Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Musical gatherings and glories

This is really just checklisting; otherwise I fear the events which didn't need a review may pass unillustrated, and their originators officially unthanked. Gatherings and receptions are fine in very small doses as far as I'm concerned, but it did feel special to be back in the social swing of matters musical. 

Much fanfare, first, for the Proms launch at the massive Printworks, Canada Water, on 26 April (all event photos courtesy of BBC Proms publicity). Weirdly, everyone knew the programme in advance, and the annual prospectus wasn't ready for handing out at the end (my copy arrived only last week). But I've rarely enjoyed a melee as much as this, partly because 30 'young creatives' from the new BBC Open Music Scheme added vivacity and glamour. They'll be spotlit in the Open Music Prom on 1 September. 

I so admired the confidence and minimum gush from the two young presenters Mahaliah Edwards and Elizabeth Ajao (pictured above)  - you sensed they were genuinely excited about the world of music that had opened up, not just about their own fledgling stardom. I offered Elizabeth Ajao the chance to write for The Arts Desk, gave her my email and am...waiting to hear from her. Ahem. But one or two of the trainees will put something together nearer to Proms time.

In terms of musical entertainment, there was a tad too much brass from the Tredegar Band (all of it well played), and sheer delight from the glorious Nardus Williams and David Bates in Purcell's 'O! Fair Cedaria'. 

Also got to talk to Nardus afterwards, as a very genuine admirer of her Anne Trulove in the Glyndebourne Tour revival of what we should call the Stravinsky/Hockney Rake's Progress. She radiated natural charisma and charm. Nardus will be singing Mozart's Countess in selected performances at Glyndebourne and on the whole of the tour.

The rest was chit-chat, but not to be sniffed at with the likes of friendly faces Dobrinka Tabakova, Mary Bevan and Nicky Spence. Likewise - with Nicky very much centre stage alongside husband Dylan Perez, singing for his supper as 'Personality of the Year' (I'd say personality enough for 10) - two nights later at the BBC Music Magazine Awards. That's him, bekilted and very much standing on the two legs he broke falling down an airport staircase at the beginning of the year, with Tom Service and BBCMM's new editor Charlotte Smith (who both kept things admirably short and snappy).

I'll mostly pass on the awards themselves - all worthy winners, though I fancy it's how many followers you have on social media which gets you the prize out of three finalists in each category - other than to say that I'm very happy with the top award, to the great Igor Levit. Haven't heard his Stevenson yet but the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues live at the Barbican were just sensational (and the cover design of the two-CD set fitted well with Kings Place's very different verticals).

 Otherwise,, the performances here were especially remarkable. Nicky and Dylan gave us Strauss's 'Zueignung' followed by Jeremy Nicholas's 'I love ME' (would that perhaps be 'Valentine Card' in the published volume of his numbers written for 'Stop the Week'?), which could have gone OTT without perfect comic timing and discipline. 

Another super couple, Elena Urioste and Tom Poster, played the pianist's transcription of Sondheim's 'Send in the Clowns'. As I said to them afterwards, who'd have thought this could work so well without the words? It brought tears to my eyes. I was hoping the performance had been filmed; it wasn't, but here's a different capturing of the same piece.

I'd planned to keep all events here within a three-week bracket, but realised I hadn't mentioned the very happy occasion at the glorious Fidelio Orchestra Cafe, bringing together a favourite venue and two favourite people, viola-player Kathy Kang and her husband Andrew Litton (their adorable young 'un was being looked after by Korean Granny - I had expected Anastasia to be turning pages already). 

I already mentioned in an Arts Desk review, actually about another superb Fidelio Cafe event, how the minute Kang put bow to string, the warmth and resonance of the sound in that well-wooded venue carried us - even through less than great music (Kornauth's Viola Sonata). The selection from Robert Fuchs' Phantasiestücke struck a note of richer originality, and fascinatingly I got to hear the Brahms E flat Sonata, Op. 120 No. 2, for the second time chez Fidelio in the viola-piano version: so very different from Power and Kolesnikov, equally valid. As an invitee, I felt in distinguished company, as you can see here: next to Kathy and Andrew are Dennis Chang, Stephen Hough, Alastair Macaulay and Jennifer Eldredge.

Famous faces were abundant at an occasion which might have been sad but was anything else: as the 'order of service' had it at the Wigmore Hall, this was a celebration of the full life of the greatest among conductors, Bernard Haitink. 

I was very touched to be asked by his widow Patricia to the event (she remembered a happy meeting we had at his last masterclasses for young conductors in Lucerne, where I briefly talked Mahler 3 with him; he just lit up about it).  She spoke so beautifully in the welcome address, as did Thomas Allen before the final work, segueing masterfully into Prospero's farewell. Clearly a review wasn't in order, but I have to say that both the works and the performances were as perfect as so many of the master conductor's interpretations. Here's the full programme - click to enlarge. Due to Covid, there were a couple of player swaps; I did wonder about Enno Senft, who'd been playing in the Europe Day Concert and had been mingling in the crypt bash afterwards on the Monday...

Photography likewise seemed inappropriate, but I'm grateful to Neil Gillespie, photographer and tenor with the London Symphony Chorus (well represented) for sharing his official shots. Emanuel Ax and Paul Lewis sounded absolutely as one in the Schubert Fantaisie, so fascinatingly different from the Kolesnikov/Tsoy combination I've been hearing a few times of late.

For me, the revelation was Beethoven's 'Spring' Sonata, probably because I know it less well than all the other works on the programme - the flow, the idiosyncrasy, the humour were so ineffably there with Ax partnering Frank Peter Zimmerman,

A friend tells me he was sitting behind the Haitinks at a Gerhaher Wigmore recital two weeks before the great man's death. I've never heard a bigger range in Lieder from Gerhaher before. Here he is with his regular duo partner, Gerold Huber.

 Finally, Prospero and the Siegfried Idyllists, an army of generals.

More recently, my good friend Sophia Rahman and her partner Andres Kaljuste had assembled another superb ensemble by scratch for a Ukrainian charity concer in St Peter's Belsize Park, quickly named the Whittington Festival Players after the splendid sequence of events she's just masterminded in that Shropshire village. Sophia also plays for Steven Isserlis at Prussia Cove. He'd been booked for a recital in Odesa on that evening, of course happened to be free, and so...

This is a photo Sophia took at a rehearsal when SI turned in to play to his fellow strings. His performance of the Haydn C major Cello Concerto was so resonant but also so moving - I've not shed tears at the pure classicism of the slow movement before, but this introspection completely got to me, He lives every bar. But so did Andres and the strings; their Mozart 29 was alive and deliciously nuanced, and the concert started with the subtlest and most charming playing by Irène Duval, another Prussia Cove visitor, in Mozart's A major Violin Concerto K219. Here are the two soloists together after the concert.

A final quick sketch of two indelible impressions left by performances which I didn't get to review, but caught later in both runs. So glad I didn't miss the revival of Lohengrin at the Royal Opera, and not just for Jakub Hrůša's art-concealing-art conducting, fairly perfect, Jennifer Davis was already a star when she stepped in at the first run, but now everything's at the highest level, and I'd completely forgotten the announcement that she was having neck and back trouble. It didn't show. Besides, her swan knight, Brandon Jovanovich, was another revelation: so tender, so believably good; more tears for his performance. Just one shot, them, of Jovanovich and Davis, by Clive Barda for the Royal Opera.

One of my students, Andrea Gawn, advised us all not to miss the performance of Jetter Parker Young Artist Alexandra Lowe in Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire at the Linbury Theatre. She was right: Lowe, until this just another very promising lyric soprano, absolutely astonished in acting, singing and speaking. I was just as impressed with the production by Anthony Almeida, which pushed at several boundaries. Bold attempts to link with Stravinsky's Mavra, by no means forced, but I still don't quite see the point of that Pushkin bagatelle. Anyway, here's Lowe on Rosanna Vize's striking set as photographed by Helen Murray.


Geo. said...

Nice to read that Bernard Haitink attended the Christian Gerhaher recital at Wigmore Hall in October 2021. In the WH video stream the month before with Camerata RCO, Hannah French had mentioned that Haitink was in the audience for that concert as well. A comment by John Gilhooly on WH's Twitter feed also mentioned generally that Haitink was a regular attendee at WH in his final months.

Speaking of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, after a fashion, sorry that I didn't think to comment on your Sibelius post, especially in light of the new Klaus Makela set of the Sibelius symphonies on Decca. But I wanted to wait until after sampling at least some of the recordings before rendering judgement. To be honest, I'm nowhere near as enthused as many others about these recordings, having heard through Symphony No. 6 so far. They're OK, but haven't really impressed me or made me go "wow". There are mitigating factors like the need for social distancing and such during the sessions, to my understanding.

However, and getting back to Amsterdam, it was pretty obvious from the sheer number of sudden guest-conducting engagements that the RCO lined up with KM that KM was going to be their next chief conductor, sooner or later. With the announcement about 2027, it's clearly going to be on the "sooner" side. The RCO and KM clearly have strong personal chemistry, whatever my thoughts about the musical results so far, and there looks to be a solid basis for formally establishing their relationship long-term.

David said...

Well, if you've only heard Six so far, I really don't think you should judge. That's the one work that probably needs more maturity. If you'd started at the beginning with 1, I think you'd go 'wow'. The tension is electric. Ditto 2, most of 4, 5 and 7. So come back to me when you've heard more.

Geo. said...

Sorry that I wasn't the clearest in my earlier message about KM's new Sibelius cycle. At that time, I'd listened to Symphonies Nos. 1 through 6 (i.e. all of them up through No. 6). Since my earlier comment, I've listened to No. 7. Still the same general impression. It's OK, and has fine moments, but he also loses the pulse at times, as in places in the other symphonies, at least IMHO. Tapiola and the Fragments still await.

For all my mixed feelings, KM is clearly a major talent, and obviously the KCO likes him tremendously. I certainly wish the partnership well (and that we're all still here in 2027 when things really get going between the KCO and KM, but never mind).

David said...

You seem to leave out of account the sheer electricity generated. Yesterday in the tenth and final Sibelius Zoom class I played the last five minutes of the Seventh and the opening fragment of the Eighth, and was reminded by how much intensity he generates. More important than Amsterdam is Oslo, where the players unananimously love him and burn for him - at times they play better than the Berlin Phil.

We also watched film of Berglund conducting Tapiola - all over in fifteen minutes flat (KM takes 19), but he knows absolutely what he's doing - a joy to see him in action.

Geo. said...

Well, the best showed up last, or almost last, from the new set, as KM's Decca reading of Tapiola was thoroughly engaging. The Fragments await, in due course. I also saw the video of Mahler 1 that's available on the Oslo Phil's website, which I need to catch when I have time before it gets taken down. I assume that you'll be at the Oslo Phil/KM Prom in a few weeks. The question (well, one of several), of course, is how long the Oslo Phil can hold on to him. I take your word for it that the Oslo Phil musicians love him, but again, the question: how long past 2027 can they retain him, if at all? Granted, the past few chief conductors there have only stayed 7 years, so 7 years would be no better or worse for KM's tenure.

By way of comparison, I recently heard the RPO's recordings of Sibelius 2 and 4, with Owain Arwel Hughes. To be honest, neither of them did it for me as well. Separately, I just got hold of a 2nd-hand set of Sir Colin Davis' Boston SO recordings of 3, 6 and 7, which I'm definitely looking forward to hearing (again, when I have time).

On KM and the KCO, one immediate question next month is, again of course: what will he do regarding the inner movements of Mahler 6? I hope that he goes with Scherzo-Andante, but his choice, to be sure.

Further side note: saw your TAD review of the Verdi Requiem from The First Night last night. It did come off very well on the radio, IMHO. Wasn't pleased with the slightly premature applause myself, although it wasn't nearly as bad as the doofus who ruined Haitink's Mahler 3 a few years ago at the very end of that performance. I trust also that you stayed masked in the RAH. I certainly would if I were there, and continue to do so in concerts here and elsewhere. But a very strong start to this summer's Proms, and fingers crossed for a relatively trouble-free season there.

David said...

I did stay masked. I was in a tiny minority. Didn't see any being worn in the mosh pit. John Wilson with his Sinfonia of London gave a breathtakingly nuanced account of the Elgar 'Enigma' Variations at the end of tonight's concert. It was all good, but I don't think 'Tintagel' should have been there - four works in a different order would have been enough.

Not sure why one would bother with RPO/OAH. And I still contest your definition of 'best' - it can only be a personal best for you. I shall be at that Prom, yes. You might also see on TAD that it was my No. 1 pick - well, it would be, wouldn't it?

Geo. said...

I think that we can continue the Mahler 6 KCO/KM discussion semi-safely here. I take it that you watched the KCO/KM video Berliner Festspiele video of Saariaho's "Orion" and Mahler 6. I caught it just before the deadline, so that I didn't get to watch it twice with the middle movements in different orders.

Just from my own observations, the KCO sounded fabulous, of course, and KM did very well. But, IMHO, he didn't make Andante/Scherzo work. And, again IMHO, it's not him. It's Andante/Scherzo. I don't think that anyone, KM, or Kirill Petrenko, or anyone else, can really make A/S work as well as S/A. In fact, the way KM paced and sculpted the middle movements, S/A would have worked so much better, with how he interpreted the middle movements. Maybe he'll figure it out in 5 years' time, once he figures out the charlatanism of the viciously closed-minded Reinhold Kubik/Jerry Bruck (Jerry Bruck? Who he?) Andante/Scherzo cabal. Those intellectual thugs have warped perception of Mahler 6 for a generation, and it'll take time to undo their damage.

Need to catch up with your TAD reviews, but then I'm over 3 weeks behind on Proms BBC Sounds listening, and have but a few weeks left to catch up with that as well.

PS: I listened to OAH's Sibelius because it was a freebie. So it goes.

David said...

I agree that it can't really work - Belohlavek came closest by taking the Scherzo really fast. I didn't realise there was a cabal. I always enjoy conversations with Klaus, when I can reach him - we also have ending of Sibelius 4 to talk about - so I'm sure he'd be open to further reasoning. He has many years of Mahler conducting ahead, after all. His Oslo Prom was a stunner, but I realise I'm permanently indifferent to the first two-thirds of Heldenleben...the absolute best was Berlin Phil/Petrenko in Mahler 7, one of the THREE greatest concerts (which means Mahler) I've ever heard (others VPO/Bernstein 5 at the Proms, Lucerne Festival Orch/Abbado 9 at that festival).

Geo. said...

I listened to the Kirill Petrenko / BPO Mahler 7 Prom twice, so I know what you mean. But back to Klaus M.: as you say, he has a good long road ahead of him (barring climate change and other worldwide catastrophes, but never mind), as long as he keeps a good head on his shoulders and fame doesn't completely swamp him.

On Mahler 6: the Andante/Scherzo cabal is a nasty one indeed, spearheaded by Kubik from his post as head editor of the Critical Edition, aided and abetted by funding and PR from Gilbert Kaplan in the NYT, for example. I don't know if you've seen the Mahler 6 video with Chailly and the Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig, but in the supplemental interview video, Chailly has drunk the A/S Kool-Aid, almost in repudiation of his earlier Concertgebouw Orchestra recording (S/A, of course). Likewise, Kubik says about the citation of Alma Mahler's 1919 telegram to Mengelberg about S/A: "Well, that was a mistake", to guffaws from the audience. Kubik presents no musical arguments in favor of A/S, but instead goes completely with character assassination of Alma Mahler as a drunk, lying b*(&*&%^$, to discredit the original order in a guilt-by-association manner.

In the Netherlands, Karina Canellakis is scheduled to conduct Mahler 6 with the RFO next February:

I dread to think which order she'll choose, although I suppose that I could initiate a Twitter discussion via her feed at some point.

BTW, Dobrinka Tabakova was recently in STL for her new choral work. I chatted with her, and she mentioned Klaus M.. I then brought up Mahler 6. She's with us on S/A.