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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Jonathan McGovern [Photo by Benjamin Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]
22 Dec 2011

Jonathan McGovern, Wigmore Hall

2011 has been a good year for baritone Jonathan McGovern: 2nd prize at the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, the Karaviotis Prise at the Les Azuriales Ozone Young Artists Competition, and the John Meikle Duo Prize at the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition are just some of the awards he has garnered.

Kirckman Concert Society Series

Jonathan McGovern, baritone; James Cheung, piano. Barbirolli Quartet: Rakhi

Above: Jonathan McGovern [Photo by Benjamin Ealovega courtesy of IMG Artists]


Indeed, with such an illustrious ‘trophy cabinet’, it’s hard to believe that McGovern only graduated from the Royal Academy of Music this year (with a distinction and the ‘Queen’s Commendation for Excellence’).

He certainly brought youthful vigour and ebullience to the Wigmore Hall, bounding onto the platform to perform the seven Schubert lieder which opened this Kirckman Concert Society recital. ‘Die Einsame’ (‘The solitary man’) was suitably light and untroubled in spirit; in typical Romantic fashion, the protagonist finds solace in the natural world, delighting in his ‘quiet rusticity’ as the chirps of the cricket break the silence. Pianist James Cheung’s buoyant bass motifs captured the mood of cheerful ease, while McGovern’s baritone rang out strong and clear, conveying the unflustered confidence of the evening dreamer. ‘Der Strom’ (‘The river’) brought a sudden change: rapid figuration in the piano, shifting harmonies and a plunging, low vocal line suggesting the turbulence and yearning unfulfilment of both the surging river and the poetic imagination. McGovern found it harder, in this lower register, to match the shifting colours of the accompaniment’s tones and shades; while his bass notes have focus and pleasing warmth, the upper range of his voice has greater flexibility and variety of tone.

The simplicity and directness of ‘Minnelied’ (‘Love Song’) and ‘An den Mond’ (‘To the moon’), suited him better, the strophic form and the earnest, uncomplicated sentiments drawing forth an open, sincere sound and excellent pronunciation of the texts. Cheung made much of the dancing left hand rhythms of ‘An Sylvia’ (‘To Sylvia’), while in ‘Nachtviolen’ (‘Night violets’) he delicately crafted an intimate air for McGovern’s rapturous homage to the velvet flower’s “sublime and melancholy rays”. The sequence closed with ‘Bei dir allein’ (‘With you alone’); here McGovern certainly brought youthful zeal to the energetic, expanding vocal lines as the protagonist declares that “a youthful spirit swells within me/ [that] a joyful world/ surges through me”. Indeed, bursting impetuously back onto the stage to receive his applause, the beaming baritone seemed fully invigorated by the song’s elated sentiments.

A more sober, but no less charged and committed, performance of Benjamin Britten’s String Quartet No.1 followed. The three upper strings of the Barbirolli Quartet serenely placed the thrillingly high chord clusters which commence the opening movement, beneath which cellist Ashok Klouda’s beautifully shaped and resonant pizzicato fragments rang out richly. The quartet created a satisfying drama of opposition — of tonality, texture and tempo; dynamic rhythmic episodes interjected between moments of harmonic stillness. The scherzo (marked by Britten ‘con slancio’ — literally ‘with a dash’) was fittingly reckless and spontaneous, the rhythmic articulation and attack crisp and incisive. In the slow movement, a free variation form in 5/4 time, viola player Alexandros Koustas projected a exquisitely poignant high melodic line above the euphonious, still thirds of the accompaniment. The dynamic counterpoint which launches the final movement was a true dialogue between equals. The sense of overall form was superb, both within and between movements, with the finale skilfully integrating and developing previous heard motifs. This was an accomplished and extremely mature performance of Britten’s youthful composition.

The second half of the programme brought baritone and quartet together in a performance of Samuel Barber’s Dover Beach, a setting of Matthew Arnold’s lament for the loss of Victorian certainty in the face of modern doubt and despair. McGovern established a more sombre presence now, imbuing the lyrical, unfolding vocal lines with emotional depth and sensitivity, while the quartet conjured the lapping, eddying movements and fluctuating hues of the sea. McGovern’s commitment to the text was sustained and intense, as he sought to do justice to the composer’s detailed word painting, without over-emphasis or undue theatricality.

Songs by Brahms and Wolf concluded the recital. Brahms’ brief ‘Es schauen die Blumen’ (‘All flowers look up’) established a melancholy which was deepened powerfully in ‘Verzangen’ (‘Despairing’), where Cheung’s tumultuous figuration complemented and enhanced the confusion of the protagonist’s heart. The piano also introduced the basic motif in ‘Über die Heide’ (‘Over the Moors’), commencing with three detached rising bass octaves, then a leaping descent, punctuated by low right hand chords - dramatically evoking the echoing footsteps which resound across the moor as the protagonist undertakes an autumnal journey into his memories.

‘Feldeinsamkeit’ (‘Solitude in an open field’) was a high point of the sequence, the beautiful and extraordinary second stanza depicting the thoughts of the dreamer lying in the grass, mood of transcendence and peace: “Mir ist, also ob ich längst gestorben bin/ Und ziehe selig mit durch ew’ge Räume.” (“I feel as if I had died long ago/ and I drift blissfully with them through eternal space.”). McGovern maintained a quiet intensity throughout, with only the briefest sweet swelling before the extended cadence at the end of each strophe. The performers crafted a controlled but troubling narrative of rootless nocturnal wandering in ‘Wie raffft ich mich’. (‘O how I sprang up’). The final landscape of these Brahms’ lieder was the graveyard scene of ‘Auf dem Kirchhofe’ (‘In the cemetery’): in the final stanza the ‘Gewesen’ (‘departed’) on every grave was wonderfully transformed into ‘Genesen’ (‘redeemed’). As the major tonality ‘reconciled’ the former minor mode, McGovern retained the poetic ambiguity: are the dead ‘healed’ because they have been granted eternal life, or because they no longer must suffer mortal life?

In four songs from Hugo Wolf’s Mörike Lieder, Cheung painted a tapestry of many colours: first the piano’s crisp, high trills evoked the weightless flight of the bee in ‘Der Knabe und das Immlein’ (‘The boy and the little bee’), then deep tremolos sweeping upwards to high resonant chords underpinned the lover’s upwards gaze in the final verse of ‘An die Geliebte’ (‘To the beloved’) as he turns his eyes heavenward to witness the stars that smile upon him and kneels to absorb their ‘song of light’. McGovern achieved a rapt intensity here, the silvery tone of his upper range wonderfully capturing the shimmer of the glistening nocturnal sky. The aptly titled ‘Abschied’ (‘Farewell’) is the last of the Mörike Lieder and the high-spirited, waltz-like account of the unanticipated arrival and hasty departure of an over-eager critic restored the mood of celebration and joy with which the evening began.

Claire Seymour

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