Sunday, March 15, 2020 (David Gutman) | “British Roots” was the rubric chosen for marketing purposes but at least two-thirds of this LSO programme reflected a previous age of anxiety and uprootedness, the even darker years associated with the onset and aftermath of the Second World War. There was a time when such music was seen to pose the aesthetic difficulties pinpointed by a celebrated 1950s record guide: “The biggest name in contemporary English music … Vaughan Williams is now a solitary figure, for his influence has served but to produce a steady trickle of pentatonic wish-wash. In this form British music is demonstratively less vulgar than the bad music of other countries, but it is more soporific…”. Thankfully attitudes have moved on as has the interpretative response.
Saturday, March 14, 2020 (Nick Breckenfield) | ★★★★☆ There is a current media trend for true-crime podcasts: Grand Guignol chunks with ‘atmospheric’ piano-heavy mood music, the sort of which has me screaming at the radio. Philip Venables and director and librettist Ted Huffman’s follow-up to their Sarah Kane opera, 4:48 Psychosis seems to grab this phenomenon by the scruff of its neck in Denis & Katya, and Venables provides a score that is much more involving, not least in his inspired choice of containing his palette to just four cellos. They bring a real-life story of teenage tearaways who hole up in a Russian house and are then surrounded by special forces and are killed. Or kill themselves. We don’t know.
Friday, March 13, 2020 (Peter Reed) | If one ever wants reassurance about the value of the BBC, then listen to this exceptional BBCSO concert on the Radio 3 catch-up service [link below] and be duly thankful. Two versions of an ecstatic love poem, an extraordinary orchestral expansion of a chamber work, and a haunting rarity from the composer of The Merry Widow, all four pieces stoking the fires of late romanticism to white-hot.
Wednesday, March 11, 2020 (Alexander Campbell) | ★★★☆☆ Much of Jules Massenet’s operatic output remains hidden from view in the UK and elsewhere, with only Werther, Manon and Thaïs enjoying regular outings. Chérubin hasn’t been seen on the London stage since 1997 when The Royal Opera staged a revival of its colourful 1994 staging by Tim Albery. To a degree this relative neglect is understandable, for whilst there is great charm in some of the music, and some great opportunities for a few of the principals, the action takes some while to get going, is full of rather stock operatic situations and characters, and doesn’t much advance on the familiar plots of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 (Peter Reed) | One thing the Bach Collegium Japan’s performance of J. S. Bach’s St John Passion brought to mind was that the taste for staging Bach Passions (not to mention the Requiems by Verdi and Britten) seems to have receded, thank heavens. The aim was to make these Christian blockbusters more accessible, more ‘now’, but as the stagings careered towards emotional, empathising overload, the works themselves were diminished, even demeaned, as forcing the explicit upon what is implicit always does – a case of the way to Hell being paved with good intentions.
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 (Curtis Rogers) | The 18th century knew how to do ‘royal weddings’ properly. With one of the greatest composers in Europe at their disposal, the Hanoverian court in England was able to call upon the services of Handel to provide this Serenata as part of the festivities for the marriage in 1734 of the Princess Royal, Anne (daughter of George II) to Prince William IV of Orange. As a Serenata, Parnasso in festa does not comprise a dramatic narrative as such, unlike an opera. But Handel’s score is more ambitious than his Italian stage works in many respects by utilising an expanded orchestra (with trumpets, horns, and timpani – only rarely used in the operas) in a musical sequence which features choruses among its various arias and therefore greater variety and flexibility than the usual format of opera seria at the time.
Friday, March 06, 2020 (Ateş Orga) | Occupying the high terraces of Elysium, this was one of those Beethoven nights you dream about. Midori – back in the eighties child extraordinaire of the Zubin Mehta / Leonard Bernstein days – is a sublime poet. She makes the most special dolce sound, seemingly small yet aristocratically riding the ensemble. Her violin – the 1734 Guarneri del Gesù 'ex-Huberman' – is a complete extension of her slight frame. Her every note and scale, stretched phrases and cadences, call and response, breathe with intensity. An imperious bowing arm, a beatific smile through eyes barely open, the furrowed brow, a long sigh from within trembling her dress – every emotion and heartbeat is there for the witnessing and hearing. Her upbows surge forwards, her whole body swaying into attack yet never once at the expense of the most exquisitely unforced tone, musicality at a premium. Queen of the pianissimo echo.
Friday, March 06, 2020 (Susan Stempleski) | ★★★★☆ Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), Wagner’s tale of the cursed sea captain doomed to sail the open ocean for eternity, and the earliest of the composer’s operatic creations to remain in the repertory, sails onto The Metropolitan Opera stage in this co-production of The Met, the Dutch National Opera, the Abu Dhabi Festival and L’Opéra de Québec. François Girard’s production, which had its world premiere last July in Quebéc City, places the action in the head of Senta, the young Norwegian beauty obsessed with the mysterious portrait of the ill-fated Dutchman and drawn into his ghostly world.
Wednesday, March 04, 2020 (G. J. Dowler) | ★★★★★ Crystal Pite, one of the most innovative and consistently satisfying dance-makers of today, is essentially a choreographer of the mind. Movement in any context is normally the result of a thought, a motivation, a meaning yet much contemporary dance gives no explanation as to why the performers are doing what they do. The audience often searches for underlying meaning, so much so that it is hard to see a duet without investing it with some sentimental colouring and to see an emotional bond between the two dancers. Pite has observed that contemporary dance movement is often poor at narrative, so her current collaborations with playwright and actor Jonathon Young make for stimulating viewing, their collective efforts blurring the boundaries between the two forms.
Wednesday, March 04, 2020 (Peter Reed) | No doubt there will be many performances of the Missa solemnis among Beethoven’s 250th birth year celebrations, but this one from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Donald Runnicles (who replaced Richard Farnes) was exceptional, taking many factors in its stride. The most memorable impression was that it stayed close to Beethoven’s singular relationship with faith and rationalism. It seemed that all – and it’s quite an all-encompassing ‘all’ – Runnicles did was allow Beethoven’s grandest work to speak for itself without assuming the mantle of humbling monumentalism. The unique drama of the Christian Mass was there in all its majesty, but minus peripheral histrionics. Despite his scholarly observance of the conventions of setting the Mass to music – his preliminary research reaches back from Haydn and Mozart to the Renaissance masters – Beethoven’s voice and concerns here registered with astonishing directness. Runnicles and his forces encouraged us to infer that Beethoven’s way into understanding faith was filtered through his belief in humanity, and it was this, and the prominence Runnicles gave to the sombre pleas for mercy, that came across with such strength in this finely imagined and considered performance.
Wednesday, March 04, 2020 (Susan Stempleski) | For this concert, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos and Yo-Yo Ma combined their ample star power to bring Beethoven brilliantly to life in the first of three scheduled programs of the composer’s cello and violin sonatas and piano trios. The presentations are part of Carnegie Hall's season-long Beethoven250 celebration, and they also mark the centenary of the late, great violinist Isaac Stern, who led the 1960 drive to save the Hall from demolition. The programs also pay homage to the legendary trio in which Stern, for over a quarter of a century, collaborated with pianist Eugene Istomin and cellist Leonard Rose. They echo the all-Beethoven series that that much-heralded ensemble performed at the Hall in 1970 during its 200th anniversary celebrations of Beethoven. On this evening, the close to three-thousand-seat Stern Auditorium was packed to capacity with the audience overflowing to three long rows of onstage seating