Showing posts from 2019

Beethoven and Shostakovich CD reviews

NIORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS BARGAIN BEETHOVEN AND DISAPPOINTING SHOSTAKOVICH BEETHOVEN EGMONT: Ranta / Salminen / Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Segerstam (Naxos 8.573956) ★★★★ Beethoven's stirring overture Egmont is a concert favourite but little is heard of the other forty minutes of music he composed to accompany performances of Goethe's drama. Under veteran conductor Leif Segerstam the overture's opening builds the tension steadily before taking off in a blaze of musical energy. The score includes short atmospheric pieces that emphasize the on-stage drama and two arias for Clara, the hero's plucky beloved. The martial call to arms Beat the Drums and Clara's lovelorn lament Freudvoll und Leidvoll (Joy and Sorrow) are vibrantly sung by soprano Kaisa Ranta. For concert performances Beethoven approved the use of a narration to link the episodes, here delivered by Matti Salminen with the impressive weight and authority of a great Wagnerian bass. The disc in

Bliss and Stanford CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS NEW BLISS AND STANFORD CDS BLISS: Connolly / BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Davis (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5242) ★★★★★ The Enchantress (1951) was written for Kathleen Ferrier as the jilted Simaetha who uses magic to lure her lover back. There's no trace of a tape of Ferrier's 1951 BBC broadcast or 1952 concert in which Bliss said she sang "gloriously". Dame Sarah Connolly's voice is very different, mezzo rather than contralto, but she's tremendous here, totally convincing both vocally and in her evocation of jealous passion. With strong support from the BBC SO under Sir Andrew Davis, this is a mightily impressive performance. Connolly is equally eloquent in the cantata Mary of Magdala (1962) aided by the BBC Symphony Chorus and bass James Platt. The Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (1955) are variations based on a tune from Blow's The Lord is my shepherd (1677). Sometimes delicately pastoral (Meditation 3 Lambs

David Gregory's CBSO retirement concert

A SAD RETIREMENT AND AN AMAZING NEW WORK CBSO Symphony Hall **** In one sense this was a sad occasion, David Gregory's final concert after 42 years service, having joined the CBSO as a first violinist in 1977. "Our last pre-Rattleite" was how Chief Executive Stephen Maddock described this popular fixture who seemed permanent until tonight. But he chose a remarkable concert with which to bow out, one which introduced us to a conductor I'd never heard before (Christoph Koenig, standing in for an indisposed Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla), an absolutely compelling baritone, Thomas E. Bauer, and the UK premiere of a CBSO Centenary commission, Jorg Widmann's Das heisse Herz. This is a rescoring for huge orchestra -- including some extraordinary percussion -- of a song-cycle firmly in the Germanic tradition originally for baritone and piano. A vestige of that original remains, Bauer weaving his way through the orchestra to join a lavishly decorative solo piano a

Christmas book review

WONDERFUL NEW BOOK ABOUT THE CBSO BOOK REVIEW ROUNDUP Christopher Morley (for classical column 12.12.19) Next autumn marks 100 years since the formation of the then City of Birmingham Orchestra, and two concert- seasons of celebration are already gloriously underway. And a permanent reminder of these festivities is "Forward -- 100 Years of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra", a sumptuous Elliott and Thompson publication, written by my friend and colleague Richard Bratby. The title is, of course, a nod to the motto of the City of Birmingham itself. No favouritism in this review (I write with the experience of 50 years of objectivity), so I can easily comment that Richard is the ideal person to have undertaken this joyous task, having previously worked for many years in the CBSO back-office, taking responsibility, among other things, for the newly-opened CBSO Centre and the remarkable CBSO Youth Orchestra. Beresford King-Smith's "Cresc

City of Birmingham Choir Messiah review

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS TREAT FOR MAGGIE COTTON MESSIAH City of Birmingham Choir and CBSO at Symphony Hall **** A goodly crowd turned up at Symphony Hall both on stage and in the audience, anticipating Handel's well-loved Messiah); an early Christmas specialty for everyone. This wonderful work has stood the test of time through endless interpretations, but it is always a delight to hear professionals from the CBSO giving their all (e.g. flowing continuo=playing from principal cello and double bass.) Conductor Adrian Lucas highlighted keenness from the large City of Birmingham Choir, although at times diction could have been clearer in Birmingham's sympathetic Symphony Hall – famed for its first-rate acoustics. Tenor Ben Thapa was positively operatic, with much weaving about, seemingly enjoying interpreting Handel (alongside his inspiring 'other hat' of running marathons and raising charity funds!) Totally thought-provoking. Well-travelled baritone Jolyon Loy

Brahms Piano Quartets CD review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS BRAHMS PIANO QUARTETS ON PERIOD INSTRUMENTS BRAHMS: Primrose Piano Quartet (Meridian Records 2CDs CDE84650) ★★★★ Brahms' three piano quartets have been criticized for having overly dense textures. Is part of the problem due to the powerful modern grand pianos they are played on? This fascinating new set recorded with pianist John Thwaites using three instruments from Brahms' own time – and the string players switching to gut strings – suggests this may be the case. The Primrose went to Vienna's Gerd Hecher collection of instruments, and Thwaites used pianos by Blüthner, Ehrbar and Streicher, the last of which is identical to one given to Brahms in 1868. The three quartets were then recorded in Ehrbar Hall, where Brahms often played. Clarity and historical accuracy are admirable but the PPQ also deliver lithe, crisp and enjoyable performances as well. In the G minor quartet's Andante they skilfully balance its lyricism and disturbing unsta

CBSO Mendelssohn review

MENDELSSOHN COMES HOME TO BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL MENDELSSOHN CONCERT CBSO at Birmingham Town Hall ***** Crowds thronged the surroundings of Birmingham Town Hall whenever Mendelssohn appeared there, and crowds were thronging tonight with a nearly all-Mendelssohn programme being presented by the CBSO on a rare return to its old home. But these weren't crowds anxious to see the great and good of the musical world; these were crowds worshipping at the Mammon of the Frankfurt Christmas market. Let's hurry inside this gracious building, where it was not too fanciful to imagine Mendelssohn supervising from the organ console he installed. Many members of the CBSO had never performed in this historic venue before, and many in the audience were either experiencing it for the first time, or re-living memories of long ago. Francois Leleux was the conductor, musicianship oozing genially out of every gesture, a collaborator with his colleagues rather than a chef d'orchestr

HaydnSonatas and British Tone Poems CDs reviewed

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS NEW CD RELEASES OF HAYDN PIANO SONATAS AND BRITISH TONE POEMS HAYDN, PIANO SONATAS VOL. II / McCawley (Somm Records SOMMCD 0602) ★★★★★ There's never been a better time to enjoy, or come to know, Haydn's piano sonatas on disc. Grossly under-rated, and too seldom heard in recital, there's now a recorded treasure trove available – not the least being Leon McCawley's survey. He follows his excellent 2017 disc with one featuring five sonatas, again demonstrating his subtlety and ability to reveal telling details and inner lines without underlining or excessive attention-drawing. Those who enjoy Haydn's stormy minor key symphonies such as La passione and Lamentatione will find the B minor Sonata a treat, with McCawley delivering a dark and ferocious tragic finale. Enjoy too the aria-like lament of The Sonata in E minor, operatic in a Mozartian style. McCawley also catches the powdered wig and rococo elegance of Haydn's minuets without

Ex Cathedra B minor Mass review

AN EMOTIONALLY LIGHT B MINOR MASS BACH B MINOR MASS Ex Cathedra at Birmingham Town Hall **** Sunday afternoon saw two examples of German culture cheek-by-jowl. Outside in Victoria Square was the tawdry, catchpenny Frankfurt Christmas Market drawing the crowds, the easily inebriated and the pickpockets. Within the adjacent Town Hall one of the world's greatest chamber choirs was performing one of Germany's, indeed the world's, greatest choral masterpieces. Jeffrey Skidmore had selected Bach's Mass in B minor for this special concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of his founding of Ex Cathedra, and a fascinating programme-note traced the history of changing performing styles every time the choir has offered it over the years. The performing style on this occasion could not have been bettered. The word "lightness" kept cropping up in my reviewing-notes, with a delicacy from the choristers which meant every note in Bach's running passage-wor

Kidderminster Dream of Gerontius review

TEARS STILL IN THE EYES AFTER KIDDERMINSTER'S GERONTIUS DREAM OF GERONTIUS Kidderminster Choral Society at Kidderminster Town Hall ***** My eyes are still moist after one of the most moving of the many performances of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius I have heard over half a century. Perhaps Kidderminster Choral Society were on their toes because of their close links with the composer all those decades ago, but I don't think so. They were on their mettle because conductor Geoffrey Weaver always prepares them assiduously so that on concert night his assured, persuasive conducting can bring forth the fruits of thorough rehearsal. Diction, as always, was clear, and there was an intelligently nuanced response to St John Henry Newman's deeply spiritual text. Harmonies were confidently shaped even when unaccompanied, and if there was the occasional stray thinness of tone (I was aware of at least one chorus member doggedly holding their score too high in front of their

CBSO Struass review

A WONDERFUL STRAUSS RARITY CBSO Symphony Hall **** This was a delightfully domestic programme from the CBSO; It's just a pity more people weren't at home to hear it. Do they only turn out for blockbusters? Aren't Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven attractive enough? And Richard Strauss? It was a treat to hear his rarely-performed Duett-Concertino for clarinet and bassoon, strings and harp, a very late work, autumnal in the manner of the contemporaneous Oboe Concerto, and a work which somehow also combines the worlds of the early tone-poems and the composer's operatic ensembles. CBSO principals Oliver Janes and Nikolaj Henriques were the soloists, and what a joy this collaboration was. Janes' clarinet tones were gloriously limpid, harking back to late Brahms (and why not?), Henriques' bassoon was eloquently characterised, both noble and agile. Under conductor Riccardo Minasi the CBSO accompanied their colleagues generously and enthusiastically, and alon

Hellensmusic review

MUSIC NOT QUITE HAUNTING AT A HAUNTED HOUSE ELISABETH ZEUTHEN SCHNEIDER AND WILLIAM HOWARD Great Barn, Hellens Manor, Much Marcle *** Some say it's haunted, but the medieval manor house at Hellens in Much Marcle, tucked away in a landscape between the Malvern Hills and the river Wye, has for several years been the location for an inspiring springtime festival, Hellensmusic, with a strong educational outreach. Now its visionary owner Adam Munthe is expanding his property's offer to a series of concerts throughout the year, beginning this season with "Music from the Soil", a recital from violinist Elisabeth Zeuthen Schneider and pianist William Howard bringing the stamp of nationalistic folk-music to their programme. It was difficult follow the thread at times. Beethoven certainly brought a folky feel occasionally into his music (as in the "Peasants' Merrymaking", a Breughel-like interlude in his Pastoral Symphony), but surely one can receive h

Mark Bebbington Bromsgrove review

A THOUGHTFUL, ENGROSSING RECITAL FROM MARK BEBBINGTON MARK BEBBINGTON Artrix, Bromsgrove ***** The silence of the Bromsgrove Concerts audience at Mark Bebbington's skilfully-programmed all-Gallic recital was deafening, this most thoughtful of pianists drawing the listeners into the circle of concentration with which he surrounded most of his performances throughout an enthralling evening. Slightly less than engaging was the Faure D-flat Nocturne with which he opened, somewhat detached, but always with an imaginative command of keyboard timbres, from primary colours in the bass to the pastel tones at the very top of this magnificent Steinway instrument. But then, following on immediately, came the intellectual and emotional grandeur (never mind the searching Lisztian technique) of Cesar Franck's (okay, he was born in Belgium but France adopted him) Prelude, Choral et Fugue. Bebbington's response to this awe-inspiring work was thoughtful and engrossing, building

CBSO Beethoven and Stravinsky review

A PETRUSHKA OF GLITTERING CLARITY BEETHOVEN AND STRAVINSKY CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** It's said you can often tell who is conducting from the nature of the sound they draw from an orchestra. But what happens when their sound has multiple personalities, as revealed in this polarised programme (Beethoven and Stravinsky) under the young Spanish conductor Gustavo Gimeno? The sheer weight of tone he produced from the CBSO at the start of Beethoven's Egmont Overture was breathtakingly arresting, each chord attacked with the depth of an excavator, leading into an allegro irresistible in its forward momentum, unleashing energetic reserves of power, and ending in a coda where timpani thrilled and horns blazed. More Beethoven followed, bringing more minor-key solemnity, Jeremy Denk the soloist in the Third Piano Concerto. Gimeno's opening tutti was both sombre and athletic, Denk's entry bringing a warmly-balanced piano tone and a sure sense of organic flow, culmin

Brahms Symphonies (Gardner) and Bruckner 6 (Rattle) CD reviews

NEW BRAHMS AND BRUCKNER RELEASES IMPRESS NORMAN STINCHCOMBE BRAHMS, SYMPHONIES 1 & 3: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra / Edward Gardner (Chandos CD/SACD CHSA 5236) ★★★★ It's not faint praise to say that Gardner steers a middle path between extremes of Brahms' symphony conducting. The rugged granitic approach of Klemperer, the geniality of Walter and the sleek dynamism of Karajan still have a lot to offer – but with reservations. Klemperer's tempos can be ponderous while Walter and Karajan omitted first movement exposition repeats. Gardner rightly observes both, giving structural weight and solidity, but his flowing tempi ensure that the music never drags. Flowing but not hectic, which is how Gardiner and Norrington, using period instruments, can sometimes be. The Bergen orchestra's playing has a warm burnished sound enhanced by their hall's excellent acoustics and the Chandos engineer's spacious sound – perhaps a mite too distant for some tastes. Gardne

Orchestra of the Swan review

THIS PASTORAL SYMPHONY IS A HIGHLIGHT OF CHRISTOPHER MORLEY'S REVIEWING YEAR ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN Stratford Play House ***** You'd be hard pressed to find a happier bunch of musicians than Stratford's Orchestra of the Swan. They play with a smile which spreads throughout their performances, and Tuesday's concert positively beamed. Daniele Rosina was the conductor, his confident geniality and clarity of beat drawing oodles of goodwill from these remarkable players, beginning with a Haydn Symphony no.88 which combined both elegance and energy. Never mind the venue's boxy acoustic, such was the orchestra's projection under Rosina that we appreciated every neatly-turned phrase and apt accentuations, and the empathetic interplay between woodwinds and strings. Music for Sunflowers by Joe Cutler, head of composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, is an absolutely gorgeous piece, and this was shamefully only its second hearing since its premiere

Awards for Young Musicians day at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

A HEARTWARMING AFTERNOON WITH YOUNGSTERS AT ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE AWARDS FOR YOUNG MUSICIANS by Christopher Morley Picture the scene on the stage of the august Bradshaw Hall at the heart of Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. In one corner a teenage boy is tinkling lovingly through the Grieg Piano Concerto; in another a youthful percussionist is rattling expertly through the xylophone variation of Benjamin Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra; in another, two lads are heading balloons towards each other. One of them bursts, to great glee. More about the balloons later, but let's explain the context. This was the mid-afternoon break in an intensive day of activities presented by the Awards for Young Musicians Trust, its 12th annual awards day since its founding 20 years ago on the legacy of the musical instrument collector Robert Lewin. Nowadays the generous sources of the various awards are many and varied, and one of them is particularly

Solihull Choral Society review

MAGGIE COTTON ENJOYS A CHALLENGING PROGRAMME FROM SCS SOLIHULL CHORAL SOCIETY Solihull School ***** A challenging programme conducted throughout by Oliver Walker, an artist of many talents. Also an organist and adjudicator, he supports and encourages Choral Music in the UK, tours abroad and inspires youngsters to sing throughout the country at many schools. Threads of harpsichord backed Handel's 'Esther Overture', played by a vibrato-free Sinfonia of Birmingham. Stalwarts all. Smiling Vivaldi's 'Gloria' captures life's ups and downs with carefully contrasted solo voices - Milly Forrest – Soprano; Emily Sierra Mezzo- Soprano. Women's voices in the chorus certainly out-numbered the men, however the well-crafted baroque balance was maintained throughout the evening much to the delight of a near- capacity audience in Solihull School's magnificent Chapel. Haydn's 'Nelson Mass' (1798) is probably named after triumph at the Battle

Birmingham Bach Choir centenary concert review

YOUNG IN SPIRIT AT 100 YEARS OLD BIRMINGHAM BACH CHOIR CENTENARY GALA CONCERT Lichfield Cathedral **** Musical centenaries are in the air: still who'd have guessed that the Birmingham Bach Choir was due a telegram from the Queen? As well as being consistently excellent in performance, it's always seemed so young in spirit. That was certainly the impression that came across at this Centenary Gala Concert, conducted by the Bach Choir's long-serving chief conductor Paul Spicer at Lichfield Cathedral. Bach is de rigeur on such an occasion, and with The Musical and Amicable Society providing spirited period-instrument support, they opened with a performance of the motet Singet dem Herrn, which, despite buoyant direction from Spicer, sounded very slightly like a warm-up. By the second item – Handel's Dixit Dominus – textures had cleared. The altos and tenors seemed to have found their centre and Handel's grand gestures really rang out: brisk, brilliant a

CBSO review 13.11.19

POST-COLONIAL ANGER AT THE CBSO CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Nostalgia, anti-colonial anger, maternal tenderness and the unbuttoned joy of dance – Xavier Montsalvatge's 5 Canciones negras packs a lot into its twelve minutes. The Spanish mezzo-soprano Clara Mouriz sang three of the Catalan composer's "Five Negro Songs" on Radio Three last week in their original 1945 form with piano accompaniment. Here in the composer's later orchestral version her vivacity, exuberance and ability to bring the poetry's vivid scenes to life with vocal colouring was thrilling. There are gains and losses between the two versions. In Cuba in a piano the singer rails against the Americanization of post-war Cuba, when "Si" was replaced by "Yes", the last word of the song flung out defiantly by Mouriz, was much more biting with just the piano. But the orchestral Habanera was gorgeously sultry and Mouriz's lullaby, with muted orchestra throbbing away like a m

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir review

A GRIPPING WORLD PREMIERE FROM LIZ JOHNSON ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE CHAMBER CHOIR Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** The links between Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the world-renowned Ex Cathedra are strong and rewarding, and the connection is Jeffrey Skidmore, artistic director of the latter and inspiring coach at the former. As he explained before the concert began, several of the singers in the RBC Chamber Choir are members of Ex Cathedra, and Lucy Russell leads both the RBC Baroque Orchestra and the Ex Cathedra Baroque Orchestra. But what he was too modest to point out, and it takes this review to attest it, this concert was also a prime example of how seamless and well-judged is Skidmore's programme-planning, subtle links underpinning every element. There was an Advent theme underlying all these offerings flowing one into the other (blessedly, no interval), an expectant plainchant leading into Bach's cantata Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, with late

Cosi fan Tutte review

ZESTFUL AND WITTY MOZART COSI FAN TUTTE Classical Opera & The Mozartists at Birmingham Town Hall ★★★★★ No director's fatuous concepts to endure or intrude between audience and performers in this zestful and witty concert performance. Even with conductor Ian Page using only a modest chamber orchestra, plus continuo harpsichord, the singers' movements were severely restricted on the Town Hall's small stage. The singers rose to the challenge – every nuance of inflexion, vocal colouring and minute physical gesture gained added significance. Rebecca Bottone's show-stealing Despina exemplified this. Just two sets of comic spectacles were needed for her doctor and notary impersonations, the voice and a delightfully mobile face – minx, mischief maker and hard-bitten realist by turn – did all the rest. Martha Jones (Dorabella) gave a winningly sung and wryly comic È amore un ladroncello and since she was a late replacement for the indisposed Emily Edmonds, the cru

Solihull Choral Society

A LOVELY CHORAL SOCIETY CONTRIBUTING SO MUCH TO ITS TOWN SOLIHULL CHORAL SOCIETY by Christopher Morley (for 14.11.19) "Raising voices, lifting hearts" is the motto of the Solihull Choral Society, whose next programme, (November 16) featuring the Vivaldi Gloria and Haydn's "Nelson" Mass, is surely destined to achieve those aims. "This little choir has been established in the area for many years and is a bit of the backbone in Solihull," says enthusiastic soprano Elissa Renouf. "Solihull Choral Society started out as the Margaret Wharam Choir and she was well known and respected in Solihull." (This writer remembers several concerts conducted by that formidable lady, wielding her baton like a rod of iron and obtaining amazing results). "We have always supported local musicians and some of those have been young school and college students. The choir has a bursary scheme to encourage young people to sing with us and man

WNO Carmen review

MORE COLOUR NEEDED IN THIS CARMEN CARMEN Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome *** An enthusiastic large audience greeted 'curtain up' with some scepticism at the sight of the curious set. Cigarette factory . . . ?? More like a prison with the gun-toting armed guards, drab colours, worryingly unsteady massive moveable wire netting screens (building site leftovers perchance?) fronting drab open-fronted ceiling-height living spaces . . . dimly lit apartments maybe? Oh, and intermittent search lights. Sung in French, but with added neck-breaking English surtitles high above the stage. Frenetic conductor Czech Tomas Hanus - three years with WNO – urged over-the-top efforts from the stage, notably male soloists delivering ear splitting top notes to a somewhat bludgeoned audience. There are countless interpretations off this involved, exciting, three and a half hour Bizet opera, which from the very first performance in 1875 is a familiar favourite to this day. Howe

WNO Cunning Little Vixen review

CLASSIC JANACEK PRODUCTION NEEDS MORE CARE THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome *** "That wasn't me" chirrups a frog, at the end of Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen. "That was my grandfather". We're reaching the point where audiences at Welsh National Opera's 39-year old production will be able to say the same thing. That's no criticism: David Pountney's cushiony slice of Czech countryside and the touches of magic that bring it to life – umbrellas opening into spring flowers; the birds suspended in their rocking chairs; the snow visibly melting – are as fresh as ever. It's still hard to imagine a more perfect visualisation of Janáček's miraculous little hymn to life. And under Tomáš Hanus's musical direction, it polished up a treat. Hanus's bold, primary coloured strokes created a vivid setting for a delightfully no-nonsense cast. Hats off, as ever, to the chickens (Michael Clift

Freddy Kempf plays Chopin at the Barber Institute

A WELL-BALANCED CHOPIN RECITAL FROM FREDDY KEMPF Freddy Kempf Barber Concert Hall **** Pity the pianist giving a single Chopin recital. All those Nocturnes, Preludes, Études and Mazurkas et al offer enough material to fill a whole series of concerts; so what do you choose? Instead of offering a mixed assortment for his Birmingham International Piano Festival appearance Freddy Kempf gave us balanced halves, each with a Ballade, Scherzo, Nocturne and Polonaise that roughly reflected Chopin's early and late periods. On paper it looked very musicianly (opportunities to compare and contrast musical forms, the composer's development - great for a predominantly university audience) and, if nothing else, showed that Kempf is as much a thoughtful programme-planner as he is virtuoso performer. For this listener, though, subtleties of Chopin's style were less apparent than Kempf's technical prowess, and his ability to create poetry from simple lines and tame textural

CBSO Elijah review

I WANT A TARDIS SO I CAN REVIEW ELIJAH'S PREMIERE! ELIJAH CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Birmingham owns Mendelssohn's Elijah. The oratorio, one of the undoubted choral masterpieces of the 19th century, was premiered at the Town Hall under the composer's direction in 1846, and ever since that triumph both the city and the work have been synonymous with each other. And no time more so than at the present. Last week the CBSO Chorus received an immense ovation when they performed it in Monaco with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra under its principal conductor Kazuki Yamada. Yamada is also principal guest conductor of the CBSO, to whom he brought the Chorus back home last night for a truly tremendous account of the work (never mind the fact that we over-ran 20 minutes more than the advertised length, this was bliss). His conducting persuasive, supple, elegant and expansive, Yamada secured a reading which was at once dramatically paced and richly reflective. Ju

WNO Rigoletto review

RIGOLETTO IN THE WHITE HOUSE RIGOLETTO Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ★★★★ Fine singing and playing rescued Verdi's music from an invidiously updated production – set in the White House in the early 1960s. The young Korean soprano Haegee Lee, in ankle socks and pleated skirt, was a believably sheltered girl but one who, in Gilda's aria Caro nome, eloquently expressed all her suppressed passion and yearning. A very light, flexible voice, never shrill, and with well articulated coloratura. As the object of her romantic dreams David Junghoon Kim's Duke demonstrated a robust Italianate tenor and delivered a nicely insouciant La donna è mobile. Mark S. Doss's Rigoletto – part jester, part pander in his loud check jacket and co-respondent's shoes – was once a bel canto baritone but now has the weight of voice, and cutting edge, to do justice to this demanding role. His outrage in the denunciatory Cortigiani, vil razza dannata was thunderous,the reac

Coates and Rattle/Kozena CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS JOHN WILSON'S NEW ERIC COATES CD AND AN EVENING AT HOME WITH SIR SIMON AND LADY RATTLE ERIC COATES ORCHESTRAL WORKS VOL. 1: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / Wilson (Chandos CHAN 20036) ★★★★ There's more to Eric Coates than By the Sleepy Lagoon, famous as the theme for the BBC's long-running Desert Island Discs. Try, for examples, The Jester at the Wedding Suite. With John Wilson's persuasive shaping of the music and the orchestra's zestful playing these skilfully crafted character pieces recall Tchaikovsky's ballet music in their tunefulness and easy grace. The Two Symphonic Rhapsodies show Coates' ability to capture mood and atmosphere with economy of gesture – like vintage film music. Wilson began recording Coates in the 1990s, for the now defunct ASV label, and knows how to get the best from this charming, tuneful and skilfully crafted repertoire, from the dreamy Ballad for String Orchestra to the perky London Suite with its

The Intelligence Park (Music Theatre Wales) review

AN EXTREMELY SOPHISTICATED WASTE OF TIME THE INTELLIGENCE PARK Music Theatre Wales at Birmingham Repertory Theatre *** "It's just rubbish – utter rubbish" declared a gentleman sitting near me at the end of Act One of Gerald Barry's 1990 opera The Intelligence Park. I'm sure he didn't mean it. The setting is Dublin, 1753, and the composer Paradies (Michel de Souza) is struggling to write an opera while his reluctant fiancée Jerusha (Rhian Lois) has eloped with his primo uomo, Serafino (Patrick Terry). Serafino is a castrato: we know, because we've seen him getting the snip, live on stage. And we know the rest because Act One ends with Jerusha and Serafino getting comprehensively jiggy with it in anatomically-correct nude bodystockings, while Barry's score ascends new heights of squealing, jerking hilarity. All great fun, and director Nigel Lowery's cheerful designs are probably the most uncomplicatedly enjoyable aspect of the show: a

Christopher Morley's Golden Anniversary as a music critic

RICHARD BRATBY CHRONICLES CHRISTOPHER MORLEY'S HALF-CENTURY AS A MUSIC CRITIC CHRISTOPHER MORLEY'S HALF-CENTURY Picture Birmingham in 1969. It's a city of blue-and-cream buses. The Victorian Central Library is still open, but the Rotunda is brand-new and out at Gravelly Hill the first pillars of Spaghetti Junction are just starting to rise. That's the world in which the Birmingham Post's chief music critic Christopher Morley filed his first classical music review. Now, as Christopher celebrates his fiftieth year reporting on the Midlands music scene for the Post, it seems astonishingly distant. To put it another way, when the CBSO celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, he will have been reporting on the orchestra for more than half its entire existence. "I hadn't realised that!" says Christopher "But yes, 50 years is a long time to observe things". The fact is that – talking to him, or reading the thousands of articles in

CBSO Youth Orchestra review

BRIGHT-EYED, BUSHY-TAILED AND BRISTLING CBSO YOUTH ORCHESTRA CBSO Youth Orchestra Symphony Hall ***** There could have been no better programme for the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and bristling young musicians of the CBSO Youth Orchestra: two iconoclastic works from daring Russian composers, and both premiered in the same year, 1913. The players had been well coached by expert CBSO tutors during an intensive week of preparation, and assiduously rehearsed under the baton of CBSOYO guru Michael Seal. Everything came to fruition this exhilarating Sunday afternoon, Andrew Gourlay now on the podium, and the youngsters presenting a gratifyingly professional platform-manner (actually , professionalism untainted by the "been there, done that, got the T-shirt" syndrome -- a tired attitude the parent orchestra never affects, either). Prokofiev's Second Piano Concerto was the work with which Birmingham-based Lauren Zhang won the 2018 BBC Young Musician competition. He

CBSO review 30.10.19

CAPUCON SCINTILLATES AND SHIMMERS CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Bizet's Carmen has an abundance of great melodies, the sort of tunes the milkman could whistle – when we had milkmen. So catchy and firmly embedded in our musical consciousness, that we don't even require the singers, as the orchestral Suite No.2 showed. German conductor Anja Bihlmaier has worked extensively in the opera house and was right at home here, coaxing some sparkling playing from the orchestra in the sultry Habanera and the whirling bacchanal of the Danse bohème. Alan Thomas's cornet gave us the swaggering toreador Escamillo and guest leader Tamas Kocsis, a chaste but tenderly beautiful Micaela. Gypsy music, of Hungary rather than Spain, was also the inspiration for Ravel's Tzigane. What a performance from Renaud Capuçon. Dazzling, scintillating, coruscating – add further adjectives as required. The double stops whizzed by and the pizzicatos pinged as the Frenchman, supported with some lovel

Roscoe and Donohoe review

AMAZING TWO-PIANO EMPATHY MARTIN ROSCOE AND PETER DONOHOE Barber Institute, University of Birmingham ***** Coming as they do as the last-heard appendage to the advertised programme, encores obviously stick in the memory, which is why I tend not to like them. But the encore to this remarkable two-piano recital in the Birmingham International Piano Festival from Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe was something very special indeed, and I had no objection to its haunting me all the way home and indeed still as I write. This was Ravel's brilliant arrangement of Fetes, the second of Debussy's Nocturnes, given with a fleet dexterity, ear for sonority and balance, and a wonderful sense of natural empathy shared by these two of this country's senior pianists who have known and worked with each other for so long. Both are, of course, master soloists in their own right, but when they come together, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and affection, the result is captivating. The

Aldwyn Voices review

STANFORD AND ELGAR RUB ALONG VERY WELL IN MALVERN ALDWYN VOICES Autumn in Malvern at Malvern College **** After two days of endless rain the skies eventually cleared and Malvern College's Great Hall was bathed in afternoon sunshine for the final event in this thirtieth anniversary year of the Autumn in Malvern Festival. Its longevity is entirely due to the creative energy of founder and artistic director, Peter Smith, who has lived in the town all his life and possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of its cultural heritage and history, which he harnesses in his programme planning. This concert 'Sir Charles Villiers Stanford & Sir Edward Elgar in Malvern' was a typical example, with part-songs and motets performed by Aldwyn Voices and a documentary narrative written by Smith and spoken with excellent clarity by poet/ playwright Peter Sutton. As a 75-minute sequence of words and music (delivered sensibly without an interval) it worked very well, displaying

Ex Cathedra Rachmaninov Vespers review

RACHMANINOV VESPERS A JOY TO LISTEN TO RACHMANINOV VESPERS Ex Cathedra at Birmingham Town Hall ***** A packed house greeted this fine choir, (50 years of inspiring singing) with numerous vocal soloists shining from within, inspired by discreet Birmingham conductor Jeffrey Skidmore OBE, pioneering and performing choral works from as far back as the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. What a star! Additional singers were also included from twelve Midlands choirs and used in specific movements in the Vespers. The lovely resonance of Birmingham's fine Town Hall was perfect for this music, enhancing the fullness of tone throughout. A joy to listen to. The programme provided was obviously well created, only occasionally difficult to follow for many of us 'out front' – with titles being in Russian for each movement - difficult to keep track of unless we had word clues such as recognisable 'Alleluias' to hang on to. This splendid choir also has fine 'in house' sol

CBSO review

ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CBSO SOUND AS ONE CBSO AND RBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Close your eyes during this performance of Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra and you could easily imagine this was an extra item offered by the CBSO in tonight's already generous programme. In fact it was a pre-concert taster given by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, expertly rehearsed and conducted by Michael Seal. Seal's own history is a shining example of the links between the RBC (from which he graduated) and the CBSO (in which he became a second violin principal, and of which he is now Associate Conductor , with a baton sought after worldwide). Seal secured from his young charges sure-footed rhythmic impetus, a richness of sound allied with clear individual instrumental detail, and an astute sense of balance and sonority. The future of orchestral playing seems assured. Then came the CBSO, many of whose player

Gipps and Shostakovich CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDS OF PIANO CONCERTOS BY WOMEN BRITISH COMPOSERS, AND A THRILLING SHOSTAKOVICH FOURTH SYMPHONY BRIGHT, GIPPS: Ward / McLachlan / RLPO / Peebles (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 273) ★★★★★ The CBSO recently performed, to great acclaim, the second symphony of Ruth Gipps who played oboe and cor anglais with the orchestra in the 1940s. This fine recording of her Piano Concerto in G minor (1947) will further enhance the reputation of a neglected all-round musician who was also a concert pianist until injury cut short her career. Murray McLachlan gives full weight to its romanticism – a whiff of Addinsell's 1941 Warsaw Concerto – but also its delicate slow movement, with full-blooded support from The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Peebles. Gipps' orchestral work Ambarvalia is a lively miniature. The Piano Concerto No.1 in A minor (1888) and Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1910) by Sheffield-born pianist-composer Dora Bright get their

European Union Chamber Orchestra review

FLEXIBILITY, SPONTANEITY AND EMPATHY FROM THE EUCO EUROPEAN UNION CHAMBER ORCHESTRA Malvern College **** Difficult to banish thoughts of the current turmoil in this country's relationship with the European Union, but it was in fact a delight to concentrate upon the musical values of this concert from the 14-strong EUCO, one of the highlights of this year's splendid Autumn in Malvern Festival, a festival which has graced Elgarshire's calendar for nearly a third of a century. Cellists apart, all played standing, facilitating the heartwarming eye-contact and smiling communication between these young performers, led by the acrobatic, soaring and dipping violin of concertmaster Hans-Peter Hofmann. The works we heard actually benefit from the absence of a conductor's rigidity; here was all flexibility, spontaneity and empathy. Grieg's wonderfully nostalgic Holberg Suite was springy, but somewhat indistinct in articulation, due to the Great Hall's warm b