Showing posts from February, 2020

CBSO Foulds, Walton, Vaughan Williams review

A VARIED ALL-ENGLISH PROGRAMME CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Barely two decades span the composing of the three works we heard in this all-English programme, but they are all markedly different in effect. The CBSO and Sakari Oramo led the mini-revival of interest in the neglected composer John Foulds, producing two CDs of his music, and here we began with a return to his April-England. The piece is an example of his Celtic belief in the creative influence of equinoxes, and this tone-poem, originally for piano, gives us what exactly it says on the tin. It begins with a sense of awakening in the countryside which is obviously English (perky, lively woodwind to the fore here) and embraces some deeply portentous chords reflecting Foulds' belief in pantheism. The CBSO under Michael Seal gave a willing, generous performance, and there was some particularly interesting timpani-writing. In the interim between the initial conception of April-England and its orchestration, Willi

Norman Stinchcombe reviews two new CDs with Russian connections

THE RUSSIAN CONNECTION PROKOFIEV WAR SONATAS: Steven Osborne (Hyperion CDA 68298) ★★★★★ Prokofiev composed his piano sonatas Nos 6, 7 and 8 between 1939 and 1944 and their anger and ferocity reflect the events of what Russians call "The Great Patriotic War". That Prokofiev, who made his reputation as a keyboard virtuoso, premiered the sixth and left its successors to Richter and Gilels indicates the exalted level of technique they require. There can be no compromises, fudges or smudges. The concluding Precipitato movement of the seventh batters soloist and listener alike. Steven Osborne's fiery and supremely articulate performance matches the young Ashkenazy's legendary 1967 recording (Decca-deleted) – and is even faster. There are also moments of nostalgic tenderness such as eighth sonata's andante second movement, a delicately tripping minuet marked sognando, which is suitably dreamy under Osborne's tender hands. The sonatas were recorded in an air

Orchestra of the Swan and Lauren Zhang

SOME WELL-MEANT ADVICE ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN Stratford Play House *** This is difficult, but these remarks are well-meant, and I hope constructive. Lauren Zhang is a brilliant pianist, more than able to play the notes of every work she tackles (her Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto with the CBSO which won her the BBC Young Musician accolade a couple of years ago was jaw-dropping). She has a wide dynamic range, and a fluency and muscle-memory which are truly enviable. Her performance of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with the Orchestra of the Swan was technically remarkable, but there were aspects of her presentation, however, which now need urgent attention. This account came over as aloof, the soloist engaging not at all with the orchestral players (it is always so heartening to see the soloist turning to savour orchestral tuttis), nor with the audience. A soloist should own the audience, not keep them at arm's-length, and however much the packed audience applauded

CBSO Youth Orchestra review

FRESHNESS AND MATURITY CBSO YOUTH ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Every member of the CBSO Youth Orchestra plays with a technical skill way beyond their years; that's a given. Add that expertise to an unjaded freshness of approach, and the result is performances of extraordinary vitality and exhilaration. And add to the podium Kazuki Yamada whose enthusiasm is infectious, and whose respect for his young charges is palpable, and the outcome is something very special. Yamada is the popular Principal Guest Conductor of the parent CBSO, whose players devotedly coach these rising stars during an intensive week-long residency, and the chemistry between him and these youthful instrumentalists brought about a memorable concert on Sunday afternoon. Dreamtime, by Yamada's Japanese compatriot Toru Takemitsu, is an absorbing work originally written for dance, and indeed shows the influence of the composer's great role model Debussy's Jeux.. Its reflections on barely-for

CBSO review 20.2.20

AURAL SPECTACLE CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Vilde Frang had the cruellest of rewards after delivering Thursday afternoon's knockout performance of Shostakovich's fearsomely difficult First Violin Concerto: she missed her flight from Birmingham Airport. Her taxi had been unable to battle through stationary traffic in the underpass, she told me when I bumped into her as she returned to her hotel, and she thought it would be a good idea for me to write a review of the Birmingham traffic situation. So I am. Her response to the Shostakovich, a work searching technically, physically and emotionally, had gripped us all, right from its eloquently sustained opening, Frang's grieving lines, muscularly accented, supported by a weight yet flexible CBSO under principal guest conductor Kazuki Yamada. She interacted particularly sensitively with the orchestral strings here. Following a skittish, skeletal scherzo we had further evidence of Frang's ability to trace long-s

CBSO Berg, Schubert review

NO ROMANCE OR MYSTERY CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★ The gear change required between the opening andante and subsequent allegro sections in the first movement of Schubert's Symphony No. 9 is notoriously difficult to navigate. Start with the famous solo horn theme too slowly and portentously and when it returns triumphantly in the coda it'll sound like a speeded-up record. Juanjo Mena avoided this pitfall; the tempi matched seamlessly and there was no need for an old-school ritardando. There was a price to pay though as Mena's relentless briskness gave it a Rossini-like lightness and banality. Elspeth Dutch's horn call was perfect for Mena's approach but never suggested the promise of romance and mystery that left Schumann awe-struck. As we raced onward the symphony was gradually stripped of its majesty with only small pockets of beauty as compensation. Mena used a large body of strings but, in not doubling the wind section, left much of their music inaudible.

Reviews of Dvorak, Martinu and Dohnanyi CD releases

A CONCERTO FOR TEN THUMBS DVORAK, MARTINU: Kahánek / Bamberg Symphoniker / Hrusa (Supraphon SU 4236-2) ★★★★★ Stephen Hough sees Dvorak's piano concerto as a "glorious lyrical work" yet as "a concerto for ten thumbs". The soloist's part is amazingly awkward, Dvorak was no piano virtuoso, but without the reward of exciting keyboard fireworks – its not an adversarial work. The pianist is a first among equals and the Czech pianist Ivo Kahánek, like Hough, plays it that way and reveals its many felicities. The Andante sostenuto movement has one of Dvorak's irresistible melodies – sample it and doubts will be overcome. Kahánek's teamwork with the Bamberg players, under his attentive countryman Jakub Hrusa, is ideal. Hough, live with the CBSO on Hyperion, paired Dvorak with Schumann but Kahánek's choice of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu's two-movement Piano Concerto No.4 "Incantation" (1956) is a more illuminating one. Soloist and o

Iceland Symphony Orchestra review

NORDIC FRESH AIR ICELAND SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Making its first-ever UK tour, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra brought a breath of clean Nordic air to Symphony Hall, playing with a freshness and enthusiasm which made all of us in a well-filled auditorium feel warmly embraced. These charming players responded with delight to the hall's qualities (their own magnificent Harpa hall in Reykjavik was designed by the same Artec company), and Yan Pascal Tortelier, who previously conducted here with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, relished the opportunities to nuance phrasing and dynamics. Movements from Bizet's L'Arlesienne, scored for large orchestra now instead of its original pit band, made a sturdy opener, gorgeously coloured, followed by an absolutely stunning account of Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand. Soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet relished the sheer physical aspects of delivering this masterpiece, sweeping across the keyboard, bal

Thomas Trotter's 800th city recital

800 RECITALS AND STILL COUNTING THOMAS TROTTER Symphony Hall ***** Only seven people have been in the Birmingham City Organist saddle since 1834, and Thomas Trotter, the current occupant, has been in the loft since 1983, overtaking in longevity all his predecessors (even the great George Thalben-Ball) bar one -- James Stimpson, who presided for 44 years. Given the very young age at which Trotter was appointed, I anticipate (and hope to be there at) an event in 2027 which marks his overtaking this milestone. Meanwhile, this present recital was a joyous affair, Trotter's 800th in his role, attended both by royalty and a multitude of schoolchildren, and presented by the organist with both modesty and elan to a warmly appreciative audience. The recital was dedicated to the memory of Tom Caulcott, Chief Executive of the City of Birmingham during the years in which the International Convention Centre housing Symphony Hall was conceived, and who indeed had the casting v

Birmingham Philharmonic review

REMARKABLE NEW TUBA CONCERTO BIRMINGHAM PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA Elgar Concert Hall, Birmingham University **** The Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra is right up there among the country's top amateur orchestras. It is also a very friendly one, and nowhere was that more apparent than in this heartwarming concert built around dedications to recently-departed members. Bassoonist Mike Syrett was remembered in a stunningly moving account of John Williams' Hymn to the Fallen (from the film Saving Private Ryan), voices from the City of Birmingham Choir joining the BPO (and what crisp snare-drum contributions) in an account under conductor Michael Lloyd of Brucknerian gravity. Another bassoonist, Sue Peters, was commemorated one of her favourite pieces, Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody no.1, woodwind exotically interweaving, the central viola solo eloquently given, and everything well driven in this orchestral showpiece, Lloyd producing some delicate dynamic engineering. The Adagiet

CBSO review 8.2.20

HAIR-TEARING FRENZY IN BERLIOZ CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ Six years ago the San Francisco orchestra came here and gave us a Symphonie Fantastique which was as perfectly honed and smooth as a well-oiled machine, every surface polished and buffed to a dazzling shine. It was also about as intoxicating as a cold alcohol-free beer. Klaus Mäkelä and the CBSO gave us the real thing, music with the visceral kick of grain spirit followed by several double espressos. The young Finn channelled his inner angst-ridden romantic hero and inspired the orchestra to a magnificent performance. Here was young Berlioz's masterpiece in toto, its depths plumbed and heights soared to, rocketing from languorous debilitating ennui to hair-tearing frenzy, from passages of utmost quiet and tenderness to a raucous, brazen, grotesque finale. Memorable details abounded: Rachael Pankhurst's dolorous cor anglais and the fiddles' accompanying blanched desolation; a corps of energized timpani that made