Tag Archives: St John’s Smith Square

Charm Offensive / Rosenblatt Recital series: Sylvia Schwartz / St John’s Smith Square – 20 June 2012

25 Jun

It was the longest day of the year and a very sunny one at that (shock horror, I know, Londoners) so it was imperative we had a good time during this recital as the all too rare warm day was passing by. And having a singer with a German surname, an English accent and actually of Spanish origin was a conundrum that she even joked, from the stage, about.  This recital exuded sunshine in more than one ways, my companion exclaimed at the tanned physique of Simon Lepper only to wonder if it was fake tan and then the charming and overall winning demeanour of Sylvia Schwartz made for a sunny start. Also cannot remember the last time I’ve seen an opera singer wearing a three strand pearl necklace…a nice  glamorous touch.

The programme of the recital was very promising but the first half was sadly disappointing. Despite the immense beauty of her timbre and her faultless projection she seemed to be pushing too much her upper register straining delivery and sometimes sounding shrill. The first two songs were very demure and some beautifully floated notes in Parisotti’s Se tu m’ami opened the recital with a relaxed and totally charming way, very akin to her wholesome stage presence.

The Gluck maybe not have been accompanied by the most sophisticated piano playing but  O del mio dolce ardor was sang with tenderness and great beauty. Displaying a great understanding of the neo classical nature of the piece.

In total contrast her two Cleopatra arias from Giulio Cesare were too taxing and sang not in the appropriate manner. Having seen Sarah Tynan sing an amazing Cleopatra for Opera North earlier this year I’m afraid she set a high standard. Schwartz’s ornaments just seemed out of place and not in keeping with Handel’s writing, the coloratura passages were dispatched with such constraint that took away the sheer luxury of the sound he demands. This was possibly a choice of repertoire that needs her voice to fully flourish first in the coming years to give her the confidence and the right fuller texture.

Her Ah! non credea mirarti started with great affinity for the melancholic atmosphere of Bellini’s bel canto caper. But unfortunately her languid, gorgeous tone was not a substitute for a solid grasp of how to deploy portamento and legato. The different parts of the aria felt disjointed and some of the smoothness and attention to the linear structure of Bellini’s writing was lost. It was hugely disappointing as she surely has a very beautiful voice but again don’t think she was ready for the stylistic challenges it posed. The first half was meant to have finished with Una voce poco fa, but was announced after the second number that it didn’t fit in the programme, so it was removed.

The second half proved a much more even and thoroughly pleasurable part of the evening. She literally let her hair down and it showed. Her three Rossini songs were a great fit for her voice and her vocalise on the simple, reflective melodies was enchanting. The concluding La promessa was full of longing and childlike purity of spirit.

The following Six Castillian Songs by Guridi were the absolute highlight of the evening, proving once more how important it is for a recitalist to choose material in their native language. The interpretation aspect of them was mature and playful. The conclusion of the first song was soft and light Entra labrador si vienes a verme/Enter, farmer, if you come to see me was just warm and heartfelt. Her opening ¡Sereno!/Nightwatchman! was arresting and clamorous, changing the mood. Once more the piano accompaniment left a lot to be  desired, with attacks sounding too agitated and unbalanced which unfortunately continued on to the next song which was delivered with a sense of drama and poise. Her exclamations mira que el torro te pilla, mira que el torro te coge/don’t let the bull seize you, don’t let the bull catch you filed the church with urgency. The pianissimi in No quiero tus avellanas were delivered with great focus and a sense of grief, reaching a wonderful moment when she spun the line to almost mimic the sound of water while describing it as crystal-clear. The last two songs were much more demure and melancholic bringing out once more the natural charm and ease of Schwartz. A masterly journey through a very picturesque set of songs and impeccable attention to the text, which was greeted with the loudest of cheers.

The final two programmed songs were almost a reminder of the Ailyz Perez recital at the same venue back in March, who sang the Luna song with great spark and girly abandon. Schwartz was animated and added an Iberian piquancy that was a great finale, shame that again the piano playing sounded unfocused. The three encores that followed were by Granados (La maja dolorosa No. 2), Down the Salley Gardens, Britten’s setting of Yeats’ poetry and Turina (Tu pupila es azul). They were  beautifully delivered and gratefully received. Vienna State Opera is very lucky to have her and I am definitely looking forward to listening to her again in the near future.

Some Tweets from the evening

Brute force / Rosenblatt Recital series: Marina Rebeka / St John’s Smith Square – 18 April 2012

23 Apr

This was one recital that confused me from the outset. The programme was a very strange mix of songs and arias. Making Gounod, Rossini, Fauré, Berlioz, Schubert and Rachmaninov sit together is a balancing act beyond most recitalists and I am afraid this was the case with Marina Rebeka. The voice is impressively well projected but in the first half left me very cold. Technically correct singing and clear projection is a fantastic starting point, but somehow that very impressive technique was the main fault. She sang for most of the recital simply too loudly to be truly enjoyable. The Fauré songs were efficiently delivered but with a tone too strident and at a volume that robbed their intimacy and elegance.

The two arias from Faust were brilliantly detailed and sang but it was disappointing to see her sight reading passages. I wish she had dropped the French art songs and instead have the time to rehearse enough so as not to need the score as reference that was consulted all too frequently.

The choice to excise three songs from Les nuits d’été was another strange gamble. And having heard them a few weeks back beautifully delivered with panache and sweetness by Joyce DiDonato it was a slight disappointment due to the strident tone and the too loud delivery for the venue, especially for the first two songs. For L’île inconnue she did find an appropriately softer delivery and more rounded expression maybe not as dreamy as Joyce but surely a more appropriate feel to it.

Then instead of getting the scheduled Bel raggio lusinghier we got instead a little more Gounod, which actually made sense with the francophone first half of the recital. The fourth Act aria from Roméo et Juliette was delivered with impressive ease, despite the slightly too sharp attacks. It was an impressive display that clearly enthused the audience, I just wished for a bit more depth and warmth.

After the interval we were treated to a change of dress (from dark purple to a dark grey and gold lamé number) and also songs by Schubert and Rachmaninov which were a bit of a mixed bag. The Schubert songs brought forward some of the charm and panache the first half was missing, she delivered Die Forelle with thoughtful reflection and spark. She continued with a melancholic Gretchen which it was a touch too hard driven by the tempo adopted by the accompanist. The concluding song was again delivered with lightness that was rather amusing and not as loudly as most items up to that point.

The programme made far too many apologies for the quality of Rachmaninov’s songs, some were written as a quick earner, some were unfinished. Overall they allowed Rebeka to colour her singing and to find a rounder tone and at the lower volume it was almost like listening to a different singer. The dramatic melodies fitted her voice very well. The material was indeed slight but delivered with much more winning attitude (despite the melodramatic overacting during Kak mne bol’no). The second half collectively made it clear what the first half could have been if scaled down a notch.

After  thunderous applause, she treated us to Bel raggio as an encore. And it was rather beautiful, if again over projected and lacking a bit in colour. Marina Rebeka is a great talent, but she needs to know when to scale down her performance in more intimate surroundings. I love a really bold, accurately projected voice, as long as it does not impair characterisation or the shading and phrasing.

She will be singing Lucia di Lammermoor in a new production at the Latvian National Opera and can imagine over a big orchestra and in costume she will be a unmissable spectacle. Just somehow in recital she was not as engaging and enthralling as someone so richly talented should have been.

The girl is fierce / Rosenblatt Recital series: Ailyn Pérez / St John’s Smith Square – 7 March 2012

10 Mar

This was the first time I had the chance to listen to Ailyn Pérez live and it was again another happy coincidence for Londoners to see her in concert, as an indisposed Giuseppe Filianoti meant that she accepted to cover for him at this occasion, as it was it was stated from the stage, it was disappointing not to have Filianoti, but that feeling did not last too long when Pérez accepted in a matter of minutes. As she jubilantly expressed on stage, this was her third time performing for the Rosenblatt recital series and was obviously excited.

Her opening Hahn songs did not quite reach the rounded beauty those songs attain when sang by Veronique Gens but that has to do more with Pérez’s burnished timbre and much more explosive stage presence. These songs require a radiance and warmth that in my view are too restrictive for her beautiful lyrical instrument. Her voice is as expressive as her dress sense for this recital, a beautiful red dress that looked very demure till one noticed the gold detailing on the plunging bare back and side slash, revealing much more leg that I am accustomed to on recital stages. Overall she exuded beauty and charm in equal measure.

When she moved on to the Spanish section of the programme (she did let us know she had just returned from Seville and felt more in tune with the material) she took flight, the delivery was ardent without sacrificing the smooth delivery. Her Luna song was fiery and embodied the heroine who declares her pride to be Spanish finishing off the song with her shoulders dancing to the rhythm of this 1918 piece of Hispanic exotica. The De Falla songs were delivered with panache, deep understanding, sense of fun and anguish in appropriate measures. A good example what a great singer can bring to more prosaic material was her El paño moruno/The Moorish cloth which was delivered with sweet anguish and longing. Adding a layer of interpretation to a few lines of very unambitious poetry. In the hands of a less gifted singer this would turn into a farce all too easily, it is those small exceptional touches that show true class. The gorgeous lyricism of Asturiana was a marvel, softness and depth of feeling alongside Iain Burnside’s exemplary, pared down playing was a moment of magic. In Nana she deployed her mezza voce with a bronze like quality caressing the long and winding melody of this lullaby transporting us to a private world of devotion and love. The last two songs were much more fiery affairs that brought instant release and a fitting close to the first half.

What followed after the interval was even more exciting. The two Manon arias and Desdemona’s Willow song scene were as close to my idea of perfection as possible.

Her Manon was so vividly acted, all the little laughs and sideways glances added to the naiveté of the character which was galloping through Massenet’s smooth melodic line with such vibrancy and gusto. It was simply so fantastic that I can’t imagine what’s holding the Royal Opera from booking her as their next Manon. She had all the spark of Beverly Sills with the glowing ample tone of Victoria de los Angeles, paired with engaging acting ability. It is hard to imagine anyone in the audience not being moved by her Adieu, it was so genuinely heartfelt she obviously welled up in the conclusion. She more than brought the house down after this triumphant portrayal.

Her Amelia Boccanegra was equally vivid with liquid tone and sharp upper register. This aria is a true workhorse for any lyric soprano, which can make it a bit of a chore to listen through from a lot of lesser singers. She made it work beautifully but we all anticipated her Desdemona which was the juiciest part of this recital.

This scena is one of my most favourite arias in the history of opera, a still lament where it really displays a singer’s understanding of Verdian style and also an unforgiving display of coloratura, use of shading and shifts in dynamics. Her depiction was truly amazing. A transporting, transcendent experience. Every turn of the Willow song was thoughtful and dramatic, a display of acting skill and warm all enveloping sound. The concluding Ave Maria was smooth and her sound grew and hugged every word, the final phrase closing the aria as a mere whisper. She is set to perform the role on stage in Houston and I can only hope it will be webcast or committed to a disc format as an important document of this truly exceptional young singer.

The move to the Puccini section was with a lovely rendition of the aria from La Villi, which was perfectly lovely and followed on by a devastatingly strong Liu which gave us an insight how she will perform the role in her upcoming appearances at the Royal Opera. It was a potent mix of crisp delivery with a simmering undercurrent of anger and devotion. It was complex and rounded definitely spine tingling. She concluded the recital not with the scheduled Butterfly aria (she did explain that was due to the effects of her plane journey. After such a demanding programme we really had no right to complain) but with Donde lieta usci which was lustrous and bright displaying her crisp diction and direct, full-throated delivery.
If you’ve made it this far, you will know what an extraordinary evening this was, the enthusiastic, grateful reception by the audience verging on adulation was more than justified. I am looking forward to seeing her as many times as possible in the future and dear readers if she is performing nearby (she has a debut appearance at The Met coming up) go and see her. A huge star in the making is amongst us.

Rosenblatt Recital, Artur Ruciński + James Vaughan / St John Smith’s Square – 18 January 2012

20 Jan

Usually when I attend a recital I tend to be immensely amused and charmed when singers add to their programmes songs in their native language. This recital will be the exception, both the accompanist and Ruciński seemed too ill at ease with the four sonnets. I would guess lack of enough rehearsal time was to blame. Sight reading the lines in Polish from the score throughout was a pointer to that. Thank heavens they tweaked the running order and the interval came after the aria from Faust, otherwise I am not sure I would be too willing to return after the interval.

His two arias from I Puritani and Don Pasquale were great vehicles to display his limpid tone and fearless delivery. His passion and sadness as Sir Riccardo was palpable and his first fortissimo passage did make a few members of the audience shudder, he can be very loud if the piece allows, which was very effective with the too neutral and dry acoustic of the space. His Dr Malatesta was good fun but somehow I felt a gap between an attempt at interpretation and his clear intention to please the all (too approving) audience. He was surely a buffo baritone but somehow the character as envisaged by Donizetti was missing.

His Valentin was not a good fit for his voice type, his French delivery was not as unforced as his flowing Italian and maybe the voice is a tad too strident and steely for this repertoire.  The interval came and I was thinking of the strength of his voice and the powerful delivery and the lightness of touch in bel canto.

His Count Almaviva was surely acted and he wasn’t just playing to the audience. Clearly a result of his stage experience in the role. It may sound harsh, but despite the limitations of the concert platform, interpretation is possible if not more needed than when in a fully staged performance. His Count a thinking, living character, the last ringing Il colpo e fatto was  a great signifier his arrogance and moved on to a climatic signature Mozartian expression of rage. Up to that point that was the most natural bit of singing of the night.

The two Tchaikovsky arias were a very good fit for his voice, the tautness of the sound was fresh and the Russian sounded involved and a proper romantic opera interpretation. At times his Onegin sounded on the sharp side but the overall atmosphere and confidence were winning. Unfortunately the accompaniment maybe was not up to his standard, with a tentative touch Vaughan did not sound fluent enough.

The final programmed aria was for me the best piece of the evening, for the first time his projection was full bloodied and from the mask, the voice lost any steely edge it had up to that point and delivered a wonderful rendition of Rodrigo’s death aria with passion and more empathy than displayed earlier in this recital. A total joy to listen to, the phrasing was elegant and attuned to what a grand opera by Verdi requires. The loud cheers were truly deserved.

His encores were Di Provenza il mar from La Traviata and Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre from Carmen were a good way to close the recital. Despite my misgivings at asking the audience to clap for the toreador aria and throwing the rose he was given straight to a woman on my row! But it was a bit of fun on a Wednesday evening and hope he returns to London for maybe some fully staged Verdi in the very near future.

On the whole this was a great introduction of the singer to a London audience, as always with this recital series you never know where the singers will be in the next five years. Judging on the stars they gave the stage to, early on in their careers, it’s a great place to see the stars of tomorrow.

Some tweets from the evening

Ciciban meets Suor Angelica / Rosenblatt Recital, Sabina Cvilak + Iain Burnside / St John’s Smith Square – 7 December 2011

9 Dec

Another recital at St John Smith Square, another time I adored the architecture but still found the venue to lack in atmosphere. Something about the stark crisp whiteness and the very dry acoustic somehow is not giving me a warm fuzzy feeling. Cvilak thankfully had no issues filling the space with her beautiful and clearly projected voice.

She is a really interesting case, a singer with a very lyrical voice but with an almost chilly timbre. On the surface she seems to lack inbuilt warmth but she clearly knows how to coax emotion when the repertoire calls for it. Saw her take part in a wonderful performance with the London Symphony Orchestra under Gianandrea Noseda of Britten’s War Requiem and she was very expressive then but maybe mismatched to the demands of the piece …but still, a mile away from her tours around the world accompanying Andrea Bocelli.

The recital started with an inversion of the advertised running order of the three Slovenian songs. They were a very well chosen ice breaker and a characterful, whimsical choice too. Maybe I’m impressionable but, I’m always charmed when singers choose songs in their native tongue. Her approach was lyrical and very tender. Her unforced delivery was endearing and convincing. The two first songs were mournful and ever so slightly unhinged (the line :’ My father cursed and beat me, mother is crying over me, my family is ashamed of me, all fingers are pointing at me.‘ comes to mind). For me Ciciban was a great end to this section, a tender telling of the story of a little boy that gets approached by a bird that reminds him to wash his hands…never before I had a pedagogic lesson on hygiene for the under 5s, delivered with such sense of fun and panache from a concert platform, Julie Andrews would be very proud!

The next group of songs by Hauer based on poetry by Hölderlin, they were beautifully delivered and with impressionistic pianistic touches by Iain Burnside. But the best was still to come. The three Richard Strauss songs were a torrent or changing emotions, from hushed loving words to proclamatory fervour to the dreamy evocation of a ghostly lover. Again Burnside seemed to be in his element accompanying with great taste and allowing Cvilak to float phrases, creating the right atmosphere for these youthful efforts of the lovestruck young Richard. Those songs led to the interval leaving us all looking forward to the arias in the second half.

Somehow to sing at least one aria from La Bohème is something any lyric soprano tends to have a go in recital. Cvilak’s effort may have been short on actual vocal softness but the aria was infused with true understanding of the style, clear enunciation and a charming stage persona. The audience surely reacted to her interpretation and gave her one of the loudest applauses of the evening. Next up was Suor Angelica’s big aria, which I saw in the recent Covent Garden Il Trittico sang by Ermonella Jaho, who brought the house down with a searing interpretation that was immensely moving. Cvilak’s instrument is much cooler in temperament but still somehow managed to negotiate the aria without allowing it to turn twee and a routine effort. My only criticism would be her inadequate use of portamento to colour further the aria and give it a more touching effect.

The final Viennese operetta section was a delight, and actually a great fit for a mid week recital. It made us tap our toes and have fun with the happenings on stage. In particular the second aria (Du sollst der Keiser meiner Seele Sein) on top of all the fun, it also gave us the chance to hear a much deeper colour of her voice, as she used much her darker end of her tone to great effect. Which made me wish she had done the same with Suor Angelica, but maybe the temptation of a nun in white was too much to resist. Of course closing the programme with the Merry Widow was a total crowd pleaser and she really gave her all, fleshing out the character with nonchalance and sexiness with wonderfully clear, ringing high notes.

We were treated to two encores, both a logical step from the Puccini arias on the programme, her Io son l’umile ancella was passionate and at the same time desperate and resigned. A wonderful showy aria that any lyric soprano with a taste for verismo can create a huge impression, Cvilak did make a big splash again, staying on track with the required style and not resorting to the quite standard maudlin treatment. Her ‘Room with a view’ moment was surely full of freshness the aria requires but somehow did not have enough of a pleading quality. On Wednesday night she was lucky enough to have an accompanist of immense sensitivity and dexterity and also a well chosen, varied, entertaining repertoire. Can’t imagine a single person in the audience didn’t enjoy the recital. Looking forward to hopefully seeing her in fully staged opera in the coming years and what other roles she will tackle.

Elizabeth Llewellyn – some impressions / St John’s Smith Square – 13 April 2011

14 Apr

Elizabeth Llewellyn, Soprano

Simon Lepper, Pianist



Alcina \ Ma quando tornerai

Rodelinda \ Se’il mio duol


Le Nozze di Figaro \ E Susanna non vien!… Dove sono

WALTON \ A Song for the Lord Mayor’s Table

The Lord Mayor’s Table

Glide gently

Wapping Old Stairs

Holy Thursday

The Contrast





All’ mein Gedanken

Du meines Herzens Krönelein




La Bohème \ Mi chiamano Mimì


Simon Boccanegra \ Come in quest’ora bruna


Faust \ Ah! je ris de me voir

This was a very interesting evening, one of those nights one goes home feeling that something beautiful has started.

The programme was very ambitious, the first half almost felt something the young Joan Sutherland would have sung, while the second was more like a young Grace Bumbry! That kind of wide-ranging ambition is at once interesting but at the same time does not make an as satisfying live concert as it reads on paper.

The first half was marred for me by what seemed rather plodding piano playing for the two Handel numbers, and while her voice was bright and penetrating somehow it lacked the limpid quality the best Handel singers possess. It was well sung but not a natural fit. The Mozart aria was interesting but again it did not quite work in my view and it sounded a bit on the generic side. The Walton cycle was much more sympathetic to her voice and it brought out her charming stage persona with a distinct sense of humour.  When the interval arrived I was happy to be there and enjoying myself but somehow feeling a bit let down by the two first arias.

On the second half the Strauss songs were very vividly portrayed with a natural sense of drama and joy. Her accurate tone and phrasing were a real treat. This was followed by a truly masterful and heartfelt Mimi, clearly informed by her stage experience, she gave the fragility and the youthful attitude of the heroine in the most wonderful mezza voce with dazzling high passages. As I normally cannot be bothered with Puccini this was captivating and full of study and beauty. Her Verdi was again beautiful but I kept thinking that she was lacking the reserves of a more wide-ranging tessitura, her voice is extremely strong in its middle and upper registers while having a totally underdeveloped lower register, which in Verdian roles adds that extra bit of expression and depth.

The final item on the programme was the jewel song from Faust and while it was again very honest and immediate, it seemed to lack the thrilling trills that the style demands. Of course that opens the old can of worms about trills and how some singers naturally cannot accomplish them. Could Elizabeth trill like there’s no tomorrow with further tuition? I really do not know, but the lack of those all important trills spoiled a beautiful aria. (Listening to Nellie Melba and Joan Sutherland sing it as I’m writing this make it all too clear)

All the above may seem like a mixed bag of a review/impressions. But I can honestly say that Elizabeth does posses a very warm stage presence and a really remarkable voice that can hopefully mature with a stronger lower register and find repertoire that fits and brings out the most attractive aspects of it. I can imagine her singing verismo with huge success and even Elena in I Vespri and I’m titillated at the possibility for any bel canto roles. This was a very interesting introduction for a new artist and hope it will be the springboard for a fruitful career.

It seemed that the concert was being recorded so looking forward to listening to it again in the future and maybe revising this quick appraisal.

About last night’s concert / St John’s Smith Square – 18 January 2005

19 Jan

Here is the programme from last night’s concert:

Vivaldi – The four seasons, Op 8

Respinghi – Antiche Danze ed Arie

Tchaikovky – Souvenir de Florence, Op 70

London Strings

Richard Llewellyn, Conductor

Ruth Rogers, solo Violin

Always enjoy returning to St. John’s Smith Square in Westminster, if only to gaze at the serenely beautiful architecture.

Las night it was a lovely experience. The four seasons are always difficult to pay full attention to. Familiarity through over playing and advertising has “burnt” the work for me. But when I am made to listen to it live it always sound more exciting. Especially since I’ve got no access to the fast forward button! The violinist took liberties with the concluding part of the Autumn and  parts of Winter. For any music buff they would have been unbearable blemishes to a baroque gem. For me they were an affirmation of the flawed nature of all of us. They bring to life music since it becomes unpredictable and allows another level of interpretation.

Their Respighi was pretty indifferent, as most of his music is just cute sound effects, in my humble (not) opinion.

Souvenir de Florence was wonderfully bombastic. Rather fit to the specifics of the composition. originally orchestrated for a quartet, last night it was played by a full string orchestra. With truly unexpected results! They sheer deluge of sound was truly surprising. At the end of it all it’s a Russian composer trying to make “Italian flavoured” music, but finding it difficult to leave behind his Russian ways 😉 The orchestra brought that aspect to the fore. Clarified the discrepancy between the composer’s intentions and the work’s final direction. A very interesting point, made in the most graphic terms possible.

That’s all about last night…and a good chance to say once more thanks to Anna for the tickets!

Tonight tonight!

18 Jan

Anna has invited me to tonight’s concert at St. John Smith Sq


and it’s very exciting! It’s such a fantastic space for music.

The best aspect is that it will be complimentary tickets

which makes any concert all the more exciting!

Will come up with some kind of review tomorrow.

Last concert was Ute Lemper at the Barbican…which was simply breath-taking, but then you can’t expect anything less by the great Ute!

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