tue 25/06/2024

Classical Reviews

Theresienstadt, von Otter, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Edward Seckerson

Theresienstadt was the Nazis’ most successful PR exercise. Described as a “Jewish settlement” for the preservation and propagation of the Arts, this Czech outpost turned concentration camp housed virtually the whole of the Jewish cultural elite. Inmates called it an anthill, a “Garden of Eden in the middle of Hell”. But the Nazis insisted that cultural freedom was encouraged, even cultivated, here. This was no concentration camp, rather a transit camp.

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Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

There’s nothing like a bit of communal booing to sharpen your critical faculties. And Christof Loy’s new production of Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House last night received wave after wave after wave of it. An ocean of boos almost as deep and profound as the Wagner that had just washed over us moments before.

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Imogen Cooper 60th Birthday Concert, Wigmore Hall

Jonathan Wikeley

The great and the good came to Imogen Cooper’s 60th birthday concert. In fact, so thick with friends and fellow pianists was the Wigmore Hall, that at the end there seemed to be as many people going backstage to congratulate her as were leaving through the front doors. In that quietly embarrassing, I-hope-no-one-saw way, after some light-hearted Schumann, I thought for a moment she flashed a smile at me and – charmed – smiled back, but it turned out that I was sitting behind Brendel.

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Haitink, Chicago SO, Royal Festival Hall

Edward Seckerson Bernard Haitink: a safe pair of hands

The Bruckner half of the programme appeared to have come early as Bernard Haitink and the Chicago Symphony sternly, doggedly, processed through the introduction of Haydn’s Symphony No.101 ‘Clock’. It was a portent of things to come. The prognosis was not good. A case of terminal seriousness would eventually render the performance irreversibly moribund.

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Haitink, Chicago SO, Royal Festival Hall

Adam Sweeting


Strolling into the Royal Festival Hall's private function room on Level 5 last night, I naturally expected it to be crammed with freeloading hacks such as myself on the trail of free drinks, but the room was mostly populated by corporate types in suits. If you want to pull together a menu of prestigious international orchestras in these straitened times (particularly those elusive American ones),  you can't hope to do better than enlist the support of a multinational oil...

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The Damnation of Faust, Gergiev, Barbican Hall

Edward Seckerson

The Damnation of Faust is so chock-full of special effects that you half expect a list of technical advisors in place of the single name Hector Berlioz. But it is just he – wizard of his imaginings – who continues to surprise and even shock no matter how many times you hear the piece - and with Valery Gergiev heightening its neurotic nature all the way to pandemonium there wasn’t a whole lot more you could have asked of this performance, except a better, more complex and interesting...

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Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, Wigmore Hall

Jonathan Wikeley

Andrew Parrott, director of the Taverner Consort, once told me of a time he was playing harpsichord at the back of a largish orchestra. Confident that nothing he played would stand the remotest chance of being heard above the general cacophony, he “rather went to town” in his realisation of the continuo part. Afterwards he was congratulated by numerous audience members sat at the back of the hall on his stylish, if unconventional, interpretation. The sound had gone up into the air and bounced...

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Gergiev, LSO, Barbican

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Valery Gergiev shimmying his way through Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. There he was, London’s loosest-limbed maestro, back on the Barbican podium (just about) with the London Symphony Orchestra, after a summer flogging his chaotic Ring Cycle around the globe, returning to more favourable ground, an all-French programme of Debussy, Dutilleux and Ravel that had his dancing juices flowing and his legs a-leaping. Certainly, there’s no gainsaying his moves.

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Matthias Goerne, Alexander Schmalcz, Wigmore Hall

Ismene Brown

When you go to a Schubert recital, you’re plunged into a whirlpool of emotional ambivalence, heat and chill running together, music and lyrics not always playing the same tune.

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Handel Remixed 2, Barbican

Peter Culshaw

When I met the Nigerian rebel pop star Fela Kuti I asked him who was the greatest musician - he didn’t hesitate before replying George Frederic Handel. Kuti was wearing only a pair of red underpants at the time and smoking a massive spliff. His music has echoes of Handel, certainly in some keyboard lines, in all its solidity and moments of transcendence. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at Handel’s continuing  reach across the centuries and continents. Beethoven and Mozart are...

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