Browsing: Lebrecht Weekly

You’ll often hear me telling people a couple of generations down the line that they should listen to new music of our time rather than Beethoven and Mahler, which they will enjoy better once they are in their 50s. Can’t say I’ve made many converts. All the usual excuses: get home from work, make supper, put the kids to bed, veg out on the sofa, no concentration left for the squeaks and squawks of contemporary composers. Yeah, been there, done that. But I’m not giving up trying to persuade younger people to listen to the new. Wrap your ears, for…

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The most popular and prolific composer of his time, Malcolm Arnold was shunned by the British music establishment for being, mostly, too popular and prolific, and therefore a potent threat to the nonentities who were not. Arnold (1921-2006) had other crosses against his name. He was a former orchestral player (working class), an Oscar winner (disgraceful), a tonal symphonist (non-BBC-pc), an alcoholic and a philanderer who suffered repeated bouts of mental illness. In short, he was everything the suits hated. Proof of their power is attested by this one-act opera which, written in 1952, was rejected by a panel of…

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The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra has issued an oblong boxed set of its inaugural concerts with music director Kirill Petrenko. The new chief’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s fifth and sixth symphonies cannot be praised too highly; they set the benchmark for these works in the coming decade as Herbert von Karajan’s recordings did for the 1970s. I find Petrenko’s Beethoven 7th memorable and the 9th appropriately resplendent. But what grabbed my attention was his inclusion of works by Franz Schmidt (1874-1939) and Rudi Stephan (1878-1915), the former a marginal figure, the latter a frontline casualty of the First World War. Of the two,…

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Georg Solti used to say that Leo Weiner (1885-1960) was his best teacher in Budapest. Since his other professors at the Franz Liszt Academy included Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, this was no small compliment. Weiner, who shared Solti’s Jewish identy, was a selfless bachelor who took vicarious pleasure in his pupils’ successes and was reluctant to promote his own works. Solti aside, his students included the conductors Eugene Ormandy (Philadelphia), Fritz Reiner (Pittsburgh, Chicago), Antal Dorati (Minneapolis, Detroit, Washington) and the cellist Janos Starker (Cleveland). He may have done more than any individual conductor to shape the sound of…

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So much nonsense is being spouted these days about ‘decolonising’ western music that we’ve forgotten it’s not western at all. It’s southern and eastern, arising around the Mediterranean Sea and spreading upwards into the European continent by a process of conquest and cultural supremacism. Europe was successively colonised by the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongols and the Arabs before it ever thought of spreading ‘civilisation’ to other parts of the world. This new release is a blessed relief from the decolonising agenda. It blends music from the major seaboard cultures – Greek, Italian, Judeo-Spanish and Arab – with arias from…

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I often wonder when listening to Silvestrov’s music why he is not one of the most performed living composers. His music is at once mentally challenging and aurally agreeable, beautifully constructed and unexpectedly affecting. He ought to be in every concert season. Born in Kiev in 1937 and a major catalyst in the 1960s Moscow avant-garde, Silvestrov was named ‘one of the greatest composers of our time’ by such distinguished colleagues as Alfred Schnittke and Arvo Pärt. Yet as far as western conductors are concerned he might as well be an Mongolian herdsman for all the attention they pay to…

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Here’s a first – a record that resists categorisation. To give it one star would be an insult, two stars a gross over-estimation. No stars is as close as I can get to describe the distinctly uncomfortable feeling I get from hearing John Williams conduct his film scores with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. No discredit to Williams, a capable conductor with years of experience as director of the Boston Pops. No credit whatsoever to the Vienna Phil, an orchestra that has guarded its pedigree for almost 180 years, only to squander it on sheets of music that were written for…

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The arrival of an altogether astonishing album has made me break my solemn (and unrealistic) pledge to review only neglected composers during the Covid pandemic. Nobody could possibly call Rachmaninov neglected, although with the disruption of a regular supply of live music with a living, breathing audience this recital of solo pieces has the shock of the new – the more so when played by the Armenian artist Sergei Babayan, in his major-label debut. Babayan, 59, is best known as the teacher of Daniil Trifonov and occasional four-hand partner of Martha Argerich. Based in New York, he is an unobtrusive…

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It has been a while since the viola last had a powerful advocate. Timothy Ridout, 24 and British, is being touted as the next star violist. The evidence is laid out in these attractive performances with the Lausanne chamber orchestra, conducted by another gifted young Brit, Jamie Phillips. The 1934 suite for viola and orchestra and orchestra by Ralph Vaughan Williams demands a sympathy for the rolling contours and modest beauties of the English countyside. The suite is stitched together from English folksongs, none of them individually arresting, which gives the soloist free rein to invest them with breath and…

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Mikis Theodorakis, who turned 90 last month, earned worldwide fame for the music to the 1964 film Zorba the Greek and remained a poster-boy to the international Left for his unwavering commitment to Communism. Aside from his film music, his song-cycle The Ballad of Mauthausen ranks among the most beautiful music ever written about the Nazi Holocaust. Less familiar are the composer’s classical roots. In 1954, Theodorakis went to Paris to study at the Conservatoire with Olivier Messaien and Eugene Bigot. He stayed for five years, writing a lot of music in a range of Francophone styles. The discoveries on…

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