Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Daniel Hope's Vivaldi disc is here.
An interesting dialogue between modern ways and period practice …

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Comic Opera

David Sawyer and Armando Ianucci’s new comic operetta, Skin Deep, seems to have been received with distinctly muted critical comment. This is not surprising; if producing new opera is a difficult business then producing new comic opera is even harder. You only have to look at the tally of 20th century comic operas which have made it into the repertoire.

Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi is an obviously a comic masterpiece, but what else is there? Are Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and The Voyages of Mr. Broucek comedies, perhaps; we’ll include them just in case. Then there is Shostakovich’s The Nose and Prokofiev’s Love of Three Oranges. Apart from operettas by Lehar and Straus, I can’t think of anything else from the pre-1950 period. Strauss and Hofmanstal thought of Der Rosenkavalier as a comedy, but its more of a serious opera with comic interludes. For the post-1950 period, all I can think of is Britten’s Albert Herring and, perhaps, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (again more of a serious opera with comic interludes); and neither of these is really laugh out loud funny. I’m sure I’ve missed one or two, but it is hardly a large haul for 100 years of opera composing.

It would perhaps be helpful if we looked back over the history of comic opera.

When early Italian opera moved from court to public opera house in Venice in the late 17th century, the purely serious plots gained an admixture of comedy. Essentially this developed into a genre where serious aristocrats were surrounded by comic servants. Eventually the developments of librettists like Metastasio purified serious opera and purged it of comic element. Instead serious operas would have comic interludes between the acts.

Of course, serious opera was never completely serious all the time. Salieri wrote an opera which sent up the whole genre of opera seria. And in his later opera, Handel played with the genre. He never wrote an out and out buffo opera, but such works like Serse and Partenope view opera seria with a distinctly satiric eye. In fact Serse is based on a libretto written for Cavalli, but purged of nearly all the comic servants. And Partenope is based on a libretto which Handel wanted to set earlier on in his career but his patrons would not let him.

Whilst some comedies work because they set comic situations to music, to understand Handel’s lighter works you have to understand the conventions of opera seria itself. This is something which we will come across again and again, that intention is all. The very nature of the operatic libretto means that it contains the possibility of comedy, if you stretch the genre slightly then you get an opera which is in some way comic. Handel doesn’t actually write comic music, he simply writes with comic intention. The problem is, of course, that to really appreciate the comedy you have to understand the genre (opera seria) which is being sent up.

In 18th century Italy, comic opera (opera buffa) developed out of the comic interludes performed in serious opera. But it is Galuppi with his librettist, playwright Goldoni, who developed one of the most influential forms of comedy in their operas for the Venetian commercial opera theatre. Here they mixed serious and comic characters in a comic plot; the serious characters were usually the aristocrats, sung generally by the soprano and the castrato, who were surrounded by comic servants. It is a development of the plots written for Cavalli, but rendered more thoroughgoing comic.

Galuppi also developed the multi-part finale, which was further developed by Mozart. In fact, to really understand Mozart and Da Ponte’s trilogy of comic operas you have to have experienced one of Galuppi and Goldoni’s pieces. Mozart and Da Ponte build on the conventions of the early generations and send them up. So that the serious character of Don Giovanni is certainly not the most likeable. In Le Nozze de Figaro the plot is ostensibly of the same type as one of Goldoni’s and Galuppi’s, but again Mozart distorts things by making Cherubino a sexually overcharged adolescent, and the servants run rings round the Count (who isn’t a castrato of course, but simply a baritone).

Mozart brings something else to his comedies as well, a sense of humanity. He breathes life into the highly structured plot by creating real feeling people. This has the effect of transforming a situational comedy into something far more subtle; there are fewer belly laughs and far more sighs of sympathy and empathy.

Again it comes back to intention, the difference between a comic opera and a serious one is often the intentions of the composer. There is a saying that the difference between a comedy and a tragedy is simply a happy ending.

This sense of a composer’s intention can be seen in Beethoven’s Fidelio. The opening scenes all have the feeling of a lightly comic singspiel; you could feel the work developing into a half serious/half comic situational piece. But instead, Beethoven lurches in another direction. It works because Beethoven’s music is the work of a genius, but it is hardly a prototype for how to write an opera.

When we move to early 19th century Italian opera, composers seem to develop an awareness that their style of music can be innately funny. Rossini uses music, particularly ensembles, for comic purposes. But again, intention is all. In Tancredi Rossini wrote a serious opera, but one which leads to a happy ending. Later on he wrote a tragic ending for the work, but though this is fine music, it somehow feels wrong. The opera seems to be leading to the lighter ending, after all just consider the best known number from the opera, Tancredi’s Di tanti palpiti.

For Rosina’s opening aria in Il Barbiere di Sivigila Rossini re-cycled the opening section of an aria from Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra, most definitely not a comic opera. But Rossini’s transferral of the piece to its new setting works, because his music for all his operas is so closely related; the comic ones differ from the serious ones only in detail and intention.

Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore is a prime example of an opera whose plot could easily form that of a tragic one, with only a little tweaking. Just consider Dulcanamara’s entrance, written slightly differently and he would be scary rather then funny. Conversely, it is fatally easy to imagine some of Donizetti’s serious operas done as comedy such is the absurdity of the plots. It is this fundamental absurdity which provided Gilbert and Sullivan with a source of so many of their ideas. Similarly it would be fatally easy to turn Norma into a comic plot, after all a virgin priestess who managed to have two children without anyone knowing is ripe for comic development.

The reason why such operas as Il Barbiere di Sivigila and L’Elisir d’Amore managed to survive in the repertoire was that the composers not only created superb comic operas, but imbued them with humanity, creating characters with whom we can empathise rather than just stock situations.

But after this there is rather a desert when it comes to Italian comic opera. Verdi only essayed two, the first is not a great success and the second, Falstaff, is one of the most serious comedies in existence! We would have to look to operetta if we want to find comic works. Opera composers seem to have avoided writing much in the way of comedy, perhaps recognising the sheer difficulty of making it work.

The problem for a contemporary composer is that past masters of the comic opera have all shown a strong awareness of what their particular operatic genre was. The comedy within the operas is usually dependent on the composer knowingly stretching the operatic genre. This, of course, requires the composer to be confident their sense of what the operatic genre is. This is something which we have, by and large, lost. Few composers today have a confident view of what their own particular operatic genre is. A work like Thomas Ades’s Powder her Face works precisely because it uses the operatic genre itself to fuel the comedy. A comic opera will not full work if the composer simply sets a funny libretto. That is not to say that a contemporary comic opera is doomed to failure, but it certainly makes it very tricky to bring off. Still there is hope, after all Giorgio Battistelli has just produced a comic opera that is almost an opera buffo, based on the film Divorce Italian Style.

Monday, 26 January 2009

O Star of Evening


The web page advertising for the forthcoming FifteenB concert on March 7th is now up. The six of us in the FifteenB consort will be performing a programme based on Vespers, with a sequence of plainchant and motets including my new, a cappella version of Lucis Creator Optime along with some juicy motets by Fayrfax, Frye and Aston. More information here.

A Little Night Music

The Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre is in many ways a strange place to stage a musical. It is quite a small theatre with no space for a large band, and rather dry acoustics. But stage musicals they do. Their previous one, amazingly, was La Cage aux Folles, goodness knows how they managed to fit that in to the theatre. Currently they are performing Sondheim's A Little Night Music. A musical with a significant score and a large cast (15 major singing roles). They used a band of just 7, who are perched up high away from the stage. All the singers are miked and what you hear is mixed and broadcast over speakers, Gareth Owen is credited with the sound design.

We saw the show on Saturday. When it opened, at first it sounded as if the singers were miming to a recording, though I gradually became accustomed to the sound quality. It was very loud, too loud at times for the small theatre and you never felt that you were hearing any of the voices acoustically, only electronically. This was a shame as most of the actors are accomplished singers with track records in previous musicals, so I felt that the show could have been made to work with no amplification at all.

Trevor Nunn's production was lovely to look at, quite inventive with the stage designs of David Farley, who also designed the traditional costumes. As usual with this show, it got off to a bit of a slow start. But then the sheer delight of Sondheim's songs catches you. Some, of course, are regularly done as solo items but all the songs work far better, and are far funnier and apposite when heard in context. It is also amazing how he manages to use them to advance the plot.

One of the interesting things about this musical is the way Sondheim aims for a score with lots of music but without burdening the leads. He uses a group of singers who, though named, take no explicit part in the plot; instead they sing commentaries on the action. Nunn used the 5 actors as supernumeraries in various scenes, which worked very well.

Gabriel Vick made a personable and believable Henrik. Nunn has cast the whole show with a careful thought to the ages so that the young look suitably young. Vick has an attractive voice but, as usual, his technique was rather taxed by the rather operatic requirements of his solos. Not for nothing did the TER recording us a real opera singer (Bonaventure Bottone) in this role. Anne was similarly very young. She was played by Jessie Buckley who evidently came second in the recent TV show looking for an actress to play Nancy in Oliver. She made Anne completely captivating and believable. My only complaint is that her opening number, Soon required more of a trained voice than she has, she sang it with a very noticeable break and her upper register sounded a little too unsupported.

Alexander Hanson made Fredrik very much the charming and sexy older man, and he managed his way around the tongue-twisting passages of his musical contributions in an admirable fashion. Alistair Robins and Kelly Price were the Count and Countess, suitably attractive looking and both attentive to musical values as well.

Hannah Waddingham was the main recipient of Nunn's thoughts about the ages of the characters, she is noticeably younger than other actresses in the role. Waddingham's Desiree is only just approaching 40 and this works very well. Waddingham's way with the show's best known number, Send in the Clowns made it the opposite of a belting torch song, and made you wish Sondheim had given Desiree more to sing. Her mother was superbly played by Maureen Lipmann, with her usual fine sense of comic timing. And her delivery of Liaisons was masterly, lovely to hear the song properly sung for once, as opposed to being wobbled through (Lila Kedrova) or half spoken (Hermione Gingold).

Kaisa Hammarlund as Petra delivered The Miller's Son as the outstanding item it is, and Jeremy Finch's Frid got to sing Silly People which was cut just before the first run.

I hope that this show might transfer to a bigger theatre, it certainly deserves it.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Review of Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble at the Barbican

My review of the Handel, Purcell, Haydn anniversary celebration from Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble is now on-line here, at Music and Vision.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Andrew Parrott's 1984 recording of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610 is here, on MusicWeb International.
Everyone ought to have this brilliant performance in their library ...

Sunday, 18 January 2009

January Newsletter

Robert Hugill - Performance News - January 2009

Recent Performances
Gaudete
On Sunday 14th December, the choir of All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London, conductor Paul Brough, gave the liturgical premiere of my motet Gaudete . The performance was part of Evensong and Benediction at All Saints Church. Gaudete is from volume 1 of the collection Tempus per Annum .

Puer natus est nobis
Also from Tempus per Annum , my motet Puer natus est nobis was premiered by The Chapelle du Roi , conductor Alistair Dixon, at their concert 'The Marriage of England and Spain' at St. John's Smith Square, London on Saturday 20th December 2009.

Jesu Rex Gloriae
My motet for the Feast of Christ the King, Jesu Rex Gloriae received a revival at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea. It was sung at High Mass on Sunday 23rd November by St. Mary's Latin Mass Choir, conductor Malcolm Cottle.

Faith, Hope and Charity on the Radio
Faith, Hope and Charity , in the version for string orchestra, was featured on the BBC Radio 3 programme Radio 3 Requests on Sunday 12th October 2008. The show played the recording of the work by violinist Simon Baggs and the strings of the Chameleon Arts Orchestra, conductor Paul Brough, from my CD The Testament of Dr. Cranmer which was released in 2007.

Publication of Tempus per Annum - volume 2
This Autumn the 2nd volume of Tempus per Annum was published by Spherical Editions. Volume 2 contains 22 motets for Lent, Passiontide and Ascension. When complete the collection will cover the entire Church's year in 72 motets, so volume 2 means I am half way through.

Future Performances
Lucis Creator Optime - Saturday March 7th
On Saturday March 7th, at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea, my motet Lucis Creator Optime will be premiered by the 15B Consort at their concert Star of the Evening - Music for Vespers . The concert centres around music for Vespers and Marian motets. Lucis Creator Optime is a setting of the vespers hymn, my second setting of the text, this time unaccompanied. The 15B Consort is drawn from members of my choir FifteenB and consists of Rowena Wells, Alison Cross, Sally Prime, Robert Hugill, Katie Boot and John McLeod.

The Woodward Scale - Saturday 16th May
'Light breeze. Vending machine cups may roll.
Light carrier- and dry-cleaning bags rustle'
On Saturday 16th May 2009, as part of the Music Under the Pyramid concert series at Christ Church, Redford Way, Uxbridge, London Concord Singers , conductor Malcolm Cottle, will be giving the premiere of The Woodward Scale . The work sets Antony Woodwards' amusing modern day re-write of the Beaufort Wind Scale used to estimate wind strengths. The original text to The Woodward Scale appeared in Country Life in 2002.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Review of Handel's London Operas

My review of the Classical Opera Company's programme of arias from Handel's London operas, at the Wigmore Hall, is here, on Music and Vision.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Support your local opera company

Surrey Opera going on the road with their latest production next month. They will be performing Madama Butterfly in Redhill and Tonbridge. Such local companies are an important part of our infrastructure. Not only do they give opportunities to up and coming young singers and directors, but they provide valuable local input into the operatic scene.

Madama Butterfly will be conducted by Jonathan Butcher, the group's artistic director and will be directed and designed by James Hurley and Rob Mills. They are presenting 3 performances in Redhill and 3 in Tonbridge. Full details from the group's website, here.

After Madama Butterfly, they'll be back in the autumn with performances of The Barber of Seville in Epsom and East Grinstead

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

St. John Passion writ small

The Kingsway Ensemble is a new group looking to tackle some of the great baroque repertoire in a lively and inclusive way. The group is a mixture of young professionals players and semi-professional singers. They are kicking off with a performance of the St. John Passion on Saturday 21st February and St. Giles in the Fields (near Tottenham Court Road, London).

Whilst not actually 1 voice to a part in the choir, it will be small and intimate in scale. Just 1 instrument per part and a small choir with soloists being taken from the choir. Andrew Tortise will be the Evangelist. And the audience will be joining in the chorales. It sounds an ideal way to tackle the work, a nice balance of authenticity of scale with a modicum of common sense. Add to the the fact that the venue, St. Giles in the Fields, was built around the time that the work was premiered.

Alas, we won't be there as I'm singing in Norfolk. But, if you are in London at this time, do go along and support the group.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The original Serenade to Music

When BBC Television broadcast the 2008 Proms performance of Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music they included an introductory programme about the work with a short clip of two of the modern day singers, Sarah Tynan and Ed Lyons, listening to the original 1938 recording. Tynan’s interesting comment was that the original singers sang it rather more dramatically than is generally done today; an interesting point.

Performances of the original 16-singer version Serenade to Musictoday tend to use a team of predominantly young singers. The original performers, all well known oratorio singers, were all mature singers their ages in the range 39 to 54 with the majority falling into the middle of this.

They were regular singers of oratorio; this repertoire being considered to cover Handel’s oratorios (especially Messiah), Bach’s Passions and Mass in B minor, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and 9th Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Elijah through numberless lesser English imitators to the works of Elgar.

But an oratorio singer of that period implies something different from today’s singers of a similar repertoire. Handel oratorios were done with larger accompaniments, often with additional instrumentation, so that to be a singer in oratorio implied a voice with a degree of dramatic potential. The principal exception to this was Elsie Suddaby who had by far the lightest voice of the sopranos. What the singer needed to combined was power with flexibility. Speeds in Handel and Bach were slower, but a singer still needed to be able to negotiate the runs albeit at a slower speed.

This, I think, gave rise to a particular style of English singing and English singer. The rather peculiar parochialism of the English music scene meant that few singers had major International careers and many relied upon countless oratorio performances for their bread and butter. The results can be seen in a singer like Walter Widdop who sang Wagner at Covent Garden and abroad, but recorded creditable performances of Bach and Handel, albeit on a larger scale than might be done nowadays.

Oratorio was common to all the singers. But a glance over their other roles reveals some remarkably things. There is quite a prevalence of Wagner. Amongst the women Eva Turner, Lilian Stiles-Allen, Muriel Brunskill, Astra Desmond and Mary Jarred all sang major Wagner roles along with other items from the dramatic soprano or mezzo-soprano repertoire. Even Isobel Baillie, who is reckoned to have a more lyric voice, essayed a single performance of a single act of Tristan.

Amongst the men, Heddle Nash sang David in Die Meistersinger, but that is hardly a heavy role. For the rest, Walter Widdop, Parry Jones, Harold Williams, Roy Henderson and Norman Allin all sang significant Wagner roles.

So think about this, casting Serenade to Music from a group of 40 year old contemporary singers, 10 of whom had significant experience of major Wagner roles including 2 Brunnhildes, a Wotan and a Siegfried. Makes you think doesn’t it, because voices have changed so much that nowadays you’d get more power but less flexibility. And, of course, more wobble.

The 1938 singers do use vibrato, and one of the men has a positively invasive vibrato which is perfectly clear whenever he is singing, even in ensemble. But none of them has the sort of wide amplitude vibrato which is almost a wobble which happens to many dramatic singers. In crude terms we’ve replaced the 1930’s narrow focussed voice with a wide amplitude one.

Of course, this is just a crude, broad brush summary. But one which, I think illuminates the changes in voice types which has happened in the UK since the 1st War; the 1938 singers were by and large post 1st War trained.

The original cast of Serenade to Music along with their age at the time of the first performance and a selection of their heavier roles.

Sopranos:
Isobel Baillie (43)
Mendelssohn:Elijah, Elgar:Oratorios, Gounod:Faust, Beethoven: 9th Symphony, 1 Act of Tristan with Walter Widdop

Lilian Stiles-Allen (42)
Brunnhilde (and other dramatic sop roles), Verdi:Requiem, Schoenberg:Gurrelieder, Mahler:8th Symphony, Beethoven: 9th Symphony

Elsie Suddaby (45)
Lyric soprano, lightest of the 4

Eva Turner (46)
Turandot, Aida, Santuzza, Freia, Sieglinde, Brunnhilde, Tosca

Contraltos:
Muriel Brunskill (39)
Beethoven: 9th Symphony, Beethoven: Missa Solemnis, Elgar:Oratorios, Gounod:Faust, Kundry (Parsifal), Mahler 8th Symphony

Astra Desmond (45)
Elgar Oratorios, Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde, Stravinsky: Oedipus Rex, Delilah, Fricka, Carmen, Ortrud

Mary Jarred (39)
Erda, Fricka, Elgar, Mendelssohn: Elijah, Marget (Wozzeck), Nurse (Frau Ohne Schatten)

Margaret Balfour
Elgar, Beethoven: 9th Symphony

Tenors:
Heddle Nash (44)
David (Meistersinger), Duke (Rigoletto), Ottavio (Don Giovanni), Elgar: Oratorios

Frank Titterton (45)
Oratorio

Walter Widdop (46)
Elgar: Oratorios, Radames, Siegmund, Siegfried, Tristan, Lohengrin

Parry Jones (47)
Mendelssohn: Elijah, Berg: Wozzeck, Schoenberg: Gurrelieder, Busoni: Doctor Faustus, Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Wagner: Tannhauser (title role), Stravinsky: Les Noces

Baritones:

Harold Williams (45)
Wolfram (Tannhauser), Iago (Otello), Canio (Pagliacci)

Roy Henderson (39)
Wagner roles(Donner, Kothner, Herald:Lohengrin), Mendelsohn: Elijah, Stravinsky: Les Noces, Elgar Oratorios

Basses:
Robert Easton (40)

Norman Allin (54)
Baron Ochs, Gurnemanz (Parsifal), Hagen (Gotterdammerung), Mozart: Nozze de Figaro, Beethoven: Missa Solemnis, Wotan, King Mark, Osmin

Friday, 9 January 2009

Seat Games

When I was doing the on-line booking for our Christmas trip to the Playhouse to see La Cage au Folles, I had trouble getting the seats I wanted, because the on-line booking would not let me leave a single seat on its own. Carrie Dunn's article in The Guardian explains all.

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of favourite operatic arias from Bulgarian soprano Vania Vatralova-Stankov is here, on Music and Vision.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Recent CD review

My review of the Barbara Hendricks re-issue of Orchestral Songs is here, on MusicWeb International.
A fascinating portrait of a talented and well-loved artist ...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Concerto Italiano's disc of masses by Pergolesi and Alessandro Scarlatti is here.
Charming and inventive … vibrant and involving ...

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Bruckner's E minor mass and Rheinberger's Requiem from KammerChor Saarbrücken is here, on MusicWeb International.

Much to commend on this disc ...

Monday, 5 January 2009

The compleat Handel

As part of the Handel centenary celebrations, Radio 3 is planning to broadcast all 42 of his operas. They span a remarkable 40 year period of his career and the vast majority were written for London. Yet the remain very little known. Most ordinary opera goers have heard only a tiny handful. A Handel freak like myself has heard less than half of them in 30 years of opera going. if you're interested the ones I've seen are:- Agrippina, Alcina, Ariodante, Flavio, Lotario, Giulio Cesare, Giustino, Radamisto, Rinaldo, Rodelinda, Orlando, Partenope, Poro, Serse, Siroe, Scipione, Tamerlano, Teseo, Tolomeo.

One problem with the operas is that to the uninitiated they can all sound the same. This seems to apply to Emma Pomfret whom the Guardian persuaded to listen to all 42 operas and write about it in an article in the Guardian which would almost be enough to put you off listening to Handel again.

Of course, to the uninitiated everything can sound the same. If you don't like Puccini, or are resistant to his charms, then inevitably all his music sounds alike. Handel, on stage, suffers also from problems with the way it is produced and poor dramaturgy is something which I've come across repeatedly on stage. For Handel to work you've got to understand the structure of opera seria and the arias. A good producer can help a newcomer appreciate Handel's stylised world, a poor producer can make the operas sound pointless. But when listening, you've got to do the work yourself. Throughout his career Handel played with form. The earlier London operas are a bit hide-bound by the requirements of the opera company's noble sponsors who seemed to expect Serious Opera. Later in his career Handel was able to be more flexible and to create a dramatic point by playing with our expectations, particularly in the moments where he fails to deliver the da capo just when we think it is coming. To appreciate this though, you've got to follow what is going on.

So listening to the Complete Handel will require work, but it will be rewarding. I'm not going to be able to hear it live, the BBC are broadcasting it in the Afternoons. But I will definitely be using their Listen Again activity.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Recent CD review

My review of the Handel boxed set from the Academy of Ancient Music, containing Handel's Opus 3 and Opus 6 Concerti Grossi, plus the Opus 4 Organ Concerti, is here, on Music and Vision.
'... the playing here is some of the most incisive that I have heard ...'

Friday, 2 January 2009

The King's Consort New Year's Eve concert

To the Wigmore Hall on New Year's Eve for the King's Consort's concert under their current director, Matthew Halls. It was an all Bach evening and, given the smallness of the Wigmore Hall platform, everything was performed in small scale chamber versions. There were 2 violins, 1 viola, 1 cello, 1 double bass and 3 oboe players (the third doubling oboes da caccia and d'amore), plus Halls himself on harpsichord.

The opened with a conjectural early version of the 4th Suite, scored for just strings and oboes (no trumpets etc). The 3 oboes sounded fabulous together but, by some quirk of the acoustic, tended to rather dominate the ensemble. Granted, we were sitting at the very back of the balcony, so perhaps balance was better elsewhere. The ensemble gave a fabulously crisp and lively account of the piece.

This was followed by Cantata BWV 58 Ach Gott, wie manches Herzeleid, composed for the first Sunday of the New Year. It is not a jolly piece, but a dialogue between Soprano (Lucy Crowe) and Bass (Andrew Foster-Williams). Both Crow and Foster-Williams gave brilliant performances; Foster-Williams had been announced as being ill but you couldn't tell from his wonderfully resonant account of the bass solos.

Part 1 ended with the Quodlibet BWV 524, a bizarre pot-pourri of texts and tunes written for a family wedding and full of jokes and references which we can no longer understand. The 4 singers were Crowe, Robin Blaze, Charles Daniel and Foster-Williams. They had a great time, as did the ensemble; they almost convinced us that they were performing a real piece of music, and gave us a rare glimpse of unbuttoned, secular Bach.

Part 2 opened with the harpichord concerto in A, BWV 1055. Here we discovered another balance problem. Even though the harpsichord was moved and its cover put up, the balance between keyboard and strings was not idea. The keyboard just did not dominate in the way we nowadays expect. In solo passages with string accompaniment, the strings were just too dominant. Perhaps Halls speeds did not really leave time for the melodic material to register, or perhaps we need to learn new ways of listening to this material.

A further cantata followed, another dialogue one for Soprano (Crowe) and Bass (Foster-Williams), Selig ist der Mann, BWV 57. This was another dialogue cantata, between Christ and the Soul, written for Boxing Day 1725. Again Crowe and Foster-Williams gave superb performances, both having some sublime (and some virtuosic) moments.

Finally we were treated to the motet Lobet den Herren, sung by just the 4 singers (Crowe, Blaze, Daniels, Foster-Williams) accompanied by the ensemble. Bach playing and singing at its finest and most incisive