Showing posts from February, 2023
                                                              CBSO YOUTH ORCHESTRA                                                             Symphony Hall **** Perhaps I am being an over-reacting Jeremiah, but Sunday’s concert from the continually remarkable CBSO Youth Orchestra seemed to indicate a worrying trend, with some string sections seeming depleted in numbers.   If so, this is undoubtedly the result of our philistine government’s money-grubbing downgrading of music provision in our state schools (so often the roll-call of National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain reveals a preponderance of public school students; the CBSOYO does not detail its members’ provenance). That said, these youngsters performed with amazing precision of ensemble after a week of expert coaching from CBSO professionals, responding with such confidence to the clear, authoritative baton of Ilan Volkov, such an inspirational conductor. This was apparent right from the opening of Berlioz’ Roman Carni
  Armenian State Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall ★★★★ In his own country the Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian is a musical and cultural icon in the way that Sibelius is in Finland and Verdi in Italy. It’s the 120 th  anniversary of his birth this year and so, under the auspices of the Armenian Embassy in the United Kingdom, his homeland’s national orchestra was here to celebrate that landmark. Sergey Smbatyan founded the orchestra in 2005, when he was only eighteen, and here he was at the helm as artistic director and chief conductor. At the heart of the concert was Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto in D minor. It was premiered in 1940 by the great David Oistrakh, got the imprimatur of the Stalin Prize the next year and was the apogee of the composer’s success, drawing on Armenia’s folklore and indigenous music. It’s a hugely enjoyable, tuneful, bear-hug of a work that’s too-seldom heard in our concert halls. Jennifer Pike brought musical finesse, grace and well-focused attack to t
  Exciting new CDs of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and English String Music reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe Delius, Elgar, Howells, Vaughan Williams: Sinfonia of London / Wilson (Chandos CD & SACD) ★★★★★ Following up his 2021 success with ‘English Music for Strings’ conductor John Wilson repeats the formula with equally impressive results. Once again two well-known works bookend two rarely-programmed pieces. This disc opens with Vaughan Williams’ ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’, for Double String Orchestra, and ends with Elgar’s ‘Introduction and Allegro’. In between is Delius’s ‘Late Swallows’, a slow movement from a string quartet orchestrated by the composer’s amanuensis Eric Fenby, and Herbert Howells’ ‘Concerto for String Orchestra’, a substantial work which at 28 minutes is easily the longest. Superlatives are now obligatory for Wilson and the Sinfonia’s recordings. The acoustic of St. Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, is ideal for ‘Tallis’ with the required separation of the
  Impressive new CD releases from cycles of Mozart’s piano sonatas and concertos reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe Mozart Piano Sonatas Volume 6: Peter Donohoe (Somm Recordings) ★★★★★ This is the final instalment of Peter Donohoe’s survey of Mozart’s sonatas and I believe that Somm has saved the best for last. The series was recorded over two years but much of it, including this disc, was taped in sessions at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire in the summer of 2018. That intense programming, and the concentration it required, matches Donohoe’s muscular keyboard style; the series often having the feel of live performances, with playing of the moment. This reaches its apogee in Donohoe’s readings of the Fantasia in C minor, K.475 and the Sonata No.14 in C minor, which follows it and ends the disc as a fitting climax. The Fantasia is one of Mozart’s darkest proto-Romantic works and one the young Beethoven must have pondered deeply. Donohoe shrouds the opening in mist and cloud before its sto
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews an   Offenbach  box-of-delights with operas and arias on CDs from Opera Rara Offenbach: ‘Robinson Crusoe’, ‘Vert-Vert’, ‘Entre Nous’ (7 CD box set Opera Rara) ★★★★★ Jacques Offenbach, who Rossini nicknamed ‘the Mozart of the Champs-Élysées’, wrote more than a hundred comic operas. Only two remain in the repertory; his early hit ‘Orphée aux enfers’ (‘Orpheus in the Underworld’) and his masterpiece ‘Les Contes d’Hoffmann’, unfinished at his death, while ‘La belle Hélène’ is occasionally revived if a star singer fancies the title role, as Jessye Norman once did. The Opera Rara label, whose mission is, “restoring, recording, performing and promoting the forgotten operatic heritage of the 19 th  and early 20 th  centuries”, show that there are gems to be mined in that mountain of neglected Offenbach scores. This bargain-price box restores three earlier Opera Rara sets back into the catalogue: ‘Robinson Crusoe’ a 1980 recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchest
 SWAN LAKE                                                             Birmingham Royal Ballet at Birmingham Hippodrome *****   Birmingham Royal Ballet’s revival of Sir Peter Wright’s timeless production and choreography of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, together with the ballerina Galina Samsova, to whose recent memory this season is dedicated, comes up fresh and sparkling. Philip Prowse’s designs are breathtaking, not least the set for Act III’s ballroom (reminding me of nothing so much of the Hall of the Grail in Wagner’s Parsifal – more of that composer below), and the costumes are stunning, worn and danced in with style and aplomb. Heading the cast on this opening night were Miki Mizutani, graceful, elegant  and vulnerable as white swan Odette, proud, haughty and mesmeric as black swan Odile (that amazing sequence of multiple spins). Her partner was Cesar Morales, his Siegfried conveying melancholy throughout, his liftings of Mizutani lofting her to the heavens, where they are f
  CBSO                                                                            Symphony Hall **** Frankly speaking, the first half of Thursday’s CBSO matinee was something of a disappointment. Despite the expert playing of the musicians both collectively and individually, the opening account of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite was undercharacterised under the elegant conducting of Roderick Cox, and cellist Alban Gerhardt deserved something more musically rewarding than the third-rate Mendelssohn pastiche which is Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto no.1 to display his awesome gifts. These include remarkable purity of tone, fluency of bowing (Cox’s orchestra complementing with equally supple collaboration), and deep involvement in the music, whatever its quality. Gerhardt’s encore had far more to offer, a movement from Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello, a welcome departure from the habitual Bach, but so redolent of that composer’s serenity. The CBSO cello section applauded even more vociferousl
  A majestic ‘Alpine’ Symphony from the RLPO   –   shame about the slide-show Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Near the end of his epic musical traversal of a mountain peak Richard Strauss launches a storm. It’s the only genuinely pictorial effect in this huge tone poem which is, as Beethoven said about his ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, "more the expression of feeling than painting". There are none of Don Quixote’s bleating sheep, Beethoven’s cuckoos and quails or Mahler’s alpine cowbells. The storm is Strauss’s set piece and even the most innocent listener is left in no doubt about what’s happening; the plink-plonk string pizzicati of the first raindrops, ominous rumbles of approaching thunder from the basses and bass drum and then the apocalyptic eruption complete with wind-machine going full pelt. The RLPO under Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider did it complete justice; I’d have donned a souwester if there’d been one handy.This was exactly as it should be – so w
                                                                             CBSO                                                                            Symphony Hall ***** The rampant joyousness of this wonderful concert was tinged with a slight element of sadness, marking as it did the final appearance of Ruth Lawrence, retiring after nearly 40 years of stalwart, unobtrusive service among the first violins of the CBSO.. Kazuki Yamada, soon to become the orchestra’s Chief Conductor and Artistic Adviser, paid her a charming, deeply-felt tribute – and then launched into the most amazingly energetic and characterful account of Holst’s Planets I have ever heard. There was driving force, drama and otherworldliness in this reading, but also a remarkable discipline and balance from every member of this huge ensemble. Holst’s deeply researched astrological thumbnail portraits of the deities naming the seven planets visible from the Earth at the time of the work’s composition broug