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.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Recent CD review

My review of the Katona twins guitar duo's disc of Vivaldi is here, on MusicWeb International

Thursday, 13 September 2007

New Season (3)


The biggest event on my own musical horizon this season is, of course, the release of my CD The Testament of Dr. Cranmer on the Divine Art record label. A disc of choral and vocal music which is due for release in October. Further details of the disc are available here.

Then in on February 23rd 2008, FifteenB, conductor Paul Ayres, organist Malcolm Cottle, will be giving a concert at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square, London. The programme will include Haydn's Little Organ Mass plus my verse anthem, My eyes are ever turned unto the Lord which we premiered in March this year, the choruses from Passion and some organ accompanied items. These latter are still undecided, it will either be the premiere of my new Evening Service or a repeat of my Tagore settings.

In April and May next year there will be premieres of my own pieces at a couple of private occasions. These include another Verse Anthem, building on the success of My eyes .... I can see that this might be a fruitful line of interest.

New Season (2)

My choir, London Concord Singers, has started rehearsing for our Christmas Concert. The programme is an interesting mix of Advent and Christmas pieces including Martin Dalby's Laudate Dominum, Kenneth Leighton's What live is this of Thee and Gabriel Jackson's Salus Aeterna. Also in the programme is Villette's Hymne a la Vierge, Rachmaninov's Concerto for Choir and Stanford's lovely, but rarely performed And I saw another Angel. We are also including a group of 5 Christmas pieces by Sir Arthur Sullivan.

New Season (1)

Tonight we are going to the the first concert in the new S.W. Mitchell Virtuoso Piano series, presented at the Cadogan Hall by the London Festival Orchestra, directed by Ross Pople. Tonight's concert has a Dutch theme, with music by Wassenaar, Robin de Raaff, Hendirk Andriessen, Henk Badings, Theo Loevendie and Alphons Diepenbrock. The young Dutch pianist Ralph van Raat will be playing Robin de Raaf's Piano Concerto. The Piano Concerto and Theo Loevendie's The 5 Drives will both be UK premieres.

The series continues on 11 October when Nicolai Demidenko will be playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E flat Major. This will be accompanied by Schubert's 5th Symphony. In each of the concerts the orchestra will be playing one of Wassenaer's Concerti Armonici based on Pergolesi.
In February Andrei Korobeinikov plays Beethoven's 4th Piano Concerto and in March, Duravka Tomsic plays Brahms 1st Piano concerto. Further information from Cadogan Hall.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Luciano Pavarotti

I only heard Luciano Pavarotti live once. Rather bizarrely it was during the 1st Gulf War (we'd been due to go to Egypt and chose New York instead). We saw the first run of Jonathan Miller's new Katya Kabanova and Pavarotti in a venerable production of Verdi's Luisa Miller.

He was dressed in dark clothes covered with a large cloak-like poncho (or a poncho like cloak). I'm not sure whether it was part of his costume or something he added himself. My big surprise was how unshowy he was; he fitted well into the ensemble and you did not feel that it was the Luciano Pavarotti show. I must confess that the net result was enjoyable and well sung, but you never really felt the 'wow' factor.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Bach Oboe concertos is here, on MusicWeb International.

This is probably not a library choice, but certainly should be a disc that anyone with an interest in Bach’s concertos should explore ...

Monday, 3 September 2007

From this Month's opera

An illuminating interview with James MacMillan, regarding the creation of his new opera The Sacrifice. Evidently he and his librettist, Michael Symmons Roberts, went through a long process of trying to work out what the opera should be. MacMillan admits to admiring Peter Grimes but finding the work leaves him a little cold; an attitude that I can sympathise with. An interesting quote: 'There's an aestheric in modern music that tries to avoid drama because it cane be seen as emotion, which is to be avoided at all costs, so composers uses statuesque presentations and aim for detatched objectivity. That path doesn't interest us:'. Quite So.

A variety of people write tributes to Regine Crespin. The most interesting, from my point of view, was that of Anna Caterina Antonacci because she became friendly with Crespin and had long conversations with her about her various roles.

I saw Crespin as the Old Prioress in The Carmelites at Covent Garden. This performance was in English and evidently she sang the role more frequently in English than in French!

Further news on Nina Stemme's progress. She is singing the Valkyrie Brunhilde in Houston in 2010 with a complete cycle the following year. This is in line with the softly, softly approach she seems to have taken to her career; she'll be in her late 40's by the time she does the complete cycle, which seems eminently sensible.

Another dramatic soprano Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, seems to be making a name for herself. John Allison's review of her performance in Tristan in Santiago, Chile, refers to gleaming power across big phrases and rock steady tuning.. Sounds very promising.

And still with Wagner, Willard White's Wotan in Aix was commended by Shirley Apthorp for his superb diction. Something that was evidently infectious as Apthorp commented that she'd rarely heard so much of Wagner's text. I remember a similar occasion when hearing Valerie Masterson doing the Marschallin at ENO; her diction was superb and you heard virtually every word of the Act 1 monologue.

Another follow up, this time to the suggestion of doing a mid-life crisis Cosi fan tutte; Figaro Opera are staging the work in Cambridge with singers of a certain age.

The new director of the Monnaie in Brussels, has put together a season which eschews reliance on Verdi and Puccini, to give audiences a chance to explore the wider repertoire. The concert performances include such fascinatingly neglected works like Euryanthe and Elisabette, regina d'Inghilterra. It sounds a risky business, but I wish more opera houses were as free-thinking. The Monnaie also have a new Musical Director, Mark Wrigglesworth; sounds like they have an interesting future planned, I hope it works financially.

Over in Denmark, the Royal Danish Opera performed Lucia di Lammermoor for the first time since 1866! And in Ghent, Rita Gorr has given her final performance (as the Countess in the Queen of Spades), the conclusion of a career spanning some 58 years.

In Paris, at the Bastille, there was a new Traviata with Violetta as Edith Piaf - what will they think of next.

In Berlin, the Deutsche Oper went for something a little more arcane, Zemlinsky's Der Traumgörge. I have a disc of this and it sounds fabulous. Let us hope that this new production gives rise to some others in Europe. Alas, in Hamburg they seem to have staged Handel's Radamisto as a comedy. Why bother if you don't like the work. In Munich, they staged a new version of Alice in Wonderland with music by Unsuk Chin. For me, the most interesting aspect of the performance was the presence of Gwyneth Jones as the Queen of Hearts.

Robert Carsen's new (ish) production of Gluck's Iphigenie en Tauride made an appearance in San Francisco, before coming to rest in London this Autumn. Allan Ulrich comments about the playing down of the homo-erotic aspects of the relationship between Oreste and Pylade; something that has cropped up in a number of recent productions I think.

Oh dear, Erica Jeal describes the Glyndebourne Matthew Passion as one of the dreariest productions of the work we are likely to see. Having seen the production, I sympathise entirely. But the Chelsea Opera Group's performance of The Fair Maid of Perth, a concert which I missed, seems to have persuaded Margaret Davies that the work is worth staging.

Rodney Milnes describes Maria Friedman (as Mrs Lovett in Sweeney Todd at the South Bank Centre) as getting every word across even when competing with three trombones and a pair of trumpets. Would that more singers could do so.

The Paddock, in Lewes, staged Orlando Gough's The Finnish Prisoner, an opera about the imprisonment of a group of Finns in Lewes in the 19th century. The libretto was written by Stphen Plaice who also wrote the words for Glyndebourne's most recent community opera. This latter toured to Finland and ended up with a group of Finnish singers performing the Paddock's operatic premiere, singing the Finnish POW's. Quite a coup. The production is going to Finland in 2009, shame it does not as yet seem to have another life in the UK.

Elizabeth Schafer has produced a new biography of Lilian Bayliss, it sounds essential reading for anyone interesting in opera in England.