Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Voice & piano trio: Tom Poster & Kaleidescope Chamber Collective open Wiltshire Music Centre's 2020 season

Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon
Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon
Pianist Tom Poster is the Artist in Residence at the Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) and Poster will be opening WMC's Spring/Summer 2020 concert season on 24 January 2020 with his Kaleidescope Chamber Collective. Poster, soprano Katharine Dain, violinist Savitri Grier and cellist Laura van der Heijden will be performing a programme which mixes folk-song with the piano trio.  

So there are Beethoven's folk-song arrangements for voice and piano trio (Beethoven never visited the British Isles but he was commissioned to write arrangements of songs by an Edinburgh publisher), Britten folk-songs, RVW's stunning version of The Unquiet Grave (How Cold the Wind Doth Blow) with violin obbligato, and two songs by Amy Beach for soprano and piano trio. There will also be songs by Clara Schumann, as well as Mendelssohn's Piano Trio no. 2 (the finale of which includes the chorale we know as Old Hundredth). The evening ends with Poster's arrangements of Cole Porter songs. 

And if the concert doesn't appeal, then on 1 February, WMC is presenting Sir Scallywag and the Battle of Stinky Bottom, with Ensemble 360 and narrator Polly Ives, based on the book by Gile Andreae with music by Paul Rissmann,

The concert season continues with a piano recital from Benjamin Grosvenor, the City of London Sinfonia and pianist Danny Driver in Beethoven, pianist Steven Osborne in Rachmaninov and Schubert, the Doric String Quartet and the Marmen Quartet in Enescu's Octet for Strings, violinist Alina Ibragimova joins the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for Michael Haydn's Violin Concerto, and Voces 8 perform a programme moving from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary classics. WMC's Young Quartet in Residence is the Marmen Quartet and they will be presenting a Beethoven Festival, 4-7 March, which includes performances of the quartets, lectures and a lecture recital. Many of the concerts are free to the under 25s in an arrangement with the Cavatina Music Trust.

The Wiltshire Music Centre celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. Founded in Bradford on Avon as a rehearsal space for young musicians, it has developed into a professional concert hall as well as being a community hub, home to many local choirs, orchestras and music groups (over 800 young musicians rehearse there weekly and 60,000 people use the centre each year), as well as a vibrant and varied Creative Learning Programme.

The programme also includes jazz, folk, world music and family concerts. Full details from the Wiltshire Music Centre's website.

Berlioz’s ‘La damnation de Faust’ at the Philharmonie de Paris turned out to be a flaming affair unlike its first Parisian performance in December 1846 that turned out to be a bit of a damp squib

Berlioz by August Prinzhofer, 1845
Berlioz by August Prinzhofer, 1845, the year before
the premiere of La damnation de Faust
Berlioz La damnation de Faust; Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Renaud Delaigue, Karine Deshayes, Paul Groves, Orchestre de Paris, Chœur de l’Orchestre de Paris, dir: Lionel Sow, Chœur d’enfants de l’Orchestre de Paris, cond. Tugan Sokhiev; Grande salle Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de Paris
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 15 January 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The subject of Faust is often referred to as one of the two quintessential myths of western culture, the other being Don Giovanni. The tragic story of this doomed character became an obsession for many of the greatest composers of the 19th century and Berlioz is up there with the best

I’m in league with the devil, it seems! Old Beelzebub has stalked me a few times over the past year. I travelled to Nice for a well-staged production of Gounod’s Faust [see Tony's review] mystically and darkly directed by Nadine Duffaut for Opéra de Nice but, closer to home, I attended a semi-staged performance of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress [see Tony's review] at the Aldeburgh Festival featuring a young and enthusiastic cast recruited from Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artists’ Programme.

But, like a good ’un, he kept his fangs deep into me and tracked me down on the East Sussex Downs where I witnessed an excellent and innovative staged production of Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust at Glyndebourne [see Tony's review] directed by Richard Jones marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.

And, now, with the New Year - and fresh new souls to prey on - he’s up to his old tricks again and nabbed me in Paris where, sitting comfortably in my seat in the grand surroundings of the Grande salle Pierre Boulez of the Philharmonie de Paris.
At the Philharmonie on 15 January 2020, I attended a marvellous concert performance of Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust under the baton of Russian-born conductor, Tugan Sokhiev, with the Orchestre de Paris and soloists Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Renaud Delaigue, Karine Deshayes, and Paul Groves.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Acknowledging a debt to Scottish Renaissance composer Robert Carver - James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4

Carver Choirbook Adv.MS.5.1.15, fol.135 recto Acknowledgement is made to the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland
The Carver Choirbook,
only source of Carver's Missa Dum Sacrum Mysterium Acknowledgement is made to the
Trustees of the National Library of Scotland
The Kensington Symphony Orchestra, conductor Russell Keable, returns to the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 23 January 2020 with a performance which gives us a chance to hear James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4. Written in 2015 to celebrate conductor Donald Runnicles' 60th birthday, the symphony was premiered at the BBC Proms that year with Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Unlike the composer's three previous symphonies, his fourth is purely abstract, exploring various elements of ritual in music on one continuous movement lasting around 40 minutes. What perhaps gives the symphony its particular flavour is that MacMillan has chosen to acknowledge his debt to the Scottish Renaissance composer Robert Carver and include parts of Carver's Missa Dum Sacrum Mysterium. Talking about the symphony and his use of Carver's music, MacMillan said ' I love the austerity of his [Carver's] music, but also its complexity. I've incorporated some of his ideas into the structure of the symphony and wound my own music around it'

If you are interested in a compare-and-contrast then the Sixteen have recorded Carver's complete 10-part mass [available from Amazon], whilst Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra have recorded MacMillan's Symphony No. 4 [available from Amazon].

The companion work in the concert is Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2, with the UK-based Russian pianist Samson Tsoy.

Full details from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra's website.

From the rare to the popular: Fauré and Poulenc from Bertrand de Billy and the London Philharmonic

Gabriel Fauré painted by John Singer Sargent, 1889
Gabriel Fauré painted by John Singer Sargent in 1889
the year after the premiere of the first version of the Requiem
Poulenc Sept répons des ténèbres & Organ Concerto, Fauré Requiem; Katerina Tretyakova, Stéphane Degout, James O'Donnell, London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bertrand de Billy; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A warmly intimate account of Faure's popular choral work contrasted with Poulenc's spiky late masterpiece

What to programme with the Fauré's eternally popular Requiem? For it's concert on Saturday 18 January 2020 at the Southbank Centre, the London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Bertrand de Billy opted for an all French programme, with Poulenc's Organ Concerto with organist James O'Donnell playing the Royal Festival Hall organ and Poulenc's Sept répons des ténèbres, thus giving the London Philharmonic Choir a chance to shine. The soloists were soprano Katerina Tretyakova and baritone Stéphane Degout.

We started with Poulenc's  Sept répons des ténèbres, written in 1961/62 to a commission from Leonard Bernstein and premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1963 after the composer's death. It is a relatively rarely performed work, perhaps because the style is closer to the Poulenc of the Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence than the Poulenc of the Gloria, though the fact that the composer wanted the piece to be performed by a choir of men and boys with a treble soloist probably didn't help either. The music is dark, edgy and full of contrasts, sharp tuttis followed by quiet unaccompanied chorus.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Bach Round-Up: violin, piano, organ, recorder, viol, choral and orchestra by Bach and his cousin Johann Bernard

Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
This month's Bach round-up starts off with the viol consort Phantasm providing an alternative view of the composer with A Well-Tempered Consort, and then we move to the unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas, Sei Solo recorded by Thomas Zehetmair. From violin to the keyboard as pianist George Lepauw has recorded Bach's complete 48 for Orchid Classics, whilst organist Manuel Tomadin has recorded a selection of Bach's organ music under the title Harmonic Seasons on the historic Christoph Treutmann organ in Church of St George, Grauhof, Austria for Brilliant Classics. Still in an instrumental mood, recorder player Michala Petri is joined by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and viola da gamba player Hille Perl for the complete flute sonatas on OUR recordings. 

The Baroque collective Solomon's Knot's, known for their performances from memory, make their debut recording on Sony Classical, Christmas in Leipzig which features the original Christmas version Bach's Magnificat plus Christmas music by two of his predecessors in Leipzig. Our final disc is a different Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach's cousin, Johann Bermard Bach whose surviving orchestral suites are played by Thüringer Bach Collegium on Audite.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Creating and performing on equal terms: Able Orchestra makes its North-West debut at the ABO Conference

Able Orchestra in March 2019 (Photo Mark Nelson/Inspire Culture Nottingham/TRCH/Metronome Photographs)
Able Orchestra in March 2019 (Photo Mark Nelson/Inspire Culture Nottingham/TRCH/Metronome Photographs)
Able Orchestra will make its debut appearance in the North West on 29 January 2020 at the BBC Philharmonic Studio, Media City, Salford, in a performance during the Association of British Orchestras 2020 Conference which takes place from 29-31 January in venues across Manchester and Salford.

Formed in 2015 with the ethos that all members can create and perform on equal terms, Able Orchestra is co-produced by Orchestras Live and Inspire Youth Arts and is an inclusive ensemble of professional orchestral musicians, digital artists and young musicians including disabled people who use assistive technology to perform. The ensemble originated as an iPad Orchestra for profoundly disabled students in North Nottinghamshire, but has expanded to bring together diverse young musicians and emerging music leaders with world-class professional artists from a range of music and digital genres

The 29 January performance will include musicians from the Hallé and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra alongside the core artists and young musicians and digital artists from Fountaindale School, Outwood Academy Portland and the Minster School in Nottinghamshire together with young people from the Seashell Trust in Cheadle Hulme. The concert will feature a new piece specially commissioned from composer Oliver Vibrans.

Building directly from the performance, on the following day (30 January) there will be an ABO Conference discussion chaired by Sarah Derbyshire MBE of Orchestras Live at Hallé St Peter’s, with panellists including composer Oliver Vibrans, in an interactive session sharing their own personal perspectives and ambition for inclusive practice in the music profession.

Further information about the ABO Conference from their website.

European song exploration: Malcolm Martineau's Decades - A Century of Song reaches the 1840s

Decades - A Century of Song: Volume 4 - Schumann, Dargomyzhshky, Franck, Donizetti, Lindblad, Josephson, Geijer, Mendelssohn; Anush Hovhannisyan, Ida Evelina Ranlöv, Nick Pritchard, Oliver Johnston, Florian Boesch, Alexey Gusev, Samuel Hasselhorn, Malcolm Martineau; Vivat
Decades - A Century of Song: Volume 4 - Schumann, Dargomyzhshky, Franck, Donizetti, Lindblad, Josephson, Geijer, Mendelssohn; Anush Hovhannisyan, Ida Evelina Ranzlöv, Nick Pritchard, Oliver Johnston, Florian Boesch, Alexey Gusev, Samuel Hasselhorn, Malcolm Martineau; Vivat
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Malcolm Martineau's song exploration reaches the 1840s, and shows us that there was much more to European song than simply Schumann

Pianist Malcolm Martineau's Decades - A Century of Song on Vivat reaches the 1840s with Liederkreis where he is joined by singers Anush Hovhannisyan (soprano), Ida Evelina Ranzlöv (mezzo-soprano), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Oliver Johnston (tenor), Florian Boesch (baritone), Alexey Gusev (baritone) and Samuel Hasselhorn (baritone) for a selection of songs from the decade by Robert Schumann, Alexander Sergeyevich Dargomyzhshky, Gaetano Donizetti, Adolf Fredrick Lindblad, Jacob Axel Josephson, Erik Gustav Geijer, and Felix Mendelssohn.

The problem with any selection of song from the 1840s is how to represent Schumann's great outpouring of song from 1840 (hundreds of songs from that year alone) whilst giving us a flavour of what else was going on. Whilst the German lied remained in prime position for its sheer complexity in terms of both poetry and music, its influence was such that other composers were writing music which moved away from the simple strophic song. So on this disc, alongside mature Schumann setting Heine and Mendelssohn, we have music from Russia, Sweden, France and Italy.

The recital starts with Schumann's Liederkreis, Op.24, his setting of nine songs from Heinrich Heine's 1827 Buch der Lieder. It was Schumann's first Heine cycle, and he deliberately called it a Liederkreis as the group of songs has only the vaguest of narratives, a poetic musing on love's ardour, despair and a final metamorphosis into art. Schumann takes Heine at face value, this is ardent romantic music, and we hear none of the irony in Heine's verse.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Intimate Voices

Ainola, the home of Jean Sibelius in Järvenpää, Finland
Ainola, the home of Jean Sibelius in Järvenpää, Finland
Jean Sibelius is one of those composers whom we think we know, but whose work extends into far darker, more complex areas than is readily apparent in some of his more popular works. This is a composer who suddenly stopped composing at the height of his powers, and burned the manuscript of the symphony that he was sketching, remaining silent for 30 years.

For the Orchestra of the Swan's forthcoming concert at Stratford Playhouse on 21 January 2020, conductor Tom Hammond has curated a programme which explores the wider regions of Sibelius' imagination, combining performances of The Swan of Tuonela (from the Lemminkäinen Suite), a suite from his incidental music to The Tempest, Humoreskes for violin and orchestra (with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen) and Symphony No. 7, with readings from his letters. Symphony No. 7 and The Tempest are two of the last works that Sibelius, before his silence.

Entitled, Intimate Voices, the programme provides audiences with the opportunity to hear some of Sibelius' lesser known works, and also to explore the composer's complex musical imagination.

Full details from the Orchestra of the Swan
's website.

An engaging Baroque recital from City Music Foundation artist, Anna Cavaliero

Anna Cavaliero
Anna Cavaliero
Monteverdi, Handel, Strozzi; Anna Cavaliero, William Cole; City Music Foundation at church of St Bartholomew the Less
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An engagingly imaginative Baroque recital from British-Hungarian soprano Anna Cavaliero as part of the CMF Presents... season

British-Hungarian soprano Anna Cavaliero is one of this year's City Music Foundation Artists and at the CMF Presents... recital on 15 January 2020 at the church of St Bartholomew-the-Less, Smithfield in London, Cavaliero accompanied on the harpsichord by William Cole, gave a recital of baroque arias and cantatas, including excerpts from Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea and L'Orfeo, Handel's Theodora and Partenope, plus a complete performance of Handel's La Lucrezia, Barbara Strozzi's L'Eraclito amoroso and an aria from Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre's Semele.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

From rare Donizetti to Rosina Storchio: 50 years of Opera Rara

Rosina Storchio
Rosina Storchio
This season, Opera Rara is celebrating its 50th anniversary and to kick the celebrations off soprano Ermonela Jaho, accompanied by pianist Steven Maughan, is presenting An Evening with Rosina Storchio at Wigmore Hall on 2 February 2020 performing music championed by the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio, who created the title roles in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Leoncavallo’s Zazà [a role Jaho recorded for Opera Rara, see my review] and Mascagni’s Lodoletta. Jaho will present salon pieces of the period, including songs by Bellini, Verdi, Toscanini and Tosti, and excerpts from some of Storchio’s most famous operatic roles.

Opera Rara was founded in 1970 by Patric Schmid and Don White to bring back the forgotten operatic repertoire of the 19th century. Early revivals, in concert performances, included Meyerbeer's last Italian opera Il crociato in Egitto and Donizetti's Maria Padilla. The company's first official disc (the earlier performances also appeared on pirate editions) was Donizetti's Ugo, conte di Parigi issued in 1977. Casts for the recordings have always been impressive with singers such as Janet Price, Yvonne Kenny, Della Jones, Christian du Plessis, Renée Fleming, Jennifer Larmore, Joyce El-Khoury, Angela Meade, Nelly Miricioiu, Vesselina Kasarova, Chris Merritt, Marco Lazzara, Mark Stone, James Westman, Bruce Ford, Anthony Michaels-Moore, Patrizia Ciofi, Carmen Giannattasio, Jose Bros, Joyce El-Khoury, Michael Spyres, Sarah Connolly, Albina Shagimuratova and many more working with the company.

Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida - David Junghoon Kim, Joyce El-Khoury 2018 (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Donizetti: L'Ange de Nisida at the Royal Opera House in 2018- David Junghoon Kim, Joyce El-Khoury
2018 (c) ROH and Opera Rara. Photo by Russell Duncan
Though some Offenbach operettas were issued, the company's early focus was on Italian opera of the bel canto era with the operas of Donizetti being, and continuing to be, a particular focus. Last year, under Artistic Director Sir Mark Elder, Opera Rara reached its 25th Donizetti opera with the world première of L’Ange de Nisida, made in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden [see my review]. Donizetti wrote over 70 operas, so there is still some way to go before reaching anything like completeness!

Other composers documented include Meyerbeer, Opera Rara's recordings of his Italian operas have been a valuable addition to the repertoire, as well as lesser known but no less deserving composers such as Pacini, Mercadante, Paer, Ricci and Mayr, as well as many of Rossini's opera seria, plus more recently Gounod, further Offenbach and Leoncavallo. The company took over the BBC's live recordings of Verdi's lesser known original versions operas better known in revised form, including the 1847 version of Macbeth, the 1857 of Simon Boccanegra, Les Vepres Siciliennes, La forza del destino and the original 1867 French version of Don Carlos complete with ballet music! In recent years the company's repertoire has expanded into Verismo with Leoncavallo's Zaza and Puccini's first version of Les Willis [see my review].

It is thanks to the company's championing of such repertoire that the record buying public has been able to widen its taste and understand that early 19th century Italian opera has much to love beyond that same hackneyed six operas. In 2011, Sir Mark Elder took over as artistic director and in 2019 it was announced that Carlo Rizzi would take up the position.
Opera Rara & Britten Sinfonia at Barbican Hall – Mark Elder and soloists after performing Donizetti’s Il Paria (Photo JS Henderson)
Opera Rara & Britten Sinfonia at Barbican Hall – Mark Elder & soloists after performing Donizetti’s Il Paria - 2019
(Photo JS Henderson)

Rizzi, who previously recorded two bel canto recital discs with Joyce El-Khoury and Michael Spyres for Opera Rara [see my review], will mark the beginning of his tenure with the June 2020 recording and Barbican concert performance of Donizetti's Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo. Before that, Spring 2020 sees the release of Elder’s latest recording for Opera Rara, Donizetti’s Il Paria, starring another of the company’s close collaborators, Albina Shagimuratova. The Russian soprano also stars in Opera Rara’s Semiramide [see my review], which was recently named best opera recording at the 2019 International Opera Awards, International Classical Music Awards and Opus Klassik Awards.

Further ahead, Mark Elder will be recording Verdi's original 1857 version of Simon Boccanegra, Carlo Rizzi will record another rare Leoncavallo opera Zingari, Halevy's Guido e Ginevra in a new critical edition with a cast including tenor Michael Spyres, and Offenbach's La Princesse de Trebizond.

The company's work involves not just presenting and recording operas, but creating new editions of them as well such as the important work re-constructing Donizetti's L'ange de Nisida (whose score was lost when the composer cannibalised it for La favourite). See my interview with Opera Rara's CEO Henry Little for more details of this important work.

Notable debut: the Armenian State Symphony orchestra's first Barbican appearance gave us music from Armenia alongside Bruch and Ravel with the orchestra's artist in residence, Maxim Vengerov

Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (Photo Lusine Sargsyan)
Armenian State Symphony Orchestra (Photo Lusine Sargsyan)
Alexey Shor, John Ter-Tatevosian, Max Bruch, Maurice Ravel; Maxim Vengerov, Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, Sergey Smbatyan; Barbican
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
On a rare visit to the UK, the Armenian orchestra brings a programme mixing popular classics with rarer Armenian classical repertoire and a new work by the orchestra's composer in residence

The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra made its Barbican debut on Tuesday 14 January 2020, as part of a European concert tour supported by the European Foundation for Support of Culture, visiting Germany, Austria, the UK, the Czech Republic and Russia. Conducted by Sergey Smbatyan, the orchestra was joined by its artist in residence, violinist Maxim Vengerov, for St. Elmo Barcarolle by Alexey Shor, Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26 and Maurice Ravel'sTzigane, and we also heard the UK premiere of Armenian composer John Ter-Tatevosian's 1959 Symphony No. 2 'The Fate of Man'.

The  Armenian State Symphony Orchestra is quite a young ensemble, it was founded in 2005 by Sergey Smbatyan who remains the artistic director and principal conductor. In fact, Smbatyan was only 18 when he founded the orchestra, as the State Youth Orchestra of Armenia, and it has developed into one of the leading orchestras in Armenia. The personnel of the orchestra remain relatively young too, with a very high percentage of women on stage at the Barbican. The orchestra gives over 50 concerts per year, with a repertoire which mixes Western classical music with contemporary composers and Armenian composers, including the Armenian Composers Arts Festival and the Khachaturian International Festival.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Kurt Schwertsik and Stephen Barlow: percussionist Colin Currie joins the Northern Chamber Orchestra

Colin Currie (Photo Linda Nylind)
Colin Currie (Photo Linda Nylind)
Scottish percussionist Colin Currie will be joining the Northern Chamber Orchestra at its next concert at the Stoller Hall, Manchester on 17 January 2020. Conducted by Stephen Barlow, Currie and the NCO will be performing Viennese composer Kurt Schwertsik's Now you hear me, now you don't, and Stephen Barlow's own Nocturnal (also with NCO's principal clarinet Elizabeth Jordan). The programme is completed with music by Grieg, Delius and Dvorak.

Stephen Barlow has a long-standing relationship with the NCO as he was the artistic director of the Buxton Festival from 2011 to 2018 where the NCO was in residence, so Barlow frequently conducted them in the pit of Buxton Opera House.

Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik (born 1935) studied with Stockhausen, but rejected serialism in favour of new forms of tonality. Drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as Eric Satie and the Dadaist movement, Schwertsik's mercurial music is characterised by a lightness of touch, sense of irony and even humour. His Now you hear me, now you don't for marimba and strings was premiered in 2009 with Currie performing with the Scottish Ensemble.

Full details of the Northern Chamber Orchestra's concert from their website.

An anarchic approach to the every day: Bastard Assignments debut album

Bastard Assignments
Bastard Assignments; Bastard Assignments (Caitlin Rowley, Timothy Cape, Edward Henderson, Josh Spear)
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 January 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The composer/performer group brings their trade-mark anarchic approach to disc in typically thoughtful manner

The composer/performer group Bastard Assignments (Edward Henderson, Josh Spear, Timothy Cape and Caitlin Rowley) has released its first album, titled quite appropriately Bastard Assignments, which features five pieces performed by members of the group, Caitlin Rowley's dot drip line line 8918: EDGE, the group piece PrEP, Timothy Cape's Enya, Do You Need a Tambourine Player, I'm Pretty Good, Edward Henderson's Hold and Josh Spear's Comedown. The disc gives those who have had no possibility of seeing one of the collective's live shows to a chance to come to know and appreciate the group's particular anarchic brand of music theatre.

Bastard Assignments is a composer/performer group which was formed at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in 2011 (where all four trained). We first saw them live in 2015 at Tête à Tête:The Opera Festival and have caught a number of their live programmes since then, most recently at Mountview in Peckham last year [see my review] in a show which showcased material developed during the group's residency at Snape Maltings where this album was developed and recorded.

Bastard Assignments performances tend to be highly visual events, with the musical element shading into theatre and creating a sometimes complex music theatre. Their material is often the stuff of every day life, I still vividly remember a solo piece from Caitlin Rowley, Thing I Found in Boxes: Opening, which, deceptively simple, involved her opening a cardboard box full of screwed up paper, and was inspired by her recent experiences in real-life packing. Yet the result was a carefully calibrated audio piece using the percussive qualities available, ranging from the sound of a hand running over corrugated paper, to cutting paper and screwing it up.  And there is often reference to pop culture too, I was very much aware at the Mountview show that we did not 'get' all the popular references in the pieces.

What intrigued me about this debut album was quite how the group's brand of highly visual music theatre would transfer to disc. In fact, the repertoire has been chosen carefully, and one or two of the highly visual pieces showcased last year are not here, instead we have works which have a strong audio component. Though with a work like PrEP we have to imagine the four performers' devastatingly deadpan performance style which produced humour thanks to the contrast with the highly anarchic performance material.

Jack Liebeck: Émile Sauret Professor of Violin, and Australian Festival of Chamber Music

Jack Liebeck (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Jack Liebeck (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
The violinist Jack Liebeck has been named as Émile Sauret Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music. Liebeck will be the first such, as the role was created especially for him. Liebeck studied at the Academy and was already teaching there, and in his new role as a named professor he will not only be involved in teaching but will act as an ambassador for the college. 

Jack Liebeck commented, “I am extremely honoured to take up the position as the Émile Sauret Professor of Violin at the Royal Academy of Music. The role enables me to develop my teaching, about which I am passionate, but also to make links worldwide as an ambassador, attracting the very finest young musicians to study at the Academy, just as I did 25 years ago.” 

French violinist and composer Émile Sauret (1852-1920) taught at the Academy and was a notable pedagogue.

In other news, it has been announced that Liebeck will take over as artistic director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in 2020. Based in Townsville, North Queensland, the festival was founded in 1991 and the current artistic director is pianist Kathryn Stott.

Monday, 13 January 2020

End of an Era: Michael Volpe to step down as General Director of Opera Holland Park

Michael Volpe
Michael Volpe
After 31 years at the company, Michael Volpe will be stepping down as general director of Opera Holland Park at the end of September 2020. Opera Holland Park today is very much Michael Volpe's creation, the result of his 20-year partnership with James Clutton, director of opera. The company has become known for its explorations of the further reaches of 20th century Italian opera and the Verismo repertoire, and it has given some notable performances and premieres include Wolf Ferrari's I gioielli della Madonna (one of the company's biggest undertakings) and Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre Re. But the main repertoire has not been neglected with, in recent years, everything from Mozart to Richard Strauss to Verdi.

On 1 October 2020, following Michael’s retirement, James Clutton will be appointed Chief Executive and Director of Opera of Opera Holland Park with overall responsibility for the company. A Deputy Chief Executive will be recruited in the coming months.

This year Opera Holland Park celebrates a highly successful five years as an independent charity, the theatre originally having been owned by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. As such, it is an apposite moment to take stock. This year's Opera Holland Park season opens on 2 June 2020 with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and continues with Verdi's Rigoletto, Lehar's The Merry Widow, a double bill of Delius' Margot le Rouge and Puccini's Le Villi, and Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance presented by Charles Court Opera. Full details from the Opera Holland Park website.

We wish Michael well on his early retirement and look forward to the next chapter in Opera Holland Park's history. But opera world will not be quite the same.

Bach to the Beatles: Miloš on tour

Miloš - (Photo Melanie Gomez Photography)
Miloš - (Photo Melanie Gomez Photography)
The classical guitarist Miloš is currently embarking on a solo recital tour, taking in venues from Manchester to London, performing at the Stoller Hall, Manchester on 15 January 2020 and ending the tour at the Wigmore Hall on 25 January, taking in Malvern (17/1), Stoke-on-Trent (18/1), Birmingham (21/1) and Perth (23/1) in between. 

The programme starts with Bach's Lute Suite, BWV997,  a work which commentators are in some disagreement about as it may have been intended for a keyboard type instrument. The programme continues with two of Granados' Danzas españolas, Albéniz's Asturias and Villa Lobos' Five Preludes. The Granados and Albéniz are arrangements of piano pieces (all from the 1890s) as frustratingly for guitarists these two Spanish composers wrote little or nothing for the guitar. Miloš will also be performing a group of Beatles arrangements to complete the programme.

Born Miloš Karadaglic in Montenegro, Miloš has become a major force in the classical guitar; he premiered Joby Talbot's guitar concerto ink Dark Moon at the BBC Proms in 2018 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and he will be returning to the concerto during the 2019/20 season. Though his career has not been without setbacks, and a hand injury in forced him to stop playing during the 2017/18 season.

Full details from Miloš' website.

Songs from the Soil - Theatre of Voices launches Kings Place's Nature Unwrapped season

Songs from the Soil - Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier, Christopher Bowers Broadbent - Kings Place (Photo Viktor Erik Emanuel/Kings Place)
Songs from the Soil - Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier, Christopher Bowers Broadbent - Kings Place
(Photo Viktor Erik Emanuel/Kings Place)
Arvo Pärt, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Michael Gordon; Theatre of Voices, Paul Hillier; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 January 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
King Place's Nature Unwrapped launched by Theatre of Voices with a trio of striking contemporary works

Having Unwrapped Venus in spectacular fashion during 2019, providing a remarkable amount of striking music by women, Kings Place launched its 2020 series, Nature Unwrapped on Saturday 11 January 2020 with a concert from the iconic Theatre of Voices, conducted by its founder Paul Hillier, featuring music by Arvo Pärt as accompaniment to Phie Ambo’s film, Songs from the Soil, Jóhann Jóhannsson's Orphic Hymn and the UK premiere of Michael Gordon's A Western.

Before the concert started there was a chance to further explore Theatre of Voices' work with film maker Phie Ambo, as there was a screening of Ambo's poetic film Good Things Await, exploring a bio-dynamic farm in Denmark and using music by Jóhann Jóhannsson on the sound-track, performed by Theatre of Voices. And as we entered Hall One for the concert there was a further layer to the presentation in that a sound installation by Chris Watson, No Man's Land, which was based on a recording of the incoming tide on The Wash; one of a number of installations commissioned by Kings Place from Watson for this year.

Theatre of Voices consisted of six voices (Else Turp & Kate Macoboy sopranos, Laura Lamph alto, Paul Bentley-Angell & Jakob Skjoldborg tenors, William Gaunt bass) with organist Christopher Bowers-Broadbent, conducted by Paul Hillier.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Strong revival: a well-balanced cast bring a sense of enjoyment to Richard Jones' highly theatrical production of Puccini's La Bohème at the Royal Opera House

Puccini: La Bohème - Charles Castronovo, Simona Mihai - Royal Opera ((C) ROH 2020. Photo by Tristram Kenton)
Puccini: La Bohème - Charles Castronovo, Simona Mihai - Royal Opera ((C) ROH 2020. Photo by Tristram Kenton)
Puccini La Bohème; Simona Mihai, Charles Castronovo, Aida Garifullina, Andrzej Filonczyk, Peter Kellner, Gyula Nagy, dir: Richard Jones/Julia Burbach, cond: Emmanuel Villaume; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 January 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A strong, moving and funny revival of Jones' highly theatrical production

Puccini: La Bohème - Aida Garifullina, Andrzej Filonczyk - Royal Opera ((C) ROH 2020. Photo by Tristram Kenton)
Puccini: La Bohème - Aida Garifullina, Andrzej Filonczyk
Royal Opera ((C) ROH 2020. Photo by Tristram Kenton)
Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La Bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10 January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and she was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run. Emmanuel Villaume conducted, with Charles Castronovo as Rodolfo (who sang the role in the production during 2017/18), Andrzej Filonczyk as Marcello, Peter Kellner as Colline, Gyula Nagy as Schaunard and Aida Garifullina (making her Royal Opera debut) as Musetta. The revival was directed by Julia Burbach.

Jones' production replaced the Royal Opera's longest running production, John Copley's 1974 La Bohème with supra-realistic designs from Julia Trevelyan Oman. A much beloved production, frequently revived, which was launched with a cast including Katia Ricciarelli and Placido Domingo, and whose final revival (supervised by Copley himself) included Anna Netrebko and Joseph Calleja, with some performances conducted by Placido Domingo. Some of Jones' decisions around his new production should perhaps be seen in the light of having to replace this production.

One question which hangs over La Bohème, perhaps surprisingly, is 'who are these people?'. Puccini specifies that the opera is set in Paris in the 1830s, when the original Henri Murger stories were set, but are they? Are the young men students, or are they men simply living the Bohemian life, as happened at the period? In other words, role-playing the life of a struggling artist. Perhaps the characters are denizens of the Paris of 1890, when Puccini wrote the opera, a city divided from the city of Murger by the huge urban renewal of Baron Haussmann. Puccini is rumoured to have based some of the men's antics on the japes that he and his friends got up to when he was studying in Milan, and some of Puccini's friends claimed that they were the originals of the young men, as Puccini had a Bohemian club in a local tavern whilst he was writing the opera. And don't forget that the young Puccini was taken under the wing by a group of older Italian artists who had all been members of the Scapigliatura (literally unkempt or dishevelled), the Italian artistic movement which was the equivalent of French bohemianism.

Modern directors often side-step these issues by setting the opera somewhere in the 20th century, but Jones addresses it head on by adding a theatrical element to his production. Whilst the costumes and set details are all clearly 1890s, he and designer Stewart Laing provide a great deal of evidence of the theatrical mechanism: no drop curtains, clear and obvious scene changes, visible lights and snow machine, stage hands moving the scenery. Jones also strips back some of the detail. Whilst Act Two is a dazzling whirl of theatrical daring, all vivid action and moving scenery, Acts One and Three take place in a bright attic space. There is no dark when Mimì and Rodolfo's candles go out, there is no shaft of romantic moonlight for 'O soave fanciulla'. Instead, Jones leaves space for the singers and the production relies on the relations between the singers, and the characters they create. Some of the action is naturalistic, but often the four young men, Rodolfo, Marcello, Colline and Schaunard act as a sort of chorus. It could be stagey and artificial, but much depends on the singers creating the roles.

Puccini: La Bohème - Royal Opera ((C) ROH 2020. Photo by Tristram Kenton)
Puccini: La Bohème (Act One) - Royal Opera ((C) ROH 2020. Photo by Tristram Kenton)
Thankfully, for this revival the Royal Opera had put together a strong and very balanced cast, with Simona Mihai displaying little, if any, sign of having been parachuted in at the last minute.

Friday, 10 January 2020

The music around him: a look at Mozart as he writes Mitridate, Re di Ponto in The Mozartists '1770 - a retrospective' at Wigmore Hall

Mozart in January 1770 (School of Verona, attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli )
Mozart in January 1770
(School of Verona, attributed to Giambettino Cignaroli )
1770 - a retrospective - Mozart, Vanhal, GLuck, Haydn, JC Bach, Jommelli; Samantha Clarke, Ida Ränzlöv, The Mozartists, Ian Page; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A fascinating look at 14-year-old Mozart in Italy and the music that was around at the time

So, we have reached 1770 in Ian Page and The Mozartists ambitious Mozart 250 project which tracks Mozart's progress year by year. 1770 means that we have reached the first of his major youthful operas, the highly impressive Mitridate, Re di Ponto, premiered in Milan, but there was much else happening that year also.

For 1770 - a retrospective at Wigmore Hall on 9 January 2020, Ian Page and The Mozartists were joined by soprano Samantha Clarke and mezzo-soprano Ida Ränzlöv for a programme of music from 1770 with symphonies by Vanhal and JC Bach, plus arias and duets from Gluck's Paride ed Elena, Haydn's Lo speziale and Le pescatrici, JC Bach's Gioas, re di Giuda, Jommelli's Demofoonte and Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto. Music that was premiered in Vienna, London, Esterhaza, Naples and Milan.

We started with the Symphony in E minor by the Vienna-based Bohemian composers Johann Baptist Vanhal, one of around 100 symphonies that he seems to have written. His Symphony in E minor was part of a group published by Breitkopf in 1770. It is a compact, four-movement work. The opening Allegro moderato was elegant with some vigour, followed by a graceful Andante for strings only. The minuet was robust with a trio for wind only. As with other music of this period, I found that there was a sense of slightly too many repeats for the good of the music, and the work only really took off in the finale, which was full of crisp energy and vivid contrasts.

Gluck's Paride ed Elena (Paris and Helen) is the third of his so-called Reform operas written with librettist Ranieri de'Calzabigi. Premiered at the Burgtheater, Vienna in 1770, the opera is full of good things but the story of Paris' wooing and winning of Helen of Troy lacks the element of tragic drama which make Orfeo ed Eurydice and Alceste so intense.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Last Postcard from Sanday helps launch the Royal Academy of Music's ambitious 200 Pieces project

Royal Academy of Music's Angela Burgess Recital Room
Royal Academy of Music's Angela Burgess Recital Hall
The Royal Academy of Music will be 200 in 2022, the world's second oldest conservatoire (the Paris Conservatoire is older). This week the Academy launched an ambitious new project, 200 pieces which will culminate in 2022. To celebrate the Bicentenary the Academy has asked 200 composers to write 200 new works for solo instrument or voice, the idea being that the project will celebrate the here and now.

Starting this year all the works will be premiered at the Academy by students and will be recorded by the in-house Audio-Visual team. From Summer 2020, the recordings will be available on the Academy's new website as will a selection of the scores, thus creating an on-line resource which will climax in 2022 with all 200 new pieces.

23 works will be premiered this season, with music by Diana Burrell, Luke Bedford, Philip Cashian, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, David Sawer, Robert Saxton and Mark Anthony Turnage. Many are RAM Alumni, students, staff and honorands but the range of composers involved is very broad, not just confined to the UK, and some will be collaborating directly with the instrumentalists playing the piece.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies with Jane Glover and the cast of his opera Kommilitonen! at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies with Jane Glover and the cast of his opera
Kommilitonen! at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011
Alongside this a separate strand of the project will involve a further 200 pieces, created via Open Academy, the Academy's Learning, Participation and Community initiative. This will work with secondary school students in their classrooms to help them create their own compositions, leading to the creation 200 pieces by student composers. The school student composers will work intensively alongside Academy instrumentalists and composers, and a selection of the 200 student pieces will be performed at the Academy during the Bicentenary celebrations.

Open Academy's projects, of which they run up to 50 per year working with around 6000 people, all focus on music-making, the 200 Pieces initiative has been designed to support the student composers in creating their own pieces and thus intended to provide a way into music as an academic subject, reflecting the Academy's concern at the significant drop in the take-up of Arts subjects at GCSE and A-Level.

At the press launch for the project on Wednesday, in Angela Burgess Recital Hall, we were given a preview of the first of the 200 Pieces as violinist Aliayta Foon-Dancoes gave a private performance of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Last Postcard from Sanday, which Foon-Dancoes will give the first public performance of at the Academy in March.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Musica Non Grata: marking the re-opening of Prague State Opera

Prague State Opera (Photo Jakub Fulín)
Prague State Opera (Photo Jakub Fulín)
Prague State Opera (Státní Opera) recently re-opened after a three-year closure for renovation, with a gala on 5 January 2020, under the direction of Karl-Heinz Steffens, the new general music director, celebrating the theatre's original opening on 5 January 1888 as the New German Theatre. The reopening is being marked by a four-year opera and concert series Musica Non Grata exploring the once thriving cultural exchange between the Czech Republic and Germany, showcasing Czech-German-Jewish cultural history in Prague.

Prague, in fact, has three historic theatres. The State Opera was opened in 1888 as the New German Theatre at a time when the number of German speakers in Prague was decreasing and the Czech National Revival was well under way. But as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the relationship between Czech and German culture remained important. There is also the National Theatre (Národní Divadlo) which had its foundation stone laid in 1868 and is a cornerstone of Czech National Revival (the first opera to be presented there was the world premiere of Bedřich Smetana's Libuše), and the historic Estates Theatre, where Mozart's Don Giovanni was premiered.

All three theatres, along with the modern Nová Scéna, will be taking part in Musica Non Grata, and the festival will feature works that originated in Prague and took the world by storm during the first half of the 20th century only to be later silenced through force for political reasons. The series will be launched with a concert on 27 May 2020, featuring excerpts from the works to be performed, followed by a new production of Jaromir Weinberger's opera Svanda Dudak (Svanda the Bagpiper) n 27 Mary 2020. Weinberger's opera premiered in 1926 and was highly popular until Weinberger's music was banned by the Nazi's in the 1930s (Weinberger's family was of Jewish origin).

Other composers whose work will be showcased during Musica Non Grata will be Alexander von Zemlinsky (who was musical director of the Deutsches Landestheater in Prague from 1911 to 1927 and premiered Schoenberg's Erwartung there in 1924), Ernst Krenek (during the closure period the State Opera performed Krenek's Johnny Spielt auf at the National Theatre last year), Franz Schreker, Hans Krasa, Brno-born Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Erwin Schulhoff, Pavel Haas and Viktor Ullmann. There will also be a focus on women composers; the twenties and early thirties was a time of emancipation for female composers and women such as Vitezslava Kapralova, Emmy Destinn, Julie Reisserova and the Scottish-Czech composer Geraldine Mucha (Scottish-born, she married theCzech writer Jiří Mucha, son of the painter Alphonse Mucha, and lived in Prague for 60 yeas), all of whom managed to step out of the shadow of their male colleagues at the time.

All performances of Musica Non Grata will be made available digitally by streaming and some of them will be available subsequently on DVD, CD and in online archives.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Handel Uncaged: chamber cantatas revealed in new context by Lawrence Zazzo on Inventa

Handel: Udite il mio consiglo, Stanco di piu soffrire, Figli del mesto cor, Amore uccellatore Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor), Jonathan Manson (cello & viola da gamba), Andrew Maginley (theorbo & guitar), Guillermo Brachetta (harpsichord) INVENTA
Handel Uncaged - Cantatas for Alto
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 7 January 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Two world premiere recordings and the re-discovery of a cantata sequence puts his music from his Italian sojourn into a new context

Handel: Udite il mio consiglo, Stanco di piu soffrire, Figli del mesto cor, Amore uccellatore
Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor), Jonathan Manson (cello & viola da gamba), Andrew Maginley (theorbo & guitar), Guillermo Brachetta (harpsichord)
INVENTA

Handel wrote a considerable quantity of cantatas, music which is still not always as well known as it should be. Whilst the larger scale works with instrumental/orchestral accompaniment are recorded, many of the smaller scale ones are ignored. Perhaps part of the problem is that this is chamber music rather than something on a larger scale.

Handel in 1710
Handel in 1710
Handel's chamber cantatas, for just voice and continuo, were larger written during his Italian sojourn (1707-1710) for patrons, very much as a transaction. For instance, Handel produced cantatas on a regular basis for Marchese Ruspoli in Rome in return for board and lodging. The cantatas would be performed at the weekly conversazione that the patrons held. The texts of these cantatas can be lighter, and more risqué, than anything Handel set later and in a couple of cases where he re-used a cantata in London the text was sanitised.

Marchese Ruspoli was instrumental in the development of the Arcadian Academy where each member took a pastoral pseudonym. The Academy (all male of course) met at one of Ruspoli's villas and it was at this sort of weekly gathering that Handel's cantatas would be performed. Another of Handel's Roman patrons, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni loved 'pomp, prodigalilty and sensual pleasure'; besides his numerous mistresses he surrounded himself with a coterie of talented male and generally homosexual artists, including Arcangelo Corelli.

The young Handel was very talented, personable (forget the image of the middle-aged glutton) and seemingly quite able to cope with the flirtatious attraction of his patrons; he would later refer to Cardinal Pamphilij as 'a flattering old fool'. And he may have had a relationship with the singer Vittoria Tarquini who, it turns out, was the mistress of Handel's Florentine patron Ferdinando de Medici. It is into this slightly hot-house atmosphere of privilege that Handel's cantatas come.

This new disc on the Inventa label (Resonus Classics' new label specialising in Early Music) recontextualises some of the cantatas and reveals a degree of modern detective work. A chance remark from Handel scholar, John Roberts, to counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo, after a performance of Handel's alto cantata Vedendo Amor led Zazzo to discover the existence of a manuscript in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge which puts the cantata into a wider context, creating a dramatic sequence of cantatas.

The manuscript had been largely ignored because, though some cantatas in it are acknowledged in Handel's autographs, other cantatas are not leading to suspicions about the composers. But recent scholarship has found links between the music and other works by Handel so the balance is now coming to favour Handel as the composer of all the cantatas.

Why is Beethoven still relevant today? - Royal Northern Sinfonia's Beethoven 2020: The Next Generation series in Middlesbrough Town Hall

Royal Northern Sinfonia: Beethoven 2020 The Next Generation
On 23 January 2020, the Royal Northern Sinfonia will launch a five-concert series at Middlesbrough Town Hall celebrating Beethoven's Centenary, Beethoven 2020: The Next Generation performing all nine symphonies over the course of 11 months. As part of the series, the orchestra held a Young Composers Competition involving university and conservatoire students from across the UK and the winners, who each wrote a piece influenced by Beethoven's body of work, will see their pieces performed alongside Beethoven's symphonies at the concerts. Each concert is being directed by a young conductor, under 35.

The series of concerts aims to elicit a contemporary response to both interpretation and relevance of Beethoven’s work by asking the next generation of conductors and composers: 'Why is Beethoven still relevant today?'.

Thorben Dittes, director of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, answers the question thus, 'Beethoven’s music still inspires young conductors and composers today and has the potential to engage the widest possible audience. The aim of Beethoven 2020: The Next Generation is to involve emerging artists passionate about Beethoven, to take this music out into the region, and to spark a response to the interpretation of these masterpieces.'

The opening concert on 23 January 2020 sees Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 and Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'  performed with one of the competition winners, conducted by Dinis Sousa. The final concert of the series on 12 November 2020 will feature Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 and Symphony No. 9 Choral, plus a new commission from Kristina Arakelyan.

Middlesbrough Town Hall (Photo Brian Stubley)
Middlesbrough Town Hall (Photo Brian Stubley)
A Grade 2 listed building, Middlesbrough Town Hall was built in 1889; in the French Gothic style it was one of the last major Gothic Revival town halls to be built. The Victorian concert hall still has its original 1898 organ and it has hosted Sergei Rachmaninov, Johann Strauss and Sir Edward Elgar. Reopening after refurbishment in 2018, the Town Hall is now a cultural hub. It holds a Classical Café event each month consisting of musical events in an informal, relaxed setting, aiming to open up the world of classical music to everyone.

Full details from Middlesbrough Town Hall website.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Haydn’s The Creation at the Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest) by Concentus Musicus Wien and the Purcell Choir produced a memorable performance under Ádám Fischer

Emőke Baráth, Dávid Szigetvári, Ádám Fischer, Thomas E Bauer, Concentus Musicus Wien - Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest) © Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest .
Emőke Baráth, Dávid Szigetvári, Ádám Fischer, Thomas E Bauer, Concentus Musicus Wien
Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest) © Gábor Kotschy, Müpa Budapest .
Haydn The Creation; Emőke Baráth, Dávid Szigetvári,Thomas E Bauer, Concentus Musicus Wien, Purcell Choir, Ádám Fischer; Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest)
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 1 January 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Haydn’s The Creation proved the right tonic and an invigorating musical start to the New Year in Budapest

Widely considered to be Haydn’s masterpiece, The Creation (Die Schöpfung) - depicting and celebrating the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis - received a wondrous and telling performance at the Bartók National Concert Hall (Müpa Budapest) on New Year’s Day (1 January 2020) with Ádám Fischer on top of his game conducting the famed Austrian baroque-music ensemble Concentus Musicus Wien - co-founded by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Alice Harnoncourt in 1953 and admirably led by Erich Höbarth - while the choral forces came from the Purcell Choir (celebrating this year its 30th anniversary) and still under the direction of its founder, György Vashegyi, who drills them well. What a wonderful start to their special year.

The libretto for The Creation - which was first heard at the Burgtheater, Vienna, in March 1799 receiving its London première at Covent Garden a year later - came from the pen of the Austrian nobleman, Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who also provided Haydn with the libretto for The Seasons.

In so many ways, one has to thank Handel for Haydn’s oratorios as the composer made several visits to London in the late 18th century and heard Handel’s works in all their consummate glory performed by large choral forces and, in all probability, he wanted to achieve the same result by using the musical language of a mature classical style.

One of Handel’s works that Haydn so much admired, Israel in Egypt, includes various episodes of tone painting which, perhaps, proved an inspiration to the composer in his own pervasive use of this device in The Creation particularly in the passages of the appearance of the sun and the creation of the beasts but, above all, in the overture depicting chaos before the creation.

Popular Posts this month