Archive for Felix Mendelssohn

Music for the Solstice

Posted in Music with tags , on June 21, 2018 by telescoper

Well, in case you didn’t realize, the summer solstice (when the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky and is directly overhead on the Tropic of Cancer) occurred at 10.07 UT (11.07  British Summer Time Daylight Saving Time in Ireland) today. I guess that means it’s all downhill from here. Anyway, this gives me some sort of excuse for me posting a piece of music I’ve loved ever since I was a young child for its energy and wit. It’s the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream,  by Felix Mendelssohn which he started to compose when he was just 16 years old, but didn’t complete until later so it’s his Opus 21. This performance is by the Leipzig Genwandhausorchester conducted by Kurt Mazur. Enjoy!

Incidentally, I listed to a very nice performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream on BBC Radio 3 on Sunday evening when I was still in Cardiff. It reminded me of when we performed that play whhen I was at school, and by Bottom received a warm hand.


The WNO Orchestra at St David’s Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on January 15, 2018 by telescoper

It has been a very busy weekend but yesterday afternoon I took time out to visit St David’s Hall in Cardiff to hear the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera conducted by Tomáš Hanus in a programme of music by Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Dvořák. I’ve noticed that many of the international concerts that are a regular part of Cardiff life have been moved from weekday evenings to weekend afternoons. No doubt that it is for commercial reasons. I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of matinee concerts, but as it happens I’m not going to be available for many of the weekday evening concerts for the foreseeable future so I thought I’d give this one a go. The programme was a middle-of-the-road bums-on-seats affair, but if it brings people into the concert hall that is a good thing and it was nice to see a big crowd, including a sizeable contingent of schoolchildren, there to enjoy the show.

First up we had a favourite piece of mine, Beethoven’s  Egmont overture, inspired by the story of Lamoral, Count of Egmont whose execution in 1568 sparked an uprising Spanish occupation that eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands. It’s a stirring, dramatic work, ideal for opening a concert programme. I thought the tempo was a bit slow at the start, which made increase in speed towards the end a little jarring, but otherwise it was well played the full orchestra, arranged with six double-basses right at the back of the stage facing the conductor with the brass either side. That was very effective at generating a rich dark sonority both in this piece and in the Dvořák later on.

The next item was a very familiar work indeed, the Violin Concerto in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn. This is perhaps best known for its lvoely second movement (in which they key changes to C major) but the other two movements are really innovative and virtuosic. In the wrong hands the slow movement can be horribly schmaltzy but Norwegian soloist Henning Kraggerud managed to bring out is beauty without wallowing in its romanticism. It was a very fine performance, warmly appreciated by the audience. Henning Kraggerud treated us to an encore in the form of an intruguing piece by a musician previously unknown to me, Olof Bull, a fellow Norwegian and a contemporary of Mendelssohn.

After the wine break the main event of was another familiar piece, the Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”) by Antonín Dvořák, a piece full of nostalgia for his Czech homeland written while the composer was living in America. It’s a piece I’ve heard very many times but it still manages to stay fresh, and yesterday’s performance was full of colour of verve. Tomáš Hanus (himself Czech) chose this piece as a tribute to an old friend who passed away last year, and it was was played with great passion.

I’d heard all the pieces in this programme many times, both in concert and on record, but they all stand up to repeated listening, simply because they’re so very good. I do like to hear new works – and do wish the programming at St David’s Hall were a little more adventurous – but they do have to make ends meet and there’s in any case much to enjoy in the standard repertoire, especially when it’s played by a fine orchestra. Such pieces can fall flat when you get the feeling that the musicians themselves are a bit bored with them, but that emphatically wasn’t the case yesterday.

It will soon be time to Welsh National Opera’s new season, with a new production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino alongside revivals of Tosca and Don Giovanni. It’s going to be tricky to see them all, but I’ll give it a go!

Music for the Solstice

Posted in Music with tags , on June 21, 2014 by telescoper

Well, in case you didn’t realize, the summer solstice (when the Sun reaches its most northerly point in the sky) occurred at 11.51 BST today. I guess that means it’s all downhill from here. Anyway, this gives me some sort of excuse for me posting a piece of music I’ve loved ever since I was a young child for its energy and wit. It’s the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was written by Felix Mendelssohn when he was just 17 years old, and even so it’s his Opus 21. This performance is by the Leipzig Genwandhausorchester conducted by Kurt Mazur. Enjoy!

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on October 18, 2012 by telescoper

Just a very quick post this morning about a concert I went to last night at St David’s Hall.

It was a last-minute decision to go and hear The Academy of St Martin in the Fields as I’ve been too busy these days to do much forward planning of non-work activities. However, when I saw that Beethoven’s First Symphony was on the menu I decided to go for it and even persuaded a couple of friends, Ed and Haley, to come along.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1  was the work that opened the concert, in fact, with music director  Joshua Bell conducting from a seated position and playing violin at the same time; at times the expansive gestures he made with his bow threatened to put someone’s eye out.

Perhaps the orchestra hadn’t really warmed up but I found the performance of Beethoven’s First Symphony rather flat. It’s a piece I really love – especially the last movement, which has all the ebullience of a young man making his way in a world that’s rich in possibilities, as well as paying affectionate homage to his predecessors (especially in this case Haydn and Mozart). In last night’s concert, however, I thought the wind instruments (especially the horns) lacked bite and focus and a great deal of the exuberant energy of the last movement was lost.

Next piece up was new to me, the Scottish Fantasy by Max Bruch. For this, Joshua Bell stood centre stage while he played the violin role (beautifully, in fact). Based on a series of Scottish folk songs, this work is pretty (in a slightly mushy way). Not really my cup of tea but I did enjoy Joshua Bell’s poised and expressive violin playing. The orchestra, with a beefed up brass section,  played this one better too.

After the interval we had Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”), with Joshua Bell back in eye-threatening mode, in place among the first violins. I’ve always had a soft spot for Mendelssohn because his music always seems so beautifully crafted. Some find him a bit twee and cosy, but the Scottish Symphony is a fine work that takes the listener on a long and dramatic journey through a varied musical landscape. I thought last night’s performance was very fine indeed. When I leave Cardiff I’ll certainly miss having so many opportunities to hear world-class music live!

When we emerged from St David’s Hall, it was bucketing down so we made for a local restaurant for a late supper, a glass or two of wine, and a large amount of departmental gossip. By the time we’d finished chatting and drinking, the rain had gone and I had a pleasant walk home without getting drenched. I’ll miss the Cardiff rain too. Sort of.

Midsummer Madness

Posted in Biographical, Music, Poetry with tags , , on June 21, 2009 by telescoper

I’ve just realised that the Summer Solstice happened this morning at about 6.47am British Summer Time (5h 46m 45s UTC). Astronomy buffs will know that’s the time when the Sun reaches its most northerly position in the sky, leading to the longest day in the northern hemisphere.

Since it’s also the bicentennial year of Felix Mendelssohn it was a no-brainer to decide to celebrate by picking one of the beautiful pieces he wrote as music for the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare.

Whenever anyone mentions that play I can’t help remembering the version of it we did at School. I only got to act in two plays when I was a schoolboy, but they were both authentically Shakespearean in the sense that all the parts, including the female ones, were played by boys. It was an all-boys school, you see. My best role was undoubtedly as Lady Macbeth in the Scottish play – a much more interesting part than her husband, if you ask me. The only other attempt at acting I ever engaged in was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Although I say so myself, my Bottom was the talk of the sixth form.

(I was going to say “and thereby hangs a tail”, but decided not to…)

I should also mention that I also saw Andy Lawrence playing the same part in the Queen Mary Players production of The Dream. I wonder if he remembers doing that?

Curiously, the phrase from which I got the title of this post (“this is very midsummer madness”) is not from this play but from Twelfth Night, a play whose title refers to winter time. I think it might have been a joke.

Anyway, I’m rambling. This clip is a plug for a new recording which sounds pretty good to me. I’ve picked the wonderful Notturno:

Postscript: I’m aware that some people might have been offended by some of the clerihews recently posted on this site. Sometimes the lure of a rhyme can take these into areas best left unvisited. I’d therefore like to offer these, the closing lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, by way of an apology. I’ve also now taken the Clerihews themselves offline, owing to a number of attempts to post  abusive and/or threatening comments on that page (none of which came from anyone actually named there).

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

I’m glad at least that nobody tried to do a clerihew about Puck. I mean, how could you possible find a rhyme for “Robin Goodfellow”?

Felicitations to Felix

Posted in Music with tags , , on February 3, 2009 by telescoper

I just remembered that today (February 3rd 2009) is the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn. Rather than sing Happy Birthday, I thought it would better to celebrate with a Song without Words. Mendelssohn wrote eight famous books each containing six Songs without Words for solo piano, but I’ve picked one written for piano and cello (Opus 109) because I think the cello can sing like no other instrument, and also because I found a rare clip that features the wonderful Jacqueline du Pré on cello, with her mother Iris du Pré on piano. Enjoy!