Its been a long birthday season for Peter Maxwell Davies, from midsummer concerts in Orkney to a late-night Prom on the big day itself. This Glasgow finale felt like a homecoming among friends. There were solo, chamber and orchestral works performed by musicians who have known the composer for decades, and there were birthday presents: three surprise tributes by fellow Scottish composers. Sally Beamish, Alasdair Nicolson and James MacMillan each presented short pieces responding to aspects of Maxwell Daviess legacy. All three spoke fondly of Max as an inspiration and a generous source of encouragement.
Beamishs Fanfares and Fancies on a Popular Air is a spry piano duet (played here by Michael Bawtree and Beamish herself) following in the long tradition of variations on a theme by the dedicatee in this case Maxwell Daviess indelibly touching Farewell to Stromness. Nicolsons solo guitar piece Magnus is based on a 13th-century hymn to Orkneys patron saint. Played by Sean Shibe, it was a misty, rugged, restless evocation of the islands. MacMillan, meanwhile, paid tribute to Maxwell Daviess work for children with a sweet, eerie Burns setting. The Rising Moon was performed by solemn young singers and bell ringers from Cumnocks Greenmill primary and a full-voiced quartet from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
The Italian prima donna Magda Olivero, who has died aged 104, had one of the most remarkable careers of the 20th century, above all as a leading exponent of the often-derided art of the verismo soprano. The post-Romantic realism of the verismo movemement in Italian opera, notably in works by Giacomo Puccini, Francesco Cilea, Franco Alfano, Umberto Giordano and Pietro Mascagni, provided an ideal vehicle for her compelling presence, and brought her a great following.
She had sung the role of Adriana Lecouvreur in Cilea's opera opposite Beniamino Gigli before the second world war, but during the war she married and all but retired. It was Cilea who encouraged her to return to the stage, first as Mimì in La Bohème, then as Adriana at Brescia, (1951). Cilea died shortly before her performance, but he had coached Olivero in what was to become her most famous role.
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra arrived at the Proms without its kapellmeister, Riccardo Chailly, who cancelled his summer engagements after injuring his arm earlier this year. He was replaced by Alan Gilbert, music director of the New York Philharmonic, a fine if variable conductor whose UK performances divide opinion.
The main work in their second programme was Beethovens Ninth Symphony, restored after an absence to its once traditional place in the penultimate concert of the series. The symphony was prefaced with Friedrich Cerhas Paraphrase on the Opening of Beethovens Symphony No 9, one in a series of works commissioned in 2010 by the Gewandhaus to accompany the orchestras Beethoven cycle, and heard in London during their Barbican residency. Cerha is best known for his completion of the third act of Bergs Lulu, and his paraphrase takes a variant of the symphonys opening motto as the starting point for a journey into astringent Bergian darkness and back. It is fractionally too long, but is deftly scored and was attractively played.
Coliseum, LondonWith Stuart Skelton in the title role, this is the tragedy of an ordinary jealous man; its Jonathan Summerss totally compelling Iago who holds centre stage
English National Operas last Otello, 16 years ago, set it in the army barracks of a 20th-century war zone in the desert. David Aldens new production, which also marks the 30th anniversary of his Coliseum debut, keeps Verdis penultimate masterpiece in the 20th century, but nudges it back 70 years earlier to between the two world wars, still somewhere in the Mediterranean, perhaps even in Cyprus. The action takes place in a single space, a battle-scarred inner courtyard in Jon Morrells designs to which a chair is added for the final bedchamber act.
In an interview in the programme Alden says that the production plays Otello himself as an assimilated Muslim, who has converted to Christianity; but in performance the effect seems to be to deracinate the opera altogether. The tragedy becomes that of an impulsive, unresolved man and his hopelessly naive young wife, who almost too easily become the victims of Iagos smouldering, class-ridden resentment.
Three concerts at the Brooklyn Academy of Music reunited these two titans of minimalism. Tom Parkinson reports from the opening night.
For anyone born after 1971, these three nights at Brooklyn Academy of Music, part of Nonesuch record labels 50th birthday celebrations, might prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The two dominant figures of American contemporary music, the titans of minimalism, were sharing a stage for the first time since they famously fell out over whose idea it all was.
In the late 60s, Steve Reich and Philip Glass were as intertwined in life as they have become in the history books. Not only did they workshop and perform each others compositions, they started a removal company to pay the rent. Even Glass concedes that in the context of those formative years in New York, we looked like Siamese twins.
Millennium Centre, CardiffWNO rise to the challenge of Rossinis final opera, with Pountney directing a strong, stirring performance
William Tell was Rossinis final opera, and his biggest and most ambitious. First performed in Paris in 1829, it was a work on the grandest French scale, complete with ballet, imposing choruses and ample scope for visual splendour. Staging it remains a challenge for any opera house, and Welsh National Operas new version, using the original French libretto, is a signal of artistic intent under David Pountneys leadership, while the success of the production is a measure of the companys musical and dramatic capabilities.
Pountney himself directs and WNOs former music director Carlo Rizzi returns to conduct (the same team will also take charge of the other new Rossini production of the autumn in Cardiff, Moses in Egypt). Raimund Bauers designs update the action to around the time of the operas composition, swinging between neutral naturalism and ironic caricature. There are enough background images of icy shards and folksy prints in the costumes to give it a Swiss feel; the ballet, choreographed by Amir Hosseinpour for a group of six dancers, has a rustic touch, too. But the occupying Austrian forces wear predatory helmets, and their governor, Gesler, is played as a villain straight from central casting, shaven headed, using a wheelchair and clad in full body armour.
Barbican, LondonFrom his flying jellyfish to his disco bot, Liam Youngs drones are spectacular, but it is John Cale who has a longer-lasting brilliance in his sights
Striped tin cans buzz through the air like android wasps. A cube draped in tube lights part jellyfish, part Orac from Blakes 7 hovers menacingly before the balcony. A cluster of pulsating foam balls swoops past another unidentified floating object wrapped in peacock feathers, and a flying disco light shimmies around to the funkier numbers as if auditioning for Robot Wars Does Strictly. At the peak of the performance, a huge golden peanut shell glides gracefully into a spotlight and hangs there, gleaming like a messiah.
This is the Drone Orchestra, a gaggle of flying bots designed by speculative architect Liam Young to swarm around the Barbican theatre during LOOP>>60Hz, his project with John Cale that brings drones out of the realms of sinister terrorist surveillance and Amazon delivery and puts them in front of your face like massive alien gnats. Young believes that drones will become as ubiquitous as pigeons delivering pizzas, tracking perps and providing a new background urban whirr; he and Cale, who would once tune his instruments to a refrigerators hum to resonate with the frequencies of modern life, make an intriguing fit.
Royal Albert Hall, LondonSakari Oramo realised that this evening works best if played relatively straight, while soloists including Janine Jansen and Roderick Williams shone
This was Sakari Oramos first last night, and in some respects it was remarkable. Given that the traditional Britannic imagery had assumed symbolic resonances for the Scottish referendum no vote, the atmosphere was tense and anticipatory. L-plates were hung on the podium. Some wondered how Oramo would cope.He proved, in fact, to be at once the consummate showman, and the perfect maitre d. When he removed his tailcoat to reveal a union-flag waistcoat with the Finnish flag at the back, there were shouts of we love you from the gallery. In his speech, he quietly and purposefully demanded greater prioritisation of classical music in schools. Most important, perhaps, was his awareness that the last night works best when played relatively straight.Opening with Gavin Higginss neat little fanfare-cum-scherzo, Velocity, the first half had its share of ambivalent, even sombre moments. Malcolm Arnolds Peterloo Overture, commemorating the massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Manchester in 1819, was a reminder that Britain hasnt always been great. The tone turned elegiac with Chaussons nostalgic Poème - exquisitely played by Janine Jansen - and John Taveners sorrowing Song for Athene, gravely sung by the BBC Singers. Then there was Taillefer, Strausss dreadful account of the exploits of William the Conquerors minstrel at the Battle of Hastings, which demonstrated that the grand imperialist manner, usually dubbed Elgarian, was by no means uniquely British.
Baritone Roderick Williams shone in part two, delivering intense performances of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho and Ol Man River, before turning his attention to Rule, Britannia, where he avoided camp he wore white tie and tails and which he treated as the ornate baroque aria it actually is. The sing-along also included selections from Mary Poppins led by Ruthie Henshall. Saltires were prominent among the flags waved throughout the evening.
Royal Albert Hall; Cadogan Hall; Wigmore Hall, LondonSome loved Peter Sellarss staging of the St Matthew Passion, others loathed it, but there was nothing but awe for the Berlin Philharmonic
Ever one to plunge in even when the danger flags are out, Simon Rattle brought two wildly contrasting concerts to the Proms last week, each played with dazzling brilliance by the Berlin Philharmonic. In this world-leading ensemble every musician is an artist-gymnast of supreme skill. Rattle demanded everything of them. They delivered.
The second Prom a staged performance of Bachs St Matthew Passion provoked controversy that, nearly a week on, continues to simmer. Acquaintances are still asking were you there, what did you think, what was it like. The answers are: yes; I began infuriated then yielded to its powers; it was like no other performance of this work I have encountered.
This marvellous recording, sung in German, comes as a surprise, since Bernard Haitink is not obviously associated with Haydn. In fact he didnt tackle The Creation until 2011, when he was 82. He approaches this great choral masterpiece with wit, unhurried grandeur, riveting orchestral detail and forward momentum in short, with just the acuity he brings to anything he conducts. Based chiefly on the Old Testament book of Genesis and Miltons Paradise Lost, its three sections describe the creation of the heavenly bodies, the banishing of Satan and the invention of all living creatures, as narrated by three angels, Gabriel (soprano Camilla Tilling), Uriel (tenor Mark Padmore), and Raphael (bass Hanno Müller-Brachmann). Choir, orchestra and soloists are on sparkling form in this live recording an invigorating reminder, if any were needed, of Haydns genius.
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