Norman Stinchcombe reviews new SOMM-Recordings

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS THREE NEW SOMM CDs 'On This Shining Night': Bevan, Gilchrist, Williams, Coull Quartet (Somm Recordings) ★★★★ A rare collection of 'Music for Voice and String Quartet'. So rare in fact that only two of the four composers' works here were originally in that form; a collection of Peter Warlock's songs and Sally Beamish's 'Tree Carols'. The three songs by Delius and two of the three Samuel Barber's songs were arranged by the multi-talented baritone Roderick Williams. The eleven Warlock songs are gorgeous, with Williams' baritone, soprano Sophie Bevan and tenor James Gilchrist all fitting hand-in-glove in their particular songs. Try to resist smiling at the zestful Gilchrist in the opening 'Chopcherry'. Barber's dark and pensive 'Dover Beach' is here but Williams' arrangement of 'Sure on this Shining Night', and of course his expressive singing, make this is the stand-out track. Be

Longborough double bill

LOVE ISLAND AT LONGBOROUGH The Spell Book / La Liberazione di Ruggiero Longborough Festival Opera,**** In the deathless words of Nigel Tufnell, what's wrong with being sexy? Jennie Ogilvie's Longborough production of Francesca Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggiero (1625) places the sorceress Alcina (Lauren Joyanne Morris) and her toyboy Ruggiero (Oskar McCarthy) on a pink, high-kitsch Love Island. And once you overlook Alcina's penchant for transforming people into rubber plants, they're clearly having the time of their lives - lolling around in their candy-coloured smalls, attended by sexually-ambiguous trolley-dollies with Michael Fabricant hairpieces. Ruggiero's wife Bradamante (Simone Ibbett-Brown) is having none of it, and the plot of the opera concerns her grim-faced mission to slap Alcina down, and force Ruggiero to put his kecks back on and get back to killing people, like a proper man. And there you have it: the first known opera in th

Christopher Morley reviews the Three Choirs Festival

GERONTIUS ENDS A BRILLIANT THREE CHOIRS THREE CHOIRS FESTIVAL Hereford Cathedral ***** What was a very successful Three Choirs Festival week concluded with packed houses for the two concluding evening concerts in Hereford Cathedral, and there was a subtle link between the two events. Friday's concert indeed lived up to its "Transformations" title, opening with Stravinsky's arrangement of Bach's "Vom Himmel Hoch" Canonic Variations. Conductor Adrian Partington did his best with this clumsy work, low-lying for the reduced Festival Chorus, and scratchy for the upper stringless Philharmonia Orchestra. Amazing how much of the woodwind filigree sounded like Walton's Wise Virgins Bach Transcriptions. A full string complement provided a wonderfully buoyant, sonorous backdrop to Gerald Finzi's Dies Natalis. We normally hear a tenor in these Thomas Traherne settings, always feeling that these are the musings of a boy child just delivered fr


Apologies to all  In my excitement over the piece my fingers ran away with me, and I forgot to credit Ethyl Smyth as composer of the Concerto for Violin, Horn and Orchestra. Christopher Morley

CBSO Prom review

Sent from the all-new AOL app for Android ----- Forwarded message ----- From: "Christopher Morley" <> To: "Christopher Morley" <> CBSO fill the Royal Albert Hall  CBSO Prom Royal Albert Hall **** Rumour has it that ticket sales are down for the current season of BBC Promenade concerts. Not so last Monday, when an all-but-packed Albert Hall marvelled at a CBSO on the superlative form we regulars have long come to expect from them but should never take for granted. This was Chief Conductor-designate Kazuki Yamada's first-ever Prom, fulfilling a long-cherished ambition which he had never expected to achieve so quickly. With his wife and two tiny children present, this was creating a memory to savour, and the joy emanating from Yamada's platform presence glowed throughout this vast building. It was obvious from the orchestra, too. Glinka's Russian und Ludmila Overture kicked off at a fizz surely too t

CBSO Youth Orchestra review

BLAZING BEETHOVEN FROM THESE YOUNGSTERS CBSO YOUTH ORCHESTRA Royal Birmingham Conservatoire **** You can always be assured of quality with the CBSO Youth Orchestra, expertly coached by some of the country's finest professional orchestral musicians, and performing under great conductors. And the CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy brings us the whittled-down crème de la crème, under the shrewd, understanding and joyously expressive baton of Michael Seal, onetime sub-principal violinist in the CBSO and now a giant on the podium in his own right. Saturday afternoon's concert deserved a bigger audience than we found in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Bradshaw Hall. I guess they were mainly family fans, with no Town Hall or Symphony Hall usual suspects, perhaps daunted at the prospect of making the trek out to Eastside. "A Fist Full of Fives" was the title of the programme, beginning indeed with Adrian Sutton's busy, eclectic showpiece bearing that

Kazuki Yamada and the CBSO

KAZUKI YAMADA AND THE CBSO PROM Christopher Morley As a 24-year-old student a young Japanese music student based in Germany decided to take himself over to London for a few days' sight-seeing. "I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall, this magnificent building, and I was just gripped! I saw there was a BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concert happening there that evening, so I queued for hours and finally got into the arena, second row from the front, and all for five pounds! "It was then that I realised my ambition was to conduct a Prom, and now it's about to happen! What an amazing thrill! Wow!" This is Kazuki Yamada, incoming Principal Conductor of the CBSO in succession to Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, who is about to take the podium in front of the orchestra for the BBC Prom on Monday July 25. "It's like a dream come true," he tells me during a post-concert reception in Symphony Hall's welcoming new Jane How room. He has just conducted the CBS

CBSO Schubert review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE SAVOURS SCHUBERT 'Simply Schubert': CBSO at Birmingham Town Hall ★★★★ A small but very enthusiastic audience were clearly all agreed that this was a very pleasant way to spend a balmy summer evening. The players, enthused by Edward Gardner's vigorous conducting, clearly felt that too – one young second fiddle played throughout with a radiant smile. This wasn't the time for music of profundity and soul searching but for sitting back, relaxing and listening to the teenage Schubert flexing and stretching his compositional skills. His Symphony No. 1 in D major was completed when he was only sixteen but there is nothing of the wunderkind quality of Mendelssohn's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' overture, the dazzling work of a fifteen-year-old. It's rather more like a schoolboy formulating a mathematical theorem with a copy of Euclid open at his elbow. Substitute Haydn for Euclid and we have a carefully crafted classical symphony that

Longborough Carmen review

A TRIUMPH AGAINST FATE CARMEN Longborough Festival Opera *** The resourcefulness of Longborough Festival Opera has already become the stuff of legends. Last year it coped with pandemic restrictions by erecting a big top, seating socially distanced and acoustically superb, for its productions. This year it got off to a flying start back in the main house with Wagner's Siegfried and Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, but then the resurgence of Covid hit its current Carmen presentation. Did Longborough throw in the towel and ring down the curtain? Did it heck as like! Seven out of ten principal roles were covered by understudies for the run's opening night in a semi-staged performance, but then on Tuesday we saw the whole show as originally conceived, the seven understudies now moving so confidently about their business, and with the musical values under conductor Jeremy Silver so consistent with LFO's famed delivery with its magnificent Festival Orchestra. All t

Latest reviews from Norman Stinchcombe

NORMAN STINCHOMBE REVIEWS MALCOLM ARNOLD, CHOPIN/RACHMANINOC CDS AND A PUCCINI DVD Sir Malcolm Arnold: Complete Symphonies & Dances (Naxos 6 CD set) ★★ Arnold's nine symphonies exemplify his gifts for brilliant orchestration – as the London Philharmonic's principal trumpet he learned his craft from the inside – rhythmic agility and a fund of good tunes. This medium-priced box set has the symphonies performed by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the Orchestral Dances by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, all under Andrew Penny. Playing and recording quality is competent but unexceptional and Penny's direction too often misses Arnold's wit, sparkle and ear-tickling sonorities. Chandos's bargain 4CD set of the symphonies, conducted by Richard Hickox and Rumon Gamba, costs a third less than Naxos but is in another league for sound and playing panache – newcomers should start here. Sir Malcolm's own magnificent CBSO recording of the fifth, sc

Stanford Requiem review

STANFORD'S REQUIEM RETURNS TO BIRMINGHAM AFTER 125 YEARS CBSO & University of Birmingham Voices Symphony Hall **** The Birmingham Triennial Festival's back catalogue of major choral & orchestral works is extensive, although a significant number of the commissions have not stood the test of time and have become neglected as time has passed, even those written by leading composers of the day. Into this category falls Stanford's Requiem, first performed in 1897 and so having a timely airing here in its 125th Anniversary year, premiered just three years before Elgar's Dream of Gerontius which, in contrast, certainly made the Triennial Festival's 'greatest hits' roll call. Those seeking a 'fire & brimstone' take on the Catholic mass need to look elsewhere; this is a more gentle, intimate, and consoling setting. But that's not to say it lacks contrast – indeed, across its extensive 80-minute running time, there is variety of mo

Birmingham International Piano Competition review

AN INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION WHICH COULD BE SO MUCH MORE BIRMINGHAM INTERNATIONAL PIANO COMPETITION FINAL Royal Birmingham Conservatoire (no stars for a competition) After nomadding through many of Birmingham's important music centres for well over four decades, the Robert William and Florence Amy Brant International Piano Competition has now settled at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, bringing its less unwieldy name, the Birmingham International Piano Competition, with it. Two rounds of recitals whittled down the selected finalists to four, who again were required to present a recital. I feel that for such an important competition, in such a city as Birmingham, the Final should have the glamour of concertos (like the Leeds). What an opportunity for the students of the RBC Symphony Orchestra to work under pressure, conducted by one of the RBC's experienced professional conductors. Miss Gladys Brant, founder of the competition, stipulated certain categories for

Confessions of a Music Critic talk, July 4

CONFESSIONS OF A MUSIC CRITIC I shall be talking about my Confessions of a Music Critic at Stratford-upon-Avon Library on Monday July 4 at 11am (admission free). All are welcome! Chris

The Reeds by Severnside CD reviewed

A TRAWL THROUGH ELGAR'S CHORAL COMPOSING CAREER THE REEDS BY SEVERNSIDE Choral Music by Edward Elgar (SOMMCD 278) We have on this timely and so well-produced release a fascinating guide through Elgar's progress from journeyman to great composer, taking us through the choral music he produced during his long career. No massive oratorios, cantatas or odes here, but a survey of some of his more modest works, often for unaccompanied chorus (William Vann directing the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea). Andrew Neill's remarkably detailed and informative insert-notes guide us through this journey, which begins with the touching works the teenaged Elgar composed for the Roman Catholic St George's Church in Worcester (barely a stone's throw from the Anglican Cathedral where so many of his greatest triumphs would be celebrated) where he succeeded his father as organist. The very early Gloria perfumes with Catholic incense and the influence of Mozart, repr

Birmingham Bach Choir review

WHAT A LOVELY PROGRAMME FROM THIS EXCELLENT CHOIR BIRMINGHAM BACH CHOIR St Paul's Church, Jewellery Quarter ***** The last choral concert I reviewed in this gracious old church proved a dire experience; not so this one, from the expertly understated Birmingham Bach Choir, so confidently accustomed to the gentle but firm direction of Paul Spicer. British offerings sandwiched three Bach motets, great works which here were delivered in far lighter a manner surely than the way in which the Birmingham Bach Society Choir would have given them more than a century ago. Organist Callum Alger introduced this Bach sequence with the Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist from one of the organ masses, the complex lines clearly delineated, before the motets then unfolded. Lobet den Herrn was neat and agile, its Halleluja unfolding with great swells of tone. Komm, Jesu, komm is for me Bach at his best, emotion so obvious within every well-controlled bar, and this was a deeply-felt, delicate

Longborough's Die Tote Stadt review

A STAR IS BORN AT LONGBOROUGH DIE TOTE STADT By Christopher Morley ***** What Longborough's cosy yet busy auditorium witnessed here was nothing less than the stuff of films, when a star is born. Longborough Festival Opera was already in the headlines for presenting Erich Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, almost never experienced in this country, but on the second evening of this four-night run Rachel Nicholls, who had herself learned the taxing role of Marietta/Marie at very short notice, went down with a throat infection. Her understudy, Luci Briginshaw, sang from the side of the stage while Nicholls acted sublimely, their mutual lip-synching convincing us they were as one, and Briginshaw's body-language, despite being music stand-bound, totally immersed in the spirit of the action. Her voice held up remarkably in this ordeal the inexperienced Korngold sets both his leading soprano and his tenor Paul. obsessively mourning his wife Marie whilst rejoicing in fi

Norman Stinchcombe reviews CBSO's Mahler 2

STUPENDOUS MAHLER TWO CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ This concert was billed as an end-of-season finale, a temporary farewell. When the applause, cheering and foot-stamping erupted after eighty minutes of intense, emotionally fired-up music making it felt instead like a long-anticipated, desperately hoped for homecoming. After more than two years of ruined schedules, cancellations and Covid-compromised concerts here was the platform packed with players, the choir seats brim-full with the cherished CBSO Chorus and – the final ingredient – a packed house. It was the perfect choice of work too, Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony; the work which opened Symphony Hall and a CBSO musical calling-card for the last forty years. By chance, or fate, the last concert here on this scale – in terms of forces, attendance and impact – was the CBSO's performance of Mahler's eighth symphony in January 2020 when we were blissfully unaware of the approaching pandemic. That evening the

Nor,man Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews

ANOTHER DELICIOUS BANQUET OF CDS -- IF A BIT MEAGRE! NIELSEN & SIBELIUS: Dalene, RSPO / Storgårds (Bis CD / SACD) ★★★★★ On the disc cover gap-toothed Johan Dalene looks like a schoolboy larking about in the Scandinavian snow – but at twenty-years-old he's already a phenomenally gifted violinist. The young Swede won the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition and his performance of that composer's concerto is an absolute winner. It's a tricky work, there's no big memorable tune to hook the newcomer, and its mercurial nature makes it hard to pin down. No problem for Dalene who produces not only glorious tone from his 1736 'Spencer Dyke' Stradivarius but limpet-like follows Nielsen through every musical mood whether spiky, whimsical or wacky. John Storgårds and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are fully inside Nielsen's idiosyncratic style and the sound is up to Bis's usual exceptional standard. In the Sibelius concerto Dalene has all the world

, CBSO review 15.6.22

AUTHORITATIVE CBSO CONCERT, REVIED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ How, musically, did the world begin? In Jean-Fèry Rebel's 'Les Èlemèns' it's with an ear-splitting chaotic chromatic cluster chord – a century ahead of its time – which claws its way to tonality. After a depiction of chaos in a murky minor Haydn's 'Creation' blazes into light with a dazzling forte C major. How, musically, will the world end? Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's 'Catamorphosis' suggests that T.S. Eliot had the right idea; 'This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper." In her twenty-minute work, a CBSO Centenary Commission receiving its UK Premiere, fate doesn't knock at the door announcing imminent earthly destruction through climate change (Catastrophe + Metamorphosis) – it slithers in surreptitiously, sinuously through the gaps. Thorvaldsdottir uses large orchestral forces with immense restraint: ther

Longborough Playground Opera Carmen review

CARMEN FOR KIDS WORKS BRILLIANTLY THE DOWNFALL OF DON JOSE Longborough Playground Opera at Temple Grafton School One of the most heartening experiences in my lifetime of involvement with music education as well as reviewing came at Temple Grafton primary school on June 14, when Playground Opera, the educational offshoot of the world-renowned Longborough Festival Opera, brought this brilliantly-adapted paring-down of Bizet's Carmen which it is currently touring around the Cotswolds. Brainchild of Maria Jagusz and Jessica May, the concept is totally successful, engaging the children as performers as well as audience participators (they had all been so well-prepared, thanks to the splendid teachers' packs – and the splendid teachers!). Don Jose remains the same, somewhat homely soldier, besotted with Carmen (now more of a zany fortune-teller), and rivalled by Escamillo, here a glamorous super-chef rather than a bullfighter. Much of the action is pantomimic, the audie

Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra plays Mahler Seven

AMATEUR ORCHESTRA TACKLES MAHLER SEVEN BRILLIANTLY MAHLER'S SEVENTH SYMPHONY Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall ***** It is a brave orchestra that tackles Mahler's mighty, enigmatic Seventh Symphony, with its focus on every instrument within the huge complement, and its far-reaching demands upon stamina and concentration. It is a brave conductor, too, charged with marshalling these vast forces and long-distance structures. Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra has an illustrious history in Mahler performance (beginning under their legendary past conductor Kenneth Page), and one which has continued into the present day with the living legend of a conductor who is Michael Lloyd. Together these forces reinforced that reputation with an account of the symphony which would have been the envy of many professional ensembles. Over the opening's mysterious oar-lapping Saphran Ali's tenor horn called elementally across the midnight waters, lau

Norman Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews

BRANTUB OF CD REVIEWS BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE Peter Donohoe is approaching 70-year-of-age but is busier than ever in the recording studio. Having released the first volume of Mendelssohn's 'Songs Without Words' for Chandos earlier this year now comes an outstanding start to his survey of Grieg's lovely and woefully underrated short piano works, 'Lyric Pieces' Volume 1. ★★★★★ Grieg starting composing these delightfully mercurial works, with myriad shades of emotional and pianistic colour, in 1867 and finished more than thirty years later. There are 66 pieces, gathered in small groups, and Donohoe selects 27 of them. He starts with the pealing bells of 'Klokkenklang' which are alternately joyful, mysterious and sinister – imagine a hybrid of Liszt's 'La Campanella' and Ravel's 'Le Gibet' – and ends a generously-filled disc 83 minutes later with joyously raucous Norwegian folk-dance 'Halling'. There's nothing weak and