Friday, 31 July 2015

Prom 17 Uncomfortable Englishmen RVW Elgar Elder

Prom 17 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, Sir Mark Elder conducting Vaughan Williams and Elgar, with the Hallé, an orchestra with a golden Elgar pedigree.  No safe complacency in this programme though, because the two main pieces confront an uncompromising aspect of the English psyche.

Starting the Prom with Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune was a clue. Debussy, even before Schoenberg, was experimenting with tonality  and duality, breaking down the barriers of convention. The flute represents Pan,  and his disciple the faun. The flute solo was wonderful, but much of the beauty of the piece lies in its mysterious ambiguity and the multi-level interaction between the flutes and lower-voiced winds, strings and harps. The undergrowth in the forest sings, too, so to speak.

A good prelude to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Sancta Civitas (The Holy City). RVW called it an oratorio, but it harks back to the doughty non-conformism of William Blake and John Bunyan  and the militant idealism of the early Victorian age. In spirit it's akin to The Pilgrim's Progress ,which occupied RVW's mind most of his adult life. (Read more about that HERE.) The texts are drawn from the Book of Revelation, not from the Gospels, and it taps into millenialist Low Church concepts quite alien to Establishment Anglicanism. Outsider theology, which Vaughan Williams recognized, with his knowledge of High Church values and hymnal.  Down Ampney is very far away.

 From mysterious low rumblings in the orchestra, the baritone, Iain Paterson called out forcefully,  "I was in the Spirit and I heard the great voice of the people praising God and singing Alleluia". The voices of four choirs rang out, the Hallé Choir, the London Philharmonic Choir, the Trinity Boys Choir and the Hallé Youth Choir, in glorious tumult.  Note the word "spirit" for in Revelation, there are seven Spirits of God.  Yet man is mortal - what gives? The mood is apocalyptic. Heralded by trumpets the massed voices sang "King of Kings, Lord of Lords".  Heavens open, and an Angel appears. The swaying cross-harmonies in the voices, and the back and forth antiphonal exchange, emphasized chaos and disruption.  The kings of the earth are displaced and evn th great city of Babylon is no more.

The middle section, the Allegro Moderato, is defined by a solo violin, whose lines soar up the register, heavenwards, a clear reference to A Lark Ascending.   Here the violin serves an extra purpose, uniting the faithful on earth (the darkly undulating choirs) with Heaven. The choirs sang "Glo-o-ory", the legato swerving with  carefully judged  waywardness. The textures are dense, but Elder and the choirmasters ensured that the intricate cross-patterns were kept distinct,  Spatial textures were well executed, too. The Distant Choir of young voices floated across the vast distances of the Royal Albert Hall. The violin leads, like an angel, towards a grand climax, a blaze of trumpets and the booming of the organ led to temporary.detumescence. From near silence, the voice of the tenor, Robin Tritschler rose, from the balcony far above the huge auditorium. "Fear not" he sang. He's an angel, reassuring the faithful that they're at one with God. But listen to that ending, where a simple, tentative line  recurs and recedes,, suggesting that, for Vaughan Williams, the agnostic, there would be no easy resolution.

More Spirits followed in Elgar's Symphony no 2 in E flat major. The composer quoted Shelley "Rarely. rarely comest Thou, O Spirit of Delight" which might sound optimistic, but the poem continues with self-doubt. "Wherefore hast thou left me now/ Many a day and night? "Was Elgar intuiting the loss of creative powers, or expressing the anxieties  that may have been part of his outwardly peaceful life? He called this symphony "the passionate pilgrimage of a soul".  Elder defined the big opening outburst with assurance, the "spirit of delight" motif descending elegantly, leading  into confident expanses of sound, suggesting open horizons and open vistas. But the brass flared up, creating a jagged air of alarm,  Trying to explain, Elgar wrote that it was "a sort of malign influence wandering through a summer night in a garden."   Perceptively, Elder conducted the ending of the first movement so it bristled, the line ripping along with haunting, almost jazz liike tension.

The Larghetto began with the expansiveness with which Elgar's music is so often associated, but the emotional temperature dropped as the tempo slowed.  Elder shaped the measured pace of the recurrent waves of sound, building up to  a crescendo which, to me, felt like a last, fond looking back on the past. The colours darkened, as if night were falling . The  Rondo has connotations of Venice,  Elgar having written, enigmatically, "Venice and Tintagel" . Elder and the Hallé created the deceptively bright spirit: one could imagine a busy city with tourists on holiday. Elgar wasn't aware of Thomas Mann when the symphony was being written, but we, inescapably, cannot miss the imagery.  The bustle and wild, whipping lines with which the movement ends certainly suggest hurried departure, which may well fit in with the idea of the death of the King to whom the piece was dedicated, and to the idea of the creative despondency Elgar was to encounter.  Moderato e Maestoso, the final movement,  was played with beautiful richness, so when its dying embers faded, the sense of loss was profound.

Elgar told the orchestra who played at the premiere: "Some of you will know that dreadful beating that goes on in the brain which seems to drive out every coherent thought.....Percussion, you must give me all you are worth!" Certainly Mark Elder and the Hallé gave all they were worth, which was a lot. The percussion didn't need to crudely drown out the orchestra, but the sense of tension and foreboding Elgar wanted was most certainly part of this superb performance. Seriously idiomatic Elgar from Elder, one of the great Elgarians of our time, and from the Hallé who've been doing Elgar since he was "new music".

Listen to this Prom again HERE

The Elgar Symphony will be broadcast on BBC TV 4 on 2nd August.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Prom 15 Transformations Xian Zhang Prokofiev, Qigang Chen, Rachmaninoiv

At BBC Prom 15, Xian Zhang did wonders with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales . Tonight, they seemed transformed, totally energized. electrified with dynamic purpose. They haven't sounded this inspired in recent years. Something good is happening in Cardiff.

Prokofiev's Symphony no 1 in D major burst into vivacious life. The capricious high jinks in the music were expressed with athletic verve, the orchestra so together that they sounded like a single organism.  Zhang is unassuming and down to earth, totally focused on music, rather than on  persona. When the media made a big fuss about the first female conductor to lead the Last Night of the Proms, Zhang quietly said that real equality would be reached when gender isn't a novelty. In any case, we must not forget that millions of women around the world suffer far worse problems than being on a podium. Zhang clearly loves making music. and has the personality and technique to do what she does extremely well.

More transformation came in Qigang Chen's Iris dévoilée (2001), the composer's best-known work, receiving its much belated UK premiere.  Chen's Joie Eternelle, a trumpet concerto commissioned by the BBC for Alison Balcom featured at last year's Proms (read more here).  Iris dévoilée is a far more substantial piece and deserves its reputation as Chen's masterpiece. Unlike so much music written to bridge Chinese and Western music, Iris dévoilée fully integrates the diverse aesthetics so they work together  especially for audiences familiar with Chinese music other than pastiche. Iris dévoilée is real music that stands on its own terms. The 45-minute work evolves over nine sections, each of which describes an aspect of feminity. It's Frauenliebe und -Leben for much grander forces, though Chen is able to recognize that he's a man, observing from the outside. 

The first movement, "Ingenue", describes a very young woman. The pipa, guzheng and erhu predominate, creating a sound world that suggests the purity and intimacy of  Chinese chamber music, traditionally played in private scholarly circles. This young girl is sheltered,  nurtured in purity. "Chaste" describes a slightly older woman, probably married, but still following the virtues of her class and status. Meng Meng sings a manifestation of the Jing role type in kunqu opera, the most refined and ancient of Chinese opera genres (which are all quite distinct).  Hence the elaborate makeup and costume. Chen, however, doesn't write Meng's music in true kunqu style.  Her lines  float and stretch freely, without the underpinning of percussion that gives Chinese opera its characteristic grounding. Instead we hear harps and western strings. Perhaps the "chaste" woman, here, living the life society expects of her, is inwardly trying to fly beyond ?  

 Meng's lines jump away from traditional form. She's still singing in Putonghau while the other two sopranos sang abstract vocalize, which might sound Chinese to westerners but sounds western to Chinese ears. Piia and Anu Komsi (Mrs Sakari Oramo) are highly sought after because they can both reach surreally high tessitura, and sustain lines almost beyond human endurance. Their presence in this performance is luxury casting, for few ordinary singers can do the vocal gymnastics they are capable of.  Meng, good as she is, is outclassed, but that perhaps is the inner meaning of this piece: the transformation of a virtuous  Chinese girl into a diva who transcends cultural boundaries. The Komsi twins make "Libertine" sound positively joyful.

The three inner movements , "Sensitive", "Tender" and " Jealous" are more serene, allowing Chen to write rather beautiful music, in a style that shows his total integration in French style, which has long embraced orientalisme. Chen was Messiaen's last pupil, and the influence shows. Long strident sounds introduce a complete change. A violin plays maddeningly high lines, matched by the Komsis' gravity-defying tessitura. Meng sang again, in a quite un-Chinese wail, while the plaintive sounds of erhu reawaken a sense of melancholy for a lost past. The Erhu is the most "vocal" of Chinese instruments, which when well played sounds like an ethereal singing voice. Here, the soloist, Nan Wang, was very much the fourth voice in the section.  In "Hysterical" , Meng's part becomes an aural tantrum, a manic parody of Chinese opera, 

The final movement , "Voluptuous", enters with high, sensuous violin, the winds and strings creating sensual textures. Meng now sings on her own, in languid, measured vocalise. It's exotic and deliciously alien.She's become one with the Komsis, and it suits her well. They now sang what might be described as caterwauling  fake Chinese. Humourous and gaily subversive. The erhu, pipa and guzheng return, blending Chinese and western elements seamlessly together in perfect, magical integration.

Rachmaninov Symphony no 2 in E minor Op 27 followed. Gloriously played, full of colour and incident, executed with remarkable vif by Zhang and BBC NOW. A superb performasnce to which I can't do justice. Anyone can write about Rachmaninov, so I won't. Besides very few can write reasonably well about both Chinese and western music and their differing vocal values. So that's what I've tried to do.  Lots more on Chinese music, Chinese stereotypes, Chinese opera and unusual instruments on my site. Please explore.

Listen online to this Prom HERE 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Peter Schreier 80th Birthday bargain box set

Today is Peter Schreier's 80th birthday. What an eventful life he's lived. His first professional engagement came at the age of 7 when he sang one of the child spirits in The Magic Flute. He went on to become the star of the Dresdner Kreuzchor at a period when music meant a lot in war-ravaged Dresden. What must it have been like, in those difficult times, and in the early years of the GDR, to listen to the pure, clear voices of this choir ring out, like angels? Read my piece on the Mauseberger Weihnachtszyklus, written for Christmas 1945 HERE

Schreier was the foremost tenor in the GDR in his era, singing almost the entire repertoire for his voice type, from opera, to baroque, to Lieder, to folk song and 20th century composers.  He even sang Benjamin Britten! East Germany was isolated from the commercial pressures in the west, and from the boom industry in recordings that fuelled popular taste, so in many ways, GDR music harked back to earlier traditions. Schreier's singing was, in any case, so pure and ardent that it transcended borders. He worked a lot in the west, often with Fischer-Dieskau and others.  What I love about Schreier's singing is the way he was so ardent: he was so passionate about what he sang. He reached emotional depths which could be unsettling, though his technical control was always refined and elegant. For me, this is the soul of Lieder, and the reason I'm not impressed by voices that are pretty but facile, however fashionable they might be.

To mark Schreier's 80 th birthday, the German website is offering an 8 CD box set with an additional DVD for Euro 29.99  An amazing bargain, even if you've treasured the original Berlin Classics releases from way back when. More details here.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Prom 13 Shotgun marriage? No, Holst the Planets in context

Good old Holst The Planets with Boulez and Luca Francesconi? Superficially, this might seem a shotgun marriage. But Susanna Mälkki  brought out the connections, which run far deeper than the populist media might expect.  It's easy to forget how innovative the piece is, and how edgy it must have seemed at first. Holst knew Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, which Sir Henry Wood premiered at the 1912 Proms. Echoes of Debussy La Mer surface, significantly, in "Neptune". The Planets was considered "difficult" when new, because it is difficult, but the idea that new music should be rejected on kneejerk principle is relatively recent. 
Mälkki drew from the BBC SO a performance that sounded audaciously fresh and vibrant. Holst  urged Sir Adrian Boult to make "Mars, the Bringer of War"  sound "more unpleasant and more terrifying".  Mälkki led the attack with spirit, the percussion rattling nervously,as if impatient to break out in a fight, as Holst intended.  Hearing the serene "Venus" with this Mars ringing in the memory was unsettling, but purposefully so, Peace can't be taken for granted. "Mercury, the Winged Messenger" shook things up. The first section rushed capriciously,  but the repetitions in the middle suggest turbulence, rushing winds that propel the music forward. The playful "star music" was wittily defined, setting the tone for "Jupiter" with its suggestions of a portly planet trying to dance. Well-defined rhythms, swaying from side to side, accentuated with bells and low brass. The theme would appear in Hubert Parry's Jerusalem, (1916) , the words "green and pleasant land" later taking on connotations which neither Parry nor Holst might have expected. 

Saturn began with well-paced steadiness : the ticking of a clock, the tolling of bells, or the footsteps of someone old and bent.  Mälkki could show how Saturn relates to Venus, the serenity of youth enriched with depth. As the ostinato grew louder, the strings and brasses soared with confidence. This "Uranus" sparkled with manic energy, though the fanfares and powerful climax suggested that magic can be dangerous.  And thus Neptune was liberating, its strange chromatics like a whole new musical language. Holst called this "Neptune the Mystic", signifying the planet's arcane meaning in astrology, while Debussy in La Mer referred to Neptune, the god of the sea. The Elysian Singers  sang wonderfully abstract harmonies,  Oddly enough the cries of the child in the audience added to the surreal effect.  To borrow a phrase, this was like "music from another planet".

Mälkki used to conduct the elite Ensemble Intercontemporain, which Boulez founded. She's one of the most important new music specialists around, and, having worked closely with the composer himself, is an extremely authoritative interpreter. No need for snide remarks about her gender: Mälkki is good because she is good. This performance of the orchestrated Notations I-IV and VII   captured the spirit of free-wheeling inventiveness that transforemd Boulez's original hailku for piano into a lively romp for large orchestra. Deftly conducted.

Boulez's Notations I-IV and VII   are now so familiar  that there was much anticipation for the UK premiere of Luca Francesconi's Duende (the dark notes) commissioned for Leila Josefowicz. It received its premiere at the beginning of 2014, and was planned for last year's Proms, but Josefowicz had her third child.  Francesconi  (b 1956) is a well established and respected composer, best known for his chamber music, which Mälkki and Irvine Arditti, among others, have championed for a long time. Read HERE about Mälkki's views on Francesconi's Quartett, which was unfairly trashed by the London media who seem to pride themselves on being obtuse, since facetiousness is better clickbait than comprehension.  Read my review HERE.  For a good analysis of Duende, read HERE about the Turin performance (in Italian).

Duende does benefit from careful listening. It's almost zen-like in its quiet contemplation. The rustlings with which it starts develop into a  palette of sounds which move elusively, ever changing and morphing into new directions. Josefowicz's brilliance lies in her ability to blend extreme virtuosity with intelligent refinement and emotional depth. As the piece progressed, longer chords stretch, creating magical ellipses, undercut by subtle angular bowing. Midway, tempi increased.. I thought of Xenakis's Pithoprakta, written the year Francesconi was born, though the textures in Duende are much more transparent. This gives way to a darkly mysterious section, written with utmost restraint, where the lines of the violin are surrounded by long chords in the orchestra. It's as if the "waves" in the music were being pulled by mysterious tides. The last six minutes give Josefowicz a great range to explore, over a foundation of two-note repetitions in the orchestrra. Magical -  like aural starlight. Not all so far from the world of The Planets after all.

Monday, 27 July 2015

LISTENING LINK Thielemann's devastating Tristan und Isolde Bayreuth

The 2015 Bayreuth Festival opened Saturday with Tristan und Isolde, devastating well conducted by Christian Thielemann.  It was broadcast live on many European stations, but now can be heard again on repeat HERE.    Orchestrally, it reaches very deep into the inner spirit of the opera. It's as if the ocean is singing along, its tides controlled by malevolent cosmic forces. This connects to the sense of curse that haunts Tristan, doomed before he was even born. Tristan und Isolde isn't about colourful tapestries and fake medievalism. It's not a romance. Tristan and Isolde didn't date. Their passion, triggered by a potion, is so intense that it transcends everything rationl. This is a cosmic drama of the human soul. This is a performance to remember. Absolutely recommended ! Please read my initial review HERE - the more I listen, the more I'm getting from listening.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

NEW Mahler autograph on sale

On sale on eBay, a photo of Gustav Mahler with a chequered history. Read more here.  Is it the photo Arnold Schoenberg treasured so much he kept it by his desk? How did it actually become missing from the Schoenberg archive? Why sell an extremely important document like this on eBay instead of through the specialist auction houses, who need to prove provenance or get sued? Will Paypal dispute resolution cover the buyer if the photo and its ownership aren't quite "as described". Who knows? Anyway, above, what has been described as "authentic Photoshop" created last night by one of my loyal readers. Available for sale,  offers over $100 000.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Bayreuth 2015 Tristan und Isolde Thielemann

PLEASE SEE MY FULL REVIEW HERE    The 2015 Bayreuth Festival began today with Wagner  Tristan und Isolde. A devastatingly brilliantt orchestral performance  with Christian Thielemann at the helm, a term I use deliberately because it really felt as though the music was centre stage, expressed by a conductor who really understands what Wagner is about, his darkness and his light.  I think that, on some level, a good Wagner conductor needs dark corners in his soul to really interpret Wagner with depth. That's what made Furtwängler great. Cuddly and cute doesn't necessarily make for good art.  If Thielemann's politics aren't acceptable, it's also not acceptable to destroy a person because you don't like what he thinks. Losing Berlin has probably taught him not to use his position wrongly. Thieilemann seemed to be pouring his heart into this performance. The turmoil in the Third Act, the poisonous seduction in the Shepherd's flute, the anguish that wells up, as if the ocean  was echoing Tristan's deathwish, all slightly demonic, but well within the nature of the opera. Truly cosmic. The extremes of love and death aren't "romantic in the Hollywood sense, however much some audiences might prefer, but part of the fervour of the Romantiker movement.

The livestream is over, but HERE IS A LISTENING LINK on repeat broadcasst

Stephen Gould sang a good Tristan. The edge to his voice added greatly to the characterization of the role. Tristan is a hero to everyone, but not to himself.  The potion raises his hopes. Perhaps he won't die alone, after all. But even in love, he's haunted. I was transfixed by his long, last monologue.. Evelyn Herlitzius was a good Isolde . The forcefulness in her voice brought out Isolde's strength and fearlessness. . For all her healing powers, Isolde cannot save him, but must transcend life itself. Iain Paterson sang a nice rounded Kurnewal, straight guy to tormented Tristan. Georg Zeppenfield, another Bayreuth regular, sang King Marke. I only heard the audio, so can't comment on the staging. But Thielemann's conducting was so stunningly vivid.that it didn't matter a bit. Bayreuth has really struck gold.

 Listen to an interview with Thielemann here.

Vibrant Organic Growth - BCMG Prom Boulez, Betsy Jolas

Nature renews itself with constant, organic change. Good ideas grow and proliferate. As demonstrated in the well-planned programme by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Franck Ollu at Cadogan Hall, the first of this year's Proms Saturday Matinees at the Cadogan Hall, London.

Pierre Boulez Notations were originally written as a keyboard haiku.,  Hence their elusive, quirky charm. Later, Boulez was to orchestrate Notations I-IV and  VII.  Today, though, we heard Johannes Schöllhorn's orchestration for small ensemble of Notations 2, 11 and 10  and his own mysterious 13th which Boulez didn't write. Creative outgrowth on Schöllhorn's part, and very enjoyable for that.  Susanna Mälkki will conduct Boulez's own orchestrations of Notatioms at Monday's Prom 13.

Betsy Jolas is a year younger than Boulez. Both were students of Messiaen, Jolas eventually taking over Messiaen's teaching duties at the Paris Conservatoire. Her Wanderlied, for violoncello and 15 instruments, dates from 2003. It's based on a poem by Jolas's father, Eugène Jolas, describing an old woman who journeys, telling stories to all, whether they care to hear or not. A Leiermann, perhaps, the spirit of creative integrity despite all odds. The cello part meanders purposefully, leading the orchestration around it, which reacts and proliferates in response.

Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l., is a long title for a miniature in five parts running around seven minutes., but it's accurate, describing a fungus that attacks ants . When they die, their bodies provide nutrients for a new  generation of microscopic life. Shiori Usui's piece is delicately observed. First tiny cells ripple along in cheery formation, while some slowly start to wander in another direction.
Longer elliptical lines overwhelm. The rustling stops but then is replaced by outbursts of energetic freedom. Abstract musical ideas used creatively to replicate the complexity of Nature. Joanna Lee's Hammer of Solitude followed, apparently written in homage to Boulez's Le marteau sans maître. Hilary Summers sang the text and scraps of words and exhalations, but it's an otherwise unoriginal work. 

Usui's Ophiocordyceps unilateralis s.l. for all its quiet refinement is a much more accomplished piece and worked far better with the ideas of organic growth that mark Boulez's Dérive 2. While Dérive 1 was a miniature piano concerto, the ideas in Dérive 2 proliferate with energetic abundance. Often, when thinking of this piece I visualize the Mandelbrot theory, where simple cells generate multidimensional patterns, with endless variations and invention - the very stuff of life itself.  Ollu and the BCMG performed with such joie de vivre that the piece seemed to levitate of its own volition. Anyone who insists Boulez is dry hasn't understood this work.
Listen again to the BCMG Boulez Prom again on BBC Radio 3 

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Black in Britain - musicians and stereotypes

Good article "From slavery to singing star: celebrating Thomas Rutling, by Ronald Samm, who is a singer himself. Samm is starring in a piece on Rutling's life at Harrogate, where Rutling settled down. Samm was also one of the security guards in Tansy Davies' much misunderstood  Between Worlds  at the ENO. What must it have been like to be black in Britain in late Victorian times when any kind of non-white person was an exotic alien?  Rutling is seated above, middle row left. In his tux he could pass for a banker or a patron of the Royal Opera House. But look at the banjo and guitar in the foreground. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were admired but they still had to conform to stereotypes. No way was the public ready for blacks  as equals in "serious" music.

Rutling (1854-1915) was a contemporary of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), whose blackness was an accident of birth, and who grew up in an all-white environment, admired by Elgar and feted at the Three Choirs Festival. To Coleridge-Taylor's credit, he set out to learn about black identity, writing music influenced by generic "African" ideas and Black American music. Being a proper English gentleman meant he was received by the President of the United States. Ordinary black Americans  didn't get invited to the White House except as menials.  To Coleridge-Taylor's credit, he went out of his way to learn about black culture and meet black American artists and intellectuals, Coleridge-Taylor's music is possibly better known in the US today than in Britain. Read my article "Who really was Coleridge-Taylor ?" HERE, and my other pieces on him by clicking the label below.

Coleridge-Taylor's music is fascinating because he was genuinely trying to come to terms with non-white western aesthetics, much in the way that French composers from Bizet on explored exotic themes. Imagine if he'd worked with Ravel and developed a whole new musical language?  But he's also important as a perspective on race in late colonial times. Jeffrey Green's biography Samuel Coleridge-Taylor:: a Musical, Life is  essential reading. It's based on exhaustive first-hand research, presented with genuine knowledge of background and the composer's position in society. Even now, black people are exploited for novelty value, an approach which is fundamentally racist even if it's not intentional.  Jeffrey Green's sensitive book gives Coleridge-Taylor the dignity and respect he deserves.

William Grant Still (1895-1978) grew up in a black community in the South, so his experiences of black identity were more acute than Coleridge-Taylor's, and very different indeed to the prettified fantasy of Delius's Koanga. Grant Still was middle class and educated, but had to adapt to a certain amount of stereotype to make a living.  Fortunately, he lived long enough to be recognized as a musician and part of the Harlem Renaissance.

Back to Ronald Samm and his ideas on the role of black singers today. If this really was an equal world, the issue wouldn't arise, but the fact is, the number of black people in classical music doesn't reflect demographic reality.  Like it or not, classical music is perceived as being elitist. The myth reinforces prejudice, intensifying the problem.  One of the stupidest things in current arts policy is the idea that music can somehow change society, but in reality, unless society itself changes, we aren't going to get more blacks on stage and in the audience. Non-white people get patronized all the time. More talking down doesn't help. Besides, being non-white can sometimes be an artistic advantage. Last year, Eva-Maria Westbroek sang Puccini Manon Lescaut.  Westbroek's lush blonde voluptuousness was nicely set off by Lester Lynch as her brother. In a sense having a black guy as lowlife feeds stereotype, but the dynamic between Westbroek and Lynch was electric. Brother and sister, enthusiastic parters in crime, enjoying every moment.

Prom 7 Hugh Wood Nielsen Ravel Delius Davis

At BBC Prom 7, Andrew Davis and the BBC SO gave the world premiere of Hugh Wood's Epithalamion.  New music has always featured at the Proms. Sir Henry Wood premiered Schoenberg. Some new music becomes immortal, some falls by the wayside, some is rediscovered by later generations.  Even Bach.The Prom began with Delius's In a Summer Garden. Gardens never remain the same.  Change is a natural process that cannot be halted.  And so, too, in music. Many Proms premieres these days play safe and beget mediocrity, but Hugh Wood's  Epithalamion  is genuinely new, and refreshing.

At the age of 83, Hugh Wood's creative powers are, if anything, refreshed. Epithalamion  is one of the composer's most ambitious works yet, imaginative and beautifully constructed. The title refers to the procession of a bride to her bridal chamber. Cue the idea of flowers, happiness, and the promise of renewed fertility. The text comes from John Donne's poem of the same name celebrating a royal wedding in 1613, but the concept is universal: procreation as a metaphor for endless change and regrowth.

The voices of the BBC Symphony Chorus call out, long, soaring bright lines, impatient excitement.. Wonderful circular lines in the orchestra, curving like an embrace. Glorious bells, hushed anticipation. Donne employs images of birds, including "the husband cock".  The newlyweds are "Two phoenixes, whose joined breasts /Are unto one another mutual nests,/Where motion kindles such fires as shall give" Lines stretch out and converge, commingling with fervour. A magnificent, dramatic interlude at mid point where the orchestra seems to explode into joyous fanfare, given depth by rumbling gongs and two harps,  with suggestions of night, stars and darkness. . In the fifth section, male and female choruses separate and merge, from which arises the voice of the soloist, Rebecca Bottone, one of the finest character sopranos in the business, with a particularly fresh, energetic style. A single male voice rises from the chorus and the music surrounding takes on quite explicit sensual frisson. This is seriously good, sophisticated writing for voice, the separate parts distinct yet well blended, sometimes hushed, sometimes triumphant, but vividly dramatic and tightly scored. Epithalamion should become a regular Proms favourite.

Cylcic figures also enliven  Carl Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto (1928). The clarinet moves like a living organism, with adventurous dynamic leaps and contrasts.  Mark Simpson's playing was fluid, capturing Nielsen's open spirit. "I have such free voicing in the instruments" wrote Nielsen of this piece, "that I really have no idea how it will sound".  Hence the cadenzas and boisterous inventiveness, captured by Davis and the BBC SO and ravishing BBC Symphony Chorus with great aplomb. Back to the theme of sensual love in a vernal setting with Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé Suite no 2, Lusciously played. I'm glad that Prom 7 of 2015 was one of my top Proms picks.

This Prom is available for 30 days on the BBC website and will also be broadcast on TV from 30 July.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

First Night of the Proms 2015 A Feast of Belshazzars

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton''s Belshazzar's Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves. It''s a grand blockbuster on a biblical theme, but it's by no means part of conventional British choral tradition  Elgar, who was still alive when this was written in 1931, could not have tried anything like it at the Three Choirs Festival, and Benjamin Britten, I suspect, would have cringed at its excess. But think back to Facade: an Entertainment, (more HERE) with which Walton burst to notoriety barely six years before the BBC commissioned him to write for orchestra of "not more than 15 players". Instead Walton created the extravaganza that is Belshazzar's Feast. 

The BBC SO trombones blasted a single, savage wail. Did we hear the sound of ancient Biblical trumpets?  "Thus spake Isaiah", sang the male chorus. but the word "Isaiah" oscillated with oddly bluesy flourish. "How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land? "  Oramo's ear for quirky detail highlighted how Walton adapted the zeitgeist of the Jazz Age to underline the sense of dislocation the Hebrews felt in a new and alien world.  The saxophone, the angular percussion,  the slithering  swathes in the choral parts and even the brass bands are there for a reason.

Christopher Maltman delivered the passage "Babylon was a great city" with such ferocious bite that his voice bounced off the walls of the Royal Albert Hall. The part is created completely without accompaniment to demonstrate the austere values of the Hebrew God.  The massed voices of the  BBC National Chorus of Wales, the BBC Singers and the BBC Symphony Chorus were impressive, but the heart of the cantata takes place in near silence.  Maltman described the mysterious Writing on the Wall in hushed, horrified tones. When the choruses and orchestra resumed, the crosscurrents and interweaving they made, literally, "a joyful noise", complete with a merry, jaunty dance.

Jean Sibelius's Belshazzar's Feast (1906-7) may not be scored for voice, but is highly theatrical nonetheless. Originally written as incidental music for a play,the Suite (Opus 51) unfolds like a series of miniature tone poems, each vividly expressive. The first ,"Oriental Procession" sounds exotic in the way so much western music adopts Orientalism for colour, but Oramo brought out its connection to other Sibelius works.  The prancing bell-like sounds reminded me of the "sleigh" music in which Kullervo's sister rides, clothed in finery on her fateful journey.  The slow movements, though, are even more poetic, particularly the haunting "Solitude" with its melancholy part for solo flute. The dotted rhythms and swirling lines  suggest Nightride and Sunrise. The clarinet parts were played sensually. Spoken words or sung text were rendered unneccssary in he expressive beauty of Sibelius's music. 

The theatrical theme of this First Night of the Proms began with the Overture to Carl Nielsen's opera Maskarade (read more here)   Oramo has been conducting Nielsen symphonies with the BBC SO for some time, so this performance sparkled with vivacious charm and wit.  Perhaps they should do more music theatre. Dadaville, a premiere by Gary Carpenter (b 1951) was disappointingly derivative, added perhaps to fill some BBC quota of works that are newly written but not necessarily new. Fireworks as part of performance might work in something more original, but not in this case. Thankfully, Lars Vogt was a fine soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto no 20 in D minor K466, well supported by Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. .


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Carl Nielsen Maskarade Kasper Holten Copenhagen

Denmark has produced many composers, from Nils Gade to  Per Nørgård, and more, but Carl Nielsen is perhaps the best known. This year, the 150th anniversary of his birth, his music is being honoured all over the world. In the UK alone, we've had two major cycles of his symphonies (Oramo and Storgårds).  The First Night of the BBC Proms this year features the famous Overture to Nielsen's opera, Maskarade.  In Denmark, Nielsen has iconic status. The Royal Danish Opera (Det Kongelige Teater) revived the celebrated Kasper Holten production from 2006. It's available on DVD but you can hear this year's performance recorded live this April for free, HERE on BBC Radio 3

If anything, the 2015 performance is even livelier and more spirited, which suits the opera very well.   Unlike Nielsen's Saul og David (which I wrote about here),  Maskarade is bright and fluffy, with deliberate references to Mozart, in the music as well as in the plot.  A mask disguises identity, and a masked ball is an opportunity for adventure and intrigue. Masters and servants mix as equals. Rich men and thieves (sometimes one and the same) mingle undetected. Fantasy reigns and social order can be overturned.

Kasper Holten's Maskarade was created when he was Director of the Copenhagen Opera. It has some of the character of his acclaimed Wagner Ring, although the down to earth domesticity works even better in Maskarade.  Leander (Niels Jørgen Riis) wakes after an all-night party. His bedroom's askew, his bed upright. Henrik (Johan Reuter) helps him sober up. Henrik is Leander's minder, though Leander's family isn't as rich as they were. Henrik has aspirations, he's more couth than Leporello. He bursts into Latin from time to time. But he's a valet, for all that. Leander's fallen in love with a mystery girl he met at a masked ball, so he rebels when his father Jeronimus (Stephen Milling) wants him to marry a girl who can restore the family fortunes.  As Jeronimus, head of the formerly wealthy household, sings: "Once we knew our proper station, husband, wife, daughter, son, high born, low born, all the nation"....youth would never need it's all masquerading. Now it's all equality!" 

As it turns out the intended bride Leonora (Anne Margrethe Dahl) fancies Leander too, but the pair don't realize that their parents' plot might unintentionally work out right. But meanwhile, good natured wit, in the music with its witty refrains and in the visuals. Pretentious folk wear coloured eye masks , while earthy folks like Henrik walk around in a T-shirt (though he, too wears a mask when he sings a parody of Jeronimus's s "masquerading" aria). Masks off when Leander and Leonora sing their magical love duet. At the ball, masks aren't needed either - everyone's dressed up as someone they'd like to be. Acrobats sail down from the rafters. A jolly time is had by all.  An even funnier scene where Leander and Leonore celebrate suburban domestic bliss with a barbecue and plastic furniture. Henrik, dressed as Elvis, seduces Leonore's maid ! This, I think perfectly captures the spirit of Carl Nielsen.  Maskarade is Die Fledermaus without the cynical undercurrent of viciousness. It's not grandiose or maudlin, but quirky, tolerant kindness. The booing lynch mob at Covent Garden will never understand.

Please also see my piece on Carl Nielsen's Saul og David "Not a butter cookie"  HERE

This Saul og David is also available on BBC Radio 3

Monday, 13 July 2015

Glyndebourne 2016 revealed - Shakespeare's coming !

For the 400th anniversary of his death next year, William Shakespeare will be celebrated in the beautiful country house setting of the Glyndebourne Festival.

Highlight of the Glyndebourne 2016 season will be Hector Berlioz's  Béatrice et Bénédict, adapted from Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Laurent Pelly. Glyndebourne Music Director Robin Ticciati,said: “In Béatrice et Bénédict we see Berlioz responding to his great love of Shakespeare. It’s a magical piece which fizzes with texture and lightness". Ideal repertoire to match the fizz and light-hearted gaiety that marks the Glyndebourne experience. The cast includes Stéphanie d'Oustrac and Paul Appleby.  It will be fully staged by Laurent Pelly, whose Ravel L'enfant et ses sortilèges, is a Glyndebourne classic. Read more about its premiere HERE)  Pelly's lively, imaginative wit should make this a Béatrice et Bénédict,   to remember. The opera is streamed HERE in Opera Today with a full libretto.

Benjamin Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream extends the Shakespeare tribute. Superb cast - Matthew Rose, Tim Mead and the irrepressible Kathleen Kim. It's a revival of Peter Hall's 1981 production.  Kazushi Ono will conduct. He's marvellous - another good reason to book.

The Glyndebourne 2016 season also includes revivals of the sunny Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, with Gerald Finley. Read what I wrote about the premiere HERE.  Two more revivals - The Marriage of Figaro and The Cunning Little Vixen (reviewed here)   More adventurously, the second new production of the Glyndebourne 2016 season will be Rossini's Il barbiere di Seviglia, with Glyndebourne's own Danielle de Niese and Alessandro Corbelli. Most operas will be broadcast in the Telegraph.

St John's Smith Square Bumper Season 2015 2016

Bookings open 12th July for the St John's Smith Square 20156 season. Book early, since the venue is small and intimate, and some of the concerts will sell out fast.  St John's, Smith Square, built 300 years ago, is "a masterpiece of English Baroque architecture........ designed and built by Thomas Archer and has survived fire, lightning, bomb plots and the Blitz. The beauty of the building is matched by an exceptional acoustic and from its restoration as both church and concert hall"  It's unique, and an ideal setting for baroque music. but includes much more.

This year's offerings are specially ambitious, because the Queen Elizabeth Hall is being closed for refurbishment, so performers normally resident there will be crossing the river to SJSS. Exciting news indeed,!  SJSS will be presenting over 250 concerts, expanding into new repertoire and presenting several world premieres, including a new piece by Sir Harrison Birtwistle. It will become a temporary home for orchestras like the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment , the London Sinfonietta, the Philharmonia Orchestra and   SJSS will also host the Southbank's International Piano Series and the International Chamber Music Series, and also present concerts by big name performers like Nikolai Demidenko, Steven Osborne, Tafelmusik,  Imogen Cooper, The Jerusalem Quartet, Viktoria Mullova, Nicola Benedetti,  Alexei Grynyuk, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, the Tallis Scholars, Thomas Trotter, the Gabrieli Consort and many others.

Baroque highlights include concerts with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, including  a Handel programme with Ian Bostridge, "Bach's Double, Bach's Single" led by Rachel Podger, and "Bach Secular and Sacred". They're also doing an interesting Handel Messiah with Polyphony though I'll be priority booking for their Easter 2016 Bach St John Passion with excellent soloists, including Neal Davies and Stuart Jackson, who is very, very good indeed and deserves much more recognition.  In  May, the OAE offer "Winds of Change" (Mozart symphonies 1 and 33).  Also high priority, Christmas music from La Chapelle du Roi and a very unusual Christmas Passion with Roderick Williams and Siglo di Oro, featuring English Christmas music.  Indeed, SJSS's Christmas mini Festival is excellent, with Ex Cathedra and the choirs of Merton College and Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Clare College Cambridge and King's College, London.  Also very worth going to, The European Union Baroque Orchestra, conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen, first in October, then again in December. . .

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra in June in a concert focusing on Stravinsky's late religious works, including the Requiem, in June. Martyn Brabbins conducts the London Sinfonietta with Harrison Birtwistle's new Duets in a Frame .  . SJSS regulars, like the Orchestra of St John's Smith Square, will be back and the London Mozart Players are doing a series of Mozart concertos. Plenty of variety.In September, an intriguing 10 part series, "Occupy the Pianos", built around pianist and composer Rolf Hind. Hind is an interesting personality, so this series should thrill the new music crowd, and perhaps draw in those who aren't as yet, into new music. I'll write more about it later.

St John's Smith Square is also a superb venue for chamber and baroque opera. Salieri's La grotta di Trifonio, from Bampton Opera with Chroma on 15th September. Salieri's reputation was wrecked by the movie Amadeus, but his music is enjoying a revival these days.  Bampton is also doing a double bill of rarities based on Shakespeare, in June - Georg Benda's 1776 Romeo und Julie together with Thomas Linley's Lyric Ode on the Fairies, Aerial Beings and Witches of Shakespeare (also 1776). Mark the date, 12th June.

Also very worthwhile, on November 2nd, Handel Acis and Galatea, with Ed Lyon and Catherine Manley and La Nuova Musica, a very lively, dedicated baroque ensemble.. They're also doing Vivaldi and Handel in February. And maybe even best of all, Rameau Castor et Pollux on 20th November with the Early Opera Company. Ashley Riches and Samuel Boden sing the twins who turn into stars. The Early Opera Company is doing a concert programme in February featuring Sophie Bevan.

For more details, please look HERE on the St John's Smith Square website.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Classical music hits tabloid headlines

What does it take to get classical music into tabloid headlines?  Nicola Benedetti hits the headlines in the Daily Mail : "Violin Superstar reveals how late night penthouse romps with cellist lover have to stop by 10 pm". 
  Whoa, the scent of prurient scandal  ! Guess it makes a change from neighbours getting ASBOs for drunken parties,  heavy metal and anti-social behaviour.   Oooh, them toffs are ruff.

Friday, 10 July 2015

More scalps? John Berry leaves ENO

More scalps for the mob? Once, opera was about art.  Now it seems that art is dictated by those who want to enforce their own fundamentalist agendas, not all of which are necessarily artistic. So John Berry has left the ENO after eight years in which the company has had many great successes, for example, Mastersingers,  Benvenuto Cellini,  Peter Grimes and much else. The ENO wins awards for artistic excellence but does that matter?  We hear over and over about Arts Council England singling out the ENO for savage cuts and placing the house under "special measures" but precious little in terms of actual facts and figures.We also hear the same old story about the departure of Martyn Rose and Henriette Gõtz, who wasn't in the job long enough to make an impact.  That's because, instead of well-informed investigation, we're blessed with cut-and-paste journalism.

It's a sad day for art.  I've no idea who will replace John Berry but I hope it will be someone with artistic vision who can defend the ENO and preserve its status. Please read my other articles on the place of the ENO in British cultural life.

ENO annual financial review 2013/14

Save the ENO : British culture and phoney class war

Radical rethink  ENO heritage

Opera houses and houses for opera 

and perhaps most pointed of all
Wagner's prescient Warning : Mastersingers of Nuremberg, ENO vindicated

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Schubert on the Euro crisis - Die Götter Greichenlands

You can tell a historian, someone quipped, because they mourn the loss of the library at Alexandria. You can tell a true Lieder fan, then, that they follow the news and think of Schubert Die Götter Greichenlands.

Sch¡ne Welt, wo bist du ?  Kehre weider,
Holdes Blütenalter der Natur !
Ach, nur in dem Feeland der Lieder
Lebt noch dein fabelhafte Spur.
Ausgestorben trauert das Gefilde,
Keine Gootheit zieht sich meinem blick
Ach, von jenem lebenwarmen Bilde,
Blieb der Schatten nur zurück

(Beautiful world !  Come back, dear ancient blossoming Nature, yet in the Fairyland of Lieder, live still traces of your glory. the fields mourn, as if dead, no Godliness meets my gaze, Ah, of the life-warmed prospect only shadows return) 

Above a card of Schiller's deathbed, with the inscription Denn er war Unser" meaning, "Then, he was ours" In this present world of  uncivilized fundamentalism and plain mean spirited nastiness, where are Schiller's ideals  ? That's why I retreat to Lieder, and a finer world of idealism. 

Friday, 3 July 2015

Goerne Pressler Wigmore Hall - Late Schumann in context

Matthias Goerne and Menahem Pressler at the Wigmore Hall, London, an intriguing recital on many levels. Goerne programmes are always imaginative, bringing out new perspectives, enhancing our appreciation of the depth and intelligence that makes Lieder such a rewarding experience. Menahem Pressler is extremely experienced as a soloist and chamber musician, but hasn't really ventured into song to the extent that other pianists, like Brendel, Eschenbach or Richter, for starters. He's not the first name that springs to mind as Lieder accompanist.  Therein lay the challenge! 

Goerne and Pressler walked onto the Wigmore Hall platform arm in arm, because Pressler, at 91 years of age, needs a bit of support to walk. But there was no mistaking the warmth of their relationship.  Although they'd planned to end their recital with Schumann Dichterliebe op 48, they made a last-minute decision to place it first, for reasons that became clear later. Dichterliebe was Schumann's gift of love to Clara, celebrating their marriage after years of opposition, which included civil litigation against her father. Hardly a "normal" courtship. It's hardly surprising that music poured out of Schumann in a torrent of excited ecstasy.  This Dichterliebe was decidedly individual.  The pace was brisk, the songs flowing into each other, highlighting the sudden, extreme swings of mood from one song to another. Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube felt almost manic. Goerne's voice is flexible enough that the words tumbled out effortlessly even though the pace suggested tongue twister: "Die kleine, die Feine, die Reine die Eine". On paper, Heine;'s poems are impressive, but Schumann's settings add a filter which is highly individual, and not comfortable. They are big "R" Romantic, rather than coy, little "r" romantic. There's a huge difference.

Goerne's Ich grolle nicht chilled the heart. "I bear no grudge" the text insists, but Goerne's growl in the word "grolle" grates with menace. The "s" and "z" sound in the phrase "und sahe die Schlang', die dir am Herzen frißt."  bit with venom. So many of the songs in this garland of love deal with grief and loss, the "dream" songs the most unsettling of all, with their intuitive grasp of subconscious forces.  Pressler's approach was unorthodox, but psychologically astute.  Most Lieder fans have heard so many Dichterliebes in the past that this very singular interpretation  was much more interesting than something safe or standard.

Picking up on the theme of dreams in Dichterliebe Pressler then played Schumann's Variations on a theme in E flat WoO 24, the Geister Variations" (1854)  Written a week before Schumannn tried to drown himself in the Rhine, the variations are based on a theme he had dreamed about, telling Clara that he'd heard it sung by angels, and telling a friend that it had been sent to him by Schubert.  One thinks of the half-forgotten dream in  Allnächtlich im Traume in Dichterliebe, with its phrase  "....und's Wort hab'ich vergessen". The sombre hymn-like mood reflects that of "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" from Dichterliebe. Heine's text links the image of the Virgin Mary with the idea of the poet's lover. But Schumann's setting is inexplicably dark and ponderous, describing the waves of the river as ominous forces.  In the context of what was happening to Schumann when he wrote the Variations, the hypnotic pull of the waves in the song is chilling.

This theme of delusional grandeur also puts Schumann's op 89 (1850), settings of poems by Wilfried von der Neun,  "Wilfred of The Nine", meaning the nine muses, no less. This was the glorified pseudonym, allegedly adopted in his early youth by Friedrich Wilhelm Traugott Schöpff (1826-1916) who made a living as a pastor in rural Saxony. The poems are pretty banal, far lower than the standards Schumann would have revered in his prime. However, bad poetry is no bar, per se, to music. As Eric Sams wrote "the inward and elated moods of the previous year mingle blur together in the new chromatic style in the absence of diatonic contrasts and tensions a new principle is needed. Schumann accordingly invents and applies the principle of thematic change....It is as if he had acquired a new cunning and his mind had lost an old one."

Sams is the source to go for studying these songs, for he analyses them carefully, drawing connections in particular to Am leuchetenden Sommermorgen and Hör' ich ein Liedchen klingen in Dichterliebe.  Sams said "Schumann's memory is playing him tricks". By pairing these songs with the Geister Variations, Goerne and Pressler are making a powerful case for coming to terms with Schumann's later work. Texts like Es stürmet am Abendhimmel lend themselves to dramatic treatment but it would be wrong to suggest that they should be performed as faux Wagner. Schumann knew very well who Wagner was, but he had his own ideas about musical drama. which we need to respect if we are to fully appreciate his place in music history. Goerne and Pressler know their Schumann well enough to let us hear Schumann as Schumann, without distortion or special pleading.   These may not be Schumann's finest moments, but they're still authentic and personal.  Because this performance was so good, and so sensitive to Schumann's inner world, we could understand something, perhaps of what Schumann might have been going through in his long last illness. In Ins Freie, the poet cries out "Mir ist's so eng allüberall!"  He imagines he can escape "aus düstrer Mauern bangem Ring " through songs.  But the song ends with the same frustrated cry, which Goerne sang with heartfelt anguish, not play-acting histrionics, but sincere identification with the frustration Schumann might have felt as his mind closed in on him.

Schumann's Poems of Nikolaus Lenau op 90 (1850) were written in August 1850, barely three months after the von der Neun set, but are altogether more accomplished, since the poetry of Lenau (1802- August 22nd 1850) was on a level to bring out the best in a composer extraordinarily responsive to good literature. The poems Schumann set were  published in 1838, so Schumann would have known him as a contemporary and heard of the psychotic attack Lenau suffered in 1844, which led to his being incarcerated in an asylum for the rest of his short life. Promise, cut down too soon: rather uncomfortably close to Schumann's own situation.

Die Sennin  is beautifully lyrical,with lilting harmonies that evoke warm breezes and the freedom of nature. One can almost imagine cow bells. The girl sings so beautifully that even the Felsenseelen (the souls of mountain rocks) echo  her song. One day she'll be gone but her songs live on in the memory of the crags.   In Eisamkeit, silence hangs over a forest, Herz (the poet's) is alone.  Pressler plays the circular forms in the piano so they cradle Goerne's tenderly. "Deine Lieber Gott versteht"

Leaving Schumann's Requiem which rounds off Op. 90 off the programme  worked out well, as it concentrated attention on Dichterliebe and on its connections with the lesser-known late works, and on Schumann's inner life.  In any case, the text is not Lenau. Since the mid 19th century, we've learned more about mental illness and can be more understanding.  I wish, however, that Goerne and Pressler had done Lied eines Schmeid (Op 90)  A little horse never lets the blacksmith down. Its steady trudging rhythm may seem simple, but in its own charming way, it's a hymn for the faithful. To a horse! In its sincerity, it would have been a happy coda to Goerne and Pressler's sensitive approach to Schumann's later years. .

This review appears in Opera Today. Goerne  and Pressler will be repaeting the recital at Verbier on 22nd July.