CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Did the CBSO’s chief executive Emma Stenning attend this concert? One hopes so because she would have been able to see the early fruits of the silliest of her new innovations. The orchestra and soloist Ian Bostridge were about a quarter of the way through Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’ when the tenor motioned to conductor Gergely Madaras, raised his hand and halted the performance. He addressed a small group in the audience who had been filming him on their mobile phones. “Their lights are shining directly in my eyes – it’s very distracting," he said. "Would you please put your phones down.” A performance by one of the finest British singers of the last fifty years, and a world-renowned interpreter of Britten, was interrupted by a handful of intellectually challenged mobile-obsessed dimwits. Their antics are positively encouraged by the orchestra’s administrators who print this in the concert programme: “We are very happy for you to take photograph
  Dresden Philharmonic at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Dresden is the perfect example of the esteem with which classical music is held in Germany. A city with half the population of Birmingham has a resident opera company and not one but two symphony orchestras. There is the Staatskapelle Dresden founded in 1548 – sixteen years before Shakespeare was born – and the Dresden Philharmonic which, in comparison, is a mere stripling founded in 1870, which still makes its considerably older than the CBSO. Many touring orchestras are obviously in awe of Symphony Hall but the Philharmonic has a chic acoustically engineered 1,800 seater auditorium, opened in 2017, and probably felt it to be home-from-home. The Russian conductor Stanislav Kochanovsky was in charge for this six-concert British tour which featured three works from his homeland. He opened with the Prelude from Mussorgsky’s opera ‘Khovanshchina’ not a work well known in Britain but if it sounded familiar then perhaps it's because of its si
  A Damned Fine ‘Damnation of Faust’! CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ In 1974 the  CBSO Chorus,  formed just four months earlier, performed their first concert. It was a testing one too, Berlioz’s ‘Damnation of Faust’ under the orchestra’s French conductor Louis Fremaux. Berlioz makes huge demands on his choral forces requiring them not just to sing but also to act in character. In the work’s two hour span their roles include  peasants lustily enjoying the advent of Spring, solemn Easter celebrants, roistering drunks, students and soldiers, gnomes, sylphs and will o’ the wisps. At the work’s climax they take both sides of the theological divide: the chorus of demons in Pandemonium, in Berlioz’s invented infernal language, and a heavenly host wafting the soul of Marguerite to heaven. Their debut performance was a triumph and, no surprises here, so was this one under Kazuki Yamada. Symphony Hall looks especially resplendent when the Chorus is on duty and here they were joined by the Tenors a
                                                            ABC OF OPERA                                                           Grand Theatre, Swansea (10.3.24)            What Mark Llewelyn Evans is achieving with his Academy of Barmy Composers is nothing short of amazing, and valuable beyond riches in these philistine times when Gradgrindish governments are cutting funding to arts education. When two lots of 900 primary schoolchildren each time (from 23 Swansea schools) gasp at what they are witnessing in a beautiful theatre the likes of which they have probably only ever dreamed of, that is quite a start for an hour of enthralling interaction with ABC’s PantOpera drama of good vanquishing evil. We had all the elements of panto (“Oh no. he’s not!” and “She’s behind you!”), but this time with all the cardboard characters as composers of the classical period: Windy Wolfie, Hectic Haydn, Charismatic Chevalier (St-Georges de Boulogne) and Tortellini Rossini, who can “compose-a
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases ‘ John Boyden – A Celebration’: Various artistes (Divine Art 2 CDs) ★★★ John Boyden was one of the most colourful characters in British classical music. He was the first managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra but was sacked after six months over his unsuccessful coup against conductor Andre Previn. In 1992 he relaunched the New Queen's Hall Orchestra; only a lunatic would launch another orchestra Boyden said, adding “I was that lunatic.” His greatest achievement was his alliance with entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Hamlyn with whom he founded the Classics for Pleasure record label in 1970, selecting the repertoire, artists and producing the recording sessions. At the bargain price of 89p they sold 4 million copies in four years, introducing a new audience to the joys of classical music. One of the label’s most revered recordings appears on this retrospective set, Schubert’s song cycle ‘Die Sch ö ne M üll
                                                            BEN AND IMO                                                           Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon **** Mark Ravenhill’s tight two-hander tells of the tempestuous relationship between Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst, daughter of the late Gustav, who has arrived in Aldeburgh to assist Britten in the composition of his commissioned ceremonial opera “Gloriana”, based on the glorious reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The composer has only nine months before it is to be premiered at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The atmosphere is fraught and pressurised. Originating as a radio-play broadcast in 2013 as part of the Britten centenary celebrations, the play is certainly wordy, and certainly every word is not intelligible, however brilliant the delivery of the actors Samuel Barnett as Britten and Victoria Yeates as Imogen. But their body-language and intensity of their engagement com
  NORMAN STINCHCOMBE INTERVIEWS CHRISTOPHER MORLEY, WHO HAS RESIGNED AFTER 36 YEARS AS CHIEF MUSIC CRITIC OF THE BIRMINGHAM POST At the end of this month Christopher Morley will resign as Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Post after 36 years during which time he has covered hundreds of classical music performances at home and abroad. He shadowed the CBSO’s concert tours around the world – filing copy by telephone – and accompanied the Birmingham Bach Choir to Leipzig when it was part of Communist-controlled East Germany. His exploits fill his 2021 autobiography ‘Confessions of a Music Critic’, which is lively, upbeat and often scurrilously funny. His resignation letter is very different. It acknowledges the “huge honour” of working for the newspaper but fears that, “no-one in today’s newsroom will remember” him. Maudlin old age (Morley is 76) or regret for the past, that other country where everything was always better? Neither – nor is it sepia tinted nostalgia. Those really were t
  CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★ “ America is God's Crucible, the great Melting-Pot”. It’s a cliché now but was a shiny new metaphor when British author Israel Zangwill coined it in 1908. America was never just an ethnic melting pot but also a musical one. Nowhere more so than in the music of Charles Ives where hymns, college football songs, folk tunes and patriotic anthems creatively collide head-on. Its eccentric richness includes avant-garde innovations – bitonality, tone clusters, twelve-tone rows – all arrived at independently and used not theoretically and reverentially but with a puckish sense of fun. Using a Mahler-sized orchestra the CBSO, under Ilan Volkov, fully embraced the cranky genius of his ‘Three Places in New England’ where each segment is a musical memory-scape. In the first the large string section, all whispers and susurrations, conjured up a misty landscape from which gradually emerged a slowly plodding march, Ives’ homage to the first black regiment of the Union A
  MARK BEBBINGTON, PRINCIPALS OF THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA                                            Cadogan Hall ***** Though there were only three composers named on the programme, there was in fact a fourth hovering over proceedings, and that was Brahms, exerting a posthumous presence not only over two fledgling composers, Ireland and Vaughan Williams, but also over a well-established composer nearing the end of his life, Elgar. In this wonderful programme in the acoustically- and comfort-friendly Cadogan Hall pianist Mark Bebbington and principals from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra gave heroically generous accounts of works from the first two above-named, and then an absolutely magnificent reading of Elgar’s Piano Quintet which in reminiscence disturbed my sleep and still haunts the memory. John Ireland’s Phantasie Trio in A minor, written according to the tenets of William Cobbett’s chamber music competition, requiring a compact, single-movement multi-structured
  The CBSO’s Choruses triumph in sublime Fauré Requiem CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ Gabriel  Fauré  wrote that his Requiem was, “as GENTLE as I am myself”. The capital letters were his and perhaps the only time he ever, figuratively  speaking , raised his voice.  The ‘ Dies irae’ ( D ay of  W rath)  section is excised and with it  t he drama  which infuses  the three greatest Requiems.  Out goes Verdi’s  battering timpani and theatricality; the monumentality  and  grandiloquen ce  of Berlioz; the existential terror of the dying Mozart. Next to these titans  Fauré’ s modest work might seem cosy and a little twee. There have been attempts to beef it up. Sir Colin Davis’s 1985 recording  employed  a Wagnerian bass-baritone direct from Bayreuth and a renowned Queen of the Night as soprano soloist. I imagine  Fauré’ s reaction would have been a cry of “Quelle horreur!” T he French conductor  Alexandre Bloch’ s   approach was obvious but seldom attempted – let’s see what  Fauré  would have li
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases Durufl é  & Poulenc: Choir of Trinity College Cambridge / Layton (Hyperion CD)  ★★★★★ Durufl é’s Requiem Op.9 usually appears on disc as the bottom half of a double bill with Faure’s far more famous Requiem, with both in full orchestral guise. Not so here, where  Durufl é gets sole billing with a very different setting of his choral masterpiece. He composed three v ersions of the work: for full orchestra (1947); small orchestra (1961); and this much  sparser and starker 1948 setting for choir and  organ, splendidly played here by Harrison Cole. The recording, made at the Church of Saint-Eustache in Paris, is phenomenal, a triumph for engineers David Hinnitt and Adrian Peacock who allow us to hear every strand of the young Choir’s impressive work under Stephen Layton, from the hushed ethereal ‘In Paradisum’ to the thrilling climax of the ‘Sanctus’. Cole is always on hand to add a telling touch of colour or underpinning th