Orchestra of the Swan conducted by David Curtis, with Heather Shipp, Mezzo Soprano.
SOMM continues its collaboration with Orchestra of the Swan under its charismatic conductor, David Curtis, with a live recording made during the orchestra’s first concert season as Resident Chamber Orchestra at Birmingham’s Town Hall, last year.
This makes an excellent addition to the growing catalogue of SOMM’s unusual and innovative recordings: The CD contains the chamber version of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony originally arranged for Chamber Ensemble by Schonberg’s pupil Erwin Stein and reconstructed here by conductor Alexander Platt, and a Premiere Recording of Berlioz’s Nuits d’Été, arranged for voice and Chamber Ensemble (with mezzo soprano Heather Shipp) by composer David Matthews.
Arnold Schoenberg’s concerts at his Society for Private Musical performances were renowned for their ground-breaking programmes. The Society was in the nature of a concert-giving commune set up by Schoenberg and his colleagues, Berg and Webern in 1919, with the aim of giving properly rehearsed performances of modern works to a genuinely interested membership. There were no critics present and members simply paid for their seats according to how much they could afford.
Of the three Mahler symphonies arranged for this now-legendary Society, it was the Fourth which was actually scored for chamber ensemble. Stein undertook his transcription for an ensemble of 15 players and soprano in the autumn of 1920, and the new version was given its premiere in a January 1921 concert under Stein’s baton. But eventually the parts to the arrangement were lost, and it fell to conductor Alexander Platt in 1991 to reconstruct Erwin Stein’s lost 1921 chamber arrangement of the Fourth Symphony, at the request of the Britten Estate. Using only the vague notes Stein had made in the margins of the full symphonic score. Platt, worked with Stein’s daughter to decipher her late father’s handwritten instructions. “The parts that Stein had prepared for the individual players were lost. So making the chamber version was painstaking work, far more complex than I’d imagined it would be.”
Mahler’s Fourth Symphony in Stein’s re-orchestration (for flute, oboe, clarinet, piano, percussion, two violins, viola, cello and double-bass with the unusual addition of a harmonium covering solo passages for wind instruments) allows the listener to hear the score in a completely new way. In the words of David Curtis, conductor of the Orchestra of the Swan, “the arrangement works perfectly well. I have a recording of the Stein transcription, and, having done the full version in the past I find the reduction absolutely convincing, there is so much delicacy and transparency in the original that the arrangement brings out beautifully.”
The role of the Britten Estate is connected to the work through Britten’s friendship with Stein, who had fled Austria in the 1930s and settled in England. He also became Britten’s editor at Boosey & Hawkes. Having been a former pupil of Arnold Schoenberg Stein provided a vital link between the young Britten and the Austrian master.
The performance of the Orchestra of the Swan in this live recording of Mahler’s 4th Symphony, sounds marvellously alive and light and Curtis’s interpretations breathe spontaneously and freely, inspiring the orchestra to play with infectious enthusiasm.
The other, equally interesting coupling on this disc is Berlioz’s fragrantly fresh song-cycle Les Nuits d’Été. Originally written for voice and piano accompaniment to poems by Theophile Gautier in 1840-41, these six songs were orchestrated, with optional transpositions for various voices, in 1856. One famous recording was made with the songs distributed between soprano, alto, tenor and bass, but the work is usually performed by mezzo-soprano and orchestra.
Sinfonia ViVA, based in the East Midlands, commissioned the composer David Matthews to make a reduction of Berlioz’s original orchestration, and the result was a version for wind quintet, string quintet and harp – an orchestration that keeps very true to Berlioz’ original style and sound. The arrangement was premiered on the June 23 2005 at the Djanogly Recital Hall (Nottingham University) by Sinfonia ViVA under its (then) chief conductor, Nicholas Kok. The singer was the renowned mezzo, Ann Murray. Since then the arrangement has been performed in the United States and by a number of orchestras in the United Kingdom. The first London performance of the arrangement was given by Felicity Lott with the Nash Ensemble under the direction of Marc Minkowski at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 16 2007.
David Matthews has kindly added his own commentary here.
“Berlioz wrote his song-cycle Nuits d’Été originally for voice and piano and then orchestrated the six songs for an orchestra consisting of two flutes, oboe, two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns, harp and strings. Not all the instruments are used in every song: the harp, in fact, is only included in the second song, ‘Le spectre de la rose’, while only the final song, L’île inconnue’, uses the three horns – the remaining songs use two except for the fifth song, ‘Au cimetière’, which is scored just for flutes, clarinets and strings.
“Berlioz’s textures are often chamber-like and never very thick, so I was able to devise an instrumentation that did not lose too many of his notes. It seemed rather a waste of the harp to use it only in one song, so I devised a part for it in three more: ‘Villanelle’, ‘Sur les lagunes’ and ‘L’île inconnue’. I’ve always thought they were absolutely wonderful songs so I was very happy to make this arrangement, which I don’t think takes too much away from them.”
The mezzo-soprano in this recording is the distinguished mezzo Heather Shipp. She studied at Trinity College of Music‚ London and the National Opera Studio. She made her operatic debut as Cherubino for The Opera Company and then sang Dorabella‚ Rosina‚ Carmen and Zerlina for Travelling Opera. Other early roles were Pippo La Gazza Ladra (British Youth Opera)‚ Zaida Il Turco in Italia (Broomhill Opera) and Flora (Opera Northern Ireland). In recent years her operatic performances have covered an astonishingl variety of roles from Tisbe in Rossini’s La Cenerentola to Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire, Nicholas Maws’ The Voice of Love and the premiere of David Matthews’s From Coastal Stations.
Current projects include Magdalene in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at Covent Garden‚ Donna in Skin Deep a new Opera North commission from David Sawer‚ directed by Richard Jones‚ with a revival in Copenhagen‚ a new recording of the title role in Rutland Boughton’s Queen of Cornwall‚ the title role in Carmen‚ Diana Devereux Of thee I sing and Mad Margaret Ruddigore for Opera North and Gymnasiast Lulu in a new production at Covent Garden and Teatro Real‚ Madrid.
Recent Reviews from Carmen, Opera North.
Financial Times (January 2011)
‘Heather Shipp’s slim-and-sexy Carmen makes a powerful centrepiece… she gives the part her considerable all’.
Independent on Sunday
‘Breasts and teeth bared, nose bloodied, her light voice stripped and twisted into a mocking, cooing delivery, Heather Shipp’s Carmen shivers and buckles with masochistic joy’.
Observer on Sunday
‘Heather Shipp’s highly physical Carmen has dark allure’.
‘Heather Shipp has created the most complete Carmen.. Independent, as free as a bird and yet thoughtful and touchingly ordinary, a sort of girl next door Carmen. The voice has an attractive timbre, light and flexible;’ but with ample power to cut across the orchestra.
The Arts Desk.com
‘Heather Shipps’ vibrant Carmen… Shipp is a wonderful actress, completely in thrall to Kramer’s conception of the piece… The love scene in Act Two sounds marvellous’.
Orchestra of the Swan is resident in Stratford-upon-Avon and is Associate Ensemble at Town Hall, Birmingham, performing at major venues and festivals including Cadogan Hall, London, Symphony Hall, Birmingham, Warwick Arts Centre and St John’s Smith Square.
OOTS’ Spring Sounds Festival 2011 celebrates new work with 7 world premieres, visiting composers, soloists and conductors from the USA and a joint commission with the American Composers Orchestra.
TV appearances include the South Bank Show premiere of ‘Spring’ by Roxanna Panufnik, with Tasmin Little and Chinese TV with Julian Lloyd Webber and Jiaxin Cheng.
David Curtis – Principal Conductor
“Curtis’s conducting, if close to Boult’s, is more intimate, and slightly more perceptive…”
American Record Guide (Ireland Piano concerto, Mark Bebbington, piano. SOMMCD 242)
… a reassuringly calm yet always encouraging and cajoling presence… Gramophone
David Curtis’s thought-provoking programming, infectious enthusiasm and refreshing interpretations have established him on the international stage, working in Europe, the USA and Far East, conducting the Academy of St Martin’s-in-the-Field, Prague Chamber Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra. He appears as soloist and conductor in Finland with the Mikkeli City Orchestra, the Roveniemi Chamber and Yvaskyla Symphony Orchestras in the concert hall and on Finnish Radio.
…a stirring performance under the baton of David Curtis… The Guardian
David champions new work, premiering at least 50 works by leading composers from the UK, Europe, China and the USA including four world premieres in the Nordic Music Days for Icelandic Radio.
… his imaginative programmes have a knack of making connections which are genuinely stimulating… The Guardian
On This Recording
- Symphony No. 4: I. Bedachtig – Nicht eilen
- Symphony No. 4: II. Im gemachlicher Bewegung – Ohne Hast
- Symphony No. 4: III. Ruhevoll
- Symphony No. 4: IV. Sehr behaglich
- Les nuits d’ete: No. 1. Villanelle
- Les nuits d’ete: No. 2. Le Spectre de la rose
- Les nuits d’ete: No. 3. Sur les lagunes
- Les nuits d’ete: No. 4. Absence
- Les nuits d’ete: No. 5. Au cimetiere
- Les nuits d’ete: No. 6. L’Ile inconnue