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Philharmonia Orchestra 15/1/2011
Philharmonia's Infernal Dance series aims to lead the concert-going public into the sometimes darkly forbidding world of Béla Bartók and, prior to the London launch next week, the project was tested first in Lisbon and in Cardiff. For chief conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, it's not so much a series as a mission and - in this programme - almost an incitement, given that Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin Suite and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring both caused riots at their respective premieres.
But Stravinsky's Rite may have lost some of its capacity to shock: Salonen's interpretation here seemed to focus more on its deeply Russian lyricism than on any violent, primal force. Even with the Philharmonia in quite brilliant form and Salonen pushing the speedometer harder than he could possibly dare with other orchestras, the overall effect was curiously closer to the music of Firebird than the raw, rhythmic cataclysm the Rite truly represents.
So, as Salonen must have intended, it was the opening Bartók score, written just six years later than the Stravinsky, that created the greater tension. Every thread of the musical argument held its own horribly compelling grip, yet the glinting percussion and the sleazy brass never quite obliterated the essential seduction of the underlying dance of death.
Between these two works came Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No 2 in F Major. Soloist Kirill Gerstein's articulation was scintillating, and he avoided any mawkish sentimentality in the central andante. By comparison with the rest of the evening, it felt like sweetness and light.
Click for information on St David's Hall's Internationa Concert Series featuring Philharmonia Orchestra with pianist Kit Armstrong
The Australian Classic Rock Show 14/1/2011
I saw a tweet from St David's Hall, Cardiff that was along the lines of 'retweet to be in with a chance of winning tickets.' Without paying much attention I hit retweet. I mean, who says no to the possibilty of free theatre tickets, whatever the show is?! I promptly forgot all about this competition until I got the message saying I'd won! What had I won? What was the Australian Classic Rock Show? I had no idea but on Friday 14th January I went along anyway. Like I said, who says no to free theatre tickets?!
Firstly, I had no idea what to expect from the venue. I hadn't been to St David's Hall since I was little so, although I remember seeing the Pink Windmill Show, I surprisingly don't really remember studying my surroundings. This time however, I was impressed. Comfortable auditorium with plenty of leg room and friendly, proactive staff. Having been an usher myself, it's always nice to see a front of house team that really ensure people can find their seats and are on the ball when it comes to people taking photographs, using mobile phones, etc.
As I walked into the auditorium, I knew I was in for a good night. There on the stage in front of me was a huge array of instruments, amps and speakers. Being a great believer in keeping music live I was in my element. I counted 11 guitars and basses on stage before the show started and even more appeared during the course of the performance.
The show itself is pretty much what it says on the tin. 10 singers and musicians perform to a phenomenally high standard tracks from classic rock albums of the 70s and 80s. Each one being introduced by a wonderful animation of a tie-dye t-shirt wearing, joint smoking, Jack Daniels guzzling kangaroo going through his vinyl collection. Being a presentation of album tracks, they weren't necessarily songs that I knew (I'm sure I was in the minority there) but when you've got music from the likes of Pink Floyd, Dire Straits and The Eagles being played by top quality musicians, who cares if you know every word or not?! Of course there were some highly enjoyable main stream classics in there too; Stairway to Heaven, Another Brick in the Wall and Hotel California to name but a few.
My only very small complaint about the evening was, although I loved the show and loved the venue, I'm not convinced they went together. I felt like I should have been stood at the front of the stage with a bottle of beer in my hand, not sat in a theatre seat. That said, it was a very enjoyable evening and I am so glad I won the tickets because I certainly wouldn't have gone otherwise and I would have missed out on an amazing night.
Orchestra of Welsh National Opera 21/1/2011
In this programme, spanning three and a half centuries and from Bach to Kurtág, the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera could have made no stronger a statement of their credentials. If only the company's choice of operas could be as bold.
The orchestra always relishes the occasions it gets out of the pit, but their conductor and music director Lothar Koenigs had them flung even further and wider than usual around St David's Hall in the disparate instrumental groups required by György Kurtág for his ... quasi una fantasia ... . For Kurtág, it is the spatial relationships - between the piano, taking centre stage, flanked by a cimbalom and timpani, and the other variously dispersed players - that form the crux of the matter. It was not simply the tension bristling across the divides that held the interest, but the nature and quality of soundscape created.
Peter Donohoe, who took the piano part in the Kurtág, was also the soloist in Bartók's Second Piano Concerto, and his usual ebullient, forceful, style helped the contrapuntal exchanges emerge with striking clarity. Koenigs's choice of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony reverted to safe territory. Nevertheless, it was delivered with bite and energy, as well as notable pianissimo control of the opening of the Allegretto.
Some of the orchestra's renewed dynamic must be credited not just to Koenigs, but to violinist David Adams. His inspired leadership of the 10 players in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto, No 3 in G, BWV1048, which opened the evening, made it a vibrant counterpart to the Kurtág and thought-provoking, too.
Click for information on the next concert in St David's Hall's International Concert Series featuring OWNO.