Thursday, September 21, 2017
Toby Spence, Prom 32 photo : Chris Christoduolou, B|BC Four British composers, four different worlds : Britten, Brian Elias, Purcell and Elgar, Ryan Wigglesworth conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Choir, Prom 32 Royal Albert Hall. Wigglesworth and BBC NOW delivered a very fine Elgar's Enigma Variations . The Variations are so interesting that it would only be "news" if it were exceptionally stellar or not done well, so if I don't write much about this performance, it's because it was thoroughly satisfying though not "news". What was unusual about this Prom were the pieces around it. Benjamin Britten's Ballad Of Heroes, Op 14, 1939 for example. It' runs 15 minutes and is scored for (by Britten standards) a fairly large orchestra and choir, so doesn't get programmed other than in large-scale concerts where such forces are available. Please read Paul Spicer's notes on Ballad of Heroes for Boosey & Hawkes HERE because they're comprehensive and by far the best, anywhere. When I first heard the piece six years ago (Ilan Volkov BBCSO, Barbican) I didn't understand the piece but this time round it made much more sense. The disparity between the poetry of W H Auden and the doggerel of Randall Swingler is a problem, but Britten uses it with a certain degree of irony. Though the Spanish Civil War wasn't quite on the scale of 1914-1918, it was a modern political war, as opposed to a war between nations. The International Brigades represented the idealism of the left versus the repression of Fascism. Thus the contradictions in the piece provoke, just as the situation did. The piece is about a lot more than a conflict between pro and anti war. It should be noted that the Spanish Civil War ended in April 1939, with the triumph of the fascists and their Nazi allies. The Ballad of Heroes isn't a call to war, by any means, but a scream of agony, directly contemporary. It's also contemporary with Britten's Violin Concerto op 15 (1938/9) expressing the composer's anguish about the fate of Europe. He needed to get away, in order to believe in his ideals. As it happened, his experiences in America made him realize that things there weren't actually that good. Some still sneer at Britten for going abroad. They don't realize what strength it took for him to come back to Britain and face what needed to be done. Through his music, Britten showed that there are other ways to stand up to violence. Six years ago, Toby Spence sang the tenor solo, as he did for this Prom : in the years between he personally has been through a few struggles, and has come out the stronger for it. Excellent performance ! (Please read my other pieces on Britten, on music about war and Ernst Busch) Brian Elias's Cello Concerto, (2015) a BBC commission, received its world premiere with soloist Leonard Elschenbroich, replacing the dedicatee Natalie Clein at short notice. It's a brooding piece making the most of the cello's dark timbre. Frantic bowing suggests movement and speed, through which rip whips of high-pitched winds and lively percussion. Part way, the orchestra takes over, the cello biding its time with a growl, then returning to the fray. Pounding brassy flourishes in the orchestra, not just from the brass. I've written about Elias's Electra Mourns, Geranos and Meet Me in the Green Glen, released on CD through NMC Recordings in April. Read my review HERE. Ryan Wigglesworth is himself a composer and has always had a good feel for new music. And from one of the earliest known British composers, Henry Purcell Jehova, quam multi suntm in an arrangement by Edward Elgar for choir, tenor (Toby Spence again) and bass (Henry Waddington) conducted by one of the best conductors of British choral music (and a stalwart of the Three Choirs Festival), Adrian Partington.
The guardians of public morality who operate the UK’s ‘Official Classical Artist Albums Chart’ have declared a release by Bjarte Eike and the Barokksolistene to be insufficiently refined for their exclusive weekly listing. The group’s new release, The Alehouse Sessions, revives vigorously and on period instruments the mixture of music that was played in English pubs in Purcell’s time. It includes baroque contemplations, sea shanties and bawdy songs. The Charts keepers say it’s ‘too folk influenced’. (So was Haydn.) The Charts are presently topped by two albums of Ludovico Einaudi. Belief is well and truly beggared (sic).
After an unexpectedly tight and high-quality final, the Scottish mezzo-soprano Catriona Morison was declared winner of the competition. Morison, 31, carefully avoided familiar crowd-pleasers in her final selection – with the exception of Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s opera, in which she gave a heartfelt performance. Morison, a Scot, is a member of the ensemble at Wuppertal Opera in Germany. The English soprano Louise Alder won the audience prize.
Alexander Papp, 16 has won Scotland’s national orchestra’s Notes From Scotland, its annual competition for 12-18 year olds. His work, titled Progeny, was inspired by Glen Coe. Alexander is in Year 11 at Bedford School in the Home Counties, studies violin at Junior Guildhall (JGSM) in London and is an Associate Composer with the Britten Sinfonia Academy. In September, he will take up a scholarship at the Purcell School at Bushey, on the outskirts of London. photo: Martin Shields/RNSO
It in 1957, her first year at U. Texas-Austin - and the first year black students were admitted as undergrads - that Conrad was cast as Dido, opposite a white student, in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. She was harassed not only by white students but also by state legislators, who threatened to withhold funding from the university if she were not replaced.
The death is reported on May 22 of Barbara Smith Conrad, a Texas mezzo who sang at the Met from 1982 to 1989 and won leading roles with Houston, Pittsburgh, City Opera and the Vienna State Opera. She was 79. Barbara was in the first group of Afro-American students to be admitted to the University of Texas in 1956. After singing Dido in Purcell’s opera, she was attacked by whites students on her way home. The university then dropped her from the production. Harry Belafonte stepped in with a pledge to pay her college fees wherever she wanted to study, but Barbara stayed in Texas, determined to defeat prejudice by achieving graduation. At the end of her singing career, she was appointed professor.
Great composers of classical music