thu 18/09/2014

Classical Music reviews, news & interviews

Maestri: Conductors at the 2014 Proms


Chris Christodoulou is the official Proms photographer, writes David Nice. From his uniquely privileged position behind a velvet curtain, he captures the white heat of performance. The official shots roll off the press a couple of hours after the concert, but for the past five years our man in the Albert Hall has supplied theartsdesk with unofficial contraband images of conductors in action.No doubt the presence of only two women in the roster will provoke comment. Blame the Proms for not doing...

Last Night of the Proms, Jansen, Williams, BBCSO, Oramo

Sebastian Scotney

If only the Last Night of the Proms could just be about the music. If it were, then the story which I would want to tell would be about Janine Jansen. A crowd which mainly turns up to wave its vast array of flags, to bounce its beach-balls and generally to step free from the shackles of adulthood, was mesmerised into a concentrated hush by the magnetism of the Dutch violinist. She drew the huge audience right in to her playing. She made the cavernous Royal Albert Hall feel like an intimate...

Prom 75: Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Gilbert

Alexandra Coghlan

The silliness of the Last Night is really just a postscript to the penultimate night of the Proms, traditionally given over to a performance of...

Classical CDs Weekly: Elgar, Fuzzy, James Rhodes

Graham Rickson

 Elgar: Symphony no 1, Cockaigne Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sakari Oramo (BIS)No one says there's anything unusual about an...

Prom 74: Wainwright, Voigt, Britten Sinfonia,...

David Nice

Swathes of this year’s final Late Night Prom were so invertebrate, amateurish even, that I was tempted to go home and throw out my Want One and Want...

Prom 72: Berthaud, BBCSO, Litton

Alexandra Coghlan

A concert of English music that moved beyond pastoral stereotypes

Prom 71: Time for Three, BBC Concert Orchestra, Lockhart

Matthew Wright

Routine American programme blown away by Chris Brubeck's Travels in Time for Three

Prom 69: Cleveland Orchestra, Welser-Möst

Geoff Brown

Gleaming music-making, trimmed like topiary, from a reticent conductor and a superb American orchestra

Prom 66: St Matthew Passion, Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle

Alexandra Coghlan

A deeply moving and daringly simple staging of Bach's great Passion

A Season at the Juilliard School, Sky Arts 2

David Nice

Infomercial about arts training looks set to be distinctly undramatic

DiDonato, Pappano, Wigmore Hall

Sebastian Scotney

A joyous recital of songs from Rossini to the American songbook

Prom 64: Berlin Philharmonic, Rattle

David Nice

Colour and subtlety, but not always depth, from the Proms' favourite visitors

Classical CDs Weekly: Grieg, Mahler, Choir of Gonville & Caius College

Graham Rickson

Folk-tinged fun from Norway, the bleakest of symphonies, and an enchanting choral disc

Façade/Eight Songs for a Mad King, Grimeborn Opera, Arcola Theatre

Bernard Hughes

Two groundbreaking classics brought together in a new theatrical interpretation

Prom 63: McAllister, BBCSO, Alsop

Matthew Wright

Alsop's intelligent programming draws out the vernacular in Mahler and Adams

Proms Chamber Music 7: Benjamin Grosvenor/Prom 60: Driver, RPO, Dutoit

David Nice

Rainbow colours with a cooling shower or two in Proms showpiece time

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Volkov, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

Supercharged Janáček marks the end of festival director’s eight year reign

Classical CDs Weekly: Bruckner, Unsuk Chin, Dvořák

Graham Rickson

Romantic symphonies from Austria and the Czech Republic, and contemporary concerti from South Korea

Prom 53: Brahms Symphonies, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer

Jessica Duchen

Exceptional control and finesse allow Brahms’s masterpieces to shine supreme

Prom 52: Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer

Sebastian Scotney

Whole string sections with the ability to phrase cleverly and subtly as one

Prom 50: Weilerstein, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Bělohlávek

Edward Seckerson

An overly impulsive Dvořák, and a disappointing Beethoven from distinguished visitors

Classical CDs Weekly: Copland, Henry Mancini, Schumann

Graham Rickson

Well-known tunes from influential Americans and a German romantic in cerebral mood

Prom 47: Britten War Requiem, CBSO, BBC Proms Youth Choir, Nelsons

Edward Seckerson

Finely focused reading rings true and powerful

Wall, Mørk, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Davis, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

Heartfelt Schumann outplays heavyweight Strauss and lunatic Grainger

Prom 46: West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Barenboim

David Nice

Subtle touches but too little passionate abandon in this fine team's lopsided programme

Prom 43: Skride, BBCSO, Gardner

Edward Seckerson

Cannonades all round as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture follows Rachmaninov and Stravinsky

I, CULTURE Orchestra, Karabits, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

Music trumps politics in youthful, even joyous Shostakovich 'Leningrad' Symphony

10 Questions for Horn Player Sarah Willis

Jasper Rees

A second album for Berlin Phil musician will expand the repertoire downwards

theartsdesk in Verbier: Festival with Fireworks

Alexandra Coghlan

Mozart and Mahler at a festival that's about so much more than just star-power

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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