A Left Coast

A Left Coast coverA Left Coast is baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer’s tribute to British Columbia and its music.  Seven composers with birthdates ranging from 1908 to 1985 are featured on the disk.  BC is a young country as far as western classical music is concerned though, of course, it has rich artistic traditions stretching far back into the mists of the north west.

It’s quite varied and, inevitably, I like some sets more than others.  My top pick is Leslie Uyeda’s Plato’s Angel songs which set poems by Lorna Crozier.  There’s a deep melancholy in the text that’s reflected in a dark, somewhat atonal musical idiom.  I also really liked Jeffrey Ryan’s Everything Already Lost; the longest set on the record, setting quite sonically/musically evocative texts by Jan Zwicky with quite varied sonorities mixing elements of minimalism and onomatopoeia, especially in the piano part.

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La vestale

lavestaleSpontini’s 1807 work La Vestale is the latest French opera to get the Palazzetto Bru Zane treatment.  Ir’s extremely interesting as this work has a performance history not unlike the more famous Médée of Charpentier.  It’s very much a tragédie lyrique in the same basic style as the works of Gluck, though with some compositional innovations that did not endear the composer to the Paris musical establishment.  Indeed, but for the determined patronage of the Empress Josephine it likely would never have made it to the stage.  Like Médée it was initially very successful before disappearing from the repertoire in the later 19th century.  Also like Médée it was the subject of a mid 20th century revival, notably a 1954 La Scala production (in Italian) by Visconti featuring Maria Callas. Inevitably given the time and place it was given in a style that owed more to verismo than French classicism with a large modern orchestra, conventional (by 1950s standards) tempi and a rather more overblown singing style than was ever heard in early 19th century Paris.  If it were revived again for major houses one imagines it would still get essentially the same treatment.  Perhaps it will be the next international diva vehicle for Sondra Radvanovsky? Continue reading

Haitink’s Grimes

grimes_allenlottRegular readers will know I’m something of a Peter Grimes completist so I was interested to get my hands on a recording previously unheard by me (one of only two such!).  It’s a 1992 recording made in Watford Town Hall and, as far as I know, was not made in conjunction with a stage run.  The Grimes is Anthony Rolfe Johnson with Thomas Allen as Balstrode and Felicity Lott as Ellen Orford.  There’s also a young Simon Keenleyside as Ned Keene.  Bernard Haitink conducts with Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House. Continue reading

Forbidden Fruit

ALPHA COVERITUNES.inddForbidden Fruit is a CD by baritone Benjamin Appl and Pianist James Baillieu due for release on June 23rd.  It’s a sort of themed recital dealing with the Garden of Eden and the Fall.  It starts with the English traditional song “I Will Give My Love an Apple” and finishes with “Urlicht” from Mahler’s setting of text from Das Knaben Wunderhorn.  In between there are about 25 songs, some solo piano and quotes from the Bible which take us on a journey from all kinds of temptation, through consequences, to (maybe) some kind of redemption.  In all there’s 69 minutes of music. Continue reading


Untitled design - 1Blaze is a record of (mostly) solo piano music by Alice Ping Yee Ho played by Christina Petrowska Quilico.  There are eight pieces on the disk adding up to just over an hour of music.  It’s quite varied.  There are pieces like the title track which are colourful and intricate with others like “Shade” being slower and, perhaps, more lyrical.  It’s all highly virtuosic requiring not just excellent orthodox technique but quite a bit in the way of extended technique.  It needs more than technique too as this is music with a lot going on that needs to be interpreted sensitively.  The performances are really impressive.

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There is nothing like a dame

favourite english songsBrowsing the back catalogue for fun stuff a few days ago I came across a record of English song featuring Dame Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson.  It’s called Favourite English Songs and was released in 2006 so. at the height of the singer’s interpretative powers and with the voice still in excellent shape.  It’s an interesting mix of the very familiar; Vaughan Williams’ :High Noon” and some of the Britten folk song arrangements for example, and the less familiar with songs by Maude White, Cecil Gibbs and Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson among the composers I’ve never heard of.

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sardanapaloHave you ever asked yourself “What if Liszt had written an opera?”.  I hadn’t either.  But he did start one; Sardanapalo.  It’s based on a Byron poem and tells the story of Sardanapalus, king of Assyria, who met a rather grisly end with his favourite concubine Myra after his subjects revolted, objecting to his decadent lifestyle.  The libretto is by an unknown hand and it seems only Act 1 ever got written.  Liszt made a start on setting that, leaving just about enough material for Cambridge scholar David Trippett to produce a performable version.  This was duly performed and recorded in Weimar in 2018.

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Heretic Threads

Heretic Threads (Cover)I’ve been listening to an intriguing new album.  It’s called Heretic Threads and it contains a most unusual treatment of three keyboard works by Haydn.  The three works are:

  • Sonata in F Major for fortepiano Hob XVI 23
  • Sonata in E Minor for fortepiano Hob XVI 34
  • Fantasia in C Major Hob XVI 4

The treatment is that each is first played on fortepiano by Boyd McDonald.  Then there’s a version for accordion by Joseph Petric.  Finally composer and recording engineer Peter Lutek has created an electronic piece by sampling and processing excerpts from the fortepiano and accordion versions.

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Shostakovich from the BBC Philharmonic

shosty12&15The latest release from the BBC Philharmonic and conductor John Storgårds is a generous coupling of two Shostakovich symphonies; Symphony No. 12 in D Minor (The Year 1917) and Symphony No.15 in A Major.  That’s a total of 85 minutes of music.  It’s also an SACD release from Chandos so technically it’s exemplary.

Really the quality of the music making and the quality of the recording reinforce each other.  Shostakovich symphonies tend to be a combination of delicacy and detail coupled with stirring, even bombastic, climaxes.  I was struck by just how delicate Storgårds makes his orchestra sound when he wants.  There’s some really beautiful woodwind playing for instance.  Then, just when I’m writing a note to myself that “this is a bit civilized for Shostakovich”, wham!  In comes the brass and percussion in a shattering climax.  And the contrast is so much more effective with the extended frequency and dynamic range that SACD affords.  Tying it all together is a kind of restless energy that runs through both symphonies.  It’s really good.

The recording was made at the BBC Media Centre in Salford in August and September 2022 and it was recorded, as Chandos do, in 24 bit, 96kHz resolution, which is what allows the full quality of SACD to emerge.  The physical disk has the usual multi and 2 channel SACD mixes plus a standard res CD track.  It’s also available digitally as MP# or standard and high res FLAC.  The excellent booklet is also included in the digital release.

Catalogue number: Chandos CHSA 5334

Jessye Norman – The Unreleased Masters

jessyenormanunreleasedDecca have just released a 3CD set of previously unreleased recordings made by the late Jessye Norman between 1989 and 1998 with various orchestras and conductors.

The first is a series of extracts from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde recorded in Leipzig in 1998 with Kurt Masur conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra.  Besides the Prelude there’s most of the Isolde/Brangäne scenes from Act 1 (Hannah Schwarz is Brangäne).  Then comes the huge Act 2, Scene 2 duet; “Isolde! Geliebte! – Tristan! Geliebte!” etc, with Thomas Moser as Tristan, and finally, and inevitably, the “Liebestod”.  It all sounds really good with the duet properly ecstatic and the “Liebestod” very moving.  It’s a studio recording made in many takes so that challenging final scene doesn’t have to be sung after many hours on stage which no doubt contributes but it’s all very fine and a good record of Jessye in the role.

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