Posts

Showing posts from October, 2022
  CBSO Youth Orchestra at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ In these dour dispiriting times the exuberance and abundance of music making in Birmingham is a source of pride for a native Brummie and these talented youngsters are an integral part of that. They ripped into Verdi’s overture from ‘The Force of Destiny’ as if the fate of the opera’s star-crossed lovers Leonora and Don Alvaro depended on them. Its disparate themes – romantic, martial, religious and humorous – cohered perfectly under conductor Michael Seal (stepping in for the indisposed announced conductor), illuminated by some fine playing. First clarinet take a bow. Lutosławski’s ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ may be his most popular work but it’s still unfamiliar to most concertgoers. Pundits usually employ a couple of tropes to make it appear less forbidding. The first is that it’s the second most popular ‘Concerto for Orchestra’ after Bartok’s – which just makes it a very distant second in a two-horse race. Except for the declamatory opening
                                               CITY OF BIRMINGHAM CHOIR CENTENARY                                              by Christopher Morley                                                                   With the end of the First World War in 1918 men began returning to normal civilian life. One of the many happy consequences was the reconstitution of choral societies, deprived of male voices for so many years, and the formation of new ones. One such was the City of Birmingham Choir, founded in 1921, and now, lockdown-postponed for a year, celebrating its centenary with a concert also celebrating the sesquicentenary of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose 150 th birthday fell just a few days ago. It is no coincidence that the Choir came into existence almost simultaneously with the City of Birmingham Orchestra, and many of its greatest triumphs have been in concerts presented with the then CBO, and eventually with the renamed City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.   Th
                                               EUROPEAN UNION CHAMBER ORCHESTRA                                              Malvern College ****   Having turned our backs on the EU, we scarcely deserve the opportunity of relishing the talents of the excellent European Union Chamber Orchestra. Yet thanks to Peter Smith’s remarkable Autumn in Malvern Festival, gracing this beautiful area for over 30 years, and always so meticulously organised in terms of presentation and detail, we were able to welcome them on Sunday on their seventh visit here. Doubtless the personnel have changed over the years; what remains a constant is the ensemble’s exuberance in performance, projected so compellingly by all these players) standing freely at their music-stands, cellos of course excepted. This largely English programme began with Britten’s Simple Symphony, crisply delivered in this resonant acoustic, with a clarity of texture, attention to dynamics, and a unanimity of ebb and flow under t
  Weill: Kocsis, Ulster Orchestra / van Steen (SOMM Recordings) ★★★★★ Kurt Weill’s name is for most people indissolubly linked with playwright Bertolt Brecht and their successful blend of song, satire and agit-prop in ‘The Threepenny Opera’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’. Even after their split Weill’s reputation rests on his songs and, in America, musicals. Yet he was always a committed and imaginative composer of instrumental music. His Violin Concerto (1924) is an ingenious and engaging blend of lyricism – a perky flute solo in the ‘Serenata’ movement – and risqué Berlin cabaret cynicism, with soloist Tamás Kocsis equally adept in all its many facets. The Ulster Orchestra, under the ever-reliable Jac van Steen, relish its colourful scoring.  Weill’s second symphony (1933) is a three-movement work,  for an ‘Orchestra of Wind Instruments’ plus percussion and double bass,  and van Steen reveals the dark undercurrents below its neo-classical surface. The playing is exc
                                ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE ASSOCIATION 40 TH ANNIVERSARY                               Christopher Morley                               Who would have thought that the proposal to create an organisation devoted to the well-being of music students could go through so many travails? Yet reading through John Smith’s meticulously-assembled history of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Association   it becomes abundantly clear that such altruistic aims had to jump through so many hoops before achieving reality. It all began when staff and alumni of the then Birmingham School of Music thought it would be a good and noble idea to establish a kind of old boys’ club to assist the current students of their alma mater with support both financial and moral. But years of correspondence between the then Principal of the BSM, Louis Carus, and authorities at the then City of Birmingham Polytechnic faltered at stumbling-block upon stumbling-block (not much h
                                ROYAL BIRMINGHAM CONSERVATOIRE ASSOCIATION 40 TH ANNIVERSARY                               Christopher Morley                                Who would have thought that the proposal to create an organisation devoted to the well-being of music students could go through so many travails? Yet reading through John Smith’s meticulously-assembled history of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Association  it becomes abundantly clear that such altruistic aims had to jump through so many hoops before achieving reality. It all began when staff and alumni of the then Birmingham School of Music thought it would be a good and noble idea to establish a kind of old boys’ club to assist the current students of their alma mater with support both financial and moral. But years of correspondence between the then Principal of the BSM, Louis Carus, and authorities at the then City of Birmingham Polytechnic faltered at stumbling-block upon stumbling-block (not much has
                 FANTASIAS BY CANDLELIGHT                                                             Gloucester Cathedral ****   Never mind Rutland Boughton’s long-neglected opera The Immortal Hour, I had my own immortal hour – and it was exactly that, no more, no less – on Thursday evening in a candlelit Gloucester Cathedral. Promoted by the Three Choirs Festival to celebrate the 150 th birthday the previous day of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gloucestershire’s favourite musical son (though Parry comes very close for me), this heartening programme, brilliantly constructed, was delivered by young string players under the discreet directorship of violinist Clio Gould. It was a wonderful surprise to hear Ben Sawyer’s Come and Sing Choir, far away beyond the rood screen, singing Thomas Tallis’ Third Tune, before the remarkable Sainsbury Royal Academy Soloists, comfortably audience side of the screen,   gave us RVW’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, insipidly received under its
                                                             EX CATHEDRA                                                             Birmingham Town Hall *****   With pomp and ceremony so much in the air recently (I’m talking about the Royal succession, not the Conservative Party Conference) it was serendipitously appropriate that Jeffrey Skidmore should have chosen this programme of music connected with the respective courts of King George II and the “Sun King”, Louis XIV.. This was a smoothly, effortlessly (though obviously meticulously rehearsed and choreographed) flowing sequence of music by Handel and Lalande. The latter composer has long been one of Ex Cathedra’s calling-cards, and here we relished many examples of his “royal” music, beginning with the rolling, burgeoning kettle-drums launching the Te Deum, heralding well-defined, well-weighted choral delivery. Many other Lalande choral delights followed, vocal soloists emerging as ever from within the choral ranks, ins
  CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ The orchestra’s final concert before embarking on their coast-to-coast tour of America was a memorable, rousing send-off. In talking to us at its end, conductor  Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla  said that while abroad their thoughts would often “return to Albion”. Very apt to o  since this splendid evening began and ended with two masterpieces of English music, both of which pay glorious recreative homage to native geniuses of an earlier age.  In their album  ‘The British Project’,  released last year, Mirga and the orchestra demonstrated not just technical facility but an immediate and deep rapport with the music. Their performance of  V aughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’  on disc was impressive –  here it  was a marvel. Using a platform-filling body of strings normally seen only in Mahler symphonies – plus the requisite off-stage group producing a magically distanced effect – the composer’s  mix of religious serenity and surging passion has sel
  Berg: Ehnes, BBC Symphony Orchestra / Davis (Chandos CD / SACD) ★★★★ This new disc duplicate four items from Chandos’s own 2009 set of Berg’s orchestral music under Mario Venzago. Except for the ‘Three Orchestral Pieces’ – where the timings of both performances are (amazingly) identical at 20:47 – Sir Andrew Davis’s approach is very different; broader, weightier with an enormous visceral impact. He supplies new transcriptions of the Piano Sonata and ‘Passacaglia’ employing a more austere musical palette than those used by Venzago which included cymbals, bass drum and tam-tam. The low wind and brass Davis chooses – the BBC orchestra on top form – have amazing definition. The Passacaglia’s climatic double-bass line can be felt as well as heard in this superlative wide-ranging recording made at Watford Colosseum this year. James Ehnes gives a magisterial performance of the valedictory Violin Concerto; passionate, lithe and full of imagination. Soloist, conductor, orchestra and productio
                                               JONATHAN VEIRA                                                             St Andrew’s Church, Shottery (October 1) Jonathan Veira is an opera-singer with a long and proud CV of international appearances, including gracing every major opera company in the United Kingdom. But there is much more to him than that. When I arrived at the architecturally fascinating (altar in one corner, congregation arranged in a reverse L-shape) St Andrew’s Church on Saturday evening I became part of an audience buzzing with excited anticipation, their conversations almost drowned by some jazzy more-than-“background” music, voice and keyboards. And then a huge presence burst onto the altar, larger-than-life, wise-cracking and greeting, seating himself at the Roland electric piano, accompanying himself with brilliant keyboard skills as he launched into a bouncy “I got plenty of nuttin’”, jazzy with skat embellishments but also showing off his operatical
  CBSO at Symphony Hall (September 20) ★★★★★ It was an occasion for both reflecting on the past and looking to the future. A collective farewell was made to the late Queen with an immaculately observed minute’s silence followed by a fulsome greeting to the new monarch with the CBSO, orchestra and chorus, leading the audience in ‘God Save the King’. There was loud and long applause for the sub-principal first violin Colin Twigg who is leaving the CBSO after 31 years – he joined a few months before Queen Elizabeth II opened Symphony Hall. A warm welcome too for  Kazuki Yamada  who next April takes over as  Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor after his highly successful four years as Principal Guest Conductor. After more than two years of Covid-wrecked concert schedules the opening concert of the new season was, one hopes, the harbinger of great things to come. Hope inspired in part by a capacity audience: how heartening to see Symphony Hall packed once again, a point both Yamada and CBS
                                               SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM                                                             CBSO Centre, Birmingham ***** Perhaps it is indeed something in the water, but Birmingham is more than well blessed with amateur orchestras of the highest calibre. I have long hailed the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra as one of the finest amateur orchestras in the land, but recently I have noticed coming up on the rails the Sinfonia of Birmingham. Sunday’s concert confirmed its position as one of the front-runners. The programming itself was worthy of much praise, well-loved repertoire works framing a neglected masterpiece and the world premiere of a substantial work especially written for the occasion. This latter was Christ on the Road to Emmaus, a concerto for viola and strings by the prolific composer, author, reviewer and editor Robert Matthew-Walker, and composed in memory of Gwyn Williams, Sir Simon Rattle’s principal viola in the CBSO. The