Sunday 30 November 2014

Lully's Amadis - an operatic Game of Thrones?

Lully - Amadis - Les Talens Lyriques
Lully Amadis; Auvity, Perruche, van Wanroij, Les Talens Lyriques; Aparte
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 19 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Recorded in the theatre at Versailles, an involving new recording of Lully's tragedie en musique

Lully's operas, his tragedies en musique, are something of a guilty pleasure and still do not receive the exposure of those of Rameau. His sequence of 14 tragedies en musique, produced between 1673 and 1687, were all created for the entertainment of the King. Though the plots were all high minded and full of mythological or aristocratic characters with noble ideals, the discursive nature of the drama with its choruses, scenic spectaculars and extensive use of dance, was designed to delight both the ear and the eye. The result is very much akin to a series like the Game of Thrones. When listening to it, you have to accept that the musico-dramatic power of a particular moment will then be apparently dispersed as dancers assemble to pay homage, render service or some such excuse. Shorn of the visuals, the operas need to be highly vividly performed to make an impact with a group of soloists who can bring distinctive style to the music.

Lully's Amadis, written like all the tragedies en musique with a libretto by Philippe Quinault, was the 11th in the series and the first to use a non-mythological plot. The plot was chosen by King Louis XIV who, as a young man, had enjoyed reading the Romances about the knightly adventures of Amadis. In the opera the chivalric knight does no derring do but is laid low by love. His beloved, Oriane, does not believe he loves her and he is trapped by a wicked sorceress Arcabonne and her brother Arcalaus. As a sort of sub-plot there is a second pair of lovers, Florestan and Corisande, who also get caught up on Arcabonne's plans. Moving away from mythology to a chivalric world seems to have enlived Lully and Quinault, and Amadis has less of the sense of routine that Lully's operas can have; the feeling that you are listening to a well made machine. The prologue is sung by a pair of sorcerers Urgande and Alquif, and Urgande pops up in Act Four of the opera as a sort of deus ex-machina to release Amadis from his fate at the hands of Arcabonne.

The opera does not seem to have been highly popular on disc, and the only other complete recording that I can come across is a live one made in 2006. This set disc from  Christophe Rousset, Les Talens Lyriques and Choeur de Chambre de Namur on the Aparte label was rather appropriately recorded in the theatre at the Chateau de Versailles. Though in fact the theatre was not completed until nearly a century after the opera was written, during Lully's time operas at Versailles were put on in a temporary theatre. Cyril Auvity takes the title role of Amadis, with Judith van Wanroij as his beloved Oriane, Ingrid Perruche is Arcabonne, with Edwin Crossley-Mercer as Arcalaus, Benoit Arnould as Florestan, aand Hasnaa Bennani as Corisande.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Ancient and modern from Chapelle du Roi

New lamps for old
Next week, on Saturday 6 December 2014, Alistair Dixon and the Chapelle du Roi are performing their programme New Lamps for Old at St John's Smith Square. Alongside the repertoire for which the group is familiar, plainchant, Tallis, Sheppard and Victoria, they will be performing a number of contemporary pieces including four premieres. The modern works are paired with old ones, both using the same text, so that listeners will be able to contrast my own setting of the Advent Prose with the plainchant version. 

The contemporary composers  are an interesting mix, with many being inspired by the polyphonic music of the Renaissance, and the full programme to be performed is as follows:
  • O Sapientia: Sarum Chant
  • Magnificat: Thomas Tallis
  • O Sapientia: David Braid World Premiere
  • Nunc Dimittis: Thomas Tallis
  • Nunc Dimittis: Samuel Bordoli
  • Cantate Mass: John Sheppard 
  •  Advent Prose: Gregorian Chant 
  •  Advent Prose: Robert Hugill World Premiere 
  • Verbum Caro: John Sheppard
  • Verbum Caro: Norman Harper World Premiere
  • No Man's Land 1914: Jonathan Darbourne World Premiere
  • Alma Redemptoris: Tomas Luis de Victoria
  • Alma Redemptoris: Cecilia McDowall 
 Further information from the Chapelle du Roi website, and tickets are available from the St John's Smith Square website.

Friday 28 November 2014

Temple Church's Winter Festival

Norwegian Wind Ensemble
The Temple Church and BBC Radio 3 are presenting their Winter Festival again this year with a fine selection of choral concerts at the Temple Church between 15 December and 19 December 2014. Things open on 15 December with the Belgian group, Vox Luminis, directed by Lionel Meunier in a programme called Puer Natus in Bethlehem with late Renaissance and early baroque music including music by Schutz, Scheidt and a couple of the other Bachs. Then on 16 December Stephen Layton directs Polyphony in a programme of English Christmas music with Byrd, Howells, Warlock, Leighton, Tavener and Wishart.

Temple Church
Temple Church
Things get men-only for the next two nights. First the all male vocal ensemble, Gallicantus, directed by Gabriel Crouch will be performing a programme of early polyphony with Tallis's Missa Puer natus est nobis at its centre. The following evening on 18 December, the men and boys of the Temple Church Choir, director Roger Sayer are joined by Temple Brass and Greg Morris, organ, for an eclectic programme which mixes Rutter, Walton and Britten with Nico Muhly and Eric Whitacre. Things stay eclectic with the final concert on 19 December when David Hill conducts the BBC Singers in a performance of Handel's Messiah with a fine young cast of soloists, Fflur Wyn, Robin Blaze, Samuel Boden and David Soar. The eclecticism comes from the fact that the accompaniment will be provided by the Norwegian Wind Ensemble (Det Norske Blåseensemble), a group which specialises in creating wind band versions of baroque classics.

On-line booking is from the Temple Music Foundation website.

There is sweet music - in praise of polytonality

Act 1 finale from Don Giovanni at Covent Garden - picture ROH
Act 1 finale from Don Giovanni at Covent Garden - picture ROH
If I say the word polytonality - music in more than one key simultaneously - what does it conjure up? A cacophanous racket or music of profound beauty. A throw-away comment on BBC Radio 3 this week set me thinking. The announcer introduced a piece and their reference to the music's polytonal nature implied that polytonality was going to be a bit grim. But that is not the case, it does not have to be and in fact music in more than one key can be ravishing.

The first thing to be said is that you can only have polytonal music if you have tonal music. The music can only be in two or more keys, if the keys exist as clear entities in the music. You only get that frisson when you have already firmly established the key centres. Mozart used polytonal music in Don Giovanni in the ball scene at the end of Act one, but here he was writing for a particular dramatic purpose, with three different orchestras, keys and rhythms representing the three very different dramatic groups on stage. And very effective it is too, but it would not have occurred to him to explore polytonality in his symphonies say.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Phantom Voices

Edward Wickham of The Clerks
Following up from their previous innovative concert combining music and science, Tales from Babel (see Hilary's review on this blog), Edward Wickham and The Clerks are at it again. Their new programme is Phantom Voices: A History of Music in Seven Hauntings about the way that the mind imagines music.  

Phantom Voices is a concert programme, an immersive one, created by composer Christopher Fox, Charles Ferneyhough and Edward Wickham, mixing live and pre-recorded elements to give some sense of what it is like to experience musical hallucinations.  Ferneyhough is the Director of Hearing the Voice, an interdisciplinary project at Durham University aimed at heling us understand of hearing a voice no-one else can hear (auditory verbal halluciantions)

The audience At Phantom Voices is led through a sequence of interrelated music from Bach and Isaac to bluegrass and folk. Composer Christopher Fox explains that 'each new element will reveal itself as a re-invention of something we already know'. The audience will also be 'haunted more directly', by pre-recorded elements.

Intrigued? There is a video after the break and you can hear the concert live at the Spitalfields Festival on 15 December 2014.

Shout: Shadwell opera makes a stand

Alice Rose Privett and Shadwell Opera - credit Nick Rutter
Alice Rose Privett and Shadwell Opera - credit Nick Rutter
Schoenberg, Ravel, Walton; Shadwell Opera; Shoreditch Town Hall
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Nov 18 2014
Fundraiser with a different, examining the boundaries between speech and music

Speak by Shadwell opera at Shoreditch Town Hall was a fundraiser with a difference. Featuring the voices of Alice Rose Privett and Sarah-Jane Lewis, Artistic Director Jack Furness presented a programme of music including Schoenberg's 'Pierrot Lunaire' and 'Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé' by Ravel, examining the boundaries between speech and music. Conducted by Finnegan Downie Dear, the orchestra and soloists were joined by Jenny Stafford and Love Ssega who narrated Walton's 'Façade'.

Shadwell opera was founded in 2009 with the aim of changing preconceptions about opera. They are interested in connecting with a younger audience and incorporating contemporary culture and multimedia into their work. This idea also extends to venue, as they aim to stage performances in intimate and unusual spaces such as Shoreditch Town Hall (being in the concert hall is a bit like being inside a pineapple) and in keeping their productions small. In this way they hope to create a canon of culturally relevant contemporary opera in English.

The aim of the concert was to raise funds for their next production - 'Into the Little Hill' by George Benjamin - which they hope to put on in May 2015. This opera explores politics and public office alongside abuses of personal freedom... all in time for the general election.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Help fund Shackleton's Cat

Borka the Goose with no Feathers
Borka the Goose with no Feathers
Having given us dogs in space and a bald goose, English Touring Opera is now looking to give us Shackleton's cat. Marking the bicentenary of Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition and keying into a number of areas in the National Curriculum, ETO plan to creat a new children's opera which will go into schools and libraries across the UK in 2015 giving up to 8,000 children their taste of opera. I have attended two previous ETO children's operas, Laika the Spacedog (see my review) and Borka the Goose with no Feathers (see my review) and have been impressed not only with the music (in both cases by Russell Hepplewhite) but how the pieces really engaged the young audiences and brought in all sorts of non-musical elements (science in Laika, nature in Borka)

Mrs Chippy with Perce Blackborow
Mrs Chippy
with Perce Blackborow
Now ETO are looking for support for their new project, and on 4 December will be joining in the Big Give Christmas Challenge, whereby all money given (up to a certain amount) is doubled. You have to participate from 10am, and it stops when the matching funding runs out with further goes on 5 and 6 December. You can get more information from the project page on the Big Give, and ETO's own website.

In fact, the cat was called Mrs Chippy and was a large tiger-striped tabby and HE accompanied the expedition from 1914 to 1917. Unfortunately the cat, and the sled dogs, were shot after the expeditions ship was destroyed after being trapped in pack ice. As might be gather by the cat's name, he was brought on board by the ship's carpenter.

Academy of St Martin in the Fields plays Howard Blake

ASMF at St Martin in the Fields
Howard Blake Snowman Fantasia, Flute Concerto, Clarinet Concerto, Serenade for Wind Octet; Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner; St Martin in the Fields
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 25 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Two wind concertos at the centre of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields concert of Howard Blake's music

Having recorded a disc of Howard Blake's more recent music (see my review) in 2013, Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields gave a concert of Howard Blake's music at the church of St Martin in the Fields on Tuesday 25 November 2014. The orchestra's principal flautist, Michael Cox, was the soloist in Blake's Flute Concerto op.493a, and the orchestra's principal clarinettist, James Burke, was the soloist in Blake's Clarinet Concerto op.329a, the wind players from the orchestra played Blake's Serenade for Wind Octet op.419 and the concert opened with Blake's new arrangement of his most popular piece - The Snowman. Here the Snowman Fantasia op.532 was played by the strings of the orchestra, conducted by Sir Neville Marriner with Blake himself narrating.

The Snowman is one of those pieces that we think we all remember, but how much do we really? The music is inextricably linked to the song, Walking in the Air which was sung by Aled Jones, except of course that in the original film it was sung by Peter Auty (now a distinguished operatic tenor) and when Blake originally sketched out the score there was no song, just a melody. In fact Blake wrote the music first, based on an initial animators' idea and Raymond Briggs book. The animation was done to Blake's piano score and it was this version to which he returned for the new string arrangement. Originally intended to stand alone, without either images or narration, Blake had been persuaded by Sir Neville Marriner to include the spoken story and the result created rather a striking melodrama.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Northern Chamber Orchestra premiere in Macclesfield

Northern Chamber Orchestra
Cheshire-based composer Anthony Gilbert's new work Tryptych will be given its premiere on Saturday 6 December 2014 by the Northern Chamber Orchestra, leader Nicholas Ward, at the Maccesfield Heritage Centre. Described as an expressively gentle work, Tryptych is something of an elegiac celebration of friendships and departed friends, combined with the composers increasing preoccupation with bell-like harmonic richness. Anthony Gilbert is former Head of Composition and Contemporaray Music at the Royal Northern College of Music. His music encompasses both symphonies and operas, but more recently he has concentrated on compositions for solo performers.

The Northern Chamber Orchestra's concert on 6 December, Christmas Classics, also features music by Gliere, Holst, Bartok, Gluck and Delibes, plus carols from the King's School Foundation Choir, conducted by Ian Crawford. The concert is part of the orchestra's residency at the Macclesfield Heritage Centre, further information from the Northern Chamber Orchestra website.

Cello with zing - sonatas by Boccherini and Cirri

Boccherini and Cirri Cello Sonatas, Catherine Jones, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Cello sonatas by Boccherini and Cirri; Catherine Jones, Giulia Nuti, Alison McGillivray and William Carter; Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 16 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Brilliantly involving and technically poised performances of 18th century virtuoso cello sonatas

Both Luigi Boccherini (1743 - 1805) and Giovanni Battista Cirri (1724 - 1808) were Italian cello virtuosos and composers, and both spent a large part of their working life away from Italy with Boccherini in Madrid and Cirri in London. They probably never met (though narrowly missed each other in Paris in 1765). Both had books of cello sonatas published in London in 1775, and Australian cellist Catherine Jones (herself an expatriate) has now recorded three of Boccherini's sonatas with three of Cirri's Opus 15 sonatas on a new disc for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. She is joined by harpsichordist Giulia Nuti with cellist Alison McGillivray and William Carter on archlute and guitar.

Boccherini was very highly regarded during his lifetime and frequently compared to Haydn. In these sontatas Boccherini's familiar lightness and joie de vivre is combined with a great technical facility as he pushes the cello, his own instrument, to its limits. Boccherini was based in Spain from 1761 until his death. Like Scarlatti before him, Spain seems to have found its way into Boccherini's music and his writing for cello includes guitar like textures. Not only that, this music has a zing in the faster movements which the performers bring out.

Monday 24 November 2014

Winter Warmer - Spitalfields Music Winter Festival

Quatuor Diotima, which appears at this year's Spitalfields Music Winter Festival
Quatuor Diotima,
appearing at this year's Spitalfields Music Winter Festival
Spitalfields Music's Winter Festival starts on 5 December 2014 and runs until 16 December with a lively programme of events mixing community music with early music, contemporary and much else besides. Performances take place at the glorious Christ Church Spitalfields, the characterful and not less interesting Shoreditch Church along with other venues including a concert in the Tower of London at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.

Iestyn Davies features this year, he and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny perform Dowland, Purcell and Handel in England's Orpheus (5/12) and Davies joins the English Concert for a programme of Bach, Wassenaer, Buxtehude and Locatelli including arias from The Christmas Oratorio, and the cantata Vernugte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (11/12).

Staging a rarity in Sussex - Weber's Oberon

Sally Silver and Adrian Dwyer - photo credit Robert Knights
Sally Silver and Adrian Dwyer - photo credit Robert Knights
Weber Oberon; Silver, Tunniclife, Dwyer, Dobbin, Thantrey, Griffiths, New Sussex Opera, dir Harry Fehr, cond Nicholas Jenkins
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 23 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Naive charm and delight in Harry Fehr's staging of this hard to bring-off opera

The British seem to have had a long fascination with hybrid operatic dramas. Weber's Oberon (commissioned for Covent Garden in 1826) has a lot in common with Purcell's semi-operas, the same unwieldy combination of operatic scenes and spoken dialogue, the large number of spoken roles and the dependence on grand scenic effects. Weber really only took the commission because he was concerned to earn some money for his family, knowing that he was dying. But he did hope that he would be able to re-work the music into a coherent piece once he returned home. He never did return, Weber died in London on 5 June 1826.

Sian Griffiths and Adam Tunnicliffe - photo credit Robert Knights
Sian Griffiths and Adam Tunnicliffe
photo credit Robert Knights
The work has retained a toe-hold on the repertoire, thanks to the superb music, but more frequently in concert than staged. Our visit to see New Sussex Opera's staging of Weber's Oberon at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne on 23 November 2014 was only the 3rd time I have seen the work staged in 40 years of opera going. It was directed by Harry Fehr, with Adam Tunnicliffe as Oberon, Sian Griffiths as Puck, Adrian Dwyer as Sir Huon, Sally Silver as Reiza, Carolyn Dobbin as Fatima, Damian Thantrey as Sherasmin, the New Sussex Opera Chorus and St Paul's Sinfonia conducted by Nicholas Jenkins.

One of the delights, and difficulties, of performing Oberon is the discovery that many of the virtuoso instrumental lines in the overture are in fact taken from vocal lines of the arias in the opera. Though the plot might be pointless and have too much spoken dialogue, the arias all require singers of great stature. One cannot help think that director Harry Fehr was either brave, or foolish, to accept the commission to direct at staging of Oberon with a semi-professional company (the chorus are amateur and the administration largely voluntary), on a very low budget with a young cast none of whom will have sung their roles before. But New Sussex Opera has a history of successfully staging difficult and rare opera, their much that was regarded as unperformable such as Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini and Offenbach's Die Rheinnixen.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Anne Akiko Meyers plays ‘The American Masters’ (Barber, Corigliano, and Bates)

Anne Akiko Meyers - The American Masters
Barber, Corigliano, Bates; Anne Akiko Meyers, London Symphony Orchestra, Leonard Slatkin; eOne Records
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Nov 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

New and classic American concertos from young American violinist

American Anne Akiko Meyers was a child prodigy – performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11, and the New York Philharmonic when she was only 12. She studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Indiana University, and at Juilliard. She is well known for her support of new music and the integration of non-classical musical forms, especially that of jazz, and serves on the advisory board of Composers Concordance and Young Concert Artists.

American Anne Akiko Meyers was a child prodigy – performing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 11, and the New York Philharmonic when she was only 12. She studied at the Colburn School of Performing Arts, Indiana University, and at Juilliard. She is well known for her support of new music and the integration of non-classical musical forms, especially that of jazz, and serves on the advisory board of Composers Concordance and Young Concert Artists.

Meyers cut her first album at the Abbey Road Studios in London aged 18 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Included on this recording was the 'Violin concerto' by Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Max Bruch's (1838-1920) 'Violin Concerto No. 1'. This new recoding, her 30th, also features Barber's 'Violin concerto' along with two world premieres, 'Lullaby for Natalie' by John Corigliano (1938-) and 'Violin concerto' by Mason Bates (1977-) performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

Saturday 22 November 2014

What I've been doing - my full catalogue now back online

My full catalogue of music is now back on-line for browsing on my website, the site includes texts, links to the recordings on my SoundCloud page as well as sample pdf's and some programme notes. Just contact me if you want further information or copies of the music.

I am making my motets from Tempus per Annum available for free download. Tempus per Annum is my collection of motets for the church's year, each one setting a Latin introit for a Sunday or major feast. When complete there will be over 70 motets and I am three quarters of the way through. I am gradually putting them on the CPDL website, and have just finished listing the 13 motets for Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany.

My more popular works are now available for sale on-line from, and they have a special page devoted to my two new works which are being premiered in December 2014, Advent prose (premiered by Chapelle du Roi at St John's Smith Square on 6 December) and Faith, Hope, Charity for cello and choir (premiered by London Concord Singers and Corinne Morris on 18 December at St Botolph without Bishopsgate).

Handel Jephtha

Handel Jephtha - Coro - The Sixteen
Handel Jephtha; Gilchrist, Bickley, Bevan, Blaze, Brook, the Sixteen, Christophers; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Vividly text based new recording showcasing some fine solo performances

This new recording of Handel's final oratorio Jephtha comes from Harry Christophers and the Sixteen on their Coro label. Recorded after live performances (see my review of their Barbican performance), the disc features one of the strongest English-speaking casts possible to assemble with James Gilchrist in the title role with Susan Bickley, Sophie Bevan, Robin Blaze and Matthew Brook.

The choice of recommendable recordings of Jephtha on disc is not hugely wide. Two of the finest are now getting a bit long in the tooth, the recordings by John Eliot Gardiner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. There has not been a rush to add to the list, though James Gilchrist recorded the role for BIS in 2011 with Fabio Biondi and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. This new disc provides a highly recommendable alternative, straightforward and direct and giving a fine showcase for the performances by Gilchrist in the title role.

James Gilchrist as Jephtha in Frederic Wake-Walker's staging at the 2012 Buxton Festival
James Gilchrist as Jephtha in
Frederic Wake-Walker's staging at the 2012 Buxton Festival
In addition to The Sixteen's 2013 concert performance of the work, I also saw James Gilchrist in Buxton Festival's 2012 staged account of the work and can testify to quite how intense and powerful his performance in the title role is. Susan Bickley was also in the Buxton performances, as well as singing the role for the London Handel Festival. She is one of the finest exponents of the role of Storge today and makes a strong pair with Gilchrist.

Jephtha was effectively Handel's last oratorio, he was 66 when it was first performed and he had had to suspend work on it because of illness. Simply completing the work seems to have been something of a struggle. It is easy to romanticise (and we know still very little about Handel personally) but you cannot help feel that the composer identified in some way. Working with the Revd Thomas Morrell as librettist, Handel had found a way in his final works to make his own musical statement, sometimes using musical means to subvert Morrell's moral message. Morrell's texts might not be the greatest that Handel set, but they served a purpose. And for all his prosy moralising, Morrell was a good classicist and his version of the story is stronger for the echoes of Greek myth that he brings into it.

Christophers favours a rather less theatrical feel than some. That is not to say that the performance is not dramatic, but this is very definitely a dramatic oratorio rather than an opera in disguise. Some people may be disappointed that the soloists are not encouraged to wring the last drop out of their performances, but the results are vividly involving and highly musical.

Friday 21 November 2014

#SafeToSing - the power of music

Twitter image from @BeckMarr for #SafeToSing event in Manchester
Two gay men were attacked on a tram in Manchester earlier this month after receiving homophobic taunts because they were singing songs from the musical Wicked. One was knocked unconscious and suffered a split lip and broken nose, as well as losing all confidence. The response of the Manchester and Lesbian Gay Chorus was to organise the Safe To Sing event on Monday 11 November. Joined by a number of other choirs and hundreds of supporters, the singers sang songs and handed out cup-cakes to passengers on Manchesters tram system including a singalong version of Wicked's hit song Defying Gravity.

The Manchester Police force has confirmed that it is treating the attack as an homophobic hate crime, and Greater Mancheser police and crime commissioner Tony Lloyd said that the singalong showed read face.

LGBTv made a short video about the event which you can see after the break:

Panufnik 100: A Family Celebration

Panufnik with daughter and fellow composer, Roxanna, in Twickenham 1987
The Andrzej Panufnik centenary year reaches a rousing conclusion on 30 November 2014 with a whole day of events at Kings Place involving Panufnik's music as well as that of his daughter Roxanna and also incuding a film. The Brodsky Quartet, pianist Clare Hammond and mezzo-soprano Heather Shipp with be performing songs and chamber music by Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik. There will be a screening of Kryzysztof Rzaczynski's film My Father, the Iron Curtain and Me, detailing Panufnik's son Jem's attempts to discover more about his father's life in Poland and dramatic escape in 1954. A further concert of chamber music from the Brodsky Quartet, Robert Smissen and Richard May will include music by Andrzej Panufnik as well as the premiere of Roxanna Panufnik's quartet Memories of my Father.

The day will be rounded off with a Warsaw Cabaret Evening in which Jacqui Dankworth, Charlie Wood and Clare Hammond perform songs from the 1930's including music by Andrzej Panufnik and Witold Lutoslawski.

A Golden Age - The Sixteen in early baroque polyphonic music

The Temple Church
Lotti, Caldara, D.Scarlatti, Melgas, Rebelo; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Temple Music Foundation at Temple Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 20 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Exciting and sometimes bravura exploration of early baroque polyphonic music from Italy and Portugal

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen gave a concert at Temple Church for the Temple Music Foundation on 20 November 2014, whose title was A Golden Age. A trap for the unwary perhaps as the concert concentrated on polyphonic music written in the early Baroque period with composers paying conscious or unconscious homage with music in the stile antico. Thus we had music by Italian composers Lotti, Caldara and Domenico Scarlatti, plus a pair of their Portuguese contemporaries Diogo Dias Melgas and Joao Lourenco Rebelo.

The concert opened with the eight-part Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti (c1667 - 1740). It comes from a larger work and was written for the court at Dresden, and remains notable for the intense combination of polyphony with a more intense romantic sensibility using those incredible suspensions. Given a precise, beautifully placed and expressive performance by the Sixteen, it was sung from behind the audience with the singers in the round church.

Thursday 20 November 2014

The Medici Castrato

The Medici Castrato - Raffaello Pe - Glossa
The Medici Castrato; Raffaels Pe, Chiara Granata, David Miller; Glossa
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 18 2014
Star rating: 5.0

Imaginative look at the music from the career of the castrato who sang in Monteverdi's Orfeo

The chances are that you have never heard of Gualberto Magli, but he was the castrato who took part in the premiere of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. A pupil of Giulio Caccini, Magli spent most of his life in the service of the Medici in Florence. This imaginative new disc on the Glossa label uses his career as a peg to hang some very fine performances of 17th century music. Counter-tenor Raffale Pe, with harpist Chiara Granata and theorbo player David Miller, take us on a journey from Monteverdi's Mantua and Caccini's Florence, to Naples and Brandenburg, with music by Monteverdi, Caccini, Sigismondo d'India, Francesco Lambardi, Giovanni Maria Trabaci, Girolamo Montesardo, Alessandro Ciccolini, and Johann Nauwach.

Gualberto Magli was a pupil of Giulio Caccini, and as such had access to the group known as the Camertata Fiorentini which came up with the idea of sung speech (recitar cantando) and the dramma in musica which became opera. From 1604 Magli was in the service of the Medici in Florence, and in 1607 Magli was lent by his employer, to Duke Francesco Gonzaga in Mantua for the premiere of Monteverdi's favola in musica, L'Orfeo. We know from the correspondence between the Duke and his brother (Cardinal Ferdinando) that Magli found learning the music difficult. In 1611 he was sent by the Medici to Naples to improve his skills at the harp, an instrument which he would have played whilst singing. On his return to Florence, things must have turned sour at some point because in 1615 he left Florence to enter the service of Elector Johann Sigismund of Brandenburg, but does not seem to have spent much time there. Magli then disappears from the record, till his death in 1625 in his native Florence.

Peer Gynt the opera

Nils Harald Sødal - photo Erik Berg/DNO
Nils Harald Sødal - photo Erik Berg/DNO
Ibsen's Peer Gynt, a play originally designed for reading rather than performing, was fitted out with music in the 19th century by Edvard Grieg. Both text and music for the stage version underwent many iterations. More recently the play has proved tempting for those who wish to see, in Ibsen's picaresque tale, a mirror for our own times (see Hilary's review of the Iggy Pop inspired re-invention at the Barbican). Now the Norwegian National Opera (Den Norske Opera, DNO) has commissioned an operatic version of the play, bringing the piece into the opera house where it might always seem to have belonged.

They commissioned the work from the Estonian-born composer Juri Reinvere, whose first opera Pudistus (Purge) was premiered by Finish National Opera in 2012. Reinvere's Peer Gynt sets a German text which incorporates bits of other Ibson plays, as well as bits of Shakespeare and the Edda, but the work is being premiered in Norwegian. Reinvere has in fact provided his own libretto and the work is very much a re-invention, with Ibsen's character having different encounters and going on different journeys. Reinvere's Peer Gynt premieres at Oslo Opera House on 29 November 2014 and there are performances until 17 January 2015. The work is conducted by John Helmer Fiore and directed by the young Norwegian director Sigrid Strøm Reibo. Further information from the DNO website.

Reinvere was born in Tallinn (in 1971) and studied there and at the Sibelius Academy in Finland. He currently lives in Berlin, and uses his own poetry as the basis for his music

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Julian Rachlin appointed Guest Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia

Julian Rachlin - photo credit Julia Wesley
Julian Rachlin - photo credit Julia Wesley
The exciting Lithuanian-born violin virtuoso Julian Rachlin has been appointed the Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia from the 2015/2016 season. The orchestra has a tradition of working with instrumentalists as conductors; Rachlin will joining Lars Vogt who has been appointed Music Director from 2015/16, following on from violinist Thomas Zehetmair whose 10 year tenure finished in May this year.

Rachlin's concert with the orchestra, From Player to Podium brought the ensemble to London's Milton Court on 14 November 2014 when they performed Schnittke, Mozart and Beethoven with Rachlin as the soloist Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 'Turkish' as well as conducting the remainder of the programme. Rachlin made his conducting debut with the Royal Northern Sinfonia in October 2013 and the connection between conductor and orchestra was such that he was quickly invited back.

The Royal Northern Chamber Orchestra is based at the Sage Gateshead and is, amazingly, the UK's only full-time chamber orchestra as well as being the leading professional orchestra in the north east. It is the only UK orchestra to have a purpose-built home for all its rehearsals, concerts and recordings.

Wolfgang Holzmair and Sholto Kynoch in Die Winterreise

Wolfgang Holzmair
Schubert Die Winterreise; Wolfgang Holzmair, Sholto Kynoch; Wimbledon International Music Festival at St John's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 17 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Intense, inward, highly personal account of Schubert's great song-cycle

On 18 November 2014, the distinguished Austrian baritone Wolfgang Holzmair performed Schubert's song-cycle Die Winterreise at St John's Church, Wimbledon as part of the Wimbledon International Music Festival. Holzmair was accompanied by pianist Sholto Kynoch, who is artistic director of the Oxford Lieder Festival.

Holzmair and Kynoch came onto the platform, Holzmair closed his eyes and the cycle started. For much of the time Holzmair had his eyes closed, was looking down or was looking at a distant place far in his memory. Holzmair's account of Die Winterreise was extremely intense and inward, it was a profound personal journey. We did not witness the disintegration of the protagonist before our eyes as happened with Simon Keenlyside (see my review), nor did he beard us Ancient Marriner like to tell his tale like Sir John Tomlinson (see my review). Instead it seemed to be pain recollected. And there was undoubtedly pain, but it was highly internalised and the final song, Der Leiermann was quietly disturbing. The result might not have been to all tastes, but it was quite remarkable and profoundly consistent. It was also one of the swiftest accounts of the song cycle that I have heard in a long time, though never felt rushed.

Orpheus Sinfonia - Revolution: The Beethoven Effect

Thomas Carroll and the Orpheus Sinfonia at the Cadogan Hall
Thomas Carroll and the Orpheus Sinfonia
at the Cadogan Hall
The Orpheus Sinfonia is an orchestra of young professionals which is designed to give those coming out of college greater support and opportunities. Conducted by Thomas Carroll, the group gives a varied programme of performances and they started this season performing Richard Strauss with Dame Felicity Lott. 

On 27 November 2014 at St. George's Church, Hanover Square, they present Revolution: The Beethoven Effect in which Thomas Carroll conducts the orchestra in a concert exploring how Beethoven's symphonies and how they transformed our view of what a symphony is. Music from his symphonies will be performed alongside images, and there will be excerpts from his letters read by the actor Michael Bodie. Beethoven's Eroica Symphony will be performed complete in the second half of the concert.

The Beethoven concert is the start of Orpheus Sinfonia's new season Beneath the score and Thomas Carroll will be both conducting and presenting.

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Boxberg's Sardanapalus - a window onto 17th century German opera

Boxberg Sardanapalus - Pan Classics
Boxberg Sardanapalus; United Continuo Ensemble, Bernhard Epstein; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 30 2014
Star rating: 4.0

German opera from 1698 performed with flair and verve

Neither Christian Ludwig Boxberg nor his opera Sardanapalus had appeard on my radar until I came across this disc on Pan Classics. Recorded live at the Wilhema Theater in Stuttgart, Bernhard Epstein directs the United Continuo Ensemble (director Jorg Meder), with tenor Jan Kobow, soprano Rinnat Mariah, mezzo-soprano Theodora Baka, soprano Cornelia Samuels, counter-tenor Franz Vitzthum, bass Markus Flaig, tenor Soren Richter, bass Felix Schwandtke, soprano Kirline Cirule and tenor Philipp Nicklaus.

Boxberg's Sardanapalus at the Ekhof Festival in 2012 - Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein/Lutz Ebhardt
Boxberg's Sardanapalus at the Ekhof Festival in 2012
Stiftung Schloss Friedenstein/Lutz Ebhardt
Christian Ludwig Boxberg (1670 - 1729) was the son of the court organist at Sonderhausen and Boxberg studied in Leipzig where Reinhard Keiser (1674 - 1739) also studied. Keiser would go on to work at the Hamburg Gansemarkt Opera, which was founded as Germany's first opera house by Nikolaus Adam Strungk (1640 - 1700). In 1693 Strungk (now the Dresden Court Kapellmeister) opened Central Germany's first civic opera house in Leipzig. Boxberg worked there as a singer, performing in the opening production, Strungk's Alceste.

Between 1696 and 1700 Boxberg wrote at least seven librettos for Strungk to set for performance in Leipzig. In 1700, debt problems caused Strungk to retire, allowing Boxberg to write the music for two operas. But disputes with Strungk's heirs over who ran the opera house prevented more and he became an organist. Boxberg's operas for Leipzig do not survive. We have only libretti and printed laudatory remarks by a contemporary, Erdman Neumann.

All things early: Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival

Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival and Exhibition
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on Nov 15 2014
All things Early Music, with demonstrations, lectures and recitals including closing concerts from Fretwork and Brecon Baroque.

This weekend the Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival and Exhibition hit, well Greenwich actually. With music literally coming from every nook and cranny this was an early music lover's paradise. Run by the Early Music Shop with Trinity Laban Conservatoire and the Greenwich Foundation in the picturesque setting of the Old Royal Naval College, with its spectacular Painted Hall and Chapel, there were three days of performances from young and old, as well as the chance to explore and try out instruments of all shapes and sizes.

The performances fell into two categories: concerts and demonstrations of instruments either new or repaired. The maker's demonstration recitals had the addition of being instructional - the performers talked about their instruments, giving a bit of history or why that particular instrument (and hence the maker/restorer) worked for them.

I caught a couple of the demonstrations. The first was the viol and violin performance by Liam Byrne (bass viol) and Conor Gricmanis (baroque violin). Playing solo and duet music from Thomas Morley (1557-1602), Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Alfonso Ferrabosco II (c. 1575-1628), Diego Ortiz (1510-1570), Robert Dubuisson (c. 1622–1680), and Matthew Locke (1621-1677), this pair filled the King William Undercroft with a glorious and restful sound. Unusually, in the Ortiz the bass viol had the tune, while the violin maintained a soft tenor line, allowing the delicate high notes of the bass to be heard.

John Tavener celebration at Bach Choir

The Bach Choir - John Tavener Celebration
Since John Tavener's death, there have been a number of works premiered; pieces which John Tavener had composed in his last year. What was one of his last large scale choral pieces, Oh where, tell me where? was written for The Bach Choir (the second piece which Tavener wrote for the group) and premiered by them last month in Shanghai. The Bach Choir, conductor David Hill, give the UK premiere of the piece in London on 25 November 2014 at the Royal Festival Hall as part of an all Tavener concert with the Philharmonia Orchestra and soloists soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, tenor James Oxley and cellist Raphael Wallfisch. The programme includes The Protecting Veil, A Song for Athene and Requiem.

O where, tell me where? is a meditation based on three well-known Scottish songs and scored for fourteen-part chorus and tubular bells. Further information from The Bach Choir's website. You can see the choir's new video celebrating Tavener's life and work after the break.

Monday 17 November 2014

Stephen Montague premiere celebrates 300 years of St. John's

Stephen Montague
Stephen Montague
Stephen Montague's From the Ether will be given its world premiere on 25 November 2014 at St John's Smith Square, by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra conductor Russell Keable. The work is one of three works commissioned by St John's Smith Square as part of their celebrations of the church's 300th anniversary. For From the Ether Montague has taken the 300 year history of the venue as his starting point, and fragments of music from the ages permeate the piece. Montague uses his performers spatially, and there will be players up in the balconies and at the rear of the hall as well as on stage, and in addition there are three independent tape parts.

The concert is also being given in memory of the orchestra's founder Leslie Head. Sir John Tomlinson will be joining the orchestra for three of RVW's Songs of Travel and the programme will also include Walton's Variations on  Theme of Hindemith and Sibelius's Fifth Symphony. Further information from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra's website.

Yehudi Menuhin School at Wimbledon Festival

St John's Church, Wimbledon
St John's Church, Wimbledon
Pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School at the Wimbledon International Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2014
Lunchtime chamber music concert by young rising stars of the future

For the first of four free lunchtime concerts by young artists at St Juhn's Church, Waterloo, as part of the Wimbledon International Music Festival, pupils from the Yehudi Menuhin School performed a programme of chamber music on Friday 14 November 2014. The programme included a trio of works all written during the First World War, Janacek's Violin Sonata, Bartok's Piano Suite Op 14 and Delius's Violoncello Sonata plus a pair of works written by pupils from the school as part of the Flander Fields project.

Opera by numbers - Covent Garden's new Idomeneo

Idomeneo - picture copyright ROH Catherine Ashmore
Idomeneo - picture copyright ROH Catherine Ashmore
Mozart Idomeneo; Polenzani, Fagioli, Bevan, Bystrom, dir Kusej, cond Minkowski; Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 15 2014
Star rating: 3.0

Missed opportunities in regie-theater production, but fine music making

Idomeneo, Mozart's first mature opera, has not done well in London theatres. The Royal Opera's last production, directed by Johannes Schaaf, was in 1989 and was generally unloved and not revived. Engliish National Opera's first ever production, by Katie Mitchell in 2010, seems to have had a similar fate. Both were very much Director's Opera. and now the Royal Opera House's new production directed by Martin Kusej falls into a similar category. The production debuted on 3 November 2014 and we saw the performance on 15 November with Matthew Polenzani as Idomeneo, Franco Fagioli as Idamante, Sophie Bevan as Illia, Malin Bystrom as Elettra, and Stanislas de Barbeyrac as Arbace, conducted by Marc Minkowski. Set designs were by Annette Murschetz with costumes by Heide Kastler.

The basic idea of Martin Kusej's production was intriguing, using the plot to examine the dynamics of regime change with Idamante's death a political act rather than a religious one. The new narratvive has a strong dynamic, but the problem is that Idomeneo is not primarily narrative driven, it is an opera seria albeit a very later 18th century one. Comentators still seem embarrased by Mozart's fascination with the opera seria genre (he returned to it with aparent alacrity in the last year of his life with La Clemenza di Tito). Despite much tinkering, the opera seria of Mozart's day remained a drama of interaction and releactions, rather than action and narrative.

Martin Kusej's narrative change altered the ballance of these relationships. Mozart's music for Idomeneo examined his personal dilemmas with the conflict between personal and public, and the music is profound and sympathetic, quite far from a totalitarian dictator. To make this work in his new narrative, Martin Kusej had to come up with a new imperative force and turned the High Priest into a sinister eminence grise with a gang of heavies.

All thiis might have worked if what we saw on stage had been gripping theatre. But it wasn't. Murchetz and Kastler's designs mixed sludge coloured costumes with a black and white set. With sets on a revolve, Martin Kusej seemed to use set change as a tool to enliven the production. The rest was equally full of lazie regie-theater short hand. Krystan Adam's High Priest was a long-haired, leather-clad ex-rocker with a bunch of long haired Hells Angels as heavies. Idomeneo's troops were all black clad and wearing black sun glasses. Ideas which were hardly radical 20 years ago.

Sunday 16 November 2014

Faramondo from Göttingen

Faramondo - Accent
Handel Faramondo; Fons, Devin,Starushkeviych, Lowrey, Engletjes, Sparbo, Göttingen Festival Orchestra, Laurence Cummings; Accent
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 3 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Finely dramatic account of one of Handel's most under-rated operas

Handel's Faramondo has done badly on disc now this new recording on Accent from the Göttingen International Handel Festival 2014 remedies that. Laurence Cummings conducts the FestspielOrchester Göttingen with Emily Fons, Anna Devin, Anna Starushkevych, Njal Sparbo, Maarten Engeltjes, Christopher Lowrey, Edward Grint and Iryna Dziashko.

Handel's opera Faramondo has had a very bad press and Winton Dean witheringly described the plot as a whirlpool of inconsequence in his masterly survey of all Handel's operas. It had to wait until 2009 for its first decent recording (with Max Emanual Cencic and Philippe Jaroussky) and now here comes another recording on Accent made live at the 2014 Göttingen Festival with Emily Fons as Faramondo, Anna Devin as Clotilde, Anna Starushkevych as Rosimonda, Njal Sparbo as Gustavo, Maarten Engeltjes as Adolfo, Christopher Lowrey as Gernando, Edward Grint as Teobaldo and Iryna Dziashko as Childerico.

Premiered in 1737, it was Handel's first opera written in his collaboration with the rival Opera of the Nobility. The previous season had seen both companies struggle and Handel had had a stroke and been for a cure, so 1737/8 saw them combine forces. Handel wrote Faramondo for a strong cast, with the castrato Cafarelli in the title role. Regarded as one of the finest castrati, Cafarelli had a single season in London and never seems to have hit form there. The opera managed a total of eight performances before disappearing.

Saturday 15 November 2014

Four new trumpet concertos from Simon Desbruslais

Psalm - Contemporary British Trumpet Concertos - Signum Classics
Trumpet Concertos by Deborah Pritchard, Robert Saxton, John McCabe; Simon Desbruslais, Orchestra of the Swan, David Curtis, Kenneth Woods; Signum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Four new British trumpet concertos, brilliant, seductive and engrossing

The trumpet as a concertante instrument rather missed out on the 19th century, there are baroque and classical concerto and modern concertos but none in the middle (there are no concertos between Hummel's 1803 concerto and early 20th century French concertos). This lack of repertoire is something which trumpeter Simon Desbruslais is working towards remedying, and on this new disc on Signum Classics he performs concertos by Deborah Pritchard, Robert Saxton, and John McCabe with the Orchestra of the Swan and conductors Kenneth Woods and David Curtis, with three of the concertos being new commissions.

Desbuslai played Robert Saxton's 1992 concerts, Psalm: A Song of Ascents in 2008 and asked Robert Saxton to wite another concerto which became the 2013 concerto Shakespeare's Scenes. And this led to the commission to Deborah Prichard, who was one of Saxton's pupils and a commission to John McCabe. The result is a remarkable group of concertos for the instrument (or rather instruments, not all use the standard trumpet).

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