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.
Ruby Hughes began her musical studies as a cellist, graduating from the Guildhall School of Music in London before going on to study singing at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Munich and the Royal College of Music, London, on a full scholarship. A BBC New Generation artist in 2011–13, Ruby Hughes held a Borletti Buitoni Trust award, was shortlisted for a 2014 Royal Philharmonic Society Music award, and was winner of the first prize and audience prize at the 2009 London Handel competition.
She made her début at the Theater an der Wien in 2009 as Roggiero (Tancredi) con- ducted by René Jacobs, returning as Fortuna (L’incoronazione di Poppea). She has sung major roles at the London Handel Festival, Buxton Festival, Aix-en-Provence Festival, English National Opera, Garsington Opera, The Opera Group, Music Theatre Wales and Scottish Opera, as well as in Jonathan Miller’s production of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the National Theatre. Festival appearances include the Edinburgh International Festi- val, the BBC Proms with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Cheltenham, Gent OdeGand, Göttingen, Lockenhaus, Lucerne, Manchester International, Nuremberg, St Endellion and West Cork. Ruby Hughes has broadcast and recorded extensively and has sung under many leading conductors; she is also a keen recitalist, working particularly closely with Joseph Middleton and Julius Drake.
Pianist Joseph Middleton specializes
in the art of song accompaniment and
chamber music and has been highly
acclaimed in this field. Described in
Opera Magazine as ‘the rightful heir to
legendary accompanist Gerald Moore’,
by BBC Music Magazine as ‘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. He is Director of Leeds
Lieder, Musician in Residence and
a Bye Fellow at Pembroke College,
Cambridge and a Fellow of his alma
mater, the Royal Academy of Music,
where he is also a Professor. He was
the first accompanist to win the
Royal Philharmonic Society’s
Young Artist Award.
Joseph is a frequent guest at major music centres including London’s Wigmore Hall (where he has been a featured artist), Royal Opera House and Royal Festival Hall, New York’s Alice Tully Hall and Park Avenue Armory, Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Konzerthaus and Musikverein Vienna, Zürich Tonhalle, Hamburg Elbphilharmonie, Berlin BoulezSaal, Kölner Philharmonie, Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Lille and Gothenburg Opera Houses, Baden- Baden, Philharmonie Luxembourg, Musée d’Orsay Paris, Oji Hall Tokyo and Festivals in Aix-en-Provence, Aldeburgh, Barcelona, Schloss Elmau, Edinburgh, Munich, Ravinia, San Francisco, Schubertiade Hohenems and Schwarzenberg, deSingel, Soeul, Stuttgart, Toronto and Vancouver.
He made his BBC Proms debut in 2016 alongside Iestyn Davies and Carolyn Sampson and returned in 2018 alongside Dame Sarah Connolly where they premiered recently discovered songs by Benjamin Britten.
Joseph enjoys recitals with internationally established singers including Sir Thomas Allen, Louise Alder, Mary Bevan, Ian Bostridge, Allan Clayton, Dame Sarah Connolly, Marianne Crebassa, Iestyn Davies, Fatma Said, Samuel Hasselhorn, Christiane Karg, Katarina Karnéus, Angelika Kirchschlager, Dame Felicity Lott, Christopher Maltman, John Mark Ainsley, Ann Murray DBE, James Newby, Mark Padmore, Mauro Peter, Miah Persson, Sophie Rennert, Ashley Riches, Dorothea Röschmann, Kate Royal, Carolyn Sampson, Nicky Spence and Roderick Williams.
He has a special relationship with BBC Radio 3, frequently curating his own series and performing alongside the BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists. His critically acclaimed and fast-growing discography has seen him awarded a Diapason D’or, Edison Award and Priz Caecilia as well as receiving numerous nominations for Gramophone, BBC Music Magazines and International Classical Music Awards. His interest in the furthering of the song repertoire has led Gramophone Magazine to describe him as ‘the absolute king of programming’.
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!