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

Review of The Sacrifice

My review of last Saturday's performance of James MacMillan's opera The Sacrifice is here, on Music and Vision

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?