Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Roderick Williams
29 Nov 2015

Florilegium at 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).

Florilegium at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Roderick Williams

 

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.

Franz Tunder was born in Lübeck, a town whose most well-known musical inhabitant is probably Tunder’s son-in-law, Dietrich Buxtehude. Buxtehude succeeded Tunder as organist of St. Mary’s Church where he developed the renowned free concerts, ‘Abendmusiken’, which his father-in-law had founded and which continued for several hundred years. Few compositions by Franz Tunder have survived: just fourteen works for organ and seventeen vocal works, plus an instrumental sinfonia to a motet. It is thought that the vocal compositions were not intended for performance in church — as such works had no place in the liturgy followed at Lübeck — and were instead composed for the evening concerts at St. Mary’s. They are evenly divided between works with German texts and those that set Latin devotional texts, and it was two of the latter that we heard here.

The motets ‘Da mihi, Domine’ (Give me wisdom, Lord) and ‘O Jesu dulcissime’ (O sweet Jesus) might in fact be termed ‘sacred concertos’, formed as they are of short movements for voice and obbligato instruments. The text of ‘Da mihi Domine’ consists of two responds for matins, the first recalling verses from Chapter 9 of the Book of Wisdom, and the second ‘Ne derelinquas me’ (Do not forsake me) bearing similarities to verses 1 and 3 of Ecclesiasticus Chapter 23. There was a gentle intimacy about this performance by Roderick Williams and six members of Florilegium (Catherine Martin and Jean Paterson [violin], Ylvali Zilliacus [viola], Reiko Ichise [viola da gamba], Jennifer Morsches [cello] and Terence Charlston [chamber organ]), but also a convincing progression through the short movements and increasing sense of urgency and triumph.

There is an Italian influence evident in Tunder’s work: the late German composer, singer and music theorist, Johann Mattheson, reported in 1740 that Tunder had studied with Frescobaldi when he was in Florence from 1627 to 1630. In the opening Sinfonia the instrumental lines entwined like voices in a Monteverdi madrigal. Though marked ‘Adagio’, the movement had a flowing two- then three-beats-per-bar impetus which made Tunder’s unusual use of rests effective, the silences never staying the momentum of the phrases. The first vocal passage, with organ accompaniment, lay quite low for Williams but the tone was full and focused, and as the phrases rose and become more florid the baritone imbued the melismatic appeals to the Lord, and the large vocal leaps, with grandeur and nobility. Imitative rhythms between the voice and organ bass line created propulsion, and this section led fluently into the more dance-like triple time section which follows. After the commanding pronouncement of the imperative ‘Mitte, mitte’, Williams displayed impressive control in the movement’s long vocal lines, the rising scalic motifs transferring seamlessly between the strings and voice. Similarly, there was rhetorical power during the section which sets the second text, as Williams repeated his calls to the ‘father and ruler of my life’, ‘domine pater’; and vitality was injected by the dotted rhythms of the alternating interpolations of the strings and voice, an interplay which became increasingly complex — and saw the return of the expressive rests of the opening — in the concluding sections of the motet.

‘O Jesu dulcissime’ is scored for bass voice, two violins, and continuo — the latter provided here by organ and viola da gamba. In the brisk Sinfonia, the close thirds of the violins were plangent and swelled expressively; after Williams’ solo entry his vocal line was embraced by the string lines and subsumed into the continuity of the ongoing step-wise phrases. While there were moments when the violins almost over-powered the vocal line, with the phrase ‘Quod per sacramentum tuum’ (What is your secret), the melody became more decorative, allowing Williams’ baritone to bloom, exhibiting precision and evenness during the melismatic runs. After the ‘mystery’ of the earlier sections, the fluid passagework created a spirit of ecstatic joy which flourished in the buoyant ‘Amen’ which concludes the work.

Bohemian-born Heinrich Biber spent most of his life in Salzburg where he was recognized as one of the finest violinists of his generation; as a composer, he is best known for his series of dazzling, virtuosic violin sonatas, titled the ‘Mystery’ or ‘Rosary’ sonatas. But, Biber also wrote ‘programme’ music, including the ‘Night Watchman’ Serenade for five instruments and bass voice, so-called because its fifth movement, Ciacona (which follows four instrumental movements, Serenada, Adagio, Allamanda and Aria). In this Ciacona, a ‘Night Watchman’ enters, to the pizzicato accompaniment of the upper strings whose players mimic lutenists by placing their instruments under their arms. As the watchman creeps through the streets he recites his nocturnal cry: ‘Lost ihr Herr’n und last euch sag’n’ (Listen folk and mark the hour,/ The bell strikes nine (ten) within the tower,/ All’s safe and all’s well,/ And praise to God the Father and to Our Lady).

There was some vigorous rhythmic articulation and exaggerated dynamic contrasts in the opening Serenada, while the Adagio was richer and warmer in tone; the cadences of the Allamanda were attractively decorated by organist Terence Charlston, whose chromatic bass line was relaxed and created an easy flow. Williams entered the platform from the stage-right rear door, effected a slow circumambulation of the stage, before exiting left; the textual enunciation of this night-time messenger was aptly crisp and the tone clarion. Strong accents restored rhythmic vitality during the Gavotte, and were complemented by fast bow strokes and rapid trills in the Retirada.

The vocal items were interspersed with instrumental works. The concert opened with Buxtehude’s Sonata in C BuxWV266 (for 2 violins, viola da gamba and organ) in which the somewhat reedy timbre of the Adagio was supersede by a brightness and lucidity in the Allegro. Leader Catherine Martin was unflustered by the bravura passagework of the Adagio and the ceaseless triplets of the Presto, and the ensemble made expressive use of the passages in the minor tonalities, shifts of tempo and changes of texture culminating in the solid harmonic progressions of the final Lento. Flautist and Florilegium director Ashley Solomon joined the instrumentalists to perform J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Minor BWV 1038 and Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concert in D TWV51: D2, his wooden flute adding a warm glow to the ensemble’s colour, as Charlston’s harpsichord gave freshness and light. The withdrawn pathos and veiled melancholy of the Adagio of Bach’s Sonata was particularly touching, and the phrases and cadences were beautifully tapered.

If these works demonstrated the increasing sophistication of the Austro-German Baroque style, and also the link between the early Baroque style and the later Baroque composers such as J.S. Bach, the concluding performance of Bach’s solo cantata ‘Ich habe genug’ left no doubt that Bach’s works were the crowning pinnacle.

From the start Williams, performing from memory, established a devotional mood, one of stillness, intimacy and consolation, spinning wonderfully long lines with superb breath control as he sang of contempt for worldly life and a yearning for death and the life beyond. In the first Aria, Alexandra Bellamy’s oboe sang assuredly and lyrically; the string lines were smoothly articulated, carrying the oboe on its ornamented journey. And while the instrumental dissonances were never exaggerated, the chromaticisms and decorations spoke of the pain suffered in the world, while Williams’ vocal line conveyed noble forbearance, as he used the consonant ‘h’ expressively in the eponymous utterance, ‘Ich habe genug’, (It is enough) to complement the violins’ melodic mordant. The tempo was relaxed but controlled; indeed, the whole cantata possessed an intensity which was never mannered but suggested fervent introspection. The Recitativo was muscular but relaxed, the penultimate textual line, ‘Mit Freuden sagt ich’ (With joy I say to you), powerful and direct, particularly after the gentle yearning of the first Aria. Williams ‘crept’ into the subsequent Aria, ‘Schlummert ein. Ihr matten Augen’ (Close in sleep, you weary eyes), and the lyricism of the vocal line in this section was greatly affecting; a more forthright tone, however, was appropriate for the assertion, ‘Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier’ (World, I shall dwell no longer here) — such sensitivity to the text and its meaning was impressive throughout. The flowing semiquavers of the final Vivace Aria, ‘Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod’ (I look forward to my death), were a graceful stream, elegant and clear — and, paradoxically, life-affirming.

Claire Seymour


Performers and programme:

Florilegium: Ashley Solomon, director. Roderick Williams, baritone

Buxtehude: Sonata in C BuxWV266; Tunder: ‘Da mihi Domine’; Biber Serenada a 5 “Der Nachtwächter”; Tunder:’ O Jesu dulcissime’; J.S. Bach: Trio Sonata in G major BWV1038; Teleman: Concerto in D for flute, violin and strings TWV51:D2; J.S. Bach: ‘Ich habe genug’ BWV82. Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday, 25th November 2015.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):