CDs December 2017 – 1


Forget opera – think Rat Pack – but then think opera when it comes to quality of voices and an ability to sing convincingly in a range of languages. Add to this a dynamic ability to belt popular numbers with enthusiasm but sing reflective songs with pathos. The Journey brings together a very diverse range of music from West Side Story to O Sole Mio taking in a generous collection along the way.

Scott Ciscon, Paul Martin and Jem Sharples have a deservedly strong reputation and this is certainly born out in this recording. The arrangements are always apt with an intimacy often missing in popular recordings. I really liked their version La Mer, sung for most of the time in French, before the more familiar Somewhere beyond the sea.

If you are reading this before 16 Dec – then you can catch them at Opus Theatre in Hastings on that day. If they can fill the Royal Albert Hall, they can surely do the same closer to home.  A real Christmas treat!


James Lancelot, organ of Durham Cathedral

James Lancelot is perfectly at ease with music and instrument in this fine recording from Durham. Opening with Toccata, Adagio & Fugue in C and including the Prelude & Fugue in A (BWV 536) the rest of the programme features less familiar settings of chorale material by Bach. These include the Kanonische Veranderungen on Von Himmel Hoch(BWV 769) and the lengthy Partite on Sei gegrusset, Jesu gutig (BWV 768). A pleasing programme.

Colin Walsh, organ of Lincoln Cathedral

A good pairing of familiar music makes this a welcome disc. The fact that this was recorded live at a performance in the cathedral adds something to this listening experience.

David Leigh, organ of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork

This very enjoyable CD pairs recordings of two symphonic works – Franck’s Grande piece symphonique with Lemare’s Symphony No 2 in D minor, Op 50. Both works suit this less familiar cathedral organ, rebuilt in 2013. Shorter 20th century works by Fernando Germani, Jonathtan T Horne & Eoghan Desmond make up the rest of the inventive programme splendidly performed by David Leigh.

Kevin Bowyer, organ of Glasgow University Memorial Chapel

I really enjoyed this very eclectic disc. Kevin Bowyer has amassed a wonderful assortment of unusual 20th Century pieces, many in a more light-hearted vein. Included are Martin Stacey’s Little Stanmore Suite (including the movement Ach, mein wig hast blown off!) & The Naughty Boy by Paul Fisher, inspired in part by Monty Python. There are two hymn/spiritual arrangements by Mons Leidvin Takle, The Lord Warden’s Rondo by one-time organist of St Mary’s Rye, Charles Proctor and a lovely arrangement of Bucolosi’s The Grasshoppers’ Dance. I was particularly pleased to find included here Nos 3 & 4 (!) of Peter Warlock’s Two Cod Pieces. Oh, and I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts!!
Who says that organists can’t let their hair down?

Choir of Salisbury Cathedral, director David Halls, organist John Challenger

This is a lovely recording of the Cathedral Choir singing contemporary and older service music. David Halls’ own Missa Festiva & Will Todd’s Shorter(Evening) Service are joined by a lengthy anthem by Howard Moody, In the hand of God. There are shorter works by Richard Shephard and Thomas Tallis, traditional Anglican chants for Psalms 82, 84 & 85, morning canticles by Purcell & two traditional hymns. This is a timely reminder of the quality and variety of choral worship being offered week by week.

Choir of Liverpool Cathedral, director David Poulter, organ Ian Tracey

This does what it says on the tin! Mostly very familiar hymns sung and accompanied brilliantly in the wonderful Liverpool (Anglican) setting.

Choir of Nottingham Cathedral, director Alex Patterson

Recordings by UK Catholic choirs are less numerous than their Anglican counterparts and this one is particularly welcome. It draws together a collection of music all of which gives particular focus to Mary and covers a range of periods and styles of composition. It is punctuated throughout by ancient chant and includes compositions by Byrd, Palestrina, Philips, Victoria and de Lassus alongside contemporary works from Britten, Tavener, Celia McDowall, Howard Skempton and Alex Patterson’s own Ave Maria. It is wonderful to have all this music collected here in commited performances by the Nottingham choir.

The Ebor Singers, Chelys Consort of Viols, conducted by Paul Gameson
RESONUS RES 10202 66’28

It is always good to see imaginative themed releases such as this fascinating CD, which is a follow up to a previous recording, Music for Troubled Times. As the sleeve notes point out the music reflects the style in which Charles I wished to continue to celebrate Christmas in contrast to the Puritans who sought to abolish any Christmas observance. Less familiar names such as William & Henry Lawes , George Jeffreys & John Jenkins sit alongside Byrd, Gibbons & Dering. The period instruments do much to transport us back to the time of the English Civil War.


The Queen’s Six
RESONUS RES 10204  72’01

This is the third releasefor Resonus by this ensemble. Polished performances are given throughout in this eclectic mix of old and new, sacred and secular songs for Christmas. Traditional carols sit alongside less familiar choral items including Tye’s Laudate nomen Domini  and Richard Rodney Bennett’s Out of your sleep. I am not usually keen on mixing in such secular items as Let it Snow and Jingle Bells but in the arrangements and performances here they seem to fit in well.

The Prince Regent’s Band
RESONUS RES 10201  77’02

Marking the centenary of the Russian Revolution this release is the first in a survey of late 19th & early 20th Century Russian brass chamber music. I have to admit that I found the music less interesting than I had hoped – but the performances and production are excellent. I can only hope that further releases will throw up music that sounds more revolutionary to my ear. I await them with interest.



Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Brighton Dome, Sunday 2 December, 2017


Elgar’s In the South, written in 1904 and the oldest work of the afternoon, was a resounding opener in this all twentieth century programme. Barry Wordsworth dug out plenty of nostalgic silkiness, especially in the impressively clear string sound. He exploited the big rit just before the end too, so that it rang out with real Elgarian grandiloquence.

Ravel’s piano concerto written nearly thirty years later is, of course, a complete contrast. The opening and closing movements in particular often sound like Gershwin crossed with Shostakovitch. Melvyn Tan is a most engaging performer, eyes and body turned to the conductor and orchestra all the time and his left foot beating time in the jazzier Bolero-like sections – every inch a team player. He has a way of striking the keys rhythmically thereby reminding us that the piano is actually a percussion instrument. The middle movement in 3/4 with its long song-intro from the piano and then the duets with horn and cor anglais was beautifully lyrical – as was Tan’s encore: Liszt’s Bells of Geneva. Ravel, Tan told the audience, studied Liszt intensively and would almost certainly have played this piece.

Barry Wordsworth pointed up all the mournful but tuneful melancholy in the opening section of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony highlighting the similarities to Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony and the Russian-ness of it all. Then came the scherzo, at a nippy enough tempo to provide all the requisite fireworks and contrasts. To make this symphony work, you really need to milk Rachmaninov’s beautiful melodies for all they’re worth and that’s just what the conductor did in the last two movements. The finale, for instance, has a lot of lush string work but in this performance it was enjoyably joyful rather than heavy – serious music with a spring in its step.

Congratulations to BPO’s cor anglais player who worked very hard in this concert both in the Ravel and the Rachmaninov. She provided some especially attractive solos.

Susan Elkin




English National Opera to perform Acis and Galatea and Paul Bunyan for the very first time as part of ENO Studio Live

English National Opera (ENO) will perform Handel’s Acis and Galatea and Britten’s Paul Bunyan for the first time as part of its outside work series. ENO Studio Live forms part of ENO Outside which takes ENO’s work to arts-engaged audiences that may not have considered opera before, presenting the immense power of opera in more intimate studio and theatre environments.

Acis and Galatea (June 2018) will be directed by Sarah Tipple and performed at ENO’s historic rehearsal studios, Lilian Baylis House. ENO Studio Live launched in May 2017 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. The initiative showcases emerging talent from the UK opera and theatre worlds as well as championing ENO’s own in-house talent and young directors. Paul Bunyan (September 2018) will be directed by Jamie Manton and will be ENO’s first collaboration with Wilton’s Music Hall.

The choice of these two productions celebrates the integral role that both Handel and Britten have played in the company’s history. For decades ENO has developed its reputation as ‘the house of Handel’ (The Sunday Telegraph) and, since its production of Semele in 1970, the company has performed 12 different operas by the composer. In 1945 Sadler’s Wells Opera (which became ENO in 1974) gave the world premiere of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes, and Britten’s music has been at the heart of the company ever since. In 2018, the year which marks fifty years of opera in residence at the London Coliseum, ENO will perform four works by Benjamin Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Turn of the Screw, Paul Bunyan and War Requiem.

ENO’s Artistic Director, Daniel Kramer, commented:

‘It was truly inspiring to see our whole company pull together earlier this year to create the two productions that launched our ENO Studio Live series. We are so proud of the exceptional talent that we have at ENO, and I delighted that these next two productions will enable us to continue to celebrate young directors and designers while supporting some of the UK’s most exciting emerging singers.

‘Following the tremendous critical and audience response to Jamie Manton’s production of The Day After this summer I am particularly proud that Jamie is returning to work with the company and with our award-winning chorus on Paul Bunyan at Wilton’s Music Hall.

‘The music of Handel and Britten has played a vital role in ENO’s history, and constitutes part of the very DNA of our company. I am looking forward to the company’s first performances of these two works in the inspiring hands of two such impressive up-and-coming directors. Opera has the unique power to move and inspire people in a way that almost nothing else can, and it is very exciting to have the chance to share this with our existing and new audiences not only through our productions at the London Coliseum, but also in these intense and intimate settings.’

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, Maidstone, 2 December 2017

The Flying Dutchman overture – always a good warm up piece for both audience and orchestra – got us off to a strong start with its energetic opening. Brian Wright ensured that we enjoyed all that Wagnerian brass and busy string work and the slight roughness in the more exposed section didn’t matter much.

Then it was on to Strauss’s sparky, melodious 1946 Oboe Concerto. There’s an elfin quality about Olivier Stankiewicz, a Frenchman, both in his playing and his appearance. The mature Strauss understood exactly how to exploit the instrument whose small reed allows for few breaths and long phrases and Stankiewicz gave us a lot of lyricism and seamless creamy sound especially in the beautiful Andante. Brian Wright is, as ever, very good at supporting soloists and here he achieved an elegant balance between orchestra and oboe.

Ralph Vaughan Williams’s vibrant Second Symphony is an aural portrait of London hailing from just before the First World War. It’s a work of many moods and modes, requiring large forces and it’s good to see a battery of young percussionists playing, among many other things, several sorts of cymbal. By now the orchestra was totally in its stride and the precision of the muted strings beneath the horn and trumpet in the ethereal minor key melody in the Lento was a delight. So was the resolute string sound in the Nocturne. And the control in the very evocative epilogue, as everything dies away to silence at the end, was a great credit to the conductor.

Two other players deserve a special mention. Ben Knowles, principal viola, had a lot to do. Vaughan Williams loved the viola and gives it solo spots in his second symphony as well as leading more than once with the viola section. There’s a nice viola passage in the Strauss too. And it all came off with aplomb in this concert. Knowles well deserved the special front-of-stage acknowledgement Brian Wright gave him at the end. Second, full marks to the harpist, Jane Lister, who substituted at the eleventh hour for a player who had mistaken the date. She raced in with her harp five minutes before the concert was due to start and went on to do a grand job.

This was a charity concert attended by High Sheriff of Kent, George Jessel DL, in his ceremonial velvet and frills. It supported the High Sheriff’s charity the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, which, he told the audience before the concert, looks after farmers and farming families who have fallen on hard times.

Susan Elkin

Hastings Philharmonic: Stabat Mater

Christ Church, St Leonards, Saturday 2 December 2017

Marcio da Silva is not one to avoid taking a risk. At a time of year when most are settled into comfortable Christmas music with mulled wine and mince pies he chose to present an evening made up of two settings of the Stabat Mater. No matter how beautiful, and they certainly are, to have serious music for Easter at this time of year was a challenge – but one which certainly paid off. The often austere musical lines and the close setting of the texts, make demands on the listener which are then repaid with the levels of concentration and attention to detail.

The first half was given over to Scarlatti’s version of 1723. In many ways a straightforward setting of the poem, it treats each verse as a separate musical item, concentrating on the emotional impact of the text. Only by the time he gets to the 13th of the 20 sections does he start to combine them and uses the 16th and 17th verses as recitative before the confident enthusiasm of Inflammatus et accensus.

Pergolesi’s more familiar setting seems not only more emotionally involved but also sets larger sections of the work to create extended musical structures, particularly in the second part of the poem where the singers often work together rather than as individual voices.

We are used to Marcia da Silva as a fine baritone but here he was singing counter-tenor for the first time. While this is obviously not his normal range, and there were times when the sound was not as precise as we have come to expect, the intensity and dramatic edge were impressive throughout.

Soprano Emily Armour was given more lyrical settings, with occasional coloratura passages to delight the ear, her voice amply filling the large spaces of Christ Church.

Petra Hajduchova moved effortlessly from keyboard to harpsichord, producing apt support for the voices, along with the two violins and cello.

Two weeks until Hastings Philharmonic’s traditional Christmas Concert, and the new-year will bring us a Tango Night and Schubert’s Winterreise.