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Showing posts from December, 2019

Beethoven and Shostakovich CD reviews

NIORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS BARGAIN BEETHOVEN AND DISAPPOINTING SHOSTAKOVICH BEETHOVEN EGMONT: Ranta / Salminen / Turku Philharmonic Orchestra / Segerstam (Naxos 8.573956) ★★★★ Beethoven's stirring overture Egmont is a concert favourite but little is heard of the other forty minutes of music he composed to accompany performances of Goethe's drama. Under veteran conductor Leif Segerstam the overture's opening builds the tension steadily before taking off in a blaze of musical energy. The score includes short atmospheric pieces that emphasize the on-stage drama and two arias for Clara, the hero's plucky beloved. The martial call to arms Beat the Drums and Clara's lovelorn lament Freudvoll und Leidvoll (Joy and Sorrow) are vibrantly sung by soprano Kaisa Ranta. For concert performances Beethoven approved the use of a narration to link the episodes, here delivered by Matti Salminen with the impressive weight and authority of a great Wagnerian bass. The disc in

Bliss and Stanford CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS NEW BLISS AND STANFORD CDS BLISS: Connolly / BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Davis (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5242) ★★★★★ The Enchantress (1951) was written for Kathleen Ferrier as the jilted Simaetha who uses magic to lure her lover back. There's no trace of a tape of Ferrier's 1951 BBC broadcast or 1952 concert in which Bliss said she sang "gloriously". Dame Sarah Connolly's voice is very different, mezzo rather than contralto, but she's tremendous here, totally convincing both vocally and in her evocation of jealous passion. With strong support from the BBC SO under Sir Andrew Davis, this is a mightily impressive performance. Connolly is equally eloquent in the cantata Mary of Magdala (1962) aided by the BBC Symphony Chorus and bass James Platt. The Meditations on a Theme by John Blow (1955) are variations based on a tune from Blow's The Lord is my shepherd (1677). Sometimes delicately pastoral (Meditation 3 Lambs

David Gregory's CBSO retirement concert

A SAD RETIREMENT AND AN AMAZING NEW WORK CBSO Symphony Hall **** In one sense this was a sad occasion, David Gregory's final concert after 42 years service, having joined the CBSO as a first violinist in 1977. "Our last pre-Rattleite" was how Chief Executive Stephen Maddock described this popular fixture who seemed permanent until tonight. But he chose a remarkable concert with which to bow out, one which introduced us to a conductor I'd never heard before (Christoph Koenig, standing in for an indisposed Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla), an absolutely compelling baritone, Thomas E. Bauer, and the UK premiere of a CBSO Centenary commission, Jorg Widmann's Das heisse Herz. This is a rescoring for huge orchestra -- including some extraordinary percussion -- of a song-cycle firmly in the Germanic tradition originally for baritone and piano. A vestige of that original remains, Bauer weaving his way through the orchestra to join a lavishly decorative solo piano a

Christmas book review

WONDERFUL NEW BOOK ABOUT THE CBSO BOOK REVIEW ROUNDUP Christopher Morley (for classical column 12.12.19) Next autumn marks 100 years since the formation of the then City of Birmingham Orchestra, and two concert- seasons of celebration are already gloriously underway. And a permanent reminder of these festivities is "Forward -- 100 Years of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra", a sumptuous Elliott and Thompson publication, written by my friend and colleague Richard Bratby. The title is, of course, a nod to the motto of the City of Birmingham itself. No favouritism in this review (I write with the experience of 50 years of objectivity), so I can easily comment that Richard is the ideal person to have undertaken this joyous task, having previously worked for many years in the CBSO back-office, taking responsibility, among other things, for the newly-opened CBSO Centre and the remarkable CBSO Youth Orchestra. Beresford King-Smith's "Cresc

City of Birmingham Choir Messiah review

AN EARLY CHRISTMAS TREAT FOR MAGGIE COTTON MESSIAH City of Birmingham Choir and CBSO at Symphony Hall **** A goodly crowd turned up at Symphony Hall both on stage and in the audience, anticipating Handel's well-loved Messiah); an early Christmas specialty for everyone. This wonderful work has stood the test of time through endless interpretations, but it is always a delight to hear professionals from the CBSO giving their all (e.g. flowing continuo=playing from principal cello and double bass.) Conductor Adrian Lucas highlighted keenness from the large City of Birmingham Choir, although at times diction could have been clearer in Birmingham's sympathetic Symphony Hall – famed for its first-rate acoustics. Tenor Ben Thapa was positively operatic, with much weaving about, seemingly enjoying interpreting Handel (alongside his inspiring 'other hat' of running marathons and raising charity funds!) Totally thought-provoking. Well-travelled baritone Jolyon Loy

Brahms Piano Quartets CD review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS BRAHMS PIANO QUARTETS ON PERIOD INSTRUMENTS BRAHMS: Primrose Piano Quartet (Meridian Records 2CDs CDE84650) ★★★★ Brahms' three piano quartets have been criticized for having overly dense textures. Is part of the problem due to the powerful modern grand pianos they are played on? This fascinating new set recorded with pianist John Thwaites using three instruments from Brahms' own time – and the string players switching to gut strings – suggests this may be the case. The Primrose went to Vienna's Gerd Hecher collection of instruments, and Thwaites used pianos by Bl├╝thner, Ehrbar and Streicher, the last of which is identical to one given to Brahms in 1868. The three quartets were then recorded in Ehrbar Hall, where Brahms often played. Clarity and historical accuracy are admirable but the PPQ also deliver lithe, crisp and enjoyable performances as well. In the G minor quartet's Andante they skilfully balance its lyricism and disturbing unsta

CBSO Mendelssohn review

MENDELSSOHN COMES HOME TO BIRMINGHAM TOWN HALL MENDELSSOHN CONCERT CBSO at Birmingham Town Hall ***** Crowds thronged the surroundings of Birmingham Town Hall whenever Mendelssohn appeared there, and crowds were thronging tonight with a nearly all-Mendelssohn programme being presented by the CBSO on a rare return to its old home. But these weren't crowds anxious to see the great and good of the musical world; these were crowds worshipping at the Mammon of the Frankfurt Christmas market. Let's hurry inside this gracious building, where it was not too fanciful to imagine Mendelssohn supervising from the organ console he installed. Many members of the CBSO had never performed in this historic venue before, and many in the audience were either experiencing it for the first time, or re-living memories of long ago. Francois Leleux was the conductor, musicianship oozing genially out of every gesture, a collaborator with his colleagues rather than a chef d'orchestr

HaydnSonatas and British Tone Poems CDs reviewed

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS NEW CD RELEASES OF HAYDN PIANO SONATAS AND BRITISH TONE POEMS HAYDN, PIANO SONATAS VOL. II / McCawley (Somm Records SOMMCD 0602) ★★★★★ There's never been a better time to enjoy, or come to know, Haydn's piano sonatas on disc. Grossly under-rated, and too seldom heard in recital, there's now a recorded treasure trove available – not the least being Leon McCawley's survey. He follows his excellent 2017 disc with one featuring five sonatas, again demonstrating his subtlety and ability to reveal telling details and inner lines without underlining or excessive attention-drawing. Those who enjoy Haydn's stormy minor key symphonies such as La passione and Lamentatione will find the B minor Sonata a treat, with McCawley delivering a dark and ferocious tragic finale. Enjoy too the aria-like lament of The Sonata in E minor, operatic in a Mozartian style. McCawley also catches the powdered wig and rococo elegance of Haydn's minuets without

Ex Cathedra B minor Mass review

AN EMOTIONALLY LIGHT B MINOR MASS BACH B MINOR MASS Ex Cathedra at Birmingham Town Hall **** Sunday afternoon saw two examples of German culture cheek-by-jowl. Outside in Victoria Square was the tawdry, catchpenny Frankfurt Christmas Market drawing the crowds, the easily inebriated and the pickpockets. Within the adjacent Town Hall one of the world's greatest chamber choirs was performing one of Germany's, indeed the world's, greatest choral masterpieces. Jeffrey Skidmore had selected Bach's Mass in B minor for this special concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of his founding of Ex Cathedra, and a fascinating programme-note traced the history of changing performing styles every time the choir has offered it over the years. The performing style on this occasion could not have been bettered. The word "lightness" kept cropping up in my reviewing-notes, with a delicacy from the choristers which meant every note in Bach's running passage-wor