Demo quality

grimesbergenIf you follow such things you will probably have seen that the Bergen recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes won Gramophone magazine’s “Record of the Year” award.  This came as no surprise as it is very, very good.  My detailed review is in the Fall 2020 edition of Opera Canada.  In that review, which was made using the electronic copy supplied by the distributor (16 bit, 44.1kHz stereo .wav files), I speculated that the commercial release, which is hybrid 24 bit/48kHz stereo and SACD surround, might well be “demonstration quality”.  It is.  I’ve now had a chance to sample the SACD version and it’s really good.  There’s a really good level of detail and transparency with plenty of entirely natural sounding bass extension.  That’s generally been my experience of such releases on the Chandos label and this is one of the best of them that I’ve heard.  If you have gear that will play SACD you really should hear this!

The GGS’ Rape of Lucretia

The Glenn Gould School released their spring opera performance on the new Koerner livestream platform on Thursday night.  It’s a concert performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia.  This is a piece I find hugely problematic but since I went into considerable detail about why in a review of an MYOpera production that I wrote exactly five years ago I won’t repeat myself.  Let’s just look at what the GGS did with it.

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Langridge’s Grimes

grimes-langridgeEarlier this month I was reviewing a new CD recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes for Opera Canada (you should be able to read it in the issue that’s currently at the printers).  It’s a rather good performance from the Bergen Philharmonic with Stuart Skelton in the title role.  In digging into previous recordings while writing that review I came across a 1995 recording with Philip Langridge in the title role.  I was familiar with his ENO performance which was brilliant and is captured on DVD but there are serious issues with that recording so I was delighted to be able to have another listen.

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Skelton is an outstanding Grimes

grimes-bergenThis new recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes was recorded from semi-staged performances in the Grieghallen in Bergen in November last year. It’s very good indeed. Of course, there are many good audio and video recordings of this piece going back to the composer’s own version with Peter Pears in the title role; recorded in 1959 and many fine singers have recorded the title role. To stand out from the field, a new recording needs an outstanding Grimes and in Stuart Skelton this version has one. He manages to encompass both the brutal, gritty side of Grimes as well as the more ethereal side. Pears did the latter brilliantly but could never quite manage the grit. Vickers, who practically owned the role in the 1970s, was brutal but didn’t have the voice or the stage skills to bring out the gentler side. Perhaps the first person to really portray the full complexity of the character was the late Philip Langridge and there’s much about Skelton’s portrayal that reminds one of him. It shades toward the delicate most of the time with some lovely singing in “Now the Great Bear” and in the mad scene. But when Skelton needs to be brutal he’s downright scary.

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“Live” from Covent Garden

If you didn’t catch it live last night there’s a really lovely concert up on the Royal Opera House Youtube channel which should be available for a couple of weeks.  Tony Pappano is at the piano with Louise Alder singing Britten, Strauss and Handel, Toby Spence with some Butterworth plus Gerald Finley with Finzi, Turnage and Britten.  The boys finish off with the Pearl Fishers duet.  Along the way, Morgen is sung by Louise and danced quite beautifully to choreography by Wayne McGregor by Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales.  It’s weird, and even eerie, to see a concert from a large empty theatre but there we are.  Highly recommended.

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reGENERATION week 2

The second set of reGENERATION concerts of the Topronto Summer Music Festival took place yesterday at Walter Hall.  The song portion, unusually, consisted of 100% English language rep, mirroring the Griffey/Jones recital earlier in the wee.  The first concert kicked off with tenor Eric Laine and pianist Scott Downing with five songs from Finzi’s setting of Thomas Hardy; A Young Man’s Exhortation.  It was good.  Laine has a nice sense of style and very good diction.  The high notes are there though sometimes, especially at the end of a line, they don’t sound 100% secure.  There was some quite delicate accompaniment from Downing too.

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Voices Across the Atlantic

Last night’s Toronto Summer Music concert at the Church of the redeemer was headlined by Daniel Taylor, Charles Daniels and Steven Philcox but, somewhat to my surprise, also featured multiple fellows from both the art song and chamber music programmes.

The “headliners” kicked things off with Britten’s canticle Abraham and Isaac, based on one of the Chester Mystery Plays.  I thought I knew this piece but soon realised I was confusing it with the setting of Owen’s The Parable of the Old Man and the Young in the War Requiem!  It’s an interesting piece with a very medieval Catholic take on an Old Testament story.  It was performed here with the delicacy and attention to detail I’d expect from these performers.

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Monica and Judy

Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters recital featured the relatively unusual combination of soprano Monica Whicher accompanied by Judy Loman on harp.  It was a very well constructed and executed afternoon of song.  Each set had something to offer.Th first set was of English songs of the 16th and 17th centuries including the very lovely O Death Rock Me Asleep attributed, almost certainly inaccurately, to Anne Boleyn.  All very touching and harp seeming very appropriate for songs which were likely intended for lute accompaniment.

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Batting 1000

Yesterday saw the 1000th concert in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre (*) since the house opened in 2006.  Fittingly it was given by Susan Bullock who sang Brünnhilde in the Canadian premier of the Ring Cycle that christened the new theatre.  She was accompanied by Liz Upchurch who has also been around since before the new house existed.

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Winter Words

Yesterday’s Mazzoleni Songmasters concert featured mezzo Lucia Cervoni, tenor Michael Colvin and pianist Rachel Andrist in a varied programme of song.  It kicked off with two songs by George MacNutt; Take Me to a Green Isle, sung by Michael, and O Love, Be Deep, sung by Lucia.  Both songs are in a quite meditative mood and served to give us a pretty good idea of what we could expect later on.  Michael sings very much in the British manner, which comes as no surprise with his extensive work at ENO and the number of Britten roles he sings.  Lucia’s dark, smokey mezzo sounded rather more operatic.

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