Tag Archives: London Symphony Orchestra

Top 5 most read posts of 2013

31 Dec

Most read of 2013The end of the year makes us all look back at statistics and moments of the previous twelve months.

Here is the top 5 blog posts of the year

1 Why I don’t like Sinfini

The quasi free-spirited website, that is meant to be run by passionate music lovers, but is indeed a property of Universal Music, who owns over 70% of the classical recording labels output

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/why-i-dont-like-sinfini/

2 Kicking the Prommers to the ground is poor form

The rather unnecessary attack on prommers by Christopher Gillett…a blatant attempt at click baiting by Sinfini?

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/ah-mr-gillett/

3 Gergiev gets a London welcome

A post on the rather blasé  approach by maestro Gergiev on the goings on back in Russia. It seems the campaigning has had limited success as he still seems to be largely unwilling to make any definitive statements. We will be happy to see his departure from the LSO by the end of 2015.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/gergiev-gets-a-london-welcome/

4 The shine of the blade / English National Opera’s Medea

The post on a glorious dress rehearsal that blew my socks off. Sarah Connolly in blazing form taking on and conquering one of the gems of the French baroque repertoire. I was floored by the intensity and would count it among the most memorable performances of my opera going life to date.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/eno-medea/

5 Wimsy and gorgeousness / Sophie Bevan and Sebastian Wybrew recital at Wigmore Hall

A gorgeous recital by two very accomplished young stars that was instantly charming and affecting. The rendition of Barber’s Hermit Songs was so fresh and beautifully realised it put a spring on my step.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/sophie-bevan-sebastian-wybrew-recital-wigmore-hall-17-march-2013/

A mixed bag but shows how topical subjects tend to be read more.

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Gergiev gets a London welcome

1 Nov

A London Welcome Maestro GergievLast night was the first concert of Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra of their Berlioz cycle at the Barbican. In keeping with his recent appearances elsewhere Gergiev was greeted by protest in line with his refusal to make any statement in the past few months. About the dire situation in Russia for homosexual citizens or to use the exact phrasing of their law, individuals that spread  ‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors’. This has led to a reported increase in homophobic bullying and violence.
Peter Tatchell reportedly walked on stage last night and denounced VG as a supporter of President Putin before he was removed by security.

As much as I admire Tatchell’s record as a human rights campaigner I tend to disagree with any protest that disrupts the run of a concert. But his brand of direct action interventions is part of how he gets press attention to the causes he supports.

Tonight is the second concert of the series and I will be in the audience. Inspired by the protest at the Met Opera last month during the Onegin première, I will be wearing (not a NYC ribbon) a rainbow bow tie as a well-mannered protest to maestro Gergiev’s insistence to remain silent on this important matter. In light of his high-ranking position within the Mariinsky and his direct political involvement with Putin in Russia, he definitely has and should have a publicly expressed opinion. But he chose to follow the age old damage limitation tactic of staying silent until the storm passes.

It is up to us in the audience to signify that his behaviour is both poor and cowardly. If you are in the audience tonight and have something rainbow coloured bring it along. I have no appetite to disrupt the performance but also want to make a point, no matter how small or subtle. Of course another option for members of the audience would be to withhold applause.

Worth reading: David Nice’s piece on Gergiev on the Artsdesk website

Update

Valery Gergiev has made an official statement on Wed 06 November.

Unfortunately it reads like something dragged out of the 1970s with a vibe of ‘My best friends are gay’. But at least it is a small bit of progress.

Thanks for the music Sir Colin

14 Apr

Sir Colin accepting the applause after an LSO concert at the Barbican on 11 December 2011

We use the word legend far too easily but applying it to a great maestro of the stature of Sir Colin Davis is very appropriate.

In the last decade I had the chance to see him conduct his beloved London Symphony Orchestra many times. Every time their sound had a special sheen that somehow only he could conjure. His contribution to the musical life of this country and all over the world through his many tours and recordings is possibly the most important of the post war era. Unlike many of his contemporaries his quiet dignity from the podium was for me his unique characteristic. In the concert hall he radiated calm concentration and gravitas. The attention was not focused on an egomaniac maestro but to a musical family coming together.

Last June’s absolutely spellbinding Berlioz Grande Messe des Morts was an incredibly moving evening of music making. A family friend had died the same day and in my head I dedicated the stellar performance to his memory. I decided not to put into writing how it affected me that evening as it all felt very raw. Almost a year later it is a sad realisation it was also the last time I saw Sir Colin conduct but also a great last memory to have. A man who made music his life, conducting a composer that he single-handedly brought to contemporary focus and championed like no one else. This was the final farewell to his life’s work and a chapter of music history was written. Only last month the recording of those two performances at St Paul’s was issued. I will play my copy in memory of a great evening and a consummate musician that touched all our lives and will continue to inspire us for as long there is recorded music, rest in peace Sir Colin. You will be sorely missed and this Tuesday’s The Turn of the Screw performance will have a special poignancy knowing that you were meant to have conducted it.

PS I will giggle for ever more with Sir Colin’s response to my tweet when he was being interviewed in 2011 by Gareth Davies. Of course I had to ask about knitting 😉 His response is near the 14minute mark.

A great rehearsal gallery on BBC Radio 3’s website

The announcement of his passing on the LSO’s website

The page aggregating condolences on the LSO website

Mark Berry’s wonderful tribute to Sir Colin on his blog

Interview in The Independent when he took over his role at the LSO as Principal Conductor in 1993

Interview in The Guardian in 2011

Jessica Duchen’s interview with Sir Colin in March 2012

The Guardian obituary

Tributes by colleagues in The Guardian

Abysmal 1960s vision of opera makes the Olympics Closing Ceremony

13 Aug

I am not delusional to expect unadulterated opera or classical music in a mass entertainment event like the Closing Ceremony, but seeing an artist of the stature of Susan Bullock as a ridiculous be-feathered “Brunhilda” next to Eric Idle was edging on the insulting. It was near an admission that opera is this desperately irrelevant, form of music that is only good for visual jokes that involve shields and a plumed helmet. Many of Bullock’s colleagues on Twitter thought it was “cool” and “fun” but what image of the opera world did this appearance dissipate?
Being able to laugh with the art form and all its impressively out of date attributes is a healthy reaction to a fast, digital world that doesn’t feel it has enough attention span to sit through a whole Ring.
But when that one appearance in a three hour ceremony is the only presence of opera as a genre it becomes more problematic. Bullock was embodying the popular cliché of the trident armed high singing soprano additionally surrounded by roller skating nuns and traditional Indian dancers.

The whole ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ segment can be discarded as a bit of throwaway comedy that Britain is so great at producing but it should also be seen as a projection of the lack of self-assurance in the part of the opera world to allow its very credibility to be trashed in front of a billion TV viewers. It made for depressing viewing and made me seriously uncomfortable that this was seen as entertainment in 2012. A missed opportunity to show any other genre except for pop/rock that is disproportionately monopolising those type of events.

The 1992 Olympics managed to have Montserrat Caballé sing the barnstorming Barcelona with Freddie Mercury which presented an operatic voice as an awesome instrument, measuring against a great rock vocalist. It may have been light on concept but it surely was presenting a more cultured face for Spain than the cheap joke route Britain took last night. Unlike with Caballé’s performance I can’t imagine anyone this morning looking up what opera is on Google.
The other two chances for less mainstream culture to feature prominently were also missed, the LSO were not even credited in the broadcast, while the Royal Ballet danced as a circus troupe with a long retired head that was there on the back of some reality TV few years back (sorry Darcey, a decade ago you were great).

It could have been uplifting and inspirational but I am afraid I was left disappointed that some of my favourite art forms ended up a cheap backdrop to a painfully nasal Liam Gallagher and his multi-millionaire friends. Ironically enough Norman Lebrecht was much more interested in the leggy string quartet…I rest my case 😉

Here’s the link to the tracklist of the Closing Ceremony

No, Andrew Mellor I’m not privately educated and I’m not dreading concert halls and opera houses

16 Jul

 

Andrew Mellor wrote this scrappy piece for the New Statesman  clutching at straws on how to substantiate his own prejudices of what classical/opera audiences are like. The main thrust of his argument is the adverts in a BBC Proms programme advertising private tuition etc. He seems to go on some semiotic reading of the adverts and awarding the crown of elitism and high snobbery to the audience. His views are so far apart from my experience that I feel compelled to shortly write about them.

I grew up in Athens and was schooled there, the only fancy paid for tuition I received being my rather good English language school (for two hours after school, three times a week). Went to a few opera and ballet performances with my best friend to the disapproval of my parents. That was mainly due to the beautifully appointed Athens Concert Hall (Megaron) and its very cheap student standby scheme which we took advantage of to see some wonderful shows. It was a way in to a world I had very little contact with through my parents or my school (which had only rudimentary music classes, mainly dealing in history).

When I moved to the UK fifteen years ago I went to pop concerts, ballet and theatre. Never felt that any venue was out of reach or that the audience was unfriendly. Eventually I went to some classical and opera performances and again never felt patronised or awkward. When I took on a summer job at the Royal Albert Hall as a Steward for the 2000 Proms, it was a great opportunity to be exposed to a huge variety of events and more importantly the love of the musicians and the Hall’s staff for music.  This was an eye opener, being part of what felt like a big family, one night being lucky enough to see Tasmin Little with Simon Rattle and the next Petra Lang and Kurt Masur. Never for a second did the adverts in all the programmes that I read felt as a coded cry of the upper echelons of society telling me I was not welcome. What I felt being around all the other Stewards at the RAH and the audience was a great love and respect for the art form and the chance to be exposed to greatness, it had nothing to do with social rank or how I pronounced my vowels. In fact the only time I was exposed to unpleasantness was during a concert by Oasis and their horrible audience.

In the last five years I have been taking my partner to lots of performances of music, dance and opera and he possibly would be the one to confirm that we have never felt unwelcome to any venue. Even if some contemporary opera doesn’t totally rock his boat, he takes a lot of pleasure from the sojourns and deepening his knowledge of repertoire and musicians.

Additionally the advances in social media, the exchanges with orchestras, venues and artists have created a much tighter, warmer bond. We all know that opera and classical will remain in the fringes of mainstream culture, but orchestras like the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and many more are using their resources to promote their work and to make appreciation of it as wide as possible. The fact that the LSO will not be as popular as any given pop/rock act doesn’t make them a failure.

Most of the time the concept of exclusivity and high cost is foisted on those venues, but it’s far from the truth. Tickets for the LSO at the Barbican can be had from £8 and that is to listen to one of the most accomplished orchestras in the world with some very illustrious conductors and guest artists. I have been to many concerts where the food consumed at the cafe was more expensive than the tickets for this apparent elitist pursuit.

Equally there is no buzz like it when a favourite opera singer has a great night. No matter if I’m occupying a top price seat at Stalls or a £15 one at the gods of the Royal Opera House or ENO the deep sense of pleasure and satisfaction is the same.
Last week when I was watching Les Troyens from the cheapest seat in the House I was flanked by two people in the polar opposites of the audience. The lady on my right was wonderfully chatty and telling me about performances she had seen and what she was going to next. The gentleman on my left was clutching his opera companion with religious fervour while emanating the unpleasant smell of someone that hadn’t had a wash in a few days and refusing to engage with anyone around him. Was it the Royal Opera’s fault that this chap goes to performances and that he may put off some newcomers? Are newcomers to opera such scared, fragile little things that can’t fend for themselves? Those 5hours 22minutes spent in the company of those two people either side of me it was a metaphor for the larger world surrounding live performance.
There are the sweet, obliging, polite, warm hearted, generous people and then there are the less giving, passive aggressive, unpleasant individuals and anything in between the two. As in every other walk of life we learn to co-exist and trying to get on. When the calling of the great music is strong, nothing can mar the experience not even a very smelly, passive aggressive chap on my immediate left. So let’s stop victimizing the classical/opera circuit which is much more democratic and egalitarian than many other sections of British society. I am happy not to be part of an exclusive reception for the sponsors of a concert and I don’t feel excluded or let down, after all they subsidise my hobby. Live and let live.

PS The ultimate satisfaction I derive from my blogging and Tweeting activity is when one of my readers/followers decides to give opera or orchestral music a go. Sometimes it just takes that one visit and a love affair that lasts a lifetime begins. That is the very reason why I refuse to be negative for the future of “serious music” and opera, as long as there’s curiosity there will be audiences.

Ticciati excites and Maltman moves / London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 15 March 2012

16 Mar

Ah the LSO! It can deliver unimaginable riches on a random Thursday evening, like last night.

Under the baton of Robin Ticciati they sounded like a different orchestra, all lightness and bounce. Of course from my very cheap seats I could only see his legs moving about and I presume it was a very physical display from his upper body. Something one has to expect by a lean 29 year old. Clearly their very recent trip to China may have invigorated them for a sparkly homecoming.

The Strauss was utterly beautiful, the tempi reserved and being at the cheapest seats on front row, we got a real treat hearing at such proximity some gorgeous tremolos from the double basses. A shame really that that very proximity meant that we could also hear a mobile phone going off backstage which was very annoying! The all too important bursts of percussion were thunderous and mournful. It was gorgeous and a great opener to the evening.

Christopher Maltman’s Mahler was so beautiful and measured, as near as it gets to lack of ego on a big stage. His dry resonant baritonal voice was in full command of the requirements. His emotional investment all too clear to see and hear. Ticciati quote in the programme on Maltman ‘He brings a kind of lieder-esque quality in his emotional response to music…’ was spot on, he imbued colourful, suitably subdued singing with emotion and sensational beauty. This was a truly accomplished performance with great attention to the text but also with a good ear for the orchestra. Ticciati kept the volume of orchestra and voice at the same volume which gave the piece a more intimate feel in contrast to the two other items in the programme. Seeing Maltman walk past after the end with tears in his eyes was as moving as his singing. I will surely be looking forward to seeing him again in concert and opera.

The Brahms symphony was as playful as you would expect, and with the LSO in a sprightly mood it was toe tappingly beautiful and the conductor’s fast tempi really made it breeze by. The rustic sounding Allegretto was a particular highlight. A mix of incisive playing and the right amount of fluency and relaxation created the right atmosphere. Even a chap in the end of the second row managed to stay awake despite clearly his body was telling him otherwise 😉

The band was clearly happy with the loud response from the audience and we all were extremely proud of them. Now if only the in between movements breaks we were not faced with a wall of coughing, life would be even better. The LSO showed its worth once more and I hope they will be booking Ticciati many more times in the near future, as the chemistry is clearly very potent.

Read More

Here’s the programme from the LSO’s website (PDF)

A few Tweets from the evening

Even goddesses falter / Anne Sofie von Otter + Michael Tilson Thomas + London Symphony Orchestra / Barbican Hall – 2 February 2012

10 Feb

It has taken me a full week to process the disappointment of last Thursday’s LSO + Anne Sofie von Otter and Michael Tilson Thomas concert at the Barbican. I was expecting intense pleasure and jagged angular mid-war sonorities. Unfortunately what we got was a badly amplified performance, by a conductor that has all the finicky attention of a control freak and yet not a  natural ear for this music. The programming alone was a strange combination, with a rather starchy first piece and La Mer as the conclusion.

Singing Kurt Weill song cycles in a large auditorium like the Barbican ,with a fairly dry acoustic, is unforgiving. Those songs were meant for smaller venues where the amplification would be unnecessary or at least more subtle. At the Barbican the amplification of ASvO’s voice was hidden under a blanket of mushy, unfocused sound and her holding of the mic made it more so. It distorted every phrase and took away any possibility of jagged phrasing and honed gravel precision in the spirit of Lotte Lenya.

Her voice was as usual a mine of beauty, unfortunately that was only allowed to be shown when she would snarl phrases across to the audience without the microphone, in those brief moments she relayed, shame, confidence, strength and sex appeal. The main issue throughout was the non idiomatic approach of Tilson Thomas.

This band of wonderful musicians should be able to convey Weill’s intentions but sadly fell very short. Especially for the first three songs, the playing was lacking in authority and brightness. It sounded more like a dull ABBA sing-along (a favourite past time for ASvO) than a Berlin cabaret. It was hugely disappointing and led me to not stay for La Mer, a piece that can so easily slip into being a semi comatose  conductor auto pilot vehicle, with no sense of direction and structure.

At least she gave us a wonderful encore that was a glorious glimpse of what it could have been…alluring, warm, dangerous…listen to it and see what you think:

A few tweets from the evening


My top 11 discoveries / realisations of 2011

19 Dec

This was a pretty intense year and thought it would be good to make a list of inspirational mainly operatic highs of 2011

1 Twitter

It was the first full year that I’ve used the network as a great resource for news and also as direct communication on matters operatic and not. Met some great people through it and started some very interesting conversations.

2 Beverly Sills

This year I immersed myself in the recorded output of the diva from Brooklyn. A great artist with an intriguing personality to boot. Surely one of the finest coloratura sopranos of the 20th century and worth going back to her for renewal and inspiration.

3 Veronique Gens

The year (almost) started with her magisterial Niobe at Covent Garden and finished with her fantastic  recital at Wigmore Hall. A diva cut off the old cloth of greatness.

4 Allan Clayton

First noticed him this year in a small part in Britten’s Dream, then I saw him triumph in Castor and Pollux and L’Enfance du Christ. A loud voice for the future, hope ENO and RO will give him more substantial roles to sink his teeth into.

5 Iestyn Davis

Never one for countertenors, but his performance in Britten’s Dream was magnetic and his Niobe contribution very substantial. A young British voice to shake up the world of opera and early music.

6 LSO

Have always loved the London Symphony Orchestra but this year they have been stunning. Also one of the most adept to Twitter orchestras on the planet. A band all Londoners should be proud of and should patronise with frequency.

7 Anne Sophie von Otter

Like a well aged Claret, ASvO is a European treasure. Her captivating Wigmore Hall recital was intoxicating to the max. Greatness without the hollow diva attitude. Looking forward to her LSO collaboration early in  February 2012.

8 Alice Coote

Listened to her sing Les nuits d’été years ago at the Proms and was terribly impressed, her triumphantly sulky Prince Charmant in Cendrillon was breathtaking. Her upcoming Winterreise  at Wigmore Hall will be an early highlight of 2012 (there are still a few tickets left, grab them quickly!)

9 Joyce DiDonato

The Yankeediva is a charismatic performer that elevated Cendrillon to stratospheric heights, her Ariodante was to die for, despite the awful orchestra and still a fun Twitter person to have disagreements and banter with.

10 Mark-Anthony Turnage

He gave us Anna Nicole, which was plethoric in its gay abandon and a great showcase for the considerable gifts of Eva Maria Westbroek, the darkness of Twice Through the Heart with the excellent Sarah Connolly and his remarkable music for Undance.

11 Sylvie Guillem

Managed to see her new mixed bill evening at Sadler’s Wells in its two outings back in early July and late September. She was absolutely wonderful both times. A rare dance treat. She continues to be the measure of all dancers, a standard for excellence.

If you had an epiphany of an artistic nature in 2011, feel free to add your top whatever in the comment section and Merry Xmas 😉

Another night of wonder / London Symphony Orchestra + Sir Colin Davis + Dame Mitsuko Uchida / Barbican Hall – 11 December 2011

12 Dec

Another night, another concert. But of course when that orchestra is the LSO and under the direction of Sir Colin Davis things are far from just routinely chugging along. The programme itself stretching from Haydn’s Symphony No 93 written in 1791 to Nielsen’s Symphony No3 written in 1911 via Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto has to be one thrilling ride through over one hundred years of European music. The orchestra managed to create three distinct soundworlds as befitting the range of moods and sensitivities of each composer. Proving that the orchestra hasn’t got an auto pilot like default sound but is flexible in reflection to the wide repertoire.

My joy at modern instrument orchestras playing Mozart and Haydn is not exactly secret. I totally hate period ensembles that have robbed the balls off these wonderful compositions and give them a half life on stage complete with crude horns. The LSO  under brisk but seated Davis gave us a focused sound that took in its stride the playfulness of Haydn’s writing and created an elegant edifice that never became self indulgent or academic. The teasing pizzicato playing connected it directly to the Nielsen, despite the huge differences in sonority. When he demanded Allegro, he got a dancing response from the players and when the Minuet arrived, the teasing exchanges between winds and strings made this a feast for the eyes and ears. The feeling in the auditorium was of celebration and the genuinely thunderous applause sealed the deal.

For the Nielsen Symphony the LSO gave us a much more dry sound, not as lyrical to start off with, almost giving a modernist very Nordic sound to the first movement. The soundscape was as expansive and beautiful as one would imagine an evening would be at a cold abandoned beach in Denmark. The pizzicato of the strings against the reedy and evocative sound of the piccolo created more environmental images in our heads. Sir Colin, surely drove the brass to play with emphatic pride but avoided at all costs Mahlerian hyperbole. The Andante Pastorale of the second movement did drive us more into the Danish countryside that was the formative influence in so much of Nielsen’s writing. The soprano (Lucy Hall) and the baritone (Marcus Farnsworth) were placed amongst the members of the orchestra, the tremolo of the strings providing a filigree backdrop for their vocalism. The closing movements were a triumphal mix of stillness and urgency. The finale was so rousing as to have a resounding and very loud bravo! echo even before Davis put his baton down. He was called back to the stage three times in a wave after wave of applause.

After the interval we were treated to a performance of utter sophistication and unapologetic beauty. Mitsuko Uchida does not need introductions when it comes to playing Beethoven or Mozart; she is a specialist per excellence and has been in demand for over 30 years. But despite her considerable pedigree I was totally thrown by the brilliance of her playing and the obvious rapport with Davis and the orchestra. When the three of them meet live, something very special happens, the chemistry is unmistakable.

Her playing over all was a perfectly judged balance of assertiveness and sweetness. She did not bash her instrument like a mad woman just to show she can play loudly, but she used the full range of colour it provided her with and indeed was not afraid to give Argerich like arpeggios at full tilt. Dressed in yellow gold trousers and top, with a transparent cornflower blue organza jacket, she obviously enjoyed listening to the warm elegiac sound of the LSO as the accompanied her, crossing her arms in approval while bobbing her head to the music.

She gave a unique sense of mystery to the first movement, almost as she knew a secret Beethoven whispered in her ear, but did not want to reveal it to us, but wanted us to keep on guessing. The Adagio had the fluency of one would expect, but with an almost vocal line…it would not have been out of place if she started singing alongside the very lyrical, attentive playing she gave us. Such was the sweet caress by her that when she introduced the opening theme for the third movement without a break, a few people around us jumped at the sudden change. Again the dialogue between orchestra and soloist was captivating. The warm and totally idiomatic sound of the orchestra created the perfect backdrop and contrasting material for all the variations on that one triumphant theme she played again and again. Every time with a new voice, every time with a new dialect. This was the summation of the careers of two great musicians and an orchestra at the top of their game, truly exceptional. When a lot of capital cities would have nothing more to boast on a Sunday evening,  than an episode of a reality TV show (and amusingly it was the final of the UK X Factor tonight) London can offer an almost sold our concert hall with an amazing cast of musicians playing from the heart.

The same programme is repeated on Tuesday 13th and will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, if nothing else do tune in!

Some tweets from the evening

Britten: War Requiem / LSO / Noseda / Barbican Hall – 11 October 2011

13 Oct

 ‘…the work is so superbly proportioned and calculated, so humiliating and disturbing in effect, in fact so tremendous, that every performance it is given ought to be a momentous occasion.’ (published in The Times on 31 May 1962 after the world première in Coventry Cathedral)

Reading the words by the music critic of The Times after the world première is summing up the impressive proportions of the work and the high expectations the audience has every time it is performed live. It is demanding three exceptional soloists and in many ways any live performance has to fight past the wonderfully magnetic premiere recording by Britten himself holding the baton with Vilshnevskaya, Pears and Fischer-Dieskau. Of course it is interesting how this work written to celebrate the opening of Coventry Cathedral by Basil Spence (actually performed 5 days after the official opening/consecration) was to fall foul of cold war politics after the Soviet government did not allow Vilshnevskaya to take part in the first performance, Britten had to make do with Heather Harper. Ironically the three different nationalities of the soloists were meant to be emblematic of reconciliation but in reality it proved an unattainable target till the 1963 recording for Decca where the LSO is paired with Britten’s three ideal singers.

Having been all too familiar with the famous recording I had high expectations and a clear idea how difficult it must be to pull it off live. It was initially disappointing not to have Sir Colin Davis conduct it as originally advertised (amusingly Davis conducted Peter Racine Fricker’s The Golden Warrior two weeks after the first performance of Britten’s magnus opus, which was contributed by Sadler’s Wells to the arts festival for the opening of the cathedral) but Noseda was terrific as it happens!

Britten’s take on the standard Requiem is fascinating. He mixes the finite sounding Latin mass for the dead with Wilfred Owen’s war poetry in his goal to express his abhorrence for war and its consequences. The soprano is the only soloist singing in Latin providing a focus with her tutti with the choir. The tenor and baritone are involved in conversational passages and longer solos only accompanied by a small portion of the orchestra. The boys are accompanied by a bland organ accompaniment adding a certain English charm. What was very clear in the vocal writing for the tenor was how close in form it is to Oberon’s part in Midsummer night’s dream that he had completed two years before the Requiem. There’s a certain crystalline purity of line that is terribly alluring in the right hands.

The way the separate forces were distributed across the stage and the auditorium was a thoughtful touch and true to Britten’s instructions. The soprano was amidst the front row of the choir in the middle of the stage. The tenor and baritone were on the left of the conductor with the children’s choir and chamber organ tacked away at the back left of the Balcony. An interesting use of the acoustic was having the boys face to the side, thus their otherworldly, uninvolved with stage action, singing was hovering above our heads.

The true star of the evening was the London Symphony Chorus which uttered their opening phrases in Requiem aeternam with such subtlety and bitterness, instantly setting the tone for the whole evening. Britten wanted horror and creepiness from the chorus and he surely got that from the LSC. Their singing was attentive to the instructions of Noseda and had the required force and energy where required e.g. Dies irae.

Ian Bostridge has been a Britten specialist for most of his career and surely his engagement with the material was total. His opening solo was full of sensitivity and beautifully enunciated English as befitting the narration of Owen’s war poetry. He clearly engaged his whole body while singing, thrusting himself forward to reach the climactic moment in Agnus Dei. He was as wonderful to listen to as it was to look at.

Simon Keenlyside is a piece of butch baritonal hunkiness (as confirmed in the recent Pelleas) and he was excellent throughout but for me he lacked a little bit of idiomatic affinity with the piece. He was more Keenlyside than a German soldier in the mould of Fischer-Dieskau. Looking forward to change my mind, maybe, when I listen to the CD release of the concert. He just sounded a bit too heavy handed, at times verging into camp parody (especially in the Abraham passage).

Sabina Cvilac did a good job too, but seemed on the small size vocally to cut through the bells, trumpets and huge choir at times. Her tone was warm, but not as troubled sounding or commanding as Vishnevskaya’s. Someone with heavier artillery (terrible pun) would have given more punch to the Latin script and propelled it across the auditorium with more ferocity.

Britten’s complex textures with glistening strings and menacing percussion surely needs an orchestra at the top its game and the LSO once more impressed beyond measure. They were assured and well honed. Clearly in sync with Noseda (not a too frequent collaborator) and serving the music and their own world class reputation with aplomb. I am terribly happy that both performances were recorded to be preserved. The upcoming CD will hopefully transmit the excellent night we all had at the hall and how Britten’s shattering vision was brought to life and unfolded in front of us in 90 relentless minutes. It truly was a wonderful evening and with a piece that relays uncertainty and horror. A good match for the world we live in, torn by wars and on the edge of financial collapse.

Here’s an interesting photo gallery on the LSO’s Facebook account (look out for the stage plan!)

Here is the PDF of the programme

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