September 2019 Concert Reviews

October 2019 Concert Reviews
Ian Bostridge, Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen @ Wigmore Hall
Monday, September 30, 2019 |  A re-sculpted programme framed a new piece by Olli Mustonen. The tone was set with seven of Bartók’s For Children miniatures, based on meticulous transcriptions of folk tunes. Mustonen’s percussive attack rang around Wigmore Hall gathering vertiginous speed for the penultimate piece. Steven Isserlis then joined Mustonen for Sibelius’s Malinconia...  
Ballet Preljocaj at Sadler's Wells – La Fresque
Monday, September 30, 2019 |  Ostensibly, La Fresque (The Painting on the Wall) is French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj’s treatment of an ancient Chinese story concerning the traveller Chu’s interactions with a wall-painting of five women – in contemplating the image, he enters it and spends years there only to return to the world of humans and to discover that only seconds have passed. It is a variation on the ‘portal’ narrative in which a human being passes into another dimension where not only time but all aspects of reality are different, and which has always been a magnet for creative artists to flex the muscles of their imagination and to indulge in flights of fantasy that lend themselves in a theatrical context to special effects and striking tableaux. 
Weimar Berlin: The Party’s Over: Philharmonia Orchestra – Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Busoni’s Two Studies for Doktor Faust, Berg’s Lulu-Suite & Hindemith’s Das Nusch-Nuschi – Christian Tetzlaff plays Weill’s Violin Concerto
Sunday, September 29, 2019 |  The Philharmonia Orchestra’s survey of music in the Weimar period has thrown up a few contradictions in the past week’s trio of concerts, mainly in the style-versus-content area. Apart from Dagmar Manzel’s singing, the Cabaret evening was something of a museum piece of the Berlin club scene for our edification, and the two later concerts, including this one, revolved around two works, both by Alban Berg, that are in the period but not exactly of it. ... Salonen was superb in the Lulu-Suite... ... The concert ended with some more extracts, three Dances from Hindemith’s show Das Nusch-Nuschi... 
Berliner Philharmoniker – Iván Fischer conducts Rautavaara, Debussy & Ravel – Anna Vinnitskaya plays Prokofiev [live webcast]
Saturday, September 28, 2019 |  It should have been Mikko Franck conducting, but he phoned in sick, and the Berliner Philharmoniker secured the services of Iván Fischer for three evenings (this Digital Concert Hall webcast was of the third). ... It was the late Finn’s Apotheosis that opened the evening, the final movement of Symphony 6 (Vincentiana, 1992, itself entangled with Rautavaara’s van Gogh opera). ... Turning to matters French, the second half juxtaposed relatively rare Debussy with ‘everyday’ Ravel. ... As centrepiece Berlin Phil-debutant Anna Vinnitskaya (winner of the 2007 Queen Elisabeth Competition) gave a powerfully communicative account of Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto... 
London Philharmonic Orchestra opening concert of 2019-20 season – Vladimir Jurowski conducts Scriabin Settings & Pathétique Symphony – Julia Fischer plays Britten’s Violin Concerto
Friday, September 27, 2019 |  “Isle of Noises” was the banner under which this concert launched the LPO’s 2019-20 season though ‘Jurowski’s greatest hits’ might have done just as well. ... Vladimir Jurowski’s advocacy of Russian music is well-known but he has probably accompanied more top-flight renditions of Britten’s once unfairly neglected Violin Concerto than any comparable maestro... ... Performing in an off-the-shoulder shimmering number of dark Brunswick green, Julia Fischer took a while to warm up. 
Göteborgs Symfoniker – Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Pohjola’s Daughter & Nielsen’s Inextinguishable Symphony – Anu Komsi sings Magnus Lindberg’s Accused [live webcast]
Thursday, September 26, 2019 |  Magnus Lindberg's Accused was premiered by Barbara Hannigan with the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski at the Royal Festival Hall in January 2015. The singer associated with it exclusively since has been Anu Komsi – in November she'll be bringing it to Stockholm, Paris and Berlin conducted by Sakari Oramo. ... In a pre-concert interview Santtu-Matias Rouvali, favouring the longer option, sought to emphasise the underlying emotion, the late-romanticism, of the trilogy, in places demonstrably Berg-like in descent. 
Wigmore Hall – Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo – laBarocca & Ruben Jais with Roberta Mameli, Sonia Prina & Luigi De Donato
Thursday, September 26, 2019 |  A little over a decade before Handel composed his now-famous English masque Acis and Galatea, he had set the Classical myth in 1708 as a serenata (or extended dramatic cantata) in Italian during his period of study and work there. As a private entertainment for Neapolitan aristocracy it is a small-scale opera in all but name... ... Aci, Galatea e Polifemo – the Italian original giving more prominence to the ungainly figure of the cyclops than the masque – was performed at Wigmore Hall by the three singers and laBarocca with the dramatic verve which might be expected of a staged work... 
Weimar Berlin: Angels and Demons: Philharmonia Orchestra – Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Hindemith’s Rag Time & Mathis der Maler Symphony and Bach/Schoenberg Chorale Preludes – Christian Tetzlaff plays Berg’s Violin Concerto
Thursday, September 26, 2019 |  It is not so many years ago that the Philharmonia and Esa-Pekka Salonen were playing a significant role in the Southbank Centre’s survey of twentieth-century music, and now, with one more concert to go, the same forces are refining their focus specifically on the Weimar period... ...Much nearer the mark are Schoenberg’s transcriptions of two of Bach’s organ Chorale Preludes, which both fragment and glorify the originals... ... Bach is the end-game of Berg’s Violin Concerto, and the more Christian Tetzlaff and Salonen took “the memory of an angel” to distracted extremes... ... The Symphony Hindemith drew from his opera about the German artist Matthias Grünewald is rarely programmed, but Salonen’s expansive conducting ensured that both music and painting complemented each other... 
New York Philharmonic – Jaap van Zweden conducts Erwartung & Bluebeard’s Castle – Katarina Karnéus, Nina Stemme & Johannes Martin Kränzle; directed by Bengt Gomér
Thursday, September 26, 2019 |  Jaap van Zweden, in his second year as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, continues to present fascinating programs. With three superb singers in productions by Bengt Gomér, contemporaneously composed operas by Arnold Schoenberg and Béla Bartók were coupled. 
Ailish Tynan, Raphael Wallfisch & John York at Wigmore Hall
Wednesday, September 25, 2019 |  The passionate and sophisticated music of Rebecca Clarke formed the core of this thoughtfully assembled Wigmore Hall programme. ... There were more discoveries the songs of two other female composers were highlighted, not least Muriel Herbert’s, many of which were not published in her lifetime in spite of approval from her teacher Charles Villiers Stanford... 
Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra @ Anvil Basingstoke – Jan Latham-Koenig conducts Peter Grimes, Hamlet & 1812 Overture – Jennifer Pike plays Lark Ascending
Tuesday, September 24, 2019 |  This was the penultimate leg of the newly formed Britten-Shostakovich Festival Orchestra’s UK tour. It’s a collaborative ensemble (arising out of the UK-Russia Year of Music 2019) comprising British and Russian musicians currently attending conservatoires in their respective countries. Their Artistic Director Jan Latham-Koenig put together an oddly assembled programme which tipped the musical scales in favour of Shostakovich. It was Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending with Jennifer Pike as the eloquent soloist that left the most favourable impression... 
The Royal Opera – Handel’s Agrippina – Joyce DiDonato, Franco Fagioli, Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies; directed by Barrie Kosky; conducted by Maxim Emelyanychev
Monday, September 23, 2019 |  Handel’s Agrippina (1709) constitutes a pivotal moment in the composer’s biography as well as in the history of opera. At the age of twenty-four it was his sixth stage-work, but the first that was a solid success for him, being premiered at a prestigious theatre in Venice during his extended period of study in Italy. That then buoyed his confidence to sustain a career in writing Italian opera in England which lasted three decades. The drama itself looks back to the same period in ancient Roman history already treated by Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea and serves as the prequel in relating the events that put Nero on the throne. No doubt for both Monteverdi’s and Handel’s Venetian audiences these operas served as a satirical comment upon the political intrigues which beset Papal-dominated Rome at that time as well as other Italian states, compared with the rational and virtually incorruptible constitution of The Most Serene Republic, where government couldn’t be prorogued at will. ... Hardly any of that registers in Barrie Kosky’s new production of Agrippina which is over-acted and over-sung, with gratuitous yelps, whimpers, and irritating pauses from the singers for good measure – and they’re the good things going for it. 
Metropolitan Opera’s Opening Night – The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess – Eric Owens & Angel Blue; directed by James Robinson; conducted by David Robertson
Monday, September 23, 2019 |  Metropolitan Opera premieres James Robinson’s lively production of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, and David Robertson sure-handedly brings out the scale of this masterpiece, as well as the many popular tunes and jazz and gospel influences. ... Eric Owens and Angel Blue give terrific performances. 
Philharmonia Orchestra & Esa-Pekka Salonen @ Queen Elizabeth Hall – Weimar Berlin: To the Cabaret!
Monday, September 23, 2019 |  The second, final leg of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s centennial Weimar Berlin series opened with the ninety-minute To the Cabaret! in the atmosphere-resistant Queen Elizabeth Hall. The evening was one of Gerard McBurney’s immersive, educative, multi-media projects, along the lines of his Beyond the Score events. 
Berliner Philharmoniker – Santtu-Matias Rouvali conducts Klami & Sibelius – Alice Sara Ott plays Ravel [live webcast]
Saturday, September 21, 2019 |  Based on these two final movements, it’s a pity that Santtu-Matias Rouvali (on his Berliner Philharmoniker debut, for the third time this week) couldn’t have conducted the whole of Uuno Klami’s Kalevala Suite... ... After just ten minutes of music (further evidence, surely, that we could have had all the Klami), Alice Sara Ott (also BP debut) settled in for an interesting Ravel G-major... ... Rouvali has recorded Sibelius 1 in Gothenburg, an interpretation in progress. In Berlin Wenzel Fuchs intoned the clarinet opening with a degree of mystery... 
John Sturges’s The Great Escape – Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough – Elmer Bernstein’s score played live by BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Peter Bernstein
Saturday, September 21, 2019 |  The Great Escape is a staple of Bank Holiday television and is regularly voted one of the top three films that families like watching together, along with The Sound of Music and It’s a Wonderful Life. Its most-famous components are Elmer Bernstein’s main-title theme, beloved of English footie fans, and the sequence of Steve McQueen jumping his motorbike over barbed-wire fences on the Swiss border. Seeing the movie again after a long period on a big screen with a live orchestra conducted by the composer’s son Peter reminded me that there is a lot more to the film than just those elements. 
Buffalo Philharmonic 2019-20 season opener – JoAnn Falletta conducts Rossini & Dvořák, with Tianwa Yang in Saint-Saëns & William Wolfram playing Liszt
Saturday, September 21, 2019 |  JoAnn Falletta began her twentieth season as music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic with Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide. 
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra – Leonard Slatkin conducts Kinah & Brahms 4 – Xiayin Wang plays Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto [live webcast]
Friday, September 20, 2019 |  

Irish Eyes are Smiling on Leonard Slatkin: no sooner does he make his debut with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (May just gone, link below) than he is invited straight back and he also has an imminent third gig on the Emerald Isle, a Beethoven affair on January 31. ... The centrepiece this time was Samuel Barber’s Piano Concerto... ... Step forward Xiayin Wang. ... Barber was bookended by Brahms. That may not be obvious from the listing, but Slatkin’s Kinah embraces Brahms’s final orchestral work, the Double Concerto (for violin and cello, Opus 102) for reasons both musical and personal. 

New York Philharmonic 2019-20 opener – Jaap van Zweden conducts Philip Glass’s King Lear Overture & Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet – Kelli O’Hara sings Barber's Knoxville
Friday, September 20, 2019 |  For the third time of asking, one of four such concerts, the New York Philharmonic and Jaap van Zweden opened the 2019-20 season, the centerpiece being Knoxville, Samuel Barber’s genial representation of life in the rural American South a century ago, with Kelli O’Hara evocatively singing texts drawn from a James Agee poem. 
LSO – Simon Rattle conducts Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony – Emanuel Ax plays Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto [Concert II, September 19]
Thursday, September 19, 2019 |  The magisterial playing of Emanuel Ax in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto – notoriously fiendish to interpret convincingly and technically challenging – was exemplary in its clarity, sense of line and phrase, dynamic control and astounding variation in touch. ... It was indeed calm before the overtly romantic performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony with waves and swathes of sound engulfing the auditorium. Rattle’s interpretation was only just the right side of indulgent... 
LSO – Simon Rattle conducts Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony – Emanuel Ax plays Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto [Concert I, September 18]
Wednesday, September 18, 2019 |  Fortunately, Brahms and his music did not suffer the vilification heaped on Rachmaninov all those years ago. I can recall the young Emanuel Ax performing Concertos in those days almost exclusively in the Royal Festival Hall as all London’s orchestras fought to perform there. It was therefore a great pleasure to welcome back a stalwart of this repertoire to give us his view of the taxing Second Piano Concerto... 
English National Ballet at Sadler's Wells – Akram Khan's Giselle
Wednesday, September 18, 2019 |  There are essentially two sorts of new ballet: the ones you see once and never need or wish to see again, their qualities (if they have any) revealed entirely at first viewing, and the ones which bear, demand even, second and repeated exposure, such are their complexities and rewards. The latter are considerably rarer than the former but include Akram Khan’s Giselle for English National Ballet. It has become, since its creation in 2016, something of a classic. 
The 23 String Orchestra & David Cutts @ Cadogan Hall – debut concert – Elgar, Shostakovich/Barshai, Janáček
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 |  I hope nothing like that happens to the 23 String Orchestra, for the result of the demise of those earlier orchestras has been far less concentration on this music in concert programmes than is warranted – for composers, musicians and – not least – audiences. A new body of players, formed to programme this repertoire, is to be welcomed, underlined by the undoubted musicianship of each member, their corporate artistry (led by Paul Barritt) and of David Cutts’s conducting. 
The Royal Opera – Benoît Jacquot’s production of Massenet’s Werther – Juan Diego Flórez, Isabel Leonard, Jacques Imbrailo, Heather Engebretson; conducted by Edward Gardner
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 |  This is the fourth time round for Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 staging of Massenet’s Werther, the French composer’s version of the 1774 novel by the German Goethe that played a key role in kick-starting the whole Romantic movement. For this revival, Juan Diego Flórez is in charge of the eponymous poet who, hopelessly in love with dutiful, married Charlotte, shoots himself, and ears were primed to hear how this peerless bel canto tenor would expand from Rossini and Donizetti high jinks to Werther’s meatier lyricism. 
Stephen Waarts & Gabriele Carcano at Wigmore Hall – Fauré, Szymanowski, Bartók
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 |  American-Dutch violinist Stephen Waarts and Italian pianist Gabriele Carcano chose for their impressive Wigmore Hall debut a programme drawn across a period of forty years either side of the Great War which consciously forged divergent stylistic paths away from the Austro-Germanic tradition. 
The Royal Opera – Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni – Erwin Schrott, Roberto Tagliavini, Malin Byström, Myrtò Papatansiu; conducted by Hartmut Haenchen
Monday, September 16, 2019 |  In Kasper Holten’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the concept rather takes precedence over the opera’s dramatic thrust. Lists of the dissolute one’s victims are projected by video display upon the flat planes of the panelled set, and they recur throughout the performance, along with other abstract illuminated patterns (sometimes illustrating the sung words) as though the producers have only recently discovered such a technique and become fixated with it. 
Iestyn Davies Fortieth-Birthday Concert at Wigmore Hall – Handel – with The English Concert & Trevor Pinnock
Monday, September 16, 2019 |  Forty is regarded as the new twenty these days, and Iestyn Davies chose to mark his new decade with the first recital of his Wigmore Hall residency, here with Trevor Pinnock reunited with his old gang The English Concert. As birthdays go, this was rather a solemn affair, at least with Davies’s choice of Handel... 
LSO – Simon Rattle conducts Messiaen’s Éclairs sur l’Au-delà
Sunday, September 15, 2019 |  At the outset of the new concert season, Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra paradoxically turned their minds to final things in Olivier Messiaen’s last completed orchestral work, translated as ‘Illuminations of the Beyond …’ (1988-91). Their robust performance reminded, however, that this is no starry-eyed, cotton-wool-inhabited adumbration of eternity, but a highly intense and colourful vision of the hereafter, rooted in this-World experiences. 
Wigmore Hall’s Beethoven 250 – From An die ferne Geliebte to Mahler’s Adagietto via Janáček’s Intimate Letters and Berg’s Violin Concerto – Appl, Bezuidenhout, Škampa, Widmann
Saturday, September 14, 2019 |  Beethoven’s foundational song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte, his expansive and contemplative paean to love, found Benjamin Appl and Kristian Bezuidenhout launching proceedings. ... Passion conveyed with a wilder complexity followed, with Janáček’s 'Intimate Letters'. From the opening bars this was a reading of dynamic commitment by the Škampa Quartet. 
LSO – Opening Concert of 2019-20 season – Simon Rattle conducts Emily Howard’s Antisphere & William Walton’s First Symphony | Leila Josefowicz plays Colin Matthews’s Violin Concerto
Saturday, September 14, 2019 |  Opening their new season with two contemporary works and one of the twentieth-century’s great masterpieces, the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle hit the ground running with the commission from Emily Howard, Antisphere... ... The gestural aspect of Antisphere came into harder focus in the robust dialogue of Colin Matthews’s Violin Concerto, which had its premiere in Birmingham in 2009, its London debut at the Proms in 2010 (both conducted by Oliver Knussen), and further performances in Europe and the US, all with Leila Josefowicz. ... William Walton’s First Symphony plays to all the LSO’s considerable strengths. 
BBC Philharmonic – Omer Meir Wellber plays & conducts Mozart, Schoenberg & Schumann – Jacob Reuven plays Vivaldi’s Summer on a mandolin [live BBC webcast]
Friday, September 13, 2019 |  More hall of mirrors than comfortable visiting card, this late-afternoon concert – Omer Meir Wellber's home-turf debut as principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic – took listeners down some radical roads. Schoenberg's Five Orchestral Pieces, in the original 1909 scoring, came over as polished and disciplined if at times cool... ... Mozart's 'little' A-major Piano Concerto – in Wellber's view “a Concerto with a lot of space” – set off like any other day, all smiles and 1782 civilisation, cellos and basses to the right, keyboard (a mild-mannered centrally positioned Steinway) facing into the ensemble. Reduced strings, a Bärenreiter score on the music stand. But – Kuusisto and Kopatchinskaja, Fazil Say, scarcely a hair's breath away – the image was short-lived. An explosion of extremist cadenzas covering the three movements... ... In Vivaldi's ‘Summer’, arranged for mandolin, he drove matters hard, Jacob Reuven, using a big-projection Arik Kerman instrument, coping manfully if not always comfortably... 
Opening of Wigmore Hall 2019-20 season – Benjamin Britten song-cycles: Lullabies, Island, Sonnets, Proverbs – Alder, Baillieu, Clayton, Johnston, Newby
Friday, September 13, 2019 |  As the four voice-types deepened, so did the atmosphere of the Wigmore Hall’s season-opening recital – four of Benjamin Britten’s song-cycles, culminating in the dark seriousness of the William Blake settings. Britten wrote each cycle with specific singers in mind, and they rely on a sequence of mood and contrast rather than narrative, something that the performers here and James Baillieu registered strongly. 
Berliner Philharmoniker – Peter Eötvös conducts Xenakis’s Shaar & Varèse’s Amériques – Isabelle Faust gives the German premiere of Eötvös’s Alhambra [live webcast]
Sunday, September 08, 2019 |  Peter Eötvös not only embraces the new in music, he contributes to it, with distinction. I had the pleasure of reviewing his recent Alhambra, written for Isabelle Faust, when it received its UK premiere at the Proms. ... Interval time; and following it, Iannis Xenakis’s Shaar, an extravaganza for string orchestra... ... Add in the rest of the Philharmoniker (the platform now packed to the gunnels) for my second Amériques in two days. Following Alan Gilbert in Hamburg (link below), Eötvös and the Berliners also served up an aural feast of Edgard Varèse’s American soundscape, this time in its original incarnation, completed in 1921... 
NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester – Alan Gilbert conducts the opening concert of the 2019-20 season – Brahms 1, Unsuk Chin Frontispiece, Bernstein Jeremiah, Ives Unanswered Question, Varèse Amériques [ARTE Concert live webcast]
Friday, September 06, 2019 |  It’s not often that Brahms’s First Symphony opens a concert – although there are precedents from Ashkenazy, Maazel and Masur (other conductors too no doubt) – which here signalled Alan Gilbert’s first appearance as Chief Conductor of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester. ... A Big Question was being asked by Bernstein, yet none more so than by Charles Ives, to be forever Unanswered. ...and then, with the players restored to the stage, Amériques by Edgard Varèse, a Frenchman in America, a wall of sound, a theatre of urban noises (including sirens) contrasted with Impressionistic brushstrokes and cataclysmic eruptions. 
Lucerne Festival 2019 – Bernard Haitink’s Retirement Concert – Vienna Philharmonic performs Bruckner 7 | Emanuel Ax plays Beethoven [NPO Radio 4 live relay]
Friday, September 06, 2019 |  Whether Bernard Haitink will now retire from conducting permanently or merely take a sabbatical, this was his last concert for the foreseeable future, repeating earlier forays into the same repertoire with the same performers over the last couple of weeks. There was no sense of final thoughts, however, in these two masterworks, of which Haitink has been a pre-eminent interpreter for over half-a-century. Rather, utterly authoritative and compelling accounts which yet revealed a lively mind still at play, bringing freshness and illumination to these compositions. ... The Vienna Philharmonic achieved a seamlessly blended timbre, though still encompassing Mozartean clarity in detailing, paving the way for Emanuel Ax’s crisp and deliberate execution of the solo part, its grace complementing the orchestral texture rather than working against it. ... Such timbral luminosity as featured in the Concerto was raised by at least a power of two in this performance of Bruckner’s generally radiant Seventh Symphony. 
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Sadler's Wells – Lazarus | Revelations | EN | The Call | Juba
Thursday, September 05, 2019 |  ‘A black man in a white man’s world’, the title of one of the songs in Lazarus, a new work for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, just about sums up the company itself, a doughty ensemble which has brought black American dance and dancers to the fore for the past sixty years. 

 

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