Lucio Silla – review

Mozart’s Lucio Silla, Buxton International Festival’s third operatic offering this year in a co-production with the renowned period instrument orchestra, The English Concert, is a visual mess!

Redemption can be found in the strong music values, although even here it can sound a little thin at times. Not even Mozart could write so many arias to cram into just over 150 minutes each with the same high degree of quality.

For a predominantly young cast, the singing is extremely accomplished and delivered with considerable confidence no matter how technically difficult. Where two of the singers are concerned, the assurance is extraordinary!

The two en travesti (in trouser roles) as it happens, originally written for castrati: the exiled Lucio Cinna – Czech soprano Karolina Plickovcá, and his friend Cecilio – New Zealand soprano Madeleine Pierard, Buxton’s Louise in the concert performance of Charpentier’s opera two years ago.

Both act and look uncannily like men (one notch at least for the production team) and have superbly sound vocal techniques. Coloratura runs are fearlessly and faultlessly delivered as is all they do is and always with firm vocal line.

Rebecca Bottone, as Cecilio’s beloved Giunia, took a while to entirely warm up but when she did there was next to nothing to carp about – on the contrary! In the other, less demanding female role of Celia, Lucio Silla’s sister, Fflur Wyn sings with great vocal beauty and no apparent embarrassment over her weird costuming.

Silla himself is in the more than capable dramatic and vocal hands of Joshua Ellicot, a tenor who usually livens things when he appears, but not to the lengths of inadvertently causing inappropriate loud audience laughter at the opera’s dénouement on the opening night.

Leading us back to American stage director Harry Silverstein’s production and a taste of its many shortcomings!

Opera seria, what Lucio Silla is, is not easy to stage for contemporary audiences.

Dramatically, it is primarily static and affected so a point of focus is needed for involvement and an understanding of what’s happening – it just isn’t there!

Silverstein’s appears not to know what to do with the characters. They stand around like spare parts as one their number sings a long aria, or engages in a lengthy stretch of recititative.

How many times do we see a character singing an aria apparently begin to exit the stage before turning back and continuing it? Sometimes more than once! Or the number of times someone sitting on the lower steps of a metal staircase?

Throughout, the boring-on-the eye set consists of three giant screens of scaffolding construction, initially draped in plastic gaudy, abstract coloured plastic sheeting.

On the first night, one peeled off by a third of its length as one character sang O ciel (Oh, heavens)! It came down completely, as did the other two, when Silla tore them down in a fit of pique!

Costuming is utterly bizarre. The military look as if they strayed from Ivor Novello’s Ruritania. The chorus sports motley clothing that could have come from a charity shop.

Celia wears what looks like party dresses. Cinna looks like a beau from Mozart’s time, while a shabby Cecilio wears a hoodie top and turned up jeans.

 

Albert Herring – review

Buxton International Festival’s second opera mounted under its own steam, Britten’s Albert Herring, can be summed a little more briefly than Verdi’s Macbeth.

It is little short of magnificent and entirely merited the exuberant reception at the end!

The whole cast is thoroughly engaging and turn in a wonderful ensemble performance with everyone playing off each other, especially the six-member May-Day Festival Committee with some highly experienced singers in its number.

Yvonne Howard, in excellent voice, is a suitably formidable Lady Billows and Lucy Schaufer beautifully characterises her put-on minion Florence Pike, at the same time assuming petty importance in imitation of her redoubtable ladyship.

The whole committee of worthies is vividly etched: Mary Hegarty’s genteelly dizzy schoolmarm Miss Wordsworth; Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts’ puffed up mayor, Mr Upfold; Nick Merryweather’s cardboard cut-out vicar Mr Gedge, skilfully given an indefinable different edge; and John Molloy’s stiff-necked Superintendent Budd – impressive bass voice, too!

Also vocally impressive is Morgan Pearse as Sid, a well-focussed light baritone with an easy stage manner and, as his village bombshell girlfriend Nancy, Kathryn Rudge simply uses her gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice to great effect.

Heather Shipp cuts crest-fallen, almost tragic figure as Mrs Herring when Albert finally wakes up and turns on her, while as the greengrocer’s lad himself, Bradley Smith could hardly be more of a simpleton, bespectacled, nervously shy and insecure.

Leading us to his transformation and the only really contentious aspect of the production, which is otherwise left firmly in the post-war 1940s by director Francis Matthews.

A Carousel-like dream ballet is added to the instrumental interlude when Albert returns home after his crowning and a ‘Stranger’ (a silent Simeon John-Wake), who pops up throughout, presents himself and begins gyrating suggestively, which Albert eventually starts emulating.

Sexually suggestive, it leads to the implication that Matthews perhaps sees (and stresses) something in the dubious theory of a homosexual subtext seen by some in the opera, which is held up as a sort of ‘coming out’ ritual.

On a more pertinent note, the Northern Chamber Orchestra (effectively its principals) and conductor Justin Doyle were alert to every nuance of Britten’s complex, constantly shifting score.

 

Macbeth – review

Enthusiastic applause greeted the final curtain of this rare staging in its original version of Verdi’s opera as part of this year’s Buxton International Festival, as it is now known.

Almost certainly generated by the audience having experienced a highly dramatic, often compelling performance, it also revealed that the 1865 version (the one usually heard) is not as overwhelmingly superior as it is held up to be.

Verdi’s first thoughts in 1847 may appear a little rough and ready by comparison but they were more direct and incisive. Only with Lady Macbeth’s act two aria La luce langue can the revised version be said to truly score – not that the one it replaced is exactly a disaster!

Distinguished stage director Elijah Moshinsky lets Verdi tell the story with little interference in a minimalist, darkly lit production, heightening the dangers lurking round every corner.

A miscalculation is the dead Lady Macbeth’s body being wheeled on for Macbeth to grieve over before Birnam Woods ‘walk’, suggesting the aria he sings over the corpse is associated with it instead of him feeling sorry for himself before being told she was dead, offstage!

A much more clever and successful idea is the witches engaging in a Tiller Girl dance routine across the front of the stage at the start of act three, although having the chorus of refugees at the same location singing seated in a line at act four’s outset made little dramatic sense.

What definitely does, though, are both instances of video pyrotechnic projection; and having Malcolm in full battle regalia singing from a balcony box high up in the Opera House auditorium was a production whim that came off.

Music values are generally high, although a question mark surfaces over Kate Ladner’s totally committed Lady Macbeth. Vocally, she gives it her all and excitingly shirks nothing in the role’s high register work, but there is not a lot of vocal body supporting it below.

It suggested the part is not for her, at least at this stage in her career if she wants it to continue and not risk burn out.

Stephen Gadd’s no less committed Macbeth is sturdily and tirelessly sung while capturing the character’s uncertainty over his murderous actions, but his stage presence is not particularly strong in creating the all-conquering general he is supposed to be.

Young Moldovan bass Oleg Tsibulko makes a highly favourable impression for the future as Banquo and South Korean tenor Jung Soo Yun turns in an extremely well sung, open-throated account of Macduff’s act four aria, but tends to look a trifle lost dramatically much of time.

First night nerves, perhaps? – which may also have something to do with the afflictions suffered every so often by the usually ultra-reliable augmented Northern Chamber Orchestra under the entirely idiomatic baton of Stephen Barlow.

No such problems for superb Festival Chorus, from which tenor Luke Sinclair has a night off to make a splendid Malcolm in his ‘bird nest’!

 

Baroque to Broadway

Baroque to Broadway is an agreeable offering at the third in the new concert series at the Whirlow Spirituality Centre’s Chapel of the Holy Spirit this coming Friday (30th of June).

It features soprano Chloe Saywell, whom you may have encountered with Opera on Location among other things and has a particular partiality for English art song – reflected in the concert!

With her are trumpet/ flugelhorn player Matthew Redfearn, now freelance after 12 years as director of music at Ecclesall Parish Church; and pianist Stephanie Pitts, in the past a busy repetiteur and occasional recital accompanist, now Head of Music at Sheffield University.

Proceedings begin with two arias from Handel’s cantata Apollo and Daphne, Ardi adori – in which she tells Apollo that he desires, adores and beseeches her in vain; and Come in ciel – when she tells him, as Neptune calms the stormy ocean waves, so he should restrain his love.

Thomas Morley (strictly, pre-Baroque) follows with two songs, Thyrsis and Milla and the more familiar It was a Lover and his Lass – “hey, ding, a ding, a ding!”

We move considerably forward in time to Cecilia McDowall (b1951) for a trumpet/ piano piece, A Choir of Angels, although you could say, stay back at the same time! “The Baroque brilliance of A Choir of Angels,” is publisher Boosey & Hawkes’ description of it.

Two frequently encountered Mozart songs are then heard, most regularly, Das Veilchen – The Violet (actually, it concerns a rose!), and Der Zauberer – The Magician.

After which, we move forward permanently to the 20th century, initially to hear three of Gerald Finzi‘s Five Bagatelles for clarinet and piano played as transcriptions on the flugelhorn: Prelude, Forlana and Fughetta – No’s 1, 4 and 5.

Two songs by Roger Quilter, Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal and Love’s Philosophy, precede a rather lovely, lesser-known song by John Ireland, If There Were Dreams To Sell, before moving right up to date with Chris Noble: Spring Song in Winter.

Yes, it is the Platform 4 composer! and we remain in the present for Redfearn: If Only, a piece by Matthew Redfearn himself and indulges in composing when he has the time, before three pieces by Leonard Bernstein, all for trumpet and piano:

Rondo for Lifey – Lifey being the name of Judy Holiday’s dog; Lucky To Be Me, an instrumental version of the song in composer’s musical On the Town; and Red, White and Blues, a heavily blues-influenced piece.

Little needs to be said about the two final items, Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Cole Porter’s Night and Day, except all three musicians come together for the latter.

 

Anxieties and Desires

Bradfield Festival of Music gets underway on the 23rd of June and once again celebrated names will be appearing at the historic church of St Nicholas.

Particularly attractive is the concert on the 29th of June when one of the country’s foremost piano accompanists Audrey Hyland is in residence with Songsmiths, an itinerant group, or pool of well thought of singers she formed in 2012.

With her at Bradfield will be Elizabeth Watts, a soprano who needs no introduction to Sheffield audiences; Nicky Spence, one of the country’s brightest young tenor talents; and Christopher Ainslie, a South African-born countertenor rapidly making a name for himself.

Songsmiths is not dissimilar to Graham Johnson’s highly successful Songmakers’ Almanac, created some 35 years earlier to explore neglected piano-accompanied song repertoire, often with themed programmes and also featured the spoken word.

The aim of the newer group is, to quote: “to connect songs in varied languages and styles to unite the world of song through a common theme, story and emotional journey.”

In the process, neglected parts of the song repertoire are also tapped, as happens at the Bradfield concert. On the other hand, a number of items are familiar among the 23 scheduled for an exploration of Secrets and Obsessions.

Although there is no mention of the spoken word, it should perhaps not be ruled out. It was fairly prominent in the group’s excellent White Camelia – The Story of a Courtesan at last year’s Buxton Festival, but with fewer songs.

Widely eclectic and stylistically diverse, a detailed description of each song being performed in Secrets and Obsessions would border on tedium so here they are with minimal comment.

Trust Her Not, a jolly duet by Michael Balfe to a Longfellow text; Purcell/ Tippett: Sweeter than Roses; Schubert: Gretchen am Spinnrade (Goethe’s ‘Faust’); Carl Loewe: his setting of Ach neige, du Schmerzenreiche, another ‘Gretchen’ text from Faust; Frank Bridge: Come to me in my dreams, a setting of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Longing’; Britten: Midnight on the Great Western (from Winter Words); Die Nacht, a Richard Strauss gem! Brahms: Da Unten im Tale, a German folk song duet; Schumann: Zweilicht (from Liederkreis Op 39); Hugo Wolf: Du denkst mit einem Fädchen (from the Italian Songbook); Britten: As it is, plenty (from On this Island).

At which point there is an interval, before carrying on with:

Heimliche Aufforderung, one of the four well-known songs, Op 27, Richard Strauss wrote as a wedding present to his wife; Mendelssohn: Hüt du dich, a popular text from ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’; Britten: Lost is my quiet, a duet after Purcell; Japanese – anyone’s guess what this is! not so, Heiss mich nicht redden, also known as Mignon 1 and one of Hugo Wolf’s ‘Mignon’ settings from Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meister’; Kennst du das Land? the best known Mignon ‘song’ heard in Wolf’s setting of it; Reynaldo Hahn: Néère (from Études Latines); Granados: El majo discreto (from Tonadillas in an Old Style); Schubert: Der Doppelgänger (from Schwanengesang); Rodrigo: Adela (from Twelve Spanish Songs); Butterworth’s Is my team ploughing? (from A Shropshire Lad); and some Tom Lehrer: the anarchic Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.

 

Hail, Macbeth! – Mark 1!

You may well have encountered Verdi’s Macbeth, one of three opera in this year’s Buxton Festival, as it has been staged with increasing frequency since around the mid-1950s, but not in its original version premiered in Florence in 1847.

What you see and hear is the 1865 French version for Paris, translated into Italian!

The irony is that whereas Verdi’s first thoughts on his operatic re-working of Shakespeare’s play met with conspicuous success all over Italy, plus places like Vienna and Madrid, his French adaptation failed to stir even the pigeons on the Boulevard des Capucines!

It fared little better back in Italy as Verdi’s definitive version soon after and began drifting into obscurity.

What might be called ‘pure’ productions of the 1865 version since the opera began re-emerging in the mid-20th century have tended to be the exception rather than the rule.

Rarely, if ever seen is the act three ballet, while many productions are prone to borrowing from the 1847 original.

The most regularly lifted item is Macbeth’s short-ish aria at the end of the opera when, fatally wounded, he curses the prophecies of hell before expiring on stage – in the revision he is killed off-stage by Macduff with no curses heard.

Verdi engaged in a fairly hefty revision of the opera for Paris, nowhere more so than in the fourth and final act, which he revised from beginning to end, re-writing the whole of the big choral scene with which it opens

Although not as drastic, there are three other instances where the changes can be described as major, including the obligatory ballet scene for any opera staged in France at the time.

You do not hear Lady Macbeth’s celebrated La luce langue at the beginning of act two but the aria it replaced in 1865, a much more florid affair with some wicked coloratura.

Similarly, instead of the Macbeth/ Lady Macbeth duet that closed act three in Paris, Macbeth is heard in an aria after recovering from his second encounter with the witches resolving to pursue a further murderous path.

Revised version or original, the opera tends to be looked down on as inferior set against Verdi’s last two Shakespearean masterpieces, Otello and Falstaff. Greater works, yes, but that does not render Macbeth as second-rate by comparison.

It needs remembering that exactly 40 years elapsed between Macbeth in 1847 and Otello with, including revisions, 26 other operas separating them over which the composer was able to develop and refine his craft – you could almost say out of recognition!

It has been criticised for its fidelity to Shakespeare. In fact, it is as faithful as Boito’s librettos for Otello and Falstaff, it’s just that they are more polished. There are, though, the same imaginative cuts and compression of happenings in the play.

Verdi thought the world of Shakespeare and went to great pains to preserve the essence of ‘the Bard’ in his operas.

He didn’t just randomly turn the Three Witches into a chorus in Macbeth, he gave them three-part music to sing and divided them into three groups, each group singing as one and uttering ‘I’ not ‘we’.

This tragedy is one of the greatest creations of man… If we can’t make something great out of it let us at least try to do something out of the ordinary,” Verdi wrote to his librettist Piave.

It was enough to drive one crazy!” grumbled the first Lady Macbeth, the eminent soprano Marianna Barbieri-Nini in response to the amount time the composer spent coaching her on how to tackle the sleepwalking scene.

It was out the ordinary in its day (1847) with Verdi breaking new ground to portray dramatic reality and, approached on its own merits, original or revised version, Macbeth is a much better opera than it is often credited as being.

Buxton Festival’s staging of the original version in a production by Elijah Moshinsky, no less, and is conducted by festival artistic director Stephen Barlow with two of his favourite singers as the Macbeths, Stephen Gadd and Kate Ladner.

It receives five performances over the festival’s duration and is sung in Italian with English side-titles.

See Two Tyrants and a May Queen called Albert @ www.bernardleemusic.com for thoughts on the other two Buxton operas.

 

Two Tyrants and a May Queen called Albert!

Two tyrants and a ‘May Queen’ called Albert figure in three operas being staged at this year’s Buxton Festival, which has undergone a slight name change: Buxton International Festival, 7th to the 23rd of July.

All three are comparative rarities on the opera stage. In frequency terms, on a scale working down to zero, they are Britten’s Albert Herring, Mozart’s Lucio Silla and Verdi’s Macbeth.

Hold on, you exclaim! The Verdi opera is regularly encountered!

Not this one! – see Hail, Macbeth! – Mark 1! @ www.bernardleemusic.com

Although the Mozart and Britten operas have been gaining performance currency in recent years, especially the latter, there is little danger of either trickle developing into a deluge!

Penned by the 16-year-old Mozart, Lucio Silla is an opera seria with a veritable procession of florid, virtuoso arias and lasts a heck of a long time in its entirety. The premiere in 1772 apparently lasted around seven hours, although it was swelled with non-Mozart ballet scenes!

When it is performed, it is invariably cut. Buxton Festival’s outing, a co-production with the renowned English Concert, will probably run upwards of three hours with an interval.

So what is usually reckoned as Mozart’s ‘coming of age opera’ all about? Well you may ask!

Silla rules ancient Rome as a dictator and is in love with Giunia. He spends most of his time working out to force her to marry him. Giunia is betrothed to the banished senator Cecilio and they mostly pine for each other while venting hate for Silla.

Silla’s sister, Celia, shares a reciprocal love with Cecilio’s friend and ally Cinna who resolves to assassinate Silla. When he confesses his intended plan at the end, Silla’s response is to offer Cinna the hand of Celia in marriage after reconciling Giunia and Cecilio.

Confused? It is!

After spending more than seven-eighths of the proceedings in tyrant-mode, Silla miraculously transforms into a good guy without warning and abdicates in the process!

Tenor Joshua Ellicott takes the title role in what looks a strongly cast Buxton production which gets four performances during the festival and is sung in Italian with English side titles.

Except for Ben Thapa (another tenor) in a small role, everyone else is a soprano: respectively, Rebecca Bottone and Fflur Wyn as Giunia and Celia, with Madeleine Pierard and Karolína Plicková in ‘trouser’ parts, Cecilio and Cinna – an alleged castrato at the opera’s premiere!

The more densely cast Albert Herring has a number of well-known names in its ranks, including Yvonne Howard, Heather Shipp (who has a recital in the festival), Mary Hegarty and Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, a fine tenor how seemingly plying his trade in character parts.

Because village elders cannot find a suitable May Queen, they decide to have a May King. The greengrocer’s timid son Albert Herring (Bradley Smith) is declared entirely fitting, although not exactly ecstatic when told.

At the crowning, his lemonade is laced with rum. Asked to make a speech, he is tongue-tied, drains his lemonade glass, followed by a fit of hiccups and manages to get out ‘hip, hip, hurrah!’

Later, fed up with being under his mother’s thumb and a figure of ridicule, he takes his ‘monarch’s’ prize money and vanishes into the night.

Returning next day during a search for him, he thanks the fuming elders for financing his drunken night out, and tells Mrs Herring where to get off!

Completed a century after Macbeth, in 1947, Eric Crozier’s libretto was based on a Maupassant novella transplanted in England and is in keeping with of one Britten’s trademark character themes, that of society’s reaction to an odd person out.

Unlike Peter Grimes, Owen Wingrave and others, though, this examination is from a humorous and generally cheerful standpoint, lengthy laments for the missing Albert aside!

 

Summer Evening Music

Sheffield Bach Choir has come up with an attractively diverse collection of ‘Music for a Summer Evening’ for its final concert of the season on the 10th of June.

As in recent years, the concert forms a Broomhill Festival event at St Mark’s Church; a much-reduced festival this year which gets underway on the day of the Bach Choir’s concert and ends a week later.

Stylistically varied, the programme ranges from early Baroque to the present day and the thoughts of the choir’s eminent conductor Simon Lindley are italicised in the following.

Some items are unaccompanied and others instrumentally supported by six members of the splendid National Festival Orchestra and Alan Horsey at the restored St Mark’s organ – “what an absolutely superb job Wood of Huddersfield have done for the church. The instrument is magnificently re-born!

In fact, it could be said the organ has a ‘starring’ role at the concert with “Handel’s magical Cuckoo and the Nightingale concerto for organ and strings” (Organ Concerto No 13 in F), “and Marcel Grandjany’s evocative and luxuriant Aria in Classic Style for harp and organ.”

Grandjany was a celebrated French-born American harpist and composer of harp music if you have not come across him before; and, there is Haydn’s Missa Brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo dating from around 1765, probably better known by its later attached alternative title.

It’s likely that Haydn himself played the elaborate solo organ part (at its first outing) in the Benedictus from which the work is widely known as the ‘Little Organ Mass’.

The other major accompanied choral work is the charming Magnificat setting attributed to Buxtehude, “a work as famous for its compelling instrumental interludes for strings as for its glorious choral writing.

It is very well known indeed in Germany and has been for eight decades after its re-discovery. Somehow, it’s never been as familiar in the UK or the States – the jury’s out on whether it’s actually by Buxtehude.

A friend and colleague of the composer, Gustav Düben, transcribed the piece along with over 100 other Buxtehude works, and it has gained greater currency outside Germany since John Rutter included it in his OUP volume ‘European Sacred Music’ in 1996.

Also being performed, though hardly in need of dwelling on, is the young Fauré’s evergreen classic Cantique de Jean Racine in John Rutter’s orchestration, although you may be not aware that Racine’s French text is a much earlier Latin hymn from a breviary for matins.

Unaccompanied choral music takes in the unfairly, almost forgotten E J Moeran’s “evocative Songs of Springtime – “okay, a bit late for Spring, but far too good to be excluded!

Indeed, the seven fairly brief Elizabethan settings, including two Shakespeare texts, from 1932 deserve wider circulation, even if they do have difficult chromaticism to get thoraxes round without instrumental aid to help with pitch.

Can’t speak for Robert Cockroft’s “superbThree Yorkshire Folk Songs (The Ripon Sword Dance, Scarborough Fair and An acre of land), “composed in April two years ago specifically for Gordon Stewart to conduct in a gala concert at Blackburn Cathedral” – though knew him many years ago without being aware that he was a closet composer!

He has, however, written three pieces previously for the distinguished concert organist, conductor and teacher, long-time resident organist at Huddersfield Town Hall, Andrew Carter, Noel Rawsthorne and Lionel Rogg being among others who have penned pieces for him.

Completing the programme is Karl Jenkins’s Adiemus for choir, organ and solo treble recorder, a huge success when the Bach Choir sang it at a Classical Sheffield Saturday morning event at Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street in March.

 

Secrets, Obsessions and Schubert-ian Gypsies

So, you may ask, how does a string quintet come to be played by a violin, cello, clarinet, accordion and cimbalom? – not any old string quintet, either, but Schubert’s immortal masterpiece!

Well, an ensemble made up of the five instruments calling itself ZRI (Zum Roten Igel) believes the gypsy/ Hungarian elements written into the Schubert quintet are not always clear to audiences now so have re-scored it to make them patently obvious.

A similar ‘re-imagination’ (a modern euphemism for arrangement!), a well thought of exercise has also been performed by the group on the Brahms Clarinet Quintet.

Prompting both ‘re-imaginings’ was a popular coffee house-cum-tavern in 19th century Vienna, Zum Roten Igel! – The Red Hedgehog, regularly frequented by Schubert, Brahms and others where they would have heard gypsy and folk bands as they socialised into the night.

Thus, Schubert’s String Quintet in new clothes with a dozen indigenous traditional tunes, plus the final song of the composer’s Winterreise cycle, Der Leiermann, woven in should at least to be an entertaining last concert at this year’s Bradfield Festival of Music on the 1st of July.

This year’s festival, in the picturesque surroundings of the historic church of St Nicholas at High Bradfield, is also its 20th birthday having been revived in 1998 – music festivals were held at the church in the 19th century, around the time Schubert’s String Quintet was penned in 1828, actually!

Proceedings get underway on the 24th of June with a visit by the ten-piece Austonley Brass ensemble and Neil Taylor: organ, who will not have to travel as far, for a Derek Renshaw-narrated mixture of Saint-Saëns: Carnival of Animals, Organ Symphony extracts, the Grand March from Aida, Star Wars and Schindler’s List themes and a Mary Poppins suite.

Jacqui Dankworth, daughter of two famous musicians, moves in (26th June) with husband Charlie Wood, a much-lauded American singer/songwriter and pianist, to celebrate a century of song taking in Alone Together, Autumn in New York, It Don’t Mean a Thing, A Foggy Day, You’ve Got a Friend, among others.

Twenty-four hours later, one of America’s finest younger generation string quartets, the Escher Quartet, which has had a spell on the prestigious BBC New Generation Artist scheme, performs Haydn’s Op 76 No 6 quartet, Debussy’s solitary essay in the form and Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet.

Benjamin Grosvenor makes his third visit to the festival (28th June) but this time with a friend, South Korean violinist Hyeyoon Park whose instrumental prowess appears to be as great as his around a piano keyboard.

Their attractive programme is Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No 8 and Piano Sonata No 14, the Moonlight, Ravel’s Violin Sonata No 2, Bartók’s Rhapsody No 1, Chopin’s Barcarolle Op 60 and César Franck’s Violin Sonata.

The human singing voice returns (29th June), three of them: soprano Elizabeth Watts, who needs no introduction to Sheffield audiences, tenor Nicky Spence and countertenor Christopher Ainslee, in the company of pianist Audrey Hyland to explore ‘Secrets and Obsessions’ over a programme of songs.

In total, 22 of them from the German pens of Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Loewe, the English quills of Purcell, Britten, Bridge, Balfe, George Butterworth, and French, Spanish, American items by Hahn, Granados and Lehrer.

Bringing us to the penultimate concert and a return visit by the outstanding St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble (30th June) in its 50th anniversary year with an evening of string sextets by Brahms, his second: Op 36, Dvořák: Op 48, and Richard Strauss, the often extracted string sextet prelude to his last opera Capriccio.

All concerts begin at 7.30pm; tickets range from £16 to £22 and a visit to www.bradfieldfestivalofmusic.co.uk will tell you how to obtain them.

 

Review: Ardent Homage and Chromaticism

Extremely familiar sounds greeted a snail-pace inching, physical wreck entering the Crucible Theatre (yours truly, actually); the strains of the famous folk-style Russian song Kalinka expertly played on a horn somewhere close by in the building.

Well, the venue was in the throes of an extensive nine-day Russian/ Soviet music festival promoted by Music in the Round and anchored by the superbly skilled musicians of Ensemble 360 mainly in the Crucible Studio, the ultimate destination of two shuffling legs to hear five of them.

The pièce de résistance, almost inevitably, was the 20-year-old Rachmaninov’s deeply felt memorial homage to Tchaikovsky, his epic Trio Élégiaque No 2, a tremendously sonorous performance from Benjamin Nabarro: violin, Gemma Rosefield: cello, and Tim Horton: piano.

Small wonder the threesome now pursues a much-lauded separate life independent of Ensemble 360 as the Leonore Piano Trio. They were totally inside the music and executed it with a controlled abandonment that was irresistible.

The balance between three flawlessly tuned instruments – super interplay between Nabarro and Rosefield! – was well nigh impeccable, an occasionally overloud keyboard making its presence felt in Horton’s tireless, impassioned playing of the almost relentlessly virtuosic piano part.

(For those not aware, the sound dampening piano lid is never in evidence in the Studio as it obscures sight lines in the in-the-round venue).

The pianist was also the keyboard partner in two duos of around ten-minute duration, and equal to their often fiendish technical demands, from the pens of Marina Dranishnikova and Nikolai Roslavets who will not mean much, if anything to most.

To avoid repetition see: So, Who is Marina Dranishnikova? at www.bernardleemusic.com

Her piece, Poème for oboe and piano in which flights of lyric beauty punctuate prevailing time-honoured, lovelorn Russian melancholy, is so skilfully wrought it’s difficult to believe it is the only thing she wrote.

Effectively, a Romantic work dating from the mid-20th century, Adrian Wilson triumphantly conquered the far from easy, complex oboe part with flowing intonation, expressive tonal beauty and rock-steady line.

The revolutionary Roslavets’s Viola Sonata No 1, his first work entirely written to his New System of Tonal Organisation, a massively complicated deployment (or re-deployment!) of pitch, chords, rhythms, etc, that he insisted was a logical evolution of traditional harmony, is a much more thorny affair.

Similarly, like Dranishnikova’s piece, there are occasional passages of very traditional lyrical harmony (tunes even!) which emerge as oases in a sea of often acerbic chromaticism that flirts with atonality.

In his programme note, Nigel Simeone describes it as a “passionate and ardently chromatic work”, apt adjectives in summing up Ruth Gibson’s stunning, full-blooded account of work with everything, remarkably, sounding pitched given Roslavets’s thoughts on pitch, the main plank of his New System!

A pity not more people were in the audience to hear such technically assured viola playing of a work that may well benefit from repeated hearings, and the rest of a magnificently played concert, for that matter.

Footnote: Ever growing severe physical problems, compounded by a potentially more serious complaint over the last six months, has reduced already decreasing reviewing activity to virtually nil. There is a possible slight ray of optimism, but breath should definitely not be held!