Thursday 19 January 2012

This Week’s Classical Music Round up from The Arts Desk

Classical music on The Arts Desk this week is all about perfect pairings, whether it’s in the concert hall or on CD.

On Thursday, Alexandra Coghlan headed to the Wigmore Hall for a recital of two near contemporaries from opposite sides of the Channel. Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company successfully partnered two tragic classical myths told in miniature, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Charpentier’s Actéon, in an unusual, intimate and intelligent programme typical of the Wigmore Hall. The Charpentier felt the more lightweight of the two, though Ed Lyon made a dashing young Actaeon, and soprano Claire Booth was assured, if a little too emotional, as the implacable goddess Diana. For the Purcell, an unwell Anna Stephany was replaced at the 11thhour by Susan Bickley, whose Dido poignantly evolved from deceptively matter-of-fact to desperately stoical, while Marcus Farnsworth managed to bring depth and gravity to the thankless, half-baked role of Aeneas.
Thomas Ades, photo by Brian Voce
On Sunday Coghlan went to the Barbican to hear Thomas Adès and the London Symphony Orchestra playing music by the composer himself, plus work by his only composition student Francisco Coll and songs from Mahler’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn. She left, however, feeling rather short-changed. The LSO convincingly showcased Coll’s talent for textural layering in his unusual miniature tone poem Hidd’n Blue, and displayed controlled tonal progression in Adès’s In Seven Days. But the orchestra seemed to flounder as the evening went on, beginning in Adès’s unsure and unfocused Tevot and culminating in Mahler’s richly textured settings which felt strained and drowned Toby Spence’s underpowered vocals. Ultimately, it made for a muted evening’s music, overshadowed by a feeling of Sunday-night malaise.

Stephen Hough, photo by Grant Hiroshima
Meanwhile Graham Rickson found much to enjoy in the latest  classical CD releases. His first recommendation is Stephen Hough’s disc of Liszt and Grieg piano concertos, in which Hough brilliantly negotiates the swift transitions from romantic to melodramatic, witty to sincere, of the former, and does an excellent (though inevitably not groundbreaking) job of the over-recorded latter. The second pairing of the week is Schubert’s Symphony No 9 and Hans Gál’s Symphony No 2, courtesy of Thomas Zehetmair and the Northern Sinfonia. The Schubert proves to be an essential recording, full of vim, vigour and delirium, while the Gál is impressive and beautifully played, but ultimately missing some memorable tunes. Lastly, Rickson championed Pellarin and Levato’s French Music for Horn and Piano, which pairs the well known and the rarely heard to great effect. Pieces by Saint-Saëns, Poulenc and Damase showcase the horn’s tone and range, often difficult to capture well in recording but here sounding utterly beautiful.

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