Friday, 25 May 2018

W B Yeats-inspired Sally Beamish premiere from Mathilde Milwidsky at St John's Smith Square

Mathilde Milwidsky (Photo Donald van Hasselt)
Mathilde Milwidsky (Photo Donald van Hasselt)
On 31 May 2018, as part of her as part of her place on the St John’s Smith Square Young Artist Scheme, violinist Mathilde Milwidsky will be giving a recital with pianist Huw Watkins. The centrepiece of the programme is a new work written for Mathilde by composer Sally Beamish (herself a string player). Sally Beamish's new piece, rather intriguingly is based on W B Yeats poem The Wild Swans at Coole. Beamish started from a recording of actor/writer Peter Thomson reading the poem, and she then notated the speech patterns and from this developed the violin and piano piece, which she describes as ' in effect, a setting of the poem for violin and piano. The work explores themes of loss, in contrast to the constant renewal of nature.'

Also in the programme is work by another female composer, Clara Schumann, her Romances Op. 22, alongside music by Beethoven, Elgar and Sarasate.

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

Prophetiae Sibyllarum

Sibylla - Gallicantus
Prophetiae Sibyllarum, Lassus, Hildegard of Bingen, Dmitri Tymoczko, Eliot Cole; Gallicantus, Gabriel Crouch; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The prophecies of the Sibyls as interpreted by Renaissance and contemporary composers

This enterprising disc on Signum Records combines Orlandus Lassus' complete Prophetiae Sibyllarum with settings of a modern set of Sibylline poems by the composer Dmitri Tymoczko, along with a pair of works by the sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard of Bingen. The performers are the six men of Gallicantus, artistic director Gabriel Crouch.

Lassus' Prophetiae Sibyllarum is an early work, it was probably written in Italy and seems to have been presented to Duke Albrecht of Bavaria when Lassus joined his service in 1556. The piece consists of a prologue and settings of twelve Latin poems, each attributed to a different sibyl and each looking forward to the coming of Christ. Though the sibylline prophecies were used by the church, this is hardly sacred music and is very much in the madrigal style.

Lassus' writing is highly chromatic with daringly shifting harmonies, and it is clear that his contacts in Italy must have included Cipriano de Rore and Nicola Vincentine, both of them known for their daring experiments with harmony. Lassus exploits the sort of sudden harmonic juxtapositions and shifts which are familiar from Gesualdo's writing.

Gala concert: Supporting Women and Parents in Opera

Supporting Women and Parents in Opera (SWAP'ra) was formed last year by a number of women artists who work in opera (Kitty Whately, Madeleine Pierard, Anna Patalong, Ella Marchment, Sophie Gilpin, Jessica Cottis) and the organisation aims to be a voice for women and parents in opera, both celebrating the achievements of women in an industry where women are often under represented, and addressing the under representation issues with projects such as parents in the arts. Many of the founders have children, so the issue of finding time to take off for pregnancy and fitting family life in with an operatic career is clearly very germane.

To support the group's work, there is a gala concert at Opera Holland Park on 31 July 2018, with an all woman team:
  • conductors Jessica Cottis (Gala music director), Alice Farnham, Sonia Ben Santamaria, Susannah Wapshott
  • directors Lucy Bradley, Deborah Cohen, Karen Gillingham, Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder), Francesca Gilpin, Ella Marchment (SWAP’ra co-founder), Noa Naamat, Robin Norton-Hale
  • singers Rosie Aldridge, Giselle Allen, Jeni Bern, Mary Bevan, Katie Bird, Lee Bisset, Rebecca Bottone, Katie Bray, Katherine Broderick, Rebecca Caine, Catherine Carby, Sarah Castle, Fleur de Bray, Anna Devin, Carolyn Dobbin, Anne Sophie Duprels, Jenni France, Nazan Fikret, Catherine Hopper, Yvonne Howard, Jennifer Johnston, Fiona Kimm, Janis Kelly, Rhian Lois, Caroline Macphie, Diana Montague, Anna Patalong (SWAP’ra co-founder), Madeleine Pierard (SWAP’ra co-founder), Rosalind Plowright, Gillian Ramm, Meeta Raval, Amanda Roocroft, Lucy Schaufer, Helen Sherman, Angela Simkin, Sarah Tynan (SWAP’ra patron), Kitty Whately (SWAP’ra co-founder), Catherine Wyn Rogers. 
All inevitably subject to availability. And an all-woman orchestra.
The evening will feature music from operatic favourites such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, and Eugene Onegin as well as contemporary work by female composers Elena Langer, Roxanna Panufnik and Josephine Stephenson.

The concert will raise money for the various creative projects SWAP'ra has lined up, including grants for opera parents, mentorship schemes, and further performance opportunities for less established female artists.

Full details from the SWAP'ra website.

Montemezzi's ship set to sail again

Building the ship for the set for La Nave at La Scala, 1918
Building the ship for the set for La Nave
at La Scala, 1918
Opera Holland Park (OHP) is well known for unearthing forgotten early 20th century operas, revealing some of the riches which have gone rather unnoticed in the scramble for modernism. Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re has been a significant success for OHP, its production having debuted in 2007 was revived in 2015 with soprano Natalya Romaniw. Montemezzi didn't write many operas, the failure of his second opera La Nave at its premiere at La Scala, Milan in 1918 put him off writing future operas.

Now OHP is taking the plunge and it has been recently announced that the company will be producing Montemezzi's La nave in 2020. The opera has been somewhat jinxed over the years, not only did the premiere fail, but so did the 1919 Chicago production due to controversial sets; it only achieved two performances. Moderate success occured with productions in Verona in 1923, and Rome in 1938 but then the sets and performing material were destroyed during Allied action in the Second World War.

That looked it for the opera, but Teatro Graciela gave a concert performance of the work in 2012 in New York, and thanks to work by the company and by the publishers Ricordi a performing version of the opera was able to be re-constructed for the performances.

The plot is quite gruesome, based on a Gabriele D'Annunzio play it seems to feature fratricide, homicide and suicide among a noble Venetian family. And of course a ship features strongly in the plot. In fact, at the first production, the set at La Scala featured a physical ship rather than painted flats (see the photo above).

Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re was definitely a revelation, so we look forward to the 2020 production of La nave. If you are interested in learning more about the opera and why it failed, see my review of David Chandler's excellent book Essays on Italo Montemezzi - D'Annunzio: La Nave on the Opera Today website. [Apologies, the first version of this link didn't work, corrected now]

Thursday, 24 May 2018

New Generation Festival showcase

The gardens of the Palazzo Corsini di Prato, Florence
The gardens of the Palazzo Corsini di Prato, Florence
The New Generation Festival, musical director Maximilian Fane, debuted last year in the gardens of the Palazzo Corsini di Prato in Florence and returns there again this year, presenting an operatic, dramatic and musical programme from 29 August to 1 September 2018.  The festival is intended to support young artists and all those involved are under 35.

Last night we went to a private recital at which Maximilian Fane introduced the festival and its plans, and artists past, present and future performed a diverse programme. The performers were soprano Louise Kemeny (who sings Zerlina in the 2018 production of Mozart's Don Giovanni), bass Simon Shibambu (who will be performing at the festival in 2019), baritone William Diggle (one of the festival's Young Artists, he is covering Masetto in Don Giovanni) and soprano Anush Hovhannisyan (who sang Adina in the 2017 production of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and will be singing Donna Anna in this year's Don Giovanni). They were accompanied at the piano by Sergei Rybin.

Anush Hovhannisyan sang three of Berg's Seven early songs, 'D'Oreste D'Ajace' from Mozart's Idomeneo and two of Richard Strauss's Four last songs. Louise Kemeny sang 'Ach ich fuhls' from Mozart's The Magic Flute, Donizetti's La conocchia and joined William Diggle for 'La ci da rem' from Don Giovanni.  William Diggle also sang Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinee and Gounod's 'Avant de quitter ces lieux' from Faust. Simon Shibambu sang Verdi's 'O tu Palermo!' from I Vespri Siciliani and Rachmaninoff's 'Ves tabor spit' from Aleko.

In addition to staging Mozart's Don Giovanni, this year the festival will be staging Shakespeare's Henry V will a live performance of William Walton's film score, and will be performing an all-Tchaikovsky concert.

Full details from the festival website.

Ivor Gurney rarities

Ivor Gurney - The Western Playland (and of Sorrow)
The Bridge Quartet is exploring the chamber music and song of Ivor Gurney. On Monday 28 May 2018 the quartet will be joined by baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Michael Dussek for a performance of Gurney's song cycle The Western Playland and of Sorrow in Dorchester Abbey as part of the English Music Festival. The cycle is being performed in a new edition by Gurney scholar Philip Lancaster. The printed score of the cycle (published in 1926 under the auspices of the Carnegie Trust) has a number of errors in it, and Lancaster has returned to the original manuscripts for his edition. This has been a somewhat complex process, as described in a posting on Philip Lancaster's blog.

The performers will be going into the studio in early June to record the cycle as part of a disc for EM Records which will include a number of world premiere recordings including Gurney's String Quartet in D Minor which was written in 1924/25. The quartet is a rare survival from Gurney's late chamber music, most of which has disappeared, and has had to be re-constructed from surviving parts by Michael Schofield (the Bridge Quartet's viola player) and Philip Lancaster.

Full details from the Bridge Quartet website.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

London Orchestra Project

London Orchestra Project
The London Orchestra Project is a new orchestra which places students and recent graduates from London's music colleges side by side with principal players from London's professional orchestras. The orchestra made its debut in 2015 and returns on 27 May 2018 with a concert at LSO St Lukes, conducted by James Ham

The programmes consists of three contrasting 20th century works, Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, Bartok's Divertimento and Ligeti's Ramifications. For this concert students from the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance will be joined by players from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Philharmonia, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  and the London Sinfonietta.

Full details from the London Orchestra Project website.

Interesting programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin

Lucile Richardot
Lucile Richardot
Un hommage à Lully / Un hommage à Louis Couperin; Lucile Richardot, Thibault Roussel, Mathilde Vialle, Duo Coloquintes; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (Lully) / 3.5 (Couperin) (★★★★ / ★★★½)
A pair of intimate concerts paying homage to two major French baroque figures

On Wednesday 16 May 2018, the London Festival of Baroque Music presented a pair of intimate concerts paying homage to two of the greatest French Baroque Composers. First Lucile Richardot (mezzo-soprano), Thibault Roussel (theorbo & guitar) and Mathilde Vialle (bass viol) presented Un hommage à Lully and then for the late-evening concert, Duo Coloquintes (Alice Julien-Laferrière - violin, Mathilde Vialle - viola da gamba) presented Un hommage à Louis Couperin.

Un hommage à Lully

It seems that everywhere we look these days we see evidence of the contribution of immigrants to a country’s economic and cultural hegemony. Seventeenth-century France was no different. Louis XII and Louis XIV owed their power to an Italian, Cardinal Mazarin (born Mazzarino) who headhunted his compatriot Giovanni Battista Lulli amongst others to ensure the Versailles court had the best in music as well as everything else.

Jean-Baptiste Lully – as he Gallicised himself – arrived in Paris at the age of 14 and the received wisdom is that he had not had much by way of formal musical training in his native Florence, that his Italian-ness was an appeal to the nostalgia of his employer, Mazarin.

Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert

Moritz Eggert (Photo Christian Hartlmeier Klein)
Moritz Eggert (Photo Christian Hartlmeier Klein)
The German composer Moritz Eggert has a new disc of his compositions on the NEOS label. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson and by Peter Rundel, has recorded Moritz' Muzak and Number Nine VII:Masse. Moritz's music is notable for its polystylistic qualities, using musical genres from pop to classical music and including the entire body of the sound world in one composition. I recently chatted with him via Skype to find out more.

Moritz Eggert and Wilhelm Killmayer
Moritz Eggert and Wilhelm Killmayer
I was interested in whether Moritz deliberately thought about style when he was planning a piece, but he sees this as a tricky question - if he could give a definitive answer it would be limiting. For Moritz musical style is like a language, and he is not completely devoted to one particular one and he quotes the example of Mozart who could write in a wide variety of styles. For Moritz, technique and style are like languages, and just as we can speak a number of languages, so he embodies a number of techniques and styles.

Moritz was very influenced by Wilhelm Killmayer (1927-2017) who was Moritz's teacher at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München. For Moritz, Killmayer was one of the most free-thinking of German composers of the time; during the 1980s, Moritz describes German composers as being frequently dogmatic, either belonging to this movement or that. Killmayer stood apart from this and encouraged his students to be as free as possible. And it wasn't just a mode of thinking for Killmayer's students, Moritz finds Killmayer's own music very free.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

New Royal Academy of Music theatre wins RIBA award

Jonathan Dove's Flight opening the new Royal Academy of Music theatre (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove's Flight opening the new Royal Academy of Music theatre (Photo Robert Workman)
The Royal Academy of Music's new performance spaces, the theatre and recital hall, have won the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) London Building of the Year, which means that the project is now considered for the RIBA National Awards, and the RIBA Stirling Prize, one of the foremost prizes for excellence in architecture. The Royal Academy of Music project shared top place in the London Building of the Year with the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition Road Quarter.

The Royal Academy of Music's Susie Sainsbury Theatre and Angela Burgess Recital Hall were designed by architect Ian Ritchie and transformed the college's facilities, not only providing a theatre and recital hall but practice and dressing rooms, and new percussion studios, a large refurbished jazz room and a new control suite for the Academy’s audiovisual Recordings Department. The project has also won the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Tourism & Leisure Award.

The theatre was opened in March 2018 with performances of Jonathan Dove's Flight (see my review)

Christopher Wright premiere celebrates the opening of 12th English Music Festival

Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire
Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire
The Twelfth Festival of English Music, director Em Marshall Luck, opens in Dorchester Abbey on Friday 25 May 2018 with the premiere of Christopher Wright's Symphony, performed by the English Symphony Orchestra, conductor John Andrews, alongside the UK premiere of Richard Blackford's Violin Concerto with soloist Rupert Marshall Luck.

Anniversaries celebrated at the festival (which runs until 28 May 2018) include the end of World War I, with an evening of readings and music from actor Christopher Kent and pianist Gamal Khamis juxtaposing writers Owen, Thomas and Sassoon with piano music by Elgar, Bridge and Gurney, and the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 with a tribute to composer Ethel Smyth, contralto Lucy Stevens and pianist Elizabeth Marcus perform music centred around the exploits and passions of the composer interwoven with her songs, the story of her greatest opera, The Wreckers and her battle for an equal voice.

Full details from the English Music Festival website.

Alan Rawsthorne: A portrait

Alan Rawsthorne - A Portrait
Alan Rawsthorne - woodwind concertos & chamber music; Linda Merrick, Jill Crowther, Manchester Sinfonia, English Northern Sinfonia, Richard Howarth, Alan Cuckston; Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A lovely exploration of Rawsthorne's art with a pair of woodwind concertos and a selection of chamber music spanning over 25 years

Alan Rawsthorne's music has always, to me, seemed to be redolent of the 1950s and the atmosphere of creative yet lyrical modernism which was part of the atmosphere, something which would change with the development of the modernist stream of composers. In fact Rawsthorne had quite a long career, enroling at the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1925 and continuing to write until his death in 1971 (his Elegy for guitar was written in 1971).

This new disc from Prima Facie, described as a portrait, gives us a wide selection of Rawsthorne's woodwind concertos and chamber music, from 1935 to 1961; Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra (1937), Quartet for oboe and string trio (1936), Studies on a Theme by Bach for string trio (1935), Brother James's Air for cello and piano (1941), Sonata for cello and piano (1948), A most eloquent music (1961), and Concerto for oboe and string orchestra (1947), performed by Linda Merrick (clarinet), Manchester Sinfonia (conductor Richard Howarth), Sylvia Harper (oboe), Jake Rea (violin), David Aspin (viola), Joseph Spooner (cello), David Owen Norris (piano), John Turner (recorder), Laura Robinson (recorder), Roger Child (lute), Jill Crowther (oboe), English Northern Sinfonia [now the Orchestra of Opera North] (conductor Alan Cuckston).

Monday, 21 May 2018

Richard Rodney Bennett's Sea Change

I remember singing in a performance of Richard Rodney Bennett's Sea Change many years ago and falling in love with this exploration of the mystical sea and man's relationship to it. 

Written for the Three Choirs Festival in 1983, it does not crop up often enough in concert programmes and there is a welcome chance to hear the work on Friday 25 May 2018 when Londinium, conductor Andrew Griffiths, fresh from the triumph of their CD The Gluepot Connection [see my review] perform at the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate. 

The concert takes its title from Bennett's work and includes a fascinating exploration of man's relationship to the sea with music, sacred and secular, ranging from Giaches de Wert and Thomas Campion, to Grieg, Brahms and Parry, to RVW, Holst, Coleridge-Taylor to Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Howard Skempton and Gabriel Jackson. The music moves from shipwrecks, myths and legends to folk-songs and sea chanties.

Full details from the Londinium website.

Reynaldo Hahn chamber music

Reynaldo Hahn - Chamber Music - James Baillieu - Champs Hill Records
Reynaldo Hahn Piano Quartet No. 3 in G major, Piano Quintet in F sharp minor, songs; James Baillieu, Benjamin Baker, Bartosz Woroch, Adam Newman, Tim Lowe; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Gorgeous melodies and a sophisticated feel for form in these unashamedly late-Romantic pieces

The music on this disc is delightful, and you wonder why we have not heard more of it and then you look at the dates. Reynaldo Hahn's Piano Quartet No. 3 dates from 1946 whilst his Piano Quintet dates from 1921, these are late dates indeed for such Faure-inspired music. I had been introduced to Hahn's instrumental music via Stephen Coombes recording of his piano concerto (with Jean-Yves Ossance and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Hyperion) and have been delighted to make the acquaintance of Hahn's chamber music via this lovely new disc from James Baillieu (piano), Benjamin Baker and Bartosz Woroch (violins), Adam Newman (viola) and Tim Lowe (cello) on Champs Hill, the first volume of a promised sequence.

On this disc the performers pair Hahn's Piano Quartet No. 3 and Piano Quintet with four shorter pieces each giving one of the instrumentalists a chance to shine with the Nocturne in E-flat Major and transcriptions of the songs, A Chloris, Vocalise-Etude and Si mes vers avaiet des ailes.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

A very psychological approach: I chat to Serge van Veggel, artistic director of Opera2Day

Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet -  Quirijn de Lang, Martina Prins - Opera2Day (Photo  Ben van Duin)
Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet -  Quirijn de Lang, Martina Prins - Opera2Day (Photo  Ben van Duin)
The Dutch opera company Opera2Day is not well known in the UK, so whilst I was in The Hague, earlier this year, for the company's production of Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet [see my review] I took the opportunity to have coffee with Opera2Day's artistic director Serge van Veggel to find out more.

Founded in 2007 the company is interested in both opera and music theatre, with a very psychological approach to presentation, with recent work including immersive music theatre and site-specific pieces. For Serge, there are two distinct ways an opera company can function today. Either you produce work of integrity and then try and sell it to the public, or you have to adopt the lowest common denominator approach and sell your soul. Opera2Day tries to forge a middle way, producing work they believe in but taking into account the environments in which they have to perform, producing work for the audiences of today including the younger generation.

Opera2Day - A Madhouse Fair (Photo Roelof Pothuis)
Opera2Day - A Madhouse Fair (Photo Roelof Pothuis)
In fact, Hamlet is a bit more of an operatic project than some of Opera2Day's work. Recent pieces have explored various concepts via pasticcios of various composers, A Madhouse Fair staged in an empty hospital and based on Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, evoked the era when people woould buy a ticket to go and look a the mad people, La troupe d'Orphee (which won opera of the year) based on Charpentier's La descente d'Orphee and conceived of as an hommage to the travelling opera companies which provided opera in The Hague in the past and Dr Miracle's Last Illusion in 2017 focussing on an illusionist from around 1900, but one who researched the edge of life and death in his illusions. This last used music for Olympia (The Tales of Hoffmann), Lady Macbeth, Ophelie (Hamlet), each in an illusion, with new music by Daniel Hamburger linking the pieces and fitting them to the new dramaturgy.

With this year's production of Hamlet, there were both dramatic and economic reasons to create a new version of the opera. Serge felt that so much of the piece was grand opera which did not tell Hamlet's story, and the company explored how to make opera today both practical and something which makes dramatic sense. They used an edited version, shorter in duration with an instrumental ensemble of 16 and the choruses sung by the male soloists plus three female ensemble singers.

There were a number of reasons why Hamlet was chosen. Seeing the play was one of the reasons why the teenage Serge fell for the theatre, and he wanted to do a version of the opera which bought Shakespeare's text back. But also the Theatre Francais de la Haye was an inspiration. Between 1804 and 1919 this company performed opera at what is now the Koninklijke Schouwberg in The Hague. This was a French opera house partly because the Dutch court spoke French, and it performed Hamlet 53 times, some performances with a pupil of Jean-Baptiste Faure the first Hamlet. Opera2Day feels they are heirs to this tradition and have access to a huge archive of scores and parts from the period. Having performed Cherubini's Medee in 2014, Hamlet further acknowledged this French tradition.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Sketches to Sunset: Music by Leonid Desyatnikov

Leonid Desyatnikov in 2009
Leonid Desyatnikov in 2009
Tomorrow night (19 May 2018) there is a chance to hear an evening of music by the contemporary Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov, a name which does not feature very often on UK concert programmes. 

Pianist Alexey Goribol leads a chamber ensemble at Milton Court Concert Hall in a programme which includes the UK premiere of Desyatnikov's 12 Preludes from Songs of Bukovina, a ballet that was premiered at American Ballet Theatre last year, and Sketches to Sunset, a mix of tango and klezmer music written in the early 1990s.

Born in 1955, Leonid Desyatnikov studied at the Leningrad Conservatoire and his works include four operas, the most recent The Children of Rosenthal was commissioned by the Bolshoi Theatre and premiered in 2005, and he has also written a number of notable film scores.

Further information from the Barbican website.

Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College

Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor - Choir of St John's College, Cambridge - Signum
Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor, sacred choral works; Choir of St John's College Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 May 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
RVW's mass in a thoughtful and revealing performance

For their latest recording on the St John's College imprint on Signum Classics, Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College have turned their attention to RVW's Mass in G minor, a work which the choir apparently has not recorded before, as part of an all RVW disc which includes other sacred music much of it written around the same period as the mass, the Te Deum in G, O vos omnes, Antiphon, Rhosymedre, O taste and see, Prayer to the Father of Heaven, O clap you hands and Lord, thou hast been our Refuge.

In his illuminating booklet article, Andrew Nethsingha talks about RVW's turning to sacred music as part of a reaction to the events of World War 1 [see my interview with Andrew Nethsingha], and it is perhaps no coincidence that three of the greatest 20th century European settings of the mass were written in the same period, the masses by RVW & Frank Martin and the Requiem by Ildebrando Pizzetti. Nethsingha also talks about re-assessing RVW's sacred choral music, and it is clear from listening to this disc that Nethsingha has thought deeply about the music, not just in the way it fits in with RVW's output from the same period but also in the way that it might be performed.

The principal feature of the mass on this disc seems to be its spaciousness and a relaxed sense, Nethsingha talks about RVW's exploration of music which was not goal-directed and in his performance, Nethsingha is clearly not attempting to drive the music where it does not wish to go. That is not to say it lacks impetus, far from it, but he also gives the music space to breath and takes a relaxed view of tempo and rubato. This is combined with a very fine-grained elegant performance from the choir, the opening 'Kyrie' starts on just a thread almost as if you are coming upon the choir from a distance.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music

Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Te Deum, Purcell & Charpentier; Choir of Westminster Abbey, St James Baroque, James O'Donnell; London Festival of Baroque Music at Westminster Abbey
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 15 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A beguiling concert and exceeding exultant.

On a beautiful sun-kissed evening I crossed Parliament Square with a spring in my step and into to the architectural wonder that is Westminster Abbey. You can taste a thousand years of history as you enter and its something of a privilege to hear works composed by Henry Purcell a previous Abbey organist, now lying in the north aisle “who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded."

As part of the London Festival of Baroque Music, the evening (Tuesday 15 May 2018) was a celebration of all things Te Deum, Purcell’s Te Deum in D Z232 and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum in D H146 bookending a programme performed by The Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James’ Baroque, directed by James O'Donnell. Music had become “run into the French way” following the Restoration and it was fascinating to hear contemporary works from either side of la Manche from the period of the Grand Siècle.

Life is a Dream

Rambert - Life is a dream
On 23 May 2018 at Sadler's Wells Theatre, Rambert will be premiering Life is a Dream, a new ballet by Kim Brandstrup to music by Witold Lutosławski. The work is Rambert's first full-length ballet for over 30 years and has been made possible by the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. In a significant first, this will be the first time Lutosławski's music has been used for a ballet. After the premiere, the production embarks on a 29-date tour to Bergen International Festival, Norwich, Llandudno, Manchester, Edinburgh, Plymouth, Glasgow, Inverness and Leicester

The ballet is a modern re-imagining of the 17th-century play Life Is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and the music features extracts from Lutosławski’s Dance Préludes, Musique Funèbre, Symphonie No 4, performed by Rambert Orchestra as well as some pop songs recorded in the 1950s by “Derwid”, Lutosławski’s pseudonym. And the piece will feature designs by the Quay Brothers.

The Adam Mickiewicz Institute, an organisation named after Poland’s great Romantic poet, is charged with promoting Polish culture around the world and initiating international cooperation in the field of culture. The institute is leading this project with the objective of giving a different dimension to the music of Lutosławski.

Full details from the Rambert website.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Der Rosenkavalier

1926 silent film of Der Rosenkavalier (Image - credit Filmarchiv Austria)
1926 silent film of Der Rosenkavalier (Image - credit Filmarchiv Austria)
On Thursday 17 May 2018 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and conductor Geoffrey Paterson are performing Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier

No, not that one, this is a rare outing for the 1926 silent film for which Strauss wrote the music. The film was directed by Robert Wiene and Strauss himself conducted the orchestra when the film was first performed in the UK at the Tivoli Theatre. Though Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote the film's story-line, it isn't a straight translation of the opera, the Marschallin's husband appears for a start, and Octavian is played by a male actor, whilst Strauss included music from other pieces, but the film represents a fascinating sidelong glance at the great masterpiece.

Paterson and the OAE will be preceding the showing with a selection of Strauss' songs and Sophie's aria from the opera, sung by soprano Charlotte Beament.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music

Gluck: Orfeo et Eurydice
Gluck: Orfeo et Eurydice
Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice; Iestyn Davies, Sophie Bevan, Rebecca Bottone, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 13 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Gluck's original 1762 Orfeo in a starry performance

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music has as its theme ‘Treasures of the Grand Siècle’ and the festival brochure is very French: gold Sun King and etching of Versailles, so I had to double-check when I realised this concert was the 1762, Vienna version (in Italian) of Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck’s take on the Orpheus myth. David Bates conducted La Nuova Musica with Iestyn Davies as Orfeo, Sophie Bevan as Euridice and Rebecca Bottone as Amore at St John's Smith Square on 13 May 2018.

What we heard tonight was, more or less, the original version of the opera, but with the addition of the Elysian Fields music, scored for solo flute and strings, that was one of the additions for the Paris version of 1774.

In our version, though the language is Italian, there was a definite French feel: lack of flashy virtuosity; accompagnato recitatives; extended dances and wonderful choruses where the voices move in blocks so we can hear the text very clearly.

Love and transfiguration from the Cohen Ensemble

Jacques Cohen and the Cohen Ensemble
Jacques Cohen and the Cohen Ensemble
Composer and conductor Jacques Cohen is bringing his Cohen Ensemble (formerly the Isis Ensemble) to the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 17 May 2018 for a programme of string music which includes the world premieres of Cohen's Beginnings & Endings and For Angel, the world premiere of 19-year-old Scottish composer Zakia Fawcett's Lost in this Moment and the UK premiere of Norwegian composer Marcus Paus' Love's Last Rites [see my 2017 interview with Marcus]. The programme also includes Cohen's Love Journey's for soprano and strings, with soprano Marie Vassiliou, Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht and Sibelius' Romance.

For Angel commemorates the violinist David Angel, the 2nd violin of the Maggini Quartet, who led the second violins of the Cohen Ensemble for many years.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Queen Victoria's piano

Music & Monarchy: Erard Piano from Royal Collection Trust on Vimeo.

Last year, the Royal Collection Trust completed the restoration of Queen Victoria's piano, and created a video to celebrate the event. It is a fascinating film, well worth a watch, about a fascinating piano. Of course, Queen Victoria had a number of pianos but this one was ordered in 1856 from the London firm of S & P Erard. It was the founder of the firm, Sebastian Erard who invented the double escapement action which enabled pianos to repeat the same note very quickly (something demonstrated in the film).

The most noticeable feature of the piano is of course the decoration, and this was Queen Victoria's choice, it comes originally from a piano she ordered in the 1830s (and played with Lord Melbourne), and for the new piano the decoration was transferred. So by 1856 it must have looked very old fashioned, but it seems that she loved the monkeys!

The film gives the various personnel involved in the restoration a chance to explain the complexities of their work, and the background music is Howard Shelley playing on the piano.

You can find out more about the piano at the Royal Collection Trust website, and it normally sits in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace.

Two City Music Foundation artists in an all Russian programme

All Russian programme - Cadogan Hall
Two City Music Foundation artists, Mihai Ritivoiu (piano) and Michael Foyle (violin), will perform concertos with the English Chamber Orchestra, conductor Michael Collins (himself making his conducting debut with the ECO) at the Cadogan Hall on 16 May 2018. In an all Russian programme, Michael Foyle will be the soloist in Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major and Mihai Ritivoiu will be the soloist in Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 in F major. The programme will be completed with Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor

Prokofiev's concerto was written in 1917 and premiered at the Paris Opera in 1923 with Serge Koussevitzky conducting the Paris Opera Orchestra and violinist Marcel Darrieux. Shostakovich's concerto was composed in 1956 for his son, Maxim's 19th birthday and Maxim premiered the piece during his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory.

Romanian pianist Mihai Ritivoiu won the Dinu Lipatti National Competition in Bucharest in 2010 and was awarded the Gold Medal in the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Intercollegiate Competition in 2016. Michael Foyle won the 2016 Netherlands Violin Competition and his performance of Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra led to an immediate invitation to give his debut recital at The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam.

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

A reaction to World War One - Andrew Nethsingha talks about the new recording of Vaughan WIlliams' Mass from St John's College

Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge, singing RVW's 'Lord, thou hast been our refuge' (Photo James Beddoe)
Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge, singing RVW's Lord, thou hast been our refuge
(Photo James Beddoe)
Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College, Cambridge have recorded Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor as part of an all-RVW disc which is being issued on the St John's College label this month, and forms a follow-up to the choir's Poulenc, Kodaly and Janacek disc which came out last year [see my review]. Whilst I was in Cambridge for the college's Michael Finnissy day, earlier this year [see my article], I took the opportunity to catch up with Andrew to find out more about the new recording.

Andrew Nethsingha rehearsing in the chapel of St John's College, Cambridge (Photo James Beddoe)
Andrew Nethsingha rehearsing in the chapel of St John's College, Cambridge
(Photo James Beddoe)
Whilst Andrew felt drawn to the RVW Mass, one of the reasons for recording it was that the choir has not recorded it before. Christopher Robinson, who was the choir's director of music from 1991 to 2003, was going to record it as part of his sequence of British choral discs which the choir recorded for Naxos, but the RVW recording never happened. And as the choir has made 98 discs (they recorded over 60 CDs or LPs with George Guest who was director of music from 1951 to 1991), Andrew points out that there are not many works which it hasn't recorded at some point.

In fact, Andrew was previously director of music at Gloucester Cathedral, a place which has strong links with RVW including being the venue for the premiere of the Tallis Fantasia. But RVW also played a significant role in the history of the choir of St John's College as in the 1950s, when the college was considering closing the choir school, it was a telegram from RVW which was highly influential in keeping the school open.

Andrew was also intrigued that though RVW's music is much written about, musicologies tend to concentrate on the symphonies rather than the choral music. He feels that there used to be a similar issue with RVW's songs, but these are being re-assessed. Andrew regards the mass as a hugely significant piece and thinks that we sometimes forget just how innovative the work was with little like it previously in English choral music. And in the way RVW orchestrates the vocal parts, Andrew detects hints of RVW's period of study with Ravel.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Complete Haydn cycle at the Bath Festival

Roman Rabinovich
Roman Rabinovich
The pianist Roman Rabinovich returns to the UK in May to perform all 41 of Haydn's keyboard sonatas in 10 hour-long recitals during the Bath Festival. Roman has performed partial Haydn cycles before, at the Lammermoor Festival in Scotland in 2016 [see my interview with Roman] and in Israel, but this will be the first time he has performed all of Haydn's sonatas.

Roman returned to the Wigmore Hall in October 2017 where his programme included Haydn’s Sonata in G HXVI:39, and Michael Church, writing in International Piano said that Roman "drew things I had never heard before out of that unassuming little work. Most young pianists learn to play the Allegro then move on fast, as though nothing could be more trite, more anodyne. Rabinovich gave it a pantherish quality…".

Roman Rabinovich was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan; raised in Israel; and is now based in the USA. Not only a pianist, he is also a composer and visual artist and has created a series of images inspired by Haydn’s music and imagining the composer engaged in different pursuits, such as humorously sharing a pint. [see my interview with Roman for samples]

Full details from the Bath Festival website

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Elliott Carter Effect

Elliott Carter (photo Pascal Perich)
Elliott Carter (photo Pascal Perich)
The American composer Elliott Carter was born in 1908 and died in 2012. Not only did he have a long life (dying at the age of 104), but he had a productive one and continued composing until his death, in fact he seems to have written music every morning. The last premiere of Carter's lifetime was Dialogues II, written for Daniel Barenboim's 70th birthday and conducted in Milan in October 2012 by Gustavo Dudamel. In a posting on his blog The Rest is Noise at the time of Carter's death, Alex Ross referred to Carter's 'landscape of memory that included Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger, Ives, Gershwin, even Gustav Holst.'

Elliott Carter is probably unique in the Western classical canon for the remarkable length of his composing career. A number of major composers have reached ripe old age, but that does not mean that they continued being as productive as Carter was. Giuseppe Verdi died at the age of 87, but his final opera Falstaff was premiered when he was 74. Gabriel Faure died at the age of 79, and despite ill health did in fact work on his string quartet which was complete in September 1924. RVW died at the age of 86 and was indeed productive to the end. Richard Strauss was 85 and like RVW, had a remarkably productive old age. Both RVW and Strauss died with songs on their desk, so both produced posthumous four last songs. Igor Stravinsky died at the age of 88 though wrote little in the final few years. Perhaps the closest to Elliott Carter are Havergal Brian and Alan Bush. Brian who died at the age of 94, produced his final symphonies four years before his death, whilst Bush died at the age of 95 and continued to compose privately into old age.

But it is still fascinating to apply the Elliott Carter effect to past composers.

Chipping Campden Welcomes the World

 The gate and East Banqueting House of Campden Court and St James's Church in Chipping Campden (Photo Saffron Blaze, via
 The gate and East Banqueting House of Campden Court and St James's Church in Chipping Campden
(Photo Saffron Blaze, via
Chipping Campden International Music Festival (12-26 May 2018) offers two weeks of classical music and outstanding young musicians in the lovely setting of Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire. The Festival President, pianist Paul Lewis will join the Chipping Campden Festival Academy Orchestra and conductor Thomas Hull for three Mozart piano concertos, Piano Concerto in C major K503, Piano Concerto in B flat major K595 and Piano Concerto in A major K414, and violinist Ruth Rogers will perform Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1.

Pianist Lucy Parham and actor Henry Goodman perform Elegie exploring the life and art of Sergei Rachmaninov, and Tenebrae and the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Nigel Short perform Bach's Mass in B minor. There are recitals from pianists Steven Osborne, Imogen Cooper, Stephen Hough, violinist Alina Ibragimova & pianist Cédric Tiberghien, a lecture from Alfred Brendel, chamber music from the Nash Ensemble, the Aquinas Trio, the Jerusalem String Quartet and London Winds and Schubert's Winterreise from Christopher Maltman and Julius Drake.

Full details from the festival website.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

The Modern Prometheus - Frankenstein in 15 minutes

Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus
Tête à Tête is joining forces with the Royal College of Music to produce Frankenstein - The Modern Prometheus. Five 15-minute operas will be presented on 12 and 13 May 2018, created by the college's composers and performed by the college's singers, directed by Bill Bankes-Jones, with conductor Natalie Murray and designer Sarah Booth. Based on the themes of monstrosity and scientific idealism, and marking 200 years since Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, each opera promises to pack a punch in just 15 minutes.


Full details from the Royal College of Music's website.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Bach's Cello Suites from Sophie Webber

Sophie Webber - Bach cello suites - Gimpy
Bach Solo Cello Suites; Sophie Webber; Gimpy
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A vibrant & passionate modern take on Bach's solo cello suites

Bach's six suites for solo cello are an icon for all cellists and this new disc from the UK-born, USA-based cellist Sophie Webber on Gimpy Records is inevitably one of many such recordings. But the fascination of the suites is that they bring out different features in different cellists. Many players nowadays record either on Baroque cellos or use period style techniques on modern instruments, but Bach's music is strong enough and wide enough to take a whole variety of performing styles.

In fact the instruments for which Bach wrote his suites were significantly different to modern cellos, and he probably wrote sixth suite for a five-stringed instrument. The modern revival of the pieces owes a ot to the great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals whose playing of them, intense, vibrant, personal, owes nothing to period practice, instead he re-creates Bach for a modern technique and gives us a creative dialogue.

Max Richter and Yulia Mahr's Sounds & Visions at the Barbican

Max Richter (Photo Yulia Mahr)
Max Richter (Photo Yulia Mahr)
The Barbican's Sounds and Visions is a marathon weekend of classical and contemporary music, and film curated by Max Richter and Yulia Mahr at the Barbican Centre from 11 to 13 May 2018. Composer Max Richter and artist Yulia Mahr's programme includes concerts and film screenings taking place across the Barbican Hall, foyers, cinemas, and the neighbouring venues of LSO St Luke’s, Milton Court Concert Hall and St Giles’ Cripplegate.

Richter’s Infra and Three Worlds: Music From Woolf Works receive a UK and London premiere respectively in new, full orchestral versions, and Chineke! join him to perform a live soundtrack alongside a screening of the Golden Globe Winning Waltz With Bashir, marking the 10th anniversary of its release.

Icelandic pianist Vikingur Ólafsson and The Will Gregory Moog Ensemble will be presenting two very dffrent taks on Bach, American saxophonist Colin Stetson (best known for his work with rock band Ex Eye) makes his London debut, and Caterina Barbieri's trance-like music demonstrates her minimalist mastery of synths old and new. Roomful of Teeth will perform the UK premiere of Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition Partita for 8 Voices.

Full details from the Barbican website.


Monday, 7 May 2018

Celebrating 70 years, the Bath Festival

Bath Festival
This year is the Bath Festival's 70th anniversary, and between 11 and 26 May the festival is presenting more than 180 events over an extended period of 17 days, bringing some of the world’s leading writers, musicians and cultural figures into the iconic buildings and onto the streets of Bath.

Baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Ian Burnside will be performing all three of Schubert's great song cycles, and Bath's Camerata choir will be performing Williams' own choral music. And there will be a series of Haydn piano sonatas across 10 Coffee Concerts from pianist Roman Rabinovitch.
The orchestra Spira Mirabilis will be bringing its unique collaborative approach to a conductorless performance of Beethoven's Symphony No 7. Pianist Lars Vogt will be directing the Royal Northern Sinfonia from the piano in a cycle of Beethoven piano concertos.

There is a performance of Bernstein's West Side Story with Jason Thornton conducting the Bath Sinfonia with soloists from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. And Thornton and the Bath Philharmonia return for a concert featuring BBC Young Musician of the Year, Sheku Kanneh-Mason in Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No. 1, and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Catriona Morison in Elgar's Sea Pictures.

Other events include the Gould Piano Trio focussing on Schubert and Shostakovich, the Marian Consort, the Vision String Quartet, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in Schumann, Debussy and Prokofiev,   and pianist Stephen Hough in Debussy, Schumann and Beethoven.

Full details from the Bath Festival website.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Felicja Blumental International Music Festival celebrates 20 years

Felicija Blumenthal International Music Festival
The Felicja Blumental International Music Festival was founded in Tel Aviv, Israel by Annette Celine in memory of her mother, the Polish pianist. This year the festival celebrates 20 years, as well as marking the first festival since Celine's death in 2017. Running from 7 to 12 May 2018 at Tel Aviv Museum of Art, this year's festival features Christina Pluhar and Arpeggiata returning for the fourth time with a programme of ancient music from the Mediterranean. Also visiting the festival this year are soprano Gillian Keith and the Armonico Consort in a programme of secular cantatas by Bach.

Other events include a programme of songs sung by and associated with the festival founder Annette Celine, performed by soprano Yael Levita accompanied by Daniel Gortler. There will also be music from three leading Israeli women composers Chaya Czernowin, Shulamit Ran and Betty Olivero.

Full details from the festival website.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Deepening the listener's experience: I talk to Paweł Łukaszewski about his inspirations

Paweł Łukaszewski
Paweł Łukaszewski
The Polish composer Paweł Łukaszewski is 50 this year and in celebration Nigel Short and Tenebrae is releasing a disc of Łukaszewski's sacred choral music, Daylight Declines, on the Signum Classics label in June this year. Whilst Paweł Łukaszewski's output includes music in a wide variety of genres, with four symphonies, it is for his choral music that he is best known in the UK. I spoke to him by telephone from Warsaw, where he is based, to find out more about his inspirations.

When I commented about Paweł's choral music being known in the UK, he commented that choral music, notably sacred music, was the goal of his life. He virtually always writes Latin settings and is aware of following on from fantastic composers of the past.  He has been writing sacred music for 30 years, and clearly differentiates between sacred music (which is how he refers to a lot of his repertoire) and liturgical music.

The Black Madonna of Częstochowa with crown (Photo Robert Drózd)
The Black Madonna of Częstochowa with crown (Photo Robert Drózd)
Paweł's own religion is important to him, a Roman Catholic born in Częstochowa which is notable for its famous Jasna Góra Monastery with its image of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, whom Paweł refers to as the Queen of Poland, a religious image of the Virgin as famous in Poland as those of Lourdes in France and Fatima in Portugal. Paweł was born just a mile from the monastery and lived there until he left for Warsaw in 1987 to pursue his studies.

He has had a strong relationship with the church and was a member of the choir of the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw, a choir which gave a number of first performances including Henryk Górecki's motet Totus Tuus written for the visit of Pope John Paul I to Poland and which the choir (including Paweł) premiered at the airport for the Pope's arrival. In complete contrast, Paweł notes that there is a fantastic recording of the motet by the Kings Singers.

Henryk Mikołaj Górecki (1933-2010) is one of Paweł's notable predecessors; Paweł notes that Górecki did not write a lot of Latin sacred music, though there are some big titles such as Beatus Vir and Miserere. But it isn't just this variety in output which reflects the difference between the two composers, Paweł feels that he composes with a bigger difference in harmony and melody to Górecki.

Paweł adds that he takes inspiration from a lot of sources, not just the music of his great predecessors, and Gothic architecture is one notable inspiration, particularly cathedrals such as the one in Rouen. But writing sacred choral music, Paweł is aware of his big relationship with the music of great masters of the past.

Friday, 4 May 2018

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