Showing posts from March, 2018

CBSO - Mirga and Symphony Hall by Christopher Morley

Among the many joys of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's arrival in Birmingham has been her proud programming of music from her Lithuanian homeland. Recently we enjoyed the UK premiere of Ciurlionis' In the Forest at the Gala Opening of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and on Thursday she and the CBSO gave us the UK premiere of La Barca, by Onute Narbutaite. Interestingly, both these works are rooted in nature, and La Barca indeed reflects something of the flecky impressionism of Debussy's La Mer which has figured so prominently with the CBSO in recent days. High tinklings shimmer over bass swells, a timpani cadenza identifies a tonal centre, and throughout this fascinating piece a gorgeous melody is struggling to emerge from the lower strings. This was a well-prepared account of a work whose large orchestra is handled by the composer confidently and imaginatively, its textures constantly alive. Narbutaite also contributed a thoughtful, unpretentious (unlike so many other cont

Ex Cathedra at Symphony Hall by Christopher Morley

On what seemed nothing like a Good Friday (pop music raucousing in the thronged shopping-malls), Ex Cathedra's annual presentation of a Bach Passion at Symphony Hall reminded us appropriately of what the day is all about. This year it was the turn of the monumental St Matthew, yet there was nothing marmoreal in this account under Jeffrey Skidmore, probably the swiftest in actual playing-time (2 hours 45 minutes) I've ever heard, but never with a sense of rush. Lightness of touch from the excellent Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra, smoothness of transition between the movements, and a flowing sense of high drama all made the hours fly by. And the Ex Cathedra chorus itself, supplemented throughout by the youngsters of its Academy of Vocal Music, sang with a clarity and projection which made the excellent surtitles thoughtfully provided almost redundant. As ever with Ex Cathedra performances, soloists emerged from within the chorus, and here Martha McLorinan was outstanding in

Orchestra of The Swan - Worcester Cathedral by Christopher Morley

Patrycja  Pieczara, born in Krakow in 1983, has conducted to great acclaim in opera-houses and concert-halls both in her Polish homeland and abroad, with several successful appearances in the UK. One of her most recent  triumphs was an all-English programme in Birmingham Town Hall with the Orchestra of the Swan, joined by baritone Roderick Williams,  and given to great critical acclaim. On April 6 the same performers repeat the programme (Vaughan Williams, Finzi, Ireland) in the quintessentially English setting of Worcester Cathedral. Patrycja tells me about her reactions to the music. " To begin with, I would like to say I’m very much looking forward  to perform once more with  Roderick Williams -  and OOTS in this beautiful Worcester Cathedral so soon ! Again I will have the pleasure to perform this all-English programme - the music I knew not quite well before ( Oh, maybe except Vaughan Williams!). "To be completely honest, before the February concerts with OOTS I

Birmingham Philharmonic - Elgar Hall by Christopher Morley

Amateur orchestras are advised to programme to their strengths, but that's a bit superfluous in the case of one of the finest amateur orchestras in the land, the Birmingham Philharmonic, with strengths in every department -- hence their wide-ranging repertoire. Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony was an obvious choice for the BPO's most recent concert, highlighting its gifted woodwind section (Alastair Moseley's clarinet a constantly effective presence, and not just in the hair-raising capers of the finale), its horn section for which many professional outfits would give their eye-teeth (Tim Stidwill noble and soulful in the andante's famous opening solo), and strings which articulated responsively under the vigorous and encouraging baton of Richard Laing, himself an experienced orchestral violinist. There were downsides to this showcasing however. However adept the bassoons, their prominence meant that the triple piano Tchaikovsky asks of them on their lowest possibl

Birmingham Bach Choir at St Chads Cathedral by Christopher Morley

The heroism of the Birmingham concert-going public knows no bounds. They brave the disaster area which is the city centre, which gets worse by the day, but are so often rewarded in return with riches.  And last Saturday those riches were spiritual as well as artistic, with Birmingham Bach Choir's stunning presentation of Byrd's Great Service within a revealing historical context, and performed in the awesome setting of Britain's first post-Reformation cathedral. Paul Spicer's absorbing programme-note detailed the thinking behind his compilation, with hymns and voluntaries by Byrd's contemporaries Tallis and Gibbons interleaving the movements of the Service. Pragmatically, this also leavened what might have been monotony of pulse had the main work been performed without these interjections. A bonus came with readings from John Donne by Archbishop Bernard Longley, delivered with acute understanding and empathy, but not totally well-served by the building's

Ex Cathedra at Codsall Community Arts Festival by Richard Bratby

Maybe I’ve been unlucky, but when I sit down to hear a newly-written piece of sacred choral music, I’m usually bracing myself to ask one basic question: imitation John Rutter or imitation John Tavener? Good news: Nimrod Borenstein’s And There Was Light was nothing like either. Borenstein takes as his text the opening words of the Book of Genesis, and he promptly subverts every preconception that this creates. “Void” is a chiming ostinato for the male singers: “Form” gathers in great curves of sound on the women’s voices. A hint of a rhythm gets going: musical lines glow, blossom and coalesce. Before the performance, Borenstein explained that for him, “contrast creates structure”. And there were plenty of contrasts with which he could make good on that promise: day and night, light and dark; droll, rhythmic basses and soaring, luminous sopranos. The result is an utterly distinctive a capella motet that’s quirky, engaging, and (where it counts) beautiful. If there’s any justice,