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Robert Hugill Weblog - Aug/sept 05

Tuesday 30th August 2005

Back from Holidays; at the end of last week we were at the Edington Festival of Music within the Liturgy. It was the 50th Festival so to celebrate they performed Tallisís 40-part motet ĎSpem in Aliumí with one voice to a part, the singers being taken from this yearís choirs at Edington and past members; the alto solo opening the piece was sung by Robin Blaze;. The choir was directed by Jeremy Summerly and the layout was the same as for his Naxos recording (two choirs at the High Altar, two choirs at the West Door and two choirs in each of the side aisles). Despite my reservations about this on the disc, I listen in ordinary stereo not surround sound, it worked wonderfully well in real life, even sitting just in front of the fifth choir.

Wednesday 31st August

Griegís ĎPeer Gyntí is done and dusted, (link) it made me long to hear a full performance of Ibsenís play but I know that I would be disappointed if it was not accompanied by all of Griegís music. Unfortunately, the generous scale of it means that this is just not likely; directors nowadays tend to want productions to move swiftly and the days of extensive instrumental interludes and entríactes seem to be over. You have only to consider the style of most productions of ĎA Midsummer Nightís Dreamí to realise that contemporary production values would not find room of much of Mendelssohnís music. Still, we can but hope.

I am now returning to my plainchant disc, Roman Gradual in hand, so I hope I can write something a little more coherent about the Pro Cantione Antiqua disc of chant, which is rather lacking in information in the booklet.

Friday 2nd September

Well, my Gradual was only of limited use; I did manage to track down the titles of all the different plainchant (they were referred to by function, Introit etc, on the disc), but I think that Pro Cantione Antiqua must have been using a pre-Vatican II source for the plainchant so there were numerous little differences and some pretty major ones. It would have been nice to know exactly what they were singing, but the disc is silent on this matter. So I had no option but to actually listen to the music and write about what I heard! (link)

I had yet another encounter with Spem in Alium last night, at the Proms. This time The Sixteen under Harry Christophers; a rather higher, lighter performance than the one in Edington, veering more towards David Wulfstanís interpretation with the Clerkes of Oxenford.

Tuesday 6th September

With some of the budget record companies, you do sometimes wonder how some discs come to be selected for issue; that a recordingís availability can be a significant factor in its being issued. Weíve all come across performances which are pretty disappointing and give the feeling that the discs were bought in to fill in a gap in the catalogue. These thoughts were prompted, possibly unworthily, by the recent Naxos disappointing disc of timpani concertos. The soloist, Alexander Peter doubles as conductor and as producer. Harrison Powley, who produced the editions of the music used, features quite heavily in the CD booklet, he even gets his own little biography and picture. If the music on the disc had been more interesting, I would not be having these thoughts, but as it is I wonder whether Naxos decided to have a disc of Timpani concertos or whether they simply acquired a pre-existing project Ė call me suspicious.[see Paul Shoemaker's rather dismissive review]

Thursday 8th September 2005

At first I was dismissive of the recording of a complete Sílihot service issued in Naxosís Milken Archive of American Jewish Music series. (link) The solo contributions were astonishing, but the choral music seemed to be pure pastiche. But then I realised that I was listening to it with ears conditioned by a Western Christian tradition where the choral contribution to a service could be considerable and the musical interest of the priestís part could be negligible. If you reverse this and accept that the choirís function is to provide a harmonic basis for the cantorís flights of virtuosity, then things start to make sense. I still get the feeling of listening to early music with a late romantic accompaniment; a feeling akin to that when listening to accompanied plainchant or to Bachís solo cello suites with Schumannís piano accompaniment. But the disc is not intended to be a reconstruction of an earlier day, simply a reflection of what happens now, using music written by some of the great composer cantors from the late 19th, early 20th centuries.

Wednesday 14th September 2005

Naxosís series Great Violists is the sort of title which is unfortunately liable to provoke a series of Viola jokes; not that William Primrose is in need of sheltering from such. (link) One of the first players to bring a virtuoso touch to the instrument, this new disc is admirable, but Iím not sure of its wider appeal. Record companies do not really seem to have picked up on the viola wars which went on in the middle of the 20th century and a set of discs which explores this would be truly fascinating. Despite Primrose having been inspired to transfer from Violin to Viola by an encounter with Lionel Tertis, he and Tertis had radically different ideas on how you should play the instrument. Tertis used a specially commissioned instrument which had a rich, dominant tenor quality whereas Primrose used a series of historical instruments with lighter, alto sound. They also disagreed on the amount and type of vibrato to use. Tertis had galvanised the musical community with his advocacy of the viola as a solo instrument, but not everyone appreciated the finer details of his technique.

As an ex-viola player myself, Iíd love to have a series of discs exploring this, allowing us to compare and contrast different players in the same or similar repertoire. But is this too nerdish for words; perhaps it would be even less commercially attractive than Great Violists.

Friday 16th September 2005

Sunleif Rasmussen is a name that is not only new to me but also, apparently, to the classical CD catalogue. Heís from the Faroe Islands, another first evidently, and his Symphony No. 1 was commissioned for performance there. The CD booklet goes to some trouble to explain how he constructs his music with reference to Tristan Murail, and spectral music, basing his melodies and harmonies on Faroese folksongs. Iím never sure whether this sort of information is useful; the booklet does not really explain what spectral music is and I donít recognise a single Faroese folksong, something that probably true of many of the listeners to the disc. Does it help listeners to know why music is the way it is; need they know details of construction? When writing programme notes for my own instrumental/orchestral music I am usually at a loss as I find it difficult to believe audiences will be interested in my methods of construction (its better with choral/vocal music as I can write about the words). Usually I fall back on a simple history of the basic idea. You can pick some of this up from Rasmussenís CD booklet, but the music itself tells a different story. Its not about intellectual forms, the sights and sound of the Faroese landscape and seascape seem to ooze from its every pore; surely this is the sort of background information which a foreign listener would find useful.

Iím off on a course for a week, so thereíll be lots of travelling on public transport. Iím not sure how much reviewing Iíll get done on the 8.30 from Paddington to Maidenhead; usually I find travelling by train rather stressful and end up disappearing into a trashy novel. Still, weíll see. Iíve just started on some Jachet of Mantua and Adrien Willaert and have a double CD of Beechamís surviving live recordings of the Covent Garden Götterdämmerung to tempt me. This latter is a recording Iíve been dying to hear for years having heard tiny extracts from Act 2 almost 30 years ago.

Jachet and Willaert are composers that I feel I ought to know and some of whose motets Iíve sung over the years but who remain securely on the fringes of my knowledge. Iíd been hoping this CD would broaden my horizons, but Iím not sure yet; the choice of five voices singing with a quintet of sackbuts and cornets is not quite my idea of a balance of voices and instruments. Iíll report back.

Tuesday 27th September

Well travelling for 90 minutes on public transport starting at 7.30am is not conducive to coherent listening Iím afraid. I did manage to finish the disc of Jachet and Willaert motets and my first impressions remain, I donít really like the balance between five voices and five cornets and sackbuts, no matter how historically informed it is. Another annoyance was the fact that the disc mixed and matched between unaccompanied and accompanied pieces but there was no explanatory note in the booklet. I donít mind people taking informed decisions, but I do dislike not being told why certain things were decided. Well, I stop here, rant over.

The Beecham Götterdämmerung was quite a find. The engineers have had to patch it up a bit and rather bizarrely the recording starts towards the end of Act 1 and goes to the end of Act 2. The engineers were present on two evenings; perhaps they ran out of time or resources though at this remove in time (nearly 70 years) we might never know. [see also Jonathan Woolf's review]

Iím now starting on an 11 disc set of Vivaldiís sacred music, that should keep me busy.

Robert Hugill

 



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