Archives for February 2009

Hallo Guildford!

Post categories:

Rick Jones Rick Jones | 17:26 UK time, Friday, 27 February 2009


harry_christophers.jpgThe Sixteen kick off their 2009 Choral Pilgrimage at your cathedral tonight! (27 February). The programme consists of unaccompanied works by Purcell (Jehovah quam multi sunt hostes, Miserere mei, Remember not Lord our offences, Beati omnes, Let mine eyes run down with tears, O dive custos, and the Funeral Sentences) and James MacMillan (O Bone Jesu, Mitte manum tuam, A child's Prayer, Serebit dominus rex).

By the time the pilgrimage arrives at its second venue - St John's Cambridge on Friday 13 March - a recording will have been made for sale at the gig.

These bookings then follow: University Church Oxford (Sat 14 Mar), London South Bank Centre, Queen Elizabeth Hall (Sat 17 Mar), St Edmundsbury Cathedral (Sat 9 May), Newbury Festival at Douai Abbey (Fri 15 May), Norwich Cathedral (Fri 22 May), Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral (Fri 5 Jun), Blackburn Cathedral (Sat 6 Jun), Southwell Minster (Fri 19 Jun), Derby Cathedral (Sat 20 Jun), Gregynog Festival - Tregynon Music Room (Sun 21 Jun), Lichfield Festival (Thu 16 Jul), York Early Music Festival (Fri 17 Jul), St Mary's Parish Church Swansea (Fri 25 Sep), Tewkesbury Abbey (Sat 26 Sep), St Mary the Virgin Tetbury (Sun 4 Oct), Glasgow Cathedral (Wed 21 Oct), Holy Trinity St Andrews (Thu 22 Oct), Greyfriars Kirk Edinburgh (Fri 23 Oct), Durham Cathedral (Sat 24 Oct).

Gaps in the itinerary may be filled with choir and orchestra concerts of Handel Coronation Anthems - but why should I do other bloggers' work for them?

Spreading the net

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 16:53 UK time, Friday, 27 February 2009


anna_leese.jpgWe'll be hearing a lot of Elijah this year, but Sunday evening's performance from St David's Hall, Cardiff, promises to be a special case on several counts. First of all, it's a celebration of St David's Day; and among the singers is one of the loveliest voices to have come out of Wales recently: Elin Manahan Thomas, whose pure, light-filled soprano has already proved itself in her baroque solo album and should suit Mendessohn's streamlined and elegant vocal writing to perfection. She joins an exciting line-up that also includes Anna Leese, Wendy Dawn Thompson, Andrew Kennedy and Neal Davies. The BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales and the Cardiff Ardwyn Singers complete the picture, tied neatly together by the BBCNOW's principal conductor Thierry Fischer.

But also it represents a little branching-out from our own dear radio station. The broadcast is live on Radio 3 on Sunday at 6.30pm, but it will also be filmed. From Monday it will be available to view on the Internet. Please watch this space and we'll give you the link as soon as it's up.

A propos de Thierry Fischer: he used to be a truly extraordinary flautist. A former student of the great Aurèle Nicolet, he played in the Zurich Opera under Harnoncourt and was then principal flute of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. If I ever interview him, my first question might be whether he still plays. The orchestra is perhaps the ultimate instrument, though - not to mention the delectable combination of instruments, chorus, soloists, drama, spirituality, melody and celebration that Elijah encompasses, especially so this year. I look forward very much to hearing and seeing what Thierry will do with Mendelssohn's megascore.

Bumper Saturday again - Disc of the Week

Post categories:

Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 15:10 UK time, Thursday, 26 February 2009


haydn_trio_eisenstadt_small.jpgSaturday 28th March is another bumper day for Haydn. Unlike the last, which featured his symphonies a couple of weeks ago, this Saturday is all about Haydn's chamber music - two piano trios and a divertimento.

Top of the list is CD Review's Disc of the Week at 11.50 am, with the Florestan Trio playing the Piano Trio in F sharp minor Hob XV 26. Such a rare key signals something powerful, as in the Farewell Symphony Haydn wrote some years before.

The Divertimento in E flat Hob XIV 1 can be heard at 9 pm on Radio 3 and is in effect a quintet - featuring the Haydn Trio Eisenstadt with two horns. If you are still awake at 2.37 am [!] there's another E flat piece to enjoy - the Piano Trio Hob XV 29.

Jokey Haydn

Post categories:

Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 10:03 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009


canadian_us_border.jpgOne of Haydn's best jokes turns up this week on Monday afternoon in his Symphony No 60. Haydn's subtitle for the piece was Il Distratto, because it consists of incidental music he had been asked to write earlier for a play by the Esterhazys' resident drama group. This 'distraught' symphony is full of oddities; abrupt changes of gear, howling high horns and unexpected pauses pepper its six movements. But the best moment comes in the finale, when everything stops - to allow the violins to retune their lowest strings from F up to G. It's a neat joke and well set up. It makes me wonder if anyone has a similar favourite moment - and I don't just mean in the Surprise Symphony?

Incidentally, the performance is part of an amazing package dreamt up by the Radio 3 programme planners for this week. It's called 'The 49th Parallel - Music from the US/Canadian border' [!] and runs from 2-4 pm daily. At first, I thought it must be another joke to match Haydn's, and then I realised it was a way of packaging up recordings by North American orchestras. So, on Monday afternoon, the whole series begins with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra under Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing the afore-mentioned Symphony No 60.

Siberian Dido

Post categories:

Rick Jones Rick Jones | 11:48 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009


paris_opera_metro_entrance.jpgA copy of a new recording of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas lands on the mat. It comes from Siberia. Who'd have thought our man would one day reach the foothills of the Himalayas? It is the 2007 production staged at the Opera Theatre, Novosibirsk, conducted by Greek maestro Teodor Currentzis. The New Siberian Singers form the chorus and sing robustly even a little robotically at times and with heavily distorted diction. They use a vowel I've never heard before on 'shady'. The sailors sound like a crew of mercenaries and their dance stamps heavily as if they were wearing clogs not deck shoes.

Still, they are hugely enthusiastic and not without charm.
The Siberian band, Musica Aeterna', plays with authentic sighs and ornaments and very emphatic accents in the spiky dances. The bass-line is a throbbing engine in the thrilling overture. The 'Gitter Dance' (guitar, of course) is rhythmically flabby, a little out of tune, but with an intriguing plucked solo over the ground bass. The sleeve makes a point of thanking the director of the Novosibirsk Philharmonic Society for the loan of his harpsichord.
The principals are international. German soprano Simone Kermes sings Dido with pure, slender tone imbued with tragedy. She sings the lament slowly, insiting on patience, and never overdoes the climax notes. She seems to carry around with her a sense of silent majesty. Not so English soprano Deborah York as Belinda. She sounds a silver-voiced PR as she ushers, instructs and organises on her doomed queen's behalf. Strangely she too sings on slightly mangled vowels as if not wishing to show up her hosts. Greek baritone Dimitris Tiliakos is a smooth Aeneas, never totally convincing that he is either much of a general or willing to stay with Dido. The Ukrainian male soprano Oleg Ryabets as the Sorceress has a tendency to squawk. Kindness suggests he is method-acting.

The overall performance has pace and shape with all energy focused on Dido's final 'remember me'. One is flattered on Purcell's behalf to know that this last plea is being heeded even as the plains of central Asia peter out.

Meanwhile the pianist James Rhodes has agreed to accompany me singing Purcell's Oh Solitude on Shakespeare's Birthday in Southwark Cathedral. We ran through it yesterday in a practice room at Steinway Hall. He told his manager I sing like a twelve-year-old girl. It is the best critique I've had since a down-and-out at the Paris Opera (metro station) told me I sang like an angel. I used to make a fortune busking.

Rhodes' CD is called Razor Blades, Little Pills and Big Pianos because he was once a substance abuser. Piano-playing rescued him. The depths of his travails and the gritty determination he has showed in his recovery come through in a powerful account of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. The furnace of Romantic passion that now consumes him romps like a bush fire through Chopin's autobiographical Ballade No4. Crisp, stern brevity informs his handling of Beethoven's two-movement Op90 Piano Sonata in E minor. Sensitivity and thunder are his hallmarks. Oh and an innate feel for the lightness in the Baroque dance movements of Bach's French Suite No5. A natural Purcellian then.

Phantom of the Oratorio?

Post categories:

Suzanne Aspden Suzanne Aspden | 11:33 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009


kings_theatre_haymarket.jpgAnniversary years in our multi-media age can result in some funny juxtapositions - explorations and connections one wouldn't have thought of making otherwise. Last week I was in London (a rare event in term time for me!) talking with Howard Goodall for a BBC1 documentary on Messiah (to be broadcast on Good Friday, 10 April). We went from the Foundling Museum, where Messiah established its special position in British culture in the 1750s, to Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket. Her Majesty's is more or less on the site of the King's Theatre, where Handel directed so many of his operas in the 1720s-'40s; today, however, it's home to Phantom of the Opera.

Sitting in the stalls, looking up at the gigantic sculptures of lecherous satyrs and voluptuous nymphs framing the stage, I couldn't help feeling it was an ironically fitting correspondence. Eighteenth-century moralists (especially those who attacked the idea of performing oratorio in the opera house) thought all theatres were little better than brothels. One concerned citizen wrote to The Universal Spectator before Messiah's first London performance: 'An Oratorio either is an Act of Religion, or it is not; if it is, I ask if the Playhouse is a fit Temple to perform it in, or a Company of Players fit Ministers of God's Word...?'

One element of the design in Her Majesty's Theatre that was entirely fitting for our eighteenth-century discussions was the giant chandelier hung above the stalls. The theatre of Handel's day would also have been lit in this way - and throughout the performance - thus ensuring that audiences were as much entertained by one another as by the musical offerings on stage. Perhaps the Universal Spectator's correspondent was right to question whether those attending Messiah in the theatre 'will have any Devotion on hearing a religious Performance in a Playhouse'.

A view from the bridge, or several

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 10:46 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009


jenny_lind_2.jpgThe Jenny Lind story is still making waves. As, of course, is Mendessohn himself. Here are two of the most interesting among the latest responses - for differing reasons.

Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker and author of the acclaimed book about 20th century music (and blog of the same name) The Rest is Noise, contributes this excellent article that combines fascinating historical perspective with some pertinent updates on Mendelssohn celebrations across the Pond:

He says, among other things: '...Last year, I heard the Brentano Quartet give a taut performance of the Quartet in F Minor, Mendelssohn's final major piece, and one whose gruff rhythms and grinding chromatic lines suggest a creative departure. The composer's beloved sister had just died, and, according to a tantalizing recent report in the British press, he may have been suffering from an infatuation with the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind. Mendelssohn seemed, in other words, on the verge of losing control. If he had lived to harness those darker emotions, particularly in the realm of opera, he might have become the rival that Wagner obviously feared.'

In the meantime, I'd sent the Independent an update on responses to our story, and an extraordinary reply has now appeared in the Independent Minds blog/forum from Cecilia Jorgensen, the guiding force of a Belgian team working under the name, 'Icons of Europe' (IoE). IoE has published a book called Chopin and the Swedish Nightingale about a supposed hidden love affair between Lind and the Polish piano genius, between Mendelssohn's death and Chopin's just two years afterwards. They refute the Felix & Jenny theory because they think that Otto Goldschmidt and friends/family can't be trusted: apparently they made a habit of swearing they had destroyed letters saying x, y or z - in order to conceal more deeply hidden truths.

Everything depends - as in the Chopin-Lind research - on double meanings, mistranslations, hidden motives etc. Fair enough - but what I can't work out is why anyone would have dragged Mendelssohn, of all people, into this, even if they were indeed trying to cover up for a Swedish prince? And why are they willing to take Mendelssohn's supposedly cool comments about Lind in his letters at face value when everyone else was supposedly hiding everything else? As I see it, of course Mendelssohn would have taken care not to betray stronger feelings for Lind in any letters - he had a very nice wife and five children. The plot thickens! Have a look in the Independent Minds forum and let us know what you think about it all...

A few pseudo-profundities...

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 11:28 UK time, Monday, 16 February 2009


pavlovs_dog.jpgAfter spending part of Sunday afternoon valiantly listening to Antigone on good old Listen Again, I thought I'd put together a few pseudo-profound thoughts about what goes through our minds when we hear music that we don't particularly like, written by a composer we normally love.

I'd be interested to know what all of you thought about Antigone.

First of all, there's no doubt that Mendelssohn's instantly recognisable style shone out of its lively overture, its hymn-like melodies, the strongly defined harmonies underlying its processional elements. The 'melodrama' episodes reminded me, furthermore, of the way Korngold adapted the incidental music to A Midsummer Night's Dream in Max Reinhardt's 1934-5 film - he had the actors speaking over the music in a carefully controlled and conducted way, an approach which must have grown out of this once-flourishing tradition (spoken words declaimed against a musical backdrop). The melodrama is a genre we normally hear little or nothing of today; it's worth rediscovering for the historical context it helps to lend our broader understanding.

But it also helps if your German is good enough to follow what's going on. Is it too much to suggest that we in Britain still have an unfortunate Pavlov's Dog-like gut reaction against hearing Hochdeutsch barked at a high emotional pitch out of our radios? Hmm.

There were beautiful episodes, of course - how could there not be? But my beloved Felix, like all people we love when we get to know them better, has one or two tendencies with which I feel at odds. Occasionally, just occasionally, he sells out to royal portentousness, whether in Potsdam or London. Perhaps this wasn't his fault: first of all, this piece was a royal commission; secondly, Greek tragedies aren't exactly meant to be Saturday afternoon at the races. Yet to me Mendelssohn is at his finest when he is free simply to be himself, without the pressure of meeting Important People's Expectations.

If you love someone, you don't want them to sell out. You want to see them at their most glorious, in clothes that suit them, taking part in activities that bring out the best in them. And charming though Felix is, sought-after and loved by everyone around him, I for one prefer to picture him to myself in his walking gear, hiking up the paradisical Lauterbrünnen Valley from Interlaken towards the triple peaks of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch, gulping down Alpine air, his spirit and creativity renewed and rejoicing at the sheer wonder of the scene before him; perhaps stopping to sketch or to write a lucidly expressed letter to his sister; the music fermenting all the while at the back of his mind - maybe a piano piece, a chamber work or the stirrings of a symphony.

Restricting him to the stuffy air of a court and stylised cries of 'O Weh!' was never going to be comfortable or natural. Felix, in his element, had finer things to offer, much finer. I think we can safely consign Antigone to the archives once again. But I'm glad we had a chance to hear it.

Wilton's Music Hall - review

Post categories:

Rick Jones Rick Jones | 18:30 UK time, Thursday, 12 February 2009


wiltons.jpgJohn Blow's Venus and Adonis is a masque - a sort of entertainment designed either to be contained within another, or interspersed with dance or straight song. The current production at Wilton's Music Hall precedes it with a dozen numbers by Purcell.

These have been set in a modern-day cafe, the revolving diners taking it in turns to sit and sing from table No1 where a video camera hides behind the Valentine's Day carnation. This is not for the singer but his or her partner who mimes generally comic reactions. The images are projected on to video screens above the stage. It is all a bit much. They rob the songs of any genuine emotion the singer is trying to build up and turn everything into a clever joke. Tenor Kevin Kyle sings his runs in Love Thou Canst Hear quite impressively but must do so against the audience's twittering at his soprano's eye movements as she acted bored, poor fellow. It was like a Morecambe-and-Wise sketch. The technology could have been put to much better use by showing us the texts. It was much too dark to see them on the song sheet provided and in any case you want to watch the stage. One ceased to look at them at all after a while as one became aware that there were a lot of good voices in the company. I am pretty sure it was soprano Katherine Manley who sang Oh Solitude but as the singers had rotated and all the girls dressed to look the same, I may be wrong. She sang Purcell's long and twisting phrases with delicious restraint, making much of the poet Katherine Phillips' powerful words. The video became irrelevant. Lutenist Linda Sayce might have played through the cadences of cellist Tim Smedley's churning ground bass a little more but the band of solo strings and harpsichord performed their pleading Baroque gestures with a scintillating lightness throughout.

Manley is stunning after the interval as Venus in Blow's masque. Her long, heart-rending, chromatic 'Aah' at the end knew such grief as is worth travelling to the East End for. Even she was surprised at the audience roar which greeted her curtain call. Her Adonis, baritone Dawid Kimberg, sings with mellifluous tone but lacks heroic allure. The production, which extends the first half's latterday setting, does not help him, bent as it is on making his stockbroker type ridiculous. Why are British companies so frightened of aiming to convey real pathos?

On the other hand the cast performs with youthful sensuality in both their singing and dancing. The silhouette play is well done and no more than the 17th century crowd would have enjoyed. The old ideas still work. The best ensemble scene is the lesson on love's enemies in which counter-tenor Andrew Radley's camp but commanding Cupid instructs the chorus of Graces. In the original 1682 production these were the Chapel Royal choristers which only a few years earlier would have included Henry Purcell himself. Doubtless he was not far away and, who knows, may even have been playing in the band. As we know he loved the theatre and Dido and Aeneas was already forming in his fertile mind...

Blow's Venus and Adonis is at Wilton's Music Hall, Grae's Alley off Ensign Street E1 (020 7702 2789) until Saturday 14 February.

Mendelssohn's anti-who?

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 12 February 2009


antigone.jpgIf you are as curious as I am about Mendelssohn's Antigone, don't miss the broadcast of this extraordinary rarity tomorrow on Afternoon Performance on 3. And don't worry if you've never heard of it before; neither have I ...

Yet it turns out that, in Mendelssohn's lifetime, his music for Sophocles's tragedy, Antigone, about the daughter of Oedipus was exceedingly popular, not least because its themes had more than a little to do with the dilemmas facing the monarch of Prussia, Frederick William IV, who commissioned the production for which Mendelssohn created the score in 1841. Privately performed for an invited audience at Potsdam in October that year, it then received its public premiere in the Berlin Schauspielhaus in April 1842, was given six more there because it went so well, and three years later made its way to Covent Garden where it was heard in no fewer than 45 consecutive performances in 1845 alone.

What makes the prospect of a hearing particularly intriguing is that Mendelssohn sought, to some extent, to recreate the practices of Greek drama, though he quickly dropped an initial idea to restrict the chorus to unison chanting and the accompaniment to harp, flute and tuba (perhaps it would have been even more fascinating if he'd stuck with that!). The end result used a full modern orchestra and a chorus of 16 men, of whom one serves as 'coryphaeus' (leader). Most of the play's words were spoken; elsewhere Mendelssohn experiments with 'melodrama', in which instrumental music underlies the spoken words; and elsewhere, as R. Larry Todd tells us in his excellent Mendelssohn: A Life in Music, he set up 'a novel form of rhythmic speech, by bending the musical accompaniment to the natural inflections of the text'.

For the premiere, the theatre at Potsdam was rebuilt according to classical Greek specifications, raising the performers five feet above the audience and ensuring that the stage could be seen from every part of the theatre (a principal ignored, alas, in far too many 19th-century venues). Three days after the performance, Felix was officially appointed royal Kapellmeister to the Prussian court.

Covent Garden's approach was different: they brought on the dancing girls. Felix is thought to have been unimpressed.

Recordings of the work exist, of course, but do take the chance to tune in - a bird in the hand, etc. And please write in with your impressions!

Wednesday - Bumper Haydn Day!

Post categories:

Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 10:51 UK time, Tuesday, 10 February 2009


haydns_baryton.jpgOn Sunday I met the Lancaster Rehearsal Orchestra to conduct two Haydn symphonies - Nos 99 and 103 (Drumroll) in one of their regular study days. By the evening both the players and I thought No 99 was the finer work, with splendid clarinet parts. So the puzzle is - why doesn't it also have a name? We couldn't come up with one, but perhaps our blog readers can. All ideas welcome.

This Wednesday on Radio 3 is certainly a bumper Haydn day - with Symphony No 11, a baryton trio and brother Michael's Requiem Mass in Classical Collection, and the brilliant Ebene Quartet playing Op 74 No 3 (The Rider) at lunchtime. Then comes Arianna a Naxos in Afternoon on 3 and finally Symphony No 88 in Performance on 3.
Like No 99, this is another beautiful symphony without a name. I'm tempted to think of the bingo connection - 'Two Fat Ladies' for 88, and whatever it is for 99 - but I'm not sure that it would catch on.

The week's schedule's a bit like the London buses. Nothing happens for a while, and then suddenly, a whole lot come together! Happy listening, anyway!

Get to the library ... tomorrow!

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 11:52 UK time, Monday, 9 February 2009


george_bernard_shaw.jpgI sometimes think that my personal blogging in-box would be a good starting place for a study of national character on either side of the Pond. Messages arrive by the dozen from way out west, where everybody sells themselves like there's no tomorrow, yelling, in essence, 'MAN GIVES CONCERT ...' and expecting that, since London, YooKay, is only just down the road from Phoenix, Arizona, I will actually be there to review it.

Then, just very occasionally, a quiet little message taps gently on the door from somewhere in the UK, immensely apologetic and embarrassed at doing such a desperately unBritish thing as publicity, to tell me about ... something terrifically interesting that I then wish to pass on to all of you straight away.

Here is one such: a delightful little note from no less a national institution than the British Library, telling us about a Mendelssohn seminar ... tomorrow! All of us enthusiasts should get on down to St Pancras, Tuesday 10 February, 6.30pm: one of the BL's superb series of talks and seminars is devoted to 'Mendelssohn and the Record Industry: A Bicentennial Reflection'. Peter Ward Jones, of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is talking about Mendelssohn's reputation as reflected on record:

'At the start of the recording era Mendelssohn's critical reputation was probably approaching its lowest point, abetted by comments like Bernard Shaw's accusation of "despicable oratorio mongering". But how far was this situation mirrored in the actual production of recordings? Did Mendelssohn continue to be more popular with the public than with the critics? Ernest Lough's legendary "Hear my prayer" recording may have owed its success to much more than the name of the composer, but the variety of Mendelssohn on disc in the first half of the twentieth century was impressive, if far from representative of his whole oeuvre. This illustrated lecture will sample the historical legacy, and also consider the role recordings may have played in the critical re-evaluation of the composer that has characterized recent decades, with the result that on the 200th anniversary of his birth, Mendelssohn may be said to enjoy greater esteem than at any time since recordings began.'

Read the rest of this entry

Heads up!

Post categories:

Rick Jones Rick Jones | 19:18 UK time, Friday, 6 February 2009


sarah_connolly.jpgHallo kleines c, Thurifer and others who pass by and leave no mark: my friend K reminds me to remind you that the Chandos recording of our man's Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly, Gerald Finley and John Mark Ainsley, is CD of the week tomorrow Saturday 7th February on Radio 3's CD Review at 1145. 'Connolly sings Dido in a doom-laden mezzo ringing with tragic premonitions from her first Ah Belinda. She sings Dido's Lament with heavy, slow, tantalising beauty over its inexorable ground-bass. Gerald Finley is a heroic Aeneas if slightly unconvincing in his desire to stay and prevent Dido's suicide. Soprano Lucy Crowe's Belinda is bright, supple and optimistic. She is the future, on or off the disc. Tenor John Mark Ainsley is the cameo Sailor. The windless Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment dances seductively, especially in the 'Gittars Chacony' while its chorus brims with the joy of celebrating England's greatest composer.' - Rick Jones, The Times. I wonder if they'll agree. It was my last ever CD review for the Times as that particular outlet for my hackery has been a victim of the general job-slashing that many employers are going in for before too many workers realise that they are really just taking advantage of the situation.

Anyway, here's some good news. If you live in the North East you can hear the viol consort Fretwork at Newcastle University at 4pm on Sunday. They're actually playing their contemporary programme but they'd be mad not to put in some Purcell.

If you're in North Yorkshire or Warwickshire, the Rose Consort of Viols is celebrating Purcell in Ripon Cathedral on Monday 9th February and at St Mary's Warwick on Tuesday 10th February respectively. Guest artists include the Deller Consort at the former and Catherine King at the latter. Next Thursday at the Wigmore Hall in London, Elin Manahan Thomas is singing arias by Purcell with the Academy of Ancient Music under Pavlo Beznosiuk. On the same night, for their sins, Fretwork are in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Handel's Faithful Shepherd

Post categories:

Suzanne Aspden Suzanne Aspden | 10:24 UK time, Thursday, 5 February 2009


handel.jpgHandel's compositional output demonstrates a tremendous versatility. At least in part this appears to have been deliberate: the 1712 Il pastor fido (this week's opera broadcast on Thursday and Friday afternoons) is in stark contrast to his first London opera, Rinaldo, which we heard last week. Il pastor fido is a gentle pastoral tale, with the inevitable entanglements of (temporarily) thwarted lovers, derived from G. B. Guarini's much older play of the same name (c.1584).

As with other classics of Italian literature, it was a story already well known in England: the London audiences would have had a chance to see it staged just the previous year, when Pastor Fido; or, The Faithful Shepherd. Acted all by Women was performed at Greenwich. In fact, the opera may have been a bit of a pot boiler for a company in financial difficulty, and without a star castrato (Nicolini had gone): one commentator tersely noted that 'The Scene represented only ye Country of Arcadia. ye Habits were old. - ye Opera short.' Its seven performances apparently were not played to full houses.

Handel's setting of the story may also reflect the problematic status of the opera company at the time. Il pastor fido is quite different in style to Rinaldo, with relatively short and simple arias (appropriate to the pastoral character) predominating, and with orchestral scoring on the light side. Handel also borrowed a good deal from earlier work: listen out in particular for Mirtillo's beautiful 'Caro amor' in Act II, neatly adapted from Mary Magdalene's 'Ferma l'ali' in La Resurrezione.

Will you welcome, please....

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 16:17 UK time, Wednesday, 4 February 2009


caspar_david_friedrich_wanderer.jpgSome more party-goers! As I have not yet broken the spell that lets one place comments on the posts in response to yours, dear readers, this seems the best way to respond [I've just sorted it - Ed.] Thank you for your ideas. I think Caspar David Friedrich is a wonderful addition to the guest-list - thank you, kleines c. Mendelssohn was a fine painter himself and even if they did not know each other, the chances are they would have got on extremely well. If I were a record label producing a Mendelssohn series, I would place CDF's paintings on the front of all of them.

Brahms is another kindred-spirit-manqué, and if we can distract him from moping about after Clara for a while, he could be an excellent social addition. Perhaps he will perform some acrobatics on the banisters for us, as he used to in Düsseldorf for the Schumann children (according to Eugenie Schumann's memoirs). The chances are, however, that Wagner might not condescend to RSVP, since he bore Mendelssohn a major grudge for turning down his early symphony when he submitted it to the Leipzig Gewandhaus. Words come to mind about memory and elephants.

Read the rest of this entry

Kessler Collection

Post categories:

Rick Jones Rick Jones | 15:57 UK time, Tuesday, 3 February 2009


viols.jpgThe counter-tenor James Bowman and the viol consort Fretwork lent their considerable weight last Sunday to a campaign to find a permanent home for five seventeenth century bass viols, four English, one French, collectively worth just under a million pounds.

Fretwork even played them as well as their own during the concert. The ensemble sound in Ferrabosco's Fantasia for Six Basses (one of theirs had to play) had rich, dark puritan gravity in the warm acoustic of Duke's Hall at the Royal Academy of Music.

There were master craftsmen working in Purcell's England. London was to viols what Cremona became to violins. The varnish was as good as anything Stradivarius used and the carving of the faces on the ends of the scrolls of Grinling Gibbons quality. One of the makers was Barak Norman. 'You've got a face / That'll go on a bass / Barak Norman / Said to his foreman,' quoted the lutemaker sitting behind me (Michael Lowe, a friend from the Lute Society)./

Read the rest of this entry

Mendelssohn's big birthday party

Post categories:

Jessica Duchen Jessica Duchen | 14:35 UK time, Tuesday, 3 February 2009


mendelssohn_va_200.jpgIt's Anniversary Day, 3 February - the occasion to offer prime Felixcitations and declare Mendelssohn's big birthday party officially open.

First of all, if you missed the broadcast on 1 February, make sure you tune in to Listen Again during the course of this week to hear the celebration EBU bonanza day of Mendelssohn, Mendelssohn and more Mendelssohn. A

mong the highlights are the delectable Nikolaj Znaider playing the Violin Concerto, an organ recital from St Thomas's Church, Leipzig by Ullrich Bohme, pure joy from soprano Ailish Tynan and pianist Llyr Williams at the Wigmore Hall and rare chamber music from Mendelssohn's own home in Leipzig. For the rest of this week, too, you can hear the BBC National Orchestra of Wales playing Mendelssohn symphonies every afternoon on BBC Radio 3.

Read the rest of this entry

The numbers game

Post categories:

Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 11:22 UK time, Tuesday, 3 February 2009


sheldonian_ext_200.jpgThis week's quota of Haydn symphonies began with a leap out of sequence to No 92 (The Oxford) played on Monday afternoon by the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Nicholas Kraemer. Actually written for performance in Paris, No 92 takes its name from a performance Haydn gave in Oxford in the course of a visit to receive an honorary degree in 1791.

sheldonian_interior_200.jpgI found the performance a bit rough & ready, with the slow movement definitely pushed slightly too hard. The engineers gave us a nice forward presence for the wind players and the natural hornists {in G!] were splendid. Do catch this on the iPlayer (follow this link) if you can.

On Wednesday at 10am we return to the early works with Symphony No 10 and Sinfonia Finlandia [new to me] followed by No 11 at 10.32 on Friday.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.