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Jennifer Stumm (viola), Elizabeth Pridgen (piano)

(Orchid Classics)

Harold in Italy inspired by Byron consists of four orchestral scenes with solo viola. Berlioz wrote it for Paganini, violin and viola virtuoso, though he never played it. This disc links with another Romantic star performer, Liszt, a Berlioz devotee who transcribed Harold for viola and piano. If this is something of a connoisseurs recital whether for fans of the viola, Berlioz, Liszt or all three its hybrid pleasures set it apart and theres never the danger, as in the original orchestral version, that the viola gets submerged. Here, as played by Jennifer Stumm on her Maggini contralto viola c1600, with Elizabeth Pridgen the a sensitive accompanist (and soloist in Liszt interludes), the instrument truly shines.

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Royal Opera House, London
Uncompromising production and an excellent cast bring the right balance of pathos, intelligence and vulgarity to this real-life opera

Mark-Anthony Turnages Anna Nicole, making a comeback to the ROH (its premiere was in 2011), is opera as contemporary cautionary tale. It is based on the true story of Anna Nicole Smith, a Texas stripper from a trailer trash family (no love, no joy, no heart, no air con is how she describes her background). She deforms her body with breast enhancements and transforms her fate. She becomes a Playboy model, marries an 89-year-old oil billionaire and evolves into a full-breasted, empty celebrity with her own TV show. The side effect of relentless surgery is chronic back pain and an addiction to painkillers that will lead to her death.

Eva-Maria Westbroek brings out her pathos magnificently, especially when, in puce bodysuit, her pole dancing comes close to sacrifice, the pole her cross. Richard Thomass libretto (he co-wrote Jerry Springer: The Opera) tells the abject story indecently well and Richard Joness production, with suitably vulgar set by Miriam Buether, is imaginatively uncompromising (I liked the paparazzi with camera heads). There is excellent work from Susan Bickley as Anna Nicoles mother, Alan Oke as the geriatric billionaire, Rod Gilfry as the creepily opportunistic lawyer and Andrew Rees as slippery Doctor Yes.

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What would a vote for independence mean for Scotlands thriving classical music scene? Kate Molleson investigates

What will happen to Scotlands classical music in the event of a Yes vote next week? The question is a microcosm of the referendum debate as a whole in that there is no single way of approaching it, let alone of answering it. Putting the question to classical musicians and music industry people around Scotland Ive been met with reactions from wild conjecture to heady excitement, bewildered shrugs to solemnly reasoned logistics to ardent theories on deep-rooted national psychology.

The most clinical answer is that nothing much will change at least, not in the short term. Arts policy and spending are already devolved. Scotlands five National Companies (which include Scottish Opera, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra) are funded directly from Holyrood, while Creative Scotland administers grants to smaller groups such as the Scottish Ensemble, Red Note, Hebrides Ensemble and Dunedin Consort. The SNP administration has indicated that, were it to be re-elected in an independent Scotland, this system would remain in place.

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Highland Cathedral to replace Rule, Britannia! as politicians urge Britons to view the event as a celebration of the union

When the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra stages its version of the Last Night of the Proms on Glasgow Green on Saturday, the programme will, as usual, tactfully eschew Rule, Britannia!, Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem.

Instead, it will contain a performance of Highland Cathedral ("There is a land far from this distant shore/ Where heather grows and Highland eagles soar") and a turn by the bagpipe band the Red Hot Chili Pipers.

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6 days ago | |
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The Gate, Cardiff
Opra Cymrus Welsh-language version of Tchaikovksys classic was well sung in places but hampered by a confused staging

The north Wales-based initiative Opra Cymru was formed in 2009 to stage opera in the Welsh language much as many small companies offer it in English. But in this performance of Tchaikovskys Eugene Onegin, that some of the singing made little more sense to the audience than the original Russian would have done seemed to defeat the object of the exercise. It was not simply a matter of mother tongue or not, but clarity of articulation. However, the US soprano Stacey Wheeler acquitted herself remarkably well, with some sensitive highlighting of the young Tatyanas tumult of emotions, and Prince Gremins aria as sung by Trebor Lloyd Evans had enormous sincerity and immediacy.

There was much young vocal talent on display. Angharad Lyddons Olga showed an impressively velvet mezzo and Rhodri Joness Monsieur Triquet was clean and unforced. Alex Vearey-Roberts was an eager Lensky, rather too eager in terms of volume, and Matthew Durkan was an able if stiff Onegin. Neither of these two could quite convey the tenderness or lyricism of Tchaikovsky, though the instinctive feel of Jâms Coleman conducting a chamber ensemble from the piano was evident enough.

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6 days ago | |
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Royal Opera House, London
Richard Joness revival is well done, but time has not been kind to this operatic life of the model and actor Anna Nicole Smith

Now on its first London revival, Mark-Anthony Turnages operatic biography of model, B-movie actor and reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith hugely divided opinion at its 2011 premiere. Time hasnt been particularly kind to it. Much of the original controversy focused on the scabrous libretto by Richard Thomas, co-creator of Jerry Springer: The Opera. Now the expletives no longer provoke the shock-and-titter response they once did, were more aware of the opera as a prurient, rather conventional morality tale on the supposedly ruinous combination of sex, money and ambition.

Comparisons have already been drawn with Puccinis Manon Lescaut, Massenets Thaïs and Bergs Lulu. More pertinent, perhaps, are the overtones of Stravinskys The Rakes Progress, with its links between excess and instability, and Kurt Weills The Seven Deadly Sins in which another antiheroine, also called Anna, similarly becomes a monster in search of the American dream. Evoking the frames of reference within which the work operates, however, draws attention to the problems with the score, which is rooted in Turnages familiar classical-jazz-music theatre amalgam, yet also curiously unmemorable and often worryingly samey.

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Imelda Marcos, Anna Nicole Smith and Eva PerĂ³n are all the subjects of musicals or operas this autumn. Mark Lawson considers what makes a life to sing about

The word "diva" was coopted from opera to refer to powerful women in other fields. But, in three shows being staged this autumn, the metaphor is reversed by turning non-singing high-achieving controversial figures into musical leading ladies.

The story of Imelda Marcos, the 85year old former first lady of the Philippines, is told in Here Lies Love, a disco-inspired piece by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, which has its UK premiere at the National Theatre next month; the short and scandalous life of model and actor Anna Nicole Smith (1967-2007) has returned to the Royal Opera House stage in a revival of Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas's opera Anna Nicole; and Eva Perón (1919-52), the matriarch of an Argentinian political dynasty, sings and dances with Che Guevara in a new production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita.

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Rule Britannia, its words by a Scot and its tune from an opera about Englands king Arthur, is far from a straightforward song of imperialist triumphalism, writes Tom Service


Roderick Williams interview: Maybe I should dress as Britannia

A time of dissent in the North, of rebellion sweeping down from Scotland, an attempt to unseat the King, to repeal the Union, and to return the rightful blood line to the throne. 1745 was a year of unrest and unease in Hanoverian London and England, as the crown belatedly realised that Charles Edward Stuart Bonnie Prince Charlie - really was mounting his French- and Scottish-sponsored Jacobite campaign to overthrow the monarchy, and had real success, too, on the battlefield, marching as far south as Derby.

I dont know, something about that seems to strike a strangely contemporary bell

To help their cause, what the court needed was a popular expression of the new spirit of Britishness - as opposed to Scottishness, Welshness, or Irishness - which the admittedly somewhat German House of Hanover wanted to promote. And theres nothing like a memorable ear-worm, a song, to do your promotional work for you. God Save the King had been adopted by both the Jacobites and the Hanoverians for their respective kings, but the tune and the lyric that appeared in London that year, and which went on to take the country by popular storm was Rule, Britannia! This song had originally been written as the concluding number of Thomas Arnes masque Alfred, in 1740. But in 1745, Rule, Britannia! became the song that sounded out what Britons ought to feel as British citizens, to celebrate an aspirational naval dominance and Imperial confidence.

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7 days ago | |
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Matthews/Goeldner/Ovenden/Foster-Williams/Salzburg Bach Choir and Mozarteum Orchestra/Bolton
(Oehms)

The 19th century regarded Louis Spohr (1784-1859) as one of its great composers, and Die Letzten Dinge (1826) was popular and influential in its time. The text derives from the Book of Revelation, though the oratorio is not so much an apocalyptic drama as an austere meditation on both the second coming of Christ and the promise of a new heaven and a new Earth, after worldly corruption has been swept away. Haydns oratorios and the ceremonial scenes from Mozarts Die Zauberflöte were Spohrs models. The choral writing, however, looks forwards to Mendelssohn and Brahms, albeit without the directness of either. Revivals are rare. This new version, recorded live in Salzburg last year, is strongly conducted by Ivor Bolton, and theres some particularly fine choral singing from the Salzburg Bach Choir. The soloists, led by tremulous Sally Matthews, arent ideally matched, but are also not helped by the distant quality of the recording itself.

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Solovieva/Anisimov/Vanbrugh Quartet
(Naxos)

No relation of his famous namesake, Boris Tchaikovsky (1925-1996) was a younger contemporary of Shostakovich, who much admired his chamber music. Tchaikovskys 1962 Piano Quintet is in many ways a remarkable work: trenchant in tone, it flanks two scherzos with a pair of slow movements, each of which generates considerable force by ringing changes on a single rhythmic pattern. The War Suite, for string quartet and clarinet, derives from the soundtrack to a 1964 film about love and loss during the second world war, and is essentially a big melancholy rondo, in which the repetitions of an initially banal waltz become increasingly poignant as the tone and harmonies of the interwoven episodes gradually darken. The performances, recorded in Moscow during the Vanbrugh Quartets 2012 visit, are exceptional. Pianist Olga Solovieva joins them for the Quintet. Maxim Anisimov is the lyrical clarinettist in The War Suite.

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