Wednesday 31 August 2022

Noisenights go nationwide

Sheku Kanneh-Mason at noisenight four
Sheku Kanneh-Mason at noisenight four

After hosting a number of sold-out crowdfunded live music gigs in London across the last 12 months, through the noise have announced that noisenights, their classical music series in clubs, will tour the country this Autumn. 

noisenights will expand to Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, and the Autumn season will feature Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Abel Selaocoe, Her Ensemble, Alexandra Whittingham, Esther Abrami, Plínio Fernandes, Roberts Balanas, and Harry Baker. The series also continues to grow in London with dates at the Jazz Cafe, Camden and OMEARA, London Bridge, amongst others.

Inspired by London’s underground club scene and thriving jazz venues, noisenights offer an alternative way to experience live classical music. There are two ticket options: either an early-evening rush-hour set, or a late show which is followed by live jazz, funk and afrobeat acts. The two-sittings format allows shows to be in more intimate venues than would normally be feasible with major artists.

noisenight10 takes place on Saturday 8 October 2022 with Roberts Balanas at OMEARA and. noisenight11 features Her Ensemble on Saturday 5 November 2022 at Colours Hoxton, with further dates and venues through to December. Full details from throughthenoise's website.

Tuesday 30 August 2022

A light touch and some rattling good tunes: Puccini's La rondine from IF Opera at Belcombe Court

Puccini: La Rondine - Joseph Buckmaster, Meinir Wyn Roberts - IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)
Puccini: La Rondine (Act 3) - Joseph Buckmaster, Meinir Wyn Roberts - IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)

Puccini: La Rondine; Meinir Wyn Roberts, Joseph Buckmaster, Philip Smith, Lorena Paz Nieto, Ryan Vaughan Davies, director: Bruno Ravella, Bristol Ensemble, conductor: Oliver Gooch; IF Opera at Belcombe Court

Puccini: La Rondine - Meinir Wyn Roberts - IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)
Puccini: La Rondine (Act 2) - Meinir Wyn Roberts
IF Opera (Photo Craig Fuller)
A young cast bring Puccini's commedia lirica to life in a production that applies a light touch, bringing out the work's charm

Iford Arts, which was founded in 1997 to perform in the gardens of Iford Manor, has a new name, a new CEO, a new venue and a new ethos. As IF Opera under CEO Michael Volpe (late of Opera Holland Park) the company recently opened its Summer 2022 season as Belcombe Court, a very different garden to Iford Manor but an equally ravishing one. From this year, IF Opera has a new ethos too, the company aims to run seasons on a repertory basis with singers taking part in multiple productions, thus giving young artists a range of challenges and opportunities, as well as building a company ethos. This year's season includes Puccini's La Rondine, Donizetti's Rita, Wolf-Ferrari's Susanna's Secret, and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, plus a family opera.

On Monday 29 August 2022 we caught Bruno Ravella's production of Puccini's La rondine with Oliver Gooch (IF Opera's artistic director) conducting the Bristol Ensemble using Bryan Higgins' orchestral arrangement. Designs were by Flavio Graff, lighting and video by Luca Panetta. Meinir Wyn Roberts was Magda, Joseph Buckmaster was Ruggero, Philip Smith was Rambaldo, Lorena Paz Nieto was Lisette and Ryan Vaughan Davies was Prunier, with Lara Marie Miller, Natasha Page, Shakira Tsindos, Kieran Rayner, Jonathan Forbes Kennedy, and Matteo Placidi.

Puccini's later career saw the composer constantly worrying about the style and the subject matter of his operas, he consciously tried to extend his range both by writing more 'advanced' music (La fanciulla del West) and reaching out to other genres (the comedy of Gianni Schicchi). His agreement to write an operetta for Vienna (quickly finessed into a commedia lyrica, without spoken dialogue) can be seen in this light. The opera features Puccini writing imaginatively yet in a lighter vein for the orchestra (that piano in act one, for instance), and a plot that fails to plumb the emotional depths of his other serious operas. Instead, the characters are drawn with a lighter touch and the ending is perhaps more realistic. Magda, in particular, develops a greater degree of self-awareness than other Puccini's heroines. If you come to the work expecting to go through an emotional wringer, then you will be disappointed, but if you approach it as Puccini's writing in a lighter vein, then it is a complete delight with some terrific tunes.

Sunday 28 August 2022

17th International Malcolm Arnold Festival

17th International Malcolm Arnold Festival
This year's Malcolm Arnold Festival, the 17th, will be somewhat different. Previously, the festival has been based in Arnold's home town of Northampton, but this year the centre of operations moves to London and also to a wide audience on-line. The festival takes place in London on 8 and 9 October 2022, and then there will be an on-line day of performances on 30 October 2022.

Things begin on 8 October with a concert at the Church of St Barnabas in Ealing, when John Gibbons conducts the Ealing Symphony Orchestra in Arnold's Homage to the Queen, Divertimento No. 2 and Trumpet Concerto (with soloist Nick Budd), plus Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique. Then on 9 October there is a day of events at the Royal College of Music, with performances from the RCM String Ensemble, conductor Hilary Davan Wetton of works for string orchestra and chamber ensemble, including concertos and the Ukrainian Folk Variations, an illustrated lecture by Dominic Wheeler on Arnold's opera The Dancing Master, a masterclass from Julian Lloyd Webber, and a talk on Arnold's fellow student and friend Ruth Gipps. 

Then on 30 October there will be a day of free-to-view live-streamed performances coming from locations that were of importance to Arnold and inspired some of this music. The English Dances are performed by Northampton County Youth Orchestra, the Welsh Dances performed by members of the Royal Welsh Conservatoire, the Scottish Dances performed by The Orchestra of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Junior Department, and the Cornish Dances and Padstow Lifeboat performed by the St Dennis Band in Cornwall, including members who played in the premiere of the work in 1967. The Irish Dances are performed from where Malcolm lived in the 1970s.

Full details from the festival website.

Saturday 27 August 2022

Two moments in time: String Orchestra of Brooklyn with a work written for 2020's Lockdown, and another evoking the opening of Honolulu's contemporary art museum in 1980

Scott Wollschleger: Outside Only Sound; Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti : with eyes the color of time; String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel; New Focus Recordings
Scott Wollschleger: Outside Only Sound; Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti : with eyes the color of time; String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Eli Spindel; New Focus Recordings
26 August 2022 (★★★★)

One work delayed by lockdown, the other created specifically for lockdown conditions, yet both display a dazzling use of texture and timbre with vividly imaginative use of a contemporary string orchestra

This new disc from the String Orchestra of Brooklyn features two works written specifically for the orchestra, one takes us to a day in October 2020, to the height of Lockdown in New York when the orchestra played outside, the other takes us to the day in 1980 when the first contemporary art museum opened in Honolulu.

At the height of the 2020 lockdown in New York, indoor concerts were cancelled and even having an orchestra rehearsing together was problematic. The String Orchestra of Brooklyn's solution was to commission work specifically tailored to the needs of the moment, out of doors performances and minimal rehearsal. One of the results was Scott Wollschleger's Outside Only Sound for strings and percussion. On enfoldingtheir new disc from New Focus Recordings, the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, conductor Eli Spindel, performs Scott Wollschleger's Outside Only Sound with one of the works that were due to be premiered at cancelled performances in 2020, Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti’s with eyes the color of time.

Wollschleger’s solution to the orchestra's commission for 2020 was "to structure music material in which each player was like a single cicada and there was never a need for a conductor. Instead, each player used a stopwatch and functioned as one of a group of insects in a field, or like a gaseous cloud of sound." The recording is intensely atmospheric and we hear an extended sequence of ambient sounds, with remarkable clarity, before the music starts. And it starts gradually, as if arising from the ambient, the situation creating the art. Wollschleger writes for string orchestra and six percussionists, who bow a variety of large metal mixing bowls, but the orchestral players themselves play a series of small bells, thus creating an element of fairy magic in this remarkable cloud.

Friday 26 August 2022

A Quiet Night: new single in support of the Ukrainian Welcome Centre

24 August was Ukrainian Independence Day and was exactly six months since the beginning of the latest Russian invasion. To coincide with this British vocal ensemble SANSARA, artistic director Tom Herring, has released a new single, A Quite Night, by Ukrainian composer Natalia Tsupryk which sets words by the Ukrainian President, Vlodymyr Zelensky, and poet Serhiy Zhadan. The single is combined with a charitable appeal for the Ukrainian Welcome Centre – a UK-wide network of support centres for Ukrainian refugees.

The piece is written to be sung in places where refugee communities can work together with local choirs, and it was commissioned by Chris Gunness, Director of the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP), to remind the world of the evils of dictatorships everywhere and the destruction of Ukraine’s cultural identity, one of Putin’s war aims.

The Ukrainian Welcome Centre supports newly-arrived Ukrainian refugees in the UK. The Centre is a partnership initiative between the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy (Diocese) of the Holy Family in London and the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain (AUGB).

To donate to the appeal, visit the fundraising page. SANSARA will give the live premiere performance of A Quiet Night on Friday 25 November at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Warmth and humanity: British Youth Opera celebrates its 35th anniversary with Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love

Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Nancy Holt, Alexandria Moon, Jacob Bettinelli, Jack Holton & ensemble - British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)
Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Nancy Holt, Alexandria Moon, Jacob Bettinelli, Jack Holton & ensemble - British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love; director Harry Fehr, Southbank Sinfonia, conductor Marit Strindlund; British Youth Opera at Opera Holland Park
Reviewed 24 August 2022

RVW's Shakespearean opera gets an anniversary staging in a engaging performance bringing out the work's lovely sense of warmth and humanity 

Vaughan Williams' 150th anniversary has not brought out productions of his operas at major UK opera companies, despite both ENO and Covent Garden having performed RVW's operas within the last 20 years or so. So, it is very heartening that British Youth Opera (celebrating its own 35th anniversary) chose RVW's Sir John in Love for its Summer production this year. 

Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Johannes Moore - British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)
Vaughan Williams: Sir John in Love - Johannes Moore
British Youth Opera (Photo Alastair Muir)

Sir John in Love has a rather patchy performance history, written in 1928 it was premiered by the Royal College of Music in 1929, it had to wait until 1948 for a professional production. Sadler's Wells Opera performed it in 1958, and then it had to wait until 2006 for another professional outing in the UK, when ENO presented its production. The work has always had rather more student than professional productions. Partly, this is RVW's own fault, the work has a whopping 20 named singing roles which is double the cast of Verdi's Falstaff

British Youth Opera's production of RVW's Sir John in Love opened at Opera Holland Park on 24 August 2022. The production was directed by Harry Fehr, with Marit Strindlund (herself a BYO alumna) directing the Southbank Sinfonia, designs were by Nate Gibson and lighting by Chuma Emembolu

We saw the first of two casts (and admirably there was a cover cast too), with Johannes Moore as Falstaff, Armand Rabot as Pistol, Phillip Costovski as Bardolph, Grace Marie Wyatt as Anne Page, Eva Gheorghiu as Mistress Page, Jack Holton as Page, Lexie Moon as Mistress Ford, Jacob Bettinelli as Ford, Nancy Holt as Mistress Quickly, Steven van der Linden as Fenton, Joshua Saunders as Shallow, James Micklethwaite as Slender, Matthew Bawden as Simple, Justin Jacobs as Dr Caius, Emyr Jones as Sir Hugh Evans, Toki Hamano as Nym, Edward Kim as Rugby, Patrick Owston as the Host of the Garter Inn.

RVW's own libretto stays far closer to the play than does that of Boito for Verdi, though RVW introduces other poets to provide arias and ensembles, pause points in the mad gambol of plot. He also uses a large amount of folk-song, deliberately so, and whilst the orchestral accompaniment incorporates folk tunes, a lot of the folk material is diegetic; RVW's creates opportunities for the characters to sing the songs themselves. The work has no recitative as such, the dialogue flows as a sort of continuous orchestral accompanied arioso, and the orchestra is important as partner as well as accompanist. This can create challenges for a younger cast, there is a lot going on in the orchestra, but there are rich musical rewards. And the moments when things pause, when RVW introduced extra material are often completely magical.

Fehr and Gibson took advantage of Opera Holland Park's wide stage to present the three sets for all scenes in the first two acts, with the Ford's house at the centre. Scene changes (which are accompanied by orchestral interludes in the score) were effected by the entire cast moving the props so that the centre of the stage was always the scene being played out, but the other two might still have background action going on, thus giving us an idea of the continuing life of Windsor town. 

Wednesday 24 August 2022

Britain's only dedicated awards celebrating creative excellence by UK classical composers

Sarah Rodgers, David Bedford and Roger Wright at the British Composer Awards 2003
Sarah Rodgers, David Bedford and Roger Wright at the British Composer Awards 2003
Britain's only dedicated awards celebrating creative excellence by UK classical composers is celebrating the 20th edition of the awards, which takes place in November this year. Founded in 2003 as the British Composer Awards and now called the Ivors Composer Awards, the awards were created by BASCA (now the Ivors Academy) to celebrate the talent and innovation demonstrated by living composers in this country. The awards built on BASCA's legacy of presenting the Ivor Novello Awards (which started in 1957).

In 2019, BASCA became The Ivors Academy and the awards were renamed The Ivors Composer Awards, bringing them alongside the Ivor Novello Awards.

Since their founding, the awards have seen over 700 works by over 350 composers being nominated, and nearly 240 awards being presented. The first awards were presented in December 2003 when notable winners included Helen Grime, Jocelyn Pook, James Dillon and the late Jonathan Harvey. The most recognised composer is the late Sir Harrison Birtwistle who collected eight awards and composed a further eight nominated works. Judith Bingham, who celebrated her 70th birthday earlier this year, is the second most honoured with four awards and a further five nominations. Closely followed by Julian Anderson with four awards and four nominations. Rebecca Saunders, Kerry Andrew and Michael Finnissy have also received four awards since 2003.

The 20th Ivors Composer Awards take place on Tuesday 15 November at the British Museum in London. Sponsored by PRS for Music, the awards ceremony is in association with BBC Radio 3 who will broadcast an exclusive edition of the New Music Show dedicated to the awards on Saturday 18 November from 10pm.

Full details from The Ivors Academy website.

The songs of William Busch: revealing the quietly distinctive voice of an underexplored composer

The Songs of William Busch with songs by Elizabeth Poston, Gerald Finzi and Michael Head; Diana Moore, Roderick Williams, Robin Tritschler, John Reid; LYRITA
The Songs of William Busch with songs by Elizabeth Poston, Gerald Finzi and Michael Head; Diana Moore, Roderick Williams, Robin Tritschler, John Reid; LYRITA
Reviewed 23 August 2022 (★★★★)

The gentle but distinctive voice of composer William Busch comes over strongly in this lovely recital that sets his songs against those of his contemporaries

The composer William Busch studied with John Ireland and was friends with his contemporary Alan Bush. Dying tragically young at the age of 44 in 1945, his rather compact output has remained rather under-explored. This new disc from Lyrita, curated by Busch's daughter Julia, consists of songs by William Busch alongside those of his contemporaries Elizabeth Poston, Gerald Finzi and Michael Head, performed by mezzo-soprano Diana Moore, tenor Robin Tritschler and baritone Roderick Williams, with pianist John Reid.

We hear 21 of William Busch's songs from Slumber Song (probably written in 1931) to The Lowest Trees have Tops written in 1944, with at the disc's centre his wartime cycle There have been happy days written in 1944 and setting poems by the Great War poet Wilfred Gibson and probably Busch's last completed composition.

Busch's life, musical and otherwise, was somewhat more complex than bald statement can imply. Son of German immigrants he took piano lessons as a child and when sent to America in 1915 (presumably because of the war) he studied music there and wanted to train as a concert pianist. He was briefly in Berlin in the 1920s before returning to London. Studies with the pianist Benno Moiseiwitsch were somewhat haphazard but the serendipitous meeting with fellow pupil Alan Bush (the theory is that Moiseiwitsch got the two confused) led to a friendship and, ultimately, to Busch studying with Bush though they were of an age. Busch also studied with John Ireland (Bush's teacher), but the need to earn a living meant he concentrated at first on piano playing. This means that his output dates from a scant dozen years or so. His interest in song dates from the mid-1930s, much encouraged by Sheila his future wife, as the two would choose poems for setting together. 

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Alexandra Dariescu's innovative approach to achieving gender parity in concert programming

Alexandra Dariescu  (Photo Nick Rutter)
Alexandra Dariescu (Photo Nick Rutter)
A recent study of 100 of the world’s top orchestras' 2020/21 seasons conducted by the Donne Foundation found that only 5% of the music scheduled in their concerts is composed by women. In addition, a staggering 88% of concerts feature only music written by men. Performers are still struggling to achieve gender parity in concerts, but there are innovative ways of achieving this. Pianist Alexandra Dariescu has found a way of doing it. In the 2021/22 season, out of her 30 concerto appearances, 20 have been by women composers.

She explains that she does this "through a long-term collaborative approach with conductors, promoters and orchestras, by pairing mainstream piano concertos written by male composers with their female counterparts in the same concert." She pairs well known concertos by men with a concerto by a woman in the same concert.

For instance putting Florence Price's Concerto in D minor and Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, both of which premiered in 1934. Germaine Tailleferre's Ballade for piano and orchestra with the concerto by her mentor Ravel, Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto and Enescu's Piano Concerto, both written when their composers were 16, and Nadia Boulanger's Fantaisie variee with the Symphonic Variations by the Boulanger family friend, Cesar Franck.

Alexandra has performed concertos by Nadia Boulanger, Germaine Tailleferre, Leokadiya Kashperova, Emily Howard, Iris ter Shiphorst, Florence Price, Clara Schumann and collaborated with orchestras across the world.

"We are thrilled to hear of Alexandra's fantastic initiative and results. The Association of British Orchestras fully supports increasing gender equality in the repertoire performed by our members. We have been delighted by the take-up so far, and hope this will be an inspiration to orchestras in other countries." - Mark Pemberton, Chief Executive of the Association of British Orchestras

The curious case of Alan Bush's operas

Alan Bush: Wat Tyler - Keynote Opera Society, Sadlers Wells, June 1974 - Wat Tyler (John Noble).
Alan Bush: Wat Tyler - Keynote Opera Society, Sadlers Wells, June 1974 - Wat Tyler (John Noble).

His first opera won a prize in the Arts Council Festival of Britain Competition of 1951, was broadcast on the radio in 1952 which led to many stage productions. Its stage premiere in 1953 was applauded for 25 minutes. The success resulted in further commissions, his second opera was premiered in 1956 with further productions in 1957, 1959 and 1960. His third opera arose directly out of the success of the second, being premiered in 1966 with further productions in 1969 and 1973. His fourth and last opera premiered in 1970. That is a record matched, I suspect, by few post-war British composers except Britten and perhaps Tippett.

The composer of this amazing run of operatic success was of course Alan Bush; the premieres and many of the subsequent performances took place in East Germany.

Monday 22 August 2022

Crossing boundaries between contemporary classical, experimental electronic, ambient and electroacoustic - Matthew Whiteside's Remixes

Matthew Whiteside - The Remixes
Matthew Whiteside - The Remixes
Reviewed 22 August 2022 (★★★★)

As a lockdown project Whiteside takes six of his existing compositions and makes them source material for electro-acoustic remixes to dazzling and seductive effect

During Lockdown, with live collaboration difficult, many composers and performers collaborated via Zoom and by multi-tracking shared files. Composer Matthew Whiteside found this process unsatisfactory and for his album The Remixes he decided to collaborate with himself. He describes it as "a really interesting and fun process removing my ego and treating the recordings as simply sound sources rather than as my compositions". 

The resulting album, The Remixes, which is available on BandCamp and via streaming [Linktree], takes six of Whiteside's pieces, originally played by Australian contemporary music performers Ensemble Offspring, the Aurea Quartet and Scottish based musicians Emma Lloyd and Joanna Nicholson, and uses them as electroacoustic source material which Whiteside has expanded and remixed, and he describes the music as crossing the boundaries between contemporary classical, experimental electronic, ambient and electroacoustic.

Wexford Festival Opera expands Wexford Factory to include new repetiteur programme

Wexford Factory
Wexford Festival Opera is expanding its Wexford Factory programme to include repetiteurs. Wexford Factory is the festival's professional academy for young Irish / Ireland-based singers and 15 young singers are taking part in the 2022/23 term. This year, they are being joined by three pianists Aoife Moran, Eléna Maria Esposito and Rebecca Warren, who will take part in the programme over the course of 2 weeks in September, prior to rehearsals for the 71st Wexford Festival Opera in October, at which they will have opportunities to perform.

See my recent interview with the festival's artistic director, Rosetta Cucchi, in which she introduces the 2022 festival and talks about Wexford Factory and its achievements.

Eléna Maria Esposito is an Irish pianist based in Dublin. She has recently completed her degree in piano performance at the TU Dublin Conservatoire, mentored by Siobhán Kilkelly. Aoife Moran is an Irish pianist currently studying on the Repetiteur course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she previously obtained a Master’s degree in piano accompaniment. Rebecca Warren is a pianist and violinist from Wexford currently studying on the repetiteur Master’s programme at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. 

Full details from the Wexford Festival Opera website.

Royal Northern Sinfonia celebrates return of Lindisfarne Gospels to the North East with Music and Spirituality season at Sage Gateshead

The Lindisfarne Gospels (Photo British Library)
The Lindisfarne Gospels (Photo British Library)

The Lindisfarne Gospels return to the North East next month when, from 17 September to 3 December 2022 they will be on display at the Laing Art Gallery, on loan from the British Library [further information from the Laing Art Gallery website]. In celebration, the Royal Northern Sinfonia will be joined by conductor James Weeks and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly at Sage Gateshead on Friday 23 September 2022 for Spiritual Sounds, exploring spirituality in sounds, words and images, with artwork from the Gospels accompanying music from Hildegard of Bingen and Purcell, plus John Tavener's Supernatural Songs and Arvo Pärt's Orient and Occident [further information from the Sage Gateshead website].

The concert is part of the orchestra's season at Sage Gateshead exploring Music and Spirituality. Things kick off on 17 September when principal conductor Dinis Sousa conducts the orchestra in music by Ives, , Mozart's Mass in C Minor and Beethoven's Piano Concerto (with pianist Jeremy Denk), plus Ives' The Unanswered Question and Kurtág's intriguing response, Ligatura-Message (The Answered Unanswered Question). Sousa returns on 14 October and will be joined by cellist Anastasia Kobekina in Kaija Saariaho’s Nymphea Reflection, Schumann’s Cello Concerto and Beethoven’s Symphony No.8.

Other concerts include Gemma New, principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducting music by Barber, Stravinsky, Copland and Ibert, with two of the orchestra's  new Section Leaders as soloists, clarinettist Cristina Mateo and flautist Charlotte Ashton.  And the orchestra's conductor laureate Thomas Zehetmair appears on 25 November with Walton’s Viola Concerto (soloist featuring Ruth Kilius), and Vaughan William’s Symphony no.2 ‘A London Symphony’, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of his birth. And the New Year sees another welcome returnee, Lars Vogt directs a programme of Mozart and Dvorak from the piano including Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23.

The season at Sage Gateshead does not just include the Royal Northern Sinfonia, there are visits from the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Edward Gardner, the Belgian National Orchestra and Roberto González-Monjas, The Hallé and Mark Elder, and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Domingo Hindoyan.

Full details from the Sage Gateshead website.

Sunday 21 August 2022

Spirit and abandon: Ethel Smyth's Mass at the BBC Proms returns the work home, to the hall where it premiered in 1891

Ethel Smyth: Mass - Nardus Williams, Robert Murray, Sakari Oramo, Bethan Langford, Božidar Smiljanić, BBC Symphony Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo BBC)
Ethel Smyth: Mass - Nardus Williams, Robert Murray, Sakari Oramo, Bethan Langford, Božidar Smiljanić, BBC Symphony Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo BBC)

Debussy: Nocturnes, Smyth: Mass; Nardus Williams, Bethan Langford, Robert Murray, Božidar Smiljanić, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo; BBC Proms at Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed 20 August 2022 (★★★★★)

Smyth's early masterwork comes home, in a performance that filled the hall with her abundant spirit, by turns vigorous and intimate; an evening that contrasted Smyth with the vividly delicate palate of Debussy's writing at the same period

Glancing through various volumes of Ethel Smyth's autobiography, the name of Claude Debussy does not crop up frequently. She met him, and he heard some of her songs in London and made favourable comment, yet the Leipzig-based musical circles that she moved in were very much centred on figures like Brahms, Clara Schumann and Fanny Hensel. Yet if you listen to her music, other strains are detectable and certainly after hearing The Wreckers at Glyndebourne [see my review] earlier this year, the influence French opera on the work seems undoubtable. 

So it made a fascinating compare and contrast when, for BBC Prom 44 at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 20 August 2022, Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra paired two works both written in the 1890s, Debussy's Nocturnes and Ethel Smyth's Mass, with the BBC Symphony Chorus and soloists Nardus Williams, Bethan Langford, Robert Murray and Božidar Smiljanić.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Prom 43: Handel's Solomon

The Judgement of Solomon: workshop of Peter Paul Rubens
The Judgement of Solomon: workshop of Peter Paul Rubens

Handel: Solomon - Iestyn Davies, Anna Dennis, Wallis Giunta, Benjamin Hulett, Ashley Riches, BBC Singers, The English Concert, Sofi Jeannin; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed 19 August 2022 (★★★★)

Featuring some of Handel's loveliest music, his oratorio Solomon returns to the BBC Proms after a gave of nearly 25 years with a superb line-up of performers

You rather suspect that if you had asked Handel, in the 1740s, what an oratorio was his response would have been the 18th century equivalent of 'Whatever I damn well want it to be', certainly the oratorio slot in his concert output was filled with an enormous variety of dramatic styles. What got the public's attention, however, were the ones with a clear dramatic Biblical story such as Samson, which had been a big hit in 1743, and Belshazzar in 1746. But the late 1740s and early 1750s saw Handel almost determinedly not returning to this style of oratorio. Alexander Balus (1748) was the last in a series of dramatically thin oratorios that celebrated the victories of the Hanoverian regime but which made little lasting impact, Susanna (1749) was almost an English pastoral opera, Theodora (1750) wasn't even Biblical and though now recognised as a masterpiece was certainly not popular in Handel's day. His last oratorio, Jephtha (1751) marked a return to the dramatic Biblical story, yet with a treatment of its subject that is remarkable. 

It is probably no coincidence that the protagonist of Jephtha was the great dramatic tenor, John Beard, for whom Handel had written Samson back in 1743. Whilst Beard sang major dramatic roles in Belshazzar (1745) and Judas Maccabeus (1747), he disappears from Handel's roster for a few years, his place taken by the more lyric, less dramatically inclined tenor Thomas Lowe. The non-Beard oratorios tend to place the drama elsewhere, with the tenor soloist reverting to the background.

Following Alexander Balus, Handel seems to have deliberately been turning his back on the bellicose, war-like oratorios and his next oratorio was Solomon (1749), a work that avoided the king's warrior achievements and instead celebrated a just and wise monarch ruling a stable society. There is little in the way of narrative and plenty of pageant.  The episodic nature of the libretto (by an unknown hand) seems to hark back both to the English masque and to the more haphazard style of Italian opera. And this harking back is reflected in the casting, Solomon wasn't sung by a man, instead Handel went back to Italian opera style casting and Solomon was Caterina Galli. Orchestrally, the work uses one of Handel's biggest orchestras with two flutes, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets and timpani, but he used a very compact cast. Caterina Galli was Solomon, Giulia Frasi was Solomon's Queen, the First Harlot and the Queen of Sheba, with Thomas Lowe as Zadok and Henry Reinhold as A Levite, plus two bit parts, Second Harlot and Attendant.

Handel: Solomon - Sofi Jeannin, Wallis Giunta, Iestyn Davies, The English Concert - BBC Proms (photo BBC)
Handel: Solomon - Sofi Jeannin (conductor), Wallis Giunta (Queen of Sheba), Iestyn Davies (Solomon), The English Concert - BBC Proms (photo BBC)

We last heard Solomon at the BBC Proms in 1998, and chatting before the concert yesterday it was surprising how many people seemed to be unfamiliar with the work. At BBC Prom 43 on 19 August 2022 at the Royal Albert Hall, the chief conductor of the BBC Singers, Sofi Jeannin conducted the BBC Singers and the English Concert with Iestyn Davies as Solomon, Anna Dennis as Solomon's Queen and the First Harlot, Wallis Giunta as the Queen of Sheba and Second Harlot, Benjamin Hulett as Zadok, and Ashley Riches as a Levite. 

Friday 19 August 2022

Finding Your Voice

NW Live Arts / Freedom from Torture - Finding Your Voice
As part of the Voices Unwrapped strand at Kings Place on 30 September 2022, musicians from NW Live Arts will be joined by writers from Freedom from Torture’s Write to Life group for Finding Your Voice, a unique musical conversation. The musicians, Alice Zawadzki (voice/violin), Laura van der Heijden (voice/cello), Kuljit Bhamra (tabla) and Sidiki Dembele (djembe, kamelen n’goni, calabash), bring influences from the West African Griot tradition, Indian Punjabi music, Western European classical music and folk music from Europe and the Middle East. 

The writers, Shahab, Tanya, Nalougo and Yamikani Tracy, met as clients of Freedom from Torture’s unique writing and performance group, Write to Life. Hailing from countries as diverse as Iran, Zimbabwe and the Ivory Coast, their stories give unique insights into the trials and tribulations faced by refugees in the UK and demonstrate the powerful role that creativity can play in recovery from trauma.

Write To Life is the world’s longest running creative writing group for torture survivors, helping survivors process traumatic experiences for over 20 years. Members meet weekly to explore stories and ideas and produce a quarterly Zine showcasing their work.

NW Live Arts is a charity producing concerts of professional classical and world music in community venues in North West London and beyond, bringing classical music to new and overlooked audiences. Each of their concerts focusses on a social theme such as migration, climate change or mental health.

Full details from the Kings Place website.

Different ways of doing things: Michael Wolters' Aria Cuntata and the Low Miracles from Birmingham Record Company

Aria Cuntata and the Low Miracles - music by Michael Wolters, Kunling Liu, Luke Harrison, Poor Northern; Thallein Ensemble, Daniele Rosina, Suzie Purkis, Michael Wolters, Paul Norman, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth; Birmingham Record Company

Aria Cuntata and the Low Miracles
 - music by Michael Wolters, Kunling Liu, Luke Harrison, Poor Northern; Thallein Ensemble, Daniele Rosina, Suzie Purkis, Michael Wolters, Paul Norman, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth; Birmingham Record Company
Reviewed 19 August 2022 (★★★)

Less of a concert than a happening, this disc is a musical evocation of what sounds to have been a event sui generis

Sometimes, to the need to explain something, to discuss its background and context, can seem so laborious and there is a danger that the very explanation will remove some of the force and power of the original. Sometimes, it is better just to listen. 

A new disc from Birmingham Record Company featuring music by the contemporary composer Michael Wolters is one such. Aria Cuntata and the Low Miracles requires something of an explanation as to its name, form and content, but perhaps we should simply sit back and enjoy. The disc features music by Michael Wolters, alongside works by Kunling Liu, Luke Harrison, Poor Northern (aka Paul Norman) and Difficult Listening, performed by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Thallein Ensemble, Daniele Rosina conductor, Suzie Purkis mezzo soprano, Paul Norman voice, Michael Wolters voice and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, Barry Wordsworth conductor.

In November 2021, there was a concert at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to celebrate the 50th birthday of composer Michael Wolters, who is deputy head of composition at the Conservatoire. The concert was hosted by Wolters, performing as drag character Aria Cuntata, singing, lip-syncing and telling stories. The whole project was created around the "theme of 'fake news' blending music and stories to explore our past and present through a queer lens while investigating gender, racial and socio-economic imbalance in our cultural history". Even the drag character's name requires elucidation, whilst it is quite obviously a pun, the name is actually made up of made up of two Italian words: aria refers to a solo vocal piece with orchestral accompaniment, while cuntata is the past participle of the old Italian cuntare meaning to tell (a story).

Thursday 18 August 2022

Seductive craziness: loosely inspired by Martial and Aristophanes, the opera Xeniae by Latvian composer Juris Ābols is a polystylistic extravaganza

Juris Ābols: Xeniae; Latvia Radio Choir, Sigvards Klava; SKANI
Juris Ābols: Xeniae; Latvian Radio Choir, Sigvards Klava; SKANI
Reviewed 17 August 2022

Described variously as a happening and a Buddhist Dadaist, in his opera Latvian composer Juris Ābols has created a crazily seductive polystylistic extravaganza

The Latvian composer Juris Ābols is certainly not a well-known name, and even in his native Latvia people have difficulty quantifying him, describing him as 'a happening, an event, an experience'. His father was the painter, Ojārs Ābols, one of the most significant and vivid abstractionists of the second half of the 20th century. His mother was the literary scholar Mirdza Ābola, who specialized in the Belarusian language. Ābols' musical career seemed to encompass the flute, composing, playing in a violin, piano and flute trio and a period as an organist. The first concert of his music did not take place until 2020 at the Latvian Radio studio, shortly before his death, and at the concert Ābols would say "I’ve completed a full 360-degree circle, beginning with an exercise in harmony to Dadaism and back again, slowly approaching an eight-part chorus and classical harmonies. It’s a natural path. And I’m perfectly happy with it. Because I’ve achieved everything. All that’s left are the magarichas [a drink or meal to seal the deal], as the Gypsies say."

Ābols seems to have very much been a one-off, not only musically but in terms of his approach to society. The conductor Sigvards Klava describes Ābols thus, "Juris Ābols always appeared at a certain time and place with something in his hand, perhaps a musical score – uninvited, but he nevertheless appeared, and things often happened soon after that arrival...

Ābols did not fit into the norms of society. For example, he smeared himself with turpentine to avoid getting sick. Some people enjoy that sort of thing, others don’t. But also just all the normal household and financial issues. We usually don’t share with others when we’re going through a rough patch in our lives. The pipes freeze, the electricity is cut off. If you haven’t got anyone to talk to… Clearly, the art world is heartless in the sense that it provides no social safety net."

In the Summer of 2010, Ābols brought a bucket of sheet music to Klava's house; it took a week to sort the music into order but the result was Ābols' opera Xeniae. It was recorded in the basement of Klava's house over that Summer, with Ābols always present (he plays saxophone on the recording and plays the character of Gigabyte).

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Camille Maalawy & Mark Slater's new song-cycle Mezzaterra explores her British-Egyptian heritage

In 2021, mezzo-soprano Camille Maalawy devised a song-cycle, Mezzaterra with composer Mark Slater as part an Opera North PRS Resonance residency. The work is based on Maalawy's British-Egyptian heritage and she and Slater will give the first full performance at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at the Cockpit Theatre later this month (30 August 2022). 

The work draws on Maalawy's own heritage and musical influences, encompassing Coptic hymn, German lieder, English song, Andalusian muwashshahat tradition and encompasses Arabic, Coptic, English, German, Yiddish, and Hebrew.  The piece examines concepts of travel, wandering, being an outsider, a foreigner – issues that are as powerful and relevant today as they were in pharaonic times.  

The video features Maalawy, Slater and percussionist Guy Schalom in excerpts from Mezzaterra performed as part of the Opera North PRS Resonance.

Full details from the Tête à Tête website.

Florian Klaus Rumpf takes us on 'A Mandolin's Guide to Hamburg'

A Mandolin's Guide to Hamburg: Ishibashi, Abel, Summer, Calace, Acquavella, Hori Kioulaphides, Rumpf, Weidt; Florian Klaus Rumpf; ARS Produktion

A Mandolin's Guide to Hamburg
: Ishibashi, Abel, Summer, Calace, Acquavella, Hori Kioulaphides, Rumpf, Weidt; Florian Klaus Rumpf; ARS Produktion
Reviewed 15 August 2022 (★★★★)

A completely delightful disc where mandolin player Florian Klaus Rumpf takes us on a tour of his home-city through a variety of styles and sound-worlds, demonstrating the versatility and personality of the mandolin

The first thing you might notice on the cover of A Mandolin's Guide to Hamburg is the mandolin player's striking pair of trousers. That image forms a vibrant complement to the lively personality of mandolin player Florian Klaus Rumpf as he takes us on a mandolin-based travelogue around Hamburg on this disc from ARS Produktion. Whilst the disc does include older composers such as Carl Friedrich Abel, Raffaele Calace and Albert John Weidt, the focus of the recital is music by contemporary composers Keizo Ishibashi, Mark Summer, Chris Acquavella, Masataka Hori, Victor Kioulaphides, and Rumpf himself.

Rumpf discovered the mandolin at the age of seven and he went on to study at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Köln’s Wuppertal location under professors Caterina Lichtenberg, Valerij Kisseljow and Silke Lisko. On this disc he plays a variety of instruments, a contemporary Neapolitan mandolin, a Baroque mandolin, an Octave mandolin and a Liuto Cantabie which is a five-course mandolocello.

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Pushing the boundaries: from an (anti-)opera to a classical/jazz collaborative reinterpretation of Schumann, Britten Pears Arts' Festival of New

Alex Ho and Julia Cheng's Untold
Alex Ho and Julia Cheng's Untold

Britten Pears Arts' Festival of New returns to Snape Maltings from 8 to 10 September 2022 with ten performances all developed during Britten Pears Arts residences. There is opera from Laura Bowler and Laura Lomas with The Blue Woman, a coproduction between the Royal Opera and Britten Pears Arts. And there is (anti-)opera, whatever that is, from Alex Ho and Julia Cheng with Untold, a special, immersive concert performance of a new work that explores transnational Chinese identities and which premieres in 2023 at Flemish Opera.

Singer Claire Booth joins forces with classical pianist Alisdair Hogarth and jazz-pianist Jason Rebello to  explore the frontiers of jazz and classical music as they re-interpret Schumann’s song-cycle Frauenliebe und -leben. Inspired by her lifelong fascination with electronic music, mezzo-soprano Lotte Betts-Dean sings works for amplified solo voice with electronics and tape from Luigi Nono's ground-breaking 1964 piece La fabbrica illuminata to new works by Mathis Saunier, Stuart MacRae and Linda Buckley. Explore Ensemble combines music and video in new and recent works commissioned since 2020, including works by Joanna Bailie and Neil Luck, plus Lawrence Dunn’s immense Suite.  Balladeste string duo, comprising cellist-composer Tara Franks, violinist-composer Preetha Narayanan, joins with electronic musician/sound engineer Alex Bonney to create an intimate, improvised sonic installation exploring deep listening, stillness and trust.

Other performers pushing the boundaries of their art include Suffolk-based artist Laura Cannell, deaf performance artist, choreographer and British Sign Language Art Guide Chisato Minamimura, Evadney who uses song, electronics and live visuals to create a projection mapping music performance, musician, producer, DJ and broadcaster Nabihah Iqbal, and Rave jazz ensemble Join the Din and dancer Chiara Corradi.

Full details from the Britten Pears Arts website.

Prom 39: a Turnage premiere, a Vaughan Williams rarity and an Elgar Symphony

Vaughan Williams: Tuba Concerto - Constantin Hartwig, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo - BBC Proms (Photo BBC)
Vaughan Williams: Tuba Concerto - Constantin Hartwig, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo - BBC Proms (Photo BBC)

Mark-Anthony Turnage: Time Flies, Vaughan Williams: Tuba Concerto, Elgar: Symphony No. 1; Constantin Hartwig, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Sakari Oramo; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall

Reviewed 15 August 2022 (★★★★)

Four contrasting British works from Turnage's imaginative orchestral writing to concise late RVW and to the expansiveness of Elgar's first full symphonic work

Last night's BBC Prom (15 August 2022) at the Royal Albert Hall featured the return of Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in a programme of English music from the 20th century to today, with the UK premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's Time Flies, Vaughan Williams' Tuba Concerto (with soloist Constantin Hartwig) and Elgar's Symphony No. 1

It was one of those BBC Proms concerts where everything was there for a reason, but the programme as a whole rather left you wondering why. What did Turnage's work have to say to the earlier pieces, and how do we relate the expansiveness (and Imperialist echoes) of Elgar's symphony with the concision (and fun) of the RVW concerto? Or perhaps we don't try, and simply enjoy each work in isolation.

Monday 15 August 2022

Luciana Perc's 'Film Performance', a musical response to Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton's 'Film;


Film is a 1965 short film that was a collaboration between Samuel Beckett and Buster Keaton. Argentinian composer Luciana Perc has created a musical response to this with her new piece, Film Performance

The work uses microphones and cameras on stage to create electroacoustic sounds and a film projection in real time. Everyday objects featured in Film are brought to the stage and turned into sound-making devices, with a series of solos, each focused on a specific combination of objects, from a newspaper and a hat to a fish tank and a bird cage, combining the sounds produced with these objects with vocal, instrumental and electroacoustic sounds.

Film Performance will be premiered as part of Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 2022, on 3 September 2022 at the Cockpit, London NW8 8EH with music and sound design by Luciana Perc, performances by Lindsey Eastham, Anna Marmion, Thomas Niesser, Garreth Romain, Miranda Ostler, Anna Pych and Camille Maalawy, costume design by Eugenia Fiusco, set design by Amara Cooke and real-time video design by Enrico Dorigatti.

Full details from the festival website.

Freedom: Natalie Clein's Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival

PICMF - Freedom
Cellist Natalie Clein is artistic director of the Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival which presents a programme of classical music, improvisation and spoken word in eleven concerts over four days from 1 to 4 September 2022 in venues across Dorset including Worth Matravers, Corfe Castle, Swanage, Lulworth and the Dorset Museum in Dorchester.

The artists performing at the festival come from around the world and include Max Baillie (violin & viola), Ruby Hughes (soprano), Hayden Chisholm (saxophone), Nurit Stark (violin), Stephan Braun (cello), Cedric Pescia (piano), Deborah Pritchard (composer), Dave Neita (poet & lawyer), and Natalie Clein (cello & artistic director). 

The theme of this year’s festival is Freedom; freedom of thought, freedom through creativity and freedom beyond boundaries of all kinds. Events open with a pair of concerts in Lulworth and Swanage, Bach's Goldberg Variations in an arrangement for string trio then Debussy's Preludes and Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 alongside improvisations from festival musicians and poetry by Dave Neita. And performances of two further Bach Cello Suites thread their way through other festival concerts.

Events include a concert devoted to the music of Deborah Pritchard as well as the performance of a new piece by Pritchard commissioned by the festival for Natalie Clein, and Pritchard's Storm Song for soprano, piano and cello to a text by Jeanette Winterson. Other composers featured in the festival include Kurtag, Bloch, Tavener, Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms.

Full details from the festival website.

From Dante's Inferno to the End of Time: Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival returns in full force

Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival
After a socially distanced Festival last summer, Lincolnshire International Chamber Music Festival is returning to full force with a four-day festival running from 22 to 25 September 2022 in venues across the county. Composer/pianist Alissa Firsova is the festival's artistic director, and this year she and cellist Tim Hugh open the festival with a concert at Lincoln Minster School performing Rachmaninov, Arvo Pärt and Schubert.

Tim Hugh then joins the Navarra Quartet for Schubert's String Quintet at St James' Church, Louth in a programme that also includes a joint composition by Alissa Firsova and her parents, Dmitri Smirnov and Elena Firsova, taking the audience on a journey through Dante's nine circles of Hell, purgatory and the ten heavens of Paradise. And the music will be complemented by projections of art by the Philip Firsov, Alissa Firsova’s brother.

For The Voice of the Trumpet at St Wulfram's Church, Grantham, trumpeter Matilda Lloyd and organist David Bednall will give a varied programme moving from the Baroque to Romantic repertoire. For the festival's final concert at the County Assembly Rooms, Lincoln, Alissa Firsova joins Camerata RCO (made up of members of the  Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra) for a programme that moves from Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, to her own Reunion, written as a response to the COVID pandemic, to Hindemith's Clarinet Quartet, written as he was escaping Nazi Germany and which uses the same instrumental line-up as Messiaen's quartet.

The festival was founded in 2004 under the artistic directorship of Graham Oppenheimer, with Lincolnshire-born pianist Ashley Wass taking over as artistic director in 2007. Wass was later joined by violinist Matthew Trusler as co-artistic director, with Alissa Firsova becoming artistic director in 2019.

Sunday 14 August 2022

Ethel Smyth in lighter mode: The Boatswain's Mate returns to the Grimeborn Festival

Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Josephine Goddard - Spectra Ensemble (Photo Lidia Crisafulli)
Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Josephine Goddard - Spectra Ensemble (Photo Lidia Crisafulli)

Ethel Smyth: The Wreckers; Josephine Goddard, John Upperton, Shaun Aquilina, Spectra Ensemble, director: Cecilia Stinton, musical director: John Warner; Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre
Reviewed 13 August 2022 (★★★½)

Enterprising small-scale revival of Smyth's innovative and charming comedy, with an engaging cast having great fun

After the premiere of her opera The Wreckers in 1906, Ethel Smyth's operatic career took a somewhat new direction. For a start, she took time out to devote to the Suffragette cause, but when she went to Egypt in 1913 to work without distractions, it was to write a two act comic opera. The move was deliberate, but prescient, after three large-scale grand operas she felt the need for something smaller, felt it in tune with the times. And of course, in 1914 plans for German performances of The Wreckers, Der Wald and The Boatswain's Mate were shelved; Smyth's musical career, hitherto substantially based in Germany, would never be the same again. 

Intriguingly, one of the subjects that she seriously considered for the opera, before settling on the story by W.W. Jacobs, was J.M. Synge's play Riders to the Sea, which was used by RVW some years later.

The Boatswain's Mate isn't a masterpiece, but it has plenty of engaging music and an intriguingly feminist edge to the drama; the opera's protagonist Mrs Waters was reputedly based on Mrs Pankhurst (with whom Smyth was for a time in love). But its compact forces mean that in the 20th century it became one of Smyth's most performed operas.

Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Shaun Aquilina, John Upperton - Spectra Ensemble (Photo Lidia Crisafulli)
Ethel Smyth: The Boatswain's Mate - Shaun Aquilina, John Upperton - Spectra Ensemble (Photo Lidia Crisafulli)

The Spectra Ensemble first performed Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate at the Grimeborn Festival in 2018, in the downstairs studio. The production returned for the 2022 Grimeborn Festival, revised and expanded to fit the larger upstairs studio at the Arcola Theatre (seen 13 August 2022), with further performances planned at North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh  and St George’s Theatre, Great Yarmouth
. Cecilia Swinton directed and musical director John Warner played piano with Emily Earl, violin, and Meera Priyanka Raja (cello). Josephine Goddard was Mrs Waters, John Upperton was Harry Benn, and Shaun Aquilina was Ned Travers, with Beca Davies, Philippe Durrant, and Robert Winslade Anderson.

Saturday 13 August 2022

Embrace: Swiss baritone Äneas Humm draws you into his imaginative look at the edges of the 19th and 20th century lieder tradition

Embrace: songs by Fanny Hensel, Franz Liszt, Viktor Ullmann, Edvard Grieg; Äneas Humm, Renate Rohlfing; Rondeau
: songs by Fanny Hensel, Franz Liszt, Viktor Ullmann, Edvard Grieg; Äneas Humm, Renate Rohlfing; Rondeau
Reviewed 12 August 2022 (★★★★½)

An imaginative programme from the young Swiss baritone in performances which show great beauty of tone allied to a feeling of really drawing you in

Swiss baritone Äneas Humm graduated from the Juilliard School of Music and last season was part of the ensemble at the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, and he will be part of the ensemble of the Theater St. Gallen in Switzerland from the 2022/2023 season. He has been nominated in three categories for this years Opus Klassik award. His debut recital disc, Awakenings, released in 2017, featured music by Viktor Ullmann, Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf and Alban Berg. 

Under the title Embrace, Äneas Humm's second solo recital, with pianist Renate Rohlfing, on the Rondeau Production label, features songs by Fanny Hensel, Franz Liszt, Viktor Ullmann and Edvard Grieg. All are settings of German texts, and all are in some way on the edge of the lieder repertoire; Fanny Hensel can be too often seen as simply the sister of the more famous Felix, Liszt's lieder have never quite achieved the fame of his other music, Viktor Ullmann remains one of the 20th century's undeservedly neglected composers whilst Grieg, though Leipzig trained, wrote songs somewhat at a tangent to the lied tradition.

In his booklet note, Daniel Ernst describes the disc's title as both as an "emphatic embrace that embodies a deep sense of human empathy in times of hope, fear, love and heartache, but equally reflects aspects of various circumstances in which our personal desire leads us to embrace opportunities and step out with confidence, allowing us to achieve the extraordinary."

Friday 12 August 2022

Prokofiev, Mahler and much more: Santtu-Matias Rouvali launches his second season with Philharmonia Orchestra

Santtu-Matias Rouvali & Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall
Santtu-Matias Rouvali & Philharmonia Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall

The young Finnish conductor Santtu-Matias Rouvali became chief conductor of the Philharmonia last season, and he makes a strong contribution to the orchestra's 2022/23 season. Rouvali will be conducting 10 concerts in London, opening the season with a pair of concerts featuring Mahler's Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5  and he closes the first half of the season in January 2023 with  violinist Nemanja Radulović in a programme including Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. Alongside these Rouvali conducts music by Beethoven, Korngold, Shostakovich, George Walker, John Adams and Anna Clyne. Clyne is the season's featured composer and her works feature in several concerts and she will be curating a programme of work by women composers for a free Music of Today event.

The season's featured artist is cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason who will be performing both of Haydn's Cello Concertos at a concert in September conducted by Marin Alsop alongside music by Richard Strauss and Ravel. Still in a cello kind of mood, Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund makes her Philharmonia debut, with her former cello teacher Truls Mørk, in one of Prokofiev’s last completed works, the Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra. A revised version of Prokofiev's Cello Concerto from 1933/38, Prokofiev dedicated the revised work to Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in 1952 with Sviatoslav Richter conducting (the only instance of Richter conducting). Cellist  Alisa Weilerstein takes the title role in Strauss’s Don Quixote with Jordan de Souza, who conducted the Philharmonia in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier at Garsington Opera last year, making his Royal Festival Hall debut.

RVW's 150th anniversary is not neglected and the orchestra joins the Bach choir for an all-RVW programme including the Sea Symphony.

As well as the season at the Southbank Centre, there are concerts at The Anvil, Basingstoke, Bedford Corn Exchange, De Montfort Hall, Leicester, Windsor Castle,  New Wimbledon Theatre, The Marlowe, Canterbury, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at Royal Albert Hall with Toby Purser conducting and the Crouch End Festival Chorus, plus concerts at the Wimbledon International Music Festival.

Full details from the Philharmonia website.

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