Friday 30 September 2016

Mozartian fragment: Zaide from Classical Opera

Mozart - Zaide - Classical Opera - Signum
Mozart Zaide; Sophie Bevan, Allan Clayton, Jacques Imbrailo, Darren Jeffery, Stuart Jackson, Classical Opera, Ian Page
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 20 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A fine performance shows what sophisticated music there is in Mozart's first, unfinished singspiel

Ian Page and Classical Opera have reached Mozart's unfinished singspiel Zaide in their survey of the composer's operas on Signum. Ian Page conducts a strong cast with Sophie Bevan as Zaide, Allan Clayton as Gomatz, Jacques Imbrailo as Allazim, Stuart Jackson as Sultan Soliman and Darren Jeffery as Osmin.

Mozart began work on Zaide in 1779, four years after his previous opera Il re pastore. If completed, Zaide would arguably have been Mozart's first mature opera, in fact he laid aside composition to concentrate on the commission for Munich which would become Idomeneo (premiered in 1781). Zaide was written speculatively, to see if Mozart could get interest from the new German opera company which Emperor Joseph had founded in Vienna, hence the rather unusual decision to write a serious opera in German. It is clear that Mozart's operatic music had made a considerable leap since Il re pastore, and though incomplete the opera really impresses with the sheer sophistication of the writing, particularly the use of the orchestra.

Mozart did think of returning to Zaide after Idomeneo, once he had moved to Vienna, but he realised that Viennese audiences wanted something a bit lighter and the result was an entirely new piece, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Zaide has a similar setting to this latter piece, and similar concerns with a female slave (Zaide) and her lover (Gomertz) keen to escape from the Sultan. But here there are no comic characters, and concerns are intensely serious, as befits a work whose origins lie in Voltaire's play Zaire. The libretto for Zaide does not survive, so we have no idea how the missing final act would have played out, the surviving second act ends with Zaide, and Gomertz recaptured after trying to escape and threatened with execution. No doubt the piece would have ended happily, but it seems unlikely that Mozart and his librettist Johann Andreas Schachtner were planning to use Voltaire's twist of having Zaide and Gomertz turn out to be brother and sister, with the guard who helped them, Allazim, being their father.

Lacking all this, we must simply enjoy the music and there is much to enjoy. As with previous titles in this series we can appreciate the care and attention which Ian Page and Classical Opera bring to the music, with finely shaped melodic lines, and attention to detail and clarity of texture in Mozart's fine orchestrations.

Animals, Shakespeare, War and Comedy: the London Song Festival 2016

Ilona Domnich
Ilona Domnich
The London Song Festival, artistic director Nigel Foster, opens its 2016 festival with All Blood Runs Red at Hinde Street Methodist Church on 10 November 2016. Soprano Ilona Domnich and baritone James Newby (joint 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Award winner), accompanied by Nigel Foster, will be performing songs from First World War, including rarely heard songs by German composers killed in action.

Further concerts at the festival, all accompanied by Nigel Foster, include an animal themed concert with mezzo-soprano Anna Huntley, and baritone Milo Harries on 24 November and, a celebration of Shakespeare with Raphaela Papadakis and Timothy Connor on 1 December (both at Hinde Street Methodist Church) and tenor Nicky Spence in comic songs by Flanders and Swann, Victoria Wood and many more on 13 December (at the Warehouse, Theed Street). Performers from Opera Coast will present No Voice Unheard with music from Second World War concentration camps on 17 November, and in collaboration with Oxford Lieder Festival two of the festival's young artists, soprano Suzanne Fischer and pianist Panaretos Kyriatzidis will present a programme entitled Conflicts in Love on 8 December (both concerts at Hinde Street Methodist Church)

Full information from the London Song Festival website.

Thursday 29 September 2016

Pandemonium at the Royal Festival Hall

Meow Meow's Pandemonium will be happening at the Royal Festival Hall on 1 November 2016.  

Meow Meow, the Australian born actor and cabaret artist, has been seen in London recently both as Titania in the Globe Theatre's production A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the Weimar Cabaret with Barry Humphries and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Next up she is creating an evening of cabaret and song at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, pianist Thomas M Lauderdale, members of Pink Martini and conductor Iain Grandage. The music featured will range from tangos by Astor Piazzolla, songs by Kurt Weill and Jacques Brel through to Radiohead and original songs by Meow, some receiving their premiere performance. 

Thomas Lauderdale formed Pink Martini, (described by the New York Times as a suave salon orchestra) in 1994 and they are about to embark on a tour in celebration of their 21st birthday.

Happy Birthday Radio 3

Radio 3 presenters celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Third Programme, the predecessor of BBC Radio 3, on Thursday 29 September. L-R: Lopa Kothari, Sara Mohr-Pietsch, Max Reinhardt, Tom Service, Katie Derham, Petroc Trelawny, Sean Rafferty
Radio 3 presenters celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Third Programme, the predecessor of BBC Radio 3, on Thursday 29 September. L-R: Lopa Kothari, Sara Mohr-Pietsch, Max Reinhardt, Tom Service, Katie Derham, Petroc Trelawny, Sean Rafferty
Today is |BBC Radio 3's 70th birthday. The radio station was founded in 1946, as the Third Programme, and at 6 pm tonight (29 September 2016), the time at which the Third Programme first went on air, there will be jollification on air and at the Southbank Centre where the presenters from the station are in residence at a pop-up studio as part of a two week residency, Sound Frontiers, from 23 September to 7 October.

So there are celebrations at the Royal Festival Hall this evening, and a specially commissioned drama on Radio 3.  The celebrations are part of a whole season of broadcasting on Radio 3 celebrating 70 years, which launches today and lasts 70 days. Events include the young composer Matthew Kaner being embedded with the station. He will work day-to-day for the entire 70 days, establishing his voice with Radio 3’s listeners via a diverse portfolio of short pieces, among them a premiere every Monday morning for Radio 3’s Breakfast programme.

Seven composers, including Laura Jurd, Laurent Durupt, Jane Harbour and Kate Whitley, are being given their first Radio 3 commission to write a ten minute work, to be performed by a BBC Performing Group or Radio 3 New Generation Artist. Innovative newly composed music projects conceived specifically for radio and celebrating the broadcasting medium will include Matthew Herbert’s Requiem and Florian Hecker's site specific sound installation for BBC Maida Vale Studios. Established composers are being commissioned to write a significant work marking the 70th anniversary for future premier in 2017/18 including a piano concerto from Ryan Wigglesworth and a new work from Tansy Davies for the BBC Philharmonic.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Young Cosi in Highgate

Cosi fan Tutte - Opera Loki
The intriguingly titled Opera Loki will be performing at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate this weekend (until 2 October 2016), when the company will be presenting Mozart's Cosi van Tutte

Started in 2001 the company aims to provide platform for up-and-coming singers, previous cast members have included Daniel Grice, and Kitty Whately. It also offers experience in stage management, design and direction.

The new production of Cosi van Tutte is sung in Jeremy Sams' English translation with Frances Gregory as Dorabella, Adam Temple Smith as Ferrando, Jenny Stafford as Fiordiligi, James Corrigan as Guglielmo, Kystal Macmillian and James Williams as Despina and Don Alfonso. Così fan tutte is directed by Laura Attridge, produced by Jane Gray and musically Iwan Davies is musical director.

Full information from the Opera Loki website.

Ethel Smyth The Boatswain's Mate receives a welcome first recording

Ethel Smyth - The Boatswain's Mate
Ethel Smyth The Boatswain's Mate; Nadine Benjamin, Edward Lee, Jeremy Huw Williams, Lontano Ensemble, Odaline de la Martinez; Retrospect Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 19 2016
Star rating: 4.0

First recording for Ethel Smyth's charming fourth opera

Remarkably, this is only the second of Ethel Smyth's six operas to make it to disc. Despite The Boatswain's Mate being a relatively compact, approachable and tuneful work, one which has managed to garner a modest track record of performances (I heard it performed in Cambridge in the 1980s). Now Retrospect Opera, a company devoted to recording music by 19th and early 20th century British composers) has recorded the work.

Odaline de la Martinez conducts the Lontano Ensemble. (In fact Odaline de la Martinez conducted Smyth's The Wreckers at the BBC Proms in 1994, a performance which was issued on disc thus giving us the first Smyth opera on record. ) The cast includes Nadine Benjamin as Mrs Waters, Edward Lee as Harry Benn, Jeremy Huw Williams as Ned Travers, with Ted Schmitz, Rebecca Louise Dale and Mark Nathan. Rather invaluably the disc also includes excerpts from the opera recorded by Smyth herself after the work's premiere in 1916 with Courtice Pounds, Gilbert Barton, Frederick Ranalow and Rosina Buckman.

Like her contemporary Charles Villiers Stanford (who was four years older than Smyth), Ethel Smyth studied in Leipzig where the memory of Mendelssohn helped to ensure the reputation of the Leipzig Conservatory. In fact Smyth's entire early career has to be understood in a European context rather than an English one. When the First World War started, Smyth had a number of performances planned in major European opera houses (including the premiere of The Boatswain's Mate in Frankfurt, in German). These of course fell through. Her failure to find a sympathetic place in the English musical establishment and the beginnings of her deafness led to a crisis in confidence, and only two further operas followed, neither of them on the scale of Smyth's big romantic drama The Wreckers.

Locklair, Bednall & Hewitt Jones: Showcase concert for the Otakar Kraus Music Trust

I recently reviewed Convivium Records new disc of music by the American composer Dan Locklair performed by Sospiri, conducted by Christopher Watson and there is now a chance to hear the performers in Locklair's music as part of a concert at Merton College Chapel, Oxford on Saturday 1 October 2016. The concert is being given in aid of the 25th Anniversary Appeal of the Otakar Kraus Music Trust. Sospiri will be joined by Sansara and the Cathedral Singers for a performance of Thomas Tallis's Spem in Alium.

The concert will also form a showcase for a number of other recent Convivium discs, with performances of new music by David Bednall (whose Stabat Mater I reviewed recently) and Thomas Hewitt Jones. Performers also include the Illumina Duo (Ellie Lovegrove trumpet and Richard Moore organ), Sebastian Thomson (organ) and the treble Angus Benton (BBC Young Chorister of the Year 2015) accompanied by Malcolm Archer (organ).

The Otakar Kraus Music Trust provides music therapy and music projects for children, young people and adults with physical, learning, neurological or psychological difficulties. The Trust was founded by Dr Margaret Lobo in memory of Otakar Kraus OBE, the Czech born English baritone who created the role of Tarquinius in Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia and King Fisher in Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage in 1955. Otakar Kraus helped Margaret Lobo, also an opera singer, to recover her voice after it was damaged. Margaret thereafter trained as a Music Therapist and inspired by her own experience, founded the Otakar Kraus Music Trust in 1991 in order to help those with communication or other difficulties.

The concert also represents an opportunity to say goodbye to Christopher Watson (co-founder of Sospiri, director of music at St Edmund Hall, and member of the Tallis Scholars) as in January 2017 he takes up the post of director of music at Trinity College, Melbourne in Australia.

Further information from the Otakar Kraus Music Trust website. You can donate to the Otakar Kraus Music Trust's 25th anniversary appeal through the JustGiving website.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

New Teeth at the Thames Tunnel Shaft

New Teeth 2
Bastard Assignments is back with the second of their New Teeth series, this time performing in the atmospheric space of the Thames Tunnel Shaft at the Brunel Museum, Rotherhithe, SE16 4LF on Thursday 29 September 2016. 

As ever the group will be providing an intriguing (and unpredictable) mix of experimental music and interdisciplinary performance from with new work from resident composers Timothy Cape, Edward Henderson, Caitlin Rowley and Josh Spear, plus Elliot Galvin, Jamie Hamilton, Richard Hames, Anna Meredith, and Tom Rose.

You can read my review of the group's gig in Brixton in February this year on this blog, and there is a video of their previous New Teeth event:

NEW TEETH 1 from Bastard Assignments on Vimeo.

Further information and tickets from Brown Paper Tickets website.

Luxury voices in a new ensemble: Sonoro in Rachmaninoff's Vespers

Sonoro & Neil Ferris at Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon
Sonoro & Neil Ferris at Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon
Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil (Vespers) Op 37; Sonoro, Neil Ferris; Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 22 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Always a huge pleasure to hear the Rachmaninoff Vespers, especially a beefy version

Sonoro is a new professional chamber choir of 17 trained soloistic voices (four per part plus an extra bass was the line-up for tonight’s concert). Conducted by Neil Ferris the choir performed Rachmaninoff's All-Nigth Vigil (Vespers) Op 37 at Sacred Heart Church, Wimbledon on 22 September 2016. They have been brought together by conductor Neil Ferris and pianist Michael Higgins and aim for a warm, European sound. I assume this is a statement about what they are not, and so the choice of Rachmaninoff’s monumental Vespers meant we looked forward to a massive, free (some might say vibrato-heavy) reading of the piece.

The venue, Sacred Heart Church in Edge Hill, Wimbledon, might seem a bit off the beaten track but it was packed; whether this was the piece, the group or the venue I couldn’t tell, but it was impressive nevertheless.

The evening started 15 minutes late and Neil Ferris kept us in suspense for a further 20 minutes with a talk illustrated with sung extracts from the Vespers. I am not sure who the talk was intended for, but it was rather short on scholarship with many confessions that material was lifted from Wikipedia. Frankly I’d have preferred the show to start on time and go home and Google it from the comfort of a padded typing chair rather than sitting on a wooden pew for an extra half hour. The printed programme contained a nice, concise essay about the background to the piece and Rachmaninoff’s relationship with the Orthodox church.

Sonoro choir
I really enjoyed the sound of bigger, grown-up voices and was glad to hear the vibrato that feels compulsory for this repertoire.

Monday 26 September 2016

Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats

Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats
Ancient Music of Scandinavia: Ice and Longboats; Åke Egevad, Jens Egevad, Ensemble Mare Balticum, Ensemble Mare Balticum; Delphian
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 13 2016
Star rating: 4.0

The second in Delphian's European Music Archaeology Project disc, trying to evoke the music of ancient Scandinavia

We do not know very much about Viking music, just enough to know that they made music but a frustrating lack of information about what it sounded like. There are a few visual clues, and of course items from the archaeological record, but little in the way of written description.

This new disc from Delphian, the second in their series produced in collaboration with the European Music Archaeology Project (see my review of The Ancient Music of Scotland) solves the problem in two ways. First we have performances on instruments reconstructed on the basis of archaeological finds. And then there are performances of music from the earliest written records, music from the Christian period from 1050 to 1530 AD. There is something of a gap between the two periods, and the booklet makes no claims for the survival of elements of the earlier musical culture in the later one. But clearly the very juxtaposition of the two is fun, and makes you think. The disc is performed by the musicians and instrument makers Åke Egevad and Jens Egevad (father and son), and Ensemble Mare Balticum (Ute Goedecke, Per Mattson, Stefan Wikstrom, Cajsa S Lund) with soprano Aino Lund Lavoipierre.

Popularisation or dumbing down: Il Volo sing The Three Tenors

Il Volo
Il Volo is an Italian singing trio (Piero Barone, Ignazio Boschetto, Gianluca Ginoble), combining operatic style voices with a pop ethos, created in emulation of the success of The Three Tenors. Unlike the original Three Tenors, I am not sure whether the members of Il Volo have any stage operatic experience, but they have created a striking product, are certainly photogenic and they represented Italy in the 2015 Eurovision Song Competition. 

The group's arena concert in Florence in July, Un Notte Magica, is being released as a CD and DVD this week. Not a specially noteworthy event for this blog, perhaps, except that the concert included an appearance from Placido Domingo, one of the legendary original three tenors (and the event also had the support of the Fondazione Luciano Pavarotti).

I have to confess that I was always rather doubtful of the original Three Tenors phenomenon, but at least you knew that three (Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo) were able to give creditable (and more) performances as Calaf in Turandot live on stage as well as belting out 'Nessun dorma' in an arena with the benefit of significant amplification. Undoubtedly the singers in Il Volo have operatic style voices, but as none of them is over 25 even if they could sing Calaf they certainly shouldn't be singing that sort of repertoire yet. So you are left with the conundrum, if opera singers can turn crossover then why shouldn't other singers seek to emulate the same style? So is it popularisation or dumbing down?

Riveting counterpoint: Kimiko Ishizaka in Bach's The Art of Fugue

Kimiko Ishizaka Photo credit: Intuitive Fotografie - Philippe Ramakers
Kimiko Ishizaka
Photo credit: Intuitive Fotografie - Philippe Ramakers
On Friday (24 September 2016) the pianist Kimiko Ishizaka performed Bach's The Art of Fugue at St John's Smith Square, giving the UK premiere of her own completion of the work. Before the concert I gave a pre-concert talk, talking about the historical background to the work, what survives of Bach's intentions for the final, incomplete fugue, and how other performers have approached completing (or not completing) the piece.

It was a great occasion, with an audience who were clearly riveted by Kimiko's playing. The Art of Fugue is not a light work, 80 minutes of intense counterpoint which Kimiko plays from memory, and requiring concentration from performer and audience. You can read more about Kimiko's performing in my review of her performance in Cologne in March this year.

Visceral Verdi: Noseda conducts the Requiem with the LSO

London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
Verdi Requiem; Erika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona, Francesco Meli, Michele Pertusi, London Symphony Orchestra, Gianandrea Noseda; Barbican Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Sep 20 2016
Star rating: 4.5

Quite a season opener, Gianandrea Noseda's first concert as the LSO's principal guest conductor

Giandrea Noseda
Giandrea Noseda
The wise programmers at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) gave the public two chances to hear the opening concert of the 2016/17 season. The first had been live-streamed and this was the second, two days later (Tuesday 20 September 2016) at the Barbican HallGianandrea Noseda conducting the Verdi Requiem with the LSO and London Symphony ChorusErika Grimaldi, Daniela Barcellona, Francesco Meli and Michele Pertusi. We were marking Gianandrea Noseda’s first London appearance as Principal Guest Conductor as well as the 50th anniversary celebrations of the London Symphony Chorus. I think we can safely say it was bound to be An Event.

And so it was. We knew we were going to be in for big sounds, too. The number of acoustic screens on stage was noticeable, and when the four soloists came on and stood upstage right, in front of the timpani and percussion (with acoustic screens behind them), it was clear it wasn’t going to be all about the soloists, as is often the case with the Verdi Requiem.

Sunday 25 September 2016

Concert of Memories

Gillian Keith - Photographer: Sabine Mardo
Gillian Keith - Photographer: Sabine Mardo   

In Concert of Memories at the Royal Over-Seas League, SW1A 1LR, on Monday 26 September 2016, soprano Gillian Keith and pianist Simon Lepper will give a concert in memory of the late Roderick Lakin MBE, the former Director of ROSL Arts. The programme consists of Schubert, Mozart, Debussy, Strauss and more, revisting some of the music the performers associate with their performances at the Royal Over-Seas League. 

As Director of ROSL Arts from 1984 until his death following a tragic accident in 2015, Roderick Lakin provided support to the careers of countless young musicians, through the Royal Over-Seas League Annual Music Competition and through advice, guidance and support. (You can read Gillian Keith's tribute to Roderick on her website and hear Roderick himself talking about the work of ROSL Arts on YouTube).

Full information from the Royal Over-Seas League website.

Saturday 24 September 2016

The Great Silence: Samuel Bordoli's anthem remembering Britain's choristers

Samuel Bordoli
Samuel Bordoli
Most new pieces are lucky if they get a couple of performances or so, but Samuel Bordoli's new anthem, written in memory of choristers killed in World War One has a whole sequence of performances planned.

On Monday 26 September 2016, Samuel Bordoli's The Great Silence, will receive its premiere at St George's Chapel Windsor when the choirs of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Her Majesty's Chapel Royal, St James's Palace, Her Majesty's Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace and The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy perform it as part of a Windsor Festival concert celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday.

The anthem is written in support of London Music Masters, the charity which supports music in some of the UK's most deprived schools, and there are performances planned for a whole variety of choirs including at St Paul's Cathedral. I recently met up with Samuel to find out a little more.

The anthem commemorates the choristers who fell during World War One which, Samuel comments, is a musically complex thing to do. So, using the text (Ivor Gurney's poem Song and Pain) Samuel has created two distinct moods with the idea of resurrection coming out of horror and sorrow, with the sense of re-birth on entering the 'House of Joy'. The work is set for chorus and organ, but it opens with a sorrowful atmosphere with unaccompanied chorus, with the organ entry causing a change of mood. Samuel has found that having the organ dropping out of the texture occasionally can create a remarkably dramatic effect.

Having been asked to write a work commemorating World War I, Samuel was keen for the piece to be something other than just 'another commemorative piece' and to create something of a practical legacy. So the piece is supporting what Samuel calls 'the amazing work' of London Music Masters. The idea being not only to raise money to inspire people and to create opportunities, making the charity's work more known.

Wit and wisdom worn lightly: Steven Isserlis's commentary of Schumann's Advice to Young Musicians

Robert Schumann's Advice to Young Musicians Revisited by Steven Isserlis
Robert Schumann's Advice to Young Musicians Revisited by Steven Isserlis; Faber and Faber
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 23 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A modern humanising commentary to Schumann's timeless advice

Robert Schumann produced his Advice to Young Musicians in 1848 to accompany his Album for the Young. Now cellist Steven Isserlis has produced his own version Robert Schumann's Advice to Young Musicians Revisited by Steven Isserlis (Faber and Faber). In this delightful little book Steven Isserlis has reprinted Schumann's aphorisms and added his own commentary.

It isn't so much a bringing Schumann up to date, in fact much of Schumann's advice is both timely and timeless, but providing a modern interpretation and humanising touch. There is a wit, charm and wisdom to Isserlis's comments which means he really does bring this rather daring enterprise off.

Isserlis has re-arranged Schumann's aphorisms into chapters, On Being a Musician, Playing, Practising and Composing, and then adds a short chapter of his own advice on these topics. The whole makes sense as a modern commentary on Schumann, but it also provides a very practical guide to being a musician in the 21st century.

Friday 23 September 2016

A tour de force: Barry's Beethoven

Barry meets Beethoven - Orchid Classics
Gerald Barry Beethoven, Schott & Sons, Mainz; Stephen Richardson, Chamber Choir Ireland, Crash Ensemble, Paul Hillier; Orchid Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 16 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Unpredictable yet striking, Gerald Barry's response to Beethoven's words

This disc from Orchid Classics has at its core composer Gerald Barry's interest in his great predecessor Beethoven. The disc is bookended by two substantial works setting Beethoven's own words: Beethoven performed by bass Stephen Richardson and the Crash Ensemble conducted by Paul Hillier, and Schott  & Sons, Mainz performed by Stephen Richardson and Chamber Choir Ireland conducted by Paul Hiller. In between Chamber Choir Ireland and Paul Hillier perform O Lord, how vain, The coming of winter, and Long Time, and the Crash Ensemble performs First Sorrow.

Gerald Barry's music is a very particular, not to say acquired, taste with its regular rhythms, metricality, and sense of order, and yet alarming unpredictability. Barry seems to delight in doing what we might not expect, whether it is harmony that seems deliberately uneven, discontinuities in the logic or sudden lurches in the vocal line.

His mini-opera Beethoven was written in 2007 for Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. It sets Beethoven's letters to his 'immortal beloved' in translations by Emily Anderson (from The Letters of Beethoven). With Stephen Richardson singing the vocal line, Barry's music creates a real sense of Beethoven the person, highly trenchant, unpredictable yet touching in his address to his beloved. But though the words are those of Beethoven the music is most definitely not, yet something of the energy which lights up the performance seems relevant. There is a Stravinskian energy to the instrumental writing, mixed in with Barry's on distinctive voice. I was rather uncertain of the work at first hearing, but it grew on me particularly the profoundly touching ending. And Stephen Richardson's performance is a tour de force, supported by Paul Hillier and the Crash Ensemble.

Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife!

Lucy Stevens in Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife! - photo Geoff Broadway
Lucy Stevens in Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife! - photo Geoff Broadway
There is an interesting contrast between Kathleen Ferrier the person and the artist, the one was down to earth, humorous with a streak of Victoria Wood-like directness and self-mockery, the other was deeply sincere, austere and intense in her ability to express profound emotion with alarming directness. But then, we can now really only know her from her surviving letters, and from her recordings, both distant echoes of a real voice. Now a new show at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama is presenting a new staged dramatisation of Ferrier's life, on 30 September 2017, performed as part of the school's Alumni Recital series given in support of the Scholarship's Fund.

Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife! is written by Lucy Stevens and Chris Baldwin (who also directs), and performed by Stevens with piano accompaniment from Guildhall School alumnus Elizabeth Marcus. The show follows Ferrier's career from her debut in 1940, through her meteoric rise to her early death from breast cancer in 1953. The show uses text from Ferrier's diaries and letters, interspersed with music from Ferrier's repertoire.

Part of Ferrier's mystique as an artist was the way that she combined a certain austerity (she only sang two operatic roles, the title role in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia and Orfeo in Gluck Orfeo ed Eurydice) with a directness which meant that her recordings of folk-songs were enormously popular, and in person she could be great fun. So it is all the more surprising that this is the first such show to treat her life and work in this way. Catch Kathleen Ferrier: Whattalife! at Milton Court concert hall on 30 September.

Full information from the Barbican website.

Whattalife! from Geoff Broadway on Vimeo.

Further ahead the Guildhall School's Alumni Recital Series continues with a ‘Guitar Spectacular’ on 25 October, when the school welcomes back alumni Christina Schorn, Jørgen Skogmo, Erik Høsøien, Matthew Robinson, Jiva Housden and George Tarlton performing music from Baroque to contemporary.

Thursday 22 September 2016

A welcome chance to explore: Hasse's Demetrio from Opera Settecento

Opera Settecento - Augusta Hebbert, Rupert Charlesworth, Michael Taylor, Leo Duarte, Erica Eloff, Ray Chenez, Chiara Hendrick
Hasse Demetrio - Opera Settecento
Augusta Hebbert, Rupert Charlesworth, Michael Taylor, Leo Duarte, Erica Eloff, Ray Chenez, Chiara Hendrick
Johann Adolph Hasse Demetrio (1740 version); Erica Eloff, Michael Taylor, Ray Chenez, Ciara Hendrick, Rupert Charlesworth, Augusta Hebbert, cond: Leo Duarte; Opera Settecento at the Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 21 2016
Star rating: 4.5

A welcome opportunity to hear a rare Hasse opera in an enjoyably engaging performance

Writing in the mid-eighteenth century, Charles Burney named Johann Adolph Hasse as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, opera composer of the age. Hasse had a long career, JS Bach heard one of his operas in Dresden, and the teenage Mozart heard and admired Hasse's music. Hasse wrote an enormous number of operas, popular in their day yet which have not made it to the modern stage. At the Cadogan Hall on 21 September 2016, Opera Settecento gave us the chance to hear for ourselves when the company gave the modern premiere of Hasse's 1740 version of Demetrio based on a libretto by Metastasio. Leo Duarte conducted (and was responsible for the edition used), with Erica Eloff, Michael Taylor, Ray ChenezCiara Hendrick, Rupert Charlesworth and Augusta Hebbert.

Metastasio's libretto Demetrio was written in 1731 and first set by Caldara, with Hasse producing his first version in 1732 in Venice. In 1740 Hasse revisited the opera, extensively revising and re-writing it for the carnival season in Dresden. It was this version which we heard at the Cadogan Hall. The opera pre-dates the period when Hasse collaborated closely with Metastasio, setting his librettos uncut and unchanged, but the 1740 version of the opera is a lot closer to Metastasio's original than that of 1732.

We still view early 18th century opera seria through the prism of Handel's operas, the works from the period which have achieved the greatest popularity. Yet Handel was by no means typical. In fact he rarely set Metastasio's librettos, generally preferring to re-use librettos from an earlier period rather than contemporary ones. And English taste seems to have made Handel cut the recitative extensively.Yet clearly the taste in Dresden was different, because Hasse's operas for Dresden are notable for their length and their extensive recitative, it is here that the beauties of Metastasio's poetry can be appreciated. Opera Settecento cut Demetrio so that the running time came to around three hours, with one interval, but we still got a real sense of the way the extensive recitative was essential to showing how Metastasio and Hasse approached the drama.

Hitchcock at the London Coliseum

North by Northwest
Alfred Hitchcock's film North by Northwest is a classic. And now it is to be done at the London Coliseum, not I hasten to add as a stage work. The film is being shown at the Coliseum on Sunday 27 November 2016 with Bernard Herrmann's score performed live from the pit by the English National Opera Orchestra conducted by Michael Seal, associate conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. 

Hitchcock's film appeared in 1959, starring Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint, and in fact Saint will be making a personal appearance at the filming and introducing the film. North by Northwest appeared in the middle of a run of classic Hitchcock films with iconic Herrmann scores, being followed by Psycho (1960) and preceded by Vertigo (1958).

Full information from the ENO website.

Ravi Shankar's only opera brought to the stage in 2017

David Murphy with Anoushka and Sukanaya Shankar (Ravi Shankar's daughter & wife)  - photo Sim Canetty Clarke
David Murphy with Anoushka & Sukanaya Shankar (Ravi Shankar's daughter & wife)
photo Sim Canetty Clarke
Ravi Shankar's only opera Sukanaya will receive its world premiere as part of a UK tour presented by the Royal Opera, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Curve. The opera will debut at Curve, Leicester on 12 May 2017 as part of their programme celebrating 70 years since India's independence, before touring to The Lowry, Salford (14 May 2017), Symphony Hall, Birmingham (15 May 2017) and the Royal Festival Hall (19 May 2017). A semi-staged production will be directed by Suba Das and conducted by David Murphy, with Susanna Hurrell, Keel Watson, Michel de Souza, the BBC Singers, the London Philharmonic Orchestra (supplemented with Indian classical instruments including the sitar, shennai, tabla, mridangam and ghatam), with dancers and choreography from the Aakash Odedra Company

David Murphy was Ravi Shankar's collaborator on his Symphony which was premiered by the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2010. And it is Murphy who has be responsible for bringing the opera Sukanaya to fruition, with the help of Shankar's daughter Anoushka. Though Shankar had had the idea for the opera some time ago, inspired by the story of his wife's name. He was only able to start working on it towards the end of his life, and had completed it in outline. The libretto by Amit Chaudhuri is based on the Mahābhārata, but also draws on texts by Tagore, Eliot and Shakespeare, and the opera explores the common ground between music, dance and theatre in the West and in India, bringing Indian classical music into opera.

Posthumous works are always something of a problem, how much of the creator is in the finished work and how much of the facilitators (in this case David Murphy and Anoushka Shankar), and does it matter? With his symphony and sitar concertos, Ravi Shankar successfully negotiated the boundaries between Eastern and Western musics to create something of a dialogue. It will be interesting to see how successful he was in bringing this to bear on the complex form of opera.

Full information and tickets from the LPO website.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

London: City of Song

London City of Song
Tomorrow night (22 September 2016) the concert London: City of Song at Bush Hall, celebrates every aspect of London's vibrant street-scape in words and music. Soprano Joanna Songi and baritone Jerome Knox are joined by pianist Nigel Foster and actress Sarah Berger for a programme which ranges from folksong, Laura Marling and Ralph McTell to Noel Coward, Gershwin and William Walton with spoken word extracts from Zadie Smith, Neil Gaiman, Richard Rider, Virginia Woolf and many more. We are promised London's darkest corners, its lavender-sellers and Thames boatmen, 19th century émigrés and the Bloomsbury set and many more.

The concert is being given in aid of the Heritage of London Trust, an organisation which seeks out restoration projects which help beautify the city of London, keep its character and charm, and provide a link to its diverse history.

Pianist Nigel Foster is artistic director of the London Song Festival, which starts on 10 November with a concert by Ilon Domnich and James Newby at Hinde Street Methodist Church,

John Beard: Handel's Tenor, the exhibition

Thomas Hudson - John Beard as Macheath, 1743
Thomas Hudson - John Beard as Macheath, 1743
John Beard: Handel's Tenor; Handel and Hendrix in London
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 20 2016
The lively life & career of the 18th century tenor John Beard, told via a sequence of telling objects

Last year Handel & Hendrix in London (formerly known as the Handel House Museum) had an exhibition based around Ellen Harris's book George Frideric Handel: A Life with Friends (see my article), adding telling objects to the narrative of the book. Now a new exhibition at the museum John Beard: Handel's Tenor seeks to do the same with Neil Jenkins' biography of Beard (see my review of the book). The exhibition runs until 19 February 2017.

Beard had a very full, not to say colourful life, starting out as one of the children of the Chapel Royal, he moved on to singing for Handel, and performing at Covent Garden. His first marriage was to a member of the aristocracy, Lady Henrietta Waldegrave, which left them surrounded by the antagonism of her family. Beard's second marriage, to Charlotte Rich, made him son-in-law to John Rich the proprietor of Covent Garden and this Beard eventually took over from his father-in-law. Running as a thread through this are Beard's performances for Handel, including having the title roles in Samson and Jephtha written for him.

So not surprisingly, musical scores pay a large role in the exhibition and some are telling objects indeed. We see the score for Handel's Esther alongside Charles Burney's description of a performance of Esther at Westminster Abbey which included Beard, Beard's own tenor part from The Foundling Hospital Anthem of 1749, and a score of Messiah from 1759 with Beard's name next to the tenor part. This latter was used at a performance just before Handel's death. Other musical scores reflect Beard's wider career, he was well known for singing songs during plays at Covent Garden and Drury Lane so there was A Favourite song sung by Mr Beard at Ranelagh from a collection published in 1762, the popular song The Early Horn which became closely associated with Beard, and the score of Arne's Thomas and Sally which Beard produced at Covent Garden in the 1760's.

The Art of the Obbligato

Eleanor Minney - photo Colourwhite Photography
Eleanor Minney- photo Colourwhite Photography
The Italian word obbligato (from the verb obligare 'to oblige') in baroque classical music implies an instrumental part which is somehow indispensable to the performance, so in baroque arias it can indicate an instrument which takes on a quasi solo role equivalent to the vocal soloist, rather than accompanying. In this role, the obbligato instrument was used extensively by Bach (think of all those arias in the passions) and Handel. Last night, 20 September 2016, we heard a private performance of a recital entitled The Art of the Obbligato performed by mezzo-soprano Eleanor Minney, violinist Davina Clarke, cellist Poppy Walshaw and harpsichordist Tom Forster which explored music written by Handel and Bach, showing how these two composers used the concept of the solo instrument performing alongside the voice.

From Handel we heard three of his Nine German Arias, 'Süßer Blumen Ambraflocken' HWV204, 'Süße Stille, sanfte Quelle' HWV205 and 'Flammende Rose, Zierde der Erden' HWV210. These are some of Handel's few mature works setting his native German.

Davina Clarke
Davina Clarke
There was a selection of arias from Bach's cantatas, with 'Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust' BWV 170 from the cantata of that name, 'Christi Glieder, ach bedenket' from the cantata Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn, BWV 132,  and 'Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze' from the cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, plus the Allegro from the Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Obbligato Harpsichord, BwV 1016, 'Erbarme dich' from the St Matthew Passion, and the 'Laudamus te' from the Mass in B Minor. The four performers took it in turns to introduce the music, giving us background and creating a greater sense of communication with the audience.

Most of the works we heard showed the way the composers used an obbligato violin to decorate, comment on and dialogue with the vocal line, but the aria 'Öffne dich, mein ganzes Herze' had no violin part and instead gave the cello a measure of independence. In the second movement of Bach's violin sonata we heard a different type of obbligato, here Bach used the term to indicate that the harpsichord part was fully written out rather than using figured bass, and in fact Bach effectively gives us a trio sonata with the harpsichord playing two of the parts.

Eleanor Minney sang with clear, plangent tones bringing a nice flexibility to the sometimes elaborate vocal lines, finely complemented by Davina Clarke's violin playing. But what made the performances special was that the players gave us a real sense of chamber music, with a fine interaction between all four of them with each line involving in its own way yet part of a satisfying whole. And it was striking hearing the music in such an intimate setting with just four performers.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Aleksandar Markovic in concert in Leeds and Huddersfield

Aleksandar Markovic
There is a chance to hear Opera North's new music director, Aleksandar Markovic, in concert on 22 September 2016 when he conducts the Orchestra of Opera North in the opening concert of the 14th Kirklees Season at Huddersfield Town Hall. The concert opens with Scriabin, evidently something of a Markovic speciality, with Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique and Rachmaninov's Variations on a theme of Paganini with BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist Pavel Kolesnikov. Markovic has just made his first bow in opera as music director of Opera North conducting the revival of David McVicar's production of Der Rosenkavalier which has just opened at the Grand Theatre Leeds ( until 28 October) and tours to Newcastle, Salford and Nottingham.

Serbian born Markovic has lived in Vienna for the last 20 years so it will be interesting to find out how he finds music making in the North of England. Given his Viennese connection it is no surprise to find him returning to the concert podium with the Orchestra of Opera North for their evening of Strauss Waltzes in Huddersfield Town Hall (29 December), and Leeds Town Hall (30 December), and he will again be conducting on 30 March 2017 when he and the orchestra close the Kirklees season (30 March 2017) with a nature inspired concert including Strauss's Alpine Symphony, Sibelius's Tapiola and Bruch's Scottish Fantasy with violinist Jack Liebeck, the concert is repeated in Leeds (1 April 2017).

The orchestra has had a busy summer, not only was it performing in Opera North's concert staging of Wagner's Ring Cycle which the company took on tour, but it gave a performance of Mahler's large-scale Symphony No. 8 at Leeds Town Hall.

Other concerts from the orchestra include Jac van Steen conducting Hadyn and Mozart with soprano Soraya Mafi, Opera North Associate Aritst, and Stefan Blunier conducting Berlioz' Le Corsair, Rimsky Korsakov's Scheherezade and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. In a very different vein the orchestra will be giving film music its focus in a programme of music by John Williams, and a programme of music from James Bond films.

Full details for the Opera North website.

A different view: cello music by Rebecca Clarke

Rebecca Clarke - Raphael Wallfisch, John York - Lyrita
Rebecca Clarke Music for Cello and Piano; Raphael Wallfisch, John York; Lyrita
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 8 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Rebecca Clarke's big boned dramatic music in passionate performances from cellist Raphael Wallfisch

Rebecca Clarke is best known for her viola sonata but on the new disc from Lyrita, cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist John York give us slightly different view of the composer, performing Clarke's Sonata for Cello and Piano, which is the composer's own arrangement of the viola sonata, plus the slightly later Rhapsody for Cello and Piano, along with smaller works and John York's own Dialogue with Rebecca Clarke.

Clarke is one of the great what-ifs of music. One of Charles Villiers Stanford's first female pupils, and one of the first professional women orchestral players, her submission of the Sonata for Viola and Piano to the 1919 Berkshire (USA) Chamber Music Prize sponsored by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge almost achieved first prize except the judges could not believe the music could have been written by a woman. Her trio, with cellist May Mukle and pianist Myra Hess, was highly successful, yet she wrote only sparingly and effectively stopped when she got married in 1944. She suffered from a chronic form of depression and the lack of encouragement or even discouragement which she received for her work also made her reluctant to compose.

The Rhapsody for Cello and Piano was written in 1923 and was a commission from Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The first movement opens with a rhapsodic slow introduction which grows from nothing, before leading into a big boned Allegro. This is complex music, romantic yet tough. The Adagio e molto calmato continues the mood, it is lyrical yet dark with a passionate intensity. The Allegro ritmico is lively and highly rhythmic, yet continues the powerful rhapsodic feel of the earlier movements. The final movement is at first, almost a continuation of the previous one, but it subsides into something rather thoughtful and then dies away to nothing. This is robust music, each movement is a highly varied sequence of textures and structures, but within the overall rhapsodic idea. It strongly and commandingly played by Wallfisch and York.

Monday 19 September 2016

Steven Osborne launches his residency with CBSO, and his 30th Hyperion disc

Steven Osborne - credit Ben Ealovega
Steven Osborne - credit Ben Ealovega
This week the Scottish pianist Steven Osborne starts as 2016-17 artist in residence with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), during which period he will be performing Beethoven, Messiaen, Rachmaninov, Britten and Tippett. He starts with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 conducted by Edward Gardner at Symphony Hall, Birmingham on 22 September 2016. The following day, Osborne performs Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time with members of the CBSO. Further ahead he will be performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with conductor Alexander Vedernikov on 15 and 16 February 2017, Britten’s Piano Concerto with the CBSO Youth Orchestra conducted by Jamie Philipps on 26 February 2017 and Tippett’s Piano Concerto with CBSO’s new Music Director Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla on 14 June 2017.

Next week sees Osborne's recording of three of Beethoven's late piano sonatas, Op. 90, 101 & 106 Hammerklavier, released on Hyperion Records. Osborne has recorded with Hyperion since 1998 and this will be his 30th recording with the company.

Impressive scale and ambition: Nicolas Kaviani's Te Deum

Kaviani - Te Deum - Navona Records
Nicolas Kaviani Te Deum, Tous le matins du monde; Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Janacek Opera Choir, Petr Vronsky, Prague Mixed Chamber Choir, Jrir Petrdik; Navona Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 06 2016
Star rating: 3.5

World premiere recordings of two hugely ambitious works by young American composer

Nicolas Kaviani is a name that is new to me. The American composer has written a large scale setting of the Te Deum for chorus and orchestra which receives its first recording on Navona Records performed by the Janacek Opera Choir and Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Petr Vronsky with soloists Martina Kralikova, Barbora Polaskova, Juraj Nocar, Jiri Pribyl and Karel Martinek. The work is paired with another shorter piece by Kaviani, Tous les matins du monde sung by Prague Mixed Chamber Choir conducted by Jiri Petrdik.

Kaviani studied at the University of California at Santa Cruz under David Cope, and Conservatoire de Musique Olivier Messiaen in Avignon, France. He is clearly a composer of some ambition, the Te Deum is a large scale work lasting some 24 minutes and written in the biggest symphonic style, and has composed a two hour long Missa Solemnis for choir, soloists and orchestra.

In ambition and scope the Te Deum reminds me of Bruckner's setting. Though Kaviani's style is not reminiscent of Bruckner, the all encompassing nature of the setting is Brucknerian in scope. Kaviani seems to come from a non-religious point of view, not only is this a concert work but the work speaks of a very human vitality and frailty rather than aiming for transcendence.

Kaviani writes in a bold late-romantic style which would seem relatively out of fashion at the moment, tonal with a highly chromatic sense of harmony. It is a very big boned work, there are no tunes as such, the work derives its effect from contrast in terms of motifs, harmony and dynamic. All is not bombast, Kaviani does have quieter more intimate moments but I did wonder whether the piece might have been stronger if Kaviani had taken the motto 'less is more' to heart. As it is the work's ambition seems to sometimes outstrip the material, and this seems to reflect the fact that it is a rather early work.

UK premiere of a new completion of Bach's 'The Art of Fugue'

Final page of Contrapunctus XIV of Bach's The Art of Fugue
Final page of Contrapunctus XIV of Bach's The Art of Fugue
The German-Japanese pianist Kimiko Ishizaka will be performing Bach's The Art of Fugue at St John's Smith Square on Friday 23 September 2016, and will be giving the UK premiere of her own completion of the work. Beforehand, at 6.30pm, I will be giving a pre-concert talk about Bach's The Art of Fugue, giving some background on what we know of Bach's intentions in the final, incomplete fugue and talking about Kimiko's new completion.

Kimiko Ishizaka first performed The Art of Fugue with her own completion in Cologne in March 2016, I was there and you can read my article about it on this blog, whilst I was in Cologne I also interviewed Kimiko (see my interview). Kimiko has been slowly exploring the keyboard music of Bach. She recorded the Goldberg Variations in 2012 as part of her OpenGoldberg project, and recorded the first volume of Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier for Navona Records in 2015.

Further information from the St John's Smith Square website.

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