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ROBERT HUGILL - WEBLOG - December 2005 - January 2006

Wednesday 7th December

The 18th and early 19th centuries were rather low points for Anglican church music so it should come as no surprise that Nelsonís Funeral service contained music of variable interest and no particular work by a significant contemporary composer. Still, it was an enterprising idea of Portsmouth Cathedral to record it.

Tuesday 12th December

John Mark Ainsleyís Tippett recital on Signum Records is billed as the first of a new collaboration with the BBC; the pianist is Ian Burnside from Radio 3ís Voices programme and he is responsible for the CDís content. I hope that this venture does work as it not only would provide a useful outlet for young singers but would enable them to use the expertise available to create imaginative programming on disc. It also, of course, provides a useful re-use of material that would otherwise have limited availability after broadcast. More power to their elbow. (review)

Wednesday 13th December

My first live encounter with the Mozart Requiem was playing viola in the orchestra whilst at university. It was the university chamber orchestra so we did it with a relatively small ensemble and small choir. Ever since then, balance has been important to me in the work; the feeling that Mozartís sombre wind colouring can dominate the tone colour of the ensemble and sense that orchestra and chorus are in balance with neither dominating. (review)

It is also one of those works which has a couple of key moments by which I make snap judgements of performance and soloists. The tenor and bass soloistsí first entries are pretty good pointers. There is also an off beat orchestral passage which few ensembles get exactly right. A friend of mine used to judge performances of Beethovenís 9th symphony on whether, at the first entry of the soloists, the contralto was still audible after the soprano solo had entered. It is surprising how many major recordings fail the test!

Monday 19th December

It is inevitable, I suppose, that we must accustom ourselves to having to download off the internet the libretti for budget discs. This was true of Naxosís Italian Dramatic Laments (review), from the Catacoustic Consort, and I was very glad to have access to the original texts and translations on Naxosís web site. But the CD booklet has little information about the items performed; the essay just covers the general background and some details about the composers. If we are going to have to download information, couldnít we have extended programme notes as well, Iím sure that the performers could easily provide information.

Wednesday 21st December

Lammasís new record of Elgarís sacred choral music is an interesting Anglo-American collaboration. The choir is a small professional one based at St. Paulís Church, Rock Creek, Washington DC, but their director is Graham Elliott who spent 18 years as Master of the Music at Chelmsford Cathedral. Iím very fond of Elgarís early Latin pieces; we sing some of them at St. Maryís Roman Catholic Church, Chelsea; but no-one seems to have gathered them all onto 1 disc. That is something Iíd love to have, even if listening to all at one sitting might be overdoing it somewhat. (review)

Friday 23rd December

I moaned in my personal blog ( about the disappearance of Elgarís recording of The Dream of Gerontius and speculated about record companies delivering CDís on demand. And now Iím reviewing a disc from Pristine Audio who do just that. You can buy CDs from them but you can also buy tracks in MP3 format to download to your PC/IPOD or whatever. Also you can buy economy CDs in cardboard folders where you print the cover yourself. All very economical and practical. It means that they can offer a rather interesting mix of recordings. Their site includes the British National Opera I Pagliacci (with Frank Mullings and Heddle Nash) which I last heard on 78s. But my disc under consideration is a wonderful 1954 plainchant Requiem Mass. From a German Abbey, it is sung in wonderfully confident Germanic Latin; a recording with a great sense of atmosphere and place. (review)

7th January

Sometimes its just difficult to find anything new to say about a recording. But simply saying the playing on this disc is fabulous, buy it, is rather unhelpful and youíve got to try and explain why its fabulous at least. You start to pick on details, unfortunately my ear and eye get distracted by concerns such as the editions used; something that means a lot to me but might be less influence on another listener. (review)

10th January

Another fine CD from Australia; this time one of percussion music entitled Water Settings. (review). I donít always like percussion stuff, partly because Iím a bit of a fuddy-duddy and like the old fashioned combination of pitch, rhythm and dynamics; I just miss pitch when its not there. But this disc is right up my street, using some fabulous tuned percussion, mainly vibraphone and marimba. Iíve always loved this sort of instrument since being first introduced to them via some of Percy Graingerís music. (e.g. the Lonely Desert Man sees the Tents of the Happy Tribes)

12th January

Well after all the vicissitudes Iíve managed to finish the Onegin review; and very fine it is too. You wonder why it had to disappear from the catalogue and then have to be resurrected as a re-issue. The more I think about it the more the Pristine Audio model seems to make sense. (review)

17th January

Iíve always found songs by Italian opera composers a little disappointing; granted Verdiís songs can be fascinating as a crucible for his operas, but they never come up to the sustained quality of other 19th century composers. Like much 19th century English song, these songs by Italian opera composers have a little too much of the Parlour about them. If Richard Straussís songs can be dismissed as being Lieder written for opera singers to sing; then much of 19th century Italian can be thought of as opera arias for the talented amateur to sing. Or am I being too cruel? There are some lovely things on Dennis OíNeillís disc, but I donít think that he convinces me (review).

19th January

Akathistos Fragments is one of those discs that surprises you. It was not, as I thought, a disc of Byzantine Chant though it has that at its core. As has happened in the past, Iíve chosen a disc for review based on a misunderstanding and come away entranced. In Akathistos the singers and players freely improvise and re-imagine music based on the ancient chants. (review)

20th January

This was certainly a case of synchronicity; I listened to the disc of Clytus Gottwaldís choral arrangements just once and went scurrying to the musical director of the choir that I sing in (London Concord Singers) recommending them to him. He had just had his ear bent by another choir member about the same pieces, except this guy had heard them in a concert given by the Rodolphus Choir. Moral Ė if you sing in a choir, buy this disc and give it to your musical director, these arrangements just cry out to be sung (review).

26th January

Naxos do a wonderful job at providing fine, affordable recordings of the outer reaches of the repertoire. Sometimes they seem to buy in recordings which are of insufficient quality and sometimes they seem to push ensembles into directions that they ought not to go in. No danger of this on Tonus Peregrinusís fine new Dunstable disc (review).

6th February

A final stray disc from the Naxos Milken Archive. Unfortunately this was one of those discs that had me wondering whether it would have an audience outside of the Jewish faith; certainly it left this ĎAnglican but sings in a Catholic churchí reviewer a little cold. But if you turned the tables and foisted some discs of Anglican chant on an unsuspecting religious non-Christian (or even non Anglican) would they appreciate it.Gottlieb Love Songs for the Sabbath review



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