A Clarinet in America and the American sound

What is it that makes American classical music of the 1940s and 1950s so distinctive and so different from ours from that period? For one thing, it is so very upbeat. I asked myself this question this week, as I listened to Clarinet in America, which showcases music by Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Miklós Rózsa. I…

Soprano Lara Martins Sings Guarnieri the Brazilian Mozart

Lara Martins sings Guarnieri, the Brazilian Mozart. During this pandemic, I have listened to many new CD releases and have marvelled at what singers have been able to produce during such difficult times. Several lockdowns have brought about much soul-searching and thinking outside the box. Some artists have been inspired to explore, indeed embrace new…

Rank amateur

I’m writing this piece on the birth date of my favourite composer, Schubert. Here’s to you, Franz. Has Schubert always been my favourite composer? No, not at all. I first got seriously into classical music through choral works, so from the outset Byrd and Pärt were vying for my affections. I found opera through Adams,…

Spade work: The Dig on Netflix

The discovery of the Sutton Hoo hoard  in 1939 as the nation was on the brink of war was England’s ‘Tutankhamun moment’, and the unearthing of the many “wondrous things” from the Suffolk soil marked a significant moment in archaeology and the understanding and appreciation of Anglo-Saxon society, culture and art. The Dig, a newly-released…

April Frederick and ESO Latest Recording Impresses

After performing Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs with English Symphony Orchestra in March of last year, soprano, April Frederick, went down with Covid. For a month she was unable to sing due to numbing fatigue.  On the 26th July she returned to singing, recording Strauss’s magnificent songs on a new album called Visions of Childhood with ESO. This is an astonishingly…

Vida Breve: Stephen Hough, piano

‘Vida Breve’ (Short Life) – Stephen Hough, piano (Hyperion CDA68260) It seems fitting that Stephen Hough’s new album ‘Vida Breve’, featuring music on the theme of death, should be released while we are still in the thrall of the coronavirus. But this album is not a response to the pandemic and was in fact conceived…

Edinburgh a divided city in Alastair White’s Fantasy Opera

In his new opera, ROBE, Alastair White focusses on the town of Edinburgh. This is the future, and the Scottish city has lost its way. Mapmaker Rowan is called in by the elders to map it out again, so that it may relive. In order to carry out this enterprise, Rowan is to pierce the…

César Franck’s Cello Sonata

  After the Paris Commune came to an end in 1871 and right up to the First World War, Paris enjoyed a period of frenzied reconstruction and renewal. Paris’s renaissance is referred to today as la Belle Epoque (The Beautiful Era). Most memorable were the universal exhibitions that took place during this period of great optimism,…

Himalayers: revisiting and revising ‘Black Narcissus’

‘Black Narcissus’ has, like the mountain palace of Mopu itself, been haunting me for some days now, after watching both the new TV adaptation and going back to the 1947 Powell & Pressburger (‘P&P’) film. What is the allure of this strange story, and why does Rumer Godden’s original novel somehow elude both versions? *…

Margaret Catchpole Horse Stealer

 Based on Victorian bestseller The History of Margaret Catchpole, ‘Margaret Catchpole’, the opera, is the story of a Suffolk servant girl who steals a horse to join her lover in London. In the 18th century when this true story played out, horse-stealing was a capital offence.   Stephen Dodgson’s opera was a slow burner during his lifetime. It…