Showing posts from November, 2023
                               SINFONIA OF BIRMINGHAM                                            All Saints Church, Leamington Spa ****   It is now 30 years since a small group of enthusiasts assembled a new orchestra, the Sinfonia of Birmingham, for a concert in St Mary’s Church, Moseley. Since then the orchestra has grown to acclaim not only in its home city, but also in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Italy   “185 concerts, 55 venues, 28 conductors, 27 leaders, 64 soloists, and counting!” emblazons the programme-book for last Sunday’s anniversary concert in one of the Sinfonia’s favourite venues. This is such a friendly orchestra, friendly both within its ranks and also in its outreaching to a supportive audience, and the warmth it engenders was clearly in evidence in the otherwise chilly but impressive All Saints Church. Michael Seal, a much-loved long-time regular conductor of SoB, presided over a programme in which the number 5 was predominant. A Fistful of Fives b
                LONGBOROUGH FESTIVAL OPERA – the first 30 years As a young man Martin Graham dreamed of bringing opera to his sleepy home patch nestling in the Cotswolds, and Richard Bratby’s beautiful new book describes the exciting thirty years since that dream began to come to fruition. “Longborough Festival Opera – the first 30 years” details the Grahams’ invitation to Travelling Opera to present productions in the grounds of their house at Banks Fee, on the outskirts of Longborough, it tells of Martin’s hands-on building of a functioning opera-house and his struggle with the local council objecting to its existence and subsequently to the pink colouring of its façade, and later of his victory over HM Revenues and Customs over VAT-exemption (something which benefited arts organisations nationwide). It was not long before visits from travelling companies became unnecessary, with the formation of the thriving organisation which gloried into Longborough Festival Opera. During th
  Boris Giltburg at Birmingham Town Hall  ★★★ Both on disc and in recital it has become accepted that a performance of Rachmaninov’s Preludes should begin with his earliest, the C sharp minor, Op 3 No 2. While this makes chronological sense it’s poor showmanship since, such is its popularity and barnstorming impact, everything that follows can be an anti-climax. So it proved here. After its premiere in 1899 Rachmaninov played it as an encore – due to audience demand – at virtually every appearance until his death in 1943. It would have made him a fortune if he hadn’t sold the copyright for a one-off fee, just as Sibelius did with ‘Valse Triste’, to his lifelong regret. Giltburg made the sinister tolling bell-like opening chords suitably impressive and then lightened his tone so that their eventual return had the doom-laden impact the piece demands. Like the agonies of a man being buried alive – as one female fan wrote to the composer. This hints at a problem when the recital programme
  White-hot Brahms Symphony No.4 lights up the evening CBSO at Symphony Hall  ★★★★ With only a month of shopping days left, the majority of the nation’s married men are searching for a solution to seasonal domestic harmony – what to buy the wife for Christmas. Imagine if she had been born on December 24 with the combined conundrum of finding special birthday and Christmas presents. Not a problem if you’re one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses: no traipsing around the shops of Lucerne for Richard Wagner. Instead he composed the sublime ‘Siegfried Idyll’ for his wife Cosima, gathering sixteen musicians who squeezed themselves onto the staircase leading to the bedroom where she slept on Christmas morning 1870. What an offering – a Boots gift voucher can’t compete. Daniele Rustioni, using the familiar format with augmented strings, conducted a very broad performance almost pointillistic with vivid individual details – Siegfried’s sylvan horn and the flute’s twittering forest bird –
  Birmingham Bach Choir St Paul’s Church , Hockley– 18 th November 2023   ****   Opening a splendid concert by the Birmingham Bach Choir, appropriately billed as containing radiant choral masterpieces, was JS Bach’s joyous short motet Furchte dich nicht , reputedly composed for a funeral in 1726. This is a work which is notoriously difficult to interpret and execute successfully, but on this occasion the piece was authoritatively yet sensitively directed by conductor Paul Spicer, with the choir giving an assured performance which impressed me. Set for double chorus, there are plenty of vocal challenges, which were well met by the choir, with both halves of the choir complimenting each other perfectly, coming together beautifully for the three-part fugue chorale.   With twice as many sopranos and altos than tenors and basses, I felt that the male voices sometimes struggled to be heard in Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater , despite the sopranos being divided into 4 parts. An impres
  Glorious Schumann C Major Symphony lights up the concert CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ The ‘Spring’ and ‘Rhenish’ may be more popular but Schumann’s second symphony is surely his greatest. Richard Egarr agreed and conducted a performance of immense vitality, studied detail and great beauty, played superbly by every section of the CBSO. Egarr’s engaging and informative prefatory talk cited Bach as the keystone to the work: the old master being both a musical and spiritual inspiration for Schumann’s fervid genius and troubled soul. Egarr preceded the symphony with an orchestral arrangement of Bach’s short and cryptic ‘Fuga a tre soggetti’, from the immense and unfinished ‘Art of the Fugue’. I’m sure that both talk and music helped newcomers in understanding Schumann’s sublime Adagio where as a response to its disturbing sepulchral opening figure, rising from Stygian basses to tremolando high strings plus the bleak loneliness of the cries in the wilderness from solo oboe and clarinet, ther
  Alleaume’s Violetta is La Traviata’s jewel in the crown ‘ La Traviata’, Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ★★★★★ What’s the most challenging soprano role in  Verdi ?  Surely it’s the  lung-busting,  double-octave leap ing  Abigaille  in ‘Nabucco’. Giuseppina Strepponi created the role and sang the  first  eight performances.  She had to take  a year  off  to recover.  When Verdi proposed marriage  Giuseppina agreed  but  only on condition that  she never had to  sing  Abigaille  again. Violetta  in ‘ La Traviata’,  however,  requires much more  than just sheer vocal firepower. Versatility both stylistically and emotionally  is needed for  three contrasting acts: stupendous  coloratura flamboyance; delicacy and emotional subtlety  for intimate scenes; immense pathos, without mawkishness,  but concentrated projection,  at her death. Violetta is the  opera’s  eponymous heroine – it’s her show and  that  demands star quality.  Without doubt the Australian soprano  Stacey Allea
  Ligeti’s wonderful and wacky concerto steals the show CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ On his visit to Count Dracula, Jonathan Harker is startled by the eerie sound of howling wolves outside the castle. Transylvania’s most famous son responds with the immortal line: “Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!” What is disturbing and disorientating to Harker is mellifluous to the vampire. I was reminded of these differing responses when listening to a brilliant performance of the violin concerto by Transylvania’s second most famous son – the composer György Ligeti. In a welcome and entertaining short introduction to the work the bright young Australian conductor Nicholas Carter said finding parts of it funny and frightening were both apt responses. Soloist Carolin Widmann encompassed all its dazzlingly eclectic array of styles, allusions and parodies. The Praeludium has the players – few strings, lots of percussion – in a hesitating start like Edgar Varese’s leg-pull ‘T