All 2018 Concert Reviews

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.  
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... 
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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