Wednesday 30 September 2020

Shedding light on an important figure in the Irish literary renaissaince: the songs and airs of J. F. Larchet prove a real discovery

John Francis Larchet Songs and Airs; Gavan Ring, Raphaela Mangan, Mia Cooper, Verity Simmons, Niall Kinsella; Champs Hill

John Francis Larchet Songs and Airs; Gavan Ring, Raphaela Mangan, Mia Cooper, Verity Simmons, Niall Kinsella; Champs Hill

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 30 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Something of a discovery, song by an important figure in the Irish literary revival

John Francis Larchet was a completely new name to me. This disc from Champs Hill Records is very much a passion project from pianist Niall Kinsella, who is joined by mezzo-soprano Raphaela Mangan, baritone Gavan Ring, violinist Mia Cooper and cellist Verity Simmons for Larchet's complete songs and airs, which encompasses some 16 of Larchet's songs and two sets of Irish Airs for Violin & Piano.

That I had not heard of Larchet shows my ignorance, as he was part of the Irish literary revival during the early part of the 20th century and as musical director of the Abbey Theatre he provided incidental music for plays by WB Yeats, JM Synge and Lady Gregory.  Born in Dublin, Larchet studied at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and at Trinity College Dublin, where as a Catholic he had to get episcopal permission to enrol as it was a bastion of Protestantism! Appointments at the RIAM, and University College Dublin followed, and his role as an educator would be key (prior to his appointment at RIAM, the institution had had a heavy reliance on musicians from overseas). In 1908, he became musical director of the Abbey Theatre, and his first set of Irish Airs were almost certainly written for use at the theatre and some were prescribed for Feis Ceoil, the competitive festival of Irish traditional and classical music.

His first songs come from his student years, and they stretch all the way to 1955. Whilst he often set Irish poets he also sets Shelley. Some songs arise out of stage productions, The Song of the Faery Child comes from a production of WB Yeats' The Land of Heart's Desire which was given at the Abbey Theatre in 1935 to mark Larchet's retirement from the theatre.

Tuesday 29 September 2020

Abandonnata: Helen Charlston and Toby Carr in Monteverdi, Purcell, Strozzi and Owain Park

Helen Charlston and Toby Carr in rehearsal earlier this year (Photo Toby Carr)
Helen Charlston and Toby Carr
in rehearsal earlier this year (Photo Toby Carr)
- Purcell, Monteverdi, Strozzi, Park; Helen Charlston, Toby Carr; London Sound Gallery at the Grosvenor Chapel

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Intimate yet intense, a programme of abandoned women in early Italian and English music, with one contemporary visitor

London Sound Gallery is a new festival created by The Gesualdo Six. Running for two days at The Grosvenor Chapel, the festival is presenting a wide range of young artists in concert, with a small audience, and all the concerts are being recorded and will be available on-line.

On Monday 28 September 2020, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and theorbo player Toby Carr gave a recital entitled Abandonnata at The Grosvenor Chapel, the second event in the inaugural London Sound Gallery. The programme featured Arianna's Lament and Lamento della Ninfa by Monteverdi alongside works by Purcell and Barbara Strozzi, plus a new work by Owain Park (artistic director of the Gesualdo Six).

Whilst the programme was focussed on the myriad of abandoned women which feature in much early repertoire, the title had something of a double edge, an acknowledgement of abandoned plans including the postponement of a new song cycle on the theme of historical women by Owain Park which Charlston had been due to premiere.

Helen Charlston and Toby Carr are regular collaborators and the Grosvenor Chapel's quite intimate acoustic is ideal for hearing this type of recital, just voice and theorbo, works which were often originally intended for relatively small rooms.

Raphael Wallfisch & Adrian Farmer in Richard Blackford's 'Blewbury Air'

Richard Blackford: Blewbury Air
On 5 June 2020, cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist Adrian Farmer performed at Wyastone Studios, home of Nimbus Records. It was the first time the two had been able to play together since lockdown. The work they were performing was for a new recording, of Richard Blackford's Blewbury Air, and the recording has now been released on the Nimbus Alliance label.

Richard Blackford describes Blewbury Air as a love-song to the village of Blewbury in Oxfordshire, which is where Blackford lives. Lasting around 12 minutes, the three movement work is explicitly descriptive and each movement has an evocative title, 'By the water's edge', 'Incantation with bells', and 'The wind in the branches', and they reflect Blackford's intention to depict the lake near his house which teems with wildlife.

The first movement starts of vividly passionate, with a strong cello melody giving plenty of scope for Wallfisch's singing tone. Later the movement dies away but keeps the cello in focus. In form, it is a rondo, but Blackford transforms his material thus holding the interest. The second movement starts with a striking moment for solo cello, before the piano comes in with the evocative bells of the title. Blackford alternates these two, rhapsodic cello and bell-like piano, developing them and making them interact and creating quite a stir before evocative calm is restored at the end. The short finale is fast and not a little furious,

We caught the London premiere of Richard Blackford's Pieta in October 2019 [see my review]. Blackford is an interesting composer. Born in 1954 he is one of a generation who trained in modernism (Blackford was, for a period, assistant to Hans Werner Henze) but turned their back on it and moved into other areas, and whose more traditional compositional voice has emerged more slowly. Blackford has a significant catalogue of film, TV and theatre work, but more recently has concentrated on concert music, creating a distinctive voice with remarkable success. 

This new piece is tonal, yet full of interest and finely constructive. Its length makes it a prime candidate for recitals.

Richard Blackford (born 1954) - Blewbury Air
Raphael Wallfisch (cello)
Adrian Farmer (piano)
Recorded at Wyastone Studios, 5 June 2020

The recording is available direct from Nimbus, and the printed music is also available for purchase from Nimbus Music Publishing.

Monday 28 September 2020

Betsy Jolas and more: Anne Lovett and Romain Malan in recital at the Institut Francais

Anne Lovett, Romain Malan (Photo Phil Roulaud)
Anne Lovett, Romain Malan (Photo Phil Roulaud)

The French pianist and composer Anne Lovett helped the Institut Francais in South Kensington to celebrate Bastille Day by live-streaming a recital on-line. She is returning to the Institut on Thursday 8 October 2020, with cellist Romain Malan for a recital to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Diaphonique, the Franco-British fund for contemporary music. The recital will be presented in mixed form, with a live-socially distanced audience and streamed on-line, with people able to choose in which form they participate.

The repertoire for the concert includes music by Faure and Massenet (including the Meditation from his opera Thais), as well as works by the Franco-American composer Betsy Jolas (born 1926), one of Lovett's own pieces and concluding with Astor Piazzolla's Grand Tango

Created in 2010, the Diaphonique fund supports collaborative projects of classical contemporary music between France and the United Kingdom. It funds commissions, concerts, tours, residencies and educative projects.

Full details from the Institut Francais website.

The first time St Paul's Cathedral has hosted an in-person concert since lockdown: the City Music Foundation presents Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps

Messiaen: Quatuor pour la fin du temps at St Paul's Cathedral with City Music Foundation artists

Olivier Messiaen's chamber masterpiece, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, will receive a live performance, with audience at St Paul's Cathedral on Friday 23 October 2020, performed by four City Music Foundation Artists, Emily Sun, violin, Ariana Kashefi, cello, Joseph Shiner, clarinet, Alexander Soares, piano. This will be the first time that the cathedral has been open for an in-person concert since lockdown. Tickets are free and available on a first come, first served basis. 

The idea behind the concert is to offer Londoners an opportunity for contemplation and reflection as we learn to live with the devastating effects of the pandemic, and the performance is linked to the Remember Me website created by St Paul's Cathedral as an on-line book of remembrance.

Messiaen's Quatuor pour la fin du temps, inspired by the Book of Revelation, was written during his incarceration in a concentration camp and its instrumentation, violin, clarinet, cello, piano, was dictate by the instrumentalists available. The work was premiered 1941 in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany (now Zgorzelec, Poland).

Full details from the City Music Foundation website.

Lamentate: Arvo Pärt's largest scale orchestral work recorded by Lithuanian forces in honour of the composer's 85th birthday

Arvo Pärt Lamentate, Fratres, Pari intervallo, Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka, Vater unser; Onutė Gražinytė, Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Modestas Pitrėnas; Accentus

Arvo Pärt Lamentate, Fratres, Pari intervallo, Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka, Vater unser; Onutė Gražinytė, Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra, Modestas Pitrėnas; Accentus
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
In celebration of Arvo Pärt's 85th birthday, a fine recording of his largest-scale orchestral work with Lithuanian forces

Sometimes particular works can define how we expect at composer to sound, so that having become familiar with part of a composer's output we almost become blind to other aspects. So our appreciation of the work of Arvo Pärt can rather be coloured by the concept of what might be termed holy minimalism, and the way that choral ensembles often perform his music. But, you only have to hear his works performed by the Estonian Chamber Choir (using quite a large group of singers, and with a strength and vigour to the performance), to appreciate that there are other aspects to Pärt's music. And whilst Pärt is best known for his choral writing, hearing him applying the same tintinnabuli technique to a large orchestra provides a fascinating contrast in style and scale.

Pärt has, of course, written four symphonies [see my review of the Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra's performance of all four on ECM], but the first three all pre-date Pärt's use of tintinnabuli technique, and the fourth (which dates from 2008) is written just for string orchestra, harp, timpani and percussion. His largest scale orchestra work is Lamentate written in 2002 and premiered by the London Sinfonietta, conductor Alexander Briger with pianist  Hélène Grimaud, in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, underneath the huge Marsyas sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and Lamentate is subtitled, 'Homage to Anish Kapoor and his sculpture Marsyas for piano and orchestra'.

On this new disc from Accentus, Modestas Pitrėnas conducts the Lithuanian National Symphony Orchestra in Arvo Pärt's Lamentate with pianist Onutė Gražinytė, along with a selection of shorter works for piano, instrument and voice including Fratres with cellist Edward King, Pari intervallo, Variationen zur Gesundung von Arinuschka and Vater unser. The recording was made in celebration Arvo Pärt's 85th birthday.

Lamentate was Pärt's reaction to Marsyas. He talks about seeing the sculpture for the first time, in October 2002, 'Suddenly, I found myself put into a position in which my life appeared in a different light. At the moment, I had a strong feeling that I was not ready to die' and he goes on to say that 'Death and suffering are questions that preoccupy every person born into the world ... Accordingly, I have written a Lamento, not for the dead, but for the living who have a hard time dealing with the suffering in the world'. [You can read more of Pärt's commentary on the work at the Universal Edition website]

Sunday 27 September 2020

A Life On-Line: A disappearing hero in Glasgow, a dramatic soprano in recital, late Schumann in Croydon

Janacek: Diary of One Who Disappeared - Ed Lyon, Lucy Schaufer - Scottish Opera (image take from live stream)
Janacek: Diary of One Who Disappeared - Ed Lyon, Lucy Schaufer - Scottish Opera
(image take from live stream)

As part of the Lammermuir Festival, Scottish Opera performed Janacek's dramatic song-cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared (Zápisník zmizelého) in a new concert staging directed by Rose Purdie streamed live from the Theatre Royal, Glasgow with tenor Ed Lyons and mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer. Stuart Stratford conducted members of the orchestra of Scottish Opera, using an orchestration of the piece by the Czech composers Miloš Štědroň (born 1942) and his son Miloš Orson Štědroň.

The opera was filmed on the stage of the Theatre Royal, with Ed Lyon loosely in dress of the period of composition (1917-1919) and seated at a desk, but with his back to the auditorium so that throughout, we were aware that this was taking place in a theatre. Lyons made a passionate protagonist, bringing the role vividly alive whilst Lucy Schauffer was a sexily soignée Žofka, very much not a floozy. 

Technically a song cycle, Janacek included scenic demands in the score and it responds to an element of staging. Here, Purdie's direction was elegantly minimal, yet allowing the drama to live. The three off-stage voices were Catriona Hewitson, Heather Ireson and Sioned Gwen Davies. The orchestration brought an interesting new range of instrumental colours to the score. [Lammermuir Festival]

Voces8's festival Live from London on Saturday 19 September 2020, featured a recital by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen which came live from Kings Place, complete with a live audience. The Sixteen, fielding just eleven singers, were joined by narrator Antonia Christophers for a programme called Music for Reflection which interleaved works by Anerio, Josquin, Sheppard, Victoria and Arvo Pärt with readings from TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral.

Things began and ended with a pair of striking litanies to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first by Felice Anerio and the last by Tomas Luis de Victoria, whilst we also heard Josquin's hymn to the Virgin, O Virgo prudentissima, and his Pater Noster and Ave Maria, plus John Sheppard's glorious Respond Libera Nos I (written during the revival of the Roman Catholic liturgy in England during the reign of Queen Mary I). Interleaved with these were Arvo Pärt's The Deer's Cry, Da Pacem Domine, and Morning Star. Familiar pieces but receiving finely elegant performances which took on an added resonance in the intimate performances in the present situation. [LiveFromLondon

The London Mozart Players (LMP) has just launched its own on-line series, Classical Club with concerts performed live from various venues around London and streamed live (also available for catch up). I caught the first concert of the series when the orchestra, directed from the violin by Ruth Rogers, performed Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 'Classical' and Schumann's Cello Concerto with soloist Maciej Kulakowski (who is currently a member of YCAT).

The concert came from LMP's home, the church of St John the Evangelist in Upper Norwood, a spacious Victorian church. Yet the space was needed, even in chamber orchestra formation the players, socially distanced, took up an enormous amount of space and throughout the performance I was impressed with the way they achieved such fine coordination despite the difficulties of distance. Having the Prokofiev played by a chamber orchestra meant that we could hear all sorts of felicities of detail, as the strings no longer dominated. The first movement was steady, yet crisp with added zip at the end. The elegant slow movement had a nice incisive element too, whilst the third was robustly decisive. Any steadiness of tempo vanished for the finally, which whizzed along with a sense of vivid energy and the players' sheer enjoyment at music making.

The young Polish cellist, Maciej Kulakowski brought a lovely rhapsodic feel to the cello part of Schumann's late concerto (written in 1850 yet never performed during his lifetime). There was also a chamber-like intimacy in the performance as Kulakowski's performance fitted in with that of LMP to create a fluidly flowing whole. You could hear Kulakowski throughout with great clarity, yet it never felt like a bravura, show-off performance, instead he brought out the lyrical elements and a sense of being part of the orchestra. The second movement includes the lovely section where the soloist duets with the orchestral cellos, and this was finely rendered. Throughout there was a great transparency of texture. Finally, the engaging third movement, with its echoes of the first. The next concert in the series, on 1 October 2020, features clarinettist Michael Collins with players from LMP in clarinet quintets by Weber and Mozart. [London Mozart Players]

Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival continued with a lovely song recital from soprano Katherine Broderick, pianist Kathryn Stott and cellist Guy Johnston in music by Schubert, Faure, Berlioz and Quilter. Broderick's operatic repertoire encompasses Brunnhilde in Wagner's Siegfried, the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and Lady Billows in Britten's Albert Herring, and she recently made her role debut as Leonore in Beethoven's Fidelio at Garsington, yet she is also a keen recitalist and I still vividly remember her performance of 'The Fieldmarshal' from Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death with the Myrthen Ensemble at the Wimbledon International Music Festival in 2014 [see my review].  

Saturday 26 September 2020

Opera as community experience: Thomas Guthrie on his new projects exploring classic Schubert, creating a new secret library and urban operas

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - directed by Thomas Guthrie with Music and Theatre for All in 2019
Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - directed by Thomas Guthrie
with Music and Theatre for All in 2019

In March of this year I met up with Thomas Guthrie with the intention of talking about his directing projects for Summer 2020. Our meeting happened during the strange interim time, just before lockdown, when it wasn't clear quite how devastating the effects of lockdown would be. In the event, we had a great discussion about opera as community theatre [see the interview All opera is community opera]. But, having had projects cancelled over the Summer has not meant that Thomas has not been busy, and recently with his charity Music and Theatre for All he has announced a trio of large-scale initiatives, supported by Arts Council England, to continue working towards Thomas' belief in opera as a real community initiative.

Thomas Guthrie working on Music and Theatre for All's 2019 production of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo
Thomas Guthrie working on
Music and Theatre for All's 2019 production of
Monteverdi's L'Orfeo

Thomas founded Music and Theatre for All with three clear strands of interest, exploring classics from the canon in accessible ways (previous projects have included Monteverdi's L'Orfeo in 2019 with Robert Hollingworth and I Fagiolini, and Bach's motets as part of a larger project, Death Actually for Spitalfields Festival in 2014, see Hilary's review on this blog), creative community projects including participatory events, and producing entirely new work. The three projects that have just been announced are deliberately positioned to represent each of these three strands. Timescales are long, Thomas emphasises that Music and Theatre for All is a relatively small charity, and they will be producing this work over a number of years.

The three new projects are Schubert 200 (re-interpreting work from the classical canon), Urban Operas (community/participatory) and The Secret Library (entirely new work). And whilst there is an element of overlap (The Secret Library will have some participatory elements), Thomas is clear that the three are clear examples of the branches of Music and Theatre for All's work.

Friday 25 September 2020

Cutting-edge technology enables the Guildhall School's Gold Medal competition to go ahead in a socially distanced manner

Guildhall Gold Medal 2020 - Rehearsal Video on Vimeo.

As someone who spent 30 years working in computers and IT, I have a healthy distrust of technology, but sometimes it has its uses. Having a socially distanced orchestra takes space, a lot of space. At the BBC Proms this year, the Royal Albert Hall managed chamber orchestra size with a huge addition to the platform, and for its 100th anniversary concert the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra resorted to a huge warehouse. Lacking these resources of space, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama has had recourse to cutting edge technology.

A network of ultra-fast low latency cables has been installed across the Guilhall School's Silk Street and Milton Court buildings (they are over the road from each other) which connect multiple rehearsal and performance spaces – both within and between the two buildings. The cables minimise the delay inherent in transmitting signals from one space to another, so they will allow an entire orchestra to see the conductor and hear each other in real time whilst sitting in safely distanced setups and playing in three separate rooms. 

This technology has enabled the Guildhall School to re-schedule the final of its annual Gold Medal (originally due to happen in May 2020). The Gold Medal is the Guildhall School's most prestigious music prize, each year it alternates between singers and instrumentalists. Previous winners have included Jacqueline du Pré (1960), Tasmin Little (1986) and Sir Bryn Terfel (1989), and this year it is the chance of the instrumentalists.

This year's finalists perform a concerto of their choice with Guildhall Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Richard Farnes. Pianist Soohong Park performs Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, cellist Ben Tarlton performs Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor and pianist Ke Ma performs Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.

All three are big orchestral works, so the strings will be in the Music Hall in Silk Street, woodwind in Room 148 and Brass & Percussion in Milton Court Concert Hall. The conductor, Richard Farnes, will be on his own in a separate room where he will conduct to a camera and speak into a microphone to address the orchestra. All players will be able to see the conductor on screen and hear the other sections of the orchestra, and the conductor will be able to see and hear each section of the orchestra simultaneously. The three Gold Medal soloists will play in the same room as the Strings and be in direct communication with the conductor via a headset. 

It sounds quite a challenge, particularly for the finalists in a competition but then training at college is meant to have an element of preparation for the real world, and I fear that Guildhall School's technological solution is very much going to be part of our real world from now on.

Further information from the Guildhall School website, and the final will be streamed live on-line.

Mithras Trio in Haydn, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky at Conway Hall, plus a pre-concert talk

The Mithras Trio
The Mithras Trio

The Mithras Trio will be performing Haydn's Trio in E Hob XV:28, Mendelssohn's Trio No.2 in C minor Op. 66 and Tchaikovsky's Trio in A minor Op. 50 for a concert streamed live from Conway Hall on Sunday 4 October 2020, and it will be prefixed by my pre-concert talk, Highways and Byways of the Piano Trio at 5.45pm. 

The Mithras Trio (Ionel Manciu, Leo Popplewell, Dominic Degavino) formed at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2017, and since then have won the 10th Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition, and the 67th Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition. Their programme takes us on a tour of the piano trio, from one of Haydn's works inspired by the virtuoso instrumentalists that he came across during his London visits, to the lesser known of Mendelssohn's two mature trios and finally Tchaikovsky's work in a form of which he said 'I simply cannot endure the combination of piano with violin or is torture for me to listen to a string trio or a sonata of any kind for piano and strings.'

My pre-concert talk will be given live at Conway Hall, alas without a live audience, and I will look at how the piano trio moved from genre for talented amateurs to something more complex, and remained surprisingly popular with 19th century composers from Fauré and César Franck, to Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, and Borodin.

Full details from the Conway Hall website, where you can also find a link to a PDF of images to go with my talk.

Richard Strauss, Coleridge-Taylor, Mahler - Elizabeth Llewellyn & Simon Lepper in outstanding form at Wigmore Hall

Simon Lepper and Elizabeth Llewellyn at Wigmore Hall (Image taken from live stream)
Simon Lepper and Elizabeth Llewellyn at Wigmore Hall
(Image taken from live stream)

Richard Strauss, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Six Sorrow Songs, Gustav Mahler Rückert Lieder ; Elizabeth Llewellyn, Simon Lepper; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 September 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Concentrated magic and sustained intensity of emotion in songs by three late-Romantic near contemporaries

Making what was, I think, her Wigmore Hall recital debut on Wednesday 23 September 2020 at a lunchtime recital, soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn had put together a programme of songs by three late-Romantic near contemporaries. Accompanied by pianist Simon Lepper, Llewellyn sang a group of songs by Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Einerlei Op.69 No.3, Allerseelen Op.10 No.8, Nachtgang Op.29 No.3, Die Nacht Op.10 No. 3 and Stanchen Op.17 No.2, the Six Sorrow Songs by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), and the Rückert Lieder by Gustav Mahler (1860-1911).

The three composers made for a fascinating comparison, three different attitudes to late-Romanticism, three different approaches to song, and you wondered how familiar each composer was with the work of the others. 

The Strauss songs all date from the period 1885 to 1895 except for Einerlei which was written in 1918. Whilst Strauss was a prolific writer of songs, the majority come from before 1906, and after the First World War his song output slowed considerably. The hiatus between 1906 and 1918 was partly caused by the flowering of his operatic career (Salome premiered in 1905), but also by a disagreement with his publisher!

Elizabeth Llewellyn's group of songs started with the contemplation of love, then moved through love lost to love remembered in the night, and finally a night-time serenade. We last saw Llewellyn in English National Opera's production of Verdi's Luisa Miller in February 2020 [see my review], and when I interviewed her in 2016 she was moving into lirico-spinto territory, and her recent performances in Germany have included the title role in Verdi's Aida (at Teater Bielefeld) yet her most recent performance in the UK was as Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme with Scottish Opera [see review in The Guardian]. So there is a richness to her voice, allied to a lyric flexibility and a fine middle and lower voice with an attractively fascinating quality to it.

Thursday 24 September 2020

The English Chamber Orchestra launches its 60th season with a celebration of its fruitful relationship with Raymond Leppard

Raymond Leppard rehearsing the English Chamber Orchestra in 1980
Raymond Leppard rehearsing the English Chamber Orchestra in 1980

The English Chamber Orchestra (ECO) is 60 this year, and the orchestra is launching its 60th season on 7 October 2020 with a concert at Cadogan Hall (with a live, socially distanced audience) celebrating the orchestra's long and fruitful relationship with conductor Raymond Leppard. Leppard is still best remembered for his championship of the Baroque repertoire at a time when the music was often not well regarded, and he created influential editions of Monteverdi and Cavalli. 

The concert will feature music by Rameau, Monteverdi, Purcell and Mozart, with soprano Lauren Lodge-Campbell and mezzo Bethany Horak-Hallett, J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.2, with soloists from the ECO, and  RVW’s The Lark Ascending, with the orchestra’s leader Stephanie Gonley as soloist. The conductor will be James Sherlock, and it will be presented by Dame Janet Baker who collaborated with Leppard on a number of projects including the iconic production of Cavalli's La Calisto at Glyndebourne in 1970 (Leppard's realisations of Cavalli's score are now not seen as scholarly, but they provided an important stepping stone in the re-evaluation of the music), and she recorded the title role in Handel's Ariodante with Leppard and the ECO in a still highly regarded recording.

Raymond Leppard (1927-2019) was a more rounded and complex figure than his reputation as a Baroque specialist implies, and he composed the music for Peter Brook's film The Lord of the Flies (based on William Golding's novel) and was music director of the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra (now the BBC Philharmonic). And in the 1970s in Manchester, I remember Leppard's interesting programming with the orchestra (it is well worth catching Leppard's live recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde with Janet Baker, John Mitchinson and the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, available on Amazon). 

The English Chamber Orchestra was formed in 1960, arising out of The Goldsborough Orchestra which had been founded in 1946 by Lawrence Leonard and Arnold Goldsborough for the performance of Baroque repertoire. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the orchestra's performances were the byword in stylishness in this repertoire and it is the 'most recorded chamber orchestra in the world'.

Full details of the concert from the Cadogan Hall website.

'A strange profession' - looking forward to John Bridcut's film, 'Bernard Haitink, the Enigmatic Maestro'

Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 - Bernard Haitink, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the 2019 BBC Proms (Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 - Bernard Haitink, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the 2019 BBC Proms
(Photo BBC / Chris Christodoulou)

In 2019, Bernard Haitink CH KBE, turned 90, and announced his retirement from the concert platform with a series of performances of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7, appearing at the BBC Proms with the Vienna Philharmonic [see Colin Clarke's review] and thus bringing an end to a 65-year career. On 26 September 2020, BBC Two broadcasts the premiere of John Bridcut's new film Bernard Haitink, the Enigmatic Maestro, and later on in this article, John Bridcut selects six of Bernard Haitink's most iconic recordings.

Haitink's career encompassed conductorships of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Staatskapelle Dresden, music directorships of Glyndebourne and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, principal guest conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It has been a career which has been, largely, conducted quietly, without fuss yet with devastating musicality. Bridcut's film aims to get behind the magic of this quiet Anglicised Dutchman.

The film follows Haitink's long career, using the farewell performances of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 as a thread on which to hang the entire career. And rather appropriately Haitink did his farewell performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 in the Netherlands with his first permanent orchestra, the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic.

Wednesday 23 September 2020

From Early English epic to music-theatre: Toby Young's Beowulf with the Armonico Consort and AC Academy choirs

Toby Young Beowulf; Timothy West, Elin Manahan Thomas, Anne Dennholm, Toby Young, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks; SIGNUM

Toby Young Beowulf; Timothy West, Elin Manahan Thomas, Anne Denholm, Toby Young, Armonico Consort, Christopher Monks; SIGNUM

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 September 2020 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
A modern re-interpretation of the epic Early English poem with forces which include members of choirs from Armonico Consort's education scheme

The epic poem, known as Beowulf (the sole surviving manuscript lacks a title) is one of the most important surviving works of Old English literature. And for all its significance, it is also a rattling good tale, though the poem's length (some 3,000 lines) and form (alliterative Early English verse in heroic style) make the poem somewhat tricky to apprehend. No translation can ever quite do justice to the original, and the use of alliteration and other structural devices can seem archaic and, frankly, sometimes laughable, yet it takes some doing to appreciate the poem in its original Early English. But, if you put in the work then the effect of Beowulf recited aloud is thrilling.

This new disc from Signum Classics transfers Beowulf to something like music theatre, with music by Toby Young and a narration spoken by Timothy West. Christopher Monks directs the Armonico Consort with AC Academy Warwick and AC Academy Scholars, plus soprano Elin Manahan Thomas, harpist Anne Denholm and the composer on keyboards. The text of the piece is based on an original idea by Daniel Coleman-Cooke, with script by William Towers and libretto by Jennifer Thorp.

The inclusion of two choirs from Armonico Consort's AC Academy after-school choirs scheme give a clue to the work's genesis. This is an inclusive project with performers including 23 young people, and in his introductory note in the booklet Daniel Coleman-Cooke makes it clear that the work was aimed at adults and children, at those unfamiliar with the original.

Spotlight on Mark-Anthony Turnage, Brian Elias, Eleanor Alberga: Music@Malling on-line festival

Malling Abbey (Norman West front and the modern church) - Photo Malling Abbey
Malling Abbey (Norman West front and the modern church) - Photo Malling Abbey

Each September, Thomas Kemp's festival Music@Malling brings a programme of live music, ranging from early to contemporary, classical to jazz, world and film music, to West Malling in Kent. This year, celebrations are on-line as the festival (founded in 2011) looks forward to its 10th anniversary in 2021. So this year there will be the Music@Malling Online Festival running from 16 to 18 October 2020, with the spotlight on music of Mark-Anthony TurnageBrian Elias and Eleanor Alberga. But outside this, activities continue on the festival's on-line channel At Home with Music@Malling, with a programme of performances, workshops, outreach and educational events.

The on-line festival will feature pianist Daniel Grimwood performing Beethoven sonatas alongside music by Brian Elias and Mark-Anthony Turnage, Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time with Thomas Kemp (violin), Jon Carnac (clarinet), Richard Harwood (cello), Sophie Rahman (piano) alongside improvisations by James Pearson (pianist at Ronnie Scott's), cellist Richard Harwood performs Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 plus music by Reger, Turnage and Elias, and harpist Hugh Webb and violinist Ann Beilby in a programme of English music.

The festival's resident ensemble Chamber Domaine performs music by Turnage and Elias, plus music from the festival's young composer forum Go Compose! Other events include Lizzie Ball and Classical Kicks, James Pearson and his trio, an on-line workshop with Nigel Short of Tenebrae, and there are a number of Meet the Artist events with Lizzie Ball, James Pearson, Thomas Kemp, composers Mark Anthony Turnage, Brian Elias, and Eleanor Alberga.

The finale to the festival is a performance of Eleanor Alberga's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs narrated by Matthew Sharp; an interactive and fun concert for all the family to enjoy, which will also form part of an extended outreach programme in 20 local primary schools run in conjunction with Kent Music.

Looking ahead, Music@Malling returns to live performance in April 2021 with a celebration of the 300th anniversary of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, performed in Malling Abbey alongside new works by Brian Elias, Deborah Prichard, Daniel Kidane, Joseph Phibbs, Michael Price and Stevie Wishart. And in May 2021 there will be Turnage at 60, a weekend exploring the music of Mark-Anthony Turnage, including the premiere of a new Clarinet Concertino.

Full details from the Music@Malling website.

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Make Opera Live Again: Helena Dix returns to Chelsea Opera Group for a live concert at Cadogan Hall with Catherine Carby, Christopher Turner, Julien van Mellaerts and Gary Matthewman

Helena Dix
Helena Dix
Soprano Helena Dix sang the title role in Bellini's Norma with Chelsea Opera Group in 2018, to great acclaim [see my review], and planned a return to the company in June 2020 to sing the role of Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti's opera Roberto Devereux, but fate had other plans. 

Not only was the performance of Roberto Devereux cancelled as a result of lockdown, but Dix herself came down with COVID-19. But the soprano is returning to sing with Chelsea Opera Group with a live audience at the Cadogan Hall on 8 November 2020, when Chelsea Opera Group is presenting Make Opera Live Again a concert of opera arias with a reduced orchestra.

The concert will feature Aria and ensembles from popular works by Verdi, Mozart, Bellini and Donizetti, performed by Helena Dix (soprano), Catherine Carby (mezzo-soprano), Christopher Turner (tenor) and Julien van Mellaerts (baritone), conducted by Gary Matthewman.

Christopher Turner sang the role of Pollione in that 2018 Norma, and had planned the title role in Mozart's Idomeneo with Chelsea Opera Group (another casualty of lockdown). We last caught Catherine Carby as Elcia in Rossini's Moise in Egitto with Chelsea Opera Group in 2018 [see my review]. We last caught Julien van Mellaerts singing the title role on Stanford's The Travelling Companion with New Sussex Opera [see my review], and in the London Song Festival's concert celebrating Walt Whitman's bicentenary [see Anthony's review]

Full details from the Cadogan Hall website.

Positive Note Autumn Sessions

I last heard tenor Daniel Norman in 2019 in RVW's On Wenlock Edge with Sholto Kynoch and the Brodsky Quartet at the Oxford Lieder Festival with an animated film by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood. This year, of course, Norman's diary rapidly emptied. He started producing on-line performances, including Oxford Bach Soloists' St John Passion in nine weekly episodes. Norman has developed this into Positive Note Films, and will be presenting an online festival in October, Positive Note Autumn Sessions. 

The festival will be behind a paywall, and they are currently crowdfunding so that they will be able to pay all the artists taking part in the festival. The intention is not only to enable performers to perform together again, but to earn an income as well.

The performances will not be live streamed, but created as films which avoids the technological problems associated with live-streaming and enables some post-production work. There will be also added content, such as some animation in one of the films. The performances are all taking place at the Silk Hall in Radley College in Oxfordshire.

The planned eight performances feature an impressive selection of performers in a wide range of repertoire:

  • The Dance Continues with soprano Anna Dennis, mezzo-soprano Marta Fontanals Simmons, tenor Daniel Norman, baritone Roderick Williams, and pianist Sholto Kynoch in songs of birds and trees with shadow pupped animations by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood
  • the Gesualdo Six in Bushes and Briars, music of Nature and youth
  • violinist Jonathan Stone and Sholto Kynoch in Beethoven and Mozart
  • Daniel Norman and oboist Emily Pailthorpe in RVW's Blake settings with Blake's original images
  • A voice of one's own songs by women composers performed by Diana Moore and John Reid 
  • The truth about love featuring Percy Grainger's folk-song arrangements, Schubert's Shepherd on the Rock, Finzi's Bagatelles and Britten's Cabaret Songs with Helen Sherman, Claire Egan, Catriona Scott and Charlotte Brennand
  • Haydn and Smetana piano trios with the Mitsu Trio
The crowdfunding runs until 8 October with an attractive range of rewards, and from then tickets will be available for purchase. Further details from the Crowdfunder website,  with more information at the Positive Note website after 8 October.

The Rakes Progress: Blackheath Halls Opera goes online with Nicky Spence, Ashley Riches, Francesca Chiejina

Stravinsky: The Rakes Progress - Nicky Spence, Ashley Riches, Francesca Chiejina - Blackheath Halls Opera

At a time when large-scale amateur music making is hardly possible, Blackheath Halls Opera, having cancelled plans for live performances of Verdi's Macbeth, has come up with a lively way to ensure that its members are able to continue performing, a 30-minute digested version of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, directed by James Hurley and film in Blackheath Halls and in the performers' homes. 

The film debuts on-line on Saturday 3 October 2020, and features a terrific cast with Nicky Spence (the company's patron) as Tom Rakewell, Ashley Riches as Nick Shadow, Francesca Chiejina as Anne Truelove, James Way as Sellem, Kitty Whately as Baba the Turk and Carolyn Williamson as Mother Goose, with musical director Christopher Stark and featuring Blackheath Halls Orchestra, Blackheath Halls Chorus, Royal Greenwich & Blackheath Halls Youth Choir.

All orchestral and chorus music was recorded by players in their own homes, aided by recordings prepared by singers at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Blackheath Halls Opera aims to include 30% of participants who have not been involved in a production before, and chorus members often have no previous choral experience. 

The film follows the success in June of Blackheath Halls Opera's online performance of 'Tre sbirri, una carrozza' from Puccini's Tosca starring Matthew Rose.


Steravinsky's The Rakes Progress premieres on Saturday 3 October 2020 at 5.30pm on Blackheath Halls YouTube & Facebook

New programming, new beginnings: the Gesualdo Six's London Sound Gallery

The strange situation this year has made a number of artists act proactively in terms of creating performances or rethinking the way that they interact with audiences. A new festival in response to the present crisis challenges young performers to explore new programming and to collaborate. The London Sound Gallery, a new festival created by the Gesualdo Six, artistic director Owain Park, will present six performances, live and on-line, from some of London's lively young talent. Live concerts take placed on 28 and 29 October 2020, and are to be streamed on Sundays from 25 October to 5 November.

Performers in the festival include  Fieri Consort in Monteverdi and Marenzio alongside contemporary pieces,  mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston and lutenist Toby Carr explore abandoned heroines in 17th century music (and there are plenty of those!), Ensemble Augelletti explore composers' habit of re-orchestrating music for different forms with pieces by Handel, Bach, Corelli, Graun, and Schop,  trumpeter Matilda Lloyd and pianist Martin Cousin perform Marcello, Sofia Gubaidulina, Brahms and Laurence Bitensky, and The Hermes Experiment in Emily Hall, Errollyn Wallen, Alex Mills, Anna Meredith and Peter Maxwell Davies, plus two new graphic scores by Anna Disley-Simpson and Jacob Fitzgerald, as well as the Gesualdo Six in a programme exploring modern settings of ancient texts including Kepler Motets by Tim Watts who is artist in residence at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy. 

The festival's themes are new beginnings and reconciliation, and performances will see the Gesualdo Six collaborating with each artist as part of their programme. The new festival is very much a response to the current crisis, and the group intends it to offer a focal point for new programming and collaborative performances.

A limited number of tickets are available for the live performances on 28 and 29 September, and streaming starts on Sunday 25 October 2020 at 5pm, see the Gesualdo Six website for details.

Monday 21 September 2020

Making the Magic happen again: Leoncavallo's Pagliacci live in Islington

Leoncavallo's Pagliacci live on October 3, 2020

With theatres and concert halls closed for over six months and, despite some very welcome performances, no prospect of regular concert life returning, some artists are turning entrepreneur and making events happen. Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard has gather some musical friends together, braved the rigours of risk-assessment, social distancing and lack of budget, and Let Us Make Noise was born. The company is putting on Leoncavallo's 1892 Verismo masterpiece Pagliacci is being performed at St James' Church, Islington on Saturday 3 October 2020, with Elin Pritchard as Nedda, Peter Auty as Canio, Robert Hayward as Tonio, Nicholas Lester as Silvio and Aled Hall as Beppe, directed by Christopher Luscombe, conducted by John Andrews, with accompaniment provided by Berrak Dyer (piano), Fenella Humphries (violin) and Sophie Gledhill (piano). And there will be a small chorus of recent music graduates.

Conductor John Andrews said: "This seems such a timely piece at the moment. Performers are struggling so much under current conditions, but the need to put on your costume, do your make-up and give an audience a damn good show, is as strong as ever."

Christopher Luscombe directed Verdi's Falstaff at the 2019 Grange Festival with Robert Hayward in the title role, Elin Pritchard as Alice Ford, Nicholas Lester as Ford [see my review], and we last caught Peter Auty as Des Grieux in Puccini's Manon Lescauty at Opera Holland Park in 2019 [see my review].

The company aims to take a leap of faith and strip opera to its emotional core of music and drama, and with a few days of intense rehearsal they will make some magic happen again. 

Full details and tickets from EventBrite.

A Life On-Line: Joyce DiDonato in the Ruhr, ORA Singers in the Turbine Hall, Dowland at Hatfield House

Suzi Digby and ORA Singers in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern
Suzi Digby and ORA Singers in the Turbine Hall, Tate Modern

Our week started with Joyce DiDonato who gave a live recital as part of the Met Stars Live series. Originally intended to be filmed in Barcelona (where DiDonato lives), the venue was moved twice and ended up being filmed at the Jahrhunderthalle Bochum in the Ruhr, Germany. The programme, inspired by the Langston Hughes poem I dreamed a world, moved freely between Baroque and Contemporary, with a lot in between and there was an element of 'no expense spared' about it as for the Baroque music, DiDonato was accompanied by the period instrument ensemble Il Pomo d'Oro, and for the remainder of the repertoire by Carrie-Ann Matheson on piano. It was a staged recital, DiDonato did not use music and brought a strong element of dramatic staging to her performance, so that a vivid yet fragile account of Ottavia's 'Addio Roma' from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea led to a highly dramatic and very personal performance of Didon's final scene from Berlioz' Les Troyens which seemed to almost merge into Mahler's Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen sung with intimate, bleached tone. It was a striking concept and DiDonato's mesmerising performance held things together despite the disjoint between Il Pomo d'Oro's accompaniment of the Monteverdi and the Berlioz on piano.

If the first section of the recital was all about loss, then the second was intended to consider the consolation of nature. We started with the American traditional song Shenandoah sung unaccompanied, followed by a strikingly direct account of 'As with rosy steps the morn' from Handel's Theodora, and then an engagingly dancey version of Penelope's 'Illustratevi, o cieli' from Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse with lots of delightful ornamentation from the instruments. Finally, in this section came Ariodante's joyous 'Dopo notte atra e funesta' from Handel's opera, again with a sense of dance rhythm so strong that you felt that DiDonato wanted to dance as well as sing.

Next came a contemporary piece, a new commission; a setting of Langston Hughes' I dream a world by Kenyatta Hughes, at first a slow bluesy, it became more dramatic yet always highly soulful. DiDonato met Kenyatta Hughes whilst he was incarcerated at Sing Sing Prison, and she commissioned the song directly from him. In one of the intervals of the concert there was a tri-partite discussion between DiDonato, Kenyatta Hughes and Sister Helen Prejean (who wrote the book Dead Man Walking on which Jake Heggie's opera was based). This was followed by another of the programme's striking leaps, back to Antonio Cesti's 1656 opera Orontea and a touching account of 'Intorno all'idol mio', and the final appearance of Il Pomo d'Oro in the programme.

The juxtaposition of Cherubino's 'Voi che sapete' from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Edith Piaf's La vie en rose (written by Louiguy) might not seem obvious, but DiDonato had decided to return to Cherubino (a role she has not sung on stage for some time) by imagining the young man in a French cabaret! Then came the elegant melancholy of Alberto Ginastera's Cancion al arbol del olvido, and finally 'You'll never walk alone' from Rogers and Hammerstein's Carousel which certainly does not sound hackneyed when DiDonato sings it! [Met Stars Live]

On Wednesday, Suzi Digby and ORA Singers gave the premiere of James MacMillan's 40-part motet Vidi aquam in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern (celebrating the release of their recent disc of the work alongside Tallis' 40-part motet, see my review).

Saturday 19 September 2020

Composing The Red Shoes: I chat to Terry Davies about creating the score for Matthew Bourne's ballet based on Bernard Herrmann's music

Matthew Bourne: The Red Shoes - Ashley Shaw  as Victoria Page, Glenn Graham as Grischa Ljubov ( Photo by Johan Persson)
Matthew Bourne: The Red Shoes
Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page, Glenn Graham as Grischa Ljubov
(Photo by Johan Persson)

The film of Matthew Bourne's ballet The Red Shoes is due to be released on 30 September 2020 (The Red Shoes is directed for the screen by Ross McGibbon and distributed by More2Screen, screening information from the film's website).

Terry Davies
Terry Davies

The ballet is inspired by the 1948 Powell and Pressburger film (which featured Dame Moira Shearer) and by the original Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. The film was notable for featuring a full fifteen-minute ballet, with music by the British composer Brian Easdale (1909-1995), who wrote music for a number of Powell and Pressburger films and who was the first British composer to win an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for The Red Shoes. But for his ballet Matthew Bourne turned to the music of another distinguished film composer, Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) with the arrangements and orchestration done by Terry Davies, who has collaborated with Bourne on a number of other ballets. I spoke to Terry to find out more.
Terry admits that it was not an easy decision to ignore Easdale's music when looking for a score for the ballet, but apart from the much-lauded ballet sequence, there was simply not enough music in the film. Matthew Bourne had long wanted to do something using Herrmann's music and the choice made life much easier for Terry as Herrmann's music is thematically rich and structured in a way which made it easier to include the music in a very different narrative to the films for which it was originally written.
Bourne had a clear idea of the music of Herrmann's that he liked, and they concentrated on Herrmann's earlier, pre-Hitchock scores. They used a relatively small number of Herrmann's scores; the more they talked about it the better it seemed to keep the unity of the score, and from the point of get the rights to the music. It also meant that the final ballet score would avoid the feeling of being simply a mix of favourite tracks.

Original publicity still for the film 'The Red Shoes.' From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives
Original publicity still for the film The Red Shoes
Moira Shearer, Robert Helpman, Leonid Massine
From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives

Terry and Matthew Bourne know each other well, having worked on a number of previous projects and this meant that they could keep the 'nuts and bolts' discussion to a minimum.

Friday 18 September 2020

Music from a Room

Joel Lundberg Music from a room; Kalle Stenbäcken

Joel Lundberg Music from a room; Kalle Stenbäcken

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 18 September 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Diverse influences, including that of Frank Zappa contribute to this suite of piano pieces by contemporary Swedish composer, Joel Lundberg

Joel Lundberg is a contemporary composer based in Sweden, and his background includes a long stint playing the guitar in a progressive indie rock band as well as having a degree in composition and improvisation. His inspirations range from Kraftwerk, Charles Mingus, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Radiohead to Stravinsky, Bartok and Debussy, with Frank Zappa looming large. Joel Lundberg's latest project is Music from a room, a disc of piano solos performed by Kalle Stenbäcken.

One of the inspirations that Lundberg quotes is Frank Zappa, "The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively - because, without this humble appliance, you can't know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a 'box' around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?

Choral-electronic mixology! Festival Voices perform Handel remixes live in Peckham

Handel Remixed Volume II from Festival Voices on Vimeo.

The vocal ensemble Festival Voices has livened up previous London Handel Festivals with choral/electronic re-mixes of Handel favourites and the plan was for them to do something similar at this year's London Handel Festival. That performance has now been re-scheduled and on Saturday 3 October 2020, in collaboration with the London Handel Festival, Festival Voices are performing at Copeland Park in Peckham. If you are a Handel purist, then stop reading here as I doubt this is for you, but if you are willing to open your ears and consider new ways of performing and listening to Baroque music then read on.

Gregory Batsleer will conduct Festival Voices and Ensemble FV in what is described as 'a programme of choral-electronic mixology featuring Handelian choruses and arias from the Coronation Anthems, Jephtha and Tamerlano.' The programme will be re-mixed live with electronic music by DJ and producer Nico Bentley.

I have to confess that the term 'choral-electronic mixology' really grates, I dislike the term when used to refer to cocktails and it seems even more false when applied to electronic remixes of Handel's music. But it is unwise to let over-clever marketing affect our appreciation of music, and certainly Festival Voices' performance promises to be a breath of fresh air.

Nico Bentley has this to say about the music, 'Without doubt the standout features of the baroque repertoire are a fixation of both rhythm and pulse plus they love a solid harmonic progression. This is also the backbone of all electronic music.  The fusing together of two genres like this is both an exciting and thrilling opportunity to experiment and explore how the fundaments of music haven’t changed for over 500 years. The style of Handel's music lends itself brilliantly to incorporating beats commonly heard in clubs throughout the world.'

There will be two performances, at 4pm and at 7pm, with 120 tickets for each. Full details from the Festival Voices website, and the London Handel Festival website.

O Lux Beata Trinitas

The Slovenian Philharmonic Choir, conducted by Sebastjan Vrhovnik in a setting of the early Christian hymn of St. Ambrosius, O Lux Beata Trinitas, by Slovenian composer Andrej Makor (born 1987). The choir was founded as a professional choir in 1991; initially known as the Slovenian Chamber Choir, it has been operating within the framework of the Slovenian Philharmonic since 1998. 

Andrej Makor studied in his native Slovenia and at the conservatory in Padua, Italy. In Ausut 2015 his work Paisaje was performed by the BBC Singers, and in  2018 his composition Silence won second prize at the London Ear Festival, and his piece Kyrie was commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Singers.

The recording was made in August 2020 at the Church of St. Francis (Cerkev sv. Frančiška), Ljubljana, Slovenia. The church was built by Jože Plečnikbetween 1925 and 1927 and is similar to Plečnik's designs for the church of the Sacred Heart in Prague, built-in 1922.

Thursday 17 September 2020

Petworth Festival - live on-line

Petworth Festival

You won't need to travel to Petworth for this year's Petworth Festival as the events are all being performed live in Petworth and streamed on the festival website. And a fine line-up of performers they have too, with instrumental recitals, chamber concerts and Beethoven concerto.

The festival runs from 16 October to 1 November 2020, and opens with Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players in Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3. Other events include cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and pianist pianist Isata Kanneh-Mason in Bridge, Beethoven and Rachmaninov, pianist Mitsuko Uchida in Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, violinist Tasmin Little in one of her final concerts before retirement performing music by Brahms, Strauss, Amy Beach and Lili Boulanger with pianist John Lenehan, guitarist Milos, and pianists Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva in Brahms, Schubert and Beethoven. There are also concerts from Clare Teal and her trio, and Patti Boulaye, who is singing repertoire associated with Aretha Franklin.

The festival also includes the Petworth Literary Week which kicks off on 24 October 2020 with Joanna Trollope.

Full details from the festival website.

Intimate and forward-looking: Niccolò Jommelli's Requiem from Italian forces

Jommelli Requiem; Sandrine Piau, Carlo Vistoli, Raffaele Giordani, Salvo Vitali, Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi; Arcana
Jommelli Requiem; Sandrine Piau, Carlo Vistoli, Raffaele Giordani, Salvo Vitali, Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, Giulio Prandi; Arcana

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 September 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An eighteenth century pre-cursor to Mozart's Requiem proves to be an intimate and subtle work

If Niccolò Jommelli is known at all it is mainly for his sequence of operas written for the Duke of Württemberg at his palace of Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. These operas played an important role in the development of the operatic reform movement whose best known operas are those of Gluck. But though Jommelli is known for his operas, he wrote other works too, particularly in the period of his life before he worked for the Duke of Württemberg. But even for the Duke, Jommelli did write some sacred music and on this new disc from Arcana we hear Niccolò Jommelli's Requiem with Coro e Orchestra Ghislieri, conducted by Giulio Prandi, with soloists Sandrine Piau, Carlo Vistoli, Raffaele Giordani, and Salvo Vitale.

The Duke was cultivated and music loving (a pupil of C.P.E. Bach, who dedicated a celebrated collection to him) and he allowed Jommelli considerable lee-way when it came to the sequence of operas written for him. So, when on 1 February 1756, the Duke's mother, Maria Augusta of Turn und Taxis, died it was to Jommelli that the duke turned for a Requiem Mass. Maria Augusta had been Roman Catholic, though the duchy was Protestant, and her funeral was held in the intimate chapel at Ludwigsburg. Evidently the music was composed quickly (the surviving manuscript suggests three days!), but it became very well known and was one of the most popular settings of the Requiem Mass until that of Mozart (written in 1791). Mozart may well have known the setting, as a pupil of his father's transcribed the work in Salzburg in 1775.

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