Archive for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Debussy, Mozart and Messiaen at St David’s Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on March 25, 2018 by telescoper

The view from Tier 2 before the concert

After work (and a pint or two) on Friday evening I headed to St David’s Hall for a concert by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen. The concert was broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 so you can listen to it on the iPlayer for a month.

Two of the four pieces on the programme were by Claude Debussy (abovel, to mark the centenary of his death which was 100 years ago today (on 25th March 1918).

The concert opened with Debussy’s Nocturnes and ended with La Mer , both works consisting of three movements for a large orchestra and showing the vivid chromaticism and lush orchestration that typifies so many of his compositions. The last movement of Nocturnes includes some wordless singing, which was performed beautifully by female singers from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

The second piece was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat Major K. 595, with soloist Steven Osborne. This, Mozart’s last piano concerto, is a nice piece, well played by both pianist and (pared-down) orchestra but I felt it was a rather incongruous choice for this programme. It was probably chosen because it is in some sense a valedictory piece, but all it did for me in this concert was emphasize how much the harmonic vocabulary of music expanded between Mozart and Debussy, and left me feeling that the Mozart piece was rather trite in comparison.

After the wine break we heard a piece that was completely new to me, Les Offrandes Oubliées by Olivier Messiaen, a wonderfully expressive piece with wildly contrasting moods, clearly influenced by Debussy but with a distinctive voice all its own. Messiaen is one composer I definitely wish I knew more about.

After the superb La Mer which ended the published programme, something very unusual happened for a classical concert in the UK: there was an encore by the orchestra in the form of a dance by Debussy orchestrated by Maurice Ravel.

All in all, a very enjoyable evening and a fitting tribute to Claude Debussy, a composer who was both modernist and impressionist and whose influence on the development of music is incalculable.

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Rondo alla Trad

Posted in Film, Jazz with tags , , , , on July 17, 2017 by telescoper

I think this will probably alienate serious jazz fans and serious classical music fans in equal measure, but I stumbled across this while searching for something else and couldn’t resit posting it here. It’s from the 1963 film Live it Up and it features Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen playing their arrangement of the famous Rondo alla Turca from the third movement Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 (K331). It’s not as far fetched as you might think to perform this with a band led by a trumpet player because Mozart’s composition deliberately imitated the music of the Janissary marching bands which were much in vogue in Austria in the latter part of the 18th Century.

Anyway, when I clicked on this I thought I was going to hate it, but you know what? I rather like it!

Daphnis et Chloé at St David’s Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on November 11, 2016 by telescoper

Taking a short break from today’s duties – which are substantial – I’ve just got time to mention that last night I went once again to a concert at St David’s Hall in Cardiff. This time it was the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the direction of conductor laureate Tadaaki Otaka, who were joined for the second half of the performance by the BBC National Chorus of Wales. The concert was broadcast live last night on BBC Radio 3, although I didn’t listen to it on the radio myself because I was there in person. In fact I only just got there in time because last night they switched on the Christmas lights in Cardiff city centre and I had to make my way through the crowds to get to St David’s Hall.

The programme began with an appetizer in the form Mozart’s, brief but dramatic overture to the opera Idomeneo which Mozart wrote when he was just 25. It’s interesting how much more attention one tends to pay to an overture when it’s detached from the main event it is supposed to precede. In fact you sometimes even find people talking during the overture at the Opera, which as far as I’m concerned is a crime of the most serious order. Anyway, the Idomeneo overture  is in a compact sonata form, which is something I’d never appreciated before despite having seen the Opera a number of times.

After that there was a memorable performance of  Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto with soloist Thomas Zehetmair. I’d never heard this piece before, and was captivated from the very opening in which the soloist enters alone without any orchestral preface or accompaniment. The piece consists of two sprightly and intense allegro movements either side of a more lyrical adagio. It’s a very virtuosic solo piece but also full of interesting melodies and innovative orchestration. I was sitting in the stalls directly in front of the cellos and basses who had to work phenomenally hard, sometimes doubling the melodic line of the much nimbler solo violin. Great stuff.

The interval was followed by a complete performance of the music to the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel. As is the case with Stravinsky’s Firebird (which I heard in St David’s Hall a few weeks ago) music from this ballet is often played in the form of a suite or, in the case of this ballet, two suites, but I have to say the whole is much greater than the sum of the suites. It’s a glorious (and very sensual) work, brilliantly orchestrated, full of vibrant colours and lush textures, and even more wonderful when accompanied by the wordless singing of the massed ranks of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The score lasts a full hour, but that time seemed to flash by in this performance which was extremely well received by a very appreciative audience.

Anyway, for the next month you can listen to the whole concert on the BBC iPlayer so feel free to add your comments below if you get the chance to hear it.

The only downside of the evening was that on the way out I bumped into disgraced former Conservative MP and current UKIP AM, Neil Hamilton, along with equally ghastly wife. So traumatised was I by that experience that I was forced to visit the Urban Tap House for a beer before walking home.

Mozart and Strauss, and the End of Term

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on June 16, 2012 by telescoper

Yesterday (Friday 15th June) was officially the last day of teaching term at Cardiff University. I think most of our students toddled off  some time ago when their last exams were finished,  so for us on the staff side the teaching term has fizzled out gradually rather than go out with a bang. Yesterday I met with a couple of next year’s project students to give them some background reading to do over the summer and that was that for another year of undergraduate teaching.

There was something of an “end-of-term” feeling too to last night’s concert at St David’s Hall, which was also broadcast live on BBC Radio 3; you can listen to it yourself by clicking on that second link. This was not only the last concert of the 2011/12 season by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, but also  last concert at St David’s Hall to be conducted by Thierry Fischer, who has been principal conductor for the BBC NOW for the past six years. Next year Thomas Søndergård will take over.The concert turned out to be a fitting finale to the season and a fine farewell to Thierry Fischer.

The first item on the agenda was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22 played by none other than the wonderful Angela Hewitt.  I wasn’t all that familiar with this piece beforehand, and was surprised to see such a large orchestra on stage before the start. Apparently  this work was the first time Mozart had used clarinets in a piano concerto, and the larger force than I’d normally have associated with a Mozart piece of this type gave the performance a much more opulent sound than I’d expected. It’s an interesting work, with a particularly fine Andante second movement which is both sombre and expansive sandwiched between two quicksilver Allegro movements, the last being a kind of rondo. Angela Hewitt played it with crisp elegance and perfect articulation. Some people find her playing a bit fussy and punctilious, and indeed there were times when I thought the performance could have had a bit more fire in it, but for my part it was a treat to get the chance to see a great artist in the flesh; she has an engaging presence on stage too, clearly enjoying the performance, and smiling from time to time in appreciation at the orchestral playing. We even got a nice little solo encore, which is quite unusual for a live broadcast from St David’s.

Then there was an interval so we could all check the football score, and guzzle a quick glass of overpriced wine before returning to hear the Alpine SymphonyOp. 64 by Richard Strauss. If the orchestra for Part 1 had been large by Mozartian standards, then this one was immense! Well over a hundred musicians, with a huge brass section (supplemented by many more standing off-stage and just visible to me through an open door), harps, percussion (including cow bells and a wind machine), and some unusual instruments including a Heckelphone (what the heck?…). Oh, and the fine organ in St David’s Hall got a full workout too.

Strictly speaking, this is not actually a symphony; it’s more of a tone poem. But Strauss was rather good at them and this one is a wonderful evocation of a day’s journey in the Bavarian Alps, from a resplendent dawn to a tranquil sunset, with summits to be scaled, thunderstorms to be endured, glaciers to be traversed, and so on. It’s certainly a very vivid piece of programmatic music.

As you might have inferred from huge band gathered on stage, this is a work that gets very loud, especially when the organist literally pulls out all the stops. What was especially fine about the performance was that, although the musicians of BBC NOW weren’t afraid to give it some welly whenever it was called for, their playing never became wild or ragged. I don’t know what it sounded like on the radio, but it was a thrilling experience to be in the hall.  I lost count of the number of towering crescendo passages, and just let the waves of wonderful noise wash over me. At times I could feel it through my feet too.

There were cheers at the end, and a standing ovation for Thierry Fischer not only for this performance but for his service to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.  And that brought the term and the season to a close; both start again in late September 2012. There are some cracking concerts in store in the next season in St David’s Hall.