August 31, 2020

Glyndebourne announces first indoor performances since lockdown, and unveils 2021 Festival repertoire

The events are in place of the company's annual autumn tour which was due to start at Glyndebourne on 9 October and visit Canterbury, Woking, Milton Keynes, Liverpool and Norwich before returning home for Christmas concerts. The ongoing restrictions on the size and scale of indoor performances mean that it is no longer possible to present the season as planned. Instead Glyndebourne will remain in Sussex with a programme of indoor concerts and small-scale opera in front of a reduced audience.

The autumn season opens with Glyndebourne’s new production of In the Market for Love, a new version by Stephen Plaice of Jacques Offenbach’s Mesdames de la Halle. It became the first full-length opera to be performed to a live audience since lockdown when it premiered in the Glyndebourne gardens at the start of August. It will be followed by performances of a reduced, semi-staged version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute and five festive Christmas Concerts.

Stephen Langridge, Glyndebourne’s Artistic Director, said: ‘For more than 50 years the Glyndebourne Tour has been a crucial part of our artistic programme, allowing us to bring world-class opera to thousands of people around the country, and continue our commitment to talent development. We are deeply disappointed that the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from going on the road this year, but we remain determined to find ways to keep performing. We have learned many useful lessons about how to present opera in a way that’s safe for audiences and performers throughout this summer’s special and memorable run of concerts and opera in our gardens, and now we are excited to be able to apply this knowledge and welcome audiences back into our beautiful opera house for the touring equivalent of a “staycation”.’

Sarah Hopwood, Managing Director of Glyndebourne, said: ‘We’re delighted to be resuming indoor performances but as long as social distancing is in place the situation will continue to be incredibly challenging for theatres like ours whose business relies on a healthy box office. It is vital that the industry is given as much support as possible to ensure its survival through this crisis and we remain incredibly grateful to our members, donors, staff and the general public for their backing as we navigate a path to reopening the doors of the opera house.’

The autumn performances will be the first to take place inside Glyndebourne’s auditorium since lockdown. Following the cancellation of the 2020 Glyndebourne Festival, the company launched a digital festival of weekly, full-length opera broadcasts and invited everyone, everywhere to enjoy its productions for free during lockdown and throughout the summer. Between 24 May and 7 September, when the series ends, Glyndebourne Open House will have broadcast over 2,500 hours of world-class opera, attracting more than 750,000 views.

This was followed in July by the launch of a mini-festival of outdoor events in the Glyndebourne gardens, which continues until 13 September.

Glyndebourne Festival 2021

Glyndebourne has also announced the repertoire for the 2021 Glyndebourne Festival, including the company’s first ever production of Verdi’s early masterpiece Luisa Miller, a devastating tragedy fuelled by jealousy and desire.

The opera will be staged by Christof Loy, one of the most sought-after directors of his generation, who returns to Glyndebourne for the first time since 2002, working alongside conductor Enrique Mazzola and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Starring as the country girl Luisa is the award-winning Russian soprano Kristina Mkhitaryan, returning to Glyndebourne following acclaimed performances in La traviata and Rinaldo. Sharing the role of her lover Rodolfo are American tenor Charles Castronovo and Italian tenor Ivan Magri, both making Glyndebourne debuts.

Boasting some of the most striking ensembles that Verdi would ever create, the production will showcase the Glyndebourne Chorus, one of international opera's foremost ensembles.

The 2021 Glyndebourne Festival opens on 20 May with a new production of Janáček’s shatteringly powerful opera, Kát’a Kabanová, a classic of the 20th century that hasn’t been performed at Glyndebourne in nearly 20 years. It will be only the second staging of the opera in Glyndebourne’s history and is directed by Damiano Michieletto, making his Glyndebourne directorial debut.

Robin Ticciati, in his eighth season as Music Director of Glyndebourne, conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra and an impressive cast led by Czech soprano Kateřina Knĕžíková in the title role of a young woman forced to choose between love and life itself. British tenor David Butt Philip performs the role of her lover Boris, with Swedish mezzo-soprano Katarina Dalayman as her domineering mother-in-law, Kabanicha.

Robin Ticciati, Glyndebourne’s Music Director, said:Kát’a Kabanová is a gift for music theatre - a story that cuts straight to the heart of the human condition. Janáček’s twentieth-century score has the searing lyricism of Puccini and the taut rigorous intensity of Beethoven and yet he remains a voice that is totally unique in Western music. I am thrilled to embark on our new production with Damiano and explore this extraordinary work. The mixture of folk song, a huge orchestral world that summons all the sounds of nature and a harrowing tale makes this one of those perfect operas’

The third new production of the 2021 season is Rossini’s sparkling and sophisticated comedy, Il turco in Italia.

Following her critically acclaimed production of Don Pasquale, Mariame Clément returns to Glyndebourne to direct the first new production of the opera at Glyndebourne in 50 years. It will be conducted by Giancarlo Andretta, making his Glyndebourne debut.

Leading the ensemble cast as the man-eating Fiorilla is Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova, last seen at Glyndebourne in the title role of 2016’s The Cunning Little Vixen, with Italian baritone Mattia Olivieri as the poet Prosdocimo and Italian bass Andrea Mastroni as ladies’ man Selim.

Among the productions being revived next summer is Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s timeless production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, back at Glyndebourne for the first time since 2009. The production will be conducted by Robin Ticciati and unites an impressive cast that includes New Zealand tenor Simon O’Neill and Finnish soprano Miina-Liisa Värelä as the doomed lovers, Scottish mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill as Brangäne and Canadian bass-baritone John Relyea as King Marke.

The season is completed with revivals of two Mozart operas -Die Zauberflöte and Così fan tutte.

First seen at the 2019 Glyndebourne Festival, Barbe & Doucet’s bewitching, fantasy-filled production of Die Zauberflöte will be conducted by German conductor Constantin Trinks for its first revival. American tenor Paul Appleby performs the role of Tamino, with German baritone Johannes Kammler as Papageno, American bass Solomon Howard as Sarastro and Russian soprano Galina Benevich as the Queen of the Night.

A much-loved Glyndebourne classic, Nicholas Hytner’s staging of Così fan tutte finds both the charm and the darkness in Mozart’s opera. The celebrated Italian conductor Riccardo Minasi makes his Glyndebourne debut conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and an international cast of young singers that includes Swedish soprano Ida Falk Winland as Fiordiligi, American mezzo-soprano Stephanie Lauricella as Dorabella, Russian lyric tenor Alexey Neklyudov as Ferrando and British baritone Huw Montague Rendall as Guglielmo.

Glyndebourne Festival 2021 runs from 20 May - 29 August 2021. Visit

image= image_description= product=yes product_title= product_by= product_id=Above: Glyndebourne Opera House

Photo credit: Charlotte Boulton
Posted by claire_s at 10:15 AM

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

Since the 4th century, the service of Compline - also known as the Night Prayer or Prayer at the End of the Day - has, with quiet reflection, marked the ‘completion’ of the day. Those present at the service, which asks for God’s blessing and calls upon the Lord for protection through the coming night, depart in silence and return home to sleep in peace.

The latest recital in VOCES8’s Live from London festival series saw The Gesualdo Six present music associated with the Compline service and works which shared a subdued but reassuring quality of the sacred works, setting independent texts which illuminated the prevailing theme, Fading. Old and new intertwined. The earliest work, the solo chant, ‘O Ecclesia’, by Hildegard von Bingen (1098- 1179) marked the mid-point of the concert, with high tenor Joseph Wicks’ poised declaration, “O Ecclesia, your eyes are like sapphire”, seeming to focus the light that had shone from the preceding works and to shine a pathway for those compositions that would follow. The five-part motet,Te lucis ante terminum, which was included in Thomas Tallis’ Cantiones sacrae of 1575 initiated the sequence of valedictory reflections. The refined delineation of the polyphonic phrases, an unwaveringly even blend, meticulously precise intonation and an inner confidence which enabled the conversations to unfold with an almost hypnotic logic, characterised this performance of Tallis’ motet and the other Renaissance repertory presented. But, there was no sense of ‘sameness’: each work had a character and colour of its own. The ensemble’s technical artistry may seem ‘flawless’ but it is not ‘faceless’.

William Byrd’s lullaby ‘My sweet little baby’ found director Owain Park taking a singing role at the centre of the ensemble, and adding to the bass richness which resonated upwards to countertenor Guy James’ high-lying line. At times it seemed that there must be more voices than there really were: the ‘lulla’ repetitions became velvet threads tying themselves into an intricate, unravellable whole, the final cadence, like a delicate brushstroke, completing a ‘perfect’ work of art. In Media vita, by Nicolas Gombert the six voices were propelled by independent purpose, the phrases varied and vigorous. At times, the driving but controlled energy from the bass voices seemed to surge through the texture and power the higher voices; elsewhere, small groups of inner voices spilled outwards, the six lines drawing strength and invention from each other. In Luca Marenzio’s madrigal, Potrò viver io più se senza luce, the counterpoint was more relaxed and easeful, and with simple, restrained gestures Park crafted a beguiling fluency. In contrast, Illumina faciem tuam by Carlo Gesualdo strived urgently forwards, the ensemble balance sustained but the voices searching and expanding. In the final appeal - “Domine, non confundar, quoniam invocavi te.” (Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon thee) - a wonderfully idiosyncratic chromatic ‘nudge’ upwards in highest voice part lifted singers and listeners heavenwards, towards the enlightenment.

In programmes which juxtapose past and present, it’s always interesting to consider the balance between contrast, complement and cohesion. Here, after Gesualdo’s harmonic twists and turns, the harmonic layering, from the top down, at the start of Look down, O Lord, by Jonathan Seers (b.1954) followed naturally; there was enormous rhythmic power in the climbing phrases which culminated in punchy, bright chord clusters before an unwinding through chromatic arguments led to unison resolution. The spiritual resonance of Seers’ motet was strong, and the same was true of Park’s own Phos hilaron (Hail, gladdening Light) which was composed in 2017 for Trinity College Choir. It has three sections but we heard only the central ‘The song of the light’. The consonant harmonies of the ensemble, placed in a curve behind soloist James, embraced the countertenor with a warm sonic glow as his gentle melodies unfolded freely. Arvo Pärt’s Morning Star, composed for the 175th birthday of Durham University in 2007 and which sets a prayer inscribed above the tomb of St Bede in Durham Cathedral was similarly contemplative. But, there were stronger rhythmic currents, too, as the repetitions of the short phrases and pulsating ostinatos - delineating a fifth in the lower voices and reiterating “morning star” - created an ‘elasticity’ between the voices which then sprung upwards together with the arrival of “the promise of the light of life”. Consonant homophony consoled at the close, with the opening of “everlasting day”.

This Live from London programme took its title from The Gesualdo Six’s third recording, Fading, which was itself named after the second of the four Arabesques which Joanna Marsh (b.1970) composed for The King’s Singers in 2015. Fading sets a poem by the Iraqi poet Abboud al Jabiri, who likens an ageing woman to a bird shedding plumage. The shifting harmonic nuances and slowly oscillating vocal lines became musical ripples, gentle but insistent, and gradually accrued inner strength through the urgent questions about where the dove, which is turning grey, will go: “will a deaf sparrow offer her a perch to sing?” The Wind’s Warning by Alison Willis won the 21-and-over category of The Gesualdo Six’s second composition competition, and sets ‘The Wind’ - a poem which is believed to be the last written by Ivor Gurney, and which presents bleak imagery of “life’s torn tree” and a desperately swiftly moving Time, blown through “blank eternity” by a blind wind. Haunting, slightly astringent vocalisations at the start give way to a more lyrical central section and here, as the two countertenor lines entwined it was good to hear Andrew Leslie Cooper’s slightly lower, more ‘coloured’ voice in dialogue with James’ cooler purity.

There were two works for four voices, both somewhat bittersweet songs about love. In Marjal aega magada by the Estonian Veljo Tormis (1930-2017), the homophony and rhythmic regularity of the lullaby’s folk-inspired phrases should have been comforting soft breaths, but while the ebb and flow was even, the calm was destabilised by restless, unresolving harmonies. The high tessitura of Tormis’ work contrasted with the low darkness of O little rose, O dark rose by Canadian composer Gerda Blok-Wilson (b.1955). The Gesualdo ‘Four’ created a tender consonance and a plump cushion of sound, but there were deep swells within the soft folds of the latter expressing a restless passion: “Your soul a seed of fire, I am the dew that dies in you, In the flame of your desire.”

The soothing repetitions of Josef Rheinberger’s Abendlied finally extinguished the musical light: “Bide with us, for evening shadows darken, and the day will soon be over.” Dylan Thomas may have urged us to ‘rage against the dying of the light’, seeking human strength and endurance from within, but, in the works presented by The Gesualdo Six, such strength was inspired by faith and ensured by God’s protection. The recital did not so much fade as uplift: and with the image of a single candle glowing on our screens, we were taken not into darkness but towards light.

The next Live from London concert will be broadcast on 5th September, when VOCES8 will perform a programme entitled Choral Dances.

Claire Seymour

The Gesualdo Six: Fading

Owain Park (director), Guy James & Andrew Leslie Cooper (countertenors), Joseph Wicks & Josh Cooter (tenors), Michael Craddock (baritone), Sam Mitchell (bass)

Live from London, broadcast from the VOCSE8 Centre; Saturday, 29th August 2020.

image= image_description= product=yes product_title=Fading: The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park (director) at Live from London product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: The Gesualdo Six
Posted by claire_s at 8:09 AM

August 30, 2020

Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen at the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo

To date, Met Stars Live in Concert has offered performances by Jonas Kaufmann (in Polling, Bavaria), Renée Fleming (in Washington DC), and Roberto Alagna and Aleksandra Kurzak (in Èze, France). This weekend, the fourth of the twelve live concerts was given by Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen, accompanied by pianist James Baillieu, in the Oscarshall Palace in Oslo - the summer home of the King and Queen of Norway, and the venue where Davidsen performed after winning Norway’s Queen Sonja Competition in 2015, shortly before she also triumphed in that year's Operalia competition.

She began, inevitably, with Wagner: Elisabeth’s ‘Dich, teure Halle’ ( Tannhäuser), an aria which Davidsen explained, “has followed me since the beginning of my soprano career.” She described how, twelve years ago, she took some Bach cantatas to her first lesson with a new teacher: “She looked at me, and she listened, and then she gave me ‘Dich, teure Halle’ and said, ‘I believe this is where you will be in the future.’ I was in shock and at that time I’m not even sure that I knew where that aria was from.”

But, as Davidsen acknowledged, “it turned out she was right”, and it was with this role that she made her debut at Bayreuth last year. With relaxed, animated accompaniment from James Baillieu, the Norwegian soprano displayed the plushness and gleaming shine that we have come to know well during the past five years, and used her seemingly effortless vocal power to place and sustain the gentlest of pianissimos while retaining lyrical fulsomeness. While the vocal peaks were sunny, there was an occasional tightening of the tone and loss of depth lower down, and it’s quite understandable that Davidsen may have felt a little tense at the start of this recital. Elisabeth’s ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau’ had a wonderful dramatic intensity and Davidsen’s concentrated vocal power is compelling but Baillieu was called upon to guide her through an uncharacteristic minor memory lapse and the intonation wasn’t flawless.

It was a reminder of both the ‘strangeness’ of such recitals communicated to an unseen audience spread across the globe - Met Stars Live in Concert performances are directed by Gary Halvorson, the Met’s award-winning director of the company’s Live in HD cinema transmissions, and are broadcast via a control room New York City where the programme’s host soprano Christine Goerke, is situated. And, of the strain that singers and musicians have been under during the past five months, unable to make the music which is their life-breath, and to share their music-making with colleagues and listeners. In a short, filmed discussion with Queen Sonja of Norway, Davidsen spoke of the speed with which her career had taken off following her 2015 competition victories: that turning point was a fairytale. She hoped that, whereas initially she was “just going along and trying to do the best I could”, “at this point in my life I can understand what I am doing, where I am”, words that seemed all the more poignant give the subsequent distressing disruption of a dream that really had come true.

Oscarhall Palace.jpgOscarshall Palace, Oslo.

Turning to songs from her native Norway seemed to relax Davidsen. Grieg’s ‘Ved Rondane’ had an easy, gentle lilt, the stanzas unfolding in long, even breaths, delicately decorated by Baillieu’s countermelodies. ‘En Svane’ began with dulcet calm. Davidsen’s middle range was soft and silken, the slightest vibrato enrichening gently, hinting at the expansion and growing urgency of the central section in which the piano’s glistening ripples and the soprano’s climbing line were sparkling complements. ‘Våren’ had assurance and stature, though Baillieu brought it to rest with exquisite delicacy and consoling warmth. Subsequently there were two songs by Sibelius. The harp-like strumming of ‘Säf, säf, susa’ established a tender melancholy and the duo communicated the narrative persuasively, swelling to dramatic heights in the central account of Ingalill’s tragic fate. The swirling, densely coloured turbulence of ‘Var det en dröm’ followed segue. Sibelius described this as ‘my most beautiful song’ when he presented the manuscript to its dedicatee, the soprano Ida Ekman. Here it was radiantly romantic and sumptuous.

The repertoire was wide-ranging: perhaps surprisingly so - there are not many recitals that place Wagner alongside Puccini, Sibelius beside Verdi, and throw in a Britten a cabaret song and some musical theatre too. Davidsen turned next to Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera: ‘Morrò, ma prima in grazia’, in which the condemned Amelia pleads with her husband Renato to let her see her son for one last time before she dies. The sound might not be very ‘Italianate’, but the power, easy transference of register and concentrated lyricism which make Davidsen such a wonderful interpreter of Wagner served her well here, and there was a surprising fruitiness to her lower range to complement the soaring gleam at the top. Baillieu offered eloquent drama and support in ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’ from Manon Lescaut; again, the sheer size of Davidsen’s truly dramatic soprano enabled her to convey, with paradoxical ease, the terrible depth of the ailing Manon’s exhaustion and despair.

In 2018, Davidsen was highly esteemed for her performances in the Festival d’Aix’s production of Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. After portentously throbbing piano chords and a burnished vocal plunge, ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ was increasingly energised by Ariadne’s hopes and anticipation for fulfilment, denied her in life, in the land of death. Both Baillieu and Davidsen imbued the aria with a dynamism which strove towards a gleaming transfiguration. Then came Strauss’s four Op.27 songs, an opus which Davidsen never gets tired of, she explained: “It captures all aspects of life in an uncompromising, charming and beautiful way.” The slow tempo of ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’ enhanced the song’s weight and gravity, before a flood of passion was released, coursing fervently through ‘Cäcilie’. After the sensual sumptuousness of ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’, ‘Morgen’ cleansed and refreshed. Davidsen’s soprano creamily shaped the eloquent vocal lines. Who could not concur with her? “This song I feel says everything about what I am hoping for these days - a better tomorrow.”


Davidsen explained that she was keen, when asked to devise a programme for such an occasion, to include diverse voices, and so the duo’s final sequence presented cabaret, operetta, drawing-room ballad and musical theatre. Their rendition of Britten’s ‘Johnny’, one of the Four Cabaret Songs which set texts by W.H. Auden designed to evoke the spirit of 1920s Berlin, was a bit strait-laced; Hedli Anderson, for whom the songs were composed, reportedly used to perform sitting on the top of the piano, swinging her gazelle-like legs, and ‘Johnny’ needs to be more of a riot if its humour is to hit home. ‘Heia, heia, in den Bergen ist mein Heimatland’ from Emmerich Kálmán's Die Csárdásfürstin was certainly exuberant as Baillieu’s strong, agile fingers chased themselves around the accompaniment’s spinning whirls and Davidsen conjured the wild party-spirit of a Budapest café. Landon Ronald’s ‘O lovely night!’ was bursting with romance and rapture; Ernest Charles’ ‘When I have sung my songs’ was noble and sincere.

Before the final song, Davidsen invited the audience at home to join in, using social media, so that after the performance she could see the audience at home dancing and swaying in their living rooms. “I could have danced all night,” she rejoiced, luxuriantly. I bet she could have sung all night too. As Christine Goerke bid us good-night, and invited us to return in a fortnight for the next concert in the series, by Joyce DiDonato, the tele-screens behind her showed Davidsen, smiling broadly at Baillieu, sink gracefully to the floor, hugging herself with what imagines was a mixture of joy, fulfilment and exhaustion. No doubt Loewe and Lerner expressed her excitement and happiness perfectly: “Sleep, sleep I couldn't sleep tonight, Not for all the jewels in the crown.”

Tickets for each recital are $20 and can be purchased on the Met’s website at; the performances will be available for on-demand viewing for 12 days following the live event.

Upcoming concert schedule (1pm, Eastern time zone):

September 12 - Joyce DiDonato, live from (location TBD)
September 26 - Sondra Radvanovsky and Piotr Beczała, live from (location TBD)
October 10 - Anna Netrebko, live from (location TBD)
October 24 - Diana Damrau and Joseph Calleja, live from Malta (castle location TBD)
November 7 - Pretty Yende and Javier Camarena, live from Zurich, Switzerland (location TBD)
November 21 - Sonya Yoncheva, live from Berlin, Germany (location TBD)
December 12 - Bryn Terfel, live from Wales (church location TBD)
December 19 - Angel Blue, live from New York City (location TBD)

Claire Seymour

Lise Davidsen (soprano), James Baillieu (piano)

Wagner - ‘Dich, teure Halle’ (Tannhäuser), ‘Allmächt’ge Jungfrau’ (Tannhäuser); Grieg - ‘Ved Rondane’ Op.33 No.9, ‘En Svane’ Op.25 No.2, ‘Våren’ Op.33 No.2; Verdi - ‘Morrò, ma prima in grazia’ (Un ballo in maschera); Sibelius - ‘Säf, säf, susa’ Op.36, ‘Var det en dröm?’ Op.37; Strauss - ‘Es gibt ein Reich’ (Ariadne auf Naxos ), ‘Ruhe, meine Seele!’ Op.27 No.1, ‘Cäcilie’ Op.27 No.2, ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ Op.27 No.3, ‘Morgen!’ Op.27 No.4; Puccini - ‘Sola, perduta, abbandonata’ (Manon Lescaut); Britten - ‘Johnny’ (Four Cabaret Songs); Emmerich Kálmán - ‘Heia, heia, in den Bergen ist mein Heimatland’ (Die Csárdásfürstin); Landon Ronald - ‘O lovely night!’; Ernest Charles - ‘When I have sung my song to you’; Lerner and Loewe - ‘I could have danced all night’ (My Fair Lady)

Oscarshall Palace, Oslo; Saturday 29th August 2020.

image= image_description= product=yes product_title=Met Stars Live in Concert: Lise Davidsen (soprano), James Baillieu (piano), Oscarshall Palace, Oslo product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: Lise Davidsen and James Baillieu perform at the Oscarshall Palace, Oslo

All photos courtesy of The Metropolitan Opera
Posted by claire_s at 1:47 PM

August 27, 2020

Women's Voices: a sung celebration of six eloquent and confident voices

The label was founded in 1992 by composer and conductor Odaline de la Martinez. When she’s not bringing rarely heard repertoire to light as a conductor of groups such as the Lontano Ensemble and Berkeley Ensemble, de la Martinez is seeking out work neglected by the major record labels to record and promote, focusing on three main areas: 20th- and 21st-century composers, Latin American classical music and women composers of all periods.

All but one of the six composers on this disc were born in the few years following the Second World War. The exception is Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994), whose Four Shakespeare Songs were first performed by soprano Noelle Barker and pianist Wilfrid Parry in 1965. Often sung by tenors - shortly after the first performance tenor Peter Birts performed them at Cambridge University Music School accompanied by Giles Swayne; and in Maconchy’s centenary year, Philip Langridge performed them at the BBC Proms in Cadogan Hall - for this first recording, Welsh baritone Jeremy Huw Williams is the soloist.

‘Come away, death’ was in fact composed in 1956 and sets a song from Twelfth Night which Duke Orsino requests from the Fool, Feste, to fuel the misery of his unrequited love. I feel that Williams makes rather heavy weather of this faux lament in which Feste mocks his master’s self-indulgent melancholy. The setting is for the most part syllabic, the false relations do convey the instability of the human heart, and there are some pounding piano pedals which threaten to drag the lovelorn heart down to the abyss; but, surely there should be a sense of wry derision - as when the rising phrases, ‘My part of death’ and ‘My poor corpse’, climb to their over-emotive peaks, or when the paired notes setting ‘lover’ and true’ sigh and droop. The acoustic is resonant which adds to the hyperbolic dramatization. Williams takes great care over the enunciation of the text, perhaps a little too much so: why does “never find my grave”, which rhymes with “A thousand thousand sighs to save”, become “gr-ar-ve”?

JHW.jpgJeremy Huw Williams.

If ‘Come away, death’ needs either ‘more’ or ‘less’, then ‘ Take, O take those lips away’ - the brief song which a young boy sings to Marianna (in Measure for Measure) as she languishes in isolation and despair, a victim of Angelo’s callousness and hypocrisy - is more fittingly sombre and affecting. Pianist Paula Fan exploits the repetitive motifs to create a sense of anguished emotional stagnation and Huw Williams crafts the speech-like vocal line painstakingly, moving from a crooning head voice to a black lower register with smooth facility, though the wavering quiver which inflects the vocal melody tends to over-emote at times. A cavalier swagger colours the brief ‘King Stephen’, the drinking song with which Iago lures Rodrigo to disgrace; the lucidity of the piano accompaniment - high, sparse, riddled with nervy acciaccaturas - adds significantly to the discomfort such as might be experienced by a watching audience as Cassio carelessly throws away his reputation. Best of all is ‘The wind and the rain’ which would make for a jittery and aptly bittersweet end to Twelfth Night, with its spiky motor rhythms in the sparse accompaniment, and angular, repetitive vocal line.

As if to emphasise Maconchy’s ‘elder stateswoman’ status, her Shakespeare settings are followed by The Swan by her daughter, Nicola LeFanu (b.1947). This scena for baritone was written for Williams and first performed in June 2017 at the Lower Machen Festival, accompanied by Fan. It sets a medieval text - alternating English (as translated by Fleur Adcock) and Latin: the lament of a migrating swan as it faces the dangers and loneliness of a solo ocean crossing (a metaphor for the soul’s journey which LeFanu likens to the experience of all migrants seeking a safe refuge today).

It begins with a blood-curdling chord cluster, from which motifs and colours gradually find form, above which Williams introduces the narrative with a spoken line, “Hear me, my children, telling the lamentation of the winged swan who journeyed across the ocean.” Warm vocal lyricism makes the tale a compelling one and it is predominantly the piano that communicates the obstacles and anxieties which the swan must overcome. Williams persuasively negotiates the chasm between fragile and tender spoken English and rhetorically demonstrative Latin. The intensity is unwavering and the performers sustain the emotional and circumstantial drama: only with the blazing glow of Orion - which roars, rolls and resonates through the piano - does hope of a haven arrive, and a fresh purposeful enters the vocal line. There is freshness with the spoken declaration, “Now he exulted feeling himself flung amid the stars in their high familiar constellations”, and thenceforth light and vigour are more dominant, building towards the thrilling, unaccompanied melismatic conclusion, “Praise and glory to the great King … Regi magno sit Gloria.”

Hilary Tann’s Melangell Variations was also written for Jeremy Huw Williams (a co-commission with the Welsh Chamber Orchestra). Welsh-born Tann (b.1947) now lives in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in New York but it was the Shrine Church of Saint Melangell, at Pennant Melangell in the Berwyn Mountains of her native Wales that inspired the work: during a visit she purchased The Hare That Hides Within, a set of poems about St Melangell and was drawn to a set of six poems by the former Welsh poet laureate, Gwyneth Lewis. The Melangell Variations sets three of these poems, outlining the ancient history of a female hermit who sheltered a hare in her robes to save it from the hunters’ hounds. The oscillating quivers of a string quartet evoke the hare’s trembling heart and limbs, above which Williams’ firm baritone opens ‘The Story’, as told by one of the hunting party. When soprano Yunah Lee enters, her pure, shining “Veni Sancti Spiritus” seems both to well from the rescuing angel and from more celestial seraphs. Eventually the guardian’s voice winds in unaccompanied modal counterpoint with Williams’ observations, bringing predator and protector together in an uneasy, immobile truce - from which tension soon springs, culminating in a sustained ululating appeal of enormous vitality and passion, “Melangell, teach me, the hunter you coursed and caught, where to turn.”

Yunah Lee.jpgYunah Lee.

“Breathe in”, “Breathe out” implores Lee in ‘The Silence’, and as Williams evocatively describes the suspended world - “The sea sighs as she holds quite still”, “Words fall in a drop from a thorn” - a dry pizzicato ostinato holds the collective breath, the strings occasionally relaxing into brief melodic upswells. ‘A Cloud of Witnesses’ raises the emotional temperature of all the contending voices: Tann has created a musical canvas of tremendous mythic power and human expansiveness, and it receives an invigorating, exhilarating performance here.

Eleanor Alberga (b.1949) grew up in Jamaica, later winning a scholarship to study piano and singing at the Royal Academy of Music in London. The Soul’s Expression weaves together poems by George Eliot, Emily Brontë and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, bound by an intervening quotation from Adam Bede, “Let evil words die as soon as they’re spoken.” Williams, who gave the premiere of the work in 2017, appreciates the melodic lyricism and paints the poetic imagery tenderly, sensitively and with strongly defined colours. Fan complements the vocal line with delicacy, eloquence and with drama, particularly in the changeful interludes between the poems. The setting of George Eliot’s ‘Roses’ receives an especially fresh and verdant rendition.

Paula Fan.jpgPaula Fan.

The Girl by The Ocean by Barbara Jazwinski (b.1950) was composed in 2015 and is dedicated to Jeremy Huw Williams and Paula Fan. It sets texts by the composer’s daughter, Maria Jazwinski. Fan evocatively depicts the glistening of sunset-beam spray, dancing ocean droplets and winking starlight in the long piano prelude, while Williams’ baritone is first sensuous then energized, as the poet-speaker is jolted from introspective reflection by the girl’s “vivid and wild, dancing in the wind.” The vitality sinks once again into sleepy dreams which then become surreal fantasies and finally awaken into the safety of morning. This is a lovely composition which powerfully captures the spirit of the poetry the personality of the elusive but bewitching protagonist, and which is performed with musical intelligence and sensitivity.

Also commissioned by Williams, to mark the centenary of Dylan Thomas, If I touched the earth by Cecilia McDowall (b.1951) is the final female voice we hear, and it is and urgent and animated one. ‘Clown in the moon’ juxtaposes dreaminess and passion; it is melancholy, sometimes dark, but not despairing. ‘Being but men’ contrasts the reckless freedom of youth with the tentativeness which experience lends to adulthood: in this performance, there’s a thread of restlessness which cannot be quelled. Williams is forthright and confident in the final song, ‘Here in this spring’, which celebrates the natural world with blithe buoyancy and brightness.

In a 1987 essay, Master Musician: an Impregnable Taboo?, Nicola LeFanu asked, ‘If we continue to have a musical culture which draws on the creative talents of one sex, what kind of a musical perspective will we have?’ This disc confirms the uplifting breadth of vision and voice that openness, inclusivity and freedom can bring.

Claire Seymour image= image_description=LNT143 product=yes product_title=Women’s Voices product_by=Jeremy Huw Williams (baritone), Paula Fan (piano), Yunah Lee (soprano), Lauren Rustad Roth (violin), Timothy Kantor (violin), Molly Gebrian (viola), Theodore Buchholz (cello) product_id= LNT143 [71:21] price=£7.99 product_url=
Posted by claire_s at 1:23 PM

August 25, 2020

Precipice: The Grange Festival

This was a collaborative response to the global health crisis compiled by director and writer Sinéad O'Neill and designer Joanna Parker. Entitled Precipice, the assemblage of hour-long outdoor presentations drew inspiration from both the collective experiences of the pandemic and the magnificent surroundings of this rural idyll, its grounds offering natural performance spaces and a home to families of geese, rooks and hawks whose presence prompted the theme of creation and renewal.

With a strolling audience limited to sixty people (invited to sit on socially distanced boxes or stand on marked crosses), and dancers and musicians occupying fixed positions, there was a sense of private guests being shown around animated displays in a stately home. Within this ‘new normal’, performers could almost have been museum exhibits, a sign of the past which the novelist L.P. Hartley once memorably described as a ‘foreign country’. If a sense of loss was tangible, there was plenty of excitement to be gained from the shared intimacy of live entertainment.

Image 2 Precipice.JPGSophie Page Hall & Antonia Mellows (circus performers). Photo credit: Joe Low. The production’s multimedia aspect was a bold reminder of the power of live performance as a source of meaning, hope and redemption. Precipice brought together two dance groups, a pair of circus artists, a solitary cellist, a string quartet (expanding to quintet with an electronic keyboard), four soloists and a chamber choir of twelve singers strictly placed two metres apart. Artists operated independently and collaboratively and were linked by the Zimbabwean actor Tonderai Munyevu whose narrative texts, beginning with “In the beginning was the bird”, served to join each of three performance ‘stations’. The first was occupied by the sounds of a vocal aviary conjured by French-born soprano and composer Héloïse Werner, a concoction of wordless birdsong crisscrossed by amplified cries and tweets, operatic in technique and providing a suitably exotic link to Léo Delibes’s ‘Flower duet' (Lakmé), beautifully rendered by Kiandra Howarth’s jewel-like soprano and Claire Barnett-Jones’s fruity mezzo.

Next up were three movements from J.S. Bach’s Cello Suite No.3 in C, distantly executed by Tom Isaac yet projecting clearly enough despite a gradually increasing breeze blowing across the estate. There followed a 2001 recording of John Tavener’s haunting meditation The Hidden Face – for countertenor, oboe and lower strings – performed by Grange Festival Director Michael Chance and Fretwork. Its exploration of inner silence and stillness was well-judged in the context of earlier lockdown constraints, segueing neatly to the first of two dance groups.

Dancers Precipice.JPG A specially restaged version of Contagion choreographed by Shobana Jeyasingh. Catarina Carvalho, Rachel Maybank, Emily Pottage & Ruth Voon (Dancers). Photo credit: Joe Low.

Devised by leading choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, four young dancers (Catarina Carvalho, Rachel Maybank, Emily Pottage and Ruth Voon) presented a specially repurposed version of a 2018 work, Contagion – conceived to commemorate the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that ravaged one third of the world’s population and took the lives of over 50 million people. This was a moving and stylised adaption bringing together narration, contemporary music by Graham Miller and superbly coordinated ballet. Its powerful emotional effect somewhat overshadowed Sir John Tomlinson whose musings as the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg felt a little strained. Accompanied by a string group and keyboard, one largely had to imagine Richard Wagner’s richly orchestrated score and the context of a singing contest.

Precipice quartet.JPGSir John Tomlinson performing Flieder Monologue from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Photo credit: Joe Low.

Another scene change, and we relocated in front of the building’s imposing Greek-revival columns where a second group of dancers M22 directed by South African choreographer Mthuthuzeli November provided elegant movement to several choral items. Two of these belonged to Francis Poulenc’s secular cantata Figure humaine, setting surrealist poems by Paul Éluard. Composed during the height of the Second World War, Poulenc’s ambitious a cappella vocal score is a huge paean to freedom yet, despite excellent singing from The Grange Festival Chorus, ‘Aussi bas que le silence’ and ‘Riant du ciel et des planètes’ failed to achieve the impact they might have done with al fresco considerations rendering too slow a tempo and unclear diction. Lili Boulanger’s Hymne au soleil (1912) fared better in its marvellous evocation of a rising sun. New to me was the gifted American composer Caroline Shaw whose truncated Partita for 8 Voices left a deep impression.

In short, Precipice was an artfully planned and smoothly executed collaboration, demonstrating an indomitable optimism and spirited enterprise. A veritable triumph over adversity.

David Truslove

Michael Chance – artistic director. Sinéad O’Neill – director, Joanna Parker – designer, John Andrews – musical director, John Leonard – Sound Design, Shobana Jeyasingh & Mthuthuzeli November – choreographers, Tonderai Munyevu – narrator, Héloïse Werner – singer/composer, Sir John Tomlinson –bass, Kiandra Howarth – soprano, Claire Barnett-Jones – mezzo-soprano, Sophie Page Hall & Antonia Mellows – circus performers, Mark Derudder & Carol Paige – violin, Tom Beer – viola, Jesper Svedberg & Tom Isaac – cello, Tim Primrose – keyboard, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance, M22, The Grange Festival Chorus.

The Grange Festival; 22nd August 2020.

image= image_description= product=yes product_title=Precipice: The Grange Festival, 2020 product_by=A review by David Truslove product_id=Above: The Finale choreographed by Mthuthuzeli November. Tonderai Munyevu & Héloïse Werner (Narrators), Isabela Coracy, Emma Farnell-Watson, Sayaka Ichikawa, Vanessa Pang & Ebony Thomas (Dancers), Claire Barnett-Jones (Soloist), The Grange Festival Chorus

Photo credit: Joe Low
Posted by claire_s at 1:36 AM

August 24, 2020

Royal Opera House announces autumn opera and ballet concerts

These autumn performances follow from the success of #OurHouseToYourHouse - where through the spring-summer lockdown the ROH presented full-length performance streams, livestreamed socially-distanced concerts, mini-documentaries and interactive activities for children - generating more than 206 million views from 183 countries around the world.

The first of these events, The Royal Opera: Live in Concert will be broadcast live on Friday 4 September 7:30 BST. Curated by the Royal Opera House’s Director of Music, Antonio Pappano , the concert will see Aigul Akhmetshina, Charles Castronovo, Gerald Finley, Lisette Oropesa, Sonya Yoncheva, and Vito Priante take to the stage.

Performing much-loved classics of the opera repertory byBellini, Bizet, Donizetti,Dvorak, Massenet, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi - the outstanding cast will be joined by currentJette Parker Young Artists Filipe Manu andStephanie Wake-Edwards, 67 members of theOrchestra of the Royal Opera House and members of the Royal Opera Chorus performing together in person for the first time since we closed our doors to the public on 16 March.

On Friday 9 October, the second of these evenings will see The Royal Ballet return for a unique celebration as the whole Company are reunited on their home stage for the first time in seven months. The Company will perform the programme, together with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, in what promises to be a dance event not to be missed in a showcase of heritage and modern highlights from The Royal Ballet’s repertory. Further details of The Royal Ballet event and the Autumn 2020 Season will follow in the coming weeks.

· Tickets and details on how to watch can be found at

· The Royal Opera: Live in Concert is priced at £16.00 and available for 30 days.

· Please note that participating artists are subject to change due to challenging travel and quarantine restrictions.

image= image_description=The Royal Opera: Live in Concert product=yes product_title= The Royal Opera: Live in Concert product_by= product_id=Above: Rehearsals for Live from Covent Garden, 20 June 2020

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
Posted by claire_s at 11:12 AM

August 22, 2020

Rosa mystica: Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir

To distinguish this venture, Rosa Mystica: musical portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the crowds, in curating and recording the repertory presented Spicer professes to have aimed to achieve temporal, geographical and musical diversity: ‘to demonstrate something of the range of styles which have inspired composers from the 16th to the 21st centuries’ and to present a ‘truly international offering’. In fact, only two of the fourteen compositions presented date from before the 20 th century, four are by living composers, and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are entirely neglected. Six works are by composers who were born outside the UK, though several studied in London or were immersed in English liturgical traditions. However, if the ‘premise’ is a little shaky, the quality of the performances certainly is not, and there is stylistic variety which confirms the personal nature of faith, and the individual manner of expression of spiritual hope and consolation, within broadly shared theological parameters.

The earliest Marian setting that Rosa Mystica presents is Ave cujus conceptio by Nicholas Ludford (1485-1557). Ludford, who served at St Stephen’s chapel of Westminster Palace from c.1520 until the Royal Chapel was dissolved in 1547, is not one of the best-known of the Tudor polyphonists, but this large-scale prayer-motet which sets a five-verse text based on the Corporal Joys of Our Lady - her Conception, Nativity, Annunciation, Purification and Assumption - suggests that he should be. From the first stanza, the interplay of high voices is aspiring and adventurous; then the lower voices take over. There’s a palpable alertness and vivacity in this recording. The individual lines are muscular and finely sculpted; collectively, the rich web spins fecundly. The acoustic is not especially resonant, and this means that we hear vocal entries and points of imitation, as if set in relief. Yet, there is a luminosity too: the melismatic threads shine. Spicer sustains the momentum and the culminating cadences throb with fervent belief.

Spicer and his singers then leap forward more than 300 years to Bruckner’s Ave Maria of 1861. Bruckner wrote three settings of this text: the first was composed in 1856 when Bruckner was living and working at the St Florian’s monastery; the final setting was for solo low voice, in 1881. The seven-voice 1861 setting employs a modal style which reaches back to Ludford and his fellow Renaissance musicians. Spicer encourages his singers to emphasise the antiphonal nature of the setting - presumably designed to exploit the acoustic in Linz Cathedral, where Bruckner was organist from 1855 to 1868. The initial exchanges are quite gentle but the repetitions, “Jesus”, build to a fervent cry of glowing radiance, and this leads to a shimmering, soaring soundscape, “Sancta Maria”, which is carefully guided back down to earth. The concluding “Amen” diminishes confidently, its collective consolation unwaveringly confirmed.

There’s a very English focus when Spicer turns to the 20th century. Healey Willan (1880-1968) may have served as precentor at the Anglo-Catholic parish of St Mary Magdalene in Toronto from 1921-68, but he was born in England, began his musical training at eight years old at St Saviour's Choir School in Eastbourne, subsequently worked as organist and choirmaster at several churches in London, and was for ten years organist and choirmaster of St John the Baptist Church on Holland Road in London, before emigrating to Canada in 1913. ‘I beheld her, beautiful as a dove’ (1928) was the first of three motets for the Feast of Our Lady which Willan composed in 1928-29. It is a two-minute masterpiece, the purity of the unaccompanied SATB setting being enhanced by the narrow confines of the vocal lines (the soprano encompasses an octave and does not rise above e’’). Spicer makes each textual phrase a naturally exhaling breath, the triplets coursing easily and the cadences coming to comforting rest.

Benjamin Britten gives the disc its title. Rosa Mystica, one of the seven movements of A.M.D.G. (Ad majorem Dei Gloriam) which set text by Gerald Manley Hopkins, was one of the first works that Britten composed having decamped to the US in 1939. Originally intended for performance by a quartet Peter Pears planned to establish in London, named the ‘Round Table Singers’ - it remained unperformed during Britten’s lifetime. A.M.D.G. was finally heard in 1984 and published in 1989. In his Britten Choral Guide , Spicer declares: ‘These pieces are seriously demanding and each one presents new challenges. The choir that can perform the complete score successfully is confident, ambitious, has a good sense of humour, and has sopranos and tenors capable of high tessitura work. It helps too if the conductor is something of an amateur psychologist who can interpret these sometimes tortured poems in the light of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Jesuit affiliation (the title is the motto of the Jesuit order), Britten’s homosexuality and his deep attachment to his mother.’ Well, if that’s quite a lot to take on, the RBCCC are more than up to the task: there’s a dizzying ‘waltz’-feel to the pedal-point ostinato which - meditative and magical - spins the other voices in parallel thirds, questing and ever more impassioned.

If Rosa Mystica had to wait over forty years for its first performance, Sir George Dyson’s Magnificats are some of the most performed in the choral repertoire. Spicer selects the second of Dyson’s settings, written just after WW2 for Hereford Cathedral. The balance between Isabella Abbot Parker’s soprano solo and Callum Alger’s sturdy organ chords is not ideal, though the full ATB singers fare better against a sparser accompaniment. Perhaps, though, the solo voice conveys human vulnerability and the collective voices overcome doubt? Spicer’s forward-moving tempo communicates purposefulness and the concluding cadence is confirmative and certain.

The same cannot be said for Herbert Howell’s Magnificat setting of 1967, for Chichester Cathedral: there’s a fragility and unrooted-ness - the chromatic shiftings of the opening bars, the asymmetrical phrases which never seem to find their home base, the grainy vocal colours which refuse to coalesce into affirmative hues - which reflect the world issues which, as his letters and diaries attest, troubled Howells at this time: the Cuban missile crisis, proliferating nuclear weapons, the assassination of J.F. Kennedy. There is beauty, too, though, as Spicer and his singers confirm, even if it is of a haunting and troubling kind. And, as the soprano voices begin to ascend, and pedal points and a stronger bass line appear in the organ, a confidence accrues; perhaps man can, after all, overcome, transcend. The surge towards, and the uplift from, the final shining cadence is indeed stirring. Martin Dalby (1942-2018) was a Scot who studied composition with Howells at the RCM. Mater Salutaris, was commissioned by Glasgow High School and first performed 1981. The RBCCC capture the devotional wholesomeness of this simple but effective carol.

We move from British shores with Hymne à la Vierge (1954/55) by Pierre Villette (1926-98). Though he was a classmate of Pierre Boulez at the Conservatoire National Supérieure de Musique, Villette eschewed the radicalism of French modernism and instead furthered the musical language of his predecessors, Debussy, Fauré and Poulenc. Spicer communicates the fervent, even sensual, religiosity of Hymne à la Vierge, flourishing through the repeated ‘alleluias’ of the chorus, from which Imogen Russell’s second-verse soprano solo (with choral hum) offers a soothing retreat. The harmonies of the coda are surprisingly jazz-inflected, an incandescent afterglow. Similarly, after a long and somewhat heavy-footed organ preamble, Ave Maria (1993) by Swiss composer Carl Rütti (b. 1949) seems to aspire towards bluesy harmonies and irregular rhythms: I find the result ponderous, but that’s not the fault of Spicer and his singers. Norwegian Trond Kverno (b.1945) composed Ave Maris Stella in 1976. It begins with hymn-like homophony, develops into vigorous polyphony and accelerates through invigorating soundscapes: to my ears, it soars where Rütti plods and the RBCCC are fittingly light of foot, creating a breathless intensity before subsiding into the serenity of the close.

John Tavener’s prayer, Mother of God, here I stand (a short extract from the seven-hour The Veil of the Temple, 2003) is a gentle supplication, sung with soft tenderness, the voices blending warmly and lovingly. Norwegian Ola Gjeilo (b.1978) studied at the RCM in London’s and in the US at the Juilliard School. Second Eve (2012) suggests Tavener’s influence in its combination of simple homophony and rich harmonies which exploit modal resonances. It receives a beautifully lyrical and vibrantly coloured interpretation here, never ‘wallowing’, always searching and reaching forwards. The full-voiced concluding sections are thrillingly urgent and reverberant. In 2011, St Thomas the Apostle Catholic church in Los Angeles commissioned Judith Bingham (b.1952) to compose Ave Virgo Sanctissima, which sets text by Prudentius (b.348AD), sSt Ambroise (c.337-397) and an anonymous writer. The interplay of the vocal lines is lucidly defined, and the result is a rich palette of fine textures and a complex but ardent religiosity.

The disc’s final item brings together past and present. Cecilia McDowall (b.1951) composed Of a rose in 1993. It sets an anonymous 14 th-century text in lilting, springing dance-like phrases, which the RBCCC sing with an excited hush which blossoms into a dazzling “Alleluia!” The young singers make this a lovely celebratory, joyous close.

Diversity is united by theme, and by stylistic, personal and spiritual threads which connect across time and continents. This is a terrific disc which will bring much pleasure.

Claire Seymour

image= image_description=SOMMCD 0617 product=yes product_title=Rosa Mystica: portraits of the Blessed Virgin Mary in music product_by=Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir, Paul Spicer (conductor) product_id= SOMMCD 0617 [62:45] price=£11.00 product_url=
Posted by claire_s at 1:43 PM

August 19, 2020

New edition of Handel cantata: Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Historical Performance students and Junior Fellows Thomas Allery, Hannah Blumsohn, Ella Bodeker, Jens Franke, Lucy Neil and Jorge Silva worked under the direction of professors Nicholas Parle and Dionysios Kyropoulos to create a musical edition of this work, which was composed by Handel around the time of his arrival in London in 1712.

Two editions of the cantata have been produced: an Urtext edition (clean, without extra editorial suggestions, fit for use by early music specialists); and a performance edition, incorporating performance and editorial suggestions, making it accessible to anyone wishing to perform this work regardless of whether or not they have specialist historical performance training.

The Guildhall students drew upon Handel’s autograph manuscripts - digitised by the British Library and the Foundling Museum - as well as their own specialist training, working upon specific areas of the project most relevant to their own instrument or vocal studies. Included with the musical scores is a preface outlining the history of the work, in addition to a detailed analysis of the process and methods undertaken to create the edition.

Dr Christopher Suckling, Head of Historical Performance at Guildhall School, says: “When lockdown led to the cancellation of the Historical Performance department’s remaining summer performance work, other musical doors were opened. Having the time and space to play with music in the kind of depth that producing an edition requires has been transformative. The result is something unique; not just another critical edition, but an opinionated performing edition in which the students reveal the processes through which they themselves have learned. This edition is a lockdown performance - an expression of both the students’ musicianship and the dedication of the professors who have supported them through this challenging term.”

Posted by claire_s at 6:57 AM

Autumn season: free digital events at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

From late-September 2020, online audiences will be able to enjoy a mixture of live broadcast and pre-recorded content from across all School departments, created, performed and filmed at Guildhall School with the required social distancing.

Soprano Julia Bullock will be welcomed as Artist in Residence at Guildhall School for the seasons 2020-2022. Known for her versatile artistry and probing intellect, Bullock will draw on her depth of experience to work with Vocal students in masterclasses and performance projects, guiding them on programming and on developing their own creative processes.

Guildhall’s Autumn Season music events include the rescheduled Gold Medal final - the School’s most prestigious prize, this year celebrating instrumentalists - and the return of Takuo Yuasa to conduct the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Dvořák, Janáček, and Sibelius.

Guildhall School’s Autumn drama productions include a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream directed by Suba Das, and a new devised piece entitled Pod co-created by Jamie Bradley and Vicki Igbokwe, made with the Company.

Students on the BA Performance and Creative Enterprise (PACE) programme will also share a series of self-devised works in a three-day online festival called Chapters, complemented by a regular series of conversations with inspiring guest speakers throughout the season.

The Opera department presents a triple bill of Italian works directed by Stephen Medcalf and conducted by Head of Opera Dominic Wheeler: Mascagni’sZanetto; Wolf-Ferrari’sIl segreto di Susanna (Susanna’s Secret); and Donizetti’s Two men and a woman (Rita).

The Guildhall Jazz department will present the first in a year-long series of concerts charting the history of big band, beginning with the 1920s and 1930s.

Masterclasses and curated concerts will take place with artists including pianists Stephen Hough, Imogen Cooper, Iain Burnside and Julius Drake; composers Jonathan Dove and Alison Bauld; and singers Kate Royal and Roderick Williams.

The School’s Research Works seminars continue in online format throughout the season, in which staff, students and visiting speakers discuss the findings of their ongoing research.

All content will be available to watch online, for free, via Guildhall School’s website. To account for social distancing, ground-breaking low-latency technology will be used to enable larger ensembles to perform together in real time from from across different venues at the School. Staged productions will feature the work of the School’s Production Arts department, created in collaboration with the Opera and Drama departments in accordance with safety and social distancing guidelines.

Event dates and further information will be announced later in August.

Posted by claire_s at 6:53 AM

August 18, 2020

Wigmore Hall: Artistic Director John Gilhooly confirms 100 concerts from 13 September to 21 December

Detailed plans have been drawn up to ensure that if government rules permit, most concerts will be in front of an audience in the Hall. Initially, numbers attending will be restricted to 56 people, 10% capacity, with the ability to move to 112 seats, 20% capacity, as the season progresses.

The autumn series will not only include solo recitals and duos, but trios, quartets and larger ensembles will return to Wigmore Hall for the first time since lockdown.

Many of the over 200 musicians scheduled to perform will travel to London from across the UK and Europe, marking the return of international musicians to the Wigmore Hall stage since travel restrictions were lifted. Any artists unable to fulfil their scheduled date at the Hall will be replaced to ensure all concert dates are fulfilled.

The Hall will be open every day from 13 September to 1 November, but open only on Mondays in November, and Mondays and Tuesdays in December, in case of a worsening in the health crisis during the winter months.

  • Over 200 artists confirmed, of which over two-thirds are UK born or UK based, underlining Wigmore Hall’s efforts to get artists earning again.
  • Reaffirming Wigmore Hall’s ongoing commitment to diversity of repertoire and artists, performances include Apartment House, Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective, Tai Murray (violin), Elizabeth Llewellyn (soprano), Fatma Said (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Arditti Quartet, Elena Urioste (violin), Kit Armstrong (piano), Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord), Claron McFadden (soprano) and Matthew Wadsworth (lute) and a digital fundraising concert for Chineke!.
  • Special focuses on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in song and chamber music, Polish-Jewish-Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg, and the pioneering 20th century minimalist Julius Eastman who expressed his black and gay identity through music.
  • Special documentary on internationally acclaimed double bassist Leon Bosch and his early anti-apartheid activism which saw him jailed as a teenager in South Africa, and Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger on Anti-Semitism. To celebrate the release of their respective new books, Graham Johnson will give a talk on Poulenc, and Natasha Loges and Katy Hamilton will present a discussion on Brahms.
  • Concerts will go ahead with or without an audience. All concerts will be live streamed in high definition on Wigmore Hall’s website and will be free to view worldwide.
  • 28 lunchtime concerts to be broadcast in association with BBC Radio 3 as well as a New Generation Artists weekend.

John Gilhooly, Director of Wigmore Hall said:

“It is a huge joy to announce that we will have 100 concerts between now and Christmas, and we are very pleased to include so many local artists, despite these very tough circumstances for Wigmore Hall. Alongside the core chamber and song repertoire I have encouraged artists to explore 20th- and 21st-century composers and a diversity of repertoire throughout the series.

Concerts will go ahead with or without an audience and the schedule is subject to change given the uncertainty of travel and the possibility of local and international lockdowns and quarantine problems. We are already planning for the spring, and many local artists included in the spring series are on standby to bring their concerts forward, should we need them for last-minute replacements this autumn.

This is not an easy time for the Hall or for live performing arts, and this has been a very difficult project to put together, logistically, and financially. We remain grateful to ACE and to the generosity of individual donors and sponsors who are helping to underpin significant costs around running the Hall at this challenging time. Nobody should be under any illusion about how finely balanced things are for the Hall for the foreseeable future. However, we are determined to get artists working again, and to pay them their full fees through this series. Please be generous if you are watching online, to help us fulfil the pledge to put money in artists’ pockets, many of whom have not worked since March, including artists at every stage of their career.

I hope this series of concerts encourages the Wigmore Hall audience to continue their memberships and to continue supporting us as usual, for which we are extremely grateful. We are also very pleased to collaborate with our wonderful colleagues at BBC Radio 3 for a minimum of 28 live broadcasts and a weekend dedicated to New Generation Artists.”

Alan Davey, Controller BBC Radio 3 and Classical Music:

“Live music is a vital part of the cultural offer in the UK and a core part of BBC Radio 3’s remit, we are delighted to be supporting Wigmore Hall in once again bringing their musical treasures to audiences everywhere - we had such a positive reaction back in June when we broadcast the last concerts and we can’t wait to be musical partners once again.”

For full details of repertoire for each concert please visit:

Posted by claire_s at 12:55 PM

Glyndebourne extends its summer season of outdoor performances into September

Glyndebourne was forced to cancel its 2020 Festival and close its doors following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic but, in early July, as lockdown eased, the opera house announced a mini-festival of outdoor performances, tickets for which sold out in just 40 minutes.

Now, Glyndebourne has announced that it is extending the season, adding more concerts by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), a recital performance by Glyndebourne’s Jerwood Young Artists and additional Open Gardens days.

Each year the Jerwood Young Artists programme supports exceptionally talented young singers from the Glyndebourne Chorus. The new outdoor concert will mark 10 years of the programme and brings together four singers who have been supported through the programme in recent years - soprano Madison Nonoa-Horsefield (2020), mezzo soprano Emma Kerr (2015), tenor John Findon (2017) and tenor Frederick Jones (2019). They will perform a selection of operatic classics, accompanied by pianist Matthew Fletcher, with performances on 29 and 30 August.

The OAE will give six performances of a programme of music by Mozart, Beethoven and Jonathan Dove, conducted by Glyndebourne Chorus Director Aidan Oliver.

Stephen Langridge, Artistic Director, said: ‘Glyndebourne’s mini-festival of open-air events is our positive response to the restrictions on how we can work in the time of COVID-19: an attempt to find a responsible, appropriately distanced, fun, and above all, safe way of performing to a live audience. We’ve been thrilled by how successful it’s been and are delighted to be able to extend the season and give more people the chance to experience live music together, in an inspiring environment, which is what Glyndebourne is all about.’

Sarah Hopwood, Managing Director, said: ‘While outdoor performances are not a substitute for getting theatres open again, the events that we have presented this summer have been a source of joy and hope at a very challenging time for the theatre industry. We’re delighted to be adding extra performances to the season and would like to once again thank our Members, donors, staff and the general public for their unwavering support.’

In order to ensure the safety and comfort of all, audiences for the live performances at Glyndebourne this summer are capped at 250 people and designated seating areas will be prepared for every household. Audiences will be fully seated in household groups with social distancing measures carefully observed at all times. In the event of bad weather, performances will be cancelled and tickets refunded.

Posted by claire_s at 12:49 PM

The Prison: Ethel Smyth

It was well-received at its first performance, in Edinburgh in February 1931, with the composer on the conductor’s podium, and a few days later in London’s Queen’s Hall, led by Adrian Boult. But, The Prison has had to wait nine decades for its first recording. This is thus a welcome Chandos release by the Experiential Orchestra and Chorus under their founder and conductor, James Blachly.

The Prison is based upon the philosophical ‘dialogue’ of the same name that Smyth’s mentor and close friend, Henry B. Brewster, had published in 1891 and which was reissued with in an edition which included a memoir of the author by Smyth in 1931. In Brewster’s text, four friends engage in a philosophical dialogue in the manner of Plato, examining – from various perspectives, supernaturalist, Neoplatonist, Christian, and positivist – the moral and philosophical issues arising from a newly discovered text which is presumed to have been written by a prisoner on the eve of his execution. Smyth excised the philosophical commentaries and presented a direct conversation between the innocent man, jailed and awaiting execution, and his own soul, with choral interjections representing both the human inner life and the heavenly firmament. The Soul guides the Prisoner through his doubts and fears, towards acceptance of himself and his life, achieving reconciliation with death, and inner peace. There are obvious spiritual, though not specifically religious, parallels with Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.

Harry Brewster was Smyth’s closest friend, perhaps lover, and artistic collaborator – the writer of the libretti for her operas, The Wreckers and Fantasio. He introduced her to many philosophical writings, including his own, and exercised an enormous influence upon Smyth. Indeed, her first biographer, Christopher St. John (née Christabel Marshall), complained that, ‘The present writer, and other friends of Ethel’s later years who had never known Brewster, found her constant quotation of him as an unimpeachable authority on nearly every subject rather irritating.’ Smyth constantly revisited The Prison throughout her life; in one letter to Brewster, in October 1893, she (perhaps somewhat hyperbolically) refers to having read it for the thousandth time, and after his death in 1908 it seems to have become a way to understand and retain a closeness with him.

Smyth was no stranger to prison herself, having spent two months in Holloway Prison in 1912, after having been involved in a suffragette window-smashing campaign which resulted in the shattering of the windows of Lewis Harcourt, the Secretary of State for the Colonies; he seems to have become the target of Smyth’s ire because of his remark that he might agree to votes for women if all women were as submissive and clever as his wife. She had become a committed suffragette after meeting Emily Pankhurst in 1910, whereupon she immediately made the decision to cease composition for two years and devote herself to the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Writing about Smyth in The Musical Times in 1958, Sir Thomas Beecham – who did not approve of her political activities - described a visit to Holloway during Smyth’s imprisonment, noting that while her punishment was intended to inspire her to reflect and repent, ‘she neither reflected nor repented. She pursued a joyously rowdy line of activity. Accompanying her were about a dozen other suffragettes, for whom Ethel wrote a stirring march, ‘Song of Freedom’ [known as the ‘March of the Women’] … on this particular occasion when I arrived, the warden of the prison, who was a very amiable fellow, was bubbling with laughter. He said, “Come into the quadrangle.” There were the ladies, a dozen ladies, marching up and down, singing hard. He pointed up to a window where Ethel appeared; she was leaning out, conducting with a toothbrush, also with immense vigour, and joining in the chorus of her own song.’

Smyth became Pankhurst’s close companion during these years. During one detention, in 1914, Pankhurst wrote to her, ‘Oh, my dear, I feel that all this has broken into your work sadly, but you will have to feel as people do whose sons are at a war, and just go on having faith in my star and a certain way I have of smoothing my path in prison’; words which resonate painfully in the knowledge of horrendous policies such as the forced feeding of suffragettes who went on hunger strike. On one occasion, when Pankhurst had been granted a temporary release from prison (such licences were usually followed by re-incarceration as soon as the suffragettes had begun to recover their health), Smyth recalled (in Female Pipings in Eden, 1933) that her friend ‘was heartrending to look on, her skin yellow, and so tightly drawn over her face that you wondered the bone structure did not come through; her eyes deep sunken and burning, and a deep dark flush on her cheeks.’

“Who doesn’t have a prison?” the Prisoner asks in Brewster’s Dialogue. Increasingly entrapped within her own silent world, Smyth may have asked herself the same question. Her score includes echoes of some of her earlier works – the E minor String Quartet, the Mass in D, and her operas The Wreckers and The Boatswain’s Mate; perhaps, in looking back, The Prison - structured in two parts, ‘Close on Freedom’ and ‘The Deliverance’ – was a musical summation of her life.

In his Conductor’s Note in the liner booklet accompanying this world premiere recording of The Prison, conductor James Blachly tells us that when he heard first heard the opening notes of Smyth’s score, ‘I felt shivers up and down my spine’. He prepared a new performing edition, gave the US premiere of the symphony in 2018, and has now released this long overdue recording, with bass-baritone Dashon Burton taking the role of the Prisoner and soprano Sarah Brailey singing the Soul, accompanied by the New York City-based Experiential Orchestra and Chorus which Blachly founded in 2009.

I can’t agree with Blachly estimation of the score: I don’t think that The Prison is a musical masterpiece. The vocal melodies are rather uninspired, sometimes ‘leaden’ and there’s a tendency to use repetition rather than development. Somewhat bass-dominant, the score is animated by percussive outbursts, harp flourishes, and woodwind motifs which flicker above the dark depths. There are a lot of unimaginative pictorialisms: even in the opening bars the Prisoner’s first statement, “I awoke in the middle of the night/ And heard the sighing of the wind”, prompts some rather obvious woodwind whistling, rustling and quivering. And, Smyth doesn’t avoid overblown rhetoric either: “Behold! in this very movement, I am outliving death!” the unison chorus cry, surging from pianissimo to fortissimo in just a few bars, pulling on the brakes as they swell luxuriantly. Moreover, Smyth may have come from a military family, and memories of WW1 were no doubt near at hand for many contemporary listeners, but the sound of the Last Post at the moment of death feels incongruous and melodramatic today. Her friend, Virginia Woolf, who had attended a private rehearsal of the symphony described the music as ‘too literary – too stressed – too didactic for my taste.’ But, such are the quality of the performances on this disc, that The Prison does at times compel, and there are some striking and memorable episodes.

In less astute hands both pace and idiom might seem rather monotonous, but Blachly ensures that dramatic tension is sustained from the first rumbling C, for low clarinet and strings, through to the final choral echo of the Prisoner’s last words, “The love, the silence, and the song … I am the soul … the home”, and the bugle’s quiet peak. The Prisoner may be in solitary confinement, but in fact his prison is metaphorical: the ‘self’, or ego. Dashon Burton is very ‘human’; the Prisoner’s dilemmas feel real and recognisable. The bass-baritone creates touching contrast between self-absorbed introspection and the instinctive desire to connect with the world and hold onto life. Unwaveringly lyrical whether tentative or defiant, Burton’s Prisoner is both vulnerable and possessing of inner strength.

Sarah Brailey’s soprano has a lovely tender softness, but it also gleams radiantly: this ‘soul’ is no ethereal haunting but a real presence. At the start of ‘The Deliverance’, after a rather bombastic instrumental apotheosis, the Soul declaims on a monotone as the harmonies shift and slide. There’s a religious assurance about Brailey’s offer of comfort, “The struggle is over;/ the time has come./ Your choice is made.” Blachly does not let the momentum flag, and the instrumental interjections are vibrant and finely etched, avoiding any sense of sentimentality.

The choral singing is terrific: the voices are lithe, animated and shimmer with hope, certainty and conviction – “We are full of immortality/ It stirs and glistens in us/ Under the crust of self/ Like a gleam of sirens under the ice.” But, while there are Elgarian echoes and vigour at times, Smyth’s choral counterpoint is often workaday.

Towards the close, Burton’s Prisoner, more robust of voice, more jubilant of temperament, sounds genuinely uplifted and transfigured as Burton’s enriches, focuses, and injects stirring vigour into his warm bass-baritone: “Go then, pass on, immortal ones!/ Behold, I burst the bonds that pent you up/ Within in; disband myself!” he proclaims, as Blachly whips up the instrumental and choral passion.

The CD liner booklet includes an article by renowned Smyth scholar, Elizabeth Wood, and a biographical sketch of the composer by Amy Elizabeth Zigler (both are presented in English, German and French), as well as a full libretto in English. This is a valuable recording. Whatever its musical merits, as the culmination of a musical life, a record of a loving friendship, and a testament to a personal creed, The Prison deserves the commitment, affection and assured performance that it receives here.

Tell them that no man lives in vain
That some small part of our work
For reasons unknown to us, has been tossed aloft
And gathered in for ever.
(Brewster, The Prison: a Dialogue)

In Brewster’s words, Smyth surely found her own consolation and peace.

Claire Seymour

image= image_description=Chandos 5279 product=yes product_title=Ethel Smyth: The Prison product_by=Dashon Burton (Prisoner, bass-baritone), Sarah Brailey (His Soul, soprano), James Blachly (conductor), Experiential Chorus, Experiential Orchestra product_id= Chandos 5279 [63:50] price=$19.99 product_url=
Posted by claire_s at 12:20 PM

August 14, 2020

Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty: Kathryn Rudge and Christopher Glynn

So stated the Musical Times on 1st April 1920, in an article about the autodidact pianist-conductor-composer, upon his appointment as Conductor of the Hallé Orchestra.

This immensely enjoyable disc of Harty’s songs, performed by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge and pianist Christopher Glynn, confirms MT’s opinion. The 23 songs presented (there are also two short compositions for piano solo) range from accompanied folk-song, through simple parlour song, to more complex art song, and while the music is characterised by several elements identifiable with Irish music - melodic ornamentation, modal harmony and inflection, pentatonicism - Harty’s musical ‘nationalism’ is assimilated within the Anglo-European musical language of his day.

One is reminded of the views of Harty’s teacher and mentor, Michele Esposito - expressed during an interview with actor-playwright, James Cousins, for the Irish Independent in February 1906 - who warned against the ‘merely naïve and crude’ use of Irish folk-song, encouraging Irish composers to ‘master their art as musicians to the fullest possible extent: then, go back to the wonderful store of folk-melodies and build them into their music.’ [1]

The author of the aforementioned Musical Times article also confidently declared, ‘What all the world knows about Mr Harty is that he is the prince of accompanists; that he is Irish and that he is a composer; that his wife is Miss Agnes Nicholls.’ Perhaps that assumption was true in 1920, but nowadays Harty’s repute is founded primarily upon his conducting career, specifically his long association with the Hallé Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, and other significant classical organisations. Yet, he composed over 60 songs, and it is good to hear a diverse range of them here, including sixteen first recordings.

HH David Greer.jpgHamilton Harty. Photo credit: David Greer.

Harty’s interest in the song form was most likely encouraged both by his activities as an esteemed accompanist, and by his marriage to the acclaimed soprano Agnes Nicholls in 1904, for whom many of the songs were probably composed. In Harty’s autobiography she remembers an early meeting:

‘At that time I had no idea he composed, until one day he brought a song and very shyly handed it to me. It was ‘The Song of Glen Dun’. I thought it lovely and put it into my programmes whenever the opportunity occurred. Shortly after he dedicated a song called ‘Rose Madness’ to me.’

‘The Song of Glen Dun’ was Harty’s first published song in 1902 and sets a poem by the Irish writer Moira O’Neill. Harty retains the strophic form, enlarging the accompaniment texturally and harmonically with each verse, but Christopher Glynn keeps the sometimes lavish gestures light so that Kathryn Rudge is never forced to exert undue strength to ride the piano’s crests, and her mezzo-soprano sustains a sweet innocence while not lacking emotional nuance. Her diction is immaculate, here and through the disc.

Harty was himself a frequent contributor to the Musical Times, and in an article of April 1924 titled ‘Modern Composers and Modern Composition’ he set out four ‘laws’ by which music should be governed, the second of which was ‘Melody must be the first reason for [music’s] existence.’ The opening song here confirms that Harty put theory into practice. Again setting text by O’Neill (a poem which had also been set by Stanford), ‘Sea Wrack’ is a sort of hybrid parlour-art song: the vocal part is fairly straightforward while the pictorial accompaniment makes more virtuosic demands. O’Neill exploits the linguistic pun ‘wrack’/’wreck’ - the former being both a type of seaweed and an archaic Irish word for a shipwreck - as she tells a tragic tale of the gathering of sea wrack in small boats.

In Glynn’s sure hands the musical pictorialisms unfold naturally, from the gentle wave motions of the opening, through the tremolo exertions as the seaweed hunters struggle to lift their catch into the boat, and on to the rolling flood of stormy septuplet surges. Rudge relates the tragedy with the poise and presence of a born storyteller. The tale unfolds gradually, there is no melodrama; the calm account suddenly swells with alarm, as Rudge further enriches her always fertile tone, and the harmony shifts to the oddly bright A major, “There’ [sic] a boat gone down upon the Moyle”. The duo’s structuring of a simple strophic into a tragedy of great magnitude is skilful.

Harty set nine of O’Neill’s poems, and we also hear ‘By the Sea’, completed in January 1909 but left unpublished; Dibble relates that Harty explained that it was ‘Written for some private person. Whose name I have forgotten.’ Rudge makes much of the song’s melodic directness and Glynn’s gentle commentary adds a touch of wistfulness; this is a lovely, sincere rendition of a simple but eloquent song.

In choosing to set contemporary Irish poets such as Pádraic Colum, Elizabeth Shane, P.W. Joyce, Katherine Tynan and Alice Milligan, Harty was supporting the Irish Literary Revival. Six Songs of Ireland (1908) included - alongside settings of three more O’Neill poems - ‘Dreaming’ (Cahir Healy), ‘A Lullaby’ (Cahal O’Byrne) and ‘Flame in the Skies of Sunset’ (Lizzie Twigg).

Christopher Glynn Gerard Collett.jpgChristopher Glynn. Photo credit: Gerard Collett.

The dark-hued ‘A Lullaby’ is far more sophisticated than a ‘conventional’ hush song, and Rudge and Glynn effectively balance the characteristic repetitions and rocking fluidity with Harty’s idiosyncratic flourishes and asymmetries: the evolving phrases are effectively shaped, melodic duplets intruding on but not unsettling the triplet pulse and the piano’s ornaments slithering delicately, intimating the poetic imagery of fairy dells, silvery rings, rose-strewn strands and glistening dew. Both piano and voice incorporate surprising chromatic unwindings, and there’s a strange harmonic twist with the mother’s assurance “I’ll make you a nest, a soft, warm nest”. Such chromaticism is increasingly insistent in ‘Dreaming,’ in which the protagonist laments lost love and longs for death. Rudge conveys mystery in her lower voice - as the protagonist is questioned, “What are you watching?”, “What are you hearing?” - contrasting this with the shining replies, “Wisps o’white dreams”, “Wee weans a-crying”. Glynn’s chromatic complexities both reflect and deepen the anguish of the acknowledgement that “lovers and dreamers and joys all agone”. Through the dusky branches, “Gleameth the rosy flush”, observes the poet in ‘Flame in the Skies of Sunset’, a phrase which might equally describe Rudge’s lovely sweetness in this song.

‘A Lullaby’ and ‘Dreaming’ had been published in O’Byrne’s and Healy’s co-edition, Lane o’ the Thrushes, and Harty also set the title song. Glynn’s trembling oscillations and fluttering trills evoke the “shimmering shafts of light” and “whirring of wings”, while a low chromatic rumble hints at the “deeper silence, a swift brown stream unseen”, as Rudge paints a picture of this vibrant landscape with easy naturalism. The selection of songs are unified by prevailing elements of Harty’s language and by recurring poetic themes and ideas, but are also diverse in expanse and mood: Pádraic Colum’s ‘O men from the fields’ inspires a brief ‘Cradle Song’ which Rudge and Glynn make tenderly haunting, while Emily Lawless’s ‘The Stranger Grave’ - which depicts the grave of an unknown drowned man in Inis Meáin, framing the image of a blue-footed woman who pitter-patters across the grave with another of the graves of unbaptised babies excluded from the churchyard - prompts a more sophisticated response from Harty. Glynn’s chorale-like opening establishes a sombre mood, and Rudge’s clear, even tone enthrals the ear as the melancholy poem unfolds. The piano drives forward before being suddenly halted by the speaker’s troubled question, “What strange fate brought you to so strange a shrine?” The duo capture the song’s agitation and restlessness, while never overexaggerating Harty’s immensely detailed, varied writing. This is one of the highpoints of the disc.

Kathryn_Rudge_Sussie_Ahlburg.jpgKathryn Rudge. Photo credit: Sussie Ahlburg.

Some of Harty’s late songs are included too. In the 1930s he was forced to abandon conducting following an operation for a brain tumour, and he returned to composition. From the 1938 Five Irish Poems, ‘At Easter’ (Helen Lanyon) again showcases the evenness of Rudge’s mezzo, as well as the reverent quality she finds in its lower reaches - both elements perfectly suited to the intimacy of an Easter service, while a sole bird sings rapturously in the churchyard beyond. Glynn and Rudge show how feelings of great magnitude can be conveyed by quiet gestures. ‘The Fiddler of Dooney’ (W.B. Yeats) is a more light-hearted ditty, and Glynn trips easily through the mischievous piano part, ever lucid and light as Rudge gradually warms and enlarges her account of the protagonist’s hypnotic dance-inducing fiddling.

The duo also offer some settings of folksongs such as were collected and published by Gaelic revivalists. The melodies ‘My Lagan Love’ and ‘The Blue Hills of Antrim’ both have texts by Seosamh MacCathmhaoil (Joseph Campbell), and were published in Songs of Uldah in 1904 with accompaniments by Herbert Hughes. Harty’s setting of the former fills out the accompaniment with harp-like arpeggiation which Glynn renders with a sense of freedom and openness; Rudge demonstrates confident appreciation of sean-nós, ‘old custom’, shaping the vocal line with rhythmic flexibility within a steady pulse, and ornamenting with judicious acciaccaturas and mordents. The melody lies low and she finds a lovely rich huskiness at times, her mezzo seeming to shimmer with emotion. ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ was published in Harty’s 1929 Three Irish Folksongs and is a more vigorous strophic tale, told by a bereaved mother to her daughter, about the departure of her husband, on their wedding night, to fight with the Highlanders against the Dutch. As always on this recording, despite the rough stamp of the accompaniment and the mother’s increasingly fervent declarations of loyalty, Glynn and Rudge prioritise storytelling over melodrama.

Alongside these Irish settings, Harty also set many poems by English, Scottish and American poets. Riccardo Stephens was a Cornish physician, poet and occultist and in his ‘Scythe Song’ we hear the whooshing back-and-forth motion of the scythe in the piano’s soft ripples; there’s a soothing softness in Rudge’s voice as she rejoices, “This is the sound … of summer days […] Tis sweet, sweet to live.” Lettice B. Hay Shaw died in 1904 at the age of just seventeen, but she left an impressive body of writings. In 1906 Harty published his Three Flower Songs, of which Glynn and Rudge perform two: by simple means in ‘Poppies’ the duo convey the oscillation between remembered passion and present grief, while the beautiful lyricism of ‘Mignonette’ is tinged with both elegy and impassioned conviction.

Nicholls was an esteemed Wagnerian and ‘To the Gods of Harbour and Headland’ (which sets text from J.W. Mackail’s Select Epigrams from the Greek Anthology (1906) and is one of Harty’s Three Sea Prayers) was written for the soprano to perform in the Bechstein Hall in November 1909. In two and a half minutes it makes many demands on both piano and voice, but the performers negotiate the unpredictable and restless material assuredly, and Rudge has the power to rise to the vocal climaxes without strain. The steadier progress of the Whitman setting, ‘By the Bivouac’s Fitful Flame’, is stately and profound. At the end of the disc, Rudge and Glynn take us back to the seventeenth century: ‘Come, O come, My Life’s Delight’ (Thomas Campion) is a rush of effervescent joy, while ‘Sweet Amaryllis’ (attr. Dowland) has an archaic poise and dignity.

The various personal threads relating to Harty which bind the songs enhance their potency. ‘Your Hand in Mine’ (Harold Simpson) was written for Nicholls to perform at one of Chappell’s Ballad Concerts, and it flows with feeling, rapturous and confident. By contrast, ‘My Thoughts of You’, the text of which is attributed to Harty himself, acquires a tender poignancy when we know that his marriage to Nicholls took unhappy turns. The shine of Rudge’s mezzo and the delicacy of the piano’s interjections seems to embody urgent but fragile hopes.

This disc will give much delight. Despite the apparent formal simplicity of many of the songs, Rudge and Glynn reveal their depth and diversity.

Claire Seymour

[1] Jeremy Dibble, Hamilton Harty: Musical Polymath (Boydell, 2013), p.64. The contextual information presented in this review has been drawn from Dibble; David Greer, Hamilton Harty: his Life and Music (Blackstaff Press, 1979); and Hamilton Harty, Early Memories (ed. Greer) (John Aiken and Son Ltd, 1979).

image_description=SOMMCD 0616
product_title=Songs by Sir Hamilton Harty
product_by=Kathryn Rudge (soprano), Christopher Glynn (piano)
product_id=SOMMCD 0616 [71:25]

Posted by claire_s at 9:23 AM

August 12, 2020

Garsington's Fidelio in Concert: BBC Radio 3 broadcast

We are especially pleased to be able to share the sold-out performances with a larger audience as the first public opera performance to be broadcast since lockdown.

Alan Davey, Controller BBC Radio 3 and BBC Classical Music said: “In a special year of 250 years of Beethoven, it’s particularly wonderful to be sharing Garsington’s Fidelio performance with our listeners and in doing so, continuing our support for the festivals and arts community who are getting back on their feet after quarantine. I can’t wait to tune-in and hear members of the Philharmonia Orchestra and Garsington Opera Chorus, along with the fabulous cast, tell a story that seems ever more relevant today.”

Nicola Creed, Executive Director of Garsington Opera, said: “We are so delighted to welcome these wonderful artists back to Wormsley; it is a privilege to be making music for an audience again. We are also very grateful for BBC Radio 3’s essential support of this project, and others, as performing organisations make their tentative steps back to the stage.”

The cast, announced this week, is as follows:

Leonore - Katherine Broderick
Florestan - Toby Spence
Rocco - Joshua Bloom
Pizarro - David Soar
Marzelline - Galina Averina
Jaquino - Trystan Llŷr Griffiths
Fernando - Richard Burkhard
First Prisoner - Richard Pinkstone
Second Prisoner - Thomas D Hopkinson
Conductor - Douglas Boyd
Stage Director, Lighting & Projection Designer - Peter Mumford
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra & Garsington Opera Chorus

Peter Mumford's semi-staged concert of Beethoven's masterwork, complete with a beautifully filmed backdrop, was commissioned by the Orchestre de chambre de Paris and last performed by Garsington Opera at the Philharmonie in Paris in 2016. Here Douglas Boyd conducts members of the Philharmonia Orchestra in a specially arranged, reduced orchestration.

Garsington Opera's hybrid indoor / outdoor theatre is unique in being able to bring live opera to a paying audience whilst ensuring the safety and comfort of all involved. The audience will be socially distanced within the auditorium in household groups, further protected by screens specially made for musical performances. ‘SingScreen’ was invented by Matthew Thomas Morgan, a member of our chorus in 2018. See for further details.

Garsington Opera | General enquiries: 01865 361636 |

Posted by claire_s at 7:56 AM

Full cast and creative team announced for ENO Drive & Live at Alexandra Palace

Puccini’s most famous opera, La bohème tells the heart-breaking story of writer Rodolfo and seamstress Mimì. This new production directed by PJ Harris and designed by Chloe Lamford, is a retelling of the classic tale of doomed romance, set in the present day.

Featuring the combined forces of the award-winning ENO orchestra and world-class live singers, the performance will use microphones, whilst the wireless sound system will broadcast high quality audio directly to audiences. Performers will be on a raised and covered stage, with large screens to each side also relaying the performance to ensure all audience members enjoy an immersive experience.

The cast, chorus and orchestra are double cast and will alternate throughout the run. They will rehearse and perform in these two separate ‘bubbles’, whilst maintaining social distance as per the latest government advice. Each bubbled group consists of; 34 members of the ENO Orchestra, 20 ENO Chorus members and 8 principals. Each bubble will have its own individual crew to oversee their rehearsals and performances.

Those without a car will be able to enjoy the performance too. Distanced bicycle spaces are available for those who wish to arrive on two wheels. The ENO has also partnered with Uber who will coordinate 10 ‘Uber Boxes’ per performance - parked vehicles offering a front row experience for those without car or bicycle access.

There will be 50 free tickets available to the dress rehearsal for NHS staff via ballot and a number of free tickets will be available to drivers who use the Uber app to thank them for their key worker roles.

Ticket buyers have the option of making a small £3 donation to contribute towards carbon offsetting the impact of these events. These donations will be directly transferred to a carbon offsetting charity within 30 days of the final performance.

Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon comments: ‘Here at the ENO we think of ourselves as experimenters - trialling innovative ideas on behalf of the whole opera industry. It’s no secret that COVID has had a major impact on the arts, so we’re ripping up the rulebook with ENO Drive and Live. These performances are an opportunity to create a thrillingly unmissable pilot project, allowing opera fans to enjoy world-class opera without fear. It’s a huge creative challenge, but the success of this will allow us to see how best to roll the performances out nationally, bringing our award-winning forces to audiences everywhere.’

The performance will be broadcast exclusively on Sky Arts, when the channel becomes free for everyone across the UK to watch on Freeview and Freesat in September; forming part of its supercharged mission to increase access to and participation in the arts, at a vital time for the cultural sector. It will also be available on streaming service NOW TV. The broadcast will be produced by Somethin Else; Executive Producer is Jez Nelson and Live Director is Marcus Viner. The programme was commissioned by Director of Sky Arts Philip Edgar-Jones and the Commissioning Editor is Benedetta Pinelli.

Philip Edgar-Jones, Director of Sky Arts says: ‘As culture emerges slowly back into the light and as Sky Arts becomes free for everyone to enjoy we are thrilled to be partnering with the ENO on this ground-breaking project to bring opera to the Drive-In. It’s fitting that this world first is taking place at Alexandra Palace, the spiritual home of TV, and La bohème is the perfect story to reflect the time we are in right now.’

Safety is paramount - live singers and musicians will be spaced out in accordance with government guidelines, throughout rehearsals and performances. All public areas and Uber Boxes will be regularly cleaned and social distancing will be observed at all times on site.

Louise Stewart Chief Exec of Alexandra Palace says: ‘We are thrilled to be working in partnership with ENO on Europe’s first ever live drive-in opera. This truly enterprising project, continues our long-standing tradition of innovation at Alexandra Palace.’

Creative Team

Wielding the baton are the ENO Music Director and acclaimed conductor Martyn Brabbins and the ENO Head of Music Martin Fitzpatrick. Martyn Brabbins has conducted at La Scala and Bayerische Staatsoper and with the Royal Concertgebouw, DSO Berlin, Philharmonia and BBC Symphony, and regularly at the BBC Proms. He has conducted hundreds of world premieres and made around 150 CDs. Martin Fitzpatrick is a conductor and translator for the ENO. Other career highlights include work with companies including the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, Scottish Opera and Royal Danish Opera, where he was Head of Music.

Martyn Brabbins comments: ‘ENO’s irrepressible energy to bring great opera to life, even in the most trying of times, has given rise to the unique and splendid Drive & Live. Like most people, I have had many frustrating car-park experiences - scraped my car, lost my car in a Heathrow long-stay, been fined for overstaying - but the prospect of conducting La bohème at Alexandra Palace, brings for me a new and exciting significance to the potential of the car-park! The ENO orchestra and chorus, and a cast assembled from the very finest of talent, are revving up and more than ready to rekindle our passion for this supreme of art forms in a way nobody ever imagined before.’

Directing this new production is PJ Harris. Trained at Scottish Opera, PJ was named as ‘one to watch’ by the BBC’s performing Arts Fund in 2015. Recent directing credits include Vespers of 1610 for Garsington Opera and 2018’s 5-star concert staged production of Salome for Opera North.

Production design is by internationally renowned designer Chloe Lamford. Chloe’s opera work includes Ariadne Auf Naxos,​ ​Alcina​, and P​elleas and Melisande for Aix-en-Provence Festival and Miranda for Opera Comique, Paris. Chloe’s oeuvre also includes contemporary art installations and theatre design, notably in ​Amadeus (National Theatre) and Hilary and Clinton on Broadway. Chloe is Associate Designer for the Royal Court Theatre.

Director PJ Harris says: 'It’s extremely exciting to be part of the ENO’s ground-breaking project, bringing live opera back to audiences in such an innovative format. In La bohème we see what happens when young love, passion, hopes, dreams and creative ambition are confronted with the reality of loss and grief. The opera’s powerful mixture of intense emotion, with Puccini’s incredible music and unforgettable storytelling, makes this as poignant now as when it was first written.’

Designer Chloe Lamford says: ‘It’s so exciting to create a new production in this way, and really stretch my and the audience’s imagination without the confines of a predetermined space or traditional theatre. Here we’ve got the chance to build the whole experience from the very beginning; a rare chance to redefine what opera can be.’

Costumes are by Camilla Clark, whose previous work with the ENO includes 2018’s Paul Bunyan where the design was praised for its ‘wit and style’ (Culture Whisper). Trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Camilla was a winner of the Linbury Prize for Stage Design in 2015.

Lighting is by Olivier Award-winning lighting designer Nastasha Chivers, whose credits include Orestia and Hamlet (Almeida) and Sylvia (Old Vic).

Sound Design is Ian Dearden. Ian was part of the original sound design team for Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus in 1986 at the ENO. Alongside his production company Sound Intermusica, Ian returned to design sound for the landmark opera in 2019. His recent credits include Orfeo and The Return of Ulysses (Royal Opera House at the Roundhouse) and the sound design for the exhibition Opera: Passion, Power and Politics (V&A).


Sharing the role of seamstress Mimì are Natalya Romaniw and Sinéad Campbell Wallace, whilst writer Rodolfo will be sung by David Butt Phllip and David Junghoon Kim.

Acclaimed Welsh soprano Natalya last undertook the role of Puccini’s tragic heroine in the 18/19 revival of Jonathan Miller’s much-loved production for the ENO, making her house debut. Tipped as ‘one of the outstanding sopranos of her generation’ (Daily Telegraph), Natalya’s most recent role was a ‘remarkable’ (The Sunday Times) Cio-Cio San in ENO’s Madam Butterfly.

Expert Irish dramatic soprano Sinéad Campbell Wallace will be making her ENO debut in this production. Praised for ‘an excellent performance’ as Silvia in Zanetto for Scottish Opera, Sinéad started her career as a light-lyric soprano but through recent seasons Sinéad has moved into a fuller dramatic repertoire. This summer she makes debuts at the Salzburg Festival, Madrid and with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

Olivier Award-nominated tenor David Butt Philip reunites with Natalya Romaniw following Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Iolanta where their performance was praised as ‘enough on their own to make the whole evening worthwhile’ (the Guardian). One of the most outstanding British tenors of his generation, David reprises the role of Rodolfo following his ENO debut in 2014.

Sharing the role of Rodolfo is Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim. His ENO debut last season as another Rodolfo (this time in Luisa Miller) was ‘sung with radiance, lyricism and power’ (The Stage). A former Jette Parker Young Artist, David is a winner of the much-coveted Francisco Viñas, Voci Verdiane and Toulouse singing competitions.

Sharing the role of Marcello are Roderick Williams OBE and former ENO Harewood Artist Matthew Durkan. Olivier-nominated baritone Roderick is one of the UK’s most sought-after opera singers and returns to the ENO following last season’s Madam Butterfly. ENO favourite Matthew most recently sung Dancairo in 2020’s Carmen, and received praise for his Polyphemus’ ‘considerable pathos’ (Bachtrack) in 2018’s Acis and Galatea at Lilian Baylis House.

Dubbed ‘one to listen out for’ (the Guardian) on the basis of her ‘creamy’ voiced ENO debut as Michaela in Carmen this January, British soprano Nardus Williams shares the role of Musetta with fellow Harewood Artist Soraya Mafi. Hailed as ‘a diamantine Titania, scattering colatura like stardust’ (Daily Telegraph) in 2018’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, British soprano Soraya made her ENO debut in 14/15 as Edith in The Pirates of Penzance and has since appeared in numerous roles for the company including Love (Orpheus and Eurydice), and Yum-Yum (The Mikado) in the 19/20 season.

Joining the production for their first roles as ENO Harewood Artists are British bass William Thomas and New Zealand born Samoan baritone Benson Wilson, who take the respective roles of Colline and Schaunard. These roles are shared with New Zealand born Samoan bass Jonathan Lemalu and British baritone Ross Ramgobin.

This will be the first ENO Drive & Live, details about further plans to bring drive-in opera to audiences across the country will be announced soon.

ENO Drive & Live’s La bohème opens on Saturday 19 September 2020 in the grounds of Alexandra Palace for 15 performances: September 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 at 15:30. September 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 27 at 19:30.

The dress rehearsal is at 14.30 on Saturday 19 September.

Tickets for cars (including Uber Boxes) carrying up to four people cost £101.50 plus £2.25 booking fee. Tickets for bicycles cost £36.50 plus £2.25 booking fee. Ticket prices include a £1.50 restoration levy for Alexandra Palace.

Uber is the official partner of ENO Drive & Live.

Posted by claire_s at 7:45 AM

August 10, 2020

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - Live from London

So, Robert Hollingworth, director of I Fagiolini, described one particularly startling sequence in Claudio Monteverdi’s Zefiro torna’ (The gentle west wind, from the Scherzi Musicale of 1632), which was one in the sequence of the composer’s madrigals and sacred songs that formed the second concert of Live from London - the global online vocal festival curated by VOCES8 which continues every Saturday until 3rd October.

The eight singers of I Fagiolini - forming varied a cappella ensembles, sometimes accompanied by Lynda Sayce’s chitarrone and Monteverdi’s favoured organo di legno (a wooden organ with a particularly ‘soave’ and delicate tone) as played by Hollingworth - performed works spanning from Monteverdi’s years as a ‘servant’ of the Gonzaga dukes in Mantua through to the heights of his successful Venetian career, in the VOCES8 Centre housed in the beautiful St Anne and St Agnes Church near St Paul’s in the City of London.

Though the international audience tuning in live were scattered across the globe, they were invited to imagine ‘arriving’ at the performance venue, having taken a tour through the city’s landmarks led by assistant producer Tim Vaughan, whose interview with Hollingworth also prefaced the performance. Great care has been taken by Paul and Barnaby Smith (Chief Executive Officer and Artistic Director respectively) and the VOCES8 team to ensure that not only the musical performances but the production values in the series of concerts are of the highest quality. The concerts are being filmed in 4K and Paul explained how to get the best viewing and listening experience, how to download programmes, and encouraged the online audience to get in touch during the live performance or when watching an on-demand recording subsequently.

The members of I Fagiolini took similar care to create a conversation with the audience which would enable those at home to feel that they were close to the musicians and sharing in their music-making. Hollingworth and some of the singers took turns to introduce the items in the programme, and their passion for and commitment to Monteverdi’s music was as evident in their prefatory remarks as in their wonderful music-making.

The concert began with ‘Sfogava con le stelle’ from the 1603 Fourth Book of Madrigals, in which Hollingworth took the alto line in the five-voice grouping (SATTB) which, he explained would have conventionally been sung by a high tenor. “I’m not a high tenor,” he remarked, wryly, “but what’s the point being the director if you can’t sing in your own group”. Place in a ‘socially distanced semi-circle’, singing largely off-score, the singers created a vibrant conversation. The declamatory homophony was not only precise, but free and spontaneous, frequently bursting into agile counterpoint in which the individual voices sprang through the lithe rhythms. There was a wonderful sudden expanse, “O immagini belle de l’idol mio ch’adoro” (Oh, lovely images of the idol I adore), the upper voices rising, the lower parts stepping down the scale, as if the protagonist’s emotions had broken the boundaries of his heart. The final cadence, fading delicately, conveyed gentle hope, tinged as so often in Renaissance, with bittersweet poignancy.

Also from the Fourth Book, ‘Anima mia, perdona’ (SSATB) was charged with a vivid dynamism as the chordal recitation of the text was energised by superb Italian diction, tensions created by the changing vocal groups and piquant false relations. The pulse flowed and bass Charles Gibbs was a firm and sure foundation, but when the ‘explosion’ of counterpoint came it did so with quite a surprising force and ferocity, with the inner male voices sometimes overwhelming the ensemble balance. The tendency to focus the camera on the individual members singing the most prominent phrases was the only minor irritation during what was an absolutely riveting performance.

Contrast and blend were much more consistently alternated and balanced in ‘Ohimè il bel viso’ from the Sixth Book (1614, SSATB). The darkness of the three male voices was heightened by the ladies’ high interjections, ‘Alas’, the latter building through dissonant suspensions before calm was reclaimed through euphonious homophony. The music moved effortlessly and dramatically between weight and lightness, stern blackness and gleams of fire.

Monteverdi’s accompanied madrigals - the concerti duets and trios of the later books of madrigals, balletti and scherzi - were not neglected. In ‘Vorrei baciarti’ (Seventh Book, 1619), mezzo-soprano Clare Wilkinson and Hollingworth first alternated, then overlapped the short repetitions, creating haste and urgency. An injection of hushed excitement and intimacy came with “Ah, pur mi volgo a voi, perle e rubini, tesoro di bellezza, fontana di dolcezza” (Ah, yet I turn to you, pearls and rubies, treasure of beauty, source of sweetness). Increasing ornamentation was sometimes quite florid - as with Giovan Battista Marino’s image of eyes which both weep and smile, “nasce il pianto da lor, tu m’apri il riso!” - elsewhere delicate - “onor del bel viso” (the glory of a beautiful face) - but always underpinned by the steady, soft strum of the chittarone which served to highlight the joyfulness in the ornamentation.

That bone-quivering ‘Zefiro torna’ brimmed with extremes of feeling, flying lightly as tenors Matthew Long and Nicholas Mulroy danced through the decorative curlicues and relaxed phrase structures. The tension of “come vuol mia ventura or piango”, as the disconcerting dissonances squeezed the heart and almost stopped one’s breath, was released in the fountain of jouissance of Ottavio Rinuccini’s closing phrase, “or canto” (first weep and then sing). Above the descending tetrachord ground, soprano Rebecca Lea evoked an innocence betrayed in the ‘Lamento della ninfa’ ( Madrigali Amorosi, 1638), while in the framing account of the nymph’s pain and distress, the three male shepherds made the softly pinching dissonances wince and swoon in equal measure.

One of Monteverdi’s most famous madrigals, ‘Cruda Amarilli’ from the Fifth Book (1605), was heard in less familiar form - in the sacred contrafacta version with Latin text which Aquilino Coppini provided with the composer’s blessing in 1607. Given the prevailing contemporary belief that the music serves the text, it’s rather strange to hear music composed to convey Mirtillo’s hopeless love for Amarilli, who out of propriety does not protest against her betrothal to indifferent Silvio (as told in Giambattista Guarini’s Pastor fido (The Faithful Shepherd) communicate the last words of Christ on the cross. Mirtillo’s plaint, “Poi che col dir t'offendo/ I mi morò tacendo” (Since telling I offended you,/ I shall die in silence), is rendered in Latin as “quid a me vultis adhuc? Iam moriar pro vobis” (what do you still want from me?/ Just now, I shall die for you), but the five singers of I Fagiolini gave the ascending line a whole new meaning: both personal and heavenly transfiguration come through love and death.

There were two other sacred works. The antiphonal splendours of ‘Duo seraphim’ from the 1610 Vespers were relished by Long and Mulroy, who sang the seraphims’ florid praises for God with improvisational vivaciousness and serene assurance by turns. As the suspensions and dissonances piled up, I found the organ - for all its renowned sweetness - rather too intense, a feeling that was intensified when baritone Greg Skidmore moved forward to make the duet a trio. ‘Adoramus te’ (from Bianchi, Libro Primo, 1620, SSATTB) achieved a devotional solemnity, however, effectively cohering majesty and mystery.

The concert closed with the earliest composition, ‘Rimanti in pace’ from the Third Book of Madrigals (1592, SSATB). This simple sonnet telling of the fated and unfortunate separation of Thyrsis and Phyllis seemed, in its polyphonic splendour, to contain and convey every emotion the human heart has ever felt.

Monteverdi’s music is I Fagiolini’s “comfort food”, Hollingworth had told us at the start, when introducing the programme. Beautifully sung, with unfailing emotive focus and drama, it certainly brought great comfort to this listener, nowhere more so that in the encore, sung by Matthew Long accompanied by chittarone and organ: ‘Si dolce è’l tormento’ from Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze of 1624 - so sweet is the torment indeed.

The next Live from London concert will be broadcast on 15th August, when the Academy of Ancient Music will perform Glories of the Baroque .

Claire Seymour

Monteverdi: The Ache of Love

I Fagiolini: Rebecca Lea (soprano), Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Mulroy (tenor), Matthew Long (tenor), Greg Skidmore (baritone), Charles Gibbs (bass), Lynda Sayce (chitarrone), Robert Hollingworth (organ/director)

Live from London , broadcast from the VOCES8 Centre; Saturday 8th August, 2020.

image= image_description= product=yes product_title=Monteverdi: The Ache of Love - I Fagiolini (Live from London) product_by=A review by Claire Seymour product_id=Above: I Fagiolini

Photo credit: Matthew Brodie
Posted by claire_s at 1:21 PM

August 6, 2020

ROF Streams Rossini’s
La cambiale di matrimonio

The premiere is at 8:30 PM, August 8, Central European Time (Rome), thus at 7:30 PM in London, at 2:30 PM in New York and at 11:30 AM in San Francisco. The premiere will be streamed from the Rossini Opera Festival website, as well as from (it’s free to register) where it may be found for the following 48 hours.

The five, live performances take place in Pesaro’s Teatro Rossini. Built as the Teatro Nuovo in 1818 it was then inaugurated by Rossini conducting his La gazza ladra. Its classical Italian horseshoe shape has been retained through its many renovations and upgrades, the latest in 2002.

For this production the theater has been adapted to our new pandemic world. Each of the theater’s 95 (or so) boxes will hold but two patrons, the orchestra will be seated on the orchestra (parterre [in French] or platea [in Italian], the action said to be taking place on the stage.

Cambiale_Pesaro2.pngStage director Laurence Dale with assistant in Teatro Rossini

La cambiale di matrimonio was last seen in Pesaro in 2006. This new 2020 production is staged by British Laurence Dale, once a singer, now a stage director, once the artistic director of Opera Africa, now artistic director of the Evian Festival. Designer Gary McCann has collaborated with stage director Dale for several productions at Holland’s Nederlandse Reisopera (aka the Dutch Touring Company).

Conductor Dmitry Korchak is well known to Pesaro audiences, having achieved considerable distinction as a singer in a number of baritenore roles. As well he has an active career as a conductor in Russia. In Pesaro he conducted Rossini’s Stabat Mater in 2016.

The cast is led by well-known buffo baritone Carlo Lepore as Mill, a shady London businessman who wants to marry his daughter to Snoot, a generous Canadian businessman sung by baritone Iurii Samoilov (a recent Billy Budd at the Bolshoi Opera). Mill’s daughter Fanni is sung by soprano Giuliana Gianfaldoni, who really loves the impoverished Edoardo, sung by Davide Giusti. Both young lovers are former participants in the Festival’s Accademia Rossiniana.

This youthful work premiered in 1810 when Rossini was only 18 years old, the first of his operas to be presented in a professional theater. Six years later Rossini reworked its first act duet into The Barber of Seville’s famed “Dunque io son” (the object of Lindoro’s affections).

There is a curtain raiser to Rossini’s brief farce. It is the 18 minute dramatic cantata Giovanna d’Arco that Rossini composed in 1832 for mezzo-soprano (Rossini’s last opera Guillaume Tell was composed in 1829). The cantata is four concert arias with piano, though here it is in an orchestral version by Salvatore Sciarrino performed by Pesaro’s Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini. The artist is Marianna Pizzolato who in 2010 enjoyed great success in the title role of Rossini’s biggest and best comedy, La cenerentola.

For more information about the theaters used by Pesaro’s Rossini Opera Festival please see Two Summer Festivals That Can. Scroll down.

Michael Milenski

product_title=La cambiale di matrimonio in Pesaro
product_by=A review by Michael Milenski
product_id=Above: Soprano Giuliana Gianfaldoni who sings Fanni [Photos courtesy of the Rossini Opera Festival]

Posted by michael_m at 4:40 PM

Glyndebourne Open House - Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Brett Dean’s Hamlet

Glyndebourne Open House throws open our doors to everyone, everywhere: join us at 5.00pm each Sunday and enjoy world-class opera in your living room for free.

In true Festival style, we hope you’ll use this as an opportunity to make memories - dust off your finery, clink a glass with friends and family and be united with opera lovers from across the globe. We can’t conjure the smell of the Glyndebourne roses or a view of the lake, but we can still create an experience to share.

Coming up on Sunday 9 August is David McVicar’s production of Giulio Cesare, followed on 16 August by Neil Armfield’s staging of Brett Dean’s Hamlet. These two operas will be available to watch on Glyndebourne's website and YouTube channel.


9 August - Giulio Cesare: from 5pm on 9 August and on demand for one week.

Watch on the Glyndebourne website or YouTube channel.

When Egypt’s seductive queen meets Rome’s powerful ruler, the stakes are high, both for politics and passion. Horrified by the brutal murder of his rival by Cleopatra’s brother Tolomeo, Cesare joins forces with Cleopatra to depose her unscrupulous sibling. But is their alliance one of love, lust or just mutual ambition?

A true Glyndebourne classic, David McVicar’s production brings all-singing, all-dancing energy to one of Handel’s greatest scores. Sumptuous designs that nod to Britain’s colonial history transform a tale of political intrigue into a dazzling spectacle, sweeping the audience up in its tangled web of power, revenge and romance.

The resourceful, complicated Cleopatra and smooth statesman Cesare are two of Handel’s most fascinating creations - characters whose music, by turns heart-breaking and ecstatic, includes so many of the composer’s finest arias.

William Christie conducts a cast led by Sarah Connolly as Cesare and Danielle de Niese as Cleopatra.

16 August - Hamlet: from 5pm on 16 August and on demand for one week.

Watch on the Glyndebourne website or YouTube channel.

Tormented by his father’s death, Hamlet plots revenge. But it’s a long way from anger to murder, and soon the Prince finds himself losing his grip on sanity, strength, love and even life itself.

Rapturously received at its 2017 premiere, Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn’s Hamlet is an award-winning reimagining of Shakespeare’s most famous play. Placing his audience at the heart of the drama, immersing them in sound and even physical sensation, Dean invites us all into Hamlet’s consciousness, to inhabit the mind of one of the cleverest, wittiest, most troubled heroes in all literature.

Transforming the Glyndebourne auditorium into a ‘theatre of sound’, Dean’s richly lyrical score finds the music of Shakespeare’s language, amplifying it to create an evocative, disturbing soundscape. This is Hamlet, but not as you’ve ever heard it before.

Neil Armfield directs an all-star cast led by Allan Clayton and Barbara Hannigan. Vladimir Jurowski conducts.


Posted by claire_s at 5:45 AM

August 5, 2020

Grange Park Opera announces 2021 season

This season covers a deliberately broad range of productions from the traditional, a rarity for connoisseurs, to a brand new - and highly topical - work. And then there’s an old favourite thrown in.

The season curtain-raiser is an unmissable production of Falstaff with opera superstar Bryn Terfel in the title role. Of equal importance, is the world premiere of The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko , the tragic story of the poisoning of the Russian dissident, which has been rescheduled from the Lost 2020 Season. Opera giant David Pountney directs Rimsky-Korsakov’s hidden gem: the composer’s first opera, Ivan the Terrible - also known as The Maid of Pskov - and then there’s the world’s favourite opera, LabBohème, to round off the season.

Falstaff - Verdi
10 June - 18 July

As the saying goes, “Shakespeare invented him, Verdi made him immortal” - and, surely, it was Bryn Terfel who defined him. Terfel first sung Falstaff in 1999, and in 2021 the bass-baritone superstar returns once more to the role at Grange Park Opera. This production by Stephen Medcalf was first shown in the 17th century Farnese theatre in Parma (2011) with designs that are truly Falstaffian including sensational backcloths by Italian master Rinaldo Rinaldi.

Natalya Romaniw, Janis Kelly and Sara Fulgoni are the conniving wives of Windsor in Verdi’s only comic opera, written when the composer was 80 - contradicting the adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The opera is a hymn to the irrepressibility of the human spirit.

As Terfel says, “It’s just a joy to portray on the stage, this loveable old rogue who can’t help but lie, eat, cheat and drink”.

Ivan the Terrible - Rimsky Korsakov
19 June - 14 July

David Pountney directs a new production of one of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s hidden gems: the composer’s first opera, Ivan the Terrible - also known as The Maid of Pskov.

The tyrannical Tsar, Ivan IV, sweeps through the city of Novgorod, on a wholesale pillage. In the picturesque town of Pskov, Ivan billets himself at the house where he sees a beautiful young woman. Something stays his hand and the city is spared. Could it be because he has discovered his long-lost love child, Olga?

With its expansive music, dramatic plot and vivid crowd scenes, Ivan the Terrible is a spectacle.

The exciting cast includes Evelina Dobracheva as Princess Olga, Liubov Sokolova as Vlasyevna, Carl Tanner as Tucha, and Clive Bayley as Ivan the Terrible.

World première
The Life & Death of Alexander Litvinenko
15 & 17 July

Composer - Anthony Bolton
Libretto - Kit Hesketh-Harvey

Exiled and living in London, former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko learns that his former colleagues are using his face for target practice. Litvinenko had publicly accused his FSBsuperiors of extensive corruption and refused orders to assassinate, Boris Berezovsky.

A law is passed that allows Russian traitors to be killed anywhere in the world; a few months later - in November 2006 - Litvinenko is poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 and dies.

This real-life story is told through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards covering events in Russia that lead Litvinenko to seek exile and his family’s life in Muswell Hill. Extensive use is made of historic film footage.

The cast includes Andrew Watts (Head of the FSB), Andrew Slater (Boris Berezovsky), Adrian Dwyer (Alexander Litvinenko) and Rebecca Bottone (Marina Litvinenko).

Using a full chorus and a 52-piece orchestra, Bolton's musical language is contemporary, yet incorporates the lyrical tradition of the Russian masters. He quotes from both opera and normal life: an army marching song, a Moscow football team anthem and the Chechen national anthem.

The opera is sung in English, with some choruses in Russian.

La bohème - Puccini
12 June - 8 July

Regularly voted as the world’s favourite opera - Puccini’s evocation of life, love and death in Bohemian Paris at the turn of the century has had audiences weeping into their handkerchiefs ever since its première in 1896.

When penniless poet Rodolfo meets seamstress Mimì they fall passionately in love. But their happiness is threatened when Rodolfo learns that Mimì is gravely ill.

Luis Chapa plays Rodolfo with Irish soprano Ailish Tynan as Mimi. William Dazeley is painter Marcello and Hye-Youn Lee his quarrelsome, needy girlfriend, Musetta.

Twitter @grangeparkopera / Facebook /grangeparkoperafestival / Instagramgrangeparkopera

image= image_description= product=yes product_title=Grange Park Opera, Surrey: 2021 season announced product_by= product_id=Above: The Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley
Posted by claire_s at 4:32 AM

After Silence: VOCES8

In his essay ‘The Rest is Silence’, Huxley reflects on human responses to beauty, pleasure, pain, ecstasy and death - how such things are experienced but not ‘expressed’ through silence, and through music. Essentially, thus, the two hours of diverse music presented by VOCES8 explores, or perhaps represents, what it is to be human. Listening to this eclectic compendium of choral glories, I repeatedly found myself recalling the question and answer that Beethoven poses at the start of his last major composition, the Op.135 string quartet: ‘Muß es sein? … Es muß sein!’

The choral works which comprise each ‘chapter’ of After Silence relate to themes associated with the four elements: Remembrance invokes death, loss and the return to earth; Devotion focuses on the flames of love, sacred and secular; Redemption celebrates rebirth and the renewed breath of life; Elemental returns to the ebb and flow of nature.

The path of each stage of the journey is winding and far-reaching. Remembrance moves from Gibbons to Pärt, back to Byrd via Harris, then on to Fauré, stopping at Parry on the way. A unity of performance style - beautifully blended vocal groupings, pristine timbres and textures, mellifluous phrasing - creates coherence, but sometimes neglects the piquancy which springs from the dynamic union of, and tension between, music and word, and which can momentarily inject a bittersweet drop into the tender and poignant.

For this reason - and I’ll get what is practically my only misgiving about this terrific compendium of choral music out of the way at the start - for all their sonic beauty, I’m not really enamoured of the Renaissance offerings in Remembrance. Gibbons’ ‘Drop, Drop, Slow Tears’ transfigures personal, emotional dissonance through musical and collective consonance. This is a wonderfully affirmative communal hymn, but here the tempo is rather slow which diminishes the sense of congregational positivity. Rather than injecting uplifting confirmation, the phrases threaten to dissipate: the final notes of some phrases are cut off prematurely. This is a direct statement of Anglican faith: it needs no mannerism and while one might expect or anticipate a breath before final phrase, “but through my tears”, to heighten the cadential assurance, but here we have a huge hiatus and then a rallentando which feel unduly ponderous.

William Byrd’s ‘Ne Irascaris, Domine’ and ‘Civitas Sancti Tui’ from the Liber Sacrarum Cantionum of 1589 are similarly lethargic, and this diffuses the impact of the accumulating imitations. The 54 entries on the words ‘desolata est’ should overwhelm the listener, and each entry must make its own impact and statement, especially as Byrd shuns harmonic heightening; but here the ties, syncopations and suspension do not inject the necessary vitality. In a short article in the generous and handsome accompanying 52-page booklet - which includes essays, texts, translations and visual art by Debbie Loftus - Paul Williamson notes that the choral works showcased have been ‘freed from their original contextual restraints’, which seems to deny that such contexts may be integral to the music’s ‘meaning’.

VOCES8 are on firmer ground with the incantatory accumulations of Arvo Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry - a setting of a 5th-century text thought to be by Saint Patrick and which tells the story of Patrick leading a group of monks through the woods, following an ambush: they are taken for a mother deer and her calves, and so they are saved. The eight voices expand thrillingly to fill the sonic canvas and the placing of the fragmentary phrases amid the silences is careful and controlled. Parry’s ‘There is an old belief’ from the Songs of Farewell has a lovely fluency: the harmonic swivels feel consoling rather than disconcerting and there is assurance in the steadiness of timbre and tempo. The unison voices literally thunder, “That creed I fain would keep”, then sink in reverential awe as the sequential phrases rise with intensifying harmonic tartness. Best of all in the Remembrance sequence is William Harris’s motet for double unaccompanied choir, ‘Bring Us, O lord God’: the antiphonal dynamics and phrasings swell sonorously and the final “Amen” really does evoke the rumbling shudders of the finest cathedral organ.

V8 Silence.jpgVOCES8. Photo credit: Kaupo Kikkas.

The ensemble’s artistic director, Barnaby Smith, observes that VOCES8 strives for versatility and thus alongside the canonical choral masterpieces are works which demonstrate ‘the variety of genres and soundworlds the ensemble employs in order to engage with our diverse audiences’. I’m not a fan of the music of Eric Whitacre, whose ‘A Boy and a Girl’ and ‘Sleep’ open Devotion and close the final chapter, Elemental, respectively, but millions are and many will no doubt enjoy these offerings. Jonathan Dove’s ‘The Three Kings’ is certainly to my liking, however. The coolness and translucency of the singers’ colours and textures in the first section - in which Dorothy L Sayers’ text depicts the presentation of myrrh to the infant Christ by the youngest of the magi - occasionally flinches with a bitterness which dissolves with the offering of frankincense, and finally thickens into liquid gold: a fountain of dazzling drops that suddenly spray like fireworks from the spinning Catherine wheel of overlapping laudations, “Many a gaud and glittering toy”, as the refrain blossoms ecstatically, “O balow, balow la lay,/ Gifts for a baby King, O”. A contrasting calm regularity is established in Philip Stopford’s Lully, Lulla, Lullay, a setting of the Coventry Carol, but there is no less rapture in the soaring descant flights of the final verse.

Characteristically precise ensemble singing, and attentiveness to dynamic and textural contrasts, articulate the diverse emotions of one Glauco, the grieving protagonist of Scipione Agnelli’s poem, to which Monteverdi gave musical utterance in Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata from the Sixth Book of Madrigals. The Italian is clearly enunciated, but there’s a certain poetic spontaneity lacking, such as would convey the fluctuating extremes endured by this bereaved lover before the tomb of his beloved - and by Monteverdi himself whose own grief following the death of his pupil, the 18-year-old Caterina Martinelli, almost drove the composer to death. Noting ‘the great suffering I underwent’, Monteverdi later explained: “I almost killed myself when writing Arianna.” Here, as so often, Bach assuages the pain, in the form of ‘Jesus bleibet meine Freude’ (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring) in which VOCES8 are joined by oboist Nick Deutsch and organist Alexander Hamilton from the Academy of Ancient Music. It’s warm, gently expansive and consoling.

We hear again from both Bach and the Academy of Ancient Music in the composer’s early cantata, ‘Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich’, which closes the Redemption chapter on disc two. The six movements interleave excerpts from Psalm 25 and anonymous verse, as Bach depicts the believer’s struggle to balance quotidian tribulations with faith in God’s everlasting love. Voices and instruments are effectively balanced throughout, and the frequent and sudden tempo changes in the choruses are confidently negotiated. The faster sections have an uplifting vitality while the homophonic pleas are urgent and sincere.

There are some unfamiliar names and voices in this chapter, too, which begins with the collective conviction and peace of ‘Spaséñiye, sodélal’ (Salvation is Created (1912)), a setting of a Russian chant melody by Pavel Tschesnokoff (1877-1944) based on Psalm 74. We travel both ‘The Long Road’, in the form of Ēriks Ešenvalds’s (b.1977) setting verses by Latvian poet Paulīna Bārda, and ‘The Road Home’, carried along the latter by Stephen Paulus’ arrangement of an American tune, ‘Prospect’ (published in Southern Harmony in 1835) to which Paulus has set new words by Michael Dennis Browne. The latter wends its way warmly, while the shining sincerity and elation of the former is broken only temporarily by the mystery of the voice’s soft susurrations and an ocarina’s haunting song (Andrea Haines). The familiar is also made anew: Mahler’s ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ (from the Rückert-Lieder) is presented in an arrangement for eight voices, obbligato cor anglais and solo soprano, the latter sung by Mary Bevan. Deutsch’s firm, warm cor anglais complements the shining intensity of Bevan’s vocal line and, above and around the dense mass of voices, their conversation achieves a peaceful apotheosis.

Elemental includes two world premiere recordings of works commissioned by VOCES8: Jonathan Dove’s ‘Vertue’, a thrilling kaleidoscopic celebration of vocal colour, and Mårten Jansson’s ‘An Elemental Elegy’ which floats with an easy melodism and elegiac sweetness. Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia is the longest work included in the four chapters of After Silence, and it inspires some of the finest singing from VOCES8. The voices caress the lilting phrases of ‘In a garden shady’ but the assertive declarations are a glistening blaze, fired by rhythmic strength and vitality. ‘I cannot grow’ is sprightly, pattering on tiptoe then blossoming in mischievous bursts of light, while the final movement’s depiction of the ‘dear white children casual as birds’ manages to convey both heavenly heights and the reality of human experience. The unison plea to Blessed Cecilia - “appear in visions,/ To all musicians, appear and inspire” - which closes each of the three parts is first innocently hopeful, then more urgent and pressing, and finally a euphonious resolution of angelic innocence and earthly experience.

Huxley’s essay, ‘The Rest is Silence’ (from Music at Night and Other Essays (1931)) is printed within the booklet. At a time when live performances have been silenced, concert halls gather dust and we struggle to understand the unimaginable and articulate the inexpressible, Huxley’s concluding words seem apposite: ‘When the inexpressible had to be expressed, Shakespeare laid down his pen and called for music. And, if the music should also fail? Well, there was always silence to fall back on. For always, always and everywhere, the rest is silence.’

Claire Seymour

VOCES8 performed works from After Silence in the first concert of the Live from London festival which runs each Saturday evening for ten weeks. Ticket holders will be able to watch live and/or on demand from the date of broadcast until 3rd October and in addition will be granted viewing rights to the full, 4K post-produced, concert films from the 4 th-31st October. Each broadcast concert lasts 60 minutes.

product_title=After Silence
product_by=VOCES8, with Mary Bevan (soprano) and the Academy of Ancient Music
product_id= VOCES8 Records VCM129 [62:53, 65:28]

Posted by claire_s at 4:04 AM

August 2, 2020

Beethoven's Songs and Folksongs: Bostridge and Pappano

Listening to Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, which sets six poems by Alois Jeitteles and is considered a ground-breaking innovation in the development of the genre, I usually find myself seeking and relishing that narrative and unity, reflecting on the strophic simplicity of the songs, the single, focused affect of each being alleviated through subtle variations of the stanzas; on the piano’s inter-song connecting phrases that create the sense of evolving thoughts and feelings; on the harmonic structure which takes some twists and turns but arcs back to its starting point; on the binding derivation of songs two to six from motives drawn from the first song, ‘Auf dem Hügel’; and on the ‘return’ effected at the close of the last song, ‘Nimm sie hin, den diese Lieder’, through rhyme-scheme echoes, melodic restatement and the reprise of certainty, “Und ein liebend Herz erreichet/ Was ein liebend Herz geweiht!” And a loving heart will attain what a loving heart has blessed! Thus, is distance overcome, a union of hearts realised.

However, when I listened to Ian Bostridge and Antonio Pappano perform An die ferne Geliebte at the start of the duo’s new recording of Beethoven’s songs and folksong arrangements it was not so much the unity of the whole but rather the diversity within it that struck me. And, this changefulness seems to enhance the fanciful nature of the protagonist’s imagined fulfilment, making the moments of reality that occasionally overpower the subjective dreaming all the more powerful and poignant.

‘Auf dem Hügel’ is the sort of song to which Bostridge’s tender, warm tenor is perfectly suited. The tempo here is a little slower than I expected, and the effect is to heighten the sense of illusion as the poet-speaker looks down from the hill where he sits, across the misty blue countryside, seeking his distant beloved beyond the mountains and valleys which separate them. The expressive touches are gentle but telling: the warming propulsion of the piano’s off-beat bass quavers as the poet’s fiery gaze wings its way; the enrichening of the anguished question, “Will den nichts mehr zu dir dringen?” (Will nothing ever reach you again?); the flinch of pain - “Die dir klagen meine Pein!” The poet puts his faith in his singing: songs will put to flight all space and all time. Bostridge makes this feel just a youthful dream, the impetuous acceleration in the closing lines conveying a deluded belief in an impossible consummation.

The piano’s strange harmonic swivel, from Eb major to G major, thus seems more disconcerting than comforting, the major tonality itself unnerving, even ironic, and the repetitive small rises and falls of the vocal line in ‘Wo die Berge so blau’ a self-deceiving hypnotist’s trick. The beautiful, light melodiousness only serves to make reality seem even further away, and the voice’s monotone murmurings in the central section of the song carry the protagonist still further into his own introspective meditations. Bostridge suggests that the protagonist is vivified by his intensity, his “Innere Pein” (inner pain) quickening and quivering like a candle flame, and the ensuing song ‘Leichte Segler in den Höhen’ duly darts forwards, Pappano’s rippling triplets evoking the brook, clouds, birds and winds which the poet-speaker urges to carry his love towards his chosen one. Bostridge’s breathless staccato quavers are the pulsations of a burning heart.

The final line of this song, “Mein Tränen ohne Zahl !”, is sustained into the ensuing ‘Diese Wolken in den Höhen’ and lifts the poet further into flights of fancy. Here, the decorative mordants and trills of the piano’s high-lying echoes tease and mock the blithe dreamer whose absolute conviction Bostridge brilliantly conveys. But, ‘Es kehret der Maien’ brings the shock of blunt reality. Initially the protagonist ignores the warning latent in the piano’s syncopations, sforzandi, trills and fragmentation, and instead accepts Pappano’s invitation to join in delighted imaginings of the blissful union which will come as surely as the warmth and rebirth of spring follow winter. Bostridge does not employ excessive heightening or mannerism to reveal the poet’s disillusionment. Instead, directness and simplicity are more powerful expressive tools. First, a slight ritardando indicates the growing realisation that, unlike the forward-flowing bubbling brook and the returning swallow, the poet is trapped in the lonely, unchanging present: “Nur ich kann nicht ziehen von hinnen.” All the ever-increasing hope and belief of the preceding songs here dissolves, and the vitality dissipates from the vocal line, “Und Tränen und all ihr Gewinnen”. Tears are the only prize that their love will bring confirms Beethoven, preceding the repetition of the final poetic phrase with a sombre, stark, ‘ja’, the sentiments cruelly underlined by the slow slippage into the minor key.

Only dreaming will provide relief and salve, and so another harmonic swivel takes the final song back to its starting place. Again, the performers’ restrained tempo and Bostridge’s vocal tenderness convey retreat from painful reality into the consolation of song, and the tenor rises to a wonderful pianissimo peak above the smudgy softness of the piano’s chordal sextuplets as the red evening sun fades behind the mountain heights, and then again, with his heart full only of longing: “Nur der Sehnsucht sich bewußt.” In the final bars, musical echoes and repetitions bring about the transformation of such longing into fulfilment: no matter that is imagined and illusory, music makes it real and unquestionable.

I don’t intend, readers may be relieved to hear, to treat all of the songs on this disc to the same detailed dissection, just to say that the other twelve art songs are explored by Bostridge and Pappano with equal thoughtfulness and perspicacity, the moods and ‘meaning’, emotions and experiences nurtured through music and sensitive music-making. ‘Adelaide’ brims with barely contained rapture, and Bostridge sustains a strong line as the melodic arcs peak and shimmer. It’s interesting to hear Beethoven’s four settings of Goethe’s ‘Sehnsucht’ side by side, with their different expressive effects arising from choices of tempo, phrase structure and tonality. The first, Andante, quivers with tremulous agitation, while the asymmetrical phrases of the second, Poco Andante, deepen the feeling of incompleteness. The major key of the Adagio version, and Bostridge’s fluent vocal line, create a calmer mood, while the final Poco Adagio is the most intense, the melody twisting around itself within a narrow tessitura and reaching a pained chromatic climax, “Mein Eingeweide” (My body blazes). These are straightforward strophic settings, but I feel that there is detail in the piano accompaniments that Pappano does not always exploit.

There is more Goethe. The duo have fun with the ‘Song of the Flea’ from Faust, Bostridge’s consonants and patter as spiky as Pappano’s itchy staccatos. ‘Mailied’ sparkles with vivacity and joy at the magic of nature’s glories. In contrast, ‘Ich liebe dich’ (Karl Freidrich Wilhelm Herrosee) has the serenity and certainty of a prayer; ‘In questa tomba oscura’ (Giuseppe Carpani) truly does seem to come from ‘the other side’, Bostridge’s veiled whisper occasionally shuddering as it conveys the pained memories of one betrayed, and then exploding with an anger incarcerated that can never find release. The question which runs through ‘Andenken’ (Friedrich von Matthisson), “Wann/Wo/Wie denkst du mein?” (When/Where/How do you think of me?) captures the exquisite paradoxes of Romantic solipsism. ‘Resignation’ (Paul von Haigwitz) is not an easy song to perform, or understand; its structural disjunctions seem to convey a desire to banish not just the fire of unrequited love but also its own creative light - “Lisch aus, mein Licht!” - representing an abandonment of the faith in art’s transfiguring power expressed in An die ferne Geliebte. Bostridge, characteristically, takes painstaking care with both text and phrasing.

Alongside these lieder Bostridge and Pappano present some of the Irish, Scottish and Welsh folksong arrangements that Beethoven made for his friend, the Scottish publisher George Thomson, following in the footsteps of Pleyel and Haydn, but - ever the astute businessman - earning considerably than his predecessors for his trouble. Beethoven began supplying these folksong arrangements (sometimes not genuine folk song melodies and often with texts supplied by Burns, Byron and others), to satisfying burgeoning markets for domestic music-making in both the UK and Vienna, in 1809 and by 1820 had composed more than 170 such song, mainly with piano trio accompaniment.

Bostridge and Pappano are joined by violinist Vilde Frang and cellist Nicolas Altstaedt in eight songs. Bostridge doesn’t seem to be quite in his comfort zone here, unsure occasionally whether to employ idiomatic Celtic accents - ‘The pulse of an Irishman’ is rather inconsistent in this regard - or how far to indulge the songs’ comedy, eccentricity and boisterousness. Some seem to lay rather low, too, and as the voice falls the piano tends to dominate, especially in the faster songs. Beethoven achieves a sensitive balance between the four musical elements, but here the string players are not served well by the engineers, and Frang’s commentaries in particular struggle to make their mark. Some songs, such as ‘The lovely lass of Inverness’ and ‘The Return to Ulster’ feel a bit ‘effortful’: the melodies need to be allowed to spin their own spell. The Scottish song ‘O Mary, ye’s be clad in silk’ communicates its sentiments with directness though, and ‘The Parting Kiss’, a Welsh melody, has a touching truthfulness and gentle wistfulness.

An early Goethe setting concludes the disc: ‘Marmotte’, composed in 1790, which depicts a travelling Arab troubadour and his trained pet, entertaining street-passers for their supper. The song has a folk-like simplicity and here Bostridge proves a compelling scene-painter and storyteller.

I was a late learner when it comes to recognising Beethoven’s achievement as a composer of song. My first experiences of Beethoven came through playing his symphonies and learning the violin sonatas; then, as a student, through analysing the piano sonatas and string quartets. I wish I’d had this disc when I was a young violinist, as it would surely have helped me to appreciate how Beethoven ‘sings’, in whatever medium or genre.

Claire Seymour image= image_description=Warner Classics 9029527643 product=yes product_title=Beethoven: Songs and Folksongs product_by=Ian Bostridge (tenor), Antonio Pappano (piano), Vilde Frang (violin), Nicolas Altstaedt (cello) product_id=Warner Classics 9029527643 [62:05] price=$18.98 product_url=

Posted by claire_s at 8:45 AM