Showing posts from April, 2024
                                             DREAM OF GERONTIUS 1900 (Winged Lion Signum) The sheer importance of this new release of Elgar’s choral masterpiece has perhaps led its producers to go over the top in terms of presentation. This is a surpassingly wonderful account, but it is packaged in a way which some might describe as pretentious. Okay, this is a period-instrument performance (about which more later) but does that really justify the title “Elgar The Dream of Gerontius 1900”. What next: “Haydn The Creation 1798”; Britten “ War Requiem 1962”? The two CDs are slipped into a handsome hardback booklet, illustrated with sylvan scenes which don’t really add any significance (though there is one fascinating shot of the recording in Croydon’s Fairfield Halls), John Henry Newman’s text, full lists of   the choristers and orchestral players, biographies of the soloists, acknowledgements to sponsors and donors, a sermonising preface from Stephen Hough and a stimulating introd
  CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ It reads like a story from that master of the gothic and macabre E.T.A. Hoffmann. An unstable composer of genius writes a concerto for his friend, a renowned violin virtuoso. The composer claims that the slow movement’s melody was dictated to him by angels but the virtuoso is unimpressed and never plays the work in public. The composer dies two years later in a lunatic asylum and the virtuoso deposits the score in a library where it lies for eighty years. But the virtuoso’s troubled spirit cannot rest and he contacts his great-niece – herself a renowned violinist – and urges her to get the work performed. Stripped of the supernatural element that’s the story of Schumann’s Violin Concerto of 1853, its rejection by Joseph Joachim and its first performance in 1937. Joachim derided it as morbid, drab, repetitive and ineffective, so is it worth reviving? James Ehnes' performance deserves an emphatic “Yes”. It opens like a symphony with the CBSO under Markus
  CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Did the CBSO’s chief executive Emma Stenning attend this concert? One hopes so because she would have been able to see the early fruits of the silliest of her new innovations. The orchestra and soloist Ian Bostridge were about a quarter of the way through Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’ when the tenor motioned to conductor Gergely Madaras, raised his hand and halted the performance. He addressed a small group in the audience who had been filming him on their mobile phones. “Their lights are shining directly in my eyes – it’s very distracting," he said. "Would you please put your phones down.” A performance by one of the finest British singers of the last fifty years, and a world-renowned interpreter of Britten, was interrupted by a handful of intellectually challenged mobile-obsessed dimwits. Their antics are positively encouraged by the orchestra’s administrators who print this in the concert programme: “We are very happy for you to take photograph
  Dresden Philharmonic at Symphony Hall ★★★★ Dresden is the perfect example of the esteem with which classical music is held in Germany. A city with half the population of Birmingham has a resident opera company and not one but two symphony orchestras. There is the Staatskapelle Dresden founded in 1548 – sixteen years before Shakespeare was born – and the Dresden Philharmonic which, in comparison, is a mere stripling founded in 1870, which still makes its considerably older than the CBSO. Many touring orchestras are obviously in awe of Symphony Hall but the Philharmonic has a chic acoustically engineered 1,800 seater auditorium, opened in 2017, and probably felt it to be home-from-home. The Russian conductor Stanislav Kochanovsky was in charge for this six-concert British tour which featured three works from his homeland. He opened with the Prelude from Mussorgsky’s opera ‘Khovanshchina’ not a work well known in Britain but if it sounded familiar then perhaps it's because of its si
  A Damned Fine ‘Damnation of Faust’! CBSO at Symphony Hall ★★★★★ In 1974 the  CBSO Chorus,  formed just four months earlier, performed their first concert. It was a testing one too, Berlioz’s ‘Damnation of Faust’ under the orchestra’s French conductor Louis Fremaux. Berlioz makes huge demands on his choral forces requiring them not just to sing but also to act in character. In the work’s two hour span their roles include  peasants lustily enjoying the advent of Spring, solemn Easter celebrants, roistering drunks, students and soldiers, gnomes, sylphs and will o’ the wisps. At the work’s climax they take both sides of the theological divide: the chorus of demons in Pandemonium, in Berlioz’s invented infernal language, and a heavenly host wafting the soul of Marguerite to heaven. Their debut performance was a triumph and, no surprises here, so was this one under Kazuki Yamada. Symphony Hall looks especially resplendent when the Chorus is on duty and here they were joined by the Tenors a
                                                            ABC OF OPERA                                                           Grand Theatre, Swansea (10.3.24)            What Mark Llewelyn Evans is achieving with his Academy of Barmy Composers is nothing short of amazing, and valuable beyond riches in these philistine times when Gradgrindish governments are cutting funding to arts education. When two lots of 900 primary schoolchildren each time (from 23 Swansea schools) gasp at what they are witnessing in a beautiful theatre the likes of which they have probably only ever dreamed of, that is quite a start for an hour of enthralling interaction with ABC’s PantOpera drama of good vanquishing evil. We had all the elements of panto (“Oh no. he’s not!” and “She’s behind you!”), but this time with all the cardboard characters as composers of the classical period: Windy Wolfie, Hectic Haydn, Charismatic Chevalier (St-Georges de Boulogne) and Tortellini Rossini, who can “compose-a
  Norman Stinchcombe reviews the latest classical CD releases ‘ John Boyden – A Celebration’: Various artistes (Divine Art 2 CDs) ★★★ John Boyden was one of the most colourful characters in British classical music. He was the first managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra but was sacked after six months over his unsuccessful coup against conductor Andre Previn. In 1992 he relaunched the New Queen's Hall Orchestra; only a lunatic would launch another orchestra Boyden said, adding “I was that lunatic.” His greatest achievement was his alliance with entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul Hamlyn with whom he founded the Classics for Pleasure record label in 1970, selecting the repertoire, artists and producing the recording sessions. At the bargain price of 89p they sold 4 million copies in four years, introducing a new audience to the joys of classical music. One of the label’s most revered recordings appears on this retrospective set, Schubert’s song cycle ‘Die Sch ö ne M üll