Violinist David Greed has been Leader of the Orchestra of Opera North since its foundation in 1978 as the English Northern Philharmonia.
Here he makes his choice of eight vocal favourites for lockdown listening, mixed with memories of some very special performances.
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1. J. S. Bach, Matthäus-Passion: ‘Erbarme dich, mein Gott’
This is the most emotional piece of Baroque music I can think of, written in one of Bach’s favourite keys: B minor.
I first got to know the St. Matthew Passion when I sang tenor in a performance of this amazing work at Chetham’s School of Music in 1973. I had the honour of playing the aria ‘Erbarme dich’ with mezzo-soprano Alice Coote at the funeral of Dowager Patricia Harewood.
2. Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro: ‘E Susanna non vien … Dove sono’
The Countess is singing “Where am I?” as her crazy day is turning into chaos.
When I look back at my rather lengthy career at Opera North, I think I would have to pick The Marriage of Figaro as the one opera I would happily play forever: 100 and more performances are not enough!
3. Britten, Peter Grimes: ‘From the gutter’
Britten has an extraordinary ability to generate atmosphere and tension in his music. Here the twisted flute duet and low growling of the horns do the job. Ellen Orford, Auntie and the two nieces quietly reflect “From the gutter, why should we trouble at their ribaldries?”
Many memorable performances at Opera North – conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, Paul Daniel, Richard Farnes.
4. Richard Strauss, Four Last Songs: ‘Im Abendrot’
Sheer beauty. The orchestral opening – lasting some 20 bars – of ‘Im Abendrot’ (At Sunset) are, for me, the most lavish moments in music.
This set of four songs was Strauss’s last completed work. He missed out on the premiere in 1950 by Kirsten Flagstad and Wilhelm Furtwängler: he had died in the previous year.
5. Schubert, ‘Die Forelle’
Schubert’s Lieder are a little unfamiliar to me, but whenever I hear this music sung by artists of great calibre, I am uplifted.
I choose ‘Die Forelle’ (The Trout) for the obvious reason that the theme is used in his Piano Quintet of the same name, a piece I have played many times.
6. Mahler, Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’: ‘Urlicht’
In the middle of this mighty symphony appears a short and amazing movement (the fourth) called ‘Urlicht’, a gentle prayer for the dead. This was Mahler’s first use of the voice in his symphonies. It’s a solemn and simple song depicting relief from worldly woes.
I have played this symphony at Opera North with Steven Sloane and also with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by Gilbert Kaplan (actually not a conductor but a finance wizard of Wall Street!) In that performance, I heard Sue Chilcott sing one of her final concerts before her tragically early death.
7. Verdi, Don Carlos: Grand Inquisitor Scene
A great operatic moment and a rare duet for two basses: the face-off between King Philip and the Grand Inquisitor. Who shall have ultimate power?
Verdi makes extraordinary use of the instruments at the lower end of the orchestra – the contrabassoon, for example. I have heard John Tomlinson sing both roles at Opera North.
8. Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Act Three Trio
The Marschallin releases her lover Octavian to be with his beloved Sophie. This is painful love indeed.
For me, Rosenkavalier goes on just a bit too long! It is a brutal play for strings and actually for most of the instruments. But it all seems worth it when, after three hours of playing, one arrives at the Trio and the following Duet.