Showing posts from 2021

Ex Cathedra Candelight review

EX CATHEDRA'S CANDLELIGHT CHRISTMAS RETURNS Tuesday 21st December 2021 EX CATHEDRA St. Paul's Church, Birmingham **** After a year's hiatus which necessitated a filmed event in an empty Symphony Hall in 2020, Ex Cathedra's 'Christmas Music by Candlelight' made a welcome return to the Midlands this month in front of an expectant – and grateful – live audience. This immersive experience, starting with a candle-lit procession with tolling bell and whispered texts, lead into a comforting performance of Ruairi Edwards' 'All will be well' – surely the kind of reassurance we need in these uncertain times? Equally heartening was the German lullaby 'Still, still, still', its beauty lying in its simplicity, perfectly rendered by the Ex Cathedra tenors and basses. Composers have been busy during lockdown, and this eclectic concert programme featured new works by no less than five local luminaries, highlights of which included an affect

Covent garden Tosca review

WONDERFUL TOSCA AT COVENT GARDEN TOSCA Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (December 17) ***** Far from being what Joseph Kerman famously, pompously and wrong-headedly described as a "shabby little shocker", Puccini's Tosca is a masterpiece of insight into human motivation and aspiration, and has each of us looking with recognition into our own responses. It embraces hope, despair, loyalty, sacrifice and extremes of courage. Nothing shabby about those sentiments. And this revival of Jonathan Kent's production, curated here by Amy Lane, focusses exactly on the matter in hand, firmly in the opera's context of Rome's response to Napoleonic political upheavals, and with no distracting fripperies brought by self-indulgent "director's opera". Paul Brown's designs set the scene brilliantly – the intricate gated mysteries of Sant' Andrea della Valle's crypt, the sombre opulence of Scarpia's Palazzo Farnese apartment

Violin, flute and piano at Wimbledon Common and Much Marcle

AN EXCITING NEW YOUNG TRIO LANA TROTOVSEK, BORIS BIZJAK AND MARIA CANYIGUERAL Southside House Wimbledon, and Hellens, Much Marcle There is a new trio on the block, and this is no piano trio or string trio. Lana Trotovsek, Boris Bizjak and Maria Canyigueral are a refreshing and intriguing combination of violin, flute and piano, young, personable, and bringing both enthusiasm and top-class musicality to their performances. Last weekend, they offered the same programme both in the elegant, be-chandeliered music-room of atmospheric Southside House on Wimbledon Common, and next afternoon in the differently atmospheric medieval Great Barn at Hellens in Much Marcle. Both concerts received rapturous receptions. The acoustics were markedly different, Southside cosy and warm, Hellens clear and airy, but the instrumentalists successfully scaled their delivery to adjust to both. Trotovsek and Bizjak launched proceedings with a Duo for Violin and Flute by Franz Hoffmeister, certa

CBSO Jonathan Dove premiere reviewed

CBSO PREMIERES JONATHAN DOVE'S "IN EXILE" CBSO Symphony Hall **** "Daybreak again" begins Jonathan Dove's In Exile, but don't expect a radiant sunrise. The dawn that opens this latest CBSO Centenary commission – half song-cycle, half cello concerto – is overcast and ashen, fading in from the basses and up through the orchestra in layers of sombre grey while the cello of Raphael Wallfisch spins an endless, yearning stream of heartbroken melody. The clue's in the title, of course. In Exile is dedicated to Wallfisch's mother Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, whose skill as a cellist saved her from the gas chamber at Auschwitz, and the whole piece is a meditation on the pain of exile. So (as Dove explained from the platform), the solo cello (Wallfisch) and the baritone soloist (Sir Simon Keenlyside) represent a single individual, with Alasdair Middleton's text (collaged from various sources, with an ear for poetic resonance rather

Shrewsbury Choral's Spirit of Christmas review

SHREWSBURY KINDLES THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS Shrewsbury Abbey **** This old grouch has never felt so Christmassy for years, and it is all thanks to what happened in Shrewsbury last Saturday. Shrewsbury Choral brought to life "The Spirit of Christmas" together with the choirs of Meole Brace School and Prestfelde School, accompanied by the spirited Meole Brace Chamber Orchestra under the clear, urbane baton of Martin Charles Cook. This was a wonderful celebration from participants of all ages, reflected in the community audience packing this huge, ancient building. We heard well-delivered orchestral offerings, with a particularly moving Hansel and Gretel Overture (wonderful winds, the orchestra needing a few more strings), contributions from the children which caught the heart (one little dot jigging along gleefully), though perhaps needing a bit more forward projection towards the audience, and sonorous singing from Shrewsbury Choral itself. An

National Symphony Orchestra review

JOHN LENEHAN'S EMPEROR CONCERTO AT CHELTENHAM TOWN HALL NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Cheltenham Town Hall **** Deprived of the regrettably-cancelled visit of an orchestra from Armenia, Cheltenham had instead to enjoy a stand-in concert from the National Symphony Orchestra, a squad of players expert in every department, and producing a wonderfully rich sound. We began with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro Overture, big and bold under Rimma Sushanskaya's emphatic conducting, and followed with the "Emperor" Piano Concerto by Beethoven, a composer who would so have loved to have studied under Mozart. In fact there were plenty of Mozartian qualities from the excellent soloist John Lenehan, with great clarity of detail, a persuasive balancing of textures between the hands, and a dramatic delineation of dynamics, not least in the inner musings of the slow movement – leading to a well-sprung finale and a conclusion where the timpanist and Lenehan listened to each

Canteloube, Benda and Korngold releases reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe

CANTELOUBE, BENDA AND KORNGOLD CDs REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE CANTELOUBE 'Chants d'Auvergne': Sampson / Tapiola Sinfonietta / Rophé ★★★★★ Canteloube's exquisitely spruced-up and polished versions of folk songs from the Auvergne region have been well-served on disc and Carolyn Sampson's is one of the best. Her voice doesn't have the rich, creamy quality of Kiri Te Kanawa on her complete Decca set – for languorous beauty her 'Baïlèro' is unmatched – but Sampson's lightness and clarity (in 'Lo fiolairé' for example) are very rewarding. So too is her vivid characterization, whether as a lusty farmer's daughter or the dreamy shepherdess of 'La pastoura als camps'. Sampson selected twenty-five songs from Canteloube's fives series. She ensures that the many slow songs, like 'Pastourelle' and 'Brezairola', aren't blandly alike. She's aided by the alert and piquant playing of the Tapiola band under


WONDERFUL GERSHWIN AND RACHMANINOV FROM JOHN WILSON AND THE CBSO JOHN WILSON CONDUCTS THE CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Word has spread like wildfire over jungle drums that the CBSO is playing at the top of its even more than normally tremendous form. Combine this with an appearance by the wonderful conductor John Wilson in one of the orchestra's highly popular matinee concerts and you can put your money on a packed Symphony Hall such as we hearteningly experienced on Wednesday. The welcome this modest man received was long, warm and genuine from musicians and punters alike. One can understand why the players love him. He is so obviously well-prepared, rehearses meticulously, and yet brings a spark of spontaneity, perhaps in the nuanced moulding of a phrase, to his elegant, economical and crystal-clear platform manner. And he never seems to break sweat! Wilson is perhaps most renowned in the public perception for his brilliant direction of film scores and stage musicals. N

Saint-Saens, Purcell and Mozart CDs reviewed

A MAMMOTH SAINT-SAENS SET PLUS PURCELL AND MOZART REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE SAINT-SAËNS EDITION: Various artists ★★★★ This bumper 34 CD box set includes 600 works and contains many fine recordings with French performers dominating. The five symphonies are in the safe hands of conductor Jean Martinon with soloist Marie-Claire Alan in No.3 the Organ symphony. The five piano concertos are elegantly handled by Jean-Philippe Collard, with the RPO under Previn, in fine EMI digital 1980s sound. The violin concertos are equally good with Renaud Capuçon amongst the soloists. 'Samson et Dalila' appears twice: the magnificent 1963 recording under Prêtre with toweringly heroic Jon Vickers and magisterial Rita Gorr and a 1946 recording under Fourestier, smaller scale but more idiomatically French. Chamber and solos works are catered for and you can hear the composer on a 1919 acoustic recording. N.B. The Piano Quintet (disc 15 track 8) is marred by a mastering error. Purchase

Ex Cathedra review November 21

EX CATHEDRA JOURNEYS BACK TO ITS ROOTS EX CATHEDRA CONSORT Birmingham Town Hall ***** Earlier this week, Ex Cathedra received welcome news that they had been granted an award from the Government's Culture Recovery Fund. On tonight's evidence, I can see why: here was a carefully curated selection of English polyphony performed to the highest of standards by thirteen Ex Cathedra singers, including some current and former members of their choral scholarship programme. Billed as "Our First Love", this was a personal journey by conductor and founder of Ex Cathedra, Jeffrey Skidmore, through the music of his and the choir's roots: the golden age of the English Renaissance. The concert opener was Thomas Tallis's 'Lamentations of Jeremiah I' – the first item they sang in their inaugural concert of 1969 – its gently poised melodic lines emerging sensitively from the musical tapestry, fluidly paced by Skidmore throughout. Other items by Tallis inc

CBSO Cunning Little Vixen review

HUGE SYMPHONY TO NATURE THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN CBSO at Symphony Hall Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is a huge symphony to nature in operatic guise, and this utterly absorbing and enchanting semi-staged performance from a wonderfully attuned CBSO made me more aware of the anguished subtext than I ever have been in the many productions I have seen. Written by Janacek towards the end of his life, the opera poignantly sets the eternal cycle of nature's renewal in relief against the human condition's inexorable progress towards regretful decay. Nowhere is this juxtaposition more heartbreakingly obvious than in the very final scene, where the world-weary Forester, warmly and compellingly sung by Roland Wood, recoils at the annoying return of a "clammy little bugger" of a frog. "No, sir," pipes up the frog, "That was my grandfather." The frog was charmingly played by Ben Fletcher, his colleague children from Trinity Boys Choir an

Cello, Prokofiev and Candide CDs reviewed

NEW CDs REVIEWED, INCLUDING A SPARKLING CANDIDE BRITISH SOLO CELLO MUSIC: Isserlis / Momen ★★★★ The lockdown encouraged solo performers to do something slightly different. Steven Isserlis has recorded a personal disc which his entertaining anecdotal notes greatly enrich. His affectionate sketch of the eccentric Frank Merrick – the 17-year-old Isserlis often visited the 90-year-old's home – makes his performance of the Handelian 'Suite in the eighteenth century style' come alive in its first recording What a delightful work it is, the 'Air' and seven dance movements ranging, in Isserlis's words. "from the cheeky to the poignant". Britten's Cello Suite No.3 – written for Rostropovich – is more substantial, tinged with meditations on mortality with Isserlis's' playing particularly trenchant. It's a bonus to hear him in its four Russian folk themes, a helpful listening aid, where he is accompanied by pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen.

Cecil Aranonwitz International Viola Competition

ZOOM IN ON THE ARONQWITZ VIOLA COMPETITION CECIL ARONOWITZ INTERNATIONAL VIOLA COMPETITION Bradshaw Hall, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire **** Music-lovers the world over have been zooming into Royal Birmingham Conservatoire all week, watching the triennial holding of the Cecil Aronowitz International Viola Competition. Named after the great South African violist who became such a presence in this country, the competition was locked-down last year, and the accumulation of entries for its resuscitation now totalled no fewer than 93 hopefuls. 40 applicants were selected to perform in the competition, but Covid flight precautions prevented 16 from attending, with a total of 24 performing in the preliminary rounds, streamed online. Three contestants made it through to Friday's final, watched by nearly 6000 aficionados worldwide as well as by an enthusiastic live audience here in the Bradshaw Hall: the UK's Edgar Francis, Haneul Park from South Korea, and Noga Shaham f

CBSO Covid Requiem review

A VERY SPECIAL EVENING WITH THE CBSO A COVID REQUIEM CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** There was something almost sacramental about this sensitively-conceived, very special concert created to commemorate those close to the CBSO "family" who have passed away since the Covid pandemic began the best part of two years ago. The programme-book (and how good to have a genuine, properly produced example in one's hand again!) opened with many tributes to loved ones, all greatly moving, and then the hall darkened as an uninterrupted sequence of elegiac string music began. It was striking how music of this nature transports us across the centuries: Thomas Ades' O Albion brought surprising resonances of Elgar's Sospiri, Arvo Part's Fratres (Tomo Keller, director of the whole gamut, the brilliantly cross-stringing violin soloist here) evokes Vaughan Williams' Tallis Fantasia, and Samuel Barber's Adagio is just timeless for those it speaks to. The only exc

Norman Stinchcombe reviews new violin CDs

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDS FROM THREE DIFFERENT VIOLINISTS, ONE NOW AN ACCLAIMED CONDUCTOR, ANOTHER... UNCENSORED: Nigel Kennedy & Others ★ Whatever happened to Nigel Kennedy? From child prodigy speaking posh home counties English to foul-mouthed perpetually adolescent 63-year-old using a bizarre street-patois of his own devising. A gifted fiddler who once gave up performing "dead men's music" and then (without irony) played Jimi Hendrix, who was dead before Britten and Shostakovich. Perhaps his autobiography Uncensored will tell us. Apart from a fine recording of Bruch's first concerto, this catchpenny three CD set "tie-in" gives us bleeding chunks. There are two of Vivaldi's four seasons; three movements from two Bach concertos; one movement from Brahms and Karlowicz; two each from Elgar and Beethoven. The third CD has bits of Ellington and Gershwin and jams and improvisations from Kennedy's band. A nice bottle of Beaujolais, inni

CBSO Youth Orchestra

A TRIUMPHANT RETURN FROM THE CBSO YOUTH ORCHESTRA Symphony Hall ***** Sunday's triumphant return to Symphony Hall by the CBSO Youth Orchestra after such a long locked-down exile was heartening for so many reasons. Here were well over a hundred young musicians (obviously the peak of a pyramid of so many others spreading below) playing with a freshness and enthusiasm not always displayed by many professional ensembles, a joy of performing in one of the world's great concert-halls, and well-drilled onstage discipline (though the getting offstage uncertainties need working on). Add to the talent of these youngsters the sectional coaching expertise of players from the parent CBSO and the authoritative conducting of Michael Seal, who knows orchestral playing from a long-experience inside, and you have an alchemy which cannot go wrong. And didn't that turn into gold here! Dani Howard's Argentum was a fizzing programme-opener, teeming textures punctuated by heavy

CBSO review 27.10.21

BOTH RAVEL PIANO CONCERTOS IN THE SAME CONCERT! CBSO Symphony Hall ***** Hearing both Ravel piano concertos in the same CBSO concert was as if this reviewer had died and gone to heaven; and the quality of the performances was the icing on the cake, the gilt on the gingerbread, just stunning. Kirill Gerstein was the pianist, not so much a soloist but more an attentive collaborator with his orchestral colleagues, just one of the countless examples of his sensitive alertness being his empathetic accompanying of Rachael Pankhurst's cor anglais solo opening the central movement of the G major Concerto. Gerstein's brittle, glittering pianism throughout this jazzy work was a constant delight, interleaved with an occasional strongly-accentuated bass line, and his rapport with a conductor new to me, Kevin John Edusei, was heartwarming. Edusei is elegant in his communicative gestures, enthusing the orchestra, and he had introduced himself with a speech genuine in its de

Elgasr Song CD reviewed

ELGAR SONGS ON CHANDOS REVIEWED Where Corals Lie Sir Edward Elgar Sitkovetsky, Glynn Chandos 20236 First things first, with many congratulations on turning this release around so quickly, set down in spring, released in autumn – and recorded in the Yehudi Menuhin School, founded by the youthful young violinist who invigorated Elgar's final years. The acoustic here is wonderful, but recorded balance between soprano Julia Sitkovetsky and pianist Christopher Glynn is not too satisfactory; the fault lies at the feet of the composer. It was perhaps a mistake to begin with Sea Pictures, conceived so perfectly for voice and orchestra. Elgar's own piano version of this richly-textured song-cycle gives a thick prominence to the keyboard, clouding and indeed distancing vocal enunciation. Some of the piano contributions come over as grotesque, with unidiomatic octave tremolandi in the left hand. The orchestration is one of the redeeming features of this less-than-perfec

CBSO's "British Project" CD reviewed

UNMISSABLE CD FROM MIRGA AND THE CBSO Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla "The British Project" City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon) The title here is disappointingly misleading, encouraging us to expect further releases to follow this brilliant one. But since Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla has decided to relinquish her regrettably short-lived and occasionally spasmodic music directorship of the CBSO for "family reasons" (watch this space) this project may well go no further. Which is a huge pity, as the examples on this CD offer vibrant, fresh accounts of established masterpieces as well as of neglected ones, one of them a major one which desperately needs to become part of the repertoire canon of British music. This is the Symphonic Suite Christopher Palmer created from William Walton's ill-starred Troilus and Cressida, which has had such a bumpy ride in the opera-house for various reasons. The opera deserves so much better. Palmer's reconstr

John Gough's enthusiastic review of CBSO and Jess Gillam

JESS GILLAM'S SENSATIONAL AMERICAN ROADTRIP CBSO Symphony Hall ***** I think it is safe to say that this concert, billed as 'Jess Gillam's American Roadtrip' was a sensation. We heard a variety of less often performed repertoire as the concert charted a zigzag Pan-American course through music from the first half of the twentieth century. The product of a fortnight's holiday in Havana, Gershwin's 'Cuban overture' burst upon us, all opulence and glitter in this unbridled yet detailed performance under Espinós' expert hands. Idiomatic Latin trumpets and swooping strings were followed by more than a hint of Ravellian voluptuousness in the middle section, before the irresistible exuberance of the opening returned. The output of Villa-Lobos is so vast, and opportunities to hear his work so rare, that this was my first encounter with his Fantasia for saxophone. Jess Gillam, on soprano sax, here making her debut with the CBSO, was a revelati

Latest CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS BARITENOR AND A CHOPIN RELEASE FROM BEATRICE RANA BARITENOR: Spyres / Strasbourg Philharmonic / Rhine Opera Chorus / Letonja ★★★★ The "Baritenor" voice type is a gimmick invented by Erato's marketing department. Michael Spyres shows off his bright well-focused tenor, and versatility, in 18 arias in French, German and Italian from three centuries of repertoire in a very generous 84 minute recital. No doubts about the American's top notes – the nine consecutive high Cs in the showpiece Ah, mes ami from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment answers that. He's a master in the French repertoire; Offenbach's Kleinzach aria is elegant and effortless. The baritone arias are cunningly chosen, playing to Spyres' strengths – his French diction and suavity as Thomas's Hamlet – or where a baritone would use his high register or head voice, in Verdi's ll Balen and Don Giovanni's window serenade. In the heroic repertoire (in e

Worcester Elgar Festival

ELGAR RETURNS TO LIFE IN WORCESTER WORCESTER'S ELGAR FESTIVAL by Christopher Morley After well over a year of Covid lockdown postponements Worcester's Elgar for Everyone Festival is back up and running, packed with an exciting weekend of events. Kenneth Woods, principal conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra and Festival Director, tells me about this rebirth of interaction between performers and audience. "Chris, there's excitement, elation, expectation and trepidation," he begins. "There's nothing to compare to live music - even the best possible filmed performance is ultimately only flashing lights on a screen and speakers moving back and forth. Concerts are where connections happen. And festivals, even more so. For all that we've missed the thrill of music being made in the moment and shared by all, we've also missed the commu

Ex Cathedtra recreates Beethoven's funeral

BEETOVEN'S FUNERA;L BROUGHT TO LIFE EX CATHEDRA Symphony Hall, Birmingham ***** The irony is overwhelming. When Mozart died in Vienna in 1791 he was given a pauper's burial. When Beethoven died in the same city 36 years later, more than 25,000 people turned out in the same city for his obsequies, the Requiem Mozart had struggled on his deathbed to complete being the centrepiece of proceedings. Ex Cathedra's triumphant post-lockdown return to a packed and appreciative Symphony Hall audience on Sunday was a fascinating reconstruction of the music performed at Beethoven's funeral. Movement of the musicians onto the stage was imaginatively choreographed, a passing-bell tolling while a crucifix-bearer led in the next group to be introduced (difficult not to think of Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal). Recently-passed opera director Sir Graham Vick, to whose memory this concert was dedicated, would have appreciated this novel, inclusive approach, w

Sinfonia of Birmingham at Pershore Abbey

SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM AND PERSHORE ABBEY -- A DREAM TEAM SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM Pershore Abbey **** Pershore is a gratifyingly parking-friendly town, with plenty of free spaces available to the visitor, not least in the vicinity of its magnificent Abbey. This splendid building chose the equally splendid Sinfonia of Birmingham to perform the first concert there since the beginning of the pandemic, and the atmosphere could not have been more welcoming. The programme was all-Nordic, yet both works were conceived on Mediterranean shores. Nielsen's Helios Overture, inspired by a visit to Greece,, sounded a little unwarmed-up at the outset, but soon settled under Michael Seal's wise, communicative and unextragavant baton. Seal balanced volume and detail with a sure sense of structural growth, securing an almost Russian sturdiness of sound at full chordal passages. Sibelius' Second Symphony , engendered in Italy, drew from the strings, authoritatively and ent

Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

LEAMINGTON MUSIC'S WONDERFUL ENGLISH SONG RECITAL RODERICK WILLIAMS AND SUSIE ALLAN King's High School, Warwick ***** Leamington Music's first-ever concert in the magnificent new King's Hall of Warwick's King's High School was a triumphant success. It could not have been anything else, bringing the legendary and empathetic partnership of baritone Roderick Williams and pianist Susie Allan to a hugely enthusiastic audience, swelled by generous sponsors Wright Hassall. Under the title "The Great Outdoors…" the programme brought together pastoral and maritime songs by six English masters of the craft, all of them actually contemporaneous with each other – though Benjamin Britten only just scraped in three years before George Butterworth's death at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Butterworth's heartbreaking Six Songs from a Shropshire Lad allowed the performers to set out their stall as they m

CBSO review 14.10.21

CBSO STUNNING UNDER STAND-IN CONDUCTOR CBSO Symphony Hall ***** This matinee, greatly enjoyed by a huge audience, including a patient guide-dog (but perhaps not by the inarticulate climate change demonstrator escorted off the stage by two efficient stewards), was a concert of brilliant soloists. So much in the programme put the spotlight on so many members of a CBSO more than on top of its habitually breathtaking form, but there was also the slight matter of the concerto soloist, Baiba Skride in Mozart's Violin Concerto no.5. Despite being cast in one of the composer's favourite keys, A major, the work does convey a rather subdued atmosphere, to which Skride responded with a somewhat small tone from her wonderful Stradivarius instrument, though there was plenty of light and shade in her sweetly singing phrasing. And she really fizzed in the threatening "Turkish" interlude with which Mozart brought himself to life in the finale. Stand-in conductor A

Jeffrey Skidmore and Ex Cathedra

JEFFREY SKIDMORE AND EX CATHEDRA EXCITING TIMES FOR EX CATHEDRA JEFFREY SKIDMORE AND EX CATHEDRA by Christopher Morley "It's been wonderful returning to performing live! Okay, we did plenty of filmed events during lockdown, but you can't beat singing to an audience actually there in front of you." Ex Cathedra director Jeffrey Skidmore is enthusing about the way his crack chamber choir is launching its new season, already with concerts at festivals in Chipping Campden and Leamington under its belt, performed to huge acclaim. They come home to Birmingham on Sunday October 17, bringing a programme evoking Beethoven's funeral, and featuring his three Equali for four trombones (transcribed for four male voices at that huge event in 1827) and Mozart's Requiem,. What a difference in obsequies that was, Beethoven's idol perishing in poverty, the whole city turning out to bury its notorious adopted son. "Th

CBSO review 7.10.21

JAMES EHNES WONDERFUL IN THE BRITTEN VIOLIN CONCERTO CBSO Symphony Hall **** Two major prizewinners headlined this concert which looked fascinating on paper, but which actually proved largely disappointing. Finnegan Downie Dear, winner of the Mahler Competition in 2020 was the conductor, and James Ehnes, recently announced as Gramophone Magazine's 2021 Artist of the Year, was the wonderful soloist in Britten's rarely-heard Violin Concerto. Has anyone ever pointed out that Britten begins his piece with solo timpani strokes, just as his idol Beethoven did for the world's greatest violin concerto? Britten's ticking oscillations become part of the fabric of his patiently-built textures, and they were fascinatingly encompassed here, not least by bassoonist Nikolai Henriques (who had quite a starring role for the rest of the afternoon). Ehnes brought to the supremely difficult violin part an elegant, elegiac tone allied to a glittering technique chipping

Roderick Williams and Donizetti CDs reviewed

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS NEW RODERICK WILLIAMS AND DONIZETTI CDs BIRDSONG: Roderick Williams (baritone) & Andrew West (piano) ★★★ Popular songs written for women are successfully sung by men, and vice-verse. In lieder, mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender triumphed in the "male" Winterreise. So why doesn't baritone Roderick Williams' convince me in Schumann's Fraunliebe und -leben ? The texts are cringe-worthy – the doting little woman can sound a complete nitwit – but that's a problem for women singers too. Williams is always sensitive and sometimes beautiful – his hushed lament on death Nun hast du mir is genuinely touching – but some songs, such as An meinem Herzen where the subject is breast-feeding, the intimacy of which "only a mother knows" jar painfully when sung by a man. No problems with the selection of Brahms songs both romantic and humorous: the composer wanted Vergebliches Ständchen lively and humorous with Williams and pianis

WNO Barber and Butterfly reviews

WELSH NATIONAL OPERA'S GREAT START TO SEASON BARBER OF SEVILLE, MADAM BUTTERFLY Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff It was just like the pre-Covid days, cosying up to Welsh National Opera in their comfortable Cardiff home. Front-of-house staff smiled us welcomingly to our seats, and here we were at the beginning of a season reaching towards the excitement of those before lockdown. Truth to tell, the first offering I saw, Rossini's Barber of Seville was no more than routine. Russell Craig's multi-tiered box set design is fascinating visually, allowing all the comings and goings from the lively chorus under Giles Havergal's detailed, almost Brechtian stage-direction to increase the spirit of community within which the imbroglios of the Bartolo household machinate. But, though decent enough, the singers rarely thrill, though among them Andrew Shore is a busily outraged Doctor Bartolo. Keel Watson a bumbling Don Basilio, and Heather Lowe a Ro

Berersford King-Smith obituary

BERESFORD KING-SMITH (1931-2021) Beresford King-Smith, who died earlier this week at the age of 90, was an employee and chronicler of the CBSO for half of the Orchestra's entire history. Born near Bath in 1931, he left the family paper business to join the CBSO's management in January 1964. By the time he retired, in January 2014, he had served the Orchestra as Concert Manager, Deputy Chief Executive and latterly Honorary Archivist for an unprecedented (and unsurpassed) 50 years. Beresford joined the CBSO under the conductorship of Hugo Rignold, and took a hands-on role in the running of the orchestra from his very first day - fixing and managing the musicians, as well as organising extensive tours in Europe, both East and West of the Iron Curtain: a formidable task in an era before email or fax. Beresford handled the situation when Rignold was briefly arrested by Soviet border guards as a suspected spy during the 1968 Czechoslovakia tour, and negotiated with Yugoslavian

Bebbington and Donohoe Leamington recitals

WONDERFUL ROBERT SIMPSON AND BEETHOVEN FROM MARK BEBBINGTON, PETER DONOHOE COMPLETING A SPECTACULAR RECITAL DAY MARK BEBBINGTON, PETER DONOHOE Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa ***** Covid-delayed, the Leamington Music Festival Weekend which is traditionally held each May finally went ahead as September moved into autumn, and the heroic organisers could have received no finer reward than the two splendid piano recitals we heard on Saturday 25th. Both were from local pianists, beginning at lunchtime with Hagley's Mark Bebbington, who celebrated this year's centenary of the birth of Leamington's own Robert Simpson with a magisterial account of the composer's Variations and Finale on a Theme of Haydn. The work is intricately structured, but its clever architecture gives place to the sheer musicality with which Simpson explores sonorities, searching through tonalities and commanding the keyboard much in the manner of Schumann and Mussorgsky in similar constru

Clara Schumann in words and music

CLARA SCHUMANN IN MUSIC AND HER OWN WORDS I, Clara St James' Church, Chipping Campden The relationship between the two Schumanns (Robert and Clara) and Brahms is a complex and loving one, and Brewin Books are in fact publishing a novel about the trio at the end of October. In her fascinating Composer Portrait "I, Clara", Lucy Parham has focussed on the life of Clara, both as an internationally-renowned pianist and a highly regarded composer, forced to juggle her own professional activities with the responsibilities of supporting her tormented genius of a husband and raising their many children. This words and music presentation served in a pivotal position as both the final event in this year's wonderful Chipping Campden Music Festival and the opening one in the town's Literary Festival, and brought Joanna David reading Lucy Parham's script compiled from Clara's own words, with Parham performing piano music by Clara herself as well as those

Midlands music books reviewed

MUSIC IN THE MIDLANDS BOOKS REVIEWED ( A History of Bromsgrove Concerts (Joyce Chamberlain, pub. ) As its pandemically-postponed new season gets underway, Bromsgrove Concerts can look back proudly on nearly 60 years of bringing high quality music-making to this corner of north Worcestershire. Previously Bromgrove Concert Club, this enterprising organisation has been resident in a variety of local venues, most recently at the wonderful Artrix arts centre, but since the regrettable and shortsighted closure of that inviting complex, it has now moved to the comfortably refurbished Routh Hall at Bromsgrove School. Joyce Chamberlain, current secretary of the Society has written and compiled a most fascinating History of Bromsgrove Concerts, this beautifully-produced publication doing exactly what it says on the tin and much more besides. Chronology and data, meticulously assembled, jostle alongside reminiscences from many of the personalities who have co