Love, loss, loneliness, and rebirth: Atthis at the Linbury Studio Theatre 23/04/15

‘It begins with the gaze. Starstruck glances give way to a gentle caress, before sexuality and desire explode on stage, bodies intertwined under a stark, unfeeling light; an embrace of total physicality that sinks, over and over, down to the floor, in peace. The haze and frenzy of desire die with the light of day; one lover slips away in the darkness, and the other is left alone with the night. The lovers meet again, and part again, before the next day’s happiness gives way to a broiling, erotic fury at betrayal, a coruscating, red-white rage that transfigures that initial caress into violence and that initial embrace into brutality. The lovers part again. Death overtakes the first lover, and night’s obsidian coffin entombs her one last time; as she has slept, so she dies – alone.’

I venture to the outer reaches of written self-enthronement in my latest review for Bachtrack. Read it here.

Hilary Hahn and Cory Smythe, Wigmore Hall, 22/03/15

Yes! I am back at it, and clogging up your newsfeeds once again. Anyhow, I was extremely pleased with this recital; I hope you enjoy the review.

‘Hilary Hahn’s world tour arrived in London for a single concert at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday, bringing with it the American violinist’s characteristic assurance, poise and a really rather original programme. Not featuring, as one might have expected, music from her new CD of Vieuxtemps and Mozart, but instead interspersing classics – Schumann, Debussy, and Bach – with items from her earlier disc of newly-commissioned encores and other unusual choices, this wide-ranging programme was performed throughout with great verve and style by Hahn and Cory Smythe.’

Read the rest on Bachtrack.

Jansons and the Concertgebouw in first Barbican Bruckner concert

‘How might we define an ‘Amsterdam sound’? We generalise freely about the characteristic sound of Berlin, with its red-hot fervour, or London, that “ne plus ultra”  of crystalline perfection; where do our illustrious Dutch brethren come into all this?

Judging by the first concert of the Concertgebouw’s high-profile Barbican residency with their chief conductor Mariss Jansons, it is, if anything, somewhere between the two. If any music is sufficiently apt to show off an orchestra’s pedigree, Mozart and Bruckner fit the bill splendidly. Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3 in G major (with Frank Peter Zimmermann) and Bruckner’s “Romantic”  Symphony no. 4, we saw an orchestra capable by turns of elegant restraint and then of fearsome depth and power, sound kaleidoscopic under Jansons’s mercurial, unassuming direction. What a shame, then, that some unfortunate technical errors and interpretative missteps from both soloist and Jansons meant the performance didn’t excite quite as much as one would hope from this elite ensemble.’

From the desert of employment, culture! Read the whole review at Bachtrack here.

Beethoven faces up to Matthews and wins with Oramo and the BBC SO

‘Sakari Oramo’s first season as Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra is now well under way, and Wednesday night’s concert at the Barbican demonstrated his musical intelligence not only in performance but also in programming. A new work by Colin Matthews, Traces Remain, explores the relationship between harmony’s tonal past and its atonal present through a network of quotations; similarly, Schumann’s Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra finds a voice for the newly-chromatic valved horn, but one proudly indebted to the instrument’s outdoor, signalling history. Though it may seem an odd choice, Oramo never allowed Beethoven’s monumental third symphony, theEroica, to rest on its laurels. Rather, it was an Eroica for the modern day, saturated with the traces of the end result of Beethoven’s savage dissonances and rhythmic dislocations. Curiously, it was this latter work, rather than the new commission, that shone as the highlight of the programme. Too clever by half, Matthews’ myriad tonal quotations stalled rather than invigorated the music, and an appealingly individual compositional voice was all but lost under references that were all too explicit’

Read the whole review at Bachtrack here.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra and Josep Pons in Schreker and other 20th-century gems

‘How refreshing it was to see Franz Schreker’s name on a programme next to established classics by Schoenberg and Ravel! The Austrian composer’s 1918 opera Die Gezeichneten, the overture to which opened the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s concert with Josep Pons, has yet to be seen in the UK, and there is much unjustly neglected music to be heard amongst the Austrian’s oeuvre. Next to poignant elegies by Busoni and Ravel, as well as the latter’s erotically perfumed Shéhérazade (with Nora Gubisch) and Schoenberg’s early masterpiece the Chamber Symphony no. 1, the 20-minute overture was no mere trifle but an integral and major part of the evening. Such a shame, then, that its performance did not seem so careful and measured as that of several of the other works on the programme. Innovative programming showcasing the huge variety of sounds from the beginning of the 20th century – all these works were written within 20 years of each other – was let down by very mixed execution from Pons, however beautiful the BBC SO’s playing may have been.’

Read the whole review at Bachtrack here.

LSO shines under Harding in Schubert 5 and Das Lied von der Erde 20/11/13

‘Wednesday night’s concert saw the London Symphony Orchestra with principal guest conductor Daniel Harding in what seemed a slightly odd programme. With Schubert’s miniature masterpiece theSymphony no. 5 in B flatpaired with Mahler’s lofty orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, I was worried the Schubert would be somewhat neglected against what Leonard Bernstein described as Mahler’s greatest work. Such worries, it transpired, were totally unjustified. Mezzo Christianne Stotijn outshone tenor Burkhard Fritz in the latter piece, but throughout the evening it was the LSO that was the highlight. Even in the most intimate textures of Schubert’s smallest symphony, they demonstrated an excellent rapport with Harding, whose clear enthusiasm was made manifest in an orchestral sound now crystal clear, now irresistibly voluptuous, and always totally committed.’

Read my whole review of Wednesday’s concert on Bachtrack here.

The symphony that is not one: Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette with Gergiev and the LSO 6/11/13

‘What is there to say about Hector Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette? A “dramatic symphony” in seven movements, featuring small and large choruses, and three soloists (two of whom sing for around five minutes each and one who sings for around 30), as well as a treasure trove of unusual instrumental combinations and sounds, it is safe to say this is something of an odd bird. Add to this a libretto by Émile Deschamps which not only misses out a great deal of Shakespeare’s drama but goes so far as to reorder it and even mentions the playwright by name, and it becomes apparent there’s something truly wacky afoot. And even that’s leaving out Berlioz’s frankly astonishing approach to melody and harmony. With echoes of Wagner, Brahms, and even Debussy scattered throughout, as well as a mind-bending reimagination of the Baroque “mad scene” for a new age, it is difficult to believe this piece was written in 1839.’

Read the rest of this review at Bachtrack.

Uncanny, surpassing Berlioz from Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican 31/10/13

‘A smattering of confused applause greeted gay rights activist Peter Tatchell to the Barbican Hall’s stage before the first instalment of the London Symphony Orchestra’s Berlioz cycle under Valery Gergiev. Stating that he did not wish to disrupt the performance, Tatchell made it clear he was there to protest Gergiev’s noted unwillingness to criticise Vladimir Putin’s record on human rights, particularly with regard to Russia recently prohibiting the dissemination of “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors”. Such demonstrations are nothing new to Valery Gergiev, whose concerts over the last few months have frequently been the subject of such protests, often far more disruptive than Tatchell’s restrained effort. The security (and an irate principal trumpet) having removed Tatchell from the platform, an apparently untroubled Gergiev came to the platform and launched a seemingly possessed LSO into some of the most thrilling Berlioz one could ever hope to hear.’

Read the whole review at Bachtrack here. Very much looking forward to Roméo et Juliètte on Wednesday…

Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra bring their Barbican Brahms cycle to an end

‘I sat down to hear the last concert of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra’s Brahms cycle under Riccardo Chailly at the Barbican with high hopes. Having heard the hype, it seemed that the restrained autumnal shades of the Violin Concerto in D major(with superstar Leonidas Kavakos) and the sheer compositional majesty of theSymphony no. 4 in E minorhad the potential to be the high points of an already much-vaunted cycle. Chailly’s “radical return” to Brahms, as Decca are calling it, has been the subject of much scrutiny. An insistence on cutting through years of performance tradition to find an interpretation that Brahms himself might have understood – according to Chailly – has more than a whiff of the “authentic” performance movement about it, and it was along these lines that the Italian’s interpretations ran. With invariably brisk tempos and highly marked articulation, it was the control of a Norrington that Chailly exercised over his orchestra, and despite the audience’s cheers, I’m not sure it always worked, however impressive a display of Regiemusik it may have been.’

Read the whole review at Bachtrack here.

It was with a heavy heart that I wrote this review. having heard from a colleague that a friend described the Gewandhaus’s performance of the Second Symphony as ‘the best performance of the piece he’d ever heard or could imagine hearing’ I was expecting something rather better than what I heard. I take no pleasure in being as negative as I was, but a barnstorming LSO concert last night relieved my mood considerably; review for Bachtrack to follow…

John Lill in excellent form for the second concert of his Beethoven piano sonata cycle

‘The second concert of John Lill’s Beethoven piano sonata cycle saw this national treasure back in the form that has earned him his reputation. After a slightly disappointing first outing, it was refreshing to hear such commitment throughout a concert, even in the smaller Piano Sonatas (nos. 3, 6 and 10); never did these earlier works feel lesser than their sprawling companion,Piano Sonata no. 21 in C major, ‘Waldstein’ (so-called after its dedicatee). Relishing Beethoven’s unheard-of piano textures and colours, and with deeply nuanced expression, this was a performance in which every note sounded fresh and totally original, as if we were hearing these works for the first time.’

 

Read my whole review at Bachtrack here