At last! Here is, very belatedly, the first complete Haydn symphony cycle on period instruments. In the wake of their hugely successful 1980s Mozart symphony cycle, the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood naturally turned to Haydn in the 1990s, and fine boxes were issued by Decca covering 79 symphonies. But other ensembles were also active; none of the recordings sold well enough, and when the CD boom faltered all these series were cancelled. There were period recordings of the great final symphonies, including the late Frans Brüggen’s series with his Orchestra of the 18th Century, but there was a frustrating gap in the middle: numbers 78-81 had never been recorded on old instruments.
Ottavio Dantone’s very lively Accademia Bizantina has now filled that gap; Dantone’s wiry, stringy sound, with plenty of rhythmic bounce, is different both from Hogwood’s poised coolness and Brüggen’s warmer expressiveness. In assembling the complete sequence, Decca has replaced Hogwood’s middle-period symphonies with long unavailable versions that Brüggen recorded with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.
Ian Bostridge (tenor), Antonio Pappano (piano)(Warner)
This is worth having for the first track alone: an impeccable account of Finzi’s Come Away, Death, with Ian Bostridge blending melancholy and nonchalance, Antonio Pappano accompanying with tender reticence. Bostridge, who names Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Ades’s The Tempest as milestones, squeezes every nuance of meaning from these Shakespeare settings. The recital is well constructed: Elizabethan lute songs (with the incomparable Elizabeth Kenny) lead to Schubert’s An Silvia (sung in English) and on to Quilter, Gurney and Warlock. Three Korngold songs precede sharply contrasting settings of Fancie, by Poulenc and Britten. Tippett’s Songs for Ariel and three songs for Stravinsky complete this richly varied homage. Hear them performed live at Wigmore Hall, London on 14 November.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff; Arcola theatre, London; Usher Hall; Queen’s Hall, EdinburghCape Town Opera’s musical tribute to South Africa’s great leader returns in a buoyant new touring production
In the closing moments, after an evening of song and dance in English and Xhosa, spiced with the flavours of jazz, blues, Broadway and modern-ish opera, a simple device clinched things: the face of Nelson Mandela revealed in black-and-white pixelation on a huge advertising hoarding at the back of the stage. It made whole and immediate a show that, for all its energy and style, often felt fragmented. As the entire company of Cape Town Opera turned and acknowledged their country’s former leader, the significance of that long walk to freedom was never more apparent – especially in the light of South Africa’s current crises. Two dozen voices united in song, beautifully belting out the words “We are one”, speak louder than any news report.
Mandela Trilogy, “a musical tribute to the life of Nelson Mandela”, has returned to the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff before a UK tour. First seen there in 2012 – its European premiere – the work has been streamlined by its writer and director, Michael Williams, and two composers, Péter Louis van Dijk and Mike Campbell. Trilogy is not an ideal title, suggesting a more laborious endeavour than in practice it is. True, there are three acts, and three singers playing Mandela at different stages of his life, yet the narrative moves fluidly from prison cell on Robben Island in 1976, back to his youth and political awakening and forward to his eventual release and the start of a new life, where it ends.
“What inspired you to write this piece?” It is the question most creative people dread. If you’re composing music, you must somehow be in a trance, in some sort of mystical, transported condition suspending all rational thought processes. It comes as a severe jolt to many that creative activity is generally done like any other job, with hard work, craft, intelligence and a dose of cunning.
In my experience, a composer most often gets creative energy from working with performers. That gives you the buzz to write music, especially for performers you know. You imagine them playing every phrase, characterising it, pulling the music about, making it their own. It spurs you on. When the performers are Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, the temptation is to just go berserk – like stout Cortez upon a peak in Darien. But there were challenges ahead: I’d not worked with Rattle nor the orchestra before, and I’d never been inside the Berlin Philharmonie concert hall where they were to give the premiere. There were a lot of unknowns.
Royal Albert Hall, LondonThe premiere of Emily Howard’s concerto Torus, with its textural clarity and bold thematic gestures, demonstrated the high standards of orchestral playing
Emily Howard’s music is informed by a range of interests that include chess and sport, but with a definite bias toward mathematics and science. Receiving its premiere in this Prom by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic under chief conductor Vasily Petrenko, her new concerto for orchestra, Torus, derives some of its shape and structure from mathematical ideas: a torus is a solid, curved surface with a hole in it, a bit like a doughnut or – as Howard confirmed in a pre-concert event – the Albert Hall itself.
Listening to the 20-minute result, what was immediately apparent was Howard’s easy command of large-scale orchestral writing. Slow, consonant string chords are overlaid by sudden flurries of activity from the other sections of the ensemble, occasionally including more sizeable and extended eruptions. With its textural clarity and bold thematic gestures, the piece’s trajectory proved easy to follow, and genuinely rewarding.
Gurrelieder | Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra | The Resurrection Of The Soldiers | Mandela Trilogy | Berlin Philharmonic
Schoenberg’s monumental cantata ends this year’s Edinburgh international festival, and is also Donald Runnicles’s last appearance as the BBC Scottish Symphony’s chief conductor. His starry lineup of soloists is headed by Anja Kampe and Simon O’Neill as doomed lovers Tove and Waldemar.
Festival theatre, EdinburghTransplanted to 1930s Eritrea, Christopher Honoré’s version skims off the froth and stirs in the darker themes of power play, violence and abuse
It’s the dregs of a war. Guglielmo and Ferrando are Italian fascist soldiers stationed in Asmara, bored and unsupervised, and their pent-up machismo turns sexually abusive. Dorabella and Fiordiligi are colonial daughters whose relationship to local men pivots between disgust and desire – which adds to the fun when their boyfriends play a trick on them by blacking up as Dubat mercenaries. Ha ha.
After this production opened in Aix-en-Provence, letters were sent out to everyone who had bought tickets to see it in Edinburgh, warning of explicit adult themes. French film director Christophe Honoré transplants Mozart’s opera to 1930s Eritrea and the curtain raises on a black girl dancing to calypso then being raped by a fascist soldier. And so it goes on, though none of the violence is particularly explicit, not compared with a 15-certificate movie.
Royal Albert Hall, LondonMarin Alsop led the São Paulo Symphony in bright, idiomatic performances of the Brazilians Nobre and Villa-Lobos, but there were longueurs elsewhere
Marin Alsop has raised the standards and profile of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra to new levels in recent years, but this Prom, midway through a short European tour, sometimes felt like a date too far in a crowded schedule, which also included a late-night Prom of Brazilian popular music.
Alsop’s energy on the podium is unflagging and her driving performance of the Brazilian composer Marlos Nobre’s crisply rhythmic Kabbalah was a promisingly idiomatic start to the evening. But with both Alsop and the soloist Gabriela Montero making unduly heavy weather of the Grieg piano concerto, things sagged. Montero’s tendency to slow the phrasing, particularly obvious in the opening movement, was the chief culprit, but it added up to a performance that never really took wing. Anyone who heard Martha Argerich re-energise another warhorse concerto, Liszt’s First, in the same hall last week could hardly fail to notice the contrast. Montero’s encore, a witty improvisation on Land of Hope and Glory, had the panache that her playing of the concerto had lacked.
Finnish conductor/composer/violinist Jaakko Kuusisto writes nimble, muscular music that wears its influences proudly (Debussy, Stravinsky), sometimes roams into misty or overheated places, but is mostly pretty spirited and playful. The titles are a bit of a giveaway on that last point: this survey of recent chamber music includes Play II and Play III, and the fact that Kuusisto is a violinist himself – like his brother Pekka – is everywhere in the quixotic, very physical-sounding string writing and the sparky dialogue between instruments. Play III collapses from hectic rhapsody into a lament for solo violin, with slow panting in the accompaniment; in Play II, the piano splutters and provokes while the strings hold out wan harmonics, then fiercely retaliate. It all sounds like music written to be delivered with vigour and fluidity and these performances from (among others) the Meta4 quartet, pianist Paavali Jumppanen and Kuusisto himself run with that.
Vladimir Jurowski has been principal conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra since 2007 and what comes across brilliantly on this new Stravinsky disc – recorded live in concert in 2014 and 2015 – is how focused and un-faffy he and the orchestra sound together by now. The playing is bright and elegant – occasionally too much so. Petrushka (the original 1911 version) is short on crazed energy and urban hubbub, but instead we get chamber-like clarity and a really crisp sense of the score’s architecture. Orpheus has a sombre, stately beauty, and the Symphonies of Wind Instruments is performed in the original version, with alto flute and alto clarinet giving excitingly mellow, gooey textures. Stravinsky described the piece as “an austere ritual” but also dedicated it to Debussy, and this performance clinches that balance between solemn observance and splendid colours. Best of all are the strange closing chorales, full of quiet, attentive poise.
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