Posts Tagged ‘Ian Page’

Perfectly Don

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on June 21, 2016 at 6:16 am

Review – Don Giovanni (Classical Opera, Cadogan Opera, Friday 17 June 2016)

Don Giovanni – Jacques Imbrailo
Leporello – David Soar
Donna Anna – Ana Maria Labin
Don Ottavio – Stuart Jackson
Donna Elvira – Helen Sharman
Zerlina – Ellie Laugharne
Masetto – Bradley Travis
Commendatore – David Shipley

The Philharmonia Chorus
The Orchestra of Classical Opera

Ian Page (Conductor)

It’s sometimes easy to forget that Mozart’s later operas are ensemble affairs. Of course he wrote stunning and psychologically insightful music for each protagonist, but it is in the ensembles that the music really comes alive. And I don’t only mean in Così fan tutte and Le nozze di Figaro but also Clemenza and Die Zauberflöte as well.

But it is in Don Giovanni – dare I say his greatest late opera – that the ensembles are truly magnificent. Not only defining the characters but literally driving the drama forward almost as if jet-propelled.

And all credit to Ian Page, Classical Opera and the eight performers that this was truly an ensemble performance. With the exception of a rather speedy La ci darem la mano, the arias were all performed beautifully – so beautifully in fact that I can (almost) forgive Mr Page for his purist approach and not giving us Mi tradi. But it was in the ensembles that the evening took on an even greater dramatic frisson that at the end of each act was palpable.

Page directed an energetic and colourful performance from the orchestra – the first notes of the overture, with the surprisingly timpani sound eradicated any risk of an ‘end of the week’ feeling in the audience. The woodwind in Madamina, il catalogo è questo buzzed over energetic string playing which was throughout meticulous and the brass barked threateningly both in the overture and in the final scene.

As Don Giovanni, Jacques Imbrailo might have been slightly too light vocally but what he didn’t have in total heft and the occasional wandering tonality in the occasional recitative he made up for with a strong and underlying threatening characterization and a deft way of singing the vocal line. And while David Soar relished this Leporello, never missing a beat, it was good to see Bradley Travis reprise a vocally strong Masetto in a stronger production that the recent one by ETO. Stuart Jackson, a regular performer for Classical Opera, performed a vocally impressive Don Ottavio – performing a confident and fluid Il mio tesoro, As the Commendatore, David Shipley rounded off an overall impressive cadre of men.

Ana Maria Labin led an equally strong line up of women, her bright and shining soprano demonstrating equally impressive flexibility. Non mi dir, bell’idol bio rightly got the loudest cheer from the audience.. The Donna Elvira of Helen Sharman was vocally distinctive from her noble counterpart, rich and seamless but occasionally slightly marred by distracting vibrato. But personally, I would have enjoyed to see her bring her dramatic talents to Mi trade. Ellie Laugharne’s Zerlina was suitably coquettish in both Batti, Batti and Vedrai Carino, although occasionally sharp in at the top of her range.

This wasn’t part of Classical Opera’s ambitious Mozart 250 project but it did reinforce what everyone at Cadogan Hall already knew. Ian Page and his ensemble are consummate Mozartians.

Can we hope that, having performed Don Giovanni in concert now, when it returns in a few years time it will be fully staged? I hope so, but regardless of how it does return, expectations from the remaining da Ponte operas will be very high indeed.

Classical Opera won’t disappoint.


All Hail, Hallenberg

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on May 28, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Review – Che puro ciel (Wigmore Hall, Monday 23 May 2016)

Ann Hallenberg (Mezzosoprano)
The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Ian Page (Conductor)

Ms Hallenberg has a thrilling bottom.

Don’t get me wrong, she has a most magnificent instrument – her voice gleams at the top, she can deliver the most beautifully sustained singing and her technique, especially in terms of her coloratura, is second to none. And in terms of musical intelligence, this was a masterclass in period performance. Not an embellishment out of place, no extravagant ornamentation in the da capos.

But when she sweeps down to the low notes, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

This recital, with Classical Opera at Wigmore Hall will be one of the most enjoyable and memorable concerts that I will undoubtedly attend this year. If not in a long time. Programme-wise, it was perfectly balanced – a combination of the unknown, the vaguely familiar and the instantly recognizable. But it all sounded so fresh, and so new that it sounded like we were hearing some of the music for the very first time.

Ms Hallenberg’s selections from Gluck – Il trionfo di Clelia, Paride ed Elena, Orfeo ed Euridice and Ezio – showed the full range of Gluck’s prowess and musical development. Opening with the bravura of Resta, o cara complete with messa di voce entry – a common technique to showcase the castrati of the day – Ms Hallenberg’s performance was beautifully poised with the coloratura delivered not as a virtuosity vehicle but wedded to the overall feeling of the aria itself. Similarly, Misero dove son … Ah, non son io che parlo might be better known as a concert aria by Mozart, but Gluck’s aria in the hands of Ms Hallenberg matched it note for note for dramatic intensity. Biting into each note, this performance was a fitting end to the first half. From Gluck’s ‘later’ operas – a sensitively performed O mio dolce amore – one of my favourite arias by Gluck and Che puro ciel. Ms Hallenberg’s performance had the requisite ethereal quality required, her phrasing and diction spot on. It’s a difficult aria – it is really an aria? – to carry off cold but this performance was exquisite. And bravi to the members of the orchestra who provided the chorus.

In the second half, Ms Hallenberg turned to Mozart. Personally I’ve not heard her in this repertoire but I hope that a recital disc is being planned. Ms Hallenberg effortlessly steered from the drama of Che scompiglio, che flagella written by 12-year old Mozart to the more flirtatious Se l’augellin sen fugge however it was the other two arias that were the highlight of the seconda parte if not the entire evening. The confidence and bravado of her Dunque sperar … Il tenero momento from Lucio Silla made for a flawless performance. The coloratura held no terrors for her and indeed her technique gave her ample space to elaborate even further in the da capo. But it was Sesto’s Deh per questo istante solo that personified the incredible talent of this singer. This aria epitomises the new direction that Mozart’s music was moving in just before he died – an even purer ‘classical style’ than he had achieved before. One can only marvel at what direction classical music would have gone in had he lived a while longer. Ms Hallenberg’s opening phrase – which I had forgotten was so exposed – summed up the entire evening – beautifully even and controlled, richly hued and resonant. Each phrase was perfectly placed, with the orchestra – who had played magnificently all evening – finding from somewhere the ability to meld even closer with the singer.

And the Orchestra of Classical Opera was indeed on top form. I’d dare say better than I have heard them in a long time. Their surprise was Kraus’ symphony in c minor. With its rich textures and it seemed copious independent viola writing, it made JC Bach’s g minor symphony beautiful as it is, seem almost like a ‘typical’ Eighteenth Century run-of-the-mill minor key symphony. No mean feat. And while accompanying Ms Hallenberg, clearly someone they love performing alongside, there was a real sense of partnership and enjoyment. So rare to see on the stage these days.

However it was the encore that sealed it for me. My money had been on Che faro – it seemed an obvious choice – but Ms Hallenberg surprised us all with Giordani’s Caro mio ben. The simplicity and innocence of her rendition – avoiding the all-too common pitfall of making this aria sound cloying – surprised everyone. For me, it she sang it as if, somewhere in the back of her mind, it held a particularly importance. It made it all the more special. A perfect end to a perfect evening.

I asked if Classical Opera would be recording this recital. Sadly not.

If it’s a case of economics, I am pretty sure it would be something that many people would more than happily help crowdfund.

Any offers?


Jolly Good Jommelli

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on May 3, 2016 at 5:18 pm

Review – Il Vologeso (Cadogan Hall, Thursday 28 April 2016)

Vologeso – Rachel Kelly
Berenice – Gemma Summerfield
Lucio Vero – Stuart Jackson
Lucilla – Angela Simkin
Flavio – Jennifer France
Aniceto – Tom Verney

The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Ian Page Conductor)

Classical Opera’s Mozart 250 project continued apace with the first London performance of Niccolo Jomelli’s Il Vologeso.

Jommelli will always, I fear, be consigned to the ‘side show Bob’ category of Eighteenth Century opera composers together with composers such as Traetta, JC Bach and Hasse to name a few. It’s not that his music isn’t well-crafted but rather his music was strait-jacketed into the constraints of opera seria. Characters are more unusally ciphers of Enlightened ideals of perfection or imperfection needing to be changed who deliver beautiful and rather arias with formulaic and expected emotions, with the music providing a vehicle to showcase the talents of the celebrated singers of the day. It would take Mozart to explode those constraints with the result that famous in his day, Jommelli and his brethren became consigned to the wings.

For this performance, Ian Page took a red pen to the score, eliding da capo arias as well as excising some of them completely, together with what one imagines to be swathes of recitative. Admittedly it made for a shorter evening but the result felt slightly unbalanced despite the extremely high level of music making underpinned by extremely alert yet sensitive playing the Orchestra of Classical Opera.

Gemma Summerfield’s Berenice stood out from a pretty well-chosen and strong cast of singers. She had a bright, gleaming soprano that was very flexible and even throughout her range. Her Act Three scene, Ombra, che pallida fai? was not only heart-achingly sung but demonstrated Jommelli’s skill in writing large-scale tableaux of emotional intensity.

Lucio Vero was finely sung by Stuart Jackson, the Osroa of Classical Opera’s Adriano in Siria last year. Suitably imperious, he negotiated his arias with aplomb although I did wont for a bit more depth and colour in his voice.

Angela Simkins’ Lucilla was sadly hampered by having her head buried in the score for most of the performance. Understandably, Jommelli might not be in everyone’s repertoire but it was more noticeable in Ms Simkins’ case than the other singers. Despite that, her rich mezzo was beautifully suited to the music with her arias Tutti di speme al core and Partirò, se vuoi cosi sounding marvellous.

I did wonder why Classical Opera didn’t find a countertenor to sing the role of Vologeso himself. It is something I also wondered about their Adriano in Siria. It’s not that I have a problem with trouser role performances but surely it simply cannot be because there aren’t any anywhere who could tackle this role? Rachel Kelly delivered an accomplished performance, again Jommelli’s music held no terrors for her, singing Invan minacci with astonishing agility as well as bringing touching beauty to Cara, deh serbami.

As the various attendants Jennifer France and Tom Verney acquitted themselves ably although I would have preferred more bite and a fuller timbre in Verney’s countertenor.

Classical Opera and Ian Page are to be lauded for bringing Il Vologeso to an UK audience. I am not sure that there were many Jommelli converts as a result but it was an enjoyable addition to their ambitious Mozart 250 project.

2015 – Could do better.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on January 31, 2016 at 10:14 am

This is more an observation of my own performance last year, than of the operas, concerts and recitals that I attended and missed.

Well, for the most part.

A change of job meant that I was unable to attend everything I had originally scheduled in the year and more often than not had to give up my tickets. The lack of time also severely curtailed not only my ability to write about music in general but also listening to music as often as I wanted to.

And this was a shame as there were a number of standout recital discs last year that gave me great when pleasure when I found did have the time. A special mention must go to John Elliott Gardiner’s new recording of the b minor mass. It was hard to imagine that a new recording could surpass his first, but I was wrong. In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that there were moments that were as close to heaven as music can every get. Sadly, this incredible performance also made me realise that my own pilgrimage through the cantatas of Bach once again stalled in 2015, and I remained stuck in 1714. Progress must be made this year, or I shall have to admit defeat.

And there were other artists who gave me great pleasure. These included Elizabeth Watts in Alessandro Scarlatti; Max Cencic’s Arie Napoletane; Valer Sabadus in Caldara; Ann Hallenberg’s Agrippina and arias for Luigi Marchesi, Matthew Rose singing Mozart’s arias for Benucci and Evgeny Nikitin singing Wagner. If you haven’t had an opportunity to listen to these discs then I can’t recommend them strongly enough.

By the same token, there were some recitals that didn’t personally make much of an impact – surprisingly both Christian Gerhaher and Dorothea Roschmann’s Mozart recital discs left me slightly cold, as did Rattle’s Das Rheingold. And Diana Damrau’s Fiamma del bel canto misfired, as did Dagmar Peckova’s Sinful Women.

In terms of live performances, not all were strictly speaking concerts. The two that remain most vivid in my memory are Farinelli and the King and Joyce DiDonato’s Masterclass.

I was fortunate to bag tickets for Farinelli at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. The combination of an excellent acting casting led by the masterful Mark Rylance and Iestyn Davies as the famous countertenor, made for a dramatic evening with ravishing music. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ms DiDonato’s masterclass was as compelling. Listening to her talk through the music of those students lucky enough to be on stage with her, to literally feel her enthusiasm and to hear the difference that she made to their performances was incredible. And Francesca Chiejina’s performance of Ah, chi mi dice mai still brings a smile to my face. She is a name to watch out for.

The single most exciting project launched last year was Classical Opera’s Mozart 250. I’ve just attended the most recent concert in this series – a retrospective of 1766. It was, as you would expect, excellent but of all the music performed it was Benjamin Hullet’s performance of Et incarnatus est from Haydn’s Missa Cellensis in honorem that really stood out. In 2015, Classical Opera provided enthusiastic audiences with a canter through 1765 – a year very much focused on Mozart’s tour of London with some superlative performances by Anna Devin, John Mark Ainsley and Ben Johnson and a complete performance of JC Bach’s Adriano in Siria. This is a project both ambitious in its scale as well as superlative in terms of the quality of its music making. Ian Page must be heartily commended for his vision and passion, and I cannot wait for the next concert – Jomelli’s Il Vologeso.

I attended three other opera performance of note in 2015. First, a performance of Act Three of Die Walküre at the Millennium Centre Handel represented by Semele, Giove in Argo and Saul. Koenigs might be leaving Cardiff but he leaves an impressive legacy at WNO – the orchestra was well-honed and the cast led by Terfel and Theorin were incredible. The London Handel Festival opened with Semele, which offered mixed performances but it was a delight to hear both the chorus, Louise Innes and Robin Blaze. A performance of Giove in Argo followed and was exemplary not only for the standard of the singers but also the direction and stage design. I also trekked to Glyndebourne for Saul but sadly didn’t get a chance to write it up. It was in turns, exuberant, poignant, joyful and tragic. In short, it was a masterpiece, with an incredible cast led by Christopher Purves in the title role, Lucy Crowe, Sophie Bevan and Paul Appleby as his children and Iestyn Davies as David. Smartly directed by Barry Kosky and conduced by Ivor Bolton, it is a production I could see again, and again and again.

Sadly, both the opera houses in London had mixed years and in face, both could have ‘done better’ too.

ENO remains in trouble whether you believe it is because of mismanagement and misdirection or because there are ‘barbarians at the gate’. A revival of WNO’s Mastersinger of Nuremberg reminded everyone that at its best, ENO is a marvellous company with, at its heart, singers and players who fervently believe in the importance of ‘company’. But that success has since been eclipsed – or rather overrun – by a series of problems and no end seems in sight. It’s hard to believe at times that ENO can – or should in its current form – survive. I think that we might all find out this year.

2015 ended with Covent Garden announcing the departure of Kasper Holten as Artistic Director – and his departure almost felt like the end of a grand experiment. But is it one that has gone well? It’s hard to say. On the basis of productions such as Król Roger it would have to be a yes, but the same year witnessed productions such as Guillaume Tell and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahaganny which fell way short of many peoples’ expectations. And in some ways, the same can be said of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice – save the excellent playing of the Monteverdi Orchestra and the singing of Lucy Crowe – and and Monteverdi’s Orfeo which was marred by being sung in English for no real reason.

2016 has started well with Mozart 250 and here’s hoping that I both make the time and find the discipline to improve on last year.

And there are things planned which I would rather resign over than miss – David Hansen in Giulio Cesare in Dresden, a suite of Richard Strauss operas in Berlin and ENO’s Tristan und Isolde – and that is before I have had a real chance to look at the new seasons that are being announced as I write.

So very belatedly, I wish you all a happy new year and hope that your year is filled with much music.

Cara il dolce London Bach

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on April 15, 2015 at 10:30 am

Review – Adriano in Siria (Mozart 250, Britten Theatre, Tuesday 14 April 2015)

Adriano – Rowan Hellier
Emirena – Ellie Laugharne
Farnaspe – Erica Eloff
Sabina – Filipa van Eck
Osroa – Stuart Jackson
Aquilio – Nick Pritchard

Director – Thomas Guthrie
Designer – Rhys Jarman
Lighting Designer – Katherine Williams

The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Ian Page (Conductor)

A recording of JC Bach’s Opus 3 symphonies was – together with Dittersdorf’s Doktor und Apotheker – the very first album I bought. And it was in a dusty second-hand record shop that I began my life-long love of JC Bach. From my adolescence, whenever Mozart was mentioned I would pipe up about JC Bach’s influence. Since then I have picked up whatever recordings I could find but I have to admit that Classical Opera’s staging of Adriano in Siria is the first time I have seen a complete performance of an opera by the London Bach.

I admit it, Eighteen Century opera seria might not be to everyone’s taste – the perception of endless da capo arias, the perception of a lack of characterisation and of course the perception that the stories themselves are beyond incredulous. However, anyone who has read Martha Feldman’s excellent Opera and Sovereignty will realise not only the important role opera seria played then but also – I hope – recognize that some of the values portrayed then remain relevant.

Adriano in Siria is in some ways, atypical, of the norm. By 1765, JC Bach had realised that the genre needed ‘modifying’ and therefore this opera contains few choruses and many a deliberately abridged da capo aria and therefore I am glad that Classical Opera performed the opera with barely any cuts.

Overall, the opera offers the full range of seria arias, each demonstrating that JC Bach was a skilled and sensitive opera composer. It is not surprising that Cara il dolce fiamma has proved enduringly popular – it epitomises not only Bach’s own operatic style but, I think, the genre in that period which laid the foundations for Mozart’s own adventures in opera seria.

However I do have one small gripe. At a time when you can’t throw a score of a not-performed-for-over-two-hundred-years opera without hitting a countertenor, why wasn’t there one in the cast? Personally I felt it was a shame but overall it was a valiant effort. While not all the singers were quite suited to their roles, there was no doubting their musicianship and commitment.

Disperato, in mar turbato is a fiendishly difficult opening aria for any singer, but despite a less than confident start, Erica Eloff carried off the role of Farnaspe with some brilliance. Without a doubt Cara la dolce fiamma – which so impressed Mozart – was the highlight of the event, and Ms Eloff sang it with great elegance and sensitivity, but her performances of Dopo un tuo sguardo and Son sventurato, ma pure – where she sailed through Bach’s vocal lines with ease, demonstrated that she is a talent singer with a natural affinity with music of this period. As her beloved, Ellie Laugharne didn’t sound consistently confortable with Emirena’s music, stretched at the top of her range and with uneven moments in terms of her coloratura and maintaining a smooth legato line. However, there was no doubting her sincerity in the scena Ah, come mi balza … Deh, lascia, o ciel, pietoso.

The other star-crossed lovers fared less well. Rowan Hellier’s Adriano again got off to a less than confident start with cloudy and inconsistent singing in her opening Dal labbro, che t’accende but she fared better in the declamatory Tutti nemici, e rei. Sadly, the Sabina of Filipa van Eck was not ideally cast. Again there was no doubting her technique or investment in the role but her voice – at times overly strident and strained – was not suited to JC Bach’s music.

The Osroa of Stuart Jackson was, apart from Eloff’s Farnaspe, the most characterful performance. In possession of a light yet secure tenor, he tackled both his main metaphor arias – Sprezza il furor del vento and Leon piagato a morte – with both confidence and the regal gravitas. And finally Nick Pritchard waited patiently to deliver his single aria with impassioned gusto.

The production itself – led by Thomas Guthrie – was simple, smart and very effective. It conjured a Romanesque “Siria” up perfectly with more than a nod of inspiration to a classical staging, and I particularly liked the effective use of both lighting and silhouetted backdrops. However, and this is purely personal, I would have dispensed with the origami birds and perhaps reduced the number of extra people on the stage but this aside, it seems that the Britten Theatre inspires a more than usual thoughtful approach.

As ever, Ian Page conducted the opera with instinctive authority with well-judged speeds and in the main not overly ambitious ornamentation in the da capos. Recitatives were well balanced and Page also reveled in the sound world that the London Bach, however simple, wove into the score. In 1765, clarinets would still have been something of a novelty and his use of them – providing a sense of warmth to underline the passions at play – clearly influenced Mozart in his own operas.

I know that Mozart 250 will need to mainly focus on Wolfgang Amadeus, but this was a bold inclusion. I really do hope that we will see more JC Bach – as well as other contemporaries – during the rest of their ambitious project.

(Un)Mostly Mozart

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on February 23, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Review – Mozart 250 (Milton Court, Saturday 21 & Sunday 22 February 2015)

An Exotic and Irrational Entertainment
Anna Devin & Martene Grimson (Sopranos) Samantha Price (Mezzo-soprano)

London Concert Life in 1765
Eleanor Dennis (Soprano)
Ben Johnson (Tenor)

The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Ian Page (Conductor)

Ian Page and Classical Opera threw themselves headlong into a weekend of music and lecturesafter the successful opening concert of their adventure, Mozart 250. Sadly at the last moment I wasn’t able to attend the entire weekend but did manage to catch two of the concerts – An Exotic and Irrational Entertainment and the closing concert of the weekend, London Concert Life in 1765.

The first concert focused on Italian opera in London in the 1760s, offering a selection of arias by lesser-known composers that formed the backbone of – it seemed – a predilection for pastiche operas in London, as well as another selection from JC Bach’s Adriano in Siria. I must admit that none of the arias by the ‘unknown’ composers truly stood out, except perhaps Se non ti moro a lato by Davide Perez with its unusual harmonic twists at the cadences, and indeed I did feel that Pescetti – and in particular his Caro mio bene, addio – slightly outstayed his welcome.

However the selections by JC Bach again begged the question of why his operas – or at least the arias – aren’t performed more often. Take Deh lascia, o ciel pietoso for example, with its dramatic accompagnato, noble melody and deeply hued scoring including clarinets. Indeed it made me wonder if the London Bach’s use of the instrument wasn’t the initial inspiration for Mozart’s own love of the instrument. And it was beautifully sung by Anna Devin, with beautifully controlled legato, intelligently shaded phrasing and a real sympathy with JC Bach’s music, as was further evidenced by her performance of Confusa, smarrita. Samantha Price also made a promising debut with Classical Opera. The full warmth of her voice and her technical ability – especially in Tutti nemici e rei – should ensure her a promising career not only in this repertoire but hopefully in lieder as well. I was less convinced by Martene Grimson, who never sounded completely at ease in the music. I felt there was breathiness to her singing and her coloratura, while good, was not as well defined or controlled.

I also must admit that much as I love Eighteenth Century opera – da capos and all – I did wont for some orchestral music as relief from the deluge of arias that were presented.

Sunday night’s concert, a snapshot of musical life in 1765 was therefore more satisfying, featuring as it did both arias and orchestral music. Of the orchestral inclusions, it was Karl Friedrich Abel’s Symphony in E Flat, Opus 7 that was the most delightful and weighty discovering. With its luxurious scoring and real sense of symphonic gravitas, it outshone the contributions of JC Bach and Mozart on the evening.

Two of the arias performed were ‘repeats’ from the opening concert. Ben Johnson’s performance of Va, dal furor portata was suitably confident and forthright – his full tenor soaring over the orchestra and providing a suitably bravura contrast to his touching and refined rendition of Non so d’onde viene from JC Bach’s Ezio. Eleanor Dennis is in possession of a bright and full-throated soprano with an impressive range, however her performances were slightly marred by slightly occluded diction as well as challenges in breath control, especially in her first aria Cara, la dolce fiamma which demands so much of the singer in terms of its expansive vocal line. However her encore, a beautiful aria by Giardini with its unusual scoring for obbligato cello and violas only, was a real gem.

Throughout Ian Page and the Orchestra of Classical Opera performed with both great virtuosity and sympathy to the singers. The warmth of their playing was combined with technical confidence and real attention to dynamic as well as rhythmic detail.

Both concerts provided an interesting slice of musical life in London at the time that Mozart visited. But it did seem odd that we didn’t hear more of Mozart’s own vocal music at the time. A few numbers from works such as Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots or Apollo et Hyacinthus or even La finta semplice would have provided a true sense of context and influence perhaps.

But after the weekend, it seems almost too long a wait for Adriano in Siria.

(Twenty) Seven-Year Pitch

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera, Review on January 28, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Review – 1765: A Retrospective (Mozart 250, Wigmore Hall, Thursday 22 January 2015)

Anna Devin (Soprano)
Sarah Fox (Soprano)
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor)

The Orchestra of Classical Opera

Ian Page (Conductor)

Classical Opera has always taken a bold and innovative approach to their programming, but programming over a period of twenty-seven years is impressive and it got off to a very promising start.

Marking the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Mozart’s sojourn in London, Ian Page gave us a snapshot of musical life not only in the capital but across Europe with very able performances by Anna Devin, Sarah Fox and John Mark Ainsley and some superlative playing from the Orchestra of Classical Opera.

Mozart’s own contribution to the programme was two concert arias and his first symphony written when he was between eight and nine years old. While these works are clearly influenced by his contemporaries, you could already hear the seeds of genius. The symphony, in E Flat, might be reminiscent of the likes of JC Bach in the outer movements, but the central Andante showed that Mozart was already experimenting with texture and sound.

Va, dal furor portata, Mozart’s first concert aria, might on first listening sound rather simple, but is in fact remarkably eloquent with clearly shifting emotions both in the orchestral exposition and the vocal writing. John Mark Ainsley sang with a great deal of authority, with fluid legato deliver and technical ease, but I wish he had lifted his head from the score a little more, as it occluded the overall delivery. And this was a problem that clouded his later performance of Sacchini’s Barbara figlia ingrata.

Written only a short time later for soprano, Conservati fedele already underlines how quickly Mozart was developing – the beguiling simplicity all but masking his developing maturity and understanding of writing for the voice. And it was sweetly sung by Anna Devin whose technical brilliance and musicianship was more than amply demonstrated in her preceding aria, In mezzo a un mar crudele from Gluck’s Telemaco. Throwing off the coloratura with incredible confidence and aplomb, it reminded me why Ms Devin was such a star in last year’s Alcina.

Di questa cetra in seno from Gluck’s Il Parnasso confuso also featured. Originally written for a private performance by the Austrian imperial family it has a gentle and pastoral lilt to it with some elegant obbligato playing for the violas. Sarah Fox delivered a thoughtful and intuitive performance but as with Cara, la dolce fiamma in the first half, I was somewhat distracted by the underlying vibrato in her otherwise rich and sonorous soprano.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 in g minor, featuring in the second half of the concert, again demonstrated the zest and enthusiasm of the orchestra who gave a beautifully observed and dramatic performance of this fantastic symphony.

Both halves of the concert ended with ensemble pieces. From Philidor’s Tom Jones was a duet performed by Ainley and Devin. To be honest, delightful as it was, I do think that this was a slightly odd choice in terms of programming but there was not faulting the trio that closed the concert from JC Bach’s Adriano in Siria. I am looking to Classical Opera’s performance of the entire opera later this year, and both the earlier aria and Ah, genitore amato not only underlined the influence that the London Bach clearly had on the young Mozart, but also that in their own right JC Bach’s operas need more exposure.

A feeling almost of an embarrassment of musical riches with regards to choice did make the programming seem slightly at odds in places, and I did wonder if perhaps, as this was commemorating Mozart’s stay in London and then Holland, if the programming could have been chosen with a more ‘local’ flavor.

But there was no denying that as the first in twenty-seven years’ worth of music making, this opening concert marks an impressive start.

I just hope I am still around to enjoy the final concert.


In Classical Music, Opera, Review on November 28, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Review – Miah Persson (Wigmore Hall, Wednesday 26 November 2014)

The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Ian Page (Conductor)


Simply the best description of this recital by soprano Miah Persson and the Orchestra of Classical Opera conducted by Ian Page.

I’ve long admired Miah Persson. She is an exemplary performer, investing both intelligence and passion into her performances combined with flawless technique. Her early recording of Mozart arias – Un moto di gioia – remains a favourite of mine. Fast-forwarding to today, her soprano has now developed a warm, burnished tone and depth, with a pleasing vibrato but with absolutely no loss of flexibility, brightness nor range.

Ms Persson is an instinctive Mozartian and her Exsultate, jubilate was joyous. Clarion-clear diction was matched with real investment in the – albeit – religious words. And taken a quite a zip under the baton of Ian Page, Ms Persson not only skillfully negotiated the sometimes tricky coloratura but ensured it remained knitted seamlessly to the entire piece rather than simply being bravura for bravura’s sake. Indeed, I am not usually a fan of this motet as it is often over-performed, but last night at Wigmore Hall I rediscovered its charm, simplicity and overall beauty.

Despite having written one of my dissertations at university on Haydn’s opera even I admit that his stage works, on the whole, have moments of greatness rather than greatness overall. The strength of Haydn’s operas for me is the marriage with his symphonic prowess and “alternate” world view of the form.

That’s not to say however that I wouldn’t love to see them performed with more regularity and Ms Persson made a very persuasive case.

Her flawless vocal control brought incredible poise and heightened emotion to the first aria, Navicella da vento agitate from Il marchese which was echoed in the third selection written twenty-five years later, Aure chete, verdi allori from Orlando Paladino. But it was in Amore nel mio petto from Lo speziale that allowed Ms Persson to display her dramatic talents in communicating the character’s indecision. And she was perfectly complemented by the delicate playing of principal oboist James Eastaway whose resonant tone perfectly balanced the vocal opulence of Ms Persson.

Indeed, she was accompanied throughout by the excellent players of The Orchestra of Classical Opera throughout. And in the two symphonies that book-ended the concert they shone with enthusiasm, precision and verve. With its opening slow movement, harking back to an earlier era, they effortlessly switched from the intensity of the opening movement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 21 to the moto perpetuo of the ensuing Presto. Then Ian Page and his players found that rustic charm that is often so present in the composer’s minuets of this period before launching with full-blooded confidence into a vigorously rhythmic Finale.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 is one of my favourites and perfectly balanced the Haydn in terms of emotional intensity. I love the contrapuntal yearning that Mozart weaves throughout the opening movement, the elegiac Andante with its sonorous wind writing, the rusticity of the minuet and trio and then vigour of the final movement. And just as in the Haydn, The Orchestra of Classical Opera played each and every note as if their lives depended on them. Simply invigorating.

So if you haven’t already, book your tickets for Classical Opera’s exciting 2015 Season but the most wonderful thing about this particular evening? That Wigmore Hall has recorded the entire performance for their own label and our continued enjoyment.

The release of this disc cannot come too soon.

Piau Wows

In Classical Music, Handel, Mozart, Review on October 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Review – “Ruhe sanft” – A Mozart Kaleidoscope (Wigmore Hall, Monday 15 October 2012)

Sandrine Piau (Soprano)
Jonathan Manson (Cello)
The Orchestra of Classical Opera

Ian Page (Conductor)

It was quite simply an evening of the highest standard of musicianship from French soprano Sandrine Piau, brilliantly and sympathetically supported by the Orchestra of Classical Opera under Ian Page.

The narrative of the concert included arias spanning the beginning and closing years of Mozart life, including his interest with Handel. Inspired by his discovery of JS Bach and Handel the concert opened with a dramatic, rhythmically alert and sonorous performance of Mozart’s Adagio & Fugue in c minor. The Adagio had all the tension of coiling a spring before the release of the fugue, driven forward with incredible care given to the individual lines by Page right into the stretto at the end.

Also in the first half the Orchestra gave a spirited performance of Mozart’s Symphony in F written when he was only nine years old but only discovered in 1981. What’s so clearly evident – as it was with the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment only a few weeks ago – is the very clear enjoyment and pleasure that this ensemble has in music making. I’m beginning to wonder in fact if this evident enjoyment on the stage is unique to original instrument ensembles as I rarely see more ‘traditional’ orchestras even crack a smile when playing. Playing all the repeats again Page kept the tempos brisk and drove the music forward with rhythmic vitality.

Ms Piau first took to the stage with an aria from Mozart’s arrangement of Handel’s Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, Leidenschaften stillt und weckt Musik, more commonly known as ‘What passion cannot Music raise and quell’ and an aria that Ms Piau has committed to disc recently.

Jonathan Manson, principal cellist with the Orchestra of Classical Opera deserves special mention for his delicate and fluid playing of the obbligato in this aria as well as one of two encores performed at the end of the evening. His rich, suave tone was a pleasure to listen to and he complimented Ms Piau perfectly.

The actual arrangement of this aria by Mozart made the original by Handel seem – to me at any rate – more like Haydn. Almost like something that would be out of place in The Creation for example.

Ms Piau immediately demonstrated why she is one of the leading sopranos. Her sure and solid technique combined with musical intelligence and eloquence underpins a voice of great beauty and character which is warm, bronzed almost, and even.

Ms Piau bestowed on Mozart’s arrangement of this aria a serenity that had the audience enthralled from the moment she began to sing.

Next she sang an aria from Mozart’s own oratorio, Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots, performed in 1767. Mozart only provided music for a single act, sharing the commission with Michael Haydn and Anton Adlgasser. Classical Opera are to make a recording of this for 2013 so it will be interesting to be able to compare the three composers side by side.

The aria itself, Ein ergrimmter Löwe brüllet (An Enraged Lion Roars) is a typical metaphor aria in da capo form where the middle section, with it’s reference to Mercy, is gentler and slower. While it can’t compare with later vocal number by Mozart it was a charming aria and showed that even at the age of eleven he could not only write confidently but had a clear understanding of the voice.

And Ms Piau imbued the aria with an emotional intensity that made you forget that this was in fact the work of a child – albeit it prodigy. I do hope that Ian Page has persuaded Ms Piau to participate.

I own – and I can’t recommend it enough – Ms Piau’s recital disc of Mozart arias with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Some of the arias from that disc she performed at Wigmore Hall and the first of these was Grazie al Numi … Nel grave tormento from Mitridate, re di Ponto, written by Mozart for Milan in 1771, a year before Lucio Silla.

Perhaps because it was a live performance, but compared to her rendition on the disc, that evening this aria seethed with emotion. And if anything, with the passage of time her voice had grown in terms of depth and lustre while at the same time losing neither its flexibility nor range. And the way she delivered the allegro coloratura – like bullets out of a gun – demonstrated her incredible technique.

Post the interval, Ms Piau returned for two arias from La Finta Giardinera – Geme la tortorella and Crudeli, oh Dio! Fermate … Ah dal pianto, dal singhiozzo. Written for the character of Sandrina, the are arias of contrasting emotions which Ms Piau carried off with both vocal and emotional aplomb. Similarly, in the second aria, Ms Piau handled the feisty accompagnato with a dramatic intensity that she carried into the ensuing aria.

In the first aria, supported by gentle yet precise playing from Classical Opera, Ms Piau demonstrated again that Mozart not only knew how to write for the voice but write with suitably tinged pathos.

I cannot admit to knowing all of Mozart’s symphonies and therefore the Orchestra of Classical Opera’s performance next of Symphony No. 27 in G Major was a nice surprise as I tend to start at Symphony No. 32 and move upwards. But this symphony is a real ‘Galant’ gem while at the same time acting as a precursor to the aforementioned symphony in many ways. The lilting triple time opening movement is followed by an gentle, almost rustic Andantino grazioso with rippling triplets and some delightful major-minor mode changes and some closing cadential humour. The contrapuntal final movement has distinct echoes of Mozart’s final symphony. It is definitely worth a listen.

Ms Piau then returned to the stage for her final two arias from Zaide. Ruhe sanft – with James Eastaway’s beguiling oboe obbligato – was taken at a speed slower than normal but not as slow as on her recital disc. Yet the tempo allowed Ms Piau to relish the vocal line especially in the melismas of the closing bars. Yet it was her performance of Tiger! Wetze nur die Klauen which was almost the finest performance of the evening. Again the soprano inhabited the role from the first outburst but never let the emotion blur the purity of her singing.

I say it was almost the finest performance of the evening but Ms Piau delighted the audience with two superb encores.

The first was Mozart’s arrangement of Softly Sweet, In Lydian Measures from Handel’s Alexander’s Feast once again beautifully complemented by the obbligato playing of Jonathan Manson.

And with the second encore Ian Page informed the audience that he was sending us home “with death” – Verso gia l’alma col sangue from Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo.

It was the ultimate lesson in how perfect a performance can be. Over the gentlest string accompaniment Ms Piau unwound the delicate vocal line with passionate intensity.

It was a most exquisite death and the perfect end to a perfect evening.


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