Pages

Saturday, 30 September 2017

We all say yé-yé: recreating the songs of Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick Modiano

The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope)
The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope)
If you know of the French author Patrick Modiano (who won the Nobel Prize in 2014), it is for his novels (there are over 30). But it turns out that Modiano was a song-writer too, penning lyrics for some of the famous yé-yé recording artists in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Some of these songs have now been unearthed by Manchester-based singer, Lucy Hope, who goes by the name of The Chanteuse, and her recording of them has just been released, recorded analogue to tape at Toe Rag studios in Hackney. I caught up with Lucy by phone to find out how a Manchester lass ended up recreating yé-yé.

For those unfamiliar with the term, yé-yé refers to a genre of 1960s French pop associated with singer songwriters Serge Gainsbourg and Francoise Hardy; the term yéyé seems to derive from the English 'yeah, yeah' popularised by bands like The Beatles.

The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope) recording at Toe Rag Studios
The Chanteuse (Lucy Hope) recording at Toe Rag Studios
Lucy, it turns out, was doing a Masters in French literature, and was interested in writing about the way literature dealt with expressing the dark fears that arose out of the war. Her tutor suggested that she read Patrick Modiano's books, she did so and ended up doing half of her Masters on Modiano. She became aware that Modiano had written lyrics and rather stored it away as an interesting future project. Skip forward somewhat, and the confluence of circumstances brought the idea of Modiano and performance together.

In 2014 Lucy saw Bill Ryder-Jones (former guitarist with The Coral) performing a gig with the Manchester Camerata as part of the Manchester Literary Festival, based on Ryder-Jones concept album If... (an imaginary film score for the Italo Calvino novel, If on a Winter's Night a Traveller...). That same year Patrick Modiano received the Nobel Prize, and the Manchester Literary Festival asked Lucy if she could do something literary and musical, and she immediately thought of Modiano's songs. In fact, the event never happened but it provided the impetus for Lucy making the album.

The main problem was getting hold of the songs themselves. Lucy had to beg, borrow and steal to get copies of recordings of the songs. Many seemed not to be available, one was only on a Brazilian LP released by Francoise Hardy, and in fact the songs had achieved a sort of mythical status. In the end, Lucy managed to get in contact with Modiano's writing partner Hughes de Courson (Modiano wrote the words, de Courson the music), and it turned out that de Courson had made an album of the songs.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Pianist Roman Rabinovich returns to the UK

‘Having a beer with Haydn’ by Roman Rabinovich
‘Having a beer with Haydn’ by Roman Rabinovich
The pianist Roman Rabinovich, whom I chatted to last year before his performance at the Lammermuir Festival (see my article), returns to the UK for performances at the Wigmore Hall and in Guernsey and Alderney, as well as making his debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Rabinovich was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, raised in Israel. and is now based in the USA. He combines playing the piano with a talent for the visual arts, and his Haydn series at last year's Lammermuir Festival included his own drawings too.

Rabinovich starts off his latest visit performing Haydn and Chopin at Hatchlands Park in Surrey on 4 October, home of the Cobbe Collection, the world’s largest array of keyboard instruments associated with famous composers. Then he is off to Guernsey and Alderney (11 & 12 October), and then he returns to the Wigmore Hall on 15 October performing Haydn, Chopin and Rachmaninov alongside one of his own pieces. Rabinovich is back at the Wigmore Hall on 30 December, accompanying violinist Lisa Ferschtman.

In Scotland, Rabinovich will be performing Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conductor Sir Roger Norrington.

Full details from the events page of Rabinovich's website.

Strong singing and stage spectacle: ENO's new Aida

Verdi: Aida - English National Opera - Gwyn Hughes Jones, Robert Winslade Anderson, Eleanor Dennis (photo Tristram Kenton)
Verdi: Aida - English National Opera - Gwyn Hughes Jones, Robert Winslade Anderson, Eleanor Dennis (photo Tristram Kenton)
Verdi Aida; Latonia Moore, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Michelle DeYoung, Musa Ngqungwana, dir: Phelim McDermott, cond: Keri-Lynn Wilson; English National Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 29 2017 Star rating: 4.5
A spectacular new production which benefits from some superb singing

Verdi: Aida - English National Opera - Gwyn Hughes Jones, Latonia Moore (photo Tristram Kenton)
Gwyn Hughes Jones, Latonia Moore (photo Tristram Kenton)
Verdi's Aida can be a notorious problem opera both for directors and for casting directors with, I suspect, a high failure rate for productions. English National Opera's previous production (Jo Davies' 2007) was notable for Zandra Rhodes designs more than anything else, so there was great interest in the opening night of ENO's 2017/18 season on Thursday 28 September 2017, with the new production by Phelim McDermott (artistic director of Improbable). Tom Pye designed the sets, with costumes by Kevin Pollard, lighting by Bruno Poet, and there was a strong cast which caused quite a bit of anticipation in itself, with Latonia Moore as Aida, Michelle DeYoung as Amneris, Gwyn Hughes Jones as Radames, Musa Ngqungwana as Amonasro, Robert Winslade Anderson (replacing an ailing Brindley Sherratt) as Ramfis. Keri-Lynn Wilson, who created a strong impression when she conducted Puccini's Girl of the Golden West at ENO (see my review), conducted.

In addition to the large chorus, there was a skills ensemble based on the female-led theatre company Mimbre, with Lina Johanssen as movement director, Basil Twist as silk effects choreographer and Elaine Tyler-Hall responsible for chorus movement.

Verdi: Aida - English National Opera - Michelle DeYoung (photo Tristram Kenton)
Michelle DeYoung (photo Tristram Kenton)
Whilst there were Egyptian influences in the designs, the opera was set in its own world with Pye's simple but effective sets using a combination of massive objects including skewed pyramids. These formed an effective backdrop for Pollard's spectacular costumes and the striking theatrical effects. Pollard's costuming was very much a mash-up, with Aida (Latonia Moore) in vaguely African ensemble, and Amneris (Michelle DeYoung) in a series of overly spectacular gowns, some rather unflattering. Male attire was based in late 19th century military formal, but with exotic additions, whilst the female chorus was highly exotic, yet based around the 19th century gown. The result was eclectic, and in the Act Two finale, the chorus rather looked as if they had wandered in from one of those spectacular late Victorian fancy dress balls.

Pye and his team did not shy away from the fact that movement was a big feature of this opera. Aida is in many ways one of Verdi's most French-influenced operas with its interaction of personal tragedy, public triumph, intimate scenes and large scale dance sequences. The Act One scene in the temple was truly spectacular, and the Act Two triumph scene was finely orchestrated giving us a series of vivid tableaux, based around a ceremony for bringing home the bodies after the war. But in this scene Pye could not disguise the weak dramaturgy of the long dance sequence, and given that it is routine to cut Verdi's ballet sequences in Don Carlos, and never to perform the French version of Il Trovatore, I do wonder at directors including all of the dance movements in this scene.

And what of the singing? Well the cast was finely balanced, and probably as good as you are going to get in late Verdi today. Latonia Moore made a simply spectacular Aida.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Britten, Silvestrov & Janacek: Jan Vogler, Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO

Vladmir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
Vladmir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
Britten, Silvestrov, Janacek; Jan Vogler, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 28 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Britten's cello symphony getting a rare outing which paired two 1960s rarities with Janacek's dramatic orchestral rhapsody

Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra continued their exploration of Belief and Beyond Belief with a concert at the Royal Festival Hall on Wednesday 27 September 2017 which paired two very different works from the 1960s, Britten Symphony for Cello, Op.68 which was written for Mstislav Rostropovich and here played by cellist Jan Vogler, and Symphony No 3 'Eschatophony' by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov whose 80th birthday comes up on 30 September 2017. The programme was rounded off by Janceck's symphonic poem Taras Bulba.

Britten's Cello Symphony had its origins in an idea that Britten would write a concerto for Rostropovich. The work took some time to develop, and by the time it was complete in 1963 the role of the cello was less dominant and the role of the orchestra more equal, so Britten considered calling it a sinfonia concertante, but settled on Symphony for Cello. The work was premiered in 1964 in the USSR with Britten conducting the Moscow Philharmonic and Rostropovich as soloist. It is a big work, in four movements, and was Britten's first classical sonata form orchestral work for 20 years, and his only mature purely symphonic piece. It is a dark and complex work, not immediately ingratiating and the solo part is taxing yet with few elements of major display. The balance between soloist and orchestra is tricky, and there were moments in Wednesday's performance when you could see Jan Vogler beavering away yet the dominant musical ideas were in the orchestra.

I have to confess that it is a work that I admire, yet find difficult to love.

Architecture into music

Freya Waley-Cohen Permutations, Unveil; Tamsin Waley-Cohen; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 22 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Freya Waley-Cohen's multi-tracked violin piece for her sister, inspired by its architectural setting

At first sight, this new disc from Signum Classics is a recording of violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen performing pieces by her sister, Freya Waley-Cohen, but further exploration makes it apparent that the works on the disc are for multi-tracked violin, in fact we have six Tamsin Waley-Cohens performing. Further reading of Freya Waley-Cohen's lucid booklet note, makes it clear that what we hear is simply part of a far greater whole.

Permutations grew out of a project which Freya Waley-Cohen did with her sister, Tamsin, and with the architects Finbarr O'Dempsey and Andrew Skulina in which the architects designed an architectural setting which consisted of six individual chambers each with its own pre-recorded violin part. (You can read more about it on Freya Waley-Cohen's website). By moving around the installation, listeners are able to experience the piece in different ways, choosing which lines to make more prominent, with all six being equally balanced in the middle. In effect, Freya Waley-Cohen is adding a John Cage-like element of chance into the piece as the individual listener creates their own piece from the components that she has created.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

In case you missed it: Quickening on Monday's In Tune on BBC iPlayer

Robert Hugill, Johnny Herford, William Vann on BBC Radio 3's In Tune on Monday 25 September (photo BBC)
Robert Hugill, Johnny Herford, William Vann on BBC Radio 3's In Tune on Monday 25 September (photo BBC)
Baritone Johnny Herford, pianist William Vann and I were on BBC Radio 3's In Tune on Monday afternoon (25 September) to talk about the new CD of my songs, Quickening which is out now on the Navona Records label. 

Johnny and Will performed two songs from the album live in the studio, 'Evening' from Winter Journey (setting poems by Rowan Williams) and 'Song and Pain' from Four Songs to Texts by Ivor Gurney. And we also chatted about the disc, and about the poetic inspiration behind the settings of Rowan Williams' poem Winterreise for Gillian Rose: 5 December 2017. If you missed it life, then the programme is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days from 25 September. The link is here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095qdtx

and our contribution starts at the 00:10:40 mark.

The Life to Come: new E.M.Forster based opera from Surrey Opera

Louis Mander - The Life to Come
The Life to Come is a new opera by composer Louis Mander with a libretto by Stephen Fry based on the E.M Forster short story. The opera is being premiered by Surrey Opera on 28 September 2017 at the Harlequin Theatre, Redhill in a production conducted and directed by Surrey Opera's artistic director, Jonathan Butcher, and designed by Jill Wilson. The cast includes Martin Lindau, Themba Mvula, Jonathan Forbes Kennedy, Hannah Poulsom and James Schouten.

The Life to Come is a strange E.M.Forster short story about the intimate relationship between a young missionary and the African prince he has come to convert. Like Forster's novel of gay relationships, Maurice, The Life to Come was not published in Forster's lifetime and had to wait until 1972 though it had been written in 1922.

Louis Mander's previous operas have included The Fallen Soldier premiered by Belsize Opera in June 2017, and The Dowager's Oyster premiered at the Grimeborn Festival in 2016 (see my review).

Surrey Opera is performing The Life to Come in Redhill (28 & 29 September), Trinity School, Croydon (21 October) and Roedean School Theatre, Brighton (29 October), full details from the Surrey Opera website.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Daring: Fieri Consort's Tears of a lover

Fieri Consort - Tears of a Lover
Monteverdi, Ben Rowarth, Marenzio, Ingegneri; Fieri Consort; Fieri Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 19 2017 Star rating: 5.0
Ancient and modern combine in Ben Rowarth's contemporary response to Monteverdi's Arianna

The Fieri Consort's debut disc (on the group's own label) rather daringly combines Monteverdi's classic madrigal sequent Lamento d'Arianna with Ben Rowarth's contemporary response The Turn interleaving the Monteverdi and Rowarth to create a striking sequence. The CD is completed with a further pair of madrigals by Monteverdi and by his teacher Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, and Luca Marenzio's madrigal sequence Se quel dolor. The Fieri Consort are Hannah Ely, Lucy Cox, Nancy Cole, Helen Charlston, Josh Cooter, Tom Kelly, David Maguire and Ben McKee, and they are joined by Alison Kinder (viol) and Aileen Henry (Renaissance harp).

They start with Monteverdi's Interotte speranza, from the Seventh Book of Madrigals, in which two voices sing in a hushed manner creating something dark and intense. The relatively leisurely speed allows the singers to savour the detail of Monteverdi's writing, and to relish the dissonances. This very much characterises the Fieri Consort's approach, never slow but with enough time to shape the detail and with Monteverdi's daring harmonies to the fore. Marc'Antonio Ingegneri's Io non hebbi giamai pace ne tregua has similar virtues in a strong, vibrant performance.

Electro-acoustic music, trombones & cheese: I chat to composer Jack White

Jack White
On 27 September at Colston Hall's 'The Lantern' and on 3 October at Wigmore Hall, Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) musicians Peter Moore (trombone) and Richard Uttley (piano) will give the world premiere of Jack White's Three After-Dinner Pieces, as part of a lunchtime concert which includes music by Beethoven, Bruch, Faure and Sulek.

Three After-Dinner Pieces was commissioned by London Music Masters (LMM) in collaboration with YCAT. LMM is a UK-based, charity that supports the involvement of young musicians in classical music and the work's composer Jack White is the recipient of the LMM Composer Award. I spoke to Jack on the phone to find out more about the piece, and about his compositions, but what we first started talking about was cheese!

Jack works part-time at a fine cheese specialist in Cardiff (he is based in South Wales), when commissioned to write a piece for Peter Moore he decided to explore the idea of relating the music to different types of cheese. He feels that, as people are generally familiar with types of cheese, this will give them a way in to the music, and will hopefully promote debate. The work lasts around 15 minutes and is in three movements, each exploring a different cheese - Stilton, Caerphilly, Epoisse. For the music, Jack references both the country of origin (Wales, England, France) as well as the texture, so that the lines of mould in the Stilton come out as fanfares whilst the music for Epoisse reflects the fact that the cheese is very runny. Intrigued, I certainly way. This is Jack's first work for solo trombone, and he describes Peter Moore as a phenomenal player and Jack has been getting tips from Peter on writing for the trombone. Jack was particularly struck by Peter's lyrical playing, and uses this a lot in the second movement.

Monday, 25 September 2017

New home, new name: the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Birmingham City University’s brand new £57 million home for Birmingham Conservatoire opens its doors to students today with the news that the performing arts institution has been granted a Royal title by Her Majesty The Queen.

Now part of its parent institution’s City Centre Campus, the music and drama academy will be renamed the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, joining a select list of performing arts institutions bearing the Royal imprimatur.
 

The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s new building officially opened earlier this month and boasts five new public performance spaces, including a 500-seat concert hall, a 150-seat recital hall and a 100-seat organ studio.

Failure to ignite: Rossini's early comedy at Teatro la Fenice in Venice

Rossini L'occasione fa il ladro - Teatro la Fenice - Venice
Rossini L'occasione fa il ladro - Teatro la Fenice - Venice
Rossini L’occasione fa il ladro; Enrico Iviglia, Rocio Perez, Giorgio Misseri, dir: Elisabetta Brusa, cond: Michele Gamba; Teatro la Fenice, Venice
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Sep 20 2017 Star rating: 2.5
Rossini's burletta in an overconceptualised production in Venice

Rossini’s burletta per musica L’occasione fa il ladro (Opportunity Makes the Thief) is a one act farce based on Le prétendu par hazard an 1810 vaudeville by Eugène Scribe, which we caught in Venice at Teatro la Fenice on September 20, 2017 in a production directed by Elisabetta Brusa, and conducted by Michele Gamba. Given enough élan and a musically light touch the accidental exchange of luggage that precipitates this tale of mistaken identity and amorous deceit can be a pleasant, if undemanding, way to spend ninety minutes.

We were greeted in the auditorium by monochrome clad Terpsichorean guides who stage managed the evening's theatrical shenanigans; the production’s central conceit illustrated by the quote, roughly translated, “the things written in books, and therefore eternal, are a robbery made to the laws of time”. It was a handsome enough staging elegantly framed like an antiquarian opus complete with descriptive legend; a gauze created a theatrical veneer. And here in lies the principal practical problem of Elisabetta Brusa’s vision.

The Grange Festival International Singing Competition

The six finalists of the Grange International Singing Competition, Bozidar Smiljanic, Katie Coventry, Dominic Sedgwick, Sam Furness, Rowan Pierce, Samuel Sakker  (Photo Robert Workman)
The six finalists of the Grange International Singing Competition, Bozidar Smiljanic, Katie Coventry, Dominic Sedgwick, Sam Furness, Rowan Pierce, Samuel Sakker  (Photo Robert Workman)
The Grange Festival International Singing Competition 2017
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 24 2017 Six talented young artists competing, and giving us an exciting afternoon of varied programming

Top Prize winners at the Grange International Singing Competition, Samuel Sakker, Rowan Pierce, Bozidar Smiljanic (photo Robert Workman)
Top Prize winners at the Grange International Singing Competition,
Samuel Sakker, Rowan Pierce, Bozidar Smiljanic (photo Robert Workman)
The Grange Festival International Singing Competition 2017 reached its final on Sunday 24 September 2017 as six young singers competed at The Grange in front of a jury  which included Dame Felicity Palmer and the festival's artistic director, Michael Chance. Bass-baritone Bozidar Smiljanic, mezzo-soprano Katie Coventry, baritone Dominic Sedgwick, tenor Sam Furness, soprano Rowan Pierce and tenor Samuel Sakker each sang a 20 minute programme with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conductor Peter Robinson.

Variety was of the essence in the programming, each singer sang in at least two languages and they had to include a piece pre 1750, one post 1925 and one from the period 1750 to 1925. Not every singer seemed entirely comfortable in every era, but all gave us intriguing and imaginative combinations of repertoire, and interestingly all six pre-1750 pieces were by Handel. Though this was a competition it was a performance too and, a very enjoyable one. One interesting point is that none of the finalists seem to have performed in The Grange theatre before, so this was another testing factor.

Dominic Sedgwick - The Grange International Singing Competition (photo Robert Workman)
Dominic Sedgwick - (photo Robert Workman)
All six singers are at the start of their careers, the youngest Katie Coventry (26) and the oldest Samuel Sakker (32), and as well as giving us six very different voices it was clear that each was at a different point in their journey with their voice. One of the skills necessary in this sort of competition, is recognising what your voice does best and being able to select pieces which show off your skills and your voice to best advantage, and the most balanced programmes of the afternoon were from singers who had done just this.

British-Serbian bass-baritone Bozidar Smiljanic (who has just started as an ENO Harewood Artist) started with 'Revenge, Timotheus cries' from Handel's Alexander's Feast. Here, and with all the Handel arias where relevant, we got the full da capo repeat, and the large orchestra (big enough to do credit to the Mahler in the final programme) was slimmed down. The aria made a good opener in a vivid performance with good words. Words were important throughout the afternoon as we had no texts or translations, so the singers' skills in communication were really tested. Smiljanic followed with a characterful and engaging account of Figaro's 'Se vuol ballare' from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, including the preceding recit, then Mozart's concert aria Mentre ti lascio, o figlia K513, a nice contrast to Figaro's aria and showing of Smiljanic's sense of line and phrase. Finally, something more dramatic, 'Let things be like they always was', Frank's first aria from Kurt Weill's Street Scene.

Scottish soprano Katie Coventry (who has also started as an ENO Harewood Artist) began with Ruggiero's 'Sta nell'Ircana' from Handel's Alcina, in a stylish performance with good words. Nerves brought on a slip at one point, but she recovered well, and continued to give us some elaborate decorations in the da capo. An impulsive account of Siebel's 'Faites-lui mes aveux' from Gounod's Faust really showed the way the aria suited the style of Coventry's voice. An interesting choice next, an atmospheric account of 'Am I in your light', Kitty's Act One aria from John Adams' Doctor Atomic, then finally Annio's 'Tu fosti tradito' from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, full of character and style.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Orchestra to the fore: Enescu's Oedipe from Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra

George Enescus's Oedipe - London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, Paul Gay at the Royal Festival Hall (Photo Allen Max)
George Enescus's Oedipe - London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, Paul Gay at the Royal Festival Hall (Photo Allen Max)
Enescu Oedipe; Paul Gay, Willard White, Christopher Purves, Graham Clark, Ruxandra Donose, Ildiko Komlosi, Felicity Palmer, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 24 2017 Star rating: 5.0
A stunning performance of Enescu's masterpiece which put the orchestra at the centre, without neglecting strong vocal contributions

George Enescu's only opera Oedipe (premiered in Paris in 1936) seems to be slowly making its way into the British operatic consciousness. The piece's UK premiere was in 2002 (in concert at the Edinburgh Festival), with the first UK staging coming last year at Covent Garden (see my review). Now the work has popped up again, in concert, at the Royal Festival Hall on 23 September 2017 as part of the Belief and Beyond Belief season. Vladimir Jurowski conducted the London Philharmonic Orchestra with two Romanian choirs, the Choir of the George Enescu Philharmonic and Romanian Radio Children's Choir. Paul Gay was Oedipe (a role he sang with the LPO under Vladimir Jurowski's baton in Bucharest earlier this month) with Willard White as Tiresias, Christopher Purves as Creon, Graham Clark as the Shepherd, Mischa Schelomianski as the High Priest, In Sung Sim as Phorbas, Maxim Mikhailov as the Watchman, Boris Pinkhasovich as Thesee, Marius Vlad Budoiu as Laios, Ruxandra Donose as Jocaste, Ildiko Komlosi as The Sphinx, Gabriela Istoc as Antigone and Felicity Palmer as Merope.

Enescu's opera, with a French libretto by Edmund Fleg, covers the whole of Oedipus' life. The first two acts are largely Fleg's invention, but the later parts of the opera follow Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus. The result is that the role of Oedipe is by far the biggest one, the mature character appears at the beginning of Act Two and remains the focus for the rest of the opera. The remaining characters come and go, providing a series of strongly etched cameos and character sketches, and essentially the story is told in a series of duets and interactions between Oedipe and the others.

What was noticeable about this performance was the sheer orchestral demands which Enescu makes. There was a huge orchestra lots of extra woodwind and brass, including alto flute, cor anglais, bass and E flat clarinets, saxophone, contra bassoon, and D trumpet, and there was a bass trombone, euphonium and two tubas, not to mention the extra timpani, percussion, two celestes, harmonium and piano, well over 100 players in all. And there was quite a lot of coming and going too, as Enescu uses quite a lot of off stage instruments too (and off-stage chorus), all beautifully realised here.

With the opera performed complete (it is often cut in the theatre), I was very much struck by its relationship to Richard Strauss's Salome, both pieces can be described as orchestral tone poems with voices. It is the orchestra which, for much of the time, is the dominant voice in the piece. Not because its sheer size give us loudness, quite the opposite as Enescu rarely uses all his instruments at once instead using a vast array of colours from his palette, but because there is so much for the orchestra. For much of the opera, the plot proceeds at a relatively leisurely pace with plenty of orchestral interludes and commentary. It is the orchestra which fills in the gaps, and gives us a richly coloured emotional background to the story unfolding before us.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Schumann, Schubert & more: Mark Padmore on his forthcoming highlights

Mark Padmore & Till Fellner (Photo by kind permission of Izumi Hall, Japan - photographer credit Satoaki Hikawa)
Mark Padmore & Till Fellner performing in Japan
(Photo by kind permission of Izumi Hall, Japan - photographer credit Satoaki Hikawa)
One of the highlights of this year's Tetbury Festival is a recital by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Till Fellner on 29 September combining songs by Schubert with Schumann's Dichterliebe (they are repeating the recital at the John Innes Centre in Norwich on 30 September). It comes at the beginning of a busy year for Mark as he is artist in residence with the Berlin Philharmonic and has already launched his programme there with Hadyn's The Creation. I spoke to Mark by telephone to find out more.


Mark Padmore (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Mark Padmore (Photo Marco Borggreve)
This year is the 14th Tetbury Festival (it was founded in 2013 by Graham Kean and its president, Elise Smith). Mark is familiar with the festival, having sung there three or four times before and he describes the parish church (the venue for his concert) as a very special building.

His recital at the festival is very much in two halves, in the first Schubert and in the second Schumann's Dichterliebe, a real stand-alone work. Mark describes Dichterliebe as one of the most extraordinary works of the repertoire, but he clearly has a very clear view of the piece as he goes on to describe it as a piano piece with vocal accompaniment. Schumann wrote Dichterliebe in 1840 as part of his astonishing year of lieder writing. Mark sees the songs as messages to Clara (whom Schumann married in 1840), and feels that you can tell that Schumann was writing them for a pianist (Clara Schumann was one of the most distinguished pianists of the Romantic era). So whilst the vocal lines deliver the text, the piano carries the most important music particularly in the piano postludes.

For the first half of the concert Mark and Till are performing Schubert songs, a selection which mainly includes later songs including settings of Seidl and Leitner. Mark finds this later period of Schubert's song writing extraordinary rich, as in the last couple of years of his life he became a real master of the art form. Mark says that he finds songs from this period increasingly interesting to perform, especially the not so well known songs and feels that some are some of the greatest music for voice and piano. He adds that it is lovely to be able to explore music with interesting piano parts with Till Fellner, who is a distinguished pianist in his own right.

Familiar and unfamiliar: Tallis Scholars at Cadogan Hall

Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars
Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars
Palestrina, Monteverdi, Allegri, Gesualdo, Lotti; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 22 2017 Star rating: 4.0
The Tallis Scholars open the 10th Choral at Cadogan series with Italian motets on the cusp of Renaissance and Baroque

The Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips opened the 10th season of Choral at Cadogan on Friday 22 September 2017 with a programme of Italian motets at Cadogan Hall. The programme ranged from Palestrina, through Gesualdo and Monteverdi (including the Messa quattro voci da cappella) to Lotti, with Allegri's Miserere as a bon bouche.

The have been a few changes in the ensemble (Amy Haworth, Emma Walshe, Emily Atkinson, Charlotte Ashley, Caroline Trevor, Helen Charlston, Steven Harrold, Simon Wall, Simon Whitely, Greg Skidmore) with some regular members moving on, and the sound did not always feel completely bedded in, though perhaps that was the effect of the Summer holidays. The group started with Palestrina's Laudate pueri, in a strong, up-front performance where there was far more of a sense of individual voices than we are used to with this group. It was a large scale piece, and made a terrific concert opener. More intimate Palestrina followed with Virgo prudentissima, with some beautifully shaped phrasing, vibrant but controlled.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Composing thoughts

I have written an article for Parma Recordings with thoughts about composing, early influences and the songs on our CD, Quickening. You can find it on the Parma Recordings website, along with a whizzy new photo of me.

OOTS renews its partnership with the Stratford-on-Avon Music Festival

David Curtis and Orchesta of the Swan
David Curtis and Orchestra of the Swan
The Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) has renewed its partnership with Stratford-on-Avon Music Festival and from 26 September to 3 October, and OOTS will be presenting a programme at the festival featuring Roderick Williams, Leon McCawley, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Julian Bliss, alongside BBC New Generation Artists Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), Annelien Van Wauwe (clarinet), the Van Kuijk String Quartet and the Amatis Piano Trio. BBC Radio 3 will be recording two lunchtime performances, and Classic FM will record the final concert where Julian Bliss joins David Curtis and OOTS for a programme which includes Weber's Clarinet Concerto and music by Rossini and Beethoven.

22 years ago the Stratford-on-Avon District English Music Festival (now the Stratford-on-Avon Music Festival) opened for the first time. It needed a conductor and an orchestra, and David Curtis, viola player with the Coull Quartet, was invited to form an orchestra for the festival and Stratford’s own Orchestra of the Swan was born. This year, the festival's new artistic director David Mills has re-focused the festival and it will be highlighting the wonderful repertoire of music for woodwinds amid an abundance of world class music making, with OOTS and David Curtis as key partner.

Full details of the festival from its website.

Charmingly inventive: Carolyn Sampson & Da Camera in Telemann trio sonatas & cantatas

Da Camera - Emma Murphy, Steven Devine, Susanna Pell
Da Camera - Emma Murphy, Steven Devine, Susanna Pell
Telemann, Bach, Alessandro Scarlatti; Carolyn Sampson, Da Camera; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 20 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Elegant and civilised, Telemann's trio sonatas and sacred solo cantatas

The chamber ensemble Da Camera (Emma Murphy, recorders, Susanna Pell, viols, Steven Devine, harpsichord) was joined by soprano Carolyn Sampson at Kings Place on Wednesday 20 September 2017 for a celebration of all things Telemann. Da Camera performed three of Telemann's trio sonatas, whilst Carolyn Sampson sang two of the cantatas from Telemann's Harmoniscer Gottes-Dienst, 'Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude' and 'Hemmet den Eifer, verbanet die Rache'. Da Camera also played their own arrangement of Bach's Trio Sonata in G from The Organ Sonatas, whilst Carolyn Sampson sang Alessandro Scarlatti's cantata Ardo e'ver per te d'amore.

Carolyn Sampson (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Carolyn Sampson (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Telemann's sheer productiveness can sometimes be a barrier to his work being better known, it is difficult to concentrate on one when you have so many. Da Camera's recent recording of Telemann trio sonatas was a lovely excuse for a concert which wove three of them into the programme, two from Essercizii Musici (1740), Trio Sonata No. 5 in A minor, TWV42:a4 and Trio Sonata No. 10 in D, TWV42:d9, and one from the Darmstadt Manuscript, Trio Sonata in G minor, TWV42:g9.

Essercizii Musici is the last of Telemann's 44 publications, and it combines 12 solo sonatas and 12 trio sonatas, with scoring for six different instruments, violin, flute, viola da gamba, recorder, oboe and harpsichord. Telemann clearly had an eye for the main chance, and published his works for violin, flute, recorder or oboe, to attract a wider market. So Da Camera followed this flexibility and adjusted Trio Sonatas No. 5 & 10 to be for recorder, viola da gamba and harpsichord. The Darmstadt Manuscript on the other hand, has his trio sonatas scored for recorder and treble viol and this is the combination Da Camera used in the Trio Sonata in G minor.

All three are in four movements, slow, fast, slow, fast, and Telemann shows a maximum amount of inventiveness in the way he creates varied textures for the three instruments. One of the fascinating things was hearing the viola da gamba being used as a melody instrument, so that repeatedly we heard some delightful passages where recorder and viola da gamba were in dialogue, swapping musical material. Frequently melodically very appealing, we had perky fast movements and sweetly haunting slow ones, and I was especially struck by the final movement of the Trio Sonata in G minor, which seemed to have elements of a Scottish reel about it. The trio sonatas are also very challenging with all three players having to repeatedly demonstrate nimble fingers, and Da Camera combined dazzling technique with engaging playing.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Bach to the piano

Bach: Art of Fugue - Duo Stephanie and Saar - New Focus Recordings
Bach keyboard concertos, Italian Concerto, The Art of Fugue; Stephanie Ho, Saar Ahuvia, Sonya Bach, English Chamber Orchestra; New Focus Recordings, Rubicon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Aug 13 2017
Different approaches to Bach, different problems to solve, Bach on the piano from three pianists

Whilst performing Bach on the piano is hardly controversial in our rather pluralist age, it is always intriguing to hear how different pianists tackle the challenge of transposing Bach to modern instruments, and particularly how they respond to the challenges and problems presented by Bach's works. Two new sets have recently come my way, the piano duo of Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia performing Bach's The Art of Fugue on one and two pianos from New Focus Recordings, and pianist Sonya Bach performing six of Bach's keyboard concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra, plus the Italian Concerto on Rubicon.

Bach: keyboard concertos - Sonya Bach - Rubicon
Bach's The Art of Fugue is a famous problem work, not only the challenge of deciding what instruments to use in performance given Bach's lack of specification, but the fact that the work is famously unfinished. Stephanie Ho and Saar Ahuvia perform the work on two pianos, though their approach is quite eclectic, Contrapunctus 1 to 8, 10 and 11 are performed with two pianists at one piano, whilst Contrapunctus 9, 12 (recta & inversa), 13 (recta & inversa) are performed on two pianos. The canons are performed as solo piano pieces. The unfinished fugue is left unfinished, stopping mid air and the work finishes with a solo performance of the Canon per ugmentationem in Contrario Motu.

The two pianists have an admirable uniformity of touch so that it sounds like one four-handed player, and their approach blends period and modern. The essential touch is modern, but there is a nice clarity to it. There is pedalling, so the result is more romantic and not as austere as some performers of Bach on the modern piano. When it comes to fugue subjects they seem to like a uniformity of tone and articulation, so that the result can often seem quite a uniform texture rather than different elements of the fugue standing out. The first two piano piece of the sequence, Contrapunctus 9, really makes a glorious noise.

These are beautifully fluent performances, ideal for someone who likes quite a modern sound in their Bach, but I have to confess that I like a slightly more analytic approach to Bach on the piano with less of the modern romantic styling.

This issue of style re-occurs in Sonya Bach's performances of the keyboard concertos nos. 1-5, & 7 with the English Chamber Orchestra. Using a piano in these works solves the balance problems inherent in period performances with harpsichord; too often, especially in live performance, I find myself frustrated at the way the accompaniment can easily dominate the harpsichord and wonder what forces Bach actually used. Should we view these pieces really as chamber music?

Mozart vs Machine: An opera mashing-up Mozart, electronic sound and video projection

Dominic Robertson: Mozart vs Machine - Mahogany Opera Group
Dominic Robertson: Mozart vs Machine - Mahogany Opera Group
Dominic Robertson Mozart vs Machine; Frederic Wake-Walker, Mahogany Opera Group; Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on Sep 17 2017 Star rating: 5.0
A zany, surreal, vaudeville-type show that puts Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on trial and firmly in the dock

Dominic Robertson: Mozart vs Machine - Mahogany Opera Group
Rebecca Bottone
Dominic Robertson: Mozart vs Machine - Mahogany Opera Group
A high-octane mash-up of Mozart opera, electronic sound and video projection, Mozart vs Machine (created by Dominic Robertson) puts the Mahogany Opera Group, under the artistic direction of Frederic Wake-Walker, a visionary, challenging and unfussy director, centre stage of creative thinking. The company is currently touring the work and we caught it on 17 September 2017 at the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

Developed through Mahogany’s Various Stages programme, Mozart vs Machine received generous support from Sound and Music, the national charity for new music in the UK whose mission is to maximise the opportunities for people to create and enjoy new music, while Arts Council England and PRS for Music Foundation helped greatly, too.

Collectively, all of these financial contributions have helped tremendously towards the cost in bringing to the stage a totally-absorbing and totally-original work - but a totally mind-boggling one, too - that fitted perfectly the stage and ambience of Aldeburgh’s warm and intimate Jubilee Hall which, by the way, hosted the world premières of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Walton’s The Bear and Harrison Birtwistle’s Punch and Judy.

Wake-Walker and Mahogany are no strangers to Jubilee Hall either and triumphed here with Russian Tales (set to a score by Stravinsky/Walton) and Folie à Deux, a collaboration between British composer Emily Hall and Icelandic writer Sjón which brought classical, electronic and folk sounds together in a mesmerising and effective show. Now Mozart vs Machine - whose scenario focuses on the 20th-century American electronic-instrument inventor/composer, Raymond Scott and the 18th-century classical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - is added to the growing list.

Dominic Robertson: Mozart vs Machine - Mahogany Opera Group
Dominic Robertson: Mozart vs Machine - Mahogany Opera Group
Currently, the trustees of Jubilee Hall hold exciting plans to bring the venue into the 21st century without losing its historical patina and Mozart vs Machine is the first time that they have promoted an event of this kind for a considerable number of years which was presented in association with the HighTide Festival celebrating this year its eleventh edition. Although presented and produced by an opera group, Mozart vs Machine is so far removed from the genre of opera. A ‘musical installation’ more like it but described by Wake-Walker as an ‘electronic essay collage opera’. That’s ok by me!

The brainchild of composer Dominic Robertson (formerly known as Ergo Phizmiz) he has created first hand a surrealist work which combines live and pre-recorded music, shadow puppetry and video images whilst gathering together some of history’s most iconic artists highlighting them within a theatrical sci-fi-game-show while forging together ideas and notes from across history into an irreverent collage of music, theatre or whatever, blurring the boundaries of opera and performance art. Only one musician appeared on stage, the musical director, Katherine Tinker, gracefully attired in 18th-century dress playing harpsichord.

Within his creative framework, Robertson has cleverly incorporated - with a little help from French illusionist and film pioneer Georges Méliès and Lewis Carroll’s Logic Game not forgetting composers John Cage and J S Bach - digital reconstructions which found space with scissors-and-glue edits and inversions of Mozart scores while music-box transcriptions were reversed and flipped and in doing so melodies and progressions are quoted and transformed along the way.

Central to the work is the question of how vital the march of technology is to the transformation of music. What happens, for instance, when someone like Mozart, a composer of paper and ink, is placed in theoretical space with a person such as Scott, an inventor of chance-generated loop machines?

Lucy Parham's Sunday Matinees

Lucy Parham - Beloved Clara
Lucy Parham is returning to St John's Smith Square on Sunday afternoons with a second series of her composer portraits featuring a spoken narrative from a series of distinguished actors, and piano music from Lucy. The series opens on Sunday 24 September with Beloved Clara which looks at the relationship between Robert and Clara Schumann and their close friendship with Brahms, and Lucy Parham is joined by Harriet Walter and Tim McInnerny.

Further ahead, on Sunday 29 October, the subject turns to Chopin with Nocturne: The Romantic Life of Chopin with Lucy joined by Patricia Hodge and Alex Jennings. Then on Sunday 28 January 2017 Lucy is joined by Simon Russell Beale to celebrate the centenary of Debussy's death with Reverie: The Life and Loves of Debussy. On 4 March 2018, Odyssey of Love: Liszt and his Women features Joanna David and Robert Glenister, whilst on 15 April 2018, Elegie: Rachmaninoffl a heart in exile features Henry Goodman. Each event is followed by a post-concert discussion.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Premiere of Sally Beamish's The Judas Passion

Sally Beamish
Sally Beamish
The Judas Passion, Sally Beamish's new piece to a libretto by David Harsent, premieres at the Saffron Hall on Sunday 24 September 2017. Nicholas McGegan conducts the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment (OAE) with the Choir of the Enlightenment and soloists Julia Doyle (Mar), Brenden Gunnell (Judas) and James Newby (Christ).

The piece tells the story of the crucifixion from the point of view of Judas. The intriguing combination of contemporary composer and period instruments will echo Bach's passions in its exploration of the Last Supper and the events of Holy Week. Harsent's libretto asks us to reconsider Judas and poses some very different questions. Was what he did necessary? Could he have done any differently? And can he be forgiven?

The work is repeated at St John's Smith Square on Monday 25 September 2017.

Full details from the OAE website.

Far from dry: Vox Luminis in Bach's musical forbears

Vox Luminis
Vox Luminis
Johann Michael Bach, Johann Christoph Bach, Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Johann Sebastian Bach; Vox Luminis; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 19 2017 Star rating: 4.5
An exploration of the music of Bach's older contemporaries proves a vibrant evening's music making

Vox Luminis' visit to the Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 19 September 2017 was intended to be an exploration of JS Bach's musical ancestry, a selection perhaps of his mental musical furniture with works by two of his relations of the previous generation, Johann Michael Bach and Johann Christoph Bach, plus older contemporaries Philipp Heinrich Erlebach and Dietrich Buxtehude, all finishing with one of JS Bach's earliest cantatas, Christ lag in Todesbanden BWV4.

In the event, things were a little more dramatic than that. Two days before the concert, the group's artistic director Lionel Meunier developed laryngitis and could not sing. As he directs from within the choir, this caused a problem. Meunier's place in the choir was taken by Jussi Lehtipuu, and the programme went on unchanged, unconducted.  To find that your group can manage without you might seem awkward, but it is perhaps the biggest compliment that could be paid to the work of the artistic directer and shows the real collaborative enterprise of the ensemble.

Much of the music was centred round Arnstadt in Thuringia, where JS Bach's first employment was and the area where his forbears were based. All the pieces in the programme were for small choir and ensemble, with Vox Luminis using between eight and ten singers from a pool of eleven, accompanied by a small ensemble of violins, violas, violone and organ.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Celebrating musical pilfering: Septura's Kleptomania at St John's Smith Square

Septura
Septura
The brass septet, Septura, has a new concert series at St John's Smith Square, London and West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. Called Kleptomania the series presents prize pickings of music that the group has "stolen" through transcription for brass septet: plunder from string ensembles, pianists, chamber orchestras and singers. 

They open with Stolen Strings at St John's Smith Square on 19 September 2017 with transcriptions of Elgar's Serenade,, Walton's Sonata, Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet. Future concerts include Pilfered Piano (Debussy Préludes, Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition), Borrowed Baroque (Rameau Dardanus, Handel Rinaldo, Stravinsky Pulcinella) and Song Swag (Ravel Mother Goose, Fauré Mélodies, Gershwin Piano Preludes and An American in Paris)

Septura is made up of Philip Cobb (Trumpet), Simon Cox (Trumpet & Artistic Director), Huw Morgan (Trumpet), Alan Thomas (Trumpet), Matthew Gee (Trombone), Matthew Knight (Trombone & Artistic Director), Daniel West (Bass Trombone), Sasha Koushk-Jalali (Tuba) and Peter Smith (Tuba). The group is recording a series of 10 discs for Naxos Records, each focused on a particular period, genre and set of composers, creating a ‘counter-factual history’ of brass chamber music.

Full details from the Septura website.

Rattle conducts Berlioz' La damnation de Faust

Sir Simon Rattle & the London Symphony Orchestra (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Sir Simon Rattle & the London Symphony Orchestra
(Photo Tristram Kenton)
Berlioz La damnation de Faust; Bryan Hymel, Karen Cargill, Christopher Purves, London Symphony Orchestra, Simon Rattle; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Sep 17 2017 Star rating: 4.0
A beautiful ride to Hell, although at times I wanted to feel the words a little more keenly and have my roller-coaster ride a bit rougher

The fable of selling one’s soul to the devil for a dream is a tale as old as time. Our perpetual fascination with tales of Faust, in particular, have cemented him into our storytelling culture. Goethe’s tragedy alone has inspired more composers than you can shake a stick at. Sir Simon Rattle chose Berlioz's La damnation de Faust as part of his opening season of concerts at music director of the London Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday 17 September at the Barbican, Rattle conducted the LSO, London Symphony Chorus, Tiffin Boys’ Choir, Tiffin Girls’ Choir, Tiffin Children’s Chorus and soloists Bryan Hymel (Faust), Karen Cargill (Marguerite), Christopher Purves (Mephistopheles) and Gabor Bretz (Brander)

Berlioz’s concert opera or dramatic legend, as Beecham pointed out, “has a bunch of the loveliest tunes in existence”. It’s a flamboyant and powerfully evocative work full of humour, beauty and violence. It’s a rollercoaster ride from the immensity of nature through to the pandemonium of damnation. Rattle and the LSO along with a precisely drilled chorus painted a nuanced and startling vivid portrait of an inexorable journey to perdition.

I confess to a somewhat factious relationship with Berlioz’s Faust. As with my emotional response to Proust, I recognise the beauty but the protagonists’ intellectual hubris and poetic ennui can all too easily make my teeth itch. For me personally it’s success as a whole depends on the vocal interpretations. The vocal writing is not just bel canto – expression and meaning need to come first.

Christopher Purves (Mephistopheles), standing in for an indisposed Gerald Finley, was charming, cynical and mockingly unctuous. If I missed anything it would be a certain orotund authority. Karen Cargill’s Marguerite was the very picture of naivety. Her ballad of faithfulness and “D’amour l’ardente flamme” were achingly poignant – Marguerite was a sitting duck. The American tenor Bryan Hymel was steely voiced, heroic of tone with a beautiful legato so much so I could quite happily have slapped him around the face with a wet kipper. His Faust gets what’s coming to him and his demise “c’est bien”. Caveat emptor. A beautiful ride to Hell then, although at times I wanted to feel the words a little more keenly and have my rollercoaster ride a bit rougher.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Elsewhere on this blog: