Monday 30 September 2019

Clara Schumann: Prodigy, Muse, Virtuoso

Robert and Clara Schumann
Robert and Clara Schumann
2019 is the 200th anniversary of Clara Schumann's birth and a number of artists are exploring her life and works. The pianist Reiko Fujisawa had been presenting a series of narrated recitals during 2019, culminating in a performance of Clara Schumann: Prodigy, Muse, Virtuoso at the Purcell Room on 5 October 2019 as part of the Southbank Centre's Women in Music series. The programme has been devised by Fujisawa in collaboration with musicologist and author Peter Quantrill. I combines music associated with Clara's musical career with a narration spoken by Crawford Logan which is based on her letters and diary.

The music performed showcased both Clara's own music and that of composers whom she supported, her husband Robert, their friend Johannes Brahms, and Chopin. There is a complete performance of Robert's Faschingschwank aus Wien which was written for her, and also performances of the songs Fruhlingsnacht and Widmung, in Liszt's solo piano arrangements, which were part of Robert's wedding present to Clara, as well as Clara's own Scherzo No.1 in D minor Op.10 and Romance for piano Op.21 No.3

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

Vicious scheming and visual splendour, but seduction too: Opera North's revival of Handel's Giulio Cesare

Handel: Giulio Cesare - Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, Heather Lowe, Catherine Hopper, Lucie Chartin, Maria Sanner, Dean Robinson, and (top) Darren Jeffery and James Laing - Opera North 2019 (Photo Alastair Muir)
Handel: Giulio Cesare - Paul-Antoine Bénos-Djian, Heather Lowe, Catherine Hopper, Lucie Chartin, Maria Sanner, Dean Robinson, and (top) Darren Jeffery and James Laing
Opera North 2019 (Photo Alastair Muir)
Handel Giulio Cesare; Maria Sanner, Lucie Chartin, Catherine Hopper, Heather Lowe, James Laing, dir: Tim Albery, cond: Christian Curnyn; Opera North at the Grand Theatre Leeds
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Imaginative designs and a strong ensemble performance make this an engaging and dramatic evening, with some very fine singing

Handel: Giulio Cesare - Maria Sanner, Lucie Chartin - Opera North 2019 (Photo Alastair Muir)
Handel: Giulio Cesare - Maria Sanner, Lucie Chartin
Opera North 2019 (Photo Alastair Muir)
On Saturday 28 September 2019 at Leeds Grand Theare, Opera North has revived Tim Albery's 2012 production of George Frideric Handel's Giulio Cesare which features Leslie Travers striking designs. Swedish contralto Maria Sanner was Giulio Cesare with Lucie Chartin as Cleopatra [last seen as Ophélie in Opera2Day's 2018 production of Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet in the Hague, see my review], Catherine Hopper as Cornelia [last seen as Cornelia in Bury Court Opera's Giulio Cesare in 2018, see my review], Heather Lowe as Sesto [last seen as Angelina in Rossini's La Cenerentola at West Green Opera this year, see my review], James Laing as Tolomeo [last seen as Daniel in Handel's Belshazzar at The Grange Festival this year, see my review], Darren Jeffery as Achilla, Paul-Antoine Benos Djian as Nireno and Dean Robinson as Curio. Christian Curnyn conducted the orchestra of Opera North.

Giulio Cesare is a long opera with around four hours of music [English Touring Opera bravely performed it complete over two evenings in 2017, see my review], the role of Cleopatra has nine arias and a duet, totalling around an hour of music! Tim Albery had cut the opera to bring the running time to around three hours, with one interval part-way through Act Two. Gone were arias for the minor characters, though Darren Jeffrey as Achilla got a single one, A section only. Gone too was the chorus, it was s shame that cast members could not have sung the off-stage choral refrain which punctuates Caesar's aria when le learns of Tolomeo's attack, it is a striking and daring moment.

Handel: Giulio Cesare - Catherine Hopper, Heather Lowe - Opera North 2019 (Photo Alastair Muir)
Handel: Giulio Cesare - Catherine Hopper, Heather Lowe
Opera North 2019 (Photo Alastair Muir)
It is fatally easy, when reviewing Handel's dramatic works, to lament the losses as a result of cuts but we need to accept that few of the operas and oratorios are designed for modern theatre-going. The need to cut Giulio Cesare means that each director gets to shape the work. Bury Court's performance last year included as much music as possible by trimming arias down to just the A section, whilst Tim Albery favoured cutting whole arias, yet kept things pacey (thanks also to Christian Curnyn's tempos). Recitative was trimmed too, yet the result hung together as fluid drama rather than feeling like a sequence of 'greatest hits'. It helped that we had a fine ensemble performance from the strong cast.

Leslie Travers' designs were simple yet spectacular, a truncate pyramid which came apart to reveal a gilded interior. So that for the seduction scene, candles and light from a reflecting pool in the middle created a setting as seductive visually as the performance was musically and dramatically. Travers' costumes provided some neat colour coding with the Ptolomaic siblings both wearing an imperial purple/blue, including what seemed like their underwear! Whilst the Romans were in battle fatigues. And a nice touch of otherness was added by Tolomeo's wonderful ceremonial gilded fingernails, unfeasibly long and very striking. Our final image of Lucie Chartin's Cleopatra was of her on the throne in imperial purple/blue, gilded fingernails on display with Sanner's Caesar stood behind her.

Saturday 28 September 2019

A terrific company achievement: Martinu's The Greek Passion at Opera North

Martinu: The Greek Passion - Magdalena Molendowska, Richard Mosley-Evans, Paul Nilon, Rhodri Prys Jones, Nicky Spence, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts- Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Martinu: The Greek Passion - Magdalena Molendowska, Richard Mosley-Evans, Paul Nilon, Rhodri Prys Jones, Nicky Spence, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts- Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Martinu The Greek Passion; Nicky Spence, Magdalena Molendowska, Stephen Gadd, John Savournin, Paul Nilon, Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts, dir: Christopher Alden, cond: Garry Walker; Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 September 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Martinu's powerful, epic opera as concentrated modern drama

Martinu: The Greek Passion - Nicky Spence - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Martinu: The Greek Passion - Nicky Spence
Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Considering it was written for Covent Garden in 1957, Bohuslav Martinu's The Greek Passion has rather a strange history in the UK. Rejected by Covent Garden at the last minute (probably through a combination of the work's experimental form and nervousness about issues surrounding the problems in Cyprus), Martinu offered the opera to Zurich. But the changes required by that company resulted in effectively a new, more traditional opera. The Greek Passion had to wait until 1981 for its first UK performance, when Sir Charles Mackerras conducted the revised, Zurich version at Welsh National Opera. It wasn't until 2000 that the opera came home so to speak, when Covent Garden performed David Pountney's 1999 Bregenz Festival production of Martinu's original London version of the opera, painstakingly reconstructed by Ales Brezina.

Thus Opera North's new production of the London version of Martinu's The Greek Passion was only the third time either version of the work had been professionally performed in the UK and the second outing for the London version.

Opera North's production of Bohuslav Martinu's The Greek Passion debuted at Leeds Grand Theatre on 14 September 2019 and we caught the third performance on 27 September 2019. Christopher Alden directed with designs by Charles Edwards and costumes by Doey Lüthi, conducted by Garry Walker, Opera North's music director designate. Nicky Spence was Manolios with Magdalena Molendowska as Katerina, Stephen Gadd as Priest Grigoris, John Savournin as Priest Fotis, Paul Nilon as Yannakos and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts as Panait.

The opera has a total of 19 roles, of which eight were played by members of the admirable Opera North chorus. In fact, the chorus is a big feature of the work, populating the village and playing refugees and here the Opera North chorus delivered thrillingly, with some vivid (and at times thrilling) singing.

Martinu: The Greek Passion - John Savournin & chorus - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
Martinu: The Greek Passion - John Savournin & chorus - Opera North (Photo Tristram Kenton)
This version of the opera is striking because instead of conventional scenes and arias (something Martinu introduced in the Zurich version), the libretto is full of short scenes intercutting in a way which is highly fluid, and Martinu's flexible sung recitative is mixed in with moments of spoken text. David Pountney's 1999/2000 production solved the work's challenges by presenting the life of the whole village in a huge set which filled the width and height of Covent Garden's newly rebuilt stage, with the scenes of the opera moving around filmically.

From folk-song and jazz to singing at Royal weddings: I meet members of The Queen's Six

The Queen's Six
The Queen's Six
Like many all male a cappella groups whose repertoire mixes polyphony with jazz and more popular numbers, the members of the Queen's Six all started out as part of a collegiate or cathedral choir. In fact, they still are. One of the unusual things about the group is that the six men (Dan, Tim, Nick, Dom, Andrew and Simon) are all still members of the choir of St George's Chapel, Windsor and form half of the sum total of Lay Clerks (adult men singing alto, tenor and bass alongside the boy trebles). The group has recently released its latest disc, The Last Rose of Summer on Signum Classics. It is the group's fifth disc, and its first on Signum. A recently met Tim and Simon from the group, directly after their recent appearance on BBC Radio 3's In Tune, to chat more about the group and the disc.

The disc is a programme of folk-songs, a mix of English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh (and they sing in Welsh on the last track of the disc). The group has always had folk-songs in its repertoire, they form an important strand in their programming, and they know a number of arrangers whose work they enjoy, so most of the items on the disc were arranged especially for the Queen's Six, with a handful by composers such as RVW and Holst. And all the music on the disc has been or is part of the group's live programmes.

Friday 27 September 2019

With the harp at its centre the opening concert of the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival was a rare treat

Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, opening concert 26 September 2019
Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival, opening concert 26 September 2019
Ravel, Poulenc, Debussy, Messager, Fauré; Katya Apekisheva, Julian Bliss, Nicholas Daniel, Guy Johnston, Anneleen Lenaerts, Navarra Quartet, Charles Owen, Adam Walker; Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 27 September 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
The rare treat of a programme of all-French chamber music, with works for harp paired with chamber music from the late 19th and 20th centuries in a sophisticated and finely performed programme.

The Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival this year, which runs until Sunday 29 September 2019, is centred around French chamber music. For the opening concert on Thursday 29 September 2019 in the Marble Hall of Hatfield House the programme had two works with harp as the centrepiece, Maurice Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet and Claude Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane for Harp and Quartet, plus Gabriel Fauré's Piano Quartet No. 1 in C minor Op. 15, Francis Poulenc's Oboe Sonata and André Messager's Solo de Concours, played by a group of musicians who are all appearing at various concerts during the festival, Katya Apekisheva (piano), Julian Bliss (clarinet), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Guy Johnston (cello), Anneleen Lenaerts (harp), the Navarra Quartet (Magnus Johnston, Marije Johnston, Sascha Bota, Brian O'Kane), Charles Owen (piano) and Adam Walker (flute). Taking place in Hatfield House's Marble Hall, which remains pretty much as Robert Cecil built it in 1611, there was something rather luxurious about a concert which had the great Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I as a backdrop.

Both Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet and String Quartet and Debussy's Danse sacrée et danse profane for Harp and Quartet were written to show off the new developments in harp technology which enabled harpists to change key more easily. In 1904, Pleyel commissioned Debussy for a piece for their new type of harp, and then in 1905, Erard responded by commissioning Ravel to show of their new chromatic harp. Erard seem to have won the competition, as modern pedal harps are based on the new Erard model.

Thursday 26 September 2019

The Endellion String Quartet announces its final season at the Wigmore Hall

The Endellion String Quartet at the Wigmore Hall
The Endellion String Quartet at the Wigmore Hall
Amazingly, the Endellion String Quartet (Andrew Watkinson & Ralph de Souza violins, Garfield Jackson viola, David Waterman cello) recently celebrated its 40th season. The quartet has announced that its 2019/20 season (its 41st) will be the final season that the quartet plays at the Wigmore Hall, a venue where the quartet has given over 100 concerts. For this final Wigmore Hall season, the quartet is giving three concerts all focusing on the ensemble's core repertoire.

The Endellion String Quartet - Wigmore Hall final season, 2019-2020On Tuesday 29 October, 2019, the programme is Haydn's String Quartet in E flat Op.64 No.6, Smetana's String Quartet No.1 in E minor (‘From My Life’) which ends with his poignant evocation of his deafness, and Beethoven's String Quartet in B flat Op.130 with its original with Große Fuge finale.

On Wednesday 12 February 2020, the programme is Beethoven's String Quartet in B flat Op.18 No.6, Bartok's String Quartet No.6 Sz.114, his last quartet and on of the first pieces in the Endellion's repertoire, and Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E minor Op.44 No.2.

Then on Thursday 16 July 2020, the quartet brings an era to a close with three composers at the core of its repertoire, Haydn's String Quartet in A major Op.20 No.6, Bartok's String Quartet No.3, and Beethoven's String Quartet in E-flat Op.127, the first of his great late quartets.

The quartet was founded in January 1979, and three of those original players are still members with Ralph de Souza joining in 1986, thus giving the ensemble a remarkable consistency of personnel with the present line-up playing together for 33 years.

Full details from the Endellion String Quartet's website.

Anglo-Russian musical collaboration: the Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra makes its London debut at the end of its inaugural tour of Russia and the UK

Shostakovich: Hamlet - Jan Latham-Koenig, Edward Fox, Freddie Fox, Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra - Cadogan Hall (Photo Luke Toddfrey)
Shostakovich: Hamlet - Jan Latham-Koenig, Edward Fox, Freddie Fox, Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra
Cadogan Hall (Photo Luke Toddfrey)
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Sergei Rachmaninov, Benjamin Britten, Dmitri Shostakovich; Pavel Kolesnikov, Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra, Jan Latham-Koenig, Edward Fox, Freddie Fox; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 September 2019
The end of the BSFO's inaugural tour culminating in a dramatic new version of Shostakovich's music for Hamlet

The Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra, conductor Jan Latham-Koenig, concluded its inaugural tour of Russia and the United Kingdom with a concert at Cadogan Hall on 25 September 2019, attended by HRH Prince Michael of Kent (one of the patrons of the orchestra) and a number of Russian and British dignitaries. The programme mixed British and Russian music, with a first half consisting of RVW's Tallis Fantasia and Sergei Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with London-based Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov and in the second half Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and Dmitri Shostakovich's Hamlet Suite, Op. 106, music taken from his incidental music for the film Hamlet in a new version by Jan Latham-Koenig for two actors and orchestra, in which the orchestra was joined by Edward Fox and Freddie Fox.

RVW's Tallis Fantasia was written in 1910, re-working a hymn tune by Thomas Tallis into a complex fantasy for three ensembles, a large string orchestra, a small group and a solo quartet. Sergei Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini dates from 24 years later, written for the composer himself to perform and a piano concerto in all but name, a sequence of variations on the famous theme. Neither work could be considered as particularly advanced, both ignore the Viennese developments in music, but Rachmaninov's work on the surface seems particularly conservative in style. Both composers, however, have a great deal to say in their own idiom and are surprisingly innovative. That said, I have to confess that the pairing of the two works seemed rather conceptual, and frankly despite a pair of superb performances neither piece seemed to say anything to the other.

Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - PAvel Kolesnikov, Jan Latham-Koenig, Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra - Cadogan Hall (Photo Luke Toddfrey)
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini - Pavel Kolesnikov, Jan Latham-Koenig,
Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra - Cadogan Hall (Photo Luke Toddfrey)
But it was the orchestra that we were there to hear, 87 young players from British and Russian conservatoires, not quite a 50/50 split and different sections had different make-up (the violins were largely Russian, and predominantly women for instance). The group first met a month ago in Russia, and its first concert was on 9 September 2019 in Sochi. Jan Latham-Koenig has been responsible for welding the young players into an ensemble, and has done so admirably. See my interview with Jan Latham-Koenig for background on the orchestra's aims and how it came to be founded.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Sheer delight: Iestyn Davies and James Hall in duets by Henry Purcell and John Blow

Purcell & Blow - countertenor duets, Iestyn Davies, James Hall - Vivat
Countertenor duets by Henry Purcell & John Blow; Iestyn Davies, James Hall, The King's Consort, Robert King; VIvat
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 September 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
John Blow's elegy on the death of his friend and pupil, Henry Purcell, is the centrepiece of an engaging disc of duets by both composers

This delightful new disc from Vivat gives us a welcome opportunity to enjoy John Blow's An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell alongside a selection of duets by Blow and by his friend and pupil Henry Purcell. Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies is joined by a counter-tenor of the younger generation, James Hall, and they are accompanied by The King's Consort (Rebecca Miles & Ian Wilson recorders, Lynda Sayce theorbo & baroque guitar, Reiko Ichise bass viol) directed from the chamber organ and harpsichord by Robert King.

The disc opens with Hark how the songsters from Purcell's incidental music to Timon of Athens, which is taking at a rattling pace yet both singers cope with admirably. The two work well together with just enough contrast between the singers, yet the two sing with a stylish unity in the duets. The opening sequence is a nice mixture of duets and other items, by Purcell and Blow, so next comes the finely lyrical In vain the am'rous flute from Purcell's Hail, Bright Cecilia. Both items showcasing the stunning recorder playing from Rebecca Miles and Ian Wilson.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Russian Masterpieces

Russian Masterpieces
2019 is the UK-Russia Year of Music, a celebration of the UK and Russia's rich musical traditions, with projects including the creation of Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra (appearing at the Cadogan Hall tonight). Another part of the celebration is a concert of Russian music at the Southbank Centre on 1 October 2019 curated by the London-based Russian pianist Yulia Chaplina. The concert also celebrates the 2019 International Day of Music.

Artists from Russia, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the UK to perform a programme of Russian masterpieces, including Stravinsky's Septet (a work which stands at the turning point between Stravinsky's neo-classical period and his final serial phase), Rachmaninov's Trio elegiaque No. 1 in G minor (written when the composer was only 18) and music by Scriabin and Tchaikovsky.

Performers include violinists Igor Yuzefovich (the new joint leader of the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and Yuri Kalnits (two-time recipient of the Diapason d’Or award), cellists Timothée Botbol (a Park-Lane Group artist) and Julia Mornweg, clarinettists Peter Cigleris (winner of the John Ireland Chamber music award), bassoonist Angharad Thomas (winner of the John Fussell Award for Welsh Postgraduate Musicians), horn-player Mark Smith (winner of the Douglas Moore Horn Prize) and pianist Simone Tavoni (Italian winner of the BBC pathway scheme 2016).

Yulia Chaplina won first prize and the gold medal in the junior section of the 2004 International Tchaikovsky Competition, and she studied in Rostov, Moscow, Berlin and at the Royal College of Music where she was appointed a the Mills Williams Junior Fellow in 2012.

Full details from the Southbank Centre website.

#ListenPony19 - celebrating over seven years of curating contemporary taste

ListenPony at Crypt on the Green
ListenPony at Crypt on the Green
Listenpony is both a concert series, a record label and a commissioning body; over the last seven years Listenpony has put on over 20 concerts and commissioned over 30 pieces from emerging composers. Its latest EP, its sixth, is released on 4 October and features the recorder player Tabea Debus in music by Telemann and Frey Waley-Cohen which was first heard at a Listenpony concert in January this year.

The EP will be launched at Listenpony's next concert, #Listenpony19, which takes place on 2 October 2019 at the Crypt on the Green in Clerkenwell, with the Ligeti Quartet, pianist and composer Joseph Havlat,  and singer/songwriter Ana Silvera, and will feature music by Josephine Stephenson, William Marsey, Freya Waley-Cohen, Egidija Medekšaitė, Rūta Vitkauskaitė and Joseph Howard along with music by Vivaldi, Anna Meredith and Arvo Part, and Joseph Havlat's arrangements of Renaissance and baroque music for small keyboard instruments (celeste, chamber organ, toy piano and more.

Listenpony was founded by composers William Marsey, Josephine Stephenson and Freya Waley-Cohen in 2012, and the concerts feature music across genres and musical traditions, from classical and contemporary music to pop, folk, jazz and rap, with the performances broken up into 20-minute sets which are described as 'playlist-like'.

Full details from the ListenPony website.

25-year-old Puccini's original thoughts revealed in this recording of the first version of his first opera Le Willis

Puccini: Le Willis - Opera Rara
Puccini Le Willis (1883); Ermonela Jaho, Arsen Soghomonyan, Brian Mulligan, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Mark Elder; Opera Rara
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 24 September 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The first version of Puccini's first opera, rather different from its slightly better known revised form, reveals Puccini's remarkably precocious talent.

This disc from Opera Rara restores to the repertoire a valuable rarity, Puccini's first opera in its original version as Le Willis. Here recorded by Sir Mark Elder and the London Philharmonic Orchestra with Ermonela Jaho as Anna, Arsen Soghomonyan as Roberto and Brian Mulligan as Gulglielmo, with the Opera Rara chorus.

Puccini's first opera, if it is known at all, is best known as the two-act Le Villi [you can hear the two-act Le Villi on Lorin Maazel's recording with Renata Scotto and Placido Domingo] which was published by Ricordi, but in fact the original version of that opera was a shorter, one-act piece. This had been written for Sonzogno's 1883 competition (the one that Mascagni would win with Cavalleria Rusticana in 1889). Puccini was encouraged to enter the competition by his teacher, Ponchielli and it was Ponchielli who put him in contact with librettist Ferdinando Fontana.

It is Fontana who is key to the opera's rather distinctive form. Eight years older than Puccini and with around a dozen opera libretti to his credit, Fontana also had links to the older Scapiglatura movement (the shoeless ones), the consciously bohemian movement which sought to rejuvenate Italian culture. The young Arrigo Boito was a key member of the original movement, and in fact through Ponchielli the young Puccini would get to know a number of older members of the movement.
Puccini: Le Willis - Arsen Soghomonyan, Ermonela Jaho, Sir Mark Elder, London Philharmonic Orchestra in November 2018 (Photo Russell Duncan)
Puccini: Le Willis - Arsen Soghomonyan, Ermonela Jaho, Sir Mark Elder, London Philharmonic Orchestra
at the Royal Festival Hall in November 2018 (Photo Russell Duncan)

Fontana's writings on opera, quoted by Martin Deasy in his invaluable article in the CD booklet, include some, to us, slightly strange theorising which moves opera from the dramatic towards something rather more metaphysical with orchestral interludes with poems which would describe to the audience what was happening. And this is exactly what we have with Le Willis, the sung drama consists of the opening scene, where Roberto (Arsen Soghomonyan) has to go off to Munich and his beloved Anna (Ermonela Jaho) has had a dream about him abandonning her, and the final scene where the Willis are summoned by Anna's father Guglielmo (Brian Mulligan) and they, including the ghost of Anna, torment Roberto to death in revenge. The more dramatic middle section, where Roberto is seduced by a courtesan in Munich and Anna, abandonned, dies, is covered by the symphonic interlude (a nine minute piece in the middle), and in the libretto Opera Rara prints Fontana's two poems which go with the music and describe what is happening.

Deasy's article also sheds light on the curious shenanigins surrounding Puccini's opera and the competition.

Monday 23 September 2019

Conductor Alpesh Chauhan becomes a patron of Awards for Young Musicians

Alpesh Chauhan (Credit Patrick Allen)
Alpesh Chauhan (Credit Patrick Allen)
The young British conductor Alpesh Chauhan has become a patron of Awards for Young Musicians (AYM), which supports talented young people from low-income families, helping them to overcome financial and social barriers in their musical journeys. Birmingham-born Chauhan, who was Assistant Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra from 2014 to 2016 is currently the principal conductor of the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini in Parma. His own musical journey started at the age of eight when, despite coming from a non-musical family, he came home with a cello [see the article in Birmingham Living magazine].

Chauhan joins the ranks of a number of distinguished patrons whom the charity has attracted, including Sir Simon Rattle, Dame Evelyn Glennie, Julian Lloyd Webber, Jess Gillam, Miloš Karadaglić, Thomas Gould, Tasmin Little, Zeb Soanes, Paul Lewis, Duncan Ward, Shabaka Hutchings and Professor Derek Aviss.

AYM helps young people who need financial and other forms of support to progress their musical talent, working across the UK and across genres. AYM offers young people holistic, tailor-made support to further their music education, whether that means funding instruments, lessons, transport, expanding young people’s musical networks and giving them opportunities to perform. Beyond this, AYM’s varied programmes include supporting the wider sector e.g. through training teachers in identifying and nurturing talent wherever they find it.

AYM currently has a campaign Presto! where the Garfield Weston Foundation will provide matching funding for monthly donations from AYM Champions, thus doubling the money! Further information from the AYM website.

Update: it has just been announced that Alpesh Chauhan has stepped in at short notice to replace Thomas Dausgaard (who is ill) as conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in its forthcoming concerts in Glasgow (26/9/2019), Aberdeen (27/9/2019) and Edinburgh (29/9/2019) with programmes including the UK premiere of Chaya Czernowin's Once I blinked nothing was the same and music by Bruch, Mendelssohn, Rachmaninov, and Mahler, with violinist Henning Kraggerud. Further details from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra website.

From Latin-America with love: Gabriela Montero plays her own first piano concerto

Gabriela Montero, Maurice Ravel - Orchid Classics
Gabriela Montero Piano Concerto No. 1, 'Latin' concerto, Maurice Ravel Piano Concerto in G major; Gabriela Montero, the Orchestra of the Americas, Carlos Miguel Prieto; Orchid Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 September 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Montero's own concerto weaves the melodies and rhythms of Latin-America with more Western classical influences, and is paired with Ravel's concerto full of jazz and Spanish rhythms.

The pianist Gabriela Montera is very much a child of our times, born in Venezuala, she and her family moved to the USA when she was 8 and in her early 20s she arrived at the Royal Academy of Music. In her article in the booklet of her latest CD she describes herself as 'a globalized, Latin-American woman raised on a diet of European classical music with multiple circumstantial side-dishes of Pan-American folklore'.

Gabriela Montero's new CD on Orchid Classics contains Montero's Piano Concerto No. 1, 'Latin' concerto and Ravel's Piano Concerto in G major, performed with the Orchestra of the Americas conducted by Carlos Miguel Prieto.

Montero has always included improvisation in her live performances, creating complex musical pieces based on themes suggested by audience members or other sources. But she is also developing a striking repertoire of her own composed pieces for piano and ensemble. Her previous work for piano and orchestra, Ex Patria, (2015) was very much a polemical work about the state of Venezuala today, whilst Babel for piano and strings (2018) uses music as a metaphor for an artist trying to communicate injustice in a frantic 21st century world, creating a vivid picture of an artist trying to convey urgent political messages in a world which wants only to talk, and never to listen.

By contrast the concerto is rather more traditional in form, being in three movements fast-slow-fast, and on the surface rather more purely celebratory. Montero weaves a host of Latin-American rhythms into the music, creating a remarkable synthesis in the manner of someone like George Gerswhin, in fact it is Gershwin whose music springs to mind at first when listening to the opening movement. This is a mambo, rather than something more traditional Western classical, whilst the final movement is marked Allegro venezolano, and it uses the Pajarillo, a Venezualan traditional dance, as one of its influences.

Saturday 21 September 2019

A mystical intensity: Mark Padmore and Kristian Bezuidenhout in Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin

Mark Padmore, Kristian Bezuidenhout (Photo Marco Borggreve)
Mark Padmore, Kristian Bezuidenhout
(Photo Marco Borggreve)
Schubert Die schöne Müllerin; Mark Padmore, Kristian Bezuidenhout; Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 September 2019 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A magical evening, voice and fortepiano in Schubert's first song-cycle

Mark Padmore returned to the Wigmore Hall on Friday 20 September 2019 to perform Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin accompanied by Kristian Bezuidenhout on fortepiano. The fortepiano in question was not credited in the programme but was a magnificent red-veneered specimen.

Having a fortepiano accompany, with its range of colours, faster decay on the strings and general lack of the super-charged volume of the modern piano, meant that Padmore could be even more daring in the extremes of expression, bringing not only a remarkable range of colour and intensity to the role but also a lovely quietness, with a remarkable use of voix mixte. In many ways this was a very interior mystical performance. And Padmore's voice still has it's strikingly mesmerising, youthful quality.

'Das Wandern' started with firm and vigorous piano, this was an energetic and youthful man, and Padmore was in real story telling mode with full use of colours in the voice and the words. The piano in 'Wohin?' was flowing, certainly, but not untroubled whilst Padmore was lyrical and confiding with a lovely way of fining his voice down. In 'Halt!' the accompaniment was full of accents; Padmore's young man was eager and inspired, but the piano seemed to say otherwise, whilst 'Danksagung an den Bach' was very tender.

The Roaring Whirl: for Sarah Rodgers returning to her cross-cultural musical narrative after 27 years brings mixed emotions.

Geraldine Allen, Sarah Rodgers, Timothy Walker and Baluji Shrivastav in 1992 (Photo Roy Cuckow0
Geraldine Allen, Sarah Rodgers, Timothy Walker and Baluji Shrivastav in 1992 (Photo Roy Cuckow)
As part of Nottingham NOW festival in 1992 there was the world premiere staging of The Roaring Whirl a music-theatre piece based on Rudyard Kipling's Kim with music by Sarah Rodgers for Geraldine Allen (clarinet), Baluji Shrivastav (sitar/tabla/pakhavaj), Timothy Walker (guitar) and narrator Bhasker Patel. As part of the preparations for the performance, a recording of the work was made with a view to issuing it on disc. Following the festival there were further performances planned complete with a TV appearance, but unfortunately clarinettist Geraldine Allen had a life-changing accident which put everything on hold. The work was never revived and the materials (plus the recording) went into Sarah Rodgers' personal archive.

Twenty seven years later the recording is now being issued on Divine Art's metier label. I recently met up with Sarah to find out more about The Roaring Whirl and how it came about, and what it is like to revisit a score from 27 years ago.

The Roaring Whirl is essentially a musical narrative, telling the story through music. The work went through some development and the final version for the Nottingham NOW Festival in 1992 was fully staged with costumes for the instrumentalists and a kathak dancer as well as the narrator. It was originally an East Midlands Arts commission, they wanted a work which crossed over with another culture. The clarinettist Geraldine Allen was in the project from the beginning and as it grew the instrumentalists were brought in including Baluji Shrivastav playing a range of Indian instruments and narrator Bhasker Patel (who is now well-known for his role in the TV series Emmerdale).

Friday 20 September 2019

Oliver Leith to be Guildhall School and Royal Opera's fourth Doctoral Composer-in-Residence

Oliver Leith (Photo © Anton Lukoszevieze)
Oliver Leith (Photo © Anton Lukoszevieze)
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the Royal Opera House have announced that the fourth Doctoral Composer-in-Residence will be Oliver Leith. Created in 2013, the collaboration between the Guildhall School and the Royal Opera is one of the first examples of an opera house and a conservatoire joining forces to offer a composer-in-residence studentship leading to a doctoral degree. Oliver Leith will be in residence over the period 2019 to 2022, during which time he will research and write a major work, to be staged by the Royal Opera at the end of the period.

Leith’s forthcoming opera will explore how to create a theatrical world in opera, through the shifts between diegetic and non-diegetic sounds (sounds audible to actors versus sounds meant only for the audience) a convention regularly used in film to support the creation of mood and atmosphere. Interested in composing in ways which explore visual (rather than textual) stimulus, Leith will take inspiration from moments in cinema that have made a particularly strong impression on him.

The current Doctoral Composer-in-Residence is Matt Rogers, and his opera She Described it to Death will premiere at the Linbury Theatre on 17 July 2020. The inaugural Doctoral Composer-in-Residence was Philip Venables and his opera 4.48 Psychosis [see my review], which premiered in May 2016, has won numerous awards including the UK Theatre Award for Achievement in Opera (2016), the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Large-Scale Composition (2017) and the British Composer Award for Stage Work (2017). It was also nominated for the Olivier Award for Best New Opera Production (2017) and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Best Opera (2017).

The other Fausts: a very different version of Gounod's classic opera is revealed by this important new recording from Palazzetto Bru Zane

Gounod: Faust - Palazzetto Bru Zane
Gounod: Faust; Benjamin Bernheim, Véronique Gens, Andrew Foster-Williams, Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset; Palazzetto Bru Zane
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 20 September 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A revelation, Gounod's classic proves to be a far more varied and characterful opera in this exploration of the versions he originally wrote in the 1850s

For such an established classic, Charles Gounod's Faust has a remarkably complex history. The work's present grand opera form, hides a rather more diverse work. On this new recording from Palazzetto Bru Zane, Christophe Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques explores the earlier Faust (or perhaps Fausts) as they explore Gounod's earlier versions of the opera, with Benjamin Bernheim as Faust, Véronique Gens as Marguerite, Andrew Foster-Williams as Méphistophéles, Jean-Sébastien Bou as Valentin, and Juliette Mars as Siebel, and the Flemish Radio Choir.

Charles Gounod and his librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carre (on whose play Barbier based the libretto) completed Faust in 1858. It was submitted to the Théâtre Lyrique, accepted and went into rehearsal. Gounod would have a long relationship with the Théâtre Lyrique, writing a significant number of operas for it - Le médecin malgré lui (1858), Faust (1859), Philémon et Baucis (1860), La colombe (1860), Mireille (1864), Roméo et Juliette (1867). The theatre's director, Leon Carvalho took a very active role in the creation of the opera, and forced a number of modifications on Gounod; notably Carvalho's wife Madame Miolan-Carvalho was a coloratura soprano and the role of Marguerite had to be suitable for her. Gounod would further modify the opera to make it acceptable to the Paris Opéra, where it was performed in 1869 and it is this version which is the common version.

There are thus, at least three possible versions of the piece, 1858 (as first written by Gounod), 1859 (as performed by the Théâtre Lyrique) and 1869 (as performed by the Paris Opera). The big difference between 1869 and the earlier versions is, of course, the replacement of the spoken dialogue by recitative, but the process is more complex than that and at the Théâtre Lyrique Faust seems to have undergone a sort of continuous modification.

Gounod: Faust: Veronique Gens, Christophe Rousset, Benjamin Bernheim, Andrew Foster Williams, Les Talens Lyriques, Flemish Radio Choir (Photo ©Palazzetto Bru Zane / Amélie Debray)
Gounod: Faust: Veronique Gens, Christophe Rousset, Benjamin Bernheim, Andrew Foster Williams, Les Talens Lyriques, Flemish Radio Choir (Photo ©Palazzetto Bru Zane / Amélie Debray)
The recording is based on a new critical edition by Paul Prevost, and he explains in a fascinating article in the CD book that it is now no longer possible to re-create that first, 1858 Faust, as not everything survives and some has had to be orchestrated from the 1859 vocal score. So what we have here is an alternative Faust which uses the libretto of 1858 and 1859 with its spoken dialogue, and opts for the unpublished or unknown versions of any music where choices are to be made. The result is a very different Faust.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Mysterious hauntings & magical happenings - Tales of the Beyond at the Oxford Lieder Festival

Tales of the Beyond - Oxford Lieder Festival
This year's Oxford Lieder Festival, which runs from 11 to 26 October 2019, takes as its theme Tales of the Beyond: Magic, Myths and Mortals, exploring everything from Nordic myth to mysterious hauntings and magical happenings, and even a Day of the Dead, through the art of song.

The festival's artistic director and founder, Sholto Kynoch, enjoys the theme because it enables the festival to explore and enjoy song as story telling and exciting narrative, and not just be 'love songs and nature'. In fact, Sholto's original idea for the theme was simply Death, and he points out that this would not be totally gloomy and there is plenty of 'exciting and fun stuff' on the theme, but ultimately it was rather too restricting and morphed into the Tales of the Beyond.

Part of the appeal of such a fun and exciting theme is to get more people involved in song, whether it be through the festival's education events or coming to concerts. Having a theme like this gives the festival an opportunity to present world class song in a way which makes people see the art form in a different light.

So far, the comments have been good and the advanced ticket sales are good.

Showcasing Nordic culture: the Northern Star Festival

The Marriage of the Northern Star at the Brighton Early Music Festival in 2018
The Marriage of the Northern Star at the Brighton Early Music Festival in 2018
The Northern Star Festival, which runs from 20 to 22 September 2019, is a new initiate which aims to be an annual showcase for Nordic culture, musical and beyond. This year presents a chance to experience lesser-known Nordic repertoire. Based at the Swedish Church in Marylebone, the festival is the brainchild of Yu-Wei Hu and Johan Löfving of the ensemble Flaugissimo, and this year they will be joined by the Consone Quartet, baroque dancer Steve Player and Finnish-Swedish soprano Andrea Eklund.

The centrepiece of this year's festival is The Marriage of the Northern Star, a programme focused around the 1744 Swedish royal wedding between Adolf Frederick of Sweden and Louisa Ulrika of Prussia, featuring music by the earthy songs of Bellman and the refined elegance of Roman (the "Swedish Handel", who indeed spent some six years studying in London with Handel and others) and Kraus (in his turn later nicknamed the "Swedish Mozart"). Another programme explores the flute music associated with Louisa Ulrika’s sister Anna Amalia and brother Frederick the Great who were both flautists, active musicians and passionate patrons of music and musicians such as Johann Joachim Quantz and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

Full details from the festival website, tickets from Ticket Source.

A satisfying evening, certainly: whatever the caveats - Juan Diego Flórez & Isabel Leonard in Massenet's 'Werther' at Covent Garden

Massenet: Werther - Juan Diego Florez and Isabel Leonard - Royal Opera (Photo: Catherine Ashmore, (C) ROH 2019)
Massenet: Werther - Juan Diego Florez and Isabel Leonard - Royal Opera (Photo: Catherine Ashmore, (C) ROH 2019)
Massenet Werther; Juan Diego Flórez, Isabel Leonard, Alastair Miles Jacques Imbrailo, Heather Engebretson, Byeongmin Gil, Vincent Ordonneau, Michael Mofidian, Stephanie Wake-Edwards, Pearse Cole, Emily Barton, Laurence Taylor, Victoria Nekhaenk, Paul Warren, Toby Yates, dir: Benoît Jacquot, revival dir: Andrew Sinclair, set designer, lighting designer: Charles Edwards, costume designer: Christian Gasc, cond: Edward Gardner; Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Reviewed by Colin Clarke on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Massenet's Goethe-inspired opera returns to Covent Garden with Juan Diego Flórez and Isabel Leonard.

Massenet: Werther - Isabel Leonard, Jacques Imbrailo - Royal Opera (Photo: Catherine Ashmore, (C) ROH 2019)
Massenet: Werther - Isabel Leonard, Jacques Imbrailo
Royal Opera (Photo: Catherine Ashmore, (C) ROH 2019)
This is the third outing at the Royal Opera House (seen 17 September 2019) of Benoît Jacquot’s superb production of Massenet’s Werther, first seen in 2004. Moody, brilliantly lit skyscapes for the ideal backdrop to this classic tale, derived from Goethe’s iconic Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther). Simpler is better; this production is a far cry from the trickery of the Don Giovanni that opened the season just the night before.

The piece has attracted superstar tenors, with Rolando Villazón taking the lead in the last production I saw here at Covent Garden (2011: his Charlotte was Sophie Koch); the conductor on that occasion was Antonio Pappano. All change, and Juan Diego Flórez took up the mantle of the doomed, lovestruck young man while Edward Gardner headed the Royal Opera’s forces.

The power of a conductor was rarely obvious as here: just the previous night, under Hartmut Haenchen in Don Giovanni, the orchestra had seemed decidedly ill-at-ease (unsurprisingly given some of the dragging speeds). Now, just 24 hours later, the orchestra was transformed into a slick, passionate, powerful group, perfectly attuned to Massenet’s invitingly Romantic, heart-wrenching world, perhaps a measure of the respect they have for Gardner. There were some issues of dynamics, though, with Flórez’ voice completely drowned out in the earlier stages, his voice absolutely tested to its limit and beyond. Flórez is superb in Rossini and Donizetti (his performances in Donizetti’s Fille du Régiment here unforgettable evenings); he felt less at home here.

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Celebrating the centenary of The Planet's on Holst's piano

Gustav Holst's Broadwood piano today
Gustav Holst's Broadwood piano today
Whilst Gustav Holst worked at St Paul's Girls School, which he did from 1905 until his death, he did much of his composing on the Broadwood grand piano in his teaching studio. It was this instrument on which he composed The Planets, and on which two pianists at the school Nora Day and Vally Lasker played excerpts of the work to him. The piano was ordered from Broadwoods in 1913, Number 5 Drawing Room model, of length 7’ 6’’ (229cm), and was clearly highly regarded at the school. Eventually it ended up retired, in private ownership and cherished but its history forgotten. In 2016, during a chance search of the Broadwood archives, the piano Number 51868 was identified.

To celebrate the centenary of the first public performance of The Planets, Broadwoods is sponsoring a series of recitals the centrepiece of which is a performance of the piano duet version of The Planets on Holst's re-discovered piano at St Paul's Girls' School on Saturday 21 September 2019 (Holst's birthday), performed by pianists John and Fiona York who will be joined by Heidi Pegler (soprano) and the Paulina Voices. Tickets from EventBrite.

Gustav Holst's Broadwood piano in the music studio at St Paul's Girls' School
Gustav Holst's Broadwood piano in the music studio at St Paul's Girls' School
Additional performances will take place at Finchcocks piano school, Kent (28/9/2019) and the Holst Birthplace Museum in Cheltenham (13/10/2019).

Update: A correspondent has reported back on what was an enjoyable concert: 'The piano was a beauty with a clear, bright tone and the couple playing the four-hand arrangement (by Holst) played as if one person'

The first Liverpool Early Music Festival

Liverpool Early Music Festival
The first ever Liverpool Early Music Festival takes place next week, from 20 to 27 September 2019. Presented by The Telling, the festival features six quirky and heartfelt events across three venues in the city. The Sixteen will open the festival with their Choral Pilgrimmage performance at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, juxtaposing the music of Sir James MacMillan with music by Wylkynson, Fairfax and Sheppard.

The Telling will be giving three performances including two of their trade-mark staged concerts, with Contemplation mixing the music of Hildegard of Bingen with troubadour songs, and  Into the Melting Pot which explores the stories of integration, love, cultural heritage & radical intolerance experienced by a community of Jewish, Christian & Muslim women in Spain (21 & 22/9).

The young recorder quartet Palisander brings a programme inspired by Renaissance exploration and discovery, with music from people and countries explored by Christopher Columbus, Sir Frances Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh (24/9). Palisander will also be taking part in workshops and performances with local schools.

We return to Spain for the festival finale as Lux Musicae London explores flamenco's roots in Medieval Spanish, Arabic and Sephardic music, with the group being joined by masters of Flamenco and Arabic oud Ignacio Lusardi and Julian Harris (27/9).

Full details from The Telling's website, and tickets from Eventbrite.

What they did before Figaro: Bampton Classical Opera revives Stephen Storace's comedy written for Vienna's Burgtheater the year before they premiered Mozart's comedy

Stephen Storace Gli sposi malconteni (Bride & Gloom) - Robert Davies, Caroline Kennedy, Jenny Stafford (At Bampton in July 2019) - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall)
Stephen Storace Gli sposi malconteni (Bride & Gloom) - Robert Davies, Caroline Kennedy, Jenny Stafford, with Arthur Bruce under the cover (At Bampton in July 2019) - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall)
Stephen Storace Gli sposi malconteni (Bride & Gloom); Robert Davies, Gavan Ring, Jenny Stafford, Aoife O'Sullivan, Arthur Bruce, Adam Tunnicliffe, Caroline Kennedy, dir: Jeremy Gray, Chroma, cond: Anthony Kraus; Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 September 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Premiered a year before Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro by the same company, Stephen Storace's first opera is an illuminating look at the Viennese opera world of the 1780s

The composer Stephen Storace (1762-1796) was the elder brother of the soprano Nancy Storace who created the role of Susanna in Mozart's opera Le nozze di Figaro. English-born with an Italian father and English mother, the two lived in Vienna in the 1780s where Nancy developed a significant career as a soprano and Stephen as a composer, with Stephen composing two operas for Vienna's Burgtheater, Gli sposi malcontenti (1785) and Gli equivoci (1786), the latter to a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte based on Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors. These are Storace's only scores for Vienna, but he wrote 16 operas in English for London though unfortunately only one of these survives in full score.

Bampton Classical Opera caused something of a stir with its production of Stephen Storace's Gli equivoci in 2000, so it was with great interest that I went along to their performance of Storace's Gli sposi malcontenti (performed under the title of Bride and Gloom) at St John's Smith Square on 17 September 2019. The production, directed and designed by Jeremy Gray, debuted at Bampton this Summer and featured Robert Davies as Rosmondo, Gavan Ring as Casimiro, Jenny Stafford as Eginia, Aoife O'Sullivan as Enrichetta, Arthur Bruce as Artidoro, Adam Tunnicliffe as Valente and Caroline Kennedy as Bettina. Anthony Kraus conducted Chroma.

Gaetano Brunetti's libretto has some remarkable pre-echoes of Le nozze di Figaro (which the same company would premiere in 1786), so clearly Brunetti had been reading Beaumarchais' play; there is a scene with someone hiding behind and on a sofa, and the climactic final scene is full of disguises and misunderstandings in a garden at night! And many of the singers who took part in the premiere of Gli sposi malcontenti, performed roles for Mozart. So that Nancy Storace (Eginia in Storace's opera) sang Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro and most of the rest of the cast for the premiere of Storace's opera pop up on roles in the Vienna performances of Mozart's three Da Ponte operas!

One of the valuable things about Bampton Classical Opera's performances is that it enables us to hear the operas which were current when Mozart was working on his operas with Lorenzo Da Ponte, so that Antonio Salieri's La grotta di Trofonio (which Bampton performed in 1785, see my review) enabled us to hear how much of a debt Mozart owed to Salieri's rich, Gluck-inspired orchestration.

Stephen Storace Gli sposi malconteni (Bride & Gloom) - Robert Davies, Gavan Ring (At Bampton in July 2019) - Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall)
Stephen Storace Gli sposi malconteni (Bride & Gloom) - Robert Davies, Gavan Ring (At Bampton in July 2019)
Bampton Classical Opera (Photo Anthony Hall)
Stephen Storace was rather different, he was trained in Naples (where his father came from) and Storace's orchestra in Gli sposi malcontenti accompanies the arias with relative simplicity and clarity, usually keeping the focus on the voice and making us understand why contemporary audiences could perceive Mozart's comedies as complex. And the arias were frequently in the same form (two part, fast then slow), with much of the music seemingly based on a relatively limited array of motifs. But then Storace was only 23 when the opera was performed and it was his first one. So a promising piece, rather than an undiscovered masterpiece.

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