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Royal Lyceum theatre, Edinburgh
Enda Walsh and Donnacha Dennehy’s dark drama is propulsive, gritty and rich

For a festival that staged full Ring cycles in the not-so-distant past, Edinburgh is low on opera this year. The International festival’s new Irish director, Fergus Linehan, is a theatre man who openly admits to being mind-boggled by the cost of full-scale operatic productions. If and how he squares that circle in future seasons remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, his theatre instincts have served him well in presenting this potently compact, searingly powerful new chamber work by two of Ireland’s foremost creative voices, playwright Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy.

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19 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Prokofiev’s Fifth was played with beauty and control by Karabits and the BSO; Nicola Benedetti gave a restrained performance of Korngold’s Violin Concerto

Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra are in the process of establishing themselves as major Prokofiev interpreters, first with their ongoing symphony cycle on CD, and now with a Proms performance of his Fifth Symphony of considerable power and subtlety. The work itself was first performed in Moscow in January 1945 and was widely interpreted at the time as capturing the mood of growing confidence, as an allied victory in the second world war seemed increasingly certain. More recent commentators have argued that it also encodes Prokofiev’s own ambivalence towards the Soviet system, and have drawn inevitable comparisons with Shostakovich. Karabits, however, sees a marked difference between the two.

“It is an expression of hope more than reality,” he says of the Fifth, and the strength of his interpretation lies in his ability to embrace its optimism as well as its unease. This is music that examines violence, grief and anger, but does not give way to despair. The first movement’s coda and the extraordinary outburst of emotion at the centre of the Adagio were overpowering in their weight and intensity. Elsewhere, though, there were moments of rapt, noble lyricism and ambiguous humour, now sardonic, now genuinely smiling. A fine achievement, played with great beauty and control.

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19 days ago | |
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Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
The Carduccis maintained astonishing intensity throughout the complete cycle of Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets – performed in a single day

Most ensembles gung-ho enough to attempt a complete cycle of the 15 Shostakovich quartets – including, on other occasions, the Carducci Quartet – might spread them across a weekend, and still call it intensive. But that’s for wimps. Here, on the 40th anniversary of the composer’s death, the Carduccis put the quartets end to end in a single day: nearly seven hours of music, in four concerts with barely an hour between each. It demanded unusual focus from the audience, several changes of the Playhouse candles – and truly extraordinary stamina from the players. Between the later quartets it was as if the audience was cheering them around the last laps of a marathon.

Of course, Shostakovich never envisaged his works presented like this. In the exuberant earliest quartets the peaks of intensity became relentless, the players making no concessions to the long haul ahead. Indeed, perhaps the first four quartets could have been approached more as one single score, the Carduccis grading the fierceness of their playing accordingly rather than gunning for each climax. There were few moments of truly soft playing early on – but lots of crisp little dance passages that bounced off the coiled spring of Emma Denton’s cello, lots of yearning, finely judged melodies and deft mood swings. And the loudest episodes could be thrilling: the start of the Quartet No 4 made the Playhouse’s balconies ring like the body of a supersized stringed instrument.

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20 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
John Eliot Gardiner’s conducting on Beethoven’s Fifth was too generalised, and pre-recorded bells made the finale to Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique sound over the top

Five days after his semi-staging of Monteverdi’s Orfeo with the English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner was back at the Albert Hall with the period band he founded for the 19th-century repertoire, the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Their programme consisted of two groundbreaking symphonies, Beethoven’s Fifth and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. Pairing those two composers always underlines the debt that Berlioz owed to Beethoven, but it also emphasises how startlingly original and radical his own take on the symphony was in a work conceived only three years after Beethoven’s death.

Gardiner had asked the violins and violas of the ORR to stand throughout both works, and he brought the woodwind and brass to their feet for the last movement of the Fifth, too. Even then, though, his performance seemed generalised. Though the orchestral playing was consistently excellent, the Albert Hall’s acoustics blurred too much of what was surely much more incisive when it left the stage – by the time it reached the stalls only the outlines survived and too much detail had been lost.

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20 days ago | |
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The percussionist on the sensory joy of live performance, her admiration for Jacqueline du Pré, and why she’d really like to team up with Eminem

How do you listen to music most often?

I prefer to attend live performances where I can feel the music through my other senses and enjoy the whole experience. I don’t generally listen using headphones or in a car because I don’t hear the sound well. Because I work with music day after day I prefer not to spend my leisure time doing too much listening – I would reach saturation point very quickly!

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20 days ago | |
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Royal Albert Hall, London
Stormingly brilliant Mozart is followed by a French-themed programme of Ravel, Messiaen and Stravinsky, conducted with style by Nicholas Collon

This excellent BBC Philharmonic Prom began with a surprising rarity. Mozart’s ballet from Idomeneo is normally cut in the theatre, where it comes at the end of what is already a long opera. But it is nearly half an hour of music from the early, mature Mozart and is worth anyone’s attention. The highlights were a big chaconne, a delicious gavotte that was recycled in the K503 piano concerto years later and a stormingly brilliant pas seul, which rounded out a resequencing selected by Nicholas Collon , who conducted with notable style throughout the evening.

The rest of the programme had a French theme, particularly if you accept Stravinsky as an honorary Frenchman. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet was the thoroughly engaged yet idiomatic soloist, living every bar in Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. This was very much a communal effort, with Collon’s more measured than usual opening movement tempo allowing orchestral detail and interplay to flower very rewardingly, so that one caught every shimmer in the percussion and harps and each gurgle in the woodwinds. Bavouzet then raised the roof with a fleet and fantastic encore, Pierné’s Etude de Concert, op 13.

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21 days ago | |
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Prone cellists and dodgy acoustics are part of the fun at Tête à Tête. Plus life-changing Bach at the Proms

To compress the entire gamut of a mother-daughter relationship, from labour pangs to death bed, into a pop-up drama involving two singers, two cellists and a pillow stuffed up a dress takes special panache. Opera is what you make it. For the annual Tête à Tête festival nothing is off-limits. Orlando Gough’s My Mother, My Daughter, blunt and beautiful as well as shattering, touched nerves and hearts – even in the bathroom acoustic of a noisy foyer full of the tube-strike-weary jostling for the bar before the evening proper started. For a few intense moments, all attention was on singers Amy Freston and Hannah Mason, with cellists Dan Bull and Angélique Lihou chugging expressively throughout. Gough, who provided the pithy text as well as the music, truly captured the operatic pulse. It was all over in about five minutes.

After two weeks in six venues around London, the annual festival culminated last week at Kings Place with Thursday’s opening night buzzing with the curious of all ages – the sort of adventurous drop-in summer audiences mainstream companies would put in a sheep pen and handcuff until autumn given half a chance. Many had come for Jocelyn Pook’s Hearing Voices, a multimedia exploration of mental illness using diaries of the composer’s great aunt and others, full of optimism, humour and poignancy.

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21 days ago | |
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Benjamin Bevan, Mary Bevan, Sophie Bevan, London Early Opera/Cunningham
(Signum)

Unlike JS Bach, who hardly ever went outside the central German towns where his family worked, Handel was a cosmopolitan who travelled widely and settled in England. Crucial to his development was a journey to Italy in 1707, where he wrote for cardinals and courts. London Early Opera’s new project gets off to an odd start, with the Gloria discovered in 2001, which may not actually date from the Italian years, but no one is going to object when it is so dazzlingly sung by Sophie Bevan. Other members of the remarkable Bevan family clan match her: soprano Mary contributes arias from opera and oratorio, while baritone Benjamin offers a fine cantata.

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21 days ago | |
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Marcus Farnsworth (baritone), James Baillieu (piano)/Kemp
(Resonus)

Educationist and musician Martin Bussey (b1958) is a chameleon composer, able effortlessly to adapt his style to the contours of his chosen poetry: warmly lyrical for Housman’s Blue Remembered Hills; interestingly angular for Yeats’s The Mask; silky soft for Auden’s Lay Your Sleeping Head. The Mask opens the cycle Through a Glass, Darkly, composed for Marcus Farnsworth when he was still a student, and scored for string trio, oboe, bassoon and trumpet. Encompassing works by, among others, Blake, Robert Frost and Byron, this enthralling piece makes a philosophical exploration of dreams and reality, and is beautifully sung by this most mellifluous of baritones. And there is an amusing postscript, in the form of an 18th-century letter… but I won’t spoil the joke.

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21 days ago | |
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Julius Castro-Balbi (cello), Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Harth-Bedoya
(Harmonia Mundi)

Virile, noisy and rhythmic, tonal and modal, the music of Peru’s Jimmy López (b1978) is widely known in America but less so to audiences here. (His opera Bel Canto, based on the Ann Patchett novel and starring Renee Fleming, premieres in Chicago later this year.) These orchestral works show the influence of Afro-Peruvian music, in the pulsating Perú Negro especially, but López is also an honorary European, having studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki. Synesthésie explores tuned percussion, sensuous strings, murky woodwind and shimmering brass. Lord of the Air, for solo cello and orchestra, is inspired by the flight of the Andean condor. América Salvaje, mixing folk culture and high-art styles, is in effect one long, energetic crescendo honouring the wild Americas of its title. It’s bold and colourful.

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21 days ago | |
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