Rick's Music Gigs Review Page#5 - 2014

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Lucy Knight (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo soprano), Oliver Johnston (tenor), Lancelot Nomura (bass0

The Wotton Concert Series, 29 November 2014, St.Mary's Chruch, Wotton-under-Edge: Handel's Messiah, Benedict Hoffnung conducting the "Instruments of Time and Truth" with the Rinaldo Choir and soloists as pictured above. What can I say, it was Handel's Messiah. Brilliant. The standard of these Wotton series of concerts remains extremely high. It really is a privilege to have music of such a standard on my doorstep. (I do wish we could stop this damn fool convention of standing for the Hallelujah chorus, though).

No, not the Messiah, since you can find that elsewhere on this site. But this live recording of the Dream of Gerontius, Part 2 (Elgar) features Catherine Wyn-Rogers.

Jason Titley Collective

The Jason Titley Collective, Under the Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 1 November 2014. First rate bluegrass with comedy moments. The Collective features Jason Titley on guitar, Ben Somers on double bass, and Leanne Thorose on mandolin. The mandolin is in lieu of the more usual banjo in a bluegrass outfit and worked extremely well.

The Jason Titley Collective - DreADnOUgHt!

La Serenissima

"Vivaldi - The Red Priest" - La Serenissima, St.George's, Bristol, 21 November 2014. I was amazed at being able get a seat in the middle of the front row just a ew days before the performance, despite being close to a sell-out. Sitting directly in front of the soprano is quite spectacular, like having your own private recital. Vivaldi can do no wrong, and this was an evening devoted to Vivaldi's sacred works. La Serenissima is led on first/solo violin by Adrian Chandler, and the soprano was Mhairi Lawson. Amongst the more conventional instruments, this small orchestra sported the largest lute I have ever seen. I learned from the programme that this bass lute is called a theorbo. Stupidly I wondered how on earth the longest strings could be fretted, the instrument being some 6 feet long or thereabouts. Of course, those strings are not fretted but played open only. The programme was: Concerto RV123 (the Concerto without soloist); the violin Concerto per la Signora Anna Maria, RV286; Motet In turbato mare irato for soprano, strings and continuo, RV627; Motet Sum in medio tempestatum for soprano, strings and continuo, RV632; Concerto Madrigalesco in D minor, RV129; Concerto in G major, RV307. The Signora Anna Maria of the second piece was Vivaldi's most famous pupil. To those who think that women had no place in music at that time, note that Anna Maria suceeded Vivaldi as leader of the Pieta's orchestra, and maestra di coro (choirmaster), in the period 1723 to 1737.

Vivaldi concerto premiere by La Serenissima (La Serenissima's director and violinist Adrian Chandler and musicologist Andrew Woolley talk about discovering and giving the premiere of a newly-discovered Vivaldi flute concerto)

Keith James

"Time Let Me Play" by Keith James, Under The Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 11th October 2014. This was one of the events in the UTEA Literary Festival. It featured Keith James singing poems by Dylan Thomas - this being Thomas's centenary year. We were also treated to BBC recordings of Richard Burton and Dylan Thomas himself reciting Thomas's poetry. Hearing "death shall have no dominion..." in his resonant, stentorian tones will stay with me for a considerable time. James approached the poems with a light touch, though he warned us that we would find the evening challenging. I don't think he needed to do so. One drifted away nicely on the combination of words and acoustic guitar. A good start to the Literary Week.

"Especially When The October Wind" - words by Dylan Thomas, music by Keith James

Ruby Hughes, soprano

Wotton Concert Series, St Mary's Church, Wotton-under-Edge, 20th September 2014: Ruby Hughes (soprano) and John Alley (piano) with the Rinaldo Ensemble with Benedict Hoffnung (conductor). The first half consisted of eight Liede by Schubert and Richard Strauss, featuring sporano and piano accompaniment. After the interval we had Mahler's symphony No.4, obviously not the full orchestal version in this chamber setting. Instead it was the arrangement for small forces by Erwin Stein. I knew none of tonight's pieces beforehand. Live Liede always impress simply in hearing such technically brilliant singing up close, but I have no knowledge of the genre. Mahler I know nothing of either (a more embarrassing confession). Apparently symphony No.4 is not typical Mahler and rather confounded his audience on its debut. I liked it. The first movement is engagingly lyrical, whilst the second is quite crazy, demented even - and deliberately so. The first violinist had to swap between instruments, one tuned up a step, in accord with Mahler's original instructions. But it's the third movement (adagio) that is the cracker. In the fourth movement we had Ruby Hughes back for the soprano part (amusingly wearing a different dress). I intend to re-visit this piece now I have been partially educated.

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No.4, 3rd movement (adagio), Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Breeze and Wilson

Breeze and Wilson, Under The Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge, 6th September 2014: A return vist to UTEA for this very professional acoustic duo. Great line in banter, all very relaxed. Perfectly complementing each other, the two delivered a polished performance, no seams showing. It was roots/folk/blues/acoustic country/harmony music for grown-ups.

Breeze and Wilson Live in Nova Scotia (Nadine)

Nibley Festival, 5th July 2014 - North Nibley, Gloucestershire

Of course, festivals are not just about music. As festivals go, Nibley must be one of the friendliest and most family oriented - and in one of the prettiest rural settings. The fact that it is only three miles from my house is a big bonus. Add to that a perfect day in terms of weather and it was an inevitable winner. So to the music. We missed the first couple of bands. Playing as we arrived was Adam Isaac and his band. I was impressed. At this level it is generally the case that one or two band members carry the rest. But Isaac had a great voice, belting out some entertaining songs, and all his band members pulled their weight. They deserved to have been on later in the programme. Next up was The Milk. Impressed again. The Milk did a nice line in northern soul and soulful blues, led by the vocals but with a very able band. By this time my expectations had been raised, unrealistically highly as it turned out.

Norma Jean Martine was next up, but I read my kindle through that one. Next we had the much anticipated skankin' Laid Blak. Now here was a very professional bunch of crowd pleasers, booming out the reggae. No one was to engage with the audience as well as these guys. With a song called M32 there's no prize for guessing their city of origin. Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo were introduced with a list of accolades but failed to ignite my interest. An acoustic guitar / singer led all-women outfit boasting cello, accordion and violin, they did not project in a festival setting. Following Laid Blak did them no favours. The next two bands, Missing Andy and Jim Lockley and The Solemn Sun, were loud, standard festival fare. I took the opportunity to wander around a bit and do some more reading of the kindle.

Having dined exquisitely on goat curry I was ready for the band that I was here for: Turin Brakes. This was up at least three league divisions. They started with three numbers off their latest album, with which I am not acquainted. They were rather more electric and wailing guitar than I normally associate with the Brakes. After that it was a solid diet of old favourites from their very extensive back catalogue. Last time I saw the Brakes they had a large backing band touring with them. This time, they were a four piece. (Turin Brakes is, at core, just Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian). Great stuff and a reminder that there is no substitute for simply having good songs. If you are not familiar with Turin Brakes I suggest you invest in the compilation CD Bottled at Source. The Family Rain from Bath were, to my mind, a filler whilst the main stage was prepared for the headliners: The Heavy. These guys are, I'm sure, a great festival band. Highly professional, right into the faces of the crowd from the word go, and great music....if you happen to like that sort of R&B stuff. I don't. We left during the first number, prioritising getting out of the car park before it became log-jammed.

Laid Blak skankin' it up good (or something). I'm not convinced that St.Paul's is exactly a ghetto but a good song anyway.

Andrei Gavrilov

The Bristol Ensemble with Andrei Gavrilov (piano and conducting), Colston Hall, Bristol, 18th May 2014: A Night on the Bare Mountain (Mussorgsky); Tchaikovsky piano concert No.1; Rachmaninoff piano concerto No.3.

Wow! What a blistering gig. As my neighbour remarked, it was all very, very Russian. Certainly it was all very, very passionate and energetic. I've never seen the like on the classical concert platform. I had thought that A Night on the Bare Mountain would be used to provide respite between the two piano concertos, to give the soloist a rest. I was wrong. It was up first, and Andrei Gavrilov was in no mood for resting. Dare I suggest that classical music is often presented in rather too formal a manner? I do. I dare. It is. Not so tonight. Gavrilov, as a pianist and hence uncluttered by any need to conform as a conductor, simply let rip with an array of histrionic gestures not normally associated with conducting - and, believe me, I thoroughly approve. The effect was an extraordinary dynamic connection with audience and orchestra alike. For once I felt I actually understood what the conductor was conveying. In contrast to the usual rather academic and reserved conducting, what we had here was feral and totally wild. Glorious! Nor was this to change when Gavrilov conducted from the piano for the two piano concertos. I did not know that the piece now known as A Night on the Bare Mountain is not strictly by Mussorgsky because Modest M's original was monkeyed about with (I think that's the technical term) by old Rimsky-Korsakov. This new knowledge (courtesy of the programme) has rather left me wanting to hear the "elemental and barbaric original", properly known as St John's Night on the Bare Mountain - not that there was anything at all wrong with the version we heard tonight. The Bristol Ensemble did themselves proud, producing another fine performance and delivering the tempestuous sound the piece demands.

Then came Tchaikovsky piano concert No.1 and it was spellbinding from start to finish. I thought I knew the piece pretty well, but this was a different interpretation. Passionate it always is, but this performance took the passion to new heights. Just what excess of creativity must Pytor Ilyich have possessed to be able to squander that magnificent opening theme on the introduction alone? But the whole concerto, all three movements, are laden with lyricism. The entertainment was not provided by the music alone, though that would have been more than sufficient, but also by Gavrilov's exuberant conducting from the piano. No waving his arms weakly from a sitting position for him. No, he constantly leapt to his feet to gesticulate in unrestrained abandon to the music. When I say "leap" this is not mere hyperbolae, I swear his feet left the ground on some occasions. What a guy. Clearly as transported at the age of 59 as he was (I presume) at 18 when he won the Tchaikovsky competition. I doubt I will ever again see the thumbs-up used as conducting device.

Nor, I expect, will I ever again see a conductor walk over to the first violinist, stoop down towards him and look him straight in the eye so as to make all the more emphatic his hand signals - not in a threatening way, you understand, but in comradely fashion, brothers in arms in the production from wood, gut and horsehair this auditory approach to the transcendental. Sorry for that bit of purple prose, but frankly it was purple music, so to speak. As the performance progressed - and it was certainly a performance - we watched the dark patch of sweat on Gavrilov's back expand. I was concerned he'd not have enough left in the tank for Rach.3. I need not have worried. The finale of Tchaik.1 was a triumph. Gavrilov punched the air - and well he might. Coming back onto the stage to rapturous applause he raised both arms, fists clenched, like a victorious boxer. Audience and maestro were of one mind as regards the success of the delivery. The Bristol Ensemble seemed perhaps a little bemused, as if they were wondering if they had really just taken part in that.

Then came Rachmaninoff piano concerto No.3. This is, of course, a monster. It was written specifically for the composer's tour of the USA in 1909. Rachmaninoff is generally regarded as the last of the great Romantic composers, and certainly he can be seen as heir to Tchaikovsky in tonight's programme. Both pieces contain great lyricism, both include fiendishly difficult cadenzas, both are archetypically Romantic, and both give unlimited scope for both virtuosity and passion - and the latter was exploited to the full by Gavrilov. His jumping up to conduct and stomping back down to play was no less vigorous than in the Tchaikovsky. The most remarkable thing about both performances, but perhaps even more so for the Rachmaninoff, was just how the music was projected and gripped the audience. It was captivating, no mere dry technical delivery. The end was greeted by an explosion of applause with many people standing to emphasise their delight or shouting 'bravo'. Being called back onto the stage by the applause, Gavrilov delighted us further with some Prokofiev, though I was too ignorant to know which piece (later identified as Suggestion Diabolique, Op 4, No 4 and featured in the first video below). It was, however, a fitting end to the proceedings being of coruscating speed and difficulty. Great night.

Andrei Gavrilov playing Prokofiev Suggestion Diabolique (Op 4, No 4)

And here is Andrei in rehearsal...

St.James's Parish Church, Dursley, Gloucestershire

Oriana Singers, with soloists Julie Kench (soprano) and Martin Le Poidevin (baritone). Nigel Davies, organ; David Moss, conductor: St.James's Parish Church, Dursley, 5th April 2014. The main event, and the whole of the first half, was Vaughan Williams' Dona Nobis Pacem. This very demanding piece is a brave undertaking for an amateur choir, even when assisted by professional soloists. It is normally performed with a large orchestral backing. It is a big, big piece in its full format. So I was nervous about what we might get in a parish church - clearly not a full orchestra. Having heard YouTube versions accompanied only by a piano I was concerned it might bomb. The accompaniment was provided, it turned out, by the church organ - and very effective it was. In fact, it was quite a triumph, I thought, all the more so considering that the choir was relatively modest in size. Were all the singers listed in the programme actually present?. The choir and organ worked well together - and the soloists were brilliant, of course. The words of the cantata are mostly by Walt Whitman, reflecting the American Civil war but pressed into service by Vaughan Williams in this piece - essentially a plea for peace in 1936, with WW2 looming. Curiously, though, a few words were borrowed from John Bright, an English MP, in a speech to Parliament attempting to dissuade them from embarking on the Crimean war - strangely apposite at present. (Aside: Modern technology has invaded even parish churches: the organist's back was to the conductor so I was puzzled to begin with as to how he was responding accurately to prompts - until I noticed the web cam!).

The second half provided more treats than I had anticipated. We had Bach (Lob und Ehre); Bruckner (Christus Factus Est, Locus iste, Os Justi), Handel (The King Shall Rejoice), and some Mozart for the soprano to show off to (Et Incarnatus Est, from the Mass in C minor).

Not the Oriana Singers, of course, but you might like this big-production version of Dona Nobis Pacem

St.Mark's Basilica, Venice

"Splendours of Venice" - The Exultate Singers and His Majesty's Sagbutts & Cornetts, conducted David Ogden: St.George's, Bristol, 29th March 2014. Rather than yet another picture of The Exultate I have opted, above, for St.Mark's Basilica, the venue for the original performances of all the music in tonight's programme. This concert is a repeat of the concert at the same venue this time last year (see my review). It featured the same performers but, of course, a different programme. The theme was again the music of sixteenth century Venice - virtually synonymous with St.Mark's Basilica. As David Ogden said, they could hold this concert annually for the next 80 years and not have to repeat a piece. Apologies for repeating myself, but I have had occassion to note previously the Exultate's use of the surround-sound effect by dispersing separate choirs around the concert hall. This is no new innovation. It was used extensively in St.Mark's, not least by Andrea Gabrieli and his followers. It works especially well with Renaissance polyphony, the natural dialogue of this form being mirrored by the spatial disposition. The programme included five pieces by Guami, some of which had been salvaged only very recently by members of His Majesty's Sagbutts and hence had probably not been heard for over 400 years.

The programme consisted of, but not in this order: Giovanni Croce (Deus in adjutorium meum); Giovanni Gabrieli (Canzon II, Angelus ad pastores ait a 12, Magnificat a 33, O magnum mysterium, Buccinate); Andrea Gabrieli (Agnus Dei from Missa Pater Peccavi); Claudio Monteverdi (Gloria a 7, Beatus vir); Gioseffi Guami (Laetentur caeli, La Battaglia, In die tribulationis, Canzon Vigesimaquarta, Magnus Dominus); Giovanni Battista Grillo (Sonata Prima); Alessandro Orologio (Intrada a 6); Hans Leo Hassler (Cantate Domino); Baldassare Donato (O bone Jesu).

Angelus ad pastores ait - Andrea Gabrieli - Initially included by mistake, it being Giovanni's version (below) which was sung on the night, but then I couldn't delete it.

Angelus ad pastores ait - Giovanni Gabrieli (nephew of Andrea)

The Bristol Ensemble, incomplete (formerly The Emerald Ensemble)

The Bristol Ensemble with Benedict Hoffnung (conductor), "Death and the Maiden", St.Mary's Church, Wotton-under-Edge, 22/2/14. This was the latest in the Wotton Concert Series. The previous very high standard was maintained with an excellent programme of string-driven music. The first half featured Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus" by Vaughan Williams. This was not a piece I knew but was instantly recognisable as Vaughan Williams. What is it about his string sound that makes it so characteristic? Then there was Dido's Lament from Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. Unfortunately, though, what we got tonight was the purely instrumental arrangement by Stokowski. Wot no Mezzo-Soprano? Unfortunately not. Pity, it's a lovely song (listen for yourself here). Then there was the 4th movement, the Adagietto, from Mahler's symphony No.5. This is the one so often plundered in film scores (e.g., Visconti's Death in Venice). So does it conjure unrequited love or is it merely funereal - or even self-parodying irony? I doubt that great composers toil over symphonies in order to produce self-parody. In any case, it's an easy, accessible audience pleaser. The first half finished with Brahms's Hungarian Dance No.1, which I thought was completely incongruous and I could have done without it. The second half was given over entirely to the eponymous Death and the Maiden by Schubert. Or rather, I had thought we were getting the Schubert string quartet, but it turned out to be an adaptation by Mahler for the whole orchestra. (I was rather bemused when all the musicians trooped back on stage until I realised that). I had only heard the string quartet version once and thought it rather dramatic and not at all like a typical string quartet piece. So I thought an orchestrated version was quite appropriate. The lady next to me, though, who said it was one of her favourite pieces, remained unconvinced, preferring the quartet version. I must listen to it again. Another fine evening thanks to the Wooton Concert Series, which I shall certainly keep supporting.

The Rob Terry / Rob Terry Trio

The Rob Terry Trio, 15th February 2014, Under The Edge Arts, Wotton-under-Edge. Well, well, this was a pleasant surprise. I nearly didn't bother going, but then I did a bit of YouTubing and realised that these guys could play. And could they. All three were excellent musicians, with Rob Terry on piano, Paul Jefferies on double bass, and Charlie Straford on drums. All but one of the compositions were Rob's. The style was nicely accessible whilst remaining sufficiently challenging to be interesting. The pieces had a strong classical flavour, borrowing liberally from the classical repertoire, sometimes more than one theme being used in the same piece. The three players meshed very nicely and seemed perfectly at ease. They played for over two hours, not including a good watering break, and time never dragged - always a good sign. The result was one of the best, perhaps the best, event so far at UTEA. They seemed keen to come back again - and the audience was too.

The Exultate Singers with David Ogden

The Exultate Singers, St.George's, Bristol, "A Sense of the Divine", 8/2/14: I am in danger of being an Exultate groupie, I've lost track of how many times I've been to their concerts now. Unlike the one just before Christmas, when I was fit for nothing after a serious bout of insomnia, I was up for this one. It did not disappoint. The theme was the stars, and the evening was partly conducted in semi-darkness to enhance the effect. A number of poetry readings were interspersed amongst the songs, though they did little for me to be honest. The full programme of music was: O viridissima virga (Hildegard of Bingen), Videntes stellam (Poulenc), The Light of Stars (Owain Park, a 21 year old composer it appears) and then an absolute cracker, Qui habitat in adjutorio altissimi a 24 by Josquin des Prez, a complex interwoven piece of polyphony with refrains being thrown around the separate choirs like playing catch. A fine example of why the live experience is essential. It just can't be captured in a recording. Then we got Ave Maris Stella (James MacMillan), An Astronaut's Prayer (by our choir master, David Ogden), and to end the first half another great blockbuster, Lux Aeterna by Gyorgy Ligeti. This you might recognise as the music used at the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey, but my goodness it really stands up well as a voice-only piece. So different from everything else. I'd like to hear that one again soon (but not likely). In the second half we had two pieces by Vaughan Williams, Serenade to Music and The infinite shining heavens, plus Stars (Eriks Esenvalds), Sleep, fleshly birth (Robert Ramsey), Stars and Planets (Norman MacCraig), Sure on this shining night (Morten Lauridsen), King David (Herbert Howells) and finally Long Road (Eriks Esenvalds). Another enjoyable night with the Exultate...and another coming up in March. As a bonus I found myself sitting next to an old work colleague who I hadn't seen for some 20 years.

Not the Exultate, but this is a recording of Qui habitat in adjutorio altissimi a 24 by Josquin des Prez,

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