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Thursday, 31 December 2020

See the New Year in with a celebration of the Roaring 20s

If, like me, you want to listen to something other than the music of Johann Strauss at New Year, then the English Symphony Orchestra, conductor Kenneth Woods, has the answer. The latest in the orchestra's Music from Wyastone - Studio Concert Series is released tonight, 31 December 2020. Entitled The Roaring 20s - Decade of Melody and Mayhem the performance features American jazz and ragtime alongside works by European composers influenced by these styles.

So we have the Charlston Rag by Eubie Blake, a creator of ragtime whose performing career virtually spanned the 20th century, and a 1925 work by jazz composer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton, Black Bottom Stomp

Then we move to Europe for the jazz-inspired Suite for Chamber Orchestra by Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942). Encouraged by Dvorak, having studies with Claude Debussy and Max Reger, Schulhoff was one of the first European composers to embrace jazz, but his political sympathies and his Jewish heritage caused problems with the Nazis and he died in a concentration camp in 1942.

Ernst Krenek (1900-1991) was Austrian of Czech heritage and he studied in Vienna. He had a long career, but is virtually only known for his jazz-influenced opera Johnny spielt auf, but the extreme success of this did not sit easily with him and he changed his composing style radically. ESO will be playing Emil Bauer's Fantasie on Jonny spielt auf

The concert ends with one of the most iconic jazz-age classical works, Le boeuf sur le toit by French composer Darius Milhaud (1892-1974). Originally a surrealist ballet, Milhaud based the music around songs which he had learned in Brazil where from 1917 to 1919, he served as secretary to Paul Claudel, the eminent poet and dramatist who was then the French ambassador to Brazil, the work had originally been intended as the accompaniment to a silent film, and Milhaud re-worked the music into a virtuosic violin concerto, Le boeuf sur le toit, Cinéma-fantaisie for Violin and Orchestra, which is played here with soloist Zoe Beyers, leader of the ESO.

Full details from the ESO website.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The only live performances of The Nutcracker in the UK?

The Nutcracker Re-imagined - Alexandra Dariescu, Nicky Henshall, Barry Drummond, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
The Nutcracker Re-imagined - Alexandra Dariescu, Nicky Henshall, Barry Drummond, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - dress rehearsal

For a reason that I've never really been able to fathom, Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet The Nutcracker (with original choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov) has become a firm Christmas favourite. The original ballet was not a great success in Imperial Russia, but once Ninette de Valois' Vic-Wells Ballet gave the first performance outside Russia in 1934, it steadily grew in popularity, despite the work's poor dramaturgy. Perhaps it's the Kingdom of the Sweets and all that snow!

But this year is different, and ballet companies all over have cancelled Nutcrackers, so that a brave and imaginative venture in Liverpool seems to be the only live performance of The Nutcracker in the UK. Pianist Alexandra Dariescu was originally due to perform her imaginative theatre piece, The Nutcracker and I [see my review] in Liverpool, but this has imaginatively been re-thought and expanded. 

So for The Nutcrakcer re-imagined Alexandra Dariescu is joined by the brass and percussion ensemble of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and dancers Nicky Henshall and Barry Drummond, narrator Lucy Drever to perform an adaptation of the original story by Jessica Duchen with choreography by Jenna Lee. 

The Nutcracker Re-imagined - Alexandra Dariescu, Nicky Henshall, Barry Drummond, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - dress rehearsal
The Nutcracker Re-imagined - Alexandra Dariescu, Nicky Henshall, Barry Drummond, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra - dress rehearsal

Full details from the Liverpool Philharmonic website.

2020 in reviews: diary of a strange year

Meyerbeer: Le prophète - Deutsche Oper Berlin (Photo Bettina Stöß)
Meyerbeer: Le prophète - Deutsche Oper Berlin (Photo Bettina Stöß)

Usually, at this time of the year I produce a list of our top 20 operas and concerts that we reviewed during the year. But this has been such a strange year indeed, I am just looking back and being thankful for those that kept the music going. So top of this year's list must be all those who kept live music going, in some shape or form, at a time when it seemed as if music had ceased, notable among these being Wigmore Hall which brought live music back (without an audience) in June. Music took many strange and imaginative forms, and my weekly A Life On-Line column covered as many of these as possible.

Opera Holland Park brought live opera back to the park with a short season of socially distanced outdoor concerts performed by a fine array of artists; for many, the first opportunity since lockdown to hear live music. Having cancelled their planned festival, Waterperry Opera Festival impressively brought together a semi-staged performance of Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, a truly memorable evening.

Anthony Friend's Bandstand Chamber Festival imaginatively brought live chamber music to the bandstand in Battersea Park where we heard the Maggini Quartet, and the Solem Quartet. And the festival returned as Spotlight Chamber Festival with indoor concerts in December, including Roderick Williams in Schubert's Schwanengesang.

Our first indoor concert following lockdown was the Heath Quartet in fine form at Wigmore Hall, and Elizabeth Llewellyn made her recital debut at the hall with a terrific programme of late romantic songs. At St John's Smith Square, Mark Bebbington, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Jan Latham Koenig showed wit and imagination in a programme of Poulenc and Satie which responded to the restrictions on numbers, whilst the English Concert's fine Purcell programme even managed a premiere!

Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival brought opera audiences indoors with the festival at the Cockpit Theatre in September, where we caught two varied and memorable programmes. And having performed outdoors during the Summer, Glyndebourne Opera brought its Offenbach production indoors, providing an evening of great fun, and the composer's debut at the festival.

In October, I returned to the Conway Hall for a live-streamed pre-concert talk, which meant that I was part of the privileged live audience of five people for Mithras Trio's terrific live-streamed concert which included Tchaikovsky's Piano Trio. At Kings Place, we caught the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Bach's Cantata BWV 60 'O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort' as part of Bach, the Universe and Everything.

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival

Some events such as Guildhall School of Music's triple bill stayed on-line, whilst Covent Garden's performance of Handel's Ariodante and Opera North's semi-staging of Beethoven's Fidelio had to do without live audiences. Other companies such as Opera Sunderland, Grange Park Opera, and Northern Opera Group produced specially filmed operas. For our final opera of the year, we were able to visit The Grange Festival, where Christopher Luscombe's imaginative, small-scale production of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci made an appearance.

Nigel Foster's London Song Festival carried on impressively, and still managed to give the world premiere of Iain Bell's Thom Gun song cycle, The Man with Night Sweats. We ended the year back at Wigmore Hall, with a superb account of Handel's Nine German Arias from Iestyn Davies and Arcangelo.

There was, of course music making in the earlier part of the year. Tony caught some Beethoven concerts in Paris, François-Frédéric Guy in the piano concertos, Daniel Barenboim in the piano sonatas, whilst I caught the Orchestre National de Lille's first visit to the UK in 20 years. Ermonela Jaho helped Opera Rara celebrate its 50th birthday, and the Portuguese ensemble, Cupertinos, made its UK debut at the Cadogan Hall.

Operatically, the year began in strong form with Opera North's new production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene. There was also a pair of Verdi rarities, Welsh National Opera in Les vêpres Siciliennes and English National Opera in Luisa Miller. We made a welcome trip to Berlin to catch the Deutsche Oper's revivals of its productions of Meyerbeer's Le prophete and Les Huguenots.

English Touring Opera's Spring season included a moving staging of Bach's St John Passion, and a return to the company's production of Handel's Giulio Cesare. And our last opera before lockdown was Joe Hill-Gibbins memorable new production of Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at English National Opera.

Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Rowan Pierce, Hanna Hipp, Louise Alder, chorus - English National Opera 2020 (Photo © Marc Brenner)
Mozart: The Marriage of Figaro - Rowan Pierce, Hanna Hipp, Louise Alder, chorus - English National Opera 2020
(Photo © Marc Brenner)


Tuesday, 29 December 2020

2020 in CD reviews

Ethel Smyth The Prison; Dashon Burton, Sarah Brailey, Experiential Chorus and Orchestra, James Blachly; Chandos

My top CD this year must be the world premiere recording of Ethel Smyth's late masterwork The Prison, an amazing discovery and a terrific recording. Other discoveries this year include William Vann's fine revival of Hubert Parry's oratorio Judith and the first recording of Malcolm Arnold's unjustly neglected opera The Dancing Master. Not so much a discovery, but still rare on disc is Massenet's Thais from Sir Andrew Davis. For non-Estonians the music of Cyrillus Kreek music certainly be a discovery, particularly in the performances from Vox Clamantis. And we think we know Handel's keyboard music, but Pierre Hantaï's disc makes them anew, whilst Boxwood & Brass bring us contemporary Viennese transformations of Beethoven's music.

Contemporary music on disc included two fine sets of Thomas Adès conducting his own music (In Seven Days and Adès conducts Adès) whilst Andrew Nethsingha and the choir of St John's College gave us a terrific documentation of Michael Finnissy's residency there. Works by James MacMillan appear on two discs, a fine contemporary recital from the Choir of Clare College, and ORA Singers' disc of 40-part music with MacMillan writing a response to Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium. Returning to Estonia, Erkki-Sven Tüür's symphony Mythos, commissioned for the centenary of the Republic of Estonia, has now appeared on disc, conducted by Paavo Jarvi. Not quite contemporary but still challenging, Sorabji's eight-hour solo piano masterpiece Sequentia cyclica finally made it to disc. Also, worthy of exploration, Rory MacDonald and the RSNO's account of Thomas Wilson's symphonies.

Parry Judith; Sarah Fox, Kathryn Rudge, Toby Spence, Henry Waddington, Crouch End Festival Chorus, London Mozart Players, William Vann; Chandos

  • Beethoven transformed: the second volume of Boxwood & Brass' series brings three bravura Harmoniemusik arrangements created in Beethoven's Vienna
  • Rediscovering Handel's keyboard music for a new generation: Pierre Hantaï's disc of the 1720 Suites de Pièces
  • Closely worked arguments: Rory MacDonald & the RSNO in Thomas Wilson's Symphonies No. 3 & 4 
  • More than a curiosity: Malcolm Arnold's forgotten opera The Dancing Master
  • An eight-hour solo piano masterpiece: Sorabji's Sequentia cyclica receives its premiere performance 
  • A distinct voice: a new disc from Resonus explores Florent Schmitt's Mélodies, a wide-ranging survey of song by an under-rated composer
  • Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet and James MacMillan's contemporary reflection on the latest disc from Suzi Digby and ORA Singers
  • Taking us on a remarkable journey: the choir of St John's College, Cambridge in Pious Anthems and Voluntaries, a programme of Michael Finnissy premieres 
  • On disc at last: Ethel Smyth's late masterwork, The Prison, receives its premiere recording in a fine performance from American forces
  • Zest and relish: Handel's comic masterpiece Semele directed by John Eliot Gardiner with a young cast enjoying every minute
  • A picture of a musical collaboration: In Seven Days from Thomas Adès and Kirill Gerstein
  • Thaïs: Massenet's lyric drama gets a rare outing on disc in a stylish performance with Canadian forces conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
  • Uncompromising large-scale drama: composer and performers on thrilling form in Adès conducts Adès from Deutsche Grammophon
  • A disc that I never wanted to end: Scottish guitarist Sean Shibe displays clarity, structure and an innate sense of elegance in Bach's solo lute music on Delphian
  • Essential listening for anyone interested in Estonian music: Vox Clamantis' profoundly beautiful account of the music of Cyrillus Kreek, The suspended harp of Babel
  • Arion: Voyage of a Slavic soul - Natalya Romaniw & Lada Valesova in Rimsky-Korskov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Dvorak, Janacek, & Novak 
  • Completely magical: music by Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks, James MacMillan on this new disc from Graham Ross and the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge
  • I can think of no finer way to enjoy the music than to listen to this lovely disc: Purcell's The Fairy Queen from Paul McCreesh & the Gabrieli Consort & Players
  • A major addition to the symphonic repertoire: Erkki-Sven Tüür's Mythos, commissioned for the centenary of the Republic of Estonia
  • Juditha resurgens: Hubert Parry's oratorio gets its first recording

Monday, 28 December 2020

Berlioz and the creation of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice as a 19th century masterpiece

Kathleen Ferrier as Gluck's Orfeo in the Netherlands in 1949
Kathleen Ferrier as Gluck's Orfeo in the Netherlands in 1949

Whilst the versions of Gluck's operatic re-telling of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice with a male counter-tenor or tenor as the hero have been explored quite extensively in the last 25 years, the abiding image of the opera remains, at least in English speaking countries, that of a female mezzo-soprano as Orpheus thanks to the powerful performances of singers such as Kathleen Ferrier and Janet Baker. In fact, this standard version of the opera is one that Gluck never knew, and both the opera and the idea of the mezzo-soprano as hero are very much 19th-century creations, the result of a combination of circumstances in 1820s Paris, a story which includes pitch inflation, the composer Berlioz' hero-worship of an unfashionable composer, and a great operatic dynasty, as well as a walk-on role for the painter Eugene Delacroix.

Adolphe Nourrit in the title role of Tarare by Antonio Salieri
Adolphe Nourrit in the title role
of Tarare by Antonio Salieri
In 1824, the young tenor Adolphe Nourrit (1802-1839) was due to sing the role of Orphée in Gluck's opera Orphée et Eurydice, which was created for the Paris Opera in 1774 with a high-tenor in the role of Orphée. Nourrit had made his operatic debut in 1821 as Pylade in Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride (written for the Paris Opera in 1779), and his father was principal tenor at the opera (a position Adolphe would take over in 1826). Adolphe Nourrit would go on to create the principal tenor roles in all of Rossini's French operas from Néocles in Le siège de Corinthe (1826) to Arnold in William Tell (1829), he also performed in Daniel Auber's La muette de Portici (1828), Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable (1831), Fromenthal Halévy's La Juive (1835), and Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots (1836). Nourrit's technique was distinctively French, using a lot of head voice so that he could extend his upper range to high D (high E in private) using falsetto. But this was the period when Italian tenors were using a more open-throated style, using so-called chest voice and Nourrit's rival, Gilbert Duprez (1806-1896) would become master of the high C sung in chest voice, the style of singing that we accept today.

Nourrit's technique linked back to the original French haut-contre, a high tenor role which developed in the 17th century as the French operatic establishment sought to replace the use of castratos as male heroes in opera, because the sound of the voice was disliked, or the operation was viewed as barbaric or simply anti-Italian prejudice. Whilst French 17th and early 18th century operas by Rameau and Lully were no longer in the early 19th century Paris Opera's repertoire, those of Gluck were. And so it was quite obvious that a leading young tenor should sing the role of Orphée. The problem was that the role was too high for Nourrit and transpositions had to be made.

This wasn't Nourrit's fault. Roles written for the haut-contre sit high in the tenor register with occasional excursions to the top of the range. Unfortunately for Nourrit, the pitch level in Paris had been rising. Pitch had been a constant battlefield between singers and instrumentalists, with rising pitch often coming about because of the desire for a brighter tone. In Germany, for much of the 18th century, there were two standards, one for voices and organ and the other for chamber music. In Paris, we can map the rise in pitch thanks to the survival of a series of tuning forks so that in the Paris Opera an 1810 tuning fork gives A = 423 Hz, an 1822 fork gives A = 432 Hz, and an 1855 fork gives A = 449 Hz (which is a rise of about a semi-tone from 1810 to 1855). These sort of rises make a big difference in roles like Orphée, designed to sit at the top of the tenor's range. But it would be only in 1859 that the French government set a standard pitch.

Gluck created multiple versions of his telling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, not so much to improve the work as to respond to circumstances. The composer never created his ideal version, and to a practical 18th-century composer like Gluck, the concept of an ideal version would be foreign.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Happy Christmas

Christmas 2020
Wishing you a
Peaceful Christmas
and here's to a
Healthy & Musical New Year
from all at Planet Hugill

Robert and David


As usual, we are reducing the number of cards we are sending by post and replacing them with this electronic version. Instead of paying for postage we have made a donation to the Albert Kennedy Trust which supports young people who are LGBTQ+ and homeless.

This year's picture shows our mantelpiece with Alison's portrait of us for our Civil Partnership in 2008, and a Santa Claus knitted by Robert's Mum.

Promoting Polish music: the second edition of the Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music

Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music
The second edition of the Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music will take place at the Artur Malawski Podkarpacka Philharmonic Hall in Rzeszów between 11 and 18 September 2021. Pianists and chamber ensembles (two to 12 players) have until 14 May 2021 to apply to the competition, which promotes Polish music. The competition is named for the composer Stanisław Moniuszko (1819-1872) who is often referred to as the father of Polish national opera; his best known opera is The Haunted Manor (Straszny dwór).

For the competition, the musicians are required to present works selected from those written by 56 Polish composers mostly active in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with music by famous composers such as Chopin, Paderewski, Górecki or Penderecki, and also less well-known names such as Antoni Kątski, Eugeniusz Pankiewicz and Stefan Kisielewski, including Polish female composers Maria Szymanowska and Grażyna Bacewicz. (the full list is available on the competition website). So that piano finalists must choose to include a concerto by Grażyna Bacewicz, Ignacy Feliks Dobrzyński, Franciszek Lessel, Józef Władysław Krogulski , Artur Malawski, Henryk Melcer-Szczawiński, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Ludomir Różycki , Józef Wieniawski  or Władysław Żeleński.

The competition will be recorded and these recordings distributed worldwide; in this way, the organisers hope to be releasing a number of world premiere recordings.

There are no age or nationality limits for the competition. There are prizes for the winners of the piano and the chamber ensemble categories, as well as a number of other awards, both financial and opportunities to perform.

The first Stanisław Moniuszko International Competition of Polish Music took place in 2018, when 81 participants from six countries competed; the piano category was won by Pavel Dombrovsky from Russia and the chamber ensemble category by a Polish duo of violinists: Marta Gidaszewska and Robert Łaguniak, who currently perform as the Polish Violin Duo.

Full details from the competition website.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Awaiting re-discovery: Grétry Richard Coeur-de-lion returning to Versailles for the first time since 1789 proves to be a work of charm and imagination

Grétry Richard Coeur-de-lion; Rémy Mathieu, Enguerrand de Hys, Melody Louledjian, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Marie Perbost, Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet, Marshall Pynkoski; Chateau de Versailles

Grétry Richard Coeur-de-lion; Rémy Mathieu, Enguerrand de Hys, Melody Louledjian, Reinoud Van Mechelen, Marie Perbost, Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet, Marshall Pynkoski; Chateau de Versailles

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 December 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Grétry's opera comique returns to Versailles after 250 years and proves to combine charm and imagination

What do George Frideric Handel,  André Grétry, Gioacchino Rossini, Sir Arthur Sullivan and Stephen Oliver have in common?
Richard the Lionheart is perhaps not the first character you would associate with this diverse bunch of composers, but all wrote musical theatre works about King Richard I of England, though in Sullivan's Ivanhoe Richard is not the protagonist and Rossini's Ivanhoé is somewhat special pleading as the work is a pasticcio written with his consent but not participation.

Handel's Riccardo I was his first opera to be premiered after he became a naturalised British citizen and treats a fictional episode on Cyprus that could be the plot of virtually any opera seria. Grétry and Stephen Oliver both treat, in very different ways, the same episode, that of the minstrel Blondel rescuing his master by singing a familiar song outside Richard's prison. And there is another commonality, both are music theatre works. Oliver's music Blondel (with words by Tim Rice) premiered in London in 1983, whilst Grétry's opéra comique premiered in Paris in 1784.

Grétry's Richard Coeur-de-lion - Rémy Mathieu - l'Opéra Royal de Versailles 2019 (Photo Agathe Poupeney)
Grétry's Richard Coeur-de-lion - Rémy Mathieu - l'Opéra Royal de Versailles 2019
(Photo Agathe Poupeney)

Unsuccessful at first Grétry's Richard Coeur-de-lion would go on to be popular with King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. It travelled quickly, reaching London in 1786 and the USA in 1797, and would be very popular in Paris during the 19th century, only falling out of favour during revolutionary periods.

Grétry's operas have not yet made a big impression in Britain, though Sir Thomas Beecham was mightily fond of the composer and the last opera he conducted in Britain was a staged version of Grétry's Zémire et Azor at the Theatre Royal in Bath. If you think that we don't see all that much Lully or Rameau in the UK, try searching through the archives for performances of Grétry's operas.

Richard Coeur-de-lion is regarded as Grétry's masterpiece and in 2019 the opera returned to the opera house in the Palace of Versailles for the first time since 1789, when it was performed just before the King and Queen left the palace for ever.

On this set on the Chateau de Versailles' own label, we have both an audio and visual record of that production with a CD and a DVD. Hervé Niquet conducts Le Concert Spirituel, Marshall Pynkoski directs, with Rémy Mathieu and Enguerrand de Hys as Blondel, Melody Louledjian as Laurette, Reinoud Van Mechelen as Richard, Marie Perbost as Antonio and La Comtesse and Geoffroy Buffiere as Williams. The opera is not long, even though it is in three acts. The CD, with some spoken dialogue, lasts 73:18 whilst the DVD lasts 87:00. The one is not a copy of another as there is a different singer as Blondel in each.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Like the soundtrack to a madcap Brueghel scene: I Fagiolini take a Renaissance chanson and create a modern satire about aristocracy, extinction and the environment

I grew up in North Lincolnshire, and the Boxing Day Hunt was always a big thing. Now we have chance to experience that virtually as I Fagiolini's new short film The Stag Hunt is released on Boxing Day. The film, directed by John La Bouchardière, is based around the chanson La Chasse by Renaissance composer Clement Janequin (c1485 -1558).

In the chanson, Janequin uses vocal polyphony to portray a royal hunting party stalking and chasing a stag for the king to kill, complete with tumultuous sound effects. I Fagiolini's artistic director, Robert Hollingworth, describes the piece as 'like the soundtrack to a madcap Brueghel scene'. La Bouchardière's film aims to help clarify the narrative of the chanson, which can be tricky to follow in the music, by using the camera to steer the eye to details and plot twists that evade the ear.  

But La Bouchardière has also created a modern satire about aristocracy, extinction and the environment, and for the film’s release, I Fagiolini has partnered with Born Free and will donate a third of all proceeds to the wildlife charity.

I Fagiolini has often performed Janequin’s La chasse (1537) in concert and wanted to give it a larger life, taking music that is often considered obscure and presenting it in a way that might reach a wider public, and the project is just the latest in a long collaboration between I Fagiolini and John La Bouchardière, which has led to several ground-breaking projects for stage and screen: The Full Monteverdi (2004, film version 2007), Betrayal (2015) and Ode à la Gastronomie (2016)

The Stag Hunt will be available to watch as video on demand on the ensemble's website.

Irlandiani: Carina Drury's new disc explores the links between Italian composers in 18th century Dublin and Irish traditional music

Irlandiani - Bocchi, Geminiani, Carolan, traditional Irish; Carina Drury, Eimear McGeown, Nathaniel Mander, Aileen Henry, Poppy Walshaw; Penny Fiddle Records

Irlandiani
- Bocchi, Geminiani, Carolan, traditional Irish; Carina Drury, Eimear McGeown, Nathaniel Mander, Aileen Henry, Poppy Walshaw; Penny Fiddle Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 December 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
For her imaginative debut recital, Irish cellist Carina Drury contrasts music by Italian composers in early 18th century Dublin with traditional Irish music and finds a fascinating trade between the two

During the 18th century, under the Protestant Ascendancy, Dublin thrived and became the second largest city (after London) in the British Empire. The city was the home of the Irish Parliament and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, there was plenty going on politically and culturally. So much so that, famously, George Frideric Handel took a break from his London seasons and at the invitation of the Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, came to Dublin in 1741-1742 and presented a season of concerts at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, using a mixture of imported and local talent, some of whom were immigrants themselves.

That Italian music was in vogue in London in the early 18th century, meant that the fashion transferred to Dublin and a number of Italian musicians established themselves in Dublin. Francesco Geminiani, who was a friend of Handel's and had performed with him, lived there in the 1730s and from 1758 until his death in 1762. Geminiani built a concert hall, known as Geminiani's Great Musick Room, and one of the other Italians to work there from early on was the cellist and gamba player Lorenzo Bocchi.

But there was an entirely different music scene happening in Ireland at the same time, separate and different. The Italians serviced the gentry of the Protestant Ascendancy, whilst the native Irish population had its own music, transmitted orally. Many of the local musicians would have spoken Irish and, they don't appear much in written records. It was 1724 before the first notated collections of Irish tunes was published.

It is easy to see these two musical worlds as separate, but the fascinating thing about cellist Carina Drury's new disc Irlandiani on Penny Whistle Records is the way she juxtaposes the two worlds and finds musical links and connections. Drury is joined by Eimear McGeown (Irish flute, Irish whistle), Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord), Aileen Henry (Italian baroque harp) and Poppy Walshaw (continuo cello) for a programme which includes two cello sonatas by Lorenzo Bocchi, and two cello sonatas by Francesco Geminiani, plus Lorenzo Bocchi's version of an Irish folk tune, and a selection of Irish folk tunes including music by Turlough O'Carolan, the famous Irish harpist composer.

Monday, 21 December 2020

Inviolata: lutenist Jacob Heringman returns to the fascinating genre of Josquin's sacred music intabulated for lute and for vihuela

Inviolata: Marian motets by Josquin des Prez, intabulated for solo lute or vihuela by lutenist-composers old and new; Jacob Heringman; INVENTA

Inviolata: Marian motets by Josquin des Prez, intabulated for solo lute or vihuela by lutenist-composers old and new
; Jacob Heringman; INVENTA

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 December 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
An exploration of another side of Josquin's influence, his sacred music arranged for lute

2021 is the 500th anniversary of the death of the composer known as Josquin des Prez. His vocal music has been extensively explored, both sacred and secular. Recently the Tallis Scholars completed their amazing project to record all of Josquin's masses, and Josquin's influence on later composers has also been explored. But there are other avenues which are intriguingly less trod.

21 years ago, lutenist Jacob Heringman made a disc of 16th century lute settings of Josquin's music (still available from Heringman's website), and now with Inviolata on Inventa (Resonus Classics' new label), Jacob Heringman has returned to lute (and vihuela) settings of Josquin's music by both 16th century composers and by himself. The disc includes lute or vihuela versions of a selection of Josquin's Marian motets as well as movements from his Missa de Beata Virgine.

So why the disc, why Josquin on a lute? 

Instrumental appropriations of vocal music are common, you only have to think of Renaissance and early Baroque motets played by ensembles of cornetts and sackbutts, or the way that the In Nomine secion of the Benedictus from John Tavener's 1530 Missa Gloria Tibi Trinitas gave rise to a whole genre of complex English viol music.

But the lute?

Heringman points out the large quantity of surviving manuscripts from the 16th century show that in the generations after Josquin's death his music was enjoyed in a wide variety of ways, not just chorally. By ignoring the lute arrangements, we are missing an important part of his influence. But what were these arrangements for?

The show music go on: Brother Tree Sound relocates its Christmas concert somewhere picturesque but chilly

Brother Tree Sound
On Saturday, Brother Tree Sound, a contemporary classical ensemble whose disc Interstices I reviewed recently, were going to be doing a Christmas concert in a local church to a small audience with the event live-streamed. With the changes to lockdown rules, the church wasn't sure whether the event could go ahead, so the ensemble decided to look for another venue. 

They often rehearse in an artist's studio in the middle of an apple orchard, which is currently being used to store apples. They arrived to find that there was no electricity. Against all odds they managed to set up in the porch of the main house and connect to the electricity. 

As you can see from the picture, the new venue is picturesque but chilly!

The event is now available on-line, via a donation at Ticket Tailor.

Lockdown Presents: on-line musical gift initiative helps support performers and charities

Lockdown Presents - Sophie Dicks
Another new initiative is encouraging musicians to create on-line musical experiences. Lockdown Presents has created a gift experience allowing friends and family to enjoy personalised musical performances from a community of professional classical, opera, singer-songwriter and jazz musicians via video conference during lockdown,  and the company has recently launched a programme for interactive live concerts broadcast directly into care homes via video conference. 

The project features performers who normally perform with English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera Holland Park, at Ronnie Scott's and in West End musicals.

The idea developed after Simone Girardeau and Steffen Hoyemsvoll asked musician friends to create an on-line concert for Simone's 83-year-old grandmother, as she shielded at her home, and this led to further on-line events and Lockdown Presents was born.

Lockdown Presents makes a donation from each booking to the charities Age UK, Mind and Refuge to support the work they do helping vulnerable people and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full details from the Lockdown Presents website.

Guildhall School launches on-line Young Composers Course

Guildhall School of Music and Drama - Young Composers Course
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is launching an on-line Young Composers Course aimed at 14 to 18-year-olds. Applications are open, and close on 12 January 2020, and the course starts on 20 January 2020. The course runs for nine weeks and participants receive one-to-one tutoring and hear their own composition performed by staff and students from the Guildhall School, all done via Zoom so that participants can access the institution’s teaching from anywhere in the world.

The course is a development of a pilot scheme which ran during Autumn 2020.  Paul Whitmarsh, Young Composers Course leader commented: 

We have run a pilot Young Composers Course during the Autumn Term, and it has been so pleasing to see how well the course transfers from the physical classroom to on-line. The students exceeded all our expectations with the work that they achieved; it was delightful to see their musical ideas grow during their one-to-one lessons and so exciting to hear their finished pieces played during the on-line workshop and concert at the end of the course. I am thrilled that we are able to fully launch the Young Composers Course in the New Year.

Full details from the Guildhall School website.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

A Life On-Line: Messiah at the Barbican, celebrations in Russia, Beethoven at the Mansion House, Christmas in 17th century Bolivia

Handel: Messiah - Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr - Barbican (Photo Mark Allan/Barbican)
Handel: Messiah - Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr - Barbican
(Photo Mark Allan/Barbican)

On the day that it was announced that London and the South-East would be plunged into Tier 4 there was, at least, one bright spark on the inter-web. The Academy of Ancient Music (AAM) live-streamed Handel's Messiah from the Barbican (as part of the Live from the Barbican series). Directed from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr, the performance featured soprano Rowan Pierce, counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, tenor Ben Johnson and baritone Ashley Riches, with the AAM's choir. Socially distanced, the performers filled the Barbican stage. It has been announced that Egarr is stepping down as music director of the AAM in 2021, so presumably this would be his last Messiah in that role.

I have to confess that, without an audience, the work flowed far better and Egarr brought a real sense of dramatic pace to the whole work. We often forget, given that Messiah is full of so many musical plums, that the origins of the work were in librettist Charles Jennens' desire to tell a particular story. And Handel does that brilliantly, without ever introducing individual characters. In this performance that sense of a musical narrative came over, particularly as all four performers really brought out the text.  This was a performance where words mattered. Yes, Rowan Pierce was poised, warm and communicative, Iestyn Davies sang with his familiar beauty of tone yet could be wonderfully trenchant, Ben Johnson sang with a firm yet vibrant sense of line, and Ashley Riches did a nice line in dark mystery with brilliant focus in the passage-work, but all conveyed the words too. Egarr's speeds were sometimes on the swift side, but none of the singers showed any degree of strain and the chorus was brilliantly fleet, so that  'His yoke' was superbly crisp and the long sequence of choruses in Part 2 had a dramatic flow to them.

We had a fairly traditional edition of the score, and a reasonably full one too which was lovely. There was a substantial interval talk in which included Rowan Pierce, Nicholas Kenyon and Ruth Smith and was full of insights into the background of the work. [Barbican]

It was, of course, a week of anniversaries. Beethoven loomed large, and the Hanover Band celebrated with the culmination of its series of films of Beethoven's symphonies and chamber music.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

A thirty-year gap and clarinettist Ernst Ottensamer's last concerto recording: conductor Richard Stamp talks about the challenge and rewards of bringing his latest disc to fruition

The Academy of London
The Academy of London

In 1991, conductor Richard Stamp and the Academy of London, the ensemble that he founded, recorded Richard Strauss' prelude to his opera Capriccio and the Duet Concertino for clarinet and bassoon with two principals from the Vienna Philharmonic OrchestraErnst Ottensamer (clarinet), and Stepan Turnovsky (bassoon). The recording was for a planned Richard Strauss disc as part of an ongoing series of discs of the composer's work on Virgin Classics which included orchestral songs with Gundula Janowitz and an award-winning recording of Metamorphosen. Finally, in 2014, Richard Stamp was able to complete recording the disc with two works by Aaron Copland including the Clarinet Concerto with Ernst Ottensamer; this would be Ottensamer's final concerto recording. The resulting disc of music by Richard Strauss and Aaron Copland came out on Signum Classics earlier this month. So why the nearly 30 year wait between recording and disc? I met up with Richard Stamp by Zoom to find out more.

Richard Stamp
Richard Stamp
Born in the USA and trained in Vienna, Richard had founded the Academy of London in 1980. He had a strong interest in Austrian music and musicians and besides the Academy of London, he ran the largest series of Austrian orchestral concerts in the UK. The Academy of London's ongoing link with Virgin Classics included projects to record music by Richard Strauss and by Aaron Copland. By 1991, the plan was for a Richard Strauss disc to cover the prelude to Capriccio, the Duet Concertino with principals from the Vienna Philharmonic and the incidental music to Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. And there were plans for further Aaron Copland works to follow-up Richard's recording of Copland's Lincoln Portrait with Anthony Hopkins. The recording of the first two Strauss works happened, but then Virgin Classics was suddenly sold to EMI. The company had a significant backlog of unreleased CDs and Richard's projects were quietly dropped. 

However, Richard's Austrian concerts continued and at one of these Ottensamer gave his first performance of Copland's Clarinet Concerto. It was a work which Ottensamer had long wanted to play but had not been able to do so in Vienna, and after the performance, Ottensamer said that he would love to record it.

But recordings and plans simply sat on the shelf. Richard had a period of illness, and there just wasn't the sponsorship around to record Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme to complete the Richard Strauss disc. Eventually, Richard was introduced to Signum Classics and the plan was hatched to complete the recording projects. Money was raised, and the master tapes of the sessions from 1991 were re-edited, and Copland's Appalachian Spring (in its original version for 13 wind instruments) and Clarinet Concerto were recorded at the Sage Gateshead with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, with Ottensamer finally getting his wish to record the concerto. (Ottensamer died unexpectedly in 2017, three years after making the recording). The resulting disc is the one which has been issued, completing a process which started 30 years ago.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Follow the bouncing sheep

As regular readers of this blog may well have gathered, I tend to avoid Christmas music, but I couldn't resist this delightful video. Thomas Hewitt Jones' The Shepherd's Tale is a 15-minute work with words by Matt Harvey which tells the Christmas story from the shepherd's point of view. Originally commissioned by Battersea Choral Society for its 20th anniversary in 2018, Hewitt has produced a new video of it in a sing-along edition. The performance by the choir of King's College, London (director Jospeh Fort) and the Bromley Radio Orchestra is counterparted with visuals of the printed music (with that bouncing sheep to keep you in time), so you can sing along at home. And if you are so moved, the score is available from Stainer & Bell.

So you can enjoy this re-telling of a traditional tale whilst improving your sight-singing!


21C Music Festival: the Royal Conservatory of Music's on-line festival gives us a chance to eavesdrop on new music in Toronto

21C Music Festival logo
One of the positive aspects of this rather low year for classical music has been the way restrictions have forced/encouraged organisations into the adoption of live-streaming. This means that, if you so desire, you can drop in on a concert from virtually anywhere in the world, whether it be the opening of the Czech Philharmonic's 2020/21 season in Prague, the Russian National Orchestra's 30th anniversary celebrations in Moscow or Opera Philadelphia.

In January 2021, the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, Canada is running its eighth 21C Music Festival focusing on contemporary music. There will be four concerts, all live-streamed, with 13 premieres and a focus on women composers and performers.

The performers will include violinist Angèle Dubeau with her string ensemble La Pietà, pianist (and Royal Conservatory alumna) Eve Egoyan, pianist (and Royal Conservatory alumna) Morgan-Paige Melbourne, and the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble, the conservatory's new music chamber orchestra.

Eve Egoyan will perform her own Seven Studies for Augmented Piano, Angèle Dubeau and La Pietà perform music by Ludovico Einaudi, Steve Reich, Max Richter, Alex Baranowski, Craig Armstrong, Ólafur Arnalds, Jean-Michel Blais, Armand Amar, and Uno Helmersson, Morgan-Paige Melbourne performs her own new piece plus music by Nauroz Tanya, Kathryn Knowles, Brian Current, and Nikolai Kapustin (1937-2020). The chamber orchestra performs outstanding works alongside projected moving images and classic silent films, including music by Pierre Jodlowski, Martin Matalon, Corie Rose Soumah, and Nicole Lizée, whose piece includes pre-recorded videos synced to the live musicians, which enables the inclusion of players not physically in Canada.

Two of the concerts are free and there is a fee for each of the other two. Well worth the price to explore a new range of repertoire. Full details from the Royal Conservatory of Music's website.

Beethoven transformed: the second volume of Boxwood & Brass' series brings three bravura Harmoniemusik arrangements created in Beethoven's Vienna

Beethoven Transformed, Volume 2 - virtuoso arrangements for Viennese Harmonie of music by Ludwig van Beethoven; Boxwood & Brass; Resonus Classics

Beethoven Transformed, Volume 2 - virtuoso arrangements for Viennese Harmonie of music by Ludwig van Beethoven
; Boxwood & Brass; Resonus Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 December 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Bravura performances by the period instrument ensemble which take you back to the sheer joy that the original performers must have felt on being able play symphonic music by Beethoven

Imagine the scene, the advert in the newspaper, the wait for the music, unwrapping the parts, the expectation and anticipation, the first run through, the music is difficult but eventually they get there, more or less. And so, nine musicians in a local harmonie ensemble in early 19th century Austria get to play Beethoven's Symphony No. 7, at a time when hearing a full symphony orchestra was reserved almost exclusively for the great and the good.

Harmoniemusik, music played by an ensemble of two oboes, two clarinets, two French horns, two bassoons and contrabassoon (or double bass) was big in Vienna in the early 19th century. Publishers were keen to get in on the act and everything was arranged for harmonie ensemble. On this disc from Boxwood & Brass, the second of the period wind ensemble's Beethoven transformed series on Resonus, the ensemble plays contemporary arrangements of Beethoven's Egmont Overture Op. 84, Sonate Pathetique Op.13 and Symphony No. 7 Op. 92.

Harmoniemusik is often dismissed as arrangements of operas and popular tunes designed for background music and outdoor events. But the high artistic standards of some of these ensembles inspired music specially written for them such as Mozart's serenades and Franz Krommer's partitas. Publishers, of course, got in on the act too and whilst a lot of what was issued was popular recycling, there was other challenging repertoire. 

Thursday, 17 December 2020

15th Annual Viva 21st Century Marathon

WPRB logo

Since 1997, Marvin Rosen has presented the radio programme Classical Discoveries on WPRB, a community supported, student run radio station from Princeton, NJ in the USA which can be listened to live in parts of the USA (most of NJ, parts of PA, Delaware and NY) or on the internet - http://www.wprb.com/. The programme is devoted to rarely heard repertoire from the 20th and 21st centuries, with an emphasis on living composers.

Since 2003, Rosen has curated an annual contemporary music marathon, this year the 15th Annual Viva 21st Century Marathon airs on 27 December 2020, 24-hours of non-stop live radio broadcasting music by living composers. Previous marathons have been totally devoted to women composers, to American Composers and to music composed in observance of 9/11. This year's marathon, which will come from Rosen's home studio, will have equal representation of women and men composers and included a number of composer submissions.

You can read more about the music Rosen has played in previous years on Classical Discoveries website, further information from the WPRB website, and you can listen to the station on-line.

A sense of sharing material with each other: lutenist Ronn McFarlane and gambist Carolyn Surrick in Fermi's Paradox:

Fermi's Paradox; Ronn McFarlane, Carolyn Surrick; Sono Luminus

Fermi's Paradox
; Ronn McFarlane, Carolyn Surrick; Sono Luminus

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 17 December 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A viola da gamba, a lute and a repertoire which ranges from Telemann and Marais to traditional music to contemporary; a delightful disc which arose directly out the lockdown experiences of two distinguished musicians

This delightful new disc, Fermi's Paradox from lutenist Ronn McFarlane and viola da gamba player Carolyn Surrick on Sono Luminus is sui generis. Both instrumentalists come at the music from an Early Music background, and both play in a variety of distinguished period instrument ensembles in North America, but both have a folk-influence in their make-up too, and both write music. The album arose directly out of this year's lockdown; with emptied diaries and living within 20 miles of each other, weekly get togethers developed into an idea for an album.

The music is wide-ranging and eclectic. There are traditional tunes, there is John Dowland's only piece for two instruments, there is music by Telemann, Gounod, Marin Marais, and more. There is Little Martha, originally recorded by the Allman Brothers. I think that one thing all the music does is sing. At the back of the more classical pieces you can hear the influence of the folk musics of Europe, and this permeates the whole disc. The duo are not constrained by their instruments, Surrick can make her viola gamba really sing whilst McFarlane's lutes can evoke anything from blue grass to a rhythm section.

The title track, by Ronn McFarlane is an engaging introduction into this seductive sound-world, where neither instrument quite sounds like itself and where a wind seems to be constantly blowing from the Appalachians.

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

...out of silence: Louth Contemporary Music Society launches its new series with Linda Catlin Smith's Meadow

Linda Catlin Smith Meadow; Mia Cooper, Joachim Roewer, Bill Butt; Louth Contemporary Music Society

Linda Catlin Smith Meadow; Mia Cooper, Joachim Roewer, Bill Butt; Louth Contemporary Music Society

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 December 2020 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A new recording project from Ireland, inspired by music arising out of silence, begins with a string trio from New York-born Canadian composer Linda Catlin Smith

...out of silence is a brave new project from Louth Contemporary Music Society (as a good Lincolnshire lad I was confused at first, but the society is based in County Louth in the Republic of Ireland). A series of intimate recordings on the society's own label conceived under the exceptional conditions of the pandemic. The first recording from Louth Contemporary Music Society is Meadow by Linda Caitlin Smith performed by three Irish string players, Mia Cooper, violin, Joachim Roewer, viola and Bill Butt, cello.

Meadow is a 30-minute work by the New York-born, Canadian resident composer Linda Caitlin Smith, who explains "A meadow is a simple place, with elements that are there quite naturally; it’s not a spectacular garden, but if you look closely there are many different types of plants and tiny flowers. It is a place of infinite variation." The work was first performed at Louth Contemporary Music Society's festival in June 2019 [see the review in the Journal of Music]  

This is music which unfolds without hurry in one single, unfolding movement. There are folk-ish hints in the way Smith handles the string instruments, with the use of double stopping we can hear perhaps the hardanger fiddle or perhaps folk-playing from Northern America. The textures weave in an out without urgency, and the beauty is in the contemplative detail. At times, she places notes and chords in space, at times we are reduced to a single instrument shading to nothing, but then the wind blows, the meadow changes and all three instruments join together, sometimes creating remarkably rich textures.

Smith talks about having time to sit and to dwell in the material. This is music which wants the listener to become absorbed, to notice the small details and the telling way that things change. And it is not just pitch, rhythm and harmony, the very texture and timbre of the music changes too. This is a meadow that you can feel as well as hear. With Smith's music it is not the repetition that counts, but the small variations. There is no dramatic direction to this music, it unfolds as it wills, and perhaps it comes as no surprise that Smith, in amongst her studies, attended lectures by Morton Feldman.

The three performers seem finely attuned to Smith's music and the 30-minute span of the work (there are no subdivisions) sees the three functioning as a seamless whole, weaving the aural image of the meadow in our ears.

Looking ahead, future releases in the series will present music by the South African-born Irish composer Kevin Volans and the Swiss master of unexpected simplicity Jürg Frey, with whom the Louth Contemporary Music Society has over several years developed a close relationship.

Linda Catlin Smith (born 1957) - Meadow
Mia Cooper (violin)
Joachim Roewer (viola)
Bill Butt (cello)
Louth Contemporary Music Society
LOUTH CONTEMPORARY MUSIC SOCIETY LCMS20201 1CD [32:25]

Available from Proper Music, from Amazon.

Russian National Orchestra celebrates its 30th birthday with gala live-streamed from Moscow

Vadim Repin, Sergej Krylov, Alexander Rudin, Boris Berezovsky, Mikkhail Pletnev
 

If you are feeling a bit Beethovened out, then how about celebrating his 250th birthday with a (virtual) visit to Russia. At 4pm GMT (5pm CET) the Russian National Orchestra will be celebrating its 30th birthday with a gala concert at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow. The orchestra will be conducted by its artistic director and founder, Mikhail Pletnev. 

The programme for the concert is being kept under wraps, but the guest soloists will include violinists Vadim Repin, and Sergej Krylov, cellist Alexander Rudin and pianist Boris Berezovsky.

The Russian National Orchestra was founded in Moscow by pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev, and since then has released over 80 recordings. It was the first Russian orchestra to win a Grammy Award (in 2004 for its recording of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf), and was the first Russian orchestra to play at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican, and in Israel.

Full details from the orchestra's website. The concert will be streamed on YouTube and meloman.ru

Sir Mark Elder steps in at last minute to conduct a celebratory performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Hanover Band

Sir Mark Elder, the Hanover Band - Beethoven's Symphony No. 9

This year is the Hanover Band's 40th anniversary and in celebration of this, as well as another major musical birthday, the Arundel-based period instrument ensemble planned to perform all of Beethoven's symphonies. The project had to move on-line where they have been releasing films of performances of all the symphonies and a selection of chamber music performed by the Consone Quartet. The series culminates in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 which goes out at 8pm tonight (16 December 2020), the day presumed to be Beethoven's birthday, on the ensemble's website

But there were further events in store, the ensemble's associate director Benjamin Bayl was hit with travel restrictions which meant that he could not fulfil his planned engagement to conduct the symphony. However, Sir Mark Elder, the music director of the Halle, was able to step in. Sir Mark is no stranger to period instrument performance; his long relationship with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has resulted in many revelatory performances, perhaps most recently Rossini's Semiramide which was recorded for Opera Rara. Interestingly Semiramide was premiered in 1823 in Venice, exactly at the time that Beethoven was writing his choral symphony in Vienna!

So that tonight Sir Mark Elder conducts Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Hannover Band and soloists Sophie Bevan (Soprano), Madeleine Shaw (Mezzo), Ed Lyon (Tenor), and Darren Jeffery (Baritone), recorded at the Mansion House in the City of London.

The Hanover Band was founded by the late Caroline Brown, an alumnus of the Royal College of Music, who trained with French cellist André Navarra in Vienna. She was fascinated by Beethoven’s music and formed The Hanover Band in 1980 to perform and record his works as they would have been heard when he was alive – on period instruments in venues concerts goers of the day would have been accustomed to. Caroline died of a rare cancer of the appendix two years ago but before she passed away, she planned the concerts for the ensemble’s 40th anniversary and Beethoven’s 250th anniversary in meticulous detail.

Full details from the Hanover Band's website.

From songwriting workshops to Zoom bombs: Encore's new Virtual Experience is getting young musicians back into business

Encore Musicians - Virtual Experience

Are you missing the prospect of karaoke at the office party this year, or the opportunity to hear carol singers? Then Encore Musicians has the answer with its Virtual Experience, a new service aimed at helping musicians recover lost income but which is proving popular with customers too.

Encore Musicians is the UK's largest online platform for booking musicians, with over 5000 active members and last year generating £1 million in revenue for musicians who were booked across 2,000 events across genres. Like everyone else, Encore has seen its members' work plummet, so they have come up with a new virtual business model to help musicians suffering from Christmas cancellations.

The company launched its Virtual Experience in November. The service helps musicians earn money by being booked to perform at virtual events, like office Christmas parties on Zoom. The experiences include songwriting workshops, quizzes with live musicians, live-streamed performances and (the most popular option) hiring a musician to jump into a call unannounced to perform a song (a ‘Zoom bomb’)!

These virtual services are proving popular, and musicians are recovering money lost from cancelled bookings, so that Encore has seen its business revenue boosted by 36% in November. 

Encore's CEO, James McAulay explains:

'The idea for virtual experiences came from one of our own work socials on Zoom - we realised that being creative as a team is actually one of the best ways to stay connected while we’re socially distanced. We spotted a chance to help our musicians make a living, and keep companies connected during their Christmas parties. Everyone is bored of Zoom quizzes by now!'

Further information from Virtual Experience website, and there is also an explainer video.


Tuesday, 15 December 2020

2020 Kathleen Ferrier Award winners announced

Ferrier Award winners 2020 - Jessica Cale (first prize), Ella Taylor (second prize)
Ferrier Award winners 2020 - Jessica Cale (first prize), Ella Taylor (second prize)

The winners of this year's Kathleen Ferrier Awards were announced after a competition which saw the semi-finals and final all streamed live on the competition website. This year's winner was soprano Jessica Cale, who studied at the Royal College of Music and was a finalist in the 2020 London Handel Singing Competition. The second prize was won by Ella Taylor, the trans non-binary soprano whose performances we caught a number of times when they were a young artist at the National Opera Studio. They have a passion for contemporary music and works by women and gender non-conforming artists.

The Ferrier Loveday song prize went to soprano Milly Forrest, who studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music and who will make her Wigmore Hall debut next year, and whom we caught British Youth Opera's 2018 production of The Enchanted Island [see Anthony's review]. The accompanists prize went to Hamish Brown, who won the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme Prize Winner in the 2019 Wigmore International Song Competition and is a former Oxford Lieder Young Artist.

The awards were judged by mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright, tenor Ryland Davies, pianist and accompanist Christopher Glynn and jury chair Valerie Beale who has chaired the Ferrier since 2013. The awards are still available to view on the competition website.

Richness of invention in the contemplation of God in the beauties of nature: Iestyn Davies and Arcangelo in Handel's German Arias

Handel: Nine German Arias - Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo (Matthew Truscott, Jonathan Cohen, Jonathan Manson, Thomas Dunford - Wigmore Hall (image taken from live-stream)
Handel: Nine German Arias - Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo (Matthew Truscott, Jonathan Cohen, Jonathan Manson, Thomas Dunford - Wigmore Hall (image taken from live-stream)

Handel Nine German Arias, Geminiani, Marais; Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 December 2020 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Food for the soul, Handel's contemplative vocal chamber music in wonderfully engaged performances

On the day that it was announced that London would be going into Tier 3 and that entertainment venues would be closing to live audiences, we managed to slip in one last live concert, Handel's contemplative settings of poetry expounding the joy and beauty of God's creation, thoughts that we rather need at the moment.

Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies and members of Arcangelo (Jonathan Cohen, organ/harpsichord, Matthew Truscott, violin, Jonathan Manson, cello, Thomas Dunford, lute) performed Handel's Nine German Arias alongside Francesco Geminiani's Cello Sonata in F Op.5 No.5, Handel's Violin Sonata in A Op.1 No.1 and Marin Marais' Les voix humaine at the Wigmore Hall on 14 December 2020.

Considering the polyglot nature of his talent and the profusion of his works, Handel did not set very much of his native language. There are only two mature works in German and both of these have links to Hamburg and to the poet Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1680–1747), who was a Hamburg town councillor, Handel's Brockes Passion and the Nine German Arias. The passion seems to have been written in around 1716 and performed, alongside settings of the same text by Keiser, Telemann and Matheson (Handel had worked for the first as  a young man in Hamburg and was friends with the latter two) in Hamburg in 1719. Handel may have written the passion as a feeler towards a career in German if the political situation deteriorated (the Jacobite Rebellion had been in 1715, it many not have been completely obvious to those on the ground that the Hanover Dynasty would survive in England and Handel's fortunes were bound up with them). 

In 1721, Brockes’s collection of poems Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, bestehend in Physicalisch- und Moralischen Gedichten was published in Hamburg, it was arranged in a way to encourage musical settings and was so popular that the 1724 edition nearly doubled the number of pages. It seems to be from the second edition that Handel chose nine arias to set for voice, obbligato instrument and continuo. Handel's links to Brockes are fascinating, Brockes was at Halle University the same time as Handel (five years his junior) was registered there, and Brockes held weekly concerts in his apartment. The two must have interacted whilst Handel was working at the opera theatre in Hamburg, and in 1727 when Brockes published his second volume of Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott, he directly referred to Handel's settings of his poetry. And in a later publication, Brockes refers to family boating trips in which he and his children would perform some of these arias, which implies that Brockes possessed a manuscript copy of the settings.

We don't know why Handel set them, perhaps there was another project in Hamburg. From 1721 his connections there included his friend Telemann, and we know that around this time Telemann set Brockes' poetry. The music was not published, so we do not have a dedication (often the source of much information in 18th century music) and Handel's manuscript (which survives in the British Library) does not specify the obbligato instrument (but the range is such that a flute could not be used for all the arias). They were probably not conceived as a single cycle, and Handel would be perhaps surprised to find us performing all nine together.

At the Wigmore Hall, Matthew Truscott played the obbligato line (except in 'Süsser Blumen Ambraflocken' when it was played by Jonathan Manson) with continuo from Manson (cello), Dunford (lute) and Cohen (moving between organ and harpsichord). We heard the arias in four groups, three pairs and a trio at the end, interspersed with solo moments for the instrumentalists, Geminiani's Cello Sonata, Handel's Violin Sonata and a lute transcription of a Marin Marais solo.