Thursday 31 May 2018

Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 3 arranged for Piano and Strings

Simon Callaghan and the London Mozart Players
Simon Callaghan and the London Mozart Players
Vinzenz Lachner (1811-1893) is one of those composers who have disappeared into the mists of time. He was the younger brother of the composer/conductor Franz Lachner (whose main claim to fame now is adding recitatives to Cherubini's Medea). Vinzenz spent 37 years as the court conductor in Mannheim, his students included Max Bruch and Hermann Levi. Vinzenz's arrangement of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37 for piano and strings is starting to get some currency, and there is a rare chance to hear it live on Sunday 3 June 2018 at the Conway Hall.

Pianist Simon Callaghan (artistic director of Conway Hall Sunday Concerts) joins principal players from the London Mozart Players to perform Vinzenz Lachner's arrangement of Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37 . The programme is completed by Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik K525, Bottesini's Elegy No.1 in D and Haydn's Symphony No. 102 in B flat Hob. I/102.

GIovanni Bottesini's Elegy was originally for double-bass and piano, and was written just a year before Bottesini (1821-1889) conducted the premiere of Verdi's Aida in Cairo!

Haydn's Symphony No. 102 is the 10th of Haydn's 12 London symphonies. Completed in 1794, it is from a group of symphonies written in Vienna for Haydn's second London visit and it is now believed by many scholars to be the symphony at the premiere of which a chandelier fell from the ceiling of the concert hall in which it was performed.

Full details from the Conway Hall website.

Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile

Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile - Lucy Parham - Deux Elles
Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile; Lucy Parham, Henry Goodman; Deux-Elles Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Lucy Parham's latest composer portrait looks at Rachmaninoff, his exile, longing for home and his music

Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile is the latest of Lucy Parham's composer portraits, here recorded with actor Henry Goodman for the Deux-Elles label. Parham plays a selection of Rachmaninoff's piano music, Elegie Op.3 No.1, Polchinelle Op.3 No.4, Prelude in G Op.32 No. 5, Prelude in C sharp minor Op.3 No.2, Prelude in E flat Op.23 No.6, Etude Tableau in E flat Op. 33 No.2, Moments Musical No.3 in B minor, No. 4 in E minor, No.5 in D flat, No 6 in C Op.16, plus music by Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Scriabin, and Rachmaninoff's own arrangements of The Star Spangled Banner and Kreisler's Liebesleid. Whilst Goodman gives us a narrative based on Rachmaninff's own words, looking back over the composer's life and interleaving life, art and music.

Lucy Parham's previous composer portraits have all looked at composers' love lives, but Rachmaninoff's was relatively uneventful, he was happily married throughout his life. Instead, Parham focuses on the man and his longing for Russia whilst in exile folloing the Russian revolution. That Rachmaninoff wrote so little music after he left Russia causes few problems because the style of his earlier pieces is so melancholy and full of longing. [see my interview with Lucy Parham].

Wednesday 30 May 2018

Sparking opener: Verdi's La Traviata at Opera Holland Park

Verdi: La traviata - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi: La traviata - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Verdi La traviata; Lauren Fagan, Matteo Desole, Stephen Gadd, dir: Rodula Gaitanou, cond: Matthew Kofi Waldren, City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 May 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Vocal fireworks and an intelligent period production make La traviata move and sparkle.

Verdi: La traviata - Ellie Edmonds, Lauren Fagan - Opera Holland Park (Photo Robert Workman)
Ellie Edmonds, Lauren Fagan - Opera Holland Park
(Photo Robert Workman)
Opera Holland Park's 2018 season opened on Tuesday 29 May 2018 with Rodula Gaitanou's new production of Verdi's La traviata with Lauren Fagan in the title role, Matteo Desole as Alfredo and Stephen Gadd as Germont. The production was designed by Cordelia Chisholm with lighting by Simon Corder. Matthew Kofi Waldren conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

Period productions of La traviata are becoming a relative rarity, with a tendency for companies to place the action in the present or recent past. But the setting for the opera needs to capture the essential moral dichotomy of the piece, that the courtesan is rich and successful whilst remaining a shunned part of society, that the men who patronise her will ignore the dubious morality of enjoying courtesans whilst supporting a system which sees them as fallen women.

Perhaps rather daringly, Gaitanou and Chisholm have chosen to set the opera period; not the 1850s of the opera's composition (so no crinolines) but around 50 years later which is an equally potent period in the moral quagmire. Chisholm's fixed set was a winter garden, a long row of mirror glass doors with a rotunda at one end, which could successfully be dressed as a Parisian salon or the conservatory of Alfredo and Violetta's country retreat. It created quite a long shallow playing area, which Gaitanou used deliberately in some of the ensemble scenes (in the Act 2 party we end up with Alfredo and Violetta at opposite ends of the stage). This long narrow playing area clearly caused a few ensemble problems which had not quite been ironed out yet, though I am sure they will.

Whilst Gaitanou did not alter the mechanisms of Verdi's opera, after all there is no need, she had clearly been re-thinking some ideas. We started not with the prelude but with the sound of breathing, rather unnerving and really focussing out attention on Violetta's malady, this continued during the prelude as Violetta got ready but started coughing blood onto her white gloves. At the end of Act One, Matteo Desole sang his second interruption to  Lauren Fagan's 'Sempre libera' from on-stage so the two sang the finale together and dashed off stage at the end, their intentions very clear! A number of the women of the chorus were dressed as men so that the balance between women and 'men' in both the party scenes very much favoured men, which is just what you would expect at salons held by courtesans.

Focus on Gounod - Palazzetto Bru Zane's Sixth Paris Festival

Charles Gounod in 1859, the year of the premiere of Faust.
Charles Gounod in 1859,
the year of the premiere of Faust.
Charles Gounod is the focus of Palazzetto Bru Zane's Sixth Paris Festival which runs from 1st to 29 June 2018. Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques with soloists Véronique Gens, Jean-François Borras, Jean-Sébastien Bou, Andrew Foster-Williams, Juliette Mars, Ingrid Perruche, and Jérôme Boutillier are giving a concert performance of Gounod's 1859 version of Faust, this is the original version with spoken dialogue (and no ballet) which was premiered at the Théâtre-Lyrique, having been rejected by the Paris Opera as not sufficiently 'showy'. By the time the work did reach the Paris Opera, it had sung recitatives, a ballet and more, becoming a full grand opera.

Another rarity is Gounod's opera La nonne sanglante which is being staged at the Opera Comique by David Bobée with Laurent Equilbey conducting Accentus Choir and Insula Orchestra, with soloists Michael Spyres, Vannina Santoni, Marion Lebègue, André Heyboer, Jodie Devos, Jean Teitgen, Luc Bertin-Hugault, Enguerrand de Hys, and Olivia Doray. This an early work, a five-act grand opera staged at the Paris Opera in 1854, it sets a libretto rejected by a number of composers, including Berlioz. It will be interesting to see whether it can live again on the stage!

Other composers are featured too. There a double bill of Offenbach's Les Deux Aveugles and Herve's Le Compositeur toque, both works date from the 1850s and were intended as short curtain raisers before full length shows, and the composers were bitter rivals at the time. There is also a staging of Messager's Les p'tites michu, which dates from 1897.

Full details from the Palazzetto Bru Zane website.

Tuesday 29 May 2018

Summer Music in City Churches

Summer Music in City Churches
Since the demise of the City of London Festival in 2016, the City has lacked a music festival which puts the focus on the City's historic buildings. A new festival Summer Music in City Churches aims to change that. From 21 to 29 June 2018, the festival is presenting a range of concerts in historic City churches, as well as throwing a spotlight on the Diocese of London's new project aimed at re-asserting the central role of music in the life of its churches;

The festival opens on 21 June 2018 at the church of St Giles Cripplegate with the City of London Choir, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, performing Durufle's Requiem, Holst's Nunc Dimittis, and music by Elgar. And the choir returns for the festival close on Friday 29 June 2018 with baritone Roderick Williams and the London Mozart Players, in a programme English music from the period of World War I, including Williams' own orchestration of Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad

Other concerts include the brass ensemble Septura in a secular requiem with arrangements of music by Brahms, Handel, Parry (his Songs of Farewell) and Shostakovich (his String Quartet no.8), a Weimar cabaret from soprano Mary Carewe, Holsts' The Planets in the composer's transcription for two pianos performed by John York and Fiona York, a lunchtime recital from pianist Adrian Brendle inspired by Dame Myra Hess's wartime recitals at the National Gallery, Farewell to Arms a recital from tenor Richard Robins, pianist Guy Morgatroyd and story teller Jo Blake Cave.

Full details from the Festival website.

The Dark Lord's Music

The Dark Lord's Music - Martin Eastwell
Jakob Reys, Du Gast, Robert Johnson, John Dowland, Daniel Batcheler, Diomedes Cato, Gauthier, Henri de l'Enclos, Cuthbert Hely, Despond, Edward Lord Herbert; Martin Eastwell; Music & Media
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Music from a 17th century lute book created for, and by, Lord Herbert of Cherbury

The Dark Lord's Music: The Lutebook of Edward, Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Martin Eastwell (lute), Music & Media MMC117 (released 1 June 2018)

Lord Herbert of Cherbury (1582-1648) is perhaps best-known at the moment for his portrait by Isaac Oliver which was purchased by the National Trust in 2016 to enable it to remain at Powys Castle in Wales. Edward, Lord Herbert was a soldier, diplomat, courtier, philosopher, poet, historian and musician, writing not only one of the earliest autobiographies in English but also De Veritate a book which led to Lord Herbert being known as the "father of English Deism". De Veritate was placed on the Roman Catholic Church's Index of Forbidden Books, and remained there until 1966.

Monday 28 May 2018

Worth seeking out: Verdi's La Traviata from Hampstead Garden Opera

Verdi: La Traviata - Hampstead Garden Opera - (photo © 2018 Laurent Compagnon)
Verdi: La Traviata - Hampstead Garden Opera - (photo © 2018 Laurent Compagnon)
Verdi La Traviata; Eleanor Ross, Alex Aldren, Lawrence Wallington, dir: Sophie Gilpin, cond: Sam Evans; Hampstead Garden Opera at Jackson's Lane Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 May 2018 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
1960s Parisian setting shows off Eleanor Ross's fine Violetta

Before kick-off, this Friday, May 25, 2018, at Jackson's Lane Theatre the outgoing Chairman of Hampstead Garden Opera, Roger Sainsbury, gave a heart-felt restatement of the company’s aims to present affordable top class opera whilst supporting the next generation of artistes with the pleas for more public support. It hadn’t escaped my notice that this production of Verdi's La Traviata had been handsomely sponsored by an anonymous local donor. Good for them. Who can argue with the pursuit of excellence?

This evening’s cast of young operatic talent was led by Eleanor Ross as the demi-mondaine Violetta. As Germont Père e Fils were Lawrence Wallington and Alex Aldren. Sam Evans, Head of Vocal Studies at Highgate School, conducted, in a production directed by Sophie Gilpin and designed by Anna Bonomelli.

After a striking opening Prelude, the lights rose on a pool-side party. If I’m entirely honest I’m not convinced that Sophie Gilpin’s decision to set the action in Paris’ swinging 60’s helped to bring any great clarity to the narrative.

Sunday 27 May 2018

George Benjamin & Martin Crimp's Lessons in Love and Violence

Stéphane Degout as King and Gyula Orendt as Gaveston in Lessons in Love and Violence, The Royal Opera © 2018 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
Stéphane Degout and Gyula Orendt in Lessons in Love and Violence,
© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
George Benjamin, Martin Crimp Lessons in Love and Violence; Stéphane Degout, Gyula Orendt, Barbara Hannigan, Peter Hoare, dir: Katie Mitchell, cond: George Benjamin; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 May 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A powerful and thought-provoking study in the complexity of human relations

Barbara Hannigan & Peter Hoare in Lessons in Love and Violence, The Royal Opera © 2018 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
Barbara Hannigan & Peter Hoare
© 2018 ROH. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey
George Benjamin and Martin Crimp's new opera Lessons in Love and Violence is a significant departure from the previous two (Into the little hill and Written on skin) for a start Crimp's language is more direct without any of the third-person obliqueness of the previous two operas, and the subject matter is based on history rather than fable. But, as with the previous two, Lessons in Love and Violence packs a powerful and concentrated punch.

Katie Mitchell's production of Lessons in Love and Violence, designed by Vicki Mortimer, debuted earlier this month and we caught the last performance. George Benjamin conducted, with Stéphane Degout as the King, Barbara Hannigan as Isabel his Queen, Gyula Orendt as Gaveston, Peter Hoare as Mortimer, Samuel Boden as the boy / young King and the actor Ocean Barrington-Cook as the girl.

Loosely based on the story of Edward II and Piers Gaveston, Crimp's libretto gives us seven terse scenes (lasting around 90 minutes without an interval) in which we witness the disintegration of the King's power owing to Gaveston's unpopularity, Gaveston's death, Isabel's growing relationship with Mortimer, and the young King's ultimate triumph in killing Mortimer.

It is a bleak, rather terrible work with a clear-sighted view of human frailties. None of the people involved is particularly admirable and whilst Crimp and Benjamin enable us to see different points of view (this is certainly not a narrative which puts Edward II and Gaveston at its centre), I don't think that we ever really like any of them.

The King and Gaveston's relationship is an intense one, yet seemingly based on pain, whilst it is clear early on that while little is made of Gaveston's sex (the main complaint is the way he and the King spend money), Mortimer is clearly troubled by the same-sex element. And despite the many strides we have made, it was still very powerful seeing two mainstream opera singers depicting and unashamedly same-sex relationship on the Royal Opera House stage, including a number of remarkable clinches (would that directors were a bit more daring in period operas such as Verdi's Don Carlos)

Saturday 26 May 2018

A heart in exile: pianist Lucy Parham talks about her latest composer portrait

Lucy Parham (Photo Sven Arnstein)
Lucy Parham (Photo Sven Arnstein)
Pianist Lucy Parham is known for her composer portrait evenings, combining music and spoken word and presented in collaboration with distinguished actors, with portraits of Robert & Clara Schumann, Chopin, Liszt and Debussy. Her fifth portrait, Elegie: Rachmaninoff, a heart in exile, with actor Henry Goodman, has just been issued on the Deux-Elles label.

She explained that the Rachmaninoff portrait differs from her previous programmes in that Rachmaninoff did not have a turbulent love life around which to base the evening (he was in fact happily married to his cousin Natalya). Having played a lot of Rachmaninoff's music Lucy was struck by its inherent pathos and sadness, so that with Elegie, Lucy looks more at the soul of the man.

Elegie: Rachmaninoff - A Heart in Exile
Elegie: Rachmaninoff - A Heart in Exile
When I comment that much of Rachmaninoff's music seems to be gloomy, Lucy laughs and adds that this is an understatement; yet it is something she bore in mind when planning the programme. A lot of Rachmaninoff's music was written before his (self-imposed) exile, but there is still a deep sadness to it. Yet, in his recordings, Rachmaninoff himself played it in rather a cold detached way, concerned that the music might speak for itself. We agree that Rachmaninoff would not like the modern 'heart on sleeve' way of performing his music and Lucy feels that we pull the music about at our peril, commenting that it is like adding extra whipped cream to a chocolate sundae.

Lucy has always loved Rachmaninoff's music, ever since she first heard Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto as a girl and thought 'goodness, can I every play that'; in fact, she did and has chalked up around 20 performances. And it isn't just the piano music, she loves the songs and symphonies and refers to the clarinet solo in the second movement of the Second Symphony as 'something out of heaven'.

Rachmaninoff was very classically trained as a pianist, his teacher Nikolai Zverev was very very strict; the young pupils (only six of them, all young boys) were up at six am and training was full of physical discipline. Zverev did not just teach them piano, he provided general tuition too. And he could not understand why Rachmaninoff wanted to be a composer so that Rachmaninoff left Zverev when he was 16 which led to a complete breakdown in their relationship.

Friday 25 May 2018

W B Yeats-inspired Sally Beamish premiere from Mathilde Milwidsky at St John's Smith Square

Mathilde Milwidsky (Photo Donald van Hasselt)
Mathilde Milwidsky (Photo Donald van Hasselt)
On 31 May 2018, as part of her as part of her place on the St John’s Smith Square Young Artist Scheme, violinist Mathilde Milwidsky will be giving a recital with pianist Huw Watkins. The centrepiece of the programme is a new work written for Mathilde by composer Sally Beamish (herself a string player). Sally Beamish's new piece, rather intriguingly is based on W B Yeats poem The Wild Swans at Coole. Beamish started from a recording of actor/writer Peter Thomson reading the poem, and she then notated the speech patterns and from this developed the violin and piano piece, which she describes as ' in effect, a setting of the poem for violin and piano. The work explores themes of loss, in contrast to the constant renewal of nature.'

Also in the programme is work by another female composer, Clara Schumann, her Romances Op. 22, alongside music by Beethoven, Elgar and Sarasate.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square websiite.

Prophetiae Sibyllarum

Sibylla - Gallicantus
Prophetiae Sibyllarum, Lassus, Hildegard of Bingen, Dmitri Tymoczko, Eliot Cole; Gallicantus, Gabriel Crouch; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The prophecies of the Sibyls as interpreted by Renaissance and contemporary composers

This enterprising disc on Signum Records combines Orlandus Lassus' complete Prophetiae Sibyllarum with settings of a modern set of Sibylline poems by the composer Dmitri Tymoczko, along with a pair of works by the sibyl of the Rhine, Hildegard of Bingen. The performers are the six men of Gallicantus, artistic director Gabriel Crouch.

Lassus' Prophetiae Sibyllarum is an early work, it was probably written in Italy and seems to have been presented to Duke Albrecht of Bavaria when Lassus joined his service in 1556. The piece consists of a prologue and settings of twelve Latin poems, each attributed to a different sibyl and each looking forward to the coming of Christ. Though the sibylline prophecies were used by the church, this is hardly sacred music and is very much in the madrigal style.

Lassus' writing is highly chromatic with daringly shifting harmonies, and it is clear that his contacts in Italy must have included Cipriano de Rore and Nicola Vincentine, both of them known for their daring experiments with harmony. Lassus exploits the sort of sudden harmonic juxtapositions and shifts which are familiar from Gesualdo's writing.

Gala concert: Supporting Women and Parents in Opera

Supporting Women and Parents in Opera (SWAP'ra) was formed last year by a number of women artists who work in opera (Kitty Whately, Madeleine Pierard, Anna Patalong, Ella Marchment, Sophie Gilpin, Jessica Cottis) and the organisation aims to be a voice for women and parents in opera, both celebrating the achievements of women in an industry where women are often under represented, and addressing the under representation issues with projects such as parents in the arts. Many of the founders have children, so the issue of finding time to take off for pregnancy and fitting family life in with an operatic career is clearly very germane.

To support the group's work, there is a gala concert at Opera Holland Park on 31 July 2018, with an all woman team:
  • conductors Jessica Cottis (Gala music director), Alice Farnham, Sonia Ben Santamaria, Susannah Wapshott
  • directors Lucy Bradley, Deborah Cohen, Karen Gillingham, Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder), Francesca Gilpin, Ella Marchment (SWAP’ra co-founder), Noa Naamat, Robin Norton-Hale
  • singers Rosie Aldridge, Giselle Allen, Jeni Bern, Mary Bevan, Katie Bird, Lee Bisset, Rebecca Bottone, Katie Bray, Katherine Broderick, Rebecca Caine, Catherine Carby, Sarah Castle, Fleur de Bray, Anna Devin, Carolyn Dobbin, Anne Sophie Duprels, Jenni France, Nazan Fikret, Catherine Hopper, Yvonne Howard, Jennifer Johnston, Fiona Kimm, Janis Kelly, Rhian Lois, Caroline Macphie, Diana Montague, Anna Patalong (SWAP’ra co-founder), Madeleine Pierard (SWAP’ra co-founder), Rosalind Plowright, Gillian Ramm, Meeta Raval, Amanda Roocroft, Lucy Schaufer, Helen Sherman, Angela Simkin, Sarah Tynan (SWAP’ra patron), Kitty Whately (SWAP’ra co-founder), Catherine Wyn Rogers. 
All inevitably subject to availability. And an all-woman orchestra.
The evening will feature music from operatic favourites such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, and Eugene Onegin as well as contemporary work by female composers Elena Langer, Roxanna Panufnik and Josephine Stephenson.

The concert will raise money for the various creative projects SWAP'ra has lined up, including grants for opera parents, mentorship schemes, and further performance opportunities for less established female artists.

Full details from the SWAP'ra website.

Montemezzi's ship set to sail again

Building the ship for the set for La Nave at La Scala, 1918
Building the ship for the set for La Nave
at La Scala, 1918
Opera Holland Park (OHP) is well known for unearthing forgotten early 20th century operas, revealing some of the riches which have gone rather unnoticed in the scramble for modernism. Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re has been a significant success for OHP, its production having debuted in 2007 was revived in 2015 with soprano Natalya Romaniw. Montemezzi didn't write many operas, the failure of his second opera La Nave at its premiere at La Scala, Milan in 1918 put him off writing future operas.

Now OHP is taking the plunge and it has been recently announced that the company will be producing Montemezzi's La nave in 2020. The opera has been somewhat jinxed over the years, not only did the premiere fail, but so did the 1919 Chicago production due to controversial sets; it only achieved two performances. Moderate success occured with productions in Verona in 1923, and Rome in 1938 but then the sets and performing material were destroyed during Allied action in the Second World War.

That looked it for the opera, but Teatro Graciela gave a concert performance of the work in 2012 in New York, and thanks to work by the company and by the publishers Ricordi a performing version of the opera was able to be re-constructed for the performances.

The plot is quite gruesome, based on a Gabriele D'Annunzio play it seems to feature fratricide, homicide and suicide among a noble Venetian family. And of course a ship features strongly in the plot. In fact, at the first production, the set at La Scala featured a physical ship rather than painted flats (see the photo above).

Montemezzi's L'amore dei tre re was definitely a revelation, so we look forward to the 2020 production of La nave. If you are interested in learning more about the opera and why it failed, see my review of David Chandler's excellent book Essays on Italo Montemezzi - D'Annunzio: La Nave on the Opera Today website. [Apologies, the first version of this link didn't work, corrected now]

Thursday 24 May 2018

New Generation Festival showcase

The gardens of the Palazzo Corsini di Prato, Florence
The gardens of the Palazzo Corsini di Prato, Florence
The New Generation Festival, musical director Maximilian Fane, debuted last year in the gardens of the Palazzo Corsini di Prato in Florence and returns there again this year, presenting an operatic, dramatic and musical programme from 29 August to 1 September 2018.  The festival is intended to support young artists and all those involved are under 35.

Last night we went to a private recital at which Maximilian Fane introduced the festival and its plans, and artists past, present and future performed a diverse programme. The performers were soprano Louise Kemeny (who sings Zerlina in the 2018 production of Mozart's Don Giovanni), bass Simon Shibambu (who will be performing at the festival in 2019), baritone William Diggle (one of the festival's Young Artists, he is covering Masetto in Don Giovanni) and soprano Anush Hovhannisyan (who sang Adina in the 2017 production of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore and will be singing Donna Anna in this year's Don Giovanni). They were accompanied at the piano by Sergei Rybin.

Anush Hovhannisyan sang three of Berg's Seven early songs, 'D'Oreste D'Ajace' from Mozart's Idomeneo and two of Richard Strauss's Four last songs. Louise Kemeny sang 'Ach ich fuhls' from Mozart's The Magic Flute, Donizetti's La conocchia and joined William Diggle for 'La ci da rem' from Don Giovanni.  William Diggle also sang Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinee and Gounod's 'Avant de quitter ces lieux' from Faust. Simon Shibambu sang Verdi's 'O tu Palermo!' from I Vespri Siciliani and Rachmaninoff's 'Ves tabor spit' from Aleko.

In addition to staging Mozart's Don Giovanni, this year the festival will be staging Shakespeare's Henry V will a live performance of William Walton's film score, and will be performing an all-Tchaikovsky concert.

Full details from the festival website.

Ivor Gurney rarities

Ivor Gurney - The Western Playland (and of Sorrow)
The Bridge Quartet is exploring the chamber music and song of Ivor Gurney. On Monday 28 May 2018 the quartet will be joined by baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Michael Dussek for a performance of Gurney's song cycle The Western Playland and of Sorrow in Dorchester Abbey as part of the English Music Festival. The cycle is being performed in a new edition by Gurney scholar Philip Lancaster. The printed score of the cycle (published in 1926 under the auspices of the Carnegie Trust) has a number of errors in it, and Lancaster has returned to the original manuscripts for his edition. This has been a somewhat complex process, as described in a posting on Philip Lancaster's blog.

The performers will be going into the studio in early June to record the cycle as part of a disc for EM Records which will include a number of world premiere recordings including Gurney's String Quartet in D Minor which was written in 1924/25. The quartet is a rare survival from Gurney's late chamber music, most of which has disappeared, and has had to be re-constructed from surviving parts by Michael Schofield (the Bridge Quartet's viola player) and Philip Lancaster.

Full details from the Bridge Quartet website.

Wednesday 23 May 2018

London Orchestra Project

London Orchestra Project
The London Orchestra Project is a new orchestra which places students and recent graduates from London's music colleges side by side with principal players from London's professional orchestras. The orchestra made its debut in 2015 and returns on 27 May 2018 with a concert at LSO St Lukes, conducted by James Ham

The programmes consists of three contrasting 20th century works, Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, Bartok's Divertimento and Ligeti's Ramifications. For this concert students from the Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance will be joined by players from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Philharmonia, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra,  and the London Sinfonietta.

Full details from the London Orchestra Project website.

Interesting programmes, strange timing - homages to Lully and Louis Couperin

Lucile Richardot
Lucile Richardot
Un hommage à Lully / Un hommage à Louis Couperin; Lucile Richardot, Thibault Roussel, Mathilde Vialle, Duo Coloquintes; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (Lully) / 3.5 (Couperin) (★★★★ / ★★★½)
A pair of intimate concerts paying homage to two major French baroque figures

On Wednesday 16 May 2018, the London Festival of Baroque Music presented a pair of intimate concerts paying homage to two of the greatest French Baroque Composers. First Lucile Richardot (mezzo-soprano), Thibault Roussel (theorbo & guitar) and Mathilde Vialle (bass viol) presented Un hommage à Lully and then for the late-evening concert, Duo Coloquintes (Alice Julien-Laferrière - violin, Mathilde Vialle - viola da gamba) presented Un hommage à Louis Couperin.

Un hommage à Lully

It seems that everywhere we look these days we see evidence of the contribution of immigrants to a country’s economic and cultural hegemony. Seventeenth-century France was no different. Louis XII and Louis XIV owed their power to an Italian, Cardinal Mazarin (born Mazzarino) who headhunted his compatriot Giovanni Battista Lulli amongst others to ensure the Versailles court had the best in music as well as everything else.

Jean-Baptiste Lully – as he Gallicised himself – arrived in Paris at the age of 14 and the received wisdom is that he had not had much by way of formal musical training in his native Florence, that his Italian-ness was an appeal to the nostalgia of his employer, Mazarin.

Musical style is like a language: I chat to German composer Moritz Eggert

Moritz Eggert (Photo Christian Hartlmeier Klein)
Moritz Eggert (Photo Christian Hartlmeier Klein)
The German composer Moritz Eggert has a new disc of his compositions on the NEOS label. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by David Robertson and by Peter Rundel, has recorded Moritz' Muzak and Number Nine VII:Masse. Moritz's music is notable for its polystylistic qualities, using musical genres from pop to classical music and including the entire body of the sound world in one composition. I recently chatted with him via Skype to find out more.

Moritz Eggert and Wilhelm Killmayer
Moritz Eggert and Wilhelm Killmayer
I was interested in whether Moritz deliberately thought about style when he was planning a piece, but he sees this as a tricky question - if he could give a definitive answer it would be limiting. For Moritz musical style is like a language, and he is not completely devoted to one particular one and he quotes the example of Mozart who could write in a wide variety of styles. For Moritz, technique and style are like languages, and just as we can speak a number of languages, so he embodies a number of techniques and styles.

Moritz was very influenced by Wilhelm Killmayer (1927-2017) who was Moritz's teacher at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München. For Moritz, Killmayer was one of the most free-thinking of German composers of the time; during the 1980s, Moritz describes German composers as being frequently dogmatic, either belonging to this movement or that. Killmayer stood apart from this and encouraged his students to be as free as possible. And it wasn't just a mode of thinking for Killmayer's students, Moritz finds Killmayer's own music very free.

Tuesday 22 May 2018

New Royal Academy of Music theatre wins RIBA award

Jonathan Dove's Flight opening the new Royal Academy of Music theatre (Photo Robert Workman)
Jonathan Dove's Flight opening the new Royal Academy of Music theatre (Photo Robert Workman)
The Royal Academy of Music's new performance spaces, the theatre and recital hall, have won the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) London Building of the Year, which means that the project is now considered for the RIBA National Awards, and the RIBA Stirling Prize, one of the foremost prizes for excellence in architecture. The Royal Academy of Music project shared top place in the London Building of the Year with the Victoria & Albert Museum Exhibition Road Quarter.

The Royal Academy of Music's Susie Sainsbury Theatre and Angela Burgess Recital Hall were designed by architect Ian Ritchie and transformed the college's facilities, not only providing a theatre and recital hall but practice and dressing rooms, and new percussion studios, a large refurbished jazz room and a new control suite for the Academy’s audiovisual Recordings Department. The project has also won the RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Tourism & Leisure Award.

The theatre was opened in March 2018 with performances of Jonathan Dove's Flight (see my review)

Christopher Wright premiere celebrates the opening of 12th English Music Festival

Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire
Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire
The Twelfth Festival of English Music, director Em Marshall Luck, opens in Dorchester Abbey on Friday 25 May 2018 with the premiere of Christopher Wright's Symphony, performed by the English Symphony Orchestra, conductor John Andrews, alongside the UK premiere of Richard Blackford's Violin Concerto with soloist Rupert Marshall Luck.

Anniversaries celebrated at the festival (which runs until 28 May 2018) include the end of World War I, with an evening of readings and music from actor Christopher Kent and pianist Gamal Khamis juxtaposing writers Owen, Thomas and Sassoon with piano music by Elgar, Bridge and Gurney, and the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 with a tribute to composer Ethel Smyth, contralto Lucy Stevens and pianist Elizabeth Marcus perform music centred around the exploits and passions of the composer interwoven with her songs, the story of her greatest opera, The Wreckers and her battle for an equal voice.

Full details from the English Music Festival website.

Alan Rawsthorne: A portrait

Alan Rawsthorne - A Portrait
Alan Rawsthorne - woodwind concertos & chamber music; Linda Merrick, Jill Crowther, Manchester Sinfonia, English Northern Sinfonia, Richard Howarth, Alan Cuckston; Prima Facie
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A lovely exploration of Rawsthorne's art with a pair of woodwind concertos and a selection of chamber music spanning over 25 years

Alan Rawsthorne's music has always, to me, seemed to be redolent of the 1950s and the atmosphere of creative yet lyrical modernism which was part of the atmosphere, something which would change with the development of the modernist stream of composers. In fact Rawsthorne had quite a long career, enroling at the Royal Manchester College of Music in 1925 and continuing to write until his death in 1971 (his Elegy for guitar was written in 1971).

This new disc from Prima Facie, described as a portrait, gives us a wide selection of Rawsthorne's woodwind concertos and chamber music, from 1935 to 1961; Concerto for clarinet and string orchestra (1937), Quartet for oboe and string trio (1936), Studies on a Theme by Bach for string trio (1935), Brother James's Air for cello and piano (1941), Sonata for cello and piano (1948), A most eloquent music (1961), and Concerto for oboe and string orchestra (1947), performed by Linda Merrick (clarinet), Manchester Sinfonia (conductor Richard Howarth), Sylvia Harper (oboe), Jake Rea (violin), David Aspin (viola), Joseph Spooner (cello), David Owen Norris (piano), John Turner (recorder), Laura Robinson (recorder), Roger Child (lute), Jill Crowther (oboe), English Northern Sinfonia [now the Orchestra of Opera North] (conductor Alan Cuckston).

Monday 21 May 2018

Richard Rodney Bennett's Sea Change

I remember singing in a performance of Richard Rodney Bennett's Sea Change many years ago and falling in love with this exploration of the mystical sea and man's relationship to it. 

Written for the Three Choirs Festival in 1983, it does not crop up often enough in concert programmes and there is a welcome chance to hear the work on Friday 25 May 2018 when Londinium, conductor Andrew Griffiths, fresh from the triumph of their CD The Gluepot Connection [see my review] perform at the church of St Sepulchre without Newgate. 

The concert takes its title from Bennett's work and includes a fascinating exploration of man's relationship to the sea with music, sacred and secular, ranging from Giaches de Wert and Thomas Campion, to Grieg, Brahms and Parry, to RVW, Holst, Coleridge-Taylor to Jaakko Mäntyjärvi, Howard Skempton and Gabriel Jackson. The music moves from shipwrecks, myths and legends to folk-songs and sea chanties.

Full details from the Londinium website.

Reynaldo Hahn chamber music

Reynaldo Hahn - Chamber Music - James Baillieu - Champs Hill Records
Reynaldo Hahn Piano Quartet No. 3 in G major, Piano Quintet in F sharp minor, songs; James Baillieu, Benjamin Baker, Bartosz Woroch, Adam Newman, Tim Lowe; Champs Hill Records
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 Mar 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Gorgeous melodies and a sophisticated feel for form in these unashamedly late-Romantic pieces

The music on this disc is delightful, and you wonder why we have not heard more of it and then you look at the dates. Reynaldo Hahn's Piano Quartet No. 3 dates from 1946 whilst his Piano Quintet dates from 1921, these are late dates indeed for such Faure-inspired music. I had been introduced to Hahn's instrumental music via Stephen Coombes recording of his piano concerto (with Jean-Yves Ossance and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Hyperion) and have been delighted to make the acquaintance of Hahn's chamber music via this lovely new disc from James Baillieu (piano), Benjamin Baker and Bartosz Woroch (violins), Adam Newman (viola) and Tim Lowe (cello) on Champs Hill, the first volume of a promised sequence.

On this disc the performers pair Hahn's Piano Quartet No. 3 and Piano Quintet with four shorter pieces each giving one of the instrumentalists a chance to shine with the Nocturne in E-flat Major and transcriptions of the songs, A Chloris, Vocalise-Etude and Si mes vers avaiet des ailes.

Saturday 19 May 2018

A very psychological approach: I chat to Serge van Veggel, artistic director of Opera2Day

Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet -  Quirijn de Lang, Martina Prins - Opera2Day (Photo  Ben van Duin)
Ambroise Thomas: Hamlet -  Quirijn de Lang, Martina Prins - Opera2Day (Photo  Ben van Duin)
The Dutch opera company Opera2Day is not well known in the UK, so whilst I was in The Hague, earlier this year, for the company's production of Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet [see my review] I took the opportunity to have coffee with Opera2Day's artistic director Serge van Veggel to find out more.

Founded in 2007 the company is interested in both opera and music theatre, with a very psychological approach to presentation, with recent work including immersive music theatre and site-specific pieces. For Serge, there are two distinct ways an opera company can function today. Either you produce work of integrity and then try and sell it to the public, or you have to adopt the lowest common denominator approach and sell your soul. Opera2Day tries to forge a middle way, producing work they believe in but taking into account the environments in which they have to perform, producing work for the audiences of today including the younger generation.

Opera2Day - A Madhouse Fair (Photo Roelof Pothuis)
Opera2Day - A Madhouse Fair (Photo Roelof Pothuis)
In fact, Hamlet is a bit more of an operatic project than some of Opera2Day's work. Recent pieces have explored various concepts via pasticcios of various composers, A Madhouse Fair staged in an empty hospital and based on Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, evoked the era when people woould buy a ticket to go and look a the mad people, La troupe d'Orphee (which won opera of the year) based on Charpentier's La descente d'Orphee and conceived of as an hommage to the travelling opera companies which provided opera in The Hague in the past and Dr Miracle's Last Illusion in 2017 focussing on an illusionist from around 1900, but one who researched the edge of life and death in his illusions. This last used music for Olympia (The Tales of Hoffmann), Lady Macbeth, Ophelie (Hamlet), each in an illusion, with new music by Daniel Hamburger linking the pieces and fitting them to the new dramaturgy.

With this year's production of Hamlet, there were both dramatic and economic reasons to create a new version of the opera. Serge felt that so much of the piece was grand opera which did not tell Hamlet's story, and the company explored how to make opera today both practical and something which makes dramatic sense. They used an edited version, shorter in duration with an instrumental ensemble of 16 and the choruses sung by the male soloists plus three female ensemble singers.

There were a number of reasons why Hamlet was chosen. Seeing the play was one of the reasons why the teenage Serge fell for the theatre, and he wanted to do a version of the opera which bought Shakespeare's text back. But also the Theatre Francais de la Haye was an inspiration. Between 1804 and 1919 this company performed opera at what is now the Koninklijke Schouwberg in The Hague. This was a French opera house partly because the Dutch court spoke French, and it performed Hamlet 53 times, some performances with a pupil of Jean-Baptiste Faure the first Hamlet. Opera2Day feels they are heirs to this tradition and have access to a huge archive of scores and parts from the period. Having performed Cherubini's Medee in 2014, Hamlet further acknowledged this French tradition.

Friday 18 May 2018

Sketches to Sunset: Music by Leonid Desyatnikov

Leonid Desyatnikov in 2009
Leonid Desyatnikov in 2009
Tomorrow night (19 May 2018) there is a chance to hear an evening of music by the contemporary Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov, a name which does not feature very often on UK concert programmes. 

Pianist Alexey Goribol leads a chamber ensemble at Milton Court Concert Hall in a programme which includes the UK premiere of Desyatnikov's 12 Preludes from Songs of Bukovina, a ballet that was premiered at American Ballet Theatre last year, and Sketches to Sunset, a mix of tango and klezmer music written in the early 1990s.

Born in 1955, Leonid Desyatnikov studied at the Leningrad Conservatoire and his works include four operas, the most recent The Children of Rosenthal was commissioned by the Bolshoi Theatre and premiered in 2005, and he has also written a number of notable film scores.

Further information from the Barbican website.

Transcendent mysticism: Vaughan Williams' Mass from St John's College

Vaughan Williams: Mass in G minor - Choir of St John's College, Cambridge - Signum
Vaughan Williams Mass in G minor, sacred choral works; Choir of St John's College Cambridge, Andrew Nethsingha; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 May 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
RVW's mass in a thoughtful and revealing performance

For their latest recording on the St John's College imprint on Signum Classics, Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College have turned their attention to RVW's Mass in G minor, a work which the choir apparently has not recorded before, as part of an all RVW disc which includes other sacred music much of it written around the same period as the mass, the Te Deum in G, O vos omnes, Antiphon, Rhosymedre, O taste and see, Prayer to the Father of Heaven, O clap you hands and Lord, thou hast been our Refuge.

In his illuminating booklet article, Andrew Nethsingha talks about RVW's turning to sacred music as part of a reaction to the events of World War 1 [see my interview with Andrew Nethsingha], and it is perhaps no coincidence that three of the greatest 20th century European settings of the mass were written in the same period, the masses by RVW & Frank Martin and the Requiem by Ildebrando Pizzetti. Nethsingha also talks about re-assessing RVW's sacred choral music, and it is clear from listening to this disc that Nethsingha has thought deeply about the music, not just in the way it fits in with RVW's output from the same period but also in the way that it might be performed.

The principal feature of the mass on this disc seems to be its spaciousness and a relaxed sense, Nethsingha talks about RVW's exploration of music which was not goal-directed and in his performance, Nethsingha is clearly not attempting to drive the music where it does not wish to go. That is not to say it lacks impetus, far from it, but he also gives the music space to breath and takes a relaxed view of tempo and rubato. This is combined with a very fine-grained elegant performance from the choir, the opening 'Kyrie' starts on just a thread almost as if you are coming upon the choir from a distance.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Te Deum: Purcell & Charpentier at Westminster Abbey for London Festival of Baroque Music

Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Te Deum, Purcell & Charpentier; Choir of Westminster Abbey, St James Baroque, James O'Donnell; London Festival of Baroque Music at Westminster Abbey
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on 15 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A beguiling concert and exceeding exultant.

On a beautiful sun-kissed evening I crossed Parliament Square with a spring in my step and into to the architectural wonder that is Westminster Abbey. You can taste a thousand years of history as you enter and its something of a privilege to hear works composed by Henry Purcell a previous Abbey organist, now lying in the north aisle “who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded."

As part of the London Festival of Baroque Music, the evening (Tuesday 15 May 2018) was a celebration of all things Te Deum, Purcell’s Te Deum in D Z232 and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Te Deum in D H146 bookending a programme performed by The Choir of Westminster Abbey and St James’ Baroque, directed by James O'Donnell. Music had become “run into the French way” following the Restoration and it was fascinating to hear contemporary works from either side of la Manche from the period of the Grand Siècle.

Life is a Dream

Rambert - Life is a dream
On 23 May 2018 at Sadler's Wells Theatre, Rambert will be premiering Life is a Dream, a new ballet by Kim Brandstrup to music by Witold Lutosławski. The work is Rambert's first full-length ballet for over 30 years and has been made possible by the support of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. In a significant first, this will be the first time Lutosławski's music has been used for a ballet. After the premiere, the production embarks on a 29-date tour to Bergen International Festival, Norwich, Llandudno, Manchester, Edinburgh, Plymouth, Glasgow, Inverness and Leicester

The ballet is a modern re-imagining of the 17th-century play Life Is a Dream by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and the music features extracts from Lutosławski’s Dance Préludes, Musique Funèbre, Symphonie No 4, performed by Rambert Orchestra as well as some pop songs recorded in the 1950s by “Derwid”, Lutosławski’s pseudonym. And the piece will feature designs by the Quay Brothers.

The Adam Mickiewicz Institute, an organisation named after Poland’s great Romantic poet, is charged with promoting Polish culture around the world and initiating international cooperation in the field of culture. The institute is leading this project with the objective of giving a different dimension to the music of Lutosławski.

Full details from the Rambert website.

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Der Rosenkavalier

1926 silent film of Der Rosenkavalier (Image - credit Filmarchiv Austria)
1926 silent film of Der Rosenkavalier (Image - credit Filmarchiv Austria)
On Thursday 17 May 2018 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and conductor Geoffrey Paterson are performing Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier

No, not that one, this is a rare outing for the 1926 silent film for which Strauss wrote the music. The film was directed by Robert Wiene and Strauss himself conducted the orchestra when the film was first performed in the UK at the Tivoli Theatre. Though Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote the film's story-line, it isn't a straight translation of the opera, the Marschallin's husband appears for a start, and Octavian is played by a male actor, whilst Strauss included music from other pieces, but the film represents a fascinating sidelong glance at the great masterpiece.

Paterson and the OAE will be preceding the showing with a selection of Strauss' songs and Sophie's aria from the opera, sung by soprano Charlotte Beament.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

Tuesday 15 May 2018

All-star Orfeo - Iestyn Davies and Sophie Bevan at the London Festival of Baroque Music

Gluck: Orfeo et Eurydice
Gluck: Orfeo et Eurydice
Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice; Iestyn Davies, Sophie Bevan, Rebecca Bottone, La Nuova Musica, David Bates; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 13 May 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Gluck's original 1762 Orfeo in a starry performance

This year’s London Festival of Baroque Music has as its theme ‘Treasures of the Grand Siècle’ and the festival brochure is very French: gold Sun King and etching of Versailles, so I had to double-check when I realised this concert was the 1762, Vienna version (in Italian) of Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck’s take on the Orpheus myth. David Bates conducted La Nuova Musica with Iestyn Davies as Orfeo, Sophie Bevan as Euridice and Rebecca Bottone as Amore at St John's Smith Square on 13 May 2018.

What we heard tonight was, more or less, the original version of the opera, but with the addition of the Elysian Fields music, scored for solo flute and strings, that was one of the additions for the Paris version of 1774.

In our version, though the language is Italian, there was a definite French feel: lack of flashy virtuosity; accompagnato recitatives; extended dances and wonderful choruses where the voices move in blocks so we can hear the text very clearly.

Popular Posts this month