Friday 31 January 2020

Wigmore Hall 2020/21

John Gilhooly at Wigmore Hall (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
John Gilhooly at Wigmore Hall (Photo Kaupo Kikkas)
Wigmore Hall's 2020/21 season, which was recently announced by the hall's director John Gilhooly, will be opened on 10 September 2020 by baritone Christian Gerhaher. The season includes nearly 500 concerts and over 500 Learning events. 

Series exploration includes the complete Mendelssohn string quartets from the Elias String Quartet, with the Cardinall's Musick performing his sacred choral music and a song recital series devoted to songs by Mendelssohn and Liszt. The Pavel Haas Quartet will be performing all Martinu's quartets alongside music by other Czech composers, the first time the cycle of Martinu's quartets has been presented in London in a single series. Quatuor Danel continues its exploration of Mieczyslaw Weinberg's string quartets, and there will be a Weinberg Focus Day led by violinist Linus Roth. A day of concerts will explore the music of Morton Feldman and pianist Igor Levitt will be playing Feldman's Triadic Memories.

Beethoven is represented by the complete violin sonatas from Frank Peter Zimmerman and Martin Helmschen, Andras Schiff performs the piano sonatas alongside music by Bach, and there are performances of the keyboard variations, selected piano trios and two cycles of the piano sonatas from Igor Levit.

Thomas Larcher (whose opera The Hunting Gun was performed at the 2019 Aldeburgh Festival, see Tony's review) is composer in residence, and there will be a focus day devoted to his music, his four string quartets will be heard during the season, the Britten Sinfonia is presenting an evening of his chamber music and there is the world premiere of a new song cycle, commissioned by the Wigmore Hall, performed by baritone Andre Schuen. Other new music during the season includes new commissions from Nico Muhly and from Helen Grime, and focuses on Simon Rowland-Jones and Brian Elias.

Anniversaries celebrated include Stephen Kovacevich's 80th birthday when he will be joined in Beethoven and Mozart by Martha Argerich, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and members of the Belcea Quartet, and the Hagen Quartet marks its 40th anniversary with a cycle of Mozart quartets alongside collaborations with clarinettists Jörg Widmann and Daniel Ottensamer, cellist Gautier Capuçon, and pianists Kirill Gerstein and Igor Levit.

The 75th anniversary of the Borodin Quartet is being celebrated, as are Myra Hess's National Gallery Concerts which ran from 1939 to 1946. Pianist Christian Zacharias will be giving his farewell recital. Anticipating the Marcel Proust Centenary in 2022, Steven Isserlis has created a six-day festival of music which links to the composer.

Other residencies include cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras, clarinettist Martin Fröst, and baritone Florian Boesch, whilst pianist Graham Johnson will be giving a three concert A to Z of Song

There are Sunday afternoon recitals by the five finalists in the 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Song Prize: Chinese tenor Mingjie Lei, who took the Song Prize; Ukrainian baritone Andrei Kymach (who became 2019 Cardiff Singer of the World); South Korean soprano Sooyeon Lee; Welsh mezzo-soprano Angharad Lyddon; and Russian tenor Roman Arndt. There will be a special song project will be built around the theme of mental health and male suicide prevention.

Partnership with Classic FM means that 25,000 £5 tickets are available to those under 35, whilst courtesy of the Cavatina Chamber Music Trust those under 25 enjoy free entry to selected events. The hall has so far produced 50 live streams, and these will continue during the season. In fact, John Gilhooly's announcement of the 2020/21 season was itself live-streamed.

Last year the hall had nearly 40,000 visits to its Learning programme, produced in collaboration with a range of community, education, arts, health and social care organisations. The Learning Festival in February 2021 will take the theme of 'Connectivity'.

Full details of the new season from the Wigmore Hall website.

Itaipú: celebration of a technological marvel or requiem for an environmental disaster?

Guaíra Falls which were submerged by the Itaipú dam in 1982
Guaíra Falls which were submerged by the Itaipú dam in 1982
Philip Glass' symphonic cantata Itaipú celebrates a technological marvel, the world's largest hydro-electric dam on the border between Brazil and Paraguay. Commissioned for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus it was premiered in by them in 1989. Whilst Glass' music is a vivid portrayal of the river’s journey, through the dam’s gigantic turbines and out towards the sea, the text is based on the traditional creation myth of the Guarani (and sung in Guarani), but for the listener there is another more disturbing layer to the work. Whilst the dam was a technological marvel, it was an environmental disaster.

Around 10,000 families were displaced by construction, and the work went ahead without proper public consultation. The resulting reservoir completely covered one of the world's largest waterfalls, the Guaíra Falls, and the Brazilian government liquidated  Guaíra Falls National Park. Subsequently, the rock face of the falls was dynamited which means that they could never be restored. And the whole eco-system has been damaged as two very different ecoregions (originally separated by the falls) are now linked.

Glass's Itaipú is being performed by the Crouch End Festival Chorus and London Orchestra da Camera, conductor David Temple, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 2 February 2020, which gives us a chance to experience this powerful music and decide whether it should be a celebration or a requiem.

Also in the programme is Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and his Babel from 1944, a rarely-performed work which was part of the Genesis Suite, a collaborative work for narrator and orchestra with movements by Arnold Schoenberg, Nathaniel Shilkret, Alexander Tansman, Darius Milhaud, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ernst Toch and Igor Stravinsky.

Itaipú dam
Itaipú dam
Full details from the Southbank Centre's website.

Portuguese ensemble, & Gramophone Award winners, Cupertinos makes UK debut at Choral at Cadogan

Cupertinos, musical director Luis Toscano
Cupertinos, musical director Luis Toscano
On 18 February 2020, the Portuguese ensemble Cupertinos makes its UK debut at Cadogan Hall. Conducted by musical director Luis Toscano, the group will be performing a programme of 16th and 17th century Portuguese polyphony, mixing names that are familiar such as Manuel Cardoso (1566-1650), with those which are perhaps less familiar, Pedro de Cristo (1545/50 - 1618), Manoel Mendes (c1547-1605), Estêvão de Brito (c1570-1641), Estêvão Lopes Morago (c1575-1630), Bartolomeo Trosylho (1500-1567), and Filipe de Magalhães (c1571-1652), with music for Lent and from the liturgy of the dead and including at the centre the Missa de Quadragesima by Mendes. The group won a Gramophone Award in 2019 (in the Early Music category) for its disc of Cardoso's Requiem and Lamentations on Hyperion, and it will be good to experience them in person.

The eight-voiced group, directed by Luis Toscano, was founded in 2009 as part of the Fundação Cupertino de Miranda (Cupertino de Miranda Foundation) in Famalicão. Guided by Toscano and the musicologist José Abreu the group explores the golden age of Portuguese polyphony and they have performed around eighty works which have been newly transcribed from original sources. The group has strong links to the University of Coimbra, which has a very rich collection of Renaissance polyphony.

Created in 1963, the Fundação Cupertino de Miranda was created by Arthur Cupertino de Miranda (1892-1988) and his wife, Elzira Celeste Maya de Sá Cupertino de Miranda with the aim of promoting culture and supporting those in need, and the foundation has a Museum, a Library and an Auditorium

The fascinating thing about this period of Portuguese polyphony is that it took place against the background of the loss of sovereignty. In 1580, King Henry I of Portugal died, he was known as Henry the chaste and was a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church who only came to the throne because his nephew King Sebastian I died in battle in 1578. As Sebastian had been the only heir to his grandfather, these deaths left a succession crisis which led to 80 years of Spanish rule, initially under King Philip II of Spain. It was against this backdrop, with many of the composers working for Philip, the Portuguese polyphony flowered. Inspired by music such as that of Palestrina (1525-1594) and perhaps ignoring contemporary Baroque developments in music in Italy, the composers of the Portuguese golden age seemed to create a distinctive Portuguese style which can be seen as some sort of reaction against the Spanish domination of the country.

If we are familiar with this music at all it is probably via performances by groups such as The Tallis Scholars, which has recorded Cardoso's Requiem, but Cupertinos brings a more Iberian sensibility to the sound-world of the polyphony, and after all what could be more satisfying than hearing a Portuguese group exploring the country's rich heritage of polyphony.

Further details from the Cadogan Hall website.

A touch of heaven: The Divine Muse, Mary Bevan & Joseph Middleton in Wolf, Schubert & Haydn

 The Divine Muse - Schubert, Haydn, Wolf; Mary Bevan, Joseph Middleton; Signum Classics
The Divine Muse - Schubert, Haydn, Wolf; Mary Bevan, Joseph Middleton; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A fascinating programme in which Mary Bevan and Joseph Middleton look at the sense of the divine in songs by Schubert, Wolf and Haydn

This new disc from soprano Mary Bevan and pianist Joseph Middleton on the Signum Classics label takes us to heaven by way of 19th century Germany and Austria. The Divine Muse features songs by Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf which use texts inspired by people who were touched by the gods. So we have Ganymede (euphemistically referred to as Zeus' cup-bearer) in settings by Schubert and by Wolf as well as Dido, Venus and more, as well as Jesus and his mother. At the centre of the recital is Joseph Haydn's Arianna a Naxos, a cantata yet written with just piano accompaniment.

The idea for the programme arose when Joseph Middleton and Mary Bevan were looking for ideas which did not involve love, springtime, loss or longing! Given Mary Bevan's interest in myth and history of religion (she read Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic studies at Cambridge), the result is this intriguing programme.

Thursday 30 January 2020

A welcome chance to hear the Orchestra National de Lille under its music director Alexandre Bloch in London, in Ravel, Debussy and Beethoven

Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 4 - Eric Lu, Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch (Photo Copyright Ugo Ponte ONL)
Beethoven: Piano Concerto no. 4 - Eric Lu, Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch
(Photo Copyright Ugo Ponte ONL)
Ravel, Debussy, Beethoven; Eric Lu, Orchestra National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch; Cadogan Hall Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Lille-based orchestra makes its first visit to the UK in 20 years, in a programme of French music alongside Beethoven

The exact timing was accidental but the presence of the Orchestre National de Lille on tour in the UK during Brexit was deliberate. Whilst the orchestra's first visit to the UK for 20 years was most welcome indeed, the tour is intended to be part of wider cultural diplomacy to strengthen links (cultural, tourist and trade) between the UK and the Hauts de France region.

Under its musical director Alexandre Bloch, the Orchestre National de Lille gave the second concert of its tour at the Cadogan Hall on Wednesday 29 January 2020 as part of the hall's Zurich International Orchestra Series. The orchestra played Maurice Ravel's Ma mère l'Oye and La valse, and Claude Debussy's La mer, and were joined by the 2018 Leeds Piano Competition winner Eric Lu for Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4.

Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch (Photo Copyright Ugo Ponte ONL)
Orchestre National de Lille, Alexandre Bloch (Photo Copyright Ugo Ponte ONL)
The concert opened with a very full platform for Ravel's 1911 orchestral suite Ma mère l'Oye. Originally written as a piano duet work for children, each movement is based on a French fairy tale, '1. Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant', '2. Petit Poucet', '3. Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes', '4. Les entretiens de la belle et de la bête', and '5. Le jardin féerique'. The sound quality of the orchestra in the first movement was very present, particularly the wind, with long distinct instrumental lines. Whilst French orchestras no longer have their own distinctive timbres, it is always fascinating to try to assess what makes the sound of an orchestra particular.

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Baritone Theo Perry wins the Trinity Laban 2020 Gold Medal

Theo Perry, HRH Duke of Kent, Olivia Fraser (Credit: Tas Kyprianou)
Theo Perry, HRH Duke of Kent, Olivia Fraser (Credit: Tas Kyprianou)
Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance holds an annual Gold Medal Showcase in which students and recent alumni compete for the prize. This year the showcase took place at the Purcell Room on 27 January 2020, with seven competitors crossing a range of styles in an eclectic mix of classical and contemporary music, jazz and musical theatre. 

This year's Gold Medal was won by post-graduate vocal student, Theo Perry (baritone) whose programme included 'Die Taubenpost' from Franz Schubert’s Schwanengesang, D957, 'The Lads in their Hundreds’ and ‘Is My Team Ploughing?’ from George Butterworth’s Six Songs from A Shropshire Lad, ‘"C"’ from Francis Poulenc’s Deux Poemes de Louis Aragon, and Charles Ives’ General William Booth Enters into Heaven. The Audience Prize, awarded following a public vote, went to oboist Olivia Fraser who performed Edwin Roxburgh’s Study 1 for Solo Oboe and Omaggio a Bellini for Cor Anglai by Antonio Pasculli with harpist Lucy Wakeford.

The adjudicators were Trinity Laban’s Director of Music Havilland Willshire was joined by Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE, Founder, Artistic and Executive Director of the Chineke! Foundation and Honorary Fellow and Visiting Professor of Double Bass at Trinity Laban, and Rebecca Allen, President of Decca Records UK, Trinity Laban alum and Governor, and Trinity Laban’s Patron HRH The Duke of Kent to presented the Gold Medal.

Theo Perry is a Kathleen Creed Scholar and the 2019/20 recipient of the Elliot Rosenblatt Memorial Scholarship, and last year received the Drapers’ De Turckheim scholarship. He made his operatic debut in Trinity Laban Opera’s production of Thea Musgrave’s A Christmas Carol and recently sang the title role in Don Giovanni with Rogue Opera on a UK tour. This April, Theo will perform the role of Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte with Hurn Court Opera.

Previous winners of the Gold Medal include the pianist Iyad Sughayer [see my review of his recent debut disc] and baritone James Newby who is now a BBC New Generation Artist [I was lucky enough to have James give the first public performance of my song cycle Winter Journey, setting a poem by Rowan Williams, at Conway Hall in May 2019]

Celebrating five years of new experimental and minimal music: concert series 840 at Cafe Oto

840 birthday concert at Cafe Oto
840 is a London-based concert series, curated by composers Alex Nikiporenko and James Luff, which for the last five years has been dedicated to new experimental and minimal music. They will be celebrating their fifth birthday at Cafe Oto on 31 January 2020. 

Soprano Juliet Fraser and a string ensemble will be performing new works by Laurence Crane (professor of composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama) and John Lely, (co-curator of the concert series Music We'd Like to Hear) both of whom are long-term friends of the series and whose music has featured in previous concerts. There will also be a selection from the many pieces written for 840 concerts including music by Georgia Rogers, Marc Sabat, Jonathan Cole, Nicholas Peters and Sergei Zagny, along with new pieces by curators Alex Nikiporenko and James Luff. Plus something from Juliet Fraser and composer Cassandra Miller's on-going collaboration, Tracery.

The concert is being recorded by BBC Radio 3 for broadcast at a future date.

Full details from the Cafe Oto website.

From Georgia to Lotus Land: pianist Nino Gvetadze in music by Cyril Scott

Visions - Cyril Scott piano works; Nino Gvetadze; Challenge Classics
Visions - Cyril Scott piano works; Nino Gvetadze; Challenge Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 January 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A delightful exploration of Cyril Scott's smaller piano works

The origins of this disc lie in Georgia, where the young pianist Nino Gvetadze was given Cyril Scott's Lotus Land to perform by her teacher, Nodar Gabunia. Some years later, Gvetadze has returned to Scott for her sixth disc, Visions on the Challenge Classics label. Here Gvetadze explores a wide selection of Scott's smaller piano pieces, from Lotus Land and Water Wagtail to Poems, Summerland and Over the Prairie.

Whilst Scott's smaller piano works like Lotus Land remain popular, Cyril Scott the wider composer is only slowly coming into focus. Born in 1879 he trained at the Frankfurt Conservatory where he was part of the loose grouping, the Frankfurt Gang, with Percy Grainger, Balfour Gardiner, Norman O'Neill and Roger Quilter. A prolific and highly-regarded composer in the first quarter of the 20th century, his music seemed to gradually recede from view perhaps as his late-Romanticism ceased to be so current. Perhaps also there is that element of being a musical orphan as the First World War cut him off from the roots of his musical training, and meant he was separate from the English musical establishment, much of which was Royal Academy of Music and Royal College of Music trained. This is a vein which you can detect in other German-trained composers as various as Delius and Ethel Smyth.

There is also the issue that Scott was a remarkable polymath, something the English seem to distrust. As well as being a prolific composer, he was a notable author, and wrote about occultism and alternative medicine.

For her selection of piano pieces, Nino Gvetadze concentrates on the Scott's work from the first decades of the 20th century, this was a period when he produced a considerable quantity of smaller works including short piano pieces.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

Genesis: accordionist Bartosz Glowacki's fine debut recording moves from Scarlatti & Rameau to Trojan, Gubaidulina, Vlasov, Pärt & Piazzolla

Genesis - Scarlatti, Rameau, Trojan, Gubaidulina, Pärt, Vlasov, Piazzolla; Bartosz Glowacki, Rob Luft, Elias Peter Brown; DUX
Genesis - Scarlatti, Rameau, Trojan, Gubaidulina, Pärt, Vlasov, Piazzolla; Bartosz Glowacki, Rob Luft, Elias Peter Brown; DUX
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 13 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An eclectic programme for accordionist Bartosz GLowacki's debut album showcases some terrific playing and fine contemporary writing for the instrument

Genesis is the debut album from the accordionist Bartosz Glowacki, on the Dux label, where he plays an eclectic selection of music from transcriptions of Scarlatti and Rameau to contemporary accordion masterpieces, Vaclav Trojan's Ruined Cathedral, Sofia Gubaidulina's De Profundis and Victor Vlasov's Five Views on Gulag State, plus a transcription of Arvo Pärt's Intervallo. The recital ends with Glowacki being joined by guitarist Rob Luft and a string ensemble, conducted by Elias Peter Brown, for Astor Piazzolla's Double Concerto 'Hommage a Liege' for bandoneon, guitar and string orchestra.

We open with Domenico Scarlatti's Sonata in A major which capitalises on Glowacki's ability to create a lovely singing tone on his instrument. And once you adjust to the new sound world, Glowacki's transcription is entirely convincing. Next comes one of Rameau's harpsichord pieces, L'Egyptienne, a delightful piece where Glowacki makes his instrument lightly engaging.

The classical accordion is only 50 years old, so music written for it is all contemporary. Destroyed Cathedral by Vaclav Trojan (1907-1983), best known for his film scores, is a very early example of music being written specifically for the accordion. Trojan's piece was inspired by the sight of the bombing in Dresden and Trojan's writing really pushes the instrument's ability to create long sustained chords. A dark, quiet work, Glowacki makes it remarkably compelling and intense.

Celebrating the cello: Raphael Wallfisch performs Tchaikovsky, Schumann and Romberg with London Mozart Players at St John's Smith Square and in Upper Norwood

London Mozart Players at St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood
London Mozart Players at St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood
Cellist Raphael Wallfisch is joining the London Mozart Players (LMP) for a pair of concerts at St John's Smith Square (30 January 2020) and at LMP's home base, the church of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, SE19 (1 March 2020) celebrating the cello, with performances of three major concertante works from the 19th century, by Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Bernhard Romberg, with a significant new recording of two of Romberg's concertos to come.

At St John's Smith Square (30 January 2020) Raphael Wallfisch will perform Schumann's Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations with the London Mozart Players [see my interview with Raphael where he talks about the background to the original version of the Tchaikovsky], along with symphonies by Mozart and Haydn.

Raphael Wallfisch and LMP's concert on 1 March 2020 is part of LMP's commitment to bring classical music to the local community, encouraging those who would not usually attend a classical concert to try it out on their own doorstep. The concert will feature Romberg's Cello Concerto No. 4 plus music by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak and Rossini. And Raphael Wallfisch will be joined by cellists from every stage of the learning process including 15 young cellists from Croydon Youth Orchestra, and a cello ensemble of Constantin Macherel, Sebastian Comberti, Tim Posner, Dan Benn, Anna Crawford and Keira Morgan. The concert will be compèred by Classic FM presenter Sam Pittis who lives locally.

Later in 2020, Raphael Wallfisch will be recording Romberg's Cello Concertos Nos 4 & 6 with LMP. Bernhard Romberg (1790-1841) was a German cellist and composer who played in the court orchestra of the Elector of Cologne in Bonn, where he knew the young Beethoven. Romberg made quite a number of improvements to the design of the cello, and as a musician he was admired by Beethoven.

Full details from the London Mozart Players' website.

The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, 25 concerts in 2020, a new Thea Musgrave piece, partnership with the Tallis Scholars

The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain
The National Youth Choirs of Great Britain
The various choirs that constitute the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain (NYCGB) are going to be busy in 2020, giving a total of 25 concerts. The National Youth Chamber Choir will be launching a performance partnership with the Tallis Scholars, giving members of the choir the opportunity to perform alongside the Tallis Scholars.  And Thea Musgrave will be writing a new piece for the National Youth Choir.

The National Youth Choir will be giving nine concerts as part of the Christmas programme at the Royal Albert Hall, and will be undertaking an international tour based around performances at the World Symposium on Choral Music in Auckland, New Zealand where they are one of the 24 best international choirs selected to take part.

The National Youth Choir's theme for the season in Cultural Identity, and Thea Musgrave's new piece (setting a poem by New Zealand-born poet Ursula Bethell), which the choir will perform in Auckland and record, will be connected to this theme, as will a new piece which is planned for the National Youth Training Choir.

The NYCGB's Learning and Engagement Programme sees major activities taking place in Yorkshire, the North East and the West Midlands, with a pilot 'legacy partnership' being developed in Nottinghamshire. The programme of outreach workshops and events continues, reaching over 4000 young people outside the choir's core membership.

Founded in 1983 (when there were 100 singers), NYCGB now comprises five choirs of over 800 young people aged 9-25. The choirs meet in the holidays for residential training courses offering intensive rehearsal experience, musicianship training, and individual and group coaching.

Full details from the NYCGB website.

Monday 27 January 2020

Opera North's new production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene weaves the work's various stylistic strands into a compelling whole and showcases the superb talents of the chorus members

Kurt Weill: Street Scene - Opera North (Photo Clive Barda)
Kurt Weill: Street Scene - Opera North (Photo Clive Barda)
Kurt Weill Street Scene; Gillene Butterfield, Alex Banfield, Giselle Allen, Robert Hayward, dir: Matthew Eberhardt, cond: James Holmes; Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 January 2020 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
A brilliant ensemble revival of Weill's Broadway opera which does justice to the work's stylistic diversity

Kurt Weill: Street Scene - Giselle Allen - Opera North (Photo Clive Barda)
Kurt Weill: Street Scene - Giselle Allen - Opera North (Photo Clive Barda)
I first knew Kurt Weill's Street Scene by reputation and via recorded excerpts, the first UK professional staging was not until the 1980s (a charity one-off with Janis Kelly and Paul Harrhy as Rose and Sam). Since then there has been David Pountney's 1989 production at Scottish Opera and English National Opera, and John Fulljames for the Opera Group and more. But the work's fluid form, moving between opera and musical theatre, and its 30 named roles ensure that it remains something of an occasional piece.

Matthew Eberhardt's production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene at Opera North (seen 25 January 2020 at the Grand Theatre, Leeds), conducted by James Holmes, embraces the work's diversity and multiplicity. Central to the performance is the ensemble of the Opera North chorus, providing over 20 of the named roles including Rose Maurrant (Gillene Butterfield) and Sam Kaplan (Alex Banfield). This ensured a terrific sense of community in the denizens of the tenement block. Rose's parents, Anna and Frank Maurrant were Giselle Allen and Robert Hayward(last seen here as Tosca and Scarpia), with Christopher Turner as Lippo Fiorentino, John Savournin as Carl Olsen, Byron Jackson as Henry Davis and Quirijn de Lang as Harry Easter. And alongside the opera singers, musical theatre trained Michelle Andrews and Rodney Vubya as Mae Jones and Dick McGann.

Opera North has form both with Kurt Weill and musical theatre, having performed other rare Weill including Love Life and One Touch of Venus, as well as the series of Sondheim musicals done in conjunction with the West Yorkshire Playhouse. So the blending of operatic and musical theatre traditions was beautifully done.

The designs were by Francis O'Connor, the set eschewed the traditional brownstone facade for a more flexible structure, a skeletal staircase and balconies which formed the building's central space, but could double as the outside. Costumes were firmly 1940 (Christopher Turner as Lippo Fiorentino was even a GI), the era when the opera debuted. Elmer Rice's original play (with a whopping 50 named roles) appeared in 1929.

Kurt Weill: Street Scene - Claire Pascoe, Byron Jackson, Amy J Payne, Richard Mosley-Evans, Miranda Bevin, John Savournin, Christopher Turner, Robert Hayward - Opera North (Photo Clive Barda)
Kurt Weill: Street Scene - Claire Pascoe, Byron Jackson, Amy J Payne, Richard Mosley-Evans, Miranda Bevin, John Savournin, Christopher Turner, Robert Hayward - Opera North (Photo Clive Barda)
For the serious vein of the piece, the tragedy of the Maurrants (where Anna, restless and dissatisfied, is cheating on her husband Frank who ultimately kills her), Kurt Weill is firmly in operatic territory. But around them the music varies, as characters are introduced Weill replaces the operatic character arias by more Broadway inclined elements. It works, but requires careful musical and dramatic pacing. It can be too tempting to linger over the Ice Cream Sextet or the jitterbug 'Moon Faced and Starry Eyed' to make the Big Production Numbers, but that can lead to a first half (it lasts 90 minutes) which drags and sags.

Here James Holmes and Matthew Eberhardt calculated things brilliantly, we never felt short-changed but each number slotted into the whole so that Act One fair bowled along as it should. It helped that Howard Hudson's lighting meant that the stage could be moved between moods in a simple yet imaginative manner.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Audience development and evangelism at the core of what they do: I chat to Adam Szabo of the Manchester Collective

The Manchester Collective at the White Hotel, Salford
The Manchester Collective at the White Hotel, Salford
Having had a busy 2019 with its biggest tour yet, the Manchester Collective launched the New Year with a bang, with Ecstatic Dances a programme with Poul Høxbro which toured to Leeds, Glasgow, London and Manchester this month, and there are plenty more exciting things planned. On the group's Twitter page is the tag 'Radical human experiences through live music'. I was intrigued, and I caught up with CEO and co-founder Adam Szabo over coffee earlier this month, to find out more.

Ecstatic Dances - Poul Høxbro & Manchester Collective at the Stoller Hall
Ecstatic Dances - Poul Høxbro & Manchester Collective at the Stoller Hall
Ecstatic Dances was built around Poul Høxbro, a Danish musician who plays pipes and percussion; he was joined by a string quartet and electric bass for music which ranged from Thomas Ades and Peter Warlock to ancient tunes from Scotland and Scandinavia. We speak before the show debuted, and Høxbro was to be telling stories during the show, something that the group had never done before and when we met, Adam said that they had tried it out for the first time with the players the previous day, and the result had been magical. Høxbro plays various different traditional pipes, highly restrictive instruments, along with percussion like bronze bells. Adam calls it a unique combination of instruments in this music.

Ecstatic Dances was built by the same team as their 2019 programme, Scirocco. Their biggest hit yet, Scirorro toured to 15 venues in the UK and Switzerland, and featured African musicians Abel Selaocoe, plus Sidiki Dembele and Alan Keary from Chesaba, with music from Stravinsky and Haydn, to African folk songs and Danish folk songs. The programme will be returning this year, and will be going on a world tour during the 2020/21 season. And Ecstatic Dances was built by the same team.

There are three further programmes to come this season, and in May the group will be launching its 2020/21 season, which will include the release of two CDs as well as six touring programmes. Adam describes the group's success, since he founded it in 2016, as something of a runaway freight train, but in a good way!

Characterful and flavourful

Friday 24 January 2020

Maxim Vengerov, celebrating 40 years since his stage debut with new recordings & a new relationship with IDAGIO

Maxim Vengerov (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
Maxim Vengerov (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
This year the violinist Maxim Vengerov is celebrating an amazing 40 years on stage. He made his stage debut aged five at a concert in his native Siberia, and when we meet for this interview he was even able to quote the exact date. And he is still on form, the night before our interview Maxim was the soloist with the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, conductor Sergey Smbatyan, at their Barbican debut [see my review]. 

Maxim's has been a busy career with a long period as one of the world's top classical violinists, but not without incident; he spent a period not playing due to injury, and has branched out as a conductor. But it is clear from our chat that violin playing is still very much a priority. As part of his anniversary celebrations there are new recordings, and a new relationship with streaming service IDAGIO.

Having just heard him play one of the great war-horses of the classical repertoire, Max Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1, I was curious as to whether he had ever wanted to not perform. But he still feels the excitement going on stage, and said that he continues to play whilst the excitement is still there. If it stops being there, then he won't continue as he needs to feel there is a purpose to performing. But as a performer Maxim says he has always taken risks, he does not want to be confined to a box. This is one of the reasons why he has branched out into studying other things, such as becoming a conductor, but for him violin playing remains his mother tongue.

Thursday 23 January 2020

White Flame: Scottish premiere of David Matthews' work celebrating Muriel Spark's centenary

Muriel Spark, Rome c1971-74 (Photo © Jerry Bauer)
Muriel Spark, Rome c1971-74 (Photo © Jerry Bauer)
2018 was the centenary of the Scottish novelist Muriel Spark, and as part of the celebrations composer David Matthews (born 1943) wrote White Flame, a setting of five of Spark's poems, for the Nash Ensemble. The work was premiered at the Purcell Room on the Southbank in 2018, and now in a sort of coda to the centenary the Nash Ensemble is to give the work's Scottish premiere at the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh on 27 January 2020.

Written for mezzo-soprano and piano quintet, White Flame will be performed in Edinburgh by mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds and members of the Nash Ensemble, the performers who premiered the work. Before the concert there will be a chance to hear composer David Matthews in conversation with Alan Taylor, (past chairman of the Muriel Spark Society, the group which commissioned the work in the first place) talking about Matthews' choice of poems.

The concert will be completed by Mozart's Piano Quartet, Schumann's Piano Quintet and Brahms' Two Songs Op. 91 for voice, viola and piano.

The concert is presented by the New Town Concerts society, full details from the Queen's Hall website.

Daniel Barenboim brought his odyssey of the complete Beethoven sonatas - which he commenced upon in January 2019 at the Philharmonie de Paris - to a majestic and exciting close with a couple of recitals over a three-day period

Daniel Barenboim (Photo Ava du Parc)
Daniel Barenboim (Photo Ava du Parc)
Beethoven piano sonatas; Daniel Barenboim; Philharmonie de Paris
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 19 January 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Daniel Barenboim offered a real treat for aficionados of Beethoven especially in the year in which Paris and the world over is celebrating the 250th anniversary of this great composer’s birth

Twenty-four hours after witnessing the dynamic French-born pianist, François-Frédéric Guy, stunning a full house at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées performing Beethoven’s complete piano concerti with the Orchestre de chambre de Paris [see Tony's review], I ventured over to the 2,400 seater Philharmonie de Paris (which opened in a blaze of glory in 2015) to hear another great master of the keyboard and interpreter of Beethoven, Daniel Barenboim, perform the penultimate recital (19 January 2020) of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas which he commenced upon last year.

The programme comprised No.15 in D major, Op.28; No.3 in C major, Op.2; No.24 in F sharp minor, Op.78; No.30 in E major, Op.109, whilst in his final recital (Tuesday, 21st) which, unfortunately, I couldn’t make, he played No.9 in E major, Op.14, No.1; No.4 in E flat major, Op.7; No.22 in F major, Op.54; No.32 in F minor, Op.111.

It’s most certainly a noteworthy achievement playing all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas (written between 1795 and 1822) in a single cycle. However, the first person to undertake such a marathon task fell to the Dresden-born conductor and virtuosic pianist, Hans von Bülow. He described them as ‘The New Testament’ of piano literature whilst referring to Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier as ‘The Old Testament’.

Daniel Barenboim, however, is no stranger to the Beethoven cycle and, indeed, no stranger to Wagner’s Ring cycle either which he has conducted on numerous occasions, the latest being Guy Cassiers [see Tony's review] which has just ended its time at the Staatsoper Berlin where Barenboim has been general music director since 1992. However, he has recorded Beethoven’s 32 sonatas for EMI Classics and from a performance point of view has performed it many times in such noted musical capitals of the world as London, Berlin, New York, Prague and Vienna as well as in Buenos Aires where he was born in 1942.

The early sonatas were highly influenced by those of Haydn and Mozart and overall they make up one of the most important collections of works in the history of music. They came to be seen as the first cycle of major piano pieces not only suited for concert-hall performance but also for both private and public performance while forming a bridge between the world of the salon and that of the concert-hall.

After he wrote his first 15 sonatas, Beethoven wrote to his bosom friend, the Czech-born mandolin/violin player, Wenzel Krumpholz, saying: ‘From now on, I’m going to take a new path.’ And Beethoven did just that and, therefore, his sonatas from this period proved totally different from his earlier ones and his experimentation in modifications to the common sonata form of Haydn and Mozart became more daring as did the depth of expression.

Interestingly, most Romantic period sonatas were highly influenced by those of Beethoven whose late sonatas were some of his most difficult pieces and still prove difficult today but in the capable and assured hands of Daniel Barenboim he made short work of them. He’s a master of the keyboard per se.

An innovative and ground-breaking composer in more ways than one, Beethoven discovered a new path to explore in his compositions incorporating, say, fugal techniques while making a radical departure from the conventional sonata form. For example, the Hammerklavier, a work deemed to be Beethoven’s most difficult sonata, was considered unplayable until almost 15 years after its composition when Franz Liszt, a 19th-century pianist of great standing, got to grips with it. And, of course, Daniel Barenboim’s a pianist of great standing today and, from my point of view, he’s also a brilliant conductor, artistic director, mentor, humanist and free-thinker.

Attending a Barenboim recital is a truly special event and coupled with François-Frédéric Guy’s performance - a pianist so different in style and temperament to that of Barenboim - and, indeed, the performance I attended at Norwich’s Assembly House of the Brodsky Quartet playing Beethoven’s 127 quartet - completed in 1825 and the first of the composer’s late quartets - prior to my departure to Paris, it’s been a great start for me apropos the celebrations this year marking the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. There’s Bonn and Vienna still to come! Cor’ blimey, Mary Poppins!

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Launching the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra's Beethoven Festival with Alfred Brendel, Benjamin Appl and Manon Fischer-Dieskau

Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman
Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman
Last night (21 January 2020) the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra launched its Beethoven Festival with a reception at the German Ambassador's residence in London hosted by the German Ambassador to St James's, Dr Peter Wittig (who is honorary patron of the orchestra) with guest of honour Alfred Brendel (who is patron of the orchestra). 

We were given a taster of the music to come, baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist Manon Fischer-Dieskau performed Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte (a work which they will perform as part of the Beethoven Festival), and violinist Natalia Lomeiko (one of the orchestra's concert masters) and pianist Marios Papadopoulos (music director of the orchestra) performed the first movement of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata.

Before that Alfred Brendel said a few words, though he pointed out that to talk about Beethoven was the most unnecessary thing in the world as his works hardly needed promotion. There was also a discussion between Marios Papadopoulos, Malte Boecker (director of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn) and John Suchet (who in fact curated the orchestra's first Beethoven festival 20 years ago) introducing the Beethoven celebrations both in Oxford and in Bonn. The two cities have been twinned for nearly 70 years and Marios Papadopoulos commented that the twinning was ample reason to indulge in some of the world's greatest music. Malte Boecker also talked about the recent discovery of a letter by Beethoven, written in 1795 to a friend then living in Russia, where he re-iterates many of the concepts which would resonate in his art particularly in the setting of the worlds from Schiller's Ode to Joy.

The Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra's Beethoven Festival is remarkably comprehensive, it starts tomorrow, 23 January 2020 and runs until 13 December 2020. During this time Marios Papadopoulos and the orchestra will be performing all the symphonies and all the piano concertos, with Marios Papadopoulos directing from the piano for the concertos, along with the Triple Concerto with Maxim Vengerov, Mischa Maisky and Sergei Babayan, and the Violin Concerto with Anne-Sophie Mutter, plus Ah! perfido, the Mass in C Major, Christ on the Mount of Olives and the Choral Fantasy.  Perhaps the only thing missing, as far as I am concerned, is Beethoven's piano version of the Violin Concerto!

There will also be a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio with Emma Bell as Leonore and Andrew Staples as Florestan, plus David Shipley, Haegee Lee, Yuriy Yurchuk, Robin Tritschler and the Garsington Opera Chorus.

A piano recital series features Jonathan Biss, John Lill, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Andras Schiff, Paul Lewis, Kit Armstrong, Evgeni Koroliov, Louis Schwizgebel and Oxford Piano Festival alumni in the piano sonatas and Diabelli Variations, with Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich performing Beethoven's four-handed piano version of the Grosse Fuge.

The chamber music series showcases principals from the orchestra in Beethoven's violin and cello sonatas, with quartets from the Takacs Quartet and the Juillard Quartet. Benjamin Appl and Manon Fischer-Dieskau's performance of Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte takes place within the context of Jessica Duchen's narrated concert Immortal Beloved, based on her book.

There is also a study weekend and a symposium.

Full details from the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra's website.

Listening with all five senses: Puccini's Gianni Schicchi from Five Senses Music

Puccini's Gianni Schicchi at the work's 1918 premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, New York
Puccini's Gianni Schicchi at the work's 1918 premiere at the Metropolitan Opera, New York
 As you  might expect from the name, Five Senses Music invites the audience to get close enough to the action to explore it with all five senses, to allow for a different kind of contact, a truly physical engagement and meaningful interaction.

Under conductor Tom Seligman ]who conducted Chelsea Opera Group's recent performance of Verdi's Un giorno di regno, see my review], Five Senses Music are presenting a concert performance of Puccini's Gianni Schicchi in the ​St Andrew's Building of the Grey Coat Hospital School, Greycoat Place, London SW1P 2DYon Saturday 25 January 2020 at 6pm. And conductor Tom Seligman will introduce the piece.

The fine young cast includes Andrew Mayor [whom we saw as Rodrigo in Fulham Opera's production of Verdi's Don Carlo, see my review] in the title role, with Lauren Campbell-Lodge and Seumas Begg as the young lovers, James Gribble as the doctor and notary, and Jessica Gillingwater [whom we heard in the BBC Singers performance of Handel's Israel in Egypt, see my review], Adam Maxey [Don Magnifico on British Youth Opera's production of Rossini's La Cenerentola, see my review], Philippa Boyle [Elisabeth in Fulham Opera's Don Carlo], Emma Lewis [Mother Goose in British Youth Opera's production of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, see my review], Jerome Knox [Dandini in British Youth Opera's La Cenerentola], Lyndon Green and Stefan Berkieta as the members of the Donati family.

Full details from the Five Senses Music website.

François-Frédéric Guy’s Beethoven piano concerti marathon proved an extraordinary event offering a delighted and informative audience a demonstration of technical prowess at the keyboard

Francois-Frederic Guy (Photo Caroline Doutre)
Francois-Frederic Guy (Photo Caroline Doutre)
Beethoven complete Piano Concertos; François-Frédéric Guy, Orchestre de chambre de Paris; Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 18 January 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
In this extraordinary concert, François-Frédéric Guy performed all of Beethoven’s five piano concerti in one evening to a packed and excited house in the stylised art deco Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth

I first became aware of Parisian-based pianist, François-Frédéric Guy, when he joined the BBC New Generation Artists’ Scheme in 1999 but I immediately got hooked on him after he made his first visit to my home city of Norwich in 2011. Under the auspices of the Norfolk & Norwich Music Club, he performed the complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas over a nine-day period.

He quickly returned to Norwich later the same year at short notice to replace an indisposed Radu Lupu and played Debussy’s Preludes, Liszt’s Benediction and Schubert’s penultimate Piano Sonata, D 959. Four years later, he was back in the city - once more at the invitation of the Norfolk & Norwich Music Club - offering a weekend of music for two pianos working alongside his fellow countryman, Geoffrey Couteau, an exceptional and gifted performer.

They played works by Brahms and Mozart but most memorable of all they concluded their weekend with a salutary performance of Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen, a work that Roger Rowe - former programme director of the Music Club - says that no one who was there will ever forget! 'The 2011-12 season, in fact, turned out to be a vintage one for the Music Club,' enthused Roger, who's now series producer of Norwich Assembly House classical lunchtime concerts. 'During that season we also enjoyed visits from Paul Lewis and the Belcea and Jerusalem string quartets.'

Over the years, therefore, François-Frédéric Guy has grown upon me especially in relation to his interpretation and playing of Beethoven. Therefore, I felt it a great privilege to travel to Paris to hear him on home ground performing his Beethoven marathon of the five piano concerti in one evening. And what an evening it turned out to be. Unforgettable, that’s for sure!

So, on 18 January 2020 at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, François-Frédéric Guy was accompanied by the Orchestre de chambre de Paris in all of Beethoven's Piano Concertos, directing them from the keyboard.

But you can always expect the best from Monsieur Guy and without a shadow of doubt he gave of his best delivering Beethoven in no uncertain terms performing magnificently while conducting the 42-piece Orchestre de chambre de Paris (so confidently led by Deborah Nemtanu) from the keyboard positioned on stage with his back towards the audience thus connecting so intimately with his players whilst offering audience members the chance to witness him at work as (probably) never before.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Voice & piano trio: Tom Poster & Kaleidescope Chamber Collective open Wiltshire Music Centre's 2020 season

Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon
Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on Avon
Pianist Tom Poster is the Artist in Residence at the Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) and Poster will be opening WMC's Spring/Summer 2020 concert season on 24 January 2020 with his Kaleidescope Chamber Collective. Poster, soprano Katharine Dain, violinist Savitri Grier and cellist Laura van der Heijden will be performing a programme which mixes folk-song with the piano trio.  

So there are Beethoven's folk-song arrangements for voice and piano trio (Beethoven never visited the British Isles but he was commissioned to write arrangements of songs by an Edinburgh publisher), Britten folk-songs, RVW's stunning version of The Unquiet Grave (How Cold the Wind Doth Blow) with violin obbligato, and two songs by Amy Beach for soprano and piano trio. There will also be songs by Clara Schumann, as well as Mendelssohn's Piano Trio no. 2 (the finale of which includes the chorale we know as Old Hundredth). The evening ends with Poster's arrangements of Cole Porter songs. 

And if the concert doesn't appeal, then on 1 February, WMC is presenting Sir Scallywag and the Battle of Stinky Bottom, with Ensemble 360 and narrator Polly Ives, based on the book by Gile Andreae with music by Paul Rissmann,

The concert season continues with a piano recital from Benjamin Grosvenor, the City of London Sinfonia and pianist Danny Driver in Beethoven, pianist Steven Osborne in Rachmaninov and Schubert, the Doric String Quartet and the Marmen Quartet in Enescu's Octet for Strings, violinist Alina Ibragimova joins the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for Michael Haydn's Violin Concerto, and Voces 8 perform a programme moving from Renaissance polyphony to contemporary classics. WMC's Young Quartet in Residence is the Marmen Quartet and they will be presenting a Beethoven Festival, 4-7 March, which includes performances of the quartets, lectures and a lecture recital. Many of the concerts are free to the under 25s in an arrangement with the Cavatina Music Trust.

The Wiltshire Music Centre celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. Founded in Bradford on Avon as a rehearsal space for young musicians, it has developed into a professional concert hall as well as being a community hub, home to many local choirs, orchestras and music groups (over 800 young musicians rehearse there weekly and 60,000 people use the centre each year), as well as a vibrant and varied Creative Learning Programme.

The programme also includes jazz, folk, world music and family concerts. Full details from the Wiltshire Music Centre's website.

Berlioz’s ‘La damnation de Faust’ at the Philharmonie de Paris turned out to be a flaming affair unlike its first Parisian performance in December 1846 that turned out to be a bit of a damp squib

Berlioz by August Prinzhofer, 1845
Berlioz by August Prinzhofer, 1845, the year before
the premiere of La damnation de Faust
Berlioz La damnation de Faust; Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Renaud Delaigue, Karine Deshayes, Paul Groves, Orchestre de Paris, Chœur de l’Orchestre de Paris, dir: Lionel Sow, Chœur d’enfants de l’Orchestre de Paris, cond. Tugan Sokhiev; Grande salle Pierre Boulez, Philharmonie de Paris
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 15 January 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
The subject of Faust is often referred to as one of the two quintessential myths of western culture, the other being Don Giovanni. The tragic story of this doomed character became an obsession for many of the greatest composers of the 19th century and Berlioz is up there with the best

I’m in league with the devil, it seems! Old Beelzebub has stalked me a few times over the past year. I travelled to Nice for a well-staged production of Gounod’s Faust [see Tony's review] mystically and darkly directed by Nadine Duffaut for Opéra de Nice but, closer to home, I attended a semi-staged performance of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress [see Tony's review] at the Aldeburgh Festival featuring a young and enthusiastic cast recruited from Barbara Hannigan’s Equilibrium Young Artists’ Programme.

But, like a good ’un, he kept his fangs deep into me and tracked me down on the East Sussex Downs where I witnessed an excellent and innovative staged production of Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust at Glyndebourne [see Tony's review] directed by Richard Jones marking the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death.

And, now, with the New Year - and fresh new souls to prey on - he’s up to his old tricks again and nabbed me in Paris where, sitting comfortably in my seat in the grand surroundings of the Grande salle Pierre Boulez of the Philharmonie de Paris.
At the Philharmonie on 15 January 2020, I attended a marvellous concert performance of Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust under the baton of Russian-born conductor, Tugan Sokhiev, with the Orchestre de Paris and soloists Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Renaud Delaigue, Karine Deshayes, and Paul Groves.

Monday 20 January 2020

Acknowledging a debt to Scottish Renaissance composer Robert Carver - James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4

Carver Choirbook Adv.MS.5.1.15, fol.135 recto Acknowledgement is made to the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland
The Carver Choirbook,
only source of Carver's Missa Dum Sacrum Mysterium Acknowledgement is made to the
Trustees of the National Library of Scotland
The Kensington Symphony Orchestra, conductor Russell Keable, returns to the Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thursday 23 January 2020 with a performance which gives us a chance to hear James MacMillan's Symphony No. 4. Written in 2015 to celebrate conductor Donald Runnicles' 60th birthday, the symphony was premiered at the BBC Proms that year with Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

Unlike the composer's three previous symphonies, his fourth is purely abstract, exploring various elements of ritual in music on one continuous movement lasting around 40 minutes. What perhaps gives the symphony its particular flavour is that MacMillan has chosen to acknowledge his debt to the Scottish Renaissance composer Robert Carver and include parts of Carver's Missa Dum Sacrum Mysterium. Talking about the symphony and his use of Carver's music, MacMillan said ' I love the austerity of his [Carver's] music, but also its complexity. I've incorporated some of his ideas into the structure of the symphony and wound my own music around it'

If you are interested in a compare-and-contrast then the Sixteen have recorded Carver's complete 10-part mass [available from Amazon], whilst Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra have recorded MacMillan's Symphony No. 4 [available from Amazon].

The companion work in the concert is Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2, with the UK-based Russian pianist Samson Tsoy.

Full details from the Kensington Symphony Orchestra's website.

From the rare to the popular: Fauré and Poulenc from Bertrand de Billy and the London Philharmonic

Gabriel Fauré painted by John Singer Sargent, 1889
Gabriel Fauré painted by John Singer Sargent in 1889
the year after the premiere of the first version of the Requiem
Poulenc Sept répons des ténèbres & Organ Concerto, Fauré Requiem; Katerina Tretyakova, Stéphane Degout, James O'Donnell, London Philharmonic Choir, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Bertrand de Billy; Royal Festival Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 January 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A warmly intimate account of Faure's popular choral work contrasted with Poulenc's spiky late masterpiece

What to programme with the Fauré's eternally popular Requiem? For it's concert on Saturday 18 January 2020 at the Southbank Centre, the London Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Bertrand de Billy opted for an all French programme, with Poulenc's Organ Concerto with organist James O'Donnell playing the Royal Festival Hall organ and Poulenc's Sept répons des ténèbres, thus giving the London Philharmonic Choir a chance to shine. The soloists were soprano Katerina Tretyakova and baritone Stéphane Degout.

We started with Poulenc's  Sept répons des ténèbres, written in 1961/62 to a commission from Leonard Bernstein and premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1963 after the composer's death. It is a relatively rarely performed work, perhaps because the style is closer to the Poulenc of the Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence than the Poulenc of the Gloria, though the fact that the composer wanted the piece to be performed by a choir of men and boys with a treble soloist probably didn't help either. The music is dark, edgy and full of contrasts, sharp tuttis followed by quiet unaccompanied chorus.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Bach Round-Up: violin, piano, organ, recorder, viol, choral and orchestra by Bach and his cousin Johann Bernard

Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
Solomon's Knot (Photo Gerard Collett)
This month's Bach round-up starts off with the viol consort Phantasm providing an alternative view of the composer with A Well-Tempered Consort, and then we move to the unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas, Sei Solo recorded by Thomas Zehetmair. From violin to the keyboard as pianist George Lepauw has recorded Bach's complete 48 for Orchid Classics, whilst organist Manuel Tomadin has recorded a selection of Bach's organ music under the title Harmonic Seasons on the historic Christoph Treutmann organ in Church of St George, Grauhof, Austria for Brilliant Classics. Still in an instrumental mood, recorder player Michala Petri is joined by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani and viola da gamba player Hille Perl for the complete flute sonatas on OUR recordings. 

The Baroque collective Solomon's Knot's, known for their performances from memory, make their debut recording on Sony Classical, Christmas in Leipzig which features the original Christmas version Bach's Magnificat plus Christmas music by two of his predecessors in Leipzig. Our final disc is a different Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach's cousin, Johann Bermard Bach whose surviving orchestral suites are played by Thüringer Bach Collegium on Audite.

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