Showing posts from April, 2019

Orchestra of the Swan and Peter Donohoe review

WONDERFUL MOZART FROM PETER DONOHOE PETER DONOHOE PLAYS MOZART Orchestra of the Swan at the Stratford Play House **** Renowned for his prowess in the biggies of the piano repertoire, Peter Donohoe is currently spending a lot of time with Mozart, far less spectacular but just as technically demanding, not least because of the unforgiving exposure with which his writing spotlights the soloist's musicality. And there was plenty of that in a wonderful account of the C major Concerto, no.25 K503 which Donohoe shared with an alert and enthusiastic Orchestra of the Swan under the elegant baton of Jason Lai. After a portentous opening tutti (the Prague Symphony would be the very next Kochel number) with a full, rich sound from numerically a small-scale orchestra, Donohoe's entry was magisterial, shapely in his phrasing, gorgeously rippling in his own special subject, and endearingly thumping out bass lines to reinforce those of the orchestra. This was music-making which s

Hellensmusic preview

HELLENSMUSIC SURVIVES THE SPOOKINGS by Christopher Morley Hellensmusic is based in a haunted 1000-year-old manor house in Much Marcle, deep in Herefordshire.and the festival has certainly been haunted by bad luck this year as it prepares for its week-long run. An attractive and unusual opening concert had been announced for May 1, with the Kurdish singer-songwriter Hani Mojtahedy performing her liberating songs alongside a quartet of western classical musicians, but visa problems have led to its cancellation. More bad luck has led to the withdrawal of soprano Alice Coote, due to perform a song-recital on Friday May 3, but stricken with pneumonia. Christian Blackshaw, one of Hellensmusic's festival directors, is stepping in at St Bartholomew's Church with a piano recital of Bach, Mozart, Schumann and Schubert. Christian is joined by violinists Maya Iwabuchi and Markus Daunert, co-festival director violist Mate Szucs and cellist Bruno Delepelaire for Brahms' F minor

Mahler Nine disruption

HOW SYMPHONY HALL COULD HAVE AVOIDED THE CBSO MAHLER NINE DISRUPTION Mahler's valedictory Ninth Symphony fades away with dying heartbeats, poignantly making its farewell to a life well led. Its concluding minutes hold its audience in breathless awe. But its performance last Thursday from the CBSO under Ilan Volkov was disrupted by intrusive noises from the audience. These were no occasional coughs, sweet-unwrappings (perhaps to find remedies for those coughs), or, heaven help us, whisperings, but the enthusiastic response of a severely-disabled listener sitting in the terrace reserved for wheelchair-users. His contribution grew as the performance progressed, and he was obviously immersed in the unfolding of this wonderful music. But his audible responses interrupted the concentration of over 1000 paying audience-members, many of whom had travelled from far and wide and possibly spent money in Birmingham eateries before hoping to enjoy this much-anticipated concert. The concert

CBSO Mahler Nine recording

MAHLER'S NINTH CBSO at Symphony Hall **** From a slow-burning start under Ilan Volkov this performance of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 blazed magnificently in the final two movements. The Rondo-Burlesque was an epic contest between Mahler's grotesque barrage of counterpoint – trenchantly "defiant" as the composer wanted – and intrusions by parodied light music. The CBSO basses, lined up across the rear of the platform, the brass and percussion sections hurled volley after volley while Lehar's Merry Widow minced in and Till Eulenspiegel gambolled about. Mahler's most splenetic music captured Vienna's profundity and triviality, the city of Freud, Wittgenstein, Schubert – and Sachertorte. Mahler's opening gambit, the duet of horn and second violins with the firsts surreptitiously taking over, was muted by Volkov's decision not to split the sections, as Mahler would have expected. He also failed to find enough heavy-footed clod-hopping coarseness

Bruckner String Quintet (CBSO Centre Stage)

WONDERFUL RARE BRUCKNER FROM CBSO PLAYERS BRUCKNER STRING QUINTET CBSO players Centre Stage CBSO Centre ***** Used to obeying the baton of a conductor, orchestral players have so much fun when they're left to themselves to make chamber-music. Then they can collaborate, discuss, respond to each other's body-language, and indulge in the sheer pleasure of shared music-making. Often you don't actually need an audience (I have an inner battle with myself about this), but there are certain works which positively demand the engagement of a mere listener, and the wonderful Bruckner String Quintet is undoubtedly one of those. While maintaining the template of his great symphonies, it adds an element of intimacy and, indeed vulnerability, which makes it something very precious. CBSO players have often been praised for the chamber-music attentiveness they bring to their orchestral performances, and here, for a Centre Stage lunchtime presentation of the Bruckner

Gwyn Williams Bursary Concert

A MUCH-LOVED VIOLIST WHO LOVED TO ENCOURAGE THE YOUNG GWYN WILLIAMS BURSARY CONCERT by Christopher Morley Stephannie Williams is one of the hardest-working concert agents I know. She has an impressive roster of artists she has represented over many years, she organises "Music Festivals at Sea" on luxury cruises -- and she is a passionate fund-raiser for the Bursary she has founded in memory of her late husband Gwyn, who was such a popular violist with the CBSO. Soon after his passing Steve (as everybody knows her) promoted a heartwarming concert in Birmingham Town Hall to get the fund rolling, with professional colleagues giving their services free and Julian Lloyd Webber conducting students from Birmingham Conservatoire. Now comes the follow-up concert, on May 5 at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire itself, and Steve is busy tying up the loose ends and making final arrangements for many supporters who will be making a weekend of it, including taking in th

Ex Cathedra St Matthew Passion review

A MAGNIFICENT ST MATTHEW PASSION FOR GOOD FRIDAY AFTERNOON ST MATTHEW PASSION Ex Cathedra at Symphony Hall ***** A buzz of anticipation arrived with afternoon crowds arriving at Symphony Hall on Good Friday for Ex Cathedra under the thrall of superlative boss, Jeffrey Skidmore. Bach's St Matthew Passion wooed everyone into total committed silence as we looked at the packed platform with performers from the wider reaches of the city, from Community Choirs to the Ex Cathedra Choir, Baroque Orchestra and Academy of Music. We wielded thick, comprehensive programmes: German text and clear translations, with illuminated surtitles above the platform, an addition for the familiar horrifying narrative.. Some truly committed solos from contrasting instruments discreetly anchored by the small baroque organ, centre stage. Very convincing string solos added to haunting wooden wind instruments -. recorders, flutes, oboes. All the solo singers gave of their all, moving tactfu


NORMAN STICHCOMBE REVIEWS A MERELY "DECENT" SET OF THE BEETHOVEN SYMPHONIES FROM JUKKA-PEKKA SARASTE BEETHOVEN COMPLETE SYMPHONIES: WDR Orchestra / Saraste (Profil 5CDs PH18066) *** This is a well-played, decently recorded set by the West German Radio Symphony Orchestra of Cologne, conducted efficiently and unfussily by the utterly uncontroversial Jukka-Pekka Saraste. That's not enough in a market with a hundred plus competitors. It lacks what the best recordings have – a sense of danger, awe, wonder, joy and laugh-out-loud expostulation at Beethoven's boundary-transgressing musical daring. Compare the way Saraste handles the transition from Adagio to Allegro Vivace in the fourth which is tame by the side of Karajan's Berlin (1962) recording with its whip-crack fast switch from Milton's "darkness visible" to blazing light. Or Saraste's Eroica funeral march, dwarfed by the depth and monumental power of Davis's Dresden Staatskapelle or

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain review

THE MOUNTAINS OF THE SIERRA MADRE ARE DANCING NATIONAL YOUTH ORCHESTRA OF GREAT BRITAIN Symphony Hall ***** After the resounding climax of Copland's third symphony had died away the conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto stepped forward to address the audience. His verdict on what we'd just heard was – "Wow!" Quite right too. The symphony's brass peroration, where Copland finally unleashes the Fanfare for the Common Man theme in full dress, was a shiver-up-the-spine moment with the whole brass section on their feet to send it soaring around the hall. In truth it's not a great symphony, the famous tune has too much thematic work to do, but this splendidly big-hearted performance almost convinced one that it was. There were more than a hundred players occupying every inch of the platform – you could warm your hands on the radiated creative energy. An encore would surely be an anti-climax but no: Prieto let his young players off the leash for Ginastera's Malam

THSH preview

RICHES GALORE AT BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL AND SYMPHONY HALL NEXT SEASON FORTHCOMING SEASON AT BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL AND SYMPHONY HALL by Christopher Morley During the week she was an undergraduate at Birmingham Conservatoire (and a student of mine); at weekends she went back home to Nottingham where she worked as a midwife. Now Catherine Foster is one of the world's most sought-after Wagnerian sopranos, frequently performing at the composer's own Bayreuth Festival Theatre. And she returns to Birmingham next March 21, singing Richard Strauss' gruelling Elektra in a concert-performance of the one-act opera with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (who a couple of years ago gave us a compelling Strauss Salome, under the same conductor, Kirill Karabits). Other notable returnees coming back to Birmingham during the forthcoming Town Hall Symphony Hall concert season, just announced, include Sir Simon Rattle revisiting the world-renowned hall he virtually built

CBSO Sibelius, Mahler, Nielsen review

CBSO BURSTS WITH ENERGY SIBELIUS, MAHLER AND NIELSEN CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Thanks to the brilliant work of conductors from Harold Gray, through Simon Rattle and on to Sakari Oramo the CBSO has long had the symphonies of Sibelius and Nielsen under its fingertips. As a violinist within the orchestra Michael Seal was part of the osmosis, and now as a conductor he unleashed here from his ex-colleagues an awesome amount of pent-up energy in Sibelius 3 and Nielsen 5 He launched the Sibelius at a rattling (sorry!) pace -- no allegro moderato, this -- strings immediately biting, tickingly accurate in their momentum. Yet in the second movement Seal and his strings found a meltingly Tchaikovskyan texture (Danse Arabe from the Nutcracker came to mind) under the woodwinds' sad little dancing-song. The finale is difficult to make convincing, but it certainly came off in this reading, Seal's flow and flexibility eventually coalescing into a genuinely uplifting ending. Niel

Kidderminster Festival Orchestra review

A DISAPPOINTING AUDIENCE FOR KIDDERMINSTER FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA KIDDERMINSTER FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Kidderminster Town Hall *** Now in its second season, albeit with just two concerts in the town after which it is named, the Kidderminster Festival Orchestra has lost none of its enthusiasm to bring classical music to an area (presumably the Wyre Forest) deemed starved of cultural content. So full marks for the vision and energy of founder/artistic director/conductor Annette Jackson in setting the whole thing up and garnering support. Apart from funding (lack of which is always the enemy of enterprise) what it needs now is larger audiences attracted by high-standard performances, and programming that blends the familiar with originality. This Spring Concert ticked some of the performance boxes, but other criteria were less successfully achieved. For this strings-only (plus two woodwind soloists) programme Jackson's selection of works was rooted in familiarity: Mozart's Ein

Carmina Burana review

MAGGIE COTTON ENJOYS A NOTORIOUS CARMINA BURANA CARMINA BURANA Notorious at CBSO Centre ***** Forty-strong 'Notorious' a highly confident choir formed in 1997 by conductor Clare Edwards, delivered a truly spectacular programme this evening. The first half was taken over by two concert pianists, both performing keyboard endurance tests. Multi award-winning Edward Leung chose mind-blowing Liszt, whilst composer/performer Stephen Webster complemented with a more accessible, but no less challenging Chopin Ballade. Orff's Carmina Burana was given in the version for two pianos and a great swathe of percussion tamed by five highly skilled players. This is a smiling romp - difficult to follow the ancient elaborate Latin text, but nevertheless accessible music when the translations are read. Highly individual music, with mind testing solos for baritone, Oliver Gibbs. . was he really into alto and bass regions too? Amazing! The well-trained choir delivered high impact wi

CBSO Belshazzar's Feast review

CBSO BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST IS HIGHLIGHT OF THE YEAR, WHATEVER COMES NEXT BELSHAZZAR'S FEAST CBSO/John Wilson at Symphony Hall ***** If I were still in a position to select a Highlight of the Year, even with eight months to go this CBSO performance under John Wilson of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast would win the accolade hands down. A sea of microphones thankfully captured the event for relay on BBC Radio3 on April 15. My colleague David Hart has already reviewed the Copland Appalachian Spring and soloist James Ehnes' brilliant reading of the Barber Violin Concerto preceding it, so here I concentrate upon the Walton. Ever since its creation I have been a huge admirer of the CBSO Chorus, but here, augmented by the University of Birmingham Singers, a total vocal complement around 300-strong really excelled itself, projecting directly to every member of a packed audience and articulating with diction so clear as if they were addressing each one of us; what won

CBSO and John Wilson Vaughan Williams review

DAVID HART IS WONDERFULLY ENGAGED BY VAUGHAN WILLIAMS' PASTORAL SYMPHONY FROM JOHN WILSON AND THE CBSO JOHN WILSON: A PASTORAL SYMPHONY CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Unlike Beethoven's rustic japes, the Pastoral Symphony of Vaughan Williams is an intensely personal work, which views the English countryside through the prism of war (VW served as an ambulance driver on the battlefields of France) rather than a rural idyll. Slowly paced, with half formed themes and scarcely any dissonance, it's a bleak elegy with few comforts. To be convincing it needs to be performed without any hint of excess, which happened in this wonderfully engaged account by John Wilson, whose fluid, neat beat always conveys what musicians want to see, namely precise direction rather than waving to the crowd. Yet, despite the outstanding contributions of individual players, especially wind and brass principals, empowered (and comprehensively acknowledged) by Wilson, it was the totality of his re


NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS THE FIRST FIRST VOLUME IN PETER DONOHOE'S COMPLETE MOZART PIANO SONATA CYCLE MOZART PIANO SONATAS Vol.1: PETER DONOHOE (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0191) ***** Hearing Peter Donohoe play the Adagio of Piano Sonata No. 2 one understands immediately my colleague Christopher Morley's astute booklet note about how in these sonatas we feel "that Mozart himself is playing them to us spontaneously". We plunge into sombre F minor, see mourning clothes and funeral cortège but then it suddenly becomes an elegant flowing pastoral siciliano – the romantic tristesse of a character in a Mozart opera seria. Donohoe makes the transformation magical yet with a sense of absolute rightness. One can almost see Mozart's cheeky grin as he rounds things off with a perky presto. There's not a whiff of routine in any of Donohoe's performances: the Rondeau En Polonaise from Sonata No.6 is trippingly elegant but he finds a disturbing undertow, as he does un

Orchestra of the Swan review

A SUBTLE THREAD WOVEN BY ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN STRINGS ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN Stratford Play House ***** Whether by happy accident or design, this remarkable concert from the strings of an Orchestra of the Swan which has been invigoratingly rejuvenated over the last year or so had a subtle thread linking all the works in the programme. It was good to welcome Kenneth Woods back onto the OOTS podium, and as a cellist himself he drew telling nuances of attack and articulation from his willing forces, not least in the awesome Mozart Adagio and Fugue which began the evening in such splendid fashion. This is Mozart at his grittiest, and the OOTS strings dug in, hewing jagged lines of immense power which still ring in the memory. Apparently the last word on Mahler's dying lips was "Mozart", and we continued with Stadlmair's astonishingly resourceful string orchestra arrangement of Mahler's posthumous Tenth Symphony's first movement. There is telling

CBSO Weinberg review

CBSO REVEALS FURTHER WEINBERG DELIGHTS Gidon Kremer: Weinberg's Violin Concerto CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Last November the CBSO's current artist-in-residence Gidon Kremer introduced Birmingham to the music of Mieczysław Weinberg. Now, in the centenary of his birth, we are being given further opportunities to savour a composer who has until now been virtually unknown in the UK, unlike his other Russian contemporaries such as Shostakovich. A first-time listener to Weinberg's 1959 Violin Concerto in G minor might well have been reminded of Shostakovich, or even Prokofiev, in the biting rhythms of the opening Allegro. But Kremer's compelling performance, where technical demands were always subsumed by the concerto's poetry and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla's nuanced orchestral support, soon transcended its initial energy to embrace an air of tragic loss. In the second movement, for example, Kremer's ghostly decorative counterpoints acted as stark contrast