The world’s leading tenor comes to London, while Holst’s finest opera gets a rare run out. Plus: Martyn Brabbins and Jonathan Cohen
Jonas Kaufmann, the most celebrated tenor of today, arrives at the Barbican for a four-event residency. He begins with a recital with pianist Helmut Deutsch, before a pair of orchestral concerts in which he sings the first act of Wagner’s Die Walküre with Antonio Pappano and the LSO, and Strauss’s Four Last Songs with Jochen Rieder and the BBCSO.Barbican Hall, EC2, Saturday 4 February to Monday 13 February
Oslo Sinfonietta/Eggen (Aurora)
Olav Anton Thommessen is something of an elder statesman of Norwegian contemporary music, with a prolific back catalogue and august institutional connections. He also has a pedigree in early experimentalism. Fellow composer Nigel Osborne remembers: “Olav played the cello and something that looked like a meat cleaver, which he would beat the floor with like an angry troll.”
Thommessen’s ballet-opera The Hermaphrodite dates from the 1970s and uses texts by DH Lawrence, Isidore Ducasse and early Christian gnostics. It deals in matters of love, lust and sexuality and all feels wonderfully of its time – intense swooping vocals, strung-out instrumentals, ritualistic percussion, a mash-up of baroque opera, expressionist melodrama and heavily stylised Japanese Noh theatre. As a period piece it’s great fun, and this performance by the Oslo Sinfonietta under Christian Eggen is impressive: committed and energetic, with ultra-focused playing, vivid drama in the pacing and spacing (the recording sounds 3D), elastic singing and some virtuosic heavy breathing from soprano Eir Inderhaug and the rest of the cast.
Momo Kodama (ECM)
Debussy looked east for inspiration, enthralled by Javanese gamelans and Japanese woodcuts. Toshio Hosokawa, born in Hiroshima in 1955, writes wispy music rooted in the western tradition. Pianist Momo Kodama grew up in Osaka and studied in Paris; her first ECM album paired Takemitsu with Ravel and Messiaen. You can guess where this is going: a programme that alternates piano studies by Debussy and Hosokawa, intended to illuminate the cross-cultural influences of music written 100 years apart.
The album is called Point and Line after one of the Hosokawa studies, but that name also hints at the cool definition of Kodama’s playing. Her touch is immaculate and diligent, neatly flamboyant in the Debussy and reassuringly robust in the Hosokawa. She writes that both composers are “between meditation and virtuoso development, between light and shade, between large gestures and minimalist refinement” – and it’s those places in between that make her interpretations interesting.
The lone cello has played gateway to many a composer’s soul. Bach and Britten, most famously. Ernest Bloch wrote his three solo cello suites in the 1950s, near the end of his life, and they are fleeting and strange. As performed by Natalie Clein, their small scale is poignant – melancholy little vignettes, intimate and tender, as if she’s playing while flitting through troubled memories. She builds a programme with two other thrawn and candid postwar pieces: Dallapiccola’s Ciaccona, Intermezzo e Adagio (1945) – muscular, disturbed – and Ligeti’s two-movement Sonata (1948-53), which contains one of the most unguardedly beautiful melodies he ever wrote. Clein is full of conviction in all of it, with fearless attack and haunting quiet passages.
Les Arts Florissants/Agnew (Harmonia Mundi)
After discs devoted to the madrigals that Monteverdi wrote in Cremona and Mantua, the final part of Les Arts Florissants’ anthology includes pieces from the Seventh and Eighth books. Published in Venice in 1619 and 1638 respectively, they were the last such collections to appear in the composer’s lifetime, and the 51 numbers (29 in book seven, 22 in book eight) include some of Monteverdi’s greatest music.
Selecting a single disc of music from such a rich treasury is a real challenge, and director Paul Agnew has mixed familiar pieces such as Lamento della Ninfa and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (both from book eight) with less familiar, smaller-scale settings, from the relatively traditional Allume delle Stelle (book seven) to the vivid contrasts of Altri Canti d’Amor (book eight). But then, the Arts Flo series never set out to be comprehensive; it’s more a celebration of the joyous range and variety of Monteverdi’s madrigals as they evolved over six decades.
Glasgow Royal Concert HallTwo big musical personalities celebrated Indian independence in hurried east-meets-west scratch project, rescued by Glennie and Gurtu’s conviviality and skill
This was a one-off Celtic Connections commission to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian independence and featuring the first formal collaboration between Scotland’s Evelyn Glennie and India’s Trilok Gurtu, two of the world’s most famous percussionists. The programme – called The Rhythm in Me – was part improvisations, part reworkings of existing material by Glennie and Gurtu, and had been devised via Skype, then rehearsed a day before the concert. It sounded accordingly: a kind of meandering east-meets-west scratch project injected with signifiers of meaningfulness (Glennie opened and closed with heartfelt voiceover readings of Rabindranath Tagore’s Where the Mind Is Without Fear and Burns’s A Man’s a Man), saved by flashes of genuine conviviality and flair.
Before the event, I’d have been reluctant to put money on which of the two sizable stage personas would win out. Glennie can summon a potent aura when she wants to, but this was unequivocally Gurtu’s show. Long minutes passed while he soloed on tabla and western kit – virtuosically, grandiosely – and it was his nifty direction of the audience participation encore that lent a feelgood glow to proceedings. “We are one,” he told us at the end, and got a standing ovation.
Symphony Hall, Birmingham The Russian piano virtuoso occupied the spotlight without flaunting his brilliance, though Petrenko and the Liverpool orchestra could have brought more drama
Though it has never achieved anything approaching the popularity of its two predecessors, Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto has never lacked great interpreters, from the composer himself onwards. As his performance with Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic showed so vividly, Daniil Trifonov is the latest to join a list that includes Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli and Vladimir Ashkenazy.
Trifonov is perhaps the most dazzling pianistic talent around today, yet never flaunts that brilliance. As almost all pianists do nowadays, he played Rachmaninov’s final 1941 version of the Fourth Concerto, and one could almost take for granted the utter security of everything in the solo part, which twisted, darted and glittered with breathtaking agility. But he’s an intelligent artist, too, who lets the music speak for itself when it needs to, so that the opening of the concerto’s slow movement was all the more effective for being so beautifully matter of fact, without extra emotional loading.
With Edward Gardner now firmly established as the orchestra’s music director and Andrew Davis as one of its regular guest conductors, the Bergen Philharmonic is certainly getting a thorough grounding in 20th-century British music. With this disc, Davis has completed the comprehensive Vaughan Williams series that the late Richard Hickox began for Chandos. It pairs the last of the symphonies with what is often regarded as the composer’s greatest orchestral work, Job: A Masque for Dancing, which has a scenario by Geoffrey Keynes based on William Blake’s illustrations of the Old Testament Book of Job. The score was first performed in concert in 1930 and staged by the Vic-Wells Ballet the following year, with choreography by Ninette de Valois.
Davis recorded both works in the same coupling for Teldec in the 1990s, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. There’s little to choose between the two discs. As before, Davis’s path through Job is totally lucid, and his handling of the great climaxes is impressive, with the organ (recorded in Bergen Cathedral) weighing in emphatically for the appearance of Satan in the sixth scene. But though the 17th-century courtly dance forms that are studded through the score – pavan, galliard, minuet, saraband – are outlined with great elegance and care, the performance as a whole seems slightly short on radiance, and the epilogue lacks the sense of consoling warmth it really needs. But in both works, the playing of the Bergen orchestra is exemplary, though the saxophone used by Williams to symbolise Job’s hypocritical comforters in the sixth scene, sounds curiously glutinous, not reedy at all.
Royal Festival Hall, London The pianist eschewed grandstanding and foregrounded Schumann’s intimacies and introspection in a programme that also included Liszt, Mozart and Kurtág
Kreisleriana and the C major Fantasy, arguably Schumann’s two supreme works for piano, formed the major part of Mitsuko Uchida’s latest London recital. They have been part of Uchida’s repertory for some while, and she has made fine recordings of both, but pairing them in concert was something of a statement.
What her Schumann playing emphasises consistently is the introspective side of the composer, and for that reason her account of Kreisleriana was more convincing than the Fantasy. It’s no accident that Schumann dedicated the former work to Chopin and the latter to Liszt: the eight movements that make up Kreisleriana cohere into a wonderfully subtle formal scheme that manages, like so much of Chopin’s finest music, to be discursive and satisfying at the same time. The Fantasy, meanwhile, contains its more public rhetoric within a remodelled version of classical sonata form, just as Liszt would do much more radically 15 years later in his own Sonata in B minor.
The British composer, whose Written on Skin is one of the most acclaimed operas of our times, is collaborating with Martin Crimp again for a work that will debut in London in May 2018
The Royal Opera House has announced that it will stage the world premiere of a new opera by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp. Benjamin’s third opera will be called Lessons in Love and Violence, and continues his very successful collaboration with the British playwright.
Six partners from five different counties have come together to commission the work, which will premiere in London in May 2018 before performances in Amsterdam, Hamburg, Lyon, Chicago, Barcelona and Madrid.
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