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Usher Hall, Edinburgh
An immense programme of Brahms, Liszt and Rachmaninov showcased Trifonov’s technical prowess, but nothing was mannered or bombastic

There were moments when Daniil Trifonov’s forehead almost hit the keyboard and times when he launched himself right off the piano stool – which might sound like showmanship from the wunderkind of old-school Russian powerhouse pianism, but nothing was mannered or bombastic in this recital. At 25, Trifonov is still the blaze of fearless, joyous virtuosity he was when he first played Edinburgh four years ago, but what’s so exciting to witness is how he increasingly channels all that technical prowess into making softer, rather than louder, sounds. It’s as though the flashy stuff comes so easily that he’s far more interested in finding ways to make the piano sing or whisper or melt into liquid.

The programme was a typically immense mountain of notes: Brahms’s left-hand arrangement of Bach’s Chaconne, Liszt’s Paganini Études and Rachmaninov’s First Piano Sonata – which the composer morosely predicted “nobody will ever play because of its difficulty”. For listeners, it can be numbing to sit through these uber-dazzle piano recitals, but Trifonov’s virtuosity is different. It’s elegant and purposeful, every trick deployed to summon new colours, rather than as an end in itself.

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7 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Martha Argerich was dazzling in Liszt’s First Piano Concerto, and the Prom’s second half showcased the glowing, intense sound so characteristic of Barenboim’s Wagner

Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in 1999. It’s a project that Barenboim has continued to cherish ever since, regularly conducting this annual coming together of young musicians from across the Arab world, Israel and Spain (Seville has become the orchestra’s meeting place each year), and shaping it into an ever more responsive and musically sophisticated ensemble.

That steady refining has been obvious in its regular visits to the Proms, too, but Barenboim and his orchestra’s latest appearance at the Royal Albert Hall was extra special, because of the soloist who was appearing with them. Martha Argerich has been touring with the orchestra this month, giving concerts first in Buenos Aires, where she and Barenboim grew up the 1940s, and then across Europe, returning to a work that hasn’t been part of her repertory for many years, Liszt’s First Piano Concerto.

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7 days ago | |
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Santa Cecilia Orchestra/Pappano
(ICA Classics)

Though Italian orchestras don’t often figure prominently in lists of the world’s greatest orchestras, two of them are currently on a rapid upward trajectory. Riccardo Chailly’s project with the Orchestra of La Scala Milan is still in its early stages, but Antonio Pappano’s creative journey with the Rome-based Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is much farther advanced. Pappano has been its music director since 2005, and a measure of just how good that band is now is shown by two new discs taken from performances recorded live in Rome over the last five years. There’s a pairing of Schumann symphonies, the second and the fourth, and this account of Elgar’s First Symphony, which is coupled with his Mediterranean travelogue, the overture In the South, taken from concerts in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

As the Elgar performances demonstrate, Pappano has created a very fine orchestra indeed, one of true international quality. Its playing is not particularly Italianate, but then nowadays it’s rare for one of the world’s great orchestras to have an instantly identifiable sound. There’s nothing specifically recognisable about, for instance, the sound of the Royal Concertgebouw, the Berlin Philharmonic or the Cleveland Orchestra, and of today’s outstanding bands perhaps only the Staatskapelle Berlin and, on a good day, the Vienna Philharmonic, have a sound that is truly their own.

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8 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Mark Elder’s take on Mahler’s song cycle was restrained, with soloists Alice Coote peerless but Gregory Kunde sounding challenged at points

Those of us who got to know Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde through Otto Klemperer’s still unsurpassed recording will probably always think of it as a searing, almost expressionist piece of raw sonorities and even rawer emotions. It’s not the only way to approach this valedictory song symphony, though, and Mark Elder’s, the main event in his prom with the Hallé, was much less confrontational, and less involving.

Related: Colin Matthews at 70 - the composer at the heart of the UK's musical life

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From the classical archive, 13 September 1947: Neville Cardus reviews Walter and the Vienna Philharmonic in Schubert, and - with singers Kathleen Ferrier and Peter Pears - Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde

Edinburgh, Friday
This week at Edinburgh Bruno Walter has conducted the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra again after years of a separation that, not so very long ago, seemed beyond repair. The occasion has naturally been moving, and last night a poignant interpretation of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde brought the festival to an appropriately autumnal end, at least as far as the present writer is concerned. Not immediately could I share the high praise given by my critical colleagues to the Vienna Philharmonic of to-day: in the Pastoral Symphony of Beethoven, played on Tuesday night, there were grave technical flaws in the horns and much of the general texture seemed without colour. Bruno Walter himself lacked the large urgeful rhythm and line; the string figuration of the first movement of the Pastoral sounded self-conscious, almost rococo. This was a very refined and sedentary conception based upon beautiful strings. But as soon as Walter came to the masters of the Austrian romantic school we were visited by an act of grace, by the felicity which is born of the feeling that this is exactly right, and created without effort or self-consciousness. The Unfinished Symphony of Schubert passed by us in a lovely dream of tone shaded by sorrow and at times shaken by terror. The blend and eloquence of all the instruments were of voices calling to voices.

The conducting, so quiet, so unobtrusive, so suggestive, was that of a man for whom tone and a technical control of tone are matters that pass naturally his being, through all his experience and love, into music. Then, after the interval, we modulated to the extreme of Schubert, to Mahler, who sought with an ache that became poetic for the beauty that ran to meet Schubert more than half-way. The orchestra was as sensitive to Bruno Walter’s gentlest nuance, to the most delicate and whispering flickers of Mahler’s woodwind as a glass on a late autumn morning to the patterns woven by a brief frost. And in the reckless tumult of the opening of the Trinklied Bruno Walter so fine-tempered the restless orchestration that Peter Pears could be heard expressively - even during the terrible frustrate climax at the passage beginning “Seht dort hinab” (“See yonder in the moonlight on the graves sits a ghostly shape”). Pears has seldom sung with so much directness and aptness of tone.

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9 days ago | |
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At 73, the conductor is still lobbying presidents and bellowing at the violins in five languages. But has his passion project – an orchestra of players from across the Middle East – achieved any real change? We meet him in Buenos Aires

Even now, days later, the very thought of Daniel Barenboim leaves me exhausted. Over the course of a week, I trotted behind as he charged across the world’s widest avenue – the Avenido 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires, 110 metres and four red lights across – wafting a large Cuban at the oncoming traffic. I was press-ganged into his campaign to eat more pudding than the waiters thought absolutely wise. Only one of us came out a happier man. Even the adjectives were explosive: in Barenboim-world, nothing is merely fine – it is “fun-TUSS-tic”. At 73, he is among the most venerated of all classical musicians. He is also as relentless as a stag weekend.

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9 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Steven Isserlis brought subtlety to a new version of Thomas Adès’s cello concerto, while his pupil Francisco Coll made a witty Proms debut

Two recent string concertos featured in the Britten Sinfonia’s Prom under Thomas Adès, one of them by the conductor himself. Originally written in 2009 as a piece for cello and piano, Lieux Retrouvés (Places Revisited) was heard in a new version for cello and small orchestra that was receiving its UK premiere with Steven Isserlis, the adept soloist.

As well as being a concerto, the result might equally be construed as a suite of character pieces, its movement titles Waters, The Mountain, The Field and The Town – subtitled Cancan Macabre – suggesting the types of locale evoked along the way, a gentle fluidity marking out the aquatic territory of the first, the cello rising towards a distantly glimpsed peak in the second, and so on. Within the urban ruckus of the fourth, Offenbach’s famous cancan achieved a comic-grotesque and at times ghostly apotheosis.

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9 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Charlotte Bray’s cello concerto asked rather than answered questions and was played with absolute engagement by Guy Johnston

Even with Mahler’s fifth symphony and a Haydn rarity in the programme, Charlotte Bray’s new cello concerto, Falling in the Fire, was the centrepiece of this unfailingly interesting and varied Prom.

The concerto confronts two important, linked questions with which many creative artists have wrestled: how can a composer respond to the great public issues of the day – in this case the war in Syria – and how can any such response avoid being judged on moral as much as on musical grounds? Bray’s concerto sensibly embodies these questions rather than answering them.

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10 days ago | |
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From Berlioz to Laura Branagan, and Seal to Stockhausen, composer David Sawer on the music in his life

What was the first ever record or cd you bought?

Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 7-inch 45-rpm. I used to try and turn the side over as quickly as possible during the bars’ silence, in time with the music. I still have it, it’s got a beautiful cover.

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A remarkably successful synergy between Victorian Opera and Circus Oz toes the line between sincerity and silliness – and yes, elicits both laughter and tears


The best opera companies are more than merely peddlers of arias. They strive to discover new slants on the art form, champion fresh talent and, perhaps most importantly, show the cultural leadership that ensures the longevity of opera as an alive and evolving medium.

All these qualities ring true in Victorian Opera’s co-production with Circus Oz, Laughter and Tears, which not only offers an intriguing perspective on a familiar staple of the repertoire – Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci but also achieves a remarkably successful synergy between two seemingly distant practices.

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10 days ago | |
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