Sunday, 30 August 2015

Bela Bartok's quartets at Kings Place

Bela Bartok
In 1949/50 season the South Place Sunday Concerts Society gave the first complete cycle of Bela Bartok's quartets in the UK. It was a radical piece of programming in pot-war Britain. The concerts were performed by the Hurwitz, Aeolian, Blech, Amadeus and Martin quartets, and coupled one of Bartók's six quartets with a quartet from Beethoven's first cycle of six quartets in the Op.18 set, published in 1800, and one of Mozart’s mature quartets. Bartok's quartets, written between 1908 and 1939, are some of the seminal works of the 20th century.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Bartok's death, in New York in September 1945, the Chilingirian Quartet will be re-constructing the cycle at Kings Place starting 8 November 2015. Further information from the Kings Place website.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

An Avila diary, singing Victoria and Vivanco with Peter Phillips

Participants from the Zenobia Musica course in Avila, conducted by Peter Phillips, in Avila Cathedral - photo Avfotos.com
Participants from the Zenobia Musica course performing in Avila,
conducted by Peter Phillips, in Avila Cathedral - photo Avfotos.com
We are a group of around four dozen singers, mixed nationalities including Spanish, French, Swiss, Hungarian, British and Italian. We are rehearsing in the Residencia of the Monastery of San Tomas in Avila, Spain; the Residencia is an island of 1950's style in a very historic location, a monastery where the Kings and Queens of Spain stayed and where the son of Ferdinand and Isabella (The Catholic Monarchs) buried. The Residencia is our home for five days and we have just under three days to perfect a programme of triple choir music by Victoria and Vivanco before Peter Phillips (of The Tallis Scholars) comes in to rehearse us for concerts in Avila Cathedral and at the nearby town of Las Navas.


The walls of Avila - photo David Hughes
The walls of Avila - photo David Hughes
The course is organised by Zenobia Musica who run such courses in Avila and Madrid, and it is led by Rupert Damerell, an English organist and conductor who is based in Madrid, and the English conductor and composer Alexander Campkin. It is their task to prepare us for our final rehearsals with Peter Phillips, who will conduct us in Victoria's motet Laetatus Sum, Missa Laetatus Sum and Magnificat Sexti Toni and Vivanco's motets Christus Factus Est and Pater Dimitte

We are a varied group, students, accountants, aerospace engineers, bloggers on vacation, choral conductors getting a taste of life the other side of the baton, all united in a love of the music of Vittoria, who was born in Avila and sang in the cathedral as a child.

In the courtyard of the Residencia the day's rehearsal is preceded by a 30 minute warm up, though perhaps this is a misnomer as the sun is already warm and people seek what shade there is. Meals are taken in the refectory, which leads off one of the cloisters (there are three, including the cloister of silence, and the Royal cloister). The refectory is a rather amazing room with an elaborate 18th (or 19th century) plaster ceiling and an alarming looking (and thankfully unused) pulpit. Meals are basic but plentiful, served by rather energetic if humourless ladies, the whole event rather reminding me of University days. And in fact, during term time the Residencia serves as a hall of residence.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Handel House Talent and Composer-in-Residence showcases

Handel House Talent
The members of Handel House Talent
The first year of the Handel House Talent scheme is coming to an end, with the young instrumentalists and singers performing, researching and collaborating at the Handel House Museum and there is a final chance to hear them during September and October. There is also a chance to hear the results of composer Edwin Hillier's residency. And a final festive showcase for all of them at St George's Church, Hanover Square.


Edwin Hillier
Edwin Hillier
The members of the Handel House Talent scheme are all giving final recitals, with some collaborations too. Caoimhe de Paor (recorder) performs lesser known Dutch composers and Vivaldi (10 September), Elspeth Robertson (recorders) and Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord) perform music from the Medieval through to 20th century and avant garde (17 September), George Ross (cello) and Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) perform Italian music by Boccherini, Geminiani, Evaristo Felice dall'Abaco and Domenico Gabrielli, Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) and Johan Lovfing (theorbo) explore music written in the reign of Louis XIII (1 October), Cathy Bell (mezzo-soprano) and Marie van Rhijn (harpsichord) explore music inspired by Orlando Furioso (8 October), Katarzyna Kowalik (harpsichord) looks at the more imaginative baroque pleasures in The Secret Garden (15 October), and Caoimhe de Paor and Elspeth Robertson are participating in masterclasses with Peter Holtslag (3 September).

Composer in residence Edwin Hillier has programmed a series of concerts. He collaborates with Tre Voci cello ensemble performing transcriptions of medieval and renaissance vocal music, improvisations and new music including one of Hillier's pieces (19 November). The Hermes Experiment will be performing music from Handel's time to the present including a new work by Dublin-based composer Elis Czerniak (22 November). Carla Rees (alto/bass flute) and Michael Oliva (electronics) from Rarescale will perform contemporary and baroque music including a new piece by Chinese-Swedish composer Weiwei Jin (26 November). The new music group, explorensemble will be performing music by Romitelli and Stockhausen and a new commission from Oliver Christophe Leith (26 November).

On Thursday 10 December at St George's Church, Hanover Square there is a Festive Showcase when the Handel House Talent members will all perform, there will be a new piece from Edwin Hillier.

To coincide with the exhibition Handel: A Life with Friends, there is a walking tour with curator Ellen Harris, Visiting Handel's Neighbours (20 September), and Ellen Harris will also be giving an illustrated lecture (28 November).

Joshua Bell and Sir Neville Marriner with Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Joshua Bell celebrates his fifth season as music director of Academy of St Martin in the Fields, performing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (with Prokofiev and Mozart symphonies), and Brahms's Double Concerto (with cellist Stephen Isserlis, with Dvorak, Beethoven and Schumann arranged Britten), and the orchestra's founder Sir Neville Marriner returns to conduct Mozart and Bizet, with pianist Till Fellner. 

The music director of the New York Phiharmonic, Alan Gilbert, conducts Brahms, Beethoven and Haydn with pianist Inon Barnatan. Academy principals and a former principal, double bass Leon Bosch, viola Robert Smissen, and cellist Stephen Orton perform John Woolrich's new piece To the Silver Bow with Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. The Academy Chamber Ensemble will be performing Rossini, Mozart, Schubert, Prokofiev, Dohnanyi and Brahms. 

Further information from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields website.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

RE:Imagine: City of London Sinfonia in 2015/2016

RE:Imagine
The 2015/2016 season RE:Imagine from the City of London Sinfonia (CLS) combines re-imagined works and premieres of new interpretations, as well as giving the promise of immersive musical experiences. There is music from Vienna, Paris, Vienna and England in a highly varied programme which has a thread of Bach arrangements running through it.

At Southwark Cathedral, CLS conducted by Stephen Layton present Venice:Darkness to Light (14 October 2015) which combines Bach's arrangement of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater with Elin Manahan Thomas, a Vivaldi concerto arranged by Bach with Stephen Farr with a new Bach arrangement by Ugis Praulins, plus John Adams' Black Gondola his re-interpretation of Liszt, and Stravinsky's re-imagining of Pergolesi in Pulcinella.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre is the venue for The Viennese Salon on 24 January 2016 in which Michael Collins directs Franz Hasenorl's arrangement of Richard Strauss's Til Eulenspiegel, Collin Matthews' interpretation of Berg's Four pieces for Clarinet, David Matthew's arrangement of Strauss' Capriccio. There will be songs from Dame Felicity Lott, and new Bach arrangements by David Matthews. There will also be Kafe und Kuchen and the possibility of a waltzing lesson.

On 20 April 2016, Stephen Layton conducts Roderick Williams, Helen Charlston, the Holst Singers and Southwark Cathedral Girls Choir in Paris Reflected at Southwark Cathedral with music by Debussy, Ravel, Faure, and Bach plus Durufle's Requiem and an arrangement of Bach by Charlotte Bray. There is also a wine-tasting of French wines. Roderick Willliams joins Stephen Layton and CLS again on 9 March 2016 for a celebration of English song with muic by RVW, Gerald Finzi's arrangement of Ivor Gurney, Arnold's arrangement of Walton and Roderick Williams' own arrangement of Bach.

For CLoSer, their informal concert series at Village Underground, there is a celebration of dance with music by Debussy, arranged by Schoenberg, and Copland accompanied by live dance, plus Bach; cello suites transcribed for clarinet and performed by Michael Collins on 22 September 2015, and Mahler's Song of the Earth in a chamber arrangement with Anna Huntley and Gwilym Bowen and Luke Styles arrangement of Bach on 17 February 2016.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Hawks, Horses and Peterborough Sings!

Errolyn Wallen
Errolyn Wallen's new work Hawks and Horses setting Shakespeare is premiered on 30 August 2015 (at 6pm) at St John's Smith Square in a concert by the massed voices (150 in total) of Peterborough Voices, Peterborough Youth Choir, and Peterborough Male Voice Choir with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by William Prideaux. Also in the concert is RVW's Five variants of Dives and Lazarus, Lennox Berkeley's Serenade, Op.12 and Debussy's Danse sacree et danse profane. Hawks and Horses gets a second outing on 6 September 2015 at the Broadway Theatre, Peterborough.

Hawks and Horses is an imaginative setting of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 91, inspired by the ancient cathedral city of Peterborough and its surrounding landscape. The piece was commissioned by the music education charity Peterborough Sings! whose artistic director is William Prideaux.

Peterborough Sings! is the result of a rather amazing circumstance. In 2011 Peterborough Male Voice Choir founded Peterborough Youth Choir and a women's choir, Peterborough Voices, under the umbrella of Peterborough Sings! thus making a choral organisation of over 300 singers. As part of a 'Sing for Life' project, Peterborough Male Voice Choir were asked to help set up a women's choir. The project team hoped to recruit 40 women to form a choir and to perform in concert in aid of Cancer Research. Advertised locally and online, an amazing 220 applicants came to the auditions. After rehearsals and settling in, a group of 120 women sang in their first concert in October 2011. After the concert the women wanted to keep going, and as a result Peterborough Voices was born. The Peterborough Youth Choir was formed the same year to give young people the opportunity to sing.

Entangled Fortunes - chamber music by Edward McGuire from Red Note Ensemble

Edward McGuire - Entangled Fortunes
Edward McGuire Elegy, Euphoria, String Trio, Entangled Fortunes, Quintet 2; Red Note Ensemble; Delphian Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 12 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Serious, fascinating, independent - the chamber music of Edward McGuire

Edward McGuire is a Scottish composer whose music combines a ruggedly independent spirit, with seriousness of purpose and a lively infusion of Scottish traditional music. On this new disc Entangled Fortunes from Delphian Records we hear five of his major chamber pieces, played by members of the Scottish contemporary music ensemble Red Note. The works, Elegy, Euphoria, String Trio, Entangled Fortunes, and Quintet 2, were created over a 30 year period and are testimony to a fertile imagination and an often creative engagement with Scottish music.

Edward McGuire (born 1948) studied composition at the Royal Academy of Music (with James Illife) and in Stockholm with Ingvar Lidholm. But these bald facts do not really help introduce his music. Perhaps of equal relevance is the fact that McGuire is a Marxist, writes music simply because he has to, and plays the flute with the Scottish traditional music group The Whistlebinkies. But whilst echoes of Scots music occur throughout this disc, the music is robustly independent and finely constructed. It eschews ingratiating obviousness, this isn't neo-folk music nor light music, and instead uses a strength of construction which requires a serious of purpose from the listener but pays rewards. The five works on the disc are all substantial single movement pieces, each lasting between 10 and 16 minutes.

The pieces are played by members of Red Note, Jacqueline Shave (violin), Jane Atkins (viola) Robert Irvine (cello), Ruth Morley (flutes), YannGhiro (clarinets), Simon Smith (piano), Tom Hunter (percussion). Red Note was founded in 2008 and plays a highly varied repertoire of contemporary music with a number of major collaborations such  as their Reels to Ragas project with tabla player Kuljit Bharma and piper Fraser Fifield. During 2015 they are performing a new song cycle by Rory Boyle with mezzo soprano Karen Cargill, and in 2016 will be giving a European tour Louis Andriessen's De Staat with Antwerp-based ensemble I Solisti. They run their own informal new music events, Noisy Nights, in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

175 years young - Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra celebrate

Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra  © Mark McNulty
Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra   © Mark McNulty
Under chief conductor Vasily Petrenko, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will be celebrating the orchestra's 175th anniversary during the season (their website has a blog recording people's memories) as well as completing the refurbishment of the Philharmonic Hall. Petrenko has been in place since 2006. 

Petrenko starts his season with the orchestra with a pair of concert pairing Strauss's mammoth Alpine Symphony with Berio's Folksongs and Canteloube's Song of the Auvergne (both sung by Jennifer Johnson) and Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, closely followed by Andrew Manze conducting a pairing of Holst's The Planet with a new Robin Holloway piece and RVW 8 (Manze returns with an all RVW programme in May 2016). The remainder of the action packed season includes Petrenko conducting Mendelssohn's Elijah with Susan Gritton, Patricia Bardon, Jeremy Ovendon and Thomas Oliemans, Ton Koopman conducting Handel, Bach and Haydn, four concerts from the Lithuanian violin virtuoso Julian Rachlin, the world premiere of Ludovico Einaudi's Piano Concerto, and music by Hugo Alfven.

Nathalie Stutzman is also in residence both singing Schubert's Die Winterreise and conducting the St Matthew Passion with John Mark Ainsley as the Evangelist and Christopher Purves as Christus. Other artists in residence include the folk group The Unthanks, who will be performing folk music with the orchestra, and harpist Catrin Finch who performs Mozart and Glere

There is also a chamber music series in the more intimate St George's Hall Concert Room.  All in all over 60 concerts in the season.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The music of Estonian composer Cyrillus Kreek

Cyrillus Kreek
Until I heard performances by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, the music of Cyrillus Kreek was unknown to me. An important figure in Estonian musical history, knowledge of him and his music does not seem to have particularly travelled. Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962) was one of the composers who laid the foundations for Estonian national music. Like many of his contemporaries such as RVW (1872-1958), Percy Grainger (1882-1961), Bela Bartok (1881-1945) and Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967), the basis for his work was folk-song. Kreek was one of the first people to use a phonograph to collect folk songs (something espoused by Kodaly, and Percy Grainger but never used by RVW).

Kreek's father was a poor schoolmaster in Estonia, and Cyrillus Kreek was the ninth child. Born Karl Ustav, he became Kirill when his father's job required the family to become Russian Orthodox (Estonia was a Russian colony at the time) and later he used Cyrillus for his musical work. The young Cyrillus was musical, all the family seem to have been, and despite their frugality he was bought a trombone, participated in local choirs and music societies and finally 100 roubles were borrowed to send Cyrillus to St Petersburg Conservatoire in 1908 (there was of course, no conservatoire in Estonia and this was the nearest and most obvious). During his time there he was labelled by Alexander Glazunov, after one examination, as 'No talent, but diligent'.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Wolf-Ferrari's 'Le donne curiose' in London

Wolf Ferrari's Le donne curiose at the Met in New York
Wolf Ferrari's Le donne curiose at the Met in New York
in 1912
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's opera Le donne curiose is the opera which made his name. Based on the comedy by Carlo Goldoni, it is a witty and intricate work which premiered in 1903. Wolf-Ferrari was half German, half Italian and through his life he was torn between the two heritages. His works were often more popular in Germany than Italy, and Le donne curiose was premiered in Munich in 1903, and only received its first performance in Italian in 1912 (at the Met in New York, conducted by Tullio Serafin). It eventually reached Italy when Tullio Serafin conducted it in Milan in 1913. But, until the First World War, Wolf Ferrari's operas were some of the most performed in the world.

They seem to have rather dropped off the radar, apart from the overtures, and we have a chance to see the opera for ourselves in November (2, 4, 6, 9) at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, directed by Stephen Barlow, and designed by Yannis Thavoris and conducted by Mark Shanahan


Wolf Ferrari - Suite Veneziana

Wolf-Ferrari - Suite Veneziana
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari Suite Veneziana, Tritico, Divertimento; Oviedo Filarmonia, Friedrich Haider; PhilArtis Vienna
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 07 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Charming and beguiling, incidental music by Wolf-Ferrari

This new disc of music by Wolf-Ferrari from Friedrich Haider and the Oviedo Filarmonia on the PhilArtis Vienna label, puts together some of the music from the operas with three of Wolf-Ferrari's orchestral suites. All three, Suite Veneziana, Trittico and Divertimento were written in the 1930's at a time of worry for the composer with the combination of a heart condition, the political situation (being half Italian and half German he had found the First World War a personal strain), not to mention a decline in performances of his works. There seems to be frustratingly little information on the background to the music. The CD booklet, with its attractively discursive article On the trail of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari with Friedrich Haider is of little help, and at one point admits that the composer left behind little information apart from the music itself.

Having enjoyed the composer's Violin concerto (which I reviewed recently), written a few years later than the works on this disc, I have to confess that I found the music on this disc a little disappointing. The individual movements are all highly attractive but the music rarely adds up to something bigger, and each of the three suites sounds more like a selection of incidental music to a play (not for the first time when considering Wolf-Ferrari's music, Richard Strauss and his music for Le bourgeois gentilhomme came to mind).

Friday, 21 August 2015

Music by Roger Sacheverell Coke from Simon Callaghan

Roger Sacheverell Coke - Simon Callaghan - SOMM Roger Sacheverell Coke Preludes, Opp.33 & 34, Variations Op.37; Simon Callaghan; SOMM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 03 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Undeservedly forgotten music by a forgotten composer
Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) seems to have virtually disappeared off the musical map. Yet he attended Eton, was an accomplished pianist and composer, spent his life writing and had a series of high profile performances and broadcasts. On this amazing, brave disc, pianist Simon Callaghan has unearthed two of Roger Sacheverell Coke's substantial works for piano solo, the 24 Preludes Opp. 33 & 34 and 15 Variations and Finale and recorded them for the Somm label.

Simon Callaghan - photo credit Ben Ealovega
Simon Callaghan
photo credit Ben Ealovega
Roger Sacheverell Coke was born into a well-to-do Derbyshire family in 1912 with a strong tradition of military service. Roger's father died during the first battle of Ypres and his body was never found; his name is inscribed on the Menin Gate. Roger's love of art and music were indulged by his mother and there was never any question of his following the family's military traditions. For his 21st birthday his mother converted the coach house and stable block into a music studio with a gallery capable of holding and audience of several hundred. He studied music with John Frederic Staton and with Alan Bush, and piano with Mabel Lander.

But he suffered from mental health disorders which seem to have been schizophrenia, had a heavy addiction to cigarettes (a was a hundred-a-day bloke), and was gay. His composing seems to have been a retreat, his composed 12 full scale chamber works, over 100 songs, orchestra works, six piano concertos, four symphonic poems, three symphonies, a substantial body of solo piano music and an opera The Cenci based on Shelly's play. Written to his own libretto between 1940 and 1950, it had a single performance in 1959 with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Eugene Goossens (Coke bore all the costs). It was a complete failure, condemned by the critics. His music had fallen out of fashion.

Listening to the music on this disc, Roger Sacheverell Coke's style seems to hark back to the first half of the twentieth century. The influences that jump out at you are Rachmaninov and Medtner, with some Scryabin thrown in. But closer inspection reveals other hints too, you feel that Bax is not too far away and John Ireland to. The music was all written in the period 1938 to 1941 and is vastly different in its unashamed romanticism compared to the music of Coke's almost exact contemporary Benjamin Britten. In fact during this period Coke's music had been extensively performed and he had been encouraged by such luminaries as Rachmaninov, Moiseiwitsch and Goosens, but for some reason he was never take up by a publisher. Coke seems to have been fated to remain on the side lines.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Singing Words - Oxford Lieder Festival 2015

Having explored all of Schubert's songs last year, the Oxford Lieder Festival and artistic directer Sholto Kynoch are exploring Singing Words: Poets and their Songs in the 2015 festival which runs from Friday 16 October to Saturday 31 October. There are lots of concerts and this can only be the merest selection. Things open with a one day symposium on Words into music: Poets, Composers & Song at Wadham College and a recital from Sarah Connolly and Graham Johnson at the Sheldonian Theatre in the evening with songs by Schubert, Brahms and Wolf. And the festival closes with Christoph Pregardien and Roger Vignoles in settings of Heinrich Heine by Schumann and Schubert.

Sarah Fox, Anna Huntley, Victor Sicard, Geraldine McGreevy, Benjamin Hulett, Stephanie Marshall, Johnny Herford, Gary Matthewman, and Graham Johnson explore the songs of Faure. Louise MacDonald and Ingrid Sawyers pair Schumann's Mary Stuart settings with newly commissioned works by Judith Bingham, Dee Isaacs and Eddie McGuire inspired by the Scots Queen's poetry and letters, and there is a study event too. There is a study day on Berlioz with an evening recital of Berlioz's songs from Dorottya Lang, James Gilchrist and Julius Drake, and another on Song in Translation which concludes with a recital by Toby Spence and Christopher Glynn of Schubert's Die schone Mullerin in a new English translation by Jeremy Sams.

Other concerts are given by an amazing list of performers including Katarina Karneus, James Ghilchrist, Gillian Keith, Matthew Hargreaves, Lucy Hall, Wolfgang Holzmair, Robert Holl, Roderick Williams, Alison Rose, Victoria Newlyn, Elizabeth Watts, Anna Stephany, Nick Pritchard, Robert Murray, Mark Stone, Gareth Brynmor John, Anna Tilbrook, Simon Lepper, Gavin Roberts, Imogen Cooper, Roger Vignoles, Iain Burnside, Sholto Kynoch, and Finnegan Downie Dear.

Full information from the Oxford Lieder Festival website. And you can see a film about the festival, after the the break.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Wartime Consolations

Linus Roth - Wartime Consolations - Challenge Classics
Wartime Consolations - Hartmann, Weinberg, Shostakovich; Linus Roth, Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, Ruben Gazarian, Jose Gallardo; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 03 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Intense yet relatively unknown works which deserve to be heard

The works on this disc are the sort that I listen to and wonder why on earth they are not more well known. The main works on the disc, on the Challenge Classics label, are concertante works for violin and orchestra by two composers whose work seems to still be only on the fringes whereas both deserve to be far better known. Violinist Linus Roth with the Wurttemberg Chamber Orchestra Heilbronn, conductor Ruben Gazarian, plays wartime works by Karl Amadeus Harmann (his Concerto Funebre) and Mieczyslaw Weinberg (his Concertino and his Rhapsody on Moldavian Themes), plus the sole surviving movement of Dmitri Shostakovich's Sonata for violin and piano.

A student of Anton Webern, and an admirer of Arnold Schoenberg, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (1905-1963) is one of the 20th century's intriguing and frequently underrated composers. During the Nazi period in Germany, Hartmann remained in Germany but went into inner-exile by refusing to have his pieces performed in the country. His Concerto Funebre is a four movement work for violin and strings which premiered in 1940 in Switzerland and reflects the composer's lack of hope, and perhaps his determination that freedom would prevail.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Halle's 2015/16 season

The Halle and Sir Mark Elder
The Halle and Sir Mark Elder
The Halle's 2015/16 season at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester opens with Sir Mark Elder conducting three concerts including Verdi's Requiem with soloists Maria Agresta, Alice Coote, Giorgio Berrugi and Alexander Vinogradov, Mahler's Symphony No. 6, and music by Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov. Sir Mark's other concerts include Mahler's Kindertotenlieder with Roderick Williams, Delius's Song of the High Hills with Robin Tritschler and Malin Christensen, John Casken's Oboe Concerto - Apollinaire's Bird, and RVW's Fourth Symphony

Sir Mark will be ending the season with a Dvorak Festival. He is joined by Francesco Piemontesi for the Piano Concerto, and Gary Hoffman in the Cello Concerto. The festival will feature symphonies seven, eight and nine and finishes with a performance of Dvorak's oratorio Saint Ludmilla

Ryan Wigglesworth makes his debut as Principal Guest Conductor, with programmes which include the UK premiered of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Piano Concerto, with soloist Mark-Andre Hamelin, the Rite of Spring and Bach's Magnificat in D. The young conductor Jamie Phillips will make his debut as Associate Conductor, with concerts including Elgar's Cello Concerto played by Hallé Principal Cello Nicholas Trygstad, a New Year celebration of Viennese Music, and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony performed by the Hallé Youth Orchestra.

Visiting artists include Jack Liebeck playing Dvořák’s Violin Concerto, Nikolaj Znaider conducting Bloch’s Schelomo with soloist Jian Wang and Cristian Măcelaru conducting Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Poulenc’s Gloria.

Full details from the Halle website.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Diabelli Variations from Nick van Bloss

Nick van Bloss - Diabelli Variations
Beethoven Diabelli Variations; Nick van Bloss; Nimbus Allaince
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 31 2015
Beethoven's magisterial variations in a compelling performance from the British pianist

In his interview with Stephen Pettit in the CD booklet for this new recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, pianist Nick van Bloss talks about how initially he had been turned off the piece and only came back to it after living with Bach's Goldberg Variations for some time. This disc is the result of Nick van Bloss's exploration of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations recorded on the Nimbus Alliance label, and paired with Beethoven's Appassionata sonata.

Beethoven's Thirty-three Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli were started in 1819 but took four years to complete. Beethoven was approached by Diabelli, a publisher, to provide a variations on a waltz which Diabelli had written for inclusion in a composite volume. Composer's such as Liszt and Schubert responded but the story goes that Beethoven replied dismissively. In fact this seems to be just that, a story, as Beethoven did respond but his intention was to write a set of variations. Something in the trivial waltz must have appealed because he ended up writing 33 variations, a considerable expansion on the plan for half a dozen,, and Diabelli did eventually publish the work!

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Dancing for Nepal

Tangents - Daniela Cardim Fonteyne - New English Ballet
Tangents - New English Ballet (choreography Daniela Cardim Fonteyne)
Dancing for Nepal is looking to raise funds for the Nepal earthquake appeal. At the St James Theatre, 12 Palace Street, London SW1E 5JA, near Buckingham Palace, from 20 to 22 August 2015 Dancing for Nepal is a programme of new ballets presented by New English Ballet Theatre, and guests artists from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. The works performed will include Tangents, to music by Mussorgsky, choreography and design by Daniela Cardim Fonteyne (formerly a dancer with Dutch National Ballet), Orbital Motion, to music by Philip Glass, choreography by Valentino Zucchetti (First Soloist at the Royal Ballet), Toca, to music by Villa Lobos with choreography and design by Erico Montes (First Artist at the Royal Ballet) and Mad Women choreography and design by Kristen McNally (Soloist at the Royal Ballet).

Funds raised will go to the Nepal Earthquake Recovery Appeal 2015 which was set up by Alison Marston, Head of Grants and Philanthropy at the Bulldog Trust. Alison Marston was born in Nepal where her family have lived for 40 years and she speaks Nepali as her first language. Donations will be directed at small, grassroots NGOs working on the ground to support Nepal's recovery, and will be carefully monitored by the Bulldog Trust (which runs Two Temple Place).

Messiah, Memory and A Midsummer Night's Dream - an encounter with Robin Tritschler

Robin Tritschler - photo credit Garreth Wong
Robin Tritschler
photo credit Garreth Wong
The tenor Robin Tritschler recently sang in the BBC Proms performance RVW's Sancta Civitas, and was described by one reviewer as luxury casting. He has also been busy on the operatic stage, singing with Ashley Riches in Garsington Opera's new production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. He is about to go to Austria to sing Lysander in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Klagenfurt, before then he travels to Austria for some Schubert recitals curated by John Gihooley (artistic director of the Wigmore Hall), leaving little time at home. I was lucky enough to meet up with him for coffee, whilst he was between rehearsals. We had no particular agenda, so talk moved from Robin's forthcoming performances to his love of creating imaginative programmes for song recitals. And in fact we started off by talking not so about music as the act of learning it.


Iain Burnside and Robin Tritschler at the Wigmore Hall, rehearsing for a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert - photo credit BBC/Ben Collingwood
Iain Burnside and Robin Tritschler at the Wigmore Hall,
rehearsing for a BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concert
photo credit BBC/Ben Collingwood
Discussions turned to his preparations for A Midsummer Night's Dream (his first Lysander) which he sings in Klagenfurt and he wryly comments that his memory of Lysander is 'still in that cloudy moment, one line drifts into the next', adding that the part is all in the aether above you. This leads us to the general topic of memory and how singers remember such vast quantities of material. For Robin, memory happens because of movement and action, he remembers by being in the set.

Last year Robin sang the role of Ananda in Pierre Audi's production of Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream at Welsh National Opera. When I saw the opera  (which intercuts Wagner's final scenes from his intended final opera on Budda), it was at the Barbican and sung in English but David Poutney (artistic director of WNO) wanted to put the Buddhist sections in the original language Pali (which is the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism) with the Wagner sections in German. Robin and Claire Booth visited don in Oxford who is a world expert in the language and he took them through the basics. But work could only start properly when they were supplied with a word for word translation. For Robin an essential part of learning is knowing what every word, every syllable means even in a language like Pali. In fact, the process was made trickier for Claire Booth who had sung the role in the same production in English.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti with Raju das Baul at the Edinburgh Fringe

Simon Thacker's Svara Kanti
Classical guitarist Simon Thacker is known for his cultural collaborations via his trio (see my review of his CD Rakasha ) Simon Thacker's Svara-Kanti. The group is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 15 to 23 August 2015 at Summerhall, as part of the Made in Scotland showcase (representing the best of Scottish arts and artists across all art forms). You can also catch them on the BBC Asian Network 14 August at 12:30 and In Tune on BBC Radio 3 on 21 August at 16:30.

In this incarnation the group features Simon Thacker on classical guitar (and as composer) with Raju das Baul and Sarvar Sabri. Raju das Baul is a singer/instrumentalist from the mystical Baul Bengali folk tradition, and he comes from Santiniketan, Baul heartland and the seat Rabindranath Tagore's famous university. Sarvar Sabri is a Birmingham based tabla master. So look forward to startling virtuosity in a variety of cross-cultural collaborations.


See Simon Thackers' website for further details and there is a clip of the group's performance in Indian in November 2014 on YouTube.You can buy tickets from the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Russian Emigres from Alissa Firsova

Russian Emigres - Alissa Firsova - Vivat
Rachmaninov, Elena Firsova, Dmitri Smirnov, Alissa Firsova; Alissa Firsova; Viva
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 9 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Family connections in this strong recital from pianist and composer Alissa Firsova

This new disc on the Vivat label from pianist Alissa Firsova explores music in exile, contrasting the music of Sergei Rachmaninov who left Russia in 1917 with that of Firsova's parents Dmitri Smirnov and Elena Firsova who were blacklisted and finally fled in 1991. Alissa Firsova adds at the end one of her own pieces. The result is a disc which weaves the varied elements of Firsova's own heritage (pianist, composer, daughter of Russian composer emigres) into a recital centred on Rachmaninov's Sonata No. 2, Op. 36 and Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42, along with Elena Firsova's For Alissa, Op.102, Dmitri Smirnov's Sonata No.6 'Blake Sonata', Op.157 and Alissa Firsova's Lune Rouge, Op.13.

Alissa Firsova
Alissa Firsova
Rachmaninov left Russia following the October Revolution, losing both his homeland and his family estate. Eventually settling in the USA, Rachmaninov's nostalgia for the old Russia grew stronger with the years and became a strong feature of his music from this period. His Sonata No. 2 was written originally in 1913; a difficult and complex work, after playing it in public for many years Rachmaninov revised it in 1931 reducing both the length and complexity but Alissa Firsova in her note in the CD booklet argues that the revised version compromises the work. So it is with the original version of the sonata that she opens the disc. It is a large scale, three movement sonata. The first movement, Allegro agitato start with a big romantic, complex texture utilising a variety of musical motifs rather than the sort of 'big tune' which we often associate with this composer. The music seems to wander somewhat and at over ten minutes it is not the most concise of works, but you would not mistake it for any other composer. Alissa Firsova responds with playing which has a wonderful strength in the strenuous passages, but a delicacy too. The second movement, Non allegro is thoughtful and slightly uneasy with a lyricism which gradually develops. Even here there is a strength to Alissa Firsova's playing, it feels a very direct yet full of poetry. The final movement, L'istesso tempo - Allegro molto is fast and furious, with lots of notes in a questing and restless movement. Alissa Firsova's playing combines robust bravura with poetry and understanding of the work's complex structures.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on a roll

Kirill Karabits
Kirill Karabits
Kirill Karabits has signed a new contract and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is very much on a roll (John Allison in his review of their recent Prom described Karabits and the BSO as 'one of this country's finest orchestral partnerships'). 

Headline concerts in 2015/16 include a concert performance of Richard Strauss's Salome which opens the season with Karabits conducting and Lise Lindstrom in the title role, and Kim Begley and Birgit Remmert as Herod and Herodias. During the season Karabits will also be conducting Mahler's first symphony, and Elgar's Enigma Variations which will be paired with James MacMillan's Little Mass. Karabits' edition of CPE Bach's St John Passion premiered last year, and the new season will feature Karabits conducting music by Haydn, Mozart and JS Bach, and Reinhardt Goebel conducting Mozart and JC Bach, including a suite from Amadis de Gaule. Sibelius’ 150th birthday year is being celebrated with Kirill Karabits conducting the composer’s last three work, Symphony No. 7, Tapiola and Tempest Suite. Karabits and the orchestra will also be releasing the final instalment of its Prokofiev symphony cycle on Onyx Classics.


German violinist Augustin Hadelich is Artist-in-Residence for the new season, giving three concerts as well as workshops and masterclasses, with performances of concertos by Sibelius and Tchaikovsky as well as joining members of BSO for chamber music by Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Kokoro, the BSO’s contemporary music ensemble, will be the resident ensemble at Bristol University’s International Composition Competition taking place over 2016-17. Kokoro will workshop a number of works submitted, from which three composers will be invited to write pieces for performance in spring 2017. This season sees the final year of composer Hywel Davies' three-year residency with Kokoro, with the premiere of a new dramatic scena for two singers and Kokoro.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is 120 years old and is in fact unique in the UK, being the only professional orchestra not based in a city. You can catch their performance at Monday night's Prom (10 August 2015) with Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 and Korngold's Violin Concerto (with Nicola Benedetti) on the BBC Proms website.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

The Sixteen in 2015 / 2016

Harry Christophers and the Sixteen
Harry Christophers and The Sixteen will be having a typically busy and well travelled 2015/2016, a season which will see the group combining their annual Choral Pilgrimage with shorter tours of music for Christmas as well as one of Handel's most memorable early works. The group will also be making a theatrical appearance in a new play.

Members of the group will be performing music by Thomas Tallis in a play about the composer by Jessica Swale which is being performed at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse during October 2015 (further details and dates from The Sixteen's website). And the choir will be seeing Christmas 2015 in with a programme focussing on the relationship between Virgin Mother and Child with music by Byrd, Tallis, Lambe, Parsons and Phillips alongside traditional pieces and music by Boris Ord, John Tavener, James MacMillan, Gabriel Jackson, Howard Skempton, Richard Pygott and Alex Roth. The programme tours to Glyndebourne, Cardiff, London, Reading, Nottingham and Saffron Walden between 6 December and 20 December (further details from The Sixteen's website).

Their 2016 Choral Pilgrimage will be the group's 16th, taking a programme of music around a remarkable number of venues across the UK. Next year the programme will concentrate on music by William Byrd and Arvo Part. There will also be a short tour of Handel's Dixit Dominus, travelling to Coventry, Derby, Peterborough, Worcester, Chichester and Rochester Cathedrals, Saffron Hall and Cadogan Hall (further details from The Sixteen's website).



Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Poulenc Songs - Volume 5

The Complete Song of Poulenc, Volume 5
Poulenc Rapsodie Negre, Le Bestiare, Quatre Poemes de Max Jacob, Le Bal Masqe, Quatre Poemes d'Apollinaie, Vocalise; Thomas Allen, Thomas Oliemans, Joshua Ellicott, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Ann Murray, Sarah Fox
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 13 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Youth and experience mixed in this volume of Malcolm Martineau's survey

The fifth volume of Malcolm Martineau's survey of The Complete Songs of Poulenc on Signum Classics takes the same format as before with a mixture of performers combining experience singers with newcomers, so that we have Thomas Allen, Thomas Oliemans, Joshua Ellicott, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Ann Murray and Sarah Fox performing a programme which includes a number of works with instrumental accompaniment, Rapsodie negre, Le Bestiare, Quatre Poemes de Max Jacob, and Le Bal Masque, plus Quatre Poemes d'Apollinaire and Vocalise. Malcolm Martineau is the pianist throughout and is joined by the Badke Quartet, David Cowley (oboe), Lisa Friend (flute), Julian Bliss (clarinet), Jarek Augustyniak (bassoon), Phil White (trombone), Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Gemma Rosefield (cello), David Corkhill, Andrew Barnard and Gary Lovenest (percussion).

The programme starts at the very beginning with Rapsodie Negre, written in 1917 and the earliest of Poulenc's works to survive. Not a song cycle at all, it consists of five lively movements for flute, clarinet, string quartet and piano to which a baritone (Thomas Oliemans) is added singing nonsense syllables. We get a lovely seductive texture from Prelude, followed by a perky Rondo. Thomas Oliemans join Honoloulou singing the nonsense with big resonant sound. The gentle Pastoral is instruments only, but Oliemans reappears briefly in the vibrant finale.

Somewhere for the weekend: The 11th North Norfolk Music Festival

12 Ensemble at the North Norfolk Music Festival
12 Ensemble at the North Norfolk Music Festival
The 11th North Norfolk Music Festival, based in  St Mary's Church, South Creake, Norfolk, starts on 11 August 2015 and runs until 22 August. Directed by Simon Rowland-Jones and Barry Cheesman, the festival is an amazing eruption of chamber music and song in Norfolk, along with some rather good food. 

Performers include pianists Yevgeny Sudbin, Daniel Ciobanu, Tim Horton and Tom Poster, the Marmen String Quartet, the Navarra String Quartet, Leonore Piano Trio, Lendvai String Trio, Arcadia String Quartet.

Baritone Benjamin Appl performs Schubert's Die Winterreise accompanied by Gary Matthewman,  tenor Joshua Ellicott performs Schubert's Schwanengesang with Liszt and Finzi accompanied by Simon Lepper, and an appearance from Jacqui Dankworth and David Gordon. 12 Ensemble returns to the festival performing John Woolrich's Ulysses Awakes with Mozart and Vivaldi. Many of the concerts are preceded by Festival Dinners in a marquee in the church yard.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Contemporary opera is alive and well and living in King's Cross

Andrew Walker and Guy Woolf in Dan Gillingwater's The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera - Tete a Tete the Opera Festival
Andrew Walker, Guy Woolf in Dan Gillingwater's
The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera
Tête à Tête:The Opera Festival; Born Mad, Bastard Assignments, Red and Ginger Productions; Tête à Tête:The Opera Festival at Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 8,9 2015
Lively selection of contemporary opera at this year's festival of short new music theatre pieces

I caught up with Tête à Tête:The Opera Festival over the weekend sampling just a few events from the huge range on offer at Kings Place, showing that the art of contemporary opera seems to be alive and well as people push the genre in a variety of striking directions. The three main events which I saw were Born Mad's Mix with a selection of excerpts from works devised in ensemble, with composer Alex Groves and director Rebecca Hanbury on Friday 7 August 2015, and on Sunday 9 August, Red and Ginger productions The Homosexual Necrophiliac Duck Opera with music by Dan Gillingwater, and words by Kees Moeliker, directed by Sarah Redmond, and Bastard Assignments3 a group of three short music theatre works by members of the composers collective Bastard Assignments, Josh Spear, Edward Henderson and Timothy Cape. In addition there were the Pop-Up Operas, performed in the foyer of Kings Place and I saw UnconGENIE-al with music by James Garner and words by Anna Pool, My Mother My Daughter with music & words by Orlando Gough, and Wake Up! with music by Ayanna Witter-Johnson and words by Susannah Waters.

Lewis Brotherton, Richard Dodwell, Josh Spear in Josh Spear's He/Himself - Bastard Assignments at Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival
Lewis Brotherton, Richard Dodwell, Josh Spear
in Josh Spear's He/Himself
Born Mad is a performance collective which devises music theatre work in the rehearsal studio. Their works combines dance, music and singing and are designed for classically trained voices, the musical element combines electronics with live singing in a number of different ways. The founders of the group are composer Alex Groves and director Rebecca Hanbury.  Their programme Mix presented a selection of works, including some excerpts, along with a sampling of their latest work in progress. All were performed on a bare, black stage with the performers in black.

We started with Locus an exploration of insomnia performed by Catherine Carter, Emily Phillips and Chiara Vinci, with Amy Insole as movement director. This was three singers, three interweaving hypnotic lines with a very restrained sense of movement. I loved the evocative structure of the music and thought it caught the obsessive nature of insomnia well, but lacked a little of the desperation.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Hugi Gudmundsson - Calm of the Deep

Hugi Gudmundsson - Calm of the Deep
Hugi Gudmundsson; Nordic Affect, Hanna Loftsdottir, Hamrahlid Choir, Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 30 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Contemporary music from Iceland in dialogue with the past, in various ways

Hugi Gudmundsson (born 1977) is an Icelandic composer and Calm of the Deep, his disc on the Smekkleysa label, brings together number of his pieces which have a varied dialogue with music of the past. Performers include the Hamrahlid Choir, conductor Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir, viola da gamba player Hanna Loftsdottir, and the period instrument group Nordic Affect. The disc includes Hugi Gudmundsson's Handelusive played by Nordic Affect, Four intermezzi for gamba played by Hanna Loftsdottir, and a sequence of choral pieces sung by Hamrahlid Choir conducted by Thorgerdur Ingolfsdottir. But the curious thing is that the various movements are interleaved with the individual choral pieces so that the disc opens with the choral piece To This My Thoughts Turn All My Days, followed by the first movement of Handelusive, another choral piece Palindrom and then the first gamba intermezzo. I was not convinced that this worked and felt that the instrumental items were stronger when heard in a group.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Russia, Poland, Mexico and Shakespeare - London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2015/16

London Philharmonic Orchestra
There is an interesting Russian thread running through the London Philharmonic Orchestra's 2015/16 season with some lesser known names amongst the familiar works and the premiere of a new mass by Alexander Raskatov. Poland gets a look in too, when Krzysztof Penderecki conducts his own music, and the orchestra will be celebrating both The Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom and Shakespeare 400. Both Magnus Lindberg's violin concertos are performed, and there is a new piece for Matthias Goerne by Marc-Andre Dalbavie.

Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915) was a student, and later friend of Tchaikovsky, and Vladimir Jurowski conducts his St John of Damascus on 26 September 2015. St John of Damascus ("A Russian Requiem"), Op. 1, for 4 part mixed chorus and orchestra (1884) is a response to words by Tolstoy and is full of Russian folk-music and liturgical music. The concert is completed with Francesca da Rimini the Dante inspired tone poem by Taneyev's friend Tchaikovsky, and with Sibelius's Symphony No. 2. Jurowski conducts Sibelius's Violin Concerto with Leonidas Kavakos on 3 October 2015, with Symphony No.3 "The Divine Poem" by Scriabin (who studied with Taneyev), and Oliver Knussen's Scriabin Settings. These latter were written in 1978 for the Apollo Chamber Orchestra, and Oliver Knussen orchestrated five of Scriabin's piano pieces. Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki is at the helm on 27 November for Sibelius's Symphony No. 1 and a pair of Russian works, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Beatrice Rana), and From the Apocalypse by Anatoly Liadov (1855-1914) who was one of Prokofiev's teachers. Green Mass by the Russian composer Alexander Raskatov (born 1953) receives its premiere on 30 January 2016 conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, with soloists Elena Vassilleva, Iestyn Davies, Toby Spence and Nikolay Didenko. The work sets the Latin mass along with additional texts in five languages dedicated to be beauty of nature.

The Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki (born 1933) conducts the orchestra in three of his own pieces, the Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, and the UK premieres of Adagio for Strings and Harp Concerto. Penderecki will also conduct Shostakovich's Symphony no. 6. The Stabat Mater by Karol Szymanowksi (1882-1937), a Polish composer of an earlier generation, is conducted by Vladimir Jurowski with soloists Elzbieta Szmytka, Anne Sofie von Otter and Andrzej Dobber (5 March 2016)

In November the orchestra helps celebrate The Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom 2015 and Alondra de la Parra conducts a programme of contemporary Mexican music including works by Castro, Federico Ibarra,  Revueltas and Arturo Marquez (6 November 2015).  The Shakespeare 400 celebrations give rise to a number of concerts with music by Dvorak (3 February 2016), Sibelius's Tempest Suite (with Dvorak's rarely performed Piano Concerto with Stephen Hough on 10 February 2016), Nikolai and Korngold (12 February 2016), Strauss (26 February), Prokofiev (15 April), as well as a series of early evening events, all culminating in a gala concert on Saturday 23 April when Vladimir Jurowski conducts music by Verdi, Tchaikovsky, RVW, Britten, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Prokofiev, Thomas Ades, and Walton with a cast including Kate Royal, Allison Bell, Iestyn Davies, Ronald Samm and Simon Keenlyside.

Robin Ticciati, artistic director of Glyndebourne, conducts Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto No.1 with soloist Christian Tezlaff (11 November). The orchestra gives the world premiere of Lindberg's Violin Concerto No. 2 with Jaap van Zweden conducting violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann (9 December 2015). French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie is writing a new work for Matthias Goerne which will be paired with Brahms German Requiem (with Sarah Tynan and Matthias Goerne) conducted by Christoph von Eschenbach.

Alexander von Zemlinsky's tone poem Der Seejungfrau (The Mermaid) is conducted by Vladimir Jurowski (9 March 2016), whilst David Charles Abell pairs Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 (with Jayson Gillham) with the  film Brief Encounter with the score played live.

Friday, 7 August 2015

More than frothy fun - Gluck's Il Parnaso confuso at Wilton's Music Hall

Top (from left to right): singers Cenk Karaferya, Louisa Petais, Alison Manifold, and Daire Halpin Bottom: Ian Peter Bugeja conducting Les Bougies Baroques from the harpsichord - photo credit Matthew Ferguson
Top (from left to right):
singers Cenk Karaferya, Louisa Petais, Alison Manifold, & Daire Halpin
Bottom:
Ian Peter Bugeja conducting Les Bougies Baroques from the harpsichord
photo credit Matthew Ferguson
Gluck Il Parnasso confuso; Daire Halpin, Lousa Petais, Alison Manifold, Cenk Karaferya, dir: Anna Pool, cond: Ian Peter Bugeja; Les Bougies Baroques at Wilton's Music Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 06 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Lively and engaging staging of one of Gluck's rarely performed, but certainly not lesser, one-act operas

Christoph Willibald Gluck is best known for his handful of reform operas, but in a long career he wrote much else that was of interest. His opera (in fact a one-act azione teatrale) Il Parnaso confuso  (Parnassus in confusion) was written with a libretto by Metastasio in 1765 for the wedding celebrations of Emperor Joseph II to Maria Josepha of Bavaria in Vienna. The four solo parts, Apollo and three of the muses, Melpomene, Euterpe and Erato, were played by the Emperor's sisters, the archduchesses then aged 12 to 21, and the piece was directed from the harpsichord by the Emperor's brother. The work is far more complex and contains far more of interest than the incidental nature of its genesis might suggest and clearly the young archduchesses were very talented. But also, being a wedding piece, Gluck and Metastasio were in relaxed mood and the piece has a frothy gaiety (and in-jokes) which we don't really expect.

Surprisingly the work received its first UK period instrument performance at Wilton's Music Hall on Thursday 6 August 2015 when Les Bougies Baroques, artistic director Ian Peter Bugeja, presented a one off performance. Directed by Anna Pool, with designs by Maciej Krajewski, the cast featured Daire Halpin as Apollo, Louisa Petais as Melpomene, Alison Manifold as Euterpe and Cenk Karaferya as Erato, with Ian Peter Bugeja directing an instrumental ensemble from the harpsichord.

Les Bougies Baroques is an instrumental/vocal period performance ensemble founded and directed by the young Maltese keyboard player Ian Peter Bugeja. Last year, owing to problems with our car, I managed to miss the group's performance of Mozart at Clandon Hall so this year was determined that other transport difficulties (a tube strike) would not prevent me from seeing their production of Il Parnaso confuso. The performance was a one-off, but clearly much care had been lavished on it and the group is hoping to raise interest in the work and perhaps even record it. Afterwards Ian Peter informed me that there are two or three further Gluck azione teatrale which he has his eye on, all deserving of revival.

The work on this opera started at the bottom, as the score and parts were all produced in a new edition for the group based on the original manuscript. And Anna Pool's staging, whilst making great use of found objects, was clearly the result of a lot of thought how to bring the spirit of the original to the 21st century and an audience who would respond neither to the in-jokes in the libretto, nor the mythological background of the plot. Who knows nowadays that Melpomene is the muse of tragedy, Euterpe the muse of music and Erato the muse of lyric and erotic poetry!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Somewhere for the weekend - Presteigne Festival

Poppies - Presteigne
The Presteigne Festival is now in its 33rd year. Based in Presteigne / Gwyl Llanandras in Radnorshire in the Welsh Marches, the festival manages to cram an enormous amount of vital music making into its six days, running from 27 August to 1 September 2015. As well as celebrating the 150th anniversaries of Sibelius and Nielsen, the festival also has its usual emphasis on new music. Composer Matthew Taylor will be in residence, and there are pieces by Charlotte Bray, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, David Knotts, David Matthews, Cecilia McDowall, Joseph Phibbs and Michael Small. Matthew Taylor will have six pieces performed during the festival and will be participating in pre-concert talks and as well as talking to Thomas Hyde about his life, passions and favourite music.

The final concert of the festival will honour John McCabe (1939-2015), with George Vass conducting the Presteigne Festival Orchestra in premieres by Matthew Taylor, and David Knotts, plus music by John McCabe, Carl Nielsen and Joseph Haydn.

Artist director George Vass will be conducting his own Nova Music Opera in a double bill of contemporary operas dealing with notorious events in recent British history, with Charlotte Bray's Entanglement looking at Ruth Ellis and Thomas Hyde's That Man Stephen Ward looking at the Profumo scandal. Entanglement features Kirsty Hopkins, Howard Quilla Croft and Greg Tassell, whilst That Man Stephen Ward features Damian Thantrey. Both operas are directed by Richard Williams.

Visitors include the choir of Royal Holloway, conductor Rupert Gough, the Navarra Quartet and pianist Tom Poster, and soprano Gillian Keith. Events also include festival exhibitions, including one devoted to the work of Sir Sidney Nolan, and a variety of talks and poetry events.

Further information from the Presteigne Festival website.

Il Segreto di Susanna

Il Segreto di Susanna
Wolf-Ferrari Il Segreto di Susanna; Judith Howarth, Angel Odena, Oviedo Filarmonia, Friedrich Haider; PhilArtis Vienna
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 23 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Sparkling introduction to the charming world of Wolf-Ferrari's operatic comedies

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari made his name with a series of operatic comedies based on plays by Goldoni. His one-act opera Il Segreto di Susanna is set in modern times, yet seems to partake of the comic atmosphere of the Goldoni operas. Il Segreto di Susanna is perhaps Wolf-Ferrari's most performed opera nowadays (which isn't really saying much). This recording from Friedrich Haider and the Oviedo Filarmonia on the PhilArtis Vienna label, has Judith Howarth in the title role with Angel Odena as her husband, Gil.

There is something fascinatingly pan-national about this recording which reflects Wolf-Ferrari's own mixed heritage (his father was German and his mother Italian), with an English soprano, Spanish baritone and Spanish orchestra, and Austrian/Italian conductor.

Like a number of Wolf-Ferrari's other operas Il Segreto di Susanna went down better in Germany than Italy and the opera premiered in 1909 in Munich (in German). It came after a pair of operas based on Goldoni, Le donne curiose (premiered in Munich in 1903) and I quatro rusteghi (premiered in 1906). Il Segreto di Susanna seems to have been part of a deliberate attempt to move his operas into the contemporary world, as it was followed by the neo-Versimo of I gioielli della Madonna (1911). The librettist was an Italian author Enrico Golisciani (1848-1919) whose previous librettos had included work for Mascagni and Cilea.

The plot is simple, Gil and Susanna are happily married but he has a tendency to be jealous and, smelling tobacco smoke in the house, becomes convinced that she has a lover. He tries to catch her out and eventually catches her smoking, so all ends happily with the two smoking together. It is the sort of non-PC plot which nowadays would be less acceptable (rather like, though not as bad as, Donizetti's comedy about wife-beating, Rita or Deux Hommes et une Femme).

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