Howells, Helen-Jane


Following an early career in the jazz world, soprano Helen-Jane Howells trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Royal College of Music. She now studies with Jennifer Smith.

Helen-Jane has sung Eve in The Fairy Queen for Glyndebourne Festival Opera, at the Opéra Comique and Brooklyn Academy of Music with Les Arts Florissants and William Christie, and has appeared as Amore in L’Incoronazione di Poppea for Glyndebourne on Tour.

On the concert platform she has performed in  The Messiah in Spain, St Matthew Passion in Lausanne and Wroclaw, and The Fairy Queen in Beaune with the Gabrieli Consort under Paul McCreesh. She has sung Bach's cantatas and Magnificat with the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Richard Egarr, and Beethoven's Mass in C at the Three Choirs Festival. Other engagements have included the St Matthew Passion with The Bach Choir under David Hill and a staged version with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment with Suzi Digby. Amongst recent projects are the St John Passion with the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra and Nicholas Kraemer, Bach's B Minor Mass with The Bach Choir and David Hill, and Purcell's King Arthur with Ensemble La Fenice and Jean Tubéry.

Helen-Jane has recorded Handel and Vivaldi with La Nuova Musica for Harmonia Mundi USA, and Joseph Phibbs' The Canticle of the Rose with the Navarra Quartet for NMC.

Image Credit: 
Paul Foster Williams

Navarra String Quartet

Navarra String Quartet

Magnus Johnston violin
Marije Ploemacher violin
Simone van der Giessen viola
Brian O'Kane cello

Formed in 2002 at the Royal Northern College of Music under the guidance of the late Dr Christopher Rowland and Alasdair Tait, and postgraduate students of the Alban Berg Quartet in Cologne, they are now Quartet in Association at the RNCM.  In 2005 1st Prize in the Florence International Competition, and in 2007 2nd Prize at the Melbourne International Competition. They were selected for representation by Young Concert Artists Trust in 2006 and in 2007 received a Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship.

In 2009 they took part in the Haydn series at Wigmore Hall (broadcast by BBC Radio 3) and recorded Haydn’s Seven Last Words on the Cross for Altara Records.  They also worked with Wayne MacGregor’s Random Dance Company on a new work, Entity, with music by Joby Talbot, giving a series of performances at Sadler’s Wells, Snape Maltings and the Muziektheater in Amsterdam.

Over the last two years the Quartet has developed its international profile, appearing at major festivals and venues throughout Europe including the Konzerthaus in Berlin, the Schwetzinger, Rheingau and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festivals in Germany, the Aix-en-Provence and Bellerive Festivals and the Kattegat and Sandviken Festivals in Sweden.  Further afield they have given concerts in Russia, the USA and Bahrain.

They have taken part in the International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove and in 2008 were resident Quartet at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh and at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland.  The Quartet has broadcast for BBC Radio 3, RAI 3 (Italy), Radio 4 (Holland), SWR (Germany), Radio Luxembourg and ABC Classic FM (Australia).

Chance, Michael


The British countertenor Michael Chance studied English at King's College, Cambridge where he was also a choral scholar. He is in equal demand as an opera, concert, recital and recording artist. Concerts and recitals have taken him to the Wigmore Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New York, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Musikverein in Vienna and the Berlin Philharmonie, as well as tours in Japan, Europe and United States. His operatic roles include Orfeo (Gluck), Oberon, Giasone, Giustino, Ottone, Athamas, Andronico, and Apollo (Britten's Death in Venice). He has had roles written specially for him by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (The Second Mrs Kong) and Judith Weir (A night at the Chinese Opera). Operatic engagements have taken him to Sydney, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Glyndebourne, La Scala Milan and Covent Garden. His repertoire ranges from the baroque to contemporary, including many world premieres (Bennett, Goehr, Tavener, Costello) and he has recorded extensively, receiving a Grammy award for his participation in Handel's Semele.

Composers like Richard Rodney Bennett, Alexander Goehr, Tan Dun, Anthony Powers, John Tavener, and Elvis Costello have all written specifically for him, while Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Judith Weir have both created tailor-made operatic roles. He sings regularly with the viol consort Fretwork and also performs in oratorio. Michael Chance is a visiting Professor at the Royal College of Music, and was awarded a CBE in the 2009 New Year Honours list.

Boyd, James


James Boyd, a guitarist recognised for his lyrical and intensely moving performances, is an alumnus of the Royal Academy of Music in London. His playing style is strongly influenced by the vocal training he received from countertenor Charles Brett and his performing experience with singers. In recent years he has worked in partnership with leading composers, theatre groups, poets and some of England’s finest performers. An experienced speaker and raconteur, poetry and literature are often woven into his instrumental performances. He is a passionate advocate of new music for the guitar and much of his time is dedicated to inspiring and commissioning a new repertoire for the instrument.

Firsova, Alissa


Alissa Firsova is a British-Russian composer, pianist and conductor. After winning the BBC Proms/Guardian Young Composer competition in 2001, she received numerous commissions including a Bach transcription for the 2010 Proms festival, which was performed by Andrew Litton and RPO live on BBC 2 and BBC Radio 3. Her music was also performed and toured by Imogen Cooper, Henning Kraggerud, Dante Quartet, Netherlands Blazer Ensemble, Seattle Chamber Players, Philharmonia Soloists, Northwest Sinfonietta and Britten Sinfonia. She was recently invited to Verbier Festival as a composer-in-residence and future commissions include an orchestral piece for Bergen Philharmonic.

As a pianist Alissa gave her Wigmore Hall and Proms debuts in 2009 and has appeared in Dartington, Cheltenham, Presteigne, Messiaen at Southbank, Fuerstensaal Classix and Seattle festivals. She has enjoyed collaborations with distinguished artists such as Stephen Kovacevich, Stephen Isserlis and the Dante Quartet. Alissa recently completed the postgraduate conducting course at Royal Academy of Music under Colin Metters where she also had the opportunity to work with Martyn Brabbins, Jac van Steen and Mark Shanahan. She founded her own Meladina Ensemble in 2010 for the 60th Birthday celebration of her mother Elena Firsova's music. In 2012 she expanded this into the Meladina Symphony Orchestra for a concert in Duke's Hall, where she directed Mozart's Concerto No.23 from the keyboard and conducted Mahler's Symphony No.4 as well as her own Clarinet Concerto.

Alissa is very grateful to her sponsors: L’Association des Amis de Canisy and the Zvi and Ofra Meitar foundation.

Shaw, Joanna


As a chamber musician, flautist Joanna has appeared at King's Place, the Aix-en-Provence festival, Hampstead and Highgate Festival, Presteigne Festival Soloists, Dobris in the Czech republic and Villecroze, France, working with the oboist Maurice Bourgue, with whom she completed further study in Paris in 2004.

She has played for the orchestras of Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera as well as the chamber ensemble of Music Theatre Wales; in 2006 she was appointed principal flute with the Scottish Ballet Orchestra.

She studied at the University of Cambridge and then at the Royal Northern College of Music; she has been a recipient of awards including the Countess of Munster Musical Trust Scholarship, and the Pierre Boulez Scholarship of the Academie Europeenne de Musique d'Aix-en-Provence.

Joanna has been external examiner at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, and is an ABRSM diplomas examiner. She has held teaching posts at the RWCMD and Bath Spa University. Her education work includes BBC Symphony Orchestra Education, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain outreach coaching and LSO Panufnik Young Composers's Workshops.

Alden, Ben


Ben studied Modern Languages at Durham University before embarking on Postgraduate Vocal studies as an ABRSM scholar at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow.  He studied under Peter Alexander Wilson and also worked with Malcolm Martineau, Ann Murray and the late Philip Langridge.
With a repertoire spanning over a millennium, Ben enjoys a varied career on the concert platform. Performances include Monteverdi Vespers for the Academy of Ancient Music and King’s College Choir on tour in Europe, Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music at Cadogan Hall, Bach St Matthew Passion in Bath Abbey, and Mozart Cminor Mass and Bach Magnificat for Midland Festival Chorus in Worcester Cathedral.
As a recitalist Ben has an extensive repertoire of Lieder, French song and English song. His performances include Britten Winter Words, Ireland The Land of Lost Content,Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge and Four Hymns. Ben's next recital engagement is at St John's Beaumont School, Old Windsor, Berkshire in February.
An accomplished ensemble singer, Ben works with many of Britain's leading vocal groups, including the Monteverdi Choir, Tenebrae, The Sixteen, Exaudi, The Cardinall's Musick and Synergy Vocals, and has appeared on stage in the Salle Pleyel, Paris and The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In addition he is a member of male-voice consorts Quintessential Voices and Liedertafel. Ben currently combines a freelance singing career with a Lay Clerkship at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle and peripatetic music teaching. He studies singing with Ryland Davies.

Plant, Andrew


Andrew Plant studied the piano in London with Christopher Elton and at the University of Leeds, and was awarded his doctorate in musicology from the University of Birmingham, where he collaborated with Stephen Banfield and Jan Smaczny and was a visiting lecturer. He was based for almost a decade at The Britten-Pears Foundation, from where he forged a dual career as a musicologist and practical musician.

Andrew is much sought-after as a vocal accompanist and enjoys a long-standing and particularly fruitful partnership with the distinguished counter-tenor James Bowman, with whom he has appeared regularly throughout the UK and abroad, broadcast live on Radio 3, and recorded for the award-winning NMC Songbook and Signum Classics. He has accompanied many of the country’s finest singers, including Ben Alden, Nicholas Clapton, Lynne Dawson, Michael George, James Gilchrist, Daniel Norman, and treble Andrew Swait. Committed to new music, he has given first performances of several early songs by Britten, and works by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Ivor Gurney, Sadie Harrison, John LeGrove, Colin Matthews, Joseph Phibbs, Tom Rose, Martin Shaw, Giles Swayne and Arthur Wills.

Andrew has been an external academic supervisor for King’s College Cambridge, contributed to the revised New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, New Dictionary of National Biography and other scholarly publications, and continues to work closely with the artist Jane Mackay with whom he co-founded Sounding Art Press. Andrew maintains a strong interest in education and has taught at Uppingham and St George’s School, Windsor Castle, but now combines his freelance work with the position of Director of Music at St John’s Beaumont, Old Windsor. He was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

Image Credit: 
Nigel Luckhurst


NMC Debut Discs - Joseph Phibbs The Canticle of the Rose

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Helen-Jane Howells soprano
Navarra String Quartet
Alissa Firsova piano
Joanna Shaw flute
Michael Chance countertenor
James Boyd guitar
Ben Alden tenor
Andrew Plant piano

This recording in NMC's Debut Disc series showcases Joseph Phibbs's writing for voice and chamber groups. The Canticle of the Rose, the centrepiece of this recording, sets a series of poems by Edith Sitwell for soprano and string quartet ranging from the foreboding to the frivolous; it is one of a series for voice with string quartet commissioned by Sir Nicholas Goodison.

From Shore to Shore combines countertenor with guitar, and was commissioned by guitarist James Boyd with funding from the Arts Council National Lottery Fund to broaden the contemporary repertoire for voice and guitar. Premiered at Aldeburgh in 2012, it sets a series of old and new poems on the subject of the sea.

Contrasting with these vocal works are Flex - a vivid work for piano, flute, violin and cello - and the short, frenetic string quartet AGEA.


Visit the Debut Discs project page here



'Phibbs's sheer accomplishment as a composer is unmistakeable here. Every idea is telling, every phrase beautiful' The Sunday Times

'Another welcome instalment in NMC's excellent Debut Discs series ... These works draw you in with a well-judged pacing of their sometimes frenetic activity and mesmerising stillness' BBC Music Magazine

'Joseph Phibb's music is deftly crafted, tasteful' Telegraph

'Few works of new music enjoy recordings of this quality, but few composers offer new music as vibrantly original and emotionally sincere as that by Joseph Phibbs ... Flawlessly performed, each of the works on this disc is a treasure, and this recording is a gift to music lovers from one of today’s finest composers and a refreshingly bold record label’ Voix Des Arts

‘Those who prefer their contemporary music at the more accessible end of the spectrum will certainly find much to enjoy here’ 5:4 Blog

‘The Navarro Quartet is excellent and Helen-Jane Howell’s singing is crystal clear and technically very strong in her high register. […] Beautifully judged, performed and recorded.’ Tempo


With thanks to the trusts, foundations and individuals who have invested in NMC’s Debut Discs series:
The Astor Foundation
The John S Cohen Foundation
The Fenton Arts Trust
Nicholas and Judith Goodison
Mercers' Charitable Foundation
The Stanley Picker Charitable Trust
The Radcliffe Trust
RVW Trust
Jennifer Roslyn Wingate
& the individuals who donated through The Big Give Christmas Challenge December 2011


The Canticle of the Rose, Flex and Agea were recorded at the Menuhin Hall, Yehudi Menuhin School, Surrey on 7-8 January 2013. Two Songs from Shades of Night, The Moon's Funeral and From Shore to Shore were recorded at the same venue on 9 February 2013.

Recording Engineer/ Producer    DAVID LEFEBER         
Digital Editing/ Mastering              DAVID LEFEBER
Executive Producer for NMC         COLIN MATTHEWS

Cover image             ROSS AITKEN
Graphic design         FRANCOIS HALL

(P) 2013 NMC Recordings Ltd
© 2013 NMC Recordings Ltd

Catalogue number:
NMC D191
Release Date:
10 June 2013