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

The Eternal Flame: Debussy, Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček - London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski

Although this concert was ostensibly, and in some respects a little tenuously, linked to the centenary of the Armistice, it did create some challenging assumptions about the nature of war. It was certainly the case in Magnus Lindberg’s new work, Triumf att finnas till… (‘Triumph to Exist…’) that he felt able to dislocate from the horror of the trenches and slaughter by using a text by the wartime poet Edith Södergran which gravitates towards a more sympathetic, even revisionist, expectation of this period.

François-Xavier Roth conducts the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Works by Ligeti, Bartók and Haydn

For the second of my armistice anniversary concerts, I moved across town from the Royal Festival Hall to the Barbican.

The Silver Tassie at the Barbican Hall

‘Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.’ The words of George Orwell, expressed in a Tribune article, ‘The Sporting Spirit’, published in 1945.

The Last Letter: the Britten Sinfonia at Milton Court

The Barbican Centre’s For the Fallen commemorations continued with this varied and thought-provoking programme, The Last Letter, which interweaved vocal and instrumental music with poems and prose, and focused on relationships - between husband and wife, fellow soldiers, young men and their homelands - disrupted by war.

Fiona Shaw's Cendrillon casts a spell: Glyndebourne Tour 2018

Fiona Shaw’s new production of Massenet’s Cendrillon (1899) for this year’s Glyndebourne Tour makes one feel that the annual Christmas treat at the ballet or the panto has come one month early.

The Rake’s Progress: Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic

Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress is not, in many ways, a progressive opera; it doesn’t seek to radicalise, or even transform, opera and yet it is indisputably one of the great twentieth-century operas.

Bampton Classical Opera to perform Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors

Gian Carlo Menotti’s much-loved Christmas opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors was commissioned in America by the National Broadcasting Company and was broadcast in 1951 - the first-ever opera composed specifically for television. Menotti said that it “is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood”.

A raucous Così fan tutte at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Precisely where and when Così fan tutte takes place should be a matter of sublime indifference - or at least of individual taste. It is ‘about’ many things, but eighteenth-century Naples - should that actually be the less exotic yet still ‘othered’ neāpolis of Wiener Neustadt? - is not among them.

For the Fallen: James Macmillan's All the Hills and Vales Along at Barbican Hall

‘He has clothed his attitude in fine words: but he has taken the sentimental attitude.’ So, wrote fellow war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley of the last sonnets of Rupert Brooke.

English Touring Opera: Troubled fidelities and faiths

‘Can engaging with contemporary social issues save the opera?’ asked M. Sophia Newman last week, on the website, News City, noting that many commentators believe that ‘public interest in stuffy, intimidating, expensive opera is inevitably dwindling’, and that ‘several recent opera productions suggest that interest in a new kind of urban, less formally-staged, socially-engaged opera is emerging and drawing in new audiences to the centuries-old art form’.

Himmelsmusik: L'Arpeggiata bring north and south together at Wigmore Hall

Johann Theile, Crato Bütner, Franz Tunder, Christian Ritter, Giovanni Felice Sances … such names do not loom large in the annals of musical historiography. But, these and other little-known seventeenth-century composers took their place alongside Bach and Biber, Schütz and Monteverdi during L’Arpeggiata’s most recent exploration of musical cross-influences and connections.

Complementary Josquin masses from The Tallis Scholars

This recording on the Gimell label, the seventh of nine in a series by the Tallis Scholars which will document Josquin des Prés’ settings of the Mass (several of these and other settings are of disputed authorship), might be titled ‘Sacred and Profane’, or ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Piotr Beczała – Polish and Italian art song, Wigmore Hall London

Can Piotr Beczała sing the pants off Jonas Kaufmann ? Beczała is a major celebrity who could fill a big house, like Kaufmann does, and at Kaufmann prices. Instead, Beczała and Helmut Deutsch reached out to that truly dedicated core audience that has made the reputation of the Wigmore Hall : an audience which takes music seriously enough to stretch themselves with an eclectic evening of Polish and Italian song.

Soloists excel in Chelsea Opera Group's Norma at Cadogan Hall

“Let us not be ashamed to be carried away by the simple nobility and beauty of a lucid melody of Bellini. Let us not be ashamed to shed a tear of emotion as we hear it!”

Handel's Serse: Il Pomo d'Oro at the Barbican Hall

Sadly, and worryingly, there are plenty of modern-day political leaders - both dictators and the democratically elected - whose petulance, stubbornness and egoism threaten the safety of their own subjects as well as the stability and security of other nations.

Dutch touring Tosca is an edge-of-your-seat thriller

Who needs another Tosca? Seasoned opera buffs can be blasé about repertoire mainstays. But the Nederlandse Reisopera’s production currently touring the Netherlands is worth seeing, whether it is your first or your hundred-and-first acquaintance with Puccini’s political drama. The staging is refreshing and pacey. Musically, it has the four crucial ingredients: three accomplished leads and a conductor who swashbuckles through the score in a blaze of color.

David Alden's fine Lucia returns to ENO

The burden of the past, and the duty to ensure its survival in the present and future, exercise a violent grip on the male protagonists in David Alden’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor for English National Opera, with dangerous and disturbing consequences.

Verdi's Requiem at the ROH

The full title of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem per l’anniversario della morte di Manzoni 22 maggio 1874 attests to its origins, but it was the death of Giacomo Rossini on 13th November 1868 that was the initial impetus for Verdi’s desire to compose a Requiem Mass which would honour Rossini, one of the figureheads of Italian cultural magnificence, in a national ceremony which - following the example of Cherubini’s C minor Requiem and Berlioz’s Grande messe des morts - was to be as much a public and political occasion as a religious one.

Wexford Festival 2018

The 67th Wexford Opera Festival kicked off with three mighty whacks of a drum and rooster’s raucous squawk, heralding the murderous machinations of the drug-dealing degenerate, Cim-Fen, in Franco Leoni’s one-act blood-and-guts verismo melodrama, L’oracolo … alongside an announcement by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, of an award of €1 million in capital funding for the National Opera House to support necessary updating and refurbishment works over the next 3 years.

A New La bohème Opens Season at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2018-19 season with Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème. This new production, shared with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and with the Teatro Real, Madrid, features an accomplished cast and innovative scenic approaches.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

SOMM Records SOMMCD270
25 Apr 2018

Hubert Parry and the birth of English Song

British music would not be where it is today without the influence of Charles Hubert Parry. His large choral and orchestral works are well known, and his Jerusalem is almost the national anthem. But in the centenary of his death, we can re-appraise his role in the birth of modern British song.

Sir Hubert Parry : Twelve Sets of English Song vol II, Sarah Fox, James Gilchrist, Roderick Williams, Andrew West.

A review by Anne Ozorio

SOMM Records SOMMCD270

  Click to buy

New from SOMM recordings, the second volume from Hubert Parry's English Lyrics. Between 1874 and 1918, Parry wrote 74 songs in twelve collections, all titled "English Lyrics", two sets of which were published after his death. As Jeremy Dibble, Parry scholar and biographer writes,"The generic title of English Lyrics symbolised more than purely the setting of English poetry (but) also an artistic manifesto and advocacy of the English tongue as a force for musical creativity shaped by the language's inherent accent, syntax, scansion, and assonance".

German and French composers were quick to recognise how poetry could develop art song, and even set a great deal of Shakespeare (in translation and adaptation). Parry's interest in English lyrics opened new frontiers for British music. The prosperity of late Victorian and early Edwardian London fuelled the growth of audiences with sophisticated tastes, many of whom travelled and were up to date with music in mainland Europe. The splendid art nouveau interior of the Wigmore Hall attests to this golden age. Until 1914, it was the Bechstein Hall, connected to the Bechstein piano company who supplied pianos - and European music - to audiences beyond the choral society/oratorio market.

The first SOMM volume of Parry English Lyrics focused on settings of Shakespeare, Herrick, Beaumont and Fletcher, Sidney et al (Please read more here). In this second volume, the emphasis is on poets of the 19th century, some of whom were "modern", ie contemporaries of Parry himself. A thoughtful choice, for this reinforces the connection to art song in Europe. Parry's setting of Percy Bysshe Shelley's O World, O Life, O Time respects the declamatory nature of the poem, well expressed by Sarah Fox. There are two settings of Lord Byron When we two were parted and There be none of Beauty's daughters, the latter inspiring a particularly rich piano lovely vocal complemented by a rich piano part, which sets off the crispness in the vocal line, ideal for the distinctive "English tenor" style, highlighting consonants, eliding vowels, sharpening impact.

Not all English tenors are "English tenors" but here we can hear how the style connects to syntax and expressiveness. In Bright Star!, a setting of John Keats, James Gilchrist rolls his "r's", and breathes into longer phrases like "or else the swoon of death" shaping each word carefully in the line. Listen to the way he sings "swoon", drawing out the vowel, the sound of which is echoed by the piano, played by Andrew West. In Dream Pedlary, (If there were dreams to sell) to a poem by Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Gilchrist's voice curls around the words, adding magical frisson.

Harry Plunket Greene who was to become Parry's son-in-law, premiered many of Parry's songs for baritone. Perhaps Parry created these songs for Plunket Greene's agile voice and down-to-earth delivery. It's certainly no surprise that Roderick Williams is easily the finest baritone in English song, since he sings with a natural directness which communicates almost as if singer and listener were in conversation, which is ideal for English song, where the floridness of, say, an Italianate style would not work. Also, his voice is not pitched too low, but lends itself to flexiblity and brightness, which suits the English syntax. It's almost impossible to know English song without having heard Williams, whose experience in this field is unequalled. Compare Williams in two songs: Thomas Ford's And yet I love her till I die, an early 17th century air, and Love is a bable, a quasi-folk song. In the first Williams is correct and courtly, in the second, his innate warmth adds sincerity to the wry humour in the song. In Parry's two settings of poems by George Meredith, Marian and Dirge in the Woods, Williams captures the rollicking, open air energy in the songs. In What part of dread Eternity?, to a text which may be Parry's own, Williams's voice darkens forcefully, taking on the solemn tone of the poem.

This recording includes the whole ninth set of Parry's English Lyrics, (1908) settings of seven songs by Mary Coleridge (1861-1907). If the poems are fairly slight, Parry's treatment makes the most of what Jeremy Dibble has called their "lack of ostentation". The songs are simple but dignified homilies. Sarah Fox sings them with lucid purity, reflecting their almost Brahmsian reserve. Elsewhere on this recording, she sings lyrical pieces like Proud Maisie (Walter Scott) and A Welsh Lullaby (John Ceiriog Hughes), a poet popular in 19th century Wales.

Anne Ozorio

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):