Sunday 28 February 2021

A Life On-Line: Spring songs in Oxford, time-travel at Wigmore Hall, luscious duets in Rotherhithe

Schubert : Winterreise - Sholto Kynoch, Dietrich Henschel - Oxford Lieder Festival (Photo taken from live stream)
Schubert : Winterreise - Sholto Kynoch, Dietrich Henschel - Oxford Lieder Festival (Photo taken from live stream)

This weekend it is the Oxford Lieder Festival's Spring weekend of song, streaming live online under the title Winter into Spring. On Saturday, the evening recital was given by soprano Anna Cavaliero, baritone Dietrich Henschel and pianist Sholto Kynoch performing live at the Holywell Music Rooms. Henschel and Kynoch performed Schubert's Winterreise, and before that Cavaliero sang two Schubert songs, An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht (D614) and Der Winterabend (D938). 

The recital was preceded, at 5pm, by a lecture recital from Joanna Neilly, German Fellow at St Peter’s College, Oxford, Ted Black (Tenor) and Ana Manastireanu (Pianist) entitled Wilhelm Müller's Die Winterreise. The lecture proved to be a wide-ranging exploration of Wilhelm Müller as a man and a poet; it was fascinating to learn of Müller's links to Greece and his writings about Lord Byron. (Though I noted that Neilly tactfully slid over the fact that Schubert's cycle sets the poems of Müller's Die Winterreise in the wrong order).

We also heard a selection of settings of Müller's poetry not by Schubert, with music from Friedrich Silcher (1789-1860), Edward James Loder (1809-1865), Karl Friedrich Cruschmann (1805-1841), Max Spicker (1858-1912), Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861), and /Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864). 

Neilly argued for a more positive interpretation of Winterreise's final song. This thought along with the fact that Müller often referred to his poems as lieder, as if they were in search of song, led me to the idea of a reading of Müller's Die Winterreise which would then segue into Schubert's Winterreise with hurdy-gurdy accompaniment, as if the Wanderer and the hurdy-gurdy man do go off together performing the Wanderer's songs!

The evening recital began with two lovely Schubert songs from Anna Cavaliero and Sholto Kynoch. Cavaliero had a delightfully engaging manner, making An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht bright yet wistful, and Der Winterabend eager and ardent. But the temperature really changed when Kynoch and Henschel started 'Gute Nacht'. Though the speed was flowing (this wanderer travelled fast) what was noticeable about Henschel's performance was the strengh, focus and intense determination he brought to the music. Henschel has a very characterful voice and he used a wide range of timbre allied to a wonderful feel for the words. But we never had a moment's relaxation, so that even 'Der Lindenbaum' focused on the intensity of pain recollected. The sense of the wanderer's determination cropped up again and again, with powerful discomfort in 'Auf dem Flusse' and a sense of effort in 'Rast'. In 'Die Post' we could feel the pain in every note, whilst later songs moved between haunted and very interior, to vigorous and insistent. But always the strength and determination in Henschel's voice. 'Das Wirtshaus' was simply bleak, and by 'Die Nebensonnen' and 'Der Leiermann' Henschel's vocal line sounded really lived-in. Part of the performance's strength was the contrast between Henschel's intense performance and the clarity of tone from Kynoch, with the pianist providing a wonderfully sensitive partner to Henschel. [Oxford Lieder Festival]

On Thursday, viol consort Fretwork (Richard Boothby, Asako Morikawa, Emily Ashton, Joanna Levine, Reiko Ichise viols and Silas Wollston organ) gave a recital at Wigmore Hall which transported us from the Edwardian splendours of the hall to dark-panelled rooms of the 17th century. The time was one of upheaval, but this music was contemplative and thoughtful. The recital ranged widely, Robert White (c.1538-1574), Antony Holborne (1545-1602), Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), John Jenkins (1592-1678), William Lawes (1602-1645), Matthew Locke (c.1621-1677), and Henry Purcell (c.1659-1695). This was music of richness and imagination, complex and startling at times, but always absorbing. The viols bring a highly textural quality to the music, making the cunningly crafted interweaving lines into something rather meaty and almost visceral. It would have been nice to be there, but this was the next best thing [Wigmore Hall]

The week began with Musica Antica Rotherhithe in La Riturnella, an exploration of arias and duets by Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli and Barbara Strozzi, along with a group of Calabrian folk-songs performed at Sands Films' music room. The performers were Camilla Seale, soprano, Tristram Cooke, counter-tenor, Maxim del Mar & Ilana Cravitz, violin, Harry Buckoke, viola da gamba, Peter Martin, theorbo and Oliver Doyle, harpsichord. Tristram Cooke was a last-minute replacement which meant that, in true early opera style, we got some cross-gendering with Tristram Cooke taking the female role and Camilla Seale the male. This was a delightful programme, full of choice gems finely performed with the luscious duets coming both from Cavalli's operas and from Monteverdi, including the final duet from L'incoronazione di Poppea which is almost certainly not by Monteverdi but by one of his pupils.

The concert was by way of celebrating the release of Arias, Duets and Ensembles from the operas of Francesco Cavalli, edited and translated by director Oliver Doyle, and made available for free through the generosity of the Cavalli Foundation with the intention of making this music more readily available. [Musica Antica Rotherhithe]

2020/2021 is the London Chamber Orchestra's Centenary season and by way of celebration they have been producing a series of concerts on-line. The third edition, recorded at St John's Smith Square featured the orchestra conducted by Christopher Warren Green in an imaginative programme which moved from the imaginative textures of Graham Fitkin's Vassel (which was originally written in 1992 as for string quartet), to the focused intensity of Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen, Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue no. 5 and Rudolf Barshai's powerful reworking of Shostakovich's eighth quartet as the Chamber Symphony. In the middle there was a delightful guest appearance from accordionist Ksenija Sidorova playing Astor Piazzolla, Sergey Voitenko and Franck Angelis. [London Chamber Orchestra]

Also live this week, Opera Live at Home presented Kathleen Ferrier Winner Loveday Song Prize 2020 winner Milly Forrest (soprano) and Ian Tindal (piano) in a lovely recital of arias by Handel, Mozart, Smetana, Humperdinck and Massenet. [Opera Live at Home]

One event I missed, but plan to watch in catch-up mode is Marina Frolova-Walker's lecture for Gresham College on Stravinsky's piano music, with illustrations from pianist Peter Donohoe as part of the college's Russian Piano Masterpieces season. Essential watching I think [Gresham College]

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Elsewhere on this blog
  • What would Bach do? Guitarist Yuri Liberzon on recording the Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin in transcriptions by his teacher Manuel Barrueco  - interview
  • An engaging surprise: written for the Portuguese court, Pedro Antonio Avondano's Il mondo della luna receives its first recording - CD review
  • Challenging and surprising: on arb, clarinet and bassoon duo, Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward explore multiphonics  - CD review
  • I wonder as I wander: baritone James Newby in a stunning debut recital with pianist Joseph Middleton  - CD review
  • Beyond Solidarity: Composer and Ivors Academy board member Daniel Kidane talks frankly about 2020 and a watershed moment for diversity in music - feature
  • To cope with the complexity of modern experience: composer Alastair White discusses the striking philosophical underlay of his opera ROBE, which is receiving its premiere recording  - interview
  • A celebration of the art of transcription: Visions of Childhood from Kenneth Woods, English Symphony Orchestra and soprano April Fredrick - CD review
  • A reflection of a lifetime's performing: Benjamin Britten's complete folk-songs for voice and piano in a new recording from Mark Milhofer and Marco Scolastra - CD review
  • From a celebration of Leonardo da Vinci and the first moon flight to a sequence of O Antiphons, the organ music of Cecilia McDowall performed by William Fox  - Cd review
  • Without discrimination, harm or transphobia: a look at transgender singers in classical music  - feature
  • The Fire of Love & Songs of Innocence: two new works by Patrick Hawes, written for the American choir The Same Stream - Cd review
  • Anything but old and fusty: the young German baritone Samuel Hasselhorn talks about his recent Schumann disc, about lieder as an art-form and widening the audience  - interview
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