In concert – Jonathan Martindale, CBSO / Michael Seal: Summer Classics


Jonathan Martindale (violin, below), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Michael Seal (above)

Dvořák Carnival Op.92 (1891)
Vaughan Williams
The Lark Ascending (1914/20)
Chanson de matin Op.15/2 (1889)
Peer Gynt Suite no.1 Op.46 (1875/88) – no.1, Morning; no.4, In the Hall of the Mountain King
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Op.21 (1826)
The Four Seasons Op.8 (1718/20) – no.2 in G minor RV315 ‘Summer’
Symphony no.1 in E minor (1931-2) – Juba Dance
The Nutcracker Op.71 (1892) – Waltz of the Flowers

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Friday 2 July 2021 (2pm)

Written by Richard Whitehouse Photo of Jonathan Martindale courtesy of Upstream Photography

The penultimate event in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s current season, this afternoon’s Summer Classics featured a wide-ranging selection of pieces that between them spanned over two centuries, and whose ‘feel good’ factor at no time precluded stylish or committed playing.

With longstanding associate director Michael Seal at the helm, the orchestra made the most of Dvořák’s effervescent Carnival overture; the alluring pathos of its central interlude accorded due emphasis, and with some eloquent woodwind solos. Its popularity during recent years has made Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending a regular inclusion in such programmes, and Jonathan Martindale (below, who also led the concert) gave a thoughtful while never flaccid reading – most perceptive in the middle section with its folk-like whimsy and fanciful evocations of birdsong. The CBSO responded with limpid dexterity, the whole performance a reminder that this work is best tackled as a concertante piece and by a player (recalling such as Hugh Bean, Iona Brown and, more recently, Richard Tognetti) who knows the orchestra from the inside.

Next came an ingratiating take on Elgar evergreen Chanson de matin, then excerpts from the First Suite of Grieg’s incidental music to Peer Gynt – a rapturous Morning and stealthy In the Hall of the Mountain King skirting headlong terror at the close. Mendelssohn’s overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream made for an unlikely but effective centrepiece – the highlight being those fugitive imaginings towards its centre, along with the disarming eloquence of its final bars where the teenage composer conjures a fulfilment he was only rarely to recapture.

The Summer concerto from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons again saw Martindale as soloist in an account that lacked little of that rhythmic vitality his contemporaries (notably Bach) seized on with alacrity; nor was there any absence of poise in its atmospheric second movement. One who has come in from the cold partly through the recovery of her manuscripts, Chicago-based Florence Price broke with convention by introducing the Juba Dance into her symphonies in lieu of a scherzo; the CBSO responding in full measure to its rhythmic verve. A winning harp solo from Katherine Thomas launched Waltz of the Flowers from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker and ended the main programme in fine style – Seal and the CBSO acknowledging the applause with the final ‘galop’ from Rossini’s William Tell overture as a dashing encore.

Throughout the concert, film expert Andrew Collins interspersed proceedings with his remarks and recollections (not least on that seminal 1970s supergroup The Wombles). The music itself was accompanied by varying shades and colours of lighting, but these rarely seemed intrusive – not least compared to the garish ‘Moulin Rouge’ effects routinely encountered nowadays at the Proms. Certainly, anyone in the process of getting the know just what classical music was all about, and those merely in search of a pleasurable afternoon’s listening, were well served.

Next Wednesday brings the last in this current series of concerts, the CBSO being conducted by Joshua Weilerstein (who is replacing an ‘unable to travel’ Edward Gardner) in an enticing programme of Judith Weir, Prokofiev (with the violinist Alina Ibragimova) and Beethoven.

You can find information on the final concert in the CBSO’s season at their website. For more information on composer Florence Price, click here

Sound of Mind 10 – Sounds of Spring

If you’ve been indoors for over a week now, the chances are you’ll be climbing the walls!

Happily there are reasons to be cheerful just around the corner – not least the imminent arrival of spring.

Classical music composers have always taken to spring in their music, from Vivaldi through to Stravinsky. This playlist celebrates their portrayals of the season, through works including Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Schumann‘s Spring Symphony, Beethoven, Sibelius and finally Britten.

Have a listen and harness the positive energy our composers can provide!


Ben Hogwood

BBC Proms 2017 – Edgar Moreau and Il Pomo d’Oro at the Cadogan Hall

Edgar Moreau (cello), Il Pomo d’Oro / Maxim Emelyanychev (harpsichord)

Hasse Grave and Fugue in G minor (c1735)

Platti Cello Concerto in D major (c1724)

Vivaldi Cello Concerto in A minor, RV419 (c1725)

Telemann Divertimento in B flat major (c1763-6)

Boccherini Cello Concerto in D major, G479 (c1760)

Cadogan Hall, Monday 7 August 2017

Listen to this concert on the BBC iPlayer

Fresh performances of seldom-heard repertoire. That sums up the fourth of the BBC Proms’ weekly visits to Cadogan Hall, downsizing as they do on a Monday lunchtime.

This was an invigorating hour, documenting the emergence of the cello as a solo instrument in the 1700s. Until then it was largely used as part of the ‘continuo’ – that is, the small section of instruments responsible for providing the harmonic base of the music – but thanks to composers such as Platti, Vivaldi and Boccherini the instrument’s own melodic potential began to be fully realised.

The first item in the concert provided some helpful context, a lean performance of the stern Grave by Johann Adolf Hasse, followed immediately by a Fugue rooted in dance forms. The authorship of this remains in doubt – Hasse is a contender, but a more likely composer was Franz Xaver Richter, a fellow Mannheimer. Whatever the outcome, the two pieces dovetailed nicely, setting the scene for the much brighter Cello Concerto in D major by the Italian composer Giovanni Benedetto Platti, employed in the German city of Würzburg.

His bright and breezy work showed off the cello’s new capabilities, if not quite raising it above the level of the surrounding violins. Edgar Moreau brought plenty of energy and pizzazz to the performance, however, with brilliant technique and studious interaction with the finely honed instrumental sextet Il Pomo d’Oro, and their charismatic leader Maxim Emelyanychev. His contribution on the harpsichord was a constant delight, punctuating the music and cajoling his players.

Vivaldi was next, one of the 20+ concertos he completed with the cello centre stage. This one, in A minor, had some tricks up its sleeve in the outer movements that Moreau enjoyed showing off, but the serene and rather beautiful melody in the central Andante stole the show.

Il Pomo d’Oro then took over for some forward looking music by Telemann. The German master’s Divertimento in B flat major contains glimpses of classical practice with its use of five light hearted ‘scherzo’ movements out of the six in total. There was plenty of variety within them however, and the poise and dexterity of the ensemble was a joy to watch.

Finally the cello got its best workout in one of Italian composer Luigi Boccherini’s 12 concerti. This one, the Cello Concerto in D major G479, sparked into life immediately, helped by Moreau’s immaculate control in the higher register, where most of the writing for cello could be found. This was a striking change in comparison to the Platti, the cello now much more dominant, and the duet with Zefira Valova’s violin in the slow movement felt more like a ballet score. Boccherini relocated to Spain, and the last movement betrayed this somewhat in its Fandango flavouring, where Moreau enjoyed the rapid dancing and energetic conclusion.

To bring us back to earth there was an encore of solo Bach, the Sarabande from the Solo Cello Suite no.3 in C. If Boccherini and co raised the cello to the heights in the concerto, then it was Bach who revolutionised the instrument in a solo capacity – and it was a nice touch to include that point here.

Ben Hogwood

Wigmore Mondays – Les Ambassadeurs


Les Ambassadeurs / Alexis Kossenko (above)

Les Ambassadeurs (Lina Tur Bonet, Stefano Rossi (violins), Tormod Dalen (cello), Allan Rasmussen (harpsichord) / Alexis Kossenko (flute, director)

Wigmore Hall, London, 20 June 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

Available until 20 July

What’s the music?

Blavet Flute Concerto in A minor (1745) (14 minutes)

Pisendel Sonata in D for violin and basso continuo (c1717) (11 minutes)

Leo Flute Concerto in G (unknown) (8 minutes)

Leclair Ouverture No 3 in A major, Op 13 No 5 (1746) (4 minutes)

Vivaldi Recorder Concerto in A minor, RV108 (1724) (7 minutes)


Les Ambassadeurs have not recorded this music, but the Spotify playlist below gives a guide to other versions in the event you are unable to get the broadcast link to work:

About the music

It is more than possible that you will only have heard of one of the five composers in this concert, which also presented Les Ambassadeurs in their first visit to the Wigmore Hall. The ensemble is normally around fifteen strong, though to fit the confines of the venue here it was scaled down to five.

Les Ambassadeurs is modelled on the Dresden Hofkapelle, an orchestra in Bach’s time that was regarded as one of the best in Europe. The music they choose comes from the 18th century, naturally, but here presents contemporaries who are not often heard.
Michel Blavet (1700-1768) was a French flautist and composer, and a prominent part of Les Concerts Spirituel in Paris. His Flute Concerto of 1745 was rediscovered in 1954.

Meanwhile the Italian composer Leonardo Leo (1694-1744) was a prolific composer for the stage, but wrote in particular for cello and flute. This concerto appears to be a recent discovery.

Composer-violinist Leclair (1697-1764) appears with an overture intended for his only opera Scylla et Glaucus, while Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755), an employee of the Saxon court in Dresden, wrote his Violin Sonata in an Italian style, bringing to mind the compositions of Vivaldi.

Speaking of which, the concert concludes with one of Vivaldi’s many concerti for flute / recorder and strings. This one was composed at a time when the composer was often away from Venice, but sent scores by post for his pupils to play.

Performance verdict

A series of excellent performances gave a valuable insight into a corner of the eighteenth century not often visited in concert.

Alexis Kossenko led his charges with great enthusiasm, and the planning of the concert was ideal to give a contrast between the works for flute and recorder and those smaller scale pieces for violin – brilliantly played by Lina Tur Bonet.

The works of Blavet, Pisendel and Leo stood up well in comparison to their more illustrious contemporaries, with lively introductions from the strings in the flute concertos, setting the tone for some considerable virtuosity from Kossenko.

What should I listen out for?


5:46 – the strings begin with a purposeful tune, the start of a lively Allegro. They are joined by the flute at 6:32. The flute is then the dominant character in proceedings, which includes quite a substantial development of the first tune. At 10:43 we hear the flute alone in a showy cadenza, over a single held note from the other players, before they wrap up the movement.

11:39 – Blavet stays in the key of A minor for his slow movement, a solemn piece of music – but then there is a switch to A major at 13:07, and a lighter outlook. Then at 14:16 the harmonies turn once more to the minor key, though there is now a more positive feel to the music.

15:07 – the strings begin with some brisk music, and you might hear the slap of bow on string as they strive for maximum thrust. The flute joins at 15:49 with a similar sense of purpose. At 16:35 there is a flashy cadenza, but then at 18:12 and 19:02 we hear it in some very difficult music, taking the solo role to extremes.


20:45 – the ‘basso continuo’ (cello and harpsichord) set out a bright opening to which the violin quickly responds, before taking the lead in light hearted dialogue. Then at 22:00 the harmonies open out into more complex areas and the solo violin is given a really testing workout. Eventually Pisendel works his way back to the original key.

24:19 – a slow second movement, still in the original key of D major, but making moves towards the minor key a lot, giving the harmonies more colour in music of greater strife.

27:40 – back to the major key for the third movement, where the violin has a free standing part over the continuo, which anchors the music. From 30:30 Pisendel makes greater demands on his soloist, with rapid string crossing. There is a false end at 31:42, then a proper finish a couple of seconds later.


33:16 – the strings start off with a perky theme, setting out the main melodies and figures before the flute joins them at 33:57. Before long Leo is asking a lot of the flute, with some breathless phrases before we hear the strings’ theme again at 35:28, now in the key of E minor – the closest ‘relative’ to the work’s home key of G.

37:21 – for the slow movement Leo moves back to the ‘relative’ minor for a slow dance, gracefully introduced by the violins before handing over to the flute at 38:01.

41:23 – after the relative anguish of the slow movement the breezy finale is a nice contrast, the violins flourishing with their tunes, complemented by the flute from 41:58.


45:54 – a series of rapidly ascending scales on the cello and violin form the basis of the musical material for this characterful overture. It is a lively, bright piece of music.


51:16 – Vivaldi gets straight down to business in this piece, with no way of introduction – the strings and recorder are straight in together with some quick exchanges. From 53:30 the recorder has a tricky, virtuosic passage.

54:17 – slow, chugging violins over spread chords from the harpsichord set the scene, after which the recorder comes in with longer phrases.

56:44 – a triple time dance, led by the recorder with enthusiastic support from the strings.

Further listening

As a complement to this concert, here is a link to Les Ambassadeurs in accompaniment to the soprano Sabine Devieilhe, in an enticing album of vocal works by Rameau:

Wigmore Mondays – Gli Incogniti and Amandine Beyer play Vivaldi


Gli Incogniti / Amandine Beyer (above, photo Clara Honorato)

Wigmore Hall, London, 13 June 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)

Available until 12 July

What’s the music?

Vivaldi Sinfonia from L’Olimpiade, RV725 (1733) (6 minutes)

Violin Concerto in F, RV282 () (11 minutes)

Violin Concerto in G minor, RV322 (1728) (10 minutes)

Concerto in G for violin ‘in tromba marina’, RV313 () (7 minutes)

Ballo Primo from Arsilda, regina di Ponto, RV700, & Giga, RV316 (1716) (4 minutes)

Violin Concerto in D, RV228 (c1720-30) (9 minutes)


In case you cannot hear the broadcast, Gli Incogniti have recorded all the Vivaldi music played in this concert, and it can be heard here:

About the music

Vivaldi wrote a vast amount of music, a lot of it functional. Yet through the duty of being a court composer there was always the spirit of invention in his music, especially when certain restrictions were imposed, such as for the concerto written for a violin ‘in tromba marina’, where Amandine Beyer plays an instrument where she has virtually destroyed the bridge to give an unusually distorted sound.

The G minor violin concerto, RV322, has been reconstructed by Beyer herself, while the Ballo Primo and Giga is a nice combination of three movements that effectively make up a concerto. The third of these is actually by Bach, but based on a work of Vivaldi.

Finally the group and Beyer play one of the composer’s ‘Dresden’ concertos, which Vivaldi wrote for the Dresden Hofkapelle, whose army of forty or more players made it one of the largest orchestras at the time.

Performance verdict

Gli Incogniti exhibit pure enjoyment when they play the music of Vivaldi, and the concert here was full of the enthusiasm they bring to his music. Because of this there was plenty of energy on display, with the solo violinist and conductor Amandine Beyer responsible for some gravity defying solo virtuosity.

She also had to battle against the elements, for her instruments seemed determine to go out of tune – a hazard for all period instrument groups – but she battled with the elements with impressive ease.

What should I listen out for?


1:38 – the Sinfonia starts like the wind in the branches of a tree, with repeated notes (tremolandi) on the strings creating momentum. The music is lively and quite ceremonial.

3:49 – for the bittersweet slow movement Vivaldi turns to a minor key, and the violins take a reflective tone.

6:25 – a perky fast movement to complete a typical three-movement format. The lower parts are much more active than the upper this time.

Violin Concerto in F major RV282

8:37 – quite a cheeky start to the first movement concerto, with a breezy main theme. Eventually the music winds up so the soloist can show their mettle, and the violin’s bright tone dominates proceedings from here on.

13:12 – as is customary for a concerto in a major key (F major in this case) Vivaldi uses what is known as the ‘relative minor’, that is the minor key closest related to F major – which is D minor. It is suited for the sombre and relatively stern mood that the music takes. Again the violin leads proceedings.

15:28 – the carefree mood is resumed with another bright and breezy tune from the strings, the violin taking over at 16:07.

Violin Concerto in G minor, RV322

20:28 – the serious tones of the opening lessen a little as the music becomes more energetic, but there is still a darker atmosphere around this music. The violin takes over early on, and you may be able to hear the metallic glint of the harpsichord behind it.

24:49 – staying in G minor, Vivaldi slows the tempo almost to a complete stop. This is an especially poignant movement, the textures quite sparse with a searching melody given to the solo violinist.

27:47 – the third movement feels like a statement of defiance after the sorrow of the slow movement. It has the characteristic Vivaldi energy, whether in the bold strings or the tricky solo part. It ends with impressive gusto.

Concerto in G for violin ‘in tromba marina’, RV313

The violin for this has been adapted by Amandine Beyer so that it rattles when she plays the strings, so it might sound a bit unconventional!

32:07 – the rasp of Beyer’s instrument can be heard as part of the powerful thrust that begins this piece. At times the distortion sounds almost electronic, but is put in context by the steady accompaniment by bass section and harpsichord.

34:50 – a rather beautiful but stark tone from Beyer’s instrument as the music moves into the slow movement.

37:05 – a vigorous, scrubbing motion brings in the music of the third movement, after which we hear Beyer in a solo capacity again, with what sounds like some really tricky passage work!

Ballo Primo and Giga

41:15 – quite a gentle, lilting piece of dance music in triple time, with an attractive colour to the violins.

43:08 – staying in triple time, the next movement is a quicker one, harder on the hips I suspect!

44:07 – the tempo is even faster for the ‘giga’, the violins playing a distinctive three-note motif that takes over the whole dance.

Violin Concerto in D major RV228

47:20 – a brisk theme begins the violin concerto with a sense of purpose on the part of the ensemble, which the solo violin takes up at 47:48.

50:13 – the textures change for the slow movement, as the violins adopt use plucking in the background. The soloist becomes really elaborate in her playing, with some emotive trills and turns to the melody, complemented by some colourful harmonies from the cello and harpsichord. This all takes place in B minor, the ‘relative’ minor key of the concerto’s key of D major.

52:21 – a rush of melodies from the violins return the mood back to one of optimism. There is a highly virtuosic cadenza for the soloist from 54:40.


58:45 – as fresh as a spring day, this encore (the slow movement from a Violin Concerto in B flat major, RV372a) again uses plucked violins before the solo violin arrives with an expressive and endearing simple melody over the top.

Further listening

As a complement to their Vivaldi, here is another album from Gli Incogniti and Amandine Beyer, concentrating on his French contemporary François Couperin: