Monday, 31 May 2021

Handel the young Italian: Ensemble Marsyas in chamber music and duets from the composer's early years

Handel as a young man, c1710 (Handel-Haus, Halle)
Handel as a young man, c1710
(Handel-Haus, Halle)

Handel Trio sonatas, chamber duets, Amarilli Vezzosa; Louise Alder, Christopher Lowrey, Peter Whelan & Ensemble Marsyas; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 29 May 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
An vividly engaging programme of early Handel from trio sonatas to Italian chamber duets

Ensemble Marsyas, director Peter Whelan, brought a lovely programme of Handel chamber music to the Wigmore Hall on Saturday 29 May 2021, with two trio sonatas, and a bassoon sonata, and were joined by soprano Louise Alder and counter-tenor Christopher Lowrey for two of the Italian chamber duets and the cantata, Amarilli Vezzosa (Il Duello Amoroso).

The programme was very much an exploration of early Handel and whilst dates for some of the works are a little vague, all but one of the pieces dated from 1712 or before, thus we are exploring music written by Handel in Hanover (the chamber duets), Italy (the cantata) and his early years in London. Of course, this is not precise as he was notorious for re-using material so the Hanover chamber duets were copied out in 1711 and may have been written earlier. 

We began with the Sinfonia in B flat HWV 339 which may well date to Handel's years in Hamburg (1704-1706). This introduced us to the vividly engaging and energised playing of the ensemble, violins Sarah Sexton and Michael Gurevich, cello Sarah McMahon, and theorbo Sergio Bucheli directed from the harpsichord by Peter Whelan. The sinfonia was in three movements, fast slow fast, very Italianate in style and in both the fast and slow movements really enjoying the interplay of the two violins.

Next came the first of the chamber duets, Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi HWV 197, with Louise Alder and Christopher Lowrey accompanied by Whelan, McMahon and Bucheli. These duets were written for chamber performance, for Handel's talented aristocratic patrons to perform with the composer accompanying whether it be Italian aristocrats or the Princesses in Hanover. Handel wrote two batches of these duets, one in Italy and one in Hanover, and then surprisingly returned to the genre in London years later. HWV 197 was probably written in Hanover and like most of these duets features music reused later. 

Meant for Two: Brendan Moir, a young American pianist and composer, decides to forgo a final recital and release an album instead

Brendan Moir
Like many young music students in the present circumstances, pianist and composer Brendan Moir faced doing his final recital to a very limited audience. So, rather than create a concert that few would be allowed to see, he decided to "create something that I could continually be proud of and could share with an unlimited number of people. So I decided to make a 'professional quality' album in the span of a semester in the hopes of having its effects last much longer than its designated runtime. "

Brendan was studying at Baldwin Wallace Music Conservatory, which is part of Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio. Founded in 1845, Baldwin Wallace was one of the first colleges in the United States to admit students without regard to race or gender.

Brendan has just graduated, and he is planning on moving the UK this Autumn to take his Master's degree. In the meantime his new album, the fruits of his challenging time at college, is due for released on 20 June. Entitled Meant for Two, the album features Brendan and fellow students performing his chamber music. Why chamber music? Well, I will let Brendan take up the story.

"The reason I decided to do all chamber music for this album is mainly due to the fact that the students weren't allowed to record any large scale ensemble works, and I believed these pieces all fit the theme of Meant for Two quite well - most of them are either played by two people or meant to be experienced between two people. Thinking about it now, that would probably explain why half of them are influenced by different dance forms and why they all try to evoke a certain atmosphere and/or cultural style through the use of thick textures.

I decided to do an album because I didn't want to just have something that would specifically be segregated to the moment. However, getting the equipment/resources to accomplish this goal was quite the challenge. I had to reprogram my Chromebook to get a working Digital Audio Workstation up and running (think Garageband) and had to learn how to work this new operating system while I was also learning how to use my portable Zoom recorder as an audio interface. I had to teach myself an entirely different operating system while simultaneously learning about how microphones worked in order to get this idea off the ground, and I'm still learning the ins and outs of it!

There was also the trouble of having to continually change recording spaces because of restrictions put on me by the school - I was even booted from the school's recording studio closet! The same closet that no one but the audio engineers (such as myself) were able to access and which I had received exclusive permission from my boss to use. When everything was said and done, I had to change locations nearly 6 times, which for recording is less than ideal. Especially when I had to record almost every single track individually by myself. It was a time of questionable follow throughs.

Anyways, despite everything that happened and all of the personal hurdles that I had to jump over, I believe that I have created a worthwhile product that many others will also enjoy."

The music on the album is all Brendan's own, Dramaticum (Katherine's Piece), Prelude in G (Flug des Schwans), Pas de Deux for Solo Violoncello, Etude in E (Little Monster), Dueling Basses, La Tarjeta Postal, Tango for Violin and Cello, and Winter Blossom. Brendan describes his style as "very traditional with the incorporation of many modern techniques" and his philosophy and goal is "to create art that will make one think; to properly reflect the entirety of our human experience.". See what you think.

Brendan Moir's Meant For Two will be released on 20 June 2021, further information from Brendan's Bandcamp page.

Sunday, 30 May 2021

Full of contrasts and dramatic cogency - Beginnings: New and Early Opera at the Guildhall School

Beginnings: New and Early Opera - Crankshaw & Best, Carissimi, O'Grady & Sullivan, Ebenshade & Lavender; Charpentier; Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Beginnings: New and Early Opera
- Crankshaw & Best, Carissimi, O'Grady & Sullivan, Esbenshade & Lavender; Charpentier; Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 May 2021
Three new operas, created by students, and two very early operatic scenes in a striking and varied evening at the Guildhall School

Each academic year, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's MA in Opera Making & Writing programme culminates in short new chamber operas, written by composers and librettists on the course and then staged in collaboration with the Guildhall School's Opera Course. Inevitably, the 2019/20 course was not quite the same, and the culmination was a partially filmed performance with everyone in isolation. The new operas from the Opera Makers finally reached the stage when the Guildhall School staged them as part of a quadruple bill.

On Friday night (28 May 2021) I was lucky enough to catch Beginnings: New and Early Opera at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama's Silk Street Theatre, with the stage premieres of The Apothecary (composer Amy Crankshaw, librettist Clare Best), Eintänzer (composer Aran O'Grady, librettist Kaitlin Sullivan) and I'm Cleaning, I'm Cleaning (composer Abel Esbenshade, librettist Aubrey Lavender), plus Carissimi's Judicium Salomonis and Charpentier's Orphée descendante aux enfers, directed by John Ramster, conducted by Chad Kelly, with designs by Louis Carver, lighting by Jake Wiltshire and movement from Victoria Newlyn.

The three new operas, perhaps written with a a rather smaller space within the Guildhall School in mind, used its largest theatre for these performances to allow for social distancing. Thus the productions had to some extent expand the operas to fill the space, which they did admirably but there were moments where I wished we had been in a more intimate space with the ability of the singers to get the words over more. But all the performances were superbly engaged and engaging, these were confident expositions of three very talented works and I certainly look forward to what the composers and librettists get up to next. Whilst not all three composers wrote tunes as such, all three operas had singable vocal lines, these seemed to be singer friendly and expressive (two things which don't always happen in new opera). Each composer took an imaginatively different approach to the craft of making an opera, ensuring it is performable whilst keeping the elements of their style.

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Returning to Brahms: pianist Anna Tsybuleva won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2015 with Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 and returned to the work for her debut concerto disc

Anna Tysbuleva (Photo Vera Greiner)
Anna Tysbuleva (Photo Vera Greiner)

The Russian pianist Anna Tsybuleva won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2015 with her performance of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2 and she has now recorded the work, with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and conductor Ruth Reinhardt, for her debut concerto recording on Signum Classics (released 28 May 2021), pairing the concerto with a sequence of Brahms' solo piano works. Earlier last month Anna was at her home in the Caucasus (at one point she showed me the wonderful view from the house), where I caught up with her by Zoom to talk about Brahms, the advantages and disadvantages of competitions, the transformative effect of performing in her first competition at the age of seven and more.

The Brahms concerto is a very special work for Anna, she first met it at school 12 to 15 years ago when she heard Emil Gilels' recording. She was amazed by it, and had a very clear wish to play the work but realised that she needed time to prepare for it, to grow up and to collect life experiences. The year before the Leeds competition she had returned to the concerto and felt ready for it, and the natural beauty of her home in the Caucasus (which she calls an inspiring place) recalled for her Brahms' love of nature. The final of the Leeds competition was the first time that she had played it in public, a brave step.

Afterwards, she wanted to play the concerto again and again, and given the possibility of a concerto recording, the work was her first choice. When I ask whether she plays it differently now to the way she did in 2015, she says she does and will do so in the future, commenting that music is like a river and we cannot play it the same way every day.

Friday, 28 May 2021

Shimmer: debut album from Brixton-based singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer

Josiah Mortimer: Shimmer
Earlier this year, I covered the release of an EP by my local, Brixton-based singer/songwriter Josiah Mortimer, and now he has released a complete album Shimmer. His debut album, recorded entirely at home during lockdown, Shimmer consists of nine acoustic-based tracks reflecting on the past year – with many written in the height of London’s latest lockdown, this February. It was recorded from Josiah’s South London flat, and mixed/mastered by Washington-based producer Greg Pierce.  Josiah – who is originally from Cornwall – plays acoustic guitar, kalimba, bass, mandolin, and all vocal parts on the album.

Josiah draws on acoustic and folk influences including Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and John Martyn, to provide a musical diary of the emotional turmoil of the past year – with themes of isolation, as well as unity and hope. 

All funds from Shimmer will go to Global Justice Now, which is campaigning for greater global access to Covid vaccines. Further details from Josiah Mortimer's Bandcamp page with a video at Distrokid, and Shimmer will be available on all streaming platforms and services.

 


Already Gone: Echo in music by Britten, Palestrina and AHOHNI alongside winners of their composition competition

Echo (Photo Eliza Brown)
Echo (Photo Eliza Brown)

Echo vocal ensemble is returning to the concert stage in June and July 2021. Conducted by Sarah Latto, the choir is presenting  Already Gone, a programme which combines music by Palestrina and Clemens non papa with Britten's Five Flower Songs and world premieres from the winners of Echo’s inaugural Competition Composition, alongside a work by ANOHNI, the former lead singer with Anthony and the Johnson. Already Gone is being performed at the Music Room, London W1 (26/6/21) and Kings Place, London (21/7/21), Stoller Hall, Manchester (31/7/21) and Midland Arts Centre, Birmingham (6/8/21), and there will also be a on-line version of the concert as well with extra content.

The programme includes works by the joint winners of Echo's Composition Competition, Lillie Harris and Rory Wainwright Johnston, along with music by the shortlisted entrants, James Brady, Karen Lemon, and Janet Oates, with some different pieces at each venue.

Echo is a vocal ensemble made up of young professional singers from across the UK, and the group came together through Genesis Sixteen, the prestigious Young Artists Scheme run by The Sixteen.

Further details from the choir's website.


Still Life

London based musician and composer Fougére (Jamie Norton) released his debut album, Still Life, on 21 May 2021. Consisting of ten solo piano pieces, the album is a personal, inspirational thought piece fused with neo classical influences, Jamie explains: "A few years ago I became really interested in the work of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi, “a painter of the kind of still life composition that communicates a sense of tranquility and privacy.” I was looking for this same sense of stillness and minimalism within this music; To try and capture a mood or moment, as if it were a still life painting."

The video is Descent performed by Fougère and recorded live at Printworks, London on Wednesday 23rd September 2020 [YouTube].

Further details from Fougère's link tree.

Six weeks of live music involving 2000 musicians with live audiences: the BBC Proms 2021

BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
How it was: the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in 2019

The good news is that this year's BBC Proms will be happening, at the Royal Albert Hall and with a live audience, running from 30 July to 11 September 2021, with six chamber Proms at Cadogan Hall. Of course, things are somewhat different this year and at the BBC Proms launch yesterday (27 May 2021) David Pickard, director of the BBC Proms, admitted that planning had not been easy. They have tried to balance caution with optimism and the six-week programme currently has a number of gaps in it, to allow for flexibility.

Whatever we might feel is missing, there is much to celebrate - 52 concerts, 30 ensembles, 100 conductors and soloists and 2000 musicians. Practicality means that there is only one visiting orchestra (the Mahler Chamber Orchestra bringing the world premiere of a BBC commission by George Benjamin, belatedly celebrating his 60th birthday last year), but Pickard sees this as way of celebrating UK orchestras and supporting UK musicians. The Proms will not solve the problems of all the musicians with cancelled gigs, but six weeks of live music feels very much like a symbolic start.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Exploring the Jistebnice kancionál: Barbora Kabátková chats about the Tiburtina Ensemble's exploration of this Czech manuscript

The Jistebnice Kancionál in Prague National Museum
The Jistebnice Kancionál in Prague National Museum


The Jistebnice kancionál is not well-known. It is a Czech hand-written hymnbook from around 1430 and the earliest witness to a concentrated effort to translate the liturgy of the Western Church into the vernacular. The Tiburtina Ensemble, artistic director Barbora Kabátková, has recently been exploring the music in the
Jistebnice kancionál and talks about their discovery of the music and its challenges. But first, what exactly is the manuscript.

The Jistebnice kancionál is the largest surviving compendium and the most important source of Hussite liturgy and singing in the Czech lands. It contains Czech translations of Latin liturgy, religious hymns, songs to be sung at vespers and also Czech folk Christmas carols. 

The manuscript was discovered by a student in 1827 in the attic of the presbytery in the South Bohemian village of Jistebnice. Today, it is best known for containing the Hussite choral anthem Ye Who Are Warriors of God. (Best known from its inclusion in Smetana's symphonic poems Tábor and Blaník, parts of the cycle Ma Vlast.) Yet the most notable aspect of the hand-written hymnbook is that it features songs in Czech for mass and prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours. It would seem that the bold project's aim was to make liturgy accessible to the wide religious community in their own language. The creators evidently above all strove to translate Latin hymns into Czech, but they also wrote tunes of their own. Of a particularly high value is the record of the Easter liturgy that, owing to its detailed instructions, affords us a view of the Hussite form of worship.  

The Hussites were followers of the Czech reformed, Jan Hus (1372-1415), and an important Proto-Protestant movement - another such were followers of John Wycliffe (1320s–1384). After Hus was burned at the stake by the church and the Holy Roman Emperor, there was an explosion in Bohemia and within five years an independent Czech church had been established following Hus' teachings. There were two main points of difference from the Roman church, its insistence that at communion people receive both bread and wine (in the Roman church's Tridentine liturgy the people only receive bread) and its use of the language of the people, the Czech language, in worship. It is this latter point which links us to the manuscript and its important documentation of the development of the Hussite liturgy.

Of course, a musical manuscript does not live until its music is performed. And whilst there are a number of unanswered questions and mysteries about the manuscript, a new recording on Supraphon introduces us to the music. The Tiburtina Ensemble, artistic director Barbora Kabátková, has recently released Jistebnický kancionál - Sound of the Bohemian Pre-Reformation on Supraphon. Barbora Kabátková was recently interviewed about the disc and introduced the music and its challenges.

Romanticism with bite: Daniele Gatti conducts Schumann's symphonies with Dresden Festival Orchestra at opening of the festival

Schumann: Symphony No. 1 - Daniele Gatti, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2021 (Image from live stream)
Schumann: Symphony No. 1 - Daniele Gatti, Dresden Festival Orchestra - Dresden Music Festival 2021 (Image from live stream)

Schumann Symphonies; Dresden Festival Orchestra, Daniele Gatti; Live stream from Dresden Music Festival

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 May 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Texture, timbre and a sense of daring - Schumann's symphonies from the period instrument Dresden Festival Orchestra

This year's Dresden Music Festival is taking a mixed approach, during May there are live-streams and then in June there will be concerts with audience. This meant that the festival's opening concerts, featuring the Festival Orchestra, were two live-streams from the Kulturpalast, Dresden on 24 and 25 May 2021, when Daniele Gatti conducted the orchestra in a complete cycle of Schumann's symphonies.

Schumann's symphonies can sometimes seem rather underappreciated on the concert platform. We are long past the canard that he could not write for orchestra, but even so audiences do not really seem to have taken the works to heart in the way that they have those of Mendelssohn. But compared to Mendelssohn, who was writing string symphonies when he was a teenager, Schumann's symphonies  come relatively late in his output. It was the encouragement of his wife, Clara, which led to the first symphony in 1841, and the revised fourth was finished in 1851. The music is very linked to Robert's life with Clara, the two studying Bach together, for instance, and in the mid-1840s his move away from composing at the piano.Listening to these performances from Daniele Gatti (conducting from memory) and the period instrument Dresden Festival Orchestra, what I came to appreciate was the works' daring and the moments where the music seemed to look forward rather than back.

Just play, and play, and play: Nicola Benedetti releases her first period performance album with Baroque on Decca

Violinist Nicola Benedetti, having explored Baroque repertoire in a number of ways, is releasing a Baroque album in July on Decca. This will be her first album in period-setup with gut strings and she will be supported by the Benedetti Baroque Orchestra which includes such period performances luminaries as violinists Kati Debretzeni and Matthew Truscott, lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and harpsichordist Steven Devine, performing concertos by Vivaldi plus a concerto grosso by Geminiani.

Not every violinist finds the world of period-performance invigorating, but violinist Alina Ibragimova moves between the two worlds whilst cellist Jan Vogler, when I interviewed him in 2016, talked about the refreshing challenge of playing with gut strings. Benedetti has been nothing if not adventurous in her repertoire and she gave us a taste of what we might expect with her striking Vivaldi concerto performances with Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen at the 2020 BBC Proms. 

And she explains her introduction to performing in this world, 'The sound world of early eighteenth-century Italy first came into full three-dimensional focus for me when I met Italian conductor, harpsichordist and founder of the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Andrea Marcon. Having listened obsessively to his recordings, I was both honoured and humbled by the opportunity. “Just bring your violin and see what happens”. You can imagine how ill-equipped and ill-prepared I was feeling. I took comfort in assuming it would be more talk than playing, but that’s certainly not what Andrea had in mind. To him, the music of Vivaldi is talking. It’s the best kind of conversation you can conjure up and provides the fastest way to get to know someone. Just play, and play, and play.'

As well as releasing the disc, Benedetti and her Benedetti Baroque Orchestra are giving a series of live performances at Battersea Arts Centre between 18 and 21 July 2021. And for the first time her Benedetti Foundation will present Baroque Virtual Sessions for three weeks in July. Following the enormous success of previous Virtual Sessions which have taken place during the pandemic, the Benedetti Foundation will work with musicians of all ages and stages on Geminiani's La Folia which features on the Baroque album.

Further information about the Baroque album from Decca and from Benedetti's website.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

The spaces in between: José Luis Hurtado's music explores the relationships between complexity and freedom

José Luis Hurtado Parametrical Counterpoint; Talea Ensemble, José Luis Hurtado; KAIROS

José Luis Hurtado Parametrical Counterpoint; Talea Ensemble, José Luis Hurtado; KAIROS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 May 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Graphical scores by the Mexican composer create works of great freedom, complexity and luminosity

Music has always been a contract between the composer and the performer; nothing is every fully written down and the unwritten element presumes an agreed way of doing things. That is why historically informed performance often requires performers to comb theses and manuscripts to elucidate exactly what was taken for granted and not written down.

Composers write down what is important to them, and leave performers the flexibility to adjust the rest and this is just as true of Bach, Beethoven or Birtwistle; apparent complexity can mask a considerable amount of leeway for the performer. On this new disc of music by the Mexican-born American composer José Luis Hurtado, Parametrical Counterpoint on the Kairos label, Hurtado and Talea Ensemble perform a programme of eight of Hurtado's recent works, except that four of these are the same work, Parametrical Counterpoint from 2015.

The apparent complexity of Hurtado's music, and it is complex, masks the fact that he gives performers a great deal of freedom. So that on the disc, Parametrical Counterpoint is performed in four different versions, each one different. For Hurtado, that is the point, he refers to the work as never having a fixed surface but always changing, always presenting a different facet. Yet the work is written down, via a graphical score with written instructions; what Hurtado chooses to write down and what he leaves out is what helps define his music.

Hurtado studied piano performance and composition at Conservatorio de las Rosas ( Morelia, Mexico), composition at Universidad Veracruzana ( Xalapa, Mexico ) took a Ph.D. at Harvard University where he studied under Mario Davidovsky, Chaya Czernowin, Magnus Lindberg, Brian Ferneyhough and Helmut Lachenmann. The names of his teachers give some indication of the aural background to Hurtado's work.

But he also says in his illuminating booklet essay that he has been experimenting with compositional strategies where the interpreter is an essential part of the creative process, "developing the characteristics of the original proposal and at the same time printing their personal stamp without any inhibition and thus, building the final personality of the work". These are scores which invite "the player to focus on the spirit, intention and general energy of the work rather than the mechanics and precision of the details." This, I think, is a key phrase. In all this music, Hurtado is interested in this spirit, intention and general energy.

Introducing the music of Katia Makdissi-Warren

Dialogues - music of Katia Makdissi-Warren at Société de musique contemporaine du Québec
The name of composer  Katia Makdissi-Warren might be entirely new to you. She is resident in Quebec but her background mixes the Middle-East and Canada, whilst her music draws in a whole variety of influences. She studied composition in Quebec and in Hamburg, as well as Arabic and Syrian music in Beirut, and her teachers included Ennio Morricone. Now, thanks to the wonders of the inter-web, there is the chance to explore Makdissi-Warren's music. 

On 17 June 2021, the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) concludes its hybrid season (concerts with audience and live stream) with the Dialogues at the Cocathédrale Saint-Antoine-de-Padoue in Longueuil, Canada. The concert is live in the church but will also be live-streamed, and for those who cannot cope with the time differences, the concert is available on catch-up for six months.

The concert presents music for flute, harp and voice by Makdissi-Warren, Caroline Lizotte and Marc Hyland. the organisers describe it thus, 'Navigating between the written and the improvised, Dialogues leads listeners into a complex and mysterious sound universe, where the modern flute is imbued with the colours of the nay (a reed flute played in Arab, Turkish and Persian music), bringing together a dozen musicians in a skilful blend of western and eastern influences '

The music will include six works by Makdissi-Warren, Dialogue du silence (2003), Jetstream (2007), Ô Virtus (2018), Chants du prophète (2012, 21), La dame du Nil (2011), and the premiere of Dialogue de l'écho (2003, 2021) performed by Marie-Hélène Breault, artistic director, arrangements, flutes ; Guy Pelletier, flutes; Geneviève Déraspe, flutes; Jeffrey Stonehouse, flutes ; Ghislaine Deschambault, mezzo-soprano; Vincent Ranallo, baritone; Catherine Meunier, percussions ; Pamela Reimer, piano ; Antoine Malette-Chénier, harp.

The concert's artistic director Marie-Hélène Breault has been working with the composer for 15 years, and describes Makdissi-Warren's music has having a dialogue between cultures, so that several pieces on the programme are inspired by taqasim, a form of improvisation found in Arab music.

The concert is free, full details from the SMCQ website.

The Guest: Caroline Leighton

The Guest is a poem by John Drinkwater (1882-1937), in the period immediately before the First World War he was one of the group of poets associated with the Gloucestershire village of Dymock, along with Rupert Brooke and others.

The poem is here set to music by composer Caroline Leighton, the first in a set of Leighton's songs setting poetry by Drinkwater, performed here by Allan Smith (baritone) with the composer at the piano.

Caroline has recently published two pieces with Encore Publications, Mary in the Garden and The Christ Child, and she has recently  been commissioned to set to music a poem by Anne Atkins -  a regular on Radio 4's Thought for the day programme. The commissioned piece is for Mother’s Day next year. 

Caroline studied at Leeds College of Music, where as a pianist she specialised in performance and Lieder. Currently settled in the Lincolnshire Wolds, following four months living with Carmelite nuns in Norfolk discerning religious life. This was the conclusion of many years of contemplation on a spiritual path for Caroline, having also spent time with the Poor Clares in Arundel, West Sussex.

The video was recorded at St James's Church, Louth, Lincolnshire. More information from Caroline Leighton's website.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Riveting drama: La Clemenza di Tito returns to Covent Garden after a near 20-year gap

Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito - Nicole Chevalier, Angela Brower, George Freeburn, Joshua Bloom, Jeremy White - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Clive Barda)
Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito - Nicole Chevalier, Angela Brower, George Freeburn, Joshua Bloom, Jeremy White - Royal Opera House (Photo ROH/Clive Barda)

Mozart La Clemenza di Tito; Edgaras Montvidas, Emily d'Angelo, Nicole Chevalier, Angela Brower, Christina Gansch, Joshua Bloom, dir: Richard Jones, cond: Mark Wigglesworth; Royal Opera

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 May 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The Royal Opera's return to large-scale opera was a strikingly modern, yet supremely intelligent take on Mozart's wondrous but problematic late work


Something about Mozart's La Clemeza di Tito seems to appeal to opera companies in the present climate. A new production was live-streamed from Bergen National Opera in March [see my review] and last month National Opera (based in Canberra, Australia) was launched with a production which featured soprano Helena Dix at Vitella. And now, the Royal Opera House has woken from its long slumber to welcome audiences with a new production (the company's first for nearly 20 years).

On Sunday 23 May 2021 we caught the final performance of Richard Jones' new production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito at Covent Garden, conducted by Mark Wigglesworth with Edgaras Montvidas as Titus, Emily D'Angelo as Sextus, Nicole Chevalier as Vitellia, Angela Brower as Annius, Christina Gansch as Servilia and Joshua Bloom as Publius. The designs were by Ultz with lighting by Adam Silverman.

Despite the recent gap, the opera has an important place in Covent Garden history. Anthony Besch's 1974 production (which was revived regularly until 1989) played an important role in the 20th century's rediscovery of this work, and it was one of the productions which the company took to Italy for its first ever residency at La Scala, Milan with Janet Baker as Vitellia.

Richard Jones' approach to the opera was never going to be straight-forward, but he is not a director to willfully adjust operatic dramaturgy.

Celebrating visual arts created by classical musicians during lockdown

Fermata Festival

Anyone who has had half an eye on Instagram and Twitter during the past year will realise that many performers have been turning to other arts and crafts during the terrible fallow period. Quite a number of musicians have been drawing and painting, and this has inspired a new festival.

Roger Vignoles: Garden
Roger Vignoles: Garden
The three-day Fermata Festival is the brainchild of violinist Yuri Kalnits and cellist Julia Morneweg, who run ChamberMusicBox, a collective of leading British and European artists promoting concerts in London and other parts of the UK. Fermata is a festival of classical music and visual art being presented from 25 to 27 June 2021, as part of the Kensington and Chelsea Arts Week. There will be four live concerts alongside an exhibition of artworks created by classical musicians during the period when concerts halls were silent. The exhibition is being created by gallery owner and arts consultant Alan Kluckow.

There will be a physical exhibition of around 100 works at St Cuthbert's Church in Earl's Court as well as an online Fermata Festival Gallery. All works are exhibited for sale and proceeds, after exhibition costs, go directly to the artists, with names such as Stephen Hough, Roger Vignoles, Moray Welsh, Elisaveta Blumina, Rivka Golani, Ilya Kondratiev and members of the Carducci and Albion Quartets. 

There are four concerts planned, ChamberMusicBox Artists play sextets by Strauss and Tchaikovsky (25 June), the Misha Mullov-Abbado Group performs jazz compositions by Misha (26 June), Raphael Wallfisch in Bach's Cello Suites nos. 1-3 (27 June), and a free community concert performed by several of the exhibition artists.

Full details from the festival website.

Exploring the operas of Gustav Holst at the Leeds Opera Festival

Leeds Opera Festival
Like the operas of his friend and colleague, Ralph Vaughan Williams, the operas of Gustav Holst remain on the fringes of the repertoire at best. Whilst Holst's one-act opera Savitri might occasionally pop up (partly due to its sheer practicality), his other operas remain real rarities. I have seen Savtri (memorably with Janet Baker and John Shirley Quirk at Scottish Opera), however his other works including At The Boar's Head, The Perfect Fool and The Wandering Scholar, have so far eluded me. However, that is about to change because the 2021 Leeds Opera Festival, presented by the Northern Opera Group, is bringing Holst's operas to the fore.

Running from 23 to 30 August 2021, the festival is presenting a double bill of Holst's Savitri and At the Boar's Head, the first based on a tale from a Sanskrit epic the second based on Shakespeare. Savitri will feature Meeta Raval in the title role and both productions will be directed by Emma Black and conducted by Lewis Gaston. The chorus in Savitri will be the festival's emerging artist chorus, which will be giving a lunchtime concert too.

Holst's The Wandering Scholar, based on Helen Waddell's book The Wandering Scholars, was his final opera and there are indications that he intended to revise it but he was too ill and never saw the work performed. The festival will be presenting a touring production which will visit eight community venues in Leeds and West Yorkshire, with a production directed by Jim Osman and conducted by David Ward.

Holst had a great interest in Sanskrit and early Indian culture. He did his own English versions of poems from the Rig Veda which he set for women's chorus, and the libretto of Savitri was created by Holst from the episode of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahābhārata. So it is apposite that the festival is highlighting the cross cultural links of Savitri, by commissioning (with South Asian Arts UK) a new work from composer Sarah Sayeed and poet Jaspreet Kaur (better known as Behind the Netra), both of South Asian heritage, which responds to Savitri. There will also be an exhibition exploring Leeds' operatic history, all 300 years of it, plus talks, discussions and family events.

Full details from the Leeds Opera Festival website.

Circus Days and Nights: Philip Glass' opera based on Robert Lax's circus poems to premiere in Malmö

Philip Glass: Circus Days And Nights(Image Peter Aberg / Photo Karo)
Philip Glass: Circus Days And Nights
(Image Peter Aberg / Photo Karo)

American poet Robert Lax (1915-2000) was fascinated by the circus and during the 1940s worked in circuses in Canada as a clown and expert juggler. It was travelling with the Cristiani Brothers circus in 1949 that enabled him to generate material for his long poems The Circus of the Sun and Mogador's Book. [There is some film footage of Cristiani Brothers' circus on the Robert Lax website]. The Circus of the Sun is a cycle of 31 short poems which tells a day in the life of a travelling circus, aligning events with the canonical hours. 

Composer Philip Glass had long been fascinated by Lax's circus poetry and for the last ten years has had the rights to Lax's circus poem. But it is only now that Glass has ventured into putting his vision of Lax's poetic world into practice, thanks to an innovative Swedish director.

Tilde Björfors, who is renowned for incorporating circus acts into traditional theatre, is the founder and Artistic Director of the Swedish company Cirkus Cirkör. In 2016 she directed a production of Philip Glass' Satyagraha at Folkoperan, Stockholm which was a collaboration between Folkoperan and Cirkus Cirkör which was a spectacular mix of opera and circus. It was seeing Björfors' production of Satyagraha that convinced Glass that he had found his circus for his work based on Lax's poetry.

Circus Days and Nights will feature a libretto by David Henry Hwang based on Lax's circus poetry, and will be staged as a collaboration between Cirkus Cirkör and Malmö Opera, directed by Tilde Björfors. The new opera will take audiences on a spectacular adventure into the world of the circus and the performers who dedicate their lives to this art, capturing a day in their lives as a spiritual ceremony, one which honours the cycle of life and death. The show will be performed on Malmö Opera’s main stage with live music to an intimate socially distanced live audience and streamed worldwide, and the cast will include soprano Elin Rombo who recently sang the title role in Rufus Wainwright's opera Prima Donna at Royal Swedish Opera.

The opera will be streamed on-line from 29 May to 13 June 2021, full details from the opera website.

Monday, 24 May 2021

A Life On-Line: reinventing Machaut, exploring harmoniemusik and Ethel Smyth's teacher

Machaut: How can I forget? - English Touring Opera (Image taken from live stream)
Machaut: How can I forget? - English Touring Opera (Image taken from live stream)

This was a week when we cautiously welcomed audiences back to concert halls and opera houses. Whilst we have caught some live performances, we have also been catching up on-line, with Harmoniemusik from the Academy of Ancient Music, Machaut from English Touring Opera, music by Ethel Smyth's from Opera North and a viola da gamba trip up a mountain with NextUs.

The Academy of Ancient Music's concert from West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge, Harmoniemusik: From field to table was part of AAM's on-line offering but also had a live audience. The programme was directed from bassoon by Peter Whelan, and featured four works by Mozart, Beethoven and Franz Krommer which showed how the style of harmoniemusik was adopted by composers. Mozart wrote a number of works for wind ensemble which come under the banner of harmoniemusik, which was a particular form of the wind ensemble popular in Austria using pairs of instruments and often played outdoors. Everything was arranged for such ensembles (Mozart has fun with this in Don Giovanni), but composers also wrote specific works. 

The chance to hear instruments from Chopin's time alongside modern pianos at Third Chopin Festival Hamburg

Hubert Rutkowski, artistic director of the Chopin Festival Hamburg, with the 1847 Pleyel piano being used at the festival
Hubert Rutkowski, artistic director of the Chopin Festival Hamburg,
with the 1847 Pleyel piano being used at the festival
The Third Chopin Festival Hamburg is taking place from 11 to 13 June 2021, and for the first time the festival will be live-streamed which means that all five concerts can be seen anywhere in the world, free of charge. The festival places its artistic focus not just on Chopin but on on the comparison of the sound worlds of modern and historical keyboard instruments. 

This year's festival comes from the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg and the museum has provided the historic instruments used in the festival. This means that alongside modern pianos we get to hear two pianos from Chopin's time, an 1880 Érard, and an 1847 Pleyel plus a 1728 Zell harpsichord. The second concert will offer a direct comparison of the sound worlds of a historic and a modern grand piano, with pianist Mari Kodama performing works by Chopin, Ravel, and Dutilleux on the Érard and a 2019 Shigeru Kawai. 

The concert venues in the museum will include the striking Hall of Mirrors, created in 1909 for a luxurious villa build by Henry and Emma Budge and installed in the museum in 1987. [The room has a complex and significant history, and there is a fascinating article at the Jewish History Online website]

Performers at the festival include Hubert Rutkowski, the festival's artistic director, who will be giving a piano duo recital with Severin von Eckardstein, Mari Kodama, Tomasz Ritter, Menno van Delft and Stepan Simonian. Repertoire will include Chopin, of course, alongside the music of predecessors, contemporarys and successors right through to Ravel and Dutilleux.

Full details from the Chopin Festival website.

ARMSymphony AI Violin Competition

ARMSymphony AI Violin Competition

 The issue of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and classical music is an intriguing one, we don't seem to be there yet, quite. But technological developments in the area are significant. Now a new competition is going to showcase just such innovations.

The ARMSymphony AI Violin Competition will feature competitors playing Khachaturian's Violin Concerto with an orchestral accompaniment recorded by the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra 'conducted' by a remarkable new app, Cadenza Live which has been developed by Metamusic Inc. The Armenian State Symphony Orchestra has a track record of technological innovations, it took the 2020 Khachaturian competition online, using technology that was specially created to synchronize recordings submitted by contestants with the playing of the orchestra.

The new app allows musicians to play with an attentive AI accompanist, making music together in real time (rather than synchronizing the solo and accompaniment after the fact). So competition is aimed at musicians from around the world, many of whom may not have ready access to a sensitive accompanist, to show what they can do, technically and musically, with the backing of a skilled and responsive (albeit virtual) professional orchestra. 

There is more detail at the Metamusic website, and the competition is open to all violinists with a deadline of 15 September 2021.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Sheer joy: Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton's Elysium at Wigmore Hall

Joseph Middleton and Carolyn Sampson at a previous Wigmore Hall concert (Photo Robert Piwko)
Joseph Middleton and Carolyn Sampson at a previous Wigmore Hall concert (Photo Robert Piwko)

Elysium
- Schubert; Carolyn Sampson, Joseph Middleton; Wigmore Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 May 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A return of live audiences, Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton celebrate with a programme of Schubert

Our first live concert this year, the first song recital at Wigmore Hall since it started welcoming audiences again, so no pressure then. Rather appropriately, soprano Carolyn Sampson and pianist Joseph Middleton looked to Schubert for their inspiration. Elysium was a programme of songs inspired by the mythical idea of a blessed and happy eternal future, which led us from Jakob Nikolaus Craigher de Jachelutta's young nun to Friedrich Schiller's description of Elysium itself, via Goethe's Ganymede and Rückert's Du bist der Ruh.

The programme played without an interval and with just two breaks for the artists, so that with no applause between the items this really flowed with the transitions between the songs as important as the songs themselves as Sampson's intent, rapt The young nun moved straight into the rather eerie Sister's Greeting where the tension grew intense, then Goethe's Ganymede provided a joyful release. Now, I confess that I have always found this latter song and poem a bit strange; if you can get over the fact that it barely relates to the myth of Zeus abducting the young boy, then this was wonderful with its combination of urgency and purity.

Throughout the recital, Sampson sang with a silvery purity, producing some lovely line alongside fine words, and Middleton complemented her with some strongly characterised piano playing. Sampson was able to give us many different incarnations of joy and wonder, along with a sense of essential goodness and almost simplicity, yet the result when combined with Middleton's piano created a complex mix.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

English Touring Opera invites you to win a walk-on role in one of their productions

Puccini: La Boheme - English Touring Opera
Puccini: La Boheme - English Touring Opera

Like most arts organisations, English Touring Opera is fundraising in order to be able to look forward to its forthcoming live seasons. Part of this is a Silent Auction taking place at the moment (closing at 9pm on 27 May), here the items being auctioned include not only things like holidays, good wine, art and signed books, but there are opera themed items too.

Those of a generous heart might be inclined perhaps to bid for a in-person performance from four world-class ETO singers, or what about a walk-on role in one of ETO's productions? You can bid for a chance to appear in ETO's Spring production of Puccini's La Boheme as an extra in London, Snape Maltings, Sheffield, York, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Durham, Canterbury, Exeter, Norwich, Buxton and Poole. Now how cool is that?

Full details from the Silent Auction website.


Fiendish, but fantastic: after a long relationship with the composer, percussionist Colin Currie has recorded both of HK Gruber's percussion concertos

Colin Currie
Colin Currie

The percussionist Colin Currie has a new disc out, his own label, Colin Currie Records. Having previously issued Steve Reich's Drumming, a duet disc with trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger, Scene of the Crime, and Colin Currie & Steve Reich Live at Fondation Louis Vuitton on the label, the new disc has percussion concertos by the Austrian composer, conductor and chansonnier HK Gruber. Featuring two live recordings with the BBC Philharmonic and conductors Juanjo Mena and John Storgårds, the disc sees Colin performing Gruber's Rough Music from 1982-83 and into the open..., which Colin premiered at the BBC Proms in 2015. I recently met up with Colin, via Zoom, to chat about H.K. Gruber, Colin's connection to Steve Reich's music, what makes a good percussion concerto and more.

HK Gruber: Percussion Concertos - Colin Currie
One of the reasons that Colin wanted to issue the disc was that he feels the Gruber concertos have a unique place in percussion concertos yet are rather lesser known than other contemporary concertos. into the open..., of course, has only had a few performances since the premiere but for Colin, Rough Music has been a smash hit. He has performed it a lot and feels close to the piece, and in fact, recorded it in his own version. Colin had performed both works in recent times with the BBC Philharmonic (which has a long association with Gruber) and both concerts were memorable and it is the recordings from these that they have been able to use for the new disc.

into the open..., which Colin premiered, has an ambitious use of percussion and the piece needed an intense amount of editing, finessing the virtuosic solo part (Gruber evidently calls this the 'Colin Currie Edition'). But Colin feels that we now have a practical version of the piece which could be played by others though so far Colin is the only percussionist to have played the work. He describes it as 'fiendish, but fantastic' and it includes proverbial fistfuls of notes. It requires a huge percussion set-up including timpani and tomtoms, yet reveals many different sides to the solo part. Performance of the work also needs stamina, there are only a few seconds rest in the piece, and in these, the soloist still has things to do with the set-up.

When I ask about the style of Gruber's music, Colin comments that it is difficult to describe. He sees the music as very European, and Gruber (who trained in Vienna at what is now called the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien) comes through the Austro-German tradition from Berg and Richard Strauss. Yet the music of Kurt Weill is also close to Gruber's heart, so the result is expressionist, melodic and hard to pin down! Very much the maverick indeed, and there is an anarchy in Gruber's music that pushes boundaries, and Colin's article about Gruber in the disc's booklet notes is entitled, 'HK Gruber, The Artful Anarchist'.

Colin has performed both of Gruber's concertos with Gruber conducting and indeed their collaboration goes back to 2001 when Colin first worked with Gruber in Leipzig.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Unashamedly delicious: Nostalgic Russia, music for violin and piano from Hideko Udagawa and Petr Limonov

Nostalgic Russia - Tchaikovsky, Eduard Nápravník, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Arensky, Scriabin, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky; Hideko Udagawa, Petr Limonov; Northern Flowers

Nostalgic Russia
- Tchaikovsky, Eduard Nápravník, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Arensky, Scriabin, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky; Hideko Udagawa, Petr Limonov; Northern Flowers

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 21 May 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The London-based Japanese violinist returns to Russia with a wonderful cache of richly melodic repertoire from the late 19th and early 20th centuries

There is something unashamedly delicious about the music on this new album, Nostalgic Russia from violinist Hideko Udagawa and pianist Petr Limonov on Northern Flowers. It brings together short pieces by Russian composers from the late 19th and early 20th century, works which enjoy their melody in an unashamed way but which are sophisticated too. So we have music by Tchaikovsky, Eduard Nápravník, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Arensky, Scriabin, Shostakovich and Kabalevsky, some written originally for violin and piano, others in arrangements by Mikhailovsky, Kreisler, Mogilevsky, Heifetz, and Tsyganov.

We begin with Tchaikovsky, arrangements of two short piano pieces; Romance is an early work, from 1868, whilst Valse Sentimentale is a late one, from 1882. Both display both Tchaikovsky's talent for melody, and his ability to express emotion in what could be a salon piece, creating bitter-sweet, soulful music. And that is very true of most of the works on this disc, they are relatively compact and would make a lovely addition to a recital programme. The music's revelling in its melodic charm veers towards to salon, but the harmonic and structural sophistication means that there is great emotional depth too.

Young composers in Sweden, Manchester and Denmark: O/Modernt, Manchester International Festival and BBC Philharmonic

Paul Saggers
Paul Saggers

The Swedish O/Modernt festival, artistic director Hugo Ticciati, has announced the winner of the 2021 iteration of its annual Composition Award. This year's competition was staged in collaboration with the Manchester International Festival, the Manchester Camerata, specialist music school Lilla Akademien and DUEN – The Danish Youth Ensemble. The winning work will be premiered at the Manchester International Festival on 16 July 2021, at a site-specific concert The Patience of Trees when Hugo Ticciati conducts the Manchester Camerata in a programme which will also include the premiere of a new piece by Dobrinka Tabakova. There will then be performances of the winning work in Sweden and Denmark during the 2021/22 season. 

First prize went to British composer Paul Saggers and his composition Vulpes Vulpes for string orchestra and percussion. The title is the binomial name of the red fox, and the work depicts the challenges the animal faces in rural and urban environments. Saggers started playing the cornet at the age of 12, and at the age of 25 he decided to pursue a career in the Royal Marines Band Service and is currently based in the Plymouth Band, and in 2019 completed an MMus in Composition through the Royal Marines in partnership with Plymouth University where he was tutored by Simon Dobson.

A Special Distinction from O/Modernt has been awarded to Todo Era Vuelo En Nuestra Tierra by Argentinian composer Julieta Szewach.  

Full details of the competition from the O/Modernt website, and details of the premiere from Manchester International Festival's website.

Tom Could (Photo: Timothy Lutton)
Tom Could (Photo: Timothy Lutton)
The British composer Tom Coult has been appointed as the BBC Philharmonic’s Composer in Association, starting in Autumn 2021 with the premiere of his first commission Pleasure Garden. In his new role, Coult will compose three new scores for the BBC Philharmonic. His appointment builds on an existing creative relationship with the orchestra, including Sonnet Machine in 2016 which was commissioned by the BBC Philharmonic and premiered at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, and Rainbow-Shooting Cloud Contraption which was first broadcast in March on BBC Radio 3.

Coult's St John’s Dance was premiered by Edward Gardner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra to open the First Night of the 2017 BBC Proms, and his chamber opera Violet, to a text by Alice Birch, will premiere at the 2022 Aldeburgh Festival. Coult studied at the University of Manchester with Camden Reeves and Philip Grange and at King’s College London with George Benjamin. Between 2017 and 2019 he was Visiting Fellow Commoner in the Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge, and has taught on the Britten Sinfonia Academy composition course and with Aldeburgh Young Musicians.

Coult commented, "I love writing for orchestra – I think of writing music as playing with toys, and the orchestra is the biggest box of toys there is. In the last year I’ve wondered whether that extravagant box of toys will ever be open to anyone again, so it’s an almost unimaginable luxury to be thinking about orchestral music for the next few years. I honestly can’t wait to work more with the extraordinary musicians of the BBC Philharmonic – I’m enormously lucky."

Full details from the BBC Philharmonic's website, and Coult recently created a programme of Baroque arrangements for the orchestra which is available on BBC Sounds.

A love-letter to a much missed audience

Andrew Staples has made a film Wagner's Siegfried Idyll with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Daniel Harding. Filmed at the orchestras home, Berwaldhallen in Stockholm, Staples has  imagined the piece as a love letter with a twist - this time not from a composer to his wife but instead from the players of the orchestra to their much-missed absent audience.

This is the third film projected created by Berwaldhallen with Staples, Harding and the orchestra, in June 2020 they filmed Mozart's Don Giovanni [available on-demand], and at Easter this year Bach's St John Passion [see my A Life On-Line column]

The film is available on the Berwaldhallen website.

Thursday, 20 May 2021

A disc of harpsichord pieces by an unknown late-18th century English composer might not appeal, but you've never heard anything like John Worgan's harpsichord music

John Worgan Complete Harpsichord Music; Julian Perkins, Timothy Roberts; Toccata Classics

John Worgan Complete Harpsichord Music; Julian Perkins, Timothy Roberts; Toccata Classics

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 May 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Famous in his lifetime, the 18th century composer John Worgan seems to have dropped off the radar but this disc should tickle the palate with its exploration of Worgan's idiosyncratic Scarlatti-on-acid style

Until I received a copy of this disc, I have to confess that the name of the 18th century composer John Worgan was virtually unknown to me (he crops up briefly on London Early Opera's first Handel at Vauxhall disc). Having recorded Worgan's complete organ music for Toccata Classics, Timothy Roberts has returned to record John Worgan's complete harpsichord music, sharing the harpsichord honours with Julian Perkins
 
The disc contains Worgan's Allegro non tanto, Six Sonatas for Harpsichord, Pieces for the Harpsichord composed purposely for forming the Hands of Young Pupils to that Instrument and A New Concerto for the Harpsichord in G major.

So who was John Worgan?

Born in London, Worgan studied with his elder brother James, then with Thomas Roseingrave, and finally with Francesco Geminiani. He held a number of church appointments in the City of London alongside being organist for Vauxhall Gardens. In church he was famous for his improvisations, whilst at Vauxhall he produced organ concertos and songs, and would publish fourteen volumes of his Vauxhall songs (and he was only in post from 1751 to 1753!) One of his sons, George Worgan, was the surgeon on Captain Cook’s First Fleet and in January 1788 George Worgan arrived in Port Jackson, New South Wales, on board the flagship Sirius, along with his square pianoforte by Frederick Beck – the first piano in Australia.

From Thomas Roseingrave, Worgan got a liking for the music of Domenico Scarlatti and it is very much Scarlatti that comes to mind when you listen to these pieces. Thomas Roseingrave had befriended Scarlatti in Venice in 1709, and in 1739 published his own edition of 42 Scarlatti sonatas, including some of the Essercizi, as well as other sonatas of which he must have had manuscript copies. In 1752, Worgan able to obtain a licence directly from Scarlatti in Madrid to publish another volume of his music, and there was a further one after Scarlatti's death.

Worgan's fellow organist Joah Bates records that in his improvisations, "his imagination was of the original and captivating kind, that his audience often looked on each other with significant astonishment, and remained open-mouthed and breathless for several seconds after the organ had ceased", and it seems to be the element of wildness in Scarlatti that appealed to Worgan.

Beethoven complete cello sonatas from Ailbhe McDonagh and John O'Conor

Irish cellist Ailbhe McDonagh and pianist John O'Conor celebrated Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year with a double album of his complete sonatas for cello and piano recorded at St. Peter’s Church, Drogheda, Ireland. The set has been released is on the Steinway & Sons music label.

Beethoven's five cello sonatas are remarkable because they span his whole career. The two sonatas of Op. 5 come from his early Viennese years, though they were written for a visit to the Prussian court in Berln and still give prominence to the piano. The great A Major Sonata (Op. 69) is the single representative of his incredible middle period, and shows Beethoven re-inventing the form and giving both instruments equal prominence, whilst the two Op. 102 sonatas epitomize his late works. 

Ailbhe McDonagh and John O'Conor have made a short documentary about the project, which is one of those which might not have happened if last year's events hadn't cleared their diaries. O'Conor is known for his performances of Beethoven, but had not recorded the Cello Sonatas before, whilst he has a long connection with Ailbhe McDonagh having taught her piano.

You can hear a movement of the third sonata on YouTube, and listen to the album here:  Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

Young composers and old music at the National Centre for Early Music in York

York Early Music Festival: Encounters

The National Centre for Early Music (NCEM) in York has been having a busy time of it. NCEM hosted the final of its 14th Young Composer Award earlier this week, presented in partnership with BBC Radio 3. And NCEM has also announced the details of this year's York Early Music Festival which runs from 12 to 16 July 2021.

For this year's Young Composer Award, NCEM and BBC Radio 3 invited aspiring young composers to create a new work for recorder quartet Palisander based on dance-forms, choosing whatever dance-form they liked across all eras and cultures, from the bransle and the galliard to the Charleston and the tango. The Award was judged at NCEM on Thursday 13 May when the shortlist of entries was performed by Palisander and earlier in the day the shortlisted pieces were rehearsed by Palisander in a workshop with the young composers, led by composer Christopher Fox. 

Young Composers Award winner Delyth Field (centre) with Palisander at the National Centre for Early Music, York
Young Composers Award winner Delyth Field (centre) with Palisander at the National Centre for Early Music, York

This year‘s Young Composer Award winner in the 19 to 25 years category is Delyth Field with Kagura Suite for Recorders inspired by Kagura, the oldest form of dance in Japan. The winner in the 18 years and under category is Jacob Fitzgerald with murmuration inspired by the natural dance performed by starlings. Both works will be premiered by Palisander on 20 September 2021 at St John’s Smith Square, London as part of the London Festival of Baroque Music and be recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show. You can catch the film of the awards on NCEM's website.

Looking ahead to July, the theme of this year's York Early Music Festival is one of encounters, most vitally between audience and artists, which seems particularly pertinent at a time when the festival can welcome audiences back to an array of York’s historic venues. A particular emphasis is on the music of Josquin des Prez, celebrating his 500th anniversary.

Soprano Hannah Ely and the Monteverdi String Orchestra kick things off with The Madrigal Re-imagined (and the ensemble's leader Oliver Webber is giving a talk, Un non so che di frizzante: the madrigal as a cauldron of creativity) and then there is violinist Rachel Podger, EEEmerging artists La Vaghezza (specialising in music from 17th and 18th centuries), harpsichordist Steven Devine and Robin Bigwood in The Bach Circle, The Society of Strange and Ancient Instruments' wierd and wonderful The Trumpet Marine Project, and bass Matthew Brook & harpsichordist Peter Seymour in cantatas for bass voice.

There is Josquin from Stile Antico, lutenist Jacob Heringman [see my review of his disc of Josquin transcriptions], and Ensemble Clement Janequin. And the festival closes with Spanish Baroque ensemble L’Apothéose, back to York as part of the Young Artists Showcase. [I very much enjoyed their 2020 Handel disc, see my review] L’Apothéose last appeared in the York in 2019 when they won the York Early Music International Young Artists Competition and The Friends of York Early Music Festival prize. This year they will be recording a CD with Linn Records which was part of their prize.

For those unable to travel to York, the festival will also be available online from 15 to 18 July and will include concerts recorded during the festival alongside commissioned highlights with guests including Gesualdo Six and the Rose Consort of Viols. 

Further information from the NCEM website.

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