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CD: Joseph Marx Choral Works

Rob Barnett www.musicweb-international.com

Joseph Marx: Choral Works

Rob Barnett www.musicweb-international.com

Chandos have an unshakable grip on the big choral-orchestral sound. It’s one of the company’s signatures. This is just as well given that Marx’s writing has a lavish extravagance of expression. This is very much for those who love their Delius, Korngold, Zemlinsky and Mahler who will find it irresistible. It has an exuberance and whooping confidence that carries all before it.

On this disc there are twelve songs for soprano and orchestra and four pieces for chorus and orchestra. The longest of the latter is the pantheistic Herbstchor an Pan. It sets a poem of pagan exaltation in summer’s blazing delights. This is music of ecstatic exuberance and speaks of the South, of Italy and of the Mediterranean. Neither the performance nor the recording is in any way half-hearted. The music passingly recalls Mahler 3 (in the boy’s choir) and Delius in the invocatory shout of joy of his A Mass of Life. It is also redolent of Song of the High Hillsand the Requiem. Full of thoughtful orchestral touches it is constantly engaging. Plunging and rearing exultation in dazzling light contrasts with a sense of sunlit satiation. The fine detail includes a sturdy yet slender little march – rather like the determined confident counterpart in Brian’s Gothic – harp filigree and a solo violin that enters with a shiver and a shimmering. In Christine Brewer Chandos chose well – her voice is heavy with meaning, potent in nuance and expression, vivacious and vibrant, dynamically varied. She covers the extremes demanded by Marx from the lilting easy-going line of Ständchen to the lighter hand evident in Zigeuner and Der bescheidene Schäfer – the latter a step away from Lehár despite its avian cantilena. Barkarole rises from lapping Baxian figuration to a crowning lyrical triumph. The Morgengesang mobilises a web of solo instrumental voices but rises to a sensational climax. Berghymne is also very successful and makes intelligent use of the solo piano in a way that at least superficially recalls the émigré film scores of Korngold and Waxman. Ein Neujahrshymnus is regally sumptuous with the choir producing a seething aureate blaze of sound. Wonderful stuff!

The notes are by Berkant Haydin who is also responsible for the richly detailed Marx website. He is the lead agency in the Marx revival. Stefan Esser and Berkant Haydin arranged theBerghymne and Neujahrshymnus for full orchestra from originals for chorus and piano and chorus and organ. The resulting rich orchestration emerges from intense study of Marx’s full scores. Their orchestrations distinctly reflect new Marxian harmonies and treatments. Berkant assures me that Neujahrshymnus is somewhat reminiscent of Reger's influence on the young Marx.

The sung words in the original language and English translation are usual printed side by side in the booklet.

Such is the success of this CD that it must be considered as the disc with which to introduce this composer to music-lovers. An exciting experience … but who will be first to record Marx’s masterwork, the towering HerbstSymphonie.

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"Versatile Voices": an article from Choir and Organ

Shirley Ratcliffe

"Versatile Voices": an article reproduced from Choir and Organ

Shirley Ratcliffe

article

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Proms: Schubert Ständchen

Mark Berry www.musicweb-international.com

Prom 48: Mahler, Stockhausen, Schubert, and Beethoven

Mark Berry www.musicweb-international.com

David Matthews's Ständchen relied a great deal – too much? – on pizzicato and woodwind. It had a more warmly Romantic postlude, with a touch of Wagner in the orchestration and harmony, although I am not sure that this attempt, as Matthews put it, ‘to move the song into a different world’, really worked. [ … ]. Angelika Kirchshlager was an excellent soloist, her diction commendably clear and her musical line always carefully shaped. Apollo Voices worked well in their interplay with her in Ständchen.

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Proms: Schubert Ständchen

www.sequenza21.com

Prom 48: Mahler, Stockhausen, Schubert, and Beethoven

(No author attributed) www.sequenza21.com

The singer in the Schubert was Angelika Kirchschlager, joined in the first song (not the very well know Ständchen, but some other one) by the women of the Apollo Voices. Their singing was gorgeous, as was the playing of the orchestra all the way through.

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Proms: Rimsky-Korsakov Mlada

Daily Telegraph 17/08/2004

Proms: Gergiev delivers Rite in the raw 

Daily Telegraph 17/08/2004

David Fanning reviews the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Albert Hall

Valery Gergiev has become one of the select band of conductors who can sell out an Albert Hall Prom - with just a little bit of help from a magnificent orchestral showpiece such as The Rite of Spring.

In fact, "magnificent showpiece", with its connotations of slickness and superficiality, is about as far from his attitude to the piece as it is possible to get.

Gergiev, himself, claims ancestry from the wilder corners of the Russian empire, in which Stravinsky and his ethnographically minded collaborators might have imagined the barbaric scenario. And he is hell-bent on recreating the Rite's convulsive, pre-civilised power.

It is an interpretation that can sound mannered on a recording: the Auguries of Spring faster than they can reasonably be played; the Sacrificial Dance almost perversely held back; the silence before the final coup de gras unnervingly prolonged. But, in concert, it works.

Gergiev simply feels the piece this way. He is clearly possessed by it and just channels it, as did Stravinsky himself, when he said: "I am the vessel through which the Rite passed."

This would not have been the BBC Symphony Orchestra's most flawless performance of the season. But nor should it have been. Raw danger, fear and sub-human forces were Gergiev's priorities, and the musicians delivered.

Anyone expecting Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain to be a routine concert opener would soon have been disabused.

Instead of Rimsky-Korsakov's familiar, tactfully crafted synthesis of Mussorgsky's three different versions, Gergiev brought the 1867 original. This is a hopelessly ramshackle, stop-start structure, but, like the Rite, it is inspired at every turn.

To complete the theme of the Russian macabre, we had the third act of the opera-ballet Mlada - Rimsky-Korsakov's contribution to an ill-starred joint venture by four members of the Mighty Handful.

Avgust Amonov's tenor was under some strain in the role of the enchanted Prince Yaromir. But to hear this unfamiliar and nearly top-grade Rimsky-Korsakov score so passionately conducted, so stirringly played, and in the choral Witches' Sabbath so vividly sung (by Apollo Voices), was a rare treat.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/arts/main.jhtml?xml=/arts/2004/08/17/bmprom17.xml

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Concert: Shostakovich Odna

Independent, The (London), Feb 16, 2006 by Annette Morreau

Odna 

Independent, The (London), Feb 16, 2006 by Annette Morreau

At last, a nugget of pure gold to silence critics of programming by anniversaries. Shostakovich wrote scores to more than 30 films during the transition from silent to talkies. His first score was New Babylon (1929); his second, Odna (1929-31). The films used the same directors - Leonid Trauberg and Grigori Kozintsev. But this was the first UK screening of Odna.

Odna (Alone) was the directors' (and Shostakovich's) first film after Stalin's declaration of the first five-year plan. The film was supposed to embrace the positive aspects of Communism: teaching, collectivism and modern technology.

A "modern" urban woman is dispatched - initially against her will (for loss of a fiancé) - to Siberia to teach sheep-settlement children contemporary ways. She goes rather than suffer the indignity of being labelled a coward but soon realises that the old ways are better than the new, the new quickly corrupting the old.

This film was distributed widely before the authorities realised that it was a potent criticism of the new system. It was shelved rather than banned and for years lay in the archive of Lenfilm. During the siege of Leningrad Lenfilm was burnt, but six of the seven reels survived and so did Shostakovich's score. The soundtrack, however, was virtually destroyed.

Painstakingly, the film historian Theodore van Houten and conductor Mark Fitz-Gerald reconstructed the music and film, leaving the climax without picture (reel six), but the end complete.

Odna turns out to be a truly remarkable film, with an equally remarkable score. It requires a huge orchestra including theremin. Shostakovich scarcely uses the full force, preferring to pare down instead to the tiniest of numbers.

Cod-military music, toy-town music for children, tender utterances against bleak snowscapes allied to images of primitive peoples wedded to their sheep, makes this black and white film one of the most moving I can remember.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra with Irina Mataeva (soprano), Anna Kiknadze (mezzo), Dmitri Voropaev (tenor), Mark van Tongeren (throat singer) and the Apollo Voices under Mark Fitz-Gerald produced a revelation.

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CD: D'Avalos Maria di Venosa

Ian Bailey Musicweb.uk.net 00/00/200?

?title D'Avalos?

Ian Bailey Musicweb.uk.net

Whilst it would be fascinating to see Maria di Venosa issued as a DVD, performed as D’Avalos intended, even in its present audio-only form there are definite rewards. The artists on the discs clearly believe in the work, and they are backed-up by sumptuous engineering, courtesy of engineer/producer Brian Culverhouse.

Despite languishing in the vaults for over a decade (the recording was made during the summer of 1994), if you are at all intrigued do try it. Maria certainly has its own strengths, not least a wonderfully brooding atmosphere which stayed with me for days afterward. Moreover I couldn’t envisage it better done. I just hope someone takes courage and mounts some performances as a result of this release.

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CD: D'Avalos Maria di Venosa

American Record Guide

?title D'Avalos?

American Record Guide

'While the music is not strictly tonal, it is hardly radical – in fact, much of it is quite lovely and extraordinarily effective… The musical forces perform with exceptional clarity and opulent sound.'

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Concert: Birtwistle The Second Mrs Kong

The Sunday Times, November 2004

The Second Mrs Kong

The Sunday Times, November 2004

“The performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Apollo Voices, the conductor Martyn Brabbins, and cast…could hardly be faulted.”

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Concert: Birtwistle The Second Mrs Kong

Classical source

The Second Mrs Kong

Richard Whitehouse, classical source, November 09, 2004

The South Bank's “Birtwistle Games” retrospective has featured no more important performance than this first complete London performance of the composer's opera, “The Second Mrs Kong”. After having received a favourable if somewhat bemused reception during its Glyndebourne run a decade ago, the work has since been relatively neglected; unfairly, as in bringing together those qualities which might reasonably be called 'dramatic', this is possibly Birtwistle's most inclusive and satisfying stage-work.

For a start, Russell Hoban's libretto – derived from his novel of that name – is the finest, in terms of literary quality and expressive reach, that Birtwistle has yet set: indeed, it is one of the finest opera librettos of the past half-century. This is not to deny the dramatic or theatrical efficacy of those for “The Mask of Orpheus” or “Gawain”; but their rhetorical starkness seems designed to be embodied in music, whereas that for ‘Mrs Kong’ exists perfectly well on its own merits: an incitement to explore precisely those compositional facets that serve to heighten the synthesis of words and music.

On an immediate level, the orchestral writing is of a delicacy and luminosity – without sacrificing intricacy of texture – that Birtwistle had seldom before approached: a constantly fluctuating 'sea' of incident appropriate in a drama at whose centre the sea of time separates the living from the dead. The vocal characterisation is appreciably less declamatory and monumental than those of previous large-scale stage-works – unfolding in long, lyrical lines that permit an intimate, even confessional expression; and against which, the sardonic asides and one-liners that Hoban liberally throws in are a reminder that this is a comedy, albeit of a thoughtful and deeply human complexion.

'Human' is itself an ironic term in the context of an opera whose main protagonists either no longer are or never actually were. Hence the pathos of love that develops between Kong – an ape who only ever existed in reality as an idea, and Pearl – a woman who only ever existed in reality as a portrait. Their coming-together across time and space, ostensibly to meet in the cold environs of present-day reality, cannot and never will be – hence the lines that might serve as a epigraph for the whole opera: “It is not love that moved the world from night to morning, it is the longing from what cannot be”.

A work, then, that draws on the full expressive range of its cast, such as was met admirably by the line-up for this concert performance. John Daszak made of Kong a soulful idea who emerges from the shadows only as he begins to focus his human potential, with Rebecca von Lipinski's plaintive Pearl a representation who longs for corporeal fulfilment. Stephen Richardson's Anubis was a commanding but rational figure of authority, whose duty as boatman to the dead is outweighed by his fascination with the urge of these two towards the living, while Roderick Williams had the necessary ardency for Vermeer, a Pygmalion-like creator who desires to possess that which he has created.

Instant repartee was made between the Inanna-Dollarama-Zumzum triumvirate, whose continuing of their earthly confrontation in the afterlife might be taken as a sideswipe at the 'money fixes all' mentality. Pairing Claire Booth's Mirror with Amy Freston's Mirror Echo gave a poetic dimension to the drama's central premise, resulting in lambent singing of perhaps Birtwistle's most affecting operatic writing; in striking contrast to the mythical Orpheus – able to charm the telephone into accepting an unpaid call – and Madame Lena, the 'customary sphinx' with as much concern in having her riddles answered as Kong has in answering them. Through the predicament of these characters, Birtwistle establishes unexpected links with The Mask of Orpheus, and evinces a dry, self-deprecatory humour.

Kenneth Richardson's concert-staging was as effective as it was functional, and Sound Intermedia ensured that the vocal writing – audibly but never garishly amplified – carried over the orchestration, essential in an opera whose words need to be appreciated in context. Martyn Brabbins drew playing of no mean subtlety from the BBCSO, directing with a sure command of the dramatic pacing: at around 80 minutes, Act One seems too long for its dramatic good, but Act Two – essentially a journey travelled in hope – has a dramatic poise Birtwistle has rarely equalled. A worthy contribution too from Apollo Voices, too, its members varying between occasional soloists and an ironic 'Greek Chorus' with unobtrusive ease. But then, irony, tempered and enriched by pathos, is crucial to “The Second Mrs Kong” as in no other of Birtwistle's stage-works: hopefully the present performance will prove more than a one-off revival.

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CD: Chausson Le Roi Arthus

The Sunday Times, November 2004

Le Roi Arthus

David Lewis, All Music Guide

It was in the wake of Richard Wagner's passing that composers sought most ardently to create an answer to his Ring cycle with a property based on Arthurian legend. Perhaps the best of these efforts was Ernest Chausson 's lone opera Le Roi Arthus , presented here by Telarc in a three-disc set featuring baritone Andrew Schroeder as the King , Susan Bullock as Lady Guinevere , and Simon O'Neill as Sir Lancelot , with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Leon Botstein . Although this is the fourth recording of Le Roi Arthus , it is the first to be recorded in a studio situation, although it was recorded in connection with a BBC broadcast of the work.

One thing Le Roi Arthus definitely is, is BIG. Big singers, big climaxes in the orchestra, and an excellent chorus, the Apollo Voices , that is in your face from the first note assigned. The booklet runs to 75 pages, containing notes by Steve Huebner , acclaimed poet John Ashbery , and conductor Leon Botstein . All proclaim Le Roi Arthus as a masterpiece, albeit for different reasons; Huebner states that ' Chausson found himself wedged between an overbearing voice of the past and the bold initiatives of ( Debussy ).' This is incorrect -- Wagner was not 'a voice of the past' in 1895 when Le Roi Arthus was completed, but still very much of the present, even though dead 12 years. Unlike Debussy , Chausson felt that Wagner had built the best mousetrap in relation to mythic music drama and achieved success in Le Roi Arthus through creating a hybrid of his own style with that of Wagner . By mid-twentieth century standards, such venture by a nineteenth century French composer was an automatic qualification for well-deserved oblivion. That an opera such as Le Roi Arthus could go to four recordings is exemplary of the change in attitude that has occurred in the opera world even since Le Roi Arthus was first recorded in 1981.

This is an entirely satisfactory rendering of Le Roi Arthus , although in some cases the bigness of the voices gets a bit out of hand. One wants to say to some singers, 'look, this is a studio recording; one need not play to the third tier.' However, Chausson 's work is successful not because it derives from Wagner or foreshadows any aspect of later practices, but because it is a solid stage work that is well paced, energetic, and loaded with variety, even as parts of it may sound like a version of Die Meistersinger as sung in French. This Telarc recording should satisfy all who wish to experience this no longer 'rare' opera .

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CD: Chausson Le Roi Arthus

Edward Reichel - Deseret Morning News

Chausson

Edward Reichel - Deseret Morning News 

Thanks to conductor Leon Botstein and Telarc, "Le Roi Arthus" has finally been recorded. Botstein has assembled a superb cast, with baritone Andrew Schroeder as Arthur, tenor Simon O'Neill as Lancelot and soprano Susan Bullock as Guinevere.

Their singing captures the drama and ardor of the score wonderfully. The supporting cast is no less spectacular, and Apollo Voices bring depth and earnestness to the choral passages.

Botstein elicits a perceptive, thoughtful and compelling performance from his vocal forces, as well as from the BBC Symphony, which plays with forceful conviction. 

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Proms: Kurt Weill Royal Palace

H.E. Elsom

Alun Bush: Piano concerto

H.E. Elsom

The works in Prom 17 all reached their final form between 1917 and 1928, and they present an interesting reflection on Germanic modernism. You might suspect that the Rakhmaninov concerto was there to make sure that the audience was large enough to absorb the echo. But Leif Ove Andsens lucid, gush-free performance brought out a spiky sense of form beneath the melodies that wasn't too far from Schoenberg's radical variations. Andrew Davis and the BBC Symphony Orchestra conversely brought out the melodic beauty of Schoenberg's theme, based on the name of Bach, the grand master of romanticism-in-formalism.

Weill studied with Schoenberg, but dropped any interest in serialism early in his career while developing his neo-baroque romanticism and his forte in dramatic music of all kinds. He regarded his first collaboration with the surrealist Franco-German poet Iwan Goll, Der neue Orpheus as a turning point in his musical career. Their second work together, Royal Palaceseems to have been more problematic at the time: its first production in 1927 was withdrawn, and after a second production in 1929 it disappeared until the start of the Weill revival in 1971.

The scenario could at first sight have been written by Hofmannsthal, with hints of Der Rosenkavalier and a modern-mythical central figure reminiscent of Die Aegyptische Helene. Dejanira, a world-weary woman married to a dim plutocrat, is confronted by her husband and two lovers at the expensive lakeside hotel of the title and challenged to choose between them. The hotel is staffed with dancing page-boys and the lake is full of Nereids and fished by pictureque fishermen. But Goll's treatment is closer to the baroque play and display of Monteverdi's or Cavalli's librettists, on a compact, fifty-minute, scale, presumably from the Surrealist's fellow-feeling with the more off-colour bits of Ovid and Propertius rather than by direct acquaintance. The suitors say that they formally represent money, intellect and imagination, and each puts on a display of what he offers, with appropriate music. The husband presents a film of Dejanira's jet-set life; yesterday's lover offers a ballet of the nights they have spent together; tomorrow's admirer offers a pageant of Orpheus in nature. But Dejanira finds them all self-centred -- each says "I" all the time and never engages with her -- and she dives in the lake to be transformed into a mermaid.

Weill's music is an early phase of his cabaret style, an obvious and deliberate antidote to both Wagner and Strauss, although the melodies are less structured and, again, at times close to Monteverdi's in their dramatic straightforwardness. The ballets and set-pieces are self-consciously modern, the Orpheus masque especially so, and suggest acquaintance with Satie and friends. But Dejanira's final slow tango as she sinks transformed into the lake is suffocatingly sensuous and weary, and unmistakeably Weill's.

The concert performance was semi-staged and credited with a director, but it really was a concert performance. Janice Watson as Dejanira had a very long sea-green wrap that she trailed across the platform, but she was obviously tied to the music on a bel epoque music stand. But she exuded ennui, and sang beautifully when she looked up from her copy.. She is going to be a superb Marschallin very soon, but didn't quite deliver tonight perhaps because she wasn't quite prepared. Camilla Trilling was a magical solo lake nymph, and the Apollo Voices provided glamorously spooky ensemble sprites. Stephen Richardson was good and obtuse as the husband, and Ashley Holland and Peter Bronder were splendidly vocally contrasted as the two lovers. Huw Rhys-Evans was almost inaudible as the decorative young fisherman, but Clive Bayley next to him at the back of the orchestra upstaged everyone with his few sonorous bars as the prophetic old fisherman. It's possible he was amplified by mistake (the few words of spoken text were), but it's more likely that he is staking a claim as John Tomlinson's heir apparent in both vocal style and volume.

The opera ends with the dim and literal husband realising what has happened and calling out for help: "someone has drowned". In this version, Andrew Davis said the line and dashed off the stage, brilliantly highlighting the way we all distance ourselves from suffering when it is presented as art, until it is too late.

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Studio recording: Alan Bush Piano concerto

Richard Whitehouse

Bush: Piano concert

Richard Whitehouse

In the centenery year of Alan Bush's birth, a performance of his Piano Concerto, the first apparently for over 30 years, stood out among several events which have enabled at least the beginnings of an overview of this prolific and distinctive composer.

Playing on this occasion for just under 55 minutes, the scale of Bush's concerto is exceeded only by the Busoni (and no doubt those, all awaiting performance, by Sorabji). Yet while the latter is an apotheosis of musical romanticism before the onset of Busoni's often rarified mature idiom, the Bush is recognisably an extension of the powerfully focused approach that had already yielded the superb Dialectic for string quartet, amongst other chamber and vocal works. Like Busoni, Bush marries a strongly wrought formal architecture to a final vocal section which makes explicit the work's aesthetic: here, the need for communist equity in a divided and unequal world. Provocative stuff in the England of 1938, and Randall Swingler's verse, tough and abrasive, no doubt detracted from its wider context.

The problem today is that the work has little more to offer than a period take on a heady and combative era. One would not have expected overt melodic interest in such a work - indeed Bush turned this apparent limitation to his advantage on numerous occasions over the two decades following Dialectic - but the harmonic drabness and motivic plainness of the concerto was surprising.

The substantial opening movement evolves as an elaborate march fantasy, with virtuoso piano writing which, if not decorative, is neither integral to an argument that the rhythmically straitjacketed material seems incapable of building. The scherzo makes scant use of its irregular metres, beyond prolonging a five-minute movement to almost twice its natural duration (Paul Conway's description, of "... a wild stratospheric ostinato ..." is fancifully wide of the mark). The slow movement opens promisingly with sustained arioso writing deep down in the orchestra, but loses focus at the piano's entry, and builds to a sincere but emotionally cramped climax.

The finale resumes something of the martial import of the first movement, pausing on a drum roll before an aggressively declaimed choral accusation which all too self-consciously calls Schiller to mind. The remainder traverses a sequence of co-ordinated but hardly memorable musical paragraphs, the supposed naïvety of the text less worrying than the schematic dreariness of its setting, and culminating in a peroration curiously redolent of Shostakovich's second and third symphonies in its having impact without substance.

It would be easy to put the work's failure down to the simple premise of forcing musical substance into a political mould. Yet a work such as Hans Eisler's Deutsche Symphonie, substantially completed just prior to the Bush, shows how a balance can be achieved where integrity of idea and intrinsic worth of music are actually enhanced in the process. By comparison, Bush's concerto, for all its scale and ambition, is simply not equal to its task.

All credit to Rolf Hind for mastering a piano part such as he will have few chances to repeat, and to Ashley Holland and Apollo Voices for extracting as much character as they could from an ungrateful text in an unyielding setting. The BBCSO sounded well prepared, under Leonard Slatkin's sympathetic guidance (following on from a cohesive if slightly lacklustre Tippett Second Symphony). Good that he should take the trouble to revive a work which, in the event, cannot be said to warrant frequent revival.

Richard Whitehouse