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

Peter Sellars' kinaesthetic vision of Lasso's Lagrime di San Pietro

On 24th May I594 just a few weeks before his death on 14 June, the elderly Orlando di Lasso signed the dedication of his Lagrime di San Pietro - an expansive cycle of seven-voice penitential madrigale spirituali, setting vernacular poetry on the theme of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ - to Pope Clement VIII.

Karlheinz Stockhausen: Donnerstag aus Licht

Stockhausen was one of the most visionary of composers, and no more so than in his Licht operas, but what you see can often get in the way of what you hear. I’ve often found fully staged productions of his operas a distraction to the major revelation in them - notably the sonorities he explores, of the blossoming, almost magical acoustical chrysalis, between voices and instruments.

David McVicar's Andrea Chénier returns to Covent Garden

Is Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chenier a verismo opera? Certainly, he is often grouped with Mascagni, Cilea, Leoncavallo and Puccini as a representative of this ‘school’. And, the composer described his 1876 opera as a dramma de ambiente storico.

Glyndebourne presents Richard Jones's new staging of La damnation de Faust

Oratorio? Opera? Cantata? A debate about the genre to which Berlioz’s ‘dramatic legend’, La damnation de Faust, should be assigned could never be ‘resolved’.

Jean Sibelius: Kullervo

Why did Jean Sibelius suppress Kullervo (Op. 7, 1892)? There are many theories why he didn’t allow it to be heard after its initial performances, though he referred to it fondly in private. This new recording, from Hyperion with Thomas Dausgaard conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, soloists Helena Juntunen and Benjamin Appl and the Lund Male Chorus, is a good new addition to the ever-growing awareness of Kullervo, on recording and in live performance.

Hampstead Garden Opera presents Partenope-on-sea

“Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside! I do like to be beside the sea!” And, it was off to the Victorian seaside that we went for Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of Handel’s Partenope - not so much for a stroll along the prom, rather for boisterous battles on the beach and skirmishes by the shore.

Henze's Phaedra: Linbury Theatre, ROH

A song of love and death, loss and renewal. Opera was born from the ambition of Renaissance humanists to recreate the oratorical and cathartic power of Greek tragedy, so it is no surprise that Greek myths have captivated composers of opera, past and present, offering as they do an opportunity to engage with the essential human questions in contexts removed from both the sacred and the mundane.

Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II - a world premiere

Is it in any sense aspirational to imitate - or even to try to create something original - based on one of Stockhausen’s works? This was a question I tried to grapple with at the world premiere of Actress x Stockhausen Sin {x} II.

The BBC Singers and the Academy of Ancient Music join forces for Handel's Israel in Egypt

The biblical account of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt is the defining event of Jewish history. By contrast, Handel’s oratorio Israel in Egypt has struggled to find its ‘identity’, hampered as it is by what might be termed the ‘Part 1 conundrum’, and the oratorio has not - despite its repute and the scholarly respect bestowed upon it - consistently or fully satisfied audiences, historic or modern.

Measha Brueggergosman: The Art of Song – Ravel to John Cage

A rather charming story recently appeared in the USA of a nine-year old boy who, at a concert given by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, let out a very audible “wow” at the end of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music. I mention this only because music – whether you are neurotypical or not – leads to people, of any age, expressing themselves in concerts relative to the extraordinary power of the music they hear. Measha Brueggergosman’s recital very much had the “wow” factor, and on many distinct levels.

World premiere of Cecilia McDowall's Da Vinci Requiem

The quincentennial of the death Leonardo da Vinci is one of the major events this year – though it doesn’t noticeably seem to be acknowledged in new music being written for this.

Mahler: Titan, Eine Tondichtung in Symphonieform – François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles

Not the familiar version of Mahler's Symphony no 1, but the “real” Mahler Titan at last, as it might have sounded in Mahler's time! François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles present the symphony in its second version, based on the Hamburg/Weimar performances of 1893-94. This score is edited by Reinhold Kubik and Stephen E.Hefling for Universal Edition AG. Wien.

Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear at Maggio Musicale Fiorentino

In 1982, while studying in Germany, I had the good fortune to see Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear sung in München by the original cast, which included Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Júlia Várady and Helga Dernesch. A few years later, I heard it again in San Francisco, with Thomas Stewart in the title role. Despite the luxury casting, the harshly atonal music—filled with quarter-tones, long note rows, and thick chords—utterly baffled my twenty-something self.

Berlioz’s Requiem at the Concertgebouw – earthshakingly stupendous

It was high time the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra programmed Hector Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts. They hadn’t performed it since 1989, and what better year to take it up again than in 2019, the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s death?

Matthew Rose and Friends at Temple Church

I was very much looking forward to this concert at Temple Church, curated by bass Matthew Rose and designed to celebrate music for voice commissioned by the Michael Cuddigan Trust, not least because it offered the opportunity to listen again to compositions heard recently - some for the first time - in different settings, and to experience works discussed coming to fruition in performance.

Handel's Athalia: London Handel Festival

There seems little to connect the aesthetics of French neoclassical theatre of the late-seventeenth century and English oratorio of the early-eighteenth. But, in the early 1730s Handel produced several compositions based on Racine’s plays, chief among them his Israelite-oratorios, Esther (1732) and Athalia (1733).

Verdi: Messa da Requiem - Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann (Profil)

It has often been the case that the destruction wrought by wars, especially the Second World War, has been treated unevenly by composers. Theodor Adorno’s often quoted remark, from his essay Prisms, that “to write poetry after Auschwitz would be barbaric” - if widely misinterpreted - is limited by its scope and in a somewhat profound way composers have looked on the events of World War II in the same way.

Ravel’s L’heure espagnole: London Symphony Orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth

Although this concert was devoted to a single composer, Ravel, I was initially a little surprised by how it had been programmed. Thematically, all the works had the essence of Spain running through them - but chronologically they didn’t logically follow on from each other.

Breaking the Habit: Stile Antico at Kings Place

Renaissance patronage was a phenomenon at once cultural, social, political and economic. Wealthy women played an important part in court culture and in religious and secular life. In particular, music, musical performances and publications offered a female ruler or aristocrat an important means of ‘self-fashioning’. Moreover, such women could exercise significant influence on the shaping of vernacular taste.

The Secrets of Heaven: The Orlando Consort at Wigmore Hall

Leonel Power, Bittering, Roy Henry [‘Henry Roi’?], John Pyamour, John Plummer, John Trouluffe, Walter Lambe: such names are not likely to be well-known to audiences but alongside the more familiar John Dunstaple, they were members of the generation of Englishmen during the Middle Ages whose compositions were greatly admired by their fellow musicians on the continent.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

07 Jan 2019

'Sound the trumpet': countertenor duets at Wigmore Hall

This programme of seventeenth-century duets, odes and instrumental works was meticulously and finely delivered by countertenors Iestyn Davies and James Hall, with The King’s Consort, but despite the beauty of the singing and the sensitivity of the playing, somehow it didn’t quite prove as affecting as I had anticipated.

'Sound the trumpet': Iestyn Davies and James Hall (countertenors) with The King's Consort at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Iestyn Davies

Photo credit: Ben Ealovega

 

The programme largely reproduced that presented by James Bowman and Michael Chance on the disc of countertenor duets by Henry Purcell and John Blow that they recorded with The King’s Consort in 1987. Perhaps we experience recorded and live performances differently, or expect and anticipate different things from them, but on this occasion the works performed - which were supplemented by detailed explanatory notes by Robert King - did not seem to me to offer sufficient variety of mood and affekt, and those opportunities that did exist for contrast and diversity were not always exploited to the full. At times I found myself wishing for more dramatic engagement with the musical rhetoric, such as would not only communicate sense and emotion, but would also - as seventeenth-century audiences would have so desired - arouse passions.

One could not complain about the technical standards and tonal beauty, however. Davies and Hall have contrasting voices - Davies’ has variety of colour, dramatic nuance and projects strongly; Hall’s voice is lighter, and agile and fresh at the top - but they formed an ear-pleasing blend. And, as immediately demonstrated by the vocal roulades of the opening ‘Sound the trumpet’ (from the last of Purcell’s birthday odes for Queen Mary, Come ye Sons of Art) they matched each other, and their fellow instrumentalists, for unassuming and assured virtuosity.

The singers’ appeal for trumpets is not answered until later in the ode, and in this recital the singers were partnered by two recorders, played with grace and facility by Rebecca Miles and Ian Wilson, and a continuo group of harpsichord or chamber organ (King), bass viol (Reiko Ichise) and theorbo (Lynda Sayce). As one would expect from such experienced and accomplished musicians, the accompaniments were unfailingly stylish and discerning (though at times, from my seat at the rear of the Hall, I found the organ a little too loud).

Miles and Wilson worked hard to charm and inspire “Wanton heat and loose desire” in ‘In vain the am’rous flute’ (from Purcell’s ode for St Cecilia’s Day) and strongly defined bass and theorbo parts enhanced the vocal tenderness in the theatre ayre ‘No, resistance is but vain’. In the latter, the voices wound around each other lithely and sweetly, but I missed the quasi-operatic drama of the song in which the lover scolds the reluctant beloved whose resistance proves futile when assailed by the ‘tyrant’, Love. Another theatre song, ‘Sing, sing ye druids’, proved one of the highpoints of the evening, the prefatory instrumental ritornello invigored by agile bass viol playing, complemented by airy theorbo textures.

James Hall Athole Still.jpgJames Hall (Photo courtesy of Athole Still Artists).

We had a chance to hear the singers in solo items too. Hall displayed a clean, fresh tone in a song from Dioclesian, ‘Since from my dear Astrea’s sight’, rising confidently and easily to the melodic peaks, though he might have made more of the word-painting and rhetoric, finding deeper emotive resonance in the falling minor sixths of “mourn”, the troubled quick ascents of “alas” and the winding motif of “weeping”. Davies’ reading of ‘O Solitude’ was a masterclass in dramatic singing. The contrasting elements - of register, between simple declamation and searching melisma - perfectly embodied the song’s paradoxical blend of pain and desire, and Davies’ appreciation of the expressive architecture of the song - articulated through the declamatory phrasing and piquant harmonic twists and false relations - was utterly compelling.

The first half of the concert ended with the intimacy and sombreness of Purcell’s ode ‘O dive custos Auriacae’, which sets a Latin elegy by Henry Parker, and this grave mood resumed after the interval, with John Blow’s setting of Psalm 107, ‘Paratum cor meum’. Hall aptly exploited what one might term an ‘English cathedral tradition’ style in Pelham Humfrey’s devotional song, ‘Lord I have sinned’, negotiating the strange harmonic shifts persuasively and expressively, and drawing touching pathos from the closing image of the “one drop of balsom” which will suffice to ease the sinner’s suffering. John Donne’s words made a strong impact in Davies’ rendition of Purcell’s ‘A hymn to God the Father’, the pleas and questions of the opening stanza driven by the speaker’s conflicting emotions of doubt and devotion, and this anxiety and turmoil growing in the last stanza where Davies, pushing forward and phrasing with considerable character, captured all of the speaker’s fears and, ultimately, faith.

Though Davies communicated strongly in the central, solo episode of Blow’s ‘Ode on the death of Mr Henry Purcell’, the varied elements of this expansive setting of Dryden’s elegy did not quite come together with structural cohesiveness and logic. Perhaps so much earnest solemnity had taken its toll on this listener’s powers of focus. Fortunately, the encore alleviated the sober mood, ‘Hark how the songsters of the grove’ rebounding charmingly from the panelled walls of Wigmore Hall.

Claire Seymour

Iestyn Davies (countertenor), James Hall (countertenor), The King's Consort

Henry Purcell - ‘Sound the trumpet’, ‘In vain the am’rous flute’, ‘O solitude, my sweetest choice’, ‘No, resistance is but vain’, Chaconne from Dioclesian; John Blow - ‘Ah heav’n! what is’t I hear’; Purcell - ‘Sing, sing ye Druids’, ‘Since from my dear Astrea’s sight’, ‘O dive custos Auriacae domus’ (Ode on the death of Queen Mary), Blow - ‘Paratum cor meum’, Pelham Humfrey - ‘Lord, I have sinned’, ‘A Hymn to God the Father’, William Williams - Sonata in imitation of birds, Blow - An Ode on the Death of Mr Henry Purcell

Wigmore Hall, London; Friday 4th January 2019.

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):