Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

ETO Autumn 2020 Season Announcement: Lyric Solitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anima Rara: Ermonela Jaho

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

A wonderful Wigmore Hall debut by Elizabeth Llewellyn

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

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

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

The Sixteen: Music for Reflection, live from Kings Place

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise Lost: Tête-à-Tête 2020

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

Max Lorenz: Tristan und Isolde, Hamburg 1949

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

Joyce DiDonato: Met Stars Live in Concert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choral Dances: VOCES8, Live from London

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

Royal Opera House Gala Concert

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

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

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

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

31 Aug 2020

Fading: The Gesualdo Six at Live from London

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

Fading: The Gesualdo Six, Owain Park (director) at Live from London

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: The Gesualdo Six

 

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.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):