Thursday 26 January 2012

Wolfgang Rihm with the London Sinfonietta

Evenings with the London Sinfonietta can be among the great unexpected joys of classical music.  Unless you’ve seen it all before, you don’t know quite what to expect when the lights go down.  In our hype driven culture, seeing or hearing without preconceptions is a rare treat.  Sometimes you get a better deal than other times, and I can’t help feeling that their Wolfgang Rihm at 60 was one of their less riveting evenings.  But that’s the lottery.  Read my full review at Classicalsource.

Monday 23 January 2012

Our Nige rewrites Vivaldi

(c) Paul Marc Mitchell

Well blow me down, but I enjoyed Nigel Kennedy’s Saturday night Barbican gig more than I imagined I would.  Much too long, at three hours, but Vivaldi’s Four Seasons are robust enough to take a bit of well intentioned rewriting.  Read my full review at Classicalsource.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Wendy Sutter plays Glass's First Cello Concerto

Philip Glass
Concerto for cello for orchestra No.1 

Wendy Sutter (cello)
Orchestra of the Americas
Dante Anzolini

Orange Mountain Music 0076

There was a time when the traditional form of the concerto was an anathema to the pared back language of minimalism.  The two big beasts of the first wave of minimalism who are still in the public eye, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, came up with titles as spare as their music: Music in the Shape of a Square; Music for 18 Musicians; Music in Twelve Parts; etc., etc.  Both graduated to more poetic titles, but Reich never fell back on the forms of old.  Glass did, though, and he's now on his ninth symphony and second each of concertos for violin, piano and cello.  But as he's shoehorned his hugely distinctive sound into these traditional structures, the original intensity of the style has been diluted and replaced with something altogether more conventional.

Glass's own label, Orange Mountain Music, gives us their second recording of Glass's Cello Concerto No.1 after a recording by the work's first interpreter, Julian Lloyd Webber, appeared in OMM's Glass Concerto Project series (OMM 0014).  There it was coupled with Glass's Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra; here we get only the 31 minutes of the Cello Concerto with no filler not much music for a full priced disc.  Richard Guérin's sleeve notes don't mention why this concerto is numbered No.1, being mainly concerned with the performance history of the work since its composition in 2001, but Glass's website reveals it's because a second is to be premièred in 2012 and will be based on music from Glass's Naqoyqatsi soundtrack.

As for this first concerto, it begins well with a darkly shifting sequence of chords ground out by the cello: a weightier sound than usual from Glass and one which promises something a little different.  But come the first orchestral tutti and we're into fairly generic Glass territory.  The material of the second movement is brooding in a way that Glass does very well, but the variations that follow do outstay their welcome.  The finale has a certain swagger to it, but comes to an abrupt halt in a way that suggests Glass doesn't really know where his material is heading.

I've not had a chance to hear OMM's first recording of the concerto, so cannot compare Wendy Sutter's performance against Lloyd Webber's.  She does make the best case for the solo part with her dark and intense tone and faultless technique, though she's too prominent in the mix and the orchestra's contribution tends to fall away into the background.  On paper, though, there's no reason to choose this disc over the earlier OMM one, as that release was double the length and I suspect only Glass completists are going to want Sutter's new recording.  A shame, because she's clearly an appealing instrumentalist able to enliven a fairly dull piece of music.

Monday 9 January 2012

Raise a glass for Piazzolla

I spent the Christmas period immersed in Piazzolla, researching for a booklet note I’ve written for an upcoming Piazzolla CD.  Along the way, I stumbled across Piazzolla on Video, a blog posting videos on his music.  Two delights I must share with you: Piazzolla advertising Royal Command Whiskey (you'll have to follow the link for that one); and Libertango, performed on the glass harp:

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Taking pot shots at Stradivari

Another month, another Stradivari story.  Of course, the ludicrous prices don’t help, but the press and public at large are fixated on the idea that Antonio Stradivari of No. 2, Piazza San Domenico, Cremona, is the One True Luthier.  It’s been done before, but a recent blind test suggesting musicians can’t tell the difference between megabucks Strads and newer instruments is being widely reported.  The press love an ‘emperor’s new clothes’ story, so it’s a relief to have Steven Isserlis jumping to the rescue with a reasoned response to the reported experiment, pointing out that a musician’s relationship with an instrument might be more complex than a five minute sound test.  The usually excellent Radio 4 news Programme PM had a go at reproducing the experiment in their studio last night, though the results of this dismaying simplification of the argument seemed to be that while two violins do indeed sound different, doing it in the PM studio with microphones set up for speech was like comparing Titian and Turner through frosted glass.