Showing posts from March, 2019

Kidderminster Choral Society Creation review

KIDDIE CHORAL SOCIETY COMES UP WITH THE GOODS YET AGAIN HAYDN'S CREATION Kidderminster Choral Society at Kidderminster Town Hall **** Kidderminster Choral Society never fails to come up with the goods. Under Geoffrey Weaver's direction they are rehearsed to the highest degree of security, and by engaging the services of Philip Head's Elgar Sinfonia they are assured of an orchestral collaboration of the highest quality. These are amazing players, coming up trumps on the minimum of rehearsal. Haydn's Creation, one of the giants of the choral repertoire, was here triumphantly delivered by choir and orchestra. It is famous for its grand Handelian choruses (one can almost sense Haydn's awe at the Handel legacy he soaked up during his two stays in London in the 1790s), sturdily rendered by KCS. Sopranos were occasionally flimsy in tone, every choral society could do with more tenors, but the overall effect was zestfully stirring, not least in a splendid, won

John Rutter conducts at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

MUCH-LOVED CHORAL COMPOSER CONDUCTS AT ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE JOHN RUTTER AT ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE by Christopher Morley One of the world's best-loved choral composers and conductors comes to Royal Birmingham Conservatoire on April 13, conducting a Lent-themed programme as Easter approaches. RBC singers and instrumentalists will be performing works by Tallis, Purcell, Monteverdi, Lassus, Casals, Bruckner and John Rutter, whose Requiem, moving from darkness to light, provides the climax of the afternoon, and it is Rutter himself who will be conducting the concert. Many years ago I was present at a day's workshop in Bromsgrove promoted by Making Music when Rutter coached a willing assembly of amateurs in his Requiem, and how they loved the experience! Now he is coming to Birmingham to do the same thing with students. What is it about working with amateurs and aspiring professionals that he loves so much, I ask him? "The sense of discover

CBSO/Rattle Beethoven Nine review

A CELEBRATION OF THE CBSO'S CHORUSES, BUT AN UNEVEN BEETHOVEN NINE FROM SIMON RATTLE RATTLE CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN'S NINTH CBSO at Symphony Hall **** There was a wonderful sense of celebration here in a totally packed Symphony Hall, welcoming back Sir Simon Rattle, the conductor who actually brought this world-class venue into existence, and who told us "It's a blast to be back, much love!". The occasion was a fund-raising event to raise funds for the CBSO's artistic and educational outreach work in these times of austerity, Sir Simon's idea, with himself and soloists performing without fee. We were also celebrating the silver jubilee of the CBSO Youth and Children's Choruses, brainchild of Rattle himself and Simon Halsey, who is still at the helm of the CBSO Chorus family and who has worked hand-in-hand with Sir Simon both in Berlin and now at the London Symphony Orchestra. Ula Weber conducted the CBSO Children's Chorus in movement

Bruckner CD review

JANSSONS' PICK-AND-MIX BRUCKNER 9 BRUCKNER: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Jansons (BR Klassik 900173) *** Recordings of Bruckner's unfinished ninth symphony fall between two extremes of both timing and orientation. At one end is Jascha Horenstein's 1953 recording with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (Vox), the swiftest ever recorded (52.28) which reveals how the music looks forward to the 20th century – particularly Mahler's ninth and unfinished tenth symphonies. The demonic scherzo is played with utter ferocity. Giulini's amazingly broad (68.10!) live Vienna Philharmonic recording (Deutsche Grammophon) emphasizes the symphony's spiritual qualities while looking back to Beethoven's ninth symphony and his Missa Solemnis. Mariss Jansons conducts a quite brisk (57.10) performance taken from Bavarian Radio tapes and one which feels rather pick-and-mix. The visionary Adagio is very swift, but without Horenstein's purpose, while the scherzo sounds

University Philharmonic Orchestra review

MAGGIE COTTON ADMIRES A STUDENT ORCHESTRA UNIVERSITY PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA Elgar Hall, Bramall Music Building ***** Birmingham University certainly fielded a splendid orchestra of 87 players (only three guests) - a wonderful turnout of enthusiasm and skills. The University Philharmonic Orchestra , conductor Daniele Rosina, surpassed themselves in this truly challenging programme in the Elgar Hall: excellent for acoustics and a very large stage. We began with Charles Ives' rarely-performed The Unanswered Question - a special event . . . almost inaudible strings setting the scene for the cosmic landscape; eerie, and beautifully controlled. To Italy next for Respighi's magical Fountains of Rome. Four fountains, each enchanting. The Triton Fountain sparkling with a triangle trill secretly adding red hot to white hot (a trick of the trade !) Magical, thought provoking orchestration throughout. Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony is a truly scary, thought- p

Peter Donohoe at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire review

PETER DONOHOE COLOURS TUMULTUOUS PICTURES PETER DONOHOE Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** A former winner and more recently jury member of Moscow's Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Peter Donohoe has always been closely attuned to Russian music. This totally involving evening of romantic music gave us a major Tchaikovsky rarity, alongside more familiar fare. Donohoe's relish for acute contrasts makes him an ideal interpreter of Schumann. He opened with the youthful "Abegg Variations", before launching into a ferocious performance of the composer's "Toccata ". With its ceaseless semiquavers, superhuman octaves, forests of chromaticisms, and conflicting cross-rhythms, this was thoroughly exhilarating, and a demonstration that Donohoe's technique has such thoroughbred robustness that no music seems to hold any fears for it. Given the seemingly indestructible popularity of the B-flat Piano Concerto, it is strange that we hear Tch

BCMG review 21.3.19

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY PREFERS EAST TO WEST BIRMINGHAM CONTEMPORARY MUSIC GROUP CBSO Centre *** With all the tired cliches that have become so predictable in today's contemporary music (percussion instruments stroked with a violin bow, wind instruments blown notelessly, a rattling of their keys, dead-sounding piano thuds)) it was a joy to encounter a totally new sound in this Birmingham Contemporary Music Group concert -- and that was from a Chinese instrument at least 3000 years old. The Sheng is actually a sonorous mouthorgan, vertically held, its keys grouped all the way around its circumference, and it is capable of the widest range of nuances, from the mightiest weight of a pedal-organ to the most delicate of whispers, and Wu Wei brought all his skills and natural musicality to these two performances featuring this wonderful instrument (actually I own a very basic version, brought from an Oxfam catalogue decades ago). Commissioned by BCMG from its recent Apprentice Compo

CBSOSchumann review

JAC VAN STEEN IMPRESSES YET AGAIN CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Readers will remember that the Dutch conductor Jac van Steen was high on my shortlist for CBSO principal conductor before the Mirga whirlwind hit us.. On the evidence of this matinee concert given before a packed audience, and the applause he received on both sides of the footlights, he certainly remains a firm favourite in all our hearts. His beat is clear, his gestures are understated but so communicative, and his rapport with the listeners and players is something magical. He balanced the busy textures of excerpts from Smetana's Bartered Bride with smiling precision, coaxing awesome dexterity from the players, and then provided a neat and spirited accompaniment to Steven Osborne's busy, tireless and exhilarating account of the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto (yes, what a fortnight of this composer the CBSO players have had!). Bouncy and skirling (what wonderful two-hand unisons in the first moveme

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra review

X-RATED MATERIAL FROM CONSERVATOIRE STUDENTS ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Following on from its recent amazing Rite of Spring, the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra gave the CBSO another run for its money with a pre-concert showcase; with the eyes closed one could imagine we were hearing this world-class orchestra itself. And this can partly be attributed to the kind of training intrinsic to authentic Conservatoires, musicians from the local resident orchestra passing on their skills to willing students (Mendelssohn in Leipzig nearly two centuries ago has so much to be thanked for), as well as to the fact that the inspirational conductor here, Michael Seal, is both a product of the Conservatoire himself, and was for many years a seasoned member of the CBSO, working under so many great conductors. Under Seal's clear and empowering baton Nielsen's Maskarade Overture was ebullient. precisely buzzed from the upper st

Gidon Kremer and the CBSO

THE REHABILITATION OF A PERSECUTED COMPOSER GIDON KREMER by Christopher Morley When Gidon Kremer was courteously answering the questions I had sent him for this interview he was busy preparing for a chamber music concert to be given in New York a couple of days later. Featuring on the programme would be music by the Soviet composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Kremer can be given much of the credit for our welcome awareness of someone whose music has gone largely unknown in the west until now, but whose story is packed with drama. Weinberg was born in Poland in 1919, but , as a Jew, had to flee eastwards at the beginning of World War II to avoid Nazi persecution. He then changed his given name to "Moisey" to avoid anti-Polish prejudice. Meeting Shostakovich, who became a close friend and colleague, he settled in Moscow, where he worked with many of Russia's most illustrious performers -- and where he was jailed in 1953 for "Jewish bourgeois national

CBSO Shostakovich review

CBSO UNDERSTANDS SHOSTAKOVICH'S IRONY MIRGA CONDUCTS SHOSTAKOVICH CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** The CBSO is currently in Shostakovich mode. Not only is it orchestra-in-residence for Birmingham Opera Company's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk season, it is also presenting his two piano concertos in consecutive programmes, beginning here with an evening devoted entirely to the composer. Familiarity with Shostakovich's idiom and mindset has brought the orchestra a sense of fluency and an insightful irony, both qualities eminently suited to the works on offer. The rarely-heard Limpid Stream Suite (from a ballet which somehow enraged Stalinist apparatchiks) actually showed there was a lingua franca amongst composers reluctantly toeing the Soviet party line; I was continually reminded of the Khachaturian of Masquerade, Gayaneh and Spartacus. Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducted a persuasive account, and Eduardo Vassallo's extended cello solo was a masterpiece of Tchaikovsky-

Lauren Zhang at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY EATS HUMBLE PIE LAUREN ZHANG Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** Let's be frank: I fully expected to come away from this recital, Lauren Zhang's first-ever professional one, marvelling at her pianistic brilliance, but possibly, at this early stage in the career of the BBC Young Musician's spectacular recent prize-winner, not finding much else behind the notes. Oh me of little faith. She gave us a totally absorbing 70 minutes which not only displayed her spectacular technique but also immersed us in her totally musical response to three very varied composers. Only in the opening movement of Beethoven's Op.101 Piano Sonata did her choice of tempo seem less than "somewhat lively", but a sturdy, punchy second movement woke us from that Schumannesque dream. The sonata progressed with character and wit, and with a perfect rapport between her hands (I draw attention to this because the synchronicity and balance were just draw-droppi

Birmingham Opera Company Lady Macbeth review

X-RATED SCENES IN A DISUSED BALLROOM LADY MACBETH OF MTSENSK Birmingham Opera Company at the Tower Ballroom, Edgbaston **** Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a perfect vehicle for the idea of community opera as conceived by Birmingham Opera Company's director, Graham Vick. Its story of a bored adulteress desperate to break free from her stifling marriage and environment allows plenty of scope for busy village activity, and in this huge company, drawn from all walks of life (including, hearteningly, refugees drawn here to what has been up to now a welcoming country) we see all kinds of characters -- to the extent that it becomes impossible to differentiate between performers and audience-members, directed as we are to mill around the vast unseated spaces of this once luxurious dance-hall. Vick indeed responds to the venue's history, by having us enter into what seems to be a last-century disco atmosphere, mini-skirted, fishnet-tighted dancers cavorting and g

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group preview

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY PREVIEWS A NEW CONCERTO FOR CHINESE MOUTH-ORGAN BCMG'S MURMURS by Christopher Morley It's not very often that a composer admits to having long booze-fuelled evenings, but Korean composer Donghoon Shin tells all as he describes the structure of his new work about to be premiered by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. This is his Concerto for Sheng and Large Ensemble, featuring an instrument best described as an ancient Chinese mouth-organ, and is a piece cast in three movements, as Donghoon tells me. "The first movement, 'We Are All Nocturnal Creatures', is a nocturne as the title implies. Around dawn, on my way back home after guzzling booze, the shaking scenery of the city seen through the window of the bus used to send me into a delusional state in which the city became me, and I became the city. The movement begins with a Sheng solo and while being developed the boundary between the instrument and the ensemble bec

Welsh National Opera Magic Flute review

TAMINO AT THE BULLINGDON CLUB THE MAGIC FLUTE Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome *** This surrealist knockabout production sent a packed matinee audience home in good humour. The comic elements were well executed and appreciated: the magically tamed animals and Monostatos's mesmerized capering cohorts, especially so. The slapstick emphasis made Mark Stone's Papageno its de facto hero, his double-takes and wheedling were spot on and he sang engagingly if without beauty. But Mozart's rustic clodhopper he wasn't – there was too much of the Cambridge footlights about his performance. The opera is sung in English which greatly benefited the salacious shenanigans of the Three Ladies (all splendid in voice and action) as they switched from stern Edwardian governesses to thigh-flashing Montmartre tarts in their designs on Tamino. But Mozart's sublimity was in short supply. Ben Johnson's Tamino, in evening dress minus jacket and tie askew, looked a

Welsh National Opera Roberto Devereux review

VOCAL GOLD, DIRECTORIAL DROSS ROBERTO DEVEREUX Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome *** Performances of vocal gold – compromised by a production of directorial dross. As the love-lorn Queen Elizabeth I soprano Joyce El-Khoury was magnificent, a truly regal presence. In the opera's climax she also revealed the vulnerable woman inside the carapace of royal power, so that her aria Vivi, ingrato – the demanding succession of high notes despatched with pinging clarity – was not the conventional raging mad scene but more emotionally nuanced. Her triumph came despite having to wear a bald wig and talons whilst singing atop an eight-foot high metal spider, the last eliciting audience titters and giggles. Barry Banks, as the Queen's lover Roberto (Earl of Essex) deserves an award for triumph over adversity. Crowned by one of WNO's least successful wigs and tied hand-and foot with tendrils of spider-web – that tiresome court-as-web-of-intrigue arachnid trope again – h

Oslo Philharmonic review

A BREATH OF FRESH NORDIC AIR OSLO PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Self-styled "great" orchestras have side, attitude and swagger in their approach to music (too many names, no pack-drill). Not so the Oslo Philharmonic, who bring freshness, enthusiasm and indeed humility to the score in their performances. Visiting Birmingham as part of their centenary tour, the players obviously relished the opportunity to perform in one of the world's genuinely great concert-halls, and projected a sound which was at once warm and alive, woodwind soloists eloquently phrasing, brass noble from top to toe, and strings both velvety and fizzingly articulate. Under the articulate baton of Vasily Petrenko (how can he bear to be leaving them soon as chief conductor?) they gave a joyously appreciative audience a persuasively-delivered Nordic programme, beginning with Delius' Scandinavian-tinged Walk to the Paradise Garden from his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet. T

WNO Ballo in Maschera

RICHARD BRATBY RELISHES WNO'S GOTHIC "BALLO" UN BALLO IN MASCHERA Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome **** Mist tumbles from the stage, sinister figures throw long shadows, and no-one seems sure whether to dress for a funeral or…well, a masked ball. For director David Pountney, Un ballo in maschera is "Verdi's Gothick opera" and his new production for Welsh National Opera makes gloriously free with the theatre of the macabre. Blood-red curtains conceal catacombs made up of tiny proscenium arches; a full moon broods over Act Two, and in the final ball scene, the entire cast turn into skull-faced carnivalgoers from the Mexican Day of the Dead. Where this leaves us as regards 18th century Sweden (or indeed, Verdi's alternate setting of Boston – although the chorus, confusingly, waves Swedish flags) is anyone's guess. It looks fantastic, it conjures a potent atmosphere and for every distracting misfire (like Pountney's decision to

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Magic Flute

A STELLAR MAGIC FLUTE THE MAGIC FLUTE Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at the Crescent Theatre **** Michael Barry has directed some sublimely elegant operatic productions for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, and sadly this brilliant presentation of Mozart's Magic Flute will be his last. His urbane and knowledgeable influence will be missed. Knowing this stage so well, he has created an economical setting (basically two flats, one side of which represents the scary forest, the other the coppery grandeur of Ancient Egypt) upon which his witty, occasionally Monty Pythonesque production unfolds. Again typical of Barry, movement is smooth and to the point, and these young performers have been well coached in such details, and their spoken delivery of the English dialogue (the musical numbers are sung in Mozart's German) is engaging and well-timed -- and for many of the soloists this is not their native tongue. Christopher Bucknall conducts a neat little orchestra, though e

Andrew Tyson at Codsall review

CODSALL CONTINUES TO PRESENT BRILLIANT PIANISTS ANDREW TYSON Codsall Community High School **** Goodness, the folk at Codsall Community Arts do bring some remarkable pianists to this South Staffordshire village, from those at the start of their career, like Benjamin Grosvenor, to well-established names (Stephen Hough and Angela Hewitt immediately spring to mind). This year's find was Andrew Tyson, a young American who has risen to prominence since winning major international competitions and is certainly one to watch. More importantly he's one to hear, with a seemingly effortless technique – to judge from his absence of keyboard histrionics – that gives his playing a clarity (amazingly so in fast passages) and nuanced sensitivity. Even a few barely noticeable finger-slips hardly mattered when everything else was so perfectly formed. But it was a pity Tyson didn't choose a more interpretively challenging programme. His account of Chopin's Sonata No. 3 wa

Denis Matthews memories

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY SHARES FOND MEMORIES OF ONE OF THIS COUNTRY'S GREATEST PIANISTS, BORN A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. MEMORIES OF DENIS MATTHEWS by Christopher Morley I first became aware of Denis Matthews while I was still a sixth-former,in the mid-1960s, studying for Music 'S'-level Mozart's D minor Piano Concerto, K466. In a welcoming record basement in my Brighton home town I found a budget-price LP of that concerto, coupled with Mozart's C minor Piano Concerto K 491 on the Vanguard label (the sleeves striped in blue and white, rather like my beloved Brighton and Hove Albion). Denis Matthews was the soloist, with Hans Swarowsky conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. That LP became a constant occupant of the turntable of my Dansette portable record-player, and helped me achieve that meaningless qualification. My next encounter with Denis was when I went to stay with a friend I'd made during a music course in Salzburg in 1965. Peter played me a

Vasily Petrenko interview

VASILY PETRENKO TALKS FOOTBALL (AND MUSIC) WITH CHRISTOPHER MORLEY VASILY PETRENKO AND THE OSLO PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA by Christopher Morley Just before writing this I happened to catch on BBC Radio 4's Desert Islands Discs a wonderful performance of Wagner's Mastersingers Overture, full of detail, gloriously-phrased. The compere announced it was performed by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mariss Jansons. On Friday that very same orchestra appears at Birmingham's Symphony Hall, this time under the baton of Vasily Petrenko, its current chief conductor, as part of a tour celebrating the ensemble's centenary. "It is a very unique orchestra, one of the best orchestras in Scandinavia, in Europe and in the world," Vasily tells me from Oslo. "It has a long history, and it also reflects the mentality of Norway. I guess every orchestra reflects the mentality of the place! "We are now in our centenary year, and going from stre

Sinfonia of Birmingham review

CHRISOPHER MORLEY IS LEFT REELING AFTER HEARING THIS YEAR'S HIGHLIGHT SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM Pershore Abbey ***** I'm still reeling from witnessing an account of Rachmaninov's mighty Second Symphony which would have been a credit to any of the great orchestras both at home and abroad. But these performers were not among the echelons of professional ensembles who rehearse virtually every day; this was the amazing Sinfonia of Birmingham, a clutch of highly-talented amateurs whose preparation for each concert is confined to just a few sessions, but whose results are beyond remarkable. And on this particular occasion in their Silver Jubilee year they were conducted by Michael Seal, a frequent presence on the Sinfonia's podium, hugely experienced, once as a violinist with the CBSO, and now as an internationally sought-after conductor in his own right. He secured an astonishing tightness of ensemble, a wonderful balance of sound in this tricky but rewarding acoustic,

CBSO Mozart and Brahms review

MAGGIE COTTON ADMIRES KETTLEDRUMS AND MOZART MOZART AND BRAHMS CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Good to see old fashioned kettledrums on stage (alongside their more modern friends) - hand tuned, shallow bowls, hard felt beaters, all to create a period sound for Beethoven's Overture Leonora No 3. Distant celebratory trumpet calls effectively heralded hero Florestan's eventual release from prison, a happy conclusion to the implied darkness heralding a disconcerting outcome. Was 23-year-old Mozart experimenting when over 200 years ago he created his E flat major double piano concerto? What an amazing treat to hear K.365 (first CBSO performance 1928) – could Mozart and his sister Nannerl have matched our two outstanding performers of this afternoon we wonder? Dutch brothers Lucas and Arthur Jusse (21 and 24 years) tossed hair-raising phrases to and fro with apparently effortless ease, causing delight with every beautifully balanced phrase melding as one within the music; fa