Showing posts from February, 2019

CBSO Youth Orchestra review

DAVID HART ADMIRES YOUNGSTERS' SENSATIONAL VERVE AND ACCURACY COPLAND'S THIRD CBSO Youth Orchestra at Symphony Hall **** Yes, Aaron Copland is what some people regard as a composer of American nationalism and yes, his huge output is represented in UK concert halls by only a handful of works; but what should have been a hugely significant performance (and a rare one in Birmingham) of his Third Symphony was partially eclipsed by what had gone before. Anna Clyne's short scherzo-like tone-poem This Midnight Hour offered a glittering cornucopia of aural delights – chuntering basses, haunted woodwind, transparent strings – and picaresque, almost cartoonish energy which the CBSO Youth Orchestra and Cristian Măcelaru, a conductor of surgical precision and neatness, dispatched with sensational verve and accuracy. As a powerhouse starter, albeit peppered with teasing melodic fragments, it naturally paved the way for Szymanowski's Violin Concerto No. 1. Here, though, the

Denis Matthews Centenary Tribute

DAVID HART SHARES IN TRIBUTE TO ONE OF OUR GREATEST PIANISTS DENIS MATTHEWS CENTENARY CONCERT Bradshaw Hall Royal Birmingham Conservatoire **** How fitting that the centenary of legendary pianist Denis Matthews was marked in such a generous manner, first with a discussion involving musicians who knew him, then this splendid concert reflecting Matthews' own tastes and repertoire. Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms provided the heftiest works, with Schubert's Fantasie in F minor and a Brahms Hungarian Dance (duet works Matthews performed with Howard Ferguson) offering somewhat lighter fare. Surprisingly there was no Mozart, a composer Matthews loved and recorded extensively. Here, Allan Schiller (a one-time student of Matthews) and John Humphreys were the duettists, always alert to Schubert's grace and Brahms's flourishes, but without excess. One could never accuse Peter Donohoe of being inhibited, even when not at full virtuoso throttle. His account of Beethoven&

CBSO and Manfred review February 20 2019

BRINGING ON A HARDENED PLAYER MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE CBSO Symphony Hall *** What a difference one player makes! More of that later, but suffice it to say that this concert from one of the world's greatest orchestras began disconcertingly, with a muffed introductory flourish to Schumann's Manfred Overture under the baton of the CBSO's recently appointed principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada. We proceeded with a boxy, un-nuanced orchestral sound, though Yamada did succeed in ramping up the music's electric tension before its death-throe, Coriolan-like, ending. Alexander Gavrylyuk was the heroic soloist in Prokofiev's spring-like Third Piano Concerto, ramping up the scintillation after a decidedly laboured orchestral introduction. He combined fleet delicacy of fingerwork with muscular assertiveness, riding some untidiness in the orchestra as the first movement's recapitulation approached, and progressed into a slow movement which glistened with the poetry

Symphony Orchestra of India review

EAST MEETS WEST SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF INDIA Symphony Hall **** Still only a fledgling, the Symphony Orchestra of India is spreading its wings on its first-ever UK tour. Beginning it in Symphony Hall, one of the world's finest, puts its subsequent performing venues somewhat in the shade, but at least here all the orchestra's remarkable qualities were easily apparent. The string tone is softly cushioned, and from this texture topped by delicate violins the violas emerge as a genuine presence, the cellos sings eloquently, and the basses underpin with significance. Woodwinds have character (not least the brilliant piccolo, which had so much to do in this concert), brass are both noble and incisive, percussion need a little more subtlety. Highlight of the evening was Peshkar, a concerto for tabla and orchestra performed by its composer, Zakir Hussain (his name misprinted on the programme-cover), and a work whose western influences are dominated by the open intervals o

CBSO and Norman Perryman

THE EYE DEFEATS THE EAR THE SEA Norman Perryman and the CBSO at Symphony Hall **** Norman Perryman's sensitive, astute swirling paintings of music and musicians grace the foyers and corridors of Symphony Hall, and it was a wonderful idea for the CBSO to commission him to paint a live concerto for artist and orchestra to accompany the UK premiere of an important work by the Lithuanian composer Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. Ciurlionis' symphonic poem The Sea had a troubled gestation, composed in 1903 but not premiered until 1936 (25 years after the composer's death in a psychiatric hospital at the age of 35), and not heard in its original version until 1990. It is a wonderfully opulent Straussian work, demanding, and receiving from the CBSO huge generosity of playing, and Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla unfolded her compatriot's score with love and authority. The trouble was, we were scarcely aware of this gorgeous music, so absorbed were we in Perryman's


DAVID HART HEARS THE BIRDSONG CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Ibsen's Peer Gynt is often regarded as a long play more read about than seen, so most people know only Grieg's incidental music, or at least the two suites he culled from his ninety-minute score. In these concerts Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla gave us the original versions of the suite movements, plus three less familiar pieces. As a well-packed narrative sequence it worked well and was brilliantly played by a CBSO totally responsive to Mirga's nuanced direction, where by simply stroking the music along she forced you to really listen to the subtleties of its execution. And there was the fabulous Swedish soprano Klara Ek, who gave the Arabian Dance a charm totally free of operatic excess, and imbued Solveig's Song with a simple grace and gentle sadness, while the CBSO Chorus added rarely-heard embellishments to In the Hall of the Mountain King and, with Ek, delivered the postscript to Solveig's Cradle Song wit


 STEPHEN JOHNSON'S ANGEL'S ARC  by Christopher Morley                                               Stephen Johnson is a broadcaster, presenter and writer well-known to music-lovers. Not so well-known is the fact that he is also a highly communicative composer, as I first discovered when I heard his Behemoth Dances given by the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pavel Kogan at Symphony Hall three years ago. He currently has a new work going the rounds, recently premiered in London's Cadogan Hall, repeated in Guildford, and about to be performed in the Arts Centre at the University of Warwick in Coventry. This is a Quintet for clarinet (Emma Johnson) and strings (the Carducci Quartet), with the title Angel's Arc. Stephen explains how this title came about. " As a teenager, I developed an intense love for the West Pennine Moors, near my home in Lancashire. Their desolate, lonely beauty, contrasting starkly with the rich woodlan

Elgar's Music makers CD review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE FLINCHES AT ELGAR'S CHOICE OF TEXTS ELGAR: Connolly / Staples / BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Davis (Chandos CHSA 5215) *** Elgar wrote some great choral works but often showed execrable taste when choosing texts. The Spirit of England sets World War 1 poems by Lawrence Binyon. It's hard to believe that when Wilfred Owen was writing bitter diatribes against the horrors of the trenches Binyon was waffling about "doom and bale", "lance and sword" and death being "august and royal". Andrew Staples (tenor) and the excellent BBC chorus sing this codswallop with conviction but even Elgar's noble music can't redeem it. Alfred O'Shaughnessy's text for The Music Makers alternates between the naff ("deathless ditties") and a metaphysical Wagnerian description of composers as "World-losers and world-forsakers". It's Elgar's Heldenleben, filled with self-quotations from Enigma, Gero

Movie Night by the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra

DAVID HART GOES TO THE PICTURES MOVIE NIGHT! Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Elgar Concert Hall **** After a sell-out appearance the previous week in Shrewsbury, and a children's matinée here before the evening concert, one could hardly accuse the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra of lacking rehearsal. Indeed, the opening segue of Alfred Newman's 20th Century Fox fanfare and John Williams' Star Wars almost lifted you out of your seat, with its eye-watering brass, chirruping woodwind and rich, fulsome strings. This high-octane stuff surely won't be sustained throughout the whole programme, I thought – but it was. And that's the problem with film music: it's excellent at grabbing attention and setting a mood, but less so at maintaining interest. Fortunately conductor Richard Laing did his best to steer clear of the merely formulaic (Alan Menken's Beauty and Beast overture and Shostakovich's 1951 written-to-order Assault on Beautiful Gorky – S


SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF INDIA by Christopher Morley Founded only as recently as 2006, the Symphony Orchestra of India makes its UK debut with a six-concert tour later this month. And the schedule begins here in Birmingham, at Symphony Hall. "We know that the Symphony Hall in Birmingham is one of the finest halls in the country," says Khushroo N. Suntook, co-founder of theSOI , and co-founder and chairman of Mumbai's National Centre for Performing Arts. "In any case, to make a debut in a great hall is always a good way of displaying your strength, rather like batting on a good wicket when it is the first match of the tour." Any interviewee bringing in a cricketing analogy has me purring out of the palm of his hand SOI's associate music director Zane Dalal is even more enthusiastic about Symphony Hall. "I am thrilled to be opening our tour in Birmingham. I was cover conductor for Andrew Litton in his Dallas days, and I am a tr

Ex Cathedra Alec Roth premiere

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY ADMIRES ALEC ROTH'S LATEST EX CATHEDRA COMMISSION BEGINNING AND ENDINGS Ex Cathedra at the Elgar Hall ***** In Alec Roth Ex Cathedra have the most congenial of composers-in-residence, supplying the choir with music which is always well-crafted, rewarding in the listening, and with points of reference which we can all recognise. His latest commission, A Time to be Born and a Time to Die, received a triumphant premiere under Jeffrey Skidmore in the comfortable Elgar Hall, a venue which allowed full scope for Ex Cathedra's trademark imaginative choreography -- not least Skidmore's picking up of the "hairy drum" and thudding a beat as everyone left the stage. Written for a smoothly interwoven quartet of soloists -- here Katie Trethewey, Martha McLorinan, Samuel Boden and Greg Skidmore --, community choir (drawn from St Mary's Hospice and Birmingham Children's and Women's Hospitals), minimally cringeworthy audience participation, an


MAGGIE COTTON HAS TEARS IN HER EYES EIN HELDENLEBEN CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** A breathtaking concert for so many reasons. Starting with Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus Overture taken at a near-uncomfortable speed by conductor Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, rescued by lovely solo oboe (Emmet Byrne) and eventually accelerating to a hectic conclusion. Mopped brows throughout! Gut strings on a Stradivarius cello - a special treat from soloist Steven Isserlis for his performance of Schumann's Cello Concerto. The orchestra was reduced a little with Symphony Hall's acoustics adding to the overall magical effect. This soloist certainly can give a unique and personal performance with much tossing of curls, sighs and attempted visual contact with the conductor. Added charm came with the unaccompanied encore "Song of the birds", and smiles all round. A massive orchestra (140) assembled for Richard Strauss's gargantuan Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life).From the terrify


LISZT SARDANAPOLO: El-Khoury / Hernandez / Pushniak / Staatskapelle Weimar / Karabits (Audite 97.764) ***** The British musicologist David Trippett has done a brilliant job in constructing this performing edition of Sardanapolo, an Italian opera Liszt began writing in 1850 but abandoned two years later. It derives from a draft piano vocal score of the complete 50 minute first act based on Byron's poem about the ancient king who prefers a life of sensuality to war. This exciting recording makes one wish Liszt had completed it. It has grand opera sweep but the opening chorus of concubines (the excellent ladies of the German National Theatre) is like mid-period Verdi. The Lebanese soprano Joyce El-Khoury is magnificent as Sardanapolo's mistress Mirra – maintaining bel canto beauty despite formidable vocal demands – and tenor Airam Hernandez (Sardanapolo) and bass-baritone Oleksandr Pushniak, as the Chaldean soothsayer Beleso, give fine support. Kirill Karabits conducts like a b

Tasmin Little plays Vivaldi and Bach with the Orchestra of the Swan

ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire **** Forget call-centres keeping you on hold while you listen to endless loops of a few seconds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, continually interrupted by reminders of how important your call is. This poor benighted work is actually a masterpiece of musical pictorialism, and Wednesday's performance from Tasmin Little and the joyously fresh-sounding Orchestra of the Swan brought it up shiny and new. This was a wonderful collaboration between Little and OOTS, led by David le Page (whom I've heard deliver an equally treasurable account as soloist with the orchestra); there was so much listening going on across the desks, such an empathy all round, and such imaginative colourings, including drunken groping for the right notes in Autumn, and a slapping Bartok pizzicato from the lower strings in the same concerto's finale. David Ponsford provided piquant harpsichord support (hurrah! many years ago I berated

Handel performed by the Dunedin Consort

HANDEL Dunedin Consort at the Barber Institute, University of Birmingham ***** A buzzing audience of students and many mature 'regulars' greeted the Scottish Dunedin Consort for an all-Handel evening. Initially a daunting prospect, but we soon became entranced by the variety on offer from this charismatic composer and truly skilled musicians. Conducted from the harpsichord by John Butt, beginning with the all familiar Water Music intended to cause a sensation. Indeed, performed initially three times in the open City Company barge in spite, no doubt of damp and penetrating river odours. Lovely neat playing from all with a distinct impression of enjoyment throughout. How refreshing! Soprano solo Rowan Pierce, has a most impressive roll call of appearances with a wide variety of accompanying orchestras in many interesting venues. Her pure voice and pleasant, communicating demeanour were joyful. Florid coloratura was smilingly effortless, interwoven with sparkle throughout.

Norman Perryman paints The Sea

NORMAN PERRYMAN PAINTS THE SEA by Christopher Morley Visitors to Birmingham's Symphony Hall cannot have missed the swirling kinetic paintings in the foyers inspired by Elgar's Dream of Gerontius and Mahler's Resurrection Symphony, carried out by the Birmingham-born artist Norman Perryman. Those fortunate enough to gain invitations to the Director's Lounge on the dressing-room corridor on Level 4 of the ICC will have admired the many Perryman portraits of musicians -- soloists and conductors -- who have performed at Symphony Hall over the years, and veterans of the Rattle era will remember a magical evening when Perryman painted a live response to Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition while Sir Simon conducted the CBSO, in front of a huge screen reflecting the involvement of the artist's brushwork. Later this month Perryman returns to Symphony Hall and the CBSO, painting his reactions as the orchestra gives the UK premiere of The Sea by the Lithuan