Saturday, 30 January 2016

Magnificent Feast - Mozart's birthday at the Wigmore Hall

Michael Collins
Michael Collins
Mozart Serenade in B flat major 'Gran Partita', La clemenza di Tito'Parto parto ma tu ben mio', Clarinet Concerto in A major; Michael Collins, Christine Rice, London Winds, City of London Sinfonia; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Jan 27 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Mozart's 260th birthday celebrated in fine style at the Wigmore Hall

The versatile Michael Collins and friends celebrated Mozart's 260th birthday in style to a capacity Wigmore Hall audience on 27 January 2016. The stage was just as full as the auditorium too. We weren't just celebrating a birthday, we were also feasting on the fruits of Mozart's partnership with virtuoso clarinettist and basset-horn player Anton Stadler, with Serenade in B flat major for 13 wind instruments K361 'Gran Partita', 'Parto parto ma tu ben mio' from La clemenza di Tito K621 and the Clarinet Concerto in A major K622 performed with mezzo-soprano Christine Rice, London Winds and the City of London Sinfonia.

Christine Rice - © Patricia Taylor
Christine Rice
© Patricia Taylor
First came the Serenade in B flat for 13 instruments, the 'Gran Partita'. Rather than the double bassoon we hear more often, tonight's ensemble included a double bass. This was probably Mozart's intended scoring. Once the symphony of hearing aids in all keys expect B flat major had died down in the auditorium (perhaps time to consider a reminder along with the mobile-phone message?), the sound world was deliciously velvety, and the fact there was so little elbow-room on the stage meant that there was an intensity and a tightness to the ensemble, whatever the scoring of a particular movement. The portentous Largo opening gave way to the delicate clarinet and bluesy basset horns. The third movement, the Adagio, was achingly beautiful, the four horns brooding in the back row while the oboe sang an aria. The sixth movement, Tema con variazioni, gave lots of chances for showcases of each of the instruments, as well as some opportunities for ad-hoc DIY on stage. The piece lasts about three-quarters of an hour and the scoring is very efficient in that it gives the players chances to catch their breath, sort out reeds and so on. It also contributed to the freshness of the piece.

The finale is a Molto allegro that gave us the impression the town band had come on stage. Raucous and playful, it sent us all off to the bar with huge smiles on our faces.

Beyond Belief - London Philharmonic Orchestra's exciting 2016-2017 season

Vladimir Jurowski  & London Philharmonic Orchestra - credit Drew Kelley
Vladimir Jurowski  & London Philharmonic Orchestra - credit Drew Kelley
The London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) participated in the South Bank Centre's year long The Rest is Noise festival which brought a welcome lift to the orchestra's programming, giving us the chance to hear it in works which sometimes moved away from the rather fixed core repertoire. The LPO's recently announced 2016/17 season is very much dominated by the orchestra's participation in another South Bank Centre year festival in 2017, the multi-artform Belief and Beyond Belief with 15 concerts built around five specially themed weekends, 'Meaning', 'Science', 'Death', 'Ideology' and 'Society' with works ranging from Krzysztof Penderecki's St Luke Passion and Beethoven's Fidelio to John Adams Harmonielehre and to Haydn's Creation, with a bit of 2001 A Space Odyssey thrown in, with many concerts conducted by principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski. Elsewhere in the season Osmo Vänskä conducts a complete Sibelius symphony cycle in four consecutive concerts alongside renowned British concertos of the period. The season will also be celebrating the London Philharmonic Choir, as well as featuring seminal works by Gavin Bryars.

For Belief and Beyond Belief, the 'Meaning' weekend includes Vladimir Jurowski conducting both Beethoven's Fidelio with Anja Kampa and Michael König, and Kancheli’s Mourned by the Wind with Kim Kashkashian, Martinů’s Memorial to Lidice and RVW's Symphony No. 9. 'Science' includes Roger Norrington conducting Haydn's The Creation and Andrés Orozco-Estrada conducting music by Ligeti and Strauss associated with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Ives's The Unanswered Question, John Adams's Doctor Atomic Symphony, and Philip Glass's first work for full symphony orchestra The Light, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Michelson-Morley experiment on the properties of light.

'Death' begins with Jurowski conducting Shostakovich's final symphony, the darkly comic no. 15, and a highly anticipated performance of Penderecki's St Luke Passion. Music by Gavin Bryars and Magnus Lindberg also features, plus Natalie Stutzman conducting Richard Strauss and Mozart. 'Ideology' includes Jurowski conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 8 and Tallis's Spem in Alium in the same concert! The final weekend in the 2016/17 season, 'Society' includes Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Enescu and Silverstri at the Romanian Cultural Institute

Mihai Ritivoiu and Evegeny Genchev
Mixing music by Romanian composers Constantin Silvestri and Georges Enescu, the concert by Romanian pianist Mihai Ritivoiu and Bulgarian pianist Evgeny Genchev on Thursday 4 February at 7pm at the Romanian Cultural Institute, 1 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X8PH is presented by the The Romanian Cultural Institute and The Enescu Society and organised in partnership with The Keyboard Charitable Trust. The programme concludes with Six folk dances from Transylvania Op. 4 No. 1 for piano duet by the Romanian conductor and composer Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) who left Romania in 1959. For the first half of the concert Ritivoiu and Genchev share the honours in a series of solo piano works which mix Bach, Liszt and Chopin with music by the Australian composer Carl Vine and the great Romanian composer Georges Enescu (1881-1955).

Ticket are free, but allocated on a first come first served basis via the Eventbrite website.

Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars - Tenebrae's Bob Chilcott celebration opens London A Cappella Festival

Bob Chilcott - photo Vicky Alhadeff
Bob Chilcott - photo Vicky Alhadeff
Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars, music by Bob Chilcott; The Tenebrae Consort, Nigel Short; London A Cappella Festival at King Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 28 2016
Star rating: 3.5

A celebration of Bob Chilcott's art opens the London A Cappella Festival

On 28 January 2016, Nigel Short and the Tenebrae Consort opened the 2016 London A Cappella Festival at Kings Place with a concert launching their new CD, Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars, a disc which celebrates the music of Bob Chilcott, both his recent work for choir and his arrangements for the Kings Singers. For much of the concert, the performers were just six singers, Grace Davidson, Joanna Forbes-Lestrange,  Nicholas Madden, Stephen Kennedy, and Nicholas Garrett, with Nigel Short singing baritone. For some items other members of the group came on-stage to make 10 or 11 singes and at the end of part two they were joined as well by the London Youth Chamber Choir (director Rachel Staunton).

The consort of six singers opened with three French folk-songs arranged by Bob Chilcott some 30 years ago for a group call the Light Blues. Charming and effective close harmony arrangements, but perhaps not the best way to open the concert. It was only with the next group of world folk songs, in arrangements originally made for the Kings Singers, that the real magic of Chilcott's arrangements could be heard. These had an easy naturalness and charm, with jazz-based close-harmony being the default setting, but within this a lot a variations and an appreciation of the sheer dexterity that his singers could bring off. An arrangement of a piece by Juan de Anchieta was quite straight, but the Japanese children's songs had a different texture  with a lovely transparent quality (and they were sung in Japanese too). The Latin American number was, of course, sheer delight with a lovely solo from Grace Davidson and Nicholas Garrett providing spectacular vocal percussion. The Finnish song was, rather remarkably, given a laid-back jazz feel whilst Greensleeves was married to mobile jazz harmonies.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Barbican artist focus - Renee Fleming

Renée Fleming. Photo: Decca/Andrew Eccles
Renée Fleming. Photo: Decca/Andrew Eccles
Following hot on the heels of the Barbican Centre's 2016/17 season announcement (featuring Jonas Kaufmann) the centre's 2015/16 Artist Spotlight features the soprano Renee Fleming in a series of concert and events starting on 3 February 2016. 

Concerts include Fleming performing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Jiri Belohlavek in two UK premieres, both written for Fleming; Robin Holloway's orchestral arrangement of ten of Debussy's Verlaine settings C'est l'extase and Swedish composer Anders Hillborg's The Strand Settings based on text by the Canadian poet Mark Strand. The premieres are framed by orchestral music by Debussy and Ravel. Fleming will also be giving a recital with pianist Hartmut Holl in a programme of songs by Schumann and Richard Strauss.

Other events include a panel discussion The 21st Century Singer chaired by Renee Fleming, and she will also be giving public masterclasses with students from the Guildhall School of Music. There are two film events, a documentary about the 2013 American Voices Festival which was hosted by Fleming, and the 2008 Metropolitan Opera Opening Night Gala. Both films will be introduced by the soprano.

Full information about the events from the Barbican website.

The Deer's Cry - music in a time of persecution by Byrd, Tallis & Pärt

The Deer's Cry - The Sixteen - Coro
The Deer's Cry: Music by Byrd, Tallis and Arvo Pärt; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 26 2016
Star rating: 4.0

The music from the Sixteen's 2016 choral pilgrimage mixes Byrd and Tallis's 1575 Cantiones sacrae with works by Arvo Pärt

In plenty of time for their 2016 Choral Pilgrimage, Harry Christophers and The Sixteen issue their latest CD, The Deer's Cry on the Coro label, covering the programme for the pilgrimage. The music chosen combines Byrd and Tallis with Arvo Pärt. With the music of Pärt & Byrd especially, we have composers writing under the threat of persecution. Byrd's music includes a number of works from the 1575 Cantiones Sacrae including Diliges Dominum, Emendemus in melius, Miserere mihi, O lux beata Trinitas the large scale motet Tribue, Domine alongside Arvo Pärt's The Deer's Cry, The Woman with the Alabaster Box and Nunc Dimittis.

Byrd's Diliges Dominum is one of those striking works such as Tallis was also fond of writing, in which a dazzling structure is hidden under a deceptively beautiful surface. In Diliges Dominum the work is a musical palindrome with four voices singing melodies forwards and the other four singing the same music backwards. Here we have the 18 singers of The Sixteen giving us a lovely even smooth tone which blossoms in the generous acoustic of St Augustine's Church, Kilburn. There is a fine sense of blend and evenness of tone, giving the work a deceptive perfection masking the complexities of music and performance underneath. Byrd's Christe qui lux es et dies is a series of striking harmonisations of the same plainchant melody, one for each verse, simple but beautifully effective.

Arvo Pärt's The Deer's Cry sets part of a text attributed to St Patrick and set in English. There is a lovely surface calm to this (as there should be) with beautifully even tone from the sopranos supported by a the rhythmic but discreet accompaniment of the rest of the choir. The piece is sung with great poise and rises to a wonderful climax. The Woman with the Alabaster Box has a sombre gravity with gorgeous textures arising from a lovely precise placing of the various chords. Byrd's Emendemus in melius which comes between the two Pärt pieces provides a nice contrast with a lovely sense of intertwining lines.

In Byrd's Miserere mihi the dexterous part writing with the various canons is again subsumed under the easy perfection of the whole piece. Ad dominum cum tribulare is impressively large scale with a richness to the texture. Here and elsewhere the detail is somewhat lost in the acoustic which is the price to be paid for the lovely effect the acoustic has on the overall structure of the music.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Inspired by Mozart - Beethoven's opus 69 sonata for piano and cello

Inspired by Mozart: Beethoven, Mozart, Franz Xaver Mozart; Julius Berger, Margarita Hohenrieder; Nimbus Alliance
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 21 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A voyage round Beethoven's opus 69 sonata and its links to Mozart

This new disc from cellist Julius Berger on Nimbus Alliance is a follow up to his Inspired by Bach disc. Like that previous disc, this new one Inspired by Mozart is a voyage round a particular work, in this case Beethoven's 1809 Sonata for piano and violoncello in A major, Op. 69. Accompanied by pianist Margarita Hohenrieder, Berger plays Beethoven's Twelve Variations on the theme 'Ein Madchen oder Weibchen' from Mozart's opera 'Die Zauberflote', and Seven Variations on the them 'Bei Mannern welche Liebe fuhlen' from Mozart's opera 'Die Zauberflote',  and the Opus 69 sonata, plus Mozart's fragment K580a, and perhaps most fascinatingly the 1814 Grande Sonate for piano and cello (or violin) in E major Op. 19 by Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, Mozart's son born in 1791.

Berger and Hohenrieder start with the two set of Beethoven variations, testament to the young composer's admiration of Mozart (in fact Beethoven wrote a total of four set of variations on themes from Mozart's operas). Here Berger and Hohenrieder play with easy charm and lyrical facility. I loved the way that, whilst not playing on a period instrument, Hohenrieder keeps her tone neat and tight whilst still expressive, so that the performances do not stretch the works beyond their natural shape.

Mozart's fragment K580a was drafted a year before his death for cor anglais and strings, and here Berger and Hohenrieder play a transcription for cello and piano. Fascinatingly the melody is that which Mozart would use in his Ave Verum.

Mozart junior's sonata is a large scale piece but it seems somewhat old fashioned when compared to Beethoven. The sonata (for cello or for violin) has tended to be ignored by cellists though Berger feels that this is due to the traditional version for cello and he has gone back to the original violin version,. The result is a big boned sonata with a lovely melodic sweep, which seem to link to the good natured classicism to be found in Mendelssohn and by pass Beethoven's sturm und drang.

Barbican 2016-17 launch - from the Fairy Queen to Jonas Kauffmnn and beyond

Jonas Kauffmann - photo Mathias Bother
Jonas Kauffmann - photo Mathias Bother
On Monday the Barbican Centre launched its 2016-17 classical music season, in a programme which combines the distinct personalities of the four main resident and associate ensembles, the Academy of Ancient Music, the Britten Sinfonia, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra with the centre's international programming and links to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. All the ensembles are involved in the Reich, Glass, Adams: the Sounds that Changed America season which celebrates the 80th birthdays of Steve Reich and Philip Glass and the 70th birthday of John Adams in a season which includes Adams operas El Nino and Doctor Atomic (with Gerald Finley), a weekend of Steve Reich's music with the Britten Sinfonia, LSO and students from the Guildhall, Glass's Les parents terribles danced by the Royal Ballet as part of a BBC Symphony Orchestra Total Immersion day devoted to Philip Glass

Another of the musical highlights must be the residency of tenor Jonas Kauffmann who will be at the Barbican for 10 action packed days in February when he will be performing Act One of Wagner's Die Walkure (with Karita Mattila) and Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder with Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra, a programme of Richard Strauss songs (including the Four Last Songs) with Jochen Rieder and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, giving a recital with pianist Helmut Deutsch and giving masterclasses at the Guildhall School.

RIchard Tognetti
RIchard Tognetti
Another residency of rather different kind is that of violinist Richard Tognetti who will not only be giving a series of performances with the Australian Chamber Orchestra in concerts which range widely from Shostakovich to Peteris Vasks and Roger Smalley as well as The Reef (a genre defying celebration of surfing), but will also be collaborating with pianist Polina Leschenko to perform Beethoven, Brahms, Part and Peter Sculthorpe, and performing acoustic and electronic work with Squarepusher (Tom Jenkinson).

And another international residency starting in 2017 is that of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra with Daniele Gatti whose performances will include a collaboration with members of the National Youth Orchestra which will form the centrepiece of an NYO Inspire Day with 100 young people from East London music hubs.

William Christie appointed Emeritus Conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

William Christie, credit Jean-Baptiste Millot
William Christie, credit Jean-Baptiste Millot
William Christie has been appointed Emeritus Conductor of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE). American-born Christie is best known for his founding of the French group Les Arts Florissants and the revival of French baroque music. His association with the OAE dates from 1996 when he conducted them in famous performances of Handel's Theodora at Glyndebourne directed by Peter Sellers. Most recently Christie conducted the orchestra in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie at Glyndebourne in 2013.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Journey: Paul Phoenix and Apollo5

Journey: Geoffrey Burgon, John Brunning, Thomas Hewitt Jones; Paul Phoenix, Apollo5; Edition Peters
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 22 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Something of a valedictory celebration for this former Kings Singers

Though you might not recognise his name, the chances are that you have heard Paul Phoenix's voice. He was the treble soloist in Geoffrey Burgon's Nunc Dimittis which was used for the closing titles of the original TV series of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and then as a tenor he spent 17 in the Kings Singers. This disc is by way of a celebration and a valedictory as Paul Phoenix has said goodbye to the Kings Singers. All the items on the disc, from the Edition Peters label, have a strongly popular vein, with a variety of influences, but all are united by some fine singing and high production values with Paul Phoenix joined by a number of guests, notably the vocal ensemble Apollo5.

The disc starts off with Paul Phoenix singing a new version of Geoffrey Burgon's Nunc Dimittis which shows off his attractive lyric voice. He has the sort of flexible technique which has enabled him to blend in a variety of ensembles, and in the Nunc Dimittis he combines to nice effect with Craig Burnett's trumpet, Nicholas Riddle's organ. (If you visit Paul Phoenix's website there is a clip of his treble self singing the work). In John Brunning's Pie Jesu (from his 2006 oratorio Amazing Day) Phoenix duets with himself to nice effect. For Thomas Hewitt Jones' Child of the Stable's Secret Birth Phoenix is joined by soprano Andrea Haines for a short lyric Christmas piece with quite a strong musical theatre feel.

Scenes from the End: a new show for solo soprano

Soprano Héloïse Werner (who also sings with the Hermes Experiment) has her own solo show on Monday 1 February 2016 at the Tristan Bates Theatre, which is part of the Actors Centre at 1a Tower Street, London WC2H 9NP. Entitled Scenes from the End, the show sees Werner collaborating with composer Jonathan Woolgar and director Roxana Haines to paint historic, comic and tragic pictures of "the end", from the heat-death of the universe to the end of an individual life. 

Jonathan Woolgar studies have included working with David Sawyer at the Royal Academy of Music and with Giles Swayne at Cambridge . You can hear his work on SoundCloud.

Schlagsahne and High Art - The Viennese Salon with Felicity Lott, Michael Collins & City of London Sinfonia

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt, 1907
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt, 1907
The Viennese Salon R.Strauss, Schoenberg, Bach, Berg, Schubert, Lehar, Oscar Strauss; Dame Felicity Lott, Michael Collins, City of London Sinfonia; Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Jan 24 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Highbrow and middlebrow mix, recreating the Viennese salon by candlelight

At first glance the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is not an obvious venue for a concert celebrating Viennese culture. But in fact the candle-lit intimacy of the space worked extremely well for this re-imagining of the city’s 19th and 20th salons, presented by the City of London Sinfonia directed by clarinettist Michael Collins with soprano Dame Felicity Lott on Sunday 24 January 2016. As well as the frothy fare we automatically think of, these salons also hosted the serious: Schoenberg’s Society for Private Musical Performances was established in 1918 to give small-scale performances of challenging large-scale pieces. So we heard music by composers ranging from Bach and Schubert through Richard Strauss, Berg & Schoenberg to Lehar and Oscar Straus. And of course this mix of highbrow and middlebrow suits the ethos of the Globe perfectly too.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Wigmore Hall starts live streaming concerts

Wigmore Hall - Live Stream
On Thursday 28 January 2016, the Wigmore Hall will be presenting its first live-streamed event. With the hall now getting almost double the audiences that it was doing a decade ago (200,000 in 2015/16 as compared to 120,000 ten years ago), the move to live streaming is another way for the hall to expand its audience without compromising the qualities which make live performances at the Wigmore Hall so special.

Thursday's event is the 2016/17 season launch and will feature Berlin's Armida Quartet, soprano Anna Lucia Richter with pianist Michael Gees, and baritone Andre Schuen with pianist Daniel Heide. Future plans for live streaming from the Wigmore Hall include the Irish Culture in Britain: A Centenary Celebration Gala Concert on Thursday 21 April 2016 at 7.30pm.

Full information from and free worldwide access to the streaming from the Wigmore Hall website.

Voices Appeared - La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc

Renée Maria Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
Renée Maria Falconetti in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc
La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc is a 1928 silent film by Carl Theodor Dreyer. The film was condemned unseen in France, vilified by Catholic authorities and was even banned in England for its depiction of English soldiers. Now recognised as a cinematic masterpiece, startlingly ahead of its time, it was based on the actual transcription of the trial. It features a striking performance by Renée Maria Falconetti as Jeanne d'Arc.

The film has been presented with a variety of sound-tracks over the years, including music by composers as diverse as Nick Cave and JS Bach. At LSO St Lukes on 29 January 2016, the film will be shown with music performed live by the Orlando Consort (Matthew Venner, Mark Dobell, Angus Smith, Donald Greig). Uniquely, they will be performing only music from the period of Jeanne d'Arc's life (1412-1431) with music by Binchois and Dufay. It is, frankly, probably not something which would have occurred to the original director, but it is a very appealing prospect. (You can see the film on-line at YouTube with no soundtrack).

Further information and tickets from the Barbican website.

Musical and literary treats from Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis

Mark Padmore - photo by Marco Borgrevve
Mark Padmore
photo by Marco Borgrevve
Schumann, Brahms, Schubert, Wolf; Mark Padmore, Paul Lewis; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Jan 22 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Stylishly constructed programme featuring Heine & Goethe settings

This recital on 22 January 2016 was classic Wigmore Hall fare and a double treat for lovers of the German song repertoire from Mark Padmore & Paul Lewis. Before he sang, Mark Padmore gave us an overview of what was in store, for the benefit of those of us who hadn’t read Richard Stokes’ programme essay: two poets (Heine and Goethe), set by four composers (Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Wolf) including Schumann's Liederkreis. Though encouraged to think of the poetry, we were also fully aware that we had a virtuoso at the piano.

Paul Lewis - photo Jack Liebeck
Paul Lewis - photo Jack Liebeck
We started with Schumann’s Op 24 Liederkreis from 1840, the Year of Song when Clara Wieck’s father was overruled and Robert and Clara finally got married. The besotted Robert Schumann’s choice of poems by the notoriously bitter, ironic Heinrich Heine may have seemed curious, but here Padmore played up the insecure, unhinged qualities of the text. After a beautifully still ‘Ich wandelte unter den Bäumen’ (‘I wandered among the trees’), Padmore picked up the doubt in the final phrase ‘Ich aber niemandem trau’ (‘But I trust no-one’) with the strange ‘Lieb Liebchen…’ inviting the beloved to put her hand in his heart to feel the carpenter making his coffin. For ‘Warte, warte, wilder Schiffmann’ (‘Wait, wild sailor’) both singer and pianist let rip, with the stunning postlude from Lewis leaving us in no doubt that the Schumanns were not going to have an easy ride.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Vale of Glamorgan Festival of Music programme for 2016

St. Illtud’s Church (Llantwit Major)
St. Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major
This year's Vale of Glamorgan Festival will be celebrating the birthdays of three composers, Pēteris Vasks (70), Steve Reich (80) and festival artistic director John Metcalf (70). The festival, which runs from 10 to 20 May 2016 will include five world premieres and eight UK premieres. 

Performers include the Latvian Radio Choir, Quatuor Tana, Ensemble MidtVest, accordionist Andreas Borregaard , violinist Parmela Attariwala and tabla player Shawn Mativetsky at a range of venues across the Vale of Glamorgan including Penarth’s All Saints Church, St Augustine’s Church and Penarth Pier Pavillion, Ewenny Priory Church, St. Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major, and BBC Hoddinott Hall and BayArt Gallery in Cardiff Bay.

Quatuor Tana & Nick Brown at Ewenny Priory at the 2014 Vale of Glamorgan Festival
Quatuor Tana & Nick Baron at Ewenny Priory
at the 2014 Vale of Glamorgan Festival
The 2016 Festival will feature the first of three new commissions (2016-2018) scored for symphony orchestra by major international composers, a new Viola Concerto written for Maxim Rysanov by Pēteris Vasks will be premiered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales on 20 May, at BBC Hoddinott Hall. The orchestra also gives the world premiere of Ghyll by Mark David Boden (12 May, BBC Hoddinott Hall) conducted by Edwin Outwater. Belgium-based group Quatuor Tana will give the premiere of David Hudry's Anamorphosis (BayArt Gallery, 13 May).

Event and talks include musician and teacher of yoga and meditation, Matthew Jones, exploring meditation techniques and mindfulness as they affect the process of listening to music, and writer and broadcaster, Ian Skelly, exploring the interests of featured composer, Pēteris Vasks, in the relationship between man and the environment.

The full festival programme will be on the festival website from 19 February 2016.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Hot off the press: Love's Lordship

My song, Love's Lordship from a set which I am writing setting some of JA Symonds translations of Michelangelo's sonnets for tenor and piano. Two completed so far:

Why should I seek to ease intense desire

With still more tears and windy words of grief,
When heaven, or late or soon, sends no relief
To souls whom love hath robed around with fire ?

Why need my aching heart to death aspire,

When all must die ? Nay, death beyond belief
Unto these eyes would be both sweet and brief,
Since in my sum of woes all joys expire !

Therefore because I cannot shun the blow

I rather seek, say who must rule my breast,
Gliding between her gladness and her woe ?

If only chains and bands can make me blest,
No marvel if alone and bare I go
An armed Knight's captive and slave confessed.

Alice Coote and Julius Drake in Schubert, Strauss and Elgar

Alice Coote
Alice Coote
Schubert, Strauss, Elgar; Alice Coote, Julius Drake; Temple Music at Middle Temple Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 21 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Improvisatory freedom and rich characterisation

Mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, accompanied by pianist Julius Drake gave a generous programme of songs by Schubert, Strauss and Elgar as part of Temple Music’s Temple Song series at Middle Temple Hall on Thursday 22 January 2016. The programme started with Schubert songs including An den Mond, Der Musensohn, Der Zwerg, Auf dem Wasser zu singen, Nacht und Träume, and Erlkönig, and the second half opened with a selection of Richard Strauss songs including Zueignung. Ruhe meine Seele, Heimliche Aufforderung and Morgen, concluding with Elgar’s Sea Pictures.

Julius Drake - Sim Canetty-Clarke
Julius Drake
photo Sim Canetty-Clarke
We had been warned that Coote was suffering problems with her throat, but little of this seemed evident from her fully committed and richly dramatic performance.

We heard two versions of Schubert’s An den Mond, Alice Coote and Julius Drake opened with Schubert’s first version. This was quite low key, but with a lovely attention to detail of word and phrase from Coote. She sang with a lovely rich lower register, but shaded the upper register finely. Der Musensohn was performed with vibrant vigour, yet a light touch in the piano and delight in the voice. Der Tod und das Mädchen combined the intense drama of the young girl with a vivid evocation of Death. Der Zwerg opened with a sense of mystery in the piano and a lovely veiled tone from Coote, developing a real sense of sense of suppressed excitement as Coote brought out the different narrative voices vividly. Her performances were not operatic, but in all the songs she rendered individual characters vividly. The second version of An den Mond was full of lyric melancholy, building to a real sense of rapture.

Rather than simply relaxing in the simple beauty of the song, Auf dem Wasser zu singen was really full of character in both piano and voice, whilst Seligkeit was surprisingly strongly sung and richly vibrant. Coote made Abendstern something rather touching and poignant. Nacht und Träume was quiet and intense with Drake making a lovely shimmer in the piano, and Coote singing with a lovely sense of long phrases, to create something mesmerising. Rastlose Liebe was all vivid vigour, with the phrases tumbling out.

Du bist der Ruh was beautiful, but with a real sense of inwardness, whilst the second Wanderers Nachtlied combined this with an enchanting sense of line. Finally, we were treated to a really vivid account of Erlkönig, with Coote combining real firmness of line with a virtuoso sense of the different voices in the song, especially the insinuating title role with the piano really turning the screw up in the tension.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Invisible Stars - the choral scholars of University College Dublin

Invisible Stars
Bill Whelan, Ivo Antognini, Michael McGlynn, Michael Rooney, Rolf Lovland, Desmond Early;
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Choral scholars from Dublin in a Celtic folk inspired programme

The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, is Ireland's leading collegiate choral ensemble. On this disc from Signum Classics the ensemble is directed by Desmond Earley, founding artistic director of the ensemble. The disc, title Invisible Stars, showcases contemporary choral works from Ireland and Scotland many with a folk-influence. The works on the disc include music by Bill Whelan, Ivo Antognini, Michael McGlynn, Michael Rooney, Rolf Løvland and music by Desmond Early along with some of his arrangement of traditional melodies, and it is the sense of Celtic traditional musics which seems to inspire many of the works on the disc.

Mo Ghille Mear is a traditional song, arranged by Desmond Earley, which starts with just tenor solo (Mark Waters) backed by choir before adding a drum Tristan Rosenstock on bodhran) to terrific effect. Sun and Moon and Stars with words by Frank McGuinness and music by Bill Whelan (who wrote the music for Riverdance) was first performed in 2013. It starts with Emma Jane Murphy's soulful cello, adding a whispered choral part and then a very Celtic folk soprano solo Emily Doyle though Whelan's music does add interesting rhythmic elements to the prevailing soulfulness.

Choral Scholars of University College, Dublin
Choral Scholars of University College, Dublin

The Wales International Academy of Voice comes to London

Students from the Wales International Academy of Voice
Students from the Wales International Academy of Voice
On Thursday 28 January 2016 there will be a chance for Londoners to hear the latest crop of students studying at the Wales International Academy of Voice. Directed by the distinguished tenor Dennis O'Neill, the academy selects a limited number of aspiring professional opera students from all over the world to come and study at its base in Cardiff each year. Students are given the opportunity to progress with their studies and to develop their voices under the guidance of Dennis O'Neill and his coaching staff, alongside distinguished visiting vocal consultants such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa (the academy's president), Susan Bullock, Ryland Davies, Della Jones and Joyce Fieldsend.

You can read more about the current group of students on the academy's website. The concert takes place at 1pm on 28 January 2016 at St Paul's Church, Covent Garden

Celebrating a fruitful two years

Mahogany Opera Group
Mahogany Opera Group had an event on 20 January 2016 to celebrate the two years of the company's existence (from the merger of the Opera Group and Mahogany Opera), to look back over a very fruitful two years and to look ahead to new projects. We had a preview of the company's new family opera The Rattler, which has music by Stephen Deazley and words by Martin Riley. This premieres at the South Bank Centre in March and then goes on tour.

The last two years have seen the company creating a diverse range of exciting and innovative work from Hans Krasa's children's opera Brundibar, through HK Gruber's Gloria a Pigtale to Rolf Hind's Lost in Thought the world's first mindfulness opera, and Emily Hall's Folie a Deux.

Artistic director Frederic Wake-Walker talked about the importance of new work and breaking boundaries with the company's research and development programme which has workshops and rehearsals which are opened up to partners etc, which he describes as a terrifying idea but helps to connect the company to the real world. The company tries to keep a broad perspective, creating opera and music theatre, and working with children and young people is a very important strand for them, especially giving young people the opportunity to work alongside professionals. Some of the young singers from their recent production of Brundibar have now gone on to join the Royal Opera House's youth opera company.

One of the admirable things about the company is that project have a long shelf life and so they can have a number of different works in various stages of touring both at home and abroad.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

London A Cappella Festival

London A Cappella Festival - 2016
The London A Cappella Festival is back with its usual free-wheeling mix of unaccompanied vocal music, from 28 to 30 January 2016 at Kings Place, London. The festival is opened by the Tenebrae Consort, conductor Nigel Short, who will be launching their new CD Sun, Moon, Sea and Stars. The concert will be preceded by a pre-concert talk with Nigel Short and composer Bob Chilcott, and Bob will be leading one of the workshops on 30 January.

Also in the programme is USA country music favourites Home Free making their long-awaited UK debut, Naturally 7 bring their blend of RnB, Pop, Rock, Gospel and spirituals to the the Union Chapel, Opus Jam perform their own brand of Motown A Cappella and of course the Swingles who will be closing things. The Swingles will also be taking one of the other workshops, whilst Dominic Peckham and .Mark De-Lisser lead another.

Full information from the Kings Place website.

A new voice - Ascension from James Dunlop

Ascension
James Dunlop choral works; Alice Burn, Portsmouth Cathedral Choir, David Price; Riverwood Air
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 19 2016
Star rating: 3.5

New choral music from a young musician in the The Band of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth

James Dunlop is a young composer who is currently a musician with The Band of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth and who combines this with a lively career writing concert and production music. This new disc from Riverwood Air features David Price and the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir in a selection of Dunlop's choral music, with Northumbrian piper Alice Burn.

The disc opens with Ascension fanfare which is an upfront, lively piece which introduces us to Dunlop's melodic based style with its rich yet fluid harmonies. I must leave is slower and more intense, yet equally rich, whilst Presence of Eleven is lyrically flowing. Dunlop's style seems inspired by the English choral tradition and his writing owes much to his great predecessors, but he also spices things up and has a cheeky way of slipping between keys especially major and minor.

These three pieces all set sacred texts, though the disc includes programme notes introducing the pieces, we are not given the texts and as the disc was recorded in the lively acoustic of Portsmouth Cathedral it is often tricky to pick out the words.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Venera Gimadieva in recital for OperaCoast

Venera Gimadieva
Venera Gimadieva
The Russian soprano Venera Gimadieva  is taking time off from singing Violetta at Covent Garden to give a recital with Roger Vignoles at Kings Place, 90 York Way London N1 9AG on 25 January 2016 in a programme of songs by Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Fauré, Delibes and Barber. The evening is a fund raising event to raise money for a new and exciting education programme run by OperaCoast.

OperaCoast is a company that aims to bring opera and classical vocal performance not only to an audience of classical music lovers but to people who are not always familiar with this genre, as well as to the younger generations. The event supports OperaCoast's new education project, entitled Matter of Perception is designed to help young people, as well as people with mental health issues, to boost their confidence and to develop their communicative, presentational and life skills through the power of their voices and dramatic performances.

Further information and tickets from the Kings Place website.

1766: a retrospective - Ian Page and Classical opera

Ian Page and Classical Opera
Mozart, Haydn, JC Bach, Jommelli, Guglielmi, Beck, Vanhal; Louise Alder, Benjamin Hulett, Classical Opera, Ian Page; the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 19 2016
Star rating: 4.0

A striking survey of the 10 year old Mozart's musical world, continues this remarkable 25 year project

Ian Page and Classical Opera continued their 25 celebration of Mozart's music with the year 1766. 1766 - a retrospective at the Wigmore Hall on 19 January 2016 provided an over view of music from that year, including not only Mozart but works by Jommelli,  Vanhal, Haydn, Guglielmi, Beck and JC Bach. We heard two of the symphonies that Mozart wrote that year, along with concert arias sung by Louise Alder (soprano), and Benjamin Hulett (tenor), plus an aria from Jommelli's opera Il Vologeso, and an aria from Guglielmi's opera Lo spirito di contradizione, the Et incarnatus est from Haydn's Missa Cellensis in honorem BVM, symphonies by Vanhal and Beck, and a song by JC Bach written for Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

Not all the music was heard by the 10 year old composer, and not all of the pieces were masterpieces but it gave us a wonderful view of music from the period to set alongside Mozart's remarkable development.

We started with Mozart's Symphony No. 5 in B flat major K22, a work premiered whilst Mozart was in the Hague in January 1766. In three movements, it is a confident and compact piece with a lively opening which uses the idea of an opening pedal note with a great deal of imagination: the cellos and basses play the same repeated note over a long span. As the movement developed it was clear that the young composer enjoyed contrasts both of texture and of dynamics. There was a shapely, elegant Andante and a lively, dance-like Molto allegro finale which had a view rumbustious elements.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Austral Harmony - Harmonische Freude

Harmonische Freude - Austral Harmony
Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Ludwig Krebs, Gottfried August Homilus, Christian Gotthilf Tag, George Friedrich Kauffmann; Austral Harmony; Chandos Chaconne
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 17 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Bach and his contemporaries in the intriguing combination of organ, trumpet and oboe

This disc looks rather unlikely at first sight: Harmonische Freude - Works for Baroque Oboe, Trumpet and Chamber Music. But Austral Harmony (Jane Downer, Simon Desbruslais and Peter Hagen) are exploring little known but recognise territory. During the baroque period there was a fashion for mixing instruments and organ and even hiding the instrumentalist so that the audience/congregation heard the instrument as part of the organ. So on this disc on the Chandos Chaconne label we get music by Johann Sebastian Bach along with his contemporaries Johann Ludwig Krebs (1713-1780), Gottfried August Homilus (1714-1783), Christian Gotthilf Tag (1735-1811) and George Friedrich Kauffmann (1679-1733) for organ plus instruments

Much of the music is chorale based, the added instruments were often used to play the chorale melody against the organ's elaborations. In fact, we should think of them as hymns rather than staid chorales and one of the animating features of the performance is the attempt to recreate the sense of joy that the music was intended to bring.

The composers featured on the disc are, apart from the great JSB, all relatively unknown. Johann Ludwig Krebs started out as one of Bach's most notable pupils at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, achieving employment as organist in Zwickau and ending up as organist at the Scholosskirche of the court of Prince Friedrich II of Saxe-Gotha Altenburg. Gottfried August Homilius also received instruction from Bach in Leipzig and later worked in Dresden becoming director of music at the three main churches. Christian Gotthilf Tag was a pupil of Homilius, studying in Dresden, and ending up working in Hohenstein. Georg Friedrich Kauffman's connection to Bach was more tenuous. He was court and cathedral organist in Merseburg and was the first choice for the position of Kapellmeister in Leipzig when Bach eventually got the job.

One of the fascinating things about the disc is the selection of trumpets played by Simon Desbruslais, as he flexibly moves between a number of different types. Not only two different natural trumpets, but a slide trumpet (which he specially engineered for the recording with the help of Joel Raymond) and a modern valve trumpet thus giving us the chance to compare and contrast. Personally I loved the highly characterful sound of the slide trumpet best, but it was lovely to compare the differences.

Slovenian youth orchestra impresses in Smetana's Moldau

Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra
Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra
I get all sorts of mail, people sending my information on concerts and recordings. Everything gets glanced at, but one recent one caught my eye because the correspondent said that the recording had been made by a youth orchestra. It proved to be the Gimnazija Kranj Symphony Orchestra, a youth orchestra based at Gimnazija Kranj which is a school in Slovenia. The recording was a YouTube video of Smetana's The Moldau from Ma Vlast made as part of the Gimnazija Kranj Christmas Concert in 2015 at the Gallus Hall in Cankarjev dom convention and cultural centre in Ljubljana. (Most of the links are to sites in Slovenian but Google Translate does wonders).

After the break I have embedded the video of Smetana's Moldau with the orchestra conducted by Nejc Bečan and filmed by Primož Zevnik. You can also catch the orchestra's recording of Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade on YouTube.

100 living composers, 50 world premieres - New Music North West in Manchester

New Music North West
The Manchester based, New Music North West is the UK's largest festival of new music so from 22 to 29 January 2016, Manchester will be full of music by 100 living composers. The festival is presented by the Royal Northern College of  Music (RNCM) with events at the RNCM, Martin Harris Centre (University of Manchester), Chetham’s School of Music, St Michael’s (Ancoats) and BBC Philharmonic Studio (MediaCityUK). Composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle will be in residence with 12 of his works being performed; Sir Harrison graduated from the Royal Manchester College of Music, one of the RNCM's predecessors.

The festival's artistic director is Clark Rundell, the head of conducting and director of contemporary music at the RNCM. His programme is a celebration of the liveliness and fecundity of contemporary music in the North West with music by British Composer Award-winner Gary Carpenter, Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize-winners Larry Goves and Daniel Kidane, and Jack Sheen, 2012’s BBC Young Composer of the Year, along with works by Emily Howard, Adam Gorb, Mark Simpson, Leo Geyer and many more. There will be the premiere of Mysterious 44, a new opera by Kevin Malone based on Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger with a score which promises an electronic score, a recorded narration from Richard Dawkins and a singing computer!


Performers include the BBC Philharmonic, Psappha, House of Bedlam, The Vonnegut Collective, Vaganza, Solem Quartet, and RNCM Symphony and Wind Orchestras. There are over 30 free and ticketed events, daytime, evening and late night, with more than 50 world premieres. With plenty of unfamiliar names among the familiar ones, this is a festival to explore and enlarge your horizons.

Full information from the New Music North West website.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Sistema in action - showcase at the South Bank Centre

Sistema in action - a capacity audience enjoys the South Bank Centre's showcase
Sistema in action - a capacity audience enjoys the South Bank Centre's showcase
To coincide with the appearance of Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra at the South Bank Centre on Saturday 16 January 2016, there was a showcase in the Clore Ballroom of orchestras from a number of El Sistema inspired projects around the UK. Performers included the Nucleo Project Chamber Group, Sistema England Young Leaders Orchestra, In Harmony Lambeth Holst Orchestra and Sistema London Orchestra so there were lot of young people being marshalled around the hall. But what was just as inspiring was the huge audience which the event attracted, and incredibly diverse group of people including of course parents and family giving us a glimpse of how El Sistema-inspired projects are as much social as musical in their importance.

We started with a chamber group from the Nucleo project (based in North Kensington), and a group of seven young people played the Badinerie from Bach's Suite No. 2. They were followed by the Sistema England Young Leaders Orchestra which is made up of 46 advanced players from four projects, In Harmony Lambeth, In Harmony Liverpool, Sistema in Norwich and the Nucleo Project. They were conducted by Félix Briceño from El Sistema in Venezuala and Juan Carlos Maggiorani from Orquestra Geração, a Sistema-inspired project in Portugal. The orchestra played a suite of John Williams music from Harry Potter, followed by a lively Portuguese piece which included a fine violin solo as well as much clapping, swaying and movement from the young players.

The last group I heard was In Harmony Lambeth's Holst Orchestra, made up of players who have between three and six years experience, who come together twice a week for rehearsals in Lambeth. The group's programme included Moondance and a lively version of Take Five.

The event had started late, marshalling so many young people is not without its problems and at one point there was a public address announcement listing the missing young people who were needed for the performance. When I left, the performances were in full swing, clearly being enjoyed by the large audience.

Time and its passing - Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood

Time and its Passing - Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood
John Tavener, Thomas Tallis, Gabriel Jackson, Arvo Pärt, Gerald Finzi, Zoltan Kodaly, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Recknell, Adrian Cruft, Henry Ley, Herbert Howells, Benjamin Rowarth, Thomas Tallis, C. Hubert Parry, Thomas Luis de Victoria and Johann Sebastian Bach; Rodolfus Choir, Ralph Allwood; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 15 2016
Star rating: 4.0

An intriguing programme and a numinous beauty of tone in a this programme from the young choir arising out of the Eton Choral Courses.

This disc from Ralph Allwood and the Rodolfus Choir explores the fascinating concept of time and its passing in a programme which mixes old and new in an exploration of different concepts of time represented in music. Issued on the Signum Classics label, the composers represented are a diverse group including John Tavener, Thomas Tallis, Gabriel Jackson, Arvo Pärt, Gerald Finzi, Zoltan Kodaly, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Thomas Recknell, Adrian Cruft, Henry Ley, Herbert Howells, Benjamin Rowarth, Thomas Tallis, C. Hubert Parry, Thomas Luis de Victoria and Johann Sebastian Bach.

The young singers of the Rodolfus Choir are alumni of the Eton Choral Courses run by their conductor Ralph Allwood and the choir has lovely clear bright sound with a fine sense of legato, nicely even tone and some notably clear, pure sopranos, along with fine technical control.

All this is showcased in the opening work, John Tavener's O Do not move which is tiny but perfect, sung with a lovely even radiant tone. The second item is Thomas Tallis's third mode melody from Archbishop Parker's Psalter sung to words by the 17th century priest and hymn writer, John Mason. Here the piece is sung with such a lovely smooth sense of legato that the words to a certain extent seem to be sacrificed.

Dreams, Wisdom, Innocence - Emma Kirkby in Purcell and Stockhausen

At a concert on 21 January 2016 entitled Dreams, Wisdom, Innocence, the distinguished soprano Emma Kirkby will be joined by harpsichordist Chau-Yee Lo in a programme which mixes Purcell and Couperin with contemporary repertoire from Stockhausen and Andrew Wilson-Dickson. The concert takes place at the church of St Bartholomew the Great in West Smithfield and all proceeds are going to Maytree a UK charity which runs a suicide respite centre.

The centrepiece of the programme is Karlheinz Stockhausen's Tierkreis based on the signs of the Zodiac and arising originally out of play with his daughter. Stockhausen wrote the 12 pieces originally for music boxes, but produced them in a variety of versions for voice and accompaniment.  Tierkreis remains one of Stockhausen's most popular compositions. Also in the programme will be The Elephant by Andrew Wilson-Dickson from his oratorio Karuna which was premiered in 2014.

Completing the programme will be songs and keyboard music by Henry Purcell and Francois Couperin. Full information from the Dreams, Wisdom, Innocence website.

And the winner is...

Dr Claire Mera-Nelson, Tasmin Little, Harry Palmer, Gillian Moore
Gold Medal winner with the adjudicators
Dr Claire Mera-Nelson, Tasmin Little, Harry Palmer, Gillian Moore
The recent Trinity Laban Gold Medal competition (11 January 2015) at Kings Place showcased the conservatoire's top students and the winner was announced as Harry Palmer, currently a third year composition student. The audience at the competition heard three of Palmer's compositions (conducted by the young conductor George Jackson), and they were popular with audience and adjudicators alike. The adjudicators were Dr Claire Mera-Nelson (Trinity Laban’s Director of Music), Gillian Moore MBE (Director of Music at the Southbank Centre) and violinist Tasmin Little OBE.  Tasmin Little commented that the evening has been a 'feast of music for all', praising Palmer for his 'gripping and mesmeric' compositions.

Previous winners of the Gold Medal competition have gone on to great things, with Elliot Galvin (Jazz Pianist, 2014) going on onto to be crowned European Young Jazz Musician of The Year, while last year’s winner Nardus Williams (Voice) is already forging a successful career as a Samling Scholar and Park Lane Group Young Artist.

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