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REVIEW: Temple Winter Festival 2017, Voces8

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph


Christmas vocal concerts come in many kinds. There’s the austere scholarly sort that make you sit up and pay attention, with lots of counterpoint in Latin. There’s the “new spiritualism” variety that takes the familiar sound of a choir and gives it an intensely subjective, mystical twist. And then there are the ones packed with old Christmas favourites, which you can just sit back and enjoy.

Last night the eight-part vocal group Voces8 very cleverly combined all three, and even threw in a couple of American-style crooning pop songs, performed with superb finger-snapping style as encores. They are the perfect young group out of central casting, good-looking, superbly turned out, with an eye to the telling theatrical effect. Sopranos Andrea Halsey and Eleonore Cockerham emerged in the second half in new sparkly frocks, just like proper divas, and twice the choir processed as they sang, filling in the gaps between Praetorius’s lovely old carol Est ist ein Ros’ entsprungen and Thomas Tallis’s O Nata Lux with a mystical drone sung by the two basses. Once they paused at a distance so we could relish the effect of the sound filtered through the lofty columnar spaces of the ancient Temple Church.

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REVIEW: Temple Winter Festival 2017, Gesualdo Six

Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Gesualdo Six

‘Gaudete, gaudete!’ – Rejoice, rejoice! – was certainly the underlying spirit of this lunchtime concert at Temple Church, part of the 5th Temple Winter Festival. Whether it was vigorous joy or peaceful contemplation, the Gesualdo Six communicate a reassuring and affirmative celebration of Christ’s birth in a concert which fused medieval and modern concerns, illuminating surprising affinities. 

Startling us from our pre-concert chatter, the six singers, led by musical director Owain Park, commenced Brian Kay’s arrangement of the traditional carol at the east end of this glorious late 12th-century church, which was built by the Knights Templar. Then, leaving behind the impressive stained glass of the east windows, they processed through the rectangular chancel, resting in the pointed arch which connects Gothic and Norman parts of the church. The rhythmic tugs and sways of Gaudate were initially complemented by a virile timbre, though subsequent verses offered calmer contrast, before baritone Michael Craddock launched into his solo verse with a confident swagger worthy of a Chaucerian story-teller. A unison clarion rang the piece to a close.

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REVIEW: Temple Song – Ian Bostridge with Julius Drake

Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake celebrate 25 years of music-making

In 1992, concert promoter Heinz Liebrecht introduced pianist Julius Drake to tenor Ian Bostridge and an acclaimed, inspiring musical partnership was born. On Wenlock Edgeformed part of their first programme, at Holkham Hall in Norfolk; and, so, in this recital at Middle Temple Hall, celebrating their 25 years of music-making, the duo included Vaughan Williams’ Housman settings for tenor, piano and string quartet alongside works with a seventeenth-century origin or flavour.

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REVIEW: The Sixteen at the Temple Church

Alexandra Coghlan, The Tablet


Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and James MacMillan – two composers separated by 450 years, but united in a common goal: to revitalise and refresh an ailing tradition. Hailed as the “Saviour of Church Music”, it was Palestrina who defended the Catholic Church’s extraordinary musical heritage in the face of Counter-Reformation attacks, offering a new musical model for a new religious age – simplicity instead of lavish complexity, reverence in place of pomp. Fast-forward several centuries to our own age and some believe the Catholic Church is again facing a musical crisis, one born of neglect, apathy – a tradition out of touch with its contemporary worshippers. Step forward James MacMillan, the
Scottish composer whose emotive, evocative sacred works are finding a fresh voice for the Catholic faith in the twenty first century.

Setting these two composers alongside one another, vocal ensemble The Sixteen and its conductor Harry Christophers drew out the many strands of kinship between them. Clarity, emotional directness, harmonic beauty: all are common to both musical worlds. But the thread that binds them most tightly, the heart string running through the core of each, is plainchant – those long, lovely melodies that have underscored Catholic worship since the very beginning. So it was only fitting that this is where we began. Members of The Sixteen assembled in front of us last Tuesday, ready to sing, but the voices that first broke the silence came not from them, but from out of sight. Assembled at the back of the
Temple Church, the men of the choir suddenly filled the space with the first verse of the expansive, joyous “Regina caeli laetare” chant – a hymn of praise to the Queen of Heaven. Processing up through the church while singing, they transformed their audience into a congregation, inviting us into music that may have evolved into artful choral
sophistication, but which began as a shared, corporate musical gesture.

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REVIEW: Temple Song with Iestyn Davies and Julius Drake

Geoff Brown, The Times

So the hero of Die schöne Müllerin, the young itinerant whose spurned love for “the fair maid of the mill” sends him to a watery grave, is a countertenor? He was, at least, on Monday night when Iestyn Davies, with Julius Drake superb at the piano, mounted his first public assault on Schubert’s great song cycle.

By themselves the score’s notes and pitches are amply suited to Davies’s vocal register, although it’s fair to question if falsetto piping, however skilled, allows access to all the colours possible with voices larger and deeper. At any rate, the result of Davies’s travails was an exquisitely delivered performance, but one that was emotionally timid at times. Maybe he just needs to live with the work longer.

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REVIEW: 4* Temple Song with Iestyn Davies and Julius Drake

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph

Iestyn Davies is the counter-tenor of the moment, with good reason. Thanks to the riveting emotional truth of his singing, he’s brought the high falsetto male voice down to earth, tearing it away from its usual connotations of lofty Baroque operatic heroes and Shakespearean sprites of androgynous sexuality.

But Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin might seem to be a bridge too far. It’s the archetypal romantic song-cycle, recorded by so many great singers of the past century: Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Hermann Prey. The sad tale of the itinerant farmhand who falls for the miller’s daughter and pines away when she rejects him is rooted in the earthy reality of brooks, meadows and hearty dinners around a big farm table. That tinge of the other-worldly that the counter-tenor voice brings would surely be out of place.

Davies put any misgivings to rest – almost. He and pianist Julius Drake made it clear from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be a Schöne Müllerin-lite, adapted to the lighter timbre of the counter-tenor voice. The more intense songs were burningly hot. Impatience practically tripped over itself in its hurry, and singer and pianist tore into Jealousy and Pride with reckless fury. In The Beloved Colour, Davies gave the singer’s realisation that the girl really prefers the bold hunter a despairing bitterness that was startling.

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REVIEW: Temple Song with Iestyn Davies

Claire Seymour, Opera Today

Die schöne Müllerin: Davies and Drake provoke fresh thoughts at Middle Temple Hall

Schubert wrote Die schöne Müllerin (1824) for a tenor (or soprano) range – that of his own voice. Wilhelm Müller’s poems depict the youthful unsophistication of a country lad who, wandering with carefree unworldliness besides a burbling stream, comes upon a watermill, espies the miller’s fetching daughter and promptly falls in love – only to be disillusioned when she spurns him for a virile hunter. So, perhaps the tenor voice possesses the requisite combination of lightness and yearning to convey this trajectory from guileless innocence to disenchantment and dejection.

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REVIEW: 4* Temple Song with Iestyn Davies

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill

A remarkable voice in a remarkable song cycleA counter-tenor voice singing Schubert lieder is still a relatively unusual phenomenon, so there was great interest in Iestyn Davies‘ Temple Songrecital at Middle Temple Hall on 10 July 2017 when accompanied by pianist Julius Drake, the counter-tenor sang Schubert’s first great song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin. Having a high voice in this cycle makes a lot of sense as it brings out the youthful qualities of the young hero, though even female recordings of the cycle are relatively rare with notable ones by Lotte Lehmann (1942), Brigitte Fassbaender (1993) and Barbara Hendricks (2003).

Iestyn Davies is known for his espousal of both the Baroque and the contemporary repertoire, and seeing how he brought his intelligent approach and elegant tone to bear on Schubert was always going to be interesting and illuminating. He used music, but merely as an aide memoire and this was a highly communicative performance with the relative intimacy of Middle Temple Hall helping.

Text is, of course, important in Schubert and whilst Davies sang more lyrically on the voice than some singers, his projection of the text was excellent. This cycle had a constant feel of being about the text and the narrative. There was more of a sense of Davies relating a story to us, rather than being a dramatic narrative with the singer as protagonist.

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REVIEW: 4* Festa Veneziana!

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill
cardinal vaughan
Some thrilling moments in a programme of Venetian poly-choral music of both Giovanni and Andrea GabrieliFor Festa Veneziana! at the Temple Church on Tuesday 14 March 2017, the Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, director Scott Price, was joined by His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts, tenors Peter Davoren and Nicholas Mulroy for a programme of Venetian 17th century poly-choral music, as part of the Temple Music Foundation‘s concert series.The name most associated with this period is Giovanni Gabrieli, and the programme started with Giovanni Gabrieli’s 14-part In ecclessiis and concluded with his 15-part Jubilate Deo. But the great virtue of Scott Price’s programme was that we also heard music by Giovanni Gabrieli’s uncle, Andrea Gabrieli including the spectacular 16-part Gloriaalong with lesser known Venetian composers Giovanni Battists Grillo and Gioseffo Guami.

The Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is an all-male choir (of boys aged 11 to 18) numbering over 50 which is the liturgical choir of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School, singing during the regular Wednesday school masses as well as having frequent external engagement. The boys make what might be termed a Continental sound, with the two dozen trebles giving an admirably strong, firm and focused sound. Overall it was a robust and vibrant sound, often thrilling with a confident sense of engagement with the music.

Scott Price followed known 17th century Venetian practice in mixing instruments and voices in the poly-choral pieces, and he also used a semi-chorus of boys from the choir, so the results had a striking sense of the contrast between timbres and between groups of different sizes. In Giovanni Gabrieli’s In ecclesiis the interaction between choir, a quartet of soloists (Aidan Cole, Philippe Barbaroussis, Nicholas Mulroy and Peter Davoren), the cornets and sackbuts and Iestyn Evans’ organ produced some thrilling moments, and some finely subtle ones too.

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REVIEW: 5* Christine Rice, Julius Drake, Middle Temple Hall

David Nice, The Arts Desk

Christine Rice at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden April 2015


Glorious abandonment and perfect technique from one of the world’s great mezzos

To catch the searing desolation of a lover scorned, you need to be the complete artist, with temperament and technique in perfect equilibrium. Mezzo Christine Rice has taken us from Berlioz’s Marguerite and Mozart’s Donna Elvira at English National Opera via Birtwistle’s Ariadne to Haydn’s, and – most taxing of all – the end of an affair by telephone in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. The abandoned heroines of Haydn and Poulenc found themselves in the most exposed surroundings possible, the intimacy of a song recital in the giving acoustics of Middle Temple Hall, with only a superlative pianist, Julius Drake, as lethal accomplice.

Of our three great British mezzos, Rice is poised somewhere between the refinement, sometimes verging on the chilly, of Sarah Connolly and the go-for-broke intensity of Alice Coote. This was a programme of supreme daring. The two monologues, in effect one-act operas, were separated by Ravel songs in five languages – Spanish, French, Italian, Yiddish and Hebrew – in what could have been an intermezzo but ended up in equal intensity: Rice’s vivid characterisation of the dialogue between inquiring Jewish father and his piously rapturous son segued straight into what in effect became the boy’s hymn of praise, a Kaddish of mesmerising power. The flashing power of Cancion española suggested that a whole evening of Falla, Obradors and Mompou from this chameleonic artist and her pianist would be utterly beguiling and idiomatic.

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