So, Who is Marina Dranishnikova?

This Thursday’s two concerts from Ensemble 360 in Music in the Round’s May Festival this year, Russia in the Round, are especially fascinating and in particular the one at lunchtime.

It introduces a couple of composers who will be totally unfamiliar to just about all but Russian music anoraks, Marina Dranishnikova and Nikolai Roslavets.

Dranishnikova (1929 –94), the daughter of Vladimir Dranishnikov, a friend of Prokofiev and composer who made his living mainly as a conductor, appears to have studied piano and composition at Leningrad Conservatory.

If she wrote anything else other than the piece getting an outing in the Russia in the Round festival, Poéme for oboe and piano, it has proved impossible to discover. However, the work’s lyrical outpouring strongly suggests she was far from being a beginner in 1953 when she wrote it.

Described as a challenging work and lasting a little short of ten minutes, Poéme was dedicated to the principal oboe of the Leningrad Philharmonic and was apparently prompted by an ‘unhappy love’ for an oboist – the word ‘tragic’ has also surfaced!

The adjective is apt in relation to Nikolai Roslavets (1881 –1944) who must have been the most persecuted composer under the Soviet regime. Mud sticks, they say, and even now he still largely persona non grata.

His ‘crime’ was nothing more than being a cosmopolitan modernist, or futurist composer who developed a compositional technique for atonalism taking late Scriabin as his starting point.

The barrage of unfounded vitriol launched at him for his efforts by a political system that he fully supported was as astonishing as it was intense to the point that even his deliberately unmarked grave was destroyed.

Performances of his music were banned from the early 1930s until the late 1970s, even the one-movement Viola Sonata No 1 from 1926 when Roslavets’s fame was at its peak in the Soviet Union and being performed this Thursday.

It can be described as a late Romantic work, harmonically adventurous and full of a yearning beauty that is difficult to resist, and yet it had been consigned to state archives after his death until the late 1980s when, at last, access to his manuscripts was granted.

As a point of interest, Alina Ibragimova, known to recent Music in the Round audiences, recorded Roslavets’s two violin concertos in 2008 with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov!

Roughly a ten-minute work, rounding the Roslavet sonata up with Dranishnikova’s Poéme to make a joint running time of around 20 minutes means the concert’s advertised duration of 55 minutes is going to be somewhat stretched as it concludes with Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2.

Have you noticed how many Russian composers writing memorial/ tribute pieces do so using the piano trio as a vehicle, by the way?

This is the third heard in the festival: Rachmaninov’s memorial homage following the death of Tchaikovsky. It was modelled on the latter’s only piano trio written as a tribute to Nikolai Rubinstein, while Shostakovich dedicated his Trio No 2 to Ivan Sollertinsky evoking images of Soviet death camps in the process.

Not in the festival, Arensky’s Trio No 1 (probably his best-known opus number), penned in memory of the highly renowned cellist and composer Karl Davidov, is another significant example.

 

Russia in the Round

Music in the Round’s May Festival this year, Russia in the Round (5th –13th May), has programming that must put it into the running for the coveted Royal Philharmonic Society’s Concerts Series and Festivals award.

There is so much going on over the festival’s nine-day duration taking in 33 events, a blow-by-blow account of what here would be tedious, if not of a perfunctory nature here and especially when a visit to www.musicintheround.co.uk will reveal all.

However, by way of indicating what you will find there, a few choice examples and musings cannot be resisted.

Innovation and imagination, which sum up much of the festival, are there from the outset with the creation of ten new artworks in response to the music Mussorgsky came up with for his ten Pictures at an Exhibition.

The new ‘pictures’ will be exhibited in the Winter Garden throughout the festival where Tim Horton plays Mussorgsky’s work (3pm, 6th May). If you want to hear him perform it sat down there is a repeat performance in the Crucible Studio (5.45pm, 10th May).

The under-appreciated Glazunov has three works in the opening concert (7.15pm, 5th May) sharing them with Tchaikovsky’s Op 50 piano trio. The day after, pianists Peter Hill and Ben Frith re-unite (4pm, 6th May), but not for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring if you are licking your lips at the prospect.

The composer is on their menu, though, with Petrushka, plus excerpts from two Tchaikovsky ballets, The Sleeping Beauty (arr Rachmaninov) and Swan Lake (arr Debussy). Stravinsky’s Rite is performed when Tim Horton teams up with Viv McLean (4.30pm, 13th May).

Actors Sara Kestelman and Simon Russell Beale, take to the stage when the Studio becomes a Moscow concert hall (7.15pm, 6th May) during Stalin’s ‘Great Terror’ and music by Gliére, Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Shostakovich, Tsintsadze, Myaskovsky and Weinberg – the eminently worthy latter three being highly prolific – is heard.

BBC Radio 3 has been stimulated into action by the festival content and will be recording four concerts over the second half of the festival, the pick of which features Martinů’s engaging Fantasia for theremin, oboe, string quartet and piano (7.15pm, 11th May).

Should you not know, the strange instrument was one of the first electronic music devices, invented by a Russian physicist of the same name in 1920, and some 20-odd years later Martinů really made it sing!

Programmed with it are Prokofiev’s widely contrasted Op 39 quintet derived from a ballet that never was, Shostakovich’s powerfully emotional Eighth String Quartet and Eisler’s jolly Septet No 1, subtitled Variations on American Children’s Songs.

Much acclaimed pianist Steven Osborne puts an appearance in – two, actually! – though primarily (7.15pm, 8th May) for a recital based on one Rachmaninov gave at the Sheffield Festival in 1936 when he played his two Études-Tableaux sets, Op 33 and Op 39, along with works by Brahms and Schubert.

Osborne plays the Études – albeit, a selection from Op 39! plus, respectively, Three Intermezzi Op 117 and Moment Musical No 2 by Brahms and Schubert.

Ensemble 360’s double bass player Laurène Durantel also calls on her talents as a pianist and vocalist (3.30pm, 7th May) to furnish a live soundtrack to the pioneering silent (1929) Russian documentary film Man with a Movie Camera in the Students’ Union Auditorium (Sheffield University).

Staying in the realms of creativity, Sheffield’s composer collective Platform 4, Jenny Jackson, Tom James, Chris Noble and Tom Owen, have each been commissioned to write a new work inspired by a Russian repertoire piece and will be performed alongside it at four concerts.

Among other opus numbers heard at concerts in the festival are Prokofiev’s Flute Sonata Op 94, Britten’s Cello Suite No 3 and Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Op 57 at one of them – Steven Osborne’s second appearance (7.15pm, 9th May)!

Glinka gets three looks in: Viola Sonata (in a bassoon transcription); Grand Sextet, rubbing shoulders with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence; and Trio Pathétique, with some Sofia Gubaidulina on the same programme: Quasi Hoquetus.

Other standout works include Taneyev: String Trio Op 31; Cui: Cinque petits duos Op 56 (flute/ violin); Rimsky-Korsakov: piano/ wind quintet; Nikolai Kapustin: Flute Sonata Op 125; Shostakovich: the valedictory Viola Sonata Op 147; Balakirev: Octet Op 3.

And how about a pairing of Poème for oboe and piano by Marina Dranishnikova and Viola Sonata No 1 by Nikolai Roslavets with Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2 a luring siren as an opportunity for adventurous discovery (12.45pm, 11th May)?

Unless noted, all the concerts mentioned take place in the Crucible Studio and are given by members of Ensemble 360 with the odd guest here and there.

 

Affirmative Music For the Soul

A new concert series in Sheffield is launched in May and unveils a new performance venue in the process, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Whirlow.

The chapel, just off Ecclesall Road South, is part of Whirlow Spirituality Centre all that is left of Whirlow Grange Conference Centre, which closed its door in July 2014 after 60 years.

Officially, its name is Whirlow Spirituality Centre at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit.

The Centre is run by a partnership of All Saints Parish Church, Ecclesall and Whirlow Grange Ltd, an organisation that continues as an educational charity following the sale of most of the land on which the conference centre stood.

In a joint statement John  Stride, chair of the Whirlow Grange Trust, and Gary Wilton, vicar of All Saints, said: “The partnership, which oversees the development of the Spirituality Centre, sees this concert series as a perfect example of how we should be working together.”

“We also want to make this beautiful place more available for residents in the local Whirlow community for whom the Chapel was originally built in the 1960s.”

Despite the apparent audience targeting, however, everyone is welcome to the five concerts in the series between May and October when the grounds in which the Chapel of the Holy Spirit is set are most verdant. The more the merrier!

“With space for up to 50 people, we’ve realised the Chapel is an ideal location for intimate, chamber-style performances,” Joy Adams, chaplain to the Whirlow Spiritual Centre.

She added: “The series is intended to offer music that’s in tune with the reflective, meditative and affirmative style of this special place.”

The concerts, all beginning at 7.30pm, are given by locally known musicians, except one.

Friday, 19th of May – Hallam Sinfonia String Quartet: Brahms, Fauré and Haydn.

Saturday, 3rd of June – Lucy Phillips: violin and David Hammond: piano: Bach, Debussy and Arvo Pärt.

Friday 30th of June – Chloe Saywell: soprano, Matthew Redfearn: trumpet and Stephanie Pitts: piano: Baroque to Broadway!

Saturday, 23rd of September – Muskoka Wind Quintet: Poulenc, Haydn, Paul Patterson, Gershwin and Norman Hallam.

Saturday, 28th of October – Simeon Wood from historic Kirkburton, near Huddersfield: flute and other wind instruments: light classics, ballads and movie themes interspersed with humour.

Where known, details of individual works being performed can be found on the Calendar on the Classical Sheffield website: www.classicalsheffield.org.uk

You can discover more about the venue at whirlowspiritualitycentre.org/

 

The Trumpet, and Trombone! Shall Sound

We have another Eastertide Messiah in the city on the 8th of April following a Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus performance of the work a fortnight earlier with period instruments.

However, this one, at the outset of Holy Week – Palm Sunday is the next day – will sound very different.

It is a ‘Come and Sing’ performance, an invitation extended to everyone from the Sheffield Bach Choir whose annual December performance of Handel’s oratorio entered Sheffield folklore many years ago. Alternatively, you can just go and listen.

The occasion marks the 275th anniversary of the work’s first performance in Dublin in 1742. Almost to the day, actually: the 13th of April being when it first saw the light of day!

It also offers an opportunity, if not a major selling bullet point, to hear a rather rare outing for Messiah in the brass band ‘orchestration’ by Denis Wright, a transcription first heard in 1946 but not too often since.

Given the universal popularity of the work across all spectrums of society, it is perhaps surprising that it had to wait 200 years to be reincarnated in the world of brass bands, especially given their festive prominence at Christmas.

How Messiah came to be indelibly associated with aforementioned consumer season is buried somewhere in the mists of time. It’s as much an Easter work as it is a Christmas one; indeed, can be argued to be more so!

Note when Handel premiered it, although he had completed the work in September of the previous year – plenty of time for Christmas of 1741!

Denis Wright (1895-1967) was associated with brass bands virtually all his life, conducting them, composing test pieces for competitions and making hundreds of transcriptions and arrangements.

He was responsible for all brass band broadcasts on the BBC for nearly ten years from 1936 and worked indefatigably to gain greater recognition for brass bands generally and especially in other domains of music.

One cannot imagine Handel objecting to a brass band transcription of Messiah. He altered the work just about every time it was performed in his day – re-orchestrating, tweaking this and that, re-allocating recits and arias, altering or adding an aria here and there, and so on.

He is said to have left nine different versions of Messiah, none of them definitive, which include 43 versions of 15 solo numbers!

The Bach Choir’s Come and Sing Messiah with professional soloists, the Rothwell Temperance Band and conducted by Simon Lindley is at Sheffield Cathedral and starts at 7pm.

Further information at www.sheffieldbachchoir.wordpress.com

Intimate with Mr Enderby!

Intimate with Mr Enderby tells you nothing more untoward than Janáček’s Second String Quartet, Intimate Letters, is programmed with a piece called Inside Mr Enderby by Huw Belling at a concert this coming Thursday (23rd of March).

It takes place at The Chimney House in the vicinity of Kelham Island and is given by a newly formed group of young, top-flight musicians, the Manchester Collective, the Belling work being its first performance.

An intriguing collection of facts that have only just surfaced but in need, no pretty much demanding further investigation!

Made up with musicians from orchestras such as the BBC Phil and Royal Liverpool Phil, the group came into being last year and 2017 sees its first series of concerts, six of them with fascinating content, and its artistic director is cellist Adam Szabo.

“North West England has an incredibly rich cultural heritage of orchestral music,” he explains, “but we’ve found that the chamber music vein is not nearly as diverse or as rich, so our remit is to bring a greater depth of chamber music in the north west.”

Certainly, the scope is wide in the Collective’s first six concerts: Taverner (the Renaissance one), Purcell, Biber, Vivaldi, via Mozart and Beethoven, to Barber, Janáček, Stravinsky, Ravel, Schulhoff, Piazzolla, Schoenberg, Cage, Jorg Widman to the immediate Huw Belling.

“The way that we present these concerts is quite different,” says Adam Szabo.

“It’s a departure from, I guess, traditional concert programming, especially for new audiences who’ve never been to a concert, or not being to many before. There are so many conventions and preconceptions we find it distances audiences.”

Accordingly, recognised concert venues are shunned, which where The Chimney House with its steel rolling mill origins comes into the equation. All are in the round to increase intimacy.

So why is an ensemble formed, ostensibly, to cater for the needs of North West England straying north east to Sheffield, and twice more later in the year (July, September), as well as Leeds?

“We believe this music should be heard by as many people as possible. Sheffield is such a big city and I think there is room for much more,” feels the Collective’s artistic director.

Worth noting, perhaps, is that he says he is familiar with Music in the Round, which shares similarities with the Manchester Collective’s philosophical aims, proclaiming: “They do really wonderful work!”

Huw Belling’s Inside Mr Enderby is the first of a series of annual commissions by the ensemble and if you know your Anthony Burgess you will be aware that the work’s title is that of a book by him and, maybe, that this year is the centenary of the birth of the Mancunian author, and composer!

Belling, a young Australian composer of increasing note at present based in Oxford where he was recently been awarded a PhD was approached in collaboration with the International Anthony Burgess Foundation for a work to celebrate the occasion.

A notable background in chamber opera has led him to write a song cycle with string quartet, dramaturge Pierce Wilcox extracting words from the book, and with one singer in mind, Mitch(ell) Riley.

A fellow Australian and baritone with whom he has worked on regular basis and also presently out of his home country, holding down a prestigious residency in Paris, Riley is a much admired singer of contemporary music.

“Not only is Mitch an acclaimed operatic baritone,” says Adam Szabo, “he comes from a background of physical theatre and acting so we expect the work will have a highly visual and dramatic element to it.”

He is also involved in the Janáček, reading the composer’s letters!

And let it not be said that the Manchester Collective may struggle for an audience. The ensemble’s first concert (Sheffield sees the second) was streamed live on Facebook and attracted over 15,000 viewers!

There is also a captive audience among students. They get into all concerts – usually each one at three different venues – free with a valid student card!

More at www.manchestercollective.co.uk

 

Songs for Pauline

Elizabeth Watts returns to the city where she cut her singing teeth on the 17th of March to sing Richard Strauss and Mahler with the Hallé in the Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall.

Having established herself as an internationally celebrated soprano since triumphing at the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World, she will be performing five songs by Strauss with the orchestra before taking on the vocal guise of a child in the last movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.

Strauss wrote songs, or Lieder throughout his life, a fraction over 200 of them. The earliest were single, one-off compositions that evolved fairly quickly into collections, or sets of songs. Probably the best-known set, Vier Lieder Op 27 consists, as the translation tells us, of ‘Four Songs’, for instance.

The vast majority in their original form were written for voice and piano – the celebrated Four Last Songs being a notable exception – but the odd one or two were penned with orchestra. He did, however, orchestrate nearly 50 of ‘original piano songs’ making many already attractive gems all the more irresistible.

Actually, there is a super, infrequently heard of pair of songs, Op 51, originally written with orchestra for ‘low bass voice’, the only instance where Strauss specifies an actual voice range beyond the occasional ‘high voice’ and prevailing ‘for voice and piano’.

But we digress, so back to the five Strauss songs at the City Hall, under the direction of the Hallé’s principal guest conductor, Sheffield-born-and-raised Ryan Wigglesworth.

The first is the gently ecstatic Das RosenbandThe Rose Ribbon, Op 36 No 1 (text Friedrich Klopstock), in which a lover gazes lovingly on his sleeping sweetheart who he has draped with roses and when she wakes “all around us became Elysium” – to quote the text.

Following it is the sustained beauty of WiegenliedLullaby, Op 41 No 1 (Richard Dehmel), where a mother sings to her sleeping child and how it has made the world heaven on earth for her.

In MuttertändeleiMother-chatter, Op 43 No 2 (Gottfried Bürger), we have another mother rattling on extolling the virtues of her child before declaring she would not sell it for all the gold in the world.

Two regularly heard Strauss songs end the five: the blissful Morgen!Tomorrow, Op 27 No 4 (John Henry Mackay) – “And tomorrow the sun will shine again. She will again unite us, and upon us will sink the mute silence of happiness,” followed by how a loved one is missed when they are not near in the soaring ecstasy of CäcilieCecilia, Op 27 No 2 (Heinrich Hart).

The generally well known four opus 27 songs, the earlier cited Vier Lieder, were written by Strauss as a wedding gift to his wife, soprano Pauline de Ahna in 1894, and the not very Teutonic-sounding John Henry Mackay was born in Scotland but grew up and lived in Germany from the age of two.

Mackay, incidentally, also penned the poem that became Heimliche Aufforderung – Secret Invitation, which became the third song of Vier Lieder Op 27 and, coincidentally, will be heard when Liz Watts makes a further visit back to Sheffield in June.

She will be in the company of two other singers and a pianist and the song figures, as does another Strauss gem, Die Nacht – The Night Op 10 No 3, in a highly attractive Songsmiths’ concert at this year’s Bradfield Festival on the 29th of June.

Watch this space shortly!

Classical Sheffield Weekend

Classical Sheffield’s second showcase weekend, 17th –19th March, featuring the city’s classical music-making societies and organisations is more widely diverse than the triumphant first in November 2015.

The format is the same with non-stop music in bite-size chunks or mini-concerts at various venues from noon each day – 10am on a packed Saturday – until around ten in the evening.

The only full blown concert sees the Hallé working its way through Mahler, Richard Strauss and down the Blue Danube with its Sheffield-born principal guest conductor Ryan Wigglesworth and soprano Elizabeth Watts who cut her singing teeth in the city before going onto international stardom.

Interactive events are a new departure this time round and you could say that education in a broad sense has some prominence, not least the presence of talented students from Sheffield Music Academy.

They figure on four contrasted occasions with Vivaldi (Four Seasons), Bruch and Dvořák, and Copland (Appalachian Spring), while eight cellists from the academy are involved in a Sheffield Oratorio Chamber Choir account of the Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 by Villa-Lobos.

Cellists attached to Sheffield Music Hub, which provides music education for children from all backgrounds, are heard when Hope Valley-born violinist Lizzie Ball, now of national and international repute, plays Arvo Pärt’s Fratres.

The same work in wind band guise is performed at one of two other Music Hub concerts, the other featuring the Senior Schools Orchestra which partners the adventurous Oliver Coates as the soloist in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto.

The inquisitive cellist’s principal contribution to the weekend will be leading at least 32 other cellists from around the region in the UK premiere of Canticles of the Sky by the American composer John Luther Adams.

Sheffield Bach Choir, on the other hand, is on well-tried and tested ground with Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and Mascagni’s Easter Hymn, while Sheffield Chorale will be offering opera choruses.

Some unfamiliar Puccini, his early Messa di Gloria, comes from the Sterndale Singers and Mexborough-based Bel Canto Choir, the Sterndale and aforementioned Chorale also being two of the five chamber choirs involved in Sounds from Heaven.

The other three are the Abbeydale Singers, Sheffield Chamber Choir and Viva Voce with a premiere for all five choirs featuring, Kraal by Platform 4’s Jenny Jackson, alongside established pieces by the likes of Tavener, Pärt and Mendelssohn.

The Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus include Schubert and Brahms among Songs of Love and Triumph, while the popular Vivacity Choir does its own thing in Handbags and Gladrags, as do Sheffield Young Singers in Songs of Friendship.

Every choral body in Sheffield, and there are plenty of them, has been invited join in a performance of Orff’s Carmina Burana to celebrate its 80 years of existence.

Opera on Location, meanwhile, has unearthed an equally bizarre work, a 90-year-old mini-pocket opera There and Back (Hin und Zurück) by the undervalued Paul Hindemith.

Sheffield Symphony Orchestra offer an opportunity to hear Stravinsky’s Petrushka and the brass section of Endcliffe Orchestra and Sheffield Flute Choir will be evoking Steel City images.

Hallam Sinfonia has an interactive account of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, while Sheffield Chamber Orchestra present aspiring conductors with a chance to wave the baton at a public masterclass.

Music in the Round’s Marmen Quartet makes two appearances playing Haydn’s Op 77 No 1 at the first and Third String Quartet by Philip Glass at the minimalistic second when guitarist Tom McKinney and Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint share the limelight.

Further chamber music, Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio, comes from the Meiningen Ensemble, including violinist David Milsom and pianist Jonathan Gooing, and three concerts give you a taste of Pierre Boulez.

Each includes one of his three piano sonatas, the first concert giving Lucy Phillips an opportunity to complete her Beethoven violin sonata cycle with the Kreutzer Sonata juxtaposed with the contemporary angst of Boulez’s first essay in the form.

Composer collective Platform 4, whose members crop up at a number of events over the weekend, has a concert to itself, Hooting and Drinking, and four leading musicians from Shanghai stir up Dreams of China at two 45-minute concerts.

A guzheng (Chinese zither) player joins the Sheffield University-linked Fidelio (piano) Trio for a concert of new music headed Silk Dialogues and the five-member, Manchester-based group Kabantu further represents world music at two concerts.

And that is just about it barring a Sheffield Music Hub invitation to Come and Try if you fancy playing a musical instrument and, elsewhere, primary school children are let loose creating electronic music.

Guitar and fiddle duo Head Over Reels will be entertaining those aged up to two, while Crimes Against Taste – “perhaps the world’s only classical/ comedy/ cabaret/ crossover act” – rouses itself to present Tenor and Baritone.

There are free Pop-Up performances across the weekend and fuller information, including bargain-price passes (available until the 1st of March), can be found at www.classicalweekend.com

Music in the Round Spring Season 2017

With two concerts devoted to them, piano quintets could perhaps be described as popular over the course of the two months of Music in the Round’s spring season in Sheffield.

One of the concerts bring the world-renowned, London-based Schubert Ensemble to the city (10th February) to perform Dohnányi’s richly scored Piano Quintet No 2 and the more familiar essay in the form by Elgar at Upper Chapel.

Respectively written in 1914 and 1918, the programme is a repeat of a concert the group is giving 24 hours earlier at King’s Place in London as the third in a series of six featuring piano quintets.

Ensemble 360 has the other piano quintet concert at the Crucible Studio (22nd March) and again, one is familiar: Dvořák’s Op 81, the other not, by Vaughan Williams who few will be aware he has to his name.

An early work written in 1903, it rarely sounds like later Vaughan Williams getting closest to it the central (slow) movement which separates two muscular outer movements that sometimes suggest Brahms, Dvořák here and there, Schubert once or twice.

Written for the same forces as the latter’s Trout Quintet, so double bass instead of second violin, it premiered in 1905 but was not published and disappeared after 1918.

It re-emerged in the 1990s, had a second premiere in 1999 and is well worth hearing.

Ensemble 360 preface the work with some Vaughan Williams everyone knows, The Lark Ascending in a ‘chamber arrangement’.

The season begins with piano trios on the 27th of January, Schubert’s two masterpieces in the form from the Gould Piano Trio, which means a welcome back for an old friend, Benjamin Frith.

It is reported that tickets for a concert of Debussy, including Images Book 1 and Book 2, Schumann: Fantasie Op 17, and Beethoven: Appassionata Sonata, from the internationally much sought-after Stephen Hough (9th March) are selling like hot cakes.

Roderick Williams returns after his rapturously received performance (one dissenter aside) of Schubert’s Winterreise in November with the composer’s other great song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin and a different pianist, Iain Burnside (4th February).

Ensemble 360 present an appealing if eclectic mix of Sibelius: En Saga (septet version), Strauss: Till Eulenspiegel, Lutoslawski: Dance Preludes and nonets by Martinů and Spohr (1st February) in all likelihood without Tim Horton.

The pianist, however, has the stage to himself (18th February) for three pieces by Scriabin, including Sonata No 5; Chopin: Ballade No 1, Nocturnes Op 27; and Prokofiev: Sonata No 7, after warming up with four Rachmaninov preludes.

He can also be said to be getting into the mood for this year’s May Festival, Russia in the Round, for which there is a 60-minute ‘taster’ on the 11th of March!

Three other concerts of one-hour duration take place at Upper Chapel, two of them given by Ensemble 360 members with Benjamin Nabarro and Tim Horton (2nd March) offering violin sonatas by Mozart: K526 (No 35), and Enescu: No 3.

The other is an attractive clarinet and bassoon recital (14th March) from Matthew Hunt and Amy Harman taking in Poulenc’s brief but jolly Sonata for the two instruments, the first two of Beethoven’s three Duo Sonatas, plus pieces by Eugène Jancourt and Olav Berg.

Before both, though, is a fast-emerging string quartet from Scotland (22nd February), the Maxwell Quartet, performing Frank Bridge: Three Idylls, Sally Beamish: Reed Stanzas (premiered by the Elias Quartet in 2011), and Mozart: String Quartet No 21.

Further details, including two jazz concerts, a family concert, a singing day with Roderick Williams and a half-term string course can be found at www.musicintheround.co.uk

Mesmeric Klezmer

It is reported that the St Andrew’s Music Festival got off to a highly successful start last Sunday, the 13th of November, with a concert given by the leading world music couple, Merlin and Polina Shepherd.

A packed audience in St Andrew’s Psalter Lane Church is said have been transfixed for two hours by the sheer virtuosity and musicianship of the former’s clarinet playing and the latter’s “astonishingly beautiful singing voice.”

After the concert, Polina wrote: “This was my first performance in Sheffield and I found the audience to be attentive, supportive and a wonderful listening crowd. I would be happy to return at any point, as there is clearly a need and a love of Yiddish music.

“Many thanks for bringing us to the city and to a wonderful venue.”

Merlin added: “It was fantastic to come back to city where Klezmer first took off in the UK. Having been involved at the start of it all, it’s wonderful to feel the hunger and interest in all things Klezmer and Yiddish oriented, still shining here.”

An exhibition alongside the concert mapped the progress of how the Klezmer wave began in Sheffield in the 1980s and there will be more of Merlin and Polina Shepherd when they return to the city next March, the 29th, in the Sheffield University Concert Season.

Review: Der Winterreise

You could appreciate the 21st century take on Schubert’s immortal song cycle by Roderick Williams and Christopher Glynn, but you didn’t have to like it!

Although increasingly treated as such, Lieder (or art song to use its genre heading) is not opera with dramatic and vocal gestures, though it could be argued to have got closer to the form in the 20th century, especially with the growth of music theatre.

In effect, this is what we had here enhanced by the fact that we were in a building that exists as a theatre, which Williams took the fullest advantage off.

He was never still: up and down the stage level aisles of the Crucible Studio, rendering songs while sat down on one of the steps and even managing to perch himself behind Glynn on his piano stool for Das Wirtshaus (No 21).

Character-creation was suspended, however, for a quick dash between aisles after Rast (No 10) for Frühlingstraum (No 11)!

Nothing to get unduly hot under the collar over perhaps, but there was from the standpoint of Schubert when it was completely over the top!

Williams and Glynn had no intention of it sounding like the last Wintereisse you heard and went to daring, doubtless well-intentioned lengths to ensure it didn’t.

Musically, the approach was largely declamatory and veristic with wide dynamic contrasts, Mut (No 22) with a wide rhythmic swing. Legato lines tended to be eschewed in the name of dramatic effect.

Not normally heard staccato singing and playing was in evidence, vividly so in Die Wetterfahne (No 2) and Im Dorfe (No 17), respectively; but a major miscalculation was the speed that Rückblick (No 8) was taken at which obliterated the song’s shape.

In lesser hands, it could have been a disaster but the inherent musicianship of those here, allied to the Williams’ vocal intensity, just about enabled the cycle to stay afloat and was rewarded with a loud, noisy reception at the end followed by a standing ovation.