All 2018 Features

Understanding Lenny through his Music, by Leonard Slatkin
Thursday, June 21, 2018 |  Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you undoubtedly know that this August marks the centenary of the most influential American to inhabit the musical world, Leonard Bernstein. ... Both a Symphony and a Piano Concerto, this work is derived from the “Baroque Eclogue” by W. H. Auden, one of the most shattering pieces of poetry ever written. 
How Shostakovich Changed My Mind, by Stephen Johnson [book review]
Tuesday, June 19, 2018 |  This slim volume is about Shostakovich’s frames of mind whilst composing. It is also about how Stephen Johnson has found solace from the music in his battle with deep depression and a bipolar disorder... ... He has interviewed people in Russia who knew the composer and has gained a deep understanding of his psyche at the time he was writing many of his masterpieces and how he coped with the Reign of Terror that certainly affected him throughout Stalin's despotism and possibly beyond. 
Feature Review – English Haydn Festival 2018 [June 6-10]
Saturday, June 16, 2018 |  Great credit must be afforded to Steven Devine and Simon Standage for their huge contribution to the success of this the twenty-fifth English Haydn Festival. ... Crispian Steele-Perkins gave an excellent talk explaining the vicissitudes of the four-keyed instrument for which Hummel wrote his Trumpet Concerto. ... Returning to Haydn’s orchestral music, the Friday concert started with a big disappointment. Haydn put his Symphony 63 (La Roxelane) together by starting with the Overture to Il mondo della luna, continuing with the Roxelane variations and adding the existing Minuet and Finale, the scoring including trumpets, horns in high-C and timpani. When the music was used as incidental music to Favart’s play Les trois sultanes he rescored it... ... John Moore has conducted The Creation at the Festival on many occasions. The Haydn Festival Chorus knows him well, responding to his direction with immediacy and admirable accuracy. ... The closing concert commenced with a sparkling performance of the Overture to Haydn’s Lo speziale (The Apothecary). ... The Cello Concerto by Joseph Franz Weigl (1740-1820), a member of Haydn’s Orchestra at Eszterháza, is a lyrical, well-constructed work, played brilliantly by Pavel Serbin... 
Feature Review: Beethoven's Nine Symphonies on LP – Berliner Philharmoniker/Simon Rattle
Thursday, June 14, 2018 |  Traditionally reviews tend to concentrate on performance with little – if you are lucky – other than a few lines on the engineering. Here we focus on a comparison between the sound of Simon Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic Beethoven cycle taken from dress rehearsals and concerts recorded on vinyl and a two-channel, 24bit, 192 khz download. 
Aldeburgh Festival 2018 – June 9, An Aldeburgh Aperitif – Orsino Ensemble and Phantasm
Monday, June 11, 2018 |  Suffolk’s embarrassment of fine medieval churches frequently offers attractive and acoustically satisfying venues for the Aldeburgh Festival. ... The Orsino Ensemble delivered all this with sensitive musicality and a nice sense of line... ... In the afternoon it was over to the church at Blythburgh, one of the county’s grandest, for a Bach concert. Here Phantasm, a consort of four viols led by Laurence Dreyfus, took us in gently with three of the five Bach Fugues arranged by Mozart... 
Feature Review: Britten, Bernstein and America – two concerts with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/John Wilson at Aldeburgh Festival 2018 – Robert Murray, James Horan, Mark O’Keeffe, Cédric Tiberghien, Pavel Kolesnikov, Claire Chase [June 8 & 9]
Sunday, June 10, 2018 |  The very first notes played at any major festival inevitably have a sense of import beyond their musical context, and at Aldeburgh the scene was set by the ominous growl (trombones, double basses, timpani and the like) that opens Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem (1939). ... If the musical contrast with Copland’s airy, bouncy Billy the Kid – which concluded the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s second concert the following night – could hardly be greater, then that only indicates the variety found in these two John Wilson-conducted programmes given the thematic title “Britten, Bernstein and America”. ... The more major issue with the BBCSSO’s contribution, and again one which may have been acoustic-related, came to the fore in Colin Matthews’s new orchestration of Britten’s Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo (1940, for Peter Pears). Robert Murray was rich-voiced, expressive and sensitive to the songs’ needs... ... The piano is naturally less vulnerable than other instruments to this issue, so it was fortunate that the other two solo-driven pieces featured pianists: Cédric Tiberghien for Bernstein’s Symphony No.2, and Pavel Kolesnikov for Britten’s Diversions. 
William Bolcom at Eighty, and in London June 1 & 2
Friday, May 18, 2018 |  When I started to think about programming for the Americana ‘18 festival that I have curated at St John's Smith Square in London, I knew straight away that I wanted to feature the music of William Bolcom, who turns eighty this month on the 26th. ... His champions include such luminaries as Plácido Domingo, Marc-André Hamelin, Sir James Galway, Leonard Slatkin, Ursula Oppens, Measha Brueggergosman, Stanley Drucker, Dennis Russell Davies, Gerard Schwarz... ... ...in October the Wexford Festival is staging the European premiere of Bolcom's most recent opera Dinner at Eight. 
May 2018 releases from Calliope and Indésens – Debussy, Mozart, Ravel, Szymanowski, and Modern Piano Recital
Sunday, May 13, 2018 |  A goodly crop on which to say a few words about issues from two French labels, Calliope and Indésens. ... The “Franco-British” pianist Orlando Bass (born 1994) gives us Volume Two of “Piano Modern Recital”... ... A further Indésens release entitled “Sonates, Danses et Rhapsodies” features Debussy... ... Turning to Calliope, but remaining with Szymanowski and adding Ravel, Quatuor Joachim plays their String Quartets... ... Finally, back to basics, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a selection of piano music from Christian Chamorel... 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: Massenet’s Cendrillon [Showing on April 28]
Friday, April 20, 2018 |  The libretto of Cendrillon was written by Henri Caïn and follows the narrative of Perrault’s telling of the Cinderella tale. ... Massenet’s music has vivacity and a sumptuous quality, headily romantic in nature... ... The Metropolitan is staging Laurent Pelly’s production already seen in London and Barcelona. ... The title role is sung by Joyce DiDonato... 
Feature Review: International Spring Orchestra Festival, Malta – Rising Stars I, II – Jean-Marc Fabri, Francis James Camilleri, Daniel Zak Borg, Daphne Delicata
Wednesday, April 18, 2018 |  The recital/education strand of Karl Fiorini's International Spring Orchestra Festival – Rising Stars – welcomes up-and-coming local artists to hone their skills on the larger stage, encouraging them to think and compare less regionally. This year has featured four award-winning pianists – Jean-Marc Fabri, Francis James Camilleri, Daniel Zak Borg and Daphne Delicata (at eleven-years-old, the youngest). ... Talking with Farrugia a year ago I was reminded that in her student days Lupu, Gilels and Gould defined her references – a discerning fusion of elevation, temperament and intellect. Today's Rising Stars, it seems, are otherwise inclined, their attention taken up with Buniatishvili, Lisitsa, Fedorava and Lang Lang. A mixed bunch to say the least, short on enlightenment. By way of afterthought, one had heard of Trifonov, another of Barenboim. Horowitz got a passing mention. Generally, no one knew of the Golden Age greats, or the Soviet school. Argerich didn't get a look in. Cziffra drew a blank. And no one appeared aware of, or inclined to explore, what these days is a vast resource of online clips and comparative videos... 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: Verdi’s Luisa Miller [Showing on April 14]
Sunday, April 08, 2018 |  The libretto of Luisa Miller, written by Salvadore Cammarano, is based on the play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and love) by Friedrich Schiller. It was Verdi’s third opera based on a Schiller text. ... The Met’s staging is a revival of the production by Elijah Moshinsky. Bertrand de Billy conducts and Sonya Yoncheva assumes the demanding title-role. Her dark-toned voice and technical ability should make her a fine interpreter. Piotr Beczala sings Rodolfo whilst a great former Rodolfo, Plácido Domingo no less, takes on Miller. 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: Mozart’s Così fan tutte [Showing on March 31]
Tuesday, March 27, 2018 |  The Classical Source once again brings you a handy guide to all ten of the Metropolitan Opera productions included in this season’s international broadcast series. ... The libretto of Così fan tutte was the third penned for Mozart by the great Lorenzo Da Ponte following Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni... ... Following the sprightly and infectious Overture Act One is notable for dazzling ensembles and great arias by which we learn about the characters. The famous trio ’Soave sia il vento’ is Mozart at his most sublime. ... The Metropolitan Opera’s staging is a new one by Phelim McDermott. David Robertson conducts and a cohesive ensemble of the six characters is vital for a successful Così, here Christopher Maltman as the cynical Don Alfonso and in a bold move a singer better known for her Broadway appearances, Kelli O’Hara as Despina. For the pairs of lovers we have Amanda Majeski, Serena Malfi, Ben Bliss and Adam Plachetka. 
New World Symphony in Florida: Michael Tilson Thomas, Leif Ove Andsnes, Jeannette Sorrell [February & March 2018]
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 |  These concerts, on February 18 and March 11, at New World Center, Miami Beach, by the New World Symphony showed off different aspects of the post-conservatory training program, founded thirty years ago by Michael Tilson Thomas. ... The concerts took place in the magnificent and acoustically outstanding Frank Gehry-designed New World Center. The February concert, with MTT, featured Debussy and Stravinsky, opening with the latter’s Scènes de ballet... ... The second concert was billed as “A Return to Bach’s Coffeehouse”, designed to emulate J. S. Bach’s musicales at a Leipzig coffeehouse in which he, his sons, and Collegium Musicum musicians appeared. Jeannette Sorrell, founder of Apollo’s Fire, led from the harpsichord... 
Feature Review: Speakers Corner, Tacet and Analogphonic LPs – Brahms/Dvořák/Reiner, Vivaldi/Daskalakis, Mendelssohn/Haendel/Martzy/Müller-Kray, Brahms/Martzy/Wand, Paganini/Ricci, Milstein, Sarasate/Campoli, Bartók/Julliard, Bartók/Stern/Bernstein...
Friday, March 02, 2018 |  The vinyl renaissance has well and truly arrived with the Berlin Philharmonic releasing its cycle of the Brahms Symphonies with Simon Rattle on LP, having recorded them using just two microphones – which seems odd given that the greatest Decca, Mercury and British Columbia recordings used a minimum of three – in analogue, while 180gm remastering is appearing right-left-and-centre, so in this round-up, a modern recording by the Tacet label has been used, a series of releases by the South Korean company Analogphonic, some of which are radio recordings, as well as the usual fare from the doyen of 180gm labels, Speakers Corner, who has continued to trawl through the CBS catalogue, but first from that label we look at an older disc of classic performances of some of Brahms’s Hungarian and Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, conducted by Fritz Reiner. 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: Rossini’s Semiramide [Showing on March 10]
Thursday, March 01, 2018 |  The Classical Source once again brings you a handy guide to all ten of the Metropolitan Opera productions included in this season’s international broadcast series. ... Semiramide was Rossini’s last great Italian-language opera, premiered in 1823 and successful in Italy and further afield. ... The Met’s staging is a revival and the cast is a youthful one. The title role is sung by the hugely talented Angela Meade. Arsace is Elizabeth DeShong, one of the outstanding Rossini mezzos... 
In praise of Philip Sawyers’s Violin Concerto
Wednesday, February 28, 2018 |  Hereford is not the first place one thinks of as a platform for new music, except every three years at the Three Choirs Festival or annually at nearby Presteigne. Yet on Sunday February 25 at the Shirehall there was the world premiere of the Violin Concerto by Philip Sawyers, currently John McCabe Composer-in-Association with the English Symphony Orchestra, joined by Alexander Sitkovetsky and conducted by Kenneth Woods. 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: Puccini’s La bohème [Showing on February 24]
Monday, February 19, 2018 |  Since its premiere in Turin in 1896, where it met with a modest reception, La bohème, Puccini’s fourth opera quickly gained and retains huge popularity. ... The first encounter of Rodolfo and Mimi is one of the most-famous love-scenes in all opera, famous arias abound. ... As ever the Met has assembled a super cast for this latest revival of the production originally staged by the great Franco Zeffirelli – it’s a classic. As Rodolfo is Michael Fabiano, singing in his home city. Mimi is Sonya Yoncheva. 
Feature Review – New World Symphony’s New Works: Michael Tilson Thomas conducts…
Saturday, February 10, 2018 |  The New World Symphony is an organization that doesn’t do anything halfway. A training ground for music conservatory graduates who are headed for a career in orchestral performance, it operates from its state-of-the-art facilities in Miami. Performances inside New World Center’s concert hall – a building crafted by the celebrated architect Frank Gehry – are shared with anyone who happens to be outside the building via a live “WALLCAST”, a simulcast multi-camera video projection of the performance with high-end audio. ... Michael Tilson Thomas launched the program thirty years ago. ... Fragments of works by J. S. Bach, Berio, Janáček, Prokofiev, Saariaho and Schulhoff serve mainly as a manifestation of what a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder experiences inside their head. 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore [Showing on February 10]
Friday, February 02, 2018 |  L’elisir d’amore is described as a Melodramma giocoso, although many productions play more to the comic side than the melodramatic one. The opera was premiered in Milan in 1832; it was the most popular of Donizetti’s stage-works in his lifetime and remains enduring and endearing. ... The setting is a rural village in northern Italy. Nemorino, a peasant, is hopelessly in love with Adina, a wealthy landowner. She is changeable and likes to be the centre of attention. She is reading the story of Tristan and Isolde to the local populace, Nemorino included, and remarks on the absurdity of the love potion. ... Metropolitan Opera has assembled a great cast. Matthew Polenzani sings Nemorino, which will suite him well, and as Adina we have Pretty Yende, this role something of a calling-card for her. Having a native Italian for Dulcamara is vitally important, here the charismatic Ildebrando d’Archangelo who should fit the bill perfectly. 
Feature Review – BBC Symphony Orchestra Total Immersion: Leonard Bernstein [January 27]
Sunday, January 28, 2018 |  While the LSO, with Marin Alsop and Simon Rattle, had already kicked off the Leonard Bernstein centenary celebrations, the most concentrated focus on Bernstein the composer came with the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s latest Total Immersion day. ... The other non text-based piece is Prelude, Fugue and Riffs which ended the lunchtime concert, from the fervent hands of Professor of Jazz, Scott Stroman, who explained how affected he had been growing up in Indiana by seeing Bernstein’s Young People’s concerts. His nineteen-strong student jazz band more than filled Milton Court Concert Hall... ... Vadim Gluzman was the spruce soloist in Serenade (1954), written for Isaac Stern and inspired by Bernstein’s reading of Plato’s Symposium and taking the idea of the nature of love... ... Words to be sung – which is where we’d started earlier in the day – is where we ended, with Songfest in what is only London’s third full performance since Bernstein conducted the UK premiere with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1982... 
Metropolitan Opera Live HD Broadcasts 2017-18: David McVicar's production of Puccini’s Tosca with Yoncheva, Grigolo & Lučić [Showing on January 27]
Friday, January 12, 2018 |  Since its premiere in January 1900 Puccini’s Tosca has been an audience favourite. ... Cavaradossi admits the lady’s features are to his own lover, the operatic diva Floria Tosca. ... He has escaped from imprisonment by the Chief of Police Baron Scarpia. ... At this moment news arrives that Napoleon’s forces rallied and have defeated the Naples forces at the Battle of Marengo. ... Her most famous aria is ‘Vissi d’arte’ – a rather curious episode in the second Act where, whilst Scarpia is demanding sexual favours, the action stops and the soprano pours out her heart to her God. ... For various reasons there have been numerous cast changes, including Opolais, Kaufmann and Terfel withdrawing. The cast now includes Sonya Yoncheva as Tosca. ... Vittorio Grigolo is Cavaradossi, one that should suit his impassioned style. As Scarpia there is the imposing Serbian baritone Željko Lučić... 
Feature Review: From ICA Classics – BBC Legends box sets and Guido Cantelli, Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer
Tuesday, January 02, 2018 |  The second volume of BBC Legends, now courtesy of ICA, reissues a further twenty discs. ... As bonus tracks, another stellar violinist, Nathan Milstein, is heard, playing Paganini, Falla and Nováček (1957) – very fine – and where a pianist is needed, it’s Ernest Lush. Next Thomas Beecham’s Royal Festival Hall accounts of Sibelius 2 (BBCSO, 1954) and Dvořák 8 (RPO, 1959), the performances exciting, expressive and atmospheric, even explosive; and also RFH, 1961, Sviatoslav Richter mesmerising in piano music by Haydn and Prokofiev... ... The Russian connection continues with the Borodin Quartet, its members as in 1962, attending Edinburgh and playing Shostakovich (No.8), Borodin (No.2) and Ravel. Benjamin Britten had his Russian confreres (including Richter, Rostropovich and Shostakovich) and on Disc Fourteen he stylishly conducts Tchaikovsky’s Suite No.4... ... The ICA Classics triptych – featuring Guido Cantelli, Herbert von Karajan and Otto Klemperer, mostly with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London... 

 

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