Showing posts from October, 2020

latest CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENJOYS ITALIAN OPERA, CRAMER, SHOSTAKOVICH, GURNEY AND HOWELLS IN HIS LATEST CD REVIEWS ANIMA RARA: Jaho / Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana / Battistoni ★★★★★ Ermonela Jaho devotes her album to arias associated with Rosina Storchio who sang Cio-Cio San in the 1904 premiere of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. It's a perfect fit for the Albanian soprano whose performance at Covent Garden in 2017 was greeted rapturously. This album begins and ends with Un bel di, vedremo and Tu?Tu? Piccolo Iddio and show Jaho's strengths: intense emotional identification with a role, fearless high notes and a touch of spinto steel. She does vocal fireworks too – the twelve-minute mad scene from Mascagni's Lodoletta (one of several rarities included) is a tour-de-force. Despite the airbrushed cover photo Jaho is no ingenue but a mature singer (46) at the height of her powers. Her Violetta oozes knowledge of the world (passion, regret) – she has all the notes for t

Latest CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE'S LATEST CD REVIEWS, BRAHMS AND LISZT AMONG THEM LISZT & THALBERG: Marc-André Hamelin ★★★★★ Aren't opera transcriptions passé nowadays with the originals available on disc, download and video? Hear Hamelin play Liszt's Reminiscences de Norma and one is disabused of such a naive notion. Liszt captures the essence of Bellini's three-hour Druidic drama in just over seventeen minutes: themes, arias (the divine Casta Diva) and duets are not spatchcocked together but seamlessly integrated. Seven minutes of furious F minor of Verdi's tragedy Ernani is just as effective. Hamelin's playing is phenomenal – dexterity, clarity and nuance everything one could desire. If fantasies on Rossini's Moses in Egypt and Donizetti's Don Pasquale – by Sigismond Thalberg – can't match his rival Liszt's for imagination they are still very enjoyable. Liszt declared Hexaméron "a monster": a bizarre set of seven variations on the mar

CBSO Brass Concert review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE RAVES ABOUT THE CBSO BRASS CONCERT ENGLISH BRASS CBSO at the CBSO Centre, Birmingham ★★★★★ "A masterpiece...fiendish...Paganini for valved instruments", was how CBSO trombonist Anthony Howe described Sir Malcolm Arnold's Symphony for Brass to us. Arnold knew brass playing at first hand, as the London Philharmonic's principal trumpet. This four-movement work combines his familiar fluency with great technical sophistication. He surely wore an impish grin when composing the finale's fugue. Arnold, like his musical idol Mahler, often put popular and profound together to disconcerting effect. Arnold begins the third movement in film score mode but then splices in an ominous Wagnerian descending figure. Was that Wotan's spear? The CBSO's eleven players rose to all its challenges: the opening flashes and scintillations; the high-lying staccato lines really pinged out; the aching, melancholy opening of the allegretto for two trumpets. T

Why is Symphony Hall still dark?

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY LAMENTS THE CONTINUED DARKNESS OF BIRMINGHAM'S SYMPHONY HALL DARK SYMPHONY HALL A few weeks ago I drove down to the south coast, passing through the autumnal New Forest, and arriving at Poole in Dorset. And there I attended (and reviewed on worldwide media) the first post-lockdown concert given by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, at their home base in the Lighthouse Arts Centre. The organisation was immaculate. Socially-distanced seats were personally allocated, volunteer stewards (so happy to see their concert hall functioning again) had been coached in their tasks and helpfully directed us, even to the loos, and then the orchestra appeared. On an extended platform, the distancing of the orchestra was carefully preserved. Some of the brass were situated way up in the gallery, there were partitions between the winds and the strings, the percussion were carefully tucked away, but here was a a full orchestra performing in front of a live, en

Fitzwilliam String Quartet at the Dream Factory, Warwick

HAYDN BRINGS THE EVENING TO LIFE FITZWILLIAM STRING QUARTET at The Dream Factory, Warwick **** One good thing to have come out of the pandemic crisis is the way it has caused concert promoters to find new ways of presenting events, and the wily Richard Phillips, with the experience of mounting over 4000 concerts behind him, came up with a winning solution. He moved Leamington Music from its usual home base in that town's Pump Rooms to the Dream Factory, a highly flexible performing space between Warwick and Junction 15 of the M40, and a venue which on the evidence of this Tuesday evening proved accommodating and amenable. Its high roof makes for an attractive, open acoustic, and the large hall area made social distancing simple to organise with personally identified seating bubbles.. This was a delayed celebration of Richard's 80th birthday, and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet in fact began in celebratory mode, with an item extra to the programme, announcing Purce

English Symphony Orchestra review

ENGLISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA STREAMS AN IMAGINATIVE CONCERT VISIONS OF CHILDHOOD English Symphony Orchestra at Wyastone Leys English Symphony Orchestra's latest streamed concert, Visions of Childhood, was built around the chamber-sized reduction of Mahler's Fourth Symphony made by Erwin Stein for the ground-breaking series of private concerts created a century ago by Schoenberg to offer performance opportunities to his students. So we ended with the finale of that symphony, "Das Himmlische Leben", soprano April Fredrick so resourcefully communicative, the tiny ESO remarkably sonorous under Kenneth Woods' quietly urbane conducting. This instrumental complement, brass replaced by a piano and harmonium, had in fact occasioned the strange arrangement by Woods of Wagner's Siegfried Idyll which began this beautifully-filmed event. The composer himself had scored the work originally for a tiny chamber ensemble (I have conducted it) including a pair of h

CBSO Live review

MAGGIE COTTON ENJOYS RARE OCTETS GIVEN LIVE BY THE CBSO A TOAST TO THE TWENTIES CBSO Live at the CBSO Centre This was the title of a treat bringing us Octets of the 1920s, celebrating both the decade of the then City of Birmingham Orchestra's birth, as well as rarely heard music played for a masked and well spaced audience, eager to hear our musicians at last after months of Covid Lockdown. Initial studies of engineering and mathematics ushered in Edgard Varese's musical genius. We certainly appreciated the explanatory programme notes for his Octandre a mind-blowing work for winds and bass,! but with smiles from a bemused audience. A world premiere from Grace-Evangeline Mason (b. Oct 1994) "My thoughts fly in at your window", commissioned for the orchestra's centenary year, was greeted with curiosity and delight.. Sturdy fortissimos offset a sonorous solo cello as we listened to second-movement chirping 'As a flock of wild birds'

Latest CD reviews

NEW REVIEWS OF BEETHOVEN, FILM MUSIC, BACH AND MAHLER CDs FROM NORMAN STINCHCOMBE BEETHOVEN: Midori / Lucerne Festival Strings ★★★★ Midori was a child prodigy but has only now, at the age of forty-eight, recorded Beethoven's concerto. It almost didn't happen. Scheduled as part of a Swiss concert in March, followed by a UK and Far East tour, Covid struck and the concert was pulled at 48 hours notice – but the recording was allowed to go ahead. This obviously focused the minds of soloists and orchestra, "the recording experience felt as if we were racing against the clock," said Midori. The urgency manifests itself in flowing speeds, no dreamy lingering or triple underlined point-making, but great elan, transparency and unanimity. There was no conductor, but leader Daniel Dodds is credited and I assume he was de facto director taking his cue from Midori – she and the players were all "breathing in harmony", she added. Beethoven's G major and F majo

English Symphony Orchestra's new season

ENGLISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA'S INNOVATIVE NEW SEASON KENNETH WOODS AND THE ENGLISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA by Christopher Morley It is heartwarming to see our musical organisations emerging blinking, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed into the post-lockdown warmth. Let's not party-poop here by wondering how long this much-needed release is going to last, but instead concentrate on the delights currently on offer. The English Symphony Orchestra is certainly doing its bit. Performing at Wyastone Leys in Herefordshire's beautiful Wye valley, it launched last month its "Music at Wyastone" online series of concerts, including a performance of the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, soprano April Fredrick, herself only recently recovered from the Covid-19 virus, the soloist. Fredrick, ESO Affiliate Artist, returns on October 18 for the orchestra's next streamed concert, "Visions of Childhood", with works by Mahler, Schubert, Wagner (Siegfried Idyll) an

Mendelssohn & the Schumanns, D'Erlanger & Dunhill, Napravnik and Brahms CD reviews

TWO EXCITING DISCOVERIES AMONG NORMAN STINCHCOMBE'S LATEST CD REVIEWS MENDELSSOHN & SCHUMANN, THE LEIPZIG CIRCLE Vol II: London Bridge Trio ★★★★ With classical concerts currently as scarce as good news this Somm live recording – a generous 83+ minutes – is an enjoyable substitute. Finely played and imaginatively programmed. Mendelssohn's D minor trio will surprise anyone thinking his music is merely cosy. The furious agitato opening movement and concluding assai appassionato don't sound like Queen Victoria's favourite composer. The players – David Adams (violin), Daniel Tong (piano) and Kate Gould (cello) – excel, even if the can't quite match the flair of the Fischer, Gilad, Müller-Schott recording (Pentatone). Wonder-woman Clara Schumann – concert pianist, mother-of-eight and husband Robert's emotional crutch – somehow found time to compose a delightful Piano Trio in G minor. No tempestuous emotion here – enough of that at home – it's sunny mus

Peter Donohoe Stratford review

PETER DONOHOE IN TREMENDOUS FORM AT THE STRATFORD MUSIC FESTIVAL PETER DONOHOE Stratford Play House ***** Replacing what had originally been planned pre-pandemic as a full-length recital, Peter Donohoe gave the Stratford Music Festival a lunchtime hour packed with expressive insights and revealing command of piano technique. The audience was packed as much as it could be in these socially-distanced times, with staggered seating in the raked area and table seating at floor level. With little lamps on the tables and hostess-trolley bar service, there was a decidedly continental, cabaret feel to proceedings, and the atmosphere was lovely. My only complaint is that Stratfordians seem to feel themselves exempt from lockdown rules; so many were maskless, not all of them imbibing. Piano sound from the Fazioli placed directly under the wooden canopy ceiling was brightly immediate, but how Donohoe manipulated its colours was breathtaking. All three sonatas were in a minor key,


NORMAN STINCHOMBE REVIEWS CD RELEASES OF SHOSTAKOVICH, BEETHOVEN AND A TOWERING SIBELIUS RARITY SHOSTAKOVICH: Gerhardt / West German Radio SO / Saraste ★★★ Alban Gerhardt's booklet note pays tribute to Rostropovich – for whom Shostakovich wrote the two cello concertos – but reveals how their interpretations differ. It primarily concerns tempo markings towards which Rostropovich was famously cavalier, although the composer never seemed to mind. In the second concerto, from 1966, all three movements have the same tempo marking which Gerhardt adheres to by playing the slower first movement in cut-time alla breve. It sounds more urgent and less introspective – Gerhard takes 11.26 compared to 15.06 for Mischa Maisky (DG). It makes the concerto more cohesive but concomitantly reduces the contrast between the Largo and the succeeding madcap allegrettos. It's an interesting experiment. Gerhardt's quicker opening to the first concerto is less successful and it's not ju

Orchestra of the Swan review

A GLORIOUS RESURRECTION FOR STRATFORD'S ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN Stratford Play House ***** "The Living Orchestra -- New Beginnings" was the totally appropriate title for the Orchestra of the Swan's first concert of its new season, resurrecting itself after over half a year of lockdown. Of course the set-up was different: a small group of players socially-distanced, a one-way system into the auditorium for a restricted audience (many of whom, by the way, were not wearing the stipulated face-masks), a bar operating from air-hostess trollies, and a repeat performance of this one-hour programme after the venue had undergone a 90-minute deep clean. The enterprise was greeted with the enthusiasm it undoubtedly deserved, and the joy of the players at performing together again at last was palpable. Also evident was a remarkable clarity of tone and line from the ensemble (13 players the entire complement), and the confidence with which each

Haydn and Beethoven CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE GIVES FIVE STARS TO NEW HAYDN AND BEETHOVEN RELEASES HAYDN: STRING QUARTETS Op.33 / Doric String Quartet ★★★★★ Haydn said his Op.33 was written "in a new and special way" – so prepare to be amused, surprised and discombobulated. The Doric String Quartet hit all Haydn's targets in the bull's eye. The B minor quartet's opening wrong foots us: What key are we in? Is the cellist playing the wrong notes? The Dorics play the repeat and make it sound even stranger second time around. The E flat Major quartet is nicknamed "The Joke" – no wonder. The scherzo sounds reassuringly like old fashioned minuet but in the trio a folk band suddenly appears with a drunken first fiddle, playing outrageous swoops before dozing off – violinist Alex Redington having a great time. The final movement stops abruptly or does it silently carry on, the musical equivalent of an M.C. Escher never-ending staircase? The Doric's wittily seductive playing is

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra review

TRIUMPH THROUGH DEFIANCE Christopher Morley reviews Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's first live concert since lockdown BOURNEMOUTH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA The Lighthouse, Poole Dougie Scarfe, Chief Executive of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, greeted us from the pinnacle of the Lighthouse's stage area. "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back after the longest break in our 127-year history." He concluded by reassuring us that "full-scale symphony concerts with full-scale orchestras will eventually return." For now, though, this opening concert of the BSO's ambitious autumn season, streamed online as well as playing live to a carefully socially-distanced audience, was given with various modifications above which the whole setup of the orchestra, both front and back of a specially extended stage, rose triumphantly. Indeed, in my mind I christened this remarkable event "Triumph through Defiance". Triumph over Covid restrictions which r