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Showing posts from 2021

Beethoven, vaughan Williams and others reviewed on CD

CD REVIEWS OF BEETHOVEN, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS AND OTHERS BEETHOVEN MISSA SOLEMNIS: Freiburger Barockorchester / Jacobs ★★★ Since converting from counter-tenor to conductor Renè Jacobs has always courted controversy. His recordings can be refreshing, insightful, idiosyncratic and annoyingly wilful – usually a mixture of all these attributes. This original-instrument performance is brisk (72 minutes), bright and devoid of any old-style (i.e. mid twentieth century) gestures hinting at grandeur or gravity. Beethoven's great theistic-humanist musical mansion has been thoroughly de-cluttered. The excellent orchestra's playing is pin-sharp and the hard-stick timpani rattle menacingly if occasionally excessively. The vocal quartet Polina Pastirchak (soprano) Sophia Harmsen (mezzo) Steve Davislim (tenor) Johannes Weisser (bass) are first rate and Jacobs balances the orchestra so that they are seldom strained. If you enjoy the Gardiner-style slimmed down approach there's much t

A long, thoughtful review of Confessions of a Music Critic

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2021/Apr/Morley-confessions-Brewin.htm An entertaining book, but it's something of a missed opportunity. Support MusicWeb-International financially by purchasing this from Amazon or Presto Classical Confessions of a Music Critic By Christopher Morley 148 pages, including index. With colour and black & white illustrations ISBN: 978-1-85858-726-4 First published 2021 Retail price £11.95 Paperback Brewin Books When I was growing up in Yorkshire in the 1960s and 1970s, critics employed by regional and local papers regularly reviewed concerts, both amateur and professional. Ernest Bradbury reigned at the Yorkshire Post while, at the local level, correspondents such as Malcom Cruise provided almost daily reviews in the Huddersfield Examiner. These men, and countless other journalists throughout the UK, provided an invaluable service. They gave their readers informed commentary and appraisal of

Christopher Morley's "Confessions" reviewed by Richard Bratby

CONFESSIONS OF A MUSIC CRITIC reviewed by Richard Bratby At every meeting of the Critics' Circle Music Section – when the nation's music scribblers gather behind an unmarked door in the West End to drink weak coffee and grumble about fees – there's a ritual. The Chair opens the meeting, moves to the first item on the agenda, and someone pipes up: "Apologies have been received from Christopher Morley". The old guard chuckles, and the newer members have it quietly explained to them that Mr Morley has never attended, and never will – until the Section agrees, even once in a decade, to hold a meeting somewhere other than London. So far, it never has. So far, Christopher has never attended. The secretary makes a note and the meeting moves on. For the Chief Music Critic of the Birmingham Post, it's a matter of principle. Some might call it quixotic. I call it magnificent, even while I hop

New CD reviews: Beethoven, Orchestra of the Swan Timelapse abd English Symphony Orchestra Visions of Childhood

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE LOVES A NEW "PERIOD" PERFORMANCE OF THE BEETHOVEN TRIPLE CONCERTO, NOT SO SURE ABOUT RELEASES FROM ORCHESTRA OF THE SWAN AND ENGLISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA BEETHOVEN: Faust, Queyras, Melnikov / Freiburger Barockorchester / Heras-Casado ★★★★★ Beethoven's Triple Concerto is the Cinderella of his concerto works, disparaged as lightweight and merely aiming to please. Jean-Guihen Queyras, the cellist on this new recording from Harmonia Mundi, dismisses this, adding "the beauty and depth of it is overwhelming. There are moments which are just absolutely breathtaking." Those qualities are evident in this fine new recording where he teams up with Isabelle Faust on violin and Alexander Melnikov – her chamber music partner – on keyboard. It's a performance full of fantasy and with a delightfully humorous concluding "Polish" rondo crackling with energy. They use original instruments which helps clarity and balance. Melnikov can really

Holy Week Bach review

A wonderful Holy Week Bach sequence reviewed by Christopher Morley PASSION AND PRECISION Lana Trotovsek and Tenebrae St John's, Smith Square, London From more than half a century of reviewing it would be difficult for me to recall anything more moving at this special time in the Christian church calendar than this Holy Week Festival presentation offered by St John's, Smith Square. The church ambience, subtly lit both by candles and soft lighting, allied to its perfect acoustic, provided a wonderful setting for this reflective Bach sequence, built around the movements of the D minor Partita for solo violin, interspersed by choral offerings of passion settings by the composer. In fact this was no choir, just an amazing vocal quartet from Tenebrae, pure of tone, easy in their phrasing, so alert to each other, and beautifully balanced. More of them later, when I come to the climax of this beautiful presentation. Lana Trotovsek was t

SIbelius Violin Concerto CD review

VIBRANT SIBELIUS VIOLIN CONCERTO FROM FENELLA HUMPHREYS SIBELIUS VIOLIN CONCERTO, HUMORESQUES Fenella Humphreys, BBC National Orchestra of Wales/George Vass (Resonus RES10277) For all its acknowledged stature, the Sibelius Violin Concerto is an elusive work, not always convincing in performance, with soloists overawed by its technical difficulties, conductors bogged down in the mud of Finnish forests. Not so here, in this vibrant recording from Fenella Humphreys, joined by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by George Vass. Humphreys has been a much-loved performer at Vass' Presteigne Festival for many years, and the trust and empathy between them are in abundance here in an account which takes our perceptions out of Scandinavia and out into the rest of Europe. Sibelius loved Italy, and Vass and his orchestra bring a sumptuous Mediterranean sound at times (think Walton Cello Concerto) to complement the Nordic chill elsewhere. And Humphreys is almost ope

Bartok, SImpson, Beethoven and Rachmaninov CD reviews by Norman Stinchcombe

LATEST CD REVIEWS FROM NORMAN STINCHCOMBE: BARTOK, SIMPSON, BEETHOVEN, RACHMANINOFF BARTOK: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Dausgaard ★★★★ The second volume in Onyx's series of Bartok's orchestral works brings us a bustling, bristling and blazing account of his ballet score The Miraculous Mandarin. Under conductor Thomas Dausgaard the orchestra tear into this fiercely imagined and grisly work with all the ferocity it demands. Censored when it appeared in the 1920s for its plot involving prostitution and murder it's often played in the suite Bartok devised to rescue it from obscurity. Dausgaard gives us the complete score plus thirty extra bars rescued by the composer's son Peter for the revised twenty-first century score – although you'll need one to notice the additions. Seedy the plot may be but not the music with Dausgaard conjuring up the weird sonorities for the Mandarin's resuscitation and pawky humour for the seductress's rejected clients. T

Hellensmusic review

A HEARTENING ONLINE CONCERT FROM HELLENSMUSIC HELLENSMUSIC Hellens, Much Marcle **** In recent years this haunted 1000-year-old manor house has become a much-visited venue for chamber concerts, but lockdown ended all that. Now, in its first appearance since then, Hellens has presented itself online. to much success. Adam Munthe, its genial owner, welcomed us hospitably, and astute camera-work focussed subsequently not only on the dexterity and personal expressions of the performers, but also on a few of the glories of the house itself. We were also let into the barn, where all Hellens live performances take place, and where here pianist Christian Blackshaw gave touching accounts of Mozart and Schubert, the latter's G-flat Impromptu warm and inward, textures beautifully balanced (though the online sound did the piano tone no favours). Blackshaw's Mozart D minor Fantasia was a tad controversial. This was beautifully articulated, and there was I (who know a bit

Latest CD reviews

SCHOENBERG, BACH AND VAUGHAN WILLIAMS CDs REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE VERKLÄRTE NACHT : Skelton / Rice / BBC Symphony Orchestra / Gardner ★★★★★ Schoenberg's early masterpiece is the focal point, but what makes this intriguing disc such a rich musical experience are the lesser known pieces. Schoenberg's string sextet Verklärte Nacht ("Transfigured Night") was composed in 1899 but the later version for string orchestra is used here. Based on a poem by Richard Dehmel – controversial sexual politics pioneer – it's the essence of fervid late romanticism and the orchestra, under Edward Gardner, give us a performance rich and febrile blooming in the expansive Chandos recording. Schoenberg never set Dehmel's words but Oskar Fried did (1901) with mezzo Christine Rice and tenor Stuart Skelton outstanding in music that depicts the couple moving from dark despair to radiant love. Skelton also excels as the delirious soldier in the expressionistic Fieber (Fever)

Jeffrey Skidmore's 70th birthday

POPULAR EX CATHEDRA CONDUCTOR TURNS 70 JEFFREY SKIDMORE'S 70TH BIRTHDAY by Christopher Morley Like Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray, Jeffrey Skidmore probably has in his attic a picture of himself which does all the ageing for him. See him downstairs and you would never believe this conductor of Ex Cathedra is about to turn 70. For all the worldwide success he has achieved with this chamber choir which was his brainchild Jeffrey remains remarkably modest and down to earth, with absolutely no "side" to him. Our Birmingham-based careers in music have developed side-by-side for over 50 years, and he tells me how his began, thanks to an inspirational teacher. "I went to Bournville School in Griffins Brook Lane, and the music teacher was Walter Jennings (who now lives with his wife Linda in Plas Gwyn, Elgar's old home in Hereford). "They were both music graduates of the University of Birmingham, and introduced me to the music scene in the city, in

Beethoven Violin Sonatas at the Wigmore Hall

IMPRESSIVE BEETHOVEN VIOLIN RECITAL AT THE WIGMORE HALL LANA TROTOVSEK AND MARIA CANVIGUERAL streamed from the Wigmore Hall ***** After their recent triumphant recital at the Wigmore Hall, Slovenian violinist Lana Trotovsek and Spanish-Catalan pianist Maria Canvigueral returned for the latest in the venue's streamed online performances, transcending all the limitations imposed by the current situation. Sound quality cannot be the same as when experiencing a live performance, not least in such an acoustically comfortable room, so we could not quite fully appreciate the gorgeously rich tone of Trotovsek's instrument. Visually, concentrating upon a tiny computer screen becomes wearing, but adroit camera-work here gave us several perspectives, including some we would never experience live in the concert-hall unless we were swinging from the chandeliers. The duo have made a speciality of Beethoven Violin Sonatas, and here we heard three of them, beginning with a joyous ac

Giya Kancheli Symphonies on CD

SYMPHONIES BY A GEORGIAN COMPOSER KANCHELI COMPLETE SYMPHONIES: Tibilisi Symphony Orchestra / Kakhidze ★★★★ Georgian composer Giya Kancheli's music created a stir in the 1980s when a thaw in the cold war allowed music from the Soviet Union's satellite states to reach the west. His seven symphonies, and much more, were recorded by the Tbilisi Symphony Orchestra under their long-time chief conductor, and Kancheli's close friend, Djansug Kakhidze. They mostly appeared on the Olympia label, now defunct, and have long been unavailable. Cugate Classics have remastered the original tapes in a five CD box set. His music was often compared to Arvo Part's "holy minimalism" but while both men are harmonically conservative, Kancheli extends his slow moving, hypnotic style to epic proportions – tedious or mystically enlightening according to taste. The five CDs are available separately and I'd advise newcomers to explore Mourned by the Wind, an often ravishingly

Wonderful Elgar CD reviewed

CAPUCON, HOUSH, RATTLE AND LSO IN WONDERFUL ELGAR RELEASE ELGAR VIOLIN CONCERTO AND VIOLIN SONATA Renaud Capucon, London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Simon Rattle, Stephen Hough Erato 0190295112820 This is an absolutely wonderful coupling of two of Elgar's most heartfelt works, and all concerned deserve the utmost credit for putting the music before their own self-projecting. This has not always been the case with the soloists in Simon Rattle's previous recordings of the Concerto, and I have heard far too many overblown accounts of the Sonata which blow away its fragility. On this recording he concerto's opening tutti has the most understated but appropriate portamenti in the violins, never overdone or selfconscious, and Renaud Capucon's entry is grippingly grieving, heralding a deeply personal, heartfelt response to this most personal of violin concertos. His delivery is busy, but also with the space lovingly to caress a phrase. Collaboration between the soloist an

Latest CBSO review

ENERGETIC CBSO CONCERT UNDER MICHAEL SEAL CBSO Streamed from Symphony Hall January 28 **** Over half a century ago Hugh Macdonald. one of this country's leading Berlioz experts, wrote in a BBC Music Guide that the composer had described his Rob Roy Overture as "long and diffuse". "And so it is," confirmed the critic. "It should never be performed before an audience who are not wholly aware that Berlioz was ashamed of it." Rob Roy is a rarity in the concert-hall, but Symphony Hall gives it socially-distanced room-space for this latest streamed concert by a reduced CBSO. And in fact Berlioz was brutally honest with himself, and Macdonald right to quote him, and to repeat it in his lengthy article in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Even in this willing, muscular performance under Michael Seal's eloquent conducting this emerged as a disproportionate, sagging and over-long piece. The Scottishisms are quaint, and we do ge

Elgar Partsongs CD

BAVARIANS SING ELGAR'S FROM THE BAVARIAN HIGHLANDS EDWARD ELGAR PARTSONGS Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks BR Klassik 900522 **** One of the problems with Elgar's vocal music is his choice of texts. Cardinal Newman's Dream of Gerontius is a wonderful vehicle, as is actually O'Shaughnessy's The Music Makers. Many words have been spilt discussing the midnight oil which Elgar burnt compiling his own texts for The Apostles and The Kingdom, but it can safely be said he made good work of all the librettos for his choral works, whatever their quality. But then we get to the partsongs. Did he really need the pittance of a commission to set some of these dreadful texts? Perhaps early on in his careerg he did, but surely not after the acclaim following the Enigma Variations, Gerontius, and the Elgar Festival of 1904. Preceding his "arrival", however, his loyalty to his wife Caroline Alice's literary efforts is touching, culminating in the inclusion of

English Symphony Orchestra Holocaust concert

ANOTHER IMAGINATIVE ENGLISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA CONCERT ENGLISH SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA streamed from Wyastone Leys **** "Inspired by Mahler" was the apt title for this English Symphony Orchestra programme marking Holocaust Memorial Day. Mahler considered himself a triple outsider, not least because of his Jewishness, and though he himself prospered as a composer and conductor (undoubtedly the first transatlantic superstar of the podium), the other composers in this streamed concert suffered, some indeed perishing in Nazi concentration camps. It is quite a thought to reflect that had not heart disease brought about his early death, Mahler himself might have been one of those victims. Kenneth Woods conducted a sequence of works which was both shrewd and loving, beginning with Das Irdische Leben by Mahler himself. Like Schubert's Erl King, this is a song depicting a child's journey to death, and April Fredrick was the gripping soloist. Her soprano voice here d

latest Beethoven, Bruch, Donizetti and Walton CD reviews

NEW CDs OF BEETHOVEN, BRUCH, DONIZETTI AND WALTON REVIEWED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE BEETHOVEN: Nikolai Lugansky ★★ I came to this disc after spending a week listening to Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's complete set of piano sonatas on Chandos. This did Lugansky no favours. Bavouzet captures Beethoven's kaleidoscopic emotional shifts – mysticism, manic dynamism, raucous humour – realized within a dazzling array of changing musical strategies. Lugansky eschewed the obvious, and logical, coupling of the last three sonatas by swapping Op 110 for Op 101. It's Op.101 which comes off best, with the second movement's march rhythms crisply and energetically articulated, while tenderly shaping the succeeding inward and yearning (sehnsuchtvoll) slow movement. In Op.109's concluding theme-and-variations Lugansky overdoes the contrast with the preceding prestissimo movement by playing the opening excessively slowly – Bavouzet captures its singing expressiveness at a more naturally f

MIRGA RELIQUISHES CBSO MUSIC DIRECTORSHIP NEXT YEAR

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla extends contract with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) is delighted to announce that Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will extend her commitment to the orchestra, continuing as Osborn Music Director for an additional season until summer 2022 and then moving to the role of Principal Guest Conductor. Stephen Maddock, Chief Executive of the CBSO, said: 'We're delighted to be continuing our relationship with Mirga and are hugely grateful to her for the unending energy, passion and creativity she pours into her work with us. We're thrilled that she has agreed to extend her commitment to the CBSO, and are pleased to be able to support her as she balances her working life. We look forward to making music together into the future.' Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, Music Director, CBSO, says: 'I have decided to give up my position of Music Director of the CBSO at the end of the 2021/22 season and

CBSO "French Connections" concert

FASCINATING ONLINE CONCERT BY CBSO FRENCH CONNECTIONS CBSO streamed from Symphony Hall ***** "French Connections" is perhaps a tantalising understatement for this latest CBSO programme recorded at Symphony Hall early last December for online streaming. We end with Haydn's Symphony no.84, composed for the huge orchestra of the Concert de la Loge Olympique in Paris, an ensemble founded by Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de St-Georges. This immensely fascinating character was born on Guadeloupe, the son of a former French politician and a native West Indian woman. The family eventually settled in Paris, where Boulogne became an expert horseman, swimmer, dancer, skater and, especially, fencer. He was hailed as the finest swordsman in Europe, and was indeed summoned to England to give exhibition fencing matches, including for the Prince of Wales at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. But above all this he was also a very fine violinist, composing many works for his

Strauss, Gershwin and Ben-Haim CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS FASCINATING NEW STRAUSS, GERSHWIN AND BEN-HAIM CDs STRAUSS: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra / Märkl ★★★★ When we think of Richard Strauss's orchestral music it's primarily his richly scored tone poems. It's easy to overlook his wizardry with light music and especially the dance – think of his opera Rosenkavalier. That facility is exemplified by his Tanzsuite (Dance Suite) of 1923 for chamber orchestra, ballet music commissioned by the Vienna Opera. It's a labour of love, delightfully mixing pastiche and orchestral reimagining of eight dances by baroque composer François Couperin which were originally composed for harpsichord. Try not to laugh at the Carillon with Strauss's kaleidoscopic mixture of celesta, bells and harp, or to sigh as the closing march dies slowly away. The NZSO, under Jun Märkl, don't have the suavity, richness and echt-Strauss sound of Rudolf Kempe's Dresden orchestra (Warner) but they're nifty, gr