Showing posts from June, 2022

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


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