Monday 5 October 2020

Whistle-stop Rake in Blackheath, imaginative programme in Liverpool, switched-on launch in Leeds

Blackheath Halls Opera - A Rake's Progress

Blackheath Halls Opera is a brilliant community enterprise which has a great track record in producing operas. This year's opera had to be cancelled, and to fill the hole they have produced a delightful film, The Progress of a Rake: A Journey through A Rake's Progress, a 40 minute whistle-stop tour through Stravinsky's A Rake's Progress, featuring Nicky Spence (one of Blackheath Halls Opera's patrons) as Tom, Ashley Riches as Nick Shadow, Francesca Chiejina as Anne Trulove, Kitty Whately as Baba the Turk, James Way as Sellem and Carolyn Williamson as Mother Goose with Blackheath Halls Chorus, Blackheath Halls Orchestra, Royal Greenwich and Blackheath Halls Youth Choir, music director Christopher Stark. The film, directed by James Hurley, manages to cleverly fit a remarkable amount of the opera in, narrated by Nick Shadow. Hurley imaginatively utilises the film form, which intercuts frames with orchestra and chorus recorded individually, and the terrific cast would be the envy of any company, with Spence as a delightfully naive Tom, Chiejina as a gutsy Anne and Riches as a truly terrifying Nick Shadow [YouTube]

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra launched its 2020/21 season on-line with an imaginative response to the size restrictions incumbent on social distancing, and Vasily Petrenko conducted a large chamber in Hindemith's Kammermusik No. 3, Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks and Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony Opus 110a (Rudolf Barshai's orchestration of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 from 1960). 

Hindemith's seven Kammermusik are contemporary takes on the concerto grosso. Kammermusik No. 3 from 1924 is notionally a cello concerto (soloist Jonathan Aasgaard) though he is first amongst equals rather than spot-lit, and Hindemith's busy response to the concerto grosso form was full of crisply engaging moments. There was a terrific depth of sound from the performers, ending with a wonderfully swaggering account of the final movement. It was fascinating hearing Stravinsky's Dumbarton Oaks (dating from 1937-38) straight after the Hindemith, and you could hear common elements between the two composers' neoclassical response to the past. The orchestra brought an engaging catchiness to Stravinsky's rhythms and Petrenko's view of the work seemed to be more lyrical and less hard-edged than some. Finally, the string orchestra expansion of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 brought a lovely depth of tone to the music, and the performance had the same intensity as we might expect from a symphony without the density of scoring. The result brought the concert to a powerful close.  I was impressed, throughout, by the vividness of the sound from the Philharmonic Hall, and the orchestra's response to the programming challenges made far more sense than simply repeating familiar repertoire. [RLPO]

Opera North has planned a lively programme of live and filmed events for its replacement Autumn season, #SwitchedOn, and as the launch there was a live event streamed from Leeds Town Hall. We heard from the choir and orchestra (the first time they had performed together since lockdown) in the duet 'Happy We' from Handel's Acis and Galatea (with soloists Amy Freston and Nick Watts), and the 'Easter Hymn' from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana with soloist Elizabeth Llewellyn. In between these we heard details of the forthcoming season, plus musical treats.

There was an excerpt from the film of Will Todd's new community opera which will premiere in Shilton Railway Museum and featured the chorus of Opera North with the Opera North Community Chorus. There is going to be a concert performance of Beethoven's Fidelio in Leeds Town Hall, and as a taster Fflur Wyn (accompanied by David Cowan) sang Marzelline's Act I aria. I was rather pleased to be able to catch something of Jasdeep Singh Degun's new work for sitar and orchestra, Arya (which means diamond in Sanskrit); he had arranged a short section for sitar and chamber group. Jasdeep Singh Degun was born in Leeds, and not in a musical family, his encounter with the sitar was something of chance (a visit to the school by the man who became his teacher) and so his background mixes both Indian classical and Western to intriguing results. Another film planned is an animated one of the third act of Puccini's La Boheme and we heard Katie Bird and Tim Nelson in Mimi and Marcello's duet from that act. John Savournin talked about the latest Whistlestop Opera, Hansel and Gretel and we saw a clip of a film of one of their recent out-door performances, taking the opera to a wide variety of locations and people. Nick Watts then sang a song from Schubert's Die Schone Mullerin, and this was followed by the scherzo from Dvorak's String Quintet (a final taster for a forthcoming event) [Opera North]


Like many people, composer Lewis Murphy and writer Laura Attridge have been responding to lockdown. They have created eight songs, Notes from Isolation, in response to lockdown, and for each song they interviewed the performer and created a song as a result. The songs are being premiered on-line, and so far we can hear from Nicky Spence, Natalya Romaniw, Catriona Morison, Julien van Mellaerts and Sofia Castillo, and Isabelle Peters (all with pianist Dylan Perez), with more to come. Video and audio is by Jamie Hall, who happens to be no mean singer himself! Well worth an explore, and impressive as each element of each video was created separately, text, music, piano track, vocal recording and visual material [MurphyAttridge]

In amongst all the live activity this week, I managed to miss Kirill Gerstein's most recent recital at Wigmore Hall but it is well-worth catching on-line as he performs Debussy's complete Preludes (both books) and Liszt's amazing Piano Sonata in B minor, then as an encore we get something from Komitas' Six Dances for Piano, terrific stuff [Wigmore Hall]

As well as presenting a programme of live operas, this year's Tete a Tete: the Opera Festival made them available on-line, live-streaming them and then having them available for 28 days via the Cockpit's website. I finally managed to catch up with Charlotte Hardaker and Charlotte Marlow's Folk Tales, a sequence of intriguing tales re-claiming folk stories. The production was the first by a new group, The Medusa Collective formed by Charlotte Marlow and soprano Helene Mathiesen. Hardaker's poetic texts provide a slant-ways view of a number of folk-figures, whilst Marlow's music uses just voice and soprano to striking effect, with a strong performance from Mathiesen. The video is not available for much longer, so hurry [The Cockpit]

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