classical-music.com | Thu, 23 May 2019 09:00:00 +0000
BBC television barely had time to say hello in the 1930s before shrugging its shoulders and muttering a frustrated au revoir. The little matter of another world war getting in the way. Radio was the priority as the established medium.
Television programmes, in black and white, could only be seen with tolerable reliability within a 40-mile radius of the sole transmitter (and studio) at Alexandra Palace, up on a north London hill.
Those pre-war few who tuned in regularly saw plenty of live studio-based music-making of various genres. Classical music performers included the likes of harpist Sidonie Goossens and Austrian violinist Lisa Minghetti.
Lighter classical offerings came, for example, from the BBC Midland Orchestra. The performance on 5 June 1937 of part of Gounod’s Faust – complete with rickety set – was the first opera to be televised in the UK… possibly, in the world.
In 1938, a number of Proms were relayed to TV subscribers in sound only via the ‘seven-metre television wavelength’, which offered an ‘exceptionally high standard of sound-reproduction’. So much for that experiment, as Hitler intervened.
A Mickey Mouse cartoon cheekily heralded the re-launch of BBC Television in June 1946. Transmitter-reach was still feeble. Cash was tight. ‘Compared to radio, television was a Cinderella operation,’ recalls Harold Beck, a pre-war Promenader and avid listener to the concerts on the wireless. ‘Sets were expensive for most people. Only around 15,000 TV licences had been sold. I remember how large and cumbersome the cameras were, and tricky to operate.’
The BBC authorities hesitated before making only a late decision to give the Proms a television debut in 1947 – on the Last Night, 13 September. Threadbare resources were stretched to the point of embarrassment. A camera had to be rushed from the Oval when cricket coverage (of Middlesex versus The Rest of England) concluded. That doubled the camera count at the Albert Hall.
Why the reluctance to follow through on the initial success of Proms televising? There was feedback from sweaty members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra that the television lights were too hot, too bright – objections that were duly noted. Members of the BBC Music Department whinged that radio was a superior medium for superior music, and hadn’t televising the Proms encouraged Promenaders to be even more tastelessly boisterous than usual?
There continued to be internal BBC spats over the alleged intrusion of television into Prom goers’ personal space, elbowing ostentatiously into what some continued to reckon should be considered ‘concerts for radio’.
Although UK television transmitter coverage improved, a must-see event of national significance was urgently needed to whip up public interest. Famously, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 provided just that. Despite their midget screens, TV sets flew off the shelves.
Television coverage of the Proms has progressively played a significant role in establishing the BBC’s cultural identity in the UK and worldwide. It can be argued that far from disseminating perceptions of the elitism of classical music, Proms televising has dissipated it.
Purists may huff and puff, but who would not celebrate the fact that the power of television has encouraged thousands of rookie concertgoers to get off their sofas and smartphones and come to the Albert Hall? They may clap between movements and cough at inopportune moments, but that’s hardly anything new in the history of concerts. And for those who can’t hope to be Prom goers themselves, television remains a brilliant alternative for experiencing the magnetism of the Proms.
This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of BBC Music Magazine.
classical-music.com | Wed, 22 May 2019 11:16:50 +0000
Santtu-Matias Rouvali will take on the role of principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in the 2021/22 season, taking the reins from fellow Finn Esa-Pekka Salonen, who has held the title since 2008 and will continue with the orchestra as conductor emeritus.
Rouvali has been principal guest conductor of the orchestra since 2017. His five-year contract will see him leading the orchestra in its residency at the Southbank Centre, as well as joining them on international tours and recording projects.
The Finnish conductor is currently the chief conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, a role he will continue alongside his new position at the Philharmonia.
‘This is the start of a great adventure,’ says Rouvali. ‘London is such an exciting place for orchestras, and the Philharmonia is at the heart of classical music life in this city. There is huge possibility with this orchestra, and we will do great things together.’
classical-music.com | Wed, 22 May 2019 10:00:18 +0000
If you’re unable to makeit to the Royal Albert Hall for this year’s Proms, you can catch up on what you’ve missed by tuning into BBC Radio 3 or visiting the Proms website and BBC Sounds, which will have broadcasts of every single Prom. As usual, BBC TV will be televising concerts every Friday and Sunday throughout the season, accompanied by Katie Derham’s revamped BBC Two magazine show on Saturday nights.
The Proms season on TV will kick off with a live broadcast of the First Night, split between BBC Two and Four. Also on BBC Four, the BBC Philharmonic’s first performance under their new chief conductor, Omer Meir Wellber (26 July), as well as Joshua Bell (21 July) and Nicola Benedetti (28 July) in Dvořák and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concertos respectively. A handful of Late Night Proms will also broadcast, including a live performance of Public Service Broadcasting’s concept album The Race for Space. The CBeebies Proms will be filmed for future broadcasts on the CBeebies channel.
classical-music.com | Wed, 22 May 2019 09:00:00 +0000
As its early champion, the conductor Hans Richter prepared Elgar’s First for its London airing after the Manchester premiere, welcoming the players to ‘the greatest symphony of modern times, and not only in this country’.
The international fortunes of a true giant among symphonies have been variable. Many potentially ideal interpreters, from Furtwängler and Toscanini to Karajan and Claudio Abbado, never touched it.
That’s a shame, for its epic battle between security – as represented by the noble ideal at the start – and doubt, is etched in a sensitively scored musical language which cries out for a true master’s flexibility.
Still, we’ve had plenty of great and sometimes unexpected champions, including Solti, Sinopoli, Haitink and Previn.
If British national treasures Boult, Barbirolli and Davises Colin and Andrew tend to have dominated, that’s not to suggest that there is anything remotely parochial or cosily English about this very emotional masterpiece.
The best recording…
Sir Adrian Boult London Philharmonic Orchestra (1977) EMI 382 1512
A young Adrian Boult was there at the rehearsal of Richter’s first London performance of the Symphony in 1908, and prepared it for the composer to conduct in 1932. He made three studio recordings; the second from 1966, currently available on the Lyrita label, has plenty of the Toscanini-like energy he could conjure up in younger days, but can be a bit dry, an impression reinforced by the sound.
It’s the 87-year-old Sir Adrian’s 1977 EMI recording which trails clouds of glory and catches that sense of the numinous at the heart of the work which evades all but the most sensitive Elgar interpreters.
There’s nothing rigid about this performance: indeed, the anxieties and terrors of the first movement unfold at a more fluid pace than in the interpretations of many younger conductors, and if the finale is stately compared to some, the grandeur of the victory is backed up by full, brass-gilded LPO tone reinforced by the classic production team of Christophers Bishop and Parker.
What sets this performance apart is the tenderness with which Sir Adrian unfolds Elgar’s most secret visions: the dreamy string reveries wrapped around the first-movement development, the river-music rippling at the heart of the otherwise embattled scherzo and, above all, what many (and I’m one) believe to be the most serene and introspective of symphonic Adagios.
Sir Edward Elgar London Symphony Orchestra (1930) Naxos 8.111256
Elgar as conductor shows us what it is to live the whole human experience of the First Symphony with electric intensity. He stresses the spring in his noble ‘motto’ theme rather than any false grandeur, and in the buffets of the first movement his tempo variations are elastic but not exaggerated; he catches the delicacy of the scherzo’s ‘water-music’ more carefully than anyone else, and provides a uniquely propulsive drive towards the exuberance of a true symphonic triumph.
Others, like Solti, have emulated his nervous tension, but fail to match the sheer poetry between the lines. And it all sounds remarkably good for 1930, with exemplary balances and only a bit of smudging in the ensembles.
Sir Andrew Davis Philharmonia Orchestra (2007) Signum Classics SIGCD168
There are still those who find Sir Andrew Davis just a touch safe, but he’s lived with this music for decades, so give me this security and handsome blend any day over the brute force of his elder counterpart (and no relation) Sir Colin’s performance with the Staatskapelle Dresden.
The conflicts are unusually light and springy. I also hear more of Elgar’s dynamic injunctions realised here than in any other version – especially the return of the first movement’s disquiet over a second, louder stalking theme in the bass – and real pianissimos in the most refined of all Adagios.
Handsome Philharmonia strings are one decisive gain over their slightly scrawny BBC Symphony counterparts in Sir Andrew’s first recording.
Sir John Barbirolli Philharmonia Orchestra (1963) EMI 968 9242
If I’m going to reject Sir Colin Davis, Mark Elder and Giuseppe Sinopoli for heavy-handedness, Barbirolli should be outlawed too; all his tempos are slower than Elgar would have countenanced.
But there’s something so heartfelt about his emotional approach – and it’s the one I came to first, just the last few minutes on an EMI compilation called ‘Your Kind of Elgar’.
I’ve never found this final ‘swimming in the soup’, as Sibelius once said of his own very different blend, more exciting than here. Nor is the studio mix overflattering; Barbirolli conjured the same rich sound from his own Hallé Orchestra in a live BBC Legends recording from 1970. For a smoother ride, though, this is the one.
classical-music.com | Tue, 21 May 2019 09:00:00 +0000
'A most agreeable surprise, providing constant pleasure'
This week's free download is the third movement, Larghetto, of Handel's Recorder Sonata in C, HWV 365, performed by Stefan Temmingh on the recorder, with harpsichordist Wiebke Weidanz. It was awarded five stars for both performance and recording in the May issue of BBC Music Magazine.
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classical-music.com | Mon, 20 May 2019 23:00:00 +0000
Okay, so you’ve never been to the BBC Proms before. You know when it is… you know where it is… but with so many concerts, what should you start with?
The following is by no means definitive, but it might help!
The Last Night of the Promsis the BIG one and a bit of a party, so what’s not to love? Tickets have probably sold out already, but there’s always the promming tickets on the door if you’re willing to arrive early and queue up! Don’t forget your flags, and your voice for Rule Britannia.
Verdi et al. Messa per Rossini: 11. Agnus Dei (Veronica Simeoni, Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala di Milano/Riccardo Chailly)
Ethel Smyth Violin Sonata in A minor: IV. Finale. Allegro vivace (Tasmin Little, John Lenehan)
Berlioz Harold en Italie: 3. Sérénade d’un montagnard des Abbruzes à sa maîtresse (Tabea Zimmermann, Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth)
Xenakis Pléïades: IV. Mélanges (DeciBells, Domenico Melchiorre)
Schubert Symphony No. 3: IV. Presto vivace (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Edward Gardner)
Vivaldi Il Giustino, Act II: Scene 1. Sento in seno ch’in pioggia di lagrime (Anastasio) (Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone, Silke Gäng)
Gulda Concerto for Cello, Wind Orchestra and Band: I. Overture (Edgar Moreau, Raphaël Merlin, Les Forces Majeures)
Roxanna Panufnik Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis: I. Magnificat (Richard Johnson, Exultate Singers/David Ogden)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4: IV. Finale (London Symphony Orchestra/Gianandrea Noseda)
Weber Piano Sonata No. 2: III. Menuetto capriccioso. Presto assai (Paul Lewis)
Francis Lai Love Story – Theme (Arr. Campbell) (Jess Gillam, BBC Concert Orchestra/Ben Dawson)
Berlioz Harold in Italy: II. Marche de pèlerins chantant la prière du soir (Tabea Zimmermann, Les Siècles/François-Xavier Roth)
Arthur Lourié A Phoenix Park Nocturne (Vladimir Feltsman)
Ramin Djawadi The Rains of Castamere (Arr. Lawson) (VOCES8)
Philip Glass Etude No. 2 (Jeremy Denk)
Tallis Suscipe quaeso Domine (prima pars) (The Gentlemen of HM Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace/Carl Jackson)
Debussy Livre I: II. Pour les tierces (Roger Muraro)
Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor, Op. 23 No. 5 (Live at Philharmonie, Berlin) (Yuja Wang)
Stravinsky The Firebird: Tableau II, XIX: Disparition du palais et des sortilèges de Kastchei, animation des chevaliers petrifies. Allegresse génerale (Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
Amy Beach Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 34: II. Scherzo. Molto vivace (Tasmin Little, John Lenehan)
Hauscha Dew and Spiderwebs (Hauschka)
Frank Horvat The Thailand HRDs: No. 5, Boonsom Nimnoi (Mivos Quartet)
Trad. Deep River (Arr. Coleridge-Taylor, Kanneh-Mason) (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason, Braimah Kanneh-Mason)
Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte, Op. 19: No. 6 in G minor (Andante sostenuto) ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ (Jan Lisiecki)
Wim Henderickx Nostalgia (Boho Strings)
Mozart Così fan tutte, Act 1: Aria ‘Come scoglio’ (Héloise Mas, Alexander Sprague, Nazan Fikret, Francesco Vultaggio, European Opera Centre, Biagio Pizzuti, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Laurent Pillot)
Philip Glass Melodies for Saxophone (arr. for trumpet): No. 3 (Craig Morris)
Giovanni Paisiello Partimento in F minor (Nicoleta Paraschievescu)
Ramin Djawadi The Rains of Castamere (VOCES8)
Triumphal Parade (Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Tommy Smith)
Josquin Des Prez Miserere mei, Deus, IJ. 50: I. Miserere mei, Deus (Cappella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss)
Dowland Come, Heavy Sleep (Grace Davidson, David Miller)
Schumann Humoreske Op. 20: II. Hastig (William Youn)
RO Morris Love Came Down at Christmas (arr. Stephen Cleobury) (Stephen Cleobury, Henry Websdale, Choir of King's College, Cambridge)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons Op. 37a: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Berlioz Roméo et Juliette: Pt. 3, Finale - Oath of Reconciliation (San Francisco Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Michael Tilson Thomas)
Elgar Chanson de nuit (Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder)
James Burton Tomorrow Shalle Be My Dancing Day (Jack Hawkins, Michael Bell, James Adams, Joseph Wicks, Choir of St John's College, Cambridge)
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Oliver Knussen)
Richard Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1: III. Rondo. Allegro (Live) (William Caballero, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Manfred Honeck)
Derek Bermel Murmurations: I. Gathering at Gretna Green (ROCO)
Frank Martin Ballade for Flute & Piano (Bridget Bolliger, Andrew West)
Debussy Violin Sonata in G minor: III. Finale. Très animé (Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov)
Anonymous Now May We Singen (ORA Singers/Suzi Didby)
Rachmaninov Prelude in G minor Op. 23 No. 5 (Live at Philharmonie, Berlin/2018) (Yuja Wang)
James Newton Howard Violin Concerto: II. Andante semplice (James Ehnes, Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Cristian Măcelaru)
Sally Beamish In the Stillness (Sonoro/Neil Ferris)
Parry Suite moderne (arr. J Dibble for Orchestra): III. Romanza. Lento (BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Rumon Gamba)
Jonathan Dove A Brief History of Creation: X. Whales Return to the Sea (Hallé Children's Choir, Hallé Orchestra/Mark Elder)
Purcell King Arthur, Act 1: 'Come if You Dare' (Robert Buckland, Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier)
Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 4 (Live at Kimmel Center, Philadelphia) (Daniil Trifonov, The Philadelphia Orchestra/Yannick Nézet-Séguin)
Fagerlund Höstsonaten, Act 1: charlotte Andergast! Vilken konstnär! (Krista Kujala, Mari Sares, Jere Martikainen, Jarmo Ojala, Finnish National Opera Chorus, Finnish National Opera Orchestra/John Storgards
Julian Anderson Heaven is Shy of Earth: III. Gloria (With Bird) (Susan Bickley, BBC Symphony Chorus, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen)
Zemlinsky Albumblatt (Erinnerung aus Wien) (William Youn)
Schreker The Birthday of the Infanta: Suite I. Reigen (Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta)
Mozart Violin Concerto No. 1 K.207: III. Presto (Nikolaj Znaider, London Symphony Orchestra)
Tchaikovsky The Seasons, Op. 37a, TH 135: XII. December. Christmas (Barry Douglas)
Holst In the Bleak Midwinter (Sheku Kanneh-Mason, Isata Kanneh-Mason)
Glazunov The Seasons ‘L’été: No. 9, Scène de l’été (Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Kitayenko
JS Bach Prelude & Fugue BVW 855a: Prelude No. 10 in B minor (Vikingur Ólafsson)
Magnus Lindberg Tempus fugit Pt. 1 (Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hannu Lintu)
Gurney Since I Believe in God the Father Almighty (Tenebrae/Nigel Short)
Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker Act 1: No. 6 Clara and the Nutcracker (Los Angeles Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel)
Ravel Ma mère l’Oye Suite, M. 60: V. Le jardin féerique (Prague Philharmonia/Emmanuel Villaume)
Eric Whitacre Deep Field: Earth Choir (Eric Whitacre Singers, Virtual Choir 5, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Eric Whitacre)
classical-music.com | Mon, 20 May 2019 09:00:00 +0000
After a series of long-awaited successes, Vaughan Williams (VW) creates the atmospheric four-movement symphony that celebrates his adopted city. Outwardly a four-movement orchestral portrait of the composer’s much-loved adopted city (complete with ‘Big Ben’ chimes), this idea broadens out to encompass a tragic vision culminating in the Finale’s Epilogue, which then dissolves into nothingness.
Just six weeks before presenting the Sea Symphony, Vaughan Williams had conducted another major premiere. This was a work that was not only English to the marrow, but also, at a single stroke, renewed and redefined what ‘English music’ itself meant.
The Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis for strings was first heard at the 1910 Three Choirs Festival in Gloucester Cathedral. Its roots can be traced back to VW’s editing of The English Hymnal from 1904 onwards –an experience through which he rediscovered the riches of English music in the Tudor and Elizabethan eras.
As with folksong, he again sensed that the melodic shape and colouring – pre-classically modal, rather than classically tonal – of Tallis’s wonderful tune were qualities that might germinate a much larger form. That this was achieved so remarkably owed much to an inspired reinterpretation of the visual aspect of cathedral architecture in musical terms. The Tallis Fantasia is scored for a string quartet and two string orchestras, the second one smaller and more distant, so that the musical perspectives shift through and across these spatially deployed forces.
Nothing succeeds like success – especially when you’ve had to wait for it. The next year’s Three Choirs Festival, in Worcester, featured another major Vaughan Williams premiere, the Five Mystical Songs for baritone, chorus and orchestra. He was also working on another symphony.
VW was happy in the company of other composers, particularly Gustav Holst, and he very much enjoyed the Yorkshire-born forthrightness of George Butterworth – the gifted creator of the Housman-inspired A Shropshire Lad for orchestra. ‘George… had been sitting with us one evening, smoking and playing,’ he later wrote. ‘And… as he was getting up to go, he said in his characteristically abrupt way, “You know, you ought to write a symphony.” …I showed the sketches to George bit by bit as they were finished.’
What Butterworth had evidently meant was a purely orchestral symphony. What, in fact, emerged in A London Symphony was a four-movement work, which, outwardly at least, was an affectionate, atmospheric, teemingly detailed orchestral portrayal of its composer’s adopted city.
It is all of those things, and something more – something unmistakable and difficult to pin down, as the finale’s procession-like progress grows in power while darkening in tone, and vast and desolate spaces open out around the music.
In the symphony’s Epilogue, it is not just a musical work, but a whole world that seems to be passing away as we listen. We are left with an uncanny sense of a prescient memorial to the imminent destruction of a whole generation – including George Butterworth, killed in action in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
classical-music.com | Fri, 17 May 2019 09:00:00 +0000
1) Bill Clinton US President
Music’s loss was politics’ gain in 1962, when the first tenor saxophone in the Arkansas state band decided he’d gone as far as he could with the instrument. ‘I loved music and thought I could be very good,’ wrote Bill Clinton many years later, ‘but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz.’
2) Alastair Cook Cricketer A chorister at St Paul’s Cathedral as a youngster, England’s cricket captain went on to take up the saxophone at school. He still plays today and, in 2008, gamely put his skills to the test by agreeing to record a solo for the soundtrack of the BBC’s animated TV series Freefonix.