Thursday, June 30, 2016
James Gilchrist and Anna Tilbrook at the Wigmore Hall, London with Sally Beamish's West Wind. Gilchrist has been one of the most determined advocates of English song, almost from the beginning of his career. Although his core repertoire is built on solid foundations of Handel, Purcell, RVW, Britten, and especially Gerald Finzi of whom he is a great exponent, Gilchrist has always made a point of promoting composers who should be more in the mainstream, like Hugh Wood, Lennox Berkeley and John Jeffreys and others whom he's performed live but not recorded. . By commissioning Beamish, one of the most prominent British composers for voice, Gilchrist is again making a valuable contribution to British music. Beamish's West Wind is based on Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ode to the West Wind, which everyone knows as a poem, but which has hardly ever been set to music, at least not in full. English poets dominate world literature - Shakespeare, the Restoration poets, Wordsworth, Keats - but this heritage is hardly reflected in music. History might explain things. The Industrial Revolution transformed British society, making it more urban and centralized than was the case elsewhere in Europe. British and European Romanticism were very different, in ways too complex to describe here. Furthermore, the British choral tradition was so strong that other forms of music making didn't get much attention. Perhaps the very nature of English Romantic poetry is relevant. The style is fulsome and elegaic, lending itself to oratorio rather than to art song. It's significant that Hubert Parry was one of the first to create art song from English poetry. Read here about the ground breaking series of Parry's songs to English texts from Somm Records (Gilchrist, Roderick Williams and Susan Gritton.) Rolling, circular figures introduce Beamish's West Wind the voice entering from a distance as if it were being blown in by the "pestilence stricken multitudes". Soon, though, the voice asserts itself., Gilchrist dings the words "Cold and low.....the corpse within its grave". A slow, penetrating chill descends, but, like the wind, the music changes direction, at turns capricious, rhen still, then rushing forth. The third section is particularly beautiful. Delicate piano figures lead into curling, keening vocal phrases that seem to hover in the air, "Lull'd by the coil of his crystalline streams". In the lower register of the piano, perhaps we can detect sonorous "lungs" . Suddenly lightness returns. "If I were a dead leaf", Gilchrist sings, almost unaccompanied, suggesting fragility. His touch is delicate, yet perfectly poised. The phrasing suits his voice. Gilchrist has the strange esoteric timbre of a typical English tenor, but also direct, almost conversational naturalness. From vulnerable sensitivity to the ferocity of the last poem. "Make me thy lyre" Gilchrist growls at the bottom of his timbre. Now Tilbrook's playing flutters weightlessly, like falling leaves. "Scatter, scatter, scatter" Gilchrist sings, each word on a slightly different level. "O.. O...O " he sang, mimicking the sound of wind, the word "Wind" pitched and held so high that it floated, rarified, into air. Beamish's West Wind is quirky, underlining the disturbing undercurrents in a poem ostensibly about Nature, but too malign to be a "nature poem". I kept thinking of Peter Warlock's The Curlew, another cycle well suited to Gilchrist's style. I also remembered Gilchrist's Die Schöne Müllerin. There are hundreds of recordings, but his stood out out from the competition because it was an interpretation derived as if from clinical observation of the miller's psychology. In this Wigmore Hall recital, Gilchrist and Tilbrook included songs by Mendelssohn,and Liszt and Schumann's Liederkreis op 39. Eichendorff's poems are less overtly ironic than Heine's, which formed the basis of Schumann's Leiderkreis Op 24. but are perhaps closer to,the spirit of the very early Romantic period. After hearing this performance, I've decided to grt Gilchrist's recent recording of the Schumann song cycles on Linn. photo credit operomnia.uk/Hazard Chase Management
English Baroque opera at St Jiohn's , Smith Square, ready for booking now. The English baroque style is unique, more "classical" than mor exuberant, southern forms, yet connected to contemporary theatrical values. St John's, Smith Square is a gem of British baroque architecture, an ideal place in which to enjoy English baroque music. Bampton Classical Opera starts the new season with "Diviner Comedies"| on 13/9, pairing Thomas Arne's The Judgement of Paris, "a witty account of a celestial beauty contest" with "the supremely lyrical Gluck Philemon and Baucis, continuing Bampton's, enterprising exploration of Gluck's lesser known operas. Paul Wingfield will conduct CHROMA Henry Purcell Dido and Aeneas on 29/9 with the celebrated La Nuova Musica, led by David Peter Bates. Major headliners - Dame Ann Murray will sing Dido and George Humphreys will sing Aneas. Again, a very good cast. What's more, with typical adventurous La Nuova Musica flair, this performance will be illustrated with dancers, choreographed by Zack Winokur. This should be one of the highlights of the season - book early ! Thomas Linley's Lyric Ode: on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare features in Bampton Classical Opera's second concert on 15/11. A glorious piuece,, vivisly dramatic. It's being paired with excerpts from Georg Benda's Singspeil Romeo and Juliet,which Bampton Opera did in 2007. Gilly French conducts the Bampton Classical Players and cast that includes Rosemary Coad, Caroline kennedy, Thomas Hereford and James Harrison. Anothernhighlight ! The Early Opera Company, conducted by Christopher Curnyn malkes a werlcome return to St Jihns Smith Square on 18/11 with Handel's Serse HWV40 , this time with Anna Stépany, Rupert Enticknap, Callum Thorpe and Claire booth, among others. Lots more, too. La Nuova Musica is doing Bach Mozart and Haydn in December. And don't foirget the famus SJSS Christmas season, which sells out fast because it's so much fun. For more details visit the SJSS . website HERE>
Carolyn Sampson, Elizabeth Kenny, Jonathan Manson, Laurence Cummings (Wigmore Hall Live)Versatile and ever engaging, soprano Carolyn Sampson shines in this showcase of contrasting Purcell songs, recorded live at Wigmore Hall last year. She and three top baroque players have drawn on the “Gresham manuscript”, written in the composer’s own hand in the last decade of the 17th century but forgotten until the mid-20th century. The disc opens with four richly expressive songs from The Fairy Queen and includes two “mad songs”: Let the dreadful Engines of Eternal Will and From rosy bow’rs from Don Quixote. Laurence Cummings, Elizabeth Kenny and Jonathan Manson contribute instrumental works by Draghi, Corbetta, Simpson and Purcell himself. As an encore, Sampson sings Fairest Isle, unhurried, with lovely ornament and pure tone. Continue reading...
NDR Choir, Göttingen Festival Orchestra/Cummings (Accent) You might not think to turn to a German recording of Handel’s quintessentially English Coronation Anthems, which learned so much from the example of Purcell, but this has a splendid combination of vitality and expressiveness. The choir of North German Radio has excellent English, the Göttingen Festival Orchestra is bursting with energy and Laurence Cummings is never too insistent but shapes the music with real warmth. Although recorded on two live occasions two years apart, the programme makes perfect sense as the bookends are Zadok the Priest (in Cummings’s hands a searing march) and the chorus “God is our hope” from Esther, which reuses the same music. Uplifting. Continue reading...
There are times when a reviewer has to deal with a controversial artistic experience upon which colleagues can have very different opinions. Such a case is undoubtedly the version presented by Sasha Waltz of Purcell´s "Dido and Aeneas" at the Colón. The famous fault ("grieta") also applies to culture. Some background first. "Dido and Aeneas" was written by Henry Purcell in 1682 and is recognised as the initial English opera. Other famous scores of the greatest Baroque composer of his time and place are considered semi-operas and have been seen here, such as "The Fairy Queen" and "King Arthur", in very good historicist versions. Here "Dido..." was premièred in 1953 with first-rate local singers and the knowledgeable conducting of Felix Prohaska, organized by that admirable institution, Amigos de la Música. The Colón gave a notable presentation in 1978, with the talents of Steuart Bedford (conductor), Michael Geliot (producer), Roberto Oswald (stage design) and Aníbal Lápiz (costumes) and good Argentine singers. The 2002 revival was much less stylish. At the Colón the 50-minute "Dido..." was coupled with another short opera; I liked the choice in 1978, the première of Busoni´s "Arlecchino". And this year, after 24 years, the most adequate historicist coupling would have been John Blow´s "Venus and Adonis" (1681), although it´s a masque (a semiopera). Of course, "Dido..." has been profusely recorded (at least 25 times), and with such varied Didos as sopranos Flagstad, De los Ángeles, Kirkby, and mezzos Veasey, Von Otter, Baker. And almost all the Baroque specialist conductors. It certainly isn´t the only time that Dido was an opera heroine: there are about fifty operas on her, starting from Cavalli´s in 1641. But only Purcell´s and "Les Troyens à Carthage" (second part of "Les Troyens") by Berlioz have survived. (A reminder that we urgently need the première of "Les Troyens"). The text is by Nahum Tate and is based on Virgil´s "Aeneid", and the opera was premièred not at a theatre but at the School for young girls of Josiah Priest at Chelsea. In three short acts it tells of Aeneas´ arrival to Carthage fleeing from Troy, the love of Carthage´s Queen Dido and Aeneas, his departure called by Jupiter to found Italy (but in Tate´s libretto it´s a farce for Jupiter is an apparition manipulated by witches bent on mischief), and Dido´s death from grief. The music alternates recitatives with arias, dances and choruses, and the characters include Belinda (Dido´s sister), a Sorceress, two Witches, a Sailor, a Lady and the Apparition, plus the chorus (courtisans, witches and sailors). Time passes quickly with such beautiful sounds. The most famous piece is Dido´s lament on a ground, "When I am laid in earth". But Purcell´s "Dido..." got what is now called an intervention, when choreographer Sasha Waltz in 2005 decided that she would wrap around Purcell´s opera a fantasy of her own. And so the 50 minutes became 95, the extra 45 veering between more Purcell extracted from various sources, read poetry or utter silence (only dancing). The hand programme specifies "Revision by Attilio Cremonesi". ¿Does that include a change for the worse, converting the "sisters" into men? It´s a blot on the otherwise historicist version of the score. Waltz introduces a Prologue in which Phoebus, the Sun God, in the company of Nereids, extols the arrival of Venus (spoken scene, poorly read). Then they dive into the "sea", a rectangular water tank; for quite a while we see rather beautiful aquatic choreography, that however has nothing to do with the plot. The exhibition of naked behinds as they climb out of the tank is quite superfluous. And then the opera starts, though it will be interrupted several times by extraneous matter. Waltz´s main idea is to duplicate each soloist singer with a dancer or two, so that theoretically the story is simultaneously told in two means of expression. It might have worked if the narrative had been intelligible, but it isn´t: the story is continuously veiled by groups that often make it hard to distinguish who is singing (especially in the case of Aeneas, I spotted him aurally, for Reuben Willcox has a powerful voice, but he was always lost in surrounding people). I found particularly galling a silly dance lesson in French and English (untranslated) and with no connection whatsoever with the plot. On the other hand, whilst there is a brief change of scene a boy or a girl executes a charming dance seen against the light. The crucial scene of the witches is badly mauled by the transformation into men and inadequate singers. To accentuate the positive: Christopher Moulds conducting the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (Academy for Old Music) got excellent historicist playing with authentic phrasing and speeds. And the Vocalconsort Berlin not only is a fine chamber choir but it moves with agility whenever it is needed (probably the best part of Waltz´s producing work). Aurore Ugolin was a correct Dido (much more can be expressed), whilst Debora York showed her affinity with the Baroque style. As intimated, Willcox was the best of the cast for he sings expressively. The dancers do well what they are asked, but the choreography rarely attracted me. An ugly wall was the scenery for the Palace and for the hunting scene...And the costumes gave us men in beige underpants or women in lurid colors. For Buenos Aires Herald
Pumeza Matshikiza (soprano), Aarhus Symfoniorkester/Ringborg (Decca)The South African lyric soprano Pumeza Matshikiza, now enjoying an international reputation, has versatility, range and huge personality. Her voice is rich without heaviness, capable of teasing lightness and flexibility, as the selection here demonstrates. She opens with a tender Si, mi chiamano Mimi from Puccini’s La bohème (Mimi is one of her signature roles) and travels via Hahn, Fauré and Ravel back to Mozart, Gluck and, in an anguished Dido’s Lament, Purcell. The African Cuban Punto de habanera shows her in playful mood. All texts are supplied. Enunciation is not Matshikiza’s greatest strength. A detailed note places her in the great tradition of Tebaldi and Rosa Ponselle: too early to say, but this album is enjoyable on its own terms. Continue reading...
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