Wednesday 30 June 2010

Salomon Concert - 29th June

To St. John's Smith Square last night for a concert by the Salomon Orchestra. Conducted by Neil Ferris they gave a challenging and exciting programme of 20th century music. Malcolm Arnold's Peterloo Overture, Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto and William Walton's First Symphony. Surprisingly perhaps, the Walton was the earliest thing on the programme (1932-35) and the Malcolm Arnold the most recent (1968) with the Shostakovich in between.

Commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the TUC, Arnold's overture graphically depicted the 1819 Peterloo massacre where a peaceful demonstration was attacked by the Yeomanry. Arnold showed this using contrary side drums in a similar manner to Nielsen. The overture is wonderfully loud and Ferris managed to achieve the fine balancing act between loudness and clarity, so that everything in Arnold's scenario was clear.

This was followed by Shostakovich's concerto. Written in 1948 for Oistrakh but not performed until 1955, after Stalin's death. The concerto is a difficult piece, written in symphonic form with 4 movements. The soloist was Jaroslaw Nadrzycki, Polish born but currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music. Nadrzycki is only 25 but already has a substantial CV; he made his debut with the Moscow Conservatoire Orchestra at the age of 12. Not only did he have the technique to give a dazzling account of the concerto, but he had the emotional maturity to deliver a profoundly moving reading. The concerto pulls no emotional punches and in the third movement, Passacaglia: Andante calls upon the soloist to deliver profound grief in a restrained manner. It is moments like this which can show up young virtuosi, but not Nadrzycki whose performance was worthy of someone twice his age.

Ferris's speeds in the concerto were a touch on the fast side, something which seemed to bother neither soloist nor orchestra, much to their credit. The orchestra delivered a crisp, punchy accompaniment with some beautifully profound solo playing.

After the extreme efforts of the first half, Walton's symphony took a little time to settle. This is a work which is full of awkward detail which needs to be carefully placed and in the heat of the concert hall (rendered profoundly stuffy in the warm weather) and following their efforts in the Shostakovich, the orchestra did not quite always deliver. As with the Shostakovich, Ferris's speeds were a little on the brisk side and there were times when I felt a little relaxation would have helped. That notwithstanding the orchestra delivered a strongly characterised account of Walton's fascinating score, making much of the emotional depths of the piece.

Their next London gig is on Saturday 17th July when, under Martyn Brabbins baton, the Salomon Orchestra will play all of Beethoven's symphonies in 1 day at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (with the LSO chorus provising the support in the 9th symphony). Put the date in your diary now!

Saturday 26 June 2010

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Peter Grimes conducted by Haitink, with Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Felicity Lott is here.

Haitink brings special insight ...

And my review of Ian Hominick's disc of piano rarities, Off the Beaten Track is here. Both reviews are on Music Web International.

Charmingly unfamiliar bon-bons … and a few grittier pieces ...

Friday 25 June 2010

Review of Capriccio

My review of Capriccio at Grange Park Opera is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Review of The Love of Three Oranges

My review of The Love of Three Oranges at Grange Park Opera is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Monday 21 June 2010

Let's make an opera

Just over a week ago I was fully focussed on the premiere of my new opera When a Man Knows (which took place on June 13th). For some post-premiere relaxation we took ourselves off to Grange Park Opera this weekend to see two of their productions, Love of Three Oranges and Capriccio. Quite unintentionally we found the both operas continued the themes from the previous weekend; what constitutes an opera, what is more important words or music, how do you make a new opera which is relevant to today.

Love of Three Oranges opens with different groups arguing over what type of performance they want and throughout the piece one group actively involve themselves in the creation of the opera and guiding its direction, even so far as to intervene in the plot when the heroine is dying of thirst. Then of course in Capriccio we have the discussion of whether words or music are more important, but played out partly in allegory as the potential love affairs between the Countess and the Composers and the Poet. The piece is made all the more significant by the passage towards the end of Act 2 when the theatre director urges poet and composer to go off an make a new work which is relevant to today!

Whether my new opera is relevant to today I have no idea. We are currently planning our performance in August and I am starting work on gathering a team together to do a staging. Only then will we discover!

Thursday 17 June 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's Israel in Egypt, a liver recording from Peter Dijkstra and Concerto Köln, is here.
Its heart is in the right place but it doesn’t quite come off ...

And my review of Sing Alleluia from the Choir of Rochester Cathedral is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
Plenty of interest here and the choir are certainly in good health ...

Wednesday 16 June 2010

When a Man Knows

So, we did it! On Sunday evening we premiered my new opera When a Man Knows. Cast (Deborah Stoddart, Dario Dugandzic, Sarah Barham and John Beaumont), instrumental ensemble (Marianne Haynes, James Meldrum, Jonathan Cottle and Richard Black) and conductor David Roblou did a magnificent job. I was much heartened by the enthusiastic reactions of both performers and audience. The piece works very well and the pacing seems just about right, it even lasted just about the length of time predicted - coming in at 80 minutes as opposed to an estimate of 75 minutes. We recorded the performance, so that I can review the work later but I cannot see me making any major changes.

As ever, it is onwards and upwards and we are now planning for the next performance, when we'll be performing as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival on Saturday 21st August at 3pm at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. The festival's website is now up and running so you can visit us there

Friday 11 June 2010

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Handel's Judas Maccabeus from French forces, with international soloists, is here.
Allowing for limitations of the sung English this is a vivid and involving performance …

And my review of Meyerbeer's Il Crociato in Egitto, live from La Fenice, is here. Both reviews on MusicWeb International.
Gives a strong flavour of the piece…

Monday 7 June 2010

Classical Music article

The latest Classical Music magazine has a half page article in the Premiere of the Fortnight column, dedicated to When a Man Knows and its premiere on Sunday.

Review of Tosca

My review of ENO's new production of Tosca is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Saturday 5 June 2010

Pearl Fishers at ENO

To the London Coliseum last night for Penny Woolcock's new production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers. It was performed in Brad Cohen's new edition which returns the opera to the state it was in when the composer left it, rather than having Act 3 being the confection it became with tinkering from various hands (including a trio by Benjamin Godard). The problem with the work is that the final act is weak and undoubtedly, if Bizet had lived he would have re-written the work to strengthen it. As it is, I feel that Chandos have the right idea with cutting it down to fit onto 1 CD. You can't help thinking that the piece could be trimmed to 1 act length and paired with some other 1 act piece. It does not help that Bizet puts his best two tunes into Act 1 and nothing he does after this quite matches it.

Usually the piece is performed in productions which make a great deal of the 19th century orientalism, I seem to remember that the previous ENO production was very attractive, with lots of supers in gorgeous costumes. Woolcock and her designers Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) placed the piece in the present day with the villagers living in a waterside shanty-town. But this was a very theatrical kind of realism, the set looked fantastic and was used by Woolcock in all sorts of lovely ways. The production had one visual coup after another.

During the prelude we had what can only be described as a water ballet as divers descended from above in a realistic and magical way. Then during the famous duet in Act 1 (beautifully sung by Quinn Kelsey (Zurga) and Alfie Boe (Nadir)) we got a projection of the goddess, a vision of her face. Later on in that Act we had a stylised but enchanting boat on the sea with divers coming and going whilst Nadir and Leila (Hanan Alattar) sang to each other across the water.

For Act 2 there was a great deal of water effects and whilst Leila thought of Nadir, a back projection of him diving. Video was used a lot, not as a 'look at me' device, but as a very effective way of expanding the horizons of the production.

All this could not quite mask the weakness of the work. And there were moments when the very nature of working in a theatre gave rise to problems. For instance, in Act 1 the shanty town set meant that the chorus had to be rather static and took quite a time to exit. In Act 2 the storm damages the temple in a very hackneyed way.

Newspapers reviews had been a bit mixed on the subject of the singers, particularly Hanan Alatar. In fact, she was announced as suffering from a throat infection. All I can say is that she has an attractive, rather silvery soprano but with slightly to wide a vibrato for my taste. After Act 1, Alfie Boe was also announced as suffering. In fact, he sang much of the opera with ringing tones, though did transpose part of his Act 1 solo down an octave. His voice is developing as an instrument and I would have liked to talk about the way he sang the role and whether or not he approached the French nature of the part. But it would be unfair, and this will have to wait.

Quinn Kelsey is Hawaiian and made a supremely impressive account of the role of Zurga. All three roles are high and Kelsey coped brilliantly with the high lying baritone role and sang with bravura and a beautiful line. I hope to hear much more of him.

Freddie Tong made a strong impression in the small role of Nourabad, looking almost unrecognisable with his long dreadlocks.

Conductor Rory Macdonald gave a strong and passionate account of the score. He's only in his 20's and I do hope that ENO bring him back soon.

Penny Woolcock's fascinating work on this not quite masterpieces meant that we had a wonderfully theatrical evening. I will certainly look forward to its revival.

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