Sunday, 11 November 2012

Don Giovanni

Ok, so Don Giovanni.  No problem.  Mozart's dying masterpiece.  No pressure.

I could say it's boring, uninteresting and not worthy of your attention, but that would be dishonest.

Over the last few years I've been immersed into the world of opera.  I've heard some of the most beautiful voices ever, voices I never expected to hear. Voices taken from the show of opera and standing on a stage with just a piano.  Astounding musicians one and all.

The first impression about Don Giovanni is the set, masterful, playful and really inventive.
Second thing would be the musicians of the orchestra and the conductor.  No way this could happen without the music to back everything up.

However, the one thing that grabbed everyones attention was the quality of the vocalists for the performance.  My personal favourite was Zerlinda, pure, clear and certainly the central voice of the evening.  It'd be unfair not to include all the other voices too, but the info on the site is a bit vague.  I'd love to give a list of the great actors/singers, but couldn't find the information.  Perhaps it's in the concert programme. I'd prefer to be able to see, at least, the pedigree of someone who sings in Don Giovanni.

There wasn't a single discordant note in the whole production.  From start to finish, the whole piece was tailored to today.  The Don's dalliances are the stuff of gossip, his conquests are available in Hello magazine.  His eventual and obvious finale, in this production, was a work of art. A second work of art.  The first was the ball scene where the whole dance was performed, stunningly, Gangnam Style.  About 10% of the under 60s audience got it, but we both enjoyed it.

Great music, great acting, astounding production, Gangnam style dancing; buy some tickets if it's coming to your area.  If not, pray for a DVD.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The wonderful Halle Orchestra

It's been a while since my last review.  I haven't posted about Madama Butterfly at the Lowry or Juan Diego Florez at the Albert Hall.  They were wonderful events, but I will perhaps discuss them later.

I must begin by saying that the Bridgewater Hall is a wonderful place to listen to music, it's designed to be good.  Then you need a great orchestra, that's the Halle.

Not being a fan of Brahms wasn't a problem.  The first part of the concert was Brahms' 2nd piano concerto, the piano played by Sunwook Kim, remember the name, you will be hearing more of this man.  A delicate touch, perfect timing and a master of dynamics, Sunwook is likely to become as acclaimed as Lang Lang.

As I've said, I'm not a big Brahms fan, but I enjoyed the concerto well enough.  But my main reason for coming to the Bridgewater Hall was to hear Sibelius.  My previous experience of Sibelius has been listening on my iPod, sometimes radio and once live.  I have all the recordings of Sibelius' Symphonies by Simon Rattle with the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) and they really are wonderful.  However, I've never listened to any other performances seriously.  I can imagine older readers asking if I've heard Barbirolli's recordings, especially after going to the Bridgewater Hall which is, really, his legacy.  The answer is no.  But I will. I promise. Soon.

So Sibelius Symphony No2.  The last time I came to the Hall to see Sibelius, it was my favourite, the 5th. Twice as many basses as any sensible orchestra needed, but that's Sibelius.  I really can't separate the music from the man or the country.  If you get the chance, there is a 2 part documentary, made by the BBC which goes a long way to explaining the kind of person Jean Sibelius was and why and how he made the music he did.

I loved the 5th played by the Halle.  In fact I heard it twice in the same week, it was so good.  For the 2nd, I invited my father and his partner.  A great time was had by all.  There is something to understand about Sibelius' music, he wasn't a romantic symphonist, and he didn't want to be regarded as an impressionist (as some called him).  If anything, he was the beginning of a musical movement that moved away from direct representation and moved towards provoking emotion.  He was the Picasso after Monet, unafraid to change what was happening in music, masterful of the underlying technique but wanting, or needing, to move forward and change how music was made and heard.

Mark Elder and the orchestra made the evening a memorable one, each and every drop of drama was wrought from the second symphony, even to the point of slowing down the finale to build the tension.

If you get the chance to see the Halle and Mark Elder, take it.  If it's not the Halle, but it's at Bridgewater Hall, take it until the Halle are back.

This is the Barbirolli version for you:


Friday, 9 March 2012


Norma at the Lowry was a new one for me.  I'd seen Madama Butterfly before Xmas, so the venue was one I liked (nice staff, great bar placing and great acoustics)

The opera itself conforms to most of the strictures of opera, great songs, great music, some dramatic acting and it ends badly for the woman.  This performance was no exception.

The story is similar to that of Medea, the possibility of killing her own children.  Not a great crowd-pleaser these days, but suitably decadent when it was first performed in 1831.  And no, Norma doesn't kill her own children in this opera, though the temptation at one point is palpable.

The vocal performances by all were exceptional, the musicianship of the orchestra was impeccable.
Bellini wrote fantastic music, Felice Romani wrote a great libretto, what could go wrong?  Very little except the set.  Too subtle for most of the audience around myself.  Druids not in white gowns?  A virgin with two children?  What's that all about?

I'd heartily recommend it for any fan of opera and music, but not for those audience members who expect a  logical narrative, possibly expecting a play with music.

Opera North put a lot of time and effort into the production, much of which seemed to go over the heads of the paying public.  Those I was close to, at least.  For me, a great show, for others, not so much.  Not the fault of Opera North.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Possibly my best week ever........

I spent a couple of weeks looking at the ads to see if there was anything interesting to listen to in Manchester.  I'd already booked my tickets for "Norma" at the Lowry, but I felt I needed something less dramatic to listen to, less frocks and make-up.

So I saw an upcoming concert by Natalie Clein.  No real decision about that one, I bought a ticket.
I was checking who was appearing during the weeks and months to come..... Nicola Benedetti.

I've been to see both these young ladies at the Royal Festival Hall or the Wigmore, but my favourite for both was the 100 Club.  Small, intimate setting with minimal accompaniment.

Natalie Clein is possibly the most interesting cellist I've ever heard.  Scratch that, I mean musician I've ever heard.  Nicola Benedetti is simply a fantastic violinist.  Both are virtuosi.

Who?  N.Clein
Next..   N. Benedetti

Yep, Tuesday was Natalie Clein, Wednesday was Nicola Benedetti.  An interesting week.

I took my son to see Natalie Clein, we were in the cheap seats to begin.  The Bach and Larcher were lovely, but still a little quiet.  After the interval, we found ourselves in much better seats to hear the Kodaly.
This was my son's first classical concert, he was impressed by the Bach and the Larcher, after the interval (and a little closer to Natalie) he fell in love with the Kodaly.  I found it an intense experience personally, a soloist, in front of 2-300 people and playing without any accompaniment.  No support, no backup.  absolutely outstanding.

The following evening I heard Nicola Benedetti.  She played the Beethoven Violin Concerto.  With the Hallé Orchestra.  It was so bad I booked a ticket for the Sunday performance of the same program.

I saw and heard Natalie Clein and Nicola Benedetti in the same week.  Could it get any better?


I bought a ticket to see Nicola again, for Sunday.  So I saw the whole program again, including Sibelius' 5th.  The Hallé kick ass, give them a try.  

Tomorrow is "Norma".

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Marius Brenciu at the Rosenblatt Recitals Series 28th Sept

Musically, there are few things which impress more than a good performance.  To have a string break during a violin solo, restring, then continue from exactly where you left off is one of the few (Nicola Benedetti performing the debut of Taverner's Lalishri at the Southbank). Another was last Wednesday's recital by Marius Brenciu.

Marius didn't seem to begin confidently, though his voice was on good form.  The evening didn't follow the programme directly, but mostly it waas just the running order that was changed.  Marius sang Giordani,  Gluck and Mozart for the first part of the evening.  A slight grimace after each piece indicated his uneasiness with his own performance, though many singers would have been happy to have performed to his standard any day of the week.

After the interval, Marius explained that sometimes, the body doesn't always obey the mind.  He seemed more confident, more comfortable and actually seemed to be enjoying himself.  Verdi, Respighi,  two by Tosti (though not A vuchella) and four by Tchaikovsky completed the evening's program, my favourite being Respighi's Nebbie (which I first heard performed at the last Rosenblatt Recital).   Marius' confidence increased with each song after the interval.

From a shaky, uncomfortable-looking beginning, to end with a resounding flourish of four Tchaikovsky songs and two encores is a remarkable recovery.  It is also a display of professionalism.  At the interval evaluated his performance so far, then decided to continue.  It could easily have gone the other way.  No-one would have been surprised if he'd cancelled the remainder of the evening.  Thank goodness he didn't, his second-half performance more than compensated for a shaky start.

The two encores, neither of which I'd heard before, were obviously favourites of Marius', both sung effortlessly and with as much brio as you'll see from any tenor.

Here is a short clip of Marius with Angela Gheorghiu.

I've yet to attend an average Rosenblatt Recital, a very high standard has been maintained and I have no reason to think that will change.  For a taste of what to expect, browse the Rosenblatt Recitals Series YouTube channel and join their Facebook group to stay tuned to upcoming performances.  

From this point on, my friend Guillermina will be taking over reviewing Rosenblatt Recitals.  I'll be attending some opera performances here in Manchester, which I'll review here.  I'm hoping to get tickets for Juan Diego Flórez at The Albert Hall in May, so I hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Rosenblatt Recitals Series

Due to a slight change in travel arrangements, I will be attending the first of the new season of the Rosenblatt Recitals Series.

I'll see some of you there, I'll tell the rest of you about it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Lovely Klezmer and Folk, with reservations.

I've taken time to write these reviews of the London Klezmer Quartet and JC Ryan, not beacuase of the quality of music, more due to the experience of actually hearing the music.

Beginning with the London Klezmer Quartet, they played at the Green Note in Camden,  a lovely little place, cosy, eating people mixed with music lovers, possibly the eating people loved music too, who knows?

The last time I saw Susi Evans play was at a concert in the Purcell Rooms, playing with the fantastic She'Koyokh.  Any time someone asks me who to look out for, it's She'Koyokh.  See them live, buy the CD, always worth the investment.

The LKQ at the Green Note was no less musically entertaining, especially as we got to hear introductions from all the performers.  If there was any problem on my part, it was probably the assumption that I was there and I had an understanding of Klezmer.  So, no problem on my part, I get a book and read.  Then I understand.  I know more now than I did before seeing them.  From reading.

The music itself was impeccably played by the whole quartet, the cellist wasn't ignored, fun was had by all musicians, and Susi shone with her solos, as I've seen her shine before.  Charisma is the word for it.
I won't leave it at that. Every member of the LKQ can be said to be fantastic, in my opinion though Susi has a slight advantage. I don't think any of the other members would argue.

That was Thursday.  Then came Friday.  Camden again, to see my very good friend JC (Jo to me) Ryan.
 Jo and her new band played 7 songs. I remember 5 of them, having played them with her at The Castle in Portobello for a while.  2 new songs sounded strong and a welcome addition to her already strong repertoire of engaging songs.  For me, her best song "Aberavon Rd" was lost behind a sound that was too heavy on the rhythm section.  It should have been delicate and magical.  Even the roaring 'Best Days' was muddied by the sound of bass and drums.

Both great gigs, both with great music.  Here come the reservations.

For the Green Note concert, no matter how much I love Klezmer, Susi, or the whole concept of music in a bijou restaurant, £12 is too much.  I had friends who arrived after the start, I met them at the interval outside the "music/food" area.  Some people left.  "Would you like to go in now?" they were asked.  How much? £12.  That's the way to promote local music.

For the JC Ryan gig at the Camden Rock venue in (surprise) Camden, a slightly different story.  I wasn't there for the soundcheck, I was only there for the actual gig.  The only way I could recognise most of the songs was that I'd played many of them myself.  The unique point about Jo isn't her band, not even her songs (fine though they are) it is simply her voice.  It was overwhelmed by bad balance, feedback, bad mixing....  ok, let me tell it straight, the sound engineer was not up to the job.

All the members of JC's band and Jo herself can feel comfortable that they did the best job they could, but sometimes this kind of stuff happens.  Next time they'll, perhaps take more time with sound-checks or working with (or kill)  the sound engineer.  If you ever get the chance to see and hear Jo do the banjo/reggae version of her own song "Hey Boy' you will have had a good night.

Camden Rock bloke: Alright mate
Me: Yeah, I'm on the list (meaning 'PRESS')
Camden Rock bloke: Yeah, it's five quid.

I don't mind paying, I really mind the fact it wasn't even a question.  So, Camden Rock minus 5 for ignorance, Green Note minus 5 for greed.  Both bands +5 for being excellent.