Town Hall, CheltenhamDennis Russell Davies brings flowery flourishes to a programme featuring unusual variety – and a barely visible soloist
It’s a measure of the strength of the relationship that Dennis Russell Davies has with his Basel Symphony Orchestra that their short British tour, plus a date in Dublin, features slightly different programmes at each venue. Most visiting ensembles play safer.
At Cheltenham, they began with Mozart’s Symphony in G major, No 32, whose form is more overture than symphony, though the young Amadeus was categoric in his title and wrote for an unusually big wind lineup, with four horns. Davies shaped crisp phrasing; there was only minimal string vibrato but plenty of character.
Shrew-taming is not for the faint-hearted. The challenge of getting Shakespeare’s comedy to work for a modern audience is obvious (how do you get through it without raising the hackles of every woman in the house?), and Cole Porter’s 1948 hit musical Kiss Me, Kate, about an on-and-offstage Taming of the Shrew, is not plain sailing either (though misogynistic lyrics such as “in the dark they are all the same” and “I have oft stuck a pig before” get a retort in Kate’s number: “I hate men”).
If director Jo Davies has any doubts about the material, they do not show. This Opera North production loves, honours, obeys and sends up its material. Colin Richmond’s set borrows from the 16th-century tapestry of La Dame à la licorne and completes its homage with potted orange trees: the girl may not be cultivated but the garden is.
Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Kathryn Stott (piano)(Sony)
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott have been friends and musical partners for 30 years. This disc, with its self-explanatory title, joyfully celebrates that collaboration with favourite works, some originally for cello, others arranged for the instrument: Gounod’s Ave Maria as well as Schubert’s; Fauré’s Après un rêve, Elgar’s Salut d’amour and Saint-Saëns’s The Swan. Both players have always been committed to the widest possible variety of repertoire. The most substantial piece is the Louange à l’éternité de Jésus from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. The soulful Il bell’Antonio, Tema III by the Sicilian Giovanni Sollima (born 1962) leaves a strong impression. This is warm, engaged, vital music making by two of the finest musicians around.
Isabelle Faust (violin), Alexander Melnikov (piano)(Harmonia Mundi)
The first Brahms sonata recorded by Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov on period instruments made a big impression: here are the other two wonderful sonatas, with companion pieces. We often hear Brahms’s Scherzo contribution to the FAE (“Frei aber einsam”) collaborative sonata: the first movement by Albert Dietrich is intense and impressive, but while Schumann’s Intermezzo is lovely, his ramshackle Finale lets the work down. Melnikov’s 1875 Bösendorfer piano sounds splendidly grainy, transparent and powerful, often overwhelming Faust’s gut-stringed violin in Brahms’s louder moments, but blending ideally in the elegiac slow movements. I thought Schumann’s Three Romances sounded oddly familiar, until I remembered accompanying them on the version for oboe; this is much better.
Versatility is a defining quality of the British composer Sally Beamish (born 1956), as the soloists here remind us: James Crabb plays melancholic accordion in The Singing; Branford Marsalis is the lyrical saxophonist in Under the Wing of the Rock (originally for viola but in this version for alto sax and strings); Håkan Hardenberger takes the virtuosic solo in the brassy, urban Trumpet Concerto. Beamish acknowledges her musical debts to her adopted home - in the traditional music, the landscape and the history of Scotland, borrowing from skirl of bagpipes, Gaelic singing and birdsong. A Cage of Doves conjures the Orkney landscape, celebrated in the writings of George Mackay Brown. Atmospheric, keenly felt and expertly played by all.
Shostakovich has been as misunderstood as his great opera was. It’s time to stop viewing both the man and his works through the lens of Stalinism
Dmitri Shostakovich probably had a bad feeling already, when he picked up his copy of Pravda at Arkhangelsk station on 28 January 1936. Two evenings beforehand, in Moscow, the composer had endured a shock.
The commissar himself, Joseph Stalin, had come to hear Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, which had been touring successfully for two years. Stalin did not agree with the accolades that had greeted this culmination of Shostakovich’s effervescent, avant-garde work to date; he left his seat in the Bolshoi theatre, appalled, before the final scene. Shostakovich wrote to his friend Ivan Sollertinsky: “The show went very well. I was called out by the audience and took a bow. My only regret is that I did not do so after the third act. Feeling sick at heart, I collected my briefcase and went to the station.”
London hosts two premieres designed to encourage music and mind to interact in different states of consciousness
Classical concerts usually make few demands on their audiences. All you have to do is turn up, shut up and stay awake long enough to clap at the right bits. Two premieres by British composers this weekend – one a four-hour opera to encourage meditation and mindfulness, the other an eight-hour lullaby to be performed while listeners sleep – confound this orthodoxy.
Lost in Thought: A Mindfulness Opera by Rolf Hind, which has its world premiere on Friday night at St Luke’s, London, with other performances over the weekend, calls on its audience to turn up in loose clothing for an operatic experience more immersive than waiting mutely for the fat lady to stop singing.
Grand Theatre, LeedsGreat performances and superb orchestral playing make Jo Davies’s sparkling production so hot it’s practically a fire-risk
Director Jo Davies has had a remarkable run of success at Opera North, proving equally adept at operetta (Ruddigore), musicals (Carousel) and Mozart (the Marriage of Figaro). Little wonder that the company should have invited her back to brush up its Shakespeare.
Opera North’s Broadway excursions have encompassed heavyweights such as Kern, Gershwin and Rodgers – this is the first time it has taken on anything so frothy as Cole Porter. Yet Porter’s late, and greatest, hit was as close as he came to writing an opera – or, at least, a scintillatingly witty deconstruction of the Taming of the Shrew.
MacRobert Centre, Stirling Scottish Opera’s production is certainly chipper – but shouldn’t a modern version of Così be about more than wedding-obsessed women and swaggering blokes?
Scottish Opera’s new pocket-sized Così Fan Tutte is a sweet, unadventurous period piece set in 1950s Naples. Directed by Lissa Lorenzo, the staging is handsome – vintage dress fans, beware – and easy to follow in Martin Fitzpatrick’s chipper English translation. On the surface, it’s as straight a telling of Così as you’ll find, but it says almost nothing about the moral murk at the heart of Mozart’s opera until the disconcerting final image, when the two philandering couples are forced into uneasy poses of socially acceptable monogamy. Until that point, three hours in and beginning to feel it, the most wicked temptation has been a tray of chocolates, and the most dangerous weapon a scoosh of perfume. Surely any new Così has got to be more than wedding-obsessed women and swaggering blokes.
The production now tours Scotland, with a piano where an orchestra should be. I would have happily traded some of the substantial set for a few more musicians in the pit. That said, pianist Claire Haslin is heroic, charging through the score with an indefatigable arsenal of articulation, a terrific sense of pace and stamina you could drive a truck through.
Listen in its entirety to Warner Classics’ new studio recording of Aida with Antonio Pappano conducting the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia, and Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros in the principal roles
Studio recordings of large-scale operas are something of a rarity these days, and this new recording, with Antonio Pappano conducting and Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros among the singers, feels like a very special event. The recording of Verdi’s grand opera, first performed in 1871 at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House, took place earlier this year in Rome’s 2800-seat concert hall the Sala Santa Cecilia with the orchestra and chorus of the Orchestra of Santa Cecilia.
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