Thursday 28 June 2012

Climb every mountain

Tuesday was a big night for London’s classical music scene, with Colin Davis conducting the LSO in Berlioz over in St Paul’s, and the second of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra’s London concerts packing out the Royal Festival Hall. Strauss’s Eine Alpensinfonie is one of Trill’s favourites and the SBSO, under conducting megastar Gustavo Dudamel, certainly hit their stride on the way down the mountain. It might be a while, though, before they’ve got the full measure of Strauss’s idiom. Here’s an extract from my review for Classical Source:

“It’s a work that revels in the heady excess of depicting mountain scenery – weather and all – with an orchestra groaning at the limits of practicality. But it also charts a clear path through the fog and ice and thunder encountered en route, giving us some of Strauss’s most brilliantly vivid descriptive writing. Night shrouds the introduction and returns to veil the close, but it wasn’t the most auspicious of beginnings for orchestra and conductor. Strauss piles up the notes in the string parts, creating the kind of effect you’d get by depressing three octaves worth of notes on the piano and holding the sustain pedal. But that glorious curtain of nocturnal gloom barely registered, despite the plethora of violins crammed in tight on stage.”

It got better after that, but I still can’t wait to see what the Vienna Phil and Bernard Haitink can muster when they tackle it at this year’s Proms. Whatever the VPO brings, though, I bet they won't haul Bryn Terfel on stage for an unexpected encore. Intermezzo has the photographic evidence.

Monday 25 June 2012

73 years late: William Alwyn's Violin Concerto premiered

I didn’t realise until I reached St John, Smith’s Square, for the Ealing Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Saturday, that their performance of William Alwyn’s feisty Violin Concerto would be the concert premiere. Oddly, it’s been recorded twice (including a performance on Naxos by the evening’s soloist, Lorraine McAslan), but never heard in the concert hall – until now. I went along for Classical Source; here’s a sample:

“[McAslan] was a warm and persuasive presence in the Concerto, lending it added weight with her rich, viola-like tone and formidable technique. True, she did suffer from some untidiness in the last movement, but it mattered little against strengths of her playing. It was just the kind of performance an unfamiliar work needs to win new friends. And the Concerto itself delighted in the particularly British tone of optimism found in the music of Walton and Havergal Brian.”

Thursday 21 June 2012

Valentina Lisitsa's Royal Albert Hall recital

“Lisitsa isn't at the beginning of her career: she's 39 and has known the hardship of obscurity. She told us as much in a disarming introduction to the recital (she also joked about the concurrent clash between the football teams of Ukraine and England), but once at the keyboard, she dispensed with the casual banter and became a woman utterly focused on the task at hand. Had she had her way, Lisitsa wouldn't even have paused to allow applause between any of the evening's items; only when she let a few seconds too much to pass between the end of one piece and the beginning of the next did the mostly attentive audience interject with their appreciation.”

Valentina Lisitsa’s Royal Albert Hall concert felt like a genuine event, and contained a lot of fine pianism to boot. The above extract is from my Classical Source review; you can read the rest here.

The concert is to be rushed out for CD and download by Decca in a matter of weeks. The whole recital was live-streamed on Youtube (jump to around 18 minutes for the first item).

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Our Nige does Brahms

My Classical Source colleague Colin Anderson was at London's Royal Festival Hall to hear Nigel Kennedy’s performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto:

“Once past the inanities of his actions on arrival, and his down-and-out appearance, Nigel Kennedy did what he does best: play the violin. He wasn’t at his finest though (his solo Bach at last year’s BBC Proms was sublime and leaves a long legacy). No doubting his passion for Brahms’s music, although his jumping around and thumping the floor would be better avoided.”

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Restoring Debussy

Simon Rattle and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment stripped back the accumulated dust of decades in presenting music by Fauré, Ravel and Debussy on Sunday night:

 “They'd taken their programme of French orchestral music on a short tour around Europe, presumably settling in to their new-found sound and getting to grips with repertoire at least a hundred years outside their comfort zone. And the result? A little softness in the strings; a little more warmth in the brass; a whole lot of wobble from the oboe. Not much, in fact, and if you did know already about the instrument switch (the programme notes hardly mentioned it), you'd barely have noticed the difference.”

In fact, I was a little miffed to read that the late night repeat of the second half (part of the OAE’s attempt to lure in a younger, cooler audience) had included a chat about the older instruments used. Had they done the same at the 7pm concert, the whole thing might have felt more worthwhile. Jessica Duchen reports on the Night Shift eventYou can read my full review at Classical Source.

Saturday 9 June 2012

When electric guitar meets violin

Steven Mackey
"Steven Mackey proved that electric instruments need not overwhelm acoustic ones with Four Iconoclastic Episodes, his 2009 piece for violin, electric guitar and string orchestra. Mackey’s guitar duelled and danced with Anthony Marwood’s violin in an enchanting score that manages to suggest the rhetoric of popular music – repeated chords; simple harmony – with the means of classical without compromising the latter."

Thursday 7 June 2012

Natalie Clein's Jubilee Elgar

Natalie Clein (photo: Sussie Ahlburg)
What’s Elgar’s Cello Concerto got to do with the Queen? Good question, and not one answered by the Philharmonia’s Diamond Jubilee concert on Tuesday. Natalie Clein played the Elgar, though I wasn’t wholly convinced:

Natalie Clein’s elegant and clean performance began well by replacing the doom-laden trudge that sometimes overwhelms the opening movement with a noble and rhythmically-conscious tread, but her small sound and consequent lack of projection led to the question of her suitability for the work. Stylish portamenti were appealing in isolation but generally seemed to be a distraction from the music’s intensity and purpose.”