Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra – Remembrance Day

The Dome, Brighton, 12 November 2017

Loosely, but not aggressively, themed for Remembrance Day this concert gave us the works of one composer whose pacificism drove him across the Atlantic, one who served as a medical orderly in World War 1 and one who was killed on the Somme.

Britten’s D Minor Violin Concerto was completed during the composer’s voluntary exile and premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1940. Matthew Trussler, modestly looking like a half dressed, rapidly growing schoolboy in a tight white shirt, played it with verve, maturity and impressive control. It was easy, in this performance, to hear menace and the horror of war in some of the abrupt harmonies and desperate sadness in the lyrical passages. The War Requiem might lie twenty two years into the future but the anger and distress at the futility of it all is clearly there already. Barry Wordsworth ensured this came out strongly although he also, wisely, allowed Trussler his head. The playing in the long cadenza was edge-of-the-seat stuff with exquisitely accurate trills on harmonics and the unusual technique of left hand pizzicato with simultaneous legato bowing. Even the rising and descending scales, of which there are lots for both soloist and orchestra, were made to sound musically compelling here.

The other long work in the programme was Vaughan Williams’s strident, angry fourth symphony which dates from 1935. Wordsworth leant on all the big RVM themes and played up the syncopated passages in the last movement to enjoyable effect. The central scherzo was evocative and carefully managed. For this final work in the programme the orchestra was fully warmed up.

Also appropriate in its wistful way was George Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad: Rhapsody which opened the second half. Plenty of yearning, lyrical beauty came through some fine playing.

This concert opened with Stokowski’s arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugues (more D minor) which was an odd choice. Yes, it makes a splendid opening – all drama and semiquavers – but it’s hard to listen to it, I’m afraid, without thinking of Fantasia and  irreverently expecting Mickey Mouse to appear. Moreover some of the entries were a bit ragged in the first few moments although by the time we got to the fugue, inspiringly started by the violas, it was all sailing along grandiloquently. If, however, we were meant – in part – to be focusing on Remembrance Day then this work seemed inappropriate.

Two further small observations about this concert, one positive, one less so. First, it’s grand to see and hear a selection of works which make such good use of the tuba and it’s fun to see the enormous mute going in and out of the bell. Well done,   Principal Tuba. Second, I wish they’d sort out that percussive whistle which whispers in the Dome when it’s quiet. You could hear it all too clearly during the Britten. I don’t know whether it’s the heating, air conditioning or something else but it’s always there and needs dealing with.

Susan Elkin

 

Interview Concert: Duo Arnicans

St Paul’s Cafe Worthing, 2 November 2017

An unmistakeable magic was weaved into the sound waves and social atmosphere of the latest International Interview Concert at St Paul’s Cafe Worthing. DUO Arnicans’ new programme of seven singing cello pieces, played without a break, took the packed audience into a dream. And then their stirring Brahms Sonata No 2 for Cello and Piano turned from romance into passion the ambience of their connection with their avid listeners.

Cellist Florian Arnicans played from memory the first-half sequence of song and melody beyond words. Suddenly unaccompanied, he played cello legend Pablo Casals’ Song Of the Birds, riveting the full house in his own realisation of the unpublished score after listening himself to an original Casals recording. There were unexpected and revelatory instrumental effects. Then, out of the silence after its concluding sky-high trill, came pianist Arta Arnicane’s stealing steps of the following Habanera by Ravel , creating a halting expectation and sensuality that shot through the audience.

These top-notch young artistes from Zurich ? Florian a German, his spouse Arta a Latvian ? asserted categorically the level of artistry and performance in these innovative, interactive and inclusive concerts. This being the 11th in five years, the Interview Concerts in Worthing are already a precious biannual advancement of the classical music offering in West Sussex.

The musicians’ verbal communication skills in the interviewing lay another dimension on the audience experience. Arta and Florian brought humour, wisdom, insight and candidness in this additional connective and intimate showcase. Questions also came from the audience, who relished the fun when the organisers’ gifts to the artistes came to be opened, so capping entertainment in a compelling combination.

Music – ‘Programme Canción’: “The Cello Sings” – JS Bach, Arioso; Schubert, Ständchen; Mendelssohn, Lied ohne Worte Op.109 (Song without Words);  Dvorak, Melodie; Pablo Casals, Song of the Birds; Ravel, Pièce en forme de Habanera; Josef Suk, Serenade. After the interval: Brahms, Sonata for Cello and Piano No 2 in F Opus 99.

Richard Amey

 

Swansong

Milton Court Studio, 4 November 2017

Iain Burnside is a commensurate communicator. Witness his often quirky, but always fascinating, programmes on Radio 3 over the years and his 5 star piano playing especially when he’s accompanying and particularly in lieder. Lucky are the students who study with him at Guildhall School of Music and Drama where he is a professor.

Swansong is, at one level, a warm and vibrant recital of Schubert’s last fourteen songs which the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger hooked together and marketed – very profitably – as Schwanengesang after Schubert’s death. At another level it’s a piece of musical theatre. Six actors deliver short monologues between the songs so that suddenly we see them from many different angles like a cubist painting. At a third level it’s a real joy to see yet another work devised and directed by Burnside in which the Guildhall musicians work with their counterparts in drama to present something which is as integrated as it is enlightening.

The piece is scored for a singer, a pianist and six actors. In fact here we get two excellent pianists (Michael Pandya and Dylan Perez) and four singers alongside six actors playing characters who all have a view about the composer and/or his songs over nearly two centuries – Brahms, Ivor Gurney, Haslinger, Franz von Schober, a cleaner and a modern student.

Harriet Burns, soprano, brings lots of warmth and passion along with a knowing twinkle in both eye and voice to the opening song Liebesbotschaft. James Robinson’s tenor and both baritones, Andrew Hamilton and Henri Tikkanen pack plenty of drama and colour especially in Die Stadt. All four voices blend well in the final Die Taubenpost.

Each of the actors does a fine job too. Burnside has ignored conventions of period so that all the speech is very modern, along with the costumes. It reminds you – rather neatly – that nothing changes and yes, the laundry maid would have known all about Schubert’s sickness once she started finding mercury stains (“they mix it with lard and rub it on the sores”) on the sheets.  Jordan Angell’s Haslinger is a spivy type who tells the audience to “cut me some slack, will you? And Declan Baxter’s Gurney, complete with authentic Gloucestershire accent, locked in City of London Mental Hospital, is both appealing and pitiful. The trouble with this approach is that without a programme you might struggle to work out who is who but it’s a minor gripe

Overall this is a pleasingly original, high quality hour of music and drama – not quite a concert, not quite musical theatre and not quite an illustrated talk. Maybe Burnside has invented a new performance art form?

SE

Pinocchio: Jasmin Vardimon Company

Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 27 October 2017

This show is rivetingly original. Staged in the sort of dim light usually reserved for puppetry, it includes a silhouette sequence, work with trapeze, bungee and flying. A fascinating sequence involves six performers, hands linked, rolling in turn slowly through 360 degrees to represent a huge cog wheel. Then there are two people chatting animatedly in a restaurant – their faces painted on to feet with toes waggling expressively and hands (two other performers behind?) acting like mad. Moving lights work to terrific effect too and ultra violet technology may have been around for a long time but it still impresses – here three pairs of ultra-violet lit hands represent a huge talking face.

 Pinocchio by Jasmin Vardimon Company @ Stour Centre, Ashford Kent.

Pinocchio is, of course, a puppet and Jasmin Vardimon has returned to the unsentimental tenor of Carlo Collodi’s original 1883 book rather than allowing herself to be side tracked by any of the many interpretations since, including Disney. This Pinocchio, whose movements remain floppy and puppet-like throughout – as he is manipulated by almost everyone he meets – is discovering what it means to be human rather than turning into a real boy.  And Vardimon choreographs exquisitely. No one who sees this show is going to forget the monster tormenting Pinocchio formed from the linked undulating arms of a line of performers.

The music which accompanies all this is borrowed from many sources to suit the mood of each episode. We leap effortlessly from Beyonce to Shostakovich and from The De Leeuwin Dutch Street Organ to accordion music from the Faroe Islands among many other things. Steven Glasser’s recorded narration grates, however. The movement in this show tells the story expertly and needs no words but it’s a minor objection

Jasmin Vardimon must be one of Britain’s most talented choreographers and educators. Her company, based since 2012 at the Jasmin Vardimon Production Space at Ashford, Kent, is supported by Ashford Borough Council, Ashford Leisure Trust and Arts Council England. And Pinocchio is co-produced by Gulbenkian Theatre and Kent County Council along with Sadler’s Wells. It is most encouraging to see such a splendid dance company getting the support it so richly deserves. I was also delighted to see hundreds of enthusiastic dance students and young dancers in the audience at Sadler’s Wells.

Susan Elkin

 

 

ENO: Rodelinda

London Coliseum, 26 October, 2017

Richard Jones is becoming as much a key element for ENO today as David Poutney was a generation ago. The wide range of his productions are all united in a fierce concentration on detail and a deep sense of humanity. Singers rarely stand and sing, unless they are addressing the audience directly, and even within the strictures of opera seria he generates a sense of heightened normality which carries the narrative forward rather than halting it every time an aria pops up.

All of this is very obvious in his presentation of Handel’s Rodelinda where the story line may stretch the imagination but the relationships and the emotional truth of the characters is never in doubt.

Rebecca Evans returns as Rodelinda and her nobility is ever present, along with a wonderful flexibility of musical line, regardless of what Richard Jones is asking her to do. Tim Mead as her husband Bertarido is new to the production but creates a complex individual, splendidly uneasy in the bar-room scene, yet heroic when the need arises.

There is subtle comedy in the work provided by Susan Bickley’s Eduige and Neal Davies blood-thirsty Garibaldo, and Matt Casey’s unspeaking Flavio is a visual delight throughout. Christopher Lowrey’s Unulfo is regularly on the receiving end from the royals around him but his finely focused counter-tenor made the part seem more eloquent than maybe Handel intended.

Juan Sancho’s Grimoaldo seemed petulant at first but as the evening developed his emotional turmoil became more overt and he created a fine range of emotional states.

Christian Curnyn was once more in the pit, maintaining excellent pace and bite for what is, after all, a long evening. Thankfully, in the hands of these performers, it never seemed so.

 

 

 

WNO: Die Fledermaus

Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, 19 October 2017

John Copley’s production of Die Fledermaus moves the time scale forward, but not by very much. The designs are gracefully art deco but the costumes retain the opulence – and perhaps the decadence – of the late nineteenth century. No attempt is made to up-date the work or give it any spurious relevance. As such it is a triumph, allowing the score to radiate its charm throughout, and the singers to show just what wonderful music this is.

Judith Howard’s Rosalinde is a woman of the world, only too aware of her husband’s short-comings and more than up to his schemes. Her act two czardas is thrown off with aplomb and totally secure at the top. By contrast Rhian Lois’ Adele has the coloratura for the laughing song but is wily enough to convince the most hardened of old rogues. There was a wonderful moment when she is talking to her sister Olga and they both slip into Welsh accents!

Of the men, Mark Stone’s Eisenstein reminded me of Hugh Bonneville, caught somewhere between Downton Abbey and W1A. He sings with relish and his comic timing is equally impressive. There was strong support from Ben McAteer as Falke and James Cleverton as Frank. Paul Charles Clarke’s Alfred was gloriously over the top, the sob in the voice reminding us of every second-rate tenor we have had to sit through. Anna Harvey is a surprisingly young Orlovsky but very much in control of events.

The chorus were as fine as expected but it was the conducting of James Southall which really raised the whole level of the evening. After hours of Andre Rieu it was such a treat to hear Strauss as, one suspects, Strauss intended. The rhythms taught yet flexible, the sense of élan always in place and the tempi perfect. This was the second outing for this production and it should certainly live to see another day – or two!

Maidstone Symphony Orchestra

Mote Hall, Maidstone, Saturday 14 October 2017

The new season is built around a series of concerti all of which will be performed by young professionals, often at the start of what we hope will be long careers.

For this first concert, Savitri Grier was the eloquent soloist for Mendelssohn’s ever popular violin concerto, finding a gentle melancholy in the opening passages but a real sense of bite in the cadenza and unexpected sweetness in the unfolding melody of the slow movement. Brian Wright’s approach to the work was more reflective than is often the case, with a greater sense of waltz rhythms in the slow movement and introspection in the first. Any shadows were however blown away with the sparkle of the fleet finale, hinting throughout at the other world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The concerto was sandwiched between two Russian masterpieces, opening with Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, a riot of colour and a tour de force for the brass. Written at great speed for the 37th anniversary of the Revolution, it is never quite clear how tongue in cheek it actually is – not that that affects our enjoyment.

After the interval we were presented with Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. One of the problems with the popularity of the two central movements is that we rarely hear them in context, and the long unwinding of the first movement demands considerably more attention than either the Allegro molto or the Adagio. There is also the reality that the composer’s style and orchestration has been regularly high-jacked by the film industry to the point where the original can sound derivative. Thankfully the orchestra’s playing and the skilful direction from the podium kept us on our toes and alive to the every shifting patterns that Rachmaninov creates for us on what is a long and often complex journey, before the exhilaration of the finale.

The next concert is on Saturday 2 December when Olivier Stankiewicz will perform Strauss’ Oboe Concerto, together with works by Wagner and Vaughan Williams.

Hastings Philharmonic

St Mary in the Castle, Hastings, Friday 13 October 2017

Marcio da Silva has planned a challenging and highly exciting season for Hastings Philharmonic and if this opening Beethoven concert is to set the standard for the year it will be a wonderful experience for all concerned.

There was a time when all-Beethoven concerts were a familiar feature for concert goers, but that is no longer the case and so the opening programme proved to be exhilarating in its range as well as the quality of its musicianship.

The Coriolan Overture had a brooding, dark quality, the lower instruments powerfully focused allowing solos lines to sing easily above but with no loss of weight. The few moments of light which Beethoven allows flowed effortlessly but the sense of anger and stress within the score was never far away. The cello lines at the close captured the sense of loss with real pathos.

Among many accolades, Kenny Broberg won at Hastings and has an impressive list of international orchestras with whom he has worked. He certainly seemed very much at ease with Hastings Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, relishing the close rapport between himself and the players as well as the very close proximity of the audience. It must be rare to find himself surrounded by people, the piano being situated in the centre of the concert hall, rather than at one end.

The immediacy paid off with a virtuoso performance of exceptional dynamic range. The near thwacked scale runs in the first movement melted into the gentlest of touches, and there was an improvisatory feel to much of his playing which communicated a sense of living creativity rather than regurgitation of a familiar war horse.

The second movement was particularly impressive with a sense of the romantic movement hovering over the development of his musical line. Carried away, there were times when Kenny Broberg seemed to want to sing along with his own playing and had to hold himself back.

The finale had an immediate sense of joy and life, which radiated from the soloist and players to the whole hall. We were lucky to get an encore – a brief Chopin Mazurka – which was a gem and left us wanting more.

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony can often seem over-played but with young musicians of this quality it sparkled into life and made a strong impact throughout. My only minor complaint is that I would have liked the repeats left in – given the quality we were experiencing – but maybe last trains come before longer works! The angst of the opening movement seemed to spill over into the Andante con moto and it took time for it to be absorbed into the more meditative structure.

I can’t recall being so aware before of what Beethoven does in the last movement. Adding in the trombones and double bassoon at the bass end, and the piccolo at the top, suddenly opens a new window to the dynamics of the piece and the weight of the earlier movements is transformed as it expands our aural response.

With such a close rapport between audience and performers this scoring was immediately obvious and highly effective.

Marcio da Silva introduced the season before the concert started and if this evening has been a precursor then we are in for a wonderful year. The next concert is on Saturday 4th November with works by Elgar, Holst, Britten and Mozart. info@hastingsphilharmonic.com

Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Brighton Dome, 8 October, 2017

Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is a bit out of fashion – apart from, maybe, at Raymond Gubbay concerts. I haven’t heard a live performance for several years but it’s a gorgeous old warhorse and it was a real treat to hear it in the opening concert of Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 93rd season.

And what a performance from young Romanian soloist, Alexandra Dariescu who sat at the centre of it like a full-skirted silver fairy. She worked her way colourfully though all those contrasts in the first movement from lyrical to passionate and from thunderous to whispering. She and conductor, Barry Wordsworth achieved a delightful balance in the mini-duets in the second movement with flute, oboe, cello and horn. The elegant delicacy in Dariescu’s playing is quite special.

The concerto was the substantial meat in the sandwich which gave us Schumann’s overture Genoveva (yes, new to me too and, I gather to most of the orchestra) at the beginning and Brahms’s third symphony at the end.

The nicely played Schumann included a long – very Schumannesque – slow introduction with lush strings before dancing away into a syncopated fortissimo section with nifty work from lower strings and some tuneful interjections and fanfares from brass and woodwind all leading to a satisfyingly resounding conclusion.

Wordsworth and the BPO gave us an enjoyable, workmanlike account of the Brahms. Especially noteworthy were the lovely brass and woodwind solos and the cello led 3/4 melody at the opening of the third movement.

Sue Elkin

ENO: The Barber of Seville

London Coliseum, Thursday 5 October 2017

Thirty years old, and it looks as fresh as the first day it was staged, such is the marvel of Jonathan Miller’s The Barber of Seville. Much of this is due to the approach which keeps the work strictly within its historical framework and allows the singers the do what they do best – sing for us.

The evening is certainly not without its genuinely comic moments, but it is the singers, who really understand the characters, being encouraged to explore Rossini’s masterpiece for themselves that carries the evening. Many of them are familiar to us having been in the previous revival in 2015, most notably Morgan Pearse as Figaro. His sense of confidence and the bravura he brings to the music sweep all before him. Alan Opie, Miller’s original Figaro thirty years ago, returns as Dr Bartolo, and brings an unexpected depth of character as well as a finely nuanced musical performance.

Eleazar Rodriguez returns as Almaviva, more confident now than he seemed two years ago, and the top of the voice in splendid form.

The real newcomer to this production is Sarah Tynan as Rosina, though she is no stranger to ENO. Her sense of humour and the fluid coloratura made for a captivating performance throughout.

In the pit Hilary Griffiths was making his ENO debut, but the sparkle he achieved from the orchestra makes one hope he will return soon.

There must be a limit to how many more times this production will be revived but for the moment it does not seem to be anywhere near the end of its working life.