And yet Stanley Kubrick's visually stunning 1968 interpretation of Arthur C Clarke's story The Sentinel is as much about the music as anything else.
Dialogue, in fact, is kept to a minimum (we wait a whole 24 minutes for the first banal sentence) - Kubrick instead using the likes of Johan Strauss's The Blue Danube and Sunrise from Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra to create the atmosphere - not that there is any in space.
From the latter's first bars, as apes discover how to use tools as weapons, the music and visuals work as one.
With the fabulous Ex Cathedra choir and Philharmonia Orchestra, the score took on another dimension as it was performed live, the film projected on a mammoth screen behind them.
Timpani boomed, strings murmured, brass fanfared each new age of man.
While the likes of The Blue Danube paint a serene landscape, Ligeti's spectral, eerie Requiem and Atmospheres are used to incredible effect for The Dawn of Man and Stargate sections, a haunting sea of voices singing noises, not recognisable words.
The overall effect was mesmerising, whether seeing the film for the first or tenth time.
Jon Perks Denis Matthews MemorialTrust Concert Adrian Boult HallTHIS concert was dedicated to Beryl Champin, who died last year, a much-loved teacher and colourful character who spent 33 years at Birmingham Conservatoire.
She inaugurated the Trust in 1989 after the death of her husband, the pianist and musical scholar Denis Matthews, and since then it has benefited many of the Conservatoire's students. Matthews also composed, and his Rhapsody for Solo Piano, combining the percussive drive of his beloved Beethoven and a skittish sense of humour evident in his autobiography, was given a sparkling performance by postgraduate student Luo Ting.
The Conservatoire has organised a week-long celebration of the music of Delius and John Ireland, and the latter's piano concerto gave De-Wet Lee, another postgraduate student, a chance to shine. She was a little inhibited in the finale, which wasn't quite giocoso enough, but otherwise admirable in both the frolicsome first movement and the meditative lento. The Birmingham Junior Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, under Daniele Rosina, gave fine support.
After youth came experience, the Conservatoire's head of keyboard studies John Thwaites and his long-standing musical partner Alexander Baillie gave a powerful performance of Ireland's Cello Sonata, a spikier and more intense work than the concerto. The Cello Sonata of Ivor Keys was densely argued and occasionally knotty - it had Thwaites mopping his brow - with only the final variation movement providing some light and a little musical humour.
Norman Stinchcombe Wagner Dream Welsh National Opera at Birmingham HippodromeON February 13, 1883, Richard Wagner died of a heart attack in Venice. Jonathan Harvey's Wagner Dream imagines that in the composer's final delirium, he was visited by a Buddhist spiritual guide and granted a vision of Die Sieger - the Buddhist opera which he planned but never wrote.
Given Harvey's own Buddhist beliefs, and his untimely death last year, the idea is both powerful and poignant; and this belated UK premiere by Welsh National Opera was commendable and brave.
In Pierre Audi's production, two worlds coexist on the stage - simply represented by a split-level set. The Wagner household is presented in monochrome, and with spoken dialogue. Behind them (and the onstage orchestra, conducted with pinpoint accuracy by Nicholas Collon) is the glowing red-and-ochre world of ancient India, where Die Sieger is played out in music of breathtaking beauty.
And while the German-speaking actors seemed inhibited, the singers were wholly committed: Claire Booth's impassioned Pakati gave the story its soul, while David Stout as the Buddha fittingly dominated every scene in which he appeared. Richard Wiegold, as the spirit-guide Vairochana, had some of the score's loveliest music, delivered with a heart-melting simplicity.
And yet - for this listener, anyway - Wagner Dream is problematic. Its central narrative of renunciation may well convey a profound truth to a convinced Buddhist. To this worldly westerner it felt, at root, cold - something that could never be said of Wagner's work.
Richard Bratby Philharmonia Symphony HallQUITE by coincidence, last Saturday I unearthed one of my earliest reviews (October 1970) for the Birmingham Post, in which I remarked that so few foreign musicians seemed to have the key to unlocking the special secrets of English music. Saturday's concert from the Philharmonia proved how much things have changed, with a Canadian violinist and a Russian conductor combining in a most responsive account of the basically elusive Elgar Violin Concerto.
Beneath the rhetoric, beneath the intricate solo writing, beneath the imposing proportions there beats a heart pierced with insecurity and regret, an inferiority complex which can only be hidden by swagger. And together James Ehnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy found it all.
Ehnes, a gentle giant, brought a rich, elegiac tone and unobtrusive virtuosity to his performance.
Ashkenazy, diminutive and jerkily hyperactive (his conducting technique, quite the reverse of the austere Pierre Boulez, will never be a rolemodel), drew from what appears to be a rejuvenated Philharmonia both a remarkable depth of sonority and well-pointed athleticism. Rapport between soloist and orchestra in the finale's extended, retrospective cadenza was extraordinarily gripping.
Ashkenazy's interpretation of Holst's Planets Suite was similarly revelatory, moving from a whiplash Mars to a Venus of the utmost tenderness, despite some string solos being overplayed. His tempo-control in Jupiter was well-achieved, the liveliness of the outer sections bringing the turgidness of the maundering central melody into bathetic contrast. Here, as wherever else appropriate, the zippy ending took the breath away.
The otherworldly mysticism of Neptune was subtly shaded in performance, and the ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir contributed ethereally offstage, though their repeated vocalisations ended before they should have disappeared into nothingness.
Christopher Morley Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra Adrian Boult HallONE of the many good things going for the Birmingham Philharmonic is the encouraging spread of ages in its membership, wise experienced heads welcoming bright-eyed, bushy-tailed youngsters and coaching them in the ways of one of the greatest amateur orchestras in the country.
There is a downside, however, to the sheer popularity of the BPO. It has a simply massive string complement, and that leads to problems of balance and intonation; other possible problemsattack and articulation - simply do not exist under Michael Lloyd's assiduous, dedicated conducting.
It took the huge body of players quite a while to agree upon intonation at the opening of Britten's name-belying Simple Symphony, but once that was settled there was much to admire in the players' open-air crispness and generosity of bowing in the soulful "Sentimental Saraband".
Intonation was again an issue during Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, and balance too, especially given soloist Jack McNeill's amazing gift for the most arresting pianissimo playing.
And Michael Lloyd earned our gratitude for the freshness he brought to the most frequently-played symphony by Sibelius, the Second. He sculpted the almost geographical contours of this broodingly mythic work with visionary vigour.
Christopher Morley A Conductor's Joy of Chamber Music Kempe Studio at The Muses, Stratford-upon-AvonHAD he been alive today, Rudolph Kempe would have been well over 100 years old.
But Sunday night's concert of the chamber music Kempe loved so much celebrated both the birthday of this genius among conductors and also Kempe's life-long relationship with his native Dresden and its orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, (the orchestra praised by Richard Wagner as "The Magic Harp") which has produced some of Kempe's finest recordings.
Outside in the gardens of the Kempe Studio the flowers were bright around Kempe's simple gravestone, inside the four musicians who had been brought together for this special occasion by Cordula Kempe, Kempe's widow, gave us piano quartets by Mozart (Eflat major K493) and Brahms (a major opus 26).
Both of these haunting pieces, with the Mozart especially as transparently lovely as a light silken tissue, reminded us through the excellent background readings that Kempe had started out in life before and during the war as a pianist. Cordula Kempe spoke of his deep love for chamber music and of his early training as an oboist, which took him into the Leipzig Gewandhause, one of Europe's premier orchestras.
Cordula Kempe on violin joined Robin Del Mar (son of Norman Del Mar) on viola and Friedrich Milatz on cello, the latter musician someone who knew Kempe well and had worked with him over the years. A balanced tribute to a great artist in so many ways was heightened by the lyrical playing of Hiroto Saguisa, a young , brilliantly-talented Japanese pianist who poured such unstinted beauty into the evening.
Sadly, Jeffery Dench, who was to have read the poetry and prose links, was indisposed. His place was taken by Father Alex Austen, who clearly was in unfamiliar territory.
But he linked the prose episodes as neatly as could be expected.
Richard Edmonds Lohengrin Welsh National Opera at Birmingham HippodromeMUSICALLY, Welsh National Opera's new production of Wagner's medieval romance is a triumph.
Under Lothar Koenigs' direction the orchestra matched the heights reached in their marvellous Meistersinger. Sadly the staging isn't as fine. The Grail music was exquisitely unearthly while brass fanfares resounded majestically. The WNO Chorus was magnificent, rapt and hushed in the bridal chorus, floor-shaking in their acclamation for their new-found hero. Wagner's characters are more archetypes than Mozartian fleshand-blood but Emma Bell made the improbably pure and naive Elsa's actions convincing, with firm, radiant singing and graceful movement.
Her knight in shining armour turned out to be a man in a Millets greatcoat but Peter Wedd still managed an other-worldly aura and although not a heldentenor his Grail narrative had a noble and heroic ring. Susan Bickley's villainous Ortrud was impressive. There was excellent support from Simon Thorpe (Telramund), Matthew Best (King Henry) and Rhys Jenkins' stentorian Herald.
Director and designer Antony McDonald transfers the setting from the ninth to the mid-19th century and swaps pastoral for a grim urban look. Yeats' poem The Circus Animals' Desertion could be its subtext, where dreams and enchantment are grounded in the "foul rag and bone shop of the heart" - symbolised by Brabant's church being next to the town rubbish dump. Given the directorial abominations foisted on Wagner - Bayreuth's current Lohengrin is set in a rodent research laboratory - perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.Norman Stinchcombe
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Jun 20, 2013|
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