Friday, 29 May 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 29 May 2015

THE last of the Bridgewater Hall’s international concert series for 2014-15 is on June 7, and it’s a very British affair. 

The New London Consort, one of the hall’s group of ‘associate artists’, are presenting a double bill – Venus And Adonis by John Blow (written around 1682), and Dido And Aeneas by Henry Purcell (written around 1684). 

Venus And Adonis is often considered the first English opera, though the term didn’t exist then – it was called a ‘masque for the entertainment of the king’ (Charles II). Actress and discarded royal mistress Moll Davis took the role of Venus, while her daughter by the king, Lady Mary Tudor, played Cupid.
The book is thought to have been written by a maid of honour to the Duchess of York. It’s the traditional story (Venus loves Adonis, he gets killed by a wild boar), but ends with Venus in despair, as she sent her lover to his death by insisting he go hunting. 

Dido And Aeneas, by Purcell – the greatest English composer of the late 17th century – is now thought to have been written soon afterwards and also performed for Charles II. Its words are by Nahum Tate, the man who wrote While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night. 

It requires the same singers as Blow’s masque, and is also based on classical mythology … Virgil’s story of Dido, the queen of Carthage, who fell in love with Aeneas but had to say farewell forever when the gods called him to leave. Her ‘lament’, with its cry of “Remember me!”, is one of music’s most haunting melodies.

 New London Consort have presented Dido And Aeneas in the past (at the Buxton Festival and internationally) in an extended form based on later performances in the London theatre.  

But this time, says Anais Smart of the New London Consort: “We will be performing the normal length version of Dido And Aeneas – around 50 minutes – but with the same instrumentation as would have been at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre around 1700, with serpent, trumpets, kettledrums, etc, adding colour and drama to the orchestra. 

“Both pieces will be presented in modern dress and in a very simple semi-staging which will enable the audience to relate to the action. 

“We have a wonderful cast of soloists, with Roderick Williams (who appeared at the 2014 Last Night of the Proms) and Anna Dennis, in both Venus and Dido.”

Friday, 22 May 2015

Review written for Manchester Evening News 22 May 2015

HALLE ORCHESTRA  Bridgewater Hall 

SIR Mark Elder’s ending to the Hallé Thursday series concerts at the Bridgewater Hall had its own fun factor, to match the jollity just down the road. 

Completing the orchestra’s season-long survey of all six of Shostakovich’s instrumental concertos, they had wonderboy Benjamin Grosvenor to play the solos in both the piano concertos – one before the interval and one after. 

Both have plenty of that frantic, helter-skelter Keystone-Cops style music that the composer so brilliantly created (perhaps remembering his own days as a silent film accompanist), in the first concerto highlighted by the virtuosic tongue-twisting interjections of the solo trumpet (the Hallé’s own Gareth Small). 

He and Benjamin Grosvenor were aware of the hints of deeper things that are just below the surface in the music – the pianist subtly articulating that in his very opening phrases alongside the spritely, positive attack of the orchestra under Sir Mark. His playing in the inner movements, too, caught a sense of sad resignation, before the pops and pratfalls of the finale. 

The second Shostakovich piano concerto is a different kettle of fish – overtly show-off and seemingly shallow at start and finish, but with a mysterious and enigmatic heart in its slow middle movement. Benjamin Grosvenor’s playing here was restrained and thoughtful, conveying the idea of feelings too deep for mere conventionality, despite appearances. Both pieces, and his performances, went down extremely well. 

We began with music which, for me, has as much sheer magic as any: the Suite from Janáček’s opera, The Cunning Little Vixen (in Charles Mackerras’s version). The opera itself is a beguiling charmer, and these orchestral interludes show much of the reason why – in the clarity and high-def intensity of a concert realization, the colours of the writing and beauties of the melodies are amazing. Sir Mark’s reading had all the sweetness and lyricism of the magical original. 

Last – and enjoyed as much by older members of the audience as by the four school parties present – was the Hallé’s own version of Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra, with newly written introductions by Tom Redmond accompanying the well-worn tunes (spoken by students from Manchester Metropolitan University’s School of Theatre). 

It was witty and up-to-the-minute, the orchestra was up to full strength, its members enthusiastically joining in with little mimes to fit the words, and everyone had a grand time. 


Robert Beale

Article published in Manchester Evening News 22 May 2015

MAY half-term is when nothing happens on the north west classical music scene, so I’m looking back at four performances. 

First Manchester Camerata’s unusual concert in Manchester Cathedral, with Gábor Takács-Nagy conducting and Dejan Lazić as pianist.  

The string players, led by Katie Stillman, made music of extraordinary quality in Britten’s Young Apollo,  Barber’s Adagio For Strings and Mahler’s version of Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ quartet. 

In Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 (in strings-only garb) Lazić re-created the mystic Chopin and the orchestra responded with tenderness.  

Equally unforgettable was the final concert of the Ravel & Rachmaninov festival at the Bridgewater Hall. Four great pianists in four great works for piano with orchestra (the BBC Philharmonic under conductor Andrew Gourlay). 

Ravel came first: the Concerto in G major, played by Noriko Ogawa, and the Concerto For The Left Hand, with Martin Roscoe.  

Ogawa brought delicacy (and purity) – and Roscoe’s achievement was musically remarkable as well as technically. 

Rachmaninov was represented by his fourth piano concerto, with Kathryn Stott the eloquent protagonist, and his Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini, with Peter Donohoe, whose playing was as fluent (and beautifully shaped) as any I’ve heard. 

Later came two superb Bridgewater Hall concerts. Markus Stenz’s Thursday programme with the Hallé began with The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives, in near-total darkness, the strings sounding ethereally from high in the auditorium.  

The world premiere of Helen Grime’s Double Concerto For Clarinet And Trumpet followed (the Hallé’s own Lynsey Marsh and Gareth Small), full of a fastidious sense of textures and varied ideas. But Stenz’s account of Walton’s first symphony was the highspot.  

Liveliness, intensity – and the Hallé precise, confident and viscerally thrilling.  

The BBC Philharmonic, under Juanjo Mena’s baton, gave Beethoven’s Fidelio in concert.

 The splendours of the orchestral score were revealed in high-def glory, while Stephen Richardson (Rocco) was a living character as well as a warm and admirable singer, and Detlef Roth sang the evil Don Pizarro with force and malice. Manchester-trained Rebecca von Lipinski was the star of the show as Leonore and Stuart Skelton outstanding in the testing role of Florestan. 

By the end Juanjo Mena was whipping the faster speeds along with all the enthusiasm worthy of a modern Beethoven expert, and the performance ended with excitement reaching dizzy heights. 

It was quite a night.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 15 May 2015

Manchester-trained virtuoso organist, pianist and conductor Wayne Marshall is coming to the end of his first season as chief conductor of the West German Radio Orchestra.  

Wayne is also principal guest conductor of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, and has recently guest conducted in France, Belgium, the Staatsoper in Berlin and on a tour of Russia with the Moscow Chamber Choir.
He has made conducting appearances all over the world – and keeps up a hectic schedule as a recital organist. 

In between, he finds time to be ‘organist-in-residence’ at the Bridgewater Hall, and he’s appearing there with Manchester Chamber Choir on May 23.
Matthew Hamilton, choral singing expert and musical director of Salford Choral Society, is conductor for the night, vocal soloists are Hollie-Anne Bangham and Stuart Orme, and cello soloist Stephanie Stamopoulos. 

It’s devoted to the music of two great French 20th-century composers – Maurice Duruflé and Marcel Dupré.
There’s music for organ solo, and music for choir with organ, from each, and the major work is Duruflé’s Requiem.
Much of the music in it is based on Gregorian chant, and (as in Fauré’s Requiem) there is no Dies Irae but there are settings of Pie Jesu, Libera Me and In Paradisum. 

Wayne said: “It’s a fabulous piece, it’s very evocative, somewhat in the style of Debussy or Ravel. That wonderful French sound is so haunting.” 

He’s fond of the recording Duruflé made of the work, conducting it himself – it’s one of those once-heard-never-forgotten experiences. 

Wayne is also to play Duruflé’s organ piece, Prelude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain – a tribute to his friend, Jéhan Alain, another French organist and composer who was killed in World War Two. 

The organ solo music by Marcel Dupré is Prélude et Fugue in A flat and Symphony no. 2, and to complete the programme there’s a comparative rarity – his Four Motets for choir and organ.
Wayne said: “Dupré was younger than Duruflé, though they knew each other, and he is more original in style and more demonstrative. His motets are less well known but fantastic music – they’re all great showpieces.” 

I heard Marcel Dupré perform – he was an improviser, something Wayne Marshall shares with him.
But this time, he’s sticking to the script.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Review written for Manchester Evening News 9 May 2015



IT’S puzzling that people seem to like opera in the concert hall so much, rather than seeing the real thing in the theatre. Part of the reason may be the cost of opera tickets, in many cases, and in this part of the country the fact that we get so little fully professional opera offered at all. 

But there’s a positive reason, too – you hear the purely musical splendour of the great opera scores to much better effect in a concert setting, especially in an acoustic like the Bridgewater Hall’s. The BBC Philharmonic have made it almost a tradition to end their main concert season here with opera, and, in a year of Beethoven focus, the one and only operatic masterpiece the composer wrote was the obvious choice. 

It loses through the transplant, of course. It’s a ‘Singspiel’ – a play with music, with much of the story advanced in spoken dialogue, and its opening is in a cheerful style rather like parts of The Magic Flute (Jaquino, the prison guard, has designs on Marzelline, the head jailer’s daughter, which she forcefully spurns). The compensation is that the orchestral score and the splendour of the vocal writing are revealed in high-def glory, as they were under Juanjo Mena’s baton. 

But you miss the visual aspect when the characters are lined up in concert dress and not doing much acting. Benjamin Hulett sang Jaquino accurately and strongly, and Lucy Hall brought moments of genuine emotion to Marzelline. Stephen Richardson has the experience of performing Rocco the jailer on stage, and he was soon a living, breathing character as well as a warm and admirable singer. 

But the story changes, once we meet the real goodies and the (very) baddie. Detlef Roth sang the evil Don Pizarro with force and malice; Manchester-trained Rebecca von Lipinski was the star of the show as Leonore (the wife who disguises herself as a man to free her prisoner husband), and Stuart Skelton was outstanding in the testing tenor role of Florestan, the incarcerated hero. 

In the early stages the voices were in danger of drowning in the orchestral volume (at least from where I was sitting), but things took off musically in the Mir Ist So Wunderbar quartet and rarely looked back. 

Rebecca von Lipinski was magnificent in her first showpiece aria (Abscheulicher! and Komm, Hoffnung) – passionate and in lovely voice – and earned the first spontaneous applause of the evening. Her dialogue with Rocco, following the prisoners’ release, was the first scene to live in any dramatic sense, with the first of many a ringing top note. 

Stuart Skelton began his act two soliloquy with an ambitious soft-to-loud crescendo on the opening word, and his expressiveness and tone were everything demanded by the hero-tenor writing.  

The London Symphony Chorus began their parts tentatively (perhaps deliberately so?) but warmed to their task, and from the prisoners’ ranks soloist Edward Price made a real impact. Andrew Greenan completed the cast nobly as Don Fernando, the man who finally sorts things out after Leonore has shown her willingness to die to save her man. 

By the end Juanjo Mena was whipping the faster speeds along with all the breakneck enthusiasm worthy of a modern Beethoven expert, and the performance ended with him bouncing on the rostrum and excitement reaching dizzy heights. It was quite a night. 


Robert Beale

Monday, 11 May 2015

Review written for Manchester Evening News 8 May 2015

HALLE ORCHESTRA  Bridgewater Hall 

MARKUS STENZ is always an inspiration when he conducts the Hallé – which, as principal guest conductor, he does regularly.  

His Thursday programme began with The Unanswered Question, by Charles Ives, performed in near-total darkness to mesmeric effect, with the string players sounding ethereally from high points around the auditorium.  

Ives is an old friend in concert halls now, but it’s amazing to think he wrote this essay in ambience and unfulfilled expectation over 100 years ago. The playing was masterly. 

The world premiere of Helen Grime’s Double Concerto For Clarinet And Trumpet followed. Its two movements explore many kinds of small-versus-large instrumental combinations – the ‘concertante’ concept, to use an old-fashioned term – and the composer’s fastidious sense of texture was apparent from the start. 

The first movement sets slow-moving lines against mercurial interjections and jabbing rhythms, demanding much of its soloists – the Hallé’s own Lynsey Marsh (clarinet) and Gareth Small (trumpet), who were well able to deal with its challenges. The second likewise follows a fundamentally slow pulse, despite the detail of what’s going on over it. It finishes with a sense of something hanging in the air, in its way akin to the impression created by the Ives piece. 

The trumpet is muted, in different ways, much of the time, and yet there is still a fundamental inequality between the power output of the two solo instruments which, it seemed to me, was neither fully exploited to emphasize contrast nor compensated for in the balance of solo lines against corporate sound. Maybe in another acoustic, or a recording set-up, it would be different. 

Markus Stenz’s first visible appearance – taking his bow after the Ives – had immediately revealed him as energetic and enthusiastic as ever, and those two qualities combined to produce a completely masterly account of Walton’s first symphony, the highspot of the concert. 

His twin stamps of liveliness and intensity were incisively etched on the opening movement – passion, too, in the central section’s cries of anguish – and it reached a huge peak of emotion and a mighty culmination at the close. 

The ‘with malice’ fast movement that follows was almost an anti-climax in comparison (though accurate and furious), but the slow movement came as a moving respite and was very finely handled. 

The grand, ceremonial-style finale showed the Hallé at peak performance level – precise, confident and viscerally thrilling. Stenze kept the whole varied epic under emphatic and telling control. 


Robert Beale

Friday, 8 May 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 8 May 2015

MANCHESTER Camerata’s final concert of the 2014-15 season at the Bridgewater Hall will be a night to remember. 

For fans of piano, there’s a treat in the form of the young Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2.

I heard Fliter on her visit to the Camerata in Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 three years ago, and wrote: “She radiates enjoyment and her playing was expertly shaped and expressive. You could not hope for better Mozart playing than in that finale, when fun and exhilaration permeated all.”  

She wasn’t a ‘big name’ then, but her CDs of Chopin and Beethoven have since got southern critics swooning, and she gave the same Mozart concerto at the BBC Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra last year, to rave reviews all round.  

But that’s not all. The other ‘traditional’ music in the concert is by Mozart: the evergreen overture to The Marriage Of Figaro (aka the theme for Trading Places and a range of other soundtracks) and the life-affirming ‘Jupiter’ symphony (no. 41). Gábor Takács-Nagy conducts the Camerata. 

The musicians are also joined by 20 members of their own Youth Forum, for 13 to 20-year-olds in Greater Manchester, creating their own fusion music inspired by The Marriage Of Figaro overture. These guys have already figured in pre-concert performances of pieces they’ve ‘remixed’, but this time they’re mainstage at the Bridgewater Hall. 

It’s called RE:Figared. “They often use beats, rapping, singing or playing instruments,” says Camerata man Paul Davies. “The orchestra work with them and refine the remix before each performance, and for the first time they’ll be with them in the main programme.” 

And the concert also includes a world premiere. It’s a piece called Etudes, written by Jack Sheen, who won the Camerata Composers’ Project last January, when 10 young composers tried their ideas out at the new UKFast Auditorium in Hulme. Jack, from Manchester, was BBC Young Composer of the Year in 2011 and is now on the RNCM/University of Manchester joint course.
He says his piece is ‘a reflection on the various characteristics of music of the classical era’.  

“It attempts to present a series of small musical moments almost as static objects, with the viewers’ perspective constantly shifting through the play of real or imagined repetition and variation.”

Friday, 1 May 2015

Article published in Manchester Evening News 1 May 2015

HELEN GRIME became the Hallé’s associate composer four years ago, and the major product of that association is about to be revealed. It’s a concerto for clarinet and trumpet, written for the orchestra’s own principal players, Lynsey Marsh and Gareth Small: the world premiere is on May 7, in a concert conducted by Markus Stenz. 

Helen’s music has been performed by the orchestra several times, they’ve already recorded her clarinet concerto (with Lynsey Marsh the soloist), and the Hallé Youth Choir premiered a new Christmas carol she wrote for them in 2013. 

The concerto, about 20 minutes long, is quite definitely a ‘double’ one, she says. “It gradually came to me that I wanted to write a concerto for clarinet and trumpet. I was inspired by Lynsey Marsh’s playing – her wonderful tone and amazing musicianship – and Gareth Small has an amazing sound, too.  

“There are so many brilliant players in the Hallé, but those two instruments really stood out to me. They both have an extremely lyrical quality – and though the trumpet can be extremely powerful, there’s so much you can do with mutes, and you can get a really blended sound between the two, as well.” 

It’s a ‘double’ concerto in other senses. “When we say someone is a person’s ‘double’, it means they’re alike, but different. So the two instruments can play something similar but subtly different – or each can play something the other begins and take it in a different direction. 

“And there’s a ‘double take’, where you look at something from different angles. So sometimes a declamatory idea from the clarinet goes to the trumpet in a muted, far-off version. And in the second movement Gareth switches from trumpet to the flugelhorn, which has a rounder sound than the trumpet … in fact more like the clarinet.” 

The concerto features not only two soloists, but other instruments in ‘double’ roles. Helen says this arose from her work with the Hallé, getting to know its individual sections and players. In the first movement three flutes have what she calls ‘more of a virtuosic role’ alongside the clarinet, and two oboes (the oboe is her own instrument) play with the trumpet. 

In the second, orchestral clarinets and trumpets take centre stage and also ‘shadow’ the soloists. “It moves organically from slow to fast, and finally you get the impression of the slow music returning along with the fast,” Helen concludes.