wed 20/08/2014

Classical Music reviews, news & interviews

Prom 43: Skride, BBCSO, Gardner

Edward Seckerson

The Russians were coming - and the prospect of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, even without the added attraction of hearing it in Igor Buketoff’s questionable choral arrangement where the Tsarist hymn is taken at its word and does a Boris Godunov on us, had the promenade queue fast stretching towards South Kensington. And if ever music replicated the excited buzz of something in the air Stravinsky’s Scherzo fantastique did, raising the curtain almost imperceptively through the scurrying of muted...

I, CULTURE Orchestra, Karabits, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

It is easy to be blinded by the sensational history of Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, the “Leningrad”. We cannot forget the famous performance by a starving makeshift orchestra in August 1942, at the height of the siege of Leningrad, or the dramatic way in which the Soviet authorities spirited the microfilmed score out of Russia to America via Tehran. Inscribed by the composer “To the City of Leningrad”, the symphony has been laden since birth with political meaning, much of it contradictory...

10 Questions for Horn Player Sarah Willis

Jasper Rees

Sarah Willis's day job is as a member of the horn section of the Berlin Philharmonic. In recent years she has also become a roving ambassador for the...

theartsdesk in Verbier: Festival with Fireworks

Alexandra Coghlan

Mahler’s Sixth Symphony is dominated by the doleful clang of cowbells. They are an other-worldly intrusion into an otherwise familiar musical scene...

Lemper, SCO, Foster, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

Twenty years ago Ute Lemper came to the Usher Hall to sing Kurt Weill. The young pretender to the Lotte Lenya throne performed then on a bare stage...

Classical CDs Weekly: Louis Andriessen, Mozart, Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik

Graham Rickson

A dazzling contemporary opera, three classical symphonies and piano music from father and daughter

Gerhardt, Osborne, Queen's Hall/Keyrouz, Ensemble de la Paix, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

David Nice

Perfect cello and piano duo spotlights Britten, with eastern liturgical music to follow

Prom 34: Piemontesi, BBCNOW, Søndergård

Geoff Brown

Feathery jewels from the pianist, but mixed fortunes for Nielsen’s battle-scarred symphony

Quartet for the End of Time, Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

Composer-clarinettist Jörg Widmann crowns a strong team in Messiaen's wartime meditation

Prom 33: Schwizgebel, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Gardner

David Nice

20th century orchestral concertos in a riot of sophisticated colour from terrific teenagers

theartsdesk in La Foce: War and Peace in Val d'Orcia

David Nice

Musical youth and experience gather in one of the world's most beautiful landscapes

Prom 31: Coote, Hallé, Elder

Edward Seckerson

From Elgar at sea to the Eroica, a special relationship explored

Edinburgh International Festival Opening Concert, RSNO, Knussen, Usher Hall

Christopher Lambton

Debussy, Schoenberg and Scriabin induce only mild ennui in an unfestive launch

Prom 29: Grosvenor, Goode, BBC Philharmonic, Noseda

Geoff Brown

Disappointing Chopin, but an Italian rarity and the Royal Albert Hall organ offer honey and fire

Classical CDs Weekly: Grundman, Messiaen, Aki Kuroda

Graham Rickson

Diatonic Spanish contemporary music, a gargantuan post-war symphony and a disc of piano transcriptions

Prom 28: D'Orazio, Clayton, BBCSO, Oramo

Edward Seckerson

A great Stravinskyan king and queen surpass mood music for electric violin and strings

Prom 27: Trusler, BBCNOW, Wigglesworth/Inspire Workshop, Royal Albert Hall

David Nice

Youth and experience take turns in lighting up Elgar, while a violinist dazzles in a lesser work

Prom 26: European Union Youth Orchestra, London Voices, Petrenko

Alexandra Coghlan

A youth orchestra teaches musical history in an astonishingly mature performance

Prom 24: BBCSSO, Runnicles/Solemn Vigil of Commemoration, Westminster Abbey

David Nice

Vaughan Williams and Mahler engaged as World War One laments, but Purcell and Bach crown solemnities

theartsdesk Q&A: Pianist Saleem and Violinist Nabeel Abboud Ashkar

David Nice

Palestinian brothers encouraging Israeli youth to make and listen to music across the divide

Prom 20: Crabb, BBCSO, Brabbins

Bernard Hughes

Sally Beamish’s accordion concerto was a last-minute replacement that thrilled and moved

Classical CDs Weekly: Dutilleux, Rimsky-Korsakov, Roger Woodward

Graham Rickson

20th century French orchestral music, a Russian war horse in a definitive performance, and a live recital from a master pianist

Prom 19: BBC Singers, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Petrenko

David Nice

Masterly festive Strauss and elegiac Elgar, predictably second-league Four Last Songs

Prom 16: Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic, Goetzel/Prom 17: Les Arts Florissants, Christie

David Nice

Communication at the highest level in orchestral orientalia and Rameau motets

Prom 14: Pahud, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Fischer

Bernard Hughes

A striking new flute concerto by Simon Holt between established French masterpieces

A Hundred Million Musicians: China's Classical Challenge, BBC Four

Jasper Rees

Will China's army of young instrumentalists conquer the planet?

Prom 12: Bach St John Passion, Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Norrington

Kimon Daltas

Swiss orchestra and choir bring radiance to the Royal Albert Hall

Gallery: CBeebies Prom


The youngest ever audience for a BBC Prom is introduced to an orchestra

Classical CDs Weekly: Dvořák, Haydn, Janáček, Thomas Larcher

Graham Rickson

Sizzling Czech orchestral music, witty classical symphonies from a much-missed conductor and contemporary piano music from Austria

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

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 7,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Gnosis, Akram Khan, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Gorgeous rhythm from Kathak legend

What If

Pallid Daniel Radcliffe rom-com suggests the limits of self-effacement

CD: Roni Size - Take Kontrol

Drum & bass don returns with an album whose quality improves as it prog...

Young Vets, BBC Two

Watchable docu-soap provides plenty of cuddly pets to coo over

Prom 43: Skride, BBCSO, Gardner

Cannonades all round as Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture follows Rachmanino...

CD: Royal Blood - Royal Blood

Muscular blues-rock debut from Brighton duo

Two Days, One Night

The Dardennes triumph once again - this time by collaborating with Marion C...

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Chris Turner/ BEASTS/ Angela Barnes/...

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

I, CULTURE Orchestra, Karabits, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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


Satyajit Ray's classic of Indian cinema is beautifully restored