Sebastian Bohren (violin), Chaarts Chamber Artists (RCA Red Seal)
Youth to the fore here, with the stylish Sebastian Bohren giving a silky account of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, accompanied by the conductorless Chaarts Chamber Artists, founded by former members of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra in 2010 and since embellished by instrumentalists from leading orchestras and chamber ensembles. Their deliciously forthright reading of the Beethoven makes the Schumann Phantasie for violin and orchestra in C Major feel a bit thin in comparison, but Bohren and the players sparkle in Jean Jean Françaix’s Nonetto from 1995, an arrangement of Mozart’s E flat major quintet, K452. Françaix takes the piano part and redistributes it for string quartet and double bass, while retaining the wind parts of the original. The result is refreshingly rich in colour and nuance. Recommended.
John Williams (guitar)(Sony) (2 CDs)
John Williams has been a five-star artist for me since I heard him play the massive Bach D minor Chaconne on the guitar with total mastery, 40 years ago. The celebrations of Williams’s 75th birthday have had us nostalgically recalling the optimistic time when through his advocacy classical music was everywhere, feeding into film scores, and a natural part of light entertainment television. This soft-edged compilation gathers his biggest film hits from The Deer Hunter, The Mission and Schindler’s List, but they are woven in with brilliant arrangements of Falla, Albeniz, Satie and Bach – the E major Violin Partita’s Prelude, done with exquisite good taste. A true master.
Of all the music César Franck wrote, four works made his name: the Symphonic Variations, the Violin Sonata, the Symphony in D minor and this Piano Quintet. The quintet (1879) shares that same big, romantic sound and emotional intensity of the violin sonata, beautifully brought out here by Marc-André Hamelin and the Takács in a stirring, virtuosic recording - an ideal way to encounter a still unfamiliar work. This is, however, a CD of two uneven parts: there’s no questioning the Takács’s ability to play the Debussy String Quartet wonderfully. Something less corporeal, a little more elusive and vaporous, would have made it even better.
The opera festival celebrates Shakespeare400 with a new production of Berlioz rarity Béatrice et Bénédict and a return of Peter Hall’s glorious vision of Britten’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. David McVicar’s acclaimed 2011 production of Wagner’s epic Die Meistersinger kicks off the season in grand style. Three of this year’s offerings (two live, one prerecorded) will be screened in cinemas and streamed online. East Sussex
Kane’s final play is being adapted for the first time, 17 years after she killed herself. Composer Philip Venables talks about the rare musical quality of her work
Before her death in 1999, aged just 28, the playwright Sarah Kane had made it known that she did not want her work to be adapted into other mediums. So when composer Philip Venables approached her estate with a view to writing an opera version of her last play, 4.48 Psychosis, for a joint project between the Royal Opera House and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, he says it was more in a sense of hope than expectation.
“We thought it was unlikely we would get the rights to adapt it, because so many requests had been turned down in the past,” he says. “But our timing was good. While Kane did say she didn’t want any adaptations, she also said she didn’t want her work to become museum pieces. Really, those requests are contradictory, and after 15 years her estate was looking to open up the work to a dialogue with the contemporary. I think our production is therefore a bit of a test case, they are dipping their toe into the water.”
Tickets for film director’s collaboration with designer Valentino have nearly sold out, giving troubled venue huge boost
An operatic collaboration between an American film-maker, an Italian haute couture king, and a British set designer will make its debut this weekend.
Sofia Coppola’s La Traviata will open at the Opera of Rome on Sunday in a production featuring costumes made and designed by Valentino with backdrops created by Nathan Crowley, the set designer for the Batman films.
Much of the recent discourse around classical music and its troubles has contained a subtext of glee at the notion that a privileged class is getting its comeuppance. The perception of classical music as a posh activity is outdated and wrong, as the success of the brilliant BBC Young Musician Sheku Kanneh-Mason (a pupil at a comprehensive school in Nottingham) illustrates (Letters, 18 May). Love of classical music is not dependent on class, but as music education focuses more and more on having a go rather than mastering a skill, it is less and less likely that young people will even have the chance to fall in love with it.
Trumped-up issues of class and accessibility are distracting us from the real possibility that if classical music continues to be sidelined we may lose something very precious. It’s misleading to say that as long as people are involved in some sort of music-making, it does not matter what sort it is. All music-making is certainly beneficial, but western art music demonstrates a complexity and depth which few other musical genres have attained. To play it and appreciate it requires skill, devotion and understanding, which is why such long training is necessary. There is no shortage of gifted young musicians wishing to undertake this training, but they must wonder why their achievements are largely ignored or even sneered at.
Symphony Hall, BirminghamOrchestral beauties swirl and build in an ever-changing score as the UK sees its premiere of John Luther Adams’ glorious Pulitzer-winning Become Ocean
First performed in Seattle in 2013, Become Ocean was the work that finally nailed John Luther Adams’ place among the front rank of living US composers. The 42-minute orchestral score won the Pulitzer prize for music the following year; it was released on CD, and has been widely performed across Europe. But it has only now reached these shores, in the City of Birmingham Orchestra’s concert with the same conductor who was responsible for its world premiere, Ludovic Morlot.
Saint Ludmila | Il Barbiere Di Siviglia | Oedipe | 4.48 Psychosis | English Music Festival
Despite the popularity of many of his orchestral pieces, Dvorák’s choral works tend to be overlooked. But the Hallé’s Dvorák festival ends with a rare outing for this oratorio, which chronicles Christianity’s spread through pagan lands. It will be sung in a new translation by David Pountney; Mark Elder conducts.
Beethoven was famed for his ‘riff-offs’ but performers today are steered away from spontaneity. It’s time we learned a trick or two from our jazz-playing peers
As a young actor, Sir Michael Caine was once rehearsing a play involving an improvised scene between two other actors, after which he had to enter via a door on the stage. In the tumult of the improvisation, a chair was knocked over, blocking Caine’s entrance. Unsure of how to handle it, Caine asked the director what he should do.
“Use the difficulty,” came the terse reply.
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