Archive for the Music Category

Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra with Angela Hewitt

Posted in Music with tags , on March 4, 2017 by telescoper

Yesterday evening I rounded off a busy week with yet another visit to St David’s Hall in Cardiff for another in their international concert series featuring visiting orchestras.

This time it was the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra, under conductor Yutaka Sado.

They opened their programme with a piece which has been a favourite of mine since I first heard it as a schoolboy, the Hebrides Overture by Felix Mendelssohn, s piece which is evocative of the changing moods and colours of the sea. 

The orchestra was then joined by star piano soloist Angela Hewitt in the first half for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, which she played with her customary poise and precision to rapturous applause from the audience. We even got an encore, in the form of a short solo piece by Bach (the composer with whose music her name is most closely associated). I couldn’t quite place it, but it might have been from one of the English suites, no Welsh suites being available.

After the break it was time for another very popular classic, the Symphony No. 9 by Antonín Dvořák (“From the New World”). It may be a well-known piece, but the performance was very fresh and invigorating. We got an encore in the second half too: the exuberant overture to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

It was rather conservative programme, perhaps, but hugely enjoyable nevertheless. These pieces are old favourites because they’re good, and stand up well to repeated listening especially when played by a top-notch orchestra like the Vienna Tonkünstler!

Maleem Mahmoud Ghania with Pharoah Sanders

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on March 3, 2017 by telescoper

And now for something completely different.

I heard this on Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 earlier this week and thought I’d share it here as I loved it so much for its infectious energy. It’s from an album called The Trance of Seven Colors by Moroccan-born Gnawa musician  Maleem Mahmoud Guinia in collaboration with the great American tenor saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders. You can listen to the whole album here, but the following is the track I heard a few days ago, which is called La Allah Dayim Moulenah. Enjoy!

 

 

 

St David’s Day at St David’s Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2017 by telescoper

Just a quick post to mention that I celebrated St David’s Day yesterday by going, appropriately enough, to St David’s Hall in Cardiff for a special concert by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales with soloists Rebecca Evans (soprano), Joshua Mills (tenor) and the very youthful Charlie Lovell-Jones (violin). The scheduled conductor, Gareth Jones, was indisposed so his place was taken by Adrian Partington (the Artistic Director of the BBC National Chorus of Wales).

The programme was entirely Welsh in origin and had a strong emphasis on vocal music, including many pieces I had never heard before, including songs by: Meirion Williams, Dilys Elwyn Edwards, R.S. Hughes, Idris Lewis, Joseph Parry, Evan Thomas Davies, Haydn Morris and, of course, Ivor Novello. There were also some instrumental pieces, including a cracking performance by 17-year old Charlie Lovell-Jones, of the Allegro movement from Sarakiz by Karl Jenkins.

The concert ended with a singalong, led by the chorus and soloists, of traditional Welsh favourites such as Sosban Fach, Calon Lân, Myfanwy and Cwm Rhonnda either side of a rare foray into the English language for We’ll Keep A Welcome In The Hillsides.  I was surprised to discover that Calon Lân is only a little over a hundred years old. I thought it was much older than that, but it’s still a lovely song (or hymn, really, as that’s what it is).

And of course no St David’s Day celebration would be complete without a rousing rendition of the Welsh National Anthem  Hen Wlad fy Nhadau (Land of my Fathers). Here’s a photograph of the closing scene. Note that the two vocal soloists had changed into Welsh Rugby Union shirts for the singalong part!

Here’s a picture of the closing stages, courtesy of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales twitter account.

st-davids

Four of us from the Cardiff University School of Physics & Astronomy attended the concert and we’re all in the picture. Bonus points if you can identify us!

Go to the Mardi Gras!

Posted in Music with tags , , on February 28, 2017 by telescoper

I can’t believe I’ve let so many Fat Tuesdays go by without posting this classic from the brilliant Professor Longhair along with an absolutely terrific rhythm section!

Enjoy your pancakes!

100 Years of Jazz on Record

Posted in History, Jazz with tags , , , on February 26, 2017 by telescoper

Today marks a very significant centenary in the history of music, specifically Jazz. Much of the origins and early development of Jazz is lost in the mists of time, but there is one point on which most music historians agree. The first commercial recording session that produced a record that nowadays is recognisable as Jazz happened exactly one hundred years ago today, on 26th February 1917, in the New York studios of the Victor label.

The band was called the ‘Original Dixieland Jass Band‘. A few months later they changed the “Jass” to “Jazz” and the name stuck. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is usually referred by Jazz buffs as the ODJB.

Led by cornettist Nick LaRocca and clarinettist Larry Shields, the ODJB was a group of white musicians from in and around New Orleans who had picked up their musical ideas from listening to musicians there, including playing for the pioneering mixed-race band led by Papa Laine, before moving to Chicago which is where they were spotted by representatives of the Victor label. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s worth emphasizing that 1917 was also a significant year for New Orleans itself, as that was the year that the red light district Storyville was shut down (as a threat to the health of the US Navy). Since Storyville had provided many of the opportunities for black musicians to work, its closure started  a mass exodus to Chicago. That, and a desire among black musicians to leave the deeply racist South, is why most of the classic “New Orleans” Jazz records were actually made in Chicago.

Although they don’t represent the true origins of jazz, the ODJB were fine musicians who played with a great deal of pizzazz and were highly original and innovative. Audiences also found them great to dance to. The first single to be issued as a result of the historic first session was Livery Stable Blues. It was an instant hit and was followed by dozens more. As well as leading to fame and fortune for the ODJB, it paved the way for a century of Jazz on record.

Beethoven and Strauss at St David’s Hall 

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by telescoper

I’m a bit late writing about this because the last two days have been very busy, but on Wednesday evening (22nd February) I went to a concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, featuring the Philharmonia Orchestra under the direction of Principal Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen.

The first half of the programme featured two pieces by Beethoven, starting with a piece that was entirely new to me: his rarely heard concert overture Zur Namensfeier. It’s just a short piece (7 minutes long) and isn’t among Beethoven’s best compositions, but it did at least get the Philharmonia warmed up for the main event.

The Piano Concerto No. 5 (“Emperor”) wasn’t immediately popular when it was first performed in 1809 – perhaps because it was considered a bit grandiose – but is now firmly established as one of the pinnacles of the repertoire. The soloist was the superb Pierre-Laurent Aimard who gave us an electrifying performance, though I did feel that some of the transitions from soloist to orchestra could have been a little smoother.

The second half of the programme was devoted to a single work by Richard Strauss, for which the orchestra was augmented  by the addition of brass and a larger percussion section.

For many people, the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra is irrevocably associated with Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey  as well as the BBC coverage of the Apollo moon landings. The opening section, representing sunrise (“as the individual enters the world, or the world enters the individual”), was memorably featured in both. Perhaps that association is why the opening section of this work sounds very modern, when it was actually written in 1896.

This is a spine-tingling piece to hear live, especially with the timpani, trumpets and splendid organ of St David’s Hall giving it everything.  The principal percussionist was clearly loving every minute.

But the sunrise is only one section of nine and it’s a pity that it’s often the only part we get to hear. The other sections are rather more recognisably late-romantic, but they cover a huge range as Strauss expresses in music various aspects of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche that inspired this piece.

The whole performance was brilliantly energised. Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen got so carried away at one point that the baton slipped from his hand and flew into the First Violins. That’s definitely the first time I’ve seen that happen!
The concert ended to tumultuous applause: St David’s Hall wasn’t full, but the audience was very appreciative of an excellent performance. 

Le Vin herbé

Posted in Opera with tags , , on February 17, 2017 by telescoper

Last night I went to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff for the opening night of Welsh National Opera’s new production of Le Vin herbé  by Swiss-born composer Frank Martin. This isn’t a work with which I was previously familiar so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but then that’s why I usually particularly hard to get to see departures from the standard repertoire. It’s not that I’m at all bored with Mozart, Puccini et al but that it’s always good to keep an ear open for new things.  In fact there is only one performance of this piece in Cardiff this year before it goes on tour. Fortunately I was able to make it.

Le Vin herbé is based on the story of Tristan and Iseult ; the title refers to the potion that the two lead characters accidentally drink which makes them fall in love and thus betray King Mark of Cornwall, who is Tristan’s uncle and Iseult’s husband-to-be. Naturally tt all ends in disaster, with the two lovers both dying. But if the story makes you think of Wagner’s epic operatic telling of this legend, Tristan und Isolde then you need to think again, as this is a very different piece. Le Vin herbé is a much more intimate work, with a relatively small case and a band of just eight musicians (a piano and seven string players) who, in this production, were at centre stage throughout the performance rather than in the pit. The main characters are played by tenor Tom Randle (Tristan) and soprano Caitlin Hulcup (Iseult) – both of whom were brilliant – and some of their lines are also sung by the chorus and there are also solo storytellers to provide bits of the narrative. The set and staging is very minimal. In fact it’s more of a chamber oratorio than an Opera. Also the entire performances lasts under two hours, with no interval. Quite a lot shorter than Wagner’s version!

I think the instrumental music by Frank Martin is very fine indeed, and very well played by the musicians directed by James Southall, and the principals and chorus were in good voice. Having said that I think Martin’s writing for voices is less successful. The vocal lines consciously evokes mediaeval plainsong, which works quite well for the chorus but makes it difficult for the soloists to generate any melodic drive. It’s not helped by the libretto either, which is rather dry and undramatic. On the way home from the performance I couldn’t help wondering what it might have been like had the text been in mediaeval Latin! The staging was at times effective: some of the scenes between Tristan and Iseult were very moving, but the stage was too busy and confusing when the whole chorus got involved.

This probably sounds very critical, but I don’t mean it to be. There’s much to enjoy in this production, so I’d encourage you to go and form their own opinion. It’s on tour in Bristol, Milton Keynes, Llandudno, Plymouth and Southampton. Last night’s performance got a very warm reception from a pretty full house which, for an unusual work like this, is a very good sign.