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Guildhall School of Music & Drama, Barbican, London 11 & 12 June 2003

Carl NIELSEN Maskarade 11 June
Alison Luz - piano recital 12 June

Maskarade (Comic opera in three acts)
Libretto by Vilhelm Andersen after Ludvig Holberg;
English translation by Reginald Spink revised by David Fanning

Conductor: Clive Timms
Director: Martin Lloyd-Evans
Designer: Joanna Parker
Choreographer: Sarah Fahie
(in collaboration with Comtemporary Dance School)
Lighting: Aideen Malone

A rare and welcome opportunity to become acquainted with Denmark's national opera in the theatre, where it belongs; the rumbustious overture sounded better emerging from the deep Guildhall pit than as a virtuoso concert party piece for visiting Danish orchestras.

(Comic Opera in three acts - 1906) enjoys affection at home rather akin to that of The Bartered Bride.The story, also about arranged marriages, the course of which never run smoothly in opera, is simple indeed, but not so simple as to justify Maskarade's rarity abroad. What makes it so collectable is that the music has throughout all the characteristics of mature Nielsen as we know and love him in UK, so that the least interesting and less witty episodes always hold the ear in thrall.

It fields a huge cast, ideal for a student production, and the carnival scenes, with numerous revellers charging back and forth, give scope for complicated choreography which Sarah Fahie contrives to make seemingly natural rather than obviously contrived set pieces. The setting was fairly uncomplicated, but effective, with the second act leading everyone down into what turned out, in the third, to be a basement club/dive, just right for a bit of harmless flirting in masked disguise and a divertissement about unfaithful Venus. The rich orchestral score has numerous felicities and supports some gorgeous arias and ensembles, with the chorus kept busy. Earlier reviews were a little grudging, but by the last night the complicated mechanics of Martin Lloyd-Evans’s production were working smoothly.

Tenor Benjamin Hulett and his servant Arv, Nicholas Smith, made a splendid double act, and it was good to see the versatile Gudrún Ólafsdóttir for the third time in a short period (q.v. Susanna and Mayfair Concert) made up as a middle aged respectable lady with itchy dancing feet. We enjoyed soprano Samya Waked and Klagenfurt-born Christian Sist (we had just returned from covering a Festival there) but he could aim to get his consonants across more clearly, probably by varying his dynamics. The large orchestra may sound more overwhelming from on stage than it was for the audience, but it played with both zest and finesse under Clive Timms and accompanied the singers well; most words came through clearly enough. One confusion was that the programme led us to expect a stage band, but if room was found to accommodate them on the crowded stage, I missed spotting them in the general hurly-burly of the festivities at the rowdy masked ball?

Another production for which London is indebted to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Recording: Nielsen Maskarade (in Danish)
Aage Haugland, Susanne Resmark, et al.
Danish National Radio Choir, Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
Decca: 4602272

ALISON LUZ Piano Recital Guildhall School of Music & Drama 12 June 2003

London's music colleges are a hive of performance activity open to the public. Attending Masquerade at the Guildhall, my eyes were drawn to a lively flyer for Alison Luz's recital there the following afternoon. That we attended it, to our great pleasure and reward, carries lessons for agents and concert promoters everywhere.

With so many in London to choose, critics are drawn to unknown artists by repertoire more than by hype - and this was an attractive programme of Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff, followed by Barber, Crumb & Rzewski, which suggested a young musician of enterprise and a flair for presentation; both essential for launching a career.

It turned out to be a degree finals examination event, with a cohort of supporters in the audience and a panel of adjudicators at the back - which did not faze her in the least.

A personable young pianist, originally from Spain, she displayed many welcome attributes and a platform manner which exuded quiet confidence, and enjoyment in savouring her instrument and in performing her chosen music, nearly all by memory. She has fine ears and a sensitivity to pianistic colour, shown immediately in the voicing of undemonstrative opening of the Shostakovich magnum opus, and in the most delicate of Rachmaninoff's major solo works - but with no lack of fire when called for.

For Crumb she explored beauties inside the second, prepared piano, and her choice from the prolific pianist-composer Frederic Rzewski was his Down by the Riverside, not the ubiquitous Winsboro Cotton Mill Blues, which is the only piece of his which makes regular appearances (she may review her interpretation when she has heard Rzewski's own harder-edged recordings).

Alison Luz
favoured music with quiet endings and held silence until applause broke. Well worth the special journey.

The Music Hall at the Guildhall is an excellent venue for recitals, clear acoustic, not too dry; there I first heard Rolf Hind when still a music student (elsewhere!) and noted him for a great future. What does the future hold? So many vicissitudes beset the numerous accomplished pianists who pass through the colleges. We look forward to hearing Alison Luz again.

Forthcoming events at Guildhall School of Music & Drama can be found at http://www.gsmd.ac.uk/

© Peter Grahame Woolf