Saturday 31 March 2018

Rebels on Pointe: an affectionate tribute to Les Ballets Trockadero de Montecarlo

Chase Johnsey and Giovanni Goffredo, as Yekaterina Verbosovich and Sergey Legupski, in Paquita. © Dave Morgan
Chase Johnsey and Giovanni Goffredo, as Yekaterina Verbosovich and Sergey Legupski, in Paquita.
© Dave Morgan
In February 2017, the Dancing Times Award for Best Male Dancer at the 2016 National Dance Awards at the Lilian Bayliss Studio at Sadlers' Wells Theatre went to the American dancer Chase Johnsey. What was unusual about the award was that Johnsey dances with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo and his winning performance was as his alter-ego Yekaterina Verbosovich dancing the female role in the classic pas-de-deux from Petipa's Paquita. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (usually known simply as The Trocks) were also nominated for Best Company in the same awards.

The company recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and an affectionate film tribute Rebels on Pointe was shown at the BFI Flare LGBT film festival at BFI Southbank (we caught it on 30 March 2018). Directed by Bobbi Jo Hart, the film followed the company for a period of three years, intercutting modern footage with archive material, as well as some spectacular dance sequences.

For those that don't know them The Trocks dance a largely classical repertoire, with some modern ballets, but use men in the female roles. The combination of men in tutus on point, technically brilliant dancing and high comedy is the company's trademark.

Challenging the traditional concert format: I chat to pianist Alexandra Dariescu about Nutcrackers, creative entrepreneurs and women composers

Alexandra Dariescu
Alexandra Dariescu
Pianist Alexandra Dariescu debuted her re-telling of the Nutcracker story in December 2017 at Milton Court Concert Hall, Guildhall School of Music and Drama [see my review]. The Nutcracker and I by Alexandra Dariescu is an innovative combination of live piano music and dance with digital animation, with a CD forthcoming (including Lindsey Russell reading of Jessica Duchen's story on which the piece is based), and which Alexandra will be taking on a world tour.  The event is very much Alexandra's project, she not only played the piano but came up with the original concept and was the producer, and she developed the project partly thanks to her participation in the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Creative Entrepreneurs programme. I met up with her recently to chat about this innovative blend of piano playing and entrepreneurship.

Alexandra came up with the Nutcracker idea around three years ago, but she didn't know whether it was possible, just using one dancer with the rest being animated. Holograms were out of the question, so digital animation seemed the best way forward. She did some research on the music available, with different piano transcriptions of Tchaikovsky's music, and then commissioned Gavin Sutherland to fill in the 'gaps'.

Attending the Verbier Festival Academy's Reaching Out programme was a great help, this was an intensive three weeks which introduced her to the concepts of a business plan, pitching to sponsors and such like. She then discovered the Creative Entrepreneurs course at the Guildhall and went armed with her Nutcracker idea and the priming from the Verbier Academy. By this time she had already created the trailer; this was important because the concept was difficult to understand so she had invested in the trailer to make the concept clearer.

Friday 30 March 2018

A very humane comedy: Mozart's Marriage of Figaro at ENO

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Rhian Lois, Thomas Oliemans - English National Opera (photo Alastair Muir)
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Rhian Lois, Thomas Oliemans -
English National Opera (photo Alastair Muir)
Mozart Le nozze di Figaro; Thomas Oliemans, Rhian Lois, Ashley Riches, Lucy Crowe, Katie Coventry, dir: Fiona Shaw / Peter Relton, cond: Martyn Brabbins; English National Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A classy and very funny revival, full of humane performances with four debutants in the cast

Fiona Shaw's 2011 production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) returned to the London Coliseum for its second revival on 29 March 2018, with Peter Relton as revival director. English National Opera assembled a fine young cast with four role debuts, Lucy Crowe as the Countess, Ashley Riches as the Count, Rhian Lois as Susanna and Katie Coventry as Cherubino and they were joined by Thomas Oliemans as Figaro, Janis Kelly as Marcellina, Keel Watson as Don Bartolo, Colin Judson as Don Basilio, Alasdair Elliott as Don Curzio, Alison Rose as Barbarina and Paul Sheehan as Antonio. Martyn Brabbins conducted, and the opera was sung in Jeremy Sams' translation.

Peter McKintosh's sets are abstract and relatively neutral, but Steven Williams' video projections and McKintosh's use of skulls of horned bulls throughout the set hint at interesting concerns. In an interview in the programme book, Fiona Shaw talks about the idea of a maze with the Count as the minotaur at the centre. I have no idea how much of what we saw on Thursday was Shaw and how much Relton, but the production did not push the concept too hard. Costumes were 18th century, largely, and the basic setting was period, but with more modern touches (an early 20th century vacuum cleaner for instance!). Again in the article, Shaw talked about the necessity of the period to provide the right framework for the droit de seigneur, the engine which drives the plot.

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Ashley Riches, Lucy Crowe - English National Opera (photo Alastair Muir)
Ashley Riches, Lucy Crowe - (photo Alastair Muir)
Within the abstract set, on a revolve, we saw all the elements of a busy household. Servants were ubiquitous and ever present, and the revolve was used creatively to allow the cast to walk through the house, so that Susanna and Marcellina's duet in Act One takes place in the context of a furious walk through a house full of servants engaged in activities. Certainly this production must keep the props department busy, but it was never too much and ensured a nice liveliness to the production. Also, it meant that the cast were usually singing well down-stage, which is a great advantage in this auditorium, and certainly there was no problem with these young voices taking control of the auditorium.

This was a well thought through production, all the various details of the complex plot worked neatly. There were some interesting ideas; making Don Basilio blind meant that the logistics of some of the more farcical Act One moments worked very well, as did hiding Cherubino in a chest. Having Susanna somewhat tipsy in Act Three meant that her bravery in speaking up against the Count was a little more believable than usual. And the final garden scene, which takes place in the darkened 'maze' worked well partly because of the lack of naturalism so we worried less about the fact that the characters could see each other, but still here the disguises for Susanna and the Countess were well planned and believable. Yet all this was only framework, and what the production achieved was a lively and engaging tone, some vibrant performances with some powerful and touching moments. And it was all very funny.

Thursday 29 March 2018

Jolly good show! - Charles Court Opera's The Mikado

Charles Court Opera - The Mikado - Matthew Palmer (Pish-Tush) Matthew Kellett (Pooh-Bah) Philip Lee (Ko-Ko) Photo Bill Knight
Matthew Palmer (Pish-Tush) Matthew Kellett (Pooh-Bah) Philip Lee (Ko-Ko)
Photo Bill Knight
Gilbert & Sullivan The Mikado; Matthew Palmer, Jack Roberts, Philip Lee, Matthew Kellett, Alys Roberts, Charles Court Opera, John Savournin, David Eaton; King's Head Theatre
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 27 Mar 2018
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)

Charles Court Opera has another feather in it’s cap so never mind the why and wherefore, get yourself down to the King’s Head tra la la la la

Gilbert and Sullivan’s evergreen satire on British political institutions is given a fresh lick of paint in Charles Court Opera’s new production of The Mikado at the King’s Head Theatre (seen 27 March 2018) in John Savournin’s modest but handsome staging with sets and costumes by Rachel Szmukler, under musical director David Eaton.

The experienced cast of fruity voiced Titipudlians are lead by Philip Lee as Lord High Executioner. A clutch of Matthews: Palmer, Kellett and Siveter appear as The Mikado, Pooh-Bah and Katisha. Jack Roberts goes a-minstrelling and Alys Roberts, Jessica Temple and Corinne Cowling are the irrepressible wards of Ko-Ko and just so we don’t feel short changed members of the cast are called upon to do some peripatetic choral duties.

The Guardian Angel - voices and violin in concert

Rachel Podger (photo Teresa Pawel)
Rachel Podger (photo Teresa Pawel)
Biber, Bach, Jonathan Dove, James MacMillan, Owain Park; Voces8, Rachel Podger; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 Mar 2018
Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)

Biber's Guardian Angel forms the theme for this intriguing combination of violin and voices

For their joint concert at Kings Place, violinist Rachel Podger and vocal ensemble Voces8 took Biber's Rosary Sonata No. 16 (Passacaglia) in G minor for solo violin Guardian Angel as their starting point to present a programme which explored the idea of angels whilst also exploring the intriguing combination of violin and vocal ensemble, with adaptations of music by Thomas Tallis and Thomas Tomkins, James MacMillan's Domine Non Secundum Peccata Nostra for choir and violin and a new work by Owain Park Antiphon of the Angels written specially for Podger and Voces8. We also heard music for solo violin and for voices performing separately, with Rachel Podger giving us Bach's Partita for flute in A minor, BWV 1013 (transc. into G minor for solo violin) , with Voces8 interspersing the movements with music by Gibbons, Monteverdi and Gabrieli, and there was also music by Jonathan Dove, Rachmaninov and Mendelssohn, an eclectic mix indeed.

Voces8 (Photo Andy Staples)
Voces8 (Photo Andy Staples)
Each half played without a break, forming a sort of continuous meditation on the theme, and for the first half Rachel Podger was alone on stage and Voces8 popped up in various locations around the auditorium. This combined with the highly dramatic changes of lighting gave a somewhat restless feel to the proceedings, and the lighting prevented us from reading the texts to the vocal items.

We opened with Orlando Gibbons' Drop slow tears, followed by the plainchant Pater noster, and then Biber's Rosary Sonata no. 14, a rather striking sequence. Voces8 sang with beautiful tone and blend, in an intimate way with their own particular vocal approach which gives quite a modern, smoothly blended sound to the Gibbons. Here, and elsewhere in the programme, I found their approach a little too distinctive for my taste, but could not fault the superb musicianship. Rachel Podger gave a wonderfully poised account of the Biber, combining this with a nice flexibility as she made the elaborate decorations in the violin line seem a natural part of the music. It is an amazing piece, and it is very striking how much harmonic underpinning could be implied from just a little double stopping.

The Night Shift: Mozart horns, and his horn-playing best friend

At the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's forthcoming Night Shift on 5 April 2018 at Conway Hall, they will be presenting Mozart's Horn Concertos with something of a twist. But the intriguing thing is that the twist is all Mozart's own.

His final horn concerto (in D, often known confusingly as concerto no. 1) was written for Josef Leutgeb, an important 18th-century horn player and a friend of Mozart's. When he visited London as a child prodigy, Mozart said that Josef (then in his early 30s) was one of the Salzburg friends he was missing. Haydn probably wrote his Concerto in D, Hob. VIId/3D, for Leutgeb, and Mozart wrote the Horn Concertos K. 417, K. 495 and K. 412/386b (514), and possibly the Horn Quintet K. 407/386c, for him. Clearly they had a lively relationship because Mozart's manuscript for the concerto has a running commentary of jokes in Italian, full of encouragements an sly digs at the player - When the 11th harmonic (an out of tune note which needs tempering) appears Mozart pens the words 'ouch' or 'alas' and when flattened notes are required he writes 'Oh you do make me laugh!'.

So when the OAE with principal horn Roger Montgomery play the concert at the Conway Hall, Mozart's affectionate jibes will appear as surtitles, giving the audience a unique glimpse into Mozart and Leutgeb's relationship. In fact, Leutgeb was nearly 60 when Mozart wrote the concerto, a significant age in the 18th century especially for one still performing so this may be why Mozart made the concert technically less complex than some of his others.

In fact, Mozart died before he could complete the concerto and his pupil Franz Sussmayr effectively wrote the second movement but did his own thing. So Montgomery and the OAE will be presenting both this version and a reconstructed one based upon Mozart's original sketches by Stephen Roberts. Thanks to other research, we now know a little more about Leutgeb, for example, Groves Dictionary of Music says that he was a cheese maker, owing to fact he purchased a tiny house which had attached to it the rights to make cheese (he borrowed the money from Mozart's father), there is no evidence that he did any such thing. The OAE hopes that the evening will bring both Mozart's original concerto and the personality of Josef Leutgeb just that little bit closer.

The Night Shift is the OAE's more casual series, in addition to Mozart's horn concertos, there will also be the bewitching alt-folk-meets-classical duo Balladeste.

Full details from The Little Box Office.

Wednesday 28 March 2018

Fire and Water

Ji Liu - Fire and Water - Classic FM
Saint-Saens, Einaudi, Rachmaninov, De Falla, Debussy, Xinghai, Stravinsky, Ravel, Scriabin; Ji Liu; Classic FM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A beautifully produced programme, finely played with delicacy and clarity, yet the pianist's own personality remains too discreetly reticent

Ji Liu is a young pianist who was born in China and currently based in London and this disc, Fire and Water from Classic FM, is his fourth recital disc. The programme's theme comes from the ancient Chinese five-element theory and the music is mostly linked to the elements of fire and water, sometimes literally sometimes conceptually. The music moves through Saint-Saens, Debussy and Ravel, through De Falla and Stravinsky, Einaudi and Xinghai to Scriabin.

We start with Saint-Saens, two movements from Carnival of the Animals both water inspired, 'The Aquariam' and 'The Swan'. Ji Liu plays with delicacy, clarity and a nice fluidity. Next comes Einaudi's Le Onde, this is attractively lyrical in a new-classical vein but could have done with a bit more personality in the playing.

Ji Liu's arrangement Rachmaninov's Spring Waters has a clarity of texture and transparency despite the fist-fulls of notes. This is big Romantic music, and Ji Liu's approach is a little to cool and clear for me, though he undoubtedly brings out some lovely textures.

Passion and Polyphony: the Gesualdo Six on the road

The Gesualdo Six - Passion and Polyphony
The Gesualdo Six, director Owain Park [read my interview with Owain], have their debut CD out English Motets (on the Hyperion label), and to celebrate the group is going on a Spring tour. From 2 to 8 April 2018 they are visiting Dorstone and Clodock (both in Herefordshire), Bristol, Winchester, London and Framlingham. The concert programmes include a mix of polyphony and more contemporary pieces, with Tallis, Byrd, White, Sheppard alongside, Poulenc, Jonathan Seers, Owain Park, Veljo Tormis, and David Bednall

The group takes an admirably pro-active and cooperative approach to concert giving, aiming to develop a relationship with audiences by welcoming them at the door, hosting refreshments at the concert and speaking to them afterwards to gain a better understanding of their experience. Ticket prices are kept reasonable in order to include as wide an audience as possible, and in most venues, the group operates a profit-share in order to support the important heritage locations.

Full details from the Classical Events website.

Covent Garden 2018/19

Brindley Sherratt (Claggart) and Jacques Imbrailo (Billy Budd). Photo: Javier del Real.
Britten's Billy Budd: Deborah Warner's production at the Teatro Real, Madrid
Brindley Sherratt (Claggart), Jacques Imbrailo (Billy Budd) Photo: Javier del Real
It takes time for a change in the new artistic director to come into full effect, so that whilst Covent Garden has announced the 2018/19 season the hand of the new director of opera, Oliver Mears, is probably only gently discernable. 

It is perhaps not a spectacular season, there seems little that is 21st century and nothing in the way of rarities. But new productions include Hansel and Gretel, Queen of Spades, Katja Kabanova, La Forza del Destino, and Billy Budd with gaps being intelligently filled by bringing productions from other houses. 

Other newcomers this season will be the rebuilt foyers and Linbury theatre, much to look forward to there when the house final opens again properly. And over at the Royal Ballet, there are new ballets from Alastair Marriott and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui.
Anthony McDonald's new production of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel is deliberately family friendly, we are promised 'fairy-tale charm with a dash of wit' and knowing McDonald I am sure it will be a delight. Hanna Hipp and Jennifer Davis are the children and unfortunately, the Witch is a man (Gerhard Siegel). Sebastian Weigle conducts.

Stefan Herheim's production of Queen of Spades debuted as Dutch National Opera, and it features Tchaikovsky himself in the staging. Antonio Pappano conducts a cast including Aleksandrs Antonenko, Vladimir Stoyanov, Eva-Marie Westbroek and Felicity Palmer. Probably worth seeing for Palmer! Also coming from Dutch National Opera is Christof Loy's La Forza del Destino. Antonio Pappano conducts with a double cast, Anna Nebrebko/Jonas Kaufmann, Lludmyla Monastyrska/Yusif Eyvazov, Ludovic Tezier/Christopher Maltman. With strong memories of David Pountney's remarkably focussed production of the opera for Welsh National Opera, it will be interesting to see how Loy deals with this sprawling masterpiece.

Tuesday 27 March 2018

Grand Plans: Opera North's new redevelopment project

Opera North Capital Redevelopment 2018 (artist's impression of restaurant on New Briggate)
Opera North Capital Redevelopment 2018 (artist's impression of restaurant on New Briggate)
The Grand Theatre in Leeds is a fascinating building with a whole range of nooks and crannies that are not first evident when visiting. Opera North revealed one of the buildings hidden gems when it restored the space now known as the Howard Assembly Room, giving the building a lovely smaller performance space. Now further developments and improvements are afoot, as Opera North has announced ambitious new plans.

Opera North Capital Redevelopment 2018 (artist's impression of new atrium and access to Howard Assembly Room)
Opera North Capital Redevelopment 2018
(artist's impression of new atrium and access to Howard Assembly Room)
The Howard Assembly Room's profile will be raised by creating a new dedicated entrance and box office, with a new restaurant and bar replacing a row of vacant shop units directly beneath the venue on New Briggate, which will be a big improvement.

A new atrium space will link the restaurant and bar space with stairs and lift access directly to the Howard Assembly Room, as well as provide improved front of house facilities for audiences at the venue. There will also be an extended artistic programming at the venue, and it celebrates its 10th anniversary in January 2019.

Further development to the Opera North administrative buildings adjacent to the theatre will connect the primary rehearsal spaces, administrative offices and costume department with new music practice rooms and a chorus and orchestra rehearsal room. And there will also be a new Education Centre to further support Opera North's significant education work (which has a turnover of over £1 million, invested in the young people of the area).

Interested parties are invited to attend a public consultation event on the capital redevelopment project, which will be held at the Howard Assembly Room on Thursday 26 April, from 5.30pm – 7.30pm.

Further details from the Opera North website.

Mozart's Requiem from Chelsea

First page of Mozart's manuscript for the Requiem
First page of Mozart's manuscript for the Requiem
Performances of Mozart's Requiem vary from the intimate to the large scale and even grandiose. It is a big work, but Mozart would probably not have expected it to be performed by large forces and in fact, there may have been a performance of the work at Mozart's funeral using just eight singers. 

Tonight (27 March 2018) there is a chance to hear this more intimate side of the work as the choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the London Mozart Players, conductor William Vann (musical director of the Roayl Hospital Chelsea) perform Mozart's Requiem at the Cadogan Hall, Chelsea as part of an all-Mozart programme which includes the Vesperae solennes de confessore (his final work for Salzburg Cathedral) and the Ave Verum Corpus (effectively his job application for a post at the Imperial chapel in Vienna). This isn't the first time the choir has performed Mozart's Requiem, we caught their performance of the work in 2014 [see my review].

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

En Francais: Verdi's original Don Carlos in Lyon

Verdi: Don Carlos - Opera de Lyon, Michele Pertusi, Sally Matthews, Stephane Degout  (Photo Jean Louis Fernandez)
Auto da fe scene - Verdi: Don Carlos - Opera de Lyon,
Michele Pertusi, Sally Matthews, Stephane Degout  (Photo Jean Louis Fernandez)
Verdi Don Carlos (Paris 1867); Sergey Romanovsky, Stephane Degout, Michele Pertusi, Sally Matthews, Eve-Maud Hubeaux
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 24 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Verdi's original French grand opera version, in a brilliantly theatrical production

It is heartening that French opera companies are re-discovering not just the French version of Verdi's Don Carlos but the original Parisian version of 1866/67 before Verdi's revisions of the 1880s. The Paris Opera gave a new production of the 1866/67 Don Carlos, and now Lyon Opera has created its own new production directed by Christopher Honore and conducted by Daniele Rustioni. We caught the fourth performance, on 24 March 2018, with Michele Pertusi as Philippe II, Sergey Romanovsky as Don Carlos, Stephane Degout as Rodrigue, Roberto Scandiuzzi as le Grand Inquisiteur, Patrick Bolleire as un moine, Sally Matthews as Elisabeth, Eve-Maud Hubeaux as la Princesse Eboli and Jeanne Mendoche as Thibault. Designs were by Alban Ho Van, costumes by Pascaline Chavanne, lighting by Dominique Bruguiere, choreography by Ashley Wright.

This was billed as the 1867 version (though there had been press reports, thankfully untrue, that the 1884 Modena version in French was to be used). The 1867 version is that actually premiered, but Verdi had had to make significant cuts just before the premiere to ensure the opera finished by midnight. In the event, we seem to have got most of the cuts opened up, we started with the introduction and opening chorus, the duet for Philippe and Rodrigue in Act II was extended, as was Elisabeth and Eboli's duet in Act IV, and most importantly the section of the final scene of Act IV (which Verdi re-used as the 'Lacrimosa' in the Requiem was present). Almost as important (Verdi regarded it as so), the ballet was performed (the first time I have heard the music live in context).

Verdi: Don Carlos - Opera de Lyon, Sally Matthews, Sergey Romanovsky, Jeanne Mendoce (Photo Jean Louis Fernandez)
Act 1 - Verdi: Don Carlos - Opera de Lyon,
Sally Matthews, Sergey Romanovsky, Jeanne Mendoce (Photo Jean Louis Fernandez)
A quick glance a the cast list reveals that this was very much an international cast, though both Eboli and Rodrigue were Franco-phone, in fact, the level of sung French was very high. All the principals sang recognisable French (something which has not always happened on international recordings of French versions of the opera) so that this was very much a joy to listen to. The cast were all relatively light-voiced, quite sensibly when considering the original Paris version rather than the 1884 revised version which had Francesco Tamagno, who went on to create Otello, in the title role.

Christophe Honore's production was deliberately theatrical and non-historical.

Monday 26 March 2018

Electronic opera: Roger Doyle's Heresy

Roger Doyle - Heresy
Roger Doyle Heresy;Heresy Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 26 2018 Star rating: 3.0
An intriguingly quirky opera from electronic composer Roger Doyle

Roger Doyle is an Irish composer best known for his electronic music [see my review of his Time Machine] and he says in his introductory remarks to this recording that he never thought he would compose an opera. Yet what we have here is exactly that, Heresy for singers and electronics on the Heresy label with Morgan Crowley, Daire Halpin, Aimee Banks, Alex Smith, Caitriona O'Leary, Iestyn Morris, Robert Crowe, Ahmad Alkaran.

Doyle presented a short development version of the opera in 2013 with the full version being premiered in Dublin in 2016. What we have here is a combination of the two with soloists from both performances, and in fact, Doyle's electronics developed after the 2016 performance so the CD includes these as well. The subject of the opera is the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake in 1600 after a nine-year trial by the Roman Inquisition. The libretto, by Jocelyn Clarke and Eric Fraad, is concise and stylised. We have short scenes before King Henry III of France and Queen Elizabeth I, scenes from Bruno's trial and scene of him awaiting execution in his cell, along with visions of the Divine Sophia and Circe.

2018/19 Season with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC SSO.
Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.
Thomas Dausgaard's third season as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will be opening with Dausgaard conducting Leonard Bernstein's Songfest alongside the European premiere of Augusta Read Thomas's Brio. Dausgaard also conducts a rare performance of Rued Langgaard Sfærernes Musik (Music of the Spheres) at Glasgow Cathedral. Other highlights include guest conductor Joana Carneiro directing a rare performance of Berlioz’s dramatic symphony Lélio to mark the 150th anniversary of his death, in an all Berlioz programme which also includes Overture: Waverley and La mort de Cléopâtre with soloists Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), Sam Furness (tenor), Andrew Tortise (tenor), and Neal Davies (bass).

New music includes the world premiere of David Fennessy’s The Ground, and the UK premieres of Simon Steen-Andersen’s Piano Concerto and Dai Fujikura’s Impulse – Piano Concerto No.3 [read my interview with Dai]. There are also recent works by Anna Clyne, Julian Anderson, Matthias Pintscher, Mark-Anthony Turnage, Per Nørgård, Sir James MacMillan and Toshio Hosokawa . And just a few weeks after her 90th birthday, there is a special portrait-concert celebrating the music of one of Scotland’s most beloved composers Thea Musgrave.

Full details from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra website.

Sunday 25 March 2018

Moving, thoughtful, thought-provoking - Christoph Prégardien, Julia Kleiter and Julius Drake at Temple Song

Christoph Prégardien
Christoph Prégardien
Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn songs & duets; Christoph Prégardien, Julia Kleiter, Julius Drake; Temple Song at Middle Temple Hall
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on Mar 21 2018 Star rating : 5.0 (★★★★★)
A classy evening from three seasoned communicators. We left the concert feeling like teenagers

The magnificent Middle Temple Hall is a tricky space for a song recital. The singers can only see a third of the audience and so have to figure out where to look. The ceiling is high and there are lots of visual distractions on the walls. But once we have got used to that – with help from musicians who understand how to manage a space – we’re home and dry. At Temple Song on 21 March 2018, in the hands of Julia Kleiter, Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake this standard celebrity recital turned into something wonderful, with songs and duets by Schubert, Schumann and Mendelssohn, setting predominantly Goethe and Heine. We were also given much food for thought (albeit in a dense, presbyopia-unfriendly font) thanks to Richard Stokes’ fascinating programme notes.

Julia Kleiter
Julia Kleiter
Goethe lived to the age of 82 but saw himself as a perpetual adolescent: at the age of 78 he confided to a friend that he experienced ‘eine wiederholte Pubertät’ – a repeated puberty. Schubert, meanwhile, didn’t get much chance to be anything other than an adolescent, if we go with the line that his fateful visit to a brothel happened when he was barely out of his teens.

The first half of the evening explored Schubert’s settings of Goethe, and the energy, confusion and desolation of adolescence were in evidence throughout. We started off at night with Christoph Prégardien: ‘Wilkommen und Abschied’ a wild night ride to the beloved whom the poet speculates perhaps he doesn’t deserve. It was followed by Julia Kleiter enjoying the still moonlight in ‘An den Mond’, in her loneliness drifting between joy and pain. Prégardien then gave us a dark, spooky ‘Todesstille’ – deathly silence – in ‘Meeres stille’, followed by two unhinged spinning songs from Kleiter. When day broke we had a stunning, ecstatic ‘Ganymed’ from Kleiter.

The second group of Schubert/Goethe settings told the story of Mignon and the Harper from ‘Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre’. Foreigners, outcasts, misunderstood, exhausted, they sing of their loneliness ‘Einsamkeit’ so completely that the final piece in this group came as a hymn. They sang the duet version of ‘Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ – having found someone who understands how they suffer. We had gone on quite a journey ourselves by now.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Exploring her heritage: Rebeca Omordia introduces the Nigerian art music which features on her new CD

Rebeca Omordia
Rebeca Omordia
The pianist Rebeca Omordia's new disc of piano music, Ekele, on the Heritage label explores her Nigerian heritage (her father is Nigerian and her mother is Romanian) by recording a selection of music by three major names from Nigerian art music, 20th century composers whose work is barely known in Europe, Ayo Bankole, Fred Onovwerosuoke and Christian Onyeji. The disc is very much a personal project for Rebeca, she had done significant research into the Nigerian art music and is keen to make the works better known.

Ayo Bankole
Ayo Bankole
Nigerian classical music emerged in the 20th century and its founding father is Fela Sowande (1905-1987). Religion is important in Nigeria, everyone had access to music through church and Sowande's father was the musical director of Christchurch, Lagos. Fela Sowande was in the choir, and learned organ as well, in 1934 he came to London to study. His work in the UK mixed classical (he studied organ with Edmund Rubbra and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, and a Fellow of Trinity College of Music) and popular (he played as a duo-pianist with Fats Waller and was the pianist for the 1936 show Blackbirds at the Gaiety Theatre).  He returned to Nigeria, broadcast on TV and Radio and lectured at the University of Lagos. Younger composers followed suit, such as Ayo Bankole (1935-1976) whose piano sonata is included on Rebeca's disc. Bankole studied in London and worked as a musician in Nigeria.

These composers, trained in Western classical music also used the music of their homeland in their compositions, and Nigerian art music is very much a product of Colonialism, a blending of indigenous and Western traditions.

I was interested to find out exactly how Nigerian the music on the disc is, as the composers have all had an element of training in Western classical music. Rebeca explained that to Western European ears, Ayo Bankole's piano sonata probably sounds rather European both in its structure and harmonies. It is rather a Romantic work, despite being written in 1960, but for Nigerian ears, there are other influences to be detected too.

Rebeca explained that though there are around 200 dialects and languages in Nigeria, there are three main tribes Yoruba, Igbo, and Hausa. Ayo Bankole was Yoruba, Christian Onyeji is Igbo, and the Hausa tribe, from the North, is Muslim and no composers belong to this tribe. When writing classical music, composers tend to use tunes from their own tribes, along with characteristic rhythms and melodies. The second theme of the first movement of Ayo Bankole's sonata is a Yoruba tune so that listeners with a Nigerian background hear the sonata differently. Rebeca was recently in Nigeria and played Ayo Bankole's sonata and many people (those from both classical and non-classical backgrounds) could hear the Yoruba rhythms and tunes in Ayo Bankole's sonata.

Friday 23 March 2018

Real discoveries: the songs of Nikolai Medtner

Medtner songs - Delphian
Nikolai Medtner songs; Ekaterina Siurina, Justina Gringyte, Oleksiy Palchykov, Robin Tritschler, Rodion Pogossov, Nikolay Didenko, Iain Burnside; DELPHIAN
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.0
A terrific set introducing the songs of this still underrated composer

For a long time, Nikolai Medtner was best known for the fact that he lived the latter part of his life in relative obscurity in the UK. His piano music has subsequently been recognised for its importance, but his songs have remained relatively unknown. This new set from Delphian presents us with over 50 of Medtner's songs (around half of his output) with pianist Iain Burnside accompanying soprano Ekaterina Siurina, mezzo-soprano Justina Gringyte, tenors Oleksiy Palchykov and Robin Tritschler, baritone Rodion Pogossov and bass Nikolay Didenko.

Born in 1880, Medtner was seven years younger than Rachmaninov and eight years younger than Scriabin. Like Rachmaninov, Medtner left Russia after the Revolution (though Medtner did not leave until 1921), but unlike Rachmaninov Medtner continued composition throughout his years of exile but the majority of his output seems to date from before the end of the 1920s. His style did not change radically and Francis Pott in his excellent article in the CD booklet suggests that this is partly because Medtner would store ideas in notebooks and return to them years or even decades later.

Medtner came from a background which mixed Russian and German culture, so that his song settings mix Russian poets with German poets set in German, though the latter date mainly from earlier in his compositional career.

Whilst his approach to setting Russian and German can vary, Medtner's songs all have a very particular feel.

20 plus world premieres: Cheltenham Music Festival 2018

Cheltenham Music Festival 2018
This year's Cheltenham Music Festival runs from 30 June to 15 July 2018, the first under the guidance of the new artistic director, trumpeter Alison Balsom. The Festival has over twenty world premières this year include a new chamber opera Juliana by Joseph Phibbs based on Strindberg’s Miss Julie with Nova Music Opera conducted by George Vass.

Other premieres include a retelling of Hansel and Gretel by poet Simon Armitage with music by Matthew Kaner performed by the Goldfield Ensemble, shadowplay and puppetry by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, and produced by Kate Romano. The Ligeti Quartet performs four world premières with works from Michael Zev Gordon, Sarah Rimkus, Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Bethan Morgan Williams, plus a new work from young composer Christian Mason. Flautist and composer Eddie Parker will bring together a new ensemble of twelve jazz and classical performers including singers Brigitte Beraha and James Gilchrist for Debussy Mirrored. Other new works include Gursky Landscapes by Gavin Higgins performed by the Carducci Quartet and David Cohen, Kenneth Hesketh’s The Singing Bone from the Berkeley Ensemble and the world première of Kalon by Richard Blackford from the strings of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, conducted by Martyn Brabbins.

The festival's Composer Academy, now in its sixth year, will invite twelve of the most outstanding early-career composers to have their compositions work-shopped, performed and recorded and to receive advice from industry experts, resulting in around a dozen world premières.

The festival will be marking the anniversaries of Leonard Bernstein, Claude Debussy and Hubert Parry and performers include Maxim Vengerov, András Schiff with the OAE, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Sarah Connolly, James Gilchrist, Mahan Esfahani, Steven Isserlis, Benjamin Grosvenor and The King’s Singers plus Sir Mark Elder and Louise Alder with The Hallé and Martyn Brabbins with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Full details from the Cheltenham Music Festival website.

Thursday 22 March 2018

The Gluepot Connection - 20th century British composers linked by their watering-hole

The Gluepot Connection - Londinium, Andrew Griffiths - SOMM
The Gluepot Connection; Warlock, Rawsthorne, Ireland, Bax, Delius, Lutyens, Moeran, Walton; Londinium, Andrew Griffiths; SOMM
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018
An imaginative disc of 20th century British choral music, full of rarities to the recording catalogue

A pub might seem an unusual theme for a disc of 20th-century choral music but The George (aka The Gluepot) was no ordinary pub. Convenient for the BBC and the Queen's Hall (it was Sir Henry Wood who christened it the Gluepot because his musicians tended to stick there), for a chunk of the 20th century it was a gathering place for British musicians and artists. The composers thus associated are a stylistically diverse bunch, from John Ireland and Arnold Bax through to serialists like Humphrey Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens. It was Lutyens who remarked in her autobiography A Goldfish Bowl, that if a bomb dropped on The George, a large proportion of the musical and literary world would be destroyed.

On this new disc from SOMM, Andrew Griffiths and Londinium chamber choir have taken the Gluepot composers as their theme, missing out some (Constant Lambert wrote no unaccompanied choral music) and adding others such as EJ Moeran's friend Peter Warlock, Warlock's mentor Frederick Delius and Alan Rawsthorne's friend Alan Bush.

Londinium is a London-based non-professional choir with a formidable reputation and, under the leadership of Andrew Griffiths, a reputation for imaginative programming. And here I must declare an interest, I know a number of members of the choir and count two participants on this recording as friends, singing with them in other choirs.

Looking ahead: Third London Piano Festival

Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva at the 2017 London Piano Festival (Photo Martin Kendrick, Wright Music Media)
Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva at the 2017 London Piano Festival (Photo Martin Kendrick, Wright Music Media)
Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva's third annual London Piano Festival, takes place from 3-7 October 2018 at Kings Place, London with a distinguished group of pianists including Stephen Kovacevich, Margaret Fingerhut, Konstantin Lifschitz, Ingrid Fliter, Leszek Możdżer, Paul Roberts and Alexandra Dariescu joining Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva for five days of events. 

As ever, the highlight of the festival is the two-piano marathon, this year Stephen Kovacevich, Margaret Fingerhut, Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen, Konstantin Lifschitz and Ingrid Fliter, in various pairings, will be performing music by Brahms, Bax, Debussy, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Poulenc, Arensky and Thomas Adès' Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face.

The festival opens on Wednesday 3 October 2018 with Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva, both solo and as a duo, in Schubert, Granados, Ginastera, Ravel, Debussy and Milhaud. Subsequent recitals will include Konstantin Lifschitz in Schubert, Janacek and Debussy, jazz pianist Leszek Możdżer, a lecture/recital on Debussy from Paul Roberts and a performance of The Nutcracker and I by Alexandra Dariescu.

Full details from the London Piano Festival website.

Celebrating 40 years: BBC Young Musician opens its 2018 edition

BBC Young Musician final, 2016. Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and conductor Mark Wigglesworth
BBC Young Musician final, 2016.
Sheku Kanneh-Mason plays with the BBC Symphony Orchestra
and conductor Mark Wigglesworth
BBC Young Musician competition celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The 2018 edition of the competition opens on Friday 6 April 2018 with young musicians competing for the title to be decided at the final on Sunday 13 May 2018. The competition was founded in 1978 and past winners include cellist Natalie Clein, clarinettist and composer Mark Simpson and oboist Nicholas Daniel, not to mention Sheku Kanneh-Mason who won the 2016 competition. Illustrious former finalists include pianists Stephen Hough and Stephen Osborne, violinist Tasmin Little, pianist, conductor and composer Thomas Adès, percussionist Colin Currie and flautist Juliette Bausor.

This year's finale will take place on 13 May at Symphony Hall Birmingham accompanied by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth and will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Four.

For the 40th anniversary a new documentary, Forty Years Young, will follow the careers of the three finalists from 2016, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, saxophonist Jess Gillam and French horn player Ben Goldscheider, as well as exploring the long history and the future of the competition with help from contributors including Nicola Benedetti, Humphrey Burton (who co-created the competition and presented it for many years), conductor Mark Wigglesworth, and music critic Jessica Duchen.

Full details of the 25 musicians competition this year from the BBC Young Musician website.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Passiontide at Merton

Choir of Merton College in 2016 (Photo John Cairns)
Choir of Merton College in 2016 (Photo John Cairns)
A three-day festival, Passiontide at Merton, features concerts and services at Merton College, Oxford from 23 to 25 March 2018. The festival opens with Evensong on 23 March with Benjamin Nicholas and the choir of Merton College performing music by Byrd, later that evening the Marian Consort joins the Merton College Girls' Choir, conductor Rory McLeery, for a programme which includes the premiere of Gabriel Jackson's Stabat Mater plus music by James MacMillan, Palestrina, Victoria and Allegri. 

Events on Saturday include choral matins with music by Stanford, Archer & Bruckner, and organ concert from James Lancelot and choral Evensong with Howells' Gloucester Service and music by Purcell and Brahms. 

Sunday morning's Sung Eucharist features Frank Martin's Mass for Double Choir and in the evening a performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor with Benjamin Nicholas conducting the choir of Merton College and the Instruments of Time and Truth with soloists Rowan Pierce (soprano), Jeremy Kenyon (alto), James Gilchrist (tenor) and Giles Underwood (bass).

Full details from the Merton College website.

A sense of intelligent conversation: John Jenkins complete four-part consort music

John Jenkins - Fretwork - Signum Classics
John Jenkins complete four-part consort music; Fretwork; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 Mar 2018 Star rating: 5.0
Mellifluous, engaging with a lovely rhythmic vitality, the complete four-part viol music of this 17th century composer

John Jenkins had a long life, spanning the reigns of three monarchs and the civil war, and though he did have a position at the court of King Charles II he spent most of his life in service to noble families. This means that his music for viol consort was written for good amateurs. During the 1650s he was in the household of Lord North in Kirtling, during the Commonwealth, and it was during this period that much of his viol music was written.

On this disc from Signum Classics, we hear all of Jenkins' surviving music for four-part consort played by Fretwork (Asako Morikawa treble viol, Reiko Ichise tenor viol, Sam Stadlen & Emily Ashton tenor viol, Richard Boothby bass viol), 17 Fantasias and Two Pavans. Jenkins music is difficult to date and he was long lived (dying at the age of 86), generally the music on this disc is regarded as coming from the earlier part of Jenkins' life.

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Verdi's Luisa Miller from Midsummer Opera

Verdi - Luisa Miller
Verdi's opera Luisa Miller remains a relative rarity on the operatic stage, and Midsummer Opera's performances of the work at St John's Church Waterloo on  23 & 25 March 2018 provide a welcome chance to experience the piece. David Roblou conducts a semi-staging with Stephen Holloway, John Upperton, Sian Woodling, Cheyney Kent, Andrew Major, and Emma Dogliani.

Luisa Miller was Verdi's 15th opera and is generally regarded as the first of his middle period operas, an important stepping stone which would lead to Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. Prior to writing Luisa Miller for Naples, Verdi had spent a lot of time in Paris (his opera Jerusalem premiered there in 1847), and delays over agreements for the opera with Naples meant that Verdi had a longer time frame than usual for planning the piece and this results in greater influence from French opera in the work. Julian Budden comments that "the sensitive scoring, the flexibility of the musical forms, the growing importance of the role which Verdi assigned to the orchestra ... permits him to write two lengthy dialogue recitatives".

The libretto is based on the Friedrich Schiller play,Kabale und Liebe though the librettist Salvadore Cammarano transformed both the time period and the setting so that Schiller's aristocratic intrigues are moved to a Tyrolean village and the result is an exploration of bourgeois drama.

Full details from the Midsummer Opera website.

Taking wing: Royal Academy Opera's Flight

Jonathan Dove: Flight - Leila Zanette, Alexandra Oomens, Alexander Simpson, Flora MacDonald, Frances Gregory, Aoife O'Connell - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove: Flight - Leila Zanette, Alexandra Oomens, Alexander Simpson, Flora MacDonald, Frances Gregory, Aoife O'Connell - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove Flight; dir: Martin Duncan, cond: Gareth Hancock; Royal Academy Opera
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 Mar 2018  
Lively and very funny, Jonathan Dove's opera opens the Royal Academy of Music's new theatre

Jonathan Dove: Flight - Alexander Aldren, Flora MacDonald, Frances Gregory, Paul Grant, Robert Garland, Leila Zanette, Alexandra Oomens - Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
Alexander Aldren, Flora MacDonald, Frances Gregory, Paul Grant,
Robert Garland, Leila Zanette, Alexandra Oomens
Royal Academy Opera (Photo Robert Workman)
The Royal Academy of Music's fine new theatre reopened with a production of Jonathan Dove's Flight directed by Martin Duncan. We caught the final performance on 17 March 2018 with the second of the two casts, Aoife O'Connell as the Controller, Alexander Simpson as the Refugee, Alexandra Oomens and Alexander Aldren as Tina and Bill, Flora MacDonald and Robert Garland as the Stewardess and the Steward, Frances Gregory and Paul Grant as Minskwoman and Minskman, Leila Zanette as the Older Woman and Darwin Prakash as the Immigration Officer. Designs were by Francis O'Connor with lighting by Jake Wiltshire, projections by Ruben Plaza Garcia and movement by Mandy Demetriou.

Jonathan Dove's 1998 opera Flight with a libretto by April de Angelis, commissioned by Glyndebourne Opera, remains one of Dove's most popular stage works. It is a very traditionally constructed piece, April de Angelis's witty libretto provides a closed room scenario and opportunities for each of the characters to reveal themselves to us. Part of the work's success is the way it combines humour with poignancy, the work is constantly balanced between the two.  At Opera Holland Park in 2015 with a cast varying from young artists to highly experienced, Stephen Barlow's production provided a poignant experience [see my review].

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