January 2018 Concert Reviews

February 2018 Concert Reviews
Phantom Thread at Royal Festival Hall – Paul Thomas Anderson’s film with score by Jonny Greenwood
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 |  It was a full house at the Royal Festival Hall for the preview of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread prior to its general release. Anderson and the film’s Oscar-nominated composer Jonny Greenwood were interviewed by Mark Kermode before the screening with Greenwood invoking the lush string arrangements of Nelson Riddle as a source of inspiration. ... Set in 1950s’ London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the centre of fashion-designing for royalty, socialites and debutants. Woodcock, with more than a passing resemblance to Norman Hartnell, is noted for his icy control over all aspects of his life and work. 
Angelika Kirchschlager & Julius Drake at Wigmore Hall – the final concert in Schubert: The Complete Songs series
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 |  Franz Schubert’s latest birthday was celebrated in fine style at Wigmore Hall, as a delectable selection of Lieder concluded the Complete Songs. Angelika Kirchschlager’s expansive, burnished mezzo filled the venue supported by Julius Drake’s nuanced and characterful accompaniment; voice and piano inseparably communicative. 
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits at Lighthouse – Lyatoshinsky’s Third Symphony – Sunwook Kim plays Brahms
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 |  This was a special event in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth season, and included the unveiling of a brand-new Steinway D selected by Sunwook Kim. ... Kim is no stranger to Brahms’s demanding D-minor Piano Concerto, having won the prestigious Leeds Competition with it in 2006... ... You won’t see Boris Lyatoshinsky often in concert programmes, and it’s a sign of confidence in Karabits that this Ukrainian composer (1895-1968) did not deter the locals. Lyatoshinsky’s Third Symphony (there are five) was completed in 1951 but, under official pressure – it was deemed anti-Soviet – its final movement was revised to comply with the Party line. 
Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir at Milton Court Concert Hall
Tuesday, January 30, 2018 |  Hot on the heels of Finland’s independence centenary (December 6), comes the centenary of Estonia proclaiming its independence, and this concert – in the presence of Estonia’s Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, and its Ambassador to Great Britain, Tina Intelmann – opened a British celebration of that centenary, with a particular concentration on the fabulous tradition of choral singing (the first Song Festival was held in 1869). It couldn’t have been given a more auspicious start, in the assured voices of the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under its Latvian artistic director Kaspars Putninš. 
Escher Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Borodin, Shostakovich, Tchaikovsky
Monday, January 29, 2018 |  The Escher Quartet members have impressed me in concert and on record – their series of the Mendelssohn Quartets for BIS is probably the best available. So this Russian evening at Wigmore Hall held out high hopes for a similar triumph. The first crack in my confidence came when I realised not only that Aaron Boyd, the exceptional second violin, had recently left the group, but that his successor Danbi Um was not appearing... ... Borodin’s Second Quartet, a work demanding superhuman tonal and ensemble control, suffered almost immediately from harsh violin tone... 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Apollon Musagète Quartet
Monday, January 29, 2018 |  Puccini is so little associated with chamber music that his Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums) was an unexpected highlight of the Apollon Musagète Quartet’s recital at Wigmore Hall... ... Earlier we heard Sibelius’s Andante festivo in its original version... 
Palm Beach Opera – Puccini’s Tosca – Keri Alkema, Riccardo Massi, Michael Chioldi; directed by Fenlon Lamb; conducted by David Stern
Sunday, January 28, 2018 |  Palm Beach Opera’s staging of Puccini’s Tosca is a delight to eye and ear. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s designs, originally created for San Francisco, provide magnificent representations of the three locales in Rome at which the action of this political thriller takes place... ... Keri Alkema portrays Floria Tosca as a true diva... ... Her ‘Vissi d’arte’, in Act Two when she is in the company of Scarpia, Cavaradossi being tortured by the Baron’s henchmen, is artfully phrased – powerful and moving. Another highlight is her gloriously sung Act Three duet with Riccardo Massi, a terrific Cavaradossi. ... Michael Chioldi’s Scarpia commands the stage... 
Berliner Philharmoniker/Mariss Jansons – Bruckner 6 – Daniil Trifonov plays Schumann [live webcast]
Saturday, January 27, 2018 |  Eschewing an overture or short opening piece, a regrettable feature of too many concerts today, it was straight into Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto. The opening was promising, Daniil Trifonov’s first notes impressively poised if deliberate... ... Mariss Jansons conducted Bruckner’s Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Symphonies in Amsterdam and brought them to London with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in April 2014. His Berliner Philharmoniker account of No.6 was generally impressive. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra – Nikolaj Znaider conducts Elgar 2 – Saleem Ashkar plays Mozart K466 [live webcast]
Saturday, January 27, 2018 |  Conducting Edward Elgar’s Second Symphony is a ‘big ask’ for even a seasoned maestro, it’s a musically and emotionally complex masterpiece, and as yet Nikolaj Znaider doesn’t have all the answers; and when we finally got started – Znaider quite rightly waited for the audience to settle (this happens quite often in Detroit following intermission) – he launched the work in rather too easy a fashion... ... ...we got a Mozart Piano Concerto with a pared-down orchestra, strings on the thin side but aiding clarity and highlighting some expressive woodwind contributions. It was all very musical, not least from Saleem Ashkar whose technical fluency was admirable... 
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski – Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen – 1/4: Das Rheingold
Saturday, January 27, 2018 |  In case any justification were needed for the initiation of a ‘Ring’ cycle by the London Philharmonic Orchestra (not yet having had the opportunity to do so in its residence at the Glyndebourne Festival) the cause for it now is to celebrate Vladimir Jurowski’s ten years as the LPO’s Principal Conductor. ... Only in Scene Three was there a moment of vocal weakness at the point by which Alberich has become irredeemably evil. Matthias Goerne – the only singer to perform from a score – sounded already wearily noble and withdrawn from the world, even tentative and nervous in his depiction of Wotan... ... The other roles were generally well cast. Among the gods was a steely Fricka from Michelle DeYoung; sweet-toned radiance in Lyubov Petrova’s portrayal as Freia; efficiency and clarity in Allan Clayton’s brief appearance as Froh; and sufficient weight from Stephen Gadd’s Donner... 
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst at Adrienne Arsht Center – Mahler 9
Friday, January 26, 2018 |  Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, his final completed work (the Tenth was left unfinished), formed the first of two programs in the Cleveland Orchestra’s annual Miami residency. ... Franz Welser-Möst led the Clevelanders along a scenic route... 
LSO/François-Xavier Roth and Cédric Tiberghien – Debussy
Thursday, January 25, 2018 |  I asked Classical Source why no review of this concert, given the LSO features regularly in its coverage and the turnaround for write-ups is so quick, the next day usually, and was advised that on this night no reviewer was available. Would I like to write some coverage, if I was there? Well, I was, but I am no critic... ... Debussy is a favourite composer, La mer knocked me for six back in the 1960s, so a whole concert of his music appealed, and I have become a big admirer of François-Xavier Roth. He has built a notable rapport with the LSO and this was immediately evident in Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune... ... Yet when a pianist of the stature of Cédric Tiberghien champions it then it’s worth a listen... 
La Scala Philharmonic/Riccardo Chailly at Barbican Hall – Rossini & Tchaikovsky – Benjamin Grosvenor plays Grieg
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 |  Our Classical Source editor would have been very pleased, for we got a second Overture as a generous encore; indeed one that returned a second side-drum player to the stage. So to counterbalance the antiphonal side drums that rat-a-tat at the opening of Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, we had the more dangerously sinister militaristic tattoos in Verdi’s The Sicilian Vespers, both thrilling in execution as one might expect with an ensemble of such operatic credentials as La Scala Philharmonic. 
London Sinfonietta Fiftieth-Anniversary Concert
Wednesday, January 24, 2018 |  50 years to the day since the orchestra played its first concert, the London Sinfonietta celebrates its birthday with the music that has shaped its identity – past, present and future. Co-founder David Atherton joins George Benjamin and Vladimir Jurowski in conducting a journey that begins with the music of Stravinsky, Ligeti and Birtwistle, courses through to the London premiere of Hans Abrahamsen's piano concerto 'Left, alone' and peers into the future with a new commission by RPS Music Award-winning composer Samantha Fernando. 
Paul Lewis at Royal Festival Hall / Concert cancelled
Tuesday, January 23, 2018 |  Unfortunately Paul Lewis was taken ill shortly before the recital’s start “due to an acute and sudden onset of a virus with extreme vertigo.” 
The Mozartists & Ian Page at Wigmore Hall – 1768
Tuesday, January 23, 2018 |  This varied confection successfully continued “Mozart 250”, here celebrating the music of 1768. ... 1768 was at the height of the Sturm und Drang period, usually applied to Haydn’s music, but at the time this striking philosophy became evident in all the arts. Haydn’s ‘Lamentatione’ Symphony forcefully represents this style and Ian Page took a suitably furious pace for the opening movement... ... A similar calmness was evoked by J. C. Bach’s melodious Flute Concerto played expressively by Katy Bircher... ... The Jommelli aria is from the opera Fetonte notable for its extravagant staging including an earthquake, a battle and Phaeton driving his chariot across the skies but the lyrical aria sung with the greatest elegance by Chiara Skerath... 
Kensington Symphony Orchestra/Russell Keable at Cadogan Hall – Schubert’s Great C-major Symphony – Fenella Humphreys plays Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto
Tuesday, January 23, 2018 |  The Kensington Symphony Orchestra is one of London’s most enterprising ensembles, and while this programme revealed little sense of adventure there was no small degree of ambition in coupling Stravinsky’s nowhere-to-hide Violin Concerto with Schubert’s epic symphonic journey. ... We have become used to hearing lean and athletic performances of Schubert ‘Great C-major’ Symphony (Mackerras and Norrington spring to mind) and Russell Keable’s expansive account, all repeats observed (a departure from ten years ago), inclined towards light textures, togetherness and near-faultless intonation. ... Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto (1931) – written for Samuel Dushkin – is scored with multitudinous wind sonorities, which both support the soloist and act as a foil. Balance can be problematic. Here everything coalesced remarkably well, the interplay between individuals and groups was sure-footed, a good demonstration of KSO’s excellence, complementing Fenella Humphreys who embraced the Concerto with vigour and authority... 
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst at Carnegie Hall – Johannes Maria Staud's Stromab & Mahler 9
Tuesday, January 23, 2018 |  This first of two Carnegie Hall concerts celebrating the Cleveland Orchestra’s centennial paired music based upon a bizarre tale of horror with the vision of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, Franz Welser-Möst conducting. ... Johannes Maria Staud’s fifteen-minute Stromab (Downstream) was inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows... 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Inon Barnatan
Monday, January 22, 2018 |  The highlight of Inon Barnatan’s contrapuntal feast at Wigmore Hall was Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which tied in nicely with the preceding César Franck and J. S. Bach through its fugal Finale, and there was much to please and intrigue the listener throughout... 
The Metropolitan Opera – David McVicar’s production of Verdi’s Il trovatore – Jennifer Rowley, Quinn Kelsey, Yonghoon Lee, Anita Rachvelishvili; conducted by Marco Armiliato
Monday, January 22, 2018 |  On this first night of the Met’s revival of David McVicar’s 2009 production of Verdi’s Il trovatore, three of the four principals made auspicious role debuts. The biggest triumph was Anita Rachvelishvili’s brilliant portrayal of Azucena, the opera’s central character. Dolora Zajick has all but owned the role here... ... Jennifer Rowley as Leonora and Quinn Kelsey as Count di Luna gave excellent performances that largely met the daunting challenge of succeeding such artists as Anna Netrebko, Sondra Radvanovsky and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado – Faune, Mother Goose, La mer – Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Ravel
Sunday, January 21, 2018 |  Pablo Heras-Casado and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s French programme opened with Debussy’s Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, a turning point in the history of music when it was premiered in 1894. Samuel Coles gave a beautiful rendering of the opening flute solo... ... Ravel composed his G-major Piano concerto (completed in 1931) following a tour of the United States where he became impressed with the rhythmic and harmonic richness of jazz. Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s rendition was simply brilliant. ... The concert concluded with Debussy’s La mer – the sea in many moods... 
LSO/François-Xavier Roth – Wagner, Debussy, Massenet – Edgar Moreau plays Lalo’s Cello Concerto
Sunday, January 21, 2018 |  The recent appointment of François-Xavier Roth as a principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra hopefully means that more programmes such as this will be possible... ... This programme was centred around the British premiere of the Première Suite d'Orchestre on which Debussy worked during 1883 and 1884 before setting it aside. ... When was the last time that the complete Ballet Music from Massenet's Le Cid (1885) was heard at a 'serious' concert in London? 
Royal Academy of Music Richard Lewis Song Circle at Wigmore Hall – Venice
Sunday, January 21, 2018 |  A crop of gorgeous voices from the Royal Academy of Music was on display at Wigmore Hall in a programme united by a Venetian theme, a journey through this gothic, timeless city. 
Louise Alder & James Baillieu at Wigmore Hall – Chants d’amour – From Mozart to Richard Strauss
Saturday, January 20, 2018 |  Nothing became Louise Alder’s Wigmore Hall recital like the leaving of it. Clamour for an encore at the end of an eclectic evening was rewarded by ‘Les Filles de Cadix’ (The Girls of Cadiz), a strutting bolero by Léo Delibes sung to a thrumming, guitar-like piano accompaniment. ... Of the three songs by Bizet only one, ‘Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe’ (Farewell of the Arabian hostess), made much impact, not least in its hypnotically melismatic envoi, although all of them sat well in Alder’s voice. The same could not be said for Fauré’s Cinq mélodies ‘de Venise’, the five Verlaine settings that include ‘Mandoline’ and ‘Green’. ... As for Richard Strauss, a quartet of his most enchanting songs, all magically sung and played, were worth the price of admission and then some. 
Jonas Kaufmann & Helmut Deutsch at Carnegie Hall – Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin
Saturday, January 20, 2018 |  Helmut Deutsch is one of the greatest collaborative pianists. His ability to diversify and inflect even the most repetitive figuration truly transformed this Carnegie Hall performance of Die schöne Müllerin with Jonas Kauffman. 
BBC Symphony Orchestra – Josep Pons conducts El amor brujo & Goyescas
Friday, January 19, 2018 |  It is curious how much music with Spanish influence is composed by non-natives – by Ravel, Rimsky-Korsakov, Chabrier and Debussy, as well as a certain opera by Bizet! Does the genuine flavour of the Iberian peninsula emerge from these works? In this imaginative double-bill the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Josep Pons demonstrated that the answer may be no! ... Granados’s Goyescas, first staged at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in January 1916 to some success with a cast including Giuseppe de Luca and Giovanni Martinelli, has a curious background. ... The evening’s first half comprised the original, longer, version of Manuel de Falla’s El amor brujo (Love, the magician), played with bravura, with the truly authentic, earthy and sultry-voiced, Maria Toledo, impressive in her spoken narrative.  
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Dirk Brossé – Organ Spectacular with James O’Donnell – Bach, Saint-Saëns, Fauré, Jongen
Friday, January 19, 2018 |  Dirk Brossé has a huge career that roams between conducting, composing and education, between ‘art’ (for want of a better word) and film music (he wrote the excellent score for the BBC’s equally excellent Parade’s End)... ... There was no shortage of cinematic glamour, opulence and impressively communicated craft in this LPO “Organ Spectacular” programme. ... Westminster Abbey’s music supremo James O’Donnell rolled out ‘that’ Toccata and Fugue on the Royal Festival Hall’s instrument bathed in a roseate glow (the organ, not O’Donnell), sexing-up Johann Sebastian Bach’s (or is it?) stridently fantasia-like Toccata with dashing decorations and flourishes... ... then O’Donnell was back in more of a starring role in Joseph Jongen’s Symphonie concertante, the work commissioned in 1926 by Wanamaker’s store in Philadelphia to christen its proposed new organ, the biggest and no doubt the best in the World – imagine a six-manual behemoth serenading you in John Lewis’s as you contemplated soft furnishings. Because he was Belgian, lived in Liège and was a celebrated organist, his name is inevitably linked with César Franck’s, although on the evidence of this worldly, often brilliant piece, Jongen’s music is a far remove from Franck’s seraphic opacity. 
The Royal Ballet – Giselle – Marianela Nuñez & Federico Bonelli
Friday, January 19, 2018 |  Perhaps it is churlish not to greet the return of Giselle to Covent Garden with great enthusiasm but the ballet has been presented there so frequently in recent years that perhaps another full-length work from the company’s unenviably rich repertoire would have been welcome in a season distinctly short on interest – Ashton’s Ondine, perhaps or Coppélia. But Giselle it is. Not that there is too much wrong with the version given in Sir Peter Wright’s now venerable production which, one is compelled to note, now runs for over ten minutes longer than when it was premièred in 1986 – slower tempi and a longer interval, no doubt. 
Behzod Abduraimov at Barbican Hall
Thursday, January 18, 2018 |  I last heard the Tashkent-born Behzod Abduraimov six years ago, in London, when the then twenty-two-year-old wizard was still in the public’s eye as winner of the London International Piano Competition (which no longer features, I notice, in his biography). Since then there have been thrilling Proms appearances, and his international star is well and truly risen. That 2012 concert was memorable for Abduraimov’s outgoing confidence and youthful derring-do. This Barbican recital (a stalls-only event) was much more revelatory for the interior quality of his musicianship. ... Abduraimov is something of a piano whisperer, an approach that worked wonders with Liszt’s transcription of the ‘Liebestod’... ... It was fascinating how the prevailing mood of the evening lingered in Prokofiev’s Sonata No.6, the first of the composer’s ‘War’ Sonatas. There was plenty of weight and authority, but the dazzling pugnacity also admitted an effortfulness that gave the music a deepening context. 
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti at Carnegie Hall (2) – Mahler 1 – Janine Jansen plays Bruch
Thursday, January 18, 2018 |  The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra concluded its first visit to New York with Daniele Gatti, coupling two late-nineteenth-century ‘Firsts’. ... ... Janine Jansen gave a highly romantic performance of Max Bruch’s G-minor Violin Concerto... ... Following intermission, the Mahler began auspiciously as the strings gradually emerged from silence, then joined by the birdsong of the woodwinds... 
English National Ballet at London's Coliseum – Le jeune homme et la mort
Thursday, January 18, 2018 |  What a good ballet Roland Petit’s Le jeune homme et la mort is, and, over 70 years since its creation, a precious surviving example of the whole French post-war aesthetic, an aesthetic suffused with existentialism, surrealism and symbolism; one only has to think of the magnificent films of the forties and fifties to evoke that particular brand of stylised chic. And so it is with Jeune Homme, which received a welcome revival by English National Ballet as the ‘opener’ for the second week of La Sylphide at the Coliseum. 
London Philharmonic Orchestra – Mikhail Agrest conducts Spartacus & Tchaikovsky 4 – Andrey Gugnin plays Rachmaninov
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 |  Conducted by Mikhail Agrest, the London Philharmonic presented a programme of popular Russian music, opening with a polished account of a famous excerpt from Khachaturian’s ballet-score for Spartacus (1954), the ‘Adagio’ perhaps better-known as the theme music for BBC TV’s 1970s’ The Onedin Line. ... Then Andrey Gugnin made an impressive appearance in Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto, a work of formidable demands and titanic performances. This account was beautifully understated and fluent... 
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti at Carnegie Hall (1) – Parsifal & Bruckner 9
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 |  Few composers have idolized another one as much as Bruckner did Wagner; he was immersed in Wagner’s art, applying it to symphonic form with dedication but without losing stylistic individuality. Comparing the final works of these two creators provides ample evidence of how much Bruckner owed to Wagner’s melodic and harmonic gifts; the spiritual nature of Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony seems to have its roots in Parsifal, described by Wagner as a Bühnenweihfestspiel, a Sacred Festival Play. ... The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has a long association with the music of Bruckner and Wagner. ... Daniele Gatti, in his second year as the RCO’s chief, has had much experience with Parsifal... 
Royal Festival Hall concert in aid of the Refugee Council – Edward Gardner conducts Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time – Hilary Hahn plays Mendelssohn
Monday, January 15, 2018 |  In September 2015, photographs of a three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, whose body was washed up on a Turkish beach, prompted international anger, despair and a call for action. Alan’s death was a shocking individual tragedy... ... Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, written during World War Two, also reflects a historical moment and speaks for ‘our time’. Tippett explained that the motivation for the Oratorio was the shooting of a German diplomat in Paris... ... At this fundraising concert, Tippett’s impassioned musical account of oppression, injustice, catastrophe, moral growth and reconciliation perfectly embodied the vision, values and mission of the Refugee Council... ... The two halves of the concert were prefaced by spoken presentations: at the start, Judith Kerr read an extract from her semi-autobiographical account of a young Jewish girl and her family escaping the Nazis, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit... ... The evening had begun with Mendelssohn’s (second) Violin Concerto, a work which evinces the freshness, impetuousness and vitality of youth. Hilary Hahn offered a surprisingly reflective, ‘mature’ interpretation... 
LSO/Simon Rattle – Janáček, Carter, Bartók – Isabelle Faust plays Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto
Sunday, January 14, 2018 |  Sir Simon Rattle’s revival of the portmanteau seven-composer Genesis Suite elicited much domestic press attention but it’s the more orthodox repertoire from his recent mini-series at the Barbican that the LSO now takes to Cologne and Hamburg. ... In Janáček’s final operatic Overture (presumably as edited by Charles Mackerras) that peculiar combination of monothematic claustrophobia and heroic defiance grabbed the lapels... ... All the music presented was in some literal sense ‘late’ without being consistently autumnal in manner. Elliott Carter (a late addition to the bill lest his presence deter the punters) was represented by Instances... ... Isabelle Faust may lack Gil Shaham’s warmth of tone or Anne-Sophie Mutter’s sheer command of the instrument but her spacious, lapidary interpretation of Berg’s Violin Concerto is arguably the most distinguished of our time. 
Modigliani Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Haydn 54/1 & Rider and Brahms 51/1
Sunday, January 14, 2018 |  The Modigliani Quartet is well-suited to Haydn’s classically structured music; importantly, the musicians do not take liberties with tempo yet the deeply-felt elements of his compositions are expounded expressively without hindering forward progress. ... The so-called ‘Rider’ Quartet is even more dramatic and the equestrian nature of the brilliant Finale was evoked by strongly stressed rhythms. ... A characteristic of the players’ style being the clear assertion of inner parts, Brahms’s very different C-minor Quartet benefitted greatly. ... After Brahms in complex mood the Modigliani players found an ideal encore to conclude the thought-provoking programme and presented Puccini’s Crisantemi (Chrysanthemums). 
François Couperin: Lumière et Ombre [Les Talens Lyriques & Christophe Rousset at Milton Court]
Sunday, January 14, 2018 |  Debussy is not the only significant French composer with an anniversary in 2018 – the birth of François Couperin 350 years ago gave an excuse for this examination of the most prominent member of a family who were as important in the musical life of their country as the Bachs were in theirs. ... That has to do with the fact that, as mentioned by Christophe Rousset in the panel discussion with BBC Radio 3’s Andrew McGregor, and Berta Joncus, his undoubted achievement in writing sensitively and idiomatically for the instruments of his time – above all the harpsichord – has meant that his music is more limited in impact in that it hasn’t attained the same widespread appeal of his contemporaries, J. S. Bach, Handel, and Domenico Scarlatti... 
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer at Lincoln Center – Bach & Rachmaninov – Dénes Várjon plays Beethoven
Sunday, January 14, 2018 |  Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra offered a well-balanced program. Fischer directed J. S. Bach’s B-minor Orchestral Suite from the keyboard, facing a small ensemble including a second harpsichord and with Gabriella Pivon brilliant in the flute part. ... Dénes Várjon’s masterful technique and interpretative sensibilities merged perfectly in an outstanding performance of Beethoven’s C-minor Piano Concerto... ... Following intermission, Fischer and the BFO took on Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, frequently played but all-too-often without much insight. Fischer paid insistent attention to detail... 
Berliner Philharmoniker/Antonio Pappano – Ravel, Mussorgsky, Scriabin – Véronique Gens sings Duparc [live webcast]
Saturday, January 13, 2018 |  It’s twelve years since Antonio Pappano last conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker, a surprising statistic maybe until one considers the time he spends with opera at Covent Garden and with the symphonic repertoire in Rome with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra. ... Then four rapturously beautiful and transporting Mélodies by Henri Duparc, noted for his songs and not just because that’s all he wrote and then only a relative handful of them, Baudelaire being one of his chosen poets. They were sung and conducted lovingly, Véronique Gens caressing the (for her, native) French words... ... It’s always a treat to hear Night on the Bare Mountain as Mussorgsky conceived it... ... Finally Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, erotic and volatile... 
LSO/Simon Rattle – Genesis Suite and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra
Saturday, January 13, 2018 |  Written about far more than it has been heard, the Genesis Suite (1945) is a product of that brief yet potent phase at the end of the Second World War when a new beginning seemed possible in all senses. Composer, conductor and cultural entrepreneur, Nathaniel Shilkret (1889-1982) had such in mind when commissioning this by no means blithely optimistic concept from several composers based in America... ... ...and was given as an elaborate mixed-media presentation featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle. ... The inevitable exception was Schoenberg – who, replacing an ailing Bartók at short notice, came up with a 'Prelude' whose glimpsing of order out of chaos is couched in his late idiom where tonal and serial possibilities maintain uneasy accord.... ... Something which Alexandre Tansman does rather more subtly in 'Adam and Eve'... ... Darius Milhaud then contributes 'Cain and Abel', a short but dramatic section... ... An audio-visual element was present at the start of the second half, with a recording (by Simon Callow) of a moving letter from Bartók to Joseph Szigeti while working on his Concerto for Orchestra (1943). 
Orchestre Pasdeloup/Elena Schwarz at Philharmonie de Paris – Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique – Gaspard Dehaene plays Liszt
Saturday, January 13, 2018 |  No history of French music during the latter half of the nineteenth-century or following World War One is without reference to France's oldest premier orchestra, the Pasdeloup, founded in 1861. ... Liszt and Berlioz were the Young Turks of Parisian Romanticism. And 1830 was their hour. ... This packed-out Pasdeloup concert, accenting youth and virtuosity, was in many ways the perfectly planned programme, organic and compelling at a variety of levels. Gaspard Dehaene is a cultured pianist. ... Having benefited from masterclasses with Haitink and Neeme Järvi as well as contact with Peter Eötvös, Elena Schwarz, Geneva-trained, is currently Mikko Franck's assistant at the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France... ... Her handling of the Symphonie fantastique was controlled, balanced and spot-lit... 
BBC National Orchestra of Wales at Hoddinott Hall – Martyn Brabbins conducts Tippett’s Suite in D & Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra – Huw Watkins plays Britten’s Piano Concerto
Friday, January 12, 2018 |  What better choice of music to showcase the talents of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (in its ninetieth year) in a programme curated by its Composer-in-Association Huw Watkins. Tippett and Britten have been strong influences on Watkins’s compositional style and were revealed here to brilliant effect. Michael Tippett’s Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles (1948), first-conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, is timely in a year when its dedicatee celebrates three-score-years-and-ten... ... Britten’s Piano Concerto doesn’t get that many outings, or belong to many pianists’ repertoire, so it was particularly impressive to see Huw Watkins play without a score. ... Martyn Brabbins building the movement’s emotional trajectory with compelling force, and with luminous strings in the concluding bars. ... Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra is not the first of its kind (Hindemith’s precedes it by twenty years, and Bartók’s fellow-Hungarian Kodály had also composed one). This account – brimming with intensity and superbly executed solos – was meticulously prepared... 
Orchestre de Paris/Christoph Eschenbach at Philharmonie de Paris – La valse & New World Symphony – Julian Steckel plays Bloch’s Schelomo
Thursday, January 11, 2018 |  When the Orchestre de Paris was founded in 1967 Christoph Eschenbach had just started conducting lessons with George Szell but was otherwise a star pianist of independent personality ranking high in the Deutsche Grammophon stable (his first Concerto recording for the marque was with Karajan). A previous music director of this orchestra (2000-10), he retains the affection and expectation of Parisian audiences... ... His view of Dvořák's ‘New World’ Symphony emphasised scale and poetics. ... If Bloch's Schelomo was more low-key maybe it was because the orchestra knows it less well (previously in 1999 under Dohnányi), and because Julian Steckel opted for a restrained approach... 
LSO/Simon Rattle – Unfinished Symphony & Les Boréades – Magdalena Kožená sings Rückert-Lieder & Handel arias
Thursday, January 11, 2018 |  It is probably a moot point whether the works in a concert programme should forge connections among themselves or form a single overarching idea, when the two substantial compositions here (both in the first half) were apparently selected by virtue of the fact that there was seemingly no manifest purpose to their creation in the first place. Schubert failed to complete his B-minor Symphony for reasons that will likely never be known, whilst the collection of five songs by Mahler (grouped together as Rückert-Lieder) conspicuously avoid constituting a coherent cycle... ... Whether by accident or design, Simon Rattle’s interpretation of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ seemed to testify to the perceived futility of its original inchoate creation. The London Symphony Orchestra’s hushed, but matter-of-fact opening set the mood... ... In Rückert-Lieder, the LSO was often raptly integrated in its delicate accompaniments, especially in ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ to conclude, forming a poised backdrop for Magdalena Kožená. ... The LSO can have even fewer opportunities to perform Rameau but the required musicians evidently enjoyed the vivid harmonies, melodies and rhythms afforded by this eclectic collection of dances and interludes from the composer’s final opera, Les Boréades. 
New York Philharmonic/Susanna Mälkki – Helix and La mer – Baiba Skride plays Tchaikovsky
Thursday, January 11, 2018 |  Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto is core repertoire for orchestras large and small. For a piece I imagine the New York Philharmonic has performed dozens of times, I was shocked by the wholly unacceptable intonation from a group of this caliber. ... Baiba Skride is often quite the communicator... ... To her credit, Skride refused to slow down when the orchestra and/or Susanna Mälkki underestimated her quickest tempos. ... Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Helix (2005) is a great partner for La mer. The former has a touch of Ravel’s Boléro as it relies on ostinatos that ascend and intensify. 
The Royal Opera at the Roundhouse – Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses / Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria – Roderick Williams; directed by John Fulljames; conducted by Christian Curnyn
Wednesday, January 10, 2018 |  For the second time, the Royal Opera has joined forces with the Roundhouse for another Monteverdi opera, The Return of Ulysses, performed, like Orfeo, in the round – although it’s difficult to imagine how else it would be done in this iconic space – with significant input from local groups making up the chorus, beefed up by singers from the Guildhall School. ... There was quite a lot getting in the way of seamless theatre, however, not least the throat-infected Christine Rice, who was nevertheless well-enough to mime the role of Penelope to Caitlin Hulcup’s glorious singing from the pit. ... It’s Roderick Williams’s Ulysses, though, that takes the production’s variable sense of direction onto another plane and centres it. 
Ante Terminum Productions presents Benjamin Britten’s Curlew River [at the Church of St Bartholomew the Great]
Tuesday, January 09, 2018 |  Ante Terminum Productions, a new London-based opera company, launched in style with Britten’s Curlew River, which had its premiere in St Bartholomew’s, Orford, in 1964, and, over half a century later, has alighted for a short run (until January 13) at the mysterious and magnificent church of St Bartholomew the Great, in Smithfield. 
Allan Clayton & James Baillieu at Wigmore Hall – Purcell & Schubert and Schumann's Kerner-Lieder
Tuesday, January 09, 2018 |  Spearheading the younger generation of outstanding British tenors, Allan Clayton has impressed with his charismatic musical personality, such as Hamlet in Brett Dean’s opera at Glyndebourne last year. His dramatic gifts were on display this time in the more intimate environment of Wigmore Hall, James Baillieu matching, balancing and supporting Clayton’s persuasive and illuminating readings of Purcell, Schubert and Schumann. ... Robert Schumann’s Kerner-Lieder (1840) filled the recital’s second half. He had long been drawn to the “mysterious unearthly power” of Justinus Kerner’s poetry... 
English National Ballet at London's Coliseum – Song of the Earth and La Sylphide
Tuesday, January 09, 2018 |  There can be no more emphatic way to blow away the final balletic tinsel of Christmas than with a performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s profound and monumental Song of the Earth, set to Mahler’s remarkable Das Lied von der Erde. And there is no better way to lay down one’s balletic credentials either, especially so when the company, here English National Ballet, gives a performance of such rare clarity and depth. [...] [Of La Sylphide], the somewhat thick orchestral sound from the Coliseum’s pit and over-emphatic conducting did little to make the case for Løvenskiold’s deliciously period score. 
Piers Lane at Wigmore Hall – Scarlatti, Well-Tempered Clavier, Nocturnes, Appassionata Sonata, Chopin Variations
Monday, January 08, 2018 |  This Wigmore Hall recital celebrated Piers Lane’s sixtieth birthday, to the date. The choice of repertoire seemed a little odd until we discovered Lane had a not too distant relationship with Dame Myra Hess... ... After such sweet-meat beginnings came the altogether bigger challenge of mid-career Beethoven, the ‘Appassionata’ Sonata. ... It was then a pleasure to experience Lane in a work that clearly means a lot to him, the wonderful Chopin Variations by Rachmaninov. 
The Royal Opera – David McVicar’s production of Richard Strauss’s Salome – Malin Byström, Michael Volle, John Daszak, Michaela Schuster; conducted by Henrik Nánási
Monday, January 08, 2018 |  David McVicar’s blockbuster production of Richard Strauss’s Salome (new in 2008 and back for its third revival, slickly directed by Bárbara Lluch) goes over the top in displaying the story’s grim depravity – nudity, Jokanaan’s severed head, epic varieties of abuse – all of it effortlessly keeping pace with Strauss’s superbly lurid score. ... It is also strongly cast. Compared with McVicar’s two other singers in the title role, Malin Byström gets nearest to not sounding overwhelmed by the vocal demands. ... John Daszak’s complicated, fatally compromised Herod is a masterly portrayal of guilt and feckless decadence... ... Henrik Nánási manages the balance between stage and pit to their mutual advantage, and the detail is spellbinding... 
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at Barbican Hall – Mark Elder conducts The Enchanted Lake, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and, with Robert Hayward & Rinat Shaham, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
Sunday, January 07, 2018 |  It’s a sobering thought that most of the NYO’s intake of new players were born during this century, and given the doom-laden opinions about the current state of music education in the UK, it’s also an inspiration that these one-hundred-and-sixty teenagers play so well and so responsively. ... osphere of enchantment with a trowel. The former’s Enchanted Lake is a lovingly crafted piece of Russian impressionism, and Mark Elder drew a satisfying spaciousness of texture and colour from his charges. ... Sir Mark presided over a strongly told, humorous account of Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice. ... I have yet to see a full staging of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle that has worked – it is as much a hostage to directors as its own conflation of myth and reality. A semi-staging in a concert hall, such as this one from Daisy Evans, can also have a distancing effect. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra – James Gaffigan conducts Britta Byström’s Many Yet One & Lorin Maazel’s Ring Without Words – Stephen Hough plays Liszt [live webcast]
Sunday, January 07, 2018 |  The DSO welcomed James Gaffigan as guest-conductor. He opened the programme with the second outing for Many, Yet One by Britta Byström (born in Sweden in 1977), which is “dedicated to Detroit Symphony Orchestra in return of receiving the Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award.” ... Over similar dimensions, Liszt’s First Piano Concerto fits the bill, four movements in one, with ideas transformed as the piece moves along. Stephen Hough gave a classy account of the solo part... ... ...here’s another DSO blockbuster, Gaffigan working wonders with the late Lorin Maazel’s seventy-minute Ring Without Words, Wagner's many-hours music-dramas compressed and, as has been suggested, the forerunner of Tolkien and Game of Thrones. 
Arcangelo/Jonathan Cohen at Milton Court with Christopher Purves – Handel
Sunday, January 07, 2018 |  There was an expectant buzz at Milton Court as Handel-lovers gathered to hear the fruits of the latest collaboration between Jonathan Cohen’s Arcangelo and Christopher Purves who shot to operatic superstardom for his mesmerising portrayal of Saul (Handel again) at Glyndebourne in 2015 and central roles George Benjamin’s Written on Skin and Philip Glass’s The Perfect American, the latter being Walt Disney. 
Symphonia Boca Raton & David Kim at Roberts Theatre – Grieg, Mendelssohn, Barber, Piazzolla, Dvořák
Sunday, January 07, 2018 |  Symphonia Boca Raton performed superbly with David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, either leading or taking the soloist’s position for Mendelssohn and Piazzolla. They opened with a delightful account of Grieg’s Holberg Suite... 
BBC Symphony Orchestra – Sakari Oramo conducts Sibelius 2 & 7 – Anu Komsi sings Luonnotar and Ekho
Saturday, January 06, 2018 |  Sakari Oramo’s BBCSO Sibelius cycle culminated with a magnificent Symphony No.2... ... Opening the evening was an equally absorbing account of Sibelius’s Last Word on the Symphony as a hallowed form... ... As centrepieces, Anu Komsi delighted first with Luonnotar, Sibelius’s remarkable soprano-and-orchestra piece (1913) that is so inventive and singular. The source is the Finnish staple, the Kalevala, the legend being the creation myth. ... And following the interval, a wonderful discovery from Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958), a native of Helsinki, his Ekho (1922), rather belatedly getting its UK premiere. 
András Schiff at Wigmore Hall – from Geister to Les adieux
Friday, January 05, 2018 |  András Schiff has had an association with Wigmore Hall for nearly forty years and while his creative universe has been largely dominated by the works of J. S. Bach and Beethoven it was the 'late' flowering of Brahms that helped shaped this recital. 
Schumann Quartet at Wigmore Hall – Haydn
Wednesday, January 03, 2018 |  Formed in 2007, the Schumann Quartet comprises three brothers and the viola-player Liisa Randalu who joined them in 2012. Rarely have I heard an ensemble so completely at one with each other. ... Particular characteristics of these musicians’ approach to Haydn were at once apparent... 


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