Monday, June 24, 2002


Mark Antony Turnage’s timely opera about war, injustice and football makes a welcome return to the English National Opera this month, on 26 and 28 June, and 1, 3 and 6 July 2002. ‘The Silver Tassie’ to a libretto by Amanda Holden, “has been several years in the making .. in the workship environment of the ENO Opera Studio; the result is the most streamlined and cohesive full-length opera to hit the London stage in well over a decade”, according to Richard Whitehouse. He was reviewing the world premier at the London Coliseum in February 2000.

Based on the play by Sean O’Casey, the opera follows the fortunes of a group of young men from Ireland at the time of the First World War. Leaving for the trenches, Harry Heegan and his friends are euphoric: they have won a football cup – the Silver Tassie – and believe themselves invincible. In music at once visceral and tender, Turnage evokes the spectral domain of the battlefield and the shattered lives of the returning men.

Further details on the ENO site.


My home city of Brighton was under siege in Sunday – ‘Party in the Park’ inflicted Blue, Gareth Gates and Hear’say on us, god forbid. Genuine popular music culture was enhanced far more, I’m sure, by the less publicized eighth national air guitar championships. Yes, that’s right: all style, pre-recorded content and no guilt. What a temptation for men of a certain age and inclination. ‘No Stairway To Heaven’ either, according to the legendary notice. Party on, dudes…!


Handel Organ Concertos Opus 4 Nos 1 - 6. Simon Lindley (organ), Northern Sinfonia / Bradley Creswick. Naxos 8.553835, 1997

Though not as popular as his Concerti Grossi, Handel's Organ Concertos have been fair game for recording artists in recent years. They are not terribly well known but they attract readily when heard. As most Handel watchers know, there are three sets of Organ Concertos, only one of which - Opus 4 - was published in the composer's lifetime. It is not unusual for record labels to pick and choose a selection of the most obviously showy or ear-friendly ones. There is nothing wrong with this, since these pieces were produced to act as interludes in Oratorios rather than to be played in sequence. Nevertheless, and not least because this set represents about the only thing that could just about pass muster for 'authenticity' in the genre, it is good to have a 67 minute CD of the six Opus 4 works - in G Minor, B Flat, G minor again, F, F again, and B flat.

These performances by Simon Lindley and the highly competent Northern Sinfonia were recorded at Holy Cross Church, Fentham, England, in 1996. The Concertos are well and faithfully executed. Perhaps because Lindley is better known for his interpretation of French organ music, I wonder whether his playing is not quite in sympathy with their definitely Italianate style. (Having said that, the very best expositor is surely the late Karl Richter, a German, whose Edition is an absolute must if this Naxos taster engages you.) Maybe the problem is not so much in Lindley's playing but in the slightly distant rendering of the organ sound, which tends to lose detail at various key points. In fact the recording level is a little low all round.

But these are details. Given the extraordinarily low price this disc represents undeniably good value and is a worthy introduction to one of the less visible aspects of Handel's considerable output. The Organ Concertos are charming, entertaining and very well crafted. Now make sure you check out the Richter Edition.

[A review of the Richter edition will follow. Back in 1970 Simon Preston also recorded an interesting selection from all three sets with Yehudi Menuhin and the Bath Festival Orchestra – based on six first violins, woodwind and harpsichord. I haven’t found these on CD yet. Let me know if you spot them. Preston has recorded more Handel Organ Concertos with Trevor Pinnock and the English Consort (Archiv, 1995). ]

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