Gluck CD: Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Five Stars in BBC Music Magazine & nominated for ICMA award

BBC Music Magazine Opera Choice December 2019

“Conductor David Bates is, like Gluck, wonderfully radical. Whereas other directors smooth over disjunctions, he revels in rupture”

“Davies radiates Orfeo’s impassioned tenderness”

‘This is directorship at its most alert, and aiding Bates is an optimal cast’

“It’s the stuff of Gluck’s dreams”

Gramophone Editor’s Choice December 2019 

This is the first version of Gluck’s opera, composed for Vienna in 1762, complete on one CD: not quite penny plain, as David Bates has included the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ from the Paris version of 1774. It comes from Pentatone, Gramophone’s 2019 Label of the Year, and it’s very fine. It’s hard to believe that it was recorded live, as there’s not a peep from the audience: no coughing, no applause.

I wish the booklet had named the singers and players of La Nuova Musica. The chorus has much to do, and I lost count of the number of times it ravished the ear. When the lament that opens the opera returns, it has a greater urgency. Similarly, the Furies’ first chorus is given extra momentum by the crescendo at the repeat of ‘sull’orme d’Ercole e di Piritoo’. When the spirits finally take pity on Orfeo, their hushed singing gives way to a marvellous intensity in another crescendo before the music dies away. When the Blessed Spirits announce the arrival of Euridice the pastoral lightness is just right. I couldn’t detect any difference between the first time’s Andantino and the second’s Allegretto – which presumably implies a slightly faster tempo – but no matter.

The orchestra, too, is extremely accomplished. There’s a delightful hint of portamento in the introduction to the first chorus (and again in the postlude). The horns are splendidly prominent, both in the ‘orribile sinfonia’ to Act 2 and in the minore sections of the second Ballo at the end. The dances are all played with fire or grace, as appropriate; and the flute, oboe and cello obbligatos in ‘Che puro ciel’ are beautifully phrased and perfectly balanced. (The recording producer is Gramophone’s Jonathan Freeman-Attwood.)

The soloists are magnificent. Iestyn Davies sings smoothly throughout, hitting top Ds and Es with no sense of strain. He could show a greater sense of wonder when entering the Elysian Fields, but his grief in Act 1 and his encounter with the Furies are vividly conveyed. ‘Che farò’ is restrained, quite reasonably: it’s the Paris version that has the more emphatic, desperate conclusion. Euridice appears only in Act 3. Sophie Bevan comes across powerfully, getting more and more stroppy as she rails at Orfeo for not looking at her. Rebecca Bottone has a perfect voice for Amore (Cupid), light and bright. ‘Gli sguardi trattieni’ is taken more slowly than usual: the tempo suits the words but not, I think, the tune.

High praise, then, for David Bates and his ensemble. This is a serious rival to the excellent Sony recording conducted by Frieder Bernius, with Michael Chance, Nancy Argenta, the Stuttgart Chamber Choir and the Canadian orchestra Tafelmusik.

Cassandra Miller interview

Cassandra Miller is a Canadian composer living in London. She combines teaching and her own post-graduate studies with an approach to composition that has been described ‘unclassifiable’ (by Music Works magazine). Her composition technique encompasses both notated and non-notated approaches, and always evolve in response to collaborative relationships with the musicians for whom she writes.

Cassandra has been commissioned to compose a new piece for La Nuova Musica which will receive its first performance at Wigmore Hall in January 2020, as part of LNM’s ‘A French Affair’ programme. It will then be repeated at the same venue in July as part of LNM’s ‘An Italian Sojourn’ programme. Both programmes revolve around the music of Henry Purcell and it is Purcell who provides the inspiration behind Miller’s piece. We caught up with her to ask how it was going.

First of all, how did you become involved with LNM and this commission?

David Bates posted on Facebook asking for recommendations of composers who write music inspired by existing works, and who write well for voice. It seems my name came up in many of the replies so David got in touch to tell me more.

I have worked several times with EXAUDI, a vocal group who specialise in contemporary music but many of the singers are trained in baroque style, so I think this experience helped.

David and I met and hit it off straight away and although it’s unusual for me to plunge straight into a project with a new partner organisation without getting to know one another first, this just felt right – a magical match.

Tell us about the piece you’re writing for LNM’s concerts at Wigmore Hall in Jan and July and how it fits into the programmes.

It’s one piece which will be played twice – specifically designed to complement both programmes, which are centred on music by Purcell and the composers who influenced him as well as those who admired him. The first programme (January) explores the relationship between Purcell and French music of the era – a style of music inextricably linked to dance. The second examines Purcell and music from Italy – with its unique blend of colour and lyricism (i.e. the ornamentation within long lines of a single breath). Both programmes reflect the bright, colourful context within which Purcell composed. I wanted the piece to be all about the voice and vocal performance, so it was natural to base it on Purcell’s vocal music.

Can you tell us about the process of composing the piece?

I like to compose using people as the starting point: in this case the two singers who will be performing (countertenor Chris Lowrey and tenor Nick Pritchard). They are experts on baroque opera and they bring this experience and skill into what’s essentially a collaborative process. The music is really about them and their own unique way of singing. I often work closely with singers and their input influences the finished work. This is of course different to the traditional method of composing, sitting alone in a room. I get to know the singers, their interests and background, and essentially, what makes them feel excited, alive and what makes their voice soar. So, it’s a lot of talking at first!

The next stage involves the singers listening to music with headphones (in this case, a specific extract from Purcell’s Fairie Queen) and I invite them to sing along. They keep doing this until they are almost in a meditative state – that’s when I start recording their voices. I then play the recording back to them and ask them to sing along again – and I record that ‘performance’. The process is repeated until I feel we have the ‘essence’ of a musical line. It’s a way of discovering what the music can be: what is captured when they are in touch with the bodily sensations as they sing in that meditative state; the unique relationship between the original piece and the piece they ‘created’. Baroque performance is such a physical way of performing and my piece demands physical input from the singers, so there’s a link there.

How will this work in live performance?

For the concerts, they won’t be meditating although I do sometimes require that from performers. In this case, the process I just described is the preparation – the research into what this music can be – then I will capture it and write it down for performance by the singers, strings and continuo. I suppose it’s a hybrid of my meditative technique and the more traditional approach to composition.

Does the piece have a title yet?

Not yet but I will think of one soon! The Fairie Queen may provide inspiration for a title. The whole aspect of sleep, night and mystery at the core of the opera perfectly suits this meditative approach to composition. The intertwining of magic and nature Shakespeare so beautifully captures in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (on which the Fairie Queen is loosely based) really works with the active florid lines of the music. In fact, the juxtaposition of this colourful, active music and the dreamy/meditative theme is an interesting one – I hope the end result will energise the audience and not put them to sleep!

Five star review for Classical Women

Lucy Crowe joined us for two performances of Classical Women in November 2019.

★★★★★ Review in The Times from Bath MozartFest

Bath is no stranger to star singers. In the 18th century the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini drew in Europe’s prima donnas for his concert series. He would have snapped up Lucy Crowe, whose exceptional Handel and Mozart recital graced this year’s Bath Mozartfest. Her voice glittered as brilliantly as the Assembly Rooms’ crystal chandeliers, and she packed in more than enough drama to have amused those gossiping Georgians.

If Crowe’s soprano was once exquisitely pure and light, it has matured into something far more interesting. None of the beauty is lost. Nor her unshakeable technique: Crowe made the difficult athleticism of Ah! Se il crudel periglio from Mozart’s Lucio Silla look easy, ending with a mock wipe of the brow. Her coloratura is pinpoint clear; those high notes ping like stars in a night sky. Her ornamentation is imaginative and eloquent. Yet her sound is now so much richer, the colours more varied. Expression is everything.

In Handel the emotion was visceral. Crowe poured out anguish as the abandoned sorceress Alcina in Ah! mio cor; the word “sola” exhaled in desperation, “pianto” a tear-filled cry. Spiky strings scratched through to the heart. The creeping disquiet conjured in Ombre pallide, also from Alcina, left a shadow in the soul. There was some hope, at least, in a finely judged Dove sono from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

La Nuova Musica was on exhilarating form, from agile double bass to virtuosic leader. The instrumental interludes — even the ubiquitous Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik — were wonderfully fresh. And the conductor David Bates, his gestures fluid and natural, was entirely at one with Crowe.

The superb programme explored 18th-century women who, Bates hoped, might “resonate with contemporary thinking”. At the end there were flowers for her, wine for him. With a wry look, Crowe whisked away his bottle and handed him her bouquet. Equality in action


Listen to BBC Radio 3 In Tune from Monday 11 November with Lucy Crowe, David Bates and musicians from LNM performing extracts from Handel’s Giulio Cesare


Watch Classic FM’s video of the rehearsal at St John’s Smith Square

Mozart from Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica

Tonight, soprano Lucy Crowe and La Nuova Musica with conductor David Bates perform virtuosic arias from Handel and Mozart. This is from Mozart's opera Mitridate and isn't it extraordinary? If you're in London do get along to St John’s Smith Square if you can 👉

Posted by Classic FM on Tuesday, 12 November 2019