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

29 May 2019

Time Stands Still: L'Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

Christina Pluhar would presumably irritate the Brexit Party: she delights in crossing borders and boundaries. Mediterraneo, the programme that she recorded and performed with L’Arpeggiata in 2013, journeyed through the ‘olive frontier’ - Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Spain, southern Italy - mixing the sultry folk melodies of Greece, Spain and Italy with the formal repetitions of Baroque instrumental structures, and added a dash of the shady timbres and rhythmic litheness of jazz.

Time Stands Still: L’Arpeggiata at Wigmore Hall

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Céline Scheen

 

Music for a While similarly brought the Baroque into relaxed conversation with jazz, folk and world music; La dama d’Aragó homed in on songs and dances from Catalonia and Mallorca. More recently, in Himmelsmusik , L’Arpeggiata explored connections between the seventeenth-century German and Italian traditions, as German traditions of counterpoint and chorale were both sustained and developed, while also integrating Italian innovations such as poly-choral antiphony and solo song.

Time Stands Still , presented last night at Wigmore Hall, was a rather curious affair, though. Even the title seemed paradoxical, as Alexandra Coghlan points out in her programme article: ‘it’s a concert of musical change and evolution, tracing the shifts, twists and turns of a century of social, political and aesthetic upheaval for the British Isles’. (Plus ça change, then …)

So, we started with a sequence celebrating the Art of Melancholy, as Dowland couched political complaint within romantic suffering. Then followed some sweetly soporific songs by Robert Johnson and John Bennet, while the latter part of the programme - performed without an interval, with several items segue, and lasting just over one hour - took us into the Jacobean alehouse for Broadside ballads and dances by John Playford et al. Purcell’s ‘Music for a While’ brought proceedings to a close, Dryden’s imagery of medicine, science and religion mingling with Purcell’s music to evoke the latter’s power. On paper, at least, it looked a bit of a musical menagerie.

The vocal items were sung by Belgian soprano Céline Scheen. Commenting on the above-mentioned Himmelmusik, I remarked the ‘purity’ of Scheen’s soprano, her ‘exquisite phrasing and carefully placed nuance’ which ‘perfectly captured the text’s spirit of tenderness and love’, her ‘crystalline tone, and considerable vocal agility’. All such attributes were again on display.

But, on the previous occasion I also felt that the ‘purity’ of the tone did not always serve the text well and wished for ‘greater variety of colour to complement and bring to the fore the textual inflections’. And, if the ‘sacred’ items of Himmelmusik were sometimes well served by Scheen’s angelic ethereality, then that wasn’t the case in Time Stands Still. Quite simply, the text - which allows the singer to communicate and the listener to understand the context - matters in these items: as much in Dowland as in a bawdy ballad. Both may hold covert meaning and messages. Both are powerfully ‘human’ in expression, whether employing and demonstrating a refined sensibility or more earthier energies.

Scheen had a heavy music book in her hands, often holding it quite high before her and peering closely; however, I could scarcely discern a single word of the texts she sang. Her soprano is beautiful, and it is pure: so much so that it seemed almost disembodied on this occasion. And, its pristineness is unblemished, never tainted by even the most tantalising dust-speck of colour. There is undoubtedly repertoire for which such a voice is ‘perfect’, but Dowland’s lute songs are not that repertoire.

A good singer of lute song needs not just a clear voice and flexibility in the upper range - both of which Scheen possesses - but also refined poetic understanding. For example, in ‘Sorrow stay’, the penultimate line, ‘But down, down, down I fall,’ embodies the poet-protagonist’s struggle and defeat, but Scheen’s distorted vowel (I seemed to hear two syllables on ‘down’) and changeless tone did not communicate this, as had Ian Bostridge , for example, with Elizabeth Kenny at Kings Place in 2014.

In ‘Time stands still’ and ‘Flow, my tears’ it was, paradoxically, only when the instrumentalists joined the song that human emotions breathed and flowed. The warmth of Doron Sherwin’s cornetto was a delight throughout the evening while Francesco Turrisi played the organ with imaginative and wry fingers, developing counterpoint, elaborating ornaments. In ‘Flow, my tears’, Pluhar was eloquent in her engagement with the voice. In ‘I saw my lady weep’ it as Sherwin - performing from memory throughout the recital - who exploited the chromatic nuances and rhythmic tangles and tugs.

Perhaps Scheen’s soprano was more suited to Robert Johnson’s ‘Care-charming sleep’ and John Bennet’s ‘Venus’s birds’ where the lovely clean sound was beguiling, and the words are designed to be cumulative in effect rather than deliberately pointed. But, when we reached the ‘traditional’ songs and ballads, the story-teller’s glee and mischief was sadly missing. It take a natural ‘actor’, one with a love of language that can be expressed through articulation and tone, to make lines such as the repeated ‘Hi diddle um come feed-al’ of ‘The Tailor and the Mouse’ come alive and feel rich, raw and rollicking. Though, it must be noted that Turrisi did a good job of conjuring the mouse’s scurrying and fleeing from the tailor’s intent pursuit! Sherwin showed how it should be done in his forthright interjections in ‘The Frog and the Mouse’: now we had words, vibrancy and directness.

It was, in fact, the instrumental items that made the strongest impression. William Brade’s ‘Scottish Dance’ got my foot tapping as Sherwin pushed ‘freedom within constraints’ to its expressive peak, and Turrisi mimicked a brusque bag-pipe drone. Playford’s ‘Stanes Morris’ was similarly abandoned in its rhythmic fire, but never other than consummately controlled. The latter’s ‘Parson’s Farewell’ seemed to embody a neat ironic detachment, while in ‘Paul’s Steeple’ I loved the rhetorical confidence, even cheekiness, of Josep María Martí Duran’s baroque guitar as he explored timbre and texture with panache, while Turrisi brushed a tambourine with style.

We had an encore in which Morley’s ‘There was a lover and his lass’ morphed from madrigal to jazz improv, and Sherwin’s cornetto became Acker Bilk’s clarinet. But, such immediacy, invention and sheer fun wasn’t quite enough to overcome the preceding programme’s distance and detachment.

Claire Seymour

L’Arpeggiata: Céline Scheen (soprano), Francesco Turrisi (harpsichord, organ), Josep María Martí Duran (lute, baroque guitar), Doron Sherwin (cornet), Christina Pluhar (director, theorbo)

John Dowland - ‘Time stands still’, ‘Flow my tears’, ‘Sorrow, stay, lend true repentant tears’, Anthony Holborne - ‘The Image of Melancholy’; Dowland - ‘I saw my Lady weep’; Robert Johnson - ‘Care-charming sleep’, ‘Have you seen the bright lily grow?’; John Bennet - ‘Venus’ birds’; William Brade - Scottish Dance; Trad/English - ‘The Three Ravens’; John Playford - Stanes Morris; Trad/English - ‘The Tailor and the Mouse’; Playford - ‘Parson’s Farewell’; Trad/English - ‘The Oak and the Ash’; Playford - ‘Paul's Steeple’; Trad/English - ‘The Frog and the Mouse’; Henry Purcell - ‘Music for a while’.

Wigmore Hall, London; Tuesday 28th May 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):