Legend has it that Alkabul, the Sultan of the Medina of Granada, fell in love with the young Al-Azhar and killed her slave parents in order to marry her. But when Al-Azhar met Xurán, a young Nasrid architect from Granada, and they declared their love between the palms of the Alhambra surrounded by bitter flowering orange trees, the Sultan killed the beautiful Al-Azhar, scattering her ashes among the palace’s rose bushes. It is said that for this reason, when the breeze blows over the gardens of the Alhambra, an intense and unforgettable aroma of orange blossom reaches across Granada.
I was reminded of this a month ago when my orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, performed a concert at the Granada international festival. In the inner courtyard of the palace, another love story was recalled through our performance of the overture to Mikhail Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila. The Russian composer also became haunted by the scent of orange blossom and views of the Alhambra during the two years he spent living in the Albayzín district.
Béatrice Et Bénédict | War Passion | Of Land, Sea And Sky | Kommilitonen! | Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret
Glyndebourne’s season ends with two productions marking this year’s Shakespeare anniversary. The first is Berlioz’s gently lyrical take on Much Ado About Nothing. Laurent Pelly directs this Glyndebourne premiere, and Stéphanie d’Oustrac and Paul Appleby lead the cast.
As a champion of new music, Susanna Eastburn takes exception to the claim that the age of great composers is dead. Instead, we must open our ears to more diverse, shape-shifting and connected times
Philip Clark’s recent blog, entitled Where have the great composers gone?, raises some interesting questions about the notion of “the great composer” and claims there is a lack of suitable contemporary candidates for that accolade.
Related: Where have the great composers gone?
Berlin Oboe Quartet (Costa Records)
Costa Records was set up by the Berlin-based oboist Nigel Shore to release chamber music and Brazilian jazz. Its first chamber disc features Shore as part of the group he founded 30 years ago with fellow members of the Berlin Philharmonic. Dedicated to Colin Matthews for his 70th birthday, it includes Matthews’ two oboe quartets from the 1980s, the second of which was written for the Berlin Oboe Quartet, alongside the early Phantasy Quartet by Benjamin Britten (for whom Matthews worked as an assistant in the 1970s) and works by Richard Rodney Bennett and Helen Grime.
All five are single-movement works, which in their contrasting ways hark back to the notion of the “phantasy”, as revived in British music at the beginning of the 20th century for the Cobbett chamber music prize, in which a succession of movement types is contained within a single musical span. The role of the oboe in these works can be a concertante one, as it is in the Britten to some extent, in the seamlessly overlapping variations of the second Matthews work and in Grimes’s wonderfully conceived and strikingly written piece. Or it can be an equal partner in an authentic chamber music dialogue, as it is in Bennett’s 1974 piece in which the four instruments take their turns in the spotlight. Altogether this is a thoroughly rewarding collection, superbly played and recorded.
Less than a year after the Lutoslawski Quartet released its recording of Grazyna Bacewicz’s seven quartets on Naxos, here is a rival from the Silesian Quartet at a similar price. Which to choose? The most striking difference is speed: the Silesians knock minutes off the run times of each quartet compared to the Lutoslawskis, and their default playing style is springy and fleet-footed, bringing out the idiomatic nature of Bacewicz’s string writing. Unlike the Lutoslawskis, they stick to chronological order, which makes for a first disc that is perhaps too genial and dance-like, albeit with some darker moments; the second, which includes the substantial fifth and the lean, sometimes eerie Nos 6 and 7 from the 1960s, is more varied. In the end the Lutoslawskis’ weightier reading is perhaps the more satisfying, but the Silesians’ version is highly persuasive too, and it is good to hear these works interpreted differently.
Aikin/Fink/Chum/Drole/Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Concentus Musicus Wien/Harnoncourt(Sony)
Related: Nikolaus Harnoncourt obituary
Following Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s death earlier this year, only months after announcing his retirement, it seemed that the two Beethoven Symphonies recently released on Sony would be his final word on disc. But apparently it was his wish that this Missa Solemnis, taped during concerts and rehearsals in Graz last summer, should be his final recording. It’s no grand last testament, though: unsurprisingly for Harnoncourt, there is a sense of searching throughout the performance, perhaps partly because he had never before recorded the work with his own Concentus Musicus Wien, and their period instruments, gut strings and lower pitch threw up new sonorities and new puzzles for his questing brain to solve. The solo quartet, led by the poised soprano Laura Aikin, is light-voiced, and with supple singing from the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, it’s a gentle performance overall. But Harnoncourt’s masterly control of the larger structure means that within those parameters, the moments of jubilation make all their impact.
Isokoski/Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Lintu (Ondine)
Erkki Melartin was an important figure in Finnish music history, but he was only 10 years Sibelius’s junior, and until recently his music has been languishing in the shadows. Traumgesicht, the 1910 orchestral tone poem with which this disc begins, is an atmospheric, dreamy score conjuring up night-time visions, with hints of Strauss and, in places, pre-echoes of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé. It gets a darkly glowing performance here from the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Hannu Lintu – as does the suite Lintu has put together from The Blue Pearl, the first complete ballet by a Finnish composer.
Royal Albert Hall, London Marc Minkowski presented works with a Parisian connection by Fauré, Poulenc and Stravinsky, played with refinement by the BBC Symphony
Marking this year’s Shakespeare 400 anniversary is one of the themes of the Proms, and Marc Minkowski’s concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra included a rarely played work that did just that, though at one remove. In 1889, Fauré composed the incidental music for Shylock, a play by Edmond Haraucourt based more or less on The Merchant of Venice. A year later, the composer extracted a concert suite of six numbers from his score, and that is what Minkowski conducted, with the tenor Julien Behr brought in for the two vocal numbers, neither of which has much to do with the original play.
Cluster Ensemble(Orange Mountain Music)
It was Music in 12 Parts, composed between 1971 and 1974, that really put Philip Glass on the map. That huge, four-hour score is now recognised as one of the landmarks in the history of minimalism, alongside such scores as Terry Riley’s In C and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. But Music in 12 Parts didn’t come out of the blue, and this collection of five early pieces by Glass, composed between 1968 and 1970, presents some of the creative background and the precursors of that defining work.
Related: Philip Glass on David Bowie: 'He was a master unto himself'
Royal Albert Hall, LondonChoristers and soloists brought freshness and precision to the Beethoven mass in conductor Gianandrea Noseda’s keenly expressive interpretation
More than perhaps any other mass setting, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis seems to pose questions of its conductor and of its audience. What is played at the beginning will affect how we hear the closing minutes: will they be a consolation or a cry for help?
Here, the playing Gianandrea Noseda drew forth from the BBC Philharmonic at the opening was insistent but smooth, in a way that made the choir’s calls for mercy hint at a quiet desperation. The singers of the Hallé Choir and the Manchester Chamber Choir were on fresh-sounding, precise form from the very start. Between them and the orchestra stood a quartet of vocal soloists featuring the gleaming soprano of Camilla Nylund and the burly tenor of Stuart Skelton. The organ supplied a floor-shaking bass line.
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