Showing posts from August, 2019

CBSO Centenary Celebrations

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY LOOKS FORWARD TO TWO YEARS OF THE CBSO CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS CBSO CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS by Christopher Morley It began its existence rehearsing in the band room at Steelhouse Lane police station and giving concerts in the Theatre Royal in New Street and the Futurist cinema in John Bright Street, both a dolly stone's throw from Birmingham's New Street railway station. Today its home is in one of the world's finest concert-halls, Symphony Hall in Birmingham city centre, a venue which was built expressly to accommodate the great world-renowned ensemble the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has become. And this autumn the CBSO begins two years of concerts celebrating the centenary of its founding, originally as the City of Birmingham Orchestra (it added the "Symphony", at principal conductor George Weldon's behest, in February 1948) , with funding from the City Council which continues to this day, a wise munificence which

Mendelssohn and Howells CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDS OF MENDELSSOHN AND HERBERT HOWELLS MENDELSSOHN IN BIRMINGHAM Vol.5: CBSO / Gardner (Chandos SACD/CD CHSA 5325) ★★★ Anyone who has collected the first four volumes of this series will rightly feel short-changed if they buy this one. Half of the eight overtures on this disc – A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Hebrides, Ruy Blas and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage – have already appeared on the first four volumes. The four new ones – Paulus, The Fair Melusina, Trumpet Overture and Athalie – last for a combined 29 minutes. How about first time buyers? They'll get engagingly played, energetic and very brisk performances under Edward Gardener, all well recorded. Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage unfolds the pictorial elements beautifully with characterful wind playing and ringing brass, as there is in Ruy Blas. In Hebrides inner detail isn't always clear – compare with |Norrington (EMI). In Shakespeare's enchanted forest conductors like Previn

Presteigne festival roundup

DAVID HART RELISHES PRESTEIGNE'S CONTEMPORARY OFFERING PRESTEIGNE FESTIVAL St Andrew's Church, Presteigne **** After twenty-seven years as artistic director of the Presteigne Festival George Vass continues to find new composers whose music is more likely to intrigue, rather than alienate, audiences. Two typical examples were on Sunday evening, when composers-in-residence Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Hannah Lash both hit the marks of challenge and accessibility. Frances-Hoad's 'Katharsis' made a huge impact. This quasi cello concerto, inspired by the suites of Bach and Britten with six movements instead of the usual three, contains several virtuosic moments for the soloist (here, the splendid Alice Neary in command of every challenge) but is also an engagingly lyrical piece. Vass's Presteigne Festival Orchestra savoured every nuance of Frances-Hoad's imaginative score - nonchalant cello pizzicatos in the Minuet against whistling violin harmoni

CBSO review 25.8.19

CBSO COMES HOME IN STYLE CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Fresh from conquering the BBC Proms, and simultaneous with BBC4's relay of that triumph, the CBSO came home to Symphony Hall and a packed auditorium, bringing a delicious programme of works composed within less than 20 years of each other. Fairy-tale and childhood was the underlying theme, beginning with Ravel's enchanting Mother Goose Suite. Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla opened the Pavane languorously, putting a strain on woodwind intonation which would have defeated many a lesser orchestra. They got their revenge with cheeky chirrups in Tom Thumb, and the contrabassoon made an enormously dignified contribution to the Satie-styled Conversations of Beauty and the Beast. Finally Mirga brought a well-built conclusion to the Enchanted Garden. As she did to Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, long a CBSO showpiece, but here fresh and crystalline, pointillistic in detail and incident, both deft and loving and with an Infernal D

Richard Rodgers at Presteigne review

THE MUSIC OF RICHARD RODGERS LAUNCHES THE PRESTEIGNE FESTIVAL IN STYLE THE SOUND OF HIS MUSIC St Andrew's Church, Presteigne **** Thankfully the days are long gone when ill-informed snobbery prevented the performance of music from shows and films in the "serious" concert-room. Excuse me, but what made anything by Gilbert and Sullivan kosher, but not, for example, Oklahoma!, the latter spectacularly masterminded by the great John Wilson at the Proms a couple of years ago? For the opening concert of this year's Presteigne Festival, George Vass, the festival's artistic director, presented "The Sound of his Music", a celebration of the music of Richard Rodgers, the genius who collaborated with librettist Oscar Hammerstein II in, indeed Oklahoma! and so many other well-loved musicals. Rodgers` previous collaborator had been Lorenz Hart, a tormented soul whose lyrics are so much darker than Hammerstein's generally life-enhancing creations, a

CBSO pre-Prom review

CBSO AND A HANDSWORTH-BORN COMPOSER CBSO Symphony Hall **** It was the young star cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason who attracted the near-capacity audience – but it was a similarly precocious Birmingham woman who stole the show. Handsworth-born Dorothy Howell was just twenty-one when her symphonic poem Lamia was performed at the 1919 Promenade Concerts. It is amazing to think that this was her first orchestral work – there is such assured handling of large forces in a piece inspired by Keats' romantic poem. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla brought out all its shimmering beauty; the sighing woodwind-led opening, central dance episode and final melancholy love-lorn theme for solo violin. How heartening that the CBSO will take Lamia to this year's Proms, a century after its debut. Smart programming to complement it with Oliver Knussen's The Way to Castle Yonder which similarly evokes mystery and magic albeit in a different musical idiom. The public relations puffery on the internet sa

Stratford Festival preview

A MOUTHWATERING SELECTION OF CHAMBER MUSIC IN STRATFORD THIS SEPTEMBER STRATFORD MUSIC FESTIVAL by Christopher Morley ( After nearly a quarter of a century of its existence, the Stratford on Avon Music Festival this year takes a fresh look at itself as it launches a packed week of events in the middle of September. A community weekend of activities, many of them geared towards the family, ushers in a week of chamber music, but before all that begins, this year's Festival opens with one of the country's favourite baritones, Roderick Williams, singing Jeremy Sams' new English translation of Schubert's great song-cycle Winter Journey ("Winterreise"). Christopher Glynn is the pianist for this performance given in the round at the Stratford Playhouse, venue for all but one of the Festival events (September 13, 7.30pm). David Mills, the Festival's artistic director, hopes this year's offerings will attract new concertgoers of the futu

Mozart Piano CDs reviewed

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS TWO MOZART PIANO CD RELEASES MOZART PIANO SONATAS VOL.2: Peter Donohoe (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0198) ★★★★★ The Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 is added as a bonus item but succinctly captures Peter Donohoe's approach to Mozart. This rarely-recorded work provides a fascinating contrast with Mitsuko Uchida's performance on her 1980s traversal of the complete sonatas, my benchmark set. Donohoe's style is trenchant and powerful, the clarity of his Bechstein's bass reinforcing the effect, and swift too – 8.50 to Uchida's spacious 10.58. Uchida, with a velvety-sounding Steinway, explores the piece's shadows, revealing its proto-Romantic qualities. Those different approaches (equally valid) are evident in the performances of sonatas No. 7 in C Major, K. 309 and No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310. In the bleakly tragic K.310 it's Donohoe who registers the maestoso marking more clearly, while Uchida, more expansive, plunges even deeper into the anda

Autumn in Malvern preview

FASCINATING EVENTS AT AUTUMN IN MALVERN AUTUMN IN MALVERN by Christopher Morley This year marks the 30th anniversary of Autumn in Malvern, a festival which celebrates not only the arts in themselves but also the culture which springs so bountifully, like the famous water, from these beautiful hills. Peter Smith has masterminded this heroic enterprise from its inception, quietly calling upon his many contacts to enhance the offering, and the forthcoming programme is a typical mix of the international, the national, and the local. Various exhibitions offer a permanent backdrop as a Festival Art Trail, beginning with two in Malvern Library Gallery. One is locally inspired, "Colour in Landscape: those Blue Remembered Hills", curated by Carly Tinkler and Jem Waygood, and tying in with their talk on the subject in Colwall Village Hall on September 20 (3pm). The other exhibition in this venue is based further afield, with Kevin Austin's "Liverpool Post-W

Zoe Beyers at Church Stretton review

ZOE BEYERS GIVES CHURCH STRETTON A FIVE-STAR RECITAL ZOE BEYERS St Laurence's Church, Church Stretton ***** Janáček is a composer best heard with unsullied ears, especially if you're not familiar with his edgy individuality. Church Stretton Arts Festival audiences, though, are friendly, welcoming souls so paid rapt attention to the bristling energy and folk-song asides of his Violin Sonata, which Zoë Beyers chose to open her recital with pianist Philip Moore. And when the work's hard-won romanticism emerged fully in Beyers' impeccably bowed second movement and, to an even greater extent in the heart-rending sadness of the final Adagio, with its abrupt ending (so typical of Janáček when he has no more to say), even the most dubious listener couldn't fail to be won over. Moore's robust pianism, which from my second-row seat had occasionally sounded a little overcooked, was a perfectly judged match for Beyers in Debussy's Sonata in G minor, the '

La Calisto at Longborough review

CAPTIVATING REALISATION OF A BAROQUE OPERA LA CALISTO Longborough Festival Opera ***** Longborough is a chocolate-box Cotswold village: about the last place that you'd expect to find yourself mired in the sleazy aftermath of a Friday night on Broad Street. But then, a lot of things about Cavalli's 1651 opera La Calisto are not as you might expect. Girls become bears, gods become goddesses and at least one character contemplates intimacy with a goat. Cavalli's music turns on a ha'penny, and in Mathilde Lopez's production, conducted and (brilliantly) arranged by Lesley Anne Sammons, high-baroque elegance can metamorphose at any moment into cocktail jazz, urban funk or the raunchiest of tangos. So while the action took place in what looked like a grubbier corner of the old Paradise Circus (but with more cartoon animal heads), the action glittered with lurid, eye-popping colour. Baroque purists would have squealed the house down: the clarinet, accordion, re

Roderick Williams review

RODERICK WILLIAMS BRINGS THREE CHOIRS LISTENERS A NEGLECTED ENGLISH MASTERPIECE RODERICK WILLIAMS Three Choirs Festival at Cheltenham College ***** His phenomenal talent aside, Roderick Williams is loved by audiences for his engagement with them. The baritone's eyes cover every one of us present (and here in the splendid College Theatre there was not even hasty extra seating to be had), his responsive body-language draws us in, he is totally generous of himself -- and he talks to us as if to old friends. His nattering began by paying tribute to the Three Choirs Festival (this year in Gloucester) and its courageous foresight in allowing him to present an English song recital which was not of the usual run-of-the mill "safe" variety. Instead of the usual Shropshire Lads and Songs of Travel we were given Volume 7 of local-boy Parry's English Lyrics and, in a performance which convinced us how shameful is its neglect, the first real English song-cycle, Some