Showing posts from October, 2019

CBSO review 30.10.19

CAPUCON SCINTILLATES AND SHIMMERS CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Bizet's Carmen has an abundance of great melodies, the sort of tunes the milkman could whistle – when we had milkmen. So catchy and firmly embedded in our musical consciousness, that we don't even require the singers, as the orchestral Suite No.2 showed. German conductor Anja Bihlmaier has worked extensively in the opera house and was right at home here, coaxing some sparkling playing from the orchestra in the sultry Habanera and the whirling bacchanal of the Danse bohème. Alan Thomas's cornet gave us the swaggering toreador Escamillo and guest leader Tamas Kocsis, a chaste but tenderly beautiful Micaela. Gypsy music, of Hungary rather than Spain, was also the inspiration for Ravel's Tzigane. What a performance from Renaud Capuçon. Dazzling, scintillating, coruscating – add further adjectives as required. The double stops whizzed by and the pizzicatos pinged as the Frenchman, supported with some lovel

Roscoe and Donohoe review

AMAZING TWO-PIANO EMPATHY MARTIN ROSCOE AND PETER DONOHOE Barber Institute, University of Birmingham ***** Coming as they do as the last-heard appendage to the advertised programme, encores obviously stick in the memory, which is why I tend not to like them. But the encore to this remarkable two-piano recital in the Birmingham International Piano Festival from Martin Roscoe and Peter Donohoe was something very special indeed, and I had no objection to its haunting me all the way home and indeed still as I write. This was Ravel's brilliant arrangement of Fetes, the second of Debussy's Nocturnes, given with a fleet dexterity, ear for sonority and balance, and a wonderful sense of natural empathy shared by these two of this country's senior pianists who have known and worked with each other for so long. Both are, of course, master soloists in their own right, but when they come together, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and affection, the result is captivating. The

Aldwyn Voices review

STANFORD AND ELGAR RUB ALONG VERY WELL IN MALVERN ALDWYN VOICES Autumn in Malvern at Malvern College **** After two days of endless rain the skies eventually cleared and Malvern College's Great Hall was bathed in afternoon sunshine for the final event in this thirtieth anniversary year of the Autumn in Malvern Festival. Its longevity is entirely due to the creative energy of founder and artistic director, Peter Smith, who has lived in the town all his life and possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of its cultural heritage and history, which he harnesses in his programme planning. This concert 'Sir Charles Villiers Stanford & Sir Edward Elgar in Malvern' was a typical example, with part-songs and motets performed by Aldwyn Voices and a documentary narrative written by Smith and spoken with excellent clarity by poet/ playwright Peter Sutton. As a 75-minute sequence of words and music (delivered sensibly without an interval) it worked very well, displaying

Ex Cathedra Rachmaninov Vespers review

RACHMANINOV VESPERS A JOY TO LISTEN TO RACHMANINOV VESPERS Ex Cathedra at Birmingham Town Hall ***** A packed house greeted this fine choir, (50 years of inspiring singing) with numerous vocal soloists shining from within, inspired by discreet Birmingham conductor Jeffrey Skidmore OBE, pioneering and performing choral works from as far back as the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. What a star! Additional singers were also included from twelve Midlands choirs and used in specific movements in the Vespers. The lovely resonance of Birmingham's fine Town Hall was perfect for this music, enhancing the fullness of tone throughout. A joy to listen to. The programme provided was obviously well created, only occasionally difficult to follow for many of us 'out front' – with titles being in Russian for each movement - difficult to keep track of unless we had word clues such as recognisable 'Alleluias' to hang on to. This splendid choir also has fine 'in house' sol

CBSO review

ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AND CBSO SOUND AS ONE CBSO AND RBC SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Close your eyes during this performance of Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra and you could easily imagine this was an extra item offered by the CBSO in tonight's already generous programme. In fact it was a pre-concert taster given by the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, expertly rehearsed and conducted by Michael Seal. Seal's own history is a shining example of the links between the RBC (from which he graduated) and the CBSO (in which he became a second violin principal, and of which he is now Associate Conductor , with a baton sought after worldwide). Seal secured from his young charges sure-footed rhythmic impetus, a richness of sound allied with clear individual instrumental detail, and an astute sense of balance and sonority. The future of orchestral playing seems assured. Then came the CBSO, many of whose player

Gipps and Shostakovich CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDS OF PIANO CONCERTOS BY WOMEN BRITISH COMPOSERS, AND A THRILLING SHOSTAKOVICH FOURTH SYMPHONY BRIGHT, GIPPS: Ward / McLachlan / RLPO / Peebles (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 273) ★★★★★ The CBSO recently performed, to great acclaim, the second symphony of Ruth Gipps who played oboe and cor anglais with the orchestra in the 1940s. This fine recording of her Piano Concerto in G minor (1947) will further enhance the reputation of a neglected all-round musician who was also a concert pianist until injury cut short her career. Murray McLachlan gives full weight to its romanticism – a whiff of Addinsell's 1941 Warsaw Concerto – but also its delicate slow movement, with full-blooded support from The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Peebles. Gipps' orchestral work Ambarvalia is a lively miniature. The Piano Concerto No.1 in A minor (1888) and Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1910) by Sheffield-born pianist-composer Dora Bright get their

European Union Chamber Orchestra review

FLEXIBILITY, SPONTANEITY AND EMPATHY FROM THE EUCO EUROPEAN UNION CHAMBER ORCHESTRA Malvern College **** Difficult to banish thoughts of the current turmoil in this country's relationship with the European Union, but it was in fact a delight to concentrate upon the musical values of this concert from the 14-strong EUCO, one of the highlights of this year's splendid Autumn in Malvern Festival, a festival which has graced Elgarshire's calendar for nearly a third of a century. Cellists apart, all played standing, facilitating the heartwarming eye-contact and smiling communication between these young performers, led by the acrobatic, soaring and dipping violin of concertmaster Hans-Peter Hofmann. The works we heard actually benefit from the absence of a conductor's rigidity; here was all flexibility, spontaneity and empathy. Grieg's wonderfully nostalgic Holberg Suite was springy, but somewhat indistinct in articulation, due to the Great Hall's warm b

CBSO Benevolent Fund Concert review

SAINT-SAENS' "ORGAN SYMPHONY" AS IT SHOULD SOUND CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Great support for the CBSO's Benevolent Fund Concert with the "Sold Out" sign on the orchestra's website. The capacity audience was treated to vibrant performances of popular classics with conductor Andrew Litton and soloist Thomas Trotter giving their services free. Trotter, Birmingham City Organist since 1983, was cheered to the gods for one of his party pieces, the concluding Toccata from Widor's Organ Symphony No. 5. The orchestra stayed in their seats and craned their necks to watch Trotter as he juggled an ostinato figure, an implacably marching bass line and some snazzy decorations all in his (seemingly) effortless style. On disc Saint-Saëns' Symphony No. 3 often has a church organ dubbed, sometimes crudely, on to a studio recording. Here was how it should sound, organ and orchestra blending perfectly and, with the doors to the hall's reverberation

CBSO The Thrill of the New review

RICHARD BRATBY THRILLS TO CBSO'S NEW MUSIC THE THRILL OF THE NEW CBSO at Symphony Hall **** "The Thrill of the New" was how it was billed, and with the CBSO scheduled to give some 40 premieres over its two centenary seasons, the idea seems to have been to offer a painless introduction to new(ish) music for – shall we say? – the more traditionally-inclined concertgoer. So Michael Seal conducted an appetising spread of bite-size modernist favourites dating from 1909 to last month, introduced and explained with colourful visual aids and unapologetic good humour by Paul Rissmann. A reasonably-sized audience was clearly on board with the concept: chuckling at the final deflation of Jörg Widmann's Con Brio (timpanist Tibor Hettich took a well-deserved bow), and sighing after the blissed-out string sonorities of Jennifer Higdon's String Lake. Seal looked after the details without ever letting the sense of direction flag, and the CBSO responded with de

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra review

BIZARRE STAGE LAYOUT MUFFLES MOSCOW PHILHARMONIC SOUND Moscow Philharmonic at Symphony Hall ★★★ This concert was hampered by the orchestra's bizarre presentation decisions. At their request half the choir seating was removed and the back of the concert platform draped in black curtains, and no risers were used so that all players were on the same level. This left the wind section, in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, attempting to project through the conductor and the raised piano lid. No wonder they sounded muffled, as did the brass players squeezed up against the sound-absorbent curtains. I can't fathom what musical purpose the arrangement was meant to serve but it failed to match the spirited playing of soloist Alexandra Dariescu – her ample power for the famous opening's chords, winning delicacy in the slow movement, and with a silvery touch in the finale. Maria Antal's Event Horizon was receiving its UK premiere. The pieces of hers I've heard

Sinfonia of Birmingham review 5.10.19

ANOTHER FIVE-STAR PERFORMANCE FROM THE SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM St Mary's Church, Warwick ***** Conductor Michael Seal certainly challenges his Sinfonia of Birmingham players with exciting, hair-raising programmes. The concert venue was St Mary's Church, Warwick – beautiful but very resonant. Passacaglia op 1 by Webern began this mind-blowing evening, A graduation piece in 1908, the 23 variations with highlighted solo strands weaving into shimmering tutti strings, a very busy piece throughout. Another tortured soul, Dmitri Shostakovich , started his Violin Concert no 1 with dark foreboding. Gold medallist Zoe Beyers riveted the audience with her overwhelming, sensitive deliverance of a tour-de-force, from almost inaudible silken threads, to foot-stamping burlesque-style wildness. (Oistrakh described this work as "demonic.") Hectic , crazy, sparkling finished this outstanding performance to cheering from an excited audience.

Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra Das Rheingold

AMAZING WAGNER FROM THE FINEST NON-PROFESSIONAL ORCHESTRA IN THE LAND DAS RHEINGOLD Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Symphony Hall ***** The horrors entailed in actually making it into Symphony Hall -- road closures because of the Great Birmingham Run, the ongoing Nightmare on Broad Street, lack of access into the ICC Mall, the renovations going on in the foyer -- were made wonderfully worthwhile by this mind-blowing performance of Wagner's Rheingold by what just has to be the finest non-professional orchestra in the land. Conductor Michael Lloyd insists upon the highest possible playing standards from the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, and judging from the reactions of the amazed audience emerging at the end of the afternoon he is achieving marvels. For this account of the most perfect opera in Wagner's Ring tetralogy he had prepared his musicians meticulously, with the result that come the show he was able to pace everything with a natural flow, balanc

Orchestra of the Swan at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire review

                A WONDERFUL START TO ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN'S NEW SEASON                                       ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN                                     Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ***** Orchestra of the Swan's latest residency at the RBC began with an intriguing programme entitled "Tales of the City". Yes, urban soundscapes were certainly there, but we also heard a beautifully evocative aural image of the landscape of Cumberland and Westmoreland. This was Through Cumbrian Hills by RBC composition student Catherine Mole, and one of the most successful examples thus far of OOTS' collaboration with the RBC. The piece is unashamedly pictorial, and therefore totally audience-friendly (composition teachers everywhere, remember that important tenet). It begins mistily, evocatively, and builds into singing expressions of quiet glory, flute raptures (Diane Clark) fluttering across the scene. It e

Bartok and Vaughan Williams CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENTHUSES OVER NEW RELEASES OF BARTOK AND VAUGHAN WILLIAMS BARTOK BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE: Relyea / DeYoung / Bergen Philharmonic / Gardner (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5237) ★★★★★ In 2014 American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung sang Judit in a concert performance of Bluebeard's Castle with the CBSO under Edward Gardner. She was magnificent, combining intelligence, passion and fearless singing – a feat she repeats here. Her compatriot John Relyea is a sonorous firm-toned Bluebeard, not as biting as some Slav basses but one who makes a convincingly romantic husband for his young fatally inquisitive bride. The heart of this opera comes when the fifth of the mysterious castle's seven doors is opened. The opera uses Bartok's biggest orchestra and here he unleashes it to spectacular effect. On disc, stripped of scenic effects, the music is all. The combination of the Bergen players skill, Gardner's masterly pacing and the Chandos engineers' expertise

Ex Cathedra preview

AN EXCITING NEW SEASON FOR EX CATHEDRA'S GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY EX CATHEDRA by Christopher Morley "Yes, 50 years!" gasps Jeffrey Skidmore almost incredulously as we sit down for our annual lunch at Cielo in Birmingham's Brindley Place. We're there to talk about the forthcoming season of Ex Cathedra, the chamber choir Jeffrey founded half-a-century ago (coinciding with my own debut as music critic for the Birmingham Post), and a choir whose reputation has grown worldwide from its original Lichfield and Birmingham bases. Jeffrey has never had any ambitions to move away from his vibrant creation. "I'm happy to have been in one place," he says, "like the composers Lassus, Monteverdi, De Lalande, Bach, Juan de Aranjo in Sucre, Bolivia, and John Joubert here in Birmingham!" The Bolivian reference is pertinent, as Jeffrey has done so much work researching the church music of baroque composers in South America, music which c

CBSO Gipps, Musgrave, Walton review

A CONCERT OF REAL ADVENTURE CBSO Symphony Hall ***** If the CBSO's programme continues to be as adventurous as tonight's during its two-year-long centenary celebrations which have just begun, then we're in for a fascinating journey. Three British rarities kicked off with the Second Symphony of the 25-year-old Ruth Gipps, premiered by George Weldon and the then City of Birmingham Orchestra almost exactly 73 years ago. A protegee of Weldon's, she had been the CBO's second oboe and principal cor anglais until gossip about their relationship forced her resignation. The symphony is a real find, strongly scored and structured, often redolent of Vaughan Williams (Gipps' teacher), and vibrant with personality. It is in fact a "War Symphony", conflict disturbing a pastoral idyll, and with a stamina-sapping snare-drum part which evokes Shostakovich's recent Leningrad Symphony. Often this 20-minute work has the evocative power of film-musi