Friday, 26 July 2019

Impressive and inspiring Anglo-American cooperation - BBC Prom 6

Edward Gardner
© Chris Christodoulou

James Ehnes (violin)
Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music and The Juilliard School
Edward Gardner (conductor)

Monday 22 July, 7.30 pm

BBC Prom 6

Royal Albert Hall, London

Anna Thorvaldsdottir (b.1977): Metacosmos (UK premiere)

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976): Violin Concerto, Op. 15

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750): Andante, from Sonata in A minor for solo violin, BWV1003

Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971): The Rite of Spring

Oliver Knussen (1952-2018): Flourish with Fireworks, Op. 22

Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Edward Gardner
& the Orchestra of the Royal Academy of Music
The Julliard School
© Chris Christodoulou
'A remarkable piece, showing such command of large orchestral forces ... unsettlingly moving'.

'Ehnes held the Royal Albert Hall rapt ... he delivered the preceding Scherzo with flourish and a dancing step'.

'Gardner marshalled forces for the final onslaught and elicited a wild, terrifying final sacrificial dance from the massed orchestral forces'.

'The combined student forces demonstrated considerable virtuosic command to conclude an impressive night’s performance'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Energy and virtuosity from VOCES8 in an impressive Proms debut - Proms at ... Cadogan Hall 1

© Andy Staples


Monday 22 July, 2019, 1pm
Cadogan Hall, London

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179): Spiritus sanctus vivicans vita
Pérotin (fl c.1200): Viderunt omnes - excerpt
Josquin des Prez (c1450/55-1521): Ave Maria ... Virgo serena
Jean Mouton (before 1459-1522): Nesciens mater virgo virum
Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611): Regina caeli a 8
Jonathan Dove (b.1959): Vadam et circuit civitatem
Orlando de Lassus (1530/32-94): Missa 'Bell'Amfitrit'altera' - Gloria
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c1525-94): Magnificat primi toni
William Byrd (c1540-1623): Sing joyfully
Alexia Sloane (b.2000): Earthward (world premiere)
Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625): O clap your hands
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943): Bogoroditse Devo, from All-Night Vigil, Op. 37

'The eight singers promised and delivered great skill and smooth blend, at the same time as their ability to characterise the music, text and individual lines when required'.

'VOCES8 convey the rich, warm early clustered harmonies, as well as the repeated rising phrases and weaving lines, making this a highlight of their performance today'.

'The precision and confidence of their performance was highly impressive'.

'Full of energy and madrigalian lightness ... bringing their highly impressive Proms debut to a glorious conclusion'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

Karabits and the BSO journey beyond the moon in a fast machine - BBC Prom 4

Kiril Karabits
© Chris Christodoulou
Nemanja Radoluvić (violin)
Trinity Boys Choir
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Kiril Karabits (conductor)

Sunday 21 July, 7.30 pm

BBC Prom 4

Royal Albert Hall, London

Adams, John (b.1947): Short Ride in a Fast Machine - fanfare for orchestra

Barber, Samuel (1910-81): Violin Concerto, Op.14

Traditional: Pašona kolo

Holst, Gustav (1874-1934): The Planets, Op. 32

'The BSO were on top of the complexities, the woodwind fizzing and the brass soaring'.

'Great presence and involvement with the orchestra, giving Barber's generous melody warm tone, yet maintaining lightness of touch'.
Nemanja Radoluvić & Kiril Karabits
© Chris Christodoulou
'Radulović brought the front desk strings to their feet for a blistering performance of a traditional Serbian circle dance'.

'Karabits ... achieved a sense of awe and calm ... giving tight attention to dynamic control'.

'A Planets with considerable insight, dynamic variety and atmospheric contrasts'.

Read my full review on Bachtrack here.

CD Reviews - July 2019

Edward Elgar's The Music Makers has received a frankly stunning reading from the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under Sir Andrew Davis, with Dame Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano).  From the orchestra's opening introduction, with its Enigma theme quotation, to the sequence of dramatic choruses delivered with excellent precision and clear diction, the combined BBC forces here are exemplary, and Davis manages the rapid tour through extremes of dynamics with rhythmic energy and drive.  Setting the Ode by Arthur O'Shaughnessy in its entirety, Elgar draws on a great deal of self quotation, including The Dream of Gerontius, the Sea Pictures, both his Symphonies and the Violin Concerto, as well as the Enigma Variations. Yet it is a work of remarkable coherency and feeling, and Connolly's heartfelt passion, backed by the full sound of the chorus, whips us along with the emotionally charged (if rather self-indulgent) text.  This is an excellent recording, with full dynamic range, rich orchestral textures and fine singing from soloist and chorus. The Spirit of England is setting of three poems by Laurence Binyon, written between 1915 & 1917. Composed for soprano or tenor soloist, chorus and orchestra, it is often performed with two soloists, and this is in fact the first recording with a tenor (Andrew Staples) taking all three sections.  This is Elgar in more ostensibly patriotic mode, and Staples' suitably declamatory delivery is supported by the incisive chorus in the opening 'The Fourth of August' (the date of declaration of war on Germany).  There are tender moments, but this is full-on Elgar, yet Davis never allows the weighty orchestration to totally overpower proceedings.  'To Women' has more stillness in its dark colours, and here Staples is allowed to show a greater dynamic range, in some particularly tender moments.  The final setting, 'For the Fallen', contains considerable variety in Elgar's detailed setting of the text, with dark irony in its almost jaunty march rhythms.  Once again, the chorus excels in its precision and diction throughout, and great tenderness when Staples joins them for the repetitions of 'We will remember them'.  Overall as a work, The Spirit of England has perhaps not travelled through the years as well as The Music Makers, but this is an excellent recording from all concerned. 

Ibrahim Aziz is a viola da gamba player from Malaysia, now living in London. He has recorded a fascinating programme, Risonanze, exploring what he sees as the particular resonances of the instrument, a member of the viol family and a fretted cousin of the cello, although with perhaps a darker tone and less power of projection.  He starts with a transcription of the Cello Suite No. 2 by J S Bach, and immediately we hear the difference - perhaps a less consistently warm tone, but a definite ringing, enhanced by a highly resonant recording. Aziz makes his instrument sing, particularly in the final dancing Gigue.  He follows this with 'Suite Estiu', by the Spanish composer, Carlos Martínez Gil (b.1959).  Estiu, an anagram of suite, also means summer in Catalan, and the five movements here correspond to the five senses, and the composer's recollections of the sensations of summers spent in northern Spain.  We begin in the sound world of Bach, but slowly, use of pizzicato, more jagged rhythms, or slightly unexpected harmonies in the rocking 'Roces' (meaning 'brushing lightly) take us in a subtly different direction, ultimately feeling like meditations on the earlier soundworld.  Next, Three unaccompanied pieces by composer and virtuoso gamba player, Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787).  The first is a beautifully rippling study, 'Arpeggio', and Aziz maintains a beautifully steady flow throughout its shifting harmonies.  A somewhat gentle 'Allegro' is followed by softly singing 'Adagio', and here again Aziz brings out a beautifully resonant tone.  Rebecca Rowe (b.1970), herself a viola gamba player, wrote 'Journeying' for Aziz in 2018.  Rowe uses resonant, spread chords, and there's a moody, almost eastern flavour to the brief snatches of melodic line, and Aziz performs this with assurance. The remainder of the disc is given over to the Sonata No. 5 by Johann Schenck (1660-1712).  We're back in Bach territory, although as a gamba player, Schenck’s set of seven movements, a suite in all but name, perhaps better captures the idiomatic resonance of the instrument that Aziz refers to. Aziz definitely achieves his aim of demonstrating the resonant qualities of his instrument, as well as his own considerable talent.

Flauguissimo Duo, Yu-Wei Hu (flute) and Johan Löfving (guitar) are alumni of Brighton Early Music Festival's BREMF Live! scheme, so will be familiar to some, and they specialise in historically-informed performance of 18th and 19th century music.  Music for the two instruments flourished in the salon culture of the time, and their debut recording takes inspiration from the fashion of taking tunes popular in the opera houses into domestic settings.  So the centrepiece of this disc entitled 'A Salon Opera' is their own arrangement of the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck's (1714-1787) opera, Orfeo ed Euridice.  Hu is allowed to shine in the opera's beautifully lyrical flute solo, and her breath control in its long sustained lines is impressive.  However, the Cantabile from virtuoso violinist-composer Paganini (1782-1840) is their delightful opener, allowing the duo to establish their delicate, sophisticated soundworld.  The recording is close, which suits the intimacy of the instruments and the repertoire.  Marginally less successful for me are the arrangements of three Schubert songs. Whilst it is certainly authentic to include such arrangements in a recreation of a domestic music-making gathering, it is hard not to miss the nuance of Schubert's expert setting of text. The arrangements here can't be faulted, and Hu's lyrical line is matched nicely by Löfving's deft accompaniment, with a suitably emphatic central section in Frühlingstraum from Winterreise, but it is hard to capture the full emotional contrast of love and loss inherent in Müller's text.  An die Nachtigall and Heidenröslein fair better, with their lighter melodies subtly ornamented by the flute.  Francesca Molino's (1768/75-1847) Notturno is a delight, with a particularly operatic Rondo, in which Hu enjoys the operatic coloratura to the full.  Fernando Sor's (1778-1839) Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 9 for guitar takes it's theme from Mozart's The Magic Flute, and after a dramatic introduction, the theme is presented in increasingly virtuosic variations, and here Löfving plays with great delicacy and bright tone.  After the Gluck, a dramatic Tarantelle for guitar by Johann Mertz (1806-1856) provides some welcome edge and rhythmic energy in an otherwise mostly lyrical programme, performed here with humour and bite.  They conclude with the Grande Serenade by Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), with a graceful opening theme and variations movement, allowing both instruments to shine in turn.  Following a dainty minuet and slightly livelier trio, then a jaunty march, is an operatic 'Brillante' finale. Overall, a pleasing collection, performed with style.

Various. 2019. A Salon Opera. Flauguissimo Duo. Compact Disc. Resonus Classics. RES10233.

(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared in GScene, July 2019)