Monday 30 June 2014

After the Silence: Music in the Shadow of War

The Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) has presented a series of large-scale off site projects includes ones at Manchester's Piccadilly Railway Station, Victoria Baths and last year's Sound histories at the British Museum. On 3 July they will be going to Imperial War Museum North, (IWM North) where, to commemorate the centenary of start of the First World War, 300 RNCM students will create a living installation, After the Silence: Music in the Shadow of War.

RNCM at the British Museum in 2013 credit Benedict Johnson
RNCM at the British Museum in 2013
credit Benedict Johnson
The event/installation runs from 3 July to 5 July and sees students throughout the iconic venue. Music featured will include major and minor works, from Elgar and Copland, to Paul Max Edlin and Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, to Rautavaara's Soldier's Mass and Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, plus Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. There will of course be Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad, but there will also be Eric Whitacre, Steve Reich's Different Trains and new music inspired by klezmer music. There is a work for eight cellos by Martin Ellerby, written specifically for the RNCM and based on The Changi Murals.

In the cafe, there will be post-war Ragtime and Jazz Age. After the Silence is a total commemoration of sound and visuals, music, projections, interviews and film in an overwhelming experience you will not forget.

After the Silence: Music in the Shadow of War runs from 3 to 5 July, at IWM North, doors open at 6.30pm for a 7pm start. Further information and tickets (price £10) from the RNCM website.

Brilliance and darkness - Prokofiev: Violin sonatas

Prokofiev Violin Sonatas - Alina Ibragimova, Steven Osborne - Hyperion CD67514
Prokofiev Violin Sonatas; Alina Ibragimova, Steven Osborne; Hyperion
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 28 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Powerful and brilliant accounts of Prokofiev's three works for violin and piano

Prokofiev's three works for violin and piano manage to traverse a significant section of his career and in their intensity and seriousness reflect much that was going on in his life. This new recording from Alina Ibragimova and Steven Osborne on Hyperion reflects both the brilliance and darkness of these works.

Prokofiev started his Violin Sonata in F minor in 1938, eight years after homesickness had caused his return to Soviet Russia. The sonata was written against the backdrop of Stalin's terror in which colleagues disappeared, such as Vladimir Mutnykh general director of the Bolshoi who had commissioned Romeo and Juliet, Adiran Pitrovsky co-librettist of Romeo and Juliet and Natalya Sats who had commissioned and narrated Peter and the Wolf. Unlike Romeo and Juliet and the Second Violin Concerto, the violin sonata uses no material pre-dating Prokofiev's return to Russia and this shows in the work's darkness and toughness. Quite so much so, that Prokofiev put it to one side more than once and only completed it in the 1940's, after David Oistrakh had persuaded him to transform the Flute Sonata into the Second Violin Sonata.

Sunday 29 June 2014

Alex Baranowski - Last Days of Troy 2014 - Globe Theatre Music review (new score)

Lily Cole as Helen of Troy in The Last Days of Troy, © Jonathan Keenan
Lily Cole as Helen of Troy in The Last Days of Troy
© Jonathan Keenan
Simon Armitage The Last Days of Troy, music by Alex Baranowski: Shakespeare's Globe
Reviewed by Jill Barlow on June 27 2014
Star rating: 3.0

The Last Days of Troy by Simon Armitage
Premiered Royal Exchange Manchester May 8 2014
Transferred to Shakespeare's Globe (run - 10-28 June 2014)
With acoustic music specially composed by Alex Baranowski (born 1983)
Whose film score for McCullin has just won best Feature Film score award at Cannes (June 2014)

In The Last Days of Troy Lily Cole – model & actress, stars as Helen of Troy - 'The face that launched 1000 ships' - bringing Homer's Iliad to the Globe stage.

Having reviewed the use of new scores at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, on London's South Bank since year 2000, I couldn't resist the opportunity to go along to review Alex Baranowski's music for 'The Last Days of Troy' when I heard towards the end of its run that he had just won best Feature Film score award at Cannes June 21st. Born in 1983, such an achievement at so young an age. Trained at Paul McCartney's 'LIPA' (Liverpool institute of Performing Arts) and the winner of other impressive accolades, he has already written music for plays at The Royal Court theatre, National Theatre, and will be the composer for 'Street Car named Desire' at the Young Vic this July, which has apparently already sold out. He also wrote the music for Globe's Henry VI trilogy, 2013

Marie et Marion

Marie et Marion
Marie et Marion; Anonymous 4; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 20 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Most recent disc from the a cappella quartet explores the sacred/secular dichotomy in the Montpellier Codex

On this new disc from Anonymous 4 (Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacquelin Horner-Kwiatek) on Harmonia Mundi returns to the Montpellier Codex. The codex was collected in Paris around 1300 in is one of the richest sources of French 13th century polyphony. For this disc, the group explore the dual themes of courtly/pastoral love and ardour and praise for Mary, the two often getting intertwined as in the final piece on the disc, Plus bele que flor in which the four part piece mixes different varieties of courtly love but the top voice reveals at the end that the object of the singer's love is the Virgin Mary.

Fizzing with fun: Rossini's La gazzetta

Kelly Mathieson and Timothy Nelson in Rossini's La gazzetta at the Royal College of Music
Kelly Mathieson and Timothy Nelson
Rossini La gazzetta; Royal College of Music<
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 27 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Lively account of one of Rossini's neglected comic operas

Rossini's comic opera La gazzetta was written in 1815, between Il barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola but it is far less famous then these two and has, until recently, been rarely performed. A new critical edition of the opera, including the recovery of such items as the act one quintet, have enabled a new re-assessment. The opera was presented by the Royal College of Music in its Britten Theatre and we caught the third performance on June 27. The work was directed by Donald Maxwell and Linda Ormiston, themselves both veterans of the comic opera genre, in designs by Nigel Hook with choreography by Louisa McAlpine and lighting by John Bishop. 

The opera was double cast and we heard the first night cast's second performance, with Filipa van Eck as Lisetta, Hannah Sandison as Doralice, Angela Simkin as Madama de la Rose, Luke D Williams as Filippo, Gyula Rab as Alberto, Timothy Nelson as Don Pomponio, Matus Tomko as Anselmo and Julien Van Mellaerts as Monsu Traversen. The Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra was conducted by Michael Rosewell, Director of Opera at the Royal College of Music.

Rossini wrote the opera for Naples, where he had just started work on his sequence of opera serias for the Royal theatre in Naples. La gazzetta was premiered at the Teatro dei Fiorentini a few days after the premiere of Elisabetta Regina d'Inghilterra at the Teatro San Carlo. In both works Rossini seems to have been concerned to show off what he could do and both include extensive borrowing from his back catalogue. The music is not always imported bodily, the act one quintet which has recently been re-discovered, includes a mixture of newly composed sections and borrowed ones. And the overture, specially written for the opera, was then taken bodily into La Cenerentola. But of course, the first night audience would not have known any of the existing music, as the operas it was borrowed from had been premiered in Northern Italy. And what makes the piece a delight is the way it segues from the known to the unknown with delightful speed.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Salomon Orchestra in Panufnik, Dvorak and Stravinsky

Salomon Orchestra at their 50th Anniversary concert
The Salomon Orchestra at their
50th anniversary concert at St John's
This year's centenary celebrations for Andrzej Panufnik are provoking something of a reassessment. But the centenary has not called for quite such a torrent of Panufnik's large scale works, so it was pleasing to encounter his Sinfonia Sacra at a concert by the enterprising Salomon Orchestra at St Johns Smith Square on Wednesday 25 June 2014. The Salomon Orchestra is one of London's best non-professional orchestras and they can often go where others fear to tread. For this concert they teamed up Panufnik's symphony with Stravinsky's early Fireworks and Dvorak's finest symphony, the Symphony No. 8. All under the watchful and enthusiastic baton of Robin Newton.

Stravinsky's Fireworks, written in 1908 looks both back and forward. We can hear in it both Stravinsky's teacher Rimsky Korsakov (who died just as it was completed) and the Stravinsky to come; hearing Fireworks persuaded Diaghilev to commission a new piece from Stravinsky, the rest is history! It is a busy and outrageous four minutes of fun with a large orchestra, and the Salomon Orchestra responded with elan.

Panufnik's Sinfonia Sacra combines his love of structures and devices with his emotionalism in a way which makes it one of his most approachable and successful of his large scale works (he wrote 10 symphonies in all). The work opens with three short movements, Visions. The first a fanfare for four trumpets, the second a quiet closely atmospheric piece for strings, the third for full orchestra. Each explores a different aspect of Panufnik's chosen theme, an ancient Polish hymn which was both a prayer and battle cry. All the music had the lovely major/minor uncertainty which Panufnik loved. The final movement presented the full hymn, starting high on violins and gradually building with Panufnik layering elements from each of the preceding movements on top of each other to reach a dazzling (and loud) climax.

Musical Toys at the Forge

Pianist Mei Yi Foo is performing in three concerts tomorrow (29 June) at the Forge, Camden under the general heading Musical Toys. At 1.15pm she is giving a piano recital, with Debussy's Children's Corner and works by Gubaidulina, Ligeti, Unsuk Chin, Lachenmann, George Benjamin and Kurtag. Then at 4pm there is a programme called Toy Makers in which music for piano, toy piano and music box will be interspersed with discussions between Mei Yi Foo and the composers, including Chris Paul Harman, Richard Baker and Dai Fujikura with opportunities for audience questions.

Then in the evening at 6.15pm there is Musical Playground, a programme of music for clarinet, strings and piano in which the performances will move around, in various spatial formations in the venue with the idea of combining theatre and play. Mei Yi Foo will be joined by Massimo di Trolio clarinet, Bartosz Woroch and Shlomy Dobrinsky violins and Bartholomew LaFollette cello, in performances of John Cage 6 Melodies, Richard Baker's Crank, Bartok's 44 Duos, Dai Fujikura's Rubi(co)n, Kurtag's Jatekok, Shchedrin's In the Style of Albeniz and Humoresque, Thomas Ades' Lieux Retrouves and Catch.

There is a special day pass available, and of course the gaps between the concerts enable you to sample the excellent food at the Forge's restaurant. Further information and tickets from the Forge website.

Musical festivities in Stroud Green

Niamh Cusack
Niamh Cusack
Stroud Green, in London's N4, is launching its own music festival. Based around Holy Trinity Church, Granville Road, Stroud Green, London N4 the festival runs from 2 to 6 July 2014 and features a wide variety of performers from the classical music world and beyond, many of whom live locally. Concerts will include medieval chant, 15th century harp music, songs and dances from Spain and Mexico, a celebration of the work of Henry Purcell and an evocation of the world of Hildegard of Bingen featuring Niamh Cusack.

Artists include Spiritato, young musicians who perform music from the 17th and 18th centuries (most of whose members live in Crouch End), and K’antu Ensemble, who combine elements of folk and world music with early music from Mexico and Spain. Niamh Cusack will read the role of visionary medieval abbess, Hildegard von Bingen (in the script by Clare Norburn, from Stroud Green), which will be combined with the abbess’s extraordinary chants, performed by The Telling. Two local recorder players, Roselyn Maynard and Danielle Jalowiecka encourage you to dust off your recorder, whatever your age.

The festival opens on 2 July with harpist Leah Stuttard's The Wool Merchant and the Harp, telling the story of 15th century wool merchant George Cely (whose surviving records mean we know a lot about his harp and the songs he played on it). The festival ends on Sunday 6 July with music from flute (Nancy Ruffer) and guitar (James Woodrow) by Debussy, Ravel, Villa-Lobos and others.

For further information from the festival website, with online booking at Event Brite.

Friday 27 June 2014

Somewhere for the weekend - Lewes Chamber Music Festival

Lewes Chamber Music Festival
The Lewes Chamber Music Festival starts today (27 June) and runs until 29 June. This is the third year of the festival, under artistic director Beatrice Philips, and more than 20 artists are performing across Lewes in a festival which combines music with food and drink. 

The festival opens with Haydn, Taneyev and Beethoven played by an amazing line up of ten different artists (not all at once) .The late night concert tonight, which features the Brahms Clarinet Quintet is preceded by a pop-up restaurant provided by Local Sauce chef Sheba Anvari. Tomorrow lunchtime, members of the Celan Quartet and clarinettist Matt Hunt perform Mozart's own arrangement of his B flat violin sonata. Tomorrow evening, Kate Whitley's Piece for Piano, Clarinet and String Trio receives its world premiere along with music by Mozart, Beethoven and Taneyev. Sunday's concerts continue with events morning, afternoon and night, featuring music by Schoenberg, Mozart, Ravel, Stravinsky, Scriabin and Catoire.

From Edington to Estonia - new organs for old

Rebuilt Henry Jones organ from Edington Priory, now in Estonia
Edington Priory Church at Edington in Wiltshire has a new organ, built by Harrison and Harrison. The use of the organ is shared between the parish and the annual Edington Music Festival which takes place every August. The new instrument is a gift to the parish from the festival, and will be dedicated by the Bishop of Ramsbury on 23 August followed by a recital from Ashley Grote, a former festival director. The organ will feature heavily in this year's festival which runs from 17 to 24 August 2014, and takes the poetry of George Herbert as its theme.

The old organ, built by Henry Jones in 1905 was becoming problematic, its condition meant that restoration was uneconomic and its sharp pitch made it tricky to use with visiting choirs and instrumentalists. But the organ has not gone altogether, it has been given to the Gustav Adolfi School in Tallin, Estonia. In January this year a team from Estonia, led by the school's headmaster, packed up the organ and it was transported to Estonia which it was due to be inaugurated at the School's Founder's Day celebrations on 6 June 2014.

Accordions on tour

Paul Chambelain
In recent decades the accordion has gradually increased its visibility as a classical music instrument. Scottish accordionist Paul Chamberlain was one of the first classical accordionists to graduate from the the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and his debut solo album was released in 2011. His latest CD includes repertoire from Scarlatti and Weber to Piazzolla and Zolatariev, and he will be releasing the album this summer to coincide with his summer 2014 concert tour. Launching at the 1901 Arts Club on 1 July, the tour takes in a variety of venues in London to Scotland between 1 July and 9 August. Further information from Paul Chamberlain's website.

Handel - Siroe

Handel - Siroe - Accent
Handel Siroe; Yosemeh Adjei, Anna Dennis, Aleksandra Zamojska, Gottingen Festival Orchestra, Laurence Cummings; Accent
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 14 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Lovely dramatic feel to Handel's rarely done 1728 opera

Handel's 1728 opera Siroe has not, so far, done well on disc so this new recording on the Accent label is most welcome. Recorded live at the 2013 Gottingen Festival it has Laurence Cummings conducting the Gottingen Festival Orchestra with a talented young cast; Yosemeh Adjei as Siroe, Anna Dennis as Emira, Aleksandra Zamojska as Laodice, Antonio Giovannini as Medarse, Lisandro Abadie as Cosroe and Ross Ramgobin as Arasse.

Handel wrote Siroe at the height of the 'Rival Queens' era, when the Royal Academy ran Italian opera in London and its stars included the two sopranos Faustina Bordoni and Francesca Cuzzoni, and castrato Senesino. The rivalry between Bordoni and Cuzzoni might not have been the stuff of legend, but the management still needed operas with two balanced soprano parts. The effort of doing this seems to have inhibited Handel, his operas for the two sopranos do not match his clutch of masterpieces written for Cuzzoni and Senesino before Bordoni's arrival.

The libretto for Siroe was originally by Metastasio, whose long time collaborator Johann Adolf Hasse would become Francesca Cuzzoni's husband. Handel does not seem to have had an entirely happy relationship with Metastasio's libretti, generally preferring librettos from an earlier period. That said, there are some superb moments in the work.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Spitalfields Summer Festival: Death Actually

Picture credit: Simon Wall, Tall Wall Media
Picture credit: Simon Wall, Tall Wall Media
Discussing death and life with Thomas Guthrie and friends in Toynbee Studios.

Spitalfields Music, which runs the biannual Spitalfields Festival, means more than just the festival to the community. It puts on 250 workshops a year, with around 6,500 participants (mostly from London Borough of Tower Hamlets). But it is perhaps the summer and winter festivals that it is most famous for. The summer festival is heading towards is close – but I have had a great time experiencing classical and contemporary music in some unusual venues throughout the East End.

Tonight's concert (Saturday 21 June) was organised by Guthrie whose hand could be seen in every single work performed. In association with his opera group GOTcompany and the Sarah Dowling Dance Company he wanted to develop a programme that “Celebrates the ritual surrounding death” and that would leave the audience feeling “How wonderful it is to be alive”.

And indeed this is exactly what the performers achieved.

Beauty in the toils of Sin - Iestyn Davies, John Butt and The Dunedin Consort

Iestyn Davies (c) Benjamin Ealovega
Iestyn Davies (c) Benjamin Ealovega
Cantatas and concertos by J.S. Bach; Iestyn Davies, The Dunedin Consort, John Butt; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 24 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Lovely selection of Bach's concertos and cantatas.

The Dunedin Consort's concert at the Wigmore Hall on 24 June 2014 gave us an all Bach programme. Mixing cantatas and concertos, they provided the opportunity to hear works with two violas, and with organ obbligato. Directed from the harpsichord by artistic director John Butt, and joined by counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, the group performed Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 (whose scoring omits violins and features two violas), cantata Widerstehe doch der Sunde BWV54 (with two viola parts), Violin Concerto in A minor, and cantata Vernugte Ruh, beliebte Seelenkust BWV170 (with obbligato organ). They started with an aria by Johann Sebastian Bach's older cousin Johann Christoph Bach.

The concert was called Cantatas for the Soul but might have just as well been 'Day and Night I could bewail my Sins', as all three vocal works had texts concerned with Sin. You could just imagine the heads of the 18th century German dowagers nodding in agreement when the alto soloist first proclaimed 'Stand firm against sin'.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Massenet's Don Quichotte

Massenet Don Quichotte - Act one - Grange Park Opera - photo credit Robert Workman
Don Quichotte - Act one - photo credit Robert Workman
Massenet Don Quichotte; Clive Bayley, David Stout, Renato Balsadonna, Charles Edwards; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 22 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Stylish and imaginative production of Massenet's rarely performed opera.

Massenet's Don Quichotte is the best known of his group of late operas written for Montecarlo. Premiered in 1910, it has retained a toe-hold in the repertoire thanks to its rewarding role for a bass (the work was premiered with Chaliapin in the title role). The opera was very much this season's novelty at Grange Park Opera; we caught the 22 June performance. Directed and designed by Charles Edwards, with costumes by Gabrielle Dalton, it featured Clive Bayley as Don Quichotte, David Stout as Sancho Panza, Sara Fulgoni as Dulcinee plus Prudence Sanders, Sylvie Bedouelle, Alberto Sousa and Jorge Navarro-Colorado as Dulcinee's admirers. The BBC Concert Orchestra was conducted by Renato Balsadonna.

Grange Park Opera's performances of Don Quichotte were the first staged in the UK in living memory to be sung in French. ENO's production 20 years ago starring Richard Van Allan was sung in English. More recently Chelsea Opera Group performed it in concert with Robert Lloyd and Donald Maxwell, also conducted by Renato Balsadonna.

East Neuk Festival

Crail, Fife
Crail, Fife
When I lived in Scotland in the late 1970's the East Neuk of Fife was a rather grim sequence of (former) fishing villages. All that has changed and now the East Neuk Festival will be 10 this year. Centred on the village of Crail, the festival runs from 27 June to 6 July 2014. The final weekend will be a Schubertiade led by Christian Zacharias in his sixth festival residency, with Llyr Williams, the Belcea Quartet, the Gould Piano Trio, Malin Christensson and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra

The Belcea and Elias Quartets join forces for Brahms and Strauss, whilst members of the Belcea Quartet feature throughout the Schubertiade weekend. There are also concerts from the Elias String Quartet and Quatuor Ebene. The pianist Kyristian Bezuidenhout will be making his festival debut with Ensemble Marsyas playing Mozart and Beethoven on period instruments.  James MacMillan's Piano Trio No. 2 (a festival co-commission) will receive its Scottish premiere performed by the Gould Piano Trio.

Clemens Schuldt will conduct a landscape themed concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with music by MacMillan, Luther Adams, Britten and Sibelius. Tenor Allan Clayton will be performing a Britten programme.

Classical music forms only part of the festival, there is also a jazz programme, family events, and an exhibition of work of the Scottish Colourists. plus there is also Littoral, a writing and ideas festival.

Further information from the East Neuk Festival website.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

JAM on the Marsh

St Augustine's Church, Brookland
St Augustine's Church, Brookland
This year, in addition to presenting a concerts in London as part of the City of London Festival, JAM is organising a festival, JAM on the Marsh, centred around the historic churches of Romney Marsh. As ever, JAM's programmes centre on contemporary music with works by James, Weeks, Judith Bingham, John Adams, John McCabe, Giles Swayne, Colin Riley, but there are plenty of other works in the mix too providing a series of attractive programmes.

Things kick off with the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge conducted by Sarah MacDonald performing Rachmaninov's Vespers and music by James Weeks (9 July at St Bartholomew the Great, London; 10 July at St Augustine, Brookland, TN29 9QR). Then the Red Note Ensemble, led by Jacqueline Shave, is joined by oboist Michal Rogalski for the premiere of Judith Bingham's Oboe Concerto along with RVW's Oboe Concerto and a programme of music for strings by John Adams and Samuel Barber as Judith Bingham's The Hythe which was originally commissioned by JAM (11 July at St. Andrew's Holborn, London;' 12 July at All Saints Church, Lydd, TN29 9JU).

Spitalfields summer festival: No nights dark enough

Valgeir Sigurðsson
Valgeir Sigurðsson
Valgeir Sigurðsson - No nights dark enough; Christopher Lowery, City of London Sinfonia, Hugh Brunt; Spitalfields Festival at Village Underground
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jun 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Showcase for Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson

The first Spitalfields Festival, held in 1976, was inspired by Hawksmoore's Christ Church Spitalfields, a then run down concert space. The festival series has since grown into a bi-yearly celebration of early and new music, held in a variety of unusual venues throughout the East End and incorporating outreach to local groups and schools. The Festival is a strong supporter of new music, commissioning several new works each year.

Tonight's concert (Tuesday 17th June), 'No nights dark enough' performed by the City of London Sinfonia conducted by Hugh Brunt with counter tenor Christopher Lowrey, and held in the Village underground, was a perfect example of this.

Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson (1971-), founder of Greenhouse Studios and the record label Bedroom Community, was asked to write a piece based on John Dowland's (1563-1626) lute song 'Flow my tears'. The result of this was tonight's world premiere 'No nights dark enough'. The 'flow' of the concert and choice of companion pieces stemmed from Sigurðsson's response to this song, described by Sigurðsson as 'unspeakably sad and beautiful.

Peter Grimes at Grange Park Opera

Georgia Jarman - Peter Grimes - picture credit GPO/Robert Workman
Georgia Jarman
picture credit GPO/Robert Workman
Britten Peter Grimes; Carl Tanner, Georgia Jarman, Stephen Gadd, Stephen Barlow, Charles Edwards; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 21 2014
Star rating: 3.5

Imaginative and intriguingly tradition new staging of Britten's opera

Jeremy Sams highly traditional staging of Peter Grimes at Grange Park Opera, with Carl Tanner as Grimes, Georgia Jarman as Ellen Orford, Stephen Gadd as Bulstrode, plus Anne-Marie Owens, Soraya Mafi, Rosie Bell, Andrew Rees, Clive Bayley, Rebecca de Pont Davies, Nigel Robson, Gary Griffiths and Matthew Stiff. Stephen Barlow conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Directed by Jeremy Sams, designed by Francis O'Connor, video design by Andrzej Goulding.

There has been a tendency in recent UK productions of Britten's Peter Grimes move away from naturalism to varieties of expressionism including David Alden's production for ENO with the denizens of the borough as George Grosz grotesques. This has gone hand in hand with a presentation of the title role as a misunderstood visionary, a misfit whose violence is only ever accidental.

Jeremy Sams new production of Peter Grimes at Grange Park Opera (seen 21 June) went against both of these trends. The setting and style were naturalistic; with a setting correct to the period though with a production style which encompassed video. And in Carl Tanner's remarkable portrayal, Grimes was an inhibited, tightly-wound up man, uncommunicative beyond taciturnity and with a held-in violence underneath that always seemed to threaten (even in the pub scene with 'the Great Bear'). And we saw him being explicitly violent to his apprentice (Carter Jefferies).

Monday 23 June 2014

Support the Art Fund and listen to some superb music

Londinium - Scenes from Nature - 2 July in support of the Art Fund
A concert next week combines manages to combine two of my primary interests, love of music and support for the work of the Art Fund. The choir, Londinium conductor Andrew Griffiths, are giving a concert at St Sepulchre without Newgate, London EC1A 2DQ on Wednesday 2 July 2014 in support of the Art Fund

Entitled Scenes from Nature, the programme presents a selection of pastoral landscape themed music inspired by a selection of pictures which have been bought with the aid of the Art Fund. Music includes selections from Gerald Finzi's Seven Poems of Robert Bridges and EJ Moeran's Phyllida and Corydon along with Maurice Ravel's Trois Chansons, Johannes Brahms' Funf Gesange and Paul Hindemith's Six Chansons plus music by Saint Saens, RVW, Howells and Robert Pearsall, all in all a fascinating programme.

For those that don't know, the Art Fund is a charity which supports museums in their attempts to buy works of art often to save them from being exported. The Art Fund is completely non-government funded and reliant very much on its members and on fundraising events like this. Recent successes have included the recent acquisition of Van Dyck's self-portrait by the National Portrait Gallery.

Tickets for the concert are just £20 (including a glass of wine at the interval), with premium tickets at £50 (including reserved seating and an interval reception). Further details and on-line sales from the EventBrite page, and the Art Fund website.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden - less than the sum of its parts?

Jonas Kaufmann in Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House -  The Royal Opera © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014
Jonas Kaufmann in Act 1 of Manon Lescaut
The Royal Opera © ROH / Bill Cooper 2014
Jonathan Kent's new production of Puccini's Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden this month (we caught the 20 June performance) was proudly billed as the Royal Opera's first production of the opera for 30 years. What the publicity did not tell you was that 30 years ago, Piero Faggioni was due to direct and design the opera but the set's complexity meant that it would have needed the theatre to go dark to take it down. In the resulting fuss Faggioni walked out and left the Royal Opera with a gala performance with Domingo and Kiri Te Kanawa and no production. They had to borrow one from Scottish Opera

Thankfully, Jonathan Kent's new production in Paul Brown's designs had no such controversy though Brown's contemporary set, base round a three-storey hotel-like structure, was substantial. And, it has to be said, you could not see the action on the top floor from the Amphitheatre.

Jonathan Kent set the opera in the present day. Act one was a glitzy hotel, with Manon arriving by chauffered car. Act two saw her living in a ritzy but kitschy perspex and pink room in which it became apparent, she was filmed in all sorts of sexy games. Act three took place, I'm not sure where; The ending of it was a bizarre game show and the cameo for the lamp lighter was sung by the game show's lighting man. Act four was on a bleak ruined desert highway. Except that at the end of the game show, everyone left through a tear made in a huge advertising hording. In act four, this was reversed with a huge view of Monument valley, complete with a tear. D. actually though that the set for act four looked like a huge unmade bed.

The fundamental problem with the production was Kent's decision to make it naturalistic. In WNO's recent staging, director Mariusz Trelinsky effectively deconstructed the work (see Hilary's review on this blog). But Kent gave us ultra-realism, which kept you asking questions. Would this Manon really be off to a convent? Who was Des Grieux, so well dressed yet without money? Why can't he find Manon in act two when she is clearly a video/internet celebrity? The list goes on and the production required a huge suspension of disbelief.

A shining pearl: Pearl Fishers at the ENO

Bizet: The Pearl Fishers - (c) ENO / Mike Hoban
(c) ENO / Mike Hoban
Bizet The Pearl Fishers; Sophie Bevan, John Tessier, George von Bergen, Barnaby Rea, conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud, director Penny Woolcock; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jun 16 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Strong revival of Penny Woolcock's breathtaking production
After 'Cosi fan tutte' I thought that the English National Opera would be hard pushed to produce a more spectacular show – but I have to admit that they did it! The ENO's current production of 'The Pearl Fishers' is stunning – it literally took my breath away.

Award winning film and TV director Penny Woolcock's vision was beautifully realised by the creative teams: sets (Dick Bird), lighting (Jen Schriever), and video (Leo Warner for 59 Productions Ltd), who all combined to produce something amazing. The costumes by Kevin Pollard enhanced the performances – including that people's costumes got steadily more worn and damaged by their escapades as the story unfolded, and choreographer Andrew Dawson engineered some very realistic swimming and diving.

Sunday 22 June 2014

Purcell - Ten Sonatas in Four Parts

Purcell - Ten Sonatas in Four Parts
Purcell Ten Sonatas in Four Parts: The Kings Consort: Vivat
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on June 14 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Finely involving performances of Purcell's posthumously printed sonatas

This new disc from The King's Consort on their Vivat label, presents Henry Purcell's Ten Sonatas in Four Parts, the set which includes the Golden Sonata, played by Cecilia Bernardini and Huw Daniel (violins), Susanne Heinrich (bass viol), Lynda Sayce (theorbo) and Robert King (chamber organ and harpsichord).

When Purcell died in 1695 he seems to have done so very suddenly, with very little time for organised testamentary dispositions. Mrs Purcell was presumably left with a pile of manuscripts which she used for publications; A choice Collection of Lessons for Harpsichord or Spinet (1696), A Collection of Ayres Compos'd for the Theatre, and upon other Occasions (1697) and Ten Sonatas in Four Parts (1697).

Purcell had already published Twelve Sonatas in Three Parts in 1683. In fact Frances Purcell's introduction to the 1697 publication refers to sonatas that had 'already found many friends among the judicious part of mankind'.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Dreamscape - songs and trios by Andrzej & Roxanna Panufnik

Dreamscape - Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik - Signum Records
Songs and Trios by Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik; Heather Shipp, Subito Piano Trio; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 21 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Varied selection of songs and piano trios by father and daughter

This year is Andrzej Panufnik's centenary and this disc from Signum combines his music with that of his daughter, Roxanna. The mezzo-soprano Heather Shipp is joined by the Subito Piano Trio (Lech Napterala, piano, Magdalena Szczepanowska, violin, Piortr Hausenplas, cello) performing Andrzej Panufnik's Love Song, Dreamscape and Piano Trio, Roxanna Panufnik's Mine Eye, Sweet Love Remember'd, That Mighty Heart, Virtue and Around Three Corners, plus their joint composition Moditwa.

Andrzej Panufnik's Love Song from 1977 sets a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney and was written for Peter and Meriel Dickinson. It is a folk-like piece, starts with the voice keening over a simple piano part before getting thrillingly passionate.

The next pair of songs are by Roxanna Panufnik. Mine Eye from 1999 sets a sonnet by Shakespeare, it is plain and quite austere work, expressively projecting the text well. Sweet Love Remember'd from 2005 sets another Shakespeare sonnet. Again the text is projected with clarity, but it is passionate too. The melodic material has rather an edgy feel, until the poignant final lines.

Good news for the People's Orchestra

Despite losing their home six months ago, the Midlands based The People's Orchestra has a lot to celebrate. It has a concert coming up, and is in line for an Arts Council Grant. 

The orchestra is performing their next concert, Film Greats, at Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham on Sunday 22 June. The concert will feature tunes from Harry Potter, Schindler's List and Jurassic Park. In addition, there will be the world premiere of a new piece, The Flight of Pegasus by film score composer John Koutselinis.

The People's Orchestra was originally formed in 2012 with the idea of filling a gap between school leavers and professional orchestra. No funding was available so the orchestra was opened up to all ages, and there are now 65 members aged 15 to 70 paying for the privilege of playing. They concentrate mainly on film music and have developed quite a following in the Midlands. Six months ago they lost their office and concert venue when The Public, West Bromwich was closed by Sandwell Metropolitan Council. But now the good news is that they have received a grant of £100, 000 from the Arts Council. The grant enables them to employ two essential members of staff, a volunteer manager and a concert manager.

Friday 20 June 2014

A terrific day with Bellini

Robert Hugill in full flow, introducing Nelly Miricioiu's performances of Bellini
Robert in full flow introducing
Nelly Miricioiu's performance

Yesterday (19 June) was the Divas and Scholar's study day on Bellini at Cadogan Hall, given by Sarah Lenton, Robert Hugill, Nelly Miricioiu, James Edwards and Philip Mountford in a mixture of lectures and live performance bringing Bellini's music to life with a bang.

We had Sarah Lenton talking about Bel Canto in the morning, providing some fascinating insights into the way that the music and the dramas happened on stage, but almost as important was the contemporary audience. It certainly put the style of performance of the operas into perspective. Then I followed with an introduction to Bellini's live and times, touching on his operas and his complicated love-live (its always fun to get sex and opera into the same lecture!).

James Edwards and Nelly Miricioiu
James Edwards and Nelly Miricioiu
After lunch, which gave us time to chat and follow up on thoughts from the morning, it was over to soprano Nelly Miricioiu. She performed items from Bellini's La Sonnambula (the cavatina and part of the cabaletta frIl Pirata (again from the final scene) and Norma.

Nelly Miriciou and Lucy Woodruff from Divas and Scholars
Nelly Miriciou
with Lucy Woodruff
from Divas and Scholars
I introduced the items, touching in on what we were going to hear as well as adding descriptions of the voices of the original performers. Nelly was joined by tenor James Edwards for extended excerpts from Norma in which Nelly imaginatively talked us through what was going on. She provided some great insights into how a singer puts together such roles, and how she thinks about them. And, of course, provided some thrilling and intensely moving singing. She was ably supported by James Weeks in the role of Pollione, and I do hope we get to hear him in the full role soon! Philip Mountford was the stylish pianist.
om the final scene),

An Encounter with Jorge Grundman

Jorge Grundman - A Mortuis Resurgere
This month the Spanish composer Jorge Grundman releases his first disc on Chandos, a recording of Grundmans's A Mortuis Resurgere (The Resurrection of Christ) with soprano Susana Cordón, and the Brodsky String Quartet, the artists for whom the piece was written. The work is conceived as a companion piece so Haydn's Seven Last Words. Grundman is based in Spain, so I had a email conversation with him about his work.

Grundman has a long-standing relationship with the Brodsky String Quartet and wrote On Blondes and Detectives (Cliche Music for String Quartet) for them in 2012, and this work was awarded first place in the instrumental category of the International Song Writing Competition.

In Mortuis Resurgere is composed in a single movement, but the work was imagined in three parts: the Gospel, the Creed and the celebration or Hosanna. Grundman begins the piece where Haydn finishes off, with the earthquake, imagining a cloud of dust shrouding the sunlight.

What made you choose Haydn's Seven Last Words as the starting point for your new piece?

Ed Lyon and the Early Opera Company in Charpentier at the Wigmore Hall

Ed Lyon
Ed Lyon
Charpentier La Descente d'Orphee aux Enfers; Ed Lyon, Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn; The Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Stylish and dramatic account of Charpentier's intimate operatic work.

The Early Opera Company's concert on Tuesday 17 June at the Wigmore Hall paired Marc-Antoine Charpentier's dramatic cantata La Descente de'Orphee aux Enfers H488 with his Sonata a huit, H548. In the former tenor Ed Lyon was Orphee with a vocal ensemble consisting of Sophie Junker, Marie Elliott, Katherine Manley, William Berger, Zachary Wilder, Daniel Auchincloss and Callum Thorpe, with Christian Curnyn leading the orchestra of the Early Opera Company from the harpsichord.

Christian Curnyn
Christian Curnyn
Charpentier's Sonate a huit is one of his few surviving instrumental works, here played by an ensemble of two violins (Catherine Martin and Tuomo Suni), two flute (Katy Bricher and Georgia Browne), two violas da gamba (Reiko Ichise and Emilia Benjamin), Emily Ashton on bass violin, Thomas Dunford on theorbo and Christian Curnyn on harpsichord.

The work opened with a poised Grave which had a seductive intertwining of flutes and violins. The next two movements gave the viola da gamba a chance to show off and the bass violin's chance came in the following two. In all these four movements, the violins and flutes were silenced, giving the rich tones of the lower instruments space to shine. All combined virtuoso playing with highly civilised style. The remaining four movements utilised the whole ensemble and were full of poised solos and attractively busy textures. Definitely a work to listen to again, and here in a performance of immense style and appeal.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Young artists in Il Barbiere di Siviglia

Nicholas Lester in Il Barbiere di Sivigla at Opera Holland Park; Photo Robert Workman
Nicholas Lester  - photo Robert Workman
Rossini Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Christine Collins Youngs Artists performance at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Sparkling performance of Oliver Platt's inventive new production

This year there two performances by the Christine Collins Young Artists at Opera Holland Park. A performance of Britten's Turn of the Screw in which all but one of the cast members are young artists, and this performance of Il Barbiere di Siviglia (16 June). The original production was directed by Oliver Platt and conducted by Matthew Waldren, and for 16 June the conductor was the young Australian Dane Lam, with Fiona Williams as Associate Director (both Christine Collins Young Artists). Regular cast members Nicholas Lester as Figaro, Nico Darmanin as Almaviva, Jonathan Veira as Doctor Bartolo and Nicholas Crawley (standing in for William Allenby) as Don Basilio, were joined by Christine Collins Young Artists Chloe Treharne as Rosina, Rosanne Havel as Berta, Tom Asher as Fiorello, Rene Bloice-Sanders as Ambrogio and Ashley Mercer as an Officer.

Dane Lam started with a highly confident and finely controlled account of the overture. Brilliantly rhythmic, it set the tone for the whole performance and throughout Lam had a confident control of the complex rhythms in Rossini's music, with some nicely steady ensembles and a highly infectious elan. The City of London Sinfonia responded with some vibrantly vivid yet controlled playing.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

The Tallis Scholars in John Tavener from 1980's

John Tavener Ikon of Light: The Tallis Scholars, Peter Phillips: Gimmell
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 17 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Re-issue of iconic recordings from the 1980's, the Tallis Scholars in works premiered by them

This disc is a re-issue of recordings made in the 1980's of by Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars of some of John Tavener's iconic works. Peter Phillips conducts Ikon of Light (with members of the Chilingirian String Quartet, Funeral Ikos and Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete whilst the composer himself conducts The Lamb.

The works on this disc are the fruits of the change in John Tavener's style which came about when he converted to the Orthodox Church. He stopped writing purely concert works and concentrated instead on texts from the Orthodox Christian tradition. This period also coincided with an extended relationship with the Tallis Scholars. Both the Great Canon of St Andrew of Crete and Funeral Ikos received their first performances by The Tallis Scholars and Peter Philips. Ikon of Light was written specifically for The Tallis Scholars. In all four works you can sense Tavener exploring the possibilities of an ensemble of singers who were used to performing mainly early music, but able to approach the most challenging work and still give it a purity, sense of line and clarity.

Spitalfields festival: The voice and the lens

Lore Lixenberg (2011)
Lore Lixenberg (2011)
Unrestrained creative thought can come dangerously close to being unintelligible, and the contributors at Spitalfields Festival's 'The voice and the lens' curated by Sam Belinfante and Ed McKeon at Rich Mix in Shoreditch, jumped right in there questioning what is understandable as music, or words, or even the condition of being human.

The idea behind this event itself was a creative one. The curators wanted to produce a music event that people could participate in as though it was an art gallery. But this takes some getting used to... Art in a gallery is generally static (or on short loops if video based) so you can go back and look at it again, and it will be the same every time you view it, while music is transient – once it's gone it's gone - until the next performance.

22 works were performed/ shown throughout the evening in two venues – meaning that you could perhaps see half of them. This was a shame. The evening will not to be repeated and consequently the audience will not be able to see the performances they missed. Also, because the timings did not match up, unless you stayed in one hall all evening it was unlikely that you would see even eleven complete works.

Monday 16 June 2014

Handel - Duetti da Camera

Handel - Duetti da Camera: La Risonanza
Handel Duetti da Camera: Roberta Invernizzi, Marina de Liso, La Risonanza, Fabio Bonizzoni: Glossa
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 03 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Sparking accounts of ten of Handel's neglected chamber duets

Handel wrote Duetti da Camera throughout his life, his first set dates from 1710/12 when he was in Hanover and his last from the around 1744 when he was in London and has stopped composing Italian operas. They are all written for soprano, alto and continuo and, unlike the cantatas, there are no recitatives and there is little sign of them being sketches for operatic scenes. Instead the two voices sing in balance and the works were sometimes created for aristocratic pupils to perform rather than professionals (though the later London ones were probably written for professionals). The duets contain some delightful music, but have not been well represented on disc. This new disc on Glossa gives us 10 of them, performed by soprano Roberta Invernizzi, mezzo-soprano Marina de Liso and La Risonanza directed by Fabio Bonizzoni.

They open with Sono lieto, fortunate from Handel's Hanoverian period, one of a group with texts by Ortensio Mauro; according to Handel's early biographer Mainwaring Handel 'made twelve chamber Duettos for the practice of the late Queen, then electoral Princess'.

Popular Posts this month