Saturday 31 May 2014

BREMF wants to take you on a journey

The theme of this year's Brighton Early Music Festival (24 October to 9 November 2014) is Cities: Musical centres and the journeys between them

So that the festival opens with Adrian Chandler and La Serenissima celebrating Venice in La Venezia Festeggiante with music by Vivaldi, plus Albinoni, Caldara and Porta. The Sixteen and conductor Eamonn Dougan take us to 17th century Poland where Italian musicians were influential at the Royal Court in Warsaw. And the Little Baraoque Company journey to Leipzig where Bach and Telemann meet at Cafe Zimmerman.

Musica Secreta take us into the world of Paris Convents with music by Charpentier, Lully and Couperin, and still in Paris Le Jardin Secret will be presenting music, dance and drama from 17th and 18th century Paris. The closing concert is back in London, where we celebrate with Purcell and Handel. Along the way there are Spanish Pilgrimages with Resonet and the Telling, whilst L'Avventura explore trade routes between Portugal, Africa and Brazil.

Further information from the BREMF website.

Paganini at Schloss Wackerbarth

Schloss Wackerbarth
Schloss Wackerbarth
Vivaldi, Locatelli, Paganini: Karen Gomyo and Ismo Eskelinen: Dresden Music Festival at Schloss Wackerbarth
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 27 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Spectacular duets for violin and guitar from young duo

For our first visit to the Dresden Music Festival (on 27 May 2014) we attended a concert given by American violinist Karen Gomyo and Finnish guitarist Ismo Eskelinen at Schloss Wackerbarth. The centre piece of their programme was a sequence of piece for violin and guitar by Niccolo Paganini, along with music by Antonio Vivaldi, Pietro Antonio Locatelli and Mauro Giuliani.

Karen Gomyo
Karen Gomyo
Schloss Wackerbarth is an historic winery on the outskirts of Dresden. In addition to the vineyards and the historic buildings there are modern wine-making facilities and the concert took place in one of these buildings, a glass hall surrounded by wine-making equipment with views of the vine covered hillsides. The acoustic proved extremely attractive and sympathetic to the duo; the combination of violin and guitar can be tricky to balance but Gomyo and Eskelinen managed this superbly throughout the concert.

They opened with the Sonata for violin and basso continuo Op.2 no.2 RV 31 by Antonio Vivaldi (1678 - 1741) in which Eskelinen played the basso continuo on the guitar. A short, rhapsodic prelude introduced us to the rather different, yet attractive texture of violin and guitar. This was followed by an elegant Allegro with Gomyo displaying lovely sweet tone and fine technique. A free and rhapsodic Andante led to a final Allegro full of perky charm.

Friday 30 May 2014

The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains

The Truth is A Cave In the Black Mountains is a story by Neil Gaiman, author of novels for children and adults as well as writer of the DC Comic series, Sandman. The Truth is A Cave In the Black Mountains has been published, with illustrations by Eddie Campbell (see Neil Gaiman's website), but Gaiman has brought the work to life in a multi-media event which is coming to the Barbican on 4-5 July. The event is also at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 6 July.

Created originally in 2010 for the Sydney Opera House, the event combines Gaiman's reading of the story with illustrations from Eddie Campbell (best known for the graphic novel collaboration with Alan Moore From Hell), and music provided by FourPlay String Quartet. The result, we are promised, is a revolutionary new concept in multi-media story telling.

FourPlay String Quartet is an Australian group formed from the Australian Youth Orchestra and inspired by the Kronos, Balanescu and Brodsky Quartets’ blurring of the boundaries between classical and rock music. The group uses two violas rather than two violins, to much a richer, thicker sound.

A festival of baroque – and an end to more than one era

Abate Steffani
Abate Steffani
The Lufthansa Festival of Baroque is a week (and a bit) long indulgence of all things 17th and 18th century and this year has been dedicated to the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian succession to the British throne, and the 300th anniversary of the founding of the festival's home in London: St John's Smith Square.

But it's not all been Bach and Handel – there were lots of surprises and new experiences. This year has also been tinged with the sadness of goodbyes. Goodbye to Lufthansa who have supported the festival for 30 years, and goodbye to the Hilliard Ensemble who, after 40 years, are in the middle of their final year of singing together.

I caught the two concerts on Friday evening at St John's Smith Square. The first 'The admirable Abate Steffani' performed by La Risonanza directed from the harpsichord by Fabio Bonizzoni, with soprano María Hinojosa Montenegro and counter-tenor Martin Oro. Abate Steffani (1654-1728) was born in Castelfranco but was sent to nearby Padua where he was a school boy chorister. Aged 11 he sang opera in Venice and aged only 12 he moved to Munich under the protection of Elector Ferdinand Maria of Bavaria, where he eventually became director of music at court. During this time he was also ordained as a priest and began to write opera. Some twenty years later he became Kapellmeister at the court of Duke Ernest Augustus of Hanover where he wrote eight operas and several duets based on the poetry of Ortensio Mauro. As time went on Steffani became involved in diplomacy and composed less, and the rest of his life was devoted to politics and an ecclesiastical career. In 1726 he became the first honorary president of the Academy of Ancient Music in London and in return sent them a 'Stabat Mater'.

Thursday 29 May 2014

500 years of organ music for Royal occasions

500 years of organ music for Royal occasions
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation in 1953, The Lord Mayor and City of London commissioned a new organ. Ultimately it was to sit in the Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey, but initially it was placed in the Egyptian Hall of the Mansion House where it was used for charity recitals. Whilst at the Mansion House, the organ was recorded for this new disc played by Catherine Ennis, Director of Music at St. Lawrence Jewry next Guildhall. This recital of music with Royal connections has been issued in support of the City Music Foundation. Ennis's varied programme includes music by JC Bach, William Byrd, Orlando Gibbons, Louis-Claude Daquin, William Walton, WA Mozart, JA Lefebure-Wely, John Stanley, Alfred Hollins and Handel.

The new organ is a two manual English style organ. based on 18th century models. As such, Ennis's recital is heavily based on the music that might have been played on such an organ.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Jennifer Pike in the Sibelius Violin Concerto

Sibelius Violin Concerto = Chandos CHSA 5134
Sibelius Violin Concerto and other works: Jennifer Pike, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis: Chandos
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

New version of an old classic from talented young violinist.

On this new disc from Chandos, the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician records Sibelius's Violin Concerto with one of the world's oldest orchestras. Jennifer Pike (who won the BBC Young Musician in 2002) is the soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (founded in 1765), conductor Andrew Davis in a programme which includes Sibelius's Violin Concerto plus the Karelia Suite, Swan of Tuonela, Valse lyrique, Valse triste, Andante festivo and Finlandia.

Sibelius's Violin Concerto was written in 1902 and revised in 1905. It has become one of the icons of the Romantic violin repertoire, throbbing with passion and made all the more fascinating by being filtered through Sibelius's Northern Scandinavian sensibility. The solo part is often associated with artists with a Big Romantic Technique (Jascha Heifetz, who recorded it with Sir Thomas Beecham, and Ida Handel). On this new recording, Jennifer Pike brings a rather sensibility to the work. Pike does not throb with passion, instead she sings with elegant poetic tone, both fine-grained and slim. She is ably supported by Andrew Davis who does a nice line in suppressed passion with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. This is a very controlled performance, but one which simmers.

Spitalfields Summer Music

Spitalfields Summer Music
The Spitalfields Summer Festival runs from 6 - 21 June at Christ Church, Spitalfields and other venues in the area. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are Associate Artists, so there is plenty from them and other groups such as Brecon Baroque, the Fieri Consort, the Sixteen, Gallicantus and a host more. But its not all early music, there is new work based on Puccini and a staging of Schubert.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) is presenting The Muses of Zion, a Lutheran mass with music by Schutz and Praetorius and the audience can join in the chorales - there is a warm-up session before the concert (6 June). Still in baroque mood, Rachel Podger and Brecon Baroque are performing Vivaldi concertos and extracts from Bach's Art of Fugue (7 June). The OAE brings together music by Gabrieli and the Italian and German musicians inspired by him in Transalpine Travellers (10 June).

Monday 26 May 2014

Premiere of intriguing new chamber opera by Edward Lambert

Six Characters in Search of  a Stage: Photo Credit Edward Lambert
Six Characters in Search of a Stage
Photo Credit Edward Lambert
Edward Lambert - Six Characters in Search of a Stage: Music Troupe of London: St Andrews Church, Hove
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on May 4 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Intriguing surreal and stylish production of new opera chamber opera

Composer Edward Lambert, well known for his work at Covent Garden and his youth opera commissioned by W11 Opera ('All in the Mind' for the Britten Theatre 2004), has just had his puzzling new chamber opera 'Six Characters in Search of a Stage' premiered at Brighton Fringe by his very own Music Troupe of London with a cast including Jon Stainsby, Olivia Clarke, Sheridan Edward and Mark Beesley.

I went along to St Andrews Church by the Sea, Hove on 4 May 2014 intrigued to unravel the mystery and experience his modernist / post-modernist score realised. Adapted from Pirandello's play of 1921, acclaimed as a surrealist masterpiece at the time, the chamber opera opens with the Director (stalwartly enacted and sung by Jon Stainsby) arriving on the stage of an empty theatre waiting for the cast of a modern play he doesn't really understand, to turn up for first rehearsal. 'Where is everyone? Why must I direct these modern works where nobody understands a thing?' he bemoans to the intrepid accompaniment of Lambert (piano)and quirky clarinet line above from the young, but established recitalist Joseph Shiner.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Peace and Celebration - EUBO

Peace and Celebration - European Union Baroque Orchestra
Handel Coronation Anthems, Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne: Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, European Union Baroque Orchestra, Lars-Ulrik Mortensen: Obsidian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 24 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Live recording of Handel's music for the English Royal court from Lars-Ulrik Mortensen and his young performers

In 2013 the European Union Baroque Orchestra (EUBO) and their director Lars-Ulrik Mortensen gave a concert tour with the choir of Clare College, Cambridge. The final concert was at St. John's Smith Square and this was recorded live and has been issued on CD on the Obsidian label. Entitled Pace and Celebration the programme celebrates Handel's connections with the Royal families of Hanover and of England, and is thus very apt in this year of celebration of the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Hanoverian dynasty.

Conducted by Lars-Ulrich Mortensen, EUBO and the choir of Clare College, Cambridge perform Handel's Coronation Anthems (Zadok the Priest, Let thy hand be strengthened, My heart is inditing, The King shall rejoice), the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne and the Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.2. Thus we get music written for George II's Coronation and music written to celebrate both Queen Anne's 49th birthday and the peach of Utrecht. We also get two of the loveliest movements Handel wrote, the Largo from the Concerto Grosso Op.3 No.2 with its singing oboe over a pair of rippling cellos, and the opening movement of the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, Eternal source of light divine with its glorious duet for counter-tenor and trumpet. Alex Potter is the counter-tenor soloist on the disc and he is joined by a group of soloists from the choir (sopranos Gabrielle Haigh, Sophie Horrocks, Helen Lilley and Janneke Dupre, basses Hugo Popplewell and William Cole.

London English Song Festival 2014

Judith Weir - photo credit Chris Christodoulou
Judith Weir
photo credit Chris Christodoulou
The London English Song Festival was started in 2011 by Artistic Director William Vann to promote and celebrate the wide and varied repertoire of English Song.

This year's festival kicks off on the 5th June at St James Piccadilly with the Irish mezzo-soprano Ann Murray DBE, tenor Alessandro Fisher, winner if the Oxford Lieder Young Artist award, and the festival's Artistic Director William Vann (piano) performing songs from the 17th to 21st century by Henry Purcell, Joseph Haydn, William Denis Browne, Michael Head, Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Lennox Berkeley, and Donald Swann.

This year is Judith Weir's 60th birthday and the concert on the 6th of June in St George's, Hanover Square celebrates her music. Royal Academy of Music Richard Lewis prize winner Katie Bray, Kathleen Ferrier song prize winner Johnny Herford, and William Vann will be performing songs by Weir including 'Songs from the exotic' and 'The Voice of Desire'. The programme also covers songs by English contemporaries Scott Wheeler, Jonathan Dove and Robin Holloway, as well as people who have influenced her writing such as Aaron Copland, and George Gershwin. The composer herself will be giving a pre-concert talk.

Friday 23 May 2014

More explorations - Exploring 50 years of Nonesuch records – part II

Jonny Greenwood
Jonny Greenwood
The Barbican Centre has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch records with a weekend long 'Exploration' of artists and composers, including Steve Reich, John Adams, Philip Glass, Nico Muhly, Louis Andriessen and the Kronos Quartet, who have found a home with this champion of contemporary, experimental, world and new music.

I saw a concert performed by Kronos earlier in the week, reviewed here, celebrating both the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch and the 40th anniversary of Kronos and I went to two of the concerts on Sunday – Session 4 in the Guildhall's Milton Court, which you can find reviewed here, and Session 5 in the Barbican Hall. The evening concert – with the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by André de Rider plus Jonny Greenwood and Jessica Rivera – was an altogether different affair than Session 4 - more serious classical composition and composition taking itself seriously.

The concert began with classically trained Jonny Greenwood (1971-), guitarist with Radiohead. Greenwood has been a composer in residence for the BBC since 2004 and has also written the music for six films including 'There will be blood' (2007). Greenwood bounced on stage, started his computer and played Steve Reich's (1936-) 'Electric counterpoint', without any preamble and with his back to half the audience. Every now again he stopped and wiped his face where his hair was tickling it.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Exploring 50 years of Nonesuch records

The Barbican Centre celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Nonesuch came to a climax with a weekend long 'Exploration' of artists and composers who have found a home with the quirky record label.

Nonesuch began in 1964 with Jac Holzman's plan of marketing cheap classical recordings to young Americans, licensed from European sources. However a year later when Teresa Sterne joined, this quickly expanded into a catalogue of de novo recordings of contemporary, experimental, world and new music – all with a high standard of content and artwork which brought brand awareness to the venture. When Teresa left Nonesuch in 1979 several composers wrote to the New York Times to publically voice their unhappiness at loosing her. In 1984 Robert Hurwitz took control of Nonesuch attracting artists such as Steve Reich, John Adams, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet, and this award winning format continues today.

I went to two of the concerts on Sunday – Session 4 in the Guildhall's Milton Court, and Session 5 in the Barbican Hall.

Hogarth’s Stages: new opera by students at the Royal College of Music

he Painter and His Pug by William Hogarth
he Painter and His Pug by William Hogarth
Last night (Saturday 17 May 2014) students from the Royal College of Music in association with Tête à Tête Opera put on an opera showcasing their composition and performance talents. 250 years after William Hogarth's (1697-1764) death, old met new on the stage of the Britten Theatre providing five short (fifteen minute) operas - each based on one of Hogarth's moralistic paintings.

The students were helped along by Tête à Tête's Artistic Director Bill Bankes-Jones, and assisted by Tête à Tête's designer Sarah Booth. The orchestra was conducted by Tim Murray, an alumnus of RCM and former Music Director of Tête à Tête, who has squeezed this in between conducting at the Royal Opera House and for the Bolshoi Ballet.

A common thread through the operas was provided by continuity of staging and costuming. Although each opera had its own scenery, the stage was literally framed, so that it appeared that the performers were within a painting, and people wore their costume throughout whether it was period 18th century, modern, or futuristic. This also further developed the idea of time being irrelevant to the human condition and that these paintings still hold lessons in the 21st century which each opera explored in its own way.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Vivaldi - L'Incoronazione di Dario

Vivaldi - L'Incoronazione di Dario - naive OP 30553
Vivaldi - L'incoronazione di Dario: Anders Dahlin, Sara Mingardo, Delphine Dalou, Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone: naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 13 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Sparkling performance of Vivaldi's semi-comic opera

Volume 58 of naive's Vivaldi Edition (volume 18 of the composer's theatrical works) is devoted to Vivaldi's 1717 opera L'incoronazione di Dario. Anders Dahlin sings the title role, with Sara Mingardo as Statira, Delphine Galou as Argene, Riccardo Novaro as Niceno, Roberta Mameli as Alinda, Lucia Cirillo as Oronte, Sofia Soloviy as Arpago and Giuseppina Bridelli as Flora. Ottavio Dantone conducts Accademia Bizantina.

In 1717 Vivaldi had to come up with an opera quickly, to replace one by Fortunato Chelleri which played for only two nights at the S. Angelo Theatre in Venice; a theatre which Vivaldi probably had a handing running, albeit in the background. He chose a pre-existing libretto, but not a recent one. Instead he went for one by Ariano Morselli written 30 years earlier (set by Domenico Freschi in 1686, and subsequently by Giacomo Perti and by Giuseppe Aldrovandini) Eschewing the then current vogue for arcadian subjects, Vivaldi chose what the CD booklet describes as a tragi-comedy. Vivaldi's L'incoronazione di Dario is not unlike Handel's Serse, fast-moving, short arias and a not-quite comic satirical feel. The plot has a group of aristocrats behaving so badly even by opera seria standards that it is clear the genre is being sent up.

Kronos at 40: ‘looking for a piece of music to wrap around myself’

Kronos Quartet - Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Kronos Quartet - Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg
Kronos Quartet at 40: Kronos Quartet and Friends: Barbican
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on May 13 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Kronos and friends celebrating 40 years of new music

Last night at the Barbican (Tuesday 13 May 2014) began the Nonesuch records Exploration and a celebration of 40 years of the Kronos Quartet. Special guests Bryce Dessner, Jarvis Cocker, David Coulter, and Mariana Sadovska helped the evening along with compositions and performances.

For the last 40 years the Kronos Quartet (current line up David Harrington and John Sherba on violin, Hank Dutt playing viola, and Sunny Yang on cello) have been champions of contemporary music - from classical to jazz and rock, commissioning more than 800 pieces themselves. Each of the works performed tonight was written for Kronos, and was either a UK or world premiere.

Faith - WNO in Cardiff and Birmingham

WNO summer season
For its Summer season Welsh National Opera (WNO) is offering four new operas and two contrasting pairs. Under the the theme of Faith, the company is giving new productions of Schoenberg's Moses und Aron and Verdi's Nabucco. Then in complete contrast Debussy's unfinished La Chute  de la Maison Usher is being staged in a double bill with the world premiere of Gordon Getty's Usher House.

Schoenberg's Moses und Aron opens at Wales Millenium Centre on 24 May 2014, with Lothar Koenigs conducting a cast which includes John Tomlinson and Rainer Trost. The production by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito was originally presented at Stuttgart Opera. Verdi's Nabucco, also a new production and co-production with Stuttgart Opera, is directed by Rudolf Frey (who directed the frustratingly unfocussed Maria Stuarda in WNO's Donizetti Tudor Queens trilogy last year), with David Kempster and Mary Elizabeth Williams, conducted by Xian Zhang. Building on the theme of Faith, WNO is collaborating with the Maimonides Interfaith Foundation to present a series of talks on the theme of faith; speakers will include David Poutney, Karen Armstrong, Julie Siddiqi and Dave Rich.

Debussy's La Chute de la Maison Usher will be performed in a completion by Robert Orledge, with Robert Hayward as Roderick Usher. Benjamin Bevan plays Roderick Usher in Getty's opera, with Anna Gorbachyova playing Madeleine in both operas. David Pountney directs and Lawrence Foster conducts.

WNO is performing the programmes at the Wales Millennium Centre (24 May to 25 June) and Birmingham Hippodrome (18 June to 21 June), plus two performances of Moses und Aron at Covent Garden (25, 26 July).

Tuesday 20 May 2014

All the fun of the fair: ‘Cosi fan Tutte’

Cosi fan Tutte - ENO - Picture credit: (c) Mike Hoban
Cosi fan Tutte - ENO - Picture credit: (c) Mike Hoban
Mozart - Cosi fan Tutte: English National Opera
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on May 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Phelim McDermot's 1950's fairground updating of Mozart's comedy

'Cosi fan tutte' at the ENO was a riot of bright lights, fabulous staging, and circus skills, making it a spectacular event of an opera. This new production by Phelim McDermott is certainly worth a look, setting the opera in a faded 1950's seaside town, based on Coney Island, complete with fairground rides, a pier with fortune teller and candyfloss seller, a pleasure garden and a sideshow circus.

'Così fan tutte' is a darkly comic opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), premiered the year before his death. It has been rumoured that the libretto, written by Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749-1838), who also wrote the libretto for 'The marriage of Figaro', was looked at and discarded by Mozart's rival Antonio Salieri. But it seems from Mozart's letters to his wife that his worry about her fidelity may have meant that this story struck a chord with him. Also Mozart may have seen his own love life in the plot because he originally courted Aloysia Weber before being rejected and marrying her sister Constanze.

300 Christmas songs: a Julian Anderson premier by the Arditti Quartet

Arditti Quartet - Photo credit: Astrid Karger
Arditti Quartet - Photo credit: Astrid Karger
Julian Anderson 300 Christmas songs: Arditti Quartet: Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on May 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Challenging programme of contemporary quartets from the brilliant Arditti Quartet

Julian Anderson (1967-) is the Wigmore Hall's composer in residence (as well as at the Guildhall School of Music and the London Philharmonic Orchestra) and tonight (Thursday 15 May 2014) he curated a concert at the Wigmore Hall including the world premier of his new work for the Arditti Quartet, String Quartet no. 2 '300 Weihnachtslieder'.

The Arditti Quartet has been termed 'single most important ensemble in the history of late-20th and early-21st-century music' by the Guardian's Tom Service. Set up in 1974 by Irvine Arditti, an East End lad, the Arditti Quartet has worked with major composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Brian Ferneyhough, Sofia Gubaidulina, Mauricio Kagel, György Ligeti, Conlon Nancarrow, Wolfgang Rihm, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Iannis Xenakis. They have won awards ranging from best contemporary CD (1984) for their RCA red seal recording of quartets by Carter, Ferneyhough and Harvey to the Académie Charles Cros Honorary Coup de Coeur (2004). Back in 1999 the Arditti Quartet won the 'lifetime achievement' Ernst von Siemens Music Prize for music. But the 'lifetime' achievement may have been presumptuous, as fifteen years later they are still performing - challenging composers and audiences alike.

Monday 19 May 2014

Singing cellos in John Tavener - Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival

Guy Johnston
Guy Johnston
John Tavener - The Protecting Veil, Requiem: Guy Johnston, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, David Atherton: Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival at St David's Hall, Cardiff
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Two of Tavener's large scale works bring the Vale of Glamorgan Festival to a spectacular conclusion

John Tavener was one of the featured composers in this year's Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival and so it was appropriate that the final concert in the festival (17 May 2014) featured two of the composer's large scale works, performed in St. David's Hall, Cardiff. David Atherton conducted the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with cellist Guy Johnston as the soloist in Tavener's The Protecting Veil. Then the orchestra was joined by the BBC National Chorus of Wales, cellist Josephine Knight, soprano Elin Manahan Thomas and tenor Nicholas Mulroy for Tavener's Requiem.

The Protecting Veil was written in 1998, originally a commission from cellist Steven Isserlis though Isserlis had envisaged a work of around 10 minutes whereas The Protecting Veil lasts some 45 minutes. The piece is inspired by the vision of the Mother of God appearing at a time when Constantinople was threatened by the Saracens in the 10th century; she appeared spreading out her Veil as protective shelter for the Christians.

Sunday 18 May 2014

Clare Hammond at the Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival

Clare Hammond, credit Julie Kim
Clare Hammond, credit Julie Kim
John Tavener, Andrew Keeling, John Metcalf, Adam Gorb, Tarik O'Regan: Clare Hammond: Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival at Penarth Pier Pavilion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Shorter works for contemporary piano performed by young British pianist

Penarth Pier Pavilion is a relatively new venue, a stylish new concert venue having been created in Penarth Pier as part of the 2013 renovations of the pier on the esplanade at Penarth (near Cardiff). This year's Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival has been making good use of the venue. For the festival's final visit to Penarth Pier Pavilion, on May 17, pianist Clare Hammond performed a programme of contemporary music for solo piano. Her programme consisted of a highly varied selection of generally short works, some written specifically for Hammond, including music by John Tavener, Andrew Keeling, John Metcalf, Adam Gorb, Tarik O'Regan, Peter Fribbins, Alan Mills and Robin Walker.

Penarth Pier Pavillion
Penarth Pier Pavillion
Hammond started with John Tavener's tiny Zodiacs (1997). It opened with a simple bell-like motif which Tavener managed to imbue with his usual fascination. The middle section repeated the same motif, but at a far faster speed, creating a rather attractive moment, before the opening returned.

Composer Andrew Keeling has a varied background, working both in contemporary classical and in rock. His Coniunctio (2013) was written for Clare Hammond and was receiving its world premiere performance.

Saturday 17 May 2014

In search of the contemporary string quartet - Quatuor Tana at Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival

Quatuor Tana and Nick Baron
Quatuor Tana and Nick Baron
Music for string quartet by Gabriel Jackson, Yann Robin, John Metcalf, Daniel D'Adamo, John Tavener: Quatuor Tana, Nick Baron: Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival at Ewenny Priory Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on My 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Young Belgian string quartet performs contrasting group of contemporary works for string quartet

Ewenney Priory Church
Ewenney Priory Church
The Belgium-based string quartet, Quatuor Tana made their second appearance of the Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival at the lovely Ewenny Priory on 16 May 2014. The 12th century priory church hidden in the countryside outside Bridgened formed the venue for a programme of contemporary music for string quartet with music by Gabriel Jackson, Yann Robin, John Metcalf, Daniel D'Adamo and John Tavener. The quartet were joined by Nick Baron on handbells for Tavener's The Last Sleep of the Virgin.

Chamber Choir Ireland at Vale of Glamorgan Music Festival

Chamber Choir Ireland
Chamber Choir Ireland
Lang, Tavener, Martland, Williamson, Fennessy: Chamber Choir Ireland, Paul Hillier: Vale of Glamorgan Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Wide range of contemporary short pieces in this imaginative programme from Ireland's premiere chamber choir

The second of Paul Hillier and Chamber Choir Ireland's concerts at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival took place at lunchtime on 16 May, in the light and bright modernised gothic interior of All Saints Church, Penarth. The choir performed a programme of contemporary works by David Lang, John Tavener, Steve Martland, Michael Williamson and David Fennessy.

In a spoken introduction , Paul Hillier explained how he had planned the concert over a year ago, to include music by Steve Martland and John Tavener. In the intervening period both composers died, thus turning a tribute into a memorial.

Friday 16 May 2014

Romanian adventure

Alexandra Dariescu - credit London Studios
Alexandra Dariescu - credit London Studios
London-based Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu joined forces with the Romanian violinist Alexandru Tomescu for a recital exploring music by Romanian composers for violin and piano. The two played together for the first time at a recital on 14 May 2014 at the Romanian Cultural Insitute, and we heard them at a private recital on 15 May 2014. 

Alexandru Tomescu
Alexandru Tomescu
In the first half each instrumentalist played some solo items, with Tomescu performing a group of Pagannini's Caprices, and Dariescu performing some of Chopin's Preludes op. 28, and Constantin Silverstri's Bacchanale. Then in the second half we heard Dinu Lipatti's Sonatina for violin and piano, Tiberiu Olah's Sonatina for violin and piano and Bela Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances

War and Peace - The Tallis Scholars

The Tallis Scholars - credit Edic Richmond
The Tallis Scholars - credit Edic Richmond
War and Peace; The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 14 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Music inspired by war and by peace from the 16th and 21st centuries

For their second appearance at the Cadogan Hall as part of Choral at Cadogan on 14 May 2014, The Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips presented a programme called War and Peace. The concert was structured as a mass with a mass setting interleaved with motets and other music, but instead of performing a single mass Peter Phillips had assembled different movements of masses by Josquin, Guerrero, Victoria and Palestrina. War was represented by movements from Josquin's Missa L'Homme Arme, Guerrero's Missa L'Homme Arme and Guerrero's Missa de la Battalla Escoutez, with peace of a sort coming from Victoria's Missa Pro Defunctis and Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli. Threading their way through this were works by Mouton, Lobo and John Taverner each written in memory of a friend of patron, plus Arvo Part pre-figuring Christ's death.

Thursday 15 May 2014

Champs Hill wins the 2014 RPS Award for Chamber Music and Song

Mendelssohn - complete string quartets - Champs Hill Records
The Music Room at Champs Hill, and Champs Hill Records were named as joint winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society's Award for Chamber Music and Song at a ceremony on 14 May 2014. The Music Room at Champs Hill in West Sussex was built 15 years ago by David and Mary Bowerman and has played host to many artists with particular support given to those at the beginnings of their career. This support has extended to the development of the Champs Hill Record label which for the last four years has released a series of recordings by young artists made at the hall. There are now 85 releases in the catalogue.

The most recent Champs Hill Records release is a boxed set of all the Mendelssohn string quartets, each quartet performed by a different young ensemble with the set featuring performances by the Benyounes, Ideomeneo, Sacconi, Navarra, Castalian, Piatti, Badke, Artea, Wu and Cavaleri String Quartets.

BBC Symphony Orchestra new season

Brett Dean
Brett Dean
The BBC Symphony Orchestra's 2014/15 season at the Barbican includes some very tempting offerings. There are three operas, Smetana's Dalibor, Bartok's Bluebeard and Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland. Total Immersion covers John Tavener, Pierre Boulez and Percussion. Brett Dean is the featured composer, but there is also music by Kevin Volans, Thomas Larcher, Ryan Wigglesworth, Detlev Glanert, Christopher Rouse and Henze. Chief Conductor Sakari Oramo explores the symphonies of Nielsen, whilst Busoni's Piano Concerto and Bliss's Morning Heroes both get an outing.

Unsuk Chin
Unsuk Chin
Operatic offerings include the UK premiere (at long last) of Unsuk Chin's Alice in Wonderland. Conducted by Baldur Bronnimann, the work will receive a multi-media staging from Neita Jones and cast includes Rachaele Gilmore, Marie Arnet, Jane Henschel, Jenni Bank, Andrew Watts and Peter Tantsits (8/3/2015). Then Kirill Karabits conducts Michelle de Young and Gabor Bretz in Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, with music by Ravel and an new work from Swedish composer Albert Schnelzer, Tales from Suburbia (13/3/2015). The third operatic offering of the season is Smetana's Dalibor conducted by Jiri Belohlavek with a cast including Ivan Kusnjer, Pavel Cernoch, Ales Voracek, Dana Buresova and Alsbeta Polackova (2/5/2015)

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Phillip Cooke - Choral Music

Phillip Cooke is a young composer who is currently a Lecturer in Composition at Aberdeen University, and this disc on Regent Records contains a selection of his recent choral music. From 2008 to 2010 Cooke was Career Development Fellow at the Faculty of Music, Oxford University and a Junior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford University and much of the music on the disc is linked to this period. Performed by the chapel choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, Onyx Brass, Timothy Parsons and conductor Sarah MacDonald the disc includes Cooke's Morning Service, Evening Service, Three Partsongs, The Glory of Zion, Verbum caro factum est, O salutaris hostia, Invocation and The Hazel Wood.

The disc opens with Cooke's Morning Service, a Te Deum and Jubilate written in 2011 and 2012. They were written for the female choir Aurora Nova (recorded here in versions for mixed choir). The Te Deum was written for the choir to sing at St Paul's Cathedral, with the requirements that it needed to be singable, readable and almost instantly performable. Like most of the music on the disc this is gebrauchsmusik.

In the CD booklet Cooke details the various links and connections between the works, many written for groups that he knew. He also talks about his musical background and how, unlike many choral composers he has no background as a chorister and Oxbridge Collegiate singer. Much of the music on this disc was designed to be useful, to fill a role; something that music has been doing for for generations.

Julian Anderson premiere

It seems to be Julian Anderson's time: not only is his opera Thebans playing at the London Coliseum until 3 June, but on 15 May the Arditti Quartet will present the world premiere of Anderson's String Quartet No. 2 300 Weihnachtslieder at the Wigmore Hall. Anderson says that the new quartet celebrates 'both the Arditti's wonderous playing and my affection for old German Christmas Songs'. The Arditti Quartet will also be playing music by Scelsi, Lachenmann and Kurtag. Further Ahead, Members of London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Clement Power, will perform Anderson's Book of Hours at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 9 June, in a a programme which includes George Lewis's The Will to Adorn and music by current members of the LPO's Leverhulme Young Composers Programme.

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Gloria - A Pigtale

Gloria - A pigtale with Gillian Keith and cast
Gloria - A pigtale with Gillian Keith and cast
Gloria is a lonely pig looking for love. Ousted from her fascist pig stye, she falls for the butcher and is about to get the chop when Rodney the wild boar comes to her rescue.

 H.K. Gruber's mad opera was premiered in 1994 in the UK, and has not been seen here since. Now it is the first opera being produced by the newly launched Mahogany Opera Group. Frederic Wake-Walker's production debuts at Hull Truck Theatre on 17 May and then tours with visits to Norwich (20-21 May), Covent Garden (16-19 July), Buxton Festival (23-26 July) and the Bregenz Festival.

Frederic Wake-Walker, artistic director of Mahogany Opera Group
Frederic Wake-Walker
We are promised singing sausages and a chorus of yodelling frogs, burlesque, barbershop, big band, hot-dogs, Hollywood and a fascist rally in a pig stye. But Gruber's tale is not all fun, it is a darkly comic and subversive work which takes a sideswipe at right-wing politics.

The cast includes Gillian Keith, Jessica Walker, Andrew Dickinson, Charles Rice and Sion Goronwy, with Geoffrey Paterson conducting CHROMA

Piffarisimo - Instrumental music at the Council of Constance

Piffarissimo: CC72631
Piffarissimo - Instrumental music at the Council of Constance: Capella de la Torre: Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 09 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Imaginative reconstruction of the music for pipes, trumpets and drums from 15th century

The Council of Constance was huge, both in concept and in terms of size. The rulers of Western Christendom came together between 1414 and 1418 to solve the central problem of the age, the Papal Schism. There were three competing popes and the intention of the council was to revert to one. And around 50,000 people came to Constance to help them. On this disc from Channel Classics the period instrument ensemble Capella de la Torre, director Katharina Bauml, reconstructs some of the instrumental music associated with the council, centred on an ensemble of pipes and drums.

The alta capella, an ensemble of shawm, alto bombard and slide trumpet/trombone was an important contributor to medieval festive ensembles. So much so that individual rulers brought their own ensembles to Constance, so that we can imagine groups competing with each other. And national styles of playing were important too. We know that Duke Friedrich IV of Austria brought pipers, trumpeters and sackbut players who caused a sensation. And British trombone players and pipers played polyphonic music, with three trombones playing together in three parts just as is normally sung.

Monday 12 May 2014

Win a day with Bellini and soprano Nelly Miricioiu

Courtesy of Divas and Scholars we have two wonderful prizes in our latest competition. First prize is attendance for two people at Divas and Scholars study day on Bellini at the Cadogan Hall on Thursday 19 June (10.30am to 3.30pm), when there will be lectures from Sarah Lenton and myself, plus a lecture recital from soprano Nelly Miricioiou, giving attendees a chance to spend a whole day learning about Bellini's life and hearing his music in context. 

Second prize is attendance for one person at the Divas and Scholars: History of Opera Champagne Evening on 11 June, when Sandy Burnett will be talking about Bizet's Carmen with musical excerpts provided by Sophie Goldrick accompanied by Christian Dawson.

Full details of how to enter the competition after the break.

Ancient and Modern in Weston-super-Mare

Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra
Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra
We were in Weston-super-Mare last night (11 May 2014)for a lovely concert given by Harmonia Sacra, conductor Peter Leech, at All Saints' Church. The event was a memorial concert for Christopher Manners LRAM who had been the church's organist from 1974 to 2013. It was also the launch of the choir's latest CD on the Nimbus Alliance label. The concert mixed earlier composers with more recentones , including one by Peter Leech and a group of my own motets.

The concert included music by a group of 18th century Italian composers, both well known and lesser known, Alessandro Scarlatti, Tommaso Bai, Giovanni Battista Costanzi, Giovanni Giorgi, and Antonio Bicci which echoed the theme of the choir's recent CD Princely Splendour: Choral works from 18th century Rome. From a non-musical point of view Costanzi is interesting because one of his patrons was Prince Henry Benedict, Cardinal York, who was Bonnie Prince Charlie's younger brother and the last direct Stuart claimant to the English throne. All the motets were fascinating works which certainly deserved the choir attention which the choir gave them, in a series of brilliant, bright-toned performances which were both technically strong and wonderfully involving.

New season at the South Bank

South Bank Centre
The South Bank Centre has published its 2014/15 season. Its impossible to summarise an entire season like this in an article, but I thought that I would bring out some highlights. So we have Berlioz's Requiem, Donizetti's Les Martyrs, Debussy's Pelleas et Pelisande and extracts from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov on period instruments. Festivals devoted to Rachmaninov and to Paris, plus visits from the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Things start with a bang, as Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in Berlioz's Grande Messe des Morts with Gloucester Choral Society, Bristol Choral Society and Philharmonia Voices plus tenor Sebastien Droy. (25/9). Marin Alsop conducts musicians from the Royal Academy of Music in Britten's War Requiem for Remembrance Sunday (9/11). The Bach Choir and their conductor David Hill celebrate the music of John Tavener with a programme including The Protecting Veil and Requiem (25/11). And the Batch Choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by David Hill perform Mendelssohn's Elijah with Simon Keenlyside in the title role (7/6).

Three4 going informal at Rich Mix

Three4 is trio for the intriguing combination of violin, voice and piano. They are led by violinist Kate Conway and soprano Emma Dogliani. Their repertoire encompases well known and lesser known composers, but they tend to perform in more relaxed circumstances. They will be performing on May 15 in the bar stage at Rich Mix, in Bethnal Green when you can see them perform and have a drink, all in relaxed circumstances with trios, duos and solos from Bach to Shostakovich.

Sunday 11 May 2014

James Brawn in recital

James Brawn in Recital - MSR Classics
Mussorgsky, Liszt, Bach/Busoni, Rachmaninoff: James Brawn: MSR Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Bravura recital from young pianist James Brawn

On pianist James Brawn's 2012 recital disc he pairs Mussorgsky's virtuoso tour de force Pictures at an Exhibition with piano show pieces, with Feruccio Busoni's arrangement of Bach's Chaconne from the Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, List's Mephisto Waltz No. 1 and Consolation No.3, Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in B minor and Bach's C Major Prelude from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier. The disc is on the American MSR label, with whom Brawn is also recording a sequence discs of Beethoven.

Brawn was born in the UK, but brought up in New Zealand and Australia. He reached the concerto final of the ABC Young Performers Awards in 1987, leading to concerts with the Adelaide and Melbourne Symphony orchestras. James continued work with his mentor, Rita Reichman, in Philadelphia and gained a full scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London, at the age of 17 in 1988. At the age of 19, he won the keyboard final of the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition, performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. Brawn returned to the UK in 2010 and is now based in the Cotswolds.

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