Showing posts from October, 2023
                                             EUROPEAN UNION CHAMBER ORCHESTRA                                            Great Hall, Malvern College **** Now over 30 years in existence, the perennially enterprising Autumn in Malvern Festival welcomed the engaging European Union Chamber Orchestra for its concluding concert, something which has developed into an endearing tradition, sponsored by the Elmley Foundation and the Prokofiev family. Conductorless, they have the benefit of a nifty concertmaster, deft in securing clean, clear entries and arresting in his communication of dynamics. The sound from these 13 strings, however, was disembodied and thin for the opening of Rudolf Barshai’s orchestration of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives for piano, though there was plenty of measured wit where appropriate. Award-winning pianist Yuzhang Li was soloist in Mozart’s Concerto no.12 in A , K414, the EUCO collaborating with warmly-turned phrasing and an excellent balance with the piano. Y
  BIRMINGHAM SCHOOLCHILDREN TAKE UP WILLIAM BYRD’S “REASONS TO SING”                                            By Christopher Morley Four hundred years after the death of William Byrd, the great Elizabethan and Jacobean composer’s spirit lives on in the young voices of well over 100 Birmingham schoolchildren singing in the premiere of Kerry Andrew’s new Byrd-inspired commission at the Barber Institute on November 8. They will join the early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico and Horizon Voice as the culmination of a project instigated by Dr Katie Bank of the University of Birmingham. In his own preface to his ‘Psalmes, Sonets and songs of sadness and pietie’ of 1588, Byrd listed eight reasons why singing is so beneficial to all, including curing stammering, and concluded with the injunction “Sing singing is so good a thing I wish all men would learn to sing”. Kerry Andrew has followed in the footsteps of her great predecessor, whose description as England’s Nightingale gives it
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases George Walker:’Five Sinfonias’ National Symphony Orchestra / Noseda (NSO CD / SACD) ★★★★★ He published 90 musical works including four concertos, piano sonatas, string quartets, songs and a mass. As a concert pianist his repertoire included the second concertos of Rachmaninoff and Brahms. He was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. For Simon Rattle, he was simply, “by any measure a great composer.” So why have so few of us in Britain heard of George Walker? Walker, who died in 2018 aged 96, wrote eclectic music which doesn’t fit into easy categories like minimalism, jazz or avant-garde. This new disc is an excellent introduction to Walker’s world featuring five short Sinfonias, composed between 1984-2016 and lasting between ten and sixteen minutes. The first three are in two or three movements, No.4 ‘Strands’ and No.5 ‘Visions’ are single spans. The Washington-based orchestra, under Gianandrea Nose
  Their National Orchestra does Ukraine Proud National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine at Symphony Hall ★★★★ An enthusiastic audience gave a standing ovation to the Ukrainian orchestra on the Birmingham leg of their European tour. The opening piece combined patriotism and power: the tone poem ‘Grazhyna’ by Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatosynsky. Although written in 1955 it’s a romantic throwback to the style of Smetana’s ‘Ma Vlast’ but instead of his fierce and murderous warrior maiden Šárka, Lyatosynsky celebrates the noble Lithuanian princess Grazhyna who leads the troops into battle in defence of her country. The orchestra’s music director Volodymyr Sirenko conducted the huge orchestral forces – including snare and bass drums and harp – sans baton but with expressive and cajoling hands. It began with Grazhyna’s delicate plangent theme on cor anglais with disturbing wisps of sound from the wind, violas and second violins, depicting ominous forebodings of the invasion to come. Sirenko’s d
  Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra 80 th   anniversary concert Birmingham Town Hall   5 stars *****   Eighty years is a ripe age for any orchestra, and two years after Covid scuppered the planned anniversary concert, the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra didn’t stint on what was actually its 82 nd  birthday celebration. The BPO had assembled a chorus specially for the occasion, and with representatives from (among others) Birmingham Bach Choir, Wolverhampton Chamber Choir, Dudley Choral Society and Walsall Choral Society, what was billed as a birthday party for the West Midlands’ pre-eminent amateur orchestra actually served as a much wider showcase for regional amateur music making at its most buoyant.    You wouldn’t have guessed that this was an  ad hoc  choir: tuning was secure, ensemble was tight and the tone glowed, especially up top. With the entire first half devoted to Elgar’s  The Music Makers –  the last masterpiece thar Egar created specifically to be sung here in Birmingh
  Sinfonia of Birmingham Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon ****   “Of course he was a wonderful player, that goes without saying, but he was also permanently in a good mood which is much rarer!”. This warm quotation by Sir Simon Rattle, included in the programme about Gwyn Williams, a lynchpin of the viola section of the CBSO for so many years, captured the spirit of the man who was celebrated in this concert given in aid of the Gwyn Williams Bursary for Young Viola Players, inaugurated in 2017 in Williams’ memory.   Williams believed passionately in encouraging and furthering the careers of young viola players, and he surely would have been satisfied with tonight’s soloist, Leeloo Creed, who is one of the promising young players whom the Bursary has supported. Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G – one of the earliest examples of a concerto for solo viola – explores the full breadth of this versatile instrument, with Creed’s understated authority and poise delivering a perf
  BIRMINGHAM PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA 80 th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT                          By Christopher Morley     Take two years off for the pandemic lockdown and you reach the 80 th anniversary of the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra, founded modestly in 1941 to accompany a wartime fund-raising performance of Handel’s Messiah.   The activities of the then South Birmingham Orchestra rapidly burgeoned, the ensemble soon adding the august term “Philharmonic” to its name, and eventually dropping the “South” when a Lord Mayor of Birmingham decreed the orchestra was of a standard which brought esteem to the entire city. Along the way it had already been broadcast live on the Midland Region of the BBC Home Service.   Since those heady days of the 1940s the BPO has grown exponentially, expanding its repertoire, widening its circle of performing venues as far afield as the prestigious St John’s in London’s Smith Square, and attracting soloists and conductors of the highest pr
                THOMAS TROTTER 40 TH ANNIVERSARY RECITAL                              Symphony Hall ***** Though Thomas Trotter still has four years to ago before he catches up with James Stimpson’s amazingly long tenure as Birmingham City Organist, the celebration of his own forty years in the post was a joyous occasion indeed. Assisted by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire’s Colin Maitlis, B:music’s latest Organ Scholar, Trotter shared with us an enthralling exploration of the capabilities of Symphony Hall’s Klais organ he has nurtured since its installation over twenty years ago, playing at the front of the stage on the portable console (how on earth does it communicate with all those mighty pipes looming down from aloft?). Bach’s G minor Fantasia and Fugue, well-coloured, began with an appropriately improvisatory feel, moving into a fugue characterised by Trotter’s neat gift for rhythmic clarity (and has anyone ever pointed out how much a submotif in the Fugue influences the s
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases Offenbach, ‘La Princesse de Trébizonde’: Soloists, Opera Rara Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Daniel (Opera Rara 2 CDs) ★★★★★ This is the fourth Offenbach opera rescued from obscurity by the enterprising Opera Rara label – and it’s an absolute corker. When Dr Johnson called opera, “An exotic and irrational entertainment”, it was meant as a put down but for Offenbach it’s an artistic credo. He revels in the exotic, irrational and madcap, none more so than in this romp from 1869 which begins with a penurious circus troupe and their travelling waxworks and, via a winning lottery ticket, ends in a castle and a triumphant triple wedding. The largely Francophone cast are adept at both Offenbach’s music and the comic dialogue with conductor Paul Daniel ensuring a rattling pace – sample the third Act’s ‘Grand Galop’ – and on-their-toes playing from the LPO. It was recorded in Henry Wood Hall but the team created a theatrical
                                                  La Traviata                                     Welsh National Opera at Wales Millennium Centre *****   Verdi made one of the biggest miscalculations in operatic history when composing the Prelude to La Traviata (Wagner did the same with Lohengrin), the strings of the orchestra creeping in with hushed tones while the audience was still noisily settling. Audiences are notoriously restless when there is nothing to see onstage. David McVicar, his original direction of 2009 revived by Sarah Crisp, solves the problem brilliantly, raising the curtain to reveal, through gauze, empty pre-party tables, and in front of the main performing dais, a disconsolate Alfredo wandering abjectedly through his memories. The remarkable WNO Orchestra under Alexander Joel helps, lustrous cellos, giving way to high spirits as Violetta’s party gets underway. But this is no mere spectacle here. Instead, the context is set, with the courtesan’s long-time