March 2017 Concert Reviews

March 2017 Concert Reviews
Jonathan Biss at Milton Court – Late Style – Schumann, Kurtág, Chopin, Brahms
Monday, March 27, 2017 |  Jonathan Biss disarmingly cuts to the chase when he talks and writes about music, but in this middle, exclusively solo, recital of three, all under the title “Late Style”, there was an odd disjunction between his playing and the music. ... Paradoxically, though, it was Biss’s objectivity in pieces from the seventh volume of György Kurtág’s Játékok (Games), all of them cryptically short, which somehow froze the evanescent nature of music. In ‘Fugitive thoughts about the Alberti bass’, Biss with the utmost refinement detached that basic compositional tool from its function and atomised it down to its basics. 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Gallicantus & Yvonne Kenny – Queen Mary’s Big Belly
Monday, March 27, 2017 |  It’s all too easy for the non-specialist to mentally place music of the Renaissance and earlier into a kind of generic Merrie England without much regard for the specifics – so it was a terrific idea for Gallicantus to build this Wigmore Hall recital around a particular event, Mary Tudor’s anticipation of an heir. 
Timothy Ridout & Anthony Hewitt at Wigmore Hall – Brahms, Tertis, MacRae, Bowen
Sunday, March 26, 2017 |  Full disclosure first: although I have been involved with the workshop side of the Lionel Tertis International Festival and Viola Competition since its inception in 1980, I have nothing to do with the Competition or the contestants. Timothy Ridout, born in London in 1995, won the 2016 Competition and this was his first Wigmore Hall recital... 
The New Babylon – score by Shostakovich played by Sasha Grynyuk
Saturday, March 25, 2017 |  From his teenage years Shostakovich worked as a pianist in the cinema. His first film score was The New Babylon... ... The New Babylon was the seventh film of the partnership of Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, members of FEKS (Factory of the Eccentric Actor), committed to the avant-garde and in favour of popular culture and the machine. ... The film is set in the spring of 1871 during the time of the Paris Commune and immediately after the end of the Franco-Prussian war. It centres on Louise (Elena Kuzmina) who works in a department store in Paris called The New Babylon. ... Sasha Grynyuk was in stunning form throughout... 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nathalie Stutzmann – Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration & Mozart’s Requiem
Saturday, March 25, 2017 |  Almost a century separates these two works, Mozart’s uncompleted Requiem from 1791 and Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration composed in 1889; both address the afterlife. Their partnership here – planned years ago – acquired an added relevance in being dedicated, in a quietly stated but nonetheless heartfelt way by Nathalie Stutzmann from the podium, to the victims of and people affected by the incident at Westminster on Wednesday the 22nd; the London Philharmonic’s concert that night at the Royal Festival Hall was cancelled. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Andrey Boreyko – Romeo and Juliet – Branford Marsalis plays Gabriel Prokofiev’s Saxophone Concerto [live webcast]
Friday, March 24, 2017 |  As a regular if remote (London) reviewer of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s very welcome webcasts, there have been many notable shows. ... The conductor’s ten choices from Prokofiev’s three Romeo Suites (twenty sections in all) were given with some verve and sensitivity, although this was not the DSO at its most virtuosic and inspired. ... To start this concert was (as broadcast) a lacklustre ‘Love Scene’ from Berlioz’s Shakespeare-inspired Dramatic Symphony... ... Curiously, for Gabriel Prokofiev’s Saxophone Concerto, the sonics improved; it was though a spot had been made on the soundboard for Branford Marsalis to fill; for once he was present the DSO became more tangible and vibrant... 
Berliner Philharmoniker/Kirill Petrenko – Haffner Symphony & Pathétique Symphony – Georg Nigl sings John Adams’s The Wound-Dresser [live webcast]
Thursday, March 23, 2017 |  There is no doubting that the Berliner Philharmoniker’s designate chief conductor Kirill Petrenko is an imaginative and inspiring musician. Mozart’s ‘Haffner’ Symphony was forward-moving without rush... ... As centrepiece, John Adams’s The Wound-Dresser (1989), setting Walt Whitman’s words experiencing the poet’s time as a hospital volunteer during the American Civil War. ... As for the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony – not the most obvious choice for Petrenko’s first concert with the Berliners since he was announced (in June 2015) as Simon Rattle’s successor – it was imposing and momentous... 
LSO/Alain Altinoglu – Daphnis et Chloé – Gautier Capuçon plays Shostakovich
Thursday, March 23, 2017 |  Frenchman Alain Altinoglu (of Armenian descent) is currently in his first season as principal conductor of the Monnaie in Brussels, and this was his LSO debut, opening with a rare chance to hear Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes. ... Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto of 1959 comes with quite a performance history, dominated by Mstislav Rostropovich. Gautier Capuçon shied away from trying to match the great man... ... In Daphnis et Chloé, the LSO was joined by the London Symphony Chorus in top form, wonderfully quiet at the beginning. 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Jakub Hrůša – Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and, with Rudolf Buchbinder, Piano Concerto No.2 – Philharmonia Chamber Players in Beethoven & Brahms
Thursday, March 23, 2017 |  The Philharmonia Chamber Players, continued the welcome preceding of an orchestral concert with a free recital. ... Rudolf Buchbinder’s career began early in his teens. I recall his sparkling accounts of Mozart Concertos many years ago and was reminded of this because of his right-hand’s lightness of touch in the expansive Brahms. ... Jakub Hrůša’s interpretation of the Fourth Symphony was one of considerable grandeur, incorporating thoroughly musical shaping and included a particularly meaningful rendering of the simple opening. 
Barry Douglas at Turner Sims – Schubert & Brahms
Thursday, March 23, 2017 |  As part of the Turner Sims Great Pianist Series, this recital compared and contrasted Brahms and Schubert, their emotional ranges and romantic sensibilities, which Barry Douglas has also been exploring for Chandos. 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jukka-Pekka Saraste – Bruckner 9 – Anssi Karttunen gives UK premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No.2 / Concert cancelled
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 |  On police advice, tonight’s London Philharmonic Orchestra concert at Southbank Centre is cancelled due to the ongoing security incident in Westminster. 
Steven Osborne at Wigmore Hall – Brahms's Intermezzos Opus 117 & Beethoven’s final Piano Sonatas Opuses 109, 110 & 111
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 |  When Brahms at last produced his First Symphony, it was hailed as Beethoven’s ‘tenth’, and he continued as the heroic but conservative upholder of the Classical ideal, filtered through his and Beethoven’s very different types of romanticism. ... For all that, this Wigmore Hall recital was enthralling, not least in the way that Steven Osborne’s almost freakish ability to identify with a composer’s psychology gets more perceptive every time I hear him. ... Osborne’s Beethoven – unlike Igor Levit’s, for example – doesn’t overplay the final Sonatas’ sheer oddness and originality. 
Classical Opera at St John’s Smith Square – Mozart 250 – Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots – Alessandro Fisher, Sam Furness, Rebecca Bottone, Gemma Summerfield, Helen Sherman; directed by Thomas Guthrie; conducted by Ian Page
Tuesday, March 21, 2017 |  It isn’t every day that you hear a stage-work by an eleven-year-old, but then Mozart was no ordinary musician. This performance marked the 250th-anniversary of the premiere of a work that is not strictly an opera, but a sacred drama for Lent that was acted out on its first presentation in Salzburg, and can therefore claim to be the operatic point of entry by a genius whose output would culminate in some of the most highly respected compositions for the opera house. Naturally Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (The Obligation of the First Commandment) does not reach anything like those artistic heights. 
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at Royal Festival Hall – Ádám Fischer conducts Haydn & Beethoven, with Steven Isserlis
Monday, March 20, 2017 |  The Overture to La fedeltà premiata is probably best known as the Finale to Haydn’s Symphony No.73 (La chasse). Ádám Fischer stressed the links to the hunt... ... The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment reduced its numbers a little for Haydn’s C-major Cello Concerto of which Steven Isserlis gave a superbly stylish rendering. ... Beethoven 7 was given an outing notable for convincing choice of tempo and welcome absence of subjective impositions on the music. 
London Handel Festival – Faramondo – with Ida Ränzlöv, Harriet Eyley, Kieran Rayner, Beth Moxon; directed by William Relton; conducted by Laurence Cummings
Monday, March 20, 2017 |  Faramondo (1738), opening this year’s London Handel Festival, is amongst his final operas: next came Serse and then only two others. The fact that Faramondo is a rarity would seem to do not so much with the music which, number by number, is virtually as inspired as any, but rather with its convoluted plot which concerns vengeance and the conflicts of loyalty as between political and romantic allegiances in an obscure period of the Dark Ages. 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Annelien Van Wauwe & Nino Gvetadze
Monday, March 20, 2017 |  If at first it seemed that Annelien Van Wauwe – the Belgian clarinettist, another BBC New Generation Artists featured during this Wigmore Hall series – was the star, with Nino Gvetadze merely supporting on the ivories, that impression was quickly dispelled during the Debussy. 
The Metropolitan Opera – Beethoven’s Fidelio – Adrienne Pieczonka & Klaus Florian Vogt; directed by Jürgen Flimm; conducted by Sebastian Weigle
Monday, March 20, 2017 |  Jürgen Flimm returns to Metropolitan Opera to direct this revival of Fidelio, from 2000. His staging, although at times illogical, holds together reasonably well, and its shortcomings are more than offset by the majesty of Beethoven’s music... ... Leading the stellar cast are Klaus Florian Vogt and Adrienne Pieczonka as Florestan’s wife, Leonore, who disguised as a man, named Fidelio, secures a position at the penitentiary where her husband is held as a political prisoner. ... Sebastian Weigle’s conducting ensures musical clarity and just balances between stage and pit. 
Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall – Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila – Aaron Cawley & Claudia Huckle; conducted by Matthew Scott Rogers
Sunday, March 19, 2017 |  Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila is becoming something of a rarity again, unaccountably so, for it’s a great score. This Chelsea Opera Group concert performance started off somewhat shakily... ... Likewise Aaron Cawley’s first utterances as Samson were voiced at an astonishing fortissimo... ... As Dalila, Claudia Huckle displayed astonishing mastery of this fantastic siren role; she has all the vocal qualities needed. 
Nathalia Milstein at Wigmore Hall – Haydn, Schubert, Rachmaninov
Sunday, March 19, 2017 |  The French twenty-one-year-old Nathalia Milstein won the triennial Dublin International Piano Competition in 2015, and this Wigmore Hall recital was part of her bounty. ... Given the warmth and breadth of her playing, it wasn’t such a wrench from the deceptive decorousness of the Haydn to the subjective turmoil of Schubert’s imposing C-minor Sonata, but Milstein’s impulsiveness here paradoxically got in the way of dramatic extremes rather than liberated them. ... The way into Rachmaninov’s piano music, for me, proved to be the Etudes-tableaux, and Milstein’s account of Opus 39 refreshed that conviction. 
LSO/Fabio Luisi – Unfinished Symphony & German Requiem
Sunday, March 19, 2017 |  An extraordinarily restrained and introspective account of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony made clear we were in Lent. Under the largely undemonstrative Fabio Luisi the LSO produced an account that, at nearly thirty minutes, might be considered funereal... ... On the evidence of these tempos one might have thought Brahms’s German Requiem would be pedestrian. But it was well-paced. Julia Kleiter was mellifluous, clear of voice, if not necessarily in diction, and replacing an indisposed Ruben Drole was a bright of character and casually-dressed Simon Keenlyside... ... The London Symphony Chorus sang with confidence, and provided some serious heft for the big fugues. 
Elīna Garanča & Kevin Murphy at Carnegie Hall – Brahms, Duparc, Rachmaninov
Sunday, March 19, 2017 |  In this memorable Carnegie Hall recital, Elina Garanča and Kevin Murphy offered a well-crafted program expressing melancholy and passionate longing. ... Then, in a calm and intimate rendition of ‘Sapphische Ode’, Garanča’s line and Murphy’s accompaniment were quietly mesmerizing... ... The second half brought a wardrobe change and a more exciting mood, beginning with an impressive trio of mélodies by Henri Duparc. 
Benjamin Zander conducts Beethoven – Coriolan & Choral Symphony – Mei Yi Foo plays Piano Concerto No.3 / Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra
Saturday, March 18, 2017 |  Benjamin Zander believes that Beethoven’s ‘Choral’ Symphony is misrepresented by most performances and certainly his is an interpretation which differs considerably from most that are heard. ... The musicians’ response to Zander’s clear and positive direction in the Coriolan Overture was affirmative – forceful playing illuminated this no-nonsense approach. ... Straightforwardness and freshness informed the Piano Concerto. Within a sparkling approach, Mei Yi Foo phrased the music subtly... ... Among the most important: how could Beethoven mark the Scherzo Molto vivace and the Trio Presto yet provide the same metronome indication? 
The Royal Ballet – Triple Bill – The Human Seasons / After the Rain / Flight Pattern
Saturday, March 18, 2017 |  Dance works of the quality of Flight Pattern are created sometimes only once in a generation, and it is true that The Royal Ballet has been waiting for a genuine success in its commissioning policy for many, many years. Crystal Pite is something of the choreographer of the moment, and with good reason: her work over the past few years with Kidd Pivot, her own company, and others has revealed uncommon ability in her deployment of her performers and an equally rare humanity in which speaks directly to the soul.… 
Igor Levit at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven Piano Sonata Cycle (7), including the Hammerklavier
Friday, March 17, 2017 |  The penultimate instalment of Igor Levit's Beethoven cycle for Wigmore Hall's London Pianoforte Series journeyed the post-Waterloo years between the Eighth Symphony and work on the Ninth and Missa solemnis... ... Levit is a pianist of formidable ability and cast-iron technique, fearless of obstacles. He relishes extremes. The 'trill' fugue of the Hammerklavier Sonata was dauntingly (fashionably) fast, racing for the post more than “resolute” (Beethoven's marking) – Gilels's grander clarity of structure and voicing, his more moderated pace too, surely has to be the wiser option. 
LSO/Fabio Luisi – Beethoven & Brahms – Igor Levit plays the Emperor Piano Concerto
Thursday, March 16, 2017 |  Good though that Igor Levit is progressing his Beethoven odyssey, here the ‘Emperor’ Concerto... ... The LSO and Fabio Luisi offered a hefty accompaniment and also one that was lucid, and the lead-in to the Finale was particularly suspenseful... ... The Brahms opened in spacious and singing style, then came to life as if out of slumber, and had got even faster by the end of the exposition. For once, overlooking the repeat would have been unusually welcome, but Luisi went back and did it all again... 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy – Rosamunde Overture & Elgar 1 – Veronika Eberle & Antoine Tamestit play Mozart K364
Thursday, March 16, 2017 |  It’s more than fifty years since Vladimir Ashkenazy first appeared in London and nothing he ever does is less than deeply musical; and over the years he has established deep ties with the Philharmonia Orchestra. ... In Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, the excellent combination of Veronika Eberle and Antoine Tamestit echoed each other perfectly. ... About the Elgar it is hard to be equally enthusiastic. 
English National Opera – Handel’s Partenope – Sarah Tynan, Patricia Bardon, James Laing, Stephanie Windsor-Lewis; directed by Christopher Alden; conducted by Christian Curnyn
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 |  A week after International Women’s Day was observed, it is appropriate that English National Opera’s revival of Handel’s Partenope opens. ... Christopher Alden’s production takes its cue from the dramatically anti-climactic moment when Arsace calls the bluff of Eurimene (one of Partenope’s apparent suitors) and suggests that they fight a duel bare-chested... ... Sarah Tynan’s first number as Partenope, with wide vibrato and swoops in the opening section of the da capo aria verging on premature decoration, initially seemed to betoken a uniformly feisty interpretation. 
New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert – The Chairman Dances & Symphonie fantastique – Yo-Yo Ma plays Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Cello Concerto
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 |  Alan Gilbert opened this New York Philharmonic concert with John Adams’s The Chairman Dances, a “foxtrot” companion piece to his 1987 opera, Nixon in China. This work has established itself alongside some of Adams’s other early works (such as Short Ride in a Fast Machine), as core to the contemporary American canon. ... Very recently Esa-Pekka Salonen led the world premiere of his Cello Concerto, for Yo-Yo Ma, but here was a spectator. 
Belief & Beyond Belief – London Philharmonic Orchestra & Synergy Vocals – Gavin Bryars & Steve Reich – The Sinking of the Titanic, Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Music for 18 Musicians
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 |  The Belief & Beyond Belief series continued in imaginative and virtuosic fashion, transportingly so through Gavin Bryars’s meditative and elegiac soundworlds, then invigorating and thrilling in Steve Reich’s monumental Music for 18 Musicians. ... The starting point for Bryars’s The Sinking of the Titanic was the band carrying on playing as the liner disappeared beneath the waves. 
Guildhall Symphony Orchestra/Pietari Inkinen – Wagner – Mastersingers, Tristan, and Lorin Maazel’s Ring Without Words, with Lise Lindstrom as Brünnhilde
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 |  The students of the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra were in the hands of an experienced Wagnerian in Pietari Inkinen, conductor of Opera Australia’s recent 'Ring' cycle. ... Flowing melody continued in the Tristan bookends, the Prelude beginning from a whisper of sound. Tempos were flexible and there were well-shaped woodwind solos and telling contributions from the lower strings. The ‘Liebestod’ was tenderly played... ... The second half was not quite as expected, for Lorin Maazel’s The Ring Without Words was supplemented by Lise Lindstrom singing Brünnhilde’s ‘Immolation Scene’ from Götterdämmerung. 
Sarah Connolly & Joseph Middleton at Park Avenue Armory, New York City – Frauenliebe und -leben, Les Nuits d’été, Banalités…
Wednesday, March 15, 2017 |  Flanked by large portraits of puff-chested, blue-suited soldiers, Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton presented a recital including song-cycles by Schumann, Berlioz, and Poulenc. ... In preparation for his Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, Aaron Copland visited the poet’s home in Amherst, Massachusetts... ... The eclectic and versatile Richard Rodney Bennett wrote The History of the Thé Dansant in 1994 in collaboration with Meg Peacocke. 
Maurizio Pollini at Royal Festival Hall – Beethoven Piano Sonatas (including Pathétique and Appassionata) & Schoenberg Klavierstücke
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 |  Maurizio Pollini opened the second of his Royal Festival Hall recitals this season with Schoenberg. The Three Piano Pieces from 1909 are harmonically and emotionally explorative, if definable as late-Brahms tonally fractured without losing sight of classical custom... ... During the three Beethoven Sonatas (all thirty-two now recorded by Pollini for Deutsche Grammophon) – no less radical and challenging, witness the emphatic dissonance that opens the ‘Pathétique’ – the pianist was not always at his transcendental best... ... There have been more vividly characterised accounts of the ‘Appassionata’ but few that see the work so whole... 
A Mother’s Tears ... Stabat Mater – Andreas Scholl & Accademia Bizantina
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 |  A concert from the great German countertenor Andreas Scholl, accompanied by a crack ‘period’ ensemble, of music singing the praises and sorrows of Mary the Mother of God, all of it from the Italian Baroque when Italian music was straining at its expressive stays as well as laying down a style that tripped pleasingly between church and theatre... 
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian at Kravis Center – Prince Igor Overture & Tchaikovsky 4 – Nicola Benedetti plays Brahms’s Violin Concerto
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 |  The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s first US tour in thirty-five years includes two concerts in West Palm Beach, of which this was the first. The curtain-raiser was the Overture (as realized by Glazunov) to Borodin’s unfinished opera, Prince Igor... ... Peter Oundjian led a lively account that brought out the music’s bright colors. ... Nicola Benedetti gave a muscular performance of Brahms’s Violin Concerto. ... Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony proved a superb showpiece for the RSNO. 
Nigel Kennedy & Friends (including Robert Plant and Jean-Luc Ponty) at Royal Albert Hall
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 |  J. S. Bach, Bulgarian folk, jazz-rock fusion, rock: a lot of ground to cover, which might explain why Nigel Kennedy played the opener, Bach’s Violin Concerto in A-minor (BWV1041), at a fair old clip... ... Kennedy’s arrangement of ‘Nessun Dorma’ (from Puccini’s Turandot), with violinists Michael Guttman and Pieter Daniel, felt like a hammy crowd-pleaser... ... And all of this only the first set out of three, the second of which started with two duets with Georgi Andreev on gadulka, a traditional Bulgarian bowed instrument... ...

After the ear-ringing finale to the second set, you’d expect the third-set opener – an arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing – to be equally loud. But down came the volume for an exquisite acoustic version with strings, guitar and mandolin. Perhaps Kennedy was keeping his powder dry for the arrival of Robert Plant... ... ...deploying the full armoury of orchestra and rock instruments before the final stormer, Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. 

Project Polunin at Sadler's Wells
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 |  Sergei Polunin, the 'James Dean' or 'Bad Boy' of ballet, depending on which sub-editor's strap-line one reads, is not a Narcissus; he is not someone obsessed with himself and his image. Some will see this first programme of Project Polunin as an exercise in self-aggrandisement, but that would be to misread this hugely talented young man. If anything he is more Icarus, launching himself into the void of public and critical scrutiny on insubstantial wings of feathers and wax, and we all know the end of that story. 
Berliner Philharmoniker/Zubin Mehta – Tchaikovsky 5 – Pinchas Zukerman plays Elgar’s Violin Concerto [live webcast]
Sunday, March 12, 2017 |  This Berliner Philharmoniker concert in support of UNICEF (opening with the German National Anthem and followed by speeches from Joachim Gauck, Federal President, and Michael Müller, Mayor of Berlin) was beamed live to the World and captured old friends and collaborators in splendid form. Zubin Mehta and the Berliners go back a long way and the conductor’s closeness with Pinchas Zukerman is similarly time-honoured; together they were inspired in Elgar’s Violin Concerto (1910) written for Fritz Kreisler. ... Mehta, looking heartily healthy (he turns eighty-one in April), then conducted an absorbing outing for Tchaikovsky 5. 
LSO/Susanna Mälkki – Also sprach Zarathustra – Christian Tetzlaff plays Brahms's Violin Concerto ... Guildhall Artists
Sunday, March 12, 2017 |  Three performances of Also sprach Zarathustra in the capital in just a few weeks seems an extravagance or a failure to compare diaries. Is there a bankruptcy of ideas going on here or are we just slaves to laziness? Either way, this coupling with Brahms’s Violin Concerto gave Susanna Mälkki (replacing an unwell Valery Gergiev) an opportunity to exhibit her credentials with the LSO in what were robust if uneven performances. ... For the Brahms, Janine Jansen was originally booked but her indisposition enabled Christian Tetzlaff to take centre-stage. 
Junge Deutsche Philharmonie/Jonathan Nott at Philharmonie Berlin – Valses nobles et sentimentales & Shostakovich 15 – Michelle Breedt sings Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder [live webcast]
Sunday, March 12, 2017 |  This Sunday-morning concert at a prestigious Berlin address opened with Ravel, his subtle and refined orchestration of the for-piano, Schubert-inspired, Valses nobles et sentimentales, which found the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie in colourful and seductive form, Jonathan Nott at-one with the music’s capacity for enigma and enchantment. ... For Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, to poems by Friedrich Rückert, one might take a (here) soprano as representing the grief of a young mother on the death of her children. In fact, Michelle Breedt (with score, Nott without one, as for the Ravel) gave a rather mature (maternally experienced) account... 
The Royal Opera – Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Bryn Terfel, Gwyn Hughes Jones, Rachel Willis Sørensen, Johannes Martin Kränzle; directed by Kasper Holten; conducted by Antonio Pappano
Saturday, March 11, 2017 |  There are productions of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger to which one returns at any opportunity. Kasper Holten’s, his swansong as Director of Opera at Covent Garden, is not one of them. ... We all have moments when Die Meistersinger hits us hard with heart-stopping recognition where music and drama collide – Sachs’s love for Eva and his Marschallin-like stepping aside for a younger model; Eva’s breaking-down to Sachs, where she kisses him hard on the mouth, then moving on to do the same to/with Walther; the Quintet; the pulverising burst of “Erwach” – but this is the driest-eyed staging I have witnessed. ... Musically, though, it fields superb singing from a mouthwatering cast, and Antonio Pappano conducts the music with a subtle sense of irony emanating from the pit that doesn’t make it to the stage. ... Bryn Terfel, a Sachs of many years’ standing, sounded much more at ease with the higher-written music...  
Academy of Ancient Music/Jordi Savall at Barbican Hall – Lully’s Alceste, Marin Marais’s Alcione, Handel’s Water Music, Rameau’s Les Boréades
Saturday, March 11, 2017 |  Jordi Savall first collaborated with the Academy of Ancient Music in 1978. ... Years of research and dedication to reviving lost instruments and playing techniques have informed the diminutive Catalan’s approach and this delightful AAM programme juxtaposed theatrical French Baroque Dance Suites alongside Handel’s Water Music. ... Lully’s Alceste (1674) opened the concert in martial style... ... Marin Marais was a pupil of Lully and like Savall a virtuoso on the viol, and his pieces for the instrument often have a melancholy cast. His opera Alcione (1706) became famous all over Europe for its depiction of a tempest... 
New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert – John Adams – Absolute Jest and Harmonielehre
Saturday, March 11, 2017 |  In his opening remarks to the audience, John Adams wryly noted that although the tickets were printed with the announcement “Beethoven and John Adams” this was likely a “marketing requirement.” The music, he assured us, is all his. But Beethoven did provide the inspiration for Absolute Jest... ... Alan Gilbert had the Philharmonic on its toes, dancing through the score’s rhythmic complexities with grace and bringing out its lyricism. ... Harmonielehre is one of the pieces that established Adams’s reputation, and while it lacks the contrapuntal and rhythmic intricacy of his more-recent work, one can hear that the essential qualities of his musical personality... 
Barnes Music Festival 2017 – Gala Opening Concert with Tasmin Little – Roxanna Panufnik’s Four World Seasons & Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Tchaikovsky's Serenade
Saturday, March 11, 2017 |  Barnes Music 2017’s offerings showcase an intriguing theme of Music and Place. Seeking to explore how landscapes and locations influence composers, the organisers have planned a two-week Festival. Opening night was a sparkling affair with Tasmin Little, and Barnes’s artistic director Daniel Turner took to the podium... ... Festival Patron, Roxanna Panufnik, offered us sensual and dance-informed music with two sections from her Four World Seasons, an ideal complement to Vivaldi’s set of seasonal Violin Concertos. 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Simone Young – Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and, with Russell Braun & Albane Carrère, the UK premiere of Peter Eötvös’s Senza sangue
Friday, March 10, 2017 |  This concert by the BBC Symphony Orchestra featured the second of this season’s UK premieres for Peter Eötvös (following The Gliding of the Eagle in the Skies), Senza sangue (2015) being the most recent stage-work from this most versatile of contemporary opera composers. ... Simone Young secured a visceral response from the BBC Symphony Orchestra... ... Certainly, the Eötvös formed an intriguing juxtaposition when heard after Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (1943), long a staple of the repertoire, yet this account was far from routine. 
The Metropolitan Opera – Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production of Mozart’s Idomeneo – Matthew Polenzani, Alice Coote, Elza van den Heever, Nadine Sierra; conducted by James Levine
Friday, March 10, 2017 |  In this Metropolitan Opera revival of Mozart’s Idomeneo, all aspects of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 1982 staging come together to create an immensely appealing and effective production. ... I was particularly struck by James Levine’s masterful conducting. ... Nadine Sierra brought both power and finesse to the role of Ilia, the Trojan King Priam’s daughter who is held as a prisoner by Idomeneo on the island of Crete. ... Alice Coote portrayed Idamante as brimming with youthful energy... ... In the title role, Matthew Polenzani’s voice floated with ease and grace in pensive moments, and exploded with fury and dread as the King grappled with the cruel prospect of having to sacrifice the life of his son. 
Palm Beach Opera – Verdi’s Rigoletto – Michael Chioldi, Andrea Carroll, Alexey Tatarintsev, Štefan Kocán; directed by Jay Lesenger; conducted by Antonello Allemandi
Friday, March 10, 2017 |  Every component of Jay Lesenger’s production of Verdi’s Rigoletto for Palm Beach Opera is outstanding... ... Michael Chiold’s warm and powerful voice and evocative acting made Rigoletto a believable character... ... Alexey Tatarintsev brought a bright and airy tenor to the Duke, establishing his womanizing, proclaiming it again in Act Three in ‘La donna è mobile’ and dashing off top notes with ease. ... Štefan Kocán was a superb Sparafucile, a role he has performed at the Metropolitan Opera. 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rafael Payare – Classical Symphony & Symphonic Dances – Frank Peter Zimmermann plays Prokofiev
Thursday, March 09, 2017 |  This compact concert led by Rafael Payare – an El Sistema graduate, a horn-player in the Simón Bolívar Orchestra, married to Alisa Weilerstein, and Chief Conductor of the Ulster Orchestra – opened with Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony (1917), Haydn for the twentieth-century. ... Even more so with the contemporaneous Violin Concerto No.1, which found Frank Peter Zimmermann in typical technically-patrician and music-serving form. With an agile and alert accompaniment, opening with just-audible violas, this evocative music, of wintery chill, was unfolded with an intense lyricism... ... Rachmaninov’s swansong Symphonic Dances (1940) found the Philharmonia Orchestra in top form and at full resource... 
English Touring Opera at Hackney Empire – Puccini’s Tosca – Laura Mitchell, Alexander James Edwards, Craig Smith; directed by Blanche McIntyre; conducted by Michael Rosewell
Thursday, March 09, 2017 |  You would have thought Tosca would be right up English Touring Opera’s street, ticking all sorts of boxes... ... ...Tosca was sung by Laura Mitchell. Her bright, weightless soprano is lyrical and graceful but lacks the oomph to convey the ego-centrifuge of Rome’s leading lady. ... Alexander James Edwards delivered a too-nice, puppyish Cavardossi, and he bravely pushed his handsome, if rather monochrome tenor into heroic territory not reliably in his reach... ... Craig Smith needs much more vocal blackness to express the monster that is Scarpia. 
Ruby Hughes & Friends at Kings Place: Heroines of Love and Loss
Wednesday, March 08, 2017 |  International Women’s Day was marked in fine style as Ruby Hughes investigated repertoire depicting women centre-stage, either as Renaissance composers or as dramatic heroines. 
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Dutoit at Royal Festival Hall – Benvenuto Cellini & Prokofiev 5 – Elisabeth Leonskaja plays Grieg’s Piano Concerto
Tuesday, March 07, 2017 |  From the opening bars of the Overture to Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, you couldn’t help marvelling at London’s extraordinary good fortune in its big five orchestras and in their chief conductors. I suppose Charles Dutoit (recently turned eighty) must now be regarded as a veteran, but there is no sense of him compensating self-consciously with the gathering years... ... Dutoit’s empathy with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is evident above all in his complete trust in its musicians... ... Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony was similarly true to its idiom... ... Elisabeth Leonskaja was at her most ingratiating in Grieg’s Piano Concerto... 
Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall with Michelle DeYoung & John Relyea – Swan Lake & Bluebeard’s Castle
Tuesday, March 07, 2017 |  This imaginative program paired works fashioned from folk-tales, opening with Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s selections from Tchaikovsky’s complete score for Swan Lake... ... Following intermission, the main event, an intense and dark account of Bartók’s riveting psychological drama, Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, based on Charles Perrault’s 17th-century La Barbe bleue and tells of Bluebeard and his new wife, Judith. ... This concert performance began and ended in almost total darkness, the spoken prologue eerily intoned off-stage in amplified Hungarian by John Relyea. Then he and Michelle DeYoung entered... 
Company Wayne McGregor & Paris Opéra Ballet at Sadler's Wells – Tree of Codes
Tuesday, March 07, 2017 |  The achingly contemporary Tree of Codes, a much-vaunted collaboration between the neophile choreographer Wayne McGregor, visual concept artists Olafur Eliasson and musician Jamie xx (of xx the band fame), reminds most of the the ballets à grand spectacle, in fashion towards the end of the nineteenth century. [...] Tree of Codes is essentially a very simple work... 
NHK Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi at Royal Festival Hall –Takemitsu Requiem & Mahler 6
Monday, March 06, 2017 |  The Tokyo-based NHK Symphony Orchestra can trace its origins to 1926. With a change of name, it has been supported since 1951 by Nippon Hoso Kyokai (the Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and was out in full force for Maher 6... ... ...beforehand it was the strings that introduced Requiem (1957) by Tokyo-born Toru Takemitsu (1930-96). ... Now, what should come next, Scherzo or slow movement? This isn’t the place to debate such a conundrum (but I direct you to the link below), suffice to say that while Mahler finally settled on the Andante as the succeeding movement (and did so before the premiere, which he conducted), if you do what Järvi did here and go attacca into the Scherzo (fortunately no-one clapped to spoil the moment) then its second-place position becomes convincing... 
BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Carolyn Sampson & Matthew Wadsworth
Monday, March 06, 2017 |  Pasts and presents intertwined: that is the inescapable subtext of The Miller’s Tale by Stephen Goss (commissioned by guitarist John Williams) – and not only in the striking incongruity of writing for theorbo during the second decade of the 21st-century. ... Elsewhere in the programme (a couple of Anonymous lute solos apart) Matthew Wadsworth shared the spotlight with Carolyn Sampson, opening with a series of John Dowland songs... 
Tara Erraught, James Baillieu & Ulrich Pluta at Wigmore Hall – Rosenblatt Recital
Monday, March 06, 2017 |  Tara Erraught presented a powerful and personal programme for the latest Rosenblatt Recital. A beguiling combination of Lieder and testing Rossini and Mozart arias showcased her rich and expressive range as well as other impressive abilities. 
Belief & Beyond Belief – Penderecki’s St Luke Passion – London Philharmonic/Vladimir Jurowski
Saturday, March 04, 2017 |  It’s probably a vast generalisation, but Catholicism seems inseparable from the Polish psyche, and the Poles express their belief with a natural, visceral directness that is very moving to witness. In the last century, the Catholic church withstood Poland’s annexation by the Soviet Union, and the Polish Pope, John Paul II, went on to play a vital part in bringing down the Iron Curtain. ... Penderecki’s St Luke Passion, first performed in 1966, was one of those works that blatantly subverted Communism... ... Vladimir Jurowski made a virtue of the work’s kaleidoscope of effects, giving its drama and high emotions room, so that set-pieces such as Peter’s denial and Christ’s comforting the two criminals crucified with him transcended the music’s brevity. 
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo – Nielsen’s Rhapsodic Overture & Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Legends – UK premiere of Detlev Glanert’s Megaris
Friday, March 03, 2017 |  During the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s 2014-15 season Sakari Oramo conducted a cycle of Carl Nielsen’s Six Symphonies that became a beacon for this great music, so it’s good that he should continue to programme the composer. His Faroe Islands Rhapsodic Overture (from 1927, so relatively late, Nielsen died in 1931) makes use of Faroese folksongs. ... If Dane Nielsen was picturing a trip to his country’s outlying territory, so Detlev Glanert takes us to Megaris, the classical Greek name for an island near Naples, where the sailor-enticing if treacherous sirens are singing their last. ... Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Legends date from the mid-1890s with each of the four revised twice. The named Kalevala-enshrined hero, the work opening with baleful, attention-commanding horns, becomes passionate with the ‘Maidens of Saari’... ... ‘The Swan of Tuonela’ was next, reflecting Sibelius’s re-think about the movements’ ordering... 
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Andrew Litton at The Anvil – Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote with Jesper Svedberg & Tom Beer – John Lill plays Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto
Friday, March 03, 2017 |  As part of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s exploration of Richard Strauss’s music, it has now reached one of the most lovable of literary characters – Don Quixote, arguably the most demanding (and accomplished) of all Strauss’s tone poems. It is a set of variations relating to episodes from Cervantes’s epic tale... ... Under Andrew Litton (BSO Conductor Laureate) these picaresque diversions were well-paced, with Quixote’s chivalric adventures gaining in clarity and coherence. ... Most compelling of all was Jesper Svedberg whose Quixote was wonderfully poised... ... Brahms’s Piano Concerto No.2 found Litton directing a somewhat idiosyncratic performance with John Lill as a solid, pragmatic and technically secure soloist. 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Pablo Heras-Casado – Alborada del gracioso & The Firebird – Javier Perianes plays Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain
Thursday, March 02, 2017 |  On paper this was always going to be a concert of intoxicatingly atmospheric, vibrantly coloured music from pre-Great War Paris – a heady combination of Gallic, Iberian and Russian imagination, exoticism to the fore. In the event, it turned out to be a plainer affair... ... Ravel's Alborada del gracioso, premiered in its orchestral form in 1919, set the tone. Pablo Heras-Casado – a conductor happy to dispense with a baton and not afraid to have a score before him – was intent on securing textbook refinement, clarity of ensemble, and chamber-like intimacies. ... Published in 1923, Manuel de Falla's Nights in the Gardens of Spain – less a piano concerto, more a tone-poem with piano obbligato – is never an easy canvas to get across. ... Javier Perianes – a jovial pianist, anxious to get to the instrument – did what he could. ... The complete Firebird ballet (1910) left an uneven impression; neither conductor nor orchestra always in confident accord, to the composer's disadvantage. 
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons at Carnegie Hall – Le tombeau de Couperin & Symphonie fantastique – George Benjamin’s Dream of the Song with Bejun Mehta
Thursday, March 02, 2017 |  Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony Orchestra capped off their three-night engagement at Carnegie Hall with this splendidly conceived program including the New York premiere of George Benjamin’s Dream of the Song, which evokes the style of the French impressionists and of Benjamin’s teacher, Olivier Messiaen. ... George Benjamin’s Dream of the Song (2015), written for Bejun Mehta, was given its first outing by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under the composer’s direction. The six short movements juxtapose Mehta’s singing of English translations of poems by the eleventh-century Jewish scholars Solomon ibn Gabirol and Shmuel HaNagid, both of whom lived in Spain, with fragments of poems by the twentieth-century writer Federico García Lorca sung in Spanish by a female chorus. 

 

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