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.