Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

If Gianandrea Noseda were not already music director in Washington DC and at Zurich Opera, he would probably be top of the London Symphony Orchestra’s wishlist to succeed the stop-gap Sir Simon Rattle in two years’ time. Listen to the whiplash crack of the rhythms he elicits at the start of the Shostakovich ninth symphony and you might be reminded of the young Riccardo Muti at the Philharmonia in the 1970s. Listen further to the ironic discordances of the Largo movement and you’ll hear a unique fusion – a lyrical Italian with a sophisticated sympathy for covert Russian ambiguities. Noseda…

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Sir Simon Rattle, who became a German citizen this week, prefers to work with an English chorusmaster. In Berlin he had his former Birmingham partner, Simon Halsey.  At his new job with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, he will find Howard Arman in charge of the salaried singers. Arman, a graduate of Trinity College London, has spent the past 40 years in German-speaking companies, working in Halle, Leipzig, Salzburg and Lucerne. The Munich he took over in 2017 choir is top-notch. Even a devoted Elgarian may be forgiven for never having heard these part-songs. The early ones, dated 1894, have words by…

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Musical lullabies can quickly outlast their welcome. Everybody’s had the Brahms Wiegenlied sung to them at some point in infancy and many have experienced the sleepy time duet in Hansel and Gretel, the one they sing just before the witch becomes their nightmare. But one hearing is usually all I can bear of these bonbons. The beauty of this compilation by the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou is that it leads the ear down unexpected paths – some overgrown like Janacek’s crystalline opener, others unexpected, neglected or altogether unknown. Two etudes by Sergei Liapunov are drops of perfect chamomile. A dollop…

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At the midpoint of the Second World War, our parents looked to two composers for symphonies of hope and vision. Such was the excitement attending the 7th symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich that Arturo Toscanini and Leopold Stokowski almost went to war themselves for the right to conduct the American premiere (Toscanini won). There was less fuss abroad over Vaughan Williams’s 5th, but in London it was hailed as oracular – a statement by a great artist on the spirit of his nation and its depth of confidence. The world premiere, conducted by the composer on June 24, 1943, was roared to the…

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Winston Churchill’s famous witticism that Britain and America are divided by a common language is equally true of their musical output. In late-romantic repertoire, the accent on either side is so strong that a listener could never mistake Elgar for Barber, let alone Britten for Bernstein. Much of the appeal of this Covid-era recital by violinist Callum Smart and pianist Richard Uttley lies in the effort they invest to find common ground. Elgar’s violin sonata, written in the last summer of the First World War, is in deep denial of all that was going on around him. If he got…

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Like most composers in the Soviet Union, Kancheli held down two jobs as a music director and a professor and wrote scores to order for instantly forgettable Party films. Except that, in his case, while the films vanished from memory, the music refused to fade. Kancheli, who died last year at the age of 84, conserved his best film themes as a set of 33 piano miniatures? You know how the best music grips you by the throat and won’t let you do anything else until it’s over? That’s what you will find in these miniatures. Some are for piano…

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Composers grow middle names to protect themselves against rivals of similar plumage. There were so many Bachs around in JS’s time that he was mostly known as Sebastian to ward off all the useless Johanns. Here, too, the opera composer John Adams stamped ten-league boots on the domain and our Luther had to use his middle name to carve out a claim. Pretty big terrain he has staked, too. Adams went to Alaska after college in the late 1970s to work in environmental protection. His music derives, he says, from ‘sustained listening to the subtle resonances of the northern soundscape.’…

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What would you say if I gave up star ratings? They are only the vaguest approximation of a critic’s opinion and they might well be affected by the weather, or the latest Covid numbers. I’ve seen ratings that barely reflect the text of a review, just as footballers get marks out of ten that bear no relation to their influence on a game. I know some readers look no further than the star rating before making up their minds. But for those who actually read, does the rating make any difference to you? Do tell. Take the present pair of…

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I chucked out a bunch of new releases this week, mostly solo recitals on esoteric instruments like the harp, the mandolin and the saxophone, though also viola, voice and harpsichord, some on so-called major labels. These recitals tend to be paid for by the soloist after a label decides they are uncommercial. Knowing that people are unlikely to buy it, why would I waste valuable time reviewing it and you reading about it? In these fragile times when every hour of life is doubly precious, artists need to think twice and think again before pushing out more and more of…

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The second piano by Sergei Prokofiev was the least performed of the five until Evgeny Kissin came along a decade ago and showed it was not only playable but pleasant. At this early stage in his emergence – the opus number is in the low teens – Prokofiev was more inclined to be rebarbative than agreeable. But once Kissin stripped off the barbed wire, an underlying soft centre was exposed and other pianists piled in to make the once-deterrent concerto practically an audience draw. The Vienna Philharmonic were touring it only this week in Japan. Of the half-dozen interpretations I…

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