Music in the Round – Autumn 2017

World of Strings, an ongoing exploration of stringed instruments from around the globe and the music played on them, is launched by Music in the Round in its autumn series of concerts in Sheffield.

It remains to be seen how the project develops, especially with the ever-increasing amount of what is termed ‘world music’ being presented exclusively at concerts.

All genres are featured – classical, jazz, folk, as well, and there is every indication that fusion will be an element. Also, that string instruments will not have the stage entirely to themselves.

The second of the first two ‘WoS’ concerts in the season (18th November) from Sheffield’s acclaimed global music collective, Rafiki Jazz, provides clear evidence of this with the inclusion of Caribbean steelpans and kawala flutes among other exoticisms.

More conventional instruments, although perhaps not among percussion items, are heard 24 hours earlier at the star-studded opening concert (17th November) of the World of Strings project, ‘Strad in Rio’.

Other than percussion, violin, cello and guitar to be precise, including the world-renowned Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova and a celebrated cellist who is no stranger to Sheffield having been born here, Matthew Barley, who happens to be ‘Mr Mullova’.

Paul Clarvis is the distinguished percussionist and, while unable to speak for João Luis Nogueira Pinto, there is no reason to doubt the Brazilian guitarist’s credentials in this company, least of all as the music (of the popular variety) is from his country.

Another stellar visitor – in fact, a long time returnee! – in the season is pianist Imogen Cooper (14th October) with a programme of Beethoven, including Sonata No 31, Haydn and Thomas Adès.

A much quicker returnee is the Van Kuijk Quartet (28th October) with Debussy, Mendelssohn: Op 44 No 2, and Akira Nishimura: String Quartet No 2 – Pulse of the Lights, at Upper Chapel.

At the same venue, the Marmen Quartet ends it tenure (21st October) on Music in the Round’s ‘Bridge Quartet’ scheme with Mozart, Haydn and Brahms.

The Leonore Piano Trio continues its survey of the complete violin sonatas, cello sonatas and piano trios by Beethoven (11th November) and the trio’s pianist, Tim Horton, launches in to another cycle, Schubert’s major piano sonatas over four concerts (2nd December).

All three musicians will be on duty when Ensemble 360 gets the season underway on the 9th of October with a Schubert string quartet: No 11, Berio: one his 14 solo Sequenzas, Mahler and Korngold: Piano Quintet.

Two further ensemble concerts take in Coleridge-Taylor’s Clarinet Quintet, Fauré’s Piano Quintet No 1 and the first performance of a work, commissioned by Royal Philharmonic Society, by Patrick Brennan (8th November).

The other (29th November), features more Berio – another Sequenza, Beethoven, Mozart and Dohnányi’s jolly Sextet for violin, viola, cello, horn, clarinet and piano.

There are also three attractively planned Thursday lunchtime concerts at Upper Chapel from individual ensemble members.

Roderick Williams hosts a seasonal concert at Upper Chapel (16th December), which also involves Sheffield Young Singers and Sheffield-born mezzo-soprano Anna Harvey of ever-increasing note.

For jazz aficionados, the Jason Rebello Trio (1st December), in association with Sheffield Jazz, is a must and all the concerts take place in the Crucible Studio, except as noted.

Full details of the season can be found at



2017/ 18 Sheffield International Concert Season – 1

Marche Écossaise; Marche écossaise sur un theme populaire to give it its full title, is not the first piece of music you would think of if asked to name a work by Debussy.

In fact, it has what can be called quiet popularity, although in all likelihood has never been heard in Sheffield before, at least the orchestral version.

On the 29th of September, ‘Scottish March on a Popular Theme’ (circa, seven minutes) is the first work heard when the 2017/ 18 Sheffield International Concert Season opens at the City Hall.

Debussy was on the breadline in 1891 so when a Scottish general commissioned him to write a march based on traditional melody of the Ross clan he readily agreed.

A four-handed piano piece in its original form, the much more solvent composer orchestrated it in 1908.

Nothing remotely unfamiliar about the work that follows, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 with Alexander Gavrylyuk as soloist, before Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé end proceedings with Stravinsky’s Firebird score.

Scotland and ballet figure in the following concert (12th October) from the Royal Northern Sinfonia under the baton of distinguished Baroque specialist Paul McCreesh.

The nearest he gets to the period, though, is the ensuing Classical era: Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 1 with the highly thought of Guy Johnston and Mozart, the rarely heard ballet music from his opera Idomeneo – not ballet as the brochure blurb can be construed as suggesting!

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3, the Scottish, which he actually christened Scotch, posterity changing it, as it has nothing to do with Scotland’s famed alcoholic distilment, completes the evening.

We are definitely in the realms of ballet: an unspecified suite from Prokofiev’s Cinderella and Ravel’s Daphis et Chloé Suite No 2, when the Brussels Philharmonic pays a visit (11th November), the orchestra having had three previous names since its formation in 1935.

Preceding them is another ‘stranger’, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Passchendaele, a multi-textured First World War commemorative piece premiered in 2014, followed by the regularly encountered (to say the least!) Violin Concerto No 1 by Bruch – the famous one!

The orchestra’s principal conductor Stéphane Denève is the podium and the soloist in Bruch, Nikolaj Znaider.

The Hallé has a further concert before the end of the year (8th December) and there is yet more unfamiliarity among the offerings, at least as far as Sheffield concert audiences are concerned: Respighi’s The Fountains of Rome.

Celebrated Italian maestro Carlo Rizzi is the conductor and follows it with something everyone knows by another fellow countryman, Rossini’s William Tell Overture, before moving on to Rachmaninov’s monumentally lush Symphony No 2.

The popular annual Christmas Concert with the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus and, yet again, the famous Black Dyke Band, takes place the following week (16th December).

Concerts in the rest of season – eight of them – will be expounded on nearer the time it recommences in the New Year.

Tasters include, Delius: Paris: The Song of a Great City; Shostakovich: Cello Concerto No 1; Mussorgsky/ Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition. The Hallé/ Sir Mark Elder, Alisa Weilerstein: cello, on the 19th of January.

Khachaturian: Masquerade Suite; Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No 1; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4. Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra/ Valery Polyansky, Alexander Sitkovetsky: violin, on the 3rd of March.

Debussy: Children’s Corner; Schumann: Piano Concerto; Stravinsky: Symphonies of Wind Instruments (1947); Debussy: La Mer. City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/ Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, Rudolf Buchbinder: piano, on the 16th of March.

Mahler: Symphony No 2 ‘Resurrection’. Bruckner Orchester Linz/ Markus Poschner, Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, on the 5th of May.


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 @ 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! @

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.