Sunday 31 July 2011

Recent CD Reviews

My review of Cirque a disc of French song with works by Sauget, Poulenc, Auric and Milhaud sung by Celini Ricci is here.

Admirable programme, intelligently put together and including some lesser-known works but Ricci’s performance is simply unsatisfactory.

And my review of a disc of organ and choral music from Ely Cathedral is here.

A slightly awkward mix but highly attractive and intelligently and finely performed.

Saturday 30 July 2011

Tempus per Annum - Volume 3 is here

Volume 3 of Tempus per Annum is now available. Containing 18 motets for 5-part choir (varying between SSATB, SAATB, SATTB, SATBB), setting the Latin Introits for the first 18 Sundays in Ordinary Time.

Further details and on-line sales are here

Tango - Gianluca Paganelli

Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rogers – No Other Love [3:08]
I Gado – Jealousy [3:04]
R Adler /J Ross – Hernando’s Hideaway [2:36]
A Villaldo /J.C.M. Catan/E.S.Discepolo /Trad/Arr M. George /L Mullen/D Dott/G Paganelli– El Choclo [2:44]
M George /L Mullen /D Ott /G Paganelli – Just for Tonight [4:18]
B Kampfert /E Snyder /C Singleton – Spanish Eyes [3:08]
JM Rodrigues /P Contursi /E.P Maroni – La Cumparsita [2.38]

F Schreier / A Bottero – Tango of Roses [2:23]
C Gardel / A Le Pera / Trad/arr M George / L Mullen / D Ott - Por una Cabeza [2:23]
J Gade – Jalousie [3:05]

F schreier / A Bottero - Tango Delle Rose
M George / L Mullen / D Ott / G Paganelli - Shine

Gianluca Paganelli (vocalist)

Mark George (Piano and Programming)

Daniel Ott (strings and programming)

Produced by Daniel Ott, Mark George and Lou Mullen

Recorded at Fairlight Mews, Kingston


Gianluca Paganelli isn’t a name that I’d come across before. He evidently won the Italian equivalent of “Britain’s Got Talent” and now, under the watchfully eye of Harry Cowell (who was responsible for signing Katharine Jenkins) is now aiming for the UK. This, his first UK disc, is entitled Tango and its theme is obvious; clearly the idea is to generate interest based upon Paganelli’s good looks and evident abilities to smoulder on camera.

But, before we get a little too disparaging, it has to be emphasised that he can actually sing; rather well indeed. Amongst the credits at the back of the booklet, Paganelli thanks his uncle, the baritone Ludovico Malavisi with whom he studied. That Paganelli has had some significant training is evident not just from the way he produces his voice, but that he sings with a fine sense of line and evident musicality. Given the nature of this disc, recorded in a studio with close miking, it is impossible to tell what Paganelli’s voice would be like live, without a microphone, but he certainly makes a nice product on disc.

Paganelli sings most of the songs in more than creditable English, with just enough of an Italian accent to make it delightfully attractive but without any awkward manglings. The remaining numbers are sung in Spanish and in Italian; texts and translations are helpfully provided.

The songs on the disc are rather a varied bunch; including a Rogers and Hammerstein number No Other Love from the 1953 show Me and Juliet, though I know it from Cinderella as I think it was used in some of the different versions of this show. Here Paganelli sings nicely enough but he and the arrangement rather over-do the tango which should, I think be more languid and relaxed.

Listening to this first track highlights one of the discs relative disappointments. Though the advance publicity makes something of Paganelli’s classical training, he has not been given a classical band as backing, simply a group of musicians with sequencers. The result is a little lacking in the tonal variation and subtlety that you’d get from a bunch acoustic instruments played live, here the backing sounds a little too resolutely intense in tone all the time. To get an idea what I mean, you only have to listen to one of any number of groups doing Piazolla, i.e. genuine tango rather than the synthetic Hollywood version.

The remaining tracks on the disc, by and large get the same treatment. I found some of them a little too short – I wanted more light and shade, and more time to listen to each song. Ultimately, despite Paganelli’s classical credentials, this is a high-end pop album aimed at a market where short bursts of high intensity music are what is required. This is a shame, because on this showing Paganelli would seem to be capable of a great deal more.

Friday 22 July 2011

Recent CD Review

My review of Mozart's Requiem from Novosibirsk, conducted by Teodor Currentzis is here on MusicWeb International.

I will certainly be playing this again.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Recent CD Review

My review of John Nauman's disc of Ricky Ian Gordon's piano music is here, on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Charming and Lively - 'Nauman plays ... consummately ...'

Tuesday 19 July 2011


I am currently going back over the 18 motets in the latest instalment of my Tempus per Annum project (washing their faces as RVW would have called it). This is when I get terminal indecision. Not about the notes, but about dynamics, barring, keys and tempi. Tempi are the worst. As the motets all inhabit a world which is influenced by my singing of Renaissance polyphony and plainchant, none are really slow or really fast and I worry incessantly about their metronome and other markings. Ditto dynamics, though I am usual more decisive here.

I keys and barring can also be a problem, as you want to notate the piece in a way that makes it easiest to sing and my use of en-harmonic changes etc can be problematic. Still, we are getting there though I am sure that there will be things that I want to change a year from now

Monday 18 July 2011

Brian's Gothic Symphony at the Proms

I remember listening to BBC Radio 3's broadcasting of all of Havergal Brian's Symphonies, probably sometime in the 1980's. And I have a tape of the BBC Broadcast of his opera The Tigers. But I have to admit that Brian's music does not feature heavily in my listening habits. I was certainly unfamiliar with his first symphony.

The forces that the BBC had assembled were truly stupendous, 4 children's choruses (Eltham College Boys, CBSO Youth, Southend Boys, Southend Girls), 6 choirs (Brighton Festival, Huddersfield Choral Society, London Symphony Chorus, BBC National Chorus of Wales, Bach Choir, Cor Caerdydd)and two orchestras (BBC National Orchestra of Wales and BBC Concert Orchestra). The personnel overflowed the usual performing area. The adult choristers filled the whole of the rear stage area up to the top level, the orchestra overflowed onto extra platform area which extended into the arena, the children were in the stalls either side of the orchestra, then came the 4 platforms with the extra brass and timpani (organised into 4 brass groups, each with their own timpani). There were also a dozen off stage trumpeters and David Goode on the organ. Oh, and 4 soloists - Susan Gritton, Christine Rice, Peter Auty and Alastair Miles. In charge of all this was Martyn Brabbins.

For the first 45 minutes we had 3 purely orchestral movements, which were tautly written and logically symphonically argued, closes perhaps to Rubbra. Impressive but not necessarily loveable and certainly not with the emotional tug which someone like RVW can bring to the symphony. It was only towards the very end of the third movement that Brian actually used anything like his huge forces.

Now the orchestra was slightly oddly constituted. If we ignore the 4 extra brass bands and timpani, then we had an orchestra with a large number of most things (including 2 euphoniums and 2 tubas), something like 9 horns, 8 trumpets, 2 cornets and 1 bass trumpet. But in the clarinet section (10 or so of them) there was only 1 bass clarinet, 1 contrabass. Similarly there was only 1 bass oboe. I am not sure that I was aware of hearing the contrabass clarinet at any point. I began to wonder whether it was needed. What would be the effect on the orchestration if it went missing? (see Beecham's story about the Joseph Holbrooke piece and the Heckelphone which goes missing) Brian's intention was to create a symphony emulating a Gothic cathedral and you could not help thinking that the sheer size of the orchestration was its point; that like many a Gothic structure, there were many elements which would be perfectly formed but never be seen/heard by ordinary mortals.

Brian's final 3 movements, the choral ones, set the Te Deum and lasted well over an hour. The structure was the sort of omnium gatherum, whole world in a single movement type which is familiar from Mahler, in fact we even got the odd popular sounding melody. The textures were often detailed and complex, I'm not sure that we got all of the detail in the Albert Hall. And Brian used his full forces relatively sparingly. There was a thrilling moment, during the Non Confundar section, when all of the 6 sets of timpani set off, but such moments were rare and tended not to last long. The choral section opened and closed with the choruses singing unaccompanied, something that Brian did a lot of. If his construction reminded me of Mahler, his tendency to juxtapose blocks reminded me of Bruckner.

Brian splits his main choral forces into two double choirs, and some of the choral writing sounded pretty tricky. Communication was obviously difficult across the vast expanses (the rear-most chorenes were a long way from Brabbins; I know, I've sung in a Mahler 8 at the Proms many years ago where the conductor was a dim, distant figure). One or two of the choral entries sounded a tad raw, mainly through over enthusiasm and anxiety for the gesture to tell rather than carelessness. Overall the choral singing impressed immensely.

But I keep coming back to the single worry; what was it all for?

You might have noticed that I've not mentioned the soloists. Susan Gritton provided some lovely singing, particularly in her off-stage moment. Peter Auty seem taxed by the intensely complex solo her was given and Alistair Miles thundered with commitment. Christine Rice's role seemed to be to provide the alto line in the soloists ensembles, she got no major solo. But none of the solo passages were large and you felt that the soloists were not the most important part of the event.

Ultimately, I'm glad we went, it was a truly stupendous experience. But it got me no closer to Brian's music and I am not sure that I feel I need to hear the symphony again sometime soon. (Near to use, one group of people included a guy who proclaimed that he'd last heard the work 40 years ago!).

Review of Guillaume Tell

My review of Rossini's Guillaume Tell from the Proms, given by the Accademia di Santa Cecilia under Antonio Pappano is here on Music and Vision (subscription site).

Sunday 17 July 2011

Proms opening night

We manage to catch most of the 1st night of the Proms in its delayed broadcast on BBC2, though we missed the opening works and started with Benjamin Grosvenor's stupendous performance of Liszt's 2nd Piano Concerto (with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek).

The Liszt seemed to hold few technical difficulties for Grosvenor who played both with power and dexterity. It was also a remarkably mature account for one only 19; it wasn't as dark as some performances, but Grosvenor certainly brought nout the chiaroscuro of the work's interesting corners.

I certainly hope that he manages to keep his career on track and that doing so much so early is not problematic. And he certainly needs to get some visual advice; his choice of shirt was unfortunate, far too heavily styled.

The concluding work was Janáček's Galgolitic Mass with the BBC Symphony Chorus, the BBC Singers, Hibla Gerzmava, Dagmar Pecková, Stefan Vinke and Jan Martiník. In the orchestral intro Bělohlávek brought out both the work's lyricism and the punchy, fan-fare like qualities.

Soprano Gerzmava and tenor Vinke both gave strong service in the opening moments. Gerzmava's voice having an attractive Slavic edge without too much vibrato beat which can cause problems in this work, she was powerful but nicely lyric as well. Vinke managed the impossible tenor park brilliantly, giving a creditable heroic edge to the music rather than an edgy bleat.

Both Pecková and Martiník were underused by Janáček, but made short but telling contributions.

Organist David Goode played superbly and gave the Royal Albert Hall organ its head.

Of the chorus I am less certain. Bělohlávek used the BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Singers without any extra choruses, so numerically they were less than I would have expected to be used at the Royal Albert Hall. Their performance was technically spot on, in a tricky work but lacked the punch, edge and weight that I would have liked. Perhaps this lyrical quality was what Bělohlávek wanted but it sat oddly with the way he encouraged the huge brass department to knock out Janáček's lie and fanfares.

Even so, this was and engrossing and exciting performance and good to see such a work on prime time TV>

Thursday 14 July 2011

Recent CD Review

My review of volume 2 of the Carus Volkslieder collection is here, on MusicWeb International.

You could just sit back and listen.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Rubbra in Primrose Hill

Tomorrow London Concord Singers are making a return visit to Primrose Hill with a concert in St. Mary's Church, Ellworthy Road. The centre piece is Rubbra's Missa in Honorem Sancti Dominici which we will be performing again in August as part of sung mass in Avignon at the Chapelle des Penitents Noirs. Also in the Primrose Hill programme is a group of Villette motets and Elgar part songs plus a selection of renaissance motets.

Tempus per Annum

Having finished the 18 motets in the latest volume of Tempus per Annum I am going back over them, checking them, playing them through and generally tidying things up. I am the world's worst proof-reader so can never do this often enough. Writing the motets has taken rather longer than anticipated so that I have forgotten the details of some of the earlier motets and this process is an interesting voyage of discovery. They are never going to be a concert work with all motets used together, nonetheless they are surprisingly varied.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Cendrillon at Covent Garden

My familiarity with Massenet's Cendrillon is relatively limited. I remember reading glowing reviews for the 1993 production by WNO and I eventually got to see the opera at the Royal Academy of Music in 2005, notable for Julia Riley's Prince Charming. Chelsea Opera Group also did a notable concert performance in 2008. Laurent Pelly's production at the Royal Opera House (seen 7th July) was the first there. The production was originally performed at Santa Fe in 2006 and has been revived by Pelly as a co-production between Covent Garden, the Liceu, the Monnaie and Lille. At Covent Garden, the title role was played by Joyce DiDonato who had appeared in the Santa Fe production.

Barbara de Limburg's sets were all based around the idea of a story book, telling the original Perrault tale. There was no curtain, just the pages of a book which opened to reveal the whole stage, All the action was wittily contained within the words of the book; words were a feature of the whole production, Cendrillon's coach was formed from the word Carosse, the chairs all had initials on the back which were eventually lined up to spell Cendrillon, etc. But within this concept, the stage area was in fact quite large and bare; it is perhaps significant that the Covent Garden stage is rather bigger than that at Santa Fe.

The first half culminated in the ball and Cendrillon's precipitate exit, but the majority of time was spent in her house. Though Massenet's music delineates the characters nicely, this made for a rather slow start. Jean-Philippe Lafont was a disappointing Pandolfe (Cendrillon's father), with a fine stage manner but a rather obtrusive vibrato. In contrast Ewa Podles was a delight as Madame de la Haltiere, the wicked stepmother. Wearing an outrageous costume, with heavily padded hips to give her a caricature like figure. The step sisters, Madeleine Pierard and Kai Ruutel, had similarly over the top outlines, looking rather like wrapped boiled sweets.

Joyce DiDonato's Cendrillon made her first appearance out of a cupboard door in the scenery and created an appealing figure. But frankly I was quite pleased when the Fairy Godmother appeared. Sung by Eglise Gutierrez, the role is full of coloratura and Gutierrez looked ravishing but did not quite seem at complete ease with the passage work.

The majority of the ball scene was taken up with a long dance sequence which showcased Pelly's costumes with outrageous silhouettes. But eventually we did get to the lovely duet for DiDonato and Alice Coote's Prince Charming. For the first time we got a taste of the Massenet familiar from his big romantic operas.

In the second half things got a little darker, with Cendrillon leaving her home and going off to the enchanted forest to die. This forest seemed to be a roofscape and here Cendrillon meets the Fairy Godmother who allows her and Prince Charming to hear each other and sing another passionate duet. Reaching the climax took a little time but all reached a satisfying conclusion.

As you have probably gathered, I was a little less than charmed with the performance of the opera. It seemed to have rather less substance to it than when I heard it earlier. Somehow there were longeurs between the passionate sections. And whilst Podles seemed to have a nice gift for comedy, a little of her Madame de la Haltiere went a long way.

Ultimately, for me, the production was a little to cute and clever for its own good, though there were some lovely moments mainly the scene between DiDonato and Coote. The Royal Opera orchestra under Bertrand de Billy provided a stylish account of Massenet's score.

I'm still sure that there is a charming opera in Cendrillon, but I don't think that I saw it at Covent Garden.

Saturday 9 July 2011

Finished at last - Volume 3

I have just put the finishing touches to the last motet in Volume 3 of Tempus per Annum. This volume contains 18 motets covering the first 18 Sundays of Ordinary Time. It has taken far longer than I anticipated, Volume 1 (Advent and Christmastide) was finished in 2004 and Volume 2 (Lent, Passiontide and Pentecost) was finished in 2008. There is just one more volume to go, covering the remaining 16 Sundays of Ordinary time plus All Saints and the Feast of Christ the King. The entire set will consist of 71 motets or which 54 have already been written.

In Volume 3 I have moved from 4-part to 5-part choir, using all 4 different combination (SSATB, SAATB, SATTB, SATBB), finishing with a motet for 4-part choir and tenor solo (Deus in adjutorium) which was commissioned by London Concord Singers. One or two of the motets in Volume 3 are more substantial than in earlier volumes, with nos. 10 and 11 forming two parts of a single longer motet (Dominus, illuminatio mea) of which each part can be performed separately.

I am now starting work tidying up the motets preparatory to printing. Then I will turn my attention to Volume 4; this has already started as it opens with Respice in me which was commissioned by London Concord Singers. I'd like to think that I'll finish Volume 4 next year, but if things intervene then it might be 2013.

Friday 8 July 2011

Recent CD Review

My review of Handel's pasticcio, Alessandro Severo from George Petrou is here, on MusicWeb International.

Handel’s pasticcio functions well as a dramatic entity and as an omnium gatherum of his music, plus the performances are terrific.

Tuesday 5 July 2011


On Saturday we went to King Place for the last in the concerts billed as John Woolrich and friends. This one was given by members of the Britten Sinfonia; a string sextet led by Thomas Gould plus Christopher Cowie on oboe and cor anglais. There were a couple of themes running through the concert. The first was the string sextet plus oboe. We had the full sextet in Strauss's Prelude to Capriccio and Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht, then a subset plus oboe in the Mozart Oboe Quartet. But only in Woolrich's Quiddities did all 7 performers come together.

But there was a literary subtext as well. Capriccio is of course famously based in the words or music dilemma and the prelude is supposedly the work of a composer whom the Countess Madeleine is dallying; her dalliance with both the composer and a librettist forms the engine of the plot. Then Schoenberg's piece is based on a poem by Richard Dehmel. Finally Woolrich's Quiddities is inspired by a Robert Walser short story, Lake Greifen.

This was an intelligent and involving programme, all beautifully played with some stylish Strauss and Mozart and a beautifully textured account of the Schoenberg. Woolrich's piece, with solo cor anglais rather than oboe was ellusive and I felt a little frustrated that the literary references were not familiar to me, so that I could not place how they linked to Woolrich's music. This latter was fascinating for his use of textures, with much plucking from the strings.

The programme booklet was admirably inexpensive (£1) but the information about the music itself was brief, evidently deliberately so; presumably encouraging us to listen rather than arrive with preconceptions.

Saturday 2 July 2011

Review of Vuyami Mlinde recital

My review of Vuyami Mlinde's recital as part of the Rosenblatt recital season at St. Johns Smith Square is here, on Music and Vision (Subscription site).

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