Showing posts from December, 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