Review: SCO, Ticciati, Tetzlaff

First published in the Guardian on 19 December, 2014

Schumann’s Violin Concerto wasn’t premiered until 1937, when it was hijacked for Nazi propaganda eight decades after it was written. If the piece still has an awkward place in the repertory it’s easy enough to understand why: composed in his final years, this is Schumann at his most skittish, baffling and heartbreaking. Dark, urgent melodies go off in tangents that don’t behave how they should. The theme of the Adagio refuses to be tethered; the finale has a sad, stoic swagger and culminates in a desperate spasm of virtuosity.

Continue reading

Interview: Catherine Backhouse

First published in The Herald on 17 December, 2014

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is a vast devotional masterpiece that covers the Nativity story from birth to the Epiphany. In its entirety it’s an amalgamation of six cantatas, originally divvied up between the feast days of Christmas and staged between two churches (St Thomas’s and St Nicholas’s) in Bach’s hometown of Leipzig. If the work is nowadays less familiar than its indelibly popular contemporary, Handel’s Messiah, that’s probably because it is sterner, denser and harder to perform. But the impact of hearing it whole is emotionally and dramatically epic. It is also an Edinburgh festive staple.

Continue reading

Review: SCO, Josep Pons

First published in The Herald on 15 December, 2014

Manuel de Falla left Spain in 1907 and spent several years living in Paris, soaking up the music of the time. The colours of Debussy and Ravel and the inflections of early jazz are there in his later orchestral works, but he never lost his love for the traditional culture of his home country and his music is full of the heat and earthiness of folk tunes from around Spain. Think the pioneering ethnomusicologist-composers like Vaughan Williams or Bartok, flavoured with flamenco and gypsy rhythms.

Continue reading

Interview: Peter Hill on Messiaen

olivier_messiaenFirst published in The Herald on 10 December, 2014

‘A Messiaen premiere’: not the sort of statement you see on many new CD covers these days. For any performer or music historian, the prospect of unearthing a forgotten work by a great composer is tantalising enough. But when that work turns out to be a significant stepping-stone – the missing link that explains the composer’s subsequent creative evolution?

In 2012, the pianist and biographer Peter Hill happened upon a loose bundle of pages among Olivier Messiaen’s sketchbooks and soon realised he’d found a draft of an unpublished piece. The excitement didn’t stop there. The more Hill studied the scribbled pages and set them in context of when and where they were composed, the more he became convinced that this little piece was in fact the beginning of a whole new piano cycle – a sequel, perhaps, to Messiaen’s monumental Catalogue d’oiseaux.

Continue reading

Review: The Sixteen’s A Chirstmas Carol

First published in The Herald on 10 December, 2014

It’s hard to envisage a classier carol concert than The Sixteen – always a superlative bunch of singers – conducted by their founder Harry Christophers in a programme of Christmas music ranging from the 16th century to 2011. The Usher Hall might not be the cosiest venue but the choir filled the space like it was a cathedral, letting crystalline phrases drift without hurry and mustering enough umph in lower voices to give the sound a proper grounding. It was all fairly well-behaved – the ‘gloria’ in Angels from the Realms of Glory more graceful than exuberant – but the blend and polish of the voices was hard to fault.

Continue reading

Review: BBCSSO, Brabbins, Liebeck

First published in The Herald on 10 December, 2014

This was violinist Jack Liebeck’s first concert appearance with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra but he has already recorded with the orchestra: a disc of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and the obscure Third Violin Concerto conducted by Martyn Brabbins was released on Hyperion earlier this year, part of the label’s Romantic Violin Concertos series. Later this week the same team are back in the studio to record two more Bruch rarities – the Second Violin Concerto and the Konzertstück Opus 84. Both were on the programme here.

Continue reading

Review: BBCSSO/Matthias Pintscher

First published in the Guardian on 5 December, 2014

As a composer, Matthias Pintscher’s music is meticulous, economical and cerebral. As a conductor his approach is similar. The results can be striking when he hones an entire orchestra into one incisive, pristine gesture, but in this all-French programme with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra he kept the ardent flux of the music too much at arm’s length. Pintscher tends to think about his music in visual terms; here his gaze felt clinical and uninvolved.

Continue reading

Interview: John Butt on Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier

John ButtFirst published in The Herald on 3 December, 2014

John Butt’s new recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier was never going to be run-of-the-mill. Director of the superlative early music group Dunedin Consort, Gardiner Professor of Music at the University of Glasgow and one of the world’s leading Bach scholars, Butt’s approach to historical research and performance is inseparable – “elliptical” is the term he uses. Whether penning an academic tome on Bach’s Dialogue with Modernity or conducting the spirited sweep of a passion or oratorio, there is brawn, wit and chutzpah behind pretty much everything he does.

Continue reading

Northern Hotel, Aberdeen

Processed with VSCOcam with x1 preset

I’ve started doing some teaching at the University of Aberdeen, working with music students to develop critical thinking and reviewing techniques. My first session was last week and the student reviews of University of Aberdeen Symphony Orchestra’s first concert of the ’14-’15 season (Strauss’s Four Last Songs and Brahms’s First Symphony, no less!) will be up on the music department website early next week. While in Aberdeen I stayed in this fine art deco establishment. It was built in 1939, complete with violin-shaped ball room and one of the largest dance floors in the North East. A beauty.