Wednesday 28 February 2007

Recording news

The big news on the recording front is that Paul Brough, who is conducting the forthcoming disc of my music, has just been announced as Principal Conductor of The Hanover Band. Paul has worked with the band since 2004 and is performing with them at the Haydn Festival at Eisenstadt, Austria in September. Paul is also Musical Director at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London. He conducted the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble last March when they performed The Testament of Dr. Cranmer at Oxford University Church as part of the Commemorations for the 450th anniversary of Cranmer's execution.

On the forthcoming disc, Paul will be conducting the eight:fifteen vocal ensemble in The Testament of Dr. Cranmer, plus a selection of choral works. In addition he will conduct the strings of the Chameleon Arts Orchestra in 2 works for tenor and strings, the tenor is Chris Wilson. More information here, on my recording page:

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Recent CD Review

My review of Bach's Mass in B Minor from Frieder Bernius and the Stuttgart Baroque Orchestra is here, on MusicWeb International.
Not quite on a par with some of the fine period performances of the past, but it comes pretty close, with some superb playing and singing making for a highly recommendable modern version. ...

Thursday 22 February 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of the new Hyperion disc of Nicholas Maw choral music is here, on MusicWeb International.

It is good to have another disc of Maw’s music in the catalogue, particularly in performances as fine as these. If you are interested in choral music or well wrought contemporary music, then buy this disc. ...

Wednesday 21 February 2007

Its better with a Horn

I forget now why I wrote my cantata, Memorare for the combination of choir and solo French Horn. My previous cantata, Vocibus Mulierum - Womens Voices was written (in the early 1990's) for unaccompanied choir and mezzo-soprano solo and premiered by FifteenB in 1994. That piece dealt with women and the church and for the follow up (Memorare) I decided to cover AIDS and the church. I was nervous at writing for too big an instrumental group - too difficult to fix up a performance. Also a friend of mine played the instrument and I knew that there would be no balance problems.

I showed the score of Memorare to Malcolm Cottle of London Concord Singers, who had already premièred another of my choral works (Three Prayers) and he came up with the idea of doing a concert for World Aids Day. We did Memorare, for choir and French Horn, Malcolm Williamson's Requiem for a Tribe Brother and Richard Rodney Bennett's And Death Shall Have No Dominion in 1995 in the presence of Malcolm Williamson (who said nice things about my piece and quizzed me about my opinions on the Pope, all while messily eating a large piece of chocolate cake). The concert took place at the very end of November amidst a positive storm of colds and flu; a number of ringers had to be brought in to make up numbers in the choir and the soloist in the Williamson had had to learn her part in under a week, singing along to a tape as she commuted to work daily (she lived in London and was working in Birmingham I think).

The Bennett piece was a setting of Dylan Thomas's poem for male voice choir and french horn. It is a wonderful 8-minute long piece which was written for New York City Gay Men's Chorus. It is quite tough in style, certainly not the user friendly/easy listening type of music that they typically do. Certainly NYCGMC has a commissioning policy but Bennett's piece is not run of the mill. It was written in 1986 and his publishers were never able to tell me whether NYCGMC actually did première the piece. Chester Novello's website says that the work was written for NYCGMC but the list of commissions on the NYCGMC website fails to mention Bennett. If so, it must have sounded wonderful as they number far, far more than the 8 to 10 men that we mustered.

London Concord Singers have performed Bennett's piece a couple of times and it has remained in the back of my mind, even though I don't actually possess a recording of it. So when I came across Dylan Thomas's poem Do not go gentle into that good night and started to have ideas for a setting of it, it was almost inevitable that these would involve a French Horn. As ever, with me, my ideas arose from hearing the melodic/harmonic outline of the opening phrase and sort of developed from there; the initial thought giving me my melody and the general feeling of the work. I am now well through with the first draft and simply need to set the closing line of the piece. There's no particular première arranged, but its written for SATB choir and French Horn, very, very manageable if someone's looking for Dylan Thomas settings!

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Monday 19 February 2007

Jogging along

In case you wonder about the rather skimpy posts of late, except for my CD reviewing, I've been quite active. Its just that everything seems to have been in the background.

For our All Saints concert on March 18th I've been busy writing the programme notes (and of course learning the music), plus dealing with the odd logistical nightmare relating to rehearsal locations!

For the recording, I've started the process of sorting out the music for the singers and instrumentalists. Shortly, I'll be embarking on the rather tedious business of generating viable instrumental parts from the score. In theory this is easily done using Finale, but it never seems quite as simple as you are lead to believe. Also, I'm also rather fussy and want the parts to be laid out OK.

Also, planning ahead for the recording release etc. I am arranging to have some proper publicity photographs taken. The last few have been rather last minute, ad hoc ones and its about time I had some considered photos. Also, I'm hoping to get a photographer along to the sessions.

We've also been busy at London Concord Singers, organising our summer trip. We're going to be doing a concert in Basel, in the Munster on Sat. 4th August. So we are now in the midst of firming up the number of singers, arranging accommodation and making more detailed arrangements for the concert. Tedious at times, but it gives us something to look forward to in the summer.

Anticipating that my CD will be released (on the Divine Art label) in the Autumn, I'm also plotting some possible concerts to coincide with the release. More anon.

So, as you can see, I'm quite busy, without actually seeming to have an end product - yet. On the writing front, I have almost completed a first draft of a setting of Dylan Thomas poem and have another, lighter piece awaiting revisions and general post-completion tidying.

Friday 16 February 2007

You couldn't make it up

A news item on the Gramophone web-site, here, suggests that some/many of the late Joyce Hatto's recordings are in fact fakes. Engineers from Pristine Audio and others have compared the discs to existing recordings by other artists and found no appreciable difference.

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Recent CD Reviews

My review of the disc of Arvo Part's choral music from Naxos is here.

Makes it easy to explore Pärt’s unaccompanied vocal music at a very attractive price and in very fine performances. ...

And my review of Sacchini's Oedipe a Colonne is here. Both reviews on MusicWeb International.

If you have never heard of Sacchini but enjoy Gluck’s French operas that do try this disc, you will not be disappointed. ...

Thursday 15 February 2007

Review of Agrippina

My review of Saturday's performance of Handel's Agrippina at the London Coliseum is now online here, at Music and Vision.

Wednesday 14 February 2007

I spent a large chunk of yesterday evening, braving the rain and travelling to All Saints Church, East Finchley. We're planning to do the recording there for the forthcoming Divine Art disc of my choral and vocal music. The venue has already been seen by the recording team but I'd never visited it and travelled out to see the churchand head its organ. (Interestingly, the organ is not tuned to concert pitch, but has always been high.) The director of music at the church is the composer Geoffrey Hanson.

I was doubly interested, therefore, to read Norman Lebrecht's piece in today's Evening Standard, (visible one the web here at La Scena Musicale) about a young violinist who, despairing of getting any major notice, decided to make her own disc. She recorded the Shostakovitch violin concerto and managed to raise the £30,000 necessary for the orchestra. I was very impressed. But of course the realities of classical music CD production slip out during the article, Lebrecht tells us that the disc has sold 600 copies, but is still doing well. You do the math, as the Americans say - a bit scary really.

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Tuesday 13 February 2007

Recent CD review

My review of Cho-Liang Lin's recording of The Four Seasons is here.

Efficient, well played virtuoso performances … looking for love, warmth and a feeling of friendly communal music-making, then look elsewhere. ...

And my review of the Ensemble Armacord's disc Here the Voice is here.

The programme is well chosen, mixing the familiar and unfamiliar. So if you would like to hear some fine singing in a remarkable range of pieces, then do try this disc....

Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.

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Thursday 8 February 2007

From this month's Opera Magazine

Gleaning's from the February edition of Opera


Nicholas Payne points out that in the 50 years that he has been listening to opera the repertoire has double in time scale (200 years to 400 years) so what’s going to happen in the next 50 years we wonder. Much of the expansion has been helped by the link between the theatre and the recording industry; Payne points out the contemporary opera production is no where near as intimately linked to video and dvd. Perhaps this harnessing of 21st century technology is the way forward, somehow.

Gerard Mortier, however, believes that the repertoire is closed and will not expand. Instead opera performance is being exported (to America, to China etc).

Gioacchino Lanza Tomasi (Sovintendente, Teatro San Carlo, Naples) feels that the audience’s problem with contemporary opera performances arises from lack of attention given to musical training and to lack of research on the theatrical side. More creative investment is needed to renew the catalogue.

Aviel Cahn (Opera Director, Stadttheatre Bern) comments that people are becoming progressively less culturally educated, which means that education is becoming increasingly important in theatres. Menno Feenstra (Opera Director, Royal Theatre, Stockholm) suggests that the vibrancy of European opera theatre is because each opera house does its own thing.

In Seville the young conductor Pedro Halffter is both the music director and the artistic director, which means that he has a remarkable control of the direction of the theatre. But in Valencia the new Palau de les Arts, designed by Caltrava, has had a set back – a mobile stage collapsed. There are also acoustic problems and almost 80% of its (large) budget comes from public money – everyone will be watching their future with interest.

I see that Nicholas Joel is going to take over from Gerard Mortier at the Paris Opera, now that should be an interesting change. Also the David McVicar production of Der Rosenkavalier which ha been gaining plaudits at Scottish Opera is transposing itself to the London Coliseum next season. Thank goodness, this means we’re seeing the back of the Jonathan Miller updated production.

Also at ENO next season, David Alden is doing a new Peter Grimes with Stuart Skelton, Amanda Roocroft and Gerard Finley – good cast, not sure about the production though. Christopher Hogwood and Angelika Kirschlager are touring Handel’s Arianna in Creta in May 2009, something to look (very far) forward to.

There has been much talk of Domingo doing the baritone role in Simon Boccanegra but I note that he’s appearing, with Susan Graham, in a new production of Iphigenie en Tauride in November at the Met. I presume he’s singing the baritone part as I can hardly imagine him singing the high-lying tenor part.

And the Simon Rattle/Magdalena Kozena road show goes one, they are doing Chabrier’s Etoile in Berlin in 2008. Almost worth a trip.


Mortier comments that Wagner has too many word and that you could easily cut the Ring and it would be even better; brave words, I wish more people would consider it. He praises Amin Malhouf’s librettos for Saariaho, which leave space for the music; something that many contemporary librettists forget.

In London, the Royal Academy Opera did Lully’s Dardanus in a sort of French – better to have done it in superb French or comprehensible English. But these are both tricky options with a polyglot cast. But evidently Geraldine Farrar prided herself on being able to perform Gounod’s Faust in the language of the host country, be it French, German or Italian – now who can do that nowadays.

Over at the Royal College they did Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea updated to the 1930’s, not the most obvious. It worked, evidently because Paul Curran’s direction of the young singers was so good. Wish that were the case with all clever stagings. But there were solecisms. Both Nerone and Ottone were sung by men, an octave below. With Nerone, tenor Nathan Vale had to snog Lurcanio (to show his polysexuality presumably) and having a woman in the role just would not have given that frisson I presume. Hugh Canning felt that having a tenor Nerone was acceptable but a baritone Ottone not; I have to disagree, I hate the final duet being sung by soprano and tenor, it needs 2 equal voices. Again the issue of language came up, this time the poor diction. And again Canning wished that it was in the vernacular.

No wonder that singers diction is poor if their student performances omit the vernacular and teach poor French and Italian. Ho hum. Still, there are good signs, RNCM did a Cunning Little Vixen in comprehensible English.

Still on the subject of diction, the Russian performances of The Ring in Wales seem to have been very vague as to language, Michael Kennedy wondered whether they were singing some of it in Welsh!


Mortier is dubious about stadium opera, not believing that anyone would make the jump from this to real performances of opera – a pop music enthusiast of his wanted to try an opera, ‘the one with the fat soprano and the elephants’.

Hugh Canning was in Paris and caught Les Troyens at the Opera, where Mortier had imported Wernicke’s Salzburg production. Its worrying that Canning comments that Sylvain Cambreling’s conducting was such that he could understand why French critics find Les Troyens boring. Les Troyens was also on show in Strasbourg, where they opted for a mainly Franco-phone cast.

Still in France, Canning caught Patrice Cherau’s oddly low-key and humourless Cosi and commented getting Marie McLaughlin’s usually irrepressible Despina to keep a straight face throughout is an achievement of sorts.

Over in the Chatelet, Pedro Almodovar’s favourite actress Rossy de Palma was appearing in an operetta, despite not singing or speaking French!

Canning, lucky soul, also saw the new Giulio Cesare at the Theatre des Champs Elysees, directed by Irina Brook. Heavily cut, but with Rosemary Joshua, Alice Coote and Andreas Scholl; Canning comments that compared to this one David McVicar’s Glyndebourne production seemed a model of hair shirted austerity. Perhaps Canning was not so lucky after all. He points out that Handel’s current ubiquity (popularity?) means that there is a shortage of directors sympathetic to opera seria.

Handel, of a sort was on show at the Neukollner Oper in Berlin. Here the piece was cut down to 2 hours (with no interval). Barry Emslie thought that some of the performance even sound like Handel – oh joy! Evidently the Staatsoper in Stuttgart has offered Purcell, Handel, Keiser and Gluck in recent seasons but Horst Koegler is dubious about the vocal standards.

Over in Greece, the Opera North production of Falla’s La Vida Breve re-surfaced with Anne Sophie Duprels (Grange Park’s Thais) in the lead.

Calixto Bieto has surfaced in Italy, in Bologna. Max Loppert finds his work insensitive to the text (words and music), which I think is pretty true no matter how exciting his productions. Evidently the new production of Stravinsky’s Rakes Progress took place on a set like a bouncy castle, which collapsed as all their air was let out of it during the grave yard seen. Something I’d like to have seen, even if it had little to do with Stravinsky, Auden and Kallman’s opera.

The infamous La Scala Aida, the one Alagna walked out of, turns out to be a Zeffirelli spectacular; one of the grandest spectacles that Andrew Clark has seen with iconography reminiscent of 1960’s Hollywood. Clark felt that Zeffirelli’s show was ’no more than a reflection on stage of the money seated in the stalls, an operatic tradition with a 300 year pedigree’

In Rekyavik there was a new opera by Karolina Eiriksdottir, which sounds fascinating. In it, tenor Eyolfur Eyolfsson is called upon to sing counter-tenor as well, something he does well. I’m not sure how well this bodes for the opera’s future life but it’s a piece I’d like to see.

Another new opera, this time in Thailand, caused a stir in the press as it was supposed to depict the death of a king on stage, albeit a mythological one. Robert Markow postulates that it is the only work to be written which includes Wagner tubas and a harpsichord.

James C. Taylor mentions an unintended queerness in Posa’s death scene in the Los Angeles Don Carlos. I’m not sure about the unintended bit as, despite the resolutely heterosexual plot, the relationship between the two men has always seemed rather homo-erotic. Over in New York, Johan Botha garnered plaudits for his account of the title role in the opera, even projecting romantic urgency - something that does not always come easily to large tenors.

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I've been busy sending out press releases for our March 18th gig (see previous post). A normally tedious task made worse because I moved PC in December and have decided to rationalise my contacts lists; so everything is taking twice as long as usual, but the theory is that next time the process should be a lot easier. (I've heard that one before).

The Art of the Verse Anthem

All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London: Sunday March 18th 3.00pm - Music by Orlando Gibbons and Robert Hugill

For their 2007 concert, the FifteenB Consort, with Paul Ayres (organ), are presenting a programme of verse anthems, centred on the works of Orlando Gibbons. In addition to "This is the Record of John" we are performing "If ye be risen again in Christ" and "Almighty God, who by thy Son", as well as his unaccompanied anthem "Almighty and Everlasting God".
The concert is at 3.00pm on Sunday March 18th at All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London, W1W, 8JG. Tickets price £10 are available on the door. All proceeds go to the All Saints Restoration Fund

The verse anthem, with its mixture of solos and choruses was a common form in 17th century Anglican church. We will be singing an attractive selection by composers as diverse as Elizabethans Thomas Tomkins and Thomas Weelkes, and Pelham Humphrey who was a contemporary of Purcell's.

The group will also be performing 2 works by their artistic director, Robert Hugill; his solo motet, "Faith Hope and Charity" and a new anthem, "My eyes are ever turned towards the Lord", directly inspired by 17th century verse anthems.

All Saints Margaret Street will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2009. Over 2 million pounds are needed to restore this magnificent building to its Victorian splendour in time for the anniversary celebrations.

All Saints Church



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Wednesday 7 February 2007


I checked the ENO website, so find out what time their new production of Handel's Agrippina finishes, as we are going on Saturday. Turns out that Saturday's performance starts at 5.30pm and is due to last 3 hours 40 minutes. (Other performances start at 6.30pm). So I thought, Oh good they are doing it uncut; when they did it at the Brixton Festival they cut it heavily so the whole running time was 3 hours.

I checked the on-line synopsis and found that they are doing the opera with only 1 interval. I have a serious problem with this in 3-act operas. Especially ones as carefully constructed as Handel's. Either it means running 2 acts together or you put the interval in an unsuitable place. There's not denying that the opera is long; when I saw the Kent Opera production at Sadlers Wells I had to miss the last bit as there was a danger of me missing my train home.

Still, Fiona Maddocks in her Evening Standard review seemed to like the production and commended the cast and the singing. She was a little less convinced by David McVicar's direction, but the basis for comparison seemed to be Glyndebourne's Giulio Cesare which she described as perfect. As I found it to be rather less than perfect and rather too concerned with entertaining the audience, I'm a bit in two minds as to what we'll find on the Coliseum stage on Saturday.

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Tuesday 6 February 2007

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Catherine Bott's new disc on the Fred Label is here.
A disc which wears its scholarship lightly; infectious performances shine new light on old songs and make new connections...

And my review of Anne Sophie von Otter's recital, a re-issue of her first, is here. Both reviews are on Music Web International.
Essential listening for those who have followed von Otter’s career. If you’ve got her later recordings then you’ll definitely want this her first disc ...

Monday 5 February 2007

Recording latest

I've set up a web-page which give details of what works our forthcoming recording will include and details of the artists etc. The page also has links to some archive recordings of some of the pieces taken from live performances at the Chelsea Festival and other places. The link is here.

Friday 2 February 2007

Tchaikovsky on TV

Finally managed to catch up on episode 1 of Charles Hazelwood's docu-drama about Tchaikovsky which was broadcast on BBC last Saturday, with the 2nd and final part tomorrow.

Ed Stoppard did a pretty good job of re-creating the composer, but I found the mix of Charles Hazelwood's talking head, contemporary Russian musicians playing the composer's music (cue lots of brooding shots of Hazelwood conducting) and the dramatised sections all made for an uneasy whole.

Why could they not have made a pair of programmes, one a proper documentary and the other a proper drama. The dramatised bits were rather confusing as they kept returning to the image of Tchaikovsky dying, which was rather melodramatic and unhelpful. The remainder seemed to rather dwell on the composer's homosexuality. Goodness knows how accurate these re-constructions were, but they seemed a little over the top to me. Surely we'd have been better off with someone reading the composer's letters and someone describing the milieu. It was almost as if the dramatised bits were put in to restrict the amount of screen time that Hazelwood had to discuss the composer's putative sex life. And it always annoys me when people use the word gay to describe someone in the past, for me the word gay describes a modern milieu and is unhelpful when referring to past centuries.

The musical performance sections included dancing from the ballets. I did have the unworthy thought that, given that they had gone to the trouble of reconstructing aspects of Tchaikovsky's life, they should have found a dumpy Italian ballerina to dance Petipa's choreography. After all, the long-limbed lithe ballerina is a 20th century invention. The reason why tutus replace the longer skirts that French ballet dancers had worn was because the Milanese school, which dominated early 19th century ballet, mainly produced rather short legged, dumpy dancer (who were technically very brilliant).

Still, we plan to watch/record the 2nd episode.

Thursday 1 February 2007

Recent CD Review

My review of the new Naxos recording of Cavalli's Gli Amori d'Apollo e di Dafne is here, on MusicWeb International.

A welcome opportunity to hear one of Cavalli’s earliest operas but don’t listen if you dislike the idea of Cavalli filtered through 19th century sensibility. ...

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