strange_complex: (Nennig musicians)
Wow. I've just come back from what I think is one of the best performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion that I've ever seen. And I have seen a fair few, because the Birmingham Bach Choir perform it on Good Friday every year, and while a quick glance back through my archives tells me I haven't been to one since starting this LJ, that's not representative of my overall life-time trend.

Everything about it was good really - I was completely gripped and entranced from start to finish. The only possible gripe was that the text was sung in English - accessible, yes, and the translation used was good, but it does inevitably mess up the rhythms from time to time. I'll note down my thoughts on the soloists particularly, though, so that I know what names to look out for in future:

Christopher Gillett - Evangelist (tenor). He usually sings this role for the Bach Choir, and I'm pretty sure I've seen him do it before. And so he should, because he is just perfect. Clear, unmannered and with a brilliant range of tone and colour considering that all he has to work with is recitative. When he sang that Jesus cried aloud and died, it actually happened. And the entire auditorium rang out with stunned silence afterwards.

Paul Whelan - Christ (bass). Much the same to say about him, actually - including the fact that I'm pretty sure I've seen him as Jesus before. I don't tend to like basses, but he had little of the toneless croak which normally puts me off. Instead, he was powerful, commanding, and - when the text required it - very, very human. Plus he was extraordinarily tall, and chose to emphasise this by wearing white tie and tails. So, points for presentation.

Christopher Purves (bass). My usual rule about basses was broken even harder by this guy. I actively loved his voice. It was rich, full of tone and expression, and perfectly controlled. He just sounded to me like a good tenor with a lower-than-normal range. Hooray.

Brad Cooper (tenor). This was a substitution - we were meant to have Paul Nilon, but after hearing him recently in Orfeo, I'm not sorry we didn't. Instead, we got a young Australian guy called Brad Cooper, who was (understandably) a little nervous, but fundamentally had a nice voice. A little more work on polishing it up, and he should be one to watch.

William Towers (alto). Like I say, they were all good, but he was the star of the show for me. Absolutely took my breath away. He has incredible power, and his upper range is so sweet, pure and beautifully controlled, I sometimes I had trouble believing that it was actually a human being who was singing, and not some perfect Platonic form of a voice. His lower range isn't quite so wonderful, being a little thin (though still powerful). But for some arias, that sound really works. It was when he sang 'Have mercy, Lord'1, for which this was very much true, that I was really won over. Mum and I were giving him secret silent hand-claps behind the backs of the seats in front of us for that one, and you can rest assured that I'll be buying CDs in the very near future.

Elizabeth Watts (soprano). Not so much praise for her, in that she wasn't in any way bad, but also wasn't as outstanding as most of the others. Could perhaps have been richer in tone and greater in power, I guess. But then again, she didn't warble or shriek. Just did the job very nicely.

We also had yummy toasted hot cross buns before we came out, and also Mini Eggs in the interval (which is probably an act of High Blasphemy, or something). So, all in all, I am glad that Jesus died. Much appreciated, dude.


1. I can't be bothered to look up the usual German names for the arias, but it's a little over half-way through.

strange_complex: (Handel)
The actual reason I went up to Birmingham at the weekend was to attend a performance of Handel's oratorio, Samson at the Symphony Hall. In fact, it was a very Handel-intensive weekend. The time that wasn't spent at the concert was mainly spent copying endless CDs of Handel operas, borrowed from my Mum's friend Jean, in preparation for a course on them which I shall be attending next term in Oxford with [livejournal.com profile] redkitty23. And, since this very same Jean was actually in the concert, singing as she does in the soprano section of the City of Birmingham Bach choir, she was also able to sneak us in to spend Saturday afternoon watching the final rehearsal: orchestra, soloists and all.

The work itself )

The performance overall )

The soloists )

On the whole, then, I'd say three-and-a-half tumbling temples out of five tumbling temples. Not the perfect performance, but I'm glad I went, and I'd certainly make the effort to catch it again.

strange_complex: (Handel)
I spent the weekend up in Brum with the parentals, partly for the sake of some general family time, but mainly to take part in a 'Sing Along with the CBSO' event on Sunday. I've attended one of these before, singing the Messiah two years ago: then, as now, accompanied by my uncle (a fellow tenor) and an unrelated aunt (alto). We all agreed that both experiences were excellent.

It's partly the scale of these things that makes them. I think about 1000 singers turned up for the Messiah. This weekend, I was one of 1400 singing Vivaldi's Gloria and Fauré's Requiem: including some 250 tenors, and a healthy proportion of ladies amongst them. Of course, as part of the singing masses, you never quite get the chance to catch what the overall sound is like for an observer. But I was reliably informed by my watching mother, father and other aunt that it was quite an experience.

Being accompanied by a professional orchestra [CBSO = City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra], and a damn good one at that, is also a real plus, as were the soloists involved - three very promising-sounding students from various music schools. But the greatest credit of all goes to Simon Halsey, the City of Birmingham Chorus director, whose friendly patois, obvious enthusiasm and ability to communicate directly and clearly with people at all levels of musical experience had all 1400 of us rapt with attention and eager to do our very best for him.

I still think Fauré's Requiem is a poor showing compared to Vivaldi's Gloria - I tried my best to like it, but had only got to the point of grudgingly admitting that it was OK by the end of the evening. Mind you, it has to be said that the tenors got more tunes out of Fauré than they did Vivaldi, even if they weren't such good tunes. So I enjoyed singing both, and especially enjoyed discovering how well I could get away with turning up not having practised the Fauré at all, and relying entirely on sight-reading and having listened to the tape a few times. I'd have been sunk without people who knew what they were doing around me, but since I did have them, it was All Right.

I also used the opportunity to reclaim about 1/3 of the possessions I'd put into storage before going to Belfast, which were kindly driven down to Oxford by my Dad at the end of the weekend, along with me and a new bookcase to put them in. Mainly I concentrated on books and videos this time, since I knew they could go in the bookcase. But I've also reclaimed piles of old photographs, and my two beloved framed Piranesi sketches of Roman column bases, capitals and sculptural fragments. These, it turns out, are the things I've missed most. Books and videos are great, but ultimately ephemeral, especially once you've read or watched them once. But the photos are unique, while the Piranesi sketches just add a verneer of class and sophistication to my flat which has been somewhat lacking since I moved back here. Perhaps they will help me to get that book finished, eh?

Ten-minute update

Wednesday, 9 November 2005 10:18
strange_complex: (Computer baby)
I'm rather behind with documenting things I've done recently, and a combination of tiredness and busy-ness makes this unlikely to change soon. So, in the 10 minutes before I have to go and give a lecture, I present a really rushed outline of what I've been up to in the past few days:

Friday: went to Brum to see Andreas Scholl with La Mia Mama. The concert was entitled 'Senesino, Handel's Muse', and consisted entirely of arias originally written for the castrato Senesino (with a few instrumental interludes to give Scholl's voice a rest). Since Senesino was a contralto rather than a soprano, these can now be sung by Scholl, and he did so brilliantly. My stance on Scholl is that although I recognise his technical brilliance, my personal taste is such that I'm not actually that bowled over by the tones of his voice, especially when it is in the centre of its range (both in terms of pitch and volume). There's a slight rough, rushing sound around the edges which I'd prefer to do without. However, when called upon to swell and fade a long note, hit unusually high notes or perform complicated ornaments, the rushing sound vanishes, and he suddenly becomes some kind of vocal deity, causing jaws to fall in astonishment. Overall, I prefer the very pure sound of Robin Blaze's voice. But I admit that Scholl does beat Blaze when the stakes get really high, and he will always be more suited to operatic work for that reason.

Afterwards, we queued like a pair of fangirls for autographs, and I also bought the CD which Scholl has already produced of the evening's programme. Then went home and bought 'The Last Castrato', a collection of recordings made in the early 20th century by a man named Alessandro Moreschi. This was in response to the pre-concert talk, which had been all about castrati, and had revealed to me that there exists not one tiny snippet of this guy singing, as I'd thought, but in fact a whole plethora of the stuff. It also made me realise that, although not necessarily to modern tastes, he was a better singer than I'd previously believed. It'll take a while to arrive, since it's coming from America, but I can't wait to become more familiar with this voice.

Saturday: woke up in Brum having spent night with parents. Sat over coffee watching Dad replace the batteries in his 30-year-old Grundig 'Yacht Boy' radio, and explain how everyone in the country had been sent little stickers saying '3' and '4' like the ones on it when the change was made from the Third Programme and the Home Service to Radio 3 and Radio 4.

Then proceeded up to Manchester for [livejournal.com profile] angeoverhere's 30th birthday, where I caught up with some of my Bristol buddies and met some new faces from B'ham, Leeds and Manchester itself. We hung out for the afternoon in a gay bar called Taurus, and then headed for a Syrian restaurant in the evening, while Manchester made a fine attempt at exploding in celebration of Bonfire Night. Slept pretty well, and then had lunch together the next day, before heading back down to Oxford on the Sunday to finish off a lecture in a panic and deliver it on the Monday. It went fine, though. They always do.

Have also started to watch Imperium: Augustus recently, having finally worked out how to switch the Dutch subtitles off. It's very, erm... special, and will be blogged in detail later. And had a quick look on Monday at The Masque of the Red Death, realised the costumes aren't quite as amazing as I'd remembered, but have still had some decent ideas for the ball.

Well, it's lucky I'm such a quick typist (although I'm sure this is full of mistakes). Now for that lecture!

Edit: some small editing after the event to fill in details, clarify points and correct errors.

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