Showing posts from September, 2018

CBSO at Symphony Hall with Christopher Morley

"Local boy makes good" is an easy opener, but in this case it really has to be said, telling as it does the whole heart-warming story. Birmingham-born Alpesh Chauhan was a cellist in the Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra and the CBSO Youth Orchestra. After studies with Michael Seal's conducting academy he became assistant conductor of the CBSO, and he now has his own Arturo Toscanini Orchestra in Parma (food capital of Italy, which suits him down to the ground). His return to the CBSO podium was well-received both by the orchestra and a well-filled auditorium (full marks for getting past all the increasingly off-putting roadworks and the stringent security apparatus for the forthcoming Tory Conference). The programme had its roots entirely in Chauhan's adopted country, beginning with Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet which the conductor wove a haunting string web of regret before launching into a well-paced tumult -- and commendably bri

ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN - Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon by Christopher Morley

I've rarely encountered such a mouthwatering piece of programme-planning as that offered by a decidedly on-form Orchestra of the Swan to a packed and enthusiastic audience in this atmospheric church. Three of the greatest twentieth-century English works for string orchestra were preceded by the source-material which inspired them, and the result had us glued to our seats throughout a generous evening. As a bonus, the scene was set with the OOTS Chamber Choir (not so chamber, after all, as there had to be 40 of them)  grouped in a horseshoe at the west end of the nave singing Thomas Tallis' spectacular Spem in Alium. Suzzie Vango directed these eight groups of five singers in a pulsating to-ing and fro-ing of sound. Yes, there was an occasional loss of confidence from these 40 soloists, but the general effect was magnificent. Corelli's F major Concerto could have done with the tinkling in-filling of a harpsichord continuo, but it served as an effective introduction to

BROMSGROVE CONCERTS by Christopher Morley

One of the many effects of the several snow white-outs the Midlands suffered last winter was the cancellation of a concert by the Eblana String Trio scheduled for performance as part of the Bromsgrove Concerts series on March 2. In fact that cancellation happily proved to be merely a postponement, as the original programme has now been booked for Bromsgrove on March 22 2019. The menu is decidedly a British one, with works by Purcell, Finzi, David Matthews (who is currently celebrating his 75th birthday) and E.J.Moeran. The only interloper is a certain German composer going by the name of Beethoven. The Eblana's violinist is Jonathan Martindale, assistant leader of the CBSO since 2016. Lucy Nolan is the violist, with her sister Peggy as cellist. Bromsgrove Concerts' habitual home is the Artrix, where this event will take place. But the opening concert of the season will in fact be given in the splendid Routh Hall at Bromsgrove School, the venue where the featured solo


Birmingham's magnificent Town Hall has become a no-go area for anyone less than physically hale. One of our team of reviewers on MMR has a blue badge, but there is no way they can get their car within striking distance of the Town Hall. They had been scheduled to review a couple of October concerts there, but have had to cry off. If this situation is typical for anyone with mobility difficulties, then it is shameful. The closing-off of Paradise Circus means that the wonderful events being presented,in the Town Hall are unavailable to them. And one wonders how the Copthorne Hotel is struggling. It's hardly surprising that the much-loved Orchestra of the Swan has switched its Birmingham residency from the Town Hall to the splendid Bradshaw Hall at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, a bit of a way out of the city centre, it has to be said, but at least accessible by car, bus, or train. How on earth will Birmingham's world-famous Frankfurt Christmas Market cope this year?

CBSO Benevolent Fund concert by John Gough

Symphony Hall  (September 22) Perhaps it was the irresistible lure of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ that meant that Symphony Hall had a distressingly large number of empty seats for this concert given in aid of the CBSO Benevolent Fund. Those of us who set their TV recorders and came to the performance enjoyed a cunningly devised programme of ‘Autumn classics’ that showcased the orchestra’s qualities, and gave an opportunity to hear shorter pieces that no longer fit easily into concert series. The enthusiastic and energetic Stephen Bell compèred and conducted, proving himself a master of both orchestra and audience. Shostakovich’s opening ‘Festive Overture’ went off like a rocket, with deft articulation, cracking string playing, balalaika-like pizzicatos, and a blaze of fanfares at the close. The pace varied constantly. Elgar’s ‘Salut d’amour’ was sweet yet purposefully phrased. The orchestra was joined by golden toned violinist Jennifer Pike in two Kreisler pieces, by turns dazzl

Sunday with the Orchestra of St John by Christopher Morley - 30th September

It looks a typical concert-programme on paper: overture, concerto, symphony. But what a sparkling programme this is from Bromsgrove’s Orchestra of St John! The overture is The Land of the Mountain and the Flood, written when its composer Hamish McCunn was only 19. It is gloriously melodious (some gorgeous stuff for the cellos), and is totally exhilarating in effect. Older listeners among us might recognise it as the title-tune to the wonderful 1970s BBC TV series “Sutherland’s Law”, starring the great Iain Cuthbertson as a shrewd Scottish procurator-fiscal. There are obvious echoes of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture in McCunn’s piece, and the great German composer (even more of a young prodigy than his Scottish counterpart) is here represented by his Violin Concerto, a work which took the genre into an entirely different direction from that decreed by the world’s greatest, that by Beethoven. Charlotte Moseley, who already has most of the world’s most famous concer

Dvorak’s New World Symphony CBSO at Symphony Hall - Norman Stinchcombe

The CBSO’s new season got off to a cracking start with Dvorak’s rarely-heard overture  Othello  and finished with a boisterous encore, as the composer’s foot-tapping  Slavonic Dance  in G minor sent us smiling into the late-summer evening. In between Omer Meir Welber conducted a performance of Dvorak’s ninth symphony that would have blown away any lingering post-holiday languor in the players – like a double PE session on the first day back at school. Welber’s manipulation of tempo in the first movement – extreme in both ways – threatened the music’s integrity but the famous  Largo  was well-shaped and Rachael Pankhurst’s cor anglais solo was perfect in its poignancy. Welber and the players excelled in the scherzo where the alternations of fervent dancing energy and laid-back rusticity were seamless.Getting the great violinist Gidon Kremer as this season’s artist-in-residence was a coup for the orchestra. He shares a Baltic heritage with music director Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla – he was bo

Autumn in Malvern by Christopher Morley

Now in its 29th year, the Autumn in Malvern festival is marking the centenary of events in 1918 in various ways. It was, of course, the year the First World War ended, and a sequence of music, poetry and prose in the Great Hall of Malvern College, entitled The Silence in our Hearts, brings a special commemoration on October 21 (3pm). This concert in the Great Hall of Malvern College features Aldwyn Voices, long-time favourites in the Festival, singing motets by Tallis, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Edgar Day (one-time assistant organist to Elgar's much-loved colleague, Ivor Atkins, at Worcester Cathedral), conducted by Adrian Lucas. Also featured in the programme is the Elgar Violin Sonata, written in 1918, and performed here by violinist Miriam Kramer and pianist Nicholas Duncan. Peter Sutton is the narrator. Another of Elgar's great chamber works, written at Brinkwells in the remote Sussex countryside near Fittleworth in 1918 is the String Quartet, which we will hear i

BEETHOVENFEST BONN August 31 - September 2 by Chris Morley

We'll try to ignore the dreadful acoustics, sightlines and cavernous foyer-space of the World Conference Centre which is the home of Bonn's annual Beethovenfest while the creaky Beethovenhalle is being revamped, and concentrate instead on the imaginative programming of the Festival's artistic director, Nike Wagner. The theme this year was "Fate", a concept ineluctably connected with Beethoven, and particularly with the Fifth Symphony's 'Fate knocking on the door'. That work provided an obvious, spirited finale to the opening concert of this month-long festival, given by a somewhat rough-edged Orchestra Philharmonique de Radio France under Mikko Franck. We had begun with another thread commemorating the centenary of the "war to end all wars", Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin written in memory of friends fallen during World War I. The orchestra was too large for this intimate scoring of what was originally a work for piano, and tempi were impat