Showing posts from March, 2023
                 A BAD NIGHT IN LOS ANGELES (SOMMCD 0662) **** The title draws you in immediately, but even before you get to the disc there is the fascinating insert-booklet, with notes by the composer of this kaleidoscope of piano music, Robert Matthew-Walker, himself. There are references to some of the friendships he has made during his long life (such illustrious names), and two photographs which cannot help but invite juxtaposition. The first is of a glittering gathering celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s 53 rd birthday party, with Pierre Boulez alongside Bernstein himself, a miserable-looking Daniel Barenboim and his then wife Jacqueline du Pre. Just behind her is a hirsute, moustachioed hippy – RMW! Turn a couple of pages and you see a very recent photograph of Simon Callow chatting to Matthew-Walker. How he could do with those locks of yesteryear! And so we move to the actual music on this well-filled disc, all dating from Matthew-Walker’s retirement from important positio
    Emma Stenning appointed new Chief Executive of City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra     The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) has today announced  Emma Stenning  as its new Chief Executive, starting in her new role on Monday 3 April 2023.   Taking the helm of one of the world’s most respected orchestras, Emma brings a wealth of experience in leading cultural organisations, many of which have had innovative live music programmes at their heart. She brings a track record in regional cultural impact, a reputation for delivering world class artistic quality, and a passion for developing new audiences.   Emma joins the CBSO from her most recent role in the arts as Executive Director of Soulpepper Theatre in Toronto, the renowned Canadian company, much loved for its popular concert series. Her previous roles include Chief Executive of Bristol Old Vic, where she produced the Bristol Proms and Executive Director of Battersea Arts Centre, which was then home of BAC Opera. She wa
  New Chandos CDs reviewed by Norman Stinchcombe Chandos is the reigning ‘Classical Record Label of the Year’ – an accolade that is thoroughly deserved. The gigantic international entertainment companies swallow up and ditch famous labels of the past – farewell Philips and EMI Classics – endlessly repackage their back catalogue (how many remastered Karajan recordings do we need?) and concentrate on a few high-profile glossily packaged artists. Independent labels like Chandos do what the giants of the past once did; they allow conductors, orchestras and soloists to pursue their interests and give them room and resources to flourish. The huge success of conductor John Wilson and the revivified Sinfonia of London is a prime example. The partnership has given us award-winning discs of Korngold, Ravel, Respighi and English string music recorded in a location – St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn – whose acoustic splendour reminds one of the legendary venues of the past such as Kingsway Hall and
                                                              THE MAGIC FLUTE                                                             Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff **** An ecstatic audience virtually held the performers hostage onstage on Wednesday night, demanding bow after bow following the most joyous and stimulating production of The Magic Flute I have ever witnessed and reviewed over a long lifetime. Director Daisy Evans has blown away the museum dust and returned Mozart’s opera to its pantomimic roots, providing wholly new spoken dialogue (admittedly too much in Act II, and not always audible), laying on the visual spectacle, and updating the topicality. That resource might not have been to everybody’s taste, with its subtle inference of wokism, but we had here a cultivation of mindful self-awareness differing from the Enlightenment derived from Masonic values which were prevalent when Mozart created this miraculous score. Evans gives us a bac
  Weinberg’s little gem steal the show CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ As Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s time with the CBSO draws to a close, she deserves our thanks for championing the music of  Mieczysław Weinberg.  I n 2018  M irga conducted the UK premiere of  Weinberg’s  powerful Symphony  No.21,  a threnody for victims of the Holocaust. It’s the pinnacle of her work with the CBSO and was followed by an equally impressive award-winning recording of the symphony. Weinberg, the Polish-born Jewish composer who fled the Nazis to Soviet Russia, was a prolific writer in many types and forms from the profound to  the charmingly  lightweight. The four-movement Sinfonietta No.1 Op.46  begins in the most undemanding way, The heavily-accented thumpingly rumbustious Allegro, reeking of circus sawdust and vaudeville greasepaint, sounds like its  © Shostakovich (Keep the Commissars Happy Ltd.)  Weinberg,  like his musical mentor, knew how to dissimulate, and succeeding movements draw on the folk music of h
  Elgar Concerto Weaves Its Magic CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ In his satirical comedy ‘Forty Years On’ Alan Bennett poked fun at England using the microcosm of a public school called Albion House. The jibes, japes and mockery are put on hold for one scene which is a paean to England before World War 1 – a world of lost content, of beauty and romance snuffed out in the trenches of Passchendaele. The narrator, Bennett himself, is accompanied by a musical soundtrack – the slow movement of Elgar’s violin concerto. The concerto was premiered in 1910 and in the andante Elgar distilled the quintessence of nostalgia for that lost time. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – made grubby by the tainted fingers of cynical politicians and their spin-doctors. This wonderful performance by Vilde Frang, with the CBSO conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla showed that Elgar’s music cannot be traduced. Here it was in all its pristine glory, exuding the perfume of flowers long dead and summers long gone. Frang
  Superb Schubert from Paul Lewis Paul Lewis at Birmingham Town Hall ★★★★★ In an interview about his Birmingham series of Schubert’s complete piano sonatas Paul Lewis described him as, “the most human of all composers.” By which he meant that as opposed to Beethoven’s sonatas – musical journeys carefully mapped out, destinations reached, problems resolved – Schubert can leave us, “with more questions than you started with.” Rather like our own lives in fact. That questing, questioning aspect of Schubert was a thread running through this recital. He’s a musical traveller who can never stay on the straight and narrow but prefers the scenic route, the interesting by-way – mirrored in his side-slipping key changes – and sometimes ends in a cul-de-sac, which is why there are so many unfinished works, fragments that ran out of road. This is what happened in the Piano Sonata No 15 in C major, D840 with which Lewis opened the recital. Lewis played the first two movements which Schubert complet
  CBSO & CBSO Chorus at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ was back home in Birmingham, the city where it premiered in 1900. After the oratorio’s disastrous first performance Elgar excoriated the poorly-rehearsed premiere choir for making the choruses, “no better than a drawing room ballad”. How different the resounding power, presence and discipline of the CBSO Choir under Julian Wilkins, its Associate Chorus Director. They were there in force, filling almost the entire choir area, and rose to every challenge with gusto, skill and clarity. They were a fiercely sardonic gathering of demons, sneering at the “psalm-droners and canting groaners”, the penitents on their knees in the hope of ingratiating the divine “despot’s will” – their interjected laughs really venomous. If oratorios are Victorian relics, like antimacassars and potted aspidistras, no one told the enthusiastic audience who packed Symphony Hall. Elgar rejected “Church tunes and rubbish”, wanting “good