Twenty minutes ago in Lichfield we had a hailstorm. Now it looks like this:
I’ve given up trying to wrap my head around the seasons because this month it’s been pretty much non-stop scribble scribble scribble, as George III supposedly said to Dr Johnson. I’ve had reviews in The Spectator for Birmingham Conservatoire’s Anglo-French triple-bill and the RAM’s May Night, reviewed a new opera and a Shakespeare celebration for The Birmingham Post and taken the road to Buxton to cover English Touring Opera’s spring season (well, 2/3 of it) for The Arts Desk. Not that I need much excuse to visit Buxton Opera House: this has surely got to be Britain’s best drive to work. Bit of RVW on the stereo: magic.
And last night I heard the UK premiere of a masterpiece – also for The Arts Desk.
On top of that, I’ve been working with The Philharmonia, Performances Birmingham, the CBSO and Warwick Arts Centre on their 16-17 season brochures. It’s a privilege to see what’s coming up next season but a couple of things are so exciting that it’s been quite hard to bite my tongue. And programme notes for two great festivals: four heavyweight programmes for Salzburg – any chance to write about Mozart is always a pleasure – and a whole raft of really wonderful English music, including some real favourites of mine, for the Three Choirs (it’s in Gloucester this year, btw).
Those came courtesy of two great colleagues, Gavin Plumley (he’s got a Wigmore Hall debut coming up and knowing the care and expertise he brings to everything he does, it should be superb) and Clare Stevens, who’s currently blogging the story of her grandmother’s experiences in the Easter Rising of 1916: a really remarkable piece of family history. I’ve also written about a couple of fascinating programmes for the Wigmore Hall and the Barbican and an article on Verdi’s Falstaff for the CBSO’s in-house magazine Music Stand. And did you know that Arthur Bliss wrote a Fanfare for the National Fund for Crippling Diseases? Don’t ask…
And that’s not to mention my most exciting project so far for Gramophone: a reassessment of Carlos Kleiber’s classic 1976 recording of Die Fledermaus, co-written (to my astonishment and awe) with one of the greatest living experts on operetta, Andrew Lamb. A huge privilege and actually enormous fun; I think it’s being published in the July edition, though meanwhile Gramophone has been keeping me busy with everything from Johann Strauss and Balfe to Cecil Armstrong Gibbs. Full list here. They know me too well already…
Anyway, tonight it’s Mark Simpson’s new opera Pleasure at Opera North (for The Spectator); the next few weeks of opera-going will take me to Guildford, Cardiff, Wolverhampton and Glasgow, so if I’m quiet again for a bit, my apologies.
The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (you should really go out and buy the paper!) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Kidderminster Town Hall on Saturday 19 March.
Handel’s The King Shall Rejoice, Haydn’s Nelson Mass and Mozart’s anything-but-solemn Solemn Vespers – the Kidderminster Choral Society clearly likes to keep itself busy. This was a concert of pretty much wall-to-wall choral singing, and none the worse for it: three top-flight masterpieces delivered with energy and zing under the Society’s artistic director Geoffrey Weaver.
And that was despite the stage arrangements at Kidderminster’s Victorian Town Hall – which split the choir in two and stacked them steeply on either side of the organ. The KCS is clearly well-used to this: they produced a big, bright mass of sound, with a brilliant soprano section and a more than usually lively team of altos. In the Haydn, they sounded like they were enjoying every note. Weaver kept it bowling along and the choir responded with lively, natural phasing and crisp, clearly enunciated interjections in the Gloria.
Perhaps he might have paced the Benedictus to make more a climax out of the arrival of Haydn’s warlike trumpets – but there was no doubt that the spirit of the thing was there in spades. It helped that they had such a winningly youthful line-up of soloists: contralto Elisabeth Paul, tenor Christopher Fitzgerald-Lombard and bass Andrew Randall. But the real heroine of the evening was the soprano Gemma King, standing in at one day’s notice, and singing with a pure, vibrato-light tone and such smiling freshness that you’d never have known it.
A couple of caveats: there’d be room in the nicely-produced programme book for the text and translations – these should be provided as a matter of course. And as Richard Strauss once said: don’t look at the trombones, it only encourages them. Throughout the first half, one of the Elgar Sinfonia’s trombonists (unnamed in the programme) honked it out so noisily that any chance of distinguishing the chorus’s words was obliterated, at least from where I was sitting.