Zenaida Yanowsky as Elizabeth allows us to see a dancer in her prime, capable of expressing emotion through her movement, never at a loss in this exploration of the Virgin Queen’s life. Carlos Acosta represents the various men in her life while displaying his remarkable artistry. Acosta has retired and Yanowsky is about to retire from the Royal Ballet, so it is good to have this souvenir of two dancers whom I imagine were rarely paired in performances of other ballets. Martin Yates’s score is an imaginative piece, using Elizabethan music as a blueprint while maintaining a contemporary feeling, and Raphael Wallfisch is amazing in the sounds he draws from his cello. (Joel Kasow)
Just ten or fifteen years ago, the idea that two pieces might be enough to fill an album of Howard Skemptons music would have seemed astonishing, but here are two works, each over 30 minutes long. Skempton takes on Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and presents it sparsely for solo baritone (Roderick Williams) and small chamber ensemble (BCMG).
In 1974, British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan in turn decided to focus on the two protagonists for an ambitious ballet that could translate the feelings and emotions of two souls abused by the accidents of life and their own personal weaknesses. In short, how a young girl on her way to a convent manages to elope with the young student with whom she has just fallen in love, only to leave him to escape destitution and finally allow herself to be persuaded by her brother Lescaut to yield to the advances of wealthy “protectors”. Accused of prostitution and deported to Louisiana, Manon is rescued by Des Grieux. Driven to murder by Manon’s jailer, he escapes with her into the marshes where the young girl ultimately succumbs. Although sincere, the love that Manon and Des Grieux share for each other cannot stand up to the vagaries of existence. As a result, neither is able to escape moral or social decline. Rather than reuse the score of Massenet’s opera, MacMillan entrusted Leighton Lucas with the task of arranging a series of extracts taken from a selection of the French composer’s operatic, symphonic and vocal scores… The end result was a huge success from its debut performance in London in 1974 onwards.
English composer Thomas Tallis witnessed dramatic changes of religion under four monarchs, and his career accordingly represents the development of polyphonic church music in Renaissance England. Along with his student and fellow Roman Catholic, William Byrd, Tallis was one of the earliest composers to publish music under royal patent in England, and his works demonstrated the shifting doctrines and styles of liturgy in the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. This 2017 Obsidian release features one piece with a text by Henry VIII's sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr, which gives the album its title, though the mix of Roman Catholic and Anglican pieces on the program suggests that "songs of Reformation" may be seen as one-sided. In any case, the performances by the vocal ensemble Alamire and the viol consort Fretwork put the emphasis on Tallis and his varied output, rather than on the theological preferences of royalty. The result is a well-balanced portrait of Tallis, and his choral music is given transparent textures and clear diction by the 14-voice choir, which maintains independence of parts while offering an evenly blended tone.