Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Marilyn Forever

Marilyn Forever
Gavin Bryars' chamber opera Marilyn Forever will receive its UK premiere on Wednesday 22 May 2019 in the Oxford Contemporary Opera Society's inaugural production at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, University of Oxford with further performances on 24 & 25 May 2019. The opera will be directed by Zerlina Vulliamy (founder of the Oxford Contemporary Opera Society and a music student at Exeter College), and conducted by Charlotte Corderoy (a music student at Hereford College).

Bryars' opera, with a libretto by Marilyn Bowering, was premiered in Canada in 2013. It focuses on the actress's last hours, examinining her relationship to love, death and ambition. Since the premiere there have been productions of the opera in Adelaide, Australia (2015) and by Long Beach Opera, California (205).

The Oxford Contemporary Opera Society was founded in 2018 by Zerlina Vulliamy with the objective to perform more contemporary opera in Oxford, as well as encouraging students to have greater interaction with opera.

Full details from the venue's website.

Delicatessen II - More Choice Morsels of Early English Song

Delicatessen II - Kate Semmens, Steven Devine
Delicatessen II - early English Songs; Kate Semmens, Steven Devine; Devine Music Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A charming exploration of the often-ignored English song tradition from the 17th and 18th centuries

Under the title Delicatessen II, this is the second of soprano Kate Semmens and harpsichordist Steven Devine's explorations of early English song on Devine Music. Few of the composers are well known, though there is a sprinkling of material by John Blow, William Boyce, Maurice Greene and Thomas Arne, alongside songs and piano works by Eliza Turner, William Jackson and John Stanley, John Weldon, Samuel Howard, James Hook, and John Frederick Lampe

These are songs from the 17th and 18th centuries, and they were all written for voice and keyboard (no arrangements of orchestral items). So the material on the disc is all designed for intimate domestic use. The works stretch beyond song, there are two cantatas by John Stanley, charming, witty pieces, and there are keyboard collections too, by Maurice Greene and Eliza Turner, who was active as a singer as well. The keyboard music consists of loose groupings of movements, often dances, under the title of Lessons.

Maurice Green set a number of sonnets (25 in all) by Edmund Spencer, a remarkable cycle of work, and we get one here. Perhaps the most intriguing pieces are the pair of songs by William Jackson where the accompaniment is fully written out for keyboard, unlike the other songs on the disc which use the more old-fashioned figured bass leaving the detail to the improvisation of the player.

This is a charming disc, featuring material which is often overlooked. One thread which links the songs is the composers' sympathy to the text. Whilst some of the songs might be musically a bit thin, there is no doubt that all the composers were aiming to bring out the charms of the words.

Kate Semmens and Steven Devine do them ample justice, giving us a window onto a charming and often neglected world.

Delicatessen II
Songs and piano music by John Blow, William Boyce, Maurice Greene, Thomas Arne, Eliza Turner, William Jackson and John Stanley
Kate Semmens (soprano)
Steven Devine (harpsichord)
Recorded in Sendesaal, Bremen, in May 2018
DMCD009 1CD [75.14]

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Dresden Music Festival 2019
    • Three continents, three composers, one concerto - festival debuts its 2019 commission (★★★) - concert review
    • Visitors in fine form: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (★★★) - concert review
    • Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival (★★★) - concert review 
  • Incredibly informative & inspiring: Charlotte Bray discusses her mentor Oliver Knussen in advance of her piece in his memory at the Aldeburgh Festival - interview
  • An English Vespers: Rachmaninov from the Tallis Scholars (★★★) - concert review 
  • Rough for Opera - Speak Red, A Father is Looking for his Daughter, Dreaming Clouds - opera review
  • A young man's passion: Julian Prégardien & Erik Le Sage in Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe (★★★★) - CD review
  • Far more than choral virtuosity: Handel's Israel in Egypt from the BBC Singers & Academy of Ancient Music (★★★★½) - Concert review
  • French inspiration, spectacular scenery & classical music: I chat to festival director Christoph Müller about this year's Gstaad Menuhin Festival  - interview
  • Brainwaves and modernism: the Ligeti Quartet explores consciousness at Kings Place (★★★) - concert review
  • Telemann from Toulouse: music for strings in stylish modern instrument performances (★★½) - CD review
  • A huge undertaking: Busoni's Piano Concerto recorded live in Boston - Kirill Gerstein, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo - CD review
  • Palpable enthusiasm & engagement: An English Coronation from Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli & Gabrieli Roar (★★★★) - CD review
  • The old ethos and a new professionalism: celebrating Garsington Opera at 30  - interview
  • Youthful Verdi revealed: a lithe and impulsive I Lombardi from Heidenheim (★★½)  - CD review
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Sunday, 19 May 2019

Three continents, three composers, one concerto - Dresden Music Festival debuts its 2019 commission

Jan Vogler, Cristian Macelaru, WDR Sinfonieorchester - Dresden Music Festival
Jan Vogler, Cristian Macelaru, WDR Sinfonieorchester - Dresden Music Festival
Gabriella Smith, Nico Muhly, Sven Helbig, Zhou Long, Beethoven; Jan Vogler, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Cristian Macelaru; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new concerto spanning three composers and three continents formed the centrepiece of this imaginative programme

For its 2019 festival commission the Dresden Music Festival had the intriguing idea of commissioning a concerto from not one but three composers, spanning three different continents. Group works have featured in the classical music and the 20th century saw group pieces from Les Six for instance, and the Yellow River Concerto was a effort, but such things are not common.

The new cello concerto Three Continents by Nico Mulhy, Sven Helbig and Zhou Long formed the centrepiece of the concert given by Jan Vogler (cello), WDR Sinfonieorchester and Cristian Macelaru (conductor) at Saturday's (18 May 2019) Dresden Music Festival concert at the Kulturpalast, Dresden. The concert opened with the European premiere of Gabriella Smith's Field Guite and ended with Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'.

Gabriella Smith (born 1991) is a young American composer who has been mentored by John Adams. Her Field Guide was commissioned by Cristian Macelaru who conducted the work's premiere in the USA. It takes the listener in an imaginary journey listening to a wide variety of insects from close to. The work started in striking fashion with unpitched rhythmic figures, catchy rhythms creating a striking sound world. Gradually Smith introduced pitched notes, but throughout the piece there was a fascinating mix of pitched and unpitched creating a series of atmospheric and descriptive textures. Yet overall the piece did not seem contrived, and Smith built it into a terrific climax.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Incredibly informative & inspiring: Charlotte Bray discusses her mentor Oliver Knussen in advance of her piece in his memory at the Aldeburgh Festival

Charlotte Bray (Photo Michael Wickham)
Charlotte Bray (Photo Michael Wickham)
Composer Charlotte Bray has a new piano work being premiered on 10 June 2019 at the Aldeburgh Festival. Written for the pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the new piece Bring Me All Your Dreams is in memory of Oliver Knussen, who was co-artistic director of the festival from 1983 to 1998, and with whom Charlotte studied at Aldeburgh. Charlotte and chatted over Skype about her new piece, about Oliver Knussen and about her background as composer.

Oliver Knussen (credit Mark Allan BBC)
Oliver Knussen (credit Mark Allan BBC)
Charlotte describes Oliver Knussen as an incredible person, and he was very much a mentor to her. She first met him through Mark-Anthony Turnage with whom she studied at the Royal College of Music, and she worked with Knussen at Aldeburgh on the Britten-Pears course So she finds it incredibly special to be writing a piece in memory of him.

As a mentor and teacher, Knussen was 'most of the time' incredibly informative and inspiring. He had a knack of finding exactly what it was about any work that you were writing. He could get to the core of a piece and would know what it was that was required to make the piece work. Charlotte describes Knussen as having 'incredible ears'.

The Gardeners asks more questions than it answers......this is a contemporary problem with no easy solution

Frances Wilson's The Cross-eyed Pianist blog has a lovely article by Joanna Wyld about the creation of the libretto for our opera The Gardeners. If you have ever wondered what goes into the writing of a new text for an opera, then head over to the blog and read on.

'The Gardeners asks more questions than it answers......this is a contemporary problem with no easy solution' 


Visitors in fine form: the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla at the Dresden Music Festival

Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and the CBSO
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla and the CBSO
Ligeti, Schumann, Brahms; Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, Kit Armstrong, City of Birmingham Orchestra; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Birmingham orchestra on terrific form under its music director on this visit to Dresden

It is some years since I heard the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) and I had not heard it under its new music director Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, and so the opportunity to do so at the Dresden Music Festival was most welcome, though the irony of travelling from London to Dresden to hear an orchestra from Birmingham was not lost on me.

The planned programme for the CBSO and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyle at the Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast on Friday 17 May 2019 had been Ligeti's Concert Romanesc, Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 5 with Yuja Wang, and Brahms' Symphony No. 2. But changes in personnel led to changes in repertoire, and instead of Prokofiev we heard Schumann's Piano Concerto with Kit Armstrong as soloist. A safe if unimaginative choice of work.

Ligeti's Concert Romanesc dates from the 1950s when he was still living in Hungary, and whilst it pushes few boundaries it remained unperformed until 1971. It is very much a rhapsodic work based around Romanian folk-songs. In four movements, slow, fast, slow, fast, at first Ligeti presented the folk melodies with little modification, unisons and counter-melodies were a big feature, but gradually the imagination took off and the folk-fiddling of the finale brought things to a close with vivid excitement. Grazinyte-Tyla and the orchestra really made this work a showpiece, from the superbly phrased unison at the opening to the dazzling finale.

Though each section of the strings lost a desk of players for the Schumann concerto, the orchestra was still a little too large to be ideal in this work. Kit Armstrong took a very interventionist view of the piece, making many of the piano statements in the opening movement too artfully poetic for my taste, rather holding up the flow of the argument and giving the feeling that he was overly milking the music in a way that Clara Schumann (who premiered and championed the concerto) would surely have disapproved. [The recording of the concerto by her pupil Fanny Davies, the closes we can come to Clara herself performing it, should be essential listening for every young pianist - see on YouTube].

Friday, 17 May 2019

Visions of the original sound: colour, texture & timbre to the fore in the opening concert of the 2019 Dresden Music Festival

Rene Pape, Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019
Rene Pape, Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Weber Overture to Euryanthe, Schubert songs (orch. Stuchasch Dyma), Schumann Symphony No. 1; Rene Pape, Dresden Festival Orchestra, Ivor Bolton; Dresden Music Festival at the Kulturpalast
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 May 2019
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)

The Dresden Festival's period orchestra brings colour and texture to the music of Weber and Schumann, with an intriguing selection of Schubert lieder orchestrated

Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2019 (Photo Oliver Killig)
Ivor Bolton, Dresden Festival Orchestra
(Photo Oliver Killig)
The Dresden Music Festival (Dresdner Musikfestspiele), which this year takes as its theme Visions, opened on Thursday 16 May 2019 at the Kulturpalast in Dresden, the Soviet-era cultural centre which re-opened in 2017 with a brand-new auditorium within the historic building. Ivor Bolton conducted the Dresden Festival Orchestra, the festival's own period-instrument ensemble which specialises in the music of the 19th century, in a programme of Weber, Schubert and Schumann. We began with Weber's overture to Euryanthe and finished with Schumann's Symphony No. 1 'Spring Symphony'. In between the bass Rene Pape, who is something of a local hero, sang orchestrations of Schubert songs, Prometheus and the six Heinrich Heine settings from Schwanengesang, all orchestrated by Stuchasch Dyma.

Ivor Bolton launched into the overture with verve, the orchestra playing with a crisp bright sound, creating a very distinctive sound-world. Compared to a modern-instrument orchestra the strings dominated far less, but there are other factors in play. The technology of instruments developed for a reason, the instruments of the period are more fallible and generally less even in timbre and tone across the range. This means that every not has a different quality and colour, and the sound of the orchestra was very textural.

O/Modernt - From the Ground Up: The Chaconne

O/Modernt - From the Ground Up: The Chaconne
Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt's latest disc From the Ground Up: The Chaconne is released on Signum Classics on 7 June 2019. By way of an early celebration, Ticciati and performers from the disc, Sam West (reader), Johannes Marmén (violin), Alberto Mesirca (guitar/baroque guitar/theorbo), and Luciana Mancini (mezzo-soprano), gathered at St Stephen's Walbrook on Tuesday 14 May 2019 to talk about the disc and to perform a programme of chaconnes stretching from the earliest Spanish dances, through 16th and 17th century Italian music to the Chaconne from Bach's Partita No. 2, linked by improvisations by Hugo Ticciati and Johannes Marmén, and readings of Shakespeare from Sam West.

Luciana Mancini proved to be an engaging and vibrant performer, making the Spanish dances really dance, so that you really wanted to get up and join in, and tugging the heart strings in the Italian repertoire. She was accompanied with virtuosity by Alberto Mesirca on baroque guitar and theorbo, and he also gave us some more modern solos on classical guitar.

In the middle of the programme Hugo Ticciati gave a very personal account of Bach's Chaconne, walking round the atmospheric space of the church to create something very free and very communicative.

The sequence was seamless, with Hugo Ticciati and Johannes Marmén's improvisations bridging the gaps and the centuries, and Sam West effortlessly managing the transition from music to spoken word.

The full Cd features music by Bach, Purcell, Pellegrini, Piconini, Marmén, Bogdanovic, plus overtone singing, improvisations, beat poetry and Shakespeare. And one other feature of it is an interest in breath and breathing, and it was this that featured in the pre-concert talk with each of the performers considering what breath and breathing meant to them. As ever with O/Modernt there is a challenge to the audience, with people being encouraged to listen actively rather than passively.

Further information from the Signum Classics website.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

An English Vespers: Rachmaninov from the Tallis Scholars

Sergei Rachmaninov in the 1910s
Sergei Rachmaninov in the 1910s
Rachmaninov All Night Vigil (Vespers); The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A lighter more intimate approach to Rachmaninov's Vespers, combined with the music of Sir John Tavener to striking effect

There is an English tradition of Rachmaninov's choral music, the composer even visited All Saints' Church, Margaret Street and heard the choir there under Dr Walter Vale perform Vale's English adaptation of Rachmaninov's Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. But it wasn't until the 1990s that performances of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil by non-Slavic choirs became commonplace, until then one had to rely on recordings from Russian, Bulgarian and other Slav choirs, all firmly in the Russian Orthodox tradition. With the performance of the work by British choirs, with their very different choral technique, a different way of performing the work developed. Whilst still including the striking low bass parts, the results were often faster and lighter, making a virtue of the very different technique.

So I went along to the Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 15 May 2019 with realistic expectations of what we might be hearing when Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars performed Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil as part of a Rachmaninov and John Tavener programme for Choral At Cadogan.

The ensemble was expanded to 17 singers (with an all-female alto line), including the bass Jeremy White (familiar from the Royal Opera House) providing reinforcement on the low bass line. The programme interspersed the movements from the Rachmaninov with works by Tavener, plus Rachmaninov's setting of The Lord's Prayer from the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. In the first half this meant slipping Tavener's Funeral Ikos between movements four and five of the Rachmaninov, which worked well. But in the second half we had Tavener's The Lamb and Lord's Prayer between movements 12 and 13, which seemed to sit more uneasily. Occasional corners suggested that the work was perhaps not quite as well bedded in to the choir as their regular repertoire.

In the Rachmaninov, the choir made a focused but quite light sound with Phillips giving us fast-ish tempos, though not slavishly so.

Royal Opera new season: 2019/20

The view from the main stage orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House - credit ROH/Sim Canetty Clarke 2014
The view from the main stage orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House - credit ROH/Sim Canetty Clarke 2014
With new productions of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Britten's Death in Venice, Beethoven's Fidelio, Janacek's Jenufa, Strauss' Elektra, Gerald Barry's Alice's Adventures Underground and Handel's Agrippina, on the main stage at Covent Garden, and Britten, Barry, Handel and more scheduled for the Linbury Theatre, the new season at Covent Garden has much to recommend it. Yet there is also a slight feeling of sticking to what has worked in the past. Of the directors of new main stage productions only one, Tobias Kratzer, seems to be making his Covent Garden debut and the others Damiano Michieletto, Barrie Kosky, David McVicar, Antony McDonald,  Claus Guth, and Christoph Loy are known quantities. And, as can be noticed, none of these are women. Similarly with conductors, there is only one woman in the whole of the main stage season, Ariane Matiakh. But it is nice to see the young British conductor Finnegan Downie Dear appearing twice in the season.

Things improve a little if we look at the Linbury Season, Jessica Cottis is conducting and there are productions from Katie Mitchell, Isabelle Kettle and Natalie Abrahami, but one gets the suspicion that the more interesting projects are being focused on the Linbury, leaving the main stage available for the multiple Bohemes and Traviatas. Perhaps a necessary feature of the economics of opera today.

Casting features Bryn Terfel, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufman, Lise Davidsen, Asmik Grigorian, Karita Mattila, Allan Clayton, Nina Stemme, Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli, Iestyn Davies, Juan Diego Florez, Placido Domingo, Ermonela Jaho, Anna Netrebko and more. So there is plenty to tempt.

Donizetti's Don Pasquale is returning in a new production by Damiano Michieletto, so modified rapture there then, conducted by Evelino Pido and featuring Bryn Terfel in the title role. A new production of Britten's Death in Venice features Mark Padmore as von Aschenbach with Gerald Finley in the baritone roles and Tim Mead as the voice of Apollo, quite a cast. The production is directed by David McVicar and conducted by Mark Elder. The opera hasn't been done at Covent Garden since 1992 (with Philip Langridge) and those of us with long memories will remember Peter Pears giving his last performance in the role at Covent Garden.

In the anniversary year, Beethoven's Fidelio gets a new production, directed by Tobias Kratzer and conducted by Antonio Pappano with Jonas Kaufman and Lise Davidsen as Florestan and Fidelio. The company continues working its way through Janacek's operas and Claus Guth's new production of Jenufa debuts with a strong cast including Asmik Grigorian in the title role, Karita Mattila as Kostelnicka and Allan Clayton as Laca. Vladimir Jurowski conducts. Though you do wonder what Claus Guth's magic realism is going to make of Janacek's opera?

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Rough for Opera - Speak Red, A Father is Looking for his Daughter, Dreaming Clouds

Second Movement's Rough for Opera
Second Movement's Rough for Opera returned to the Cockpit Theatre yesterday (14 May 2019) for its seventeenth edition. Billed as a scratch night for new opera, the event gives composers, librettists and creators the chance to try work out in front of an audience and then get feedback, each performance being followed by a Q&A session. 

Yesterday we heard three works in progress. Excerpts from Speak Red by Santa Buss & FXXX BXXXXX presented by Oedipa with Alice Purton (vocals/cello), Heloise Werner (vocals/cello) and participants from UCL's Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and Communication Clinic. A Father is Looking for his Daughter by Alex Mills and Gareth Mattey with Ella Taylor (father), Rosie Middleton (Auditor), Cecilia Bignall (cello), Calum Huggan & Angela Wai-Nok Hui (percussion), Crispin Lord (director), and Ashil Mistry (conductor). Dreaming Clouds by Alex Ho (composer, co-director, performer) and Julia Cheng (choreographer, co-director, performer).

The company performing Speak Red included 15 people with aphasia, the difficulty with language and communication which can occur after a stroke. The piece was a work in progress, and we heard three scenes, in which the participants' powerful individual stories were combined with that of Ruby McDonough, an American woman whose fight against discrimination in the USA changed the way the law works. There was some strikingly imaginative moments, in a piece which used opera and music theatre to present ideas about the difficulties of non-communication, rising to the challenge of being inclusive whilst creating a work of dramatic interest.

A Father is Looking for his Daughter was, at first hearing, the most finished piece of the evening. A stand alone operatic scene, it had in fact been created in a relatively short period by composer Alex Mills [who wrote Dear Marie Stopes, see my review] and librettist Gareth Mattey, and the performance enabled them to consider how the piece might develop, whether it is stand-alone or not. Dealing with issues of identity, borders and parenthood, the work reacted to the stories about recent separations between parents and children on the USA/Mexico border, yet also had at its heart the chilling way the auditor (Rosie Middleton) was redacting out all reference to the father's (Ella Taylor) being transgender.

The final work, Dreaming Clouds, was the first collaboration between Alex Ho and Julia Cheng, both are second generation Chinese immigrants and the work explored the borders between their Chinese heritage, notably Cantonese Opera, and Western culture. It was a strikingly visual piece, with Julia Cheng's choreography being a powerful and visually entrancing feature of the work.

Classical & jazz giants, movie stars, science: Man & God at the Bloomsbury Theatre

Man & God - Bloomsbury Theatre
The name of Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) is not that well known today, pianist, composer and transcriber of music, he is perhaps best known for his Studies on Chopin Etudes including those transcribed purely for the left hand. His son, Leopold Godowsky, Jnr is even less known and yet his life is all the more astonishing. A talented violinist, he married Frances Gerswhin the younger sister of George Gerswhin, thus uniting two remarkably musical dynasties. But Leopold Godowsky, Jnr was also interested in science and with his friend Lopold Mannes the two experimented with colour photography and were responsible for inventing the first practical colour transparency film, Kodachrome.

All this and more is covered in a new musical Man and God with music by Jake Dorfman. A tale taking in Gershwin, Einstein, and Hitler, this incredible story of classical and jazz giants, movie stars, and science, which is being performed at the Bloomsbury Theatre on Saturday 18 May 2019, as part of University College London's Performance Lab.

Full details from the Bloomsbury Theatre website.

Striking new directions: Markus Reuter's string quartet from Solaire Records

Markus Reuter - String Quartet - Solaire Records
Markus Reuter String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland'; Matangi Quartet; Solaire Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 May 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A large-scale string quartet by rock guitarist Markus Reuter proves surprising and intriguing

A number of musicians have made the transition from pop or rock music to classical, but usually the carry something of the one world to the other. The fascinating thing about the String Quartet by the rock guitarist Markus Reuter is that the work seems to give no indication of its composer's rock background. This premiere recording by the Matangi Quartet on Solaire Records demonstrates that Markus Reuter's String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland' deserves to be taken on its own terms.

So who is Markus Reuter? He has played with the progressive rock band The Stick Men, with the Europa String Choir, he has worked with legendary guitarist Robert Fripp, and helped set up Crimson ProjeKCt, one of the most prestigious and most long lived King Crimson spin-offs. The music on this disc is a very different sound world, just string quartet, yet it has its inspiration in the music imagined by the teenage Markus Reuter.

Monday, 13 May 2019

In Opera Magazine

Review of OperaUpClose's Mary Queen of Scots in Opera Magazine
Nice to see a review of OperaUpClose’s new production of Donizetti’s Mary Stuart in the June 2019 edition of Opera Magazine.  

The production features Flora McIntosh as Mary and Julian Debreuil as Talbot, both Flora and Julian will of course be singing in The Gardeners on 18 June, Flora plays the Grandmother and Julian plays The Gardener. 

Tickets for The Gardeners at Conway Hall on 18 June are available from TicketTailor.

Also featuring in Opera magazine this month, our advert for The Gardeners looking very handsome in in Stephen A. Brown's article 'Carry on Singing' about competitions and young artists' programmes, a lovely way to feature the young artists performing in The Gardeners

The Gardeners advert in Opera Magazine

Huw Wakins' Symphony from Kensington Symphony Orchestra

Huw Watkins
Huw Watkins
Huw Watkins' Symphony receives its London premiere tonight (13 May 2019) when the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, conductor Russell Keable, performs the work at Cadogan Hall as part of a programme which also includes Lyadov's The Enchanted Lake and Sibelius' Four Legends from the Kalevala.

Watkins' Symphony was commissioned by the Halle and premiered by them, conductor Sir Mark Elder, in Manchester and Sheffield in 2017. The work is in two movements, it does not strictly adhere to classical symphonic form. Rather, the composer interprets this great tradition through his development of ideas and use of the orchestra. [see Robert Beale's review of the original performance on Bachtrack]. The Symphony, performed by the Halle under Ryan Wigglesworth, features on a 2018 NMC disc of Watkins' symphonic works [see my review].

As a composer, Anatoly Lyadov was associated with Mussorgsky and the Mighty Handful, and studied with Nikolai Rimsky Korsakov, whilst as a teacher Lyadov's pupils included Sergei Prokofiev and Nikolai Myaskovsky. The Enchanted Lake (1909) is one of Lydaov's tone poems based on Russian legends.

Sibelius originally started composing an heroic opera based on the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, but changed direction and created a suite of four tone poems, The Lemminkäinen Suite or Four Legends from the Kalevala in 1895. The first two movements were withdrawn by the composer shortly after the premiere and only revised in the 1930s. As a result, the final two movements are best known 'The Swan of Tuonela' and 'Lemminkäinen's Return' and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra's performance is a rare chance to hear all four together.

Further information from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra website,  and the Cadogan Hall website.

A young man's passion: Julian Prégardien & Erik Le Sage in Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe

Schumann: Dichterliebe - Julian Pregardien - Alpha Classics
Robert Schumann Dichterliebe, Robert & Clara Schumann Songs, duets & piano pieces; Julian Prégardien, Erik Le Sage, Sandrine Piau; Alpha Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 May 2019
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)

Schumann's Dichterliebe in an intelligent and lyrically passionate re-thinking

The opening track of this new recording of Robert Schumann's Dicterliebe from tenor Julian Prégardien  and pianist Erik le Sage on Alpha Classics is something of a surprise as the voice that greets us is that of soprano Sandrine Piau. To accompany Schumann's 1840 song cycle, Prégardien has chosen a selection of songs, duets and piano pieces by both Schumanns, Robert & Clara. The beloved is present, implicitly, throughout Dichterliebe and in selecting the accompanying material Prégardien makes us explore the relationship further. Another big feature of the recording is the piano, not a modern grand but an 1856 fortepiano by Julius Bluthner, giving us a window into the sort of sound-world which Schumann might have known.

We start with the duet In der Nacht from the Spanisches Liederspiel, a rather serious and intent piece where the entry of the male voice comes as something of a surprise. This is followed by one of Clara Schumann's expressive, romantic piano works, the second of the Three Romances Op.11. Robert Schumann's Die Lowenbraut setting Adalbert von Chamisso's ballad is something of a strange piece. Prégardien and Piau render it as a duet, with Piau voicing the young bride with Pregardien as narrator. The performance style is a little distant and contained, only in the final verses does Pregardien really let rip with the drama.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Far more than choral virtuosity: Handel's Israel in Egypt from the BBC Singers & Academy of Ancient Music

Handel Israel in Egypt (1756); BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Gergely Madaras; Milton Court Concert Hall
BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Gergely Madaras; Milton Court Concert Hall (Photo BBC Singers)
Handel Israel in Egypt (1756); BBC Singers, Academy of Ancient Music, Gergely Madaras; Milton Court Concert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Though we only got the torso of the work, this was a tour de force from both singers and instrumentalists, technique, drama and engagements

The BBC Singers has such a reputation in 20th century and contemporary music that it can be something of a surprise to find them in more standard repertoire, though in fact the ensemble's concert season takes in music from 17th century to the present day.

For the BBC Singers concert at Milton Court Concert Hall on Friday 10 May 2019, the choir was joined by the Academy of Ancient Music and conductor Gergely Madaras for a performance of one of the great 18th century choral showpieces, Handel's oratorio Israel in Egypt. Whilst the work is all about the chorus, there are solos and at this performance the soloists all came from the choir, soprano Emma Tring, altos Nancy Cole and Jessica Gillingwater, tenor Tom Raskin, and basses Jamie W. Hall and Andrew Rupp.

Israel in Egypt has a rather complex history, and the work has never quite found a finished form. Handel's first version used a re-write of the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline as part one, this failed to gain popularity and he quickly dropped the funeral anthem and added additional solos to the work, later revivals created a variety of different first parts for the piece, with the result that the work survives in the repertoire in a version which Handel never performed, parts two and three of the original three-part work forming a new two-part work. By way of preparation, Gergely Madaras chose the sinfonia to the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, a logical choice. And once the oratorio proper started there was much to enjoy indeed.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

French inspiration, spectacular scenery & classical music: I chat to festival director Christoph Müller about this year's Gstaad Menuhin Festival

Gstaad, Switzerland
Gstaad, Switzerland
Gstaad is a town in the German-speaking section of the Canton of Bern in southwestern Switzerland. Whilst the area is perhaps well known for its skiing, it is also the home of a major classical musical festival; the Gstaad Menuhin Festival, the second largest festival in Switzerland, founded in 1957 by Yehudi Menuhin, who was director for 40 years. Thanks to the spectacular setting it combines nature with classical music at a high level. This year's festival, which runs from 18 July to 6 September 2019 is presenting 60 concerts in seven weeks. The current director of the festival is Christoph Müller, and we chatted via Skype recently about what this year's festival has to offer.

Saanen Church - one of the Gstaad Menuhin Festival venues
Saanen Church
one of the Gstaad Menuhin Festival venues
Christoph emphasises the festival's special location, which provides not only the natural backdrop but also historic churches with wonderful acoustics, and they use the large festival tent (seating 1800) for symphonic and operatic concerts. Whilst music is the main focus of the festival, it is able to offer a relaxed atmosphere so that visitors can combine relaxing holiday with music, unlike festivals in busier urban areas like Lucerne or Salzburg.

Each year the festival has a theme, and this year it is French music and the city of Paris. Not only is Paris an inspiring melting pot of music, but there is a local aspect to French culture too. Christoph explains that though some sort of barrier exists between German-speaking and French-speaking Switzerland (with two different cultures and two different languages), 500 metres behind the festival venues the French part of Switzerland begins, so French culture is actually very close them. Christoph wants the festival to build a bridge between the two spaces, bringing French music closer to his audience. And French music is not usually performed in such a concentrated way, which makes this year's festival special indeed.

There are different strands, different islands in the programming with chamber music performed in Saanen Church, and symphonic music in the tent. The pianist Bertrand Chamayou is in residence, and in fact Chamayou was very much an inspiration for Christoph to programme this year's festival. Chamamayou will be giving five concerts, both solo recitals and joining with friends such as Sol Gabetta and Alina Ibragimova.

One of the highlights of the symphonic strand is the visit of the Dresden Staatskapelle, which performs at the final concert on 6 September. Usually the orchestra plays at the Lucerne Festival but for the first time its Swiss visit will be to Gstaad instead, where it will be making their festival debut. And Christoph is very proud to be hosting the orchestra. Other festival debutants, include the pianist Yuja Wang and the violinist Hilary Hahn.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Crossing the Border - the London Festival of Baroque Music

Sébastien Daucé and the Ensemble Correspondances at the 2018 London Festival of Baroque Music
Sébastien Daucé and the Ensemble Correspondances at the 2018 London Festival of Baroque Music
The year's London Festival of Baroque Music, which opens today (10 May 2019) takes Crossing the Border as its theme, with nine days of events exploring travel and discovery and their importance in the development of music. So there are themes arising out the the 18th century Grand Tour, looking at the styles of music travellers would encounter, as well as the music of the Conquistadors putting Spanish baroque music alongside music from Central and Southern America, with a host of other styles and influences too such as the development of flamenco out of Sephardic music of the Middle ages.

One highlight of the festival will be Nicolette Moonen’s The Bach Players joining with baroque dancer Ricardo Barros’s Mercurius Company to express music by Telemann, Rebel and Vivaldi in terms of musical performance and dance. And dance is also to the fore with Jordi Savall and Hesperion XXI whose L’Europa Musicale - From the Renaissance to Baroque programme looks at popular dance in music during the transition from Renaissance to Baroque.

Other visitors to the festival include Le Concert de l’Hostel-Dieu and Franck-Emmanuel Comte, who will be performing a programme of female baroque composers celebrating the 400th anniversary of the birth of Barbari Strozzi,  and Ensemble Masques and director Olivier Fortin, who will take us on a Grand Tour with both music and travellers tales from the great cities of Europe. The ensemble Improvviso will be presenting a programme of music by composers writing in a borrowed musical language, including Telemann exploring Polish folk music, and most unusually, works from Polish musician Wojciech Bobowski’s collection of 17th-century Ottoman music.

Other distinguished visitors to the festival include the Marian Consort, Ex Cathedra and Jeffrey Skidmore, La Nuova Musica and David Bates, La Serenissima with Adrian Chandler.

An annual feature of the festival is the visit to Westminster Abbey, and this year The Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James's Baroque under James O'Donnell will be performing Handel's Coronation Anthems written for performance at the Coronation of King George II at the abbey in 1727. A new development at this year's festival is the creation of a Young Artists Competition, which takes place on 13 May 2019.

Full details from the London Festival of Baroque Music website.

Brainwaves and modernism: the Ligeti Quartet explores consciousness at Kings Place

The Ligeti Quartet performing at Kings Place in 2017
The Ligeti Quartet performing at Kings Place in 2017
Ruth Crawford Seeger, Cliff Kerr, Shiva Feshareki, Witold Lutoslawski; Ligeti Quartet; Kings Place Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 May 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Two iconic 20th century quartets alongside more recent work in a highly imaginative and challenging programme

Exploring the idea of consciousness in music is a tricky thing, music's sheer nebulousness makes it difficult to handle concrete concepts. Yet the sheer challenge can bring rewards. In its programme at Kings Place on Thursday 9 January 2019, the Ligeti Quartet (Mandhira de Saram, Patrick Dawkins, Richard Jones, Val Welbanks) put together a programme which drew in different threads of the way we think about music and its performance. The centrepiece was Cliff Kerr's Brainstaves for string quartet and EEGs, which attempted to modulate the actual music being played via the performers own brainwaves! There was also Shiva Feshareki's Venus/Zoreh, contemplating the infinite via a deliberate reduction in musical aparatus by making the players use only open strings, yet giving them freedom to improvise, and Witold Lutoslawski's String Quartet with its controled use of aleatoric procedures. And the evening opened with Ruth Crawford Seeger's 1931 String Quartet.

Ruth Crawford Seeger had a fascinatingly diverse career, and her String Quartet represents the culmination of her first modernist period, before she started concentrating on American folk music. Seeger cultivated a deliberately independent voice, and the quartet is highly uncompromising in its approach, challenging for both listeners and players. It is in the standard four movements, the first was built out of small snatches of dialogue, restless combinations of lyric lines and busy triplets with moments of furious anger. The second movement seemed an extension of this uneasy dialogue, with fragments floating over harmonic stasis. The third created a remarkably intense atmosphere out of imitative entries from the players, again you sensed Crawford Seeger exploring the quartet as a real communal experience between four equals. In the finale it was the violin that dominated, with strong gestures answered by quieter phrases from the other three.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival

Sheffield Chamber Music Festival
Sheffield's Music in the Round launches the 35th annual Chamber Music Festival on Friday 10 May 2019, with nine days of chamber music and more at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield and at Yellow Arch Studios with resident chamber music group Ensemble 360 at the heart of the festival, giving performances in the round in the Crucible Theatre. Visitors to the festival include pianist Stephen Hough as well as turntablist Shiva Feshareki, folk-trio Leveret and actor Henry Goodman.

The repertoire over the nine days is varied, with rarities such as Howells' Rhapsodic Quintet, contemporary works by Thomas Ades, Anna Meredith and Carmen Ho (the premiere of a festival commission), alongside Haydn, Elgar, Janacek, Britten, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Dvorak, Poulenc, Messiaen, Schubert, and Mozart

There will be a day devoted to string music from around the world, mixing Western classical repertoire with Indian classical Kamalbir Singh (Indian classical violin) and John Ball (tabla). And another day is devoted to the music of Johannes Brahms.

In addition to the main concerts, there is a series of short, informal rush hour concerts with tickets at £5 (free for the under 18s). First time visitors to the Crucible can purchase their first pair of tickets for £5, and under 35s are entitled to a  pair of £5 tickets.

Full details from the Music in the Round website.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Guildhall School Gold Medal 2019

Pianist Joon Yoon receiving the Guildhall School Gold Medal in 2018
Pianist Joon Yoon receiving the Guildhall School Gold Medal in 2018
Friday (10 May 2019) is the final of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Gold Medal at the Barbican Hall. The competition was founded in 1915 and since 1950 has been open to singers and instrumentalists in alternate years. This year four singers are competing, Ema Nikolovska (mezzo-soprano), William Thomas (bass), Samantha Clarke (soprano) and James Newby (baritone). (James Newby sang Butterworth and my song cycle Winter Journey at Conway Hall Sunday Concerts last Sunday, see my article). On Friday, each singer will perform a short programme with piano (accompanists Dylan Perez, Michael Pandya and Panaretos Kyriatzidis), followed in the second half with a programme of arias accompanied by Guildhall Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Farnes. This year's judges include Sir Bryn Terfel, a Guildhall School alumnus and winner of the Gold Medal in 1986.

The singers' programmes include a varied range of music, songs and arias by Purcell, Schubert, Wolf, Medtner, Rodrigo, Gounod, Britten, Mahler and Mozart performed by Ema Nikolovska; Wolf, Poulenc, Loewe, Rossini, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninov performed by William Thomas; Strauss, Poulenc, Copland, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Puccini and Stravinsky performed by Samantha Clarke; and Warlock, Liszt, Duparc, Butterworth, Handel, Mahler and Mascagni performed by James Newby.

Recent winners of the Gold Medal have included joint 2015 winners soprano Jennifer Witton and mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons (who took the title role in Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child, see my review), 2016 winner harpist Oliver Wass (who is performing in the premier of my opera The Gardeners on 18 June 2019 at Conway Hall), 2017 winner baritone Josep-Ramon Olivé and 2018 winner pianist Joon Yoon.

Full details from the Guildhall School website.

Telemann from Toulouse: music for strings in stylish modern instrument performances

Telemann: Don Quixote
Georg Philipp Telemann Suite 'Don Quixotte'; Anne Gaurier, Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse, Gilles Colliard; Calliope Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 May 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A lively selection of four of Telemann's works for string orchestra in stylish modern-instrument performances.

The sheer size and diversity of Georg Philipp Telemann's output means that many admirable pieces get lost or ignored. On this disc from Calliope, the Orchestre de Chambre de Toulouse, director Gilles Colliard bring together four of Telemann's delightful works for string orchestra. The best known is the Suite 'Don Quixotte (Burlesque de Quixotte) but just as deserving of our attention are the Concerto for Viola da Gamba in A major with soloist Anne Gaurier, the Ouverture in G major 'La bizarre' and the Ouverture in D.

We start with the Suite 'Don Quixotte', which consists of an overture (in the French style) and seven short descriptive movements. Under Gilles Colliard's direction the orchestra attacks the overture with great gusto and vivid energy, though perhaps the overall feeling is a little too hard edged and you wished they would relax a little. Later on in Le reveile de Quixotte and Les soupires amoreux apres la princess dulcinee the atmosphere is charmingly gentle, but other movements like the attack on the windmills are as vividly pressed forward as the overture. Colliard certainly brings a wide range of colours from his modern instrument group, and there is much to enjoy here though I wanted the faster moments to relax somewhat.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Bringing classical Canada to the UK - Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra on tour

Alexander Shelley & the National Arts Centre Orchestra
Alexander Shelley & the National Arts Centre Orchestra
Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra is touring Europe this month, and its first stop is the UK with concerts and outreach events from 10 May to 14 May. The full tour takes in five countries and seven cities, with events in Saffron-Walden, London, Paris, Utrecht, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Gothenburg. Conducted by Alexander Shelley, the tour is celebrating the orchestra's 50th anniversary. The orchestra's UK concerts are at Saffron Hall (12 May 2019) and Cadogan Hall (14 May 2019) when the music performed will include Serbian-Canadian composer Ana Sokolović's Golden slumbers kiss your eyes (a new song cycle on themes of childhood nostalgia and time forever lost with counter-tenor David DQ Lee), alongside Ravel's Piano Concerto in G with Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, plus music by Dvorak.

The orchestra is also participating in a number of educational and engagement activities. It will be in residence at the Royal College of Music (13 & 14 May 2019) for chamber music coaching session, a conducting workshop, mock-audition session, and an event which will connect Brent District School band in London, England and OrKidstra, in Ottawa, Canada digitally in real time!

The National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa, Canada is home to NAC Orchestra, English Theatre, French Theatre, Indigenous Theatre and Dance, as well as showcasing established and emerging Canadian artists. The National Arts Centre Orchestra was founded in 1969 as the resident orchestra of the newly opened NAC, and its music director since 2015 is the London-born conductor Alexander Shelley. Past music directors have included Trevor Pinnock and Pinchas Zuckerman

Further information from the orchestra's website.

A huge undertaking: Busoni's Piano Concerto recorded live in Boston - Kirill Gerstein, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo

Busoni: Piano Concerto - Kirill Gerstein, Boston Symphony Orchestra - Myrios
Ferruccio Busoni Piano Concerto; Kirill Gerstein, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo; Myrios Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 May 2019
Busoni's mammoth concerto in a striking new live recording from Boston

What does Busoni's music sound like? Despite his name being well known, Ferruccio Busoni is perhaps best known for his involvement in Bach's music than for his own music. It does not help that his mature works are relatively sparse, of his circa 300 original works, more than 200 of them were composed before he was aged 24 (when he won the Rubenstein Prize in Moscow with his Konzertstuck for piano and orchestra). And, of course, it does not help that such an iconic work as his Piano Concerto (which was premiered in Berlin 1904) is huge in conception, difficult for the pianist without the benefit of showy virtuosity and, for the last 10 minutes or so of its over 70 minute duration, requires the addition of a male voice chorus!

This new recording on Myrios Classics has the benefit of being taken from live performances by Kirill Gerstein with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo with the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

Perhaps Busoni's problem is that he is so diverse, one of the last great virtuoso pianists in the 19th century mould, he taught, he composed, he arranged and edited a vast quantity of music. His piano of version of Bach's Chaconne is only the tip of the iceberg, and the pianist Ronald Stevenson (himself a great Busoni disciple) used to tell the story of Busoni's wife once being introduced as Mrs Bach-Busoni. Busoni's compositional output had to be fitted into his performing and teaching commitments.

Even his teaching does not really give us a focus on the man, there is hardly a Busoni school, you only have to look at the diversity of his students, his keyboard pupils included Percy Grainger, his composition students included Kurt Weill, Philipp Jarnach, Stefan Wolpe, and Edgar Varese!

Monday, 6 May 2019

In focus indeed: Hugill premieres at Conway Hall

Robert Hugill (Photo Robert Piwko)
Robert Hugill (Photo Robert Piwko)
Last night (Sunday 5 May 2019) we had a superb evening of song and chamber music at Conway Hall, with Anna Huntley (mezzo-soprano), James Newby (baritone), Rosalind Ventris (viola) and William Vann (piano), as part of the Robert Hugill in Focus event at the Conway Hall Sunday Concerts. The programme combined my own pieces with those of George Butterworth, Frank Bridge and York Bowen. In the first half,  James Newby gave a moving performance of George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad accompanied by William Vann. Then Anna Huntley, Rosalind Ventris and William Vann gave us a powerful account of Frank Bridge's striking Three Songs for mezzo-soprano, viola and piano. The first half ended with a lovely discovery, York Bowen's Phantasy for viola and piano.

York Bowen's Phantasy won the Cobbett Prize in 1918, and in fact Frank Bridge won a special prize in the first Cobbett competition in 1906, and would write other works inspired by the competition's requirement to produce music in the Phantasy mould. Chatting in the interval I discovered that Walter Willson Cobbett had also endowed the Cobbett Medal, which is still given by The Musicians' Company for services to chamber music (the most recent recipient was John Gilhooly, director of the Wigmore Hall).

For the second half of the concert we turned to my own music, a lovely opportunity to hear music from the disc Quickening in concert for the first time. James Newby and William Vann gave the first public performance of my song cyle Winter Journey setting the poetry of Rowan Williams, then Rosalind Ventris and William Vann performed my Three Pieces from the Book of Common Prayer, then Anna Huntley, Rosalind Ventris and William Vann performed my Christina Rosetti cycle, Quickening (the first time the cycle has been performed publicly in the original keys).  To round off the evening all the performers joined together to perform Summer Rain, a new arrangement for mezzo-soprano, baritone, viola and piano of one of my cabaret songs from the 1990s!

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Palpable enthusiasm & engagement: An English Coronation from Paul McCreesh, Gabrieli & Gabrieli Roar

An English Coronation
An English Coronation: 1902-1953; Gabrieli Consort & Players, Gabrieli Roar, Chetham's Symphonic Brass Ensemble, Paul McCreesh; Winged Lion   
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 May 2019 
Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The young people of Gabrieli Roar bring amazing freshness and engagement to Paul McCreesh's 'fantasy coronation' programme

We might think that we are familiar with the music from the Coronation Service, but the sheer size of the service meant that there was a considerable amount of music required. And so the four 20th century coronations, those of King Edward VII (1902), King George V (1911), King George VI (1937) and Queen Elizabeth II (1953), present a remarkable assemblage of British music of the 20th century.  From these, Paul McCreesh has selected what he sees at the best music from these four and assembled it into a coherent liturgical structure, a fantasy Coronation if you will. Giving us the opportunity to hear some fine music and some neglected music in this striking context.

The disc An English Coronation 1902-1953, on Gabrieli's Winged Lion imprint, is very much a showcase for Gabrieli Roar, Gabrieli's choral training programme for young British singers, and they are joined by the Gabrieli Consort and Players, conductor Paul McCreesh, plus the Chetham's School Symphonic Brass Ensemble with Simon Russell Beale (as the Archbishop of Canterbury), Rowan Pierce (soprano), Matthew Martin (organ) and Ellie Slorach (Assistant conductor).

McCreesh has structured the disc as per the Coronation Service, largely following the 1937 service, with just a few small cuts. The choirs are divided into two, as they were at the Coronation, the smaller Westminster Choir which performed the unaccompanied music and the Coronation Choir which sings the larger scale music, combining the Gabrieli Consort and the 250 strong Gabrieli Roar, made up of singers from eleven partner choirs. The orchestra, of course, plays on period instruments (including Nicholas Daniels on Leon Goossens' early 20th century oboe) so one of the joys of the disc is being able to hear this music sung by the type of large-scale forces used at the Coronations and with the right sort of transparency in the orchestra. With the fanfares (an important part of the occasion), being provided by Chetham's School Symphonic Brass.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

The old ethos and a new professionalism: celebrating Garsington Opera at 30

Auditorium of Garsington Opera at Wormsley (Photo Dennis Gilbert)
Auditorium of Garsington Opera at Wormsley 2011 (Photo Dennis Gilbert)
Garsington Opera is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, with four new productions at its home at Wormsley. The company has developed considerably since it was first founded by Leonard Ingrams in the garden of his home at Garsington Manor, with the move from the company's original home to the custom designed theatre on the Wormsley Estate initiating a series of remarkable transformations. But along with this the company has tried to keep something of the ethos of the original theatre in a garden. Executive Director Nicola Creed has been with Garsington Opera for 19 years and seen many of these changes through. I met up with Nicola recently, just before the start of rehearsals for the 2019 season, to look forward to the delights to come and to look back a little as well.

Whilst the 2019 season is certainly intended as a celebration, putting together a season is such a complex operation that the resulting combination of operas is a weaving together of a number of strands. Mozart has always been a theme in Garsington programmes, so this year there is a new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni. The company has presented the opera many times and they are excited to have Michael Boyd (former artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company), with his theatre background, tackling the opera for the first time. And evidently he took some convincing.

The season, as ever, has to be a mix of period, and of light and dark. So also present is Britten's The Turn of the Screw, and Britten has been a notable visitor to the festival too with productions of Albert Herring (in the old theatre in 1996), A Midsummer Night's Dream and Death in Venice (2015, see my review), whilst The Turn of the Screw was last done by the company in 1992. Surprisingly the company has never done Smetana's The Bartered Bride, so that is definitely something of a novelty in many ways. And Offenbach's Fantasio, receiving its UK stage premiere, continues Garsington's tradition of excavating rarely performed operas.

Haydn's La vera Costanza - Garsington Opera 1992 (Photo Sally Greene)
Haydn's La vera Costanza - Garsington Opera 1992 (Photo Sally Greene)
There is no revival of a classic production (something that companies often do for anniversaries), but Nicola points out that they only started reviving productions after the move to Wormsley, and now they try to have a revival each year. But she sees the four new productions as a big bold way to celebrate. There are also a number of other anniversaries in the coming years to be acknowledged, so that in 2020 their production of Beethoven's Fidelio makes a notable return, whilst in 2021 the company will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the move to Wormsley.

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