CT Tango Ensemble News

April 30, 2010

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

Dear Musiclover

We are extremely happy that we have so many supporters – I think it is OK to call them fans? – who have contributed to our success. Our performance at the Waterfront was a success and we are planning our trip to Gauteng. I will be playing Tango concerts in addition to classical music concerts in Singapore in June – and naturally promote and sell the albums while I am there. So there is much activity going on!

Our latest CD is selling well, and the launch was an enormous success. We are getting regular radio time, and people are listening to our muisc! It has also generated a new wave of interest in our first CD. This email is to summarise where it is easiest to buy the discs or downloadable tracks, and to give you some recent reviews.

The cheapest way is obvioulsy to buy the discs directly from the group members. (Contact me for details). And we always have discs to sell directly at our many gigs and concerts. But many of our friends and fans live far away and need to buy it through a regular outlet.

I would appreciate it if you would forward this mail to anybody you know who might be interested in Argentine Tango, the music of Astor Piazzolla, or simply beautiful music. People living overseas would also find it easy to shop at the Online Distributer we have set up below. All the sites enable you to Listen Before You Buy. Sounds fair, doesn’t it?

CT Tango Ensemble’s new CD Tango Club will be on sale at branches of Look & Listen throughout South Africa. Our first CD El Tango en Africa  is on sale locally through RhythmMusicStore.
Both our CD’s – Tango Club and El Tango en Africa – are also on sale internationally in album format and as downloadable MP3 tracks from iTunes and CDBaby – just click the links below.

Listen to El Tango en Africa here:

Buy El Tango en Africa here:
in Rands: http://rhythmmusicstore.com/music/58/Cape-Town-Tango-Ensemble/El-Tango-En-Africa
and in Dollars: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ctte

Read Reviews of El Tango en Africa here:

Listen to Tango Club here: http://www.albertcombrink.com/2010/04/17/tango-club-demo-tracks/

Buy Tango Club here:

Read Reviews of Tango Club here:

Thanks very much and hope you have a day filled with love and music!

Albert Combrink

King Kong, the first All African Jazz Opera 1958

 King Kong is of course one of the most famous American films ever made (and remade). The story of the giant ape transported from a faraway island to New York, captured the imagination of millions since its first release in 1933. South Africa however, has its own King Kong. In 1958 King Kong became the first all African Jazz Opera, with a star studded local cast including Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers, Kippie Moeketsi, Abigail Kubheka and Hugh Masekela.

Opera in a Convent Garden, an annual concert held at Springfield Convent School (St. John’s Road, Wynberg), this year features a delightful choral extract from this work.  Albert Horne, chorus master of Cape Town Opera, made an arrangement of the famous number Back of the Moon, which will be performed by the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble – South Africa’s premier opera chorus.

Miranda Tini

Soloists will be Cape Town favourites Shirley Sutherland (My Fair Lady) and  Miranda Tini, whose extraordinary voice has thrilled audiences locally and internationally in roles as diverse as Jezibaba from Dvorak’s Rusalka and Mariah in Porgy and Bess praised at the Cardiff Millennium Centre in Wales, for her “powerful stage presence and equally powerful voice.” (Bill Kenny: Music Web International) 

Cape Town Opera chorus’ experience with Jazz influenced works such as Scott Joplin’s Treemonisha and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess make them ideal interpreters of this neglected work from the South African cultural heritage.

In 1956, the Syndicate of African Artists commissioned Todd Matshikiza to write a large work for choir and orchestra. The composer had written successful choral works before, but since no orchestra was available, Uxolo was created on a massive scale for choirs and brass band. The success of this work – with its jazzy undertones, led in part to the creation of the musical/Jazz Opera King Kong. Lyrics were by Pat Williams. Matshikiza wrote the music as well of some of the lyrics (some in African languages).

Miriam Makeba: Our beloved "Mama Africa"

Lead roles were taken by Nathan Mdledle and Miriam Makeba, who created the role of Shebeen Queen Joyce, the matriarch running the Back of the Moon watering hole. This role brought Mama Africa Makeba international attention and launched a singing career that sustained her throughout her life as an Apartheid exile. The 63 member cast was backed by the cream of South Africa’s jazz musicians, including the now legendary reed player Kippie Moketsi


Opening early in 1959 at the Wits University Great Hall, the show was an immediate success. By the time the show travelled to London in 1961, 200 000 South Africans, had seen the show. The life of boxer Ezekial Dhlamini was good material for a stage work. His meteoric rise to the top of South Africa’s boxing world as the famous ‘King Kong’ was in sad contrast to his descent into drunkenness, violence and murder. He killed himself by drowning at age 32. Matshikiza had covered Dhlamini’s 1950’s trial for treason as a journalist and was aboviously well-acquainted with his subject matter. According to The Daily Mail & Guardian, “Matshikiza understood his central character, and, more importantly, understood the whole world that surrounded ‘King Kong’. He understood the whole black world of the townships that fed Johannesburg and the histories of the people who filled those townships.” ~ Craig Harris, All Music Guide


Composer and author Todd Matshikiza

Todd Matshikiza (1921-1968)  is considered by many, as belonging to the royalty of South African music. One of a family of 10 – all of whom instrumentalists and singers –  Todd started piano lessons at the age of 6. As an adult he ran the Todd Matshikiza School of Music, where he also taught the piano. From 1949 to 1954, Matshikiza was a committee member of the Syndicate of African Artists. This group aimed to promote music in the townships by getting visiting artists to perform there. Finding it difficult to make a living as a jazz musician, he joined the editorial staff of Drum Magazine.  He wrote a jazz column covering the township scene, particularly in Sophiatown, where he commented on the likes of Kippie Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela who both played for the The Jazz Epistles. He also covered township life in his regular column With the lid off.

South African arts bosses should take note:  the time is surely right for a revival of King Kong. With musicians such as Albert Horne taking such an active interest in the history of black jazz in this country, it would be a pleasant surprise if the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology would also take such an active interest in the preservation of this piece of cultural heritage.

  Read more about Todd Matshikiza at africancomposers.co.za and sacomposers.co.za

Other works on the programme Opera in a Convent Garden  include operatic extracts such as Juliet’s Waltz Song from Gounod’s opera Romeo e Juliette, the Doll Song from Offenbach’s Les Contes D’Hoffmann. Musicals The Student Prince and Show Boat round out a programme designed to please all ages. The accompanists are pianists Albert Horne and Albert Combrink.

When: Sunday 7 February 2010

Time: 17h30

Where: Springfield Convent School (St. John’s Road, Wynberg, Cape Town)

Price: Adults R100 / Scholars R20

Bookings: 076 696 4630

Chorus Master Albert Horne with the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

Sunday, February 7th, 2010, will find Opera in a Convent Garden once more in the beautiful gardens of Springfield Convent in Wynberg, Cape Town. Our formidable cast this year features soprano Shirley Sutherland and the Cape Town Opera Voice of the Nation Ensemble. Chorus Master of Cape Town Opera Albert Horne and pianist Albert Combrink will create the very essential ‘orchestra’ to match the voices.

Gems from the soprano coloratura repertoire will be woven between extracts from Porgy and Bess, Die Fledermaus, My Fair Lady, The Student Prince, King Kong and Traditional Gospel Spirituals.

The Gate in the Junior School campus, opens at 15hoo, parking will be on the grounds accessed via Convent Road.   The show begins at 17.30 and pre-concert attractions will include the Cape Town Caledonian Pipe Band and a Marimba orchestra).

Bring your picnics, blankets and low chairs.  Pizza and pancakes will be available at the Opera Cafe as well as other refreshments.

Book during school hours on 021 797 9637 (ext 200) or on 021 689 8345 and 076 696 4630. Contact us on OperaConventGarden@mweb.co.za

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink present “Blues in the Night” at the Kleinmond The Big Blue(s) Festival on Jan 10 2010. Taken from their latest CD “Night Sessions”, this programme of songs is inspired by the Night, the Blues, and the great singers who have sung the Blues: Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Eva Cassidy are amongst the vocalists that provide the inspiration for a fresh look at these ever-popular songs. The songs such as  “Old Devil Moon”, “Round Midnight” and  “Fly me to the Moon”, will take you on a personal journey of musical and personal memories of love, longing, and everything else. As always, Louise puts her own spin on the songs, and the team makes their own arrangements of all the material.

The programme will include songs from Louise and Albert’s latest CD “Night Sessions” as well as songs from Louise’s first CD “Your Song”. Louise and Albert have been seen in a variety of programmes from Classical to Jazz to Pop, in programmes such as  “Cinema Serenade” and “Moonlight Serenade” which they presented at the Baxter Theatre, Die Boer Theatre, The Greyton Rose Festival and the Kirstenbosch Chamber Music Breakfast series, to name but a few.

Read more about Louise and Albert’s “Cinema Serenade” HERE

Read more about “The Big Blue Festival” HERE

Louise and Albert share the stage with an exciting  line-up of top South African Artists.

Anton Goosen

Boulevard Blues Band



Dan Patlansky


In the Deepend

Matthew Kruger

Get directions to The Big Blue(s) Festival  in Kleinmond HERE


SWEETER copy weblarge 

  “Sweeter than Roses”

 – English and Italian songs of the joys of love by
Purcell, Britten, Mozart, Sondheim incl. “My Fair Lady”
This delightful programme of mostly English songs explores the joys and dreams of young lovers through the songs of Purcell (“If music be the food of love”), Britten’s famous Folksong settings (“The Foggy, foggy dew”) and operatic extracts by Mozart, that master of comic characterisation. The three singers are all noted for their variety and can perform in different styles. Shirley Sutherland will lead the second half of the programme with extracts from “My Fair Lady”, the show in which she had a major triumph at the Artscape Theatre in 2008. Louise Howlett, a veteran stage performer, will include extracts from her soon-to-be released second CD from the musicals “Cats” and “A Little Night Music”. Baritone John Hardie – winner of various awards such as the Leonard Hall Memorial Prize – is the perfect foil for the two ladies. He will be the Figaro to their Suzanna and Cherubino and the Don Giovanni to their Zerlinas. The programme will reflect the more playful aspect of young love, from the charm and beauty of setting of Shakespeare to more contemporary and popular music. The fact that most of the songs are in English makes this a programme with instant appeal for audiences of all ages. The keyword is variety, and versatility is what this set of performers are known for.

Lindbergh Arts Foundations – 18 Beach Road, Muizenberg

R105 Including Snacks

Booking 021 788 2795
Louise Howlett (Soprano)
Louise Howlett, originally from England, studied at the Royal College of Music in London, with Margaret Cable where she featured in a number of competitions and masterclasses.  As a member of the National Youth Music Theatre, Louise toured to the Bergen Festival and Edinburgh Main and Fringe Festivals, aswell as performing in the award winning production of The Ragged Child at the Sadlers Wells Theatre, London. She performed in television productions of both The Ragged Child and the opera of The Tailor of Gloucester.
Louise came to South Africa in 1993 to work as Organiser for the National Chamber Orchestra in the North West Province, and soon decided to make South Africa her home.  She sang on many occasions with the NCO including a number of corporate functions in Sun City and Johannesburg. She also performed in a number of Oratoria including Nelson Mass, The Messiah and Vivaldi’s Gloria, and was involved in choral training workshops and master classes. In March 1999 she moved to Cape Town where she is now based.  Her Cape Town debut took place with the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra at their Kirstenbosch Millennium Concert; but her love of jazz and the musicals led her to create her own unique combination of classical, broadway and jazz “Across the Styles” projects out of which her “Serenade” series was born.  These productions can vary from classical versions, to jazz standard evenings to the full range of genres blended into one programme. She has performed with great success at various venues and festivals including the Kirstenbosch Winter Chamber Music Series, the Greyton Rose Festival, and most recently at the Baxter Theatre.

Louise is a regular presenter on Fine Music Radio.  Her programme “For the Love of Opera” features all the latest news and reviews of opera around the world today.

John  Hardie (Baritone)
John studied singing at UCT and Stellenbosch University and his teachers include Sarita Stern, Nellie du Toit and Marita Napier. He sang with Capab Opera for 3 years taking part in productions of “Albert Herring” and “Cosi fan Tutte”. He won the College of Music Opera prize in 1988 and 1989, the Friends of the Nico Malan Opera Prize in 1990, the Leonard Hall memorial Prize in 1991. He has performed professionally with accompanists such s ALbie van Schalkwyk, Tommy Rajna and Neil Solomon.


SHIRLEY SUTHERLAND  – Coloratura Soprano

Shirley Sutherland graduated from UCT with an Honours degree in Music  under Sarita Stern and Angelo Gobbato.  She has also completed a  National Higher Diploma in Opera (Cum Laude) at the Pretoria Technikon  Opera School under the tutelage of Eric Muller.

Her ability to sing such a varied repertoire of music being Opera,  Operetta, Broadway, Classical contemporary, light classical has found  her performing to diverse audiences locally and abroad.

Her many operatic roles include that of Tytania in Britten’s A  Midsummer Night’s Dream, Adele in Die Fledermaus, Hanna in Lehar’s  The Merry Widow, Pamina in Mozart’s Magic Flute, Micaela and  Frasquita in Bizet’s Carmen, Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone  Madame Mademoiselle Warblewell in Mozart’s The Impresario and as  well as Dvorak’s Rusalka which she performed in Sweden.  Her many  musical roles include that of Eliza from My Fair Lady, Magnolia from  Showboat which was performed in Germany, Julie in The Carousel,  Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Meg in Brigadoon and Roxie in  Chicago for which she received the Cape Times Award for the best  leading lady in a musical. She has sung Gabriel in Haydn’s Oratorio  The Creation and performed in Mozart’s Coronation Mass with the  Johannesburg Symphony Orchestra.

She has been part of the Pretoria based Black Tie-Ensemble with Mimi  Coertse and part of Cape Town’s Opera Studio.

Shirley is in great demand as a soloist and also teaches part-time at  schools in the Cape area.
Albert Combrink (Piano)
Albert, currently a freelance pianist, completed his MMUS in Piano Performance from Natal University under Isabella Stengel, as well as three UNISA Licentiates: Piano Performance, Piano Accompaniment and Teaching (Cum Laude). He made his concerto debut with the NPO at 18. Since then he has performed regularly at major centres throughout the country, as soloist and accompanist, in both classical and popular music fields. He was finalist in the ATKV Music Competition and winner of the Young Natal Chamber Competition and UND Performer’s and Composer’s competitions after which he was commissioned to write to the first Afrikaans Catholic Mass. He has extensive recording experience, including Hindemith’s Piano Concerto “Four Temperaments” with the NPO and David Tidboald, through radio and television broadcasts (including BBC World) to the recent CPO recordings of works by Hofmeyr and Schnittke. He was repetiteur for the UCT Opera School as well as Cape Town Opera, performing also as orchestral pianist and harpsichordist in operatic productions. His operatic experience with CPO included “Showboat” and “Porgy and Bess” which toured Sweden and Germany. He has acted and recorded for the eTv show “Backstage” and “Stokvel” and been involved in various film projects. As member of the Cape Town Tango Ensemble he has performed at all the major festivals in the country, with performers such as Mark Hoeben and Ina Wichterich. His Tango CD featured in the film “Tango Club”. He has worked with directors such as Janice Honeyman, Jaco Bouwer and Marthinus Basson. He is vocal coach for Portabello, whose production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” won a London Critics’ “Olivier Award” in 2008, and has toured Ireland, Japan and Singapore. He has also been Music Director and Assistant MD for various productions including the New Space Theatre’s production of Sondheim’s “Assassins” which won two Fleur du Cap Awards. He is co-author of 3 Arts & Culture Textbooks which have sold over 150 000 copies.

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink

Louise Howlett and Albert Combrink

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

On 19 July 2009 Louise Howlett and I will be performing in the Kirstenbosch Chamber Music Breakfast Concert Series. Our programme reflects Louise’s trademark milti-genre approach to songs inspired by Moonlight. The programme includes songs by Arnold Schoenberg, Faure, Mozart, Bizet, Dvorak, Michel Legrand, and Stephen Sondheim.

The idea of one singer encompassing styles from Mozart to Bernstein strikes some as unusual, but when one respects song for what they are, instead of evaluating them on a system of classification, one  arrives at some interesting insights. My work in the field of Tango, and the music of Piazzolla in particular, as well as recent excursions into Villa-Lobos, has taught me that the distinctions between the terms “Classical”, “Folk”, “Popular”, “World Music” and even “Jazz” are becoming increasingly blurred. Audiences are no longer judging a piece of music on whether it is a “good” classical or popular interpretaion. The demands of the media has made it possible for music-lovers to search out their own favourites. The record companies – just like the movie-moguls – can no longer predict the hits. A certain snobbery from the classical fraternity towards other music forms such as musical theathre, has also left many musicians high-and-dry. And out of work. Especially in South Africa the opera-world is fighting for survival and young musicians simply have to diversify to make a living.

I found some Youtube clips of Stephen Sondheim in masterclasses on his song “Send in the Clowns”  from “A Little Night Music” which reveals him to be as much a perfectionist as many an opera conductor. Louise and I have recorded this song and have worked hard to create an interpreation as honest and pure as a Brahms or Schubert song, but without some of the over-threatrical musical gestures that can so easily ruin this song.

Here is an interview with Sondheim discussing the song “Send in the clowns”. He comments on the emotional impact of the  shortbreathed phrases in this song of anger and regret. He stresses the need to approach performing the song from the text, from a a point of “No Singing” which arrives at the point of singing only when the emotion dictates it.

Sondheim was also a generous instructor in the performance of his material. Here he is teaching a singing student from the Guildhall School in London. And here he is teaching an acting student, also from Guildhall. His attention to expressive diction is clear. He strikes me as a wonderful man, insistent, persitent but kind.

Links to recorded clips of “Send in the Clowns”

Below I list links to some of the classic interpretations of this song – and the less successful. I hope to show that reaching an opinion of “authenticity” is a futile excercise.

“Send in the clowns” – Barbara Streissand: Streissand has owned this song for many, and she even convinced Sondheim to write her an extra verse. Her insistence truly enhanced the structure of the song, but also made it more successful as a “stand-alone” song outside of the show for which it was originally written.

“Send in the clowns” – Angela Lansbury: There is no longer a voice worth speaking of, but what a heart-felt performance.

“Send in the clowns” – Cleo Laine in which the accompaniment is focussed around sustained strings, and the arpeggiated figures are totally underplayed.

“Send in the clowns” – Elizabeth Taylor – I personally find this version unbearable, but others have commented that it is “theatrically and dramatically appropriate”. Perhaps. But not for my iPod, thanks.

Other songs from “Moonlight Serenade”

Arnold Schoenberg’s “Erwartung” op2.no.1, beautifully sung by a miss Gracova. Its atmospheric piano writing and haunting melodies conjure up the world of Sondheim’s “Night Music”. Schoenberg at one time made a living orchstrating operettas. Since  his Twelve-Tone Technique dominates writings on his work one tends to forget how important melody is to this composer, whether it uses all 12 tones of the scale or not. An interesting documentary on Schoenberg’s life in Vienna before 1900, is most informative.

The film “Yentl” yielded some excellent material, and this song by Michel Legrande is very much in the Sondheim genre.

“Papa can you hear me” Barbara Streissand

“Papa can you hear me” in the actual scene from the movie “Yentl” – Barbra Streissand

“Papa can you hear me” in an operatic misjudgement by Ewa Lewandowska. This lady has a good voice. However, she sings this song terribly.

“Memory” from Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s “Cats” – Barbara Streissand: Again, along with Elaine Paige’s, this version sold millions of 45rpm vinyl discs long before CD’s were even invented.

“Memory” – Susan Boyle. A talented lady with a dream who deserves her shot at fame. This recording shows perhaps why she did not win.

All in all an eclectic programme then. Let the audience be the judge.

Soprano Filipa Van Eck

Soprano Filipa Van Eck

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

On Friday 17 July 2009 Filipa Van Eck and myself will be performing a concert in tribute to the 50th anniversary of the death of Heitor Villa-Lobos, and also in celebration of the 13th anniversary of the CPLP, or Comunidade dos Paises de Lingua Portuguesa (Community of Portuguese speaking Countries),  a type of Portuguese commonwealth that includes all Portuguese speaking countries such as Angola, Mozambique, East Timor, Brazil etc. The concert will be held at the University in Maputo. The concert will also feature solo piano works by Villa-Lobos.

” O vosso canto vem do fundo do Sertao, como uma brisa amolecendo o coracao” – “Your songs come from the depths of the forest, like a breeze softening  my heart.” These words by Brazilian poet Manuel Bandeira – speaking of a beloved  to a bird in the forest – could apply to Villa-Lobos. His vocal music has not been adequately explored in recital or on recordings,. Sheet Music is not readily available. Therefore putting together a selection of songs is not an easy task. But there is much of value and beauty to explore.

We will, of course, be performing the composer’s signature-work for voice, the Bachianas Brasileiras #5. Filipa will be singing the complete work, the Canitlena as well as the 2nd movement – added in 1945 – Dansa (Martelo) to the text by Manuel Bandeira.

“Melodia Sentimental” was an obvious choice, but we could not find the Sheet Music in time. I include recorded materials of it here simply because I think it is a wonderful piece that I will perform as soon as get a copy of the music. This work has become so popular that some find it difficult to decide if it is a Folk Song that became classical or if it’s a classical song that has become so popular as to have entered the folk tradition. As is typical with the music of this composer, the music can sustain a variety of different performance styles. It has been arranged for classical ensembles, and performed by popular and classical singers alike. I personally adore this clip of Maria Bethania listening to and singing along to her own recording of  “Melodia Sentimental” .

Narrowing the gap between classical and popular

In a recent issue of the Rio de Janeiro Musician’s Union (SindMusi) newsletter, Musical, the pianist, arranger and composer Cláudio Dauelsberg was interviewed about the release of two new CD’s in two very different styles, Ventos do Norte (North Winds – MPB) and Bach, recorded with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.

He says, “More and more we are seeing the barrier breaking down between popular and classical… Each (of these) areas has a lot to offer to the other and it’s really cool for us to allow that encounter. But it’s a challenge to dive in with intensity and profundity in the two areas.”

Brazilian music is founded upon the syncretism of European, African and Indigenous Amerindian musical traditions which all contribute to its uniqueness. In The Brazilian Sound, Chris McGowan and Ricardo Pessanha provide some additional insights (1998):

“Most Brazilian music shares three outstanding qualities. It has an intense lyricism tied to its Portuguese heritage that often makes for beautiful, highly expressive melodies, enhanced by the fact that Portuguese is one of the most musical tongues on earth and no small gift to the ballad singer. Second, a high level of poetry is present in the lyrics of much Brazilian popular music. And last, vibrant Afro-Brazilian rhythms energize most Brazilian songs, from samba to baião.”

These elements are to be fund in abundance in the songs Filipa Van Eck will be performing in Mozambique:

Cancao do Poeta do Seculo XVIII (Song of a poet of the 18th Century)

Cancao do Poeta do Seculo XVIII (sung here in a clip by Teresa Berganza with Juan Antonio Alvarez Parejo on piano in 1984) is a beautiful song that walks the trapeze between art-song and popular ballad – like so many of this composer’s works. A gentle candombe rhythm introduces a yearning melody that seems to reflect the text by Alfredo Ferreira perfectly. The poet dreams of walking in the moonlight with his beloved. The moon is a symbol of love and hope, but alas, it is also out of reach.

Evocação (Evocation)

“Evocação” – the 7th song in the series “Modinhas e Canções” – is filled with deep feeling and longing. It is a powerful song in which the poet is delirious with love. “I live to cry my love for you”, the poet says, and is enfolded in a starlit dream of ecstasy. Here is a version sung by tenor Daniel Inamorato. This is a very serious and “classical” interpretation, which I enjoy, but I do think some more expressive freedom would add to the passion of the song. The lilting 6/8 opening is almost Neapolitan in it’s simplicity, but the modulation to the minor in the slow section is most affecting, with the climax of the song reaching almost suicidal passion.

Nesta Rua (This Street)

This appears to be a Villa-Lobos arrangement of a traditional melody arranged by Villa-Lobos, in fact, more than once. It appears as the 11th piece in the piano cycle Cirandinhas (1925) and again in the Cirandas of 1926. The piano arrangements are powerful virtuoso works, but their dramatic style appears not to fit the lyrics of the poem. The quasi-Indian percussive piano effects open the piano arrangements are totally absent in the vocal arrangement. Kiki Hamman traces the roots of this song to a Brazilian “cantiga” or lullaby. If Villa-Lobos can not stake claim to the haunting melody, he certainly gets the credit for a magnificent arrangement. Subtle polyrhythms and swaying triplets make performing this work an absolute pleasure. Again, it is a work that has popular undertones, and unfortunately gets less than satisfactory performances such as this version with Sandy Leah in which more than just the intonation is suspect.

Lundú Da Marqueza De Santos

The 2nd song form the group “Modinhas e Canções” (to a text by Triato Correa), reveals Villa-Lobos’ popular folk-inflected side. However it is a bit perplexing as a musical response to the text. The song is written in an up-beat Allegretto Tango rhythm, but the text by Triato Correa is a sad an desperate cry for a departed lover. “Everything in me is black and sad, Oh! this tremendous, tremendous punishment.” But the song is not black nor sad! This version with tenor Polane Brandão reveals the technical difficulty of the song, as well as one of a fundamental weakness in much of Villa-Lobos’ vocal writing: the piano doubles the voice melody throughout. This creates a problem with the balance as well as highlighting any intonation difficulties that there might be. In addition it limits the singer’s rhythmic freedom, which I consider vital to creating a folk-inspired quasi-Neapolitan song. Orchestrated versions do exist, but I am not sure if these are by Villa-Lobos. Bidu Sayao recorded two versions, and her lyricim is immediately apparent. Her clear voice and easy high notes still make her an ideal interpreter from a stylistic point of view:

“Lundú Da Marqueza De Santos” sung by Bidu Sayao (1)

“Lundú Da Marqueza De Santos” sung by Bidu Sayao (2)

Some recordings of Villa-Lobos’ vocal music and other useful links:

“Canção do Amor” and “Melodia Sentimental” from Villa-Lobos’ symphonic poem “Floresta do Amazonas” sung by Bidu Sayo in 1959. Villa-Lobos convinced Sayao to come out of retirement to record this work, composed with her voice in mind. The lyrics are given as well.

Cathy Berberian sings Xango The text has no particular meaning and is an anomatopaeic description of Amerindian drumming – “Xangô! Ôlê gondilê ôlálá… Gon gon gon gondilá! Xangô! Ôlé gondilé ôlêlê Gon gon gon gondilê!”

Traditional recreation of Xango: Xango, god of fire and thunder from the Afro Brazilian tradition of Candomble´. From the CD, “Sacred Songs and Chants of Candomble”

“Floresta” sung by Bidu Sayao

The “Birdsong” from “Amazon” sung by Bidu Sayao

Brazilian Popular Music: A Bird of a Thousand Voices

Texts and translations of a selection of Villa-Lobos’ vocal works

A CD of Latin American Songs with Marina Tafur (Soprano) and Nigel Foster (Piano)

“Canción del marinero” sung by Alfredo Kraus

Balduína de Oliveira (Bidu) Sayão’s obituary and career summary

An appreciation of Bidu Sayao’s career

Filipa Van Eck’s Biography

Filipa van Eck (23) has completed her Bmus Western Classical Performance at UCT and has been training her voice with Sarita Stern since 2004. Filipa has won various prizes for singing at school, and completed her UNISA exams with distinctions. At UCT she has managed to be placed on the Dean’s Merit list for every year of study, and was the Class Medalist for 2004.

Filipa has sung in various chamber music concerts, her repertoire includes The Bachianas Brasileiras No.5 by Heitor Villa-Lobos, L’amero by Mozart and Der Hirt auf dem Felsen by Schubert; and was invited to perform as a soloist in Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Sotonga String Quartet in Napier; and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater for Barry Smith and the Rupert Foundation for Music in March 2008.

Filipa has also performed around Cape Town for The Nine Club, Friends of Cape Town Opera, The Fishoek Music Society; and in Pretoria at the Portuguese Embassy in commemoration of the end of the Portuguese presidency of the European Union. She was chosen to perform a solo recital for Portuguese national day held at the Centre of the Book in 2007, and performed in Johannesburg with the Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Richard Cock in a concert organized by the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust.

Filipa was nominated as a finalist in the 2007 and 2008 SCHOCK Foundation for Singing Competition, and the 2008 SCHOCK Chamber Music Competition held at the Baxter concert hall.

She will be performing in a concert version of Dido and Aeneas for Barry Smith in May, appearing as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier in June, and in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen with the UCT Opera School and Cape Town Opera.

She is currently completing her Masters in Music Performance at UCT.

My Blog has moved to www.albertcombrink.com

Breaking Rules: Albert Combrink talks to Louise Howlett about “Cinema Serenade”

Cinema Serenade is all about the musical power of the silver screen. In fact,  it’s really a theatrical “excuse” for Louise to sing songs she has loved for many years. Oratorio and Opera arias get airtime along with jazz, musicals and pop.

Our product was hard to define – and market. Do we sell it as a classical programme with jazzy touches, or a pop programme including some bite-size classical chunks? We have so much fun weaving together these unexpected combinations and introducing audiences to new connections, and so when we have the choice, you’ll seldom find us presenting traditional programmes and recitals. Still, we face all the dilemmas of those working in the multi-genre, cross-over land.

Most cross-over material is regarded as suspect. My wife thinks “cross-over” sounds like some horrible stiff kind of brassiere! In some cases, it’s seen as classical concession to popular tastes (think Jessye Norman singing Billy Joel – not her greatest project). Or else it’s a pop singer with highbrow pretentions (think Michael Bolton yelling, er, singing “Nessun Dorma” – panned by fans and critics). Let’s not even mention Haily Westenra, Charlotte Church, or Catherine Jenkins…  maybe their “cross-overs” were a bit too tight.

You’ve probably guessed that I cannot stand most of these so-called cross-over artists. There’s an instant-pudding pre-fabricated faux-velvet sheen to it. It’s the polar opposite to the solidity of years and years of hard study, experience and dedication to technical and expressive perfection of artists that I respect. And yet Louise falls squarely into the latter category. What impressed me from the first about her, is her desire to connect to the core emotional resonances of the song.

“So,” I ask Louise, “Is this Crossover?” She replies: “In a way this is cross-over in a  real sense. I am not an opera singer trying to do jazz nor a pop singer trying to do Carmen. I am just not singing only what I am supposed to sing. Opera singers are supposed to do opera and only opera. Pop singers are supposed to do pop. I am presenting the songs as I respond to them. I don’t want to sing pop with a classical voice or vice versa.”

Instead, explains Louise, “I want to connect with the content of the song. Ironically people nowadays listen to so much music that they do not always pay attention to what the song is about. In my programmes I try to link the songs thematically, and emotionally, by really thinking carefully about the content and meaning of each song. And in doing that, one sometimes has to break the rules

What rules are Louise and I breaking then? I realise that these are the rules of classification, mostly. The music industry works by classification. Check your iPod. You can chose from relatively useless categories such as Pop, Classical,  and (my personal favourite) “World”. But what do you do with an item that  fits comfortably in a few categories? The answer is not to waste your time trying to classify these songs, but rather to present them to the audience in a convincing context. Think about how Cleo Lane sang Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. If people respond, who cares that we’re breaking some of the Musica Shelf Rules.

Will this programme have purists reaching for the smelling-salts?  So far, the audience response has been tremendous. Tell young people they are about to hear a Vivaldi Oratorio and watch them cringe. They certainly won’t come out at night, or take out their wallets for it. Put the same material into a meaningful context for them, make it beautiful, and then watch them swoon. And they come back for more – which is my personal litmus test.

So, Louise sings Carmen’s Habanera and “I will survive” in the same programme. Does she do justice to both? Judging from the standing ovations and happy concert-promoters, the answer is an emphatic “Yes!”. My own role is pretty challenging, given that there is no big-band, rock band or symphony orchestra for Louise to hide behind. The intimacy of working with only one other performer makes a recital such as this every bit as challenging as a Lieder Recital. Does one call it Cross-over? Maybe. Or maybe just call it “breaking the rules”.

Read what Chandos and Sony execs have to say about the Cross-over artists in their stables.

Also look out for our new programme, Moonlight Serenade. Here we lead the audience through a sequence of songs inspired by the Moon, the Playlist included a Schoenberg Lied and a song from the Muppet Movie – not to mention musical theatre items sung un-amplified.