Tune into BBC Radio 3 at 7.30pm on Wednesday 11th January to hear Stephen Layton conducting Bach's B Minor Mass live from Trinity College Chapel.
A stellar cast of soloists and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlgihtenment join Trinity College Choir as they they launch Trinity College's celebrations of the 700th anniversary of King's Hall, which went on to become part of Trinity College, Cambridge.
Katherine Watson Soprano
Helen Charlston Mezzo-soprano
Iestyn Davies Countertenor
Gwilym Bowen Tenor
Neal Davies Bass
The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Stephen Layton conductor.
If you miss the live broadcast, the performance will be available on the BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.
“The Choir of Trinity College can do no wrong with Layton in command” writes Melanie Eskenazi (Music OMH) of their recent performance of Bach: Mass in B minor. “No one could ask for more incisive attack, more control of volume of greater understanding in terms of the shaping of phrases - Et resurrexit should sound emphatic enough to raise the dead, just as Dona nobis pacem should be prayerful and redolent of hope, and both lived up to expectation in spectacular style. A powerful performance of this great work, daring and yet reverent.”
On the other side of the world, Australia is still echoing with praise for the Choir’s tour with Musica Viva in July/August 2016. “This ensemble turned Frank Martin’s Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir into a revelation” writes Clive O’Connell (The Age - Melbourne) in his review of the classical highlights of 2016. “…where you expected awkwardness and effort…Stephen Layton delineated each line with impeccable clarity, their fluent interpretation somehow improving itself as each segment passed”.
Visit our review archive here and use the extensive search facility to explore what else is being said about Stephen Layton.
Leading Australian classical music and arts magazine Limelight has announced Stephen Layton's Howells: Collegium Regale & other choral works as its Recording of the Year 2016.
Recorded in Coventry Cathedral with Trinity College Choir, this is Layton's second recording of the music of Herbert Howells.
Read the full Limelight announcement here
Praise for Howells: Collegium Regale & other choral works
"Stephen Layton has invested Howells’ music with a grandeur, a space and a freedom" - Limelight Magazine, 2016
"This is a stunning recording in so many respects. Attention to dynamic detail, especially the hushed quality of the Magnificat, brings out the ethereal, not to say numinous character of this highly original miniature, imbued as it is with a whiff of French Impressionism" - Gramophone Magazine, 2016
“This selection has all of the polish and charisma to be expected from one of Britain's most accomplished choral conductors, Stephen Layton, and his excellent Cambridge Choir" - Classic FM Magazine, 2016
More about this disc
What a difference a conductor makes
The Seattle Symphony’s guest maestro for this year’s “Messiah” performances, Stephen Layton, put his own expert stamp on Handel’s most famous oratorio Friday evening in the first of four performances at Benaroya Hall. Imaginative, lively, and full of drama, this was a “Messiah” worth the audience’s “hallelujah.”
Layton, a distinguished British conductor whose recordings with the ensemble Polyphony are prized by choral fans, has put together a distinctive and convincing version of the Handel classic. There are several trims; audiences may be startled to see the performance move directly from “The trumpet shall sound” to “Worthy is the lamb,” but it makes dramatic sense. (And few will regret the omission of some of the intervening numbers; even Handel was unevenly inspired, particularly when he was in a hurry. He composed his “Messiah” in just under three weeks.)
Full of exciting contrasts and beautifully tailored dynamics, Layton’s briskly paced reading commands the listener’s involvement. The chorus “Surely he hath borne our griefs” was given punchy, almost aggressive accents. “All we like sheep” was all rollicking energy until the final line (“The iniquity of us all”), which Layton drew out at great length, leaning on the dissonance of a minor second in the next-to-last bar.
With a wealth of expressive details and dynamic contrasts, this was a performance that made clear Layton’s mastery of this score and its timing. There were no awkward pauses; soloists moved into place before their entrances, and the transitions were nearly seamless. The soloists, all from various locations in the British Isles, included soprano Eleanor Dennis, mezzo-soprano Helen Charlston, tenor Gwilym Bowen, and baritone Robert Davies. They ranged from commendable to downright thrilling. Dominating that latter category was Bowen, who made the kind of impact not heard here since the lone “Messiah” appearance in Seattle of the great English tenor Phillip Langridge, back in the late 1970s. Lyrical and agile, with considerable expressive depth, Bowen delivered every phrase as if it had just occurred to him, with unfailingly expressive spontaneity. His “Thy rebuke” was positively heart-rending.
The Chorale, prepared by Joseph Crnko, was a fleet and nimble ensemble, following Layton’s tempo changes with alacrity. The trimmed-down orchestra, with Simon James as concertmaster, played with very little vibrato; David Gordon’s trumpet solos were nobly executed. Organist Joseph Adam added to the drama by dashing from the small onstage instrument up to the loft of the mighty Watjen concert organ for a final “Amen” that shivered the timbers of the hall — and the audience.
Go, if you can: who knows when the Symphony will be able to lure Layton back, and hearing him at work with these musical forces is a holiday treat not to be missed.
Review by Melinda Bargreen
"Layton’s approach to Handel’s popular masterpiece is full of insight, and the result a performance to be remembered – and with Messiah, that’s saying something" writes Peter Burdon in The Adelaide Advertiser.
One of the 9 Messiah performances Layton will conduct across the globe this season, this performance in Adelaide Town Hall was fantastically well received by critics and audience members alike.
"Layton’s approach is idiosyncratic, to be sure – to wit the astonishing use of the Town Hall’s vast Walker pipe organ in full roar in the closing bars of the “Amen chorus. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did. And it was utterly thrilling." The Adelaide Advertiser
Messiah 2016: Australia-USA-UK
For more than a decade Polyphony has given annual sell-out performances of Bach’s St John Passion and Handel’s Messiah at St John’s Smith Square. These have become notable events in London’s music calendar and have been broadcast by BBC Radio 3 and the EBU. According to the Evening Standard, “no one performs Handel’s Messiah better every year than the choir Polyphony”.
Read more about Stephen Layton's Handel Recording Project