Showing posts from September, 2019


SHEKU'S ELGAR CELLO CONCERTO WITH THE CBSO FLOWS NATURALLY SHEKU PLAYS ELGAR CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** The concert opened with a slightly frustrating arrangement for brass, winds and percussion by Steven Stucky, of music written in 1694 for the funeral of Queen Mary II by Henry Purcell. Orchestrating another's music throws up all sorts of stylistic issues and has resulted in some fascinating and rewarding new compositions, but although the CBSO's brass section produced a resonant and mellifluous sound punctuated by a forceful funereal tread with timpani and percussion, the brief ten minute work seemed neither one thing nor the other. Not quite Purcell, but also without enough of Stucky's personality. The CBSO has had a close association with the rising star, Sheku Kanneh-Mason for three years now. This sold-out evening was advertised as "Sheku plays Elgar" and his fan club was vociferously in evidence, even before he played a note. He wear

"Careful the tale you tell" at Bretforton's Theatrebarn

A WONDERFUL, CIVILISED EVENING AT BRETFORTON'S THEATREBARN "CAREFUL THE TALE YOU TELL" Theatrebarn, Bretforton, Evesham ***** It's heart-warming to feel the palpable sense of goodwill surrounding Theatrebarn. This newly-revived theatre-dining experience takes place in a cosy, intimate little raked theatre with a fabulous acoustic in a converted barn, and with lavish kitchens and comfortable post-show dining areas attached. Saturday's was the second production from this reborn enterprise, "Careful the tale you tell" featuring three well-known performers in the Whately family -- actors Kevin and wife Madelaine Newton and their singer daughter Kitty -- in a sequence of slightly scary readings and music making the listener want to curl up safely in front of a comforting fire (the comfort here came with the brilliant food afterwards). This was the world premiere of this presentation, and it certainly deserves to be heard again. Kevin and Madela

Orchestra of the Swan season preview

ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN ESTABLISHES MORE RESIDENCIES IN THE REGION ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN by Christopher Morley Though its home base remains in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Orchestra of the Swan this season is establishing residencies in various parts of the West Midlands region, each one with its own aims and character. "We want to create an immersion in a mood for each residency," explains OOTS managing director Debbie Jagla. "We want to engage with each community and its characters, and we will have links with local partners in each residency, "Hereford is rural, so we are linking ourselves with local schools in the countryside, involving assemblies, open rehearsals, appearing in village halls and doing workshops in schools for children with special educational needs. "Our base will be the Courtyard Theatre in Edgar Street, and OOTS will be the only orchestra to appear there for the next three years.! Orchestra of the Swan has had a long-establis

CBSO A Child of our Time review

A WONDERFUL LAUNCH TO THE CBSO'S CENTENARY CELEBRATIONS A CHILD OF OUR TIME CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Such is the power of Tippett's settings of Afro-American spirituals in his oratorio a Child of Our Time that they are still with me as I write, even after negotiating the roadwork horrors of Broad Street compounded by a water-main burst in the excavations. Tippett's idea was to bring universality into his composition, much as Bach used Lutheran chorales in his Passions, and it certainly works. What didn't quite work was Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's idealism in involving us, the audience, into their delivery. It all seemed a trifle half-hearted. Never mind. Hers was a wonderfully engaging account of this masterpiece, launching two years of celebrations for the CBSO's centenary in 2020. There will have been players tonight who recorded the work under the composer's frail baton in 1991, soon after the opening of this magnificent hall, but here now was

Korngold and Beethoven CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS JOHN WILSON'S THRILLING ACCOUNT OF KORNGOLD'S SYMPHONY IN F SHARP, AND A MIXED COMPLETE BEETHOVEN PIANO SONATA SET FROM IGOR LEVIT KORNGOLD: Sinfonia of London / Wilson (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5220) ★★★★★ Korngold was a child prodigy, hailed as a genius by Mahler. Fleeing the Nazis he became an Oscar-winning composer of Hollywood film music– ensuring vilification from the musical establishment. His Symphony in F sharp (1954) is a fine work of late romanticism, its huge orchestra used with immense skill. This is a terrific recording with conductor John Wilson, at home in Hollywood shows tunes and the core classics, eliciting a thrilling performance from the Sinfonia of London, a famous name in the 1950s newly reformed. The Chandos engineers exploit the generous acoustic of St Augustine's Church, Kilburn to create a stupendously wide-ranging recording. The opening movement is brooding and doom-laden – floor-shaking basses – but Wilson revels

Bromsgrove Concerts preview

JOHN WOOLRICH PREMIERE A HIGHLIGHT OF NEW BROMSGROVE CONCERTS SEASON BROMSGROVE CONCERTS by Christopher Morley Year on year, Bromsgrove Concerts continues to provide a refreshing mix of established and contemporary music in its annual seasons, an exemplar to other societies with its lightness of touch mixing the old and the new. Pianists and strings are the thread running throughout Bromsgrove's 2019-2020 prospectus, with plenty more besides, and Luke Jones kicks off the season on Friday 27 September. This young pianist was winner of the Bromsgrove Competition in 2018, and he returns to the town with a challenging programme of Debussy's Images Book I, Ravel's Miroirs, Schumann's Waldszenen and Prokofiev's wartime Sonata no.8, with one of the most gracious slow movements ever written. The recital is given in the splendid Routh Hall at Bromsgrove School (8pm), and events for the rest of the season revert to the equally-accommodating Artrix (with

BCMG Birtwistle Birthday Concert

AN ENJOYABLE 85TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION, BUT THE EMPEROR WORE HIS NEW CLOTHES BIRTWISTLE BIRTHDAY CONCERT Birmingham Contemporary Music Group at the CBSO Centre **** The respect and admiration the concert-going public holds for Sir Harrison Birtwistle were evidently clear in a sellout house for BCMG's celebration of the composer's 85th birthday. Birtwistle was among us, hearing the premiere of BCMG's latest Sound Investment commission, his ...when falling asleep, a setting for soaring soprano of poetry by Rilke and for speaker, fragments adapted from Swinburne's elegy for Baudelaire, Ave atque vale. This is an alter ego genre Birtwistle has made his own, and it works mesmerically well, atmospheric and enthralling as the protagonists (soprano Alice Rossi, expressive reciter Simone Leona Hueber) gradually merge in a developing empathy. The tiny BCMG ensemble responded deftly under Geoffrey Paterson's clear direction. Two other Birtwistle works framed this

Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra review

MORE EXUBERANCE NEEDED FROM THESE RUSSIAN-BRITISH YOUNGSTERS BRITTEN-SHOSTAKOVICH FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA Symphony Halll ★★★★ During the Cold War a friendship was struck up between Dmitri Shostakovich and Benjamin Britten which is marked in the name of this new youth orchestra made up of students from conservatoires in the United Kingdom and Russia. This was their UK debut under British conductor Jan Latham-K├Ânig, who works in Russia. The theme of Anglo-Russian musical friendship was fittingly represented by pianist Pavel Kolesnikov – Siberian born but a Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow domiciled in London. His wonderfully sensitive performance of Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini eschewed virtuoso razzmatazz and egregious flashiness and reminded us that so much of the soloist's part, while requiring immense dexterity, is delicate and restrained. The famous 18th variation was not milked for sentiment, instead Kolesnikov seemed simply to reveal its beauty – the art t

Gildas Quartet at the Stratford Festival

BRITTEN MEETS BRAHMS, BOTH IN VALEDICTORY MODE GILDAS QUARTET Stratford Play House **** The irony is that Benjamin Britten loathed the music of Johannes Brahms, playing through the German composer's music to remind himself how bad it was. (and it's equally ironic that they appear next to each other on library shelves). Yet in this well-programmed Stratford Festival programme they rubbed along sympathetically side-by-side, with the last major work each of them produced before dying at a very similar age. Britten's Third String Quartet carries such an armoury of expression within its structural resources, not least a concluding Passacaglia which sets the seal on all his instrumental achievements, and completed in his beloved Venice. The youthful Gildas Quartet marshalled huge reserves of energy and colour in delivering this demanding piece, nuanced, alert and understanding, leaving us (and I guess themselves) emotionally drained as we reached the shattered con

Roderick Williams Winterreise at Stratford

RODERICK WILLIAMS TAKES US ON A VERY SPECIAL WINTER JOURNEY RODERICK WILLIAMS AND CHRISTOPHER GLYNN Stratford Playhouse ***** The standing ovation which acclaimed the end of this amazing recital was genuinely well-deserved, and this grizzled, grumpy old critic happily joined in. Roderick Williams and pianist ("accompanist" is too diminishing a word to use in such a context) Christopher Glynn had just delivered a mesmerising, totally involving account of Schubert's Winterreise, here in a new English translation by Jeremy Sams. This translation is elegant and sincere, true to the spirit of Wilhelm Muller's German original, and we are left wondering whether this Winter Journey was not an actual pilgrimage, but in fact a trawl of the soul. And Williams certainly brought out this ambivalence, pacing around and through this in-the-round audience for the opening concert of the Stratford Music Festival, even sometimes sitting among us, communicating both with the

Fwd: Our blog

      -----Original Message----- From: Norman Stinchcombe <> To: Christopher Morley <> Sent: Thu, 12 Sep 2019 10:38 Subject: Re: Our blog Hi Chris This is a massive advertising spam aimed at selling online courses in computer training: "Python" refers to the computer language not the snake. Instead of spam arriving in emails it attaches itself to the comment section in blogs., on top which I believe our blog sits, must be particularly vulnerable. A site called "The Magic of Music" has been affected with identical comment postings. See here: As has this blog on cycling: And this blog on the student radio site run by MIT students: Clearly BlogSpot

Reviews of Bantock and Armonico Consort CDs

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CD RELEASES OF BANTOCK AND THE ARMONICO CONSORT BANTOCK REDISCOVERED: Marchant (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0183) ★★★ Sir Granville Bantock is a composer whose music is worth rediscovering. But I don't think that this album of his piano music, despite the excellent playing of Maria Marchant and fine recording quality, will make many converts. Bantock's talent was for orchestral music; his Pagan and Hebridean symphonies and brilliant tone poem Thalaba the Destroyer – a dead ringer for Tchaikovsky's Manfred – in terrific recordings conducted by Vernon Handley (Hyperion) are the place to start. One hopes we'll hear some during the CBSO centenary celebrations – his overture Saul was the first piece the orchestra played in 1920. Marchant plays a piano reduction of it but, since Bantock was no Liszt, it's not a patch on the original. The other music here, twenty-two short pieces, are all pleasant and well-crafted but, however felicitous Marchant&

Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra

A NEW STUDENT ORCHESTRA CROSSES WHAT WAS ONCE THE IRON CURTAIN BRITTEN-SHOSTAKOVICH FESTIVAL ORCHESTRA by Christopher Morley An exciting new orchestra made up of 86 music students from conservatoires in the United Kingdom and Russia makes its UK debut at Symphony Hall on September 17. The Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra has been formed to pay tribute to the legendary friendship between those two great composers, brokered by the great cellist and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich, who refused to allow tensions between East and West to interfere with his message of worldwide musical companionship. After inaugural concerts in Sochi, St Petersburg and Moscow the B-SFO crosses the North Sea for a UK tour beginning in Birmingham and ending at London's Cadogan Hall. They bring a delicious programme of Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Pavel Kolesnikov the piano soloist), excerpts from Pr

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's Sir Harrison Birtwistle 85th birthday concert

BCMG LAUNCHES NEW SEASON WITH A CELEBRATION OF A GREAT ELDER STATESMAN BIRMINGHAM CONTEMPORARY MUSIC GROUP CELEBRATES SIR HARRISON BIRTWISTLE'S 85th BIRTHDAY by Christopher Morley Some years ago I was reviewing one of Birmingham Contemporary Music Group's well-planned concerts at the CBSO Centre in Berkley Street. Doubtless there were one or two "Sound Investment" commissions in the programme, and the whole impression was one of worthy, well-crafted works, a couple of which might make it through to further performances. But then there came a composition which stood proudly head and shoulders above its companions, a work of stature and immense personality, and one which had already stood the test of time. This was Silbury Air, by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, and what an invigorating breath of air it provided that evening. And BCMG launches its new season in Birmingham on September 22 with a concert celebrating Birtwistle's 85th birthday. The featured

Theatrebarn at Bretforton

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY PREVIEWS A COMPELLING EVENING AT BRETFORTON CAREFUL THE TALE YOU TELL by Christopher Morley After a few years silent in the darkness, Bretforton's exquisite Theatrebarn is returning to its former glories, launched 40 years ago by the actor James Wellman and the chef David Swift. Beginning in the attic room at Bretforton Grange near Evesham, with suppers served in the medieval undercroft, Theatrebarn soon moved into the historic tithe barn next door, creating its own kitchen and comfortable dining area, and building a cosy little 180-seater theatre with wonderfully raked seating and an intimate, immediate acoustic. When old age forced James and David to give up the running of the enterprise there were a few fallow years, but now the charitable trust they founded has successfully reinvigorated the building, and relaunched a programme of professional events at the highest level. Theatrebarn's renaissance began with "Strictly Come Joking&q

Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival

MIDLANDS MUSIC-LOVERS MIGHT LIKE TO PUT NEXT YEAR IN THEIR DIARY (AUGUST 27 - 30) PURBECK INTERNATIONAL CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL ***** Now in its eighth year, the Purbeck International Chamber Music Festival is probably the happiest, least self-regarding festival I've attended in 50 years of reviewing events all over the country, Europe and beyond. Performing in various churches in this lovely corner of Dorset, the festival attracts packed, appreciative audiences of all ages, volunteers who really love doing their jobs (unlike the many jacks-in-office I so frequently encounter elsewhere), and performers who obviously enjoy interacting with each other. And that was evident from a coterie of musicians who stayed together throughout the festival's four days, bonding with each other and relishing their music-making to the delight of all on both sides of the platform. The theme of this year's festival was "Solitude", yet this was a solitude dispelled by the j