Sunday 25 July 2010


Previews of the opera festival are out, though no mention of When a Man knows yet!

Saturday 24 July 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of another of Christ Church Cathedral Choir's recordings from the Nimbus catalogue, this time the Frank Martin and Francis Poulenc masses. The review is here, on MusicWeb International.

An attractive combination of works, strongly characterised and intelligently sung

Monday 19 July 2010

Prom 1 - Mahler's 8th Symphony

Mahler's 8th symphony is a work that would seem to be ideal for the Royal Albert Hall. Mahler uses a huge orchestra, with quadruple wood-wind, a childrens choir plus two adult choruses. At its premiere in Munich it was claimed that 1000 people took park, where on earth did they put them all. At Friday's opening Prom there the members of the adult choruses numbered around 400 with 60 children and they just fitted comfortably into the choir areas behind the stage. Even then, the rear choristers would be a long way from conductor Jiri Belohlavek (I know, I sat there when, as part of the London Philharmonic Choir, I sang in Mahler 8 to open the 1986 Proms).

One of the glories of Friday's prom was the choral singing. The three choirs (BBC Symphony Chorus, Crouch End Festival Chorus and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs) sang with bright, clear brilliance, providing a keen focussed sound, with barely a hint of bawling. The tricky passages at the opening of part 2 were, as far as the foggy Albert Hall acoustic allowed, neatly and accurately placed. And the closing chorus mysticus was ravishing.

They were well supported by the orchestra, though Belohlavek seemed to have rather a no-nonsense, no time for lingering sort of attitude. This meant that the opening choral torrent worked well, but that the middle sections seemed to sag somewhat as they needed more cherishing. That said there was some lovely individual playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Regarding the soloists, I have rather mixed views. I must confess that I have never heard a performance where they seemed ideal, and too often heard live the voices seem to be straining overmuch. Both sopranos Mardi Byers and Twyla Robinson seemed to press their voices too hard, so that one turned rather sharp edged and the other seemed to vibrate over much above the stave. I am sure that, in more relaxed surroundings they would have sounded lovely. Only mezzo Stephanie Blythe seemed to be able to combine beauty of tone with volume. Tenor Stefan Vinke was a last minute replacement but seemed a bit taxed by the part. The other two male soloists Hanno Müller-Brachmann and Tomasz Konieczny contributed some fine, passionate singing.

There was, of course, one other soloists. Malin Cristensson appeared by the organ at the very end, the ravishing embodiment of Mater Gloriosa.

If I found the performance less than engrossing first half of part 2, it was more than made up with the life enhancing conclusion.

Saturday 17 July 2010

ETO Autumn season

Having just put their recent Spring tour to bed, English Touring Opera have released full details of their exciting Autumn season. The most keenly anticipated item is the world premiere of Alexander Goehr's new opera (reputedly to be his last). Based on a text extracted from Shakespeare's King Lear by Sir Frank Kermode, Promised End sets 24 fragments of Shakespeare. Hearing Goehr's response to Shakespeare's tragedy is an excitement to come. ETO are performing the opera with a strong cast including Nigel Robson (Gloucester), Roderick Earle (Lear) and Lina Markeby (Cordelia/Fool), and the Aurora Orchestra conducted by Ryan Wrigglesworth, production by James Conway. The tour starts at the Royal Opera's Linbury Theatre on 9th October and continues to Malvern, Bexhill, Exeter, Crawley, Cambridge and Snape Maltings.

English Touring Opera – Goehr: Promised End – world premiere, operatic version of Shakespeare’s King Lear (edited by Frank Kermode). Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor), James Conway (director), Roderick Earle (Lear), Nigel Robson (Gloucester), Adrian Dwyer (Edgar), Lina Markeby (Cordelia), Julia Sporsen (Regan).

Keeping to the drama theme, the other main work in the tour is The Duenna, Sheridan's comic opera which was first produced with music by Thomas Linley (senior and junior). ETO are using newly discovered manuscripts to re-create the original 1775 version of this highly popular work, first premiered at Covent Garden. Many of the songs were taken from popular ballads of the day and though the music was commissioned from Thomas Linley senior, much of it was actually written by his prodigy son (who died at the age of 22). The performance will be directed by Michael Barker-Caven with Joseph McHardy conducting a period instrument orchestra. The cast is an admirably mixture of experienced hands such as Nuala Willis and Richard Suart, with younger singers like Damien Thantrey and Jonathan Gunthorpe.

Sheridan's text was re-used for operas by Prokofiev and Roberto Gerhard, but this will be a rare outing for the English original. The show previews in Poole before moving to Covent Garden on 13th October with subsequent visits to Bath, Malvern, Bexhill, Exeter, Cambridge, Harrogate and Snape.

English Touring Opera – Sheridan/Linley The Duenna – Directed by Michael Barker-Caven, conducted from the harpsichord by Joseph McHardy, and designed by Adam Wiltshire; Richard Suart (Don Jerome); Olivia Safe (Clara); Charlotte Page (Louisa); Nuala Willis (Margaret); Joe Shovelton (Antonio); Damien Thantry (Ferdinand); Adrian Thompson (Isaac)

Further ahead, they have released preliminary details of their spring 2011 tour, with Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, Puccini's Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, along with Tobias Picker's The Fantastic Mr Fox

When a Man knows - next steps

On the one hand we are gearing up for the next concert performance of When a Man Knows as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival. When we are performing at 3pm on Saturday August 21st, so if you missed the work's premiere, this is your chance to hear it.

But looking further ahead, plans are now well advanced to stage the opera in April 2011. Ian Caddy, himself a distinguished bass-baritone, will be directing the production which will have substantially the same cast as the concert performances, with Dario Dugandzic as the Man, conducted by David Roblou.

When considering staging the opera I had had fantasies of doing the production in a deserted warehouse, and perhaps we will achieve that one day. But for the work's premiere on stage we will be using a real theatre. More news soon.

Friday 16 July 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of a disc of Magnificats by Cavalli is here, on MusicWeb International.

You won't quite get the crisp, vibrant music-making which this music deserves…

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Review of Manon

My review of Massenet's Manon from Covent Garden, with Anna Netrebko in the title role, is here, at Music and Vision (subscription site).

Saturday 10 July 2010

Semele at the Barbican

On Thursday, Christoph Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques presented Handel's Semele at the Barbican. The performance was based on the staged performances at the Theatre Champs Elysees, directed by David McVicar. The Barbican performance was just in concert, but the singers made entrances and exits and sang without music, addressing each other and reacting. So the result was rather more dramatic than some performances.

Rousset gave us a rather comprehensive version of the opera, including the aria for Cupid from Act 2 and an aria from Act 1 for Athamas which is often cut. This, combined with a rather lax attitude to timing of intervals, plus Rousset's rather moderate tempi, meant that we had rather a long evening. Starting at 6.30pm and finishing nearly 4 hours later. Except that it didn't start at 6.30pm, Rousset finally lifted his baton at 6.40pm. And each interval was extended by a mysterious gap, with audience seated, waiting. There was obviously plenty of space for applause between arias.

What the performance lacked was impetus. Individual moments were lovely, but Rousset seemed too content to allow things to jog along, in a relaxed manner. You can import crispness and dramatic coherence to Semele, by keeping the dramatic flow going and/or cutting discreetly. Neither seemed to happen.

There was plenty to enjoy on the way of course, because the cast was extremely strong. The star should have been Danielle de Niese as Semele. De Niese is a singer who has bags of personality, which reaches both her stage persona and her voice, so that you get a complete package. She is undoubtedly attractive and popular. She worked hard. Too hard in fact. I was frequently too conscious of how much she was pushing her sexy persona, with wide-eyed appeals, sexy pouting, tantrums and contrived sulky behaviour. Her opening aria, The morning lark had a lot of business with her hands imitating a bird. And in Myself I shall adore her antics with a mirror, no matter how amusing, threatened to de-stabilise the aria. By the end of the evening I was having to work hard not to get annoyed

All this would not have mattered if her musical performance had been spot on. But though De Niese is talented and sexy, her coloratura was rather smudgy and no-where near as pin-sharp as that of some of her co-singers. She was best in the more lyrical items. In fact, one of the showpiece arias, Endless Pleasure was sung not by De Niese, but by

Recent CD Review

My review of Rossini's Otello from the Rossini in Wildbad Festival, recorded live on Naxos, is here.

If you are curious about Rossini's version of Otello then you will not go far wrong with this Naxos recording ...

Review of Salome

My review of Salome from Covent Garden, with Angela Denoke in the title role, is here on Music and Vision (subscription site)

Sunday 4 July 2010

On Thursday we went to a private recital given by The English Concert celebrating the end of their season and the launch of their new season. They played Handel's Concerto Grosso Op. 6 no. 6 in G minor, Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor and Vivaldi's Concerto in D, RV208, Il Grosso Mogul. The beautifully expressive soloist in the Marcello was Katharina Spreckelsen. In the Vivaldi, the solo part with its amazing cascades of notes was played with aplomb by Nadja Zwiener.

Hearing such a group in a smaller, private surroundings brought to mind the private nature of much baroque music. Written at a time when public concerts were relatively unknown, concertos, concerti grossi and cantatas were written for private performance in patron's salons. Something that we can only experience rarely today.

The English Concert's new season includes such delights as Alice Coote singing Dowland at the Wigmore Hall, Anna Caterina Antonnacci and Sara Mingardo in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, Laurence Cummings directing an evening of contemporary arrangements of Scarlatti keyboard sonatas. The group will also be performing at the Spitalfields Festival, collaborating with I Fagiolini on Purcell's King Arthur

Saturday 3 July 2010

Concert of Music for Life

Tonight Japanese pianist Reiko Fujisawa will be giving a piano recital at St. Michael's church, Highgate. The recital is in support of Music for Life, a project which has pioneered and developed interactive, creative music workshop programmes for people living with dementia. Music for Life was founded in 1993 and is now managed by Wigmore Hall in partnership with Dementia UK. More details can be found on here Reiko Fujisawa's web-site.

The programme includes Bach English Suite BWV 807, Beethoven Waldstein Sonata op. 53, Schubert Impromptus D. 899 and Albeniz Suite Espagnole.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of the Brabant Ensemble's disc of sacred music by Pierre Moulu is here, on MusicWeb International.

Fascinating and rather enchanting ...

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