Saturday, 10 April 2021

Go, not knowing where: I chat to pianist Elan Sicroff about Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann and the Thomas de Hartmann project

Elan Sicroff
Elan Sicroff

This month, April 2021, Nimbus Alliance is releasing five discs devoted to the Russian composer Thomas de Hartmann (1885-1956). All the recordings feature the American pianist Elan Sicroff and are the fruit of The Thomas de Hartmann Project of which Elan Sicroff is a leading figure. If the name of Thomas de Hartmann is known at all, it is likely to be in connection with the Georgian mystic and philosopher George Gurdjieff (1877-1949) with whom De Hartmann had a significant collaboration. But De Hartmann's music encompasses far more than this, and the Thomas de Hartmann Project (of which Robert Fripp is executive director) is specifically aimed at widening the appreciation of the significant amount of music by Thomas de Hartmann which was not written in collaboration with Gurdjieff.

Thomas de Hartmann in the 1950s
Thomas de Hartmann in the 1950s

Elan is a classically trained pianist originally with a repertoire that emphasised the continuum of composers from Bach to Brahms. He admits that it was a long process for him to become familiar with De Hartmann's music and to be convinced of its value as initially he thought, as many do, that a composer's music must be unknown for a good reason. One significant moment in his development Elan cites as a performance of Mozart's Requiem in which he took part (as a singer) whilst he was still at Oberlin College. The performance was a direct result of the Kent State Massacre of 1970, and it showed Elan how music could convey extra-musical experiences.

A few years later he came across Thomas de Hartmann's music as a result of his attending the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherborne in Gloucestershire which was run by John Godolphin Bennett (1897-1974) who was a leading exponent of the teachings of Gurdjieff. Elan would attend the academy as a student and stay on as director of music. Here he was exposed to the music De Hartmann wrote in collaboration with Gurdjieff, consisting of Eastern music arranged for piano. Elan found this repertoire interesting, but it did not supplant the 19th century classics in his affections. 

J.G. Bennett got in touch with De Hartmann's widow, Olga de Hartmann (1885-1979) who sent some of the composer's late pieces. These were rather dissonant, and somewhat outside of Elan's experience. But Elan gradually began to work with De Hartmann's music, giving a concert in 1975 at which he finally met Olga de Hartmann. It was the discovery of De Hartmann's Cello Sonata (1941) and Violin Sonata (1936) which were a turning point for Elan. The pieces were just gorgeous, and he found it hard to believe that there was an unknown composer of such value out there. And when he played these works in concerts, the reaction from the audience was good too.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Breaking the silence: Oxford Bach Soloists and Positive Note present a weekly series of films of Bach's Mass in B minor

Having given us Bach's St John Passion recorded in isolation, tenor Daniel Norman's Positive Note film production company is returning with Bach's Mass in B Minor but this will be something more than a performance of Bach's masterpiece. In four weekly episodes (starting at 6pm tonight, 9 April 2021) the films are intended to music, liturgy and buildings back life during Eastertide.

Filmed at Oxford Oratory, Westminster Cathedral and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, the films will feature featuring singers from Oxford Bach Soloists and The Choir of the Oxford Oratory, with Oxford Bach Soloists (on period instruments) conducted by Tom Hammond-Davies. There will be guest appearances (recorded from their own homes) by the Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, The Choir of the London Oratory, The Gesualdo Six, and Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Choir, with soloists Sophie Bevan (soprano), Mary Bevan (soprano), Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo soprano), William Purefoy (counter tenor), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Daniel Norman (tenor), Brindley Sherratt (bass), Stephan Loges (bass baritone).

Each episode is themed around movements of the mass, but each ends with a series of interviews as well, with performers, clergy, and more including two homeless artists, David Tovey and Mitchel Ceney, whose collaborative work emerges during the films.

Further information from Positive Note films.

A journey to Anatolia through the ears of The Turkish Five, pioneers of western classical music in Turkey

To Anatolia - Cemal Reşit Rey, Ferid Alnar, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazım Akses; Beyza Yazgan; Bridge Records

To Anatolia
- Cemal Reşit Rey, Ferid Alnar, Ulvi Cemal Erkin, Adnan Saygun, Necil Kazım Akses; Beyza Yazgan; Bridge Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 9 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Music from The Turkish Five, composers who combined Western European training with Turkish traditional music in this fascinating piano evocation of the Anatolian peninsula

This album on Bridge Records from Turkish pianist Beyza Yazgan, currently resident in the USA, is entitled To Anatolia: Selections from The Turkish Five and consists of a collection of 26 short piano movements by five Turkish composers, Cemal Reşit Rey (1904-1985), Ferid Alnar (1906-1978), Ulvi Cemal Erkin (1906-1972), Adnan Saygun (1907-1991), and Necil Kazım Akses (1908-1999).

These five composers arose out of the initiative of Kemal Atatürk (the first President of the Republic of Turkey established in 1923) as part of his wider movement to bring contemporary Western European arts to Turkey (composer Paul Hindemith was involved with starting the Istanbul Conservatoire and other projects in the 1930s). Atatürk 's intention was to embrace contemporary European methods and combine them with Turkish traditional music (which under the Ottomans had been largely monophonic or heterophonic). All five of the composers studied abroad, Saygun and Erkin in Paris, Rey in Paris and Geneva, and Alnar and Akses in Vienna. And all returned to Turkey, blending Western compositional techniques with the modes, rhythms and melodies of Turkey.

Music for self-isolation

Pianist Lisa Tahara recorded in the empty auditorium of Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, performing music from Frank Horvat's Music for Self-Isolation. Horvat is associate composer at the Canadian Music Centre and when the world shut down in early 2020, Horvat wanted to raise spirits and create music for those forced into self-isolation. The result was 31 short solo and duo works for a variety of instruments and voice written in six weeks. The music clearly struck a chord and musicians from all over the world posted their performances (see Horvat's website).

Now, a new recording features the pieces performed by some of Canada’s leading soloists and members of the Vancouver Symphony, Toronto Symphony, and Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestras and is due to be issued today. Full details from Horvat's website.

The Singing Strad: celebrating Julian Lloyd Webber's 70th birthday

Julian Lloyd Webber - The Singing Strad
Julian Lloyd Webber is 70 next week, and to mark the occasion Decca Classics is issuing a celebratory three-disc set, The Singing Strad of Julian's recordings spanning over 20 years of his career, all selected by the cellist himself. This disc includes concertos by Elgar (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Yehudi Menuhin) and Saint-Saens (with the English Chamber Orchestra and Yan Pascal Tortelier), the original version of Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations (with Maxim Shostakovich), Shostakovich's Cello Sonata with John McCabe, a special recording of his brother's Pie Jesu along with Julian's own tribute to Jacqueline Du Pré.

All the recordings were made on the Barjansky Stradivarius cello which Lloyd Webber played for more than 30 years. The Barjansky is named after Russian cellist Alexandre Barjansky (1883-1946), who played the instrument during the first half of the 20th century. [Barjansky was the dedicatee of Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo which he performed on this instrument,  and Barjansky also premiered the Delius Concerto on the instrument in Vienna in January 1923.]

In addition to his playing, Julian has also been heavily involved in music education. He formed the Music Education Consortium with James Galway and Evelyn Glennie in 2003 and as a result of successful lobbying by the Consortium, in 2007, the UK government announced an infusion of £332 million for music education. He became chairman of the In Harmony programme which is based on the Venezuelan social programme El Sistema, and went on to chair Sistema England. He was principal of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire from 2015 to 2020, overseeing the move to the Birmingham City University City Centre Campus and the merger of the Conservatoire with the Birmingham School of Acting, and in September 2017 the Conservatoire was granted Royal status by Queen Elizabeth II. Julian was appointed Emeritus Professor of Performing Arts by Birmingham City University in 2020.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Charmes: an alternative century of song from Olena Tokar and Igor Gryshyn with music by Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Vitezslava Kapralova

Charmes - Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Vitezslava Kapralova; Olena Tokar, Igor Gryshyn; Orchid Classics

- Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia, Vitezslava Kapralova; Olena Tokar, Igor Gryshyn; Orchid Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 8 April 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Songs by four women composers from the former BBC New Generation Artist

The Ukrainian soprano Olena Tokar is likely to be somewhat familiar to British listeners as she was a finalist at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, joined the BBC New Generation Artist scheme from 2013 to 2015, and sang the role of Juliette in Grange Park Opera's 2018 production of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. She is currently a member of Oper Leipzig. Now Olena Tokar and pianist Igor Gryshyn have released a recital disc on Orchid Classics. Entitled Charmes, the disc is a selection of songs by four female composers, Alma Mahler-Werfel, Clara Schumann, Pauline Viardot-Garcia and Vitezslava Kapralova.

The recital thus provides us with a survey of a century of song from around 1840 to 1940, which moves in parallel with the standard narrative, and of course with all four composers there is the danger of seeing them in terms of the men in their lives rather than from their own point of view. This is particular true of Alma Mahler-Werfel and Clara Schumann, both of whom were married to composers. Perhaps more to the point, both suffered from the fact that for a 19th or early 20th century woman, composing was seen as being incompatible with married life. For all Robert Schumann's ostensible support, Clara had to fit composition in between the rest of a very busy life, whilst Alma was positively dissuaded (even forbidden at one point) by her husband, Gustav Mahler and she does not seem to have returned to composition after Gustav's death.

Projecting young people's vision of the future through music and dance - Learning@TheGrange collaborates with the World Wildlife Fund

This year from April to June, the Grange Festival's education team, Learning@TheGrange is collaborating with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on a project with over 200 young people (age 7 to 23) from schools and organisations across Hampshire which will result in films projecting the young people's vision of the future at several international conferences..

The project kicks off with presentations from WWF to the young people highlighting the uniqueness of different global habitats and providing scientific evidence.

Then, supported by Learning@TheGrange, the students will respond to the issues and challenges identified by writing text, composing music and choreographing dance to create an original piece which represents their vision of the future. The outcome will be a collection of short films representing the voice of young people and which imaginatively illustrate the kind of future they want.  Throughout 2021, the ‘Super year of Nature‘, the films will be shown at several international climate change conferences.

In addition to this, instrumentalists from Hampshire County Youth Orchestra will compose an orchestral piece in response to their chosen habitat under the direction of leading British composer Jonathan Dove, and the finished piece will be choreographed by Wessex Dance who will respond to both the music and the subject matter.

Learning@TheGrange - Future Visions from The Grange Festival on Vimeo.

“I beg of you to keep the matter of my deafness a profound secret to be confided to nobody, no matter whom…" - Ludwig van Beethoven

send back the echo was commissioned from composer Jasmin Kent Rodgman by United String of Europe, director Julian Azkoul, and due for performance in June 2020. When this was cancelled, Jasmin suggested to the ensemble that they turn the piece into a film.

The result is film inspired by Beethoven's struggles with deafness. The composer's letters and memoirs are interpreted and performed in British Sign Language by deaf actor Vilma Jackson, accompanied by Jasmin Kent Rodgman's music performed by United Strings of Europe.

Further information from the project website.

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square to merge

Southbank Sinfonia at St John's Smith Square (Photo Teralon)

In the light the present challenges for arts organisations, changes and re-structuring are unsurprising and news has just been released about an interesting merger with to organisations seeing greater synergy together. Southbank Sinfonia and St John's Smith Square will be merging to create a new organisation. 

The sinfonia, which offers an annual training programme for young orchestral players, has long been seeking a permanent home (it currently uses space at St John's Waterloo), and the new move will see the sinfonia based at the concert hall. The result will effectively by a concert hall with resident orchestra and training programme and it will be interesting to see how the new organisaation develops. Currently plans are for the new organisation to deliver both an annual programme of orchestral training and development, as well as the well-established programme of regular festivals (eg. Christmas Festival, Holy Week Festival & London Festival of Baroque Music) concerts and events from professional, community and education partners.

The new organisation, currently called Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Smith Square (but expect that mouthful to change!) will have Simon Over (Music Director, Southbank Sinfonia) and Richard Heason (Director, St John’s Smith Square) as co-directors whilst things will be launched with a free live-streamed concert on Thursday 15 April - the first in a new series - and it is anticipated that the merger will be fully effected by the summer of 2021.

Full details from the St John's Smith Square website.

60th birthday celebration: Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen's works for recorder player Michala Petri survyed in this engaging and imaginative disc.

Territorial Songs: works for recorder by Sunleif Rasmussen; Michala Petri, Esbjerg Ensemble, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Layton, Clemens Schuldt, Henrik Vagn Christensen; OUR Recordings

Territorial Songs
: works for recorder by Sunleif Rasmussen; Michala Petri, Esbjerg Ensemble, Danish National Vocal Ensemble, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Layton, Clemens Schuldt, Henrik Vagn Christensen; OUR Recordings

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 November 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
In celebration of the Faroese composer's 60th birthday, OUR Recordings assembles a disc of his complete recorder music in a terrific survey showcasing Rasmussen's imaginative range.

The Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen was 60 last month, and by way of celebration comes this new disc from OUR Recordings, Territorial Songs, featuring Sunleif Rasmussen's works for recorder performed by Michala Petri (for whom the pieces were written) with the Esbjerg Ensemble, the Danish National Vocal Ensemble, conductor Stephen Layton, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, conductor Clemens Schuldt, and Aalborg Symphony Orchestra, conductor Henrik Vagn Christensen.

Born on the Faroese island of Sandøy, Rasmussen initially studied in Norway, and at the Royal Danish Academy of Music where he studied composition with Ib Nørholm and electronic music with Ivar Frounberg. He is working on a monumental cycle of symphonies inspired by the elements, Water, Earth, Wind and Fire. Two have been completed, the first Oceanic Days won the  Nordic Council Music Prize in 2002, and the second, The Earth Anew received the Danish 'Carl Prisen Awards' for Classic Composer - Large Ensemble in 2016 and the Faroese Music Award for Best Composition in 2017.

The disc features five works for recording written over the period 2009 to 2014, and all for the recorder player Michala Petri.

Turtle Opera: music and drama for children on the autism spectrum

Turtle Opera: music and drama for children on the autism spectrum

Turtle Opera, a music and drama creative project for children on the autism spectrum, is holding a free workshop series from April to June 2021. The Saturday workshops will initially be held on Zoom, and then move to Ogston Music School – St Edward’s School, Oxford, and they will allow the children to create their own group performance of music and story.

The workshops are support participants to reduce social isolation, improve communication skills, increase confidence and self-esteem, as well as to enjoy the creative process. By taking part in the Turtle Opera activities, the children will gain a sense of achievement through seeing their work valued publicly with a live group performance for friends and family.

Participants aged 12-16 explore a variety of creative disciplines, working with a professional composer and director, and  supported by a project coordinator from Turtle Key Arts and a pastoral leader from Autism Family Support Oxfordshire, and the project is also supported by students from The Faculty of Music, University of Oxford, enhancing the professional development of the students.

Turtle Opera Oxford 2021 is a Turtle Key Arts partnership with English Touring Opera, in collaboration with The Faculty of Music, Oxford University (Music in the Community course), Autism Family Support Oxfordshire and St Edward’s School, Oxford. Turtle Key Arts is a UK registered charity that provides access to the arts to disabled, disadvantaged and socially excluded people, and those that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily get the opportunity.

Further information from the Turtle Key Arts website.

An audio-visual event combining 'Messiah' with images from the Saint John's Bible

HAndel: Messiah - Academy of St Martin in the Fields with projections by Nina Dunn Studio (Photo David Levene)
Handel: Messiah - Academy of St Martin in the Fields with projections by Nina Dunn Studio (Photo David Levene)

In 1998, Saint John's Abbey and University in Minnesota, USA commissioned renowned calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible (completed in 2011), which you can explore at a website devoted to the Saint John's Bible. Now Jackson's illustrations have formed the basis for visuals created by projection artist Nina Dunn and her team, which will be projected onto the East Window of the church of St Martin in the Fields during a performance of Handel's Messiah which takes place on Thursday 8 April 2021.

This audio-visual event is part of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields' on-line concert series. Handel's oratorio (in shortened form) will be performed by the academy with soloists Carolyn Sampson (soprano), James Way (tenor), second prize in the 62nd Kathleen Ferrier Award, and Benson Wilson (baritone), winner of the 64th Kathleen Ferrier Award, with St Martin's Voices conducted by Andrew Earis.

Full details from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields website.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

60 Artists, 28 Nationalities, 24 Cities - a new on-line festival

nexTus festival

Starting on 17 April, a new festival nexTus will be presenting a series of performances on-line, hosting over 60 artists across the world, from 28 different countries. There will be 16 hours of concerts, plus discussions and talks spread across four consecutive weekends. Each weekend is themed, the first one is Tango and Tradition, the second The Sands of Time, the third Together Alone and the last nexTus Legacy.

The festival is designed as a fully interactive feast in which audiences can discuss the performances over a glass of wine every evening and take part in informative talks on topics such as the overlooked role of female composers and green living. (in interactive zoom meetings).

Perhaps, most importantly the entire festival has been designed, produced and marketed by the performers themselves (you can read more about them at the website), helping them to learn crucial self-starter skills for what will be a radically altered music scene once the restrictions begin to be eased back. The event is the brainchild of performers participating in the Vienna-based (Be Your Own Manager) Academy founded by executive coach and leadership innovator Bernhard Kerres, and will be hosted on the BYOM platform.

Further details from the BYOM website.

Music of sundrie sorts, and to content divers humours: Byrd's 1588 'Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie' in its first complete recording

William Byrd Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie ; Grace Davidson, Martha McLorinan, Nicholas Todd, Alamire, David Skinner; INVENTA

William Byrd Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie ; Grace Davidson, Martha McLorinan, Nicholas Todd, Alamire, Fretwork, David Skinner; INVENTA

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 6 April 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Byrd's 1588 publication consort and vocal music represents the diversity of the composer's talent in this, the first complete recording of the set

In the late 1580s and early 1590s, William Byrd published four collections of his music which between them demonstrate his range. The two volumes of Cantiones Sacrae (from 1589 and 1591) consist of 37 Latin motets, many complex and large scale and setting texts which would speak particularly to persecuted Catholics and being largely non-liturgical may have been seen by cultured Protestants as a form of vocal chamber music. In parallel there were two collections of English consort songs and madrigals, Psalmes, Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie (1588) and Songs of Sundrie Natures (1589), the first contains consort songs setting a variety of texts which can be performed either by voice and instruments, all voices or all instruments, whilst the second has music in in three, four, five and six parts, in diverse styles. Both these clearly aimed at Elizabethan households whether Protestant or Catholic. And Byrd's intention can be divined in words that he wrote in the 1588 publication 'Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing'.

Alamire, director David Skinner, with Grace Davidson (soprano), Martha McLorinan (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Todd (tenor) and the viol consort Fretwork have recorded the complete 1588 Sonets & songs of sadness and pietie for Inventa records, the first time the entire collection has been recorded.

Byrd's publication consists of 35 songs, divided into sections, Psalms (setting metrical psalms), Sonnets and pastorals, Songs of sadness and piety and Funeral Song of Sir Philip Sidney. They were probably all written as consort songs, a genre which involved a solo voice (often a high voice) and four viols. It was a highly popular form in Elizabethan England, but clearly Byrd decided to try to extend his market and in the publication the instrumental parts are also texted and the rubric makes it clear that you can perform the songs as consort songs, all sung or all instruments. One of Byrd's other projects in the 1580s was the publication of Musica Transalpina, a collection of Italian madrigals with new English texts, so clearly the idea of the unaccompanied vocal music was at the forefront of his mind.

Monday, 5 April 2021

A Life On-Line: Rosary Sonatas and St John Passion

Bach: St John Passion - Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Photo from film directed by Grant Gee)
Bach: St John Passion - Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Photo from film directed by Grant Gee)

Easter Sunday saw us continuing our rich feast of on-line Easter music, with a complete cycle of Heinrich Biber's Rosary Sonatas from St John's Smith Square, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's filmed performance of Bach's St John Passion (a co-production with Marquee TV).

Sunday began with Biber's Rosary Sonatas, throughout the day there were instalments of violinist Bojan Čičić and organist Steven Devine's performance of Biber's astonishing cycle of violin sonatas, The Joyful Mysteries in the morning, The Sorrowful Mysteries in the afternoon and The Glorious Mysteries in the evening. The sonatas were written in the 1600s, but it is uncertain whether Biber wrote them specially or used pre-existing works, and as the sole manuscript's title page is missing we don't even know what Biber intended for his continue instruments. Here, Čičić and Devine use just violin and organ, throwing attention on the violin and its array of colours. The cycle is very much about the violin, Biber's use of scordatura (alternative tunings) means that throuughout the cycle he manipulates the violin's tuning to create different colours and tensions. 

Sunday, 4 April 2021

A Life On-Line: Passions from Wigmore Hall, St John's Smith Square and Berwaldhallen, Stockholm


Bach: St Matthew Passion - Amici Voices in rehearsal at St John's Smith Square

Being as it is Easter weekend, there seem to be a plethora of Bach passions on the internet, with a wide variety of performing styles. Whilst we know that Bach's own performances of his passions were with a tiny number of performers and the argument for one to a part is strong, the beauty of these works is that they don't just survive other types of performance but almost seem to thrive.

Thankfully it wasn't just Bach that was on offer either. At the Wigmore Hall there was a performance of the St Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastiani (1622-1683), a composer based in Königsberg (now Kaliningrad in Russia) where he was cantor at the cathedral in 1661, and court Kapellmeister from 1663 to 1679. His passion is notable apparently being the first to introduce chorales into the passion genre. The work is quite compact, five singers, Elisabeth Paul, Samuel Boden, Hugo Hymas (Evangelist), Benedict Hymas, and Jimmy Holliday (Christus), plus four viols (Fretwork), two violins (Bokan Čičić and Elin White) and organ (Silas Wollaston), conducted by Richard Boothby. It is a fascinating work which looks back to Schütz and forward to Bach, though it lacks the sheer operatic effect that Bach brought to the genre. Sebastiani's approach felt to be dialogue based, without the operatic drama, but what came over most was the sound of the viols. They must have been rather old-fashioned at the time yet the timbres and textures of the viol consort imbued the work with a very particular sense of timbre and grave expressiveness. Well worth exploring. [Wigmore Hall]

Our Good Friday Passion viewing developed some interesting technical problems, which I won't bore you with, which meant that I was relieved to have such a wide variety of performances to choose from. We watched Bach's St John Passion which was broadcast live from the Swedish Radio concert hall, Berwaldhallen in Stockholm. In Sweden, Bach's St John Passion was first performed in 1898 conducted by William Stenhammer. 

Saturday, 3 April 2021

Bringing audiences into closer contact with the poetry: tenor Ilker Arcayürek on the art of the song recital and his new disc of Schubert songs

Ilker Arcayürek and Simon Lepper at recording sessions for 'The Path of Life'
Ilker Arcayürek and Simon Lepper at recording sessions for 'The Path of Life'

The tenor Ilker Arcayürek has just released his third solo disc, The Path of Life, a recital of Schubert songs on the Prospero label with pianist Simon Lepper. It represents a return to Schubert on disc as the tenor's debut disc was also a Schubert recital, Franz Schubert: Der Einsame with Simon Lepper on the Champs Hill label. A finalist in the 2015 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist, Ilker Arcayürek has not alwayshad an obvious path to a career as a tenor. He was born in Istanbul and brought up in Vienna from the age of five, and though he did not attend university or conservatoire, he was a member of the studio of Zürich Opera from 2009 to 2013 and went on to be a member of the ensemble of the Stadttheater Klagenfurt (2013-2015) and Staatstheater Nürnberg (2015-18). We met up via Zoom to chat about his new disc, about song as an art-form and about making recital programmes.

Ilker Arcayürek (Photo Gillian Riesen)
Ilker Arcayürek (Photo Gillian Riesen)
When I ask Ilker why return to Schubert for the latest disc, he laughs and says why not. He sees the new disc as very much a follow-up to that first disc. The Champs Hill disc was his debut recording, and he now feels he can express himself more comfortably, and Schubert as a composer remains important to him. The Path of Life programme is one that he has lived with, he debuted it in 2019 (and performed it at the Wigmore Hall) though since then the programme has developed and changed.

When thinking about the disc, Ilker coincidentally found an image by the Moroccan photo artist Achraf Baznani, which inspired Ilker, making him think it perfect as the cover image. Baznani says of himself that he doesn't take photographs he tells stories, and in this image we see a person leaping from one pillar to another, you can see that the end is coming, but each step gets more difficult.

The programme for The Path of Life has a clear narrative arc to it, with the songs in distinct sections, five chapters, which are seen as stages of life: love, longing, search for inner peace, resignation, and redemption. This telling a story through song is something that Ilker has explored on his discs as well as in recitals. He likes being able to explore a recital programme with a dramatic direction to it, as in an opera.

Friday, 2 April 2021

A Life On-Line: Bach, Haydn, MacMillan and Victoria for Holy Week, with Britten too

The Octagon Tower, Ely Cathedral (photo Mark Seton,
The Octagon Tower, Ely Cathedral (photo Mark Seton)

Holy Week has always been a busy time for singers and musicians, and it seems that without live performances many ensembles are finding ways to continue that. So our on-line experiences this week ranged from Bach and Haydn to James MacMillan, with some Britten and Victoria as well, coming from St John's Smith Square, Ely Cathedral, Wigmore Hall and Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ in Amsterdam.

Our week began with Bach, though not quite the works you would expect for Holy Week. On Monday, as part of St John's Smith Square's Holy Week Festival, violinist Lana Trotovšek performed Bach's great Partita No. 2 in D minor which concludes with the 'Chaconne'. The performance reflected the current thinking that the work is a tombeau for Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, who had died unexpectedly while Bach was away in Karlsbad, and that the 'Chaconne' is based on a number of funeral melodies from the Lutheran church. For the performance Trotovšek was joined by four of Tenebrae's Young Artists, Victoria Meteyard, Hannah King, Toby Ward, Joseph Edwards and movements from the Partita were interleaved with chorales, and then during the final 'Chaconne' the singers performed the chorales on which the movement was based whilst the violinist was playing the 'Chaconne'. 

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Hertfordshire Festival of Music 2021

Friends Meeting House, Hertford (Photo taken by Equus caballus, November 24, 2012, from Wikipedia)
Friends Meeting House, Hertford (Photo taken by Equus caballus, November 24, 2012, from Wikipedia)

Live classical music is cautiously coming out of hibernation and events cancelled or postponed last Summer are being scheduled for this year. The Hertfordshire Festival of Music, which was cancelled in 2020, has announced that the 2021 edition of the festival will be taking place from 4 to 10 June 2021, and for many coming to the festival this will be the first live classical music they have heard in over a year.

Launched in 2016 as a small weekend event and run by co-Artistic Directors conductor Tom Hammond and composer James Francis Brown, the festival has grown rapidly to become a major summer celebration of classical music based in and around the historic county town of Hertford.

This year's festival will feature violinist Chloe Hanslip as principal artist and she perform with the Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra in music by Pärt and Sibelius, will also give two recitals with pianist Danny Driver and masterclasses at Queenswood School in partnership with Future Talent.

This year’s Featured Living Composer will be Judith Weir and the festival will feature performances of her music with performances from the Albion String Quartet, Chloe Hanslip, the Hertfordshire Festival Orchestra, and Danny Driver. And Judith Weir will be in conversation with Tom Hammond talking about the music.

Other visitors to the festival include Fontanella Recorder Consort, which will be giving a concert celebrating the 350th anniversary of the building of Hertford’s Friends Meeting House, the oldest in the world still being used for its original purpose, ZRI (featuring Max Baillie, violin, Matthew Sharp, cello, Ben Harlan, clarinet, Jon Banks, accordion, and Iris Pissaride, dulcimer) named after Zum Roten Igel, or ‘To the Red Hedgehog’, the tavern in Vienna frequented by Schubert and Brahms, and Matthew Sharp will also be presenting Fairytale Stories, a one-man musical story-telling show for children 3+ and their families.

Full details from the Festival website.

Scholarship and enjoyment combine in Il Gusto Barocco's lovely fresh account of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos

Bach Brandenburg Concertos; Il Gusto Barocco, Jörg Halubek; Berlin Classics
Bach Brandenburg Concertos; Il Gusto Barocco, Jörg Halubek; Berlin Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 31 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A new recording from German period instrument ensemble Il Gusto Barocco combines scholarship with sheer enjoyment

Bach's Brandenburg Concertos is such a wild and wacky set of pieces that it is no wonder that every set of performers has their own view of them. Reinhard Goebbel recently gave a pair of fascinating talks for Kirill Gerstein Invites which introduced us to the complexities of trying to interpret the music based on Bach's manuscript, which is not the work of a professional copyist but of Bach himself. There is thus, probably no definitive account of the music possible on disc, each set of performers will create their own solutions to the work's problems.

The set of concertos is an assemblage of largely pre-existing works which Bach would have performed with the court kapelle in Köthen and commentators have pointed out that the range of solo instruments matches what we know about the players of the kapelle, whilst the inclusion of viols in the final concerto almost certainly reflects the fact that Leopold, Prince of Anhalt-Köthen played the viola da gamba. However there remain curiosities about the work (partly because Bach seems to have been re-composing the music as he copied it) and unanswered questions. The lack of any Baroque performing tradition (the dedicatee lacked the requisite musical establishment to bring off a performance so the manuscript languished until the 19th century) means we only have Bach's manuscript to go on.

For their new recording of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos on Berlin Classics, Jörg Halubek and Il Gusto Barocco have aimed to incorporate the latest research into the works. But the recording also arises out of the ensemble's performances of the concertos at the Bachwoche in Ansbach, with a result that these are very much lived in performances. The ensemble is based around 13 strings (violins, violas, cellos and violone) with the addition of an extra cello just for Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 with Jörg Halubek directing from the keyboard, and there is also a second keyboard player.

The results have an engaging chamber quality to them, lithe and lively with a nice transparency of texture and some great dance rhythms. Whilst there is some spectacular solo playing from individual performers, and of course the concertos give a wide variety of instruments their chance in the spotlight, what comes over is the sense of ensemble, with players advancing and receding as necessary rather than being over spotlit. Having listened to the disc a few times, this is definitely a recording that I would be happy to live with. Throughout, Halubek and the players seem to have no particular axe to grind, and instead make the music live and dance.

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