Royal Festival Hall, LondonEsa-Pekka Salonen’s readings of Oedipus Rex and the Symphony of Psalms were thrilling while Peter Sellars’s staging of the opera-oratorio was deft
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Stravinsky survey came to a close in a concert labelled Tragedy. It’s obvious why the tag applies to the first half’s opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex; less clear in the case of the radiantly austere Symphony of Psalms in the second. The two pieces have plenty of other links, however: both in Latin, both choral, both monumental (though in different ways), both marked by Stravinsky’s re-embrace of religion, and both written in 1926-30 as his neoclassicism evolved in new ways.
Related: Facing the music: Esa-Pekka Salonen
The Beethoven 1808 Academy Concert | The Sirens Cycle | Antony And Cleopatra | The Knife Of Dawn
Hannah Kendall’s chamber opera is built around the life of the Guyanese poet and activist Martin Carter, imprisoned by the British for his fight for his country’s independence. John Walton directs.
Wigmore Hall, LondonThe Croatian countertenor’s strutting reappraisals of long-lost Neapolitan composers ranged from showy party pieces to moments of introverted simplicity
In the early 18th century, Naples was the operatic capital of Europe, attracting composers not only from Italy but from the whole continent to write for the army of castrati that populated the city’s stages. Many of the musicians who worked there have slipped from view over time, but their achievements were surveyed by countertenor Max Emanuel Cencic in a Wigmore recital of extraordinary beauty with Il Pomo d’Oro and their harpsichordist-conductor Maxim Emelyanychev.
Cencic combines flamboyance with great intelligence. The man who struts his stuff in dazzling platform gear – skin-tight white trousers and an elaborate brocade jacket – has rescued many Neapolitan composers from obscurity, and single-handedly forced a reappraisal of the music of Leonardo Vinci, whom Handel regarded as a rival. More to the point, he possesses one of the truly great voices, dark in tone and astoundingly agile, enabling him to tackle his chosen repertory with formidable grace and bravura.
Wales Millennium Centre, CardiffA high-spirited cast reprise the classic musical with mischief and crowdpleasing comedy, backed by a luxuriant orchestra intent on enjoying themselves
Another op’nin’, another show …” Welsh National Opera has taken on Jo Davies’s staging that Opera North premiered just a year ago, but Cole Porter’s take on The Taming of the Shrew was a shoo-in for WNO’s Shakespeare-themed autumn season and a suitable antidote to its earlier Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice.
Sam and Bella Spewack’s book, with their deft winding of Kate and Petruchio’s love-hate relationship into the post-divorce spats and subsequent reconciliation of director/actor Fred Graham and leading lady Lilli Vanessi, makes this a musical with high energy and spirits to match and Quirijn de Lang and Jeni Bern reprise their Opera North success in these roles.
From Louis Theroux to A Tale of Two Cities: your at-a-glance guide to the best in free culture up and down the country
BFI London film festival
With its story of rapes, murder, fine wines and fancy dress, Don Giovanni offers plenty for directors to get their teeth into. The results might not be coherent and they might well be controversial, but they are almost always colourful. Ahead of Richard Jones’s new staging for English National Opera we look at key productions of the last decade.
As part of celebrations for the composer’s 80th birthday, a unique performance of Steve Reich’s piece about transport during the Holocaust took place at a train station
Different Trains is a piece by Steve Reich which imagines how he, as a Jew, would have travelled on very different trains in Europe during the second world war to the ones he travelled on in the US at the time.
As part of the celebrations of his birthday it was performed this week at Edge Hill station in Liverpool, by the London Contemporary Orchestra. The performance was accompanied by a specially made film by Bill Morrison.
A new play tells the story of Kathleen Ferrier, using the singer’s own letters and diaries. Lucy Stevens explains how she brought a down-to-earth icon to the stage
The story of Kathleen Ferrier’s life and untimely death at only 41 is well-known. Her extraordinary voice is regularly heard on the radio and on recordings that still sell in their thousands. There are awards, bursaries and a competition bearing her name. I got to know her music while I was a student at music college, and eager to know more, I turned to a book of her Letters and Diaries. As soon as I read the first letter, I knew that an audience should meet this remarkable woman – one of our greatest ever contraltos – and hear her story, in her own words.
Unconventionally for the 1940s, Kathleen came to professional singing relatively late. Married at 23, she divorced her husband, a bank manager in Silloth, Cumbria, and moved to London in the middle of the second world war, unsure if she would be able to pay the rent. But she forged a career and, as a single woman, travelled the UK, Europe and the US, often alone and paying her own way. It is this brave, passionate woman that I wanted an audience to meet and, with director and writer Chris Baldwin, devised my one-woman play, Whattalife! using only Ferrier’s own words taken from her letters, diaries and verbatim accounts.
Emil Gilels (Deutsche Grammophon)
Emil Gilels was one of the first Soviet musicians to be allowed to perform regularly in the west after the second world war, and made the first of 15 tours of the US in 1955. This recital was given in the Seattle Opera House in December 1964. It was recorded privately and is now released in full on disc for the first time, marking the centenary of the pianist’s birth later this month. The programme is a typical cross-section of Gilels’ vast repertoire, moving from Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, Op 53, to Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso via Chopin, Prokofiev and Debussy, with party pieces by Stravinsky and Bach (in a Siloti arrangement) added as encores.
The performances take a while to settle down. Anyone who knows Gilels’ later studio recording of the Waldstein might find this one rather stiff and driven, while the early Chopin that follows – the Variations on La Ci Darem la Mano from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro – is a bit perfunctory. It’s with a fiercely concentrated performance of Prokofiev’s Third Sonata that the intensity begins to rise; after that, the first set of Debussy’s Images has real backbone and rhythmic focus, and more Prokofiev, a selection of the Visions Fugitives, become searingly vivid snapshots. The recording is decent enough, and the sense of occasion palpable, although the piano is beginning to sound a bit the worse for wear by the end.
Roy Harris may be the most all-American composer you have never heard of. He was born in an Oklahoma log cabin and paid his way through Berkeley partly by driving a truck, before following his contemporary Copland to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger. His 1949 Violin Concerto is an ambitious work, sprawling but dynamic. Slower sections are rhapsodic, drawn-out and soaring – A Bluebird Ascending, perhaps – while more driven passages have the wide open landscape sound so evocative of the US, and which one might have previously labelled Coplandesque. The exuberant, hoe-downish opening and abrupt ending sound more modern; they could almost be by John Adams, whose dense, multi-layered 1993 concerto is the other work recorded here. Tamsin Waley-Cohen handles its gruelling solo part with athleticism and conviction, and both pieces benefit from the punchy playing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and insightful conducting of Andrew Litton.
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