BBC Proms 2022 Prom 17 BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra Ilan Volkov

Jennifer Walshe.jpgThis was an interestingly paired concert: It’s hard to think of two more contrasting pieces than Jennifer Walshe’s The Site of An Investigation and Brahms’s German Requiem.

Walshe is an Irish composer born in 1974 and her twelve section, 33 minute piece is a mixed-genre hybrid which sits somewhere between a concerto and a play with music. For this London premiere Walshe herself was the soloist – starting dramatically, with hand held mic standing behind the brass, moving to the middle of the percussion and finally coming down stage next to the conductor to the traditional soloist spot.

She speaks to the music and sings: sometimes with silvery lyricism and sometimes with strident forcefulness. She ruminates – with passion, wistfulness and occasionally humour – on the state of the world. So we are led to think about what we’re here for, ocean pollution, the pointless arrogance of the space race and the absurdity of AI-induced “eternal” (sort of) life, among many other things.

The orchestral colour in her composition is striking. The large orchestra gives us, for instance, some lovely discordant trombone glissandi, percussive harp, glorious woodwind detail and a couple of passages in which the whole brass section are required to shout “Break over them like the sea…” at angry fortissimo. There’s never a dull moment for the percussion section either. As well as playing a wide range of relatively conventional instruments they are required to pop bubble wrap, swirl coloured streamers and built a pyramid from plastic storage boxes which they then knock down. I struggle, it has to be said, to see the point of placing a four foot high model of a giraffe on a plinth and then noisily wrapping it in crinkly paper.

And so, after the interval, to the glorious familiarity of Brahms and his very personal take on the concept of a requiem – lots of Lutheran Bible, no Latin and no Christ.

The National Youth Choir of Great Britain makes a strong, energetic sound carefully managed by Ilan Volkov from the podium. It’s good to see so many fine tenors and basses with plenty of diversity and, of course, because this is a youth choir they are well able to stand throughout the work, thus precluding the need for tiresome bobbing up and down.

Bass baritone Shenyang brings terrific warmth to Herr, lehre doch mich and I really liked the pointing up of the fugue at the end of the movement. And soprano Elena Tsallagova sings with great sensitivity in Ihr habt nun Trauigkeit especially in rapport with flute.

But, for me, the best bit of this enjoyable performance was the choral singing. Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen is very well known as a standalone but this time, sung with explemplary tenderess, it sounded as fresh as if one had never heard it before. Similarly there was admirable drive in Denn wir haben and real minor key menace in Denn alles Fleisch especially in the fortissimo recapitulation.

Susan Elkin

Hastings All Saints Organ Series 2022 – 3 Simon Hogan 25th July

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A well constructed programme with a balance of well known and less familiar music and fine performances from a very talented organist on this wonderful instrument made for another very enjoyable evening at  All Saints’.

Simon Hogan currently enjoys a freelance career, as well as dividing his time with posts in London and Oxford. He began with a piece which was new to me, Fiesta, by E L Diemer.   This lively, Latin-inspired piece with contrasting sections, set the scene very well. The rest of the opening half was made up with mostly well-known French music by Bonnet, Franck, Verne and Gigout. A particular highlight for me – and for others I spoke with – was the hauntingly melancholic Prelude, Fugue & Variations by Cesar Franck. Vierne’s lively Carillon de Westminster brought the first half to a close.

The second half opened with a lesser known Bach composition – Concerto in C. It was followed by a rare outing for a substantial and quite individual piece by the sadly recently deceased (but long-lived!) Francis Jackson, Toccata, Chorale & Fugue. I have said on many other occasions that it is good that more recent music such as this and the opening piece are given room in these concerts. The remainder of the music all had associations with the Coronation. All very well known, it began with Walton’s Crown Imperial (in which we saw some particularly skillful and numerous registration changes executed by Mrs Hogan, as she had assisted throughout) and ended with a spirited performance of Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance No 1. 

A beautifully registered rendition of an additional Walton piece, Popular Song from ‘Facade’, was given by Simon as a fitting encore bringing this highly satisfying concert to a close.

The series continues for the next few weeks. Details from www.oldtownparishhastings.org.uk

Stephen Page

 

CDs July 2022

WILLIAM McCLELLAND – WHERE THE SHADOW GLIDES: Songs, Solo Piano & Choral Works
KRISTA RIVER, mezzo-sop THOMAS MEGLIORANZA, baritone
DONALD BERMAN & BLAIR McMILLEN, piano DAVID ENLOW, organ
THE NEW YORK VIRTUOSO SINGERS, HAROLD ROSENBAUM, conductor
NAXOS 8.559906 72’59

This ‘American Classics’ release from Naxos shows a composer writing expressively and for different forces. All the works here are inspired by a wide-ranging selection of poetry, dating from 1st C BC to recent decades. The longest pieces here are the three choral works, Caedmon’s Hymn, Hail Lovely & Pure and These Last Gifts together with Five for Piano.
This will repay many playings, especially if following the well produced booklet with accompanying texts and background.

PETER BOYER – BALANCE OF POWER: Orchestral Works
LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, PETER BOYER, conductor
NAXOS 8.559915 59’12

Containing a number of recent works by one of America’s leading orchestral composers there are many premiere recordings here in what may be assumed to be definitive performances under the composer’s direction. Much of this music is distinctly American and has soundtrack-like qualities, whether in the more reflective Rolling River (Sketches on Shenandoah) and Elegy or in the rousing Curtain Raiser and slowly building In the Cause of the Free. An interesting item is Fanfare for Tomorrow composed for Joe Biden’s inauguration as President. Great stuff!

ROBERT FARNON – BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC 9
SLOVAK RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA, ADRIAN LEAPER, conductor
NAXOS 8.574323 64’15

This series continues in good form with a re-issue of a Marco Polo recording spotlighting the work of the prolific Robert Farnon. Many favourites are to be found hear including Portrait of a Flirt, The Peanut Polka, The Westminster Waltz, Colditz March and State Occasion. Of music new to me I particularly enjoyed the laid back cocktail piano and strings of Little Miss Molly.

EDWARD GREGSON – CHAMBER MUSIC
NAVARRA QUARTET & SOLOISTS
NAXOS 8.574223 67’04

A lovely programme of world premiere recordings of music by a composer known primarily for his band music and concertos. Throughout there is much to interest. Music of emotion and character as well as some unusual additional timbres to the string quartet.

CESAR GUERRA-PEIXE: SYMPHONIC SUITES 1 & 2
GOIAS PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA, NEIL THOMSON, conductor
NAXOS 8.573925 58’29

I continue to enjoy the releases in this Music of Brazil series from Naxos. Here we have music from a versatile composer whose music is often exuberant, drawing on his native musical traditions and skilfully deploying his orchestral resources. The 2 Suites are coupled with Roda de Amigos (Circle of Friends), the latest work to be included here.

KEMAL BELEVI: CYPRIANA – WORKS FOR VIOLIN & GUITAR
SILVIA GRASSO, violin, LIVIO GRASSO, guitar
NAXOS 8.579104 63’29

The title work draws heavily on Belevi’s roots in Cyprus and much of the other music on this CD also has a Mediterranean colour. Some of the works here have been rearranged to be played by the combination of violin and guitar, whilst others were originally conceived in that form.

OLIVIER MESSIAEN: LES OFFRANDES OUBLIEES – POEMES POUR MI – CHRONOCHROMIE
SARAH LEONARD, soprano, ORF VIENNA RADIO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
MICHAEL GIELEN, conductor
ORFEO C250131 58’41

This is a marvellous programme of significant works from this giant of the 20th Century. Deeply spiritual, this music looks at emotional responses to human relationships and the wider universal experience of time, sound and colour.

EVOCATIONS – CONTEMPORARY ORGAN MUSIC
CHRISTIAN VON BLOHN, Great (West) organ of Magdeburg Cathedral
NAXOS 8.579122 58’48

It is always pleasing to see new releases of relatively recent organ repertoire. Here we have some wonderful performances of a range of music from contemporary composers. The earliest work (Annum per annum by Arvo Part) dates from 1980 with the latest being the performer’s own Dialogue vers les etoiles (2021). There is also another large scale work by Barry Jordan (Praise Song) Sternenklange by Theo Brandmuller and Thierry Escaich’s Evocation II. Much of this music is brash and forthright but there are also some more reflective moments.

ORGAN MUSIC IN TRENTO IN THE TIMES OF COUNT MATTEO THUN
SIMONE VEBBER, Organ of Chiesa di San Cristoforo, Pomarolo
TACTUS TC 770001 68’10

Whilst the concept of this CD might seem rather obscure it does provide opportunities to hear music from a range of unfamiliar composers and gives a fascinating insight into the Italian organ repertoire of the time. Some of the music is composed according to the traditional structures of the Sonata and the Toccata. Other music has freer forms and rhythms and harmonies similar to those we know from Lefebure-Wely. Much to discover here.
JOHANN PACHELBEL: ORGAN WORKS VOL 2
MATTHEW OWENS, Aubertin organ (2015), private residence, East Sussex
RESONUS RES10303 76’20

This second volume in the series brings further fine performances from Matthew Owens on an interesting organ. Chorale preludes and the Chorale Partita: Christus, der ist mein Leben make up much of this volume. There is also a Toccata and a Fugue (both in D major) and a set of Magnificat Fugues.

JOHN FREDERICK LAMPE: THE DRAGON OF WANTLEY
MARY BEVAN, CATHERINE CARBY, MARK WILDE, JOHN SAVOURNIN
THE BROOK STREET BAND, JOHN ANDREWS, conductor
RESONUS RES10304 1’47:56 (2 CDs)

This is brilliant! I had never heard of this spoof on the opera of Handel’s day, praised by Handel himself. English composer Lampe, together with librettist Henry Carey composed this amusing piece in 1737. Brought back to life by combining and editing the two surviving different versions of this work the musicians do a great job in this world premiere professional recording. There is something very satisfying about hearing lines like these sung in Handelian style- “A dismal noise was heard within the Hall./Away they flew, the dragon scar’d them all./He drank up all their coffee at a Sup/And next devour’d their toast and butter up.”

OSCAR SHUMSKY PLAYS MOZART
OSCAR SHUMSKY, violin, ERIC SHUMSKY, viola
SCOTTISH CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, YAN PASCAL TORTELIER, conductor
BIDDULPH 85014-2 51’65

A re-release of this recording from 1985, one of the first digital recordings ever made and previously only available on LP. Featuring Oscar Shumsky’s own cadenzas in the Violin Concerto No 3 and father and son pairing in the Sinfonia Concertante this is an interesting release for those interested in historical recordings.

NATHAN MILSTEIN: ARMED FORCES STUDIO RECORDINGS
NATHAN MILSTEIN, violin VALENTIN PAVLOVSKY, piano
BIDDULPH 85015-2 72’50

This is a compilation of a number of mono recordings of a performer regarde as one of the greatest 20th Century violinists. Violin Sonatas by Vivaldi and Brahms are joined with a number of popular arrangements including Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, Faure’s Apres un Reve, Schubert’s Ave Maria and the Meditation from ‘Thais’ by Massenet. There are also two virtuoso works by Wieniawiski.

CHARLES KOECHLIN – SEVEN STARS’ SYMPHONY
SINFONIEORCHESTER BASEL, ARIANE MATIAKH, conductor
CAPRICCIO C5449 56’32

This is a very interesting and enjoyable recording. The Seven Stars of the title piece, written in 1933, are not constellations but ‘stars’ of the entertainment world including Douglas Fairbanks, Greta Garbo, Merlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin. Brilliantly chosen timbres (including ondes martenot – hurray!) with shifting harmonies and exotic melodies abound. The work is coupled with an orchestral nocturne, Vers la Voute Etoilee (1939)

SP

Little Women Mark Adamo Opera Holland Park July 2022

The UK premiere of Mark Adamo’s 1998 two act opera was an interesting event. It sits well with Opera Holland Park’s policy of mixing the very well known work with the much less familiar within a single season and features some talented singers at various stages of their careers. It was also good to see the composer there, clearly moved by this account of his work.

We’re in the world of Louisa M Alcott’s famous 1868 novel with glances at its sequels as the four March sisters reflect from maturity on the events of their childhood. As with Carmen and Eugene Onegin the set by takis brings some of the action into the space between the audience and the orchestra which conveys a strong sense of immediate intimacy. For this show the main stage is dominated by a series of huge, distressed picture frames which make the small room scenes convincing and contained.

Adamo’s score – of its time, obviously – is short on sustained melody but strong on orchestral colour. During Brooke’s (Harry Thatcher) impassioned courtship of Amy (Elizabeth Karani) for example, with Jo (Charlotte Badham) trying to stop them, we get timp glissandi, snare drum tattoos and glockenspiel. And I like Adamo’s use of tubular bells. Both percussionists (Glynn Matthews and Jeremy Cornes) work very hard in this opera and the results are often arresting. Meanwhile there’s some good work in other sections in a piece which often sets up unusual combinations of instruments all well managed by Sian Edwards on the podium. The sympathetic playing here is testament to the long partnership between Opera Holland Park and City of London Sinfonia.

On stage Kitty Whately finds plenty of vocal warmth in Meg using her wide vocal range and depth to bring the most matronly of the sisters to life. Charlotte Badham delights, using body language and lots of notes to connote Jo’s confusion, intelligence, love for her sisters, anguish and – eventually – the hope of a happy ending for herself. Benson Wilson is terrific too as Friedrich Bhaer. His richly resonant bass voice would have captivated me too, had I been Jo.

There are a few problems with this show, though. There is a quartet of women who sit on stage, busy at various pursuits, almost continuously, occasionally singing. They are oddly dressed – one is a knight, another a Bohemian artist-type and the other two in 1920s-style slinky cocktail frocks. I spent much of the 2 hours and 50 minutes (including interval) of this show trying to puzzle out who exactly these women are and why they’re there.

And, good as the orchestra is, it occasionally overpowers the singers. There were times, for example, when I couldn’t hear Charlotte Badham. And there is a problem with accents – I suppose the cast has been directed to sound American. In fact it is not sustained and the odd word you hear pronounced other than in RP it sounds like Cornwall. Moreover the diction is often fuzzy. One really shouldn’t need surtitles for an opera sung in one’s own language but in this case you certainly do, so I was glad they were there.

There is, however, plenty to admire in Little Women and I hope Mr Adamo was pleased with it despite the flaws.

Susan Elkinn

BBC PROMS 2022 PROM 1: Verdi’s Requiem BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus Crouch End Festival Chorus -Sakari Oramo

Verdi’s Requiem and the Royal Albert Hall are a marriage made in heaven. The grand vision of the music is a perfect match for the beloved, huge Victorian domed space. And I like to think Verdi would have approved of this fine account of it – the hall buzzing with excitement and five BBC cameras sliding unobtrusively about for the opening night of the first full Proms season since 2019.

Sakari Oramo is very good indeed at managing the detail even when he’s controlling an orchestra of over eighty players, eight off stage trumpets for Dies Irae and a massed choir of over 130 some of whom are a very long way from him – in addition, of course, to supporting four fine soloists with visible care and attention. It must be like driving a whole convoy of tanks.

I have known this work since my teens and have sung in several performances of it but have never played in the orchestra or studied the orchestral score. I was therefore surprised and delighted at this unforgettable performance to hear details I had never noticed before. For example there was some beautiful flute work with the soloists in the Offertory and a nicely pointed bassoon continuo passage with the soloists in quartet in Dies Irae. And I loved the piccolo delicately picking its way around the melody in the fugal Sanctus and again in Lux eterna. Yes, Oramo who mouths every word with the chorus and delivered every note with phenomenal precision, is on top of every shred of detail and made sure that the audience was too – even at the opening which I’ve rarely heard quite so hushed and exciting. Nothing was ever muddy even for a second.

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (soprano) really came into her own in Agnus Dei and in the silkiness of Lacrymosa with Jennifer Johnston (Mezzo) who brought richness and drama. And Rangwanasha’s Libera Me evoked all the tremulous, unresolved anguish that it should. Of course Mors Stupebit is a wonderful edge-of-the-seat moment for a bass-baritone and Kihwan Sim ensured everyone listened with attention and wonder. There was a strong performance too from David Junghoon Kim, a last minute replacement for Freddie De Tomaso who was ill, especially in Ingemisco tamquam reus.

Other high spots in 84 minutes of some of the finest music-making I’ve heard in quite a while included the extra trumpets in Dies Irae. I think they were in the gallery and the whole, vast Albert Hall resounded immersively with musical fear of judgement day. Then there was the way the tenors cut through with Hostias over tremolo second violins and violas – in this work which packs so much glorious operatic contrast. Finally, we got the biggest bass drum I’ve ever seen: at least six feet in diameter and two feet deep. It wasn’t used for the famous syncopated Dies Irae passage but came into its own for some very ominous, thunderous rumbling before the final statement and again at the very end.

Susan Elkin