Sunday, March 31, 2019 | What to do when you have a programme centred around a singer and she falls ill on the morning of the concert, rehearsals done? This was the dilemma faced by Gianandrea Noseda and the LSO when Diana Damrau felt unable to perform and thus the premiere of Iain Bell’s The Hidden Place, written for her, had to be shelved along with the Final Scene of Richard Strauss’s Capriccio. One felt sorry for Bell (his Jack the Ripper had premiered at ENO the previous evening) since this 2009 song-cycle has already had to wait for its first airing.
Sunday, March 31, 2019 | Haydn’s dramatic Symphony 95 – the only minor-key example among the twelve such works composed for London – suitably commenced this concert entitled “Celebrating Genius”... ... Supplemented by his two between-works talks succinctly describing the history and the nature of the music, Howard Shelley’s approach involved lucid balancing with notably clear definition of woodwind lines and sensitive phrasing... ... Shelley’s interpretation of Mozart’s A-major Piano Concerto was full of understanding and shapely current between piano and the London Mozart Players.
Sunday, March 31, 2019 | An Overture would have helped. As it was we were thrust cold into the opening of Brahms’s grand Violin Concerto. Nevertheless, with every turn accented and punctuated the effect was visceral, an expansive orchestral introduction. Alina Pogostkina gave a quite superb account of the solo part...
Saturday, March 30, 2019 | Expectations for Iain Bell’s new opera were running high, particularly after the success of In Parenthesis. The ever-intriguing subject of the Jack the Ripper serial killings of Victorian London provide the draw, but the theme is more the lives of the murderer’s victims.
Saturday, March 30, 2019 | While it enjoyed popularity for a few decades after his death, Mozart’s final opera, La clemenza di Tito, commissioned in 1791 to celebrate the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia in Prague, lay in neglect for about a century. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production, first staged for Cologne in 1969 and recreated in this 1984 Metropolitan Opera staging (as it was by many other major companies during that decade) helped bring the work back into its own.
Friday, March 29, 2019 | The most-recent Berlin webcast was conducted by Simon Rattle (and included Helmut Lachenmann’s utterly compelling My Melodies). Now, and for the third time this week with this programme, the podium was occupied by Daniel Harding, mentored by Rattle (and Abbado for that matter, also with significant Berlin connections). ... Following several revamps Mahler’s debut Symphony was definitively published in 1899, no longer named ‘Titan’ and with the ‘Blumine’ movement dropped, and was heard in Berlin following music by Charles Ives (whose scores Mahler was taking an interest in) and Alban Berg.
Friday, March 29, 2019 | If for nothing else Lionel Bart will be remembered for writing Oliver!, arguably Britain’s most successful stage and film musical. That was in 1960, but before then he had written Lock Up Your Daughters and Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be. He was also known for penning hit songs for Cliff Richard, Tommy Steele, Anthony Newley and Shirley Bassey, as well as writing a title song for Matt Monro for the 007 film From Russia With Love. He never repeated the success of Oliver!. ... The 1964 London production had a cast headed by Rachel Roberts as Maggie, Kenneth Haigh as Casey and with Andrew Keir, Barry Humphries, John Junkin and Geoffrey Hughes. Georgia Brown eventually replaced Roberts and the show played for a respectable five-hundred performances at the Adelphi Theatre.
Thursday, March 28, 2019 | By 1768, Johann Adolf Hasse was rather a hang-over from the Baroque era when he wrote what turned out to be his penultimate opera. ... It could be either a touching or an ironic gesture to include Hasse within The Mozartists’ ongoing celebration of Mozart... ... Ovid’s story of Pyramus and Tisbe will surely be best-known to many – even beyond the English-speaking world – through its comic send-up by Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. ... That provided a poised backdrop for the singers with the virtually equal accomplishment and vocal allure of Chiara Skerath and Kiandra Howarth as the titular lovers.
Thursday, March 28, 2019 | The Playhouse Theatre is obviously on a mission to bring the World to the West End. After the Young Vic’s transfer of The Jungle, transplanting audiences to the refugee camps in Calais, then the Chichester/Hampstead transfer of Caroline or Change, set in the oppressive humidity of 1960s’ Louisiana, we step further back in time and cross to the Russian steppes for the triumphant Trevor Nunn-directed Menier Chocolate Factory production of Fiddler on the Roof.
Thursday, March 28, 2019 | In his Piano Concerto No.2, Rachmaninov conflates soloist and orchestra into a symphonic texture, which meant that twenty-five-year-old Seong-Jin Cho, making his debut with the LSO, spent long passages of the first movement playing a quasi obbligato role, the LSO given its head by Gianandrea Noseda. ... Serendipitously, I once heard, in the 1970s, a Shostakovich First from a USSR orchestra and conductor, probably brokered by Victor Hochhauser, and I happened to be sitting next to Scott Walker, who was then moving on from pop stardom...
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 | Continuing to be billed as part of the LPO’s “Isle of Noises” series, one might wonder what particular ‘Isle’ unites these three very different works by three very different composers. The Tchaikovsky and Walton each inhabit the same extreme key of B-flat minor (most of the time) whilst the Khachaturian begins nearby in A-flat... ... But “the theme from The Onedin Line” it was, as though it were some kind of Love Island tune, which Petrenko shaped most admirably and the LPO played very beautifully. ... George Li was the soloist, more than ably partnered by Petrenko and the reduced string-strength LPO. For much of this still astonishingly original Concerto Li was wholly exceptional... ... Walton 1 ended the programme, a work that has appeared in more South Bank concerts this season than for many years past. As André Previn showed over half-a-century ago, Walton’s score is truly international in appeal – indeed, with pre-War performances by Koussevitzky in Boston and Furtwängler in Berlin, and by Karajan and Haitink post, this Symphony has always shone far beyond the British Isles – and it was a considerable attraction to hear how Petrenko tackled this fearsome masterpiece.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 | Like the recent film about Queen Anne, The Favourite, Adele Thomas’s new production of Berenice (1737) for the London Handel Festival in conjunction with The Royal Opera engages with the eighteenth-century not so much to explore it sympathetically and to understand it, but to ironise, satirise, and exaggerate it.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 | Kirill Karabits has built impressive stats in creating enterprising programmes, and has now added the Armenian Avet Terterian (1929-1994) whose Third Symphony formed an arresting centrepiece to the more familiar world of Camille Saint-Saëns. ... Following the interval there was an enthusiastic rendition of the Frenchman’s Third Symphony, still misleadingly subtitled “Organ Symphony” rather than “with organ”, pointing to its use only in the second and final movements. ... Of Terterian’s eight Symphonies (composed over two decades from 1969), the Third from 1975 was awarded the State Prize of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. To the work’s large forces, Terterian adds distinctive wind-colouring with the duduk (related to the medieval shawm) and the more-penetrating zurna (indigenous to Armenia). As a creative response to the genocide of 1.5-million Armenians during and after World War One, the work’s twenty-five minutes are uncompromising in emotional force...
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 | Emanuel Ax brought his customary warmth, eloquence and effortless pianism to this wide-ranging but well-integrated Carnegie Hall recital. ... George Benjamin’s brief (about one-minute each) and deceptively simple Piano Figures came next. ... Following intermission came a magical account of Ravel’s languorous Valses nobles and sentimentales, Ax displaying impeccable technique, exemplary taste and notable sophistication of touch, an apt entrée to the passionate expressivity of Chopin.
Sunday, March 24, 2019 | Boito’s Mefistofele gets relatively infrequent airings. Boito’s brilliance as a librettist for Verdi is often commented upon, but his working of the Goethe narrative of Faust for his own Mefistofele is curiously lacking in dramatic progression and sweep, seeming to rely on an expectation that we all know the plot. ... Chelsea Opera was lucky to engage Vazgen Gazaryan. Despite having the score he seldom used it.
Sunday, March 24, 2019 | Performed with the suitably reduced string strength, the Overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at once displayed the characteristics of Douglas Boyd’s approach to music of the Classical era. ... Flowing and light-toned, the Philharmonia admirably supported Jonathan Biss in this sparkling performance. ... For the Schubert, the Philharmonia considerably increased string strength and also doubled woodwind and the horns. This gave an ideal sonority to the large-scale work.
Saturday, March 23, 2019 | Robert Schumann’s Second Symphony has featured nearly all this week at the Berliner Philharmonie. On Monday Jörg Widmann conducted it with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie (in a concert that also showcased him as clarinettist and composer), and now, following his return to the Berliner Philharmoniker last week for Bach’s St John Passion (directed by Peter Sellars), here was Simon Rattle also leading it, and for the third time, this webcast being the last of three consecutive readings. ... First though, horns-a-plenty, eight of them required for Helmut Lachenmann’s My Melodies... ... If its alluring title suggests Your Hundred Best Tunes, you can forget that...
Saturday, March 23, 2019 | Two contemplative English pieces separated by Sibelius’s Violin Concerto, if thoughtfully linked given Ralph Vaughan Williams dedicated his Fifth Symphony to the Finn, albeit “without permission”, later granted. ... The Walk to the Paradise Garden comes between scenes V & VI of Frederick Delius’s Romeo and Juliet opera... ... Centrepiece, it was Simone Lamsma in Sibelius. The Dutch violinist was in top form technically...
Saturday, March 23, 2019 | The dominating aspect of this Schumann and Fauré recital was the calibre of Jeremy Denk’s role at the piano, which declared itself decisively with Joshua Bell in the Frenchman's A-major Violin Sonata. ... The freshness of the Trio continued into Isserlis’s duo with Denk in the Five Pieces in Folk Style, which succinctly give you the essence of Schumann’s expressive world.
Saturday, March 23, 2019 | This LPO concert illustrated why the trusty old formula of Overture-Concerto-Symphony works so well. Nowadays many attractive starters are neglected. Edward Gardner opened with Egmont, its opening chords delivered with granitic weight. ... Elgar’s Cello Concerto was played by Kian Soltani – born in Austria to a Persian family – who first came to public attention as principal cellist of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra... ... The opening movement of Mahler’s First Symphony begins with an A, intended to conjure the Creation of the World. Gardner obtained a veritable miracle of raptness here...
Friday, March 22, 2019 | Palm Beach Opera concludes its 2019 season with a delightfully effervescent production of Die Fledermaus. ... Dona D. Vaughn’s direction sustains the nonstop pace of the farcical plot and the choreography complements the music. David Stern’s brisk tempos generate high energy – from the Overture through to the final champagne toast. ... A bearded Stephanie Blythe, wearing a greatcoat decorated with medals, is convincing in the trouser-role of Orlofsky. Alongside the able Tobias Greenhalgh, her singing and acting are brilliant as she plays along with Dr Falke’s elaborate prank on Eisenstein... ... As the real Eisenstein, Zach Borichevsky is consistently entertaining...
Thursday, March 21, 2019 | This concert, the last in Bernard Haitink’s ninetieth-birthday series with the LSO, might or might not mark a more significant farewell... ... Isabelle Faust is much acclaimed but it’s not always easy to discern a big personality in what she does. That her sound is not large was concealed by the reduced forces clustered on the platform. ... Any fears that we were going to be offered a reduced sort of Mahler Four were banished by a major reorganisation during the interval.
Thursday, March 21, 2019 | Schubert’s settings of twenty-four Wilhelm Müller poems, Winterreise, have undergone many genre-reassignments, the reward for being a work that can support many an nihilistic crisis – the cycle has been recomposed, filmed, danced to, absorbed into theatre, and there is this arrangement, for tenor, wind quintet and accordion by Normand Forget. It is now fifteen years old and has been recorded (in 2008 on the Atma label) by the same artists as in this Wigmore Hall concert. ... Christoph Prégardien has form in Winterreise, both with Schubert's piano and this version, and he was in marvellous voice.
Thursday, March 21, 2019 | Now into its fourth decade, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group continues to set the pace with its programming and commissioning... ... the Chinese mouth organ known as the sheng only recently came to prominence in Western music – thanks in large part to the artistry of Wu Wei... ... Heard either side of these were works by Rebecca Saunders, long resident in Berlin and for several years a professor of composition in Hannover. CRIMSON – Molly's Song 1 (1995) is one of the pieces that brought her to international attention... ... Concluding this concert, murmurs (2009) might seem almost a conceptual continuation with its inspiration in Samuel Beckett...
Thursday, March 21, 2019 | Charles Ives’s highly evocative Central Park in the Dark (1906), a companion to The Unanswered Question, purports to convey the sounds of nature and the happenings one would have heard while sitting on a park bench on a hot summer night in the late-1800s. ... The Wound-Dresser, John Adams’s setting of a fragment from Walt Whitman’s highly graphic and intimate poem about his experience as a volunteer, tending to wounded soldiers in military hospitals during the American Civil War, made a strong impact. ... With his darkly-rounded baritone, Matthias Goerne – singing with clarity, feeling and refinement – gave a powerfully moving rendition of Whitman’s poignant verses. ... Following intermission came a bold and brilliantly shaped reading of Brahms’s First Symphony, in which van Zweden’s robust conducting drew a rich and colorful response...
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | The combination of Michael Tippett and Ralph Vaughan Williams is a well-worn concert recipe, arising from their differing but related response to an inherited musical language as Vaughan Williams’s war-time gesture of goodwill when in 1943 he stood as a character witness for the conscientious objector...
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | The music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704) is undergoing something of a reassessment. During his lifetime he languished in the shadow of Lully’s monopoly and influence at the French court, and many of his operas and much of his theatrical music are lost.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | The best choreographers create a world of movement which utterly convinces, which possesses an internal logic in which you accept everything wholeheartedly. Pepperland, initially created in Liverpool in 2017, shows that the American dance-creator Mark Morris is one such choreographer; he has created a quirky, at times zany, reaction to the music of the Beatles in the album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ heard through the sound prism of composer Ethan Iverson’s creativity. It contains a glorious multiplicity of dance styles, from modern dance and ballet through vaudeville, soft shoe shuffle and on to Bob Fosse, the Charleston and cowboys’ hoe-down. That it works, and, indeed, works so well, is down to Morris’s inventiveness and his ability to match movement and music, which sounds all-too-obvious in print but which is a talent possessed by only a handful of those who style themselves as choreographers.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | This smartly-planned and highly satisfying Richard Strauss program featured music separated by forty-five years in the composer’s seven-decade career, and opened with a perfectly delicate account of the tender Sextet that introduces Strauss’s final opera, Capriccio... ... Conducting from a seated position, Andris Nelsons was completely at-one with the musicians. ... After a brief pause, the full Boston Symphony and Renée Fleming arrived. ... This concert was dedicated to the memory of André Previn... ... ...she sang a warm and heartfelt interpretation of ‘I can smell the sea air’, Blanche’s final aria from Previn’s 1995 opera, A Streetcar Named Desire... ... The second half was taken up with a sweeping and imaginatively detailed performance of one of Strauss’s first successes, Also sprach Zarathustra.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | Schumann and Brahms, the spiritual father-and-son giants of German symphonic classico-romanticism – the stuff of a Sunday roast. Pursuing its current season's theme of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (American Declaration of Independence), the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment treated us to an assortment of valved and natural horns, natural trumpets, old timpani and gut strings... ... ...came to haunt watching András Schiff doubling as pianist and conductor. He found some stature, though not much gravitas, in the 'Rhenish' Symphony, at best in the intimacies of the third movement but content to do no more than wave through those 'cathedral' places calling otherwise for greater input.
Tuesday, March 19, 2019 | The vocal and instrumental ensemble Les Arts Florissants is celebrating its fortieth-birthday. Forsaking its trademark French Baroque repertoire, William Christie and his Paris-based forces delivered an efficient and intermittently inspired St John Passion.
Monday, March 18, 2019 | Jeremy Denk opened this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall with G-major Bach... ... The Schubert, his second set of Impromptus, was also kept on the move, avoiding the torpor that can be apparent; each piece rippled with musical and emotional incident, songfulness too.
Monday, March 18, 2019 | Roy Budd is probably best known for his soundtrack to Get Carter (1971), with its tingling harpsichord motif, although he composed some forty other film scores. He was also a leading jazz pianist who made his professional debut when he was six years old at the London Coliseum in 1953. He was obsessed since the age of eleven with the silent-film version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and in 1989 paid a large sum of money to buy the only surviving original print from a collector and spent a further considerable sum on having it restored. He composed a symphonic score to accompany the film...
Monday, March 18, 2019 | Tchaikovsky’s final opera Iolanta continues to linger on the fringes of the repertoire, despite its glorious music completely at the service of the symbolist story of a king’s daughter hidden away to keep her ignorant of the fact she is blind until a young count falls in love with her and gives her the will to see. The Sleeping Beauty meets the elusive world of Pelleas and Melisande... ... In the end, the production is a disappointment, playing as a ninety-minute second fiddle to a magnificent, enchanting staging of L’Enfant et les sortilèges, with designs that faultlessly enter the world of childhood. The puppetry is disarmingly low-tech and delightfully imaginative
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | This interesting concert served two purposes: thanking those who helped the Dorothy Croft Trust for Young Musicians during its decade of existence, and celebrating the life of the Hungarian-born violin teacher Béla Katona, who died last year aged ninety-eight having taught several generations of students in Manchester and then London.
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | Barbara Hannigan is one of the most fearless sopranos of her generation, unsparing of herself and audiences in gripping, virtuoso performances of big, psychologically complex roles. Sometimes I’ve found her focus and commitment almost too formidable, so I wondered what she would bring to her parallel career as a conductor in her LSO programme.
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | Cantatas by the Red Priest and his contemporaries were themed around the abandoned lover, brought vividly to life by Renata Pokupić. ... The verve of La Serenissima was fabulous, Adrian Chandler in masterful control.
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | Matthias Goerne, a leading exponent of Schubert Lieder, has demonstrated an interest in exploring different sounds by transcribing the piano accompaniments for other instruments... ... Hanns Eisler’s Ernst Gesänge was completed a month before the end of his life... ... The two songs that concluded the first half were accompanied by Daniil Trifonov and Carter Brey. ... Brahms’s Opus 91 is of two songs he wrote some twenty years apart as gifts to his violinist collaborator Joseph Joachim, for whom a viola part – here superbly rendered by Cynthia Phelps – was added to the piano. Goerne and the instrumentalists approached the settings with a tenderness appropriate to their shared theme of sleep... ... Finally an engrossing account of the B-major Piano Trio, as Brahms revised forty-five years later. Trifonov, Huang and Brey exhibited excellent rapport...
Saturday, March 16, 2019 | Less than a fortnight ago Rafael Payare was in London for Mahler 5; now he was in Detroit with it, again with Mozart in fraternity, and this DSO webcast was the third and final performance. ... Hunter Eberly’s flawless trumpet solo (a militaristic flourish) cued Payare’s at-first unindulgent view of this three-part, five-movement Symphony... ... In the first half Yoonshin Song (DSO concertmaster, Kimberly Kaloyanides Kennedy taking that role, her recent Barber a standout) gave a stylish K219, matching the high bar she set in Bartók last April.
Saturday, March 16, 2019 | The combination of an on-form amateur orchestra and an energising young conductor in an intriguing programme looked hard to beat – and so it proved. Holly Mathieson made a considerable impression with her concern for clarity and elegance in all circumstances. ... Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 is having a London renaissance... ... Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder is one of his most integrated compositions, the sparse scoring evoking an intimacy beyond that of his Symphonies. His settings of five poems by Friedrich Rückert lamenting the death of his two youngest children have a poignancy and sense of terror that looks forward to Das Lied von der Erde. ... Mathieson and Van Mellaerts are New Zealanders and this moving account was dedicated to the victims of Friday’s atrocities in Christchurch.
Friday, March 15, 2019 | Sarah Connolly and Julius Drake assembled a fascinating and intense programme for their Wigmore Hall recital exploring the interior world of women’s lives, as imagined by three very different male composers. ... Robert Schumann’s Mary Stuart settings were made in 1852, when he suffered from increasing mental instability. They share the emotional depth of the Zemlinsky settings... ... The recently-late Dominick Argento’s From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, composed for Janet Baker in 1974, with diary-readings interspersed, made for an hour-long second half.
Thursday, March 14, 2019 | If the remaining two presentations of this LSO programme (not requiring trombones or tuba) – whether at Philharmonie de Paris on the 18th or back at the Barbican on the 21st – are able to match this ‘first night’ then a great evening is in prospect, for this was a wonderful, if possibly perplexing, Mahler 4 and it didn’t overshadow Isabelle Faust’s magnetic playing of Dvořák. In the adorable Violin Concerto, Bernard Haitink conjured plenty of Slavonic if stately fieriness and eloquent lyricism...
Thursday, March 14, 2019 | Opening and closing a week of nonagenarians, the London Symphony Orchestra and Bernard Haitink (ninety) and the Orchestre de Paris with Herbert Blomstedt (ninety-one) opted for interestingly similar programming and young soloist choices, the former favouring Austrian Concerto and Symphony, the latter German equivalents. ... This Paris concert, following four rehearsals and a first run the night before, offered Brahms on an imperially spacious scale. ... If Brahms's First Symphony was an hour-stopping masterclass of interpretation and execution, so, in a different way, was Mendelssohn's brief First Piano Concerto, premiered in Munich in 1831. ... Martin Helmchen, who won the 2001 Clara Haskil Competition, is a schooled, cultured pianist.
Thursday, March 14, 2019 | Simon McBurney’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is quite the Gesamtkunstwerk, with the orchestra pit inclusively raised to the same level as the stage, and the players often taking part in the action, major roles for video-design and sound-effects, and much fourth-wall dissolution as characters barge on to the stage through the stalls while other roles get absorbed into the orchestra.
Thursday, March 14, 2019 | This is a curiosity indeed – a juxtaposition of traditional Greek folk dancing with Russell Maliphant’s particular contemporary idiom. It is a combination in which, in an evening of satisfying variety, the differences between them are not eliminated but rather highlighted, the movement qualities placed alongside each other rather than fused. The brainchild of a Greek promotion company, The Thread emerges from those unpromising beginnings to deliver an experience which is stimulating and often beautiful, down in no small part to the extraordinary lighting design by Michael Hulls, a true choreographer of light.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | The first half of this Mozart evening was taken up by Richard Goode’s mostly sluggish rendition of the composer’s soft-spoken final Piano Concerto. ... Three funereal chimes set the somber tone that inhabited the second half the concert. Although Masonic Funeral Music was not, like the works that followed it on the program, a creation of 1791, it was the perfect mood-setter for the composer’s final sacred works. ... While we more often hear the efforts of Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who, at the request of Mozart's wife, Constanze, took on the task of completing the setting, on this occasion the Requiem was performed in the incomplete 1791 version, as the composer left it.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | It seems something like a once-in-a-decade event that we get the chance to see Offenbach’s 1867 comic opera Robinson Crusoe... ... while now it’s the inspired latest choice by the Royal College of Music Opera Studio, directed by Tête-à-tête’s Bill Bankes-Jones (who also directed a production in 1995 for Harrow Opera). ... Suspend your disbelief: it’s Offenbach!
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | Facing one another across the expanse of two pianos Thomas Adès and Kirill Gerstein communicated through nods and facial gestures that kept them on the same page – at least figuratively; while Adès played from printed scores (aided by a human page-turner), Gerstein went high-tech, using a pedal-controlled tablet.
Tuesday, March 12, 2019 | Chopin has long-been a major preoccupation with Maurizio Pollini, and while he plays this repertoire with deep affection (occasionally singing along) his approach remains unromantic, evident in his understated delivery of the two Opus 62 Nocturnes, withdrawn and almost severe, yet impressing in the first for the clarity of trills and articulation of passagework, and sense of line in the second. ... Following the interval Debussy’s Préludes (1909-10) silenced the persistent coughers, Pollini traversing Book One with barely a pause and bringing vivid colouration to the changing scenery.
Monday, March 11, 2019 | Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra wound-up their two-concert New York visit with a generous and imaginative mix. ... The concert opened with Sibelius: a rapturously atmospheric account of The Oceanides, drawn from the ancient Greek legend of Oceanus... ... Next, Truls Mørk to perform Salonen’s own restless, grandiose and dauntingly difficult Cello Concerto... ... An electrifying, richly characterized account of The Firebird rounded out the evening.
Monday, March 11, 2019 | Is it really thirty-five years since your reviewer was at Tower Ballroom to hear The Smiths on their first UK tour? The venue has not changed so much in terms of its designer seediness, making it the ideal location for Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk as staged by Birmingham Opera Company, an organization which seeks to provoke at all costs, and if such an attitude can easily seem its own justification, the track-record of BOC’s successes – most recently with a timely and engrossing reappraisal of Michael Tippett’s much-maligned The Ice Break – cannot be gainsaid.
Sunday, March 10, 2019 | If (in Mahler’s words) a Symphony should contain the World, then Bruckner’s certainly attain that and, in their way, the greatest of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, of which K482 is one, with the wide emotional range that it charts, clinched by the unbearably poignant looking-over-the-shoulder in the last few bars which precede the final cadence. ... Having reached ninety years of age a week ago, Bernard Haitink has a huge lifetime of musical experience to draw upon... ... At the piano Till Fellner was a little more insistent and emphatic, arguably foursquare, in that just a touch more humour would have told all the better, in the Finale especially, if not the more martial first movement. ... Perhaps his most approachable Symphony, given its melodiousness and suggestive programmatic content, Bruckner’s Fourth received a yet more expansive account, more so even than when Haitink conducted it with the LSO in June 2011.
Sunday, March 10, 2019 | The Jubilee Quartet provided the most stylish of Haydn performances and the musicians’ often very personal way of fashioning melodies never imposed upon eighteenth-century style... ... Coming between the two C-major works, Schubert’s C-minor Quartettsatz was superb.
Sunday, March 10, 2019 | Two disparate approaches to conducting Bruckner’s Symphonies have developed over the years: one emphasizes the influence of Wagner, applying exceedingly broad tempos to give greater weight to the dramatic character of the music, enhancing its heroic bearing with overpowering outbursts reinforced by stentorian brass and rich lyricism with opulent strings; the other, more concerned with structural cohesion, setting brisk tempos and conjoining sections seamlessly to downplay Bruckner’s block-like sectionalism, sometimes at the expense of personality. ... Esa-Pekka Salonen’s reading of Bruckner’s Seventh utilized elements of both approaches. ... The Philharmonia Orchestra (from London) was in top form
Sunday, March 10, 2019 | Rudolf Buchbinder's Beethoven is a familiar feature of European concert life, from Vienna to Berlin and Istanbul, his approach reliable and forthright if not that given to poetic finesse or finer dynamics. ... The ‘Emperor’ – started with a nod, orchestra and leader left to take care of the cavalry charge – was bold and muscular...
Saturday, March 09, 2019 | A week ago in webcast land it was Zubin Mehta conducting a compelling Scheherazade; now, remaining in Russian mode, the Berliner Philharmoniker’s chief conductor designate Kirill Petrenko tempted with Tchaikovsky, a distinctive if not always persuasive account of the Fifth Symphony. ... Arnold Schoenberg was three-year settled in California when he composed his Violin Concerto in 1936. It had to wait until late in 1940 for its premiere by Louis Krasner (who had commissioned Alban Berg), Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra. Not many violinists have Opus 36 in their repertoire: Viktoria Mullova is one, Michael Barenboim another, and here was Patricia Kopatchinskaja.
Saturday, March 09, 2019 | Verdi’s Macbeth was the composer’s first Shakespeare opera and is so abbreviated as to be positively epigrammatic, but it is far from being Shakespeare- or Verdi-lite. If anything it gains in doom-laden density, without a hint of relief.
English Touring Opera similarly cuts to the chase in James Dacre’s taut new production... ... Grant Doyle combines Macbeth’s monstrous pessimism, his courage and agonising moments of self-knowledge with disarming directness.
Friday, March 08, 2019 | Mozart’s Idomeneo, not always ‘up there’ as an audience favourite, is a tricky work to pull off from a theatrical perspective. It’s a striking choice for a touring company showing as it does a ruler making a rash decision and learning that this has unexpected ramifications and consequences for his family, his people, his country and his reign as fate and destiny decree. No qualms about relevance then!
Friday, March 08, 2019 | I once heard Monteverdi’s Vespers in St Paul’s Cathedral that worked rather well, and have tried to sit in the same area (under the dome, towards the front) for other choral blockbusters, on the basis of what goes up must more or less come down. Sadly, for a work that in London fits better into the Albert Hall than the city’s cathedral, the results with this account of Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts – marking to the day the 150th-anniversary of the composer’s death – were impressionist-realist... ... John Nelson has form in conducting Berlioz (his recording of The Trojans is marvellous) and he did rather a good job at embracing the cathedral’s mighty sound time-lags and decays to give due space to Berlioz’s devotional lingering – the performance came in pretty near the dot of ninety minutes.
Friday, March 08, 2019 | Kaija Saariaho’s Winter Sky, arranged by the composer from Orion as a stand-alone piece, found NWS conducting-fellow Dean Whiteside controlling gradually increasing textural density and dissonance with poise and precision... ... Inon Barnatan then gave a superb performance of Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Osmo Vänskä animated on the podium, setting lively tempos and drawing enthusiastic playing. ... Further Mendelssohn followed the interval: an atmospheric reading of his ‘Scottish’ Symphony. Vänskä’s engagement with the orchestra was all but tangible as he gestured dramatically...
Friday, March 08, 2019 | The indisputable highlight of this oddly-programmed evening was Nico Muhly’s Liar. His opera Marnie – based on Winston Graham’s 1961 novel about an identity-swapping, sexually-repressed kleptomaniac, adapted to film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1964... ... Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra briskly launched into its spiky opening pages and moved seamlessly through the seething and spellbinding score.
Thursday, March 07, 2019 | It has been a while (2015, also at the Barbican) since Arcadi Volodos last played in London, and I had forgotten just how completely this artist can draw you in with his extraordinary command of dynamics and tone. You think piano sound can’t get any quieter, but it does – and Volodos is no stranger to barn-storming heavy lifting.
Thursday, March 07, 2019 | Culminating his third year as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s first-ever Artistic Partner – recently extended through the 2020-21 season – Thomas Adès delivered the world-premiere of his prickly and high-spirited Piano Concerto with Kirill Gerstein.
Wednesday, March 06, 2019 | Mahler’s Ninth has long been considered his farewell Symphony, a backward look at life from a composer obsessed with death. A more enlightened viewpoint suggests Mahler’s obsession was really about life, and that in his final completed Symphony, he comes to terms with life’s many aspects. ... Michael Tilson Thomas focused on clarity of line and inner voices, sometimes at the expense of the work’s aesthetic core.
Tuesday, March 05, 2019 | Dedicated to the memory of André Previn, the RPO’s Music Director from 1985 to 1992 who died last week, the Overture was particularly apt given Shrove Tuesday’s origins lie in the need for repentance and, in the opera, Don Giovanni refuses the Commendatore’s repeated injunctions “Pentiti” before being dragged down to Hell. Rafael Payare is a protégé of the late Lorin Maazel... ... Whichever view one takes, one slight fluff in the first movement aside, Lise de la Salle played it quite beautifully, clean ornaments, minimum pedalling and a better sense of Classical style than many pianists.
Sunday, March 03, 2019 | Three works on the outskirts of the outputs of three Italian opera masters – and it was all down to the alchemy between Antonio Pappano and the LSO that this concert was such a success.
Sunday, March 03, 2019 | Itzhak Perlman and Rohan De Silva began with a Suite compiled by Alfred Schnittke from music he had written for films, for the most part emulating Baroque style. ... There followed an engrossing account of Beethoven’s expansive ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata.
Saturday, March 02, 2019 | In recent months Zubin Mehta has been cancelling more than conducting (most recently an Israel Philharmonic tour of North America followed by appearances with the New York Philharmonic), possibly due to unexpected complications of a shoulder operation from a year ago. Whatever the reason(s), it’s good to report that Mehta made it to Berlin... ... Mehta opened with Edgard Varèse’s Intégrales (1923), for winds and percussion, a composer he has long held a torch for, Webern similarly. ... Peter Eötvös’s Speaking Drums, from 2012, revised the following year, is a tour de force for any percussionist. Martin Grubinger was amazing...
Saturday, March 02, 2019 | Vladimir Jurowski’s relationship with eighteenth-century performing style has been evident from his appearances with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and this account of Haydn’s Seasons made many concessions to period performing practice. ... From the dramatic realisation of the Prelude it was clear that the LPO would play colourfully throughout... ... The most striking incidents come in Autumn and here the ninety-strong London Philharmonic Choir unleashed its considerable power.
Saturday, March 02, 2019 | Long before Michael Curtiz’s film The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Rossini tackled another episode in the contorted emotional world of England’s ‘Virgin’ Queen in Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra. It was the first of several operas he composed for Naples... ... James Conway’s new production for English Touring Opera (which, this season, features operas about kings and queens) does not really overcome that obstacle... ... Lucy Hall more convincingly inhabits the role of Matilde, alone amongst this cast in bringing her part to life as something approaching a well-rounded person, rather than a cardboard cut-out, demonstrating that something can be done with the wooden libretto.
Saturday, March 02, 2019 | Howard Moody’s community opera for Glyndebourne is called Agreed and is billed as “a new opera about love, loss and divided lands”, which braces you for anything from Romeo and Juliet to the very latest news bulletin. Moody then sharpens his focus in his and his librettist daughter Anna Moody’s collaboration on a heavily political story about a country split in two by the sea...
Saturday, March 02, 2019 | “You know”, George Benjamin remembers Ligeti saying, “I have no confidence in myself … I know I should, but I don't. I'm basically doing all I do in the most amateur way, just trying to realise something that I imagine in my ear, in dreams. I use techniques, of course, but I forget them after writing and I have no overall scheme or permanent procedures.” ... The BBC Symphony Orchestra, after two-and-a-half hours giving its all, punctuated with elaborate platform changes and delicate microphone repositioning (the engineering crew quietly unflustered), must have been exhausted. But, in time-honoured fashion, since Adrian Boult in the 1930s, principals and ranks rose brilliantly to the occasion. ... In best Boulez tradition, Sakari Oramo – hands only in the Concertos and in Clocks and Clouds – gave a conducting masterclass... ... Augustin Hadelich (1723 Ex-Kiesewetter Stradivarius) gave a seriously considered account, his belief in the work committed and intense, and his dispatch of Thomas Adès's arresting closing cadenza (replacing Ligeti/Gawriloff's in the published score), down to a nod from Enescu, absorbingly commanding. ... Nicolas Hodges worked notes, ensemble, the whirl of independent lives, hard, the all-too-present risk of “an exuberant machine whose many spinning cogs start to skitter out of control”...
Saturday, March 02, 2019 | The evening opened on a suitably somber note, with a deeply moving account of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations, performed in memory of André Previn... ... After the Elgar came Dvořák’s Stabat Mater, a relatively early work, seldom heard. ... Andris Nelsons led an ardent, absorbing and extraordinarily well-paced performance.
Friday, March 01, 2019 | With a stated intent of reviving the operetta tradition that used to be part of the precursor company when it was housed at Sadler’s Wells, English National Opera has launched a new and glitzy (at least when we get to the residence of the fabulously wealthy Hanna Glawari) Merry Widow, replete with some great choreography including tap-dancing beavers, some slapstick comedy, and also some updating of the book... ... In the pit the ENO Orchestra responds well to Kristiina Poska, who possesses just the right lightness of touch and rhythmic flexibility for this music, catchy and wistful tunes beguiling the ear. ... The Merry Widow relies on the title heroine and in this version Sarah Tynan has even more to do than is usually the case...