Thursday 31 July 2014

Look no conductor - Nicky Spence and the 12 Ensemble

The 12 Ensemble at the Forge
The 12 Ensemble
Britten, Tchaikovsky, Schubert, Whitley; Nicky Spence, Alex Edmundson, the 12 Ensemble; The Forge, Camden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 30 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Wonderfully intent performances from this conductorless ensemble

The 12 Ensemble is a lively young string group, 12 players in a conductorless ensemble and I caught them last night (30 July 2014) at The Forge, Camden, where they are mid-way through a residency. At last night's concert they played Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings and they were joined by tenor Nicky Spence, and horn player Alex Edmundson for Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. The main concert was preceded by a free pre-platform at which Beatrice Philips (violinist with the 12 Ensemble) and pianist Noam Greenberg played Schubert's Sonatina in D major and Kate Whitley's Three pieces for violin and piano.

12 Ensemble were formed in 2012, and is directed by violinist Eloisa-Fleur Thom. As might be expected, there are 12 players in the ensemble. In 2015 they will be making their first disc, which will include Walton's Sonata for Strings, a work which they have just played at Walton's house on Ischia.

North Norfolk Music Festival

North Norfolk Music FestivalThe North Norfolk Music Festival is based in and around St. Mary's Church, South Creake in Norfolk. We happened on the festival last year almost by accident (see my review). This year's festival runs from 12 to 24 August 2014. The festival is opened by soprano Joan Rogers, viola player (and festival co-artistic director) Simon Rowland-Jones and pianist Gary Matthewman in a programme of music by Rebecca Clarke, Britten and Poulenc, including Poulenc's L'Histoire du Babar as well as Rowland-Jones's own song-cycle for soprano, viola and piano setting Stevie Smith. 

Other delights include three young cellists, John Myerscough (cellist with the Doric String Quartet), Bartholomew LaFollette and Philip Higham performing the six Bach Cello Suites, the ensemble Floreat Sonus in music for the Feast of the Assumption (performed on the actual day of the feast, 15 August), Bartholomew LaFollette joining the Doric String Quartet for Schubert's String Quintet, John Mark Ainsley and Iain Burnside in songs by Butterworth, Gurney, Bridge and Ireland on a WWI theme and Jakob Lindberg in a programme of music for solo lute including Bach's suit and pieces from the Balcarres Lute Book. Four singers who have just finished on the Royal Opera House's Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme, Susana Gaspar, Justina Gringyte, Grant Doyle and Jihoon Kim, perform operatic excerpts, and festival finishes with a recital by soprano Ilona Domnich.

Most events are preceded by a delightful festival dinner, which only serves to further the enjoyment. And there is a chance to hear the Doric String Quartet performing Haydn, Janacek and Schubert in the Marble Hall of Holkam Hall. Further information from the festival website.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Grimeborn 2014

Grimeborn 2014
The Grimeborn Festival returns on 4 August 2014 with the eighth festival at Arcola Theatre in Dalston celebrating small scale opera with large ambitions. Running until 7 September, this year's festival includes 10 productions varying from Massenet, Handel and Monteverdi to new opera, plus 20th century classics from Menotti and Maxwell Davies.

Productions are generally small scale, with accompaniment from piano or a small instrumental ensemble. They are presented in the theatres Studio 1 and Studio 2, which means, for good or ill, that audiences are never far from the action. But it is a chance to hear some fine up and coming performers and see the work of some interesting directors.

Pumeza Matshikiza - Voice of Hope

Pumeza - Voice of Hope: Decca
Pumeza: Voice of Hope
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 24 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Debut recital from the young South African star, mixing opera with Miriam Makeba and traditional songs

The South African lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza has released her debut album on Decca. Entitled Voice of Hope, it combines operatic arias by Puccini and Mozart recorded with Simon Hewett and Staatsorchester Stuttgart, with more traditional South African songs recorded with Iain Farrington and the Aurora Orchestra. These latter vary from traditional songs to songs by Miriam Makeba, and a song by Kevin Volans.

Pumeza was born in South African and lived in the townships, but a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music in London enabled her to develop her operatic talent. This new disc seeks to reflect this background by mixing South African songs with Western classical ones, very much as Njabulo Madlala has done on his debut recital disc (see my review); and some of the songs are common to both discs.

Pumeza's appearances include singing at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, and the role of Dido in a semi-staged performance of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at this year's Bristol Proms.

Tuesday 29 July 2014

The Triumph of Truth and Time

Handel - The Triumph of Time and Truth
Handel The Triumph of Time and Truth; Ludus Baroque, Richard Neville-Towle; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 22 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Rare outing on disc for Handel's final oratorio.

Handel's The Triumph of Truth and Time has had something of a poor reception from Handel commentators. The 1757 oratorio came at the very end of Handel's composing life, and quite how active a role he took in the work's creation is something of a moot point. The oratorio is a re-booting of the 1737 Italian language Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Verita which itself was based on the 1707 oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. The new English version had a libretto by Rev Thomas Morell, the librettist of Handel's Theodora and Jephtha, and along the way the work acquired new movements and some significant choruses taken from earlier works. This element of self-pasticcio has made people turn their noses up at the resulting work, but this new recording of The Triumph of Time and Truth has us to take a fresh look at the work.

Richard Neville-Towle conducts the Scottish group Ludus Baroque with Sophie Bevan as Beauty, Mary Bevan as Deceit, Tim Mead as Counsel/Truth, Ed Lyon as Pleasure and William Berger as Time. The recording is on the Delphian label.

John Kerr Award

John Kerr Award for English Song
31 July 2014 is the deadline for entry into this year's John Kerr Award for English Song. The award was established in memory of the tenor John Kerr who had a long involvement with the museum at Finchcocks, researching and performing English songs accompanied by historical instruments. To enter the competition candidates are required to put together a 20 minute recording from the English Song Repertoire in the period 1600 to 1900, including a song by Charles Dibdin. 

A short-list from the first round will be selected and eight candidates will be invited to perform at the final on 26th October 2014 at Finchcocks Museum, Goudhurst, Kent in front of an audience and the judges  - singers Ian Partridge CBE and Julie Kennard, and Geoffrey Govier, Professor of Fortepiano at the Royal College of Music. There are four prizes being offered with the winner getting £1,600 plus a £400 recital. Previous winners have included tenor Greg Tassell and soprano Susanna Hurrell.

Monday 28 July 2014

Bristol Proms video

This Bristol Proms starts today (Monday 28 July) with a range of events through the day (see our preview on this blog). They have also released a preview video which you can see after the jump.

Wigmore Hall new season (part one)

Joyce DiDonato ©Simon Pauly
Joyce DiDonato ©Simon Pauly
The 2014/15 season at the Wigmore Hall starts with a whole clutch of treats in the first two months including Joyce DiDonato, Thomas Allen, Renata Pokupic, Ian Bostridge, Franco Fagioli, Anna Caterina Antonacci, Katarina Karneus and Simon Keenlyside. Instrumentally things are just as fascinating with the Pavel Haas Quartet in Janacek, clarinettist Martin Frost as Artist in Residence, and pianist Maria Joao Pires celebrating her 70th birthday. We preview the delights on offer in September and October.

The season opens with a great treat, Joyce DiDonato in recital with Antonio Pappano accompanying in a programmme of Haydn, Bellini, Donizetti, Santoliquido, John Musto and Kern (6/9, 8/9). Shortly afterwards Thomas Allen celebrates his 70th birthday, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau in Haydn, Beethoven, Wolf, Ravel and Quilter (9/9). Croatian mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic is joined by Roger Vignoles for an interesting programme of Mahler's Ruckert Lieder, Finzi's Let us Garlands Bring and songs by Reynaldo Hahn (always a treat to hear these) (13/9). Ian Bostridge is performing Schubert with Julius Drake (15/9).

Adriana Lecouvreur

Cheryl Barker and Peter Auty in Adriana Lecouvreur - Opera Holland Park - photo credit Fritz Curzon
Cheryl Barker and Peter Auty
photo credit Fritz Curzon
Cilea Adriana Lecouvreur, Cheryl Barker, Peter Auty, Manlio Benzi; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 26 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Stylish 1940's setting for Cilea's lyrical opera

Twelve years after their first production of the opera, Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur made a welcome return to Opera Holland Park (we saw the second performance, 27 July 2014). Director Martin Lloyd Evans re-located the work to the mid 20th century and designer Jamie Vartan provided some stylish 1930's style costumes. Cheryl Barker sang the title role, with Peter Auty as Maurizio, Tiziana Carraro as the Princess de Bouillon, Richard Burkhard as Michonnet, Simon Wilding as the Prince de Bouillon, Ian Beadle as Quinault, Peter Davoren as Poisson, Maud Miller as Mlle Jouvenot, Chloe Hinton as Mlle Dangeville and Robert Burt as Abbe de Choiseul, with dancers from English National Ballet, and Manlio Benzi conducting. The City of London Sinfonia is in the pit.

Jamie Vartan's sets made imaginative use of the face of Holland Park House. The play in act one took place inside the house with a caravan for Adriana and sundry back stage detritus and spare scenery. These were re-purposed in act two to create the stylish modern villa. Act three took place outside Holland Park House, now standing in for the Prince's mansion with the framework of the caravan creating a pavilion, with act four returning to Adriana's caravan, this time revealing a stylish 1930's style wooden interior.

Sunday 27 July 2014

Shimmering magic - Schoenberg's Moses und Aron

Schoenberg Moses und Aron - John Tomlinson and WNO chorus - WNO; photo Bill Cooper
John Tomlinson and chorus
photo Bill Cooper
Schoenberg Moses und Aron; John Tomlinson, Rainer Trost, Welsh National Opera, conductor Lothar Konigs; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 25 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Stunning performances in the first London staging of Schoenberg's opera for nearly 40 years

Eighty years after its creation, and sixty years after its premiere, Schoenberg's opera Moses und Aron is still something of a rarity on the London operatic stage. Whereas Berg's Lulu and Wozzeck have become almost regular visitors, Moses und Aron was last seen in London nearly 40 years ago. So it was a great tribute to David Pountney and Welsh National Opera that they were the ones bringing the opera to the Royal Opera House. WNO's performances there (we saw it on 25 July 2014) are part of a short tour, to Birmingham, Cardiff and London. The production, directed by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito, comes from Stuttgart Opera and was revived by Jorg Beher, with designs based on original designs by Anna Viebrock, and lighting by Tim Mitchell. John Tomlinson was Moses, Rainer Trost was Aron with Lothar Koenigs conducting the chorus, extra chorus and orchestra of Welsh National Opera. The production originated in Stuttgart in 2003, when it was also conducted by Lothar Koenigs.

Saturday 26 July 2014

Genesis Sixteen – not just hanging out

Harry Christophers conducting Genesis Sixteen
Harry Christophers conducting Genesis Sixteen
This Saturday (19 July 2014) was The Sixteen's Sounds Sublime Festival – a daylong event showcasing the work of the Genesis Foundation involvement in the Sixteen's educational programme.

The Genesis Foundation was established in 2001 by John Studzinski and over the last 13 years has supported more than 100 young artists at the start of their careers. In collaboration with The Sixteen the foundation funds the Genesis Sixteen programme as well as commissioning compositions for the Genesis Sixteen choir to perform.

For the last three years this partnership has taken 22 young adults (aged 18-23) and moulded them into a professional choir. Over the year the singers attend two weeklong courses, and several weekends, during which they have tuition from conductors Harry Christophers and Eamonn Dougan. At the end of the final week the choir perform some of the work they have been exploring – this year at a lunchtime concert at St Martin in the Fields forming the central point of the Sounds Sublime Festival.

New trainees

With the support of the Genesis Foundation two new trainee posts have been announced. The Sixteen's young artists scheme Genesis Sixteen is appointing its first student conductor. Welsh National Opera is appointing the first Genesis Trainee Repetiteur.

Robbie Jacobs conducts Reverie in rehearsal St Mary at Hill credit two by two video
Robbie Jacobs conducts Reverie
in rehearsal St Mary at Hill
credit two by two video
Robbie Jacobs, a graduate of King's College, Cambridge, who is currently at the Royal Academy of Music, is the first student conductor to be appointed to Genesis Sixteen. He will take part in all four Genesis Sixteen courses during 2014/15 and will conduct some public performances. Jacobs also conducts his own ensemble, Reverie, made up of former members of Genesis Sixteen (Reverie recently took part in the London A Cappella Choir Competition). Genesis Sixteen is the UK's first ever fully-funded programme of its kind, which aims to nurture the next generation of choral singers.

David Doidge
David Doidge
David Doidge will be the first Genesis Trainee Répétiteur at Welsh National Opera. David Doidge join WNO in September for two years, taking on a role which gives an emerging musician the chance to be mentored by WNO music staff. This is a continuation of the Genesis Foundation's partnership with WNO which started in January 2013 with the appointment of Polly Graham as Genesis Assistant Director. When David joins WNO in September he will start by working on Carmen followed by Chorus! and The Magic Flute.


Three Choirs Festival

Baldur Bronnimann - credit Yanniv Cohen
Baldur Bronnimann - credit Yanniv Cohen
The Three Choirs Festival opens today (26 July 2014) in Worcester and runs until 2 August. The 287th meeting of the choirs of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester cathedrals, it is also Peter Nardone's first festival as Artistic Director. The festival opens with Britten's War Requiem with Peter Nardone and Adrian Partington conducting the Festival Chorus, Philharmonia Orchestra with soloists Susan Gritton, James Oxley and David Wilson-Johnson. As ever the music of Elgar features, including The Apostles with Adrian Partington conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra with soloists Sarah Fox, Flaudia Huckle, Andrew Kennedy, Marcus Farnsworth, Neal Davies and Brindley Sherratt. 

A new commission is Torsten Rasch's A Foreign Field which is premiered by the Festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Baldur Bronnimann with soloists Peter Hoare and Kate Valentine. A joint commission with Chemnitz Opera the work is intended as a commemoration of the outbreak of Work War One, and the performers will include singers from Chemnitz.

Other large scale works include Dvorak's Stabat Mater, Mahler's Second Symphony and Bach's Mass in B Minor. The National Youth Orchestra of Scotland performs Sally Beamish's Trumpet Concerto. And there are performances from Opus Anglicanum, Tenebrae, the Sacconi Quartet and the Fitzwilliam Quartet as well as festival services with the three Cathedral Choirs.

Friday 25 July 2014

New Carol for Merton

Sean Doherty
Sean Doherty
The composer Sean Doherty has won the 2014 Choir and Organ Composition Competition with his carol A Nywe Werk. The competition was presented by Choir and Organ Magazine in partnership with Merton College, Oxford and the entrants had to submit an Advent or Christmas carol suitable for the choir of Merton College. Doherty's winning entry, for eight-part unaccompanied choir, sets an anonymous 15th century text from the Selden manuscript. The carol will be premiered on Thursday 4 December in the Chapel of Merton College.

Doherty is from Derry in Northern Ireland. He studied at St. John's College, Cambrdige and Trinity College, Dublin. His opera Number Seven was commissioned as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and his choral piece Doire was written to celebrate Derry/Londonderry City of Cultue 2013.

Britten Sinfonia new season

James MacMillan conducting the Britten Sinfonia in rehearsal
James MacMillan conducting
the Britten Sinfonia in rehearsal
Britten Sinfonia's 2014/15 season at the Barbican very much celebrates contemporary composers, with premieres of works by John Tavener, John Woolrich, James MacMillan and Nico Muhly.

The season opens with something of a coup. The world premiere of John Tavener's last major concert work, Flood of Beauty (Saundarya Lahari). Based on a Sanskrit poem it celebrates God in the feminine aspect. as beauty. Martyn Brabbins conducts (28/9). Next day, at Milton Court Concert Hall, Nicholas Daniel is the soloists in a programme of Mozart, Lutowlawski, Tavener and Kurtag arr. Thomas Ades (28/9).

On 20 November the group celebrate's composer John Woolrich's 60th birthday. They are joined by soprano Sophie Bevan, violinist Thomas Gould, violist Clare Finnimore and conducted by Duncan Ward in a programme of Purcell, Wolf, Stravinsky, Mozart and of course Woolrich, including the London premiere of his Violin Concerto (20/11). Stephen Cleobury conducts soloists Lucy Crowe, Kitty Whately, James Lain, Ben Johnson and Ashley Riches in a programme which includes Bach's Magnificat, plus music by Bach, Poulenc and Respighi (6/12).

Further ahead, Sarah Connolly joins the Britten Sinfonia for Copland's Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson (20/1/2015), Violinist Thomas Gould directs the group in Dmitry Sitkovetsky's arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations (20/3/2015). Then, in another coup they give the London premiere James MacMillan's St Luke Passion with the composer conducting (5/4/2015). Soprano Barbara Hannigan directs a programme of Stravinsky and Mozart (6/5), and Strauss (Richard and Johann), Berg, Schoenberg, Chausson and Mahler (7/5). The season concludes with another premiere, Nico Muhly's Sentences. Muhly conducts, with soloists Iestyn Davies and Lawrence Power in a programme which also includes Britten's Lachrymae, Dowland and Vivaldi. (6/6).

Purcell with a French accent - The Fairy Queen from Les Arts Florissants

Purcell - The Fairy Queen - Christie - Harmonia Mundi Purcell: The Fairy Queen; Les Arts Florissants, William Christie; Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Re-issue of William Christie's 1989 recording of Purcell's opera, with a fine line-up of soloists

Harmonia Mundi has re-issued William Christie's recording of the music from Purcell's The Fairy Queen, recorded in 1989 with Les Arts Florissants. For the vocal contributions Christie uses a vocal ensemble full of all talents, including Nancy Argenta, Lynne Dawson, Veronique Gens, Sandrine Piau, Charles Daniels, Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, Thomas Randle. As is commonplace, the music is recorded complete but without any spoken dialogue.

The Fairy Queen belongs to a relatively small genre which we generally know as semi-opera, but which Purcell and his contemporaries knew as dramatic opera. This hybrid genre, which combined spoken and sung drama, was popular in London in the 17th century. Commentators generally attribute this to the strength of the English spoken theatre and the lack of subsidy for the opera. But I suspect that there was also an element of the English simply liking this type of entertainment mixing the spoken and sung. As late as the early 19th century, Carl Maria von Weber was complaining about the amount of spoken dialogue in Oberon, the opera commissioned for Covent Garden.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Rare charm: Scarlatti's Rosinda ed Emireno

Scarlatti - Rosinda ed Emireno - Pan Classics
Scarlatti Rosinda ed Emireno; Alice Borciani, Alex Potter, Musica Fiorita, Daniela Dolci; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 15 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Arias and duets from a rarely heard Scarlatti opera once attributed to his rival, Perti

Alessandro Scarlatti seems to have written around 60 operas, but few of them are in the record catalogue. Daniela Dolci and Musica Fiorita have now given us the chance to listen to extracts from one more, Rosinda et Emireno which Scarlatti wrote in 1697. The disc, on Pan Classics, gives us a selection of arias from the opera concentrating on two of the leading characters, Rosinda (played by counter-tenor Alex Potter) and Emireno (played by soprano Alice Borciani). The group punctuates the selections from Scarlatti's opera with sonatas by one of Scarletti's older contemporaries Giovanni Legrenzi.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Rosinda et Emireno is its scoring. In addition to his usual body of strings and continuo, Scarlatti uses a cornett which in 1697 was very much an old-fashioned sort of instrument. We don't know why he favoured this scoring, but it does give the opera a very distinct sound world.

McDowall and McNeff premieres

Nova Music Opera - Chamber opera double bill
Cecilia McDowall is a composer whose work I have followed both enjoyed and performed, so it was with great interest that I read that her opera Airborne is being premiered by Nova Music Opera, conductor George Vass, in a double bill with Stephen McNeff's Prometheus Drowned. Directed by Richard Williams, the two operas are being premiered at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, NW3 1NG (29,30,31 July) before being performed at the Presteigne Festival (21/8), Canterbury Festival (26/10) and at the Barber Institute, Birmingham (1/11).

McDowall's Airborne sets a libretto by Andy Rashleigh and involves a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps in the First World War, who falls in love with a nurse. Whilst McNeff's Prometheus Drown'd, to a libretto by Richard Williams, looks at the strange circumstances surrounding the death of the poet Shelly.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

A Swallow does make a Summer

British Youth Opera - Little Green Swallow
British Youth Opera's Summer season this year gives us the chance to hear Jonathan Dove's first full length opera. The Little Green Swallow was written in 1994 and has a text based on the 18th century writer Carlo Gozzi's tale which was a sequel to The Love of Three Oranges. Setting an English translation of Gozzi by Adam Pollock, Dove gives us a fairytale world of singing apples, talking statues and dangerous quests which picks up 18 years after Prokofiev's opera. BYO's production is directed by Stuart Barker and conducted by Lionel Friend. It runs at the Peacock Theatre on 8, 11 and 13 September and uses a cast of 14.

Dove's The Little Green Swallow was commissioned by the Batignano Festival and premiered there in 1994. It received its UK premiere 2005 when it was performed by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (who recently performed Dove's Pinocchio). BYO have already performed Dove's opera Flight, giving the third UK production of the opera in 2008 (Flight was premiered at Glyndebourne). You can see part of BYO's production of Jonathan Dove's Flight on YouTube.

BYO is all about giving young singers opportunities and help, so the season also includes three public masterclasses, with Susan Bullock (7/9/2014), Edward Gardner (7/9/2014), and Diana Montague and David Rendall (9/9/2014). Full information on all the events from the British Youth Opera website.

Reading the silence - aspects of Handel's sexuality

Handel as a young man in Italy
Handel as a young man in Italy
The issue of Handel's sexuality is one that continues to fascinate musicologists & music historians. We might say, what does it matter? But the issue certainly seems to bother people, particularly the idea of Handel's sexuality being anything other than normative. Knowing more about who and what Handel cared for would perhaps help us to shed more illumination on his somewhat elusive personal life. Writings by Gary Thomas and Ellen T Harris have been around for some time, considering the question from various angles but more recently Thomas McGeary has come up what he says is a definitive answer.

Gary C Thomas started things with his article in Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology in 1994. To a certain extent, the article was simply Thomas throwing a stone to see what happened. He imaginatively stitched together what little we do and don't know into an apparently cohesive argument.  Ellen T. Harris in her 2001 book Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas attacked the question from a completely different angle, attempting to put a context to Handel's chamber cantatas. She posits Handel in an homosexual/homosocial milieu amongst his patrons in Italy and the cantatas seem to bear this out, and she extends this to Handel's early period in London under the patronage of the Earl of Burlington.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association in 2011, Thomas McGeary's article Handel and Homosexuality: Burlington House and Cannons Revisited has examined the matter in forensic detail, but considering only Handel's London period. I have to confess that, when I first came across McGeary's article I disliked it.

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Weber's Euryanthe in the USA

Soprano Ellie Dehn as Euryanthe at Bard SummerScape. Photo by Todd Norwood.
Weber's Euryanthe is receiving its first American production in 100 years when it is staged by Bard SummerScape festival in New York's Annandale-on Hudson. Leon Botstein conducts, with a cast which includes Ellie Dehn, William Burden, Wendy Bryn Harmer (who will be singing Eva in Die Meistersinger with ENO next season) and Ryan Juster, Kevin Newbury directs. The festival's theme explores Schubert and His World so that Schubert's Fierrabras also gets an outing, along with his singspiel Die Verschworenen and Franz von Suppe's operetta Franz Schubert.

Weber's opera was written in 1823, to a very poor libretto by Helmina von Chezy, who also wrote the failed play Rosamunde for which Schubert wrote the incidental music. Notwithstanding the piece's poor dramaturgy, Weber's music was an important pre-cursor to later Romantic dramas and the work was a great influence on Wagner.

The festival runs from 25 July to 17 August, further information from the Festival website.

Heroes Meet

Gavin Bryars - Heroes Meet
Gavin Bryars: Music from the Faroe Islands - Hövdingar hittast ("Heroes Meet")
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jul9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Gavin Bryars inspired by the legends of the Faroe Islands

Three works by Gavin Bryars inspired by the Faroe Islands, From Egil's Saga, The Company of the Blind and Tróndur of Gøtu, performed by Rúni Brattaberg (bass), Eivør Pálsdóttir (soprano), Eystanljóð (choir) & Aldubáran (orchestra), Gavin Bryars (conductor), Ólavur Jakobsen (guitar), Agnar Lamhauge (double bass), Eystanljóð (choir), Leif Hansen (conductor), released on Gavin Byrars own label under the title Hövdingar hittast ("Heroes Meet")

The heroes in question on this celebration of Faroe Island culture are Egil and Tróndur of Gøtu. Gavin Bryars was born in east Yorkshire in 1943 but he became interested in the Faroe Islands as a boy and over the years they attained a magical, mysterious quality which never left him.

Monday 21 July 2014

Rossini's Otello

Dress rehearsal for Rossini's Otello at Buxton Festival - photo Robert Workman
Dress rehearsal for Rossini's Otello at Buxton Festival
photo Robert Workman
Rossini Otello; Stephen Barlow conducts Northern Chamber Orchestra; Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Rare outing for one of Rossini's major serious operas, in the rarely done mezzo-soprano version

For their third opera of the season, Buxton Festival presented a concert performance of Rossini's opera Otello. As if this was not unusual enough, the opera was given in the version for mezzo-soprano created during Rossini's lifetime for Maria Malibran. We heard the second (20 July) performance of three, with Sara Fulgoni as Otello, Kate Ladner as Desdemona, Alessandro Luciano as Rodrigo, Nicky Spence as Iago and Henry Waddington as Elmiro. Stephen Barlow conducted the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Rossini's Otello was written in 1816, the second of nine serious operas Rossini wrote for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, with soprano Isobella Colbran as the reigning diva and an ensemble including star tenors Andrea Nozzari and Giovanni David. Rossini's Neapolitan operas are tenor heavy because the ensemble there seems to have been. Otello lies on the cusp of Rossini's dramatic development, so that the first two acts have a relatively conventional libretto, Shakespeare re-worked for an audience used to librettos by Metastasio. But the final act is far closer to Shakespeare and Rossini's music more than equals Verdi.

Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton

Michael Chance as Orfeo in Gluck's opera at the Buxton Festival - photo Robert Workman
Michael Chance as Orfeo, in the Elysian Fields
photo Robert Workman
Gluck Orfeo; Michael Chance, Northern Chamber Orchestra, conductor Stuart Stratford, director Stephen Medcalf; Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Intense, modern version of Gluck's 1762 Italian opera

Buxton Festival have been celebrating Gluck's 300th anniversary with a new production of Orfeo (seen 19 July 2014). Directed by Stephen Medcalf and designed by Francis O'Connor with lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, the opera featured counter-tenor Michael Chance in the title role with Barbara Bargnesi as Euridice and Daisy Brown as Amore. Stuart Stratford conducted the Northern Chamber Orchestra. Choreographer Paula O'Reilly was assistant director.

The Festival performed Gluck's original Italian version premiered in 1762 in Vienna. Other options could have been Gluck's French version (with an haut-contre in the title role), Berlioz's adaptation of the French version for mezzo-soprano and the so-called Ricordi edition which conflates all of these and was, until recently, the standard version.

Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton Festival - photo Robert Workman
Gluck's Orfeo at Buxton Festival
photo Robert Workman
Stephen Medcalf set the opera in a loosely contemporary period with Orfeo as an ageing rock-star. Francis O'Connor's settings were abstract and based on the huge letters spelling out Orfeo's name at the opening. Act one and act two, scene one were basically black, whilst act two scene two (the Elysian Fields) was a gloriously clear-skied Californian beach party with chorus dressed to match and providing the evening solitary splash of colour. During the overture we saw the end of Orfeo's act and how he ignored Euridice for the adulation of the crowds. Medcalf did not push the concept and much of the action remained abstract and concentrated on the protagonists. Here Medcalf's personenregie clearly paid dividends and from start to finish the performance was musically and dramatically riveting. Medcalf had clearly read the libretto and listened to the music, and his production reflected this.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Women on the edge - Rosalind Plowright in recital

Rosalind Plowright
Handel, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Falla, Weill, Britten, Stanford; Rosalind Plowright, Philip Mountford; Buxton Festival at the Pavilion Arts Centre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

The distinguished mezzo-soprano's recital based on her recent solo disc.

A subtitle for Rosalind Plowright's recital at Buxton Festival on 19 July might have been 'Women on the Edge' or even borrowing Almodovar's 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown'. Plowright's recital with pianist Philip Mountford at the Pavilion Arts Centre was based around her recently released CD, though with some judicious alterations so that we had a programme which started with Handel and worked its way through Brahms, Tchaikovsky, De Falla, Kurt Weill, Britten and Stanford to Frank Bridge. But whatever the composer, you sensed Plowright mining the darker edge of the songs.

Always an intensely dramatic performer, each song became a scene or scena with presentation as vividly dramatic as her singing. A voice as thrilling as Plowright's was never going to be an easy ride in recital. As an opera singer she specialises in dramatic parts like Herodias in Salome, and has been a notable Medea, and there were moments in the recital when you felt these characters wander into the limelight.

Things started in highly dramatic vein with Dejanira's Whither Shall I Fly from Handel's Hercules, a mad scene in all but name, Plowright gave us an intense few minutes during which you really thought she was seeing things. And her command of the baroque idiom with its flurries of passagework wasn't half bad either.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Small Nations - Big Sounds

Bartosz Woroch
Bartosz Woroch
Sinfonia Cymru, the lively Welsh chamber orchestra, is going international with its forthcoming Small Nations Big Sounds festival in Cardiff in October. The festival is part of the EU's Emerging Classical Talent in the EU project and involves a partnership with Kalmare Lans Musikstftelse and Blasarsymfonkerna (from Sweden), Fondazione Paolo Grassi (Italy) and Pille Lill Music Fund (from Estonia). The collaborating groups are organising a total of 15 concerts in Estonia, Italy, Sweden and Wales. In Cardiff, the events run from 3 to 6 October, with performances from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Sinfonia Cymru and other international performers.

The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conductor Thomas Sondergard, performs a programme entitled Four Last Songs with Sondergard at St David's Hall, Cardiff on 3 October. Then Sinfonia Cymru and guest director Bartosz Woroch (himself from Poland) are joined by Camerata Nordica, the Swedish Wind Ensemble and soloists from the Fondazione Paolo Grassi and Pille Lill Music Foundation in three concerts at Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (4-6 October). The concerts will include a number of collaborations and world premieres celebrating the music and musicianship of each nation.

Further information from the Sinfonia Cymru website, and the Emerging Classical Talent in the EU website.

Dvorak's The Jacobin in Buxton

Nicholas Lester and Anne Sophie Duprels in Dvorak's The Jacobin at Buxton Festival Opera
Nicholas Lester & Anne Sophie Duprels
Dvorak The Jacobin; Northern Chamber Orchestra, Conductor Stephen Barlow, Director Stephen Unwin; Buxton Festival at Buxton Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 18 2014
Star rating: 4.5

Sparkling revival of Dvorak's village opera, reset in the Fascist era

Festival's are about exploring repertoire that is not always available elsewhere so it was a great delight to be able to welcome Stephen Unwin's new production of Dvorak's The Jacobin at the Buxton Festival. We saw the performance on 18 July 2014, with Stephen Barlow conducting the Northern Chamber Orchestra with a cast including Nicholas Lester, Anne Sophie Duprels, Anna Patalong, Matthew Newlin, James McOran-Campbell, Nicholas Folwell and Andrew Greenan. Designs were by Jonathan Fensom, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth and choreography by Lucy Hinds.

It can come as something of a surprise that Dvorak wrote 11 operas, most as part of a determined effort to forge a Czech national opera. The operas vary in style from high drama to village comedies. The Jacobin, premiered in 1889, is commonly regarded as a comedy. The plot has elements common to Smetana's The Bartered Bride (premiered in 1865), the village setting with a big role for the chorus, the unwanted/arranged marriage and the return of a missing heir in disguise. Unlike, The Bartered Bride, Dvorak and his librettist Marie Cervinkova-Riegrova explore darker issues as well.

Angels and Devils - La Serenissima in Buxton

Angels & Devils - music by Leclair, Vivaldi, Guillemain
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

18th Music for two violins exploring the differences in French and Italian playing

La Serenissima's afternoon concert at the Buxton Festival on Friday 18 July 2014 took place in the early 19th century St. John's Church, Buxton. Violinists Adrian Chandler and Cecilia Bernardini explored the development of 18th century violin music. Their programme focused on two virtuosi, the French Jean-Marie Leclair and the Italian Pietro Locatelli. Playing together at a concert in Kassel, Leclair was said to have played 'like an angel' with beautiful tone, whilst Locatelli played 'like a devil' with scratchy tone bu astonishing left hand pyrotechnics. Italian violin playing developed virtuosic elements earlier, whilst French violin playing remained wedded to dance music far longer, until the advent of Italian-trained violinsts like Leclair. Chandler and Bernardini's programme included two of Leclair's sonatas for two violins alongside two of Vivaldi's for the same forces, and a sonata by Leclair's countryman Guillemain.

Friday 18 July 2014

Homecoming - A Scottish Fantasy

Nicola Benedetti - Homecoming, A Scottish Fantasy - DECCA
Bruch Scottish Fantasy, traditional Scots music; Nicola Benedetti, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Rory Macdonald; DECCA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 15 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Brilliant combination of the Bruch Scottish Fantasy with traditional Scots fiddling

What to programme with the Bruch Scottish Fantasy? This new disc from Nicola Benedetti takes a distinctive new tack by pairing the fantasy with traditional Scots music, in both orchestra arrangements and played in traditional style. Accompanied by Rory MacDonald and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Benedetti plays Bruch's Scottish Fantasy and a group of Robert Burns songs arranged by Irish composer Paul Campbell and by Petr Limonov. Then, most interestingly, Benedettis joins a group of traditional Scots musicians including Julie Fowlis, Phil Cunningham and Aly Bain to play traditional Scots tunes.

Whilst this might be seen as returning to her roots, in an article on the Decca website Benedetti makes it clear that as a young classical musician in Scotland she was kept well away from traditional Scots music because the fiddling techniques required to play it are so very different. So the disc is as much an exploraton as a homecoming. But what does seem to have happened is the Scots element has provided some cross-fertilisation with the Bruch.

Branscombe Festival

Branscombe, Devon
Branscombe, Devon
The Devon village of Branscombe has its second festival this year, running from 25-27 July 2014. Founded by Ian Rosenblatt (of Rosenblatt Recitals), Branscombe Festival presents major musicians in a delightful country setting. This year, curated by Iain Burnside, there is a recital by Ailish Tynan and Luis Gomes, cellist Philip Higham playing Bach, and I Fagiolini in a programme which stretches from William Cornyshe and Monteverdi to Cathy Berberian and Britten. Plus Albert Ball's Flying Aces, the UK's only fully professional ragtime band (along with cream teas) and dance band The Leo Green Experience . There is a hog-roast for audience members on the Saturday evening, and a free concert on the beach by the Band of the Royal Marines on Sunday evening. Further information from the Branscombe Festival website.

Branscombe is a village in East Devon, with three National Trust properties in the village.

Thursday 17 July 2014

The Yonghy Bongy Bo

Giles Swayne
Giles Swayne
Photo credit Alice Williamson

Swayne, McCabe, Handel; Mousai Singers, Simon Hogan, Daniel Cook, Sky Ingram, Rebecca Afonwy-Evans, Ashley Catling, Giles Underwood; JAM at the City of London Festival, St Bride's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 16 2014
Star rating: 4.0

English premiere of Giles Swayne's Lear setting from this dynamic young choir

The final concert in JAM's season at the City of London Festival included a new commission and a revisiting of an older one. At St. Bride's Church, Fleet Street on Wednesday 16 July 2014, the Mousai Singers, Onyx Brass, organist Simon Hogan, soprano Sky Ingram, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, tenor Ashley Catling and baritone Giles Underwood with conductor Daniel Cook gave the first English performance of Giles Swayne's The Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo (the same performers had premiered the work in St. David's), along with John McCabe's Songs of the Garden (a JAM commission from 2004) and Handel's Coronation Anthems. Both Giles Swayne and John McCabe were present, and the performance of Songs of the Garden was dedicated to McCabe whose 75th birthday it is this year.

Proceedings opened with a crisp performance of Handel's The King Shall Rejoice, with the choir performing with admirable firmness and discreet brilliance. The Mousai Singers are a group of young singers at the start of their professional career, most have been choristers in cathedrals and are now studying. They make a bright, forward and admirably focussed sound. They gave Handel's anthem a sense of sober rejoicing, along with some nicely firm and even passagework.

Fithy lucre: Lost in the nameless city

Lore Lixenberg
Lore Lixenberg
Fithy lucre: Lost in the nameless city
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Jul 11 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Poetry and performance in Peckham Art Cafe hits a high point.

Originally based in Cambridge, but now in London, this is the fourth year of Filthy Lucre, the brain child of Anthony Friend and Joe Bates (Artistic Director), who wanted to create immersive musical experiences around a set artistic concept. Filthy Lucre 4 'Lost in the nameless city' explored "shining cities and urban decay, ruinlust and abandonment, suburbs, utopias and the towns they built to change" in the Clf Art Cafe in the heart of Peckham.

The Filthy Lucre orchestra, conducted by William Cole (a composer in his own right), led the way through this urban jungle, giving each new work their complete concentration. Performers Geoff Clapham, Lore Lixenberg, Rob Luft, Luke Newman and Cecil B Demented added their own interpretation of being lost.

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival on the move

Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival has been an exciting fixture on the London opera scene for a number of years. It is a festival like no other, with a bewildering array of new work. What you might see can vary from traditional opera to music theatre to drama which seems hardly opera at all, but it is all challenging and all exciting. Opera at the cutting edge. This year, the festival moves from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, to Central St. Martins (24/7 - 3/8) and King's Place (7/8-10/8). There are over 30 world premieres with over 100 performances not only at Central St. Martins and Kings Place, but also on the streets and public spaces.

This year there are 12 new works by women composers, including Errolyn Warren's Anon (a WNO commission based on interviews with sex workers). Lore Lixenberg presents a one woman show April in the Amazon with music by Laurence Osborn. Leo Geyer returns to the festival (see my review of his previous opera, The Mermaid of Zennor) with Sideshows, Edward Lambert presents Catfish Conundrum (see Jill Barlow's review of his previous opera, Six Characters in Search of a Stage), Edward Henderson's Manspangled makes an appearance after its try-out at Second Movement's Rough for Opera, Stephen Crow presents his song cycle The Dorty Letters of James Joyce and English Touring Opera brings their family opera Rumbled.

Full information from the festival website.

Wednesday 16 July 2014

Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy

Zemlinsky A Florentine Tragedy - LPO
Zemlinsky A Florentine Tragedy, Six Maeterlinck Songs; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 9 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Thrilling performances of two of Zemlinsky's major operatic and vocal works

Listening to Alexander Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy it is difficult to get Richard Strauss's Salome out of one's head, both the overheated plot and soundworld, and the common origins in Oscar Wild. Zemlinsky's opera dates from 1917, over 10 years too late (and with a world war to alter musical tastes). But the opera had great personal significance to Zemlinsky and the virtue of this thrilling new live recording from Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra is the way the programme notes link the superbly dramatic performances to Zemlinsky's private life. And by including Zemlinsky's Maeterlinck Songs the thread of personal involvement is emphasised more.

Eine florentinische Tragodie Op.16 is performed by Heike Wessels (Bianca), Sergey Skorokhodov (Guido) and Albert Dohmen (Simone), whilst Petra Lang is the soloists in Zemlinsky's Six Maeterlinck Songs Op.13. The London Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Vladimir Jurowski and the disc is released on the LPO's own label.

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