Monday 30 September 2013

Fresh and original: L'Orfeo at the Barbican

John Mark Ainsley at Orfeo at the Barbican Centre, with Academy of Ancient Music
John Mark Ainsley at Orfeo at the Barbican Centre
On Saturday 28th September I enjoyed a performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo in the Barbican Hall. The Academy of Ancient Music was led by Richard Egarr from his harpsichord with John Mark Ainsley as Orfeo. It was a semi-staged performance directed by Orpha Phelan.

With a composer whose music has been around for 400 years most of us are familiar something of his output and with Monteverdi there is a wide range. It was this familiarity that this performance was building on. The cast were in costume, dressed as contemporary wedding guests. Although in the discussion afterwards Orpha suggested that they had provided their own clothes they must have had some guidance or they had all been at the same wedding as they were quite co-ordinated. It helped to create the feeling that you vaguely knew them or people similar. We know the type of wedding depicted and that in turn leads us to the emotions of the piece. This is L'Orfeo and the opera concentrates on him and his emotions. Uncertainty, loss and then grief. Things we can all relate to in 2013 or 1613 it doesn't matter and that shows the continued relevance of Monteverdi's music.

Planet Hugill in Hamburg: Sven Helbig and the Faure Quartett

Svein Helbig
Svein Helbig
Sven Helbig and the Faure Quartett (Dirk Mommertz - piano, Erika Geldsetzer - violin, Sascha Frömbling - viola and Konstantin Heidrich  - cello) appeared at Fliegende Bauten as part of the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg on Friday 27 September to play Helbig's Pocket Symphonies.

The venue of Helbig and the Faure Quartett's concert as a huge circus tent which normally houses cabaret and other entertainment. Sitting at cabaret-style tables, the audience was large and enthusiastic, though the venue wasn't full and people came and went freely. Dramatically lit and dressed in black, the quartet were joined on-stage by Helbig who controlled lighting and sound via a series of consoles, mixing in synthesized sound and even contributing the occasional note on a glockenspiel.

Helbig's Pocket Symphonies are a group of 12 short works written specially for the Faure Quartett and scored for quartet plus orchestra. I have reviewed their Cd of the works, where they were joined by the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kirstjan Jarvi. For their performance at the Reeperbahn Festival, Helbig introduced the synthesised elements instead of the orchestra, a portable solution for live performance which is a relatively new development I understand.

Sunday 29 September 2013

City of London Sinfonia asks you to get CLoSer

City of London Sinfonia: CLoSer logo
The City of London Sinfonia's alternative concert series, CLoSeR, returns for three concerts this season. On 23 October they will be screening the 1929 silent film, The New Bablylon with Shostakovich's jazz-influenced score for the film played love by the City of London Sinfonia, conducted by Hugh Brunt. Then on Wednesday 12 February 2013 they celebrate Valentine's Day early, with a programme of alternative lovee songs from soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and singer/songwriter Mara Carlyle. Finally, on Wednesday 23 April, clarinettist Michael Collins and City of london Sinfonia Principal players perform Messiaen's masterpiece Quartet for the End of Time, written when the composer was in a concentration camp.

CLoSer takes place in the Village Undeground in Shoreditch, with some imaginative programmes presented in more casual surroundings, with a chance to get far closer to the musicians and feel less confined than in a formal concert setting. Tickets are £15, students and 16 to 25 year olds get in for £5. Further information from the City of Sinfonia website, booking information for all three concerts from the Spitalfields Music website.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Planet Hugill in Hamburg for the Reeperbahn Festival

N-Joy Reeper Bus in Spielbude Platz, Hamburg as part of the Reeperbahn Festival
N-Joy Reeper Bus in Spielbude Platz, Hamburg 
I am currently in Hamburg for a few days covering the Reeperbahn Festival and other events (see my review of La Traviata from Staatsoper Hamburg). The Reeperbahn Festival is a remarkable musical manifestation, a three day jamboree full of the most amazing bands from across the popular music spectrum with a highly catholic taste in genre and style. As well as indie-pop, electro-folk, techno and a variety of others, there is a classical/jazz stream. I have been attending a wide variety of concerts and will be covering the classical/jazz ones, including Svein Helbig and the Faure Quartett in further postings.

The Reeperbahn is a street in Hamburg which historically led from the city towards the Danish border and was thus outside the city limits, and by the docks. The name in fact means rope walk, and the area became notorious as a red light district. But it has also been a home to music venues including the clubs which hosted the Beatles when they played here in the 1960's before they became famous. For three days in September the area is taken over, as over 60 venues present a diverse range of bands. The venues themselves are very varied ranging from small clubs and bars to huge clubs, and even taking in a church and open air venues. The programmers have no preconception about style, genre or nationality. Instead they focus on quality, so part of the charm of the festival is serendipity, wandering into a small bar and seeing a band playing to a packed room knowing that next year you may see them playing to far bigger venues.

La Traviata at the Staatsoper Hamburg

La Traviata in Hamburg
Johannes Erath's production of Verdi's La Traviata opened at the Staatsoper Hamburg in February this year, with Ailyn Perez in the title role. Perez returned with Stephen Costello as Alfredo for three performances in September 2013 and I caught the third on 27 September 2013, with Alexandru Agache as Giorgio Germont and Rebecca Jo Loeb as Flora. The production was designed by Annette Kurz with costumes by Herbert Murauer. The conductor was Alexander Joel.

As we entered the auditorium the curtain was up and we saw a lone figure sitting on a huge bare stage, black walls, lighting rig visible. The figure started playing the accordion, two figures came on stage, Alfredo (Costello) and Annina (Ida Aldrian), she gave money to the accordionist (Jakob Neubauer) whilst Costello pulled the body of Violetta out of the ground and cradled it.  At the conclusion of the prelude, the rear wall opened and the party guests were revealed, coming forward on a platform whilst Costello was still on stage. This was clearly a production which was understood to be happening in flashback.

Win tickets for Roderick Williams recital at Temple Music

To celebrate Temple Music's new season of recitals at Temple Church and in Middle Temple Hall, we have two tickets to be won for Roderick Williams' recital with Julius Drake (piano) on 14 November. Roderick Williams and Julius Drake will be performing Brahms's song cycle Die schone Magelone. Described as one of the most quintessential products of early romanticism in music, the song cycle sets texts from the novel The Wondrous Love Story of the Beautiful Magelone and Count Peter of Provence by Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), a favourite novel of Brahms's youth.

Temple Music's 2013/14 season opened on 23 September with a recital by Annette Dasch and Julius Drake, and continues with performances by Endymion, the Sacconi String Quartet, the Wallfisch-York Duo and the Sixteen, plus a screening of the silent film Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. For dates and times, and further information, see the Temple Music website.

The competition is now closed.

Friday 27 September 2013

Musique Sacree - Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Musique Sacree: NCR 1387Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Musique Sacree: NCR 1387
Having recorded a disc of motets by Francois Couperin (see my review), Edward Higginbottom and the choir of New College Oxford have turned their attention to the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier and shown that the French style is indeed something at which they excel. The new disc, on their own Novum label, presents three substantial motets by Charpentier, Conserva me, Domine H230, Caceilia Virgo et Martyr H397 and De Profundis Clamavi H189 performed by the choir of New College Oxford and Oxford Baroque conducted by Edward Higginbottom with soloists taken from the choir and Robyn Allegra Parton as a guest soprano soloist.

Charpentier is one of the great under appreciated composers of French 17th century music (or should that be one of the great composers of under appreciated French 17th century music). He does not figure in any of the major historical narratives, failing to get an appointment at the Chapelle Royale in 1683 as illness made him drop out of the competition and failing to be able to mount opera because of Lully's monopoly. In fact, Charpentier seems to have been the sort of guy who simply got on with things, even if not centre stage. So he developed productive relationships with the patron Mlle de Guise and with the Jesuit community in Paris. By the time Charpentier was appointed director of music to the Jesuit Order in Paris he had the reputation as the city's foremost composer of sacred music working outside the court.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Fidelio at London Coliseum

A scene from Fidelio by Beethoven @ London Coliseum. An English National Opera production. Directed by Calixto Bieito. Conducted by Edward Gardner. Adrian Dwyer & Sarah Tynan  ©Tristram Kenton
Adrian Dwyer & Sarah Tynan  ©Tristram Kenton
Calixto Bieito's production of Beethoven's Fidelio opened English National Opera's 2013/14 season on Wednesday 25 September 2013. A co-production with Bavarian State Opera, the production was first seen in Munich in 2010. With sets by Rebecca Ringst, costumes by Ingo Krügler, the production was a spectacular re-imagining of Beethoven's music drama. Sung in David Pountney's translation, the spoken dialogue was abandonned in favour of texts by Jose Luis Borges and Cormac McCarthy. Bieito had instigated musical changes too, reverting to Beethoven's third Leonore Overture (used at the 1806 performances of the opera), rather than the overture Beethoven wrote for the 1814 revision. Bieito also introduced a movement from Beethoven's string Quartet Op 132 between the two scenes of act two.

The performance featured a very strong cast, Emma Bell and Stuart Skelton were Leonore and Florestan, with Sarah Tynan as Marzelline , Adrian Dwyer as Jacquino, James Creswell as Rocco, Philip Horst as Pizzaro and Roland Wood as Fernando, with Edward Gardner conducting.

October at the Barbican

Milton Court Concert Hall
October at the Barbican centre starts with a bang, with the opening of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Milton Court Concert Hall with Guildhall Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under James Gaffigan performing Beethoven's Choral Symphony plus the premiere of Julian Phillips Come for to play. Elsewhere there is a residency from the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig with Riccardo Chailly performing Brahms, Sir Willard White as Mendelssohn's Elijah, plus the Academy of Ancient Music, the BBC Singers, the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Two legendary performers, Bernard Haitink and Emmanuel Ax, join forces with the London Symphony Orchestra for a pair of concerts each pairing a Mozart concerto with a Shostakovich symphony (10/10, 15/10).

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Rubies for the English Concert

The English Concert - photo credit Richard Haughton
The English Concert's 2013/14 season is their 40th anniversary, so its rubies all round. They celebrate in fine style with music by all the baroque greats as well as some lesser known names, performed by such luminaries as Sonia Prina, Roberta Invernizzi, Lucy Crowe, Rosemary Joshua, Sarah Connolly and Sally Matthews, and a return of their founder Trevor Pinnock. The concerts travel widely, with performances in Gateshead, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bristol, Hereford amongst others in addition to those in London. For me the highlight has to be the performances of Handel's Theodora with Rosemary Joshua and Sarah Connolly

Amore e morte dell'amore

Amore e morte dell'amore: Naive OP 30549
This new disc from two of the stars of the baroque operatic firmament presents us with a lovely selection of duets, duetti da camera, from  from the 17th century. Though Monteverdi is best known for the form, here we hear a selection of duets by Monteverdi, Marcello, Handel, Lotti and Duranti performed by soprano Roberta Invernizzi and contraldo Sonia Prina accompanied by Ensemble Claudiana directed from the theorbo by Luca Pianca.

As soon as the first notes start you know that you are going to be in for a treat. I have long been an admirer of both Prina and Invernizzi and together they make a superbly vibrant and communicative team. Both have richly expressive voices and strong techniques, and here they show that they make a formidable musical partnership with their voices blending and complementing each other well.

Monteverdi's Interotte Speranza opens with a strikingly sonorous recitation for both voices. Quite simple, but superbly realised with the two singers, native Italian speakers, making the most of the combination of words and music. The piece is quite austere, as befits the text which sees a disappointed lover preparing for the funeral pyre, but it is deeply expressive. Monteverdi's Mentre vaga Angioletta sees a lover delighted by Angioletta's singing. It starts with just two voices in unison, and alternates between incredible fast passages and slower ones responsive to text and meaning. But it is the effortless cascades of runs from the two singers which dazzle.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

Your chance to see Antonacci as Brunnhilde!

Ernest Reyer
Next week, if you travel to Geneva, to the Grand Theatre De Geneve, you can see Anna Caterina Antonacci as Brunnhilde. No, I haven't gone mad, they are not performing The Ring but Ernest Reyer's Sigurd, based very roughly on the same legends as Wagner's opera. Ever since I heard Regine Crespin on one of her early recordings singing an excerpt from Reyer's opera, it has fascinated me, (you can hear her after the break).

Joining Antonacci as Brunehild, is a strong cast with Anne Sophie Duprels as Hilde, Marie-Ange Todorovitch as Uta, Andrea Carè as Sigurd, conducted by Frederic Chaslin in concert performances. Other characters include Gunther and Hagen! 

Further information from the theatre's website, performances are on 6, 8 and 10 October 2013. It may be your only chance of hearing the opera live. Alas, I won't be getting to Geneva to hear it.

OAE launches new season

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
On Monday 30 September the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment launches its new season with a concert of Musical Fireworks from Rameau and Handel, conducted by William Christie with soprano Sandrine Piau as soloist.  The season continues a programme marking Corelli's 300th anniversary including a new work by Clare Connors, Corelli Leaves, then pianist Robert Levin returns for a programme of music by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Beethoven. Their last concert in 2013 is a concert performance of Offenbach's Fantasio in collaboration of Opera Rare, with Marlis Petersen, Sarah Connolly and Victoria Simmonds conducted by Sir Mark Elder. See my season preview for information on the whole season

Temple Song: Annette Dasch and Julius Drake

Annette Dasch
Temple Song returned on 23 September with a recital by German soprano Annette Dasch accompanied by Julius Drake. Their recital celebrated Wagner's centenary with programme centred on Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, plus Robert Schumann's Kerner-Lieder and a selection of Felix Mendelssohn's settings of Heinrich Heine.

By late 1840, Robert Schumann was happily married to Clara and all the painful years of struggle with her father were behind them. But you would not know it, from his song cycles. Schumann continued to explore melancholy subjects and choose texts which were preponderantly rather despondent. His 12 Lieder op 35 nach Gedichten von Justinus Kerner are not one of Schumann's best known cycles and remain somewhat under appreciated. The songs, all setting poems by the German poet Justinus Kerner, do not form a conventional cycle at all, Schumann seems to have simply chosen poems that moved him. The poems Schumann chose deal mainly with nature and the way the outer display of nature reflects the various inner turmoils of man.

Monday 23 September 2013

New Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra app

Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra logo
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is celebrating its 125th birthday at the moment and last week the orchestra launched a new app, a video magazine which will be published six times per year as an app for iPad, RCO Editions. The new app will provide in depth insights into musical tops with the intention of offering a great diversity of interdisciplinary approaches making it attractive for a wide range of people. The first issue, Mozart: on the Road features John Eliot Gardiner's musical analysis of the Prague Symphony, a documentary on Mozart in Prague, and promises everything from historical performance practice to present day tour experiences of the orchestra. If they can get it right, it should be fascinating.

Fascinating: Voices from the Past - Volume 1 - horns

Voices from the Past: Anneke Scott
This fascinating new disc from Anneke Scott takes a selection of historic horns from the Bate Collection in Oxford and records music on them from the period each horn. The result is a history of the use of the horn in western music, and the way the improving technical capabilities of the instrument linked to the music being written for it. In an ideal world this would be a multi-disc set with music including Handel arias, and the Mozart and Strauss concerto. Though this recital is on a smaller scale, Scott has assembled a fascinating selection of music. She starts with a group of hunting calls by Marc-Antoine de Dampierre, followed by arrangements of Handel for two horns, then Joseph Haydn's trio for violin, horn and cello. Mozart is represented by some of his duos for two horns. There are two lesser known names, Heinrich Simrock and Ignaz Moscheles. The best known work in the disc is Schubert's Auf dem Strom, and Scott follows this with music by Saint-Saens, Paul Dukas and Richard Strauss (though not the concerto).

Vivid vim and vigour - the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival

The Old Palace, Hatfield House
The Old Palace,
Hatfield House
Friday 20 September saw the opening concert of the second Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, whose artistic director is cellist Guy Johnston. The festival had started the previous day with an education event at St Etheldreda's Church in Old Hatfield. Friday night's concert took place at the Old Palace at Hatfield House. Guy Johnston and members of the Aronowitz Ensemble were joined by guests to perform Brahms's Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111, Britten's Lachrymae, Op. 48a in the composer's version for viola and strings, and Mendelssohn's Octet in E flat Major.

The Old Palace at Hatfield is the surviving wing of a palace built in 1485, the wing contained the palace's banqueting hall. It is this room which was the venue for the concert and proving to have an acoustic highly suitable for chamber music.

The performance was preceded by welcoming speeches by artistic director Guy Johnston and Lord Salisbury, who owns Hatfield House. Lord Salisbury joked that having the festival was a wonderfully economic way of emulating his predecessor, the first Earl of Salisbury, who was a great patron of the arts and employed his own musicians.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Autumn at LSO St Luke's

Gianandrea Noseda © Chris.Christodoulou
Autumn at LSO St Lukes features a series of BBC Lunchtime Concerts of Mozart's chamber music with the Aronowitz Ensemble, London Winds, Lendvai String Strio, Chiaroscuro Quartet, Vilde Frang and Michall Lifts, the Eben String Quartet. There are also discovery days on Shostkovich and Berlioz. Joanna MacGregor, Graphic Scores, and the Aurora Orchestra all push the boundaries with their concerts.

There is an LSO discovery day on Shostakovich which includes access to an LSO rehearsal in the afternoon with Gianandrea Noseda, musicologists Michelle Assay and David Fanning will talk about Shostakovich's work with reference to his Sixth Symphony and there will be a performance of one of his quartets by players from the LSO (29/9). And a discovery day on Berlioz, which follows a similar format (3/11)

Saturday 21 September 2013

Uniko – Electric dreaming at the Barbican

Kronos Quartet - Photo by Jay Blakesberg
Kronos Quartet - Photo by Jay Blakesberg
The Kronos Quartet with Kimmo Pohjonen and Samuli Kosminen were in electric form last night (18 September) at the Barbican. It is always a treat to hear Kronos, they are happy to experiment and yet approach every new idea or technique with certainty and aplomb which makes you feel that music should have always been played that way. Compositional ideas which could come unstuck with lesser musicians become powerful, lyrical, or ironic.

Over the last 40 years the Kronos Quartet (David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola), and Sunny Yang (cello)) have championed new music, from classical to jazz and rock, commissioning over 800 pieces themselves. Uniko is one such collaboration. Premiered in 2004 in Helsinki, it was commissioned back in 2002 and composed during the following 18 months. Kosminen sampled both the quartet and Pohjonen, producing sound fragments which were reassembled and looped, transforming their very nature and providing a preternatural depth of sound. A recording of Uniko was released in 2011. This performance was the UK premiere – and it didn’t disappoint.

An encounter with Nicholas McCarthy

Nicholas McCarthy
Nicholas McCarthy is a young pianist who graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2012 and has made something of a name for himself by being the first left-handed pianist to do so. He already has a pretty impressive CV and next week he is giving a solo recital at St James's Church, Piccadilly (27 September 2013), performing a remarkably challenging selection of romantic repertoire. So I caught up with him to talk about his recital and the challenges he faces playing the piano.

Born without a right hand, Nicholas only started learning the piano formally in his teens, having first taught himself. When asked why he started playing, he talks about hearing Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata aged 14, falling in love with it and deciding that was what he wanted to do. After a couple of rejections he was lucky enough to get into the junior Guildhall where his teachers encouraged him to specialise in the left-hand repertoire.

In person, Nicholas is lively and affable, a young and enthusiastic pianist who simply happens to play with one hand.  The repertoire he plays (and there is a considerable amount of it) owes its existence to two factors, previous works written for left-handed pianists and composers writing studies to enable two-handed pianists to develop their left hand technique. Notable amongst the left-handed pianists was Paul Wittgenstein who lost his right arm in the First World War, and who commissioned many composers notably Ravel, Britten, Prokofiev, Richard Strauss and Martinu.

Friday 20 September 2013

Women on board?

Men and Women conductors
With all the talk of women on the podium and the shortage of women conductors in significant posts, I thought that it would be interesting to look at the ratio of women in the orchestral world. Not simply counting how many women players there are, but also how many women are on the board. The results of my little survey, whilst by no means comprehensive or even consistent, are quite suggestive. I gleaned the results from concert programmes and from the internet, so inevitably figures will change.

Looking at London based orchestras and large period instrument ensembles, the percentage of women players is consistently high, generally sitting between 30 and 50 percent. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment scored the highest with 55% women in their 2012 Messiah performances, with the London Symphony Orchestra lowest at 30% and other groups sitting between.

Reader Offer: discount tickets for English Chamber Orchestra

Alissa Firsova
Alissa Firsova
Readers of this blog are able to to get 50% on the top three prices for the English Chamber Orchestra's concert at the Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 9 October. The concert represents a triple debut for Alissa Firsova, she will be conducting the orchestra, will also be the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No 23 and her Serenade for Strings will receive its premiere. Also in the programme will be Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with soloist Michael Petrov and David Matthews Symphony no. 4. The symphony is a past ECO commission and they are playing this year in celebration of Matthews' 70th birthday. (Details of how to get the discount after the break.)

New opera and a new Ring in Houston

La Fura del Baus - Das Rheingold - from Palau de les Arts Reina SofíaHouston Grand Opera's 2013-14 season includes the first instalment of their new Ring Cycle, using the production by the Catalan company La Fura del Baus first seen in Valencia, Spain. Also included in the season will be a new opera by Ricky Ian Gordon and the American premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Holocaust opera The Passenger.

The first instalment of the new Ring will see Patrick Summers conducting Das Rheingold with Iain Patterson making his Houston debut as Wotan and BBC Cardiff Singer of the World winner Jamie Barton as Fricka.  The Passenger will be performed in David Pountney's production first seen in Bregenz, which came to ENO in London in 2011 (see my review). Michelle Breedt will repriese her performance in the role of Liese.

Ricky Ian Gordon's new opera was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera and is their 52nd world premiere since 1973. Gordon's new piece A Coffin in Egypt is a monodrama, written for Frederica von Stade, and based on the play of the same name by Leonard Foglia, about a 90-year-old grand dame who has outlived her husband, her daughters and virtually everyone else in Egypt, Texas.

Further information from the Houston Grand Opera website.

London International Players

The London International Players
The London International Players are a newly formed chamber ensemble of young musicians who got to know each other at the Menhuin School and at IMS Prussia Cove. They made their Wigmore Hall debut on Thursday 19 September at a lunchtime concert, presenting a varied programme of music by Mozart, Mahler, Bax and Mendelssohn. Founded by flautist Ana de la Vega, the group consists of de la Vega, violinist Daniel Roth, violist Ruth Gibson, cellist Ashok Klouda, pianist Irina Botan and harpist Martino Panizza.

The opened with Mozart's Flute Quartet no. 1 in D major D 285, one of a pair written for a wealthy Dutch amateur flautist. Played by Rohn, Gibson, Klouda and de la Vega, with a full bodied sound and a lively tone in the strings. The opening Allegro set the tone, with de la Vega's flute set off in quasi-concerto manner. De la Vega displayed some nice even passage-work, brought out the piece's civilised charm. The Adagio brought some limpid beauty from the flute, accompanied by pizzicato strings. The final Rondeau was a lively piece played with a nice degree of dash. Though the flute was spotlit, the other players seized their moment and you sensed a collegiality.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Fluent Charm: I'll Sing Thee Songs

I'll Sing Thee Songs - Greg Tassell and Gary Branch: FPCD005
The English song of the late 18th and 19th centuries is still a somewhat neglected genre. This new disc from Greg Tassell and Gary Branch has one or two songs that will be familiar, but many that are not and deserve to be heard more often. The composers Arthur Sullivan, Arthur Somervell, Charles Dibdin, Thomas Moore, Henry Bishop, Frederick Clay, Michael Balfe, Charles V. Stanford and Edward Elgar are not all great names but their songs, mostly within the ballad tradition, have a charm and immediacy. Their character is enhanced on this disc by the use of a selection of 19th century pianos from Finchcocks, the keyboard museum in Kent.

It is Finchcocks which is a linking presence throughout the recording. Tassell originally worked at Finchcocks getting to know the tenor John Kerr who performed English songs for visitors to the museum and Tassell won the inaugural John Kerr Award for Early English Song in 2006. Gary Branch works at Finchcocks as Educational Co-ordinator and the two are now both trustees of the John Kerr Award for Early English Song.

Premiere of David Goode's Blitz Requiem

St Paul’s Survives, Herbert Mason, 29 December 1940
St Paul’s Survives, Herbert Mason,
29 December 1940
A new choral work, Blitz Requiem by David Goode, celebrates the personal stories of those who survived the blitz notably the London bombings of 1940-41. To be premiered by the Bach Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under David Hill on 26 September 2013 at St Paul's Cathedral, the work is written by David Goode who combines a career as an organist with being Organist and Head of Keyboard at Eton College. The work uses the structure of a Latin mass but with poems by the Second World War poet Frances Warner to evoke images of this momentous period.

The concert also includes Arvo Pärt's Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten,  Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and Toward the Unknown Regioni plus music by Tallis, with soloists Emma Tring, Susanna Spicer, Matt Long and Robert Davies. Further information and advance booking from the Barbican Centre website.

Season preview - ETO's Venetian Baroque operas

English Touring Opera's Autumn season opens on 28 September at the Britten Theatre in the Royal College of Music, on 28 September 2013 with three Venetian Baroque operas, Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppea, Cavalli's Jason and Handel's Agrippina. As a taster for this we attended a private recital previewing some of the music as a fund raiser for ETO's Young Artists Programme.

We heard Paula Sides, Helen Sherman and Clint van der Linde, who are all performing in ETO's Venetian Baroque season, and they were joined by Tai Oney and Nick Pritchard.  Both Oney and Pritchard are still at the Royal College of Music and are part of the Young Artists Programme, understudying roles in the operas and performing in ETO's concert programme, Handel's Music for Vespers.  James Conway's production of The Coronation of Poppea was first seen at the Royal College of Music, when Pritchard sang the role of Lucanio.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

English Poetry and Song Society celebrates 30th birthday

The English Poetry and Song Society is celebrating its 30th birthday this year with a concert at St. James's Church, Piccadilly on 4 October 2013. Soprano Sarah Leonard and baritone Stephen Varcoe, with pianist Nigel Foster, will be performing a programme which includes song cycles by Britten and Ivor Gurney alongside songs by contemporary composers Sulyen Caradon, Janet Oates, Clive Pollard, Betty Rowe, Raymond Warren and myself, Robert Hugill.

The concert will include Benjamin Britten's Tit for Tat, his settings of Walter de La Mare which he originally wrote between the ages of 15 and 18 and which he revised for publication in 1968, plus Britten's 1936 Auden settings On this Island. Two Ivor Gurney song cycles are also included; his Seven Sappho Songs written in 1919 which set William Bliss Carmen's imaginative reconstructions of surviving fragments of Sappho's poetry, and Gurney's Lights Out setting poems by Edward Thomas

Tickets are available in advance from the WeGotTickets website.

Memorial for the Columbia Astronauts wins Gramophone's 'Recording of the Year'

The world premiere recording of Peter Eötvös’s violin concerto Seven, subtitled Memorial for the Columbia Astronauts, has won the Recording of the Year at the 2013 Gramophone Classical Music Awards. The disc of concertos by Eötvös,  Ligeti and Bartok played by Moldovan virtuoso violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja with Eötvös himself conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and Ensemble Modern, released on the Naive label, was announced as the Recording of the Year at the Gramophone Classical Music Awards ceremony last night (17 September) at LSO St Luke's.

Covent Garden launches 2013/14 live cinema season

Lise Lindstrom as Turandot, Royal Opera House: photo Tristram Kenton 2013
Lise Lindstrom as Turandot
photo Tristram Kenton 2013
Last night the first of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden's cinema transmissions was relayed to cinemas all over the world, launching the 2013/14 cinema season with a live performance of Puccini's Turandot with Lise Lindstrom, Marco Berti and Eri Nakamura conducted by Henrik Nanasi (see my review of last week's first night). The Royal Opera House's cinema transmission has grown from three titles broadcast to 200 sites, to ten titles in 1000 cinemas in 40 countries. Talking at the press launch at the Mayfair Hotel, Antonio Pappano, the Royal Opera's music director, spoke about how he felt that it was right that the Royal Opera share performances to as wide an audience as possible and that there was real appetite and interest for the Royal Opera House's work.

The figures are quite impressive. On 13 December 2012, over 32,000 people watched The Nutcracker broadcast live in the UK, it was the UK's second highest grossing film that night, sitting between The Hobbit and Skyfall in the UK Box Office chart. Almost 40,000 people in the UK watched the single screening of Christopher Wheeldon's ballet Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Over 33,000 watched La Boheme on 13/1/2013 making the film the second highest grossing film that night (between Les Miserables and Gangster Squad).

Tuesday 17 September 2013

For Left-Hand Alone

Pianist Nicholas McCarthy is giving a recital on 27 September 2013 at 7.30pm at St James's Church Piccadilly, performing music by Bach, Chopin, Gershwin, Liszt, Scriabin and Richard Strauss. What makes McCarthy different is that he was born without a right hand, and has become something of a trail-blazer both for left-handed performers and for other musicians who are differently abled.

Born in 1989, McCarthy is currently the youngest left-handed soloist world-wide. He first studied at the Junior Department of the Guildhall School fo Music and Drama where he was awarded the annual Piano Prize in 2008. In 2012, he graduated from the Royal College of Music as the only left-handed pianist in the College's history.

Celso Albelo at Rosenblatt Recitals

Celso Albelo © Joan Tomas / FidelioArtist.
Celso Albelo
© Joan Tomas / FidelioArtist.
Rosenblatt Recitals opened their new season at the Wigmore Hall with a recital by the Celso Albelo on Monday 17 September 2013. Accompanied by pianist Juan Francisco Parra, the young Spanish tenor's recital mixed songs by Spanish and South American composers with operatic arias. The first half consisted of a fascinating selection of songs by Joaquin Turina, Carols Guastavino, Alberto Ginastera and Augusto Brandt. Then after a pair of zarzuela arias by Manuel Penella and Amadeo Vives, we had operatic arias by Donizetti and Verdi.

Albelo's repertoire in the opera house is firmly centred on 19th century opera, from Rossini's Guillaume Tell, through Donizetti's Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor) to the Duke in Verdi's Rigoletto. (We have seen him in La Sonnambula at Covent Garden, and La Favorite at the Theatre des Champs Elysees) He has an interesting lyric tenor voice, very characterful with strong spinto hints. He has a nice firm middle and lower register, with an enviable consistency throughout the range. It is rather a high tension voice and his upper notes, when sung full chest, were spectacular in their power, but he also had an enviable way of shading into head voice. One of the delights of the recital was the fact that we weren't shouted at all evening, and that his capacity for real power which only became apparent as the evening developed.

Monday 16 September 2013

Clarity and Strength: Britten - War Requiem

Britten War Requiem - Paul McCreesh. SIGCD 340
This new recording of Britten's War Requiem is the latest of Paul McCreesh's recordings of large-scale oratorios on the Winged Lion label. Here McCreesh conducts the Gabrieli Consort, Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir, Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme (Chethams Chamber Choir, North East Youth Chorale, Taplow Youth Choir, Ulster Youth Chamber Choir), trebles of the Choir of New College Oxford, Gabrieli Players, with soloists Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman.

Like his previous recordings (Berlioz's Grande Messe de Morts and Mendelssohn's Elijah), the two central planks of the choral forces are the Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme and Wrocslaw Philharmonic Choir. The Gabrieli Young Singers Scheme involves singers from four youth choirs,  Chethams Chamber Choir, North East Youth Chorale, Taplow Youth Choir, Ulster Youth Chamber Choir, with which Gabrieli collaborates. Gabrieli's relationship with the Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir developed as a result of McCreesh's being director of the festival Wroclaw Cantans from 2006 to 2012.

Any recording of Britten's huge work is inevitably something of a labour of love, certainly you get the impression that the recording was a special and remarkable enterprise. Whilst McCreesh's reputation in the UK is mainly as a period performance specialist, his range is far wider than this. As we have a tendency to pigeonhole performers, it is good to have testimony to McCreesh's talents in 20th century music.

Kings Place Festival: a final helping

Kings Place during the festival
Kings Place during the festival
For our final visit to the Kings Place Festival on Sunday 16 September, we experienced an eclectic selection of activities from the lively programme. There were recitals by the Brodsky String Quartet, and by soprano Ruby Hughes and guitarist Christoph Denoth in the concert hall, on the free stages there were the Tempest Flute Trio and the Buzztones, the morris dancers the Belles of London were unfortunately forced indoors by the weather and we only managed to catch the Romany Diamonds warming up, we also explored some of the other goodies on offer taking in a chocolate tasting and a talk by Artemis Cooper.

We started with a terrific set from The Buzztones, an eight-man a-cappella group who sang lively modern arrangements of a variety of material. Then the Tempest Flute Trio, three young flautists who played a variety of remarkable repertoire ranging from Debussy and Bach to Duke Ellington.

The Brodsky String Quartet (Daniel Rowland, Ian Bolton, Paul Cassidy and Jacqueline Thomas) performed in Hall One, presenting a programme simply entitled America, which encompassed music by Copland, Barber and Dvorak. They started with Copland's Two Pieces for string quartet. The first movement opened with the fascinating texture of just two violins and viola, in slow, evocative material. Joined by the cello, the result was rather bitter-sweet, but with definitely a feel of Copland and the wide open spaces in the intervals used. Most of the movement seemed to be based round a single four note motif, and Copland developed it from the singing bitter-sweetness of the opening into something rather complex and dissonant. Powerful stuff indeed. The second movement was lively and well wrought, rather quirky but the polyphonic textures and bitonal feel ensured that the work was not just a crowd pleaser.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Kings Place Festival: experimental, intimate, and fusion

Oddarang’s Olavi Louhivuori credit Tero Ahonen
This year’s King’s Place Festival is shaping up to be a marvellous weekend of diverse delights. All events are under a fiver, and many are free, so it is a perfect opportunity to try something new or revisit old favourites.

An early start for experimental Finnish group Oddarrang brought in the after work crowd. Hot foot from Manchester they arrived with stories of lost (and found) instruments and promoting their new album ‘In Cinema’. An interesting mix of sound, they incorporated lead and bass guitar, drums, cello and trombone, with formless vocals and some sound looping. Composer and drummer, Olavi Louhivuori, doubled on piano, and there was the occasional pitched percussion thrown in for good measure.

Oddarrang’s set began aptly enough with Introducing, a wash of sound where the melody first on cello is transformed and passed around the performers, and is enhanced with recorded/looped elements. After building up to a break where the cello and trombone reverberate into white noise, the cello and bass are first to climb out and continue the mood exploration.

Kings Place Festival: a second helping

The Songmen
The Songmen
I dipped into the Kings Place Festival on Saturday 14 September, taking in concerts by the Dante Quartet and the Songmen as well as eavesdropping on a variety of the free music taking place in the foyers. The festival utilises the whole space, so that there are concerts in both halls, plus stages set up in the main atrium and in the foyer by the two concert halls, as well as activities elsewhere; I spotted children busily painting just outside the Kings Place gallery. When I arrived at 11.30am, the whole place was buzzing. The Songmen, a 6-man a cappella group, performed a selection of numbers from their disc, Midnight. In complete contrast, the Dante Quartet performed string quartets by Schubert and Kodaly.

On the free stages I caught great jazz from the Maciek Pysz Trio, some amazing beat-box from Lyrix Organix: Remixed and heard both the Borealis Saxophone Quartet and Akademi Indian Dance setting up.

Saturday 14 September 2013

UK's Most Welcoming Theatre

My Theatre Matters! in association with Classic FM are looking for the UK's Most Welcoming Theatre. The winner will be announced at the UK Theatre Awards on Sunday 20 October at the Guildhall. Anyone can vote and voting is on-line now, until 30 September. Both London opera houses are in the list, the ENO at the London Coliseum and the Royal Opera, but also there is Opera Holland Park. 

Opera Holland Park has a strong form in welcoming theatre-goers of all types. As part of their Inspire programme, they encourage a wide variety of people to experience opera and classical music; Inspire seats are open to everyone and are priced at just £12. They also run free ticket schemes for our older patrons and young people as well as taking opera, in the form of recitals, to audiences who otherwise would not be able to attend a performance at the theatre.

Vote for your favourite theatre on-line now.

Aurora Orchestra open the Kings Place Festival

John Reid, Thomas Gould, Timothy Orpen and Nicolas Fleury
John Reid, Thomas Gould, Timothy Orpen and Nicolas Fleury
The sixth Kings Place Festival is taking place at the moment, from 13 to 15 September, with a wide array of events many of which are free. The Aurora Orchestra opened proceedings on 13 September with Contrasts, a concert showcasing the ensemble's individual players in chamber music by Berg, Bartok and Brahms. We heard pianist John Reid and clarinettist Timothy Orpen in Berg's Four Pieces (Vier Stücke) Op. 5, violinist Thomas Gould joined Reid and Orpen for Bartok's Contrasts and then Reid and Gould were joined by horn player Nicolas Fleury for Brahms Horn Trio.

Friday 13 September 2013

News: CD sales and distribution awards

The Sixteen's recent performances of their Choral Pilgrimmage Queen of Heaven at Llandaff, Truro and Exeter Cathedrals were all sold out. As the group pre-records the programme for the Choral Pilgrimmages and sells the Cd's at concerts, this means that the enthusiasm of the audience has enhanced sales of the Queen of Heaven Cd and put it back into the No. 1 spot in the specialist classical charts. Also the group's new Palestrina disc, volume 4 of their Palestrina edition has popped straight into the chart at no. 4.

In another welcome piece of news,distributor harmonia mundi has been given the title of Best Distribution Company for 2012-13 in the annual ICS Awards. The ICS is a UK-wide association of Independent Classical CD retailers, so the award is recognition of the distributor's standing with retailers in the rather beleaguered CD retailing market.

Fernando Germani at Selby Abbey

Fernando Germani at Selby Abbey SAOA001
Selby Abbey's 1909 Hill Organ was rebuilt by Hill, Norman and Beard in the 1950's and came to prominence in the recordings by the Italian organ virtuoso Fernando Germani (1906 - 1998) whose recordings are re-issued in this disc. This CD has be produced in aid of the Selby Abbey organ appeal, the distinguished instrument is now over 100 years old and in need of a rebuild. So, on this CD we hear Germani playing music by Fescobaldi, Franck, Liszt, Reger and Widor all recorded on the instrument.

Germani came to prominence via a series of recordings made for HMV in the late 1940's and early 1950's In 1961 he came to Yorkshire to record a recital programme of bit romantic piece by Liszt, Franck, Widor and Reger; the disc was issued in 1962 and attracted great interest. It was the first organ disc to feature on EMI's official list of best sellers, remaining there for 18 months. Germani followed this up with two further discs from Selby, one devoted to Franck and one to Frescobaldi. The present CD selects music from all three.

Passion in Brighton - BREMF

The theme of this year's Brighton Early Music Festival (BREMF) is passion in all its forms, whether erotic lust, sin or sacred. There is the opportunity to hear a wide range of groups from young artists in the ensembles which BREMF supports to established ones like Joglaresa, Red Priest, Emma Kirkby and Rachel Podger. A central feature of the festival is BREMF's ownensembles the BREMF Consort of Voices, BREMF Singers and BREMF Players. 

These are challenging times for financing the arts, and BREMF is no different. Last year the festival, its supporters and friends made heroic efforts to make good a significant funding gap. This year, the festival's Art Council funding leaves something of a short fall so that they are appealing for people to support their 2013 BREMF Passion Appeal.

The festival proper opens on 25 October with Joglaresa's Song of Sinne and Subversion, in which Joglaresa explore links between songs from the Crusades to the present day with more than a passing nod to Iron Maiden. You have been warned! Still in irreverent mood, the lively ensemble Red Priest will be giving us a whirlwind tour of Handel's best. (1/11). And L'Avventura will present passionate love songs from Portugal and Brazil, in a romantic candle-lit cabaret setting. (9/11)

Thursday 12 September 2013

Beethoven Marathon no. 2 - in Manchester, in aid of Musicians' Benevolent Fund

Photo of Martin Roscoe © Eric Richmond.
Martin Roscoe
© Eric Richmond.
Hot on the heels of news of Julian Jacobson's 10 hour marathon playing all the Beethoven piano sonatas in London, comes the news that over in Manchester, Martin Roscoe will be performing all of Beethoven's piano concertos in one evening at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester on Saturday 5 October 2013 in aid of the Musicians' Benevolent Fund. Accompanied by members (past and present) of the orchestra of the Royal Northern College of Music conducted by Daniel Parkinson, with John Suchet as guest presenter. Roscoe plays the concertos in numerical order, nos. 1 and 2 at 5pm, nos. 2 and 3 at 7pm and number 5 at 9pm. 

Vivid comedy - Cimarosa's The Secret Marriage

Rosalind Coad (Elisetta), Matthew Durkan (Servant), Bradley Travis (Count Robinson), Frazer B Scott (Geronimo), Nick Dwyer (Servant), Heather Lowe (Fidalma) and Alice Rose Privett (Carolina) in BYO's The Secret Marriage [Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Rosalind Coad (Elisetta), Matthew Durkan (Servant),
Bradley Travis (Count Robinson),  Frazer B Scott (Geronimo),
Nick Dwyer (Servant),  Heather Lowe (Fidalma) , Alice Rose Privett (Carolina)
in BYO's The Secret Marriage [Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage) could not be more different than British Youth Opera's first opera in their 2013 season, Britten's Paul Bunyan. But both operas span the range of talents required of young opera singers. British Youth Opera's production of Cimarosa's 1792 opera buffa premiered at the Peacock Theatre on 11 September 2013, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, designed by Ellan Parry with Nick Pritchard, Alice Rose Privett, Frazer B Scott, Rosalind Coad, Heather Love and Bradley Travis with Roy Laughlin conducting the Southbank Sinfonia. The opera was sung in Donald Pippin's English translation.

With just a cast of six, and full of arias, duets and ensembles, Cimarosa's lively opera requires a different degree of communicativeness to Britten's early operetta.  Arias are long and sometimes complex for a start and there is also the issue of recitative, which in opera buffa requires a particularly vivid projection.

Royal Opera House on Digital Theatre Collections

The Royal Opera House has its own DVD arm, Opus Arte, and is developing quite a global following with its cinema broadcasts. Now a new initiative seems set to make their productions available on a wider basis. Yesterday (11 September), it was announced that six Royal Opera House productions (four operas and two ballets) will be available on-line as part of Digital Theatre Collections. Digital Theatre is an on-line platform which offers good quality theatrical performances in a variety of digital formats, on-line streaming, download, iPhone apps, a dedicated channel on the YouView TalkTalk player and on desktop.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival

The second Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival starts next week. Running from 20-22 September 2013 it is a chance to hear some fine musicians in the stunning surroundings of the Old Palace and the Marble Hall of Hatfield House. Artistic director is cellist Guy Johnston and the festival features his group, the Aronowitz Ensemble, as artists in residence along with Alistair Beatson (piano), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano) Ben Griffiths (double bass), Esther Hoppe (violin), Ruby Hughes (soprano) Anthony Marwood (violin), the Navarra Quartet and Lawrence Power (viola). The festival opens on Friday 20 September with Mendelssohn's Octet plus Brahms String Quintet No. 2 Op. 111 and Britten's Lachrymae.

Classical Opera's ambitious new plans

Ian Page, artistic director of Classical Opera
Classical Opera will be releasing a recording Mozart's first large-scale drama Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots on the Signum label this month. This represents the first step in an ambitious plan to release a new Mozart opera every year until the complete opera cycle is on disc. Additionally, Signum will release a further disc each year with Classical Opera.  The record of Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots is available from 30 September, with Ian Page conducting the Orchestra of Classica Opera with soloists Allan Clayton, Andrew Kennedy, Sophie Bevan, Sarah Fox and Cora Burggraaf. 

The release is being celebrated with a concert performance of the work at Wigmore Hall on 24 September with  cast including Sarah Fox, Andrew Kennedy, Allan Clayton, Ailish Tynan and Mery Bevan. Further ahead the group is giving an all Mozart programme for the New Year's Eve concert at the Wigmore Hall.  Then they are joined by bass Matthew Rose for a concert of Haydn and Mozart at the Wigmore Hall on 30 January 2014. March 2014 sees them performing Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito at Cadogan Hall with Andrew Kennedy as Tito and Sara Jane Brandon as Vitellia.

Further information from the Wigmore Hall website and Signum Records website.

Britten's Paul Bunyan - British Youth Opera

 Four Young Trees, Three Wild Geese and Chorus of Old Trees in BYO's Paul Bunyan [Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Prologue to Paul Bunyan, British Youth Opera
[Credit: Clive Barda / ArenaPAL]
Britten and Auden's choral operetta Paul Bunyan was written for student performance at Columbia University and its large number of roles means that it is idea for performance by a company like British Youth Opera and their production at the Peacock Theatre forms an ideal contribution to the Britten Centenary year. We caught the second performance (10 September 2013) of William Kerley's production, designed by Jason Southgate. Peter Robinson, artistic director of British Youth Opera, conducted a huge cast including Christopher Jacklin, Will Edelstein, Timothy Connor, Alex Aldren Oskar Palmblad, Samuel Smith, Emily Vine, Grace Durham, Ayaka Tanimoto, Peter Kirk and Louise Kemeny.

I had never seen Paul Bunyan on stage before, and it is certainly a curious and fascinating piece. Britten and Auden's longest collaboration, it is a highly eclectic piece with both words and music referencing popular culture. But Auden's text is often high-falutin' (especially Paul Bunyan's pronouncements) and the final Litany with its lists of the evils of modern living, takes the piece to a different place both musically and dramatically. Britten revised the work in 1974-75 for its performance at Aldeburgh in 1976, but what we hear is substantially what he wrote in 1941.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Beethoven Marathon in for WaterAid and The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Julian Jacobson
Pianist Julian Jacobson will be performing all of Beethoven's piano sonatas in a marathon lasting from 9.15am to 10pm. The event takes place at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square and is to raise money for WaterAid and The Connection at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Jacobson will be playing the 32 sonatas from memory, in chronological order except for a lunch-time concert at 1pm on the day which will consist of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata and the Sonata in E minor op.90. The evening of the marathon will be structured as a special all-Beethoven concert starting at 7pm. This isn't the first time that Jacobson has done the feat, he performed a similar marathon 10 years ago. Julian is also keeping a marathon blog.

 Admission is free during the day with donations to charity welcome, the evening event Total Beethoven (7pm) is ticketed / Box Office: 020 7766 1100.

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