing her programme Convivencia; anything Bott does is wonderful

  • Dido and Aeneas from the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment, directed by Tim Carroll, with bits of Marlowe and puppets woven in!!!

  • The OAE again, this time doing an all Vivaldi programme with Lucy Crowe and the all women Scuola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi

  • The LPO, under David Parry, doing Bellini's La Straniera, in collaboration with Opera Rara

  • The LPO, again, doing Korngold's Der Wunder des Heliane, under Vladimir Jurowski

  • The OAE doing Schumann's Der Paradies und die Peri

  • The Sixteen in a programme which mixes Britten (including the Ceremony of Carols), with Durufle and Poulenc
  • .
  • Zurich Opera doing Der Rosenkavalier with Nina Stemme as the Marschallin.

  • Vladimir Jurowski doing Verdi's Requiem with the LPO and soloists including Barbara Frittoli and Ildiko Komlosi

  • The Philharmonia, under Richard Hickox, doing Vaughan Williams Symphonies Nos. 1, 7, and 8, as well as Job in a pair of delectable concerts



I'm sure I've missed things, but this gives a flavour of the things that appeal to me. Elsewhere John Eliot Gardiner is doing a pair of Brahms programmes with his Orchestra Revolutionaire et Romantique, including Symphony No. 1 and the Requiem, might be worth a look/

Nice Things

I've been compiling a selection of the nice things which Roderick Dunnett said about us in his review of our March 18th concert. Most of the quotes concern the performances but the last one, which I quote at length, relates to my piece which was premièred that day.

the FifteenB Consort, a versatile and committed small ensemble directed by the composer Robert Hugill,


The sopranos and altos (here, just four voices) sang with just the kind of tender restraint and fine-honed ensemble this masterly example of word-setting calls for.


In [...] Pelham Humfrey's rarely heard Lord, Teach us to Number our Days, it was the choir's impassioned tutti sections and forceful imitations that registered most strongly;


Ward's Come, sable night, [...] was sung lucidly, if perhaps a little too retiringly.

one passage for four voices -- two upper, then two lower, came over with attractive assurance;


Gibbons' Almighty and Everlasting God [...] received a beautifully measured and nuanced delivery by all four voices.


an appealing baritone solo and some incisive singing from the alto line especially. Perhaps one looked for a little more vitality and stronger projection in some of these pieces: at times the singers seemed to hide their talents under a bushel. Yet just the opportunity to hear some of these rarer works in live performances was immensely satisfying. This was a most handsome piece of singing, nicely matched by support from the rest of the choir.

The other [contemporary piece] was a work by the conductor himself, who also furnished the tenor line in this concert: Robert Hugill's appealing anthem My Eyes are ever Turned unto the Lord is indeed a modern contribution to the tradition of the verse anthem; …. The deft alternation of solo and tutti sections revealed real inspiration, the style -- while not untouched by such modern masters as Pärt or Gorecki -- seemed to be neither a hybrid nor a borrowing, but fresh and original, arguably with its own identifiable voice, and Hugill's work in no way paled in comparison with the Tudor pieces surrounding it. Originally composed for a wedding, this 21st century anthem is a beautifully turned, enticing piece of music which skilfully embraced a range of contrasting moods and contrived to say a good deal in a short space. This attractive, well-crafted piece certainly, in my book, deserves to be known more widely.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Corsham Festival

I have just receive the programme for the Corsham Festival. I doubt that we will be able to make any of the events, which is a shame, as they have put together a remarkable group of musical events with an emphasis on contemporary music. Quite an achievement for a small festival.

Highlights include:

The orchestra of the Swan performing Bach (Cello Suite), Britten (Cello Suit) and Paul Patterson (Cello Suite and Allusions)
Errollyn Wallen performing a selection of songs from her new song book.

The CoMA London Ensemble giving a full day workshop followed by a concert at which people are invited to join in and perform with the group. They are performing music by Michael Nyman and Stephen Montague; Montague's piece being inspired by a visit to Auschwitz.

String Fever, 3 brothers and a cousin who play electric stringed instruments

Cellist Fran Bartlett and dancer Ana Eulate collaborating on a programme which includes Petyer Sculthorpe's Requiem for Cello Alone.

Opera Minima doing their piece Rainforest

And last but not least, Sarah Leonard (soprano) and Robin Michael (cello) doing a programme including music by Elena Firsova, Harrison Birtwistle and John Tavener.

This is a wonderfully varied and challenging programme which shows the excitement and innovation are not dead. More power to their elbow

Monday, 14 May 2007

Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus in South Lincolnshire

My Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus will be performed as part of services at St. Mary's Church and St. Martin's Church Stamford on May 27th. The choir, under the direction of Fergus Black, will be singing the mass at the 9.30am Service at St. Martin's Church and at the 11.00am Service at St. Mary's Church, Stamford.

Probably the first time that any of my music as been performed in my home county of Lincolnshire.

Friday, 11 May 2007

Plans (What I'm up to)

As a result of a couple of comments during the recording sessions, I am fiddling around with more music for strings (well, actually strings and bassoon). The comments sort of swirled around in my head and coalesced with the idea I'd been having of taking some of the best bits from my Duino Elegy setting for baritone and orchestra (premiered at St. James's Piccadilly last year). There were parts of the piece which I felt were hampered by the sheer number of words I had to set. Obviously, in the long term, a new version of the full baritone and orchestra version is needed.

But in the mean time, I'm rather pleased at the way my new piece for bassoon and strings is shaping up. I'm able to dip in and out of the vocal line when I like and add extra bits without worrying about words, underlay or sense.

I have also had the first couple of pages of a proposed new opera libretto - yes, I seem to have managed to hitch myself up with a real librettist, which is a boon. I hope to spend some time in the next week fiddling around with trial settings of the text. I only seem to be able to think about words when attempting to set them. Simply reading a proposed text through will not reveal the full repercussions of setting it. I just need to do the thing properly and see how I find the words. I'll report back later.

Finally, I've been thinking about entering this year's English Poetry and Song society competition, which is to set and Ivor Gurney poem. To that end, I have acquired a book of his collected poems and must leaf through until I find something which calls out to me. One problem is that I sometimes rather pull the text around, which is not good when setting an English poet for a competition run by a poetry society! One good thing is that Gurney did not set many of his own poems, so competitors will not face competition from the poet/composer himself.

All Saints Concert

Tonight we are off to a concert at All Saints Church, Margaret Street given by the church choir, conductor Paul Brough. The concert is in aid of the church's restoration fund and includes a lovely mix of music by Durufle (2 movements from the Requiem), Mozart, Brahms, Bach, Durufle, Poulenc, Alain, Howells, Byrd and Tallis plus a celebration of composers associated with All Saints: Rachmaninov/Arnold, Vale, Lloyd Webber, Fleming, Bramma and Caplin.

The keen eyed amongst you will notice that Paul Brough also conducted at the recent recording sessions for my forthcoming CD. Also a number of the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble sing in All Saints Church choir. So we have double the reasons for attending!

Recent CD Reviews

My review of the excellent new Judith Bingham disc from Naxos is here, on MusicWeb International.
Judith Bingham has not always been well represented on disc and it is good to hear such a generous selection of her choral music in these fine performances. ...

And my review of Alan Curtis's reconstruction of Handel's Fernando, Re di Castiglia, (the original version of Sosarme) is here, also on MusicWeb International.
If you are looking for a disc of perfect Handel singing, then look elsewhere, but if you want a highly dramatic presentation of one of Handel's more underrated operas then look no further. ...

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Edington Festival

The programme for this year's Edington Festival has been published, it is here. As ever Julian Thomas has organised a tempting array of music ranging from Palestrina's Missa Tu Es Petrus to Arvo Part's Magnificat. The more contemporary side is ranges from Part and MacMillan to Colin Mawby, Matthew Martin, Grayston Ives and Sigurbjornsson. This latter is an Icelandic composer and I have a treasured recording of his Skalholt Mass. Late Romantics get a good look-in with music by Bairstow, Stanford, Villette and Howells.

I'm not sure if we are going this year, logistics, holidays and a performance of St. Matthew Passion at Glyndebourne mean that it is difficult. But you never know, the programme is very tempting.

Review of Tridentine mass

This is a rather belated post. Here is an amusing review of last August's Tridentine Mass at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church where I sing in the Latin Mass Choir. I should point out that the review is under the misapprehension that the mass was organised by the Latin Mass Society when it was actually organised by congregation members of St. Mary.

Recent CD Review

My review of the pasticcio oratorio Tobit, by Handel and Smith is here, on MusicWeb International.
Think of this as a recital disc. Just put it on and enjoy some of Handel’s finest music in attractive performances. ...

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Rostropovitch

I sang under Rostropovitch a couple of times in the 1980's, most notably when he conducted Britten's War Requiem at the Royal Festival Hall. I was in the London Philharmonic Choir at the time and it was interesting how different conductors dealt with the amateur chorus. Some virtually ignored us, Rostropovitch told funny stories, especially notable ones were relating incidents in his early tours of the West during the height of the cold war. His choral rehearsals seemed to have a lot of talking in them but he enthused the choir and got a good performance out of them.

He had a very good ear. I remember one passage in the brass which simply sounded like a vague flourish. Rostropovich insisted on taking it apart, player by player and when re-assembled it was no longer vague, but a precise fanfare emerged; quite remarkable. Whether it endeared him to the brass players or not, I don't know.

The soprano at the performance was, of course, Vishnevskaya, then getting towards the end of her career. Before the first rehearsal she was sitting at the piano, amidst all the chaos of chorus and orchestra assembling, playing odd notes and doing vocalises to some remarkable Russian sounding vowels - nothing Italianate there!

For the performance, Rostropovich had a copy of Singer Sargent's Gassed. I'm not sure how many of the audience could really make out the picture, but it was a remarkable attempt to bring visual imagery to the work.

Recent CD Review

My review of the Somm disc of Beecham conducting Wagner, with Kirsten Flagstad, is here on MusicWeb International.
SOMM give us, in the best possible condition, some of Sir Thomas Beecham’s last Wagner performances. ...

Monday, 7 May 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of the new Bach St. Matthew Passion from Naxos is here on MusicWeb International.
A well modulated and mellifluous but dramatically involving Evangelist but a performance overall that takes few risks. ...

Friday, 4 May 2007

Review!

I'm actually on holiday - normal posts resume next week. In the meanwhile, the FifteenB consort concert at All Saints Margaret St. in March, has just been reviewed by Roderick Dunnett, the review is here on Music and Vision.