Recently in Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

English Touring Opera are delighted to announce a season of lyric monodramas to tour nationally from October to December. The season features music for solo singer and piano by Argento, Britten, Tippett and Shostakovich with a bold and inventive approach to making opera during social distancing.

Love, always: Chanticleer, Live from London … via San Francisco

This tenth of ten Live from London concerts was in fact a recorded live performance from California. It was no less enjoyable for that, and it was also uplifting to learn that this wasn’t in fact the ‘last’ LfL event that we will be able to enjoy, courtesy of VOCES8 and their fellow vocal ensembles (more below …).

Dreams and delusions from Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper at Wigmore Hall

Ever since Wigmore Hall announced their superb series of autumn concerts, all streamed live and available free of charge, I’d been looking forward to this song recital by Ian Bostridge and Imogen Cooper.

Henry Purcell, Royal Welcome Songs for King Charles II Vol. III: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers

The Sixteen continues its exploration of Henry Purcell’s Welcome Songs for Charles II. As with Robert King’s pioneering Purcell series begun over thirty years ago for Hyperion, Harry Christophers is recording two Welcome Songs per disc.

Treasures of the English Renaissance: Stile Antico, Live from London

Although Stile Antico’s programme article for their Live from London recital introduced their selection from the many treasures of the English Renaissance in the context of the theological debates and upheavals of the Tudor and Elizabethan years, their performance was more evocative of private chamber music than of public liturgy.

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

In February this year, Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho made a highly lauded debut recital at Wigmore Hall - a concert which both celebrated Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary and honoured the career of the Italian soprano Rosina Storchio (1872-1945), the star of verismo who created the title roles in Leoncavallo’s La bohème and Zazà, Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

Evidently, face masks don’t stifle appreciative “Bravo!”s. And, reducing audience numbers doesn’t lower the volume of such acclamations. For, the audience at Wigmore Hall gave soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn and pianist Simon Lepper a greatly deserved warm reception and hearty response following this lunchtime recital of late-Romantic song.

Requiem pour les temps futurs: An AI requiem for a post-modern society

Collapsology. Or, perhaps we should use the French word ‘Collapsologie’ because this is a transdisciplinary idea pretty much advocated by a series of French theorists - and apparently, mostly French theorists. It in essence focuses on the imminent collapse of modern society and all its layers - a series of escalating crises on a global scale: environmental, economic, geopolitical, governmental; the list is extensive.

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

For this week’s Live from London vocal recital we moved from the home of VOCES8, St Anne and St Agnes in the City of London, to Kings Place, where The Sixteen - who have been associate artists at the venue for some time - presented a programme of music and words bound together by the theme of ‘reflection’.

Iestyn Davies and Elizabeth Kenny explore Dowland's directness and darkness at Hatfield House

'Such is your divine Disposation that both you excellently understand, and royally entertaine the Exercise of Musicke.’

Ádám Fischer’s 1991 MahlerFest Kassel ‘Resurrection’ issued for the first time

Amongst an avalanche of new Mahler recordings appearing at the moment (Das Lied von der Erde seems to be the most favoured, with three) this 1991 Mahler Second from the 2nd Kassel MahlerFest is one of the more interesting releases.

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

‘And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven … that old serpent … Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.’

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

If there is one myth, it seems believed by some people today, that probably needs shattering it is that post-war recordings or performances of Wagner operas were always of exceptional quality. This 1949 Hamburg Tristan und Isolde is one of those recordings - though quite who is to blame for its many problems takes quite some unearthing.

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

There was never any doubt that the fifth of the twelve Met Stars Live in Concert broadcasts was going to be a palpably intense and vivid event, as well as a musically stunning and theatrically enervating experience.

‘Where All Roses Go’: Apollo5, Live from London

‘Love’ was the theme for this Live from London performance by Apollo5. Given the complexity and diversity of that human emotion, and Apollo5’s reputation for versatility and diverse repertoire, ranging from Renaissance choral music to jazz, from contemporary classical works to popular song, it was no surprise that their programme spanned 500 years and several musical styles.

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields 're-connect'

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields have titled their autumn series of eight concerts - which are taking place at 5pm and 7.30pm on two Saturdays each month at their home venue in Trafalgar Square, and being filmed for streaming the following Thursday - ‘re:connect’.

Lucy Crowe and Allan Clayton join Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO at St Luke's

The London Symphony Orchestra opened their Autumn 2020 season with a homage to Oliver Knussen, who died at the age of 66 in July 2018. The programme traced a national musical lineage through the twentieth century, from Britten to Knussen, on to Mark-Anthony Turnage, and entwining the LSO and Rattle too.

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

With the Live from London digital vocal festival entering the second half of the series, the festival’s host, VOCES8, returned to their home at St Annes and St Agnes in the City of London to present a sequence of ‘Choral Dances’ - vocal music inspired by dance, embracing diverse genres from the Renaissance madrigal to swing jazz.

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

Just a few unison string wriggles from the opening of Mozart’s overture to Le nozze di Figaro are enough to make any opera-lover perch on the edge of their seat, in excited anticipation of the drama in music to come, so there could be no other curtain-raiser for this Gala Concert at the Royal Opera House, the latest instalment from ‘their House’ to ‘our houses’.

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

"Before the ending of the day, creator of all things, we pray that, with your accustomed mercy, you may watch over us."



17 Aug 2019

BBC Prom 37: A transcendent L’enfance du Christ at the Albert Hall

Notwithstanding the cancellation of Dame Sarah Connolly and Sir Mark Elder, due to ill health, and an inconsiderate audience in moments of heightened emotion, this performance was an unequivocal joy, wonderfully paced and marked by first class accounts from four soloists and orchestral playing from the Hallé that was the last word in refinement.

Prom 39: L’enfance du Christ - Maxime Pascale conducts the Hallé

A review by David Truslove

Above: Roderick Williams, Julie Boulianne, Allan Clayton and Neal Davies

Photo credit: BBC/Chris Christodoulou


In addition, there was eloquent choral singing and much to admire from the baton-less French conductor Maxime Pascal whose sinuous movements conjured a giant flying invertebrate seemingly from another planet. But his skeletal frame and exaggerated gestures - hands and arms frequently elongated and swooping over the front strings - brought so much life to this charming and original score.

In an anniversary year when one might have expected to hear La damnation de Faust or even the Grande Messe des morts, both works matching the magnitude of the Albert Hall, L’enfance du Christ was an interesting choice, and one not performed at a Prom since 2003. Given the pastoralism and restraint of L’enfance du Christ, its imaginative elaboration of Christ’s childhood could have disappeared from view in this cavernous venue had everything not been so convincingly and vividly projected. Pascale and his forces fashioned a compelling and mostly hall-stilling atmosphere, the spirit of Berlioz’s boldly conceived music conveyed with such care and affection that my quibble regarding the inclusion of an interval soon vanished.

Of course, Berlioz’s theatrical instincts in this ‘sacred trilogy’ are understated in a work that largely occupies a devotional mood, its dramas gently but tellingly evoked in a series of tableaux where delineation of character is stylised ‘in the manner of old illuminated missals’. Domestic and political resonances are discreetly outlined, yet its few dramatic moments such as Herod’s scene with the fanatical soothsayers and Joseph’s attempts to find shelter create an operatic dimension that simultaneously blurs distinctions of genre.

Regardless of such formal divisions, this performance unfolded from its strange woodwind sonorities with an absolute sureness of touch, the Hallé frequently subdued yet always captivating and providing much of the work’s cinematic detail. Pianissimo strings (placed antiphonally and underpinned by six double basses behind them) brought a haunting intensity to Herod’s restlessness in the ‘Nocturnal March’ and the cabalistic dance was carried off with aplomb. The Overture to Part Two was beautifully shaped, woodwind sparkled in the domestic preparations by a welcoming Ishmaelite family in Sais and a restful Trio for harp (Marie Leenhardt) and two flutes (Amy Yule and Sarah Bennett) brought exceptional musicianship.

Much was enjoyed too from Roderick Williams - always an engaging presence on the platform - doubling as a warm-toned Polydorus and Joseph. His was a well-matched partnership with Julie Boulianne, a French-Canadian mezzo blessed with radiant tones, ideally cast as Mary. It’s a shame Berlioz doesn’t provide her with more vocal opportunities, but the stable duet was a delight, shaped with effortless control and tenderness. Allan Clayton impressed too as Narrator and Centurion, singing with polished tone that seemed gripped by a quasi-religious fervour in the Epilogue. His traversal of Christ’s early years and return to Bethlehem was sung with bewitching tenderness, almost heart-breaking at the lines, ‘O my soul, what remains for you to do but shatter your pride before so great a mystery?’ Equally compelling was Neal Davies as Herod and Father of the Family, delivering every ounce of emotion in the troubled dream sequence; upper notes purring nicely and with just enough security at the bottom of the stave. Whether malevolent or munificent, Davies taps into the core of the role and commands our attention.

The combined singers of Britten Sinfonia Voices and Genesis Sixteen caught the ear as Ishmaelites, soothsayers and shepherds, although the much-loved leaving taking of the Holy family didn’t quite have me gasping for breath, wondering how any choir can sing so quietly. A shame that the quadruple piano marking in the third verse was ignored and the love of the shepherds for the Christ child not as moving as it might have been. Whatever shortcomings there, compensation arrived with an angelic chorus offstage, and the work’s ethereal apotheosis could not have been better judged - the chorus transcendent.

David Truslove

Julie Boulianne (mezzo-soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), Neal Davies (bass), Maxime Pascal (conductor), Genesis Sixteen, Britten Sinfonia Voices, Hallé

Royal Albert Hall, London; Wednesday 14th August 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):