Edward Seckerson http://www.edwardseckerson.biz Reviews, Blogs, Podcasts Tue, 12 Sep 2017 08:44:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 Writer and broadcaster, Edward Seckerson was the chief classical music critic of The Independent newspaper and a founder member of The ArtsDesk.com. <br /> He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio3 show Stage and Screen where he interviewed many of the biggest names in the business – among them Julie Andrews, Angela Lansbury, Liza Minnelli, Stephen Sondheim, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Sting. <br /> During his journalistic career he has written for most major music publications and is on the review panel of Gramophone magazine. <br /> Edward conducted one of the last major interviews with Leonard Bernstein and his audio podcast Sondheim – In Good Company has proved a significant contribution to Sondheim’s 80th birthday year. Edward Seckerson clean Edward Seckerson seckerson@btinternet.com seckerson@btinternet.com (Edward Seckerson) Edward Seckerson Classical Music, Opera and Musical Theatre Podcasts Edward Seckerson http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Ed-3000.jpg http://www.edwardseckerson.biz 40590573 COMPARING NOTES – PizzaExpress Live Holborn http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/asides/comparing-notes/ http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/asides/comparing-notes/#respond Wed, 23 Aug 2017 20:52:25 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5904

Comparing Notes brings stars of the West End and Broadway to PizzaExpress Live Holborn. In a lively and informal mix of performance and conversation host Edward Seckerson will be getting up close and personal with these musical theatre luminaries, exploring the stories behind the songs and the personalities behind the artistry.

The series opens … [Read More]

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Comparing Notes brings stars of the West End and Broadway to PizzaExpress Live Holborn. In a lively and informal mix of performance and conversation host Edward Seckerson will be getting up close and personal with these musical theatre luminaries, exploring the stories behind the songs and the personalities behind the artistry.

The series opens in September 2017.


KIM CRISWELL

Sunday 10th September 2017 at 2.00pm

Book Tickets

Kim Criswell has been singing and acting professionally for more than forty years. Her career has taken her from Broadway to the West End to the international concert stage, resulting in a most unusual career path unmatched by any other singer, all the while specializing in the classic American theatre songbook. She has appeared at La Scala/Milan, La Fenice/Venice, Teatro di San Carlo/Naples, Accademia Nazionale Santa Cecilia/Rome, Théâtre du Châtelet and Opéra Comique/Paris, Concertgebauw/Amsterdam, Carnegie Recital Hall/NY, Konzerthaus and Volksoper/Vienna, Philharmonie and Konzerthaus/Berlin, Teatro Nacional de São Carlos/Lisbon, and Mariinsky Theatre/St. Petersburg, not to mention multiple appearances at London’s Wigmore, Royal Albert, Barbican, Royal Festival, Queen Elizabeth, and Cadogan Halls, the Purcell Rooms, Linbury Studio and even Buckingham Palace.

She has sung with many of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, from the Berlin Philharmonic and BCMG orchestras conducted by Sir Simon Rattle, with whom she has recorded Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, to the Lepzig Gewandhaus, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Lyon, Iceland Philharmonic, Winnipeg and Toronto Symphonies, and Royal Concertgebouw orchestras and virtually all of the major UK orchestras; also many of Europe’s radio orchestras. She has also appeared in the BBC Proms 4 times. Critically acclaimed and Olivier-award nominated for “Annie” in Annie Get Your Gun/ London’s Prince of Wales Theatre, she also won Washington DC’s Helen Hayes Award for Side by Side by Sondheim. Most recently in the US she starred in Call Me Madam /Goodspeed Opera House, Candide/Ravinia Festival, and co-starred with Joseph Fiennes and Charles Edwards in Happy Days in the Art World/NYC, while recent UK roles include Big Mama in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof/Royal Exchange and Carrie’s mother in Carrie/Southwark Playhouse.

Kim’s Broadway credits include “Lucy” opposite Sting in 3 Penny Opera, and the original production of Nine. She was “Grizabella” in Cats in the original LA production, and also appeared as “Lalume” in Kismet/Opera Pacific, Michigan Opera, recently reprised for Vienna Volksoper. Other Broadway credits include The First, Baby and Stardust, and West End credits include Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, The Slow Drag, and Dames At Sea. Other productions include “Mother Abbess” in The Sound of Music/Theatre du Chatelet, “The Old Lady” in Candide/La Scala,Theatre du Chatelet, “Reno Sweeney” in Anything Goes/Grange Park Opera, “The Witch” in Into the Woods/Derby Playhouse, “Diana Devereaux” in Of Thee I Sing/Opera North, Atlanta Opera, and “Susie Trevor” in Lady Be Good/La Fenice, Lisbon Opera.

Film/TV credits include: The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, Savage Play, and Hysteria (2013).

She has recorded more than forty albums, including four solo albums.


TYRONE HUNTLEY

Sunday 24th September 2017 at 2.00pm

Book Tickets

Tyrone Huntley is soon to reprise the role of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park Open Air Theatre after having recently played C.C. White in the original UK production of Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre.

Tyrone won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Emerging Talent and earned Olivier Award and WhatsOnStage Award nominations for his critically acclaimed performance as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. He was also featured by ES Magazine as one of 10 of London’s hottest new talents to watch in 2016.

After graduating from Mountview with a first class honours degree in Musical Theatre, Tyrone was awarded a Distinction for his Graduate Diploma in Law from The University of Huddersfield.

Other theatre includes: Gator in Memphis (Shaftesbury Theatre, BroadwayWorld Award nomination); Porgy & Bess (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre); Seaweed in Hairspray (Leicester Curve); Doctor in Book of Mormon (Prince of Wales, BroadwayWorld Award nomination), Genie in Aladdin (King’s Lynn Corn Exchange); Lanx in Angel City (Edinburgh Fringe) and TJ in Sister Act (National Tour).


EMMA WILLIAMS

Sunday 15th October 2017 at 2.00pm

Book Tickets

Emma Williams made her West End debut as Truly Scrumptious in the original cast of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (Palladium), winning the Arts Correspondents Award for Best Newcomer. In 2017 Emma received her fourth Olivier Award nomination and won the Whatsonstage Award, for her portrayal of Helen Walsingham in ‘Half A Sixpence’ (Noël Coward), with previous nominations for Maureen in ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ (Noel Coward Theatre), Luisa in ‘Zorro’ (Garrick Theatre) and Jenny in ‘Love Story’ (Chichester/Duchess).

Other theatre credits include: Betty Haynes in ‘White Christmas’ (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Rebecca/Angela in ‘Elegies for Angels’, ‘Punks and Raging Queens’ (Criterion Theatre), Annie Oakley in ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ (UK Tour) [Manchester Theatre Award Nomination], ‘A Spoonful of Sherman’ (St James Studio), Susan in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ (Novello), Johanna in ‘Sweeney Todd’ (Royal Festival Hall), Christine Keeler in ‘A Model Girl’ (Greenwich), Kat in ‘Tomorrow Morning’ (New End), Fran Kubelik in ‘Promises, Promises’ (Sheffield Crucible), Ellie Brookes in ‘Sex, Chips & Rock ‘n’ Roll’ (Manchester Royal Exchange) and Shelley Parker in ‘Bat Boy’ (West Yorkshire Playhouse and Shaftesbury) amongst others.

Television includes lead roles in ‘Casualty’, ‘Bleak House’, ‘The Story of Music’, ‘Doctors’, ‘Marple: The Body in the Library’, ‘Heartbeat’, ‘Where the Heart Is’, ‘Four Fathers’, and most recently ‘Silent Witness’. Emma also appears in ad campaigns for ‘Leo Vegas’ and ‘Save The Children’s Christmas Jumper Day’.

Films include lead roles in ‘First Night’ with Richard E. Grant, Steve Coogan’s ‘The Parole Officer’, ‘Understanding’ and ‘The Hazard Dome’.

Radio includes ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and ‘Friday Night is Music Night’.

Emma has also performed extensively in concerts and workshops, and made her debut in 2017 with the Hallé Orchestra.

Emma trained with Michael Hampshire, Sandra Whiteley and at Valerie Jackson’s Stage 84 – The Yorkshire School of Performing Arts, of where she is now a patron. She is also a member of The Theatrical Guild charity.

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DAME PATRICIA ROUTLEDGE: Facing The Music – A Life in Musical Theatre http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/live-on-stage/facing-the-music-a-career-in-musical-theatre-in-conversation-with-patricia-routledge/ Tue, 22 Aug 2017 07:15:45 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=1149 Patricia Routledge with Edward SeckersonDame Patricia Routledge trained not only as an actress but also as a singer and had considerable experience and success in musical theatre, both in this country and in the United States of America.

Her many awards include a Tony for her Broadway performance in the Styne-Harburg musical “Darling of the Day” and a Laurence … [Read More]

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Patricia Routledge with Edward SeckersonDame Patricia Routledge trained not only as an actress but also as a singer and had considerable experience and success in musical theatre, both in this country and in the United States of America.

Her many awards include a Tony for her Broadway performance in the Styne-Harburg musical “Darling of the Day” and a Laurence Olivier Award for her performance in Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”. Her one woman show “Come for the Ride” toured the UK in 1988 and in 1992 she played Nettie Fowler in the highly acclaimed production of “Carousel” at the National Theatre. In 1998 she was honoured with the Gold Badge of Merit by the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

In this fascinating encounter she recalls this very special part of her career with access to some rare and treasured recordings.

Upcoming dates for my show chronicling one of the best kept secrets in the business – Dame Patricia’s extensive career in musical theatre.

2017
Thursday 28th September – 7.30pm
St James Concert & Assembly Hall Guernsey
Saturday 7th October – 2.30pm
Festival Drayton Centre Market Drayton

REVIEW: Caz at Let’s Go To The Movies

Facing the Music: A Life in Musical Theatre with Patricia Routledge

Patricia Routledge in conversation with Edward Seckerson
Date: Saturday 9th April 2016
Venue: Customs House (South Shields)

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When checking what’s coming at the Customs House a month or so ago I noticed that they had Patricia Routledge as an event in conversation with Edward Seckerson. No way I thought Mrs Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances coming to South Shields?! That was certainly something I was very interested in, even more when it was all going to be based around her background in musical theatre. A background that is in fact not massively well known. Although I will admit that I did do a little bit of research before the evening and saw that she was a Tony and Olivier Award winner.

The information about the evening claims it is one of the best kept secrets in show business and I certainly think that makes it even more fascinating. I must first start off by saying that it did not disappoint and it was a truly fantastic night at the theatre listening to stories and hearing singing clips from the brilliant actress/performer and woman.

A table with flowers, two glasses of water and chairs were set up already for the show. The applause was fantastic as she appeared on stage after listening to a song and a short introduction from Edward Seckerson. The theatre was packed out in the main stalls, I was sitting higher up on the side.

We were taken down memory lane all the way from her childhood which she attributed to how she ended up in Musical Theatre. With plenty of singing at home in Birkenhead just over the river from Liverpool. Not that you would ever guess that she should have a Scouse accent due to how well spoken she has always been. Elocution lessons were once seen as very important and that always contributed to Patricia ending up on the stage. She was very humble about her up bringing and that she never really expected anything to come from singing and acting.

She also had a little dig at the schools now claiming to be academies and that should go back to being Council schools. Interesting to hear her thoughts and views on some recent events when it comes to schooling. A lot of which makes a lot of sense in all honesty considering how bad some of them have become. But also sad that the Arts seem to be forgotten about now, not as much singing and learning of heritage.

We learn about how she worked her way up in Theatre from being Assistant Stage Manager and then getting into productions one step at a time. I really do think this talk would have been brilliant for anyone trying to get into the Theatre business and realising that you have to work hard and work your way up and get to know people along the way.

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It was such an engaging evening as we were told all about the different shows she had appeared in, as well as listening to different songs from them and truly hearing the range of her very powerful voice which very nearly went into Opera with experience in that area. Truly inspiring to know how hard she worked to get into Theatre and continuing singing lessons, as well as studying English at University all of which would lead to performing on stage.

The musical clips were put together very well even though at one point she did have to tell them it was too loud and to turn it down for the next song! Which had the whole audience laughing out loud. She is a naturally funny person as even little things were amusing especially in exchanges with Edward. Who seemed to be having the time of his life showing such passion not only for Musical Theatre but for Patricia Routledge’s career. Something which made the evening even more enjoyable. It started at 7:45pm and did not finish until just before 10:40pm with about a 20 minute interval, making it incredible value for money. I am pretty sure everyone would have been very happy to sit and listen to them both talking all night.

Was lovely to find out her favourite musicals among them being My Fair Lady, Oliver and Fiddler on the Roof. Although it did not seem as though she was a big fan of more recent shows. Was mortified that some leading stars have alternates who would do some shows for them so they didn’t have to do eight shows per week!

It really was fantastic to learn more about the actress as well as an in-depth look into the world of Musical Theatre in both the West End and Broadway. She was very emotional when talking about her Broadway debut and getting ready for the curtain call, the role for which she won her Tony Award as well.

Thank you Edward Seckerson for wanting to do a brilliant show like this, giving so much knowledge and insight from start to finish. It really was well worth heading to the Theatre to listen to such great stories.

Listen below to Dame Patricia discuss her 2016 New Year’s honour with Sarah Vaughan on the BBC’s Today show 31-12-2016 during which she mentions not only this show but a few of her many other accomplishments.

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Dame Patricia Routledge trained not only as an actress but also as a singer and had considerable experience and success in musical theatre, both in this country and in the United States of America. Her many awards include a Tony for her Broadway perfor... Dame Patricia Routledge trained not only as an actress but also as a singer and had considerable experience and success in musical theatre, both in this country and in the United States of America.<br /> Her many awards include a Tony for her Broadway performance in the Styne-Harburg musical “Darling of the Day” and a Laurence … [Read More] Edward Seckerson clean 5:36 1149
GRAMOPHONE Review: Brahms Symphonies 1-4 Boston Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-brahms-symphonies-1-4-boston-symphony-orchestraandris-nelsons/ Mon, 21 Aug 2017 09:24:30 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5968 In a personal liner note for this set Andris Nelsons celebrates the recorded legacy of Brahms in Boston referencing complete cycles from Leinsdorf and Haitink and recordings of individual symphonies under Koussevitzky, Munch and Ozawa. Only a conductor supremely confidant in his own identity would venture to do so, of course, and Nelsons is nothing … [Read More]

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In a personal liner note for this set Andris Nelsons celebrates the recorded legacy of Brahms in Boston referencing complete cycles from Leinsdorf and Haitink and recordings of individual symphonies under Koussevitzky, Munch and Ozawa. Only a conductor supremely confidant in his own identity would venture to do so, of course, and Nelsons is nothing if not his own man in this repertoire, confounding expectations in some respects whilst confirming them in others. His Brahms is as vital and impulsive and rhythmic as all his work strives to be – though not as sheerly dynamic as one might have imagined – but there is blend and bloom, too, with Symphony Hall, Boston, seeming to accommodate this music from the bass lines upwards – a deep and sonorous sound.

Nelsons talks of finding precisely the right character for each movement and in that he truly listens to the music, feeling its pulse and allowing the phrasing to evolve with as little intervention or “shaping” as possible. He is generous without indulgence, muscular without vulgarity. Just occasionally one senses him harnessing his natural dynamism in deference to the music’s noble pedigree. Perhaps I was expecting a higher degree of tension and excitement from the opening movement of the First Symphony? The promise is there in the tragically underpinned sostenuto of the opening – giving way as it does to the enticing woodwinds of the second lyric idea – but maybe the main allegro could be a shade more imperative.

That’s the thing about this music: you don’t want to unduly drive it but nor do you want to simply luxuriate in it. The second movement of the First brings to the fore the distinguished Boston woodwinds and a sense of the music evolving in the playing of it. And then there is the finale with storm clouds famously clearing with the BSO’s refulgent solo horn and a chorale of trombones to die for. Now the main allegro here is liberating for sure and perhaps Nelsons had been intentionally holding something in reserve because the climax leading to the return of the ubiquitous horn theme is rollocking indeed.

Anyone who thinks that Brahms was the conservative and Wagner the radical needs to think again. The evolution of the Second demonstrates how mindful Nelsons is of that. The myriad twists and turns and underlying threat of the autumnal first movement (where the deviation from and contortion of form is so pronounced) is boldly chronicled and the second movement – with wonderful string playing – is likewise gripping in the way Nelsons appreciates how daringly the material is developed. But the sun comes out again in the bracing finale and Nelsons is definitely off the leash. The return of the second subject is the warmest of hugs and the coda is exuberantly rip-roaring, descending trombones cutting through the texture like noisy bell chimes.

The Third Symphony is gorgeous. The first movement has what the Viennese might call schwung (Nelsons includes the exposition repeat) and the development really earns its climax. In the slow movement the aforementioned naturalness and fluidity of Nelsons’ phrasing (what musicality this man has) is possessed of a spontaneity that repays his belief in the music. The Bostonians really sing. And the celebrated poco allegretto of the third movement has the appropriate ache of nostalgia. Note, too, the magical evaporation of the finale’s coda: Nelsons’ Wagner tellingly referenced.

And so to the great Fourth. Again, don’t expect Toscanini. Nelsons builds the first movement’s head of steam by stealth measuring its expansive lyricism – and grandeur – with a growing resolve. The measured processional of the second movement evolves into something quite ravishing with the return of that second theme in the chest register of the Boston strings especially memorable. A similar voluptuousness arrives with the first variant of the chaconne finale and you can almost feel Nelsons channelling Brahms in the way he moves from one inspired improvisation to the next.

So, much to enjoy from an orchestra who seem to have found the perfect soulmate for this stage in their ongoing journey. The mutual respect and like-mindedness is palpable in each of these performances and whatever you may feel about this choice or that there’s always a very real sense of music-making happening “in the moment” and for that one time only.

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GRAMOPHONE Review: Elgar The Dream of Gerontius – Soloists, Staatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-elgar-the-dream-of-gerontius-soloists-staatskapelle-berlinbarenboim/ Tue, 18 Jul 2017 20:51:17 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5954

There is probably no such thing as the perfect Gerontius. Every recording is flawed in some way. Even the classic (and glorious) Barbirolli has Kim Borg’s misshapen vowels to contend with. But the inspirational nature of the piece relies so much on temperament to carry it into the ascendency that perfection is probably not such [Read More]

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There is probably no such thing as the perfect Gerontius. Every recording is flawed in some way. Even the classic (and glorious) Barbirolli has Kim Borg’s misshapen vowels to contend with. But the inspirational nature of the piece relies so much on temperament to carry it into the ascendency that perfection is probably not such a good thing anyway. 

Casting, of course, is crucial and I happen to know that this latest Barenboim offering went through some trials and tribulations in that regard. But the discs in front of me are the ones I am reviewing and they throw up much that is exciting and moving and, yes, even surprising. Barenboim certainly honours the piece – no question about that – and whilst there are choices I would have made differently, the grand rhetoric and quiet mysticism of the piece are generally not found wanting. It carries, as you might expect, huge authority. Even the strange sepulchral colours of the opening page brings a tangible murmur of reassurance from the luminous Staatskapelle Berlin strings and as the Prelude rolls out with deep and abiding sureness, key themes previewed with an already powerful sense of deja vu, Barenboim’s instinctive feeling for Elgar’s phraseology establishes a thoroughly “authentic” manner. 

Andrew Staples is a young sounding and affecting Gerontius, occasionally perhaps a little overly reverent in his response to text (an English chorister’s background) but he uses his vulnerability to good effect – “Mary, pray for me” – and though the heroics can be a bit of a stretch, that can also be exciting conveying in itself the sense of a human soul in extremis: the climax of Sanctus fortis (beautiful singing throughout this section) “In Thine own agony” (though nothing can erase memories of Pears in this moment) is one such instance and, of course, “Take me away”. It’s a more than creditable account of a role where the delicate balance between purity and heft is never easy to find in one voice. 

Catherine Wyn-Rogers is, of course, a very experienced pair of hands having grown to inhabit the role of the Angel over many years. She sings with great feeling and intensity and an always vivid response to text. Though some may find the beat in the voice obtrusive (I don’t) the depth of her characterisation is a far cry from her somewhat cautious showing with Vernon Handley nearly a quarter of a century ago and through many a beauteously soft phrase and conversely some chilling chest tones as we draw nearer the Judgement Hall she really brings the role off the page. 

Thomas Hampson is hugely authoritative in his priestly exhortations to “Go forth!” – listen to how he intensifies dramatic effect through the colour of the words – and the harmonic frisson between him and the soaring sopranos in the final reprise is glorious. 

Barenboim’s Berlin choirs are both sensitive and impressive and refreshingly true in intonation – though a little hampered in the Demon’s Chorus by Barenboim’s heavy pacing which initially lacks the snap and snarl to give the panting hoards their vindictiveness. I also wish the full-throated arrival of “Praise to the holiest” were marked with a more emphatic and euphoric and, more importantly, longer landing on the first word. That said, the chorus gathers momentum swinging to its climax with the wind under collective wings and the big pay-of – a huge ritardando and mighty sostenuto on the final chord – is pretty hair-raising. 

So plenty to savour in this Gerontius – a fine companion to Barenboim’s marvellous accounts of the two symphonies – and if not the Gerontius to have (Barbirolli must retain that honour) I know I shall be returning to it often and with great pleasure.

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GRAMOPHONE Review: Prokofiev Symphonies 1 & 7/Lieutenant Kijé Suite – Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Sokhiev http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-prokofiev-symphonies-1-7lieutenant-kije-suite-deutsches-symphonie-orchester-berlinsokhiev/ Tue, 18 Jul 2017 20:50:49 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5950

Tugan Sokhiev has impressed me in the past – his Tchaikovsky Fourth with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse in particular – but some of his choices here are puzzling and one, baffling.  

He is certainly mindful of the parody rife in Lieutenant Kije and the militaristic colours heralding the “virtual” hero’s birth are [Read More]

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Tugan Sokhiev has impressed me in the past – his Tchaikovsky Fourth with the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse in particular – but some of his choices here are puzzling and one, baffling.  

He is certainly mindful of the parody rife in Lieutenant Kije and the militaristic colours heralding the “virtual” hero’s birth are painted in bold strokes with cartoonish thwacks on the bass drum like a 21-gun salute. The “Romance” is cut of coarse cloth, a little on the sleazy side, and “Kije’s Wedding” with its comically pompous trumpet and tuba alliance hints at a dowdy (cue saxophone) provincial affair. But for all the character I miss a compensating brilliance where, for instance, the “Troika” ride could certainly have put on a bit more of a spurt tempo-wise. 

This tendency to deliberate pacing brings an effortfully slow Allegro to the first movement of the “Classical” Symphony. Haydn’s wit and whiplash reflexes could not be further from the spirit of Sokhiev’s reading. Everything is writ too large, the Larghetto lovely but somehow out of scale with Prokofiev’s vision, the Gavotta laboured. Only the finale really takes off – some spry playing from the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester – though even here he could have pushed the “molto” vivace more. 

The Seventh (and final) Symphony fares best but is ultimately ruled out of court for me on the basis of one fatal decision best known to only Sokhiev. “Wistful” is the word which perhaps best describes this ineffably haunting piece suffused as it is by the fairy tales Prokofiev traversed in his ballets. The first movement’s second subject is something quite magical in that regard. And it certainly invokes childhood though with a seam of darkness and melancholy underlying. The boisterous Allegretto embodying a sweeping waltz suggestive of Cinderellas everywhere is despatched with vigour and Sokhiev works up a decent head of steam as we hurtle towards midnight. Again, though, pushing the pace a little more would have added that last degree of excitement. 

Another beautiful melody, beautifully played, melts the heart in the Andante espressivo and it is surely here that the regret welling up in the music signals where this piece is ultimately going. But here’s the rub. When the rollocking high spirits of the finale give way to a glorious apotheosis of the first movement’s second subject the music as Prokofiev originally wrote it fades to a question mark almost as cryptic as that at the close of Shostakovich’s last symphony. But Sokhiev opts for the revised ending – a jolly pay-off that Prokofiev added against his better judgement as a kind of soft option, or appeasement, perhaps, to the powers that be. We know that he eventually thought better of it because he told Rostropovich never to use it. I wonder why Sokhiev did?

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GRAMOPHONE Review: Legrand Concertos for Piano & Cello – Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Frank http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-legrand-concertos-for-piano-cello-orchestre-philharmonique-de-radio-francefrank/ Sun, 21 May 2017 17:02:55 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5870 I have long adored the songs and admired the talent of Michel Legrand, inflected as it is with a jazzer’s free-ranging melodies and oblique harmonies – but the devilish inventiveness of these concert pieces took even me by surprise. The fact is they don’t really sound like anyone else, and even if you were to [Read More]

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I have long adored the songs and admired the talent of Michel Legrand, inflected as it is with a jazzer’s free-ranging melodies and oblique harmonies – but the devilish inventiveness of these concert pieces took even me by surprise. The fact is they don’t really sound like anyone else, and even if you were to reach for comparisons and describe the first movement of the Piano Concerto as a little like the Ravel G major on speed you still wouldn’t fully convey its distinctive musical character. 

It’s a piece in a hurry alright – the first movement toccata is born of a jazzer’s feverish note-spinning (Legrand is as we know a mean pianist) but with a classicist’s precision. But suddenly in sweeps one of those lush Film Noir-ish themes so beloved of Legrand and all at once it’s personal. In that regard you’d expect a song, or at least a songfulness, to emerge from the slow movement, and it does – a blue, oblique kind of tune, the kind of tune that would never need words. Again, all the harmonic progressions sound like they’re happening in the moment and for one time only – the art that conceals art and springs deception – and there are always surprises in store: a sudden burst of piano in the trenchant finale which sounds like a fleeting homage to Stravinsky’s Petrushka (panic in the puppeteer’s booth) and a thrilling apotheosis which comes on strong like Gershwin rhapsodising in black. Both were Boulanger students, of course. 

In some ways the Cello Concerto (written first) is even more innovative. A driven brilliance still alternates with aching nostalgia , the evolutionary lyric ideas still spun in such a way as to belie that they have been written down, but there is a ruminative quality especially we’ll suited to the cello – the piece was commissioned by the excellent cellist who performs it here Henri Demarquette – and in the final section of the piece – a long lament entitled “Le plus que lent” – it becomes almost a confessional. Legrand’s love of theatre does not desert him, either. Just prior to this final movement he has the conductor slip from podium to piano (the instrument sits there unplayed for the rest of the piece) to accompany the soloist in a brief “aside” – a three-minute Sonata within the concerto, a musical joke sprung with composerly sophistication.

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GRAMOPHONE Review: Sibelius Symphonies 1 & 6 – BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Søndergård http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-sibelius-symphonies-1-6-sondergardbbc-national-orchestra-of-wales/ Sun, 21 May 2017 16:48:37 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5865 The solo clarinet which stands on the threshold of Sibelius’ symphonic journey is quite simply the palest, chilliest, loneliest sound in the world. Thomas Søndergård has a nose for such things and his Sibelius – as we have already heard in the first release of the series coupling the Second and Seventh symphonies – is [Read More]

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The solo clarinet which stands on the threshold of Sibelius’ symphonic journey is quite simply the palest, chilliest, loneliest sound in the world. Thomas Søndergård has a nose for such things and his Sibelius – as we have already heard in the first release of the series coupling the Second and Seventh symphonies – is nothing if not atmospheric. 

There are distinct plusses and minuses. I like that Søndergård keeps all the surfaces unvarnished and the woodwind voices keen and folksy. The plain-speaking quality makes for a really elemental sound with climaxes in the First Symphony’s first movement craggy and rough-hewn. There is a transparency, too, with the prominence of inner parts illuminating the harmony in interesting ways – and again, in the second movement, a special remoteness as the dynamics become withdrawn in the closing pages. It’s a uniquely Sibelian sound alright and, as such, like no other – and we are a world apart from the super-plushness of some accounts one could mention, the wholly inappropriate Rattle/Berlin Philharmonic recording for one. 

But against all this one must measure a certain sluggishness in rhythmic matters and passage after passage where Søndergård’s response and that of the excellent BBC National Orchestra of Wales might be cleaner, tighter, more emphatic. The scherzos of both symphonies are oddly deliberate with that of the First (Allegro?) like an ungainly folk dance (for polar bears?) where the timpani feel puddingy and lacking crispness. Likewise the Poco vivace of the Sixth – very poco – is almost perversely the wrong side of propulsive. But then again Søndergård does not refine the Sixth out of recognition – there is still, for all the concision and austere beauty, an avoidance of preciousness. And when storm clouds pass fleetingly over the landscape at the close of the first movement the effect is more than a little unsettling. 

So, a very personal response to this music and one which accentuates its strangeness, its elusiveness. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, though, and much as I am pleased to take this voyage of discovery with Søndergård I’ve a feeling I won’t be alone in craving on occasions a keener profile, sharper relief, and greater rhythmic dynamism.

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GRAMOPHONE Review: Mahler Das Lied von der Erde – Jonas Kaufmann Vienna Philharmonic/Nott http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-mahler-das-lied-von-der-erde-jonas-kaufmann-vienna-philharmonicnott/ Sun, 23 Apr 2017 11:46:43 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5835 When you are as big a star as Jonas Kaufmann, when your instrument is fach-defying and your choices in terms of the repertoire seemingly boundless, you get to do pretty much what you want – including, it seems, re-conceiving Mahler’s seminal song-symphony for a single voice. It’s hard to know who thought this was a [Read More]

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When you are as big a star as Jonas Kaufmann, when your instrument is fach-defying and your choices in terms of the repertoire seemingly boundless, you get to do pretty much what you want – including, it seems, re-conceiving Mahler’s seminal song-symphony for a single voice. It’s hard to know who thought this was a good idea other than Kaufmann himself (surely not the conductor, Jonathan Nott?) but record companies do love a vanity project even if it flies in the face of all rational musicality. I’m a huge admirer of Kaufmann in his many and varied guises but this is just plain wrong-headed – and to question Mahler, as he does in the liner notes, challenging the notion of two voices and even suggesting that one singer might provide a more coherent overarching structure is not worthy of such an intelligent artist. 

But the proof is in the performance and the contraltos and baritones whom Kaufmann hopes will forgive his “trespassing” will be smiling in the knowledge that Mahler, acting on what he heard in his mind’s ear, really did know best and that the contrast in timbre and colour between the voices is crucial to the way in which Mahler’s chosen texts impact on each other. The irony, of course, is that Kaufmann is dream casting for the tenor songs, rising terrifically to the heroics and darker hues of the opening song but equally identifying the sparkle and piquancy in “Von Der Jugend” and the contrasting rapture at the heart of “Der Trunkene I’m Fruhling” where inebriation gives way to dreams of Spring. Kaufmann’s “covered” sound is quite gorgeous here. 

But because Mahler’s voices are also instrumentalists in his orchestral canvass a tonal sameness prevails as we move from one song to the next. Those stunning shifts between two worlds, so to speak, are eradicated. Regardless of whether or not Kaufmann has the “baritonal quality” requisite for the songs normally sung by a contralto or baritone the reality is that he is still a tenor, the colour is tenorial (rather like Domingo moving into the baritone repertoire), and the change of timbre which defines the mood of the contrasting songs just isn’t there. This has nothing to do with Kaufmann’s sensitivity to text and musical line and everything to do with it being the same singer. There are phrases in these songs where a different kind of resonance is required for low-lying phrases – particularly the brooding invocations of “Der Abschied” where the line “I shall wander in the mountains seeking peace for my lonely heart”, which Mahler so memorably picks up in the clarinet, always gets to me. How that moment resonates in my favourite performance of the piece from Leonard Bernstein with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (and James King) – also with the Vienna Philharmonic – it really is enough to break your heart. Nothing remotely on that level happens here. There’s a whole dimension missing, and with all due respect to Mr Kaufmann we know what it is. 

Die-hard fans will, of course, want the disc; those who really care about the piece will not.

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GRAMOPHONE Review: Elgar Symphony No. 1 / Introduction and Allegro – BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Doric Quartet/ Gardner http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/reviews/gramophone-review-elgar-symphony-no-1-introduction-and-allegro-bbc-symphony-orchestra-doric-quartet-gardner/ Sun, 23 Apr 2017 11:36:10 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5831 With each new disc that arrives, it becomes clearer and clearer that Edward Gardner is evolving into something really special. If I was permitted only one “library” choice for the works under scrutiny these would not be they – but they can and should be applauded for their lucidity and clarity and insightful honesty. There [Read More]

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With each new disc that arrives, it becomes clearer and clearer that Edward Gardner is evolving into something really special. If I was permitted only one “library” choice for the works under scrutiny these would not be they – but they can and should be applauded for their lucidity and clarity and insightful honesty. There is a major talent at work here – of that there can be no doubt. 

Elgar’s brilliant take on the baroque concerto grosso – his Introduction and Allegro – is, of course, a lovely thing, the interplay between string quartet (the excellent Doric Quartet) and string orchestra, assuming an almost mystic quality as the intimate and intensely personal are repeatedly writ large, larger, largest. Gardner’s great strength is the vitality and rhythmic snap he elicits from the larger string body of the BBC Symphony. But there is inwardness and confidentiality too and it’s only the all-embracing warmth of a Barbirolli that I ultimately miss, not least in the cathartic final appearance of “the Welsh theme” where a shade more indulgence, a more emphatic tug of emotion, is surely in order. 

Moving to the First Symphony, Gardner clearly appreciates that we are dealing here with a study in conflict and change, evolution and transformation, musical and actual. Elgar’s British Empire was at the threshold of a new century and the piece he was writing was at once a premonition and a proclamation. His metaphor – the great “motto theme” in all its nobilmente distinction – shall endure but the turbulent first movement will see it buffeted and swept along on winds of change with barely a moment to take stock of what might soon be gone forever. Gardner is properly, fiercely, impulsive though never at the expensive of rhythmic clarity and the shape of the bigger picture. Those tempest-tossed remnants of lyric ephemera are discreetly savoured. They carry their own distinctly Elgarian nostalgia. 

The brash militarism of the scherzo – circumstance without the pomp – is again vital, if without the Teutonic heft that Barenboim and his Berliners scarily brought to it in their recent, and sensational, Decca account. But the winding down of the transition into the slow movement – where our noblest aspirations are celebrated – is perfection from Gardner and the Adagio itself is heartfelt, bringing some very lovely playing from the BBC Symphony especially when hushed and secretive and inclined towards those rapt falling phrases so beloved of Elgar. 

In the finale, I do wonder if Gardner’s handling of that ecstatically transformative passage (such a glorious surprise) at the heart of the movement is not, for all its tenderness, a little too restrained. He certainly makes us wait for the climax, violins keeping the emotionalism in check before the swelling of cellos and horns sweep us off our feet. 

But there’s no escaping the fact that Gardner arrives in the wake of Barenboim – a hard, if impossible act to follow, as revelatory an account of the symphony as I have heard in many a year. It positively demands to be heard.

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SATURDAY CLASSICS: BBC Radio 3, Easter Saturday 13.00 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/asides/saturday-classics-bbc-radio-3-easter-saturday-13-00/ Tue, 11 Apr 2017 06:31:51 +0000 http://www.edwardseckerson.biz/?p=5805 On Saturday 15th April, I will be indulging myself with more than a few of my favourite things for two whole hours on BBC Radio 3’s Saturday Classics, with a highly personal selection of music mainly from the theatre. Composers include Rameau, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Britten, Bernard Herrmann, Shostakovich, Gershwin and Gilbert and Sullivan. … [Read More]

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On Saturday 15th April, I will be indulging myself with more than a few of my favourite things for two whole hours on BBC Radio 3’s Saturday Classics, with a highly personal selection of music mainly from the theatre. Composers include Rameau, Richard Rodgers, Leonard Bernstein, Britten, Bernard Herrmann, Shostakovich, Gershwin and Gilbert and Sullivan. I do hope you can join me!

LISTEN AGAIN: You can listen again to my Saturday Classics broadcast on BBC iPlayer until 14th May 2017. Enjoy!

 

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