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

Unusual and beautiful: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla conducts the music of Raminta Šerkšnytė with the Kremerata Baltica, in this new release from Deutsche Grammophon.

Pow! Zap! Zowie! Wowie! -or- Arthur, King of Long Beach

If you might have thought a late 17thcentury semi-opera about a somewhat precious fairy tale monarch might not be your cup of twee, Long Beach Opera cogently challenges you to think again.

Philippe Jaroussky and Jérôme Ducros perform Schubert at Wigmore Hall

How do you like your Schubert? Let me count the ways …

Crebassa and Say: Impressionism and Power at Wigmore Hall

On paper this seemed a fascinating recital, but as I was traveling to the Wigmore Hall it occurred to me this might be a clash of two great artists. Both Marianne Crebassa and Fazil Say can be mercurial performers and both can bring such unique creativity to what they do one thought they might simply diverge. In the event, what happened was quite remarkable.

'Songs of Longing and Exile': Stile Antico at LSO St Luke's

Baroque at the Edge describes itself as the ‘no rules’ Baroque festival. It invites ‘leading musicians from all backgrounds to take the music of the Baroque and see where it leads them’.

Richard Jones' La bohème returns to Covent Garden

Richard Jones' production of Puccini's La bohème is back at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden after its debut in 2017/18. The opening night, 10th January 2020, featured the first of two casts though soprano Sonya Yoncheva, who was due to sing Mimì, had to drop out owing to illness, and was replaced at short notice by Simona Mihai who had sung the role in the original run and is due to sing Musetta later in this run.

Diana Damrau sings Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder on Erato

“How weary we are of wandering/Is this perhaps death?” These closing words of ‘Im Abendrot’, the last of Richard Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, and the composer’s own valedictory work, now seem unusually poignant since they stand as an epitaph to Mariss Jansons’s final Strauss recording.

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 3 & 4 from Hyperion

Latest in the highly acclaimed Hyperion series of Ralph Vaughan Williams symphonies, Symphonies no 3 and 4, with Martyn Brabbins and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, recorded in late 2018 after a series of live performances.

Don Giovanni at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Mozart’s Don Giovanni returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Robert Falls updating of the opera to the 1930s. The universality of Mozart’s score proves its adaptability to manifold settings, and this production featured several outstanding, individual performances.

Britten and Dowland: lutes, losses and laments at Wigmore Hall

'Of chord and cassiawood is the lute compounded;/ Within it lie ancient melodies'.

Tara Erraught sings Loewe, Mahler and Hamilton Harty at Wigmore Hall

During those ‘in-between’ days following Christmas and before New Year, the capital’s cultural institutions continue to offer fare both festive and more formal.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with the Thomanerchor and Gewandhausorchester Leipzig

This Accentus release of J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, recorded live on 15/16th December 2018 at St. Thomas’s Church Leipzig, takes the listener ‘back to Bach’, so to speak.

Retrospect Opera's new recording of Ethel Smyth's Fête Galante

Writing in April 1923 in The Bookman, of which he was editor, about Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate (1913-14) - the most frequently performed of the composer’s own operas during her lifetime - Rodney Bennett reflected on the principal reasons for the general neglect of Smyth’s music in her native land.

A compelling new recording of Bruckner's early Requiem

The death of his friend and mentor Franz Seiler, notary at the St Florian monastery to which he had returned as a teaching assistant in 1845, was the immediate circumstance which led the 24-year-old Anton Bruckner to compose his first large-scale sacred work: the Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir, organ continuo and orchestra, which he completed on 14th March 1849.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet

Robust carol-singing, reindeer-related muzak tinkling through department stores, and light-hearted festive-fare offered by the nation’s choral societies may dominate the musical agenda during the month of December, but at Kings Place on Friday evening Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet eschewed babes-in-mangers and ding-donging carillons for an altogether more sedate and spiritual ninety minutes of reflection and ‘musical prayer’.

The New Season at the New National Theatre, Tokyo

Professional opera in Japan is roughly a century old. When the Italian director and choreographer Giovanni Vittorio Rosi (1867-1940) mounted a production of Cavalleria Rusticana in Italian in Tokyo in 1917, with Japanese singers, he brought a period of timid experimentation and occasional student performances to an end.

Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

For those of us who live in a metropolitan bubble, where performances of Handel's Messiah by small professional ensembles are common, it is easy to forget that for many people, Handel's masterpiece remains a large-scale choral work. My own experiences of Messiah include singing the work in a choir of 150 at the Royal Albert Hall, and the venue's tradition of performing the work annually dates back to the 19th century.

What to Make of Tosca at La Scala

La Scala’s season opened last week with Tosca. This was perhaps the preeminent event in Italian cultural and social life: paparazzi swarmed politicians, industrialists, celebrities and personalities, while almost three million Italians watched a live broadcast on RAI 1. Milan was still buzzing nine days later, when I attended the third performance of the run.

La traviata at Covent Garden: Bassenz’s triumphant Violetta in Eyre’s timeless production

There is a very good reason why Covent Garden has stuck with Richard Eyre’s 25-year old production of La traviata. Like Zeffirelli’s Tosca, it comes across as timeless whilst being precisely of its time; a quarter of a century has hardly faded its allure, nor dented its narrative clarity. All it really needs is a Violetta to sweep us off our feet, and that we got with Hrachuhi Bassenz.

Emmerich Kálmán: Ein Herbstmanöver

Brilliant Emmerich Kálmán’s Ein Herbstmanöver from the Stadttheater, Giessen in 2018, conducted by Michael Hofstetter now on Oehms Classics, in a performing version by Balázs Kovalik.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

20 Aug 2019

Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman

“On the wings of song, I’ll bear you away …” So sings the poet-speaker in Mendelssohn’s 1835 setting of Heine’s ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’. And, borne aloft we were during this lunchtime Prom by Louise Alder and Gary Matthewman which soared progressively higher as the performers took us on a journey through a spectrum of lieder from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Proms at … Cadogan Hall 5

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Louise Alder

Photo credit: Gerard Collett

 

Alder’s programme had me reflecting on the challenges of devising a sequence of song for a fairly short mid-day recital. Does one take a theme and offer the audience contrasting responses from a variety of composers? Is homogeneity of idiom and period preferable to diversity? At first glance, this programme looked fairly conventional: a chronological progression from Schubert, through the Mendelssohn siblings, and on to Liszt and Chopin - complemented by a geographical movement from central Europe, then further eastwards, though with a nod towards Paris.

But closer inspection revealed a slight idiosyncrasy in the programme, for two of the three Schubert songs and the five songs by Liszt were to be performed in ‘versions’ less well known to audiences. And to Alder herself: during a brief word after the recital, the soprano commented that there had been a lot of ‘new’ music to learn, and that it was a challenge to sing the ‘variants’ of songs whose more familiar incarnation was so present in one’s musical memory.

Not that there was any sign of this ‘challenge’ during a performance that was characterised by relaxed affability, even playfulness at times, and confident, easeful musicianship. Alder is a natural ‘actor’, and she brought the varied contexts and protagonists of the lieder immediately to life, aided by Matthewman’s discrete but superlatively attentive accompaniments. The clarity of Matthewman’s voicing, the gentleness and precision of the quietest episodes, the fine definition of motive and pattern, the lively coloristic touches: all such made for an impressively sensitive complement to Alder’s vocal line.

Matthewman’s mastery of both tiny motif and broader canvas, and the relationship between the two, was exemplified in the opening song, ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, in which the piano’s murmuring wheel gained almost imperceptible momentum as the abandoned Gretchen’s yearning grew and the visions of her lover intensified, resuming its spinning with wonderful hesitancy then determination after the climactic memory of his kiss, a peak that Alder’s passion pushed a little off kilter - a rare, small lapse, but entirely forgivable at such an early stage in the recital as she settled into her stride. The second version of ‘Nacht und Träume’ (published in 1823 as Op.43 No.2) followed. Matthewman’s soft pedalling conjured a sleepy mood, the piano sinking low, and Alder’s soprano acquired a floaty dreaminess as she longed for the spirit of the night to return. My first impression was that the tempo was rather slow, weakening the ‘pull’ of some of the harmonic progressions. But a subsequent glance at the two versions revealed that in 1823 Schubert did indeed add ‘sehr’ to the ‘langsam’ instruction of the first version! The performers had been true to his intended languid reflectiveness after all.

Alder closed the Schubert sequence with ‘Die Forelle’, in its fifth version (1821). She performed this song during the Song Prize Final of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, and the beguiling vivacity and drama that she brought to her Cadogan Hall performance made it clear why she won the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize in 2017 and prompted Gerald Finley to remark “she is born for that stage”!

Three songs by Felix Mendelssohn preceded three by his sister Fanny, and here Alder’s soprano seemed freer, more fluid in the upper register and more focused in the middle. Matthewman’s rippling arpeggios sparkled in ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’, while after the delicacy of the roses’ delicate scented whispers, Alder allowed the blissful dreams to bloom at the close. The rocking syncopations of the brief ‘Der Mond’ throbbed with a passion which burst vibrantly forth in the second stanza, with the poet’s plea to the shining moon for a single glance brimming with heavenly peace, while ‘Neue Liebe’ found Mendelssohn in ‘fairy mode’ and the duo tripping precisely, fleetly and with a feverish frisson through the racing night journey.

Fanny Hensel’s ‘Bergeslust’ seems to offer a joyful vision of nature, with the woods and mountains stretching up to the heaven, but Alder and Matthewman used the brief modulation to the minor mode to subtly intimate graver thoughts. Lovely rubatos imbued ‘Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass?’ with a tender wistfulness; in contrast, ‘Nach Süden’ was as exuberant and purposeful as the birds flying southwards, ‘into the eternal blossoming’, that the poet-speaker eulogises.

It was the five songs by Liszt, though, that were both most substantial and most impressive. The major-minor dialectic of the piano’s introduction pulsed through ‘Freudvoll und Leidvoll’, which trembled with anguish and surged with love. Alder was fully in tune with the poetic sentiments which she and Matthewman communicated with genuineness and creative inflection. ‘S’il est un charmant gazon’ was delightfully fresh, joyous and spontaneous; ‘Oh! Quand je dors’ billowed wonderfully, with Alder drawing every nuance from the text - the lover’s passing breath and the transformation of woman into angel made tangible by the coaxing vocal delivery. Best of all was ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’, in which natural simplicity gave way to more artful expression, as Alder’s beautiful soprano soared through the ever more impassioned arcs. Matthewman’s harmonies roved, breaking beyond the ordered confines of the opening of the song and pushing the voice towards impassioned declamation which overflowed with feeling, until, with wonderful control, soprano and pianist drew the emotions which had so richly flamed back within their hearts.

After such heights of Romantic sensibility, a relaxation into a more folky spirit was welcome, and Chopin’s lilting ‘Życzenie’ (The Maiden’s Wish) swept us into a more carefree world. Alder may have required the score for these Polish songs, but - while I’m not in a position to judge the authenticity of her Polish - she didn’t seem to glance down at it very often! ‘Śliczny chłopiec’ (Handsome lad) was similarly winsome and full of playfulness, preparing us for the smouldering and teasing of Rossini’s ‘Canzonetta spagnuola’ which accelerated with gleeful confidence and devil-may-care abandon, as Alder raced through the vocal ripples.

As they accepted the spirited applause of the capacity Cadogan Hall audience, Alder thanked Matthewman with a warm hug. The performers obviously enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

This recital is available on BBC Radio 3 iPlayer for 28 days.

Claire Seymour

Proms at … Cadogan Hall 5: Louise Alder (soprano), Gary Matthewman (piano)

Schubert - ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, ‘Nacht und Träume’, ‘Die Forelle’; Mendelssohn - ‘Auf Flügeln des Gesanges’, ‘Der Mond’, ‘Neue Liebe’; Fanny Hensel - ‘Bergeslust’, ‘Warum sind denn die Rosen so blass’, ‘Nach Süden’; Liszt - ‘Freudvoll und leidvoll’, ‘O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst’, ‘S'il est un charmant gazon’, ‘Ah! quand je dors’, ‘Comment, disaient-ils’; Chopin - ‘Życzenie’, ‘Śliczny chłopiec’; Rossini - ‘Canzonetta spagnuola’.

Cadogan Hall, London; Monday 19th 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):