Online music recommendations – Oxford Lieder Festival

Over the last few years the Oxford Lieder Festival has established itself as one of the most attractive prospects in the autumn events calendar for classical music. Given the challenges faced by the sector in this most trying of years, it gives great pleasure to report that the team, led by artistic director Sholto Kynoch, have gone above and beyond the call of duty to present this year’s model.

An online extravaganza lasting ten days, the festival continues its penchant for the use of attractive venues in the city, presenting them in an online format with Tall Wall Media which is both easy to navigate and admire.

The artistic standard remains as high as ever, as does the programming. Viewers on Saturday were treated to James Gilchrist immersing himself in ancient lute songs, with the florid tones of Elizabeth Kenny alongside, from where we switched to the Hollywell Music Room. Here we found the redoubtable Dame Sarah Connolly (above) and Eugene Asti in a program including Schumann’s Frauenliebe und -leben and a rapt account of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, time standing still during the final two songs, a darkly atmospheric Um Mitternacht and an expansive Liebst su um Schönheit.

Many of the Oxford Lieder concerts include a slot for emerging artists, a healthy recognition of the outstanding young talent coming through in the world of song. On this occasion it was bass William Thomas who lent his fulsome tones to a quintet of Schubert songs. We also heard a nicely linked quintet songs from Finzi, Quilter, Haydn and Geoffrey Bush.

The festival has a very healthy instinct for presenting songs in context and giving them the right level of background through guest musicological experts. Natasha Loges illuminated Brahms’ Lieder contributions with music from baritone James Atkinson and pianist Ana Manastireanu while on Saturday 17 October, the festival’s final day, we will get a fascinating chance to explore the song prior to Beethoven in the company of baritone Stephan Loges and Eugene Asti.

On Tuesday 13 October, the lunchtime concert found tenor Robin Tritschler (above) giving a superb hour of music with pianist Graham Johnson from the Hollywell Music Room, journeying round the Zodiac with all the spirit of first-time voyagers. Travelling through works from Barber, Schubert, Ives, Rebecca Clarke and Argento, their ultimate destination was the Songs of the Zodiac of Geoffrey Bush. This inventive cycle provides a setting for each sign, helpfully introduced by Johnson before the two offered vivid characterisation. Here there was plenty of wit but tenderness too.

The following lunchtime tenor James Gilchrist and pianist Anna Tilbrook included a substantial world premiere of a work by Michael Zev Gordon, a composer Gilchrist studied with at King’s College Cambridge in the 1980s. There was a rather nice irony about a work with its genesis in Cambridge receiving its first performance in Oxford, and Gordon’s Baruch – Ten Propositions of Baruch Spinoza showed itself to be an impressive piece indeed.

Fusing elements of chant and more modern, English song – Holst’s great Betelgeuse came to mind in the final Ex hoc tertio cognitionis… – it was a dramatic performance that definitely warrants a further viewing. The cycle started with Gilchrist using a harsher tone but as it unfolded the voice blossomed to fill the space around, helped by the sensitive balance provided by Tilbrook. In the words of Gordon, these were ‘aphorisms meant to be heard and pondered; here sung and pondered’. Gilchrist complemented this with an affectionate and yearning account of a work he has known since childhood, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte – the first clearly defined song cycle.

Today’s lunchtime concert was rather special with Ian Bostridge (above) joined by pianist Saskia Giogini at Merton College Chapel in a characteristically intense account of Britten’s Canticle I: My Beloved Is Mine. The camera work should be mentioned here, as it captured the glorious chapel in an ideal complement to Britten’s arrangements of Five Spiritual Songs, where Bostridge was masterly, and in the beautiful Bach, the arias Ich habe genug, from the cantata of the same name, and Der Ewigkeit saphirnes Haus (from Laß, Fürstin, laß noch einen Strahl). Taken on their own, these two – with the Oxford Bach Soloists – reminded us of the true value of live performance, even when given online in these restricted times.

The Oxford Lieder Festival continues until Saturday 17 October, where it will include a performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang from tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Michael Gees. Before then you can enjoy concerts from baritone Benjamin Appl and Sholto Kynoch, mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and Simon Lepper and a keenly anticipated collaboration between soprano Lotte Betts-Dean and guitarist Sean Shibe. All concerts are available online until 1 November, or 15 November with the event’s Pioneer Pass – which is much appreciated if you want to catch up with recommended concerts from Carolyn Sampson and Joseph Middleton, not to mention the Hermes Experiment!

For further details visit the festival website

Online music recommendations – Summer sessions in London

With the continued restrictions on live performance preventing orchestras from performing in the conventional sense, ensembles have been giving concerts and subscriptions online. Two of the biggest London orchestras have been running series through the summer which are highly recommended.

The London Symphony Orchestra have been giving a series of Summer Shorts at LSO St. Luke’s through July and August, and is set to conclude in thrilling fashion with a concert from the LSO Percussion Ensemble on Friday 21 August at 1pm. You can watch it on the LSO website here

The programme begins with Chick Corea’s Duet Suite, arranged by Simon Carrington, before two pieces from Gwilym Simcock – his Quintet, which the ensemble have already recorded, and the shorter piece Barber Blues.

Also available to watch is the concert from the Friday just gone, given by the piano trio Belinda McFarlane (violin), Jennifer Brown (cello) and pianist Elizabeth Burley. Their intriguing hour of music begins with Judith Lang Zaimont’s Nocturne, before A Winged Spirit, the new piece from Hannah Kendall. Wrapping things up is Rachmaninov’s passionate but seldom heard Trio élégiaque no.1:

Across town in the Henry Wood Hall, the different sections of the London Philharmonic Orchestra have been giving concerts for reduced forces. Their Summer Sessions began on July 15 with a rather lovely set for strings, including the Elgar Serenade for Strings, the first Concerto Grosso of the Op.6 set by Corelli and Grieg’s sunny Holberg Suite:

Then the winds stepped up on two weeks later, playing Rossini’s Sonata no.1, Mozart’s wonderful Serenade in E flat major K375 and Janáček’s Mládí:

Brass and percussion were next, with a program of fanfares and divertimenti featuring works by Sir Malcolm Arnold, Richard Bissill, Leonard Salzedo, Stanley Woods and Simon Carrington:

Finally the orchestra will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a vibrant program including the Septet in E flat major, the Quintet for piano and wind and the lesser known Trio for piano, flute and bassoon. You can catch that concert on the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s YouTube channel here

On record: London Symphony Orchestra / François-Xavier Roth – Panufnik Legacies III (LSO Live)

Panufnik Legacies III:
Ashby Desires (2016)
Campbell Frail Skies (2015)
Giguère Revealing (2015)
Horrocks-Hopayian A Dancing Place (Scherzo) (2010)
Lee Brixton Briefcase (2011)
Morgan-Williams Scoot (2015)
Roth Bone Palace Ballet (2014)
Sergeant but today we collect adds (2008)
Shin In this Valley of Dying Stars (2016)
Siem Ojos Del Cielo (2008)
Taplin Ebbing Tides (2014)
Whitter-Johnson Fairtrade? (2008)

London Symphony Orchestra / François-Xavier Roth

Producer Jonathan Stokes
Engineer Neil Hutchinson
Recorded 26-27 April 2019, LSO St Lukes, London

LSO Live LSO5092 [67’54”]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Operating since 2005, the LSO Panufnik Composers Scheme (in memory of the Polish-born British composer) has enabled a generation of aspiring artists to be heard on an international platform, with results that are rarely less than diverting and sometimes not a little compelling.

What’s the music like?

Ayanna Witter-Johnson questions the ethicality of third-world production in the interests of Western consumerism via an eventful while (purposely?) inconclusive interplay of grinding rhythms and ominous harmonies. Ewan Campbell draws on meteorological conditions of the sky for this study of no mean textural and timbral finesse, though what is much the longest piece rather loses focus in its fraught closing stages. Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian toys with concepts derived from Ancient Greek theatre, Classical concepts of democracy and the Marx Brothers in this scherzo whose gender-specific aspects go for little assessed purely as music. Donghoon Shin takes his cue from the nature of stars in a piece whose overtly impressionist elements do not preclude episodes of more purposeful activity, even scintillating virtuosity.

Alex Roth seeks to convey notions of human experience through a diverse orchestral palette – submerged within, an 1888 recording of Handel’s Israel in Egypt adds its intriguing temporal resonance. Matthew Sergeant draws on disparate objects displayed at a 1953 exhibition for a sequence of vignettes whose unforeseen interconnectedness results in unlikely yet engaging variations on the initial premise. Patrick Giguère seems intent on conveying that process of ‘revealing’ less as a reduction in musical layers as of accessing the essence of the composer, which proves worthwhile more in theory than in practice. Sasha Siem takes up the notion of ‘‘the eyes of a person who is absent or no longer there’’ for a piece where the struggle of a melody to break into the foreground creates palpable tension in the shortest of these pieces.

Bethan Morgan-Williams gives preference to clarinets in music whose sudden transformation from nonchalance to anxiety is achieved with appealing verve and an ultimately barbed irony. Michael Taplin has contributed a study in (as its title suggests) emergence and evanescence such as the orchestra is well equipped to convey, provided that the music does not outstay its welcome. Benjamin Ashby seeks to reconcile opposites – namely those of the flesh and of the spirit – in a process where understated antagonisms (inevitably?) seems rather more arresting than even their tentative reconciliation. Finally, Joanna Lee draws upon memories of cassette players (presumably those formerly referred to as ‘ghetto-blasters’) that frequently enlivened inner-city environs during the 1980s, albeit with greater visceral impact than is evident here.

Does it all work?

Mostly, and not least because François-Xavier Roth draws playing of unstinting commitment from the London Symphony Orchestra. His support for the Panufnik Composers Scheme has been a primary factor in its success over the past 15 years and will doubtless continue to be so.

Is it recommended?

Yes, notwithstanding a relative lack of underlying rhythmic energy or cumulative momentum with almost all these pieces. Anyone interested in sampling what is on offer should head to the Shin, Sergeant or Siem pieces (though not necessarily in that order!) then proceed from there.



For further information, audio clips and purchase information visit the LSO Live website

LSO: Always Playing – Steve Reich Quartet & Sextet tonight @ 7pm

Tonight’s installment of the LSO’s online series ‘Always Playing’ is a smaller-scale affair, as the LSO Percussion Ensemble deliver two of Steve Reich‘s more recent works for percussion.

The Sextet, a substantial work from 1993, is complemented by the Quartet completed 20 years later, a more challenging and fragmented composition.

The team – percussionists Neil Percy, Sam Walton, Gwilym Simcock, David Jackson, Simon Carrington, Philip Moore and Joseph Havlat – add works from Joe Locke (Her Sanctuary) and Makoto Ozone, Simon Carrington’s arrangement of Kato’s Revenge.

You can read more about these works in the booklet notes for the concert here – and the performances themselves, given at LSO St Luke’s across concerts in October 2015, March 2018 and February 2019, can be seen on the orchestra’s YouTube channel from 7pm tonight here:


LSO: Always Playing – Katia & Marielle Labèque, Szymanowski and clarinet masterworks tonight @ 7pm

There is an enticing potpourri of 20th and 21st century music from the London Symphony Orchestra on tonight’s installment of the LSO’s online series ‘Always Playing’.

Sir Simon Rattle conducts the orchestra in the Hungarian Peasant Songs from Bartók before they are joined by tenor Edgaras Montvidas for Szymanowski‘s seldom heard but exotic ballet Harnasie. Then clarinetist Chris Richards steps up as the soloist for works composed by Stravinsky and Bernstein for the great Woody Herman</strong).

However the main work of the evening's concert is a big, half-hour concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra from Osvaldo Golijov. Nazareno, completed in 2009, is based on themes from La Pasión según San Marcos, and is fronted by the Labèque sisters, with percussionists Gonzalo Grau and Raphaël Séguinier.

The performance, from Thursday 13 December 2018, can be seen on the orchestra’s YouTube channel from 7pm tonight here: