mon 22/07/2024

Classical Reviews

BBC Symphony Chorus, Stephen Jackson, Royal Albert Hall

alexandra Coghlan Stephen Montague's musical joke falls more than a little flat

Every year there are a couple of Proms that have a haphazard look about them, as if a fire had suddenly broken out in the BBC archives, and the programming committee grabbed whatever came to hand – a piano quartet, a couple of choral odes and a concerto for mandolin – and made for freedom. Though there had evidently once been a clear architecture to Sunday’s concert by the BBC Symphony Chorus and friends, in practice things were somewhat confused; endless personnel shiftings and a stuffed-to-...

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The Kingdom, Three Choirs Festival

stephen Walsh Gloucester Cathedral, stage for Elgar's 'The Kingdom': 'glorious orchestral sonorities echoing round the huge Norman columns'

The Three Choirs Festival is with us again, for the 283rd year – almost as many, it seems, as The Mousetrap: this year we are in Gloucester. Nowadays, though, this great festival is no longer imprisoned, Barchester-like, in the cathedral close, but ranges all over Gloucester city and Gloucestershire, with concerts also in Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, Highnam and Painswick; and its repertoire is likewise much broader than of yore, with plenty of new music, young artists, children’s...

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Gergiev, World Orchestra for Peace, Royal Albert Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

It seemed odd on paper. Two Mahler symphonies? In one night? I don't think I'd ever seen that. Last night's Prom showed why not. While Valery Gergiev's second half Mahler Five saw the stage transfigured into a writhing sea of bodies and the air filled with an epic sound, his first half starter, Mahler Four, fell flat on its face. One was a performance; the other was a rehearsal to a performance.
 

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London Sinfonietta, Atherton, BBC Singers, Royal Albert Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

The Tenebrae service of Maundy Thursday sees Satan's removal men take over holy duties. Crosses are veiled, lights are extinguished, songs of wailing erupt. Stravinsky's Threni (receiving its Proms debut last night) is a setting of these wails - the Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah - and is carved out of a dark, unforgiving orchestra and a suffocating choral weave. For the atheist, if not for those of a religious bent who might prefer the succour of François Couperin or Thomas...

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BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Runnicles, Royal Albert Hall

Edward Seckerson Donald Runnicles striving to go the extra distance in Mahler's Third

Being a great Mahler conductor is all about going the extra distance: the near-inaudible pianissimo, the seismic crescendo, the rhetorical ritardando; the accelerando that borders on reckless, the tempo change that crashes the gear-shift, the general pause that becomes a gaping chasm. Mahler took all the trappings of Austro-German music to the edge and back. His most successful interpreters do likewise. So, on the evidence of this Prom performance of the...

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BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Runnicles, Royal Albert Hall

David Nice Donald Runnicles: projecting a focused orchestral sound into the Albert Hall vasts

What a quintessential Prom: a quartet of works by English composers which aspire to international status, and in three cases wholly succeed, performed by the BBC's Scottish orchestra at world-class level under its homegrown but deservedly globetrotting chief conductor Donald Runnicles. And doing what the Albert Hall, if handled properly, assists in doing best - not the...

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Aimard, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Nott, Royal Albert Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

It was a huge irony that the focus of last night's Proms programme was the musical duet: the concerto, the waltz, the visual-aural duet of a Ravel tone poem.

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Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Jasper Rees

She glides on the arm of a tail-coated swain into an elegant Belle Epoque drawing room. Music swirls, eyes swivel. And no wonder. Her thin black dress hugs a gamine frame, a look of masculine confidence rests on her face. Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known to all and sundry as Coco, is making an entrance. Another one.

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Stephen Sondheim at 80, Royal Albert Hall

David Nice

Everybody in the business says don’t think Sondheim is easy. I’ve seen galas where big names stumbled in under-rehearsed numbers, and last night Bryn Terfel and Maria Friedman slipped and almost fell on the same banana skins that had done for them in a hastily semi-staged Sweeney Todd. Not enough to matter, though, and they rightly brought the house down. And the show as a whole?

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Australian Youth Orchestra, Elder, Royal Albert Hall

alexandra Coghlan Elder coaxed a strikingly mature performance from his young orchestra

The stage of the Royal Albert Hall has a rather unfortunate habit of making orchestras seem incidental. Stretching endlessly across, one of the world’s largest organs by way of backdrop, even the most generous conventional ensembles take on Lilliputian proportions. Youth orchestras, with their Romantic scale and do-or-die attack, often emerge best from this encounter, as the Simón Bolívar and Gustav Mahler ensembles have recently proved. Framed by eight double basses and five horns, the...

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