Song at Wolfson – Ukraine Fundraiser

It is so gratifying to see all the musical initiatives currently underway to raise money for Ukraine. One that I particularly wanted to draw attention to is a concert taking place at the Leonard Wolfson Auditorium in Wolfson College, Oxford, on 9 June.

British-Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Rozanna Madylus will be joined in a celebration of Ukrainian song by pianist and Oxford Lieder Festival founder Sholto Kynoch. Rozanna is a former Oxford Lieder Young Artist, and the programme will be introduced by Philip Bullock, setting the history of Ukrainian music in cultural context.

The program includes songs by the 19th-century Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko, as well as music by Yakiv Stepovyi, Kyrylo Stetsenko and Stefania Turkewich. The commentary for the concert reveals that Turkewich studied with Joseph Marx and Arnold Schoenberg, before fleeing the Soviets for England in 1946, where she stayed until her death in 1977. Some of her songs have only recently been discovered. With the inclusion of Ukrainian folk songs, the concert promises to be an eye-opening occasion, bringing the music and poetry of Ukraine to the forefront at such an awful time for the country.

The concert will be presented in support of the DEC Ukraine appeal. With generous support from Breckon & Breckon, all costs of the concert are covered and 100% of ticket sales will go directly to the DEC. Although seating is unreserved as usual, tickets are priced at £15, £20 and £25 to help raise as much as possible. If you would like to donate further, please click here to give directly to DEC.

You can book tickets for the concert at the Oxford Lieder website

In concert – Elisabeth Brauß @ Wigmore Hall – Domenico Scarlatti, Mozart, Ravel & Prokofiev

Elisabeth Brauß (piano)

Domenico Scarlatti Sonata in C minor Kk56; Sonata in C Kk159 ‘La caccia’; Sonata in B minor Kk27; Sonata in B minor Kk87; Sonata in G Kk427 (exact dates unknown)
Mozart Piano Sonata in A minor K310 (1778)
Ravel Sonatine (1903-05)
Prokofiev Piano Sonata no.3 in A minor Op.28 (1917)

Wigmore Hall, London, 24 January 2022

reviewed by Ben Hogwood from the online broadcast

Seven sonatas and a sonatine in the space of an hour represents good value for a lunchtime concert – and even more so when the works in question span nearly two centuries. This was down to the clever programming of German pianist Elisabeth Brauß, a member of the BBC New Generations Scheme. She presented a potted history of the development of the sonata, moving as it did to the very centre of the concert platform by the twentieth century.

Brauß began her imaginatively thought-out hour with five sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, just under 1% of the composer’s remarkable output in the form. Within his 550 or so published works there is an inexhaustible variety, and Brauß gave us some fine examples. Her crisp delivery of the C minor work was complemented by the playful ‘Caccia’ sonata, Scarlatti’s writing of parallel thirds tastefully ornamented in the right hand. Slipping into B minor, there was a more obvious Bach influence in an elegant performance of the Kk27 sonata, before a more reflective example in the same key, given plenty of room with ideally weighted inside parts. This thoughtful and emotive account was swept to one side by the showy G major sonata, chasing the clouds away.

Mozart‘s A minor sonata followed, a profound work written in the wake of the sudden illness and death of the composer’s mother Anna Maria in Paris, 1778. The principal phrase of the first movement is conspicuous for a ‘wrong’ note, an E flat played at the same time as an A minor chord, which can throw the listener. Brauß did well to give it the surprise factor, resulting in quite an unnerving and uncertain mood.

The second movement was initially calm, bringing out the singing style of Mozart’s marking of Andante cantabile con espressione rather beautifully. There was a refreshing lack of weight to this performance, the melodies floating on air, in contrast to a heavy-set middle section. The Presto finale, initially serious, brightened as the tonality moved into the major key, Brauß sensing hope in Mozart’s writing.

There was clarity in her Ravel, too, which found the right combination of technical flair and intimacy. Brauß portrayed the questioning nature of the first movement, just before its main theme returns and resolves. A limpid second movement was followed by a finale notable for its virtuosity – following the Animé marking – but which kept its conversational qualities.

Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata no.3 is a compressed firecracker, a work with plenty to say in its eight minutes. This performance was very impressive if holding back a little in the more raucous moments. Brauß was a more than capable guide to this impetuous piece, however, finding the heart of the adventurous coda, which sounds a lot newer than its 1917 composition date would suggest.

She clearly loves Prokofiev, as the Prelude in C major Op.12/7 made an ideal encore, bringing out the composer’s balletic side. There was less percussiveness in this lyrical account, notable for some lovely melodic phrasing.

Watch and listen

You can listen to the repertoire from this concert in choice recordings on the Spotify playlist below (Elisabeth has not yet recorded any of the pieces):

In concert – Sandrine Piau & David Kadouch @ Wigmore Hall – Journeys: Longing and Leaving

Sandrine Piau (soprano), David Kadouch (piano)

Schubert Mignon (Kennst du das Land) D321 (1815), Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister D877: Heiss mich nicht reden; Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (1826)
Clara Schumann Er ist gekommen Op. 12 No. 1 (1841); Sie liebten sich beide Op. 13 No. 2 (1842); Lorelei (1843)
Robert Schumann Lieder und Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister Op. 98a: Kennst du das Land (1849)
Duparc La vie antérieure (1884); L’invitation au voyage (1870)
Lili Boulanger Clairières dans le ciel (1913-14): Si tout ceci n’est qu’un pauvre rêve; Je garde une médaille d’elle; Vous m’avez regardé avec toute votre âme
Debussy Les soirs illuminés par l’ardeur du charbon (1917); 5 poèmes de Baudelaire (1890): Le jet d’eau; Recueillement; La mort des amants

Wigmore Hall, London, 17 January 2022

reviewed by Ben Hogwood from the online broadcast

It was heartening indeed to see the Wigmore Hall at capacity for the visit of soprano Sandrine Piau and pianist David Kadouch, bringing with them a new program with the theme of Journeys: Longing and Leaving.

They delivered the songs in two ‘halves’, one of German Lieder drawn  from the first half of the 19th century, the other of French song from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, giving us a smooth trajectory from Schubert to Debussy.

Refreshingly the journey took in substantial contributions from Clara Schumann and Lili Boulanger, three songs from each – as well as showing the increasing influence of Wagner on even the smallest forms of vocal music as the century turned.

Singing from a tablet, Sandrine Piau gave heartfelt performances and had the ideal foil in David Kadouch, whose brushstrokes on the piano were immediately telling. His chilly introduction to the third song in the Schubert group, Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, set the tone after a characterful first song and a sorrowful second, with a soaring vocal line from the soprano. Piau sang with arms outstretched, expressively capturing all the ornamentation and hitting the depths of the song’s turbulent middle section.

The Clara Schumann selection was fascinating, especially given the context of husband Robert’s well-known productivity in the years 1841-1843. The urgent Er ist gekommen was first, a heady song sitting high in the range, before a setting of Heine from just after Schumann’s celebrated year of song, a yearning and ultimately tragic number with a limpid commentary from the piano. The Loreley started in the same key, pushing restlessly forward. The only Schumann song in the program retained its intensity despite a noisy mobile phone introduction, a very different setting to the same text as tackled by Schubert at the start.

Turning to France, we heard two from the small output of Henri Duparc, whose entire output barely covers the length of a single concert. There is quality rather than quantity, however, and we heard the celebrated L’invitation au voyage, sumptuously performed with great poise. The two found the ideal pacing for La vie antérieure before it, solemn but quite open, and building to a powerful declamation.

Lili Boulanger wrote powerfully original music before her tragic death at the age of 24. Her orchestral tone poems have received greater exposure of late but the songs have remained relatively hidden. Piau and Kadouch put that to rights with three songs drawn from the wartime collection Clairières dans le ciel. They found an ominous tone in the lower vocal register from Piau, all the more so given the retrospective knowledge that Boulanger would only live for another three years from when the songs were written. The pained complexion at the end of Si tout ceci n’est qu’un pauvre rêve from Piau was profoundly affecting, then a slightly more optimistic Je garde une médaille d’elle led to the purity of Vous m’avez regardé avec toute votre âme.

Finally a selection from Debussy, prefaced by his final published piano piece Les soirs illumines par l’ardeur du charbon. This was a nice touch as an interlude, and was beautifully played. by Kadouch, We then heard three of the five Baudelaire poèmes, beginning with a babbling fountain shaded by Kadouch as Piau’s voice floated easily above. Recueillement (Meditation) found stillness initially but with the poet, distracted by darker thoughts, was mirrored by the music breaking from its reverie. Piau judged the awkward intervals perfectly, especially the final words with their harmonic transformation. The ultimate farewell was saved for last, La mort des amants quite a complex song. As with much early Debussy the harmonies travelled far but arrived at a strangely logical end point, both performers exhibiting exceptional control at journey’s end.

Piau spoke of the program giving ‘therapy after these two long years’, after which Beau Soir – one of Debussy’s celebrated songs – proved the ideal encore, though as the soprano warned, it was essentially saying, “Look at these beautiful things, because everybody goes in the same direction – death!”

Watch and listen

In concert – Elizabeth Watts & Julius Drake perform the music of Imogen & Gustav Holst @ Wigmore Hall

Elizabeth Watts (soprano, above), Julius Drake (piano, below)

Gustav Holst Calm is the morn Op. 16 No. 1 (1903-4), Persephone Op. 48 No. 1, Betelgeuse Op. 48 No. 12 (1929), The heart worships (1907), The Floral Bandit Op. 48 No. 6 (1929)
Imogen Holst Weathers (1926), 4 Songs from Tottel’s Miscellany: Shall I thus ever long, As lawrell leaves (1944), 10 Appalachian Folk Songs: My dearest dear, The brisk young lover, I must and I will get married (1938, world première performances)
Gustav Holst Hymns from the Rig Veda Op. 24 (1907-08)

Wigmore Hall, London, 3 January 2022

reviewed by Ben Hogwood from the online broadcast. Artist photos (c) Marco Borggreve

The songs of Gustav Holst have largely eluded British performers and concert audiences over the years, and a quick scan over retail sites reveals just the one recording in the last decade. The songs of Imogen Holst, meanwhile, are even more scarce, so it was doubly welcome that this imaginative recital from soprano Elizabeth Watts and pianist Julius Drake chose to pair works by father and daughter.

Holst senior was a composer capable of finding unusual stillness in music, as the Venus and Neptune movements from his orchestral suite The Planets testify. That talent extended to his songs, and we heard several examples where the composer took his time to set the scene, helped in extremely sympathetic performances from Watts and Drake.

Calm is the morn, a Tennyson setting, found a deep peace tinged with sorrow, though the high notes floated effortlessly by Watts were rather special. These contrasted vividly with the stately Betelgeuse, low in the range while contemplating the end of life – just as Neptune explored the boundaries of the living and the dead at the edge of the solar system. In theory Betelgeuse, with text by Holst’s good friend, the poet Humbert Wolfe, should be more effective with a male voice but Watts found the mysterious depths too. Drake’s tolling chords were the ideal foil, and indeed the pianist proved sensitive to every slight nuance in his scene setting, particularly the slow chorale figure of The heart worships. This was another setting that took its time but was all the more moving for it, with the soprano’s low range well controlled. The Floral Bandit, another Wolfe setting, flitted between quick piano figurations and a restless, high contour from the voice, deliberately uncertain in its direction. Meanwhile Watts’ fretful tones caught the urgency given to Persephone.

Holst was always a keen melodist, a quality that runs through Imogen’s music too. As her father did, she had a keen interest in folk melodies both from this country and further afield, and it was fascinating to compare Watts and Drake’s Anglo-American selection, sourced with help from the Benjamin Britten archive at the Red House, with the songs digitised for performance here.

Imogen’s writing celebrated the open air, its melodies often reaching for the sky. The first song Weathers revelled in its freedom, with a lovely pointed piano part to offset the folksy tune. Drake then enjoyed the trippy syncopations from the piano, combining with a bright soprano line for Shall I thus ever long, Watts keeping clarity in the quick moving words. The slightly elusive As lawrell leaves was next, before the three Appalachian folk settings, collected by Cecil Sharp, exhibited a powerful yearning quality. My Dearest dear kept the folk melody true but turned the melody beautifully. The brisk young lover could almost have been Gustav Holst himself, though Imogen’s piano parts felt more directly connected to the melody. There was an unexpectedly devastating beauty to the simple, sad, final verse, before I must and will get married took a lighter approach.

A rare performance of the complete set of Gustav Holst’s Hymns from the Rig Veda followed. It is remarkable to think these works were published in 1908, for they still sound forward looking today, written as they were after the composer made his own translations of the sacred texts.

Holst’s advanced harmonic thinking was distilled by Drake, while Watts took the longer and more complex melodic phrasing in her stride. The accumulating brightness of Ushas (Dawn) gave way to a stern Varuna I (Sky), where confession of sin was made and ultimately quashed. The sudden movements of Maruts (Stormclouds) came as something of a shock, with the flashing of sword blades, before Indra (God Of Storm and Battle) assumed a regal air with grand chords and a bold melody, strong as an ox under Watts’ delivery. Really impressive power from both in this song. Varuna II explored mysterious and ultimately deathly waters, the listener almost losing a harmonic centre, before Song of the Frogs charmed with its burbling activity. Vac (Speech) gave us another slow and concentrated song, while Creation was even more compelling with its haunting, mostly unaccompanied writing. Finally the wandering piano line for Faith found the soprano ‘rising in silent worship’.

This remarkable set of songs are not only harmonically adventurous but have words that are prescient for today’s climate and particularly the management of the Earth on which we live. Little did Holst know the way in which his work would be thought provoking nearly 115 years on. Watts recognised this, lending a lighter touch to her encore which was Imogen’s arrangement of Henry Carey‘s The Beau’s Lament, brightly sung.

This was a special concert, one of a kind – and a mention should be made for the quality of Wigmore Hall’s camera work, sensitive to both text and performers. Copyright restrictions may prevent them from doing so, but it would be wonderful to see Watts and Drake present this programme in recorded form, for they illuminated aspects of the Holst dynasty rarely glimpsed in the concert hall. Do watch it if you can.

Watch and listen

Sadly the Imogen Holst songs are not yet available in recorded form, but you can the selection from her father Gustav on the Spotify playlist below:

Music online – BBC Radio 3 to restart Wigmore Hall concerts behind closed doors

Since its beginnings five years back, Arcana has made a big deal of the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts at the Wigmore Hall on Mondays, covering the majority of recitals given in that time. The concerts bring a great deal of pleasure to listeners not just in the hall but at home, brightening up a dreary Monday on many occasions. Their availability on catch-up through BBC Sounds only heightens the xpe

Very happily the concerts are to return to our homes. With the Wigmore Hall closed to the public until September, Alan Davey, Controller of BBC Radio 3 and John Gilhooly, Director of Wigmore Hall, have today confirmed the first live classical music broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 from Wigmore Hall, following the nationwide lockdown.

A series of 20 concerts will take place at 1pm every weekday throughout the month of June, starting on Monday 1st. The series will mark Wigmore Hall’s temporary re-opening, as well as BBC Radio 3’s return to live concert broadcasting, part of their Culture in Quarantine initiative.

Programmes are to be confirmed, but rather excitingly the artists confirmed include a wide array of British-based talent, listed alphabetically below:

James Baillieu (piano), Benjamin Baker (violin), Iain Burnside (piano), Allan Clayton (tenor), Michael Collins (clarinet), Imogen Cooper (piano), Lucy Crowe (soprano), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Julius Drake (piano) Benjamin Grosvenor (piano), Angela Hewitt (piano), Stephen Hough (piano), Elizabeth Kenny (lute), Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), Paul Lewis (piano), Michael McHale (piano), Joseph Middleton (piano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Hyeyoon Park (violin), Timothy Ridout (viola), Sean Shibe (guitar), Anna Tilbrook (piano), Samson Tsoy (piano), Ailish Tynan (soprano), Mitsuko Uchida (piano), Adam Walker (flute), Roderick Williams (baritone)

Arcana will be looking to cover a number of these concerts, offering listening guides as we have done for five years. See you in the virtual concert hall!

Ben Hogwood