Sunday, 20 November 2011

Haydn - The Seasons

So, for my latest singing adventure I sang the bass solo last night in a performance of Autumn and Winter from Haydn's Seasons in Abingdon near Oxford.

What a strange and interesting work The Seasons is. Quite unlike standard oratorio repertoire. It is a challenging sing because of the huge amount of solo singing for the soprano (Jane), tenor (Lucas) and bass (Simon). Yes, the soloists really do have these twee character names.

It is considered one of Haydn's greater works, and was for that matter, one of the last works he wrote in old age. The work is based on the long poem "The Seasons" by the englishman James Thomson, forst published in 1730.

The work does seem to engender a love/hate response in musicians when asked about it. In between rousing choruses we have recits, arias, and duets for the soloists, which vary from the sublime to the run-of-the-mill.

The music really does straddle the classical and romantic eras. There is a lot of fugal writing, canons, and counterpoint in places, pointing to Bach and Handel. But the tonal shifts are very bold too, and along with the very bold tone painting point forward into the romantic era. Beethoven's proximity can also be felt strongly, especially the Pastoral Symphony, which shares common ground in it's nature thematicism.

I especially enjoyed the Hunting aria "Behold, along the dewy grass", which is a challenging but fun sing, with wonderful tone painting and effects. The two octave descending leaps on "...from the towering heights" are amongst the most bold in any baritone/bass repertoire.

Fasten your seatbelts!!!!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Panofka - 24 Vocalizzi, Op. 81

The last couple of weeks I've revisited Panofka's 24 Vocalizzi, Op.81.
They are a series of vocalises which work on all aspects of voice production, with an emphasis on breath control and coloratura.

Panofka was regarded as one of the great 19th Century voice teachers, and he had a background as a violinist and composer too.

That much misunderstood term Bel Canto is the name of the game here, but as well as being florid, these are also very vigorous and demanding exercises. They are for intermediate to advanced students of voice only, as their technical demands will be far too great for beginners.

My experience with them, and I'm still only on the first few, is that they are like lubricant for the voice. My way of working with them is of singing each one through once on all the different vowels (only doing three or four of them on any one day). I also emphasise the dynamic markings which are essential. Any clown could sing them through fortissimo all the way through, but the effectiveness of these hangs on an absolute command of dynamic variation.

They help the voice to get the perfect balance of light and dark; smoothness and rondeur in the voice increases, and I find that they expose any flaws in vocal production mercilessly!

Highly recommended.