Friday 31 January 2014

February at the Barbican

Handel TheodoraFebruary gives us one of Handel's finest oratorios, along with premieres from Peter Maxwell Davies, Huw Watkins, Bruno Mantovani and Mark Simpson. The BBC will be exploring the music of Thea Musgrave, but there is still time for Rossini's delightful Petite Messe Solennelle. And the LSO helps launch the Panufnik centenary.

Handel's Theodora is performed by the English Concert and Harry Bicket with a strong line-up of soloists Rosemary Joshua, Sarah Connolly, Tim Mead , Andrew Kennedy and Neal Davies. Interestingly the choir is the Choir of Trinity, Wall Street (8/2).

Endymion's 35th Birthday

The ensemble Endymion is 35 and the group are having birthday celebrations at King's Place. They are giving three concerts, on 6, 7 and 8 February 2014 with a typical mix of music. For their first concert they perform horn trios by Beethoven, Brahms and Ligeti, they follow this with a programme centred on Debussy's Sonata for flute, violin and harp with music for variations that combination of instruments by Ravel, Saint-Saens, Martinu and Beethoven. The final concert sees them performing Brahms's two Clarinet Sonatas, plus his Clarinet Trio.

Endymion was formed in 1979 from a group of outstanding National Youth Orchestra students. Unusually for chamber groups so well established, Endymion retains most of its original players.

Further information from the King's Place website.

Rachmaninov and more - LPO new season

The London Philharmonic Orchestra with Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski in the Royal Festival Hall (Photo © Richard Cannon)
The London Philharmonic Orchestra's 2014/15 season is a fascinating mixture. There is a season of 11 concerts examining the music of Rachmaninov in the context of his contemporaries and compatriots. Magnus Lindberg has been announced as the orchestra's new Composer in Residence with performances of two important new works There will also be music by former Composer in Residence, Julian Anderson as well as performances of music by Harrison Birtwistle, James Horner, Colin Matthews and Benjamin Wallfisch.

Rachmaninov: Inside Out is a rare opportunity to examine Rachmanoniv's music in depth. It is a season of 11 concerts including the complete symphonies and piano concertos, the opera The Miserly Knight, the choral symphony The Bells as well as a rare performance of the cantata Spring and orchestral songs, plus orchestral works such as the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Isle of the Dead and Symphonic Dances. Some of the orchestral songs will be heard in orchestrations by Vladimir Jurowski's grandfather Five of the concerts will be conducted by Jurowski, with the other conductors being Vassily Sinaisky, Osmo Vanska, Ilyich Rivas and David Zinman. The concerts will also include music by Rachmaninov's contemporaries such as Dvorak, Enescu and Szyamonowski and his compatriots Scriabin, Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

Thursday 30 January 2014

His Tuneful Voice - Iestyn Davies sings Handel

Your Tuneful Voice - Handel Oratorio Arias - Iestyn Davies - VIVAT
Your Tuneful Voice: Iestyn Davies, The King's Consort, Robert King: Vivat 105
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 30 2014
Star rating: 4.5

This is a highly recommended disc in which Iestyn Davies certainly does not tread the well trod path of alto arias from Handel's oratorios

This latest disc on The Kings Consort's Vivat label, Robert King and The King's Consort join forces with counter-tenor Iestyn Davies to explore Handel's writing for the alto voice in his oratorios. The selection of arias ranges widely from Handel's early Esther right through to Jephtha and The Triumph of Time and Truth (which was itself an Anglicisation of one of Handel's early Italian oratorios). The selection of arias is admirably quirky and showcases some lesser known pieces, this certainly isn't a canter through Handel's greatest hits. And the disc shows off Iestyn Davies's voice, one of the most beautiful around today, to perfection.

The majority of the items on the disc were not written for a counter-tenor voice. Handel used a variety of different types of alto voice in his career, female contraltos (some of whom specialised in playing male roles), alto castratos and counter-tenors. Handel wrote for relatively few counter-tenors, as good soloists seemed to be in relatively short supply. And we don't actually know what the men who sang alto for Handel actually sounded like and how much falsetto/head voice they used; whether they were effectively tenors with a short falsetto extension or far more like the modern counter-tenor voice.

Borletti-Buitoni Trust Awards

Ruby Hughes, winner of one of the 2014 Borletti-Buitoni Awards
Ruby Hughes
The Borletti-Buitoni Trust, which gives awards to help support young musicians, has announced its awards for 2014. The trust now gives awards every other year (the last ones were in 2012) which has enabled it to increase the amounts given; this year they have given Awards up to £30,000, Fellowships up to £20,000 and a Special Award of £25, 000. Since their first awards in 2003, the trust has supported 87 individuals and ensembles from 29 countries.

Apollon Musgete Quartet, winner of one of the 2014 Borletti-Buitoni Awards
Apollon Musagete Quartet
The Polish string quartet Apollon Musagete Quartet, British soprano Ruby Hughes and Israeli violinist Itamar Zorman all receive Awards. Fellowships, which go to musicians at an earlier stage in their careers, this year are received by American violinist Benjamin Beilman, Italian pianist Gloria Campner, British clarinettist and composer Mark Simpson and British horn player Alec Frank-Gemmell.

The Special Award goes to the British pianist and composer Kate Whitley.

Singing with a swing: the London A Cappella Festival

London A Cappella Festival: King's Place
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 25 2014
Star rating: 4.0

A cappella bliss at the London A Cappella Festival with SLIXS and others

The London A Cappella Festival hosted by Kings Place promised four days of concerts and workshops for lovers of the voice. Jam packed days provided a cappella bliss for the diehards, while an exciting atmosphere and top notch concerts were an upbeat adventure for those only able to dip a toe in. I managed to get to one workshop and concert on Saturday - but that actually meant that I saw four or five acts because the concerts all had support acts, and there were free mini concerts all day in the downstairs foyer.

The workshop I went to was held by Dominic Peckham, a conductor and vocal coach with projects as far apart as the Royal Opera House ‘RM19’ Youth Chorus and Sing Up singing in schools. Since it was billed as being for any level, I took along a friend, who was has sung with an a cappella choir for just over a year, to gauge the opinion of someone newer to choral singing. However, from the energy and enthusiasm in the room it quickly transpired that most people were confident singers who had been to many of the other workshops already.

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Buxton Festival Highlights

Gloria: A Pig Tale - credit Johan Persson
The Buxton Festival has released a highlights video with bits of last year's festival to tempt us into returning this year; not that people should need much tempting given the delights on offer in 2014. You can see the video after the break in this article, but to tempt you further I thought I'd detail some of the delights on offer this year.

Operatically it is quite an interesting year with the festival's own productions of Dvorak's woefully underrated The Jacobin (directed by Stephen Unwin, conducted by Stephen Barlow with a cast including Matthew Best, Anne Sophie Duprels, Nicholas Folwell, Bonaventura Bottone and Anna Patalong) and Gluck's ever wonderful but very tricky to stage Orfeo ed Euridice (directed by Stephen Medcalf, conducted by Stuart Stratford with Michael Chance in the title role and Barbara Bargnesi as Euridice).

Mahogany Opera + Opera Group = Mahogany Opera Group

Gloria: A Pigtale - The opposite of love is sausages
Mahogany Opera's recent successes include last year's tour of Britten's Church Parables). The Opera Group's recent successes have included Kurt Weill's Street Scene, George Benjamin's Into the Little Hill and David Bruce's The Firework-makers Daughter, but their output has also included some stinkers (though a friend over at Classical Iconoclast regards them as 'one of the most innovative companies in this country'). Now the two groups have announced that they are to merge and create Mahogany Opera Group. Frederic Wake-Walker is currently artistic director of both groups and he will be at the helm of the new group, with John Gilhooly as chair.

According to Wake-Walker the new group will, 'create bespoke operas customised to different spaces and places throughout the UK and internationally - presenting each distinct project with a vitality that stretches the boundaries of what opera can be and who it is for'. Hmmm.

Love Journeys - an encounter with Jacques Cohen

Jacques Cohen
Jacques Cohen
Jacques Cohen and the Isis Ensemble are performing at the Purcell Room on 31 March 2014 in a concert entitled Love Journeys including music by Sibelius, Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik, Brahms and Dvorak. Composer as well as conductor, the concert also features the premiere of Jacques's song cycle Love Journeys, setting poems by James Joyce, which will be performed by Marie Vassilou. I met up with Cohen to talk about the concert and about his new work.

He describes the concert as romantic including as it does Sibelius's Romance and Dvorak's Serenade as well as Jacques's own arrangement of Brahms's Clarinet Sonata in F minor for clarinet and strings (with clarinet solo by Anna Hashimoto). One unusual piece is Molitwa which is by both Andrzej Panufnik and his daughter Roxanna. Andrzej started the piece as a vocal setting of a poem, he found the poem so wonderful that he did not write all of the piece just the opening and closing. Roxanna completed it, writing the middle section, though Jacquesdescribes it as seamless. Originally for string quartet, Jacques's Isis Ensemble was the first group to record the string orchestra version in 2008.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

JACK Quartet experiment with strings

JACK Quartet
JACK Quartet: The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 24 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Not for the faint hearted, quartets by Seeger, Trapani, Ferneyhough, Anderson and Rădulescu

The Jack Quartet are not afraid of trying new things and I spent an interesting and thought provoking evening at the Wigmore Hall (24 January 2014) listening to them play a variety of music from the late 20th and into the 21st century. All the pieces performed utilised extended string techniques, including scordatura, and tended to focus on rhythm, harmonics, and sound rather than melody. 

The quartet (JACK= John Pickford Richards on viola, Ari Streisfeld and Christopher Otto on violin, and cellist Kevin McFarland) all met while studying at the Eastman School of Music in New York. Since then they have forged a name for themselves as experimenters and champions of new music, winning the 2013 New Music USA Trailblazer Award to help support them in this endeavour.

They have a fiendish sense of pitch and rhythm, both of which are a necessity to play this kind of music without it becoming lost and meaningless. They also had the stamina to maintain high energy essential in ensuring that the music was interesting from the beginning to the last note of the performance.

Felicity Lott in conversation and song

Dame Felicity Lott © Christina Raphaelle
The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) is presenting Dame Felicity Lott in conversation with Edward Seckerson at the Forge in Camden on 25 February 2014. Felicity Lott joined the ISM in her first year as a professional musician, and now some forty years later the event will celebrate her remarkable career. She will talk about her life and career, and perform a few surprise songs. The event follows Felicity Lott's final solo recital at the Wigmore Hall last November (see my review). 

The ISM is the UK's professional body for musicians with a membership of over 6,500 performers, composers, music educators and music industry professionals.

The Forge is a delightful modern arts venue (with a restaurant attached!) in Camden. Tickets for the event cost £30 for ISM members and £45 for non-members and include an invitation to a drinks reception with Dame Felicity Lott following the event. An evening not to be missed!

Vivaldi - Concerto per archi II

Vivaldi: Concerto per archi II: Concerto Italiano/Alessandrini: OP 30554
Vivaldi - Concerto per archi II: Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini: naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 28 2014
Star rating: 3.0

For completists only? Volume 57 of naive's Vivaldi edition, 2nd disc of small scale Concerto per archi

This disc is another in naive's estimable Vivaldi edition and it is the second of Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano's pair of discs covering Vivaldi's Concerti per archi. These are small scale pieces for strings only, much smaller in scale than his string concertos. Here played by just five string players plus theorbo and harpsichord, these are compact pieces. The disc contains 11 three movement works with all movements under 3 minutes, and many a lot less. 

Monday 27 January 2014

Blow the Bloody Doors Off

Michael Caine in The Italian Job
The Barbican is celebrating the music of Michael Caine's films on 6 February 2014 with performances from the scores of some of his most iconic films. Blow the Bloody Doors Off features music from Alfie (score by Sonnie Rollins), The Ipcress File (score by John Barry), The Italian Job (score by Quincy Jones) and Get Carter (score by Roy Budd). The music from the films will be intercut with excerpts from the films for context. The concert features new arrangements transcribed from the original released soundtracks. These feature musicians led by Terry Edwards including players from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Polar Bear and Madness.

Further information from the Barbican website.

Barbican 2014-15 season

Barbican Centre
The Barbican's 2014-15 season has been announced and it is full of gems, with residencies from Joyce DiDonato, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. Operas being performed include Handel's Alcina and Hercules, Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, a Rameau double bill, a rare Vivaldi opera, Boris Godunov, Smetana's Dalibor and premieres from Unsuk Chin and Rodion Shchedrin.

Baroque music is very much in evidence during the season, with some eagerly awaited Handel and Monteverdi performances along with other rarer repertoire. The Academy of Ancient Music and Richard Egar follow up on last year's fine Orfeo with L'Incoronazione di Poppea with a cast including Annna Caterina Antonacci, Sarah Connolly, Marina de Liso, Iestyn Davies and Matthew Rose (4 October 2014) Vivaldi's opera L'Oracolo in Messenia will be given a rare outing by Europa Galante conducted by Fabio Biondi with a cast including Vivica Genaux. Rameau's 250th anniversary will be celebrated with Les Arts Florissants and William Christie doing staged performances of Rameau's ballets Daphnis et Egle and La Naissance d'Osiris. The English Concert and Harry Bicket will be performing a pair of Handel's dramatic works, each with very strong cast: Alcina with Joyce DiDonato in the title role, Alice Coote as Ruggiero (10 October 2014) and Hercules (4 March 2015) with Alice Coote as Dejanira, Lucy Crowe as Iole, James Gilchrist as Hylus and Matthew Rose as Hercules..

Sunday 26 January 2014

Russian Treasures from Tenebrae

Russian Treasures - Tenebrae/Nigel Short; SIGCD900
Russian Treaures: Tenebrae/Nigel Short: Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 26 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Stunning performances of some rare Russian repertoire.

This new disc from Tenebrae and Nigel Short explores the development of Russian Orthodox Church music which happened in Russia in the late 19th and early 20th century. The most familiar names here are Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov in addition to Alexander Gretchaninov,  Nikolay Golanov,  Pavel Chesnokov,  Viktor Kalinnikov and Nikolay Kedrov. Whilst they include movements from Rachmaninov's Vespers there are no movements from any of Tchaikovsky's best known sacred works.
The big influence behind many of the pieces on this disc was the Moscow Synodal School for Church Music which developed an important role from 1889 when Stepan Smolensky took over. Whilst not all of the composers on the disc were in contact with Smolensky, many were and he helped revitalise the composition of Russian Orthodox Sacred Music.
The disc starts with Alexander Gretchaninov's Nine sili nebesniya from his Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts. Gretchaninov studied with Taneyev and Rimsky-Korsakov though you might imagine that it was written earlier, as with much of the music on this disc. The piece is romantic with lovely translucent harmonies.  This is followed by the first of the movements from Rachmaninov's Vespers, Nine otpushchayeshi (Nunc dimittis), in a beautifully smooth performance and a lovely focused tenor solo, soloist Nicholas Madden, and quite a light texture.  

Saturday 25 January 2014

Oliver Zeffman and Bartholemew Lafollette

Oliver Zefman and the Melos Sinfonia
Oliver Zefman and the Melos Sinfonia
The Melos Sinfonia, conductor Oliver Zeffman, are giving a concert at LSO St Lukes on Friday 31 January 2014 performing a fascinating programme which includes Myaskovsky's 27th Symphony and Andrzej Panufnik's Cello Concerto (with Bartholemew Lafollette as soloist) as well as Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Overture.

Bartholemew Lafollette
I met up with Oliver and Bart to learn more. Not only is the Panufnik performance one of the first events in this year's centenary celebrations but Oliver very proudly tells me that it will be the just third UK performance and only the seventh world-wide, the last one being in 2000. Bart, who is playing the solo part, describes it as an extremely evocative work with lots of colours to play around with. There are only two movements, and Bart says that his only complaint is that he wishes there was a third. Like much of Panufnik's writing, it is a very mathematically logical work and both movements are palindromes!

Friday 24 January 2014

Wolf Pack at the Vault Festival

Wolf Pack at Vault Festival
The contemporary music collective Wolf Back is back. They are performing two programmes at Vault Festival from 11 to 15 February 2014. TEXT and BODY are two conceptual concerts. TEXT looks at text in music, text-setting, text-based, texts that inspired songs, text consisting solely of music, text as music. BODY: considers how do you feel about your body? Do you feel your body? How big a diaphragm do you need to play the bassoon? What's the ugliest part of your body?

TEXT includes The Waves, a rarely performed work by Frederic Rzewski (the American composer and pianist) plus music by Jess Harvey and Tom Green, and the work premiere of The Sick Rose by Dave Collins. BODY presents Lauren Redhead's personality is a series of successful gestures for body percussion, music by Edmund Jolliffe and Steve Reich.

The concerts take place at the Vaults, Leake Street, London, SE1 8SW as part of Vault Festival. The festival is returning for its second incarnation in the labyrinth of tunnels underneath Waterloo, offering six frenetic weeks of live entertainment between January 28th and March 8th 2014, Tuesdays through to Saturdays.

Estonian Classical Music Networking event

In between Wednesday's (22 January 2014) CD launch for Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life: Tallinn Mass (see my article) and the evening's concert by the Estonia Philharmonic Chamber Choir (see my review) there was a networking event at St Giles Cripplegate designed to showcase Estonian music making and bring Estonian classical music professionals together with counterparts from the UK. We were treated to a series of performances by Estonian artists including the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under conductor Daniel Reuss, Sten Lassmann, Glasperlenspiel Sinfonietta under conductor Andres Mustonen, Riivo Kallasmaa, Monika-Evelin Liiv, Anna-Liisa Bezrodny and Ulla Krigul, performing music by Estonian composers including Arvo Part, Heino Eller, Erkki-Sven Tuur, Peeter Vahi, Tonu Korvits and Rein Rannap.

Estonia has a population of 1.3 million people, which is about the same number as in metropolitan Birmingham. As such it punches far above its weight when it comes to classical music. Perhaps the long tradition of singing, including the way singing was central to the independence movement, has something to do with it. Though the music of Arvo Part is familiar to many, there are a remarkable number of other fine composers.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Panufnik - Dance of Life: Tallinn Mass

Roxanna Panufnik - Dance of Life
Roxanna Panufnik Dance of Life - Tallinn Mass: Tallinn Chamber Orchestra, Patricia Rozario, Mihhail Gerts: Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 23 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Ancient and modern, new work inspired by 15th century Dance of Death

Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life - Tallinn Mass is a large scale dramatic work which incorporates elements of the mass with other dramatic elements. Written for the Tallinn Philharmonic to celebrate Tallin's designation as European Capital of Culture in 2011, the work is here receiving its first recording performed by the Estonia TV Girls Choir, Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir, Choir of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mihhail Gerts with Patricia Rozario, Jaak Johanson, Laura Lindpere and Madis Metsamart. The text juxtaposes the Latin mass movements with ten new poems by Estonian poets Doris Kareva and Jurgen Rooste.

Rather bravely Panufnik set the work in Estonian, as the poems are inspired by the Dance of Death, a 15th century painting in Tallin's St. Nicholas Church. The soloists in the work are soprano Patricia Rozario who plays Elu (Life), and Jaak Johanson as the narrator, plus Laura Linpere playing the kennel which is an Estonia psaltery, plus Madis Metsamart on percussion.

Dance of Life CD launch

Soprano Patricia Rozario recording Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass
Soprano Patricia Rozario recording
Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass
In what was to be the first event in an Estonian themed day, (see my review of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's concert), I attended the launch of Roxanna Panufnik's Dance of Life Tallinn Mass on Warner Classics yesterday (22 January 2014). Recorded by Patricia Rozario, Jaak Johanson, Estonian TV Girls Choir, Collegium Musicale Chamber Choir, Choir of Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre and the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mihhail Gerts, the work is an intriguing piece which was commissioned for Tallinn's being European City of Culture in 2011. Designed to reflect Tallinn being both modern and ancient, the work combines contemporary poetry with settings of the Latin mass, all inspired by a 15th century painting of the Dance of Death in Tallinn. The poems by Doris Kareva and Jurgen Rooste take characters from the paintings but they are brought a message of hope by Life, sung by Patricia Rosario, who invites them to join the Dance of Life.

In the presence of the Estonian Ambassador to the UK, the poets Doris Karleva and Jurgen Rooste, as well as representatives of the Estonian commissioners of the work, we heard a presentation from Roxana Panufnik along with a reading from Doris Kareva, and a live performance from soprano Patricia Rozario and Jurgen Rooste, plus video footage from the recording.

An Eastern Vigil

Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir - photo Kaupo Kikkas
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
photo Kaupo Kikkas

An Eastern Vigil: Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Daniel Reuss, Gilad Atzmon at LSO St Lukes
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 22 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Stunning opening concert of the London A Cappella Festival from Estonian visitors

The London A Cappella Festival opened last night (22 January 2014) with a performance by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir (EPCC), conductor Daniel Reuss, and saxophonist Gilad Atzmon at LSO St. Luke's. An Eastern Vigil presented us with a hypnotic sequence of sacred works inspired by the Orthodox tradition with music by Arvo Part, Alfred Schnittke, Cyrillus Kreek, Vasyl Barvinsky, Nikolai Kedrov and Sergei Rachmaninov. These were interspersed with improvisations from Gilad Atzmon.

The music was performed continuously, without breaks for applause. As the house lights were right down, making it difficult to read the programmes, there was an element of the innocent ear in listening to the programme though naturally Part's Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis stood out as familiar. The front section of the audience was seat at tables, cabaret style, adding to the club-like atmosphere of the event.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Year 1714

This year's Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music takes The Year 1714 as its theme. 1714 saw the coronation of George I and the birth of the Georgian era which would have Handel at its musical centre. CPE Bach was also born in 1714 and the first corner stone of St John's Smith Square laid. The concerts feature Handel's music quite heavily, plus that of CPE Bach as well as Schutz, Steffani, Pepusch, and JS Bach. 

Visitors include the Sixteen, the Gottingen Handel Festival, La Risonanza, L'Avventura London, Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, the Hilliard Ensemble, QuintEssential Sackbut and Cornett Ensemble, Arte dei Suonatori and Vox Luminis. Venues include St Peter's Eaton Square and Westminster Abbey as well as St. John's Smith Square.

The Sixteen, under Harry Christophers, perform Handel's four Coronation Anthems written for the coronation of George II in an all Handel programme (16/5). The choir of Westminster Abbey and St James Baroque under James O'Donnell perform Handel's Dettingen Te Deum and Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne at Westminster Abbey with soloists Ruby Hughes, Iestyn Davies and Matthew Brook (22/5). The closing performance of the festival is Laurence Cummings directing the NDR Choir (Hamburg) and the Orchestra of the Gottingen Handel Festival in a rare outing for Handel's oratorio Joshua with soloists including Kenneth Tarver (24/5).

What is an Opera?

What is an opera? Last night at Second Movement's Rough for Opera at the Cock Pit Theatre we were presented with three highly contrasting works which challenged our perceptions of what an opera might be. Edward Henderson and Lavinia Murray's Manspangled used a spoken text delivered by an actor accompanied by chorus which involved combs, bubble-wrap and blowing bubbles. Alex Groves's Hunger was a dance drama based on the Suffragettes in which the choreography and drama had been devised before the music was written. David Merriman's Strange Exiles was the most conventionally operatic but his subject matter, the Lavender Menace scare in Washington in the 1950's required him to address the material in novel ways. All three were confidently dramatic in their way and we testament to the current liveliness of contemporary music theatre.

Presented by Bastard Assignments, Manspangled had a text by Lavinia Murray and music by Edward Henderson the piece was directed by Barbara Wojtczak with Nick Haverson as the Man. The piece started from nothing, simply eight people in a half circle. The sounds were almost inaudible, just the clicking of combs. This was combined with the cellist doing a series of endless glissandi and random notes from the saxophone. During the piece the chorus of combs changed to first blowing bubbles, then to manipulating bubblewrap and finally returned to combs.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

David Butt Philip lunchtime recital

David Butt Philip - Raphaelle Photography
David Butt Philip
Raphaelle Photography
David Butt Philip & David Gowland recital: Crush Room, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Fine control and not a little thrilling, David Butt Philip's lunchtime recital

Monday's lunchtime recital (20 January 2014) in the Crush Room at the Royal Opera House was given by tenor David Butt Philip, one of the Jette Parker Young Artists, accompanied by David Gowland. Their programme took in two 20th century English song cycles, RVW's The House of Life and Benjamin Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, Op.22

David Butt Philip's voice has an interesting dark-hued quality with a lovely richness to the vocal line, and a lovely evenness throughout the range. As yet his voice is quite lyric, but with a strongly vibrant quality to the upper register. He sang the both song cycles with a lovely sense of line combined with a fine attention to the words, bringing quite an inward quality to the RVW whilst giving the Britten a greater sense of gesture.

A swashbuckling spectacular – Le Corsaire

Esteban Berlanga, Max Westwell and Junor Souza in in English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire . © 2013 Guy Farrow
Le Corsair English National Ballet © 2013 Guy Farrow
Le Corsaire: English National Ballet at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jan 14 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Lavish and luxurious if short on tunes.
A great night out is the only way to describe ‘Le Corsaire’ by the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum (14 January 2014). With its lavish staging and luxurious, bejewelled costumes this ballet may be short on hum along tunes but nevertheless provides a diverting film-like story and charming, enthusiastic dances. 
The story of ‘Le Corsaire’ was inspired by the 1814 poem ‘The Corsair’ by Lord Byron and originated in a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges, set to music by Adolphe Adam, (1803-1856) for Joseph Mazilier. First produced in 1856 it has since been stretched and expanded several times so that the composer credit now stretches to nine.

Many of the dancers were taken from the emerging performer ranks. Tonight’s performance cast Yonah Acosta as the pirate hero Conrad, and Max Westwell as Birbanto, his not to be trusted second-in-command. Both were dynamically charged and, especially Acosta, high leaping. Fernanda Oliviera as Medora, Conrad’s love, provided the skill and passion to bring the story to life and show the boys at their best.

Monday 20 January 2014

Tolstoy and music

Tolstoy and Music - 20th Century Theatre
The Aspect Foundation's next concert, on 6 February 2014, takes as its subject Tolstoy and Music with Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata at is centre. At the 20th Century Theatre (291 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2QA), Dmitry Sitkovetsky (violin), Iain Burnside (piano) and the Zemlinsky Quartet perform Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 9, Op.47, "Kreutzer Sonata", Janacek's String Quartet No. 1 "Kreutzer Sonata" and the 2nd movement of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No. 1 in D major.

Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata is the centre piece of Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata and it was Tolstoy's novella which inspired Janacek's String Quartet No.1. Tolstoy had a particular passion for folk music and the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s first quartet is based on a folk song from Tolstoy’s childhood. Tolstoy was highly selective about the works of Western composers. While Tolstoy admired Beethoven and was captivated by his music, he was also of the view that the composer had brought about the decline of musical art.

London Handel Festival 2014

Luke D Williams in Imenio at the 2013 London Handel Festival
Luke D Williams in Imenio at the 2013 London Handel Festival
Public on-line booking has just opened for this year's London Handel Festival, which runs from 3 March to 18 April 2014. The festival includes some interesting large-scale and smaller scale events ranging from a staging of Handel's opera Arianna in Creta to lunch time recitals and of course the Handel Singing Competition.

Handel's Arianna in Creta will be the 22nd fully staged Handel opera which the festival has produced in collaboration with the Royal College of Music International Opera School. Conducted by the artistic director of the festival Laurence Cummings, there are four performances which are double cast with Filipa van Eck and Soraya Mafi sharing the role of Arianna and Tai Oney and Angela Simkin sharing the role of Teseo. The opera tells the familiar story of Theseus and the minotaur, but with the usual opera seria complications. It will be interesting to see how the production, directed by the actress Selina Cadell, works. Handel wrote the opera in 1734 with a cast including Anna Strada del Po (who created the title role in Alcina and Ginevra in Ariodante) and Carestini (who created Ariodante) (3 - 6 March)

In a nice piece of programming there is also the opportunity to see Ariodante (written the year after Arianna in Creta) during the festival as the Royal Academy of Music is staging it directed by Paul Curran and conducted by Jane Glover. (20-25 March).

Sunday 19 January 2014

To Hell and Back with Orpheus

English Pocket Opera's Ring project in 2011
English Pocket Opera's Ring project in 2011
On Tuesday 21 January, English Pocket Opera are performing Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice at Central St. Martin's School of Art as part of an on-going project there designed to open opera up to students at several different levels of their education: from undergraduates to primary school pupils. This is the 7th year of English Pocket unique collaboration - between an undergraduate course within an art school, an opera company, a theatre and several London schools. Students from Central St. Martin's will be engaging with all aspects of the design process and to realise their design ideas. Children and young people get to work with undergraduates and everyone gets to work with professional singers and theatre practitioners.

To Hell and Back with Orpheus is at the Platform Theatre, Kings Cross from 21 to 26 January 2014. In addition to the schools matinees and evening perfomances, there are family performances on Sunday 26 January. The event is a promenade operatic journey where the cast of professional soloists journey to Hell and back through the new Central St. Martin's building. There are 9 scenes, each designed by different up and coming designer, each one in their final year of the BA(Hons) Performance Design and Practice Course.. The cast includes Paul Featherstone as Orpheus and Pamela Hay as Eurydice.

Elgar's Piano Quintet at King's Place

Dante Quartet - photo by Phillip Pratt
Dante Quartet, photo Philip Pratt
Elgar Piano Quintet, Turina, De Falla, Poulenc: Benjamin Frith, Dante Quartet at King's Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 17 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Interesting side-long glances - music by Turina, de Falla and Poulenc brings out the Spanish flavour in Elgar's Piano Quintet

Benjamin Frith
Benjamin Frith
King's Place's Chamber Classics Unwrapped festival has started and on Friday 18 January 2014 the Dante Quartet and pianist Benjamin Frith presented Elgar's Piano Quintet. One of the joys of the festival is the interesting decisions artists have made as to what to programme with the selected works. Here Frith and the Dante Quartet played up the Spanish connections in Elgar's work by performing music by Turina , Manuel de Falla and Poulenc.

The Dante Quartet, Krysia Osostowicz, Oscar Perks, Yuko Inoue and Richard Jenkinson, opened their programme with Joaquin Turina's La oracion del torero (The Bullfighter's Prayer) Op. 34, then followed Manuel de Falla's 7 Canciones populares espanoles in an arrangement for cello and piano, Suite populaire espagnole and finally Francis Poulenc's Violin Sonata written in memory of the Spanish writer Federico Garcia Lorca. The second half was dedicated to a single work, Elgar's Piano Quintet,  product of the composer's final creative flowering.

Saturday 18 January 2014

Sir Andrzej Panufnik Centenary

Panufnik stands beneath the watchful gaze of his beloved Chopin in Lazienki Park, Warsaw, during his final and triumphant return to Poland, 1990. Photo by Jem Panufnik Panufnik stands beneath the watchful gaze of his beloved Chopin in Lazienki Park, Warsaw, during his final and triumphant return to Poland, 1990. Photo by Jem Panufnik
Panufnik stands beneath
his beloved Chopin in
Lazienki Park, Warsaw,
during his final and triumphant
return to Poland, 1990.
Photo by Jem Panufnik
2014 is the centenary of the birth of Sir Andrzey Panufnik (1914 - 1991), the Polish composer who lived through the Nazi occupation of Poland and the Warsaw Uprising, before making a dramatic escape to the West in 1954. Half his life was spend working in England and he was knighted for services to music. 

For the centenary there are a number of major celebrations planned for the UK and for Poland. The London Symphony Orchestra will be giving two Panufnik concerts in London as well as one in Poland. In London they perform the Sinfonia Sacra and Lullaby (5/2), and Symphony No. 10 (19/10) and this latter concert is repeated in Katowice, Poland to inaugurate a new concert hall.

Birmingham will be celebrating the fact that Panufnik was the Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 1957 to 1959. And the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under Vasily Petrenko will perform the Violin Concerto with Vadim Repin (27/2)

In the summer a major festival is planned. Then in November, there will be Panufnik 100: A Family Celebration at Kings Place a day of celebrations with the Brodsky Quartet and friends, which will include concerts, films, a 1930's cabaret evening.

Panufnik's autobiography, Composing Myself, is being re-published with a new postscript by his wife covering the last years of his life. A number of recordings are planned including the completion of CPO's symphony and concerto survey and the complete piano works on BIS.

Things kick off this month with the Tippett Quartet performing Panufnik's Third String Quartet at King's Palce (26/1) and the Melos Sinfonia conducted by Oliver Zeffman performing the Cello Concerto with Bartholemew Lafollette at LSO St Lukes (31/1)

There is full information on the composer and his centenary at the dedicated website.

La Quinta essentia

La Quinta essentia - Huelgas ensemble/Paul Van Nevel - HMG 501922
Masses by Lassus, Palestrina & Ashewell: Huelgas Ensemble/Paul Van Nevel
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 18 2014
Rating: 4.0 stars

Fascinating contrasts in three different masses

This disc, a reissue of a Harmonia Mundi recording originally made in 2005, places three renaissance masses by rather different composers in close proximity.  Paul van Nevel and the Huelgas Ensemble perform Roland de Lassus's Missa 'Tous les regretz', Thomas Ashewell's Missa 'Ave Maria' and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina's Missa Ut re mi fa sol la.  Made in the Museum of Water in Lisbon, the disc's title comes from the legendary fifth essence, from whence we get quintessence.

Both Lassus and Palestrina flourished at the same period during the 16th century but temperament and circumstance mean that their music is far more contrasting than one might expect. Palestrina trained and worked his entire life in Rome, holding a series of appointments within the Roman Catholic Church producing polyphony of rich subtlety. Lassus's background and training were more varied . He spent most of his working life at the court of the Duke of Bavaria in Munich combining sophistication and magnificence in his music.

The third composer in the trilogy on this disc is something of a sport. Rather than Palestrina and Lassus's great contemporary Victoria, Paul Van Nevel has turned to he Englishman Thomas Ashewell. Ashewell belongs to the generation preceding Palestrina and Lassus, but his music belongs to a very different world. That of English flamboyant polyphony, a time when England remained musically isolated from mainland Europe. Ashewell worked at Tattershall College, Lincoln Cathedral and Durham Cathedral. Only two complete works by him are known, one of which is this Missa 'Ave Maria' for six voices.

Friday 17 January 2014

Toy stories in contemporary music in Birmingham

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group  (BCMG)
On Sunday 26 January, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) are giving a pair of Family Concerts at the CBSO Centre in Birmingham themed on toys. Toys, dreams and games all feature in the concerts with Thomas Ades' early masterpiece Living Toys receiving pride of place in an imaginative concert which pulls no punches when it comes to repertoire, but features quirky use of orchestral resources which should appeal to children of all ages. 

Richard Baker
Richard Baker
The underground cult group Modified Toy Orchestra provides the inspiration for some sonic invention bringing abandoned electronic toys to a new life, with a pair of works by Richard Baker and Brian Duffy (from the Modified Toy Orchestra). And Colin Matthews' To Compose Without the Least Knowledge of Music, a contemporary take on a Mozartian musical dice game, features a musical box and two melodicas. There will also be a new work by BCMG's new Composer in Residence, Arne Gieshoff. The new work is written for the intriguing combination of trombone trio and two melodicas. Gieshoff says he wants the piece to sound like 'a broken, mechanical toy that is unwinding'. Gieshoff is currently studying with Jonathan Cole, Simon Holt and Dai Fujikura at the Royal College of Music completing a Master's degree in composition.

The concerts are conducted by the young Swedish conductor Christian Karlsen and are created in collaboration with Stan's Cafe, the Birmingham-based theatre company. There are two concerts on 26 January, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Into the Ravine

Into the Ravine - SIGCD350
Into the Ravine: Nicholas Daniel and the Carducci String Quartet; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 17 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Well wrought new music for oboe and string quartet, originally premiered at the Presteigne Festival.

This new disc on Signum Classics from the Carducci String Quartet and Nicholas Daniel puts Michael Berkeley's new work for oboe and string quartet, Oboe Quintet (Into the Ravine), with quartets by John McCabe and Adrian Williams. McCabe's String Quartet No. 7 (Summer Eves) and Williams' String Quartet No.4. All three works are linked by having been premiered at the Presteigne Festival.

Berkeley's Into the Ravine was commissioned specifically for Nicholas Daniel and the Carducci String Quartet. Berkeley's inspiration came from paintings by John Craxton and Mark Rothko. The quintet's subtitle Into the Ravine refers to a picture by John Craxton which was given to Berkeley's father, Lennox Berkeley, in return for the composition of a new oboe sonatina for Janet Craxton. Michael Berkeley's work, in a single movement, was a co-commission from the 2012 Presteigne Festival.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Menuhin Competition returns to London

Kenneth Renshaw, Senior 1st prize winner in the 2012 Menuhin Competition
Kenneth Renshaw, Senior 1st prize winner in the 2012 Competition
It was announced this week that the Menuhin Competition will return to London in 2016 to celebrate the centenary of the violinist Yehudi Menuhin for whom the competition is named. The competition was founded by Menuhin in 1983 and takes place every two years in a different international city. This year's competition is in the USA for the first time, from 21 February to 2 March 2014 in Austin, Texas, USA.

The event is more of a festival of music and cultural exchange than simply a competition and in 2016 there will be a 10 day programme of concerts, masterclasses, talks and participatory activities with performances from candidates and jury members. Competition rounds will take place the Royal Academy of Music, with concerts at the South Bank Centre. The 2016 jury includes previous winners who have become world class soloists, Tasmin Little, Julia Fischer and Ray Chen

The 2014 festival can be followed via live-stream at the Menuhin Competition website and the winners will be performing at the opening concert of the 2016 competition in London.

Classical Coffee Mornings at the Royal Albert Hall

Abby Bowen
Abby Bowen
The Royal Albert Hall is presenting a series of Sunday Classical Coffee Mornings starting on 26 January 2014 as part of their More at the Hall strand. Taking place in the Hall's Elgar Room, tickets are £11 and include a hot drink and a pastry, with music for an hour 11am. The performers all come from the Royal College of Music and give you a chance to hear some striking young talent. The first recital (26/1) is being given by 17 year old Abby Bowen who performs viola music by Bloch and Rebecca Clarke, which is definitely worth getting out of bed for.Future concerts include a BBC Young Musician finalist, as well as music by Poulenc, Piazzolla, Richard Rodney Bennett, Krommer and Arvo Pärt.

The full list: clarinettist Elaine Ruby in Brahms and Rachmaninoff (2/2), BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist Kausikan Rajeshkumar in piano music by Scarlatti, Chopin and Schumann (9/2), Trio Icendia and Son Quartet in music by Tchaikovsky and Schubert (16/2), the Laefer Quartet perform saxophone quartet works by Poulenc, Mendelssohn, Piazzolla, and RR Bennett (16/3), the RCM Junior Department Wind Octet in Krommer and Mozart (23/3), the Walmsley String Quartet in Haydn, Schumann and Part (30/3), violinist Brigid Coleridge in Bartok and Beethoven (6/4), the Cataley Wind Quintet in music by Rossini and Poulenc (20/4) and Yuki Ito playing Strauss's Cello Sonata in commemoration of the Strauss anniversary (27/4).

Die Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall

Gerald Finley - Photo Credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke
Gerald Finley
Photo Sim Canetty-Clarke

Die Winterreise: Gerald Finley and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Sombre grave beauty and a sense of bleak inner calm in the face of adversity.

Bass-baritone Gerald Finley and pianist Julius Drake performed Schubert's Die Winterreise at the Wigmore Hall last night (16 January 2014) at the start of a 10 date tour (to Spain, Canada and the USA). Their recording of the work is being released on Hyperion in March 2014. Finley's Die Winterreise is sombre with a grave beauty, and a sense of a bleak inner calm in the face of adversity. 
Singing the Schubert's cycle in lower keys inevitably brings a greater gravity and darkness to the cycle and Finley and Drake's steady speeds emphasised this. But Finley sang with a superb sense of line, which combined with fine diction and attention to the words, plus the beauty of his voice to make the performance very particular and very moving. Throughout the performance I kept coming back to the way Finley made the words of prime importance, without ever compromising the sense of an ever unfolding musical line.

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