Music in the Round’s Autumn Season 2015

Concerts in memory of Peter Cropper; a visit by world famous Portuguese pianist Maria João Pires; Ensemble 360’s 10th birthday – there is a lot happening in Music in the Round’s autumn series of concerts in Sheffield!

Peter had been invited by MitR to devise two concerts in celebration of his 70th birthday in November before he died suddenly at the end of May and they will go ahead, though sadly without his involvement.

The first (18th November) he intended as a family event so invited Martin and Hazel, Adrian Wilson (his son-in-law), among others, to join him for double concertos by Bach and Vivaldi, Mozart’s Oboe Quartet, plus works by Handel and Vaughan Williams.

The second (5th December) hits a more nostalgic note with Benjamin Nabarro sitting in for piano trios by Haydn: No 27, and Beethoven: the Archduke, with Martin Roscoe and Moray Walsh, with whom Peter formed a piano trio over the last ten years.

Sandwiched between them is Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet which welcomes back two old friends from Lindsay Quartet days, Janet Hilton and Louise Williams, with Martin Cropper in the violinist’s chair as Peter intended.

Another returning musician, Ensemble 360’s founding flautist Guy Eshed puts a guest appearance in at the season’s opening concert (26th September), the 10th Birthday Concert featuring Beethoven’s piano and winds quintet Op 16, Martinů’s Nonet No 2 and Elgar’s Piano Quintet.

Other ensemble concerts take in Mozart’s Hoffmeister string quartet, the Adagio from Berg’s Chamber Concerto for violin, clarinet and piano, as arranged by the composer, and the Clarinet Quintet by Brahms (19th October).

Brahms again figures, the Op 25 piano quartet, with Haydn’s Gypsy Rondo piano trio and Ligeti’s Trio for horn, violin and piano – Hommage à Brahms (2nd December), and there are a couple of ‘short-ies’ as part Classical Sheffield’s first Festival of Music, 23rd to 25th October.

Both are on the 24th, the first at 6pm taking in pieces by Huw Watkins, Kurtág, Boulez and Bartók (Third String Quartet), while Dvořák’s Op 77 string quintet occupies the second at 7.20pm.

Concerts from Ensemble 360 members see Tim Horton partnering Gemma Rosefield in works by Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Grieg (Cello Sonata) (6th October); flautist Juliette Bausor in Copland’s Duo, Barber’s Canzone and Dvořák’s Sonatina Op 100 (10th November); and Ben Nabarro in first Brahms violin sonata, Op 78, and second Schubert sonatina, in A minor (23rd November).

All three are lunchtime concerts and violinist, cellist and pianist unite (26th November) wearing their collective, highly regarded Leonore Piano Trio hat to embark on the complete Beethoven violin sonatas, cello sonatas and piano trios.

The first of eight concerts, it features the respective No 1 of each cycle of works.

To finally get round to Maria João Pires – said there was a lot! – who gives the Kurzman Piano Recital (27th November), sharing it with Armenian pianist Ashot Khachatourian, described as “brilliant” and you can believe it looking at his achievements to date.

Maria, who is currently helping him to hone his craft, performs Haydn’s Sonata No 23 and Beethoven’s No 32, and Ashot chips in with Haydn’s No 52 and Beethoven’s No 28.

Another internationally distinguished visitor is Alina Ibragimova who brings her period instrument Chiaroscuro Quartet (14th November) to perform Mozart’s Divertimento K138, Haydn’s Op 20 No 6 and Beethoven’s Harp Quartet.

The Escher Quartet from America offer Mendelssohn’s Op 44 No 2, Zemlinsky’s Op 19 (No 3) and Brahms’ Op 51 No 2 (16th October); and the Marmen Quartet, being mentored by Peter Cropper at the time of his death: Haydn’s Op 103, Beethoven’s Op 18 No 1, Bartók’s No 4 and Two Chansons by Josquin! (2nd October).

Music in the Community has a large presence in the season, including a new Sir Scallywag adventure (4th November), and booking for concerts and events in it opened last Saturday.

Full details for the season, including a folk concert and two for jazz fans can be found at www.musicintheround.co.uk

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Sheffield International Concert Season

Piano concertos form an interesting strand in the new 2015-2016 Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

How about one of the first UK performances of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Piano Concerto played by French Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin with the Hallé (23rd October), for a start? – a brand new contemporary work in the season, virtually unheard of!

A jazzy affair – don’t worry it only lasts 20 minutes! – Hamelin premiered it in Rotterdam in October 2013 and is framed at the concert, conducted by Sheffield’s own Ryan Wigglesworth, by Mozart’s Haffner Symphony and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Then there is a Rachmaninov double of thirds when the Hallé and Sir Mark Elder get the season underway on the 18th of September!

To be precise, the composer’s Third Piano Concerto with South Korean pianist Sunwook Kim and Third Symphony; mind you, pianist, conductor and orchestra can be said to top this when they re-unite (2nd April) for another double bill, the two Brahms piano concertos!

If all this Rachmaninov and Brahms is a little too much, there is always Grieg’s Piano Concerto from Alexander Gavrylyuk and Hallé when Finnish maestro Okko Kamu takes charge (20th February). The concert also includes Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony.

Two further Hallé concerts find Cristian Mandeal on the podium (22nd January) for Brahms’ Haydn Variations, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with highly rated German violinist Sophia Jaffé, and Schumann’s First Symphony (Spring).

The other sees a visit (7th November) by much-travelled cellist Jian Wang as the soloist in Saint-Saëns’ First Cello Concerto and Dvořák’s Silent Woods, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony being elsewhere at the concert.

Returning to piano concertos, a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra concert (22nd April) finds Peter Jablonski playing Ravel’s G major concerto and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It also takes in Weill’s Threepenny Opera Suite, further Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin, and Debussy’s ‘Faune’ prelude.

Rachmaninov has not entirely gone away. Noriko Ogawa plays the Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini with Pavel Kogan and the Moscow State Symphony at the last concert in the season (20th May). The curtain comes down with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

Another well known East European orchestra is here earlier in the season (26th November), the Prague Symphony and bringing Chloë Hanslip, no less, to play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in between Šárka from Smetana’s Má Vlast and Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony.

The world famous Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is here (12th March) celebrating its 30th birthday with an all-Bach programme directed by Baroque music specialist John Butt.

Ben Gernon makes a quick return, this time with the BBC Philharmonic (3rd October) and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture, Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto and Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

Annual festive December concert (you know the one!) aside, the only Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus involvement in the season is Haydn’s Nelson Mass with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and James Burton (6th May), preceded by a Vaughan Williams symphony, No 5!

The Phil is, however, offering Nordic choral music in the City Hall Ballroom after the concert on the 20th of February.

Full details of all concerts, booking for which opened some weeks ago, will appear in the Classical Sheffield Calendar at some point in August but if you can’t wait, there is always the City Hall website, www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk

Review of “Louise” at the Buxton Festival

Charpentier’s sprawling operatic picture of Paris calls out for staging for maximum impact but the Buxton Festival does it proud in this concert performance of a rarely encountered masterpiece.

It is not difficult to appreciate why opera companies run shy of it because of the amount of rehearsal time it would involve for the huge cast needed for act two.

A multiplicity of various characters, apart from Louise, Julien and Noctambulist, they are all taken here by the 16-member Festival Chorus.

So numerous are the parts, individual members sing up to four of them, the quality of the voices within its ranks being exemplified by Catarina Sereno as Louise’s work colleague Irma and Jamie Rock chiefly as the Junk Man.

Collectively, it is another choral treat, particularly when proceedings get into act three.

Madeleine Pierard is superb as Louise, mercifully without a hint of crooning in Depuis le jour, and her full-blooded soprano blends extremely well with Adrian Dwyer who just about gets away with the often-taxing tenor role of Julien.

It might be a concert performance but the dramatic commitment of both is never in doubt.

There are also suitably strong dramatic performances from Michael Druiett, especially, as Louise’s father and Susan Bickley as her mother, a formidable pair, indeed; while veteran tenor Adrian Thompson enjoys himself enormously as the Noctambulist and King of Fools.

Charpentier’s remarkable and evocative leitmotif-littered score is fabulously played a heavily augmented Northern Chamber Orchestra and conductor Stephen Barlow marshals all magnificently.

Lucia di Lammermoor, Buxton Opera House

A review of the Donizetti opera performed at this year’s Buxton Festival

A gauze drop curtain with the picturesque castle ruins emblazoned on it, more Italian than Scottish to hazard a guess, greets you on stage upon entering the auditorium for Donizetti’s opera.

Behind it is dark gloom and misery!2142972

Stage director Stephen Unwin updates the action to what looks like a circa-1950s scenario and populates it with gun-toting gangsters, yanked out of shoulder holsters at every opportunity – mafia families for Scottish clans perhaps?

Cigarettes are lit with great regularity and smoked unconvincingly; Edgardo kills himself with a pocket penknife at the end; historical references and swords in the English side-titles bear no relation to period they are in on stage.

From a personal point of view, music redemption is scarce. The Sulla tomba duet at the end of act one and famous Sextet come off extremely well and there is a wonderful Mad Scene.

In truth, Elin Pritchard didn’t set off too promisingly as Lucia on the first night but she warmed up superbly and delivered a totally triumphant Mad Scene, capping it with a magnificent, full-toned top C hit on a sixpence. The coloratura fireworks with the flute are ironed out but it still works.

Her Edgardo, Adriano Graziano is not overly convincing dramatically but has a pleasant enough tenor voice that is not always up to sustaining Donizetti’s vocal lines, most noticeable in the last scene.

No acting problems for Stephen Gadd as Enrico – on the contrary! – but his strong baritone is often too forceful and unwieldy for the music, while Andrew Greenan’s bass didn’t always sound happy in that given to Raimondo.

Stephen Barlow’s conducting is idiomatic, but neither the orchestra nor chorus quite reached the exalted levels of 24 hours earlier in Verdi. The chorus frequently looked uneasy, too!!