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Posted: November 26, 2020, 3:00 pm

Regards sur l'Infini review | Erica Jeal's classical album of the week

Dain/Armstrong
(7 Mountain Records)
Katharine Dain and Sam Armstrong have used lockdown to produce a memorable, effortlessly polished album

For most chamber music partners, 2020 has been a year of jarring discontinuity, but for a few – those with a spare room, no family commitments and the ability to tolerate the incorrect loading of the dishwasher – there have been silver linings. In Rotterdam in March the pianist Sam Armstrong moved in with his soprano recital partner Katharine Dain for what they thought would be a few weeks of quarantine and rehearsal. Those weeks turned into months, in which they worked daily on a selection of French-language songs written in life-changing times. The result, recorded in August, is an extraordinarily polished and thought-through disc.

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Posted: November 25, 2020, 1:36 pm

From Vivaldi to Vaughan Williams: more musical voices who have changed our world

Over the past few months, our Know the Score series introduced 20 great composers. But what of the many we couldn’t write about? Martin Kettle suggests some other names whose music is well worth exploring

The aim of the Know the score series was straightforward. To assist the reader who is curious about classical music, and to help them find some entry points with short guides to some of the art form’s best-known names. With the series now ended, where might the reader who is still curious go next? What of the many, many composers who didn’t make our top 20?

There is, of course, no definitive league table of great composers, and no two people would come up with the same 20 names that we chose to focus on. And so the aim of this article is to offer one entirely personal view of some of the composers who did not make it into the original series. And, for the sake of symmetry, we have another 20.

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Posted: November 25, 2020, 11:00 am

Exclusive: watch two short films inspired by a locked-down City of London

Composers, LSO musicians and dancers create two short films celebrating the empty Square Mile and its creative energies

The City of London, once the vibrant and bustling centre with hundreds of thousands of workers filling the streets of the Square Mile each day, has become been a place of ghosts in recent months. Two new films inspired by the City in lockdown explore our relationship with space during a socially distanced world of individual isolation.

Each film features London Symphony Orchestra musicians, dancers and original compositions in collaboration with emerging film-makers to celebrate the creative energy of the City. Watch them exclusively here.

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Posted: November 25, 2020, 5:00 am

Chopin's interest in men airbrushed from history, programme claims

Journalist says he has found overt homoeroticism in Polish composer’s letters

Frédéric Chopin’s archivists and biographers have for centuries turned a deliberate blind eye to the composer’s homoerotic letters in order to make the Polish national icon conform to conservative norms, it has been alleged.

Chopin’s Men, a two-hour radio programme that aired on Swiss public broadcaster SRF’s arts channel, argues that the composer’s letters have been at times deliberately mistranslated, rumours of affairs with women exaggerated, and hints at an apparent interest in “cottaging”, or looking for sexual partners in public toilets, simply ignored.

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Posted: November 23, 2020, 4:46 pm

Huddersfield contemporary music festival – beauty and freshness and striking new sounds

Available online/BBC Sounds
Brand new music from well-known and less familiar composers included premieres from James Dillon and Riot Ensemble’s lockdown commissions

There was no need for a November pilgrimage to Britain’s leading new-music event this year. Instead Huddersfield contemporary music festival came to us, concentrated into a hectic weekend of events, some of which were broadcast live on Radio 3 from the BBC’s Maida Vale studios and the Royal Festival Hall, while others were streamed on the festival’s website.

Despite the enforced changes, though, the reshaped concerts still managed to include at least some of the works and performers that had been planned for this year’s festival. There was the healthy mix of music from well-known and less familiar composers that has come to characterise the Huddersfield festival, ending with two premieres from James Dillon, a composer who has been closely associated with it for more than 40 years.

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Posted: November 23, 2020, 12:46 pm

The Seven Deadly Sins review – Hollywood highs and Depression lows with uncanny resonances

Streamed, recorded at Leeds Playhouse
The expressive force of singer Wallis Giunta and dancer Shelley Eva Haden evoked today’s US in a spirited production of Brecht and Weill’s sung ballet

It’s not simply the cardinal sins of Roman Catholic theology that are invoked in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s sung ballet, their last collaboration. This pungent 35-minute work is rarely given its full title – Die sieben Todsünden der Kleinbürger, The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petty Bourgeoisie, but it’s the one that underlines Brecht’s Marxist approach. Sloth, Pride, Anger, Gluttony, Lust, Greed and Envy are ordered to create a narrative trajectory set in 1930s America, essentially an attack on capitalism and the hypocrisy of bourgeois values.

The twin-sister protagonists – Anna I portrayed by a singer and Anna II by a dancer, representing two sides of the same person – are sent away by their family to earn money to build them all a home. Over seven years, the sisters move through seven cities, one sin for each. In this spirited new Opera North production, social-distancing – so neatly managed as to be quickly forgotten – reinforces the loneliness of the Annas’ trials. And, thanks in part to Michael Feingold’s 1992 translation delineating both the exploited and the exploitative, the pairing of the lows of the Depression with the lavish highs of Hollywood meant an often uncanny resonance with contemporary American ills.

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Posted: November 22, 2020, 11:37 am

Ariodante review – Paula Murrihy dazzles in Handel's dark drama

Royal Opera House online
In a belated homecoming to Covent Garden, Handel’s gripping opera is played beautifully and sung superbly by a fine cast

Handel wrote Ariodante in 1735 for the Covent Garden theatre that stood on the site of what is now the Royal Opera House, so the Royal Opera’s decision to take it into its repertory for the first time effectively forms its belated homecoming. Christian Curnyn conducts the livestream that replaces what should have been the first of a series of semi-staged performances with socially distanced audiences, now sadly cancelled. And it is, in many ways, a remarkable achievement, superbly performed and utterly gripping as drama.

No director is credited, though the work’s emotional ambiguities are painstakingly explored and the characterisations finely detailed. This is one of Handel’s darkest operas, and the twisting narrative of betrayal and catastrophic errors of judgment, for once, seems perfectly clear. There are some cuts in the score but no intervals, and the silences that follow the big showpiece arias, where we would usually expect emotional release into applause, add strikingly to the cumulative tension.

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Posted: November 21, 2020, 12:00 pm

The week in classical: L'enfant et les sortilèges; Love Lies and Justice – review

Available online
The London Philharmonic and Vopera join forces in a virtual production of Ravel’s opera, while Philippe Sands provides rich inspiration for the Academy of St Martin in the Fields

“The phantasmagoria is constant,” Ravel said – needlessly – of his magic-filled opera L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells). This short lyric fantasy, about a rude infant and the lessons of loneliness, has countless roles and many dramaturgical challenges: a duet for teapot and china cup; a mother represented by a giant skirt; a coloratura princess torn from a fairytale book. Seeing its potential as an animation, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has collaborated with Vopera, the virtual opera project, to produce an enchanting digital version, providing paid work for 135 musicians, visual artists, technicians and others.

The result, conducted and arranged by Lee Reynolds and directed by Rachael Hewer, is both visually playful and aurally assured. Colette’s libretto has been tactfully updated, and Reynolds’s deft reduction of the score retains Ravel’s sensuous textures, delicately brought to life by 27 members of the LPO. Using green-screen technology, singers’ faces are overlaid with rich, hand-drawn imagery, from 18th-century drawing room to wheelie-bin cityscape. We’ll set aside, but not without admiration, the complexities of auditioning, rehearsing and recording during lockdown.

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Posted: November 20, 2020, 6:05 pm

Classical highlights for the week ahead: 20-27 November

Despite lockdown, there’s still plenty of new music-making across the UK available to an online audience. Here’s our pick of next week’s live-streamed and pre-recorded concerts

Ariodante

The Royal Opera should have been staging a new production of Handel’s opera this autumn, but instead is presenting Ariodante in concert. Christian Curnyn conducts a cast that is led by Paula Murrihy in the title role; Chen Reiss is Ginevra, Sophie Bevan Dalinda, Gerald Finley the King and Iestyn Davies Polinesso.
20 November, live streamed (£) from the Royal Opera House then available on demand until 20 December

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Posted: November 20, 2020, 10:14 am

The mystery of Anja Thauer, the greatest cellist you've never heard of

A prodigious talent, the young cellist was rewarded with a Deutsche Grammophon contract and toured all over Europe. Why has the ‘German Du Pré’ been forgotten today? A new documentary explores her life and legacy

Do we hear music differently if there’s tragedy in the life story of its composer or performer? And if we do, are we bestowing that music with a melancholy, or insight, and sometimes even a greatness, that isn’t there?

These are some of the thoughts I had while researching the little-known German cellist Anja Thauer for a BBC Radio 3 documentary, The Myth and Mystery of Anja Thauer. She was a child prodigy who went to the Paris Conservatoire in 1960 aged 15, won the Grand Prix, and immediately started touring internationally. Fame seemed inevitable. Deutsche Grammophon signed her, only to sideline her in favour of the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who came to the label in 1968 and was launched with the same piece that Thauer had just recorded and released – the Dvořák Cello Concerto. It was to be her last album, although she was contracted to release two more, and she continued to tour right up to her suicide in 1973.

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Posted: November 19, 2020, 3:00 pm

Koechlin: Les Chants de Nectaire review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Nicola Woodward
(Hoxa, three CDs, available separately)
The French composer loved the flute and these short works are exquisite, be they playful, languorous or nostalgic

Charles Koechlin’s huge output includes examples of almost every orchestral, instrumental and vocal genre; opera is the only significant omission from a work list that runs to well over 200 opus numbers. Among that wealth of music, much of it still seriously undervalued and underperformed, there are no less than 29 works for flute, an instrument that was particularly prominent in French music around the turn of the 20th century, and for which Koechlin seems to have retained a particular fondness throughout his life.

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Posted: November 16, 2020, 12:59 pm

English National Opera/Wigglesworth review – Mozart's Requiem is urgent and direct

On iPlayer, filmed at the London Coliseum
Fine soloists, a committed chorus and Mark Wigglesworth’s instinct for dramatic immediacy combined to bring power to Mozart’s unfinished last masterpiece

In the time of Covid, any concert is an achievement in itself. This performance of Mozart’s Requiem by English National Opera under Mark Wigglesworth was unmistakably that. Originally scheduled for early November in front of socially distanced theatregoers to mark ENO’s return to its London Coliseum home, it went ahead as a pre-recorded lockdown concert from the Coliseum stage for a television and online audience. The pandemic backdrop and the proximity to Remembrance Day combined to create powerful extra context for Mozart’s unfinished last masterpiece.

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Posted: November 14, 2020, 12:30 pm

Lawrence Power and Ryan Wigglesworth review – effortless brilliance

Wigmore Hall, London; live stream/ Radio 3/ BBC Sounds
The violist and composer-pianist thrill in Brahms, Britten, a Wigglesworth world premiere and more

From the emotional muscularity of Brahms to the spiky mystery of Britten, to the glittering, pinpoint invention of a new work by Ryan Wigglesworth, the viola player Lawrence Power can communicate effortlessly in any dialect music offers. No nuance or syntax or idiom feels anything but natural in his hands. His recital on Monday, with Wigglesworth his equal partner as pianist, was a highlight – not that there’s a shortage – of Wigmore Hall’s live online concert series, also broadcast on Radio 3.

The programme had its own internal harmony. Britten was a viola player. Like Wigglesworth, he had the triple skills of composer-conductor-pianist. Music by Britten’s friend Shostakovich provided an encore: his recently discovered Impromptu, Op 33, apparently written on what must have been a fairly large napkin. Power began by playing, unaccompanied, “If my complaints could passions move”, the sorrowful lute song by the Elizabethan John Dowland, which inspired Britten’s masterpiece Lachrymae, Op 48 – 10 variations on that tune, fragmentary “reflections”, as he called them, which only reveal Dowland’s theme at the end.

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Posted: November 14, 2020, 12:00 pm

Classical home listening: two Labyrinths, one Gran Partita and a Requiem

New releases from pianists David Greilsammer and Khatia Buniatishvili; an exceptional Mozart ‘Gran Partita’; and his Requiem from the Coliseum

Labyrinth
David Greilsammer
(Naïve)

Labyrinth
Khatia Buniatishvili
(Sony)

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Posted: November 12, 2020, 3:00 pm

A Bag of Bagatelles: Piano Works by Birtwistle and Beethoven review | Andrew Clements's classical album of the week

Nicolas Hodges
(Wergo)
Hodges’s cool virtuosity emphasises the links between two composers of muscular intricacy and resonance

For the first 40 years of his composing career, Harrison Birtwistle wrote no major works for solo piano. There were a few miniatures, beginning with Précis, composed in 1959 for his college contemporary John Ogdon, but nothing substantial until the late 1990s, when he wrote the three-movement Harrison’s Clocks. Since then there have been two more hefty piano pieces, Gigue Machine from 2011, and the Variations from the Golden Mountain, completed three years later.

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Posted: August 14, 2020, 10:19 am

Julian Bream, British classical guitarist, dies aged 87

Bream helped cement the guitar in the classical tradition with composers including Britten and Arnold writing for him

Julian Bream, the British guitarist regarded as one of the finest exponents of the classical style, has died aged 87. The news was confirmed by his management company, who said he died “peacefully at home”. No cause of death was given.

Bream was born in Battersea in 1933, the son of a father who played piano and jazz guitar – a self-built electric version – and taught Julian the rudiments of each instrument. Bream’s talent earned him a scholarship at the Royal College of Music, where he studied piano and cello. But he was largely self-taught on his primary instrument, the guitar. He played his first public guitar recital in Cheltenham in 1947, aged 13.

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Posted: August 9, 2020, 5:45 am

Sunday with Max Richter: ‘I treasure the time for recuperation’

The composer spends a restful day cooking, walking the dogs and playing Bach on the piano

How does Sunday start? With the alarm clock not going off, which is spectacular. I’ve had a lifelong obsession with sleep: I love how ideas are clarified overnight, that fresh start in the morning. On Sundays I can indulge myself completely. Breakfast consists of fresh eggs from our chickens cooked a variety of ways. It’s my favourite meal of the day, without question.

Do you have a busy schedule? With a bit of luck there’s nothing in the diary. Dogs need walking, chickens need attention, and there’s food to pick in the garden. But in lockdown, with more time, I’m finding myself at the piano. After wading through the piles of Bach sheet music (the best ever written), I sit and play. Connecting to a younger version of myself, who did this all the time, has become a medicinal experience.

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Posted: July 21, 2020, 12:09 pm

'Nature was etched in Britten's music': the birdwatching composer

Mixing Britten’s folksongs with poetry and soundscapes, soprano Marci Meth took inspiration from the composer himself to create an album inspired by and embedded in the countryside that he loved

There’s no place like home, and no one knew that better than Benjamin Britten. He began composing folksong arrangements in 1941, when he was homesick in the US. Those songs brought him back to Suffolk – to the people and landscape he loved. Accepting the inaugural Aspen award in 1964, Britten said: “I belong at home – there – in Aldeburgh … and all the music I write comes from it.”

I had been studying Britten’s folksong arrangements for a year when I read that. I knew intuitively that his songs were rooted in the land, and I decided I needed to go to Aldeburgh to hear the music of that place for myself.

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Posted: July 9, 2020, 3:00 pm

Daniel Barenboim: 'If I could never conduct a live Ring cycle again, I don't know what I would do'

The pianist and conductor has been busy in lockdown, practising the piano and arranging a festival of new music. But his fears for the future of music pre-date the pandemic

It takes more than a global pandemic to stop Daniel Barenboim. The pianist and conductor is not merely one of the modern world’s pre-eminent musicians and public intellectuals. He is also one of those people who is temperamentally unable to let a crisis go to waste.

On the phone from Berlin, Barenboim admits the past few months have been a challenge. “I will have been making music in public for 70 years next month,” he says. “But in the last 60 I have never had so much time as now.” He has filled the gap by practising the piano at home, including a lot of works he has not played for decades. “I have enjoyed it tremendously,” he says.

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Posted: November 24, 2016, 3:42 pm

A musical tour of Europe's great cities: Berlin

Our series ends in the German capital with Berg, Busoni, Bowie and Bernstein.

Also in this series: London | Paris | Venice | Helsinki | Prague | Hamburg | Rome | Vienna | Amsterdam

In putting Berlin under the microscope in the last of our post-Brexit tours of the great cities of Europe, it seems that all roads lead to Kurt Weill. “Berlin will forever be associated with the turbulent times of the 20th century,” says @abkquan, whose suggestions have been a mainstay of these surveys. “The Weimar period produced the definitive Berlin work – Weill’s Threepenny Opera with its many familiar tunes, especially with Lotte Lenya singing Jenny.”

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