There are few institutions that enjoy an anniversary more than the Proms. This year's festival marks the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss's birth, the 80th birthdays of Harrison Birtwistle and Peter Maxwell Davies, and the centenary of the start of the first world war. Among several other notable dates are a couple of personal milestones for conductor Daniel Harding, who appears with his Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra later this month: it is 25 years since he performed in his first Prom, as a trumpeter in the National Youth Orchestra, and 20 years since his professional debut as a conductor. Not bad for someone who is not quite 40.
Another pertinent link with the past is that Harding's final trumpet performance came in a NYO Prom that featured Mahler's second symphony, the work he will conduct with the SRSO. "Mahler has been an obsession since Chetham's [music school in Manchester], where my circle of friends were the nerds in a school full of nerds," he recalls. "For us it was all about the Germanic repertoire, and back then we were very snooty about English or French music. Music is not unlike football in that sense: it's probably healthy to be obsessed and judgmental at some stage. Of course I've learned to love other types of music, but Mahler has always been a constant and it has been amazing to see how much he is now played. I was once given a 1906 Grove Dictionary, which essentially said he was a pretty good conductor but a mediocre composer. And although he did rightly predict that 'my time will come', he surely never envisaged this level of popularity. It's almost dangerous."
Oedipus Rex, the opera-oratorio that's arguably the greatest of Stravinsky's neoclassical achievements, could have been tailor-made for the Royal Albert Hall. Its mix of ritual and stylised drama communicates vividly and urgently there, and the choruses that anchor the structure take on an implacable force. Sakari Oramo's account, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and the men of the BBC Singers and BBC Symphony Chorus, didn't stint on any of that elemental power; other conductors find more tenderness in some corners of the score, but Oramo made the whole thing taut, hieratic and tragically inevitable.
The cast was a fine one: Allan Clayton was Oedipus, combining lyric elegance with just enough haughtiness and steel; Hilary Summers was a true contralto Jocasta, regal and dismissive when in full flight. Rory Kinnear, meanwhile, made what can be made of the spoken narration, and Duncan Rock as the Messenger and Samuel Boden as the Shepherd were both incisive and superb, with only Juha Uusitalo's Creon proving disappointing, even when he and Oramo finally settled on a tempo for his aria that suited them both.
Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe has been lauded following his death on Friday morning
Classical composer Peter Sculthorpe has been lauded as a musical giant following his death. The 85-year-old died in Sydney on Friday morning after a long illness.
Over six decades of a rich musical career, Sculthorpe changed Australias music landscape forever.
Taking place just after dawn or before dusk on Portobello Beach, this piece by Helen Paris and Caroline Wright, with a score by Jocelyn Pook, offers a poetic and musical meditation on how easily we can end up all at sea. It's a wonderful melding of performance and landscape, the sky blushing silvery-pink as we wander across the beach towards the pewter ocean, which meets the shore like a line drawn in charcoal in a child's wonky hand. Awaiting us are a group of sailors in white shirts and royal-blue culottes, a rope at their feet.
Through headphones we hear voices. At first, the shipping forecast, then some instructions on how to conduct mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Then the memories of a woman, now out of her depth, recalling her mother's attempts long ago to teach her to swim. The rope becomes a timeline in which past, present and future coexist. We began as fish, so do we now flounder on dry land? The waves ripple against the shore, gulls wheel in the sky, and the timeless heave-ho of a sea shanty reminds us of the endless push and pull of time. "Her ageing pushes her back," says the woman of her elderly mother. "My children's ageing pushes me forward."
Each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account. Were inviting them to tell us about who they are
Im Don Bemrose, a proud Gungarri man whose mother and grandparents grew up in Cherbourg, QLD. I pursued and achieved my childhood dream in 2012 to become the first Aboriginal person to perform with Opera Australia. I have sung a lead role in two world premiere Australian opera works and sung at the hallowed sporting grounds of the MCG and Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium).
Peter Oundjian is best known in the UK as the music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, though he's also music director of the Toronto Symphony, with whom he made this recording of Rimsky's symphonic suite last year. It's a decent performance, but no more. Oundjian is good in moments of delicacy and repose, allowing us to hear the irony beneath the orientalism at the start of The Kalender Prince, and the naivety as well as the passion in the declarations of love between the Prince and the Princess. The rest of it, however, is notably lacking in drama, excitement and the sense of mystery and adventure that you find in great performances of the work; and with no filler, and consequently only 45 minutes of music, the disc is short. There are umpteen better versions to chose from out there.
Viktor Ullmann is mostly associated with the extraordinary flowering of music at the concentration camp at Terezín, where he was held from September 1942 until his deportation to Auschwitz in October 1944. Pianist Christophe Sirodeau argues that he should be approached "not as a victim of the Nazis, but on his own merits" but it remains difficult to dissociate his music from the circumstances of its composition. His seven piano sonatas explore themes of individuality, identity and tradition at times of extreme crisis. Ullmann's fondness for variation form allows him to link his own angry yet lyrical soundworld to those of Mozart, Mahler and Janácek in Nos 1 to 4, composed in Prague as the Nazi threat loomed. Nos 5 to 7, written as a trilogy in Terezín in 1943, allude to other proscribed composers, such as Berg. No 7 closes with a gut-wrenching set of variations on a traditional Jewish folk tune. Sirodeau is an immensely persuasive interpreter. Recommended.
Keep your ears to the ground and tune into all frequencies for music that makes special mention of the act of listening
I have a theory that men love with their eyes, but women love with their ears, said the sharp-witted Zsa Zsa Gabor, remarking profoundly on the science of attraction, having also certainly eared up a few husbands in her time. But perhaps she was also interested in what was between mens ears. Greek philosophers Diogenes and Epictetus more or less said the same thing as each other, centuries apart, in support of human lobes: We have two ears and one tongue so that we can listen more and speak less. And writer David Foster Wallace pointed out a stark difference in subtlety between two ear episodes in film, a notoriously violent incident in Reservoir Dogs (not for the faint-hearted) and the mysterious appearance of a severed ear on a lawn at the beginning of Blue Velvet: Quentin Tarantino is interested in watching somebodys ear getting cut off; David Lynch is interested in the ear.
Conducted by Karl Böhm, this derives from a radio broadcast from the Vienna State Opera in 1965. It features one of the most striking casts ever assembled for the work, though some of the individual singers can be heard to better advantage elsewhere. Leonie Rysanek's sensual Chrysothemis is even more ecstatic on her 1955 recording on Walhall, also with Böhm. Birgit Nilsson, meanwhile, had only recently taken the title role into her repertoire, and her interpretation hadn't acquired the subtlety she was to bring to it three years later when she recorded the role with Georg Solti. Böhm's Klytemnestra, like Solti's, is the great Regina Resnik, whose haunting performance here is the more engrossing of the two. Böhm himself is at his absolute best, attaining almost unbearable levels of frenzy in places, yet also wonderfully detailed, even with the restricted, mono sound.
The only sleeve note for Maria João Pires's Beethoven album is an essay by Pires herself, in which she meditates on "music's essential power to bring out a primal simplicity, which is present deep inside each one of us, waiting to respond when summoned". I'm not convinced, I'm afraid, that this disc is likely to elicit the kind of response she envisages. The nuanced intimacy of her playing, which makes Beethoven's small-scale Second Concerto her calling card in concert, isn't quite enough when it comes to the bigger Third and Fourth, which need grandeur as well as subtlety, if they're to have their full impact. Much of this is extremely beautiful, and there are striking insights: the way Pires edges the slow movement of the Third towards the high Romanticism of a Chopin nocturne, for instance, is telling. But it's all too low-key for my taste. Conductor Daniel Harding, sympathetic to her approach in the Third Concerto, is a bit stolid, uncharacteristically in the Fourth.
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