CDs March 2021 (2)

THE BRABANT ENSEMBLE, conductor Stephen Rice
HYPERION CDA68321 78’38
EL LEON DE ORO, conductors Peter Phillips & Marco Antonio Garcia de Paz
HYPERION CDA68347 60’53

There is a very ‘easy’ feel to these two CDs of Renaissance choral music. The various lines flow with a calm legato, disguising the underlying complexity of composition, allowing the listener to be transported to a different time and place. In the first case France in 15th/early 16th Centuries and in the second, Spain of the mid to late 16th Century. The second CD carries additional interest and authenticity by including alongside Latin texts, a set of Cantiones y villanescas espirituales, written in Spanish and sung here by a Spanish choir.


HYPERION CDA68251 69’56

Cecilia McDowall’s music here blends exciting contemporary harmony and soaring melodies with features that connect and return us to choral writing from the renaissance and medieval periods. Adoro, te devote is a case in. point with echoes of Allegri’s Miserere. Unaccompanied settings of Latin and English texts are sung here by the large cast choir augmented with soloists and small groups. The substantial solo organ O Antiphon Sequence played by Alexander Hamilton serves as a beautiful contrast before the choir concludes with The Lord is good.. Exquisite music and performances.


VOX CHAMBER CHOIR, conductor David Crown
Colin Spinks, organ, Tristan Fry, tam-tam
NAXOS 8.574186 64’13

Alexander Campkin has established himself as one of a number of younger British composers writing choral music that is fresh and innovative. True Light (2011) and Missa Brevis (2009) are the two largest works here together with three other more recent pieces. To my ear there are times when the choir could do with a slightly tighter delivery but perhaps this is part of the intended effect of this music which is often ethereal and gently shifting. A very enjoyable disc.


Geoffrey Williams, counter-tenor, Steven Caldicott Wilson, tenor
Christopher Dylan Herbert, baritone, Craig Phillips, bass
BIS SACD  BIS-2277 58’26

This is a beautifully programmed and produced CD. Taking settings of medieval devotional texts and earlier prayers much of this music dates from the 15th & 16th Centuries. Inserted among compositions by Loyset Compere, Josquin Desprez and others are two works by Andrew Smith (b. 1970) and Cyrillus Kreek (1889-1962). Despite the obvious differences in harmonic structure these more modern works do not feel out of place and actually add to the sense of an ongoing tradition and a timelessness of devotion. The performances by New York Polyphony are first rate.


DYNAMIC CDS7879 72’28

Fresh performances of this early 18th century keyboard repertoire are given here by Stefano Lorenzetti on a 1986 Tony Chinnery French harpsichord.


INVENTA INV1005 67’26

This must be one of the most striking titles for a recording in recent years. Consisting of a recording of early 16th Century viol music from a new edition of a manuscript dating from around 1535. It was placed in the library of Jacob Fugger, a wealthy German merchant. The title of the CD is the name of one of the short works, this one by Heinrich Isaac. An intriguing disc.


MALU LIN, violin. GILES SWAYNE, piano
RESONUS RES10271 75’56

Another intriguing CD, this one is based around the family relationships of the composers whose music is featured here. There is great variety, from the opening reflective solo violin in Elisabeth Maconchy’s Violin Sonata to the more exuberant rhythmic violin and piano Duo by Giles Swayne. Other music by these two completes the disc alongside Nicola LeFanu’s Abstracts and a Frame.



An intimate, unhurried, meditative experience, this is a very enjoyable CD. The composer’s notes state that the intention is to let the music speak for itself and not be too explained. Apart from saying that the music is built of short episodes no further hints of structure are given as the music plays in a single track. Details from


IVANA VALOTTI, organ of Basilica palatina di Santa Barbara, Mantova, Italy (1565)
TACTUS TC580609 71’23
WILLIAM FOX, organ of St John the Evangelist, Islington, London
NAXOS 8.579077 65’04

Two single composer organ recordings complete this selection. They could not be more contrasting and would serve as a very good illustration for those who still believe that all organ music sounds the same! A world premier recording of organ music by Frescobaldi (16th/17th Century) is a rare thing but as the subtitle makes clear this music was unpublished and so has remained relatively “off the radar”. This music requires dexterity from any player and thanks to organist and appropriate historical instrument we are transported back to Renaissance Italy.

The second CD complements the earlier mentioned CD of Cecilia McDowall’s choral music. Here we turn to her work for organ. Some of these also feature a part for trumpet. Again there is a real contrast within the programme here, from reflective slow moving passages to exciting rhythmic episodes. This is very definitely writing for the contemporary organ. Many of the works here are less than a decade old and a number are world premier recordings.













DVDs/CDs March 2021 (1)

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Concentus Musicus Wien, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
UNITEL 803804

Over the years I have greatly admired much that Nikolaus Harnoncourt has done and was looking forward to this new release. Unfortunately I can’t recommend it. In 2019 Harnoncourt mounted semi-staged / concert versions of the three Mozart/Da Ponte operas at the Teater an der Wien within a month. The focus is essentially on the scores and in particular on the authentic presentation of the recitatives. This may be academically interesting but Figaro is a work of passion, revolution and upheaval. It comes across as bloodless, often at remarkably slow speeds, and can’t seem to make up its mind how the narrative is to be conveyed to the audience, either in the theatre or via the recording. Most of the singers are at music stands, reading from scores – but not all. The Count wanders round as if he is another production all together, and minor parts sing for themselves. Watching, I was never clear what I was supposed to be engaging with. Was his essentially a lecture in early music practise, or was it a slightly overblown concert performance? Eventually I gave up as I found it irritating. That so many superb musicians and singers should have been involved to such an unsatisfactory end was very sad.


Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia
Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini, Riccardo Frizza

Andrea Bernard creates a dark and violent modern world which is highly convincing for this disturbing work. Splendidly played and sung throughout it captures the vigour of Hugo’s play which underpins the narrative as well as he archly romantic musical lines Donizetti spins for our delight.


Weber: Der Freischutz
Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equileby
ERATO 0190295109547

This is an interesting approach to the work. We are given a CD with all the music, excellently sung and played, and perfectly enjoyable just as it is. The DVD does not cover the whole work, but does include some of the dialogue. It also gives us an insight into the wonders of the production. I still find it difficult to accept that the slow motion scenes and flying are real and not CGI. But they are and as such are gloriously effective. It is not clear why there was not a straight DVD of the whole as it would surely have been highly effective and convincing. More like this please.


Dvorak: Spirit of Bohemia
Fine Arts Quartet, Anna Gribajcevic, viola, Jens Peter Maintz, cello, Stephen Simonian, piano
NAXOS 8.574205

We have the string quartet No4 in E minor, the string sextet in A major and the polonaise in A major, all warmly engaging. The string sextet is very much ahead of its time, foreshadowing modernism when set alongside the more romantic sextet. The polonaise exploits the introspection the composer found in his homeland.


Faure: works for violin and piano
Jane Gordon, violin, Jan Rautio, Piano

The Berceuse Op16 may be familiar but the Sonatas Nos 1 & 2 are certainly not among the composers more obvious, output but they are certainly worth our time to explore. This lovingly crafted performance brings out the deep romanticism of the scores as well as the sense of innovation. Jane Gordon and Jan Rautio play on original instruments and their two decades of experience working together is certainly captured in the nuances of this fine recording. The recording also includes the Andante Op75 and the Romance Op28.


Songs of Travel: Trombone Travels 2
Matthew Gee, trombone; Christopher Glynn, piano
NAXOS 8.579080

Some ideas must seem good in the pub and often that is as long as they last. Arranging Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Stanford for trombone and piano does have some merits – the muted sounds often work very well – but much of the time one is left thinking why? When the originals are so good, what do these arrangements add? Unfortunately the answer is, very little. It is is nice thought but maybe it should have ended at that point.


Saint-Saens: Music for Wind Ensemble
Band of the RAF College, Jun Markl
NAXOS 8.574234

Saint-Saens’ orchestration is so good in the first place that these arrangements need no excuse. They work extremely well and are hugely enjoyable, with music from Samson et Dalila, Suite algerienne and even the Lion from the Carnival of the Animals.



Art Inspired by Science & Nature comes to Brighton Festival

A walk in a magical forest and an immersive installation inspired by the Large Hadron Collider will transport Brighton Festival audiences into other worlds this May.

Fabrica gallery in central Brighton will be transformed into a ‘fairytale installation’ by internationally renowned contemporary artist, Olafur Eliasson from 18 May to 20 June. The Forked Forest Path is one of Fabrica’s most immersive and memorable exhibitions to date, as the gallery celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Visitors will be immersed in a space filled with branches, saplings and thinnings, combined with a strong, earthy smell reminiscent of a forest floor. Each element works together to create the illusion of being lost in a dense wood. The artist is known for creating large-scale exhibitions that connect with the natural world to highlight issues such as climate change, including his epic recreation of the sun in the Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2003. The Forked Forest Path is part of the Towner Collection on loan to Fabrica from Towner Eastbourne.

Set to arrive with a Big Bang, an art installation inspired by scientific research into the fundamental make-up of matter will open at the Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts (ACCA) in Falmer. Created by Brighton-based artist duo Semiconductor, HALO is a multisensory experience of matter formation in the early universe generated through projections and sound played out upon hundreds of vertical piano strings. Audiences enter an intricate mechanical structure operated by data from the ATLAS experiment at CERN which recreates the conditions shortly after the Big Bang.

The artwork follows Semiconductor’s residency at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, in Geneva, and was made with the help of physicists from the University of Sussex.

HALO at Brighton Festival is supported by Arts Council England, and co-produced by Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts.

HALO is an Audemars Piguet Art Commission, curated by Mónica Bello and first presented in the context of Art Basel in Basel in 2018. In collaboration with CERN.

Andrew Comben, Chief Executive, Brighton Festival commented:

“As Brighton Festival returns for 2021, we are delighted to partner with Fabrica and ACCA to bring these outstanding art works for audiences to enjoy for free this May. Both installations tell very different stories and offer us experiences to connect with the natural world, something we have all been craving over the last year of lockdown.”

Both venues are free admission and will be operating social distancing measures for visitors to enjoy the work safely and comfortably.

Brighton Festival begins on 1 May 2021, the programme will launch on 30 March at

Oxford Lieder Winterreise

All the way from the resonant arpeggios of Gute Nacht to the haunting, wistful A minor pianissimo of Der Leiermann, this is an elegant, thoughtfully judged Winterreise. We are taken, very effectively, on the final journey.

Dietrich Henshel is an admirably unshowy performer. He stands simply beside the piano without swaying or arm waving. The drama is entirely in his voice and face but there’s plenty of it. His Der Lindenbaum is warmly impassioned, his Fruhlingstraum finds a lovely lilt in the opening bars and his high notes and big intervals  are nicely controlled in Letzte Hoffnung. I found his Die Wetterfahne a bit breathy but it’s a fairly minor quibble.

Warmest praise too for Sholto Kynoch’s work on piano. These pieces are – when performed as sensitively as this –  definitely duets rather than songs “accompanied” by piano. In Der Wegweiser, for example, Kynoch’s exquisite playing really highlights the breathless effect.  Interestingly Kynoch manages his music by technological alchemy – a tablet on the music stand, presumably controlled by a left foot blue tooth pedal. It’s a neat way of precluding the need for a human page turner in close proximity in these Covid-compliant times – if you’re brave enough.

The concert began with emerging artist Anna Cavaliero singing two Schubert songs. Her singing is crisp and warm and she, too, has a tightly integrated rapport with Kynoch on piano.

It’s good to be back in the Holywell Room, with Petroch Trelawny as the ever urbane, competent, knowledgeable link man. I wish, however, we didn’t have to have those lights decorating the balusters behind the piano which, when you watch digitally, connote all the gaudiness of cheap Christmas decorations.

An advantage of watching digitally, though, is the way the subtitles are now managed. You are given the whole poem at the side of the screen with a moving highlight so that you know exactly where you are and a line by line translation at the bottom of the screen. As a non-Germanist I like this although I suspect purists might find it irritating. It’s new technology for Oxford Lieder so I’ll make allowances for the couple of times when the performance moved to the next number but the printed text didn’t.

Susan Elkin