Sunday, 7 March 2021

A Life On-Line: Welsh song, 20th-century quartets and quintets, Lamentations old and new

Britten: Phantasy Quartet - Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo taken from live-stream)
Britten: Phantasy Quartet - Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo taken from live-stream)

This week we celebrate St David's Day with Welsh song, whilst the Scottish Chamber Orchestra gave us an imaginative programme of 20th century chamber music, the Swan Consort mixed old and new in support of Mind, and Frederick Keel's Salt Water Ballads from Düsseldorf.

Monday was St David's Day, and to help celebrate soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson and pianist Gavin Roberts gave a recital of Welsh art song as part of Wales Week London 2021. The recital was a mixture of songs in Welsh, arrangements of Welsh folk-songs and songs in English, all by Welsh composers. We began with Morfydd Owen (1891-1918), an intriguing figure who studied first in Cardiff and then at the Royal Academy of Music. In London her social circles moved between both the Charing Cross Welsh Presbyterian Chapel and London intellectual circles in Hampstead, and she would end up marrying the psycho-analyst Ernest Jones (a follower of Freud). Despite dying at the age of 27, she wrote a considerable amount of music including a number of well-known hymns. Rolfe Johnson and Roberts performed one of Owen's best-known pieces, Gweddi y pechadur (The Sinner's Prayer), a sober sacred song from 1913. If Owen's work intrigues you, then keep digging as there seems to be very little available on disc.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

To counter the way memory disappears and fades into the background: composer Raymond Yiu on the ideas, both musical and personal, behind the works on his latest disc

Raymond Yiu (Photo Malcolm Crowthers)
Raymond Yiu (Photo Malcolm Crowthers)

This World Was Once All Miracle
, which was released last month on the Delphian label, features three symphonic works by composer Raymond Yiu, The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured, Symphony and The World Was Once All Miracle performed by counter-tenor Andrew Watts, baritone Roderick Williams and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, Edward Gardner, and David Robertson. It is the first disc of Raymond's symphonic works to be released and features three live performances including the BBC Proms performance of Symphony. The subject matter of the pieces varies from the poetry of Anthony Burgess to the AIDS crisis in 1990s London. I caught up with Raymond via Zoom to find out more.

Raymond Yiu: The World Was Once All Miracle - Delphian records
Whilst Raymond admits that on the surface there is no link between the three works, he later in our conversation talked about how his works often seem to come in threes. So the three symphonic works come after each other in Raymond's output, and in retrospect, there are links between them. The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured takes its title from a pamphlet produced by London-based bookseller and editor Alexander Cruden (1699-1770) but the piece's inspiration is London-related literary and musical themes with links to George Orwell's 1984 and its depiction of a city whose sights and sounds have been erased. Orwell takes us towards writer and composer Anthony Burgess (1917-1993) whose poems are used in The World Was Once All Miracle and then Symphony includes a poem by English poet Thom Gunn (1929-2004) who was Burgess' near contemporary. And, as the works were written back to back they share musical gestures, though this is not always obvious.

The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured was Raymond's first big orchestral piece and is like a concerto for orchestra. The parts are subdivided, to what Raymond calls an insane level of detail almost to prove that he could do it and he says he will never write like that again.

Friday, 5 March 2021

Nevill Holt Opera plans for its biggest and most ambitious festival to date with a new open-air performance space

Artist Impression of potentia -designs for Nevill Holt Opera 2021
Artist Impression of potentia -designs for Nevill Holt Opera 2021

Whilst the exact nature of live performance this Summer is still unclear, at minumum there is almost certain to be an element of social distancing. This means that smaller companies have to make some hard decisions, how to afford an opera season when the audience is a fraction of normal. Nevill Holt Opera has taken the brave and enterprising decision to create an entirely new performance space for 2021. 

This year the festival is being moved to August and will be performed outside, on a new outdoor stage and seating which will allow an audience of 650 people, socially distanced, per performance as well safe distancing for the performers. The orchestra will be on a large covered stage, with performers on a fore-stage which means that the audience will be closer to the performance. In a gesture which echoes the open rear of the stage at Santa Fe Opera (with its spectacular views of Arizona), the Nevill Holt stage will be open to frame views of the Leicestershire countryside.

Update: Cast and creatives have now been announced for the two productions. For La Traviata, Nicholas Chalmers will conduct the Manchester Camerata with Susana Gaspar as Violetta, Luis Gomes as Alfredo and Michel de Souza as Germont (all three formed Jette Parker Young Artists), directed by Jamie Manton. Don Giovanni features a team from Shadwell Opera, Finnegan Downie Dear (Shadwell Opera's music director) will conduct Shadwell:Ensemble, and Jack Furness (Shadwell Opera's artistic director) will direct, with a cast including Seán Boylan as Don Giovanni, Nicholas Crawley as Leporello, Aoife Miskelly as Donna Elvira, Olivia Warburton as Zerlina, Joshua Owen Mills as Don Ottavio, and Dingle Yandell as the Commendatore.

Nicholas Chalmers, Artistic Director of Nevill Holt Opera, comments, "Nevill Holt Opera 2021 is to be our biggest and most ambitious festival to date.  We invite you to come and immerse yourselves in the world of Mozart and Verdi in a beautiful outdoor staging.  ... We are responding to the events of the last year by opening up the festival to a larger audience, sharing our high artistic standards and doing everything we can to make your experience entertaining and uplifting.  We are all missing the arts and I personally cannot wait to conduct Verdi’s masterpiece, La traviata."

There are new productions of Verdi's La traviata and Mozart's Don Giovanni running from 4 August to 25 August 2021. Ticket prices are designed to be affordable, with prices from £35 and free for under-18s. In addition, the company is planning to present further performances and a mini festival in June, to include chamber music and solo recitals in the theatre, as well as additional performances in August.

Bhekizizwe: a new opera by Robert Fokkens from Cardiff-based Opera’r Ddraig explores questions of race, identity & more through the life of a young South African Zulu man

Robert Fokkens: Bhekizizwe - Themba Mvula - Opera’r Ddraig (Photo Kirsten McTernan)
Robert Fokkens: Bhekizizwe - Themba Mvula - Opera’r Ddraig (Photo Kirsten McTernan)

Based in Cardiff, Opera’r Ddraig is a women-led group which provides a professional training platform for emerging creatives interested in opera performance, production and administration, along with a new outlook on opera. The ensemble's latest production, Bhekizizwe, debuts on Sunday as part of Gŵyl 2021, a weekend of music, comedy and conversation from BBC Wales and Festival of Voice.

Bhekizizwe debuts at 3.30pm on Sunday 7 March, it is a new operatic monodrama by South African-born composer Robert Fokkens and South African librettist Mkhululi Mabija which moves backwards and forwards in time. With a bilingual English and Zulu libretto, it traces the life of a South African Zulu man from childhood during the last years of apartheid to studies and unexpected fatherhood in the UK in the early 2000s. In the process the pieces explores questions of identity, race, immigration, parenthood and culture, whilst drawing on a range of musical styles from traditional and popular to contemporary classical.

The production was filmed at Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff and is directed by Benjamin Davis and with baritone Themba MVula in multiple roles. Bhekizizwe is Opera’r Ddraig first contemporary opera production, and Themba Mvula last appeared with them as Brandon in Donizetti's The Elixir of Love which was a co-production with the King's Head Theatre, in London [see Anthony's review]

Bhekizizwe will be available on-line for 30 days after broadcast, further details from the BBC website.

An intimate & private piece: Heinrich Biber's Requiem in a superb new account from Vox Luminis & Freiburg Barockconsort on Alpha

Biber Requiem; Vox Luminis, Freiburger Barockconsort, Lionel Meunier; Alpha
Biber Requiem; Vox Luminis, Freiburger Barockconsort, Lionel Meunier; Alpha

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 March 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (
Biber's Requiem is the focus of a finely crafted programme of music by German-speaking composers influenced by the Italian Baroque

To say that Biber's Requiem in F minor is one of his most famous sacred compositions, as the booklet note on a new recording of the work does, is frankly not saying a lot at all. Whilst Biber is famed for his Mystery Sonatas and the Battaglia, his sacred music remains somewhat elevated and distant. There are a number of recordings of Biber's sacred works, including the Requiem and the huge Missa Salisburgensis but none of them are really familiar. So having a new disc of the work, sensitively performed, is more than welcome.
On this new disc from Alpha Classics, Vox Luminis (artistic director Lionel Meunier) and the Freiburger Barockconsort perform Biber's Requiem in F minor, C 8, alongside Christoph Bernhard's motets Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener and Tribularer si nescirem, Johann Joseph Fux’s motet Omnis Terra Adoret, and instrumental sonatas from Fux and from Johann Michael Nicolai.

The forces used are quite small, 12 singers (six sopranos, two counter-tenors, two tenors and two basses) and 14 instrumentalists (two violins, two violas, one viola da gamba, two cornets, three trombones,  dulcian, violone, lute and organ). This is intimate music, practical in terms of forces and size.

Sempre libera

 Last year, I covered the first of stage and film director Carson Gilmore's lockdown projects, the opera film Morte. Now Gilmore has released his second film, Sempre libera a dramatic modern interpretation of Violetta's Act One aria from Verdi's La Traviata

Sung by soprano Michelle Drever, with accompanist Mercedes Musotto. The film was written, produced and directed by Carson Gilmore, and the work was filmed in Los Angeles and Crestline, California. Available on YouTube.

A Century of Music by British Women (1921-2021)

Errollyn Wallen & Madeleine Mitchell at RPS Awards 2019 (Photo Gillian Moore)
Errollyn Wallen & Madeleine Mitchell
at RPS Awards 2019 (Photo Gillian Moore)
For International Women’s Day (8 March 2021), violinist Madeleine Mitchell will be directing a free live-streamed concert from St John's Smith Square in which she and her London Chamber Ensemble celebrate a century of music by British women. 

The concert will include a new work by Errollyn Wallen, called Sojourner Truth after the abolitionist and campaigner for women’s rights, which was commissioned by Madeleine Mitchell and which will be performed alongside music by other contemporary women composers, Thea Musgrave, Judith Weir, Helen Grime, and Cheryl Frances-Hoad

There will also be the Piano Trio by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) which was written in 1921 and music by Ruth Gipps (1921-1999) who celebrates her centenary this year.  Completing the programme is the Suite for Nine Instruments from 1934 by Grace Williams (1906-1977).

Full details from St John's Smith Square website.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Academy of St Martin in the Fields announces new concert series at St Martin in the Fields

Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields (Photo Benjamin Ealovega)

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields has announced a second concert series from the church of St Martin in the Fields. Running from 11 March 2021 until August, there will be a monthly evening orchestral concert plus lunchtime chamber music concerts. The series will begin online and then move to live audiences when possible. Every evening orchestral programme will be filmed and available on a pay-to-view basis with catch up for 30 days afterwards.

As well as well-known works, concerts will include contemporary works too with music by Sally Beamish, Thea Musgrave, John Woolrich, Julian Anderson, Avner Dorman, Tunde Jegede, Jonny Greenwood, and Nainita Desai, and the series opens with a programme which mixes Brahms and Bach with James MacMillan. John Butt will direct a programme in April which mixes Matthew Locke, Purcell and Handel with Errollyn Wallen. Other guests include mandolin player Avi Avital, soprano Sophie Bevan and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth (whose programme includes one of his own works).

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

The Catalyst Quartet's Uncovered: the young American ensemble explores the chamber music of Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet, Fantasiestücke, Clarinet Quintet; Catalyst Quartet, Stewart Goodyear, Anthony McGill; Azica Records

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Piano Quintet, Fantasiestücke, Clarinet Quintet; Catalyst Quartet, Stewart Goodyear, Anthony McGill; Azica Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 2 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A young American ensemble explores the chamber music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, works whose sophistication belies their early date

The music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor still remains relatively unknown. Despite his early death, his opus numbers reach 83, not to mention the works without opus number, and though Coleridge-Taylor's music is recorded, it is not explored enough by ensembles. Which makes a new project from the Catalyst Quartet highly recommendable. The American ensemble has launched Uncovered, a recording series devoted to artists overlooked in classical music, especially because of their race or gender. The first volume is devoted to early chamber music by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, with music by Florence Pike, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still, and George Walker to come on further volumes.

On Azica Records, UNCOVERED Volume 1 from the Catalyst Quartet (Karla Donehew Perez, Jessie Montgomery, Paul Laraia, Karlos Rodriguez), Stewart Goodyear (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet) features Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 1 (1893), Fantasiestücke Op. 5 (1895) and Quintet in F sharp minor for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 10 (1895).

Forgotten Voices: SWAP’ra joins forces with Hera and UK conservatoires to showcase music by women composers for International Women's Day

Forgotten Voices

For International Women's Day (8 March 2021), SWAP’ra (Supporting Women and Parents in Opera) will be celebrating with an on-line festival showcasing female composers with Forgotten Voices: Rediscovering female composers of the past with the voices of the future. SWAP’ra is working with the opera company Hera to curate a programme shedding light on the rich variety of music which has so far been underperformed.

Running from 6 to 13 March 2021, the festival will provide a platform for singers and pianists from the UK's conservatoires to perform music by female composers, some of which has never been recorded before.

The Royal Welsh Conservatoire of Music and Dance (the only UK conservatoire to have students on campus) will kick things off at 4pm on 6 March 2021 with a concert with music by Maud Cuney-Hare (1874-1926), Elaine Hughes-Jones (born 1927), Laura Netzel (1838-1927), and Avril Coleridge-Taylor (1903-1998), along with unpublished songs by Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979) and newly published works by Margaret Bonds (1913-1927).

Then throughout the following week, SWAP'ra and its partners (Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Trinity Laban and singers from the National Opera Studio)
will release individual performances by 50 singers and pianists from all over the UK, featuring over 80 songs and arias by female composers from the mid 19th century to the present day. All performances will be free to access and will remain available until 5 April 2021.

Further information from the SWAP'ra website.

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Ashley Riches and Joseph Middleton's delightfully wide-ranging recital, A Musical Zoo on Chandos

Musical Zoo: Schubert, Schumann,Wolf, Brhams, Strauss, Faure, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Samuel Barber, Vernon Duke, Britten; Ashley Riches, Jospeh Middleton; Chandos
A Musical Zoo
: Schubert, Schumann,Wolf, Brahms, Strauss, Faure, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Samuel Barber, Vernon Duke, Britten; Ashley Riches, Jospeh Middleton; Chandos

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 March 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
A magical and wide-ranging selection of animal songs in vivid, engaging and stylish performances

This delightful disc on Chandos from bass-baritone Ashley Riches and pianist Joseph Middleton takes animals as its inspiration. But the charm of the disc, A Musical Zoo, is the way the performers have cast their net widely so that we have songs by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Faure, Ravel, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich, John Ireland, Herbert Howells, Samuel Barber and ending with Vernon Duke's settings of Ogden Nash. The recording is a co-production with BBC Radio 3; Ashley Riches was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2016 to 2018.

We begin with a delightful pair of Schubert songs, a bubbling trout and dancing birds, but these are followed by something far darker, Schumann's Die Löwenbraut, the powerful setting of Adelbert von Chamisso's curious tale with his overtones of sexual discovery. Riches starts the Schumann seductively, 'now once upon a time', but when we get to nub of the story both Riches and Middleton really let rip, thrillingly bringing out the drama. 

Hugo Wolf's Der Rattenfänger sets a Goethe text about the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and Wolf's setting manages to include the delightful suggestions of the piper's magic as well as vivid drama. Again the two performers bring out the ultimate in story telling here and sound as if they are having great fun doing it. Brahms' Nightingale brings us more back to earth, less a description of the bird than an evocation of its song on the poet. Richard Strauss' The Thrush was new to me, and here Strauss is Messiaen-like in his evocation of the bird song in the piano introduction. That the song itself is relatively conventional can be excused, the composer was all of 13 when he wrote it!

From here we move to France, and with the move Riches demonstrates one of the virtues of this set, the way he seems comfortable in a variety of song styles and languages.

Love in the Lockdown: Clare Norburn's new self-isolation online play with music

Clare Norburn's Love in Lockdown

In September last year I chatted to Clare Norburn of The Telling about the ensemble's lockdown activities which includes a number of Clare's own concert plays [see my interview]. At the time we spoke she had a new concert play on the boil, Love in the Lockdown which was something of a departure for her. It concerned not an historical musical figure but a modern-day couple separated during Lockdown, the one a musician the other a playwright, both fascinated by Boccaccio and The Decameron, so that the resulting concert play involves music related to Boccaccio, by Guillaume de Machaut, Johannes Ciconia, Francesco Landini, Gherardello da Firenze as well as the issues of the Black Death in Florence in 1348.

The result has come to fruition, and is being broadcast in nine episodes, in real time (except a year on) from 4 March to 23 May 2021. Emilia, the musician, is played by Rachael Stirling and her ensemble is performed by The Telling, whilst Emilia's boyfriend Giovanni is played by Alec Newman with Leila Mimmack, John Culshaw, Suzanne Ahmet, Teresa Banham, Anna Demtriou, and Patience Tomlinson. The film is directed by Nicholas Renton, and The Telling will feature Clare Norburn voice, Ariane Prüssner voice, medieval harp, percussion, Joy Smith harps and percussion and Jorge Jimenez, vielle. It was directed and filmed entirely over Zoom by actors and musicians on their phones and recording devices.  ​

The new piece is something of a departure for Clare, something more of a play and less of a concert, with music at its heart but exploring real-life relationships. And when we spoke she mentioned that parts of it get quite political what with the disparities between rich and poor, and the modern parallels with the characters in Decameron who flee Florence and the plague and hide themselves away in luxurious isolation. But Clare also explores how the two put together a show, and looks at the tensions in their relationship.

The episodes will be broadcast on YouTube and Facebook starting on Thursday 4 March 2021. They are free to view, but donations are welcome. Full information from The Telling's website.

Petzold: Two Minuets from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach

Christian Petzold (1677 – 25 May 1733) was a German composer and organist. He was active primarily in Dresden where he was court oragnist, and achieved a high reputation during his lifetime including concert tours to Paris and to Venice, but his surviving works are few. When Bach published his Clavier-Übung I in the period 1726-1731, he appointed Petzold as one of his sales agents, working on commission, and when Petzold died in 1733, Bach's son Wilhelm Friedeman took over Petzold's position at St Sophia's Church in Dresden.

Johann Sebastian Bach included two of Petzold's minuets in the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, which means that Bach's name has been erroneously attached to them. So Petzold's two best known pieces are in fact known because people think Bach wrote them.

The Argentine-born, Germany based pianist Juan María Solare has recorded the two minuets as Petzold: Two Minuets from the Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, released through the German label, Janus Music & Sound, available through YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Winter into Spring: Oxford Lieder Festival's Spring weekend concludes

Shostakovich: Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin - Lada Valesova, James Platt - Oxford Lieder Festival (photo taken from live stream)
Shostakovich: Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin - Lada Valesova, James Platt - Oxford Lieder Festival (photo taken from live stream)

Shostakovich, RVW, Schubert; James Platt, Lada Valesova, James Atkinson, Ailish Tynan, Iain Burnside, Julian Bliss; Oxford Lieder Festival at the Holywell Music Room

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 February 2021
The final two concerts of Oxford Lieder Festival's Spring weekend, ranging from Shostakovich and RVW to Schubert

Sunday's two evening concerts at Oxford Lieder Festival's weekend of song, Winter into Spring (broadcast live from the Holywell Music Room in Oxford), demonstrated the challenges of putting on concerts in the present climate. To add to the unfortunate but not unheard-of problem of a singer being ill, there was the added complication of another singer unable to travel due to the present restrictions. So this meant that both concerts were changed. Not that we noticed from the end results. 
Early evening we had James Platt (bass) and Lada Valesova (piano) in Shostakovich's Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin, Op.46, and RVW's Songs of Travel plus Silent Noon. Then in the evening, one of the festival's young artists, baritone James Atkinson did a group of Schubert songs accompanied by Iain Burnside, then soprano Ailish Tynan joined Burnside for further Schubert followed by songs with Irish connections by Herbert Hughes, Thomas Dunhill, Frank Bridge, James Joyce (arr. Edmund Pendleton) and Charles Villiers Stanford. The evening ended with Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen with clarinettist Julian Bliss.

I understand that James Platt and Lada Valesova's recital was arranged at very short notice. You couldn't tell.

Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man in the world

La La Hö Hö: Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man in the world; Linarol Consort; Inventa
La La Hö Hö: Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man in the world
; Linarol Consort; Inventa

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 1 March 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A compendium of viol music created in the 16th century and providing a wonderful window onto the soundworld enjoyed by the richest man in the world, Jakob Fugger

For this disc of 16th century viol consort music, La La hö hö on Inventa Records, the Linarol Consort explores music copied into a 16th century manuscript (now in the National Library of Austria in Vienna) with the unromantic name of Vienna MS 18-810. Its origins, however, are more romantic than its name and the disc contains a wealth of viol consort music by Heinrich Isaac, Pierre de la Rue, Adam Rener, Josquin des Prez, Paul Hofhaimer, Antoine Brumel, Petrus Alamire and Ludwig Senfl.

So what is Vienna MS 18-810? It is a hand-written manuscript created by a single professional scribe, so though the manuscript is quite plain (no decorated capital letters) it would still be a relatively expensive product. We don't know for whom the manuscript was created, but it seems to have been copied by a scribe in the circle of the composer Ludwig Senfl in Munich around about 1533/35. But then things start to get interesting because the manuscript quickly finds its way into the collection of the Fugger family. A rich banking dynasty based in Augsburg, they were headed by Jakob Fugger 'The Rich' who gives the disc its subtitle, 'Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man in the world'. Though it has to be pointed out that Jakob died in 1525, so whether or not the manuscript was commissioned by him, by the time it was finished it would have come into the possession of his successor, his nephew Anton Fugger.

The manuscript is a practical book, it includes the five part-books necessary for performance (Discantus, Contratenor, Tenor, Bassus & Quinta Vox), so we can imagine it being acquired and used by musicians in the employ of the Fuggers. Whilst printing became increasingly common in the 16th century, manuscripts survive alongside printed copies. Manuscripts were often elaborate, desgned as prized possessions for a wealthy elite, but this one seems to have had a more practical use, a collection assembled for someone, a selection of choice and popular morsels. There are 86 pieces in the manuscript altogether, and David Hatcher of the Linarol Consort has been editing them for modern publication (you can read more about the edition on David Hatcher's website). On this disc we hear a selection of 27 pieces.

Applications are now open to become a 2021 City Music Foundation Artist

Applications are now open to become a 2021 City Music Foundation Artist

Applications are now open to become a 2021 City Music Foundation Artist. The scheme welcomes applications from classical, jazz, folk and world musicians, both soloists and ensembles, and there is no age limit. 

This will be the scheme's ninth intake, and the selected CMF Artists will begin a two year career development programme which covers artistic and project management, performance opportunities, mentoring and coaching, career development workshops, comissioning promotional tools, commissioning new music, and promotion as well as day-to-day support from the CMF team. 

Current and previous CMF artists include violinist Elina Buksha, violist Rosalind Ventris, pianists Iyad Sughayer and Samson Tsoy, the Ligeti Quartet, guitarist Andrey Lebedev, mezzo-sopranos Lotte Betts-Dean and Helen Charlston, jazz double-bassist Misha Mullov-Abbado and accordionist Bartosz Glowacki.

The deadline for applications is 5pm on Friday 30 April 2021. Full details from the CMF website.

30 aspiring young composers to receive mentoring and support: the ORA Singers Composer Competition results

Finalists for the ORA Singers Composer Competition 2021

ORA Singers launched its Composer Competition in 2018, specifically aimed at the UK state-school sector, where many students have limited access to specialist composition mentoring. The winners of the 2021 competition have just been announced and on top of the ten finalists, twenty further apprentices have been named.

From a wide pool of entries from across the UK, the ORA Singers has now selected the 10 finalists who will be enrolled onto a special scheme of mentoring with composers Ken Burton, Janet Wheeler, Richard Allain, Kim Porter and Harry Escott. The finalists are announced as:

Pip Alpin 18, Warton (Ripley St Thomas CofE Academy)
Ceri Amison 17, Newbury (St Bartholomew’s School)
Raj Bhaumik 17, Milngavie (Douglas Academy)
Jacob Cooper 16, Carnforth (Queen Elizabeth School)
Hannah Doyle 17, Blackpool (Blackpool Sixth Form College)
Ana Geoghegan 18, Wimbledon (Ursuline High School)
Aidan MacLean 17, Lisburn (Friends’ School)
Samuel Cole Mpengo 18, West Ham (School 21 and 621)
Samuel Oliver-Sherry 16, Netherton (St Michael’s Church of England High School)
Sequoia Ralph 18, Fulham (West London Free School)

You can read more about the finalists on the ORA Singers website.

The finalists concert is scheduled for Saturday 24 July 2021, when the finalists will hear their world premiere of their works and which will bring the finalists together in person for the first time.

In addition to the 10 finalists, and new to the 2021 Competition, ORA Singers has selected an additional 20 ORA Apprentices, who will be enrolled on their own scheme of compositional support, led by composer Rory Wainwright Johnston.

Full details from the ORA Singers website.

Monday, 1 March 2021

From Donizetti and Humperdinck to Messiaen: Waterperry Opera's imaginative plans for 2021 take full advantage of the spaces available

Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival 2020
Mozart: Cosi fan tutte - Zoe Drummond, Damian Arnold, Nicholas Morton - Waterperry Opera Festival 2020

Sometimes smallness of size can be an advantage, making a small arts organisation rather more nippy than a larger one. Last year, in the face of the cancellation of their 2020 festival, Waterperry Opera created a mini-season which managed to fit in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, a work by Jonathan Dove and some Haydn string quartets, all within socially distanced guidelines thanks to cleverly re-locating the performances to more flexible spaces within Waterperry Gardens [see my review].

For 2021, the festival is continuing this flexible approach, with a total of seven productions utilising various spaces in the gardens. Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore will be staged on the lawn in front of Waterperry House, directed by Dan Ayling, designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, and conducted by Bertie Baigent. Whilst Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel will, rather appropriately, be staged in the amospheric Waterperry woodlands, directed by Rebeccca Meltzer. This production will take a multidisciplinary approach to story-telling, and incorporate British Sign Language. Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf is being presented beside the waterlily pond with choreography by Julia Cave, combining music, dance and spoken word, and the production will be travelling to the Lichfield Festival.

Additionally to these, there will be a late-night music and light installation for Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. In collaboration with Oxford Lieder, Emma Doherty will be directing staged performances of song cycles by Lili Boulanger and RVW, and Meltzer's version of Jonathan Dove's Ariel (from the 2020 festival) returns.

The festival runs from 12 to 21 August 2021, full details from the festival website.

To delight the eyes and ears without the risk of sinning against reason or common sense: the creation of Reform Opera

The old Burgtheater in Vienna where Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice was premiered
The old Burgtheater in Vienna where Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice was premiered in1762
(Photograph taken pre-1880)

When Christoph Willibald Gluck and Ranieri de' Calzabigi premiered Orfeo ed Euridice at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1762, the work showcased a new operatic style which merged elements of French and Italian opera, eschewed the virtuosity and many of the dramatic conventions of classic opera seria and prized emotion over display. It can often seem as if their type of opera, Reform Opera, sprang into life fully formed. But the Reform movement was one which had slowly gathered force across Europe during the mid-18th century, involving a pleasure-loving German duke, an English actor, an Italian singer coached by Handel, a French choreographer, and an Italian theorist, not to mention three or four different composers. All these contributed to the 'perfect storm' that was the Reform movement in Vienna.

The Italian style and the French style

The poet Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) wrote opera librettos for nearly 50 years and for much of the mid-18th century he was the single most influential librettist in Italian opera. His texts eschew any of the comic elements which were common in late 17th century operas, whilst using fine poetry with a conscious desire to elevate the genre. His libretto for Adriano in Siria, originally set by Antonio Caldara (1670-1736) in 1732 was to be set by over 60 composers through to the early 19th century. Based in Vienna, Metastasio more than any particular composer came to define opera seria, a genre written for a small group of star singers who depended on dazzling vocal effects, with sometimes rather contorted dramatic situations which allowed protagonists to express the extremes of emotion and nobility of sentiment.

Whilst this style of opera effectively defined serious opera in Italian all over Europe during the 18th century, it wasn't the only serious operatic style. In France, setting the French language rather than Italian was of prime importance and a distinctive French style of serious opera, the tragédie en musique (tragédie lyrique) had developed [see my article, Politics, Poetry & Personal Interest: Lully, King Louis XIV and the invention of French opera]. This was a genre that had its origins in the late 17th century French rejection of Italian style and culture as part of the political rejection of the regime of Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin. 

Tragédie en musique was no less stylised than opera seria, with five acts each with a main aria, recitative and shorter arias ending in a divertissement for chorus and ballet.

Bringing back 17th century metrical psalms: a new edition of Ravenscroft's Psalter

Ravenscroft's Psalter
One of the ideas behind the English Reformation was that worship should be a communal affair, conducted jointly, rather than the congregation simply being a witness. It is difficult for us nowadays to get a real feel for what a pre-Reformation English service must have been like. But with the coming of all the changes, one thing that suffered and virtually disappeared was organised music making. In its place arose something rather different, psalm singing.

Congregational psalm-singing in England was something which developed out of both the need for music in a service which suited the new style of worship and for something that the congregaton could participate in. It seems to have become popular relatively quickly. It was a new type of worship, entirely inclusive and there was quite an appetite for it. 

To satisfy the desire for psalms, new metrical versions of the psalms were produced and each allocated a tune. The result might, in a humble parish, be rather more free-form than modern singing. In the 16th and 17th centuries there were generally no organs, the congregation sang the psalms with the parish clerk, he'd sing a line (from a printed psalter) and the congregation would sing it back, a mixture presumably of melody and harmony. In some churches, we can perhaps imagine the result coming rather closer to Gaelic psalm singing than to tidy, modern, organ-accompanied Anglican hymns.

Now, congregations and choirs have a chance to experiment and try metrical psalms for themselves, because a new complete edition of Ravenscroft's Psalter, originally published in 1621, has been produced by Andrew K Mulford M. Th. in conjunction with WritersWorld. The original text has had its spelling modernised, and the psalm melodies are in four-part harmony (with the tune in the tenor). 

The book is available via Amazon or from Hive.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 27 February 2021

What would Bach do? Guitarist Yuri Liberzon on recording the Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin in transcriptions by his teacher Manuel Barrueco

Yuri Liberzon
Yuri Liberzon

The guitarist Yuri Liberzon is not (yet) well-known in the UK. Born in Russia and brought up in Israel he moved to the USA at the age of 17 to study at the Peabody Conservatory and is now based in California. His latest disc, on Laudable Records, is Johann Sebastian Bach's three Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin in transcriptions made by his teacher, Cuban guitarist Manuel Barrueco. I recently met up with Yuri via Zoom, braving the challenges of time differences (9.30 am in California being 5.30 pm in London) to find out more about the disc and his approach to transcribing Bach for the guitar.

Bach: Three Violins Sonata - Yuri Liberzon
My first question was why play Bach on the guitar at all? For Yuri, Bach is always valid and appropriate, and the guitar is the most popular instrument in the world. And since Andres Segovia, it has become normal to play Bach on the instrument. Besides which, like many musicians, Yuri finds himself constantly returning to Bach's music and Yuri plays the guitar, so the question is, why not? 

Yuri has transcribed Bach's Partitas for unaccompanied violin for guitar, but he found that his teacher's transcriptions of the sonatas were perfect. Yuri did not have enough to say to do his own transcriptions, though he made small changes to Barrueco's transcriptions. One of the important things is that Barrueco keeps the original keys. When playing individual sonatas, guitarists sometimes alter the keys, but as soon as Yuri decided he was going to record all three he realised he needed to keep the key relationships.

Bach writes polyphonically for his solo violin, implying harmony and multiple voices by using double-stopping and string crossing. But a guitarist can play more notes simultaneously than a violinist can, so the question is, how much of the implied harmony to fill in? Yuri comments that some purists play Bach's original violin part on the guitar, adding nothing but he feels that there is room for the imagination to think what Bach might do, though he wants to add less of himself and to let the music speak for himself. How many extra notes he adds very much depends on the music, varying from work to work and even from movement to movement, but always asking what would Bach do?

Friday, 26 February 2021

We're all going to the circus: Longborough Festival Opera's imaginative solution for Summer opera

Inside the Longborough Festival Opera big top for Summer 2021
Inside the Longborough Festival Opera big top for Summer 2021


More imaginative solutions to the problem of performing opera in a socially distanced age. Longborough Festival Opera is presenting three operas this Summer, and instead of their usual theatre they are going to the circus and using a Circus Big Top. This will present the operas in the round, with some interesting theatrical possibilities and plenty of flexibility. The new venue will be purpose built, with stage and amphitheatre clad in timber.

Artistic director Polly Graham is presenting four operas, a concert staging of Wagner's Die Walküre, plus staged productions of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses, and Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen. But be warned, most of the performances are sold out unless government restrictions on social distancing are relaxed.

Further information from Longborough Festival Opera website.

The Magic Forest

Max Köhler
Max Köhler
Max Köhler is a young composer and pianist from Nürtingen in Southern Germany, who is currently studying as a sound engineer. He is releasing his piano suite The Magic Forest on 12 March 2021. 

The work is inspired by a walk through the Bois de Païolive (also known as the Magic Forest) in the Cévennes in Southern France, a place full of holm oaks and rocks. Köhler describes his influences as being Romantic and Impressionist classical composers as well as film composers like John Williams or Danny Elfman.

Max is releasing movements from the suite on YouTube by degrees, the first video is now on YouTube.

An engaging surprise: written for the Portuguese court, Pedro Antonio Avondano's 'Il mondo della luna' receives its first recording

Pedro Antonio Avondano Il mondo della luna; Fernando Guimarães, Luís Rodrigues,João Pedro Cabral, João Fernandes, Susana Gaspar, Carla Caramujo, Carla Simões, Os Músicos do Tejo, Marcos Magalhães; NAXOS

Pedro Antonio Avondano Il mondo della luna; Fernando Guimarães, Luís Rodrigues,João Pedro Cabral, João Fernandes, Susana Gaspar, Carla Caramujo, Carla Simões, Os Músicos do Tejo, Marcos Magalhães; NAXOS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 25 February 2021 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★½)
Premiered in Portugal in 1765 with a Portuguese composer setting an Italian libretto by playright Carlo Goldoni, this comic opera is a lively window into operatic life at the Portuguese court

King Joseph I of Portugal was passionate about Italian opera and when he succeeded to the throne in 1750, he set about creating a royal operatic establishment with some of the finest singers in Europe and three new court theatres. One of these, the Ópera do Tejo, was destroyed in the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and was never rebuilt. When opera performances resumed in 1763, they were primarily to entertain the royal couple rather than displays of magnificence. As part of his campaign to create a new opera, King Joseph persuaded Carlo Goldoni, best known for his plays and for his opera librettos for Baldassre Galuppi, to provide librettos for the Portuguese court opera. Amongst the ten that Goldoni provided was Il mondo della luna. Originally set by Galuppi in Venice in 1750, the text would be set by a number of other composers including Haydn in 1777. In 1765, the text was set by the Portuguese composer Pedro Antonio Avondano and premiered at the Royal Theatre of Salvaterra during carnival season of 1765.

Having recorded works by Francisco António de Almeida (c. 1702–1755) written for King Joseph I's father, King John V, now conductor Marcos Magalhães and his period instrument ensemble, Os Músicos do Tejo have recorded Pedro Antonio Avondano's Il mondo della luna on Naxos with Fernando Guimarães, tenor, Luís Rodrigues, bass, João Pedro Cabral, tenor, João Fernandes, bass, Susana Gaspar, soprano, Carla Caramujo, soprano, and Carla Simões, soprano.

Jacques Philippe Le Bas: Ruins of the Ópera do Tejo after the earthquake of 1755. Painted 1757
Jacques Philippe Le Bas: Ruins of the Ópera do Tejo after the earthquake of 1755. Painted 1757

Born in Lisbon in 1714, Avodano's father was an Italian violinist who was employed at King John V's court and his mother was French. Young Pedro became a violinist like his father, and he worked as a violinist in the royal chapel as well as writing music for the ballets that were added to the performances of Italian operas. He would become Portugal's leading composer of instrumental music. Il mondo della luna seems to have been his only opera, which seems to imply that it didn't go down well in some way.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Leeds Lieder's Spring recital series

Leeds Lieder's Spring recital series

Leeds Lieder, artistic director Joseph Middleton, has announced a Spring recital series to be performed at Leeds Town Hall and streamed live, with an audience when allowed. Leeds Lieder is collaborating with the Kathleen Ferrier Awards and Momentum so that the line-up is a mixture of experienced artists alongside young artists.

The series opens on 26 March 2021 with soprano Fatma Said and pianist Joseph Middleton, alongside Momentum artists Bernadette Johns (soprano) and Alexandra Standing (piano) in Ravel, Schumann and Brahms, and the series concludes on 25 April 2021 with a mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton in Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer, songs by Debussy and Mahler, plus English song.

In between there are recitals from Kitty Whately (mezzo-soprano), Madelaine Newton and Kevin Whately (actors) and Joseph Middleton with Momentum Artists Laurence Kilsby (tenor) and Ian Tindale (piano); Fleur Barron (mezzo soprano), Ashok Klouda (cello) and Joseph Middleton; Gerald Finley (bass-baritone) and Julius Drake (piano); Kathleen Ferrier Award winners Benson Wilson (baritone) and Ella O’Neill (piano).

The Ring dance

Wagner: The Ring - ENO - Rita Hunter, Reginald Goodal, Alberto Remedios
Wagner: The Ring - ENO
Rita Hunter, Reginald Goodall, Alberto Remedios
English National Opera (ENO) has announced plans for a new Ring Cycle, beginning this Autumn (2021) with The Valkyrie and proceeding in annual instalments until 2025's Twilight of the Gods. It is a bold move; ENO was planning a new Ring to begin this Spring and when those plans fell foul of the current restrictions, it seemed that the production might suffer from the complexities of planning and budgetary constraints that all Ring cycles seem to suffer, meaning that more Rings are planned than come to full fruition.

The new production will be directed by Richard Jones and conducted by Martyn Brabbins, and will be a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Both Jones and ENO have a fascinating track record with the Ring, both in terms of achievements and in Rings left undone.

Wagner's tetralogy is something that all opera companies aspire to, but the works can overstretch in many ways, yet which achieved the results can be equally life-changing. ENO first performed the Ring in the 1970s directed by Glen Byam Shaw and famously conducted by Reginald Goodall. This was the result of years of careful preparation with singers like Rita Hunter (Brunnhilde), Alberto Remedio (Siegfried and Siegmund) and Norman Bailey (Wotan) being very much nurtured in-house. I saw two of these productions, The Valkyrie and Twighlight of the Gods, with the company on tour in Manchester. The pleasures were mainly musical, the production itself seemed ill-suited for touring and we saw very little of the staging from the Gods in the Opera House in Manchester.

During the 1980s, plans were hatched to start another Ring cycle with David Pountney directing, starting with The Valkyrie. This had a fine cast including Josephine Barstow as Sieglinde and Sarah Walker as Fricka, but the most memorable moment was the opening of Act Three, set in a huge marble war memorial with a series of rotating concentric rings with the Valkyries leaping between them. The complexity of the set, and the limitations of the London Coliseum stage equipment mean that the production could only be coped with by dropping some other performances. Whether logicistical or financial, plans for a complete Ring were dropped. Pountney returned to the Ring in 2017, when he started directing it for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, though plans for the production to be shared with Welsh National Opera seem to have not come to fruition.

ENO's next attempt was somewhat more successful. During the period of the Coliseum's closure for re-building, Paul Daniel led the company in a series of concert performances which led to a staging by Phyllida Lloyd. This successfully worked its way through all four operas on an annual basis, culminating in Twilight of the Gods in 2005, but regime change at the company and budgetary problems meant that Lloyd never got chance to return to the operas and stage a full cycle. Her production was notable for the way it avoided any sense of the mythic, and concentrated on contemporary resonances, and there was also the feeling that some of the dramatic voices were perhaps half a size too small for the wide open spaces of the Coliseum. But then, having heard both Rita Hunter and Gwynneth Jones in their prime as Brunnhilde, I am somewhat spoiled.

When Richard Jones directs ENO's new Ring it will be the director's third go at Wagner's cycle in the UK. He directed Rhinegold (1989) and The Valkyrie (1991) for Scottish Opera, designed by Nigel Lowery and conducted by John Mauceri. These were notable for having role debuts fromJane Eaglen as Brunnhilde and Willard White as Wotan. Funding brought the planned cycled to a halt. Jones would return to the Ring for Covent Garden, whilst Scottish Opera would achieve a complete Ring Cycle directed by Tim Albery in 2003.

The Royal Opera House has had a somewhat patchy relationship with the Ring. The production in the 1970s by Gotz Friedrich was famously expensive and spectacular but the complex hydraulic machine meant that it did not have a long shelf life. An attempt to follow this with a cycle directed by Yuri Lyubimov fell after Das Rheingold, and Gotz Friedrich's Berlin production of the Ring was brought over and re-presented at Covent Garden. Engaging Richard Jones was a bold move and his production, again designed by Nigel Lowery, ran through the 1990s and did reach its conclusion. Jones' approach to the Ring was very musical, you could find everything in the score, but his visual imagery was very non-traditional and did not please everyone. Deborah Polaski was Brunnhilde, Siegfried Jerusalem was Siegfried and John Tomlinson was Wotan and a complete Cycle was achieved in October 1996.

An interesting side-note here is that until the recent re-build, Covent Garden tended to restrict Ring Cycles to October, just before the main season started, as otherwise they would rather over tax the historic theatre's elderly facilities!

It will be interesting to see what Richard Jones comes up with for his return to the Ring in the UK after 20 years, particularly as this is a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera, presumably to replace the expensive but unloved Robert Lepage production which is 10 years old. But whatever the details, the sheer fact of the company performing the Ring Cycle in the current climate is terrific. I only hope that the chorus gets its own operatic treat as the opera is famously light on chorus work.

Full details from the ENO website.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 75th birthday and looks back to its origins in 19th century Prague

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra

Next month, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 75th anniversary by re-creating the ensemble's first concert which took place in March 1946. On 18 March 2021, principal conductor Jakub Hrůša will direct the orchestra in a programme of three works by Beethoven, Overture 'Leonore' No. 3, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D major (with Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider) and Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'. In fact the symphony was not heard in 1946, it was planned but the American authorities did not allow it to be performed!

But whilst 75 might seem an impressive achievement, the orchestra's origins go back much further than that to the German Philharmonic Orchestra Prague, which dated back to the 19th century. Its final concert in Prague was in 1945, when the ensemble played Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 'Eroica', and then following the turmoil arising from the end of the war, many of the players from the orchestra found themselves in Bamberg, and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra was founded.

As no audience will be allowed in the hall on 18 March, the concert will be broadcast. It can be heard live on the radio on BR-KLASSIK, on television on ARD-alpha , and as a live video stream on the BR Klassik website. At the same time, it can also be seen on the BR-KLASSIK Facebook page

Further details from the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra website.

Flexibility and dialogue: plans for the 2021 Dresden Music Festival

Jan Vogler, intendant of the Dresden Music Festival (Photo Marco Grob)
Jan Vogler, intendant of the Dresden Music Festival
(Photo Marco Grob)
Like most arts organisations, the Dresden Music Festival went on-line last year but this year the festival is able to adopt a more flexible format. Responding to events, intendant Jan Vogler has announced a mixed platform for the 2021 festival, which runs from 14 May to 12 June 2021.

Some concerts have been cancelled, some moved to the Summer, whilst others have been moved to larger venues or outdoors. Many will be live-streamed, and with limited audiences some concerts are being repeated to allow the maximum number of live audience members.

The festival's theme this year is Dialogues, a reference perhaps not only to the dialogues which take place in musical performance but to the constant dialogue needed between the festival team and politicians, artists and festival partners, and dialogue with the audience too as the festival programme itself is flexible and will need to respond to change.

Full details from the Dresden Music Festival website.

Challenging and surprising: on 'arb', clarinet and bassoon duo, Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward explore multiphonics

arb; Zachary Good, Ben Roidl-Ward; Carrier Records

; Zachary Good, Ben Roidl-Ward; Carrier Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 February 2021 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
Recorded during lockdown last year, this disc from two Chicago-based instrumentalists explores the fascinating and insistent world of multiphonics

Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward are two young instrumentalists based in Chicago. Both are interested both in expanding the repertoire of their instruments (Good plays clarinets and Baroque recorders, Roidl-Ward plays the bassoon) and extending the possibilities of the instruments. During lockdown last year, they recorded an album in their Chicago apartment.

arb, on Carrier Records, is a disc of original works for clarinet and bassoon, collaboratively composed by Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward.

There are six tracks on the disc, 'Fairchild', '2pm front room', 'Guby', 'Rege', 'Prid', and 'Arb' which seem to tantalisingly hint at subjects behind the music, but the pieces themselves are resolutely abstract. Each piece features extensive use of multiphonics, with the players relishing the interplay between the two instruments.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

I wonder as I wander: baritone James Newby in a stunning debut recital with Joseph Middleton

I wonder as I wander - Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Britten; James Newby, Joseph Middleton; BIS

I wonder as I wander
- Beethoven, Schubert, Mahler, Britten; James Newby, Joseph Middleton; BIS

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 February 2021 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
An exploration of the wanderer's constant sense of longing in this stunning debut recital

The figure of the wanderer, constantly in search of something, is at the centre of baritone James Newby and pianist Joseph Middleton's disc, I wonder as a wander, on BIS. The centrepiece of the recital is Beethoven's song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte, surrounded by songs by Schubert and Mahler, along with Britten's folk-song arrangements. The Beethoven cycle was the starting point for the programme, and there is a personal element too, Newby is currently a wanderer himself, away from his native land as an member of the ensemble at Staatsoper Hannover.

We open with two Britten arrangements, beautifully intimate, almost hushed accounts of I wonder as I wonder and There's none to soothe. These are very interior, highly personal performances, and this sense continues with Schubert's Der Wanderer, D 489 which starts quiet and dark, but intimate. Not that Newby and Middleton eschew drama, but at first it seems as if the wanderer cannot sustain these outburts for long, until the thrilling penultimate verse. Der Wanderer, D 469 is thoughtful and considered, not for this wanderer the sense of swagger and striding onwards. In Auf der Donau, voice and piano flow onward, disturbed by what the wanderer sees but constantly in motion. Im Freien again has that flowing sense, with Newby's thoughtful singer supported by the endless piano. Abendstern is hushed and profoundly musical, an intimate performance hinting us eavesdropping on just the wanderer and the star.

Celebrating Jeffrey Skidmore's 70th birthday

Jeffrey Skidmore
Jeffrey Skidmore

The conductor Jeffrey Skidmore, founder of the choir Ex Cathedra, is 70 this month and not surprisingly his choir is making the most of the celebrations despite lockdown. 

On Saturday 27 February 2021, Ex Cathedra is releasing a free filmed concert, Ex Cathedra: Around the World, which celebrates Skidmore's varied interests with music from 1960s America and Latin America (where Skidmore has spent a lot of time researching music created during the Baroque era), alongside music from the French Baroque, the Italian Renaissance and Jacobean era, plus traditional favourites from Sweden and Scotland. The concert is being streamed on the ensemble's website, Facebook page and YouTube channel.

There will also be a chance to hear Skidmore talking about his career in an interview which is featured on BBC Radio 3's Early Music Show on Sunday 28 February. And this weekend Skidmore and Ex Cathedra are returning to the recording studio for Baroque Passion, a programme which will include Domenico Scarlatti's Stabat Mater and Bach's Komm, Jesu, komm alongside Lenten music by Kuhnau, Lotti, Monteverdi and Purcell. The concert will be broadcast on Passion Sunday, 21 March, 4pm on the Idagio Global Concert Hall.

Further details from the Ex Cathedral website.

A celebrity concert and an auction for a private concert: Music Masters charity celebrates the work of its Ambassadors

Ambassadors for Change - Music Masters

The music education charity, Music Masters, is holding a fortnight of events to highlight the work of its Ambassadors. The charity's mission is to ensure that children from underserved communities enjoy the life-changing opportunities that flow from outstanding music education, and the charity's Ambassadors visit London primary schools to inspire the next generation of music-makers. 

Events include an on-line concert, Ambassadors for Change, on 3 March 2021 which will feature performances from Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Randall Goosby, Hyeyoon Park, Benjamin Grosvenor, Nicola Benedetti, Elena Urioste, Tom Poster, and the Harlem Quartet and the event will end with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Elena Urioste, Tom Poster, Hyeyoon Park and Music Masters pupils performing Bha lá eile ann (‘There was a different day’) by Donald Grant arranged by Tom Poster.  Further details of the concert from Music Masters' website.

From 3 to 10 March people will be able to bid for a private online concert and chat with cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. The half hour experience can be enjoyed by the winning bidder and up to nine guests. Full details from the Music Masters website

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