In concert – April Fredrick, English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods – The Journey Home: Haydn, David Matthews, Barber & Mozart

Haydn Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor, Hob.I:45 ‘Farewell’ (1772)
David Matthews Le Lac Op.146 (2018)
Barber Knoxville: Summer of 1915 Op.24 (1947)
Mozart Symphony no.36 in C major K425 ‘Linz’

April Fredrick (soprano), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Great Malvern Priory, Malvern
Wednesday 23 November 2022

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

The English Symphony Orchestra’s season really hit its stride this evening with a programme featuring two major vocal works of the 20th and 21st centuries, heard alongside two notable while very different symphonies from near the start and towards the end of the Classical era.

As Kenneth Woods indicated, Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony would have been determinedly avant-garde to early listeners, and much of that innovative quality came over here. Not least in the initial Allegro, its jagged course and disjunctive tonal shifts only nominally countered by the Adagio’s increasingly fraught introspection. With its stark alternations in motion and phrasing, the Menuetto proved a telling foil to a finale where a turbulent Presto precedes an Adagio whose eloquence was sustained as the music subsides and musicians vacate the stage.

Whether or not this symphony would have been better placed at the end of this concert, it set up productive contrast with David Matthews’s Le Lac. Remembered more as statesman than poet, Alphonse de Lamartine was a crucial figure in French literature of the early Romantic period – his lengthy 1820 poem a remembrance of lost love comparable to verse by Shelley and Heine, and one whose slowly intensifying rapture is to the fore in this evocative scena. Two orchestral interludes aside, its formal and emotional progress is essentially determined by the vocal line; with which April Fredrick was at one in conveying the wistfulness but also anguish inherent of this music. The fastidious textures were no less finely delineated by the ESO, Woods sustaining a cohesive overall trajectory from earlier promise to ultimate loss.

Evidently it was Fredrick who had suggested juxtaposing this piece with Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, which pairing succeeded admirably in terms of underlining conceptual and expressive links between them. Its sense of loss may be psychological rather than personal, but an emotional force comes over tangibly for all this music’s overt restraint: James Agee’s poetic reportage summoning a response the more affecting for its restraint and in whose vocal part Fredrick was never less than attuned. Woods brought no mean sensitivity or character to orchestral writing such as eschews the rhetoric found in many of Barber’s earlier scores and so foreshadows the subtlety of those two decades hence. This is a work with few significant precursors or successors, and the present reading made the most of its singular atmosphere.

The evening concluded with the relative extroversion of Mozart’s ‘Linz’ Symphony – a piece whose having been written in four days doubtless occasioned its technical brilliance, yet also a formulaic quality to its actual substance. Not, however, in an Andante whose gentle pathos was to the fore, or a Menuetto whose brevity belies its resourceful use of woodwind. Woods found a winning effervescence in the initial Allegro, and if the second-half repeat in the final Presto may be one such too far, this music’s Haydnesque wit was never less than appealing.

It set the seal on a well-conceived and finely executed concert that, in pivoting between the established and unfamiliar (not only between but also within works) typifies thr resourceful approach to programming with which Woods and the ESO have now become synonymous.

For more information on the artists in this concert, click on the links to read about April Fredrick, Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra. For more on composer David Matthews, click here

In concert – Oliver Janes, CBSO / Ryan Bancroft: Adams, Mozart & Rachmaninoff

Adams The Chairman Dances (1985)
Mozart Clarinet Concerto in A major K622 (1791)
Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances Op.45 (1940)

Oliver Janes (clarinet), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Ryan Bancroft

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 2 November 2022 [2.15pm]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Back from its successful US tour (the first such in almost a quarter of a century), the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra this afternoon returned to Symphony Hall for what was a programme of contrasts in which an element of dance seldom lurked far beneath the surface.

Although it is often considered emblematic of his opera Nixon in China, John Adams wrote The Chairman Dances well before completing the larger work – this ‘Foxtrot for Orchestra’ encapsulating much of its atmosphere without being intrinsic to its content. Capricious while shot through with a tellingly distanced nostalgia, this remains among Adams’s most effective concert pieces and Ryan Bancroft secured a fine account whose meticulous attention to detail was not without corresponding panache – down to its percussive ‘winding down’ at the close.

It is (nearly) always welcome when an orchestra’s section leader takes the platform as soloist, as was proven with Oliver Janes in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto – easily the most popular such piece in its repertoire yet one that can easily seem bland or even characterless in performance. There was little chance of that here – not least with a swift and purposeful take on the opening Allegro that left relatively little room for lingering over incidental detail, even if something of its underlying elegance was sacrificed with Janes’s powers of articulation pressed to the limit.

This approach paid dividends in the remaining movements, not least an Adagio whose limpid eloquence was conveyed without trace of indulgence or wanton sentiment. The final Allegro, too, had a winning buoyancy – Janes evincing a deftness and spontaneity to which the CBSO responded in kind, and with a surge of energy towards the closing chords. It set the seal on an appealing rendition which, perhaps surprisingly, Janes will not repeat at tomorrow evening’s concert from Warwick Arts Centre – when that by Gerald Finzi will be the concerto on offer.

Soon to take the reins at the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Bancroft is evidently a conductor on a roll as was confirmed by his take on Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. A triptych that abounds in felicitous detail (as is often belied, if not actually concealed, by the score’s lack of expression markings), it needs flexible direction for each movement to cohere, and Bancroft had their measure. The first exuded a suspenseful energy that, in its central section, took on a winsome pathos embodied by its alto saxophone melody (affectingly played by Kyle Horch).

Even more persuasive was the sardonic central dance, its waltz motion underpinning some of the composer’s most astringent harmonies as were pointedly emphasized here. If the charged outer sections of the final dance lacked the ultimate in exhilaration, the quality of the CBSO’s response was never in doubt. In the slower middle episode, moreover, Bancroft’s deliberation ideally clarified those frequently dense textures whose expressive poise is achieved, uniquely for Rachmaninoff, without recourse to an actual melody. A sign of things to come, perhaps?

Bancroft will hopefully be returning next season, but the present one continues with events to mark the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’s birth – including two of his symphonies and the film Scott of the Antarctic, for which the CBSO is contributing live accompaniment.

You can read all about the 2022/23 season and book tickets at the CBSO website. For more information on the artists, click on the names of Ryan Bancroft and Oliver Janes

Playlist – Daniel Patrick Cohen

Daniel Patrick Cohen. Picture credit Alexandra Făgărășan

Arcana is delighted to hand our playlist baton over to Daniel Patrick Cohen, whose fascinating new album We Deliver is on our own playlist for review shortly.

Cohen, a Londoner living in Romania, has a particular love for film music and hip hop, and wrote a substantial score for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Pleasure Garden, as part of the British Film Institute’s Rescue The Hitchcock 9 enterprise, where composers were invited to score the director’s silent films.

With We Deliver, Cohen writes a love letter to hip hop in the form of a 32-track album featuring 67 musicians, described as a lo-fi work entirely made up of throwaway-type tracks that a hip hop producer might have written.

His playlist, then, contains 15 such ‘throwaway’ tracks, including inspired examples from the likes of Daft Punk, J Dilla, Radiohead, Björk and even Mozart alongside five of his own compositions blended in to reveal the loose connections. He elaborated for us:

“The idea is that these tracks were moments of magic which I imagine captured the mood on a day so perfectly that they resisted being developed and expanded. I think it’s worth elaborating that there’s nothing “lazy” about them; on the contrary, one could spend a lifetime waiting for these moments!”

In concert – CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy: A Fist Full of Fives

cbso-youth

Sutton A Fist Full of Fives (2016)
Mozart
Violin Concerto no.5 in A major K219 ‘Turkish’ (1775)
Skalkottas
Five Greek Dances (1931-6, arr. 1936)
Beethoven
Symphony no.5 in C minor Op.67 (1804-8)

Irène Duval (violin), CBSO Youth Orchestra / Michael Seal

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Saturday 23 July 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

It may be the end of the main season, but that is no reason why the CBSO Youth Orchestra should not have had a concert scheduled for mid-July, with this judiciously contrasted and well-balanced programme assuredly playing to the collective strengths of its present line-up.

Although three of the works had a numerical connection with ‘five’, only the opening piece featured that number in its title. Written for an event featuring Beethoven’s Fifth and scored for similar forces, A Fist Full of Fives finds Adrian Sutton essaying a concert-opener whose interplay of vigorous (even a little martial) and more lyrical ideas evokes a mid-20th century American music evoking Piston or early Carter. Fluent and appealing if far from memorable, it duly put the orchestra through its paces to a degree which the CBSOYO met with alacrity.

Rather more memorable was the Five Greek Dances by Skalkottas which opened the second half. Admittedly the programme note led one to expect a selection from the overall 36 in the versions for full orchestra, rather than the present selection – from a set of seven – for strings. Yet the distinctive character of each dance is hardly diminished in these arrangements by the composer (a proficient violinist), and Michael Seal secured notably characterful playing in a sequence that proceeded from the swaggering Epirotikos, through the stealthy interplay of Kretikos and the bracingly astringent Tsamikos, to the gentle pathos of Arkadikos then the dashing Kleftikos. Fifty years after the CBSO’s world premiere of his First Symphonic Suite, it was good to hear these likely successors tackling Skalkottas with evident enjoyment.

In between those two pieces, Irène Duval gave Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto – not exactly underplayed these days, but worth hearing when rendered with such commitment. Not least an opening Allegro whose aperto marking (rightly) encouraged a deftness of phrasing that carried through to the closing bars. The Adagio was ingratiating without any hint of cloying, then the outer sections of the Rondeau an insouciance for which the lively Turkish music at its centre provided a bracing foil. The cadenzas (Duval’s own?) proved unfailingly apposite.

Closing the concert, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony made a suitably unequivocal impression – not least an opening movement whose rhythmic trenchancy and purposeful rhetoric carried through to a forceful if never hectoring coda. Neither was there any hint of false grandeur in the Andante, its ruminative theme yielding subtlety and not a little humour as it wended its methodical yet never predictable course. Ensemble was a little ragged near the outset of the scherzo, but the transition into the finale had a simmering expectancy that made the latter’s blazing onset more visceral. This music’s familiarity tends to detract from its innovation of form and orchestration, but Seal pointed up such aspects in a reading that never risked losing focus as it headed to a coda whose reiterations of the home key made for a triumphal QED.

A worthwhile programme, then, with performances to match and exactly the sort of concert needed to inject needed impetus into the indolence of summer. The CBSOYO makes its first appearance next season with a programme of Verdi, Bruch and Lutosławski on October 30th.

For more information on the CBSO Youth Orchestra and their next concert, visit the dedicated page on their website. Click on the names for more information on Irène Duval and Michael Seal

In concert – April Fredrick, English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods: Mozart, Richard Strauss, Doolittle & Dvořák

Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C minor K546 (1783, rev 1788)
Richard Strauss (arr. Burke) Morgen! Op.27 no.4 (1894)
Doolittle A Short, Slow Life (2011)
Dvořák (arr. Burke) Rusalka B203 – Song to the Moon (1900)
Mozart Symphony no.39 in E flat major K543 (1788)

April Fredrick (soprano), English Symphony Orchestra / Kenneth Woods

Great Malvern Priory, Malvern
Wednesday 15 June 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

This latest concert in its current season found the English Symphony Orchestra back at the Priory in Great Malvern in a programme with, at its centre, a contrasting triptych of vocal items from April Fredrick which continued her Affiliate Artist role in impressive fashion.

At its centre was a performance (the UK premiere?) of A Short, Slow Life, Emily Doolittle’s setting of a poem which finds Elizabeth Bishop at her most Dickinson-like with its reflection on growing up in a seeming Arcady latterly undone as much by existential as environmental factors. Enfolding and intricate, its scoring for nine instruments offers an evocative context for the vocal line to emerge from and with which to interact – Fredrick making the most of their dialogue in this winsome and, thanks to Kenneth Woods, finely co-ordinated reading.

Either side came chamber reductions from Tony Burke. In Morgen!, Strauss’s setting of John Henry Mackay, it was the understatement of Fredrick’s approach that compelled by drawing this relatively early song into the emotional orbit of those from half-a-century later. In ‘Song to the Moon’ from Dvořák’s opera Rusalka, her unaffected eloquence arguably came through more directly in an arrangement that (rightly) predicated the soloistic nature of the orchestral writing. Technically immaculate, Fredrick’s artistry was itself never less than life-affirming.

Framing this programme came two not unrelated works by Mozart. Written in 1783 when the composer was extending the formal and expressive weight of his music by intensive study of Bach and Handel, this C minor Fugue’s two-piano austerity took on a greater richness when arranged for strings and prefaced by a brief if searching Adagio which throws its successor’s contrapuntal density into greater relief. The ESO duly responded with playing of sustained trenchancy that incidentally reminded one no less than Beethoven took its example to heart.

Having given perceptive accounts of Mozart’s 40th and 41st symphonies earlier this season, it made sense that Woods and the ESO to include the 39th as opens what increasingly seems a symphonic triptych in design and intent. This performance was no less idiomatic – the first movement’s introductory Adagio imposing yet flexible so that its ‘heroic’ quality with those wrenching harmonies was never in doubt, the main Allegro building up tangible momentum through a tensile development then an even briefer coda decisive in its impetus and sweep.

Even more than its successors, the Andante is the heart of the work – among the most striking instances of that ineffable pathos Mozart made his own. Inward while with no lack of forward motion, it made a telling foil to the Menuetto with its bracing outer sections and a trio which featured a delectable expressive pause prior to a last hearing of the clarinet’s amiable melody. Nor was there any lack of wit in the scintillating finale, the repeat of its second half necessary for one of Mozart’s rare incursions into the ‘false ending’ beloved of Haydn to leave its mark. A fine conclusion, then, to another worthwhile concert by the ESO which returns early next month for a very different, all-American programme that includes a rare outing for the full-length version (including the ‘hurricane’ episode) of Copland’s ballet Appalachian Spring.

For further information on April Fredrick, click here, and for more on Emily Doolittle click here. To find out more about the artists, click on the names for more Kenneth Woods and the English Symphony Orchestra.