Monday 6 June 2011

Radio review - Rare Bowen and Wigmore celebrations

When planning what to do with this blog, it struck me that a vast amount of classical music broadcast on radio and, occasionally, TV, goes uncommented on and that, perhaps most importantly, lots of it is free.  Why not comment on stuff on the radio?  What’s more, much of it is available to listen to (in the UK) for up to a week after broadcast, so, unlike an unbroadcast concert, you could follow the links and listen for yourselves.  

And so, here is the first of what should be a weekly series of radio reviews.  Looking through the schedules, it became apparent to me that I might need to clone myself to cover everything interesting that BBC Radio 3 play in a week, so this will unfortunately have to be a roundup of select highlights.  And if I’ve missed something great, or even not string related, why not mention it in the comments?

On to some broadcasts that caught my eye.  The final concert of the 2011 English Music Festival in Oxfordshire (Monday, 30th May – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/David Hill) featured a couple of rarities, including the first ever performance of an early cantata by Vaughan Williams called The Garden of Proserpine (read more about the concert at Classicalsource).  The string music interest came in the form York Bowen’s Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 74, performed by that champion of the unusual, Rafael Wallfisch.  It wasn’t a first performance, but it must have been the first of modern times, having only recently been published and its appearance rides a recent wave of interest in Bowen’s music that has seen his discography swell.  I’ve not been that taken with Bowen’s music in the past, but this was more memorable; certainly patchy, but with an unexpected attack at the outset that reminded me most of Hitchcockian scores by Bernard Herrmann (I was initially dismayed that the usually excellent radio host Catherine Bott compared the sound of what was to come to that of film music – how often anything tonal and mid-century is likened to a movie score – but in this instance she was right) and it was most successful in the quiet mysterioso moments when Bowen resisted heaping too many elements on top of each other.  

Two starry concerts broadcast live from London’s Wigmore Hall marked the 110th anniversary of the hall’s opening.  As the effusive tribute doc informed us, the hall was originally called the Bechstein Hall and its list of past performers reads as a roll call of the great musicians of the last century.  These two events lured some of today’s top players, the first of which featured the Takács Quartet and pianist Stephen Hough in music by Haydn, Beethoven and Dvorak (Tuesday, 31st May).  The Takács are feted as the greatest quartet of our time and, surprisingly, I had only ever heard them before on disc.  The same concentration I have heard them bring to the Beethoven in their famous Decca cycle was present in Beethoven’s Op.135 and its wonderful slow movement was flowing and silken, but I was surprised by some of the more conspicuous rough edges from the violins.

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