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The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.
One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.
Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.
‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.
The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.
Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but
this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas
Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings
can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.
In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.
High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.
The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.
‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough
and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy
will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.
It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?
‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies,
that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’
Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon
which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting
and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can
charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to
convey emotion and embody character.
‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.
Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.
It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).
Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.
Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.
Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera House, London, brings out the humanity which lies beneath Puccini's music. The composer was drawn to what we'd now called "outsiders. In Manon Lescaut, Puccini describes his anti-heroine with unsentimental honesty. His lush harmonies describe the way she abandons herself to luxury, but he doesn't lose sight of the moral toughness at the heart of Abbé Prévost's story, Manon is sensual but, like her brother, fatally obssessed with material things. Only when she has lost everything else does she find true values through love..
26 Sep 2005
Arvo Pärt: A Tribute
Paul Hillier has written the book on Arvo Pärt, quite literally. He has spent significant time with the Estonian composer interviewing him, working with him, and studying his music. He has not only authored the only text researching Pärt's music and background, but Hillier also seems to one of the first to perform and record his music, thereby exposing it to the general public.
Arvo Pärt: A Tribute, was released in celebration of Arvo Pärt's 70th birthday on September 11, 2005. This compilation disc offers an exquisite retrospective of the composer’s choral music. Nearly all of Pärt's choral music comes from his second period, in the now familiar tintinnabuli style and with sacred texts. Despite the technique's strict rigidity, the sustaining of a single triad throughout the work, the works on this recording represent great variety. Over the past thirty years or so Pärt has expanded his emotional palette by varying the textures of tintinnabuli.
The second track, the Women With The Alabaster Box, evokes the cold artic north of the Baltic. The sound is hollow and stark with wide voicings and slow moving tempo and harmonic motion. In a complete contrast the short Bogoroditse Djevo, the Eastern Orthodox Ave Maria, is light and quick. This joyous setting is Russian in style with a thick but bright harmonic texture. Pärt also achieves great warmth in his setting of I am the True Vine. The harmonic progressions are rich and sonorous and even include occasional, vague melodic ideas in the soprano. The piece with the densest and fullest sound is the fabulous Which Was The Son Of... . The frequently repeated words “which was the son of” are set with great variety from pulsing incantation to strong declamation. Driving rhythmic patterns build up to large full climactic cluster chords and ultimately a beautiful resolution at the final cadence at “God.”
As a compilation, this disc includes three choirs all led by Paul Hillier. There is also variety in the performances because of the nature of the choirs. The Estonian Chamber Choir has quickly risen in the public eye as one of the leading European Choirs. Their singing is robust yet clean, virtuosic yet subtle, and extremely passionate. The Theater of Voices, Hillier's regular ensemble, carries the bulk of the CD with beautiful clarity. A smaller group, their sound is quite refined and clear with precise intonation and uniformity across all parts. Joining them on three tracks is the Pro Arte Singers, bulking their numbers, but maintaining the exquisite sound.
The liner notes provide a little background to Pärt's music, the tintinnabuli style, and the text and origin of each work. But it is the music and the performance that sets this recording apart from many contemporary choral releases. Hillier's scholarship and artistry bring out the subtlety and passion in Pärt's music with honesty and integrity. Hillier notes in the liner booklet that “Arvo Pårt's music is now famous.” What he humbly fails to mention, is that in large part it is due to him.