Saturday 22 January 2011

CD Review

My review of the disc of scenes from Strauss operas, entitled Amor, featuring Natalie Dessay and Felicity Lott is here.

This disc is something of a curiosity.

Juan Diego Florez review

My review of Thursday's Juan-Diego Florez Rosenblatt recital at the Royal Festival Hall is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Friday 21 January 2011

On Thursday we went to a private recital of Mahler lieder. The accompanist was Joseph Middleton who will be accompanying Wolfgang Holzmair in a similar recital at Westminster School on Friday 4th February. On Thursday, mezzo-sopranos Catherine Hopper and Anna Huntley and baritone Richard Latham shared a programme of Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, Lieder einters fahrenden Gesellen, 3 songs from the Ruckert Lieder (Liebst du um Schonheit, Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder, Ich bin der Weld abhandenen gekommen), plus 6 solo lieder. The singers shared the Wunderhorn and the single songs between them; inevitably Richard Latham was allocated the more military of the Wunderhorn songs. Anna Huntley give a poignant performance of Lieder einer fahrenden Gesellen and Catherine Hopper was beautifully moving in the Ruckert Songs.

Then last night we were at a recital of an entirely different cast. Juan-Diego Florez at the Royal Festival Hall. Florez managed to fill the hall with audience quite easily, the concert was sold out. But I doubt that the venue is entirely ideal for his voice and would have loved to hear him in somewhere smaller. It was a very old-fashioned recital, with the audience having to work very hard for the 4 encores. I can still remember the old days when Montserrat Caballe used to do recitals a Covent Garden; she made the audience work but could be relied upon for up to 7 of them.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Voices Now

Voices Now is an amazing choral festival which is celebrating 75 years of Making Music (which used to be the National Federation of Music Societies), at the Round House. For 4 days you can hear and take part in a whole variety of choral music. There are come and sing events with the Holst Singers and the Camden Township Choir, and there is the Making Music open stage for all interested choirs to take part.

Performers include the BBC Singers, the Latvian Radio Choir, the Holst Singers, the Clerks and the London Symphony Chorus in a wide range of repertoire from Taverner's Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas to music by Gabriel Jackson, Arvo Part and James MacMillan.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

From this month's Opera

I see from this month's Opera magazine that Antonio Pappano and the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia have performed Rossini's Guillaume Tell in French with Gerald Finley in the title role and have recorded it live for EMI. A particularly interesting prospect because they seem to have performed the work un-cut. I don't think I am familiar with the tenor John Osborn who sings Arnold, but the magazine's review speaks very highly of his performance in the concert in Rome.

In their obituary of Joachim Herz, Mark Elder remembers him from the 1975 ENO Salome as an awe-inspiring presence with a fearsome intellect and a 'powerful dictatorial style' so it is rather a relief to find that in more recent years he used to refer to himself as 'Das Fossil'.

David Alden is doing a new Giulio Cesare for ENO in 2012. Lovely that they are doing another new Handel production, and I can understand why they need a production to replace the old John Copley one. But can't help wishing that they had decided to extend the repertoire slightly and choose an opera not yet performed at the Coliseum, like Tamerlano or Rodelina.

Monday 17 January 2011

Tempus per Annum - Respice in me, Domine

Here's the motet for the 9th Sunday in Ordinary time, Respice in me, Domine, for five-part choir, with two soprano parts. 'Look thou upon me, O lord, and have mercy on me'.

Crouch End Festival Chorus at the Barbican

Crouch End Festival Chorus are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. Their first concert in an exciting year saw them performing at the Barbican Centre on Saturday 15th January. Under their founder conductor David Temple and accompanied by the London Orchestra da Camera, they performed and exciting and challenging programme consisting of John Adams's Harmonium and Roberto Gerhard's The Plague.

Harmonium was one of Adams's first major works for chorus and orchestra and, with Shaker Loops, is an important work in Adams's minimalist period. Though Adams has always had his own firm view of his musical development and Harmonium is a distinctively personal take on minimalism. The title comes from a collection of poetry by Wallace Stevens, though in fact Adams did not set any of the poetry, choosing instead poems by John Donne and Emily Dickinson. And here we must come to one of my problems with this work, why worry about exactly what poems you are going to set if you set them in a such a way as to render the text inaudible. Despite the choir's brave efforts, only the text of the middle movement was audible.

Adams musical background in California was in electronic music and much of his music for orchestra and choir is influence by this, in fact much of his symphonic output is expected to be performed modulated by an electronic sound control. So, the orchestra really needs to be able to play the music with precision, turning on a pin. Though the London Orchestra da Camera were capable, they failed to give the important orchestra part the crisp definition it need.

The chorus, though they worked hard with a will, were fighting the rather unfortunate Barbican acoustic, which is less than ideal for large scale choral pieces. So that much of the choir's hard work and enthusiasm seemed to go for nothing as detail was obscured, or never made it over the orchestra. This was especially true of the final movement, a setting of Dickinson's poem Wild Nights, where the energy of the chorus did not completely cross the foot-lights.

After the interval, things could not have been more different. Gerhard's The Plague is not strictly a choral work. Commissioned by the BBC in 1964, it is written for chorus, orchestra and narrator. Gerhard set an English text taken from Albert Camus's La Peste, the story of the African town of Oran suffering from the bubonic plague in the 1940's; a story which can be taken literally or read as an allegory of the Nazi occupation of France. Gerhard uses the chorus to represent the people of Oran, with a chorus part which moves from spoken effects, to fully sung lines.

The work is a melodrama, with the spoken part being the character of the doctor who is involved in treating the plague. Paul McGann, dress in period costume and sat at a table with period doctor's bag, performed the narration with in a laid back, dead pan manner which suited the understated nature of the part.

But the main protagonist in the work is really the orchestra, which underpins the narrations and provides interludes which illustrate and point up the text. Gerhard's music is uncompromisingly 2nd Viennese school in tone, which exactly matches to taxing nature of Camus's narrative. Here the orchestra were on fine form in Gerhard's taxing music and the chorus provided vividly atmospheric interjections with some profoundly poignant singing.

The Plague is not an easy work, not only for the difficulty of Gerhard's writing. But also because of the harrowing nature of the spoken text, particularly in the long scene where Camus describes the death of the young boy; a scene which was handled in a nicely understated manner by McGann.

The result was a powerful and moving performance which did full justice to Gerhard's unusual and difficult work.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Rossini's Petite Messe Solonelle from Basel Madrigal Choir is here.

Some moments of fine choral singing rather let down by the solo singing.

And my review of Ne me refuse pas, a programme of French 19th century operatic arias (including some interesting lesser known items) from Canadian mezzo-soprano Marie-Nicole Lemieux is here. Both reviews are on MusicWeb International.

A fine disc notable not only for some very fine singing but also for an intelligent and well put together programme.

Saturday 15 January 2011

When a Man Knows, tickets on sale

When a Man Knows has gone up on the Tower Theatre company's box-office web-site, with a very handsome page devoted to the show here.

40 go wild

To celebrate their 25th anniversary, I Fagiolini, director Robert Hollingworth, are releasing a new disc of music for 40-part choir. The centre-piece will be Antonio Striggio's 40-part mass Missa Ecco sì beato giorno, which was memorably performed at the Proms in 2007. It is this piece which a diarist, writing some decades later, remembered as inspiring the composition of Tallis's Spem in Alium, when a Duke (probably the Duke of Norfolk) heard the Striggio composition and challenged an English composer to do as good.

In fact, with Spem in Alium Tallis did far better. As anyone who heard the Proms performance of Striggio's Mass, Striggio does not handle his large scale forces as imaginatively as Tallis. But it will be good to get the piece on disc.

I Fagiolini's disc includes not only Striggio's Missa Ecco sì beato giorno, but the motet on which it is based along with a selection of Striggio's other motets. Plus Tallis's Spem in Alium. This latter is given in a new edition by Hugh Keyte, with instrumental accompaniment for the first time. Spem in Alium is of course a problematic work as the only manuscript we have for it, is in fact the contrafactum, with English words, which was produced for Prince Henry of Wales (elder son of James I). And the only reference to the work's first performance is the diarist writing some decades after the original performance.

Thursday 13 January 2011

Juan Diego Florez

On January 20th there is a chance to hear Juan Diego Florez in recital rather than on the opera stage. He's giving a recital at the Royal Festival Hall, details here And before you groan and complain about opera singers presenting bleeding chunks from their stage repertoire in recital, just look at his programme. It includes two items from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito (now that I would like to hear on stage with Florez), songs by Rossini, by Lalo and by Prado, plus something from Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys and finishing with Pietoso al lungo pianto from Verdi's early comedy Un giorno di regno. (In case you are wondering, Almeida Prado (1943 - 2010) was one of the most important contemporary Brazilian composers, who studied with Lukas Foss, Nadia Boulanger, Messiaen and Ligeti). So not your normal celebrity recital at all and one which looks more than interesting.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Tempus per Annum - Factus est Dominus protector meus

Tempus per Annum continues on, I have just finished number 8 of volume 3, Factus est Dominus protector meus (The Lord became my protector), the Introit for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, set for unaccompanied 5 part choir (SATBB). The piece alternates the basses singing the opening text in a plainchant like way, with the upper voices singing the verse (I will love thee, O Lord my strength), in a faster 3 part texture.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Friday 7 January 2011

Recent CD Review

My review of Ian Bostridge's Three Baroque Tenors disc is here, on MusicWeb International.

The point of the disc is to explore the range of music written for these three tenors and as such it works admirably.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Priscilla - I don't see it

Over the holidays we went to see the musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Palace Theatre in London. Now, being as it was simply a bit of frivolous fun we bought tickets in the balcony (the very top level), but we were sitting in the centre of the 3rd row and they did cost £30 each. Sitting in such seats at the London Coliseum or the Royal Opera House you would get a pretty decent view of the show. Granted, not quite all of the backdrop would be visible and apart from certain key crazy productions (Tristan anyone?) you would get a good musico-dramatic experience.

This is not what happened with Priscilla.

First, I must say that we did enjoy the show enormously and would highly recommend it, provided you sat in the better seats. But from our seats, the view was woeful. This is partly because the edge of the balcony is protected by a huge railing to prevent punters from falling over, something that the Coliseum and Covent Garden don't seem to need. But there again the balcony at the Palace is extremely steep; alarmingly so, goodness knows what it is like at the back.

But the main problem is that the much of the staging has been brought forward of the proscenium, over most of the pit. To be truthful, our seats had a perfectly decent view of the main part of the stage, you just couldn't see the fore-stage properly. And unfortunately most of the action takes place here. Now, I wouldn't object if we had been warned that these seats were in some way restricted view, but we were not. So instead we had to spend the evening craning our necks, trying to see round the heads of the people in front. For us it was possible, I don't know about the people behind.

This isn't the first time this has happened, we had a similar experience at the Playhouse Theatre when we went to see La Cage aux Folles. So let that be a lesson. When we take our frivolous Christmas treat next year, we'll have to stump up for seats further down the house and not rely on the sight lines in the upper levels. Perhaps theatres should introduce a visibility rating, to give punters an idea of what they are going to get?

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Too much Mozart, is it possible

From 1st January 2011, BBC Radio 3 commenced its 12 day project to broadcast all of Mozart's works. They have done this before, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky have both been subjected to this sort of intense broadcasting experience. The problem with Mozart is that he wrote so much, that 12 days are needed to cover the music. This means that for 12 whole days, whenever I switch the radio on I will hear Mozart. Now, apart from a few key points in the week (CD Review, Music Matters, Early Music Show), the joy of radio is that whenever I switch it on, something different will be there. Perhaps it will be something that I don't like, but there is always the possibility of experiencing something new, something previously unknown or perhaps re-discovering something you disliked. Of course there are plenty of moments when the programme just doesn't suit the mood and you switch over to a CD immediately.

By now, you've probably gathered that my listening habits are pretty mono-thematic, I only listen to Radio 3 and never get round to re-tuning to Radio 4 no matter how admirable the programmes might appear from reading the Radio Times.

But by now, and we are only into day 5, I am thoroughly sated (bored, dare I say) by Mozart. Whenever I have put on Radio 3 it is his mellifluous genius which has assailed my ears and I am longing for a change. Only 7 more days to go

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