Saturday, 25 June 2022

Poetic drama & real musicality: highly imaginative Rusalka from Jack Furness at Garsington with Natalya Romaniw as a compelling water nymph

Dvorak: Rusalka - Natalya Romaniw - Garsington Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Dvorak: Rusalka - Natalya Romaniw - Garsington Opera (Photo Clive Barda)

Antonin Dvorak: Rusalka; Natalya Romaniw, John Findon, Henry Waddington, Christine Rice, Sky Ingram, director: Jack Furness, Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor: Douglas Boyd; Garsington Opera at Wormsley,
Reviewed 24 June 2022 (★★★★★)

Musically superb, dramatically convincing and highly poetic account of Dvorak's fairy-tale that combined a poetic approach with a mining of the work's darker element and a highly imaginative staging

Garsington Opera planned its production of Dvorak’s Rusalka for 2020 with Natalya Romaniw in the title role. Cancelled and re-scheduled for 2022, thankfully still with Romaniw, the production debuted last week with a new director at the helm.

We caught Jack Furness’ new production of Dvorak’s Rusalka at Garsington Opera on Friday 24 June 2022. Douglas Boyd conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra with Natalya Romaniw as Rusalka. Illness the cast meant that John Findon (previously Hajny) sang the Prince, Henry Waddington sang Vodnik and Dominick Felix sang Hajny. Christine Rice was Jezibaba, Grace Durham was Kuchtik, and Sky Ingram was the Foreign Princess. Designs were by Tom Piper, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, choreography by Fleur Darkin with Lina Johansson as circus choreographer.


Dvorak’s opera debuted in 1901, over 20 years after his Slavonic Quartet, the work in which he crystallised his style, combining Czech folk-style rhythms and melodies with Romantic structures. In Rusalka, Dvorak might owe something to Wagner but the sound-world with its rhythms and melodic outlines is pure Czech. And even the story is a similar synthesis, combining elements of Romantic tales like Undine with traditional Czech characters and the poetry of K.J. Erben whose main work, A Garland (1853) created a new style of Czech poetry influence by, but not strictly copying folk poetry. Thus Rusalka is not strictly a traditional Czech folk-inspired work, but a Romantic synthesis.

Obsessed by voices: pianist Dylan Perez on recording the complete songs of Samuel Barber

Pianist Dylan Perez at the recording sessions for the complete Samuel Barber songs on Resonus Classics
Pianist Dylan Perez at the recording sessions for the complete Samuel Barber songs on Resonus Classics

In May 2022, pianist Dylan Perez released Samuel Barber: the Complete Songs on Resonus Classics, a comprehensive survey of all of Barber's songs, both those published in his lifetime and those published posthumously, performed by sopranos Mary Bevan, Samantha Clarke, Louise Kemény, and Soraya Mafi, mezzo soprano Fleur Barron, contralto Jess Dandy, tenor Nicky Spence, baritones Julien Van Mellaerts, and Dominic Sedgwick, bass William Thomas, and the Navarra String Quartet. Dylan has been making a name for himself both as a pianist and as a curator of concert series, his Re-Sung at St John the Divine in Kennington, recently finished its latest season and with baritone Julien van Mellaerts, Dylan has again curated the Opera in Song recital series at Opera Holland Park. I recently met up with Dylan by Zoom to catch up.

The Barber song project came about partly because Dylan was bored during lockdown and was looking for a project. He had the complete Barber songs on his shelf, and loved the Barber songs that he had played. Add to this, many of the posthumously published songs were unrecorded. The Resonus set contains 36 songs which were published in Barber's lifetime and 29 that were published posthumously, including 19 that were previously unrecorded. 

Dylan loves Barber's music, it has a very specific sound-world and is very American, and the posthumous songs give a real sense of how Barber ploughed his own furrow with his sound-world and harmonies. From Barber's early songs, Dylan thinks we can see how his is going to develop, pushing boundaries. And beyond the music, the song texts are very musically inclined; Barber was a great reader of poetry and great with languages, so that two of the songs set French texts. As with all great composers, Dylan feels that some of the songs are less amazing, but all have something to offer.

Pianist Dylan Perez and tenor Nicky Spence at the recording sessions for the complete Samuel Barber songs on Resonus Classics
Pianist Dylan Perez and tenor Nicky Spence at the recording sessions for the complete Samuel Barber songs on Resonus Classics

Friday, 24 June 2022

Closeness & distance: Friedrich Cerha's evocation of Viennese traditional music in a new version for Viennese Schrammel quartet

Friedrich Cerha:  Keintate I, II (parts); Holger Falk, Attensam Quartett (Annette Bik & Gunde Jäch-Micko, violins, Ingrid Eder, button accordion, Michael Öttl, contra-guitar); Kairos
Friedrich Cerha:  Keintate I, II (parts); Holger FalkAttensam Quartett (Annette Bik & Gunde Jäch-Micko, violins, Ingrid Eder, button accordion, Michael Öttl, contra-guitar); Kairos
Reviewed 24 June 2022 (★★★★)

An amazing discovery, Cerha's 1980s work evoking the Viennese traditional music of his youth, reworked for a traditional ensemble, displaying great affection yet also a certain distance and in superb performances

When I first came across this recording I wondered what kind of instrument a Schrammel was! Luckily, the booklet explains, "a Viennese Schrammel Quartet owes its name to its name to the brothers Johann and Josef Schrammel, who became Vienna's musical calling card at the end of the 19th century alongside Johann Strauss and his waltzes. In memory of the legendary 'Schrammeln', their name became synonymous with exactly this line-up, in which polkas, marches, dances and waltzes were played in Vienna – and are still played". So we have two violins, Viennese button accordion and Viennese contra guitar, and the Attensam Quartett was founded to play both old and new Viennese music.

On this disc from Kairos, the Attensam Quartett (Annette Bik & Gunde Jäch-Micko, violins, Ingrid Eder, button accordion, Michael Öttl, contra-guitar) play Friedrich Cerha's Keintate I, II (parts) with baritone Holger Falk.

The whole project requires some explanation, particularly for a non-Viennese audience. The Attensam Quartett has an interest in more modern repertoire to exist alongside the tradition. A request to Friedrich Cerha to write for them took some years to come to fruition before he started arranging movements from his Keintate I & II for the quartet. In a booklet note Cerha explains that one of the attractions was the challenge of written for the particular type of accordion used in the Schrammel Quartet, different from a usual one. What we hear on this disc is a selection of movements from Cerha's original Keintate I & II (originally written in the 1980s) chosen simply according to their suitability for arrangement for Schrammel Quartet.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

London Handel Orchestra at BST Hyde Park Open House

BST Hyde Park - Open House
BST Hyde Park is a large scale open-air event taking place in Hyde Park over three weekend, presenting names such as Elton John, the Eagles and Adele, and as part of this Open House presents a variety of other types of event - Joe Wicks' with the world's largest HIIT workout, anyone?

In what might be something of a first, on Monday 27 June 2022 the London Handel Orchestra, led by music director Lawrence Cummings and associate music director Adrian Brown, will be appearing at the festival with presenter YolanDa Brown in an all-Handel programme, including the Music for the Royal Fireworks, the Water Music Suite, four of the Coronation Anthem, and arias from Rinaldo and Solomon with solo soprano Rachel Redmond.

Further information from BST Hyde Park's website.


Returning to Bridgewater Hall for the first time since the pandemic, 200 young musicians from Chetham's School in Stravinsky & more

Musicians from Chetham's Symphony Orchestra rehearsing
Musicians from Chetham's Symphony Orchestra rehearsing

More than 200 young musicians will come together on the stage of Manchester's Bridgewater Hall on Friday 8 July 2022. Conductor Ben Palmer conducts Chetham's Symphony Orchestra and chorus that marks the end of the academic year and for many the end of their current musical education at Chetham’s School of Music before heading off to take up places at the UK's leading conservatoires and universities. The concert will also be the orchestra's first live concert since before the pandemic.

The programme includes Stravinsky's Rite of Spring plus Palmer's own Urban Fox, written specifically for the students of the orchestra, along with Korngold's Violin Concerto with Jordan Brooks (who is in the sixth form at Chetham's) as violin soloist, and RVW's Toward the Unknown Region.

Performing with Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra is a major performance opportunity for students at Chetham’s School of Music, the UK’s leading specialist music school for young people aged 8-18. More than 90% of students at the school receive financial support through bursaries, ensuring that entry is fair and accessible based on musical potential rather than financial background.

Full details from the Bridgewater Hall's website.

Never such innocence: Benjamin Hewat-Craw & Yuhao Guo in RVW, Butterworth & Gurney

Never such innocence - Vaughan Williams: The House of Life,  George Butterworth: Six songs of A Shropshire Lad; Ivor Gurney: Five Elizabethan Songs; Benjamin Hewat-Craw, Yuhao Guo; ARS Produktion
Never such innocence - Vaughan Williams: The House of Life,  George Butterworth: Six songs of A Shropshire Lad; Ivor Gurney: Five Elizabethan Songs; Benjamin Hewat-Craw, Yuhao Guo; ARS Produktion
Reviewed 21 June 2022 (★★★½)

An enterprising disc from the young German-based English baritone, bringing to the fore three highly poetic English song-cycles from the decade prior to World War One

Benjamin Hewat-Craw is a young English baritone based in German. His latest disc, Never such innocence on ARS Produktion, is a recital of English song with pianist Yuhao Guo, combining Vaughan Williams' The House of Life with George Butterworth's Six songs of A Shropshire Lad and Ivor Gurney's Five Elizabethan Songs.

Craw moved from England to Germany at the age of 22, studying at Cologne conservatoire from 2015-2018 with Christoph Prégardien, and his debut recording was Schubert's Winterreise released on ARS Produktion in 2020.

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

The Firebird: an opera for puppets by Noah Mosley & Michael Rosen produced by English Touring Opera & the Little Angel Theatre

The Firebird takes a familiar story, reworked by Michael Rosen, and creates something charmingly different. Co-produced by English Touring Opera and the Little Angel Theatre, The Firebird is a puppet opera with music by Noah Mosley

Directed by Valentina Ceschi and designed by Little Angel Theatre's Ellie Mills, the film features puppets, a narrator, singers and instrumentalists coming together to tell a story. The story is familiar perhaps from the ballet; a magical fable about a selfish prince, a menacing king, and the eponymous firebird – a mystical creature of Russian folklore. Here we have a charmingly naive approach with the opera recorded live at the Little Angel Theatre, and there is some beautifully lyrical music by Mosley, with Aimee Louise Bevan as narrator and puppeteer, singers Rose Stachniewska, Richard Dowling, and Bradley Travis, and an instrumental ensemble of violin, horn, accordion, double bass plus Mosley on piano.

The video is available from ETO at Home.

The Lost Art of Frances Cole: recordings from the 1970s provide a glimpse of the art of the Black American harpsichordist

The Lost Art of Frances Cole: Bach, Scarlatti, Rameau, Gottschalk, Bartok, Ligeti, Howard Swanson; Frances Cole, Parnassus
The Lost Art of Frances Cole: Bach, Scarlatti, Rameau, Gottschalk, Bartok, Ligeti, Howard Swanson; Frances Cole, Parnassus
Reviewed 21 June 2021 (★★★)

Live recordings of a brilliantly eclectic recital by the Black American harpsichordist Frances Cole whose early death deprived us of a striking talent

The American harpsichordist Frances Cole (1937-1983) is not a particularly well-known name and her early death at the age of 45, after a long illness, did not help. Cole’s only commercial recording used her in a supporting role, Songs of Early Americans, featuring baritone Gordon Myers (Golden Crest RE 7020). But now the producer Leslie Gerber has resurrected private recordings that Cole made at Westminster Choir College in Princeton where she taught.

The Lost Art of Frances Cole on Parnassus Records' Black Swans (an imprint showcasing rare classical recordings by Black artists) features Frances Cole in a wide-ranging recital of music by Bach, Scarlatti, Rameau, Gottschalk, Bartok, Ligeti and Howard Swanson, all recorded live in 1974. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

Bertie Baigent appointed Principal Assistant Conductor at Rotterdam Philharmonic after win at International Conducting Competition Rotterdam

Bertie Baigent (Photo Marije Schot)
Bertie Baigent (Photo Marije Schot)

Congratulations to conductor Bertie Baigent who, having won the Grand Prix at the International Conducting Competition Rotterdam (ICCR) earlier this month, has been appointed Principal Assistant Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The appointment is for a term of one year, commencing this August, and he will lead a variety of family concerts and educational performances. as well as assisting Chief Conductor Lahav Shani in four concert weeks.

At the ICCR, Baigent won not only the Grand Prix, but the Classical and Symphonic prizes for performances with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra respectively.  Bertie Baigent is currently Music Director of Waterperry Opera Festival and Assistant Conductor with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra where he has assisted Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla on tour. Next month he makes his NHK Symphony (Tokyo) debut.

More on the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra's new season at its website. Waterperry Opera Festival runs from 12 to 20 August 2022, and Bertie Baigent conducts a new production of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, full details from the festival website.

A snapshot of music under lockdown: NMC's music map for The Big Lockdown Music Survey

NMC's Big Lockdown Music Survey
Lockdown changed the way we both produced and listened to music. In order to capture something of this, NMC Recordings held an open call for music created during lockdown, and the result is NMC's interactive music map released as part of its Big Lockdown Music Survey.

Creators of all ages and all levels of experience from across England submitted their music of all genres, some 200 pieces in all. 71 selected tracks have been included on the lockdown listening map whilst six regional partner organisations selected and curated album-length selections of music representing their region. The organisations involved include Psappha (North), Birmingham Record Company (Midlands), Spitalfields Music (Greater London), Stapleford Granary (East), October House Records (South East), and Bristol Beacon (South West).

You can explore the map with interactive filters including mood, genre, weather, and location, exploring lockdown in recorded sound. Contributing creators and artists whose tracks are selected were paid for their work according to a Musicians Union-approved fee scale, remunerating composers/performers whose work was cancelled as a result of the pandemic.

For those interested in more detail, there is detailed data analysis compiled by RNCM PRISM, available from NMC's website. NMC has also developed a free educational resource pack to share knowledge and expertise on home recording techniques, aimed at those who may have recently begun recording their own music for the first time or are studying music technology at school or college but have limited access to equipment. This comprehensive, free guide full of techniques and top tips from industry experts is available to download from the NMC website.

Read more about the map and explore it on the NMC website, and you can also explore the curated listening lists, bit.ly/3Oxg1e6



Celebrating 60 years of the Delius Society with new music and recent Delius discoveries

Frederick Delius in 1897 by Christian Krohg (1852–1925)
Frederick Delius in 1897 by Christian Krohg (1852–1925) 
The Delius Society is marking its 60th birthday with a concert at the Angela Burgess Recital Hall, Royal Academy of Music on Sunday 26 June 2022 which combines three newly commissioned pieces by Bo Holten, Ian Venables and Roderick Williams with Delius songs and chamber music including newly re-discovered pieces performed by Milly Forrest (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Timothy Ridout (viola), Chiao-Ying Chang (piano), Eric McElroy (piano), The Carice Singers and the Coull Quartet.

There are three works written specially for anniversary concert. Bo Holten describes The Delian Madrigal as a "composition that expands and elaborates one of Delius’s ‘Two Songs for Children’.  Performances are rare, and my recomposition/arrangement is a way to have this charming piece more often performed by madrigal groups or choirs." Ian Venables's Hermes Trismegistus is a scena for soprano, viola and piano that sets a text by Longfellow. Roderick Williams' To be sung on a winter night on frozen water was born out of lockdown while the composer was holed up in Amsterdam when a cold snap caused the canals to freeze over, paying tribute to Delius' choral work. Williams' describes his new piece as "a lot of fun … and a little bit naughty here and there!"

Also in the programme will be the recently rediscovered Six Piano Pieces, two lost songs which were recently acquired in New York by the Delius Trust, and the first movement of Delius' String Quartet (from 1889) the manuscript of which was only found in 2020, plus the Violin Sonata No. 2 transcribed for viola by Lionel Tertis, and three songs arranged by Roderick Williams.

Further details from EventBrite

Giving voice to unconventional instruments: the Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet

Eve Beglarian, Alex Temple, Moondog, Rei Colman, Arvo Part, John Cage; Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet

Eve Beglarian, Alex Temple, Moondog, Rei Coman, Arvo Part, John Cage; Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet
Reviewed 14 June 2022 (★★★½)

A quintet of Wagner tubas in a remarkable reinvention of repertoire, demonstrating the instrument's versatility

Lawrence Graduate Bayreuth Tuben Quintet is a Wagner tuba quintet that is "comprised of at least six members who identify as, know, or would like to know, someone who is LGBTQ+. By queering Wagner, we celebrate and give voice to unconventional instruments and non-traditional ensembles.". The ensemble's eponymous first disc was released in May 2022 (somewhat disrupted by the pandemic), and it features contemporary music by Eve Beglarian, Alex Temple, Rei Coman and Arvo Pärt alongside music by two 20th century disturbers of the standard order, Moondog and John Cage.

The Wagner tuba (German plural 'tuben') is a four-valve brass instrument commissioned by Richard Wagner, inspired by his experience of Saxhorns. The size and bore is midway between a euphonium and a French horn, and the instrument is played with a horn mouthpiece. Most of the music on the disc was not written for Wagner tuba quintet, and each piece creates its own distinctive sound-world.

Monday, 20 June 2022

From Father Willis' last organ to English musical life around 1700 and the musical coal-merchant: King's Lynn Festival's Early Music Day

Thomas Brittain, the musical small coal-man
Thomas Brittain, the musical small coal-man
The King’s Lynn Festival takes place from Sunday 17 July until Saturday 30 July 2022, presenting a range of classical music, recitals, choral performances, jazz, folk, talks, walks, exhibitions and films. On Saturday 23 July, the festival is presenting its 2022 Early Music Day with three concerts at St Nicholas Chapel.

The day begins with a lunchtime organ recital from Coventry Cathedral’s director of music, Rachel Mahon. She will play the chapel's Henry Willis organ, the last instrument on which Father Willis worked on before his death.

Period instrument ensemble Spiritato will be joined by mezzo-soprano Ciara Hendrick for The Taste of the Nation, a programme that explores English music at the juncture of the 17th and 18th centuries, following Henry Purcell's death in 1695, giving a vibrant picture of the changing fashions and astonishing success of Italian styles, genres and indeed musicians at the dawn of the 1700s.

For the late-night concert, Ensemble Hesperi, paint a picture of London’s vibrant musical scene in the early 1700s, through the lens of the extraordinary coal merchant Thomas Britton, one of London’s first concert promoters!

Full details from the festival website.

Composers Alexander Papp, Darius Paymai, Florence Anna Maunders, James Banner, and Robert Crehan join LCO New

London Chamber Orchestra (LCO) has announced the new cohort for its LCO New scheme
London Chamber Orchestra (LCO) has announced the new cohort for its LCO New scheme, which supports emerging composers who haven’t yet heard their work performed by a professional orchestra. The five composers being supported are Alexander Papp, Darius Paymai, Florence Anna Maunders, James Banner, and Robert Crehan.

These composers will take part in meetings and collaborative group workshops throughout the summer with LCO's 21/22 Composer in Residence, Freya Waley-Cohen, offering participants the opportunity to work with LCO musicians to compose a new piece for LCO. All five new pieces will be performed and recorded at LCO’s 22/23 season opening concert.

To open its 2022-23 season, Christopher Warren-Green conducts the orchestra in Dani Howard's Fanfare, Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 and the five new works from the LCO New composers at St John's Smith Square on 23 September 2022.

Full details from the LCO website.

New season, new venues: the North-West's longest-standing chamber orchestra, the Northern Chamber Orchestra's 2022-23 season

Northern Chamber Orchestra in Macclesfield, January 2022
Northern Chamber Orchestra in Macclesfield, January 2022

The Northern Chamber Orchestra is the North-West's longest-standing chamber orchestra and its recently announced 2022-23 season features a series of concerts in two contrasting venues in Macclesfield, the brand new, purpose built, auditorium at The Kings’ School and the beautiful, intimate St Michael’s Church, along with Christmas appearances at Tatton Park.

The season opens with the Hallé’s assistant conductor Delyana Lazrova directing an all-Beethoven programme including the Violin Concerto with Jennifer Pike. Other highlights including Jamie Phillips directing Finzi's Clarinet Concerto with soloist Elizabeth Jordan, cellist Guy Johnston in Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 2 in a concert directed by Guy's brother Magnus Johnston which also includes music by RVW and Shostakovich, Rudolf Karel’s Nonet (written in Theresienstadt prison during WWII) alongside Spohr's Nonet, Four Seasons from Piazzolla and Vivaldi, and a Baroque sequence directed by Christopher Jones and with soprano Caroline Taylor and countertenor Ralph Thomas Williams in Pergolesi's Stabat Mater alongside music by the Soviet-born American composer Lera Auerbach.

The season ends with a pair of concerts contrasting old and new, a focus on wind instruments pairs Mozart's Gran partita with music by Joachim Raff and the 20th century British composer Ruth Gipps. Then Spanish violinist Jorge Jimenez directs the orchestra in three of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos alongside two 20th century works, Arvo Pärt's Fratres and Alfred Schnittke's Suite in the Old Style.  

Full details from the orchestra's website.

Youthful enterprise: Longhope Opera is presenting Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore with an entire company under 30 years old

Longhope Opera
Longhope Opera

Longhope Opera is an annual event on the Longhope Estate in Newton Valence, Hampshire, which not only gives guests the experience of enjoying opera and other events in the grounds of the beautiful estate, but also provides support for emerging professionals. This year, Scherzo Ensemble, artistic director Matthew O'Keeffe, will be presenting staged performances of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore with an entire company (performers, creatives, technical staff and management) under 30 years old. 

In October 2021, I caught Matthew O'Keeffe, Scherzo Ensemble and the Strand Consort in Bach's St Matthew Passion [see my review] and Matthew is also the artistic director of Brixton Chamber Orchestra [see my article]

The aim is to help young practitioners gain paid professional experience and build their confidence to create and produce projects independently. Everyone involved also contributes to areas outside of their specialism, enhancing team-spirit and insight into the artistic process.

This year's performances include Astrid Joos as Adina, James Beddoe as Nemorino, Benoît Déchelotte as Belcore and William Stevens as Dulcamara. There will also be a special performance for children; working together with the Hampshire Music Service, Longhope Opera have invited hundreds of children to enjoy the opera and a picnic dinner at the charming estate.

In previous years, Scherzo Ensemble has presented Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Il turco in Italia at Longhope.

Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore is at Longhope Opera on 2 and 3 July 2022. Prior to the opera performances, there are chamber performances in the grounds. Full details from the Longhope Opera website.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Madcap theatre & magnificent music: Janacek's The Excursions of Mr. Brouček at Grange Park Opera

Janacek: The Excursions of Mr. Brouček  - Robin Horgan as Spotcek on the Moon - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)
Janacek: The Excursions of Mr. Brouček  - Robin Horgan as Spotcek on the Moon - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)

Considering that it is mature-period Janacek, his opera Výlety páně Broučkovy (The Excursions of Mr. Brouček) is a remarkable rarity. And whilst the work is problematically challenging, this sort of selective view of a composer is typical of the way we can be rather reductive in our view of them, concentrating on a few favoured works. Recent performances in the UK include English National Opera in 1992 and Opera North in 2009, and in concert by Jiří Bělohlávek and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 2007.

That 1992 performance was directed by David Pountney, and Pountney was again at the helm for Grange Park Opera's enterprising staging of Janacek's The Excursions of Mr. Brouček (seen Saturday 18 June 2022). Conducted by George Jackson with the BBC Concert Orchestra, and with designs by Leslie Travers and Marie-Jeanne Lecca, choreography by Lynne Hockney, lighting by Tim Mitchell, the performance featured Peter Hoare as Brouček, plus Fflur Wyn, Mark Le Brocq, Andrew Shore, and Clive Bayley

Janacek's route to creating opera was neither direct nor straightforward. He wrote Jenufa between 1894 and 1903 (in fact his third opera), it premiered 1904 but Janacek revised it in 1908 and 1915, and the work became popularised in a version not the composer's, ironing out the perceived eccentricities. That he was trying for a different type of opera is seen by his next one, Osud (1903-1905, revised 1906-1907) which has a libretto by one of his students and by Janacek himself. The experimental nature of the libretto meant that the work was never produced in his life time. Next came The Excursions of Mr. Brouček, which Janacek worked on from 1908 to 1917. It's premiere in 1920 was not a great success, and for his next opera Janacek returned to something less experimental, Káťa Kabanová (1920-21), based on an Ostrovsky play. The Cunning Little Vixen (1921-1923) returned to the more experimental manner, short scenes moving into each other and less focus on the 'well-made-play' aspect of Jenufa and Káťa Kabanová, with their focus on their heroines. The Makropoulos Affair (1923-1925) is fascinating, but never quite achieves take-off until the final scene. With From the House of the Dead (1927-1928), Janacek managed to achieve his perfect synthesis, short, filmic scenes, plenty of character but no single overall focus, a miraculous portrait of a community.

Janacek: The Excursions of Mr. Brouček  - Peter Hoare, Fflur Wyn - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)
Janacek: The Excursions of Mr. Brouček  - Peter Hoare, Fflur Wyn - Grange Park Opera (Photo Marc Brenner)

Saturday, 18 June 2022

A strong affinity to melodic music: I chat to composer John Brunning about his works for guitar

John Brunning (Photo Classic FM)
John Brunning (Photo Classic FM)

John Brunning
is perhaps best known as one of Classic FM's longest-serving presenters, but his background also takes in rock including performing in bands such as Mungo Jerry. John is also a composer, and now classical guitarist Xuefei Yang [read my 2020 interview with Xuefei] has recorded a disc of his works for guitar. Recorded in Dolby Atmos and released by Platoon on 27 May, the album features Xuefei alongside the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Clark Rundell, with a  guest appearance from cellist Johannes Moser. I recently met up with John to find out more.

The disc features two major works, Concerto Magna Carta for guitar and orchestra, and Five Romances for guitar and orchestra, plus Lacrimosa for guitar and cello. John admits that the name of the concerto is largely irrelevant. Wanting to avoid yet another Concerto for Guitar, John asked the listeners of his Classic FM show to suggest titles. He wanted a title which made it clear that it was an English work, to distinguish it from the many Spanish guitar concertos. As the work is quite traditional and was completed in 2015 (the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta), the name seemed obvious. 

John Brunning & Xuefei Yang
John Brunning & Xuefei Yang

Friday, 17 June 2022

Strong meat: Grange Park Opera stages Ponchielli's rarity, La Gioconda in a performance that full embraces the work's drama

Ponchielli: La gioconda - Grange Park Opera 2022 (Photo Marc Brenner)
Ponchielli: La gioconda - Act One - Grange Park Opera 2022 (Photo Marc Brenner)

Ponchielli: La gioconda; Amanda Echalaz, Joseph Calleja, Elisabetta Fiorillo, David Stout, Marco Spotti, director: Stephen Medcalf, the Gascoigne Orchestra, conductor: Stephen Barlow; Grange Park Opera
Reviewed 16 June 2022, (★★★★)

A rare chance to hear Ponchielli's best-known opera in a large-scale and dramatic staging featuring a strong array of voices 

There were plenty of opera composers in Italy in the 19th century, but few wrote operas that have managed to stay in the repertoire and it is Verdi who dominated then and certainly dominates now. Between Donizetti's Caterina Cornaro (premiered in Naples in 1844) and Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (premiered in Rome in 1890), few new operas by composers other than Verdi have managed to remain in the repertoire. One of these is Ponchielli's La gioconda (premiered 1876, revised 1880), though its hold on the repertoire is fragile. Opera North staged it (with Rosalind Plowright in the title role in 1993, and revived with Clare Rutter in 2000), the Royal Opera gave it in concert in 2004, and Opera Holland Park staged it in 2008. Our most recent encounter with the opera was in Brussels in 2019 [see my review]. Grange Park Opera planned to stage the work in 2020, and now finally this has come to pass.

We caught Grange Park Opera's performance of Ponchielli's La gioconda on Thursday 16 June 2022. Directed by Stephen Medcalf, it featured Amanda Echalaz as Gioconda, Joseph Calleja as Enzo Grimaldi, Elisabetta Fiorillo as La Cieca, David Stout as Barnaba, Marco Spotti as Alvise Badoero and Ruxandra Donose as Laura. Stephen Barlow conducted the Gascoigne Orchestra. Designs were by Francis O'Connor, movement by Sarah Fahie and lighting by Tim Mitchell.

Ponchielli: La gioconda - Amanda Echalaz - Grange Park Opera 2022 (Photo Marc Brenner)
Ponchielli: La gioconda - Amanda Echalaz - Grange Park Opera 2022 (Photo Marc Brenner)

It is tricky to understand La gioconda without comprehending the vogue for French Grand Opera that spread in Italy from the 1860s.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

Violinist Charlie Lovell-Jones wins the 2022 John Fussell Award for Young Musicians

Charlie Lovell-Jones
Charlie Lovell-Jones
Founded in 1992, the John Fussell Award for Young Musicians is a yearly Award to support young musicians with links to Wales. This year's final took place on Tuesday 14 June 2022 at the Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea University when Charlie Lovell-Jones (violin),  Nye Hughes-Watts (piano), Dafydd Jones (tenor) and Hannah Lowri Roberts (viola) each performed a short recital for the judges, organist Huw Tregelles Williams, soprano Rebecca Evans and conductor Julian Smith,

The finalists competed for a first prize of £2,500 to enable them to continue their studies in music.  To be eligible for the competition all competitors must have either been born or raised in Wales, have Welsh heritage or studied in Wales. 

This year's winner was violinist Charlie Lovell-Jones, who attended Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf, in Cardiff, before going to Oxford.  He is currently in the final year of his MA (Performance) degree at the Royal Academy of Music before going to Yale School of Music in Connecticut, USA, to study for his MMA. There is a further chance to hear Charlie in action when he and pianist Daniel King-Smith give a recital at the High Barnet Chamber Music Festival on 17 July 2022, performing music by Schubert, William Grant Still, Bach, Szymanowski, Florence Price and Saint-Saens. Further information from the festival website.

The John Fussell Award is funded by a Trust set up in memory of John Fussell who was a well-known figure in the South Wales music scene from 1970 until his death in 1990.  He had a strong belief that we should help our young musicians to further their studies to achieve their dreams, and so, following his death, a Trust Fund was set up in 1991 to fund this yearly Award. Among the many past winners who have gone on to build successful careers in their field are pianist Llŷr Williams, harpist Catrin Finch and tenor Rhys Meirion.


Rising to the challenge: the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio in Sondheim: Before & After

Sondheim: Before & After

Sondheim: Before & After
: Sondheim, Ravel, Britten, Berg, Heggie, Mazzoli, Muhly, Tesori; Alexandra Chernenko, Ffion Edwards, Inna Husieva, Laura Lolita Peresivana, Sian Griffiths, Joanna Harries, Shakira Tsindos, Logan Lopez Gonzalez, Philip Clieve, Monwabisi Lindi, Josef Ahn, Kamohelo Tsotetsi, Chloe Kim, Nadia Kisseleva, Alexsander Ribeiro de Lara, Elli Welsh, director: Keith Warner, conductor: Andrew Griffiths; National Opera Studio at Hoxton Hall
Reviewed 14 June 2022

The Young Artists of the National Opera Studio rise to the challenge of singing Sondheim's brand of music-theatre, alongside composers he admired and composers he influenced

Some of Stephen Sondheim's songs are a big stretch for music theatre voices and his works are increasingly staged by opera companies. But equally, Sondheim's style of text-based music theatre can be a different sort of challenge for opera singers; most companies, like Opera North's recent production of A Little Night Music [see my review], use a mix of classically trained and music theatre. For the National Opera Studio's latest challenge for its current cohort of singers, it set them to presenting a programme based around Stephen Sondheim's songs.

The result was Sondheim: Before & After, where Keith Warner directed the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio, with conductor Andrew Griffiths, at Hoxton Hall in a programme that mixed Sondheim's songs with music by Ravel, Britten, Berg, Jake Heggie, Missie Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, and Jeanine Tesori. The idea behind the programme was to mix Sondheim with excerpts from composers that he admired, and composers that he has influenced.

We heard a nice range of Sondheim's work, with solos and ensembles from Sunday in the Park with George, Sweeney Todd, Assassins, Follies, Company, and A Little Night Music. And what the young opera singers achieved in the Sondheim was impressive, with performances that ranged from the creditable to the stunning.

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Songs for a Summer night: the Scottish Ensemble's new concert series uses venues that make the most of the long days around the Summer Solstice

Scottish Ensemble
Scottish Ensemble
The Scottish Ensemble has announced its Concerts for a Summer Night, a series of concerts around the Summer Solstice, 20 to 23 June 2022, when days are longest. 

The events have all been designed to use venues which make the most of the natural light, from atriums at Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Barras Art and Design in Glasgow, to a byre in Perthshire.     

Directed by Jonathan Morton, a 12-piece ensemble will play an eclectic programme including music by Purcell, Mozart, Schubert, Dvorak, William Grant Still and Victor Herbert. Dobrinka Tabakova's Spinning a Yarn (which features violin and hurdy-gurdy) will be paired with her arrangement of Schubert's song Gretchen am Spinnrade,  and there is music by Hans AbrahamsenThomas Adès and Jessie Montgomery.

Full details from the Scottish Ensemble website.


Poul Ruders' Harpsichord Concerto

Poul Ruders Harpsichord Concerto; Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Sgestram; OUR Recordings
Poul Ruders Harpsichord Concerto; Mahan Esfahani, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Leif Sgestam; OUR Recordings

Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani premieres a work written for him, a concerto that utilises the instrument with remarkable vividness & vibrancy

The world premiere recording of Poul RudersHarpsichord Concerto has been issued as an EP by OUR Recordings with soloist Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord), Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, conductor Leif Segestam.

The concerto, premiered in 2020, was written as the result of a commission from the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra specifically for a work for harpsichord and orchestra, and is here recorded live in Aarhus.

Contemporary music for harpsichord and orchestra is not a new thing, since the instruments revitalising in the 20th century there have been composers willing to experiment from Manuel de Falla and Francis Poulenc to Joseph Horovitz and beyond. Ruders' takes quite a traditional approach, this is a three movement work, fast - slow - fast, lasting some 20 minutes.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

Young Artists performance of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at Opera Holland Park

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Lucy Anderson, Rory Musgrave - Opera Holland Park Young Artists Performance (Photo Alastair Muir)
Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin - Lucy Anderson, Rory Musgrave
Opera Holland Park Young Artists Performance (Photo Alastair Muir)

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin; Lucy Anderson, Rory Musgrave, Jack Roberts, Anna Elizabeth Cooper, Emily Hodkinson, Jane Mondari, Henry Grant Kerswell, director: Julia Burbach/Emma Black, City of London Sinfonia,  conductor: Hannah von Wiehler; Young Artists Performance at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 13 June 2022

Originally planned for 2020, this year's cohort of Young Artists show their mettle in a wonderfully finished and profoundly moving account of Tchaikovsky's lyric scenes

For Opera Holland Park's Young Artists Performance this year, Julia Burbach's production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin [see my review] returned on 13 June 2022 with Emma Black directing the Young Artists with Lucy Anderson as Tatyana, Rory Musgrave as Onegin, Jack Roberts as Lensky, Anna Elizabeth Cooper as Olga, Emily Hodkinson as Madame Larina, Jane Monari as Filippyevna, Henry Grant Kerswell as Prince Gremin and Phillip Costovski as Triquet. Hannah von Wiehler conducted the City of London Sinfonia.

The basic outlines of Burbach's production were unchanged, and seeing it again it became clearer that the first half (the four scenes ending with Madame Larina's party) are very much seen through Tatyana's eyes, the silent appearances of both Onegin and her friends testify to the young woman's interior life. For the second half we experience things through Onegin's eyes as he obsessively re-lives the duel and fantasises over reconciliation with Tatyana.

Reasons to Sing!

Steel City Choristers: Reasons to Sing!

Steel City Choristers and social inclusion charity Parson Cross Initiative (PXI) have developed Reasons to Sing! to help people find wellbeing through music and connection. The Reasons to Sing! short course consists of videos and discussion notes, free to download from the Steel City Choristers website, and can be used by schools, churches, care homes and others. It is intended to help people reflect on the role that songs play in their lives.

Steel City Choristers was founded following the unexpected closure of Sheffield Cathedral Choir in July 2020. Members of the former cathedral choir were committed to continuing to sing together and to keeping choral music alive in the city. So Steel City Choristers was established as a choir that sings to the standard associated with our country’s cathedrals, but which does so out and about around the city. The choir brings children and adults together to sing to the highest musical standards, welcoming boys and girls aged 7-18 regardless of their background or prior musical experience.

Steel City Choristers have connected six songs chosen by people from PXI with six pieces from the traditional English choral repertoire through the themes of comfort, gratitude, loss, love, unity and structure. A series of workshops enabled a number of people from Parson Cross to learn to sing their six songs, and to then join with Steel City Choristers to perform them at a community concert in May 2022, at which the choir also performed their six pieces [see more on YouTube]. Six themed videos of the songs and stories have been recorded. Course discussion notes accompany the videos. The discussion notes and videos are all freely available to download on the Steel City Choristers’ website.

Full information from the Steel City Choristers website.

Unquiet: a series aimed at audiences who are equally engaged in the contemporary classical music scene as they are with UK pirate radio and electronic music culture

Manchester Camerata: Unquiet

Manchester Camerata is presenting a new concert series, Unquiet, with artistic direction from Robert Ames, bringing contemporary classical and electronic music together. Manchester Camerata is collaborating with performing arts agency Newform Music for the series which is aimed at audiences who are equally engaged in the contemporary classical music scene as they are with UK pirate radio and electronic music culture.

The series will kick off with a four dates in the Autumn in Leeds, Norwich, Birmingham and Bristol. Members of the Camerata will be joined by Norwegian-Mexican composer Carmen Villain who has been commissioned to write a new for the tour, and the programme also includes music by Hildur Guðnadóttir, Bryce Dessner, Mica Levi and a new work by Afrodeutsche. 

Afrodeutsche is a Manchester-based composer, producer and DJ whose piece He Sings Over Me, commissioned by Manchester Camerata and Newform Music, was premiered in Coventry last month as part of New Music Biennial 2022.

Full details from the Manchester Camerata website.

Monday, 13 June 2022

Noye's Fludde at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street

Noye's Fludde at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street
Britten's Noye's Fludde was premiered at the 1958 Aldeburgh Festival. Based on the story of Noah's Ark from the 15th century Chester Mystery Plays, the piece was designed to be performed by largely amateur ensemble mainly of children and was intended for churches and large halls, rather than the theatre. 

Centenaries and special occasions apart however, it doesn't pop up very often and so it is delightful that William Vann will be conducting Noye's Fludde at Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street on Friday 17th June 2022.

Vann will be conducting the London Mozart Players with the combined choirs of Christ Church and Holy Trinity Schools, Trinity Boys School and Old Palace School, plus Pimlico Recorder Group and Alex Ashworth as Noye and Kate Symonds-Joy as Mrs Noye. 

As well as regular instruments in the orchestra, the child percussionists, led by a professional timpanist, play various exotic and invented percussion instruments, including sandpaper mugs hung from a length of string, inspired by Imogen Holst's wartime experience with improvised percussion with the Women's Institute! 

Full details from the London Mozart Players' website.

 

On a highly concentrated scale: Verdi's Macbeth at The Grange Festival

Verdi: Macbeth - Gezim Myshketa - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)
Verdi: Macbeth - Gezim Myshketa - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)

Verdi: Macbeth (1865); Judith Howarth, Gezim Myshketa, Jonathan Lemalu, Samuel Sakker, director: Maxine Braham, conductor: Francesco Cilluffo, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; The Grange Festival
Reviewed 11 June 2022 (★★★★½)

Stunning singing and vivid performances bring out the sense of character in the revised version Verdi's first Shakespearean opera

Verdi: Macbeth - Judith Howarth - The Grange Festival (Photo Bodnar Photography)
Verdi: Macbeth - Judith Howarth - The Grange Festival (Photo Bodnar Photography)
Verdi's Macbeth premiered at the Teatro all Pergola in Florence in 1847. It had a respectable life in Italian houses before Verdi revised it for Paris in 1865 (where it was performed by the Théâtre Lyrique at what is now the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris), but then the work rather languished till the 20th century. This has left the opera with a somewhat complicated history, modern performances tend to focus on the 1865 revision, but miss out the ballet music that Verdi wrote for Paris and many companies follow Glyndebourne's lead in re-instating Macbeth's death aria from the 1845 version (though this was not done here). 

We caught the second performance (11 June 2022) of Verdi's Macbeth at The Grange Festival in a production directed and choreographed by Maxine Braham and conducted by Francesco Cilluffo with Gezim Myshketa as Macbeth, Judith Howarth as Lady Macbeth, Jonathan Lemalu as Banquo and Samuel Sakker as Macduff.  Designs were by Madeleine Boyd, with lighting by Matt Haskins.

There was a drop curtain, opened and closed by the witches, revealing a fixed set, a sort of distressed library with an upper walkway. The witches were in black, somewhere between punk and steam-punk, and from this library they produced the artefacts used to tempt Macbeth, the crown, the dagger. Throughout the opera, the witches were highly active, controlling the action, provoking, threatening and manipulating the characters.

Baroque mind games: Handel's Tamerlano at The Grange Festival

Handel:Tamerlano - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Anand)
Handel:Tamerlano - The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)

Handel: Tamerlano; Raffaele Pe, Paul Nilon, Sophie Bevan, Patrick Terry, Angharad Lyddon, director: Daniel Slater, conductor: Robert Howarth, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; The Grange Festival
Reviewed 10 June 2022 (★★★
)

Strong performances and an intelligently modern-dress staging make Handel's darkest operatic drama a gripping evening

Tamerlano is regarded as one of Handel's greatest operas yet productions of it in the UK have been few and far between in recent years, but that has all changed. Cambridge Handel Opera, the Grange Festival and English Touring Opera are all addressing the work, whilst Irish National Opera looked at Vivaldi's take on the same story. Opera seria is such that each production can be somewhat different, taking a different route to addressing the fundamental issues at stake in the opera. 

Whilst Tamerlano does contain two of the greatest dramatic scenes that Handel wrote in his Italian operas, the opera's complex plot essentially boils down to a series of mind games. The work uses that classic opera seria plot where characters are confined in a single space over a short period of time and then we see what happens. Which leaves a lot of scope.

At The Grange Festival, we caught the first night (10 June 2022) of Daniel Slater's new production of Handel's Tamerlano, Robert Howarth conducted the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, with Raffaele Pe as Tamerlano, Paul Nilon as Bajazet, Sophie Bevan as Asteria, Patrick Terry as Andronico, Angharad Lyddon as Irene and Stuart Orme as Leone. Designs were by Robert Innes Hopkins with lighting by Johanna Town.

Handel:Tamerlano - Sophie Bevan, Paul Nilon, Raffaele Pe The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Anand)
Handel:Tamerlano - Sophie Bevan, Paul Nilon, Raffaele Pe The Grange Festival (Photo Simon Annand)

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