July 2017 Concert Reviews

August 2017 Concert Reviews
Longborough Festival Opera – Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice – Hanna-Liisa Kirchin, Nazan Fikret, He Wu; directed by Maria Jagusz; conducted by Jeremy Silver
Sunday, July 30, 2017 |  It’s a good idea to produce Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice as part of the Longborough Festival’s Young Artist’s programme, with its exploration of innocent and relatively youthful love cut down in its prime but then restored to life. 
West Green House Opera – Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail – Heather Engebreston, Oliver Johnston, Elizabeth Cragg; directed by Rafael R. Villalobos; conducted by Oliver Zeffman
Saturday, July 29, 2017 |  Sometimes an operatic staging and its musical performance hit it off about as well as Konstanze and the Pasha in the Abduction from the Seraglio, and this is one of those instances. Except that the one nominally provocative idea in Rafael Villalobos’s production is to imagine that those characters might really have done so, with their putative marriage apparently about to be solemnised as the Overture is played... ... During the two hours in between, the production lacks virtually all interest and dramatic tension, and not much insight, with the few ideas not followed through other than to make Konstanze a singularly unengaging and demure character in Heather Engebretson’s presentation of her. ... The rendition by the youthful Melos Sinfonia goes a considerable way to make up for those deficiencies, with Oliver Zeffman’s invigorating conducting ensuring that the orchestral support maintains sparkling momentum 
Wigmore Hall Final Song Recital of the Season – A Serenade to Music – Schubert, Purcell, Croft, Chabrier, Vaughan Williams
Saturday, July 29, 2017 |  “A Serenade to Music” was a brilliantly-conceived gala – with seventeen singers and two pianists. For this final Song Recital of the Wigmore Hall season the chief preoccupation was music itself, and its unique capacity to transcend human experience and provide some semblance of meaning. 
West Green House Opera – Donizetti’s Rita – Gillian Ramm, Aidan Coburn, Andrew McTaggart; directed by Morag Joss; conducted by James Sherlock
Saturday, July 29, 2017 |  Morag Joss’s adaptation of Donizetti’s delightful little opera Rita results in a thought-provoking production that preserves the lively wit as well as compassion of the original, but also takes seriously its implied theme of domestic abuse. The subtitle ‘The Beaten Husband’ stems from the work’s posthumous premiere in 1860, rather than a modern conceit, and even though at that time it was not meant, presumably, as anything more than a comic description of Rita’s brow-beaten husband Beppe, Joss’s updating of the situation to a contemporary context does not trivialise or render the overall drama glib. 
Garsington Opera at Wormsley – Roxanna Panufnik’s Silver Birch – directed by Karen Gillingham; conducted by Douglas Boyd
Friday, July 28, 2017 |  Roxanna Panufnik’s Silver Birch embodies the power of music to transform lives and communicate a profound, universal message. ... Jessica Duchen’s libretto seamlessly blends letters documenting the experiences of serving soldiers in Iraq with the poetry and diaries of soldier Siegfried Sassoon... 
Cédric Tiberghien at Wigmore Hall – Chopin & Liszt
Thursday, July 27, 2017 |  There was no doubting Cédric Tiberghien’s passion and commitment, but his latest Wigmore recital was something of a mixed bag. ... The opening of the Chopin was addressed almost nonchalantly in a curiously lightweight fashion... ... Then we moved to four ‘late’ and explorative Liszt pieces. Tiberghien has a strong intellectual grasp of them. La lugubre gondola was played in its second, richer and more dramatic version. 
Three Choirs Festival 2017 – Metamorphosen, A Welsh Night, and Glagolitic Mass at Worcester Cathedral – Frank Beermann conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 |  Day five of the choral extravaganza that is the Three Choirs Festival, with music of emotional power from Richard Strauss and Torsten Rasch juxtaposed with the raw, life-affirming glories of Janáček. ... “More an orgy than a Mass” was Milan Kundera’s assessment of Janáček’s unorthodox Glagolitic Mass... ...Under Frank Beermann, the Three Choirs Festival Chorus and the Philharmonia Orchestra gave full expression to Janáček’s obsessive fanfares and unbuttoned choral outbursts. ... Prior to the interval A Welsh Night by Torsten Rasch (born 1965 in Dresden), first heard two years ago with piano. In its six poems by Alun Lewis (1915-44), of uncompromising intensity, Susan Bickley (replacing Sarah Connolly) did her utmost to project over the battleship-grey orchestral colour. ... The most successful music-making was in Metamorphosen (1945) – Richard Strauss’s outpouring of grief for German culture lost during World War Two. 
Three Choirs Festival 2017 – Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at Worcester Cathedral – Martyn Brabbins conducts the Philharmonia Orchestra, with David Butt Philip, Susan Bickley & Roderick Williams
Tuesday, July 25, 2017 |  Where better to hear Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius than Worcester Cathedral... ... Elgar conducted this masterpiece fifteen times at the Three Choirs Festival... ... The latest “clever man” is Martyn Brabbins who led Elgar’s setting with clear-sighted vision. Conducting with tremendous flair, he enabled Cardinal Newman’s poem to unfold with clarity, cohesion and vibrancy. ... David Butt Philip was a largely impressive Gerontius... ... As the Priest and the Angel of the Agony, Roderick Williams brought his customary musical intelligence and ample warmth... ... ...also provided in spades from Susan Bickley as a pure-voiced Angel... 
Mendelssohn at Wigmore Hall, with Joshua Bell, Arisa Fujita, Amihai Grosz, Rachel Roberts, Steven Isserlis & Dénes Várjon
Monday, July 24, 2017 |  This delightful Mendelssohn evening (the first of two at Wigmore Hall) opened with the D-major Cello Sonata. The first movement kicked off at a cracking pace. Steven Isserlis must know this music like the back of his hand... ... Dénes Várjon is an established soloist and an experienced chamber musician, and he has a terrific connection with Isserlis, yet one yearned at times for a greater sense of the music being allowed to breathe, rather than of being played. In the faster passages with Isserlis, and later in the Piano Trio with Joshua Bell, there were truly exciting, deftly-pedalled moments... 
West Green House Opera – Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera – Jonathan Stoughton, Rebecca Nash, George von Bergen; directed by Richard Studer; conducted by Jonathan Lyness
Sunday, July 23, 2017 |  Unlike many of Verdi’s other stage-works, there is comparatively little dichotomy between the public and private realms in Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), and so the generally open set of Richard Studer’s new production for West Green House Opera provides an appropriate forum in which the confrontation between Gustavo and the conspirators plays out. ... Even so, where the production leaves space for interpretation or imagination, an outstanding cast and thrilling orchestral support fills in the drama with a superb musical performance. Jonathan Stoughton leads the way with his characterisation of the King... ... Despite the reduced orchestration, under Jonathan Lyness’s conducting, there is no impression of compromise, being imbued with an impetus and vigour that commands attention. 
Bampton Classical Opera – Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi/The School of Jealousy
Friday, July 21, 2017 |  The myth of Salieri’s poisoning Mozart has unfairly marred the Italian composer’s reputation since even his own lifetime, and his operatic achievements have struggled to emerge from the long shadow cast by his younger contemporary’s unparalleled masterpieces. Probably no company in England has done more to rehabilitate Salieri’s reputation than Bampton Classical Opera, whose production this year is its third by him, revealing an able talent who built upon the reforms in the genre brought about by Gluck and anticipated the symphonic structures of Mozart’s greatest stage-works. The fast-paced, stuttering word-setting in a couple of instances even look ahead to Rossini. Although it quickly achieved wide popularity throughout Europe, The School of Jealousy fell into obscurity along with the rest of Salieri’s output, and it is believed that this is the first performance in England in modern times. 
National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America/Marin Alsop at Carnegie Hall – Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Apu, Mahler 1 [live webcast]
Friday, July 21, 2017 |  Nattily attired in black-and-red kit, the NYO-USA members, with Marin Alsop, opened their Carnegie Hall concert with a vibrant outing of John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine... ... Next up, Gabriela Lena Frank’s Apu, which begins with perky woodwind writing (deftly articulated), conjuring up what the composer calls the mischievous side of Apu, an elusive nature-spirit of Peru... ... Following the interval the youngsters rose to the challenge of Mahler’s First Symphony with palpable enthusiasm and considerable technical prowess. 
Welsh National Opera at Royal Opera House – André Tchaikowsky’s The Merchant of Venice – Martin Wölfel, Lester Lynch, Sarah Castle, Mark Le Brocq; directed by Keith Warner; conducted by Lionel Friend
Wednesday, July 19, 2017 |  William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice, a comedy-drama, includes well-known characters such as Antonio (the merchant), Shylock (moneylender), Portia (heiress to a fortune) and the noble-of-birth Bassanio (the most successful love-wise of Portia’s admirers), and also some very quotable lines, examples include “All that glisters is not gold...”, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”, “Love is blind...”, “The quality of mercy is not strain'd...”, and – inspiring Vaughan Williams to Serenade Henry Wood – “The man that hath no music in himself ... Let no such man be trusted.” ... The short-lived André Tchaikowsky (born 1935 in Warsaw as Robert Andrzej Krauthammer and who died aged forty-six in 1982 in Oxford, England) had plenty of music in him... ... Tchaikowsky’s score is colourful and characterising... ... References, to various degrees, to Prokofiev, Britten, Tippett, Barber, Hindemith and (particularly) Berg might be apparent, and not forgetting Humphrey Searle, a vibrant disciple of the Second Viennese School (he studied with Webern). If this seems too eclectic a mix, then Tchaikowsky ensures a rigorous and seamless approach... ... The cast is excellent, so it is invidious to pick out Lester Lynch’s dynamic Shylock and Sarah Castle’s inviting Portia, and maybe a little mean-spirited to mention that for all his artistry Martin Wölfel’s countertenor Antonio can be rather under-projected. 
Opera Holland Park – Leoncavallo’s Zazà – Anne Sophie Duprels, Joel Montero, Richard Burkhard; directed by Marie Lambert; conducted by Peter Robinson
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 |  Opera Holland Park has been a leader of the exploration of Italian operatic output of the early-twentieth-century, staging works by Mascagni, Ponchielli, Cilea, Catalani, Montemezzi, Zandonai and Wolf-Ferrari, and usually with considerable aplomb. In this new staging of Leoncavallo’s Zazà London gets a second chance to appraise it... ...The role of Zazà requires a great singing actress – with stamina, power, beauty of voice as well as a formidable technique. Anne Sophie Duprels ticks all these boxes... ... ...and the unseen elements of Parisian life are common to La traviata, La bohème, Il tabarro, Louise, too. 
Weber’s Der Freischütz/The Enchanted Bullets at Blackheath Halls: Blackheath Community Opera
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 |  With its eleventh production, Blackheath Halls Opera (as it is now called) turns to its first German stage-work – bringing the first British production of Weber’s Der Freischütz in this Millennium (the last was at ENO in 1999), utilising David Pountney’s English translation, now The Enchanted Bullets. 
Tanglewood Music Festival 2017 – Andris Nelsons conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Wagner’s Das Rheingold
Saturday, July 15, 2017 |  This was the first time the Boston Symphony Orchestra has given a complete performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Under Andris Nelsons’s careful control, the BSO in top form and an international cast gave a superb traversal... 
Christian Gerhaher, Gerold Huber & Ulrich Tukur at Wigmore Hall – Brahms’s Die schöne Magelone
Saturday, July 15, 2017 |  The author of these poems, Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), is remembered today mainly for his novella Der blonde Eckbert, but in his day he was a literary giant, mentioned in the same breath as Goethe. As a boy Brahms knew and loved Tieck’s The wondrous tale of the beautiful Magelone and Count Peter from Provence (1796), based on a medieval French tale. It’s the verses within this text which were set by Brahms at various times between 1861 and 1869 and which form Die schöne Magelone... ... Christian Gerhaher started by reciting a poem (in German) to a somewhat nonplussed audience... ... Meanwhile Gerold Huber evoked a steed that was both strong and steady; there was clearly a long and arduous journey ahead. 
Opera Holland Park – Janáček’s Kát'a Kabanová/Katya Kabanova – Julia Sporsén, Peter Hoare, Anna Mason, Nicky Spence; directed by Olivia Fuchs; conducted by Sian Edwards
Saturday, July 15, 2017 |  Olivia Fuchs’s production of Janáček’s unflinching portrait of poor Katya Kabanova, crushed by her husband Tichon and her awful mother-in-law, the Kabanicha, and then destroyed by guilt when she finds love elsewhere, has not been seen here since 2009, but this first revival proves it to be one of Opera Holland Park’s most potent offerings. 
Opera Rara presents Joyce El-Khoury & Michael Spyres at Cadogan Hall, with Carlo Rizzi & Hallé
Friday, July 14, 2017 |  Joyce El-Khoury and Michael Spyres filled Cadogan Hall, and the eternal optimists at Opera Rara must once again be congratulated on dusting down music that would otherwise never see the light of day. ... The singers were given respite during the Overtures and Ballet Music. Rizzi’s joy was clear (both his feet came off the podium at times), the Hallé players trusting his beat which was at times reassuringly and appropriately free. ... The evening concluded on more familiar territory, from Lucia di Lammermoor... 
The Royal Opera – Andrei Serban’s production of Puccini’s Turandot – Lise Lindstrom, Roberto Alagna, Aleksandra Kurzak; conducted by Dan Ettinger
Friday, July 14, 2017 |  Everybody loves a spectacle and especially one as eye-catching as Andrei Serban’s direction of Puccini’s Turandot which had its first outing at Covent Garden in 1984. Sixteen revivals later [...] Puccini’s grisly opera remains as popular as ever; severed heads and institutionalised sadism notwithstanding, it’s not hard to see why. ... Liù, the outstanding Aleksandra Kurzak, commanded our sympathy with a gorgeous tone... ... Roberto Alagna is an obsessive if imposingly rich-toned Calaf, whose heroic high notes in ‘Nessun dorma’ made clear he can still produce them with ease. Top notes were also impressively secure from Lise Lindstrom in the title-role: ‘In questa reggia’ was suitably steely, but not so hard-edged as to suggest Turandot’s lust for beheadings is permanent. 
Longborough Festival Opera – Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute – Julian Hubbard, Beate Mordal, Grant Doyle, Hannah Dahlenburg, Jihoon Kim, Sarah Gilford; directed by Thomas Guthrie; conducted by Anthony Negus
Thursday, July 13, 2017 |  Mozart’s final operatic masterpiece, The Magic Flute, is of a rather different, more philosophical, temper than the great Da Ponte comedies which form a more obvious staple of summer opera fare. It is perhaps with that in mind that Thomas Guthrie’s new production for Longborough seeks to diffuse its solemn and hieratic character by treating it as more a charming fairy-tale in a lightly ironic vein that need not to be taken too seriously. ... In the pit Anthony Negus conducts a fast-paced and vigorous account of the score that gripped and nudged the attention towards this vision of the drama as a lively fairy-tale. The counter side of that, in tending to be hard-driven, is that it also effaces the contrasts in the music which mirror those of the drama, as between good and evil, light and dark, solemnity and levity. 
LSO/Simon Rattle – Wagner Tristan and Isolde & a Haydn imaginary journey – Denis Kozhukhin plays Bartók [July 12]
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 |  This final (twice-given) programme of the LSO’s current season opened with Tristan bookends. ... Lang Lang was originally scheduled for Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto but his withdrawal cued Denis Kozhukhin, new to the piece I gather and totally assured with it technically. ... Simon Rattle, now minus podium, baton and scores (the Wagner was from memory, too), made a brief spoken introduction to his fifty-five-minute Haydn sequence – so many movements to choose from, so many permutations – and including “please do not applaud [between movements]” – no-one did, so we got an unbroken parade of genius Haydn, opening with chaos as represented at the start of The Creation... 
LSO/Simon Rattle – Wagner Tristan and Isolde & a Haydn imaginary journey – Denis Kozhukhin plays Bartók [July 11]
Tuesday, July 11, 2017 |  Simon Rattle’s concert was an unusual and original variant on the tried and tested Overture-Concerto-Symphony formula, ending with a kind of odyssey through individual Haydn movements. The ‘Prelude and Liebestod’ was quite simply superbly played... ... Bartók’s Second Piano Concerto (1931), whilst impressive, was more open to question. Denis Kozhukhin attacked the piece with a level of technical security it seldom receives. ... Rattle’s imaginatively crafted Haydn compilation may not have appealed to purists but is a thoroughly commendable idea and a labour of love. 
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin – Asia Tour Send-Off Concert – Cindy McTee & Aaron Copland – Akiko Suwanai plays Korngold’s Violin Concerto [live webcast]
Sunday, July 09, 2017 |  The Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Leonard Slatkin are leaving home but will be back soon following eleven appearances in China and Japan. This “Send-Off Concert” gave a taste of the tour repertoire, add to which Candide Overture, Barber’s Adagio, Tchaikovsky 4, Rhapsody in Blue, and pieces by Wang Liping and Toru Takemitsu. ... Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto (1945) – using themes from his film-scores for such as Another Dawn, Anthony Adverse and The Prince and the Pauper – was prompted by Bronisław Huberman and premiered by Jascha Heifetz who made a celebrated recording. It’s a gorgeously romantic piece with some Errol Flynn swashbuckling. Akiko Suwanai played it with sympathy if without quite involving the listener enough... ... Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony (1946), a Koussevitzky/Boston premiere, became an instant classic in the Great American Symphony stakes, joining the same-numbered works by Roy Harris and William Schuman as a holy trinity. Copland 3 is a Slatkin speciality... 
LSO/Simon Rattle – A Trip to the Moon & Sibelius 2
Sunday, July 09, 2017 |  In the third end-of-season collaboration between the Guildhall School, London Symphony Orchestra and Simon Rattle to include a commission for a community opera for the LSO Discovery programme, Andrew Norman’s sprawling A Trip to the Moon was given its UK premiere, following Jonathan Dove’s The Monster in the Maze and last year’s The Hobgoon, one of Peter Maxwell Davies’s very last scores. Inspired by Benjamin Britten’s works for children participants, all three new works are big in scope, with massed choirs (including adults – the LSO Community Choir) numbering nearly 170. ... After an extended interval to clear the stage, the orchestra was allowed to spread into what had been the moonscape. With the combined forces of the LSO and Guildhall School musicians Rattle conducted Sibelius’s Second Symphony with a supersize band ranging upwards from twelve double basses. 
Martin Roscoe at Wigmore Hall – 65th-Birthday Concert – Schubert Piano Sonatas D894 & D960
Saturday, July 08, 2017 |  If not quite the day itself, that’s August 3, Martin Roscoe gave us something to celebrate with this Wigmore Hall Schubert recital, opening with a pair of lively Scherzos played with poise and elegance... ... Schubert’s music is very close to Roscoe’s heart; his selection of two grand Piano Sonatas – given expansive and enquiring readings – memorable proof of this. D894 was altogether special... 
Alfred Brendel Lectures at Wigmore Hall – On Playing Mozart
Saturday, July 08, 2017 |  Alfred Brendel may have retired from concert-giving and making recordings, but he remains active and enlightening, and disarmingly witty, and here delivered his third Lecture at Wigmore Hall, this time concerning Mozart. 
Tanglewood Music Festival 2017 – Boston Symphony Orchestra opening concert – Andris Nelsons conducts Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony
Friday, July 07, 2017 |  To launch the Boston Symphony Orchestra Tanglewood Music Festival for 2017, Andris Nelsons conducted a powerful performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony. ... The Boston Symphony’s rendering of the opening inescapably evoked the storm that begins Wagner's Die Walküre... ... The Tanglewood Festival Chorus was excellent, softly intoning a cappella along with Malin Christensson the opening lines of Klopstock’s Resurrection Ode... 
RCM New Perspectives – Timothy Lines conducts music by Pierre Boulez, Kenneth Hesketh and Yun-Ho Jeong, with Jaymee Coonjobeeharry & Liam Harman
Monday, July 03, 2017 |  This club sandwich of a concert – Boulez as bread, Kenneth Hesketh and Yun-Ho Jeong as fillers – made for a tasty evening, presented with the minimum of fuss by the Royal College of Music... ... Kenneth Hesketh’s Forms Entangled, Shapes Collided (2013) is for a quintet – violin, flute/piccolo, bass clarinet, cello and percussion, the latter used for variety rather than saturation. This impressive twenty-minute score has a dramatic edge and is designed as much for choreography as for the concert hall. ... Interspersed were three pieces by Pierre Boulez (1925-2016). Initiale (1985) for brass septet (pairs of horns, trumpets and trombones antiphonal of a central tuba) made for a flourishing start – stirring, jagged, exhilarating, sonorous. 
Royal College of Music Opera double-bill – Chabrier’s Une Éducation manquée & Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias; directed by Stephen Unwin; conducted by Michael Rosewell
Monday, July 03, 2017 |  Two short stage-works at either end of the French comic spectrum wrapped up this year’s Opera Course at the Royal College of Music – Chabrier’s 1879 Une Éducation manquée (An imperfect education) and Poulenc’s 1947 Les Mamelles de Tirésias. 
Kensington Symphony Orchestra/Russell Keable – Carl Nielsen & Malcolm Arnold
Monday, July 03, 2017 |  Carl Nielsen and Malcolm Arnold might not be the most obvious coupling, but this final concert in the Kensington Symphony Orchestra’s sixtieth season saw two of the Dane’s most distinctive later works framing a rarely-revived ballet written during the British composer’s most productive decade. 
English National Opera at Royal Festival Hall – Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius conducted by Simone Young with Gwyn Hughes Jones, Patricia Bardon & Matthew Rose, and designed by Lucy Carter
Sunday, July 02, 2017 |  For those who argue artistic concepts dilute rather than intensify music’s spiritual power, this innovative and light-filled Dream of Gerontius neither weakened nor significantly enhanced Elgar’s inherently dramatic music. English National Opera presented, in simple terms, a Gerontius with lights. ... At the forefront of this concept is Lucy Carter... ... Billed as a “concert staging”, this second performance under Simone Young gave more than a hint of Elgar’s operatic ambitions... ... Gwyn Hughes Jones was an impressive, ardent and very human Gerontius... 
Markus Schäfer & Piers Lane at Wigmore Hall – Schubert Songs
Sunday, July 02, 2017 |  Markus Schäfer and Piers Lane presented a fascinating programme of daring contrasts in style and content at Wigmore Hall from the beginning and end of Schubert’s song-writing career. 

 

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