Showing posts from May, 2019

Bax CD review

MARK BEBBINGTON'S NEW CD OF PIANO MUSIC BY BAX AND HARRIET COHEN ARNOLD BAX & HARRIET COHEN PRIVATE PASSIONS: Bebbington (Somm Records SOMM 0193) ***** Arnold Bax looked like a melancholy bank clerk but was more like Don Giovanni in tweeds. His love affairs were numerous and he abandoned his wife and children for the pianist Harriet Cohen who became both lover and muse. His first symphony began life as an epic piano sonata in E flat major which here gets a stupendous performance from Mark Bebbington. The essential Bax, romantic fervour and Sibelius-style bardic breadth filtered though Celtic-fringe mysticism, is in the sonata's central Lento con molto espressione movement. Bebbington delivers it all, unsparing of himself and us, from the stygian bass to the hints of reconciliation and triumph that emerge in the finale. The recording, made at the CBSO Centre, captures the performance perfectly. Bax's Legend, In the Night and the edgy blackly humorous late Four Piec

Aurora Orchestra visiting Birmingham Town Hall

PYTHAGORAS COMES TO BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL AURORA ORCHESTRA by Christopher Morley An orchestra performing a new piece from memory in the dark is just one of the stunning features promised when Birmingham Town Hall hosts the Aurora Orchestra on Tuesday June 4. Max Richter's Journey Song CP1919 was inspired by the discovery of the first pulsar star, and is described by the composer as appearing "continually to rise, reaching for something beyond itself". Nicholas Collon, founder and principal conductor of Aurora, tells me more about the piece. "Max has a written a very atmospheric 10-minute piece which opens the concert. In his very elegant, uncomplicated style, he plays with subtle cross-rhythms being passed between different string groups, whilst they ascend, playing scalic patterns. "Like lots of his music, he invites the listener to lose sense of time, to become notionally aware of shifting patterns of sound. In Birmingham we will pla

Chipping Campden Festival

DAVID MATTHEWS WORLD PREMIERE IN CHIPPING CAMPDEN FESTIVAL ACADEMY ORCHESTRA St James' Church, Chipping Campden **** Elgar's Enigma Variations provided a fitting ending to this year's Chipping Campden Festival, sealing the triumph of an enterprise which has grown from success to success in its 18-year history. Chipping Campden is a Cotswold-stoned jewel of a village, crowned by the imposing St James' Church where almost all the two weeks of concerts have taken place, and approached past the welcoming Eight Bells inn. Its festival attracts many of the world's finest performers, as well as encouraging development of the young. Saturday's concert combined both threads, bringing Eric Lu, winner of last year's Leeds International Piano Competition, to perform Chopin's First Piano Concerto. Lu's technique is dashing and assured, his pianism rippling and full-toned. Perhaps too full-toned in this clear and immediate acoustic, the Steinway m

Russian Philharmonic of Novosibirsk

A WONDERFULLY FRESH ALL-RUSSIAN PROGRAMME RUSSIAN PHILHARMONIC OF NOVOSIBIRSK Symphony Hall by Christopher Morley ***** Memory plays tricks, but I'm sure I reviewed an orchestra from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk playing here 28 years ago, when Symphony Hall first opened. Whatever the case, the Russian Philharmonic of Novosibirsk is young and fresh, and the combination of youthful players and a veteran conductor, Thomas Sanderling (whose father Kurt conducted such epic Shostakovich here) made for an absorbing exploration of well-known Russian repertoire -- and how they relished the capacity of Symphony Hall to deliver sonic glories! Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet was naturally built, delicate in dynamics, and with a general sense of cool restraint from which the big moments (not least the piercing trumpet ascent at the height of the warring fugato) emerged spectacularly. Another Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev's ballet, is evoked in that composer's Secon

Orchestraof the Swan Strauss/Ravel review

STRAUSS AND RAVEL WONDERFUL PROGRAMME-PARTNERS ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN The Courtyard, Hereford ***** Adding Hereford's Courtyard to Orchestra of the Swan's regular schedule touring out of Stratford seems to be proving a win-win both for audiences and orchestra. I bumped into several players dining in the excellent restaurant pre-concert, and they seemed to be in holiday mood. Not that there was anything casual in their performance of this brilliantly-conceived programme (whether by accident or design, all four works were valedictory, but, because of the stylistic differences between the two composers involved, never cloying). Ravel framed the evening, beginning with his orchestration of his poignant little piano piece Pavane pour une Infante Defunte. This was delivered with such warmth and affection under Michael Seal's direction, and the vibrato of the opening horn solo was perfectly appropriate, virtually specified in the composer's score. Another Ravel


SHEKU KANNEH-MASON SHINES, AND SO DOES HIS SISTER ISATA SHEKU AND ISATA KANNEH-MASON Birmingham Town Hall **** The gifts of the amazing young cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason are already renowned worldwide, but this well-attended recital also introduced us to the unflashy brilliance of his pianist sister Isata, more of a collaborator than accompanist in a well-chosen programme. There was a heartwarming amount of both musicianly and sibling empathy between the two, and balances were naturally adjusted as first one instrument, then the other, predominated. In fact there was much piano emphasis in these works, Isata deft and fleet in a witty account of Beethoven's Variations on Ein Madchen oder Weibchen, with Sheku bringing a lovely silver tone and soothing double-stopping. Lutoslawski's Grave was gripping and impassioned, and didn't Isata make the lowest register of the Steinway growl! The fey, Celtic soundworld of Debussy's late Cello Sonata (almost a piano sona

Elgar for Everyone

BEETHOVEN WOULD HAVE APPROVED OF ELGAR, SAYS KENNETH WOODS ELGAR FOR EVERYONE by Christopher Morley (for classical feature 16.5.19) Elgar-lovers have the chance to play the composer's own piano at the end of this month, when the Worcester-based Elgar Festival celebrates the run-up to the composer's 162nd birthday. The instrument, an upright, is one of several usually stored at The Firs, Elgar's birthplace in Lower Broadheath just outside Worcester, but for the first three days of this "Elgar for Everyone" Festival it will be waiting in the lobby of the Henry Sandon Hall, ready for fingers of any level of skill to explore its keys. "The new Henry Sandon Hall is on the site of the Royal Porcelain Works," Kenneth Woods, Artistic Director of the Festival and conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, explains. "It's a gorgeous facility which just opened with a very nifty 150-seat performing space, some lovely open lobbies and

CBSO 9.5.19 review

REPLACEMENT PIANIST IS A FIRESTORM CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Huge question marks float round when hearing that the soloist for a concert has withdrawn due to illness. The piece in question was Prokofiev's 5th Piano Concerto -- nothing trivial or, indeed familiar. No fears on this occasion however as the replacement was firestorm Denis Kozhukin who took the concerto by the throat, squeezing out every possibility with his technical wizardry from a meaty cadenza to filigree pianissimos. Never has piano technique zipped through the music with such verve and unbelievable top- to-toe perfection. (Was it a glissando or merely a fast bunch of scales, we asked?) The CBSO players sat with knowing smiles throughout. What a star! We were eventually calmed by magical encores (Grieg/Mendelssohn),and left with happy memories of this very special pianist, who has played in about 40 top concert halls world-wide up to now. Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla was on the rostrum, weaving her own

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's South Africa Festival

ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE CELEBRATES ITS LINKS WITH SOUTH AFRICA SOUTH AFRICA FESTIVAL Eastside Jazz Club, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** Like that boorish uncle at every family gathering, charges of cultural appropriation and voyeurism always lurk around events such as Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's South Africa Festival Day, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to open their can of worms. It's fraught terrain, potentially teeming with issues of power and representation, and inevitability a magnet for the musical equivalents of duty-free safari curios or poverty porn. Yet what was offered by the dozens of musicians who took part in the eight-concert marathon held in the Eastside Jazz Club could not be faulted for any of these problems. It was a day that showcased the immensely rich and varied landscape of South African music, ranging from cheery big band tunes to biting avant-garde works. If boorish Uncle Appropriation was around, he certainly was left speec

Roderick Williams at Bromsgrove School

RODERICK WILLIAMS Routh Hall, Bromsgrove School ***** One hundred years since its founding, Birmingham Bach Choir returned to part of the ethos of its original Society roots by presenting a recital, no choir involved, as part of its centenary celebrations. And what a recital this was, given by the BBC's new Patron, baritone Roderick Williams, accompanied by his long-time collaborator, pianist Susie Allan. Their programme was a simple one: Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte and Schubert's posthumous Schwanengesang. The Beethoven is too often indulgently patted on the head as the first example of the song-cycle form. Here it was given an account which confirmed its stature as a masterpiece. Allan welded the accompaniment into a sturdy structure, Williams using all his communicative gifts (a voice which is nowadays climbing ever higher, eyes which engage the willing audience, an amazing clarity of diction) to convey all Beethoven's self-deluding idealism. His belo

Pavel Kolesnikov review

PAVEL KOLESNIKOV LAUNCHES A NEW STEINWAY AT THE BARBER INSTITUTE PAVEL KOLESNIKOV Barber Institute ***** The Birmingham International Piano Competition was launched with splendid aplomb by the young pianist Pavel Kolesnikov, being the first to give a public performance on the magnificent new Steinway concert grand, recently purchased for the Barber Concert Hall by The Henry Barber Trust. What a treat! This instrument can demolish a hall full of listeners with roaring fortissimos and conversely with whispering gentleness, certainly a challenge for any performer to be truly 'in charge'. Beethoven seemed to be the obvious choice with his expansive Piano Sonata no.4 Op. 7. Kolesnikov certainly entered into the spirit of introducing this splendid addition to music at the Barber Concert Hall with contrasting solo works by Brahms (a triptych of lullabies), Louis Couperin's courtly romantic early 17th century lute-style music - poignant with "beautiful disso

Gwyn Williams memorial concert review

A HEARTWARMING MEMORIAL CONCERT, AND A QUARTET TO LISTEN OUT FOR CELEBRATION FOR GWYN Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** Commemoration events so often turn out to be joyous gatherings, and this was certainly the case with this Celebration for Gwyn concert in aid of the Gwyn Williams Bursary. Gwyn was a popular viola principal with the CBSO, and the bursary set up in his memory gives financial assistance to string students at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Louise Lansdown, Head of Strings at RBC, movingly told us how the bursary has already helped young South African students twinned with the Conservatoire, and there was certainly a generous "giving" atmosphere throughout this wonderful evening. The programme brought young RBC musicians together with some of the finest professionals around, the latter drawn from the impressive roster of performers Gwyn's widow Stephannie has assembled over many years of organising Music Festivals at Sea for P&O Cruise

CBSO/MIRGA/Kopatchinskaya review

AN ECCENTRIC BUT BRILLIANT TCHAIKOVSKY VIOLIN CONCERTO CBSO Symphony Hall **** She takes the stage barefoot, holding her violin aloft like a trophy already won. Her performance bustles with choreography synchronised with the music. At times she pounces almost threateningly into the face of her orchestral colleagues, and they love it. Someone described her, totally accurately, as Nigella Kennedy. This is Patricia Kopatchinskaya, playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto (surprisingly from the score) as though it were a first-time discovery for her, bringing a refreshing take to a work so often sawn-through, and making this the most eccentric and most enjoyable performance of a piece through which I've too often gritted my teeth. Her use of gut strings on her instrument made this an inward account, sometimes over-balanced by the modern-stringed forces of the CBSO, but the ear adjusted to appreciate all the delicacy of phrasing, the spirited bowing, and the moments of humo