February 2017 Concert Reviews

March 2017 Concert Reviews
English Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Woods at St John’s Smith Square – premieres by Philip Sawyers, with April Frederick – Clare Hammond plays Mozart K466
Tuesday, February 28, 2017 |  The initiative set in train by Kenneth Woods in commissioning nine new Symphonies to be premiered over several years is potentially of such artistic importance... ... ...and to judge by Philip Sawyers’s Third Symphony the plan has got off to an excellent start. ... The brass Fanfare made a suitable opening not just to the concert but by way of prelude in that Woods indicated no applause before Songs of Loss and Regret began. ... ...a considerable compliment was paid to the composer by the exceptional April Fredrick who sang superbly throughout without a score. ... It was a stroke of masterly planning to end the first half with Mozart’s D-minor Piano Concerto, given a notably fine and sensitive account by Clare Hammond. 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – David Greilsammer plays Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti & John Cage
Monday, February 27, 2017 |  David Greilsammer’s radical and thoughtful pairing of Domenico Scarlatti and John Cage is working well for him: a few years ago he recorded for Sony a programme along much the same lines as this Wigmore Hall recital, which he is touring. 
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop at Royal Festival Hall – Fanfare for the Common Man & Leningrad Symphony – Renaud Capuçon plays Mendelssohn
Monday, February 27, 2017 |  What do you programme with Shostakovich’s epic ‘Leningrad’ Symphony? Since it lasts seventy minutes or longer options are limited. However the presence of cohorts of brass made Fanfare for the Common Man a good choice, then add in Mendelssohn’s evergreen Violin Concerto with a popular soloist. ... In a nicely democratic touch Marin Alsop entered along with the musicians and conducted a rousing and imposing beginning to the evening. ... After a slightly shaky start and once his intonation had settled Renaud Capuçon gave a particularly stylish account of the Mendelssohn... 
Guildhall School of Music & Drama – world premiere of Julian Philips’s The Tale of Januarie
Monday, February 27, 2017 |  London was hosting two opera premieres on this night based on two of the sturdiest pillars of English literature, Shakespeare and Chaucer, the former’s The Winter’s Tale, re-imagined by Ryan Wigglesworth for ENO, and, in a rarer musical outing for the medieval poet, the latter’s The Merchant’s Tale from The Canterbury Tales, lavishly staged by the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in its in-house theatre and written by the School’s Head of Composition Julian Philips and Writer-in-Residence Stephen Plaice. 
English National Opera – world premiere of The Winter’s Tale, composed & conducted by Ryan Wigglesworth, directed by Rory Kinnear, with Iain Paterson, Sophie Bevan, Leigh Melrose & Susan Bickley
Monday, February 27, 2017 |  It is reassuring that, despite its current and ongoing financial issues, English National Opera is still able to commission major new works. This latest piece marks the culmination of Ryan Wigglesworth’s spell as ENO’s Composer-in-Residence, during which time he has also been active as a conductor, and The Winter’s Tale duly confirms his status as musical polymath – Wigglesworth adapting his own libretto from Shakespeare and conducting all five performances in this first run. The outcome is an auspicious success for the composer and the company alike. 
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst at Carnegie Hall – Verklärte Nacht & Schubert’s Great C-major Symphony
Sunday, February 26, 2017 |  The Vienna Philharmonic did not disappoint in this concert, which concluded its current three-concert residency at Carnegie Hall. ... The program began with a moving and memorable account of Arnold Schoenberg’s ultra-romantic Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night). Franz Welser-Möst led the VPO’s strings in an incandescent and widely-expressive performance. 
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin at Kravis Center – Celephaïs & Symphonie fantastique – Gil Shaham plays Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto
Sunday, February 26, 2017 |  Orchestre National de Lyon’s eight-stop US tour brought it to West Palm Beach. Leonard Slatkin opened the program with Guillaume Connesson’s Celephaïs, inspired by the eponymous city created by the American horror-fiction author, H. P. Lovecraft. ... Then Gil Shaham gave Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto a loving reading... ... After intermission Slatkin led an extraordinary account of Symphonie fantastique... ... There were two Carmen-connected encores... 
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski at Lincoln Center – Glinka’s Valse-Fantaisie and, with Sofia Fomina, Mahler 4 – Jan Lisiecki plays Chopin’s E-minor Piano Concerto
Sunday, February 26, 2017 |  The London Philharmonic Orchestra returned to Lincoln Center with Vladimir Jurowski. The highlight was Chopin’s E-minor Piano Concerto, brilliantly played by Jan Lisiecki... ... ikhail Glinka’s Valse-Fantaisie (1839), originally written for piano, had opened the concert. ... A disappointing reading of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony completed the concert. The aesthetic character of this highly stylized Symphony requires conductor and orchestra to have a flair for Gemütlichkeit – that untranslatable word intended to capture the particular kind of warmth and geniality that typifies old Vienna. 
John Adams at 70 – Britten Sinfonia/Benjamin Shwartz – Chamber Symphony & Grand Pianola Music, Timo Andres’s Steady Hand, Philip Glass’s Music in Similar Motion
Saturday, February 25, 2017 |  Recently London concertgoers have been treated to a feast of American contemporary music celebrating the eightieth-birthdays of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Now it’s the turn of the junior giant, John Adams, whose 70th-birthday was on February 15. ... Adams’s Chamber Symphony opened this Britten Sinfonia programme, a quizzical synthesis in homage to his teachers and the genius of Arnold Schönberg, layered with comic and grotesque effects inspired by classic cartoon capers. 
Opera North – Rossini’s La Cenerentola – Wallis Giunta, Henry Waddington, Sunnyboy Dladla, Quirijn de Lang, John Savournin; directed by Aletta Collins; conducted by David Cowan
Saturday, February 25, 2017 |  Although the scene at the ball is not dwelt upon in Rossini’s version of the Cinderella story, dance is made an important component of Aletta Collins’s production by making Don Magnifico the proprietor of a somewhat low dance school. ... ...a disaffected individual with a sob story to gain her fifteen minutes of fame through some Strictly Come Dancing-style contest. ... Dr Johnson’s damning words on the influence of a would-be patron, as teaching “the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing master” presumably tapped into a widely-held negative opinion about such a profession... ... By contrast, Wallis Giunta’s Cinderella is quietly dignified as the put-upon half-sister as she sings her sad song about a king in search of innocent and virtuous love... 
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst at Carnegie Hall – Rosamunde Overture, Time Recycling, Ein Heldenleben
Friday, February 24, 2017 |  The Vienna Philharmonic and Franz Welser-Möst commenced the first of three concerts at Carnegie Hall with something from a quintessentially Viennese composer, Franz Schubert. ... René Staar’s Time Recycling (2013) is a masterclass in post-modern eclecticism. It opens with Varèse-like attacks and also demonstrates mastery of spectral techniques. ... Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben opened with merciless directness... 
Opera North – Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden – Aoife Miskelly, Heather Lowe, Phillip Rhodes, Elin Pritchard; directed by John Fulljames; conducted by Leo McFall
Friday, February 24, 2017 |  Opera North has mounted this new production of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Snow Maiden (1882) at exactly the right point in the year, on the brink of Spring. It adapts Alexander Ostrovsky’s play based on a Russian folktale that requires, in order to be appeased, the sacrifice of the Snow Maiden, the love-child of Spring and Winter, to the Sun God... ... In her performance as the eponymous lead, Aoife Miskelly combines something of a Pamina-like self-pity earlier on, with a touch of soubrette vigour later to make for an attractively well-rounded musical character. Elin Pritchard’s Kupava is correspondingly more pert as the girl to whom Mizgir is initially is betrothed... 
Philharmonia Orchestra – Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Also sprach Zarathustra and the London premiere of Tansy Davies’s Forest – Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Beethoven’s Emperor Piano Concerto
Thursday, February 23, 2017 |  This stroll down memory lane is prompted by the London Philharmonic and Andrés Orozco-Estrada having played Zarathustra at this address less than a fortnight ago, an impressive and expansive thirty-seven-minute account that really gelled. In tackling Richard Strauss’s Nietzsche-inspired score, Esa-Pekka Salonen took a different view... ... Of greater reward was the ‘Emperor’, Pierre-Laurent Aimard investing freshness and vitality into the first movement while finding time to be expressive... ... It was Forest, Tansy Davies’s new four-horn Concerto, which stole the show, featuring two current Philharmonia members and – with Richard Watkins and Michael Thompson – former ones: what a foursome and what a piece. 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Lothar Koenigs – Bruckner 7 – Nicolas Hodges gives UK premiere of Wolfgang Rihm’s Piano Concerto No.2
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 |  We weren’t informed the edition used for Bruckner 7. The use of percussion at the slow movement’s climax spells Nowak of course, but in his conducting of the first movement – flowing, organic – Lothar Koenigs could be said to have aligned himself with Haas’s publication; he wouldn’t be the first conductor so to do, for such as Karajan and Celibidache married Haas and Nowak, while other interpreters – including Wand, Kurt Sanderling, Masur – displayed wisdom by using Haas's version and thus leaving out totally the percussion (triangle, cymbals, timpani) that was not anyway specified by the composer. ... The concert’s first half was devoted to the prolific Wolfgang Rihm (born 1952), four-hundred-plus works and counting. Curiously it seems that there is no Piano Concerto No.1, although there are other piano-and-orchestra works. What is officially No.2 (2014) opens with gentle dancing, waltz-like, and thus very easy to relate it to Schoenberg’s masterly Piano Concerto. ... ...there was no doubting Nicolas Hodges’s mastery of the solo part... 
New York Philharmonic/Herbert Blomstedt – Beethoven 7 & 8
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 |  No.8 is usually grouped with the gentler and smaller-forced Beethoven Symphonies. However, Herbert Blomstedt led a performance worthy of it being anointed alongside the ‘Eroica’, Fifth, ‘Choral’ and the Seventh it was paired with here. ... The Finale galloped out of the gates and concluded with wonderful panache and vigor. 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic/Vladimir Jurowski – Symphonies by Denisov & Shostakovich – Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays Berg
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 |  Vladimir Jurowski’s innovative programming was to the fore in this London Philharmonic concert. All three composers were nearing death when these pieces were written – none more so than Edison Denisov, whose Second Symphony (1996) was one of numerous works to emerge from the hectic productivity of his closing months. ... Jurowski ensured a combative response from the LPO musicians in this powerful and disquieting piece whose fifteen minutes are over far too quickly (the Music Sales entry gives its duration at thirty, raising the possibility that further movements might at least have been planned), who were then unstinting in support of Patricia Kopatchinskaja for an account of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935) in which fatalism was banished by defiance wholly of and for the present. ... While Denisov confronts death head-on and Berg leavens its sting, Shostakovich effectively disarms it over the course of his Fifteenth Symphony (1971). 
Maurizio Pollini at Royal Festival Hall – Chopin & Debussy
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 |  Maurizio Pollini is a regular during Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series, sometimes twice a season, as for this term, for he returns on March 14 for Beethoven and Schoenberg. First off, in his 75th-birthday year (the date itself was 5 January), it was Chopin and Debussy, composers Pollini has featured numerous times before in the Royal Festival Hall. 
Murray Perahia plays Beethoven Piano Concertos with Academy of St Martin in the Fields – (2) Concertos 2 & 4
Monday, February 20, 2017 |  The second of Murray Perahia's Beethoven evenings with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields this season focused on energy and leanness of character more than profundity or prophecy. The surprisingly no-nonsense opening of the Fourth Concerto, bordering on the matter-of-fact, touched little of the poetry I have heard from Perahia in past readings. 
Orchestre National de Lyon/Leonard Slatkin at Carnegie Hall – Celephaïs, Daphnis et Chloé – Renée Fleming sings Shéhérazade, Thomas Hampson narrates Antar
Monday, February 20, 2017 |  Touring the United States for the first time since 2003, Orchestre National de Lyon and music director Leonard Slatkin offered a generous all-French (and nearly all-Ravel) program in Carnegie Hall. ... The concert opened with the US debut of a reconstructed version of Ravel’s arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Antar. Premiered recently in Lyon with a French-language narration by Amin Maalouf... ... The libretto, spoken during and between musical movements, was movingly recited by Thomas Hampson. ... After intermission was the US premiere of Celephaïs, a symphonic poem by Guillaume Connesson.... ... Following the two premieres, Renée Fleming brought her plush soprano, seamless phrasing and emotional commitment to Ravel’s timeless song-cycle Shéhérazade. ... The program concluded with one of the ONL’s specialties, Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. 
OAE – Mendelssohn & Berlioz – Sarah Connolly sings Les Nuits d’été
Monday, February 20, 2017 |  Two major works, a discarded aria, and a seldom-performed overture were the basis for the OAE’s exploration of Berlioz and Mendelssohn. ... Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été, setting poems by Théophile Gautier, was written originally with piano in 1841 and rendered here by an expressive and charismatic Sarah Connolly. 
Philharmonia Orchestra – Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Daphnis et Chloé and UK premiere of Stravinsky’s Funeral Song – Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto
Sunday, February 19, 2017 |  ...never did I think I’d hear a Stravinsky premiere. One such work replaced the originally advertised starter to Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Esa-Pekka Salonen’s four-concert series, Inspirations. Stravinsky’s recently rediscovered Funeral Song, composed in 1908 after the death of his teacher Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and played just once... ... Thankfully, once the buzz of the new had died down, and after an extensive stage change, we were mesmerised by György Ligeti’s Piano Concerto, under the dazzling digits of Pierre-Laurent Aimard. ... Following the interval, Salonen masterminded an extraordinarily satisfying account of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé... 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Michelle Merrill – Walkabout, White Peacock, Shostakovich 1 – Sara Davis Buechner plays Gershwin [live webcast]
Saturday, February 18, 2017 |  With the three-week Mozart Festival over, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was back to full-strength for an enticing programme with Associate Conductor Michelle Merrill. ... The concert opened with Walkabout by Gabriela Lena Frank... ... Sara Davis Buechner (formerly David Buechner) played two splendid pieces by George Gershwin. The ‘I Got Rhythm’ Variations, a masterpiece, was rather brusquely delivered at first... ... Dead aged thirty-five from influenza, Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s The White Peacock (1919) opened the second half. First-conducted by Stokowski, this is music of exotic plumage, Scriabin meets Debussy... 
Orchestra of St Paul’s – Tenth Anniversary Concert
Friday, February 17, 2017 |  Orchestra of St Paul’s celebrated its tenth anniversary at home, in “The Actors' Church”. The magnificent acoustic was exploited when, from the organ loft, trumpeters played Stravinsky’s brief and aggressive Fanfare, a prelude to Biber’s delightfully eccentric three-centuries-old Battalia... ... The ‘Linz’ Symphony was also notable for forward impulse, although the quick introductory Adagio was rather inconsequential – the succeeding Allegro spiritoso deserves a more majestic preface... 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ilan Volkov – Der ferne Klang Nachtstück & Rachmaninov 3 – Rachel Nicholls gives premiere of Nicola LeFanu’s The Crimson Bird
Friday, February 17, 2017 |  Belonging to Act Three of Der ferne Klang (produced in 1912) and first heard in Vienna in 1909 as a stand-alone concert item, Franz Schreker’s substantial Nachtstück (seventeen minutes here) is a luxurious blend of German idealism and French impressionism. ... At its premiere, Nachtstück was considered strikingly modern, a quality not overly present in LeFanu’s new work. Scored for large orchestra (including an array of percussion), The Crimson Bird sets four verses from John Fuller’s poem Siege (with links to Euripides’s The Trojan Women)... ... Rachel Nicholls was the ideal soloist... 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Karl-Heinz Steffens – Ruy Blas Overture & Brahms 3 – David Fray plays Schumann
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  Karl-Heinz Steffens enjoys a wide-ranging career. He has been at Teatro alla Scala in three successive seasons and conducted a Ring Cycle in Ludwigshafen, and many ensembles in Europe and now includes the Philharmonia Orchestra... ... This style was immensely appropriate and Mendelssohn’s lovely Ruy Blas Overture gained in grandeur. ... David Fray represented Schumann’s Piano Concerto in the best tradition of ‘romantic’ interpretation. 
CBSO/Alexander Vedernikov – The Rock & Pathétique Symphony – Steven Osborne plays Rachmaninov
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  Proceedings started with a superbly played account of Rachmaninov’s The Rock... ... Steven Osborne – always an interesting pianist – played Rachmaninov with light and shade, thoughtfulness and power, and stunning technical assurance. Alexander Vedernikov’s conducting may have encouraged dynamics that were overblown in Symphony Hall... ... Vedernikov’s way with the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony underlined its anxious expression. 
Welsh National Opera – Frank Martin’s Le Vin herbé – Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Tom Randle, Howard Kirk, Caitlin Hulcup, Rosie Hay; directed by Polly Graham; conducted by James Southall
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  It is surely a brave composer who takes on the same subject as that treated by Wagner in a work which happened to do nothing less than change the course of Western music. Perhaps for this reason Frank Martin’s Le Vin herbé (1938-1941) skirts around that challenge by using a different source for his drama than the mediaeval narratives used in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde... 
New York Philharmonic/Manfred Honeck – Mahler 1 – Inon Barnatan plays Beethoven
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto began hushed and breathless. Manfred Honeck may have exaggerated the dynamic range notated in the score... ... Inon Barnatan’s first entrance was more playful than lyrical, suggesting the character of a scherzo through fluid phrasing and sparklingly articulate fingerwork. ... Manfred Honeck’s attention to details and dynamics was even more evident in Mahler’s First Symphony. 
Orchestra of St Luke’s/Pablo Heras-Casado at Carnegie Hall – Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre & Brahms’s German Requiem
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  Pablo Heras-Casado had the Brahms follow the Lutosławski directly, avoiding clapping. The effect was chilling... ... In rendering the moods of Brahms’s setting of Lutheran scripture, the members of Musica Sacra succeeded in balancing... ... Florian Boesch brought urgency and immediacy to the baritone’s impassioned pleas, while Sophie Karthäuser lent graceful refinement to the soprano’s heavenly solo... 
Delius in France
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  It was rather appropriate that the Park Lane Group’s first visit to the Royal Over-Seas League’s should be a concert devoted to Delius, that most quintessential English composer who hardly spent any time in Britain... ... As per its remit, PLG presented a fine collection of young instrumentalists, starting with well-matched Ella Rundle and Gamal Khamis in the Cello Sonata, originally composed for Beatrice Harrison (Delius, having been so impressed with the Harrison sisters in Brahms’s Double Concerto, wrote his own for them). ... The Third (and last) Violin Sonata, dates from later, 1930, dictated by Delius to his amanuensis Eric Fenby. It was written for May Harrison, who gave the premiere at Wigmore Hall with Arnold Bax at the piano. 
The Metropolitan Opera – Richard Eyre’s production of Massenet’s Werther – Isabel Leonard, Vittorio Grigolo, David Bizic & Anna Christy; conducted by Edward Gardner
Thursday, February 16, 2017 |  Love and Death permeate late-19th-century Romantic Opera – from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde to Verdi’s Otello – in the French repertoire, few stage-works focus on this duality as strongly as Massenet’s Werther (1892), based upon Goethe’s short but steamy novel... ... Three years ago Richard Eyre staged Werther for the Met in a basically traditional manner and with cinematography to suggest the change of seasons... ... Vittorio Grigolo and Isabel Leonard conveyed their encounters with increasingly intense passion. ... Edward Gardner led a strong, taut and sometimes riveting performance... 
LSO – John Wilson conducts Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony – Håkan Hardenberger plays Mark-Anthony Turnage
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 |  With John Wilson replacing Daniel Harding for this LSO concert at short notice, regular concert-goers were presented with an unusual comparison. In January, Wilson conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in a memorable programme, concluding with a deeply impressive account of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony; and now Wilson found himself conducting the same work with the London Symphony Orchestra. ... So if the LSO’s recent conductors in this work are akin to those changes Antonio Conte makes at Chelsea Football Club this season, the LSO – like Chelsea – remains top of the League... ... We needed the reassurance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony after the experience of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s second trumpet concerto, composed in 2014, the title giving the game away for whom it was written – Håkan Hardenberger. 
Ensemble Plus Ultra at Cadogan Hall: The Food of Love – Song of Songs
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 |  A feast of sixteenth-century polyphony at Cadogan Hall. Sensual subjects from the biblical Song of Songs were presented, featuring parallel settings by Victoria and Palestrina. Ensemble Plus Ultra specialises in Spanish Renaissance repertoire... 
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits at Lighthouse Poole – Bartók’s Dance Suite & Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra – Nemanja Radulović plays Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto
Wednesday, February 15, 2017 |  Opening this Lighthouse concert with Bartók’s Dance Suite (1923), Kirill Karabits led a controlled and colourful account, with cameo roles and solo groupings smoothly executed. ... Much more convincing was Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto (1939). Nemanja Radulović commanded attention with playing of sustained energy and musicality. ... Witold Lutosławski’s Concerto for Orchestra (completed in 1954) is one of his most approachable works. The timpani and double basses were forthright in their opening declarations... 
Valentine’s Day showing of David Lean’s Brief Encounter with London Philharmonic Orchestra and Dirk Brossé – Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto played by Alexandra Dariescu
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 |  Few films use music so effectively as David Lean’s Brief Encounter: Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto is associated throughout with Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), and, along with her voice-over narration, signals that we should see the story through her eyes. On Valentine’s Day, Alexandra Dariescu, with the London Philharmonic and Dirk Brossé, played the work complete before a showing of the movie. ... Dariescu and Brossé returned in place of Eileen Joyce and Muir Mathieson from the soundtrack. ... Robert Krasker’s photography shows many of the characteristics that would earn him an Academy Award for The Third Man. ... As Alex, Trevor Howard’s well-mannered infatuation is incomparable... 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Kathryn Rudge, James Baillieu & Gary Pomeroy – English Songs
Monday, February 13, 2017 |  The danger with music of the Edwardian years or the final Victorian ones is that we see them only through the prism of the destruction that came soon after. So while the repertoire in Kathryn Rudge’s Wigmore Hall recital bracketed The Great War tidily enough, dating from 1900 to 1930, or thereabouts, it is salutary that it did not chart some kind of national progression from the bumptious to the desolate. 
Philharmonia Orchestra/John Wilson – Cockaigne Overture & A London Symphony – Lawrence Power plays Julian Anderson’s Prayer & William Walton’s Viola Concerto
Sunday, February 12, 2017 |  On the afternoon of Sunday January 24 last year, in this same venue, and conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra, John Wilson directed an impressive account of Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony, the first of his nine works in the genre. Now, these same artists came together for A London Symphony. ... The juxtaposition of Cockaigne with A London Symphony is an interesting one, and from the start of the Elgar, it was clear that Wilson had the work fully in his grip: this is by no means an easy work to play... ... William Walton’s Viola Concerto was his first concert masterpiece, dating from thirty years after Cockaigne. The Great War and many consequential social upheavals had swept Edwardian England largely to one side... ... Lawrence Power has recorded Walton’s Viola Concerto in its original 1929 version for Hyperion... 
Carnegie Hall’s La Serenissima – Hespèrion XXI & Jordi Savall – Musica Nova: Venetian Influences in Musical Europe
Sunday, February 12, 2017 |  Carnegie Hall’s ambitious three-week festival, La Serenissima: Music and Arts from the Venetian Republic, highlights the artistic legacy of the Republic of Venice, which existed for a millennium between the eighth and eighteenth centuries. ... Here Jordi Savall, the Catalan master of antique music and reigning champion of the viola da gamba, led his Hespèrion XXI ensemble in a wide selection of mostly Venetian music from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrés Orozco-Estrada – The Light, The Unanswered Question, Doctor Atomic Symphony – Marina Piccinini plays Aaron Jay Kernis’s Flute Concerto
Saturday, February 11, 2017 |  ...Charles Ives’s The Unanswered Question, provided the brief, profound centre of this carefully programmed London Philharmonic concert. ... The dialogue offered in Philip Glass’s The Light is between science and spirituality. ... This segued in style to Aaron Jay Kernis’s Flute Concerto. The opening movement is equally ethereal with hints of Berg from the strings and Debussy in the flute part, played with panache and charisma by Marina Piccinini.... ... John Adams’s Doctor Atomic Symphony was the perfect partner to the Ives: long, expansive and discursive, yet its twin in profundity and effect. The LPO‘s playing was thrilling. Adapted from Adams’s opera, the music depicts the moral struggle and personal drama of Robert Oppenheimer... 
Contrapunctus/Owen Rees at The Queen's College – Music from the Baldwin Partbooks
Saturday, February 11, 2017 |  The Baldwin Partbooks contain a wealth of sacred compositions from the early Tudor period assiduously copied by John Baldwin at St George’s Chapel, Windsor in the 1570s and 1580s, and bear witness to the rich polyphonic choral tradition cultivated by an array of English composers on the eve of the Reformation, and beyond, as far as political circumstances allowed. Owen Rees’s selection here concentrated upon the particularly Catholic form of liturgical devotion addressed to the Virgin Mary to which the Protestant Reformation soon put an end... 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrés Orozco-Estrada – Philosopher Symphony, Atmosphères, Also sprach Zarathustra – James O’Donnell plays Poulenc’s Organ Concerto
Friday, February 10, 2017 |  Stanley Kubrick did so in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and now Andrés Orozco-Estrada has coupled Atmosphères and Zarathustra... ... ...a well-prepared and sensitive response from the London Philharmonic... ... They went on to impress in the Nietzsche-inspired Also sprach Zarathustra, beginning with gleaming trumpets... ... James O’Donnell is a regular practitioner of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto... ... The work opens with a dissonant growl, worthy of cueing Vincent Price in a Hammer Horror... ... For the Haydn, one of the finest of his early Symphonies, it was good to see a harpsichord; but that was it, not a single note was audible... 
Méhul: The First Romantic – Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Jonathan Cohen with Michael Spyres & John Irvin
Friday, February 10, 2017 |  This varied programme celebrated the music of Étienne Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817) and included some very interesting works by his contemporaries. Méhul was a famed operatic composer and five of the items were extensive arias – often of anguished nature... ... The first of the orchestral items from Méhul’s contemporaries featured ‘Dance of the Furies’ from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – it is probably known equally well as part of Boccherini’s Symphony No.6 (La casa del diavolo) where he unashamedly purloins Gluck’s little masterpiece. Jonathan Cohen’s reading was suitably rhythmic 
The Metropolitan Opera – Sandro Sequi’s production of Bellini’s I Puritani – Diana Damrau, Javier Camarena, Alexey Markov, Luca Pisaroni; conducted by Maurizio Benini
Friday, February 10, 2017 |  Bel canto operas are famous for the demands placed upon singers, but in I Puritani, Vincenzo Bellini pushed these boundaries even further – with thrilling results. In this first-night performance of the Met’s revival of Sandro Sequi’s 1976 production – enhanced by Ming Cho Lee’s mostly flat-painted scenery – the cast rose to the challenge with one impressive vocal display after another. 
English National Opera – Mike Leigh’s production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance
Thursday, February 09, 2017 |  This is the first revival of Mike Leigh’s production of The Pirates of Penzance, with a largely new cast – other than Andrew Shore’s Major-General Stanley and Angharad Lyddon’s Kate. Soraya Mafi, who sang Edith in the original cast has been promoted, to Mabel, and worthily so! ... The ‘big’ voices are John Tomlinson’s authoritative Sergeant and Shore’s wily class-conscious Major-General. ... Ashley Riches was having a whale of a time as the Pirate-King – channelling his inner Johnny Depp/Jack Sparrow to great effect... 
New York Philharmonic/Joshua Gersen – Tchaikovsky – Francesca da Rimini & Pathétique Symphony
Thursday, February 09, 2017 |  Every assistant conductor must dream of the day when he or she will ascend the podium to take over from the music director or a guest. It came true for the New York Philharmonic’s Joshua Gersen replacing the ailing Semyon Bychkov in this Tchaikovsky program. ... The Taneyev piece had to be dropped, so the concert opened with Francesca da Rimini, based upon the tale of the ill-fated illicit lovers, Paolo and Francesca, described in ‘Canto V’ of Dante’s Divine Comedy... ... Brisk pacing in all but the Finale characterized Gersen’s reading of the ‘Pathétique’. 
The Kaufmann Residency – LSO/Antonio Pappano – Wagner – Tristan und Isolde, Wesendonck-Lieder, Die Walküre
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 |  After more than his fair share of problems with chest infections and damage to his vocal cords, Jonas Kaufmann is back on triumphant form – and making me regret all the more not going to Paris for his recent Lohengrin. This Wagner concert with Antonio Pappano and the LSO was the second event in Kaufmann’s Barbican Residency... ... Tristan und Isolde and the Wesendonck-Lieder are so strongly linked spiritually and musically that the one could merge seamlessly into the other. ... The main event, though, was the first Act of Die Walküre, in which Siegmund and Sieglinde take sibling love to extremes... 
Alisa Weilerstein plays Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Cello Suites at St John’s Smith Square
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 |  Six Preludes, thirty dances, one-hundred-and-sixty minutes of music, J. S. Bach's Cello Suites, published posthumously in Vienna in 1825, date from the period of the composer's employment as Kapellmeister to the viola da gamba-playing Calvinist Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen... ... Formidable in all departments, Alisa Weilerstein is an undemonstrative player... 
CBSO/Nicholas Collon – Gustav Holst – The Planets & Savitri
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 |  Holst’s Savitri was given an impressive outing in the spacious design of Symphony Hall, where the lights were low for the opening declamation by Death and only slowly raised on the platform at the entrance of Yvonne Howard (replacing an indisposed Sarah Connolly). ... Nicholas Collon judged tempos perfectly... ... The Planets showed-off the venue’s brilliant acoustic, not least for the distant then fading-away choir at the very end. 
The Quorum at the Vault Festival – Heloise Tunstall-Behrens’s The Swarm
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 |  The Swarm received its first outing last year in the resonant chamber of the Thames Tunnel Shaft in Rotherhithe. Now an expanded version for women’s voices and recorded sound is held at The Cavern as part of the Vault Festival. Urban engineering and rumbling trains at Waterloo Station accompanied a mesmerising performance as nine singers enact the dramatic and democratic journey of a swarm of bees across London to a new, safe home. 
Bamberg Symphony/Christoph Eschenbach at Carnegie Hall – Don Giovanni Overture & Mahler 5 – Ray Chen plays Mendelssohn
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 |  The Bamberg Symphony can trace its roots through a line of orchestras dating back to Prague’s Estates Theatre, where Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered in 1787. .... Honorary Conductor Christoph Eschenbach led a reading that emphasized these opposites... ... In Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto soloists vary greatly in whether they highlight its delicate Classical heritage or its dramatic early-Romanticism. Ray Chen fell firmly in the latter camp. His lyrical playing is reminiscent of Jascha Heifetz and Aaron Rosand... ... In Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (from somber trumpet solo to triumphant apotheosis) Eschenbach’s literal reading respected the longer lines but neglected to keep dynamics in check. 
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman at Royal Festival Hall – Beethoven
Tuesday, February 07, 2017 |  The Overture to Egmont is a tricky number to start unanimously, as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Pinchas Zukerman demonstrated. ... This Beethoven concert continued with Symphony 7, given an agreeable outing. ... the transition into the Vivace elegantly made and to a judicious tempo that gave the music a lilt to remind of Wagner’s oft-quoted “apotheosis of the dance” observation. ... After the interval, an aristocratic account of the Violin Concerto, Zukerman playing himself in during the initial tutti, taken at a leisurely speed... 
The Royal Opera – David McVicar’s production of Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur – Angela Gheorghiu, Ksenia Dudnikova, Brian Jagde, Gerald Finley; conducted by Daniel Oren
Tuesday, February 07, 2017 |  It says a lot for the resilience of Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur that it is not completely swamped by this sumptuous production. Just about maintaining a toe-hold in the repertoire, it's a full-blown, four-Act melodrama (based on a play that was a star-vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt)... ... David McVicar’s staging, new in 2010 and at the time the Royal Opera’s first in nearly a century, is back for its first revival, with Angela Gheorghiu returning in the title role of the 18th-century French superstar actress, who according to lurid legend was murdered by the Duchesse (upgraded in the opera to Princesse) de Bouillon, her love-rival for Count Maurice of Saxony. ... Adriana has a rival worthy of her in the formidable Russian mezzo Ksenia Dudnikova as the Princesse, making her Royal Opera debut. She was sensational.... 
LSO/Antonio Pappano – The Oceanides & Inextinguishable Symphony – Janine Jansen plays Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade / watch this concert
Sunday, February 05, 2017 |  Concerts come in all shades: drab to dazzling, superfluous to special, average to amazing. This LSO evening, streamed live by the Mezzo channel (linked to below), was all of the latter qualities, a 24-carat affair from start to finish. The music-making was of the highest order... ... Antonio Pappano, baton-free, and opting for antiphonal violins, cellos left-centre, double basses ranked far-left, set the tone with a distinguished, organically-felt account of Sibelius's The Oceanides... ... Janine Jansen has never been one to fight shy of unfamiliar repertory (think what she's done for Britten’s Violin Concerto). Bernstein's five-movement Serenade after Plato's 'Symposium' for violin, strings, harp and percussion, completed in 1954, three years before West Side Story, may have been commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, premiered by Isaac Stern, and recorded by Perlman, Kremer, Accardo and Mutter... ... ...Aristophanes and Socrates among the guests. ... Carl Nielsen's ‘Inextinguishable’ Symphony, his inexorable First World War hymn to the “elemental Will of Life” exceeded expectations. Negotiating all traps, Pappano hewed a tough, architecturally massive sculpture... 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin – Mozart Festival (6) – Flute and Harp Concerto, Prague & Jupiter Symphonies [live webcast]
Saturday, February 04, 2017 |  In Mozart’s case, it would be the ‘Prague’ Symphony, one of those love-affairs that will last when the music is of such seducing splendour, virility, pathos and bubbly wit... ... Thus Leonard Slatkin and the DSO opened the final lap of their six-tiered Mozart Festival with K504. One of its finest interpreters was Rafael Kubelík... ... The Flute and Harp Concerto contains many delights... ... Positioned to the conductor’s right, Sharon Sparrow (DSO assistant principal) and Yolanda Kondonassis (guest) made a fine duo... ... Following the conductor’s restored contemplation we arrived at the final reel of the Mozart Festival to illustrate his ultimate Symphony, the godly ‘Jupiter’... 
The Kaufmann Residency – Jonas Kaufmann & Helmut Deutsch at Barbican Hall – Schumann’s Kerner-Lieder, Duparc, Britten’s Michelangelo Sonnets
Saturday, February 04, 2017 |  Jonas Kaufmann’s London song-recitals don’t come around that frequently, and it was fascinating to hear how this tenor god, so used to letting rip in opera, adjusted his voice to the scale of a recital. ... Schumann’s song-sequence – the composer’s description, rather than song-cycle – of twelve poems by Justinus Kerner is a substantial, tightly organised work from the composer’s prodigal 1840 ‘year of song’. The Kerner-Lieder is not as popular as, say, Dichterliebe... ... The visionary stillness and yearning of Duparc’s ‘L’invitation au voyage’ heralded a subtle shift into Gallic sensuality, along with some slippery French intonation. ... I’d found Helmut Deutsch’s accompaniments attentive but uninvolving, but with Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, the composer’s first settings written for Peter Pears, the piano role and Kaufmann’s singing snapped into focus. 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra – Roger Norrington conducts Haydn’s The Creation, with Lucy Crowe, Thomas Hobbs & Christopher Maltman
Saturday, February 04, 2017 |  Proceedings commenced with a cheerful talk by Roger Norrington incorporating interesting readings from accounts of early performances. Having reminded us of events that took place over two centuries ago he then achieved a convincingly late-18th-century-style reading of Haydn’s Creation... ... The opening ‘Representation of Chaos’ was ideally tense, and the great moment when the chorus sings “And there was light” was thrilling and magnificently loud. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin – Mozart Festival (5) – Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Seraglio Overture, Haffner & Linz Symphonies [live webcast]
Friday, February 03, 2017 |  This was the morning after the night before, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin reprising Leg Five of their Mozart Festival... ... To begin with we were serenaded with ‘a little night music’ (pre-Sondheim), stylish, dynamic and elegantly turned, the DSO strings (violins antiphonal) pointed and unanimous... ... Then to the compact ‘Haffner’ Symphony (a remarkable work), fiery and vivid in the first movement... ... And finally (for the moment), the spacious ‘Linz’ Symphony; as throughout, Slatkin conducted from memory. The introduction promised much and the performance went on to deliver... 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo – Colas Breugnon Overture & Shostakovich 10 – Carolin Widmann gives premiere of Michael Zev Gordon’s Violin Concerto
Friday, February 03, 2017 |  For the latest of this season’s BBC commissions, Carolin Widmann joined Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the premiere of the Violin Concerto (2017) by Michael Zev Gordon... ... Russian music from either side of the Second World War was otherwise the order of the day. Shostakovich has not featured overmuch in Oramo’s repertoire, but there was assuredly no lack of insight in this account of the Tenth Symphony... ... Not so many concerts begin with an Overture these days, and to have that from Kabalevsky’s Colas Breugnon (1938) was a real pleasure. 
Robert Quinney plays Johann Sebastian Bach on the organ of the Royal Festival Hall
Friday, February 03, 2017 |  I first became aware of Robert Quinney when his Bach CDs (on the Coro label) were reviewed on BBC Radio 3, and they sounded marvellous. This Royal Festival Hall recital was the first time I’d heard him live, and I was even more impressed by the sheer voltage of his playing. ... He started with a familiar bang, the D-minor Toccata and Fugue (which may not be by Bach)... ... In marked contrast was the sober ‘Our Father’ Chorale Prelude... ... He played the ‘Leipzig’ Prelude and Fugue (in C) with an attractive, rather Italianate lightness and wit that was blown away by the majesty of the ‘Wedge’ Prelude and Fugue (E-minor) and the revelatory clarity of his account of the ‘Vom Himmel hoch’ Canonic Variations (which Stravinsky was moved to arrange for choir and orchestra). 
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst at Adrienne Arsht Center – Bartered Bride Overture & Capriccio italien – Yo-Yo Ma plays Dvořák’s Cello Concerto
Friday, February 03, 2017 |  The concert began and ended with colorful showpieces that gave each section of the Cleveland Orchestra opportunities to shine... ... The centerpiece of the concert, given without intermission, was Dvořák’s Cello Concerto with Yo-Yo Ma. Franz Welser-Möst drew superlative playing, paying keen attention to detail... 
New York Philharmonic/Semyon Bychkov with Kirill Gerstein – Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 & Manfred Symphony
Thursday, February 02, 2017 |  The New York Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov began their Tchaikovsky Festival series, “Beloved Friend”, with Piano Concerto No.1 and Manfred Symphony. ... Kirill Gerstein has done extensive research into the Concerto’s three versions. ... Manfred Symphony, based upon the dramatic poem by Lord Byron, depict aspects of Manfred’s life, from his meditative wanderings through the Alps through to the encounter with the infernal Arimanes to his death. 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paavo Järvi – Haydn’s Clock Symphony & Nielsen’s Sinfonia semplice – Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with Christian Tetzlaff, Tanja Tetzlaff & Lars Vogt
Thursday, February 02, 2017 |  Using a slightly reduced orchestra with ‘period’ trumpets and timpani, Paavo Järvi’s reading of Haydn’s ‘Clock’ Symphony was a fine example of how a modern orchestra can present 18th-century music convincingly. ... Beethoven’s Triple Concerto was given a lyrical outing within Järvi’s symphonic approach. ... ...in the central Largo Tanja Tetzlaff announced the tune with utmost gentility before Christian Tetzlaff and Lars Vogt expanded it in their different ways. ... This was the final concert in Paavo Järvi’s series incorporating Carl Nielsen’s Six Symphonies. The first publication of No.6 did not give the title ‘Sinfonia semplice’, but this is how the composer referred to it. 
English National Opera – Jonathan Miller’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto – Nicholas Pallesen, Sydney Mancasola, Joshua Guerrero, Barnaby Rea; conducted by Richard Armstrong
Thursday, February 02, 2017 |  In 2014, English National Opera brought in a new Rigoletto (the one set in a gentlemen’s club by Christopher Alden) and retired Jonathan Miller’s 1982 stalwart, which had served well as a popular and bankable classic and which also harked back nostalgically to the company’s glory days. It has now been pulled out of retirement... ... For the time being, then, welcome back to Little Italy in 1950s’ New York, a self-sufficient society-within-a-society under the venal, protectionist and violent rule of the Mafia. ... and Sparafucile’s Hopper-style bar sits neatly on desolation row, even if the Duke’s ‘La donna è mobile’ and the jukebox trick didn’t work as well as I remember it. ... Nicholas Pallesen, debut in the title role, may have lacked the ultimate, baleful blackness of voice associated with Rigoletto, but it’s big and his acting bigger in a convincing portrait of the obsessed, hating and hated joker who unwittingly engineers his daughter’s murder. 
Cleveland Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst at Adrienne Arsht Center – Sibelius’s Second Symphony – Nikolaj Znaider plays Nielsen's Violin Concerto
Thursday, February 02, 2017 |  The Cleveland Orchestra served up a delicious two-course feast of Scandinavian music at the Adrienne Arsht Center, at the mid-point of its annual Miami residency. ... Nikolaj Znaider gave a stirring performance of Carl Nielsen’s Violin Concerto... ... Sibelius was represented by his Second Symphony... ... The Second is completely satisfying as an abstract work, as Welser-Möst and the Clevelanders demonstrated. 
The Metropolitan Opera – Mary Zimmerman’s production of Dvořák’s Rusalka – Kristine Opolais, Brandon Jovanovich, Jamie Barton, Eric Owens; conducted by Mark Elder
Thursday, February 02, 2017 |  Mary Zimmerman has garnered great acclaim for her innovative and thought-provoking direction but she has also received criticism for her unconventional perspective when staging opera classics. Such critiques may account for her safe approach for Metropolitan Opera – a rather tired staging of Dvořák’s Rusalka. ... As the titular water-nymph, with the rapturous ‘Song to the Moon’, Kristine Opolais offered one of her most polished performances. 

 

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