Barbican, LondonNever one to shy away from the strange and surreal, Volkov offset this Richard Ayres premiere with something completely different
It must be tricky to come up with the right mix for a programme that includes a new work by Richard Ayres. The world that Ayres’s music inhabits is so quirky and unpredictable, so various in its associations and references, that almost anything else can seem uneventful by comparison. But Ilan Volkov never shies away from the surreal and the strange, and in this BBC Symphony Orchestra concert he opted for something completely different to offset Ayres’s piece, surrounding the premiere with works based on Goethe’s poetry, and a classical symphony.
There were Mendelssohn and Beethoven’s responses to the poem Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, the first a freewheeling overture (something of a rarity, which Elgar quotes in the Enigma Variations), the second a late, rather austere choral setting with the BBC Singers. They also delivered Schubert’s very beautiful version of Gesang der Geister über den Wassern for male voices with an equally low-pitched accompaniment of violas, cellos and double basses. Volkov’s tidy, if slightly subfusc performance of one of the most striking of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies, No 52 in C minor, came last.
Wales Millennium Centre, CardiffThe production’s opera singers and conductor shine in WNO’s somewhat uneven take on Sondheim’s musical of deranged vengeance
Putting musicals on the operatic stage is still, for some, the beginning of a slippery slope akin to Sweeney Todd’s murderous chute. Yet Stephen Sondheim’s musical was taken up by opera houses five years after its Broadway premiere, and anyone tut-tutting about Welsh National Opera’s new production might note that it features in San Francisco Opera’s current programme, too. The tale of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is part of WNO’s Madness season: Todd, returning to London to seek vengeance for a miscarriage of justice, purports also to seek salvation, but it’s all the starting point for his deranged descent into barbarous killing.
James Brining’s take on the piece isn’t penny-dreadful or more unsavoury than Mrs Lovett’s gruesome pies, but is a bit of a mish-mash. Set just before Thatcher’s care in the community programme was rolled out, the prologue takes place in Mr Fogg’s asylum, to which Todd’s daughter Johanna will later be consigned by the grotesque paedophile Judge Turpin (Steven Page), and where the WNO chorus play unsettling misfits. But Colin Richmond’s design boxes the action in containers, bloodied corpses sometimes making messy, random exits.
Friedrich Cerha day | Jamie xx | Spector | A$AP Rocky | Colin Towns Mask Orchestra | London Sinfionetta: Feldman – For Samuel Beckett
For long-time indie rock trier Fred McPherson, Spector feels like the last-chance saloon. A mixture of smug fop meets Harry Potterish nerd, he fronts a similarly conflicted band, beset by vulnerability but convinced of greatness. Some were drawn to the band’s debut album Enjoy It While It Lasts, with its romantic exertions in the late-Britpop idiom, but the demand for a new LP, Moth Boys, was a surprise even to Spector. Unswerving from their original plan, the band still play strident synth-pop, atop which McPherson swoons theatrically. It’s a sound that demands a specialised audience – perhaps this will be the time they find it.
Philharmonic Hall, LiverpoolRobin Holloway’s tuba concerto gave expressive voice to an orchestral underdog, while the RLPO sounded thrilling under an empathic Manze
Robin Holloway has pursued an equal-opportunities approach to concerto writing, having created showpieces for orchestral underdogs such as the viola, bassoon and double bass. The piece premiered this evening, Europa and the Bull, describes the birth of a continent from the rape of a nymph and takes the form of a concerto for the tuba.
Holloway believes the big daddy of the brass section to be unfairly maligned; a perception that a 20-minute expostulation of a tuba’s sexual activity may, on the face of things, seem unlikely to dispel. And though Holloway’s writing is fairly rampant in parts, he makes expansive room for exploration of the lyrical, even seductive qualities that give the instrument a certain nobility. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s heroic principal tuba Robin Haggart fully conveyed the profound, singing quality achievable from this very large yet surprisingly expressive horn.
Conductor Riccardo Chailly is at the height of his powers, so why is he determined to slow down? He tells Fiona Maddocks about leaving Leipzig’s Gewandhaus and his return to La Scala, Milan
“‘The sound knocked me back like a great crashing wave. It was a shock, a terrible blow to my body, to my head, to my soul. But in a nice way.” Riccardo Chailly, 62, has never forgotten his first rehearsal with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra nearly 30 years ago, at the Salzburg festival. The work was Richard Strauss’s early tone poem Don Juan, which bursts forth with strings soaring up like a fleet of rockets, brass detonating in mad retort. Those opening bars intoxicate and overwhelm, even from a safe seat in the audience. How much more electrifying to be on the podium, knowing a single flick of your baton has created this bolt of energy.
Back then, Chailly was a fervent, 33-year-old Italian with reddish-chestnut flowing hair, a slightly unruly beard and a glittering career ahead of him. He was already music director of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin, an ideal training ground for a fast-rising young conductor. His unlikely rival in the same, western half of a still-divided city was Herbert von Karajan, nearly 80, silver-haired and impeccably tailored, with most of his achievements as music director of the illustrious Berlin Philharmonic already in the past. Karajan remained, nevertheless, the most powerful figure in classical music and an unexpectedly generous mentor.
Valery Gergiev has not served the London Symphony Orchestra well as their chief conductor, nor has he lived up to the brilliance his earlier career promised
Over the next 10 days Valery Gergiev will be conducting his final concerts as the London Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor. It promises to be a distinctly low-key leave-taking; tributes to what he has achieved during his eight years at the helm have been conspicuous by their absence so far, and it seems unlikely that there will be the kind of fond farewell that many conductors receive when their tenures with an orchestra come to an end. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the LSO itself, as much as many of its regular audience, will be mightily relieved when Gergiev steps down from the Barbican podium for the last time.
Over the past decade Gergiev has consistently spread his considerable talent far too thinly
The violinist, conductor and composer reflects on 25 years with Australia’s leading chamber orchestra – and why the best music leaves us speechless
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The most trouble Richard Tognetti ever got into was for doing nothing.
Morton Feldman’s piano works are usually the preserve of 20th-century specialists. But Ivan Ilic has a repertoire that extends from Bach to the present day; his previous discs have included Debussy’s Preludes and Godowsky’s versions of the Chopin Studies. Recently, though, he’s turned his attention to Feldman; he’s already recorded Feldman’s last piano work, Palais de Mari, as part of a CD and DVD project devoted to the composer. Bunita Marcus was composed the previous year, 1985, and is recognisably late Feldman, with its array of tiny ideas, sometimes just a three-note motif, woven into a musical canvas of potentially vast extent. It’s music that shouldn’t be hurried, and Ilic’s performance takes 66 minutes, but in the early sections at least, it seems rather impatient and brusque. By comparison Sabine Liebner’s 2007 recording on Oehms Classics lasts 88 minutes, and has a much more natural flow and sense of steady evolution. And though Ilic is very good at conveying the way in which the music congeals in the last quarter of the piece, almost losing its sense of purpose, that perfectly managed slow fade sits rather oddly with the way in which his version begins.
Yerevan State Chamber Choir/Topikyan(ECM)
Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyancan be a hectic stage act – think high-voltage fusions of hip-hop, pop and buzzy, polished jazz – but his debut ECM album strips right back to his most lyrical folk intuitions. Luys i Luso is a meditation around the sacred music of his home country on the centenary of the Armenian genocide. The material ranges from fifth century sharakans to newer hymns arranged for piano and voices. At its heart is the beautifully rough-grained sound of Armenia’s leading choir conducted by Harutyun Topikyan, with its gentle, unwavering sopranos and spine-tingling low bass drones unfolding in intense slow builds and thick chordal textures. Around them Hamasyan improvises contemplative, spacious and only occasionally nervy commentary. Hints of American post-minimalism are there and he lost me with one or two overblown climaxes, but mostly the language is deft and sensitive – best when he does the least and lets the voices speak for themselves.
Orchestre National de Lyon/Slatkin (Naxos)
Ravel’s dark fairytale opera L’enfant et les Sortileges opens with just a pair of roaming oboes, one of the most ambiguous and beguiling 90 seconds in all opera. Leonard Slatkin’s new recording with the Orchestre National de Lyon is solid, affectionate and tinged with a touching melancholy, but it all feels a bit grown-up. Things never get properly zany, magical or sinister. Orchestral colours are well-defined but tame. The galling final scene is matter-of-fact. Those oboes roam with feet staunchly on the ground. Vocal performances are relaxed and characterful, cabaret louche in parts and sparky in dialogue. Helene Hebrard sounds beautiful in the title role, though this naughty Child is more tender and reflective than brazenly petulant. The other work on the disc is the ballet music to Mother Goose – again Slatkin’s fairytale world is beautifully calibrated but rather literal. Ravel, a composer with the most wondrous imagination, deserves a little more conjuring.
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