ENO: Lucia di Lammermoor

London Coliseum, 30 October 2018

This is the second revival of David Alden’s production and in many ways the strongest and most telling to date. Much hinges on the vulnerability of Sarah Tynan’s splendid Lucia. Her tiny frame, encased in a voluminous crinoline and tight lacing, is constantly at the mercy of the misogynistic society which surrounds her. That she sings the part with great sensitivity as well as having a voice which easily fills the theatre is near miraculous given the constant physical threat to her very presence. David Alden’s stark reading of the text is now more pertinent than when it was first staged and our awareness of sexual harassment and passive-aggressive behaviour ever more obvious.

While her brother Enrico, sung with great and overt passion by Lester Lynch, is unable to contain his incestuous desires, it is Clive Bayley’s Raimondo who is even more objectionable as a canting prelate, whose diction is all too clear. Michael Colvin’s oleaginous Arturo is a vile individual and there is little sense of remorse either side of the footlights when Lucia kills him. Even her lover, Edgardo – Eleazar Rodriguez, in better voice than in last season’s Rossini – is a nasty piece of work and it is difficult to see him through her eyes. The only other female on stage, Alisa, wonderfully created by Sarah Pring, can do nothing to assist Lucia as she is too obviously at the lower end of the pecking order.

The chorus are strictly divided, the men having authority within their own sphere while the women are below them – a point beautifully identified at the end of the marriage scene where the women are seated with their men standing behind them, keeping them firmly in their place.

Stuart Stratford creates a romantic warmth from his orchestra which is totally in keeping with the visual and dramatic dichotomy proceeding on stage. The clash of styles heightens our understanding of the dysfunction taking place.

It is good to see this production again and hopefully it will not be for the last time.

Opera South East

Manor Barn, Bexhill, Sunday 28th October 2018

An afternoon of Baroque scenes made for a pleasing sequence from Opera South East. With a small chamber ensemble under Kenneth Roberts and the welcome addition of the Fipple Consort of recorders, the scenes flowed smoothly, bookended by Purcell but taking in on the way works by Monteverdi, Handel and Gay. Perhaps the most unexpected delight was the two arias from Telemann’s Pimpenone.

The afternoon drew on solo voices from the chorus who were appropriately dressed with white Georgian makeup and wigs above black costumes. They came into their own as the low-life in excerpts from Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera while also filling in as shepherds and rustics along the way.

Soprano Lucy Ashton proved to be the star of the show, if such a one were needed, moving effortlessly from Purcell’s Night to Dido, whilst also giving us Poppea and Cleopatra. Within the confines of the Manor Barn her voice was pleasingly warm and emotionally moving, particularly in the death of Dido.

A remarkably full house made for an intimate and rewarding afternoon.

Ensemble OrQuesta: Merlin

St Mary in the Castle, Saturday 27th October 2018

Considering the status of King Arthur in our national myth it is surprising that there are so few works based on the stories. Purcell’s King Arthur immediately springs to mind, but there is precious little between that and Spamelot. All the more welcome then Keith Beal’s reworking of the Merlin stories which received its world premiere last weekend.

Marcio da Silva briefly described for us at the end of the evening the process by which the event came about which went someway to explain its somewhat surprising presentation. For this was not a straightforward staging. A brief overview might help. The first act was in costume and staged, though the strongly voiced Merlin of James Schouten was singing from the score. The second act  found the cast all in black singing from music stands with a minimum of lighting. The final act brought some of them back in costume though the rest were still dressed as for a concert performance, and there was a projection of war images on the rear curtain.

If the text had been somewhat clearer this may not have mattered but there was a distinct problem with the clarity of diction even when the singing itself was universally excellent.

The layout in St Mary’s was at times beneficial – the singers project well from the centre but less so the further away they are – and the chamber orchestra was placed near the control desk where Marcio had a clear view of all singers and instrumentalists.

Keith Beal’s writing is at its strongest in the duets and ensembles. There are effective confrontations between Merlin and the Nimue of Helen May, and powerful interchanges between her and Caroline Carragher as Morgan La Faye. The Quartet which ends act two and the final ensemble work very well and create an emotive impact which is too often lacking in the monologues.

The orchestral writing is heavy on brass and woodwind, often strikingly so, but the pace often feels relentless with little change of mood or sense of introspection. Like Michael Tippett, Keith Beal is his own librettist, which is a mixed blessing. Clarity at times is starkly impressive but repetitions of What are you doing here? and a love scene which ends with Can’t you see you are the one for me? may work for a musical but seemed out of place in a narrative which is dealing with ancient architypes and mythological characters.

Excellent that Hastings Philharmonic is taking on new and challenging works, even if they may not have quite the impact hoped for.

Hastings Early Music Festival

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, 18-19 October 2018

There are certain types of music which work spectacularly well in St Mary in the Castle and Baroque music, both vocal and instrumental comes at the top of the list. If one adds to this the presence of The Sixteen, under Harry Christophers, singing Palestrina and James MacMillan and surely it can’t get any better.

Their programme The Queen of Heaven is based on settings of Marian hymns by Palestrina and the contemporary composer James MacMillian, whose gently unfolding a cappella scores are a perfect accompaniment to the earlier works.

The evening opened with the plainsong setting of Regina caeli with eight of the male singers processing from the back of the building while chanting the text. This gave way to the wonderfully mellifluous setting by Palestrina of the Kyrie from the Missa Regina caeli, which floated and lifted gently into the dome above. James MacMillan’s Dominus dabit benignitatem was not a million miles away with its reserved if lyrical approach to the text.

Possibly the only work which may have been known to all present was Allegri’s Miserere but the new version we heard was stunning not only in the beauty of the part singing but the sense of ornamented lines emerging from the quartet in the gallery. Rather than waiting for the obligatory high note (for which we know there is dubious evidence) the improvised approach led us inevitably to the upper notes of the solo soprano, but always within the framework of the musical line, rather than simply as a clever add-on.

To conclude the first half we heard MacMillan’s Videns Dominus with its Scottish rhythms and earthy sense of reality, and finally Palestrina’s Stabat Mater.

The same composer’s Regina caeli opened the second half with a joyous alleluia before a triptych which sandwiched MacMillan’s O radiant dawn between two flowing settings by Palestrina. In contrast to the Allegri, MacMillan’s own setting of the Miserere was the most challenging of his works here on offer, though it maintains great simplicity and beauty of line throughout, opening into an opulent romantic melody towards the end.

The evening concluded almost where it had begun with the Agnus Dei from Palestrina’s Missa Regina caeli, bringing a real sense of faith and hope as the line climbed ever higher.

The following evening brought us Baroque chamber music of surprising intimacy. Given the large spaces of St Mary’s, the softer sounds of gut strings and unamplified guitars needed a higher level of concentration but more than repaid the effort involved.

Hemf Baroque opened with a suite of short works by Blow and his pupil Purcell. The latter’s lovely Rondeau from The Fairy Queen was followed by an equally impressive Ground from Blow’s Venus and Adonis. Jane Gordon was herself the soloist in Telemann’s A minor violin concerto TWV51 which is splendidly engaging for all its brevity. The first half concluded with Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto. The ensemble were joined by Baroque flautist Neil McLaren but the noteworthy contribution came from harpsichordist Julian Perkins. He played throughout the evening but the Bach work allows him to shine in the extended cadenza for solo harpsichord which Bach obviously wrote for himself to show off his wonderful new instrument. It was most impressive.

A slight change of order for the second half brought us Vivaldi’s Double Mandolin concerto arranged on this occasion for the EdenStell Guitar Duo. If the guitar does not have the bite of the mandolin, particularly in St Mary’s acoustic, it does have great delicacy as demonstrated in the radiant beauty of the second movement which has the soft silence of a hare in the snow.

Corelli’s Concerto Grosso Op6 No1 brought lively interaction from the soloists and led into a rustically enjoyable reading of Vivaldi’s Autumn from the Four Seasons to conclude a wonderful evening. Again the audience was large and enthusiastic – a tribute to Jane Gordon’s organisational skills and ability to bring us some of the finest Baroque musicians alive today.

Oxford Lieder Festival 2018

The theme this year was The Grand Tour and one which enabled us to sample songs with a wide variety of languages and styles. To help us on our way there were morning talks on a range of less familiar European languages as well as introductions to composers who are internationally known but not necessarily for their lieder settings.

Monday 15th October concentrated on Polish lieder and at lunchtime Jan Petryka, tenor, and Sholto Kynoch, piano, gave us songs by Chopin, Laks, Szymanowski, Paderewski and Moniuszko. As the Holywell Music Room was undergoing some renovation during the daytime, most midday concerts were moved to the Sheldonian Theatre, with seating placed very close to the performers to improve the intimacy of the occasion. The Chopin settings were instantly recognisable even if the text of Little Prisoner proved to be somewhat unnerving. Tenor Jan Petryka is Polish and so had no problem with these songs but the central set were in English with Szymanowski‘s setting of James Joyce’s Seven Songs. The unusual placement was challenging but also very effective in highlighting the care which the composer brings to his understanding of the text and that of the singer in communicating it.

The late afternoon concert brought us back to Holywell Music Room for The Pale of Settlement- songs from the Polish-Jewish community while under Russian rule.  Alison Rose, soprano, shared the platform with Gareth Brynmor John, baritone, opening  with a beautiful unaccompanied lullaby Schlof mayn kind, and later a heavily oriental melody in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Hebrew Love Song.

Gareth Brynmor John gave us an heroic Saul’s Lied from Mussorgsky with strong hints of Boris Godunov, and the tongue-in-cheek How the czar lives. They ended with a poignant traditional setting of Yoshke is leaving. Throughout they were sensitively accompanied by Florent Mourier.

The evening concert brought an unusual combination to the Holywell Music Room with Sholto Kynoch, piano, Louise Alder, soprano and Stef van Herten, horn. If the effect was somewhat disconcerting this was more the difficulty of balancing the horn against the piano and voice. The opening solo horn piece – Gounod’s Larghetto – worked well but too often the horn player was simply not able to make the impact less than strident. Thankfully in a full programme there were many felicities. Debussy’s Ariettes oubliees have a languorous beauty which Louis Alder made the most of, as she did in the Wagnerian overtones of the five Strauss songs. At the end we were given a little lightness with Verdi’s Chimney Sweep and Donizetti’s L’Amor Funesto where the coloratura sounded anything but sad.

On Tuesday morning Dr James Partridge gave us a brief introduction to the Czech language, trying to persuade us that it is actually far less complex than it seems, and this was followed by a lecture from Caroline Palmer on the inveterate traveller and art enthusiast, Maria Graham who combed the galleries of Europe with her second husband Augustus Wall Callcott. The time she spent in what is now the Czech Republic was instructive and useful to our understanding of the music we were to hear across the rest of the day.

That the language problem can affect more than the singers getting their heads around unfamiliar songs became all too apparent at the lunchtime concert given by Harriet Burns, soprano, and Caitlin Hulcup, mezzo-soprano, with Christopher Glynn at the piano. No difficulty it seemed for the singers but those responsible for the programme had come to grief over the translations and the complexity of variations. As a result some of the songs were not listed at all and others had the wrong text to the right title. It made for a very interesting session, for whereas some songs were instantly comprehensible – Dvorak’s gently pleasing duet And I will sail away from you and Smetana’s lovely Evening Songs – others for which we had nothing were incomprehensible regardless of how well sung. Given that one of the major points of a Lieder recital is the sensitivity of the singer to the text this was all rather unfortunate. That the two singers did so well under the circumstances and their voices more than overcame the problem is a real tribute to them both and to Christopher Glynn whose accompaniment was thrown into unusually high relief.

The early evening at the Holywell Music Room was given over to the Albion Quartet who commenced with Josef Suk’s Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale St Wenceslas Op35a. The opening is certainly introspective but quickly builds in both intensity and fire. After this they were joined by Christopher Glynn for Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No2 in A major Op81. The work seemed to suite the young players admirably as its constant changes of mood, dynamic and pace challenged them to ever riskier tempi and lightning interchanges. If the final movement has an unexpected moment of reflection towards the end it is only after a sparkling flight at breakneck speed with all the colour and verve a quintet can muster.

This was, of course, only a tiny fraction of what was on offer this October and the festival ran for fifteen days with numerous events each day, many sold out well in advance. Next year’s theme is Tales of Beyond – Magic, Myths and Mortals.


Organ & Choral CDs October 2018

SONORO  Michael Higgins, Organ,  Neil Ferris, Conductor
RESONUS RES10226  59’08

It is easy to become jaded by the number of Christmas releases but here is a CD that has much to recommend. An interesting selection of contemporary pieces and later 20th Century works is interspersed by some fresh arrangements by the organist Michael Higgins of traditional carols.


RESONUS RES10221  65’41

Celebrating their 10th anniversary the St Catherine’s Girls present a lovely programme of secular settings for upper voices. Suites of songs by Jonathan Dove, Howard Skempton, Richard Rodney Bennett and Sally Beamish lead up to Britten’s Friday Afternoons. This final set will prove to be nostalgic for many of us who remember singing them in our early years, with the eerie Old Abram Brown bringing this recording to a satisfying conclusion.


RESONUS RES10228 75’57

This unusual release brings a programme of French 19th Century music for horn and piano. Alongside original compositions for both natural and piston horns are period arrangements of popular Schubert melodies including Ave Maria. A pleasant change and an interesting document of the technical development of this instrument.

FRIEDHELM FLAMME, organ of Stiftskirche St Anastasius & St Innocentius, Bad Gandersheim
CPO 555 040-2 (2CDs) 87’58

CPO continue to issue useful and enjoyable recordings documenting the organ repertoire. Here the works of French organist-composer Henri Mulet are presented in fine performances by Friedhelm Flamme. The familiar Tue s Petra concludes the first CD which features the complete Esquisses Byzantines and CD concludes with the popular Carillon-Sortie. Much of this music was unknown to me and deserves to be more widely heard.


HYPERION CDA68191  76’00

Two releases from Hyperion present the ancient and the modern. The first is a wonderful collection of recent works by Bristol-born Owain Park. Despite having not yet reached the age of 30 his is a growing reputation with a number of notable works for voices already being performed. An interesting introduction in the sleeve notes by Park’s former composition tutor, John Rutter, is included. I think it is fair to say that the listener should not expect this music to sound too similar to his tutor’s. There is much to enjoy here.


HYPERION CDA68206  59’34

This CD takes us into a sound world that is very different from most choral offerings. Known to us now for his Messe de Notre Dame, Machaut was primarily a writer and musician concerned with courtly love. The accompanying booklet provides useful background and technical insights into what for many will be unfamiliar territory. For all attracted to early music or simply wishing to explore something different this recording will be of great interest.



Most of this CD presents Musica Transalpina, an anthology of 16th/17th Century Italian madrigals that had been adapted to make them more accessible to an English audience. As a compete contrast the second part features the four movements of Ben Rowarth’s Short walk of a madman, recent settings in contemporary style of poems by e.e. cummings. To me these are the more interesting works on this album.







Temple Music: Outcry Ensemble conducted by James Henshaw

Middle Temple Hall, City of London

Middle Temple Hall – in all its Elizabethan glory with carving and stained glass – is a stunningly beautiful concert venue. It was, apparently the venue in which Twelfth Night was premiered (earliest known performance, anyway) in 1602 so it’s rather delightful that the tradition continues.

This concert opened with a world premiere of Windows by Misha Mullov-Abbado. I’m not sure how fair it is to point out that he’s the son of Viktoria Mullova and Claudio Abbado but he is, obviously and literally, a born musician. This work in three unrelated movements (written originally as standalones) is unexpectedly tonal and lyrical as well as, at times, jazzy and lilting. The first movement is almost lush in places with some fine, very exposed string work. I also admired the quality of the trombone playing over lots of well controlled vamping in the middle syncopated movement.

And then it was Schubert’s Eighth Symphony. Outcry Ensemble claims to approach modern music with the passion and rigour you’d expect to experience when hearing mainstream repertoire and to apply the explorative-analytical approach normally required for contemporary music when they play standard repertoire. And in this work you could hear exactly that from the dramatic dynamics to the well pointed general pauses which made it feel very crisp and fresh. In the andante Henshaw balanced the sonority with the alternating lightness, and the percussive pizzicato came through with notable precision. Yes, there was an occasional wrong note but that’s the joy of live performance.

The acoustic of Middle Temple Hall is perfect for Schubert. It worked much less well for the Brahms Violin Concerto. In the opening and closing movements the orchestra was often too loud so that accomplished soloist Oscar Perks seemed almost competing aurally and losing. Henshaw really should have been aware of this and damped his orchestra down. The gentler passages and the whole of the middle movement worked well though and it was a real treat to hear Perks play his own cadenza which explored the themes of the first movement with imaginative virtuosity.

Susan Elkin

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

The Dome, Brighton, Sunday 14th October, 2018

A joyfully indulgent afternoon to start the new series, and one which celebrated the 50th birthday of Brighton Festival Chorus.

After a brief welcome from Barry Wordsworth we were whisked into Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, its bombastic jollity setting the mood for the rest of the afternoon. Handel’s Zadok the Priest may lie a little outside the subsequent Parry and Elgar though it did give the choir an opening moment of glory. They were certainly in fine voice throughout, the tenors clear and true, the sopranos fearlessly attacking the top lines. This was very much a romantic approach to Handel, minus the organ and with a modern string sound, but very much in keeping with the Parry and Elgar which was to follow.

The real find of the concert was Parry’s rarely performed masterpiece From Death to Life. Written for Brighton in 1914 it shows a wonderful sense of colour it its orchestration and melodic lines which rival Elgar. The opening section on Death hints at the melancholy of Sibelius while the jolly march of Life sits comfortably with Eric Coates or Percy Grainger. We really need to hear this again.

The first half ended with Elgar’s setting of Psalm 48, written in 1912 and comparable to much of the choral setting in The Apostles or possibly more sedate demons from Gerontius in the second section. The bass chorus took on the solo third part with aplomb before all sections came together for the unfolding glories of the finale.

After the interval, to give the choir a break, we heard Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture in all its brashness and fizz. Barry Wordsworth managed to find real lightness and sparkle here for what can too easily become simply pompous. Maybe it was the thought of the Scene from the Bavarian Highlands which ended the afternoon. Is there anything else in Elgar which is quite as joyous as these settings of Lady Alice’s verse? Though her poems often come in for criticism, here they allow Elgar to delight in lightly flowing lines and warm, sunny harmonies which are a world away from English melancholy. The third and sixth songs are possibly better known in their orchestral arrangements but sung as part of the whole make a far more impressive impact.

In between these two exultant works we heard the brief, reflective setting of O Hearken Thou from 1911 and written for the Coronation of King George V. A surprisingly introspective work for a joyful occasion, its serious nature supports the faith which underlies it.

At the start Barry Wordsworth mentioned that he has recently recorded some lesser known Elgar works with The Brighton Festival Chorus. It will be a recording worth having.

The next BPO concert is on Sunday 11 November with works by Rossini, Beethoven and Dvorak.

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, Maidstone,13 October 2018

The opening concert in MSO’s 108th season really belonged to young cellist, Maxim Calver. Aged only 18, he was a finalist in this year’s BBC Young Musician of the Year and he stood in at short notice for the booked soloist.

Unusually he began, at conductor Brian Wright’s request, with a solo piece – a variation, from a work by Lutoslawski commissioned by Rostopovitch and pretty dramatic it was too. He played this ambitious piece, complete with glissandi and quarter tones with intense insouciance.

Then, in place of Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, it was on to a strikingly mature performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme with the legato variations leaned on for maximum romance and the faster ones delivered with crisp witty aplomb. His use of harmonics is spectacular too.

And as if that weren’t enough he then treated us to a richly nuanced encore – the very familiar but evergreen Sarabande from Bach’s First Cello Suite. Thus, this engaging, poised young man who smiles though the music when his rapier eyes aren’t staring into the distance, whizzed through the music of three centuries in less than an hour.

The concert began with Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem which is getting a number of outings this year to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. It’s a tricky work. You don’t often see MSO front desk players visibly counting but they carried it off. The Dies Irae movement with the relentless rhythms ably underpinned by weighty percussion  (seven in the section) was especially impressive and there was some lovely work from harpists, Milo Harper and Alex Tindall.

Pictures at an Exhibition, of course, as we now usually hear it owes as much to Ravel’s orchestration as it does to Mussorgsky’s original piano suite. In this intelligent performance Brian Wright allowed every soloist and solo section  – some excellent playing here – to ensure that we noticed their contribution but without ever letting the piece feel bitty. It sailed along with warmth, fireworks and lots of colour. At the end Wright stood tuba player, Andy Bridges up first and quite right too. His solo was splendid as was Mike Austin’s work on alto saxophone. And The Great Gate of Kiev, the final section, with those evocative tubular bells and cymbal clashes must have sent every member of the audience away with melody ringing in their heads.

Yes, the season is off to a fine start. Roll on 1st December.

Susan Elkin

Hastings Philharmonic

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, Friday 12 October 2018

A simple programme to open the new season but one which demanded a high level of technical expertise as well as extrovert energy.

Roman Kosyakov was the popular winner of this year’s Hastings International Piano Competition and was returning to the romantic repertoire with Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto. However his approach, and one certainly supported by Marcio da Silva in his handling of the score, was dynamic and often aggressive. Roman Kosyakov’s playing is highly percussive, with snapped chords and very tight rhythms, which look forward to the twentieth century rather than relaxing in the romanticism of the mid-nineteenth. While this provided a genuine excitement it did at times seem to skirt over the more reflective passages, with only the finely honed third moment – with beautiful cello solos – bringing us some points of introspection. That Roman Kosyakov can conjure up genuine sensitivity was admirably demonstrated in the brief but gently fleeting encore.

After the interval – and the full house meant that a little more time than usual was needed – we heard Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The balance here was even better than it had been in the Brahms and the solo instruments sang out magnificently, fully supported by the string section. Hopefully the orchestra will eventually be able to run to an extra desk for each of the string sections, but it is surprisingly strong at present given the small scale.

Tempi were brisk throughout and the cellos again excelled in the Allegretto with real warmth and depth. There was a lively bounce to the third movement before we hurtled into the finale. The tempi here was perfectly justified by Beethoven’s own markings but more than that was more than within the players professionalism to follow Marcio da Silva’s clipped rhythms and tense phrasing. It was exhilarating.

A splendid start to the new season with a large and enthusiastic audience. Long may it continue!