sun 10/12/2023

Classical Music reviews, news & interviews

I Fagiolini, Hollingworth, St Martin-in-the-Fields review - it's not the Messiah...

Boyd Tonkin

“Nobody likes a Messiah…”, deadpanned Robert Hollingworth, with the timing of a practised stand-up. After a pause, “…more than I do.” At St Martin-in-the-Fields on Friday evening, however, the seasonal blockbuster did not, just for once, feature on the festive menu. Instead, Hollingworth’s ever-enterprising ensemble I Fagiolini served up a savoury and well-spiced alternative to Handel’s ubiquitous staple.

Classical CDs: Christmas 2023

Graham Rickson

 Winter Breviary St Martin’s Voices/Andrew Earis (Resonus)

Natalie Dessay, Philippe Cassard, Milton Court...

David Nice

It could have been a winner: a charismatic star soprano of great emotional and interpretative intelligence, a top pianist given a little space to...

Paul Lewis, Wigmore Hall review - Schubert...

Ed Vulliamy

A decade has passed since Paul Lewis concluded an endeavour of a kind never previously undertaken: to perform, over two and a half years and across...

Voces8 Foundation Choir and Orchestra, Smith,...

Bernard Hughes

There’s a game called Whamageddon, where people see how deep into December they can go without hearing “Last Christmas”. I’m like that, but with the...

First Person: Natalia Franklin Pierce, Executive Director of Nonclassical, on 'creating a sense of belonging'

Natalia Franklin Pierce

On bringing classical music to wider audiences - and appealing for help in a good cause

Grosvenor, Park, Ridout, Soltani, Wigmore Hall review - chamber music supergroup in perfect accord

Bernard Hughes

Thoughtful programming puts quirky novelty alongside big beasts

Dariescu, BBC Philharmonic, Storgårds, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - sounds of unquenchable optimism

Robert Beale

Conductor is his own violin soloist in one of two UK premieres

MacMillan's Christmas Oratorio, Lois, Williams, RSNO, MacMillan, Usher Hall, Edinburgh – a great composer at the top of his game

Christopher Lambton

Scottish premiere of a recent masterwork

Louise Alder & Friends, Wigmore Hall review - magic carpet rides with soprano, strings and woodwind

David Nice

Levitational joy in an all-French programme, with modified rapture over two arrangements

Aurora Orchestra, Kings Place review - experimental work in an immersive setting

Rachel Halliburton

A conceptually elegant evening that transported you to a different dimension

Morison, Immler, BBCSO, Bychkov, Barbican review - a Kafka journey and a mighty landmark

Boyd Tonkin

Multi-tasking maestro shines with new songs and old forms

Classical CDs: Microphones, mazurkas and mad scenes

Graham Rickson

Piano concertos, operatic intermezzi and a striking collection of songs

Grosvenor, SCO, Emelyanychev, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - lightness of touch and a sprinkling of humour

Simon Thompson

Romantic music played with period style, and the pianist finds the wit in Mendelssohn

Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - championing the rich and rare

Robert Beale

Solo qualities and thunderous climaxes in Rossini’s 'Stabat Mater'

Accentus, Insula orchestra, Equilbey, Barbican review - radiant French choral masterpieces

Bernard Hughes

A familiar warhorse alongside a neglected curiosity

Classical CDs: Drawing rooms, timpani strokes and domestic fiddling

Graham Rickson

Vintage recording techniques, partsongs and Soviet orchestral music

Selaocoe, Schimpelsberger, LSO, Ward, Barbican review - force of nature crowns dance jamboree

David Nice

Cellist, composer and singer is one in a million – and the whole programme zings

West-Eastern Divan Ensemble, Michael Barenboim, QEH review - enchantment and conviviality

Boyd Tonkin

In fearful times, a precious enclave of musical grace

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Currie, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - maximum minimalism

Christopher Lambton

A singular pick of modern classics

Perfection of a Kind: Britten vs Auden, City of London Sinfonia, QEH review - the odd couple

Boyd Tonkin

An exuberant celebration of twin giants – but with a chapter missing

The Creation, Choirs of King's College & New College Oxford, Philharmonia, Hyde, King's College Chapel, Cambridge - sublime setting for mundane performance

Sebastian Scotney

A one-off reading which needed more joy and better choral diction

L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, Monteverdi Choir, EBS, Sousa, St Martin-in-the-Fields review - Handel at his most magical

David Nice

Milton's odes to the best of day and night in gorgeous settings and jewelled performance

Maxim Vengerov, Polina Osetinskaya, Barbican review - masterclass in technique with a thrilling rage of emotions

Rachel Halliburton

Complete mastery from the violinist, fire and vigour from his pianist

Lang Lang, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - playing with the music

Robert Beale

Passion and extroversion grow throughout Bach's Goldberg Variations

Lugansky, RPO, Petrenko, RFH review - so sure in all their ways

David Nice

Depth and clear intent revitalise two classics, while a contemporary work takes flight

Fanny: The Other Mendelssohn review - a tale of two siblings

Graham Rickson

Salutary tale of a neglected composer, neatly told

Feldmann, BBC Philharmonic, Storgårds, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - adventures in the unusual

Robert Beale

Enthusiasm rewards a musical journey to Finland and beyond

Classical CDs: Polkas, fans and chestnut trees

Graham Rickson

Czech piano music, Cuban mambo and a pair of Renaissance choral blockbusters

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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