WNO: Love’s Poisoned Chalice

Milton Keynes Theatre, 21-22 March 2017

Frank Martin’s Le Vin Herbe is hardly a regular part of any company’s repertoire so it was all the more exciting to see it for the first time in a magnificent presentation from WNO. The composer did not really intend it to be staged and it is closer to Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex or possibly Britten’s Rape of Lucretia in its use of narrators and chorus to move the narrative forward, acting as both a framing and distancing device. Moreover, Polly Graham’s visually stunning production uses the chorus as the setting, their fluid movement shaping the spaces in which the drama unfolds. Added to this some of the most effective lighting, by Tim Mitchell, that we have seen in a very long time and the whole was frequently mesmerising in its impact.

The story of Tristan and Iseult is familiar to most of us from Wagner, but Martin takes a different approach, one that uses different elements of the myth and brings a much strong ethical tone to the outcome. Mark could have killed them but chooses not to do so; the lovers never actually consummate their desire, dying as chaste as they lived, though overcome by passion to the point of madness.

All of this in couched in the most refined of musical scores, using a small string ensemble placed in the centre of the stage under the deft control of James Southall.

The cast had a number of very familiar voices. Tom Randle was a fine if angst ridden Tristan, the sensitivity of his acting matching that of his voice. Caitlin Hulcup was a statuesque Iseult, able to hold a pose in telling but naturalistic fashion, and a beautiful voice to match her presence.

It was good to see and hear Catherine Wyn-Rogers in the small part of Iseult’s Mother, the warmth of her tone shining through as ever. Martin writes for a myriad of small parts, some of whom emerge briefly from the chorus, others being named individuals who disappear as quickly as they came. Needless to say with the quality of the WNO chorus there was not a weak link here and Gareth Dafydd Morris made a very strong impact with the beauty of line he produced as Kaherdin and I am sure, as a recent member of WNO, we shall see much more of him.

I am not sure if the work was being recorded. It certainly deserves to be far better known than it is at present.

The following night’s revival of La Boheme may not have come up to the heights of Martin, but it was well sung throughout with Matteo Lippi and Jessica Muirhead, as Rudolfo and Mimi, in well matched romantic voices which filled the theatre with ease and beauty of line. Lauren Fagan is a brash Musetta, with Gary Griffiths a highly convincing Marcello.

While the production has some telling moments – Rudolfo return’s Mimi’s key to encourage her to tell her story – it too often moves away from its initial naturalism. Characters in what is supposed to be a bitterly cold winter, frequently take their coats off, and there is little difference between inner and outer scenes.

Manlio Benzi in the pit had a sharp sense of Puccini’s line and tempi were always convincing. A most pleasant evening on the ear if not always on the eye.


Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Martin Roscoe is quite simply one of the most admired and respected pianists of his generation.  Equally at home in concerto, recital and chamber performances he describes himself as a musical all-rounder, or more specifically as “a musician who plays the piano, rather than a pianist”. It is an interesting, typically self-effacing definition suggesting that his performances aim to serve the music and the composer’s intentions rather than imposing his own personality on either. On Sunday, as the guest of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, he will turn his flawless technique and musicianship to Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, a work held together by a pervading sense of joy that surges through the work from beginning to end, belying the alarming deterioration in the composer’s physical and mental health during the period of its composition. It was a work that was to influence both Grieg and Rachmaninov in the creation of their concerti for piano and orchestra.

Conductor Laureate Barry Wordsworth makes a welcome appearance on Sunday to bring the Philharmonic’s current season to a close with a performance of Alexander Scriabin’s Second Symphony. The heart of this glorious work is a sumptuously-coloured slow movement, while the finale achieves the universal appeal the composer aimed for with a triumphant march. The concert begins with Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, an orchestral evocation of the small Hungarian market town’s long established gypsy band, full of exciting rhythm and brilliantly colourful orchestration.

There is much to look forward to then in this, the final concert of the Brighton Philharmonic’s 92nd season. The Orchestra has maintained its high performance standards throughout with a wonderfully diverse programme of music. I look forward with eager anticipation to its 93rd season.

Peter Back

ENO Studio Live

ENO showcases emerging talent with UK premiere of Jonathan Dove’s The Day After and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury

ENO is pleased to announce ENO Studio Live, a new initiative which offers audiences the opportunity to experience the power of our forces and a team of world-class soloists in an intimate studio environment.

ENO Studio Live will showcase the company’s exceptional emerging and in-house talent, from members of ENO’s award winning Chorus and Orchestra to our Staff Directors, Harewood Artists and Music Staff.

The initiative will launch with the UK premiere of Jonathan Dove’s The Day After, performed for the first time in a new choral version, and performances of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury.

These performances will welcome audiences to ENO’s historic rehearsal studios, Lilian Baylis House, in West Hampstead. Formerly the site of the West Hampstead Town Hall, and named after ENO’s founder, Lilian Baylis House was once the Decca Recording Studios and hosted many classical recording sessions alongside albums by Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie.

Speaking about the initiative, ENO’s Artistic Director Daniel Kramer commented: “We strive to present world-class opera at ENO. This is made possible by the brilliant work of my exceptionally talented colleagues – many of whom are emerging artists in their own right.

“My own opera career was launched at the Young Vic in 2008 when ENO took a risk and gave me the chamber opera, Punch and Judy. It is a priority for me, therefore, to ensure we develop our emerging artists by providing platforms and opportunities for them to experiment and develop their own craft.

“I am delighted to launch ENO Studio Live – an opportunity for us to provide more opportunities for rising talent within the British opera scene. Audiences will have the rare opportunity to hear an impressive array of soloists alongside members of our award-winning Chorus and Orchestra performing in an intimate studio setting. It will be a wonderful chance to experience the power of our forces up close.”

Tickets for ENO Studio Live are £25.00, with a buy-both discount of 20% (so both for £40) available online and from the box office

Disabled and student concessions are available from the box office at £12.50

The Day After: UK Premiere
Jonathan Dove
April de Angelis

26, 27, 30, 31 May at 7.30pm

Trial by Jury
Arthur Sullivan
W.S. Gilbert

3, 6 June at 7.00pm, 5 June at 7.00pm and 8.30pm

Performances will take place at Lilian Baylis House, West Hampstead

Arensky Chamber Orchestra: SEA FEVER

Jerwood Gallery, Hastings, Friday 11 March 2017

A new orchestra in a new music venue, with an adventurous approach to programming. As we entered the Jerwood Gallery, we were gently engulfed in the sound of the sea breaking against the shore, and this image was to stay with us throughout the evening. Rather than simply play through works by Debussy and Britten, sandwiching the new pieces in between – as would have been the conventional approach – we were given a sequence of musical events which flowed effortlessly into each other.

The first half opened with the first of five interludes based on lines from Sea Fever, specially composed for the event by Steffan Rees. The setting for two cellos reflected on grey mist on the sea’s face before a seamless transition into Dawn and Sunday Morning from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. What was immediately obvious was that, while we were seeing a chamber orchestra, the sound within the close acoustic of the Jerwood was wonderfully immediate, with the rolling brass and bell for Sunday morning ringing out with spectacular effect.

The second new interlude, the wind’s song, seemed to take up the emotional intensity of the Britten and extend it, drawing on the same tonal palette. On paper a transition at this point to Debussy might look difficult but the hushed opening of La Mer was given great clarity, with nuanced playing from the harp. It was easy to see the connection then to the flung spray and the blown spume with its energetic forces and brittle edges, calming eventually back to the warmth of the cellos.

Moonlight brought the first half to a conclusion but even the interval had something different to offer in the form of a new cocktail. In keeping with the sea theme, our glasses had samphire rather than lemon and the subtle saltiness was remarkably effective.

There was a romantic intensity to a grey dawn breaking, as we returned, before the second part of La Mer and the Storm sequence from Peter Grimes. The intensity of attack here was shattering given the confined space and precision of the playing. Steffan Rees’ final interlude the lonely sea and the sky served as a bridge to the concluding item, with a gentler opening giving way to a full romantic – almost Mahlerian – enthusiasm. The third part of La Mer brought the evening to a close and a heartfelt desire that this should not be the only occasion that we are able to hear the Arensky Chamber Orchestra.

The Jerwood proved itself to be a valuable performing space for smaller ensembles, though the limited audience capacity will always be a problem without significant subsidy if prices are not to be outside of the reach of normal concert goers. Let us hope that the quality of this event enables the support for the orchestra to continue – Will Kunhardt and his young musicians certainly deserve it.


Marius de Vries to work with ENO as Creative Consultant 

Multi award-winning music producer and composer Marius de Vries will be working with English National Opera (ENO) as Creative Consultant, with immediate effect.

Liaising closely with ENO Artistic Director Daniel Kramer, de Vries will advise on future projects for staging at the London Coliseum. Drawing on his exceptional knowledge of the music, theatre and film industries, he will contribute to a series of daring projects combining and colliding opera with popular music and electronic music as well as other genres to bring ENO’s work to an audience that may never have considered engaging with opera before.

Marius de Vries has been involved in some of the most culture-defining recordings and soundtracks of the past three decades. He has written, arranged and produced across a wide range of styles and genres for artists such as Madonna, Bjork, David Bowie, David Gray, Massive Attack, Chrissie Hynde and Annie Lennox. In the film and theatre world, his work includes music direction, score composition and song productions for Baz Luhrmann, George Lucas, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Matthew Vaughn, Zack Snyder and Daniel Kramer. De Vries was the Music Director for Baz Lurhmann’s Moulin Rouge! (2001) and also worked with Nellee Hooper on the soundtrack for Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet. He has won two BAFTA awards, an Ivor Novello Award, and four Grammy nominations for soundtrack and record production. Most recently De Vries was the Music Director and Music Producer for La La Land, which won both Music awards – song and score – at this year’s Oscars.

Speaking about his appointment, Marius de Vries said: ‘I am thrilled to be reconnecting my creative relationship with the inspirational and visionary Daniel Kramer, honoured to be welcomed into the ENO family, and beyond excited to be helping to develop and nurture new projects and collaborations informed by the ENO’s long tradition of adventure and innovation, at the same time reaching out to whole new audiences.’

Artistic Director Daniel Kramer said: ‘Alongside ENO’s more traditional productions, it is vital that we continue to push the boundaries of opera and explore the different routes that this most wonderful art form may take in the future. I’m delighted to be working with Marius again on a series of projects that will collide opera with music of many different genres. He brings with him an exceptional level of expertise across the music, film and broadcast industries, and I look forward to sharing the fruits of this collaboration with you in due course.’

Marius will be providing his consultancy services to ENO on a pro bono basis.

Bach to the Future

Saturday, 3rd June 7.30pm- Bach to the Future

Sackville Road Methodist Church, Sackville Road, Bexhill on Sea TN39 3JA

An eclectic mix of popular music from traditional classics to the present day. Performers Andrew McGregor (organ) Cindy Gilham (soprano) Lynne Conway (piano) Andy Conway (violin) James Conway (cello) and Stephen Conway (double bass) take the audience on a journey through space and time and provide them with an evening to remember at this beautiful church.

All are welcome and entry is free, with a retiring collection for the charity ‘Starfish Malawi’. For more details phone 07944 077615.

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

The Dome, Brighton, Sunday 5 March 2017

Earlier in the day, 500 children had sat in on the rehearsal for this concert and been enthralled by Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No1 – and understandably so. Having a Romanian conductor, Christian Mandeal, conducting Romanian music is still a rarity even today. It was easy to see why the work had been chosen as a showcase for classical music to a young audience, for it is alive with colour and wonderfully intricate detail. The warmly rich solo viola part suddenly lifts out of the orchestra as a whole, and later the solo piccolo thrills as it cuts through the weight of the whole orchestra.

This wildly romantic work is full of heady rhythmic subtleties which are electrifying.  Would that he heard music of this intensity and sheer visceral enjoyment more often.

If the rest of the afternoon did not quite live up to the excitement of the opening this was not the fault of the works themselves or the performances. Chloe Hanslip was the soloist in Korngold’s Violin Concerto. Though heralded as a genius in his youth, he is best known today as the writer of a large number of film scores. The concerto is based on a number of these and while its romantic melodies are engaging it never really rises to the emotional impact it promises at the start. The second movement in particular tends to drift rather than move forward purposefully, though the work is redeemed by the more dynamic pirate music of the finale. Chloe Hanslip played with intensity and convincing attention to detail.

It is always interesting hearing Elgar performed by conductors who come to the scores from an entirely different tradition. Sakari Oramo’s performances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra have often been revelatory. If Christian Mandeal’s approach to the First Symphony was not quite in this class he brought a beautifully developed sense of line and much lovely phrasing in the construction of long paragraphs. He was aware of the smallest of details, allowing tiny moments to blossom – a sudden fleet bassoon line; a falling brashness from the trombones – and capture the imagination in ways we may not have heard before. The second movement scampered alarmingly with a real hint of menace in the march sections. There was a glorious introspection in the slow movement with hints of Wagner and Mahler, the composer looking in both directions while taking his own course.

The finale blazed as expected and brought the afternoon to a triumphant conclusion. More Enescu next season?

The final concert this season is on Sunday 26 March with works by Kodaly, Schumann and Scriabin.


Musicians of All Saints

St Michael’s Church, Lewes, Saturday 4 March 2017

St Michael’s is a fine venue for chamber music, almost too close for a full string orchestra but one which allows the warmth and detail of scoring to have maximum impact.

The evening opened with Bach’s Third Brandenburg concerto using reduced forces which encouraged bright rhythms and a dancelike quality throughout.

Robin Milford is not a familiar name today but the two pieces we heard both witnessed to a sad neglect of a fine composer.

The Concertino in E dates from 1955 and each of the three movements opens with a piano solo. Margaret Fingerhut has worked closely with the Musicians of All Saints as was evident from the easy rapport between orchestra and soloist. The work is openly romantic and the writing for strings confident in its expression. The central Romanza has a haunting melody which is richly orchestrated, and as such deserves to be far better known. The concluding Rondo is rather more on the wild side if not quite as moving as the earlier two movements.

Fishing by Moonlight is marginally better known, again deeply romantic, though there is little obvious link between what we hear and the title. The calm opening builds to a surprisingly loud impact and the danced central section makes a subtle contrast to the outer sections. The work is available on Hyperion and it would be good to think that others, as well as the Robin Milford Trust, might take up these works.

Bartok’s Divertimento for string orchestra is a much tougher item. There is a fierce intensity to the opening Allegro non troppo which gives way to the intense, quietly oppressive, Molto adagio. If the mood lightens a little for the final Allegro assai there is still a hint of menace behind the melody.

Leader Sophia Bartlette provided the solo violin parts in the Divertimento with a pleasing sense of attack and phrasing.

Peter Copley had spoken at the beginning about the relationship of light music to serious music, and the continuing confusion about the terminology. Robin Milford’s works could easily be dismissed as light music when what the critic really means is they are actually accessible on a first hearing!  Peter Copley’s own scores have the virtue of accessibility but should not be dismissed as light as a result. His new Tango is a most enjoyable piece but I suspect rather more challenging for the performers than it sounds for the audience. The tight rhythms and constant subtle changes of pace are exhilarating and were obviously enjoyed by both orchestra and pianist. Margaret Fingerhut did not need to change into her sparkling silver sequins to add a Latin tang to the event – it was more than obvious from the sparkle of the music.

The next concert at St Michael’s will be on 23 April at 4.30pm and will present the winners of the Brighton 2017 Springboard Festival.

www.mas-lewes.co.uk   www.robinmilfordtrust.org.uk

DVDs / CDs March 2017

Donizetti: Roberto Devereux
Teatro Carlo Felice, Francesco Lanzillotta

We have seen more of this opera recently than probably any time in the last century and it is a worthy partner to the more familiar Anna Bolena. The production is very dark – you may need a large screen and a darkened room to pick up some of the detail – but the music is well focussed throughout and Francesco Lanzillotta keeps his forces moving swiftly. Mariella Devia is a tight-lipped monarch attempting to maintain emotional control while the world falls apart around her. All the solo parts are well taken and the chorus creep about as if terrified of what might happen next.

Tango Under The Stars
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel
MAJOR 739608

The combination of the expertise of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Latin enthusiasm of Gustavo Dudamel make for a glorious evening. If the audience are not quite what one might wish for in a concert hall, the outdoor Hollywood Bowl is able to absorb the extraneous noise and the applause between movements. The central work is the 2nd Guitar Concerto by Lalo Schifrin, with Angel Romero as soloist followed by four dances from Estancia by Ginastera.

For the final four pieces by Astor Piazzolla they are joined by Tango Buenos Aires who dance with a heighted intensity and highly sensuous movements which is totally captivating.

Vaughan Williams: Job; Symphony No 9
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis

Job, a Masque for Dancing is heard rather than seen these days, which is a pity for this is undeniably ballet music of the finest order. The combination of Job with the 9th Symphony is telling as their composition spans almost thirty years and yet the composer’s voice is immediately obvious in both. Not that Vaughan Williams had not developed over the period, so much as his own voice always shines through with immediacy. Sir Andrew Davis’ strengths as an interpreter of English music are well known and this is another excellent example of his insights and understanding.

Schubert; Works for solo piano Vol 2
Barry Douglas

This may only be vol 2 but already this is obviously a very fine undertaking and we can look forward to the rest of the series. Here we have the Four Impromptus Op 90 and the A major Piano Sonata D959, all late works and showing Schubert at the peak of his powers, none more so than in the final movement of the Sonata which draws on earlier works yet spins a new sense of creativity which is wholly captivating.

Franz Krommer: Symphonies 1-3
Orchestra della Svizzera italiana, Howad Griffiths
CPO 555 099-2

Krommer has all but vanished from our concert halls. Though held by many in his lifetime to be valued as highly as Haydn he rapidly went out of fashion and disappeared from public performance by the end of the nineteenth century. This is one of the strange acts of fate which seem to fall on some composers for no obvious reason. These three symphonies would grace any early romantic programme and the composer’s voice is individual enough to make for a worthy place alongside more familiar composers. The difficulty, I suspect, is that the audience will not necessarily react as enthusiastically to a name on a concert list that they do not no. a pity for these are fine pieces.

William Boyce; Symphonies
Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner

Recorded in 1993, this is a welcome reissue of a very fine recording, full of life and energy.

Dutilleux; Symphony No 2 etc
Orchestre National de Lille, Darrell Ang
NAXOS 8.573596

Henri Dutilleux is still underrepresented in our concert halls and so this new cd goes some way towards offsetting that balance. The 2nd Symphony is extrovert in its attack and detail, with splendid tone colours. This is taken up again in the three movements of Timbres, espace, movement which was revised in 1991. The sixteen short movements of Mystere de l’instant give snatches if not outbursts of creativity, which are gone almost before they can impinge.

Beneath the Northern Star
The Orlando Consort

This is early polyphonic music stretching from the late thirteenth century to the early fifteenth. The Orlando Consort explore the way musical lines were elaborated and embellished within their liturgical settings. Early pieces are often anonymous, and even where composers are named we often know little of them except for the quality of the writing. The cd is both instructive and beautifully performed.

Brahms; complete solo piano music vol 4
Jonathan Plowright
BIS 2137

The two sets of Variations on a Theme of Paganini bookend this new collection and between them come compelling readings of the Op10 Ballades and Op119 Piano Pieces. Jonathan Plowright’s approach brings a chamber intimacy to the works which is always rewarding.

Sullivan; Songs
Mary Bevan, Ben Johnson, Ashley Riches with David Owen-Norris, piano

I wish I could feel more enthusiastic about this collection but, though a few songs catch the ear, too many are worthy but dull. Sullivan may have hated the fact that his popularity stemmed from his work with Gilbert but there is little here to match anything from Yeomen of the Guard or Mikado.

British Tone Poems Vol 1
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Ramon Gamba

It is surprising how much music by familiar names is still so little known. Here we have a fine collection of British tone poems none of which I can recall ever hearing live. Ivor Gurney’s A Gloucestershire Rhapsody is Elgarian in feel but none the worse for that. Frederick Austin’s Spring and William Alwyn’s Blackdown  most capture the imagination, while Henry Balfour Gardiner’s moving A Berkshire Idyll receives its premiere recording. With Vaughan William’s The Solent to conclude the recording this is a very valuable addition to our understanding of less familiar repertoire.