Monday, 31 October 2011

Prince Consort

On Thursday we went to a recital by the Prince Consort, a group of young singers who met at the Royal College of Music, hence the name.Pianist Alisdair Hogarth, soprano Anna Leese, alto Tim Mead and baritone Jacques Imbrailo not only sang but introduced the songs from the platform, aided by broadcaster Sarah Mohr-Pietsch who is one of the group's trustees.

After a lovely duet, 'On an echoing road' by Ned Rorem, we had a group of Schubert songs from Anna Leese, Tim Mead singing more Ned Rorem and Jacques Imbrailo giving a simply beautiful account of Butterworth's Shropshire Lad. It was the first time I've heard these Rorem songs and it makes me think that we will have to investigate the group's CD of Ned Rorem songs on Linn Records.

Encores included a lovely account of  Music for  While from Tim Mead and Jacques Imbrailo treating us to 'Billy in the Darbies' from Billy Budd, a role he has sung at Glyndebourne.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

5/11

Next week, from 1st to 5th November, The Tower Theatre Company, are presenting Edward Kemp's play 5/11 at 7.45pm each evening at the Bridewell Theatre. The play, by Edward Kemp, was premiered at Chichester in 2004 on the 400th Anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, is a dramatic  examination of what presses men to protest and how far will they go. Music for the play is being provided by 4 singers who will be singing Byrd's Mass in 4 Parts, very apposite indeed as Byrd was himself a Catholic recusant and knew some of the plotters.  Tickets are available from the Tower Theatre website.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Review of ETO's Flavio

My review of ETO's production of Handel's Flavio is now on-line here, at Music and Vision (subscription site).

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Ferrier Award Winner's concert


Last night we went to a recital by the 2011 Ferrier Award Winner, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately whom we had recently seen as Teodata in ETO's excellent Flavio. For her recital she was accompanied by Gamal Khamis. The first half was an excellently balanced selection of songs setting Shakespeare ranging from Purcell's If music be the food of Love to Berlioz's La Mort d'Ophelie, taking in Arne, Schubert, Britten and Quilter; providing some dramatic grit was Joseph Horovitz's terrific A scena from Lady Macbeth (written in 1970). After the interval the French mood continued in fine style with Debussy's Trois Chansons de Bilitis and 3 Duparc songs.  She has a lovely, vibrant voice and the way she performed the French items made me think that hearing her on stage in Berlioz would be a complete delight.

Whately has a number of recitals scheduled as part of the Ferrier Award, so do catch her. Also, she is appearing at the Wigmore Hall with last year's Ferrier Award winner, Njabula Madlala .




Monday, 24 October 2011

Strictly Not Bach

Piano à Deux is a piano duet team consisting of husband and wife Linda Ang Stoodley and Robert Stoodley, both established pianists in their own right. The couple's concert programmes seem to mix established and lesser known piano duet repertoire with their own arrangements; I imagine that these latter bon bouches make a fun constituent in a mix which includes more serious fare, a chance to let their hair down.

On their disc Strictly Not Bach (Piano a Deux PAD  701) they present 9 of their arrangements, confections involving music from Bach to Bizet and Borodin via Gershwin and Youmans. Their preferred style seems to be the old fashioned medley or pot-pourri, familiar from 19th and early 20th century repertoire, and delightful it is. They show a preference for mixing things up, so that one of the their pieces mixes Bach and Cole Porter.

They open with a medley from Kalman's Countess Maritza which captures the Zigeuner mood aptly. Another operetta follows, a very romantic arrangement of Lehar's Dein is Mein Ganzes Herz all arpeggios and atmosphere.

At this point I have to comment on the piano sound. Recorded on a Steinway, quite closely by the sound of it, the top end of the piano has a tendency to sound hard and glassy, I think perhaps a little more reverb atmosphere might have been helpful. This sound might not bother some people, but by the end of the disc I was starting to notice it a lot, after all piano duets tend to use quite a bit of the upper keyboard.

The third item inventively but curiously combines Cole Porter's I Love Paris with Preludes and Fugues from Bach's 48. An arrangement of Bach's Bist du bei mir follows on from this, given rather straighter treatment and is simply beautiful.

Their Carmen Carnival is fun, but I would have liked more darkness, after all Carmen isn't a frothy operetta. In Tea with the King they combine Vincent Youman's Tea for Two with selections from Rogers and Hamerstein's The King and I, an idea which perhaps worked better on paper. I found the arrangement of Stranger in Paradise from Kismet rather stiff and it didn't seem to do justice to it.

Gershwin in Tiers refers to the fact that Robert added an upper part to his existing arrangement of 3 Gershiwin songs (Embraceable You, The Man I love, I got rhythm). This was the arrangement I liked the most, the one which captured the atmosphere of the original peices.

Finally they give a straight and delightful arrangement of Eric Coates' Sleepy Lagoon


This is a disc to dip into, it isn't really a disc to listen to at one sitting, having to do so is one of the perils of reviewing. Frankly I would have liked a little bit of grit in the mix, but if you just choose one or two tracks then it is great fun. My comments about the piano sound apart, this is a delightful disc of sparkling arrangements, charmingly played.

London Song Festival

I posted about this before, when we were privileged to have a preview of the festival, but now the real event is getting closer. The London Song Festival is a series of song recitals, at St. George's Church, Hanover Square on Thursday evenings, organised by artistic director Nigel Foster.

The theme of this year's series is English Song performed by a mixture of established and up and coming young British singers. Roderick Williams will be performing Finzi, Holst, Butterworth, Gurney and Bax settings of Hardy and Housman.  Louise Winter's recital is centred on the poetry of two Victorian women, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Elizabeth Coleridge; they share a centenary this year as Browning died in 1861, the year Coleridge was born. In an interesting programme there will be songs by Dominic Argento, Elgar, Bridge, Quilter, Parry and Ireland.

Other recitals give us Quilter, Britten, Warlock, Walton, Delius, Stanford and Betty Roe setting classic English Romantic Poets, or 20th century English composers setting Jacobean poets, a combination that seems to have been highly popular.

For the final recital on Wednesday 30th November, David Stout and Laura Casey will be singing comedy songs by Flanders and Swann, Coward, Jeremy Nicholas, Betty Roe and John Dankworth.

My only complaint is that there doesn't seem to be anything by Madeleine Dring (Robert Tear's recording of the Song of the Nightclub Proprietress remains an all time favorite), but you can't fit everything in can you!.

Review of The Passenger

Micezyslaw Weinberg's opera The Passenger is one of those pieces that you hope will be a neglected masterpiece. The composer's history, with his fleeing the Nazi's twice, ending up in Soviet Russia where persecution was inevitable, his closeness to Shostakovitch; these all make one want the piece to work. The opera was never performed in his lifetime and received its first performance in concert in 2006, last year's Bregenz Festival production, directed by David Pountney, was its first staging and it is this staging which as come to ENO. We saw it on Saturday 23rd October, the penultimate performance, when the house was disappointing to say the least. The combination of critical reviews and the Holocaust subject matter seem to have kept people away.

Pountney's production with sets by Johann Engels and costumes by Marie-Jeanne Lecca is impressive and richly detailed; perhaps too much so. Engels set presents the ship in which Liese (Michelle Breedt) and Walter (Kim Begley) are travelling to Brazil, as the upper super-structure. Below this is the concentration camp, in which the various acting areas are created by using trucks which roll on a complex network of rails. For those of us that remember some of Pountney's previous productions for ENO, the result is surprisingly traditional and realistic.

Perhaps here we have to acknowledge that there might be a disjoint between presenting the work in a German speaking country and presenting it here. That the subject matter is striking enough to warrant a conservative production; you can't help feeling that if the production had originated at ENO and been destined only for them, that a more expressionistic, less realistic take on the piece might have happened. One which might have helped the critical reaction in the UK. Because, rather puzzlingly, the opera received good notices in Bregenz, but somehow this aura has failed to cross the channel.

Act 1 opens with a long scene for Walter and Liese in which she see someone on the boat whom she recognises as Marta (Giselle Allen) a Polish prisoner in Auschwitz where Liese was an SS Oversseer. The scene then shifts down to the lower levels as Liese unfolds the story.

Weinberg's style is tonal, using a mixture of expressionistic material and popular type melody. In the camp, there is a short scene for 3 SS officers (Gerard O'Connor, Adrian Dwyer, Charles Johnston) which is probably intended to be sardonically funny in the manner of Shostakovitch, but which falls flat and is just objectionable. A very long scene introduces all of the the female inmates, Marta (Giselle Allen), Katya (Julia Sporsen), Krystina (Pamela Helen Stephen), Vlasta (Wendy Dawn Thompson), Hanna (Carolyn Dobbin), Yvetta (Rhian Lois), Old Woman (Helen Field), Bronka (Rebecca de Pont Davies).

Here the weaknesses in Weinberg's style and manner of setting the text are highlighted. We never really sufficiently distinguish between the characters, only one or two are in high enough relief to be memorable and having them all in rags with shaven heads means that they are visually similar. I must confess that I also found Weinberg's vocal lines rather too unmemorable; the music is generally tonal and quite singable, but too often the interest seems to be found in the little snatches and tags of melody in the orchestra. For me, this long and important scene merged into one undifferentiated fog.

Things improve after the interval, as both Marta and Katya have solos which seem to be folk-song based and give moments of painful repose which are poignantly beautiful. Also, there is a terrific scene for Marta and her fiancee Tadeusz (Leigh Melrose), a meeting after being parted in the camp 2 years previously. But we also have another group scene for the women, which despite a couple of touching moments, does not really seem to go anywhere.

It is telling, that the most memorable and dramatic point in the whole opera is the moment when Tadeusz, ordered to play the Kommandant's favourite waltz at a concert, instead launches into the Bach Chaconne (beautifully played on stage by Gonzalo Acosta).

There is a thriller element to the plot as on the cruise liner, but librettist Alexander Medvedev seems to waste the opportunity and leaves us with loose ends. Walter and Liese struggle to come to terms with Liese's revelations and they worry about whether or not the woman really is Marta. There is a dramatic moment when Marta asks the ship's band to play the Kommandant's favourite waltz and Liese goes to confront Marta. We never see the results of this confrontation, the scene changes back to the camp and then we have the modern day Marta alone with her memories. On the liner, Liese never does confront Marta and we never really find out if it is truly she.

Frankly, I wanted more of Walter and Liese and less of the camp. Weinberg's music for the Holocaust scenes is earnest, occasionally moving and poignant, but does not provide enough real meat, real drama for the horrifying material. Pountney's decision to play these scenes realistically does not help, on-stage beatings and men clearing out the ashes from the ovens, do  not really help when the cast are patently well fed and not suffering.

The singing and playing was uniformly excellent with Giselle Allen contributing a towering performance as Marta. Michelle Breedt made  a find Liese, coping well with the schizophrenic nature of the role as the character slipped between time zones. Kim Begley was a supportive Walter, and I'd have liked to have heard more from him, have developed this character more. Similarly Leigh Melrose's Tadeusz was underwritten, especially as his moment of defiance was a non-vocal one.

This was quite a long evening in the theatre with two acts of 75 minutes or more. Judicious pruning might make the piece a little more incisive and create more dramatic impact in the music. As it was we came out admiring the performances but for me the jury is still out on Weinberg's music; I can't help feeling we want Weinberg's operas to work so that they can be the operas that Shostakovitch didn't write, and frankly there are not.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Recent CD reviews

My review of a disc of Penalosa masses from Westminster Cathedral Choir, under James O'Donnell  (recorded in 1992) is here.

Vibrant and involving performances. This disc is intensely seductive.


And my review of a disc of Haydn masses from Naxos is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.


A fine disc particularly the wonderfully joyous account of the HarmonieMesse.





Gounod's Mireille

New Sussex Opera are doing a short run of performance's of Gounod's Mireille, his Provencal based tragedy which has always had a strong following of admirers. London performances of the piece have been relatively rare. ENO mounted a production for Valerie Masterson, and then the piece popped up again during the rather curious season when the theatre was half-way through re-building and full of scaffolding. I didn't see the first, and the second did not seem to do justice to the Provencal atmosphere of Gounod's piece.

New Sussex Opera, conducted by Nicholas Jenkins, will be performing a reconstruction of Gounod's original 5-act version, which will be interesting and, we hope, illuminating. The performances are semi-staged and feature Sally Silver in the title role. Catch it at Lewes Town Hall (2/11/2011), Devonshire Park Eastbourne (6/11/2011) and at London's Cadogan Hall (8/11/2011)

Cor!

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something bebop.

Alison Teale, the principal cor anglais player with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, has produced a new CD entitled simply Cor! Issued on the Oboe Classics label (CC2023) it is a recital disc with pianist Elizabeth Burley and consists entirely of music for cor anglais and piano ranging from the baroque to the contemporary, some pieces original, others in transcription.

Now, most of us have heard the cor anglais, the symphonic repertoire has quite a few moments when a cor anglais contributes a beautiful, often soulful melody. But Teale feels that the instrument is capable of more than this and this recital demonstrates this admirably.

The disc opens with the Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo, a wonderful, darkly expressive start to the disc and it works surprisingly well in transcription for just cor anglais and piano, even though Falla's original orchestration is vividly colourful.

In the liner notes, Teale describes playing baroque music as 'like eating a wholesome meal of brown rice and vegetables; cleansing and pure'. I did wonder whether the sonata by Robert Valentine (1680 - 1735) was more interesting to play that it is to listen to. Valentine originally wrote it for recorder and the 4 movements (slow, fast, slow, fast) are nicely constructed and fine played, without ever going further. Still, it does enable Teale to show us that the cor anglais can contribute a beautiful sense of line and colour in this style of music.

This is followed by a transcription of Messiaen's early Vocalise, originally written for voice in piano, here given in a sinuously attractive account with the long lines spun out. In complete contrast, Michael Berkeley's Snake for unaccompanied cor anglais is jagged and vicious, this snake bites. The piece is based on a short story by D. H. Lawrence, though for me the more mellifluous episodes conjured the more exotic east.

It was a nice piece of programming to follow this with the 2nd movement of the Ravel piano concerto, thus allowing a long solo moment for pianist Elizabeth Burley to contrast with the previous unaccompanied cor anglais. Burley plays sensitively and we are never left with the feeling that this is merely a piano transcription. When the cor anglais comes in for the recapitulation the mood is continued nicely, with some beautifully poised playing from both performers.

Piazolla's Nightclub 1960 was originally written for flute and guitar and allows the performers to let their hair down a bit, though this is Piazzolla's tango nuevo, with lots of subtle influences from classical music and from jazz.

Rubbra's Duo was commissioned by the Dutch oboist, Paul Bree, and is a melacholic and thoughtful piece, with some radiant moments and lines of haunting beauty.

Alessandro Lucchetti (born 1958) mixes all sorts of influences in his music, rock, jazz and others. His Rock Song No 3 is technically demanding and brilliantly played, full of frenzy and extremes. Written in 1986, it seems to introduce elements of a Prokofiev piano sonata in the the rock and jazz world.

Eugene Bozza (1905 - 1991) is evidently best known to brass and wind players, he is  name new to me. His Divertissement is another technically demanding piece, very French and impressionistic with dark and exotic moments.

In contrast, Hindemith's Sonata is full of expressionism and modernist neo-classicism; written in 1941 after Hindemith had fled to the USA (and classed as an enemy alien). It is a slightly unsettled piece, using 6 short movements in alternating slow and fast is traditional baroque style.

Saint-Saens The Swan needs no introduction, suffice it to say that Teale plays it with style and convinces you that Saint-Saens must have been thinking about the cor anglais all along.

Antonio Pasculli's (1842 - 1924) operatic fantasy on an aria from Un Ballo in Maschera is a wonderful bit of dazzling fun, especially as Pasculli ignores the tragic import of Amelia's aria and finishing in a thrillingly fun finish.

As finale we then have the delight of the Bebop tango from David Gordon (born 1965), in Gordon's lovely arrangement done specially for Teale.

On this disc Alison Teale succeeds admirably in conveying the multifaceted personality of the cor anglais. But the recital is far more than admirable, it is at times entrancing. Playing from Alison Teale and her accompanist, Elizabeth Burley is uniformly high. Teale encompasses some pretty heavy technical demands without ever making us really notice anything but the music. Burley is a fine accompanist and manages the difficult feat of making orchestral transcriptions sound perfectly natural on the piano.

If you've ever been curious about what the cor anglais can do, then do buy the disc; and if you haven't, then you'll be missing a treat if you don't.



Saturday, 22 October 2011

BREMF on 3

The Brighton Early Music Festival was featured live on Radio 3 today (on the Early Music Show) which gave a sampler of all the things I'm going to miss this year (again!). The theme of the festival is Dance, so that there is a semi-staged, danced version of Purcell's Fairy Queen, music by Hildegard of Bingen with dance, a concert by the BREMF choir featuring music from Plainchant to Spem in Alium. We are hoping to get to the festival next weekend, we'll probably miss the Saturday extravaganza, BREMF at White Night: Dance meets Utopia which seems to be free (!). But have our eye on   the Joglaresa concert, Dancing Girls of Granada. (Totally unrelated, but many years ago I wrote a part-song setting Helen Waddell's Dancing Girl poem, translated from early Latin.). Do visit the website,
http://www.bremf.org.uk/

Friday, 21 October 2011

http://www.bamseries.com/

Another organisation supporting British Music has appeared on the horizon, the British Art Music Series. The group is a music trust founded by Ben Fleetwood-Smyth and the aim is to support a laudable list of British composers. The first concert is on Nov 11th at Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, London. When Hugh Brunt will conduct the BAM Consort and Ensemble in a programme themed on Armistice Day in aid of the Army Benevolent Fund. Could be an interesting idea, but as yet, the web-site does not appear to give details of the programme.
Last night we went to hear Kaija Saariaho's cello concerto, Notes on Light, Liszt's Piano Sonata in B minor and Faure's Requiem. A slightly strange mixture for a concert, you might think, except that this wasn't a concert, it was an evening at the Royal Ballet. We tend not to think of the ballet from a musical point of view, but contemporary choreographers' choice of music can be quite interesting and challenging. I can remember when Glen Tetley's ballet Shadowplay was in the Royal Ballet repertoire which meant that Floral Street was probably the only place in London where you could hear Charles Koechlin's music live.

Last night, though, we were at the Royal Ballet principally for the dance and the choreographers. It was my first exposure to Wayne McGregor's fascinating Limen. Most of McGregor's previous work had been with dancers trained in modern dance, rather than with a classical vocabulary so that Limen is a work which seemed to stretch both choreographer and dancers as each accommodate the other. And it was also the first time that I had heard Saariaho's fascinating and, at times, luminous score, with the solo cello part played by Anssi Karttunen. The only drawback was that, from our seats, we could not see the cellist which was a shame.

The middle ballet was Marguerite and Armand, Frederick Ashton's celebration of the relationship between Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev. I saw the ballet when it was revived for Sylvie Guillem and then I found it rather forgettable, 'is that all there is...'. Perhaps it was one of those roles where we saw too much of Guillem's own personality rather than the characters. But for this revival we had Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin and they certainly made the stage sizzle in just the right way, this revival was pitch perfect. My only niggle was Dudley Simpson's orchestration of the Liszt piano sonata, neatly done though it was; I kept wondering what the ballet would have been like if pianist Robert Clark had been allowed to play the whole sonata in its original, unorchestrated, form.

One issue with listening to ballets is that, of course, the speeds are not necessarily what one wants, the conductor has to be generally sympathetic to choreographic and dancers requirements. I can remember a BBC TV programme about Les Noces in which the Royal Ballet danced Nijinska's choreography in a TV studio version of the ballet in their repertoire. Except that the conductor was Leonard Bernstein and some of the dancers said afterwards how taxing it had been because Bernstein's speeds, generally brisk, took little or no account of the needs of dancers feet!

This applied very much to the final work in the evening, Faure's Requiem. Barry Wordsworth paced this quite steadily and encouraged a massive, rather old fashioned performance from the Royal Opera Chorus and Orchestra. I have heard the piece done at the opera house with a bought in chamber choir, but here we had the full, vibrato-laden operatic chorus approach which seemed to fit with the stately grandeur of the musical performance. Not that MacMillan's ballet is all stately grandeur, but it relies on the music's massive power and I do wonder what the dance would be like if accompanied by a chamber version of the music.

MacMillan's choreography is something that has accompanied the whole of my theatre going life. My first ballet was MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet which we saw when I was in my teens. After that I managed to see a remarkable number of his ballets as they were produced, though of course I did not see Requiem until it was finally done at Covent Garden. It never fails to amaze me how he manages to create so many places where music and movement combine in a heart-stopping moment. Last night was finely danced by Lauren Cuthertson, Nehemiah Kish and Federico Bonelli.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Review of When a Man Knows in Tempo Magazine

The current issue of Tempo Magazine (published October 14 by Cambridge University Press) includes  Jill Barlow's review of When a Man Knows. Further details of the magazine here.

Her view is nicely positive, even though she seems to have been there the night we had lighting problems. I've put three sample quotes below:-

'sung with due dramatic impact by young baritone Dario Dugandzic, the ‘Man’. In fact his remarkably buoyant, fulsome tones throughout were most memorable, and the main highlight of this unusually stark drama. ‘I’m only just developing my voice, trying to explore’, he said when I congratulated this young singer from Yugoslavia after the show. With the distinguished baritone Ian Caddy directing this opera, I’m not surprised Dugandzic got to give of his best.'


'The opera is well delivered and directed, with an interesting score that has expressive arias, recitatives, duets, with much of the dialogue between man and woman over a ground bass. The idiom is tonal, but one of the Woman’s final arias uses a 12-tone row, as she bloodthirstily lists the torments he will endure during his slow death:'

I liked it too. Hugill is clearly a composer of discernment, imagination, and drive, and his score encompassed many a gem, including an arioso, fearsome duet with the Man, as the Woman spells out her plan of revenge, with torrid passages for violin, cello and piano, and a cliff-hanger at the end. At the sound of a banging door the woman departs. All we hear is the dripping tap. Silence. Then chorus: ‘Will she be back ?’




All quotations from Jill Barlow's review in  
If you want to read the full article then you can visit the web-site and rent it at a very reasonable fee.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Oboe Concert at Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Last night we dropped into the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Lecture Recital hall for a concert by members of Oboe Club under the auspices of Alison Teale who teaches at GSMD. The concert featured a remarkable amount of oboe team-work, culminating in a wonderful performance of David Gordon's Queen's Farewell Stomp by 10 oboes, 3 cors anglais and 2 bassoons.

Before this lively finale we heard Dutilleux's dramatic and Poulenc-esque Oboe Sonata followed a charmingly characterful trio by Telemann for 2 oboes and bassoon. Schumann's 1st Romance is one of the few major romantic works written for the oboe in the 19th century; a lovely piece, full of long lines. Four oboists gave us a lively rendition of Mouret's Rondeau; the composer is 18th century French and the piece is about the only one in his output which still has modern currency. Kalliwoda's Morceau de Salon was a wonderful period piece, going from lyric melody to showy passages.

Arne Running's Quodlibet, for oboe and cor anglais gave us snippets from all of the major oboe and cor anglais solos in the orchestra repertoire. Rather helpfully one of the other performers held up notices indicating which theme was which, a rather nice touch. Rather more serious fun in the 3rd movement of Poulenc's trio for Oboe, Bassoon and Piano which received a nicely classy performance. Azzoni's Fantasie Pastorale for 3 oboes and piano was a nice period piece, reflecting Azzoni's operatic background (he worked at the Met).

All in all a most enjoyable concert and a chance to hear a wide range of fine oboists ranging from first years through to those studying for master and doing post-graduate study.

Review of ETO's Xerxes

My review of English Touring Opera's new production of Handel's Xerxes is here, with some very handsome photos of the production, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Monday, 10 October 2011

Britten War Requiem at the Barbican

It seemed a remarkable co-incidence that the weekend that saw us going to the Barbican to hear the LSO performing Britten's War Requiem also saw the fascinating documentary on BBC4 on Rostropovich. Full of archive footage and interviews with pupils, and his family (Galina Vishnevskaya and their two daughters), the documentary was profoundly illuminating about Rostropovich the man and the musician.

I associate him with the War Requiem because during the 1980's when I was in the London Philharmonic Choir, he conducted the work at the Royal Festival Hall with the LPO and a cast which included Vishnevskaya.  As a conductor Rostropovitch seemed to spend an alarming time telling funny stories to the choir, but still seemed to be able to have the finely tuned ear to pull apart brass fanfares and put them together again properly. Working under him on the War Requiem was an incredible experience.

Sunday's performance of the work was intended to be conducted by Sir Colin Davis but he was replaced by Gianandrea Noseda, a conductor I know mainly be reputation. The stage at the Barbican Hall was full to overflowing. In fact, it had been brought so far forward that I did wonder quite how many seats in the stalls had a full view of the stage. Certainly our seats, labelled restricted view, had a view so restricted that we could see none of the soloists, but had a wonderful view of the rear first violins including some truly fabulous shoes. Luckily there were some empty seats so we were able to trade up, once the doors had shut.

Noseda seems to be a conductor who involves himself a great deal in what the chorus were doing, it was highly illuminating to watch him conducting them. The result was a highly detailed, rather stunning performance from the London Symphony Chorus in which text and quietness seemed paramount; not something that always happens in a work with so many noisy passages.

The male soloists were Ian Bostridge and Simon Keenlyside. I don't think I have heard Bostridge do anything better; he seemed deeply attuned to the music and the distinctive way that Britten set Wilfred Owen's poetry. The result was less highly mannered than some of his performances, instead it was thoughtful, committed and seemed to be strongly felt. Keenlyside was equally strong, with a comparable feeling for the words and even, at times, seeming to me to evoke the spirit of Fischer Dieskau in the music.

The soprano soloist was a young lyric soprano from Slovenia, Sabina Cvilak. On a crowded stage, she had the disadvantage of being placed with the choir, behind the orchestra. Whilst her voice did not have the edge to it that Vishnevskaya brought to the part,  Cvilak displayed a nicely focussed lyric voice, with something of a Slavic edge to it which meant that she soared nicely over the orchestra and cut through in just the right way. There seems to be something slightly implacable about Britten's writing for the soprano solo in this work, which Cvilak captured well.

The orchestra, needless to say, were also on fine form, with the fanfares and trenchant marches, has always evoked for me the First War rather than the Second and here, at times the results were shattering.

Review of ETO's Fairy Queen

My review of English Touring Opera's new production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen, directed by Thomas Guthrie, is here on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Sunday, 9 October 2011

London Handel Festival

The London Handel Festival have published their programme for next year's festival. Highlights include a staging of Riccardo Primo at the Royal College of Music. At St. George's Church, Hanover Square, Handel's Messiah will be presented in the original 1742 Dublin version, a rare outing for this version of the piece. Also at St. George's will be a performance of the 1712 version of Il Pastor Fido given by La Nuova Musica. There are the usual regulars such as the Handel Singing Competition, visits from the Southbank Sinfonia Baroque, Trinity Laban Baroque Orchestra, the Guildhall Baroque Orchestra and the annual performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. As well as a concert performance of Hasse's Cajo Fabricio by Ensemble Serse, the work's modern premiere.

Recent CD Review

My review of Gounod's last Requiem Mass is here,on MusicWeb International

If you are attracted by Gounod’s sacred music then this recording merits attention. Otherwise not of general interest.  

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Belcea Quartet's Beethoven Cycle

Tomorrow (Sunday 2nd October) sees the start of the Belcea Quartet's cycle of concerts covering the complete Beethoven Quartets. The quartet are splitting the quartets over 6 concerts, each concert consisting of an early, a middle and a late quartet finishing with the B flat major quartet, Opus 130 No.13 complete with the Grosse Fuge.

Each concert will be performed in 4 locations, London's Wigmore Hall, Hamburg's Laeiszhalle, St. George's in Liverpool and the Sage, Gateshead. The first concert done in Hamburg on Sunday, with repeats at the Wigmore Hall (Monday 3rd), Liverpool (4th) and Gateshead (9th). The concert series is then roughly one group per month, finishing in June. So you have plenty of time to absorb this challenging music, before moving to the next concert.

Since 2006 the quartet have had a residency at the Guildhall School, where they coach chamber music and give masterclasses; in addition two of the quartet's players have individual pupils and the school.

In a move which is becoming increasing common, a CD set will be released in the Autumn. This will be ensemble's first live recording, in some ways a daring move considering the challenges of the quartet cycle, but one which will, I think, be repaid in the opportunities for spontaneity and vividness. With good quartet playing, there is much to be caught 'on the wing' when a group plays and interacts live, subtle elements which can easily be ironed out in the studio recording. So, though a live recording can be a challenge for the ensemble, it can bring immense rewards. The recording is being made at the Snape Maltings rather than on the wing at one of the concert.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Some gleanings from this month's Opera magazine.

George Benjamin's new opera Written on Skin will be premiered at the Aix Festival next year, with the composer conducting and Katie Mitchell directing. (Further research brings the information that a strong cast will include Bejun Mehta, Barbara Hannigan, Victoria Simmonds, Allan Clayton and Christopher Purves. The libretto is by Martin Crimp who wrote the libretto to Benjamin's previous opera, the truly wonderful Into the Little Hill. We are promised that the opera will be coming to Covent Garden, so Hurrah!).

David Daniels will be creating the title role in Theodore Morrison's new opera Oscar based on Oscar Wilde, with a libretto by the veteran opera director John Cox.

The magazine also included a review of Heritage Opera's performance of Jonathan Dove's Mansfield Park. Dove's opera is deliberately small scale, suited to touring and uses a piano duet as accompaniment. The librettist is Alasdair Middleton who has worked on a number of Dove's other operatic projects. Roderic Dunnett's enthusiastic review was of a performance at Townley Hall in Burnely. Let's hope that we Londoners get a chance to hear the piece as well.