Shrewsbury Choral's Spirit of Christmas review

SHREWSBURY KINDLES THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS Shrewsbury Abbey **** This old grouch has never felt so Christmassy for years, and it is all thanks to what happened in Shrewsbury last Saturday. Shrewsbury Choral brought to life "The Spirit of Christmas" together with the choirs of Meole Brace School and Prestfelde School, accompanied by the spirited Meole Brace Chamber Orchestra under the clear, urbane baton of Martin Charles Cook. This was a wonderful celebration from participants of all ages, reflected in the community audience packing this huge, ancient building. We heard well-delivered orchestral offerings, with a particularly moving Hansel and Gretel Overture (wonderful winds, the orchestra needing a few more strings), contributions from the children which caught the heart (one little dot jigging along gleefully), though perhaps needing a bit more forward projection towards the audience, and sonorous singing from Shrewsbury Choral itself. An

National Symphony Orchestra review

JOHN LENEHAN'S EMPEROR CONCERTO AT CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Cheltenham Town Hall **** Deprived of the regrettably-cancelled visit of an orchestra from Armenia, Cheltenham had instead to enjoy a stand-in concert from the National Symphony Orchestra, a squad of players expert in every department, and producing a wonderfully rich sound. We began with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture, big and bold under Rimma Sushanskaya's emphatic conducting, and followed with the "Emperor" Piano Concerto by Beethoven, a composer who would so have loved to have studied under Mozart. In fact there were plenty of Mozartian qualities from the excellent soloist John Lenehan, with great clarity of detail, a persuasive balancing of textures between the hands, and a dramatic delineation of dynamics, not least in the inner musings of the slow movement – leading to a well-sprung finale and a conclusion where the timpanist and Lenehan listened to each

Canteloube, Benda and Korngold releases reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe

CANTELOUBE, BENDA AND KORNGOLD CDs REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE CANTELOUBE 'Chants d'Auvergne': Sampson / Tapiola Sinfonietta / Rophé ★★★★★ Canteloube's exquisitely spruced-up and polished versions of folk songs from the Auvergne region have been well-served on disc and Carolyn Sampson's is one of the best. Her voice doesn't have the rich, creamy quality of Kiri Te Kanawa on her complete Decca set – for languorous beauty her 'Baïlèro' is unmatched – but Sampson's lightness and clarity (in 'Lo fiolairé' for example) are very rewarding. So too is her vivid characterization, whether as a lusty farmer's daughter or the dreamy shepherdess of 'La pastoura als camps'. Sampson selected twenty-five songs from Canteloube's fives series. She ensures that the many slow songs, like 'Pastourelle' and 'Brezairola', aren't blandly alike. She's aided by the alert and piquant playing of the Tapiola band under


WONDERFUL GERSHWIN AND RACHMANINOV FROM JOHN WILSON AND THE CBSO JOHN WILSON CONDUCTS THE CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Word has spread like wildfire over jungle drums that the CBSO is playing at the top of its even more than normally tremendous form. Combine this with an appearance by the wonderful conductor John Wilson in one of the orchestra's highly popular matinee concerts and you can put your money on a packed Symphony Hall such as we hearteningly experienced on Wednesday. The welcome this modest man received was long, warm and genuine from musicians and punters alike. One can understand why the players love him. He is so obviously well-prepared, rehearses meticulously, and yet brings a spark of spontaneity, perhaps in the nuanced moulding of a phrase, to his elegant, economical and crystal-clear platform manner. And he never seems to break sweat! Wilson is perhaps most renowned in the public perception for his brilliant direction of film scores and stage musicals. N

Saint-Saens, Purcell and Mozart CDs reviewed

A MAMMOTH SAINT-SAENS SET PLUS PURCELL AND MOZART REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE SAINT-SAËNS EDITION: Various artists ★★★★ This bumper 34 CD box set includes 600 works and contains many fine recordings with French performers dominating. The five symphonies are in the safe hands of conductor Jean Martinon with soloist Marie-Claire Alan in No.3 the Organ symphony. The five piano concertos are elegantly handled by Jean-Philippe Collard, with the RPO under Previn, in fine EMI digital 1980s sound. The violin concertos are equally good with Renaud Capuçon amongst the soloists. 'Samson et Dalila' appears twice: the magnificent 1963 recording under Prêtre with toweringly heroic Jon Vickers and magisterial Rita Gorr and a 1946 recording under Fourestier, smaller scale but more idiomatically French. Chamber and solos works are catered for and you can hear the composer on a 1919 acoustic recording. N.B. The Piano Quintet (disc 15 track 8) is marred by a mastering error. Purchase

Ex Cathedra review November 21

EX CATHEDRA JOURNEYS BACK TO ITS ROOTS EX CATHEDRA CONSORT Birmingham Town Hall ***** Earlier this week, Ex Cathedra received welcome news that they had been granted an award from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund. On tonight's evidence, I can see why: here was a carefully curated selection of English polyphony performed to the highest of standards by thirteen Ex Cathedra singers, including some current and former members of their choral scholarship programme. Billed as "Our First Love", this was a personal journey by conductor and founder of Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore, through the music of his and the choir's roots: the golden age of the English Renaissance. The concert opener was Thomas Tallis's 'Lamentations of Jeremiah I' – the first item they sang in their inaugural concert of 1969 – its gently poised melodic lines emerging sensitively from the musical tapestry, fluidly paced by Skidmore throughout. Other items by Tallis inc

CBSO Cunning Little Vixen review

HUGE SYMPHONY TO NATURE THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN CBSO at Symphony Hall Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is a huge symphony to nature in operatic guise, and this utterly absorbing and enchanting semi-staged performance from a wonderfully attuned CBSO made me more aware of the anguished subtext than I ever have been in the many productions I have seen. Written by Janacek towards the end of his life, the opera poignantly sets the eternal cycle of nature's renewal in relief against the human condition's inexorable progress towards regretful decay. Nowhere is this juxtaposition more heartbreakingly obvious than in the very final scene, where the world-weary Forester, warmly and compellingly sung by Roland Wood, recoils at the annoying return of a "clammy little bugger" of a frog. "No, sir," pipes up the frog, "That was my grandfather." The frog was charmingly played by Ben Fletcher, his colleague children from Trinity Boys Choir an