Friday 31 December 2010

Tempus per Annum - Domine in tua misericordia

I am currently working on volume 3 of my collection of motets Tempus per Annum, my collection of motets for the Church's year. This volume covers the half of the Sundays in Ordinary Time. I have just finished number 7, Domine, in tua misericordia, the Introit for the 7th Sunday in ordinary time, set for 5 -part choir (SATBB).

CD Review

My review of Orff's Carmina Burana from Richard Cooke and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is here. It came out earlier last year but somehow got missed.

At Brilliant's prices, you could easily buy this if you are curious or if the excellent cast appeals. But if you really want a good recording of Orff's
Carmina Burana then go for Gundula Janowitz and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau conducted by Eugen Jochum.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of Kaddish by Lawrence Siegel is here, on MusicWeb International.

A great deal of love and thought has gone into this disc.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

Review of Chapelle du Roi

My review of The Absolution of England, the concert by the Chapelle du Roi as part of the Christmas Festival at St. Johns Smith Square, is here on Music and Vision (Subscription Site).

Sunday 26 December 2010

Recent CD reviews

My review of the disc of choral music by contemporary American composer Daniel Asia performed by the BBC Singers is here.

Exemplary performances. This collection shows Asia to have a nice ear and it is well worth investigating.

And my review of the disc, Praise to the Holiest, from Cantores Missae is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.

Not aimed at the average listener, rather for those interested in music to be performed, at their church services. And as such it is beautifully executed and should, I hope, win many people over.

Friday 24 December 2010

And Further Ahead

Opera Magazine's We hear that... column this month, mentions that Barry Banks will be taking the title role in a new production of The Tales of Hoffmann at ENO in Spring 2012. It will be directed by Richard Jones, conducted by Anthony Walker and will feature Clive Bayley as the villains. The big question, for me, is around the edition that will be used. ENO have a tradition of using up to date editions of the opera, whereas the Royal Opera tends to stick to the traditional version which takes no account of the discoveries made recently. So I hope that this continues.

And still on the subject of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Natalie Dessay will be singing the heroines in Laurent Pelly's new production at the Liceu in Barcelona in 2012/13.

Music Theatre Wales will be premiering Philip Glass's new Kafka inspired opera, The Trial, in 2013.

Jonas Kaufmann is scheduled to sing the title role in David McVicar's new production of Andrea Chenier in 2015 (!) Perhaps Kaufmann will be able to convince me that the opera is actually worth hearing!

Rare Opera

A couple of sightings of rare opera coming up in the new year. On February 5th East London Metropolitan Opera and the Haydn Chamber Orchestra will be presenting a concert performance of Rossini's Armida at St. John's Smith Square. This will feature Emma Dogliani in the title role and will be conducted by Robin Newton. The opera is perhaps best known for the trio for 3 tenors, the only time that Rossini seems to have written for this combination. The opera was written for Naples where the opera house had 3 major tenors, and most of his operas for Naples feature significant numbers of tenor parts. The title role was written for then muse, Isabella Colbran.

Then between 22nd and 26th February you can sett a production of Albert Lortzing's Zar und Zimmerman at Haslemere Hall in Haslemere. This will be presented by Opera South, directed by Ian Gledhill and conducted by Tom Higgins, with the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra. The opera will be sung in English and is being presented as Peter the Great or Tsar and Carpenter. The opera was written in 1837 and remains Lortzing's best known work, it features a disguised Peter the Great getting involved in shennanigins in a Dutch shipyard. The opera is still performed in Germany but is quite a rarity in the UK.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Opera Now

The new production of When a Man Knows gets a mention in the latest News Roundup on the Opera Now website.

Saturday 18 December 2010


I know its a bit far to go, especially if the weather is like it is now in London (i.e. Snowing heavily), but during January the Opera Comique in Paris is presenting Poulenc's opera Les Mamelles de Tiresias in a programme with Milhaud's Le Boeuf sur le Toit and Shostakovitch's The programme is a co-production with Opera de Lyon and appeared there in November. Events surrounding the performances include Poulenc's Histoire de Babar, a programme on Sacha Guitry, and Poulenc songs sung by Karina Gauvin and by Karen Vourc'h.

Promised End

If you missed Alexander Goehr's new King Lear opera Promised End then it is being broadcast tonight at 10.30pm on BBC's Radio 3; a chance to re-assess the work again.

Friday 17 December 2010

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Hasse's Marc'Antonio e Cleopatra from Ars Lyrica Houston is here.
Well worth encountering in this engaging performance.

And my review of Monsigny's Le Deserteur is here, both reviews are on MusicWeb International.
This isn’t a master-work, but it is a fascinating and charming.

Thursday 16 December 2010


Tonight, my cantata the Magi will be receiving its premiere at London Concord Singers concert at the Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street, Mayfair, London at 7.30pm. The remainder of the programme includes music by Cecilia McDowell, Hieronymous Praetorius, Mendelssohn, Gesualdo, Nicholas Maw and Peter Philips. The new piece has proved popular with the singers so I can only hope that it is equally popular with the audience. The writing, for 8 part choir, uses quite a lot of bi-tonality which makes it tricky to sing but is proving very effective (well, at least I think so).

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Review of Tannhauser

My review of the new production of Tannhäser at Covent Garden is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Monday 13 December 2010

Bach's Christmas Oratorio

On Sunday at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the direction of John Butt, performed Bach's Christmas Oratorio, complete. Butt directed from the harpsichord with a second keyboard player at the organ, though I must confess that at times I found the harpsichord sound a little difficult to hear amidst everything else.

Butt has recently recorded the St. Matthew Passion with his own Dunedin Consort, and on that recording he was firmly 1 voice to a part. But at Sunday's concert we had 4 soloists plus the choir of the Enlightenment. Now, granted, the choir numbered only 13 so the differential was not huge. But, if you read Andrew Parrott's book about performing Bach, he quotes various treatises related to Lutheran performance which suggest that if you use more than 1 voice to a part, you should group the additional voices separately, i.e. you would have 3 group of 4 (SATB). It would have been interesting to try this rather than having the choir in a block at the side of the stage. The whole stage arrangement was odd, because the main body of strings were drawn very far forward, so the soloists sat at the side and walked on for their solos. But, this is not simple in the Christmas Oratorio so we were conscious of a great deal of very careful coming and going.

The other problem with doing soli and choir is that, like in the St. Matthew, is blurs things. If you have the same voices doing the chorals as the solo sections which mix choral and recitative, then you get a better balanced feel. This was the revelation when I first heard the St. Matthew in 1 voice to a part.

Now, having got my gripes out the way, I can safely say that the performance was magical. Nicholas Mulroy was incredible as the Evangelist, sweet voiced, mellifluous but with a fine attention to words. (I need to get Butt's recent St. Matthew recording to hear Mulroy as the Evangelist their. ) Not only that, but he coped brilliantly with Butt's speeds and gave the most amazingly fleet performances of Bach's passage work in his first 2 arias. The other three soloists, Julia Doyle, Meg Bragle and Matthew Brook, were in the same class and produced a wonderfully balance solo line up. The choir was equally good and equally technically adept in the faster passages. (Another gripe, if you are going to put the choir at the side of the stage rather than the back, you should ask the men to shine their shoes as they can be seen!).

As ever the OAE played superbly with some lovely solo playing and of course, the delectable oboe quartet in the 2nd cantata (this must be my favourite moment). Only the solo horns seem a little out of sorts.
Well, a busy weekend indeed. On Saturday we went to see the first night of the Royal Opera's new production of Tannhäuser, in Tim Albery's stripped down production. (A full review will follow) Was it my imagination or did Act 3 bring back vague memories of Elijah Moshinsky's stripped down Peter Grimes.

Then on Sunday morning we were singing Gounod's Messe dite de Clovis at St. Mary's Cadogan Street. Another one of those works which makes me wonder where on earth Faust came from. Plenty of ink has been spilled over who wrote Shakespeare's plays, but did Gounod have a tame composer in the closet to write his operatic masterpiece for him? Anyways, the genius (?) found in Faust doesn't seem to find its way into Gounod's masses, useful and pleasant though they are.

Finally off to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's superb performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, complete. With John Butt's fleet tempi, the evening did not last much more than 3 hours including interval. Bliss.

Tonight we are having our dress rehearsal at the Grosvenor Chapel ready for Thursday's concert, From Advent to Epiphany, when London Concord Singers will be premiering my cantata The Magi, further details here.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Is Cleopatra funny?

Re-reading the programme notes for Cecilia Bartoli's concert on Wednesday, I did rather find myself disagreeing with the writer (Christopher Cook) on the subject of Handel's Giulio Cesare. He refers to the way that 'Handel and his librettist blend the serious with the comic', going on to refer to Cleopatra as 'playful, funny, teasing and an unscrupulous operator'. I would certainly agree with the second comment, as that is what makes Cleopatra so charming, but I would have to disagree with the first comment, I don't think there is actually anything specifically funny in the libretto. Handel certainly didn't do funny, his lighter operas can have a rather satirical bent, but never outright comedy. Giulio Cesare belongs to the first Academy period, when Handel was doing operas of high seriousness; mainly, it seems likely, because that is what his aristocratic backers on the Academy board wanted. Nowadays, producers rather add a comic element to these operas, both the Glyndebourne Rodelinda and the Glyndebourne Giulio Cesare had crowd pleasing comic elements which have no place in the music. So no, I don't think the opera blends serious with comic.

The article then goes on to describe the scene when Cleopatra sings V'adoro, pupille as 'perhaps owes as much to a Soho burlesque at The Windmill as it does to ancient Parnassus'. Really? Obviously I have a far more serious view of the opera than Christopher Cook, but that raises the question of who is right. Because I put Handel's music on something of a pedestal, am I right in attributing motives of high seriousness to the opera productions. Was the original Parnassus scene viewed as being a little risqué? Surely the care which Handel lavished on the orchestration, with the on-stage orchestra of muses specified as having 9 instruments, mitigates against the idea that the scene had a burlesque element.

Review of Cecilia Bartoli at the Barbican

My review of Cecilia Bartoli's concert on Wednesday at the Barbican is here; the programme of Handel arias was presented with the conductorless Basel Chamber Orchestra. The review is on

Friday 10 December 2010

Stile Antico concert report

I was at the Barbican on Wednesday, reviewing Cecilia Bartoli's recital, so unfortunately missed Stile Antico's concert at the Cadogan Hall. Luckily friends were there to report back. Stile Antico are a group of young British singers, on Wednesday they numbered some 13 people, who perform conductorless. An impressive feat in any repertoire, but particularly true in their chosen field of renaissance polyphony. They have recently been touring, supporting Sting in his Dowland lute-song project!

Wednesday's recital centred round Tallis's Missa Puer Natus Est, opening with the plainchant Veni Emmanuel and Tallis's Videte Miraculum, finishing gloriously with John Shepherd's Verbum Caro. The opening to the second half, Taverner's Audivi vocem de caelo was sung rather effectively from the balcony.

A well disciplined group, with brilliant tuning and a sound; the women (sopranos and altos, no counter-tenors) with clear bright voices. The group seem to be genuinely conductorless, rather than one of the singers discreetly taking the lead. This seems to lead to a different type of rapport with the audience, as the singers are concentrating so much more on each other. Their programme provided lots of extended solo passages for different combinations of voices, but the results were admirably homogeneous.

The programme concluded with an encore, a rumbustious account of Byrd's Vigilate.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Recent CD Review

My review of the reissue of Scarlatti's La Santissima Trinita is here, on MusicWeb International.

One of my discoveries of the year. Very fine singing and playing, combined with a work which seems to have an abundance of variety, displaying Scarlatti’s genius at its best.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky

Last night (Tuesday 7th December) was one of the much anticipated concerts in the Barbican's Great Performers season, two of the world's star counter-tenors, Andreas Scholl and Philippe Jaroussky, in concert together with Jaroussky's Ensemble Artaserse.

Following their rather skittish interview in the Guardian I did rather wonder what to expect. In the event, we had an attractive sequence of airs, songs and duets by Purcell, with only 1 duet which had any hint of gender bending. The programme was enthusiastically received by the capacity audience and we were treated to 3 encores. But I was left a little unsatisfied and after the concert was puzzling over quite what was lacking.

Ensemble Artaserse is a small group and their line up last night was heavily continuo based (harpsichord/organ, viola da gamba, basse de viol, theorbo and guitar) with just 2 violins, viola, 2 recorders and 2 oboes. In all of the dance based pieces they gave the music significant rhythmic impulse which was exciting, but wearing after a time. The group are conductorless and I did wonder whether that was the problem.

Turning to the singers I realised that, far more than in Handel, it is the words which are important, not just their declamation but the way that they link with Purcell's music. His English word setting is some of the greatest ever written, but it is also pretty idiosyncratic. Scholl's English diction, whilst not faultless, was amazingly good. But even he seemed to struggle. In the shorter numbers like Sweeter than Roses or Music for a while he was elegantly beautiful, but didn't quite touch the heart strings the way Deller did (or more recently Iestyn Davies at this year's Proms in Cadogan Hall). In a longer number like O Solitude Scholl seemed to lose his way a bit. It might have been the frog in his throat, or possibly the way the piece sat in his voice, going a bit low, but though there were lovely phrases, the whole was less than the sum of its parts.

Jaroussky's diction was impressive, considering his franco-phone background, but it still has some way to go. Part of the problem seemed to be that his pronunciation was a little wayward; it was inconsistent, sometimes a word was produced fine and sometimes not. With his high, focussed voice, Jaroussky was loveliest in the long lyrical items like Fairest Isle and The Evening Hymn.

On balance, the evening seemed to be slightly less than the sum of its parts. Purcell's distinctive qualities seemed to not be quite captured. I think that what we lacked was the strong guiding presence of someone like William Christie, someone who could bring stylistic discipline and coherency.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Review of Alcina

My review of the concert performance of Alcina at the Barbican on Saturday is here, the review is on the OperaToday website (

Monday 6 December 2010

Rossini continuo

When Rossini wrote his comic operas, what did he actually hear in his head for the continuo. We know that a number of Italian theatres continued to use harpsichords, though the last new instrument was made around 1800. And other theatres used a combination of cello and double bass, with the cello spreading the chords; this can be heard on the Naxos CD of The Barber of Seville. I've never understood why this isn't used more often.

But, the question that has always puzzled me is what Rossini expected; did he really want a piano. Would an early piano be what was expected, or would that be too exotic. After all, in the later 19th century one of the divas used to have a piano wheeled onto the stage during the lesson scene in the Barber and sing to her own accompaniment. So, if there was a piano on-stage, what was used in the orchestra?

When a Man Knows

I managed to finish the revised score of my opera When a Man Knows in early November and have got the score to the principals, director and conductor. Now we are working on the publicity. I've been rash enough to book some display advertising, and the first of these has already gone out. Now its the main publicity leaflet. Just A6 in size, it is proving interesting trying to fit in all the information needed, including a map of the venue, along with some tempting quotes and a design which doesn't look like War and Peace crammed into a small space.

We are nearing a final design and I'm hoping that we can get something tempting. I'll post it when its finished.

Sunday 5 December 2010

To the Barbican last night for Mark Minkowski's wonderful performance of Handel's Alcina with Inga Kalna in the title role (replacing Anja Harteros). The only complaint was my usual one about the placing of intervals. The opera started at 6.30pm and finished at 10.20pm, and Minkowski performed the opera complete with the dances at the end of Acts 2 and 3. The only trouble, there was just 1 interval. This was advertised as being at the end of Act 1, giving us the prospect of a second half lasting well over 2 hours. In the event, the interval was placed after Alcina's first aria which gave us roughly a first half of 2 hours and 2nd half of 90 minutes. But, given the timings, couldn't we please have two intervals. Handel constructed his operas very carefully, and they respond far better to having the intervals in the correct places. Not to speak of having to sit in the auditorium for 2 hours continuously!

Whilst we are in querelous mood...

We used the Barbican's new Red Room, which is designed for their new membership category. It is a pleasant bar with views overlooking the foyers, serving food and drink. Only, it seems to have been designed for young people in mind. Like the re-design of the waterside cafe, the designers would seem to have designed the interior for a young audience. Whereas that at the Great Performers concerts would seem to be older, one not inclined to sit on bar stools and one preferring to sit in independently and not compressed into groups.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Orpheus in the Underworld

My review of Liam Steel's production of Orpheus in the Underworld at the Royal College of Music is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site)

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Opera Rara benefit

Last night we attended a fund-raising recital for Opera Rara, when soprano Carmen Giannattasio, tenor Colin Lee and baritone Mark Stone, with pianist Jeff Cohen, presented an attractive programme of rarities and better known pieces. The recital was to publicise their fund-raising for their recording of Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro, the last of his operas to be premiered in his lifetime. The recording will feature Carmen Giannattasio, Graeme Broadbent, Colin Lee and Troy Cook.

At the recital Giannattasio gave us a preview by singing Caterina's Romanza and Cabaletta from the opera. She also gave us a thrilling account of Tacea la notte placida from Il Trovatore, an aria where Verdi works his own magic on a musical form and genre familiar to Rossini and Donizetti. Colin Lee opened proceedings with Rodrigo's Cavatina from Rossini's La donna del Lago, a work which has just been issued on disc by Opera Rara. Lee also sang the barcarolle from Offenbach's Vert-vert, another recent Opera Rara recording. Mark Stone sang Sois immobile, from Guillaume Tell, a role which he has just performed for the first time. Then Stone and Lee came together in the duet from The Pearl Fishers before Lee and Giannattasio gave us a thrilling finale in the shape of the duetto finale from Rossini's Ermione (another recent Opera Rara recording).

Opera Rara have recently lost their funding from the Peter Moores Foundation; after 30 years supporting rare recordings, the Foundation is now concentrating resources on their Art Gallery at Compton Verney. So Opera Rara are looking for alternative methods. For Caterina Cornaro they are offering 800 shares in the recording at £250, a fascinating and innovative method of raising money.

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