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

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

28 Mar 2019

Mozart’s Mass in C minor at the Royal Festival Hall

A strange concert, this, in that, although chorally conceived, it proved strongest in the performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto: not so much a comment on the choral singing as on the conducting of Dan Ludford-Thomas.

Lewisham Choral Society and the Hackney Singers at the Royal Festival Hall

A review by Mark Berry

Above: Dan Ludford-Thomas

 

That might seem odd, given that he proved himself very much a choral rather than an orchestral conductor, but the concerto came off best precisely because control of its direction was for the most part in the more than capable hands of pianist, Nico de Villiers. There was no doubt whatsoever that he was the real thing, offering playing both pellucid and, where required, weighty (making me keen to hear his Brahms). Insofar as he was able to lead the London Mozart Players, he did, with all the give and take of chamber music. The shaping of the first-movement cadenza offered a conspectus of that movement, even the work, as a whole. A lovely blend of ‘Classical’ and ‘Romantic’ was similarly achieved in the Intermezzo, also benefiting from fine cello playing (though a few more cellos and indeed strings more generally would have been welcome). Finely sprung rhythms characterised a finale both buoyant and directed, the LMP on noticeably better form throughout the concerto than in the choral works by Brahms and Mozart that surrounded it.

First of those was Brahms’s Schicksalslied, or ‘Song of Destiny’. Again, one would ideally have had a larger orchestra, not least given the presence of two very large choruses, the Hackney Singers and Lewisham Choral Society, but there were doubtless financial reasons for that. Ludford-Thomas certainly handled those gigantic, Gurrelieder-like choral forces well here. They offered a pleasing sound and excellent diction, clearly well trained, with convincing dynamic contrasts. The final stanza proved hard driven, though, and the orchestra was largely left to fend for itself - sometimes with more convincing results than others.

The second half of the concert was given over to Mozart’s Mass in C minor. The ‘Kyrie’ offered a largely promising start. Swift, if not unreasonably so, and well balanced - again, given the mismatch in size between choruses and orchestras - it once again offered fine choral singing, and a nice change to hear so many voices in Mozart. Alas, soprano, Elin Manahan Thomas proved parted here and elsewhere, also contributing decidedly peculiar Latin pronunciation and ornamentation. If there was nothing especially insightful to Ludford-Thomas’s conducting of the ‘Gloria’, it enabled the chorus, which was a good part of the point of such a concert. Helen Meyerhoff, in its ‘Laudamus’ section proved a more convincing soloist, a bizarrely fast tempo notwithstanding. Subsequent sections sounded more like rushes to the bus stop than moments of Rococo wonder and suffered from poor blend between soloists. By the time we reached the ‘Qui tollis’, choral intonation left a good deal to be desired. However, the teenor, Peter Davoren had some good moments.

Maybe the novelty of such large choral forces had simply worn off, or maybe they were growing tired: either way, the ‘Credo’ seemed more affected by roughness around the edges than had been the case earlier. The ‘Et incarnatus est’, which should be one of the most wondrous movements in all Mozart’s sacred music, suffered from uneven singing, plain strings, and serious disjuncture in pitch between the two; only the woodwind redeemed it. A plain ‘Sanctus’, lumbering ‘Osanna’ and perfunctory ‘Benedictus’ made for dispiriting listening.

Mark Berry

Brahms: Schicksalslied Op.54; Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor Op.54; Mozart: Mass in C minor KV 427/417a.

Nico de Villiers (piano), Elin Manahan Thomas, Helen Meyerhoff (sopranos), Peter Davoren (tenor), Philip Tebb (bass), Hackney Singers, Lewisham Choral Society, London Mozart Players/Dan Ludford-Thomas (conductor).

Royal Festival Hall, London, Friday 22 March 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):