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MUSIC REVIEWS.

Orchestra of The Swan Birmingham Town Hall ????? HHHH? AHEAD of a very busy week when it will be featuring in several broadcast commemorations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, the Stratford-based Orchestra of the Swan continued this season's Bardic theme with a gripping trawl through the incidental music Shostakovich composed for Russian productions of Hamlet, onstage in the early 1930s, and on the silver screen 30 years later. David Curtis led his enthusiastic players through this 13-movement amalgam of styles and genres encouraging a beefy, in-your-face orchestral sound, ranging from deliciously sleazy clarinet solos to chaste string reflections, livelier sections infectiously rhythmic, and all delivered with pageantry, wit and colour. His OOTS throughout this afternoon sounded bigger than the sum of its parts, providing a wonderfully well-cushioned foil to Tamsin Waley-Cohen's thoughtful account of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. No flashy virtuosityflaunting from her elegant bowing-arm here, but instead an inwardness which just occasionally meant that the highest notes, as in the first movement's cadenza, failed clearly to speak. Hers was a confiding reading, nudging with little nuances and near-vocal inflections. Even in the crowd-pleasing finale her approach was more one of finding significance beneath the glitter, nowhere more so than when she and her violin gradually unbended towards the helter-skelter conclusion. After this Waley-Cohen's Bach Sarabande encore provided a time-stopping balm, her pause at the end holding our gratitude before applause erupted. Mozart's Symphony no.25 had begun proceedings with a punch, no-holds-barred to the extent that horns occasionally crushed their notes. This is a symphony which breaks all the bounds of its courtly templates, angry young mannish, but with a strong foretaste of the composer's maturity. Curtis and his players gave us both the work's drama as well as its intimations of inner pathos yet to come. Christopher Morley British Police Symphony Orchestra Worcester Cathedral ????? HHHH? NOW into its second quarter-century, the British Police Symphony Orchestra has achieved marvels in terms of educational outreach, artistic aspiration, and charitable work, and Saturday's event in aid of the Longlands Care Farm near Worcester and its support of disadvantaged young people was a heartwarming example of just what BPSO is all about. This Celebration of British Music was certainly designed to be a crowd-pleaser, with a finale crammed with Last Night of the Proms-type favourites after a first half beginning with an uneven account of Bax's Tintagel. There were some delicate touches here, conductor Richard Jenkinson drawing some shapely phrasing in his perceptive grip over incident, but there were also some overpowering decibel-levels in this stentorian acoustic which needs no encouragement to aggrandise things. Then came the evening's most important offering, sitting perhaps uncomfortably in this basically "pop" context, the premiere of Graham Parlett's orchestration of Ian Venables' Remember This. In its original version for soprano, tenor, piano and string quartet, this cantata setting Andrew Motion's poem reflecting on the life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was first given to huge acclaim at the Cheltenham International Festival a few years ago. Despite the accomplishment of Parlett's orchestration, in its current format the concept doesn't work. There are certainly some vivid instrumental solos, but the general impression is one of colouristic monotony in this generally slow-moving piece. Diction from soloists Claire Prewer and Richard Coxon suffered in this overpowering acoustic, and it didn't help that the printed texts had been subject to some kind of gremlin. But full marks to the remarkable BPSO for featuring this important inclusion. Christopher Morley Bruckner's Ninth CBSO Symphony Hall ????? HHH?? BRUCKNER'S unfinished ninth symphony has been interpreted as a vast, gaunt dialogue with the Deity; a backward glance to its Austrian roots in Schubert and as the precursor of late Mahler and the Second Viennese School. The young American conductor James Feddeck has not got beyond a sort of generalised grandeur. At the start the horns should evoke mystery, foreboding, monumental vistas of the beyond. We just got a horn call. In the first movement Bruckner's Misterioso direction was seldom observed, just playing slowly and quietly is not sufficient. Too often it became pedestrian and Feddeck didn't seem to be able to make a coherent and convincing structure from Bruckner's successive building blocks of sound. The second and third movements were a vast improvement. If the weirdly unearthly trio (in the greatest scherzo since Beethoven's ninth) didn't caper and gibber malevolently enough, Feddeck did draw forth plenty of energy. There were beautiful moments in the adagio - Marie Christine Zupancic's flute soaring like a dove over the bleak tortured landscape - but its fierce dissonant outburst didn't chill the marrow. The final bars should be a benediction (making the missing finale an irrelevance) instead the music just came to a stop. Michael Collins' performance of Mozart's sublime clarinet concerto was as agile, graceful and poignant as one could have wished. From sparkling top notes to the warm and resonant low register, Collins' playing captured the work's unique combination of tranquillity, gentle melancholy - a wonderfully rapt adagio - and zestful high spirits. Absolutely masterful. Norman Stinchcombe The Devil Inside Music Theatres Wales at Birmingham Repertory Theatre ????? HHHH? LIKE any form of opera, contemporary British chamber opera has its cliches. Nameless characters, neutral locations; librettos in which lovers and enemies alike converse in gnomic aphorisms. Something about Capitalism (horrid!) and The Environment (lovely!). And, of course, someone's always insane, or headed that way. It'd be unfair to expect Stuart MacRae and Louise Welsh's new opera The Devil Inside to avoid all those conventions altogether. What matters is how far the pair create something vital from them. The Devil Inside makes a strong start, with a terrific plot adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson. A bottle-dwelling imp can grant wishes - but must always be sold on for a lower price than that for which it was bought. Whoever owns it when they die loses their soul. MacRae's score is a superb creation in its own right: a study in deep greys and glistening silvers, capable of generating bizarre new colours (the lurid sound when the bottled demon shows itself, and the players in the 14-piece band blow mouth organs and bagpipe chanters), and of developing a real dramatic momentum - most notably in the closing scene, as the plot's thumbscrew logic finally corners the central characters. Michael Rafferty conducted like it was Mozart, while designer Samal Blak and director Matthew Richardson complemented MacRae's sounds with stylish monochrome designs and understated characterisation. Imaginative use of projections created a suitably unsettling atmosphere: I could swear something was actually moving inside that glowing green bottle. Meanwhile with singers of the calibre of Nicholas Sharratt (Richard) or Steven Page (suitably sombre-toned as the Old Man), MacRae's surprisingly lyrical vocal writing alternately gleamed and threw long shadows. But Ben McAteer as James and Rachel Kelly as his wife Catherine gave the show its heart; her seductive poise giving way to anxious tenderness, and his early bluster rounding out into a loving and compassionate husband. Believable - even likeable - characters in a contemporary opera? That's no small achievement. Richard Bratby
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 21, 2016
Words:1170
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