Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice

Gluck: Orpheus and Eurydice
English National Opera, Harry Bicket
The Coliseum, 31 October 2019

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice was the third of the current English National Opera (ENO) series of four operas based on the Orpheus myth that I saw, although it was the first to be performed in the series. It was also the earliest of the series, the most telling omission being Monteverdi’s 1607 L’Orfeo. In a nod to the Berlioz anniversary year, Orpheus and Eurydice was performed from the 1859 edition by Berlioz rather than Gluck’s own 1762 Vienna score or his 1774 Paris revision.

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Prom 37: L’Enfance du Christ

Prom 37. Berlioz: L’Enfance du Christ
Halle Orchestra, Maxime Pascal
Britten Sinfonia Voices, Genesis Sixteen
Royal Albert Hall, 14 August 2019

L’Enfance du Christ is a curious work to programme in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall for a Berlioz anniversary Prom. The gently reflective nature of the unfolding story seems to demand a sense of intimacy, whereas works such as the Te Deum cry out for such a setting. The genesis of L’Enfance du Christ is a fascinating one. Berlioz wrote a tiny organ piece into an architect’s album during a card-playing party in 1850. Realising the nature of his creation, he immediately added some words and gave birth to the famous ‘Shepherds’ Farewell’ (L’adieu des bergers). He added it to his next concert with a hoax billing as by a forgotten 17th-century composer, named after the architect who asked for the little musical momento. Four years later, it would later form the centre-point of what he termed a ‘sacred trilogy’ – L’Enfance du Christ, a three-section oratorio. Continue reading

Requiem masses for murdered royalty

Requiem masses for murdered royalty
Le Concert Spirituel, Hervé Niquet
Barbican. 25 January 2019

Plantade Requiem in D minor, in memory of Marie-Antoinette
Berlioz Tristia
Cherubini Requiem in C minor, in memory of Louis XVI

 

Le Concert Spirituel and their founder-director Hervé Niquet brought the programme of their 2017 recording of the Plantade and Cherubini Requiems to The Barbican, together with Berlioz’s rarely performed Tristia, a sequence of three ‘sad pieces’ published in 1852 from three short pieces composed in 1831, 1842, and 1844. An unusual, but interesting programme with music that, perhaps because of the nature of the pieces, was compelling, but never really reached the heights of musical perfection. Cherubini’s Requiem was the first to be performed, in 1817, shortly after the restoration of the monarchy and in memory of Louis XVI. It was followed in 1823 by Plantade’s Messe des morts on the 30th anniversary of the death of Marie-Antoinette. Plantade knew Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, and there are elements of the earlier musical style of their court in his Requiem together with the style of the music of the Revolution. As with the Cherubini, there are no solo voices. Both works are intended for liturgical performance. Continue reading

BBC Proms: Berlioz Faust

Berlioz: The Damnation of Faust
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Monteverdi Choir, National Youth Choir of Scotland, Trinity Boys Choir
BBC Prom 31: Royal Albert Hall. 8 August 2017

Whoever thought of turning Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust into a staged opera seems, to me, to be missing the point. Quite apart from the extraordinary challenge of depicting the dramatic scenes on stage, the sheer drama of which would distract from what the music and the libretto is telling us, it is clear that Berlioz intended this as music to be listened to, not watched. That said, there was plenty to see in this Proms performance given by the period instruments of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique together with the Monteverdi Choir, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and Trinity Boys Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner. Continue reading

The Celebrated Distin Family

The Celebrated Distin Family: Music for Saxhorn Ensemble
The Prince Regent’s Band
Resonus RES10179. 55’40

Music by Mayerbeer, Berlioz, Donizetti, Verdi, Handel, Arne and the Distin family

Unless you have been weaned on the sound of brass bands (which I wasn’t) the sounds and the instruments on this recording might appear rather unusual. It features no fewer than seven saxhorns, ranging from contralto to contrabass, along with five different cornets, and a ventil horn, all dating from around 1850-1900 (pictured below). The five players of the period brass ensemble, The Prince Regent’s Band, share these out amongst themselves as they explore the music of the extraordinary Distin family who, between 1835 and 1857, journeyed around Europe and North America performing and promoting new designs of brass instruments. They were instrumental, so to speak, in the development of new valved instruments, one being the saxhorn, designed by Adolphe Sax (who they met in Paris in 1844) but improved by the Distins, who gave the instrument its name.

Instruments used in the recording: 

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BBC Prom 17: Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra

BBC Prom 17: Berlioz, Beethoven, Brahms
Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra (SWR)
Sir Roger Norrington, Robert Levin
Royal Albert Hall, 28 July 2016

Few in the audience would have realised what a poignant and emotional, event this Prom was to be until after the encore, when the leader Natalie Chee took a microphone and addressed the packed Royal Albert Hall to explain that, due to spending cuts, the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra is to merge with the SWR Symphony Orchestra in September, and that this was their very last concert. Founded in the dark days of 1945 Sir Roger Norrington © BBC / Chris Christodoulouthis distinguished orchestra has built an enormous international reputation, not least during the years from 1998 to 2011 when Sir Roger Norrington was their chief conductor, bringing his noted ‘historically informed’ performance practice to this modern instrument orchestra, producing a distinctive style – the ‘Stuttgart sound’. The two merging orchestras are both under the auspices of Südwestrundfunk (South West Radio), the public broadcaster for Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and have very different repertoires and styles. It was entirely appropriate that Roger Norrington, now their Conductor Emeritus, was the conductor for their final concert.

Berlioz’s sparkling and witty overture to Beatrice and Benedict opened the evening, with Norrington’s characteristic attention to detail being at the forefront. Continue reading