Friday, 21 August 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 21 August 2015

THIS week I’m taking a long look ahead at the autumn classical season, with the focus on opera and choral performances.

I mentioned the Hallé’s Verdi Requiem (October 3) last week – almost an operatic event in its own right – and the Hallé Choir are singing Poulenc’s Gloria on November 26 and have Handel’s Messiah (December 12) and their popular Christmas carol concerts (December 19 and 20) to come.

But for real, staged opera, it’s Opera North we look to: in November their visit to The Lowry includes two classic productions in revival – Rossini’s The Barber Of Seville on November 10 and 12 and Janáček’s Jenůfa on November 11 – as well as a new production of Cole Porter’s musical, Kiss Me Kate (November 13 and 14).

The production of The Barber, by Giles Havergal, has been seen around the world since its creation by Opera North in 1986, and this time comes with virtuoso comic actor-singers Eric Roberts and Alastair Miles, as Bartolo and Basilio, while notable young tenor Nicholas Watts is Count Almaviva, newcomer mezzo Katie Bray is Rosina, and Figaro is Irish baritone Gavan Ring.

Jenůfa boasts a superlative cast in Tom Cairns’ 1995 production, with Susan Bickley as the Kostelnička, and Swedish soprano Ylva Kihlberg – who gave a mesmerizing performance in Opera North’s The Makropoulos Case in 2012 – in the title role.

The Royal Northern College of Music has chosen Kurt Weill’s Street Scene as its December production this year. Described as a ‘Broadway opera’ when it opened in 1946, it’s a blend of soaring melody, brassy jazz and sparkly showtunes.

Visiting the Royal Northern College of Music on October 20 is Cryptic, a company with a reputation for creating memorable experiences that engage and inspire audiences, and they present The Little Match Girl Passion, which combines Hans Christian Andersen’s story with J S Bach’s setting of the St Matthew Passion in a staging that fuses music, sonic art and multi-media.

At the Bridgewater Hall, The Sixteen are bringing both choir and orchestra on October 30 for a celebration of Handel. Harry Christophers conducts in a programme including Dixit Dominus, one of the Chandos anthems and the coronation anthem, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened. And St George’s Singers perform Mozart’s Mass in C minor, with Chetham’s Chamber Orchestra conducted by Stephen Threlfall and soloists including Kitty Whately (daughter of Kevin ‘Lewis’ Whately) at the RNCM on November 21.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 14 August 2015

WE’RE now into the summer break for almost all classical music in the north west, so I’m going to take a long look ahead to the autumn season that’s coming – and there are some goodies in store.

The Hallé kick the season off with an Opus One programme, performed three times as usual – on September 17 and 20 (7.30pm) and on September 23 at 2.15pm. Sir Mark Elder conducts, and Sunwook Kim is soloist in Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. Kim is the young Korean who won the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006 at the age of 18, and his previous appearances with the orchestra have been impressive.

Then there’s a Hallé special on October 3: Verdi’s Requiem, with the Hallé Choir and stellar soloists, conducted by Sir Mark. The Hallé has a special claim to this favourite, as Charles Hallé gave the first performance with British forces, in March 1876, less than a year after Verdi himself and a touring troupe introduced it to London.

Sir Mark also conducts the first of the Hallé Thursday series, on October 8, with Mahler’s huge sixth symphony on the bill, alongside Mozart’s sunny A major piano concerto K414 (Christian Zacharias is soloist).

Later events from the Hallé include the UK premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s piano concerto (October 22).

Meanwhile the BBC Philharmonic have a big opener to a season called ‘American Adventure’ (with a variety of associations deriving from that). They’re celebrating Leonard Bernstein, whose death was 25 years ago, and the first concert, conducted by Juanjo Mena on September 19, features Olivier Messiaen’s amazing Turangalîla Symphony – premiered by Bernstein in Boston in 1949 (Koussevitsky commissioned it).

On November 13 there’s Bernstein’s own Jeremiah Symphony, conducted by Yutaka Sado, and November 20 sees a bumper bundle of shorter pieces conducted by John Storgårds, including more Turnage: his Concerto For Drum Set And Orchestra.

Manchester Camerata bring their opener to the Bridgewater Hall on September 26, with guitar soloist Miloš Karadaglić, and for me the standout after that is at the Royal Northern College of Music on November 22, when brilliant pianist Gabriela Montero – a superb improviser – joins up with her old friend Giovanni Guzzo (violin/director).

The flow of international orchestras to the Bridgewater Hall has dried up a little this season, but we do have the Oslo Philharmonic and Michael Sanderling on October 14, and Sol Gambetta plays the Elgar cello concerto.


Friday, 7 August 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 7 Aug 2015

IT’S going to be a big day for Manchester-based and Royal Northern College of Music trained husband-and-wife Jan Bradley and Sarah Castle, on August 12.

That’s the date of the world premiere of a song cycle he’s written for her, and it’s at Carver Church, Windermere, as part of the Lake District Summer Music festival, which commissioned the work.

Sarah is the soloist, and Jan performs as a member of the 4-MALITY Percussion Quartet, which he co-founded in 1999.

“We were asked, after performing in the festival two years ago, to return with something on the theme of the First World War,” Jan says. “I said I would set some war poetry, but then we couldn’t find a space to perform last year – and the invitation was repeated for 2015.

“I was originally thinking of a baritone voice, but I’m married to an opera singer! It became a setting of three poems, all written by women, about the war.”

Mezzo-soprano Sarah is well known to audiences in Manchester, having sung as Rhinemaiden and Valkyrie for Opera North and the Hallé, and also in The Mastersingers and other concerts. The couple are both originally from New Zealand, and Sarah was recently rehearsing the lead role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola there while Jan worked on his score. They and their family (Xander, 10, and Maude, 5) had also been in San Diego for John Adams’ opera, Nixon In China, shortly before.

“At one time people used to say I was on holiday all the time, as I often travelled with Sarah as she sang around the world!” he says. “Now we have kids who want to travel, too. And while I’m pretty sure you won’t hear any Rossini influences, there could well be some Adams in there.”

The poems in his new work – which he and Sarah chose together – are by Katharine Tynan (The Young Soldier), Frida Bettingen (Immer Steh Ich Am Fenster), and Cécile Périn (Les Femmes Du Tous Les Pays).

So the women of England, Germany and France speak through them about the war. “The Young Soldier is disturbing, because the woman has lost her man and she just says she doesn’t need to worry any more,” Jan explains. “The German one is about the pain of loss, and the French one is quite angry – it calls those women who sent their husbands and sons off to war ‘unconscious accomplices’.”

Manchester Evening News review 6 August 2015


National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company, Buxton Opera House


IAN and Neil Smith, founders of the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival that graced the stage of Buxton Opera House for 20 years, will be glad that their company’s return to its stage – albeit in a much smaller way – pulled a full house for this show.

Their week, which also includes The Mikado and HMS Pinafore, all of them directed by G&S man-of-the-moment John Savournin, is but a pale shadow of the festival in its heyday, and it has decamped to Harrogate last year and this.

But the professional company they create for it each summer is put on the road as well, and Buxton’s one of its stops.

Savournin could never be accused of blowing the budget on set construction. His set is semi-abstract and simple, providing a little shape to the stage, but not a lot of atmosphere to evoke Venice and its gondoliers. But the costumes and the music do the trick: Sullivan liked to visit the Lido and knew his Italian dance rhythms inside out. The show is one of his best creations and alive with dance tunes, and what it needs above all is pretty near non-stop choreography. Phillip Aiden has come up with the goods in that department and the cast dance their socks off. Stephen Holroyd’s lighting is effective, too.

The musical qualities were very high: crisp rhythms, gentle expressiveness, and exemplary blend, particularly in the principals’ quartets and quintets. Conductor David Steadman is an acknowledged master of the style, but I suspect credit should also go in large measure to the assistant MD and repetiteur, Royal Northern College of Music maestro James Hendry.

Two doughty veterans of British G&S, Bruce Graham and Richard Gauntlett (as the Grand Inquisitor and the Duke of Plaza-Toro) set a superb example of comic performance and clear diction, and the younger members of a well-cast troupe proved their worth in voice quality. I admired Robin Bailey’s Marco (tenor) and Claire Lees’ Gianetta (soprano) in particular – him for Take A Pair of Sparkling Eyes (always a hit song) and her for Kind Sir You Cannot Have The Heart, beautifully poised.

Kevin Greenlaw (Giuseppe), Una McMahon (Tessa), Elinor Jane Moran (Casilda) and Nick Sales (Luiz) provided excellent support, and the chorus were magnificent.


Robert Beale