Anthony Tommasini writes in the IHT on the trend to allow concert pianists to play from music, instead of playing recital solos and concertos from memory. A good thing too! While playing from memory is an impressive feat to watch, it certainly takes additional practice effort to achieve: I would rather good performers played more different music than that they played a smaller collection from memory.
I saw Angela Hewitt play the Bach 48 from memory in Cottonopolis a few years ago. At the first concert, a woman in the front row was reading from a miniature score. After the first few preludes and fugues, Ms Hewitt quietly asked the woman to put her score away, as the page turning was distracting. My guess is that the page-breaks were happening at places other than where Ms Hewitt had memorized. (As an aside, her performance was very good but her interpretations undermined by rubato. I prefer my Bach straight, not with flavoured mixers.)
Note: The hands shown are those of Szabo Daniel.
The Brass Band of the Queensland Conservatorium of Music is the only English-style brass band in an Australian tertiary music college, which says something about the impoverished musical taste of those who run Australian music education institutions. Because the brass are mostly little-used in orchestral music (relative to, say, the strings, who play all the time), orchestral brass players usually also play in other wind ensembles and bands, both for the practice and to build their stamina. So a distaste for brass band music is usually not something shared by orchestral brass players. And a good thing too, given the high calibre of the best brass bands.
With about 100 other people, I caught the QCM Brass Band last weekend, performing as part of the 21st Tyalgum Festival of Classical Music. The band was led by Peter Luff and Greg Aitken, both of the QCM. The festival began in this small and isolated mountain village after some performers had experienced the very good acoustics of the Tyalgum Literary Institute Hall, the main public hall in the town. The acoustics of the Hall are indeed excellent, although surely not of a design praised in modern architecture schools. The Hall, built in 1908, is a single rectangle, with side walls made of wooden planks, having many windows and doors. On one side is an enclosed verandah, open to the main room. The roof has a single pitch and is made of corrugated iron, and there is no ceiling – the iron reflects sound well, and the undulations would send it in all directions. Mostly, the band sat on the floor at the front beneath the stage, with only the percussion on the small stage, yet the sound in the middle of the room was clear, very full and very loud. The reverberation was noticeable but not overly long. Apart from rust (and thus the need for regular replacement), the only downside of corrugated iron roofs is that nothing else can be heard when it is raining.
Tyalgum lies under the calming shadow of Mount Warning, a mountain named by James Cook in 1770, and which is the first place on the Australian land-mass to see the sun each morning. We could see the close-by mountain from inside the hall. So it was fitting, then, that the walls were decorated with several paintings of the mountain. Oddly, though, all these images showed the mountain from the usual eastern vantage point, yet the village itself is on the western side. So what you saw on the walls did not match what you saw through the windows. (For that matter, the same wrong view of the mountain is on the Festival poster and web-page.)
The Band made very good use of the space. A fanfare by Ann Carr-Boyd was played before the concert from the upstairs front windows to people in the street. This fanfare was repeated inside at the start of the concert, with the composer present in the audience. Later, a piece by Gabrieli for three brass choirs was played with the choirs arranged around the hall: At the front, 5 players in SAT (Soprano, Alto, Tenor) instrumental combination, at the side under the enclosed verandah (ATB) and in the first-floor balcony at the back (SAT). This was superb use of space for surround sound, and stunning playing.
There were some moments to treasure. The open side doors allowed a sudden breeze to blow away the music of the tenor trombone during the Vivaldi. As with any music from this period, intonation was difficult, particularly for the horn player, and at times for the two solo piccolo trumpets. With lots of fast-moving duo passages (the horn with one or other trombone) – very typical of Vivaldi – creating havoc for the three performers accompanying the soloists, it is perhaps not surprising that one trumpet soloist had a look of absolute astonishment on his face when the players ended the third movement together.
The pieces for the full ensemble were all well played, although perhaps more attention was needed to choreography of the percussionists. Some of the 5 people who were at one time or another on stage in the percussion section appeared unfamiliar with that part of the band.
The complete program was:
- Ann Carr-Boyd: Britannia Fanfare
- Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man
- Antonio Vivaldi: Double Trumpet Concerto (arranged for 2 piccolo trumpets, french horn, tenor and bass trombone)
- Leonard Bernstein: Excerpts from West Side Story
- Giovanni Gabrieli: Canzon Septimi Octavi Toni for 3 brass choirs
- Henry Purcell: The Fairy Queen
- Philip Sparke: Music of the Spheres.
Some of the same players were seen here.
The Great Egyptian Hall of Mansion House in the City of London was the venue last night for a concert by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, under Edward Gardner. The first half saw a performance of Mendelssohn’s E minor violin Concerto by Alina Ibragimova, as well as a Rossini overture.
I discerned nothing Egyptian about the Great Hall. The decorations include various Greek statues, some in states of undress, large stained glass windows at each end of the room, and miscellaneous pottery. The hall is long and rectangular, two very tall stories high (with a gallery running around the upper story), with nine tall stone columns down each side, and all topped with cylindrical roof. Apparently, the building is 250 years old this year.
The performers were raised only slightly above the level of the audience, and sitting at one end of the rectangle. There were about 20 rows of seats of 20 seats each, all full, so the room had about 400 people present. The placement of the seats could have been much better than it was: staggering consecutive rows may not look as nice to eyes seeking symmetry, but it allows people not to be sitting directly behind one another, and thus gives the audience a better chance of seeing the performers. Likewise, allowing room between seats, rather than forcing all seats to touch their neighbours, allows for those of us with normal size bodies to sit beside each other. Only a small percentage of people – those who were at least 6’6″ and very thin – would have been comfortable with this placement of seats.
Its shape and dimensions mean the Hall probably has very good acoustics for opera, or oratorio, or trumpet concertos, where performers stand facing the audience, projecting sound outwards horizontally. Similarly, for piano concertos, at least when played on a grand piano with an open lid. When the orchestra played alone, the sound was loud, full and direct, and was quite clear even at the back. When the solo violinist began, however, her sound went up, not out, and disappeared into the ceiling, 60-odd-feet above us. Sadly, the result was perhaps the least satisfying performance of Mendelssohn’s concerto I have ever experienced. One could tell Ms Ibragimova was very good just by looking at her playing; one could not unfortunately confirm this by listening, as the sound of her instrument was so weak, overwhelmed in those passages where the orchestra played, and only ever a plaintive whisper when playing alone, like a small child trying to speak when surrounded by a party of loud-talking adults.
The third movement struck me as taken a tad too fast, with the orchestra panting to keep up with the violin. And playing original instruments always means risks, especially for those instruments which have experienced significant technological change these last two centuries. Thus, we should not be surprised that the horns entered this movement slightly sharp, since intonation was always (and always is) a problem for original horns. The technological changes of modern instruments were not introduced for no reason, a view lost on those riding the original instruments landau.
In conclusion, a very fine and confident performance of the Mendelssohn concerto for everyone sitting in the first few rows. For the rest of us, a great performance of the orchestral part, since that is what we could mostly hear. The careers of artists are not enhanced by performances in halls with poor acoustics. The acoustics could be improved greatly with the installation of a suitable canopy over the orchestra – a curved ceiling to catch the violinist’s sound and bounce it back out and down toward the audience. In the meantime, memo to self: avoid performances of violin concertos in The Great Egyptian Hall of Mansion House.
I notice that Mendelssohn himself, despite his 95 public performances in Britain, does not seem to have ever played in this room (according to the list of his UK performances in Appendix B of Eatock 2009).
UPDATE (2012-08-20): Apparently the violin sound was fine from the double bass stand. And presumably the FT’s reviewer was seated near the front, given his praise for the room’s acoustics. The reviewer for The Arts Desk, in contrast, also had problems with the acoustics of the Hall and too thought the third movement of the concerto was taken too fast for the orchestra:
The Mansion House acoustic may be fine for annual speeches from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is not a solo violin’s friend. . . . . .
We also suffered in the concerto’s finale from a mismatch between orchestra and soloist, which Gardner, for all his alert gestures, seemed powerless to prevent. Mercurial arabesques flew from Ibragimova’s fingers, with the orchestra always a fraction behind, panting to keep up like PC Plod. Maybe Ibragimova just wanted to get the concerto finished, for there were certainly signs here and there of a lack of interest in what Mendelssohn had to offer. Most violinists pounce on the finale’s playful opening arpeggios as a chance to wink and scintillate. Ibragimova left them uninflected. “Boring, boring,” she seemed to be saying; “Now, where’s my Roslavetz?” “
Colin T. Eatock : Mendelssohn and Victorian England. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate.
Another superb concert in a London church with an Australian connection. This was the church of St Mary le Bow, on Cheapside, which hosts a bust of Captain Arthur Philip, first Governor of NSW, as well as a memorial to the 5488 members of the Royal Australian Air Force who died in Europe in WW II. The flag of the RAAF is hung alongside the memorial, near to the only other flag in the Church, that of the Order of Australia, the Australian Honours system. One wonders why the RAAF plaque is not in St Clements Danes, the home church of the Royal Air Force, and why the OA flag is in a London church rather than an Australian one. Perhaps Australian Governments are embarrassed that the national honours system is, like all else, legally a gift of the British Monarch.
The current church is Wren’s design, although rebuilt after bomb damage in WW II. It is almost exactly a square in shape, and the walls hardly decorated. Indeed, the Australian paraphernalia comprises almost all the decoration. The ceiling is very high, and the uncluttered stone walls and columns provide a good resonance – perhaps almost 2 seconds. In short, a perfect place for such a concert, with the trumpet standing in the organ loft at the back of the church. The organ is new (2010), by Kenneth Tickell and Company, and has strong French and South German influences.
The organist was Richard Hall, senior organ scholar at King’s College London, and the trumpeter, Robert Landen, a student at the Royal Academy. Their programme comprised:
- Jeremiah Clarke: Suite in D
- Giuseppe Torelli: Sonata in D
- JS Bach: Trio Sonata in E flat, BWV 525 (organ alone)
- Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988): Toccata on “Hanover” (organ alone)
- Petr Eben (1929-2007): Okna Windows for Trumpet and Organ
The playing was simply excellent, precisely together, extremely clear, and alive. The diversity of stops on the organ and the dynamics on both organ and trumpet were much varied, and seemingly prepared with intelligence and deliberation. Clarke’s suite includes his most famous melody and was perfect for this acoustic. The Leighton Toccata included a wonderful Mendelssohnian climb – a stretch of ever-increasing tension, with both rising pitch and volume, and then doubling back and again rising, again and again, all the time delaying resolution (as in the orchestral number that opens Elijah, or the rising wave of the Hebrides overture). Finally, parts of the Eben work reminded me of Jon Hassell’s moody and spiritual trumpet in albums such as Fascinoma (also recorded in a church).
This was a superb and inspiring performance, and a wonderful meditative excursion in the midst of a busy day. One hope these two performers could collaborate on a recording to allow us to relive this experience.
POSTCRIPT (2013-02-23): For a limited time, organist Richard Hall can also be heard here, in a recording of Choral Evensong in the Chapel of King’s College London.
This past week I attended a concert in the Cadogan Hall by the Moscow Soloists String Chamber Ensemble, led by violist Yuri Bashmet. The concert seems to have attracted many in London’s large Russian-speaking community, and there were idling limousines outside the Hall.
Although technically the playing was very proficient, the concert and the performance left me disappointed. First, everyone on stage was dressed entirely in black, even the soloists. Was this a convention of undertakers, I wondered? Second, almost nobody smiled, again not even many of the soloists. Why so glum? Third, a grand Steinway was used for the first concerto, and then remained stuck there on stage, like some silent, brooding animal. All the movements of furniture between pieces was done by several of the ensemble members, rather than by the Hall staff, and it is true that the piano was moved a few inches. But not out of the way, nor offstage. It therefore blocked the sound (and the view) of the ensemble, and meant that the sound we in the audience heard was not projected uniformly to us. Where I was sitting on the right-hand side of the hall I heard the two cellos and the lone double bass well, but not the violins, who were hidden by the piano. I regard this failure to move the piano out of the way as unprofessional, although who was to blame for it is not clear. Surely, the Hall staff should have moved it aside.
And the glumness! The first item played was Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052) with soloist Ksenia Bashmet. Her playing was technically excellent, although not from memory. But the music was played with such po-faced seriousness, and without any apparent emotion. This concerto is one of the great humorous compositions of all time, perhaps the greatest before Shostakovich’s Piano and Trumpet Concerto. A few minutes with the score would tell you the composer was having fun as he wrote it, since it is filled with adornments and flourishes, completely unnecessary and joyful in the extreme, which feel exactly right under the fingers. This is music written by someone who really liked playing a keyboard. Moreover, the first movement has a rondo form, with the first theme returning and returning and returning, as if without end. There is even a solo cadenza, which would traditionally be placed near the end of the movement, which here comes in the middle; so even after we hear the cadenza, the movement still does not end. This is Bach having fun. But where was the fun or the joy from these performers? Perhaps the fact that Ms Bashmet was not playing the music from memory meant she had had not yet internalized the score sufficiently to allow herself to have free reign with its interpretation. This performance was not a patch on the last time I heard this concerto played – by Joanna MacGregor in Cottonopolis, a few years ago, whose physical joy at the music was evident from from the get-go.
Similarly, for Mendelssohn’s D Minor Violin Concerto, played by Alena Baeva. Again the playing here was technically excellent, although also not from memory. However, only in the third movement did we hear some emotion – at last, some passion and joy from the soloist in what is a very joyful movement. The earlier movements were played, in contrast, without great passion, although very well.
The two middle soloists in the first half, Dinara Alieva (soprano) and Alexander Buzlov (cello), did smile at us after their performances, but their chosen music was less intellectually enriching. Buzlov played a theme and variations by Rossini, something the audience seemed to like more than anything else they heard, but which I found superficial in comparison with the Bach or Mendelssohn. I did not stay for the second half, the concert already running too long.
Overall, I believe these performers were technically very proficient as musical performers, but not superb as communicators of musical ideas; sadly, they did not achieve their potential on this occasion, and seemed to lack any group spark or chemistry. Perhaps this was due to the presence of the brooding piano, obstructing complete interaction with the audience, or perhaps there were other reasons. Oddly, the ensemble did not tune up on stage at the start of the concert: I wonder if this explained the lack of social chemistry evident.
Here is a review of the concert by Hugo Shirley of The Telegraph, who likewise noticed an absence of passion.
One of my great-great-great-grandfathers, William Graham Peverley (1811 – 1893), established a ship-building business in East Balmain, Sydney, in 1853 or 1854. The location was east of St Mary’s Street and south of Pearsons Wharf, an area which is nowadays a harbourside park, Illoura Reserve. The suburb of Balmain had been named for Dr William Balmain (1762-1803), a surgeon with the First Fleet, and later Principal Surgeon in the colony of New South Wales, who was first to be granted land on the peninsula. They have always bred them tough there – the saying is: Balmain boys don’t cry. Among the residents have been two Premiers of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes and Neville Wran, neither someone to mess with. And the State MLA for Balmain in recent times was the very tough Dawn Fraser, Olympic swimmer and publican, elected as an Independent.
It therefore felt like a chance meeting of a long-disappeared friend to enter the Church of St Giles-in-the-Fields in London’s West End this week, and discover it had been Dr Balmain’s home church upon his return to Britain in 1802. At the back of the church is a plaque erected by The Balmain Association. The church was the venue for a performance of Handel’s Messiah, by Solistes de Musique Ancienne and Siglo de Oro, under the direction of the latter’s founder, Patrick Allies. This was the second time I have seen SMA perform, having heard their superb Sloane Square concert earlier in the year. This time they had an audience of about 50 people, perhaps one quarter of the church’s capacity.
Despite the empty seats, the acoustics of this church were much better than that of Holy Trinity Sloane Square, and the performance was just superb. St. Giles has two long parallel first-floor balconies, each about 1/4 of the width of the building, running the length of the church, and these two overhangs, together with their supporting columns and multiply-surfaced stone decorations, created strong reverberation, with a medium-duration delay. The result was to make the choir and orchestra sound at least 5 times their size, filling the space with sound. Even sitting at the back of the church, the sound was both warm and clear, something rare in churches, whose acoustics usually make concert performances sound either fuzzy or cold. As with their previous concert, SMA made use of the space, having two of the trumpeters in Part I play from the left balcony.
This was one of the greatest Messiahs I have ever heard. All the vocal soloists were excellent, and projected well. Similarly, we could hear well the instrumental soloists (which was not the case in the earlier SMA concert). Unfortunately, the program notes did not list the names of the soloists specifically; I was only able to infer the name of one vocal soloist, William Morrison, who’s aria in Part I was extremely clear and very moving. Joel Newsome’s trumpet solo, on an instrument with cylindrical valves, on “The trumpet shall sound” in Part III, was also very powerful. I left the church uplifted and inspired.
I had not known before reading the program notes that Handel’s librettist for The Messiah, Charles Jennens (1700-1773), was a supporter of the Stuarts, and that his words for the oratorio – people in darkness awaiting a redeemer who returns in triumph and glory, etc – could be taken as political commentary on the Hanoverians, even as late as this (1741).
A very different experience last night, in another London church, St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate. This was a performance of (excerpts from) Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and his Mass in B Minor, by the Medici Choir and the Brandenburg Baroque Soloists. The church this time was overflowing, with perhaps 250 people seated and more standing at the back. The acoustics of this church with its much higher ceiling and absence of balconies was very different to that of St. Giles. The performers were not raised above the audience, and their sound disappeared upwards; it seemed not to come back to us.
Sitting behind a column meant I head some sounds with clarity — those of the choristers I could see — while other singers and the orchestra were fuzzy. For the most part, the soloists sang without projecting their voices. At first, I thought this was due to the acoustics, but on occasion the soloists did project, and the difference was noticeable. Why would a professional opera singer, as these soloists were, not project, I wonder? Why not seek to fill the space one is performing in? The lady who sang “Schlafe, mein Liebster” in the Oratorio, was particularly disappointing, filling powerfully the ears of the lucky people in the first row, it seemed, and no one else. Those of us at the back of the church could barely hear her. Was this due to some silly authentic-performance notion or a Lutheran disdain for aural spectacle, perhaps?
I suspect some silly notion at play. Bach’s music in the Mass was “improved” by the addition of a new section composed by director John Baird for this concert. One has to admire the self-confidence of someone willing to try to complete what Bach did not himself finish. However, the real absurdity for me, and evidence of a lack of musical seriousness, was to end the concert with the congregational singing of Christmas carols: rather than leaving with the sound of Bach in one’s ears, instead it would be, “We wish you a merry Christmas”. It was important for me that my ears and mind be not so corrupted, so I left before the end. What a contrast in integrity of musical purpose between these two concerts! And how great again were the Solistes de Musique Ancienne and Siglo de Oro.
Gripped as I seem to be by listmania, here is another: of orchestras and ensembles I have seen perform live. I omit chamber music groups, counting only ensembles large enough to need a conductor.
- Academy of St Martin in the Fields, London
- Aurora Orchestra, London
- Australia Ensemble
- Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
- Australian Chamber Orchestra
- Australian Youth Orchestra
- BBC Philharmonic, Manchester
- Boston Symphony Orchestra, Tanglewood
- Brandenburg Baroque Soloists, London
- Britten Sinfonia, London
- Canberra Symphony Orchestra
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra
- Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
- City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
- Ensemble 10:10, Liverpool
- Ensemble 11, Manchester
- European Brandenburg Ensemble
- Halle Orchestra, Manchester
- Hamburger Symphoniker
- Harare City Orchestra
- Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
- Irving Symphony Orchestra
- Isabella a Capella
- Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
- Lismore Regional Symphony Orchestra
- London Philharmonic
- London Sinfonietta
- London Symphony Orchestra
- Mahler Chamber Orchestra
- Manchester Camerata
- Medici Choir, London
- Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
- Merseyside Youth Orchestra
- Moscow Soloists String Chamber Ensemble
- Northern Sinfonia, Gateshead
- Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London
- Orchestra Mozart, Bologna
- Orchestre Appassionato, Paris
- Orchestre National de France
- Orchestre Philharmonique de Nice
- Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, London
- Orquestra Gulbenkian, Lisbon
- Patonga Orchestra
- Queensland Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra
- Queensland Symphony Orchestra
- Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- RNCM Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
- Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra
- Siglo de Oro, London
- Silk Road Ensemble
- Solistes de Musique Ancienne, London
- Soweto Symphony Orchestra
- Sydney Symphony Orchestra
- Vienna Chamber Orchestra
- University of Liverpool Symphony Orchestra
This is a list, as best I can recall, of the conductors I have seen in live performance. If memory serves, I also add the ensemble which I saw them direct.
- Claudia Abbado, Orchestra Mozart Bologna
- Thomas Ades, Britten Sinfonia, London
- Yuri Bashmet, Moscow Soloists String Orchestra
- Stuart Challender, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
- Nicholas Collon, Aurora Orchestra
- Matthew Coorey, RLPO and Halle Orchestra
- Gustavo Dudamel, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- Mark Elder, Halle Orchestra Manchester
- John Eliot Gardiner, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, London
- Edward Gardner, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, London
- John Gay, Soweto Symphony Orchestra and Maseru Singers
- Richard Gill, Patonga Orchestra and Chorus
- Reinhard Goebel, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
- Hector Guzman, Irving Symphony Orchestra, Texas
- Bernard Haitink, Sydney Symphony Orchestra
- Mathieu Herzog, Orchestre Appassionato, Paris
- Nicholas Kraemer, Manchester Camerata
- Marcelo Lehninger, Boston Symphony Orchestra
- Charles Mackerras, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- Neville Marriner, Academy of St Martin in the Fields
- Diego Matheuz, Orchestra Mozart/Mahler Chamber Orchestra
- Michael Morgan, Queensland Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra
- Joel Newsome, Solistes de Musique Ancienne
- Gianandrea Noseda, BBC Philharmonic
- Sakari Oramo, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
- Libor Pesek, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- Vasily Petrenko, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- Trevor Pinnock, European Brandenburg Ensemble
- Simon Rattle, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
- Gerard Schwarz, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- Aziz Shokhakimov, Orchestre National de France
- Brian Stacey, Lismore Regional Symphony Orchestra
- Marcus Stenz, Halle Orchestra Manchester
- Patrick Thomas, Queensland Symphony Orchestra
- Robin Ticciati, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
- David Urquhart-Jones, Lismore Regional Symphony Orchestra.
As with violinists I have heard live, I thought it interesting to list the pianists I have heard perform (modulo the vagaries of memory):
- Caroline Almonte – Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in Eb K365 (MSO, Melbourne 2009)
- Louis-Victor Bak – (London 2023, recitals at St Mary-Le-Strand and at Steinway Hall)
- Ksenia Bashmet – Bach’s D Minor Keyboard Concerto (BWV 1052) (Moscow Soloists Chamber Ensemble, London 2011)
- Alessio Bax (RLPO, Liverpool)
- Alasdair Beatson – Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings in D Minor (London 2011)
- Richard Rodney Bennett (Canberra 1976, solo recital of show tunes and jazz standards)
- Emmanuel Despax – Bach/Busoni’s Chaconne and Chopin’s 24 Preludes (solo recital at St John’s Church Waterloo, London, 26 November 2023)
- Giulia Contaldo – Respighi, Wagner/Liszt and Debussy (recital at Famington Farm, 28 January 2024)
- Imogen Cooper – Bach and Schubert (recital at Famington Farm, 28 January 2024)
- Aleksandr Doronin – Ligeti’s Etudes #10 (Der Zauberlehrling) and #13 (L’escalier du diable) (London 2023, Drake Calleja Trust Scholars Concert, 4 November 2023)
- François Dumont (Brussels 2018)
- Kathryn Eves – Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto (Cheshire Sinfonia, Manchester 2008)
- Nelson Freire – Mozart’s Piano Concerto #20 in D minor and Villa Lobos’ Momoprecoce, Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra (Boston Symphony Orchestra under Marcelo Lehninger at Tanglewood, 2012)
- Alexander Gadjiev – Chopin’s Concerto No. 2 Opus 21 in F minor (Orchestre Appassionato under Mathieu Herzog, Paris, 2022)
- Filippo Gorini – Bach’s The Art of Fugue (Wigmore Hall, London, 23 July 2023)
- Angela Hewitt – The 48: A truly awesome feat of memory and physical performance, with superb touch and an integrity of interpretation. I don’t think rubato and the North German Baroque belong together but, so not an interpretation to my taste. (Manchester)
- Rolf Hind (Birmingham, Liverpool, London 2013). Hind’s masterful performance of John Coolidge Adams’ sublime Phrygian Gates in Liverpool was entrancing and unforgettable, and helped change my mind about minimalism. I heard him play this again in London in 2013 – again sublime.
- Stephen Hough (RLPO Liverpool; Manchester)
- Lucas Jussen and Arthur Jussen – Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Wigmore Hall, London, 2023; Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 2023)
- Elisabeth Klein (1911-2003) – selection of Ligeti’s Etudes (Music Department, University of Liverpool, November 2002). I heard Ms Klein, a student of Bela Bartok, in a recital at the age of 91, playing several of Ligeti’s etudes to an audience of about ten people. She became a public performer of modern piano music only in her sixth decade.
- Pekka Kuusisto (Britten Sinfonia, London, 2012, playing piano part of Stravinsky’s Suites 1 & 2 for Small Orchestra)
- Ariel Lanyi in a recital at the Wigmore Hall, London, 27 December 2023.
- John Lill (RLPO, Liverpool)
- Yvonne Loriod – Messiaen’s From the Canyon to the Stars (Australian Chamber Orchestra, Sydney Opera House, 1988).
- Joanna MacGregor – Bach’s D Minor Concerto BWV 1052 (Manchester)
- Stephen McIntyre – Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in Eb K365 (MSO, Melbourne 2009)
- Brad Mehldau (Manchester)
- Kasparas Mikužis (London 2023, accompanist in Drake Calleja Trust Scholars Concert, 4 November 2023. Sittingbourne, recital, 11 November 2023, recitals in Faversham, London and Famington Farm 2024, Rachmaninov PC2 London 9 February 2024)
- Olli Mustonen – Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto #1 (BBC SO, with Sergei Nakariakov, London 2013)
- Matan Porat in a recital programme of mostly Bach transcriptions at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London, Friday February 2024.
- Roberto Prosseda – UK premiere of Mendelssohn’s 3rd Piano Concerto in E minor (ca. 1840-42, unpublished, completed by Marcello Bufalini) (RLPO, Liverpool)
- Lauma Skride – Mozart and Mendelssohn Violin Sonatas (London 2011)
- Gabriele Sutkute – in a solo recital at St-Mary-Le-Strand, London, 23 November 2023.
- Cedric Tiberghien (RLPO, Liverpool; recitals, London; Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, with Orchestre National de France under Aziz Shokhakimov, Paris 2022)
- Simon Trpceski (RLPO, Liverpool).
At Wigmore Hall last night was a thrilling performance by the Scottish Ensemble, a string orchestra, together with Scottish pianist Alasdair Beatson. The program comprised works by Stravinsky and by Mendelssohn. Both the Stravinsky pieces were rhythmically complex, but hard to parse otherwise – melodic invention, as so often with this composer, was absent and large-scale musical form, if indeed any was present, was not discernible from a single hearing.
I have remarked before that music instantiates or executes a thought process, and some music involves thinking processes that are alien to me. Most of Stravinsky’s late music is in this category, while that in his middle phase (in the so-called NeoClassical style), while not alien, is quite often banal. Yet his early music speaks to me profoundly. Last night’s two pieces were clearly challenging to perform well, with the subtle rhythmic interactions and off-piste counting, despite their unpleasant listening.
What I lost there, however, was more than compensated by the Mendelssohn. The first half saw the Ensemble play two of his Four Pieces for String Quartet, which really should be called “four pieces for String Quartet”, since the composer never grouped them together in this way. The fugue of the first piece, furiously intense, gives the lie to the claim one still sometimes hears that Mendelssohn’s music lacks profundity or intensity. The playing and cohesion here was superb, and as always with this fugue, spine-chilling. It would be nice to hear this group play some of Mendelssohn’s 12 string symphonies, particularly the fugal movements of the later symphonies.
The real excitement last night came with Mendelssohn’s Concerto for Piano, Violin and Strings, in which Alasdair Beatson played piano and Jonathan Morton, solo violin. Morton also joined in the ensemble parts when not soloing. I know this piece very well, although I can recall only once hearing it in performance. The placement of the performers was somewhat strange, with the high and middle strings behind the piano (and hence behind the upraised lid), dulling their sound.
In any case, the performance was thrilling in the extreme. Beatson captured the many, varied moods of the piano part – from church-like chorale harmonies, through rolling, lieder-style accompaniments for a cantabile violin, to a tempestuousness that made the instrument sound like an angry, rampaging animal. You can tell how good Mendelssohn was as a pianist himself just by listening to this part, and also how much he enjoyed playing. The first movement, particularly, has flourishes of pleasure and delight throughout.
Strange, then, was the positioning on stage of the two soloists, with the violinist standing behind the pianist. The first movement has such witty interplay between the two performers – calls-and-responses, mimicry, quoting, and transforming, etc – that for each player not to be able to see the eyes of the other seems untenable. I cannot imagine young Felix on piano and Eduard Rietz, his friend and violin teacher, for whom this music was written, not facing each other and smiling with each returned flourish.
Like the Australia Chamber Orchestra, most members of the Scottish Ensemble stand while performing. As with the ACO, this strikes me as an insidious type of ageism, and is entirely unnecessary. Only young or very fit people can do this, and one wonders at what average age of ensemble members will the group regain their commonsense. Also, for the historical record, Beatson’s pages were turned by one of the hall staff: even the stage-hands at the Wigmore can read music, apparently.
Stravinsky: Concerto in D
Mendelssohn: Capriccio and Fugue from opus 81 (arranged Morton)
Stravinsky: Concertino (arranged Morton)
Mendelssohn: Concerto for Piano, Violin and Strings in D minor.
A review of another concert in the same tour, in Dundee, is here.
This concert is listed in my concatenation of live music events.