December 2017 Concert Reviews

November 2017 Concert Reviews
LSO/Simon Rattle – Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen and – with Simon O’Neill & Christian Gerhaher – Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde
Wednesday, December 13, 2017 |  Richard Strauss completed Metamorphosen in 1945, at the very end of World War Two, and it became an elegy for all the destruction wreaked on German culture, as much by Germany as by the Allies. Like Das Lied von der Erde it dwells on the transience of life... ... With the fifteen violinists and viola-players standing, the LSO group surrounded Simon Rattle, giving him direct contact with each player. ... Having been used to tenor and mezzo soloists (mainly because that is usually what is on offer), I had no problem with the rarer baritone option, especially as sung by Simon O’Neill and Christian Gerhaher. 
Mark Padmore & Mitsuko Uchida at Wigmore Hall – Schubert’s Winterreise
Monday, December 11, 2017 |  There was no great significance-signalling as Mark Padmore and Mitsuko Uchida set off down Schubert’s desolation row. Uchida’s playing was undemonstrative; Padmore’s singing expressed the lover’s rejection as much as his innocence and vulnerability. 
Christmas Festival at St John’s Smith Square – Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier – Pachelbel, Kuhnau, Bach
Monday, December 11, 2017 |  St John’s Smith Square resounded to the joyful tones of Vox Luminis. Pachelbel’s Jauchzet dem Herrn (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord) is an expansive and jubilant work... ... Johann Kuhnau’s Magnificat followed. He was J. S. Bach’s predecessor at Leipzig. ... In spite of relatively small forces Lionel Meunier created an epic sound for Bach. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra – Leonard Slatkin conducts Feuertrunken & Mahler 9 [live webcast]
Sunday, December 10, 2017 |  Being drunk with fire sounds like a dangerous activity. However, the German title is from Schiller, a line from his Ode to Joy (“Wir betreten feuertrunken” – We enter, drunk with fire), and if that suggests Beethoven (his ‘Choral’ Symphony) it is to Mahler that Joshua Cerdenia leans, literally so in Feuertrunken... ... Following an unexpected interval (longer than the ten-minute Feuertrunken) Leonard Slatkin conducted a wonderful account of Mahler 9, his last-completed Symphony (the Tenth would be left unfinished if these days existing in numerous performing versions). Slatkin’s success with the first movement (Andante comodo) was with a tempo that had a little more motion than has become fashionable... 
Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall – Rimsky-Korsakov’s Christmas Eve
Sunday, December 10, 2017 |  With snow sweeping across the country, we did not have to make such a wild leap of the imagination towards the icy landscape of Dikanka in Ukraine on Christmas Eve in Rimsky-Korsakov’s eponymous opera (1894-5). Full marks, then, to all concerned with Chelsea Opera Group’s venture. 
BBC Symphony Orchestra – Total Immersion: Esa-Pekka Salonen ... BBC Singers, Nicholas Chalmers, Anu Komsi & Piia Komsi, Nicholas Daniel, Sakari Oramo
Sunday, December 10, 2017 |  I joined this Esa-Pekka Salonen Total Immersion day, following a film and a concert by Guildhall Musicians, in the Barbican Centre’s Fountain Room. Salonen was talking, with minimal prompting from BBC Radio 3’s Andrew McGregor, about the difficulties of being a composer... ... On a much larger scale, his half-hour Wing on Wing (2004) expands this approach. He wrote it for the opening of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, a wildly virtuosic piece of statement architecture matched by the Californian confidence of Salonen’s music. The huge orchestra comes with two coloratura sopranos (sisters Anu and Piia Komsi; Anu is married to Sakari Oramo), the electronically sampled voice of Gehry, more drawl than words, and the ‘song’ of the plainfin midshipman, a remarkably ugly fish... ... The final piece was Karawane (Caravan, 2014), inspired by a poem by Hugo Ball, founder of the iconoclastic Dada art movement in 1916 in Zurich (where Karawane had its premiere), when Europe was imploding... ... Earlier, in Milton Court, the BBC Singers, their sound expertly moulded by Nicholas Chalmers, included Salonen’s Two Songs from Kalendar Röd, which make vivid play with the sensuality of Ann Jäderlund’s poems... 
Gerard Schwarz conducts Symphonia Boca Raton, with Jeffrey Kaye & Julian Schwarz
Sunday, December 10, 2017 |  Symphonia Boca Raton honored Gerard Schwarz in his seventieth-birthday year with its Apollo Award for Musical Excellence. ... The conductor’s son Julian Schwarz’s account of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations followed using Wilhelm Fitzenhagen’s revision. Schwarz’s cello radiated a warm tone... 
Berliner Philharmoniker/Herbert Blomstedt – Bruckner 3 – Maria João Pires plays Mozart K488 [live webcast]
Saturday, December 09, 2017 |  Herbert Blomstedt, in his ninety-first year, tackled Bruckner’s Third Symphony (the composer’s “problem child” according to the conductor) in its first version, an original in every sense, the longest and most discursive of this work’s versions yet arguably to be preferred to the revisions. Blomstedt – abetted by the Berliner Philharmoniker... ... The concert’s first half was devoted to Mozart, a graceful account of the K488 Piano Concerto, given with the lightest of touches by Maria João Pires... 
Les Arts Florissants & William Christie at Barbican Hall – Monteverdi
Saturday, December 09, 2017 |  Monteverdi’s Selva morale e spirituale – Moral and Spiritual Forest – represents the culmination of his religious works. This compendium of motets, madrigals and masses was published in Venice in 1641 at the end of a long and distinguished career. William Christie made an interesting selection for Les Arts Florissants... ... The highlight was the sparkling ‘Beatus vir’... 
The Metropolitan Opera – Richard Eyre’s production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro – Adam Plachetka, Christiane Karg, Luca Pisaroni, Serena Malfi, Rachel Willis-Sørensen; conducted by Harry Bicket
Saturday, December 09, 2017 |  This current Met cast for Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro brings youthful energy and voices to this light-hearted opera. ... Adam Plachetka is also a perfect match as Figaro... ... The rest of the cast, Serena Malfi’s Cherubino especially, all fulfill their roles with class and talent... ... However, Harry Bicket and the Orchestra did not do much to further the characters’ pursuits. 
Music from Film Noir at Royal Festival Hall – BBC Concert Orchestra/Robert Ziegler, with Hannah Waddingham, presented by Mark Kermode
Friday, December 08, 2017 |  Film noir is as much a style as a genre. The music for such movies catches their amoral characters and brooding scenes bathed in low-key lighting. The complex chords support lyrical melodies both romantic and ominous. Some of the finest examples were presented by the BBC Concert Orchestra in a wide-ranging concert of classic scores conducted by Robert Ziegler and introduced by Mark Kermode, a notable double act mixing insight and entertainment, Kermode even played a jaunty harmonica in Jean Wiener’s music for Jean Gabin’s Touchez pas au grisbi. ... Bernard Herrmann’s final work was for Martin Scorsese’s blood-soaked Taxi Driver. It is an uncharacteristic piece with a broad, bluesy title for alto-sax representing Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro) as he drives through New York. 
Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall – Powder Her Face & Sibelius 1 – Hilary Hahn plays Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade
Friday, December 08, 2017 |  This Philadelphia Orchestra program at Carnegie Hall opened with a new Suite (at thirty minutes, longer than the previous one) that Thomas Adès has fashioned from Powder Her Face. ... The Philadelphians tackled it quite impressively, Yannick Nézet-Séguin highlighting its many grotesqueries and imbuing its hallucinogenic elements with saucy character. ... Leonard Bernstein’s Serenade (1954), inspired by Plato’s eponymous dialogue, is one of his finest compositions... ... Hilary Hahn played brilliantly. 
LSO/Nikolaj Znaider – Mozart Violin Concertos K211/K216 & Tchaikovsky ‘Pathétique’ Symphony
Thursday, December 07, 2017 |  The LSO and Nikolaj Znaider have done well by each other since the latter’s debut as violinist in 2006 then as conductor in 2011. This concert was the last of three mixing Mozart’s five-numbered Violin Concertos with Tchaikovsky’s last three numbered Symphonies. ... The pictures remained largely undisturbed in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathétique’ Symphony, in that you were more aware of the composer’s skill in assembling the lengthy opening Adagio section than of Znaider’s ability to transcend mere procedure to push the music to the edge. 
Philharmonia Orchestra – Finnish Independence – Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts Sibelius – Finlandia & Lemminkäinen Legends with Vilde Frang playing the Violin Concerto
Thursday, December 07, 2017 |  Marking the centenary of Finnish independence – Tsarist Russia had occupied the country since 1809, Sweden for more than six centuries before that – this concert focussed on the music of Jean Sibelius, Finlandia and a complete outing for the Lemminkäinen Legends framing an extraordinary account of the Violin Concerto. ... With the Berlin-based Norwegian Vilde Frang you're never going to get a 'big' extrovert performance: her emphasis is on private poetry before public projection. ... Esa-Pekka Salonen – under whose artistic leadership the Philharmonia Orchestra has moved on from being the old post-war Beethoven ensemble of Karajan and Klemperer, the Italian orchestra of Giulini, to London's radically committed Scandinavian ambassadors... 
Sinfonietta plays Stockhausen – Tierkreis & Trans – Pascal Rophé conducts London Sinfonietta & Manson Ensemble
Wednesday, December 06, 2017 |  Karlheinz Stockhausen (born 1928) died ten years ago, almost to the date of this concert. The London Sinfonietta, here of thirty-six personnel, and the RAM’s Manson Ensemble, nearly as well-staffed, joined forces, exceptionally so, for two very different Stockhausen scores, conducted with unflappable mastery by Pascal Rophé, and he was in the stead of Oliver Knussen who withdrew because of compositional activity (good to know that he is writing music again). 
BBC Symphony Orchestra – Finland Awakes! – Sakari Oramo conducts Sibelius 1 & Press Celebrations Music and Guy Johnston plays Cantique and Devotion
Wednesday, December 06, 2017 |  A Sibelius programme to mark the centenary of Finland as an autonomous nation was an obvious concert for the BBC Symphony Orchestra to have given with Sakari Oramo... ... This final piece soon found fame as Finlandia... ... Guy Johnston gave these miniatures with thoughtful restraint... 
The Royal Ballet – The Nutcracker
Tuesday, December 05, 2017 |  This was a splendid performance of what has become one of The Royal Ballet’s most venerable productions. It is easy to see why this version of The Nutcracker by Sir Peter Wright has survived for so long – it tells the story admirably, arguably better than any other, is packed with incident, is sumptuously set and costumed, and contains fine Classical dancing. As such, it has been a showcase for the company’s collective talents since 1984, and proved to be so again in this first of a long, coffer-filling run over the Christmas period. ... 
Berliner Philharmoniker – Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler 9 [live webcast]
Sunday, December 03, 2017 |  Relayed in excellent sound – lucid and immediate yet with a discernible perspective and a good dynamic range – this Mahler 9 found the Berliner Philharmoniker in dedicated form and Bernard Haitink confirming (not that any such thing was needed) that he is one of the most clear-sighted of this composer’s interpreters. 
Szymon Nehring at Wigmore Hall – Beethoven Appassionata, Chopin B-flat minor Sonata, Szymanowski Mazurkas, Petrushka
Sunday, December 03, 2017 |  The Pole Szymon Nehring made the Finals of the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, and earlier this year won the Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv. He is currently studying with Boris Berman at the Yale School of Music. ... The first movement of the 'Appassionata' was under-charged dramatically with loose co-ordination and unclear note repetitions. ... Szymanowski following the interval revealed another player. The first four Mazurkas from the Opus 50 cycle (1924-25) could scarcely have been better nor more atmospherically gauged... 
Philharmonia Orchestra/Elim Chan – Romeo and Juliet – Simon Trpčeski plays Tchaikovsky
Sunday, December 03, 2017 |  Originally to be conducted by Krzysztof Urbański this Philharmonia Orchestra programme was taken over by Hong Kong-born Elim Chan, the first female winner of the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition. The unchanged concert was bookended by music for Romeo and Juliet, by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev... ... The Piano Concerto was less involving. Whilst there was no doubting Simon Trpčeski’s mastery of the notes, his thunderous approach frequently bordered on the coarse side to create a grandiose battle-royal between piano and orchestra... ... The Finale’s fireworks led to an encore, a most unusual one dedicated by Trpčeski to the memory of Lorin Maazel 
Royal College of Music – Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen
Friday, December 01, 2017 |  A flame-haired temptress sashays into a down-at-heel bar in a dead-end Moravian village. The men are transfixed; their wives hustle them out. Only the Forester lingers to receive the full come-on from Terynka, but for the family-man she is strictly fantasy material. That’s how Daniel Slater’s staging of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen lays out its stall... 
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits at The Anvil Basingstoke – Bruckner 8 – Robert Levin plays Mozart K488
Friday, December 01, 2017 |  An encounter with a Piano Concerto of irrepressible spontaneity and one of the most monumental symphonic journeys drew first-class performances from Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. ... Mozart K488 is one of his most rewarding works in Concerto form and its joie de vivre was fully expressed by Robert Levin. ... Anton Bruckner’s Symphonies are gradually forming part of the BSO’s repertoire since Karabits began exploring them four years ago, beginning with the Ninth. It is twenty years since this orchestra has programmed the Eighth, and it was assured. 
Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert Piano Sonatas at Royal Festival Hall (2) – D575, D845, D850
Friday, December 01, 2017 |  Despite being among his least popular, these three Schubert Piano Sonatas are nonetheless excellent examples of his boundless imagination and colourful range. At times playful, at times turbulent, Schubert’s pianistic style demands total commitment from the artist in order to bring to life its complex structure. Mitsuko Uchida delivered masterly interpretations. 
Welsh National Opera at Oxford’s New Theatre – Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus
Friday, December 01, 2017 |  Welsh National Opera rounds off its current tour with the light-hearted Viennoiseries of Johann Strauss II’s most popular operetta. It is often thought of as casting a satirical light upon the social high-life of the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s capital and John Copley’s production does that, but somewhat clumsily. ... But there is otherwise no indication of the Viennese fin-de-siècle – of the era of Freud, Mahler, Schoenberg, the Secessionists, Robert Musil and so on – that is, an era about to end dramatically. 


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