The Trumpet, and Trombone! Shall Sound

We have another Eastertide Messiah in the city on the 8th of April following a Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus performance of the work a fortnight earlier with period instruments.

However, this one, at the outset of Holy Week – Palm Sunday is the next day – will sound very different.

It is a ‘Come and Sing’ performance, an invitation extended to everyone from the Sheffield Bach Choir whose annual December performance of Handel’s oratorio entered Sheffield folklore many years ago. Alternatively, you can just go and listen.

The occasion marks the 275th anniversary of the work’s first performance in Dublin in 1742. Almost to the day, actually: the 13th of April being when it first saw the light of day!

It also offers an opportunity, if not a major selling bullet point, to hear a rather rare outing for Messiah in the brass band ‘orchestration’ by Denis Wright, a transcription first heard in 1946 but not too often since.

Given the universal popularity of the work across all spectrums of society, it is perhaps surprising that it had to wait 200 years to be reincarnated in the world of brass bands, especially given their festive prominence at Christmas.

How Messiah came to be indelibly associated with aforementioned consumer season is buried somewhere in the mists of time. It’s as much an Easter work as it is a Christmas one; indeed, can be argued to be more so!

Note when Handel premiered it, although he had completed the work in September of the previous year – plenty of time for Christmas of 1741!

Denis Wright (1895-1967) was associated with brass bands virtually all his life, conducting them, composing test pieces for competitions and making hundreds of transcriptions and arrangements.

He was responsible for all brass band broadcasts on the BBC for nearly ten years from 1936 and worked indefatigably to gain greater recognition for brass bands generally and especially in other domains of music.

One cannot imagine Handel objecting to a brass band transcription of Messiah. He altered the work just about every time it was performed in his day – re-orchestrating, tweaking this and that, re-allocating recits and arias, altering or adding an aria here and there, and so on.

He is said to have left nine different versions of Messiah, none of them definitive, which include 43 versions of 15 solo numbers!

The Bach Choir’s Come and Sing Messiah with professional soloists, the Rothwell Temperance Band and conducted by Simon Lindley is at Sheffield Cathedral and starts at 7pm.

Further information at

Intimate with Mr Enderby!

Intimate with Mr Enderby tells you nothing more untoward than Janáček’s Second String Quartet, Intimate Letters, is programmed with a piece called Inside Mr Enderby by Huw Belling at a concert this coming Thursday (23rd of March).

It takes place at The Chimney House in the vicinity of Kelham Island and is given by a newly formed group of young, top-flight musicians, the Manchester Collective, the Belling work being its first performance.

An intriguing collection of facts that have only just surfaced but in need, no pretty much demanding further investigation!

Made up with musicians from orchestras such as the BBC Phil and Royal Liverpool Phil, the group came into being last year and 2017 sees its first series of concerts, six of them with fascinating content, and its artistic director is cellist Adam Szabo.

“North West England has an incredibly rich cultural heritage of orchestral music,” he explains, “but we’ve found that the chamber music vein is not nearly as diverse or as rich, so our remit is to bring a greater depth of chamber music in the north west.”

Certainly, the scope is wide in the Collective’s first six concerts: Taverner (the Renaissance one), Purcell, Biber, Vivaldi, via Mozart and Beethoven, to Barber, Janáček, Stravinsky, Ravel, Schulhoff, Piazzolla, Schoenberg, Cage, Jorg Widman to the immediate Huw Belling.

“The way that we present these concerts is quite different,” says Adam Szabo.

“It’s a departure from, I guess, traditional concert programming, especially for new audiences who’ve never been to a concert, or not being to many before. There are so many conventions and preconceptions we find it distances audiences.”

Accordingly, recognised concert venues are shunned, which where The Chimney House with its steel rolling mill origins comes into the equation. All are in the round to increase intimacy.

So why is an ensemble formed, ostensibly, to cater for the needs of North West England straying north east to Sheffield, and twice more later in the year (July, September), as well as Leeds?

“We believe this music should be heard by as many people as possible. Sheffield is such a big city and I think there is room for much more,” feels the Collective’s artistic director.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that he says he is familiar with Music in the Round, which shares similarities with the Manchester Collective’s philosophical aims, proclaiming: “They do really wonderful work!”

Huw Belling’s Inside Mr Enderby is the first of a series of annual commissions by the ensemble and if you know your Anthony Burgess you will be aware that the work’s title is that of a book by him and, maybe, that this year is the centenary of the birth of the Mancunian author, and composer!

Belling, a young Australian composer of increasing note at present based in Oxford where he was recently been awarded a PhD was approached in collaboration with the International Anthony Burgess Foundation for a work to celebrate the occasion.

A notable background in chamber opera has led him to write a song cycle with string quartet, dramaturge Pierce Wilcox extracting words from the book, and with one singer in mind, Mitch(ell) Riley.

A fellow Australian and baritone with whom he has worked on regular basis and also presently out of his home country, holding down a prestigious residency in Paris, Riley is a much admired singer of contemporary music.

“Not only is Mitch an acclaimed operatic baritone,” says Adam Szabo, “he comes from a background of physical theatre and acting so we expect the work will have a highly visual and dramatic element to it.”

He is also involved in the Janáček, reading the composer’s letters!

And let it not be said that the Manchester Collective may struggle for an audience. The ensemble’s first concert (Sheffield sees the second) was streamed live on Facebook and attracted over 15,000 viewers!

There is also a captive audience among students. They get into all concerts – usually each one at three different venues – free with a valid student card!

More at


Songs for Pauline

Elizabeth Watts returns to the city where she cut her singing teeth on the 17th of March to sing Richard Strauss and Mahler with the Hallé in the Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

Having established herself as an internationally celebrated soprano since triumphing at the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World, she will be performing five songs by Strauss with the orchestra before taking on the vocal guise of a child in the last movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Strauss wrote songs, or Lieder throughout his life, a fraction over 200 of them. The earliest were single, one-off compositions that evolved fairly quickly into collections, or sets of songs. Probably the best-known set, Vier Lieder Op 27 consists, as the translation tells us, of ‘Four Songs’, for instance.

The vast majority in their original form were written for voice and piano – the celebrated Four Last Songs being a notable exception – but the odd one or two were penned with orchestra. He did, however, orchestrate nearly 50 of ‘original piano songs’ making many already attractive gems all the more irresistible.

Actually, there is a super, infrequently heard of pair of songs, Op 51, originally written with orchestra for ‘low bass voice’, the only instance where Strauss specifies an actual voice range beyond the occasional ‘high voice’ and prevailing ‘for voice and piano’.

But we digress, so back to the five Strauss songs at the City Hall, under the direction of the Hallé’s principal guest conductor, Sheffield-born-and-raised Ryan Wigglesworth.

The first is the gently ecstatic Das RosenbandThe Rose Ribbon, Op 36 No 1 (text Friedrich Klopstock), in which a lover gazes lovingly on his sleeping sweetheart who he has draped with roses and when she wakes “all around us became Elysium” – to quote the text.

Following it is the sustained beauty of WiegenliedLullaby, Op 41 No 1 (Richard Dehmel), where a mother sings to her sleeping child and how it has made the world heaven on earth for her.

In MuttertändeleiMother-chatter, Op 43 No 2 (Gottfried Bürger), we have another mother rattling on extolling the virtues of her child before declaring she would not sell it for all the gold in the world.

Two regularly heard Strauss songs end the five: the blissful Morgen!Tomorrow, Op 27 No 4 (John Henry Mackay) – “And tomorrow the sun will shine again. She will again unite us, and upon us will sink the mute silence of happiness,” followed by how a loved one is missed when they are not near in the soaring ecstasy of CäcilieCecilia, Op 27 No 2 (Heinrich Hart).

The generally well known four opus 27 songs, the earlier cited Vier Lieder, were written by Strauss as a wedding gift to his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna in 1894, and the not very Teutonic-sounding John Henry Mackay was born in Scotland but grew up and lived in Germany from the age of two.

Mackay, incidentally, also penned the poem that became Heimliche Aufforderung – Secret Invitation, which became the third song of Vier Lieder Op 27 and, coincidentally, will be heard when Liz Watts makes a further visit back to Sheffield in June.

She will be in the company of two other singers and a pianist and the song figures, as does another Strauss gem, Die Nacht – The Night Op 10 No 3, in a highly attractive Songsmiths’ concert at this year’s Bradfield Festival on the 29th of June.

Watch this space shortly!