Friday 13 May 2005

Samson again

Well, I've just found a rather useful article by Donald Burrows on the findarticles web site, originally published in the Musical Times Spring 2005 issue. It makes it perfectly clear why we needed a new edition, the existing Novello ones were based on corrupt/cut Victorian editions. He is also highly illuminating about the various versions of the score from Handel's long first one to the more compact one which surface later on in the work's life. What, of course, I don't know is what we heard at St. George's, but given that we had over 3 hours of music, I think its fairly safe to assume he had a pretty long version of the oratorio.


St. George's Church, Hanover Square might date from Handel's time, and have been his parish church, but it is an unconscionably difficult place in which to hold a concert. We went to the performance of Samson given by the London Handel Festival on Wednesday. Our seats were in the front row of the balcony and so we had a decent view of the performers, albeit from side on. But I was struck by how few seats would have had a really good view of the performers. And even they were constrained. The choir (some 20 of them) sat in the choir stalls facing each other (not the conductor) and had to turn rather awkwardly to perform in columns (sight lines for the rear most must have been tricky). The orchestra filled the space in front of the chancel leaving almost no room for the soloists. Lawrence Cummings' imaginative solution was to have them move around, utilising various spaces including the pulpit.

The performance itself was superb. Fine, flexible playing from the London Handel Orchestra was marred only by some rather under par horn solos (but then the horn player is having to cope with something which is little more than a length of tubing). The choir was on brilliant form and, when called upon, made a rich noise which belied its chamber size; some of the best moments in the evening were Handel's grand choruses for the Israelites and the brilliant double chorus where both Israelites and Philistines call upon their respective Gods.

The soloists were generally of high calibre too. Most impressive was Catherine Wyne-Rogers, who sang Manoa. Resplendent in a rich, red velvet evening cloak, she managed to make the part into a real character rather than simply appearing as a foil for Samson, as can too often happen. Even though it was a concert performance, you felt her creating a real character. Of course, it helped that she turned in some of the finest solo singing of the evening

As Samson's wife Dalila, Claire Ormshaw was wonderfully wheedling and sexy, completely unphased by her delayed entry into the concert because she was accidentally locked into her dressing room in Sotheby's (I kid you not). Her aria 'With plaintive notes' was a model of how to be sexual without overdoing things.

Both basses managed to make strong characters of their parts. Njal Sparbo was a dignified model as Samson's father Manoa, managing gravitas whilst looking rather young. Whilst Andrew Slater imbued Harapha with a wonderfully bumptious agressiveness whilst never letting the technical aspects of singing Handel slip; I just wished his part had been longer

Angharad Gruffydd Jones, who won the Festival's singing competition in 2004, sang the anonymous Israelite and Philistine women, which meant of course that she got to sing the work's hit number, 'Let the bright seraphim'; which she did beautifully

The title role was taken by young operatic tenor Ashley Catling. His recent performances seem to have been mainly in as an Italian lyric operatic tenor and I suspect that in repertoire he may be a figure to watch. In Handel, he seemed less at home. In the livlier, more outgoing arias, such as 'Why does the God of Israel sleep' he managed to generate excitement. But he seemed to be a little too wedded to his music and in the more important slower numbers, he failed to completely rise to the heroic vein needed. 'Total Eclipse' was a disappointment and it was only towards the very end that he made a really strong impression. This was a shame as with a stronger title role this could have been a completely overwhelming performance.

It was given wonderfully uncut in a new edition from Novello, though the programme notes did not explain whether there were any significant divergences from the previous edition.

It was a long evening and, with only 1 interval, there was some inevitable coming and going between Acts 2 and 3. It was quite a long sit, but it was well worth it

Wednesday 11 May 2005

Catching up....

It has been quite a busy few days. Printer problems last week mean that I am now in the market for a new laser printer, ours is proving too unreliable. At the end of last week I even had to pay to have some music copied and bound - shock horror! I think that producing the music for the July concert. was too much for it.

On Saturday I added a buy tickets on-line button to the Cranmer concert, something we've been able to do for ages, thanks to the Spherical Editions site, but its the first time we've actually go around to doing it.

Spherical Editions is finally expanding its stable of composers. On Saturday the web page for Brazilian composer Ricardo Frantz went up. His Urania Suite will be available from the beginning of June, its a rather fun piece for Guitar, Piano and Clarinet which manages to mix classical and Brazilian popular influences. Ricardo is also an artist and he even produced the art work for the cover of the piece.

At the weekend we went up to Newmarket to visit relatives and on the way home we caught the final performance of Handel's Tamerlano given by Cambridge Handel Opera Society. My full review appears on Music & Vision. The opera was performed in West Road Concert Hall which has a smallish auditorum which perfectly suits the scale of Handelian opera seria. Unfortunately the stage is similarly proportioned so it has very little depth and does not offer too much scope to the designer. Unlike Handel's Kings Theatre where the stage was as deep as the auditorium, thus allowing for some spectacular stage effects. Still the Cambridge team managed one or two coups de theatre. The performance was uncut and used the version Handel performed on the first night of the opera, which was extremely welcome as Tamerlano is one of those operas which attract tinkering from directors and conductors. But this meant that it was a serious undertaking. 6.30pm to 10.20pm with a single 20 minute interval. Judging by the shuffling and comings and goings between Acts 2 and 3 (where there was no interval), many people felt as I did, that we needed a second, brief interval (if only to go to the loo).

Monday night London Concord Singers did the first run through of my new motet Respice Domine, the latest instalment from Tempus per Annum. The text is that prescribed for the introit on the day we are singing in Strasbourg, but the motet will be premiered at our London concert on July 14th. The run through went well (I'm always nervous at first run throughs) and the piece seems to have a rather attractive, dark caramel texture.

Then last night the FifteenB consort did a repeat of part of their A TRE programme at the London Festival of Contemporary Church Music at St. Pancras Parish Church. We sang Byrd motets, plainchant and my Missa Simplex. We were 1 short as the other alto could not manage the concert, so I was on my own which I found rather tiring especially as my throat has not really recovered from the cough and cold that seems to have come from nowhere. Still, things went well, we managed to get through Byrd's long 7-section Ave Maris Stella and the audience was appreciative. We were joined by a friend for the final item, my 5-part Salve Regina, which seemed to be the most popular item in the programme.

Now for a rest, we're going to see Handel's Samson at the London Handel Festival. There is a fine cast but I am still waiting for someone to do a performance with a musical comedy actress singing the role of Delila. After all, that is what Handel did at the first performance. Surely someone could tempt Imelda Staunton or Julia MacKenzie to have a go!

Friday 6 May 2005

Printing and more printing

Well, the deed is done and I have finally printed and delivered the choral copies for my concert on 1st July, it seemed to take forever and my printer has been complaining. Still, it does make the concert excitingly that bit more concrete.

The printer has been acting up all week, so I can see I will have to be buying a new one. We had an order for vocal scores for some of my song cycles and we ended up having to have them copied commercially, which was very tedious. I have my eye on an HP printer which does 1200*1200 dpi and prints duplex, sounds bliss but it costs £220.

Tuesday 3 May 2005

The Print Shop

Over the weekend the house has started to resemble a print shop. I am printing the choral copies for my birthday concert on 1st July. So I'm busy printing, sorting, collating and assembling 8 copies of all the scores. This involves a lot of manual feeding, as my printer does not do double sided easily. I'm always fussy about the look of music and take a great deal of care about the design of a vocal score, covers etc. But I am always the world's worst proof reader when it comes to my own material. So there is nothing worse than standing there printing away and suddently noticing a solecism when you are just printing the final copy.

We also had an unsolicted order at the weekend for a couple of vocal scores for my song cycles. It is always rather gratifying to get orders from complete strangers who have found you via the wonders of the world wide web.

21 Pink Years On

Last weeks Metrolife supplement to the Evening Standard carried a note, on its gay pages, about the Saturday's Pink Singers concert with a comment about their December 2004 concert being for their 21st anniversary. Which set me thinking.

Could it really be nearly 22 years ago that I had my arm twisted to take over the Pink Singers in July 1983 after their founder musical director, Mark Bunyan, wished to drop out after his initial 3 month stint setting up the choir. I agreed and the following 5 years effected a radical change on my musical life

I acquired a heterogeneous group of men and women who rehearsed in a room in County Hall (the original one, now home to the Saatchi Gallery). Many wanted just to sing on an ad-hoc basis and this, combined with the rather ad-hoc nature of our rehearsal venue, meant that by autumn 1983 the core group was quite small. But with much hard work and enthusiasm the group developed into something more substantial.

I started to do arrangements for the group and out of this came my interest in cabaret, eventually I started working with the Insinuendos who were 3 ex members of the Pink Singers and who had formed the group.

Our initial programmes mixed American popular song with politics and more unusual items, we usually had some Eisler and Weill on the go and did a few numbers by Harold Rome and Alan Bush. A particularly classically trained influx meant that we put on a proper classical concert at Burgh House.

After 5 years I decided to spent more time writing and passed the baton on to someone else. It all seems so vivid in the memory that it is difficult to believe that it was over 20 years ago.

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