Showing posts from May, 2021


LISTENER-FRIENDLY CBSO PROGRAMME CBSO Symphony Hall **** Anyone who proudly dec;lares "I don't listen to twentieth-century music" is a fool to himself, missing out on all but one of Elgar's greatest works, most of Puccini, a good deal of Richard Strauss, Debussy and Ravel. My list could go on into the far-off distance, but it would certainly include the three works the CBSO imaginatively bundled together in its latest pair of Wednesday concerts. Not only did they all originate in the first half of that apparently problematic century, their inclusion also built up the personnel of the orchestra in steps towards its massive conclusion in the Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich. Conductor Nicholas Collon spoke of this remarkable achievement, putting "this huge piece" onto this Covid-restricted stage, before launching into an account of Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments. Balance, detail and ensemble fr

Strauss and Julian Lloyd Webber CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENTHUSES OVER NEW STRAUSS AND JULIAN LLOYD WEBBER RELEASES STRAUSS: Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia / Sir Antonio Pappano ★★★★ Pappano prioritizes the thematic over the programmatic in this recording of Richard Strauss's musical self-portrait Ein Heldenleben. The structure of recurring themes and their symphony-like skein is apparent, making it seem less a series of dazzling and thrilling set-pieces. The latter are still there but never in bold primary colours or heavily underlined. With Pappano's slightly cooler approach, emphasising sheer beauty of sound over orchestral clout, it's not surprising that Strauss's intimate musical portrait of his marriage, a long operatic scena without words, is particularly successful. For those wanting a higher octane approach – with a monumental battle scene – Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic are nonpareil with Decca's spectacular Sofiensaal sound eclipsing Pappano's live rec

CBSO opening concert at refurbished Symphony Hall

TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF CBSO TO REVAMPED SYMPHONY HALL CBSO Symphony Hall It was like going back 30 years to Symphony Hall's entry into the world. Much of the excitement we felt on that heady night was relived when one of the world's greatest performance venues opened its doors to a live audience for the first time in many months. And what doors they were, portals into a newly-refurbished foyer and bar (with cosy booths running down the side), revealing stunning vistas of Centenary Square, and accommodating new spaces on three floors providing additional performance areas. "We hope that there will be at least one performance a day from September onwards", a genial steward proudly told me. But chief cause for excitement on this sunny spring afternoon was the opening concert of an extended series from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, mouthwatering programmes delivered twice (early afternoon and early evening) every Wednesday until the beginnin

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