wed 01/02/2023

Classical Music reviews, news & interviews

Leonskaja, Staatskapelle Streichquartett, Wigmore Hall / Secret Byrd, St Martin-in-the-Fields review - genuine versus theatrical

David Nice

It’s dangerous to claim a sense of absolute rightness about a musical performance; that could mean no more than responding to an interpretation which happens to chime with your own subjective expectations. Yet I’m happy to stick my neck out and say that the partnership of septuagenarian pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja with the young Staatskapelle Quartet of Berlin felt absolutely right in works by Brahms that cry out in every bar for authentic musicianship (★★★★★).

Ólafsson, LPO, Gardner, RFH review - spirit of delight

Gavin Dixon

This concert was advertised as the completion of an Elgar symphony cycle, though in the absence of the reconstructed Third, that meant the second of two. Both were planned with interesting concerto couplings. The First Symphony was presented with the Tippett Piano Concerto earlier in the week, and early publicity for this concert promised a new piano concerto from Mark Simpson, with Icelandic pianist Víkingur Ólafsson.

Gerhardt, BBC Philharmonic, Gernon, Bridgewater...

Robert Beale

Ben Gernon’s calm and clear way of conducting an orchestra (something he once told me he’d observed in the work of his mentor, Colin Davis) is good...

Classical CDs: Symphonies, suppers and knitting...

Graham Rickson

 Roger Norrington: The Complete Erato Recordings (Erato)Richard Osborne’s booklet essay contains some telling words from Sir Roger Norrington,...

Jansen, LSO, Noseda, Barbican review - hearts of...

David Nice

There’s life in the old overture-concerto-symphony format yet – especially if the conductor not only shapes every phrase but takes care over the...

Castalian String Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - genius in works and performance

David Nice

Colossal finales by Beethoven and Britten don’t seem to tire these amazing string players

Belcea Quartet, Wigmore Hall review - a riveting new string quartet

Bernard Hughes

This Guillaume Connesson UK premiere is a fine companion to Schubert and Beethoven

Sound Unwrapped Launch, Kings Place review - ravishing combination of ancient and modern

Rachel Halliburton

Moonscapes, drums and viola da gamba in a dizzying opening mini-festival

First Person: Kings Place Artistic and Executive Director Helen Wallace on a year of 'Sound Unwrapped'

Helen Wallace

'A wild swim through celestial sounds': this year's innovative programme runs the gamut

Watts, BBCSO, Wigglesworth, Barbican review - clarity, control and focus

Gavin Dixon

A major new song cycle, and distinctive Mahler

Yevgeny Sudbin, World Heart Beat Embassy Gardens review - phenomenal pianism in close-up

Sebastian Scotney

A recital with contrast and balance

Lowe, The Mozartists, Page, Wigmore Hall - an education, not quite a triumph

David Nice

Curate’s-egg focus on the year 1773 finds first-rate performers sometimes in trouble

Faust, Tamestit, EBS, Gardiner, St Martin-in-the-Fields review - countless shades of brilliant

David Nice

Two great communicative soloists up the joy factor of an already dazzling evening

Classical CDs: Musical saws, keyed fiddles and kestrels

Graham Rickson

Czech symphonies, contemporary chamber music and a well-matched quartet coupling

Benedetti, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - essays in transparency

Robert Beale

Taking Szymanowski's Second Violin Concerto to a near-capacity house

First Person: Royal Academy of Music Principal Jonathan Freeman-Attwood on why a conservatoire should make recordings

Jonathan Freeman-Attwood

25 years and 50 recordings on, an experienced producer on students and the studio

Mithras Trio, Wigmore Hall review - exhilarating, highly-toned performance

Rachel Halliburton

A real sense of elemental energy, as if we were next to a turbulent sea

National Youth Orchestra, Bloch, Barbican review - blazing and surging odysseys

David Nice

Anna Clyne does melody alongside razor-sharp Britten and ecstatic Strauss

Best of 2022: Classical CDs

Graham Rickson

Ten of the year's best classical CDs

Best of 2022: Classical music concerts

David Nice

Epic chamber sequences dominate another overwhelmingly rich year

Pavel Kolesnikov, Wigmore Hall review - conjuring spirits from solstitial darkness

David Nice

Master of colour sheds special light on three masterpieces and two surprises

Dunedin Consort, Butt, Wigmore Hall review - Christmas glory in Venice and Dresden

Boyd Tonkin

Heaven on earth: a full-bodied festive treat

Classical CDs: Canons, castles and a converted chapel

Graham Rickson

Basset horn and clarinet, a pair of piano recitals and a bonus Christmas disc

Bach Christmas Oratorio, Monteverdi Choir, EBS, Gardiner, St Martin-in-the-Fields review - soul-piercing song and dance

David Nice

The full genius of everything in all six cantatas over two glorious evenings

Chasing the Night, Echo Vocal Ensemble and Friends, Latto, Kings Place review - midwinter songs from around the world

Bernard Hughes

Imaginative programming in a seasonal concert with a difference

Bach Christmas Oratorio (Parts 1-3 & 6), Britten Sinfonia, Polyphony, Layton, Barbican review - glorious riposte to Arts Council axe

Boyd Tonkin

Festive flair and exuberance to shame the bureaucratic vandals

William Thomas, Malcolm Martineau, Wigmore Hall review - a richly modulated journey

Rachel Halliburton

Bass and pianist take us everywhere from the Danube to Hades

Batiashvili, Philharmonia, Shani, RFH review - Nordic mystery, Alpine tragedy

Boyd Tonkin

Lyric Sibelius and epic Mahler make a charismatic odd couple

Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - a performance to make the heart beat faster

David Nice

A great conductor finds a line through Mahler’s most intense glooms and optimisms

Footnote: a brief history of classical music in Britain

London has more world-famous symphony orchestras than any other city in the world, the Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra vying with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Royal Opera House Orchestra, crack "period", chamber and contemporary orchestras. The bursting schedules of concerts at the Wigmore Hall, the Barbican Centre and South Bank Centre, and the strength of music in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Cardiff, among other cities, show a depth and internationalism reflecting the development of the British classical tradition as European, but with specific slants of its own.

brittenWhile Renaissance monarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I took a lively interest in musical entertainment, this did not prevent outstanding English composers such as Thomas Tallis and William Byrd developing the use of massed choral voices to stirring effect. Arguably the vocal tradition became British music's glory, boosted by the arrival of Handel as a London resident in 1710. For the next 35 years he generated booms in opera, choral and instrumental playing, and London attracted a wealth of major European composers, Mozart, Chopin and Mahler among them.

The Victorian era saw a proliferation of classical music organisations, beginning with the Philharmonic Society, 1813, and the Royal Academy of Music, 1822, both keenly promoting Beethoven's music. The Royal Albert Hall and the Queen's Hall were key new concert halls, and Manchester, Liverpool and Edinburgh established major orchestras. Edward Elgar was chief of a raft of English late-Victorian composers; a boom-time which saw the Proms launched in 1895 by Sir Henry Wood, and a rapid increase in conservatoires and orchestras. The "pastoral" English classical style arose, typified by Vaughan Williams, and the new BBC took over the Proms in 1931, founding its own broadcasting orchestra and classical radio station (now Radio 3).

England at last produced a world giant in Benjamin Britten (pictured above), whose protean range spearheaded the postwar establishment of national arts institutions, resulting notably in English National Opera, the Royal Opera and the Aldeburgh Festival. The Arts Desk writers provide a uniquely rich coverage of classical concerts, with overnight reviews and indepth interviews with major performers and composers, from Britain and abroad. Writers include Igor Toronyi-Lalic, David Nice, Edward Seckerson, Alexandra Coghlan, Graham Rickson, Stephen Walsh and Ismene Brown

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