Saturday 31 May 2008

Wigmore Hall new season (2)

Continuing our brief survey of the Wigmore Hall's new season.

They open the new year with a complete delight, tenor Jonas Kauffmann in a programme of Schubert, Britten (Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo and Strauss. Then the Classical Opera Company, under Stephen Page, are giving us a survey of Handel's London Operas - a single concert seems far too short for so many riches!

Still in early mode, Anna Caterina Antonacci with the English Consort are doing a programme which includes Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. And in February, the Gabrieli Consort give us Acis and Galatea. Further ahead in April, Carolyn Sampson and the Kings's Consort are mixing Handel cantatas and trio sonatas, unfortunately the selection of cantatas restricts itself to the well known ones.

Andrew Carwood and the Cardinall's music are mixing RVW's Mass in G minor with music by Taverner, Tallis and Gregorian Chant.

In a concert entitled Nash Inventions, the Nash Ensemble perform music by James Macmillan, Huw Watkins, Michael Berkley, George Benjamin and Mark-Anthony Turnage, some pieces are world premieres. Definitely a concert to note in the diary.

Towards Easter, the Chilingirian Quartet are pairing up with the Hilliard Ensemble to do Haydn's Seven Last Words and Les Talens Lyriques are doing Charpentier's Lecons de tenebres

Inevitably so far ahead, a number of programmes are not yet fixed but names include Solveig Kringelborn with Malcolm Martineau, Toby Spence, both Christopher Maltman and Mark Padmore in Brahms with Graham Johnson, Felicity Lott, Bernada Fink (in Schubert), Alice Coote,

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Mayr's opera L'Amor conjugal is here.
Not a masterpiece but strong and interesting ...

And my review of a disc of choral music by Christian Heinrich Rinck is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
Fascinating, confident, stylish performances of Lutheran music from the early 19th century ...

Friday 30 May 2008

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's Ode for St. Cecila's Day, from the Handel FestSpiel Halle in 1982 is here, on MusicWeb International.
An attractive enough performance but you’ll be missing out on the extra special touch that other singers bring to this music ...

Thursday 29 May 2008

City of London Festival

The City of London Festival kicks off on 20th June. This year's festival has a number of themes running through it.

First off, of course, is RVW. His Mass in G minor is given by the choir of St. Pauls, under Andrew Carwood, at the Festival's opening service. Ronan Collett includes his Songs of Travel in a recital which also includes Holst's Vedic Hymns and a group of lieder setting words by Goethe.

Goethe is another thread running through the Festival. There are a pair of concerts entitled Goethe and the Lied, Goethe's poetry crops up in songs features in a number of recitals, and Richard Stokes gives a lecture. Extending this theme, Samuel West and David Owen Norris give a Byron themed programme which mixes Byron's poems, music by Liszt, Mendelssohns (both), Schumann and Judith Bingham with a new melodrama featuring Byron's words and Aidan Andrew Dun's music and Alberto Venzago's photography.

Another thread is West-East, a thread which links neatly into Holst's Vedic Hymns. His choral versions of these crop up in a BBC Singers concert which includes Messiaen's amazing Cinq Rechants and music by Param Vir and Jonathan Harvey. Param Vir (again a West-East feeling here) is one of the composers featured in a recital by Patricia Rozario, Rohan de Saram and Julius Drake entitled a West-Eastern Divan, which mixes exotica by Schubert and Mendelssohn with Param Vir, John Tavener and Heinz Holliger. It is here that multiple threads link as one of the pieces features Goethe's östlichen Divan.

The Swiss influence continues with a new melodrama by Edward Rushton based on the writings of Sir Arnold Lunn, the reciter is Eleanor Bron.

Emily Beynon and Cedric Tiberghien perform George Benjamin's FLight amid a programme of Ravel, Messiaen and Couperin. Messiaen and Carl Rütti appear in an organ recital by Greg Morris; Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr and Pavel Haas feature in a recital by the Pavel Haas Quartet and percussionist Colin Currie. John Tavener and Peter Maxwell Davies crop up in a programme from St. Paul's Cathedral Choir which also includes Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, Bernstein's Chichester Psalms and a new piece to words by Andrew Motion celebrating the 300th anniversary of St. Pauls.

And for those of you that yearn for something bigger, Valery Gergiev is doing Mahler's 8th Symphony with the LSO, with both the London Symphony Chorus and the Choral Arts Society of Washington. Apart from Ailish Tynan, the soloists have a distinctly Slav cast to them which should give an interesting slant to the performance. This takes place, of course, at St. Paul's Cathedral.

ETO Autumn Tour

Yet more information about plans for the Autumn. English Touring Opera's Autumn tour commences at the Hackney Empire on 9th Oct. Their tour programme is, perhaps, a tad less exciting than others; they are doing a pairing of Dvorak's Rusalka with the Peter Brook/Bizet La Tragedie de Carmen. Rusalka will be sung by Donna Bateman who took the title role in Susannah in their Spring tour; the new production will be directed by James Conway. Carmen will be sung by Leah Marian Jones and the production will be directed by Andrew Steggall.

I have always been in two minds about Peter Brooks's reworking of Bizet, though I must admit to have never heard it live, only on TV. I suppose that if you are planning a small scale production of the opera, Brooks's version is a logical choice. Another thought - could we consider that Brooks's re-working of the opera is truer to its real heart than Sally Potter's recent re-working at ENO?

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Corsham Festival

This year's Corsham Festival (21st June - 28th June) again impresses with the way this small festival manages to fit in some challenging and interesting musical programmes. This year the festival includes a concert from a new Mandolin quartet.

A very enterprising programme by Radius features Birtwistle's Lied, Ian Vine's Gesso (world premiere), George Crumb's rarely performed Eleven Echoes of Autumn, Tim Benjamin's 1 act music drama The Rosenhan Experiment (world premiere) and Thomas Ades's Catch.

The Norwegian ensemble, asamisimasa, give a programme which features music by Emil Bernhardt, Michael Finissy, Trond Deinholdtsen, Chris Dench, Mattew Shlomowitz, Sven Lyder Kahrs, Joanna Baillie and James Saunders. They promise a mixture of slapstick humour, melancholic alienation, disoriented signs and funky riffs! Sounds fascinating.

Irish Pianist Mary Dullea performs in tandem with videos by Julia Bardley; she will be performing music by Stphen Montague, Rolf Hind, Pavel Szymanski, Andrew Poppy, Joe Cutler, Benedict Mason and George Crumb.

Twin cellists Pei-Jee and Pei-Sian Ng will be performing a programme of music for 2 cellos which mixes music by Jean Barriere and David Popper with contemporary pieces by Daniel Kidane and Elen Kats-Chernin. Finally the London Sinfonietta perform music by Takemitsu, Emily Hall, Britten, Birtwistle, Messiaen and Debussy - though don't be fooled this is no ordinary orchestral concert but features music for a variety of solo instruments in different combinations.

There is also a strong Jazz vein to the Festival and numerous lively events. Definitely worth making a detour for.

John La Bouchardiere's film The Full Monteverdi featuring I Fagiolini's ground breaking Monteverdi performances will also be performed.

Wigmore Hall new Season (I)

The Wigmore Hall's new season brochure has just hit my letterbox, and as usual it is so full of goodies as to be almost intimidating; most years I intend to book a series of concerts and never do as the simple act of organising all the information and actually deciding is far too complex!

The season opens with Joyce di Donato and Julius Drake doing a concert of Vivaldi opera arias, plus songs by Chausson, Turina, Copland and Arlen - so they are definitely not taking the easy route. Joan Rodgers and Christopher Maltman give a concert of songs by RVW, Finzi and Howells - the first in a year long series celebrating RVW and English song. Still in September, Angelika Kirschlager returns with a Schubert, Korngold, Weill recital.

In October the Academy of Ancient Music are doing Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in tandem with a group of works by 17th century composer Christopher Gibbons, all taken from recently discovered manuscripts. Another visitor, the wonderful Veronique Gens, is doing Berlioz, Debussy and Offenbach for a BBC lunchtime recital. Then a group of performers are celebrating Michael Berkeley's 60th birthday.

On a slightly more off-beat note, Colin Currie is doing a percussion and piano recital with music by Birtwistle and John McLeod. Later in the season, Thomas Ades crops up as pianist, with Stephen Isserlis in a wide ranging programme which includes some of Ades's own music.

Come November, we have Diana Damrau to look forward to, again with the ubiquitous Julius Drake. They are doing a programme of Berg, Barber, Strauss and Ian Bell's Daughters of Britannia. The King's Consort celebrate St. Cecilia's day 8 days early with a group of Cecilia inspired Purcell pieces plus a couple of his Welcome Odes, a brilliant opportunity to hear some of his lesser performed pieces in the genre.

Graham Johnson is doing a series entitled Brahms, His Friends, Rivals and Contemporaries; I must confess that this is a series I will be giving a miss.

The Britten Sinfonia crop up at another Lunchtime Concert in December, with a programme which includes music by Charlotte Bray and Colin Matthews. Then another ensemble, The Nash this time, do a Czech programme which includes Smetana's Der Fischer for reciter and ensemble with Eleanor Bron.

The Early Opera Company celebrate Christmas with Messiah, a lovely chance to hear it performed with just 12 singers and 14 players. Carolyn Sampson is taking a break from Bach and Handel and doing a programme of lute songs by Dowland and his contemporaries, with lutenist Matthew Wadsworth.

2008 finishes with a New Year's Eve concert from the King's Consort, this time an All Bach concert featuring an early version of Suite No. 4, 2 cantatas, the Motet Lobet den Herrn and the Harpsichord Concerto in A

Edington Festival

This year's Edington Festival runs from Sunday 17th August to Sunday 24th August, as usual there is a packed programme of music and services. The Messiaen anniversary is commemorated with a performance of his popular motet O Sacrum Convivium. Other more contemporary pieces include 2 from Matthew Martin, a festival commission from the young American composer Nico Muhly, and John Tavener's A Hymn to the Mother of God.

Masses include Lassus's Bell'amfitrit altera, Sheppard's Missa Cantate, Kenneth Leighton's Mass for Double Choir and Byrd's 5-part mass.

Composers include a wide range of eras and styles, though there is something of an emphasis on late 19th/20th century figures such as Stanford, Rachmaninov, William Harris, RVW, Poulenc, Walton, Britten, Leighton, Howells, Bainton, S.S. Wesley and Philip Radcliffe.

There are a total of 14 services with polyphonic music plus daily matins and compline sung to plainchant. Plainchant, of course, is a fine feature of the whole week with Mass X(Alme Pater), Mass III (Deus dempiterne) and the Kyrie from Mass IV (Cunctipotens genitor Deus) all featuring.

Full information from the leaflet (pdf) here.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Review of Matthew Schellhorn's recital

My review of Matthew Schellhorn's Wigmore Hall recital was posted here, on Music and Vision whilst I was away.

Friday 23 May 2008

Recent CD Reviews

Recent CD reviews posted on MusicWeb International whilst I was away.

Simon McEnery's Resurrection is here.
A fascinating and accessible work, one to which I will return in the future. ...

Elgar Songs (vol. 1) here
Essential listening for anyone interested in English song and Elgar ...

Dufay's Mass for St. James the Greater from the Binchois Consort is here.
One of those discs to be played to people who remain unconvinced about music from this period ...

Rosengart's sacred music here.
Charming pieces in winning performances ...

Matins from Lincoln Cathedral here.
You really do feel as if you are eavesdropping on a service at the Cathedral ...

Thursday 8 May 2008

Reviewer's Log

MusicWeb International have just posted another of my reviewer's logs, so if you ever wondered what I think about when reviewing discs, click here.

Wednesday 7 May 2008


If you fancy a concert in London tonight then I can't think you'll do better than Matthew Schellhorn's debut recital at the Wigmore Hall. This talented young pianist is performing a fascinating bird themed programme, with works by Messiaen (something of a speciality of his), Rameau, Daquin and Dutilleux, plus the premiere of a piece Schellhorn has commissioned from Ian Wilson. The programme concludes with a well chosen group of Chopin pieces.

The Wilson premiere is book 4 of his Stations, a 14 movement work inspired by the stations of the Cross. The work is divided into 4 books and Schellhorn has already premièred books 1 to 3

Further details here.


EMI are running a competition, all you have to do is write a review of one of their CD's, further details here. So if you think you can do better than the reviews you read, now is your chance to try.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Gleanings from this month's Opera magazine

This month's interview is with Danielle de Niese, who is singing Poppea at Glyndebourne this summer. I will be missing her Poppea and have always been rather prejudiced because I first saw her as Cleopatra in the amazing dancing Glyndebourn Julius Caesar, which I hated. It looks as if I'm going to have to wait until her Covent Garden debut as Galatea to make a more reasoned assessment.

On the letters page, one correspondant takes Caballe to task for mixing rock and pop when she sang with Freddy Mercury. It should be pointed out that the collaboration was Mercury's idea and that he wrote songs for her, she wasn't singing operatic versions of existing pop/rock but specially written material.

Richard Osborne's profile of Karajan (its his centenary year, which makes me feel old), throws up some interesting trivia. In Ulm, where Karajan spent 5 years in the 30's, the theatre commissar worked for the electricity board. And contrary to popular opinion, the Great Herbert wasn't a Nazi party member, in fact he didn't even register with the Reichsmusikkammer.

Osborne refers to a scamipish side to Karajan, a word Strauss evidently used when he found him conducting Elektra from memory! On an even more irreverent note, Walter Legge referred to the Salzburg Easter Festival as Heilige Herbert's wonderful Easter egg. In 1940, having heard the wife of the leader of the orchestra at Aachen opera house sing after supper, he invited her at the last minute to fill in as a flower maiden. She agreed, for the hell of it. Some months later he asked her to sing Alice Ford and Octavian, despite having said nothing about the Flower maiden performance. The soprano's name was Elisabeth Grummer!

So Rolando Villazon is back on the operatic scene, returning to the Vienna Staatsoper in Manon. Surprisingly he has little between his Vienna Manons and the Covent Garden Don Carlo. Despite this care, you do wonder whether Don Carlo is rather too heavy a role for him, even in the 5-Act Italian version.

Over in Prague, they are unearthing French rarities, the latest being Saint-Saens's Helene, which was written for Melba. Still on the rare French opera Front, the Chatelet in Paris have just done Roussel's Padmavati, where the star of the show seems to have been the live elephant. Roussel actually spent time in India so his Eastern exoticism is far more genuine than many. Over in the Garnier, Toby Spence was Tom Rakewell, it sounds as if we are going to have to wait for him to do it in London but I look forward to the event immensely. The divine Hilary Summers was Mother Goose in the same production, clad as a dominatrix! Another tenor I admire, Coline Lee was singing the title role in Le Comte Ory in Athens, not much chance of popping over to see that.

In Barcelona, Eva Marton was doing her first Klytemnestra, quite a daring move for a soprano even an ageing dramatic soprano. But Edita Gruberova shows no sign of going down, 40 years after her stage debut she was still wowing the Liceu with her Lucrezia Borgia

Handel's Teseo came in for a bit of over-working at the Komische Oper in Berlin. I can't say that I yearned to see the production, but having a baritone sing Egeo at counter-tenor pitch sounds pretty daring. Still it's not just Handel that producers feel the need to gee up. In Houston Die Entfuhring seems to have come with a deal of comic business, puzzling really.

Still Martin Bernheimer described the new Met production of Peter Grimes as an enlightened fusion of music and drama, so all is not bad on planet opera. A propo of nothing - surprisingly the Met has not done La Sonnambula since 1972.

Back in London, Andrew Porter's review of Vivaldi's Tito Manlio made me wonder whether we'd been at the same opera, surprising how the same performance can take different people so differently. Though Margaret Davies's review of The Bohemian Girl in Haslemere made me pleased that we'd not made the effort to go and see it. So that's still an opera on the to be seen list (along with Ivanhoe and Le Roi Arthus and most of Meyerbeer's French oeuvre)

The review of the reconstruction of Gilbert and Sullivan's Thespis or the God's Grown Old did make me wonder whether Bliss and Priestly knew of the plot when they planned The Olympians (another one on the to be seen list).

In his review of La vie parisienne at the Guildhall, Andrew Porter mentions with approbation a performance at the Coliseum in 1977 with Lois McDonall and Eric Shilling - I was there, I remember it!

Monday 5 May 2008

Review of The Minotaur

In their new opera, The Minotaur (seen at Covent Garden on 3rd May 2008) Sir Harrison Birtwistle and David Harsent's take on the minotaur myth concentrates on just 3 main characters Ariadne (Christine Rice), Theseus (Johann Reuter) and the Minotaur (Sir John Tomlinson). The opera opens with Ariadne wandering along the sea short, seeing the black sail of the ship from Athens bearing the Innocents who will be sacrificed to the Minotaur.

Throughout the opera Ariadne is our guide and narrator, she appears in all but 1 scene, even appearing to the Minotaur in his dreams. As a result, Ariadne is a huge part, a challenge to which Rice rose magnificently. As the opera opens Birtwistle under scores Ariadne's vocal line with a rich dark palette of orchestral sound, challenging the singer by the sheer volume of the orchestra. Though at times Rice got a surprising amount of the text over, I was glad that we had surtitles. Ariadne's vocal line, whilst never melodic, was always expressive and sympathetic to the voice.

The volume and the amplitude of the orchestral sound was almost like a beast itself, under control and often quiescent and quiet, but constantly threatening to overwhelm the singers. Birtwistle's orchestral palette was large, with lots of percussion, giving vivid and rich orchestral images.

The Innocents when they arrived were all high voiced, sopranos and altos including two counter-tenors, the vocal writing for them rendering them as a group, rather than individuals.

Reuter's Theseus was blunt and direct. He had no time for Ariadne's evasions and even less desire to take her back to Athens with him. Reuter's diction was rather compromised by his accent.

The opera is built around cycles of 3. Ariadne asks Theseus 3 times to take her to Athens and only succeeds the 3rd time. 3 Times Theseus insists he go into the labyrinth, but only succeeds the third time. There are 3 scenes in which the Minotaur attacks people in the labyrinth (first 1 Innocent, then the remaining Innocents, then Theseus himself). After each attack the Minotaur gains the power of speech. The first 2 times in dreams than then as he lays dying. Birtwistle and Harsent have created out of this a strong narrative sense which propels the opera along. This was helped by Alison Chitty's strong and flexible designs, flooding the stage with Mediterranean sun in contrast to the dark of the labyrinth.

John Tomlinson's Minotaur wore a horned bulls head, so that depending on the lighting we see just a bull's head or glimpse the man's head within. When in the labyrinth the Minotaur was inarticulate, communicating only in roars. This Bull was a real farmyard bull rather than one of the elegant ones seen in statues. The disadvantage of the mask was that we never saw Tomlinson's face properly.

From his body language he seemed to be an old bull, tired and irritable as well as fearsome. The scenes in the labyrinth where he slaughtered the Innocents were inevitably violent and gory (in a stylised way), but Stephen Langridge staged them brilliantly. Stylised movement and some gore complementing the violence of Birtwistle's score. Each time the slaughter concluded with the descent of the screaming Keres, evil creatures who evisicerate and eat the corpses. So the final, shocking, image of the opera is not the reunited Ariadne and Theseus, but a single Ker triumphantly crowing over the body of the Minotaur.

And after each slaughter the Minotaur dreams, in dreams he has language and holds a dialogue with his reflection, pondering what it means to be half man, half beast.

Ariadne starts the 3rd cycle off by visiting the oracle (Andrew Watts). Here with the help of the priest (Philip Langridge) she comes up with the idea of the twine to show Theseus the way out of the Labyrinth.

Though the final cycle concludes with Theseus killing the Minotaur, Harsent and Birtwistle make it clear that though Theseus will leave Crete with Ariadne, thus fulfilling the letter of his promise, she will not reach Athens. There is no romantic conclusion.

Birtwistle's score is dramatic and violent but with many beautiful passages. It is difficult to do it justice on just one hearing. The Royal Opera Orchestra played magnificently under Antonio Pappano, conjuring up Birtwistle's remarkable sound world.

We were at the last performance, which was full with a queue for returns. The audience was remarkably enthusiastic about the work and gave Birtwistle and Harsent an ovation when they appeared on stage at the end. The opera is being recorded for DVD but I do hope that it reoccurs on the Royal Opera House stage.

Saturday 3 May 2008

London Concord Singers summer concert

London Concord Singers, conductor Malcolm Cottle, will be performing my motet Deus in adjutorium at a concert on Thursday 10th July at St. Michael's Church, Chester Square, London SW1W 9HH. The full programme for the concert is as follows:-
Alberto Ginastera - Lamentations of Jeremiah
Robert Hugill - Deus in adjutorium
Randall Thompson - Alleluia
Eric Whitacre - When David Heard; Lux Aurumque; Hope, Faith, Love
Brahms - Zwei Motetten Op. 74
Palestrina - Exsultate Deo; Precaus est Moyses
John Sheppard - Verbum Caro
Robert Parsons - Credo quod redemptor meus vivis
William Byrd - Beati mundo corde

The choir will also be singing the programme in Verona in August. There will be a concert on Saturday 2nd August, then the choir will sing at Mass at the church of San Giorgio en Baida where the music will include my Deus in adjutorium as the introit motet (the motet sets the Latin text of the Introit for that day).

Review of The Merry Widow

My review of The Merry Widow at London Coliseum is here, on Music and Vision.

Thursday 1 May 2008

New Opera

Scottish Opera seem to have had some success with their Five:15 project, pairing up 5 composers with 5 librettists and challenging them to come up with a 15 minute opera. Andrew Clark in this month's Opera magazine is most positive about the project, especially when compared to the contemporary opera programmes of our other opera companies.

What the Scottish project seems to have had is freshness, communication and craftsmanship, none of the 5 projects seems to have tried to re-think what an opera ought to be. Recent offerings at ENO, WNO and the Royal Opera House's Opera Genesis programmes have left me a little depressed by contemporary opera. Composers often seem to try to re-define what opera means, making the mistake of trying to rewrite the rules before actually knowing them. When they don't, the works seem to have been in danger of being workshopped to death. Workshopping seems to be the contemporary opera company's panacea which allows them to feel in control of the creation process. The advantage is that the composer and librettist can try things out and get the feel of a piece. The disadvantage, from a consumer's point of view, is that the dramaturg's get their hands on things and the results can often lack danger, be without the essential spark which makes a work come alive.

One opera company that does seem to get things sort of right is Tete-a-Tete, run by Bill Bankes-Jones. They have regularly put together evenings of tiny operas, which allow composers to try things out. Not everything succeeds, but they present their vignettes with vivid communication and freshness. Each summer they run an opera festival at Riverside studios, this enables composers and librettists to present fully fledged works or simply works in progress. We went to 2 evenings last year and saw a total of 6 works, being alternately challenged and fascinated by the pieces.

Having successfully produced works on this model, let us hope Scottish Opera can continue the momentum. I understand that they hope to build on the more successful works in the evening, but I do hope that in a year or two's time they re-peat the experiment, allowing another group of composers to try things out.

Salomon Concert

The Salomon Orchestra's next concert is on Sunday May 18th at St. John's Smith Square, London. As usual its going to be an interesting programme, Messiaen's L'Ascension, Weber's Bassoon Concerto (with Robin O'Neill) and Saint-Saens's 3rd Symphony. It should be interesting experiencing the symphony in true French style with the organ at the rear of the concert hall rather than behind the performers. The conductor is Andrew Fardell.

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