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Confessions of a Music Critic talk, July 4

CONFESSIONS OF A MUSIC CRITIC I shall be talking about my Confessions of a Music Critic at Stratford-upon-Avon Library on Monday July 4 at 11am (admission free). All are welcome! Chris

The Reeds by Severnside CD reviewed

A TRAWL THROUGH ELGAR'S CHORAL COMPOSING CAREER THE REEDS BY SEVERNSIDE Choral Music by Edward Elgar (SOMMCD 278) We have on this timely and so well-produced release a fascinating guide through Elgar's progress from journeyman to great composer, taking us through the choral music he produced during his long career. No massive oratorios, cantatas or odes here, but a survey of some of his more modest works, often for unaccompanied chorus (William Vann directing the Chapel Choir of the Royal Hospital Chelsea). Andrew Neill's remarkably detailed and informative insert-notes guide us through this journey, which begins with the touching works the teenaged Elgar composed for the Roman Catholic St George's Church in Worcester (barely a stone's throw from the Anglican Cathedral where so many of his greatest triumphs would be celebrated) where he succeeded his father as organist. The very early Gloria perfumes with Catholic incense and the influence of Mozart, repr

Birmingham Bach Choir review

WHAT A LOVELY PROGRAMME FROM THIS EXCELLENT CHOIR BIRMINGHAM BACH CHOIR St Paul's Church, Jewellery Quarter ***** The last choral concert I reviewed in this gracious old church proved a dire experience; not so this one, from the expertly understated Birmingham Bach Choir, so confidently accustomed to the gentle but firm direction of Paul Spicer. British offerings sandwiched three Bach motets, great works which here were delivered in far lighter a manner surely than the way in which the Birmingham Bach Society Choir would have given them more than a century ago. Organist Callum Alger introduced this Bach sequence with the Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist from one of the organ masses, the complex lines clearly delineated, before the motets then unfolded. Lobet den Herrn was neat and agile, its Halleluja unfolding with great swells of tone. Komm, Jesu, komm is for me Bach at his best, emotion so obvious within every well-controlled bar, and this was a deeply-felt, delicate

Longborough's Die Tote Stadt review

A STAR IS BORN AT LONGBOROUGH DIE TOTE STADT By Christopher Morley ***** What Longborough's cosy yet busy auditorium witnessed here was nothing less than the stuff of films, when a star is born. Longborough Festival Opera was already in the headlines for presenting Erich Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, almost never experienced in this country, but on the second evening of this four-night run Rachel Nicholls, who had herself learned the taxing role of Marietta/Marie at very short notice, went down with a throat infection. Her understudy, Luci Briginshaw, sang from the side of the stage while Nicholls acted sublimely, their mutual lip-synching convincing us they were as one, and Briginshaw's body-language, despite being music stand-bound, totally immersed in the spirit of the action. Her voice held up remarkably in this ordeal the inexperienced Korngold sets both his leading soprano and his tenor Paul. obsessively mourning his wife Marie whilst rejoicing in fi

Norman Stinchcombe reviews CBSO's Mahler 2

STUPENDOUS MAHLER TWO CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ This concert was billed as an end-of-season finale, a temporary farewell. When the applause, cheering and foot-stamping erupted after eighty minutes of intense, emotionally fired-up music making it felt instead like a long-anticipated, desperately hoped for homecoming. After more than two years of ruined schedules, cancellations and Covid-compromised concerts here was the platform packed with players, the choir seats brim-full with the cherished CBSO Chorus and – the final ingredient – a packed house. It was the perfect choice of work too, Mahler's 'Resurrection' Symphony; the work which opened Symphony Hall and a CBSO musical calling-card for the last forty years. By chance, or fate, the last concert here on this scale – in terms of forces, attendance and impact – was the CBSO's performance of Mahler's eighth symphony in January 2020 when we were blissfully unaware of the approaching pandemic. That evening the

Nor,man Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews

ANOTHER DELICIOUS BANQUET OF CDS -- IF A BIT MEAGRE! NIELSEN & SIBELIUS: Dalene, RSPO / Storgårds (Bis CD / SACD) ★★★★★ On the disc cover gap-toothed Johan Dalene looks like a schoolboy larking about in the Scandinavian snow – but at twenty-years-old he's already a phenomenally gifted violinist. The young Swede won the 2019 Carl Nielsen Competition and his performance of that composer's concerto is an absolute winner. It's a tricky work, there's no big memorable tune to hook the newcomer, and its mercurial nature makes it hard to pin down. No problem for Dalene who produces not only glorious tone from his 1736 'Spencer Dyke' Stradivarius but limpet-like follows Nielsen through every musical mood whether spiky, whimsical or wacky. John Storgårds and the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra are fully inside Nielsen's idiosyncratic style and the sound is up to Bis's usual exceptional standard. In the Sibelius concerto Dalene has all the world

, CBSO review 15.6.22

AUTHORITATIVE CBSO CONCERT, REVIED BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ How, musically, did the world begin? In Jean-Fèry Rebel's 'Les Èlemèns' it's with an ear-splitting chaotic chromatic cluster chord – a century ahead of its time – which claws its way to tonality. After a depiction of chaos in a murky minor Haydn's 'Creation' blazes into light with a dazzling forte C major. How, musically, will the world end? Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir's 'Catamorphosis' suggests that T.S. Eliot had the right idea; 'This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper." In her twenty-minute work, a CBSO Centenary Commission receiving its UK Premiere, fate doesn't knock at the door announcing imminent earthly destruction through climate change (Catastrophe + Metamorphosis) – it slithers in surreptitiously, sinuously through the gaps. Thorvaldsdottir uses large orchestral forces with immense restraint: ther

Longborough Playground Opera Carmen review

CARMEN FOR KIDS WORKS BRILLIANTLY THE DOWNFALL OF DON JOSE Longborough Playground Opera at Temple Grafton School One of the most heartening experiences in my lifetime of involvement with music education as well as reviewing came at Temple Grafton primary school on June 14, when Playground Opera, the educational offshoot of the world-renowned Longborough Festival Opera, brought this brilliantly-adapted paring-down of Bizet's Carmen which it is currently touring around the Cotswolds. Brainchild of Maria Jagusz and Jessica May, the concept is totally successful, engaging the children as performers as well as audience participators (they had all been so well-prepared, thanks to the splendid teachers' packs – and the splendid teachers!). Don Jose remains the same, somewhat homely soldier, besotted with Carmen (now more of a zany fortune-teller), and rivalled by Escamillo, here a glamorous super-chef rather than a bullfighter. Much of the action is pantomimic, the audie

Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra plays Mahler Seven

AMATEUR ORCHESTRA TACKLES MAHLER SEVEN BRILLIANTLY MAHLER'S SEVENTH SYMPHONY Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall ***** It is a brave orchestra that tackles Mahler's mighty, enigmatic Seventh Symphony, with its focus on every instrument within the huge complement, and its far-reaching demands upon stamina and concentration. It is a brave conductor, too, charged with marshalling these vast forces and long-distance structures. Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra has an illustrious history in Mahler performance (beginning under their legendary past conductor Kenneth Page), and one which has continued into the present day with the living legend of a conductor who is Michael Lloyd. Together these forces reinforced that reputation with an account of the symphony which would have been the envy of many professional ensembles. Over the opening's mysterious oar-lapping Saphran Ali's tenor horn called elementally across the midnight waters, lau

Norman Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews

BRANTUB OF CD REVIEWS BY NORMAN STINCHCOMBE Peter Donohoe is approaching 70-year-of-age but is busier than ever in the recording studio. Having released the first volume of Mendelssohn's 'Songs Without Words' for Chandos earlier this year now comes an outstanding start to his survey of Grieg's lovely and woefully underrated short piano works, 'Lyric Pieces' Volume 1. ★★★★★ Grieg starting composing these delightfully mercurial works, with myriad shades of emotional and pianistic colour, in 1867 and finished more than thirty years later. There are 66 pieces, gathered in small groups, and Donohoe selects 27 of them. He starts with the pealing bells of 'Klokkenklang' which are alternately joyful, mysterious and sinister – imagine a hybrid of Liszt's 'La Campanella' and Ravel's 'Le Gibet' – and ends a generously-filled disc 83 minutes later with joyously raucous Norwegian folk-dance 'Halling'. There's nothing weak and

Concerto Budapest at Symphony Hall review

HUNGARIAN ORCHESTRA DELIGHTS SYMPHONY HALL Concerto Budapest Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall ★★★★ The modern template for playing Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra was shaped by the famous recordings by èmigrè Hungarian conductors Reiner, Ormandy and Solti. Glittering and spiky, its metallic sheen honed in performances by the powerhouse orchestras of Chicago and Philadelphia. This Budapest performance was refreshingly different; less bold perhaps but with a compensating tenderness and sly humour. In his time as leader of the Keller Quartet the conductor András Keller was a noted exponent of Bartók's six string quartets so it was no surprise that chamber-music intimacy was often in evidence. In these days of homogenized orchestral sound the mellow Budapest wind section was a joy to hear, reedier and with a little more vibrato than usual. Their oboist had a demanding night – Bartok works him hard – and was outstanding. The 'Elegia' was ideally suited to Keller'

CBSO's first-ever Messiah review

GALA CBSO MESSIAH Handel's Messiah CBSO at Symphony Hall ***** Handel's Messiah has a long and unbroken Birmingham and Midlands connection with both amateur and professional choirs, a fixture in many celebrated choirs' annual planning. However, surprisingly, this was the first time that the CBSO had performed the work in one of its own concerts, and with its own Chorus. and the occasion had the feeling of a Gala event. Replacing an indisposed Richard Egarr at short notice, John Butt conducted his large forces from the harpsichord, and led an entirely convincing interpretation that reconciled 'authentic' practice with the work's undoubted scope for grandeur. This was a stellar line-up of solo singers, but while most oratorios put the spotlight on the soloists, Messiah has the chorus at its heart. The hundred-plus Chorus were seated immediately behind the orchestra on platform risers, close enough to create an atmosphere of intimacy when quiet, but a

JOHN JOUBERT PREMIERE

WORLD PREMIERE OF JOHN JOUBERT'S LAST SONG MARCUS FARNSWORTH AND ERIC McELROY Huntingdon Hall, Worcester **** Worcester's annual Elgar Festival has added significance in this, its fifth year: a celebration of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, but also several premieres. Most of these are rescorings of earlier compositions, but in its opening concert we heard the genuine premiere of the last masterpiece to come from the pen of the late John Joubert. Joubert's musical ancestry can be traced back through his own school music teacher in South Africa to Elgar himself, making him a worthy candidate for inclusion here, and this premiere of his The Right Human Face was the centrepiece of Friday's lunchtime recital from baritone Marcus Farnsworth and pianist Eric McElroy. Setting Edwin Muir's beautiful poem of loving recognition, Joubert's music grows in radiance like a glorious sunrise, acknowledging the burgeoning of love, mirroring the wonderful marriage h

Longborough Siegrfried review

AN ALL-ROUND AMAZING SIEGFRIED AT LONGBOROUGH SIEGFRIED Longborough Festival Opera ***** Siegfried, the third instalment in Wagner's Ring cycle, is perhaps not the most engaging of the tetralogy, with its welter of back-storying and insufferable navel-gazing, but this production from the stupendous Longborough Festival Opera as it leads up to its second presentation of the complete cycle in little over ten years is the most involving I have ever seen. There is nothing to be faulted (apart from the turgid first act, Wagner's fault) in this presentation, with no weak link in the casting, amazing playing from the Longborough Festival Orchestra under the veteran, much-respected Wagner conductor Anthony Negus (such clarity of texture!), and brilliant staging effects. To deal with those first: Amy Lane draws communicative body-language from her cast as she directs them across what is not the least cramped of performing areas, resourcefully designed by Rhiannon Newman Brown

Concerto Budapest preview (fuller version)

FULLER PREVIEW OF CONCERTO BUDAPEST BIRMINGHAM VISIT CONCERTO BUDAPEST SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AT SYMPHONY HALL by Christopher Morley ( After two years of pandemic lockdown concert life is gradually getting back to normal, and on June 9 Symphony Hall welcomes Concerto Budapest on its debut tour to this country. Andras Keller, Concerto's Chief Conductor and Artistic Director, is thrilled at the prospect. "Going on tours again is crucial for us.. It was before the lockdown when we last went on a tour, which took us to France. We can travel again only after two years of being in lockdown, and to the UK at that! The mere fact that we are among the first orchestras to tour there is a great honour, and we are very happy to visit Britain first. I much look forward to our performance in the Birmingham Symphony Hall, which the Hungarian Radio will stream live." Concerto Budapest's programme combines one of Hungary's greatest masterpieces (Bartok's Concerto for

Concerto Budapest Symphony Orchestra visits Symphony Hall

VISITING ORCHESTRAS RETURN TO SYMPHONY HALL CONCERTO BUDAPEST SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA AT SYMPHONY HALL by Christopher Morley After two years of pandemic lockdown concert life is gradually getting back to normal, and on June 9 Symphony Hall welcomes Concerto Budapest on its debut tour to this country. Andras Keller, Concerto's conductor, is thrilled at the prospect. "Going on tours again is crucial for us.. It was before the lockdown when we last went on a tour, which took us to France. We can travel again only after two years of being in lockdown, and to the UK at that! The mere fact that we are among the first orchestras to tour there is a great honour, and we are very happy to visit Britain first. I much look forward to our performance in the Birmingham Symphony Hall, which the Hungarian Radio will stream live." Concerto Budapest's programme combines one of Hungary's greatest masterpieces (Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra) with masterpiece

Christopher Morley organ compositions performed at WIlmcote's Songs of Praise on June 5

CHRISTOPHER MORLEY ORGAN PREMIERE Our editor, Christopher Morley turns from gamekeeper to poacher when two of his compositions will be performed at St Andrew's Church, Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday June 5. His Marziale for organ will be performed by Stephannie Williams, along with the premiere of his Gioioso for organ, as part of a Songs of Praise celebration of the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. The event begins at 6.30pm, and will include vocal solos, contributions from pupils at the village primary school, and congregational hymn-singing. St Andrew's Church is well worth a visit, built nearly two centuries ago in the then new spirit of Anglo-Catholicism, and one of its early worshippers was Cardinal John Henry Newman, founder of the magnificent Birmingham Oratory and author of the Dream of Gerontius poem, set to music so memorably by Sir Edward Elgar.

Elgar Jubilee Festival

ELGAR JUBILEE FESTIVAL By Christopher Morley It was a childhood experience which made Anne Renshaw briefly wish she hadn't been born a girl. "I grew up in East Anglia and went to school in Peterborough. We were occasionally taken to the cathedral to hear Choral Evensong. At 11 years old I was blown away by it and it was the only time in my life I wished I'd been born a boy – I so wanted to be a chorister, when of course that wasn't possible," she confesses. "Both my parents sang in our local church choir and choral society so I was brought up on singing. School and college choirs followed, then nothing until moving to Worcestershire and eventually joining Worcester Festival Choral Society, the Three Choirs Festival Chorus, more recently Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir and now, the Elgar Festival Chorus." And it is now the Elgar Festival Chorus which is foremost in Anne's thoughts, in her role as trustee and strategic director. thoug

Latest CD and DVD reviews from Norman Stinchcombe

A REAL BRAN-TUB OF REVIEWS FROM NORMAN STINCHCOMBE C.P.E. BACH 'Sonatas & Rondos': Marc-Andre Hamelin (Hyperion 2 CDs) ★★★★★ After recording Haydn and Mozart the Canadian pianist is back exploring more esoteric repertoire – the keyboard works by the most talented of J.S. Bach's prodigious progeny. Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-1788) saw the eclipse of baroque style and rise of the classical. His works encompass the switch from harpsichord and clavichord to fortepiano with its agility (no stops to change) and greater range of colour and dynamics. His short 'Farewell to my Clavier built by Silbermann', written in the style of his father, signals the transition. The amazing 'Freie Fantasie' in F sharp minor (H300) anticipates Romanticism and is dazzling in Hamelin's hands, justifying his use of a Steinway grand's full resources. The works here range from the fiery Sonata in F minor, the elegant E minor – a sonata-cum-suite – and astonishingly

Modigliani Quartet give the UK premiere of Turnage's Split Apart

POWERFUL, ANGRY TURNAGE PREMIERE QUATUOR MODIGLIANI St James' Church, Chipping Campden ***** Arguably the best thing to emerge from Brexit is Mark-Anthony Turnage's Split Apart, a substantial five-movement string quartet born of the composer's despair and anger at the outcome of the Brexit referendum. In an engaging pre-concert Question & Answer session at this year's continually enterprising Chipping Campden Festival Turnage confessed that this was the first time he had felt the confidence to tackle this most demanding of vehicles without the prop of other instruments. He referred to Beethoven, and indeed that greatest composer of string quartets casts a darkly benevolent presence over Split Apart, not only in its structure, but also in the slowly developing colloquy of the second movement. The fourth movement distorts and fragments the intervals of Beethoven's Ode to Joy (which of course became the great anthem of European unity), but here as we

CBSO Bruckner 6 review

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENTHUSES OVER CBSO'S BRUCKNER 6 WITH MIRGA CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ The sixth is the odd man out of Bruckner's mature symphonies. An enigmatic work which is seldom-played and when it is often proves to be a conducting conundrum. Two recent recordings show conductors trying unsuccessfully to force the symphony into a more familiar, or at least consistent, shape. Thomas Dausgaard tried to increase excitement by fast tempi but made it sound chivvied and rushed; Andris Nelsons, usually a fine Brucknerian, slowed the Adagio down so much it lost shape, in a vain attempt to exalt it to the level of the seventh. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla made no such mistakes, accepting the sixth's idiosyncrasies while revealing its many beauties. An interpretation-in-progress but one resolutely on the right track, eliciting playing of subtlety, trenchancy and power from the CBSO. There's no doubt the opening movement is a puzzle. The tense morse code motif from the s

CBSO Brahms 3 and an amazing improvisation from Gabriela Montero

CBSO DUTIFUL UNDER MIRGA CBSO Symphony Hall **** For all his legendary crustiness, Brahms was the most noble-hearted of composers. Despite an artificial feud between him and Wagner fomented by the Viennese musical press, on the day that composer died Brahms laid down his baton at a rehearsal, announced "today a genius has left us", and cancelled proceedings. Tchaikovsky couldn't stand Brahms, declaring him "that scoundrel, that talentless bastard", but here they both were on this CBSO matinee programme, one of the most popular works by each of them cheek-by-jowl. Before that, though, the concert began with an amazing rendition of a Ukrainian song delivered by the standing CBSO players, conductor Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla singing a solo, the afternoon's pianist Gabriela Montero making a heartwarming contribution. This was the CBSO showing its customary emotional generosity. Then Montero turned to the matter in hand, Tchaikovsky's Piano Concer

OOTS Ukraine concert review

EMOTIONAL UKRAINE CONCERT AT THE ROYAL SHAKESPEARE THEATRE WORDS AND MUSIC FOR UKRAINE Orchestra of the Swan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford ***** This was a very special evening promoted by the Stratford-on-Avon Music Festival with willing co-operation from the Orchestra of the Swan and the Royal Shakespeare Company, all making themselves available for free, with all takings going to the Disasters Emergency Committee co-ordinating assistance to Ukrainian families Emotion was already overflowing as we stood for the State Anthem of Ukraine, and the house was packed. Encouragingly there seemed to be many novices at attending an orchestral concert, and after the heartening enthusiasm they expressed throughout this unique evening I am sure we shall seem thronging OOTS audiences in future. Three distinguished actors – Jim Broadbent, Mogali Masuku and Sam West -- donated their services, Broadbent delivering a particularly telling extract from the originally-suppressed

CBSO, Kashimoto/Yamada review

YAMADA ENCHANTS US YET AGAIN CBSO Symphony Hall***** Libel laws won't permit me to name the many conductors who cavort for the gallery, but there are some who have such an eloquence of body-language that it transmits every interpretative intention, and teases every detail from the players. Andris Nelsons is one thus gifted, and in Kazuki Yamada, the CBSO's Chief Conductor-elect, we now have another. He was like a goading, persuasive marionette, in what is indeed Prokofiev's toytown "Classical" Symphony. Uninhibited gestures mirrored those in this extrovert score, woodwind were encouraged to bubble and strings to bustle in this witty, elegant account. Only in the Gavotte did the shaping seem excessively rhetorical. Yamada then greeted us all with enthusiasm and warmth, flattering us as "a great audience", before introducing his compatriot Daishin Kashimoto, Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic (who has therefore collaborated with Si

Norman Stinchcombe's latest CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS MENDELSSOHN, VAUGHAN WILLIAMS AND RATTLE JAZZ CDS MENDELSSOHN: Vogt / Orchestre de Chambre de Paris ★★★★ It was exactly thirty years ago that German pianist Lars Vogt, then aged twenty-two, released his acclaimed first CD of the Schumann and Grieg concertos with the CBSO under Simon Rattle. He's built up a sizeable catalogue of recordings and added conducting to his repertoire with the Northern Sinfonia and this Paris chamber orchestra. Here he directs Mendelssohn's Piano Concertos, No.1 in G minor and No 2 in D minor, from the keyboard, marking his welcome return to health after treatment for cancer. Vogt gets both concertos get off to a fiery start, precise and quick, genuinely con fuoco and appassionato, with fine support from the orchestra. In No.2 – premiered at Birmingham Town Hall in 1837 with Mendelssohn at the keyboard – his brisk tempo and light touch are suited to the finale's presto scherzando designation. In the delightful &

Roderick Williams at Leamington Music Festival

YET ANOTHER AMAZING RODDY WILLIAMS RECITAL WHEN I WAS ONE-AND-TWENTY Roderick Williams at the Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa ***** Wherever Roderick Williams appears he casts a spell, engaging the entire audience not only with his vocal artistry, but also his warmth of personality and his ability to engage us all with his eyes and with his expressive body-language. His lunchtime recital as this year's hugely successful Leamington Music Festival gradually drew to its close, was such a heartwarming exposition of his gifts, value added by the baritone's wonderful accompanist. Williams has the happy knack of empathising with whomever is at the keyboard, and here, with pianist Paul Cibis (an artist new to me) he immediately established an easy natural rapport. Williams engagingly explained the recital's title (and we could hear his every word, though some speakers have problems in this engulfing acoustic), how he loved performing young composers' music despite

Sinfonia of Birmingham at Royal Leamington Spa

GRADUAL CONVERSION TO VAUGHAN WILLIAMS SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM All Saints' Church, Royal Leamington Spa ***** One perhaps unexpected side-effect of Leamington Music Festival's exploration of the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams on this 150th anniversary of his birth is the way it is quickening the interest of this grumpy old reviewer. Until now there have been only three of the composer's works I have actively welcomed listening to: the ineffable Serenade to Music, the atmospheric Tallis Fantasia, and the Wasps Overture, with which the Sinfonia of Birmingham opened Saturday evening's concert in the reverberant High Victorian All Saints' Church. Strings fizzed and buzzed under the expert baton of Michael Seal (who knows so well how to rehearse and prepare his players with a minimum time-schedule), horns were noble and proud (never mind a few mishaps along the way), and Seal managed to coax out all the contrapuntal textures despite the warm blanket

Lana Trotovsek and Maria Canyigueral violin and piano recital review

WONDERFUL RAVEL VIOLIN SONATA AT LEAMINGTON MUSIC FESTIVAL Royal Pump Rooms, Leamington Spa ***** Leamington Music managed to keep the flag flying as we gradually emerged from the darkest days of the pandemic, and has at last managed to reclaim its place in the MayDay sun for the much-loved Leamington Music Festival. LMF's planned celebrations of 2020's 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth had to be abandoned, but another timely anniversary, the sesquicentenary of Ralph Vaughan Williams, has given a tight motivation to this year's programme. Saturday's lunchtime recital brought Slovenian violinist Lana Trotovsek and Catalan pianist Maria Canyigueral to the exquisitely accommodating Royal Pump Rooms, the warm acoustic perfect for this kind of presentation, presenting to us an absolutely spellbinding account of RVW's The Lark Ascending. Such a performance from non-Brits can only advance the cause of this composer as being considered as more than a litt

Norman Stinchcombe's latest CBSO review

SORENSEN'S HARPSICHORD CONCERTO DISAPPOINTS CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ The Danish composer Bent Sørensen's Bach-inspired harpsichord concerto in six movements 'Sei anime' ('Six Souls') received its UK premiere. Sørensen told us that the title would more be accurately construed as 'Six Lonely Souls'. The soloist Mahan Esfahani and the Bergen Philharmonic gave the world premiere last month but, having listened to it three times, repeated hearings have failed to reveal any depths under its rebarbative, busily unigratiating surface. Esfahani wasn't always audible, despite having a microphone thrust under the lid and five speakers strung across the platform. He was, though, in its final seconds as he leant inside and plucked the strings by hand. Sometimes the instrument tinkled like a music box with a stuck mechanism accompanied by wind glissandi and belching brass, the latter sounding very like Sørensen's 1990 trombone work 'The bells of Vi

Raising Icarus Barber Opera review

BARBER OPERA HITS THE GROUND RAISING ICARUS Barber Opera at Birmingham Repertory Theatre *** Founded in the late 1950s by the great Anthony Lewis, the Barber Operas rapidly became touchstones of quality performances of baroque opera (Scarlatti, Rameau, and above all, Handel) featuring singers clearly rising to the top of the tree, Janet Baker just one example. As an undergraduate at Birmingham University in the late 1960s it was my privilege to be involved in these productions in the Barber Institute's jewel of a theatre, whether as chorister, stage-hand, or indeed orchestral player. Wonderful indelible memories were made. Time and financial constraints have moved things on. After several fallow years (not just because of Covid), the Barber Opera has resurrected, but now in the functional Studio at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, and with the premiere of a chamber opera by one of the University's own composers, Michael Zev Gordon. "Raising Icarus" i

Chipping Campden Music Festival

WONDERFUL MUSIC-MAKING IN CHIPPING CAMPDEN CHIPPING CAMPDEN MUSIC FESTIVAL By Christopher Morley Two of the greatest joys in life are wine and song (you can guess the missing third joy), and Charlie Bennett embodies them both. Charlie, a retired wine merchant of exceptional renown, has established an amazing festival in Chipping Campden, attracting the world's greatest international musicians to this impossibly charming Cotswolds town. Over the years it has been my privilege to review several of his presentations, including last year an amazing Schubert recital from probably the world's greatest pianist still performing, Elisabeth Leonskaja. Settle back as Charlie tells me how it all came about. "I was born in Chipping Campden and was a pupil at Chipping School from 1962-69. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all bakers and until 2016 we still lived in the house I was born in. After school I studied piano with Professor Angus Morris

Norman Stinchcombe reviews Mozart and Mahler from the CBSO

FIVE STAR MOZART AND MAHLER CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ From the opening impressive ringing call-to-arms of Matthew Williams' trumpet to the closing notes of untrammelled joy in the rondo finale there was much to savour in this performance of Mahler's fifth symphony. Under Christoph König's crisp and incisive direction – his podium restraint reminiscent of his countryman Christoph von Dohnányi – there was energy and drive with the minimum of fuss. Occasionally the result sounded a mite too civilized and reined in but restraint and discipline brought compensations too, most notably in the Adagietto. Mahler's tempo indication is "Sehr langsam (Very slow)". I doubt if it would have been if he could have foreseen the late twentieth century trend for gross tempo inflation. The was a musical love letter to Mahler's wife Alma: a mere eight minutes when conducted by Mahler's close friends and confidants Mengelberg and Walter, more recently a slow dirge used

Welsh National Opera Don Giovanni review

FROM DARKNESS TO JOYOUS LIGHT DON GIOVANNI Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ***** So often in opera performances, one or more of the many ingredients – singing, playing, acting, staging, lighting, costumes, directing, to name but some – don't quite hit the mark, even if others prove to be outstanding; this was not the case with WNO's revival of their 2011 production of Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' where every element delivered, resulting in a hugely satisfying evening's entertainment. Mozart's moralistic tale – at times comedic, at times sinister, but always ambiguous in how it plays with our empathy for Giovanni – is sympathetically told through the vision of director John Caird. The striking set design by John Napier – monolithic walls that move in sections to focus the drama – prove surprisingly versatile at assisting with the storytelling, including the use of multiple doors which are ideal for this opera where Giovanni, and his unfor