Wednesday, 21 November 2018

A series of concentric circles: Aaron Holloway-Nahum and the Riot Ensemble

Aaron Holloway-Nahum & The Riot Ensemble in Elliott Carter Double Concerto at LSO St Lukes (Photo Ben Clube)
Aaron Holloway-Nahum & The Riot Ensemble in Elliott Carter's Double Concerto at LSO St Lukes (Photo Ben Clube)
Earlier this year Aaron Holloway-Nahum conducted Elliott Carter's challenging Double Concerto with the Riot Ensemble (an ensemble which he co-founded), in a programme which also included a new piece by Molly Joyce and the UK premiere of Pierce Gradone's To Paint their Madness at LSO St Luke's. Aaron balances being artistic director and principal conductor of the Riot Ensemble with a lively career as a composer (he is one of composers on the the 2018-19 Mentorship Programme run through the Peter Eötvös Foundation). I met up with Aaron earlier this year to learn how the concert had gone, and find out more about his work.

[this article got somewhat delayed in production, but with the announcement of the Riot Ensemble's premiere of a new piece by Georg Friedrich Haas next year (see below), it seemed a good opportunity to learn more about them]

Aaron Nahum-Holloway
Aaron Nahum-Holloway
Aaron describes performing the Elliott Carder as thunderously good fun. Not only was the concert virtually sold out, but afterwards the ensemble thought 'shall we do it again'. Aaron did not know the Elliott Carter concerto, for piano, harpsichord and two orchestras, until it was brought to his attention by Goska Isphording, the ensemble's harpsichordist, and it turned out the ensemble's pianist, Adam Swayne, was taught by the person who premiered the harpsichord part.

Aaron found it a tricky piece to learn, with all its metrical modulations it was four weeks of study before he felt that he could conduct it. Yet he realises how far he has come as a conductor. When we spoke, the group was about to go to Iceland and were taking a programme which included music they played three years ago, and Aaron has found that he had been able to simply pick the pieces up again. He is not a professionally trained conductor, he simply started the Riot Ensemble. The ensemble too has developed, a recent concert in Huddersfield was the most in command that he felt the group has been on stage, in command of the challenging repertoire, really playing with each other and having fun.

Aaron founded the Riot Ensemble in 2012, it is a flexible group of artists who create and put on projects, with flexibility being key. Aaron describes the group as operating as a sequence of concentric circles. At the centre are a couple of players who also work part-time for the ensemble, fixing players, promoting the concerts and such. Then there are the players who form the artistic board, those deeply involved in programming the concerts. Then there are the principal players, and finally the new players. And quite often players are drawn further in, becoming more involved in the group.

It is a fluid and flexible structure, and the players are all involved in the programming so that the Elliott Carter concerto was the suggestion of one of the players, as is much of the repertoire that the group took to Iceland on their visit earlier this year. They give around 25 to 30 performances per year, this includes workshops, four concerts in hospitals, big projects as well as solo projects for individuals or small groups of players.

It took a while for the group to articulate it, but flexibility is not a by-product but is at the heart of the ensemble. It is also important for them that when just two players perform a programme, it is still the Riot Ensemble.

The Foyle Opera Rara Collection

Daniela Barcellona & Albina Shagimuratova rehearsing at Opera Rara's studio (photo Russell Duncan)
Daniela Barcellona & Albina Shagimuratova rehearsing
at Opera Rara's studio (photo Russell Duncan)
If you have ever been lucky enough to go to an event at Opera Rara's studio, one of the things strikes you is the huge array of books and scores. Originally collected by Patric Schmid and Don White who founded Opera Rara fifty years ago, the collection comprises a significant collection of first and early editions of 19th-century Italian opera. The collection has been found a new home and a long term future, thanks to a grant from The Foyle Foundation. The library is being transferred to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, where it will be known as The Foyle Opera Rara Collection.

The transfer is thanks to one of The Foyle Foundation's biggest ever grants in Wales, and the money will help Opera Rara invest in its five-year plan to continue bringing neglected operas back to life [see my recent interview with Opera Rara's chief executive Henry Little].

Coming up is Puccini's Les Willis (in its original one-act version) which is being given in concert at the Royal Festival Hall tonight (21 November 2018) with Sir Mark Elder conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ermonela Jaho, Arsen Soghomonyan, and Brian Mulligan. Next year, the company is recording Donizetti's Il Paria and will be giving a concert performance at the Barbican on 8 June with the Britten Sinfonia conducted by Sir Mark Elder and starring Albina Shagimuratova, Celso Albelo and Davide Luciano. Also in 2019, the company's recording of Donizetti's L'Ange de Nisida will be released [see my review of the company's recent performance of the opera]

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

The European Chamber Music Master Programme

ECMaster partner institutions
Seven top European conservatoires and music colleges are joining together to create a Europe wide master programme in chamber music. The European Chamber Music Master Programme (ECMAster) launches next Autumn (2019) and will provide a two year programme for chamber music ensembles. There is nothing quite like the programme at the moment, Professor Linda Merrick (Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM), one of the partners) comments that 'It is very much like a finishing school for ensembles, helping some of Europe’s top young chamber musicians make the final transition into the music profession'.  

Partcipants will spend two years, split between their home institution and two of the other partner institutions, thus giving the course a really international outlook. Students will thus be able to experience the expertise, culture and tradition of three separate institutions, and gain valuable access to a wider European network.The course is intended for established ensembles, with a standard instrument combination.

The partner institudions are the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester (RNCM), the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW), the Paris Conservatoire of Music and Dance (CNSMDP), the Fiesole School of Music in Italy (SMF), the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague (KC), the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre (LMTA), and the Norwegian Academy of Music (NMH) in Oslo. The course is is an extension of the European Chamber Music Academy (ECMA), a collaboration between European music universities, conservatoires and festivals in the field of chamber music. Since its establishment in 2004, ECMA has been providing regular chamber music sessions, workshops and concert performances across Europe.

Full details from the course website.

Dystopian Dream

Nitin Sawhney - Dystopian Dream
Nitin Sawhney's album Dystopian Dream premiered in 2015, and now Sawhney along with Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez (Wang Ramirez) have devised an interpretation of Dystopian Dream which combines choreography, live music and animated projections into a full length evening event which debuts at Sadlers Wells on 27 November 2018. Performed by Wang Ramirez and singer Eva Stone, the production features costumes by Hussein Chalayan, lighting by Natasha Chivers, set by Shizuka Hariu and animated projections by Nick Hillel. Examining the themes of loss, continuity and isolation, the evening will merge Sawhner's score, performed live, with Wang Ramirez' extremely physical, hip hop-influenced choreography.

A Sadler's Wells associate artists since 2010, Nitin Sawhney's work in the theatre has included the scores for Complicité’s A Disappearing Number and Akram Khan’s zero degrees.

Full details from the Sadlers Wells website.

Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions

Christoph Prégardien, Cyprien Katsaris - Challenge Records
Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions; Christoph Prégardien, Cyprien Katsaris Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 November 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A beautifully imaginative disc which pairs each song with its own piano transcription, from Liszt's Schubert, to Clara Schumann's transcription of her husband, to Gerald Moore's Brahms

This disc combines the talents of two great performers in two different yet related art forms. Auf Flügeln des Gesanges: Romantic songs and piano transcriptions on Challenge Records sees tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Cyprien Katsaris performing a series of songs by Schubert, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Clara Schumann, Brahms, Wagner, Wolf,  Richard Strauss and Theodor Kirchner, alongside piano transcriptions of the song by Liszt, Leopold Godowsky, Clara Schumann, August Stradal, Burno Hinze-Reinhold, Walter Gieseking, Theodor Kirchner, Eduard Schutt and Gerald Moore.

The public song recital is a relatively recent phenomenon, and song was often a more domestic genre with public recitals tending to be mixed song and instrumental. It was Liszt's example which transferred song to the concert hall via the piano transcription. So whilst it might not seem an obvious course to us, transcribing a song for voice and piano for just piano, it was an established part of 19th century repertoire, and the melding of melody and accompaniment allowed for quite an element of discreet bravura in the piano.

Christoph Prégardien and Cyprien Katsaris have worked together before, on Schubert's Die Winterreise, but this programme gives both of them their solo spotlight. Throughout the disc I was very aware of Katsaris as very much a partner, his piano accompaniments take a strong character of their own, one which complements the singer and very much creates a discreet whole, even in the songs where the piano's role is relatively straight-forward.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Celebrating the Anglo Mexican Foundation

The Anglo Mexican Foundation logo
This year is the 75th anniversary of the Anglo Mexican Foundation and as part of the celebrations, Anglo Arts, the culture department of The Anglo Mexican Foundation, held an event at the residence of the Mexican ambassador on Friday 16 November 2018 to launch a new CD of contemporary Mexican music. 

Serenata Mexicana will be released officially in February 2019 on the Toccata Next label, a new label from Toccata Classics. The disc features music by two contemporary Mexican composers Alejandro Basulto and Arturo Marquez, performed by Morgan Szymanski (guitar), Gabriella Dall'Olio (harp), Jamie MacDougall (tenor) and the Shakespeare Sinfonia conducted by David Curtis, with two of the pieces being commissioned by Anglo Arts. 

We heard David Curtis and members of the Shakespeare Sinfonia performing the final section from Alejandro Basulto's Pequena Serenata Ranchera (from 2018). As Basulto's Jig Variations (from 2016) for guitar and orchestra required forces too large for the venue, Morgan Szymanski, the Shakespeare Sinfonia and David Curtis performed the slow movement 'Nocturne' from Alec Roth's Guitar Concerto which they toured to Mexico. Hearing an extract from Basulto's serenade certainly made me look forward to hearing the complete work on the disc, and Roth's concerto had an imaginative solution to balance problems inherent in guitar concertos by having the instrument in dialogue with the strings.

Samling Insititute for Young Artists

Samling Artist Jade Moffat with mezzo soprano Ann Murray DBE. Photo © Mark Pinder
Samling Artist Jade Moffat with
mezzo soprano Ann Murray DBE. Photo © Mark Pinder
Samling is a charity which, since its founding in 1996, has supported young professional singers and accompanists via its young artists scheme and the Samling Academy. But though the name Samling means ‘gathering’ or ‘collective’ in old Norse word, and bringing people together is very much something the charity does, the name does not give a very clear idea of exactly what the charity's role is. So the name is changing, and in future the charity will be known as the Samling Institute for Young Artists.

Samling is based in the North East and as well as giving individual singers support as Samling Artists, it runs the Samling Academy which aims to fill the gap in conservatoire provision (there is no conservatoire between Manchester and Glasgow), so the Academy provides training and performance opportunities for 30 young singers each year who are growing up or studying in the North East. Over 25% of Academy singers go on to study music at conservatoire.

There is a chance to catch up with Samling's work on 21 November 2018 when there is a showcase concert at the Wigmore Hall with Samling Artists past and present, including Elin Pritchard (soprano), Olivia Warburton (mezzo-soprano), Nicky Spence (tenor), James Newby (baritone), Christopher Glynn (piano), Jâms Coleman (piano) and Alex Jennings (actor).

Further details from the Wigmore Hall website.

The English Concert in Baroque concertos

The English Concert - Signum Classics
Dall'Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini, Telemann; The English Concert, Harry Bicket; Signum Classics  
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2018 
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Stylishly engaging performances of five contrasting baroque concertos with the English concert in celebratory mood

The English Concert is celebrating its 45th birthday and it is perhaps an indication of the way that interest in Baroque music has developed and widened that the ensemble's new disc on Signum Classics is a set of concertos that you may never have heard of, by Dall'Abaco, Porpora, Marcello, Tartini and Telemann.

The orchestras for which these works were written were amongt the elite in Europe and concertos such as the ones on this disc were designed not so much for star visitors as to show off the talents of the senior orchestral personnel.

And that is the aim of this disc, so we have five principals from the orchestra Nadja Zwiener and Tuomo Suni (violin), Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola), Joseph Crouch (violoncello) and Katharina Spreckelsen (oboe), with the English Concert directed by its artistic director, Harry Bicket in Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco's Concerto a piu instrumenti in D major Op.5 No.5, Nicolo Porpora's Cello Concerto in G major, Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor, Giuseppe Tartini's Violin Concerto in B minor D.125 and Georg Philipp Telemann's Viola Concerto in G major TWV 51.69.

When Verona born Evaristo Felice Dall'Abaco was taken on as a cellist in the court orchestra of Maximilian Emmanuel, Elector of Bavaira, he probably thought his career was made. But a few weeks after he joined, Max Emmanuel was on the losing side at the battle of Blenheim! Dall'Abaco eventual settled in the Low Countries though 10 years later he was able to return to Max Emmanuel's reconstituted court till his retirement.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

An atmospheric and intriguing journey into the life of Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler (c.1902)
Alma Mahler (c.1902)
Art Sung: Alma Mahler; Lorena Paz Nieto, Jon Stainsby, Elizabeth Mucha; London Song Festival at Hinde Street Methodist Church Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 14 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
The life and art of Alma Mahler evoked in words and music

How do you solve a problem like Alma?

You can’t. About all that we can agree on is that she was a beauty of fierce intelligence and with the charisma that invited adoration; “How beautiful she was, and how seductive she looked”. Apart from that, pretty much everything else that we think we know is tainted and it would take a better person than I to find the truth of it. "It is now plain that Alma did not just make chance mistakes and 'see things through her own eyes'. She also doctored the record". Everything was harnessed to her own self-esteem.

On Wednesday November 14 at Hinde Street Methodist Church, as part of the London Song Festival, her compelling story was told in a dramatized song recital, a combination of music, drama and artwork, that placed Alma and her conflicted relationship with Gustav Mahler in its musical and cultural context, performed by soprano Lorena Paz Nieto, baritone Jon Stainsby, pianist Elizabeth Mucha and actor Sandy Walsh.

Art Sung – Alma Mahler was an atmospheric and intriguing journey into the life of Alma Schindler devised by Elizabeth Mucha.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Widening the audience: I chat to Christopher Glynn about his Schubert in English project

Christopher Glynn and Roderick WIlliams recording Schubert's 'Winter Journey'
Christopher Glynn and Roderick WIlliams recording Schubert's 'Winter Journey'
Pianist and artistic director of the Ryedale Festival Christopher Glynn has commissioned new English translations from Jeremy Sams of Schubert's three great song cycles, and having performed the three at the Ryedale Festival and at the Wigmore Hall (Die schone Mullerin with Toby Spence, Winterreise with Roderick Williams [see their performance of 'Rest' on YouTube] and Schwanengesang with Sir John Tomlinson), each has been recorded and the discs are being issued by Signum Classics.

Christopher Glynn credit Joanna Bergin
Christopher Glynn
(Photo Joanna Bergin)
Lieder in English was once very common in the UK, in the first half of the 20th century British singers felt the need to communicate and generally performed lieder in English. But since the Second World War, with the advent of performances in German by singers such as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, singing lieder in German became the norm.

Christopher's project to perform and record Schubert in English arose partly because he came across a clip of the tenor Harry Plunket Greene (1865-1936), [Hubert Parry's son-in-law and the first baritone on Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius] singing Der Leierman (The Hurdy Gurdy Man) from Winterreise in English and was blown away. He wondered what it would be like to revive the tradition using a top notch translator. The project evolved from there, with the desire to use the English versions of the song cycles to reach a wider audience.

It is this desire to widen the audience which drives the project for Christopher. With classical music, only a subset of the audience goes to song recitals and language is very much an issue, with people not wishing to have to spend the recital with their nose in a translation.

Christopher admits that lieder in English translation is very much a 'Marmite' project, people either love it or hate it. He has received outraged letters, but also had letters from people who have loved being able to hear the music sung in English and have discovered Schubert's song cycle through the performances. In Doncaster, Christopher and Roderick Williams did a performance of Winter Journey and had a packed audience who loved the music, something which is unlikely to have happened if it had been in German.

Christopher understands that people will either like it or not, for some the combination of words and music is sacrosanct.

Britten's War Requiem at English National Opera

Britten:War Requiem - English National Opera - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Britten: War Requiem - English National Opera - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Britten War Requiem; Emma Bell, David Butt Philip, Roderick Williams, English National Opera, Martyn Brabbins, Daniel Kramer; London Coliseum Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Staging the unstageable, Daniel Kramer and ENO's striking version of Britten's large-scale concert work

Britten:War Requiem - David Butt Philip - English National Opera - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Britten: War Requiem - David Butt Philip - English National Opera
(Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
It might not seem obvious idea to stage Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, the large-scale hieratic nature of the forces Britten uses would seem to mitigate against a staging. But having staged a Bach passion, Handel's Messiah, Tippett's Child of our Time, English National Opera again took up the challenge on Friday 16 November 2018. Daniel Kramer directed a production which was designed by Wolfgang Tillmans with costumes by fashion designer Nasir Mazhar. Martyn Brabbins with soloists Emma Bell, David Butt Philip and Roderick Williams, plus the Finchley Children's Music Group. The choreography was by Ann Yee, the lighting by Charles Balfour and the dramaturg was Luc Joosten.

The hieratic nature of Britten's work was largely ignored in the staging, this was very much a theatre event. The children (not just a boys' chorus) were present on stage supplemented by child actors from the Sylvia Young Theatre School. Daniel Kramer created a series of dramatic situations, with the chorus interacting with the soloists in a way which does not happen musically, and there was less of a feeling of separation between the soprano soloist (Emma Bell) and the rest of the forces. The problem of the chorus (Britten wrote for a large amateur choir) was solved rather neatly by combining the members of the regular ENO chorus with the ENO Porgy and Bess Ensemble (the BAME chorus created for Porgy and Bess) to make a chorus of around 80 professional singers (which included such distinguished solo names as Sarah-Jane Lews, Ronald Samm and Njabulo Madlala). Both chamber orchestra and full orchestra were in the pit (with the percussion overflowing into the boxes).

Britten:War Requiem - Emma Bell, Olufemi Alaka - English National Opera - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Britten: War Requiem - Emma Bell, Olufemi Alaka
English National Opera - (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Kramer created a series of dramatic scenes, which seemed to dramatise moments from a variety of wars, responding to the particular forces that Britten was writing for in each section. At first, this seemed an interesting solution but gradually built into a sense of drama which added to the work. Perhaps my attitude took some time to settle because the opening seemed something of a mis-step. Whilst the static, barely lit chorus sang the muttered 'Requiem', two large screens had images from an anti-war tract projected up. The images and the accompanying texts pulled attention away from the music (as will always happen), the scene lasted too long and most importantly the images were horribly graphic, not just photos of early plastic surgery victims but semi-naked images of the dead (undignified and insensitive in this context).

Then the screens moved and we seemed to be in some sort of concentration camp. The overall dramaturgy and choreography was effective but seemed rather grafted onto the music. Dressed as a combatant, David Butt Philip's first entry was astonishing. Not so much for the visuals, as for the way he brought such pain and concentrated intensity to his performance, such fine focus to his musical line and he created a strong character. Similarly, Roderick Williams brought a feeling of passionate identification with the material and a sense of confiding, even though across the wide open space of the London Coliseum. Whilst Butt Philip and Williams were clearly the embodiment of combatants in war, Emma Bell's role seemed less clear and she was something like a mourning angel, the embodiment of the sense of female loss and anger. The two final solos in the 'Dies Irae' sequence, Williams' 'Be slowly lifted up' and Butt Phlips' 'Move him into the sun' started to make a really strong musico-dramatic connection, the two singers making us care about these characters.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Even when he is Silent

CHamber Choir of London - Even When He Is Silent
The Chamber Choir of London and Dominic Ellis-Peckham have another CD single out, this time Even When He Is Silent by the Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen.

The anthem was commissioned in 2011 by the St Olaf Festival (Olavsfestdagene) in Trondheim, Norway and the text was written by a prisoner in Cologne, Germany, during World War 2.

I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent.

It is available now, on iTunes and Amazon, do give it a listen.

Rare Tchaikovsky and Smyth: an earlier version of the piano concerto and Smyth's large-scale mass at the Barbican

Martyn Brabbins & the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Photo BBC)
Martyn Brabbins & the BBC Symphony Orchestra (Photo BBC)
Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 (first revised version, 1879), Ethel Smyth Mass in D; Pavel Kolesnikov, Lucy Crowe, Catriona Morison, Ben Johnson, Duncan Rock, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins; Barbican Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 15 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Smyth's large scale and rarely performed mass paired with a rare earlier version of the concerto by her contemporary Tchaikovsky

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's chief conductor Sakari Oramo planned to open the orchestra's 2018/19 season at the Barbican in style on 15 November 2018 with a concert which paired the 1879 version of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor (as opposed to the better known 1894 version) with Ethel Smyth's Mass in D. It was not to be as illness forced Oramo to withdraw, thankfully Martyn Brabbins stood in at the last moment and, amazingly, conducted the programme unchanged (despite Brabbins being also engaged with the new production of Britten's War Requiem which debuts at English National Opera tonight, 16 November 2018).

So at the Barbican last night (15 November 2018), Martyn Brabbins conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1879 version of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor with soloist Pavel Kolesnikov, and Ethel Smyth's Mass in D with soloists Lucy Crowe, Catriona Morison, Ben Johnson and Duncan Rock, and the BBC Symphony Chorus, chorus master Neil Ferris. The BBC Symphony Chorus is currently celebrating its 90th birthday and Smyth's mass, with its huge chorus part, was a very apt way to begin the season.

Pavel Kolesnikov (Photo ©Eva Vermandel)
Pavel Kolesnikov (Photo ©Eva Vermandel)
Tchaikovsky wrote his first piano concerto in 1874-75, and when he played it to Nikolai Rubinstein, Rubinstein was famously rude about the piano writing. Tchaikovsky's piano playing was only adequate, he was not a piano virtuoso, and it is clear that the solo piano part was adjusted at various times. Tchaikovsky published the original version in 1875, and then a revised version in 1879. The well-known version of the concerto is based on the version published in 1894, after Tchaikovsky's death, and during Tchaikovsky's lifetime, it was the 1879 version which the composer performed. The 1894 revisions seem to have been the work of his pupil Alexander Siloti, and they are changes which moved the concerto closer to the big, bold combative model.

From the opening, the different between 1879 and 1894 was apparent as Pavel Kolesnikov rolled the opening piano chords in a very Schumanesque manner, rather than the familiar big, bold approach, though I felt that the orchestral contribution felt a bit matter of fact. But things gradually took off as the solo part became more bravura and the orchestral contributions followed suit. The changes, though, go beyond a few rolled piano chords and the way the piano kept holding things up for poetic meditations felt new. This was very much a sense of seeing the familiar work through a different lens, partly because of Kolesnikov's desire to give a non-hackneyed account of the solo part. His playing had a classical restraint, with moments of pure poetry yet the staggering bravura was there too. The slow movement opened with the lovely combination of pellucid flute and lilting piano, textures were transparent and rather spacious, with a wonderful skittishness in the faster sections. The finale (which includes significant passage, not in the later version), was all impulsive excitement, with crisp rhythms and dazzling fingerwork, and Brabbins and Kolesnikov really whipped up the excitement at the end.

This was a performance in which Kolesnikov really invested in the idea of re-inventing Tchaikovsky's concerto, making it more poetic and more quirkily idiomatic and less the standard piano virtuoso barn-stormer, and I think the work is rather better for it. Kolesnikov gave us an encore afterwards, and then in the second half slipped discreetly into the audience with friends to listen to the Smyth mass.

Endgame: György Kurtág's first opera premieres at La Scala

György Kurtág & Samuel Beckett: Fin de partie - La Scala, Milan (Photo Walz Ruth)
György Kurtág & Samuel Beckett: Fin de partie - La Scala, Milan (Photo Walz Ruth)
György Kurtág is now in his 90s, but not only is there no sense of his slowing down but his first opera has just debuted at La Scala, Milan. A co-production between La Scala and Dutch National Opera, directed by Pierre Audi and conducted by Markus Stenz, Fin de partie sets a text by Samuel Beckett, with a cast which includes Frode Olsen, Leigh Melrose, Hilary Summers and Leonardo Cortellazzi. The production runs at La Scala until 25 November 2018 (see website) and is performed in Amsterdam in March 2019 (see website).

As Pierre Audi's article of La Scala's website [PDF] demonstrates, Kurtág has been flirting with opera since the 1980s but constantly shying away from the idea, yet the result has finally come to fruition with a setting of Samuel Beckett, a very apt conjoining of artistic geniuses. Beckett was generally set against the idea of words from his plays being turned into opera, and Kurtág has taken the risk of setting Fin de partie complete and unedited. The result inevitably changes the rhythm of Beckett's spoken text, yet must be regarded as a most exciting operatic premiere.

Samuel Beckett originally wrote Fin de partie in French, subsequently translating it himself into English as Endgame. It was premiered at the Royal Court, in French, in 1957.

Elgar, Finzi, Parry, Walton from a different angle: arrangements for brass septet

Music for Brass Septet 6 - Septura - NAxos
Music for Brass Septet - Finzi, Elgar, Parry, Walton; Septura; Naxos Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Septura's new transcriptions reveal a subtly lyrical and autumnal side to this talented brass ensemble

I have to confess that when I first came across this new disc from the brass ensemble Septura on Naxos, I was both intrigued and dubious. It is a disc of music by Gerald Finzi, Edward Elgar, Hubert Parry and William Walton heard in new ways, with arrangements of pre-existing music. So was have Elgar's Serenade, four of Parry's Songs of Farewell, a motet and two string orchestra pieces by Finzi and Walton's late Sonata for String Orchestra.

In fact the results work very well and, as with the best transcriptions, the music is successfully re-invented in the new form. It is a credit to arrangers (Simon Cox and Matthew Knight) and performers that this actually sounds like brass music of the period, preserving something of the original too.

So Finzi's motet God is gone up is successfully re-invented as a striking prelude, convincingly in period and taking up a process regularly used by Renaissance brass players [see my review of the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble's recent disc] whereby motets were re-used as purely instrumental pieces. With Elgar's Serenade the lyricism and autumnal tones of the brass playing really counts for a lot in this music, bringing out the elegiac tone that is implicit in much of Elgar's music. If you know the serenade well, then some of the detail seems a bit heavier when moved onto the brass but the end results are lovely, with a subtly impulsive opening movement, a lovely line and warm tones in the intimate slow movement and a surprisingly gentle final movement.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

REMA Early Music Awards at St John's Smith Square

European Union Baroque Orchestra
European Union Baroque Orchestra
The wonderful European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) has a concert at St. John's Smith Square on 30 November 2018, Constellatio Felix: Sun, Stars and Planets, under its artistic director Lars Ulrik Mortensen, and as well as performing Lully, Zelenka, Handel, Muffat, Pisendel, Telemann and Rameau EUBO will be receiving as well as it is being presented with REMA Early Music Award, whilst Sigiswald Kuijken will receive the REMA Early Music Artist Award. 

The awards are presented by REMA/EEMN (the European Early Music Network), a Europe-wide network of organisations which programme Early Music concert (and St John's Smith Square is one of REMA's 85 members). Now celebrating their fourth year, the REMA Early Music Awards are presented annually and were established to recognise exceptional contributions made by artists, institutions and projects for the promotion of early music.

The EUBO, founded in 1985, enables young musicians from all over Europe who have recently completed their studies to acquire their first experience in a professional orchestra under the direction of eminent Baroque specialists. It used to be based in the UK, but with the changes in Britain's relationship to the EU, EUBO has moved its organisation out of the UK.

Highgate International Chamber Music Festival

Highgate International Chamber Music Festival
The Highgate International Chamber Music Festival opens this weekend, with a week of  chamber music from artists such as Alexander Sikovetsky, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Bartholomew LaFollette, Julian Bliss, Alina Ibragimova, Cedric Tiberghian and Simon Callaghan, with many artists performing at a number of concerts throughout the fetdival. Concerts takr place at St Anne's Church and St Michael's Church, Highgate and the festival opens on 17 November with a family concert from cellist and singer Matthew Sharp, Tommy Foggo - Superhero.

One nice feature of this year's festival is a series of late night concerts, at 10pm, Sonatas by Candlelight which features sonatas by Cesar Franck, Claude Debussy, Arnold Bax, Sergei Prokofiev, and Robert Schumann, there are also a pair of early evening concerts given by young ensembles from the festival's mentorship scheme, as well as the chance to hear the In Harmony Lambeth Cello Ensemble.

Full details from the festival website.

Love & Prayer: Nadine Benjamin's solo recital debut album

Nadine Benjamin - Love and Prayer
Love and Prayer Puccini, Bellini, Verdi, Mozart, Schubert; Nadine Benjamin, NB Opera Ensemble, Kamal Khan Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Nadine Benjamin's solo album debut, the first such from a Black British soprano and a milestone in many ways

The first solo album for any singer is important, but if you are an opera singer then it helps to show what roles are in your sights. Love and Prayer is the debut solo album from the lyric soprano Nadine Benjamin. A singer who is having something of a moment, she debuted as Clara in Gerswhin's Porgy and Bess last month [see Ruth's review] at English National Opera, where she plays Musetta in the revival of Jonathan Miller's production of Puccini's La Boheme later this month. She will be singing the title role in Puccini's Tosca on Friday 18 January St James's Church, Piccadilly. Love and Prayer will go on sale at the ENO shop from Saturday 17 November and she will be signing copies after the matinee performance of Porgy and Bess that day.

Recorded at Studio Two at Abbey Road Studios with Kamal Khan conducting the NB Opera Ensemble, it is the first such album recorded by a British Black soprano. The repertoire on the disc focuses on Italian opera, with Verdi at the core, with arias from Tosca, Norma, Il trovatore, La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, Aida, Otello, La boheme and Le nozze di Figaro, plus Schubert's Ave Maria.

The opera arias are accompanied by reduced orchestrations for 14 piece ensemble (with Kamal Khan accompanying Nadine Benjamin on the piano for the Schubert). This gives the disc quite an intimate feel, whilst giving us something more than arias with piano accompaniment. We must live in the real world, and not every singer can or wants to have to raise the cash to cover a full scale symphony orchestra and better a small ensemble well rehearsed, as this one, than a badly put together symphonic one.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Chiara Skerath, Gwilym Bowen and Ida Ränzlöv are the new Associate Artists of Classical Opera and The Mozartists

Chiara Skerath, Gwilym Bowen and Ida Ränzlöv are the new Associate Artists of Classical Opera and The Mozartists
Chiara Skerath, Gwilym Bowen and Ida Ränzlöv are the new Associate Artists of Classical Opera and The Mozartists
Swiss-Belgian soprano Chiara Skerath, British tenor Gwilym Bowen and Swedish mezzo-soprano Ida Ränzlöv [who we caught in the title role in Handel's Faramondo with the Royal College of Music last year] have been announced as the new Associate Artists of Classical Opera and The Mozartists, artistic director Ian Page, and all three will be joining the company during 2019 for its explorations of 1769 as part of the Mozart 250 project. 

Chiara Skerath, who made her UK début with Ian Page and The Mozartists at Wigmore Hall in January 2018 [see my review], is joining them again for their annual Mozart 250 retrospective 1769: A Year in Music at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 29 January 2019. The three new Associate Artists will all feature in the UK première of Hasse’s Piramo e Tisbe at Cadogan Hall (28 March 2019).

Gwilym Bowen later joins Ian Page and the ensemble for two eagerly awaited performances of the UK première of Gluck's rarely performed 1769 version Orfeo ed Euridice, which gives the role of Orfeo to a soprano (originally a castrato), plus GLuck's Bauci e Filemone and at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (29 & 31 May 2019).

Full details from The Mozartists website.

Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage

Sophia Baddeley, Robert Baddeley, Thomas King by Johan Zoffany in The Clandestine Marriage in 1769.
Sophia Baddeley, Robert Baddeley, Thomas King by Johan Zoffany
in The Clandestine Marriage in 1769.
The Neapolitan composer Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) probably wrote around 80 operas which were popular across Europe. As well as his native Naples, he worked all over Italy as well as at the court of Catherine the Great in St Petersburg and at the court of Emperor Leopold II (for whose coronation Mozart wrote La clemenza di Tito) in Vienna. His comic opera Il matrimonio segreto (written in Vienna in 1792) was regarded as an exemplar of the opera buffa style and admired by later composers such as Verdi. It was based on an English play, The Clandestine Marriage by George Colman the Elder and David Garrick which premiered in 1766 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (there is a Zoffany picture of a 1769 performance, see above).

Hampstead Garden Opera (HGO) is giving us a chance to re-visit the sparkling wit of this comedy [I have very happy memories of British Youth Opera's staging in 2013, see my review]. HGO's staging is directed by Sinéad O’Neill and conducted by Chris Hopkins at Jacksons Lane Theatre, 269A Archway Rd, London N6, and opens on 16 November 2018, double cast with a talented team of young singers.

Further information from the Hampstead Garden Opera website.

A sense of subtext: Joe Cutler's Elsewhereness on NMC

Joe Cutler - Elsewhereness - NMC
Elsewhereness - Joe Cutler; NMC Records Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 12 November 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A mixed programme for varying ensembles, yet full of Cutler's combination of wit, character and intelligence

The music of Joe Cutler has such a vivid theatricality to it that, listening blind to this new disc Elsewhereness in the NMC label,  you feel that every item has a dramatic subtext and a theatrical setting no matter what the musical forces.

This disc contains six pieces for wildly varied groups of performers, Elsewhereness, McNulty, For Frederic Lagnau, Akhmatova Fragments, Sikorski B and Karembeu's Guide to the Complete Defensive Midfielder. The performers are varied, including full orchestra: the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla (chief conductor of the CBSO), highlighting Cutler's Birmingham connections (he is head of composition at the conservatoire), piano trio: the Fidelio Trio, mixed trio: Noszferatu (Finn Peters - saxophone, Dave Price - percussion, Ivo de Greef -piano) and three different mixed ensembles, Workers Union Ensemble, soprano Sarah Leonard with Project Instrumental and Daniele Rosina (conductor), and Emulsion Sinfonietta.

The disc opens with an occasional piece, Elsewhereness written for the move to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's new home and performed by the conservatoire's orchestra conducted by Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, as such the piece explores the idea of moving elsewhere, dismantling and re-assembling. Yet the pice is full of fascinating textures and rhythms, is engaging and characterful and certainly sounds fun to play.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Otherwordly concerns: Marlis Petersen's Anderswelt

Dimensionen: Anderswelt - Marlis Petersen - Solo Musica
Anderswelt; Marlis Petersen, Camillo Radicke; Solo Musica Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 October 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Late Romantic lieder through the lens of the otherworldly

This is the second of a CD trilogy from soprano Marlis Petersen, Dimensionen (Dimensions), the first being Welt (World), the last being Innenwelt (Inner world) and so this CD is Anderswelt (Otherworld) on the Solo Musica label where Petersen is accompanied by pianist Camillo Radicke.

It is a journey through later Romantic lieder, mainly Austro-German composers with a group of Nordic ones. But it is certainly not a trawl through the standard repertoire. I understand that this is very much a personal project for Petersen, and the selection of songs has a quirkiness and a depth which makes it stand out. So whilst there is Brahms, Wolf, Zemlinsky, Reger, Schreker, Nielsen and Grieg here, there is also Hans Pfitzner, Hans Sommer, Hermann Reutter, Carl Loewe, Christian Sinding, Harald Genzmer, Bruno Walter, Nikolai Medtner, Julius Weismann, Wilhelm Stenhammer, Yrjo Henrik Kilpinen, Sigvaldi Kaldalons, Friedrich Gulda, and Herman Zumpe. Another interesting thing about the selection of composers is that a number of the lesser known ones are from the 20th century, representatives of a late-Romantic strand in 20th century music which is often over-looked as we concentrate on the major Expressionist and Modernist movements.

We start with Hans Pfitzner's rather romantic Lockung as a sort of prelude. Then we move into the first sections Nixen und Nock (Nixies and Water Nymphs) with songs by Hans Sommer (director of the first German Technical College, praised by Richard Strauss) composer of the opera Die Lorelei from which is taken the song Lore im Nachen (Lore in the boat) which perhaps does have hints of early Strauss, Edvard Grieg (in German), Hermann Reutter (1900-1985), Carl Loewe, Christian Sinding (in German) and Harald Genzner (1909-2007). The highlight of this group has to be a rare outing of Loewe's ballad Der Nock (the water sprite), lyrical yet full of characterful drama. A nice change from Tom der Rhymer.

Late genius and two sextets: Strauss, Haydn and Brahms at Conway Hall

Oculi Ensemble
R.Strauss, Haydn, Brahms; Oculi Ensemble; Conway Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 November 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Two late masterpieces and two sextets from this new ensemble

On Sunday 11 November 2018, I was giving the pre-concert talk at Conway Hall, in advance of the programme by the Oculi Ensemble, Haydn's Quartet in F Op. 77 No.2, Richard Strauss' String Sextet from Capriccio, and Johannes Brahms String Sextet in G op. 36 No.2, a programme which combined not only two sextets, but two composers' late works. The planned inclusion of Richard Strauss' early Quartetsatz in E flat did not happen as the music was not available in time, but the ensemble is planning to record Strauss' string chamber music including this and a number of early rarities.

The Oculi Ensemble is a newish group, a flexible ensemble based around the well established Badke Quartet. On Sunday we heard Charlotte Scott and Emma Parker violins, Jon Thorne and Simon Tandree violas and Nathaniel Boyd and Pau Codina cellos.

We started with the Richard Strauss sextet which comes from Capriccio, his last opera premiered when the composer was 78.

The orchestra that talks back!

OAE logo
Whilst everyone in the arts talks about the problems with the present concert format, in fact there has been very little change. True, there are a whole variety of performance strands which take music out of concert halls, giving the format something of a shake up, though too often this can feel like little more than putting the audience on bean bags and playing them the same music but with distracting background noise.

But if you go to a standard concert hall, then the chances are that you will hear a standard concert. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), though, have designs on this and at a recent pair of concerts introduced changes with a view to making the standard concert format more friendly.

So OAE performers and conductors will be coming to the front of the stage to give informal introductions to the music being played. At Saturday and Sunday's concerts (at the Anvil, Basingstoke on 10/11 and the Royal Festival Hall on 11/11) it was conductor Marin Alsop who introduced the music, Brahms' A German Requiem [you can here the concert on the BBC Sounds website].

The OAE already has its casual strand, The Night Shift (next one on 27 November at Camden Assembly) which takes place non-traditional venues, and they have also introduced Bach, the Universe and Everything on Sunday mornings at Kings Place where a Bach cantata is combined with a science lecture in an informal setting (next one Sunday 25 November)

But this new move is an attempt to bring some of that casual element and informality into the concert hall by way of having a sort of spoken programme notes (I know from personal experience that audience enjoy this type of thing, having given spoken introductions to choral concerts that I participate in). The other big advantage of this is that it makes the conductors and players seem a bit more human.

Of course, it is not a new idea, but it is an interesting development to introduce it across a whole range of concerts.

Full details from the OAE's website.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Releasing The Prison: a project to record Ethel Smyth's last major work

Henry Brewster from the frontispiece of Ethel Smyth's 1930 edition of his 'The Prison: A diagloue'
Henry Brewster from the frontispiece of Ethel Smyth's
1930 edition of his The Prison: A dialogue
Dame Ethel Smyth is quite in the news at the moment thanks to the fact that she was both a composer and a Sufragette. Her music has been cropping up this year, and in the UK we have the chance to hear her mass and her opera The Wreckers, as well as a crop of recordings. Thoughts of Smyth's mass, her first major piece, let me to thinking about her final work for chorus and orchestra, The Prison.

The Prison is a large scale piece for soloists, choir and orchestra setting words by Henry Brewster (H.B.), the American philosopher and poet with whom Smyth had an intense and passionate relationship, both personal and professional. He wrote the libretto to Smyth's opera The Wreckers and she remained devoted to his memory, so that The Prison (written in 1929/30) is one of her last pieces and must have come at a time when deafness was troubling her. She uses one of Brewster's philosophical works as the basis for the text, which she created herself. The text describes the writing of a man in a solitary cell and his reflections on his past life and his preparations for death. But the text is poetic and reflective, with layers of meaning and metaphor. Thus the “prison” is both an actual jail, and a philosophical representation of the “shackles of self,”

Smyth published Brewster's original philsophical work The Prison  - A Dialogue in 1930 and the book includes a memoir of Brewster (who died in 1908) by Smyth which is still the major source of biographical information about the poet/philsopher.

Despite the vocal score of The Prison being published by the Carnegie Trust, it is a much neglected work and thankfully is starting to have its day. It received its USA premiere earlier this year, with performances conducted by James Blachly and by Mark Shapiro.

Now there is a Kickstarter project to enable James Blachly the Clarion Choir and the Experiential Orchestra to record the work with soloists Sarah Brailey and Dashon Burton. I wish the project every success and do hope that we soon get to hear The Prison in a recording worthy of it.

Full details from the Kickstarter page.

Tchaikovsky: Notes & Letters

Tchaikovsky: Notes & Letters
Three of the City Music Foundation's (CMF) patrons, actor Simon Callow, soprano Joan Rodgers, and pianist Roger Vignoles, are presenting Tchaikovsky: Notes & Letters on 16 November 2018 at Guildhall Art Gallery, an evening of music and words including extracts from Tchaikovsky's letters, his Souvenir de Florence performed by an ensemble of City Music Foundation Artists and songs from Helen Charlston (2018 CMF Artist) and Roger Vignoles.

Souvenir de Florence will be performed by an ensemble of CMF Artists: violinists Emily Sun (2018 CMF Artist) and Christopher Jones (Gildas Quartet, 2015 CMF Artist), violists Kay Stephen (Gildas Quartet, 2015 CMF Artist) and Lucy Nolan (Eblana String Trio, 2017 CMF Artist), and cellists Ariana Kashefi (2018 CMF Artist) and Peggy Nolan (Eblana String Trio, 2017 CMF Artist)

The money raised from the event will support the work of City Music Foundation, whose mission is to turn exceptional musical talent into professional success by equipping outstanding musicians with the tools, skills, experience, and networks they need to build and sustain rewarding and profitable careers.

Full details from the City Music Foundation website.

Iconic but flawed: La Bayadère the Royal Ballet

Artists of The Royal Ballet in La Bayadère © 2018 ROH. Photographed by Bill Cooper
La Bayadère: Kingdom of the Shades scene Artists of The Royal Ballet © 2018 ROH. Photographed by Bill Cooper
Petipa/Makarova/Minkus/Lanchbery La Bayadère; Royal Ballet Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 November 2018
Revival of Petipa's Orientalist fantasy with its iconic 'Kingdom of the Shades' scene

Ballet is a curious art-form, with few other genres would we accept as standard that what we see is the work of a number of different hands, based on the choreographer's original (just think how art historians obsess over whether a painting is by an artist, attributed or studio, though the process is accept to a limited extent in music, just think Cherubini's Medea). The fact is that until the invention of accurate choreographic notation, productions relied on memory and it was accepted that new generations would change and improve.

These thoughts occurred to me as we watched the recent revival of the 19th century Russian ballet La Bayadère by the Royal Ballet (seen 9 November 2018) at the Royal Opera House. The production is billed as conceived and directed by Natalia Makarova, with choreography by Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa, with music by Ludwig Minkus orchestrated by John Lanchbery, though the work's actual heritage is even more complicated than that. We saw Sarah Lamb as the heroine, the temple dance of the title, Nikiya with Ryoichi Hirano as the hero Solor, Claire Calvert as Gamzatti, Thomas Whitehead as the High Brahmin, Bennet Gartside as the Rajah and Tristan Dyer as the head fakir. conducted by Boris Gruzin, who joined the Mariinsky Theatre in 1992 so presumably has this ballet in his blood.

Petipa first mounted La Bayadère in 1877 and the final production that he supervised was in 1900, which was notated in the Stepanov notation (a 19th century choreographic notation system which, if imperfect, allows us access to some of the choreographer's original thoughts). But all modern productions of the ballet derive from the Kirov Ballet's 1941 staging which severely trimmed the balled and reduced it to three acts from four, re-purposing Petipa's Grand pas d'action from the last act (of which he was very proud) to earlier on in the ballet. And even before 1941, details were changed by great dancers associated with the roles, and some of these changes became accepted as writ, a part of the standard ballet.

Natalia Makarova danced in the Kirov version as a young dancer, and so based her version on it. Similarly Rudolf Nureyev mounted a version of La Bayadère for the Paris Opera in 1991, and his has similar origins.

So why bother with the ballet at all?

Well, La Bayadère contains one of the great ballet scenes of 19th century Russian ballet, the 'Kingdom of the Shades' scene, a scene so influential that it was often given alone, and before the Royal Ballet took Natalia Makarova's production in 1989 it played Nureyev's version of the 'Kingdom of the Shades' scene as a stand alone ballet (first mounted  in 1963 and last given in 1985 when I saw it).

Marius Petipa's final revival of La Bayadère, with the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre shown in the scene The Kingdom of the Shades. In the center is Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Nikiya, Pavel Gerdt as Solor and the Corps de ballet.
Marius Petipa's final revival of La Bayadère, with the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre shown in the scene The Kingdom of the Shades. In the center is Mathilde Kschessinskaya as Nikiya, Pavel Gerdt as Solor and the Corps de ballet.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England

St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton
St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton
Tavener, Tallis, Byrd; BREMF Consort of Voices, Deborah Roberts; Brighton Early Music Festival at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 10 November 2018
A hugel ambitious programme full of striking polyphony taking England from pre-Reformation Catholicism and post-Reformation Anglicanism

This year's Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) has Europe as its theme, 700 years of music from 17 European countries. Deborah Roberts and the BREMF Consort of Voices brought out the striking parallels between the English Reformation and BREXIT in their concert Reformation Remainers: Musicians, zealots and loyalists in Tudor England at St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton on Saturday 10 November 2018.

Deborah Roberts' lucid and informative programme note summarized the musical and political events which took Britain from King Henry VIII's Roman Catholic kingdom to Queen Elizabeth I's non-aligned Protestant kingdom, whilst bringing the striking parallels to the present BREXIT process. The programme, started with English church music in pre-Reformation England under King Henry VIII, with Sarum chant, John Tavener's O Wilhelme pastor bone, Leroy Kyrie, the 'Sanctus' from Missa Corona Spinea, and Quemadmodum, and Thomas Tallis' early Salve intemerata virgo. For the second half, we had music after the break with Rome. Musical austerity, but a Catholice writes beautiful music for the new Anglican rite gave us three of Tallis' psalms from Archbishop Parker's Psalter and the anthem Verily I say unto you. Catholic remainers: coded messages in music gave us music written by Britains two major Catholic composers who remained in England and whose music discreetly referenced the sufferings of proscribed Catholics by analogy with the Israelites, with Tallis' The Lamentations of Jeremiah, Parts I & II, and When shall my sorowful sighing slack,  and William Byrd's Vigilate and Ne irascaris Domine. And finally Affirming what is universal: The Trinity with Byrd's Tribue Domine.

The BREMF Consort of Voices is a non-professional group made up of amateurs and students, here fielding 26 singers in a hugely ambitious programme which included two very substantial motets (Tallis' Salve intemerata virgo lasts around 15 minutes and Byrd's Tribue Domine is not that far behind), not to mention Tavener's challenging polyphony. And the end result was a huge achievement, not withstanding the fact that the programme felt slightly too long. What came over was a real sense of achievement, when the singers relaxed into the music and gave us some superbly crafted polyphony. This did not have the polished perfection of a group like the Tallis Scholars, perhaps it was more fallible but it was more personal and wonderfully characterful, and by using a larger group of non-professional voices Deborah Roberts drew some very different sound qualities into the music. Though there were the inevitable wobbles, the overall sound was quite soft grained with, at its best, an admirable flexibility.

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