This Mass for Poland celebrates (though that is hardly the word, so painful has been the struggle until eventual liberation from Soviet shackles) the centenary of the nationhood of that noble country, and is a co-commission from the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (who premiered the work a fortnight ago in Katowice) and the CBSO supported by the John Feeney Charitable Trust, this being its UK premiere, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3. I wonder if it will ever receive performances as gripping as this, with a seriously-committed CBSO, a polyglot CBSO Chorus so expertly coached by Julian Wilkins, and an amazingly involved soprano soloist in Mary Bevan, all under the coolly confident conducting of Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla, making a much-awaited return after bringing a little son into the world.
The tinklings of a pair of harps are important contributors to the texture, as are those from a large percussion section. The poems, each representative of successive decades of Poland's troubled century, are well-chosen and the translations well-made, and the general orchestration never draws attention to itself, serving rather to underpin the message of this understatedly passionate tribute to the homeland Panufnik's father had to flee. I took so many notes, but my final one seems to be the most telling, where at the very conclusion the soprano soloist ends on the leading-note, resolved quietly by a bell on the tonic of the home key.
Christopher Morley CBSO Symphony Hall HHHHI Though they did once manage a civilised dinner together, Tchaikovsky loathed Brahms with a passion. "That scoundrel, that talentless bastard," he wrote of him.
Yet Tchaikovsky was ill-at-ease writing piano concertos, and Brahms wrote undoubtedly the world's greatest, which we heard during this packed matinee which whimsically brought the two composers together.
Brahms' Second Piano Concerto combines grandeur with chamber-music intimacy, and this account from soloist Rudolf Buchbinder and the CBSO under Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla was a perfect fusion of the two qualities. Important orchestral solos (horn from Elspeth Dutch, clarinet from Oliver Janes, and, above all, the tenderly-rendered cello obbligato from a player unknown to me (probably a triallist, as principal Eduardo Vassallo was sitting modestly on the back desk, taking everything in) were beautifully integrated into the texture alongside Buchbinder's fluent, supple, well-nuanced performance.
His chording was strong (never mind the occasional accident, I'm sure Brahms wasn't above such things), his presence quietly magisterial throughout a work which is actually more than usually physically exhausting. This was a hearteningly unpretentious presentation of such a massive work. We ended with Act One of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Without the stage action much of this scene-setting music can come over as tedious, even in this shapely reading, but everything was always crisp and colourful, with some telling instrumental timbres (the bassoons in the Drosselmeyer music, for example).
As the story develops away from Nuremberg domesticity and on into vast wintry landscapes, so the music becomes more symphonic, and here Mirga and the CBSO were really on sweeping home-territory - and the CBSO Children 's Chorus gave us probably the best "Ah"-factor we'll hear all Christmas.
Christopher Morley Voix Joyeuses Birmingham Cathedral ????? HHHHI Somehow an elegant baroque cathedral was transformed into an intimate drawing-room, purely thanks to the atmosphere created by the charming vocal duo Voix Joyeuses.
The joy in performing together displayed by soprano Jill Saunders and mezzo Alison Cripps is palpable. They have a wonderfully natural body-language, their voices are well-blended, and in Rob Challinor they have an accompanist who can conjure a gamut of orchestral timbres from his piano. This delightful evening was promoted in aid of the Anthony Nolan Trust, and engendered an immense amount of goodwill. The programme contained some substantial offerings in a variety of languages, but was never intimidating, and ranged from Handel to Wagner, adding bonnes bouches from Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Leonard Bernstein.
Highlights included a resonant aria from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur (Alison Cripps), a flirty Musetta's Waltz Song from Puccini's La Boheme (Jill Saunders), and a heartstopping "Abends will ich schlafen gehn" duet from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel.
Despite an acoustic uncongenial to this kind of vocal delivery, Voix Joyeuses succeeded in communicating great warmth and engagement. And it was a pleasure to step out from this into the gorgeous little Christmas market in the Cathedral grounds.
Christopher Morley CBSO Symphony Hall HHHHI This was the perfect pairing - the final symphonies of Mieczyslaw Weinberg, receiving its UK premiere, and that of his musical mentor Dmitri Shostakovich. Both are death-haunted works replete with musical quotation and self-quotation but while Shostakovich's Symphony No.15 is tantalisingly elusive, Weinberg's No.21 combines personal anguish with public grief, dedicated to the Nazi victims of Warsaw's Jewish ghetto. It's a big, bold work, the six sections of its single movement lasting nearly an hour using around 100 players.
The imposing opening funereal Largo suggests this will be an implacable granite work but throughout the symphony Weinberg spotlights instruments, as if individual voices from the ghetto step forward to speak to us. A violin, normally the orchestral leader but here soloist Gidon Kremer, narrates wistfully; a pianist dreamily recalls Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor; Oliver Janes' clarinet meditates sorrowfully and the gruff recitativo bass solo suggests an old man's wry reminiscences. There is even a little light in the gloom as a Klezmer band plays - life goes on - and the symphony ends with the human voice, a soaring wordless soprano (Maria Makeeva).
The playing of the CBSO, and members of Kremer's Kremerata Baltica, was (in both works) magnificent and superbly marshalled by music director Mirga Grainyte-Tyla. My only reservation was her decision to divide the soprano's part with the excellent boy treble Freddie Jemison. I can find no warrant for this but unlike Grainyte-Tyla's disastrous use of trebles in Mahler's fourth symphony, it worked - the ghetto's children gained their voice.
Norman Stinchcombe Kidderminster Choral Society Kidderminster Town Hall ????? HHHHI There is a jewel in the Wyre Forest's cultural crown which is Kidderminster Choral Society. Their performances leap out after inspirational preparation under conductor Geoffrey Weaver, they engage the Elgar Sinfonia, a scratch orchestra which achieves miracles on the barest minimum of rehearsal, and they present programmes which are always stimulating and never (dare I say it?) "provincial".
This concert was a case in point, when after a joyously-sprung Dvorak G minor Slavonic Dance and a rapt Song to the Moon from his opera Rusalka, Linda Richardson the soloist, we heard the UK premiere of Weaver's own Te Deum, first performed in Hong Kong last July.
This is a magnificent example of all that is best about the Anglican choral tradition, blazing in glory, chastely contemplative, and here with the bonus of vibrant orchestration. Verbal rhythms were clear, there were some gorgeously sweet chains of thirds, and the whole account packed such a punch under the composer's direction.
Then came the "biggie", Dvorak's Stabat Mater, a bizarre early piece which manages to combine baroque procedures (including a ridiculously taxing "Amen" finale) with sumptuous Wagnerian harmonies, but whose sincerity shines through every bar. The KCS projected with confidence and clarity, the soloists (Richardson joined by an excellent eleventh-hour stand-in, mezzo Simone Ibbett-Brown, tenor John Pierce, bass Alan Fairs - what a wonderful "Fac ut ardeat" he delivered) were wellblended, and the orchestra responded expertly to Dvorak's warm colourings.
As I made my way back to the car park I realised I was walking across Weaver's Wharf. Who needs a blue plaque? Christopher Morley City of Birmingham Choir : The Dream of Gerontius Birmingham Town Hall ????? HHHHI Hearing the Dream of Gerontius in Birmingham Town Hall where it first came into the world is always something very special, and though so much has changed regarding the stage layout, the choir stalls and the audience seating, some reminders of that early autumn morning in 1900 remain: the magnificently imposing organ, and the gallery restored to its original level, revealing the full length of the windows.
Elgar would have applauded the technical accuracy of this performance from the City of Birmingham Choir and the remarkable Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra under the calm, understated conducting of Adrian Lucas, but I feel he would have been disappointed in an account which held back from the last degree of emotional involvement.
Certainly there was some fine choral singing, beginning with the unaccompanied Kyrie Eleison which had so jinxed the premiere. Diction was exemplary throughout, pitching was secure, but projection could have been stronger; an underpowered Demons' Chorus lacked venom, and Praise to the Holiest might have been more incandescent. It was only in the concluding Lord, Thou hast been our refuge, taken at a bravely measured speed by Lucas, that we felt a genuine thrill on the back of the neck.
The BPO played adroitly, with magnificently sonorous brass; tone from the upper strings, however, was occasionally thin. Never mind, they did Elgar's imaginative scoring proud.
David Butt Philip was a Gerontius wide-eyed in anguish, properly operatic in the flexibility of his delivery, and Morgan Pearse sang authoritatively in his two cameos as the Priest and the Angel of the Agony.
And as Gerontius' guardian Angel, Kathryn Rudge was simply outstanding, warm of tone, compassionate, and capable of sustaining lengthy phrases at a reverential pace. It's a pity that the 32-foot stop of the organ produced such a disturbingly throbbing sound to underpin her more portentous utterances.
Christopher Morley Midland Opera: Carmen Stirchley Baths HHHHI This is always a favourite, with lots of action enhancing the thought-provoking story.
Midland Opera performers got the bit between their teeth involving all ages throughout, from exuberant bouncing children to committed older performers giving their all.
Music director / conductor James Longstaff was responsible for inspiring his musicians to create a full orchestra with his clever arrangements of familiar tunes (two strings, two woodwind, one brass player and electronic keyboard.) No flouncy Spanish costumes for the chorus this evening. We were treated to khaki uniforms, but with plenty of sunny enthusiasm and eye contact with listeners. Soloists stood out in bright colours, matching splendidly with fine, clear singing, using the whole space, therefore connecting with the fascinated audience.
The converted baths are very resonant, leading to uneven balance at times, but I suspect little concerned delighted listeners.
Soprano Hannah McDonald warmed our hearts with Michaela's lovely phrasing and spot-on top notes, as did feisty Carmen - Katherine Cooper on splendid form. Michael Lam gave a truly hearty rendering of a bullfighter for the rapt audience, but Mitesh Khatri as Don Jose truly melted everyone with his fateful passion for Carmen, finally stabbing her before confessing to her murder This was a tour de force and all that committed hard work certainly succeeded brilliantly.
Roxanna Panufnik's Faithful Journey received its UK premiere at Symphony Hall
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|Publication:||The Birmingham Post (England)|
|Date:||Nov 29, 2018|
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