Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford on AvonEnglish Touring Opera’s soloists were joined by local choirs and new English translations of Bach’s verses, both adding a vivid modern relevance
English Touring Opera’s latest presentation is Bach’s St John Passion, but their approach is not operatic in the sense of staging the work with the trappings of costume and props. Neither is it touring in the conventional way of a production doing the rounds. Rather, ETO’s soloists and regular accompanists, the Old Street Band, are working at each venue with choruses from within that community, in a natural extension of the company’s outreach and education programme.
The impact of the opening chorus Herr, unser Herrscher, delivered by the joint forces of the Cantamus Chamber Choir, the Wiltshire Music Centre Chorus and choristers from St Laurence School with a considerable body of sound, was testimony enough to a worthy endeavour.
The conductor and founder of the Tallis Scholars on the Beatles, Bruckner and Bryd, and why we should treat Bach with less respect
What was the first record or cd you bought?
Being born in 1953 I was exactly of the generation to grow up with the music of the Fab Four. I collected their singles in purchases of three – costing 6/8d meant you could get exactly three for a pound. The release of Ticket to Ride was the moment of greatest excitement for me and my friends down in the school locker room.
The choirmaster who used to sell ice creams on Bournemouth beach is angling for his next Christmas No 1 – and teaching Team GB how to sing the National Anthem properly
It’s a hot sunny day in mid-September and Gareth Malone is wearing a green felt Christmas tree on his head. “The more you sing this carol like you’re singing to granny at home,” he tells the London Youth Choir, “the more heartfelt it is – and the more the microphones will pick it up.”
Britain’s best known choirmaster is making a Christmas record in Abbey Road studios. But, true to his roots, he is also doing it in the community. In fact, he’s doing it in lots of communities: in Cornwall with Perranarworthal Hand Bell Ringers; in Birmingham with its Gospel Choir; and in Wales with the Coed Eva primary school (whose building was burnt down in an arson attack on New Year’s Eve).
St John the Evangelist, Oxford The great recitalist, with pianist Christoph Schnackertz, brought compelling weight to Oxford Lieder festival’s demanding Schumann Project
After the hugely ambitious and successful sweep through all of Schubert’s songs in the 2014 Oxford Lieder festival, there is the Schumann Project this time – a complete survey of his works for solo voices, running through almost every concert.
The festival now regularly attracts many of the world’s leading recitalists, and the peerless Christoph Prégardien seems to have become almost an annual visitor. The first half of this appearance with pianist Christoph Schnackertz was duly devoted to Schumann, with the Hans Christian Andersen songs Op 40 preceding the Heine Liederkreis Op 24. Every number became an object lesson in how a truly great Lieder singer makes the meaning and weight of each word matter, and how every fleck of emotion and colour can be conveyed in an utterly natural, confiding way.
Grand theatre, Leeds; Royal Opera House, LondonRoderick Williams is a winning Billy Budd in Opera North’s top-notch production. At Covent Garden, the loss of a nose is no laughing matter
Britten’s opera opens biliously – the seasick swell lulls you into a true sense of insecurity. Billy Budd is as much an endurance test to watch as Shakespeare’s Othello (its librettists, EM Forster and Eric Crozier, were aware of the echo). Orpha Phelan’s attentive production brings this tremendous work into focus – but brace yourself for the feel-bad factor. Enter Captain Edward Fairfax Vere, in long buff coat. “What have I done?” he sings, and repeats the question more faintly, becoming his own echo, consumed with guilt at having, long ago, helped condemn an innocent sailor, Billy Budd, to hang.
Laurent Wagschal (piano)(Evidence)
Among all the virtuoso pianists who have embellished the music they play, Leopold Godowsky was one of the most extreme. His imaginative paraphrases go far beyond the bounds of mere transcription: Saint-Saëns’s famous Swan is sugar-coated with decoration, and three Schubert songs take Liszt’s elaborations even further. Most fascinating here is Bach’s G minor sonata for solo violin, in which the first movement is an entirely original meditation. It is difficult to quite see the point of Chopin studies arranged for the left hand, but Laurent Wagschal plays them with clarity and definition – which is admirable, but possibly at odds with the warm, late Romantic tradition from which the arrangements spring.
Piers Lane (piano), Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Fritzsch(Hyperion)
Hyperion continue their exploration of the Romantic piano concerto with an intriguing disc of Australian examples, Piers Lane making a convincing case for his countrymen’s music. Alfred Hill’s 1941 concerto has a breezy, sunny disposition, with hardly a dark cloud in the sky, even in its bold, expansive last movement. Hill had a vast output of orchestral and chamber works and rarely wasted an idea: the four-movement concerto is a reworking of an earlier piano sonata, also heard here. He conducted the first Australian performance of George Frederick Boyle’s 1911 piano concerto, thought to be the first substantial piece in this form in the Antipodes. Altogether graver than Hill’s, it has a final movement to rival anything coming out of Europe at the time.
The American pianist on composers and mortality, having two violinist parents, and his lack of coordination in all things not piano-related
In his Late Style series, which he is playing across the US, Italy, the Netherlands and in London – at Milton Court, Barbican on 8 November, returning next year – the American pianist Jonathan Biss, 36, explores the music Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Schubert, Schumann and Kurtág wrote near the end of their lives.
Life can be short or long, death lingering or sudden. Is there any common thread in the music you’re playing in this three-concert series?Actually, it’s the lack of a common thread that really interests me. Playing these works, I feel clearly that these composers are moving in new directions late in life, but those directions vary enormously, composer to composer. Schubert, who died at the impossibly young age of 31, faced mortality with a feverish intensity. In contrast, Mozart, who was almost as young, brought an almost naive but profound simplicity to his late works – think of the Clarinet Concerto, or the Clarinet Quintet. Bach, 65 when he died, became more abstract and austere – The Art of the Fugue is so extreme in that way. And Elgar, writing his final works around the same age, though he lived on into his 70s, became incredibly emotionally expansive – in the Piano Quintet, the String Quartet, the Violin Sonata.
The Tallis Scholars/Phillips(Gimmell)
A throw of the dice will never abolish chance, wrote the French poet Mallarmé, showing the way for Boulez and Cage. Jumping back to the 1480s, Josquin played his own game of dice in his early Missa Di dadi (Dice Mass). The tenor part is marked, at the start of each movement, with a pair of dice that add up to different amounts. You need Peter Phillips’s excellent liner note to comprehend the mechanics, not easily audible but intriguing to know about, from a time when dice were associated with the devil. It is paired with another early mass, Une mousse de Biscaye. As ever this revered group, in the latest in their all-Josquin series, spins and weaves the long vocal lines faultlessly.
In 1979 Simon Callow was offered the dream role of Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. As the play returns to the National, he recalls his early doubts and backstage battles
The first I heard about Amadeus was a characteristically vivid telephone call from the legendarily foul-mouthed director John Dexter (at that time head of productions at the Metropolitan Opera in New York). “Callow? What d’you know about Mozart?” “Well, er, I …” “You’d better find out, hadn’t you, because you’re about to fucking well play Mozart in Peter fucking Shaffer’s new play, aren’t you?” An hour later it was in my hands, in my bedsit in Hampstead.
I read the play with some surprise. I was not taken aback by the story of Mozart’s alleged poisoning at the hands of Antonio Salieri (which I knew from Rimsky-Korsakov’s operatic setting of Pushkin’s play on the same theme), nor by the scatological language; what amazed me was what I took to be the crudeness of the dramaturgy. Mozart appeared to be defined by his giggle; the emperor Joseph II – the most powerful monarch of the second half of the 18th century – simply repeated his catchphrase (“Well, there it is!”); and Mozart’s wife, Constanze, used words such as “delish”.
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