Concert Concat 2

This post is one in a sequence which lists live music I have heard, as best my memory allows, from the Pandemic onwards. I will update this as time permits. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard.

Other posts in this collection can be found here.

  • Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Church Waterloo, Wednesday 21 February 2024. This ensemble comprises newly-graduated musicians in their first foray into professional orchestral performance, so the line-up changes completely each year. The program comprised:

    • Sergei Prokofiev: Symphony #1 (Classical), Op 25
    • Sally Beamish: Hover
    • WA Mozart: Symphony #41 (Jupiter).

    This was a most joyous concert, and finely played. Because all seats in the orchestra were occupied by the performers, I sat as close as I possibly could, in the front row.

    Despite hearing Prokofiev’s first symphony many times, the tonal spikiness of many of his melodies and their surprising developments I still find somewhat alien to my thinking. I also find it remarkable that he wrote this work while his home city was undergoing revolution; I hear no trace of that in the music.

    Hover by Sally Beamish (who was in the audience) was new to me and very pleasant. The work centres on an oboe solo, intended to represent a hovering kestrel, playing a melody which then moves around the orchestra. Much of the sound world created is very low volume, which sometimes made it hard to distinguish the music from the low rumblings of nearby underground trains. It would be an interesting task for a composer to incorporate low train sounds into a site-specific composition.

    The performance of the Jupiter was also excellent. This symphony never fails to lift my spirits: the final movement contains the greatest fugue written by anyone in the 75 years between the death of Bach and the composition of Mendelssohn’s Octet.

  • Matan Porat in a lunch-time recital at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London, Friday 16 February 2024. The church was about 3/4 full. The program was mostly Bach:
    • Bach/Liszt: Prelude and Fugue in A Minor BWV543
    • Bach/Porat: Chorale Prelude: Kommst Du nun, von Himmel herunter auf Erden BWV650
    • Bach/Feinberg: Chorale Prelude: Were nun denj lieben Gott BWV647
    • Bach/Kurtag: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit BWV106
    • Bach/Busoni: Chorale Prelude: Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein BWV734
    • Brahms/Busoni: 3 Chorale Preludes Op 122: Herzlich tut mich erfreuen; Es ist ein Ros entsprungen; Herzlich tut mich verlangen
    • Bach/Feinberg: Largo from Sonata for Organ in C Major BWV529
    • Bach/Porat: Chaconne from Partita for violin in d minor BWV1004.

    Mr Porat’s playing was very good, and the Chaconne was close to sublime. The audience called him back several times, and he played at least one encore. But I wanted to leave with the Chaconne in my head, so did not stay for the encores.

  • I was most fortunate this past week (7-13 February 2024) to hear live-streamed several of the recitals performed as part of the 18th European Piano Competition in Bremen, Germany. The final round comprised wonderful performances of Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto (Viktor Soos), 4th Piano Concerto (Alexander Doronin) and 3rd Piano Concerto (Théotime Gillot), each playing with the Bremer Philharmoniker under Tung-Chieh Chuang. The EKW 2024 website currently still has recordings of all the performances.

    Congratulations to the prize-winners and to all the participants.

    • Théotime Gillot – 1st prize
    • Viktor Soos – 2nd prize
    • Alexander Doronin – 3rd prize
    • Théotime Gillot – Audience Award
    • Théotime Gillot – Prize for the youngest person taking part in the semi-final
    • Lukas Katter – Siegrid Ernst-Prize for the best interpretation of a piece composed by a female composer (Lili Boulanger)
  • Kasparas Mikužis and the Academy Symphony Orchestra under John Wilson at a packed Duke’s Hall, the Royal Academy of Music, London, 9 February 2024, playing the Second Piano Concerto of Rachmaninoff.

    I have been many times to hear performances at Duke’s Hall, and the acoustics in the main hall are excellent. For the first time, I was seated in the Rear Balcony, in the nose-bleed seats. The acoustics here too were very good, except that the orchestra tended to drown out the piano in the louder sections when both were playing. Perhaps this was not the case in the main hall, as the piano would have projected sound straight out to the audience, in front of the orchestra. But the back half of the orchestra, the brass and percussion, seemed to project up rather than straight out, to the detriment of the piano sound for those of us seated high up. This is a small quibble about a very fine performance, and probably not easily fixed without some changes to the hall.

    It is very difficult to hear this concerto afresh, after so many adaptations and allusions to it by Hollywood. The melodies and even the orchestrations are so familiar to most of us that any performance risks being heard, not as a single work of coherent musical form, but as a medley of famous tunes by Rachmaninoff: first one well-known tune, then another, as if his greatest hits had been collected together and re-written for the Boston Pops orchestra.

    This performance managed to overcome that risk and convey a coherent sense of the form of the work. This was despite the fact that, like all late romantic music, the composer is doing his best to hide the form. I am not a fan of late romantic music, for precisely this reason – I want to be able to hear the musical form and structure, as I listen. This was an excellent performance. Mr Mikužis was confident and assured, and his playing, as always, was superb. The orchestra, too was excellent. This was certainly a performance for the ages, and I was very privileged to hear it.

  • Mendelsson: Elijah, at the Barbican, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the London Symphony Chorus and the Guildhall Singers under Antonio Pappano (sung in English), 31 January 2024. This was an outstanding performance to a fully-packed hall, marred only by the noise of half-a-dozen latecomers still arriving during the overture.

    Interestingly, the double basses and cellos were placed on the conductor’s left-hand side, on the opposite side from the male (tenor and bass) singers in the choirs. The first violins were at the front left and the second violins at the front right, with the violas further from the stage behind them on the right. The timpanist and organist were on the right behind the strings and beneath the brass. The brass and woodwinds were seated on elevated platforms, with the French horns on the left, the woodwinds in the middle, and the brass on the right.

    The orchestral overture of Elijah is one of the greatest representations of gradually-increasing tension in all of music, and this performance showed that superbly.

  • Imogen Cooper, Giulia Contaldo and Kasparas Mikužis – Piano recital at Famington Farm, Barcheston, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire CV36 5AX, 28 January 2024. The program comprised:
    • Cooper: Bach/Kempff: Chorale BWV 307/734 “Nun freuf euch, lieben Christen g’mein”
    • Cooper: Bach/Busoni: Chorale BWV 659 “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland”
    • Contaldo: Respighi: Notturno
    • Contaldo: Wagner/Liszt: Isolde’s Liebestod aus Tristan und Isolde, S.447
    • Contaldo: Debussy: Estampes (Pagodes, La soiree dans Grenade, Jardins sous la pluie)
    • Cooper: Schubert: Impromptus D899 No 1: Allegro Molto Moderato in C minor
    • Mikužis: Chopin – A Selection of Preludes Op 28 (numbers 1-18, 23, 24)

    This was a concert performance after several days of masterclasses, both held in the quiet setting of a farm in Warwickshire. About 50 people attended, in a private concert hall between farm-house and stable, with a very fine piano in a room with good acoustics.

    All three pianists played superbly well. Ms Cooper, a renowned pianist I had not heard play before, started by presenting us a very romantic treatment of two Bach chorales. These were wonderful. Ms Contaldo played her selection very well, with Respighi’s Notturno new to me. I much prefer French impressionists to late Romantics, so could have done with more Debussy, and less Wagner/Liszt. I have now heard Mr Mikužis play Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes three times (well, strictly speaking, 2.83 times, as this third performance was incomplete). Again his performance was superb, and sounded yet more confident than the time before. The piano may have helped his performance sound more assured.

  • Kasparas Mikužis: Solo Piano Recital at Regent Hall (Salvation Army), Oxford Street, London, UK, Friday 12 January 2024. The program comprised:
    • Alvidas Remesa – Stigmatas – 5 miniatures for piano
    • Chopin – 24 Preludes Op 28

    A superb performance before about 65 people on a good piano on a raised stage in a hall with a very clear and direct acoustic.

    As befits a recital in a hall used for religious meetings, the program comprised entirely spiritual music. Remesa’s Stigmatas are beautiful and reflective miniatures, and were new to me. They are a real find. This was the second play-through of Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes I have heard from Mr Mikužis in the last week, and this second time, he seemed to have gained in confidence. The piano and the acoustics no doubt helped to convey the force of his playing. Mr Mikužis played with strength and verve, and with great sensitivity. One difference that was apparent in this second performance, was that the three low D notes of a tolling bell that end the final prelude, Mr Mikužis seemed to play more forcefully than he had last weekend: Raging, raging against the dying of the light, not meekly reconciling oneself to death. This was a very moving performance.

    One view of Chopin’s Preludes is that they are intended to lead us to think about our death and the after-life. Certainly, Chopin repeatedly uses the medieval Dies Irae Gregorian chant from the Catholic Requiem service throughout the collection, and several of the preludes use tempi and rhythmic patterns associated with funeral marches (eg, Number 20 in C minor). Listening to them again, I was reminded of Hokusai’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji: We are being shown the same event (death in the case of Chopin) from different positions or perspectives.

  • Kasparas Mikužis: Solo Piano Recital at St Mary’s of Charity Church, Faversham, UK, 6 January 2024. The programme was:
    • Mikalojus Čiurlionis: Three Preludes (I think)
    • Chopin: Preludes, Op. 28.

    About 50 people were present on a cold Saturday morning to hear this wonderful recital, in a large church with a clear, bright acoustic. The opening three pieces by Čiurlionis were delightful impressionist miniatures. I did not know the programme in advance, so I was delighted to hear Chopin’s Prelude cycle. This was a superb performance, and the audience gave Mr Mikužis a standing ovation. Afterwards, I overheard an audience member remark with amazement how he had produced the force and colours of a full orchestra from just a piano!

    A bell outside at another church could be heard tolling during Prelude No. 6 (in B minor), prefiguring the sombre tolling bell with its three bass notes which ends the final prelude.

    I am most grateful to Mr Mikužis for first introducing me to this Op. 28 cycle of Preludes.

  • Ariel Lanyi – piano recital at the Wigmore Hall, London, 27 December 2023. The program was:
    • Beethoven: Sonata #2 in A, Op 2 No 2 (1794-5)
    • Franck: Prelude, Aria et Final (1887)
    • R. Schumann: Etudes Symphoniques Op 13 (with posthumous etudes) (1834-7)

    A very refined performance to a house about 3/4 full. Many people seemed to know each other. I was not able to stay for the Schumann.

  • Bach at 300: Two Cantatas and the Magnificat in E flat BWV243a with Christmas Interpolations, by Solomon’s Knot, at Wigmore Hall, London, 7 December 2023. The cantatas were: O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV60 and Wachet! betet! betet! wachet!, BWV70. All three works date from 1723. In the first cantata, one of the trumpets had a cylindrical bell arising like a helix at right angles to the main line of the instrument. In the second cantata, the trumpet played was a slide trumpet, in which the body of the trumpet was slid along a very long mouthpiece (perhaps 2 foot long). The performances were superb, and the Magnificat masterful and rousing.

    The concert is available on BBC Radio 3 for another few weeks.

  • Emmanuel Despax – Bach/Busoni’s Chaconne and Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Opus 28. Solo piano recital at St John’s Church Waterloo, London, 26 November 2023. The interior of this church was refurbished in a (very beautiful) minimalist, modernist style after lockdown, with limited decoration, so the acoustics can sometimes be austere. Sitting at the front for this performance, I did not feel this at all. This performance, especially the Bach, was profoundly intense and deeply moving, indeed transcendent.

    Chopin’s Preludes seem to be having a moment. In addition to this concert by M. Despax, recitals of the Opus 28 collection are scheduled shortly by pianists Boris Giltburg (Wigmore Hall, London, 16 December 2023, available to view online here), Kasparas Mikužis (Aylesbury, 7 December 2023, Faversham, London and Warwickshire, January 2024), Veneta Neynska (London, 10 February 2024), and Jan Lisiecki (a recital series across Europe, January and February 2024). In addition, I notice that two contestants in the 18th European Piano Competition in Bremen, Germany have put these Preludes on their dance cards for the semifinal round: Francesco Maccarrone and Vincent Neeb. And both reached the semifinal round.

  • Gabriele Sutkute: Solo recital at St-Mary-Le-Strand, London, 23 November 2023, details here. The programme was:
    • P. Rameau: Suite in D major (Pièces de Clavecin) (I. Les Tendres Plaintes (Rondeau) and #VIII. Les Cyclopes (Rondeau))
    • Scriabin: Piano Sonata in G-sharp minor, Op. 19 No. 2
    • Bartók: “Out of doors” (“With Drums and Pipes”, “Barcarolla”, “Musettes”, “The Night’s Music”, “The Chase”)
    • Liszt: Venezia e Napoli, Années de pèlerinage II, S.162 (Gondoliera, Canzone, Tarantella).
  • Ayane Nakajima: Solo piano recital at Steinway Hall, London, 15 November 2023. The programme was:
    • JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue #12 in Book 2 of the 48, in F minor
    • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor Op. 111
    • Chopin: Andante Spianato et Grand Polonaise Brilliante in E-Flat major, Op. 22.

    Ms Nakajima played with great technical skill and impressive power. This was a performance that would have easily filled a large hall, but here there was too much force for the small size of the room. When the acoustics of a performance space enable intimate whispers, it seems a shame to shout. And, although Bach was (probably) not writing with a piano in mind, playing his works on a modern piano (or indeed on other instrument combinations) allows us to appreciate aspects that we would miss, for instance, on a harpsichord. Personally, I think the suspended sonorities of Prelude II.12 are better appreciated at a slower pace than the one Ms Nakajima took.

  • Kasparas Mikužis: Solo Piano Recital at St Mary’s Church, Sittingborne, UK, 11 November 2023. The programme was:
    • JS Bach: Prelude and Fugue #8 in Book 1 of the 48, in Eb/D# minor
    • Rachmaninoff: Variations on a Theme of Corelli
    • Mikalojus Čiurlionis: Five Preludes
    • Chopin: Scherzo #3, Op. 39 in C# minor.

    The concert began at 11am on Armistice Day, so the 50 or so people present first held two minutes of silence to remember the war dead. The opening Bach Prelude and Fugue was very fitting for a recital in a church and on this particular day, and allowed the thoughts that had arisen during the Remembrance silence to linger.

    The Preludes by fellow Lithuanian composer (and painter) Mikalojus Čiurlionis were new to me, and were quite charming. They are impressionistic in a style akin to Debussy; definitely music to seek out and play. Both the Rachmaninoff/Corelli and Chopin Scherzo #3 were excellent. A recording of a previous performance by Mr Mikužis of these two pieces can be heard here.

    Overall, the acoustics of the church were bright, which allowed us to enjoy this superb performance, one of great intelligence, maturity and artistry. Particularly for the Bach, Mr Mikužis’s performance was transcendent and sublime.

  • Various artists: Drake Calleja Trust Scholars Concert 2023, Corinthia Hotel, London, 4 November 2023, to an audience of about 100 people. The artists were: Vladyslav Biliachenko, Joseph Chalmers, Aleksandr Doronin, Bryan Evans, Maria Filippova, Dmytro Fonariuk, Siping Guo, Oleksandr Ilvakhin, Misha Kaploukhii, Anastasia Koorn, Liu Miao, Kasparas Mikužis, Alexandria Moon, Henna Mun, Eyra Norman, and Agustin Pennino.

    The Drake Calleja Trust channel on Youtube has videos of the performances. A video of bassoonist Siping Guo and pianist Kasparas Mikužis in a superb performance of Weber’s Andante and Hungarian Rondo can be found here.

    In a concert program of mostly pretty-sounding nineteenth century music, the highlight for me was Aleksandr Doronin making a compelling case for serious late twentieth century music in his performance of two Ligeti Etudes, #10 – Der Zauberlehrling (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) and #13 – L’escalier du diable (The Devil’s Staircase). A recording of these by Drake Calleja Trust is here. As well as being technically demanding, these are musically very interesting, and this was clear in Mr Doronin’s interpretations. Here is another performance by Mr Doronin of Etude #13 at the Moscow Piano Open International Piano Competition in December 2019. (He was, incidentally, the First Prize Winner of this competition.)

    I first heard a live performance of some of Ligeti’s Etudes, including #10, in Liverpool in 2002 in a recital given by the Hungarian-Danish pianist, Ms Elisabeth Klein, who was then aged 91. She had been a student of Bela Bartok, and she played on that occasion to an audience of about 10 people. She became a public performer of modern piano music only in her sixth decade.

    Mr Doronin can also be heard here in a thrilling performance of Prokofiev’s fiendish Second Piano Concerto (1913/1923), with the Symphony Orchestra of the Royal College of Music, London, under Martyn Brabbins, at the RCM in London in May 2023. This public performance was the result of Mr Doronin winning a concerto competition for any instrument for students of the RCM. My introduction to Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto was via this recording, and it has helped me to better understand and appreciate his music. I am most grateful to Mr Doronin for helping me change my view of Prokofiev’s music.

    Frederic Rzewski’s The People United will never be Defeated was played by Mr Doronin in a recital at the Pianissimo Winter Festival at the State Hermitage in St Petersburg in December 2021. The video recording of that performance is unfortunately truncated at the beginning.

  • The Fidelio Trio in an early-evening concert at St Mary-Le-Strand Church, London, Friday, 20 October 2023. The programme was:
    • Beethoven: Archduke Trio
    • Chick Corea: Addendum

    The Archduke was superb, and I wanted to leave with its music in my ears, so did not stay for the second piece. The pianist had a page-turner, a young man uncredited in the programme notes.

  • Louis-Victor Bak in a solo recital at the Steinway Hall, London, Wednesday, 18 October 2023. The programme was:
    • Haydn: Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Hob XVI:46
    • Debussy: Images Book 1, L. 110
    • Debussy: Images Book 2, L. 111
    • Chaminade: Sonata Op. 21 in C minor

    Mr Bak’s playing was elegant and appropriate for the small size of the room.

  • Louis-Victor Bak in a solo recital at St-Mary-Le-Strand, 28 September 2023.
  • Oklahoma! at Wyndham’s Theatre, 8 August 2023. It is a long time since I had last seen this Rodgers & Hammerstein musical and I had forgotten about the tragic ending. What a downer that ending is, on music that is so life-affirming and optimistic. This was a wonderful production, apart from the solo dance interlude at the start of Act II.
  • Filippo Gorini: Bach’s The Art of Fugue, Wigmore Hall, Sunday 23 July 2023. Superb performance, entirely from memory, and a very intense experience. The emotions of the work were heightened by this being the last concert of the 2022-2023 Season at the Wigmore, it being a Sunday evening, and the weather being wet and unusually cold. There was definitely an end-of-something vibe. Sadly, in one of the early fugues, a phone in the lobby rang for a long time. (For shame, Wigmore Hall!).

    This concert is part of a longer-term intellectual project exploring and performing The Art of Fugue.

  • Peter Moore, trombone, and Robert Thompson, piano, in a recital at Wigmore Hall, Sunday 16 July 2023. The program comprised:
    • Cesar Frank: Sonata in A (arranged by Moore) (1886)
    • Reynaldo Hahn: A Chloris (1916)
    • Lili Boulanger: Le retour (1912)
    • Carlos Salzedo: Piece Concertante Op. 27 (1910)
    • Arthur Pryor: Love’s Enchantment (c. 1902).

    This was an excellent and adept performance by a young master of the trombone. The hall was about 2/3 full, and was much younger than the usual Wigmore Sunday morning chamber music audience. The last piece was technically very challenging, like a brass band competition piece, but light in meaning.

  • Astral Quartet: Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall, London, Sunday 25 June 2023. Sublime saxophone quartet, comprising:
    • Soprano – Leopoldo Mugnai
    • Alto – Oliver Lee
    • Tenor – Annabella Chenevix Trench
    • Baritone – Ethan Townsend

    An online performance of this quartet in St James Church, Piccadilly, can be found
    here. (Photo credit: Astral Quartet)

  • I Musicanti, with Peter Donohoe on Piano, in a concert at Wigmore Hall, London, Wednesday 12 April 2023. The programme was:
    • Farrenc: String Quintet Op. 38
    • John McCabe (1939-2015): Sam Variations (1989)
    • John McCabe: Pueblo (for solo double bass)
    • Schubert: Piano Quintet in A, D667 (“Trout”).

    I attended in order to hear Louise Farrenc’s String Quintet, which was excellent. I stayed to hear the Schubert, which was also excellent. The long piece for double-bass struck me as self-indulgent. By chance, I sat next to the pianist and a friend at an early dinner before the concert.

  • Mervyn Hogg, organ recital at St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, London, Friday 31 March 2023. The programme included Buxtehude (Toccata and Fugue in F, BuxWV 157), JS Bach (Fugue on the Magnificat, BWV 733), Byrd (Fantasia in C), Max Reger (Ave Maria in Db, Op80 No 5), and J Rheinberger (Pastoral Sonata in G, Op. 88 No 3). Another recital by Mr Hogg at St. Bride’s is available here.
  • Consone Quartet at Wigmore Hall, London, Sunday 12 March 2023. The programme was:
    • Haydn: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 33 No. 2 (“The Joke”) (1781)
    • Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 5 in E flat, Op. 44 No. 3 (1838)
  • Lucas Jussen and Arthur Jussen: The Rite of Spring for two pianos, at the Wigmore Hall, London, 23 January 2023, and at Theatre des Champs Elysées, Paris, 5 March 2023. Both profound experiences, as I reported here.
  • A Mass for the Fourth Centenary British Province of the Society of Jesus, Farm Street Church, London, 21 January 2023. Celebrated by Vincent Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, and homily by Fr Damian Howard SJ, Provincial of the British Province. The music included the world premiere of James MacMillan’s “Precious in the sight of the Lord” (with MacMillan in the congregation).
  • The Mozartists: 1773 – A Retrospective at Wigmore Hall, Tuesday 17 January 2023. A concert of music from 1773 by Mozart, Haydn, CPE Bach J. Myslivecek and A. Schweitzer.
  • Eggner Trio: Recital at Wigmore Hall, Sunday 16 October 2022. The programme included Hummel’s Piano Trio in G Op. 65 and Beethoven’s Archduke Trio.
  • Orchestre National de France under Aziz Shokhakimov with my favourite French pianist Cedric Tiberghien in a concert in the Auditorium, Maison de la Radio et de la Musique, Paris, on Thursday 14 April 2022. The programme was:
    • Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnole, suite pour orchestre
    • Ravel: Concerto en sol
    • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4

    (Photo credit: Resmusica)

    I was told by an usher that this concert was presented in honour of members of the French Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, and many legionnaires were in attendance.

    I was fortunately seated in the first row behind the orchestra, very close to the percussion, and so could see the conductor. This was one of the greatest concerts of my life, and the Tchaikovsky was transcendent. I was on a great high for days afterwards.

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