Wednesday 31 May 2006

Out of Tune

We went to the Barbican last night for the performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor by Bach Collegium Japan under Masaaki Suzuki. Suzuki's work is something that I'm only familiar with from listening to the Radio when I've heard a number of his Bach cantata performances, which have always seemed impressive.

I am one of those people who find Bach best listened to when performed with very few singers, preferably one per part (but of course you have to have good singers). I knew that Suzuki would not subscribe to this, after all I'd heard some of his recorded performances and knew that he'd studied with Ton Koopman. But somehow, I still found myself out of tune with the performance.

Suzuki's way with the music was quite measured and rather sombre. Granted, there were lively moments and the articulation of the orchestra was excellent, sometimes a little at the expense of line. But my overall impression was of the darker, quieter hues. Perhaps it was because we were sitting at the side of the hall, hidden by the harpsichord. An instrument, incidentally, which seemed curiously reticent in the ensembles at moments when I felt it should not be reticent at all.

When performing with a decent size choir (18 singers to around 20 instrumentalists), Bach presents the conductor with a number of problems of balance. In the fugal opening of the Kyrie, the choir's first entry comes after a long orchestral peroration and each voice should enter simply as part of the texture. But what frequently happens is that the choir suddenly dominates and instead of being an equal partner the orchestra's role degenerates into one of buzzing accompaniment. Some conductors have solved this problem by getting the initial entries sung by just one voice with the main chorus coming in later. Suzuki's solution, which was almost successful, was to have the chorus subdue its tone. Perhaps this set the general timbre for the evening. But at least the balance in the performance was pretty good and there were not too many moments when you felt that the chorus was master. Though there were times when individual musicians could have been more prominent. This was very noticeable when flutes and oboes had been prominent during one of the solo sections, but suddenly disappeared when the chorus came in.

I felt his general attitude to be quite Romantic, which is perfectly valid. After all, I don't subscribe to the view that everyone needs to perform Bach in the way that I want. Perhaps it just didn't chime in with my feelings that evening.

Amongst the soloists, alto Robin Blaze particularly impressed. His lovely bright voice with its wonderfully edge and sense of line came over as a breath of fresh air in the performance.

Of course, what people will tell me is that what counts is Suzuki's wonderful musicianship and his spiritual way with Bach. But I'm afraid, last night this rather washed over me and all I was left with was a picky little voice in my head, pointing out things. I just hope that Ariodante at ENO tomorrow finds me more responsive, after all it does have Alice Coote in the title role.

Recent CD Review

My review of Hyperion's re-issue of Westminster Cathedral Choir's disc of music by he Anerio brothers is here on MusicWeb International.

A fascinating disc of music in fine performances. In performances as passionate as this the works of the Anerio brothers make riveting listening. ...

Tuesday 30 May 2006

Met Gala

I caught the end of the Met gala (in aid of Volpe's retirement) at the weekend and it seemed very much a mixed affair. The chorus seemed to be labouring somewhat in the Easter Hymn from Cavalleria Rusticana, the choral sound was heavily overladen with what I thought was unpleasant vibrato; rather worrying. I am not quite sure that having Frederika von Stade and Kiri te Kanawa doing something from Cosi van Tutte was ideal, could they have found them something a little more suitable for divas of a certain age? Still it was lovely to hear the younger generation (Susan Graham et al) in another excerpt. I must confess that I was also a bit bemused by Karita Mattila's Hanna Glawari, but perhaps she was a bit bemused as well having only just sung the title role in Fidelio in the same house. I realise that I did not hear the whole gala and probably missed the best bits, and also it was one of those things where the best response is probably 'you really just had to be there'
Figen Phelps added a comment to my post about the Turkish Ballet; it seems I got my facts confused and the interview with Madam was made in 1996. I was probably not clear when writing my original comments, but all the dancers in the film were Turkish though they did interview one or two of the British teachers. Rather hearteningly, Figen confirms that the film is part of a longer documentary. So I look forward to seeing the full film.

The audience at the Turkish Ballet's performance on Thursday seemed to consists principally of members of London's Turkish community and distinguished choreographers. I really hope that the general British public were present in greater numbers at the other 2 performances.

Friday 26 May 2006

35 Degrees East

It was the Italians who were responsible for fostering ballet in Russia. It was only when the Tsar’s son’s mistress, Mathilde Kchessinska, equalled the prima ballerina’s feat of doing the 32 fouetteé turns in Swan Lake, that importing Italian dancers became unnecessary. So, it should not be a cause for surprise that it was the English ballet who were responsible for introducing ballet into Turkey.

In the mid 1940’s the chaplain to the British Embassy in Turkey had previously been the incumbent at a church near the Old Vic and had become a keen ballet-lover. At the time Turkey had a thriving opera and theatre companies, but not ballet. Taxed by the British chaplain on this subject the Turkish Education Minister invited Dame Ninette de Valois (Madam) to Turkey. The result was a school, Turkey’s first ballet school, founded in 1947; this lead to the first native ballet performance, Coppelia, in 1953. The company was closely watched by Madam and fostered by British ballet masters, ballet mistresses and choreographers. From the first, Madam included Turkish folk dancing into the curriculum and choreographed 2 ballets for the company, using music by Turkish composers and including Turkish folk dance. By 1973 the company could put in a whole evening of dance by Turkish choreographers.

As part of the celebrations of the Royal Ballet’s 75th birthday, a group of dancers from the Turkish State Ballet companies in Istanbul and Ankara brought a programme of dance to the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House. The current director of the Turkish State Opera and Ballet is Meric Sümen Kanen who was herself a ballerina under Madam.

The evening opened with a short film which mixed archive photographs and movie footage with interviews with Madam (dating from 2001) and other British dancers involved with the company. It was a fascinating film and could have been far longer. Then 2 dancers gave us a charming pas de deux from At the Fountain Head, a ballet choreographed in 1963 by Dame Ninette de Valois. There then followed a programme of 5 ballets choreographed by 3 Turkish choreographers and 1 ballet choreographed by a German couple.The programme was a mixture of short ballets and extracts from longer works. Perhaps the most memorable was the excerpt ‘the storm… Dervishes dance’ from Beyhan Murphy’s Travelogue.

The first 5 works were all generally modernist in their outlook, though most used music by modern Turkish composers but one used Chopin. For the finale, Mehmet Balkan had choreographed 2 movements from Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony and these were danced in real classical style.

The choreographer’s response to the music seemed to be somehow different to what I would have expected, I can’t really describe it as I have no dance training to describe what I saw. The standard of the recorded music that they danced to was rather variable, particularly the Rachmaninoff. But the programme left us wishing that we could see more of the Turkish company.

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's Messiah from Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, is here on MusicWeb International.

You can't go wrong with this Messiah. It should have a firm place at the centre of the library shelves. ...

Thursday 25 May 2006

Estonian alterations

London Concord Singers are travelling to Estonia in July to do a concert in the Lutheran Cathedral and sing a service at the Charles XI Church. The programme for the concert was intended to be a repeat of our concert on July 13th at St. Mary's Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea. That programme includes 2 Estonian works, Veljo Tormis's Jaanilaulud (St. John’s Day Songs) and Urmas Sisask's Benedictio along with Richard Rodney Bennett's Missa Brevis, which was written for Canterbury Cathedral Choir.

Unfortunately, we have discovered that we cannot perform secular pieces in our Estonian concert, so despite bravely learning to sing in Estonian for the Tormis, we will not be able to sing it in Tallinn as Jaanilaulud is most definitely secular. We'll just have to hope that we attract some Estonian's to our London concert.

Tuesday's Salomon Orchestra concert at St. John's Smith Square went very well. The orchestra, under Dominic Wheeler, were on terrific form and all three works (Ravel's La Valse, de Falla's El amor brujo and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade) were outstanding. The hall in not large so the orchestra made a wonderfully full, thrilling sound in the louder passages (I know, loudness is not everything, but its still fun occasionally). The soloist in the de Falla piece was Sara Gonzalez, a mezzo-soprano from the Canaries currently studying in London, she displayed a lovely dark, Spanish-hued voice.

Interestingly, all 3 works had dance links. Ravel's work was written for Diaghilev's company (but wasn't used), de Falla wrote his work initially for a Spanish dance company and it included spoken sections but in the 20's he transformed it into a ballet and of course Diaghilev's company did a ballet version of Scheherezade with Nijinsky as the Golden Slave.

MusicWeb Reviewers Log

I keep a sort of diary of the discs I review for MusicWeb and every so often its published along with the links to the relevant reviews. The diary for Feb 06 to May 06 is here
on MusicWeb International. If you ever wondered about what I think about when reviewing discs, then this may help!

Recent book review

My review of Changing Tunes: The Use of Pre-existing music in Film is here on MusicWeb International.

Wednesday 24 May 2006

Tuesday 23 May 2006

Edington Festival

The brochure for the 2006 Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy has just popped through our letter box. We are planning to go down there for the whole week this year so should be able to saturate ourselves in the 4 services per day with music from 3 choirs. The programme this year is particularly delectable. Amongst the things that I noticed on first glance:-
  • Hymne a la Vierge by Pierre Villette, a composer that we discovered in Concord last year and whose lovely motets we sang with great success.
  • Victoria's O Quam Gloriosam mass sung at a service where the preacher is Lord Carey
  • Tallis's O Nata Lux
  • The festival commission: 'Before Abraham was, I AM' by Anthony Pitts
  • Agnus Dei from Poulenc's Mass in G
  • Britten's Festival Te Deum and Walton's Jubilate
  • James MacMillan's Mass and Tippett's Plebs Angelica in the same service!!!
  • Giles Swayne's Magnificat - another piece I know from London Concord Singers - paired with Charles Wood's Nunc Dimittis

There is of course much, much more. You can get leaflets and information from the festival here

Salomon Concert

We're off to see the Salomon Orchestra tonight at St. John's Smith Square. Their being conducted by Dominic Wheeler and the programme is rather attractive, Ravel La Valse, Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade and Falla's El Amor Brujo, works that I've always been rather fond of. Possibly because, in my orchestral playing days I played in the Rimsky-Korsakov piece and played in a couple of the suites of music extracted from Falla's complete ballet. Salomon are doing El Amor Brujo complete, with mezzo-soprano soloist, which is rather unusual in the concert hall.

Recent CD Review

My review of Judith Weir's The Consolations of Scholarship and other pieces, performed by Janice Felty, Judith Kellock and Ensemble X is here on Music Web International.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this disc to those who would like to get
to know the music of this approachable but elusive composer. ...

Monday 22 May 2006

Makropoulos Case

We went to the Makropoulos Case at the Coliseum on Saturday. For me, it is a wonderfully memorable Janacek opera and I look forward to performances. Having seen Elisabeth Soderstrom, Catherine Wilson and Ana Silja in the role, I attempted not to sit back and simply complain that Cheryl Barker was none of these.

Christopher Alden’s new production uses a single set, designed by Charles Edwards. A white walled room dominated by the RH wall which is a wonderful Art Deco confection of metal and glass. It looks very much like the sort of room you might see in a 1930’s Italian railway station. The room doubles as Dr. Kolnaty’s office, Elina Makropoulos’s dressing room and her hotel room. As such it is too large for strict naturalism, but then naturalism was obviously not Alden’s main concern.

The glass wall was used to enable strong raking side lighting to be used throughout the production and a row of doors facilitated the numbers entrances and exits. The usual Alden concerns were present; spare set, lots of chairs, characters lurking on stage, stylised action. Quite often the cast sit or stand in rows, as if waiting for their next cue for action, what they don’t always do is react to what is happening on stage. Given the stylised action it was difficult to believe that Gregor (Robert Brubaker in wonderfully passionate form) fell in love with E.M. in an instant. The men were all in grey suits, the general tone-colour of the production was grey.

The production seem to be aiming to distance the audience from the plot, to objectify E.M. Perhaps this would have worked if Alden had been working with an experienced E.M, but Cheryl Barker was making her role debut. She was impressive and from the outset came over as mysterious and sexy, despite a range of desperately unsexy outfits designed by Sue Willmington. Barker’s was a highly promising debut and she will grow into a powerful protagonist. What she lacks, at the moment, is the ability to command a stage with a mere gesture, the ability to force us to focus just on her so that we believe that she fascinates every person on stage. Barker’s E.M. was attractive and passionate, but rather cool (in tune with the rest of the production) so we did not quite believe in the effect she had on everyone.

Barker was surrounded by a strong cast. Neal Davies was Dr. Kolenty, John Graham Hall was Vitek, John Wegner was Prus and Graham Clark was Hauk Sendorf. Clark’s scene with E.M in act 2 was one of the highlights of the production.

Musically the production was memorable, being in the wonderful hands of Sir Charles Mackerras. Music and drama came together at the end, when Barker’s final scene overcame the limitations of the production.

Saturday 20 May 2006

Sleeping Beauty

Friday night's Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House was our first view of the new/old Oliver Messel/Peter Farmer designed production. The sets are very handsome and reminded me of a number of other Beauty's that I've seen over the years; a tribute, presumably, to the influence of Messel's original production. Act 2, with its layer upon layer of gauzes representing the magic forest covering the castle, was most atmospheric and effective. Farmer has re-worked Messel's costumes, changing them to a rather more pastel palette. The original costumes for the 4 princes (in Act 1) were used in the re-opening gala and I remember them as having a far stronger colour palette, much more reminiscent of Leslie Hurry's rather strong colours for his Swan Lake from a similar period. Still the results were undoubtedly effective.

Roberta Marquez was tiny and made a most effective Princess, with plenty of charm and technical ability; her rose adage was lovely. Rupert Pennefather made a noble prince.

The ballet was conducted by Valeriy Ovsyanikov, a name unfamiliar to me. Though he and the orchestra produced a fine, big boned sound in the louder moments, I felt that in general the account of the score was a little too understated for my taste. Perhaps Ovsyanikov's conducting was just a little too careful.

Review of Tolomeo

My review of Handel's Tolomeo is now on-line here at Music and Vision.

Friday 19 May 2006

Handel's Family Tree

My review Wednesday night's performance of Handel's Tolomeo should be appearing at the weekend. Rather interestingly, the opera features 2 historical characters. Ptolomy IX (Tolomeo) and Ptolomy X Alexander I (Alessandro) of Egypt. Their mother (who does not actually appear in the opera, but is referred to) was Cleopatra III, who features as the Cleopatra character in Handel's oratorio Alexander Balus. Ptolomy IX was succeeded by his daughter Berenice III, who features as the lead role in Handel's opera Berenice.

Wednesday 17 May 2006


Tonight we're going to see Handel's Tolomeo at the London Handel Festival. The performance takes place in the Britten Theatre of the Royal College of Music, a theatre which is ideal in size for this sort of opera. I've been cudgeling my brains trying to remember what the 'hit' number is from this opera; I don't know the opera but I'm sure that one particular piece gets into recital programmes. No doubt all will be revealed tonight.

Previous opera productions at the festival have been variable, but tonight's production is a co-production with English Touring Opera and being directed by James Conway. So it should be good as long as he keeps away from Scottish manses (the mis-en-scene for his production of Ariodante).

Then on Friday its Sleeping Beauty at the Royal Opera House, their reconstruction of the 1949 Oliver Messel designed production. This production was one of the highlights of my Mother's ballet-going career and was much talked about. I shall be interested to see what the 2006 version is like; at least the reviews have been promising.

Saturday its off to the London Coliseum for the new production of The Makropoulos Case. Having seen Catherine Wilson (Scottish Opera), Elisabeth Soderstrom (Welsh National Opera) and Ana Silja (Glyndebourne) in the title role, Cheryl Barker will have to be good!

So blogs do have their uses

As I sing in London Concord Singers and act as their secretary, the doings of the choir find their way into my blog. I was recently in contact with Mary Jane Leach whose work, Song of Sorrows the choir performed at their April 6th concert. It turns out that she'd read about the performance in my blog - so blogs do have a use after all.

The choir are assembling a programme of music for their July concert, this will be repeated in Tallinn at a concert in the Lutheran Cathedral and at a sung service. We're going to be singing some Estonian music, in Estonian. So I'm now tracking down contact email addresses for Urmas Sisask and Veljo Tormis, to let them know of our performances.

We're doing Sisask's Benedictio and Tormis's St. John's Day Songs. But we're not negelecting English music as the programme will also include Richard Rodney Bennett's Missa Brevis, written for Canterbury Cathedral Choir.

Recent CD Review

Monteverdi's Orfeo in a recording based on live performances by Pinchgut Opera in Australia, reviewed here on MusicWeb International.

Tuesday 16 May 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of Dan Welcher's Haleakala is here on MuscWeb International.

A fascinating disc but now that the disc is on my library shelves I am
honestly not sure how often I will listen to it again. ...

Monday 15 May 2006

The Paper Factory

Last week we sent out the new edition of my printed catalogue, necessitating piles of envelopes and papers and a horrendous number of stamps to be stuck. I won't be posting my catalogue on the blog, but I have also updated my publishers web site,, so it now has all my most recent activities available.

Then this weekend I produced the choral copies of the music for the forthcoming Chelsea Festival Concert, so there was yet more organising of piles of papers. But now it is all done and the house is back to normal. We've finalised the programme for the Chelsea Festival Concert and will be starting rehearsals shortly. I'm always a mixture of excitement and anxiety at the prospect of running through a new piece.

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a disc of Thomas Tallis motets from the Rodolfus Choir is here.

These are lovely, well crafted performances ...

My review of volume 2 of Naxos's Tito Schipa edition is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.

Anyone interested in hearing Schipa in his prime should invest in the disc

Saturday 13 May 2006

Friday 12 May 2006

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Lydia Vierlinger's Handel recital is here.

I can recommend this disc for its musicality and feel for Handel’s music,
but must warn off those for whom good English is a sine qua non of
Handel performance. ...

My review of Pinchgut Opera's Orfeo is here. Both are on MusicWeb International

A strong, involving production which stands up well to other performances
even if it is not first choice for the library.

Thursday 11 May 2006

Review of Götterdämmerung - Part 3

The 3rd (and final) part of my review of Saturday's performance of Götterdämmerung from Covent Garden.

Act 3 opened with the Rhinemaidens cavorting in front of the Act drop. When they too 'lifted' it up, it revealed a bank of the Rhine complete with a boat and a tree. The Rhine itself just a huge void towards the rear of the stage. The encounter between them and Siegfried was staged simply but effectively with the sole strangeness being that Siegfried did not walk on but revealed himself lying in the boat.

The Gibichung's hunt included the killing of an animal in a rather stylised manner that seemed unnecessary. Siegfried's death was most effective with John Tomlinson's Hagen coming over as threatening and not in the least bumptious. Treleaven sounded tired but his narration was effective and Treleaven is to be commended for his pacing throughout the opera.

With Siegfried's funeral march, things started to turn very odd. There was not funeral procession., Siegfried was left lying in the bank alone and then gradually, slowly made his way across the 'Rhine' over a plank as the lights dimmed.

With Gutrune's entrance, Brunnhilde came too. Gutrune stayed upstage but Brunnhilde stood on the river bank, which slowly, noisily made its way to the rear of the stage, revealing a huge stretch of water bounded by walkways and with 4 large ventilator shafts coming out, for all the world like a suburban swimming pool. All this movement of the scenery rather upstaged Emily Magee's rather fine scene.

When the 'vassals' brough on Siegfried's body, the mumified body was carried not by the vassals from Act 2 but by a motely group of young people who had lurked on the stage to no apparent purpose at various times. Initially Siegfried was put in the boat, now at the back of the stage. Then he was brought to the front.

On Brunnhilde's call for sturdy branches the young people brought on the gilt statues of the gods from Act 2 and layed them on the ground. When Brunnhilde addressed Wotan, she addressed his statue and appeared to put him to sleep or smother him. Siegfried's body was then transferred back to the rear of the stage and disappeared.

Then the conflagration happened, the young people hung the statues by their necks above the aire vents and then Brunnhilde lit fires under them, gradually the tree at the rear of the stage burned with flame, along with much else. The result was undoubtedly spectacular if a little puzzling.

Then a white line made its way up the rear of the stage; this might have had greater significance if you had been lower down in the house. When the Rhine overflowed its banks, the Rhine maidens cavorted naked and then sat at the front of the stage with the Rhine gold. The young people cavorted in the Rhine and the curling metal structure from the first opera was lowered down. and a young person climbed on. This was the final image. Rather confusingly a figure who was, I think Mime from Rhinegold, joined in.

If I have seemed to dwell on the action it is because at the end of the opera, the action rather overshadowere the music. Gasteen's Brunnhilde was frequently lyrical and she knew when to sing softly. perhaps she did not always ride over the orchestra as easily as I would have liked but though tired towards the end she kept her wonderful gleaming tone. She encompasses far more of the role than some sopranos I've heard recently.

Pappano and the orchestra were on superb form. As I have said, Pappano's speeds were on the swifter side buy the performance never seemed rushed or hectic. Additionally, Pappano had good control of Wagner's long breathed paragraphs; the performance described a clearly defined and rather gripping arc.

Tuesday's lunchtime recital at the London Festival of Contemporary Church music presented 10 pieces by 10 different living composers, all written for soprano and keyboard. Soprano Nathalie Reybould and accompanist Paul Ayres did full justice to the variety of styles. Paul played on 3 different keyboards - piano, chamber organ and computer organ (the church's main organ is currently poorly and the choir organ is still in the process of installation). The music ranged from Timothy Salter's piece which was premiered in 1971 (and received its London premiere in 1974 in the same church as Tuesday's concert, St. Pancras) to a piece written especially for the concert. A number of composers were present at the recital, including myself. Nathalie and Paul performed my Faith, Hope and Charity, the first time the piece has been sung by someone other than the soprano for whom it was written, Rowena Wells.

The Festival runs until Sunday and on Saturday night you can hear the premiere of a new oratorio by Francis Potts, who also had a piece performed at Tuesday's concert.

Tuesday 9 May 2006

Review of Götterdämmerung - Part 2

2nd part of my review of Götterdämmerung at Covent Garden

Act 2 opens with Hagen's dream. Hagen was in front of the act drop, but just before Alberich's entry, Hagen turns round an 'lifts' the act drop up to reveal a set decorated completely in the swirly equations from the act drop. Alberich was suspended, mid-air in a small boat. The scene between Tomlinson's Hagen and Peter Sidhom's Alberich was very strong, despite the peculiarity of Alberich's placing.

For the remainder of Act 2 were were back in the glitzy Gibichung hall, this time with the addition of 4 rather kitsch, life-sized gold statues of the gods. Kitsch was a strong element in this staging, with the male chorus putting on black horned helmets, even though their costumes were 20th century. Presumably it was all to point up the meretriciousness of the Gibichung's existence. But I'm not sure this needed so much emphasis. This kitsch, combined with Hagen's showy bumptiousness seemed too over the top and verged on the camp.

Still, it did go a long way towards emphasising Brünnhilde's alienation. Dressed just in a sleevless shift, Gasteen's demeanour and her robust frame made her stand out from the effete court. Gasteen's performance in this act was wonderfully strong and went a long way towards palliating my annoyance with the production.

Treleaven succeeded in making Siegfried seem naive without being idiotic, which was a help. The act closed with a terrific account of the trio, quite a musical highlight.


Today I'm hoping to be at Nathalie Raybould and Paul Ayres's Lunchtime recital at St. Pancras Parish church which includes my solo motet, Faith, Hope and Charity.

Review of Yvonne Kenny recital

My review of Sunday's recital by Yvonne Kenny and Iain Burnside is here on Music and Vision.

Monday 8 May 2006

Review of Götterdämmerung - Part 1

A new production of Götterdämmerung is always eagerly awaited, particularly when it comes as the completion of a Ring Cycle. You always hope that it will help make sense of the iconography of the previous parts of the cycle. With a Ring as stuffed full of symbols as that of Keith Warner and Stefanos Lazaridis at Covent Garden, this was especially true. As it turned out, Saturday’s performance (the last in the current run), did not quite provide the magnificent summation that we might have hoped for, but for most of the evening Warner displayed admirably clarity in his narrative.

The prologue opened with the Norns (Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Yvonne Howard and Marina Poplavskaya) in front of a drop curtain covered with swirling equations. This curtain was first seen at the opening of Siegfried. The Norns were weaving the red-rope that has been a linking theme throughout the cycle. All 3 were excellent.

As before in the cycle, the Valkyrie rock was simply an acting space. Neither Lisa Gasteen nor John Treleaven seemed entirely on form, their duet lacked the vocal freedom that is desirable.

Act 1 took place in a glossy atrium with a huge glass wall with Gunter (Peter Coleman-Wright) and Gutrune (Emily Magee) on along white sofa, servants brought in a drinks trolly. Magee and Coleman-Wright were excellent as the Gibichungs and Warner introduced an element of incest that is familiar from other Rings, but this time John Tomlinson’s Hagen also participated (perhaps we could have a Ring where the incest is implied between Hagen and Gunter for a change).

Tomlinson’s Hagen was puzzling. He is a great theatrical performer and Hagen has been one of his best roles, notably in Götz Friedrich’s 2nd Ring at Covent Garden. There, there were elements of that controlled, controlling, threatening Hagen but overlaid with an odd bumptiousness. In fact there were moments when Tomlinson’s Hagen verged on the downright comic.

When Hagen drugs Siegfried’s drink, the wall of the atrium changed shape and suddenly we are in the cuboid tarnhelm, a neat effect. Throughout the cycle there have been imaginative visual references of all sizes to the cube-lattice structure which represents the tarnhelm.

For the scene between Br&uum;nnhilde and Waltraute, the set remained the same and Hagen was on stage, as if this was his vision. And when Siegfried as Gunter captures Brunnhilde, both Siegfried and Gunter were on stage, with Siegfried wearning the tarnhelm – another rather neat solution to a perennial problem. Mihoko Fujimura's Waltraute was one of the highlights of the production. Her tone never forced, she sang with a wonderful suppleness of line.

So far so good: the first act was presented with remarkable clarity and the Royal Opera House have assembled a strong group of singers. I will come to Act II tomorrow.

Sunday 7 May 2006

CD Review

This isn't a recent CD review, but I've only just discovered it. Its the surviving excerpts from Beecham's 1936 Götterdäerung from Covent Garden, truly fascinating. The review is here on Music Web International
We were at Götterdämmerung last night at Covent Garden, the final performance of the run. Musically it was pretty good and surprisingly engrossing considering it started at 4pm and finished at 10.15pm, though thankfully Pappano's speeds were pretty quick (Prologue and Act1 came in at 2hours 5 minutes). I'll write more on it anon.

I went through the programme for this summer's Proms and found very little to drool over. There are normally a handful of items which we can't wait to see but this summer, with the concentration on Mozart, the number of really desirable concerts is running pretty low. Not sure whether that's a statement about the Proms programming or our tastes in music.

Friday 5 May 2006

Recent CD Review

My review of the recording of John Jenkins's 6-part viol concerts by Phantasm is here on Music Web International.

Sit back and revel in the brilliant conversation of a group of old friends,
familiar enough to take liberties but always balanced and civilised. ...

Thursday 4 May 2006

Faith, Hope and Charity performance

My solo motet, Faith, Hope and Charity is being performed by Natalie Raybould (soprano) and Paul Ayres (Organ) on Tuesday 9th May at 1.15pm at St. Pancras Parish Church, Euston Road, London as part of the London Festival for Contemporary Church Music. The full programme for the recital, all contemporary pieces with sacred texts, is as follows:-

Timothy Salter - The Emissaries
Mark Levesley - Lord of Grace
Paul Ayres - Wedding Anthem
PerMagnus Lindborg - Set me as a seal upon your heart (Solomon Songs no 2)
John Hawkins - Gospel and Collect
Ian Coleman - O Adonai
Nicholas Ansdell-Evans - Hosanna to the Son of David
Robert Hugill - Faith, Hope and Charity
Francis Pott - On the Morning of Christ's Nativity

Faith, Hope and Charity was written for a friend's wedding and sets the familiar text from Corinthians. Writing for specific performers in mind, the soprano part uses a lot of rather high, cantilena.

Wednesday 3 May 2006

Whit Sunday

St. George's Church, Hanover Square, London, will be performing my Missa Veni Sancte Spiritus at the 11.00am service on Sunday June 4th. The mass is based on the plainchant sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus which is always sung on Whit Sunday, so the mass is entirely appropriate. The mass was originally written for 2-part choir (women and men) and organ, but St. George's will be using the version for 4-part choir and organ. June 4th will, I think, be the 1st performance of this version.
Tonight is my first rehearsal for London Concord Singers' new term as I missed last week's rehearsal owing to family problems. This term is quite a busy one as we are preparing a programme for our concert on July 13th and then taking it to Tallinn, Estonia 2 weeks later; I'm currently organising the logistics of the choir trip (hotel rooms etc.).

At the same time, we are planning our concert for our 40th anniversary, this will be at St. Giles Cripplegate on November 18th. Having fixed the concert, venue and programme (so far we're doing Handel, Mozart and me) I now have to start contacting all of our old members so that they can be invited to the concert and post-concert bash - we always have one item of the programme sung by a mixture of current choir and old members

Tuesday 2 May 2006


We travelled to Canterbury on Saturday for the opera, King but then stayed over so that we could attend Sung Eucharist in the cathedral on the Sunday. Because of the stage for the opera in the nave, 11.00am Eucharist was held in the quire; possibly the first time I've experienced a cathedral high altar being used for Sung Eucharist rather than the nave.

The mass was supposed to be Haydn's Missa Sancti Joanne de Deo, also known as his Little Organ Mass; its one that we sing at St. Mary's. The Benedictus consists of a sublime soprano solo with an elaborate organ accompaniment/solo, though as it is rather long we cut it. At Canterbury we go a rather more varied selection of movements from Haydn Masses; the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei came from the specified mass, the Gloria and the Benedictus came from other masses. These latter 2 movements were obviously chosen for the extreme brevity. That said, the performances with organ were some of the most successful that I have ever heard; I always think that church performances of Haydn and Mozart masses are difficult to bring off but Canterbury succeeded.

The highlight, however, was a luminous performance of Durufle's motet Ubi Caritas with a finely shaped opening alto line from the men of the choir.

Review of King

My review of King, Stephen Barlow's new opera which was performed in Canterbury Cathedral on Saturday is here, here at

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