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ORA Singers, founder & artistic director Suzi Digby, has been a prolific commissioner of new music since the vocal ensemble's founding in 2016 and on Saturday 27 July 2019 at King's College, London they will extend this further with the final of the vocal ensemble's first composition competition.

The competition is in two parts, an Open Competion (open to all) and the Youth Competition (which is open only to secondary state-school pupils). At the final on Saturday, Suzi Digby will conduct ORA Singers in 13 new pieces, three finalists for the Open Competition, Joel Jarventausta, Áine Mallon and Ben See, and ten finalists for the Youth Competition. The results will be judged by a distinguished panel consisting of Stephen Fry, Susanna Eastburn (chief executive of Sound and Music), composer John Rutter and Katia Tearle (director of new music at Edition Peter).

The ten youth finalists were chosen to receive 10 hours of one-to-one mentoring each from ORA-commissioned composers, have their works workshopped with ORA singers and write a new work to be performed in the Competition Final Concert. ORA particularly wanted to target young people who it felt might not have the opportunity, either at school or at home, to receive support in writing music, and wanted to give them a platform to compose and have their music heard. The three Open Finalists and ten Youth Finalists have all been asked to write a reflection of a Renaissance choral masterpiece, something that ORA regularly asks of its commissioned composers.

Finalists:
OPEN COMPETITION
Joel Jarventausta
Áine Mallon
Ben See

YOUTH COMPETITION
Patrick Lappin (17, Lurgan College, Northern Ireland)
Hannah Beech (17, Loreto Sixth Form College, Denton)
Edward Atkin ( 15, Millthorpe School, York)
Emily Pedersen (17, St John Fisher Catholic High School, Harrogate)
Katie Styles (11, Wycombe Girl's High School, Maidenhead)
Louis Wild (17, Prudhoe Community High School, Wylam)
Laura Fitzgerald (17, Kesgrave High School Sixth Form, Kesgrave)
Joshua Wheldon (17, North Hykeham Joint, Sixth Form College, Thurlby)
Ben Gilchrist (15, Pate's Grammar School, Cheltenham)
Yuvraj Sethia (17, The Priory Academy LSST)

Full details from the ORA Singers website.
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Dvorak: Violin Concerto - Joshua Bell, Bamberg Symphony, Jakub Hrůša - BBC Proms (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Dvořák Violin Concerto, Smetana, Má vlast; Joshua Bell, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Jakub Hrůša; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 20 July 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A colourful celebration of a nation’s landscape, history and identity, Má vlast, truly sums up the spirit and defiance of the Czech people for independence

Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, composed in 1879, lies to a certain extent in the shadow of the composer’s Cello Concerto in B minor, composed in 1894-95. Although a much-loved part of the repertoire, the judgement of history certainly favours the Cello Concerto, the last solo concerto by Dvořák and written for his good friend, Hanuš Wihan.

Premièred by the English cellist, Leo Stern, in London in March 1896, it’s one of the most-frequently performed of all cello concerti and it’s admired for the richness of its orchestral music and for the lyrical writing for the solo instrument. The Violin Concerto, on the other hand, was premièred in Prague in 1883 by František Ondříček who also gave the London and Vienna premières.

Be that as it may, I really have no preference and like both works equally well and after the virtuosic, dazzling and flawless performance of delivered by Joshua Bell, hopefully, this has helped towards levelling history.Joshua Bell, who made his Carnegie Hall début in 1985 at the age 17 and a big favourite at the Proms, performed at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday 20 July 2019 with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Brno-born Czech conductor, Jakub Hrůša in a concert which paired Dvořák’s Violin Concerto with Smetana's Má vlast.

Effortlessly playing a ‘Huberman’ Stradivari violin dating from 1713, Mr Bell took four thunderous curtain-calls and returned the audience’s favour by playing an encore with the leader of the orchestra Ilian Garnetz and the leader of the viola section, Lois Landswerk, a lovely and melodious romance by the man of the moment, Antonín Leopold Dvořák.

The concert was billed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Freddie Mercury quickly sprang to mind!) and to this end the second half was dedicated to that great, powerful and nationalistic work by Smetana, Má vlast (My homeland), a set of six symphonic poems composed between 1874 and 1879.

Smetana combined the symphonic poem form in Má vlast - a colourful celebration of a nation’s landscape, history and identity - pioneered by the likes of Franz Liszt with the ideals of nationalistic music currently running high in the late 19th century. Each poem depicts some aspect of the countryside, history or legends of Bohemia.

Originally, the six pieces were conceived as individual works and they received separate premières between 1875 and 1880. The première of the complete set, however, took place on 5th November 1882 in Žofín Palace, Prague, under Adolf Čech.

Although extracts from Má vlast had featured at the Proms since 1902 it was not until 2011 that all six component symphonic poems were given in sequence in a single concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra directed by its then chief conductor and Czech national, Jiří Bělohlávek.

Therefore, I guess, opportunities to hear Má vlast in its entirety do not come up that often so it proved good programming and equally good programming, I felt, pairing the work with Dvořák’s Violin Concerto.

Inspired by Czech history and mythology, Ma vlast is virtually stamped in the DNA of the Czech nation. Today you’ll even hear the main motif from the first poem, ‘Vyšehrad’ (Upper Castle), a historic fort located in Prague, bleeped out before every announcement in Prague Central railway-station. An avid train traveller, I must listen more carefully when I’m next there!

The second poem ‘Vltava’ (Moldau) contains Smetana’s most famous tune of all and Maestro Hrůša and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra excelled in communicating to a packed and excited house the life, sounds and flow of one of Bohemia’s greatest rivers, highlighted in the poem, meandering through woods and meadows before swirling into St John’s Rapids onward towards Prague and majestically vanishing into the distance ending at the river Labe (the Elbe).

Arguably, Smetana's most famous tune ‘Vltava’ - an adaptation of the melody ‘La Mantovana’ - is attributed to the Italian tenor, Giuseppe Cenci. The tune also appears in an old Czech folk-song, ‘Kočka leze dírou’ (The Cat Crawls Through the Hole) and even tenor-sax jazz superstar, Stan Getz, got into the act by performing it as ‘Dear Old Stockholm’.

From the lesser gems of Ma vlast, the account of the ferocious Šárka, the mythical warrior-maiden of Bohemia (another Brünnhilde!) proved riveting listening while featuring a superbly seductive clarinet solo whilst in the last movement ‘Blaník’ - where the vanquished Czech heroes, led by St Wenceslas, lie asleep waiting their hour - an oboe jovially mimics a shepherd’s pipe.

All in all, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra delivered a superb and rewarding account of Má vlast under Maestro Hrůša that epitomised the feelings and accord of the Czech people for their homeland in one of the greatest and most romantic works of the 19th century composed by Bedřich Smetana (highly regarded as the father of Czech music) who pioneered the development of a musical style that became so closely identified with his country’s aspirations to independence.
Reviewed by Tony Cooper
 
Jakub Hrůša, Bamberg Symphony Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
The concert is available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • First NIght of the Proms: Janacek, Dvorak and Zosha Di Castri launch the 2019 BBC Proms (★★★★) - concert review
  • Leonardo Vinci's 1726 opera Siroe in its world premiere recording from the Teatro San Carlo, Naples (★★★½) - CD review
  • So who was Jean Louis Nicodé: piano music of beguiling charm from Simon Callaghan on Hyperion (★★★½) - CD review
  • To the max: from 40 to 60 parts in Striggio's mass from the Armonico Consort and choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge  - cd review
  • The Belgian ensemble Vox Luminis brings its residency at Wigmore Hall to an end with Bach's complete motets  (★★★★½) - concert review
  • 'Slightly bonkers', I chat to conductor Ben Woodward about Fulham Opera's forthcoming performances of Die Meistersinger - interview
  • Tautly dramatic: Ivo van Hove's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Paris Opera's Palais Garnier - (★★★★) opera review
  • La forza del destino: Verdi's sprawling masterpiece in a highly picturesque production at the Paris Opera - (★★★★) opera review
  • A real delight: Handel's Rival queen's brought to life (★★★★) - cd review
  • A Rachmaninov Drama - Scenes from a Love Affair: Sofia Fomina, Roderick Williams, Nicholas Drake at Temple Song (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Music may not make you smarter, but we now know that music engagement sustained from childhood into adolescence may lead to doing better in high school - feature article
  • A first opera, opening the Cheltenham Music Festival & the RLPO's 2019/20 season: I chat to composer Dani Howard - interview
  • Contemplative beauty: London premiere of Ian Venables' new Requiem with Victory Ely and Evoke (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Thrilling: Berlioz' La damnation de Faust in a new production by Richard Jones at Glyndebourne (★★★★★)  - opera review
  • Weaving their magic: Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt's From the ground up: the chaconne (★★★★★)  - CD review
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Rostropovich, Oistrakh, Britten and Shostakovich during the
festival of British music in Moscow. March 1963
On Wednesday 17 July 2019 a new orchestra was launched, the Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra. Inspired by the friendship of two composers, the Russian Dmitri Shostakovich and the British Benjamin Britten, the orchestra will bring together talented young musicians from Russia and from Britain, performing in both countries during September 2019. The orchestra has been created by the conductor Jan-Lathan Koenig, who is the artistic director of Novaya Opera in Moscow, the only Briton to lead a Russian cultural organisation.

The eighty six musicians from conservatoires in London, Cardiff, Glasgow, Moscow, St Petersburg and Rostov will come together for the first time in September 2019 for a week's residency in Sochi, and will then perform in Russia and in Moscow. The orchestra's repertoire will mix Russian and British music including Shostakovich's Jazz Suite and his score to Hamlet, alongside Britten's Four Sea Interludes and music by Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Elgar and RVW. Whilst the suite from Hamlet will be performed in some places, in London and Nottingham, Jan-Latham Koenig has created a new version which interweaves speeches from Shakespeare's play, performed by Edward Fox and Freddie Fox, with Shostakovich's music. For two concerts in Russia the orchestra will be joined by the choir of Novaya Opera to perform Shostakovich's Symphonic Poem 'Execution of Stepan Razin'.

Participation will be free to the young musicians involved, with support being provided by BP and Rosneft. The orchestra has been founded to mark the 2019 Year of Music, a bilateral collaboration between the UK and Russia, but it is hoped that the orchestra will form a legacy beyond 2019, to create a dynamic cultural collaboration centred on an orchestra of great excellence.

Over 300 people were auditioned for places in the orchestra, and the resulting orchestra has 50 women and 37 men, with 35 from the UK and 52 from Russia, with an age range of 18 to 28.

The Britten Shostakovich Festival Orchestra is on tour to Russia and to Britain from 9 to 25 September 2019, full details from the orchestra's website.
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Alma Mahler in the garden of her house
in Venice in 1929
Oltre il giardino (Beyond the Garden) is a hotel in Venice based in a house once belonged to Alma Mahler (she lived there in the 1920s, partly because it did have a garden). The hotel's English title Beyond the Garden has now given its name to a new opera by composer Stephen McNeff and librettist Aoife Mannix which is partly inspired by Alma Mahler and her relationship with her daugther Manon Gropius (who died from polio, contracted whilst staying with her mother in Venice, at the age of 18).

Beyond the Garden is a work in progress, whose premiere takes place in June 2020 in Ljubljana, Slovenia, by Slovenian Chamber Music Theatre (SKGG) with Susan Bickley and Kaja Konvalinka singing the leading roles of Ottilia and Klara. Yesterday (19 July 2019), McNeff presented a fascinating workshop on the new opera, with Susan Bickley and Kaja Konvalinaka performing extracts from it, accompanied by Simon Dvorsak (piano), John Slack (clarinet) and Sophie Mather (violin).

McNeff described the piece as a ghost story, and Mannix's libretto took a reverse chronology, starting with 1964 (the year of the Ottilia/Alma Mahler character's death) and ending with 1935 (the year of the Klara/Manon Gropius character's death), throughout the relationship between the two is explored. It is about the past, how we remember it and how we create our own image of it.

Developing new opera is always challenging, and McNeff and Mannix wanted to present their work-in-progress to a small audience in order to provoke discussion about the opera and its development. Key issues that came out of the discussion were quite how explicit the link to Alma Mahler should be, should we realise this at all, quite how clear the relationship between the two characters should be, and quite who or what the Klara character was.

There was a lively discussion, and clearly McNeff and Mannix have plenty of food for thought in their development of what promises to be a striking piece of music theatre.

Stephen McNeff's previous operas have included Vivienne, about T.S. Eliot's first wife [see my review, and also on CD] and Banished, based on Steven Gooch's play about the first women transported to Australia, Female Transport [see my review].
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Zosha Di Castri: Long Is the Journey - Short Is the Memory
Karina Canellakis, BBC Symphony Orchestra - BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
(Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Zosha Di Castri Long is the Hourney, Short is the Memory, Antonin Dvorak The Golden Spinning Wheel, Leos Janacek Glagolitic Mass; Asmik Grigorian, Jennifer Johnston, LAdislav Elgr, Jan Martinik, Peter Holder, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Karina Canellakis; BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 July 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A rousing and historic start to the 2019 BBC Proms season

Janacek: Glagolitic Mass - Ladislav Elgr, Karina Canellakis,
BBC Symphony OrchestraBBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
(Photo Chris Christodoulou)
The young American conductor Karina Canellakis made history as the first woman to conduct the First Night of the Proms last night (19 July 2019) as she conducted the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall with soloists Asmik Grigorian (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo-soprano), Ladislav Elgr (tenor), Jan Martinik (bass) and Peter Holder (organ) in Zosha Di Castri's Long is the Journey, Short Is the Memory (the world premiere of a BBC commission), Antonin Dvorak's The Golden Spinning Wheel and Leos Janacek's Glagolitic Mass.

Canadian composer Zosha Di Castri's new piece had been commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing almost to the day (on 20 July 1969). The work used a large symphony orchestra (including triple woodwind, five horns, four trumpets, tuba and three percussion), plus the BBC Singers, and Di Castri interwove three diverse texts, extracts from Giacomo Leopardi's 1820 Italian poem Alla luna, fragments of the Ancient Greek poet Sappho (in English) and a recent text by Chinese-British writer Xiaolu Guo which references the 1969 Moon landing, the legend of the Chinese goddess of the Moon and the recent Chinese exploration of the far side of the Moon, resulting in a complex multi-layered work which perhaps tried a little too hard to fit too much into its 15 minute duration. Di Castri certainly created a series of striking textures, from the shimmering, glittering over deep bass notes of the opening to busier more vivid moments, she has strong ear for imaginative timbres. Perhaps if the BBC Singers' diction had been somewhat clearer, maybe the work needs a rather larger choir than this, but there were too many moments when the choir contribution was a somewhat distant eerie evocation. On first hearing, the piece did not always read structurally, though Canellakis drew superb performances from her performers.

The programme was very much an evening of 'novelties', with Zosha Di Castri's world premiere being followed by the first Proms performance of Dvorak's tone poem The Golden Spinning Wheel, and Janacek's mass which is one of the 30 works being celebrated in this year's Proms as being 'novelties' introduced to the UK by Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms.

The Golden Spinning Wheel is one of a group of tone poems which Dvorak wrote in 1896 on his return to his native Bohemia after his period in New York as director of the National Conservatory. It is a long piece, around 30 minutes, which narrates quite closely the folk tale as told in the ballad by 19th century Bohemian poet Karel Jaromir Erben. Dvorak's orchestral writing successfully evokes the world the folk tale with the hunting, horse-riding prince, the seductively spinning young woman and the evil step-mother (cue some striking orchestral writing), but by keeping so closely to the narrative detail rather than more generally evoking the themes, Dvorak left himself little time for development and the result at times seemed a series of short breathed episodes. Canellakis drew fine playing from the orchestra, lovingly creating Dvorak's colourful and beautiful writing.

Janacek: Glagolitic Mass - Jennifer Johnston, Asmik Grigorian,
BBC Symphony Orchestra- BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall
(Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Janacek's Glagolitic Mass was premiered in 1928, but has a somewhat complex textual history with Janacek having to hastily revise (simplify) the work just prior to the premiere. Canellakis opted for the final published version from 1930, but previous BBC Proms outing of the work have explored the re-constructions of Janacek's more complex first thoughts. However, in all its forms the work remains an immense challenge with Janacek's vocal and instrumental writing taking no prisoners. It is noticeable that in the last 30 years, Western European choirs and orchestras have become more accustomed to Janacek's style and the writing in the Glagolitic Mass no longer feels quite on the edge of the possible. In fact, one of the features of this BBC Proms performance under Karina Canellakis' direction was how beautifully the work was shaped and performed. Some of the most notorious choral passages were not simply negotiated by the BBC Symphony Chorus, but sung musically and expressively. And the same goes for the soloists, particularly Ladislav Elgr who sang the taxing high tenor part in a way which made it seem the most natural outpouring of religious expression.

Canellakis seemed to take quite a symphonic view of the work, this was beautifully shaped and highly expressive. The radiant sound of the choir and orchestra in the 'Gospodi pomliluj' (Lord have mercy) was magical, and throughout she created beauty out of Janacek's cragginess. Thanks to the finely technical expertise of the performers, this was a highly sophisticated experience. Perhaps I slightly missed the sheer perverse rawness of some performances, the sense of communal struggle. Janacek's image of an immense natural cathedral seemed to have been if not tamed perhaps somewhat tidied. More importantly, I did not always feel the intensity of the meaning of the work, whilst Janacek was not necessarily a conventional believer nor is the mass a straightforward liturgical work, but it is certainly about belief and about God. This did not always come across, and for all the many choral beauties it did not feel as if the chorus meant every note and word, and it should.

The soloists are variously challenged in the piece. Asmik Grigorian sang with plangent beauty, making Janacek's lines radiant without ever quite convincing that the text meant very much to her. Jennifer Johnston, in the short mezzo-soprano part, was wonderfully expressive and trenchant, and I have only the greatest admiration for tenor Ladislav Elgr. Jan Martinik, stepping in as bass soloist at the last minute, sang the bass part almost from memory and made every note seem as if he really meant it. Organist Peter Holder was simply dazzling, in Janacek’s outrageous solo moments for organ, making the Royal Albert Hall organ move with great dexterity.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Leonardo Vinci's 1726 opera Siroe in its world premiere recording from the Teatro San Carlo, Naples (★★★½) - CD review
  • So who was Jean Louis Nicodé: piano music of beguiling charm from Simon Callaghan on Hyperion (★★★½) - CD review
  • To the max: from 40 to 60 parts in Striggio's mass from the Armonico Consort and choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge  - cd review
  • The Belgian ensemble Vox Luminis brings its residency at Wigmore Hall to an end with Bach's complete motets  (★★★★½) - concert review
  • 'Slightly bonkers', I chat to conductor Ben Woodward about Fulham Opera's forthcoming performances of Die Meistersinger - interview
  • Tautly dramatic: Ivo van Hove's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Paris Opera's Palais Garnier - (★★★★) opera review
  • La forza del destino: Verdi's sprawling masterpiece in a highly picturesque production at the Paris Opera - (★★★★) opera review
  • A real delight: Handel's Rival queen's brought to life (★★★★) - cd review
  • A Rachmaninov Drama - Scenes from a Love Affair: Sofia Fomina, Roderick Williams, Nicholas Drake at Temple Song (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Music may not make you smarter, but we now know that music engagement sustained from childhood into adolescence may lead to doing better in high school - feature article
  • A first opera, opening the Cheltenham Music Festival & the RLPO's 2019/20 season: I chat to composer Dani Howard - interview
  • Contemplative beauty: London premiere of Ian Venables' new Requiem with Victory Ely and Evoke (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Thrilling: Berlioz' La damnation de Faust in a new production by Richard Jones at Glyndebourne (★★★★★)  - opera review
  • Weaving their magic: Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt's From the ground up: the chaconne (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • 1920's era silent films forms the inspiration for Adele Thomas' production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in the stylish new theatre at Nevill Holt Opera (★★★★) - opera review
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Nevill Holt Theatre, photo Robert Workman
Completed last year, the new theatre at Nevill Holt within the historic stables (replacing a temporary structure) is the home of Nevill Holt Opera, and the new building has transformed the potential of the young opera company [see my interview with Nicholas Chalmers, artistic director of Nevill Holt Opera, and my review of the production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte there this year]. Now the theatre has been shortlisted for the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize.

The new theatre was designed by Stirling Prize winning architects Witherford Watson Mann and theatre designers Sound Space Vision, built by Messenger BCR and supported by the David Ross Foundation. It joins a shortlist which includes London Bridge Station, the Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience, The Weston at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Cork House and Goldsmith Street (full details from the RIBA website). The announcement of the winner of the 2019 RIBA Stirling Prize will be made on 8 October 2019.
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Leonardo Vinci Siroe, Re di Persia; Carlo Alemano, Leslie Visco, Roberta invernizzi, Cristina Alunno, Daniela Salvo, orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Antonio Florio; DYNAMIC Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 16 July 2019 Star rating: 3.0 (★★★)
A milestone, the first recording of the first setting of Metastasio's important second opera libretto, in a creditable performance which may not engage the casual listener

Leonardo Vinci is one of the Italian composers from the generation younger than Handel who continued the art of Italian opera in Italy. It is only relatively recently that Vinci's operas have started to appear on disc, and for performers to get to grips with them.

This new set from Dynamic is the first recording of Leonardo Vinci's Siroe setting a libretto by Metastasio. It is very much a collaboration between period and modern performance, it is presented by the Teatro San Carlo in Naples with the orchestra of the theatre conducted by Antonio Florio (who created the edition of Siroe that is used) and the continuo provided by members of Florio's  Cappella Neapolitana ensemble. The cast features Carlo Alemanno as Cosroe, Leslie Visco as Medarse, Roberta Invernizzi as Elmira, Cristina Alunno as Siroe, Daniela Salvo as Laodice and Luca Cervoni as Arasse.

Vinci's Siroe was premiered in 1726 in Venice, an extra at the end of the season as a result of the popularity of Vinci's previous opera. Siroe was Metastasio's second opera seria, and Metastasio thought enough of it to revise it more than once and to include one of the revised versions in his collected works. Vinci's was the first setting, with Giovanni Porta, Porpora, Sarra, Vivaldi and Handel following. It was Handel's first setting of Metastasio, and it is through this filter that we tend to view Metastasio. The encounters between Handel and Metastasio do not rank amongst the greatest of Handel's operas, and the sheer length of Metastasian libretti can be understood when you learn that for Handel's setting the 1284 lines of Metstasio's libretto were reduced to half and still left an opera long by Handelian standards.

The plot involves the complex dynastic and family dynamics of King Cosroe who has two sons, the noble (and impossibly moral) Siroe and the less admirable Medarse. Things are complicated by love triangles. Emira the daughter of one of Siroe's enemies is at court disguised as a man, Idaspe, plotting revenge on Cosroe but whom Siroe loves and whose identity he does not reveal. Laodice is loved by the King but she loves Siroe. The trick is to persuade us that these rather self-regarding people actually matter.

I don't feel that the cast quite succeeds in this, though the singing is entirely creditable, and not all the arias rise up and capture the attention. Listening to this set, you are aware of quite how much recitative there is; Winton Dean describes a Metstasian libretto like reading a novel. Having a group of Italian speaking singers on this recording is a great advantage and the recitative certainly rattles along. The problem is that it does not quite have the vividness of the Handel opera performances based on a run of stage performances such as those from the Gottingen Handel Festival (Handel's Siroe is available in a 2014 recording from the festival). The drama here never seems to quite grip, and given the complexity and rarified nature of Metastasio's plot there are a few moments when you think, why are we bothering with these people?

Tenor Carlo Alemanno sings music from Monteverdi to Verdi and his voice sounds admirably non-specialist. He has some fine moments as Cosroe notably his Act 3 aria when he regrets having Siroe put to death (luckily the order was not carried out). The treacherous Medarse, played by soprano Leslie Visco, gets the terrific aria which closes Act One. Simply a simile aria about rays of good fortune in a storm, it does not say much about character or plot but Visco brings it over well. Roberta Invernizzi plays Elmira who is disguised as Idaspe and bent on revenge on Cosroe. Her fine aria at the end of Act Two articulates her dilemma between hating Cosroe and loving his son. Siroe is impossibly noble, and difficult to bring of but Cristina Alunno does her best. Daniela Salvo is poor Laodice who si torn between Cosroe and Siroe. Her powerful Act 3 aria arises when Cosroe refuses to let her plead for Siroe's life. Luca Cervoni is the general Arasse whose refusal of Cosroe's order to kill Siroe makes you think that he may be the only rational person on the disc.

To get this important opera on disc is a notable milestone, and that it is a collaboration with a regular Italian opera house rather than from a specialist group is entirely admirable. This will be of great interest to those keen on Italian opera from the Baroque, and a milestone in the exploration of settings of Metastasio's librettos. But I am not sure that the performance will seduce or engage the casual listener, nor explain the opera's original success.

Leonardo Vinci (1690-1737) - Siroe, Re di Persia
Cosroe - Carlo Alemanno
Medarse - Leslie Visco
Elmira - Roberta Invernizzi
Siroe - Cristina Alunno
Laodice - Daniela Salvo
Arasse - Luca Cervoni
Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples
Antonio Florio (conductor)
Recorded Live in 2018
DYNAMIC CDS7838.03 3CDs [63.32, 55.51, 39.19]

Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • So who was Jean Louis Nicodé: piano music of beguiling charm from Simon Callaghan on Hyperion (★★★½) - CD review
  • To the max: from 40 to 60 parts in Striggio's mass from the Armonico Consort and choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge  - cd review
  • The Belgian ensemble Vox Luminis brings its residency at Wigmore Hall to an end with Bach's complete motets  (★★★★½) - concert review
  • 'Slightly bonkers', I chat to conductor Ben Woodward about Fulham Opera's forthcoming performances of Die Meistersinger - interview
  • Tautly dramatic: Ivo van Hove's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Paris Opera's Palais Garnier - (★★★★) opera review
  • La forza del destino: Verdi's sprawling masterpiece in a highly picturesque production at the Paris Opera - (★★★★) opera review
  • A real delight: Handel's Rival queen's brought to life (★★★★) - cd review
  • A Rachmaninov Drama - Scenes from a Love Affair: Sofia Fomina, Roderick Williams, Nicholas Drake at Temple Song (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Music may not make you smarter, but we now know that music engagement sustained from childhood into adolescence may lead to doing better in high school - feature article
  • A first opera, opening the Cheltenham Music Festival & the RLPO's 2019/20 season: I chat to composer Dani Howard - interview
  • Contemplative beauty: London premiere of Ian Venables' new Requiem with Victory Ely and Evoke (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Thrilling: Berlioz' La damnation de Faust in a new production by Richard Jones at Glyndebourne (★★★★★)  - opera review
  • Weaving their magic: Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt's From the ground up: the chaconne (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • 1920's era silent films forms the inspiration for Adele Thomas' production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in the stylish new theatre at Nevill Holt Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Lively detail and strong character: Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden, with Christian Gerhaher's role debut as Figaro (★★★★½) - opera review
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The current crop of Samling Academy Singers will be presenting their programme, Come into the Garden in a series of concerts at The Witham in Barnard Castle (20 July), Saltburn Community Theatre (24 July) and the Sage Gateshead (26 July). 

Accompanied by Samling Artist pianist Ian Tindale, the performances will be semi-staged directed by Samling Artist Miranda Wright and follows an imaginary garden through the natural cycle of the days and seasons, with songs by Fauré, Mahler, Schumann, Wolf, Grainger, Walton, Richard Rodney Bennett, Frank Bridge, Orlando Gibbons, Walton, Howells and Bernstein. The music will be interspersed with readings and poetry, including extracts from Katherine Swift’s best-selling garden book The Morville Hours which contributed to the vision behind this programme.

With no conservatoire between Manchester and Glasgow, talented young singers in the North East of England had previously been unable to access to high-level vocal training. The Academy was established to fill that gap and encourage young people in the region to nurture their musical abilities. The Academy provides training and performance opportunities for 30 young singers each year who are growing up or studying in the North East. Samling Academy is led by international professional artists and coaches including Samling Artists who return to teach the next generation.

Full details from the Samling website.
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Jean Louis Nicodé Ein Liebesleben & other piano works; Simon Callaghan; Hyperion Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 4 July 2019 Star rating: 3.5 (★★★)
With a beguiling charm these piano pieces evoke earlier styles

Until I came across this enterprising disc from pianist Simon Callaghan on Hyperion, I had never heard of Jean Louis Nicodé. His limited claim to fame seems to be his arranging of the first movement of Chopin's abandoned third piano concerto. This disc, Ein Liebesleben, seems to be the first ever devoted to Nicodé's solo piano music and Callaghan gives us three substantial works, Andenken an Robert Schumann - Sechs Phantasiestücke Op.6, Variationene un Fuge über ein Originalthema Op. 18 and Ein Liebesleben - Zehn Poësien Op.22.

If you put the disc on cold, you might think that you have got the wrong composer as Andenken an Robert Schumann (dedicated 'most respectfully to Frau Dr. Clara Schumann') is 30 minutes of music evoking that of Robert Schumann.

So who was Jean Louis Nicodé.

Jean Louis Nicodé in 1906
Despite his name he was Prussian, born in 1853 new Posen, now Poznan in Poland but then in the Kingdom of Prussia. His father was wealthy, and an amateur violinist who on losing his fortune made a living as a musician in Berlin. From the age of eight Jean Louis studied violin with his father, going on to learn the piano and then to study at the Neue Akademie der Tonkunst in Berlin. He eventually moved to Dresden, married the daughter of the English Consul, became conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra and founded his own concert series. Championing new music, he gave premieres of works by Richard Strauss and Bruckner's Symphony No. 8. Yet his own music is relatively conservative. He wrote a number of mammoth orchestra works, but this disc is concerned with his smaller scale writing for solo piano.

Ein Liebesleben is a cycle of ten musical poems, each with a Schumannesque title, 'First meeting', 'Song of longing', 'Restless love'. Whilst never approaching pastiche, Jean Louis Nicodé 's music is full of references, Anton Rubinstein, Schumann, Schubert and Liszt, and it was to Liszt that I kept returning perhaps because that composer's transcriptions merged his own personality with another composer's.

The other work on the disc is the variations and fugue on an original theme, the theme is a haunting, elegiac one and the variations are very effective ending with a substantial and somewhat surprising fugue.

Jean Louis Nicodé's music is delightful, completely unconcerned over its stylistic plurality and highly effectively written for the piano. The movements of Ein Liebesleben, largely short, flow effortlessly as do the variations and Callaghan plays them all with some style.

The Cd booklet gives some valuable background to the composer and his works, but I failed to discover the composition dates of the various pieces.

This disc is a valuable complement to Hyperion's The Romantic Piano Concerto series, and two of Jean Louis Nicodé's teachers appear in the series, Theodor Kullak and Friedrich Kiel. Like some of these concertos, this disc reveals that music of late 19th century Germany was not all Wagner and Brahms, there is a charm and lightness here which beguiles even as you are aware deep down that the music might lack earnest substance.

Jean Louis Nicodé (1853-1919) - Andenken an Robert Schumann [32.37]
Jean Louis Nicodé - Variationen und Fuge uber ein Originalthema [22.30]
Jean Louis Nicodé - Ein Liebesleben [26.21]
Simon Callaghan (piano)
Recorded Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, 15-17 June 2018
HYPERION 1CD
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • To the max: from 40 to 60 parts in Striggio's mass from the Armonico Consort and choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge  - cd review
  • The Belgian ensemble Vox Luminis brings its residency at Wigmore Hall to an end with Bach's complete motets  (★★★★½) - concert review
  • 'Slightly bonkers', I chat to conductor Ben Woodward about Fulham Opera's forthcoming performances of Die Meistersinger - interview
  • Tautly dramatic: Ivo van Hove's new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Paris Opera's Palais Garnier - (★★★★) opera review
  • La forza del destino: Verdi's sprawling masterpiece in a highly picturesque production at the Paris Opera - (★★★★) opera review
  • A real delight: Handel's Rival queen's brought to life (★★★★) - cd review
  • A Rachmaninov Drama - Scenes from a Love Affair: Sofia Fomina, Roderick Williams, Nicholas Drake at Temple Song (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Music may not make you smarter, but we now know that music engagement sustained from childhood into adolescence may lead to doing better in high school - feature article
  • A first opera, opening the Cheltenham Music Festival & the RLPO's 2019/20 season: I chat to composer Dani Howard - interview
  • Contemplative beauty: London premiere of Ian Venables' new Requiem with Victory Ely and Evoke (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Thrilling: Berlioz' La damnation de Faust in a new production by Richard Jones at Glyndebourne (★★★★★)  - opera review
  • Weaving their magic: Hugo Ticciati and O/Modernt's From the ground up: the chaconne (★★★★★)  - CD review
  • 1920's era silent films forms the inspiration for Adele Thomas' production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in the stylish new theatre at Nevill Holt Opera (★★★★) - opera review
  • Lively detail and strong character: Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden, with Christian Gerhaher's role debut as Figaro (★★★★½) - opera review
  • Young Artists Performance of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Opera Holland Park - opera review
  • From Supersize Polyphony to choir creation: I chat to Christopher Monks of Armonico Consort - interview
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London Mozart Players
The Academy of St Martin in the Fields is just about to turn 60 and almost to the day the orchestra will be celebrating with a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 12 November 2019 when, directed from the violin by artistic director Joshua Bell the orchestra will perform a programme reflecting on its heritage including Mozart's Symphony No. 25, which features on the Academy’s soundtrack to the Oscar-winning film Amadeus, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E minor with Joshua Bell as soloist, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and the UK premiere of Composer-in-Residence Sally Beamish’s Hover which is dedicated to the memory of Sir Neville Marriner.

The Academy will also be performing the Beamish at Cambridge Music Festival (14 November 2019), and the Academy Chamber Ensemble return to the Wigmore Hall on 15 November with Mozart, Borodin and Dvorak. Further ahead Bell directs the Academy in Edinburgh in January in Bach, Schubert (the Mahler arrangement of the Death and the Maiden Quartet), and Piazzolla, and on tour to the USA in February. Other highlights include touring the Netherlands with clarinetist Jörg Widmann including Widmann's own Con brio.
Full details from the Academy's website.

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