Saturday, 30 October 2010

Winner of the 2010 Ferrier Awards

On Thursday night we were privileged to attend a private recital by Njabulo Madlala, the winner of the 2010 Ferrier Awards. Incidentally the awards will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of Kathleen Ferrier's birth in 2012.

Madlala, with accompanist James Baillieu, started with a group of Duparc songs. I must admit that I prefer these songs in the female voice, but Madlala's lovely baritone and nuanced way with the music had me convinced. He followed with a Schumann group which included a thrilling account of Belsazzar and a wonderfully narrative Die Beiden Grenadier. A group of Spirituals closed the first half.

The second half opened with a Strauss group. If a male voice singing Duparc is tricky, then male voices singing Richard Strauss is well nigh impossible. I heard Dieskau do en entire Strauss recital, and that never convinced me. Madlala's sheer passion and commitment brought off the first three songs, Zueignung, Allerseelen, Heimliche Aufforderung in a stunning manner. Morgen was less successful, Strauss gives the male voice an impossible task having to come in an octave lower than the long instrumental solo in the songs opening. But I have to admit that my companion felt that song worked well and that I was being too picky.

These were followed by an English group. A pair of Vaughan Williams songs and a pair of Butterworth, given evocative performances. Madlala has a lovely open personality which infused all the songs that he sang. But this really came to the fore in the final group of songs, all traditional songs from his native South Africa. An entrancing end to a lovely recital. Madlala is definitely a name to look out for.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Alice Coote and the English Concert

Alice Coote's recital the the Wigmore Hall, on Wednesday 27th, with the English Concert directed by Harry Bicket, was a slightly uneasy mixture of vocal items. It was one of those programmes which seemed to have been constructed on the basis of 'things I'd like to sing' rather than a coherent narrative. So that Coote started with Monteverdi's Lamento di Arianna and then went on to sing a pair of Dowland songs before finishing with Handel's cantata La Lucrezia. In between these items the English Concert offered us Vivaldi's Sonata La Folia, Vivaldi's violin Concerts Il Grosso Mogul and a Vivaldi Cello concerto.

Now Coote is one of those singers who has managed to hang on to her period performance strand whilst still running an impressive career singing Strauss, Elgar and co. And when she performs it is never less than interesting, never. Her way with Monteverdi's Lament was mesmerising, detailed and large scale. She was accompanied by a substantial continuo group which included two fretted instruments, a harp, cello, double bass plus keyboard. The result was thrilling and vivid, but perhaps a little big boned.

Coote's way with the music was in fact so vivid, that you can't imagine her sustaining such a level of detail throughout an entire opera. And there is a case her for 'less is more'. This was definitely the case with the Dowland, where Coote seemed in danger of overshadowing her accompanist, William Carter. But it was in Handel's cantata that her approach brought immense dividends, actually using the music to drive the drama you almost felt that Coote was in danger of committing suicide herself. This was a coruscating performance. Can't someone persuade a record company to record this singer in Handel cantata's before her voice gets too big for the repertoire.

Before the concert started Coote was announced as having only recently recovered from 'flu but there seemed happily no sign of this in her singing.

The English Concert opened with the Vivaldi sonata in a thrilling performance led by Rachel Podger. And Podger shone even more in the cascades of notes which Vivaldi provides in his violin concerto, her performed with the surviving cadenzas so that we had an even closer idea of what it might be like to hear Vivaldi himself playing.
Jonathan Manson was the elegant soloist in the Vivaldi cello concerto.

After all the tumult of Handel's cantata had died down, the English Concert sent us home, toes tapping, with a delightful account of Pachelbel's Canon

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Piazolla

Last night we attended a wonderful private recital by the Amor Quintet who play music by Astor Piazolla. They gave us a preview of their programme for their concert at St. James's Piccadilly, London on Thursday 28th October and they return to St. James's on 22nd December.

The quintet consists of Nikolai Ryskov - accordion, Anne-Marie Curran - violin, Gabriele Faja - piano, Milton Mermikides - guitar and Sam Ryan - double bass. The group plays Piazolla's original music rather than arrangements. They give wonderfully vivid and infectious performances, underlying which goes a great deal of artistry and virtuosity.

Their web-site has a sample of their playing and if you go to one of their concerts you'll be able to buy their first CD.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

When a Man Knows he needs Friends


As part of the run up to the performances next year of my opera When a Man Knows we have launched our friends scheme, When a Man knows he needs Friends, to encourage those interested to help support the performances of the opera.

There is more information here in an attractive pdf

Rare Rossini

As a complete contrast to the Lachenmann weekend at London's South Bank Centre, you can also visit the same venue this evening to hear a concert performance of Rossini's opera Aureliano in Palmira. Conducted by Maurizio Benini, a strong cast includes Catriona Smith, Kenneth Tarver, Silvia Trio Santafe and Andrew Foster Williams. The opera dates from 1813 and was premiered at La Scala, Milan. It comes between Tancredi, L'Italiana in Algeri and Il Turco in Italia. The role of Arsace was written for the castrato Velluti, the last of the great castrati. He also created the role of Armando in Meyerbeer's Il crociato in Egitto. In 1826 he took over the management of the Kings Theatre in London and appeared there in Aureliano. But after this the opera seems to have fallen into obscurity until the first modern revival in 1980.
The concert is at 7.00pm at the Royal Festival Hall.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Helmut Lachenmann at the South Bank Centre

Having devoted weekends to modernist composers such as Stockhausen, Messiaen, Nono, Xenakis, Berio, and Varèse the South Bank Centre are now turning their attention to Helmut Lachenmann. Now I must confess that Lachenmann's name is relatively unknown to me but his music is described as musique concrète instrumentale which is a term I've come across. In his music he uses instrumental sounds to emulate electronic music and has invented a wealth of techniques for instruments to use; naturally his music places strong demands on the players.

The South Bank Centre are devoting 2 days to Lachenmann. On Saturday 23rd October there are two concerts of his chamber music, along with a discussion between Lachenmann (now 75) and Ivan Hewett. Then on Sunday 24th October, the London Sinfonietta, under Brad Lubman give a concert of Lachenmann's orchestral music with pianist Rolf Hind.

The weekend presents a rare opportunity to get to know some of Lachenmann's music and enter the 'uncharted sonic realms free of habits of typical concert music' which it promises.

Saturday 23 October 2010: Queen Elizabeth Hall
Lachenmann Chamber Music Day
Tickets: £9–15

3PM – Arditti String Quartet
Lachenmann String Quartet No. 1, Gran Torso
Lachenmann String Quartet No. 3, Grido

4.15PM – Helmut Lachenmann discusses his music with journalist Ivan Hewett

5.30PM – Sarah Leonard (soprano), Rolf Hind (piano), Oliver Coates (cello)
Lachenmann Got Lost for soprano & piano
Lachenmann Pression for solo cello
Lachenmann Dal Niente for solo clarinet

Sunday 24 October 2010: Royal Festival Hall,
7.30PM - London Sinfonietta, Brad Lubman (conductor), Rolf Hind (piano)
Lachenmann Ausklang for piano & orchestra
Lachenmann Schreiben


If you are curious about Lachenmann's music then you can find some examples on his spotify playlist http://open.spotify.com/user/southbankcentre/playlist/4al6RuLlCOHngSAkPut8vo

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Recent CD Reviews

My review of the re-issue of the 1989 Kings College, Cambridge recording of Spem in alium is here.

An admirable re-issue and if you don’t already have a copy, go out and buy it at once.

And my review of a disc of sonatas by Giovanni Vitali is here. Both reviews on MusicWeb International.

Full of liveliness and charm.

Monday, 18 October 2010

CD Review

William Grant Still:Danzas de Panama for String Quartet
Antonin Dvorak: String Quartet in F Major, Op. 96 (American)
Samuel Barber: String Quartet in B Minor, Opus 11
George Gerswhin: Lullaby for String Quartet
Serafin String Quartet
Centaur CRC 3050

The Serafin Quartet are a young American group who made their debut in 2004. The group's name comes from the 18th century violin maker, Sanctus Serfin, who made violinist Kate Ransom's violin. The group's line up is democratic, with both Kate Ransom and Timothy Schwarz taking turns as first violin. The remaining line up consists of Ana Tsinadze, viola, and Lawrence Stomberg, cello.

They have just released their first commercial CD on the Centaur label. This consists of an interesting programme which explores might make an American quartet, with works by William Grant Still, Dvorak, Samuel Barber and George Gershwin. This programme formed the core of the quartet's visit to London in September when they gave a recital at St. John's Smith Square.

The group open with William Grant Still's Danzas de Panama, a 4 movement suite for string quartet based on traditional melodies collected by Elisabeth Waldo. The cultural influences range from music of African Slaves to Spanish-Indian. Though Grant Still calls for some imaginative drum type beats, where the instrumentalist beats on the body of the instrument, the work is by and large quite traditional. Whereas in El Salon Mexico Aaron Copland (2 years younger than Grant Still) takes you physically into the Mexican dance hall, Grant Still is very much based in the salon or drawing room. His well-made arrangements are attractive and light, but they feel rather conventional and sanitised compared to Copland. But Grant Still's music is a relative rareity in the catalogue and the Serafin Quartet give his suite a lively and infectious performance.

They follow this with Dvorak's American Quartet, written in 1893 in response to meeting up with Czech immigrants in Iowa. Though the work does hint at Dvorak's inspirations in the New World, much of the piece is still based in Dvorak's old Czech world. The Serafin Quartet play with a pleasing melodiousness and a lightness of touch, but there were times when I would have liked more of an element of darkness to creep in. Theirs is a fine, slim tone, with a good emphasis on musical line. The Lento movement comes over particularly well, with some lovely singing lines. In the final Vivace, the group provide some nice perky rhythms, but you would not mistake them for a Czech group.

It is difficult to listen to Barber's Quartet (his only essay in the medium) without your listening being distorted by the subsequent fame the second movement found, independent of the Quartet, as the Adagio for Strings. In fact all three movements seems to struggle with the quartet medium and I did wonder what the quartet would sound like played by string orchestra. The entire work is a consciously retro piece, seeming to exist in an entirely different 1936 to reality. The opening movement is a big, old fashioned Romantic statement. Here the group's technical control remains admirable, but their sound just needs to be fatter. Barber's big, bold, passionate music calls for more experience of life than these youngsters seem to be able to give just yet. But the adagio is giving a poignant and sensitive reading, Barber's long, elegant lines shining beautifully. The final Molto Allegro, is a short almost perfunctory movement. It is fascinating to hear the Adagio in its original context; but as a complete work I wasn't quite so sure.

Finally, we get a delightful bon bouche, Gershwin's Lullaby for String Quartet, dating from 1919 and giving a fresh and charming reading by the Serafin Quartet.

This is a fascinating disc, showing 3 American composers all trying to come to terms, in their different ways, with the very European medium of the quartet. And a European showing how the New World could cross fertilise with the old. This is a highly impressive debut from the Serafin Quartet.

Joan Sutherland

My history with Joan Sutherland is one of more missed opportunities than stunning performances.

I first saw her perform live at a recital, with Richard Bonynge at the piano, at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in the 1970's. She looked very memorable, wearing what appeared to be a wrap-around, lime green dressing gown. And there was certainly no question over her technique, nor the ability to fill the Free Trade Hall with personality. The problem was that what we really wanted to hear was her operatic repertoire and the selection of Italian songs seemed to be very definitely second choice. In my memory, the only time that the evening really came alive was when she sang a selection from Offenbach's La Perichole.

Until 1981 I lived out of London (in Manchester and then in Scotland) and failed to get tickets for the Sutherland performances (such as her Maria Stuarda) that I tried to attend, though truth to tell, I probably didn't try too hard. So this means that the first time I heard La Stupenda in an opera was in 1983 when she sang the title role in Massenet's Esclarmonde. By 1983 Sutherland was in her late 50's, and not really in her prime. The performance was compromised by a security alert, when we all had to troop out of the opera house, mid-act. So if the performance was less than inspiring, there were mitigating circumsances. And, of course, Esclarmonde is hardly one of Massenet's strongest operas.

The final time I saw her was in Anna Bolena, also at Covent Garden in 1988. This was far stronger, both the role and the music seemed far more aligned to Sutherland's strengths at the period. Though we had to put up with a rather strange interval disposition, possibly to help the ageing diva.

Perhaps I should have gone to see one of her late Lucias at Covent Garden, which all got good reviews. But I was wary of hearing a soprano in the latter end of her career in such a role, preferring the Sutherland recorded in her prime to the live version in later years. Now, of course, I regret the decision greatly. That said, I still find it difficult to tie up some of the glowing reviews from her late career, with the actual sound I heard both live (in 1988) and from broadcasts.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Celebrating Grainger

20th February 2011 will be the 50th anniversary of Percy Grainger's death and there are going to be a number of celebrations. There is a seminar on 20th February at the British Library, with the launch of a new Grainger Companion edited by Penelope Thwaites.

Plus a concert series at Kings Place, running from 17th February 2011 to 19th February. The concerts explore the full range of Grainger's work, ranging from folk song arrangements and pioneering editions of renaissance choral music, to The Warriors, an amazing piece which is described as music for an imaginary ballet. This will be performed at the concert on Saturday 19th February, in a fascinating programme which includes Grainger's arrangements of Javanese and Indian music, along with his versions of Mexican folk-songs collected by Natalie Curtis-Burlin

THURSDAY 17 FEBRUARY
6.00pm BAND BLAST-OFF Wind and Brass Ensembles, Guildhall saxophones & recorders
7.30pm THE HARMONIOUS SONGSMITH Addison Singers, cond. David Wordsworth, Stephen Varcoe, Penelope Thwaites, & Special Guest, Yvonne Kenny

FRIDAY 18 FEBRUARY
6.00pm PERCY GRAINGER AND THE PIANOLA Michael Broadway incl. Grainger himself playing
7.30pm WIND BAND SPECTACULAR The Royal Artillery Band, conductor, Maj. Neil Morgan

SATURDAY 19 FEBRUARY
1.30pm ROOM-MUSIC GEMS The Fitzwilliam String Quartet & friends
2.30pm SING GRAINGER Choral workshop for audience and choirs
4.45pm Experimenting with Grainger The “Electric Eye Tone Tool” & the Theremin
7.30pm EAST MEETS WEST Grainger Elastic Band, cond Roger Montgomery, Fitzwilliam Quartet, multi-pianos, Penelope Thwaites, John Lavender, Grainger Singers.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Promised End

Alexander Goehr's new opera Promised End was much anticipated. Based on Shakespeare's King Lear and announced by Goehr to be his last opera (he is 78), the work received its first performance on Saturday 9th October at the Royal Opera House's Linbury Studio by English Touring Opera.

The libretto for Goehr's opera was taken directly from Shakespeare. Sir Frank Kermode, who died in August, had assembled a digest of the play which they reduced to some 24 scenes. Unlike Ades's The Tempest, Goehr decided to use Shakespeare's words directly and had evidently spent a lot of time declaiming the words before setting them.

The result was compact (two acts of just 45 minutes each) and direct, with the vocal line concentrating on a declamatory sense of the words. The problem seemed to be that the music scarcely had time to take hold. The scenes were all short and the opera seemed to be less than King Lear and more a sort of commentary on it. You probably needed to know the play to make sense of the opera. There didn't seem to be much space for the music to register or for the singers to develop character.

It didn't help that the diction was patchy so that not all the words came over. Roderick Earle's Lear was fine in the slower passages but some of the swifter (and important) dialogue got lost. But Julia Sporsen and Jacqueline Varsey as Regan and Goneril seemed to be unable to get much in the way of words across at all. A contributory factor may have been that the orchestra (the Aurora Orchestra) was placed at the back of the stage, with the singers in front, rather than being in a pit. Goehr's orchestration was lively and imaginative, but included 2 tubas, 2 trumpets and 2 horns.

The action in James Conway's production all took place in a relatively narrow strip at the front of the stage, with a setting consisting of some flexible screens and a podium which started off as Lear's throne and went on to double as the blasted heath and Olt Tom's hovel. In fact the acting area seemed rather cramped, especially as the entire cast remained on stage at all times and formed a sort of chorus, commenting on the action.

The cast all turned in strong performances and gave Conway's rather Noh-inspired production their full committment. Despite the generalised western european medieval costumes (designer Adam Wiltshire), the cast had white makeup, bare-feet and used a sand-box when walking onto the acting area.

But strong as the performances were, everything seemed to be over in a flash. No sooner had you struggled to comprehend what the singers were saying (no surtitles), than the scene was over. I felt that some of the strongest and most memorable moments were in the orchestral interludes. Only fleetingly did the sung music manage to achieve any sort of telling memorability, notably in Lina Markeby's accounts of the Fools songs (the roles of the Fool and Cordelia were doubled). The biggest failing seemed to be the lack of any strong emotional pull in the role of Lear, despite Earle's sterling work.

Nigel Robson was a noble Gloucester with Adrian Dwyer and Nicholas Garrett as his sons. Their plotting came off best, perhaps because Garrett was adept at conveying much by simple body language and Dwyer was the most incisive in getting the words over.

The Aurora Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth made a strong orchestral contribution.

I had been looking forward to this opera for some time and was profoundly disappointed that it did not have a stronger effect on me. The Brechtian cast of the work meant that I admired it rather than loved it; the piece was a voyage around Lear rather than being Lear.

Review of Radamisto

My review of the new production of Radamisto at the London Coliseum, is here on Music and Vision(subscription site).

Monday, 11 October 2010

Barber and Elgar


Tomorrow night (Tuesday October 12th), the Salomon Orchestra under conductor Dominic Grier give a programme devoted to Elgar and to Barber at St. Johns Smith Square in London. In addition to Barber's Adagio the orchestra are performing his Essay No. 2 for Orchestra ; concise single movement work lasting just 11 minutes which received its first performance in 1942. The concert concludes with Elgar's First Symphony and opens with his arrangement of a Bach Prelude and Fugue.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

On Thursday we attended the first night of Radamisto at the London Coliseum, a review will follow shortly. But the production did set me wondering about the effects of production sharing on the production styles. Radamisto was created for Santa Fe, a festival in the USA which has the reputation for interesting choices of repertoire. But, as we learned when we visited there, the audience still needs introducing carefully to rarities. And, of course, in many places Handel is still quite a rarity. You felt that director David Alden was at some pains to create an attractive stage product, that he only touched the work lightly. That if he'd been working only for ENO then the production would have been rather darker and less fun as Alden could rely more on carrying the audience with him, as ENO audiences have become accustomed both to his style and to Handelian opera seria. The production of the opera at Opera North,in 1999/2000 with Emma Bell, Alice Coote and David Walker, directed by Tim Hopkins, seemed to more successfully present the work's essential seriousness and darkness.

We have not seen the new ENO Faust yet (we see it next week), but at least 1 review has said that the production seems marooned mid-Atlantic, not dramatic and daring enough for the Coliseum and not elaborate enough for the Met (with whom it is shared). But I suppose that, in this economic climate, we'll have to put up with these compromises.
Last night we attended a private recital given by violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen and pianist Simon Crawford-Philips. In a wide-ranging programme they gave us Handel's Sonata in D, Beethoven's Sonata Op. 30 no. 2, Delius's Sonata in B and Debussy's Sonata. One of the fascinating things that the recital pointed up was the difference and relationship between the violin and accompanying instrument over the period. Handel was born 85 years before Beethoven, Delius and Debussy were both born 92 years after Beethoven, a strikingly neat spacing of material. Perhaps the Debussy and Delius sonatas need to be rather more lived-in than these performances were, Waley-Cohen has the technique and style but not quite discovered the essence of these pieces, something that comes only gradually.

Earlier this year, at the same venue, we heard a performance of a Vivaldi violin concerto called Il Gran Mogul, so I rather did wonder about the relationship between this concerto and the recently discovered Flute concerto by Vivaldi of the same name.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Eton College Choir's disc of French sacred music, including the Messe Solonnelle by Jean Langlais, is here.

Well worth investigating

And my review of Handel's Berenice from Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco is here. Both reviews on MusicWeb International.

Plenty of interest here. An intelligently balanced performance which certainly does the piece justice.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Thou, O Christ

The choir of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate (London EC2M), conductor Timothy Storey, will be giving a performance of my anthem Thou, O Christ during the service at 1.10pm today. The anthem is a setting of words by St. Symeon the new Theologian whose feast occurs around this time.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Review of Madam Butterfly

My review of Grange Park Opera's performance of Madam Butterfly at London's Cadogan Hall is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Monday, 4 October 2010

Papal visit

It was heartening that the Papal visit included a number of pieces by James Macmillan. His Mass of John Henry Newman was commissioned for the visit and was heard at the open-air masses in Glasgow and in Birmingham; the mass is a congregational one, being scored for cantor, congregation and organ with optional SATB Choir, brass and timpani.

You can see the Papal mass at Westminster Cathedral here, it opens with a wonderfully loud Introit by James MacMillan.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Festival Hall

I must confess that we originally booked tickets for the Philharmonia Orchestra's performance on Sunday of Tristan und Isolde, purely on the basis that Christine Brewer was to sing Isolde. In the event Brewer withdrew and was replaced by Violeta Urmana and the concert performance gained the added attraction of the Bill Viola videos designed for Peter Sellers production of the opera seen in LA and Paris.

As it happened, we were sitting at the side of the stalls so we did not have an optimal view, we could either see the soloists or the videos, but not both at the same time. Those sitting in the centre of the stalls would have seen the soloists with the video looming behind.

Though this was a concert performance, the singers were off the book and some attempts were made at entrances and exits and character interaction. Additionally much use was made of the RFH itself with many of the smaller solos coming from different parts of the hall. Some of this worked well such as having Tristan (Gary Lehman) and Kurwenal (Jukka Rasilainen) standing on the balcony above the stage during Act 1. But at other times this felt contrived, as in Act 2 for Tristan's entrance when Lehman and Urmana had to greet each other across the full width of the RFH stalls.

This was a very vivid urgent performance, thanks to the superb playing from the Philharmonia Orchestra with conductor Esa-Peka Salonen keeping the music moving. This Tristan und Isolde never felt fast, but it flowed along, a far cry from the magical stasis that some conductors aim for. Under Salonen's baton the Prelude wasn't quite in a slow 2, but was definitely in a defined tempo.

When I last heard Urmana, the top of her voice seemed a little unstable under pressure as if the move to soprano repertoire had still not settled. There were no such problems here. She sang Isolde with a wonderfully clear bright tone. She was clearly managing her voice, but this paid off as she seemed tireless, giving the closing Liebestod the same vividness she brought to the opening.

That said, I found Urmana a rather placid artist; one perhaps who needs a fully staged production with an enlivening producer, to give her most. She seemed at her best in Act 1, when her account of Isolde's curse was terrific (memories of Gwyneth Jones) and her dialogues with Lehman's Tristan fairly crackled.

But in the love duet her leisurely sensuality seemed to whip itself into erotic frenzy rather too late. And I have rarely heard the Liebestod so beautifully sung, but it didn't wring the withers the way it should.

Gary Lehman was quite a find as Tristan. Granted, we were sitting quite close to him in the RFH, so it is difficult to judge how his voice would sound if you were sitting in the gods of the Royal Opera House. But he seemed tireless and you never felt that he was obviously husbanding resources; like Urmana he managed to start just as he finished.

Lehman seems to be vivid artist and with the help of a producer could create a striking Tristan. Even in this semi-staged version he was eminently watchable, obviously thinking about his character. His closing scene was notable for the way he conveyed Tristan's delirium. That said, I did wish he had taken a few more risks at this point, his singing lacked danger.

Jukka Rasilainen was an ideal Kurwenal, a bluff soldierly presence who conveyed his car for his master. I'd like to encounter him on stage as he conveyed much even with the minimal resources available to him.

Anne Sofie von Otter was effective as Brangäne. If that sounds grudging it is because I have always thought it a pig of a part. Von Otter did what was needed of her, sang with warm tones and dramatic impetus.

I think that Matthew Best was a good King Marke. But I find the role to be a prosy bore and Best didn't quite convince me otherwise. The remaining cast, Stephen Gadd as Melot, Joshua Ellicott as the Shepherd and the Sailor, Darren Jeffrey as the helmsman were all well cast.

As for the accompanying video, it was at best a fascinating commentary and at worst a distraction. For me, it failed to achieve the status of parallel work of art to which it seemed to aspire. The generalised images, the sea at the opening of Act 1, the later images of forest, sunset etc., were evocative. The closing images of the dead Tristan were astonishing, the watery images of Tristan and Isolde were evocative but verging on the disquieting when the young couple (in Act 2) appeared to drown themselves.

But a major miscalculation was the sequence during Isolde's curse in Act 1. Viola had set this as purification, with the couple disrobing and being anointed with water, certainly not what the act is about. More serious, during Isolde's curse, when Urmana was at her most vivid, she was juxtaposed with images of the man and woman removing the last vestiges of clothing and standing naked - a profound and unnecessary distraction which did nothing to enhance the music.

The Philharmonia Orchestra filled the stage and played with gusto, quite a challenge for the singers. In face there were few balance problems. And the close of Act 1, with the extra trumpets at the back of the stalls and the chorus in the balcony was the most exciting I have ever heard.

This was one of the most beautifully sung and played accounts of Tristan und Isolde that I have heard in a long time. I do hope that Salonen and the orchestra manage to get one of the live performances to CD as it deserves to be heard again.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Oliver's Euridice

My review of British Youth Opera's performance of Stephen Oliver's Euridice is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).