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Julian Wagstaff (b.1970): Breathe Freely - A Chamber Opera for 3 singers & a piano trio in Two Short Acts / Laura Margaret Smith, Paul Curievici, Phil Gault

Album Summary

>Wagstaff, Julian : Breathe Freely, chamber opera in 2 acts
>Wagstaff, Julian : A Persistent Illusion, for clarinet, cello & piano
Performers Conductor Ensemble
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Notes & Reviews:

'Breathe Freely' is a new opera by contemporary Scottish composer Julian Wagstaff. Written for three singers and piano trio, it is a chamber opera in two acts set in 1943 against the backdrop of the Second World War. At its heart Julian Wagstaff's opera is a manifold celebration of human endeavour, history, interest, compassion, and, of course, chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. It recounts the semi-fictional story of several real and extraordinary chemists who helped to make the Chemistry department the extraordinary institution it is today: Romantic pragmatist Stanislaw Hempel, endearing perfectionist Chrissie Miller and Professor James Kendall FRS, whose book is the basis for the synopsis. 'Breathe Freely' was premiered in 2013 to celebrate the tricentenary of the appointment of the first Chair of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. Also included on the recording is Wagstaff's piano trio 'A Persistent Illusion' commissioned to celebrate the International Year of Chemistry, 2011. The title refers to Einstein's observation that the distinction between the past, present and future is merely a 'stubbornly persistent illusion'. Julian Wagstaff first came to public attention in 2001 with the musical John Paul Jones, based on the life of the Scots-born sailor and hero of the American Revolution. The musical was revived in 2010 in association with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. A specific interest in German history is reflected in 'Treptow' for string orchestra (2005), Wagstaff's most-performed work. Wagstaff enjoyed a sell-out success on the 2007 Edinburgh Festival Fringe with his opera 'The Turing Test', about the quest to build a truly intelligent machine. The Breathe Freely Ensemble is Paul Curievici (tenor), Phil Gault (baritone) and Laura Margaret Smith (mezzo-soprano) with Pete Furniss (clarinet), Mark Bailey (cello) and Andrew Johnston (piano). The Scottish mezzo-soprano Laura Margaret Smith was the Scottish Opera Robertson Scholarship Trust Emerging Artist, 2014 - 15. Paul Curieveci is the proud winner of Scottish Opera's John Scott Award and the Basil A. Turner Prize awarded by British Youth Opera. Welsh baritone Phil Gault has performed with the Scottish, Buxton Festival and Northampton Festival operas and is principal baritone for Opera on a Shoestring. Derek Clark's career spans forty years and includes conducting engagements with Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera ranging from Monteverdi to Maxwell Davies.

American Record Guide, March/April 2016
Julian Wagstaff's 2013 two-act opera Breathe Freely is based on real people and places. Wagstaff centered his story on a book by Professor James Kendall (a character also in the opera) about people's fears of chemical warfare and secret research done in Edinburgh during WW II. Act 1 takes place in 1943 as a new Polish chemist is brought to Edinburgh to do research; he discusses with Kendall and Dr Chrissie Miller their work on detecting poison gasses. Act 2 happens two years later on the day the war is over and the gas research is necessarily ended. How the opera ends is left to the listener's decision whether the research has really ended or not.

A Persistent Illusion is a three-part piano trio commissioned by the Edinburgh Royal School of Chemistry to celebrate the 2011 International Year of Chemistry. Wagstaff 's notes indicate that the three parts represent the past, present, and future of chemistry, citing Einstein's observation that the difference between them is merely a "stubborn persistent illusion". The piece was the inspiration for Breathe Freely, and both pieces are written in a similar non-melodic.

The first movement is complex, II very simple. III is based on Wagstaff's workshops with Edinburgh students to produce note patterns inspired by their knowledge of chemical structures and formulas. The music is interesting with many unusual note patterns, and the finale is particularly rhythmic. The performances and sound of both the opera and the trio are very good.

Notes & Reviews:

Recording information: The production studios of Scotish Opera, Edington Stree (06/09/2014-06/12/2014).


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Works Details

>Wagstaff, Julian : Breathe Freely, chamber opera in 2 acts
  • Performers: Paul Curievici; Philip Gault (Baritone)
  • Running Time: 3 min. 21 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary

>Wagstaff, Julian : A Persistent Illusion, for clarinet, cello & piano
  • Performers: Mark Bailey (Cello); Peter Furniss (Clarinet); Andrew Johnston (Piano)
  • Conductor: Derek Clark
  • Notes: The production studios of Scotish Opera, Edington Street, Glasgow, UK (06/09/2014-06/12/2014)
  • Running Time: 5 min. 42 sec.
  • Period Time: Contemporary
  • Form: Chamber Music