Thursday, 15 August 2019

Martyn Brabbins celebrates his 60th in style - Prom 35

Composers of
Pictured Within: Birthday Variations for M. C. B.
with Martyn Brabbins
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Nadine Benjamin (soprano)
Idunnu Münch (mezzo-soprano)
William Morgan (tenor)
David Ireland (bass-baritone)

BBC Singers
ENO Chorus
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Martyn Brabbins (conductor)

Tuesday 13 August 2019, 7pm

BBC Prom 35

Royal Albert Hall, London

Martyn Brabbins
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Various: Pictured Within: Birthday Variations for M. C. B. (world premiere)

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958): Serenade to Music

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), Op. 54

Edward Elgar (1857-1934): Variations on an Original Theme ('Enigma'), Op. 36

Pictures Within:
'A fun celebration ... in which Brabbins and the BBC SSO players clearly took great delight'.

'The set could well stand as a concert companion for the Elgar in the future'.

Vaughan Williams:
'The choral forces produced a beautifully warm blend, and their pianissimo first entry was highly effective'.

'A taut performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations ... with no great surprises, ... just warmly and affectionately presented as they should be'.

Martyn Brabbins
© BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Mozart Requiem trumps the War of the Romantics for energy and drama - BBC Prom 26

Natalie Stutzmann, BBC NOW
© Chris Christodoulou

Fatma Said (soprano)
Kathryn Rudge (mezzo-soprano)
Sunnyboy Dladla (tenor)
David Shipley (bass)

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
BBC National Chorus of Wales
Natalie Stutzmann (conductor)

Wednesday 7 August 2019, 7pm

BBC Prom 26

Royal Albert Hall, London

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Tragic Overture, Op. 81

Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Tristan und Isolde, Prelude & Liebestod (orchestral version)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), compl. Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803) and others: Requiem in D minor, K626
Fatma Said, Kathryn Rudge, Sunnyboy Dladla,
David Shipley, BBC National Chorus of Wales
© Chris Christodoulou 

'Stutzmann’s approach highlighted (the) differences, with a strong sense of control in the Brahms, and a slow build to a very expansive climax in the Wagner'.

'The absolute star by far of the evening, however, was the BBC National Chorus of Wales (five stars for them!)'.

BBC National Chorus of Wales:
'They performed with conviction, impeccable tuning and precision throughout'.

'The chorus impressed with their stamina and full-on energy to the final chord'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Impressive and inspiring Anglo-American cooperation - BBC Prom 6

Edward Gardner
© Chris Christodoulou

James Ehnes (violin)
Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music and The Juilliard School
Edward Gardner (conductor)

Monday 22 July, 7.30 pm

BBC Prom 6

Royal Albert Hall, London

Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b.1977): Metacosmos (UK premiere)

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): Violin Concerto, Op. 15

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Andante, from Sonata in A minor for solo violin, BWV1003

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971): The Rite of Spring

Oliver Knussen (1952-2018): Flourish with Fireworks, Op. 22

Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Edward Gardner
& the Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music
The Julliard School
© Chris Christodoulou
'A remarkable piece, showing such command of large orchestral forces ... unsettlingly moving'.

'Ehnes held the Royal Albert Hall rapt ... he delivered the preceding Scherzo with flourish and a dancing step'.

'Gardner marshalled forces for the final onslaught and elicited a wild, terrifying final sacrificial dance from the massed orchestral forces'.

'The combined student forces demonstrated considerable virtuosic command to conclude an impressive night’s performance'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Energy and virtuosity from VOCES8 in an impressive Proms debut - Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 1

© Andy Staples


Monday 22 July, 2019, 1pm
Cadogan Hall, London

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): Spiritus sanctus vivicans vita
Pérotin (fl c.1200): Viderunt omnes - excerpt
Josquin des Prez (c1450/55-1521): Ave Maria ... Virgo serena
Jean Mouton (before 1459-1522): Nesciens mater virgo virum
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611): Regina caeli a 8
Jonathan Dove (b.1959): Vadam et circuit civitatem
Orlando de Lassus (1530/32-94): Missa 'Bell'Amfitrit'altera' - Gloria
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c1525-94): Magnificat primi toni
William Byrd (c1540-1623): Sing joyfully
Alexia Sloane (b.2000): Earthward (world premiere)
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625): O clap your hands
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943): Bogoroditse Devo, from All-Night Vigil, Op. 37

'The eight singers promised and delivered great skill and smooth blend, at the same time as their ability to characterise the music, text and individual lines when required'.

'VOCES8 convey the rich, warm early clustered harmonies, as well as the repeated rising phrases and weaving lines, making this a highlight of their performance today'.

'The precision and confidence of their performance was highly impressive'.

'Full of energy and madrigalian lightness ... bringing their highly impressive Proms debut to a glorious conclusion'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Karabits and the BSO journey beyond the moon in a fast machine - BBC Prom 4

Kiril Karabits
© Chris Christodoulou
Nemanja Radoluvić (violin)
Trinity Boys Choir
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Kiril Karabits (conductor)

Sunday 21 July, 7.30 pm

BBC Prom 4

Royal Albert Hall, London

Adams, John (b.1947): Short Ride in a Fast Machine - fanfare for orchestra

Barber, Samuel (1910-81): Violin Concerto, Op.14

Traditional: Pašona kolo

Holst, Gustav (1874-1934): The Planets, Op. 32

'The BSO were on top of the complexities, the woodwind fizzing and the brass soaring'.

'Great presence and involvement with the orchestra, giving Barber's generous melody warm tone, yet maintaining lightness of touch'.
Nemanja Radoluvić & Kiril Karabits
© Chris Christodoulou
'Radulović brought the front desk strings to their feet for a blistering performance of a traditional Serbian circle dance'.

'Karabits ... achieved a sense of awe and calm ... giving tight attention to dynamic control'.

'A Planets with considerable insight, dynamic variety and atmospheric contrasts'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

CD Reviews - July 2019

Edward Elgar's The Music Makers has received a frankly stunning reading from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Sir Andrew Davis, with Dame Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano).  From the orchestra's opening introduction, with its Enigma theme quotation, to the sequence of dramatic choruses delivered with excellent precision and clear diction, the combined BBC forces here are exemplary, and Davis manages the rapid tour through extremes of dynamics with rhythmic energy and drive.  Setting the Ode by Arthur O'Shaughnessy in its entirety, Elgar draws on a great deal of self quotation, including The Dream of Gerontius, the Sea Pictures, both his Symphonies and the Violin Concerto, as well as the Enigma Variations. Yet it is a work of remarkable coherency and feeling, and Connolly's heartfelt passion, backed by the full sound of the chorus, whips us along with the emotionally charged (if rather self-indulgent) text.  This is an excellent recording, with full dynamic range, rich orchestral textures and fine singing from soloist and chorus. The Spirit of England is setting of three poems by Laurence Binyon, written between 1915 & 1917. Composed for soprano or tenor soloist, chorus and orchestra, it is often performed with two soloists, and this is in fact the first recording with a tenor (Andrew Staples) taking all three sections.  This is Elgar in more ostensibly patriotic mode, and Staples' suitably declamatory delivery is supported by the incisive chorus in the opening 'The Fourth of August' (the date of declaration of war on Germany).  There are tender moments, but this is full-on Elgar, yet Davis never allows the weighty orchestration to totally overpower proceedings.  'To Women' has more stillness in its dark colours, and here Staples is allowed to show a greater dynamic range, in some particularly tender moments.  The final setting, 'For the Fallen', contains considerable variety in Elgar's detailed setting of the text, with dark irony in its almost jaunty march rhythms.  Once again, the chorus excels in its precision and diction throughout, and great tenderness when Staples joins them for the repetitions of 'We will remember them'.  Overall as a work, The Spirit of England has perhaps not travelled through the years as well as The Music Makers, but this is an excellent recording from all concerned. 

Ibrahim Aziz is a viola da gamba player from Malaysia, now living in London. He has recorded a fascinating programme, Risonanze, exploring what he sees as the particular resonances of the instrument, a member of the viol family and a fretted cousin of the cello, although with perhaps a darker tone and less power of projection.  He starts with a transcription of the Cello Suite No. 2 by J S Bach, and immediately we hear the difference - perhaps a less consistently warm tone, but a definite ringing, enhanced by a highly resonant recording. Aziz makes his instrument sing, particularly in the final dancing Gigue.  He follows this with 'Suite Estiu', by the Spanish composer, Carlos Martínez Gil (b.1959).  Estiu, an anagram of suite, also means summer in Catalan, and the five movements here correspond to the five senses, and the composer's recollections of the sensations of summers spent in northern Spain.  We begin in the sound world of Bach, but slowly, use of pizzicato, more jagged rhythms, or slightly unexpected harmonies in the rocking 'Roces' (meaning 'brushing lightly) take us in a subtly different direction, ultimately feeling like meditations on the earlier soundworld.  Next, Three unaccompanied pieces by composer and virtuoso gamba player, Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787).  The first is a beautifully rippling study, 'Arpeggio', and Aziz maintains a beautifully steady flow throughout its shifting harmonies.  A somewhat gentle 'Allegro' is followed by softly singing 'Adagio', and here again Aziz brings out a beautifully resonant tone.  Rebecca Rowe (b.1970), herself a viola gamba player, wrote 'Journeying' for Aziz in 2018.  Rowe uses resonant, spread chords, and there's a moody, almost eastern flavour to the brief snatches of melodic line, and Aziz performs this with assurance. The remainder of the disc is given over to the Sonata No. 5 by Johann Schenck (1660-1712).  We're back in Bach territory, although as a gamba player, Schenck’s set of seven movements, a suite in all but name, perhaps better captures the idiomatic resonance of the instrument that Aziz refers to. Aziz definitely achieves his aim of demonstrating the resonant qualities of his instrument, as well as his own considerable talent.

Flauguissimo Duo, Yu-Wei Hu (flute) and Johan Löfving (guitar) are alumni of Brighton Early Music Festival's BREMF Live! scheme, so will be familiar to some, and they specialise in historically-informed performance of 18th and 19th century music.  Music for the two instruments flourished in the salon culture of the time, and their debut recording takes inspiration from the fashion of taking tunes popular in the opera houses into domestic settings.  So the centrepiece of this disc entitled 'A Salon Opera' is their own arrangement of the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck's (1714-1787) opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.  Hu is allowed to shine in the opera's beautifully lyrical flute solo, and her breath control in its long sustained lines is impressive.  However, the Cantabile from virtuoso violinist-composer Paganini (1782-1840) is their delightful opener, allowing the duo to establish their delicate, sophisticated soundworld.  The recording is close, which suits the intimacy of the instruments and the repertoire.  Marginally less successful for me are the arrangements of three Schubert songs. Whilst it is certainly authentic to include such arrangements in a recreation of a domestic music-making gathering, it is hard not to miss the nuance of Schubert's expert setting of text. The arrangements here can't be faulted, and Hu's lyrical line is matched nicely by Löfving's deft accompaniment, with a suitably emphatic central section in Frühlingstraum from Winterreise, but it is hard to capture the full emotional contrast of love and loss inherent in Müller's text.  An die Nachtigall and Heidenröslein fair better, with their lighter melodies subtly ornamented by the flute.  Francesca Molino's (1768/75-1847) Notturno is a delight, with a particularly operatic Rondo, in which Hu enjoys the operatic coloratura to the full.  Fernando Sor's (1778-1839) Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 9 for guitar takes it's theme from Mozart's The Magic Flute, and after a dramatic introduction, the theme is presented in increasingly virtuosic variations, and here Löfving plays with great delicacy and bright tone.  After the Gluck, a dramatic Tarantelle for guitar by Johann Mertz (1806-1856) provides some welcome edge and rhythmic energy in an otherwise mostly lyrical programme, performed here with humour and bite.  They conclude with the Grande Serenade by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), with a graceful opening theme and variations movement, allowing both instruments to shine in turn.  Following a dainty minuet and slightly livelier trio, then a jaunty march, is an operatic 'Brillante' finale. Overall, a pleasing collection, performed with style.

Various. 2019. A Salon Opera. Flauguissimo Duo. Compact Disc. Resonus Classics. RES10233.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, July 2019)

Friday, 21 June 2019

Nonsuch Singers launch their new CD, Mass in Blue

18 June 2019
St Martin-in-the-Fields, London

Nonsuch Singers, conducted by Tom Bullard, joined by soprano Joanna Forbes L'Estrange and L'Estranges in the Night (John Turville (piano), Alexander L'Estrange (bass) and Felix Higginbottom (drums), performed the programme of their new recording, with a few added extras.  Conductor Tom Bullard has had a wide-ranging singing and conducting career to date, but notably sang with the Swingle Singers for eight years, the last four as Musical Director.  It is this background that has most clearly informed his work with Nonsuch Singers in not only the jazz-influenced Mass in Blue, but also in the range of close harmony settings and arrangements that formed the first half of their concert (the majority of which also appear on their CD).  When a predominantly classical, amateur choir moves into this territory, there are considerable possible dangers.  There can be nothing worse than hearing singers used to conventional rhythms, classical harmonies and being fixed to a score try to negotiate the freedom of swing and jazz settings.  However, it is a huge testament to the skill and enthusiasm of Nonsuch Singers, combined with Bullard's commitment and clearly expert direction, that at no point did they appear out of their comfort zone.  Close miked and performing a good number of the settings from memory, they performed the complex and challenging arrangements with ease.  

Ward Swingle's arrangement of the Gershwin classic Love Walked In was delivered with smooth ensemble and warm tones throughout, and their harmonic precision in All the things you are, another Swingle arrangement, was impressive, even if a few of the faster tempo pick-ups were not perfectly tidy.  A number of soloists emerged from the choral ranks in several of the pieces, and all performed with confidence, notably baritone David Whitlam and soprano Elena Anastopoulos, whose clear bell-like solo in Li'l Darlin' was particularly impressive.  They were also joined by soprano Joanna Forbes L'Estrange (another ex Swingle singer and musical director) in several numbers, such as the classic On a Clear Day and the moving How do you keep the music playing, an arrangement of a song by Michel Legrand who sadly recently passed away.  In the latter, Joanna Forbes L'Estrange's delivered the beautifully simple song over subtly controlled and soft-toned choral backing.  Forbes L'Estrange also performed a couple of solo pieces with the trio, including Ward Swingle's classic arrangement of Bach's Largo (from the Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056), which sadly feels somewhat dated, but was given a warm and expressive performance here.  In contrast, her own composition, 21st Century Woman, composed for International Women's Day 2019, and inspired by Oprah Winfrey's 2018 Golden Globes acceptance speech, had conviction and energy, backed predominantly by the female Nonsuch voices.  The track was released as a fundraiser for Her Future Coalition, a charity providing shelter, education and employment to girls in India who were victims of human trafficking and gender violence, and apparently it was the first recording session at Abbey Road Studios of a song which was written, conducted, sung, played, engineered, produced, mixed and mastered entirely by women (more about the single and how to buy it here).  They finished their first half with a rousing big band number, Back Bay Shuffle, followed by a lively encore, Chattanooga Choo Choo, in which Tom Bullard got to sing, backed by a close harmony quintet (including Joanna Forbes L'Estrange) and the full choir.  

The centrepiece of the recording, the Mass in Blue by Will Todd (b.1970), formed the second half of their concert.  Since its composition in 2003, the work has become very popular with choirs, and has already been recorded at least once previously.  Todd takes the Latin mass text into the world of jazz, with 12-bar blues rhythms, improvisatory melodies and layers of bluesy harmonies.  It is a predominantly upbeat affair, which at times feels slightly at odds with the text - the Kyrie is probably one of the most lively settings, and Miserere nobis in the Gloria is incongruously jolly.  But in its most exuberant moments, such as the lively Gloria and emphatically convincing Credo, which makes an unexpected return at the work's conclusion, it does have an infectious energy which is hard to resist.  The mass exists in versions for full jazz band, and string orchestra with jazz trio.  Here it was performed in a version for jazz trio, and L'Estranges in the Night complimented the choir's energy and enthusiasm well.  Pianist John Turville deserves particular mention for his gloriously laid back opening to the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei.  And Joanna Forbes L'Estrange added her beautifully souring soprano voice over the top of the choir in the Kyrie, as well as a warmly bluesy and improvisatory Agnus Dei.  

This was an evening of impressive performances from all, but special congratulations must go to Nonsuch Singers and Bullard for achieving the rare feat of pulling off the transition into the world of jazz and swing with such skill.  Their recording of the Mass in Blue and the majority of their first half programme is strong, and will I am sure do well.  They return to more conventional choral territory - Rachmaninov's Vespers - in July (details here), but I am sure they will continue to build on their varied and wide ranging repertoire.  I look forward to hearing them again soon!

Various. 2019. Will Todd: Mass in Blue. Joanna Forbes L'Estrange, Nonsuch Singers, Tom Bullard. Compact Disc. Convivium Records CR047.

Friday, 14 June 2019

CD Reviews - June 2019

Pianist Adam Swayne’s first solo recital recording, ‘(speak to me) – New music, New politics’ is a fascinating exploration of American music ranging from Gershwin to a world premiere recording of Amy Beth Kirsten's (b.1972) (speak to me), which gives the disc its title.  In his liner notes, Swayne explains that the programme explores the relationship between popular music and political inspirations, in politically traumatic times (he cites Brexit and Trump as examples of this).  His technique throughout this challenging programme is highly impressive, particularly in the Four North American Ballads by Frederic Rzewski (b. 1938).  Rzewski was inspired by folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, and the four movements are based on popular American work and protest songs. There is great contrast here, between the harshly aggressive repeated rhythms of ‘Which side are you on?’ and the deceptively lilting ‘Down by the riverside’, with its increasingly menacing chromatic harmonies, before its development into a kind of boogie-woogie Bach conclusion.  The final movement, ‘Winnsboro cotton mill blues’ is positively terrifying, and the deafening, relentless sound of the mill builds to a frenzy.  Its wheeling blues riffs subside into moments of lighter blues reverie, but the overall feel is one of total tension.  In Kirsten’s (speak to me), the pianist is required to vocalise incredibly rapidly along with the dazzling, skittish rhythms on the piano in the opening movement, ‘Deceit’ – Swayne is startlingly impressive here.  The text here is ‘gibberish’, but there is an overall narrative, drawing on the story of Juno being tricked by Echo, before realising and ultimately removing Echo’s power of speech, with the final, extended voiceless movement, ‘Longing’ wandering through material from the first two movements in a kind of musing on this idea of taking away speech, a clear allusion to censorship.  Swayne creates a disturbing, slightly stifled atmosphere with almost constant pedaling muddying the waters beneath the birdlike fragments at the top of the keyboard.  In Kevin Malone’s (b.1958) ‘The People Protesting Drum Out Bigly Covfefe’ (another world premiere recording), the pianist is asked to wear and throw pink ‘pussyhats’ during the performance.  The Pussyhat Project advances women’s rights using arts and education, and here, Malone has transcribed chants recorded at anti-Trump rallies as the basis for his material.  Again, the challenges for the pianist are multiple, with massive crashing chords as well as jazz rhythms and wide leaps using the full extent of the keyboard.  At the work’s conclusion, recordings of the actual chants emerge over the top of the piano. He tops and tails the disc with Gershwin’s (1898-1937) Preludes for Piano, and Morton Gould’s (1913-1996) brief Boogie Woogie Etude.  The former are full of energy, and Swayne communicates their infectious spirit, and the latter provides a lively and impressive finale piece. An impressive display of phenomenal technique from Swayne in some striking and highly thought-provoking repertoire.

Various. 2018. (speak to me) New Music, New Politics. Adam Swayne. Compact Disc. Coviello Classics COV 91818.

Baroque music arranged for saxophone quartet? Well this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who have heard the Ferio Saxophone Quartet, or member Huw Wiggin’s solo performances at the Brighton Festival in recent years, will know that they are highly talented and communicative performers, and with this second disc for the quartet, they make a convincing case for their arrangements of Purcell, Bach, Handel, Corelli, as well as an earlier interloper, with Byrd’s Pavan and Gigue.  The majority of the arrangements were made by Iain Farrington (b.1977) especially for the Ferio Saxophone Quartet, and have therefore been recorded here for the first time.  A lot of the repertoire will be very familiar – movements from Handel’s Water Music, Preludes and Fugues and a Brandenburg Concerto from Bach, and Purcell’s Rondeau (used by Britten in his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra).  In a way, perhaps because some of these ‘tunes’ are so familiar, it is actually refreshing to hear them presented in such a different way – this applies especially to Bach’s Air (somewhat destroyed for those of us of a certain age by a cigar advert). Inevitably, the saxophones’ mellow tones tends to create a homogenously smooth texture, but here particularly, Wiggins’ lyricism on the top melodic line is highly seductive.  They give a little more edge to point their lines in the fugues of two arrangements of Preludes and Fugues from Bach’s Das wohltemperierte Klavier, although again, there is an overall blended texture that tends to obscure the angular nature of Bach’s fugue melodies, particularly in the lower instruments.  Their Badinerie from Bach’s Suite No. 2 is full of energy and joy, and here their rhythmic incision is refreshing.  For Sheep may safely graze (from Bach’s Cantata BWV208), we return to smooth, lyrical textures, but here the contrast between the tenor line and the lilting soprano and alto duet on top is enchanting.  Their Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 fizzes along nicely, and the closing Allegro has an exhilarating bounce.  Handel’s Sarabande and three movements from his ‘Water Music’ follow.  The Sarabande is suitably mournful and stately, whilst the Hornpipe and Bourée are brassy and bright, and the aforementioned Pavan and Gigue from Byrd that follows is sensitively light.  The Adagio from Corelli’s Concerto grosso, Op. 6 No. 8 is sandwiched between another Bach Fugue, and Bach’s Italian Concerto to close the disc.  The Corelli again demonstrates the players’ abilities to make lines sing, with some beautifully sustained tone, contrasting well with the brief articulated central Adagio. The Italian Concerto to finish once again has energy and a lightness of touch, and the tenor line in the central Andante is mellow and lyrical, leading to a joyous Presto.  Whilst there is perhaps not as much stylistic variety on offer here as on their first disc, I was nevertheless won over by their warmth of sound, ability to communicate, and flawless ensemble throughout.

Various. 2018. Revive - Baroque arrangements for Saxophone Quartet. Ferio Saxophone Quartet. Compact Disc. Chandos Records CHAN 10999.

(Edited versions of the above reviews first appeared in GScene, June 2019)

The Surrey based chamber choir Excelsis, conducted by Robert Lewis has been joined by the London Mozart Players for a disc of sacred choral works by Clive Osgood.  The six movement Dixit Dominus that opens the disc has some rich string writing, with a particularly plaintive solo violin part in 'Virgam virtutis'.  Osgood effectively mixes relatively straightforward, lyrical settings with moments of more active rhythmic interest, such as in the lively 'Dominus a dextris'. The Exclesis singers make a strong sound, and their diction is always clear and precise, with solid tuning and smooth ensemble. They could perhaps be more nimble in the cascading lines of the closing movement, 'De torrente', but otherwise their command is assured.  Excelsis are joined by soprano Rebecca Moon for several of the works, including a highly effective setting of Beatus Vir, in which rich choral textures underpin Moon's souring lyrical line.  The more austere Hymn to the Word adds horns and harp to the orchestral accompaniment, contrasting fuller orchestral textures with passages of assured unaccompanied singing, and the work blossoms to a warm, more settled conclusion. The Peace of God, included in both settings for choir and piano, and choir and orchestra, is indeed peaceful, and the singers enjoy the smooth lines and warm harmonies, with tinges of the modern American styles of Lauridsen or Whitacre.  Brightest and Best on the other hand, with the choir joined again by Moon and the unnamed pianist, is more in Rutter territory, with its lilting triple-time rhythmic flow.  Miserere floats a high soprano solo line above the choral textures, with brief sections of chant delivered well here by the tenors.  Rejoice in the Lord Alway that concludes the programme is appropriately joyful, with brightness in its quirky addition of a solo oboe, and the singers and Lewis clearly enjoy the unpredictably offbeat rhythms.  Whilst a whole disc of choral works by a single composer does provide a good overview of their output, the downside is that there is a certain homogeneity of soundworld here, which is essentially lyrical, tonal and homophonic, with no major harmonic surprises, and seldom use of more polyphonic writing. However, many of the pieces here could be, and I am sure will be easily embraced by choirs of all abilities who are looking for new repertoire.  

Friday, 7 June 2019

Sparkling 'Music of the Spheres' full of cosmic energy from Kuusisto, Collon and Aurora Orchestra

Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
© Nick Rutter

Pekka Kuusisto (violin)
Aurora Orchestra
Nicholas Collon (conductor)
Samuel West (narrator)
Sam Swallow (singer, piano)

Wednesday 5 June, 2019

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Max Richter: Journey Song (CP1919)
Beethoven: String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59 No. 2 'Razumovsky' (Molto adagio)
Thomas Adès: Violin Concerto, 'Concentric Paths'
Nico Muhly: Material in E flat, from Drones and Violin Part 1
Mozart: Symphony no. 41 in C major, K551 'Jupiter'
David Bowie: Life on Mars

Pekka Kuusisto, Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
© Nick Rutter
'The orchestra showed impressive command and ensemble, no mean feat with relatively little clear rhythmic pulse, in the dark and from memory!'

'Kuusisto is a striking presence and a soloist who clearly relishes in a collaborative process with other musicians'.

'The communication between the players, released from the confines of chairs and music stands, was so evident'.
'I’m not sure I want to see it performed any other way for some time to come'.

'Endless column inches are written on regular basis about how to keep audiences engaged and bring new punters into the concert hall: the Aurora Orchestra are just getting on with making it happen, and long may they continue'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
© Nick Rutter