wed 05/08/2015

Classical Music reviews, news & interviews

Prom 24: BBCSSO, Runnicles

David Nice

You never quite know whether a new work by James MacMillan is going to veer towards the masterly or the overblown. His magnificent chain of concertos has arguably yielded masterpieces, but the Third Symphony at the Proms in 2003 sounded like an unwieldy impersonation of the monumental. Twelve years have passed, and he’s shied off writing a Fourth until he felt he had something to say. And while this most worthwhile of the BBC commissions may have its moments of excessive rhetoric – so, too,...

Prom 23: Verdi's Requiem, BBCSSO, Runnicles

Alexandra Coghlan

A weekend of extremes at the Proms took us from stark solo Bach on Saturday to the massed forces of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, gathered under Donald Runnicles for Verdi’s Requiem. As a showcase for the kinds of repertoire the awkward Royal Albert Hall really does do well, it was pretty nigh perfect.It’s always good (and far too rare) to see Donald Runnicles in London. The chief conductor of the BBCSSO announced his arrival by immediately...

Southrepps Sinfonia and Soloists, Southrepps...

David Nice

It only takes one outstanding musician with links to an out-of-the-way place to gather his or her top-notch friends and give a mini-festival of...

Prom 22: Piemontesi, Aurora Orchestra, Collon

Peter Quantrill

What would you expect of an ensemble performance played from memory? That the odd lapse, entirely understandable over the span of a 40-minute...

Prom 21: Alina Ibragimova plays Bach (II)

Alexandra Coghlan

While Friday night’s triptych of solo Bach began and ended in a sombre, contemplative place, the arc created for the second sequence by pairing the...

Prom 19: Alina Ibragimova plays Bach

Alexandra Coghlan

Sternly beautiful, Ibragimova's Bach is Baroque at its most authentic

Classical CDs Weekly: Steve Reich, Saint-Saëns, Cristina Pato

Graham Rickson

A minimalist magnum opus and the grandest of French symphonies. Plus Spanish bagpipes

Prom 17: Hallé, Elder

Peter Quantrill

Valuable Proms premiere for Vaughan Williams’ equivocal vision of utopia

Prom 14: Prokofiev Piano Concertos

Gavin Dixon

Five-work marathon showcases exceptional pianists and the less familiar specimens

Philharmonia, Davis, Three Choirs Festival

Richard Bratby

Bliss’s personal war requiem in Hereford Cathedral

theartsdesk in Pärnu: Top players, great Estonians

David Nice

Utopian music-making led by the Järvi family in Estonia's magical summer town

Prom 13: Josefowicz, BBCSO, Mälkki

David Nice

Ravishing orchestral playing in Boulez and Holst, superb control from the Finnish conductor

Matan Porat, Wigmore Hall

David Nice

Young Israeli pianist aims big, with intelligence to spare, in Ligeti, Rameau and Schubert

Prom 12: Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Andsnes 3

Bernard Hughes

Triumphant end to a four-year pilgrimage thrills Proms audience

Prom 10: Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Andsnes 2

Bernard Hughes

The Norwegian pianist's marvellous musicianship deserved a larger audience

Classical CDs Weekly: William Lawes, Diane Ambache, Tom Poster

Graham Rickson

Sublime viol music, introspective pianism and a lively chamber disc

Prom 9: Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Andsnes 1

David Nice

Light and air fill the Royal Albert Hall in Beethoven, but Stravinsky needs to dance

First Person: Poems to Messiaen

Michael Symmons Roberts

Michael Symmons Roberts introduces a project to respond to Messiaen through poetry and painting; we also publish one of his poems

Prom Chamber Music 1: The Cardinall's Musick, Carwood

Matthew Wright

Period specialists' superb account of Cheryl Frances-Hoad's ravishing world premiere overshadows Tallis

10 Questions for Pianist Leif Ove Andsnes

Adam Sweeting

Norway's premier pianist on Beethoven, elevator music, conducting from the piano and being big in Korea

Prom 4: CBSO, Nelsons

Sebastian Scotney

The great Latvian conductor will be a hard act to follow in Birmingham

Prom 1: Vogt, Maltman, BBCSO, Oramo

Gavin Dixon

A diverse season opener offers sublime Mozart and spectacular Walton

Classical CDs Weekly: Kit Downes, The Nash Ensemble, John Potter

Graham Rickson

English and American chamber music, and a beguiling collection of songs old and new

theartsdesk at the East Neuk Festival: Church strings, garden horns

David Nice

Al fresco cornucopia, stunning new academy and a utopia of seaside chamber music

Q&A Special: Pianist Lucas Debargue

Ismene Brown

First interview with 'self-taught' Lucas Debargue who captivated the Tchaikovsky piano competition

theartsdesk at the Lichfield Festival

Richard Bratby

A slimline Magic Flute in the Cathedral and David Matthews as featured composer

Classical CDs Weekly: Medtner, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky

Graham Rickson

Piano music from Russia and Finland, and a much-loved symphony

Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra, Cadogan Hall

Simon Broughton

Lively mix of Latin American and British music

Classical CDs Weekly: Bach, James Horner, Baltic Sea Youth Philharmonic

Graham Rickson

Baroque electronics, concert music from a film composer and a multinational youth orchestra

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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