December 2018 Concert Reviews

November 2018 Concert Reviews
LSO – Simon Rattle conducts Debussy & Enescu – Leonidas Kavakos plays Brahms [London concert two, December 18]
Tuesday, December 18, 2018 |  Enescu’s First Romanian Rhapsody is currently doing a London omnibus impression: the LPO played it recently and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra has it earmarked for March 16. Simon Rattle and the LSO offered it as a festive finale... ... This concert then, played two nights ago at this address and then in Paris, opened coldly with a Concerto. But we were soon warmed by Brahms’s for Violin, the orchestral introduction eloquently shaped – spacious but with purpose, carefully observed, weighty (eight double basses) yet luminous, pregnant with anticipation for Leonidas Kavakos’s entry... 
BBC Symphony Chorus & Orchestra – Edward Gardner conducts Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ
Monday, December 17, 2018 |  There are the epic vistas of Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts, and then there is the rare intimacy of his L’Enfance du Christ, the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra’s Christmas offering, without a carol to be heard. It’s a strange piece... ... Berlioz’s text and music complement each other with a faux-antique, seemingly artless naivety – something Edward Gardner understood to accumulatively overwhelming effect. 
Richard Goode at Wigmore Hall
Sunday, December 16, 2018 |  During this Wigmore Hall recital Richard Goode gave abundant evidence of his authoritative technique, although his playing was not always completely satisfying. ... ...Goode gave a hypnotic interpretation of Janáček’s In the Mists, intoxicating and highly evocative, colourful and tender... 
LSO – Simon Rattle conducts Debussy & Enescu – Leonidas Kavakos plays Brahms [London concert one, December 16]
Sunday, December 16, 2018 |  This LSO concert fell into Simon Rattle’s capacious grab-bag “Roots and Origins” series, a theme loosely based around national styles, although Brahms’s Violin Concerto, as ever, sounded more Brahmsian than Hungarian, and any English or Spanish markers in Debussy’s Images are squeezed through a dominating French sensibility. ... The last time I heard Leonidas Kavakos play the Brahms (Chailly, Leipzig Gewandhaus, October 2013) he was on electrifying, almost operatic form. Five years later, however, he was more self-contained and meditative. 
Westminster Philharmonic at St John’s Waterloo – Jonathan Butcher conducts world premiere of David Hackbridge Johnson’s Ninth Symphony – Florian Mitrea plays Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto
Saturday, December 15, 2018 |  The Westminster Philharmonic is notably adventurous in its programming and large-scale music is widely featured; for example six Symphonies by Shostakovich and seven by Mahler are included in its repertoire. Certainly the WPO was fully capable of presenting the concert premiere of David Hackbridge Johnson’s expansive Ninth Symphony, already recorded on Toccata Classics. It was obvious that there is the closest of rapport between the WPO and its long-serving conductor Jonathan Butcher. His admirably straightforward reading of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture was free from subjective whims... ... Romanian-born British resident Florian Mitrea then gave an illuminating performance of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, given a vivid reading with speeds a little swifter than usual. ... Johnson’s Ninth Symphony was a welcome step towards rectifying the composer’s serious neglect. Johnson (born 1963) is very multi-talented... 
The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center at Alice Tully Hall – Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos
Friday, December 14, 2018 |  

Since 1993 and each year since, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has performed J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos as a winter holiday tradition, keeping the performances remarkably fresh by introducing some new performers. At this, the first of three scheduled presentations for this season, nine of the musicians were new, and different players took the lead in five of the works. The resulting renditions were notably free and spirited. 

The Royal Opera – Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel – Hanna Hipp & Jennifer Davis; directed by Antony McDonald; conducted by Sebastian Weigle
Thursday, December 13, 2018 |  Strange but true, almost ten years ago to the day, The Royal Opera mounted its first Hansel and Gretel, the children’s opera that has become an international repertoire staple in its one-hundred-and-twenty-year lifetime. That production was deemed by sensitive souls so shocking that there was a great fuss when it was shown on television during Christmas... ... The new staging is assertively feel-good and child-friendly, directed and designed by Antony McDonald... ... The Pantomime that closes the first half is spellbinding: Hansel and Gretel fall asleep in the forest, guarded by familiar fairytale characters such as Snow White, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood... ... The house looms out of the murk, rather like Norma Desmond’s mansion in Sunset Boulevard, and is itself the Bates Motel from Psycho with a cherry on top and a cake knife stuck into it... ... Hanna Hipp is a big-voiced, energised and convincing Hansel, Jennifer Davis slips easily into Brünnhilde-sized power as Gretel... 
33rd Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square: Christmas Music by Candlelight – Ex Cathedra
Thursday, December 13, 2018 |  Behind Ex Cathedra’s prosaically titled “Christmas Music by Candlelight” lay a wealth of choral and spoken delights – drawn from two centennial anniversaries – women’s right to vote and Armistice Day – the whole thoughtfully-packaged and directed with assurance by Jeffrey Skidmore. This was no regurgitation of perennial favourites but mostly an encounter with the new and lesser-known. When the familiar did appear (Away in a Manger, The Lamb) it left an indelible impression, and what a joy not to endure another round of Rutter or Chilcott, an evening in which one could sample a selection of fine wines. 
LSO – Simon Rattle conducts Bartók, Szymanowski, Stravinsky, Bernstein – Katia & Marielle Labèque play Osvaldo Golijov’s Nazareno
Thursday, December 13, 2018 |  Simon Rattle’s latest return to the London Symphony Orchestra continues his focus this year – “Folk Roots, Urban Roots” – and contrasted central-European folk inspirations from Bartók and Szymanowski, with New World influences from Stravinsky, Golijov and Bernstein. ... Szymanowski’s ballet-score Harnasie – eight years in the making and something of a homage mash-up to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Les noces – is a rarity, perhaps not surprising given its Polish text for chorus and tenor. 
New Adventures at Sadler's Wells – Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake
Wednesday, December 12, 2018 |  And so it returns, with new and improved sets, costumes and choreography, Matthew Bourne’s most famous, most successful show: Swan Lake. Few will not recognise the image of bare chested male swans in feather breeches and many are those for whom this dance piece remains a powerful memory in their life as a theatre-goer or a performer. First created in 1995, when the sight of powerful, male dancers was something genuinely new, it rapidly became something of a ‘classic’, attracting an enthusiastic audience for Bourne’s particular brand of danced drama.… 
LSO – Marin Alsop conducts Leonard Bernstein’s Candide – Leonardo Capalbo, Jane Archibald, Anne Sofie von Otter, Thomas Allen; directed by Garnett Bruce
Sunday, December 09, 2018 |  Leonard Bernstein’s 1950s' Voltaire-based opera/operetta/musical hybrid hedges its bets uneasily between theatre and opera-house, but on the strength of its music – wonderful tunes, an Overture as life-enhancing as that to The Marriage of Figaro, brilliant orchestration – it is too great a flawed masterpiece to pass by. ... This LSO version was devised by Garnett Bruce and Marin Alsop... ... Thomas Allen’s Narrator reined in Pangloss’s positivism in style – he referred to Candide as a “complete bastard”, with good reason... 
Philharmonia Orchestra – Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage & Enigma Variations – Piotr Anderszewski plays Mozart K491
Sunday, December 09, 2018 |  This Philharmonia Orchestra concert opened with Mendelssohn’s not-often-performed but exceptionally attractive Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. In Vladimir Ashkenazy’s beautifully moulded account, the heart-easing opening offered a palpable sense of benediction... ... In Mozart’s dark and turbulent C-minor Piano Concerto Piotr Anderszewski was always a stimulating and imaginative presence... ... The concert closed with that perennial favourite, Elgar’s Enigma Variations... 
Anna Netrebko & Malcolm Martineau at Carnegie Hall
Sunday, December 09, 2018 |  In this recital – Anna Netrebko’s Carnegie Hall solo debut – the soprano offered a generous assortment of songs and arias from the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries in six languages. The twenty-three selections were grouped into two broad themes to reflect the “Day and Night” title. The wide-ranging program, carefully crafted to display the singer’s extraordinary vocalism and her equally affecting dramatic gifts, moved outside the usual frame of concert conventions. ... Malcolm Martineau accompanied Netrebko with delight and a wholehearted spirit of collaboration... 
London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra – Stravinsky – Vladimir Jurowski conducts Aldous Huxley Variations & Threni, and Berio’s Sinfonia with The Swingles
Saturday, December 08, 2018 |  When the London Phil announced its year-long Stravinsky series I promised myself Threni, elusive in appearances and, at least to me, and years ago, doubtful of its musical attraction. In this final leg tracing the composer’s “Changing Faces”, Vladimir Jurowski has persuaded me otherwise... ... The concert opened with the Variations (completed in 1964) that Stravinsky had already started when he heard news that his friend Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, had died on the same day in 1963 as President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. ... Tango (1940, for piano) has previously graced this series, twice, from Peter Donohoe as an encore (following Capriccio), and, as orchestrated by the composer, from Jurowski. Here it was an anonymous a cappella arrangement (beyond Stravinsky), the current members of The Swingles, microphones in hands, introducing themselves with consummate skill and also mimicking bass and cymbals, before taking part in Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia (1968, dedicated to Leonard Bernstein), in which Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring makes a guest appearance... 
Nash Ensemble & Roderick Williams at Wigmore Hall – German Romantics – Bruch, Brahms, Beethoven, Mendelssohn
Saturday, December 08, 2018 |  This season the Nash Ensemble is in German Romantic mood, exploring not just the mainliners but also a healthy and welcome dose of important others. ... Predictably, Roderick Williams stood out. In relaxed form and warm voice, he gave a commanding account of David Matthews's 2005 arrangement of six Brahms songs (commissioned for Wolfgang Holzmair and the Nash). When it comes to transcription, Matthews is an elegantly imaginative thinker... ... The late Max Bruch Quintet, cast in a language more to do with 1818 than a hundred years later, went through its playground of Haydnesque/Beethovenian/Schubertian key-relationships a third apart. 
Sibelius Birthday Concert from Helsinki – Finlandia, Nightride and Sunrise – Helsinki Philharmonic/Lawrence Renes with Ari Vilhjálmsson – Jaakko Kuusisto, Janáček [live webcast]
Saturday, December 08, 2018 |  This was one of those unexpected pleasures that you catch at the end of a long winter day with no expectation in mind other than the knowledge that fine music in reliable hands is on offer. We know the Dutch-Maltese conductor Lawrence Renes to be assertively a man of the theatre, a devotee of John Adams, and a tight-reined modernist, with a quiet gift for the spectacular. ... With Finlandia he took an old warhorse and found new dimensions. ... Letting fly the cellular, repetitive world of Janáček, living the notion of seeds growing into mighty oaks, breathing the music as one might privately murmur or publicly orate, produced a magnificent Sinfonietta. ... The not inconsiderable matter, in the first half, of Jaakko Kuusisto's 2011 Violin Concerto, in the composer's presence, took us on other adventures. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra – Carlos Miguel Prieto conducts Beethoven 5 – Christian Tetzlaff plays Brahms’s Violin Concerto [live webcast]
Friday, December 07, 2018 |  Some sort of overture would have been welcome to start this DSO morning programme – Force of Destiny, Merry Wives of Windsor, Oberon... too many short excellent pieces going for nought these days in concerts – so it was straight into Brahms’s Violin Concerto, Carlos Miguel Prieto summoning a spacious, somewhat solemn introduction, only livening – quickening with a vengeance – when Christian Tetzlaff entered, almost with an impatient put-down to those first few minutes. 
Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert Piano Sonatas at Royal Festival Hall – 2 – D537, D840, D960
Friday, December 07, 2018 |  Mitsuko Uchida, who turns seventy just before Christmas, is halfway through her international Schubert tour, and her powers of insight, energy and intelligence are undiminished. 
Philharmonia Orchestra – Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Richard Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier & Alpine Symphony – Sophie Bevan sings Four Last Songs
Thursday, December 06, 2018 |  Despite the variety of forms in this Richard Strauss concert – opera reduced into a suite, orchestral songs, and a symphonic tone-poem – there was a logical trajectory in theme, from the resignation of the Marschallin to the process of ageing and surrendering her younger lover; the succumbing to death of the Four Last Songs; and man’s confrontation with the indomitable, eternal force of Nature in the Alpine Symphony... ... The thoughtfulness and maturity of Santtu-Matias Rouvali’s interpretations belied his youthfulness. ... The Four Last Songs fared significantly better. ... Sophie Bevan sang with pure-voiced freshness... 
Endellion String Quartet & Friends at Wigmore Hall – Bach, Mozart, Barber, Beethoven – Celebrating Neil Black
Thursday, December 06, 2018 |  This concert was held to celebrate the life of Neil Black (1932-2016), the great oboist and, from all accounts, a lovely man. ... I think Black would have been pleased by the playing of Jonathan Kelly, oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic, in the first two items. First we had the opening movement of J. S. Bach’s ‘Ich habe genug’, with Roderick Williams and Kelly standing at the front of the stage. Behind them were the Endellion Quartet... 
New York Philharmonic/Jaap van Zweden with Matthias Goerne
Thursday, December 06, 2018 |  This unusual program opened with a calm, almost minimalist-sounding account of Webern's scholarly arrangement of music from J. S. Bach’s Musical Offering. Following which Matthias Goerne joined Jaap van Zweden and the New York Philharmonic for orchestral arrangements of Lieder by Schubert and Richard Strauss and including original scoring by the latter. 
London Philharmonic Orchestra – Vladimir Jurowski conducts Freischütz & Bruckner 2 – Alena Baeva plays Tchaikovsky
Wednesday, December 05, 2018 |  Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO continued their lengthy Bruckner traversal with the Second Symphony in its 1877 revision. Unlike its immediate two predecessors, the Second was not so much rewritten in revision as truncated... ... In the first half, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto was given a confident while not especially insightful reading from Alena Baeva... 
Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert Piano Sonatas at Royal Festival Hall – 1 – D568, D784, D959
Tuesday, December 04, 2018 |  In the first of two Southbank Centre recitals this week, Mitsuko Uchida returns to her adored Schubert. “Beethoven's vision is of the cosmos”, she says, setting the stage. “Mozart is about the drama and entanglements of human life and love. Schubert's music is between life and death; he dreams with his eyes on the far horizon. His music is at once personal and profound. Every note speaks and touches your soul.” 
Glyndebourne Tour Golden Anniversary concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall
Tuesday, December 04, 2018 |  Glyndebourne, both in Festival and Tour mode, has a presence that now spreads over seven months. ... The overture in question was The Marriage of Figaro, played by the Glyndebourne Tour Orchestra with period tact and conducted by Louis Langrée at a pace that flattered its wit. To remind us that Mozart is central repertoire, Thomas Allen sang the Count’s Act Two aria, recalling his spellbinding grip of authority, outrage and puzzlement in the role, adding seduction to the list in Don Giovanni’s ‘Là ci darem la mano’, with Rosa Feola (Glyndebourne’s most recent Susanna) piling on the charm. She later brought the house down with a ravishing account of La bohème’s ‘Mi chiamma Mimì’. 
The Royal Opera – Barrie Kosky’s production of Bizet’s Carmen – Gaëlle Arquez, Brian Jagde, Eleonora Buratto, Alexander Vinogradov; conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson
Tuesday, December 04, 2018 |  Let’s assert straightaway that the playing and singing in this first revival of Barrie Kosky’s Carmen (unleashed in February this year) are very impressive, holding the ear across the evening. No weak links in the vocal chain and fine, vigorous conducting from Keri-Lynn Wilson prioritise orchestral delights with additional music reclaimed in Michael Rot’s edition. Had this production made a similar impact visually, its three hours might have sailed by – as it is I longed for Carmen to be killed off at the end of Act Two – so restless did I feel about this over-animated opera-meets-music-theatre extravaganza. 
The Metropolitan Opera – Verdi’s La traviata – Diana Damrau, Juan Diego Flórez, Quinn Kelsey; directed by Michael Mayer; conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Tuesday, December 04, 2018 |  Michael Mayer’s production of La traviata is Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s first appearance as the Met’s music director. But it is not the first time he has conducted Verdi’s beloved opera. In March of 2013 he led the company in Willy Decker’s stark and contemporary staging with Diana Damrau. She again sings Violetta and it is also a reunion with Mayer. 
OAE/John Butt at Queen Elizabeth Hall – Handel & Telemann
Monday, December 03, 2018 |  Vivaldi may be famed for the vast number of his Concertos, many of which utilise an array of different and unusual instruments, either alone or in ensemble. But north of the Alps his slightly younger German contemporaries Telemann and Handel were equally resourceful in adapting their music imaginations to the requirements of putting various timbres into the spotlight. 
The Royal Ballet – The Nutcracker
Monday, December 03, 2018 |  The Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker is, like mince pies and a flaming pud, the real taste of Christmas. More than that, it is the real taste of the Royal Ballet, and rich and indulgent it may be, its myriad of natural ingredients […] As a production, it encapsulates much of what made and still makes this a world-class ensemble: keen acting skills, a genuine sense of company and, in the danced sections, an unforced and elegant lyricism. … 
Jonathan Plowright at Wigmore Hall – Brahms Plus… Bach
Sunday, December 02, 2018 |  Jonathan Plowright completed his survey of Brahms’s piano music about a year ago (for BIS), and this recital marked the first in a series of six “Brahms Plus” programmes at Wigmore Hall, which runs through to 2020. 
Symphonia Boca Raton at Roberts Theatre – Gerard Schwarz conducts Piston, Carter & Mozart – Marika Bournaki plays K466
Sunday, December 02, 2018 |  Gerard Schwarz began with Walter Piston’s engaging 1941 Sinfonietta. ... Marika Bournaki’s development as a prodigy is chronicled in the film, I am Not a Rock Star. Now in her late-twenties, she demonstrated artistic maturity in K466. ... Following intermission the strings gave Elliott Carter’s Elegy (1939) a heartrending reading, and completed the concert with Mozart’s ‘Linz’ Symphony. 


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