Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Marius Brenciu at the Rosenblatt Recitals Series 28th Sept

Musically, there are few things which impress more than a good performance.  To have a string break during a violin solo, restring, then continue from exactly where you left off is one of the few (Nicola Benedetti performing the debut of Taverner's Lalishri at the Southbank). Another was last Wednesday's recital by Marius Brenciu.

Marius didn't seem to begin confidently, though his voice was on good form.  The evening didn't follow the programme directly, but mostly it waas just the running order that was changed.  Marius sang Giordani,  Gluck and Mozart for the first part of the evening.  A slight grimace after each piece indicated his uneasiness with his own performance, though many singers would have been happy to have performed to his standard any day of the week.

After the interval, Marius explained that sometimes, the body doesn't always obey the mind.  He seemed more confident, more comfortable and actually seemed to be enjoying himself.  Verdi, Respighi,  two by Tosti (though not A vuchella) and four by Tchaikovsky completed the evening's program, my favourite being Respighi's Nebbie (which I first heard performed at the last Rosenblatt Recital).   Marius' confidence increased with each song after the interval.

From a shaky, uncomfortable-looking beginning, to end with a resounding flourish of four Tchaikovsky songs and two encores is a remarkable recovery.  It is also a display of professionalism.  At the interval evaluated his performance so far, then decided to continue.  It could easily have gone the other way.  No-one would have been surprised if he'd cancelled the remainder of the evening.  Thank goodness he didn't, his second-half performance more than compensated for a shaky start.

The two encores, neither of which I'd heard before, were obviously favourites of Marius', both sung effortlessly and with as much brio as you'll see from any tenor.

Here is a short clip of Marius with Angela Gheorghiu.

I've yet to attend an average Rosenblatt Recital, a very high standard has been maintained and I have no reason to think that will change.  For a taste of what to expect, browse the Rosenblatt Recitals Series YouTube channel and join their Facebook group to stay tuned to upcoming performances.  

From this point on, my friend Guillermina will be taking over reviewing Rosenblatt Recitals.  I'll be attending some opera performances here in Manchester, which I'll review here.  I'm hoping to get tickets for Juan Diego Flórez at The Albert Hall in May, so I hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Rosenblatt Recitals Series

Due to a slight change in travel arrangements, I will be attending the first of the new season of the Rosenblatt Recitals Series.

I'll see some of you there, I'll tell the rest of you about it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Lovely Klezmer and Folk, with reservations.

I've taken time to write these reviews of the London Klezmer Quartet and JC Ryan, not beacuase of the quality of music, more due to the experience of actually hearing the music.

Beginning with the London Klezmer Quartet, they played at the Green Note in Camden,  a lovely little place, cosy, eating people mixed with music lovers, possibly the eating people loved music too, who knows?

The last time I saw Susi Evans play was at a concert in the Purcell Rooms, playing with the fantastic She'Koyokh.  Any time someone asks me who to look out for, it's She'Koyokh.  See them live, buy the CD, always worth the investment.

The LKQ at the Green Note was no less musically entertaining, especially as we got to hear introductions from all the performers.  If there was any problem on my part, it was probably the assumption that I was there and I had an understanding of Klezmer.  So, no problem on my part, I get a book and read.  Then I understand.  I know more now than I did before seeing them.  From reading.

The music itself was impeccably played by the whole quartet, the cellist wasn't ignored, fun was had by all musicians, and Susi shone with her solos, as I've seen her shine before.  Charisma is the word for it.
I won't leave it at that. Every member of the LKQ can be said to be fantastic, in my opinion though Susi has a slight advantage. I don't think any of the other members would argue.

That was Thursday.  Then came Friday.  Camden again, to see my very good friend JC (Jo to me) Ryan.
 Jo and her new band played 7 songs. I remember 5 of them, having played them with her at The Castle in Portobello for a while.  2 new songs sounded strong and a welcome addition to her already strong repertoire of engaging songs.  For me, her best song "Aberavon Rd" was lost behind a sound that was too heavy on the rhythm section.  It should have been delicate and magical.  Even the roaring 'Best Days' was muddied by the sound of bass and drums.

Both great gigs, both with great music.  Here come the reservations.

For the Green Note concert, no matter how much I love Klezmer, Susi, or the whole concept of music in a bijou restaurant, £12 is too much.  I had friends who arrived after the start, I met them at the interval outside the "music/food" area.  Some people left.  "Would you like to go in now?" they were asked.  How much? £12.  That's the way to promote local music.

For the JC Ryan gig at the Camden Rock venue in (surprise) Camden, a slightly different story.  I wasn't there for the soundcheck, I was only there for the actual gig.  The only way I could recognise most of the songs was that I'd played many of them myself.  The unique point about Jo isn't her band, not even her songs (fine though they are) it is simply her voice.  It was overwhelmed by bad balance, feedback, bad mixing....  ok, let me tell it straight, the sound engineer was not up to the job.

All the members of JC's band and Jo herself can feel comfortable that they did the best job they could, but sometimes this kind of stuff happens.  Next time they'll, perhaps take more time with sound-checks or working with (or kill)  the sound engineer.  If you ever get the chance to see and hear Jo do the banjo/reggae version of her own song "Hey Boy' you will have had a good night.

Camden Rock bloke: Alright mate
Me: Yeah, I'm on the list (meaning 'PRESS')
Camden Rock bloke: Yeah, it's five quid.

I don't mind paying, I really mind the fact it wasn't even a question.  So, Camden Rock minus 5 for ignorance, Green Note minus 5 for greed.  Both bands +5 for being excellent.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Rosenblatt Recitals remembered.......

Time to revisit the Rosenblatt Recitals Series for a number of reasons.

First, I notice that there is now a video of Vuyani Mlinde's drinking song on the Rosenblatt video channel.

Secondly, there is a new series which begins in September.

And finally, I won't be in London to see it.  I'll be in Manchester, so I'll have to rely on others to let me know how the series goes.

The Rosenblatt Recitals Series has been an enjoyable experience for me, seeing and hearing up and coming young singers choosing the best music to show off the best of their vocal repertoire.  Each has been different in its own way, especially as each singer is accompanied only by a pianist and not a full orchestra.

I can highly recommend the upcoming series, featuring the return of JUAN DIEGO FLÓREZ
and a very interesting looking group of performers performing a very varied choice of programmes over the coming months.  And remember to buy the concert programme, you'll thank me when you do!

Don't forget to check up on the Rosenblatt Recital Series' Facebook page, to keep yourself up-to-date on who is performing and when.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Harriet Mackenzie at the Lansdowne Club 12/7/2011

The evening of the 12th found me in the Ballroom of the Lansdowne Club, near Berkeley Square.  Not a nightingale in sight. 

The music was to be provided by the talented violinist Harriet Mackenzie, whom I'd previously seen playing with the Kosmos Ensemble as part of an evening of Klezmer music at the Southbank.  On the piano was Indre Petrauskaite.

The program for the evening certainly highlighted Harriet's virtuosity and range on the violin. The stand-out for me was the Sarasate, as it's a favourite piece of mine.  Harriet's performance was sparkling in the way you'd expect from a great performer.  There was little, if anything, to indicate any apprehension at tackling such difficult pieces.  The Sarasate and Tartini were written to dazzle audiences with technique and dazzled we were.

Indre's accompaniment on was very light and lyrical, complementing Harriet's violin without overpowering it, an easy thing to do in a small room with a big Bluthner piano in it.  Both Harriet and Indre were obviously enjoying themselves, Indre with a grin on her face, Harriet alternating between intense concentration and sheer abandon, especially for the encore.

The first encore was Monti's Czardas, arranged to be more difficult by Harriet herself.  As the applause died down I assumed we would be leaving, it's difficult to top a Mozart/Tartini/Sarasate/Monti program.

The second encore was Massenet's beautifully lyrical Meditation from Thais.  Artfully played with a dynamic range it's difficult to experience on a CD or the radio. 

The evening was a success for the audience.  Tickets were £5, a glass of wine was included.  The surroundings were as elegant as any opera house or music venue in London.  Over an hour of music played extremely well, including two encores.

The main program consisted of :

Sonata K454 in B flat major
The Devil's Trill Sonata


As I mentioned, there were two encores: Monti's Czardas and Massenet's Meditation.

I was invited to the event by Bluthner's Piano's who are based in the same building.  They hold a recital the second Tuesday of each month (except August and December).  If you live in London, drop them an email to get yourself onto their mailing list.  There's very little that beats listening to well-played live music in great surroundings. 

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Harriet Mackenzie

 Indre Petrauskaite

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

My third Rosenblatt Recital of the series

Tuesday evening's performance by Vuyani Mlinde was yet another example of what the Rosenblatt Recital Series does so well. They choose talented up-and-coming preformers from around the globe, match them with well-respected accompanists, provide in-depth and extensive information about the music you are about to listen to, then put it all together in a great venue.

In addition, most (if not all) of these performances are recorded for the Rosenblatt Recital Series video channel, so you can relive the performance or send a link to give someone an idea of what they missed.

And Tuesday night, if you weren't at St. John's, Smith Square, you missed a great performance.

Vuyani's voice is a deep, rich baritone which was up to the task of solo recital. The recital differs from an opera performance in being that much clearer to the audience. There is no orchestra to drown out the nuances of richly textured voices, such as those I've heard at this recital series.

The program for the evening is listed below, in the order the songs and arias were performed. My favourites were the Tchaikovsky piece from Iolante, Respighi's Nebbie and the songs by Tosti and Gastaldon. Not to say he sung these any better than the rest of the programme, just pieces I preferred listening to.

A strange thing happened during the first Mozart aria, I found myself wanting to sing along. I don't know the word and I wasn't looking at the libretto, I just found myself wanting to sing along. I suspect that the reason is my own vocal range. I've heard a great deal of opera which highlights tenors, mezzos and sopranos and just enjoyed the music. But last night I realised I was listening to someone who had a similar range to mine. I would have failed terribly had I tried, but that gut-feeling was there throughout. Perhaps that is the enduring quality of opera, that everyone who listens hears something they want to, and perhaps can, sing along to? Not forgetting the great melodies, of course!

The programme for the evening showcased Vuyani's voice perfectly, no lack of strength in the lower register, no tailing off, and lots of humour too. Especially the encore. A degree of emotional intensity was required for Respighi's Nebbie, this didn't ruffle his feathers in the least. The Verdi arias possessed all the colours you would expect, Mozart's lightness, Tchaikovsky's lyricism were all there in technicolor.

Vuyani was in playful mood for the encore. A traditional german drinking song, 'Der mann im keller'. A man sits in a cellar rhapsodising upon the excellent qualities of his favourite alcoholic drink. Dropping from one octave to another with great precision. The audience wouldn't let him leave so he sang again the closing chorus of the drinking song, this time using different registers, rising to falsetto in places, dropping through a scale to the bottom of the register. In german and english. Seemingly comfortable singing both. And apparently more drunk on the song than the first rendition.

Praise must also go to Ingrid Surgenor, the pianist who provided accompaniment for the evening. Masterfully played throughout, never overpowering the songs.

I will follow this post very soon with a re-cap of the Rosenblatt Recital Series. Here is the list of work from the evening:

Se vuol ballare, Le nozze di Figaro
Madamina il castalogo e questo, Don Giovanni
Cosi dunque tradisci, Concert aria

Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt
Gospod moj, esli gresen ja, Iolanta

Come dal ciel precipita, Macbeth


Infelice! E tu credevi


L'ultima conzone

Musica proibita

Mentre gonfiarsi l'anima, Attila

Der mann im keller, Anon
Text: Carl Müchler, 1802
Musik: Ludwig Fischer, 1802

For those of you who missed Elizabeth Llewellyn, here is a video of her singing Walton:

And here is Serena Malfi singing the Vivaldi I enjoyed so much:

Monday, 27 June 2011

Yes. More opera tomorrow!

Tomorrow I'll be going to the last Rosenblatt Recital until September, Vuyani Mlinde, at St John's, Smith Square.

Here's a bit of background, a review, a short video and even an offer for tickets!  I'm hoping I get a chance to have a little chat with him after the concert, but if not, you'll find the review here.

If you do go, make sure to get a program.  They're the best I've ever seen; very informative and useful if you've never heard opera before, even if you have.

A little more Opera.....

Last night I attended a concert at Cadogan Hall.  A beautiful venue, always a pleasure to hear music there.

Opera UK were providing an evening of entertainment presented by Natalie Wheen.  Yes, that's her, the knowledgable and conversational presenter for Classic FM.  She clearly loves opera, and made sure we were all informed as to the arias, the background of the opera, characters, the composers etc.  Thank you Natalie!

Before I begin, I'd like to mention the person who is usually ignored or forgotten throughout performances like this, the accompanist Stephen Hose.  The evening was about music, the singers provided the voices, he provided the music for all of them.  As a highlight, his playing during Dvorak's 'Song to the Moon' was outstanding, to the point where I couldn't remember the orchestral version afterwards.

The program was romantic, no Haydn or Handel, and none the worse for that.  Mozart, Bizet, Puccini and Rossini. Verdi, Delibes, Lehar, Gounod and Bernstein.  A showcase for great voices, but also for opera too.  I won't list each piece, all will be familiar to any music lover, but there were some notable exceptions.  Adam Miller's rendition of 'Factotum' was made especially entertaining as he juggled oranges whilst singing a particularly difficult part.  'The Flower Duet' from Lakme, (Nicola Pulsford and Clare Presland) despite its relentless use in adverts was (for me) tear-jerking.  Clare Presland's rendition of the 'Segadilla' from Bizet's Carmen was wonderfully lusty.  The two most impressive pieces, for me, were Alison Guill's 'Song to the Moon' mentioned earlier, and Anando Mukerjee's 'Nessum Dorma'.

Although I've singled out a few favourite pieces, I haven't chosen a favourite singer, my choice was based upon my favourite songs and music.  All the singers were excellent and will be heard from in the future.  In fact, some of them are already making noises.

If there is one thing that the evening reminded me, it's that listening to music on the radio or CD is absolutely no substitute for hearing and seeing music live.

Another thing is that opera has a class thing attached to it.  Maybe it's seen as being a purely middle-class form of entertainment.  That may be true of the Royal Opera House (though you can get tickets for under £10 if you're quick enough) but there are many other places that offer opera, at much more affordable prices.  Not just in London either!

And a small bit of advice (I recently learnt), choose what you want to see, download the libretto/lyrics, look on Wikipedia for the story, get the general gist of what's going to happen, and then.................

......sit back and enjoy the music.

The performers were:

Belinda Evans
Alison Guill
Patrick Mundy
Adam Miller
Anando Mukerjee
Clare Presland
Nicola Pulsford

Great music and great company.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Rolando Villazon on tenors in Opera

Here is a BBC programme narrated by Villazon, explaining the history and technical aspects of the tenor in Opera.  It features a great number of fantastic singers, there's also a lot of information here about opera in general.  A great introduction to opera, some lovely arias sung by fantastic singers.  If anyone can explain opera and singing to the general public, it's Maestro Villazon.

Here's the whole of 'Werther' with Villazon. Available until later this evening. Search for Villazon on YouTube to find more.

If you want to sample some opera, here is the next of the Rosenblatt Recital Series.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Julia Lezhneva sings Rossini

I've been listening to the new CD by Julia Lezhneva for the last couple of weeks.  When it comes to music, there are always pleasant surprises in store.  Julia is a very young soprano with the voice of someone much more experienced.  The CD itself is a collection of Rossini arias which show off her vocal range, the variety of the music demands accuracy, strength of tone and a delicate touch. She handles the dynamics of the arias effortlessly, drawing comparisons to Callas from critics.  Her voice seems naturally higher in range than Callas', without any weakening in the upper register, strong and fluid with a great deal of depth for such a young singer.

Julia has had a very full career already, despite her youth, winning many awards and garnering praise from many quarters.  It appears Rossini is a favourite of hers, performing his arias at the Classical Brits last year and here performing at the St Petersburg competition for opera singers in 2007.  She doesn't have the richness of voice that we associate with mature singers like Bartoli or Netrebko, what she has is a brilliance more associated with young voices, a brightness that has warmth.  As she gains experience, I hope she keeps that brilliance, it will be the one thing that sets her apart from other singers of her generation.

Another thing to bear in mind is her range.  She appears to glide from soprano, through mezzo, down to contralto and back without sounding strained or stretched in any way, no tiny compromises.  She has a clarity of voice that is unusual in any vocal range.  I cannot recommend this singer highly enough.

I'd encourage everyone to see more opera, try something you've never heard before, preferably sung by a singer you've never heard before.  Later this month I'll be going to see my third Rosenblatt Recital, featuring Vuyani Mlinde.  If the previous recitals are anything to go by, I'll be in for a treat.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Cigdem Aslan sings Rebetiko

Upstairs at Ritzy (the cinema in Brixton) was the venue for the Cigdem Aslan Trio last Wednesday.  True to form for musicians, there were four performers; Cigdem herself on vocals, Meg Hamilton (also of Kosmos and She'Koyokh) on violin, Angelos on bouzouki and Pavlos on guitar.

Rebetiko is a relatively new music form, emerging in the 1960's, combining Greek folk traditions and Turkish (Ottoman) café music.  It has been described as a Greek/Turkish blues, mainly due to lyrics, not the music itself.  Plenty of info in the 'net.

The venue itself is quite small and intimate, a perfect setting for the four-piece trio, Garth Cartwright provided the music while we waited for the performance.

The music itself was new to me, plaintive songs of loss and love from Smyrna and Istanbul, the guitar providing a pulsing rhythm, the bouzouki accompanies and complements the voice, the violin answering the guitar and at times almost vocal itself.  At the heart of the songs is the voice.  The audience were given brief introductions to each song, such as the song where a boy compares his love to an orange in turkish, but an apple in greek (or maybe it was the other way around).  Or the song where the boy has to sneak around to see his girlfriend, but he must be careful of her mother "because mediterranean mothers are hardcore" explained Pavlos.

I found it strange that the music itself sounded so different from what we usually listen to un the UK and the US today, bearing in mind that pretty much all of 'western' music is derived from greek 'modes'.  The Turkish songs in the set didn't sound any different than the Greek songs musically, only the language of the lyrics.  At some point, I really must ask Cigdem how many languages she sings in!

I swear, at one point, Angelos either sprouted an extra two fingers on each hand, or slowed time down for himself.  His fingers blurred on the bouzouki and made my inner guitar player wither and die for a moment.  A similar experience watching Pavlos on guitar.  Meg Harrison obviously loves playing, this is the third time I've seen her play in two weeks.  Viola with Kosmos, violin with She'Koyokh and violin tonight.  The same is true of Cigdem, she sings constantly from what I can gather, thank goodness.

The only song title I remember is 'Emine' and that's because it was dedicated to the young lady of the same name sitting next to me, who kindly provided the photos you see here.  The musicianship of these four people was of a very high standard, and yet the atmosphere was much more relaxed than you would find at many recitals or 'classical' music performances.  They seemed to be enjoying the performance as much as the audience.

These days, it's easy to find new music to listen to, if you have a computer and some idea what you are looking for.  I suggest you have a look for Rebetiko, keep any eye out for Cigdem, Meg, Angelos and Pavlos for further performances, and search out She'Koyokh for their next performance near you.

After the gig, I got to the tube at Brixton, stuck Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde' on the ipod and opened a book.  A couple of minutes later, a rag-tag bunch of musicians and friends piled into the carriage.  Within about 60 seconds they had their instruments out and the gig continued.  They're probably still northbound on the Victoria Line, and probably still entertaining confused tourists.  We need more people like this and more people should listen to music that is new to them.

Thanks to Emine Arikan for the photos.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The 100 Club 13.5.2011 UPDATED with VIDEOS

This club, for me, is one of the genuine articles. A piece of history. Not the photos that adorn the walls, but the acts I've seen here myself. First was Siouxsie and the Banshees, supported by John Cooper Clarke. Next was Nicola Benedetti. Natalie Clien and an Azerbaijani ensemble led by Sabina Rakcheyeva was the last time I was in the 100 Club.

The evening consisted of 5 acts, (a full list is here) beginning with JC Ryan, fresh from her residency at The Castle in Portobello. Tonight she was sporting a full band line-up and the magnificent Babs on backing vocals. Her self-penned tunes in a similar vein to other female singer-songwriters are given an added attraction, which is her unique, soulful voice. Try to catch her at The Castle if you get a chance.

Video 1   Video 2   (Thanks Elena)

The next act that caught my attention was Rhys Williams. Easily the most experienced performer of the evening, a tight, well-rehearsed band, crafted songs and a history that includes playing with Morrissey. Friday the 13th saw the release of his 2nd CD on Vinegar Alley Records, Great Falls, recorded in Virginia and London, and finished at Abbey Road. One to watch out for, make sure you bookmark his website.

Wolfette was certainly full of energy and enthusiasm. I assume she writes her own material, but her voice was overpowered by the rhythm section. A better balance of sound would have improved the clarity of her performance. Similar problems also beset the remaining two bands.

The Empty Headz gave the audience a lively set (one or two fans in the house, I think) giving it their all, though again the bass and drums were overpowering. Probably down to lack of experience and a firm guiding hand in rehearsals. Nothing wrong with the music, just a full-on presentation with amps set to 11. Oh, and they're lovely people.

Top of the bill were The Electric Flowers. The 80's were worshipped with full abandon, even sartorially. I was unsure if they were doing this ironically, but was assured there was no irony intended. This is much the same confusion that surrounded Ladytron when they began their career. Ladytron's way to drive the message home was to record and gig constantly, silencing the critics with their enthusiastic and unashamed keyboard driven tunes. Once again, most of what I heard had the full-on sound of unbalanced drums and bass. I swear my eyeballs were vibrating. Experience will make all the difference, and these guys will have lots of gigs to refine their sound. Hopefully they'll have as much success as Ladytron in the future.

The whole evening was well-balanced between the up-and-comers and the more experienced performers. Folk, electronica, rock and ballads made for an eclectic mix of musical styles. Each of the acts performed well and I expect to hear more from all of them, Rhys Williams and JC Ryan especially, that's just my taste.

Wolfette, Empty Headz and The Electric Flowers only lack experience and possibly a guiding hand in the recording/rehearsal studio. Fingers crossed for all of them.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

My 2nd Rosenblatt Recital...

I suppose, like most people, I took time to get into classical music in the first place. Listening to opera on the radio, or seeing it performed on TV was, well, like listening to snooker or watching cricket; always better live. I didn't realise this until I went to see Carmen (chosen because I love the music, who doesn't?) at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. After I'd seen Carmen performed live, I heard it with new ears. Now I understand why people listen to opera on the radio, or watch on TV. But it's usually the same popular pieces on the radio, or the same shows beamed into the local cinema (great idea) or shown on the big screen around the UK (another great idea).

Tonight I listened to a Rosenblatt Recital featuring Serena Malfi accompanied by Angelo Michele Errico. I was expecting opera arias, lieder, possibly something based on folk melodies and poems. It didn't work out as I expected, bearing in mind that I'd only ever heard of two of the composers featured tonight; Mozart and Rossini.

Beginning with three pieces by Vincenzo Righini I suspected I was in for a challenge. Forty minutes passed like five as I was slowly seduced by the subtlety of bel-canto. Yes, me too. I had no idea that there was something that opera singers sang that wasn't opera or lieder songs. My fault entirely, I just didn't know. I know now.

Spontini followed, then an aria from Mozart's 'La Clemenza di Tito'. Each piece sung and played beautifully, the piano a perfect fit for Serena's voice which was just getting ready to spring its first surprise; Romeo. Serena sang the part of Romeo (from some play or other) in arias by Vaccai and Bellini. Girls sang the boys parts in those days, or when it was convenient, or possibly cheaper.

At this point, I make a small confession; much of the information regarding these unknown (to me) works comes courtesy of the amazingly informative programme for the performance. Performers details, composers details, librettist/poets details, the lyrics in the original tongue and also in english.

After the interval we were treated to Caracciolo, Mattei (who was probably a musical god in London, at the time, from the info I have here) and Tosti, I mention these three because I'll probably try to find more of their work. Costa's 'Dark Eyes' continues the evening's trend of more dynamic, rhythmic and dramatic pieces, enhanced further by three pieces written by singers. Maria Mailibran and her sister, Pauline Viardot Garcia wrote for themselves, and these songs display more humour and melody than their male counterparts, possibly because they were written by women, for women. Serena seemed to enjoy singing them, and we certainly enjoyed listening to them.

Rossini rounded off the programme nicely, as you would expect, an aria from La Cerenentola (I need to hear more opera, I swear) "I was born to suffering....." A narrative familiar to anyone who has read or seen Cinderella.

A first encore was a short by Salieri, yes, that one. The next was by Vivaldi, from Il Giustino (click translate) and for my money the Vivaldi was the best piece of the evening, mainly because it showed how versatile Serena's voice is.

I've left describing Serena's voice until now for a reason, it's a revelation for someone, like me, who grew up listening to very talented but untutored non-operatic, non-classical singers. Smooth and strong, a complete lack of harshness, coupled with great control. I don't understand Italian, my french is sketchy, but listening to Serena sing, it didn't matter. Her voice, alongside the playing of Angelo Michele Errico was a joy.

There are probably many technical terms to describe voices, but the only terms that make sense to me are those used for wines. Serena's voice is full-bodied, sometimes sparkling (the Malibran pieces) with strong aftertones (the Vivaldi). words like caramel and honey also spring to mind, mostly because they're both smooth and delicious.

In short, a voluptuous, mature voice with a lot of growing room. If you get a chance to hear her, in recital or opera (in Paris and Vienna) buy a ticket. If you're not enchanted, I'll be very surprised. I think tonight's performance was being filmed, so I'll keep you informed about that. In the meantime, here she is in a suit.

And, for a certain Italian friend, Serena's dress was fabulous!

UPDATE: When the video is available, it will appear here.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Friday 13th at The 100 Club

The listing for the evening consistes of The Electric Flowers, Rhys Williams, Empty Headz, Wolfette and Jo Ryan. Everything kicks off at 7:30, so don't arrive late or you'll miss Jo, and you'll kick yourself forever if you miss Jo at the 100 Club. You'll feel like the guy who passed on signing the Beatles. Or the lifeboat inspector on the Titanic.

Check out the links above and see you on Friday.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A week of music.........

My week of music began on Friday the 6th with an impromptu piano recital by Stefano Orioli. The venue was the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. The playing was very accomplished, as you would expect of a pianist of his experience. The recital was well balanced with works by classical composers Scarlatti and Clementi followed by romantic works by Debussy and Liszt.

Sunday was a little unexpected. I'd been invited to a concert at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre. The event was 'Breaking Boundaries'. On the bill were Kosmos, Paprika and She'Koyokh. Kosmos opened the evening with a mixture of jazz, klezmer and tango, spiced up with gypsy and arabic melodies. Milos, the accordionist (one of the two) from Paprika joined for Piazzolla's 'Libertango' bringing a touch of familiarity to the evening, giving us a foretaste of what to expect for the rest of the evening.

Next up was Paprika, featuring the charismatic violinist Bogdan Vacarescu, joined by Meg Hamilton of Kosmos (cross-pollination is a feature of this evening), who regaled us with Serbian, Balkan, Romanian and gypsy folk songs and melodies. The use of two accordions in a call-and-response setting was inspired. It was at about this point that the audience became aware that they were in a seated venue, listening to what was, essentially, music for dancing. More on that later.

After the break came She'Koyokh. The theme of the evening reached its peak with this ensemble. Featuring one of the most versatile vocalists I've heard since Elizabeth Fraser, Cigdem Aslan sang bulgarian folk, managing to sound eerily like the Voix Bulgares, veering off around the Balkans on a melodic and linguistic ending up somewhere around the Black Sea. During the course of the evening, I lost count of the number of languages I heard her sing. The ensemble itself performed all this music and more. Stand-out performances from Susi Evans on clarinet (perhaps previously owned by Faust) and Matt Bacon on guitar. Not to forget Paul on the accordion who had us all singin the yiddish chorus to 'die Philosope'. The finale was a klezmer super-group. All the members of the previous groups joined She'Koyokh onstage for a melange which featured the individual mixes of all the bands. The result was an irresistable urge to dance. I resisted, most didn't. Clapping to the klezmer, dancing to folk melodies from around the balkans and the middle-east, rapt silence as Susi on clarinet duelled with the guitarists, pulling off a win using circular-breathing and a healthy dash of chutzpah!
All these bands are highly recommended, unless you have something against having fun.

My week continues on Wednesday 11th, with the second of the Rosenblatt Recitals series, this one featuring Serena Malfi, once again at St John's, Smith Square.
And if you are dithering, wondering if you should come on Wednesday or not, here's your invitation!

Following that, on Friday 13th, is my friend Jo Ryan at the 100 Club.

Blog reviews following both of these concerts.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Opera and languages.

Do you speak Italian? French? Spanish? Perhaps German? No? Then maybe Opera is not for you. Too much trouble for the english/french/italian/german/spanish audience.

So, english watching german opera, italian trying to understand anything but italian opera (just joking) the problem is language.

Thanks to a friend of mine, I think the whole experience of Opera will become more enjoyable to me. Here's how it goes:

1, If you think you 'may' go to an opera, download the libretto.
2, If you don't go, save it.
3, When you actually do go, read the libretto, get an idea, then buy (or don't buy) the ticket.
4, If you are young and love opera, you can do the standing thing. It's quite fun. Until you love opera and you're 50 or older.
5, Duh, take the libretto. Know the story. Remember it. The stories of any opera are not very difficult. Ever.
6, Enjoy the music and the voices.
7. Don't even try to understand the language
8. Enjoy the music and voices. (yes, it's the same as No. 6, but you weren't really listening.)

9, Go to an opera performance.

10, What is the one musical instrument ALL human beings possess?

11. What songs do you enjoy listening to? Songs you'd like to sing?

12, Sing. Sing. Sing. The best practice for any singer. ' "How do you sing so well?". Sing. All the time.

Just to say, I'll be going to see the Big Apple (just to hear 'Summertime", then go to see Opera in the Park. Try it.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

An Evening with Elizabeth Llewellyn

Last night's Rosenblatt Recital at St John's, Smith Square, was a true eye-opener.
Following two opening Handel Arias, Elizabeth's voice began to warm considerably. Elizabeth conveyed Countess Rosina's wistful state in her third piece; Mozart's 'Dove sono i bei momenti', from The Marriage of Figaro. Her powerful voice clear on all registers, every syllable audible regardless of the required dynamics, her control was second to none.

With the following five pieces by William Walton, Elizabeth exceeded my expectations. Flowing effortlessly from the quietest to the strongest phrases, up to the highest crescendi, swooping down again with admirable control. 'Old Wapping Stairs' was a joy to listen to, the depth of her voice becoming more apparent as more was required of it. Elizabeth appeared to be enjoying the Walton songs as much as the audience.

Following the interval came my surprise. I've heard Strauss lieder performed before and it's not really my thing, but Elizabeth's voice (and I must also mention the excellent accompaniment by Simon Lepper) made them seem new and refreshing. Five lieder later I came to appreciate R. Strauss a little more.

Fresh from her rôle as Mimi in La Bohème, we were treated to a warm and delicate piece, made all the more fragile by the clear enunciation of even the softest phrases. A very moving aria indeed.

Arias from Verdi's 'Simon Boccanegra' and Gounod's 'Faust' rounded of the evening's program superbly. The audience persuaded Elizabeth to come back for an encore of Michael Head's 'Sweet Chance'.

Elizabeth Llewellyn demonstrated not only that she has technical ability and is able to sing everything from baroque, through opera to lieder, but last night she also showcased the 'character' of her voice; that quality which makes a performer's voice unique and identifiable. It has warmth, depth and a richness all her own.

I wish her all the best in what will undoubtedly be a long and interesting career.

I'm looking forward to seeing her next at Hanover Square singing 'Summertime', possibly one of the best songs ever written.

Here's to the next in the Rosenblatt Recitals series, Italian mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi!

And don't forget to bookmark the Rosenblatt Recitals YouTube page in case you've missed any of the series and to view the upcoming video of Elizabeth Llewellyn.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Rosenblatt Recitals Series: Elizabeth Llewellyn

Just a heads-up to anyone who enjoys vocal talent of the highest order, I'll be going to see one of the Rosenblatt Recitals on Weds. April 13th. This particular recital is provided by Elizabeth Llewellyn, accompanied by Simon Lepper.

More details here.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Encouraged to continue. So I shall.

As I've been encouraged to continue, by a very good friend, I shall attempt to do so. My main problem is where to start.

My interests are varied, so sometimes it really is difficult to pick a single subject.

At the moment I'm a bit preoccupied by events in Libya, mostly because I think they'll have a lasting effect upon everyone; a model to other would-be dictators on what not to do, and an example to any oppressed nation.

At the same time, in Madison Wisconsin, there are people who actually want to preserve the democracy they have and are having a difficult time of it: I'd recommend you all put boingboing on your reader feed, and if you don't have a reader feed, click on 'reader' on your gmail page.

So. The pope is being prosecuted in the same week as Gadaffi Duck:

Just remember who sold Gadaffi his planes, and Mubarak his tanks...... Here's some background so you know what Barclays, Standard Life (irony warning) and BT are up to when you give them money.

Oh, just in case you missed it, the ALL POWERFUL god of islam was righteously defended this week when another unarmed man was gunned down in the street in Pakistan: Good to know that an all-powerful, universe-creating deity has a few cowardly, illiterate morons to protect him and his bronze-age, mentally-ill, paedophile prophet. Such outstanding bravery by the 'soldiers' of Allah.

On a different note (sic) Beer and Bach by Cactus Music was lovely last week, encouraging me to go see more opera, so anyone fancy Tosca in London this summer?

Listening: Zero 7, Wasted Youth (UK), Sibelius 5th
Reading: Red Mars;Kim Stanley Robinson, The Bridge; Ian Banks, The Summer of Katya; Trevanian.

Interesting people this week: Charlie Sheen (not for anything good), the 2 Alices, Sarah and Mina (as always x)