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

There is no rose: Gesualdo Six at St John's Smith Square

This concert of Christmas music at St John’s Smith Square confirmed that not only are the Gesualdo Six and their director Owain Park fine and thoughtful musicians, but that they can skilfully shape a musical narrative.

Temple Winter Festival: The Tallis Scholars

Hodie Christus natus est. Today, Christ is born! A miracle: and one which has inspired many a composer to produce their own musical ‘miracle’: choral exultation which seems, like Christ himself, to be a gift to mankind, straight from the divine.

A new Hänsel und Gretel at the Royal Opera House

Fairy-tales work on multiple levels, they tell delightful yet moral stories, but they also enable us to examine deeper issues. With its approachably singable melodies, Engelbert Humperdinck's Märchenoper Hänsel und Gretel functions in a similar way; you can take away the simple delight of the score, but Humperdinck's discreetly Wagnerian treatment of his musical material allows for a variety of more complex interpretations.

Bohuslav Martinů – What Men Live By

World premiere recording from Supraphon of Bohuslav Martinů What Men Live By (H336,1952-3) with Jiří Bělohlávek and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra from a live performances in 2014, with Martinů's Symphony no 1 (H289, 1942) recorded in 2016. Bělohlávek did much to increase Martinů's profile, so this recording adds to the legacy, and reveals an extremely fine work.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d'été

Hector Berlioz Harold en Italie with François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles with Tabea Zimmermann, plus Stéphane Degout in Les Nuits d’été from Hamonia Mundi. This Harold en Italie, op. 16, H 68 (1834) captures the essence of Romantic yearning, expressed in Byron's Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage where the hero rejects convention to seek his destiny in uncharted territory.

Rouvali and the Philharmonia in Richard Strauss

It so rarely happens that the final concert you are due to review of any year ends up being one of the finest of all. Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s all Richard Strauss programme with the Philharmonia Orchestra, however, was often quite remarkable - one might quibble that parts of it were somewhat controversial, and that he even lived a little dangerously, but the impact was never less than imaginative and vivid. This was a distinctly young man’s view of Strauss - and all the better for that.

‘The Swingling Sixties’: Stravinsky and Berio

Were there any justice in this fallen world, serial Stravinsky – not to mention Webern – would be played on every street corner, or at least in every concert hall. Come the revolution, perhaps.

Le Bal des Animaux : Works by Chabrier, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie et al.

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthaüser’s latest song recital is all about the animal kingdom. As in previous recordings of songs by Wolf, Debussy and Poulenc, pianist Eugene Asti is her accompanist in Le Bal des Animaux, a delightful collection of French songs about creatures of all sizes, from flea to elephant and from crayfish to dolphin.

The Pity of War: Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall

During the past four years, there have been many musical and artistic centenary commemorations of the terrible human tragedies, inhumanities and utter madness of the First World War, but there can have been few that have evoked the turbulence and trauma of war - both past and present, in the abstract and in the particular - with such terrifying emotional intensity as this recital by Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano at the Barbican Hall.

First revival of Barrie Kosky's Carmen at the ROH

Charles Gounod famously said that if you took the Spanish airs out of Carmen “there remains nothing to Bizet’s credit but the sauce that masks the fish”.

Stanford's The Travelling Companion: a compelling production by New Sussex Opera

The first performance of Charles Villiers Stanford’s ninth and final opera The Travelling Companion was given by an enthusiastic troupe of Liverpudlian amateurs at the David Lewis Theatre - Liverpool’s ‘Old Vic’ - in April 1925, nine years after it was completed, eight after it won a Carnegie Award, and one year after the composer’s death.

Russian romances at Wigmore Hall

The songs of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov lie at the heart of the Romantic Russian art song repertoire, but in this duo recital at Wigmore Hall it was the songs of Nikolay Medtner - three of which were framed by sequences by the great Russian masters - which proved most compelling and intriguing.

Wolfgang Rihm: Requiem-Strophen

The world premiere recording of Wolfgang Rihm's Requiem-Strophen (2015/2016) with Mariss Jansons conducting the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks with Mojca Erdmann, Anna Prohaska and Hanno Müller-Brachmann, from BR Klassik NEOS.

Don Giovanni: Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera turned the art of seduction into bloodsport with its 2018/19 season-opener of Mozart’s dramma giocoso, Don Giovanni often walking a razor’s edge between hilarious social commentary and chilling battles for the soul.

Jonathan Miller's La bohème returns to the Coliseum

And still they come. No year goes by without multiple opportunities to see it; few years now go by without my taking at least one of those opportunities. Indeed, I see that I shall now have gone to Jonathan Miller’s staging on three of its five (!) outings since it was first seen at ENO in 2009.

Sir Thomas Allen directs Figaro at the Royal College of Music

The capital’s music conservatoires frequently present not only some of the best opera in London, but also some of the most interesting, and unusual, as the postgraduate students begin to build their careers by venturing across diverse operatic ground.

Old Bones: Iestyn Davies and members of the Aurora Orchestra 'unwrap' Time at Kings Place

In this contribution to Kings Place’s 2018 Time Unwrapped series, ‘co-curators’ composer Nico Muhly and countertenor Iestyn Davies explored the relationship between time past and time present, and between stillness and motion.

Cinderella goes to the panto: WNO in Southampton

Once upon a time, Rossini’s La Cenerentola was the Cinderella among his operatic oeuvre.

It's a Wonderful Life in San Francisco

It was 1946 when George Bailey of Bedford Falls, NY nearly sold himself to the devil for $20,000. It is 2018 in San Francisco where an annual income of ten times that amount raises you slightly above poverty level, and you’ve paid $310 for your orchestra seat to Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Des Moines: Glory, Glory Hallelujah

A minor miracle occurred as Des Moines Metro Opera converted a large hall on a Reserve Army Base to a wholly successful theatrical venue, and delivered a stunning rendition of Tom Cipullo’s compelling military-themed one act opera, Glory Denied.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

26 Sep 2018

A lunchtime feast of English song: Lucy Crowe and Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall

The September sunshine that warmed Wigmore Street during Monday’s lunch-hour created the perfect ambience for this thoughtfully compiled programme of seventeenth- and twentieth-century English song presented by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Joseph Middleton at Wigmore Hall.

Lucy Crowe (soprano) and Joseph Middleton (piano): BBC Radio 3 lunchtime recital at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Lucy Crowe

Photo credit: Marco Borggreve

 

Where else to start but with Henry Purcell, as realised by Benjamin Britten. ‘Lord, what is man?’, one of Purcell’s divine hymns, setting Bishop William Fuller’s text and published in the second volume of the Harmonia Sacra in 1693, poses quite a weighty question for a lunchtime recital, and Middleton embraced its rhetorical power, issuing a sterling call-to-arms with a stabbing mordant deep from the darkness of the piano’s bass. Though her soprano has developed real weight and impact, Crowe could not quite match the incision of the drama that Britten shapes within the accompaniment’s flourishes, jangles and sudden gruff outbursts. A little challenged to find colour when the vocal line swooned low, Crowe did project the recitative-like line cleanly and with feeling, but what was missing was a symbiosis between sound and sense - at times I struggled to follow what the soprano was singing about even though I had the text before me. There was, however, a convincing progression through the tripping dance, ‘O for a quill drawn from your wing’, towards the concluding ‘Hallelujah’ in which Crowe flew brightly through the melismatic runs above the piano’s stamping praise.

I’d have liked a less emphatic ground bass in ‘O solitude’, though, and while Crowe’s soprano retains its beguiling purity of tone and crystalline sparkle, I did not find her phrasing consistently convincing. The singer-protagonist’s wonder at the trees, as fresh and green as ‘when their beauties first were seen’, rose with ethereal elation supported by Middleton’s delicate decorations, but in the subsequent reflection on the mountains whose ‘hard fate makes then endure/Such woes as only death can cure’, some unexpected dynamic fluctuations disrupted the indissolubility of the musical and semantic articulation of the text. Little of the theatre music or sacred music of John Weldon (1676-1736) is well-known, excepting the concluding work of Crowe and Middleton’s seventeenth-century triptych: the ‘Alleluia’ found in one source of Weldon’s anthem O Lord, rebuke me not, the latter’s renown being a consequence of its misattribution to Purcell and Britten’s subsequent realisation. Middleton found nuance and sensitivity in the piano’s engagement with the repetitive vocal phrases, and the latter were agilely negotiated by Crowe.

Over the rim of the moon (1918) by Britten’s contemporary Michael Head followed. The high piano chords which introduce ‘The ships of Arcady’ had a lovely swing, both gentle and propulsive like the ebb and flow of the moon-tugged tide, and Middleton conjured a Debussyian sea-scape of rippling wavelets. Crowe’s unmannered directness communicated strongly though a little more give and take would have drawn us in still further. In Francis Ledwidge’s final stanza, when the poet-narrator dreams of Arcady as he looks across the waves and pauses, alone, drifting slowly into reverie as he stares through the ‘misty filigree’, there is time in the music for lingering, but such opportunities for poetic reverie felt at little rushed at times. However, the soprano spanned the arching lines persuasively, both here and in the subsequent song, ‘Beloved’, where the melody often ranges high and low within a single phrase. Middleton’s octave doublings deepened the Romantic intensity of this brief but passionate ode to music, nature and love. In his introduction to Songs of the Field (1916), Lord Dunsany affectionately nicknamed Ledwidge, ‘the poet of the blackbird’, because of the frequency with which he returned to the bird’s artless song and the simple forms and language with which he represented its beauty. Crowe confirmed the aptness of this phrase through the sweet simplicity of manner and melody in ‘A blackbird singing’, though it was a pity that Ledwidge’s relaxed rhymes were again often indistinguishable. ‘Nocturne’ was an unsettling expression of the poet’s grief for his homeland which captured the melodic melancholy of Georgian wistfulness.

Head was the composer of more than 100 songs and, apart from a few well-known songs, we do not hear enough of them in the concert hall. The same might be said of John Ireland whose vocal compositions stand at the heart of his output and which were described by the scholar William Mann as ‘perhaps the most important between Purcell and Britten’; so, it was good to have five of Ireland’s songs at the centre of this programme - and, indeed, they inspired wonderfully communicative expression from Crowe and Middleton. The duo captured the philosophical depths and mysteries of Aldous Huxley’s poem, ‘The trellis’, in the timelessness of the piano’s initial quiet rocking which blossomed so richly, and in the searching lyricism of the vocal melodies which Crowe brought to a ravishing close, suggestive of the secret transfiguration of a poet enveloped by the ecstasy of love: ‘None but the flow’rs have seen/ Our white caresses/ Flow’rs and the bright-eyed birds.’ ‘My true love hath my heart’ rippled with sensuousness, and the performers communicated the spontaneity that Ireland evokes, as feelings well up and overspill. In contrast, they revealed the heart-ache that lies beneath the sparse economy of the composer’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s ‘When I am dead, my dearest’, creating a deep, quiet anguish from such simple means. The flowing naturalness of ‘If there were dreams to sell’ conveyed a gentler fatalism, but ‘Earth’s Call’ brought a concluding flood of sensuous, even dangerous, emotions. The piano writing here is tremendous, and Middleton relished the musical narrative, truly conjuring ‘every natural sound’.

The three settings from William Walton’s Façade that closed the recital programme did not seem Crowe’s natural territory, not least because Edith Sitwell did not merely provide Walton with his texts, but also influenced his musical setting, the rhythms of which were shaped by her own recitation of the poems which the composer notated. In Laughter in the Next Room (1948), Sitwell’s brother, Osbert, described the creative process: ‘I remember very well the rather long sessions, lasting for two or three hours, which my sister and the composer used to have, when together they read the words, she, going over them again and again, while he marked and accented them for his own guidance, to show where the precise stress and emphasis fell, the exact inflection or deflection.’ Crowe’s diction did not really do justice to such meticulous collaboration and the songs’ linguistic acrobatics, but she coped very well with the challenging oddities and angularities of Walton’s intonations and inflections. The three songs selected, ‘Daphne’, ‘Through Gilded Trellises’ and ‘Old Sir Faulk’, are all based on popular song - English, Spanish and American, respectively. Middleton’s accompaniment wriggled and writhed with Hispanic flair and Crowe blanched her tone effectively at the close of ‘Through Gilded Trellises’: ‘Ladies, Time dies!’ But, one felt, though, that the soprano needed to throw her innate poise and composure to the wind, in order to release the extravagance, eccentricity and sheer mad gaiety of Walton’s and Sitwell’s cryptic archness.

Crowe’s encores found her back on more comfortable and familiar ground. After an unaccompanied and beautifully elegiac performance of the Irish folk-song ‘She Moves through the Fair’, the soprano was joined by Middleton to take us ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’, as set by Britten, bringing the recital back to its beginnings. The two songs coloured this lunchtime presentation of glorious English song with a lovely Celtic tint.

Claire Seymour

Lucy Crowe (soprano), Joseph Middleton (piano)

Purcell - ‘Lord, what is man?’ (realised by Benjamin Britten), ‘O solitude, my sweetest choice’ (realised by Benjamin Britten); John Weldon - ‘Alleluia’ (realised by Benjamin Britten); Michael Head - Over the rim of the moon; Ireland - ‘The trellis’, ‘My true love hath my heart’, ‘When I am dead, my dearest’, ‘If there were dreams to sell’, ‘Earth's call’; Walton - three settings from Fa çade (‘Daphne’, ‘Through gilded trellises’, ‘Old Sir Faulk’)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 24th September 2018

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):