Showing posts from September, 2020

Changes to our web site

  Good morning, Readers, and welcome to some changes on our web site. A few technical upgrades to the way in which the site operates have been incorporated into a change of domain name from '' to the slightly more nationalistic one of ''. Using the 'magic' of the internet there is no immediate need for you to do anything. The 'blog' will be automatically accessed whichever domain address is entered into the browser. However, from next April onwards (in 2021) the use of '' will be discontinued. To ensure that you keep up to date we would recommend that you change your browser book marks well before we make the change from .com to .co uk. so that you can be sure of staying up to date. Who knows, we might even have a concert review for you by that time. Best Wishes Chris Morley and Mike Spencer (webmaster)

Schubert and Ravel CD reviews

NEW CDS OF SCHUBERT AND RAVEL REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE SCHUBERT: Thymos Quartet / Eschenbach ★★★★ The Trout Quintet is probably on everyone's list of favourite chamber works and is guaranteed to evoke smiles from all but the most misanthropic musical curmudgeon. Composed when Schubert was just 22-years-old it combines tunefulness, wit and effortless charm – all captured is this delightful new performance. It celebrated Christoph Eschenbach's eightieth birthday and the veteran pianist / conductor – sometimes mannered in both roles – gives us a beautifully relaxed autumnal performance ably supported by bassist Yann Dubost and members of the Thymos Quartet. It's a broad one, including the first movement repeat, with tempi slower than the effervescent Curzon / Vienna Octet Players classic 1957 account. Eschenbach's pellucid playing, and the string players loving support, supply a sparky scherzo, scintillating variations and lively finale. The fillers – a selec

Orchestra of the Swan's new season

ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN PLAN BRAVE NEW SEASON ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN by Christopher Morley These are uncertain times, and as I write the uncertainty looms larger. However, concert-giving organisations have been making heroic plans, and deserve for them to come to fruition. One such is the Stratford-based Orchestra of the Swan, announcing an imaginative autumn season at the town's Play House, combining both well-known music as well as works by unjustly neglected composers. Debbie Jagla, OOTS Managing Director, tells me how she and her team envisage the audience experience, and how it will lend itself to social distancing. "This is an interesting one and something we have battled with, but we think we've come up with the answer!", she says. "The first concert on October 6th will take place 'in the round' under the central lighting gantry, which means that we make the best use of the venue acoustic and enable as many people as p

Ex Cathedra review

EX CATHEDRA CREATE A LITTLE GEM OUT OF LOCKDOWN "EX CATHEDRA: OUR FIRST 50 YEARS" ***** Had lockdown not descended so cruelly upon us all, Ex Cathedra would currently be celebrating its Golden Anniversary, marking 50 years of glorious music-making under the direction of the chamber choir's founder, Jeffrey Skidmore. But necessity is the mother of invention, and just as the CBSO created an absorbing streamed concert two weekends ago to mark the centenary of its inaugural concert, so Ex Cathedra have done something equally as remarkable with this online presentation currently available on YouTube (donations from viewers would be gratefully accepted). At just over half an hour, this concert brings film of previous performances, not least Ex Cathedra's atmospheric "Christmas by Candlelight" presentations at St Paul's Church in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, but also online accounts of works premiered by Ex Cathedra during the choir's prou

Stevens and Berkeley CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS NEW CDS OF ROBIN STEVENS AND LENNOX BERKELEY STEVENS: Behn Quartet / Timothée Botbol ★★★★ Robin Stevens' unusual career – schoolteacher, church musician, pastoral worker, cellist in a string quartet, and with a compositional life blighted by a seventeen-year debilitating illness – gives his music a strongly individual character. It never feels hidebound by his academic training but is eclectic, quirky and questing. There's a touch of Nielsen's Four Temperaments in his Second String Quartet subtitled Three Portraits, with its "Impulsive One", "God Seeker" and "Arguer" vividly characterized by the Behn Quartet, which features the CBSO's Kate Oswin on first violin. The String Quintet, with Timothée Botbol on second cello, is from 1981 and flirts in a Walton-like way with jazz and blues rhythms, with a very effective slow third movement. The String Quartet No.1 is of tougher material, densely wrought, often

Beyond the Notes review

RICHARD BRATBY REVIEWS A SCINTILLATING NEW AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY A SASSY STRATFORD LASS BEYOND THE NOTES Stephannie Williams still remembers the day she organised a Viking funeral in Stratford-upon-Avon. It's not a typical part of the job description for the director of an arts festival – but anyone who attended the Stratford-upon-Avon Festival during her years at the helm knew to expect the unexpected. 1990's Festival had a Nordic theme, and as soon as Stephannie decided that it would end with a Viking ship going up in flames on the Avon – well, when Stephannie (known to friends as Steve) decides something's going to happen, it usually does. The precise (and frequently hilarious) details – a saga of drunken boat-owners, precariously-timed pyrotechnics and the life-size rubber corpse of King Ragnor – are among the many colourful tales recounted in her new memoir, Beyond the Notes. Fr

Adrian Lester

ADRIAN LESTER , CBSO PRESENTER Apologies to Adrian Lester, the warm and welcoming presenter of the CBSO's Centenary Concert, whose name I omitted to mention in my review. My only excuse is that I was writing very late at night... Christopher Morley

CBSO Centenary Celebration

STAGGERING CBSO CENTENARY CELEBRATION CBSO CENTENARY CONCERT PRG Live Stage Studio, Longbridge, Birmingham **** On September 5 1920 the City of Birmingham Orchestra (as it was then) gave its inaugural concert in the Theatre Royal in Birmingham's New Street. Exactly a century later it presented a celebratory event -- thanks to lockdown, in a car warehouse in Longbridge, the heart of the city's motorland. The sheer achievement in mounting this celebration is mind-blowing. After split rehearsals, half the complement at a time, the orchestra eventually came together in carefully socially distanced spacing (and with sanitising buffers between the brass and the woodwind in front of them) for this joyous performance under the conductor who brought them to the world-class status they continue to maintain, Sir Simon Rattle. Where was their current musical director? Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, home in Salzburg (lucky girl) on maternity leave, paid several filmed tributes to

Marriage of Figaro review

LIVE OPERA RETURNS, AND IT IS SO EMOTIONAL THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO The Hewletts, Cheltenham ***** Six months after being locked out of reviewing, my return to Grub Street brought one of the most emotional artistic experiences I can ever remember. Hewletts Opera is a newly-formed company of highly-talented young singers, named after the stunning 18th-century house commanding wonderful views across from the top of what seems an interminable hill climbing out of Cheltenham The choice for this initial, one-off performance was Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, and the mouth watered at the thought of the Act Four garden setting taking place in the open-air of these grounds. We were not disappointed. Night-light torches flickered right from the beginning of this performance, and really came into their own as the sun began to set while matters neared their resolution. All the action proceeded on and around a paved courtyard surrounded by useful flowerbeds, and with a stately sta