Showing posts from January, 2019

CBSO review 30.1.19

BEETHOVEN'S VIOLIN CONCERTO CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Not many people would regard Beethoven's Violin Concerto as an oasis of calm, but on this occasion it certainly became one. The concert had begun with Prokofiev's Love of Three Oranges suite, much of which Cristian Măcelaru made sound like a circus act of raucous fortissimos, shrieking woodwind and frantic dashing about. Great fun, if occasionally overblown, but thrown off with tremendous élan. Then came the concerto – and the contrast was immediate. Măcelaru switched from maestro overlord (although, to be fair, he's not a conductor who preens and gesticulates) to supportive, listening partner of soloist Augustin Hadelich, while the CBSO – as they so often do – morphed into a stylishly weighted Classical ensemble. Indeed, Hadelich's interpretation of this much-loved work was almost Mozartian in its weight, tone and phrasing, rather than an expression of burgeoning, sweaty romanticism. Apart from his disar

st petersburg philharmonic orchestra review

ST PETERSBURG PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall **** Some days ago my car radio brought me a somewhat workaday account of Rachmaninov's dazzling Third Piano Concerto. Doing his best on the podium was Vassily Sinaisky. He earned his reward last night at Symphony Hall conducting the same piece now with a world-class orchestra (the St Petersburg Philharmonic) and soloist, Freddy Kempf, always scintillating but never, absolutely never obtrusively "look at me". In fact more often than not Kempf was looking into the orchestra, attentive to the solo instrumental contributions melding with his own lines, and revealing the work's texture as chamber-music given symphonic status. His nimble-fingered filigree was underpinned by a constantly alert rhythmic pulse, and emerging from this web came moments of astonishing power. Blessings upon Kempf for not burdening himself and us with an encore after this treasurable performance, which was framed by two remarkably retro-fa

Stephen Williams Commemoration Concert

STEPHEN WILLIAMS COMMEMORATION CONCERT Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** Bradshaw Hall was a fine venue for this splendid concert, reuniting Midland Youth Orchestra alumni covering many years of dedicated performing in order to remember here the amazing contribution of Stephen Williams, first as a founder-member viola-player, later as conductor, music director and chairman. Lots of hard work has flowed under the bridges of this specially-assembled orchestra with some members now playing in professional capacities, not least leader David Gregory from the CBSO heading this large, skilful bunch of keen musicians. In Search of Altruism, written by Stephen Williams originally as a tribute to MYO founder Blyth Major (there is a "big tune" in B Major), and subsequently dedicated to the young Nobel Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, indulged in sweeping melodies, chunks of imaginative percussion, brass solos, colourful wood winds, with a final noble tutti le

CBSO Sibelius and Brahms review

SIBELIUS AND BRAHMS CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Here was a violinist who eschews beauty of sound for its own sake and a conductor whose style is without a scintilla of flash or a whiff of effusiveness. That sounds like a formula for something (at best) worthy but dull. Instead we had a performance of Brahms' Symphony No. 4 which was a triumph for the players and conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens' undemonstrative but masterly nuts-and-bolts understanding of the score. Right from the symphony's strangely sighing and see-sawing opening bars to the finale's disturbingly curt resolution this was a tense, muscular and sinewy performance. With nothing superfluous from the podium – no gurning, leaping or histrionics – players could concentrate on the job in hand, which they did splendidly. What gusto in the Allegro giocoso, almost Elgarian in its swagger; what sumptuous cellos in the slow movement; and how magical the three trombones sounded after being cunningly held in waiti

CBSO Dvorak and Mendelssohn review

DVORAK AND MENDELSSOHN CBSO at Symphony Hall **** "I thought he was going to saw his violin in half," laughed the lady sitting behind me after Benjamin Beilman's performance of Mendelssohn's E minor concerto. That would have been a shame since he plays a 1709 Stradivarius whose lustrous silky tone the young American virtuoso demonstrated most effectively in his encore, a Fritz Kreisler bonbon. In the concerto Beilman was all fizz and precision, like Heifetz at his steeliest and least relenting, an approach best suited to its fiery opening and closing fireworks. Beilman enjoys running: does he ever stop, pause for breath, switch off his I-Pod and just gaze at the scenery? That's what his performance needed – a little stillness, a look at the concerto's slower, subtler beauties and a rather less kineticism. Who needs to stroll through Bohemia's woods and fields when they have Dvorak's music? From the opening chirruping birdsong – Marie-Christin

Schubert/Mccawley CD review

SCHUBERT: McCawley (Somm Recording SOMMCD 0188) ★★★★★ Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy in C major has received some heavy-handed "virtuoso" performances with even great pianists inclined to pull tempi about to make an interpretative point. McCawley's playing reveals sensitive phrasing, rhythmic precision and no excessive keyboard rhetoric. The opening movement is crisp and energetic, a true Allegromaking Pollini's slower tempo on his otherwise magisterial recording (DG) sound a little staid. The work is a landmark of stormy musical romanticism but McCawley doesn't overlook its lyricism, with a beautifully expressive Adagio. Liszt's five arrangements of Schubert lieder put virtuosity in the service of the music. In McCawley's hands the growing religious ecstasy of Die junge Nonne and the aching melancholy of Du bist die Ruh are palpable. The Drei Klavierstücke are like musical versions of Hoffmann's magical tales – disturbing, dream-like and disorientat

Mozart flute CD review

MOZART: Most / Magen / Odense Symphony Orchestra (Bridge 9502A/B) ★★★ When trying to complete commissions from an amateur player for two flute concertos Mozart wrote to his father, "I am quite powerless to write for an instrument which I cannot bear." The sheer beauty of the music he composed for the flute belies the complaint. Perhaps he found the contemporary wooden flute, notoriously difficult to play in tune, exasperating. He'd surely be impressed by the artistry of Rune Most, using a reproduction 18th century instrument to pleasing effect. It can be chirpy and bright or charming and delicate: Most's playing is particularly ingratiating in the Concerto No.1's slow movement, a stately little music-box dance. He also blends well with Siva Magen (harp) in the double concerto. Most is principal flautist of the Odense Symphony Orchestra who provide sturdy support here, benefiting from the Carl Nielsen Hall's excellent airy acoustic. The two CD set is both shor

Sawyers?English Symphony Orchestra CD review

SAWYERS: Sitkovestsky / Desbruslais / ESO / Woods (Nimbus Alliance NI6374) ★★★★★ When Philip Sawyers' Violin Concerto was premiered this year my reviewing colleague was "wowed" by it. Listening to this recording performed by the same forces – soloist Alexander Sitkovestsky and the English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods – I was similarly impressed. With its emphasis on long flowing melodic lines it recalls Nicholas Maw's equally approachable concerto, although its sound-world is very different. Sitkovestsky illuminates the concerto's musical textures and revels in its fiery cadenza while Woods and the ESO clearly enjoy the energetic finale's robust pastoralism. Simon Desbruslais is the soloist in the Concerto for Trumpet, Strings and Timpani and the Elegiac Rhapsody for Trumpet and Strings. The concerto is immensely challenging with a tempestuous opening movement, a lively rondo finale and a warmly lyrical slow movement and Desbruslais rises to all its

Parry English Lyrics CD review

PARRY: ENGLISH LYRICS Volumes II & III / Fox / Gilchrist / Williams / West (Somm Records SOMMCD 270 & 272) **** Sir Hubert Parry has long suffered as the classical equivalent of a pop music one-hit wonder with Jerusalem overshadowing all his other works. His twelve sets of English Lyrics were written between 1874 and his death in 1918, with the two final sets being published posthumously. They influenced a younger generation of English song composers including Vaughan Williams. Parry wanted to escape the legacy of Victorian parlour songs and his settings – 23 on Volume II and 25 on Volume III – are more like lieder and the spruced-up folk-song form that Britten later pursued. Soprano Sarah Fox excels in the seven settings of gothic-tinged poems by Parry's friend Mary Coleridge including The Witch's Wood and Armida's Garden. James Gilchrist (tenor) and Roderick Williams, whose characterful baritone is persuasive even in the most mundane of songs, are excellent and

Steven Isserlis interview

STEVEN ISSERLIS by Christopher Morley Steven Isserlis makes a welcome return to the CBSO early next month after more than a decade, playing the Schumann Cello Concerto flanked by very different pieces from two highly-contrasting Strausses. The Waltz King Johann Strauss is represented by his fizzing overture to his operetta Die Fledermaus, while Richard Strauss (no relation) aggrandises his own life-story in the epic tone-poem Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life). Nikolaij Znaider swaps his violinist's bow for a conductor's baton for the concert. Isserlis, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, is a major presence on Twitter, his many "on this day" tweets an endearing and thoughtful homage to musicians whose anniversaries are being celebrated on any particular date on the calendar. How does he research these landmarks? "It's very simple! " he replies to me during a recent flight to Budapest. "I begin by looking up the mus

John Joubert obituary

JOHN JOUBERT OBITUARY by Christopher Morley (for 10.1.19) It is a comfort to all who loved him -- not just family and friends, but all of those who had been touched by the warmth of his compositions -- that John Joubert, who passed away on January 7 at the age of 91 after a fall on New Year's Day had lived long enough to witness a well-deserved resurgence of interest in his music. Inscrutable mandarins in the musical establishment had long banished his work, dismissing its communicativeness, its sincerity of expression, its acute response to text, its rhythmic precision, and so many other qualities the music-loving public listens out for, as outmoded. Yet the mild-mannered (but quietly sardonic in friendly company) composer continued to create works in every genre, approaching 200 opus numbers, chiefly to commission; though his masterpiece, the opera Jane Eyre, was a genuine labour of love, cooking on the back-burner for so many years while he attended to those necessa

Books and CDs

MY HOLIDAY READING AND LISTENING As the festive season fades away, here is an account of what I have been reading and listening to during the Twelve Days. Alan Walker's monumental "Fryderyk Chopin -- a Life and Times" is a a magnificent successor to his multi-volume study of the life and works of Liszt, this time all wrapped-up in one comforting 700-page doorstop of a publication (Faber and Faber). There are wonderfully illuminating technical chapters -- Chopin and the Keyboard, for example, is brilliant in its examination of the composer's own keyboard technique and the capabilities of the pianos available at the time -- and much valuable historical context, both culturally and politically. And it maddens me to read that Chopin visited various venues in Sussex, my home county, including the Pavilion in Brighton, my birthplace. Thanks to Walker's magnificent work I am now, in my eighth decade, at last aware of this fact which I wish I'd known in my