Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Brighton Dome, 5 February 2017

THOMAS-CARROLL

Thomas Carroll, looking as if he’s about to win a snooker tournament in a snazzy red waistcoat, has a knack of bending almost double to coax intricately nuanced pianissimo playing from his players. It’s effective too. Almost all the playing in this very pleasant concert was sensitive and well balanced.

After a momentarily ragged start Mozart’s K201, with all its sophisticated simplicity, soon settled into a suitably crisp, sparkling opening allegro with the following movements in careful contrast, For both this, and the Haydn which came next, the Brighton Philharmonic was reduced to just 36 players – strings with two horns and two oboes ensuring that the mood remained light, tight and classical.

The Haydn C major concerto (rediscovered as recently as 1961) is a resolutely cheerful work and multi-talented Carroll conducting from his cello appeared to smile from the sheer joy of the music almost continually. He achieved a fine rapport with the orchestra and his cello sound was lushly mellow especially in the beautiful Adagio and the well controlled Allegro Molto finale.

And so to the concluding Mendelssohn Italian Symphony for a happy ending to a sunny concert – and a few more players and instruments added to the mix. The opening was lively and incisive with some clearly articulated string work in the busy passages which typify much of Mendelssohn’s orchestral writing. One or two wobbly moments in the third movement were soon forgotten once we reached the Saltanella and the glorious conclusion which was played with panache.

Susan Elkin

Hastings Philharmonic

St Clement’s Church, Hastings Old Town, 4 February 2017

Hastings Phil Choir

There was an unexpectedly relaxed atmosphere at the baroque concert presented by Hastings Philharmonic last Saturday in St Clement’s church in Hastings Old Town. During the radiant performance of Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir, Marcio da Silva moved around between the horseshoe of singers and the small string ensemble, seemingly drawing the music out of them. It was visually captivating, and set a tone of intimacy and expectation which continued through the evening.

The works we heard covered the whole of the baroque period from Monteverdi in the early 17th century to CPE Bach’s Symphony No5 which dates from 1773.

The Monteverdi was full of colour, its rich textures being exploited by the well balanced choral forces. The progress the choir has made over recent years was exemplified in the change of tonal impact when they came to Bach’s Jesu Meine Freude BWV227.  The rhythms here were kept light and fast moving, allowing the piece to flow naturally, even though the text is more weighty and dense. The male trio were particularly impressive before the well-argued final chorus and more formal chorale.

After a pause – which could just as well have been an interval! – the instrumental ensemble returned to play CPE Bach’s Symphony No5. Though there are many obvious connections with earlier works it is the hints of late Haydn and Beethoven in the reserved and often acerbic scoring which impress,and the edgy original instrument tonalities were particularly effective.

Handel’s Dixit Dominus brought us back to more familiar ground, with bright lines and rapid tempi. The chorus obviously enjoyed this despite the challenges, and the solo parts were finely integrated – with even Marcio providing a baritone line at one point.

In the final sections the conquassabit was hammered with splendid precision and the top sopranos were able to soar easily above the other singers.

A lovely evening – proving that Hastings Philharmonic are more than up to the challenge they have set themselves.

The next event this season is a Chamber Music Concert in Christ Church, St Leonards at 7.00pm on 18th March. Be there!

 

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, 4 February 2017

J Lill

John Lill CBE has been president of the Maidstone Symphony Orchestra since 1980 and his association with it goes ten years further back when he played his first concert with them, shortly after winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. To this day, he generously plays an occasional concert with MSO and unassuming as he is, his presence in the hall has a palpable effect on both players and audience. He seems to bring out an extra edge in a band which always delivers competently but on this occasion they surpassed even their own high standards.

Lill’s account of Beethoven’s third piano concerto was unshowy but intense, the concentration showing only in a slight working of his mouth. It’s a treat to hear the concerto played at a speed which allows us to hear every note of Beethoven’s glorious C minor detail – a refreshing contrast to the usual prestissimo gallop most conductors want to impose on it. The triplets just before the end came across in this performance as an intelligent question and answer dialogue between piano and orchestra. Other high spots included the long cadenza full of virtuosic tension at the end of the first movement, which had me (and most of the rest the audience) on the edge of our seats, and the exquisite lyricism in the largo.

The Beethoven was sandwiched between Weber’s chirpy Oberon overture and Brahms’s most magnificent symphony – the Fourth and last. The Weber presents a challenging opening with its horn solo and muted strings – all very exposed before it leaps away into the first dance tune. It isn’t the easiest way to start a concert but it came off adequately.

And by the time we reached the vibrant warmth of the Brahms, all nervousness had gone and the John Lill effect had worked its magic.  From the exuberant precision of the opening allegro through the delicacy (all that pizzicato!) in the middle movement to the initially ponderous, grandiloquent fourth movement, it was glorious. I once heard the late, great Antony Hopkins (the musicologist not the actor) give a talk for children about this last movement and he told them to remember “B-R-A-H-M-S Spells Brahms” and explained how to listen for the opening statement in various forms for the rest of the movement. If only there had been more children and young people in the audience at this concert to hear this enjoyable account of it.

For various reasons this was the first MSO concert I’ve managed to get to this season and I’m struck afresh by the quality and freshness. I think it is scaling new heights of achievement. Andrew Pearson is certainly the most charismatic leader the orchestra has had in a while and I’m sure he is part of the reason. The string sound is rich and rarely falters and – among other fine performers – Anna Binney, principal flautist – more than deserved the applause Brian Wright directed towards her at the end.

Susan Elkin

Pull Out All the Stops 2

R QuinneyRobert Quinney,
Royal Festival Hall, London  3rd February 2017

 

Robert Quinney’s highly anticipated all-Bach recital, the second in the 2016-17 Pull out all the Stops season at RFH, did not disappoint.  A large and appreciative audience reflected the reputation of this Oxford based organist who has recently released a number of excellent Bach programmes on CD including many of the works which made up this recital.

Beginning with such a popular and sometimes over-exposed piece as Toccata & Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 could have been a mistake but on this occasion, delivered with flair and colour as well as a few of the performer’s own flourishes which did not detract, this was an inspired opening to an evening of music consisting mostly of works that are heard less often.

The chorale prelude Vater unser in Himmelreich was a lovely contrast to the opening piece, with softer voices and tremulant throughout. With a lightness of touch that was heard frequently throughout the programme, Robert Quinney demonstrated the beauty of this measured music played with attention to detail to create an intimacy sometimes missing from performances on this large scale instrument.

Four Duets provided much interest. These pieces for two equal voices played just on the manuals have a complexity beyond what might be expected from such a simple structure. Once again the carefully chosen registration maximised the impact of each line and allowed melody to emerge from often very busy and dense writing.

Other works in the recital were Prelude & Fugue in C (BWV 547), Prelude & Fugue in Eminor (BWV 548), Canonic Variations on Von Himmel hoch da komm’ ich her and Prelude & Fugue in G (BWV 541). A rousing and full-throttled encore rendition of Bach’s Sinfonia brought the evening to a close.

My criticism of some of the programmes in previous recitals at this venue has been that some performers have been tempted to overdo the “fast and loud”. In the hands and feet of a careful and well-planned organist this instrument is capable of so much variety – from the most raucous low pedals and full on grand choruses played with gusto to the delicate flutes and soft reeds, with so much in between. The combination of tonight’s well-chosen and varied programme with this organ and performer certainly brought something of JS Bach’s vision of God’s heaven to this listener’s earth. I hope we shall see a return to the RFH from Mr Quinney in the not too distant future.

Stephen Page

ENO: Rigoletto

'Rigoletto' Opera directed by Jonathan Miller performed by English National Opera at the London Coliseum, UKLondon Coliseum, Thursday 2 February 2017

 

Jonathan Miller’s famous Mafia staging of Rigoletto has returned to ENO’s repertoire. Though thirty five years old now, it is more than worthy its return, as it makes sense of both the narrative and the music. The dark spaces in Patrick Robertson’s designs are a fitting reflection of the even darker emotions on stage. That the first night of this thirteenth revival did not have quite the frisson one might have hoped for came more from a combination of details rather than any one problem.

Sir Richard Armstrong in the pit took a cautious approach to the score, with few moments of real excitement or passion. Tempi were often on the slow side with little sense of excitement. By contrast the chorus was in exciting and attacking form.

The solo cast sang well but with the exception of Sydney Mancasola’s radiant Gilda, were all leaning on the side of caution. This was probably why Nicholas Folwell made such an impact as Monterone, spitting venom at all around him even as he is led off to summary execution, and smaller parts like Marullo and even the police officer, came across so strongly.

Unfortunately the two leading men made a limited impact. Joshua Guerrero has the secure top for the Duke and phrases well but his approach seemed over-comfortable with little sense of the menace or threat the part involves and which this production has in the past brought out very well.

This was also true of Nicholas Pallesen’s Rigoletto. While the voice is well focussed for the part his presence rarely moved us. Where the character calls for a wide range of emotions which will sweep us away, here everything was careful, often to the point where it lacked emotional impact. The great cry for vengeance in act two gave no sense of catharsis, so that we never felt the weight of the curse. Rigoletto takes it seriously and so should we.

I have no doubt this production will be revived again. It deserves it. If the present cast can throw off what may have been first night nerves and become a little more reckless, it might yet be worth a visit.

A NEW ORCHESTRA FOR THE SOUTH EAST

Led by South Coast native William Kunhardt, the Arensky Chamber Orchestra (ACO), Britain’s orchestra of revolutionaries, make their South Coast debut in March 2017.

Sea Fever 1

Their first project, Sea Fever, is a classical experience inspired by the ocean. Sea Fever will tour the Cultural Coastal Trail Galleries, with performances at Eastbourne’s Towner Gallery on March 4th, Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion on March 8th, and Hastings’ Jerwood Gallery on March 10th. See seafevertour.com for more. It will be followed by Aulanko, an exploration of Sibelius’s 5th Symphony, at Eastbourne’s new Birley Centre in June. Classical Music. But not as you know it.

The ACO specialises in gripping performance and mind-opening presentation. Its mantra is to make classical music more social, meaningful and dramatic, without losing any of its depth or sincerity. They work with mixologists to invent cocktails inspired by the music, served during concerts. They host pre-concert ‘warm up acts’ and post-concert ‘chamber jams’. They also give ‘live programme notes’ where the orchestra tells the story of the music from the stage. They shun concert halls, preferring clubs, galleries, and urban spaces. The orchestra’s main performances are of Masterpieces in Miniature – large orchestral works reduced for chamber ensembles of 16-20. ‘They allow us to take music out of large, impersonal concert halls and into more intimate, modern settings’ says ACO Director of Collaboration Eddy Hackett. ‘They also reveal fascinating details in the music that get missed in the full versions’. In Sea Fever, the orchestra will perform world premieres of Britten’s Sea Interludes and Debussy’s La Mer ‘in miniature’.

The ACO has recorded for Classic FM, worked with leading soloists like Benjamin Grosvenor and Jennifer Pike, and collaborated with artists ranging from video DJs to dancers. The group’s players are the most indemand young artists in the country. They come from major orchestras, like the Royal Philharmonic and London Symphony, and leading chamber music groups. In 2016, the orchestra enjoyed its second 100% sell-out season in a row, won praise from the critics of the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent, and saw the average age of its listeners fall 10 years below leading statistics. For more, visit www.theaco.co.uk. Building a permanent home in the South East Sea Fever is funded by the Arts Council and aims to build the foundations for a permanent, year-round ACO series in the region. This series will give local artists in many genres opportunities to collaborate with the orchestra, creating a new culture of innovation and cross-arts collaboration throughout the region. In time, it will redefine iconic local landmarks as surprising live music venues.

The orchestra will also bring its education programme to the area. As part of Aulanko, the ACO will run a two-day composition workshop for 150 children – from Grade 8 students to untrained first-timers. They will come from schools in Eastbourne Schools Partnership and the Jerwood Gallery’s Learning Programme. Artistic Director, William Kunhardt – a homegrown talent. The tour is the brainchild of Artistic Director William Kunhardt. Kunhardt grew up and went to school in Eastbourne, winning a music scholarship to Eastbourne College. At 18, he left for London to study violin at the Royal College of Music, quickly transitioning into conducting. In 2014, Kunhardt won the James Conlon Prize at Aspen Festival, Colorado, launching his career internationally. Since then, he has gone on to work with orchestras in Asia, America, and Europe and with soloists like Benjamin Grosvenor and Sarah Chang. However, his passion remains the Arensky Chamber Orchestra, the group he founded as a student in 2009.

Tales & Traditions

Noteworthy Voices at St Simon & St Jude, East Dean, Saturday 21 January 2017

St Simon East Dean

A bitterly cold night but the warmth of the welcome at St Simon and St Jude more than made up for any concerns, and Noteworthy Voices provided us with another superbly balanced programme of a cappella music.

The first half was given over to sacred texts, many from the 16th and 17th centuries, starting with three reflective works. Thomas Mudd’s Let Thy Merciful Ears, O Lord has a quiet dignity before the richer textures of Tallis’ If Ye Love Me, and the wonderfully floated lines of Byrd’s Ave verum. The next section brought us to praise of God with Victoria’s O Quam Gloriosum which seems to pile the musical lines onto each other in a dizzying attempt to raise us to heaven. The same composer’s Jesu Dolcis was more reflective before the high tessitura of Palestrina’s Jesu Rex Admirabilis and the bouncy rhythms of Exultate Deo.  Lotti’s Crucifixus is a miracle of condensed emotion, its harmonic palette so challenging it could have been written within the last century. By contrast the recent works by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo seemed almost easy on the ear, particularly the slow unfolding of Northern Lights.

The second half brought us to secular settings, opening with three choral songs by Brahms. The six part settings gave the choir a chance to demonstrate different tonal colours, particularly in the final melancholic Darthulas Grabegesang. Saint-Saens’ charming settings of Calme des Nuits and Les Fleurs et les Arbres led us gently towards the lighter end of the evening with folk and popular numbers.

Vaughan Williams’ arrangements of Linden Lea and Just as the tide was turning are none the less welcome for being familiar, and it was a delight to hear James Tomlinson as the bass soloist in The Turtle Dove. He will be missed when he leaves to take us a choral scholarship and we wish him well.

A lovely gentle arrangement of O Waly, Waly led us into Over the rainbow and Tea For Two – and all too soon we were at the end.

Ansy Boothroyd introduced the programme and conducted with subtlety and skill throughout. The different approaches she takes to the end of a piece is particularly noteworthy, with some dying away to silence while other are softly rounded. It is all beautifully crafted and the choir react with exceptional musicality to her shaping of the sound.

We look forward to hearing them again soon.

 

GARSINGTON OPERA ANNOUNCES EXTENDED SEASON

GARSINGTON OPERA SEASON 
1 June to 30 July 2017

For the first time in its history, this summer Garsington Opera will present four productions as well as a large community opera.  2017 also sees the arrival of the Philharmonia Orchestra for one opera production each season for the next five years. This year the festival offers Handel’s seductive masterpiece Semele, Debussy’s enigmatic Pelléas et Mélisande, Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Rossini’s Il turco in Italia and will conclude with Silver Birch, a large-scale work for a professional cast with local community participants of all ages, commissioned by Garsington Opera, from leading British composer Roxanna Panufnik and librettist Jessica Duchen. The JLT Group is the season’s sponsor for the fourth consecutive year.   As part of the Garsington Opera for All programme, funded by Arts Council England and run in partnership with Magna Vitae, Semele will also be screened free of charge in Skegness, Ramsgate, Burnham-on-Sea and Grimsby

Semele is a love story in which the god Jupiter is captivated by the beauty of the all-too-human Semele; these dramatic and colourful mythological characters inspired Handel’s most memorably beautiful arias. The title role will mark the British debut of American sopranoHeidi Stober, an established favourite at some of the world’s most important opera houses, including San Francisco Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Vienna Staatsoper  and the Metropolitan Opera, New York.  Singing the pivotal role of Jupiter is Robert Murray with Christine Rice singing his spurned wife Juno. They are joined by Jurgita Adamonyt? (Ino), David Soar (Cadmus & Somnus), South African countertenor Christopher Ainslie (Athamas) and Leonard Ingrams Foundation Award winner Llio Evans (Iris).  Leading early music specialist Jonathan Cohen will conduct the Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus and Annilese Miskimmon, Artistic Director of Norwegian National Opera will direct, in collaboration with designer Nicky Shaw.

 

Pelléas et Mélisande, Debussy’s only opera, and often considered to be one of the most original in the history of music,  is full of shimmering beauty creating a work of intense hypnotic allure. It will feature established French bass-baritone Paul Gay (Golaud) and two rising stars taking the title roles - Jonathan McGovern (Pelléas) and American soprano Andrea Carroll (Mélisande) making her British debut, with Brian Bannatyne-Scott (Arkel) and Susan Bickley (Geneviève). Jac van Steen returns (Strauss Intermezzo 2015) to conduct the Philharmonia Orchestra in its first year of partnership with Garsington Opera. Michael Boyd (director) together with Tom Piper(designer) return following their acclaimed production of Eugene Onegin last season.

 

Il turco in Italia will be a revival of Garsington Opera’s joyous 2011 production directed by Martin Duncan with designs by Francis O’Connor. Three members of the original cast return - Mark Stone as the poet Prosdocimo,  Quirijn de Lang as the dashing Turk Selim, and Geoffrey Dolton as the devoted but dull husband Geronio. They are joined by renowned British soprano Sarah Tynan as the dazzling and flirtatious Fiorilla and rising star Katie Bray as Zaida.  Italian tenor Luciano Botelho returns as the love-lorn Narciso. Rossini doyen  David Parry will conduct the Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus in this glittering musical score.

 

John Cox’s legendary production of Le nozze di Figarofirst seen at Garsington Manor in 2005will be recreated for the opera pavilion at Wormsley.  Written at the height of his genius, this is one of Mozart’s finest works. Australian born Joshua Bloom (Leporello, Don Giovanni, 2012) returns to sing the title role with the exciting soprano Jennifer France (Leonard Ingrams Award winner) as Susanna. The Canadian singer Kirsten MacKinnon will make her UK debut as the Countess with Duncan Rock as the Count and Marta Fontanals-Simmons as Cherubino. Stephen Richardson (Bartolo), Janis Kelly (Marcellina), and Timothy Robinson (Basilio) join the vibrant young cast.  Douglas Boyd will again conduct this highly acclaimed production with the Garsington Opera Orchestra and Chorus.  In June the principals and chorus of Garsington Opera will travel to  the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris to give a semi-staged concert performance of Figaro with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris conducted by its Music Director Douglas Boyd.

 

Roxanna Panufnik’s Silver Birch is a commission for Garsington Opera’s Learning & Participation programme with Jessica Duchen as librettist. The production will see over 180 community participants aged 8-80, including recruits from the local military community, performing as dancers, singers, actors, instrumentalists, as well as student Foley artists from Cressex Community School under the guidance of Pinewood Studios Sound Designer Glen Gathard.  They will perform alongside favourite Garsington professionals in the cast and orchestra. The story explores the extraordinary power of love within the devastating context of war and makes use of Siegfried Sassoon’s poetry from WW1 (some of which was written while staying at Garsington Manor). The creative team is Karen Gillingham director, Rhiannon Newman Brown designer, and Garsington Opera’s Artistic Director Douglas Boyd joins them to conduct.  The professional roles will be performed bySam Furness (Jack), Victoria Simmonds (Anna), Darren Jeffery (Simon), Bradley Travis (Sassoon), Sarah Redgwick (Mrs Morrell) andJames Way (Davey) and the Garsington Opera Orchestra will be playing.

CDs/DVDs January 2017

Bruckner: Symphony No 4
UNITEL 732508
Bruckner: Symphony No 6
UNITEL 738208
Staatskapelle Dresden, Christian Thielemann

This is proving to be an excellent series, and if, as promised, it goes on to include the even rarer early symphonies it will prove to be invaluable. If the Fourth is more conventional in approach, its tonal qualities and masterly construction of long paragraphs is continually rewarding. The Sixth is another matter. Very rarely heard live, its starkly different tonal palette compared with his other symphonies is all the more compelling. It is surely more than the fact that the composer had been on an extended holiday before he composed the work. There is an openness of texture and a lightness of touch we find nowhere else. Perhaps it is time some of our own orchestras explored its very eal riches.

 

Joseph Beer: Polnische Hochzeit
Gartnerplatz Chorus and Munich Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ulf Schirmer
CPO 555 059-2

Anyone who enjoys Lehar will be immediately attracted to this operetta from a composer who spanned virtually the whole of the twentieth century. The Polish Wedding was first seen in 1937, shortly after Lehar’s final work Giuditta. The story line may be conventional but the music has an unexpected freshness and vitality, aided I am sure by the recently reworked orchestral parts. Worth investigating.

 

Music from a Higher Sphere
Mahler: Symphony No 8
Arranged for organ and chorus by David Briggs
PRO ORGANO CD 7276

I have enjoyed David Briggs earlier forays into Mahler, and felt the arrangement of the Fifth Symphony was particularly impressive. Here I am not so sure. The Eighth relies heavily on its choral setting, where the orchestra supports and enhances the vocal line. On this occasion the organ does not seem to adequately fill out Mahler’s intentions. The acoustic in the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York, does not help, and for much of the recording both the voices and organ seem distant. This may be a good souvenir of the live performance but it does little to enthuse this listener.

 

J P Sousa: Music for Wind Band – 16
Marine Band of the Royal Netherlands Navy, Keith Brion
NAXOS 8.559746

This is a joy to listen to throughout.  The longest section is a selection from the operetta The Charlatan alongside which are ten other pieces, all equally endearing. How Sousa was constantly able to turn out so much wonderful music is a mystery, and the longer this series continues the more pleased I shall be.

 

J S Bach; Cantatas
Iestyn Davies, Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
HYPERION CDA 68111

Three Cantatas – BWV 170; BWV 54; BWV82 – together with the Sinfonias from BWV 52 and 174, make this a fine collection and one which shows off Iestyn Davies continuing strengths as a counter-tenor of rare quality. These cantatas were written for boy altos rather than counter-tenor, which only goes to show the quality of voices Bach had at his disposal. The final cantata, Ich habe genug is also the most familiar, but listeners may be surprised by the sinfonia from BWV 174 which is arranged from the Third Brandenburg Concerto.

 

Rostropovich Encores
Alban Gerhardt, cello, Markus Becker, piano
HYPERION CDA 68136

A collection of encores may not seem the most obvious to issue as a single cd but given that these were pieces used by Mstislav Rostropovich puts them into an altogether different class. Alongside familiar pieces by Debussy and Rachmaninov are a number of pieces by Prokofiev as well as some by Rostropovich himself. All of which makes for an unexpectedly pleasing recording.

 

Hymnus: Music for Organ by Carson Cooman
Erik Simmons, 1787 Holzhey organ, St Peter & St Paul, Weissenau, Germany
DIVINE ART DDA 25147  66:00

Carson Cooman is a prolific composer and an organist in his own right, though here his works are performed by Erik Simmons on the fine late baroque organ in St Peter & St Paul, Weissenau. The cd is made up of a large number of short pieces, many of which were written in memory of friends or to commemorate specific individuals. As such the whole has a highly reflective character which is none the worse for that. The opening Haec Aeterna is typical of the cd as a whole, being a meditative postlude built around the Old Hundreth. Many of the pieces are in a similar vein, using familiar hymn tunes as the basis for more elaborate, though normally brief, compositions.

There are a few exceptions. Three Enigmas are just that – short pieces which explore harmonics rather than procure any narrative structure. As if to prove that he can provide more exhilarating scores, the cd concludes with a rousing Rondo Festivo.

Many of these pieces would sit comfortably within either a liturgical or concert format, and details of compositions and scores can be found on www.carsoncooman.com