Showing posts from May, 2023
  ANDREW DOWNES YEAR OF REMEMBRANCE                                                 By Christopher Morley       The turnout for Andrew Downes’ funeral in St John’s Church, Hagley, earlier this year was simply amazing, and was a sign of the affection which so many people held for this modest, unassuming composer. Andrew had suffered much ill-health for many years, including a long spell in Stoke Mandeville Hospital, but had always managed to compose, responding to commissions from all over the world, despite his physical difficulties.   After several months of deterioration, he was admitted into hospital on Christmas Day 2022, and passed away on January 2. “It was a huge shock,” said his violinist daughter Anna (she also has a sister, Paula, who is a singer), “because although he had been ill for so long he always bounced back with his usual resilience.!   Anna goes on to explain the reasons behind this huge outpouring of warmth for her father.   “Dad was quite sim
                                                              FESTIVAL ACADEMY ORCHESTRA                                                             St James’ Church, Chipping Campden **** From the Coronation, stopping off briefly in Brazil, to Chipping Campden Music Festival, this has been the itinerary over the past week or so for Roderick Williams, internationally-acclaimed baritone as well as a prolific composer. Here he displayed both talents to a packed audience, soloist in his own orchestration of Butterworth’s song-cycle A Shropshire Lad. The bleakness of Housman’s poetry, already well-defined in the original piano accompaniments, reaches out hauntingly in Williams’ scorings, which, combined with his characteristically confiding vocal delivery, making intimates of us all, creates a chilling experience. The performance here was preceded by Butterworth’s cowpat Banks of Green Willow, leading directly into “Loveliest of Trees”, woodwind interweaving like burgeoning blossom
  Smouldering CBSO Mahler Ten Blazes Into Life CBSO at Symphony Hall  ★★★★★ The musician, writer, BBC broadcaster and cultural provocateur Hans Keller drew up a wide-ranging list of “phony professions”: viola players, conductors, opera producers and critics were mercilessly lampooned. So were musicologists but for that profession this concert provided the perfect defence. This performance of Mahler's Tenth Symphony could never have happened without the vision, patience, and persistence of British musicologist Deryck Cooke. He argued that what Mahler left at his untimely death – a completed first movement, sketches and short score drafts of four others – had “continuity from beginning to end, however tenuous in places.” He never claimed his work, aided by composers Berthold Goldschmidt, with later help from Colin and David Matthews, was a completion but simply a performing version. He was long opposed by Mahler’s widow Alma but she relented after hearing a BBC broadcast of Cooke’s w
  The Music of Old Bach’s Most Talented Son Shines Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at Birmingham Town Hall ★★★★ ‘ Fathers and Sons’ was the subtext for this entertaining programme. With first and second violins – antiphonally divided left and right – violas and wind players all standing, the orchestra’s clarity and precision were emphasized. How refreshing to be able to hear and see them, under director and first violin Kati Debretzeni, swiftly shift musical themes and motifs around. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) was the most interesting of J.S. Bach’s composing progeny and was part of the movement from the Baroque to Classical styles. His massive catalogue of keyboard works include amazingly imaginative sonatas and fantasies which anticipate, and probably influenced, Beethoven. His modest Symphony in F major is more conventional but even here in the central Larghetto we feel the anticipatory breeze of the Romantic movement with its sombre minor key keening sound, before
  Majestic Dvořák No.7 from Estonian Orchestra Estonian National Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall  ★★★★ For most British classical enthusiasts the music of Estonia is synonymous with two names. The first is that of veteran Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi who in his 400-strong discography always championed the music of his homeland. That included a sublimely beautiful piece by Arvo Pärt – the second Estonian name familiar to us – his ‘Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten’. This concert opened with a profoundly inward performance of that work performed by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra of which Järvi was the chief conductor for a decade until 2020. The orchestra was making its first visit to Birmingham conducted by Järvi’s successor, his countryman Olari Elts. Starting and ending with the tolling of a bell, a religious call to attention, the orchestra’s strings soared gradually skywards before descending into a peaceful conclusion. I remembered a rather rushed and perfunctory
                          MICHAEL BERKELEY AND ELGAR FESTIVAL 2023                                                             By Christopher Morley     Running in the Worcester area for almost a week surrounding the beginning of June, the Elgar Festival 2023 brings “Elgar for Everyone”, with family concerts, conducting masterclasses, a late-night fusion of classical and world music, talks, chamber music, open-air brass music, and so much more.   Evening highlights include the concert at Malvern Priory June 1, when the Requiem by Worcester’s own Ian Venables is performed alongside Elgar’s touching little Mina, in memory of the dog he was allowed to have only after the death of his canine-hating wife, and Michael Berkeley’s Vision of Piers Plowman, which begins on the Malvern Hills.   Elgar’s birthday on June 2 is celebrated with a programme of from the English Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Woods, the Festival’s artistic director (Julian Lloyd Webber the Patro
  It’s the Jörg Widmann Show! CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ “ Strap on your safety belts and get ready to go,” Jörg Widmann advised us just before the start of a snorting, roaring performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. In the tumultuous finale the CBSO, under the impish lavishly talented clarinet virtuoso, composer and conductor, invited us to go to the edge of this musical maelstrom and peer over the edge. Every accent was triple underlined, decorum trampled underfoot, any vestige of classical equipoise battered into oblivion as the first and second fiddles – sadly not antiphonally divided, a trick missed by Widmann – rocketed their responses back and forth. Wagner described this symphony as “the apotheosis of the dance”, if so it was danced by the Maenads before they ripped Orpheus to shreds. Mightily exciting, if short on nobility and grandeur: heavy metal Beethoven and worthy of Weber’s judgment, quoted by Widmann, that the finale showed Beethoven was “ripe for the madhouse”. Des
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical disc releases Stanford ‘Requiem’: CBSO, University of Birmingham Voices, soloists / Brabbins (Hyperion Records CD)  ★★★★★ If you are seeking the visceral impact of Verdi or the existential terror of Mozart, then look elsewhere. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Requiem, first performed at Birmingham Town Hall in 1897, is on a massive scale with seven sections lasting more than 70 minutes but it is a predominantly a gentle, intimate and consolatory work, composed in memory of Stanford’s close friend Lord Frederic Leighton. The performance, recorded at Symphony Hall last year, is superb, with the orchestral and vocal forces conducted by Martyn Brabbins and the production team utilizing the hall’s expansive acoustic adroitly. I saw the choir perform there recently – in Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ – and they were mightily impressive in diction and projection, as they are again here. The quartet of soloists fit the music perfectly; Marta Fontanals
                                                              CBSO BENEVOLENT FUND CONCERT                                                             Symphony Hall ***** The Benevolent Fund concert is one of the joyous highlights of the CBSO calendar, all performers (including conductor and soloists) as well as stage-staff and many others giving their services free, and bucket-collections overflowing in the cause of aid to CBSO members in need of medical help or assistance of other kinds. I am proud to reveal that the Fund is one of the few beneficiaries in my will, so great is the pleasure the orchestra has given me over nearly 60 years. Another joy of the event is the appearance of so many well-loved faces from the orchestra’s past, now swelling the audience to relish how far the CBSO has advanced even since their own glory-days. And advanced it certainly has, with an almost inconceivably glittering future beckoning under Kazuki Yamada, who barely a week into his official ap
                                               LEAMINGTON MUSIC FESTIVAL 2023                                              ***** Punch-drunk after last year’s Vaughan Williams sesquicentenary, we are now celebrating the 150 th anniversary of the birth of Rachmaninov, a composer with a technique and aristocratic personality totally different from that of the rough-hewn son of Gloucestershire. So Rachmaninov was the thread running through the programme of Leamington Music Festival 2023, running through five days over the May Day bank holiday weekend, and in fact in the three events I attended there was only one non-Russian composer. Saturday’s recital in the Royal Pump Rooms from the awesome pianist Andrey Gugnin began with movements from Tchaikovsky’s shamelessly Schumannesque Album for the Young, warmly chorded and charmingly characterised. Then came Rachmaninov, whose thirteen Op.32 Preludes are gems individually, but presented as a collective they seem to say “more is less”,