Sunday 31 May 2015

Vibrant revival of Wolf-Ferrari's 'The Jewels of the Madonna' in Bratislava

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari I gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna); Kyungho Kim, Natalia Ushakova, Denisa Šlepkovská, Daniel Čapkovič, cond: Friedrich Haider, dir: Manfred Schweigkofler; Slovak National Theatre, Bratislava
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 29 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Vibrant and convincing revival of rare Wolf-Ferrari opera

I gioielli della Madonna - Slovak National Theatre: Jana Bernáthová (Stella),Daniel Čapkovič (Rafaele), Mária Rychlová (Concetta), Michaela Šebestová (Serena)
Act 3
Jana Bernáthová (Stella), Daniel Čapkovič (Rafaele),
Mária Rychlová (Concetta),
Michaela Šebestová (Serena)
With 27 named roles and a large orchestra (including instruments such as mandolins), Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's 1911 opera, I gioielli della Madonna (The Jewels of the Madonna) might seem a surprising choice for a relatively small opera house like the Slovak National Theatre / Slovenské národné divadlo (SND) in Bratislava, Slovakia. But the company's music director and opera director is the Austrian conductor Friedrich Haider, who is something of a Wolf-Ferrari expert having recorded Wolf-Ferrari's opera Il segreto di Susanna (Susanna's secret) and the violin concerto, and the house has a large permanent ensemble with a big choir from whom it was possible to cast the large number of important comprimario role (see my interview with Friedrich Haider on this blog)

I gioielli della Madonna - Slovak National Theatre: Kyungho Kim (Gennaro)
Kyungho Kim (Gennaro)
Rather impressively the opera was double case and we saw the premiere at SND's New Building on Friday 29 May 2015 with Kyungho Kim as Gennaro, Denisa Šlepkovská as Carmela, Natalia Ushakova as Maliella and Daniel Čapkovič as Rafaele, conducted by Friedrich Haider, directed by Manfred Schweigkofler with sets designed by Michele Olcese and costumes by Concetta Nappi. The SND Orchestra and Chorus, was joined by the Bratislava Boys Choir, and the Pressburg Singers

The plot is relatively straightforward, Gennaro (Kyungho Kim) is a young blacksmith who has three obsessions, his mother Carmela (Denisa Šlepkovská), the Madonna and his foster sister Maliella (Denisa Šlepkovská). This latter is rather wild, wanting to enjoy life but is kept confined by her family. She is being courted by Rafaele (Daniel Čapkovič) the head of the local Camorra.

I gioielli della Madonna - Slovak National Theatre: Natalia Ushakova (Maliella)
Act 1
Natalia Ushakova (Maliella)
The first act centres on a celebration for the feast of Our Lady, with a gloriously chaotic series of processions and lots of street characters, including an appearance from the statue of the jewelled Madonna. Act two is in the courtyard of Gennaro's home and is a series of interactions, between Gennaro and Carmela, Gennaro and Maliella, Maliella and Rafaele. we learn that Carmela's protective mothering of Gennaro arose because she nearly lost him as a child, and the fostering of Maliella was the result of a vow to the virgin if Gennaro survived. Gennaro tells Maliella of his obsession and she laughs at him, he vows to steal the jewels of the Madonna for her. Later Rafaele comes courting and the two have a love scene through the grill locking Maliella in. Finally Gennaro reappears with the jewels and the act closes with Gennaro covering Maliella with jewels before claiming her virginity. Act three is Rafaele's gang's hangout; an orgy in progress is interrupted first by the arrival of Maliella, traumatised by Gennaro's taking of her virginity, and then by Gennaro with the jewels themselves. Though the gang have been having an orgy beneath an image of the Madonna, they are shocked by Gennaro's sacrilege. But Wolf-Ferrari knew Jung and was cleaarly interested in the madonna/mother/whore parallels, and it is clear that for Rafaele, Gennaro has stolen the jewels (virginity) of his madonna (Maliella), and Rafaele loses interest in Maliella.

Saturday 30 May 2015

Die schöne Müllerin from Mauro Peter and Helmut Deutsch on Wigmore Hall Live

Die schöne Müllerin - Mauro Peter
Schubert Die schöne Müllerin; Mauro Peter, Helmut Deutsch; Wigmore Hall Live
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 22 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Young tenor and veteran pianist in performance of sober lyric beauty

Mauro Peter is a young Swiss tenor and this Wigmore Hall Live disc is a record of the recital of Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin that Mauro Peter gave with the veteran pianist Helmut Deutsch in January 2014.

Mauro Peter sang in the Luzerner Singknaben and trained at Hochschule für Musik and Theater München with Fenna Kügel-Seifried, In 2012 he was part of the Young Singers Project at the Salzburg Festival, He is currently a member of the Opernhaus Zürich and roles include Tamino and Jacquino. He has a lyric tenor voice of great beauty and a high degree of finish, allied to a feeling for the phrasing and shape of Schubert's music. In this he is finely partnered by the sympathetic yet profoundly acute playing of Helmut Deutsch. The pairing of the two raises this performance to a very high level, and the degree of finish is remarkable for a live performance.

Estonia music showcase

Kaspars Putnins and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir at Hoddinott Hall
Kaspars Putnins and Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
at Hoddinott Hall
As a complement to the lunchtime performance by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra at Hoddinott Hall on Friday 24 May 2015 (see my review), the Estonian Embassy organised an event which presented contemporary Estonian music in greater detail with a short performance from the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and interviews with its conductor Kaspars Putnins, along with composers Tõnu Kõrvits, Helena Tulve and Märt-Matis Lill all of whom had works performed during the 2015 Vale of Glamorgan Festival. There was also a chance to meet other representatives of the Estonian music industry and peruse scores and recordings from the Estonian Music Information Centre. Having recently been in Tallinn for Estonian Music Days (see my articles), it was a chance for me to catch up with old friends too. (We have more coverage from Tallinn as Hilary is currently there for the Festival Orient).

Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra
The event was compered by the Welsh composer Peter Reynolds, and we started with a short film. This was followed by an interview with the managing director of the Tallinn Philharmonic Society, Margit Tohver-Aints, and two members of the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. They explained that the idea behind the programme of the orchestra's lunchtime concert (see my review) which we had just heard was to give an overview of Estonian music, with music from two elder statesmen Jaan Rääts and Arvo Pärt, and two subsequent generations Ekki-Sven Tuur, and Tõnu Kõrvits.

Friday 29 May 2015

New music from Australia

Australia Piano Quartet
The Australia Piano Quartet will be performing music by Peter Sculthorpe, Faure and Schumann, plus a new commission from Jack Symonds at their concert on Tuesday 2 June 2015 at Milton Court Concert Hall. The concert is part of the group's first European tour. 

The Australia Piano Quartet, Daniel de Borah (piano), Thomas Rann (cello), Rebecca Chan (violin), James Wannan (viola), was formed in 2011 and has recently begun a residency at the University of Technology, Sydney. As part of the residency the group is commissioning seven Australian composers for new works to be performed in the university's Frank Gehry designed auditorium. One of these commissions is Responsorium by Jack Symonds which the quartet will be performing alongside Landscapes II one of the most colourful chamber works by one of the giants of Australian music, the late Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014). Completing the programme at Milton Court will be Schumann's Piano Quartet and Faure's Piano Quartet No. 2. Further information and tickets from the Barbican website.

East of Tallinn: Orient music festival

Hakassian folk music and dance ensemble - Ülger
Hakassian folk music and dance ensemble - Ülger
The Orient music festival in Tallinn, Estonia, began its week long activities with an afternoon ethno-musicology conference, a film premiere and ambassador's reception (25 May 2015). After a welcome address by the festival organiser Peeter Vähi and by the former First Lady of Estonia, Estonian folklorist, and patron of the festival, Ingrid Rüütel, the conference began with a demonstration of quanun (a kind of zither) by Samir Ally Salim and went on to cover ancient empires of Africa, the culture and traditions of the Shona people, the Taarab song tradition in Zanzibar, Hakassian throat singing and Buddhist temple music, finishing with Martin Grauds and Ilze Apsina's film, 'The way home'.

The first session 'Ancient Empires of Africa' by Tiina Jokinen, who was just back from a trip to Papua New Guinea, pointed out that, unlike America, Africa has always been a world centre of migration and trade. Much of the known history comes from written accounts by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Arabs, but there was also trade with China. Even before the arrival by the Portuguese in the 15th century there were European fortune hunters in Africa. The Portuguese were followed by the British in the 16th century, and then the rest of Europe from the 17th century onwards. By the 19th century missionaries appeared, the forerunner to colonisation, wars and decolonisation of modern history.

Thursday 28 May 2015

Global prize for digital performance open for entries - closing date 8 June

WNo Banner
Welsh National Opera and the Lumen Prize Exhibition, the competition and global tour for digital art, have combined forces to award a new prize recognising excellence in digital art for theatrical purpose incorporating both sound and movement. The Lumen Prize, which is now in its fourth year, is open to artists anywhere in the world. The Lumen WNO Performance Award will be the first time the organisation has awarded a prize for performance work. This is a new collaboration for WNO who are reaching out to new audiences with increasing digital work on a national stage.

"Digital Art is fast becoming a vital component to the very best operatic performances globally. By using the magic of electronics and the brilliance of original coding, artists can enhance both established and new opera alike. This prize is aiming at finding the best artists working in that space," says Carla Rapoport, Director of the Lumen Prize. "We are honoured to be working with WNO to launch this prize as part of the 2015 Lumen Prize Call for Entries."

In addition to the prize of US$1000, WNO is pleased to be offering a US$1500 commission to the winning artist to develop his or her work in collaboration with the WNO team, with the possibility of its performance by WNO artists. For more information about this prize see the Lumen Prize website. The Call for Entries for the Lumen WNO Performance prize closes on 8 June.

A tea party to celebrate Alice's return to the Yucca Lawn

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Opera Holland Park - 2014,  photo credit Alex Brenner
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Opera Holland Park - 2014,  photo credit Alex Brenner
Will Todd’s opera Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was originally commissioned by Opera Holland Park as a follow up to their previous family opera, which was a production of Tobias Picker’s The Fabulous Mr Fox. Alice was successfully premiered in 2013 and returned for further performances in 2014. Now the production is returning again in 2015, with many of the original cast still in their roles in Martin Duncan’s production. The production is performed out of doors on the Yucca Lawn in Holland Park, but will be heading indoors in November when the production transfers to the Linbury Theatre, at the Royal Opera House. Such is the success of the opera that a studio recording has been made and is being issued on Signum Records.

Opera Holland Park had tea party on Tuesday 26 May 2015 to celebrate both the recording and Alice’s return to the Yucca Lawn for the third year. Chatting to all those involved in the production from producers James Clutton and Sarah Crabtree (from Opera Holland Park) to composer Will Todd, cast members Fflur Wyn (Alice), John Lofthouse (March Hare/White Knight), Keel Watson (Caterpillar) and conductor Matthew Waldren, it was noticeable how enthusiastic all were about the piece and how much it was clear that they cared for it, feeling that it is very much their piece.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

New Dots - world premieres and more with Ligeti Quartet

Enlightenment - Hoxton
The Ligeti Quartet (last heard in Steve Reich's Three Tales) is performing a programme entitled Enlightenment at Hoxton Basement, 18 Hoxton Street, London N1 6NG on Sunday 31 May 2015. Organised by New Dots, the organisation which aims to provide opportunities for emerging composers and musicians, the concert has George's Crumb's classic Black Angels at its centre, along with premieres of music by Anna Meredith, and Tom Green, plus works by Wadada Leo Smith, William Dougherty, and Ji Sun Yang. Tom Green's new work Gravity Fragments is in fact designed as a response to Black Angels which Crumb wrote during the Vietnam War and which uses electric string instruments as well as using extended techniques, requiring the players to speak and to play a set of percussion instruments as well.

You can read more about the concert at the New Dots website.

Surrender - Voices of Persephone

Surrender: Voices of Persephone
Donizetti, Poulenc, Messager, Puccini, Massenet, Rimsky-Korsakov, Verdi, Mozart, Rossini; Ilona Domnich, Leo Nucci, Southbank Sinfonia, Simon Over
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 20 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Attractive and well thought out recital disc

This new disc on Signum Classics from soprano Ilona Domnich and the Southbank Sinfonia, conducted by Simon Over, is an intriguing look at the operatic aria recital disc. Entitled Surrender: Voices of Persephone, Ilona Domnich has tried to come up with a selection of arias which explores beyond the simple virgin/whore/mother/lover image which can beset opera. Here she sings arias from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix, Poulenc's La voix humaine, Messager's Fortunio, Massenet's Manon, Rimsky Korsakov's The Snow Maiden, Mozart's Le Nozze de Figaro, Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and Verdi's Rigoletto, in which latter she is joined by baritone Leo Nucci.

The selection of arias represents an interesting mix of roles, many of which I know that Ilona Domnich has sung on stage, and both in her selection of operas and the arias from them she wanders from the standard path somewhat. In her introduction to the CD, Ilona Domnich is concerned to see all the characters as on a journey from innocence and discovery, through maturity, betrayal and pain through to the wiser woman making her own choices and finding inner balance.

Daniel Barenboim launches new piano

Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand (c) Chris Maene
Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand (c) Chris Maene
During a trip to Siena in 2011, Daniel Barenboim played Franz Liszt's restored piano, and he was struck by the differences in sound between a modern concert grand (built with diagonal crossed strings) and the period instrument with its straight, parallel strings. As anyone who has played a 19th century piano knows, the instruments have a remarkable transparency of tone but this can often be allied to a rather difficult playing characteristics, and the instruments do not make the sheer volume needed for large modern halls. 

Daniel Barenboim then conceived the idea of building a piano which combined the sound quality of an old instrument with the modern improvements and touch of a new one. This would probably have remained a dream, but talking to Steinway and Sons the firm was supportive and put Daniel Barenboim in touch with Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene, who has made and restored period pianos.

The result is a modern concert grand with straight strings, and numerous other subtle differences in construction. It uses the familiar components of the current Steinway D model, such as the continuous bent rim, but within this has been created a straight strung piano. Chris Maene was interested in getting back to the varieties of sound and tone quality which the 19th century offered and which have today been largely superceded by a remarkable uniformity of construction.

The new Barenboim-Maene concert grand was unveiled at a recital at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 26 May 2015, in advance of Daniel Barenboim's Schubert recital series there (27, 29, 31 May, 2 June)

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Bach Cantata Pilgrimage Volume 8 - Bremen and Santiago de Compostela

Bach Cantata Pilgrimage volume 8
Bach cantatas for the Fifteen and Sixteenth Sundays after Trinity BWV138, BWV 99, BWV 51, BWV 100, BWV 161, BWV 27, BWV 8, BWV 95; John Eliot Gardiner, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists; SDG
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 19 2015
Star rating: 5.0

John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage re-visited

John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage took the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists on tour for a year, performing all of Bach's church cantatas during the course of the year 2000 in concerts which placed the cantatas on the liturgical feast for which they were composed. The resulting recordings are a remarkable live document of this event. This two disc set (on the Soli Deo Gloria label), contains the cantatas For the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity recorded live in Bremen (Warum betrubst du dich, mein Herz? BWV138, Wass Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan II BWV 99, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! BWV 51, Wass Gott tut, das is wohlgetan III BWV 100 ) and For the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity recorded live in Santiago de Compostela (Komm, du susse Todesstunde BWV 161, Wer weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende? BWV 27, Liebster Gott, wenn werd ich sterben BWV 8, Christus, der is mein Leben BWV 95), with soloists Malin Hartelius, William Towers, James Gilchrist and Peter Harvey in Bremen, and Katharine Fuge, Robin Tyson, Mark Padmore and Thomas Guthrie in Santiago de Compostela.

It is clear that the pilgrimage made a profound effect both on performers and on audiences. The schedule required a constant dusting off of the liturgical cantatas, some of which were substantially unfamiliar to the performers, only for them to be put back after the concert. But memorable events do not necessarily generate memorable recordings, and what is remarkable about these discs is that they are so much more than a simple record of the event. There is a live vitality to the performances and a sense that the performers are full engaged (with one or two edge of seat moments inevitably). The performers came from a pool, with many common to a number of performances, with the constant being John Eliot Gardiner himself and that fact that he worked through cantatas in a single year surely coloured his view. There is a very much a sense that the works are seen whole, understood both in their entirety and in the way they relate to others.

Performing all the cantatas together meant compromises. The Weimar cantatas are all performed in the later Leizipg adaptations so that all are at the same pitch. And John Eliot Gardiner is firmly in the choir and orchestra school, so that he performed with a group of soloists plus his sixteen strong choir (with both men and women on the alto line). That his musicians have lived with him, and this music, a long time really shows. It just flows.

Bach to Metallica

Bram van Sambeek
Bram van Sambeek
Music by Bach and by Metallica are just two of the items in a varied programme being brought to Wilton's Music Hall on Wednesday 27 May 2015, by the Dutch bassoon player Bram van Sambeek. Bram van Sambeek's concert, one of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust's showcase evenings at Wilton's, will be in the music hall's new cocktail bar. Bram van Sambeek,  a player described by Valery Gergiev as 'a little bit unusual', will be playing music from Bach's Flute Partita, Mit FaGottes Hilfe (you have to be a German speaker to appreciate the pun!) by Werner Pirchner an Austrian jazz musician, and Pulling Teeth by Cliff Burton of the heavy metal band Metallica. He will also be previewing some of the short work's he has commissioned for Utrecht's Gaudeamus Muziekweek in September 2015.

Further information from the Wilton's website. Further ahead, the Boletti-Buitoni Trust's showcase concert in June is the terrific young horn player Alec Frank-Gemmill.

Myths and magic with Londinium

Londinium - photo Eric Richardson
Londinium - photo Eric Richardson
Josquin des Prez, Ola Gjeilo, Schumann, Brahms, Phillips, Monteverdi, Gounod, Martinu, Del Tredici
Reviewed by Hilary Glover on May 15 2015
Star rating: 4.0

From mythical beasts to Alice in Wonderland, a feast of storytelling in music

Last night's concert (15 May 2015) by Londinium brought old and new storytelling songs to St Sepulchre without Newgate in Holburn. From Josquin des Prez to Ola Gjeilo, with stops via Schumann and Brahms, the set of stories included mythical beasts (Unicorn, Phoenix and Hydra) and heroes (Alice in Wonderland, Ariadne, The King of Thule, Orpheus, Bunyan's Pilgrim and Robin Hood).

Led by their enthusiastic musical director Andrew Griffiths, Londinium like to play around with the wide acoustics in St Sepulchre and began with quadraphonic sound for H. Garrett Phillips' (1941-1991) 'Odysseus and the Sirens'. Here the choir effortlessly invoked the sound of the sea as a ship carried Odysseus towards and passed the sirens calling his name.

1849 was the centenary of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's birth and to mark the occasion Robert Schumann (1810 - 1856) wrote 'Der König von Thule' a setting of the 1774 poem by Goethe, which tells the story of an ancient King who, as he was about to die, drank one last time from the splendid golden cup given to him by his lover on her deathbed before hurling the cup into the sea.

Monday 25 May 2015

Tallinn Chamber Orchestra in Cardiff

Tallinn Chamber Orchestra at Hoddinott Hall
Tallinn Chamber Orchestra at Hoddinott Hall
Jaan Rääts, Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Tõnu Kõrvits; Tallinn Chamber Orchestra; Vale of Glamorgan Festival at Hoddinott Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 24 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Three generations of Estonian composers in a stunning display from this Estonian orchestra in Cardiff

The 2015 Vale of Glamorgan Festival had Estonian music as one of its strands in celebration of the 80th birthday of Arvo Pärt. Both the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra came over from Estonia for a four day visit which culminated in a joint concert at St David's Hall, conducted by Kristjan Järvi. I managed to catch one of the other events, when the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra performed at BBC Hoddinott Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on Friday 22 May 2015. Performing without a conductor the strings of the orchestra, leader Harry Traksmann, gave a programme of Estonian music across the generations, by Jaan Rääts, Arvo Pärt, Erkki-Sven Tüür and Tõnu Kõrvits.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Voces8 - vocal quality and distinctive style

Lux - Voces8 - Decca
Gjeilo, Tallis, Massive Attack, Tavener, Allegri, Esenvalds, Dubra, Hawes, Rachmaninov, Lauridsen, Folds, Todd, Mealor; Voces8, Christian Forshaw, Matthew Sharp; DECCA
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 5 2015
Star rating: 3.5

Centred on Baltic minimalists, a programme which evokes the ethereal from this talented vocal ensemble

Voces8 has developed into a highly polished and sophisticated vocal ensemble, combining technical proficiently with an interestingly clear idea of their sound and vocal quality. Their chosen repertoire ranges widely, from Renaissance through to contemporary. 

Voces8 in concert at St Bartholemew the Great, London
Voces8 in concert
at St Bartholemew the Great, London
On this new disc on the Decca label, Lux, their theme is light and they combine music by Ola Gjeilo, Thomas Tallis, Edward Elgar, Massive Attack, John Tavener, Gregorio Allegri, Eriks Esenvalds, Rihards Dubra, Patrick Hawes, Rachmaninov, Morten Lauridsen, Ben Folds, Will Todd and Paul Mealor and they are joined on some tracks by cellist Matthew Sharp and saxophone player Christian Forshaw. All the music on the disc is, in some sense, spiritual with the Baltic sacred minimalists and John Tavener providing the core backbone.

Though much of the music on the disc is in the choral repertory, Voces8 is very much a vocal ensemble. Whilst the singers, Andrea Haines, Emily Dickens, Christopher Wardle, Barnaby Smith, Oliver Vincent, Samuel Dressel, Paul Smith and Dingle Yandell come from classical, choral training, in the ensemble they venture rather beyond this and it is clear that microphone technique is highly important. More than anything else, they remind me of the original Swingle Singers in classical mode. Technique is superb throughout the disc, and all concerned sing with great control and a fine sense of balance, tone quality is carefully burnished too. But the overall result is highly specific to the group.

They open with Ubi Caritas by the young Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo. It is based on the plainchant Ubi Caritas sung in unison, but with some bits of naughty harmony. This is followed by Thomas Tallis's O Nata Lux, with Christian Forshaw adding discreet but evocative saxophone counter-melodies. The singers' approach to the Tallis is quite romantic, particularly in the phrasing but the quality is stunning.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Hibla Gerzmava in concert

Hibla Gerzmava - Credit: P. Vaan & L. Semenyuk
Hibla Gerzmava
photo credit: P. Vaan & L. Semenyuk
The young Abkhazian-Russian soprano Hibla Gerzmava makes a concert appearance on Sunday 31 May 2015 at Opera Holland Park. Accompanied by pianist Ekaterina Ganelina, Hibla Gerzmava will present The Best of Italian and Russian music and be performing a selection of Russian and Italian operatic arias. She has appeared at Covent Garden as Mimi and Donna Anna, but in fact our most recent sighting of her was on the HD broadcast of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann from the Met (see my review). The auditorium at Holland Park can be a tricky acoustic, so it will be interesting to hear how a song recital comes over.

The concert is dedicated to the Russian diva Elena Obraztsova, and part of the proceeds from this concert will be donated to Elena Obraztsova’s charitable foundation. Tickets are available from the Opera Holland Park website.

Something for the weekend: Music at Paxton celebrates with its 10th festival

Paxton House
Paxton House is an historic country house in the Borders, near Berwick-on-Tweed. Originally built in the 18th century by John Adam, it is now owned by a trust and open to the public with much of its historic contents and paintings (in collaboration with the National Galleries of Scotland). The house is also the venue for Music at Paxton, a summer music festival which is now in its 10th year. This year running from 17 - 26 July 2015, the festival features recitals by cellist Natalie Clein (accompanied by Håvard Gimse) and by pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, as well as visits from the Notos Piano Quartet, and the Signum Quartet and more besides. I chatted to Helen Jamieson the festival's founder and artistic director to find out more.

A beautiful venue for chamber music

Music at Paxton: Audience enjoying a concert in the Picture Gallery at Paxton House
Music at Paxton
Audience enjoying a concert in the Picture Gallery at Paxton House
My first question was why Paxton, a venue which was in a relatively sparsely populated area. Helen was quite clear in her response, saying that Paxton was a beautiful venue for chamber music (concerts take place mainly in the Regency picture gallery) and had in fact been tested as a music venue by a concert series prior to the festival launching in 2006. It helped that there was lots of local interest and enthusiasm on which to build.

When the previous concert series stopped it was felt that something should continue and Helen got involved in creating a festival rather than another concert series. Though the house is in the countryside, it makes a good festival destination with the combination of lovely historic house and contents already open to the public with lots of ancillary facilities.

Friday 22 May 2015

Grippingly vibrant - Carmen at ENO

Carmen - ENO - photo Alastair Muir
Carmen Act 4 - ENO - photo Alastair Muir
Bizet Carmen; Justina Gringyte, Eric Cutler, Leigh Melrose, Eleanor Dennis, dir: Calixto Bieito, cond: Sir Richard Armstrong; English National Opera at the London Coliseum
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 20 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Dystopic vision of Carmen, brought to life by vibrantly gripping performances.

Revivals can often bring productions into a different focus, and English National Opera's current revival of Calixto Bieito's production of Bizet's Carmen (seen Wednesday 20 May 2015) had a new conductor, Sir Richard Armstrong, and new leads, Justina Gringyte as Carmen and Eric Cutler as Don Jose. Eric Cutler was making his ENO debut with Justina Gringyte making her role debut. They were supported by a strong cast, with Leigh Melrose as Escamillo, Eleanor Dennis as Micaela, Graeme Danby as Zuniga, George Humphreys as Morales, Rhian Lois as Frasquita, Clare Presland as Mercedes, Geoffrey Dolton as Dancairo, Alun Rhys-Jenkins as Remendado and Toussaint Meghie as Lilas Pastia. Calixto Bieito's production, designed by Alfons Flores (sets, realised by Kieron Docherty), and Merce Paloma (costumes), revived by Joan Anton Rechi and sung in Christopher Cowell's English translation, is much travelled and originally dates from 1999. It sets the piece in the 1970's in the dying days of Franco's regime in a place which is recognisably Spain but is a grim marginal border region and lacking in the folkloric glamour we associate with the work. It is a bleak, dystopic vision which worked because of the grippingly vibrant performances which complemented the music.

Justina Gringyte, Eric Cutler - Carmen - ENO - photo Alastair Muir
Justina Gringyte, Eric Cutler - photo Alastair Muir
Despite including a fine article by Hugh Macdonald, the programme book seemed entirely silent on the subject of the edition of the score being used. We seemed to have the standard Opera Comique version, though the spoken dialogue was cut to the bone, but it was there (I still have unhappy memories of the Sally Potter production's complete excision of dialogue). Dialogue and its use, including melodrama, is an important factor in the work's design.

This was a world of smugglers living in cars, bored soldiers being cruelly punished, fights, violence and sex for money. No-one was admirable, Carmen (Justina Gringyte) is clearly on the make using sex as a tool to work her way up, you were never sure when she was playing or when she was real. Don Jose (Eric Cutler) was a strong, silent giant who struggled with anger issues and was clearly not the brightest penny. Escamillo (Leigh Melrose) was more a two-bit spiv than a real super-star and very much just a local hero. It was shocking in its way, but the miraculous thing was that Calixto Bieito staged Bizet's music just as it is. Unlike some productions, he did not falsify music or plot, he found what he wanted in Bizet's score and made sense of the numerous little awkward moments which other directors have to finesse. It worked, because Bizet's music became partly the character's inner life, the vibrant colourful Spain which was more a concept than reality.

Is this a cross-over disc? - Till the Stars Fall from Matthew Long

Matthew Long - Till the Stars Fall
RVW, Holst, Quilter, Butterworth, Finzi, Elgar, Parry, traditional and folk-songs; Matthew Long, Malcolm Martineau, Rufus Miller, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Parry; JSK Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 12 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Finely crafted performances bring this mixed repertoire to life

When I interviewed tenor Matthew Long about his new disc, Till the Stars Fall, he said that if the disc sat uneasily between Classic FM and Radio 3 then he would be happy, and his intention was to spark a discussion about what crossover is. At the heart of the disc is a sequence of arrangements of traditional folk-songs, and linking to these are two other groups, art songs can be seen to be folk-song influenced, and more such as I vow to thee my country and Jerusalem which shade from traditional to national and patriotic. There are songs by RVW, Holst, Quilter, Butterworth, Finzi and Elgar in which Matthew Long is joined by pianist Malcolm Martineau, folk-songs performed with guitarist Rufus Miller, and more traditional and patriotic songs performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ben Parry. The arrangements are by Ben Parry, Jonathan Rathbone, Rufus Muller and Long himself. The disc is issued by JSK Music.

It all sounds sounds something of an indigestible mix, and could have been rather an embarrassment to review, but in fact it works quite superbly. I find myself in the interesting position of having been a bit dubious when I found out about the disc, becoming intrigued when I spoke to Matthew Long about the disc and having listened to it I am convinced. This is definitely a disc to which I will return.

Thursday 21 May 2015

Contemporary Music in a Georgian pool with the Red Note Ensemble in Bath

Cleveland Pools
Cleveland Pools
The Scottish contemporary music ensemble Red Note is returning to the Bath Festival on 24 May 2015 when they will be performing a programme of contemporary and renaissance music for brass. Rather intriguingly, the concert is not in a hall but in Cleveland Pools, the UK's only surviving Georgian Lido!

Led by trumpeter Mark O'Keefe, Red Note will be performing Jonathan Harvey's Ricercare and music by Harrison Birtwistle, and given the space I think we can expect plenty of spacial effect. Bath Spa University Brass Ensemble will play before the performance starts to welcome the audience.

Cleveland Pools is an atmospheric disused lido, sited between the River Avon and Kennet & Avon Canal and it has been awarded HLF funding to help restore the pools, and bring them back into use. In 1815 subscriptions were solicited from gentlemen wishing " provide a place in connection with the River, where those who swim and those who do not will be alike accommodated". Built in the shape of a small crescent, it was one of the earliest examples of a 'Subscription Pool'. The Pools closed in 1984 but now the Cleveland Pools Trust is finally making headway with its campaign to restore the Grade II* baths and reclaim them for outdoor swimming

Bryan Hymel - Heroique

Bryan Hymel - Heroique
Rossini, Verdi, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Reyer, Massenet, Bruneau, Rabaud; Bryan Hymel, PFK - Prague Philharmonia, Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, Emmanuel Villaume; Warner Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 19 2015
Star rating: 5.0

Superb exploration of the French heroic tenor voice, in fine performances

The tenor Bryan Hymel has become known for his espousal of French grand opera with its hard to bring off heroic tenor roles in such operas as Berlioz's Les Troyens, Rossini's Guillaume Tell and the operas of Meyerbeer. Such roles require a technique which must combine power and flexibility, and on this disc from Warner Classics he explores the full dramatic range of the use of this voice in 19th century French opera. Accompanied by the Prague Philharmonia conducted by Emmanuel Villaume, with the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, he performs arias from Rossini's Guillaume Tell, Berlioz' La Damnation de Faust and Les Troyens, Verdi's Jerusalem and Les Vespres siciliennes, Gounod's La Reine de Saba, Meyerbeer's L'Africaine, Massenet's Herodiade, Reyer's Sigurd, Bruneau's L'Attaque du Moulin and Rabaud's Rolande et le mauvais garcon.

Emmanuel Villaume - Photo: Akos Photography
Emmanuel Villaume
Photo: Akos Photography
As the above list shows, Hymel has not restricted himself to the classic Grand Opera of the 1830's and 1840's, but explores how later composers use the heroic tenor voice in Grand Opera. Here, inevitably, the influence is Verdi but Gounod and Massenet also wrote historical operatic epics and the disc concludes with a fascinating trio of later essays in the genre. I was familiar with Reyer's Sigurd because Regine Crespin recorded an aria from it, but the other two were completely new to me.

Large, heroic voices can be tricky to capture well on disc, but here the engineers working in Prague's Smetana Hall have caught Hymel's voice well and it sounds recognisable and believable. He is quite far forward in the aural picture, but the voice itself is sympathetically recorded with no feeling of excessive pressure or unnecessary beat. And what a voice it is. Hymel opens with one of the archetypes of this repertoire, Arnold's Act Four scene from Guillaume Tell. In structure basically a cavatina and cabaletta, but lasting over 12 minutes and requiring a series of crucial top C's, an ability to spin a long emotional line and to then perk up with the vibrant cabaletta. It is impressive the way that Hymel's voice is completely integrated, the crucial top C's are fully part of the voice; one which just seems to go up. It is not effortless, we don't expect that in an heroic voice, but he sings with a fine, narrow-grained tone which he makes by turns thrilling and profoundly expressive.

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Bel canto delight - Jessica Pratt in recital

Jessica Pratt - photo Jonathan Rose
Jessica Pratt - photo Jonathan Rose
Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Massenet, Gounod, Bachelet, Dell'Acqua, Delibes, Thomas
Jessica Pratt and Vincenzo Scalera; Rosenblatt Recitals at Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 19 2015
Star rating: 5.0
Welcome opportunity to hear British-born soprano in a bel canto programme

The soprano Jessica Pratt is British born, raised in Australia and Italian trained, she studied with Gianluigi Gelmetti, Renata Scotto and Lella Cuberli, and her career has very much been based in continental Europe with few, if any, opportunities for British audiences to hear her in the bel canto repertoire for which she has become known. So it was a double pleasure to be able to hear her in recital, with pianist Vincenzo Scalera, at the Rosenblatt Recital at the Wigmore Hall on Tuesday 19 May 2015. Their programme consisted of songs by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Massenet, Gounod, Bachelet, Dell'Acqua and Delibes, along with arias from Bellini's I puritani and Thomas' Hamlet, carefully organised so that the Italian songs led into the Bellini aria at the end of part one, with the French songs in part two concluding with the Thomas aria.

Songs by early 19th century Italian opera composers are rarely as complex as their operatic arias, but all require a strong technique to bring them off. In her selection of arias by Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, Jessica Pratt chose ones which in the main veered more towards opera with some being almost as complex as an operatic cavatina.

St John's Smith Square announces its 2015/16 Young Artists programme

St John's Smith Square Young Artists 2015/16
St John's Smith Square launched its Young Artists programme last year, and the latest group of artists to benefit from the concert hall's support are recorder player Tabea Debus, violinist Joo Yeon Sir, the Ligeti Quartet and the vocal ensemble the Gesualdo Six (director Owain Park).

The Young Artists programme combines the offer of a platform for concerts, with support off the concert platform in important areas like marketing, development and outreach. The Young Artists are each awarded three performance dates in St John's Smith Square over the course of the concert season, with the artists selecting their repertoire, and marketing the concerts to their own following, and producing programme notes, thus giving them the independence they need to progress in their professional careers. The concerts range from lunchtime concerts to full evening recitals and Sunday afternoon chamber music concerts.

Perhaps the most innovative part of the project is the area that the public do not see, marketing, outreach and commissioning, where groups are encouraged to develop new areas of expertise with the support of staff from St John's. The groups get a grant which is put towards developing a marketing initiative, a fund to enable the commissioning of a new work or a new edition of a piece of early music to be performed at one of the concerts. There is also training in outreach and support as they engage with communities of varying backgrounds, including designing their own workshops.

Read more at the St John's website.

Take Flight with Opera Holland Park for just £20

Flight - Opera Holland Park
Opera Holland Park is giving Jonathan Dove's opera Flight its first professional performance in London on 6 June 2015. Directed by Stephen Barlow and conducted by Brad Cohen, the production features a strong cast with James Laing as the Refugee, plus Jennifer France, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, Ellie Laugharne, Lucy Schaufer, Kitty Whately, George von Bergen, Nicholas Garrett, Victoria Simmonds and John Savournin.

The opera was premiered by Glyndebourne on Tour in 1998, and performed at Glyndebourne in 1999 and revived by them in 2005, and it was also broadcast. But it only made its way to London when British Youth Opera performed it in 2008 (with a cast which included Andrew Radley, Nicky Spence and Duncan Rock, you can see the Act One finale on YouTube). You can read an interview with Jonathan Dove, providing more background to the piece, on the Opera Holland Park website.

Opera Holland Park is offering tickets for just £20 for the under 30's, simply phone the box office on 0300 999 1000

Cosi fan tutte for all

Opera for All
Garsington Opera is taking its new production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte to areas where professional companies rarely go, with free screenings around the country. The production debuts on 5 June 2015 with a fine young cast including Romanian soprano Andrea Soare (making her UK), Kathryn Rudge, Robin Tritschler and Ashley Riches as the lovers, Neal Davies as Don Alfonso and Lesley Garrett as Despina. The production is directed by John Fulljames and conducted by Garsington's artistic director Douglas Boyd (We'll be reporting back on the production itself after its debut).

The opera will be presented in free screenings as part of Garsington Opera for All programme set up by Magna Vitae and the Coastal Communities Alliance. I have to confess that one of the reasons that the press release announcement caught my eye was that two of the screenings will be near my home town, in North Lincolnshire. There will be screenings in three coastal communities, Louth (5 July) and Grimsby (29 July) in North Lincolnshire, and Ramsgate (October) in Kent, plus screenings in Oxford (2 July) and at Waddesdon Manor (3 September).

But they aren't just screenings, Garsington Opera for All will work with secondary and primary schools for a week in each area where the film will be screened. The young people will develop their own short opera based on the themes of Così fan tutte, devising and composing their own production and finishing with a performance to the school, and all the participants will come to the screening of the opera. On the day of the opera screening Garsington Opera will work with up to 40 adults from the community to learn and explore themes on Così fan tutte, to produce a 5-10 minute promenade performance.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Music from the Polish baroque - Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki

Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki - Coro
Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki Missa Rorate, Conductus Funebris, motets; The Sixteen, Eamonn Dougan; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 28 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Worth exploring - music from the late baroque in Poland

I had not heard of Grzegorz Gerwazy Gorczycki either, but was intrigued when I saw his name emblazoned on the third of Eamonn Dougan's CD's of Polish renaissance and baroque music on the Coro label with The Sixteen. Gorczycki (1665-1734) is one of the major late baroque composer in Poland and the reason why we have not heard of him is the historical accident of what happened to his music. It is recent scholarship that has opened up his oeuvre, and on this disc we have a wide selection of music that he wrote for the Cathedral and other churches in Krakow where he was a priest. On this disc Dougan conducts The Sixteen, both choir and orchestra, in a mixture of a cappella and accompanied works, In virtute tua Domine, O Rex gloriae domine, Illuxit sol, Missa Roratei, Conductus Funebris, Sepulto Domino and Litania de Providentia divina.

Eamonn Dougan - photo credit Will Unwin
Eamonn Dougan - photo credit Will Unwin
Like most of his contemporaries Gorcycki wrote works in both the unaccompanied antique style, Prima practica, and vocal-instrumental works in seconda practica. The former are reserved in the archive in Krakow and came back into currency in the 19th century, thus giving Gorczycki a rather old-fashioned air. It is only since the Second World War that the extent of Gorczycki's vocal instrumental works have become apparent, giving us a more rounded view of his achievements.

The disc opens with the anonymous bugle call which is traditionally played from the tower of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Krakow. Next comes In virtute tue Domina for choir, two violins and organ, to which a later hand has added two lovely high trumpet parts. More a church concerto than a motet, it mixes instrumental, solo and choral sections using the text of the offertory. This is followed by the a cappella motet, O Rex gloriae which sets the text of the antiphon to the Magnificat for Ascension.

Dobrinka Tabakova at OOTS

"High Line 20th Street looking downtown" by Beyond My Ken - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikipedia -
High Line 20th Street looking downtown, New York
photo credit Beyond My Ken - Own work.
Licensed under GFDL via Wikipedia -
The composer Dobrinka Tabakova is currently resident composer with the Orchestra of the Swan (OOTS) and the group is performing three of Dobrinka Tabakova's works in May 2015. On 22 May 2015 they will be giving the world premiere of Dobrinka Tabakova's piece High Line, based on the new high-level garden in New York, for chamber orchestra, solo violin and jazz trumpet with the solo violin being played by Tamsin Waley-Cohen. Also in the programme will be Dobrinka Tabakova's Centuries of Meditation which is a previous OOTS commission. Then on 29 May, they are performing another of the works they have commissioned from her, Sonnets to sundry Notes of Music. 

Dobrinka Tabakova is not only resident with OOTS in Stratford and Birmingham, but she is a featured composer composer in this years Vale of Glamorgan Festival and we met up earlier this year to chat about her various activities, and you can read our interview on this blog.

You can find out more about OOTS concerts at the Orchestra of the Swan website.

Vivaldi's Women in action at the London Festival of Baroque Music

A visit to the Pieta, music by Vivaldi and Porpora
Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Kati Debretzeni
London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on May 17 2015, Star rating: 4.0
Re-creating Vivaldi's sound-world with an all-female choir

Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi
Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi
London Festival of Baroque Music continued its exploration of women as composers, performers and inspirers of Baroque music with A Visit to the Pieta at St John's Smith Square on Sunday 17 May 2015, when the Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi (aka Vivaldi's Women) and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed from the violin by Kati Debretzeni, performed a programme of music by Vivaldi and Nicola Porpora. The music was written for the Pieta, the ospedale in Venice which took foundlings. Boys were trained for a job in the wider world, but girls either married or stayed on, so musical training gave them a suitable occupation, and the choir and orchestra became famous.

Kati Debretzeni
Kati Debretzeni
One intriguing feature of the Pieta was that it had sufficient mature women with low voices to provide a full SATB choir (rather than singing the bass part an octave higher), and Vivaldi's writing for the lower bass line reflects this. The Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi is unique in attempting to reproduce this sound, by fielding a four-part chorus numbering 24 with four female tenors and two female basses. So we could hear Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus RV595, Clare stellae, scintillate RV625, In exitu Israel RV604, Nulla in mundo pax sincera RV630 and Gloria RV589, plus Nicola Porpora's Laetatus sum with a choral sound pretty much as it may have been. At the Pieta, the girls and women provided, choir, orchestra and soloists, here the Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi provided choir and an array of talented soloists from amongst the choir's ranks, accompanied the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment directed from the violin by Kati Debretzeni. We also heard Kati Debretzeni as a soloist in Vivaldi's Concerto in D major for violin, strings and continuo ‘a due cori’, RV 582, ‘per la Santissima Assontione di Maria Vergine’ 

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenement
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenement
The choral sound from the choir is very particular,  and I suspect that Richard Vendome (the choir's chorus master and artistic director) favours rather a continental tone. Throughout the concert they made a nicely vibrant sound with a slightly soft edge in the lower parts. Listening to this music, performed with female tenors and basses, it was clear how much trouble Vivaldi took with his scoring and writing for the lower voices (his other sacred music written for Venetian institutions with mixed choirs is rather different).

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