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Classical music | The Guardian
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Photographer Teri Pengilley was given exclusive access to the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday to watch preparations for the biggest night in classical music’s calendar

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17 days ago | |
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Royal Opera House, London
Àlex Ollé’s reimagining of Bellini’s tragedy is beautiful at times, but the over-dominant stagecraft sometimes distracts from the profoundly human drama

The Royal Opera’s new production of Norma, its first since 1987, is the work of Àlex Ollé of La Fura dels Baus, whose interpretation is by turns striking and perverse, sometimes beautiful, often irritating. Though it strains credibility from the outset, Ollé reimagines Bellini’s tragedy of love and betrayal across enemy lines in Roman-occupied Gaul as an examination of the relationship between desire and fundamentalism. Norma (Sonya Yoncheva), the Druid priestess trapped in a disastrous clandestine affair with an imperial officer, has implausibly become the spiritual leader of a paramilitary Catholic sect. Pollione (Joseph Calleja) is a glib political type in a suit, weak-willed and vacillatingly liberal. We first encounter Sonia Ganassi’s prim, naive Adalgisa serving as an altar girl. Brindley Sherratt’s Oroveso is a gun-toting fanatic.

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17 days ago | |
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I hope Ian Jack (The Last Night of the Proms never, never shall be hijacked by Brexiteers, 10 September) was as moved as I was to see those European flags being waved among the union jacks at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, though alas no such shows of good thinking were to be seen at the outside jamborees in Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and London.

He is of course right about the self-mockery involved. And it was good to see the star tenor soloist, Juan Diego Florez, dressed in a splendid costume as much Peruvian as English to render Arne’s Rule, Britannia! But I do think that Jack, and maybe the Proms organisers, are a little unfair to Elgar. He really cannot be blamed for the “imperial triumphalism” of Land of Hope and Glory. What he actually wrote was the ironic first of his six Pomp and Circumstance marches. The later addition of the ludicrous words, taking over the glorious tune, was not Elgar’s fault. Those planning the 2017 Proms might like to consider the words. The plea to make Britain “mightier yet” may be in the minds of Foxes and Farages, but even they should at least have doubts about ever widening of the nation’s borders. Whatever Brexit may mean, the retreat from Europe – and whatever influence the Brits used to have in neighbouring countries – demands drawing in, not expansion.
Sean Day-Lewis
Colyton, Devon

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18 days ago | |
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Wigmore Hall, London
Sarah Connolly brought intensity to lieder by Schumann and Mahler, and finesse to Berlioz and Debussy, while Soile Isokoski’s astonishing Brahms left the audience rapt

As the Proms drew to a close, the Wigmore Hall season began with two extremely fine recitals on consecutive nights. Friday’s opening concert was given by Sarah Connolly and Malcolm Martineau. Schumann’s Hans Christian Andersen lieder, from his Op 40 set, and Mahler’s Rückert Lieder formed the evening’s first half. French music came after the interval.

A restrained, subtle communicator, Connolly is often at her most engaging in recital, though on this occasion she took a few minutes to settle, with an occasional edge creeping into her high notes near the start, as if her voice was not quite fully warmed up. Fierce declamation captured the angst of Schumann’s Andersen settings, which deal with such harrowing subjects as infant mortality and death by firing squad. Carefully shaded soft singing and a fine sense of line characterised much of the Mahler, though she began Um Mitternacht at slightly too intense a level, not leaving herself quite enough dynamic or emotional space for the climactic final stanza to hit home as forcefully as it might. But Ich bin der Welt Abhanden Gekommen was beautifully done, the closing pianissimos hovering exquisitely.

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18 days ago | |
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From Barenboim to Blomstedt, Reich to Rossini and Argerich to Alsop, our music writers pick their highlights from the 2016 proms. Do you agree? Tell us what yours were in the comments section

For me, the best concert was the one given by Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim, friends since childhood and two of the greatest musicians of our age. They were dazzling together for Liszt’s Second Piano Concerto with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, and in the Schubert four-hand duet as an encore, all followed by extracts from Tannhäuser, Götterdämmerung and Die Meistersinger that showed that Barenboim has no peers today as a Wagner interpreter.

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18 days ago | |
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The 37-year-old has led Northern Ireland Opera for the past six years; Antonio Pappano hails his ‘genuine passion for the art form’

Oliver Mears, the artistic director of Northern Ireland Opera who once staged Britten Noye’s Fludde in Belfast zoo as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, is to be the new director of opera at Covent Garden.

The Royal Opera House announced that 37-year-old Mears will succeed Kasper Holten, who leaves London in March 2017.

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18 days ago | |
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Lorde, Little Dragon and Missy Elliot, Mozart, Britten and Puccini - the US soprano and Cardiff Singer of the World finalist shares the music that she loves

What was the last piece of music you bought?

The score of Britten’s Turn of the Screw, and Erykah Badu’s latest, Mixtape. That pretty much sums up my music taste.

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19 days ago | |
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Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
The WNO’s musical virtues allied with heart-rending scenes rescue a crass, gruesome Northern Ireland Opera production of the Scottish play

Welsh National Opera’s autumn season marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a trio of Bard-inspired operas.

They sing in Italian, but WNO don’t use Verdi’s title Macbetto, as though thespian superstition demanding reference to “the Scottish play” did not extend to the operatic version. The bad luck is that the company has taken on the ill-conceived production originally staged in 2014 by Northern Ireland Opera; the good fortune is that the crass and sometimes gruesome updating is counterbalanced by considerable musical virtues, with the characters of Macbeth and his Lady, together with the chorus of witches whom Verdi regarded as the third protagonist, all strongly portrayed.

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19 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
The Proms season closed with a tremendous Verdi Requiem under Marin Alsop, while the Last Night’s celebrations were trouble-free, if the music was a little bland

In the end, it didn’t happen: the Last Night of the Proms didn’t descend into a Brexit v EU flag-off; no punches were thrown during Land of Hope and Glory. Certainly the EU flags were more prominent than usual, but as ever they jostled with stripes and crosses and emblems from all around the world – to decipher them all one would need to invent Shazam for flags. In the arena, two of the Prommers most ostentatiously dressed head to-toe in union jacks were visiting Germans, and the biggest, brightest flag of all belonged to Tibet. It’s a mistake to think of the Last Night as an exclusively British thing.

Instead, in a way, it’s more of a fancy-dress party. Nobody understood that better than Juan Diego Flórez, the Peruvian star tenor, who came on for Rule Britannia dressed as an Inca warrior complete with blue and orange feathered headdress and gold earrings as big as beermats, and brandishing an axehead on a staff. Flórez had already all but stolen the show with his high notes, agility and wit in arias by Rossini, Offenbach and Donizetti, and, with a microphone, with his smooth delivery of a medley of Latin numbers – the smoochiest of which was addressed to the cuddly toy Paddington (also a Peruvian guest in London) he’d been handed from the arena. The BBC Symphony Orchestra did a good impression of a Cuban backing band.

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19 days ago | |
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Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra & Swedish Radio Choir/Ticciati
(Linn) (2 CDs)

We have heard too little of Robin Ticciati recently, as an injury took him out of Glyndebourne’s new Béatrice et Bénédict this summer. Here, by way of compensation, is an orchestrally superb new version of Berlioz’s “dramatic symphony” loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The sound pictures are precise and subtle in the “serene night”, Juliet’s funeral cortege, and the fizzing fireworks of the Queen Mab scherzo. The composer was very precise about the layout of his voices: here, Katija Dragojevic is a gorgeously warm mezzo, and Alastair Miles a stentorian bass in the final Serment de réconciliation, but a boxy acoustic underbalances the chorus, especially in this great climax.

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19 days ago | |
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