Tuesday 28 February 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of Dennis O'Neill's recital of Verdi songs is here on MusicWeb International.

The Ring again

Thoughts of spending an entire day listening to the Ring on the radio started me thinking about my ideal way to hear the Ring in the opera house. The last few times that I've heard a complete cycle (the most recent a few years ago at the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest) its been spread over a week and each opera is scheduled to finish at 10.30/11.00 pm, with the later ones starting at around 4.30pm/5.30pm/ Now that's all well and good, but I'd like something a little more relaxed. How about doing the operas split over the whole day, starting late morning with generously long intervals, with the whole thing over by mid to late evening so you could follow it with a decent dinner! I know it makes me sound old, but I'd like to enjoy the Ring in relaxed comfort and not squashed hugger-mugger into the operatic timetable. This is something a festival could do, though I'm not aware of anyone currently trying to present the Ring this way. And another thing, could we please have a short interval after the Prologue to Götterdämmerung, I can't be the only one for whom the heavenly length of the Prologue and Act 1 combined is just a little too much for my bladder, my knees and my concentration.

Ring in a Day

Do BBC Radio 3 is to play the whole of Wagner's Ring in a single day (reported here on the BBC Website). They are going to devote their Easter Monday schedule to broadcasting Daniel Barenboim's Bayreuth recording made in the 1990's. It will be a remarkable challenge, to listen to the whole of the Ring at once sitting, but it makes a great deal of sense of the medium of Radio. We lack the stamina to listen to the entire Ring in the theatre in one day (to say nothing of the stamina that would be required from the musicians), but listening at home we stand something of a chance. And the ability to hear the whole music drama build continuously is not to be sneezed at.

The recording being used is the one that I reviewed for Music and Vision and it stood up rather well to being listened to continuously by me on my headphones. Besides Barenboim's wonderful way with the Bayreuth Orchestra it includes a remarkable collection of Anglophone singers; John Tomlinson, Graham Clark (in 2 roles), Linda Finnie, Anne Evans. My review is here.

Monday 27 February 2006

Recent CD Reviews

A whole clutch of reviews to report. An interesting selection of Dunstable's music from Tonus Pelegrinus here,
a CD of Clytus Gottwald's stunning choral arrangements here and a rather disappointing disc of music by Jack Gottlieb from the Milken Archive here. All on Music-Web International.

Friday 24 February 2006

Tickets, Tickets, Tickets

Yet more tickets have arrived (my credit card will be groaning). We're going to the 35 degrees East performance; its part of the season to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Royal Ballet. This performance celebrates Dame Ninette de Valois' links with ballet in Turkey. She was involved in the founding of the Turkish State Ballet and its associated school. It should be fascinating to see their new work.

We've also got our latest clutch of ENO tickets. There's the new production of Makropoulos Case with Cheryl Barker (a production which has all the hall-marks of being recorded for Chandos's Opera in English series); a delectable revival of Ariodante with Alice Coote (someone whose career we've followed with fascination ever since seeing her in her early days in Radamisto at Opera North); Nixon in China, which we were cheated of when the re-opening of the Coliseum was delayed; and Mark Morris's staging of Purcell's King Arthur, a curiosity that we could not miss.

Concert progress

Well our Cranmer Concert is in the March edition of the BBC Music Magazine. It took some finding, as the concert is not included in the Events listings at the back of the mag. (neither of our March concerts is listed), but early on in Magazine they have a This week in numbers column and of course the concert celebrates the 450th anniversary of Cranmer's execution, so it fits.

Its been a week for organising details for both March concerts. What with sourcing music for the Salomon Orchestra (they're playing Haydn and Elgar in addition to my pieces) and digging out the choir copies we used for the July 2005 Cranmer concert. There have also been rehearsal details to sort out; I'm sure that with 2 concerts within a week, there is something that I've missed but I hope not.

For the Cranmer concert in Oxford on March 18th, I'm having posters and leaflets distributed by a firm there who specialise in that sort of thing. For the Salomon concert at St. James's Piccadilly on March 23rd I'm trying a different tack. I'm distributing leaflets to the venue and important places like Westminster Music library but in addition I'm having someone do some email and fax marketing. They use one of these lists that people sign up for, so I'm hoping we'll be preaching to the converted. We'll see.

I've also started to sort out the music for the FifteenB concert at the Chelsea Festival. At the moment the concert seems miles away but it will soon be time to send the music to Paul Ayres, the conductor for marking up before sending it out. It's alarming the way things creep up on you, one minute a concert's 6 months away and the next deadlines are closing in and you're scrabbling to get things organised. I've now got to set-to and transpose the Byrd Regina Coeli motet down a tone so that we can do it with the whole choir (currently its for SAT, but down a tone we think we can manage to split the whole choir and to it S+A1/A2+T1/T2+B).

Thursday 23 February 2006

Wednesday 22 February 2006

Also in this month's Opera magazine, a review of San Francisco Opera's new Norma, using a production borrowed from the Canadian Opera Company. The review refers to Druid's falling to the floor during Casta Diva and Oroveso's warriors, in semi-darkness, painting each other's buttocks during the Guerra chorus. Now the latter I would just love to have seen.

Regarding the amazing falling Druids, its not as stupid as it might seem. In his production for Scottish Opera with Jane Eaglen, Ian Judge had the chorus falling down flat during Casta Diva, the result was effective in that it gave Judge a credible way of highlighting Eaglen, who is not the tallest of people. Incidentally, having a large Norma at least gives credibility to her having had 2 babies without detection. Over-weight women often can be pregnant without detection.

The last Covent Garden Norma was a semi-concert performance, but the last full production included some wonderfully kinky leather costumes for Oroveso's warriors with lots and lots of bare flesh showing through the cut outs. Very entertaining indeed!

RVW's Operas

In the latest issue of Opera that Michael Kennedy in his article about Vaughan Williams's Sir John in Love (soon to be given a new production by Ian Judge at the Coliseum) looks forward to the 50th anniversary of RVW's death in the hope that his other operas might be performed. I had 2 reactions to this, the first was surprise at it only being 50 years since RVW died; musical life is so radically different to what it was in his lifetime it is difficult not to imagine far more time has passed.

Regarding RVW's other operas, I'm not going to hold my breath. I have still not seen a professional production of Riders to the Sea and have never seen Hugh the Drover. I'm not sure about the latter, it has some lovely music but I have a horrifying feeling that it will seem rather dated in that curious English way. We happily put up with opera companies dredging up items from the fringes of consciousness and we don't get too worked up that the libretto is rather lacking. But perform a rarely done opera with an English libretto and everyone gets highly critical.

We desperately need someone to bring Riders to the Sea back into regular performance. It is RVW's undisputed masterpiece, but at a bare 45 minutes long it is rather difficult to programme especially it is rather dark in subject matter (it sets a Synge play about a family in the West of Ireland where the men tend to work on the sea and die there. RVW was working on another Synge opera when he died (based on The Tinker's Wedding, I think). If he'd finished it, it would have made an ideal pairing. As it is we're casting around for a balance programme.

The other operas are less likely to appear. The Pilgrims Progress requires a large cast and resources. It was given a fine semi-staged production at the Barbican when the Royal Opera House was in exile, so I can't see there being a stampede to stage it. It has also been troubled by accusations of lack of drama and being an oratorio in disguise. But having seen it twice (once in the ROH staging and once in a tremendous full staging by the Royal Northern College of Music) I can't agree and would love to see it again.

Over the Poisoned Kiss we'll draw a veil and solace ourselves with Richard Hickox's disc of highlights which hides the work's terrible libretto. (Not just English embarassing, but really awful).

Monday 20 February 2006

Macbeth and the missing version

Saturday's performance of Macbeth at Covent Garden was superb except for one small point; we heard the ordinary 1865 version. Quite a disappointment but mitigated by the superb quality of the cast. A full review will appear in time.

Rather interestingly, even though opera companies insist on adhering to Verdi's final, 1865, wishes they usually miss out the 1865 ballet music for the Witches (as do Covent Garden). So its a case of adhering to the composers final thoughts, except when it is inconvenient to our preconceptions.

Friday 17 February 2006

Opera Tickets

Yesterday was one of those days when all our advanced bookings seemed to arrive. Our tickets for the next batch of the Royal Opera House season include a revival of their Duke Bluebeard and Erwartung double bill. We've not seen it before so we're going along, just in case....

Also at the ROH, we're going to see the new production of Sleeping Beauty which is going to use Oliver Messel's designs for the production of the ballet which re-opened the Opera House after the war. This production is iconic in the history of the Royal Ballet but is also iconic in my own history as my mother saw the production with Moira Shearer in the early 1950's and it had a profound effect on her. She never failed to enjoy recounting her delight both at the dancing and at the spectacular staging. Her stories helped inculcate my interest in ballet. So I will be fascinated to see a recreation of the production, but such returns to memory lane rarely work.

Also in the post, tickets to Grange Park Opera. Wasfi Kani's company never fails to offer an interesting mix of the familiar and unfamiliar. This year the unfamiliar is Massenet's Thais, an opera that I saw as a student in Manchester in a lovely production at the Royal Northern College of Music in 1977. Both the staging and the singing had a profound effect on me and help fuel my love of opera. Of the singers in that production the Thais was outstanding but I am not aware of ever hearing her again. The Nicias was a talented young tenor called Robin Leggate whose career has proved rather more enduring.

Since then I've come across the opera on record, but missed the ENO concert performance. So I'm looking forward to the performance immensely. The title role is being sung by Anne-Sophie Duprels who was Teresa in Benvenuto Cellin in Strasbourg recently.

Also on the Grange Park agenda is a revival of their 1950's L'Elisir d'Amore. Nemorino is Colin Lee who has done some rather good things at ENO recently. We are also going to the recital being given by Bruce Ford; a singer who I've heard in opera but never in recital.

Macbeth at the Royal Opera House

We're off to Macbeth at the Royal Opera House tomorrow. Rather excitingly they're doing the first version of the opera. This was the version that I first got to know, thank's to a BBC broadcast from the Proms (now on Opera Rara) which we taped (mainly because Lady Macbeth was played by Rita Hunter, a great heroine of mine). I can still remember the thrill of hearing Hunter's voice resounding round the Royal Albert Hall, remarkably agile in the fioriture and undoubtedly thrilling. This earlier version has the advantage that it finishes with Macbeth's death (a wonderful aria which is often grafted onto the later version) and omits the rather trivial chorus that Verdi wrote to finish the later incarnation of the opera.

Thursday 16 February 2006

I see that the Met. has announced it's forthcoming seasons at a press conference (reported here in the Gramophone). In fact it was the first time in 9 years that they've done this sort of press conference. And after all the worrying over what effect Peter Gelb's taking of the help of the old lady of the Lincoln Center would have, the new seasons sound rather promising.

Granted, there are a clutch of cross genre collaborations but the intention seems to be to try and develop new musical theatre of all varieties. Their heart seems to be in the right place, lets hope the results aren't too cringe-making.

On the more regular opera scene, there are new productions of Strauss's Aegytische Helena which might be worth crossing the Atlantic for; plus Tan Dun's new opera, The First Emperor. Further ahead there is a new Attila and From the House of the Dead. Not earthshattering but interesting nonetheless.

Every new opera-house director seems to want to make their mark by scheduling the Ring. Gelb seems to be no different. He is planning a new Ring in 2010-2011 directed by Robert LePage, inspired by Viking myths and Icelandic landscapes. Might be interesting, but non-operatic directors do have a tendency to fall by the wayside when it comes to the Ring. Lets see what happens here.

Gelb seems to be continuing the Met's recent forays into contemporary opera. Besides the Tan Dun, they are reviving John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles. This latter I saw some years ago and it seemed rather a sprawling mess, redeemed only by Marilyn Horne's superb turn as a houri! Adams's Dr. Atomic is coming as is a new opera from Osvaldo Golijov, who seems to be turning into the current flavour of the month.

I can't say that there is anything in this list which has me desperate to return to New York, but you never know.

Monday 13 February 2006

The Grumlins are coming

Well, having managed to miss the Month off a whole pile of concert leaflets, you think I'd learn! But we were visiting friends on Saturday and I learned that I'd managed to introduce a spelling mistake into the leaflets for the Salomon Orchestra concert on March 23rd. Instead of In the Barbarian's Camp it had come out as In the Barbican's Camp, the spellchecker being helpful again. Luckily its not disastrous and I've not yet printed the hundreds of leaflets for distribution in London, thank goodness!

To sing joyfulLY or to sing JOYfully

I've been working on the English version of the 11th motet in my Lent and Passiontide sequence from Tempus Per Annum an ongoing collection of motets for the whole church's year. This is the motet for the Easter Saturday evening mass; its not actually an introit as the mass is structured slightly differently but instead I'm setting an antiphon text, Jubilate deo with an English version of sing joyfully to God all ye Lands. This works perfectly in the opening phrase (which was written to fit the English), but later on in the motet I've been havering over exactly how to set the word joyfully. Having a long note on the final syllable, even an unstressed on, seems to be clumsy some-how. So just before finishing this morning I went through the motet and changed all the phrases where I had stretched sing joyfully out and uses sing joyfully to God instead. I'll probably haver some more and change things again.

Saturday 11 February 2006

Domus - part 2

I did some more searching, and the title of Luc arbogast's disc Fjall d'Yr Vinur produced some results, there is a review here on the www.musique-chroniques.ch site.

According to Luc Arbogast's posting on this page, the instrument that he most commonly plays is a bouzouki, but an Irish rather than Greek model (if I read his French correctly). And evidently they have another disc in the offing - more power to their elbow.

Domus - Luc Arbogast

We've been listening to the disc Domus from Luc Arbogast, the singer/lutenist who we came across busking in Strasbourg. Having read the CD's booklet, I must confess that I am not much the wiser; the song texts are printed but I'm not sure what language it is! Though composition is credited to Luc Arbogast they sound very like troubadour songs. But there are no explanations of the inspiration behind the songs; a shame, as I'd love to know more.

Live, he sang to his own accompaniment but on the disc Melusine Arbogast contributes flute and voice; Luc plays a variety of lute/guitar like instruments and sings. His voice is a high counter-tenor (generally F above middle C to the F an octave above that), a voice type which is very tricky to record. The disc manages very well, the results are highly affecting and do reflect what Luc sounded like live, but there are hints of acidity which weren't there live - almost certainly the result of a tricky recording process. Still, the resulting songs are highly attractive and make superb late night listening. I can highly recommend the disc but have no idea where you'd get it from, so I quote the contact details from the disc.

DOMUS: 06 21 24 06 88


I've just spent a busy 2 days doing all sorts of odds and ends related to my 2 March concerts. We now have a piano rehearsal booked so I was just checking the vocal score of my Elegy for Baritone and piano when I discovered a rather fun mistake, I'd entered part of the 2nd clarinet part into the score with transposing switched on, so the part was a tone out, consistently a 7th above the voice - a rather interesting effect that I think we can do without. So anyway, a tidied up version is off to the pianist for the rehearsal. David Greiner, the singer, is performing in Milhaud triple bill in Munster so has to try and fit his Munster and London schedules together, not an easy task.

I was in Oxford on Thursday delivering leaflets for the Cranmer concert, including a large batch for distribution (reprinted after correcting the date). I've also done most of my publicity mailing as well, so the living room is looking a lot tidier.

Wednesday 8 February 2006

I have only just noticed that I have passed the 200 mark in my posts to this blog (this is post number 202) and the first anniversary is not far off.

I'm still busy doing the publicity for my 2 March concerts (18th in Oxford and 23rd in London). Tomorrow I'm delivering the posters and leaflets for distribution in Oxford. I happened to slip one of them into some music that I was sending out and luckily the recipient had sharper eyes than we do. I'd managed to omit the month from the leaflet and unfortunately both March 18th and February 18th are Saturdays. This means that I've had to pay to have the flyers re-done and will have to scrap around 1700. Just shows you that you never can be too careful in your proof-reading.

Salomon Orchestra concert

Last night we went to St. John's Smith Square to hear the Salomon Orchestra, conducted by Tom Seligman. The programme consisted of Bartok's Two Pictures, Mahler's Rückert Lieder and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. The orchestra were on their usual superb form and the conclusion to the Rachmaninov was shattering. The soloist in the Mahler was Damian Thantrey, who sang the title role in the premiere of my opera Garrett. He was brilliant in the Mahler songs and my two favourites, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommon and Um Mitternacht were stunning. The interesting point was how little I knew the other 3 songs in the cycle.

This element of familiarity and unfamiliarity applied to the Rachmaninov as well as I found that I knew the first 2 movements quite well, but seemed to have forgotten the third; so the concert gave me a good opportunity to get re-acquainted.

They had a near capacity audience who were very enthusiastic. In case you don't know, the orchestra's next gig is on March 23rd when they are doing a concert at St. James's Church, Piccadilly in which Adrian Brown conducts them in a programme which includes 2 of my pieces.

Recent CD Review

My review of Akathistos Fragments, a fascinating re-working of traditional Byzantine chant is here on MusicWeb.

Anyone who loves chant should be interested in this disc, though it should come with a health warning for purists.

Tuesday 7 February 2006

More Rodelinda

Nico comments on my Rodelinda review that I omitted to say anything about the orchestra, for which I must apologise. I suppose that my comments wonderfully crisp, rhythmic and sprightly apply as much to the orchestra as to the conductor. For the reviewer there is always that danger to concentrate on one aspect of a performance (in my case the singers) and omit to properly comment on the rest, unless something goes wrong; this was a trap that I fell into in the review. Next time I'll try to be more balanced.

Recent CD Review

My review of the Monks of Beuron Abbey singing the plainchant Requiem mass is here, on MusicWeb. Besides buying discs, Pristine Audio also allow you to buy and download mp3 files, very neat.

I can highly recommend this atmospheric disc and Pristine Audio’s
distinctive delivery mechanism means that it comes at a highly affordable

Sunday 5 February 2006

Friday 3 February 2006

Opera Review - Rodelinda

I imagine Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco’s performance of Handel’s Rodelinda at the Barbican on Wednesday was planned partly as a celebration/promotion of their new recording of the opera, though as it turns out 3 of the planned cast did not sing. So instead of Simone Kermes (a Curtis regular) we had Emma Bell and Grimoaldo was played by Filippo Adamo, a very last minute replacement – his name wasn’t even in the printed programme.

Curtis is another American harpsichordist who works extensively in Europe. Whereas with William Christie I always get the feeling that even in Handel, the notes inegals of the French Baroque are never far away, Curtis’s Handel has a more traditional feel to it; wonderfully crisp, rhythmic and sprightly, even if there was the odd hint of untidiness in the orchestra.

The advantage of the cast we actually heard was that 4 of the 6 singers were native Italian speakers. (Sonia Prina as Bertarido, Filippo Adami as Grimoaldo, Romina Basso as Eduige and Vito Priante as Garibaldo) This had two effects, firstly the recitatives were particularly vivid and cantered along in a very lively manner without ever seeming gabbled. They also felt as if they really meant something, you could almost follow the opera without ever looking at the surtitles. The second advantage was in the sheer vividness of the performances. There was no hint of Northern coolness which can often beset concert performances. All the singers, including the 2 English ones (Hilary Summers as Unolfo and Emma Bell as Rodelinda), emoted in a very dramatic fashion and reacted to each other. Though a concert performance, with the singers using scores, this was no static spectacle, all projected the drama in a very credible fashion. You hardly missed a stage presentation, especially one like Glyndebourne’s which often seems to get in the way of the drama.

Emma Bell was superb in the title role; her voice has developed more richness and depth but she has preserved her virtuosity in Handel’s fioriture and she used the music in a superbly expressive way. Rodelinda is a role which has accompanied Bell since her sensational debut at Glyndebourne whilst still at college. You sometimes wonder whether she might be getting bored with it, but on this showing she certainly isn’t. Being so close to the singers we were able to appreciate that she has a very nice line in sneering.

But Bell is quite a known quantity; as her husband Sonia Prina was a revelation. A lively and dramatic singer, it was almost as if she couldn’t keep still whilst singing. I am used to the slightly cool interpretation of Bertarido in Glyndebourne’s production, developed with the counter-tenor Andreas Scholl in mind; Prina’s Bertarido was a complete contrast, her delivery more lively and vivid, she projected Bertarido’s emotions on a larger scale, this was a man who lived on the edge of his nerves. She and Bell developed a credible and touching relationship.

As Bertarido’s sister Eduige, Romina Basso was no less vivid and she managed to make the character’s twists and turns believable; her was a passionate woman who acted before she thought. Though both Prina and Basso have strong, rich mezzo/alto voices, they were remarkably differentiated. One of the nice things about the casting (with 3 low female voices) was the way that each woman had a rich voice but all 3 voices were strikingly different. The third of the trio was Hilary Summers as Unolfo. Unolfo’s arias can often seem superfluous to the drama, but in Summer’s hands they were as gripping as the rest of the opera.

With such a strong female cast, the 2 men had their work cut out. Vito Priante in the role of the evil Garibaldo, managed to combine the necessary Handelian virtuosity with a nice line in sneering and sheer evil. No mean feat indeed. As his weak cohort Grimoaldo, Filippo Adami created a believably weak character and projected the drama well. I will not comment on his musical performance as he was such a last minute replacement. He is a very young tenor (born 1980) so I suspect he will not be singing Handel for long as his voice develops.

The performance included a final duet for Rodelinda and Bertarido which has been less often done. Curtis’s direction was perhaps a little stiff at times, but the performances were so entrancing that it hardly mattered.

Coming to a CD player near you

On Wednesday we went to see Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco performing Handel's Rodelina (a review of which I plan to post soon). In the Barbican shop they were selling the group's recent recording of the opera, so I realised that the concert was not a one-off event but the concert of the recording. This sort of tie-in is inevitable I suppose and we must be thankful that such linkages at least enable us to hear some fine performances. And no, though I considered it I did not buy the recording, partly because cast on the disc was substantially different to that at the concert. In particular, at the Barbican we heard the divine Emma Bell whereas on the recording it was Simone Kermes who had dropped out of the concert.

Besides concerts given to promote recordings, there are other areas where tie-ins occur. Sometimes performances are set up with a view to doing a live recording (Opera Rara do this rather creatively) and then some performances happen simply so that the performers can perform the work prior to recording. At other times the linkage is less obvious until the recording appears. A number of recent ENO performances (a revival of Verdi's Ernani, the new Madame Butterfly) have had the finger print of the Chandos Opera in English in the casting and the conductor so it came as no surprise when it was confirmed that recordings would indeed be made. As long as this is transparent, then this is enterprising; the recent revival of Lulu at the Coliseum gave rise to a recording for Chandos. But if it means that the opera company has to compromise on cast and conductor, then I'm not so sure.

Sometimes you go to a performance and enjoy it so much that you hope that it pressages a recording. A year or so ago we heard the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment doing the Verdi Requiem with Christine Brewer as the soprano solo. A fabulous performance I kept hoping a recording was in the offing; sadly it wasn't.

For New Year's eve 2004 we went to the Wigmore Hall to hear Robert King and the King's Consort doing Rossini's Petite Messe Solonnelle with just 8 singers; a performance far closer to Rossini's intentions than the larger scale choral performances that are common. One of the singers in this lovely performance was Hilary Summers. She was Unolfo in Rodelinda at Wednesday's Barbican performance and her biography in the programme referred to the King's Consort's forthcoming recording of the Rossini; so at least this time I have a recording to look forward to besides memories of that New Year's eve concert. I can't wait!

Recent CD Review

My review of Water Settings, a disc of new percussion music played by the Australian percussion duo Match is here on MusicWeb.

A percussion duo to watch. They display admirable virtuosity. The
selected works say much of their musicianship ... they do not try to
dazzle us just for virtuosity's sake

Thursday 2 February 2006

Review of Benvenuto Cellini

My review of Benvenuto Cellini is now on-line here, at Music and Vision. The article includes 5 handsome photos from the production.

Popular Posts this month