In 2022 it was a joy to be back at the Wigmore Hall, King’s Place, English National Opera, Royal Opera and Opera Holland Park.
In February, Royal Opera House offered up an imaginative staging of Handel’s oratorio Theodora. Theodora came with a great cast, featuring the fabulous Joyce DiDonato as Irene and new countertenor, Jakub Józef Orliński, in the role of Didymus. This production was both exciting vocally and visually – with lap-dancing women and men to boot.
English National Opera meanwhile had already had memorable productions by the end of 2021 with Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, Wagner’s The Valkyrie. The Spring of 2022 brought forth the much-anticipated Handmaid’s Tale at ENO with music by Paul Ruders.It was a visual spectacle, both harrowing and gripping! Once seen – never forgotten!
In the summer of 2022 I was thrilled to attend Opera Holland Park’s Eugene Onegin. Tchaikovsky’s romantic score was beautifully played by the City of London Sinfonia under Lada Valešová’s baton. OHP Young Artist conductor Hannah von Wheeler also impressed together with Lucy Anderson in the role of Tatyana.
Little Women by contemporary composer Mark Adamo was a surprising hit at Opera Holland Park. Ella Marchment’s intelligent stage direction and composer Adamo’s contemporary score, took the classic tale of four sisters to another existential level. Charlotte Badham was a terrific Jo and it was a great cast all round.
I can’t leave my opera highlights without mentioning a trip to Paris where I was privileged to see a fabulously rare production of Gluck’s opera Armide at the Opéra Comique in Paris. If you haven’t been to this jewel of an opera house (recently restored to its former glory) go! Veronique Gens as Armide was a new soprano to discover – superb voice and actress. Once again I was impressed by the stage direction in Armide as I had been at OHP with Little Women, again a woman director was behind all of this – Lilo Baur bravo! To be commended too was Music Director and Conductor Christophe Rousset who kept a tight rein on the score – teasing it out – creating suspense, not letting the orchestra release the volume until the dramatic finale.
Onto the concert recitals -my trip to the Wigmore Hall to see pianist Pavel Kolesnikov was prompted by my friend Frances Wilson, founder of ArtMuseLondon. We heard him deliver an inspiring programme of Schubert, Reynaldo Hahn and Couperin on a Proustian theme! His intensity and focus throughout the performance made him a fascinating pianist both to listen to and to watch.
At the tail-end of 2022 it was over to the Steinway Hall to see pianist, Tal Walker, perform a rich French programme of Préludes by Fauré and Messiaen, and nocturnes by Poulenc live. It was an engrossing display of great technique and nuanced play.
Tal Walker appears in my CD choices for 2022. I have slipped in a couple of choices from past years as I believe that a CD is not just for one year!
- Tal Walker Piano/ Gabriel Fauré – Francis Poulenc and Oliver Messiaen – Préludes et Nocturnes. Walker’s CD on the label Collection Cabinet de Curiosités is a delightful French collection from start to finish.
- Still on French repertoire and sticking with the prelude – Franco-American pianist, George Lepauw, offers up Claude Debussy Préludes. Debussy’s sensual journey, with its own lyrical sound world, still surprises in its invention to this day. How satisfying to hear the préludes from all of book one and two. Released on Orchid Classics. Like a growing number of young artists of his generation, Lepauw has ignored the piano competition route in his career.
- Over to Mozart and one of my favourite artists of all time, Elisabeth Leonskaja. With her Complete Mozart Sonatas, Leonskaja Warner Classic’s recording impresses. Though she is faithful to Mozart’s score she still manages to provide fresh insights into his sonatas. This recording is a masterclass in nuance – Leonskaja knows how to shape Mozart’s melodies in sometimes surprising ways.
- Ballades – Jae-Hyuck Cho plays Chopin (Orchid)
Now here’s a pianist I would like to see live in London. He’s a big solo artist in South Korea – his Ballades are superb with all the drama they require. Lovely piano touch with his pianissimos. Orchid Classics
PIANO AND ORCHESTRA
- The Romantic Piano Concerto, Aloys Schmitt (1788-1866) Piano Concertos
A pristine recording with Howard Shelley playing Aloys Schmitt with Ulster Orchestra. Why has Aloys Schmitt, who has been compared to Mozart and Beethoven, been overlooked in music history? A refreshing sound to start your year. Out on Hyperion Records
TRUMPET AND ORCHESTRA The much-awarded trumpeter, Alison Balsom, presents Quiet City with the Britten Sinfonia. The title of the album alludes to Aaron Copland’s work which Balsom plays so perfectly. The mysterious, suspenseful jazzy vibe reappears in The Unanswered by Charles Ives on this album. This is a chilled album which makes you dream of empty city streets under the cover of darkness. Masterfully played by Balsom. Warner Classics
- Parsifal Suite by London Philharmonic Orchestra (Orchid Classics) Conducted by Andrew Gourlay – Gourlay has sewn together orchestral highlights of Wagner’s Parsifal – Loved this premier recording of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal as a 45-minute concert work.
- On Signum Records, The Complete Songs of Duparc performed by pianist Malcolm Martineau, with a line-up of stellar singers, some well-known and some who are up and coming, really hit the sweet spot with me. Henri Duparc (1848-1933) was a contemporary of Debussy, but his songs are not as well-known. Part of the reason is that this highly sensitive and intelligent artist stopped composing at the age of 37 and he is known to have destroyed a lot of his compositions. Sarah Connolly and Nicky Spence appear on this album – Connolly’s mournful mezzo just right for Au pays où se fait la guerre. Meanwhile William Thomas is a versatile bass, he is both comfortable singing the rumbustious Le Galop or the very moving and magistral La Vie Antérieure. Really a singer to look out for as well as Huw Montague Rendall who is equally adroit singing the Wagneresque Phidyelé. Martineau on piano really knows how to draw the best from each artist on this recording and his spirited performance in Phidyelé shows that he is a talented pianist in his own right.
- Regards Sur L’Infini came out in 2020. Soprano Katharine Dain sings Debussy and Messiaen and other French composers accompanied by Sam Armstrong. Dain’s voice has a wonderful luminosity . Here’s hoping that we can hear more of this American-Dutch artist. Recorded by 7 Mountain Records.
- Cantus – Covid-19 sessions on Signum Classics. What a collection of voices – exuding such warmth and hope for the time ahead. When you listen to this American male ensemble, all seems well with the world. Just listen to them sing Finlandia by Dean Sibelius and you will see what I mean!
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