Alexandra Coghlan

Alexandra Coghlan

Alexandra Coghlan is the classical music critic for the New Statesman, and also writes for The Independent, The Times, Opera, Prospect, Gramophone and The Monthly. She was formerly performing arts editor at Time Out Sydney and editor of Sinfini.

Articles by Alexandra Coghlan

December 7, 2016

How Charles Dickens invented Christmas

The Victorians changed the festive season as we know it, but Dickens changed the way Victorians themselves saw Christmas. This article is available to Limelight subscribers. Log in to continue reading. Access our paywalled content and archive of magazines, regular news and features for the limited offer of $3 per month. Support independent journalism. Subscribe now

November 25, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Handel: Alcina (Aix-en-Provence Festival)

Katie Mitchell is a director who divides her audience. Some champion the probing psychology of her shows, their meticulous, realist visuals, their staunchly feminist agenda. Others balk at what they see as a prefab, one-size-fits-all approach. But whatever your camp, when Mitchell finds a show to suit her inherent sympathies the result is unassailable. This Alcina, originally staged for the 2015 Aix-en-Provence Festival, is the director at her very best – a marriage of concept and psychology so instinctive, so exhilarating in its invention, that it’s impossible to imagine it bettered. Unpacking the limits of power in all its forms – love, magic, violence, authority – Handel’s opera is one of his most probing emotional portraits, and a piece ripe for Mitchell’s gaze. She pulls back the curtain on Alcina’s sorcery, revealing the blunt, unpalatable mechanisms behind her illusions, showing us the woman not the witch. Chloe Lamford’s designs place us in a decaying doll’s house of a set. Rooms are spread over two floors, but only the central salon is fully lit. Within this magic space Alcina (Patricia Petibon) and Morgana (Anna Prohaska) seduce and subdue their lovers, glorying in their youth and beauty. But as soon as they…

November 10, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Zelenka: Missa Divi Zaveri & Litaniae de Sancto Xaverio

A composer of Catholic liturgical music in a Lutheran society, Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) was fighting an uphill battle for popularity even during his own lifetime. After his death, his music all but disappeared from the repertoire, and still remains firmly on the fringes of concert programming. One ensemble, however, is doing more than any to change this. For over 20 years, Czech conductor Václav Luks and his superb Collegium 1704 choir and orchestra have been turning out eloquent recordings that celebrate the  intricate counterpoint and bold harmonic gestures of the composer JS Bach so admired. Their latest is particularly interesting: a world premiere recording of the Missa Divi Zaveri, a major 1729 work thus far silenced by the poor condition (including lost parts) of its surviving manuscript. Now Luks himself has produced a complete edition, and the results are thrilling. The Mass features the largest forces Zelenka ever composed for, including four trumpets, timpani, doubled flutes and oboes as well as strings, chorus and SATB soloists. The result is truly festal in scale, possibly an informal audition for the job of kapellmeister at Dresden that would eventually go to Hasse.  With no Credo, the centre of musical gravity shifts…

October 21, 2016
CD and Other Review

Review: Lotti: Crucifixus

Maestro di Cappella of St. Mark’s Venice, author of over 20 operas and nearly 150 sacred works, teacher of Marcello, Galuppi and Zelenka and admired by Bach and Handel, Antonio Lotti’s diverse and successful career has latterly been distilled down to just two pieces: the unaccompanied Crucifixus settings for eight and ten voices. Now, in a recording dominated by contemporary premieres, Ben Palmer and his Syred Consort attempt to fill in the gaps and restore the reputation of this Baroque master. This is music that sells itself. In Ben Byram-Wigfield’s new editions, it emerges lively with rhythmic interest, texts carefully shaded with word-painting and contrasting solo and ensemble colours, supported by light-footed orchestral accompaniments. These are large-scale festal works of tremendous charm. Where Lotti does fall short of his near-contemporary Vivaldi is in melody. More interested in vertical texture than horizontal line (as both Crucifixus settings so clearly demonstrate), individual vocal parts do suffer from a certain anonymity.  Both Lotti’s Crucixifus a8 and his a6 setting form part of larger stand-alone, Credos. The former is presented here as part of the Missa Sancti Christophori – a composite work created from Lotti’s individual Mass movements by his pupil Zelenka (and supplemented…