Monthly Archives: October 2016

CD review: Belcea Quartet plays Brahms

First published in the Guardian on 6 October, 2016

Brahms : String Quartets & Piano Quintet
Belcea Quartet / Till Fellner (ALPHA)

Brahms wrote three string quartets — or rather, he wrote three string quartets that he liked enough to let us hear and we’ll never know how many others were burned and abandoned along the way. The survivors are outpourings of angst, ardency and resolute jubilation, all characteristics that the Belceas do brilliantly. This recording features intense and wonderful quartet playing: lucid and agitated, sleek and muscular, with Corina Belcea’s silvery-lean first violin sound balanced by the huge warmth at the centre of the ensemble from violist Kzystof Chorzelski. In the Piano Quintet, pianist Till Fellner’s light touch makes him less of a soloist, more of an integrated texture — he’s a good match for the Belceas in that respect, but it feels like he’s responding rather instigating. Some listeners might reasonably like their Brahms with a burlier kind of pianism.

CD review: AAM plays Castello

First published in the Guardian on 6 October, 2016

Castello: Sonate Concertante in Stil Moderno, Primo Libro
AAM/Egarr (AAM)

Who even was Dario Castello? Some say he died of a plague that devastated Venice in 1630; others say he survived until well into the 1650s — one reputable source lists him as being born in 1610 and dead by 1620, which would make a miracle of the two hefty volumes of sonatas he published supposedly by the age of 10. Whatever we don’t know about Castello, Richard Egarr and instrumentalists from the Academy of Ancient Music show him to be a flagrant pusher of baroque boundaries, his music frenetic and uncompromising but also sumptuous. He was a wind player and it shows in the tactile chamber writing — these are works that sound fun to play. Egarr is on harpsichord and chamber organ and his sense of drama is never shy; I was probably most seduced by sonatas 7-11 featuring the dulcian, an early version of the bassoon played here with great finesse and flourish by Benny Aghassi.

Interview: Robin Ticciati

First published in The Herald on 5 October, 2016

Robin Ticciati strides up to me in Barnes, south-west London, one bright Saturday morning in September. This is in itself remarkable because in February the conductor suffered a herniated disc and for several bed-bound months the prospect of walking was a remote glimmer, let alone striding, let alone conducting. After a summer of intensive physio and painful cancellations — he had to pull out of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict at Glyndebourne, among other engagements — he returned to the stage in August to conduct the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette at the Edinburgh International Festival. “It had to be the SCO I came back to,” he says. This will be his last season in Scotland as principal conductor (next year he takes the helm of the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin) but he still thinks of the orchestra as home.

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Review: BBCSSO does Beethoven’s 1808 Academy Concert

First published in the Guardian on 4 October, 2016

It’s the ultimate success story in DIY music promotion. A few days before Christmas, 1808, Beethoven rented out a performance space (Vienna’s Theater an der Wein) and organised arguably the most momentous concert in history. The hall was cold, the musicians were underrehearsed, at one point the performance was so shambolic it fell apart and had to be started again, yet the public stayed for four hours of new works including the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto, movements from the Mass in C, the Choral Fantasy. “To judge all these pieces after only one hearing,” noted the overwhelmed critic of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, “especially considering the language of Beethoven’s works, in that so many were performed one after the other, and that most of them are so grand and long, is downright impossible.”

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