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Monday, 30 April 2018

Welcome to the Magical Garden or perhaps the Garden of Magic

Robert Saxton piano music - Clare Hammond - Toccata Classics
Robert Saxton piano music; Clare Hammond; Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The dazzling, seductive and challenging sound-world of Robert Saxton's piano music

This enterprising disc from pianist Clare Hammond on Toccata Classics is devoted to the piano music of Robert Saxton, counterpointing two works from the 1980s Chacony for Piano Left Hand and Sonata for Piano with three more recent pieces, the suites Hortus Musicae, Book 1 and Book 2, and Lullaby for Rosa.

Robert Saxton, who is Professor of Composition at the Oxford University Faculty of Music, has an interesting pedigree. As a teenager he corresponded with and was mentored by Benjamin Britten, and was taught by Elizabeth Lutyens, Robin Holloway, Robert Sherlaw Johnson and Luciano Berio.

The disc opens with Saxton's Chacony for Piano Left Hand, written in 1988 for the Aldeburgh Festival and premiered by Leon Fleisher (who at that time had lost the use of his right hand). It is a strenuous, virtuosic piece which nonethless manages to achieve a remarkably luminous sound. Saxton's Piano Sonata is the earliest piece on the disc, dating from 1981 it was inspired by the bi-centenary of Bartok's birth that year. It is a single-movement, 10 minute piece, more obviously serial than the Chacony, creating something intense and concentrated.

Leeds International Piano Competition launches the Leeds Piano Festival

Alessio Bax (Photo Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)
Alessio Bax (Photo Lisa-Marie Mazzucco)
The Leeds International Piano Competition (The Leeds) is presenting the Leeds Piano Festival, the first of a planned annual festival, in May 2018. Taking place across 10 days in Leeds and London (14 to 23 May 2018), the performers include past winners and alumni including Alessio Bax (winner of the 2000 Competition), Sunwook Kim (winner of the 2006 Competition) and Lars Vogt (2nd prize in the 1990 Competition), who each perform recitals at both Leeds’ Howard Assembly Room and London’s Wigmore Hall.

The festival is part of the vision of The Leeds’s new artistic leadership, Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse, to expand its activities beyond the triennial competition and provide a much-enriched programme of events for both pianists and audiences alike. The first stage in a new partnership between the Foundation and The Leeds sees three Young Scholars from the Lang Lang International Music Foundation (all teenagers from the United States, personally selected and mentored by Lang Lang) will take part in a public masterclass with Alessio Bax and perform in both venues in Leeds and London as .

Other events aim to bring the piano to a wider audience so that for Discover the Piano: Piano Fantasia hundreds of local primary schoolchildren from all over Leeds are invited to Leeds Town Hall to explore and discover the piano in a family performance from creator and pianist Will Pickvance. They will also take part in various piano workshops and hear performances from the Lang Lang Scholars in a fun and accessible celebration of the piano.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

4:48 Psychosis

Philip Venables: 4:48 Psychosis - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Stephen Cummiskey)
Philip Venables: 4:48 Psychosis - Royal Opera
(Photo ROH/Stephen Cummiskey)
Philip Venables, Sarah Kane 4:48 Psychosis; Gweneth-Ann Rand, Lucy Schauffer, Lucy Hall, Susanna Hurrell, Samantha Price, Rachael Lloyd, Chroma, dir: Ted Huffman, cond: Richard Baker; Royal Opera at Lyric Hammersmith
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A strong revival of the Royal Opera's production of Philip Venables' powerful opera

In many ways, it seems surprising that Sarah Kane's 1999 play 4:48 Psychosis had not received a contemporary operatic treatment before Philip Venables' 2016 opera based on the play. Kane's play, with its language varying between the highly abstract and the poetic, and flexible in form without specific characters or narrative, seems to almost have music embedded within it. Venables has taken Kane's text and set it for six female singers and instrumental ensemble, to remarkable effect.

The Royal Opera House's production debuted at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2016 and has been revived (seen Saturday 28 April 2018). The six singers were Gweneth-Ann Rand, Lucy Hall, Susanna Hurrell, Samantha Price, Rachael Lloyd, and Lucy Schaufer, with Richard Baker conducting Chroma. The director was Ted Huffman, the designer Hannah Clark with lighting by D.M.Wood, video by Pierre Martin, sound design by Sound Intermedia and movement by Sarah Fahie (revived by RC-Annie).

Philip Venables: 4:48 Psychosis - Royal Opera (Photo ROH/Stephen Cummiskey)
Philip Venables: 4:48 Psychosis - Royal Opera
(Photo ROH/Stephen Cummiskey)
Kane's text moves between a very subjective presentation of depression, providing specifics such as dialogues with healthcare professionals, deciding whether to take medication, the desires of the depressed mind, the effects and effectiveness of medication, self-harm, suicide and the possible causes of depression, but there are also other more abstract scenes on subjects such as isolation, dependency, relationships, and love. Each incarnation of the play articulates these differently, so Venables opera gives us one particular arc through. The six singers were identically dressed and often formed a group, the idea of six different incarnations of the same mind perhaps, with a hint of the fracturing that clinical depression can bring. But there were differences too. Lucy Hall, Susanna Hurrell, Samantha Price and Rachael Lloyd formed a clear visual group, all sporting mid-to-dark hair in a pony-tale and these acted sometimes as a type of chorus, with Gweneth-Ann Rand clearly as the protagonist and Lucy Schaufer as a series of professional and psychologist figures.

Venables stretches naturalism even further as, for Kane's scenes which are more obviously patient/healthcare professional dialogues, these are not explicitly set to music but the words projected accompanied by the two percussionists, creating a setting at one remove. These were staged as a mime and proved enormously effective with both Schauffer and Rand conveying the wealth of emotion underlying the bald text.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Thrilling revival: Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Covent Garden

Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - Brandon Jovanovich, Eva-Maria Westbroek © ROH, 2018. Photographed by Clive Barda
Shostakovich: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - Brandon Jovanovich, Eva-Maria Westbroek
© ROH, 2018. Photographed by Clive Barda
Shostakovich Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Eva-Maria Westbroek, John Daszak, Brandon Jovanovich, John Tomlinson, dir: Richard Jones/Elaine Kidd, cond: Antonio Pappano; Royal Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 April 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
It is a relief to find a production which does full justice to the mercurial variety and caustic scherzo which is Shostakovich's opera

Richard Jones' production of Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk has returned to the Royal Opera House (seen Friday 27 April 2018) after a gap of a dozen years, with the production in fine form indeed, and with Eva-Maria Westbroek and John Tomlinson returning to the roles of Katerina Ismailova and Boris Ismailov with John Daszak as Zinovy Ismailov, Brandon Jovanovich as Sergey, Rosie Aldridge as Aksinya and Peter  Bronder as the shabby peasant. Jones' production was revived by Elaine Kidd, and Antonio Pappano conducted.

The opera is a tricky one to bring off, Shostakovich's score is full of cartoonish elements juxtaposing serious ones, there is a huge orchestra (with lots of extra brass) yet the music has a satirical element too and overall needs a lightness of touch.  Jones' production brought this off brilliantly, undercutting seriousness with comedy alongside some brilliant stagecraft with a finely idiomatic performance from Pappano and the orchestra.

Friday, 27 April 2018

London Music Masters 10th anniversary showcase

London Music Masters showcase
London Music Masters (LMM), which was founded by Victoria Robey to address the need for greater diversity in classical music and to provide access to music education for all at primary school, is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Celebrations include a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday 30 April 2018 with four world premieres by Mark-Anthony Turnage, Satoko Doi-Luck and Colin Matthews. The performers include former LMM Award Holders Agata Szymczewska and Hyeyoon Park and past and present LMM children aged between 8-15 from the seven schools. Turnage's Cleethorpes Chorale will be premiered by former LMM student Betania Johnny and Agata Szymczewska, accompanied by Sebastian Wybrew.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

Striking double in Clapham: Shadwell Opera debuts a new work with powerful Janacek song-cycle

Angharad Lyddon, Sam Furness in Shadwell Opera's The Diary of One who Vanished
Angharad Lyddon, Sam Furness in Shadwell Opera's The Diary of One who Vanished
Edward Nesbit Antigone's Grief, Leos Janacek Diary of One who Vanished; Sam Furness, Angharad Lyddon, Anthony Flaum, Thomas Ang, dir: Jack Furness; Shadwell Opera at Omnibus Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 April 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Two staged song cycles, 100 years apart, in powerful, claustrophobic stagings

Edward Nesbit: Antigone's Grief - Anthony Flaum, Angharad Lyddon- Shadwell Opera
Edward Nesbit: Antigone's Grief - Anthony Flaum, Angharad Lyddon
Shadwell Opera brought a double bill of Edward Nesbit (born 1986) and Leos Janacek (1854-1928) to the music room at Omnibus Theatre in Clapham on Thursday 26 April 2018. Effectively a pair of staged song cycles, Nesbit's piece had been commissioned to use the same forces, mezzo-soprano, tenor, three female voices and piano, as the Janceck. Angharad Lyddon was Antigone and Anthony Flaum was Theseus in Nesbit's The Grief of Antigone, whilst Sam Furness and Angharad Lyddon were the soloists in Janacek's The Diary of One who Vanished (sung in Seamus Heaney's translation), with Thomas Ang (piano), and Isabelle Haile, Beth Graham & Sapphire Armitage as the female voices. Jack Furness directed.

Edward Nesbit's opera uses a short episode from the myth of Antigone as retold in Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus, after Oedipus' death Antigone, in her grief, wishes to visit her father's tomb. But it is a sacred place, and secret, and Theseus has promised Oedipus that he would keep it so. Furness's staging was simple, just Angharad Lyddon in black sitting centre-stage with Anthony Flaum off stage (but very visible from the audience) watching her on monitors which did not always work and kept flickering, to his annoyance (perhaps a little distracting for those on his side of the auditorium).

The performance was a real tour-de-force from Lyddon,

Thursday, 26 April 2018

'Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra

Olwen Foulkes - Directed by Handel - Barn Cottage Records
Handel, Corelli, Sammartini, Geminiani, Castrucci, Blow, Smith; Olwen Foulkes, Nathaniel Mander, Carina Drury, Toby Carr, Tabea Debus; Barn Cottage Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Music by musicians in Handel's orchestra explored in this engaging disc

This disc from recorder player Olwen Foulkes, Carina Drury (cello), Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord), Tabea Debus (bass recorder) and Toby Carr (theorbo) explores the liveliness of the musical world surrounding the musicians in Handel's orchestra, seen through the parallel filter of music for recorder, much of which was published (often in arrangements, and not always with the composer's permission) by John Walsh. So on this disc from Barn Cottage Records we have music by Handel himself (both the Sonata in F and a suite arranged by Olwen Foulkes), Pietro Castrucci, Giuseppe Sammartini, Francesco Geminiani, John Blow, and John Christopher Smith.

The title of the disc Directed by Handel is something of a misnomer, very little of the music on the disc would have been directed by Handel, that is the point. But the subtitle captures it exactly, 'Music from Handel's London Theatre Orchestra'. Not Handel's theatre music, but music from the members of the orchestra, many of whom were distinguished musicians in their own right.

Central to this enterprise is the publisher, John Walsh. In fact there were two John Walshs, father ( 1666-1736) and son (1709-1766). The firm published a lot of music, on a scale hitherto unknown in England, and in the early days did so based on the almost non-existent copyright laws so that composers were rarely involved, and Walsh senior would also copy (pirate) foreign edition. The firm's early printings of Handel were all done in this manner, but they eventually developed a strong relationship with the composer who came to realise the potential for having an outlet for his music which he controlled and they published Handel's sonatas, organ concertos, trio sonatas and concerti grossi. So on this disc, Walsh is involved in the Corellis sonata, the Handel sonata, and the Castrucci Ciaconna.

Walsh was interested in the amateur market, those who played at home, and so the use of the recorder was key as this instrument was one of those which was enthusiastically taken up by amateurs.

Broadwoods celebrate the arrival of Beethoven's piano

Beethoven’s Broadwood, which is currently located in Hungary
Beethoven’s Broadwood, which is currently at the
Hungarian National Museum
In May 1818, after an arduous journey from London via Trieste and the Alpine passes involving 360 miles via horse and cart, a Broadwood piano arrived in Vienna. It was Thomas Broadwood's gift to Beethoven; the composer was thrilled and would go on to write his late piano sonatas, (opp.106, 109 and 110). The piano was noticeably louder and more powerful than the Viennese equivalents, which helped him as he struggled with his deafness. The piano survives and was subsequently owned by Liszt, who gave it to the Hungarian National Museum where it will be on public display this year.

Thomas Broadwood was the proprietor of John Broadwood & Sons Ltd. Founded in 1728, it is now the world's oldest surviving piano firm and this year is rightly celebrating the centenary of the delivery of Beethoven's piano with a fine array of events including the chance to hear Beethoven on a number of early Broadwood pianos.

  • Beethoven recital at the Clarke Clavier Collection, Oxborough, Norfolk at 3.00pm on 28 and 29 April 2018. Japanese fortepianist Mariko Koide performs on an 1812 Broadwood grand. Tickets: 01366 328217.
  • Lunchtime recitals on early Broadwood grand pianos by Yehuda Inbat and Amiran Zenaishvili at the Royal Academy of Music Keyboards Museum, London NW1 5HT on 2 and 9 May 2018 at 2.30pm. Details at www.ram.ac.uk.
  • "A most remarkable gift": Talk and demonstration by Dr Alastair Laurence, chairman of John Broadwood & Sons, also at the Royal Academy of Music Keyboards Museum on 8th May 2018 at 7.00pm. Details at www.ram.ac.uk
  • Concert at Finchcocks: International concert pianist Paul Roberts performs Beethoven and Debussy on a 1921 Broadwood steel barless grand at Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent TN2 5LE on 27 May 2018 at 7.30pm. Details from www.finchcocks.com
  • First concerts in the new recital room at the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, Waterdown House, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5LE. On 10th June 2018 at 2.30pm and 6.00pm, young virtuoso Julian Trevelyan plays Beethoven on early Broadwood grand pianos, with commentaries from Dr Alastair Laurence. Tickets: 01892 523203.
There are events abroad too, with exhibitions in the Beethovenhaus in Bonn and at the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest, and a commemorative concert and tours in Mödling near Vienna, Beethoven's Summer residence.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Siglo de Oro launches its Missa Tulerunt Dominum disc

St Mary Aldermary
The glorious fan vaulting at the
church of St Mary Aldermary
The young professional choir Siglo de Oro, conductor Patrick Allies, has just released a new CD, the group's second disc, on the Delphian label which has Hieronymus Praetorius' Missa Tulerunt Dominum at its centre [see my review of the disc]. To celebrate the release, Patrick and the choir performed a programme of music from the disc on Tuesday 24 April 2018 at the church of St Mary Aldermary, a church in the City which is notable for its glorious 17th century (post Fire of London) fan vaulting.

We heard four of the motets from Erhard Bodenschatz's Florilegium Portense, and important and influential 17th century collection of motets which informed the repertoire of many early 18th century Lutheran churches, Filiae Jerusalem, nolite flere by Jacob Handl (1550-1591), O vos omnes by Hieronymus Praetorius (1560-1629), Deus, Deus meus by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) and Tristis est anima mea by Orlande de Lassus (c1523-1594). The Handl, for double choir, climaxed with a glorious noise when the two choirs sang together, the singers making a strong, flexible sound. The Praetorious was similarly sonorous, whilst the Hassler gave us big blocks of sound, and the group finished with Lassus' stately sculptural motet.

The second group included Praetorius' motet Tulerunt Dominum meum and movements from the mass based on it, we hear the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei. The motet was by turns grave, powerful and vivid, and the movements of the mass explored all these qualities. The climaxes gave us, again a glorious noise with some wonderfully vivid singing, whilst the Sanctus was more sculptural and the Agnus Dei rather more grave and expressive.

This was a lovely opportunity to hear Praetorius' mass live, and I certainly hope that success of the CD (it was chosen as Choral and Song Album of the Month by BBC Music Magazine) will encourage other groups to explore the music of the other Praetorius.

Not strictly classical - Natasha Hardy's In Too Deep



Not strictly classical, but with enough interesting inspirations and references (from Enya to the classically inspired piano accompaniment) to perhaps intrigue, though perhaps the floaty visuals are a bit much. And we might consider where such classically inspired popular artists sit in a musical spectrum, where contemporary classical music frequently bleeds over into the popular, and where the new classical uses ideas from both.

This is a new track, In too deep, from the singer/songwriter Natasha Hardy taken from her debut album which is out this summer. 

If you would like to hear Natasha live, then she is performing songs from the album on Sunday 20 May 2018, at The Jazz Room, The Bulls Head, 373 Lonsdale Road, Barnes, SW13 9PY. Further information from the 7 Star Arts website.


Oxford Lieder Festival's Song at Wolfson

William Morgan
William Morgan
Oxford Lieder Festival's new series of early-evening song recitals, Song at Wolfson, launches on Thursday 26 April 2018 at 6pm at the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium, Linton Road, OX2 6UD. 

The series will showcase outstanding singers who are in the early stages of highly successful careers and international stars in the making. For the first concert, William Morgan (tenor) and Sholto Kynoch (piano) will be performing Schumann's Kerner Lieder and songs by Duparc. William Morgan is a Harewood Artist at English National Opera, and an alumnus of the Oxford Lieder Mastercourse.

Further ahead Martin Hässler (baritone) and Sholto Kynoch perform Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin (17 May).

Full details from the Oxford Lieder Festival website.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Passio - from Tallis & Purcell to Kevin Hartnett via Bach

Passio - Zurich Chamber Singers - ARS Produktion
Passio - Tallis, Purcell, Kevin Hartnett, Bach; The Zurich CHamber Singers, Christian Erny; Ars Produktion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 April 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A young Swiss choir in a programme which moves from the English baroque through Bach to the contemporary

This disc from the Zurich Chamber Singers, conductor Christian Erny, on Ars Produktion is an intriguing journey through passion and mourning from Tallis and Purcell, through Bach to the contemporary in the shape of Kevin Hartnett. The centrepieces of the programme are Henry Purcell's Funeral Sentences and Bach's Jesu meine Freude, alongside Hartnett's De profundis from 2016, bookended by a pair of Tallis motets, Salvator mundi and If ye love me.

The choir was founded in 2015 by Christian Erny and musicologist Emanuel Signer, and is made up of 18 young singers from the Zurich area. They make a lovely clear bright sound, with a soprano line which has a focused tonal quality approaching boys voices. Technically, this is a very beautiful disc indeed.

Their opening item, Tallis' Salvator mundi is beautifully poised, with a lovely clarity of line. But the weakness of this approach is apparent in the three Purcell Funeral Sentences. Here the choir's sense of line and clear tone cannot disguise the lack of projection on the words. If you concentrate, you can hear that their English is entirely creditable but the words just do not come over and in this style of music that is essential.

Ben Gaunt premier celebrates Outcry Ensemble 2nd year as Temple Music Associate Orchestra

Ben Gaunt
Ben Gaunt
The Outcry Ensemble is marking its second year as Associate Orchestra of the Temple Music Foundation with a concert on 26 April 2018 in Temple Church. Conducted by James Henshaw the ensemble will premiere a new piece for two trumpets and strings by Ben Gaunt, alongside music for strings by Mozart, Britten and Tchaikovsky.

Ben Gaunt studied at the Royal Northern College of Music with Adam Gorb and Paul Patterson and has recently completed a PhD in Composition at The University of Sheffield studying with Dorothy Ker and George Nicholson, where he won the ‘A Boy Was Born’ Britten Festival Composition Competition. He has received additional private lessons with David Horne and Michael Finnissy and been mentored by Harrison Birtwistle, Alwynne Pritchard and Ian Gardiner. He is currently a senior lecturer at Leeds College of Music.


Full details from the Temple Music website.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Out of the parlour and into the recital room - Hubert Parry's English lyrics

Parry - English Lyrics - SOMM
Hubert Parry English Lyrics; Sarah Fox, James Gilchrist, Roderick Williams, Andrew West; SOMM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Second volume of this enterprising and illuminating survey of Parry's English songs

This is the second volume in SOMM's planned three CD series recording all of Hubert Parry's English Lyrics (12 sets of them). On this disc soprano Sarah Fox, tenor James Gilchrist, baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Andrew West present us with 23 songs setting a wide variety of English (and Welsh) poets.

Parry's English songs were written with a purpose, the catch-all title of English Lyrics was deliberate, providing an emphasis on English as sung language, and the songs as sung poetry rather than simple parlour ballads. They were written not for consumption in the parlour or salon, but for professional performance in the burgeoning number of song-recitals which developed in the late 19th century (rather than the more typical mixed format which had song popping up amongst orchestral items). It is no co-incidence that Parry's son-in-law was the baritone Harry Plunket Greene who sang many of Parry's songs in recital. Plunket Greene's devotion to the song recital and English song was deliberate, in 1905 he would feature songs from RVW's Songs of Travel and helped to establish RVW's early songs in the repertoire.

Parry's English Lyrics (written from 1874 until his death, the two final sets were posthumous) are important for the example they set to younger composers like RVW. It was Parry's example which allowed the 20th century flowering of English song and it is somehow strange that Parry's own songs have rather languished. If you enjoy Roger Quilter's settings of classic English poetry then there is no reason to ignore Parry's songs.

This disc explores widely, selecting songs from sets 3,4,5,6,8,9,11,12. Whilst the selection dips about, it does give us a sequence of seven Mary Coleridge (1861-1907) settings from set nine (written in her memory in 1909), all sung by Sarah Fox they make a fine cycle to conclude the disc which moves from the evocations of fairy-land and witches, through the more disturbing magic of Armida's garden to 'There in that other world, what waits for me?'


Elsewhere on the disc the selection is more various, and encompasses a range of poets from Welshmen like Richard Davies/Mynyddog and John Ceiriog Hughes, anonymous early lyrics,  to classic 19th century names such as Walter Scott, George Meredith, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Thomas Lovell Beddoes. There are lesser known names too, Allan Cunningham (1784-1842) and Arthur Gray Butler (1831-1909).

Club Inégales

Club Inégales - Song of Songs
Club Inégales's Spring/Summer season places its focus firmly on the voice. Peter Wiegold and his band, Notes Inégales, will be joined by a number of vocalists. Jazz singer Alice Zawadzki will be joining them for the first concert, on 26 April 2018. The ensemble first performed with Alice at their London Jazz Festival marathons last November, and she will be featuring in three concerts in the season, returning to perform with Rob Luft (guitar) and with Chris Sharkey (guitar), both of whom played with the ensemble in November. 

Also in the season will be singer Merit Ariane Stephanos and qanun-player Nilufar Habibian, performing Aramaic chant and Sephardic songs, as well original material, as well as Jenni Roditi's The Improvisers’ Choir (TIC) which recently won the Nonclassical Battle of the Bands.

Full details from the Club Inégales website.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Anniversaries, commissions and 2018/19 season at Czech Philharmonic Orchestra

Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
In a year full of significant anniversaries, 3 October 2018 sees the centenary of Czechoslovak independence and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, chief conductor Semyon Bychkov, will be marking the event with an all-Czech programme including works by Smetana, Martinů and Dvořák in Prague, followed by repeat concerts in London (October 24), New York (October 27), and Washington (October 29). The orchestra's 2018/19 programme proper opens on 10 October 2018 when Bychkov conducts Mahler's Resurrection Symphony

Bychkov will also conduct the first performance in the Czech Republic for 20 years of Luciano Berio's Sinfonia for 8 Voices and Orchestra, and the Czech première of Detlev Glanert's Weites Land, both composers with whom Bychkov has enjoyed a long and close association.

For future seasons the orchestra has commissioned new works from 14 composers including Detlev Glanert (Germany); Thomas Larcher (Austria); Bryce Dessner (US); Julian Anderson (UK); and Thierry Escaich (France); and nine Czech composers Jiří Teml; Jiří Gemrot; Pavel Zemek Novák; Martin Smolka; Adam Skoumal; Miloš Orsoň Stědroň; Miroslav Srnka; Petr Wajsar; and Slavomír Hořínka.

Bychkov's Tchaikovsky Project with the orchestra will culminate in with residencies in Prague, Vienna and Paris and the release by Decca of all Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, the three piano concertos, Romeo & Juliet, Serenade for Strings and Francesca da Rimini. Completing Decca's Dvořák cycle initiated by Jiří Bělohlávek, Principal Guest conductor Jakub Hrůša will conduct performances of Dvořák's Te Deum, Piano Concerto in G minor with Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Carnival.

Full details from the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra's website.




Saturday, 21 April 2018

Beethoven unbound and Schubert cycles, I chat to Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams

Llŷr Williams in recital in Moscow (Photo Nikolay Nersesov)
Llŷr Williams in recital in Moscow (Photo Nikolay Nersesov)
The Welsh pianist Llŷr Williams' latest recording, Beethoven Unbound, has just been issued on the Signum Classics label. The set is the culmination of his cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas performed at the Wigmore Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and features his recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas plus other works for solo piano recorded live at the Wigmore Hall in a handsome boxed set with an introduction from Llŷr Williams, and extensive notes from Misha Donat. I recently met up with Llŷr to find out more about the background.

Llŷr Williams at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama (Photo Kieran Ridley)
Llŷr Williams at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
(Photo Kieran Ridley)
The fact the recordings were made live is deliberate. Llŷr explained that John Gilhooly asked him to do a Beethoven cycle, performing all the piano sonatas across nine concerts at the Wigmore Hall (from October 2014 to May 2017), repeated at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. In fact, the concerts would require more than the 32 sonatas, which is how Llŷr came to include the variations and the bagatelles. Llŷr knew the record producer Judith Sherman, with whom he had worked before, and it was she who suggested recording the concerts live and releasing them as digital downloads. Llŷr then ruefully comments that as not enough people were finding the digital downloads, they decided to release the entire set of recordings in a box!

The set includes all the piano sonatas and what Llŷr describes everything by Beethoven of a high enough standard. The Diabelli Variations Opus 120 had to be included, and he also recorded two of the three sets of Bagatelles (Opus 33 and Opus 126), the Eroica Variations Opus 35, the 32 Variations in C minor, as well as the Andante Favori which originally belonged to the opus 53 sonata, and is included on the same disc as the sonata so that listeners can make their own version of the piece, as Llŷr thinks Beethoven intended.

Rather than being performed and recorded in historical date order, Llŷr assembled them into programmes mixing the well-known and the less well known. He points out that having a couple of named sonatas in a concert helps to bring in the audience so that in the first concert he included the first three sonatas and the Appassionata, and in the second he included the Moonlight. He has done a number of Beethoven sonata cycles, including in Perth in 2010 and in Edinburgh in 2012, and sometimes has performed the pieces in chronological order and sometimes taken a mix and match approach.

Such cycles work, Llŷr feels, because they create a journey for both the performer and the audience; complete cycles of the sonatas work because Beethoven provides so much variety, he never seems to repeat himself so there is lots of variety for the audience to listen to.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Bernstein, Debussy, Parry, Smyth, Bridge, Boulanger, Owen - BBC Proms 2018

The programme for the BBC Proms was announced yesterday (19 April 2018) and was launched by the BBC with a celebration at the Imperial War Museum (linking to one of the themes of the season, the centenary of the end of World War One), with live music including the BBC Singer, conductor ,singing Hubert Parry's My soul there is a country, from Songs of Farewell (linking to another theme, the centenary of Parry's death) and two BBC Young Musicians, both cellists, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Laura van der Heijden, playing a tango.

Whilst David Pickard, director of the BBC Proms, has said in the past that he dislikes concentrating on centenaries, this year includes a number that cannot be avoided and which offer the possibility of a more diverse approach. So for the centenary of Hubert Parry's death, the programme covers not only Parry's Symphony No. 5 and Blest pair of sirens but includes music by Parry's pupils at the Royal College of Music such as Vaughan Williams, Holst, and Bridge. And these composers link into the World War One theme, as RVW's Dona nobis pacem and Pastoral Symphony, and Holst's Ode to death arise directly out of the political situations of the time. 

There are modern comments on the war too, the First Night includes a new commission from Anna Meredith which is being created with 59 Productions to provide an aural and visual event. Then the Last Night will open with another commission from Roxanna Panufnik, also reflecting on the war. In between, at a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the London Sinfonietta, George Benjamin conducts the ensemble at the Roundhouse in a programme which includes Messiaen's Et exspectoreurrectionem mortuorum, his tribute to the dead of both world wars, plus four world premeires from composers from countries involved in the conflict, Luca Francesconi, Georg Friedrich Haas, Hannah Kendall and Isabel Mundry.

The number of women composers commissioned this year is high, and the Proms at the Cadogan Hall includes a series of commissions to female composers who have not be commissionned by the Proms before, Caroline Shaw, Eve Risser, Jessica Wells, Lisa Illean, Suzanne Farrin, Laura Mvula, Bushra El-Turk and Nina Senk.

Other women composers feature in the Proms too, including Ethel Smyth whose prelude to Act Two of The Wreckers, On the Cliffs of Cornwall is performed, Morfydd Owen whose centenary is celebrated and Thea Musgrave, whose 90th birthday is also celebrated. Another woman whose work comes in from extensive celebration is the French composer Lili Boulanger (who died in 1918) and four of whose works are being performed including the large-scale setting of Psalm 130, Du fond de l'abime. 

Boulanger is one of a number of French composers featured as part of a celebration of Debussy (an the centenary of his death) and his role in shaping 20th century French music. Of course there is Pelleas et Melisande (from Glyndebourne) but other works too including La demoiselle elue and Jeux.

Another big name during the season is that of Leonard Bernstein, with a variety of events aiming to cover a multiplicity of his talents from the symphonies (conducted by Marin Alsop) and the Serenade to West Side Story (with John Wilson and his orchestra) and On the Town (with John Wilson conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on Bernstein's birthday). Bernstein's own Proms appearance conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 5 and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto will be evoked with that programme conducted by Thomas Dausgaard (himself a pupil of Bernstein's). Bernstein's role as a communicator will be evoked when Gerard McBurney, Joshua Weilerstein and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will present The Sound of an Orchestra.

Out of the general themes, there are other good things such as Jonathan Cohen and Arcangelo performing Handel's Theodora, Teodor Currentzis and MusicAeterna in Beethoven symphonies, Anna Prohaska, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini in Graupner, Sartorio, Locke, Handel and Hasse, Sally Matthews, the BBC Philharmonic and Juanjo Mena in scenes from Barber's Anthony and Cleopatra and Britten's Les Illuminations.

Visiting orchestras include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, the Estonia Festival Orchestra, EU Youth Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome, Swedish Chamber Orchestra and the West-Eastern Divan orchestra. For the Relaxed Prom on Bank Holiday Monday, Sian Edwards and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) will be joined by James Rose and BSO Resound, the BSO's disabled-led ensemble.

Of course, not everything is perfect and it is only too easy to find gaps in the season. You cannot help feeling that the World War One centenary could have been more imaginative, why not John Fould's A World Requiem, or perhaps music from Germany and Italy from the same period, works like Pizzetti's Requiem which seem to partake of the troubled post-war atmosphere. And with the centenary of Women's Suffrage, you can't help wish that Ethel Smyth (who was herself involved with the suffrage movement) was better treated. Granted the BBC is doing her mass in November, but surely we could have had something more substantial than an overture, fine though it is. And why so few other women composers of the period such as Rebecca Clarke.

Full details from the BBC Proms website.

What an unalloyed joy! And if all this isn’t advert enough for some sensible funding I don’t know what is.

Christopher Purves, singers from the Guildhall School, London Schools Symphony Orchestra, Dominic Wheeler
Christopher Purves, singers from the Guildhall School, London Schools Symphony Orchestra, Dominic Wheeler
Stravinsky Pulcinella, Puccini Gianni Schicchi; Christopher Purves, singers from Guildhall School, London Schools Symphony Orchestra, Dominic Wheeler; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 18 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A programme inspired by commedia dell’arte & performances which fizzed

Whilst the huge benefits of musical education, to me at any rate, seem self-evident, it’s not uncommon these days to see headlines "Music 'could face extinction' in secondary schools". Andrew Lloyd Webber has described the decline in provision as a "national scandal" and Louise Mitchell CEO of Bristol Music Trust warned recently that "by dismissing the value of the arts in schools we risk stunting the creative capacities of the next generation".

Thankfully the work of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO) continues to provide opportunities for young people to develop their skills. Founded in 1951, the LSSO draws its musicians from students in London schools, who work with some of the world’s most distinguished musicians.


Sitting in the Barbican Hall this Wednesday (18 April 2018) surrounded by some incredibly well-behaved school children and some less well-behaved parents there was at least some consolation to be had amongst all the doom-mongering. In a concert drawing inspiration from commedia dell’arte, Stravinsky’s neo-classical mashup the ballet Pulcinella rubbed shoulders with Puccini’s one-act comic opera Gianni Schicchi. Dominic Wheeler conducted the London Schools Symphony Orchestra and they were joined by baritone Christopher Purves and singers from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Based on an 18th-century libretto ‘Quartre Polichinelles semblables’ Pulcinella’s music was believed originally to have been composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi but that attribution has now been revised. Stravinsky re-wrote some of the harmonies and rhythms in his “own accent” and it was bold to have chosen such a challenging and novel work.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

From headphone opera to mechanically-induced synaesthesia, not forgetting the snails

Sonica
The Sonica Festival returns to Kings Place on 20 & 21 April 2018, with weekend of the best international audiovisual work, intimate installations and multi-sensory performances from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Ireland alongside emerging talent from across the UK.

Amongst the highlights is NYXedelica, a headphone opera (!) from Belgian mezzo-soprano Els Mondelaers and Dutch composer Dyane Donck (both making their London-debut) in which we are promised a unique performance where modern classical composition meets psychedelic pop. The audience will don state-of-the-art binaural headphones to experience a unique 3D soundscape that is both intimate and immersive. Australia’s top AV artist Robin Fox will present a concerto for a laser beam in his brand new audio-visual piece Single Origin, the the third of his works for laser and sound, which explore the possibilities of mechanically-induced synaesthesia.

More intriguingly, 176 live snails will travel to King’s Cross to take centre stage in the UK premiere of Slow Pixel. French visual artist Elizabeth Saint-Jalmes and lighting designer Cyril Leclerc conduct an immersive sensorial experiment as they harness each snail with a small diode and speaker. Slow Pixel highlights Kings Place’s year-long theme of ‘time’ and invites the audience to slow down to a snail’s pace as the creatures draw their unique individual trajectories.

The festival, which first appeared at Kings Place in 2016, is an offshoot of the biennial festival in Glasgow celebrating sonic art for the visually minded. Sonica is the brainchild of Cryptic, the Glasgow-based producing arts house, and the 2018 festival marks Cryptic becoming an Artistic Associate of Kings Place.

Full details from Kings Place website.

Songs of Vain Glory: Sophie Bevan & Sebastian Wybrew

Sophie Bevan - Songs of Vain Glory - Wigmore Hall
Songs of Vain Glory; Sophie Bevan, Sebastian Wybrew; Wigmore Hall Live
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A sidelong glance at the First World War through songs written in the first half of the 20th century

The dictionary defines 'Vain glory' as excessive vanity or unwarranted pride in one's accomplishments. Soprano Sophie Bevan and pianist Sebastian Wybrew have used the title Songs of Vain glory for their thoughtful programme of songs exploring the First World War on the Wigmore Hal Live label. Whilst some of the songs on the disc were written during the war, and many were written by composers who experienced it, the programme uses other composers from the 20th century, notably Benjamin Britten to create a programme which has a sense of narrative. Whilst there is a song by Haydn, this is very much a selection of 20th century songs with music by Gerald Finzi, Benjamin Britten, Arthur Somervell, Frank Bridge, Charles Ives, Charles Villiers Stanford, Haydn Wood, Robert Weston & Bert Lee, Nat D. Ayer, Ivor Novello, Edward Elgar, Ivor Gurney, John Ireland, Liza Lehman, Peter Warlock and Gustav Holst.

It is an imaginative idea, we start with a gloomy and thoughtful prelude, Gerald Finzi's Thomas Hardy setting, At a lunar eclipse. Then comes a section called A call to arms with songs by Somervell, Bridge, Ives and a Britten arrangement. The Home Front provides a thoughtful glance at life back home, with Gurney, Haydn Wood and another Britten arrangements. A Popular Medley is just that, with two First World War songs and Novello's We'll gather lilacs. A Sea includes Haydn, a later Elgar song (from 1917), Gurney and Britten's arrangement of Dibdin's Tom Bowling.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

William Billings to contemporary Icelandic & Finnish music: Skylark's Seven Words on the Cross

Skylark - Seven words from the cross - Sono Luminus
William Billings, Frederick Buckley, Hildegard of Bingen, John Sheppard, Francis Poulenc, Hugo Distler, Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Anna Thorvaldsdottir
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 April 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
An unusual thematic programme bringing together an eclectic programme, finely sung

Skylark, artistic director Matthew Guard, is an American vocal ensemble and on this new disc from Sono Luminus, Seven words from the Cross, they present an eclectic programme themed around Christ's seven words from the cross. The music on the disc ranges widely, from African-American spirituals, William Billings, Frederick Buckley and traditional hymns, to Hildegard of Bingen, John Sheppard, Hugo Distler, Francis Poulenc, Anna Thorvaldsdottir (Anna Sigríður Þorvaldsdóttir) and Jaakko Mäntyjärvi.

The programme is in nine sections, arranged around the seven words (in fact phrases) with a prologue and epilogue, with each section having a selection of pieces around the theme. The selection is quite eclectic so that for Behold your son: behold your mother we have Charity abounds toward all by Hildegard of Bingen, Break it Gently to my Mother by Frederick Buckley (1833-1864) and David's Lamentation by William Billings (1746-1800).

The 18th century American composer William Billings is a notable presence on the disc with four pieces, When Jesus Wept, There is land of pure delight (Jordan), David's Lamentation and In deep distress I oft have cried (Plympton) along with Jaakko Mäntyjärvi's Death may dissolve (fantasia on a hymn by William Billings), and Billings' wonderfully idiosyncratic and robustly characterful music colours the programme, particularly when combined with the use of two traditional hymns Amazing Grace (New Britain) and Wondrous Love, and Frederick Buckley's 19th century ballad give the programme a very particular and rather distinctively American feel.

Freshly written works & radical takes on music-making: Occupy the Pianos

Occupy the Pianos returns to St John's Smith Square from 20 to 22 April 2018, when pianist/composer Rolf Hind's festival will be presenting freshly-written works and radical takes on music and concert-giving, with new and radical piano music at its core. There will be more than a dozen new works over the weekend, placing the focus on future directions for the piano; as well as having a Call for Scores, the weekend begins with a workshop on writing for the piano, with further pieces dropped into the weekend as surprises.

Reflecting both the proximity of the Houses of Parliament, site of protest and agitation, and the sense of spirituality arising from St John's itself (still a consecrated church), two themes run through the weekend, Protest and The Journey Within.

Protest takes many forms, from the feminist angle in Maxwell Davies to the words of prisoners in Rzewski, from a plea for compassion to animals to a radical rethinking of music making from a queer angle.

Whilst The Journey Within affects not only the pieces played but the manner of performance so that Sunday's concerts will gradually dissolve into audience participation with everyone ending up downstairs in the cafe together, by way of a concert conducted as a led meditation with Eliza McCarthy.

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

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum

Siglo De Oro - Praetorius: Missa Tulerunt Dominum Meum - Delphian
Hieronymous Praetorius Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum, Lassus, Handl, Hassler, Gabrieli; Siglo De Oro, Patrick Allies; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 April 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★)
The richly textured music by Hieronymous Praetorius at the centre of an imaginative programme from this young vocal group

In 1729 Bach bought a new set of music books for the choir of his church in Leipzig, Erhard Bodenschatz's Florilegium Portense of 1618 probably to replace the church's existing, and presumably dilapidated, copies. This practical and popular volume was the choir's main supply of music. And it is the diverse group of composers from this publication which forms the basis for Patrick Allies and Siglo De Oro's latest disc on Delphian. So we have motets by Orlandus Lassus, Jacob Handl, Andrea Gabrieli, and Hans Leo Hassler, plus a mass and motet by Hieronymus Praetorius.

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen at Oper Leipzig

Wagner: The Ring - Opera Leipzig (photo Tom_Schulze)
Wagner: The Ring - Siegfried - Oper Leipzig (photo Tom_Schulze)
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen; Rúni Brattaberg, Robert Dean Smith, Christian Franz, Kathrin Göring, Claudia Huckle, Gal James, Dan Karlström, Danae Kontor, Christine Liber, Jürgen Linn, Karin Lovelius, Monica Mascus, Meagan Miller, Thomas Mohr, Iain Paterson, Tuomas Pursio, dir: Rosamund Gilmore, cond: Ulf Schirmer; Oper Leipzig, Leipzig
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Ring returns to Wagner’s birthplace

Our correspondent Tony Cooper experiences Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen in Wagner's birthplace at Oper Leipzig in April 2018, directed by Rosamund Gilmore, conducted by Ulf Schirmer with Iain Paterson, Christiane Libor, Christian Franz, Thomas Mohr, Robert Dean Smith, Meagan Miller and Jürgen Linn.

Wagner: The Ring - Gotterdammerung - Thomas Mohr, Christiane Libor - Oper Leipzig (photo Tom_Schulze)
Gotterdammerung - Thomas Mohr, Christiane Libor
Oper Leipzig (photo Tom_Schulze)   
Leipzig is rich in musical history inasmuch as Richard Wagner was born here, Felix Bartholdy Mendelssohn died here and Johann Sebastian Bach lived and worked here - from 1723 until his death in 1750 he was Kapellmeister at the Thomaskirche. Robert Schumann also resided in Leipzig and Georg Philipp Telemann worked here, too, while George Frideric Handel was born just up the road in Halle. And that’s just for starters!

History has pointed out, too, that Wagner had a difficult start in his home town but, likewise, history has also shown that Leipzig and Wagner are bound together in a common union. For one thing, the first complete performance of The Ring outside of Bayreuth took place here in 1878.

So the return of The Ring to Leipzig for the first time in over forty years - one of the prime initiatives of Ulf Schirmer on his appointment as musical director of Oper Leipzig in the 2009/10 season - has to be wildly applauded.

Like Frank Castorf’s Bayreuth Ring [see Tony's review], Oper Leipzig’s production, conceived by the English-born director/choreographer, Rosamund Gilmore, was mounted in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth in 2013 starting, of course, with the première of Das Rheingold and building up to the first complete cycle in June 2016. No plans were on hand to revive it but the production is, gladly, still in the repertoire.

Not surprisingly, Ms Gilmore - who worked at Stuttgart with the former (and well-respected) Royal Ballet choreographer, John Cranko - incorporated an element of dance in her production and to this end a troupe of 14 dancers complemented the overall stage action. And symbolism was an important factor too, in the production. For instance, a pair of rams represented Fricka and for Wotan, ravens, the latter, of course, a significant feature in Germanic-Norse mythology upon which the Ring is loosely based upon. And on the death of Siegfried in Götterdämmerung, a pair of ravens hovered directly above him.

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's opening festival

Julian Lloyd Webber at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Julian Lloyd Webber at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
In celebration of the opening of its new buildings, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is presenting an opening festival, fifteen months of concerts and events.

Peter Donohoe is giving a series of all-Mozart concerts featuring the piano sonatas. Lenny Henry, Chancellor of Birmingham City University, narrates Prokofiev’Peter and the Woolf with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Pops Orchestra, in a programm including music by Bernstein, Copland, and music from Spiderman and Star Wars. A shorter performance for an audience of schoolchildren takes place at lunchtime.

The Dutch ensemble, Orkest de Ereprijs performs composers with whom they have a close association: Willem Breuker, Raphaël Languillat, Mary Finsterer and Martijn Padding, and will be joining with the Conservatoire’s own Thallein Ensemble to create The Orchestra of the 21st Century, a radical re-imagining of the orchestra.

There is the Birmingham Philharmonic Concerto Competition when the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s rising stars play concertos accompanied by the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniel Plant performs Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto while pianists Stefanos Politsakis and Orestis Magou play concertos by Arensky and Rachmaninov

Conservatoire Principal, Julian Lloyd Webber, conducts Orchestra of the Swan for a Bank Holiday Monday concert with the cellists Jian Wang and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber, including Haydn’s First Cello Concerto and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor.

Full details of all the events from the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire website.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Gregory Rose at 70

Gregory Rose
Gregory Rose
The conductor and composer Gregory Rose is 70 this year, and in celebration he is bringing his Jupiter Orchestra to St John's Smith Square on Wednesday 18 April 2018, for a programme of his own music including a number of world premieres. The orchestra will be joined by the Jupiter Singers, mezzo soprano Loré Lixenberg and violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved to perform Gregory Rose's 7 Dances from Danse Macabre, and Birthday Ode for Aaron Copland, plus the world premieres of 5 Schwitters Songs and Violin Concerto.

Gregory Rose studied with Hanns Jelinek (Vienna Music Academy) and Egon Wellesz (Oxford University), both former students of Arnold Schoenberg, as well as with his father Bernard Rose, the distinguished organist and composer who was Informator Choristarum at Magdalen College, Oxford.

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

Sacred and Profane: The Sixteen's 2018 Choral Pilgrimage

Hieronymous Bosch - The Garden of Earthly Delights (detail)
Sacred and Profane - music by William Cornysh & Benjamin Britten; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; St Albans Cathedral
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 April 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The opening of The Sixteen's 2018 pilgrimage, pairing sacred and profane music by two English composers spanning over 400 years, William Cornysh and Benjamin Britten

The Sixteen, conductor Harry Christophers, launched their 2018 Choral Pilgrimage with a concert at St Albans Cathedral. Sacred and Profane pairs sacred and secular pieces by Benjamin Britten with music by 15th / 16th-century composer William Cornysh (there were two, both their relationship and the musical attributions are uncertain). Britten's music stretched across his career from Hymn to the Virgin written when he was a teenager to Sacred and Profane, written in 1974/75, and taking in A Hymn to St Cecilia and Advance Democracy. The music by Cornysh included two major sacred pieces, Salve Regina and Ave Maria, and three secular pieces, My Love she mourneth, Woefully Array'd and  Ah Robin, gentle Robin.

We opened with Britten's Hymn to the Virgin written when he was 17, an enormously confident and stylish work. Using a macaronic text, the main choir sang the English and the solo quartet (from the rear of the nave) sang the Latin, all giving a profoundly beautiful rendering of the music with finely shaped phrases and a lovely clarity of texture; a considered performance.

This was followed by William Cornysh's My love she mourn'th. The elder William Cornysh (who died in 1502 and who was a singer at Westminster Abbey) probably wrote the sacred pieces, notably the works like the Salve Regina from the Eton Choir Book. The younger William Cornysh (who died in 1523) was a singer with the Chapel Royal but also devised pageants, plays and other staged events. In the Fairfax Manuscript (copied in 1501) he is referred to as William Cornysh Junior, but we have little information beyond that. This is probably one of those occasions when it was so obvious to contemporaries which was which that they rarely if ever needed to write it down

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Light Divine: a final glimpse of treble Aksel Rykkvin

Light Divine -Aksel Rykkvin - Signum Classics
Handel, Albinoni, Ritter, Rameau; Mark Bennett, Aksel Rykkvin, The MIN Ensemble; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The Norwegian treble returns for a final disc of baroque arias for voice and trumpet

The Norwegian treble Aksel Rykkvin released a disc of baroque arias on Signum Classics in 2016 [see my review], now this latest disc (recorded in July 2017) captures Rykkvin's voice just before it changed (since Autumn 2017 he has sung as a baritone). The repertoire is music by Handel and Rameau, with an emphasis on both the voice and the trumpet, with Rykkvin performing with Mark Bennett (trumpet) and the MIN Ensemble (ensemble director Lazar Miletic).

The MIN Ensemble is a modern instrument chamber orchestra from Norway, and on this disc, it combines its modern instruments with baroque trumpet, flute, lute and harpsichord to give a very engaging account of this music, most of which fairly dances off the page.

The music is arranged effectively in two continuous sequences, first Handel and then Rameau, separated by an Albinoni aria and a Ciaccona by Czech composer Philipp Jakob Rittler. Some of the music has been arranged for the forces so that the disc opens with music originally in Handel's  Water Music, now adjusted to feature a pair of trumpets.

For the Handel sequence we move from the fanfares of the Water Music, through the opening voice and trumpet duet Eternal Source of Light Divine from the Birthday Ode to Queen Anne, the Passacaille from the Trio Sonata in G major, the aria What passion cannot music aise and quell from The Ode for St Cecilia's Day, and finally Alla caccia from the cantata Diana Cacciatrice.