The mezzo celebrates ‘Scotland, My Scotland’ and its many associations
Being Scottish born and bred, trained in Glasgow and continuing to live and work in my beloved Scotland, I am very proud that my country has played such an integral part of my musical development.
As a young girl, I was fascinated by the glamorous photograph of Maria Callas that graced an LP owned by my first singing teacher. Her 1954 recording of Madama Butterfly remains one of my favourites. Though I had no concept of classical music in my early years, folk music was something I heard lots of. My dad was a great fan of Jean Redpath and introduced me to her beautiful voice. The honesty, integrity and freedom in her singing is very moving.
Sir Alexander Gibson has been a huge influence in my career. My teacher, Patricia Hay, was a protégée of his and was present during the golden years of Scottish Opera, and Lady Gibson continues to be a big supporter of mine. His legacy is all around, through Scottish Opera, the RSNO, Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and not least his catalogue of recordings. And his affinity with Scandinavian music is well known. Anne Sofie von Otter is a singer I’ve always admired, and this song from Korngold’s Abschiedslieder always takes my breath away.
The music of Gustav Mahler has had a profound effect on me. While expecting my son I performed Das Lied von der Erde for the first time with the BBC Scottish SO and Donald Runnicles. Five weeks after my son was born we performed it again at the BBC Proms. Christa Ludwig’s glorious voice blossoms with humanity here.
The SCO, meanwhile, has been an incredible support to me – I’m honoured to work with such exceptional musicians.
The first score I was handed as an undergraduate was Verdi’s Requiem; Pavarotti’s ‘Ingemisco’ on Solti’s recording is a thing of wonder. St Matthew Passion is also a piece that I have performed many times and never fail to be moved by.
As I made my move south to London, fate stepped in and introduced me to pianist Simon Lepper. He is a wonderful musician and his playing is incredibly moving.
But I’ve never forgotten my roots. I sang ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as a small child. Happy memories of where it all started.
A birthday tribute from one pianist to another…
November 30 is the 70th birthday of the great Romanian pianist, Radu Lupu. It is as good an occasion as any to celebrate his art. Lupu is far more than a great pianist; listening to him, my attention quickly slips away from the actual beauty of his piano-playing and I am taken deep below and far above the surface. He illuminates the musical content impalpably and there appears a feeling of magic. My professional habit of analysing ‘how is this done?’ yields only partial results when applied to his music-making, as the whole impression is greater than the sum of its ingredients.
Lupu’s concerts remind me of what Ferruccio Busoni once wrote about the musical art: ‘It is practically incorporeal. Its material is transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature itself.’ The instrument recedes into the background, and what remains is a lone ﬁgure expressing the composer’s ideas with ﬁdelity, while seeming to compose them on the spot. In the opening of Schubert’s ﬁnal sonata, one phrase is enough to give a sense of the entire concert hall embraced by him. This experience is strongest in concert, and Lupu has chosen not to visit the recording studio in recent years. However, we are lucky to have his recordings to nourish our ears while awaiting his future concerts. Here is a small selection of my personal favourites from his discography.
Gramophone’s Editor hails the continuing carol tradition with a modern playlist
The wider world’s focus on choral music at Christmas ensures that much modern music nestles among evergreen Medieval and Victorian favourites. Here’s a listening list of contemporary carols – some familiar, some less so, and lots of contrast.
Top plaudits must go to the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, who, under Stephen Cleobury’s stewardship, began in 1983 commissioning annually a new carol for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols – a service that’s broadcast live on Radio 4 every Christmas Eve. In these pages, Gabriel Jackson expressed his hope that ‘other people will hear…and want to take it up’, referring to his 2009 offering, The Christ-child. His hope was fulfilled when the Choir of St Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh, recorded this gentle, uplifting piece for Delphian.
Arvo Pärt’s Bogoróditse Dévo was commissioned by King’s in 1990. Something of a surprise to those familiar with the Estonian composer’s more usual meditative style, this joyous hymn to Mary – performed here by Schola Cantorum – bounces along in suitably celebratory style.
John Tavener’s Ex Maria Virgine, commissioned by Timothy Brown of neighbouring Clare College in 2005, takes us on a journey from the Incarnation through celebration of Christ’s coming and meditation on the miracle of birth.
Rautavaara’s Joulun virsi (‘Christmas Hymn’) is a short but stirringly sung piece and well represents the quality of Ondine’s disc of his complete works for male choir.
The serene expansiveness of American composer Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium has found it a home on choral albums regardless of liturgical context, though the words actually come from the Matins of Christmas. The Choir of New College, Oxford, capture its beauty.
No contemporary choral line-up would be complete without a work from James MacMillan, one of our age’s most significant writers of church music. His Seinte Mari moder milde was his contribution to the contemporary King’s tradition in 1995, while Thomas Adès’s The Fayrfax Carol and Judith Weir’s Illuminare, Jerusalem were also both King’s commissions (1997 and 1985 respectively); all three are performed here by the choir they were originally intended for.
Also on my playlist is Francis Pott’s Balulalow, written in 2009 and dedicated to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, which receives a heart-felt performance by Commotio.
A few years ago, Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols might have just squeezed into a contemporary carols list, but let’s instead give the final nod here to John Rutter’s rousing companion suite, Dancing Day.