Bach Christmas Oratorio – Durham Castle

I have to confess that before this evening, I had never sat down and listened properly to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. I usually stick it on the stereo at some point over Christmas, usually on Christmas morning while I’m cooking, so it’s always been there in the background, so the sound of the notes is very familiar, but with the detail and text passing me by. I’ve never sung it either – a choir I was in did it one year, but I was a bit busy having a baby. So when I heard that David Stancliffe was putting on a …

Opera North – Peter Grimes

Over the course of this Britten centenary year, two themes have sung out to me again and again, from everything I’ve watched, read or participated in. One is Britten’s mastery with English texts; his knack for choosing imaginative, well-crafted words to set, and then his exquisite skill in setting them to music. The second theme is the importance that Britten placed on making music available to everyone, particularly young people. Unfortunately, Opera North’s decision to present Peter Grimes without surtitles trampled over both of these ideas.

Three nights in Venice

I’ve spent the last three evenings in the front row of the Gala Theatre in Durham, immersing myself in baroque Venice, thanks to English Touring Opera. They don’t usually bring their November shows to Durham, but I hope we’ve shown them that there is an audience here for opera beyond the Verdi/Puccini/Mozart classics and that they continue to bring their more adventurous autumn seasons to us.

Late Mix review: Britten

Last night, I was at Sage Gateshead Hall Two reviewing the first Late Mix concert of the season for Bachtrack. The programme was built around Britten’s first and last major works – the Sinfonietta and the 3rd string quartet. The final movement of the string quartet, was an absolute revelation to me. It’s quite simply one of those pieces of music that makes the world a better place.

http://www.bachtrack.com/review-royal-northern-sinfonia-britten-late-mix

Brahms German Requien

I was back at Sage Gateshead last night for the opening night of the Royal Northern Sinfonia season, which I reviewed for Bachtrack:

http://www.bachtrack.com/review-german-requiem-northern-sinfonia-sage-gateshead

One thing I didn’t mention in my review was an amusing programme translation error, where someone was being too literal. Apparently we will awake from the dead at at the sound of the last trombone. For the trombone shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible.
I’ve known too many trombone players not to find this idea childishly hilarious.

Renaissance in Hexham

Hexham’s annual Festival of Music and Arts ended in style last night, with a candlelit concert in the Abbey, with music by Britten, Purcell and others, performed by a very fine group of young singers, accompanied on baroque instruments, and conducted by Martin Neary. This is one of those reviews where I have to add huge caveats: the singers were Ben Rowarth’s choir, Renaissance many of whom are regular Durham Singers soloists. I help them a bit with their publicity and I had a free ticket to last night’s concert in exchange for lifts back to Durham. But the reason …

Magnificent Phaedra

I’m writing this on the train on my way home from my annual reviewing trip to the BBC Proms. In a fit of madness, I volunteered to review three Proms in three days and I heard two fine Scottish orchestras at the Royal Albert Hall: the RNSO playing Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Tannhäuser (follow the links to read my reviews). The highlight of the weekend, possibly even of my reviewing year, was undoubtedly a magnificent Saturday matinée at Cadogan Hall by the Britten Sinfonia, with mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly.

The full 1610 Monteverdi

In 1610 Monteverdi published a collection of music for Pope Paul V titled Sanctissimae Virgini Missa senis vocubis ad Ecclesiarum Choros ac Vespere pluribus decantandae – “A Mass of the Blessed Virgin for six voices suitable for church choirs and Vespers music for more voices” and it so happened that I heard all of the music from it in the course of two recent concerts in Durham Cathedral.