The aptly named and totally enchanting Angelika Kirchschlager gave a wonderful demonstration of passionate communication though music yesterday evening at the Wigmore Hall. And she was aided and abetted by the no less charismatic Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Luxury casting if ever one could find it - one of the finest pianists in the world on the platform of the Wigmore Hall melding as an artist with Angelika. And he then generously gave her a short break in each half to seduce us with undemonstrative generous playing of gentle piano pieces by Brahms and Liszt.
So we had Brahms in the first half - four of the late Deutsche Lieder followed by Thibaudet's beautiful playing of the quiet Intermezzo in A. Then we had a further group from Angelika, culminating in the famous Von ewiger Liebe.
The second half was Liszt. We tend to think of Liszt too much as a pianist and overlook his genius as a composer, a central figure of the Romatic era. Thibaudet treated us to a rare chance to hear one of the Consolations - no 3 in D flat. And he was the irreplaceable partner for Angelika in seven songs including Es war ein König in Thule, and, most ecstatically of all, O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst! the ravishing melody of which Liszt recycled so famously in his third Liebestraum, known and loved by aficianados of the piano repertoire.
There was a large and distinguished audience. Educated London knows what to go to for a special treat!
I went to a remarkable recital at Kings Place yesterday evening. This was part of the excellent series presented by the London Chamber Music Society.
It provided a rare opportunity to hear two Model D Steinways in full flight. And this spectacular reached its climax with a performance of Bartók's astonishing Sonata for two pianos and percussion. In the first half we had a chance to hear Debussy's En blanc et noir and Rachmaninov's Suite No. 2 for two pianos, Op. 17.
The pianists were Charles Owen and Katya Apekisheva and percussionists two very talented young men Pedro Segundo and George English. This was a thrilling 90 minutes on an early Sunday evening - a perfect end to the week.
London has some lovely halls for Chamber music. Kings Place has been around since 2008, and the new Milton Court in the Barbican just a couple of months. But the Wigmore Hall, opened in 1901, is the grand daddy of them all - and I will be there this evening for another unusual musical event which promises to be no less exciting. This is a recital by Angelika Kirchschlager and Jean-Yves Thibaudet - a wonderful programme of Brahms and Liszt sung and played by two exceptional artists.
I was terribly saddened to hear today of the death of Alastair McAlpine at home in Italy yesterday. Alastair served as chairman of our National Opera Co-ordinating committee in the 1980s. This was the group of all the British opera companies which shared information about their plans to ensure that silly clashes did not happen. The wonderful witty and civilized Alastair, who sat on the Arts Council, was drafted in to moderate all the operatic egos around the table. His diplomatic and political skills were deployed to ensure happy outcomes. We loved him and respected him.
I last saw him by chance at lunch at the Garrick on December 6 and had a lovely brief reminisce about those days. Sic transit gloria mundi.........
The performance yesterday evening of Britten's Rape of Lucretia was absolutely worth the journey to Paris. It is clear that Christian Schirm, director of the Atelier at the Paris Opera, has a real flair for bringing first class voices into the advanced training program that he is running there. It is an international program - and the total number of singers is 12. A quarter are French, there are two Portuguese, two Ukrainian, two Poles, a Romanian , a Russian, and an Italian. They are a harmonious and happy team. And they seem to be superbly prepared. The clarity of the English diction in the Lucretia would have impressed in ENO's Coliseum!
There were many striking performances - the Male and Female Chorus being the most attention grabbing. A Romanian soprano Andreea Soare and a Ukrainian tenor, Oleksiy Palchykov, seem to me to be destined for great things. A charismatic Polish baritone Piotr Kumon took on Tarquinius and he was a mighty force. The Lucia was the enchanting Russian soprano Olga Seliverstova, and a most impressive Polish contralto Agata Schmidt took on the title role.
It is most encouraging to go to performances by these advanced professional development prorammes. The future for young singers is OK!
I am back in London and have a family weekend......but weather permitting I may get out on Sunday!
I have a meeting this morning with my colleagues on the Garsington Opera Artistic Advisory Committee, then a hop down the road from the Royal Academy to St Pancras International to get the Eurostar to Paris. It is Brittgen's Rape of Lucretia with the Paris Opera Studio, followed I trust by a good dinner - this is Paris after all! And back tomorrow morning........but I hope to have heard a fine performance with some budding stars. Nothing is guaranteed but the omens are good.
Attending a performance of Jephtha by Harry Christophers' Sixteen at the Barbican yesterday evening turned my mind to the odd relationship that Glyndebourne had with Handel. For it was Jephtha that was to be the first performance of a Handel piece at Glyndebourne in 1966. And that production put paid to any future hope that the great German born Englishman would be represented in the Glyndebourne repertoire - and indeed he did not return for another 30 years with the celebrated production of Theodora in 1996.
And when you consider that during the intervening years remarkable work was done in the Baroque arena by two great men in partnership, Peter Hall and Raymond Leppard, notably with Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and Cavalli's Calisto, it is not much of a stretch to imagine that they might have combined successfully to have tackled Handel. And given that Gerald Coke, who amassed the world's greatest private collection of Handel material, was the Chairman of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust through much of that period, there might have been an inbuilt bias towards performing the composer's works.
Well the fact is that the Jephtha was a disaster! The "production" was imported from Hamburg and was one of the great Günther Rennert's less fine hours. And the conductor was the heavy handed Leopold Ludwig. The counter-tenor role of Hamor was taken by a baritone, a musical nonsense - this fact alone is telling enough!
Of course there were redeeming features most notable of which was the towering performance in the title role of Richard Lewis. His time stopping singing of Waft her angels still haunts me. The Iphis was Heather Harper, and in the tiny role of the Angel was a debutante Margaret Price.........and of course the famous Glyndebourne Chorus shone blazingly in the choral moments.
But this production cast a dark shadow. We discussed subsequently on numerous occasions the possibility of Peter and Raymond undertaking a Handel opera. But they never found a solution to what at that time was considered to be an insoluble problem! And then Peter Sellars came along with his Orlando in ART in 1981 and Nicholas Hytner with his Xerxes in 1985 at ENO - this was like the discovery of penicillin, or a cure for cancer! And so the world changed for Handel. People may question my perception of the chronology but for what it is worth that is my take on it!
And so in 1996 after 30 years of Handelian drought the glorious Peter Sellars production of Theodora broke the ice and of course productions of other Handel pieces at Glyndebourne have followed. A side note - neither Theodora nor Jephtha are operas, but two dramatic oratorios, amongst the last works of the composer who was already blind in one eye as he finished Jephtha and never wrote another note........
And last night at the Barbican it was very much the oratorio character of Jephtha that dominated - and perhaps that was a pity. But we had some stylish singing from a distinguished cast, notably from the eternally refreshing Sophie Bevan as a delicious Iphis, and the indispensable Susan Bickley as Storgè. It is totally unfair to compare James Gilchrist as Jephtha with Richard Lewis - I just can not get Richard's performance out of my head after 48 years! Gilchrist was splendid - he is a fine artist.........
Harry Christophers never falls short of the highest standards - a wonderful choral group of 18 (there were two additional sopranos including the Angel) - and a band of the quality that you can only find in Europe (yes, we are still in Europe!)
Thats all for now!
Portrait of Handel by Balthasar Denner c.1728
Our National Theater was 50 last year - only 50......nothing! We had such a close relationship with it at Glyndebourne with three of the NT's directors, Peter Hall, Trevor Nunn, and Nicholas Hytner, all doing distinguished work for us. So I feel quite connected to the place. And the architect of the the building, Denys Lasdun, was a much loved friend.
It was a great pleasure to have been there again yesterday evening to see a brilliant production, a really virtuoso piece of work, by Melly Still. This was of a disturbing play, From Morning to Midnight, by Georg Kaiser. As I came out at the interval a random member of public yelled at me "What the hell is this play about"? I replied "Real life, your fantasies, your worst nightmare. Be warned!"
Well whether I got that right or not I leave to others to judge.
This evening I have been at Handel's Jephtha. More about that tomorrow.
The Paris Opera Studio (Atelier) is producing the Rape of Lucretia this week. I will be there on Thursday to see it. Meanwhile the Athénée Théâtre is providing a helpful potted biography of Britten on its Blog.
The event at the Royal Academy of Music yesterday was a wonderful opportunity for so many of Noelle Barker's extended family to pay tribute to an inspirational friend, colleague, and teacher. It spanned the generations for she taught to almost the end of her long life, and her grandchildren participated as well.
Janet Baker was the final speaker and somehow encapsulated in her eloquent contribution everything that had been said before. Then we all joined in for the final number - God Moves in a Mysterious Way from Benjamin Britten's St Nicholas. And we also got to hear the spectacular new organ in the RAM's Duke's Hall.
I think that the first time I saw Manon was relatively late in my opera going career - in November of 1963, just over 50 years ago. And I remember it well, better than some performances I have heard of the piece more recently. Renata Scotto was the Manon, and the other leading roles were taken by three of the Canadians who were members of the Covent Garden company at the time, André Turp (Des Grieux), Robert Savoie (Lescaut) and Joseph Rouleau (Count des Grieux). In the small part of Rosette was a young woman Gwyneth Jones, yes the very same one and a mezzo then. The conductor was the ever elegant and polished John Pritchard.
I have of course seen the opera many times since then - and most recently and indelibly memorable, in Chicago in 2008 with Natalie Dessay and Jonas Kauffman. They were devastating in the St Sulpice scene. The production was earlyish David McVicar (vintage 1998) and the conductor Emmanuel Villaume. That was a terrific evening.
And it was Emmanuel Villaume who is also in charge at the ROH. And splendid he is too. The 2010 production, immensely enjoyable, is by Laurent Pelly - sharp as a needle in telling the story and engagingly stylised visually. I loved it. And the ROH orchestra and chorus yet again bring exceptional distinction to proceedings.
This was a rehearsal so no specific comment about the generally excellent cast, distinguished down to the smallest of parts as is invariably the case at this great company. However I must just say that I was thrilled to see Chicago Lyric alum Matthew Polenzani clearly destined for a huge success as Des Grieux, a part which suits him just perfectly. He is in great vocal form. Of course we know him well from Chicago where he has sung such a wide range of roles.
This afternoon I will be at the Royal Academy of Music for a musical gathering in memory of the much loved singer and teacher Noelle Barker who died last year. She was a big name as a singer in our musical life in the 1960s, and from the mid 1970s became one of the most admired and successful teachers - firstly at the Guildhall School of Music.
Next week I am looking forward to From Morning to Midnight at the National Theatre tomorrow, and Harry Christophers and the Sixteen doing Jephtha at the Barbican on Tuesday. London is abundant!
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