May 27, 2020

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Quilter made more settings of Shakespeare than most others, so Volume 1 in the series focused on his Shakespeare settings, while Volume 2 featured his settings of Jacobean poets. In contrast, this third volume highlights Quilter’s interest in folk-inspired sources. This shows a more informal Quilter than the greatly admired art songs but reveals the intimate side of Quilter’s personality.

The Arnold Book of Old Songs was written for Arnold Vivian. Quilter and his older brother Arnold, for whom their nephew was named, seem to have had very different personalities, though they were very close. Arnold was extroverted, athletic, tall (6 foot 7) and had served in the Boer War. He was also part of the circle around Rupert Brooke, whom he helped bury. Two weeks later, he, too, was killed at Gallipoli. When the younger Arnold joined the Grenadier Guards at the outbreak of the Second World War, Quilter expanded a smaller collection published in 1924, for Arnold to sing when he was away. But yet again, tragedy struck, when Arnold was shot in September 1942 while trying to escape from a prisoner of war camp.

The Arnold Songs are based on songs from earlier vernacular songs, which are so well known that they’ve entered the mainstream almost as popular song. “Drink to me only with thine eyes” is a setting of Ben Johnson, based on Philostratus, the second-century Greek poet, the tune we know now published in the late 18th century. Similarly, “My Lady Greensleeves” was first published in 1600 as a lute song, though there are references to it in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, suggesting that it was well-known long before. “Barbara Allen” was mentioned in Pepys diaries. It is folk song as popular music, a best seller in the ballad-selling broadside trade, enabling its dissemination, with many regional variations, throughout the English-speaking world. Quilter’s version adapts the tune with great sensitivity. Delicate piano figures illuminate the name “Barbara Allen”, suggesting her beauty: perhaps it even suggests a softer side of her nature, which explains her change of heart. Dramatic chords evoke the “dead bell”. Barbara dies chastened and meek: this is no simple love story.

The Irish songs in The Arnold Book of Songs also originate from the end of the 18th century. The text for Believe me, if all those endearing young charms could come from two sources in the mid-17th century, but the form suggest traditional ballad. The jolly, rhythmic “Oh ! ‘tis sweet to think” seems to stem from country dance. All three of the Scottish songs have connections to Robert Burns, who collected and adapted songs as part of his fascination with all things Scottish. Ye banks and braes is now so famous that it’s almost basic repertoire. “Charlie is my darling” refers to Bonnie Prince Charlie. Though the text is by Lady Nairne, the song may have had topical appeal for people who knew the Jacobite cause and its brutal suppression at Culloden in 1746. Quilter’s “Ca’ the Yowes” is very different to earlier arrangements, such as the version by Maurice Jacobsen made famous by Kathleen Ferrier, and the version by Benjamin Britten, much more frequently performed. Jacobsen’s version is gentle, like a lullaby, while Britten’s version is more austere and plaintive, as befits a song which might once have been a lament from harsh times, long ago. Both Britten and Quilter evoke a sense of abandoned desolation, recognizing the context from which the song might have arisen. Quilter’s version is even closer to lament, particularly in favouring a lower, masculine register: the piano part is understated, suggesting, perhaps, the bleak internal landscape. In the final verse, the voice swells in intensity: “I can die but canna part, My bonnie dearie”. The song is attributed to Isobel “Tibbie” Pagan (1741-1821) a colourful character who owned an alehouse where she wrote poems and sang songs for her customers. Robert Burns heard it sung by a clergyman, who may or not have got it direct. Burns himself revised his version of the poem three times. (Please read more here).

Also of interest is Quilter’s version of “The Rose of Tralee” based on a poem from 1846, set in the same period. The song is so popular that it has entered into the canon as “traditional song” and may well have antecedents. Quilter develops the piano part with subtle sophistication: art song without artifice. Although Quilter has been described by some as a “walled garden”, perfect but intensely private, he was well aware of what was happening in the world around him. Marian Anderson and Quilter were friends, and he accompanied her in his own songs at her Wigmore Hall debut in 1928. “I got a robe” was written for the occasion, based on a an arrangement of a spiritual arranged by Harry Burlieigh as “Heav’n, heav’n”. Quilter also worked in musical theatre, partnering Rodney Bennett (father of Richard Rodney Bennnet) in several popular musicals, of which Where the rainbow ends was successful enough to encourage Quilter to write a light opera “The blue boar”, premiered as “Julia”. Two songs from Songs from “Love at the Inn” suggest a more modest, vaguely pastoral theme. More substantial is “The Man behind the Plough”, Bennett’s adaptation of a 19th century French song, which is included among the four French songs in The Arnold Book of Songs, “The Pretty Month of May” derived from a composer at the court of Louis XIII. Quilter’s Four Songs of Mirza Schaffy set poems in German based on an Azerbaijani poet who taught languages in Germany. of these “Die helle Sonne leuchtet” is lyrical, the piano – Quilter’s instrument – radiant, emphasising the glorious crescendo in the final verse.

More personal is “Daisies after the rain” by a contemporary of Quilter’s, Judith Bickle, published in 1951. All his life, Quilter was plagued by ill health, yet survived, unlike his more robust relatives and friends. Like the wild daisies in the poem, humble blooms can defy odds that fell more showy flowers. Thus, it is appropriate that Stone and Barlow conclude this recording with “The Ash Grove”, from The Arnold Book of Songs. The song as “Llwyn Onn” was first published in 1802 in a collection of Bardic songs called The Bardic Museum, which implies that even then it had early origins. Texts vary. Quilter set words by Rodney Bennett who understood very well how their meaning applied to Quilter’s personal life. The piano line is discreet, intensifying the suppressed emotional anguish. Once friends gathered in the Ash Grove “How little we knew, as we laughed there so lightly,/ and time seemed to us to stretch endless away,/The hopes that then shone like a vision so brightly/ Could fade as a dream in the coming of day!” But memories live on in the song of a lone bird and the whisper of the wind. In 1950, Quilter was nearing his own end, so it mattered to him that “there in the Ash Grove my heart be at rest”.

Anne Ozorio

[Click here for the program booklet.]

image= image_description=Stone Records 5060192780956 product=yes product_title=Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3 product_by=Mark Stone, baritone; Stephen Barlow, piano. product_id=Stone Records 5060192780956 [CD] price=£14.94 product_url=
Posted by iconoclast at 2:12 PM

May 26, 2020

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

The Passion of Yeshua is a dramatic oratorio by the contemporary composer Richard Danielpour. Written in 2017, the work has been issued by Naxos in a performance recorded in 2019 with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, UCLA Chamber Singers and soloists Hila Plitmann, Matthew Worth, Kenneth Overton, J’Nai Bridges, Timothy Fallon and James K. Bass.

The work is a Passion Oratorio, that is an oratorio written for concert purposes telling the passion story, as opposed to a Passion which sets the Gospel texts and is written for performance in church. (With the adoption of Bach’s Passions as concert works we have rather lost the distinction between the two works).

Danielpour has assembled the text himself from both the Christian Gospels and Hebrew Scriptures, to create a work which uses both Hebrew and English for its text. Danielpour’s aim seems to have been to get back to an earlier conception of Jesus, perhaps a more Jewish conception, which avoids the ‘1800 years of European accretions and horrible acts that were committed in Europe in the name of Christianity.’ Many of the Hebrew texts, which are sung by the chorus and by the two soprano soloists (as Miryam Magdala and Miryam) are Messianic texts. Another deliberate intention by Danielpour was to bring the role of these two women forward, Miryram Magdala (Mary Magdalene) and Mary the mother of Jesus (Miryam) as they are present in the Gospels but never to the forefront. Women seem to have played a significant role in Jesus’ mission, but the creating of the synoptic Gospels during the Roman Empire effectively removed the women from the narrative.

Danielpour has been thinking about writing this work for 25 years. In his essay in the CD booklet he describes himself as an American born of Middle Eastern, Iranian parentage with an extended family which embraced both Jewish and Christian traditions. The piece was commissioned by the Oregon Bach Festival, the Buffalo Philharmonic, and the SDG Foundation, was premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival with JoAnn Faletta conducting. The work was then performed in December at Royce Hall in Los Angeles with the UCLA Philharmonia and Chorus led by music director Neal Stulberg

The work lasts around 100 minutes and is in two parts, each in seven scenes. There are seven characters (two, Kefa – the Peter figure – and Pilate are doubled here), seven choruses and four chorales, and four ‘grand’ choruses. And the number seven (associated with ‘completion’ or the idea of completion in Jewish mystical thinking) features quite heavily in the construction. The work tells a familiar story, but from a slightly unusual angle in the way Danielpour mixes texts from the two traditions. Whilst he tells the Christian story of Jesus’ Passion, he does so with a great deal of Jewish detail; in his essay Danielpour talks about one of his aims in writing the work being to ‘imagine the story of the last day of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. I thought if I could somehow take myself back in time and recreate what those last hours were like without all those later accretions’.

Danielpour studied at Oberlin College, the New England Conservatory of Music and the Juilliard School of Music. His early works from the 1980s employ a serial style, but then his palate broadened, moving towards a use of tonal harmonies as well as non-classical influences.

For the music of The Passion of Yeshua, Danielpour eschews both serial modernism and post-modern minimalism, instead opting for a richly complex, tonal, chromatic harmony which is redolent of mid-Century music and on first listen we can hear influences from William Walton (Belshazzar’s Feast), RVW (Dona Nobis Pacem) and Leonard Bernstein (Chichester Psalms and the symphonies). There is no recitative as such, with Danielpour writing rich in a rich arioso, moving to more rhapsodic writing for the arias, and throughout the orchestra plays a big role in the richly coloured music.

JoAnn Falletta gets strong performances from all her soloists. The bulk of the narrative falls on the men, with the two women contributing a series of arias and duets which provide a rhapsodic Hebrew commentary on the narrative. Matthew Worth as the narrator and Kenneth Overton as Yeshua both provide strong performances, but I would like both to have made more of the words. Oratorio is a very didactic, text-based form whilst both Worth and Overton’s experience seems to be operatic, and I did wonder whether using a pair of singers used performing Bach’s Passions might have brought out the important text more. One problem I felt throughout the performance was that I had to concentrate to tell whether the singers were performing in English or Hebrew, which rather negates the idea behind the piece.

Hila Pitmann and J’Nai Bridges both bring strongly operatic voices to the mix, contributing intensely vibrant performances. Both do well with Danielpour’s sometimes angular and effortful vocal writing.

This is a large-scale work with plenty of feeling of contrast in the textures, and Danielpour’s intensely serious approach to his subject makes for an impressive piece. At times the piece feels closer to sacred opera than to oratorio, and you wonder whether the composer’s embracing of the Passion Oratorio form was more to do with worry about offending religious sensibilities with a staging.

Throughout, the musicians of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra play with superb commitment and realise Danielpour’s complex harmonic language and richly romantic style with great sympathy and skill. Danielpour also gives the chorus a number of striking moments, including a couple of large-scale choruses and the combined chorus of the UCLA Chamber Singers and Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus do not disappoint, though my comments about diction apply here also.

Ultimately, I found this piece dignified and impressive rather than intensely moving. The cross-cultural elements mean that I found the Hebrew sections somewhat distancing, in a way that someone unfamiliar with the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgy might find the use of Latin. The music builds to a powerful and intensely wrought climax, which testifies to the composer’s thoughtful identification with his subject.

Robert Hugill

[This review first appeared at Planet Hugill.  It is reprinted with the permission of the author.]

image= image_description=NAXOS 636943988527 product=yes product_title=Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua product_by=Miryam Magdala – Hila Piltmann (soprano); Narrator (Talmuda) – Matthew Worth (baritone); Yeshua – Kenneth Overton (baritone); Miryam – J’Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano); Kefa/Pilate – Timothy Fallon (tenor); Kayafa – James K Bass (baritone); UCLA Chamber Singers (prepared by James K. Bass); Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus (prepared by Adam Luebke); Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra; JoAnn Falletta (conductor); Recorded 13-14 April 2019, Kleinhaus Music Hall, Buffalo, New York, USA. product_id=NAXOS 636943988527 [2CDs] price=$20.47 product_url=
Posted by Gary at 1:09 PM

May 25, 2020

Opera Holland Park: Un ballo in maschera - a new film with City of London Sinfonia

The production was originally filmed as part of Opera Holland Park’s International Opera Award-winning Inspire project to take opera to the community and bring the community to opera. Designed to reach members of the community who were unable to attend the theatre in person, the film will be shown only once, free of charge, for everyone who is missing the buzz and collective energy of live performance.

After the critical and popular success of their 2018 collaboration on La traviata, director Rodula Gaitanou and conductor Mathew Kofi Waldren reunited to work on another Verdi tragedy, Un ballo in maschera, with City of London Sinfonia in the pit. Designed by takis, with sets and costumes that moved the action from an imagined 18th century to the glamour, tension and shadows of the 1940s, this production was seen by almost 10,000 people, and, in the OHP Young Artists Schools’ Matinee performance, by approximately 1,000 children.

French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels (Amelia), Italian tenor Matteo Lippi (Gustavo) and British baritone George von Bergen (Anckarström) were joined in the main cast by rising star and former OHP Young Artist Alison Langer (Oscar), the distinguished mezzo-soprano Rosalind Plowright OBE (Madame Arvidson) and baritones Benjamin Bevan (Ribbing), John Savournin (Horn) and Ross Ramgobin (Cristiano), with the Opera Holland Park Chorus and City of London Sinfonia. Lighting was by Simon Corder, with choreography by Steve Elias and fight direction by Bret Yount.

Writing in The Observer, Howard Jacobson recounted his experience of the opening night of OHP’s 2019 Un ballo in maschera:

“A sweet tenor, an agonised baritone, and two exquisite sopranos navigated Verdi’s passages from lyricism to mockery with great subtlety, sometimes alone, sometimes in twos, sometimes all at once. No one beats Verdi at rendering the gorgeous cacophony of desire and rage. The night quivered. The orchestra thrilled. The wind blew through the grand marquee, and I became a devotee.”

Programme notes and a synopsis will be made available on the OHP website.

Posted by claire_s at 9:15 AM

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

While in Naples, Burney attended private concerts in the homes of the nobility, enjoyed opera at Teatro San Carlo and explored Naples’ music conservatoires, hoping to glean information and ideas which might revive musical performance and composition in his own country, for, ‘As the scholars in the Venetian Conservatorios have been justly celebrated for their taste and neatness of execution, so those of Naples have long enjoyed the reputation of being the first contra-puntists or composers in Europe.’

Had Burney visited the music conservatoires of southern Italian city in the first few decades of the eighteenth century he would have found among their students and teachers all three of the composers featured on this recording by Christophe Rousset’s Les Talens Lyriques. Leonardo Leo, became, in 1709, a pupil of Nicola Fago at the Conservatorio S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini. Giovanni Pergolesi, studied at the Conservatorio dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo at some time between 1720 and 1725, the same conservatoire at which Nicola Porpora had enrolled in September 1696.

Though his life was characterised by frequent travels throughout Europe, including a spell as Handel’s rival in London - the Opera of the Nobility, opened its first season in December 1733 with the première of his Arianna in Naxo - Porpora returned to his home town in the summer of 1737, on his appointment as maestro di cappella at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto. He finally re-settled in Naples towards the end of his life, a time of misfortune and hardship, securing in spring 1760 the position of maestro di cappella at the Conservatorio di S Maria di Loreto, Naples and the same role at the fourth of the city’s conservatoire, the Conservatorio di S Onofrio, in autumn that year. He died, in poverty, in March 1768, just 18 months before Burney’s Neapolitan sojourn.

In his liner article, Dinko Fabris describes these composers as ‘three great exponents of a Neapolitan school - one that lasted for more than two centuries’. Of them, Pergolesi is certainly the best known: despite the brevity of his life, his 26 years produced the opera,La serva padrona, which triggered the Querelle des Bouffons - the battle of musical ideologies which raged in Paris during the 1750s - and the most oft -printed musical work of the 18th century, his Stabat Mater. This work was possibly written during the very last days of his short life and commissioned, Grove tells us, by the noble fraternity in the church of S Maria dei Sette Dolori in Naples as a replacement for Alessandro Scarlatti’s Stabat mater.

Christophe Rousset and the 17-strong Les Talens Lyriques are joined by soprano Sandrine Piau and countertenor Christopher Lowrey in a performance which squeezes every drop of dolorosa from Pergolesi’s graphic dissonances, powerfully creating both intensity and intimacy. One can sense the deep reflections that Rousset has undertaken on matters of tempo, colour, string-voice dialogues, structure and ornament, and the decisions made produce, on the whole, highly persuasive results. A slow tempo is adopted for the opening ‘Stabat Mater dolorosa’, the deep organ tread heavy with dejection and complemented by the clean, focused tone of the strings’ winding suspensions. The string playing throughout is beautiful, each detail considered and refined. Indeed, there are times when I’d like Rousset to let the violins’ grace shine more brightly: they seem rather subdued when in unison with the alto solo in ‘Ein Mater fons amoris’, for example, though Rousset does make much of the dynamic contrasts in the instrumental passages of that movement. A lovely buoyancy is generated by the cheerful, bright tone of the upper strings and the light-footed bass line in ‘Inflammatus et accensus’, and ‘Sancta Mater istud agas’ is particularly beautiful - though I’m not convinced by the organ’s switch between crotchets and quavers, as the former feel more ponderous than the consistent quavers notated. In ‘Fac ut ardeat cor meum’ I feel that the balance between bass and violins in the surging counterpoint favours the former a little too much. That said, the latter movement is striking for its forward momentum and fire: the deep intensity of faith expressed by the driving contrapuntal dialogues (‘Make my heart burn/ With love for Christ my God’) is at eased at times by chains of suspensions but the energy and passion never lessen. There’s equal vigour in the concluding ‘Amen’ of ‘Quando corpus morietur’, the ‘assai’ in the tempo indication seemingly eschewed in favour of Presto molto with terrifically dramatic effect - all the more so as it follows some beautifully tender, hushed string playing at the start of the movement.

Ornaments are executed with pristine clarity - Piau’s trills are particularly taut and impressive. Rousset has clearly adopted the ‘long’ view with regard to appoggiaturas which are extended, occasionally to the point of mannerism, eking out the agony of the dissonances. I think that this can sometimes disturb the harmonic centre, as at the start of ‘Quis est homo’ where the dissonance is sustained and barely resolved. It can also lead to some very minor discrepancies between the vocal and string lines, as in ‘Vidit suum dulcem natum’ and ‘Fac ut portem’.

But, these are trifles. Rousset’s approach produces a consistency of eloquence and focus which is compelling. The two soloists are well-matched in the duets, Piau naturally brighter but judiciously cool and Lowrey softer and warm. The intonation of all is superb, and especially advantageous in the biting dissonances. In ‘Sancta Mater’ the duo blend with particularly beguiling effect. Piau sparkles lightly in ‘Cujus animam gementum’ and matches the staccato bite of the fiddles. Lowrey is dulcet in ‘Quae mœrebat et dolebat’ and nimbly negotiates the wide range of ‘Eia Mater fons amoris’, warm and full at the bottom and clear and bright when rising. The long, decorated phrases of ‘Fac ut portem’ are impressively silky and fluid, and form a terrific contrast to the jagged, incisive strings. Excepting the slightest of breaths that interrupts the final cadential elaboration, it’s hard to imagine this aria being more beautifully sung.

Alongside what must be one of the best-known sacred works in the repertoire, Les Talens Lyriques present two curiosities. They claim that this recording of Leo’s Beatus vir qui timet is the first, but while it may have been back in July 2018 when the recording was actually made, in the Églisse Notre-Dame de l’Assomption d’Auvers-sur-Oise, they were pipped at the post by Ensemble Animantica, whose Maestri a Sant’Onofrio, presenting works by Leo and Porpora, was released on the Bongiovanni label in March 2019. But, it’s certainly true that Leo’s setting of Psalm 112, which was re-published only as recently as 2007, is a rarity. And, Lowrey’s performance of this solo motet is spectacular.

The writing is somewhat conventional and Italianate, at least in the aria-like numbers. Think plentiful sequences, cycles of 5ths, hemiolas; Vivaldian string textures and virtuosities; and an elaborate vocal line replete with floridities. The strings begin the ‘Beatus vir’ and ‘Iucundus homo’ movements with racing runs and joyful skips, while the introduction of the ‘Dispersit’ features a lovely piano echo, and the movement as a whole has greater variety of mood and harmonic colour. Against the vivid, energised string sound Lowrey’s countertenor is stunningly focused and pure. It’s a warm, rounded voice but also very well-centred, even during the most elaborate vocal acrobatics. Rousset shapes Leo’s skilful string counterpoint and the interplay with the voice with a sure touch.

What makes the work more interesting, and Lowrey’s performance even more impressive, are the short recitative-like movements. There is admirable string discipline in the unisons of ‘Exortum est’, and precision in the contorted vocal leaps which give the movement a more old-fashioned feel. Lowrey uses the text well too. Unusual chromatic twists and harmonic shifts in the ‘Misericore’ are expressively crafted by Lowrey, whose tone here is exquisite. Bright, buoyant strings chase each other at the opening of the ‘Gloria’, before a slide into chromatic intensification by the organ and voice for the last textual phrase; it’s highly dramatic. In the final ‘Sicut era’, Lowrey enjoys the extended cascades and flounces, retaining a lovely clean and even line.

Porpora’s Salve regina in G major was most likely written for a young performer - some have hazarded one Elisabetta Mantonvani as the designee - at the Venetian Ospedale degli Incurabili, where he was maestro di cappella from 1726-33. In places it sounds like an extended and challenging vocal exercise, not a work intended to be directly expressive of its liturgical text, and we are reminded that Porpora taught many of the famous singers of his day, including Farinelli and Caffarelli. But, alongside the virtuoso vocal demands there is considerable melodic richness.

The opening ‘Salve regina’ has a lovely gentle quality and Piau’s soprano is free and full of joy, its fluidity and shine complementing the darker tints of the organ and low strings. An almost impossible lightness is achieved by the strings at the start of ‘Ad te clamamus’, then matched by Piau’s splendid fioratura; the soprano is equally athletic in the ‘Eia ergo’. ‘Ad te suspiramus’ sighs and weeps languorously but while Piau crafts long, mellifluous lines there’s rather too much ornament - this is one place where Porpora should have recognised that less would be more. In contrast, ‘Et Iesum’ allows her to display fine shaping of a simple line, one which ventures high and low - in either direction she sounds fully at ease - and the concluding ‘O clemens’ has a quasi-Mozartian calm.

Whether it’s a refreshingly dramatic and intense performance of a familiar favourite or a chance to explore the margins of early 18th -century Neapolitan musical life that the listener is seeking, this terrific disc by Rousset and Les Talens Lyriques will satisfy in no small measure.

Claire Seymour

image_description=Alpha 449

product_title=Pergolesi, Porpora and Leo
product_by=Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (conductor), Sandrine Piau (soprano), Christopher Lowrey (countertenor)
product_id=Alpha Classics, CD ALPHA 449 [66:11]

Posted by claire_s at 8:06 AM

May 20, 2020

The Mozartists launch ‘RE-LIVE’ with Download of Ann Hallenberg Concert

Classical Opera and The Mozartists are delighted to announce the launch of ‘RE-LIVE’, a new initiative undertaken in collaboration with the recently established music platform Exit Live.

Each month between now and the end of the year they will release an archive recording of one of their past concerts for paid download. Conductor & Artistic Director Ian Page writes:

“To compensate for our current inability to give live performances, we are collaborating with Exit Live to make archive recordings of fondly remembered concerts available for moderately priced download. These monthly releases will enable us to maintain our close connection with our followers, and also to reach wider audiences across the globe, while also providing our wonderful artists with a thread of much-needed income during these difficult times. The majority of our total revenue from each recording will be shared directly and equally among every performer who took part in the concert.”

The first release, which is already available for download from the Exit Live website, is a recording of a memorable concert given at London’s Wigmore Hall in May 2016, when the internationally renowned Swedish mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg joined Ian Page and his acclaimed period-instrument ensemble in a programme of rare and familiar masterpieces from the second half of the eighteenth century.

Hallenberg Örjan Jakobsson.jpgAnn Hallenberg. Photo credit: Örjan Jakobsson.

Hallenberg sings a fascinating selection of arias by Gluck - including his celebrated depiction of paradise in ”Che puro ciel” from Orfeo ed Euridice - and Mozart - culminating in Sesto’s magnificent ”Deh, per questo istante solo” from his valedictory La clemenza di Tito. The programme also features two superb but rarely performed minor-key symphonies which hail from Hallenberg and Page’s homelands - the intense and fiery C minor symphony by ’the Swedish Mozart’ and a G minor symphony by Mozart’s friend and mentor, ’the London Bach’.

PROGRAMME (total running time 92’16)

1 GLUCK: “Resta o cara” from Il trionfo di Clelia
2 GLUCK: “O del mio dolce ardor” from Paride ed Elena
KRAUS: Symphony in C minor
3 1. Larghetto - Allegro
4 2. Andante
5 3. Allegro assai
6 GLUCK: “Che puro ciel” from Orfeo ed Euridice
7 GLUCK: “Misera dove son... Ah, non son io” from Ezio
8 MOZART: “Che scompiglio, che flagello” from La finta semplice
9 MOZART: “Dunque sperar poss’io... Il tenero momento” from Lucio Silla
J. C. BACH: Symphony in G minor, Op.6, no.6
10 1. Allegro
11 2. Andante più tosto Adagio
12 3. Allegro molto
13 MOZART: “Se l’augellin sen fugge” from La finta giardiniera
14 MOZART: “Deh, per questo istante solo” from La clemenza di Tito
15 ENCORE - GIORDANI: “Caro mio ben”

Ann Hallenberg (mezzo-soprano)
The Mozartists (leader, Matthew Truscott)
Ian Page (conductor)

Future releases in The Mozartists’ ‘RE-LIVE’ series will be announced in due course, and are likely to include complete operas, UK premières and further Wigmore Hall concerts. image=
Posted by claire_s at 5:10 AM

Beethoven Matters: Garsington Opera at Home

Garsington Opera and the Royal Philharmonic Society host a special online event celebrating Beethoven. Join them live on YouTube for an expert panel discussion on why 'Beethoven Matters'.

Beethoven Matters - Tuesday 26 May, 6pm
Jessica Duchen (writer & journalist)
Douglas Boyd (Artistic Director)
David Owen Norris (pianist & academic)
Toby Spence (tenor)
Freya Waley-Cohen (composer)

Amid lively discussion, Toby and David will also perform a little of Beethoven’s music and together they will reflect on Beethoven’s enduring spell over musicians and audiences to this day. The audience at home can join the discussion live and contribute their own questions to the panel.

‘Beethoven Matters’ will be available live (and for streaming any time after that) on Garsington Opera's YouTube channel , where it’s possible to subscribe to discover all of Garsington Opera’s digital offerings.

Posted by claire_s at 2:16 AM

May 18, 2020

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

“Such was the level of intricate detail of Howells’s counterpoint”, noted Willcocks, “that he was like a medieval stonemason carving high in a cathedral, knowing that his details would be perceptible only to the composer.” This new edition by Paul Spicer and David Hill, recorded by Hyperion using modern sound technology, reveals those details in their full intricate glory.

In Missa Sabrinensis, Howells adapts the Mass format to celebrate the River Severn (in Latin, “Sabrina”) and by extension its role in British history, and specifically its connections to British music. The 1954 premiere of Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis was paired with Vaughan Williams’ Hodie, dedicated to Howells in his maturity. By extension, the Mass also celebrates the Gloucestershire landscape and its personal significance for Howells and Ivor Gurney, with whom he would go walking in the surrounding countryside.

Nonetheless, Howells breaks away significantly from conventional choral tradition in the sophistication of this Mass. As Jonathan Clinch writes in his notes “the Mass can be heard as more of a choral symphony, in which he gradually builds up significant blocks of sound, using the soloists, chorus and orchestra as contrapuntal forces. This is the main reason that the work was considered so difficult, as the orchestra was not there to support the chorus in the traditional manner, but rather to build more and more lines of polyphony. The river metaphor is appropriate as Howells writes such long lines, which are subsumed into the overall mass of sound, surging forward through the first four movements and gradually dispersing in the final two; thus, despite the complexity and number of Howells’ parts, it is the overall symphonic arch that dominates.”

The surging lines of the Kyrie with their complex melismata suggest vast horizons, such as the flow of a mighty river, or plainchant under the vaulting of a cathedral. Soprano (Helena Dix) and tenor (Benjamin Hulett) function as an extension of the chorus. Their lines undulate, creating dense textural patterns, as if the search for faith were greater than the need for simple resolution, the final movements ending in diminuendo. Though Clinch identifies elements of Debussy and Ravel in this Kyrie, as well as Parry and Vaughan Williams, the synthesis is distinctively Howells’, closer to the spirit of Howells’ English Mass, from the following year, 1955. (Please read more here) In the Gloria, Clinch notes “ecstatic fanfares and constant dotted rhythms... creating a texture teeming with life, reinforced with bright high brass and percussion.”. Again, the image of a great river, fertile and fertilizing, while the underlying flow remains strong and unhurried.

Of the Credo, Howells wrote “this movement is begun in full cry, chorally and orchestrally, using a theme that will return at all cardinal moments…At ‘in Spiritum Sanctum’ the theme of ‘Qui sedes’ and that of ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Agnus Dei’ are quoted. Thereafter the movement’s climax is reached through the style of opposed diatonic chords (‘et apostolicam Ecclesiam’), recapitulation (‘Confiteor’) and coda (‘Et vitam venturi saeculi’).”. This Credo is a statement of hope and faith: all four soloists (Dix, Hulett, Christine Rice and Roderick Williams) join in, their voices reflected by their counterparts in the choir. For a moment, the soloists sing with relatively little accompaniment, but on “et resurrexit tertia die secundum scripturas” all voices combine. Here, too, the orchestra (the BBC Concert Orchestra) comes to the fore, in glorious finale.

Howell’s Sanctus begins with reference to Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, which he regularly cited in his teaching at the Royal College of Music. The Symphony of Psalms is a hybrid, its texts drawn from Psalms 38, 39 and 150, blending the form of ritual religious music to orchestral style, at once ancient and modern, with the unmistakable austerity that would mark Stravinsky’s later style. Huge blocks of sound, hewn as if from a rockface, yet moving forward with slow but monumental pace. There are connections between the two works. Howells creates a wall of sound, building up dense, complex textures culminating in an outburst where the organ leads voices and orchestra. textures building up in density: “Osanna in excelsis” before yet another return to pregnant stillness, from which the Benedictus emerges. The voice parts here are spare, resembling plainchant, enhancing the purity of the text, creating luminous contrast with what has gone before.

In the Agnus Dei, Howells reiterates themes from the Kyrie, emphasizing the cyclic symphonic structure of this Mass. It is as if Howells were looking back while at the same venturing forward to new musical territory. It reminds us of the tragedy that generated the Hymnus Paradisi, as if the offering up of the life of Michael Howells, so many years previously, had made the tenderness and resolution of this conclusion possible. Howell’s Missa Sabrinesis is a masterpiece, its true genius revealed in this exceptionally sensitive performance, recorded so lucidly that it defies its reputation for being difficult to perform. This is essential listening for anyone into Howells and the true greatness of his work.

This recording pairs the Mass with Michael, written one morning when Howells was having breakfast with his son. It is a joyous hymn tune employing youthful voices, highlighting the simple joys of life. The brass fanfares might evoke adventure, hope, and promises that tragically, would never come to pass.

Anne Ozorio

image= image_description=Hyperion CDA68294 product=yes product_title=Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis & Michael Fanfare product_by=The Bach Choir, BBC Concert Orchestra, David Hill (conductor) product_id=Hyperion CDA68294 [CD] price=$19.98 product_url=
Posted by iconoclast at 1:13 PM

Baritone Roderick Williams performs a Saturday night concert live on Facebook

With new video content every day, At Home with LMP is the London Mozart Players’ response to the circumstances of lockdown. The players of the orchestra and star guests have joined forces to produce interviews, live recitals, premieres of new music and family fun. The project’s success is not only bringing the LMP’s music to new audiences of all ages, but also deepening the orchestra’s connection with existing friends and keeping the players working and creating together.

One of the most popular strains of At Home with LMP is the weekly Saturday Session. Visit the LMP’s Facebook page on a Saturday night at 7 o’clock and you’ll tune into a half-hour of music broadcast live from the players’ homes. So far the Sessions have given a platform to such artists as violinist Ruth Rogers and guitarist Craig Ogden, and they have shone a spotlight on the brilliant and rich solo repertoires of orchestral instruments in performances by harpist Rosanna Rolton, flute player Michael Cox and violist Bryony Gibson-Cornish. Most recently, pianist Melvyn Tan transformed his living room into a recital hall for a recital of Debussy, Beethoven and Granados’ poetic fantasy ‘The maiden and the nightingale’, showing up-close how he has earned a reputation as one of the industry’s most imaginative players.

Roderick Williams and Lynn Arnold’s recital, which broadcasts at 7pm on Saturday 30 May, will only be available to view during the livestream itself. So tune in on the dot or you’ll miss their concert programme celebrating great music written on British soil: George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, composed shortly after World War I, and Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, based on poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. Rather than the high seas, their settings are the roads and byways of England, and Stevenson’s idea that ‘The world is a highway-side’ takes on new meaning at a time when we can’t stray far from our homes.

Roderick says: “One of the most frustrating things about lockdown for a collaborative musician is not being able to make music with anyone else. I feel this very deeply as a singer. So, the relief of being able to perform something with (but not too near) Lynn Arnold was quite profound. I am a singer and I want to sing. If I don’t sing … then what am I?”

At Home with LMP continues into June with more exclusive performances, a player-to-player interview with violinist and passionate advocate of music education Nicola Benedetti, and Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf narrated by an extra-special surprise guest. The orchestra will use their momentum to continue developing an online offer, presenting high-quality music with personality and player-led artistic direction, and to engage groups in the community less able to access classical music.

London Mozart Players’ 7 o’clock Saturday Sessions continue with performances by pianist Melvyn Tan (Sat 16 May), coloratura soprano Christina Johnson (Sat 23 May), and baritone Roderick Williams (Sat 30 May).

At Home with LMP :
LMP on YouTube:

image= image_description= product=yes product_title= product_by= product_id=Above: Roderick Williams

Photo credit: Benjamin Ealovega
Posted by claire_s at 10:52 AM

May 17, 2020

Live Music Returns to Wigmore Hall in New Broadcast Series

Artists involved include Imogen Cooper, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies, Benjamin Grosvenor, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Michael Collins, Paul Lewis, Mark Padmore, Mitsuko Uchida and Roderick Williams . The concert series is being produced in adherence to the latest government Coronavirus advice.

Artistic Director John Gilhooly said:

“We are very grateful to our wonderful colleagues at BBC Radio 3 for collaborating with us on this project, as well as the private donor whose magnificent lead gift has made the series possible, helping us to match the BBC’s contribution. Through these concerts we will bring great live music from our acclaimed acoustic to every corner of the nation and overseas.

“I hope this project will also provide a glimmer of light for the entire industry, administrators and musicians alike. Arts and culture contribute £8.5 billion to the UK economy, and this complex industry will need to be rebuilt with public and government support, in due course. It is still unclear exactly when we will be able to open our doors to the public again, and although we remain cautiously optimistic about the future, we can only react to events as they unfold.

“My aim is gradually to present a larger number of musicians in a similar future broadcast series, possibly incorporating some of the already advertised autumn programme, either on our website or with broadcasting partners, as restrictions are loosened. Until then, I hope that the concerts in June give a morale boost to live music making.”

This series of 20 newly programmed, one-hour concerts will take place at 1:00PM every weekday, beginning on Monday 1 June. Click here for a preview of what’s in store.

Posted by claire_s at 10:34 AM

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

He convinced his captors to allow him to sing one last time, put on his minstrels’ finery, took his cithara and placed himself on the ship’s prow. Invoking the gods in inspired song, he beguiled both the sailors and the creatures of the sea. He cast himself into the churning waters, whereupon he was rescued by a dolphin who bore him through the Aegean waters safely to the shore.

Natalya Romaniw’s ‘journey’ on this, her first, recording is similarly magical and inspired. Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul takes the listener through songs by two generations of Slavic composers, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov representing Russia, and Dvořák, Janáček and Novák supplying a Czechoslovakian complement. This idiom is one in which the Welsh soprano excels. In 2016 she followed an acclaimed performance as Lisa in The Queen of Spades at Investec Opera Holland Park in June with a stunning interpretation of the role of Tatiana in Garsington Opera’s production of Eugene Onegin in August. Since then we have enjoyed her Jenůfa at Grange Park Opera (2017), and both Iolanta at OHP and a brilliant Mařenka in The Bartered Bride at Garsington last summer. She was to return to the latter festival this year, making her role debut as the eponymous water sprite in Dvořák’s Rusalka, a production which has now sadly fallen victim to the worldwide closure of opera houses and festivals - as did the run of Madama Butterfly at English National Opera where her performance as Cio-Cio-San was highly praised.

But, for those deprived of the pleasure of hearing Romaniw sing live this summer this disc, on the Orchid Classics label, is fine recompense. As she explained when we met in 2017 , her earliest musical memories are of her Ukrainian grandfather, to whom she owes her surname, teaching himself to play the accordion and entertaining his granddaughter with Ukrainian songs. That music must have sunk deep into her spirit for, accompanied by pianist Lada Valešová, she sings the songs on this disc with a persuasive understanding of the inextricable union of the musical phrasing and the rhythm and sound of the language, demonstrating an impressive mastery of the Russian and Czech texts.

The disc begins with three songs by Rimsky-Korsakov. ‘Softly the soul flew up to heaven’ packs much and varied emotion into its three minutes; Romaniw’s soprano ripples with colour and the crafting of the song’s ‘drama’ shows considerable discernment. ‘The nymph’, with its spacious accompaniment and sparkling flourishes, is beguilingly tender, the final vocal phrase impressively sustained and shaped. Tchaikovsky is also represented by a trio of songs. Romaniw is untroubled by the low-lying register of ‘Gentle stars were shining upon us’. ‘Can it be day?’ is operatic in stature, commencing with an eloquent and free piano introduction and culminating in a tumultuous postlude. There is persuasive momentum, but the text is never sacrificed to the rhythm. ‘Why?’ begins in gentler fashion but grows in intensity; Romaniw’s final question, “Oh, tell me why, having left me/ You’ve forgotten me so soon?”, is wonderfully controlled and leaves Valešová to offer the answers in a consoling piano postlude.

In between the Russian songs lie Dvořák’s Op.83 Love Songs. Romaniw really gets ‘inside’ these eight songs singing with great character and feeling. The sombre reflections of ‘So many a heart is as though dead’ sink low with terrific emotional intensity, but Romaniw lightens and relaxes for the final phrase, when the heart that was dead “transforms itself into a paradise/ and sings the old tale”. The renditions of the simple folk-like ‘Around the house now I stagger’ and the more complex art-song ‘I know, with sweet hope’ are characteristic of Romaniw’s and Valešová’s careful attention to detail and their well-measured judgement: there’s not a musical, textual or dynamic nuance that has not been thoughtfully considered or is not precisely and convincingly executed. Tenderness characterises ‘Over the landscape a light slumber reigns’ while the moods of ‘In the woods by the stream’ are more diverse and turbulent. The large leaps in the vocal line of ‘In that sweet power of your eyes’ are executed with astonishing accuracy and cleanness, conveying the tension between life and death, denial and fulfilment in the poetic text. The final song, ‘O dear, matchless soul’, is magical: a masterclass in refined art-song interpretation and performance.

The second half of the disc presents songs by the following generation of Slavic composers, for although Janáček was born not long after Dvořák and Smetana, he did not find his own musical voice until the latter decades of his life. While working as a teacher at the Old Brno Gymnasium, Janáček was invited by his colleague and fellow composer, Frantisek Bartoš, on a song-collecting expedition in Moravia. Married life was difficult, his son had succumbed to scarlet fever, and Janáček must have welcomed the distraction from such strife and the opportunity to return to the land of his childhood. He and Bartoš noted hundreds of songs (they inspired Janáček ‘speech-melody’ theories) and published a huge collection of 2057 songs and dances between 1899-1901. A series of folksong arrangements followed, including Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs in 1908, from which the four songs presented here are drawn.

The songs are brief and the piano textures sparse. In ‘Love’, Romaniw sings with a lovely frankness and clarity. ‘Constancy’, with its rapid chord repetitions, dancing syncopations and right-hand melodic flourishes has propulsive urgency, finishing with a piano ‘stamp of the foot’, as the young lovers vow never to let their parents drive them apart. Valešová enjoys the playfulness of ‘Musicians’ and shows great artistry in ‘Rosemary’ as the piano curls in and around the voice. In the latter, Romaniw builds skilfully through the brief strophic stanzas conveying the suppressed passion felt by the young girl who pleads with the lad who visits to ask her parents for her hand in marriage.

In the first of the Rachmaninov songs, ‘Oh never sing to me again’, there is a lovely rubato in the melody of piano introduction, conveying a wistful sadness, but the song grows in intensity towards the climactic image of the ‘maiden far away’, and Romaniw sings with full-throated relish before subsiding with absolute control of the dynamics and phrasing. Her rhythmic precision and the focus of phrase beginnings and endings is impressive too. I feel that the simplicity of the pentatonic modality of ‘The Harvest of Sorrow’ doesn’t quite come across; in a rare misjudgement, both Romaniw and Valešová seek a little too much emotional intensity. ‘How fair this spot’ is wonderfully gentle, though, and if Romaniw doesn’t essay a floating pianissimo for the top B that commences the final phrase, “And you, my dream”, then the clarity and shine of her high soprano conveys a fitting rapture. ‘Spring Waters’ ripples with feeling and the vocal ascents are tremendously centred, while the title song, ‘Arion’, draws fine story-telling from both performers.

The real revelation for me is the music of Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949), whose early Op.8 songs, The Fairytale of the Heart (1896), conclude the disc. Like his contemporary Josef Suk, Novák studied with Dvořák at the Prague Conservatory; subsequently, he would strike out on his own path, influenced particularly by both musical impressionism and his interest in Moravian folk song. While these songs do exhibit the influence of his teacher there is also evidence of a distinctive harmonic voice. Inspired by his platonic love for one Josefa Javůrková, during a period when he visited Moravia, they strike a melancholy tone.

One of Romaniw’s real strengths in these songs is the fullness and security of her middle voice, for many lie mainly in this register or below. She captures the weight of yearning felt by the poet-speaker who sings, “How very long life feels when lived only in longing”, at the end of ‘Melancholy song’ and pronounces the text clearly while retaining the legato of the simple melodic line. Her breath control is superb, though occasionally I’d have liked less vibrato when the vocal line rises as I feel that the song, since the mood is so focused, requires an even colour. ‘Is it not a dream?’ is alone in venturing more consistently above the stave and Romaniw’s shifts of register are brilliantly managed, as is the tempo which pushes forward, propelled by the piano’s rising arpeggio accompaniment - when the poet-speaker reflects on the embraces, kisses and beating hearts shared with a loved one during a past encounter - then becomes more flexible in the third stanza, the accompaniment now more transparent, with the resignation, “everything has passed now with merciless time”. Valešová uses the chromatic nuances in the piano’s afterword here to communicate the bittersweetness of reliving such memories. At the close, Romaniw’s unaccompanied repetition, “Was it not a dream?”, diminishes with beautiful gradation.

‘Autumn mood’ is more stormy and its restlessness is not resolved at the terse close. In ‘When the day ends’, the clearness of Romaniw’s legato line is complemented by the dark weight of the piano’s chordal descents, perfectly evoking the poem’s oscillations between passion and pain. The third song, ‘Evening’, is, for me, the most beautiful. Low, caressing piano chords establish a tranquility which is sustained throughout. Romaniw employs a more gentle vibrato here, which establishes a wonderful sense of peace and calm, and which makes the expansion that comes with the final avowal, “I bring in these tiniest of flowers,/ The greatest depths of my love”, even more compelling. Breathing, dynamics and colour are all superbly controlled. Despite the prevailing melancholy tint, listening to this song, indeed the whole disc, one might almost believe - during these troubling times - that all is right with the world.

Claire Seymour image= image_description=Orchid Classics 100131 product=yes product_title=Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul product_by=Natalya Romaniw (soprano), Lada Valešová (piano) product_id=ORC100131 [CD] price=$16.99 product_url=
Posted by claire_s at 10:10 AM

May 11, 2020

General Director Robert K. Meya Announces the Cancellation of the Santa Fe Opera's 2020 Season Due to Covid-19

Throughout our deliberations, we have maintained close contact with our elected officials and we extend our deepest thanks to the Governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, for her leadership in guiding our state through this pandemic.

I am at a loss to describe the disappointment that I myself and all my colleagues feel today. I know that we are joined by the many singers, artisans and musicians who have been tirelessly preparing to bring our 2020 Season to life when I say that our greatest regret is not being able to share in the creative process with you, our beloved patrons.

Since the early days of the outbreak, we have remained steadfast in our optimism and explored every possible contingency scenario for realizing a 2020 Season - including how to test and quarantine, limiting theater capacity and conducting wellness checks. We remained hopeful that we could somehow prevail and be able to perform this summer.

Each year at this time, we begin to welcome over 600 additional staff members in preparation for our summer performances. Many of them now face an extremely difficult and uncertain future. It is with their welfare in mind that I announce our commitment to providing a level of compensation to all artists, musicians, artisans and seasonal staff who were engaged for the 2020 Season.

But, we can only do so with your help. I ask you to please support this commitment by donating the value of your tickets back to the Santa Fe Opera. With over $5 million in tickets already sold for the 2020 Season, this represents the single greatest financial challenge we currently face as well as the greatest opportunity for you to help during this time of unprecedented need.

I am pleased to announce that a group of generous friends have collectively offered to match all donated tickets dollar-for-dollar - up to $3 million. Your tax-deductible donation will have double the impact and will provide the Santa Fe Opera with a bridge over these dark and turbulent times.

You will also receive recognition and benefits for the value of your gift during our 2021 Season. We will be contacting all ticket buyers with options in the next 24 hours and we thank you for your kind consideration of this urgent and critical request.

Once we have surmounted the immediate challenges involved in the cancellation of our season, we will be in touch to discuss plans for our 2021 Season, which will include the world premiere of The Lord of Cries by John Corigliano and Mark Adamo.

Brighter days will soon be on the horizon, and there is no greater view than from a seat at the Santa Fe Opera.


product_title=General Director Robert K. Meya Announces the Cancellation of the Santa Fe Opera's 2020 Season Due to Covid-19

Posted by Gary at 5:55 PM

May 6, 2020

Glyndebourne: full closure of the 2020 Festival and the opening of Glyndebourne Open House

A Glyndebourne Emergency COVID-19 Appeal has been launched to help the artists and seasonal staff - two thirds of Glyndebourne’s workforce - who face a devastating loss of income from this closure, and to help ensure Glyndebourne’s in the future. Full details about this appeal and ticket refunds can be found on

Determined to share music this summer, Glyndebourne has announced that their first ever virtual festival, Glyndebourne Open House, will open on Sunday 24 May.  This will bring the Glyndebourne Festival experience direct to people’s homes by streaming a full-length opera, for free, on Glyndebourne’s YouTube channel at 5pm every Sunday, and helping the public to recreate an afternoon at the Festival in their own homes.

Glyndebourne Open House will commence with Michael Grandage’s much-loved production of The Marriage of Figaro.  The second two weeks will see Glyndebourne team up with Classic FM, the UK’s most popular classical music station, which will stream Nicholas Hytner’s Cosi fan tutte and our acclaimed Don Giovanni, directed by Jonathan Kent, from their Facebook page alongside our YouTube broadcasts.  In keeping with the Festival experience, Glyndebourne’s caterers Restaurant Associates will be holding a live “Glyndebourne Open House picnic” cookery demo on Saturday 23 May and although there is no dress code, viewers are encouraged to step away from their day-to-day lockdown lives, dig into their wardrobes and dust off their best outfit, to recreate the Glyndebourne Festival for themselves at home.

Stephen Langridge, Glyndebourne’s Artistic Director, says: “We remain determined to share world-class opera with the public this summer; so, while the pandemic has forced us to abandon our beautiful theatre for now, I am delighted to be able to announce Glyndebourne Open House, beaming great music and theatre direct to people’s homes. For Glyndebourne itself, however, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be devastating. As a privately funded charity that receives no public subsidy for the Festival, we are reliant on Box Office income. For our artists and seasonal staff, this means the loss of their livelihoods. Your donations will help us to support them and ensure Glyndebourne’s future for everyone.”

Robin Ticciati, Glyndebourne's Music Director, says: “While it is heart-breaking not being able to perform live for our audiences this summer, I have such hope for what we will all feel as a community when we emerge from this troubled time. The need for live music and opera will surely burn ever brighter.”

Posted by claire_s at 6:56 AM

Garsington Opera: Music for the Eyes

It will be premiered at 6pm every Wednesday in May on Garsington Opera’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. The first 30-minute episode appears this Wednesday 6 May. Each week a panel of experts led by Johnny Langridge and Imogen Tedbury will take an operatic theme and explore its context within visual art, literature and more.

The first episode is centred around Le nozze di Figaro and features director John Cox, conductor Douglas Boyd (Garsington Opera’s Artistic Director) and Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth (18th Century Curator at V&A).

Future guests will be announced weekly.

‘A gentle walk through the arts in their broadest sense, focusing each week on an operatic theme and taking time with leading experts to look at its context within visual art, literature and more.

A collaboration between Garsington Opera and Dr Imogen Tedbury (Curatorial Fellow, National Gallery of London), we aim to draw unexpected and playful connections between arts, taking a wider view of particular historic moments through culture.

By looking at opera and art side by side we can discover unexpected points of connection that can bring solace through reflection in our current situation.’

Johnny Langridge, Director of Communications, Garsington Opera

Garsington Opera at Home General enquiries 01865 361636

Posted by claire_s at 6:39 AM

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

A notorious libertine, in 1677 Stradella eloped with Agnese Van Uffele, the mistress of the Venetian Senator Alvice Contarini, to Turin where he was pursued and attacked by two henchmen in Contarini’s service.  Stradella recovered from his five sword wounds and continued to enjoy a dazzling career, but five years later he was murdered in Genoa, at the age of 42.  His assassin is unknown but, in Grove, Carolyn Gianturco suggests that his murder may have been instigated by one Giovanni Battista Lomellino who became jealous when he realised that an actress whom he had helped when she had been impregnated and abandoned, preferred to bestow her favours on Stradella rather than himself.

Stradella composed over three hundred works in a variety of genres, but it is his oratorios that are most well-known, especially La Susanna and San Giovanni Battista.  The latter was first performed in Rome on Palm Sunday in 1675, with performers reputedly including composer-violinist Arcangelo Corelli as well as eminent composer-musicians such as Pasquini, Lonati, Colista and  Stradella himself.  At that time, opera, which was flourishing in the public theatres of other Italian cities, was in Rome banned by the papacy, and thus confined to the private homes of the city’s aristocrats.  However, as this dynamic new recording of San Giovanni Battista by early-music ensemble Le Banquet Céleste, under the direction of its founder, Damien Guillon, confirms, there is an unusual and exciting dialectic between the sacred and the secular in Stradella’s Roman oratorios. 

The libretto by Sicilian priest Ansaldo Ansaldi draws upon the New Testament gospel according to Mark, occasionally quoting the biblical text, and presents the story of the confrontation between John the Baptist and Herod, as the former tries to persuade Herod to renounce his dissolute life with Herodias and her daughter Salome.  Ansaldi does not make use of a ‘narrator’ and instead concentrates on the direct exchanges between the two men.  The unfolding drama is tautly conceived: in Part One, following a sinfonia, John leaves the countryside and travels to Herod’s court, interrupting the festivities which are underway to celebrate the King’s birthday with a public demand that Herod give up his brother’s wife.  The enraged King has John the Baptist imprisoned and in Part Two the events leading up to his death ensue.  There is no dance by means of which Salome bewitches Herod: instead, she enchants through song.  Having ‘triumphed’, she joins Herod in a closing duet which opposes her exultation with his shame and despair.

Stradella packs much variety into the oratorio’s 80 minutes.  There are more than 40 arias, recitatives, duets and choruses, and these are accompanied by ever-changing combinations of instruments.  A concertino group, here comprising two violins and continuo (lute, cello, harpsichord and organ), is complemented by a concerto grosso of four violins, two violas, cello, double bass and lute.  There is a fluidity and freedom of style and timbre as the instrumental combinations are re-grouped.  The arias are mostly through-composed and the vocal idiom is flexible, with recitatives being especially melodious and ‘arioso’-like.  Throughout there is an incisiveness about the rhythm with creates a compelling and often tense energy, while the harmony throws up occasional surprises.  Sometimes the twists and turns – as when the Chorus of Disciples question John why he is travelling to Herod’s court where “only deceit and deception reign” and “words of truth are never heard” – we seem to hear the twists and turns of Monteverdi’s madrigalian rhetoric.

Even within numbers, one is constantly kept on one’s toes.  The opening Sinfonia, barely two minutes in length, begins with a confident, lively statement, then moves through dolorous suspensions and affective syncopations in a minor key, and finished with a brief boisterous gigue.  Le Banquet Céleste here and throughout balance bite with buoyancy.  The sound is bright and very ‘present’, perhaps a little too resonant at times, but it is as invigorating as Stradella’s own contrasts of tempo and mood.

Countertenor Paul-Antoine Benos-Djian establishes Giovanni Battista’s intensity and sincerity in the very first recitative, ‘Amiche selve, addio’, as he bids farewell to the woods that have kept him safe and provided tranquillity.  It’s a lovely liquidy voice, which flows with a fine sense of line through the succeeding short aria, ‘Deste un tempo a me ricetto’.  In these opening alternations between John the Baptist, the Choir of Disciples and a single Disciple (tenor Thibault Givaja), as John determines to travel to Herod’s palace to fulfil his mission, there is a tremendous sense of energy and anticipation, aided by Benos-Djian’s divisions which are tremendously precise and impassioned.   

When he arrives at Herod’s palace, a ferocious organ marks his presence; when he is condemned to prison, there is an emotive simplicity which is wonderfully communicative: “If you are the welcome token of death, bitter chains, I kiss you a thousand times.” Again, here Stradella slips through some chromatic loops which both pain and beguile.  One of the highpoints of expressive intensity is John’s aria, ‘Io per me non cangerei’, in which he welcomes the torments to come if that means others are spared: Benos-Djian shapes the chromatic droops beautifully, resolving phrases with gracious trills.  Here, the continuo sound is wonderfully rich and the lute eloquent in dialogue with the strings.  It’s the only da capo aria and the repetition of the opening section is particularly welcome.

Soprano Alicia Amo is terrific as Salome (Herodiade la figlia).  ‘Volin pure lontano dal sen’, in which she encourages Herod to put his cares aside, is sung with a lovely pure tone and seemingly guileless poise, but nevertheless conveys dangerous passion and desire as Amo communicates Salome’s underlying fervour and agitation.

Subsequently, Salome’s aria ‘Sorde dive’ is introduced with some heart-twistingly plangent contrapuntal string entries before the voice enters with a Handelian simplicity which is bitter-sweet: the way the instruments echo the voice, thereby dangerously multiplying her duplicity, is a Stradellian masterstroke.  Salome’s appeal to the “uncaring goddesses” closes with an astonishing chromatic twist which erupts in a virtuosic display of pique.  Here, too, there is superb control of dynamics, tempo and structure by Guillon.

Amo conveys Salome’s confidence and self-assurance in the opening aria of Part 2, ‘Vaghe ninfe del Giordano’ and the dialogue between voice, strings and lute is full of energy.  In Part 2 the relationship between Herod and Salome comes to the fore, and it’s grippingly intense as she becomes unrelenting in her demands for the head of the Baptist. “Why do you delay in comforting the hope of this anguished heart?” (‘Deh, che più tardi’) she presses: Amo’s dramatic power is evident in the subtle ‘leans’ and coloristic and dynamic variation, culminating in an astonishing virtuosic display which sinks to a burning chest voice.  No wonder Herod cannot not resist the seductive musical rhetoric of the ensuing ‘Queste lagrime, e sospiri’.  Salome sighs and yearns but Amo makes as aware, too, of her self-confidence: just as the harmony slips and slides, evading musical conventions, so Salome will not conform, Amo’s brilliantly articulated ornamentations confirming her dominance.  The closing tierce de Picardie somehow manages to sound both self-satisfied and meek.  This is a stunning ‘performance’ of the art of persuasion.

Olivier Dejean uses his authoritative bass to communicate Herod’s passion, anger and his inner conflict.  From the first he is both a king and a ‘man’.  In ‘Tuonerà tra mille turbini’ he furiously rejects John’s demands, in clean, finely chiselled passagework which descends to low, dark vocal realms.  Dejean executes the rapid and highly unpredictable runs and spirals with astonishing accuracy and agility.    

As Herod’s Councillor, tenor Artavazd Sargsyan, is earnest and direct in delivery, and his first full aria is accompanied by some thumping stepwise stamps in the bass, as he issues an urgent and forthright appeal to Herod not to err.  In the minor role of Salome’s mother, Herodiade, Gaia Petrone sings with a lovely shine to her mezzo-soprano.  Her single aria, ‘Figlia, se un gran tesoro’, is vigorous, clear and excellently projected– it’s ironic that such vocal sumptuousness is being employed to urge her daughter to beg Herod for the Baptist’s head.

The florid duet for Herod and Salome which ends Part 1 is balanced by a very different dialogue between the pair in the oratorio’s closing moments.  First, Salome exults in her triumph (‘Sù, coronatemi’) and again Amo’s virtuosity astounds: but, there is a self-destructiveness in her elaborate self-glorification.  Herod, by contrast, is alarmed by the Baptist’s distant voice (Chi nel comun gioire mi’) and, recognising his sin, sings of his repentance.  Dejean plummets to seemingly impossible depths, vocally embodying Herod’s dejection and despair.  The higher she rises, the lower he plunges.  Then, Stradella brings the two voices together: their melodies entwine but their words oppose, her rejoicing juxtaposed with his torment.  The contradiction is intensely dramatic but when the voices finally do unite melodically, there is no ‘resolution’: “E perché, dimmi, e perché?”, they sing, “And why, tell me, why?”

We can understand Herod’s lamentation, but why does Salome who has just sung of her blissful happiness, question its origin?  And, to whom are they speaking?  The audience?  God?  In the final line of the oratorio, Ansaldi has introduced ambiguity and uncertainty in ways which raise ethical issues that complicate the ‘moral’ of the biblical text.  Stradella grasps the opportunity his librettist has given him: the duet lasts barely two minutes and ends unexpectedly, Herod’s final “e perché?” cadencing on a quarter note on the first beat of the last bar.  Then, silence.  There are certainly no musical answers as Stradella leaves the protagonists’ questions floating in the air. Music and drama do not conclude, they simply cease.

Le Banquet Céleste communicate the conflicts – musical, ethical, theatrical – of Stradella’s San Giovanni Basttista – with tremendous insight and expressive skill.  Stradella’s irrepressible defiance of convention, in art as in life, both surprises and delights.

Claire Seymour

image= image_description=ALPHA 579 product=yes product_title=Alessandro Stradella: San Giovanni Battista product_by=Le Banquet Céleste: Damien Guillon (harpsichord/ conductor), Paul-Antoine Benos-Djian (countertenor), Alicia Amo (soprano), Olivier Dejean (bass), Gaia Petrone (mezzo-soprano), Artavazd Sargsyan (tenor), Thibault Givaja (tenor) product_id=ALPHA 579 [CD] price= $18.83 product_url=
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