Thursday, 30 September 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of music for the Feast of St. Peter from Westminster Abbey is here on MusicWeb International.

Not showy; instead you really feel that you are eavesdropping on a genuine liturgical event.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Singapore Symphony Orchestra



The Singapore Symphony Orchestra are making their first visit to the UK since 1991. Their concert feature's Debussy's La Mer, Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead and a piece by Zhou Long. But the main reason for featuring it here is that the orchestra are releasing their recording of Mahler 10 on DVD so we get to play a preview of it.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Steffani's Niobe at Covent Garden

Agostino Steffani was born some 30 years before Handel. A native of Italy but with a career based in Germany, he wrote a body of operas for the courts of Munich and Hanover before devoting his life to diplomacy and the church. Handel knew him and admired his music; Steffani may have helped get Handel his first job in Hanover.

Steffani's operas mix Italian and French styles. His training took him to Italy but he spent time in France absorbing the local musical mores; so that many of his arias utilise French dance forms. Covent Garden's production of Steffani's Niobe (written 1688) was designed by Raimund Bauer and Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, directed by Lukas Hemleb; it was originally seen at the Schwetzingen Festival and is being seen in a revised version at Covent Garden and Luxembourg. Thomas Hengelbrock directed his own period instrument ensemble the Balthasar Neumann Ensemble in the pit.

The problem with Niobe was simply its length. Act 1 lasted 85 minutes. Acts 2 and 3 had been cut so that combined they lasted 95 minutes. But, as far as I could tell, the cuts almost rendered the drama incoherent and reminded me of some of the drastic, drama inhibiting pruning that happened to some of Handel's later librettos. In the event, the evening started at 6.30pm, and finished at 9.4pm, so Covent Garden should have had the courage of their convictions and given us a 2nd interval and 20 minutes more music.

Steffani's arias are generally short and frequent (around 60 in a typical opera). His orchestration is lively and interesting, keeping the textures varied and moving. His operas need display, but his music matches this in inspiration so I was constantly being surprised and charmed.

A contributing factor to the opera's length was the sheer number of characters. They divided into three distinct groups, whose interactions fluctuated during the evening.

First there was Anfione, King of Thebes (Jacek Lazsczkowski) and his wife Niobe (Veronique Gens). Anfione has decided to retire from ruling and brings in Clearte (Tim Mead) to help Niobe rule. Clearte has been hiding in the wilds trying to forget his love for Niobe. Niobe's nurse Nerea (Delphine Galou) was the only comic character, injecting wry comments into the proceedings.

Then there was Tiberino (Lothar Odinius), son of the King of Alba and general he-man and warrior, who intends to attack Thebes. He kills a monster thus saving the life of Manto (Amanda Forsythe), priestess of Latona and daughter of Tiresia (Bruna Taddia), blind seer and high priest of Latona.

Finally there is the magician Poliferno (Alastair Miles), whose sister and brother-in-law were the previous King and Queen of Thebes and were killed by Anfione. Poliferno wants to be revenged on Anfione so he uses his black arts on Creonte, Prince of Thessaly (Iestyn Davies) so that Creonte desires Niobe and will do anything to get her.

Tiberino and Manto spent the entire opera havering before declaring their love. After Niobe and Anfione, Tiberino and Manto got the other significant share of air time and, frankly, we rather got tired of them and longed for them to get on with it. Similarly Clearte never does tell Niobe of his love for her.

In one astonishing scene, Anfione in retreat in the Palace of Harmony sings hauntingly of the music of the spheres, here Lazsczkowski's high counter-tenor, Steffani's gorgeous music and Bauer's designs combined into something special. Then, when Tiberino attacks Thebes, Anfione's singing raises Thebes walls.

In Act 2 Poliferno's arts create an artificial heaven (more stage spectacular) and he disguises Creonte as Mars so he can seduce Niobe - cue for more lovely music combining with spectacular stage pictures.

When order is restored, Tiberino and Manto give thanks to the goddess Latone (no, given that Tiberino was attacking Thebes, I've no idea how he comes to be celebrating his marriage in Thebes). In a fit of amazing hubris, Niobe declares that Latone's shrine should be pulled down and that people should revere her and Anfione as gods on earth. In retribution the Gods bring down fire and kill Niobe's children, Anfione commits suicide as a result. Niobe's tears flow and she turns to stone. Cleonte banishes Poliferno and becomes king of Thebes.

So, are you still with me?

Veronique Gens was a wonderful Niobe, definitely worth the visit just for her. Initially she seemed the heroine, in love with her husband and children. But we gradually detect other aspects to the character including her hubris and pride. Furious as being duped by Poliferno's magic, Gens conveyed the myriad facets of the character, though never made her likeable.

As her husband, Anfione, Lazsczkowski sang with a voice which went up beyond the stave. A remarkable voice, the very upper register was clear, pure and rather alarming, but the middle was cloudy and rather hollow and badly integrated to his chesty lower voice. In the high, lyrical passages you could be entrance, but in the lower lying dialogues and the faster bravura sections, he was less than impressive. Typically such high lying flasetto voices are not large and it was to Lazsczkowski's credit that, at his best, he filled the hall with such beauty.

Tim Mead's Clearte was a semi-comic role, as his character had to spend the opera never quite daring to tell Niobe that he loved her. Odinius's Tiberino was presented as a simple strong man (and he seemed to have no visible army). He and Amanda Forsythe were charming and lovely at first, but frankly I got a bit fed up with them. Taddia's playing of the blind Tiresia was impressive, combining a fine passionately focussed voice with an impressive ability to walk into furniture.

I did wonder whether Nerea should have been played by a man; if this had been a Venetian opera then she would have been. Anyway Delphine Galou was suitably acerbic and amusingly pert in the role, puncturing posturing nicely.

Alistair Miles and Iestyn Davies seemed to suffer rather in the costume department and Poliverno's magic seemed to consist of a giant amorphous blob which followed him about. Still, Davies got to sing a beautiful scene with Gens and he came out on top at the end.

Steffani's operas call for lots of stage effects. Hemleb and Bauer created some brilliant ones in a modern idiom. Good use was made of a mirrored back-drop which created some beautiful effects. This was a staging which was a feast for the eyes but you never felt that Hemleb was struggling to find another trick in order to keep us entertained. The production flowed nicely and Hemleb wasn't afraid of doing nothing. Moments like Anfione's moving scene when he thinks he has lost Niobe were played on a bare open stage.

After the unimpressive Tamerlano earlier this year, it was good to see and hear a baroque opera done well at Covent Garden. Crucially Hemleb kept his singers well forward at all important moments, there was not question here of the set swallowing sound. My only real complaint about the production (cutting apart) was that Hemleb seemed to have ignored the French influence in the piece. There were many moments when Steffani's music seemed to call for dance, real formal dancing, and this was not provided. Instead we had a couple of quasi-comic dance interludes which seemed entirely wrong in tone.

I can't say I found Niobe a forgotten masterpiece. But it was certainly a fascinating and important work, one I would love to encounter again.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Makropoulos Case at the London Coliseum

I was less than completely taken with Christopher Alden's production of Janaceck's The Makropoulos Case at the London Coliseum when it was new in 2006. Alden was on hand to rehearse this first revival of the production (seen 24/09/2010) and I don't think any major changes had been made. But a different cast combined with my own familiartiy with the staging seemed to combine to form a rather stronger, positive impression.

Amanda Roocroft was astonishing as Emilia Marty. Wearing a bobbed wig and dark glasses for her first entry she was almost unrecognisable. Her E.M. was at times closer to Lulu, brightly toned, accurately sung and sexily amoral. No ageless beauty, but a chic, sexy and entirely selfish and thoughtless creation. Musically Roocroft's E.M. seemed far more accurate and controlled than Cheryl Barker (who sang the role when the production was new). The moment when she first says her real name, Elina Makropoulos, was ravishing and the closing section had real beauty and power.

As Albert Gregor, Peter Hoare looked rather non-descript but sang with power, accuracy and clarity; conveying Gregor's obsession with E.M. without sounding demented from the outset. The remaining cast were equally strong, forming a fine ensemble Andrew Shore was a bluff Kolenaty, bringing a touch of warmth to the lawyer's dry asperity. Ashley Holland's strong stage presence gave suitable gravitas to Prus, even when he was stripped down to his underwear at the opening of Act 2.

Characters like Janek (Christopher Turner), Vitek (Alasdair Elliott) and Kristina (Laura Mitchell) have only a few short moments to make their mark, but this they did. Veteran tenor Ryland Davies gave a superb cameo as the elderly Hauk-Sendorf, rembering his youthful fling with E.M.

The Makropoulos Case is a strange and wonderful opera, highly compressed (each act lasting only 30 minutes) and very conversational, until the closing scene. But with an unusal and fascinating heroine whose lovely exterior conceils a heart of ice. Roocroft and Alden created for us an E.M. who did excercise this fascination, not as a cool icy character, but one who is tantalisingly amoral and heedless of others.

This performance did begin to match the performances I witnessed in the 1970's with Catherine Wilson and Elisabeth Söderström in the title role. For me these 1970's performances remain a touchstone in this opera.

Sir Richard Armstrong was in the pit. He and the ENO orchestra gave a dashing account of the score.

It is strange the way that this opera has been relatively neglected in London in the last few decades. ENO's production was welcome when it was new and more than welcome on its return. I must confess that I still find the production too cool and expressionist but I am coming to warm to it.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

SERAFIN STRING QUARTET

The Serafin String Quartet are making their London debut tonight, at St. Johns Smith Square with an interesting programme which includes William Grant Still's "Danzas de Panama", the London premiere of Jennifer Higdon's "Amazing Grace" as well as Barber's Adagio and Dvorak's American Quartet

Music from the Genome

Tonight at 10.30pm, BBC Radio 3 will be broadcasting a recording of a concert by the New London Chamber Choir. The choir will be performing Tallis's 40 part motet Spem in Alium alongside other contemporary 40 part motets by Gabriel Jackson and Michael Zev Gordon. Zev Gordon's piece Allele is inspired by the human genome - sounds fascinating

Friday, 24 September 2010

Kings Head to opera house

Adam Spreadbury-Maher, who has presented a chamber version of La Boheme at the Cock Tavern, where he is artistic director, became artistic director of the Kings Head in Islington earlier this year. He has announced that the Kings Head will be become a Little Opera House, producing small scale fringe productions of opera, opera up close. Plans for the new season include versions of Madam Butterfly and The Barber of Seville plus opera by Philip Glass. Playwright, Mark Ravenhill is associate artistic director; Ravenhill's first venture into opera was heard his summer at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Emmanuel Despax

On Sunday we were at the Wigmore Hall for a recital by Emmanuel Despax. In a generous and wide-ranging programme, Despax gave us and exciting and technically demanding programme. He started with a pair of Bach transcriptions, Busoni's Chorale prelude: Ich ruf'zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ and Myra Hess's Jesu Joy of Mans Desiring. These were followed by a stirring performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Despax is one of those pianists who has an ability to play loudly whilst retaining subtlety, his performance had this quality in spades. It lacked the raw power and earthiness that can be brought to the piece; Despax's Pictures were highly sophisticated, but powerful nonetheless.

The second half started with a beautifully modulated account of Chopin's Barcarolle in F sharp minor. This was followed by the same composers 12 Etudes Opus 10. I must confess that I have never heard all 12 Etudes played continuously as a concert piece and in Despax's hands this worked well. His technical facility was admirable, though one or two of the early studies remained firmly rooted in the technical study. But gradually, the poetic nature of Chopin's inspiration took hold till we concluded with a bravura performance of the Revolutionary Study.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Anniversaries

BBC Radio 3 are celebrating the anniversaries of Rutland Boughton and Cecil Armstrong Gibbs next week. Paul Brough and the BBC Singers have recorded a series of items by the two composers which are being broadcast on Afternoon on 3 during the week. Rather tempting items include Boughton's Burglar Bill (!) and his cantata The City, which is evidently rather in post-Gerontius mode. For those, like me, who can't tune in live the programmes will be available on the web as well.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Magi

London Concord Singers, conductor Malcolm Cottle will be premiering my cantata The Magi at their concert
on Thursday December 16th 2010 at the Grosvenor Chapel, London W1. Written for unaccompanied 8 part choir, the piece sets extracts from a sermon
preached by Lancelot Andrewes in 1622 (You can read the full sermon here). The sermon is perhaps best known as the inspiration behind T.S. Eliot's poem The Journey of the Magi, the opening lines of which are a direct quotation from Andrewes ('A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey.'). Andrewes uses a lot of Latin tags in his sermon and this makes for a very rich (and at times diffuse) text. The work is divided into three movement, in each of which Andrewes considers a different aspect of the Magi's journey, so that in the 2nd movement it is the difficulty of the journey and the danger of the lands they are crossing and in the last it is the weather and the cold.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

New Gabriel Jackson

Gabriel Jackson has a new piece being premiered by Red Note to open the 6th sound Festival in Aberdeen. Jackson's new work for strings is a joint commission from the Scottish contemporary music ensemble Red Note and sound festival. Jackson's piece is being given in a fascinating programme which includes Adams Shaker Loops and Gavin Bryars' Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The programme debuts in Aberdeen and then tours to Glasgow and Edinburgh. For those people living in the area, it will be a fascinating pairing of iconic pieces along with a welcome chance to hear Jackson in non-vocal mode.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Jigsaws

Following the performances of my opera this summer, I've ended up with a score covered in pencil marks, reflecting the ideas/changes/corrections which cropped up during the rehearsal period, plus musical clarifications from conductor David Roblou. Also Ian Caddy, the director of the staging (which premieres 31st March 2011), was present at the August performance and has come up with a number of ideas. These are designed to keep the drama flowing and correct the problems where tension sags. The trick is now to apply these cuts and changes to the score without losing the original structure. There are two sections based on a ground bass, which rather leaves little room for manoeuvre if you want to cut bars. Similarly there are other places where the accompaniment has musical and thematic reminiscences, so changes have to be clever. The other thing is, of course, that any change should feel like an improvement (or a movement in a particular direction) rather than change for changes sake. As we are staging the work for the first time, having just done it in concert, the revised version will be slightly less oratorio like in places, giving more scope for a fast paced, realistic drama. The revised score is still a work in progress but by the end of this month we should have something on which to base our staging.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Monteverdi Vespers at the Proms

On Friday we went to our final Prom to see John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, a work which Gardiner first conducted in 1964 and conducted it a the Proms in 1968. Gardiner performed the work as a concert piece, pretty much as printed, with no attempt at liturgical reconstruction, without transposing movements down and with quite large scale forces. The Monteverdi Choir numbered some 35 singers and they were joined by the London Oratorio Junior Choir and the Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School.

Gardiner's speeds were quite spacious, so that the music had time to tell in the spaces of the Albert Hall. But the Vespers isn't all large scale music, a great deal of it is written for small forces, soloists accompanied by continuo, or choir and these worked well also. Gardiner used the space available, so that the echo effects came from the balcony, and the children's choir sang much of its contribution from there as well.

In fact, Gardiner's way with the music was positively Romantic at times, as he shaped paragraphs both in terms of speed and dynamics. But Gardiner has lived with the work a long time and the whole worked as one superb structure. It helped of course that he had the fine support of the Monteverdi choir producing some finely shaded singing. Generally I veer to the one voice per part school of thought in this style of music, but when the performance is as fine, and as well considered as then, then resistance crumbles. Solos were taken by members of the choir with some outstanding contributions from tenors Andrew Tortise and Peter Davorem and sopranos Emanuela Galli and Lenneke Ruiten.

Academically there is a strong case for performing the Magnificat transposed down. But, just like the Allegri Miserere, where I miss the top C in correct performances, even though I know it to be a modern creation; so with Monteverdi I love performances like this one, at high pitch with the bass duet rising to top F and the cornet soloists going to ultimate of their range.

Gardiner and his forces gave us a finely crafted and beautifully worked out performance which made the most of the venue, in terms of spacial placing and acoustics. Unlike some of the other period performances at the Proms, where I didn't feel the performances worked with the venue, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists gave us a stunning performance which was finely tailored to the venue. A very memorable last visit to this years Proms.

Talking Music

BBC Scotland have produced a rather interesting new series called Talking Music. Its a 4-part series which goes behind the scenes at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, which is celebrating its 75th birthday in December this year. It features interviews with conductors composers, players and visiting soloists plus rehearsal footage, giving an interesting inside view into the process of how concerts are made.

There are 4 episodes each one devoted to a particular theme: Conductors, Players, Composers, Soloists. People interviewed include Donald Runnicles, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, James MacMillan, Nicola Benedetti and Lisa Milne, along with the orchestras principle trumpet, 1st and 2nd violins plus a cello player who has been with the orchestra for 41 years.

The first episode is broadcast on BBC2 Scotland on Tuesday 14th September at 11.20pm, repeated 15th December 2.00pm, with subsequent episodes at the same time the following weeks. It is NOT being broadcast on UK BBC2 alas, so if you don't live in Scotland you will have to use BBC Iplayer to see the programme, or hope that the BBC see sense and broadcast the show on BB2 (or perhaps BBC4)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Prom 70

To the Albert Hall on Monday for the late night Prom, when French counter-tenor Philippe Jaroussky and Canadian contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux gave a programme of baroque arias, accompanied by Ensemble Matheus directed by Jean-Christophe Spinosi. Spinosi and his ensemble were making their Proms debut and when it came to the Albert Hall acoustic, Spinosi took no prisoners. He and Jaroussky opened with Empiro, diro, tu sei, from Handel's Giulio Cesare, taken at an alarming pace. Jaroussky has proved in the past that he can sing this type of music very fast and with great bravura, but there was a feeling that the notes from him and the ensemble somehow came so fast they just skated off the tricky acoustic. This was followed by an aria from Vivaldi's opera La fida ninfa, sung by Lemieux; in this Spinosi and his ensemble spun a magically fine web of notes that was, at times, barely audible.

After these two acoustic shocks, my ears gradually attuned and I came to enjoy the performances, though I still felt as if I was listening at the wrong of the telescope so to speak.

The full programme consisted of just the one Handel aria, one aria by Porpora, four arias by Vivaldi from both La fida ninfa and Orlando Furioso, including Orlando's mad scene. The evening concluded with a pair of duets by Vivaldi. Interpolated into this was Telemann's concerto in E minor for recorder and flute, and Vivaldi's Concerto in D major for two violins.

Though there were many good things in the concert, somehow it did not quite hang together as an event. Perhaps we should have had all Vivaldi arias, or a rather better balance between composers. And I couldn't help feeling that if Lemieux sang Orlando's mad scene from Vivaldi's opera, then Jaroussky should have given us Handel's version of the same event. The cohesiveness of the evening was not helped by the yawning gaps between pairs of arias, there seemed a lot of going on and off for the soloists. Groups could learn a lot from William Christie's programmes of baroque excerpts where all the singers stay on stage and items pass seamlessly from one to another.

The group's performing style is highly coloured, with Spinosi a hyperactive stage presence, this led to many moments when I found his technique over invasive and simply wanted him to let the music alone. This was particularly true in the recitative opening Orlando's mad scene where the double bass player providing the continuo seemed to be encouraged to play in as highly coloured and stylised manner.

The evening finished with a pair of duets by Vivaldi which were delightful musically, but Jaroussky and Lemieux were encouraged to camp things up. This was much enjoyed by the small-ish audience, but I kept feeling that less would have been more. Or perhaps it was just the late hour getting to me.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

New Opera

New operas seem to be in the air, especially in smaller opera companies. All are coming to fruition whilst going through testing performances and workshops. Next month English Touring Opera kicks off its Autumn tour which includes the premiere of Promised End, Alexander Goehr's opera based on King Lear. The company workshopped the piece at Dartington early this year.

And Opera Circus have started a project called Naciketa, this is a work in progress and will lead to an opera by Nigel Osborne and Ariel Dorfman. They are giving 4 work in progress performances, starting on Sept 29th at Opera North in Leeds.
The child Naciketa poses death three questions about love, reconciliation and mortality, in a musical journey of hope.

Then Opera East are preparing the premier of Tarik O'Regan's Heart of Darkness which they will be performing at the Linbury Theatre at Covent Garden in 2011. The opera, a chamber piece in 1 act, is based on Joseph Conrad's novel of the same name and the libretto is by Tom Phillips

Monday, 6 September 2010

Concert free for all?

If you read Jane Austen's novels or Mozart's letters it becomes clear that audiences at concerts were more animated than is allowed today. Austen talks of comings and goings, people explaining the music etc., and Mozart makes it clear that when they heard a passage they enjoyed, the audience felt free to applaud. Also, Haydn's symphonies with their commanding openings, were calls to attention for inattentive audiences.

Some of these attitudes survive today in the theatre. Ballet audiences feel free to applaud whenever they see something they like, whether the music stops or no. Similarly in Italy the practice of applauding (or booing arias), and repeating them as necessary, seems to have survived. The English habit of sitting on their hands throughout a symphony is gradually being eroded by American (I think?) habit of applauding each movement.

There is, of course, the world of a difference between interrupting a performance to show genuine appreciation and simply talking or fidgeting through inattention or boredom. To a certain extent, audience behaviour is conditioned by the location of the concert; venues like the Royal Festival Hall do not encourage people to wander about or stretch their legs. Whereas if you are in the Albert Hall during the Proms, a limited amount of movement is acceptable, and if you have a box all to yourself, then you can get away with all sorts of shenanigans.

Performing groups are worried that the constraints of a classical concert are preventing young people from coming. So groups experiment with other formats; concerts at the Round House, late night events at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The problem is mixing the two, as old fogies like me get rather comfortable with existing norms.

All this has popped into mind, because Jonathan Harvey has rather sparked a debate, but I'm rather with Fiona Maddocks in her comment in yesterday's Observer.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Coming in April

We now have a full complement of singers and band for the staging of my opera When a Man knows at the Bridewell Theatre in April 2011. Dario Dugandzic, Sarah Barham and John Beaumont will be repeating their roles and the Woman will be sung by soprano Zoe South. So I am now busy revising the score ready for the new performances.

Proms Saturday Matinee 5

To the Cadogan Hall on Saturday afternoon for the final Proms Saturday Matinee, given by the BBC Singers, the Arditti String Quartet and Endymion, conducted by David Hill. The concert had an old/new theme, in may ways similar to the Chapelle du Roi's concert at St. Johns Smith Square in December. BBC Singers and Endymion started with Judith Weir's All the Ends of the Earth, a wonderful piece which Weir bases on Perotin's Viderunt Omnes. Tenors and basses sing bits of Perotin, supported by harp and percussion, whilst sopranos and altos sing Weir's new composed music. I have heard the work before, when Hill and the BBC Singers did it at St. Giles Cripplegate and was pleased to renew acquaintance, though felt it a shame that we could not have heard the Perotin as well!

This was followed by the premiere of Thea Musgrave's Ithaca, a setting of an English translation of Cavafy's poem. Here the old/new reference was to the classical past and Musgrave created a wonderfully dramatic and quite dense piece, for unaccompanied chorus. One that I would want to hear again soon.

Bayan Northcott's Hymn to Cybele dated from the 1980's but was receiving its first performance at the Proms. Set for chorus, soloists, double bass and percussion, the text was based on Catullus and referred to a rather grisly episode where a young man, Attis, is drawn to the cult of Cybele and under the goddess's influence emasculates himself. Northcott's music rather reflected this, being quite dense and difficult.

Density continued to increase, with Brian Ferneyhough's Dum transisset I-IV for string quartet, played with devastating aplomb and accuracy by the Arditti String Quartet.

We then had John Taverner's Dum transisset sabbatum followed by Jonathan Holloway's setting of the same text. Both were written for a traditional cathedral choir, Holloway's piece for St. Paul's Cathedral Choir. In fact, the Holloway sounded quite challenging given its origins. I didn't quite feel that the BBC Singers had the purity of tone necessary to bring the music off, the sopranos and altos were certainly some way from boys and male altos.

This vocal difference was still noticeable in the Benedictus from Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas. The passage In Nomine Domini from this gave rise to numerous English imitations and Gabriel Jackson's In Nomine Domini emulated this. It was commissioned to conclude this concert, so that Jackson (who is the new Associate composer of the BBC Singers), was obliged to use the full forces of the concert, BBC Singers, Arditti String Quartet, Harp and percussion. Jackson set a poem by John Bradburne and interpolated In Nomine movements for the string quartet. The result was created with Jackson's usual facility and there were some luminous moments, but it had a rather contrived feel.

Recent CD Review

My review of the disc of Tippett choral works from Christ Church Cathedral Choir is here, on MusicWeb International.
An interesting side-slant on this music

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Gut Immling

Whilst we were on holiday in Bavaria we visited the Gut Immling opera festival, to see Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, my review of the performance is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site)

Friday, 3 September 2010

Harriet Cohen's Bach Book

I first came across A Bach Book for Harriet Cohen in the late 1970's when Ronald Stevenson included a couple of items from it in his fascinating lecture recital on Bach transcriptions. I remember Ronald playing RVW's Bach piece from Harriet Cohen's book and I think one other. It was an evening which concluded with Ronald giving a towering performance of the Bach/Busoni Chaconne, having covered a great deal of ground in between, including Grainger's Sheep may safely graze and, if memory serves me correctly, Chopin's Revolutionary Etude. I was rather tantalised by the idea of the other pieces in the book and I even managed to acquire the book myself and played through a few items. An odd few pieces from the book have occasionally cropped up. But now Jonathan Plowright has recorded the entire book, which sounds fascinating.

In his Guardian Review, Andrew Clements is a little more guarded in his welcome suggesting that the standard of the pieces is a little variable. But as a fascinating side-light on English musical history in the 1930's, this is invaluable. It would, of course, be interesting to learn how many of the contributors Cohen had had affairs with!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Last night we heard a private recital by the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, where she gave a programme mainly devoted to Chopin - two Nocturnes, the Ballade no 4 and the Sonata No 3. Also in the programme were Debussy's L'Isle Joyeuse and Constantin Sivestri's Bacchanale as encore. Her Chopin was poetic and robust, totally involving, with the Sonata giving due weight to both the romantic impulses and the classical form of the sonata. Alexandra will be giving a recital at the Wigmore Hall on 5th April next year.

Recent CD Review

My review of Jonathan Dove's opera Tobias and the Angel is here, on MusicWeb International.
I took up the disc prepared to admire but in fact I was charmed and entranced. I hope you will be too.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Theatre visit

The production of When a Man Knows took a step further last week when the director, Ian Caddy, and I visited the Bridewell Theatre for the first time. I have seen productions there, but some years ago; in 2001 I saw Tete a Tete there, giving one of their evenings of short 1-act operas. An evening memorable, partly because in the cast was Damian Thantrey, the baritone who went on to play the title role in my opera Garrett (in fact we were there to hear him for this reason).

Remarkably, Bridewell Theatre is in an old swimming pool, it is a sort of rectangular space and there is a balcony all around the playing area. It will make an admirable abandoned ware-house. There isn't a pit, of course, the band (4 instruments including piano) will be to one side of the stage. The balcony is held up with cast iron pillars, which gives the possibility of actually being able to chain up the male protagonist which is something the libretto calls for.

The dust having settled after 21st August's performance, I have now started the process of revising the opera. This process should taughten in dramatically, but also make some passages clearer for the singers. At least that's the idea at the moment!