Kraggerud/Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (Naxos)
Here’s a Naxos recording of standard classical repertoire that would make any full-price label proud. Henning Kraggerud is soloist and director in Mozart’s violin concertos 3, 4 and 5, creating a breezy but neat partnership with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. The performances are light and energetic. Kraggerud’s tone is eloquent and beautiful, marrying richness in the low notes with sweetness at the top, and he plays his own long, sparky cadenzas. The first movement of No 3 goes with an elegant swagger; the third is playful, Kraggerud’s violin tumbling down precipitous slopes. He and the orchestra spin long melodic lines in the slow movements, and the last movement of No 5 is artfully judged – the music keeps returning to the same theme, but Kraggerud manages to create a sense of increasing momentum. This, like the other two finales, has rustic character that’s colourful without sounding like it’s been slapped on with a trowel.
Tapiola Sinfonietta/Suzuki (BIS)
Masaaki Suzuki remains most strongly associated with his own Bach Collegium Japan, but he has a parallel conducting career away from the ensemble and the composer. This all-Stravinsky disc finds him teamed with Finland’s Tapiola Sinfonietta. There’s a baroque sensibility to their performance of the suite from Pulcinella, the ballet Stravinsky crafted early 18th-century scores – Suzuki makes each note count as the individual lines combine and compete, perhaps at the expense of the music’s natural, classical lyricism. And so, while it’s crisp and pleasingly emphatic, there’s a sense that the performance is keeping a lid on the music’s exuberance. Similarly, both Apollon Musagète and the Concerto in D can sound airier and more fluid than this, but in these strings-only mini-masterpieces the Sinfonietta sounds earthy and fiery, and two out of four elements is definitely something to be going on with.
Such is Colin Matthews’s influence on UK music, as composer, arranger, teacher and catalyst, that it would have been impossible for the record label he founded to ignore his 70th birthday this year. This disc leads with his Violin Concerto as performed by Leila Josefowicz and the BBCSO under Oliver Knussen at the 2010 Proms; Josefowicz, for whom Matthews tailored the work, soars high above the orchestra as if on a thermal. This supple, lyrical concerto is balanced with two of Matthews’s more characteristically time-stretching scores. The 1996 Cello Concerto No 2, with Anssi Karttunen as soloist, is arresting if not as immediately engaging, and the clouds clear at the beginning of its final movement in a passage of rapt meditation. In between, comes Cortège, written in 1988. Recorded by the Concertgebouw under Riccardo Chailly, it’s sombre but driven – monumental, yes, but one somehow feels inside the monument rather than gazing on it.
The UK composer’s work premiered to acclaim and gasps of astonishment at the Proms in 2014. His ‘sound theatre’ piece, filmed by fixed cameras and headsets worn by musicians, is available to watch exclusively here, available until Monday 4 July.
Benedict Mason’s Meld was given its world premiere at a late-night prom in August 2014. Hailed by critics as strange, beautiful, audacious and “a happening of epic zaniness”, Mason wrote his piece specifically for the Royal Albert Hall, and the visual element of the performance was as important as the music.
Minimalist music is far from a modern invention. The violinist picks her favourite works that prove that you can get something out of nothing
Sengai, the renowned Japanese Zen-master made innumerable small paintings for his visitors. Consider his famous frog who says: “If one could get wisdom by contemplative sitting (zazen), I should be very wise indeed.” In a few simple brush strokes he questioned rituals and at the same time shows the holiness of a modest frog.
Berliner Philharmoniker/ Abbado/ Barenboim/ Boulez/ Dudamel/ Haitink/ Mehta/ Muti/ Rattle(Warner Classics, 25 DVDs)
The Berlin Philharmonic gave its first ever concert in 1892, on 1 May. Since 1991, it has been marking that anniversary with a one-off May Day concert, which is given in a different historical-cultural centre in Europe each year, and which is televised live widely across Europe, though not in the UK. This set of DVDs documenting the first 25-year history of the Europa Concerts has been taken from these broadcasts. Though some of the performances are far more memorable than others, it makes for a fascinating collection. The recordings are generally first-rate, and are blissfully free of video gimmicks, voiceover introductions or commentaries, though there are no subtitles or printed texts for the vocal works. It’s the performances pure and simple, though a few of the discs include additional short documentary films about the cities in which the concerts took place. Those venues range from St Petersburg to Palermo, Istanbul to Oxford, with no fewer than three of them, for some reason, having been in Prague.
Concerts under nine conductors are included in the set. As you might expect, the Berlin Philharmonic’s two principal conductors over the quarter century concerned, Claudio Abbado and Simon Rattle, feature most prominently, but Daniel Barenboim conducts five concerts, as well as making two appearances as a soloist. Programmes tend to be determinedly populist and mainstream – there’s lots of Mozart and Beethoven, and quite a bit of Brahms; even the one concert that Pierre Boulez conducts, in the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, Lisbon, in 2003, includes a Mozart piano concerto, the D minor, K466, with Maria João Pires as the wonderfully fluent soloist.
Wigmore Hall, LondonLigeti’s 1982 work for violin, horn and piano was played with aplomb, but two Brahms works fared less well
In its introverted way, György Ligeti’s horn trio is one of the most subversive masterpieces of the last half century. It was the work that in 1982 signalled a radical change of direction in Ligeti’s music, taking him away from the European avant garde and towards a style that not only drew on the music of the past but also incorporated elements from other musical cultures.
Related: A guide to György Ligeti's music
Royal Opera House, LondonAntonio Pappano and the ROH orchestra outshine the drama in this atmospheric revival of Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 production
Carefully rehearsed by Andrew Sinclair, the current revival of French film director Benoît Jacquot’s 2004 production of Massenet’s opera, founded on Goethe’s epistolary novel, is one of the Royal Opera’s more traditional stagings. It retains the 18th-century look of the original text both in Charles Edwards’s realistic sets and in Christian Gasc’s period costumes.
Visually, each scene creates a strong sense of atmosphere to match both the diverse moods of the drama and Massenet’s masterly score, which is superbly played; indeed what is arguably the evening’s most exceptional performance comes from the Royal Opera House orchestra under conductor Antonio Pappano.
From the archive, 17 February 1848: The Observer reviews Hector Berlioz conducting his orchestra at the Drury Lane theatre
The past week at Drury-lane Theatre has been fertile in events of a very chequered character; and much that was painful, as well as much that was pleasant, has been evolved in that house.
On Monday night M. Hector Berlioz, the well known French composer and critic, gave a grand concert on the stage, the subjects of which were derived mediately or immediately from his own productions. The history of the career of this composer furnishes a striking illustration of the force of innate genius, combined with industry, and actuated by a spirit of right-minded independence. Like all men of a bold and original cast of thought, he rejected established guides and models, cast away conventional forms, and struck one into new and untrodden paths.
Barbican, London The luminous beauty of Perahia at his best was missing in a performance that struggled on its way to the biggest piano sonata of all
Next season at the Barbican, Murray Perahia will devote himself to Beethoven, playing all five piano concertos with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, as well as giving a solo recital devoted to the composer. The main work in his latest appearance was by Beethoven, too – the biggest of all the piano sonatas, the Hammerklavier Op 106.
When Perahia is at his best, one can only wonder at the polish and luminous beauty of his playing, even when some of his interpretative details are less convincing. But this never became one of those occasions. As if to counteract the major-key assertiveness of the Hammerklavier to follow, the first half had been made up of works in which minor keys and introspection predominated. Haydn’s F minor Variations sounded as wistfully Schubertian as ever, but the performance of Mozart’s A minor Sonata K 310 was a fierce, almost intimidating exercise in Sturm und Drang, and Brahms’ final set of piano pieces, Op 119, never evoked the confessional intimacy they can in the early numbers, or became convincingly affirmative in the final rhapsody, which sometimes seemed to take Perahia out of his technical comfort zone, too.
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