Showing posts from April, 2018

Orchestra of St John in Bromsgrove by Christopher Morley

Bromsgrove's Orchestra of St John is an ensemble which exudes pleasure in its companionable music-making. It also vaults with ambition, and this programme was its most demanding yet, calling upon two-and-a-half--hour's worth of reserves of concentration and stamina. Elgar's Violin Concerto requires both muscularity and delicacy from soloist and orchestra alike, qualities abundantly in evidence here. Soloist Charlotte Moseley was fearless in her approach, her initial entry throatily rich in tone and indicative of the emotional odyssey to follow. Her bowing was generous and supple, her lyrical interludes unfolded with a regretful wisdom beyond her years, and her multiple-stopped journey through the finale's tortuous and tortured cadenza was triumphantly achieved -- what a smile from her as the concluding bars arrived. Moseley and conductor Richard Jenkinson maintained an eye-contact of mutual trust throughout this performance of rhapsodic tempo-shifts and sudden dy

Shostakovich's Tenth with the CBSO by David Hart

If music is an expression of ideas rather than, as Stravinsky said, just a combination of notes, Shostakovich’s symphonies are full of them, largely about the tensions between freedom and conformity in Soviet Russia. His Symphony No. 10 combines these two elements most powerfully, and a fired-up CBSO under Nicholas Collon (such a precise, unshowy conductor who gets what he wants with a tidy baton, flexible fingers and no extravagant arm-waving) performed it with awesome brilliance. Nevertheless it’s a curiously uneven piece.  The unfolding opening Moderato is easily the best movement, full of nostalgia and lost innocence, which Oliver Janes’ clarinet solos, Elspeth Dutch’s baying horn calls and Marie-Christine Zupancic’s gentle flute expressed so hauntingly.  And Collon’s tightening of the emotional knots was perfectly paced, climaxing in terrifying cries of anguish from the whole orchestra that only the long denouement could, and did, assuage. The remaining movements made their points

Stephen Hough at the Barber Institute by Christopher Morley

It has been my privilege to attend concerts at the Barber Institute for over 50 years, even, during my prime as an undergraduate there, to perform on its hallowed stage. But I doubt whether this jewel of an auditorium has often experienced an atmosphere more electric than that generated in a full house by Stephen Hough as he presented a cleverly-constructed programme of Debussy, Chopin and Beethoven. It was a brilliant idea to begin with the modest Clair de Lune, movingly affectionate under Hough's hands (the critic who wrote "its sentimental beauties have found their true haven in the tea-shop; oblivion would have been better" deserves oblivion himself),  its subtle pedalling preparing the way for magical colourings and chordings in the two books of Images. Though patrician and so perfectly self- absorbed, Hough's readings could never be described as aloof. Instead they were persuasively revealing of the pianist's total immersion in these works which fluid

Simon Trpceski at Birmingham Town Hall by Norman Stinchcombe

The pinnacles of symphonic music can be transcribed for piano: look no further than Liszt’s recreations of Beethoven’s symphonies. Rimsky-Korsakov’s colourful tone poem Scheherazade doesn’t rank with Beethoven but it does pose a particular problem for the transcriber – the lady herself. In the orchestral version the Arabian Nights tale-spinner is seductively played by the first violin – a plum part for the orchestra leader – but the piano is a percussive, not a sustaining, instrument. It’s a weakness of the Belgian composer Paul Gilson’s transcription along with the third movement’s love music which, deprived of its luscious orchestration, sounds trite. Those caveats shouldn’t detract from our appreciation of Simon Trpceski’s performance which was truly stupendous. The surging waves, tempest-torn coast and climactic shipwreck were all conjured up by the Macedonian pianist’s dynamic fingers. His left hand bass chords were thunderous, creating a real frisson in the second movement’s p

Peter Donohoe at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire by Christopher Morley

Under the right hands, even the most glitzy of state-of-the-art grand pianos can sound appropriate for keyboard music of past centuries, and this is certainly the case with Peter Donohoe's ongoing cycle of the complete Mozart piano sonatas. His instrument is a bright-toned Bechstein, clean and crisp, its bass notes assertive without booming (and how well Donohoe uses them to underpin Mozart's searching harmonies), perfectly captured by the RBC's concert-hall remarkably responsive acoustic. From my seat (eventually secured after chaos at the teething-troubled box office), though, I could see an irritating light-show when certain areas in the key-action were reflected in the highly-polished underside of the piano-lid. And to this construction of wood, metal and ivory Donohoe brought a collaboration which breathed constantly with supple phrasing, shaped tempi subtly, and ebbed and flowed with dynamic rises and falls.  These are qualities one listens for in Schubert, but

The CBSO with Harish Shankar by John Gough

Just back from a taxing European tour the CBSO were on blistering form at Wednesday’s concert. Featuring three newcomers to Symphony Hall, this was a terrific evening of orchestral colour and sonic splendour. The young Malaysian conductor Harish Shankar established his smiling presence from the start as Ravel’s ‘Mother Goose’ suite worked its customary magic. With reduced strings and chamber sonorities, the piece moved from delicate simplicity and a restrained coolness, gradually acquiring warmth and tenderness until ‘The fairy garden’ brought an ecstatic happy ending. Is there a more sheerly beautiful opening to a 20th-century piano concerto than that of Prokofiev’s Third?  Prokofiev composed the work with his own phenomenal but idiosyncratic pianistic agility in mind, alongside his psychological need to startle and delight, and this performance was just about ideal in its integration of the often conflicting demands of Prokofiev’s style. After the lyrical opening, the movement

C.B.S.O. at Symphony Hall by Christopher Morley

Coming back tired and jaded after a demanding and concentrated, highly successful week-and-a-half tour of Central Europe? Not a bit of it. What we heard from the CBSO in Thursday's packed matinee was an encapsulation of some of the items on their touring programme, but sounding fresh and newly-minted thanks to the elfin energy of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla. Under her choreographic baton the Tristan und Isolde Prelude and Liebestod (itself an encapsulation of all that happens during Wagner's marathon opera) was phrased in one great convincing arc, textures as gossamer as chamber-music, eventually erupting into the surging eroticism of the Liebestod's orgasmic release. Eroticism of a subtler nature suffuses Schumann's Piano Concerto, built out of his love for his hard-won wife Clara, and in this account from veteran pianist Rudolf Buchbinder we were persuasively reminded of its conception as a Fantasia for piano and orchestra, soloist and collaborators breathing and shap