Monday 7 September 2020

A Life On-Line: the Czech Philharmonic live in Prague, the BBC Proms with Nicola Benedetti, Latvian Radio Choir

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Semyon Bychkov

Whilst the BBC Proms' live performances started last week with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in an otherwise empty Royal Albert Hall, this week the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under its chief conductor Semyon Bychkov opened the 2020 Dvorak Prague International Music Festival with a pair concerts with capacity audiences at the Rudolfinum in Prague, the second of which was broadcast by Czech television and available on the net.

The programme consisted of a pair of late Dvorak works, the Cello Concerto with soloist Václav Petr, and Symphony No. 9 in E minor 'From the New World'. The fascinating thing about both works is that they are each the final work in that particular genre that Dvorak wrote. He completed the symphony in 1893 and the concerto in 1895, yet whilst he continued working until 1901 he never returned to either the symphonic form or to the concerto, concentrating instead on symphonic poems (something rather new for him) and opera. Bychkov took quite an expansive view of the opening movement of the concerto, complementing Petr's rather impulsive soloist, playing with strong singing tone. The slow movement came over as rather intimate, though we could appreciate the lovely detail of the complex textures of Dvorak's writing (something that is always rewarding in his late works), whilst the finale was full of impulsive energy. The opening of the symphony was rather grand, but for all the work's title the Czech melodies and rhythms kept emerging and there was a strong sense of the dance element. We had a fine cor anglais solo in the slow movement, with a tightly controlled third movement full of excitement and a contrasting trio where the orchestra's wind section really gave us the idea of an outdoor wind band. Grandness returned for the finale, but with lovely expressive interludes. [Česká televize]

Over at the BBC Proms we caught the repeat of the Latvian Radio Choir's 2017 performance of Rachmaninov's All Night Vigil conducted by Sigvards Klava. The choir's sound does not have the dark rich tones of many Slavic choirs, nor the significant use of vibrato in the tone. Instead, the music was performed with beautiful clarity and great shape, the ecstatic moments had a nice fluidity to them and the piece flowed rather than appearing as monumental drama [BBC Sounds].

On Thursday, the live Proms were scheduled to include a programme of double concertos and more by Bach, Handel and Vivaldi from violinists Alina Ibragimova and Nicola  Benedetti with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, directed by Jonathan Cohen. Unfortunately Ibragimova had had to withdraw at short notice, and rather impressively her place was taken by a series of violinists from the OAE, Kati Debretzeni, Rudolfo Richter, and Matthew Truscott. We heard Vivaldi's Concertos for two violins, RV 513 and RV 514, Bach's Double Concerto, plus Vivaldi's Concerto for two oboes, RV 536 (with Katharina Spreckelsen and Sarah Humphreys), plus Handel's Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op. 3, No. 2 and the Passacaglia from Radamisto, and Charles Avison's Concerto Grosso no. 5 in D minor

In the concertos each soloist (Debretzeni in RV514, Richter in RV 513 and Truscott in the Bach) matched Benedetti beautifully, so that each was finely balanced and full of lovely phrasing and exciting moments. Yet, sparks did not quite fly and whilst the performances were beautifully done we did not quite get the sort of gripping musical television that perhaps the producers were hoping for. That said, the programme is well worth catching for the more unusual elements in the programme. We watched it on television were Danielle de Niese's presenting style was rather too over the top for my taste, drawing attention to the presentation rather encouraging us in our listening of the music. [BBC Sounds]

 The Musicians' Company's regular Midday Music continues to provide a lovely stream of music from young artists. I caught Ryan Drucker (piano) and Toby White (cello) in a short programme of transcriptions, two Rachminov songs Zdes’ Khoroso and Vocalise, and a Mendelssohn Song without Words [YouTube]. Another source of great small bites of music is Bitesize Proms which continues to have a most amazing stream of artists, and raises money for Help Musicians UK. Violinist Madeleine Mitchell performed Richard Blackford's Worlds Apart, a new piece for solo violin which Blackford wrote for Mitchell during lockdown. [Bitesize Proms]. As part of Blackheath Community Opera's Thursday Night In, tenor Nicky Spence spent an illuminating hour chatting to Dame Felicity Palmer about her career and about recordings that she selected. [Facebook]

I saw sent this link to a lovely live recording of Elgar's Salut d'Amour by a violinist from the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Raúl Teo Arias and pianist Karina Sabac recorded in Aachen  [YouTube]. YouTube often sends me recommendations for videos, one that I enjoyed was soprano Catharine Woodward singing Isolde's 'Mild und Leise' (the Liebestod) accompanied by Ben Woodward at piano [YouTube], and Flaugissimo Duo performing the Andante from J-M Leclair's Sonata in G major, Op. 2 No. 5, originally from the Stroud Green Festival [YouTube]

Having released its disc of music by Michael Finnissy on Signum Classics, the choir of St John's College, Cambridge has produced fine introduction to Finnissy's music on the disc from the choir's former organ scholar, Glen Dempsey, now assistant director of music at Ely Cathedral and one of the organists on the disc [YouTube]. 

On Sunday, BBC Radio 3 repeated Gabriel Prokofiev's fascinating documentary My Family and Russia in which the DC and composer, who has himself performed in Russia, talked about his father (artist Oleg Prokofiev) and grandfather (composer Sergei Prokofiev) and their complex relationship to Russia. [BBC Sounds]

Not musical, but fascinating, there is an interview in The Quietus with legendary comic book artist and writer Savage Pencil who discusses three Edwardian underground figures: Montague Summers, Austin Osman Spare and Louis Wain. [The Quietus]

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