Showing posts from October, 2021

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