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Classical music | The Guardian
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Royal Opera House, London
Focus is lost with the transformation of Emmanuel Chabrier’s sexy, witty opéra bouffe into an extravagant postmodern fantasy

“It is fatal to be boring,” Emmanuel Chabrier once remarked. L’Étoile, receiving its belated Covent Garden premiere, was the work that put him on the musical map at its Paris premiere in 1877. It’s one of the finest of opéras bouffes, witty, sexy and delightfully written, so it’s a shame that the Royal Opera’s production, directed by Mariame Clément and conducted by Mark Elder, doesn’t always do it justice.

The piece glances at the arbitrary whims of monarchy and the machinations of diplomacy. The pedlar Lazuli fancies the princess Laoula, the intended bride of King Ouf the First. Like Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, Ouf has a penchant for executions, and thinks Lazuli would make a promising victim. Laoula’s entourage, meanwhile, includes the inane ambassador Hérisson and his wife Aloès, who is having an affair with his secretary Tapioca. Astrology (Ouf is under the thumb of the stargazer Siroco) is integral to the plot, as is green chartreuse, its properties celebrated in one of Chabrier’s best numbers.

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From the archive | 7 May 1974: In a rare interview, Ligeti talks to the Guardian’s Christopher Ford about composition and the use of his music in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

A guide to György Ligeti’s music

György Ligeti is one of those composers whose music you probably know even if you think you don’t. Large chunks of it, weird and wild and other-worldly, helped carry the lone pioneer through the ultimate barrier towards the end of Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” - which thus did at least as much for the composer’s reputation as for a hitherto comparatively obscure tone-poem by Richard Strauss called “Also sprach Zarathustra.” To the ordinary cinemagoer it still seems an inspired choice on Kubrick’s part, though Ligeti was not in the least bit amused. The trouble was that nobody had told him, let alone asked.

He first heard of “2001” when a friend in New York wrote to him in Austria saying that this very important film had come out in America and that he really ought to go and hear the music as soon as possible. He couldn’t afford to travel to London for the European premiere, but he went to the Vienna opening. “I was absolutely astonished. I became very angry.” The tradition is apparently, that brief excerpts can be used with merely the formal permission of the publishers, but that for longer passages consultation is required all round. Ligeti went again to “2001,” armed this time with a stopwatch, and found that just over half an hour of his music, including excerpts from the “Requiem,” appeared on the soundtrack.

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Starting as a collection of children’s poems set to music, Jocelyn Pook’s song cycle has flourished into a multimedia production that reflects the trauma of the Holocaust and the immense power of hope

During the second world war, my mother, a flautist, toured with the troops in the Entertainment National Service Association, and she often told me stories about this time. It sparked a personal interest, and over the years I’ve read many accounts by people who lived through this dark period of history.

Three years ago, the Jewish Music Institute contacted me with a proposal to write a dramatised song­ cycle about the Terezín concentration camp, using the poems and drawings of children interned there. Their works of art had been collected in a book named after one of the poems, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, by Pavel Friedmann.

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Royal Festival Hall
Beethoven’s Sixth was beautifully played, outshining the debut of Alexander Raskatov’s Green Mass – which has less to say and takes longer to say it.

On the face of it, and depending on how much you consider music to be a bearer of ideas, this might have been a fascinating compare-and-contrast concert. In the first half, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, a hymn to nature and life. In the second, the world premiere of Alexander Raskatov’s Green Mass, an extended reflection on our generation’s continuing sins against the natural world.

The trouble was that the comparison worked so lopsidedly in Beethoven’s favour. Before the interval, Vladimir Jurowski conducted a historically informed performance of the Pastoral in the modern manner, fewer than 60 players, avoidance of vibrato, with valveless trumpets and double basses at the back. The London Philharmonic played it beautifully, the string sound in Beethoven’s figurations clean and compelling throughout.

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7 days ago | |
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Barbican, London
A striking performance of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy under Antonio Pappano was matched by an assured and adventurous Lise de la Salle

Complete performances of Respighi’s Roman Trilogy have proliferated of late. Its first two sections, the Fountains and Pines of Rome, have long been familiar individually, though the third, Roman Festivals, much criticised as extravagant, remains a rarity. A growing number of conductors, however, have shown themselves willing to tackle the whole cycle in a single evening, and Antonio Pappano has added his name to the list with a striking interpretation with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Pappano placed Roman Festivals first, giving an awesome performance that was in many ways revelatory. He made a virtue of its excess, letting rip with its violence and dwelling on its sensuality. Chords like hammer-blows greeted the victims of imperial brutality in the Circus Maximus. The lovers’ serenades in the warm autumn night glowed with gentle passion. Though we primarily think of Respighi as post-Romantic, this is in part a modernist score, indebted to Stravinsky: the tolling bells reminded us of Les Noces; the garish, ploy-thematic Epiphany fair sounded like Petrushka.

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Bowie, Bernstein and Benjamin, and a yen to master drum machines and loop pedals ... the tenor reavels his musical inspirations

How do you mostly listen to music?

I can’t go anywhere without headphones on. Even if it’s just to the local shop and back, I’ll listen to something on my phone. I also take my wireless speaker with me whenever I’m travelling for more than a couple of days.

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Wigmore Hall, London
Husband and wife showcase with a thrown-together feel sees Rattle and Kožená outperformed by their string quartet

Simon Rattle’s debut appearance at London’s chamber-music HQ – as pianist, not conductor – was a kind of bring-your-husband-to-work day for mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, who has her own series of concerts there this season. Presumably it was Rattle’s presence that so inflated the ticket prices; but the performance itself took a long while to come anywhere near justifying them.

Six other formidable musicians were onstage: a string quartet drawn mainly from Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic, flautist Kaspar Zehnder, and Andrew Marriner, who will be Rattle’s principal clarinettist when he takes over the LSO. The first half was intriguingly programmed, mostly songs on a Shakespearian theme. Kožená wove gleaming, elastic threads around the muted strings and piano in Chausson’s Chanson Perpétuelle, but was less comfortable sparring with flute, viola and clarinet in Stravinsky’s three lean Songs from William Shakespeare.

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8 days ago | |
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LSO St Luke’s, London
Donald Greig takes up the challenge of live-scoring The Passion of Joan of Arc, using vocal and choral music of Joan’s era in climactic combination

“A symphony of faces” is how film critic Tom Milne described Carl Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc in his 1971 study of the Danish director’s work – an apt analogy given the rhythmic quality of the editing, and Dreyer’s remarkable ability to convey naked emotion through remorseless close-ups of the human face. But despite – or perhaps because of – the film’s musicality, Dreyer was dissatisfied with any score provided for it, and since his death in 1968, countless composers have struggled to produce that elusive perfect soundtrack.

Related: Joan of Arc: striking the right note for a silent film classic

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Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), MusicAeterna/ Currentzis
(Sony)

Teodor Currentzis and his MusicAeterna are a welcome astringent in the modern recording world, giving us daring period takes on Così fan Tutte and Le nozze di Figaro and making Rameau’s wonderfully wacky music more attractively wayward than we thought possible. But this Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto Op 35 is just too wild, too crazy. Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s exaggerated Gypsy playing feels too self-indulgent to be sincere; it’s often overpowering, and sometimes almost inaudible. Stravinsky’s Les Noces, on the other hand, is gritty and intelligent and greatly enhanced by having an all-Russian cast of singers, chorus and players.

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Freiburger Barockorchester/Heras-Casado
(Harmonia Mundi)

Recent recordings by Edward Gardner and Thomas Dausgaard are giving Mendelssohn a fine new lease of life on modern instruments. Now comes a period-instrument riposte with this extremely lively and incisive account of the Scottish and Italian symphonies by the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Although the composer didn’t approve of the national nicknames, there’s a clear presence of folk music inspiration in the bucolic Scottish Scherzo in No 3 and the Neapolitan saltarello Finale of No 4. The edgy textures work well in these movements; elsewhere, Pablo Heras-Casado drives the music very hard, so the effect is too brittle, without any of the relaxing charm that makes Mendelssohn smile.

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