December 2019 Concert Reviews

January 2020 Concert Reviews
Tara Erraught and James Baillieu at Wigmore Hall – Carl Loewe, Gustav Mahler and Hamilton Harty
Sunday, December 29, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  Irish mezzo Tara Erraught’s visits to London are all-too-few and far-between and her recital at London’s Wigmore Hall confirmed her status as an artist of distinctive warmth and virtuosity. Her programme explored musical settings of celebrated German verse, notably by Goethe and Rückert, and the links between settings by different composers, which resonated throughout the recital. … 
The Metropolitan Opera – William Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck – Peter Mattei, Elza van den Heever, Gerhard Siegel, Christopher Ventris, Christian Van Horn, Andrew Staples, Tamara Mumford; conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Friday, December 27, 2019 (Susan Stempleski) |  ★★★★★ Alban Berg’s Expressionist masterpiece, Wozzeck, takes over the Metropolitan Opera stage in this co-production of The Met, the Salzburg Festival, Opera Australia and the Canadian Opera Company. William Kentridge’s unconventional, multi-layered staging, which had its premiere at the 2017 Salzburg Festival, places the action in the militarized zone of Flanders in the lead-up to the First World War and takes Berg’s own distressing experience in the Austro-Hungarian army into account. It is relentlessly grim. … 
Mariinsky Orchestra/Valery Gergiev – Hector Berlioz's Fantastic Symphony and excerpts from The Damnation of Faust – Alexandre Kantorow plays Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto [live webcast]
Saturday, December 21, 2019 (Ateş Orga) |  When the 22-year-old Frenchman Alexandre Kantorow won the XVIth International Tchaikovsky Competition earlier this year he did so with a radically different final-round concerto choice of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto (John Lill territory, 1970) and Tchaikovsky’s Second. It was an arresting encounter, in awarding him the Gold Medal the jury for once making no mistake, righting the record of a contest which frankly hasn't had the best of runs in recent years. From an eminent musical family (his father is the violinist and conductor Jean-Jacques Kantorow), Kantorow's teachers have included Pierre-Alain Volondat and, currently, Rena Shereshevskaya at the École Normale de Musique de Paris, a former Moscow disciple of Vlassenko and Flier. He's a romantic, aristocratically imperious player, physically powerful, yet with time for poetry and dream, the silence of stillness. … 
Graham Johnson’s Songmakers’ Almanac at Wigmore Hall with Ailish Tynan, Anna Huntley, Theodore Platt, Janet Suzman
Saturday, December 21, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  Graham Johnson has devised another supremely entertaining evening of song and verse in his Songmakers’ Almanac series, this time exploring the delights and black humour of the Christmas season. Aylish Tynan led an accomplished lineup of singers, Anna Huntley and newcomer Theodore Platt, while Janet Suzman breathed electrifying life into an eclectic poetry and prose selection. … 
LSO/François-Xavier Roth – Sophya Polevaya's Spellbound Tableaux and Béla Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin – Alisa Weilerstein plays Edward Elgar's Cello Concerto
Thursday, December 19, 2019 (David Truslove) |  Opening a concert programme with a completely new work brings certain dividends and risks. While it’s vital to encourage fresh talent, the impact of a premiere can soon vanish, especially when, as here, coming before invigorating performances of established repertoire. … The bulk of the evening was taken up by two works of similar age (about one hundred years) yet emotionally and stylistically poles apart. Elgar’s Cello Concerto arrived in a flowing and well-defined performance from Alisa Weilerstein … Bartók’s pantomime ballet caused a scandal at its first performance in Germany in 1926, and here its gruesome details were vividly captured by a batonless Roth. … 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Vedernikov – Georgy Sviridov's The Blizzard & Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Winter Daydreams Symphony – Andrei Korobeinikov plays Sergei Rachmaninov's Paganini Rhapsody
Wednesday, December 18, 2019 (Brian Barford) |  Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) was a Soviet era composer probably best known for his songs and choral music, but he was also a significant composer of film music, and composed the soundtracks for nineteen films. He studied under Shostakovich in the 1930s but his work lacks his teacher’s sense of irony and feeling for pastiche. He created a score for a film called The Blizzard (1964) directed by Vladimir Basov and based on a short story by Alexander Pushkin in which a blizzard separates two lovers on the night of their planned elopement. In 1974 he reworked the film score into a twenty-five-minute suite of nine movements, and it was a perfect piece for Alexander Vedernikov’s winter-themed concert of Russian music at the Barbican. … 
The Royal Opera – Richard Eyre’s production of Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata – Hrachuhi Bassenz, Liparit Avetisyan & Simon Keenlyside; conducted by Daniel Oren
Tuesday, December 17, 2019 (Alexander Campbell) |  ★★★★☆ Can it really be 25 years since this production first graced the stage of the Royal Opera House? With revivals at least every other season the staging has become something of a fixture, and it still comes up fresh. Great productions stand the test of time when they allow some memorable interpretations to bloom and re-energise the staging, bringing new slants and insights within the still impressive storable stage framework. This latest set of revival performances has several casts and conductors, but notably each cast has been assigned a different revival director, and so each grouping of principals will surely bring dramatic variants as well as vocal ones. … 
Joyce DiDonato & Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall – Franz Schubert’s Winterreise
Sunday, December 15, 2019 (Susan Stempleski) |  ★★★★★ For this extraordinary recital Joyce DiDonato joined with fellow Carnegie Hall Perspectives artist Yannick Nézet-Séguin to take on Winterreise, Schubert’s brilliant song cycle depicting a young man’s odyssey through an icy winter landscape, recounting his tale of solitude and alienation. … 
LSO Chamber Orchestra/Emmanuelle Haïm – Purcell, Handel and Rameau
Sunday, December 15, 2019 (Brian Barford) |  Emmanuelle Haïm here made her debut with the LSO, albeit in its chamber orchestra incarnation. Having built her reputation with her own Le Concert d’Estrée she has moved on to working with major orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the New York Philharmonic, with the aim of bringing the music of the 18th century back into their repertoires. … 
Fretwork & Helen Charlston at Wigmore Hall
Sunday, December 15, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  Christmas themed masterpieces by Byrd formed the core of Fretwork’s dark-timbred viol consort recital at the Wigmore Hall. Music from the Tudor and Stewart courts,‘songs of sadnesse and Pietie’, featured the voice of Helen Charlston, a young mezzo who is rapidly making a name for herself after winning the Handel Singing Competition in 2018. … 
Jakub Józef Orliński & Il Pomo d'Oro at Wigmore Hall
Saturday, December 14, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  Wigmore Hall buzzed with excitement in anticipation of the second visit of Jakub Józef Orliński, the breakdancing Polish countertenor, who burst onto the British opera scene at Glyndebourne this summer. His youthful energy and relaxed attitude was evident from the start as he chatted to the audience about his wardrobe choice: a vibrant green designer suit. His repertoire choices fell firmly in the baroque, and the programme consisted of Venetian operatic rarities, recitatives and da capo arias of introspection and anguished love, which form key dramatic moments within each work. The intensity was leavened by brief instrumental sinfonias from Orliński’s backing, Il Pomo d'Oro, led by Francesco Corti. … 
The Metropolitan Opera – Robert Carsen’s production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier – Camilla Nylund, Magdalena Kožená, Golda Schultz, Günther Groissböck, Markus Eiche, Matthew Polenzani; conducted by Simon Rattle
Friday, December 13, 2019 (Susan Stempleski) |  ★★★★☆ In this first revival of Robert Carsen’s 2017 production of Der Rosenkavalier … Sir Simon Rattle makes an all-too-rare appearance on The Met podium, returning for the first time since 2016, when he conducted six performances of Tristan und Isolde. … the excellent performances in this revival by singers and orchestra alike transcend the theatrical packaging to make the evening well worthwhile. 
BBCSO/Gergely Madaras – Brett Dean's Amphitheatre & Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony – Nicholas Daniel plays Judith Weir’s Oboe Concerto
Friday, December 13, 2019 (Alexander Hall) |  How do you create atmosphere? You get somebody like the Australian composer Brett Dean to write a piece called Amphitheatre, described as “a scene for orchestra”. It takes its inspiration from one of the most successful recent instances of fantasy literature for children, Michael Ende’s Momo. The central character, a young homeless girl who lives among the ruins of an amphitheatre, struggles against the “gentlemen in grey” whose mission it is to steal time from hard-working citizens. Dean, who spent two decades as a member of the Berlin Philharmonic’s viola section, makes use of varying spatial effects and shifting tonalities to conjure a dark world. The work moves seamlessly from spooky beginnings that echo the catacombs in Mussorgsky’s Pictures through to violent eruptions from the brass suggestive of gladiatorial combat. … 
New Adventures at Sadler's Wells — Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes
Friday, December 13, 2019 (G. J. Dowler) |  ★★★★★ The Red Shoes is arguably the finest film about ballet and the theatre ever made; Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s 1949 masterpiece has inspired generations of dancers and audience alike with its tale of obsession in the flamboyant world of what is a masterly evocation of the legend of Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes. Matthew Bourne, whose particular brand of theatrical dance-drama has become such a staple of the British dance scene, now revives his 2016 stage-version at Sadler’s Wells for his company’s annual Christmas season. It is a near-unmitigated delight, true to the spirit of the original film but untrammelled by any slavish adherence. … 
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Christoph König – Edward Elgar's Part-Songs, Jörg Widmann's The Hot Heart & Johannes Brahms's Third Symphony
Thursday, December 12, 2019 (Richard Whitehouse) |  This concert was advertised as 'Mirga conducts Brahms', but duly became 'Christoph conducts everything' when Christoph König took over from the orchestra’s indisposed Music Director for this unlikely though effective programme. König can hardly have been familiar with the Part-Songs by Elgar (1894 – texts by his wife Alice) that began proceedings, but his reading was nothing if not idiomatic – bringing out the wistfulness of 'The Snow' then the lithe elegance of 'Fly, singing bird, fly' with assurance. … 
Quatuor Danel at Wigmore Hall – String Quartets by Mieczysław Weinberg & Dmitri Shostakovich [2/11]
Tuesday, December 10, 2019 (Richard Whitehouse) |  fter its relatively modest beginning two months ago, Quatuor Danel's cycle of string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich and Mieczysław Weinberg continued this evening with a much more substantial programme of such pieces as emerged near the end of and following the 'Great Patriotic War'. … 
Behzod Abduraimov at Carnegie Hall – Chopin Preludes, Debussy’s Children’s Corner & Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition
Tuesday, December 10, 2019 (Lewis M. Smoley) |  Returning to Carnegie Hall for the first time since his sensational appearance in 2016, the young Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov offered a recital consisting of Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus 28, the Children’s Corner suite by Debussy and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, each providing ample opportunity to combine breathtaking technical agility with a captivating rhapsodic air and extraordinary expressive intensity. … 
The Royal Opera – Giuseppe Verdi's Otello – Gregory Kunde, Ermonela Jaho, Carlos Álvarez – directed by Keith Warner, conducted by Antonio Pappano
Monday, December 09, 2019 (Alexander Campbell) |  ★★★★☆ The Royal Opera House has heard some extraordinary and memorable orchestral interpretations of this opera over many years, including those of Georg Solti, Colin Davis, Edward Downes and the unforgettable Carlos Kleiber for five performances in February 1980. At this first revival of Keith Warner’s 2017 staging Antonio Pappano’s account of the score bristles and blisters excitingly and with greater dramatic and propulsive force than ever before – he conducted the initial performances of this production as well as revivals of the previous one. The orchestral sound was vibrant and sometimes overwhelming; those listening carefully will undoubtedly learn about and marvel at details of Verdi’s orchestration. … 
Thomas Oliemans & Malcolm Martineau at Wigmore Hall – Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe, Niels Gade's Images of the Orient, and Johannes Brahms's The beautiful Magelone
Sunday, December 08, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  Thomas Oliemans’s performances on the opera stage are attracting a great deal of attention. Seen in London earlier this year as Papageno in ENO’s Simon McBurney production of The Magic Flute and the year before singing the Count in The Marriage of Figaro to Lucy Crowe’s Countess, his natural theatricality and ringing baritone have won him many plaudits. It was with a sense of anticipation that the Dutch baritone’s Lieder recital at the Wigmore Hall commenced, with his Lieder partner pianist Malcolm Martineau. … 
Nash Ensemble & Roderick Williams at Wigmore Hall – Around Schubert – Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert & Schumann
Saturday, December 07, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  The Nash Ensemble’s series of concerts Around Schubert have reached a substantial midway point. The works of a number of great composers were included in a concert that was as studded with delicacies as a plum pudding on a cold December evening. The opening Scottish folk song settings by Beethoven reflected popular domestic music-making in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Hundreds of these settings were commissioned by George Thomson, an Edinburgh civil servant with a passion for the folk tradition. … 
Arcadi Volodos at Barbican Hall – Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann
Friday, December 06, 2019 (Kevin Rogers) |  This Barbican Hall recital was a triumph for Arcadi Volodos, and a celebration of word-painting by music – expressionistic, feelings and images conjured from sounds. With the piano spot-lit from above ever so gently and the audience in close-to-darkness, this proved to be a gloriously intimate occasion, a private communication from pianist to his audience. … 
LSO/Gianandrea Noseda – Dmitri Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony – Khatia Buniatishvili plays Pyotr Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto
Thursday, December 05, 2019 (Alexander Hall) |  What once was and is now again known as Saint Petersburg, with brief intervals as Petrograd and Leningrad, formed the focus of a mighty war symphony composed in that city’s darkest hour. Cities have long featured in symphonic exploration – Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony, say – or in tone poems such as Respighi’s Rome trilogy, but there is nothing in musical literature of this length which was so directly prompted by the depths of human suffering. … 
New York Philharmonic/Jaap van Zweden – Beethoven's Second Symphony & Fourth Piano Conerto with Yefim Bronfman – Steve Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra
Thursday, December 05, 2019 (Susan Stempleski) |  This program sandwiched the New York premiere of a twenty-first century American work between two classics of the early nineteenth-century repertoire. The evening opened with Jaap van Zweden leading an affable if somewhat sluggish account of Beethoven’s least performed symphony, the Second. Though less than desirably forceful in the opening movement’s Allegro, the performance offered some satisfying moments elsewhere, including a fresh and delicately molded Larghetto and a relatively high-spirited Finale. … 
Tenebrae at Wigmore Hall – Nigel Short & Olivia Jageurs
Sunday, December 01, 2019 (Amanda-Jane Doran) |  Nigel Short’s chamber choir Tenebrae was formed in 2001 and is celebrated for both its virtuosity and its unique sweetly blended sound. In spite of changes in line-up the vocal character of the choir has remained constant and its repertoire of complex close harmony, within a dramatic framework, has won a following around the globe. The performance began in atmospheric style with the distant male voices of the group intoning the Gregorian chant for advent, ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’, processing from the back of the hall. … 

 

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