Concert Concat 2024

This post is one in a sequence which lists (mostly) live music I have heard, as best my memory allows. I update this list as time permits. In some cases, I am also motivated to write about what I heard. I write to have a record of my musical experiences because memory is fallible. These entries are intended as postcards from me to my future self. Other posts in this collection can be found here.

  • Pavel Kolesnikov in a solo recital at an almost-full Wigmore Hall, London, 22 May 2024. The theme of the recital was Celestial Navigation, and before he came on stage, there was a short talk by Mr Kolesnikov through the speakers about the idea behind the theme. It was not clear if he was speaking live or this talk had been pre-recorded. (I know how difficult it can be for some musicians to speak before or during playing, as both activities may be using the same hemisphere of the brain.)
    • Louis Couperin (1626-1661): Pavane in F sharp minor
    • Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992): Regard de l’Etoile from Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus (1944)
    • Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849): Nocturne in D flat Op. 27 No. 2 (1835)
    • Olivier Messiaen: Regard de l’Etoile from Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus
    • Olivier Messiaen: La colombe from Préludes (1928-9)
    • Fryderyk Chopin: Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 No. 1 (c.1829)
    • Olivier Messiaen: La colombe from Préludes Prélude (1964)
    • Fryderyk Chopin: Nocturne in C sharp minor Op. 27 No. 1 (1835)
    • Olivier Messiaen: Prélude
    • Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Une barque sur l’océan from Miroirs (1904–5)
    • Thomas Adès (b.1971) Darknesse visible (1992)
    • Interval
    • Franz Schubert (1797-1828): 4 Impromptus D935 (1827):
      Impromptu in F minor • Impromptu in A flat • Impromptu in B flat • Impromptu in F minor

    This was a fine and moving performance by Mr Kolesnikov, played (I think) from memory. For the audience, our experience was enhanced by the admirable new policy of The Wigmore to darken the house lights during performances (something standard in British theatre, but not previously common in British music). Mr K played one encore, a moderately long, quiet minimalist work, Etude #2 of Philip Glass. This piece was well chosen, as it had the effect of calming us after the emotional turmoil of the Schubert Impromptus.

    As in his recent performances, the pianist was dressed entirely in white or off-white (in what looked to be designer clothes), which may presage a new trend: Is white the new black? Does it matter what the performer wears? Given that the only lights up were directed to the stage, dressing in white emphasized the performer more than dressing in black would have done. People who hold a traditional view of the performer as merely a slave to the composer (not a view which I hold), would perhaps not approve this emphasis. On the one hand, some would argue, it makes no difference to the sound, and I record it here merely for the historical record. On the other, musicians know that how you think strongly influences how you play, and the feelings and attitude of the performer may be greatly affected by what they are wearing, and by the reasons they have chosen a particular outfit.

  • Leopoldo Mugnai in a saxophone recital in the Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, Royal College of Music, London, 20 May 2024 (accompanied by pianist Anya Fadina and supported by recording engineer Stephen Harrington). This was an exciting recital of 20th and 21st Century music.
    • Graham Fitkin: Gate (1963) (soprano saxophone)
    • Jonathan Harvey: Ricerare una melodia (soprano saxophone and electronics)
    • Alfred Desenclos: Prelude, Cadenza et Finale (soprano saxophone)
    • Andre Waignein: Deux Mouvements (alto saxophone)
    • Ida Gotkovsky: Brillance (alto saxophone).
  • Alexander Doronin playing Brahms’ First Piano Concerto with the Sevenoaks Symphony Orchestra under Darrell Davison, in Pamoja Concert Hall, Sevenoaks School, Sevenoaks, UK, 19 May 2024.

    This was a superb performance by Mr Doronin, commanding and thrilling, and played from memory. The psychological anguish of the first movement (likely arising from the pain Brahms felt after Schumann’s suicide) and the determination to live on in the main theme of the third were both strongly evident. Mr Doronin’s playing was technically adept, confident and controlled, yet not at all mechanical. This was an artful and emotionally expressive performance, and I was privileged to have heard it.

    Prior to the Brahms, the orchestra played Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and, after the interval, his Eroica Symphony (which I did not catch). The orchestra and conductor are to be congratulated for tackling such an ambitious programme, and for playing with such enthusiasm.

    The Pamoja Hall has a very high, peaked wooden roof with ribbed wood cladding on the walls, and the acoustic was very good. This hall is inside a modern building with a very good design, allowing the interval audience to spill outside onto a stepped terrace, which the warm evening encouraged. The hall apparently seats 410 and tonight was about three-quarters full. In the audience was the Mayor of Sevenoaks Town Council, wearing her ceremonial gold neck chain.

  • Part 1 of the Final Audition of the Young Classical Artists Trust (YCAT) at Wigmore Hall, Thursday 16 May 2024. The performers were

    The standout performances for me were those by James Morley (who was successful in being chosen as a YCAT Fellow for 2024) and the Dianto Reed Quintet (who were not). Mr Harewood was also successful. Congratulations to the winners and to all the contestants.

    I had attended this concert primarily to hear Mr Morley, and I was not disappointed. His program had a symmetry through time, with an excerpt from a Bach Cello Suite at its centre and works by Britten and Kaija Saariaho on both sides of it. The final piece by Liza Lim he played with two bows. The wooden back of the second bow was used initially, higher up the strings than the first bow, but by mid piece, both bows were being used in the usual manner. Although played very well, I thought the music of this work fairly mundane, with mostly low rumblings of little interest. However, the last third of the piece was transformed when Mr Morley started to sing. His voice sang long, soft, high notes that changed this music into something powerfully ethereal.

    • Benjamin Britten: Cello Suite #1, Op. 72 – Canto Primo
    • Luciano Berio: Les monts sont alles
    • Kaija Saariaho: Sept Papillon – Papillon II
    • JS Bach: Cello Suite no. 6 – Allemande
    • Benjamin Britten: Cello Suite #1, Op. 72 – Fuga
    • Kaija Saariaho: Sept Papillon – Papillon II (reprise)
    • Martin Marais: Les voix humains
    • Liza Kim: Cello Playing – as Meteorology

    The Dianto Reed Quintet were simply outstanding. The members had memorized the music, so were not confined to stand still in place reading the scores. Instead, they could move about to enact the dialectical elements of the story they presented, which was music about and leading to Manuel de Falla’s Danza del Terror from his ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, The Sorcerer). We didn’t just hear the attempted siren song and the counter song that is the final act of the ballet, we saw the musicians enact it by their movements around the stage. The set included a cocktail table and four chairs, and the musicians played variously sitting and standing around the table, or moving elsewhere on the stage. The movements appeared to have been carefully choreographed. I was reminded of the physical enactment of the dialectical interactions in Vivaldi’s The Seasons that I witnessed almost exactly ten years ago by Pekka Kuusisto playing with and leading the Sacconi Quartet and the Chamber Orchestra of the Royal College of Music.

    Identidades: la magia del Duende

    • Primo Ish-Hurwitz: Three Preludes to El Amor Brujo, No. I
    • Manuel de Falla (arranged Arjan Linker): La vida breve – Danza espanola
    • Enrique Granados (arranged Arjan Linker): Doce danzas espanola – Oriental
    • Primo Ish-Hurwitz: Three Preludes to El Amor Brujo, No. II
    • Xoan Montes Capon (arranged Max Knigge): Negra sombra
    • Primo Ish-Hurwitz: Three Preludes to El Amor Brujo, No. III
    • Manuel de Falla (arranged Hugo Bouma): “El amor brujo” Suite – Danza del Terror & Danza Ritual del Fuego

    The quintet comprises five Spanish musicians who studied together in Amsterdam. The theme of their recital was The Duende, the fiery internal spirit that sometimes inspires performers to create great and passionate art. The performers introduced us to Federico Garcia Lorca’s Theory and Play of The Duende and then quoted from it several times. Garcia Lorca posited The Duende as a third member of a trio that includes positive angels and the artist’s muse in inspiring artists: angels are always better than ourselves, while the muse is static. Only the duende is alive and possibly capricious in its intentions.

    The Diantoistas aimed to reveal to us the duende in their recital, and they most certainly did. This performance was passionate and fiery, and among the best half-dozen musical performances I have ever been fortunate to be present at. If you ever wondered, as I have, what present-day England would have been like had the Spanish Armada been successful in their attempted invasion of 1588, then here is part of the answer: Britain would have had musicians like this!

    There is a video of a live performance by the Dianto Reed Quintet of a longer version of the Duende programme here.

  • Tom Zalmanov in a very fine solo piano recital at Steinway Hall, London, Wednesday 15 May 2024. The programme was on the theme of traveling and comprised music from France, Austria, Israel, Russia and Spain:
    • Francis Poulenc: Trois Novelettes
    • Franz Schubert: Wanderer Fantasy in C major, Op. 15 D760
    • Tal-Haim Samnon: Memory and Variations
    • Sergei Rachmaninov: Preludes Op. 23 – No. 3 in D minor, No. 4 in D major, No. 5 in G minor
    • Ferruccio Busoni: Kammer-Fantasie uber Carmen, BV284.

    Mr Zalmanov’s teacher Professor Ian Fountain of the Royal Academy of Music was in the audience, as was pianist Murray Perahia. A review of the recital by the indefatigable Christopher Axworthy is here.

  • French pianist Cedric Tiberghien in a recital of that interleaved Ligeti’s Ricercata, Kortag and different variations of Beethoven, at The Wigmore Hall, Sunday 5 May 2024 (his 39th birthday). This was a further episode in CT’s exploration of variation form.

    • György Ligeti (1923-2006): Musica ricercata No. 1 (1951-3)
    • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): 6 Variations on a Swiss Song WoO. 64 (1790)
    • György Ligeti: Musica ricercata No. 2
    • Ludwig van Beethoven: 12 Variations on the Russian Dance from Wranitzky’s ballet Das Waldmädchen in A WoO. 71 (1796-7)
    • György Kurtág (b.1926): Fleurs nous sommes from Játékok (1973)
    • György Ligeti: Musica ricercata No. 3 • Musica ricercata No. 4 •
      Musica ricercata No. 5
    • Ludwig van Beethoven: 8 Variations on the Romance ‘Un fièvre brûlante’ from Grétry’s Richard Coeur-de-lion in C WoO. 72 (1795)
    • Interval
    • György Ligeti: Musica ricercata No. 6
    • Ludwig van Beethoven: 13 Variations on the arietta ‘Es war einmal ein alter Mann’ by Dittersdorf in A WoO. 66
    • György Kurtág: Flowers we are (In memoriam Árpád Illés) from Játékok (pub. 1997)
      …et encore une fois: fleurs nous sommes… from Játékok (1973)
    • György Ligeti: Musica ricercata No.7
    • Ludwig van Beethoven: 10 Variations on the Duet ‘La stessa la stessissima’ from Salieri’s Falstaff in B flat WoO. 73 (1799)
    • György Ligeti: Musica ricercata No. 8 • Musica ricercata No. 9
      Musica ricercata No. 10 • Musica ricercata No. 11
    • Johann Sebastian Bach: (1685-1750) Aria variata BWV989 (by 1717)

  • The Southbank Sinfonia at St John’s Church, Waterloo, London on Wednesday 1 May 2024, in a program that featured the first Symphony of Louis Farrenc.

    The first movement of Madame Farrenc’s Symphony creates a sound world that is Mendelssohnian, while the last movement has all the thills of a Sturm-und-Drang symphony of Johann Vanhal.

  • The RCM Symphony Orchestra performing Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony, at the Royal Festival Hall, London, 1 May 2024. This was a very good performance, even though the music itself is just awful – bombastic, long-winded, pointless, otiose – like much of Messiaen’s music. It is no surprise to me to learn that Leonard Bernstein, after conducting the first ever performance, never performed this work again. How badly it compares with Bernstein’s own orchestral music.

    About 15 minutes into the performance, an elderly man not far from where I was sitting apparently collapsed and so we nearby were distracted for about ten minutes. The orchestra, if they noticed at all, played on. Full credit to the people nearest to him for helping him and to the emergency crew who assisted him to his feet and out quietly. I hope he recovered well.

  • The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, under Andras Schiff, playing the five symphonies of Mendelssohn, along with his violin concerto and his two numbered piano concertos, in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, over three nights 24, 25 and 26 April 2024. The soloists were Andras Schiff and Alina Ibragimova. These were three outstanding concerts, with absolutely superb performances from both soloists and from the orchestra.

    I noticed that when he conducted Maestro Schiff rarely gave the beat. He did not use a baton, and his hands and arms gave the phrasing he wanted. He normally turned his body to face whichever group or instrumentalist had his attention, which gave a visual indication to the audience of the polyphonic and dialogical aspects of this fine music.

    It was also very nice to see Ms Ibragimova sitting in the audience to listen to the orchestra after her solo in the final concert.

  • A performance I wish I could have attended, but which I only knew about later (Thankyou, AD): Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko at the Southbank Centre, London, on Sunday afternoon 14 April 2024, playing a piano transcription of Mozart’s Requiem and Rzewski’s “the people united . . .”. Only pianists who can whistle can perform all these variations. A video recording of the Rzewski is here.

    Pianist and writer Jeremy Chan has a review of this recital at his website.

  • Juan Perez Floristan, piano recital at Wigmore Hall, Thursday 11 April 2024. The program was:
    • Ligeti: Musica ricercata (1951-3)
    • Alberto Ginastera: Danzas argentinas, Op. 2 (1937)
    • Musorgsky: Pictures from an Exhibition (1874)

    For an encore, Mr Floristan played one of Schubert’s Moment Musicaux. The hall was about three-quarters full. This was a powerful and emotional recital, with very fine playing, especially in the Musorgsky. The dances by Ginastera were short with a variety of moods and emotions; they would each make a fine encore piece.

  • Elias String Quartet in the first of 4 concerts of the String Quartets of Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, Wigmore Hall, Sunday 7 April 2024.
    • Felix Mendelssohn: Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81 Posth. (1847, 1847, 1843 and 1827)
    • Fanny Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E Flat (1834)
    • Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80 (1847)
  • Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: Bach’s Easter Oratorio and two cantatas at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank, London, Wednesday 27 March 2024.
    • Erfreut euch, ihr Herzen (Rejoice, you hearts), BWV 66
    • Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden (Stay with us, for evening falls) BWV 6
    • Oster-Oratorium, BWV 249
  • Libby Burgess playing 8 of the 48 – Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues – in Concert 1 of 6 at Temple Church, at 9am on Tuesday 26 March 2023. This is part of a series aiming to play the WTC in each of the 48 counties of England. Today’s county is the City of London. About 40 people present heard the following preludes and fugues:
      Book I in C major
      Book I in G minor
      Book I in c minor
      Book II in Eb major
      Book II in D# minor
      Book I in Bb minor
      Book I in Bb major
      Book II in G Major

    The long reverberation of this church was not great for the sound of a piano, in my opinion.Very fine playing, although not all interpretations were to my taste. For instance, Ms Burgess strongly emphasized the melody notes in the proto-minimalist Prelude in C minor in Book I.

  • Astral Saxophone Quartet playing by “candlelight” at St Mary-Le-Strand, Friday 22 March 2024. The quartet comprises musicians from the Royal College of Music: Leopoldo Mugnai, Oliver Lee, Annabella Chenevix Trench and Ethan Townsend. The program comprised:
    • Singole: Premier Quatour
    • Gershwin, arr. Wendell Hobbs: Gershwin Classics
    • Rod A Moulds, arr. Nigel Wood: Three Russian Songs
    • JS Bach, arr. Oliver Lee: Ricercar a3
    • Grieg: Holberg Suite Op. 40, Mvt 4, Air
    • Rivier: Grave et Presto
    • Bernstein: West Side Story Selection

    The playing was superb, and much tighter than the previous time I heard this quartet (on 25 June 2023). (Image credit: Astral Quartet.)

  • Lucas Jussen and Arthur Jussen with the London Philharmonia Orchestra, under Eun Sun Kim at the Royal Festival Hall, London, Thursday 21 March 2024. The program was:

    • Texu Kim: Spin-Flip
    • Mozart: Concerto in E-flat for Two Pianos, K365
    • Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5

    A wonderful and uplifting concert. I had a seat in the front row opposite LJ which was ideal for the Mozart. This was not such a good seat for the Tchaikovsky, as the strings blocked the sound of the instruments behind them. The opening work by Texu Kim was exciting and enjoyable.

    A review of two previous performances by the Jussens is here.

  • Pavel Kolesnikov and Samson Tsoy in a 4-hands 1-piano recital to a fully-packed Wigmore Hall, London, 14 March 2024. The music included:
    • Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring (4-hands) (1911-1913)
    • Lyonya Desyatnikov: Trompe-l’oeil (2023)
    • Schubert: Fantasie in F Minor D940 (1828)

    This was an outstanding concert, which I was very fortunate to hear. The Rite was immensely moving, as always.

    The piece by Russian composer Lyonya Desyatnikov was a commission in 2023 for these two pianists by the Aldeburgh Festival, and was a re-interpretation of the Schubert piece. In introducing the work, Mr Kolesnikov made reference to the wonderful short story by Jorge Luis Borges in which a modern author revises Cervantes’Don Quixote for the modern day. Although the rewritten text has exactly the same words in exactly the same order as the original version, the new version is now informed by all that has been written in the time since the original publication. It is now a very different work.

    Desyatnikov’s work is not all the same notes of Schubert’s Fantasie, nor are they all in the same order. But it is a reworking of many of the musical ideas of the Schubert. Indeed, in so far as the Schubert contains sudden changes of mood and temper, Desyatnikov’s work emphasizes this aspect even more, so his piece felt like an attempt to capture the essence of the Schubert. Both works were played immensely skillfully.

    There were two encores, the second a Bach chorale.

    I am pleased the performers are both happy to break staid convention in their clothes, although the multiple layers they each wore would not, I think, have been that comfortable to perform in.

    (Thankyou to GM and AD for fascinating conversations this evening. I am also grateful to AD for first introducing me to the powerful music of Desyatnikov.)

  • Mikhail Bouzine in a superb recital that felt like a happening, at the Steinway Hall, London, 13 March 2024, to a packed audience of about 40 people. The event was entitled “The Happier Eden” and included a great variety of works, all relating to love, particularly to love of oneself. The program and the notes of the shoeless performer are shown in the photographs here.

    The concert began with Mirror by Fluxus artist George Brecht, in which Mr Bouzine walked in front of the audience holding up a large mirror for the audience to see ourselves: a good start to a program mentioning Narcissus. I have long admired the subversive whimsy of Brecht, as I mentioned here, and this work was in that spirit. The theme throughout the evening was love, and so we heard Dimitri Mitropoulos’ Beatrice, and the swooniest rendition of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 16 in G major I have ever heard. Here was a composer – and a performer – who had been in love.

    Cornelius Cardew’s Memories of you involved Mr Bouzine making various sounds, for example, dropping a biro on the floor, swirling the biro around a coffee mug, and playing two brief recordings from a phone placed inside the end of the piano. I imagine these were personal memories of someone dear to the performer.

    Dear to me is my late and greatly-missed friend, French composer Christophe Bertrand. I was therefore delighted by the inclusion of his beautiful piano work Haiku. In the context of this program, the sounds of this work were those of a babbling brook, water flowing gently over stones, as Narcissus looked at his own image in the water.

    This was a brave and intelligent program played forcefully and with the strong emotions that passionate love entails. The evening was enchanting, and I was privileged to attend.

    Christopher Axworthy’s photos and review of the happening are here.

    Postscript (added 2024-03-23): Following the concert, I purchased the score for Cardew’s work (published by Universal Edition 1967), and it comprises an interesting graphical score along with textual instructions. The performer is free to choose various objects to make sounds, and must make some sounds in a certain order, according to threads in the graphic. The sounds must also be made at certain places around the piano. Where threads of actions for two object intersect, both objects must be used to make the sound.

    I was reminded of the exhaustive typology of ways of combining actions that computer science, the theory and application of delegation, has identified, as I describe here. Against this typology, Cardew only permits sequential and some parallel combinations of sounds, although there is some choice of sounds (the performer may choose any objects) and choice in the order of actions for some threads.

  • Jonathan Ferrucci playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations at King’s Place, London, 11 March 2024. This was a superb performance, to a packed hall. Mr Ferrucci’s playing was warm and spirited, and not in any way austere, as performances of Bach sometimes are.

    At the very end, Mr Ferrucci kept his hands on the keys and his feet on the pedals for many seconds after he finished playing, which thankfully stayed the applause. I was pleased that he gave no encore, and spoke no word the entire evening, so that the sounds in our minds at the end were those of Bach. He had presented us Bach’s music, all of which was wonderful, and only the music, nothing else. I was elated for some time afterwards, as the recipients of my many late-night messages that evening can attest.

  • Frank Dupree and the Philharmonia Orchestra, London, under Santtu-Matias Rouvaki in a concert of Russian music, Royal Festival Hall, London Thursday 7 March 2024. The program comprised:
    • Glinka: Capriccio Brilliante (Spanish Overture #1)
    • Kapustin: Piano Concerto #5 (UK Premiere)
    • Borodin: Symphony #2
    • Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol

    I attended in order to hear Kapustin’s concerto, not any of which I have heard before. The performance of Mr Dupree and the Philharmonia was very good. I was not so pleased by the music, though. The concerto is written in a jazz style – or rather, many jazz styles, all very populist. It struck me as the composer showing off his knowledge of different jazz sub-styles, and I could not hear any overall coherence or structure, or development (at least, not on a single hearing).

    Mr Dupree was called back for an encore, and his encore piece was much more impressive than the concerto. He arranged for 6 percussionists (including the conductor) and a double-bass player to join him, and together they played a version of “Caravan”. Dupree started by plucking the strings on the piano until the other players were around him, then played the piano, and at one point turned around to face the others and switched to playing bongos, then back to the piano. The encore was much more exciting than the concerto, and Dupree seemed to be more excited by it. People now gave him a standing ovation (which they had not done before).

    Having people to meet, places to be, instruments to practice, I could not stay for the second half. An earlier post about different arrangements of Caravan is here.

  • Alessio Bax and Southbank Sinfonia, under Simon Over, in a Rush Hour concert at St John’s Church, Waterloo, London, Wednesday 6 March 2024. The program comprised:
    • Dvorak: String Quartet #12, Op 96, (“American”), First Movement, performed by student musicians from Guernsey: Matthew Moody, Charlie Dunford, Ben Davidson and Molly Robinson
    • Toby Young: Sing Each Song Twice, performed by Berkeley Ensemble
    • Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581, Second Movement, performed by Berkeley Ensemble
    • Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op 16.

    The concert was dedicated with thanks to two of the orchestra’s founders, Michael Berman and Katherine Verney. The Berkeley Ensemble comprises alumni of the orchestra from previous cohorts. A fine concert to a packed church. The absence of a stage in this venue means that sitting in the front row of the audience is very much like sitting inside the orchestra. In my opinion, this proximity is a feature not a bug.

  • Lucilla Rose Mariotti: Echoes of Finland: Sibelius in Sight and Sound. Junior Fellow Showcase, Performance Hall, Royal College of Music, London, 4 March 2024. Performers were: Lucilla Rose Mariotti (violin), Anna Crawford (cello), and Alexander Doronin (piano).

    (Image credit: Lucilla Rose Mariotti)

    The concert was an all-Sibelius program:

    • Piano Trio #4 in C Major, JS 208, (Lovisa Trio)
    • Vesipisaroita (Water Droplets), JS 216
    • Piano Trio in D Major, JS 209 (Korpo Trio)

    This was a fine multi-media performance of some early Sibelius, music that was, in the accurate words of a musician friend, “very genuine but rather still naive music”. To acknowledge the synaesthesia of Sibelius, the performance was accompanied by meditative videos of streams and lakes. The middle piece was for pizzicato strings, and was accompanied by a video of rain falling gently on water.

  • Jan Lisiecki in an exceptional piano recital on the theme of Preludes, in Cambridge, UK, 26 February 2024. I reviewed it 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

    An excellent 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.

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