lietofinelondon

Posts Tagged ‘OAE’

Donizetti alla Francese

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on November 7, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Review – Les Martyrs (Royal Festival Hall, Tuesday 4 November 2014)

Polyeucte – Michael Spyres
Pauline – Joyce Al-Khoury
Sèvere – David Kempster
Félix – Brindley Sherratt
Callisthènes – Clive Bayley
Néarque – Wynne Evans
Une Femme – Rosalind Waters
Un Chrétien – Simon Preece

Opera Rara Chorus
Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment

Sir Mark Elder (Conductor)

Les Martyrs – originally Poliuto and the result of over-zealous censors – is a curious hybrid. It’s a very Italian opera restrained by the corset of grand French opera.

A combination of some thrilling ensembles, dark orchestral hues and unique instrumentation – ophicleide anyone? – Les Martyrs takes a while to warm up. The first two acts canter along sedately, if not with any sense of true excitement, and it isn’t until the third act that a real sense of Donizettian drama unfolds. A duet followed by an impassioned tenor aria and a final sextet for all the major protagonists is the highlight of this opera. Indeed, that dramatic momentum eases off considerably in the final act, and even the closing scene, with lions getting ready to pounce, doesn’t thrill as much.

Indeed, ultimately for me Les Martyrs seems to lack any real sense of character or depth.

So, on paper it shouldn’t work – it is hardly one of Donizetti’s finer tragedies – but by dint of the commitment of everyone on stage, it does.

And towering over the entire performance, was the passion, conviction and – when required – delicate caress of Sir Mark Elder. From the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment he evoked with great skill the unique sound world that Donizetti wrote into the score, and from the singers, some incredible performances.

Michael Spyres was more than an adequate replacement for Bryan Hymel. His French – as with all the singers – was excellent and his tenor while light and supple didn’t blanch in the more ambitious and – in some ways – vocally tortuous moments. However I remain to be convinced by the – almost unnaturally sounding – note he hit in his confidently executed cabaletta.

As Pauline, Joyce Al-Khoury took a while to settle into the role. She has a unique vocal timbre that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but coupled with formidable technique including the ability to float high notes confidence, she made a compelling case for the estranged-cum-converted wife. Her vocal fireworks at the end of the First Act were rightly cheered, although I did think that in later ensembles her voice was too forced. But at no point were her interpretive skills in question.

It seemed unusual to me that there were no other female roles – reminding me of Dom Sébastian, also written for Paris towards the end of his career and also available on Opera Rara – but the remaining roles were well covered. Brindley Sherratt, David Kempster and Clive Bayley– as Félix, Sèvere and Callisthènes respectively were all vocally strong, each finding some fine moments of vocal nuance within their roles, although I did perceive moments of strain with David Kempster. Wynne Evans’ Néarque was perhaps the weakest link in the ensemble. Some troubling vibrato – particularly at the beginning – was coupled with some one-dimensional singing, made this Christian more cipher than heroic martyr.

And, drawn from the Opera Rara Chorus, Rosalind Waters and Simon Preece both gave committed performances.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performed with their usual verve and spirit – they are never anything less than a joy to hear and to watch.

Ultimately Les Martyrs, his first French grand opera, feels more like an interesting experiment than a fully formed work. Perhaps if Donizetti had had more time, or perhaps returned and revised it whenhe returned to Paris –alongside Dom Sébastian – it might have been something more substantial.

But Opera Rara are to be commended for reviving the work with Elder and the OAE and I look forward to Le duc D’Albe in 2015.

Schoolroom Shenanighans.

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on August 10, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Review – Rinaldo (Glyndebourne, Saturday 9 August 2014)

Rinaldo – Iestyn Davies
Almirena – Christina Landshamer
Goffredo – Tim Mead
Armida – Karina Gauvin
Argante – Joshua Hopkins
Eustazio – Anthony Roth Costanzo
A Christian Magus – James Laing
Sirens – Anna Rajah & Rachel Taylor

Director – Robert Carsen
Associate Director – Bruno Ravella
Designer – Gideon Davey
Lighting Designers – Robert Carsen & Peter Van Praet
Movement Director – Philippe Giraudeau

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Ottavio Dantone (Conductor)

Glyndebourne’s production of Rinaldo proves that with a star cast combined with a thoughtful approach by a director of the calibre of Robert Carsen, Handel’s operas contain the perfect balance of drama, tragedy and humour.

Who hasn’t endured a playground crush and wanted their rival vanquished?

In the lead role was Iestyn Davies, and following his outstanding performance in Rodelinda earlier this year, is there a countertenor to rival him in terms of his singing and acting performance? I dare say not. The quality of his singing is remarkable, combined not only with incredible technique but a flawless legato that enables him to convey every emotion with great clarity and emotional weight. After hearing him sing Dove sei? at the London Coliseum I didn’t think I would hear a more emotionally powerful performance of any aria, but the anguish he conveyed as he sang Rinaldo’s Cara sposa was heart-rending, and provided the first highlight of the evening. And he also demonstrated that he could as easily negotiate the more technically demanding arias that Handel wrote for his first Crusader, Nicolini. There was a thrilling bite and the necessary Handelian swagger in Venti, Turbini, Prestate and Abbruccio, avvampo a frema as well as that showcase aria Or la tromba.

Davies also displayed an innate sense in ensemble singing in the various duets. The delicacy of the singing of Scherzano sul tuo volto with his Almirena was beautifully matched by the teenage gaucheness of their actions. And I don’t think I’ve heard Rinaldo’s duet with Armida – Fermati! Oh crudel – not only performed with such verve but also a distinct sexual tension. Personally I’ve no idea why he chose Almirena over Armida.

As his nemesis, Karina Gauvin also demonstrated why she is one of the leading Handel sopranos. In the past I have voiced concern over her performances but here she was in stunning form, and clearly relished her schoolmistress-cum dominatrix as realized by Carsen. Her vocal agility in Furie terribili and Vo’ far Guerra, e vincer voglio – with Dantone light-fingered harpsichord concertante solo – was never in doubt but the sheer beauty and flawlessness of Ah! Crudel, il pianto was the second of three vocal highlights of the evening.

The third highlight of the evening was, from the start, inevitable. It always shocks me how quite suddenly Handel raises the emotional temperature in the Second Act of Rinaldo. Expecting, as Argante declares his love for her, for Almirena to launch into an aria of some fury, instead Handel writes one of his most beautiful arias ever – Lascia ch’io piangia. It might be somewhat common hackney’d but sung with such conviction and dramatic intensity as it was by Christina Landshamer at Glyndebourne and I am sure it wasn’t only me and my immediate neighbour who shed a tear.

And her bright soprano was a perfect foil not only to the Gauvin of Armida but also her beau, their voices melding perfectly in their duets. Her opening Combatti a forte immediately displayed that her lively voice was solidly grounded on strong technique, and the grace and delicacy of Augelletti che cantata was delightful while she confidently faced-off the inherent difficulties of Bel piacere e godere with aplomb.

Joshua Hopkins’ Argante found the perfect balance of arrogant king and – I am sure it was intended – pantomime villain. Vocally I would have preferred slightly more depth and darkness to his voice but it was a strong and well-defined performance.

Sadly, it’s difficult not to compare the other countertenors in the cast – Tim Mead, Anthony Roth Costanzo and James Laing – with the hero of the title. Tim Mead, who is Eustazio in the excellent DVD of the 2011 production and one of the only saving graces of ENO’s Giulio Cesare debacle, displayed secure technique and a honeyed tone, however first night nerves perhaps led to some untidy passage work and there were times when his voice didn’t project crisply enough. The same challenge faced the Eustazio of Anthony Roth Costanzo. It took a while for him to settle but he has a clear, bright voice and a real control of dynamic range which came beautifully to the fore in Siam prossimi al porto. Definitely a singer to watch in the future. Sadly James Laing was ill-suited to the role of the Magus. His voice was too thin and perhaps he invested too much in caricature and not his vocal performance.

And under the energetic direction of Ottavio Dantone it was hard to believe that this opera was Handel’s first opera he composed for London. There was an authority in his interpretation – not only in terms of tempo but also in the range of colours he brought out – that spoke volumes of his love of the music.

I know that Robert Carsen’s approach doesn’t please everyone, but personally I have always found his direction fresh and thought provoking.

And Rinaldo is no different, and he demonstrated the same attention to detail that have made his Carmelites and FroSch so memorable.

Here, he retold the story in a school and it was perfectly logical. Where else are the conflicts of both in love and rivalry more intense – and more keenly felt – than in the playground among emotionally-overwrought teenagers? And let’s face it, which of us when at school didn’t daydream in class about the demise of either a classroom rival or teacher?

And it was all beautifully observed and directed in revival by Bruno Ravella. Be it the gaucheness of a playground crush, the awkwardness of burgeoning friendships and even the sense of competitiveness. And perhaps I was the only one, but did I spy a series of hommages – intentional or not – to films as wide-ranging as ET, St Trinians and dare I say it, Harry Potter?

And the sets themselves never overwhelmed the narrative but seamlessly enabled the story to flow with a smart use not only of the stage but simple animation. And I can’t think of another opera where football has played such a seminal role.

And it is a rare director indeed who can manage to inject a sense of humour into Handel without it coming crashing down. But the deft way that Carsen delineated the characters, portraying them with sharply edged lines, enabled him to find that perfect balance of ‘fast and funny’ – slapstick almost – with duty and love.

In many ways, Carsen delivered the most cinematically-realised production of Handel I have seen without interfering with Handel’s incredible music once.

And with an incredible cast or singers and performers, it worked beautifully.

Spellbinding Commitment – A Tribute to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

In Baroque, Classical Music, Handel, Opera, Review on June 4, 2013 at 9:31 am

Review: Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers (The Barbican, Monday 3 June 2013)

Anna Stéphany (Mezzo-soprano)
Renata Pokupić (Mezzo-soprano)
Karine Deshayes (Mezzo-soprano)

The Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment

William Christie (Director)

Alex Ross – in his article on Lorraine Hunt Lieberson – wrote that the mezzo was “the most remarkable” singer he had ever heard. I never saw Lorraine Hunt Lieberson live, only ever hearing her on CD and seeing her on DVD. But even then her amazing ability to communicate the meaning of both the music and the words – exactly the “pull-down-the-blinds, unplug- the-telephone, can’t-talk-right-now beautiful” feeling that Ross has about her disc of Handel arias – leaves me in awe.

Last night’s final installment of the OAE’s series Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers was a tribute to the singer. The series has been incredible strong in terms both of programming and the high standard of the performances. Here’s hoping that they revisit this kind of programming in future – perhaps a tribute to Faustina Bordoni or another Eighteenth Century singer?

Both William Christie and the Orchestra itself had performed with Hunt Lieberson in the wonderful Peter Sellars Theodora and their performance last night was never less than intensely personal.

In fact I don’t think I have ever heard the OAE sound better. They have always been on of my favourite ensembles. The joy and pleasure they communicate in all their performances is well nigh unique, but last night they surpassed event their own high standard to produce the sort of gutsy, rich and beautifully articulate playing that provided the foundation for a memorable evening.

And William Christie – in his funky red socks – directed with such passion. His attention to each and every phrase, the wonderfully balanced tempi, the dynamic range and the sonorities he drew from the orchestra were evident throughout.

Never has the overture to Giulio Cesare sounded so grand – so grand in fact that the audience had to be prompted to clap, almost as if mentally they were waiting for the complete opera to follow. And in Theodora, Christie created a real sense of threat and urgency that I had not heard in the piece before.

Indeed, where normally the orchestral selections are more often that not viewed as ‘fillers’ between arias by most concert programmer, here together with the two concerti grossi, they were equal to the vocal numbers.

The Concerto Grosso in b minor from Opus 6 is not that often performed. A shame as it is one of the most beautiful and individual of the twelve in the opus. The last in the set and in the unusual b minor key, it is a model-perfect example of the genre and it was played with such intensity. The allegro is for me – in many ways – the ultimate piece of Baroque concerti writing – just listen the passage coming out of the first circle of fifths and you will see what I mean. The elegant and expansive ‘Aria – Larghetto e piano’ was perfectly paced and the final gigue – with its fugue – was sharply etched.

And throughout Kati Debretzeni, Alison Bury and Jonathan Manson shone in the shear vivacity of their playing.

The second concerto grosso from the Opus Three set continued in the same vein. The elegance of the first movement – again with some incredible playing by Mesdames Debretzeni and Bury – was followed by a poignant slow movement. Unfortunately the programme didn’t list the name of the principal oboist who spun that most beautiful melody above the celli obbligato. And in the final movement Christie hinted at its more Galant style.

The arias were drawn from roles most closely associated with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson – Theodora, Sesto and Ariodante – and last night three mezzo-sopranos took to the stage.

Stéphanie d’Oustrac was sadly indisposed but was replaced by Karine Deshayes who displayed formidable technique and a dark mezzo in the role of Sesto. A brisk L’angue offesa, with its lush string writing, was confidently delivered but it was in Svegliatevi nel core that Ms Deshayes really shone.

The arias from Theodora – possibly the role most associated with Ms Hunt Lieberson – were sung by Anna Stéphany. Perhaps because of this closer association, the commitment of Ms Stéphany – who has a burnished, bronzed mezzo that was perfectly suited to this music – was complete. Rarely has As with rosy steps the morn been sung with such utter conviction and poignancy and the hushed da capo – most simply ornamented – only heightened the emotional intensity of this aria even more. It was one of the highlights of the evening. And her heartfelt Lord, To Thee each night and day with its contrasting middle section was as memorable in its utter simplicity.

I saw Renata Pokupić only recently as Tirinto in Imeneo and while her voice may not always have carried over the orchestra then, in this concert she had no such trouble. For her were allocated arias at the other end of the Handelian emotional spectrum – from Hercules and Ariodante – and she sung them both with vigor and emotional intensity.

Where Shall I fly? is one of the great mad scenes. Ever. Christie kept a tight handle on the alternation of tempi and accompanied recitative and aria to great effect, giving Ms Pokupić the freedom to express the horror of Dejanira’s actions and allowing her to navigate the vocal gear changes with ease. And what a gown.

Yet Dopo Notte was the highlight of the evening. It’s sometimes easy to forget that Lorraine Hunt Lieberson balanced finely wrought arias of emotional white heat with the trickiest coloratura that Handel wrote. Listen to her performance of this aria under McGegan. On stage, a now trousered-up Ms Pokupić equally sang it with the bravado it demands, flinging out with the coloratura with an abandon that belied her incredible technique. It was for me the second highlight of the evening.

The encore was the Musette from the sixth concerto grosso from Opus 6. Although it seems impossible, from somewhere the orchestra pulled out their most sonorous and beautiful playing of the night.

In the programme Martin Kelly, viola player in the OAE and its Vice-Chairman wrote that anyone who had heard Lorraine Hunt Lieberson was “spellbound by her commitment” and that the concert was to pay tribute to “the memory of a wonderful artist, a musical heroine, in glorious music by a genius, Handel”.

By God they succeeded.

“Cross-Over” Pergolesi

In Baroque, Classical Music, Review on March 28, 2013 at 6:55 pm

Review – Stabat Mater (OAE The Works, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Tuesday 26 March 2013)

Elin Manahan Thomas (Soprano)
William Purefoy (Countertenor)
Hannah Conway (Host)
Steven Devine (Director/Conductor)

A great concert is made up great musicians and singers, a perfect, or as near as perfect performance, that vital ingredient – enthusiasm – and for me personally, learning something new, often about a piece of music I thought I knew well.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s new series The Works and the most recent concert featuring Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater was that perfect combination.

Without a doubt Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater is one of the finest pieces of church music. I first heard it – and sang it – as a choirboy in an organ loft and its sheer beauty has remained with me forever. It’s one of those pieces that I play when I am feeling like I need to turn the world off. And it always works.

Of course it is too easy to become wrapped up in the romanticism of his tragically short life and the fact that this piece was written in his final year.

Or you can take the OAE’s approach and cast a refreshing new light on this work.

Hosted, as it were, by Hannah Conway whose own enthusiasm was infectious, conductor Steven Devine not only simply but also clearly described the various devices and Baroque ‘affections’ that Pergolesi employed to such great effect. And he mentioned something that had simply not occurred to me in relation to Pergolesi before.

Pergolesi used operatic idioms in his Stabat Mater.

Now of course many of you may have already realized this. It wasn’t uncommon for composers from the baroque period onwards to ‘mix it up’. You hear it in Handel, Hasse, Mozart, Haydn and even JS Bach.

And yet it had never occurred to me that Pergolesi – who made his reputation mainly on the operatic stage – had done the same thing.

Pergolesi was as “cross-over” a composer as many of his contemporaries and those who followed them.

And this simple realization meant that I listened to the subsequent performance almost as it if was the first time.

And it was an excellent performance.

Both Elin Manahan Thomas and William Purefoy – himself somewhat of a joker who enlivened the proceedings even more with his observation about hormones and their effects on men and pregnant women – beautifully and sympathetically melded their voices in their duets and as soloists spun the vocal lines with both authority and sensitivity. Purefoy might not have the strongest lower register but the beauty of his tone and the way he coloured his voice was mesmerizing. And Manahan Thomas’s crystal clear and bright soprano was the perfect foil.

There is sometimes a tendency – perhaps to do with the romanticism more often associated with the piece – for tempos to be on the slower side but here Devine measured the pace and tempo of every movement brilliantly. Rhythms were sharp, phrasing was elegant and the music scoured for every effect which were intelligently done without being overplayed.

And in the same manner, in those movements with their newly revealed operatic bent, the singers didn’t shy away from emphasizing the more dramatic or lyrical aspects.

Each and every movement was beautifully performed but personally the standout moments were the sublime duets Quis est homo, qui non fleret and Quando corpus morietur as well as the dramatic brevity of the final Amen.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has created something really special with initiatives such as The Works and Night Shift. Of course they are mainly aimed at attracting new audiences but just as importantly I think they shed new light on music for those who think that they know them.

Whenever I now listen the Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater the sacred will forever be tinged with more than a little humanity.

And for me that makes it just that little bit more special.

The next concert is on November 7 and features Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.

Definitely one to book. And take a friend.

2012: The Good. The Bad. The Stupid.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on January 4, 2013 at 8:58 am

2012 was meant to be about getting to Leipzig to hear the GewandhausOrchester and Riccardo Chailly. And about trying to listen to more new music, at least one new piece every fortnight.

Sadly, I can’t say that I achieved either.

But it has been a good year in terms of music in my life, a good year for the ‘bad’ music in my life and let’s face it, the classical music world wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the occasional ‘stupid’ things as well.

But starting with the good. And in most cases the excellent.

Renée Fleming tops the list not only for the performances that I attended but for the CDs that have given me not only hours of pleasure but lifted my spirits on many an occasion.

Her disc of Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleaux is one that I appreciate more each and every time I listen to it. There is a depth and integrity to the performances that is perfectly matched by the more burnished – almost golden – tone of her voice. Of the recital, it is Messaien’s Prière Exaucée that I return to most often.

In terms of live performances, Ms Fleming has delivered three of my most memorable concerts of the year. In February she made her debut as Ariadne/Prima Donna at Baden-Baden, in an intelligent and beautifully nuanced production by Philippe Arlaud. She is today’s Strauss interpreter par excellence, and her Ariadne – warm, dignified and soulful – was truly remarkable. And she was supported by an incredibly strong cast, from The Composer of Sophie Koch and Jane Archibald’s Zerbinetta to a particularly strong performance by Robert Dean Smith as Bacchus.

Similarly, her Arabella in Paris in June. While Philippe Jordan was not the most sympathetic conductor, and the set felt somewhat lost on the stage itself, Ms Fleming and Michael Volle in the lead roles were superb.

But most memorably and most recently was Ms Fleming’s performance at the Barbican. In a carefully constructed recital, she took the audience on the most magnificent journey through the closing years of the Habsburg empire to the dawn of fascism. From Mahler to Schoenberg, Ms Fleming once again demonstrated her musical and vocal prowess. And when, in her encores she glitched, she did so with great humour. As I said at the time I hope that in 2013 she will make a recording of this recital. It can only be brilliant.

Staying with Vienna, Robert Carsen’s production of Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Wien Staatsoper in March was a homage to the city itself. Compared to the two previous productions I had seen – in Copenhagen and Edinburgh – this was by far the more successful in interpreting the at times dense symbolism of the story. And Carsen was aided and abetted by an incredible cast, led by Adrienne Pieczonka and Evelyn Herlitzius as the Empress and Dyer’s Wife respectively and Robert Dean Smith as the Emperor. And in the pit, Franz Welster Möst drew superlative playing from the orchestra. It’s a shame that this production hasn’t been captured on DVD.

Soprano Sandrine Piau literally wowed the audience of Wigmore Hall with her Mozart recital in October. Combining Mozart’s arrangements of Handel arias with some of his own arias drawn from his youth Ms Piau, ably supported by the Orchestra of Classical Opera conducted by Ian Page gave a performance that was nothing short of brilliant. But to the delight of everyone who attended she saved the best til her final encore – an absolutely heart-rending performance of Verso gia l’alma col sangue from Handel’s Aci. Galatea e Polifemo. Brava.

And finally hats off to the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for being – in short – the most cheerful, energetic and enthusiastic performers of 2012. Not only is their music making of the highest standard but they continue to raise the bar when it comes to reaching new audiences and the inventiveness of their programming. Their Nightshift series is brilliant and their most recent event, celebrating the music of Handel with brilliantly amusing anecdotes by John Butt demonstrates that they know how to make classical music seem alive and relevant to the audience. And their first two concerts in the series Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers with superlative performances by Anna Catarina Antonacci and Sarah Connolly bode well for the remaining concerts in 2013. Definitely performances to book if you haven’t done so already.

Other memorable performances were Janowski’s Tannhauser for Christian Gerhaher’s Wolfram slightly pipping Nina Stemme’s Elizabeth and a live stream of the final installment of Kriegenberg’s Ring in Munich.

Sadly 2012 wasn’t without its turkeys. Top of the list was ENO’s misjudged choice of director for their new production of Julius Caesar. Michael Keegan-Dolan’s vision was nothing short of facile and shameful as it completely undermined the strong performances overall of the cast. In a similar vein, Nigel Lowery’s production of Il Trionfo di Clelia wasn’t only let down by the pretension and ridiculousness of his ideas but by the ragged, almost poorly rehearsed playing of the City of London Sinfonia.

Sadly Opera North also didn’t quite hit the mark this year. Disappointing productions of Norma and Giulio Cesare – bar a strong performance by Sarah Tynan – were followed by a particularly poor Die Walküre. As well as being poorly cast, Richard Farnes never seemed to grasp the music’s sweep. I am hoping that they recover their mojo for Siegfried.

Robert LePage’s Ring Cycle finally ended with a fatally flawed Götterdämmerung. Not only was the production – symbolized forever by it’s Buckeroo Grane – poorly conceived together with the rest of the cycle, but a hostile reaction from the public and the critics led to both the director and Peter Gelb going on a poorly thought through offensive. LePage’s interview in the New York Times was nothing less than insulting, and Gelb’s attempt at censorship similarly ill-fated. Lepage’s reference to “the Machine” as a ‘poisoned gift’ in Wagner’s Dream, a documentary about the entire production and well worth watching, seems particularly apt.

Staying with bad ideas, the BBC’s Maestro At The Opera proved just how insulting the BBC thinks its audience is. This tick-box-arts-programming featuring a series of has-beens and nobodies not only insulted the intelligence of the wider audience but also ensured that the tired old myths and misconceptions about opera on the whole have been perpetuated. Let’s hope that Lord Hall of Birkenhead sorts it all out.

And John Berry continued his attempts to be hip with his introduction of a “no dress code” dress code at ENO. Stupid man.

But to end on a positive note, this year has seen some fantastic CDs issued. Top of the list and forgive my bias that “all-things-by-Joyce-DiDondato-are-fantastic” is her latest CD, Drama Queens. Not only is each and every track a marvel of musicianship and passion but her concert tour has been a storming success. Personally I cannot wait for her to perform in London this February. Valer Barna-Sabadus rose above the poorly named title of his CD to produce one of the best recital discs of 2012. Not many artists could pull of an entire CD of Hasse’s music, but Barna-Sabadus not only does so with verve but with a series of masterful performances. As I said at the time, Cadrà fra poco in cenere is simply beautiful. Two other discs that remain almost on constant repeat are Iestyn Davies’ Arias for Guadagni accompanied by the excellent ensemble Arcangelo under Jonathan Cohen and Anne Schwanewilms’ disc of Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder.

And for 2013? Well I have already mentioned Ms DiDonato’s forthcoming concert but there are other things to look forward to and to book. The OAE’s Queens, Heroines & Ladykillers series continues and in this year of Wagner a full Ring cycle is a must. But if not the Met, then perhaps Munich or even Palermo?

And while I have failed to get a ticket to Die Frau ohne Schatten with Anne Schwanewilms in Amsterdam, I have my eyes firmly fixed on a new production of FroSch at the Met this Autumn. And of course I hope to return to Vienna for either Die Walküre or Tristan und Isolde.

And in terms of forthcoming CDs who cannot be excited – or at least intrigued – by Gergiev’s forthcoming Die Walküre, a reissue of Anneliese Rothenberger singing the Vier Letzte Lieder and another instalment of of Janowski’s WagnerZyklus?

So it only leaves me to thank you all for continuing to visit my blog. I know that not all of you agree with my write-ups and I am always honoured when you leave a comment – good or bad they make me think and on occasion change my mind.

So while it’s adieu to an eventful and enjoyable 2012, in terms of 2013 I say “bring it”.

Late Night Splendour

In Baroque, Review on November 23, 2012 at 10:15 am

Review – The Nightshift. The Orchestra & Chorus of the Age of Enlightenment. John Butt.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s latest Nightshift concert had it all – birthday honours, heads rolling and a body count “higher than Taggart”.

The OAE is at the forefront of bringing classical music to a wider audience and Nightshift is – judging from the raising of hands in the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night – not doing too bad a job as a ”sample” session allowing people to try out classical music.

And the evening is presented by Alistair Appleton, who is just the right side of geeky and excited.

And this particular Nightshift continued to prove not only that the OAE is committed to bringing in new audiences – young and old – but that they are one of the leading ensembles around.

For this Nightshift the players were joined by members of the chorus for selections from the evening’s earlier concert – Zadok the Priest and excerpts from Dixit Dominus as well as the opening movement of Handel’s Eternal Source of Light Divine.

But over and above the superlative performances that the Nightshift presents, it’s the simple joy and enthusiasm of the players that comes across and no more so than that of director John Butt. Not only was it evident that his knowledge is immense but his natural ability to communicate what was behind the music and what it all meant was infectious. It was Butt who made the Taggart reference when bringing to life the chorus Judicabit in Nationibus, and his diary column asides were brilliant. I don’t think I have ever heard the chronology of the Hanoverian Succession dealt with so succinctly and with such humour.

More John Butt I say.

And so to the music. Judging from the reaction of the friends I brought along, each and everyone a non-classical music fan, it was a great success. As ever the OAE played with gusto and precision from the very beginning.

Tim Travers Brown’s performance of Eternal Source of Light Divine was of a simple, hushed beauty heightened by the beautifully tailored interplay with the trumpet soloist. But one plea – please credit all the soloists!

With Zadok The Priest, Butt took no prisoners in terms of tempo but he kept the singing light and real attention to both rhythm and the separate vocal lines.

However the great moments were in Dixit Dominus. Again the opening movement was taken at an exhilarating pace. However the chorus were spot on, with vigorous articulation and perfect diction. And in all the choral movements, Butt ensured that the counterpoint in Handel’s music shone through.

But it was the two solo movements that stood out. The two soprano soloists drawn from the chorus had clean, almost boyish voices. The gentle triplet flow melismas in Tecum Principium held no fears for Natalie Clifton-Griffith. She sailed through them with agility and ease with a purity of voice so suited to this music. She was then joined by her colleague, Grace Davidson, for an achingly beautiful performance of De Torrente in via bibet, possibly Handel’s greatest example of devotional music before Butt unleashed the choral fury of the closing Gloria.

Sixty minutes raced by and suddenly The Nightshift as over. Sadly my one small criticism of the evening was leaving the Queen Elizabeth Hall and being overwhelmed by the dance beats of The Boy Dan Good. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good ‘toon’ but even my friends admitted that after the wonderful performances they had heard in the concert hall, grabbing a glass of wine to a background of 120bpm was a but much.

I am looking forward to the next Nightshift in February. But while Alistair has promised us dancers, perhaps we can have a little less disco?

“Remember Me”

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on November 17, 2012 at 10:21 am

Review – Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers – French Exchange (Sarah Connolly, Fernando Guimarães, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Jonathan Cohen).

The second instalment in the OAE’s QH&L’s series did not completely match the white hot intensity of the inaugural concert of the series. Personally, I think that this had more to do with the programming than the performers and performances themselves.

While I can understand the connection between the baroque French musical style and that of Henry Purcell, it seemed like a strange leap of artistic faith to conjoined him with Rameau who wrote his first opera almost forty years after Purcell’s death even if the programming included detours via Charpentier and Lalande.

Needless to say Sarah Connolly didn’t so much steal as command the evening. She is – in my mind – one of the greatest mezzos on the stage and concert hall today. I remember her more than notable performance in an otherwise disappointing Mahler Symphony No. 8 and have seen her on stage a number of times as well as having all her excellent recordings. And on the evening she not only bathed the audience with her wonderfully warm, resonant and luxurious voice but also demonstrated a keen and intelligent musicianship.

But it wasn’t in the set pieces taken from either Medée Hippolyte et Aricie but in the single and exquisitely performed aria from Dido and Aeneas, Thy Hand Belinda – When I Am Laid In Earth. A collective stillness settled on the audience during this most eloquent and beautiful rendition where Ms Connolly coloured each phrase and spun out gentle ornamentation. ‘Remember me’ has rarely – if ever – sounded so heartbreaking. I only wish the OAE had gone to the expense of closing with a real chorus – even just single voices.

Last minute changes to the programme led to some confusion as to who was singing what, when but even in the chunks of Charpentier and Rameau it was Ms Connolly who dominated. Her dignified yet impassioned delivery of the two scenes from Medée were a timely reminder that she will be performing the title role next year at the London Coliseum. Its a shame that her clear and fluent French diction won’t be heard in stage and you don’t have a ticket for ENO’s forthcoming production in 2013 now is the time to get one.

Cruelle mère des amour from Hippolyte et Aricie was another tour de force with Ms Connolly demonstrating that even within the confines of more-than-mannered French baroque opera there is plenty of scope for Phèdre’s emotional turmoil. And in the subsequent scene with her son, she more than compensated for the lukewarm Hippolyte of Guimarães.

Indeed and sadly Guimarães never really moved beyond lukewarm. While his voice has both a pleasing if one dimensional timbre and is both flexible and fluid, there was – for me – something of the bland about it. Perhaps it was the choice of repertoire on the evening but I didn’t think his voice particularly suited either the Purcell or the Rameau.

As before, the orchestra directed by Jonathan Cohen were superlative, digging with gusto into the orchestral excerpts from Charpentier, Rameau and Purcell and making the most of the rather non-descript Lalande. Indeed their clear enjoyment and passion for the music was demonstrated after the concert by two of the players extolling the joys and challenges of playing at a pitch of A392.

Ultimately however, Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers Parte Deux – bar inspired and assured performances by Ms Connolly – failed to reach the emotional intensity of the first concert.

Joie de Jouer.

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 3, 2012 at 9:51 am

Review: Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers: Three eras of divas (Royal Festival Hall, Sunday 30 September 2012)

Anna Caterina Antonacci (Soprano)
The Orchestra of The Age of Enlightenment
Sir Roger Norrington (Conductor Emeritus)

Haydn – Symphony No. 85
Cherubini – Dei tuoi figli la made (Medea)
Gluck – Dance of the Blessed Spirits & Dance of the Furies
Gluck – O malhereuse Iphigénie (Iphigénie en Tauride)
Berlioz – Je vais mourir … Adieu, fière cité
Bizet – Symphony in C

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is – personally – one of the few orchestras that actively exude a real pleasure in their music making. And say what you will about Norrington’s conducting mannerisms, his enthusiasm – something I personally experienced when he conducted my school orchestra and choir when I was young – added to the almost festival atmosphere at the Southbank at the weekend.

The weekend’s concert was the opening in a quartet of concerts that will see performances by the Sarah Connolly and Emma Bell and a tribute concert to Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson. This opening concert’s soloist was Anna Caterina Antonacci who – following her performance as Cassandre in Covent Garden’s Les Troyens seems to be the toast of the opera loving crowd at the moment. At least in the UK.

The concert opened in fine style and set the standard for the rest of the evening in terms of the standard of music making with Haydn’s ‘La Reine’ symphony. It was clear from the start that the players and Norrington have a deep-rooted connection – a camaraderie almost – that delivers such a high standard of playing. Immediately Norrington established a real sense of momentum with crisp rhythms, careful attention paid to dynamics and equal attention given to leveraging a real range of orchestral colour which was particular evident in the elegant theme and variations which made up the second movement.

I admit I am not a fan of the two dances from Orfeo ed Euridice. I admit they are well crafted but they leave me cold. Despite the wonderfully nuanced playing in Blessed Spirits and the vigorous string playing in The Furies they still remained simply filler for me. It was a shame that something a little more adventurous wasn’t programmed.

Similarly the closing Symphony in C by Bizet veritably fizzed along with similar rhythmic and dynamic acuity. Usually I can never quite hear this symphony either without thinking it light weight or without Beecham’s performance in the back of my mind but that wasn’t the case at the Royal Festival Hall. From the opening bars the Norrington and the orchestra revelled in Bizet’s score and demonstrated that this symphony – of which Bizet himself was almost ashamed – was less a pastiche or confection of styles but a symphony worthy of being heard in its own right. It was a fitting end to a excellent evening.

The rest of the concert featured Signora Antonacci in excerpts from French opera. As I have already mentioned, Ms Antonacci seems to be the toast of the town at the moment after Les Troyens.

And rightly so judging from her performance on Sunday night. As many have noted, she does not have a voice that will appeal to everyone. Indeed the programme referred to her ‘extraordinary vocal timbre’ but like singers such as Edda Moser her technique is sure and confident. Her voice may strain at the upper end of her register and acquire an uncomfortable tone but her dynamic control was incredible and throughout her diction was clear

Her performance of short extracts from Cherubini’s Medea, Berlioz’ Les Troyens and – sadly – a paltry extract from Iphigénie en Tauride demonstrated that what she may lack in vocal beauty is more than compensated for by how she invests her singing with real dramatic intensity, emotional intelligence and stage presence. I am not a fan of Les Troyens but now I am determined to catch one of the cinema broadcasts of ROH’s production to see her performance for myself.

Yet strangely it was her encore – Les Tringles des Sistres tintaient from Carmen – that brought the house down. Unlike earlier, not only was there no sense of vocal strain but she produced a warm, almost velvety tone that was absent before.

On an aside, at the interval I did hear a few people comment negatively on the OAE’s new marketing campaign. ‘Not All Audiences Are The Same’ is a clever twist on the Orchestra’s original strap line and continues in the same humour of their early campaigns. Its a shame that there were more than a few empty seats on Sunday night. But bravo OAE for once again taking a different route to attract new audiences. Some bigger institutions should take note. And while I’m at it, nice website too.

As ever, The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment delivered a concert of the highest standard of music. They always find a way to invest evening the more commonly heard pieces with invention and insight. It seems that they didn’t record the evening for their own label which is a pity but I do look forward to the three remaining concerts in this set.

Subitolove

Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

Kurt Nemes' Classical Music Almanac

(A love affair with music--Right Now Featuring Women Composer)

Gareth's Culture and Travel Blog

Sharing my cultural and travel experiences

The Oxford Culture Review

"I have nothing to say, and I am saying it" - John Cage

The Passacaglia Test

The provision and purview of classical music

Peter Hoesing

...a musicologist examining diverse artistic media in critical perspective

OBERTO

Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera