Friday 31 March 2017

Handel's Alceste and Boyce's Solomon: Early Opera Company delight in two unjustly neglected works

Designs by Giovanni Niccolo Servandoni who was to have designed Handel & Smollett's Alceste
Designs by Giovanni Niccolo Servandoni who was to have designed
Handel & Smollett's Alceste
Handel Concerto Grosso Op.6, No.1 and Alceste, Boyce Solomon; Mary Bevan, Benjamin Hulett, James Platt, Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 29 2017
Star rating: 4.5

A pair of rarities in this engaging evening of music by Handel and Boyce

Slap bang in the middle of the London Handel Festival, though not part of it, Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company popped up at the Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 29 March 2017, with a prime Handel rarity, the incidental music for Tobias Smollett's play, Alceste. Curnyn and the company were joined by soloists Mary Bevan (soprano), Benjamin Hulett (tenor) and James Platt (bass) for a programme which include Alceste and the Concerto grosso Op.6 No.1 in G HWV319 plus excerpts from another rarity William Boyce's serenata Solomon.

The programme opened with Handel's Concerto grosso Op.6 No.1 in which the 10 players of the orchestra made a very grand noise indeed. The opening movement was full of colour, with a vibrant sound and plenty of rhythmic vigour. Throughout the piece we noticed the strong sound which the group made, and their sense of vitality. The third movement Adagio, featured some lovely plangent solos whilst the concluding Allegro was full of verve.

The orchestra was then joined by oboes, trumpets and singers making 22 people on a rather crowded stage, not that their music making reflected this. There was a vocal ensemble of eight singers for the choruses, with soloists Mary Bevan, Benjamin Hulett and James Platt singing in the ensemble and two other singers in the ensemble Zoe Brookshaw and Tim Travers Brown also featuring as soloists in Alceste.

Resurrection & Light: Choral music for Passiontide and Easter

Tonight (31 March 2017) Londinium, conductor Andrew Griffiths, present journey through Holy Week in choral music at the Church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, London EC1A 2DQ. An eclectic programme includes music by John Taverner, William Byrd, Jean L'Heritier, Orlande de Lassus, Orlando Gibbons, Anton Bruckner, Josef Rheinberger, Alexander Gretchaninov, Charles Wood, Herbert Howells, Giles Swayne, Jim Clements, as well as James MacMillan's powerful Miserere.

Full details from the Londinium website.

Arab composers residency and Bushra El-Turk premiere

Bushra El-Turk
Bushra El-Turk
The Royal Opera in collaboration with Shubbak the UK festival of contemporary Arab culture, and in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Festival, is presenting four emerging Arab composers in a London residency from 10 to 14 July 2017. This will include the premiere of scenes from Woman at Point Zero, by Lebanese composer Bushra El-Turk at a concert at LSO St Luke's on 13 July, as well as existing works by the four composers resident for the Festival. 

The four composers are Nabil Benabdeljalil (Moroccan), Bahaa El-Ansary (Egyptian), Amir Elsaffar (Iraq-American) and Nadim Husni (Syrian). During the residency, the four emerging composers will experience the work of both The Royal Opera and Shubbak Festival, exploring current and future artistic practice with mentors from both organisations and engaging with leading creatives and producers, and fellow writers and composers.

Woman at Point Zero is a seminal novel by Egyptian author, feminist and doctor Nawal el Saadawi. Bushra El-Turk’s adaptation of the work was conceived in collaboration with German Egyptian soprano Merit Ariane Stephanos, who sings the role of Firdaus, with a libretto by British Egyptian writer Sabrina Mahfouz and directed by Maria Koripas, with a diverse wind ensemble featuring members of Ensemble Zar.

Shubbak: A Window on Contemporary Arab Culture will run from 1 to 16 July 2017.

Thursday 30 March 2017

Mandala: music by Nicola LeFanu and David Lumsdaine

Gemini - Mandala 3 - Metier
Nicola LeFanu, David Lumsdaine; Sarah Leonard, Aleksander Szram, Gemini, Ian Mitchell; metier
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 22 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A double celebration of the music of two major contemporary composers

This disc on Metier marks two significant birthdays, Nicola LeFanu's 70th birthday in 2017 and David Lumsdaine's 85th birthday in 2016, and the disc also commemorates the long association that the ensemble Gemini has had with the music of both composers. Directed by Ian Mitchell, the ensemble is joined by soprano Sarah Leonard and pianist Aleksander Szram to perform Nicola Lefanu's Invisible Places and Trio 2: Song for Peter, and David Lumsdaine's fire in leave and grass and Mandala 3.

Nicola Lefanu's Invisible Places for clarinet and string quartet (Ian Mitchell, Caroline Balding, David Angel, Yuko Inoue and Joe Cole) was written in 1986 and consists of 16 short movements lasting a total of around 16 minutes, but the movements play continuously. The inspiration behind the piece is Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, with Lefanu in her CD booklet note crediting Calvino with providing a model of how to create a narrative based on many tiny discontinuous ideas. It is a spare and thoughtful piece, and from the opening there is a strong sense of small fragments coming together to make a whole. The strings function principally as a group, and there is a strong feeling of dialogue between them and the clarinet, and though there are moments of drama the conversation soon returns down to a more considered level. It receives a performance which is intense and very focused.

fire in leaf and grass is a short piece by David Lumsdaine from 1991 setting a text by Denise Levertov for soprano, Sarah Leonard, and clarinet, Ian Mitchell. This is a little gem with a nearly unaccompanied soprano and clarinet part separate, the two weaving round.

Crowdfunding; Last 12 hours

Crowdfunding for the new CD of my songs, Quickening: songs to texts by English and Welsh poets, closes in less than12 hours (at 8pm, 30 March 2017). So far we have had a terrific response with 39 supporters on the Crowdfunder website plus a private donation, making a great total of over £1900 which goes a long way towards the costs of the recording.

The disc will be coming out in September on the Navona Records label, with settings of Rowan Williams, A. E. Housman, Ivor Gurney and Christina Rossetti performed by Anna Huntley (mezzo-soprano), Rosalind Ventris (viola), Johnny Herford (baritone) and William Vann (piano).

Many thanks to everyone who has supported, and please do visit the Crowdfunder page if you have not already.

A glimpse of work in progress: the National Opera Studio at Rhinegold Live

The current young artists at the National Opera Studio (Photo Malcolm Johnson)
The current young artists at the National Opera Studio (Photo Malcolm Johnson)
Operatic excerpts; National Opera Studio; Rhinegold Live at Conway Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Mar 27 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Ruth enjoys performances by young singers at the start of their journeys

This was a mid-term showcase from the current cohort at the National Opera Studio: four of its singers, Caroline Modiba (soprano), Laura Zigmantaite (mezzo-soprano), Joseph Doody (tenor), Benjamin Lewis (baritone), and two pianists, Frederick Brown & Edmund Whitehead, in a short programme of operatic excerpts by Strauss, Verdi, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Gounod, Bizet, Puccini, Sullivan, Lehar, Gershwin, and Bernstein under the Rhinegold Live banner at Conway Hall on Monday 27 March 2017. The evening was introduced by one of the Studio’s first alumni, David Gowland, now Head of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, and followed by a short Q&A, chaired by Rhinegold’s Ash Khandekar, discussing the transition from conservatoire to the world of work.

Rather than using the Conway Hall stage, the performers and the beefy Bösendorfer (on loan from Markson’s) were on a low riser on the floor in front of the closed curtain. It brought them eyeball-to-eyeball with the audience – one of the skills a modern opera singer needs to learn, according to Gowland. They each introduced a group of arias or ensembles, in a charming style that assumed the audience knew the repertoire – which they did: “Not a very original programme,” said my neighbour. Nobody strayed very far from the Schirmer aria anthologies, which made it hard for the audience to listen with new ears.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason returns to the Shostakovich Cello Concerto

Sheku Kanneh-Mason
Sheku Kanneh-Mason
The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain's Spring residency will culminate in a pair of concerts conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto, at Leeds Town Hall (8 April) and the Barbican (9 April) in which Sheku Kanneh-Mason performs Shostakovich's Cello Concerto No 1. This is the work with which Kanneh-Mason won BBC Young Musician in 2016, and it is his first UK performance of the work since then.

Also in the programme is a rare outing for The Night of the Mayas by the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas (1899-1940), a suite of music taken from the 1939 film of the same name. Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto is the chief conductor of the Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de México.

The London performance will be broad cast by Boiler Room TV.

Looking ahead: London Piano Festival goes Russian

Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen - ©Sim Canetty-Clarke
Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen - ©Sim Canetty-Clarke
Following the highly success first festival last year, Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva's London Piano Festival returns for its second outing at Kings Place from 5 to 8 October 2017. This year's festival has a Russian theme, with a line up of pianists including Nelson Goerner, Ilya Itin, Lisa Smirnova, Jason Rebello, Danny Driver and Melvyn Tan. Owen and Apekisheva have commissioned a new piece for two pianos, from Russian-born British composer Elena Langer, and Melvyn Tan will be premiering a new piece by Kevin Volans.

As last year, the festival will include a Two-Piano Marathon in which Owen, Apekisheva and Danny Driver and other pianists will be performing music for two pianos John Adams, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Schumann, Shostakovich, Lutoslawski as well as Elena Langer's new piece, which is inspired by Kandinsky's paintings.

The Festival opens with a joint recital by Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva. After Charles Owen performs Brahms, Schumann-Liszt, Liszt and Wagner-Liszt, and Katya Apekisheva performs Tchaikovsky and Weinberg, their duo will perform Rachmaninov's Suite No. 2 and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances. The following evening Nelson Goerner will be performing Chopin, Albéniz and Liszt, whilst Lisa Smirnova, Melvyn Tan and Ilya Itin will all be performing recitals on Saturday. The event closes on Sunday with a performance by jazz-fusion artist Jason Rebello.

Full details from the festival website.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum

Church of St Sepulchre without Newgate
Church of St Sepulchre without Newgate
Death and resurrection are the theme of London Concord Singers' Easter concert at the Church of St Sepulchre without Newgate, Holborn Viaduct, London EC1A 2DQ on Thursday, 6 April 2017, 7.30pm. Under conductor Jessica Norton they will be performing Faure's original 1893 version of his sublime Requiem, alongside Jean Langlais' radiant Messe Solennelle, plus music by Messiaen, Gesualdo, Parry, Finzi, and Jonathan Dove which looks at different approaches to the subject of death and resurrection.

Faure's Requiem, Langlais' Messe Solennelle and the accompanied items will be performed with organ accompaniment by one of the rising stars of the organ world, Graham Thorpe who is Sir George Thalben-Ball Memorial Organ Scholar & Assistant Director of Music, St Michael's Cornhill.

Full details from the London Concord Singers website.

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen in Poulenc

Francis Poulenc - The Sixteen, Harry Christophers - Coro
Poulenc Mass in G, motets, Un soir de neige; The Sixteen, Harry Christophers; Coro
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 17 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Poise and sensitivity

Poulenc is one of the composers chosen for this year's Choral Pilgrimage from Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (the other composer being Palestrina). And to complement the concert series, Harry Christophers and the choir have recorded a disc of Poulenc's choral music with the Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence, Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel, Litanies à la Vierge Noire, Salve Regina, Ave verum corpus and Mass in G, plus the secular cantata Un soir de neige setting words by Paul Eluard.

Regarding Poulenc's sacred music, the selection is no quite complete and it is a particular shame that the Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise were not recorded. But the selection represents a fine overview of Poulenc's voice when writing sacred music. The repertoire on the disc covers Poulenc's first sacred music Litanies à la Vierge Noire, written in 1936 on his re-discovery of his Roman Catholic faith after the death of a close friend, through to the Ave Verum Corpus and Quatre motets pour le temps de Noel written in the 1950s.

As a contrast, the disc also includes Poulenc's chamber cantata Un soir de neige setting texts by Paul Eluard (a composer whose work Poulenc would use both in songs and in the cantata Figure humaine). Written in Occupied Paris, over Christmas 1944 the four short but profoundly eloquent movements contrast the beauties of nature with cold and death.

A Celebration of World Voices; the International Youth Choir Festival

Riga Cathedral boys choir
Riga Cathedral boys choir
The International Youth Choir Festival 2017 features a pair of concerts and a daytime conference, hosted by the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain and the Royal Albert Hall, featuring a group of the world's top youth choirs. There will be eight choirs from four continents, performing concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, plus a conference and workshops at the Royal Albert Hall aimed at choral leaders, aspiring singers and music teachers. I caught up with Greg Beardsell, deputy artistic director of the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain to find out more.

On Easter Saturday (15 April 2017) at A Celebration of World Voices at the Royal Albert Hall will be a showcase for each of the choirs concerned. Then there is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear the 450-voice super-choir, as the eight choirs come together as a 450-voice super choir at Global Voices at the Royal Festival Hall on Easter Monday (17 April 2017) with a performance of Jonathan Dove's Cantata, There was a child, with the Southbank Sinfonia, tenor Robert Murray, soprano Louise Alder, conductor Ben Gernon.

Mzansi Youth Choir
Mzansi Youth Choir
The eight choirs featured at the festival are very varied in their styles and Greg briefly introduced them. The Boston Children's Chorus has a membership drawn from the broad spectrum of economic conditions in Boston, and they were chosen a shining example of how to bring together a diverse range of people across a major city to encourage social change. The Hong-Kong based Diocesan Boys School Choir was built on a British public school model in the 1860s, and is one of the finest choirs for changing and changed voices in the world. The Manado State University Choir represents not only the country of Indonesia but in a more complex sense, the new directions in choral music worldwide. They incorporate improvisation and experimentation into their music, spanning the entire western canon, Southeast Asian choral music and popular music with choreography, and they re-imagine choral music as a contemporary convergence of cultures expressed in drama, dance and song. Mzansi Youth Choir from South Africa is regarded as the best performing choir in the country. Mzansi create opportunities for talented underprivileged young South Africans and they commission new South African compositions and educate their members and audiences about the many diverse South African musical genres.

Boston Children's Chorus
Boston Children's Chorus
The National Youth Choir of Great Britain is the flagship ensemble within a structure of five choirs of 750 singers ages nine to 24. It's mission is to discover and support musical talent within the UK, provide inspirational teaching and guidance, create exceptional performing opportunities and enthuse all young people in the joy of singing. The Norwegian National Youth Choir consists of 40 young people aged 16-26 gathered from across Norway. Their repertoire is vast, spanning 500 years of choral music with particular focus on folksongs of Scandinavia. They have been selected for the festival to demonstrate the excellence and prevalence of Scandinavian singing which is the envy of the choral world. The boys choir of Riga Cathedral was first established in Latvia in 1950, and since 1994, the boys have been part of the Riga Dom Choir School. They consist of around 40 boys and 15 professional male singers. Belonging to the elite lineage of Baltic choral music, they have been chosen for the festival to demonstrate the potential of unchanged voices. The Sawa choir is a group of young female voices based in Israel. A relatively new choir, this ensemble was set up to bring together Israelis and Palestinians in a safe and respectful musical environment with no internal religious or ideological borders. Sawa choir have been selected for the festival to illustrate the power of music to cultivate open-mindedness and bridge communities in direct conflict.

Sawa Choir
Sawa Choir
During the festival, the eight choirs will be based at two schools which will give the different groups chance to interact, and the choirs will get the chance to make music together and experience each others' brilliance! They also have the opportunity to perform on the two of the greatest stages, the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, as well as taking part in extra performances and simply seeing London.

All the choirs will be taking part in a concert and  on the Sunday, some of the choirs will be performing at Easter Sunday services at London Churches - The Mzansi Youth Choir and Boston Children's Chorus will be at St James' Piccadilly, Sawa Choir and Manado State University Choir will be at St Luke's, Chelsea, Norwegian National Youth Choir will be at the Norwegian Church. In the afternoon all the choirs come together at Chelsea Football Club's home, Stanford Bridge Stadium, to rehearse the Jonathan Dove oratorio There Was A Child. Chelsea are also providing lunch, dinner and tours of the stadium!,

During the conference at the Royal Albert Hall, the delegates will be able to attend workshops and seminars which give them skills and inspiration plus methods of either kick-starting activity in their school or local community or taking their existing activity to the next level. All delivered by leading experts from the UK and the leaders of the festival choirs. Ticket sales are going well!

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Beyond the music: Christina Rossetti and my song-cycle Quickening

Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
For this final article in my series on the poems behind my songs on our new disc Quickening: Songs to texts by English and Welsh poets for which we are currently crowd funding I look at the poetry of Christina Rossetti whose poems form the basis of my song cycle Quickening which is performed on the disc by Anna Huntley (mezzo-soprano), Rosalind Ventris (viola) and William Vann (piano).

Christina Rossetti was the youngest daughter of Gabriele Rossetti, a poet and a political exile from Abruzzo in Italy, and Frances Polidori, the sister of Lord Byron's friend and physician, John William Polidori. One of Christina’s elder brothers was the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whilst her other brother William and her sister Maria were both writers, and Christina dictated her first story to her mother before she had learned to write. When she was in her early teens her father became too ill to work, and with her mother and both her brothers working and her elder sister going as a live-in governess, Christina suffered from the resulting isolation and had a nervous breakdown and bouts of depression.

Both Christina and her mother were drawn to Anglo-Catholicism and religion was to remain important to Christina throughout her life. She began writing down and dating her poems from 1842, and started being published when she was 18. Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862, when she was 31 and it received widespread critical praise. After Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s death in 1861, Christina Rossetti was seen as the foremost English woman poet. Religious themes would continue to play a large role in her poetry.

Throughout her writing career her brother Dante Gabriel was important to Christina, she would write in 1888, ‘Perhaps the nearest approach to a method I can lay claim to was a distinct aim at conciseness; after a while I received a hint from my sister that my love of conciseness tended to make my writing obscure, and I then endeavoured to avoid obscurity as well as diffuseness. In poetics, my elder brother was my acute and most helpful critic.’

The poems chosen for Quickening form a thematic cycle in which the progress of the seasons Autumn, Winter and Spring is paralleled with the poet’s looking forward to death and then resurrection, with the final poem ‘The First Spring Day’ linking the two (‘So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom, / Or in this world, or in the world to come’).

Quickening: Songs to Texts by English and Welsh Poets comes out on the Navona Records label in the Autumn and features my settings of poems by Ivor Gurney, AE Housman, Christina Rossetti and Rowan Williams. Please do support our crowd-funding which closes on Thursday 30 March.

Mr Handel's Scholars

Ruby Hughes, Iestyn Davies, Rupert Charlesworth, Josep-Ramon Olivé, London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings (Photo Maxine Robertson Management)
Ruby Hughes, Iestyn Davies, Rupert Charlesworth, Josep-Ramon Olivé,
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
(Photo Maxine Robertson Management)
Handel; Ruby Hughes, Iestyn Davies, Rupert Charlesworth, Josep-Ramon Olivé, London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings; London Handel Festival at Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 28 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Celebrating 15 years of the Handel Singing Competition with for former finalists

The London Handel Festival's Handel Singing Competition reaches its 15th anniversary this year and to help celebrate four former finalists in the competition, Ruby Hughes, Iestyn Davies, Rupert Charlesworth and Josep-Ramon Olivé, joined Laurence Cummings and the London Handel Orchestra for a gala concert at the Cadogan Hall on Monday 27 March 2017. The music, all by Handel of course, included items from the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, Rodelinda, Dettingen Te Deum, Acis and Galatea, Rinaldo, Solomon, Messiah, Jephtha, Saul and L'Allegro, plus the Concerto Grosso in B flat major Op.3, no.2.

The evening got off to a slightly slow start. The London Handel Orchestra took a while to get accustomed to the acoustic of the Cadogan Hall, which is larger yet drier acoustically than the group's regular home of St George's Church, Hanover Square. And in the opening item, 'Eternal source of light divine' from Handel's Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne, Iestyn Davies' liquid line seemed slightly less effortless than usual, whilst trumpeter Stephen Keavey was unfortunately having lip problems.

The temperature raised however with 'Pastorello d'un povero armento', Grimoaldo's aria from Rodelinda sung by Rupert Charlesworth. Starting with a vivid accompagnato, Charlesworth created a strong dramatic presence, and whilst the aria might have been in siciliano rhythm there was nothing light about the performance, with Charlesworth creating an intense sense of character.  Josep-Ramon Olivé's account of 'Vouchsafe O Lord' from the Dettingen Te Deum was quieter and more gentle, yet beautifully phrased with highly communicative English.

The problem with a Handel gala is that the scope for vocal ensembles is limited, so whilst the trio 'The flocks shall leave the mountains' is not the most obvious piece to be excerpted from Acis and Galatea, it did give us the opportunity to hear Ruby Hughes, Rupert Charlesworth and Josep-Ramon Olivé together. Hughes and Charlesworth gave a lyrical yet strongly sung account of the duet, with Olivé's interruptions as Polyphemus notable for the sense of character he brought to the role.

Looking ahead: Cheltenham Music Festival

Cheltenham Music Festival
This year's Cheltenham Music Festival, which runs from 1 to 16 July 2017, is artistic director Meurig Bowen's 10th anniversary season, so to mark it he has come up with a fine mix of stellar performances and interesting new music. The festival will include more than 20 premieres including Ryan Wigglesworth's Clocks from A Winter's Tale which will be premiered by the Halle, conductor Jonathan Heyward. John Tomlinson will be giving the first performance of John Casken's Kokoschka's Doll which is inspired by the love affair between Mahler's widow Alma, and the painter Oskar Kokoschka. Other premieres include David Matthews' Haydn Variations which is premiered by Piano4Hands, whilst pianist William Howard's Love Songs includes premieres by nine different composers. 

The festival's closing event features New English Ballet Theatre performing at Frank Matcham's Everyman Theatre with new choreography to Max Richter's Four Seasons Recomposed.

Tewkesbury Abbey is the venue for Tenebrae's performance of Joby Talbot's Path of Miracles, his recent work based on the Pilgrimage to Santiago, whilst Gloucester Cathedral will be playing host to performances of RVW's A Sea Symphony and Holst's Hymn of Jesus with Martyn Brabbins conducting the Cheltenham Festival Chorus, Huddersfield Choral Society and the Salomon Orchestra. And Gloucester Cathedral is the highly evocative setting for the Academy of Ancient Music's performance of Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, directed by Robert Howarth.

Festival's Composer Academy enables 12 selected young composers to spend a week at the festival, hearing new works and receiving advice from visiting composers. At this year's academy, the participants will be working with Michael Zev Gordon, percussionist Joby Burgess and the Ligeti Quartet. There is also a chance to hear music by graduates from previous academies with premieres of pieces by Daniel Kildane and James Wilson. Wilson is writing a work for Chineke! Orchestra which makes its festival debut on 10 July..

The festival's rush hour recital series is showcasing recent finalists and winners from the BBC Young Musician competition with recitals from Martin James Bartlett, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Jess Gilliam.

Full details from the festival website.

Artist Development, Summer Festival changes and André de Ridder: Spitalfields Music news

Spitalfields Music
Spitalfields Music has been selected as one of 20 recipients of the inaugural Help Musicians UK National Grants Programme, receiving three years’ funding towards its artist development projects. Also in the news was the announcement that André de Ridder will be the Artistic Curator for Spitalfields Music's Winter Festival 2017, this one of a group of changes and developments at the festival. The plans are for the summer festival to move to a more flexible format, which is no bad thing when the Summer has become so crowded with festivals and events.

The more flexible summer format will allow space to develop and stage large-scale commissions, and greater links are planned between the festival programming and Spitalfields Music's lively learning and participation programme.

André de Ridder
André de Ridder
The funding from Help Musicians UK enables Spitalfields Music to expand its Trainee Music Leader scheme, increasing its intake to eight by 2018 and expanding recruitment nationally, to engage a more diverse group of musicians. The scheme supports young musicians to develop the skills and experience to begin careers as workshop leaders in education and community settings. The programme also includes the second year of Spitalfields Music's Open Call initiative, and three music creators from any genre and career stage will receive the time, resources and support to develop ambitious ideas and stretch their practice, leading up to work-in-progress sharings each Spring.

The conductor André de Ridder has a remarkably wide range of interests, whether it be working with the British band These New Puritans, with jazz musician Uri Caine, with composers such as Nico Muhly and Owen Pallett, or developing a relationship with Cologne-based MusikFabrik. For English National opera he has conducted Michel van der Aa's Sunken Garden (in 2013, see my review) and Gerald Barry's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (in 2005). In 2014, Hilary caught him conducting the BBC Concert Orchestra at a concert celebrating 50 years of Nonesuch Records (see Hilary's review) and he conducted the orchestral version of Max Richter's Memoryhouse with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. At Grange Park Opera he conducted Prokofiev's The Gambler in 2007 (see my review on Music and Vision).

Monday 27 March 2017

Jonathan Biss's late style

Jonathan Biss
At Milton Court Concert Hall tonight (27 March 2017) the pianist Jonathan Biss continues his exploration of Late Style. Biss will be contrasting Gësange der Frühe, Schumann’s last completed work before his suicide attempt and institutionalisation, and Chopin’s last large-scale work, the Polonaise-Fantasie, with seven of Kurtág’s Játékok reflecting Kurtág’s deep nostalgia for the music of the past. For the second half of the concert Biss concentrates on the music of Johannes Brahms, tracing an early-to-late trajectory, concluding with 6 Klavierstücke Op. 118 from 1893 (when the composer was 60), Brahms’s most unflinching meditation on death. Full details from the Barbican website.

For Biss's final Late Style concert on 2 May 2017 he is joined by tenor Mark Padmore in an all Schubert programme combining the the Sonata in A major with Schwanengesang, composed in the final year of Schubert’s life in 1828.

Mozart and Haydn. City of London Choir, Leon McCawley and the RPO at Cadogan Hall,

City of London Choir (Photo Filip Gierlinski)
City of London Choir (Photo Filip Gierlinski)
Mozart Piano Concerto in C minor K491, Haydn Theresienmesse in B flat Hob XXII:12; Leon McCawley, Grace Davidson, Catherine Carby, Nick Pritchard, Tristan Hambleton, City of London Choir, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Hilary Davan Wetton; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Mar 23 2017
Star rating: 3.0

Well-disciplined but angry Mozart and Haydn

For the City of London Choir, a programme of Mozart and Haydn represents an earlier offering than their usual big nineteenth- and twentieth-century choral standards. Though they lived up to their reputation for being well drilled and well balanced, this concert on 23 March 2017 at the Cadogan Hall demonstrated that they are more at home in the big, beefy fare than the cool, classical repertoire. Hilary Davan Wetton conducted the choir, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) in Mozart's Tantum Ergo and Piano Concerto in C minor K491 (with soloist Leon McCawley), and Haydn's Theresienmesse in B flat Hob XXII:12 with soloists Grace Davidson, Catherine Carby, Nick Pritchard and Tristan Hambleton.

In the interests of disclosure I should point out that I had been to the wonderful Classical Opera concert of Mozart’s first stage work at St John’s Smith Square two nights earlier (their second performance sadly cancelled because of the atrocity in Westminster), and my ears were still full of the wonderful airy sound Ian Page got from his band and singers. And so hearing the Thursday concert at modern pitch with the RPO felt a bit of a shock. But then, reading the City of London Choir’s mission statement and eavesdropping on the enthusiastic audience members, I realised that my neighbours were not hard-core concert goers, and they had different expectations.

Sheer enthusiasm keeps the fizz in this glass: Opera Integra in Die Fledermaus

Opera Integra - Die Fledermaus
Johann Strauss Die Fledermaus; Opera Integra, dir: Fiona Williams, cond: Sonia Ben-Santamaria; St John's Notting Hill
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Mar 24 2017
Star rating: 3.0

The singers' enthusiasm was infectious in a disappointing staging

Yesterday evening (Friday 24 March 2017) a near sell out crowd braved the discomforts of pew induced paraesthesia for a performance of the perennial favourite Die Fledermaus at St. John’s Notting Hill. This production from Opera Integra was directed by Fiona Williams and conducted by Sonia Ben-Santamaria. Opera Integra is a self funding group that encourages amateur and aspiring professional singers. Bringing talent together to celebrate opera is a laudable aim.

Die Fledermaus’ lampoon of marital fidelity can be an aggressive, satirical parody. Fiona Williams decided that froth would suffice and to be fair the singers’ enthusiasm was infectious. Working in an unusual space like a church can present it’s own problems and requires a bit of thought. Mime to compensate for the lack of a physical set can be tricky and in this case was wholly unnecessary.

Music for the Sun King: An exploration of 18th century music & dance at Royal Academy of Music

Mary Collins and Steven Player (Photo Andrea Liu)
Mary Collins and Steven Player (Photo Andrea Liu)
Music for the Sun King Mouret, Lully, Couperin, Rebel, Purcell, Handel, Corelli; London Handel Players, Academy Baroque Ensemble, Rachel Brown, Adrian Butterfield, Laurence Cummings; London Handel Festival at Royal Academy of Music
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 24 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Fancy footwork and instrumental bravura in a programme exploring music and dance

Dance was everywhere in the 18th century, there was dance of course in theatre and opera as well as the nascent ballet, and dance was an important part of the social fabric. And of course operatic melodies were re-used for social dances and even opera arias used dance-forms like the sarabande and the minuet.

This was the backdrop to the London Handel Festival's Music for the Sun King at the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall on Friday 24 March 2017. Laurence Cummings directed an ensemble comprising members of the London Handel Players and the Academy Baroque Ensemble, with Rachel Brown (flute), Adrian Butterfield (violin) and Milly Forrest (soprano) plus the dancers Mary Collins and Steven Player.

Laurence Cummings, Adrian Butterfield, Rachel Brown, Academy Baroque Ensemble (Photo Andrea Liu)
Laurence Cummings, Adrian Butterfield, Rachel Brown &
Academy Baroque Ensemble (Photo Andrea Liu)
The ensemble had spent a week working with the dancers matching steps to the articulations and bowings of the music. The ensemble comprised 20 players including five members of the London Handel Players, along with Laurence Cummings directing from the harpsichord, and a three student relay on the second harpsichord.

What the evening demonstrated was the remarkable way the choreography counterpointed the music, the virtuosic footwork becoming another element in the piece.

We opened with a group of piece made for the French court. The Symphonie de fanfare by Jean-Joseph Mouret (1682-1738) made a perky entrance piece (complete with Cameron Johnson's trumpet). Then we heard the Suite La Bourgogne with choreography by Louis Pecour (1651 - 1729), and anonymous music arranged by Rachel Brown. Brown explained that notated choreography of the period (usually sequences of foot patterns) survives with music as a single anonymous melodic line. Research can usually uncover the musical originals but for La Bourgogne none have been discovered so Brown had arranged the music for a similar ensemble to Rebel's Les caracteres de la danse which closed the first half. This was a string of short, characterful dances with surprisingly lively footwork in the faster movements and an engaging sense of vitality to the movements seemed to interrupt each other.

Sunday 26 March 2017

Purcell from New York

Purcell - Sacred Music - Resonus Classics
Purcell sacred music; Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, John Scott; Resonus Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 17 2017
Star rating: 4.0

From the archives, John Scott and his admirable choir in Purcell

Resonus Classics continues its series mining the archives of the late John Scott and the choir of St Thomas's Church, Fifth Avenue, New York. For this latest disc, Scott and the choir are joined by organist Frederick Teardo and Concert Royal for a programme of sacred music by Purcell including the anthems O sing unto the Lord, Remember not, Lord, O God, thou art my God, I was glad, and Hear my prayer plus the Evening Hymn with counter-tenor Eric Brenner, the Morning Hymn with treble Daniel DeVeau, Jehova, quam multi sung hostes mei, Te Deum in D major and Voluntary in G major. It is a handsome election which the choir originally recorded in 2010.

The choir achieves and admirable firmness and dexterity in the Purcell, with the treble section notably fine.

Saturday 25 March 2017

Music in our time: from a 70th birthday to young composers

The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge
The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge
Willis, Gotham, Bowler, Gorb, Patterson, Oades, LaVoy, Davies, Chan; Choir of Selwyn College, Dingle Yandell, Onyx Brass, Simon Hogan, Chloe Allison, Michael Bawtree; JAM at St Bride's Church
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 23 2017
Star rating: 4.0

A remarkable range of contemporary music in JAM's annual survey

JAM (the John Armitage Memorial) returned to St Bride's Church, Fleet Street on 23 March 2017 for Music in our Time, its annual concert of contemporary music. The programme featured JAM's 2007 commission, Adam Gorb's Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall, and the London premiere of JAM's 2016 commission, Thomas LaVoy's O Great Beyond, as well as celebrating composer Paul Patterson's 70th birthday with a performance of his When Music Sounds. Also featured in the programme were six works selected from JAM's most recent call for works, Dawn. Brussels. October 12th 1915 by Alison Willis, Fother-Jiggen by Mark Bowler, Laudate Dominum by David Ho-Yi Chan, Tiny Sonata by Max Charles Davies, Isomorphic Fantasy by Mark Gotham and Hear Me When I Call by Jack Oades. The performers were The Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, Onyx Brass, Simon Hogan (organ), Chloe Allison (alto), Dingle Yandell (bass) and Michael Bawtree (conductor).

Alison Willis's Dawn. Brussels. October 12th 1915 for choir, organ (Simon Hogan), solo alto (Chloe Allison), and trumpet, set poetry by Chloe Stopa-Hunt which combined words spoken by Edith Cavell (including a quotation from the hymn Abide with me), and words by Dr Alfred Zimmerman, the German Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. The result was a multi-layered piece with overlapping lines from the double choir and soloist, supported by note clusters on the organ and an off-stage trumpet (mainly echoing the Last Post), an intriguing mix with some lovely choral textures.

Rediscovering Mendelssohn: Liza Ferschtman talks about her relationship with the violin concerto

Liza Ferschtman (Photo Jonathan Zizzo)
Liza Ferschtman (Photo Jonathan Zizzo)
Until relatively recently the Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman had no intention of recording the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, what was the use, it was over-recorded and she had been playing the work since she first started learning it when she was 14 or 15. But suddenly this changed, and her new recording of the work coupled with Mendelssohn's Octet, has recently been released on the Challenge Records label (available from Amazon). Liza was in London recently to rehearse for a forthcoming concert with Martin Roscoe. so we met up to chat further about Mendelssohn and more.

Liza's previous discof solo violin music by Biber, Bartok, Berio and Bach (available from Amazon), came out in 2014 so, thinking about repertoire for a new recording, there were many different ideas on the table. She might have had little thought of recording Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, but it is a work that she is requested to perform regularly. In Spring 2016 she played it twice within a month, once in the Netherlands and once in Weimar.

Her relationship to the work had been renewed

Liza Ferschtman (Photo Jonathan Zizzo)
Liza Ferschtman (Photo Jonathan Zizzo)
With any work Liza has an ongoing process of working on the piece, no matter how well she thinks she knows it. Whilst working on Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, Liza felt a weight lifted off her shoulders, affecting the way she could play the piece, the way that it spoke to her. Her relationship to the work had been renewed, and she felt she could approach the work afresh. She was ready to record it. Not that she claims to have a particular new vision of the work, but she felt a strong desire to share what she felt about the work, to convey something of this freshness of approach. 

Liza first learned the work when she was 14 or 15 and she was, of course, heavily influenced by her teachers and her parents (both musicians). The result was that as an adult, though she played the work with a certain amount of pleasure, she did not feel that she had something specific to say. The Mendelssohn Violin Concerto is one of the most easily playable of the major concertos, and it is a common for young people to learn it. So she felt somewhat weighed down by this communal history of the work, and it has taken her 20 years to feel comfortable with it.

She properly paid attention to what is written in the score

Her fresh approach was a part of a longer process of re-appraisal where she properly paid attention to what is written in the score. The facsimile for Mendelssohn's first version of the concerto exists, and by looking at this she feels you can get an idea of his intentions for the final version. She has also been playing a lot of Mendelssohn's chamber music, which made her more familiar with his language.

Friday 24 March 2017

Rare & revelatory: Vaughan Williams for one and two pianos

Vaughan Williams piano music - SOMM - Mark Bebbington, Rebeca Omordia
Ralph Vaughan Williams piano music; Mark Bebbington, Rebeca Omordia, Anthony Goldstone, Caroline Clemmow; SOMM & ALBION records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 13 2017
Star rating: 4.0

New discoveries and a revelatory new view of familiar works make a pair of discs of RVW's music for one and two pianos essential listening

RVW did not write that much piano music, though music for pianos runs through his career. A pair of recent discs enable us to hear not only his solo piano music, but a rarely performed work for two pianos, as well as music arranged for two pianos.

On SOMM's disc The Piano Music of Ralph Vaughan Williams Mark Bebbington plays The Lake in the Mountains, the Bach arrangement Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ, the harmonisation of Orlando Gibbons' Hymn Tune Prelude on 'Song 13', A Little Piano Book and Suite of Six Short Pieces, and Bebbington and Rebeca Omordia play RVW's Introduction and Fugue for two pianos, Maurice Jacobson and RVW's arrangement of Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and the Fantasia on Green Sleeves.

Vaughan Williams music for two pianos - Goldstone and Clemmow - Albion Records
On Albion Records' disc Ralph Vaughan Williams - Music for Two Piano, Anthony Goldstone (who died earlier this year) and Caroline Clemmow play RVW's Symphony No. 5 in D minor arranged by Michael Mullinar and RVW, edited by Anthony Goldson, The Running Set arranged by Vally Lasker and Helen Bidder, and the Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Arguably RVW's major piano work is his piano concerto, and this forms an interesting backdrop to SOMM's disc. The piano concerto was written for Harriet Cohen, for whom RVW wrote a couple of solo piano pieces. But his final piano solo was written for Phyllis Sellick, who with her husband Cyril Smith gave the premiere of the version of the concerto with the solo part arranged for two pianos. And it was for Sellick and Smith that RVW wrote the Introduction and Fugue for two pianos. Besides these pianists the disc introduces other players who were close to RVW, notably Michael Mullinar and Vally Lasker, both of whom were involved in the initial piano play through that all of RVW's major works underwent.

The Lake in The Mountains from 1947 (written for Phyllis Sellick) is a solo piano piece which RVW created out of an episode from his music for the film The 49th Parallel. It is an atmospheric piece of tone-painting and a fine piece of mature RVW which Bebbington plays with lovely fluidity.

Handel's Belshazzar

Handel - Belshazzar
Handel's Belshazzar is one of his finest, dramatically coherent oratorios yet it does not get as many outings as it deserves. There is a chance to catch it on Saturday March 25, 2017 at St James's Church, Piccadilly, London when Richard Bannan conducts the Petros Singers and a strong cast including Rupert Charlesworth as Belshazzar, Emma Kirkby as Nitocris, James Hall as Cyrus, Giles Underwood as Gobrias and David Allsopp as Daniel.

Written in 1744, Belshazzar features a strong tenor role (the title role) for Handel's favourite tenor, John Beard, for whom he wrote the title role in Samson. The libretto by Charles Jennens was one of the best that Handel set, Jennens had a gift for dramatic structure which escaped some of Handel's other collaborators. The text so enthused Handel that his original draft of Act One ran to something like double its final length.

Full details from the Petros Singers website.

Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs Scheme

Applications are now open for the 2017-2018 Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs Scheme run by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama together with social enterprise Cause4. Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs offers enterprise training, mentoring and funding support to aspiring entrepreneurs in the performing arts and creative industries. 

The Guildhall Creative Entrepreneurs Open Day on 3 May gives potential applicants the opportunity to hear from scheme leaders and alumni, and meet with both established and aspiring entrepreneurs currently working in the creative industries. Since 2016 the scheme has been open to applicants from across the performing arts sector as well as Guildhall alumni and staff.

The scheme offers an intensive 12 month programme and the participants have access to personalised training, mentoring and coaching, office space, professional networks, seminars and workshops, a programme of special events and the opportunity to pitch to select investors, funders and supporters at an organised pitch event towards the end of the 12 months. The deadline for the 2017/2018 applications is 6 July at 5pm. Full information can be found on the Guildhall School website.

Thursday 23 March 2017

Crowd-funding update: Just a week to go

There is just a week to go in our crowd-funding for our new disc Quickening. We have had some great support with over 30 people contributing so far and raising over £1600 (including a private donation). If you haven't already, please do visit:
Many thanks to all those who have supported.

Club Inégales starts its Spring season

Dhruba Ghosh and Kiya Tabassian
Dhruba Ghosh and Kiya Tabassian
The Spring season of Club Inégales starts on Saturday 25 March 2017 when Dhruba Ghosh (sarangi) and Kiya Tabassian (Persian setar) join resident band Notes Inégales. The evening will feature a set from Notes Inégales, a set from Dhruba Ghosh and Kiya Tabassian, and then all join together for a final set presenting new work. On Saturday Notes Inégales will feature Max Bailie (violin), Hyelim Kim (taegŭm flute), Joel Bell (electric guitar), Simon Limbrick (drums/percussion), Martin Butler (piano). 

The weekend of 25-26 March is also the  Academy Inégales weekend when a group of young composers and performers join Peter Wiegold, Martin Butler, Dhruba Ghosh, Kiya Tabassian and members of Notes Inégales for Two days of experimenting, playing, composing, and crafting a performance together for the Sunday night, in a Club Inégales Big Band.

Full details from the Club Inégales website.

Stylish and intense: Anne Sophie Duprels in La voix humaine

Anne Sophie Duprels - Poulenc: La voix humaine - Opera Holland Park (Photo Alex Brenner)
Anne Sophie Duprels - Poulenc: La voix humaine
Opera Holland Park (Photo Alex Brenner)
Francis Poulenc La voix humaine; Anne-Sophie Duprels, Pascal Rogé; Opera Holland Park at the Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 22 2017
Star rating: 4.5

Poulenc's mono-drama in an intimate and engaging performance

Last night (23 March 2017) Opera Holland Park made a rare move indoors when it presented Francis Poulenc's opera La voix humaine in the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall. The opera was directed by Marie Lambert and performed by Anne Sophie Duprels (the two will re-unite in the Summer when Lambert directs Duprels in the title of of Leoncavallo's Zaza at Opera Holland Park). La voix humaine was performed in the version for soprano and piano, with pianist Pascal Rogé accompanying Anne Sophie Duprels. The performance was preceded by a short introduction to the opera by Mark Valencia.

Poulenc wrote the opera in 1958 for the soprano Denise Duval (who had sung the role of Blanche in his opera Dialogues des Carmelites in the French-language premiere in 1957) Poulenc intended La voix humaine to be performed with orchestra, but his version for soprano and piano enables smaller scale performances which can bring out something of the intimacy and concentrated intensity of the work.

The Royal Albert Hall's Elgar Room is not a large space and, despite some poor sight-lines, was in many ways ideal for the very intimate performance from Duprels and Rogé. Performing on a raised platform with just a decorated backdrop, Duprels had only a sheet, a phone and a pair of shoes for props, but she did not need anything else and it was her performance which was truly mesmerising.

La voix humaine is very much about the words (Poulenc adapted the libretto from Jean Cocteau's 1928 play), and hearing a Francophone singer in the title role was a special joy. Though there were English surtitles, you hardly needed them such was the clarity and expressivity of Duprels' performance. Sensitively accompanied by Rogé, Duprels' concentration on the poetry brought a lieder-like intimacy to the performance.

Duprels' heroine was very stylish and poised, and for most of the opera her dialogues with her lover (former lover) sparkled with wit and charm. Without ever resorting to intense histrionics, Duprels magically conveyed the intensity of feeling under the surface, making it clear that this was a performance for the lover's benefit.

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