Increasingly friends seem to be choosing Candlemas as the day they take down their Christmas decorations. It is the 40th day after the birth of Christ and for many marks the traditional end of the Christmas-Epiphany period. The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is the occasion of the Christian festival celebrated on this day, on which candles are taken to churches and blessed for use through the year.
I thought this somewhat forgotten and neglected feast-day would
also be a good time to share a 2024 Playlist, looking forward to our summer
festival, playing excerpts from our upcoming productions and, in the process,
avoiding the flood of communications with which we are all bombarded over
Christmas and the New Year. Included also is a selection of random musical
treats which happened to suggest themselves during the compilation.
I hope you appetites are whetted here by a track or two and
encourage you to come to a performance at The Grange this summer, if you have
not yet decided to do so. We look forward to welcoming you.
Track 1: Maria wallt zum heiligtum – When to the temple Mary went (Johannes Eckard). Gesualdo Six
We start with a much loved 16th century motet for this very day sung in the original German by the a capella group of the moment.
Track 2: The Rake’s Progress Act 1 Scene 1. (Stravinsky). Jerry Hadley.
The first of our tasters for the summer festival. The Rake’s Progress is the story of the decline and fall of poor Tom Rakewell. We hear him for the first time in this little aria, which ends with his plaintive plea “I wish I had money!”. The singer here is the incomparable Jerry Hadley with whom I sang and recorded Handel’s Messiah. What a lovely person he was. He died tragically young.
Track 3: Carmen Variations. Vladimir Horowitz.
A throw back to our first season. The Russian virtuoso pianist composed these variations on the Gypsy Dance from Bizet’s opera as a show-stopping encore.
Track 4: “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca (Giacomo Puccini). Franco Corelli.
Our second summer festival sneak preview.
On the eve of his execution, Cavaradossi sits in his cell remembering an intimate encounter with Tosca. All the senses are evoked in the words of this aria. Even without Puccini’s music, the sound of the words alone convey their meaning.
E lucevan le stelle…the stars were shining. In other words there was no moon: only the stars were seen. It was pitch black. e olezzava la terra…and the earth gave off its perfume. The intensity of this nocturnal smell prompts powerful emotions. stridea l’uscio dell’orto…the garden gate screeched: now the sense of hearing. Cavaradossi hears his lover approach but can see nothing. e un passo sfioriva la rena…and a footstep brushed the sand. He hears her step (as we do) and with the alliterative sound of sfioriva we feel the softness of Tosca’s foot. entrava ella, fragrante…He can’t see his beloved, but can smell her scent mi cadea fra le braccia…She fell into my arms. At last they touch.
One sense left - taste… Oh, dolci baci…sweet kisses.
Track 5: Partita 3 for solo violin – Prelude (J.S. Bach). Rachel Podger
It’s always rewarding to feature musicians performing now, and especially ones I know and have made music with. Rachel gets to the heart, the wit, the inventiveness, of this joyous music. It’s such fun to work with her and a challenge to be at her level.
Track 6: Now Voyager (Max Steiner). Charles Gerhardt.
For me, just as romantic a movie as Casablanca. Bette Davis plays the heart-throb lead. Never again was she so alluring. Max Steiner’s score leads the way. This is the film above all others which romanticizes the cigarette. Who can fail to shed a tear with the final line “Oh Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon; we have the stars” and its accompanying orchestral crescendo?
Track 7: Scherzo from Octet (Mendelssohn). Academy of St Martin in the fields.
Irresistibly joyous music, looking forward to spring and summer. 16-year old Mendelssohn announced his genius with this piece, described as “one of the miracles of 19th century music”.
Track 8: Pur ti miro from “L”Incoronazione di Poppea (Monteverdi). Sylvia McNair and Dana Hanchard.
We glimpse our third summer opera, The Coronation of Poppea; its outrageously intimate and triumphant ending, Nero and his new empress wife Poppea flaunt their amorous obsession in public having successfully got rid of everything and everyone in their path to absolute power. I gaze on you. I relish you. I embrace you. I enchain you.
Track 9: Le Mal de Vivre. Cécile McLorin Salvant
The star of our jazz concerts this summer sings her own version of the classic 1964 chanson by Barbara, one of my favourite chanteuses, known as ‘La chanteuse de minuit’. This song is definitely nocturnal.
“Blues. That we must live well Worth living You can put it on your shoulder Or like a jewel on your hand Like a buttonhole flower Or just at the tip of a break It’s not necessarily misery But it’s tears in my eyelids………The joy of living Oh, come and experience Your joy of living”
Track 10: Daphnis et Chloé (Ravel). Sinfonia of London/John Wilson
You may remember John Wilson and the John Wilson Orchestra’s two visits to The Grange in 2018 and 2019 giving us songs from the shows in their original fully orchestrated versions. Here is a brand new recording with his hand-picked supergroup orchestra of virtuosi in as lush and as resplendent a representation of sunrise as you could possibly imagine.
Track 11: Don Quixote (Ludwig Minkus).
More ballet music, chosen as another foretaste of the summer. We are so pleased to welcome a renowned ballet company from the Czech Republic, celebrating their centenary this year. The National Ballet of Brno has devised a special balletic sequence, “Oktetto” for The Grange in their first ever visit to UK. This is the company for whom Prokofiev wrote “Romeo and Juliet” and who first danced it in Brno 0n 30th December 1938. 20 of their lead dancers will be bringing the theatre at The Grange to creative life on June 6th.
Track 12: Frère, voyez le beau bouquet! from Werther (Massenet). Isabel Buchanan
In November we auditioned nearly 300 singers to be in our festival chorus of 24. . Here is a delightful aria which is often sung by aspiring young sopranos. Here is a young Scottish soprano whom some of you may remember. I sang with her and was entranced by her effortless lyricism. A lovely person.
Track 13: Petrushka (Stravinsky). Temirkanov.
The last balletic offering showing Stravinsky in his younger more authentic Russian mode. Shrovetide Fair in Admiralty Square in St Petersburg in 1830. A Russian Dance amidst the throng.
Track 14: Before the Cross (Martin Phipps, from the original soundtrack to the BBC series War and Peace). Latvian Radio Choir.
Chosen for two reasons: 1. Because I have known the composer and his family for much of my life, and 2. Because of the deeply affecting sound of this male-voice choir. Oh, and 3. Because it’s terrific, and I remember being struck by this music when watching the TV series. Martin wrote the music for the current ‘Napoleon’ which is still showing around the country.
Track 15: Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde (Wagner). Margaret Price/Carlos Kleiber
I often struggle to find a suitable end for playlists. I am currently reading a really fascinating book, “Corresponding with Carlos”, about and in part by this astonishing conductor whose performances I moved heaven and earth to attend when I was young and who is as universally acclaimed as any of the last century. This is from a recording he never wanted to be released, because he walked out of the recording sessions early, and with a Mozart soprano he persuaded to sing this staggeringly demanding role, never having sung any Wagner before. I believe this is how Wagner wanted it to sound, as presumably did Kleiber. Can this music ever have been surpassed as a supreme consummation of love?