Stephen Hough is one of those annoying polymaths who, to the despair of the rest of us, seem able to do anything. He’s best known as a pianist, but he also paints and writes. He’s just published a novel. And it was as a composer that he featured in a concert at the British Museum given by that most immaculately professional of chamber choirs, The Sixteen.
Intended as a grand finale to the museum’s Living with gods exhibition, this concert took in Hebrew chants, Tudor polyphony and Shûnya: an extended work based on Tibetan mysticism by the late John Tavener, which sent shivers down the spine as it echoed around the sepulchral darkness of the gallery where the BM keeps the Elgin Marbles.
But the underlying theme of spiritual connection was summed up by Hough’s new Hallowed: a sort of cantata that sets the Lord’s Prayer alongside Old Testament texts of relevance to Muslims, Jews and Christians, and a hymn to the beauty of Mother Earth/Father Sky that reads like St Francis but is in fact Navajo Indian.
Saturated with a sense of sacred space, it was intense, impressive and magnificently sung. I daresay there will be a CD soon. But no recording could quite capture the totality of how it was in live performance, charged with atmosphere. A wonderful event.
There should have been some sense of event about the new Traviata at ENO, because it was Daniel Kramer’s debut production there in his new role as the company’s artistic director. But it was a failure: vulgar, vacuous and feeble. Staging Act I as a glitzy, Hollywood-style orgy was both tacky in conception and incompetently realised. Kramer had no idea of how to stage Act II. And Violetta digging her own grave in Act III was absurd.
The lead roles were miscast with singers who weren’t ready for them, floundering in thin, frantic performances. The only artistry of stature came from veteran Alan Opie as Alfredo’s father. Otherwise, a dismal evening.
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