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!

So, Who is Marina Dranishnikova?

This Thursday’s two concerts from Ensemble 360 in Music in the Round’s May Festival this year, Russia in the Round, are especially fascinating and in particular the one at lunchtime.

It introduces a couple of composers who will be totally unfamiliar to just about all but Russian music anoraks, Marina Dranishnikova and Nikolai Roslavets.

Dranishnikova (1929 –94), the daughter of Vladimir Dranishnikov, a friend of Prokofiev and composer who made his living mainly as a conductor, appears to have studied piano and composition at Leningrad Conservatory.

If she wrote anything else other than the piece getting an outing in the Russia in the Round festival, Poéme for oboe and piano, it has proved impossible to discover. However, the work’s lyrical outpouring strongly suggests she was far from being a beginner in 1953 when she wrote it.

Described as a challenging work and lasting a little short of ten minutes, Poéme was dedicated to the principal oboe of the Leningrad Philharmonic and was apparently prompted by an ‘unhappy love’ for an oboist – the word ‘tragic’ has also surfaced!

The adjective is apt in relation to Nikolai Roslavets (1881 –1944) who must have been the most persecuted composer under the Soviet regime. Mud sticks, they say, and even now he still largely persona non grata.

His ‘crime’ was nothing more than being a cosmopolitan modernist, or futurist composer who developed a compositional technique for atonalism taking late Scriabin as his starting point.

The barrage of unfounded vitriol launched at him for his efforts by a political system that he fully supported was as astonishing as it was intense to the point that even his deliberately unmarked grave was destroyed.

Performances of his music were banned from the early 1930s until the late 1970s, even the one-movement Viola Sonata No 1 from 1926 when Roslavets’s fame was at its peak in the Soviet Union and being performed this Thursday.

It can be described as a late Romantic work, harmonically adventurous and full of a yearning beauty that is difficult to resist, and yet it had been consigned to state archives after his death until the late 1980s when, at last, access to his manuscripts was granted.

As a point of interest, Alina Ibragimova, known to recent Music in the Round audiences, recorded Roslavets’s two violin concertos in 2008 with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov!

Roughly a ten-minute work, rounding the Roslavet sonata up with Dranishnikova’s Poéme to make a joint running time of around 20 minutes means the concert’s advertised duration of 55 minutes is going to be somewhat stretched as it concludes with Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2.

Have you noticed how many Russian composers writing memorial/ tribute pieces do so using the piano trio as a vehicle, by the way?

This is the third heard in the festival: Rachmaninov’s memorial homage following the death of Tchaikovsky. It was modelled on the latter’s only piano trio written as a tribute to Nikolai Rubinstein, while Shostakovich dedicated his Trio No 2 to Ivan Sollertinsky evoking images of Soviet death camps in the process.

Not in the festival, Arensky’s Trio No 1 (probably his best-known opus number), penned in memory of the highly renowned cellist and composer Karl Davidov, is another significant example.


Russia in the Round

Music in the Round’s May Festival this year, Russia in the Round (5th –13th May), has programming that must put it into the running for the coveted Royal Philharmonic Society’s Concerts Series and Festivals award.

There is so much going on over the festival’s nine-day duration taking in 33 events, a blow-by-blow account of what here would be tedious, if not of a perfunctory nature here and especially when a visit to www.musicintheround.co.uk will reveal all.

However, by way of indicating what you will find there, a few choice examples and musings cannot be resisted.

Innovation and imagination, which sum up much of the festival, are there from the outset with the creation of ten new artworks in response to the music Mussorgsky came up with for his ten Pictures at an Exhibition.

The new ‘pictures’ will be exhibited in the Winter Garden throughout the festival where Tim Horton plays Mussorgsky’s work (3pm, 6th May). If you want to hear him perform it sat down there is a repeat performance in the Crucible Studio (5.45pm, 10th May).

The under-appreciated Glazunov has three works in the opening concert (7.15pm, 5th May) sharing them with Tchaikovsky’s Op 50 piano trio. The day after, pianists Peter Hill and Ben Frith re-unite (4pm, 6th May), but not for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring if you are licking your lips at the prospect.

The composer is on their menu, though, with Petrushka, plus excerpts from two Tchaikovsky ballets, The Sleeping Beauty (arr Rachmaninov) and Swan Lake (arr Debussy). Stravinsky’s Rite is performed when Tim Horton teams up with Viv McLean (4.30pm, 13th May).

Actors Sara Kestelman and Simon Russell Beale, take to the stage when the Studio becomes a Moscow concert hall (7.15pm, 6th May) during Stalin’s ‘Great Terror’ and music by Gliére, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Tsintsadze, Myaskovsky and Weinberg – the eminently worthy latter three being highly prolific – is heard.

BBC Radio 3 has been stimulated into action by the festival content and will be recording four concerts over the second half of the festival, the pick of which features Martinů’s engaging Fantasia for theremin, oboe, string quartet and piano (7.15pm, 11th May).

Should you not know, the strange instrument was one of the first electronic music devices, invented by a Russian physicist of the same name in 1920, and some 20-odd years later Martinů really made it sing!

Programmed with it are Prokofiev’s widely contrasted Op 39 quintet derived from a ballet that never was, Shostakovich’s powerfully emotional Eighth String Quartet and Eisler’s jolly Septet No 1, subtitled Variations on American Children’s Songs.

Much acclaimed pianist Steven Osborne puts an appearance in – two, actually! – though primarily (7.15pm, 8th May) for a recital based on one Rachmaninov gave at the Sheffield Festival in 1936 when he played his two Études-Tableaux sets, Op 33 and Op 39, along with works by Brahms and Schubert.

Osborne plays the Études – albeit, a selection from Op 39! plus, respectively, Three Intermezzi Op 117 and Moment Musical No 2 by Brahms and Schubert.

Ensemble 360’s double bass player Laurène Durantel also calls on her talents as a pianist and vocalist (3.30pm, 7th May) to furnish a live soundtrack to the pioneering silent (1929) Russian documentary film Man with a Movie Camera in the Students’ Union Auditorium (Sheffield University).

Staying in the realms of creativity, Sheffield’s composer collective Platform 4, Jenny Jackson, Tom James, Chris Noble and Tom Owen, have each been commissioned to write a new work inspired by a Russian repertoire piece and will be performed alongside it at four concerts.

Among other opus numbers heard at concerts in the festival are Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata Op 94, Britten’s Cello Suite No 3 and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Op 57 at one of them – Steven Osborne’s second appearance (7.15pm, 9th May)!

Glinka gets three looks in: Viola Sonata (in a bassoon transcription); Grand Sextet, rubbing shoulders with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence; and Trio Pathétique, with some Sofia Gubaidulina on the same programme: Quasi Hoquetus.

Other standout works include Taneyev: String Trio Op 31; Cui: Cinque petits duos Op 56 (flute/ violin); Rimsky-Korsakov: piano/ wind quintet; Nikolai Kapustin: Flute Sonata Op 125; Shostakovich: the valedictory Viola Sonata Op 147; Balakirev: Octet Op 3.

And how about a pairing of Poème for oboe and piano by Marina Dranishnikova and Viola Sonata No 1 by Nikolai Roslavets with Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2 a luring siren as an opportunity for adventurous discovery (12.45pm, 11th May)?

Unless noted, all the concerts mentioned take place in the Crucible Studio and are given by members of Ensemble 360 with the odd guest here and there.


Affirmative Music For the Soul

A new concert series in Sheffield is launched in May and unveils a new performance venue in the process, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Whirlow.

The chapel, just off Ecclesall Road South, is part of Whirlow Spirituality Centre all that is left of Whirlow Grange Conference Centre, which closed its door in July 2014 after 60 years.

Officially, its name is Whirlow Spirituality Centre at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

The Centre is run by a partnership of All Saints Parish Church, Ecclesall and Whirlow Grange Ltd, an organisation that continues as an educational charity following the sale of most of the land on which the conference centre stood.

In a joint statement John  Stride, chair of the Whirlow Grange Trust, and Gary Wilton, vicar of All Saints, said: “The partnership, which oversees the development of the Spirituality Centre, sees this concert series as a perfect example of how we should be working together.”

“We also want to make this beautiful place more available for residents in the local Whirlow community for whom the Chapel was originally built in the 1960s.”

Despite the apparent audience targeting, however, everyone is welcome to the five concerts in the series between May and October when the grounds in which the Chapel of the Holy Spirit is set are most verdant. The more the merrier!

“With space for up to 50 people, we’ve realised the Chapel is an ideal location for intimate, chamber-style performances,” Joy Adams, chaplain to the Whirlow Spiritual Centre.

She added: “The series is intended to offer music that’s in tune with the reflective, meditative and affirmative style of this special place.”

The concerts, all beginning at 7.30pm, are given by locally known musicians, except one.

Friday, 19th of May – Hallam Sinfonia String Quartet: Brahms, Fauré and Haydn.

Saturday, 3rd of June – Lucy Phillips: violin and David Hammond: piano: Bach, Debussy and Arvo Pärt.

Friday 30th of June – Chloe Saywell: soprano, Matthew Redfearn: trumpet and Stephanie Pitts: piano: Baroque to Broadway!

Saturday, 23rd of September – Muskoka Wind Quintet: Poulenc, Haydn, Paul Patterson, Gershwin and Norman Hallam.

Saturday, 28th of October – Simeon Wood from historic Kirkburton, near Huddersfield: flute and other wind instruments: light classics, ballads and movie themes interspersed with humour.

Where known, details of individual works being performed can be found on the Calendar on the Classical Sheffield website: www.classicalsheffield.org.uk

You can discover more about the venue at whirlowspiritualitycentre.org/


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 www.sheffieldbachchoir.wordpress.com

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 www.manchestercollective.co.uk