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

Eugene Onegin at Seattle

Passion! Pain! Poetry! (but hold the irony . . .)

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.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

22 Dec 2019

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’.

Prayer of the Heart: Gesualdo Six and the Brodsky Quartet at Kings Place

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Gesualdo Six

Photo credit: Ash Mills

 

A sequence of Renaissance and modern works - the former frequently inspiring the latter, both directly and less consciously - was presented in an unbroken sequence which was performed and choreographed with serene composure, concentration and fluidity. Considerable thought, preparation and rehearsal had clearly been invested in both the concept and its manifestation. The seven singers (conductor Owain Park occasionally took a place amid his ensemble) began in the Hall gallery: their subsequent descent to the platform was effected inconspicuously and fluently; at times they departed leaving, the string quartet players alone on stage; the latter arranged themselves in a central arc, cellist Jacqueline Thomas seated, then later formed a line perpendicular to the rear wall. Finally, the singers and musicians came together in a broad semicircle which interlaced voice and strings, embracing and uniting all as one. If this sounds a little laboured, or contrived, that might have been a risk, but it was one that was avoided, so persuasive was the performers’ sincerity and cohesiveness.

The music of John Tavener framed the sequence. Into the darkness of Hall One pulsed the repetitive life-beat of Prayer of the Heart as, supported by the strings’ sustained pianissimo purity, the monastic mantra floated from on high. The work was originally composed for Björk and the Brodsky Quartet, to benefit the charity The Chain of Hope, and the Icelandic singer had been instructed to ‘sit on a low stool, bowing towards the heart’ to facilitate ‘the soul’s concentration, and its unification in ecstasy’. On this occasion the singers moved meditatively around the gallery, their sedate but fluent procession matching the work’s slow harmonic progression.

Subsequently, old and new were fused in a beautifully reflective chain. ‘Parce mihi Domine’, a setting of a text from Job by the sixteenth-century Spaniard, Cristóbal de Morales, as ‘reimagined’ by Latvian Ēriks Ešenvalds as a four-voice introduction to his 2005 oratorio Passion and Resurrection, initiated the musical and religious time-travel, the slow musical metamorphoses perfectly reflecting the wider concept of the evening. Arvo Pärt came to mind, not for the last time during the concert, and not least in the vigour, complementing the cleanness of sound, that was conjured by string interjections, harmonic interest and textual detail, such as the stirring crescendo through ‘et si mane me quaesieris’ (for now shall I sleep in dust).

This served as an entrée to Roxanna Panufnik’s Votive for string quartet - commissioned in memory of Cavatina Chamber Music Trust co-founder, Pamela Majaro - in which tentative gestures ushered in a yearning cello melody that became an elaborate vocalise, passed ever higher across the players, increasing in intensity and cadencing in a joyful major-key climax, the players’ flourished final up-bows conveying the work’s jubilant aspirations. Panufnik’s O Hearken followed. Setting verses from Psalm 5, it was a choral summons in which rich homophonic layerings formed a soundscape of gentle dissonance.

Owain Park’s Phos hilaron, a setting of one of the earliest Christian hymns, was sung in darkness, Gesualdo Six taking position in the Kings Place aisles and singing from memory, following countertenor Guy James’s well-defined and assertive solo melody. It was preceded by Hildegard von Bingen’s O Ecclesia, in which the tenor solo sat upon a warm hum and soft strings (no credit to an arranger was given); this was lovely singing but I felt as if the opportunity for more dramatic communication was not grasped.

There was drama, though, in Panufnik’s This paradise, a setting of Canto 23 from Dante’s Paradiso, the third part of the Divine Comedy, in which the combination of string quartet and six male voices produced some startling timbres and colours: portamento hums against tremulous gestures and fragile harmonics at the start of ‘A bird … her heart ablaze, awaits the sun’; rhythmic muscularity in ‘Triumphing the soldiery of Christ’; a storm of trills and scalic flights in ‘… bolts of fire, unlocked from thunder clouds’; echoes and piling seventh chords, adding enigma to the concluding ‘And so the perfect circling of that tune sealed its conclusion’.

Sarah Rimkus’s My Heart is Like a Singing Bird connected us to the madrigalian grace of the Elizabethan Renaissance by way of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols; Hennig Kraggerud’s Preghiera, written for the Brodsky Quartet, moved from meditation to improvisatory momentum, offering first violinist Gina McCormack some flights of fancy and martial energy into which to bite her musical teeth.

Then, we arrived at what seemed to the musical destination of this programme: Panufnik’s ‘completion’ of her father Sir Andrzej Panufnik’s setting of Polish poet Jerzy Pietrkiewicz’s two-stanza prayer, Modlitwa; and, O Tu Andrzej commissioned by the Brodsky Quartet in memory of her father. The former sounded, to my ear, full of Eastern European echoes - on this first hearing, I sensed the sound-world of Dvořák and Janáček rather than anything specifically ‘Polish’ - and featured strongly characterised solos by baritone Michael Craddock and tenor Joseph Wicks, which conversed with the cello’s harmonically inflected excursions. The latter saw Park join his ensemble once more to add his voice to the piling-up stacks of semitonal dissonances and harmonic piquancy.

We returned to Tavener at the close, his setting of The Lord’s Prayer bringing an expertly delivered sequence to a close, and in which it was lovely to see the experienced members of the Brodsky Quartet take their lead from Park and his young singers, and to feel all involved relish the collaboration.

So, after such pleasures, where’s the ‘but’? Well, if you were happy to sit back, shut your eyes and submit to the spiritual bliss, then all was well and good. If, on the other hand, you wanted to engage with the texts and reflect on the meaning conveyed as note and word conversed, combatted and entwined, there were problems: not least that, in the gloom in Hall One, it was impossible to read a single word of the printed texts provided in a supplementary programme sheet. But, also, Gesualdo Six threw the consonants into a sonic space where they became instantly undiscernible and irretrievable. This was a pity. An opportunity to really appreciate the spiritual union of words and music was lost.

But, given the numbers who rose to their feet to thanks the performers at the end of the concert, I guess this was of less irritation to most at Kings Place than it was to this listener, concerned as I was to experience the performance intellectually as well as emotionally. Never mind, next time I will simply shut my eyes and enjoy!

Claire Seymour

Prayer of the Heart : Brodsky Quartet & Gesualdo Six

John Tavener - Prayer of the Heart; Morales/Ešenvalds -Parce mihi Domine; Roxanna Panufnik -Votive, O Hearken; Hildegard von Bingen - O Ecclesia; Owain Park - Phos Hilaron; Panufnik -This Paradise; Sarah Rimkus -My heart is like a singing bird; Henning Kraggerud - Preghiera (Prayer); A & R Panufnik - Modlitwa, O Tu Andrzej; John Tavener - The Lord’s Prayer.

Kings Place, London; Friday 20th December 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):