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."



10 Sep 2020

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.

London Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle (conductor) a live streamed concert from LSO St Luke’s

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Allan Clayton (tenor)

Photo credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke


Knussen, whose father was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra for nearly twenty years, was one of the towering figures of British post-war contemporary music, as a composer and conductor, teacher and artistic director. At the age of fifteen, he conducted the premiere of his own First Symphony with the LSO, when their principal conductor, István Kertész, was indisposed. His father played in the first performance of Benjamin Britten’s church parable Curlew River by the English Opera Group directed by Colin Graham, on 13 June 1964 at St Bartholomew's Church, Orford. The young Knussen attended all the rehearsals, receiving encouragement from Britten who commissioned a work from the young composer for the 1969 Aldeburgh festival. He later became the festival’s artistic director from 1983 to 1998. Turnage studied with Knussen when he joined the junior section of the Royal College of Music; he paid warm tribute to his teacher, mentor and friend in conversation with BBC Radio 3’s Sean Rafferty in July 2018.

This musical tribute began with Knussen’s own music: ‘Songs and a Sea Interlude’, which draws episodes from his fantasy opera, Where the Wild Things Are (1979-83), into a seventeen-minute account of the imaginary adventures of Maurice Sendak’s naughty young protagonist, Max. The LSO musicians - string and woodwind players spread across the floor of St Luke’s, horns aloft in the balcony - and Sir Simon Rattle were joined by soprano Lucy Crowe who brilliantly embodied the petulant five-year-old, first cheeky then sombre, cocksure then afraid, reviving memories of her strongly characterised Vixen in the LSO’s semi-staged performance of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen at the Barbican Hall in June 2019 . Her soprano was unwaveringly clear and pure, and skilfully nuanced as she negotiated the exuberant swoops and cries, and tender pleas and wonderings, with pinpoint accuracy. In scene one, the young lad - who is dressed in a wolf suit and wielding a toy sword - pompously asserted, “I’m Max! M-A-X the wolf”. Bossily, he bullied and beat his toys. Later, hungry and alone, and frightened by his own dream of flying high, he yearned for his mother. “I’ll say, ‘Now stop’, and she’ll catch me,” sang Crowe, with heartfelt pathos and sincerity.

lucy-crowe © Marco Borggreve.jpgLucy Crowe. Photo credit: Marco Borggreve.

The LSO whistled, rustled, flickered, sparkled, gruntled and growled, like the monsters and beasts that young Max encounters on his fantasy escapades, as Rattle carefully and subtly sculpted every one of Knussen’s musical delicacies. In the sea interlude the harp and solo horn conjured the palpable ripples and intangible mysteries of the eerie ocean. Rattle crafted the constantly shifting colours and textures into a mesmerising mosaic: a genuine musical kaleidoscope.

Turnage’s Last Song for Olly is dedicated to the memory of his former teacher, who was affectionately known as ‘Olly’, or ‘Big Owl’, to his friends. It began with an animated dance that wriggled and jived excitedly, seeming to capture the energy, invention, warm generosity and playful humour of Knussen. The sequence of swirling dances, as rich and colourful as his mentor's music - alternated with more sombre chorale-like episodes, poignant, slow-moving chords played by horns and brass being flecked with dashes of colour and light from the woodwind, strings and percussion. The temperature seemed to cool, and the mood darken, when the material passed to muted trombones, whose chords were lightly nudged by grumbling double bass motifs, and high woodwind, floating on a shimmer of vibraphone. But, the dancing sprites gradually edged their way back into the texture, before brassy surges and forthright timpani assertions pushed towards a tutti restatement of the chorale theme. The full and glowing soundscape seemed to embody Knussen’s largesse and greatness, as a musician and man - the man who was lovingly remembered and honoured in Turnage’s concluding elegy, the ‘Song for Olly’, eloquently introduced by the four horns and then shared by all. The bright sheen of the full ensemble - Turnage apparently had to reduce his scoring for this performance, since the LSO were straining the seams of St Luke's - finally faded into quietude, guided on its journey by solo double bass reflections and finally borne aloft by high woodwind.

Explaining how and why the programme had been devised, Rattle commented that in a ‘normal’ concert, one wouldn’t think of ending a concert with an off-stage horn solo, “But, in these times, it seems to tell a different story.” The horn solo which opens Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings did indeed seem to commence a narrative, one played with firm definition and stature by Richard Watkins. ‘Pastoral’ had a tremulous, distant quality. Allan Clayton floated the stanza beginnings, and the tempo was restrained, but the tenor warmly projected Charles Cotton’s strange image, “Molehills seem mountains, and the ant/Appears a monstrous elephant”, triggering lively, light pizzicatos, before the low horn pedal pulled all back into the shadows once more. ‘Nocturne’ had a visceral inner energy which was at times quelled by Clayton’s beautifully hushed head voice, nuanced by a lovely vibrato, and then released in the bloom of the horn’s agile, leaping bugle and the tenor’s surging celebration of the echoes that “roll from soul to soul,/ And grow for ever and for ever.”

The horn’s semitone falls in the ‘Elegy’ sounded even more portentous than usual, and laden with both sadness and anger. In the current political landscape, Blake’s vision of a morally stricken Albion, “O Rose, thou art sick”, felt disconcertingly pertinent. Rattle and Watkins shaped the movement in a way which seemed to compel the listener to search ever deeper within themselves, the horn’s final squirms leaving an uncomfortable echo in the silence. But, Clayton did not let it linger for long, taking up the story in ‘Dirge’. His diction was exemplary, and while the delivery was supremely controlled there was a certain latent wildness, of a ‘Grimesian’ kind, in the upwards, swooping octave leaps and vocal intensity, and in the strings’ precise and pressing counterpoint. Watkins was a skipping, light-footed hunter in ‘Hymn’, enjoying flourishes of high spirits, and Clayton matched him for agility. Keats’ ode to sleep had a rhapsodic freedom and, again, a slightly ‘untamed’ spirit, the dynamics ranging widely and suddenly, the mood fitful and restless. The image of the “curious Conscience, that still lords/ Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole” really did seem to dig down into the bowels of the earth, before Clayton’s plea for the sealing of “the hushèd Casket of my Soul” floated reverentially into infinity, to be answered by the horn’s distant reply - plaintive yet purposeful.

There was a terrific directness about this performance. Some streamed concerts that I have enjoyed in recent months have seemed almost private, chamber performances, the musicians delighted to be able to make music together again but seemingly removed from the listeners at home, and the concert etiquette uncertain in the absence of the immediate embrace of warm applause. Such performances have been no less pleasurable for their slightly ‘enclosed’ camaraderie, but Rattle and the LSO, and both Crowe and Clayton, communicated drama and feeling with real focus, candour and commitment. As they turned to face the camera and bow to their online audience, I hope the LSO musicians were ‘hearing’ our appreciation.

This concert is available to watch live and on demand for 90 days on medici tv , and will also be recorded for future broadcast on Mezzo.

Claire Seymour

Lucy Crowe (soprano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Richard Watkins (horn), Sir Simon Rattle (conductor), London Symphony Orchestra

Knussen - Songs and a Sea Interlude from Where the Wild Things Are (Overture, Scherzino and Humming Song, Battaglia, Arietta 1, Transformation, Arietta 2, Sea Interlude, Night Song); Mark-Anthony Turnage - Last Song for Olly (world premiere); Britten - Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings

Streamed live from LSO St Luke’s, London; Wednesday 9th September 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):