Midsummer Madness

Late Midsummer Madness meets Midsomer Murder, they say, in an afternoon of bacchanalian excess and escapism going under the title of a Cornucopia of Delights.

The post-solstice mayhem comes courtesy of Viva Voce chamber choir at the David Mellor Visitor Centre and Design Museum in Hathersage on the 2nd of July.

Like the choir’s recent trawl through matters metaphysical it is, nevertheless, another appealing prospect – and it’s free!

It looks as if proceedings will be in three slots with a break between each to promenade round the grounds, imbibe a free glass of punch, scoff some complimentary canapés, or maybe indulge in some retail therapy – it’s the opening day of the Centre’s Summer Sale!

But, returning to the rather attractive music which gets underway in a section headed ‘Shakespeare 400 and Creative Industry’, the latter doubtless having everything to do with the venue.

It begins with Laulusild, or A Bridge of Song by the Estonian composer Veljo Tormis and there are three of the Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi’s many Shakespeare settings Lullaby; Double, Double Toil & Trouble; and A Scurvy tune.

An even more prolific contemporary composer of Shakespeare settings, American Matthew Harris chips in with O Mistress Mine and When Daffodils begin. There is also a setting of Full Fathom Five by English jazzman Elton Dean.

Vaughan Williams gets a look with The Cloud-Capp’d Towers, while two of Poulenc’s resourceful settings of eight Chansons Francaises, Pilon l’orge and Les Tisserands, can be said to fall into the creative strand.

The second slot sounds as if it could be fun when Viva Voce members take on the guise of Shakespeare’s Rude Mechanicals and, subsequently nymphs and shepherds, to present a mini-opera, a reduced version of Handel’s ‘Acis and Galatea’.

The selected numbers from the piece must surely include O ruddier than the cherry and Love sounds th’ alarm and all the accompaniment of a ‘rustic band of minstrels’.

Veljo Tormis is back to start the third slot, ‘Midsummer…easy livin’’, with two pieces from his Jaanilalud – Songs on St John’s Eve, or Midsummer Night Songs: Jaani hobu – St. John’s Steed; and Kutse jaanitulele II – Call to the Midsummer Bonfire.

They are Estonian folk songs should you not know, but Weill’s Mack the Knife and Gershwin’s Summertime, punctuated by the Goff Richards arrangement of the Auvergne folk song Le Baylère (Bailèro), need no introduction.

After which there will be ‘requests’ from a dozen or so evergreens selected from the Great American Songbook.


By Any Other Name…

Variations on better known works is one way of describing two of the flagship operas in this year’s Buxton Festival, 8th to the 24th July: Leonore and I Capuleti e i Montecchi.

The first is Beethoven’s Fidelio and the second in translation, The Capulets and the Montagues, gives you a head start on knowing that it is Romeo and Juliet, courtesy of Bellini.

It actually owes more to the Italian origins of the story way back in the mists of antiquity than Shakespeare’s tragedy, which the Bard himself drew heavily on. So there are, naturally, joint reference points, but don’t go looking for Paris and Mercutio, or a Balcony Scene!

The libretto by Felice Romani was a reworking of the one he had written for the most successful of the 18 operas, Giulietta e Romeo (1825), penned by Nicola Vaccai – now primarily remembered as a renowned singing teacher.

Bellini did some reworking for the music, too. He only had six weeks to write it in and fell back heavily onto the score of his previous opera with Romani, Zaira, which had just failed.

I Capuleti didn’t! Its Venice premiere was a resounding success in March 1830 and, these days, it just about holds its own with the composer’s operatic masterpieces, Norma, I Puritani and La Sonnambula.

Romeo being en travesti – or trouser role (mezzo-soprano) – creates a nice link to Leonore, disguised as a man in Beethoven’s opera named Fidelio in the hope of finding her husband, Florestan, in a forbidding prison.

Many things connected with Beethoven are complex and Fidelio is no exception but, summed up: as Leonore, in three acts, it was first performed in 1805; still as Leonore, it had a second premiere the following year, this time in two acts, the original first two having being condensed as one.

A third and final revised version appeared in 1814, this time as Fidelio! – in fact, the title it first saw the light of day with 1805! although Beethoven cannot be blamed for that.

The basic plot remained the same throughout and you will hear familiar Fidelio music in the Buxton staging of the three-act Leonore, even if the words it is sung to differ with two librettists involved.

Fidelio was actually the fourth incarnation for two of the opera’s most famous numbers. Pizarro’s Ha! Welch’ ein Augenblick! and the Leonore/ Florestan duet O namenlose Freude both originated in an aborted opera Beethoven began writing to an Emanuel Schikaneder libretto prior to Leonore.

I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Leonore each receive five performances over the festival’s duration, while a third opera, Handel’s opera seria Tamerlano, gets four in a Buxton Festival/ English Concert co-production.

In a nutshell, its complex plot hinges on the Tartar emperor Tamerlano after sparing the life of his prisoner the Turkish Sultan Bajazet, thanks to the intervention of Bajazet’s daughter, Asteria.

Tamerlano, infatuated, sets about trying to win her but first attempts to palm his betrothed, Princess Irene, off on to the Greek prince Andronico, who happens to be in love with Asteria.

It was written in 1724, the same year as two of Handel’s other operatic masterpieces, Giulio Cesare and Rodelinda. It also contains one of first major tenor roles in opera, that of Bajazet.


‘The Poetry is in the Pity…’

Sheffield Oratorio Chorus has ‘a big sing’ looming at Sheffield Cathedral – Britten’s great plea for reconciliation, his War Requiem!

The performance has clearly been scheduled for the 2nd of July as the day before, the 1st of July, saw the beginning of what we now know as the Battle of the Somme exactly 100 year ago in 1916.

It went on until the 18th of November and resulted in over one million men dead or wounded. On the first day itself, there were around 58,000 British casualties, including 513 officers and men from the Sheffield Pals Battalion!

Few will need reminding that for the War Requiem, Britten set poems by penned by Wilfred Owen (killed in 1918, aged 25, days before the armistice) in the trenches of the ‘war to end all wars’ – until, that is, 1939 when its seismic shocks ignited another!

They are at the extremely moving heart of work, otherwise a setting of the Latin Mass of the Dead (Missa pro Defunctis) and written for the 1962 consecration of the newly re-built Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in the Nazi’s blitz of the city in 1940.

For its performance of the War Requiem, the Oratorio Chorus (with guests apparently) is using the occasion as its once-a-season concert with a fully-fledged professional orchestra, the Northern Chamber Orchestra, no doubt augmented as it usually is for Buxton Festival operas.

On paper, the three soloists look fine: soprano Laura Mitchell, tenor Mark Wilde, and particularly baritone Ross Ramgobin; the children’s voices are Sheffield Cathedral choristers; Fraser Wilson plays the organ; and Jonathan Gooing the piano.

With Alan Eost (music director of the Oratorio Chorus), Neil Taylor and Joshua Hales the conductors, everything looks set for another memorable performance of the work from the Oratorio Chorus.


The Stars Descend on Bradfield

Bradfield Festival of Music opens its doors for the 19th time on the 25th of June, or more precisely, the picturesquely set Church of St Nicholas in High Bradfield does.

The big names are coming again: Julian Lloyd Webber (although he’s not performing), Emma Johnson, Tine Thing Helseth, Kathryn Stott among them, to perform in the late 15th century (with origins dating back to the 11th) church on the edge of the Peak District.

Lloyd Webber’s appearance, An Evening with Julian Lloyd Webber (30th of June), finds the festival’s president making his fifth visit and deciding to talk about his career and let his wife, Jiaxin, also a cellist, do the playing with splendid Romanian/ Nigerian pianist Rebeca Omordia.

Hard to believe he will not play something, even if it’s only ‘In the Half-light’ by his dad William whose music he champions. Other pieces in the concert: nice to see some John Ireland, albeit not complete, can be found in the entry for it on the Classical Sheffield website Calendar – ditto, all the concerts!

A fascinating proposition presents itself in Norwegian trumpet queen Tine Thing Helseth’s concert with Kathryn Stott the previous evening (29th of June), that of hearing their transcription of Grieg’s song cycle Haugtussa, not to mention and five early Puccini songs not from operas!

Emma Johnson’s jazz-inflected concert 24 hours earlier has a similar compulsive look and feel about it, playing classics by legendary jazz clarinettists Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Sydney Bechet (strictly, soprano saxophonist) with Bradfield regular, pianist John Lenehan and high profile percussionist Paul Clarvis.

British concert pianist Philip Dyson, who enjoys considerably more acclaim and fame across Europe and particularly in America than, curiously, he does on home shores, just about equally divides his programme (1st of July) between the likes of Beethoven and Gershwin.

Ensemble Berlin (27th of June), an established chamber group in its own right from the Berlin Philharmonic, no less, offer a super six-item programme that includes a Figaro Fantasia by Hummel with a prominent viola and ‘Souvenir de Donizetti’ with a prominent bassoon by James Waterson (1834-93).

Returning to open the festival (25th of June) is globe-trotting a cappella octet VOCES8 with a concert that runs a whole gamut of styles from Byrd and Schütz to the present day, and the Woodwind Ensemble of the RAF College Band close it (2nd of July) with another attractive selection of items.


Busking Byrd

Fancy jamming some Renaissance motets fuelled by a pint or two in a pub back room?

Well, you have the opportunity on Tuesday, the 5th of July at Sheffield’s first real ale pub, The Fat Cat at Kelham Island!

It comes courtesy of Polyphony Down the Pub, a London-based come-and-sing organisation that was featured on BBC Radio 3’s Meet My Choir last Christmas – if you want hear it: https://soundcloud.com/user-723076806/pdtp-meet-my-choir

“We’ve since had a lot of requests to try out a session in other parts of the country and our very first non-London session will The Fat Cat pub in Sheffield,” says PDtP founder Kevin O’Neill.

“It’s free to take part – though people should bring their drinking money! and we welcome anyone who feels they can sight-sing their way through 16th century repertoire. We also have a couple of spaces for non-singers too.

“The emphasis is very much on a fun night of singing. Our motto is ‘no rehearsing, no performing, just singing!’

Further information and registration (places are limited) at:



Review: Philharmonic Chorus Celebration Concert

Not what you would call an entirely triumphant 80th birthday celebration concert from the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and its music director Darius Battiwalla, with a little help from the Sheffield Bach Choir.

It ended in triumph, though, with the shortest piece performed, Let All the World in Ev’ry Corner Sing!

The longest item on the all-Vaughan Williams programme, the dramatic and emotionally charged cantata Dona Nobis Pacem, had its moments of spine tingling effect within admirable choral commitment and endeavour but, ultimately, failed to come off.

If the two soloists, soprano Jennifer Rust and baritone Oliver Dunn, had lifted their projection by a notch or two into the City Hall’s wide spaces it would have helped.

The same malady tended to afflict the chorus in the work’s quieter sections, too, as it did in the concert’s opening piece, an otherwise joyful rendering of O Clap Your Hands.

Frankly, the Serenade to Music is best heard as VW originally wrote it, and makes more sense text-wise, for 16 soloists (four each, SATB). One of the alternative versions he later wrote was for four soloists, chorus and orchestra, a much bigger one on the evidence here.

If this was the version heard, there were three soloists with tenor Joshua Ellicott joining the other two and livening the trio up!

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra was faultless throughout, offering the Fantasia on Greensleeves under its own steam and supporting highly promising teenage violinist Callum Smart in a ‘Classically’ pure account of The Lark Ascending.


Unostentatious Magnificence!

You could say we have a mini-invasion of College Chapel Choirs from Cambridge on the horizon!

The Choir of King’s College, no less, is at St Marie’s Cathedral on the 27th of June and, just over a week earlier, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College has a three-day mini-tour in the area.

It might not have the household name the former has, but its worldwide reputation cannot be denied as one of finest mixed choirs among the many top-notch Cambridge choirs – how about “a sound of unostentatious magnificence” for one ringing endorsement!

It is perhaps not without significance that numerous other similar instances of approval have come since Canadian Sarah MacDonald became the first professional director of the choir (mixed since 1976) in 1999; also the first woman to hold such a post at an Oxbridge chapel.

Although the Selwyn choir has a repertoire ranging from the 10th to the 21st century, it has a unique niche of its own (at present anyway), that of recording single-living composer discs (quite a number), indeed perform a considerable amount of contemporary choral music.

There is fair sprinkling of it over two concerts from the choir, the first at Worksop College on the 17th of June marking 100 years since the Battle of the Somme, and the second at Wentworth Parish Church the day after: A Celebration of English Choral Music!

The choir is in Sheffield the following day, joining one or more of the St John’s, Ranmoor choirs for Sung Eucharist and, later in the day, the Schola Cantorum at Sheffield Cathedral for Evensong, before giving a ‘short recital’ – how short and featuring what, not known!

The Worksop concert begins with two Psalm settings, William Croft’s O Lord, rebuke me not (Psalm 38); and Britten’s Deus in adjutorium (Psalm 70), written in 1945 and worthy of more outings than it gets. The wonderful, gently mourning Requiem by Howells follows.

After this are two contemporary English Anthems for Remembrance, the first of Alex Patterson’s Two Pieces of Remembrance, Dulce et decorum est, and Mark Blatchly’s For the Fallen – the second of Patterson’s two pieces, but Blatchly’s is arguably the finer setting.

Finally, after Three German Motets for Time of Penitence Op 110 by Brahms, there is John Ireland’s Greater Love Hath No Man and Parry’s I Was Glad.

The Croft and Britten pieces are repeated at Wentworth where proceedings begin with three Easter/ Ascension anthems: Byrd’s Christ Rising Again, Ascendit Deus by his near-forgotten contemporary Peter Philips and a much more recent Alleluia, Christus Resurrexit by Colin Mawby.

Three settings of When David Heard take in a familiar one by Tomkins, less so the one by his contemporary Robert Ramsey and a new one, by Ben Ponniah, premiered by Selwyn in June 2015.

After two contemporary anthems of largely transcendental nature, Jonathan Dove’s Seek Him and James MacMillan’s A New Song; Finzi’s My Spirit Sang All Day, Vaughan Williams’s The Turtle Dove, Stanford’s The Bluebird and Pearsall’s Lay a Garland are heard to send everyone home happy.