Summer Concert

Here’s the promised poll to help decide whether or not the Summer Concert should proceed as scheduled in Ken’s on 11th June. You can only vote once, and the poll will close at the end of the month.

As mentioned in the circulated email, at least four members are definitely unable to attend on that date, so the audience could be sparse. We might get a better turnout if the Concert was scheduled for a different date. At this stage we just need to decide about 11th June: Concert or no Concert?


Anticipation: Igor Levit’s new CD

First off, I can’t believe that I haven’t posted anything here since May. Perhaps I need to add stuff here rather than use emails.

Anyway, I have a definite reason for adding this post, because of the increasing excitement behind the release next month of Igor Levit’s new CD. Well, actually, it’s 3 CDs, each to contain a major work from the Variations repertory. In an inspired move, this brilliant young pianist has decided to couple the Goldberg, Diabelli and ‘People United’ Variations.

Igor Levit

‘People United?’, you ask. Yes, Frederic Rzewski’s monster work The People United Will Never Be Defeated! is well worthy of appearing in the same company as Bach and Beethoven. I’ve written about it here before (can it really be over five years ago?), and make no apologies for doing so again. In fact, I’ve recently added a sixth recording to my collection, and will soon add Igor Levit’s new recording as my seventh.

Just as with Rzewski, I’ve also mentioned Igor Levit before, though not here. I was blown away by his first recording (of late Beethoven piano sonatas) and raved about it either by email or at one of our sessions. I remember that Peadar was disappointed when he followed my advice and bought that CD, but I remain a firm fan (hint: you may see why when next I take a presentation slot), and would dearly love to hear him in the flesh.

My fandom is reinforced by an interview which he gave to Qobuz, one of my favourite download sites, during the making of the new release. He comes across as a lovely guy, full of youthful enthusiasm, as I hope you’ll agree when you see the interview.

Arte Videos and The Opera Platform


Members are familiar with recordings from the Arte TV channel which Dermot and Ron bring to our sessions, making us jealous of the access they have to such wonderful programmes.

Well, we underprivileged ones can now watch also, thanks to Arte on the web.


(Note: The above link brings up a list of available videos which are free to view. Each video remains up for an extended period (six months or so). To speed up loading time, only a limited number of items appears to begin with. I’ve outlined in red a clickable area at the bottom of the web page which displays additional items.)


Arte are one of several broadcasters and opera houses who have come together to launch a very welcome new initiative on the web. Arte’s video web site has a direct link in its menu (indicated by the red arrow in the screen shot above), or you can find The Opera Platform here. The Opera Platform is an initiative of Opera Europa developed in partnership with ARTE and fifteen opera houses/festivals from across Europe. The Opera Plaform launched with David McVicar’s production of La Traviata in a performance recorded on the 8th of May at the Teatro Réal in Madrid. Also available is a recording of Szymanowski’s King Roger, a Covent Garden performance recorded on the 16th of May (was this screened to cinemas?).

Anyway, do make a note of The Opera Platform.

Renata Tebaldi’s Tosca, ROH 1955

It’s amazing what modern technology can achieve. A case in point is the amazing advances which have been made in re-mastering old recordings. At the forefront of this development is Pristine Classics, an outfit which specialises in re-mastering from best available sources. Its most recent offering is a recording of Tosca — not any old Tosca, but the Tosca which began Renata Tebaldi’s debut season at Covent Garden in 1955.

From the Pristine site:

When the BBC began broadcasting FM radio on the VHF band on 2nd May 1955 in the south-east of England, it’s unlikely that many people tuned in on the first night. Indeed, it’s unlikely that many people had the necessary equipment to do so. The incentives might have appeared slender: the same three radio stations, the same mono sound, but a bit clearer and with more treble. Outside of a certain enthusiast market I doubt many people rushed out to buy new radio sets for the occasion.

Which may explain why the present recording came about as it did. Although our copy came via a 1/4″ open-reel tape dub, it’s without a doubt the case that the original recording was made onto 33rpm acetate discs in a recording studio hired for the task of capturing Tebaldi’s Covent Garden Tosca from the BBC’s live FM broadcast of 30 June, 1955, less than two months after the transmitter was switched on.

As with other BBC recordings of the era the precise origins of the recording, who made it, for whom, and where it went to over the years, are entirely unknown. But here it is – a copy has surfaced and found itself directed to me, and although the performance is available as a CD already, the sonic leap forward offered by this higher quality source made it irresistible. This remarkable new find has proved to be immeasurably superior in sound quality to the previously issued recording, with a full, realistic, clear and vibrant sound almost throughout. Magnificent!

If you already have this on CD you’ll want to jettison the previous disc. If you don’t, maybe because you couldn’t bear the shrill, hard, thin and constricted sound, then listen again. It’s a Tosca and a half, and is definitely one you’ll want to hear right now.

So, here’s a sound file of highlights. Renata Tebaldi is Tosca (obviously), with Tito Gobbi as Scarpia. Ferruccio Tagliavini is Cavaradossi, though I don’t think we hear him in the excerpts. The Orchestra and Chrous of the ROH are conducted by Francesco Molinari-Pradelli.

Please help with the website re-design

As you all know, the Presentations section of our web site is still languishing in a sort of no-man’s-land, waiting to be integrated into the recent re-design which launched in December.

This is to assure you all that I haven’t been idle since then. With a recent job safely out of the way a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been able to devote some time to this task, and have made good progress. I have reached a bit of a crossroads, though. I’ve succeeded with integration of the “view by date” part of the existing site Presentations page, but now feel that the ongoing process provides an ideal opportunity to look at things afresh rather than merely reproduce what’s there already.

Before proceeding down this path, I’m anxious to get some feedback from members about the merits and demerits of the existing setup — and what better way to go about this than with a Survey. Do please respond to this. As with our recent poll, the more members who respond, the better idea we get of how people feel and what they want.

The Survey is here.

Adding privacy to our web site

Here’s a poll to help decision-making. You can only vote once, and the poll will close in one week, on 22nd March at 11:59 pm.

Continue reading for the background
Following on from the nasty hacking experience towards the end of last year, some members wondered aloud about adding a login feature to our site, whereby access to either the entire site or to individual pages would be restricted and would require registration and subsequent login using username and password. The group reaction was mixed, and I undertook to investigate options and report back, which I’m now doing.

First, let me stress that registration and login would do nothing to protect us from another hacking attack: it would add a privacy layer to the site, but do nothing to improve security. That said, my instinctive reaction to the idea was that this could be done quite easily if the members so desire — but…

The ‘but’ is a technical one. As you know, the re-design which I introduced in December is still not fully implemented. This is because the web-design software I used does not support what are known as ‘dynamic’ web pages. This is why the Presentations page brings visitors back to the old site, which I hard-coded and which is hosted on a server which supports database querying and retrieval. Databases are at the heart of dynamic web pages, but the re-design software doesn’t support them. A registration and login implementation also depends on using the same web techniques, so cannot be developed with the re-design software.

I am fully aware of the need to apply the re-design across the entire web site, and am currently familiarising myself with more sophisticated software which will enable me to generate dynamic content such as the Presentations page. When I master the necessary techniques, I could then also apply them to a registration/login system. What would then remain would be the integration of elements from both software instances into a single site.

In summary, yes, we can add registration/login, but it will be a while before that could be up and running. More fundamental, though, is the question of whether or not the group wishes to go down this road. Dermot came up with an answer to one aspect which concerned me, which was that contributing to our weblog (even to leave a comment) currently requires registration and login, and it would be even more off-putting if visitors had to login once to enter the site and then again to interact with the weblog. Dermot’s compromise suggestion, which is to eliminate registration/login for the weblog, solves this neatly. So that leaves the fundamental question: do we want to go down this road?

Good news for Philadelphia

Yannick renews

In a sign of his long-term dedication to the Orchestra and Philadelphia, Yannick Nézet-Séguin has extended his tenure as music director [of the Philadelphia Orchestra] for another five years, through the 2021-22 season. Heralded for inspiring and revitalizing the Orchestra, Yannick has developed a deep connection with the musicians of the ensemble that has resulted in thrilling performances. He has brought fresh inspiration to the repertoire, created new access points for community members of all backgrounds, and built audiences by transforming the concert experience. Yannick said, “The warm embrace of The Philadelphia Orchestra and its audiences has been humbling and exhilarating since I made my debut in 2008. Knowing that this love affair with the Orchestra and the City of Philadelphia will continue is an immense joy.”

That’s from the official press release, but it sums up the news quite neatly. Certainly, Yannick is among the current crop of exciting young conductors. Like the Skibereen Echo, I’ve had my eye on him for some time.

Carl Nielsen Anniversary Website

We all know that the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Carl Nielsen is one of the highlights of 2015’s musical year. We will be doing our bit to mark the occasion with our Nielsen Day on 6th June, and that’s by no means to be sneezed at.

But there are other people out there who are also doing their bit to do something special. Chief among these is this site which is a wonder to behold.

Carl Nielsen Anniversary Website

This quote from one of the contributors to the Friends of Radio Three forum sums it up nicely:

This is a model of how the internet can enhance one’s knowledge and understanding – especially if you scroll down and click on ‘Works’ when you can select, hear and follow the score of a host of his pieces.

Clicking on the Menu button reveals this extensive list of content, which gives some idea of the vast amount of information available. This site deserves a bookmark in anyone’s browser.

Screenshot 2015-01-13 12.54.35