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St Olave's Church & Blackheath Halls

Concerts curated by Tom Butler

St Olave's, London 25 January 2012

A delightful recital in the series organised by Tom Butler by two fine artists with connections to Guildhall SMD. Rebecca v d Berg had an easy way of communicating with an audience, whether introducing her songs or conveying their feeling whilst singing; and she was unfazed that there were only a score of us there, in contrast with a full house the first time.

Both Rebecca, an established opera singer, and her splendid accompanist partner deployed a huge dynamic range which was perfectly adjusted to the good acoustics of the beautiful St Olave's near The Tower of London.

Outstanding was their Wolf group - Kennst du das Land was deepy moving - and so were the Hahns, lighter but full of warmth. The Bernstein selection somehow didn't feel quite right in a church at lunchtime. Mark Ruszczynski brought both intensity and discretion into the partnership and this short recital left us wanting more.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Cosima Piano Quintet
Evelina Puzaite piano Katerina Mitchell violin Algirdas Galdikas violin Jenny Lewisohn viola Angélique Lihou cello

Movements from Schumann, Franck, Shostakovich & Korngold Piano Quintets

Blackheath Halls 30 January 2012

This group, formed of advanced international students from the Guildhall SMD and Royal College of Music in London gave at Blackheath one of the most spectacular and impressive recitals ever heard in the Halls there.

It was ostensibly a modest lunchtime occasion, but proved to be a well filled hour of exceptional music making.

It is repertoire, repertoire and repertoire again which determines what we choose to cover, and the Cosima Quintet was a name new to me.

But instead of one of the major piano quintets, they opted for a composite consisting of single movements from four of them; just what appeals to me rather than intégrales which are so often presented again and again on CD, e.g. all the Bach suites, all the xxxs...

This worked brilliantly and left an audience keen to explore all these works, of which the Franck & Korngold will have been unfamiliar to many. The Schumann was notable for a perfect balance (the Recital room acoustics appealed to them) and the Shostakovich for a coruscating account of the manic Scherzo.

Mention should be made of Tom Butler, the perceptive curator of this Friends' series.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Note: Evelina Puzaite has a splendid CD of Kodaly, Liszt, Rachmaninoff
and her compatriot the Lithuanian composer Ciurlionis, on Landor LAN281.


Andrius Puskunigis (oboe)
Evelina Puzaite (piano)

Schumann : Adagio and Allegro
Rachmaninov : a selection from 'Moments Musicaux' (piano solo)
Chopin : Mazurka op.24 no.3, Prelude op.28 no.7, Waltz op.69 no.1
Piazzolla : Ave Maria; Oblivion
Rossini : Allegro
Gershwin : Summertime; An American in Paris
Shostakovich : Valse

Blackheath Halls, London 6-02-2012

A very successful recital of Schumann, Chopin etc; mostly duet arrangements, plus some solo piano items. It all sounded well in Blackheath's recital room and the programme had links with the Duo's Schumann CD, made in France to a high musical and technical standard. It is well worth acquiring, with a tracklist that won't duplicate a recording you have.

The most substantial work is a competitive account of Schumann's Davisbundlertanze ("the most significant and least performed of the composer's major piano cycles"), which does not give way in my opinion to the last version reviewed, that of Ian Holtham ).

See Puskunigis & Puzaite play Chopin





At a well attended lunchtime recital at Blackheath Halls during schools half-term, Mozart's Sonata K377 in F, featuring some lovely playing from Nadia Myerscough in the the Theme and Variations second movement. Catherine Kiernan's Fantasia No1 ( a rather jolly Celtically infused piece of micro- minimalism performed on the composer's 82nd birthday) and of Janacek's Violin Sonata completed the well balanced programme.

The Janacek Sonata was very much the highlight of the recital with Nadia Myerscough & Clelia Iruzin finding an excellent sonic balance between the instruments. In her introduction to it, explaining his "speech-melody" technique, Nadia Myesrcough confessed that although she had long admired Janacek, she has only recently begun to play his music.

Nadia clearly has an affinity with this wonderful music and one hopes to hear her, perhaps with the Tamesis Quartet [R] in the later works.

Mark Dennis



French & Spanish Song
Gaëlle Arquez Mezzo-Soprano with James Baillieu piano

St Olave's Church, 8 February 1012

A notable event in the St Olave's lunchtime series, despite adverse conditions. This admired and attractive singer brought us Iberian sunshine, in perfect control of her lovely mezzo voice on a wintry

day in which the cold percolated into the church, as did the sound of repairs to a gas main right outside the window.

Gaëlle Arquez was impeccably accompanied by James Baillieu, professor of accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music, before a substantial audience which had braved the sub-zero temperature.

Definitely a name to watch out for* on the recital circuit.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* A second review, with the words in italics from the songs !: This was an exquisite hour of pure, perfect magic. Even the few ‘imperfect’ moments - the thunderous roar of the workmen’s drill - somehow added to the magic of the whole, because it brought us the joy of heaven when it stopped! And we could enjoy consummate musical artistry at its wondrous best.

Gaëlle was utterly enchanting - bewitching in every mood. I do hope Pepys was listening - he would have loved her so. And James was the perfect accompanist - sensitive, subtle - an unforgettable partnership. It was a privilege to hear them, to share in such a very special occasion. I do not believe that even kings could know such happiness as mine. Except perhaps to hear them again with Gaëlle singing Spectre de la Rose from Berlioz’s Nuits d’été. Rapturous thought!

Handa Bray

Trio Madame

Flore Philis, Clemmie Franks and Felicity Sim

Blackeath Halls 27 February 2012

A pleasing hour of music by three friends who had studied at Trinity College and have got an audience-friendly recital format together.

They introduce their programmes informally; the singers talk to the audience, take turns as page turners, and stay sitting on stage for piano solo items (Grahame Johnson made a stir doing all that at Wigmore Hall with his Songmakers' Almanac, 1976).

Vocal duets provide the core of their sequences. Blackheath's Recital Room was an ideal venue for them; to cheer us up at the end they gave as encore a rare Britten duet - see them in Underneath the abject willow on YouTube.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Strauss, Debussy, Schroyens & Rodrigo

Ann de Renais with Jonathan Beatty

Blackheath Halls, London 16 April 2012

Richard Strauss from Brentano Lieder Op. 68 (1918) An die Nacht Ich wollt’ ein Sträußlein binden Amor
Claude Debussy
Quatre Chansons de Jeunesse Pantomime (1882) Clair de Lune (1882) Pierrot (1881) Apparition (1884)
Raymond Schroyens from Before Sundown (2008-2010) He wishes for the cloths of heaven; Walk slowly
Joaquin Rodrigo
Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios (1948) ¿Con qué la lavaré? Vos me matásteis ¿De dónde venís, amore? De los álamos vengo, madre

This was one of the best recitals curated by Tom Butler at Blackheath.

Billed as a coloratura soprano, the Belgian singer Ann de Renais began with Strauss, revealing a rich, mezzo tone quality (afterwards she told me that she had indeed worked as a mezzo in the past). But she likes ascending to the leger lines, and does so with equanimity and complete control; no feeling of doing perilous tricks.

This was a well chosen and balanced programme, including two rich settings of English words (Yeats & Adelaide Love) composed especially for her. Jonathan Beatty was a more than exemplary partner, sensitive to all the nuances, and balancing the singer perfectly on the Recital Room's fine Bösendorfer.

A singer to look out for and one to go a distance to hear !

Peter Grahame Woolf

See our CD review of Ann de Renais in Franck Melodies

SCHUBERT: Winterreise


Blackheath Halls, London 30 April 2012

A finished young German baritone, though still studying in London at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama Opera Department, Benjamin Appl brought a fully assimilated account of Die Winterreise to Blackheath, making this lunchtime event one of the very most accomplished and spellbinding concerts heard in the Recital Room over many years.

Appl's voice was relaxed, assured and expressive throughout its range, with mellifluous dark tones befitting this harrowing journey, reflecting Schubert's latter days when he knew his life to be doomed. Appl has the basis for a distinguished career and is yet another singer discovered by Tom Butler one will be keen to to travel to hear again.

And no less memorable was the partnership of James Cheung, a distinguished free-lance pianist and accompanist, who brought a depth of knowledge of this key cyccle in the repertoire and contributed on equal terms with the singer's interpretation; immediacy and a small intimate venue play their parts, but I have no been so wholly absorbed in a Winterreise performance by more famous names for many a year. And the Blackheath Bösendorfer, lid thrust fully open, contributed its part, the darker tones of the baritone version making a rich totality with the singer, in perfect accord and balance.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Benjamin Appl on YouTube [L] singing and talking about Winterreise (in German)

And sample two extraordinary Winterreises:

1. A composed Interpretation by Hans Zender ( BMG Classics 09026 68067 Blochwtz/Ensemble Modern)

2. Arrangement with winds and accordion ! ATMA classique ACD2 2546 - Pregardien/Joseph Petric etc


Mozart, Prokofiev, Franck and Ravel

Milena Simovic violin Alissa Legroux piano
Yuka Ishizuka violin Sanaz Sotoudeh, piano

Blackheath Halls 14 & 21 May 2012

We were not able to stay for the whole of the first of these violin recitals; the Prokofiev 5 melodies was a welcome rarity from Milena, well put across [L].

Yuka & Sanaz the next week [below R] gave Blackheath regulars a zestful, exciting roller-coaster; they didn't even take a pause after the Franck sonata before launching into Tzigane ! *

Not the last degree of finesse, but a thoroughly invigorating hour filmed and recorded for the artists; Yuka Ishizuka a real performer, well supported by Sanaz Sotoudeh, who will be returning to Blackheath for Hafez, Goethe and the West-Eastern Divan, a gala Summer Evening Concert on 15 June.

* Enjoy this performance of Tzigane on YouTube !

Peter Grahame Woolf


Hafez, Goethe and the West-Eastern Divan

Songs by Schubert, Schumann, Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn, Szymanowski & Wolf inspired by the poetry of Hafez & Goethe.
Jennifer France  soprano, Benjamin Appl baritone, Stuart Jackson tenor and  Sanaz Sotoudeh piano, with Richard Wigmore presenter.

Recital Room Blackheath Halls 15th June 2012

Hafez was a fourteenth-century Persian poet who is still read and respected throughout the Farsi-speaking regions of Iran and Afghanistan. His collections of poems on the intoxications of love and liquor are known by the title “Divan".

Goethe is for German-speakers what Shakespeare is for us - their pre-eminent poet and playwright. He read the poems of Hafez in German translation and, between 1814 and 1819, was inspired to write no less than twelve books of poems under the collective title “West-Eastern Divan". These seek to illustrate for Western readers the themes and sensibilities of Eastern literature and to stimulating the exchange of ideas between Orient and Occident.

The Persian born pianist, Sanaz Sotoudeh's fascinating programme brought these poems and the songs which they inspired together. For this annual Summer Concert she was joined by three brilliant young singers: Jennifer France (soprano) who had her prize-winner’s recital at Wigmore Hall on 28th May; Stuart Jackson (tenor) who won second prize in the 2011 Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition; and Benjamin Appl (baritone), who gave an outstanding performance of Schubert's Winterreise at the Halls in April.

To guide the audience of The Friends of Blackheath Halls Summer Concert on their journey from 14th century Persia to 19th century Europe Sanaz had enlisted the help of the distinguished music writer, broadcaster and lecturer, Richard Wigmore, whose illuminating introductions greatly enhanced each set of songs, holding our attention with his knowledge and wit.

An enthusiastic audience filled the Recital Room and enjoyed a concert which would have graced the stage of any Austrian Schubertiade. To prove the point, we learnt that Richard Wigmore was off to one such gathering at Schwarzenberg the next day to give talks on Schubert songs.

The concert began a selection of classic settings of Goethe by the youthful Schubert, shared between soprano and baritone, including a lovesick Gretchen at her spinning wheel and a spell-binding Erlkönig; next Stuart Jackson’s tender tenor voice brought us Hafez’s own words in 5 sparkling settings by the Polish composer Szymanowski. Hafez writes much about unhappy love and as one commentator put it these "songs shimmer with the hues of subtle, glimmering colours.” 

Poems from Goethe’s ‘Book of the Cupbearer’ directly inspired by Hafez, followed, sung with seductive allure by Ben Appl. Next, Jennifer France opened Goethe’s ‘Book of Suleika’ with a ravishing account of two of Schubert’s loveliest songs, Suleika I and II, Sanaz Sotoudeh at the keyboard making light of the fiendishly difficult piano parts. Her playing throughout was sensitive to the extraordinary range of emotions of these works, combining confidence and astute pianism.

Hugo Wolf’s songs from the ‘Book of Suleika’ followed, in which Goethe’s alter ego Hatem exchanges passionate love notes with his beloved Suleika; the same collection provided the final two lieder, one each by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Stuart joining Jennifer in a charming duet to round off the evening.
Congratulations are due to all five participants.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of music and word in the best tradition of the many wonderful song recitals we have heard at the Halls over the past 20 years.

Tom Butler