Friday 29 February 2008

A little bit of history

Some months ago (and more) I was approached by The Pink Singers with an enquiry as to whether I had any information etc. relating to my time as Musical Director of the group (from 1983 to 1988!). Over Christmas we spent a lot of time re-organising the ever growing pile of files in our attic, sorting out the collection of concert programmes going back to 1976. I came across the Pink Singers box and decided to sort it out. The group now has a selection of archive photos etc.

But I also had a group of scrap books charting the group's history from '83 to '88 and felt that it might have interest to those interested in Gay History. One of the singers in the group at that time was also a volunteer with the Hall Carpenter Archives, these have come to rest at the Archives of the LSE. Yesterday I took my Pink Singers scrap books to the LSE archives where they will be accessioned and become part of the collection. A little bit of history

Wednesday 27 February 2008

From this month's Opera

Gleanings from this month's Opera Magazine.

In an inteview with John Treleaven the tenor makes the interesting point that by Act 3 Tristan is meant to be dying, whereas in Act 3 of Siegfried the character is bright and fresh, which makes it harder for the tenor. Amazingly
he is the first British tenor to have tung Siegfried at Covent Garden since Alberto Remedios in 1982. (And I can testify that Remedios and Gwynneth Jones made a knock out combination, especially in Siegfried Act 3). Treleaven seems to be the only Cornish Tristan in operatic history.

Treleaven's musical start in life is slightly curious, he used to sing to himself when swimming in the harbour and was overheard by a teacher who invited him for lessons! Evidently for the last 10 years he's been studying with Jean Cox, a tenor whom I remember standing in for Alberto Remedios when ENO toured their Ring in the 70's. Treleaven is a prime example of the virtues of not starting out in the Wagner repertoire, I can remember him from his days with ENO doing Verdi and all sorts.

In Vienna, Franz Welser-Möst has been doing Die Walkure with the Staatsoper, Christopher Norton-Welsh describes it as 'one of the quietest performances I have heard'. Certainly a performance worth investigating.

Over in Lyon, Laurent Pelly has reached La Vie Parisienne, though the reviewer found the dialogue difficult to understand, despite a Francophone cast; quite a disappointment. Nadja Michael, Covent Garden's current Salome, was singing Marta (Tiefland) in Berlin but her voice was described as developing a wild vibrato, which is worrying; hopefully not a case of too much, too soon.

An interesting pair of viewpoints cropped up when Peter Mussbach's production of Don Giovanni cropped up in Berlin having first appeared at La Scala.
Giorgio Gualerzi dismissed the La Scala version (openly provocative), whereas Carlos Maria Solare simply found the Berlin incarnation boring. Still in Berlin, Dessau's Trial of Lukullus, a work that it would be interesting to hear over here.

In Dublin Opera Ireland gave Turandot in version set in Mao's China, with a chorus half of whom were from the Xinghai Convervatory of Music, and with a Chinese Calaf and a Japanese Turandot. In Amsterdam Strauss's Daphne received its first ever staging. In Madrid they performed Rossini's Tancredi, enterprisingly giving performances of both the endings. I must confess I've always preferred the jolly, upbeat Venice version as this, though less remarkable than the tragic Ferrara ending, seems to fit the rest of the opera better.

Having heard Barry Banks as Edgardo in London, I noted that he has been doing Tonio in La Fille du Regiment in Houston. How about getting the chance of hearing him in the role over here? In New York, another favourite of ours Alice Coote was doing Hansel, with Philip Langridge no less as the Witch. Hansel and Gretel was also on the menu in Hexham, where Opera North's Education Department alighted. Evidently their education is working as the show seems to have attracted mainly family groups. The opera will be returning to Covent Garden next season in a new production by Caurier and Leiser with Anja Silja and Felicity Palmer (as mother and the witch).

New Sussex Opera have been doing Idomeneo; we'd hoped to see it but dates and locations did not work out. It was conducted by the young conductor Nicholas Jenkins and the Idomeneo was his father, tenor Neil Jenkins. Rather appropriate for an opera which hinges on parental relationships. At 62 Neil Jenkins is evidently still 5 years short of Anton Raaff's age when he created the title role.

On DVD, Hartmann's Simpliciu Simplicissimus appears set in Harmann's Munich appartment. But most notable for me was the fact that Marcia Haydee appears in a spoken role. Haydee is forever associated in my mind with Kenneth Macmillan's ballet's, notably Requiem and Song of the Earth. And we have a fascinating book about Sullivan's Ivanhoe, but still no decent recording!

In We hear that.., Bryn Terfel is due do a new Dutchman at Covent Garden next season, directed by Tim Albery; don't hold your breath.

Alfie Boe is returning to La Boheme, this time in a new Jonathan Miller production at ENO (why another new production?).

Danielle de Niese is singing Galatea to Charles Workman's Acis at Covent Garden next season, and Natalie Dessay is doing her first Cleopatra in a new production in Paris of Giulio Cesare directed by Laurent Pelly (hmmm).

Gerald Finley is doing his first Hans Sachs for Glyndebourne in 2011, now that I really want to hear.

ENO is opening 2008/2009 with a new Cav and Pag directed by Richard Jones.

Over at Grange Park, Claire Rutter is doing Norma in 2009.

Monday 25 February 2008

Saturday's concert

On Saturday we did our second concert at St. Peter's Church, Eaton Square. The programme (Hugill:Annunciation; Haydn:Music for musical clocks; Haydn:Little Organ Mass; Hugill:Choruses from Passion; Andriessen:Theme and Variations for organ; Hugill:Crossing) was very well received by the audience and much enjoyed by the choir as well. Annunciation, a new piece setting the biblical text for soprano, tenor and organ, proved very striking and was a notable success. It was lovely to hear Crossing performed with a large, bold organ as accompaniment. The concert was recorded and we look forward to hearing the results!

Review of "The Testament of Dr. Cranmer"


Robert Hugill is a mainly self-taught composer who has written charming music which is easy on the ear. Much is linked to chant, something that the composer was brought up with during his time with catholic church choirs. This disc comprises 77 minutes of music for vocal octet, tenor and strings, as well as octet and organ. Much has been specifically re-arranged for this recording.

The tenor soloist in The Lord bless thee and What is Man? is Christopher Watson. His beauty of sound appears effortless, yet he brings the impassioned moments directly to our attention with style. The eight voices of the ‘eight:fifteen’ vocal ensemble produce a radiant sound that is full of potential. Octets are notoriously difficult for achieving balanced and blended results, but there are only occasional lapses, which do not come close to distracting us from the many superb things we hear. Brough capably directs the two very different groups of musicians with considerable aplomb.

This is a disc of initial unknowns, but the end result is delightful.
Will Dawes

Friday 22 February 2008

Review of Tito Manlio

(A slightly late posting I'm afraid, we've been rather busy preparing tomorrow's concert at St. Peter's Eaton Square)

Considering his popularity in other areas, Vivaldi's operas have still not made it into the mainstream of baroque opera going. I can remember the Camden Festival staging one of his works, but that was the oratorio Juditha Triumphans. The Accademia Bizantina's visit to the Barbican on Tuesday 16th February bringing a concert performance of Vivaldi's opera seria Tito Manlio gave us Londoners a rare opportunity to hear one of his major opera serias live.

The Accademia Bizantina, under Ottavio Dantone, have recorded the opera as part of the impressive ongoing Vivaldi edition on the naive label. Tuesday's cast though had only 1 or 2 singers from the recording.

Though Vivaldi did write operas for Venice, he found himself at odds with his audience and accepted a post in Mantua where the Landgrave of Hesse was the Austrian Governor. Vivaldi wrote a series of operas for performance in Mantua under the Landgrave's patronage and Tito Manlio was the 2nd of these.

It was planned as part of the Landgrave's wedding celebrations but when these fell through, the planned staging was shelved. Though the opera might have been given in a simplified form. The libretto, by the Neapolitan writer Matteo Noris, was a pre-existing one which Vivaldi adapted. Based on an episode in Livy it describes the family struggles between the Roman consul Tito Manlio and his son, during the early days of the Roman Republic.

The opera was presented as part of the Barbican's 'Great Performers' series and as such programmes were free. They did contain an excellent article on Vivaldi and the circumstances of the opera's gestation. But there was not plot summary. This was a grave disadvantage in an unfamiliar opera. Luckily there were surtitles, admirably comprehensive; also the performers had taken the precaution of having the female singers who played male characters all wearing trousers.

The plot covers the struggle between Romans and Latins; the opera opens with consul Tito Manlio (Carlo Lepore) proclaiming that every Roman must vow to support Rome and not the Latins. This causes trouble in his own family as his son Manlio (Karina Gauvin) is in love with a Latin, Servilia (Ann Hallenberg), and Tito's daughter Vitellia is in love with another Latin, Servilia's brother Geminio (Mark Milhofer). Another Latin, Lucio (Roberta Invernizzi) is also in love with Vitellia.

For the first act and the opening of the Act 2, Vivaldi manages to fit in an enormous amount of plot, there are numerous familial comings and goings as some family members support the vow and others not. Tito sends his son to treat with the Latins; Manlio meets Servilia's brother Geminio who baits him. Act 2 opens with Manlio's return to Rome and his admission that he has slain Geminio. His sister Vitellia is furious as is his lover Servilia. His father too, insists that Manlio has broken the law, having been instructed not to fight or provoke the Latins.

Manlio is clapped in irons and put into jail. For the remainder of the opera (a further 90 minutes of music) the plot, such as it is, centres around the conflicted reactions of Manlio and his family to his imprisonment.

Writing for a celebratory occasion, Vivaldi uses a wide instrumental palate with trumpets, horns, oboes, recorders and a kettle drum. The arias are all richly and brilliantly orchestrated and many have substantial instrumental obbligatos. The Accademia Bizantina under Ottavio Dantone played the music brilliantly and were a constant pleasure to listen to.

Vivaldi seems to respond to voices in a similar instrumental fashion. His vocal lines are often brilliant, virtuosic and well nigh impossible to sing. Dantone was blessed with a cast who seemed to be able to make light of the virtuoso difficulties.

Karina Gauvin as Manlio was brilliant. In the first half of the opera she seemed under used, but in the 2nd half she had a series of brilliant arias. Gauvin coped superbly with Vivaldi's impossible writing as did Robert Invernizzi as Lucio. The remaining cast members were not quite as impressive but still pretty incredible. Ann Hallenberg, as Servilia, had quite a soft grained voice which came into its own in the long aria Servilia sang to the sleeping Manlio in his prison cell. As the majority of arias in the opera were short, up tempo numbers, it seemed strange for Vivaldi to choose to dwell at such length on an aria not at all germane to the plot.

Marina De Liso, standing in for Sonia Prina, sang Vitellia's arias well enough though she never made me care for the character's suffering. And in the second half Vivaldi seems to lose interest, Vitellia simply comes on periodically and stomps about raging at Manlio, the killer of her lover, but she rages to no effect.

Vitellia's servant, Lindo (Christian Senn) has no significant plot function but gets a series of almost buffo arias which comment wryly on the activities going on around him; rather an old fashioned device by the time Vivaldi wrote the opera. The role was well delivered, in dead pan manner, by Christian Senn.

Carlo Lepore made an impressive tyrant of Tito Manlio, though Vivaldi gave him some remarkably jolly music; Tito Manlio is a character who seems to find great joy in his role in life!

By the end of the opera, some three hours, we had heard some stunning music, and stupendous singing. Many items could be taken out and stand well on their own. The combination of Vivaldi's instrumental vocal writing with his own orchestration was irresistible.

But frankly, I am not sure it quite added up to drama. There were slightly too many jolly up tempo numbers. And the prison scenes, though attractively pathetic, never quite moved me. I kept thinking of what a composer like Handel or Mozart might have made of the situation. By concentrating the 2nd half of the opera on Manlio's imprisonment and the plight of him and his family, Vivaldi would have needed to deliver music of profoundly moving depth and pathos. This he didn't do, seemingly content to charm and please.

Ottavio Dantone, the Accademia Bizantina and his singers coped brilliantly with Vivaldi's taxing music, creating a wonderfully enjoyable evening. Any faults were Vivaldi's, not theirs.

Wednesday 20 February 2008

Recent CD Review

My review of Jan Lundgren's disc Magnum Mysterium is here, on MusicWeb International.
A little too constrained for jazz enthusiasts and too free with source material for classical folk ...

Review of Lucia di Lamermoor

My review of Saturday's premiere of Lucia di Lamermoor at the London Coliseum is here, on Music and Vision.

Friday 15 February 2008

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a disc of choral music by David Ashley White is here.
For those interested in contemporary sacred music then this disc would be excellent to dip into ...
And my review of Alfie Boe's new disc is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
Well performed and well produced, but ultimately I tired of his aping of the Italian manner ...

Thursday 14 February 2008

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Schumann's music for Male chorus interspersed with modern responses to it is here, on MusicWeb International.
This is a fascinating disc and if you are open to experiment then you are sure to find much here, especially with such confident performances ...

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Susan Graham - concert review

There is a sense that, with an artist of the stature of Susan Graham, they can perform whatever and wherever they want and still get an audience. Judging by Saturday February 9th's performance at the Wigmore Hall, close communication with her audience is important to Graham. So it was not surprise that she was performing in the Wigmore Hall rather than a bigger venue such as the Barbican, which she could undoubtedly have filled.

Accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, she presented a programme which took few prisoners - an extended peregrination through French song from Gounod (Ou voulez-vous aller?, 1839) to Poulenc (La Dame de Montecarlo, 1961). In one sense the programme was unchallenging, the material was all attractive, well written and melodic. But there were few undoubted masterpieces and many excursions into the by ways of the repertoire. Much depended on the quality of the performance and the audience's willingness to follow Graham and Martineau, to make connections and pick up the threads between the works suggested by Gerald Larner's excellent programme notes.

There were eccentricities, neither Faure (2 songs, one a vocalise), nor Debussy (2 songs) nor Ravel (one song) were represented by examples of their greatest works.
Poulenc completed the journey with his scena La Dame do Montecarlo.

The programme was presented roughly chronologically. This meant that in the first half, a generous 12 songs from the 19th century, there were slightly too many attractive encore type pieces, such as Paladilhe's Psyche (popularised by Maggie Teyte and Grace Moore) or Bachelet's Chere nuit (written for Melba and popular with singers such as Nan Merriman). But Graham was on excellent form, caressing each item with her lovely voice, giving each song its own distinctive dramatic presentation. And in items like Debussy's Harmonie du Soir, giving much more.

For the 20th century group a welcome element of wit and cleverness crept into the songs. Few songs were quite as comfortable as their 19th century counterparts, even Ravel's La Paon, with its vivid depiction of the Peacock. Perhaps Graham tried a little to hard with Satie's Le Chapelier, where he combines of Rene Chalupt's poem about the Mad Hatter with a melody from Gounod's Mireille - surely the joke should be in understated here rather than over-done. But Honegger's Trois Chansons de la Petite Sirene were perfect.

For the 2nd half Graham and Martineau gave us 11 songs, quite a respectable content and I'm sure that everyone would have been happy if the concert finished there, many distinguished divas have got away with performing few songs in a recital. But Graham and Martineau gave us Poulenc's substantial La Dame de Montecarlo, a brilliant tour de force in conclusion.

But it was in pieces such as the Poulenc where Graham's glorious voice could almost be said to be something of a limitation, there were times when I wanted less voice and more word.

Having sung Hahn's Tyndaris during part 2, Graham and Martineau gave us his A Chloris as a further treat as an encore. Graham followed this with Noel Coward's song about the 'filthy' French. Here, as in the Poulenc, I wanted more word and less voice.

Graham was well supported by Malcolm Martineau, surely becoming one of our finest contemporary accompanists. Their recital was generously programmed, some 24 songs, and by exploring the byways of the French melodie, they enabled us to get to knwo some lesser known gems in stunning performances.

Concert press release

The press release for our Feb 23rd Concert is on-line here, at PressBox.

Monday 11 February 2008

Recent CD review

My review of a fascinating disc which mixes Schumann's music for male voice chorus with contemporary works is here, on MusicWeb International.
This is a fascinating disc and if you are open to experiment then you are sure to find much here, especially with such confident performances ...

Sunday 10 February 2008

Approaching the Sublime

On Saturday February 23rd 2008 at 7.30pm at St. Peter’s Church, 119 Eaton Square, London SW1W 9AL, FifteenB, conductor Paul Ayres and organist Malcolm Cottle will be performing a programme which explores different approaches to the sublime. Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, with its sublime soprano in the Benedictus, will be contrasted with Rabindranath Tagore’s evocative religious imagery in Robert Hugill’s cantata Crossing setting 2 of Tagore’s poems. A different approach is taken in the poetry of Black American poet Carl Cook, whose contemporary religious imagery suffuses Robert Hugill’s Choruses from “Passion”. The concert also includes the premiere of Robert Hugill’s Annunciation for solo soprano, solo tenor and organ.

Tickets for the concert, price £10 (concessions £6) are available on the door or in advance from Islington Music, tel. 020 7354 3195. Online booking available at:-

Friday 8 February 2008

Singing actors?

Should actors in musicals be able to sing? Is it necessary for them to be able to sing well, or are untrained voices acceptable? These thoughts occurred to me whilst reading reviews of the new film of Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd. I have yet to see the film but find myself disturbed by the comments on how unused to singing the leading actors were.

For me, I must admit, the answer to the question is a resounding yes, an actor should be able to sing, and sing well if they are to appear in a musical. I realise that not everyone will agree with this and find it acceptable it the performers can get by in a reasonably expressive manner.

But it is this little word expressive which is a big sticking point. An interesting example of my problem is the National Theatre production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music with Judi Dench. Now Dench is a superb actress and an adequate singer, she was after all the first London Sally Bowles. But I felt it noticeable in the musical that she was less flexible, less expressive in her musical numbers. Her lack of (regular) musical experience meant that she was a little constrained; she could not be as expressive musically as she could with words.

And musicals are meant to be sung. I can still remember a revival of one of the great American musicals in the West End where virtually none of the cast could properly hold a tune. Very few actors are the equal of Rex Harrison who could be very expressive in musical numbers even though he just talked his way through the songs in My Fair Lady. Of course, with the advent of microphones and improved recording technology, it is possible to make a poor or inadequate singer seem fascinating on film. Of course, this requires the performer to be in some way charismatic so that, in the Rex Harrison mould, other qualities come to the fore and replace the musical ones.

Music is a language and if a performer is unused to it, then they simply will not be able to express themselves as well as they can in words. And when ballet dancers turn actors or singers, they have a double hurdle to leap as they are unused to expressing themselves with their voice at all. I saw Irek Mukhamedov in The King and I and though his acting and singing were creditable, it was noticeable that he was at his most relaxed and most expressive when dancing.

Live performance suffers in a similar manner because of the use of microphones, meaning that a singer who would be expected to be able to project their speaking voice in an auditorium does not have to do this when singing. I have seen a few musicals over the years where amplification was not used. Carousel at the National Theatre was done without, I believe, and it revealed an entirely different set of strengths and weaknesses in the cast. The big advantage was that you were hearing the performers for real and this forced them to consider how to be expressive musically. My abiding musical memory of that performance was Patricia Routledge singing You’ll never walk alone. But then I heard Routledge upstage June Anderson and a clutch of other opera singers in a concert performance (unamplified) of Bernstein’s Candide.

Grange Park Opera have a tradition of doing the occasional musical and, given the smallness of the theatre, doing them unamplified. They mix young opera singers and actors. Listening to these performances, it makes you realise that the performers in the early musical must have been fine, musical actors with decent, if not strong voices.

But you can take things to the opposite extreme, and a musical cast entirely from opera singers is not necessarily a lovely thing either!

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of songs by Janos Fusz is here, on MusicWeb International.
By no means masterpieces but charming and the best are fascinating A glimpse into the world of the Kleinmeister ...

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Easter Chant is here, on MusicWeb International.
Chant as sung in a real Benedictine community ...

Monday 4 February 2008

From this month's Opera

Gleanings from this months Opera magazine.

A couple of snippets from the profile of Gianandrea Noseda. He was the first foreigner since Albert Coates to be a regular conductor at the Kirov, and Coates worked there before the Revolution. He makes an interesting comment about the sort of conductors he is interested in encouraging in TurinI don't want singers to have an easy life with conductors who will simply follow them not matter what they do. It was Noseda's Beethoven cycle for the BBC in Manchester which had the remarkable download success, attracting 1.4 million downloads in 3 weeks. (Something the BBC have never repeated).

Over in Scotland there is an interview with Alex Reedijk, Scottish Opera's new head. Another fascinating fact, Scottish Opera's educational arm was the first to be established by a UK company. It is heartening to hear that in the 2008/09 season all of the company's 4 productions will be new ones, rather than rentals. But still a little depressing that they are only doing 4 productions, no matter how necessary this is economically. Still, their forthcoming evening of 5 1-act operas, all brand new and commissioned by Scottish Opera, is exciting. They plan to develop these further, let us hope that they have some success. But the workshop method, much beloved of opera companies, does not often seem to pay major dividends when it comes to operas; somehow the process often squeezes the life out of pieces.

An article on Balfe prompts much interest, but you'll have to go down to Haslemere if you want to hear his work, Opera South are staging The Bohemian Girl. Balfe's musical connections were remarkable. He sang at La Scala with Maria Malibran (in Rossini's Otello) and at La Fenice with her in La Sonnambul. He was in Milan when both Norma and La Sonnambula had their premieres.

An interesting conflation of obituaries - Karlheinz Stockhausen and Gudrun Wagner.

In Rio de Janeiro, Lithuanian mezzo Liora Grodnikaite gets fine reviews; I'm looking forward to seeing her in Massenet's Cendrillon when Chelsea Opera Group do it later this year.

Chicago has staged a new Die Frau ohne Schatten. I'd love to have heard it, with Christine Brewer as the Dyers Wife and Deborah Voight as the Empress. In NY the Met did its first Iphigenie en Tauride since 1917!

Back in Europe, Anger Nantes Opera gave the premiere of Susumu Yoshida's Sumidagawa, based on the same Noh play that Britten used for Curlew River. Remarkably the singers (one Canadian, Argentinian) sang the piece in Japanese, quite a feat. And in Frankfurt Richard Jones's new production of Billy Bud is set in a 1940's Naval College. Still in a Britten kind of mood, Turn of the Screw cropped up in Cremona sung in English by a mostly Italian cast. It is always heartening when this happens as too often you read about unusual repertoire cropping up in places with largely imported casts.

Over in Milan, Tristan und Isolde in a new production by Patrice Chereau, with Ian Storey as Tristan; he's a British singer who I've not really heard, he seems neglected over here. His Isolde was Waltraut Meier, and Michelle de Young was Brangaene, so no Italian speakers here. The role sounds as if it might be stretch of Meier (after all she is technically a mezzo) and I'd be interested to hear her doing it with a period band at a slightly lower 19th century pitch (assuming I'm right about the pitch being slightly lower).

It seems scarcely believable that Dennis O'Neill is 60 but there was a gala to celebrate this at the Wales Millennium Centre. And, having been cataloguing my old programmes, I must admit that his name crops up rather a lot in the operas I saw in Scotland in the late 1970's.

Stephen Petitt, in his thoughtful review of The Magic Flute performed by the South African Isango/Portobello Company makes an comment that there was not a single black face in the audience the night he was there. It would be interesting to know whether this changed over the course of the run or whether opera is just as problematic in London when performed by a black South African company.

We hear that... notes that Jeanne Michele Charbonnet will be Kundry in ENO's 2010 revival of Parsifal. I'm not sure about this one, I was less than thrilled with the concrete bunker production when new and Charbonnet failed to delight when heard in John Foulds World Requiem. Fascinatingly, John Copley has replaced Jude Kelly as the director of the new Merry Widow; definitely a sea change in the sort of production we might expect. We can anticipate that Copley will turn in a well made, very revivable production (unlike some recent ENO outings). Sarah Connolly is going to be doing Dido (Purcell) at Covent Garden. The big question being, what else are they putting on the bill? And Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez will be appearing in a new Donna del Lago, another of these travelling productions (Paris, London, NY, Milan). Still, I can hardly wait, definitely a mouthwatering cast. Amanda Roocroft is doing the Countess (Capriccio)for the first time with Opera North in 2010, now we'll have to find time to go and see that.

Friday 1 February 2008

The Great Herbert

An article by Norman Lebrecht (published in the London Evening Standard, but available on the web at La Scena Musicale raises the spectre of Herbert von Karajan's centenary.

It was when I was a student in Manchester (from 1976 to 1981) that I first really came across Karajan's work. When we could afford it we were buying LP's and inevitably Karajan's name came to our attention. This was before I came to know his stunning records of the 1950's. This was the era when he was increasingly prizing glossy perfection in his orchestra, sometimes at the expense of his singers. Further into the 1980's I came to notice the way he was pushing some singers into roles which would seem to heavy for them (Katia Ricciarelli as Aida for instance).

I heard comments about the eerie perfection of his stage productions and the stories that he would not countenance long runs as the staging started to fail to meet his exacting standards.

All this conspired against my liking for his style of music making. To this day, I have few of Karajan's recordings and only admire his early ones. For this reason we coined a name for him, The Great Herbert. To understand this you have to understand our local (Northern English) idiom, in which the phrase you daft herbert, refers to someone who has done something stupid.

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Clemence de Grandval's works for oboe is here, on MusicWeb International.
Charming pieces and anyway well worth searching out if you are interested in the musical life in 19th century Paris ...

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