Sunday, 24 July 2016

High farce Die Fledermaus

Johann Strauss II Die Fledermaus

Ben Johnson, Gabriel von Eisenstein
Susanna Hurrell, Rosalinde
Jennifer France, Adele
Joanna Marie Skillett, Ida
Peter Davoren, Alfred
Gavan Ring, Falke
Robert Burt, Dr Blind
John Lofthouse, Frank
Samantha Price
, Prince Orlofsky
Ian Jervis, Frosch

John Rigby, Conductor
Martin Lloyd-Evans, Director
City of London Sinfonia

Opera Holland Park, London, 23 July 2016

This most famous of operettas was given a full English update at Opera Holland Park to marvellous effect.

First up was the setting, moved to 1930s England and enhanced by Alistair Beaton'sfree but  vivacious English translation.  Singing in English brought obvious benefits in conveying the wit of the comedy, and allowed some contemporary references to despised Brexit politicians to be folded in. 

Some creativity came with the adaptation, most of it trumphant.  The 4 London bobbies dancing with their Prison Chief, a stunned reception to the night's exotic dancers, and lashings of broad English humour and innuendo, almost Carry On at times.  This linked to a nice framing of the Eisenstein/Falke tension as stemming from Oxbridge antics.

Curiously the amorous Alfred was played as an Italian with an accent so massive it was almost Australian.  More seriously, the night's Prince Orlovsky was anything but dominant vocally and physically, and Gavan Ring's Falke placed the Prince quite in the shade.  This was perhaps the most light hearted Orlovsky ever seen, in little need of encouragement to laugh, which did nothing for dramatic impetus.  At various other points there seemed a similar disregard for the plot in the search for gags. Adelle's famous Laughing Aria, when she is protesting to all she is indeed a high born princess, had her openly kneeing Eisenstein in the groin. 

The acting was excellent and suitably over the top throughout.  Vocally, some of the big numbers fizzled slightly.  Susanna Hurrell's Czardas did not catch fire. Of the singers, Jennifer France as Adelle was the most spectacular, her high notes ranging from whispers to ringing floods of sound above the choruses.  Through it all, John Rigby directed a fine, punchy performance from the City of London Sinfonia, tight but with a willingness to relax at key moments. 

So a very fine evening, and such a pleasure to see an adaptation done so well.  It may have lost the elegance of the Viennese original, but it quite intentionally chose an English farce instead. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Scholl and Karamazov at Wigmore Hall

John Dowland Behold a wonder here
Thomas Campion My sweetest Lesbia, let us live and love
John Dowland Come away, come sweet love
Edin Karamazov Lute improvisations
John Dowland I saw my Lady weep
In darkness let me dwell
Time stands still

Edin Karamazov Lute improvisations
John Dowland Can she excuse my wrongs
Say, love if ever thou didst find
Now, O now I needs must part

George Frideric Handel Cantata: Nel dolce tempo HWV135
Edin Karamazov Lute improvisations on Bach
AnonDown by the Salley Gardens
I am a poor wayfaring stranger
O Waly Waly
Leo Brouwer Balada de un dia de julio

Andreas Scholl, countertenor
Edin Karamazov, lute

Wigmore Hall, London, 30 June 2016
This was familiar repertoire from Andreas Scholl, and the evening had a certain cosiness before a warmly attentive Wigmore audience.

Andreas Scholl and Edin Karamazov
In many ways the lute improvisations of Edin Karamazov were the spice that kept it going.  Inward, delicate and flexible, these culminated in an adaptation of the C Major cello suite of Bach.

Scholl is a wonder to listen to, with a purity of tone and delivery that in the Wigmore acoustic had its perfect match.  It worked best in the folk songs towards the end.  He is not overly dramatic, and there was a hint of sameness with each passing piece.  Each given the Scholl treatment.

So an evening that did not quite add up to more than its parts.  But very fine parts they were.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Karita Mattila a knockout in Janáček

Leos Janáček: Jenůfa opera (1904)

Adriana Kohútková soprano, Jenufa
Karita Mattila soprano, Kostelnicka Buryjovka
Jaroslav Brezina tenor, Steva Buryja
Ales Briscein tenor, Laca Klemen
Svatopluk Sem baritone, Stárek (foreman)
Yvona Skvárová mezzo-soprano, Starenka Buryjovka (grandmother)
Lucie Silkenová mezzo-soprano, Karolka
Ludek Vele bass, Rychtár (mayor)
Jana Hrochová mezzo-soprano, Rychtárka (mayor's wife)
Marta Reichelová soprano, Jano
Katerina Jalovcová mezzo-soprano, Pastuchyna (herdswoman)
Katerina Kneziková soprano, Barena (servant girl)
Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno
Czech Philharmonic
Jirí Bélohlávek conductor

Royal Festival Hall, London, 18 April 2016

Leos Janacek
How well the music comes to life in these concert performances.  Janacek composed a vivid score for this dark tale of love, death and winter set in a Moravian village.  It is equal parts dramatic and lyrical and Behohlavek ensured both were given their due.  The Czech Philharmonic were in fine form projecting detail throughout and careful not to overwhelm the singers in the big moments. 

There was drama in the casting.  Adriana Kohutkova sang Jenufa, and excellently.  However at her side was one of the role's most famous exponents - Karita Mattila - but now singing the role of the Kostelnicka (step-mother).  Mattila was in full diva mode, not even acknowledging Kohutkova sitting next to her.  The central vocal quartet was completed by the strong voices of Jaroslav Brezina as the cynical Steva and the fine mix of yearning and discomfort of Ales Briscein's Laca.
Karita Mattila

In Act 1 the lyrical approach of the Czech's paid full dividends as the delightfully characterful writing came shining through.  In music in which idiomatic Czech language is essential, the Brno choir were ideal.

Mattila has a fabulous voice with a penetrating quality and a tone like stretched silk.   Presumably the role is still new to her as she was buried in the score at times.  But my goodness how she flattened the hall with the big Act 2 moments.  Having horribly drowned the child of Jenufa, she was totally compelling as the winter winds blew into the room, personal and moral anguish overwhelmed her and she felt the "icy hand of death, tearing at my heart".

Amid such emotion one forgave some irritations.  Non-existent or incomprehensible surtitles, and a curious reluctance for singers to relate to each other on even a basic level when the plot asked for it.  By the end Laca and Jenufa were finally making eye contact, as some happiness in the story was at last achieved.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Francois-Xavier Roth conducts Wagner, Berg, Mahler

Richard Wagner  Prelude to Act 1, Parsifal
Alban Berg  Seven Early Songs
Gustav Mahler  Symphony No. 5
London Symphony Orchestra
Camilla Tilling soprano
Francois-Xavier Roth conductor

Barbican Hall, London 21 January 2016


"After Romanticism" was the title of the concert, and certainly in the resonance-free acoustic of London's Barbican Hall, Parsifal had never sounded so abstract and modern.  Wagner's long musical lines of religious mysticism stepped abruptly into silence.  Not for the first time the excellence of the LSO strings was striking. 
Francois-Xavier Roth

Berg followed, the words vividly interpreted by soprano Camilla Tilling even if she rarely projected her voice far into the hall.  And then to Mahler after the interval.  Roth writes of this period of the end of the 19th and start of 20th centuries fascinating him and throughout this reading he seemed intent on emphasising the strangeness of Mahler's new sound world.  Written in 1901-2 this sprawling masterwork baffled contemporaries and Roth was inviting us back into that jarring first encounter.  

Organic dimensions were recessed and the sheer weirdness of the orchestration at for example the close of the second movement, was striking.  This is a personal favourite amongst Mahler's uneven symphonic output, but I found myself with sacrilegious thoughts.  Surely 10 minutes could be cut from the Scherzo and not be missed?  Does the finale really work, and doesn't it also carry a lot of fat?  

At the crucial adagietto, it was all a bit calculating for this love poem.  At the climax Roth's baton-less hands flailed at the air, part Stokowski, part claws.  It was a visual counterpart to a moment that wanted a more delicate approach. 

So a night of mixed results.  But Roth is clearly a conductor of strong ideas, and with the LSO strings on majestic form this night will linger in the mind.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Patricia Petibon lives it up at Wigmore Hall

Patricia Petibon soprano 
Susan Manoff piano

Recital: "La Belle Excentrique"

Songs and piano solos by: 
Reynaldo Hayn
Erik Satie
Manuel Rosenthal
Gabriel Faure
Francis Poulenc
Fernando J Obradors
Manuel de Falla
Joaquin Turina
Joseph Canteloube
Leonard Bernstein
George Gershwin
Agustín Lara

Wigmore Hall, London, 16 December 2015


A pianist wearing an elephant nose?  A soprano in a chef's hat and apron?  Rubber ducks, balls and assorted ridiculous paraphenalia pulled out of the piano and flung into the well-heeled Wigmore audience?  This was not an ordinary song recital.

Patricia Petibon
Patricia Petibon was making her Wigmore Hall debut with a highly original programme of turn of the 20th century music.  The range was enormous from deeply felt and exquisitely realised laments, to fiery Spanish showpieces, to the gloriously eccentric creations of Satie and Rosenthal.  This in itself was bewildering for the audience as the tone went from high art to farce with hardly a break between. 

Petibon has a very fine voice, able to ripple and flutter through treachorous texts and fill the room with glorious ringing tones.  To this she adds a highly expressive face and a marvellous sense of fun.   How many times do we hear and see the ironic creations of Erik Satie given straight-laced;  the humour po-faced; apart from a smirk at the end from the performer the demeanour little different from if it was a Hugo Wolf recital.

Petibon and her partner in crime Manoff would have none of this.   The culmination was in a fabulous performance of Leonard Bernstein's setting of La Bonne Cuisine - a cookery book totally not intended to be song lyrics.  Bernstein's setttings of Plum Pudding, Ox-tails and Rabbit were savoured, relished.  Was this a recital, or a student revue, or old fashioned cabaret?

Petibon is a true original and let's hope we see more of her in London.  Until then anyone unfamilar with her art could do no better than her wonderful performance on an Opus Arte DVD with Les Arts Florrisants in Rameau's Les Indes Galante.  

Friday, 10 July 2015

Prague Spring 2015 - Mahler Symphony No. 3

Mahler: Symphony No. 3

Czech Philharmonic

Jiří Bělohlávek, conductor

Smetana Hall, Prague, 22 May 2015 


The Prague Spring music festival is an institution in the Czech capital and it was a privilege to hear the resurgent Czech Philharmonic orchestra in the marvellously resonant Smetana Hall.  

The Smetana Hall in Prague
After the fall of communism the orchestra’s quality had dwindled, but Jiri Belohlavek has masterminded the turnaround in the fortunes of the Czech Phil since he took it over again in 20012.  It is of course famous for its Czech music – Dvorak, Smetana, Janacek  - but its qualities also well suited this night’s programme of Mahler’s Third Symphony.

Jiří Bělohlávek

The mighty Third is written on a massive scale of 6 movements, with depictions of the natural and spiritual world at its core.  The creamy strings were a glory to listen to when they led the soaring melodies of the first and last movements. 

The primal nature of the eruptions in the first movement were also particularly arresting in this hall which has a wooden floor on the first floor up within the town hall complex.  The brass sound loomed up from the back of the orchestra and together with the percussion created a vibration that could be felt coming up through the legs of your seat.

Only the off-stage horn solo was not entirely achieved in the Scherzo.  The on-stage string sound was heavy and obscured the distant calls.  However Belohlavek’s interpretation was assured throughout, and very satisfying at its conclusion. 

Steinbach am Attersee, Austria where Mahler wrote some of the Third Symphony

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Brahms from Budapest

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Overture, The Magic Flute 
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K.271 
Johannes Brahms: Symphony No.1

Budapest Festival Orchestra 
Iván Fischer conductor 
Maria João Pires piano

Royal Festival Hall, London, 20 May 2015

Maria Joao Pires
This fantastic orchestra again brought an enormously cultured and intelligent programme to London’s Royal Festival Hall.

The opening Magic Flute overture of Mozart set the bar high.  The interpretation was detailed and well prepared.  Phrases were rounded with care, and sonorities were rich without losing the essential lightness of touch that this work requires.

With Maria Joao Pires as soloist in the Mozart 9th concerto there was never going to be a turn towards heaviness after the overture.  Pires draws you in, her simplicity of utterance feeling almost radical. In the chamber-like interplay between soloist and orchestra in the last movement Pires and Fisher were in their element; fine musicians, totally engaged in the score.  Her luminous encore from Schumann's Waldszenen rounded off her performance in true Pires fashion: eloquent, humble, haunting.

If one was to have any doubts about the exalted nature of the evening, it was the Brahms First Symphony that provided them.  Fisher and the Budapest players have a thoroughly considered view of this score.  Each phrase and detail was placed within an overall arc to the interpretation.  These are the kind of qualities you get from a Mariss Jansons or Krystian Zimerman also.  However there was a nagging suspicion that for all its sonic beauty and sculpted phrases and paragraphs, the last movement lacked a sense of abandonment when required.  Can surging excitement in music be so carefully prepared?

The encore was just wonderful.  The musicians put down their instruments and began to swap positions.  It then became clear the men and women were dividing into two halves standing around the conductor’s podium.  Fisher then directed the orchestra – now a choir – in an a capella Brahms motet.  The Budapest Festival Orchestra never fail to delight.