Monday, 22 May 2017

Amhráin Ón Ré Dhorcha: Tionscadal Brecht

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
Smock Alley Theatre
Singing About The Dark Times: The Brecht Project | Amhráin Ón Ré Dhorcha: Tionscadal Brecht, which premieres at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin on 24 May 2017, rather intriguingly presents Irish language versions of monologues, scenes, poems and songs by Bertolt Brecht. Directed by American theatre and opera director Eric Fraad with musical direction by the Irish singer Catriona O'Leary, the production seeks to draw comparisons between the emergence of Fascist regimes in the 1930s and 1940s and the rise of authoritarianism today. The production is being presented by the International Literature Festival Dublin in Association with IMRAM Irish Language Literature Festival,

The production features music by Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, with songs from Das Berliner Requiem, Seven Deadly Sins, Die Dreigroschen Oper, Schweik In The 2nd World War and Mahagonny.

Smock Alley Theatre was originally the second theatre to be built in Dublin, in the 17th century, but from the late-18th century the theatre closed and it subsequently became at church, returning to life as a theatre in 2012. The theatre was operating during Handel's 1741/42 visit to Dublin, but he did not perform there.

Full details from the Smock Alley Theatre website.

Handel's Jephtha at London Festival of Baroque Music

Jephtha's Rash Vow" (1807), by James Gundee & M. Jones, London
Jephtha's Rash Vow (1807),
by James Gundee & M. Jones, London
Handel Jephtha; Nick Pritchard, Helen Charlston, Matthew Brook, Mary Bevan, James Hall, Rowan Pierce, Holst Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Stephen Layton; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A predominantly young cast in a thoughtful and moving account of Handel's last oratorio

The London Festival of Baroque Music concluded at St John's Smith Square on Saturday 20 May 2017 with a performance of Handel's oratorio Jephtha. Stephen Layton conducted the Holst Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music with Nick Pritchard as Jephtha, Helen Charlston as Storgè, Matthew Brook as Zebul, James Hall as Hamor, Mary Bevan as Iphis and Rowan Pierce as the Angel.

Jephtha is regarded as Handel's final oratorio. It was written whilst he was suffering badly with his eyesight and premiered in 1752, after which Handel only managed to produce The Triumph of Truth and Time which was effectively an English re-write of his early Italian oratorio, produced with the aid of Joseph Smith as amanuensis. Jephtha has almost become main-stream now, there have been staged performances at the Buxton Festival, at English National Opera and at Welsh National Opera, and it was performed a few years ago at the London Handel Festival, with tenors such as James Gilchrist, Mark Padmore, John Mark Ainsley and Robert Murray essaying the title role.

So it is easy to forget quite how 'at the edge' the piece was when first written. The title role was written for the great tenor John Beard, the final celebration of a talent which had inspired Handel to create a series of striking tenor roles, elevating the tenor voice in a way that was practically unheard of in the earlier Baroque period. The libretto explores some dark places, librettist Thomas Morrell incorporated elements of Greek drama into his re-working of the biblical story. Whilst Morrell was concerned to point a moral, Handel's music re-focuses the drama making it more human and it is hard not to identify the intensity of Jephtha's predicament with Handel's own struggles with his sight.

John Beard clearly had quite a robust, yet flexible voice, his roles for Handel stretch from the lyrical in L'Allegro right through do the dramatic tour-de-force of the title role in Samson. The young tenor Nick Pritchard is very much a lyric tenor and his voice does not (yet) have either the dramatic heft or the spinto blade to either dominate or cut through the orchestra and he sensibly offered a lyric account of the role.

Doubly valedictory: EUBO, Maria Keohane & Lars Ulrik Mortensen in Bach and Handel

EUBO at St John's Smith Square in 2015
EUBO at St John's Smith Square in 2015
Handel, Bach; Maria Keohane, European Union Baroque Orchestra, Lars Ulrik Mortensen; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 19 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Vividly engaged and engaging Handel really lifted this performance

There was something doubly valedictory about this performance by the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) at the London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square on Friday 19 May 2017. Not only was it the final performance of the orchestra with this particular line up, before the current players return home and a new group assembles, but it was the last performance before EUBO moves its base of operations from the UK to Belgium (as an EU funded organisation the group needs to be based in an EU country). The ensemble was directed from the harpsichord by Lars Ulrik Mortensen, with Bojan Cicic as concertmaster, in a programme of Bach and Handel with soprano Maria Keohane; Handel's Concerto grosso in D minor Op.6 no.10, cantata Tu fedel? Tu costante? HWV171a, Passacaille in G minor (from the Trio Sonata Op.5 No.4) and 'Ombre pallide' from Alcina, and Bach's Harpsichord concerto in a major BWV 1055 and cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten BWV 202 (Wedding Cantata).

We started with Handel's concerto grosso; the stylised Ouverture, with bows really digging in, led to an Allegro which danced with a swing. The slow movement was graceful, followed by a pair of beautifully characterised Allegros, and a final Allegro moderato which had moments of robust enjoyment. You could imagine a grander performance, but not one better characterised. Lars Ulrik Mortensen encouraged his young players to really bring out the individual characteristics of the different sections of the music, and it helped that they were clearly enjoying themselves too.

The version of Handel's cantata we heard was not the familiar one, it starts the same but then wanders off; it comes from a manuscript owned by Ton Koopman who realised it differed from the familiar version written in 1707 and this version may even date from before Handel's trip to Italy.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The vividness & vibrancy of having been performed on stage: Verdi's Oberto from Heidenheim

Verdi: Oberto - Heidenheim Opera Festival - Corviello Classics
Verdi Oberto; Choi, Princeva, Hebelkova, Dumitru, Banasova, cond: Marcus Bosch; Coviello Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 15 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Based on performances at the Heidenheim Opera Festival, this recording bring tremendous verve and energy to Verdi's first opera

This disc is the first fruits from the Heidenheim Opera Festival, though the CD booklet does not make that particularly obvious. Verdi's Oberto was staged at the 2016 festival (based in Heidenheim an der Brenz in Baden-Württemberg in Southern German) and this recording was made in Heidenheim shortly afterwards. Released on the Coviello Classics label it features Marcus Bosch conducting the Cappella Aquileia and Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno. Bosch is the artistic director of the Heidenheim Opera Festival and Cappella Aquileia is the resident orchestra. The cast features the Korean bass Woong-Jo Choi as Oberto, the Russian soprano Anna Princeva as Leonora, Czech mezzo-soprano Katerina Hebelkova as Cuniza, Romanian tenor Adrian Dumitru as Riccardo and the Slovak mezzo-soprano Daniela Banasova as Imelda.

Verdi: Oberto - Heidenheim Opera Festival 2016 - Woong-Jo Choi & Anna Princeva
Verdi: Oberto - Heidenheim Opera Festival 2016
Woong-Jo Choi & Anna Princeva
Oberto was Verdi's first opera. It was sufficient a success when first produced at La Scala Milan in 1839 for the impresario to commission two further operas from Verdi. It went on to have further performances in Italy in the early 1840s but it has been overshadowed by Verdi's subsequent operas (by 1844 he had produced, Un giorno di regno, I Lombardi, Nabucco and Ernani). The highly abbreviated libretto provides Verdi with some strong scenes yet is not high on logic. When I saw it performed by Opera North in the 1994/95 season the director (John Tomlinson) commented that it made most sense if you thought of it as the second two acts of a three act opera.

The plot involves a background of warring politics (insufficiently sketched in), and a tenor hero Riccardo (Adrian Dimitru) who is about to marry one woman, Cuniza (Katerina Hebelkova) whilst having been betrothed to another, Leonora (Anna Princeva) whose father Oberto (Woong-Jo Choi) is passionate in his support of his daughter's rights.

Perhaps the work's strongest scene is the wonderful duet for father and daughter, Oberto and Leonora, finding each other again after a long absence.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the London Festival of Baroque Music

Monteverdi L'Orfeo - Prologue
Monteverdi L'Orfeo; Matthew Long, I Fagiolini, English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Thomas Guthrie, Robert Hollingworth; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on May 18 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Precise and sometimes reverential, with flashes of majesty; Monteverdi's first opera in a semi-staged performance

As part of the London Festival of Baroque Music this L’Orfeo was a semi-staged performance by Thomas Guthrie at St John’s Smith Square on 18 May 2017 with Matthew Long as Orfeo, directed by Robert Hollingworth with I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble.

Not wanting to re-rehearse old arguments here, but much has been written about L’Orfeo; what constitutes “authentic” performance, instrumentation, ornamentation and drama et. al. A myriad labels have been attached to Orfeo’s luggage describing it as a proto-opera, the first true success in the opera genre, nascent opera or even early baroque opera which only serves to cloud any spontaneous appreciation of the work.

I would prefer to think of it simply as a exquisite poem and treat it on it’s own merits. Described as a Favola (fable) in musica it’s a work full of drama and poignancy. Thomas Guthrie’s direction was restrained and efficient rather than revelatory so our attentions were concentrated firmly on the performers.

It is important to know the culture from which the music comes:

Elijah Moshinsky talks about Verdi's original 1847 version of Macbeth in advance of his production of the opera at the 2017 Buxton Festival.

Elijah Moshinsky (Photo Jeff Busby)
Elijah Moshinsky (Photo Jeff Busby)
Elijah Moshinsky is directing Verdi's original 1847 version of Macbeth at the 2017 Buxton Festival. The performances are a follow up to Moshinsky's production of Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco at the 2015 festival (see my review), and represent a rare chance to see a staging of Verdi's original thoughts on Macbeth. I met up with Elijah recently to talk more about directing early Verdi, and the rarely performed 1847 Macbeth in particular. 

But with such a long career (his production of Britten's Peter Grimes debuted at Covent Garden in 1975) there was a great deal else to talk about from strong opinions about contemporary fashions in opera production to his work with friend, colleague (and neighbour), the conductor Sir Edward Downes.

From an unknown hinterland in opera

In fact we started with what might be termed an artistic credo. He explained that for him the dramaturgy of a piece was less important than the performance itself. Throughout our conversations Elijah returned to the idea of performance, and the importance of exploring the work itself and its cultural background. Elijah's ideas are the complete antithesis to the concept that the 'most important thing is the dramaturgical idea behind the performance'. He is clearly out of sympathy with many current styles of production, talking about productions being 'judged by the boldness, absurdity and sheer bloody mindedness of the idea', yet to hear him talk about directing is to enter a different, perhaps parallel world. One where the poetics of the piece are important, and the sense of the cultural background of the work matter. In fact, he had come to our lunch meeting with a copy of David Rosen and Andrew Porter's Verdi's Macbeth: A Source Book so that he could show me such gems as Verdi's original thoughts on staging the sleepwalking scene.

For Elijah, the great directors are ones from the previous generation such as Giorgio Strehler, Ingmar Bergman, Peter Brook, Patrice Chéreau and a great opera production is one where the listener goes away thinking, with a sense of profound insight. You sense that Moshinsky's style of opera production is become separated from much what happens in contemporary opera production, and he talks about himself coming 'from an unknown hinterland in opera'.

He says that he never wanted a specifically operatic career, he wanted to be an artist, a writer, a thinker. As well as directing opera he worked extensively in theatre and television, and has worked in the opera house rather more infrequently in recent years. Not that he has lost faith the in the operatic form.

His way of defending the form

Kate Ladner in Elijah Moshinsky's production of Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco at Buxton Festival in 2015 (Photo Jonathan Keenan)
Kate Ladner in Elijah Moshinsky's production
of Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco
at Buxton Festival in 2015 (Photo Jonathan Keenan)
He feels that grand opera has probably died, but that there has been a demographic shift in opera and operatic life is in the occasional, smaller-scale performances which are bubbling up. Elijah clearly loves the form, and he talks about productions like Macbeth as being his way of defending the form. He and Stephen Barlow (artistic director of the Buxton Festival) have a trilogy of early Verdi opera planned, Giovanna d'Arco in 2015, the original version of Macbeth in 2017 and Alzira in 2018.

Elijah was close to Ted Downes (the conductor Sir Edward Downes) who had the idea of the Verdi festival at Covent Garden in the 1990s, devoting time in the summer to productions of Verdi's operas and in fact Downes was responsible for creating the new edition of Verdi's Stiffelio which was produced at Covent Garden. Between 1990 and 2000 Covent Garden managed to perform around 20 of Verdi's operas (both staged and in concert) including the first versions of Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra and La forza del destino with Sir Edward Downes conducting at least six (you can explore these performances in the Royal Opera House's online performance database).

For Elijah, the early Verdi operas are not just the scribblings of a person on the way to greatness, but are interesting in their own right yet they have very particular musical needs and a particular historical context. These differences are reflected in the major musical and cultural differences between Verdi's original Macbeth in 1847, premiered at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence, and that of 1865, performed in a revised version at the Paris Opera.

Elijah comments that the Teatro della Pergola is tiny, far closer in size to Buxton Opera House than many modern opera houses, and for the performance there would have been no conductor. Whereas for the far larger Paris Opera, there was a chorus of 100 and a far larger orchestra, complete with a conductor. In fact that French performance was not a success, and Macbeth rather languished until the mid 20th century

It is important to know the culture from which the music comes

Poster for the premiere of Verdi's Macbeth in 1847
Poster for the premiere of Verdi's Macbeth in 1847
Of himself Elijah says that he is not so much an opera director as an inquirer into the human condition, interested in what Verdi has to say about the motives of the characters. Elijah emphasises that he is not planning to try and reconstruct the 1847 production, but to create a modern performance of interest to modern life. But it is important to know the culture from which the music comes. Nothing Verdi did was undramatic, and in the earlier operas the voices lead the drama. Each production starts from the cusp of Elijah's interest in the work, and then working out from that to ensure a creative rehearsal room. In Buxton, Elijah will be working with Kate Ladner as Lady Macbeth, Stephen Gadd as Macbeth and Oleg Tsibulko as Banco, singers whom he likes, and he is also looking forward to working with the young chorus.

For the 1847 premiere, Verdi took 150 rehearsals of the duet for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after the murder, because the composer wanted a particular tone of voice from the singers. The 1847 score has an incredible number of expressive markings, including a remarkable number of quiet ones. The strings for the sleepwalking scene are all marked pianissimo, and here Verdi wanted the performance to be reduced to almost a single gesture, Lady Macbeth is a dying woman, a woman who has collapsed physically and morally. Elijah feels that we must understand the important difference Verdi was trying to create between the sleepwalking scene and the musical histrionics of Donizetti's mad scenes. Elijah emphasises that in such scenes simplicity counts, sometimes the music has to take over.

For Paris, Verdi's revisions included replacing some of the musical material, 'La luce langue' was added; Elijah comments that this is a better aria than the 1847 one it replaces, but that does not necessarily make for better drama. In 1865 the Risorgimento was largely complete, and the chorus of refugees 'Patria oppressa' is very different to that which Verdi wrote in 1847 when the Risorgimento had hardly begun. In 1847 the chorus is less harmonically complex, it sounds as if the chorus really are refugees whereas Elijah feels the 1865 version of the chorus sounds more like an Italian national anthem.

With many of Verdi's early operas, Giovanna d'Arco, Nabucco, the opera ends with one of the main characters having a moment of important recognition and then dying. This is what happens in the 1847 version of Macbeth with Macbeth's final aria. This aria is sometimes added in to the 1865 version, but Elijah does not see this working as the context is so different, they are different operas.

Illustration to Act I, Scene 2 of the première of the 1865 revision of Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth.
Illustration to Act I, Scene 2 of the première of the 1865 revision of Verdi's Macbeth.
The 1847 version of Verdi's Macbeth was presented at the BBC Proms in 1976 (the recording is available from Opera Rara, with Rita Hunter as Lady Macbeth, Peter Glossop as Macbeth, John Tomlinson as Banquo, conducted by John Matheson), and the opera was given in a semi-staged version at Covent Garden in June 1997 with Anthony Michaels-Moore as Macbeth, Georgina Lukacs as Lady Macbeth, Roberto Scandiuzzi as Banquo, conducted by Edward Downes). It was also given in concert by the Chelsea Opera Group in 2008 with Nelly Miricioiu as Lady Macbeth, Olafur Sigurdarson as Macbeth, Paolo Pecchioli as Banquo, conducted by Brad Cohen.

The Buxton Festival production of Verdi's Macbeth (1847 version) is at the Buxton Opera House on 7, 11, 14, 18, 21 July 2017, directed by Elijah Moshinsky, designed by Russell Craig, with Kate Ladner as Lady Macbeth, Stephen Gadd as Macbeth, Luke Sinclair as Malcolm, Oleg Tsibulko as Banco and Jung Soon Yun as Macduff. Further information from the Buxton Festival website.

Elsewhere on this blog:

Friday, 19 May 2017

Martynas Levickis at Club Inégales

Martynas Levickis at Club Inégales (Photo Frederique Bellec Photography / Club Inégales)
Martynas Levickis, Notes Inégales, Peter Wiegold; Club Inégales
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 18 2017
Star rating: 4.5

The young Lithuanian accordionist joins with composer Peter Wiegold's club to create some electric music making

Cheng Yu and Christina Forshaw of Notes Inégales at Club Inégales (Photo Frederique Bellec Photography / Club Inégales)
Cheng Yu and Christina Forshaw of Notes Inégales
(Photo Frederique Bellec Photography / Club Inégales)
Our return visit to Peter Wiegold's Club Inégales could not have been more different from our first visit (see my review). The format was the same, even some of the pieces were the same, but everything was entirely different because the line up of musicians had changed and the club (directed by Peter Wiegold and Martin Butler) is very much about music in the moment. So on Thursday 18 May 2017 we heard the club's regular band, Notes Inégales with Martin Butler (piano), Joel Bell (electric guitar), Christian Forshaw (bass clarinet/saxophone), Hyelim Kim (taegum), Cheng Yu (pipa), Simon Limbrick (percussion) and Peter Wiegold (director and synthesizer), alongside the Lithuanian accordionist Martynas Levickis. The club was full to bursting point, with many Lithuanians in the audience, but there was still a chance to sample the excellent Indian food on offer and get a drink before the main events of the evening.

Things opened with a piece from Notes Inégales, directed by Peter Wiegold. The line-up of the band was an eclectic mix of musicians, Wiegold commented that there were Korean, Chinese, classical and jazz musicians along with 'one or two of unknown provenance'. We started off with Peter Wiegold's Changgo changgo one, where the rhythmic drum provided a framework for the circling of the other instruments, the performers making space for each other so that the taegum (a bamboo flute) and pipa (similar to the lute) really came through the textures, and there was even a striking duo between pipa and saxophone. This combination of traditions and the forward motion of the music made me think of a caravanserai with its intersection of West and East. The conclusion of the piece included a remarkable group cadenza.

The Tallis Scholars' Spanish Renaissance

El Transparente of Toledo Cathedral
El Transparente of Toledo Cathedral
Morales, Victoria, Lobo; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 17 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Rich textures from the Spanish golden age in the Tallis Scholars final Cadogan Hall concert of the season

Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars were in Iberian mood for their concert at Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 17 May 2017, the final concert in the 2016/17 Choral at Cadogan Series. A Spanish Renaissance included a performance of the Missa Mille regretz by Christobal de Morales, alongside motets by Morales and Tomas Luis de Victoria, plus Alonso Lobo's Lamentations and finishing with Victoria's Magnificat primi toni.

Phillips explained that the group was giving a concert in Toledo Cathedral, and we were getting a preview of the programme which included music by two composers associated with the cathedral, Morales (who was chapelmaster from 1545 to 1547) and Lobo (who was chapelmaster from 1593-1604).

Morales' Missa Mille regretz is based on a chanson, Mille regretz, attributed to Josquin; the chanson also went under the name of La cancion del Emperador (The Emperor's Song), the emperor in question being Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Morales' mass takes material from the chanson and creates a six-part mass, with the chanson appearing generally in the soprano . But before the mass, four singers from the ensemble performed Josquin's stunningly beautiful and rather melancholy song.

Ryan Wigglesworth's The Winter's Tale

Iain Paterson & ensemble - Ryan Wigglesworth: The Winter's Tale - ENO (photo Johan Persson)
Iain Paterson & ensemble - Ryan Wigglesworth: The Winter's Tale - ENO (photo Johan Persson)
Ryan Wigglesworth's new opera The Winter's Tale, which premiered at English National Opera in March 2017 (see my review) is on BBC Radio 3 this Saturday (20 May 2017) recorded live at the London Coliseum. It is a chance to catch up with a powerful first opera and re-visit. The strong cast includes Iain Paterson as Leontes, Sophie Bevan as Hermione, Samantha Price as Perdita, Leigh Melrose as Polixenes, Anthony Gregory as Florizel/Court official, Susan Bickley as Paulina, Neal Davies as Antigonus/Shepherd and Timothy Robinson as Camillo, and Ryan Wigglesworth conducts.

During the interval there is a chance to hear director Rory Kinnear (whose directorial debut in opera this was) and members of the cast talking about the piece.

Full details from the BBC Radio 3 website (and the opera will be available on-line for 30 days after broadcast)

Fish or fowl? Jasmin Toccata's Late o'Clock Baroque at London Festival of Baroque Music

Jasmin Toccata (Keyvan Chemirani, Jean Rondeau, Thomas Dunford) - photo Bertrand Pichene
Jasmin Toccata (Keyvan Chemirani, Jean Rondeau, Thomas Dunford)
photo Bertrand Pichene
Late o'Clock Baroque: Jasmin Toccata; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on May 13 2017
Star rating: 3.0

The intersection of two traditions in a late-night club atmosphere

On paper this looked very promising. An encounter between the European Baroque tradition and traditional Persian music for the late slot on Saturday 13 May 2017 at the London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square. The three musicians of Jasmin Toccata (Keyvan Chemirani – zarb, santour & director, Thomas Dunford – lute, Jean Rondeau – harpsichord) in an hour-long programme at the intersection of two traditions that appear to have a lot in common, in terms of timbral range and improvisatory freedom, but with rules. It would have been a great opportunity to explore.

But we were given no help, no clues as to what we were listening to, and the audience that stayed on after Telemann and Bach (see my review) were probably glad to have been spared the challenge of reading programme notes in the dark. But a few introductions, a few titles, even wouldn’t have gone amiss. It all seemed rather clubby (in a bad way – though in a night club or at a party that would have been fine).

The sound world was lovely – hypnotic and soft on the ear.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Heimat: Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu

Benjamin Appl - Heimat - Sony Classical
Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Reger, Schreker and Strauss (Adolf and Richard), Poulenc, Britten, RVW, Sir Henry Bishop, Warlock, Ireland; Benjamin Appl, James Baillieu; Sony Classical
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 14 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Attractively satisfying and thought provoking, the young German baritone's very personal take on 'Heimat'

The young baritone Benjamin Appl has already made a name for himself with interesting recitals on disc and in the concert hall. For his latest disc, his first for Sony Classical, he is accompanied by James Baillieu in Heimat. At first sight an intelligent and interestingly structured programme which moves from Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Reger, Schreker and Strauss (Adolf and Richard) through Poulenc, Britten, RVW, Sir Henry Bishop, Warlock and Ireland.

In German 'Heimat' means more than just homeland, it includes an element of the mental furniture of your home landscape. So here Appl takes us on his own journey from a village near Regensburg through studying in London.

We start with a prologue, Schubert's Seligkeit (Bliss) about the joys of place being with the beloved. From the outset we can enjoy Appl's way with words, and his firm tone with a slightly grainy quality, he really draws you in.

Art and hedonism: The Crossmodalist Cabaret

The Crossmodalist Cabaret
Crossmodalism is an international cross-disciplinary movement bringing together the worlds of art, science, and design and The Crossmodalist Cabaret is intended to be a place where musicians, artists, scientists, and philosophers would come to explore politics, art, sexuality, and more. So for three days, from 19 to 21 May 2017, The Crossmodalist Cabaret will feature 15 performances by performers from London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Zurich and Singapore at  Platform Southwark, 1 Joan Street, London, SE1 8BS part of the Open Senses Festival.

On the Saturday, the Cabaret features three contrasting classical concerts: the Perfume Concert by Chris Lloyd features Brahms, Wagner, and Ravel with accompanying perfume and dance; Stockhausen’s Stimmung performed in full in an immersive setting by The Facade Ensemble; and Belle Chen presenting her second album, Mediterranean Sounds: Underground with BeiBei Wang (percussion) and live electronics, performing music by Ravel, Poulenc, Mompou, Scarlatti, Fazil Say, Iain Chambers, and Vasiliki Legaki.

There is much else besides, ranging from ethical porn films with live music to The Art of Tea, as well as a Negroni bar; Full details from The Crossmodalist Cabaret's Eventbrite page.

Virtuosic Bach and stormy Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), hand-colored aquatint by Valentin Daniel Preisler, after a lost painting by Louis Michael Schneider, 1750
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767),
hand-coloured aquatint by Valentin Daniel Preisler,
after a lost painting by Louis Michael Schneider, 1750
Bach, Telemann; Elin Manahan Thomas, Florilegium, Ashley Solomon; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on May 13 2017
Star rating: 3.5

One of this year's other anniversaries, the music of Telemann celebrated with that of his contemporary Bach

This concert at St John's Smith Square was part of the London Festival of Baroque Music on Saturday 13 May 2017 featured one of this year’s other anniversary composers (Monteverdi being the more high-profile one): Georg Philipp Telemann died 250 years ago in 1767 at the age of 86 having left behind huge numbers of works that listeners to Radio 3 are regularly exposed to. Florilegium, director Ashley Solomon, performed Telemann's Ouverture-Suite in F major TWV55:F15 and Cantata: Ino, with soprano Elin Manahan Thomas. Sandwiched between two Telemann works was Bach's fifth Brandenburg concerto.

The concerto is probably one of the most famous job applications in musical history, the six concertos were recycled from existing works and presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg to show off the range of Bach’s writing and, presumably to give an indication of the skill of his Cöthen musicians who would follow him in the event of a job offer. In the event Bach stayed put in Cöthen, where he had a group of instrumentalists whom he could put in the limelight as soloists.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Tenebrae's 15th anniversary tour

Tenebrae, founder & director Nigel Short, is embarking on a tour to celebrate the group's 15th anniversary,  opening on Thursday 18 May 2017 in Hull (UK City of Culture 2017). The choir will be performing Path of Miracles (the ensemble's first major commission in 2005), Joby Talbot's choral work based on the Pilgrimage to Santiago.

Alongside this there is a newly commissioned work, Owain Park's Footsteps, which sees Tenebrae perform alongside community/youth choirs based near the touring venues. Each choir will receive a workshop from Tenebrae professionals and a range of online resources including scores, guide audio tracks, performance tips and background context.

Further dates on the tour include Bath Festival (24 May), St David’s Cathedral (2 June), Voices of London Festival (7 July), Cheltenham Festival (12 July), Cambridge Summer Music Festival (28 July), Exeter Cathedral (15 September), Truro (16 September), Lammermuir Festival (23 September), City of Derry International Choral Festival (27 October) and Canterbury Festival (28 October).

Full details from Tenebrae's website.

The start of a new series of Stephen Dodgson's chamber music

Stephen Dodgson - Complete music for cello and piano - Toccata Classics
Complete cello music of Stephen Dodgson; Evva Mizerska, Emma Abbate; Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 10 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Tough yet lyrical, complex yet approachable, Dodgson's music for cello and piano

This admirable disc from Toccata Classics is volume one of a project to record the late Stephen Dodgson's chamber music. This disc contains the complete music for cello and piano played by Evva Mizerska and Emma Abbate. And whilst there is a Sonata for cello and piano, the earliest work on the disc, two thirds of the disc is taken up with pieces whose titles sound occasional but whose musical content definitely is not; Two Romantic Piece (Set A and Set B), and  Five Occasional Pieces. Dodgson seems to have enjoyed writing chamber music, there are over 250 works in his catalogue and he seems to have been drawn to the cello partly through the vocal quality of the instrument.

Edinburgh International Festival's Art of Listening goes global

Pupils at an Art of Listening workshop
Pupils at an Art of Listening workshop
The Art of Listening, an arts eduction programme developed for the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) has gone global as it was showcased at the inaugural Arts Learning Festival in Melbourne, Australia earlier this month (3-7 May 2017).

The Art of Listening was founded in 2000 to engage the imagination of primary school children in Edinburgh and develop their listening skills through ‘focused listening’ exercises. The project has worked with thousands of Primary 7 pupils (aged between 10 and 12) in Edinburgh since the project began 17 years ago. It is working with over 1,500 pupils this year to bring EIF one step closer to fulfilling its ambition to engage all primary schools in Edinburgh through its creative learning projects.

Emma Hay, Creative Learning Officer with EIF explains: 'In two short hours, we take the pupils from boredom and age-old preconceptions about classical music, through a history of the piano (featuring excerpts from The Simpsons and Pharrell Williams) to Mendelssohn and Britten amongst others and a visual art exercise that allows the pupils to express their experience of listening to classical musical.'

Following an invitation last year from Independent Schools Victoria (ISV) to showcase the project to teachers, students and other music professionals in Melbourne (you can read about the showcase here), the EIF’s Creative Learning team was invited back to bring the Art of Listening to a brand new festival of arts learning in the city, the Arts Learning Festival. This was intended celebrate the central role of the arts in education and is believed to be the most ambitious festival of its type in Australia.

Celebrating the 90th birthday of a bestseller

'O for the Wings of a Dove' from Mendelssohn’s Hear my Prayer was recorded in 1927 by a 15-year old Ernest Lough and Temple Church Choir, director George Thalben Ball, at the Temple Church. The recording became one of HMV’s most successful releases and later won a gold disc for selling over a million copies. It is still regarded as one of the most outstanding best-sellers in gramophone history (and is of course still available).

To celebrate the 90th birthday of the recording, a new recording of the work has been made by Temple Church Choir featuring the young treble, Ebube Chiana with Roger Sayer at the organ. There is a charming video which includes archive footage, interviews with Naxos’ David Blake and Temple Master Robin Griffith-Jones, who introduce the recording’s history, plus a complete performance by Ebube Chiana.

Hear My Prayer - The Choir of Temple Church, London from Ian Glatt on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Beethoven in the Borders

The annual Whittington International Chamber Music festival opens today (16 May 2017) and runs until 21 May, providing a week of Beethoven's chamber music played by musicians including the Elias Quartet, principals of the London Symphony Orchestra. The festival's artistic director is cellist James Barralet and the festival takes place in and around the church of St John the Baptist, Whittington in Shropshire.

The six concerts explore the full variety of Beethoven's chamber music, duos, trios, quartets,  a quintet, a sextet and a septet. The sequence opens with Beethoven's String Quartet Op.18 no.6 and finishes with the String Quartet no.13 in B flat Opus130 including the Grosse Fugue.

Full details from the festival website.

The end of an era: Rosenblatt Recitals comes to an end with one final recital

Ivan Magri and Ian Rosenblatt after Ivan Magri's Rosenblatt Recital at the Wigmore Hall (Photo Jonathan Rose)
Ivan Magri and Ian Rosenblatt after Ivan Magri's Rosenblatt Recital
at the Wigmore Hall (Photo Jonathan Rose)
After 17 years of bringing known and unknown singers to our attention in his remarkable recital series, Ian Rosenblatt has announced that the forthcoming Rosenblatt Recital on 5 June 2017 will be the final recital. This last recital will be given by the Argentinian bass, Nahuel di Pierro accompanied by Alphonse Cemin in Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Handel, Rameau, Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini, Debussy, and Berlioz.

The series has given us the opportunity to get to know a remarkable variety of singers, many hitherto unknown in the UK, and some making their recital debut. Not every performance was a classic, but the chance to hear voices from the opera house in close proximity in  recital was a great luxury. You can read more about the recital series in my interview with Ian Rosenblatt. The series will, however, remain in electronic format as there are plans to make the extensive archive of recordings available.

The full press release is available from the Rosenblatt Recitals website.

Public booking opens for the fourth Southwell Music Festival

Southwell Music Festival 2017
Public booking opened yesterday (15 May) for the 2017 Southwell Music Festival. Running from 24 to 28 August 2017 in and around Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire, the festival's artistic director and founder is the baritone Marcus Farnsworth. This year's festival, the fourth, features a blend of familiar and lesser known classical music performed by some of the most talented musicians in UK today including James Baillieu, Sophie Bevan, Libby Burgess, Jamie Campbell, Lena Eckels, Marcus Farnsworth, Amy Harman, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Rachel Kelly and Alison Rose.

The centrepiece of the festival is an all-Mozart concert conducted by Marcus Farnsworth with James Baillieu as the soloist in Piano Concerto No. 21, and the Mass in C minor with soloists Sophie Bevan and Rachel Kelly. Other performances include Southwell Festival Voices in Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri and in Poulenc's Figure Humaine, a recital by BBC Young Musician of the Year Sheku Kanneh-Mason accompanied by James Baillieu, and French chamber music with Marcus Farnsworth, Libby Burgess, James Baillieu, James Cheung, Katherine Byran, Joseph Shiner, Celine Saout, Jamie Campbell. The festival's final event is a come-and-sing Mozart Vespers.

Southwell Minster nave (photo Southwell Minster)
Southwell Minster nave (photo Southwell Minster)
The Norman nave of the cathedral dates from the early 1100s, whilst the chancel and chapter house were re-built in the 1200s. The church survived the Reformation and the Civil War, and from the 16th century was a collegiate church, only becoming a cathedral in the 19th century. The building is still very much a hidden gem, and certainly not as well known as it deserves to be.

Whilst the cathedral (both the nave and the quire) is the focus for most of the festival events, these also take place in a variety of other historic venues such as the state chamber in the former Archibishop's Palace, and the former Georgian theatre (where George Bernard Shaw once performed), and there is a family performance of Poulenc's Babar in Southwell Minster School.

Full details from the Southwell Festival website.

Not quite a vintage revival but much to enjoy: Verdi's Don Carlo returns to Covent Garden

Auto da fe scene - Verdi: Don Carlo - Royal Opera - ©ROH, Photo Catherine Ashmore
Auto da fe scene - Verdi: Don Carlo - Royal Opera - ©ROH, Photo Catherine Ashmore
Verdi Don Carlo; Bryan Hymel, Kristin Lewis, Christoph Pohl, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Ildar Abdrazakov, dir: Nicholas Hytner, cond: Bertrand de Billy; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 15 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Some strong individual performances help illuminate a sometimes under-characterised revival

Ildar Abdrazakov, Christoph Pohl - Verdi: Don Carlo - Royal Opera - ©ROH, Photo Catherine Ashmore
Ildar Abdrazakov, Christoph Pohl - ©ROH, Photo Catherine Ashmore
Nicholas Hytner's 2008 production of Verdi's Don Carlo has returned to the Royal Opera House for the third time (seen 15 May 2017), following in the footsteps of Luis Lima and Jonas Kaufmann, American tenor Bryan Hymel rose to the challenge of Verdi's fallible hero in his role debut debut. The rest of the cast has been subject to some change over the last few weeks, and the Elizabeth, Posa and Tebaldo were replacements, so that we heard American soprano Kristin Lewis as Elizabeth (her Royal Opera debut), German baritone Christoph Pohl as Posa, Jette Parker Young Artist Angela Simkin as Tebaldo, with Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk as Eboli, Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as Philip, Georgian bass Paata Burchuladze (who made his Royal Opera debut in 1984) as the Grand Inquisitor. The performance was conducted by Bertrand de Billy, directed by Nicholas Hytner with Paul Higgins as associate director.

Kristin Lewis, Bryan Hymel - Verdi: Don Carlo - Royal Opera - ©ROH, Photo Catherine Ashmore
Kristin Lewis, Bryan Hymel - ©ROH, Photo Catherine Ashmore
The production, new in 2003, remains very handsome and Bob Crowley's designs enable the flow of the piece between scenes (something rather important in such a long opera). Crowley and Hytner successfully catch the mood of each scene, with the help of Mark Henderson's lighting. So it remains a shame that the centre Auto da Fe scene, despite a degree of re-working since the production was new, continues to be such a mess with Hytner's over emphasis on the heretics, and a sense that the production team were attempting to use the minimum number of supers possible (Grange Park Opera last year achieved far grander results on a far smaller scale).

It would surely be possible to sometimes vary the edition of the opera used in revivals of this production, and let us hear some of the other magnificent music which Verdi wrote. It remains a shame that the Covent Garden seems to be firmly wedded to Verdi's final version of this opera, particularly in the Italian translation as it would be nice to hear the original French occasionally (even the 1886 revisions were written to a French text). This was especially true in this revival with Bryan Hymel in the title role, his narrow bore heroic tenor has such a fascinatingly old-fashioned French cast that it seems highly suited for French grand opera (and of course Verdi's original version of Don Carlos was very grand and very French).

Monday, 15 May 2017

Finalists from Portugal, France and UK in 2017 Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award

Nuno Filipe Coelho Silva, Marie Jacquot, Kerem Hasan  - ©SF/Kolarik
Nuno Filipe Coelho Silva, Marie Jacquot, Kerem Hasan
The three finalists have been announced for the 2017 Nestlé and Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award. Marie Jacquot (France, born 1990), Kerem Hasan (Great Britain, born 1992) and Nuno Filipe Coelho Silva (Portugal, born 1989) are three young finalists competing for the 2017 prize, chosen from 67 candidates by a jury chaired by Dennis Russell Davies. The three finalists were chosen from eight candidates the young conductors rehearsed two contemporary compositions each with the österreichisches ensemble für neue musik (œnm). The obligatory piece was Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 in E major Op. 9 for 15 solo instruments; for their second piece, candidates were given their choice among the following three works selected by the jury, Goffreo Petrassi's Estri for 15 players, Elliott Carter's Triple Duo for six players and Pierre Boulez's Dérive 1 for 6 instruments.

During the Award Concert Weekend (4-6 August 2017) the three finalists will conduct the Camerata Salzburg at the Mozarteum Foundation, with the concert programmes will be chosen together with the candidates and announced in June 2017,  once again, a particular focus is on contemporary music.

Young British conductor Kerem Hasan, born in London in 1992, studied piano and conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and at the Hochschule für Musik 'Franz Liszt' Weimar. He is currently a student at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste with Johannes Schlaefli. As a finalist of the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition 2016, Hasan conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in concert at the Barbican Centre, returning in March 2017 for a further collaboration. Since then he has been appointed Associate Conductor of the Welsh National Opera.

Rare Caldara, guitar focus and vocal ensembles at the 19th Felicja Blumental festival

La Ritirata
La Ritirata
The Felicja Blumental International Festival in Tel Aviv celebrates its 19th year this year with a festival which has an American focus. Running from 15 to 20 May 2017 at Tel Aviv Museum of Art the festival was founded in 1999 to honour the memory of pianist Felicja Blumental, and the festival has become Tel Aviv's longest running classical music festival.

Guitar is also something of a focus at this year's festival with the Cologne Guitar Quartet bringing an eclectic programme, and a concert from Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla. Guitarist and composer Stephane Wrembell presents an evening of gypsy music with Swing de Gitanes Trio. Vocal ensembles at the festival include the Moran Vocal Ensemble, conducted by Stephen Connolly, and the Israeli Vocal Ensemble, director Yuval Ben Ozer.

Whilst Josetxu Obregon directs the Spanish group La Ritirata in music from operas Don Quixote at the Duchess and Sancho Panza, governor of the island Barataria by Antonio Caldara. The programme is entitled Don Quixote goes to Vienna: though Caldara did spend a period working in Spain, these two date from his later period working for the Imperial court in Vienna.

Full details from the festival website.

Music & movement at Conway Hall: the Gildas Quartet brings a final twist to its programme of Haydn, Janacek & Bridge

The Gildas Quartet
The Gildas Quartet  (Gemma Sharples,
Kay Stephen, Anna Menzies, Christopher Jones)
Haydn, Janacek, Bridge; Gildas Quartet; Conway Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 14 2017
Star rating: 4.0

The young string quartet bring energy, verve and a refreshing approach

The young string quartet, the Gildas Quartet (Christopher Jones, Gemma Sharples, Kay Stephen and Anna Menzies) brought a programme with a twist to Conway Hall on Sunday 14 May 2017. They performed Haydn's String Quartet in G Op.77 No. 1, Janacek's String Quartet No. 1 'Kreutzer Sonata', and Frank Bridge's String Quartet No. 4 in regular concert format. Then after a short break for the hall to be re-configured the audience was invited to return and the quartet repeated the Janacek, but this time in collaboration with John Landor's Music in Motion so that the musicians performed without music or music stands, and wandered amongst the audience using gesture to dramatise the music.

Haydn's Opus 77 quartets represent the interface between Haydn's development of the string quartet medium and his brilliant, but abrasive, pupil Beethoven's extension of it. Haydn was commissioned for six quartets from Prince Lobkowitz, but only two have come down to us and we also have Beethoven's Opus 18 string quartets which date from around the same time and which are also dedicated to the prince. Given the poor relationship between the two composers, it is not quite clear what happened. By 1799 Haydn was 67, but still capable (he wrote a full scale orchestral mass in 1802), though undoubtedly the Opus 77 quartets have a retrospective quality, not so much autumnal but a looking back at techniques and a summation.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Michael Finnissy's premiere at Evensong at St John's College, Cambridge

Michael Finnissy - Composer in Residence at St John's College, Cambridge
Michael Finnissy - Composer in Residence at St John's College, Cambridge
Having enjoyed hearing the music of Jonathan Harvey performed at Evensong at St John's College, Cambridge last year (see my article), it was a pleasure to return to St John's College on Saturday 13 May 2017 for Evensong led by the chaplain, the Rev'd Carol Barrett Ford, with the choir of St John's College, conductor Andrew Nethsingha, assistant organist Joseph Wicks and organ scholar Glen Dempsey. The music included John Taverner's Dum transisset Sabbatum, Richard Shephard's Preces and Responses, William Walton's Chichester Service and as closing voluntary Judith Bingham's St Bride, assisted by angels. But the main musical focus of the service was the anthem, which was the premiere of Dum transisset Sabatum by Michael Finnissy, the college's composer in residence.

Chapel of St John's College, Cambridge
Chapel of St John's College, Cambridge
It was a busy week for the choir of St John's, at Evensong during the week music included Gibbons Second Service, Vivaldi's Magnificat, Stanford in C, Purcell's Rejoice in the Lord alway and Alex Woolf's O vos omnes which was written for the choir in 2016. On Saturday the choir had already performed in a large memorial service that lunchtime for a fellow and sometime Master of the college, and then on Sunday (15 May 2017) the music at Sung Eucharist was to include Jean Langlais' striking Messe Solennelle.

Made up of boys from the college's choir school and young men from the college, the choir fielded 16 trebles and 14 singing men, a substantial line-up and one which would be the envy of a number of cathedral establishments.

We heard a poised performance of John Taverner's Dum transisset Sabbatum, it was lovely to hear this early Tudor polyphony being used in a liturgical situation rather than just as a concert work and the high treble part seemed to hold few terrors for the boys. It was lovely to hear Psalm 68 chanted (the first 20 verses), I do not get to hear much Anglican chant nowadays, but yet again I was struck by how complex and forbidding some of the more sonorous passages in the King James bible can be.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Russian Romance: music for voice, cello, violin and piano at Kings Place

Joan Rodgers CBE (Photo Groves Artists)
Joan Rodgers CBE (Photo Groves Artists)
Rachmaninov, Arensky, Prokofiev, Viardot, Scriabin, Shostakovich; Joan Rodgers, Michael Mofidian, Sophie Rosa, Guy Johnston, Sholto Kynoch; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 13 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Singing cellos and dramatic sopranos, a fascinating exploration of Russian romance

This fascinating recital at Kings Place, a collaboration between Kings Place and the Oxford Lieder Festival, wove two different aspects of the romance into an intelligently structured evening. So we had Russian romances as songs, with Anton Arensky's Six Romances and Dmitri Shostakovich's Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok, and we also had Pauline Viardot's lovely Russian setting The Stars
Guy Johnston
Guy Johnston
We also had instrumental romances, with cello and violin singing instead of the voice, with Rachmaninov's Romance in F minor for cello and piano, Alexander Scriabin's Romance, Rachmaninov's Romance No. 1 Op.6 from Deux Morceaux de Salon and Shostakovich's Romance No. 8 Op.97 from The Gadfly. Shostakovich's Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok were written for the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, and we also heard another work written for Rostropovich, Sergei Prokofiev's Cello Sonata in C, Op.119.

The performers were soprano Joan Rodgers (in the Viardot and Shostakovich), bass-baritone Michael Mofidian (in the Arensky), cellist Guy Johnston, violinist Sophie Rosa and pianist Sholto Kynoch. This mixed line-up of performers comes about because when Shostakovich was asked to write a work for Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya, he ended up adding a violin and piano too (though all four performers only come together in the final movement).

Michael Mofidian
Michael Mofidian
So the programming took advantage of this line-up, and both the Viardot song and one of the Arensky romances used a cello obbligato. This did lead to a slightly bitty feel in the programme, particularly in the second half when we moved between different constellations of performers. But the end result was worth it with a lovely exploration of the singing qualities of the instruments, and a chance two hear three rarely performed vocal works

We started with Rachmaninov's gently melancholic Romance in F minor for cello and piano with Guy Johnston showing how the cello could sing beautifully, with a warmly veiled sound. Anton Arensky was Rachmaninov's teacher (though only 12 years older), himself a pupil of Rimsky Korsakov and a protegee of Tchaikovsky. His Six Romances, Op.38 were written in 1894 and the second, 'Lily of the Valley' uses a cello obbligato. The songs were performed by Michael Mofidian, a young bass-baritone who is a recent winner of the Oxford Lieder Young Artists Platform (we saw Mofidian at the 2015 Oxford Lieder Festival).

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