George Enescu Festival 2017 – Cristian Lupeş conducts contemporary works

Vassilis Varvaresos (piano), ‘Mihail Jora’ Philharmonic Orchestra – Bacău / Cristian Lupeş (conductor)

Radio Hall, Bucharest, Friday 22nd September 2017 @ 1pm

Măniceanu OEN (2015)

Hess Piano Concerto (2007)

Iorgulescu Signals (1993)

Glanert Frenesia (2013)

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

One of the most gratifying features in the current George Enescu International Festival was its emphasis on contemporary music, primarily through the Music of the 21st Century series. Alongside concerts and recitals, a programme of seminars (through the International Forum of Composers) featured composers from across Europe and the United States as to underline the essentially international character of this festival. One of these highlights was a concert by the ‘Mihail Jora’ Philharmonic Orchestra from Bacău with the conductor Cristian Lupeş.

Whatever else, Bacău has an orchestra of far from provincial standard. That this concert had been performed two days before did not account for the confidence with which these players tackled a demanding programme, opening with OEN by Mihai Măniceanu. Its title referring to transpositions of the octave (with a covert spatial element), this piece took in portentous unisons, strident outbursts, pointillist delicacy and modally inflected melodic lines across its eventful course, even if any greater continuity or momentum proved as inscrutable as its title.

Would Nigel Hess had shown any such ambition in his Piano Concerto, written in memory of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This piece was as expected from one adept in music for film and TV – its three movements moving from the enervated charms of The Smile, via the Romantic blandishments of The Love (whose main tune might have given Claude François and Jacques Revaux pause for thought), to the martial strains of The Duty with its dutifully triumphal conclusion. A notable platform for the scintillating pianism of Vassilis Varvaresos (laureate of the 2014 Enescu Competition), who responded with Fantasie um Johann Strauss by Moriz Rosenthal as an uproarious encore and will soon take on the rather more rewarding assignment of Nikos Skalkottas’s Third Piano Concerto with the Basel Symphony Orchestra.

More Romanian music followed the interval. With its several dynamic sections separated by interludes of relative stasis, Signals by Adrian Iorgulescu unfolded with those ‘signals’ of its title audible at every level; with an emerging sense of that ‘greater whole’ such as sustained the work through to a virtuosic conclusion. The Bacău orchestra met its numerous challenges head on, duly motivated by Lupeş’s disciplined as well as perceptive direction to result in a gripping account of a piece that more than held the attention and was certainly worth revival.

Nor was Detlev Glanert’s Frenesia plain-sailing. Commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Richard Strauss, its complex yet enticing sound-world belied a formal trajectory which focussed this by no means always frenzied evocation of ‘modern man’ with its headlong energy but also thoughtful expectancy. Suffice to add the musicians were not outfaced by those of the Concertgebouw (whose premiere can be heard on the RCO compilation ‘Horizon 6’) in making the most of this showpiece with substance.

An impressive showing by the Baçau players as well as being a notable occasion for Cristian Lupeş, who had earlier enjoyed comparable success with the Sibiu Philharmonic in a Festival Square concert. A major engagement at the next Enescu Festival in 2019 must surely beckon.

For more information on the Enescu Festival, head to the festival website

Interview: Benjamin Appl

Of the many fine young singers coming through in classical music currently, few have a voice quite as memorable as Benjamin Appl (above). The German baritone, a BBC New Generation Artists performer, has been making quite an impact on audiences worldwide, and more recently wowed the Gramophone awards with a rendition of Carl Millöcker’s aria Dunkelrote Rosen from Gasparone. In this chat with Arcana, which took place a few months back, he talked about his first album for Sony Classical, Heimat, and the influence of legendary singer Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on his work. But first…

Can you remember your first encounters with classical music?

I grew up in Regensburg in Bavaria. I don’t remember my very first encounters but my mum is musical, and played guitar. I grew up with folk music, lullabies, classical music and the church. My older brother, six years older than me, was banned from attending the boys’ choir in our home town (the Regensburger Domspatzen). My parents were against it completely but he won the battle after six or seven years. My second brother followed, then as a natural process it was me. I sang a lot of church music and choral music – some of it in German but a lot of Latin.

When did you start to take singing lessons, and realise that singing was going to be a career?

The system is a bit different to that in England. When your voice breaks, you continue as part of a boys’ choir, and start as a young male voice. At the age of 15-16 I started as a young baritone, and had a very supportive teacher who introduced me to a lot of new repertoire. I worked in a bank for two years, then in business administration, and while I was doing that I started studying singing for fun. More and more I changed my direction, and around the beginning of 2009 I did my business administration diploma. Then I moved to London to study at the Guildhall. It was not an overnight decision but was a shift in my thinking.

What have you learned from working with someone as well established as Graham Johnson?

It’s a wonderful collaboration. When I met him he was on the panel of a singing competition in Germany. He was the professor of song at the Guildhall when I was there. He had a wonderful ability to change the student-teacher dynamic to an equal partnership of colleagues on the stage. For songs he is definitely ‘Mr Lied’, and his knowledge of this is like nobody else. He knows where the texts are and has been incredibly helpful in putting texts together for this release.

The idea for Heimat was one that had been in my mind for some time, and generally before I worked with Graham Johnson I was working with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He taught me that song recitals should be either for one composer or in groups so the audience could get into one composer. I saw that Graham Johnson had created a concept of recital programmes with the Songmaker’s Almanac, and I was inspired by him and his art of putting songs together for this album.

I took this as a topic so I went to the library and made a list of songs that were related to Heimat or speaking about it, then others that were not so related but related to my personal Heimat or experiences. I had a huge list, so it was challenging to cut it down to 65 minutes or so of music. It is always difficult to translate or explain Heimat, to get a sense of what it means in the UK, so some sections take in the place I was born, children’s songs I relate to, and then the idea of space or locations where people belong to – the country or a house. It also looks at the people I connect to, and feel comfortable with. There are a lot of different aspects to the program, so I wanted to explain it in a personal sense.

I also thought it should be in both German and English, so it might look like a complete mess but when you listen it works rather nicely. That said, the world of song is such a bubble within the bubble of classical music, but it is a small bubble that people will hopefully discover. I hope one or the other person will be attracted to it. Songs will always belong to a smaller audience, as they are such an intimate art form, but I am hoping there are people who will react and get an audience for song.

Who do you particularly admire in the form of song?

As a German baritone I think Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau will always be the first, but I also admire Felicity Lott, who I found to be so kind and modest after such a wonderful career. I would also say Thomas Allen, and Thomas Hampson too. These are all people who have done all the three genres so well – song, solo singing with orchestra and opera.

What have you learned from working with someone as fresh and talented as James Baillieu?

I find working with both Graham Johnson and James very different of course. With James it is more like a journey of exploring things and trying things out, starting from a sheet of white paper from where you can write things out. With Graham Johnson, with his experience, you have a discussion but always realise he is absolutely right! In every part of life you explore these things and they bring you a greater learning experience. I really like the mixture of both collaborations; it’s inspirational to work with different people, like playing tennis with someone who has a different style. It brings out different sides of your character.

I first saw you sing in the Wigmore Hall. Do you think it is the ideal venue for singers – and what other venues have you enjoyed singing in?

Absolutely. There is no place in the world that compares to it. It also helps greatly that the chairman John Gilhooly is supporting song as an art form so much, with people who believe in it. It’s the perfect venue, the acoustic and the audience, like a temple for the form. In Germany people go to the string quartet, and it is often difficult to get them to go to a song recital as people think they’re old fashioned. They think that because the songs use words we don’t use anymore, or they think all the songs are about death! Yet even when we don’t know all the words the emotions of love, losing someone, rejection, pain, are all feelings we belong to. I would like to explore and show this art form should not always be given on an intellectual platform. The texts are so important we often lose the emotional connection. That’s how we can belong and relate to the song.

Did Sony give you confidence for promoting song as an art form?

This was one of the reasons I signed. They gave me complete freedom in what I wanted and helped me to be brave to do a song disc. It is a challenge, and it gives me the chance to present myself in an art form like song. It’s great to have this level of support from a major label, one that looks after singers like Christian Gerhaher and Jonas Kaufmann, who are two of the major players.

Are you also working with bigger forces than piano?

Absolutely, I love to sing in the oratorio tradition, and also in orchestral songs. I have sung Schubert orchestrated by Brahms, Mahler songs, and in the Bach oratorios. I’m doing a lot and the next album I do will be with an orchestra. When I was a New Generations Artist I did a lot of that. It is important to do two or three genres of singing – and for me the main three are opera, concert and lied. They enrich each other vocally and mentally.

Some of our Arcana readers will not be very familiar with Lieder. Would you recommend Schubert as the best way in, or a mixture of composers perhaps?

It is always difficult as taste is a very individual thing, but generally it depends on your background. There is some wonderful English song on the Heimat disc, like Vaughan Williams songs or Britten folksong arrangements. It’s very individual how you connect to music, so even if there is just one piece from that moment you can discover more. There is more Schubert, but then he is the father of song so hopefully you can find one song you like!

Ask the Audience at the BBC Proms – Leanne Mison on the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with Renée Fleming

The final Ask The Audience from the 2017 BBC Proms is with Leanne Mison, who promotes and endorses an impressive roster of electronic music artists for Bang On PR. Leanne talks to Arcana about a Prom given by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and their chief conductor Sakari Oramo, – with two solo vocal turns from the superstar New York soprano Renée Fleming.

Prom 61: Renée Fleming (soprano), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Andrea Tarrodi Liguria

Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915 Op.24

Richard Strauss Daphne – Transformation Scene, ‘Ich komme – ich komme’

Nielsen Symphony No 2 ‘The Four Temperaments’

Royal Albert Hall, Wednesday 30 August 2017

You can listen to this Prom on the BBC iPlayer here

ARCANA: Leanne, how would you describe your musical upbringing?

My parents attempted to introduce me to classical music from quite an early age, but I didn’t show too much interest in it at the time. My mum joined a classical music vinyl club and would be sent a record every month, but we rarely ever played them. I’d love to dig them out now and see what she had! My proper introduction to music was via piano which I learnt to play from the age of seven, so pieces by BeethovenChopinMozart and Mendelssohn. I did get really into it at one point as I had an inspiring teacher who was about 80 years old and I’d get to practise on her baby Steinway. I reached Grade 7 but as the expectations grew for me to practise for an hour and more a day, my interest waned. At that age, it doesn’t earn you very much kudos with other kids so I gave in to peer pressure. My parents said I would regret it and they was right of course!

My parents listened to things like The Carpenters and The Cars.  Around the age of 9, I started listening to things like Salt ‘n’ Pepa, En Vogue and Bobby Brown. I still like that music now, it’s super fun. When I about 15, I tried to fit in and listen to the same kind of music my friends were into like Bon Jovi, Oasis and The Verve but it didn’t really stay with me to be honest. When I was 12, I randomly picked up a Telstar tape of rave music for 99p at Woolworths and I heard things like The KLF and 808 State for the firs time. I was like ‘Wow, what was that?!’ – there were no reference points, I had no idea about rave culture. I didn’t hear music like that again for quite a long time but that was the start of me getting into electronic music.

Could you name three musical acts that you love and say why you love them?

I really love what Factory Floor do. Their music can get so madly intense and mesmerising, and live – you can’t help but dance but you can also have a very cerebral experience with it too.

I’ve been really enjoying listening to Nick Hakim of late. His album Green Twins has this irresistible, other worldliness to it – all hazy psychedelic R & B.

And then there is the master entertainer Chilly Gonzales. He puts classical music and pop music in the same space, weaving them together and presenting their common thread. Then he throws in a heavy dose of comedy, a bit of history and a piano tutorial and we just lap it all up! I wish he’d been around when I was growing up, I probably would have been inspired to carry on and do my Grade 8!

Are you ever tempted to go back to the piano?

Obviously I’d love to be able to play now, who knows I might get back into it at some point (probably when I’m retired!)
One of the great benefits of having instant access to music on Youtube and Spotify is that you can actually hear what the piece is supposed to sound like and what you should be aiming for. It’s more inspiring than back in the old days!

What did you think of the Andrea Tarrodi piece tonight?

It was really pretty, delicate and playful. Lots of shimmers of light but then it went on a dramatic roller coaster later.

I really enjoyed it, so much so I wanted to go to the front to get the full experience!  I was quite surprised when you said the composer was younger than both of us.

If you didn’t know that piece was about anything, did it conjure up any images?

That’s a good question, I wasn’t really thinking along the line of images  – but now you mention it maybe rolling fields and mountain tops?

What about the Barber, with Renée Fleming?

This was very enjoyable too, and took me a bit more out of my comfort zone as I’m not used to listening to an operatic voice accompanied by that many musicians.  Sadly I’m more used to listening to things on laptop speakers so it’s a real treat to experience that breadth of sound and visually it’s very impressive too.

What did you think about the Strauss?

There was a lot going on here, I found the soaring operatic voice quite dramatic and emotional, I think I was more taken by what was happening with the strings. I should listen to more music like this and try and understand it. I found my mind wandering a bit more with this one, I started looking at the audience and observing their facial expressions and they seemed pretty serious on the whole. Perhaps they were intensely into it! The musicians facial expressions themselves were a lot more expressive, especially the conductor’s.

Working in music PR, I spend a lot of time reading reviews and people’s thoughts on music. Tonight it was a clean slate, I was listening to music I’m very rarely exposed to and with no idea what critics have said about it and that was very refreshing.

What did you think about the Proms, and what did you enjoy about it?

The music was actually quite accessible and experiencing that range and depth of sound in a space as beautiful as the Royal Albert Hall brings out all sorts of different feelings in you. It’s quite unique and I can see why people enjoy it so much.

Would you change anything about your Proms experience?

Not at all, I only wish I’d come to more. I went once about 10 years ago but my recollections of it are vague.
I’d read some of your Ask the Audience pieces before and was really intrigued by it and really glad you invited me!

My experience of seeing classical music is quite limited, I’ve seen some experimental music with orchestras such as Varèse performed at the Royal Festival Hall which was really dark. Also Helmut Lachenmann and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, all quite challenging and let’s face it, not nearly as fun as tonight!

Would you go again?

Yes, definitely. Here’s to next year and thanks very much for inviting me.

Verdict: SUCCESS

Interview: I Speak Machine – Tara Busch talks soundtracks

I Speak Machine are an electronic duo described as a ‘vocalist and synth nerd’ (Tara Busch, above) with filmmaker Maf Lewis. They are preoccupied with soundtracks, and specifically the working practices of Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone, who would write scores while the film itself was still under construction. The music of I Speak Machine, however, is centred on the golden age of analogue synths, and for new score Zombies 1985 they have restricted themselves only to instruments from that year, conceiving a zombie movie for them to soundtrack.

The apocalyptic music comes highly recommended, produced with fellow synth geek Benge but also receiving the enthusiastic advocacy of John Foxx and Black Swan / Moon composer Clint Mansell. Mansell’s blessing is perhaps an indication that on occasion Busch moves towards classical territory, a link Arcana wanted to explore in interview. With such a strong body of recommendation, as Tara talks generously we begin by asking her…

How did I Speak Machine begin?

Maf & I had been working together for several years before with our band Dynamo Dresden, and after that, collaborating on my solo work (my debut Pilfershire Lane on Tummy Touch). He did all the visuals; the videos, artwork, photography and creative direction for that album. We decided after that to pursue something that felt a bit ‘next level’ for us personally – we didnt want to repeat ourselves and do another album in the ‘traditional’ sense.

At that time I also wanted to explore the avenue of film scoring, but I wanted to do films that were more music driven and leftfield, and also keep the live component as a crucial part of what we would do as well. Meanwhile Maf had several film ideas in the works, that he was either writing or conceiving, and I began to write with these ideas in mind. So – it all meshed together pretty organically – we decided to pursue making our own films and screening them with me playing the score live. Then, in 2014, Lex Records stepped in and released our sountracks – the Silence and Zombies 1985.

How did you form the idea of composing a soundtrack for a Zombie movie set in 1985, and was it stimulating working within the restrictions that created?

Making it a period film actually happened by accident, really. We were looking for a place to film Zombies, and at that time we went to visit Benge in his new house in Cornwall. It was literally an 70s/80s time capsule, as he had just bought it – I dont think it had been touched in 30 years! We pretty much decided immediately to film it at Benge’s and shift it into a 1980s piece. We then invited Benge to collaborate on the score – he’s an absolute master of 1980s-style electronic music production as well. So again, it just fell into place.

I love working within a framework, or ‘limitations’. I am someone that can get lost in a sea of possibilities and have a hard time making final creative decisions if I have no sort of framework or focus; so having a protocol like this was fun and actually made me feel more creative, but never ‘comfortable’. I love it when you can find that sweet spot of feeling juicy and creative, but not safe or comfortable. Limitations help with that a lot, not to mention it saving me a lot of time and mental anguish, so to speak.

What did you take from working with Maf Lewis and Benge?

Well, part of I Speak Machine’s ‘manifesto’, so to speak, is that we work side by side on the music and the film – so that each component is given equal importance. So, to work with Maf is pretty intense as we’re very much entrenched in each other’s worlds to make sure we’re totally in sync with what the other is doing. There’s lots of encouragement from him, but also no bullshit – if something isn’t working for the other, we don’t use it. That’s not to say we micro-manage each other, but we like to have the film and music components to where they truly inform and feed off of each other. We have to know when the film needs to back off and give the music more of a voice and vice versa – a lot of this is due to the live element as well – it has to go down well as a live show. We’ve been working together for so long that I think we know what the other needs to push themselves and never compromise. I think he’s taught me to really be true to the work I’m doing, and try to do the best work we can, always. And he keeps me focused – I’m a bit like a child in kindergarten class that needs rules, schedules and guidelines at all times, or else it becomes the wild west. Sad but true!

I loved working with Benge, I always do. We met in 2011 when he & I were working on a track in his studio with John Foxx. Since then, we’ve done quite a few projects together. He’s a great producer and musician, and an amazing synthesist – he’s very capible of making quick decisions as he is very very knowledgeable, such as narrowing down which machines to use and not overthinking anything. He cuts right to the chase and I love that, as I can be quite the opposite – experimental to a fault if I lose focus. Its also refreshing to work with a guy that isnt patronizing and just treats you like an artist & an equal in the studio.…I certainly had enough of the opposite for one lifetime.

Are there any zombie movies and / or associated soundtracks that you particularly enjoy?

To be honest, I’m not massively into or knowledgeable about zombie films, though Dawn of the Dead & Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set (though actually not a film) are two that really are fantastic. I find I prefer ‘infected’ films; 28 Days Later or The Girl With All the Gifts. That said, making a zombie film was great fun – there’s always a huge metaphorical / social commentary element with those films, ours included, and it’s interesting & actually pretty disturbing to watch them amidst the current backdrop in the USA.

If we’re just talking horror / thriller / sci-fi soundtracks, there’s tons that I adore that are hugely influential…the biggest ones to me are probably Susperia, Andromeda Strain, Berberian Sound Studio, Rosemary’s Baby, Klute, Ex Machina, The Girl With All the Gifts, Halloween…all brilliant and mind bending.

Casting the net wider, what soundtrack scores would you say you respect – from the last few years and then from the period in which the movie is set?

Well, my taste is always a bit more on the darker side – I like scores that are brave and unique and have a strong ‘voice’ in the film. I always found just about everything Ennio Morricone does to be brave and moving to the point of tears. All of the ones mentioned in the last question mean the world to me as far as influence and ‘respect’, they’re all astonishing. Most recently the score to Good Time by Oneohtrix Point Never was very cool, and it was refreshing to see the music take such an upfront space in the film…I’ve been obsessed with Cristobal Tapia De Veer for the past few years, ever since seeing the TV series Utopia that he did – just incredible. Clint Mansell’s score to Black Mirror’s San Junipero also is beautiful and heartbreaking…great storytelling through music.

From the 1980s – John Carpenter’s Halloween is probably my favorite, but I also loved Halloween III – best opening titles ever. Again my taste isnt terribly obscure, but I loved: Bladerunner, The Thing, Alien, To Live & Die in LA, Cat People, The Dark Crystal, Terminator, The Last Unicorn (yep, seriously), Purple Rain, Tron, Manhunter, Thief & Videodrome… and Benge got me into Harold Faltermeyer, too. And Stu PhillipsKnight Rider theme is just as perfect now as when I watched the show as a kid (I know – not a film, but still deserves mention!)….I’m sure a bunch will come to me when I’m falling asleep tonight!

You’ve had a lot of love for this project from John Foxx and Clint Mansell among others – are they also artists that you mutually respect?

Absolutely. I learned a lot working with John – speaking of limitations, he is also one that knows how to employ a very efficient process in the studio while gving everyone space to express themselves & have fun. He is proper artist through & through, unpretentious and kind, yet totally confident..& I would die to be able to write lyrics like Just for a Moment or My Sex.

Clint is musically so unique, and in a league of his own (sorry for the cliche) – it was his score to Pi that first switched the bulb on in my head as to how powerful & important music can be when given proper space in a film. And Moon stands as one of those untouchable favorites – perfection, really. I think he has a gift of being able to convey huge amounts of emotion & storytelling without having to resort to wildly complex arrangements – that type of simplicity is incredibly difficult to pull off. His High Rise score was awesome too – surreal, bleak & bone chilling, reminded me a bit of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Do you ever cast your mind towards classical music when you are writing music for film?

Yes – I love to envision how my work would be if ‘translated’ by an orchestra, especially with vocal arrangements & strings in the style of Henry Mancini (one can dream!). But currently the music takes form using machines and vocals. I’d love to merge the two!

Has classical music played a part in your life, and if so what pieces are you particularly drawn to? (if this is the case, it would be great if you’re able to expand on it a bit!)

I did study classical music up until I graduated from high school (playing woodwinds and also in choir) but it has been many years since I have picked up a piece of sheet music! I was part of a competitive chamber choir in high school, and we did quite a few dark, dismal pieces that I loved. Sadly the only one I can remember was a suite called Prayers from the Arc, and I had a self-indulgent solo ( I was a cocky first soprano) that I loved to sing. I think classical music had a big impact on me growing up – once I realized that I could sing and had an aptitude for music, I loved to mimic opera singers… for a short time, I was able to pull off Queen of the Night, which must have been really annoying for my family…doubt I still have that high ‘E’ though.

Some of your music for synthesizer has the feeling that you are composing for an orchestra. Is that an important part of your writing for keyboards?

While writing, I’m not conciously composing for that purpose, but speaking just stylistically, what I write could easily be reimagned for an orchestra. I would also love to classically recreate the more stark, electronic pieces I’ve done just to hear the contrast…that said, I have written lots of vocal and string arrangements in recent years that I have either wound up recording on synth or mellotron, or pieces intended for strings that wind up becoming a ‘Tara choir’…

I remember reviewing – and really enjoying – your ‘Pilfershire Lane’ album, where I sensed Kate Bush and early Peter Gabriel might be two of your musical loves. Has that been the case?

Thanks for the kind words – that was a beast of an album! It was a difficult record to make as it was my first venture into learning to engineer and produce on my own, and bring in other people to play my parts, and learn about synthesis – I was a newbie with everything but I loved it. That is actually one that I wanted to use a large string section on, but it never came to pass.

I get the Kate Bush comparison all the time, especially on this album… and as much as I admire her work, she isn’t an influence on my own work & I’m not a massive fan – not sure why, but I never quite fell under her spell as I did with David Bowie, for example. I was obsessed with The Beach BoysPet Sounds, Smile, Friends & 20/20 and also Dark Side fo the Moon & Hunky Dory at the time… to me, those influences are pretty obvious, but I hear it from a very different perspective than the audience does.

Peter Gabriel! Interesting, but he wasn’t an influence either. I find it really interesting how other people interpret your influences.

What two soundtracks would you recommend for Arcana readers – one with beats and one without – and why?

It depends on my mood, of course! I have two classics, already mentioned them, but I’ve been revisiting them a lot lately:

The Andromeda Strain – it’s brave, totally bizarre and abstract, yet meaty enough for you to sink your teeth in & take you away. Gil Mellé also built all of the machines he used on that soundtrack! I listen to this alot when I want to incorperate more sound design aspects into my work, or to just get into a more surreal headspace for writing.

Then I would say Legend of Hell House by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. It’s beautiful, brave & gloriously bleak…the marriage of orchestration and electronics is totally unique, and has that wonderful 1960s BBC/ Radiophonic Workshop vibe to it. It’s all fog, screams & prowling black cats. Perfect.

I Speak Machine’s album Stories From Far Away is out now on Lex Records. For more information, head to the duo’s website

BBC Proms 2017 – Renée Fleming sings Strauss & Barber – Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Prom 61 – Renée Fleming (soprano), Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra / Sakari Oramo

Andrea Tarrodi Liguria (2012) (UK premiere)

Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op 24 (194)

Richard Strauss Daphne – Transformation Scene, ‘Ich komme – ich komme’ (1937)

Nielsen Symphony no.2, ‘The Four Temperaments’ (1901-2)

Royal Albert Hall, Wednesday 30 August 2017

You can listen to this Prom here for 28 days from the date of the performance

In her previous visits to the Proms Renée Fleming has proved a big draw, and although the arena may not have been full for her latest visit, with regular collaborators Sakari Oramo and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, it comprised a satisfying and ideally executed program.

Fleming’s contributions grouped into a loose theme of distant light and transformation. Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 is a love letter to the American home, and its dappled evening sunlight flickered beautifully under the hands of Oramo, the composer’s warm harmonies setting the scene for Fleming’s characteristically full bodied interpretation. She inhabited the storyteller’s guise with effortless and instinctive calm, though the animated middle section was also very well judged. With just the right amount of sentimentality, this was an ideal performance, and an aptly chosen encore of the song Sure on this shining night blazed a similar trail.

Fleming’s projection was ideal, particularly in the Transformation Scene from Richard Strauss’s second opera Daphne, where she moved from the front to a well-chosen offstage position for the culmination of the transformation itself, which sees Daphne take on the form of a laurel tree. The extended postlude from the orchestra reached upwards to a serene level of euphoria, and Fleming’s wordless vocalise at the end put the seal on a beautifully judged performance. Again we had an encore, and this was a special account of Strauss’s own orchestration of his best-loved song Morgen, with rapt solo from orchestra leader Andrej Power.

If anything the other two pieces were even more successful. The music of Andrea Tarrodi was new to the Proms, but on the basis of the orchestral piece Liguria this was extremely unlikely to be her only appearance. A colourful account of a visit to the Italian coast, Liguria is a kind of symphonic lettercard, its six scenes recounted in brightly lit orchestrations. The recurring, creeping brass harmonies from the first scene stood out, and reappeared towards the end, but also notable was the assurance with which the Swedish composer works with the orchestra, making original sounds and not resorting to contemporary music clichés. A composer whose acquaintance you are strongly advised to make.

Finally we heard Carl Nielsen’s Second Symphony, ‘The Four Temperaments’, receiving its second Proms performance in three years after the festival’s complete neglect of it in the 20th century. It is a powerful piece, and this account made a strong impression. Although the feverish first movement (Choleric) was convincing and brilliantly played the emotional centre lay in the Melancholic third movement, where Oramo wrought music of impressive angst and depth. Nielsen’s struggles were resolved by the Sanguine finale, where the composer lets rip perhaps a little too easily, but again the structure and the melodic groups made perfect sense. Oramo has built a strong affinity with the Danish composer’s music over the years, and there was something very satisfying in these days of disunity at seeing a Finn conduct a Swedish orchestra in Danish music.

Ben Hogwood

Stay tuned for the next in Arcana’s Ask The Audience series, where Leanne Mison will give her verdict on the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Prom. Coming shortly!