sat 23/03/2019

Classical Reviews

Haitink, LSO, Barbican

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Wozzeck, Royal Festival Hall

Peter Culshaw

I have a certain resistance to the Second Viennese School (a pretentious title in itself) of Schoenberg and his pupils Webern and Berg. Not that I'm averse to a spot of avant-gardening. I have sat through the squeakiest of squeaky-gate music with the best of them. But, apart from anything else, there's something chilling with their bullying rhetoric about purification and decadence.

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Turandot, English National Opera, London Coliseum

ismene Brown

It’s a let-down when a new production of an opera that spends two acts feeling dazzlingly invigorating and clever collapses in a careless mess in the third. My guess is that a key scene for the concept of English National Opera’s Turandot is when Ping, Pang and Pong - three very grand court officials - turn out to be Chinese cooks sneaking smokes up the fire escape at the Emperor Palace restaurant. It's a sharp idea, generating a sensationally visual production, but that fire escape...

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Salonen, Philharmonia, Royal Festival Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

You’re playing, say, a Brahms sonata. You’ve got jam on your face. Your trousers fall down. Your accompanist starts to play the piano with his head. What you’re meant to do in this situation, I remember my violin teacher drilling into me, is to drive on blindly. Judging last night’s concert by this basic lesson on musicianship, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, who drove on through a complete blackout during the penultimate tableau of The...

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Theresienstadt, von Otter, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Edward Seckerson

Theresienstadt was the Nazis’ most successful PR exercise. Described as a “Jewish settlement” for the preservation and propagation of the Arts, this Czech outpost turned concentration camp housed virtually the whole of the Jewish cultural elite. Inmates called it an anthill, a “Garden of Eden in the middle of Hell”. But the Nazis insisted that cultural freedom was encouraged, even cultivated, here. This was no concentration camp, rather a transit camp.

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Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

There’s nothing like a bit of communal booing to sharpen your critical faculties. And Christof Loy’s new production of Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House last night received wave after wave after wave of it. An ocean of boos almost as deep and profound as the Wagner that had just washed over us moments before.

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Imogen Cooper 60th Birthday Concert, Wigmore Hall

Jonathan Wikeley Schubert and more: Imogen Cooper

The great and the good came to Imogen Cooper’s 60th birthday concert. In fact, so thick with friends and fellow pianists was the Wigmore Hall, that at the end there seemed to be as many people going backstage to congratulate her as were leaving through the front doors. In that quietly embarrassing, I-hope-no-one-saw way, after some light-hearted Schumann, I thought for a moment she flashed a smile at me and – charmed – smiled back, but it turned out that I was sitting behind Brendel. It was...

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Haitink, Chicago SO, Royal Festival Hall

Edward Seckerson Bernard Haitink: a safe pair of hands

The Bruckner half of the programme appeared to have come early as Bernard Haitink and the Chicago Symphony sternly, doggedly, processed through the introduction of Haydn’s Symphony No.101 ‘Clock’. It was a portent of things to come. The prognosis was not good. A case of terminal seriousness would eventually render the performance irreversibly moribund.

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Haitink, Chicago SO, Royal Festival Hall

Adam Sweeting


Strolling into the Royal Festival Hall's private function room on Level 5 last night, I naturally expected it to be crammed with freeloading hacks such as myself on the trail of free drinks, but the room was mostly populated by corporate types in suits. If you want to pull together a menu of prestigious international orchestras in these straitened times (particularly those elusive American ones),  you can't hope to do better than enlist the support of a multinational oil...

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The Damnation of Faust, Gergiev, Barbican Hall

Edward Seckerson

The Damnation of Faust is so chock-full of special effects that you half expect a list of technical advisors in place of the single name Hector Berlioz. But it is just he – wizard of his imaginings – who continues to surprise and even shock no matter how many times you hear the piece - and with Valery Gergiev heightening its neurotic nature all the way to pandemonium there wasn’t a whole lot more you could have asked of this performance, except a better, more complex and interesting...

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