Michael Hurd: The Aspern Papers & The Night of the Wedding

Michael Hurd was born in Gloucester on 19 December 1928. He studied at Pembroke College, Oxford (1950-53) with Sir Thomas Armstrong and Dr Bernard Rose and became President of the University Music Society. In addition, he took composition lessons from Lennox Berkeley. Following a six-year term (1953-59) as Professor of Music Theory at the Royal Marines School of Music in Deal, he settled in West Liss, Hampshire, dedicating the rest of his life to a variety of musical pursuits - composing, writing, conducting, lecturing and broadcasting. He travelled widely and was a frequent visitor to Australia where he helped to found the Port Fairy Music Festival which staged the first performances of his last two operas. He died in Petersfield, Hampshire on 8 August 2006, at the age of 78.


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"TheThe late John McCabe, attending the first performance of The Aspern Papers at the Port Fairy Spring Festival in Australia in 1995, described the work as “a thoughtful and rather moving exposition of a human situation that was unusual in operatic terms but nonetheless engrossing … I felt it was a sincere and deeply-felt response to the subject matter and deserved to be heard again. Hurd’s timing in The Aspern Papers is impeccable. He allows just enough time for the stage directions to be carried out, never extending these to display the virtues of his orchestral writing but at the same time never cutting short the meditation over final tableaux in the manner that seems to elude so many modern composers. In short, The Aspern Papers seems to me to be a masterpiece which richly deserves revival: not only Hurd’s longest work for the stage, but also his finest. It would not stretch the resources of adventurous amateur operatic societies – and Hurd was a great believer in writing for the talents of amateurs. At the same time we must be eternally grateful, yet again, to Lyrita for allowing us to hear a score that could all too easily have been allowed to rust away in obscurity. MusicWeb-International

Night of the Wedding, a slightly risqué 16-minute opera adapted from a theatrical trinket by Frederick Witney. Hurd's manner is light and slightly Frenchifield. Simon Lepper's piano accompaniment prances nicely, and there's a kick to Rhian Lois's soprano." BBC Music Magazine

The English composer Michael Hurd (1928–2006) wrote many different kinds of music, most of it vocal. This recording consists of two of his operas: his setting of Henry James’s novellla The Aspern Papers and the 16-minute farce The Night of the Wedding. The first thing that strikes me about Hurd’s music is that he is not afraid to write a tune. Except for the Act II, scene 2 monolog of Juliana, The Aspern Papers has no arias; rather, it is dialog among the characters. But the dialogue is not the typical 20th Century music we hear in so many operas. Hurd writes a lush orchestral score where the voices fit perfectly to very accessible music. One could easily play this recording just to enjoy the music. Yet the drama is not sacrificed, proving that music can be pleasant to listen to and dramatically effective at the same time.
The performance is quite good. All four singers are able to be dramatic yet sing very well. Clare McCaldin is very effective at suggesting the loneliness, sadness, and embarrassment of Miss Tina, the most sympathetic character. Also effective is Louise Winter as the aged Juliana. Pippa Goss creates a believable Mrs Prest in her brief appearances, and Owen Gilhooly projects well the typical American cad of Henry James’s works. None of these roles is terribly difficult, but they do offer fine dramatic and vocal opportunities, making this another opera suitable for conservatory or chamber company production. The Ulster Orchestra plays well under George Vass. The Night of the Wedding is for one soprano and three baritones. It would be a fine choice as a curtain-raiser for a double bill. It is done with piano accompaniment, and all the singers are fine. The recording is an unexpected pleasure. It comes with bios, an essay about the composer, and full text. American Record Guide

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