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An opera in two scenes
“A Dinner Engagement (Aldeburgh, 1954) was written for Britten's English Opera Group, suited their resources and philosophy admirably and was much admired by Britten himself. This jewel of a one-act comic opera has somehow escaped the record catalogue for half a century.
The period is that of British kitchen-sink theatre in the 1950s; however, this kitchen is an aristocratic one. Lord and Lady Dunmow, living in desperately reduced circumstances, have invited the Grand Duchess of Monteblanco to dinner. The Dunmows ardently hope that the Duchess's batchelor son, Prince Philippe, might be interested in their daughter Susan. Paul Dehn's libretto abounds in amusing incidents enroute to a happy ending. The layout of the opera is an impeccable blend of aria and recitative; the scoring is colourful and effective; and the piece is full of memorable tunes.
Anne Collins as the Duchess is magnificent; Claire Rutter as Susan is enchanting; Robin Leggate makes a mellifluously charming Prince.
This is an all-star cast, and the Mozartian ensembles are scintillating. Once again enormous credit to Richard Hickox, whose total understanding of Berkeley's music gives him unrivalled authority in this long-delayed début.
Well recorded, too.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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This complete premiere recording of James Dillon's technical and intellectual tour de force, the five volumes of The Book of Elements, is performed by Noriko Kawai, for whom Volume 2 was written.
“The book teems with subtle cross-references, like the sudden reappearance in the last volume of the
amamzingly Debussian gesture that launched the whole cycle. There are other echoes, too, from Schumann,
Bartók, even folk music and rock. It adds up to something rich, strange and utterly riveting. The recording is
beautifully fine-grained and warm, and the performances from Noriko Kawai have just the right combination
of cat-like energy and delicate inwardness.” BBC Music Magazine
“There's a marvellously flamboyant spontaneity and exuberance The Book of Elements, demonstrating his view of the elements – air, water and so on – as standing for 'different forms of energy'. Energy is life, life is both time and transience, and the composer's over-riding concern is with images of impermanence and flux. These determine musical processes that speak of the inherent fragility of life and the essential sadness of attempts to construct something relatively stable and permanent in sound.
The work, composed between 1996 and 2003, is in five volumes with a clear formal trajectory, comprising 11, 7, 5, 3 and 1 pieces respectively.
The listener is kept enthralled, not only by allusions to familiar generic prototypes (toccata or moto perpetuo at one extreme, nocturne or threnody at the other), but also by a musical language that plays with perceptions about centricity: repeated notes or chords reconfigure traditional, even tonal identities as much as they contradict them. All this is accomplished with a mastery of piano style in which the entire history of keyboard virtuosity from Frescobaldi to Ligeti is thrown into the melting pot.
The Book of Elements began with a commission from Roger Woodward, and Rolf Hind, Nicolas Hodges and Ian Pace have all been associated with individual volumes. But Noriko Kawai has become most closely involved with this music, and she offers an unfailingly persuasive realisation, helped by a recording of exemplary immediacy and atmosphere. While she has ample reserves of strength for the many episodes of turbulence, the delicacy with which she plays the soft yet immensely intricate polyphony of the third piece of Volume 3 is even more remarkable.
Dillon manages to use all the instrument's traditional technical devices for prolonging sound with barely a hint of cliché. The final dispersal of energy at the end of the fifth volume, coming as it does after a positive Hammerklavier of trills and tremolos, is one of the great moments of early 21st-century music, simply because it speaks as much of affirmation as of dissolution. It sets the seal on a memorable release.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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On a Night Like This
Love Songs by Ernesto Lecuona
Carole Farley (soprano), John Constable (piano)
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Telemann: Paris Quartets vol. 2
“Printed in Paris by Le Clerc without Telemann's permission in 1736 but composed in Hamburg in 1730, the first six of these quartets called 'Quadri' were such a success that the composer himself was able to have printed – through a 'Privilege du Roi' – another six, the Nouveauxquatours en suites, in 1738. That set, too, had originated in the German city but also went down a treat with the Parisians.
Both groups are written for flute, violin, viola da gamba (with an alternative part for cello) and basso continuo, and comprise the composer's total output for this set of instruments. But confusingly, he divided 'Quadri' into pairs titled concertos, sonatas and suites; and in Concerto Primo, Florilegium use the cello while sticking with the gamba for the remaining pieces.
As before, James Johnstone is the right sort of continuo player, an inventive and expressive presence, not an intrusion. His colleagues are of a similar persuasion and their responses to both the robustness and delicacy of the music is exemplified in the first movement ('Allègrement') of the A minor quartet and second movement ('Légèrement') of the G major quartet.
These interpretations are of very high calibre.
The image is on the close side and the lines are a little crowded; a reduction in volume helps separate them and convey more clearly the nuances in the playing.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“…an enchanting collection… Florilegium are masterly in this repertoire and, built on the imaginative continuo work of James Johnstone, offer charming delights aplenty.” Gramophone Magazine, Awards Issue 2005
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“Orlando finto pazzo ('Orlando feigns madness') was the second of Vivaldi's numerous operas, and his first for the Venetian stage. The story of Orlando's madness is taken not from the usual source, Ariosto's poem Orlando furioso, but Boiardo's earlier Orlando innamorato, a similarly tragicomic mix of love, intrigue and magic. In Ariosto's poem Orlando's madness is real, but here he pretends it for no obvious reason; in fact it's no more than a couple of episodes in a convoluted and unengaging plot built around a lovepentangle (no less), and further complicated by various disguises and rampant dissembling.
As it happens, Vivaldi doesn't on this evidence appear to have been a natural musical dramatist.
Yet what makes this music worth hearing is his evident desire to make an operatic splash at his first major attempt: there's music of irrepressible zest and personality; this early attempt deploys all the fiery and ebullient energy of his concertos and allies it to vocal music of neck-tingling excitement. Like Haydn, Vivaldi may not have been a great opera composer, but he did write operas full of great music.
Alessandro de Marchi's joyous recording brings together a typical Italian Baroque cast for a performance and recording of skill and enthusiasm.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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