Tuesday 6 March 2012

This Week’s Classical Music Round Up From The Arts Desk

Freezing festivals, Joshua Bell and the latest essential CDs all feature in this week’s classical music coverage on The Arts Desk.

Vinterfest - Nikolai Lund
Braving the sub-zero temperatures of Sweden in mid-winter, Kate Connolly found herself in Dalarna for the Vinterfest festival. Egos and snowboots were left at the door for this no-nonsense chamber music festival held in a variety of unusual venues (churches, gyms, museums) across the province. Highlights this year included Fröst and Friends – a classical jamming session complete with candlelit dinner, where clarinettist and Vinterfest artistic director Martin Fröst teamed up with Swedish soprano Kerstin Avemo for a breathtaking rendition of Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy - and Polish ensemble Apollon Musagete Quartett, who particularly impressed with their show-closer, Stravinsky’s Tango. With plenty of skiing and skating to break up the concert-going, it’s a festival with a difference that looks set to be just as great next year, with Anne Sofie von Otter and Leif Ove Andsnes already booked.

Edward Gardner
credit Jillian Edelstein
Camera Press London
Graham Rickson, meanwhile, was sifting through the latest classical  CD releases, and selected his three must-haves. Lisa Smirnova’s dazzling, life-enhancing Handel: The Eight Great Suites came highly recommended, making Rickson want to skip around the room with its unshowy clarity and uplifting rhythms. Lutoslawski: Orchestral Works II was another brilliant and generous disc, with the BBC SO in fine fettle playing some of the earliest and latest of the 20th-century composer’s works. Together with pianist Louis Lortie and Edward Gardner’s faultless conducting, they showed Lutoslawski’s orchestral writing in its best light. And lastly, Alexander Melnikov bravely pairs Shostakovich’s two piano concertos – the first more optimistic here than usual, the second more sinister and edgy – with his later, rather haunting Violin Sonata, here invested with great humanity by Isabelle Faust. Wise decisions all round.

Star violinist Joshua Bell was the big draw at the Royal Festival Hall on 22 February, where he was joined by Jurowski’s London Philharmonic Orchestra to grapple with a curious hotch potch of Zemlinksy, Mozart, Szymanowski and Brahms. Brahms’s Violin Concerto was the main attraction, yet it turned out to be the most uneven performance of the night, leaving Alexandra Coghlan impressed but emotionally underwhelmed. Whereas Mozart’s Symphony No 32 in G major made a great curtain raiser, Zemlinksy’s Psalm 23 had a bucolic charm before the composer’s tendency towards bombast took over, and Szymanowski’s Symphony No 3, though occasionally tipping over into a cacophony which swamped soloist Jeremy Ovenden, was wonderfully textured. Whether by accident or design, it was certainly a thought-provoking concert.

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