Monday 28 December 2009

And another review

This time on the Seen and Heard web site, by Carla Rees.

Videte Miraculum was heard in versions by Tallis, using a spacious six part texture and in a world premiere version by Robert Hugill. This had a lovely opening and a simple, well considered structure, with the harmonies based in tonality but moving gradually to build up tension through dissonance. Hugill made use of parallel and contrary motion to excellent effect, and motivic sections returned to give a sense of overall coherence. He also used a wide range of textures, including unisons, octaves and polyphony in different numbers of parts. This was another well written work which deserves further performances.

Saturday 26 December 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Salvatore Sciarrino's Madrigali is here, on MusicWeb International.
Not for the faint-hearted … uncompromising but rewarding ...

Thursday 24 December 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Robin de Raaff's opera Raaff is here, on MusicWeb International.
Should be of interest to anyone who loves opera and wants to know where it might be going in the 21st century ...

Wednesday 23 December 2009

As seen in the Telegraph

A nice review of Saturday's St. John's Smith Square concert from Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph - 'Robert Hugill's Videte Miraculum soared too, especially at its ending, with the three sopranos perched at a perilous altitude (to their credit, they never wavered).'

Monday 21 December 2009


Well Saturday's concert went off well. Alistair Dixon and La Chapelle du Roi gave a fascinating concert mixing old and new with premieres by Paul Ayres and Gabriel Jackson along with my own piece. It was fascinating to hear Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium performed by just 9 singers rather than by the plushly upholstered tones of a large group of singers. I was extremely pleased with Videte Miraculum, and it was fascinating to re-acquaint myself with a work written some months ago.

Friday 18 December 2009

New Lamps for Old

My motet Videte Miraculum gets its premiere tomorrow in the Chapelle du Roi's New Lamps for Old concert. My motet sets the same text as Thomas Tallis's respond Videte Miraculum and there will be similar new/old pairings from Francis Pott, Kenneth Leighton, Morton Lauridsen, Paul Ayres and Gabriel Jackson.

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's cantata Apollo and Dafne is here.
Showing its age but certainly in the realms of the interesting and, perhaps, desirable. ...

Saturday 12 December 2009

Messiah at ENO

Last night we went to see ENO's staging of Messiah. Well we managed the first 2 parts and I'm afraid that we left at the second interval. The Part 1 was almost OK and had the odd magical moment. The designs were superb, complete with a reflective floor and some imaginative video installations (sets Tom Pye, lighting Jean Kalman, Video Lexo Warner, Lysander Ashton and Tom Pye). The costumes were casual modern, which meant that the men of the chorus as usual looked profoundly stuffy and they had managed to make Catherine Wyn-Rogers look frumpy which is quite an achievement.

I can see the point of staging the piece in a setting which mirrors the actions of everyday life, with all sorts going on. But I am afraid that I lost patience as soon as the first cute tot dashed across the stage. This particular tot (Max Craig) was rather ubiquitous and Deborah Warner seemed to use him to undercut arias and moments of drama. This was made most manifest in the turning of the 'And there were shepherds' section into a school nativity play with lots of cute kids. This was a shame as treble (either Harry Bradford or Louis Watkins) was excellent.

At moments of drama she also introduced dancers (choreography Kim Brandstrup). This increased in Part 2 when the opening section, including He was despised accompanied a strange dance of a young man being beaten up and then being comforted by Catherine Wyn-Rogers, with the chorus watching. The later sections of this part seemed to be taking place at some sort of revival meeting. I felt that in this part, Warner had lost her way somewhat and was at a loss to know what to do with the chorus especially in the more complex movements. So she did as little as possible with them.

There were some striking images, but the happy-clappy evangelical atmosphere engendered seemed at odds with Handel's music. Frankly, I spent a lot of time with my eyes closed, just listening. The soloists were a decent bunch. Soprano Sophie Bevan had to cope with some startlingly fast speeds from conductor Lawrence Cummings, but did superbly though she rather tended to over-ornament. Catherine Wyn-Rogers was profoundly moving and it was a shame that she had been encouraged to bellow sections of He was despised. Tenor Eamonn Mulhall was a last minute replacement for ailing John Mark Ainsley. Mulhall was impressive, though he did not quite seem to have got the measure of the tricky Coliseum acoustic. Brindley Sherratt was wonderful as the bass soloist, combining drama with sympathy for Handel's style.

The chorus were a little taxed by the music, and there were some moments of frankly raw singing particularly from the tenors. The staging used a community group in addition to the choir and I felt that Warner and Cummings should have had the courage of their convictions and used a larger choir with a full symphony orchestra in the pit. As it was, Cummings seemed to be treading a strange line between period and modern practice.

So all in all, a rather mixed view, I'm afraid. As a raison d'etre for staging Messiah the jury is still out as far as I am concerned.

Review of Christine Brewer / Charles Mackerras Wagner concert

My review of the concert of music by Wagner given by Christine Brewer and Charles Mackerras with the Philharmonia Orchestra on 10th December at the South Bank is here.

Friday 11 December 2009

Digging into the past

Some years ago I was given a pair of 19th century bound volumes labelled plays. The bindings gave no clue as to who had had the contents bound. Inside were some dozen librettos for performances by the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden. Each libretto listed the work to be performed, the orchestral members (by surname) and conductor (always Michael Costa) along with the artists involved. For some productions the designers of the scenery were named, always the same people. No dates were given. All operas were sung in Italian, including Fidelo and Les Huguenots.

There were various interesting points. No director was ever named. The orchestral players are all men and are listed by surname only, but the chorus members are not mentioned at all. The repertoire consists of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Bellini, Mozart and Beethoven. As I have no information on the original owner of the wordbooks, I have no way of knowing whether the selection is the complete picture. For instance there is no Verdi, despite I Masnadieri being premiered in London in 1847.

I have finally got in contact with the Royal Opera House archives and they have been able to confirm the dates for the librettos, they range from 1849 to 1854, with most being clustered around just a couple of years. Interestingly the House's archives are not complete as a lot was lost in the fire in 1857.

This is the second time recently that we have been attempting to trace an exact date for a musical document. Previous D. had had access to a fragment of manuscript with a partial rehearsal schedule call for Aldeburgh on it under Britten's direction, requiring some fascinating research into Aldeburgh performances under Benjamin Britten.

Thursday 10 December 2009

A tale of two counter-tenors

Last night we went to the Wigmore Hall for Bejun Mehta's recital with Nicholas Drake accompanying on piano. And last week we went to the Barbican for Philippe Jaroussky's concert with Concerto Köln. Both counter-tenors are in the current vanguard of young start counter-tenors. Both have relatively high-placed voices which enable them to sing a wider range of pieces than is commonly associated with counter-tenors.

Jaroussky stuck firmly to baroque repertoire, mixing operatic arias by J.C. Bach with more well known ones by Handel. Jaroussky's voice is sweet and beautiful, but does not strike me as being exceptionally powerful. He does, though, have an upward extension which means that he has greater flexibility and control in his upper reaches and seemed unphased by top E's (and perhaps even F's) [at concert pitch, I've no idea what the written pitch of the notes was]. This is allied to a strong technique, which meant that he was able to dash off with ease the virtuoso vocal parts written by J.C. Bach.

I am not sure that Handel was the best partner for the J.C. Bach arias, as Handel's ability to mine the depths of emotion, with relatively economical means rather showed up J.C. Bach's showier (flashier?) arias, which seemed to skim the surface, but did so in a quite brilliant manner. One could understand why his music was popular. Especially when these vocal lines were coupled to attractive proto-Mozartian accompaniments.

Concerto Köln played conductorless and there were times when I felt that a stronger guiding hand might have helped. Jaroussky had a tendency to go over-board in the da capo sections of the Handel arias, re-writing the vocal line in an alarming manner. This is definitely a place where less is more.

Mehta in his recital, ranged far more widely, creating a programme which would not have been out of place for a variety of more traditional song recital voices. He started with Purcell and Haydn's English Canzonets. Finished the first half with Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte. Then in the second half gave us a ravishing selection of English song from Vaughan Williams, Howells, Stanford, Lennoz Berkely, Gurney and Warlock.

Mehta's voice is similarly quite highly placed, and he sang most of the songs in quite high keys, providing plenty of top E's. But Mehta's voice also has darker tones than Jaroussky's and I was conscious at times of Mehta's managing his voice in its upper register, whereas I wasn't conscious of this with Jaroussky.

Mehta seems to be conscious of delivery a finely crafted vocal line, and sometimes seemed to sacrifice other elements to the beauty of line. There was a feeling that he rather slid round the notes a little too much, his technique seemed far more suitable for the songs in the 2nd half than the first. Or perhaps it was just that he had relaxed a bit more. For whatever reason, the Purcell and Haydn, whilst beautifully done, rather failed to make their mark completely. I think that Mehta is also a little to interventionist and perhaps needed to find a vein of plangent simplicity [something he did only at the end with a lovely performance of Music for a While as his final encore].

Beethoven's cycle was well crafted and dramatic, but I wanted more a feeling of the words.

But in the English songs, technique and music seemed to come together. Mehta's plangent tones exactly suited the songs. Voice, artists and composer seemed to come together perfectly in Howells The little boy lost and The Willow Bird. Stanfords La Belle Dame sans merci enabled Mehta to demonstrate his dramatic skills.

Both counter-tenors explored new repertoire, Jaroussky brilliantly venturing 4 barely-known J.C. Bach arias which needed (and got) a brilliant technique to make them work. American born and trained Mehta was also venturing into new repertoire, not only was his recital unusual territory for a counter-tenor, but for Mehta himself the English song repertoire was relatively unfamiliar territory.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Now out on AudioBook

The play for which I wrote incidental music, Candle Dancing by Coni Koepfinger, has been released as an audio-book. The audio book includes a little of my original incidental music as background to the readings, enough to give you a flavour of the original 1998 production. The audio-book is available from Tate Publishing here.

Sunday 6 December 2009

War and Peace

Prokofiev wrote War and Peace in 1942, but there followed over a decade of changes before he could get the opera performed. Even when he submitted it to the Soviet Authorities in 1941/1942 he was forced to make changes. Now Dr. Rita McAllister has gone back to the original manuscripts, notably the composer's piano score, to reconstruct Prokofiev's first thoughts, his original setting of the opera in 11 scenes. This has included McAllister having to orchestrate some 450 bars of music. Dr McAllister's article about her new edition can be read here. From the first Prokofiev had to re-work the War scenes to comply with the Soviet authorities desire to make them more patriotic. The 10 year process of re-working emphasised the public, patriotic at the expense of the personal in the opera.

Now a collaboration between the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama and the Rostov State Rakhmaninov Conservatoire is bringing this first version of the opera to the stage in Glasgow and Edinburgh. It will be fascinating to see Prokofiev's first thoughts. War and Peace is one of those operas which has no definitive version; many of Prokofiev's revisions were done at the behest of others and take on an increasingly desperate nature as he tried to get the opera performed. Having a good edition of his first thoughts (previously hidden in the Soviet Archives) will enable us to make more informed decisions about what to include (and to miss out) of future performances.

Friday 4 December 2009

Recent CD Reviews

My review of a disc of Bach Missae Breves is here.
Now showing its age ...

And my review of Emmanuelle Haim's new recording of Handel's oratorio La Resurrezione is here. Both reviews on MusicWeb International.
Time and again my ear was drawn to the lovely instrumental contributions ...

Thursday 3 December 2009

Conch shells and horns

On of the most striking moments in the recent performance of Gluck's Alceste by Chelsea Opera Group was during Act 3 the Infernal God summons Alceste and is meant to be blowing into a conch shell. The composer writes for two horns, playing in unison, but the horn players hold the bells of their horns nearly together and the horns act as sort of mutes for each other. The effect is described by Berlioz in his Treatise on Orchestration. It both looks and sounds fascinating; looks, because of course, it is rather a contortion for two horn players standing side by side to place their bells together as the instruments are played laterally. And it sounds hauntingly fascinating. Though it doesn't seem to be a commonly used effect.

Recent CD Review

My review of Christmas a cappella from Chicago a Cappella is here, on Music and Vision.
... I would have liked a little more grit ..

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Les Arts Florissants - Grands Motets

Last Thursday (sorry for the late posting) we went to the Barbican to see the final concert in Les Art Florissants 30th Birthday jamboree. The audience seemed to include rather more of the great and good than usual, reflection of the high status that this celebration has been achieving.

Whereas the earlier events had covered much of their more recent musical explorations, this concert went back to their roots presenting music by Rameau, Lully, Campra and Desmarest. What we got was 4 works, a Grand Motet by each composer. All were written for the same sort of ensemble, choir, group of soloists and orchestra with trumpets added for some movements.

All 4 composers used large groups of soloists with all 6 (Amel Brahim-Djelloul soprano, Emmanuelle de Negri soprano, Toby Spence tenor, Cyril Auvity tenor, Marc Mauillon baritone, Alain Buet bass) being employed in the final Lully Te Deum. Though there were solos, all composers used small groups of singers to contrast with the larger choir. In fact there was rather a lot of inevitable coming and going. You got the feeling that the original motets, written for sacred use, would probably have had the solo parts sung by choir members so that the division between solo, ensemble and choir was less obvious. It was a shame that this could not be done, but with the choir placed behind the large orchestra it was difficult to see how this could have been achieved on the rather limited Barbican stage.

Toby Spence's voice has darkened and grown larger since he regularly sang for William Christie (I remember him memorably in a performance of Rameau's Les Boreades some years ago), but he has not lost the flexibility and sang with great beauty even if he was slightly louder than ideal at times. Cyril Auvity sang the high tenor roles and the two of them had a number of memorable duets.

Though all four composers wrote music of interest, the palm surely goes to Rameau for his spectacular orchestrations in his motet, Deus Noster, with its depictions of tempests. The formal part of the evening concluded with Lully's very grand Te Deum, which uses two choirs as well as all 6 singers. But this was not the end. We got two encores, the second of which Tendre Amour from Les Indes Galantes was sung by everyone, with the soloists joining the choir. The result was sensuously beautiful and so romantic as to be incredible.

Sunday 29 November 2009

Review of "Alceste"

My review of Gluck's Alceste from the Chelsea Opera Group is here, on Music and Vision.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

OAE's Dream of Gerontius

The problem with period performance is that we do not always have period voices to go with the period instrumental performances. In early music this can be fudged, to a certain extent, because we don't actually know what the singers sounded like. But in Baroque opera there is no getting away from the fact that Handel, Hasse, Vivaldi et al wrote for some of the greatest voices of the day. And if the greatest voices of our day sing this repertoire then compromises have to be made, often in terms of vibrato etc.

When it comes to Elgar things are both more and less complicated. We have recordings to supplement the writings and musical manuals, so that we know a great deal about the types of sound produced and techniques used. But the singers of the day used rather different techniques, with generally a narrower focus in the voice and a tighter control of vibrato.

As a sample of what this means, consider RVW's Serenade to Music. It was recorded by the original singers, most of whom were quite mature when the recording was made. But nowadays the work is performed with younger singers, partly because when opera singers mature their voices often develop far more significant vibrato than their forebears; that this is not a hard and fast rule is indicated by the fact that one of the basses on the original recording has a very, very intrusive vibrato.

But it is not just vibrato and width focus which are a concern, there is also the issue of the use of portamento as ornament, a technique which is generally anathema to modern singing techniques, partly I think because combined with a profound vibrato it can sound rather as if the singer has no idea where the destination note is and is simply sliding up to it.

These thoughts occurred to me as I listened to the magical opening of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius at the Royal Festival Hall last night (24/11/2009) in a performance by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Jeremy Skidmore, with the Ex Cathedra XL Anniversary Choir and Susan Bickley, Adrian Thompson and Roderick Williams as soloists. Skidmore and the OAE gave us a truly magical account of the prelude, with a tone quality which took me back to those early Elgar recordings. The strings used vibrato sparingly, and the balance was more in favour of the wind; the wind and brass played on period instruments which had differences in timbre to their modern counterparts. The whole orchestral sound felt far less uniformly homogeneous than a modern group, perhaps because it was not founded on the base a warm, all-encompassing vibrato-led string tone.

When Adrian Thompson came in, it became apparent that whilst he was a willing participant in the experiment, his voice and technique was slightly at odds to the prevailing style. Thompson is mainly known in the UK as a character tenor, but his repertoire stretches to Loge and bigger roles. When singing quietly he gave is beautifully intense tone, but in the bigger moments, when his voice opened up, his vibrato became very pronounced. If he had been singing with the London Symphony Orchestra this would not have been too disturbing (when I heard David Rendall in the role with the LSO his notable vibrato was quite acceptable in the context). But it WAS noticeable given that the orchestra were using it sparingly. Hence my thoughts about period voices. But the volume that the orchestra produced was noticeably less than a modern orchestra and without the extensive vibrato, the string tone died quicker. So this meant that Thompson was able to sing much more of the piece in his lighter, more concentrated tones. And he did give us some discreet use of portamento.

At the big moments,I could not rid myself of the thought that Thompson's expression was applied to his voice, rather than done via the voice. So that moments like Sanctus fortis did not count for as much as when done by, say, Richard Lewis.

Roderick Williams was a notable presence as the bass soloist, singing in his familiar warm, rich tones, though you felt his performance would have been pretty much the same had he sung the role with the LSO. Though given his musicality, this was no bad thing.

As the Angel, Susan Bickley had to step in at the very last moment as the planned singer (Anna Stephany) was ill. Inevitably Bickley's performance was a little more understated and more careful than it might have been in regular circumstances. It was noticeable how the singer used the transparency of the orchestra to sing passages in far quieter manner than she otherwise might have done; the moments when she did let go were made all the more climactic. Bickley's performance was beautifully musical and concentrated.

Skidmore used a choir of just 100 singers; small for a regular Gerontius, but they made a good impression here. Using a slightly smaller group, with a preponderance of young voices, meant that we got a cleaner, more disciplined sound which was focussed and tidy in a way which is harder with a larger group. That said, there was no loss of power at the climaxes, notably in Praise to the Holiest. But the climaxes were not simply about noise, you noticed far more Elgar's attention to orchestration and timbres. The performance seem somehow far more subtle than a modern one, with blazing climaxes.

In the programme book, there were a series of interviews with orchestra personnel describing the instruments that they were playing on; instruments which are both similar too and different from those of modern orchestras. Notably amongst the instruments used were Denis Brain's horn and Elgar's own Trombone!

I must confess to not being as moved as I have been in some performances of Gerontius. There again, the most moving performance of the title role that I have heard was when Richard Lewis sang it with the LPO with Bernard Haitink conducting. Lewis was in his 70's and had just had both his hips replaced, his tone quality was what it was, but you felt that he lived and breathed the part. When He sang Sanctus fortis the expression was all in the voice, not applied. And when he opened Act 2 (I went to sleep and now I am refreshed) you felt he meant it. Also notable about that performance, the harpist was Sidonie Goosens who had actually played under Elgar!

The Dream of Gerontius is a difficult work to get right, and, given the fact that period performances of the work are extremely rare, we should regard this as a work in progress. Skidmore and his forces got so many things right, particularly the magical timbres and flexibility of the orchestra, and the beauty of the choral tone. So I hope that we can look forward to further experiments and a recording at some point.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Towards a new Opera (4)

Having worked through the score of the new opera two or three times, I am currently in the process of creating the piano reduction which is always a good discipline. Even though the work is currently written for only 5 accompanying instruments (piano, violin, clarinet and cello), creating a single piano part out of them is sometimes a bit challenging, requiring some deft jigsaw work. It also provides me with a different view of the accompaniment and helps to shape it.

Once I have something approaching the vocal score I will then play it through a few times. Given that my piano playing is rather limited, this means that the neighbours have to put up with me bashing away rather slowly. It might sound primitive and limiting, but I find it enormously helpful to see how the work feels under my fingers.

I am thinking of expanding the orchestration, but will probably wait until after I am able to organise a performance of the work next year. So that we can see how it works in its current form. I rather fancy adding some percussion, but have not yet come up with any concrete ideas.

Review of The Tsarina's Slippers

My review of the new production of Tchaikovsky's The Tsarina's Slippers at Covent Garden is here, on Music and Vision.

Friday 20 November 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of Bach's St. John Passion from Il Fondamento and Paul Dombrecht is here, on MusicWeb International.

Little to set it apart from its rivals ...

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Review of Turandot

On Friday we went to see the new production of Puccini’s Turandot at the London Coliseum. ENO’s first ever production of Puccini’s final opera has been coming in for rather mixed reviews, especially as Rupert Goold’s production is distinctly untraditional.

First we have to understand that Puccini’s Turandot is no more Chinese than Sullivan’s Mikado is Japanese. The libretto for Puccini’s opera was based on a play by the Venetian playwright Gozzi, who in turn based his play on a Persian legend. So setting the opera in naturalistic China makes no particular sense and usually directors feel free to pick and choose the sort of exoticism that they use. But the main concern is to create a dramatically coherent production, not with ultra-naturalism; Turandot set in medieval China only makes sense if the drama works.

Of course, Puccini’s music is so infused with exoticism that it would be difficult to set the opera in, say, a spa town in the Italian Alps.

So we should not get too worked up if Rupert Goold has chosen to set his production of Turandot in a completely demented Chinese restaurant. In fact he and designers Miriam Buether and Katrina Lindsay have delivered up a vividly theatrical event. The first act takes place inside a Chinese restaurant, with the guards replaced by dominatrix waitresses. In the centre is the door to the kitchen, from which all sorts of nastiness appears. Ping, Pang and Pong are re-cast as chefs.

The first scene of Act 2 takes place on the fire escape stairs at the back of the restaurant, where Ping, Pang and Pong are taking a quick cigarette break, then the second half of Act 2 returns to the restaurant. Act 3 takes place in the kitchens, with the central cooking range being used for the torture of lieu.

So far so good and generally the dramaturgy works. But I had three main problems with the production. Firstly, the chorus are dressed as archetypes, from Elvis impersonators to nuns, as if they are intended to represent humanity, a detail which I thought meant that Goold was preaching a little too much. This was, however, a relatively minor point. More importantly, Goold has invented a character, the Writer, who is entirely silent but seems to direct the action, sometimes actually manipulating the singers and arranging the events. This is Goold’s take on the incompleteness of the opera. Because in Act 3, the Wreiter leaves the stage with Liu’s body, only to find he has been locked out and that the characters have taken over. Finally, Turandot kills him and during the final apotheosis the Emperor does not appear on stage, instead the singers stare out at us intently as if he is in the audience. Instead the slowly dying author takes centre stage. This was a mistake, too often Scott Handy’s Writer took attention away from the important cast members. If the production could be re-worked to avoid this unnecessary character then I think it would be a satisfying and vividly theatrical experience.

And the third problem? Well Goold is inexperienced in opera and in terms of generating good performances out of his singers, he seems to have had rather mixed success. Amanda Echalaz was outstanding as Liu and in her scenes in Act 3 turned in some of the finest singing and acting of the evening, her death scene was shattering. And there were good performances from James Creswell as Timur, Benedict Nelson as Ping, Richard Roberts as Pang and Christopher Turner as Pong. Here ENO had reaped strong rewards by casting a group of young singers in the roles. Nelson, Roberts and Turner were particularly lively and strong as the masks and made a good ensemble.

But with his two principals, Goold rather failed. Gwyn Hughes Jones sang Calaf strongly and impressively, but costumed in a black frock coat he failed to convey much of the Prince’s passion by any bodily movement. He was entirely too stiff and in Nessun Dorma Goold seems to have been unable to stop Jones signally emotion with stock telegraphic gestures. Still, Jones’s singing was such that you forgave him. And perhaps Goold intended the character to be stiff and impassive.

With Kirsten Blanck, Goold had a soprano who has all the notes for Turandot, which is a good start. Blanck does not seem to have the sort of laser sharp voice which I like in this role; her account of In questa regia was richly modulated with a strong vibrato. She has quite a warm voice and seemed to come over as impassive rather than icy. Vocal preferences apart her account of the role simply lacked the intensity which was needed. After all Gwyneth Jones did not have an ideal Turandot voice but her performance was so intense, so coruscating, that you couldn’t help but capitulate. Goold used the traditional version of the ending (Alfano with Toscanini’s cuts) so that we go briskly from Liu’s death to the end. This does not give the singer much time to thaw. Blanck was obviously trying to thaw, but this change did not quite reach her voice and visually she was limited by the rather over the top bride costume, with wacky make-up. It would have helped if some way could have been found for her appearance to reflect the change by jettisoning the head-dress or removing the make-up to make her seem more a real person. But on the plus side, this was Blanck’s first Turandot and she had learned it in English (not her native language, she is German).

If this new Turandot had had a performance of the title role delivered with the necessary coruscating intensity, then I think that this production would have come together. Goold and his designers have nearly got things right, and with a bit of tweaking and a more defined central performance, this could be a winner. It was certainly popular, as the auditorium was full.

In the pit Edward Gardner produced a dramatic, if rather brash, account of the score, but he engendered some terrific playing from his orchestra.

Friday 13 November 2009

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Guerrero's Battle Mass from Westminster Cathedral is here.
Performances which are of a very high calibre and extremely seductive ...

And my review of Thomas Hampson's 2nd American song recital Wondrous Free is here, both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
All lovers of good singing will want to hear this ...

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Review of Maria di Rohan

My review of the Opera Rara/Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concert performance of Donizetti's Maria di Rohan in the Vienna version is here on Music and Vision

Monday 9 November 2009

Les Arts Florissants at the Union Chapel

As part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, Les Arts Florissants presented a concert of Monteverdi's 6th Book of Madrigals. Instead of their usual home of the Barbican Hall, they de-camped to the rather more Gothic surroundings of the Union Chapel in Islington. This huge octagonal chapel is hardly a space that you would immediately associated with Monteverdi's rather intimate madrigals, but in fact the lively but not over resonant acoustics seemed to work rather well. Also, given that 7 sides of the chapel have balconies, sight lines were pretty good.

An ensemble of 6 singers and 4 instrumentalists was nominally directed by Paul Agnew, with William Christie being unusually absent. In fact Agnew sang tenor (he was one of the 6 singers) and his direction was so discreet as to be almost invisible, surely the best sort, as the singers and instrumentalists seemed to interact quite naturally - though I am quite sure that this was the result of a great deal of rehearsal.

The singers, Miriam Allen, Hanna Morrison, Maud Gnidzaz, Anne Magard, Sean Clayton, Paul Agnew and Lisandro Abadie, come from a variety of backgrounds and countries, so one of the groups most impressive feats was the way that the blended and interacted so beautifully. Throughout the evening, you were aware of the individual singers listening to each other and reacting. As Monteverdi divides his soloists into ensembles, duets and trios, so the singers reacted accordingly. The voices were blended into a rather Consort of Musicke type English sound, with perhaps just a little added vibrancy. Whilst not as cool in performance as the Consort of Musicke, they were not quite a richly vibrant as some of the Italian groups singing this repertoire.

The continuo instruments (harp, archlute, theorbo and harpsichord) were generally discreet and in the centrepiece of the programme, the sestina Lagrime d'Amante al Sepolcro dell'Amata, the singers performed unaccompanied in a profoundly intimate manner.

In these rather unlikely surroundings Les Arts Florissants managed to communicate brilliantly with their audience, conveying the intense nuances of Monteverdi's music.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Review of Arne's Artaxerxes

I have long been familiar with the aria A soldier tired from Thomas Arne's opera Artxerxes because I, like many people I suspect, listened to it regularly as part of Joan Sutherland's wonderful boxed set, The Art of the Prima Donna. I was always curious as to why the rest of the opera was never performed. Now it has been.

Ian Page's Classical Opera Company are currently performing Martin Duncan's colourful new production of Arne's Artaxerxes at Covent Garden's Linbury Theatre. And the explanation for its lack of performance before lies in the problem of the parts. The opera's score and parts were burned when the theatre (Covent Garden's predecessor) burned in 1808. The opera's full score had been published, but without the recitative and the opera's finale.

We also have the original libretto, so now Ian Page has written replacement recitatives and Duncan Druce has crafted a new finale. It is lucky that Arne's full score was published because no-one would quite have expected him to use such a full orchestra. Once of the joys of the piece is the richness of the orchestration, Arne uses horns, oboes and bassoons with regularity, has a few numbers with flutes and with clarinets and even has trumpets and timpani in the overture and the finales. And, of course, that famous aria, which I referred to above, uses a trumpet solo as well.

Arne made his own English translation of Metastasio's Artaserse, a libretto also set by Gluck, J.C. Bach and Hasse. Arne's version was premiered in 1762 at the Theatre Royal (the predecessor to the current Covent Garden). The cast included two castratos (as Artaxerxes and Arbaces), plus Arne's pupil and ex-mistress, Charlotte Brent, as Mandane (who gets some of the best music of course). It was incredibly popular and went on being performed into the 19th century as Bishop produced his own version after the original parts burned. But the programme for last nights performance (5th November) was frustratingly vague as to when the last performance of the opera was.

Martin Duncan and his designer Johan Engels set the piece in a spare, vivid blue box which filled all the stage and expanded into the auditorium. Engels created a walkway round the pit, which became a white box set into the stage area. This looked good, but meant that the front rows of the stalls had to be removed to fit it in. Also, the extra instrumentalists (trumpets, clarinets, timpani) had to play from the side of the stage as the only way into the pit was across the stage and down a set of impressive steps, so there was no slipping in and out easily. I felt sorriest for the two flute players who were rarely used, but had to sit quietly in the pit for the whole of the performance (around 2 hours 20 minutes of music, plus 2 intervals).

Above the stage, Engels had suspended blue twinkly lights and there were aubergine coloured screens which raised and lowered for entrances. The only extravagance was the royal throne which was part throne, part costume and the wearer had to be strapped in. The money went on the costumes which were all gorgeously coloured, in exaggerated Georgian style, with wigs, but long hair and expansively wide hips on the coats and dresses. There was also an oriental hint. The fabrics of the clothes seemed to be made from Kimono fabric (Artaxerxes had a wonderful orange fabric with cranes on it). And the 4 actors who doubled as supers, servants and furniture movers, looked a bit like samurai. In fact, the costumes reminded me in spirit of those for Covent Garden's production of Mitridate re di Ponto (which was designed, I think, by Paul Brown).

The shoes were to die for, high-heeled and gorgeously coloured; even Andrew Staples had shiny black heeled numbers, with Laboutin style red insteps on the soles.

There are 28 arias in the piece, and Arne seems to deliberately keep things moving. Very few of the arias are Da Capo, and the recitative moved swiftly as well. The outer acts came in at just under an hour each and the middle act was only 35 minutes.

The title role, Artaxerxes, is not the biggest role. Christopher Ainslie was announced has having a viral infection, but apart from his voice lacking all its colours, I didn't detect that much to apologise for. The biggest male role is Arbaces, sung by Caitlin Hulcup. Basically Arbaces' father, Artabanes (Andrew Staples) has killed Xerxes (Artaxerxes father) and is plotting against Artaxerxes so that Arbaces can be put on the throne. Artabanes unwittingly implicates Arbaces in his plot and has to condemn him as a traitor. This causes confusion with Arbaces sister Semira (Rebecca Bottone), who is in love with Artaxerxes, and Artaxerxes sister Mandane (Elizabeth Watts), who is in love with Arbaces. The only other cast member is Rimenes (Steven Ebel), who is a supporter of Artabanes and in love with Semira.

Arne writes in the galant style which predominated between Handel and Mozart (very much in the J.C.Bach mould). The arias are lyrically attractive, often with some pretty tricky singing, though virtuoso singing for its own sake seems to have not been the point. I think the opera was popular because of its melodic attractiveness and lack of deep complexity. It is attractive and fun. The characters are barely more than puppets and you don't feel deeply for any of them. Andrew Staples was rather too nice as the villain. And though both women had plaintive arias, you never quite felt sorry for them; Arne did not pull the heart strings the way Handel did.

I felt that Duncan's very stylised production rather put the audience at one remove, at times, he had the 4 attendants manipulating the singers. And the large, stylised costumes meant that the show had an abstract, unreal effect. You wanted to find out what the piece would be like in a more naturalistic setting. That said, Caitlin Hulcup impressed as Arbaces, with some very moving arias, though you wanted to kick him (the character, not the singer) for so pig-headedly refusing to explain that it was his father 'what done it'. Rebecca Bottone brought a nice edge to Semira's character and Elizabeth Watt's neatly caught Mandane's dilemma at being trapped between love for Arbaces and anger at her father's death and desire for retribution.

Frankly it is not Metastasio's nicest plot. But Duncan, Engels and the cast gave a terrific performance.

Ian Page and his band accompanied in fine style, contributing some lovely instrumental solos, though there were times when I would have liked a larger body of strings.

Friday 6 November 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of the Tallis Scholars disc of Flemish Polyphony (including the amazing 12-part Brumel Battle Mass) is here, on MusicWeb International.
Fabulous music, beautifully and intelligently sung ...

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Towards a new opera (4)

Having got to the end of my new opera/music theatre piece in draft form, and managed to do a fair amount of tidying up on it, I have sent copies of the score to a couple of people that I hope will be involved in the first performance. I'm hoping to do a low key concert performance next year in order to road-test the piece. So I'm now at the rather scary stage (well I find it scary) of having people looking at the score with me hoping that they don't dislike it, don't find it unsingable etc. Length is still an issue, it comes in at about 75 minutes which will make it a big sing for 2 principals, particularly the Man who is on stage the whole time. So here's hoping.


A friend brought to my attention a rather odd site, purportedly about how to make money, which seems to have a series of posts from my Blog in the Music column. The posts are uncredited, without a link back to this blog. But what is even odder is that the posts seem to have been run through some sort of Automated translator, perhaps twice, and the results are so bizarre as to be funny. Below is a sample from my review of the Salomon Orchestra concert.

On Tuesday we went to St . John’s Smith Square for the Salomon Orchestra’s unison . Conducted by Philip Ellis, they gave the initial open opening of John McCabe’s Symphony ‘Edward II’ and Ellis’s own unison unfolding taken from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet

I contingency declare which I when I saw the full ballet, I had doubts about McCabe’s measure for David Bintley’s ballet Edward II, anticipating the song as well formidable and sonorous for the dance generally as Bintley was formulating a grand chronological ballet in the normal demeanour . In 1999, before long after the initial opening, McCabe re-worked the song in to his harmony, yet in actuality the name sonorous apartment would be improved . The outcome is 45 mins of intensely absolute song and it is obscure because the work had to wait for compartment right away for the initial open opening . Salomon’s comment of the work was constrained and thespian . Granted there was the peculiar severe dilemma, but these counted for small opposite a excellent opening of such a frozen work.

I particularly like the 'unison unfolding' bit.

I don't seem to be the only one, there are plenty of other posts on the site presumably culled from other blogs. I just don't know what the point is?

Monday 2 November 2009

Salad Days the contemporary opera version

Tete-a-tete is an amazing opera company who, since their founding in 1997, have been mid-wife to a remarkably number of contemporary operas. Their evenings of short 1-act operas have expanded into their remarkable opera festival at Riverside Studios in August when a wide variety of groups are able to show-case their works.

So it is with not a little puzzlement that I received a flyer through the post for the group's latest production - Julian Slade's musical Salad Days. Now, don't get me wrong, Salad Days is entirely charming but it is hardly contemporary opera. Its not opera at all and you can't really kid yourself that enticing people in to see it will persuade people to try out the group's more contemporary operatic offerings. Perhaps it is just that director Bill Bankes-Jones has a burning desire to stage Salad Days, let us hope so.

Friday 30 October 2009

CD Review - Renee Fleming's Verismo

For her new album Renee Fleming has ventured into relatively new territory, a disc of arias from verismo operas. In operatic terms, verismo is slightly nebulous. It was in fact an Italian literary movement which in the late 19th and early 20th century brought realism into their writing. The verismo operatic school is associated with Mascagni, Leoncavallo and Puccini. The prime exponents being Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. The subject matter dealt with contemporary everyday subjects. The term has come to refer the Italian post-Verdian school of operatic writing and does not really distinguish between the operas which come close to the verismo manifesto and those, like Mascagni's Iris, whose subject matter is far from everyday. The other aspect of verismo operas is the tendency for the musical material to be continuous, so that arias are fewer and shorter.

On this disc Fleming has bravely chosen a wide repertoire of lesser known pieces. Where operas do have well known numbers, like Catalani's La Wally and Cilea's Gloria, she has chosen to sing other pieces from the operas. The only really well known arias in the recital are those by Puccini.

She opens with Senza Mamma from Suor Angelica. This reflects another vein which runs through the verismo operas, a strong vein of sentimentality. My first reaction to hearing Fleming singing this repertoire was that she is highly interventionist, each note is individually shaped, pushed and shoved, whilst keeping a sense of line. It surprised me how well this worked. Her upper registers is still free and lovely, something rather necessary in Suor Angelica. She is expressive and her diction is good.

Iris is Mascagni's Japanese opera and in Un di Iris narrates how one day at the temple a priest told her pleasure and death were one! Fleming is attractively urgent here and builds to a good climax.

Puccini's La Rondine is hardly unknown nowadays, though it is less highly regarded than his other works. It is also far from the verismo canon. But in Ore dolci e divine Fleming shows that Magda suits her voice well. Here though, I did think there was some strain on the top. Also, I began to be rather too conscious of the artfulness that went in to the performance.

Flammen, Perdonami from Mascagni's Lodoletta involves the heroine dying in a snow-storm even though the hero is outside as will and seems to be unaffected. Here Fleming is expressive and dramatic, though the tone does get a little squeezed at the top.

Ne mai dunquie avro pace is, rather admirably, NOT the well known aria from Catalani's La Wally, the opera with the rather butch Swiss heroine who saves the hero at one point. By this time I was starting to find Fleming's generous vibrato rather intrusive and a little all to encompassing.

Si, mi chiamano Mimi from Puccini's La Boheme and Donde lieta usci are probably best considered as contrast for the two excerpts from Leoncavallo's La Boheme. In the Puccini arias, Fleming's Mimi is a little too artful and mannered, you are conscious of the swooping voice and breathless tone, but she is affecting nonetheless. She spins a lovely line but never quite tugs the heart strings.

Musette svaria sulla bocca viva and Mimi Pinson, la biondinetta are two charming numbers from Leoncavallo's La Boheme. As anyone who saw the ENO production of the opera, this work is not inconsiderable. But here its weaknesses show, the music is lovely and charming, but tells you far less about the character than Puccini's does.

In the longest track on the opera, Angioletto, il tuo nome from Leoncavallo's Zaza shows Leoncavallo experimenting with textures. The libretto is about a French music-hall singer who leaves her lover because he is married. In this excerpt Zaza sings a big romantic number in dialogue with the child, Toto, who speaks over instrumental accompaniment. Part of the way through Leoncavallo introduces a paino and later a solo cello, thus providing an array of interesting textures and colours. Perhaps because the excerpt is rather longer, Fleming seemed to bring to this the passionate intensity which is missing in the other tracks.

In Sola perduta abbandonata from Puccini's Manon Lescaut Fleming does give us chest tones and strong emoting, but I rather missed the darker vocal colours which other singers have brought to this role. Taken on her own terms, however, this was lovely, the climaxes wonderful and she gives us the original manuscript version of the aria, evidently its first outing on disc.

Zandonai's Conchita set a libretto (based on Pierre Louys) which was rejected by Puccini. Ier della fabbrica a Triana is very much a character number, which seemed to want a tighter less voluptuous voice.

Cilea's Gloria is a rather Romeo and Juliet-ish story set in Sienna and in O mia cuna, fiorita di sogni e di melodi Fleming is convincingly impassioned.

Giordano's Fedora does have a flickering half-life in the theatre, though Troppo tardi! Tutto tramonta, tutto dilegua is not one if its best known numbers. Giordano provides melodic material in plenty but the piece never seems to settle into the big number that it seems to want to be. Here Fleming is wonderfully passionate and intense.

With Tu che di gel sei from Turandot we are back on familiar ground. Here there is just too much artfulness and not enough directness in Fleming's performance. It is admirable and impressive but we are a little too aware of the way the voice has to be controlled. I would hardly imagine this role would be core repertoire for the singer nowadays.

Nel suo amore rianimata from Giordano's Siberia is very short and rather charming.

Finally the set finishes off with Fleming being joined by Jonas Kauffmann for Bevo al tuo fresco from La Rondine I don't know whether I'd want the complete recording but it is delightful.

In all the arias Fleming is well supported by Marco Armiliato and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi.

On this set Fleming shows that her art is about much more than luxuriating in a beautiful voice. Many of these arias need more than just a lovely line, and by and large this is what Fleming gives is. Frankly, she lacks the chest register and the simple, direct gutsy singing that are best in some of these pieces. If I had to choose a single singer than I would prefer someone like Renata Tebaldi. But Fleming shows that she can bring something to the pieces. But in her choice of aria and in her performance, Fleming is refreshingly different and brings something new and interesting. Recommended.

Thursday 29 October 2009

Review of "Susanna"

My review of Sunday's performance of Handel's Susanna from William Christie and Les Arts Florissants is here on Music and Vision.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Friday 23 October 2009

Salomon Orchestra concert

On Tuesday we went to St. John's Smith Square for the Salomon Orchestra's concert. Conducted by Philip Ellis, they gave the first public performance of John McCabe's Symphony 'Edward II' and Ellis's own concert scenario taken from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

I must confess that I when I saw the full ballet, I had doubts about McCabe's score for David Bintley's ballet Edward II, finding the music too complex and symphonic for the dance especially as Bintley was creating a grand historical ballet in the traditional manner. In 1999, shortly after the first performance, McCabe re-worked the music into his symphony, though in fact the name symphonic suite would be better. The result is 45 minutes of extremely powerful music and it is puzzling why the work had to wait till now for its first public performance. Salomon's account of the work was compelling and dramatic. Granted there was the odd rough corner, but these counted for little against a fine performance of such a taut work.

Ellis's concert scenario from Romeo and Juliet uses the composer's final ballet score as its source and keeps the episodes in the correct order which means that the plot can be followed in the music. The composer's own suites were assembled after the music was first written and preserve the original orchestration in places, but Prokofiev re-ordered the scenes for musical effect. The concert scenario lasted just over an hour, which made for quite a substantial concert. I got the impression that the orchestra might have been tiring a little. The louder, more dramatic movements worked best. Though there were some lovely luminous moments in the quieter passages, the effect was not quite as concentrated as perhaps it could be and one was aware a little of the difficulty of Prokofiev's score.

The concert scenario worked well dramatically and there were only a couple of moments when I felt rather a lurch in the music. But then again, I have become most familiar with the score as a ballet score at the Royal Ballet where I first saw it nearly 40 years ago in a performance with Natalia Makarova (newly defected from Russia) and the late David Blair. In fact it was the first live ballet that I had seen, a wonderful introduction. The piece was performed with projected excerpts from Shakespeare's play along with images from Kenneth MacMillan's ballet, useful if you were unfamiliar with the ballet.

As ever, Salomon delivered a memorable concert with some powerful playing of some strong music.

And in Poland

Two of my Choruses from Passion (It was for love and If this were your final day on earth received their Polish premieres on 12th September 2009 at a concert at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Katowice. The concert was given by the choir Mieszany Caecilianum directed by Jan Kaleta.

Alternative Views (2)

A less alternative view, but one that remains relatively unexplored, is the relationship between Kurwenal and Tristan in Tristan and Isolde. Generally Kurwenal is portrayed as the older retainer type, movingly devoted to his master. This is probably what Wagner wanted, but if you make him rather younger you can explore different views, including the one that Kurwenal is in love with Tristan (unrequited of course). I have seen one version of the opera, many years ago, where a younger Kurwenal brought this out a little without distorting the plot. Its something I'd like to see explored further, but opera productions in general seem to shy away from this sort of exploration.

How did he do it.

A recent copy of Country Life (which hit our letter box rather late owing to the Postal strike), included an article on demolished London buildings which had been photographed for the magazine. This included a fascinating photo of the chapel of the Foundling Hospital taken from the west end gallery and looking down towards the altar. (The above illustration is the reverse view). The area round the altar (sides and back) is entirely taken up with box pews. Which leads on to the fascinating conclusion, where on earth did Handel put his orchestra and singers when he performed Messiah in the Hospital chapel?

As anyone knows who has been to one of the London Handel Festival performances at St. George's Church, Hannover Square, fitting a chorus, orchestra and soloists for a Handel oratorio into a church is no easy business. By the look of the Foundling Hospital, there is even less space round the altar. So, did Handel dispose of his musicians in an around the box pews? Or did he put them in the gallery with the organ? This latter fitted in with Georgian church music tradition where the west gallery was the place where the choristers and instrumentalists played. But it would have meant that Handel and his musicians were sitting behind the audience, and a gallery is hardly the best space in which to fit the cast of Messiah. But given that the organ was in the gallery, this seems the most likely place.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Alternative views (1)

In Handel's Flavio the role of Vitige was written for a female soprano (though the role is usually sung by a mezzo nowadays). This means that Vitige has a higher voice then his lover, Teodata. As part of the plot, it is necessary for Vitige to be embarassed about his association with Teodata and not to tell Flavio about it when Flavio expresses interest in Teodata.

Now Handel wrote a relatively small number of soprano male roles, partly because he didn't work with many soprano castrati. Quite often, I find it difficult to appreciate sopranos in these roles because they seem to fail to have the requisite knack of androgyny, so that the come over as feminine; not just physically but vocally. I must add here that Angelica Voje in the recent ETO Flavio was entirely admirable. But this led me to wonder why, with the penchant nowadays for cross dressing, no-one has turned one of the soprano heros into a woman. In the case of Flavio this would work moderately well, it would help explain Vitige's lack of response when Flavio talks about Teodata.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Where the Opera comes from

A careful reading of ENO's new Opera Guide for Feb to July 2010 makes for interesting reading. The Elixir of Love comes from New York City Opera (along with the leading man John Tessier). But the sets were originally constructed by the Royal Swedish Opera, which seems to imply that we are getting this show third hand. One question that occurs to me, have these other companies parted with the production because they have found it unsatisfactory in some way once first produced (i.e. its not really desirable to revive it). Or will ENO have to compete with them for sets if they want to revive it.

And Katya Kabanova is described as a co-production with Teatro Nacional de Sao Carlos, Lisbon and Teatr Wielki-Opera Narodowa, Warsaw. But the costumes were built (sic) by The Dallas Opera Costume Workshop and the pictures of the production come from performances by the Houston Grand Opera. Again this looks like a much travelled production which surely has an impact on scheduling, especially if the production does as well as the recent Jenufa.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Recent CD Review

my review of From the Vaults of Westminster Cathedral, polyphony and chant sung by Westminster Cathedral Choir, is here, on MusicWeb International.
Imaginative and attractive ...

Monday 19 October 2009

Tristan and Isolde at Covent Garden

The Sunday matinee bug hit Covent Garden again on Sunday when Ben Heppner was taken ill with a viral infection. Lars Cleveman had sung the role from the wings on 15th October and on Sunday he took over properly. Cleveman, a member of the Royal Swedish Opera, had previously sung the role of Tristan with Nina Stemme as Isolde in another staging, so that they had this to build on. Even so, taking on the role in a brand new staging was something of an undertaken, bravely done.

Any staging of Tristan und Isolde by Christoph Loy was bound to have a cerebral element. In this case, the stage was divided into two; the front was a plain 'existential area' in which the main action took place. The rear, hidden by a curtain, was a more naturalistic representation of King Marke's court. The setting was modern day and all the men work evening wear, though Tristan had a black shirt. Isolde started in her wedding gown and then moved to a black dress. Brangane (Sophie Koch) had a red, bob wig and a short, stylish grey dress; she looked bizarrely like Anna Wintour which could hardly be the intention.

I rather liked the idea of the existential area. The opera opened with Nina Stemme wandering through the remains of her wedding party one the rear stage before entering the front stage. The way that the action of Act 1 was intercut with excerpts from the wedding party, so that when the ships sailors sang we actually saw the guests at the wedding on the back stage. Cast members came and went from the Wedding to the main Act 1 action. It sounds confusing to describe, but the result worked well and gave the feeling that the whole of Act 1 was playing in Isolde's mind at the wedding as she tried to come to terms with how she got to where she was.

All this would have worked wonderfully, but the front stage was simply far too lacking in design interest. The walls were grey and the only props were a table and two chairs of a type that could have appeared in any rehearsal room, in fact the front area looked just like a rehearsal studio. When the curtain between front and back was closed, we could only look at the singers in their boring evening wear, no style, no design interest, nothing. This was fatal and meant that the whole production took on a rather cerebral air. It certainly did not help that Tristan and Isolde looked like a middle aged couple from Frankfurt rather than the protagonists of one of the most romantic operas around.

Much of the action in the 'rehearsal studio' took place against the left hand wall which added to the problems, as a large chunk of the opera house could not see it properly.

During act 2, the curtain to the back area opened occasionally, to reveal the wider world around Tristan and Isolde's love and then during the love duet, Isolde draws back the curtain to reveal the courtiers observing them. Finally in act 3 the rear stage revealed not the reality, but a different conceptual space representing Isolde.

In keeping with the general concept, Antonio Pappano's conducting kept the orchestra rather quieter than usual, which helped the voices; but though beautifully moulded, you were never blown away. Similarly Nina Stemme's Isolde is one of the most beautifully sung versions of the role that I have ever heard. She has developed a wonderful gleaming top, but her instrument does not easily dominate the orchestra. She was passionate and impassioned. But the performance seemed slightly at one remove; a feeling that was generated by the distance inherent in the performance. Perhaps I am being a little unfair, but the performance impressed me without overwhelming me.

Regarding Cleveman's Tristan, we should allow him some leeway. It must be admitted that he is slight and short of stature, in complete contrast to virtually all the other Tristans I have heard who have generally been bear like men. His voice in the first half of act 1 seemed small and carefully managed, but he let go during the closing pages. This was repeated in act 2 when he really only seemed to let go during the closing pages of the love duet. His was a neatly sung and well shaped account of the role, his voice does not have excessive wobble which means that he sang with a fine sense of line. But I was constantly aware of the care he was taking and the husbanding of his resources. That said, he got to the end of Act 3 without ever seeming to be overpowered by the role, which means that he has got the measure of his voice. His is a Tristan I would like to see again in less fraught circumstances. His previous relationship with Nina Stemme helped, so that the two of them did develop the sort of rapport necessary.

Michael Volle was a fine, rich voiced Kurwenal. He was allowed some intimate moments with Sophie Koch's Brangane in Act 2. And was profoundly moving in his contributions in Act 3. Sophie Koch turned a beautifully sung and passionate account her role.

Matti Salminen was far more involving as King Marke than I could ever have anticipated. King Marke's monologue at the end of Act 2 has always been a stumbling block for me, few singers seem to be able to bring it off. But Salminen almost had me convinced.

Pappano and the Royal Opera House orchestra were in fine form. As I have said, Pappano seems to have kept the orchestra under quite a tight rein. Not since the days of Bernard Haitink have I heard such a singer considerate accompaniment. I will go back to this Tristan if it reappears in the schedules, especially if Lars Cleveman is given a proper go at the role.

Review of "Tolomeo"

My review of ETO's Tolomeo is here on Music and Vision.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Review of "Flavio"

My review of ETO's Flavia is now on-line here along with some very striking pictures.

Friday 16 October 2009

Recent CD Review

My review of the disc of Penderecki's unaccompanied choral music is here, on MusicWeb International.

Despite some very fine singing, rather fragmented and etiolated ...

Thursday 15 October 2009

Not another Ring!

So Opera North is to develop their very own Ring cycle. Though they are doing it with a bit of care, the operas will be performed in concert following on from their previous successes doing such works as Salome and Elektra in concert.

Frankly, I've always been a bit puzzled by the suicidal desire of opera companies to perform the Ring cycle. The costs are immense, not just the size of the cast required but the length of the operas means that overall costs tend to magnify as well. There is also the problem of casting. ENO tried to get round this by developing their cycle gradually, doing the works in concert first. But though this seemed an admirably democratic exercise, there was something frankly a little embarrassing singers and conductor getting to know their parts in so public a fashion.

Opera North have always done marvels on a shoe string, though sometimes they have been unable to persuade things to stretch quite far enough. So that when they did The Trojans, the two parts of the work were performed separately and never together. Something similar seems to be happening with the Ring as they are scheduling the 4 operas from the Ring in successive years from 2011 to 2014. The Press Release is delightfully vague about whether we are getting a full cycle.

Also, do we want to hear the Ring done in concert? When the Royal Opera did their semi-staged version of the Ring at the Albert Hall, the principal joy was hearing the experienced singers who could take command of their roles whatever the setting. In Die Walküre it was wonderful to hear and see John Tomlinson and Hildegard Behrens playing off each other whenever they were on-stage. But in Act 1, Kim Begley and Rita Cullis were a little too new to their roles to bring very much extra to the performance and it proved rather disappointing.

Given that they are doing the Ring, Opera North's plan to do it in concert and to search for new singers to fulfil the roles, seems entirely admirable. But it is fraught with difficulties. On the other hand, my view is rather London centric. The only way for opera lovers in the North of England to hear the Ring is if someone like Opera North does it. So perhaps we should applaud after all.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Review of Dido and Aeneas

My review of Saturday's performance of Dido and Aeneas by Les Arts Florissants is here on Music and Vision.

Monday 12 October 2009


Tonight is the premiere of my motet Thou, O Christ, which sets words by St. Symeon the New Theologian. The work is being performed during Evensong at St. Botolph without Bishopgate, London where the choir will be conducted by Timothy Storey.

Henze preview

We are having something of a mini Henze opera festival next year. ENO are performing his Elegy for Young Lovers at the Young Vic directed by Fiona Shaw. And the Ensemble Modern are bringing Phaedra to the Barbican in January, with a cast which includes Axel Kohler as Artemis, Marlis Petersen as Aphrodite and John Mark Ainsley as Hippolytus. The clip above is a Barbican preview for Phaedra. Further info here

Sunday 11 October 2009

Dido and Aeneas

To the Barbican yesterday to see Les Arts Florissants perform Dido and Aeneas in the Barbican Hall. The performance was based on a staged version, but we saw a reduced but no less impressive version with no sets and a simplified lighting plot.

I was lucky enough to attend the rehearsal before hand, where it was fascinating watching Christie and his performers fitting the performance to the new space. All were impressive both in rehearsal and in performance. It is always amazing to watch the transformation that comes over a cast between rehearsal and performance, the magic of live theatre. For musical director who seems to keep to a minimum what he does in a performance, Christie proved to be highly articulate and keenly aware of all the details which he required, from orchestral articulation through to lighting and the pronunciation of awkward English vowels.

My full review of the performance will appear in the next few days.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Dido, Dido

Off to see Les Arts Florissants doing Dido tonight and getting in to the dress rehearsal this afternoon. So expect further reports.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Oriental music in an orientalist setting

Some time ago I reviewed a fascinating disc which reconstructed the sort of music which was used by the Jesuit Mission in 18th century Peking. This involved fairly traditional 18th French settings of the ordinary of the mass, along with motets and psalms which used Chinese translations for the words and Chinese traditional music.

Now you can hear for yourself, in the Oriental splendour of the music room of the Brighton Pavilion. Because on Nov 7th La Baroque Nomade, director Jean-Christophe Frisch, along with some Chinese musicians, will be presenting an evening of music resulting from the contacts between the Jesuits and the Chinese in 17th and 18th century Peking.

The concert is part of the Brighton Early Music festival. Their brochure is here. It is a positive cornucopia, including performances of Handel's Solomon with Catherine King in the title role, and Emma Kirkby and the London Handel Players with a programme of Purcell, Handel and Haydn

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Off to the Barbican on Saturday to see Dido and Aeneas performed by Les Arts Florissants as part of their 30th birthday celebrations. We can expect William Christie to bring out the French influences in Purcell's music, but I will be interested to hear how the cast handle things. Especially given that the Dido, Malena Ernman, is Swedish , the Aeneas, Luca Pisaroni, is Italian and the Sorceress, Judith van Wanroij is Dutch. Still, I should not be chauvinistic there was some superb diction at the ENO's Le Grand Macabre and not all of it came from Anglophone singers. I'm getting to go to the dress rehearsal of Dido as well as the performance which should certainly be illuminating; will report back.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Offenbach's Rheinnixen

The enterprising New Sussex Opera are giving the UK premiere of Offenbach's opera Die Rheinnixen. This was a grand, romantic opera which Offenbach wrote for Vienna. After the premiere in 1864, when it was performed in truncated form, Offenbach withdrew it and re-used some of the music in The Tales of Hoffmann. The opera received its premiere in its original form in 2002. Besides being his first grand opera, the piece is his only operatic setting of a German text. It sounds quite a big piece, with well over 3 hours of music and Offenbach seems to occupy the musical realms of Weber.

It is an important pre-cursor to Hoffmann and we must be grateful to conductor Nicholas Jenkins for giving us the opportunity to hear it. There are performances at Lewes town hall on 21st October, Eastbourne Winter Gardens on 25th October and Cadogan Hall, London, on 27th October.

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Moniuszko Masses is here, on MusicWeb International.
Charming performances of music with insufficient interest ...

Review of "Rigoletto"

My review of Rigoletto from Grange Park Opera is here, on Music and Vision.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Towards a new Opera (3)

I am now over 60 minutes through and am steadily working my way down the penultimate page of the libretto. The piece is based on a play by Alan Richardson called When a man knows which has a distinguished performance history, so I hope the opera lives up to it. Just to give you an idea of the differences between opera and the stage, the play is estimated to last 35 minutes whereas the opera will last around 70 minutes, despite having the text trimmed down to the bone.

This still leaves me with the worry that the baritone part might be too long. I think that I need to be more radical in my use of the chorus to provide a pause in the long dialogue between the man and the woman. The problem with this is that it means I need some new text, so I will have to think about it. Having got this far with the piece I have started to think about performance and will start making plans to have a workshop/concert performance in the spring of next year.

Saturday 3 October 2009

Review of Ligeti's "Le Grand Macabre"

I first saw Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre when ENO first performed it in the 1980's in a rather 'po faced' production by Elijah Moshinsky which seemed to be set in and around the Hammersmith Flyover.

Now the opera is back, in a new production by the Catalan group La Fura del Baus. Since the 1982 Coliseum performance Ligeti has made revisions to the piece, dropping much of the spoken text and setting the remainder to music, thinning and simplifying the orchestration. Though there are still spoken moments, the result is that the piece is more thorough-going operatic than it was.

The concept of La Fura del Baus production was that the entire action took place in and around the huge body of a woman, with the cast make entrances and exits through her orifices. During the prelude, played on car horns, we saw a film of the woman apparently eating herself to death. The huge model was manipulated around the stage in fantastic manner and the use of projection was quite stunning, so that the body could be transformed in a moment from a skeleton to a writhing mass of burning people.

As a piece of theatre the result was stunning and made for a gripping 2 hours in the theatre. But Ligeti evidently had a very precise view of how the opera should look and had dislike most of the productions that he saw during his lifetime. It is a moot point whether he would have liked this one. I could not help feeling that setting the action in a more realistic setting would have helped emphasise the surreal nature of the plot, whereas putting a surreal play into a setting which is equally mad, seemed to de-nature it somewhat. Watching the production, I could not help thinking of Joe Orton's early novel, Head to Toe which all takes place in and around the body of a giant woman, and wondered whether the Catalan directors had read it too.

The cast were impressive. Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke delivered a tour-de-force performance as Piet the Pot, with impressive English diction, it must be one of the few roles where the tenor's stomach has to make a starring role. Pavlo Hunka (UK born despite his name) was Nekrotzar and was impressive but perhaps just a little too personable and lacked the feeling that he was capable of random violence. Frances Bourne and Rebecca Bottone were the lovers, Amando and Amanda, dressed in what appeared to be flayed flesh. Norwegian Frode Olsen (also with impressive diction) was Astradamors, bravely spending the entire evening wearing a pink camisole. Susan Bickley had a whale of a time as his wife Mescalina.

Susan Andersson was truly impressive in the two spectacular coloratura roles, Venus and Gepopo the chief of Secret Police. Daniel Norman and Simon Butteriss formed a neat double act the the two ministers, with Butteriss got up Black and White minstrel fashion as the Black minister. Andrew Watts was Prince Gepopo, proving that the role works well if sung by the right counter-tenor (Ligeti preferred a woman or a boy). The whole was beautifully orchestrated by conductor Baldur Bronnimann.

The end result was a delightful night in the theatre, but it still left me thinking what is it for? Ligeti intended his piece as a sort of anti-opera, or perhaps and anti-anti-opera and took part of his inspiration from the Venetian baroque where the operas consisted of a stream of often barely related scenes.

It is over 25 years since I saw the work and I'm afraid that the new ENO production did not convince me that there was any reason why I shouldn't wait another 25 years before seeing it again.

Friday 2 October 2009

Preview review of Einaudi's Nightbook

Ludovico Einaudi trained in composition at the Milan conservatory and studied with Luciano Berio. Since then his compositional style has moved somewhat; he composes music which mixes ambient, minimalism and contemporary pop. His new album, Nightbook, is based around his own piano playing though the disc also features the cello playing of Marco Decimo and the viola of Antonio Leofreddi.

I previewed a copy of the album, reviewing 5 tracks on download from Decca (Lady Labyrinth, Nightbook, Indaco, Eros, Reverie). Though his music is billed as being ambient and meditative, there is something rather strongly dynamic about the music on these tracks. Though he uses the techniques of minimalism, so that the musical figures are repetitive and the musical argument often circular, they are combined with a muscularity of utterance which belies the ambient background.

Lady Labyrinth is quite piano heavy, being both rhythmic and dramatic, though drifting away towards the end. Nightbook starts in the same vein but has a gentler middle section and Indaco features the cello developing a melody. Eros is, rather surprisingly given the title, rather more nagging and buzzing, building to a strong climax and finally Reverie is a gentle piece with a long held cello line.

Though Einaudi's music, as heard here, is hypnotic there is something rather dramatic here which veers away from pure ambient; at times he reminded me of Keith Jarrett in more meditative mode.

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Autumn premieres

Rather excitingly I've got two premières coming up in London this autumn. An introit motet, Thou, O Christ will be premiered at 6pm Evensong on Monday 12th October at the church of St. Botolph without Bishopsgate, Bishopsgate, London EC2M 3TL. The motet will be sung by the choir of St. Botolph’s church, conductor Timothy Storey. Thou, O Christ is a setting of an English translation prayer by St. Symeon the New Theologian, a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church who lived in the 10 th century. I was commissioned to specifically write a setting by St. Symeon for the choir of St. Botolph's Church.

On Saturday 19th December, the Latin motet Videte Miraculum will be premiered by Chapelle du Roi, conductor Alistair Dixon, at St. John’s Smith Square, London, SW1P 3HA. The performance forms part of their concert, New Lamps for Old which takes place as part of St. John’s Smith Square’s 24 th Annual Christmas Festival. The motet uses the same text and structure as Thomas Tallis's Respond of the same name, which will also be included in the concert.

Further details from the press release here.

Tuesday 29 September 2009

Buxton Festival 2010

An interesting trio of works are being planned as the festival's own productions in Buxton in 2010. Stephen Medcalf will be directing Verdi's Luisa Miller, Alessandro Talevi will direct Cornelius's The Barber of Baghdad, plus Richard Strauss's arrangement of Mozart's Idomeneo.

Peter Cornelius was friendly with Liszt and Wagner and his comic opera The Barber of Baghdad was written whilst he was staying in Weimar, where Liszt conducted the première (which was a failure). The opera is unusual for a German comic opera in that it is through composed, rather than using spoken dialogue.

Review of "Don Carlo"

My review of the recent revival of Don Carlo at the Royal Opera House is here, on Music and Vision.

Monday 28 September 2009

Don Carlo

To the Royal Opera House on Sunday for a Matinee performance of Verdi's Don Carlo. This seems and eminently sensible way to perform such operas as the evening lasted from 3pm to 7.25pm. We have attended many such matinees in Paris but so far, London has failed to follow suit; thank goodness the Royal Opera have twigged. As might be expected, the performance was popular with older people with the Amphitheatre seemingly full of elderly opera lovers. The only cloud on the horizon was the absence of Jonas Kaufman due to illness (full review will follow in due course).

We will be following this up with a visit to the matinee of the new production of Tristan und Isolde in a few weeks time.
Music Theatre Wales are premiering a new opera this week, a co-commission with the Royal Opera House. Eleanor Alberga and Donald Sturrock's opera Letters of a Love Betrayed receives its premiere at the Royal Opera House on Friday 2nd October and after 3 more performances there goes on tour to Oxford, Cardiff, Manchester, Huddersfield, Mold, Edinburgh and Aberystwyth; a total of 10 performances being admirable exposure for a new opera. It seems to be Alberga's first opera, though her period as Music Director of London Contemporary Dance Theatre will have given her the sort of experience necessary.

The piece is based on a short story by Isabel Allende, adapted by librettist Donald Sturrock. Sturrock is Artistic Director of the Roald Dahl Foundation, which perhaps seems a strange qualification for a librettist. But Sturrock is trying to accumulate a library of orchestral pieces and operas for children based on Dahl's stories and he and Alberga have already worked together on a previous piece. So the augury's seem pretty good for this new piece

Not just for porn?

A new web-site has been launched, which allows you to stream videos of Opera direct to your PC. In a market where streaming video seems to be dominated by fluff, let us hope that ClassicalTV manages to make find its niche. The site is pay per view, and generally reasonable. A quick glance at their offerings suggests a reliance on the broadcasts from the Met, but this does mean that anyone who is curious about Anthony Minghella's Madama Butterfly, which had its origins at the London Coliseum, could easily find out what the production was like. There's also Jonathan Miller's new La Boheme from the London Coliseum, Gluck's Orfee and Offenbach's La Belle Helene from the Chatelet.

According to a recent article in the LA Times, the site features some 20% of their content at anyone time. So it sounds worth giving it a go.

Saturday 26 September 2009

Dove Birthday celebrations in Cambridge

Jonathan Dove is 50 this year and as part of the celebrations, the Cambridge Music Festival is performing one of his recent works. On 17th November, in King's College Chapel, his 2003 Far Theatricals of Day of 2003 will be performed by three Cambridge choirs and Onyx Brass, conducted by Christopher Robinson. The work was commissioned by the estimable John Armitage Memorial Trust, who are co-sponsors of this performance. For those unable to get to Cambridge, the work is being repeated at St. Margaret's Church, Westminster on 18th November. The work sets verses by Emily Dickinson and the title comes from a line from one of her poems, the work represents the gradual unfolding of a day.

(Looking further ahead London Concord Singers performance of Dove's I am the day on Dec 17th at the Grosvenor Chapel forms a further little celebration).

Friday 25 September 2009

Towards a new opera (2)

Reached the 50 minute mark in the new opera and got over the hurdle of the first really big emotional moment. Currently wrestling with whether quarter tones are acceptable or not; whether they will make the piece a bit too fearsome. Do violinists routinely play quarter tones? What about singers?

Here I have a confession to make, I'm actually not entirely sure how to notate them and definitely have no idea how to make my music writing program play quarter tones back to me. I know that it all OUGHT to be in my head, but I do find it useful to play stuff back repeatedly and this helps generate the new ideas. In the old days this required a great deal of bashing on the piano (luckily I have usually had tolerant neighbours).

My problem at the moment is that I am torn between giving the dialogue the weight it needs which means delaying the flow of the piece, or keeping the momentum going. In a dramatic confrontation, you feel that it ought to just keep going on, but opera is not a realistic medium and sometimes there is the need to pause and consider things.

Of course, only having two characters doesn't help. For the big emotional moments I have entirely failed to work out how to include the chorus, so that it is just my two protagonists going at it together. Which is really what it should be.

I still have got quite a chunk of the libretto to get through, so we are not out of the woods yet. I am also starting to print out a fair copy of the music so far, so that I can start the next phase of work. Revising and correcting - which does require me to endlessly bash the stuff out at the piano.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Dido and Aeneas Ticket Give-away

As part of their 30th anniversary celebrations, Les Arts Florissants will be performing Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at the Barbican on Saturday 10th October with performances at 7pm and 9pm. As might be expected from this group the casting is imaginative with Malena Ernman as Dido, Luca Pisaroni as Aeneas and Hilary Summers as the Sorceress.

To celebrate the event I have been provided with two tickets for the 7pm performance to give away. All you have to do is answer the following question:-

In 1700 the opera was incorporated into an adaptation of a Shakespeare play given by Thomas Betterton's troupe at the Lincolns Inn Fields Theatre. What was the play?

Email your answer to
Answers must be received by 7am UK time, Wednesday 30th September 2009
The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries.

[The Small Print: Blog editors decision is final, no cash alternative, tickets to be collected on the day]

Sunday 20 September 2009

CD Review - Land of Hope and Glory

Decca have issued another one of those hopeful compilations which is intended to try and capture something of the essence of the Last Night of the Proms. The disc is a two CD set, the backbone of which are a series of recordings by Barry Wordsworth with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Royal Choral Society. The full CD includes a generous 27 tracks in all and has items by artists such as Dame Janet Baker (O had I Jubal's lyre from Joshua), Sir Thomas Allen (Drake's Drum), Bryn Terfel (Danny Boy). As can be seen the selection wanders from the Last Night of the Proms into more an evocation of Englishness.

I listened to highlights made available via their on-line downloading system. This opened with Land of Hope and Glory arranged from the Elgar Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1. For this arrangement to work, the chorus have to sing with passion and commitment, something that the Royal Choral Society fail to do. Their rather flat delivery contrasts markedly with the brisk, up-beat account from Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. If you are going to do this choral arrangement (rather than the composer's original) then it surely has to be convincingly flag-waving for it to work.

Handel's Zadok the Priest, given by such rather large-scale forces evokes not only pomp and circumstance but also recordings from an earlier age. The chorus work hard to match Wordsworth's crisp and brisk tempi, and they make a decent fist of the runs. But the spine-tingling magic of the piece just escapes Wordsworth. Parry's Jerusalem is a different matter, here both chorus and conductor manage to give us the sort of commitment missing from the earlier pieces.

They are joined by Della Jones for Rule Britanna, a slightly blowsy choral sound contrasts with the more focused tone from Jones, who contributes some rather amazing ornaments in the later verses.

Wordsworth starts Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 4 in a rather brisk fashion, though it is impressively played by the BBC Concert Orchestra. This mood seems to continue though and the nobilmente sections never seem to achieve the mood required.

In I vow to thee my Country, based on an arrangement from Holst's Planets, the Royal Choral Society again turn in a fatally routine performance, but the whole is lifted by the solo contribution from Della Jones at the end.

Henry Wood's Fantasia on British Sea Songs is given a delightful performance which captures the charm and humour of the piece and the BBC Concert Orchestra contribute some lovely solo moments.

The next track was the Academy of St. Martin in Fields account of RVW's Greensleeves, under Sir Neville Marriner. A well known version of the piece, which is simply beautiful.

Back to Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra for a brilliantly crisp and rhythmically incisive account of Walton's Crown Imperial. Granted, Wordsworth is rather too brisk in the Elgarian nobilmente middle section, but he brings it all to a wonderfully exciting close.

The Scots Dragoon Guards contribute a version of Amazing Grace which suffers badly from over-production; I longed for the backing chorus and orchestra to disappear and leave the pipers to get on with doing what they do best.

Finally a perky account of Eric Coates Knightsbridge March from his London Suite.

This 2CD set is pretty good value and has some very attractive tracks on it, especially the older recordings. If the choral performances by the Royal Choral Society had been a bit more inspiring I think I could have given it a more wholehearted review. As it is, this Land of Hope and Glory just lacks the commitment needed.

Full CD Listing:-
The Ultimate Classical Celebration

1. Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance, March No. 1 (“Land of Hope and Glory”)
2. Handel: Zadok the Priest
3. Parry: Jerusalem
4. Arne: Rule Britannia
5. Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance, March No. 4
6. Holst: I Vow To Thee My Country
7. Elgar: “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations
8. Coates: The Dam Busters March
9. Alford: The Bridge on the River Kwai (“Colonel Bogey”)
10. Walton: The Battle of Agincourt
11. Grainger: Shepherd's Hey
12. Handel: O Had I Jubal's Lyre
13. Stanford: Drake's Drum
14. Parry: I Was Glad

1. Wood: Fantasia on British Sea Songs
2. Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on Greensleeves
3. Walton: Crown Imperial (Coronation March)
4. Clarke: Trumpet Voluntary (The Prince of Denmark's March)
5. Walton: Orb and Sceptre
6. Coates: The Three Elizabeths - Halcyon Days
7. Scottish Medley (feat. “Flower of Scotland”)
8. Danny Boy
9. Land of My Fathers
10. Elgar: Chanson de Matin
11. Amazing Grace
12. Coates: London Suite - Knightsbridge March
13. The National Anthem (arr. Gordon Jacob)

Performers include:
Bryn Terfel
The Philip Jones Ensemble
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
The Royal Choral Society
The Fron Male Voice Choir
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
London Festival Orchestra
English Chamber Orchestra
The BBC Concert Orchestra / Barry Wordsworth

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