Wednesday 31 December 2014

L'Invitation au Voyage - poetic words and music from Stephanie d'Oustrac

L'Invitation au voyage - Stephanie d'Oustrac
Duparc, de La Presle, Debussy, Boulanger; Stephanie d'Oustrac, Pascal Jourdan; Ambronay
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 23 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Perfect combination of words and music in sympathetic performances.

This new disc on the Ambronay label from mezzo-soprano Stephanie d'Oustrac and pianist Pascal Jourdan explores an interesting selection of French melodies, ranging from the well known to the lesser known with well known melodies by Duparc and Hahn, melodies by the lesser known composers Jacques de la Presle and Lili Boulanger, plus early and late songs by Debussy. The disc was recorded at the Centre culturel de rencontre d'Ambronay.

Stephanie d'Oustrac
Stephanie d'Oustrac
D'Oustrac came to prominence with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, performing 17th century French music with a feel for its characteristic declamation. And something of this care for diction and poetry is conveyed in these songs. The French melodie is very much about the combination of words and music, and even the simplest of songs can develop in complex ways when the poetry is projected with the sort of attention that d'Oustrac gives it. She has quite a rich, romantic voice (she has sung Offenbach and the title role in Carmen) but she combines it with a superb feel for the words, the diction and the poetry, without simply relaxing in a warm vocal bath.

D'Oustrac and Jourdan start with a group of Duparc songs. L'Invitation au voyage (1884) trembles with expressive passion. She is cool but seductive, combining poise and control with superb feel for the words. Soupir (ca 1869) is sung with a supple yet fine line, beautifully long breathed. Chanson triste (1868) is suitably haunting and melancholy. The final song, La vie anterieure (1884) is vibrantly passionate.

Jacques de La Presle (1886 - 1969) was a cousin of Poulenc; he studied at the conservatoire de Versailles with Paul Fauchet whom he succeeded as organist of Notre Dame de Versailles. He won the Prix d Rome in 1921, and became artistic director of Radio Paris. Odelette (1913) moves along, but receives a sympathetic and rather involving performance. Voeu (1912) is delicate and exotic with an evocation of nightingales. Dedette (1913) has a filigree piano part with seductively insouciant vocal line and Nocturne (1912) is quiet, fluid and intense. De La Presle's songs are not as immediately memorable as those of Duparc and not as complex as Debussy's but d'Oustrac and Jourdan make a strong case for his exotic and seductive combination of words and music.

Elijah, Circa and more in Norwich

Circa image credit Darcy Grant
The 2015 Norfolk and Norwich Festival will include a performance of Mendelssohn's Elijah with the Festival Chorus and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Parry with John Tomlinson as the Old Testament prophet, plus soloists Jeni Bern, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Robert Murray. the concert takes place in St Andrews Hall, on 17 May 2015.

Other events at the festival include the dance company Hofesh Schechter at the Theatre Royal (23 May 2015) in Political Mother. The show was nominated for a Southbank Sky Arts award in 2011, and features the dancers accompanied by a band of live drummers and electric guitarists. There is also Romanian folk music from Taraf de Haidouks (17/5), a new grown-up fairtytale Wolf's Child from WildWorks performed in the woods at Felbrigg Hall, circus from Circa (artistic director Yaron Lifschitz) in What Will Have Been with acrobatics accompanied by live Bach (see Hilary's review of Circa's happening Opus at the Barbican).

Full information from the festival website.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Glyndebourne's new Young Composer in Residence

Lewis Murphy
The Scottish composer Lewis Murphy has just been appointed Glyndebourne's Young Composer in Residence. Murphy, aged 22, recently graduated from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and is now studying at the Royal College of Music with Mark Antony Turnage. His first opera, Now, written in collaboration with Laura Attridge was premiered at the Royal College of Music in May 2014 as part of their Hogarth's Stages project (see Hilary's review on this blog). As an arranger, Murphy has worked with pop groups Fatherson and Brown Bear and the Bandits, as well as making string and brass arrangements for his own band, Scarlet Shift (you can hear a sample of Scarlet Shift on Murphy's own website and further examples of his work on his SoundCloud page).

Murphy will now spend three years immersed in the work of Glyndebourne, observing the creation of opera and involving himself in the wider artistic, learning and audience development activities as well as creating their own work. Murphy's predecessor as Young Composer in Residence was Luke Styles (from 2011 to 2014) and Styles final composition for Glyndebourne, based on Shakespeare's Macbeth will be performed at the 2015 Glyndebourne Festival.

A new song cycle by Lewis Murphy will be premiered at the Royal College of Music on 28 January 2015 by the New Zealand baritone Julien van Mellaerts. The songs, based on the words of Brian Turner, Robert Louis Stevenson and Captain James Cook, celebrate the connection that southern New Zealand and Scotland share to this day, and follow the physical and emotional voyage of those who travelled across the world in pursuit of a new beginning in the 19th century.

The Melodians Steel Orchestra makes English Magic

The Melodians at BBC Maida Vale in November 2014 to record their new CD ‘Melodians Magic’.
The Melodians at BBC Maida Vale in November 2014 to record their new CD ‘Melodians Magic’.
Staying in Canterbury for a few days, we drove up to Margate to visit the Turner Contemporary for the first time and were delighted to find Jeremy Deller's English Magic there. The exhibition is based on Deller's installation at the British Pavilion of the 2013 Venice Biennale. And though we saw it at the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow, it was good to experience again as exhibition is re-configured for each gallery. And the Turner Contemporary is a pretty amazing space, with its combination of huge top-lit galleries and, vast views of the sea.

As we wandered round, we were accompanied by the sound-track from Deller's film which he made to accompany the installation and which was playing in one of the galleries. The soundtrack consisted of an excerpt from the 3rd movement of RVW's Fifth Symphony, David Bowie's The Man who Sold the World and A Guy Called Gerald's Voodoo Ray. (Available from The Vinyl Factory). What made the music so remarkable and so special was that it as played by the Melodians Steel Orchestra. I particularly enjoyed the RVW arrangement, finding the shimmer of sound that the musicians brought to it highly evocative. There is a video about their recording on Vimeo.

The Melodians Steel Orchestra was formed in 1987 by Terry Noel who still leads the orchestra, and the group can range from 7 players to a full complement of 30. The shop at the Turner Contemporary was selling one of the Melodian's Cd's and we drove back to Canterbury to this delightful accompaniment. (the Cd is a fund-raising exercise for us as they are without a sponsor, so buy one!).

Monday 29 December 2014

Evensong and procession to the Martyrdom - Canterbury Cathedral

Congregation on the high altar steps at Canterbury Cathedral, awaiting the start of the service
Congregation on the high altar steps at Canterbury Cathedral,
awaiting the start of the service
In Canterbury for a few days we were disappointed that Evensong on Sunday (28 December 2014) wasn't sung so were pleased to be able to attend the service on Monday (29 December 2014). This turned out to be a commemoration for the Feast of the Martyrdom of Thomas of Canterbury. A simply remarkable number of people crammed into the quire of the Cathedral, we ended up sitting on the altar steps. 

Each person was given a candle and as the service started, we lit them; a highly evocative and symbolic gesture. The service was fascinating, a shortened version of Vespers leading directly to a fragment of Compline; thus, though the Office Hymns, Psalms, Antiphons and Canticles were sung in Latin, we still had the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (and thus was the original Evensong service born). The service was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, with the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral and a number of other senior clergy. The 12 lay clerks of the Cathedral Choir sang the plainchant in Latin; Responses: Deus in Adjutorium, Psalms 61 and 130, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, each with its own Antiphon the texts of which were all themed on St Thomas.

During the Office Hymns (A solus ortus cardine and Deus tuorum militum), we all moved from the quire to the martyrdom (the scene of the original martyrdom) and during Psalm 130 we further moved down to the undercroft, finishing the service in the nave with a hymn. Rather impressively the music was virtually seamless, with the long Latin hymns and psalms serving as stunning accompaniment to our wanderings, still carrying our lit candles. Once in the undercroft after prayers there was a Palestrina motet Opem nobis. Throughout, in addition to the two readings from the Bible, there were readings from TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral which became quite dramatic at times. 

It was lovely to hear the superbly sung plainchant, the choir giving us a finely seamless line even when on the move. But perhaps it was doubly moving to hear it in the cathedral on such an occasion. The whole service became a stirring blending of the old and the new.

De Profundis - Vasari Singers

De Profundis - Vasari Singers
Pizzetti, Malipiero, Allegri, MacMillan, Puccini; The Vasari Singers, Jeremy Backhouse; Naxos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

MacMillan and Pizzetti at two ends of a fascinating and refined programme.

This new disc on Naxos from Jeremy Backhouse and the Vasari Singers, puts Pizzetti's Requiem at the centre of a programme which ranges from Allegri, through Puccini to Pizzetti, Malipiero and on to James McMillan. The works on this disc form a series of links, complements and consequences. All are, to some extent, 20th century. 

Vasari Singers
Vasari Singers
Pizzetti and Malipiero were friends and their twinned De Profundis settings were presents to each other after a long falling out. Pizzetti's earlier Messa di Requiem finishes the disc, alongside Puccini's short Requiem written for Verdi and played at a memorial for Puccini's in 1924 when Pizzetti gave the oration. In the middle the Allegri Miserere, in its form created by 20th century editors, is complemented with James MacMillan's setting of the same psalm commissioned by The Sixteen to go with the Allegri. The works are all linked by a feeling of elegiac melancholy.

Pizzetti and Malipiero's setting of the De Profundis date from 1937, the two are very different with Pizzetti's written for choir and Malipiero's setting for baritone, viola and organ. Pizzetti's De Profundis is chant influenced but clearly in Pizzetti's conservative 20th century voice, the music restless and passionate with a fine climax in a strong performance from Backhouse and the Vasari Singers. Malipiero's De Profundis combines Jon Thorne's expressive viola with Matthew Woods' lovely flexible baritone into a rather arioso-like piece. Like Pizzetti, Malipiero's style is 20th century conservative, but full of interest.

Allegri's Miserere is sung in the now traditional version with the top C which seems to have been introduced by a 20th century editor (see Ben Byram Wigfield's article). The performance here is notable for its clarity, with expressive chant and a lovely clear, slimline soprano soloists. The solo vary the abellimenti, this creating a continuity with the 19th century tradition of performance.

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain - New Year tour

National Youth Orchestra of Grat Britain
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain is giving a pair of New Year concerts, in Leeds and London, conducted by John Wilson. The orchestra of 163 teenagers aged 14 to 19 performs in Leeds Town Hall (3 January 2015) and the Barbican, London (4 January 2015). Working with the orchestra for the second time, John Wilson will be conducting a programme which consists of Elgar's orchestration of Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, Respighi's Pines of Rome and Elgar's Symphony No. 1.

The orchestra was founded in 1948, and draws its musicians from all backgrounds and from every part of the UK. The young players come together three times a year to rehearse. Each residency is coached by leading conductors, tutors and soloists, and culminates in a high profile concert tour (including an annual Prom).

The January 2015 concerts are the first public outing for the current configuration of players after casting in November 2014. Prior to the concerts on 3 and 4 January, the players will come together for a week's residency at London's Goldsmith's College, which concludes with a three day stay at Highbury Grove School, a specialist comprehensive school in Islington. The players presence will involve the school's teenagers in workshops and performances and is intended to raise interest in music and spread the orchestra's ethos. As part of the orchestra's mission to reach as many people as possible, tickets for young people (under 26 at Leeds and under 25 in London) are only £5

Sunday 28 December 2014

Gender roles in baroque opera

Harry Nicoll as Eryka in Cavalli's L'Ormindo at the Globe Theatre © Stephen Cummiskey
Harry Nicoll as Eryka in
Cavalli's L'Ormindo at the Globe Theatre
© Stephen Cummiskey
Have you noticed that we are developing our own little modern group of quirks and conventions when it comes to the casting in baroque operas and oratorios, particularly those of Handel. Performances of Handel's Theodora at the Barbican in February 2014 (see my review) starred Sarah Connolly as Irene and Tim Mead as Didymus. Now whilst both sang beautifully, think what might have happened if we'd swapped them over. Tim Mead as Irene and Sarah Connolly as Didymus. Connolly would make a very fine Didymus (she has sung plenty of other Handel heroes), and there is no reason why Irene could not be played by a man, the part is a simple confidant. After all, Micah in Handel's Samson is often played as woman on-stage. But you just know that people would have commented, certain roles seem to be always sung by certain voices.

Its not even as if we are sticking to Handel's own casting. Whilst Didymus was written for a castrato, the title role in Solomon was written for a woman and he is often performed by a man. And in Giulio Cesare, the original Tolomeo was a woman whilst the original Giulio Cesare was a man, exactly the reverse of the sort of casting we became used to after the famous ENO production of the opera with Janet Baker in the title role and James Bowman as Tolomeo.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Spitalfields Winter Festival: this year’s midnight and phantom voices

Simon Callow
Simon Callow
Fretwork, Simon Callow, Clare Wilkinson, The Clerks; Spitalfields Winter Festival
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Dec 15 2014
Poems by John Donne and musical hallucinations inspire two contrasting concerts

Clare Wilkinson
Clare Wilkinson
An evening of viols and voices, celebrating the winter solstice, the first of a pair of concerts which drew this year's Spitalfields Winter Festival towards its close. 'This year's midnight' from Simon Callow, Clare Wilkinson and Fretwork was followed by 'Phantom voices', a Clerks experiment in musical hallucinations.

With poems recited by Simon Callow, and songs performed by mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson and Fretwork, the concert 'This year's midnight' had been inspired by 'A nocturnal on St Lucy's day' by John Donne. The subject matter was sensitively performed but relentlessly drear: death, cold, night, and of overwhelming despair. Even T.S. Eliot's Magi were more concerned with death than the birth they had gone to witness. An English midwinter - when we have only an even colder January to look forward to.

In a diverse programme, with 17th century Shakespeare, Purcell, Byrd and Dowland, some more modern items stood out. Callow's reading of 'Out in the dark' by Edward Thomas (1878-1917) put a completely different complexion on it - the magical wonder of the song by Rubbra was instead a gritty poem about loss. Equally compelling 'The warm and the cold' by Ted Hughes was told with a child-like quality, in its questioning search for similes.

Compositions by Duncan Druce (1939-) 'Bereavement' and 'Midnight' both allowed the viols to explore modern techniques: 'Bereavement with its slippery two note motif supported a slow melody from Wilkinson, and 'Midnight' which had starry tremolos and a chord which spread over everyone like the night sky. Tan Dun's (1957-) setting of the Li Po poem 'In the quiet night' was very atmospheric with vocal fragments, poised or sliding, echoed by Fretwork. Here Wilkinson had a chance to show her skill in producing something refreshingly different from the lamenting lines of Dowland. 'Afterwords' by Andrew Keeling (1955-), for viols alone, also had some interesting moments but the impact of the broad statements sometimes was lost as timings drifted.

The Clerks - Picture credit: Colin Turner
The Clerks - Picture credit: Colin Turner
This was followed by 'Phantom voices', a Clerks experiment in musical hallucinations. In an exploration of internal sound, varying from the song you just cannot get out of your head to the unwanted sound of tinnitus, the precise singing of the Clerks was layered with recorded songs, sounds and conversations, played back through speakers and via headphones. Sometimes you could see the performers, sometimes not, and with speakers around the hall this added another dimension, questioning what was recorded and what was live.

The group were at pains to make sure that audience appreciated the work of their sound engineer, Miles Eastwood, who was responsible for putting all the clips together and to ensure that they were all at the right levels and at the right time.

As well as the auditory experiment, the concert concurrently investigated incidents of 'Ich muss dich lassen', from its written origin by Heinrich Isaac (1450-1517), through J S Bach in the 18th century, to 20th century blue grass and serialism. A further thread in these 'hauntings' was a narrative about the death of Anton Webern who, as a young man, researched into, and edited the music of, Isaac and in whose music the Clerks found a parallel with the painstaking polyphony of Isaac. These layers went forwards, then back again to the start, subtly changing, so that 'I wish I had killed a man' became 'I wish I hadn't killed a man'.

As always, the Clerks' performance was outstanding, especially in view of all the other noises going on around them, and with some difficult deliberately detuning (in parts of the 'Miserere' from 'Ein Lied in der Kriegszeit' by Christopher Fox).

Of course I can only write about my impression – and I may have misheard – but that is after all the point of the experiment. You can get involved at the 'Hearing the Voice project' which is sponsored by The Wellcome Trust and run by Prof Charles Fernyhough and Dr Angela Woods.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Wednesday 24 December 2014

George Dyson - Paul Spicer attempts to get beneath the brusque Yorkshire exterior

Sir George Dyson: His Life and Music - Paul Spicer - Boydell Press
Paul Spicer Sir George Dyson: His Life and Music; The Boydell Press
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 23 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Important biography of a neglected 20th century composer and theorist

Sir George Dyson
Sir George Dyson
Sir George Dyson's life-story could read as a prime example of a working-class Yorkshire boy made good. Born in Halifax, son of a foreman blacksmith, he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and became a noted composer, broadcaster and distinguished administrator. Principal of the Royal College of Music at a tricky time in its career, he worked with the Carnegie Trust and helped found the National Federation of Music Societies.

If, 30 years ago, you had mentioned Dyson you would have been lucky if someone remembered Isobel Baillie's recording of the Wife of Bath's aria from The Canterbury Pilgrims (see below after the break a sample), though ex-RCM students might comment on his sales from the RCM collections and re-organising of the ladies lavatories.

Dyson's major works have now appeared on disc and we can appreciate his English, yet distinctive voice. A conservative composer, but an open musical thinker; in print and in lectures he made an important contribution to the dialogue with contemporary music.

Quite how remarkable he was comes over in this comprehensive new biography from Paul Spicer. Sir George Dyson, His Life and Music (Boydell Press) is indeed a very thorough book combining Dyson's life, with much contemporary background plus analysis of Dyson's works threaded through the narrative.

Tuesday 23 December 2014

London A Cappella Festival

The London A Cappella Festival returns to Kings Place and the Cadogan Hall from 28-31 January 2015, with a line-up with includes the King's Singers, Accent, as well as the American group Straight No Chaser. The event celebrates all things a cappella and is co-hosted by the Swingles who will be presenting their latest album Deep End. Other performers will include MICappella from Singapore, Club for Five from Finland, Auna from Ireland and Countermeasure from Canada. 

The event kicks off with Straight No Chaser at the Cadogan Hall on 28 January 2014, then moves to Kings Place for three action packed days including concerts and a programme of workshops. Full information from the London A Cappella Festival website. You can see a video from Straight No Chaser after the break.

Un ballo in maschera at Covent Garden

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Renato in Un ballo in maschera, The Royal Opera © ROH. Photograph by Catherine Ashmore, 2014
Dmitri Hvorostovsky
The Royal Opera © ROH.
Photograph by Catherine Ashmore, 2014
Verdi Un ballo in maschera; Calleja, Monastyrska, Hvorostovsky, Cornetti, Gamberoni, dir: Thoma, cond: Oren; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 22 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Too many ideas and fine performances fail to coalesce in this cemetery themed new production

Katharina Thoma's new production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Covent Garden (seen 22 December 2014) seemed to have lots of ideas underlying it. With Soutra Gilmour's cemetery based set and Irina Bartels early 20th century period, the whole made an attractive package and was strongly cast with Joseph Calleja as Riccardo, Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Renato, Marianne Cornetti as Ulrica, Liudmyla Monastyrska as Amelia and Serena Gamberoni as Oscar, plus Anatoli Sivko, Jihoon Kim, Samuel Sakker, Samuel Dale Johnson and Andrew Macnair. Daniel Oren conducted.

But it was never really clear who everyone was. Though Thoma clearly teemed with ideas about the piece, her presentation never coalesced into a coherent presentation, though individual ideas intrigued. Setting the piece in the early 20th century in an East European, possibly Balkan, country the location for Act 2 had been changed from gallows field to a cemetery, and it was this iconography which suffused the production. The overture started in the cemetery, and the end of the opera returned their. At various points the statues on the monuments came to life, and at the end of the opera Riccardo seemed to join them. This sense of death continued into Ulrica's scene as she seems to have become a medium. But there were other ideas at work too. The conspirators chorus in Act 2 included quite a number of men wearing a fez, and at the end of the opera the two conspirators were similarly dressed. When, during the closing moments, they dressed Oscar in the costume of a First World War soldier, I began to worry that I had missed something.

Monday 22 December 2014

Garsington Opera widens its film screenings programme.

Garsington Opera - Vert-Vert, Robert Murray and Fflur Wyn - Photo Credit Mike Hoban
Garsington Opera 2014, Vert-Vert with Robert Murray & Fflur Wyn
Photo Credit Mike Hoban
For the last three years, one of Garsington Opera's summer presentations has been been broadcast live on a large screen in Skegness; this year it was the turn of Offenbach's Vert-Vert presented as part of the East Lincolnshire SO Festival. Now Garsington Opera is teaming up with East Lindsey District Council to extend this. Garsington Opera in partnership with the council has been awarded a grant of £750,000 to deliver free public screenings of opera in conjunction with educational projects. 

The screenings will be taking place throughout the country, and the project will be delivered through members of the Coastal Communities Alliance which has identified areas of low engagement with the arts. The project represents and admirable attempt to widen access and engagement with the arts, especially as there is a strong educational element. Though, as ever, I do rather worry about the increasing replacement of live opera by filmed live opera

Thoughtful approach to Dufay masses

Dufay - The Masses for 1453 - Cantica Symphonia - Glossa
Guillaume Dufay Missa Se la face ay pale, Missa L'Homme arme; Cantican Symphonia, Maletto; GLOSSA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 10 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Finely performed new version of two Dufay masses, with thoughtful approach to instrumentation and interpretation

The Franco-Flemish composer Guillaume Dufay (c1397 - 1474) was one of the most influential composers of his generation and would go on to have a remarkable influence on subsequent generations. Seven complete mass settings by him survive, as well as numerous other sacred and secular works. We have little, though, beyond the music itself and commentators must try to reconstruct not only what the composer's original intentions were, but how the works were first performed. On this new disc on Glossa from Guiseppe Maletto and Cantica Symphonia presents two of the earliest masses to use a popular song as cantus firmus, Missa Se la face ay pale and Missa L'Homme arme. The Cd's title, The Masses for 1453, relates the events of that year (the fall of Byzantium and the acquisition of the Turin Shroud by Dufay's patron Duke Louis of Savoy) to the subjects of Dufay's masses. The performance is also interestingly speculative as to the forces used.

The problem with Dufay's music is that we have the manuscripts but no written reports for quite how the works were actually performed. The surviving manuscripts are problematical with some lines untexted and seemingly incompatible with the text in the other voices. But an early assumption that instruments were involved has been questioned partly because there are no surviving accounts for musicians being involved in the chapel. On this disc the performers have gone with instinct and perform with a mixture of singers and instrumentalists - seven singers and five instrumentalists in Missa Se le face ay pale.

Dobrinka Tabakova appointed Resident Composer with the Orchestra of the Swan

Dobrinka Tabakova
Dobrinka Tabakova
Stratford-upon-Avon based Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS), artistic director David Curtis, has appointed the British/Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova as Resident Composer for 2014/16. Tabakova's appointment follows on from the tenure of composer Huw Watkins as Composeer-in-the-House with the orchestra.  OOTS already has a long standing relationship with Tabakova, having commissioned and performed a number of her works over the last 10 years.

She will compose new work for OOTS, including one inspired by The High Line in New York, which will receive its premiere on 29 May 2015 at Stratford ArtsHouse. Tabakova will also work with violinist Tamsin Waley-Cohen to prepare new work for the Shakespeare 400 Anniversary in 2016.

The Orchestra of the Swan is resident at Stratford ArtsHouse, Stratford-upon-Avon and is an Associate Orchestra at the Town Hall, Birmingham.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Spitalfields music festival: Kwartludium with Scanner

Lost in thought, again - Robin Rimbaud (photo credit Robin Rimbaud)
Lost in thought, again - Robin Rimbaud
(photo credit Robin Rimbaud)
Kwartludium with Scanner; Spitalfields Music Winter Festival at RichMix
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Dec 12 2014
Star rating: 5.0

A mix of instruments and electronics explored the phenomenon of visual scores and improvisation

Kwartludium with Scanner (Robin Rimbaud) at Rich Mix was a complete change from all the Christmas classical. A mix of instruments and electronics explored the phenomenon of visual scores and improvisation as part of Spitalfields Winter Music Festival.

Kwartludium - photo Jaroslaw Babicz
Kwartludium - photo Jaroslaw Babicz
The Polish group Kwartludium consists of Dagna Sadkowska, on violin who studied at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw and is involved in music therapy for children, Michal Gorczynski on clarinet, who also studied in Warsaw, Paweł Nowicki on percussion who studied at the Gdańsk Music Academy in Bydgoszcz and the Music Conservatory in Strasbourg, and Piotr Nowicki who also studied in Gdańsk. They formed the ensemble in 2002 to perform new music from young composers in Poland and elsewhere. In 2007 they were awarded a 'Young Poland' scholarship from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and, since 2009, have taken part in ' Re:new ' a network involving composers and performers from eleven European countries.

Saturday 20 December 2014

Corinne Morris and London Concord Singers - memories and celebrations

Corinne Morris and London Concord Singers - photo courtesy of Val Waidhofer
Corinne Morris and London Concord Singers - photo courtesy of Val Waidhofer
Thursday's concert by London Concord Singers (18/12/2014) at St Botolph without Bishopsgate was tinged with more than a hint of melancholy and emotion. The concert took place ten days after the death of the choir's founder and music director, Malcolm Cottle, and the audience included a large number of friends and former choir members. The programme proceeded unchanged, conducted by the Matthew Collins who had stepped in at 24 hours notice to take over the final rehearsals and concert. 

The programme included three works with cello solo, played by soloist Corinne Morris, the premiere of my own Faith, Hope and Charity for cello and choir, Richard Rodney Bennett's A Farewell to Arms and John Tavener's Svyati, plus works for choir in an eclectic collection of composer's typical of Malcolm Cottle - Palestrina, Victoria, Samuel Scheidt, Otto Nicolai, Urmas Sisask and Bernard Hughes. Corinne Morris also played a selection of movements from Bach's First Cello Suite.

The programme had arisen when I suggested performing Faith, Hope and Charity to Malcolm, after I had created the work for Corinne. He accepted my suggestion and we planned to pair it with Tavener's Svyati which was a work that he liked and which London Concord Singers had performed before (with Malcolm's son Jonathan playing the cello part). Malcolm also then suggested adding the Richard Rodney Bennett to the programme; this was  a work that I had heard live performed by John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers in March this year (see my review) and had suggested to Malcolm at the time.

Bach Violin Concertos

Giulian Carmignola - Bach violin concertos - Archiv
Bach Violin Concertos; Giuliano Carmignola, Concerto Köln; Archiv Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Bach violin concertos and reconstructions, in performances which prize brilliance of sound

This new disc sees the distinguished Italian violinist, Giuliano Carmignola performing Bach's Violin Concertos with Concerto Köln on Archiv. In addition to the Violin Concerto in A Minor BWV1041, Violin Concerto in E major BWV 1042 and the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor BWV 1043, the disc also includes Marco Serino's reconstruction of Violin Concerto in G minor BWV 1056R and Violin Concerto in D minor BWV 1052R based on the surviving transcriptions that Bach made for harpsichord.

Whilst Bach was working at the court in Köthen (1717 to 1723) he wrote at least eight concertos for the leader and director of the court orchestra, Joseph Spiess. In Leipzig, Bach would use some of these concertos as source material for his harpsichord concertos performed with the Collegium Musicum between 1727 and 1738. Only three concertos have survived in their original form with violin solos (including the double concerto) and for some time musicologists have been transforming the harpsichord concertos into something like their original form. The selection in this disc makes a nicely balanced programme with five concertos, two original with solo violin and one original with two violins, and two reconstructions.

Giuliano Carmignola talks in the CD booklet about imbuing Bach with something of the 'joyfulness of the Venetian sound, emphasising rhythmic energy and brilliant articulation in the fast movements and running the entire gamut of dynamic gradations in the slow movements'. Perhaps one might describe this approach as performing Bach like one would perform Vivaldi. And it is true that all the above are true, but that my first view of Carmignola and Concerto Köln's approach was that all the fast movements are extremely incisive, this is playing which prizes brilliance of sound.

Friday 19 December 2014

Unwrapping Minimalism at Kings Place

Minimalism Wrapped
Having in the past Unwrapped Mozart, Bach, Brahms and Chamber Music, next year (2015) Kings Place will be presenting Minimalism Unwrapped, a year long series of concerts exploring Minimalism in all its aspects. And if you think that means wall to wall Philip Glass and Steve Reich, then think again. The series starts with The Sixteen in Plainsong and also includes the choir of King's College, Cambridge in plainsong Vespers for Henry VI, Fretwork exploring In Nomines as well as pairing Tavener with Taverner.

The great icons of minimalism are there of course, the London Sinfonietta will be performing Steve Reich's Clapping Music and giving Terry Riley's In C with invited guests. The Aurora Orchestra pairs Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint with Perotin and Stravinsky, the Carducci Quartet's performance of Reich's Different Trains is followed by a discussion with the composer. Later in the year the Carducci Quartet returns to Glass's quartets

Other influential names who contributed to the style are included, with music by Gavin Bryars, Graham Fitkin, Lous Andriessen, Meredith Monk and Morton Feldman. The Smith Quartet will be playing the complete Michael Nyman quartets. Composers not strictly minimal but influential or related also make appearances and these range from Satie and Stravinsky to Perotin to Arvo Part and John Tavener.

In the autumn, there will be David Lang's Little Max Girl Passion, and the choir of St King's College Cambrdige, conducted by Stephen Cleobury in Part's St John Passion. There are study days with Stephen Montague, Howard Skempton and Christopher Hobbs.

The series gives us a chance to understand the style's root in a reaction to the deepening complexities of mid 20th century modernist music and how different composers developed their ideas, besides allow us to compare and contrast both with composers who influenced the 20th century minimalist style and those of the past whose styles were also a reaction to the complexity of the music of a previous generation.

You can see all the events on the Kings Place website, or download the brochure.

Favourite fifty music: the Brodsky Quartet play Bartok and Beethoven at Kings Place

Brodsky Quartet
Brodsky Quartet
Beethoven, Bartok, Purcell, Britten; Brodsky Quartet; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Music across four centuries from Kings Place's top 50 classical chamber music works

In 2014 Kings Place have been slowly working their way through the top fifty classical chamber works voted for by the readers of BBC Music Magazine. In the last week of the series, perennial favourites the Brodsky Quartet were in fine form, showing the versatility of strings, playing music from across four centuries.

The top five of the fifty chamber works were Schubert's String Quintet, Mendelssohn's String Octet, Schubert's 'Trout' Quintet, Mozart's Clarinet Quintet K581, and Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 130. Tonight's offerings were Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 131 (10th on the list) and Bartók's String Quartet No. 5 (voted at no. 35). The aggression of the Bartók and the romantic leanings of the Beethoven were balanced by the minimal 'Chaconne in G minor' by Purcell and youthful 'Poeme' by Britten.

Thursday 18 December 2014

All change at Spitalfields Music and Leeds International Piano Competition

Dame Fanny Waterman - credit Andy Manning 2009
Dame Fanny Waterman - credit Andy Manning 2009
It seems to be all change at Spitalfields Music and the Leeds International Piano Composition. In Spitalfields, chief executive Abigail Pogson is leaving, and taking over as managing director of the Sage Gateshead. Whilst over in Leeds, Dame Fanny Waterman is stepping down as chairman and artistic director of the Leeds International Piano Competition after the 2015 Festival (26 August - 13 September 2015).

Dame Fanny Waterman will be 95 in 2015. She founded the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1961 and her name has been inextricably linked to the competition since then. The competition has become something of an institution, and pianists such as Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Andras Schiff, Mitsuko Uchida and Lars Vogt are among previous winners and finalists. The Leeds competition without Dame Fanny will seem strange, and we await the news of her successor with interest.

Abigail Pogson has been at Spitalfields Music for seven years and in that time she has expanded the organisation's Learning and Participation programme, which has won both national awards and developed a strong relationship with the surrounding East London community. The Spitalfields Music Winter Festival 2014 has just finished and this year saw record audiences, and local first time buyers have been encourage to attend via a free ticket scheme funded by regular buyers.

Samuel Wesley Lewis wins the 2014 New Cobbett Prize

The Berkeley Ensemble
The Berkeley Ensemble
The Berkeley Ensemble's recent New Cobbett Prize for composition competition had its final last week and the winner was Samuel Wesley Lewis's Sequenza (for string quintet with bass) whilst Barnaby Martin's Lazarus (for mixed ensemble) and Laurence Osborn's Living Floors (for cello and double bass) were the runners up. All the finalists' works were played by the Berkeley Ensemble at a public concert at The Forge, Camden on 10 December 2014.

Samuel Wesley Lewis receives a £500 commission from the ensemble and a recording of his entry on the forthcoming album of the winning pieces, due in 2015 on Resonus Classics. You can hear another of Lewis's pieces, Alone Time, performed by Psappha on YouTube.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

A new Christmas world - the Wexford Carols

The Wexford Carols
The Wexford Carols; Caitriona O'Leary, Rosanne Cash, Rhiannon Giddens, Tom Jones; Heresy Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Irish traditional music singer Catriona O'Leary opens a window on the surviving Christmas carol tradition from Co. Wexford

Christmas carols in England are hardly regarded as political, even earlier ones seem rarely to have ventured into the sort of satirical territory that ballads on broadsheets did. But in 1684, Luke Waddings, Bishop of Fern, Co. Wexford published his collection A Smale Garland of Pious and Godly Songs, written as solace for people like him; disinherited Roman Catholics. The background to these songs is the 1649 Sack of Wexford, one of the more gruesome events in Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland. Large numbers of Roman Catholics were deported and after the Popish Plot of 1678, suppressed completely. The carols have to be understood in this context, and even their texts have hidden resonances. The carols were used illicitly, and added to when Father William Devereux wrote A New Garland Containing Songs for Christmas in the early 18th century. These two collections plus the famous Enniscorthy Carol form a significant part of the inheritance of carol singing in Co. Wexford. And the amazing thing is that some of the carols are still in use today.

On this new disc on Heresy Records from Caitriona O'Leary, a singer known for her performances of Irish traditional and Early music, the six carols which survive in use are joined by the Enniscorthy Carol and other of the Wexford carols for which O'Leary has re-discovered tunes. The original publications did not have newly composed tunes but simply used popular tunes of the day (both English and Irish). O'Leary has gathered together a fine group of musicians and singers. She is joined by the singers American singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash, the American musician Rhiannon Giddens (a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops) and Tom Jones (yes that Tom Jones), and supported by an eight-piece band to create disc which manages to both a fascinating window into another Christmas world, and a bracingly refreshing alternative to the sentimentality of much contemporary Christmas music.

Mahan Esfahani, rare Donizetti and bawdy Arnold at the Guildhall School

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has been appointed Professor of Harpsichord at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (GSMD) and will join the staff from Spring 2015. Esfahani will give a recital at Milton Court Concert Hall on 27 April 2015 as part of GSMD's Faculty Artist Series, also in this series Iain Burnside is joined on 14 January 2015 by GSMD alumni Roderick Williams and Victoria Newlyn for Brahms's Die schone Magelone with a new linking narrative by Burnside.

GSMD's Spring 2015 season also includes a recital celebrating pianist Joan Havill teaching at GSMD for 35 years. Joan will be joined on the platform on 17 February 2015 by former pupils, pianists Paul Lewis, Serhiy Salov, Chenyin Li, Stephen de Pledge, Ruya Taner, Sa Chen Tom Poster and Lucy Parham.

The school will be presenting the stage premiere of Malcolm Arnold's The Dancing Master as part of a double bill which includes the UK stage premiere of Donizetti's I pazzi di progetti. The productions run from 2 March 2015 and are directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans and conducted by Dominic Wheeler. Inspired by Wycherly's restoration comedy The Gentleman Dancing Master Arnold's opera was composed in 1952 but turned down by the BBC as being 'too bawdy for family audiences'. Donizetti's one-act farce was premiered in 1830 (ten months before the premiere of Donizetti's first overwhelming success, Anna Bolena) and continued to receive performances until 1845 when it was forgotten until being revived in 1977.

Dame Felicity Lott, musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic, Ralf Gothoni and Joyce DiDonato will all be giving masterclasses at the school, whilst students from the school are taking part in the BBC's Total Immersion day at the Barbican, and in Covent Garden's production of Monteverdi's Orfeo at the Roundhouse.

Further information from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's website.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Music for cello and choir - Hugill, Tavener and Bennett on 18 December

London Concord Singers and Malcolm Cottle in 2012, photo credit Josh Hayes
London Concord Singer and Malcolm Cottle in 2012, photo credit Josh Hayes
In the 1990's I wrote a work for soprano and organ for friends' wedding. A setting of words from Corinthians, Faith, Hope and Charity went through various versions including being recorded with solo violin and strings (you can hear this version on my SoundCloud page). Cellist Corinne Morris heard this version and was interested in playing it, and somehow this became combined with writing a piece for Corinne for cello and choir. The result is Faith, Hope and Charity for cello and choir which will be premiered by London Concord Singers at St Botolph without Bishopsgate on 18 December 2014, at 8pm. Also in the concert will be another pair of pieces for cello and choir, John Tavener's evocative Svyati in which the cello plays the role of the priest in dialogue with choir, and Richard Rodney Bennett's A Farewell to Arms. Bennett's lovely work sets a pair of linked poems (one 16th and one 17th century) about a soldier now retired, and the cello part rather incarnates the old soldier. The programme also includes choral music by Otto Nicolai, Palestrina, Victoria, Sisask and Bernard Hughes, and solo cello music by Bach.

The soprano who originally premiered Faith, Hope and Charity is still singing in London Concord Singers and the original organist was Malcolm Cottle, who was to have conducted the concert. With Malcolm's recent death, the concert is being conducted by Matthew Collins. Further information from London Concord Singers website, online ticket sales from EventBrite.

Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition - 2015 shortlist

The Arcadia Quartet, winners of the 2012 Competition, with John Gilhooly - photo Ben Ealovega
The Arcadia Quartet, winners of the 2012 Competition,
with John Gilhooly, Director of the Wigmore Hall.~
photo Ben Ealovega
The 12 quartets have been announced who will take part in the 13th edition of the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition. The shortlisted quartets, chosen after a blind listening process, include two from the UK, five from the USA, two from France and one each from Germany, Switzerland and Spain: Aeolus Quartet, Aizuri Quartet, Alinde Quartett, Amber Quartet, Benyounes Quartet, Evita Quartet, Piatti Quartet, Quatuor Girard, Quatuor Lumiere, Rolston String Quartet, Van Kuijk Quartet and Zora String Quartet.

The competition, which takes place from 24 to 29 March 2015, is at the centre of a week long celebration of the string quartet at the Wigmore Hall with performances from the quartets in the competition and former prize-winners such as the Tesla, Danish, Arcadia, Meccorre, Atrium and Dover Quartets.

For the first time, the Wigmore Hall has commissioned a set work; during the preliminary rounds each quartet will perform Mark Anthony Turnage's Contusion which was premiered on 6 December at the Wigmore Hall by former prize-winners the Belcea Quartet.

The winning quartet receives £10,000 prize money, a UK concert tour and a tour of Germany, residencies at the Banff Centre, Canada and Avaloch Farm Music Institute, a place at the McGill String Quartet Academy, plus recital appearances at the Morrison Artists Series in San Francisco and at the Royal Greenwich String Quartet Festival 2015.

Further information from the Wigmore Hall website.

Lux de Caelo - Choir of Clare College at St John's Smith Square

Bach, Mendelssohn, Michael Praetorius, William Mathias, Berlioz, Webern, Giles Swayne, Webern, Schoenberg; Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, Dmitri Ensemble, Graham Ross; St. John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Dec 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Eclectic Christmas programme culminating in Schoenberg's choral masterpiece

Graham Ross - photo credit Ben Ealovega
Graham Ross
photo credit Ben Ealovega
Graham Ross and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge returned to St John's Smith Square on 13 December 2014 as part of their Christmas Festival for what has become the choir's annual Christmas appearance there. This year they were joined by the Dmitri Ensemble which helped to launch the choir's new disc of Christmas music, Lux de Caelo. The programme was quite an eclectic mix with Bach, Mendelssohn, Michael Praetorius, William Mathias, Berlioz, Webern and Giles Swayne alongside arrangements of carols both traditional and non-traditional, plus Britten's A Ceremony of Carols and Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden.

The concert began with the choir in the balcony of St John's, from where they sang a nicely expressive performance of Bach's chorale Brich an, o schoenes Morgenlicht and Mendelssohn's Frohlocket notable for its lightness and fluency.

Monday 15 December 2014

Malcolm Cottle (1940 - 2014)

Malcolm Cottle
Last weekend (6 December) we lost a dear friend and musical colleague, when the conductor Malcolm Cottle died suddenly at home. I had known Malcolm since 1986, when I sang under his baton in London Concord Singers 20th anniversary concert in a typically eclectic Malcolm programme which included Mozart's Requiem, Mendelssohn's 4-choir motet Hora Est and Giles Swayne's challenging Missa Tiburtina. In the Mendelssohn, singing in choir three with just one other inexperienced tenor I felt rather out of my depth and certainly knew we'd gone wrong when I realised Malcolm was bellowing our tenor part during the performance.

Since then I have sung regularly with London Concord Singers, enjoying the sheer breadth and eclecticism of Malcolm's taste in programming. Also his chutzpah in doing works like Michael Ball's Sainte Marye Virgine, Schoenberg's Friede auf Erden (in the unaccompanied version) and Schnittke's Choir Concerto. This latter work we sang twice and I am not sure that on either occasion did we quite have all lines covered for the section where the work splits into 32 parts, but it was a truly amazing experience. In all these works Malcolm demonstrated his remarkable ear for picking out errors in complex textures.

I also sang under Malcolm's baton with the Latin Mass choir at St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Cadogan Street, Chelsea where Malcolm was the organist for 25 years. This wasn't the full extent of his musical activities, which also included being musical director at a Synagogue as well as repetiteur at a dance school.

Malcolm was a great supporter of my own compositional efforts. I first knew Malcolm when I was still moving away from writing cabaret to more classical choral music and Malcolm's support developed into something concrete when London Concord Singers gave the premiere of my Three Prayers in 1993. He would go on to perform a remarkable amount of my music not only with the London Concord Singers, but with St Mary's Latin Mass choir, the Salomon Orchestra and as musical director of Garrett on my first opera, Garrett. That he wasn't quite as unflappable as his demeanour sometimes suggested was revealed when he commented that conducting the premiere of some of my orchestral works with the Salomon Orchestra was responsible for him taking up smoking again.

Malcolm will be much missed both as a musical colleague and as a friend, post-rehearsal visits to the pub will never be quite the same again.

This Thursday 18 December 2014, London Concord Singers will be performing their Christmas concert at St Botolph without Bishopsgate, where the conductor Matthew Collins has bravely stepped in at the last minute to conduct the programme as planned by Malcolm - John Tavener's Svyati, Richard Rodney Bennett's A Farewell to Arms, Robert Hugill Faith, Hope and Charity for cello and cello, plus music by Bernard Hughes, Tom Hewitt-Jones, Otto Nicolai, Victoria, Palestrina and Scheidt.

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