Category Archives: plymouth
A new-created world
Our next concert it Haydn’s Creation, this Sunday (December 1st) at the Guildhall, Plymouth. A work so well-known it should need no introduction. Should be a decent concert for those in the area.
After the two great Bach Passions, this is a third piece we’re singing in a new translation. Again, there’s no new value, but this time there’s another rationale: supposedly the German text isn’t authoritative either. The original text should be the Bible (Genesis) – which gives more-or-less unlimited scope to pick-a-translation – and Paradise Lost.
My view: while it’s true that the German text leaves something to be desired, this translation isn’t it any more than the well-known translation – which is more singable. But there’s very little change: this is again a long way from new.
A week today, Saturday July 6th, we’re performing Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle at Plymouth’s Catholic Cathedral. A work that’s lots of fun and should be worth coming to if you’re in the area. Though also one I’m feeling I’ve done rather too often in recent years, and I might even make this the third major work in the concert repertoire I’ve sung from memory without the score (after the Messiah and Carmina Burana).
This is a summer concert, with interval cheese-and-wine (or somesuch) included in the ticket price.
Time to mention our next concert: one of the greatest of all Easter works. Bach’s St Matthew Passion, at the Guildhall, Plymouth, a week today (Sunday April 14th).
This work should need no introduction, and I have no hesitation recommending it to readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth. I’m looking forward to it.
Just one downside. As with our performance of the St John’s Passion three years ago, this is a “new” Novello translation. I think if I’d come to these (translations) in reverse order my criticisms might have been a little different, but the underlying point remains: these are about money. A rentier publisher contemptuously saying screw the art. And I can now answer the question I posed then: with ISIS no longer having the earthly power to destroy more great heritage, Novello score a clear victory in the cultural vandalism stakes.
The Dream of Gerontius
For our next concert, the Plymouth Philharmonic Choir and Plymouth Symphony Orchestra join forces for a performance of Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, one of the biggest and most complex works in the concert repertoire. We will be under the baton of the orchestra’s conductor Anne Kimber, and I’m much looking forward to it.
The performance is next Sunday, November 25th, at the Guildhall, Plymouth. I think the work is sufficiently well known to need no introduction for music lovers, and I have no hesitation recommending it to readers in the area.
Our next concert is a week tomorrow: Sunday July 1st at the Guildhall, Plymouth. This concert presents three works, all of them new to me and one of them to all of us. Overall an exciting programme of some lovely works, and firmly recommended to those readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.
The least-novel and least-exciting work is Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise. This is in a similar idiom to his much more famous oratorio Elijah, though less bloodthirsty (and less of an actual story). The music is similarly lovely, and if you enjoy Elijah you’ll like this. However, it’s not so well-written for singers, and is physically exhausting.
Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, Coleridge-Taylor’s setting of Longfellow’s epic poem, is a middling-level bucket-list work for me to sing in, and I’m thrilled to be doing it now. This is a long poem in trochaic tetrameter, which has always seemed to me fiendishly difficult to set to music. And though you couldn’t call the Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s 9th symphony boring, it is undoubtedly very four-square, pushed into that mould by the shoehorn of a rhythmically-similar but much shorter poem. Yet there’s no hint of that in this piece: it flows effortlessly. That Coleridge-Taylor’s creative imagination with such a rhythm outshines mine is of course unremarkable, but that he should do the same to Beethoven is indeed impressive!
Tonally it’s also interesting. Premiered in 1898, it’s on the cusp of the 20th century. There’s no hint of C20 dissonance, but the tonality is constantly on the move, and seems to me to carry hints of what was to come, both in the English Pastoral and the Verismo movements. If you enjoy the gorgeous-yet-dramatic harmonic language of a Puccini opera or a Vaughan-Williams symphony, this foreshadows them both.
Finally, Bob Chilcott’s Dances of Time. Published only in 2015, I had never heard of this until scores were handed out. These five songs are pure pleasure. And if you ever thought modern music can’t be easy both to sing and to listen to without being trite “crossover”, this is a perfect counterexample: gorgeous yet always fresh. Though having said that, I think the virtue of brevity is essential to its appeal: it’s the perfect length for what it is.
Our next concert is the Monteverdi Vespers, on Nov. 26th at the Guildhall, Plymouth. This work, untypical of its own time as well as our own, makes an interesting change from our usual repertoire. Simple individual lines and harmonies rooted firmly in renaissance polyphony, yet with complex (and sometimes fiendish to hold) interweaving textures, and a level of both vocal and orchestral flourishes and ornamentation that makes it arguably the first major work of the Baroque era.
I’m glad to be singing it, and I think it’ll be a good evening out for those in or near Plymouth. Hope to see some of my readers there!
The Great B Minor
This Sunday, May 21st, we’re performing Bach’s B Minor Mass at the Guildhall, Plymouth. This work needs no introduction, and I have no hesitation recommending it for readers who enjoy music and are within evening-out distance of Plymouth.
Tickets are cheaper in advance than on the door, so you might want to visit your favourite regular ticket vendor or google for online sales.
Minor curiosity: the edition we’re using was edited by Arthur Sullivan. Yes, he of G&S, and an entirely different era and genre of music! It’s also the Novello edition used in most performances in Britain.
We have a summer concert coming up next Sunday (July 3rd) at the Guildhall, Plymouth.
This is a predominantly lightweight programme of modern music: some short pieces and two medium-length works. As we started rehearsing, I thought that a set of madrigals, or even Beatles arrangements, would fit the programme nicely, though neither is included.
The two more substantial works are Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna and Rutter’s Feel the Spirit. I can recommend both these works as well worth coming to hear.
Lauridsen is new to me. My first reaction to the score of Lux Aeterna was, nice to do once, but nothing to write home about. If theme and variations is a classical form, this could be kind-of described as chord and variations. Since then it’s been growing on me: this is an interesting work (and I hope it’ll be wonderful to listen to), and some of what I first thought weaknesses actually do work and make sense as effects. The text is Latin and religious, the orchestration sparing, the setting contemplative, and it comes as no surprise to find Lauridsen is contemporary with Tavener and Pärt. The music also hints at older choral traditions, from plainchant to (possibly) eastern orthodox, though I’m not really competent to judge such things.
The Rutter is a set of seven well-known negro spirituals. Like Tippett’s settings, these are for classical forces. But compared to Tippett this is lighter, more playful. Glorious tunes and lots of fun, and full of characteristic Rutter syncopations and cheeky modulations. You’ll be whistling those tunes as you go home, but they’ll catch you out!
Our next concert in Plymouth is Bach’s St John’s Passion. That’s at the Guildhall on Sunday, March 20th, and I have no hesitation recommending this wonderful work to readers in the area.
Having said that, there is one thing wrong. We’re to perform in English using the new Novello edition. It’s a new translation, and in a couple of places the words are a very poor fit to the music. It comes with some bullshit about aiming to sound like the original German, so for example we’d have similar vowel sounds and hence vocal colour on important notes. That’s pure nonsense: it does no such thing. Furthermore, it’s not really a new translation: in places it’s identical to the old, and in others it’s much closer to the old translation than either is to the German text. I can only conclude that the sole reason for the “new” translation is to assert copyright on a score that would otherwise soon be out of it. Which begs the question: who are the bigger cultural vandals: ISIS or Novello?
Also on the subject of seasonal music, I sang in another easter concert yesterday. I didn’t blog about it because I was recruited for it at the last moment, and wasn’t clear on the details in advance. The easter music included Stainer’s Crucifixion and Vaughan Williams’s five mystical songs. A nice little event in a nice village church.
Our next concert is Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah, which we’re performing at the Guildhall, Plymouth on Sunday, December 6th.
This work tells the biblical story of the prophet Elijah, a tale of extreme violence, opening with a genocide and featuring a classic massacre in the middle, as well as a euphemistically-violent ending. Elijah himself is surely the greatest of all role models for, among others, the bloodiest of modern Islamic terrorists (indeed, everything we know about Bin Laden echoes Elijah’s story). For added cognitive dissonance, the bloody tales are interlaced with gentle and serene proclamations of God’s goodness and boundless mercy: war was peace long before Orwell and Newspeak!
As for the music, Mendelssohn was of course one of the master tunesmiths of all time. There’s a lot that’s lovely, scenes that are quite exciting, and a fair few tunes that listeners will find familiar. Set for soloists, a substantial chorus and middling-sized orchestra. I think I can recommend it to readers within evening-out distance of Plymouth.