Tuesday, 30 June 2015

St Albans International Organ Festival

From 4 July 2015, a feast of all things organ (and plenty of other musical activities) takes over St Albans for the 28th St Albans International Organ Festival, under the eye of Artistic Director David Titterington. At the heart of the festival are the competitions when, across thirteen rounds, organists compete for the prizes in Interpretation and Improvisation culminating in the Finals on 17 July and the Presentation of Awards and Prizewinners Concert on 18 July 2015 at the Cathedral. This year the Interpretation Finals will be for a performance of a Handel organ concerto with the Orchester Wiener Akademie, conducted by Martin Haselböck.

The Martin Haselböck and the orchestra will also be giving a concert in their own right in the cathedral on 17 July 2015 when they perform music by Biber, Haydn and Mozart. Other highlights include the premiere of a Festival commission from James MacMillan, Noli Pater for choir, organ and bass Iona triple pipe. The work will feature chant from the Incholm Antiphoner and be performed by Bernhard Haas (organ), Barnaby Brown (Northumbrian pipes) and the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, conductor Geoffrey Webber. The choirs of Christ Church, Oxford, Westminster Cathedral and St Albans Cathedral will be combining for a concert conducted by Martin Baker, Stephen Darlington and Andrew Lucas. Soprano Joan Rogers will be accompanied by Christopher Glynn (on the piano!) for a programme of Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Wolf, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky.

There are organ recitals by a variety of distinguished organist as well as the jury members, James O'Donnell, Michel Bouvard, Carole Terry. Swedish organist Hans Davidsson will be combining the music of George Böhm and Arvo Pärt with dance.

Full information from the festival website.

Queen of Spades at English National Opera

Queen of Spades - English National Opera - photo credit Donald Cooper
Queen of Spades - English National Opera - photo credit Donald Cooper
Tchaikovsky Queen of Spades; Peter Hoare, Giselle Allen, Felicity Palmer, dir: David Alden, cond: Edward Gardner; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jun 6 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Gothic horror riot, with fine individual performances

Felicity Palmer - Queen of Spades - English National Opera - photo credit Donald Cooper
Felicity Palmer - photo credit Donald Cooper
ENO's 'Queen of Spades' was a Gothic horror riot. Directed by David Alden, choreographed by Lorena Randi and with music conducted by Edward Gardner, there was just enough humour to offset the dark and dangerous themes.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) wrote 'Queen of spades' in 1890 in only 44 days. Depressed and exhausted with the public life of a composer in Russia, Tchaikovsky disappeared to Florence to write. He had already planned to work on Alexander Pushkin's1834 story 'Queen of Spades', basing the opera on a libretto written by his brother Modest and theatre manager Ivan Vsevolozhsky. The two brothers collaborated throughout, with Pyotr Ilyich ruthlessly cutting and rewriting Modest's work as he sped through the composition. 'Queen of Spades' had its premiere later that year in St Petersburg, and was an immediate success.

Following 'Eugene Onegin' in 1878, and 'Mazeppa' 1883, this was the third of Pushkin's stories to be set by Tchaikovsky. The story was already popular and gamblers believed in the luck of the 3, 7 and Ace prophesied to be winning cards. In more modern times a Russian TV quiz show uses Herman's aria from Act 3 as its theme tune.

Saint-Saens's Samson et Dalila at Grange Park Opera

Carl Tanner & ensemble - Samson et Dalila - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Carl Tanner & ensemble - Samson et Dalila - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Saint-Saens Samson et Dalila; Carl Tanner, Sara Fulgoni, Michel de Souza, dir: Patrick Mason, cond: Gianluca Marciano, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 28 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Imaginative re-casting of Saint-Saens biblical epic

Sara Fulgoni - Samson et Dalila - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Sara Fulgoni
photo credit Robert Workman
Despite the popularity of some of its music, Saint-Saens' opera Samson et Dalila is not a regular visitor to the UK opera stage. Covent Garden's 1981 production (designed by Sidney Nolan) gets revived intermittently (it's last outing was in 2004), but the opera does not get out much elsewhere. Now that Saint-Saens reputation as an opera composer is slowly being reassessed (Buxton did his opera La princesse jaune, whilst his grand opera Les Barbares has recently had a critical welcome on disc), it is surely a chance to re-visit his opera/oratorio Samson et Dalila, a work which is far more than simply a lovely mezzo-soprano aria.

At Grange Park Opera, Patrick Mason's new production faced the work's difficulties head one by completely avoiding the biblical setting and translating it to the period of intense anti-semitism in the Vichy Republic in France. The translocation required a bit a suspension of disbelief but the main thrust of the plot was brilliantly handled with a superb theatrical coup at the end. And Francis O'Connor set the piece in some highly stylish designs.

Carl Tanner sang Samson, with Sara Fulgoni as Dalila (now something of a celebrity filmstar), Nicholas Folwell as Abimelech, Christophoros Stamboglis as the Old Hebrew (now the Rabbi), Michel de Souza as the High Priest of Dagon (now the head of the local SS), with Edmond Choo, Roberto Abate, Matthew Thistleton and Carter Jeffries. Patrick Mason directed, with designs by Francis O'Connor, choreography by Nikki Woollaston and lighting by Paul Keogan.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Carmina Burana at St Martin in the Fields

SMITF
On Friday 3 July 2015 there is a chance to hear all five of the choirs based at the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, singing together for the first time. Under the baton of Andrew Earis they will be performing Carl Orff's iconic cantata Carmina Burana plus Eric Whitacre's Cloudburst and Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. The Orff will be accompanied by piano (four hands) and percussion, and before you sniff it is worth bearing in mind that the fuller two piano (eight hands) and percussion version was the composer's preferred version. I sang in the work as a student, conducted by one of Orff's students and he was firm in his opinion that Orff preferred the two piano (eight hands) and percussion version to the version with full orchestra.

The five choirs involved are the Choral Scholars of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a choir formed annual of 12 promising young singers, St Martin’s Voices, a professional vocal ensemble, the Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields which is formed of singers from all walks of life, Children’s Voices of St Martin-in-the-Fields a choir of seven to thirteen-year-olds formed in spring 2014 and the most recently formed choir, St Martin’s Chorus a voluntary choir that offers singers the chance to perform big choral works, as well as more intimate, chamber choir repertoire.

Further information from the St. Martin-in-the-Fields website.

Living programme notes, spectral music and straw bales - 2015 with the Muti-Storey Orchestra

The Multi-Storey Orchestra
Following on from its successful season last year, the Multi-Storey Orchestra is back for a season of concerts in its Peckham car park. Programmes include a new work by Kate Whitley, setting words by Sabrina Mahfouz which will be performed by a choir of 100 Peckham school children alongside The Multi-Storey Orchestra. Then there will be Aaron Copland's Apalachian Spring.

Even more amazingly there will be performances of the first three parts of Grisey's amazing Les Espaces Acoustiques, a milestone of French Spectral music and one of the defining works of the 20th century. This multi-part score, written in the 1970's by French composer Gerard Grisey (1946-1998) uses different scorings for each of the parts and was written after Grisey returned from his stay in Rome as a result of winning the Prix de Rome.

The final event of the season is a performance of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony preceded by a Living Programme Note directed by Fraser Trainer and Matthew Barley in which the audience will be taken on a unique and personal encounter with the symphony across all four levels of the car park.

There is also a new chamber music series, with performances of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time and John Cage's Living Room Music in an auditorium made of straw bales - the strawditorium!

Concert season runs from 1 July 2015 to 13 September, see the orchestra's website.

La Bohème at Grange Park Opera

Gianluca Terranova, Susana Gaspar, Kelebogile Besong, Quirijn de Lang, Nicholas Crawley, Brett Polegato - La Boheme - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Gianluca Terranova, Susana Gaspar, Kelebogile Besong, Quirijn de Lang, Nicholas Crawley, Brett Polegato - La Boheme - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Puccini La Bohème; Susana Gaspar, Gianluca Terranova, Brett Polegato, Kelebogile Besong, Quirijn de Lang, Nicholas Crawley, dir: Stephen Medcalf, cond: Stephen Barlow, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 27 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Finely balanced and satisfying production of this perennial

Puccini's La Bohème is a beautifully crafted mechanism which does not need any tinkering with, and the great virtue of Stephen Medcalf's new production at Grange Park Opera paid the work the compliment of taking it seriously, playing it with a detailed sense of naturalism in the actin. The finely balance cast featured Susana Gaspar as Mimi, Gianluca Terranova as Rodolfo, Brett Polegato as Marcello, Kelebogile Besong as Musetta, Quirijn de Lang as Schaunard, Nicholas Crawley as Colline, Nicholas Folwell as Benoit and Alcindoro, Robert Abate as Parpignol. Designs were by Jamie Vartan, with movement by Lynne Hockney and lighting by Paul Keogan. Stephen Barlow conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.

Gianluca Terranova, Susana Gaspar, - La Boheme - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Gianluca Terranova, Susana Gaspar
photo credit Robert Workman
Stephen Medcalf did have one pensée. The production explored the idea, present in Henri Murge's Scènes de la vie de bohème but not really reflected in Puccini's opera,  that la vie de bohème was a state of mind, the young men were not struggling students but had come to Paris to live the bohemian life.

So the production started with the four young men, Gianluca Terranova's Rodolfo, Brett Polegato's Marcello, Quirijn de Lang's Schaunard, and Nicholas Crawley's Colline, entering through two large doors at the back, removing their grand clothes and dressing in the bohemian style. At the end, after the death of Mimi (Susana Gaspar), the reverse happened. The drawback from this interesting approach was that some people found the ending rather harsh (I didn't; I found it rather moving), but the real big advantage was that the four male leads played their age. We had the undeniable advantage of mature singers like Gianluca Terranova and Brett Polegato as Rodolfo and Marcello, without the embarrassment of them trying to pretend to be young students.

The beauty of the productions by Stephen Medcalf that I have seen (such as Eugene Onegin and Capriccio at Grange Park Opera, and Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton) is the finely detailed interaction between the cast members. This was true of La Bohème where the romantic melodrama of the plot was underpinned by a lovely sense of the relationships between the principals. The production was full of moments which illuminated small details of the opera.

The setting, by Jamie Vartan, was essentially a fixed room, full of detritus from which the cast assembled the settings of each scene, with a selection of evocative objects (stove, musical instruments etc) hanging down from the flies. The only real miscalculation was at the end of Act One, when one of the walls moved to give Rodolfo and Mimi a dramatic exit, but this meant that Susana Gaspar and Gianluca Terranova's climactic duet was accompanied by the clunking of scenery moving.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Creating domains where people can have a fabulous night out with amazing music - An encounter with Matthew Sharp (part 2)

Part 2 of my interview with cellist, baritone and re:naissance man Matthew Sharp

Matthew Sharp
Continued from Part 1: Talking to Matthew Sharp, I become aware of how interconnected his thinking always it. He constantly refers to other art-forms and seems to be least interested in classical music for its own sake, it is communication which counts. He is also clearly highly literate, and quotes from Shakespeare pop up in conversation in the most natural way possible. He is a profoundly engaging speaker, and I can see how this transfers to his performances with audiences.
 
And it is not just the performance that concerns him, but the whole concert hall package. He refers to a video on YouTube, genre hopping with Chris Thile, where Thile talks about attending a performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony and feeling such a visceral thrill he wanted to should 'YES' but was told to pipe down. Matthew has great sympathy, and wants the performance to be about that visceral thrill, not the need to sit quietly. He talks of creating domains where people can have a fabulous night out with amazing music, so that they are free flowing without traditional etiquette.

In 1888, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Greig all met at a lunch


As a performer who is clearly 'of the moment', I was curious about Matthew's attitude to recording, especially as he has so many planned. But he is happy to work with the genre and finds satisfaction in doing something again and again until it is right, but it also has to feel vital and real. He has so far been rather put off recording significant works from the canon as he expresses a dissatisfaction with the genre. He is in discussions about doing recordings of major works, and for these they will bring more of a context to the disc including spoken word and something of what Matthew calls 'a reflection back from the era'. His intention is that works will not be abstracted, but will come from 'an expressed embodied world'. He talks about doing something around the Brahms cello sonatas and is fascinated by the fact that in 1888, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Grieg all met at a lunch, and all composed significant works for cello within five years of that date. Diary entries from Tchaikovsky and from Anna Brodsky (hostess of the lunch party) also record the event, so he can combine the performances with reportage and songs by the composers too.

Tommy Foggo, superhero


Tommy Foggo
Tommy Foggo
Another major project coming up is his new 'interactive musical adventure for 7 to 14-year-olds'. This is entitled Tommy Foggo, superhero and will involve just Matthew and his cello, singing, playing and storytelling. There will be audience participation, with audience members involved in the action, and group music making. Again, we return to Matthew's concept of a porous relationship between performer and audience. It concerns a young boy, Tommy Foggo, who is left behind by his mother and who gains a sentient cello. This work returns to Matthew's concern with the way we address children in the classical music world, and he sees it as important that they listen as children and not as adults.

The work will be going on a UK tour in the Autumn, visiting schools and children's theatres. The piece is being developed by Matthew with music by composer Steven Deazley and words by Martin Riley. They are the same team with whom Matthew worked on his previous show, Death's Cabaret - a love story, a cabaret concerto. The idea for this was born of long years of dragging friends along to formal concerts with them saying that they don't know enough about classical music to have an opinion. For Matthew this is something rather bizarre about the relationship in classical music between the audiences and the work. If they went to an art show, most people would have an opinion so he wanted to 'prod the audience into reacting'. He called it a cabaret because you can do al sorts and that a soloist in a concerto is a little like the MC in a cabaret. He performed it with a string quartet, or with an orchestra. The work is about love and loss, and Matthew felt that if the performance was of top quality, then the audience hardly noticed the music as they were moved by the material. He has just given the work's US premiere. For Matthew, the children's shows are part of a continuum which he feels is important for an artist; 'As performers, if you engage with different audiences you see the possibilities of the art form, and refresh your child-like spirit especially for knackered musicians charging round the world.'

In Greek, melos means both limb and melody


Matthew Sharp
Matthew Sharp
Other plans include a new concerto with the London Contemporary Orchestra and Stopgap Dance Company. Entitled Incantatio, it features music by the Swiss-French composer Richard Dubugnon. Having done some R&D, they are currently in the planning stages for 2016. This work brings in another of Matthew's interests, the combination of music and gesture. Matthew asks me if I know what melos means; in Greek the word means both limb and melody. Matthew is interesting in the way the two combine; he points out that people listen by watching each other's bodies, and that 55% of communication is through body language. He explains that when telling a story, you need both intention and inflection controlling the ebb and flow of speed and meaning, and for Matthew it is the same in music. If you are clear about your intention, then inflection comes as long as you ensure your gestures are free enough. As with much else that Matthew does, the issue returns back to one of communication, ensuring that the performer communicates as strongly as possible with the audience, and Matthew talks about this combination of securely rooted sound and gesture as visceral.

Our conversation managed to encompass many, but not all, facets of Matthew Sharp's interests, ranging from singing and cello playing, to directing and informing music through gesture, not to mention working with children. What became clear was that each of these is not a discreet area, all blend into each other and clearly inform each other in Matthew's creative imagination. The result is a performer who sees far fewer boundaries than some, and for whom the issue of mutual communication with the audience is paramount.

Elsewhere on this blog:

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Virtuosity with a human touch - An encounter with Matthew Sharp (part 1)

Matthew Sharp
Matthew Sharp
Matthew Sharp does not so much have a career, as a portfolio of careers as performing as a cellist and singing as a baritone, often combining the two, as well as including directing and running the arts centre Revelation St Mary's in Ashford, Kent. Matthew has recently become Artist in Association with the English Symphony Orchestra, artistic director Ken Woods, and I met up with Matthew over coffee at the Barbican to chat about his plans.

Matthew Sharp
Matthew Sharp
The role with the English Symphony Orchestra is relatively flexible and open ended, intended to last around two or three years. Essentially Matthew feels that Ken and the orchestra are kindred spirits in a quest to extend the boundaries of what classical music is, and how it is presented, combining virtuosity with a human touch which connects with audiences. Planned events in the residency included a lunchtime concert in Worcester Cathedral as part of the four days Magna Carta celebrations, which included Plain Truths by the American composer Kile Smith, with Matthew singing baritone. Looking ahead they are planning some concerto recordings, which extend from standard repertory to the rather more unusual, including the Hans Gal Concertino, the Prokofiev Concertino, Elgar's Cello Concerto and John Tavener's Protecting Veil.

'I want listeners to realise that life is truly beautiful.' - Shostakovich


Matthew Sharp - poster at Kings Place
Matthew Sharp - poster at Kings Place
Perhaps the biggest project that Matthew Sharp is planning with the English Symphony Orchestra is a staging of Shostakovich's Fourteenth Symphony.

Friday, 26 June 2015

The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain - NYCGB Summerfest

NYCGB Summerfest
The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) is inaugurating a new Summer festival, what is described at the biggest youth choral festival in the UK. Running from 1 July to 29 August 2015, five hundred young singers will perform in seven counties, bringing a Summerfest event within easy reach of 13 million people around the UK. There will be premieres of new works by Jonathan Dove, Nico Muhly and Pete Churchill, and collaborations with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, Crioch Quartet folk ensemble and youth bands and choirs from County Durham. For many performances, under 25's can get tickets for £5 and the Summerfest will be targeting areas of low choral engagement, in partnership with local Music Hubs.

Things kick off on 1 July 2015, at Southwark Cathedral as part of the City of London Festival, when National Youth Chamber Choir and National Youth Jazz Orchestra present a Shakespearian themed programme with the world premiere of Journey’s End by Pete Churchill co-commissioned by City of London Festival and BRASS 2015, plus Shakespeare settings by Ben Parry, Janet Wheeler, RVW, Ward Swingle, the Swedish composer Nils Lindberg and the young British composer Owain Park. The programme will be presented in re-worked form on 16 July 2015 in Durham as part of BRASS: Durham International Festival where the choir will be collaborating with Durham County Youth Choir, Darlington Youth Choir and Durham County Youth Big Band.

Full details of all the events are on the NYCGB website.

Le Concert Spirituel in Vivaldi and Campra

Le Concert Spirituel - Copyright Eric Manas
Le Concert Spirituel - Copyright Eric Manas
Vivaldi and Campra; Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 25 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Seductive sound and seriously brilliant music making in a concert exploring the sound of upper voices

Hervé Niquet and Le Concert Spirituel brought a programme of Andre Campra and Antonio Vivaldi to the Wigmore Hall on Thursday 25 June 2015. Billed as Venetian Splendours the programme paired music by the two composer priests, both contemporaries though they probably never met, with Campra's Messe Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam and a group of work's which Vivaldi wrote for La Pieta, Laetatus Sum RV607, In exitu Israel RV604, Magnificat RV610, Lauda Jerusalem RV 609 and Gloria RV589. Splendid though the music was, what Herve Niquet's programme really explored was the sound-world of music for women's voices. Using a four-part female choir (with, presumably, the tenor and bass parts sung up an octave) and singing all of the solo parts tutti, the result was a very distinctive and very seductive sound-world, with some seriously brilliant music making.

Herve Niquet - Copyright Eric Manas
Hervé Niquet
Copyright Eric Manas
In fact, my main complaint about the evening was that the article in the programme note seemed to be completely unaware of the specifics of the evening's performance, and so not only referred to tenor and bass parts, and soprano solos, but gave us no inkling as to Hervé Niquet's rationale. No matter, the music making was certainly strong enough to stand for itself.

Hervé Niquet used a choir of 12 (three women per part) and an ensemble of 13, resulting in some 26 people on stage which was quite a tight fit on the Wigmore Hall stage. They made a strong, vibrant sound with Herve Niquet encouraging his string players to play in a highly accented, vividly projected manner which contrasted beautifully with the smooth but strong sound from the women singers. The singers did not use too much vibrato and made a nice, straight sound, but the result was not white and bland, it was very direct and strong with the vibrancy of individual voices coming over particularly in the lower ones (billed as mezzo-sopranos the lower voices certainly included one or two lovely strong contraltos). It was a fine, confident and beautifully crafted sound. And the singers skill was exemplified by the way Hervé Niquet had the solos sung by three or six singers, not only making a good strong sound but the women providing a remarkable unanimity in the more elaborate ornamented passages.

Vivid drama & strong musical performances - Opera Holland Park's first Aida

Peter Auty, Graeme Broadbent - Aida - Opera Holland Park - photo Robert Workman
Peter Auty, Graeme Broadbent - Aida - Opera Holland Park - photo Robert Workman
Verdi Aida
Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, Peter Auty, Heather Shipp, Graeme Broadbent, Jonathan Veira, Keel Watson

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 26 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Strong musical performances and vivid drama in a production which re-works Aida for modern times

Gwenneth-Ann Jeffers, Peter Auty  - Aida - Opera Holland Park - photo Robert Workman
Gweneth-Ann Jeffers, Peter Auty
photo Robert Workman
With its outrageous staging demands, you sometimes wonder why opera companies want to produce Verdi’s Aida. But the piece is about far more than pharaohs, pyramids and camels. But the wonderfully taut plot, tensions between public duty and private desire, strongly drawn characters and challenging music can provide a highly satisfying experience, especially as the leading roles are some of the most challenging and rewarding in the repertoire. Opera Holland Park has a track record for daring, producing operas which stretch the limited technical resources of their stage, so it was with great interest that I went along to the company’s very first production of Aida, which debuted on 24 June 2015. Daniel Slater directed, with designs by Robert Innes Hopkins and lighting by Tim Mascall, with Gweneth-Ann Jeffers as Aida, Peter Auty as Radames, Heather Shipp as Amneris, plus Graeme Broadbent as Ramfis, Jonathan Veira as Amonasro, Keel Watson as the King and Emily Blanch as a priestess. Manlio Benzi conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

Inevitably we could not expect pyramids, camels and large scale theatrical effects. But Daniel Slater’s production was certainly not without surprises. The basic set consisted of a museum-like using the Holland Park House façade as backdrop and with statues from Ancient Egypt in a museum display. During the prelude, the chorus in modern dress (dinner suits and long dresses) exploded onto the stage and the opening scene was a party. Clearly we were in a modern Kingdom, albeit one obsessed by the past as Radames was inducted as general by dressing him in Ancient Egyptian garb, and for much of the second half the populace were dressed in neo-Ancient Egyptian fancy dress. Aida was a cleaning lady, busy cleaning up after the party-goers. The production was secularised, with Ramfis becoming a rather nasty political fixer. But the production had more surprises for us, when the captured Ethiopians are brought on in a small huddle they were dressed as service workers – cleaning ladies, janitors etc. Were they real Ethiopian captives who had been dressed like that to demonstrate that they were unimportant, or was the war on invading ‘Ethiopians’ really a border war with illegal immigrants? It was never made clear, but I inclined to the latter (and other critics have come to different conclusions). Whichever, the Egyptians were displayed as rather vicious, selfish and unsympathetic.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Ibert's 'La ballade de la geôle de Reading'

Iacques Ibert La ballade de la geole de Reading
Jacques Ibert's symphonic poem La ballade de la geôle de Reading will receive its UK premiered on 29 June 2015, 93 years after the work was written. Based on the Oscar Wilde poem, Ibert's work will be performed by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, conductor Russell Keable at St John's Smith Square on Monday 29 June 2015. Sections of Wilde's poem, translated into French, head the different sections of the score and Ibert's intention was to convey the humanitarian message of the poem with its moving account of the harsh prison atmosphere. The work was used as a ballet in 1937!

Also in the programme is a another pair rarely performed French ballets, the Fanfare to Paul Dukas' La Peri (from 1912) and Albert Roussel's complete ballet Bacchus and Ariadne (from 1930). Paul Dukas' ballet was originally commissioned by Diaghilev but did not go ahead be Diaghilev did not think the dancer creating the role of La Peri was strong enough. She was, I think, Dukas' mistress and the ballet eventually went ahead without Diaghilev's company but still with her dancing. Albert Roussel's ballet was premiered in 1931 at the Paris Opera with choreography by Serge Lifar, Diaghilev's last lover.

Get exploring - City of London Festival

St Paul's Cathedral
The City of London Festival opened this week, and for another year (until 10 July 2015) the City explodes with a whole variety of events. Not just concerts, there are over 100 free events ranging from music, circus, dance, street theatre, talks to tours and more. Free lunchtime concerts provide a chance to hear young and up-and-coming artists. And the series of debates, Justice, Money, Power will focus on the financial, political and ethical implications of life in the City with subjects including 'Do judges have too much power?' in the Judges’ Room at the Old Bailey. 

The festival is also a chance to explore the City, not only the free events at The Gherkin, Canary Wharf, Broadgate, Grange Hotel - St Paul’s, Devonshire Square, New Street Square and The Royal Exchange, but concerts in St Paul's Cathedral and many of the Wren churches, plus a chance to explore the City's great halls not normally open to the public including the Merchant Taylor's Hall, Plaisterers Hall, Goldsmith's Hall and of course the Mansion House.

There will be orchestra concerts at St. Paul's Cathedral, with the Edward Gardiner conducts Sarah Tynan, Robert Murray and Neal Davies with the London Symphony Orchestra in Haydn's Creation and Robert Howarth directs the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Monteverdi's Vespers, plus more intimate recitals such as the Danish String Quartet at Plaisterers’ Hall, Ian Bostridge and Sebastian Wybrew in the Mansion House and the New Zealand String Quartet in Goldsmiths’ Hall. There will be a Wren Marathon on Saturday 27 June, celebrating choral music in the City's Wren churches with 17 different choral performances in all.

World Premières include a work for chorus and ensemble by Thea Musgrave, Voices of Our Ancestors, performed by by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge in St Bride’s, Fleet Street and the National Youth Chamber Choir of Great Britain and National Youth Jazz Orchestra performing together for the first time, with works including a world premiere of festival commission Journey’s End, by Pete Churchill.

The festival runs until July 10; full information from the City of London Festival's website.

Opus gloriosum finitum est

Robert Hugill - Gaudeamus Omnes
Finally, after 10 years, 45 hours of music and 70 motets, my cycle of motets for the Church's year, Tempus per Annum, is finished. It has taken rather longer than I anticipated, and I have to confess that working my way through the 33 Sundays in Ordinary Time for the finally two volumes took some doing. All the motets are now available for free download from CPDL (http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Robert_Hugill), all I ask is that if people perform them they let me know.

So far performers have included Alistair Dixon and Chapelle du Roi, Malcolm Cottle and London Concord Singers, Paul Brough and the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble (who recorded the Advent Motets), Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra (who will be recording one this year), Francis Brett and the Amaryllis Consort, Ben Woodward and the choir of St John's Church, Fulham, the choir of All Saints, Margaret Street conducted by Paul Brough and by Tim Byram Wigfield, and I look forward to adding more to the list.

The motets are intended to be of practical use, they are not too longer and most the motets in the first two volumes are for four-part choir, with the remainder moving from four- to five- and six-part whilst the final two motets (for the Feast of Christ the King, and for All Saints) are for double choir. 

So do explore:
http://www.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Robert_Hugill

The title of this post, by the way, translates as The great work is finished, or so I hope!

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Birds and the Bees, the Flowers and the Trees

London Concord Singers is in lighter mood for their Summer concert on 9 July 2015 at the Grosvenor Chapel, 24 South Audley Street, London W1K 2PA. Conducted by Matthew Collins, and with Richard Leach at the piano, the choir will be performing Bob Chilcott's lively settings of Aesop's Fables, for choir and piano, plus Britten's beautiful Five Flower Songs, and Gerald Finzi's Seven Poems of Robert Bridges

Also in the programme will be music by Thomas Walmisley and Vaughan Williams, and Richard Leach will be playing a selection of Poulenc's piano music, and Matthew Collins will be singing a group of Finzi songs.

Further information from the London Concord Singers website, with online booking at EventBrite.

Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice at Garsington - stunning personal vision

Celestin Boutin and Nina Goldman - Death in Venice, Garsington Opera - photo Clive Barda
Celestin Boutin and Nina Goldman
Death in Venice, Garsington Opera
photo Clive Barda

Benjamin Britten Death in Venice
Paul Nilon, William Dazeley, Celestin Boutin, Nina Goldman, dir: Paul Curran, cond: Steuart Bedford; Garsington Opera

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 23 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Stylishly elegant and evocative production of Britten's last opera

With its intense concentration on a single protagonist, Benjamin Britten's final opera Death in Venice does not get as many outings as might be expected, so it was with much anticipation that I looked forward to Paul Curran's new production at Garsington Opera with Paul Nilon in the title role. And having interview Paul about the production (see my article in this blog) I was doubly intrigued, about how he and designer Kevin Knight would be representing Venice in the sun-lit garden pavilion of the opera house at Garsington, and about the use of dance in the production. And, having seen the production's second night (on Tuesday 23 June 2015) we were not disappointed.

Paul Nilon sang the role of Gustav von Aschenbach, with William Dazeley in the five baritone roles,
Tom Verney as The Voice of Apollo, Joshua Owen Mills as the Hotel Porter, Henry Manning as the English Clerk, Nina Goldman as the Lady with the Pearls, Celestin Boutin as Tadzio, Georgie Rose Connolly as the Governess and Chris Agius Darmanin as Jaschiu. The conductor Steuart Bedford, the director was Paul Curran, the designer Kevin Knight, with lighting by Bruno Poet and Andreas Heise was the choreographer and assistant director.

Paul Nilon - Death in Venice - Garsington Opera - photo Clive Barda
Paul Nilon - Death in Venice - Garsington Opera
photo Clive Barda
Kevin Knight's set was simplicity itself, just a wide open expanse of blue on the backdrop with four long billowing translucent curtains which were deployed in various ways across the stage. We rarely saw the whole stage, and the backdrop was only completely revealed in the moments when Aschenbach is contemplating the view from the Lido and Britten's sinuous Venice theme ripples through the orchestra. Occasionally we got glimpses of an outline of the city, but this was a Venice of shadowy figures and hints. During the monologues, we would be aware of people passing, dimly seen through the curtains, so that emphasis was on Aschenbach himself and the way he saw the city and its people. The production was elegantly stripped down, without the plethora of props sometimes used. This stylish economy gave the result a highly poetic feel, which contrasted with the stocky, very corporeal figure of Paul Nilon's Aschenbach.

I am old enough to remember seen Peter Pears in his final performances as Aschenbach at Covent Garden in the 1980's and one of my abiding memories is of the tall elegance of Aschenbach in his interpretation. But Paul Nilon's Aschenbach was different, he was rumpled and careworn thus contrasting with the bare elegance of the surroundings and the lithe beauty of the young male dancers.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2015 - Jongmin Park (song), Nadine Koutcher (main), Amartuvshin Enkhbat (audience).Photo Brian Tarr
BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2015 prize winners
Jongmin Park (song), Nadine Koutcher (main), Amartuvshin Enkhbat (audience).
Photo Brian Tarr
The BBC Cardiff Singer of the World finished on Sunday (21 June 2015) and as usual the final left me with great sympathy for the judges having to decide on a single winner. Inevitably there were some artists who did not quite make it, but whose exposure has surely been valuable. The bass Jongmin Park from South Korea described himself as a 'baby bass', surely recognising that bass voices only really mature when the singer is in his late 30's or more, so Jongmin Park at 28 has a long way to go. But he presented a wonderfully finished instrument, and clearly impressed because he received the Song Prize on Saturday 19 June 2015. Another singer who impressed in the final was the baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat from Mongolia who is a Principal Soloist of the State Academic Opera House of Mongolia in Ulan Bator. Highly beautiful baritone voice won him the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize on Sunday.

The winner was of course Nadine Koutcher from Belarus and who studied in St Petersburg. She had a big, dramatic coloratura voice which had very little about it to remind us of Russian voices of old. We only heard her on the radio, but her repertoire of Mozart, Rimsky-Korsakov and Delibes clearly impressed everyone present in the hall, not just the sound she made but the vivid way she presented the drama in the music. She sang Dona Isabel in Peter Sellar's Indian Queen at the Teatro Real in Madrid, and already has engagements lined up with the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro and the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse and Amenaide in Tancredi at Teatro Municipal de Santiago de Chile.

The other singers who missed out in the final were Lauren Michelle from the United States, Oleksiy Palchykov from the Ukraine. They are no less talented and I am sure we will be hearing much more of them - you can catch Oleksiy Palchykov at Garsington in 2016 singing Lensky in Eugene Onegin.

If you missed out on the Final, then it is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

Mahan Esfahani - bringing the baroque harpsichord recital into the 20th century

Mahan Esfahani - Time Present and Time Past
Time present and time past - A.Scarlatti, Gorecki, CPE Bach, Francesco Geminiani, Steve Reich, Johann Sebastian Bach; Mahan Esfahani, Concerto Koln; ARCHIV
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 13 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Baroque and 20th century music side by side in an invigorating disc

This new disc on DG's Archiv label from Mahan Esfahani re-invigorates the concept of a harpsichord recital by combining baroque music with contemporary. Three works based on La Follia, Alessandro Scarlatti's Variations on La Folia, CPE Bach's 12 Variations on Les Folies d'Espagne in D minor and Geminiani's Concerto Grosso in D minor are threaded round Henryck Goreck's Concerto for Harpsichord and String Orchestra fro 1980 and Steve Reich's 1967 classic, Piano Phase for Two Pianos in Mahan Esfahani's version for two harpsichords. The final item is Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in D minor, BWV 1052. For the Bach, Geminiani and Gorecki, Mahan Esfahani is joined by the period instrument ensemble Concerto Koln.

Mahan Esfahani - Time Present and Time Past
The disc opens with something of a coup. Alessandro Scarlatti's dazzling keyboard pyrotechnics in the Variations on La Follia are followed by the full-on high-energy of Gorecki's concerto. The Scarlatti is highly inventive and Mahan Esfahani's performance is brilliantly vivid, combining stupendous technique with a strong sense of character.

Gorecki's concerto is in two fast movements, both almost pitting the instrument against the orchestra. With a solo part taken at a rather mad speed, the opening Allegro Molto is full on but rather austere in its limited sound world. The harpsichord's incessant toccata-like repetitions seem designed to try to push the slow moving, sustained orchestral part out of its harmonic rut. The final Vivace (no relaxing middle movement) his high energy, with the violence sometimes recalling Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps on speed. The performance from Mahan Esfahani and the orchestra is stupendous. I would be fascinated to hear the work played on modern instruments, and wondered what tonal effect the (presumed) gut strings had on the work. Whatever, the sound world is vivid and energised throughout.

A weekend of German romanticism with James Gilchrist and Carolyn Sampson

Anna Tilbrook and James Gilchrist
Anna Tilbrook and James Gilchrist
A Poet's Love: Schumann and Mendelssohn is an immersive weekend of concerts of German romanticism with music by Schumann and Mendelssohn at St John's Smith Square on 26 and 27 June 2015. The weekend will include tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook in Schumann's Liederkreis Op.39, Liederkreis Op. 24 and Dichterliebe, and James Gilchrist will be joined by Carolyn Sampson for Schumann's Myrten Op.25 and selected songs and duets. There is also chamber music by Schumann and Mendelssohn played by Ensemble Elata and viola player Philip Dukes, including Schumann's Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet, and Mendelsson's Octet. There is a concert on Friday evening, and then four concerts spread throughout the day on Saturday, along with a pre-concert talk where James Gilchrist will be talking to Richard Morrison.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Blow your trumpets, Angels.

Blow your trumpets angels
The City of London Choir, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, is joined by Royal Philharmonic Brass and organist Stephen Farr for an evening of music for choir and brass at St John's Smith Square on 25 June 2015. The evening will combine the grand 16th century Venetian poly-choral music by Giovanni Gabrieli and by Heinrich Schutz, with the London premiere of Philip Moore's At the round earth's imagined corners, plus music by Holst and John Rutter.

A sequence of 16th century polyphonic written for St Mark's Basilica in Venice will culminate in Giovanni Gabrieli's 19 part Buccinante neomenia tuba. Whilst Philip Moore's new piece is a contemporary setting of John Donne's poem which uses trumpets sounding from the four corners of the building.

Further information from St John's Smith Square's website.

Robert Fayrfax at the Wigmore Hall

The Cardinall's Musick
Robert Fayrfax, John Tavener, Richard Davy, John Merbecke, William Cornysh, Thomas Tallis; The Cardinall's Musick, Andrew Carwood; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 20 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Vibrant conclusion to the Andrew Carwood's series devoted to the music of Robert Fayrfax

Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's Musick finished their short series of concerts at the Wigmore Hall celebrating the music of Robert Fairfax on Saturday 20 June 2015 with a look at the music of Fairfax and his contemporaries. The subtext of the concert was the influence of Cardinal Wolsey, one of the great figures of the age. Robert Fairfax's younger contemporary, John Tavener was the first Informator Choristarum at Wolsey's new Cardinal College in Oxford, whilst Richard Davy was Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College in Oxford when Wolsey was attached to the college. We heard two of Robert Fairfax's major pieces, the Agnus Dei from his late, large-scale Missa tecum principium and Maria plena virtute plus one of his secular pieces, Alas for lak of her presens, alongside John Tavener's O Wilhelme pastor bone, Sospitate dedit aegros and Mater Christi sanctissima, Richard Davy's Ah blessed Jesu how fortuned this, and music by three of Fairfax's younger contemporaries John Merbecke's A virgin and mother, William Corynsh the Younger's Woefully arrayed and Thomas Tallis's Euge caeli porta.

The Cardinall's Music comprised ten singers, two sopranos, two altos (one man and one woman), two tenors, two baritones and two basses, reflecting the predominant rich layout of the larger scale music of this period. Andrew Carwood introduced the items, combining history and musicology with great wit, managing to convey a remarkable amount in a short time and in a way which was both informative and amusing.

Fiddler on the Roof at Grange Park Opera.

Bryn Terfel and ensemble, Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Bryn Terfel and ensemble, Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein Fiddler on the Roof; Bryn Terfel, Janet Fullerlove, Charlotte Harwood, Katie Hall, Molly Lynch, Rebecca Wheatley, Anthony Flaum, Jordan Simon Pollard, dir: Anthony McDonald, cond: David Charles Abell, BBC Concert Orchestra; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 21 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Star turn and brilliant ensemble, in this revival of the 1964 classic musical

Bryn Terfel, Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Bryn Terfel, photo credit Robert Workman
The advantage of seeing a musical like Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein's Fiddler on the Roof at Grange Park Opera, is that they perform without amplification, and using full, original orchestrations. On 21 June 2015 we caught up with the production, which has the additional attraction of starring Bryn Terfel in the main role of Tevye. Directed and designed by Anthony McDonald, with costumes by Gabrielle Dalton, choreography by Lucy Burge, the cast included Janet Fullerlove as Golde, Charlotte Harwood as Tzeitel, Katie Hall as Hodel, Molly Lynch as Chava, Rebecca Wheatley as Yente, Anthony Flaum as Motel, Jordan Simon Pollard as Perchik, Cameron Blakely as Lazar Wolf and Craig Fletcher as Fyedka. David Charles Abell conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra.

I have to confess that I had never seen Fiddler on the Roof before, and had only seen bits of the 1971 film with Topol. But, as with many great musicals, the songs have taken on an independent life of their own and I knew many of them already, but it always improves a song to hear it in the correct context.

The musical is based on stories by Sholem Aleichem, and his creation of Tevye the Milkman who lives with his wife and five daughters in a shtetl in Russia in the early 20th century had already generated a large number of stage adaptations before the 1964 musical. It is a slightly curious choice for a musical, in that there is only one major solo role, Tevye. His wife Golde gets only a couple of duets, and the rest of the cast (his daughters and their suitors) each have a moment, but the twin thrust of the musical remains Tevye and the whole ensemble of the villagers. Like a number of musicals from the 1950's and 1960's, there is no big finish; instead the work ends with the Jewish villagers being forced to leave the stetl as a result of the 1905 pogroms and seek a new life elsewhere.

The main dramatic and comic impulse of the piece is the struggle with tradition. Elkan Pressman, who was the production's consultant on Jewish traditions, suggests in his article in the programme book that Tevye's village, Anatevka, may be modelled on Sholem Aleichem's own village which was near Kiev; if so, then the style of Judaism practised was what we call Hasidic. Within this strictly regulated society, Tevye's three elder daughters struggle to bring in the modern world and each one takes a suitor further and further away from their father's wishes. The ending can be seen in this context, making the whole work a long arc as the secure boundaries (physical and mental) of the stetl and its faith are gradually dismantled.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Cheltenham Music Festival - 70 years and counting

Cheltenham Music Festival
70 years after the first Cheltenham Music Festival, the festival returns this year with artistic director Meurig Bowen's 8th festival running from 30 June to 11 July 2015 in venues around Cheltenham. As ever, contemporary music as at the festival's core with 22 premieres at this festival including a deconstruction of 1970s Disco by Graham Fitkin, Rolf Hind’s new work for contemporary Gamelan ensemble inspired by recent travels in Bhutan, Entanglement, a one-act chamber opera by Charlotte Bray about Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in Britain, new pieces by Joe Cutler and Thomas Strønen for Trish Clowes' ensemble the Emulsion Sinfonietta, and works by Peter Wiegold, Jonathan Dove and Matthew Martin. But mainstream is well represented too with Rachmaninov's Second Symphony and Mahler's mammoth Third Symphony.

Artists appearing at the festival include Edward Gardner, Sarah Connolly, Alina Ibragimova, Jean-Guihen Queyras and Marc-André Hamelin as well as emerging artists like conductor Ben Gernon, pianist Martin James Bartlett, accordionist Ksenija Sidorova.

The year 1945, the year of that first festival, is one of the festival themes with works from that year by Richard Strauss, Britten, Poulenc, Howells, Tippett, Shostakovich and Messiaen. Other themes include Paris, and films performed with live soundtracks. This latter theme will present 1928 silent film Jeanne d’Arc with live music from the Orlando Consort, and Hitchock's Psycho with Bernard Hermann's iconic score performed by the Britten Sinfonia. A further theme, dance, gives us New English Ballet Theatre’s first performance outside of London with music by Glass, Mussorgsky, Villa-Lobos, Beethoven and Janacek, and a performance by accordionist Ksenija Sidorova of her contemporary tango project with Rambert dancer/choreographer Kirill Burlov.

Full information from the festival website.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Choral showcase: Voices of London Festival opening

Siglo de Oro
Siglo de Oro
Festival Launch Day - A Choral Showcase
Siglo de Oro/Patrick Allies, Sinopia, In the Smoke
Voices of London Festival at St James's Church, Sussex Gardens
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 19 2015
Three contrasting vocal groups in this lively festival opening

With any new festival, it is often the second one which is the difficult hump to get over, recapturing the energy, enthusiasm and commitment which made the first successful. Judging by last night's (19 June 2015) Festival launch for the second Voices of London Festival at St James's Church, Sussex Gardens, then they are all set for a winner again this year. Organised by a group of young choral conductors, the festival aims to celebrate choral singing and bring together a wide variety of singers, from youth choirs and office choirs to renaissance ensembles and a cappella groups, including a new choral commission as festival finale.

At the Festival launch on 19 June 2015, we heard three very different groups; the ten person vocal ensemble Siglo de Oro, conducted by Patrick Allies, who sang a mixture of 17th century and contemporary music by Robert Ramsey, James MacMillan, Sebastian de Vivanco, Thomas Weelkes, Ed Rex and John Tavener; the female vocal trio Sinopia made up of three young opera singers whose programme ranged from Mozart and Verdi, through Gilbert and Sullivan to Andrews Sisters style arrangements of classics like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and Chattanooga Choo Choo; and In the Smoke, a ten person a cappella group who combine singing their own close-harmony, doo-wop arrangements of popular classics such as Kelis's Acapella and Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammeer with lively choreography.

Patrick Allies and Siglo de Oro performed a selection of items from a longer programme, Eternal Light: Musical tributes & Elegies, starting with Robert Ramsey's When David heard written in the early 17th century on the death of Prince Henry (Charles I's elder brother). A grave and rather moving piece, the ensemble sang it with an expressively vibrant sound. Singing in a half-circle with the voice types mixed up, they are not afraid to use full voice. James MacMillan's A child's prayer was written after the Dunblane massacre and uses two soprano soloists against the darker backdrop of the rest of the ensemble. A rather austere piece, it wove its magic as gradually the textures grew more complex. Sebastian de Vivanco was a contemporary of Vittoria's in Avila, his Versa est in luctum was wonderfully rich with some strongly characterised singing to make a really meaty performance. In Thomas Weelkes' madrigal Death had deprived me, written on the death of his colleague Thomas Morley, the singers really brought out the piece's sense of harmonic instability, with its chromatic shifts, and strikingly wide vocal range. Sung in English, the group were rather fighting the church's resonant acoustics and not all the words were audible. Ed Rex is a young composer who is a contemporary of many of the singers in the group. His Do not stand at my grave and weep was tonal, and chromatic with a very clear melodic sense and very effective use of close harmony. But, for me, the words cast rather a vein of sentimentality over the piece which the music could not quite lift. Finally John Tavener's Song for Athene, quite a challenge with just ten voices but they displayed fine control and the performance really paid off great dividends.

Sinopia
Sinopia
The vocal trio Sinopia, accompanied on piano, did two short sets. First they gave us the more operatic fare with Mozart's three ladies from The Magic Flute, Mendelssohn's Ye Spotted Snakes from A Midsummer Nights Dream, the witches from Verdi's Macbeth, Gershwin's Summertime, and finally two Gilbert and Sullivan items Poor Wandering One from Pirates of Penzanze and Three Little Maids from The Mikado. All three singers are young women with an opera training background, and they certainly showed that they could move  confidently between styles. So that the three ladies had a nice sense of comic irony, the fairies a lovely purity of tone and the witches, sung in Italian, a remarkably vivid and dark timbre. Perhaps Summertime was a stylistic leap too far, but they were spot on with the pair of delightful G&S numbers. And the items were not just sung, but staged in a nicely discreet manner which brought out the essentials of the music, they seemed adept at creating real characters on stage, and my only complaint is that they should be looking at some more imaginative repertoire.

After the interval, they returned now wearing 1950's dresses for a set of close harmony numbers. Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy seemed to owe as much to Bette Midler as to the Andrews Sisters, but I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter and A Nightingale sang in Berkeley Square were both brilliantly in Andrews Sisters territory with the three vibrant voices combining in terrific fashion (and all sung unamplified too). I did feel that the essential simplicity of Jerome Kern's Just the way you look tonight was lost  in turning it into a trio, and Pete Schmutte's arrangement of Chattanooga Choo Choo was too clever for its own good, though the three singers really sold it superbly.

In the Smoke
Finally another ten person unaccompanied ensemble, but a very different one. In the Smoke do their own close harmony arrangements, with an extensive use of beat box and doo-wop styles and combine them with imaginative stagings. Again, singing without amplification they were adept at ensuring that the solo lines (taken by a number of different singers in the group) were spotlit, and often using two voices in octaves for reinforcement. Perhaps there was something slightly unnerving about their carefully choreographed, smiling demeanour in the bright lights of a church. But there is no doubting their talent, and the imagination that went in to the presentations and arrangements, with a set which included Kelis's Acapella, Leona Lewis's Brave, Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, Seasick Steve's Walkin Man, the Sugarbabes' About You Now, the Temptations Get Ready, Tom Waits' Martha finishing with a very different, uptempo version of Gershwin's Summertime. There is a chance to catch the group again in their Summer Extravaganza on July 31 at the Greenwood Theatre, SE1.

The Voices London festival continues throughout this week at St James's Church, Sussex Gardens. Today (20 June) there is a chance to hear seven different youth choirs, tomorrow Patrick Russill directs Festival Evensong, then on Tuesday you can hear two different chamber choirs, De Profundis and The Joyful Company of Singers, with Friday being devoted to Workplace Choirs (eight different ones), and finally the festival finale with a new commission Jamie Brown's A Cornish Requiem. Full details from the Voices London website.

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