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07 September 2018
Soprano Ruby Hughes releases her debut solo recital disc with pianist Joseph Middleton, an anthology of night songs by Mahler, Britten, Berg and Schubert. Ruby Hughes introduces the programme:
I have always been fascinated by the various moods of night, from the astonishing drama of storms and sunsets to the tranquillity of darkness: a time for contemplation, meditation, sleep and dreams.
Night has at times evoked darker, more foreboding thoughts and philosophical questions concerning death and existence. Alone at night, the state of mind can be awestruck and frightening under the dark canopy of the universe. At other times it feels safe and calm.
These four composers (Schubert, Mahler, Berg and Britten) have been favourites of mine from a very young age. I love their melodies and modulations, their subtlety and passion as well as their genius for setting and enhancing profoundly moving words. They all composed so lyrically for the voice. Their night songs have at times an otherworldly sense of mystery, as in for example Mahler’s Urlicht, Schubert’s Im Abendrot and Abendstern, Berg’s Warm die Lüfte and Britten’s Um Mitternacht. Their songs also work brilliantly when programmed together, revealing influences such as Schubert’s on Mahler, and Schubert’s and Berg’s on Britten.
Alban Berg’s songs achieve a wonderful blend of his modernist musical language with all he inherited from the romantics (i.e. Schubert through to Mahler). Britten too has the power to combine ancient and modern influences to superb effect.
Pianist Joseph Middleton specialises in the art of song accompaniment and chamber music and has been highly acclaimed within this field. Described in the BBC Music Magazineas ‘one of the brightest stars in the world of song and Lieder’, he has also been labeled ‘the cream of the new generation’ by The Times and ‘a perfect accompanist’ by Opera Now. He performs and records with many of the world’s finest singers in major music centres across Europe, the Americas and Far East. Joseph is Director of Leeds Lieder, a Professor at his alma mater the Royal Academy of Music, and holds the position of Musician in Residence at Pembroke College Cambridge, where he curates an imaginative song recital series as well as directing the University’s Lieder Scheme. In 2016 he became the first accompanist to win the Young Artist Award at the Royal Philharmonic Awards – the highest recognition for live classical music-making in the United Kingdom and had the title Fellow conferred upon him by the Royal Academy of Music.
Joseph enjoys recitals with internationally established singers including Sir Thomas Allen, Louise Alder, Ian Bostridge, Dame Sarah Connolly, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies, Fatma Said, Samuel Hasselhorn, Wolfgang Holzmair, Christiane Karg, Katarina Karnéus, Angelika Kirchschlager, Dame Felicity Lott, Christopher Maltman, John Mark Ainsley, Ann Murray, James Newby, Mark Padmore, Miah Persson, Ashley Riches, Amanda Roocroft, Kate Royal, Matthew Rose, Carolyn Sampson, Nicky Spence and Roderick Williams. He regularly collaborates with rising stars from the younger generation and in 2012 he formed the Myrthen Ensemble to further explore lesser-known song repertoire with regular duo partners Mary Bevan, Clara Mouriz, Allan Clayton and Marcus Farnsworth. Signum Records released their début CD ‘Songs to the Moon‘.
Recent seasons have taken him to London’s Wigmore Hall, Royal Opera House and Royal Festival Hall, the Vienna Konzerthaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw, Köln Philharmonie, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Lille and Gothenburg Opera Houses, Paris Musée d’Orsay, Zürich Tonhalle, deSingel Antwerp, Luxembourg Philharmonie, Bozar Brussels and Tokyo’s Oji Hall. He made his New York debut at the Alice Tully Hall accompanying Dame Sarah Connolly in a recital described in the New York Times as ‘superlative…everything a song recital should be’. Elsewhere in the Americas he has appeared at New York’s Park Avenue Armoury, Toronto’s Koerner Hall, Vancouver’s Chan Centre, San Francisco’s Nourse and Herbst Theatres and Chicago’s Ravinia Festival. He is a regular guest at Festivals in Aix-en-Provence, Aldeburgh, the BBC Proms, Barcelona, Brighton, Cheltenham, Schloss Elmau, Edinburgh, Munich, Oxford Lieder, Stuttgart and West Cork.
His critically acclaimed discography includes a particularly fruitful collaboration with Carolyn Sampson on the BIS label. Their five releases have won an Edison Award, received nominations for Gramophone and BBC Music Magazines Awards, been Radio France’s Disc of the Month and been shortlisted for an International Classical Music Award. Further recording projects include an English Song recital with Dame Sarah Connolly for Chandos which included world premiere recordings of songs by Britten (Gramophone Editor’s Choice, Sunday Times Disc of the Week, top of the official classical charts); ‘Strauss Lieder’ with Louise Alder for Orchid Classics (Sunday Times Top CDs of the Year, Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice, nominated for an International Classical Music Award); ‘Voyages’ with Mary Bevan for Signum Records (nominated for a BBC Music Magazine Award) and, for Champs Hill Records: ‘Nocturnal Variations’ with Ruby Hughes (Recording of the Month – BBC Music Magazine), ‘Elgar in Sussex’ with Dame Felicity Lott, ‘Tell me the Truth about Love’ with Amanda Roocroft, ‘This other Eden’ with Kitty Whately (Shortlisted for Best Disc of 2015 – American Record Guide), the Lieder of Ludwig Thuille with Sophie Bevan and Jennifer Johnston and the complete Purcell/Britten realizations with Ruby Hughes, Allan Clayton and Matthew Rose. Joseph has a special relationship with the BBC through his work with their New Generation Artists Scheme and as such has made numerous live broadcasts of solo, chamber and song repertoire for BBC Radio 3, including frequently being invited to curate his own weeklong series of lunchtime concerts.
Born in Gloucestershire, Joseph graduated with an MPhil from the University of Birmingham, studied piano on an EMI Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music and went on to win the accompanist prizes at the Wigmore Hall International Song, Kathleen Ferrier, Richard Tauber, Royal Over-Seas League and Geoffrey Parsons Awards. He lives near London with his family.
Alban Berg was an Austrian composer. Berg studied from 1904 to 1910 under Arnold Schoenberg and together with his teacher and fellow student Anton Webern he is part of the Second Viennese School. Berg married with Helene Nahowski (1885-1976), a singer who was a daughter from Anna Nahowski and, allegedly, Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria.
At first, Berg applied a free atonality, but later he started developing strict twelve tone techniques and combined these to a style which, despite its expressionistic character, reminds of the Late Romantic music of Gustav Mahler.
Benjamin Britten is one most important British composers from the second half of the twentieth century. Remarkably, he focused on opera, a dying genre, at least in its current form. Britten's contributions however, among which Peter Grimes, The Rape of Lucretia, Gloriana, The Turn of the Screw, and Death in Venice, managed to remain core repertoire for opera companies to this day. Many of these productions included a role for his artistic partner and life companion Peter Pears. Britten also wrote a number of lieder for this tenor, among which his Serenade for tenor, horn and string orchestra. Yet, Britten excelled in many more genres. He wasn't even 20 years old when he composed his brilliant Phantasy for hobo quartet and his friendship with the legendary cellist Rostropovich led to a Cello sonata, three Suites for cello solo and a Symphony for Cello and orchestra in the 1960s.
Britten never became Master of the Queen's Music, yet he surely had feeling for public sentiments. For example, as a pacifist, he taught his people about world peace through his War Requiem from 1962. Britten was an excellent interpreter of his own work, just like Bartók and Stravinsky. Many of his recordings have been matched, but never exceeded.
During his own time, Gustav Mahler was considered as one of the major conductors of Europe, but nowadays he is considered to a major composer who bridged the Late Romantic period to the modern age.
Few composers are so connected with the symphonic repertory as Gustav Mahler. Composing symphonies was his "core business": in every aspect he developed the symphony towards, and sometimes even over, its absolute limits. Almost all of Mahler's symphonies are lenghty, demand a large orchestra and are particularly great in their expressive qualities. With rustic and mythical atmospheres (the start of the First Symphony), daunting chaos (the end of his Sixth), grand visions (end of his Second), cheerful melodies (opening Fourth), romantic melancholy (the famous adagio of his Fifth), evocations of nature (his Third), megalomanic eruptions in the orchestra (his Eighth), and the clamant atonality of his unfinished Tenth, Mahler's musical palette seemed inexhaustible.
His symphonies are captivating, but some could find it a bit 'over the top' at times. For those, his orchestral songs could undoubtedly show there is an incredibly subtle and refined side to his compositional style as well.
In the Netherlands, Mahler is particularly popular due to its close bond with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which was already established during his lifetime!