Finns Ain’t What they Used To Be, Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, Wigmore Hall, 6 January 2018

OK, this baroque concert didn’t really have that dreadful pun as its title – but it did have a tongue-in cheek humour to it, certainly in the first half, which was dedicated to Telemann’s work.

Here is a link to the programme and basic information from the Wigmore Hall site.

Both of the Telemann pieces are relative rarities, new to the ears even of Telemaniacs like me and Janie:

  • Ouverture burlesque in B flat major TWV55:B8
  • Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarienvogels (Canary Cantata) TWV20:37

The Helsinki Baroque is a very together orchestra; seemingly a group of dedicated musicians who enjoy playing with and riffing off each other. We suspect that Aapo Häkkinen is metaphorically “gentle yet strong glue” for this Finnish combo.

Carolyn Sampson was the soprano for the evening. She stood right in front of us and sang magnificently.

The Canary Cantata – in full “Cantata of Funeral Music For An Artistically-Trained Canary Whose Demise Brought the Greatest Sorrow to his Master”, really is a most unusual piece.

Click here (or the embedded YouTube below) for a recording of a young American soprano, MaryRuth Lown, singing the piece;

My so-called friends who thought my German singing sounded like Yiddish in my Innsbruck Ich Muss Dich Lassen performance the other week should click through and hear this aria.

Gresham Society Soirée, Barnards Inn Hall, 14 December 2017

It begins with the following line oft-repeated:

O weh! mein Canarin ist tot

…which means, for those who need a translation into lingua franca…

Oy vay! in drerd mein feygele.

…but I’m diving too deep into detail. Actually if you want to read the whole cantata in English, click through the YouTube link above (not the embedded vid) as a full translation is there on YouTube. Weirdorama lyrics.

The second half of the concert was more “regular” in terms of familiarity and style, but still hugely interesting and enjoyable. J S Bach for this half:

  • Concerto in D major for harpsichord BWV1054 (from Violin Concerto in E major BWV1042)
  • Cantata: Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen BWV51

I don’t think I had heard that concerto with the harpsichord as lead instrument before; I have recordings of it on violin and piano.

The cantata was spectacularly good; Carolyn Sampson on top form, as was Nicholas Emmerson on baroque trumpet, going red in the face trying to get such a complex string of notes out at pace on that challenging instrument.

The encore was a complete change of mood, from the jubilant Bach “Jauchzet Gott” cantata to the mournful Handel “Eternal Source Of Light Divine” cantata.

The encore was also a triumph; albeit a calming one rather than an uplifting one. Here is a YouTube of Iestyn Davies singing it:

All in all, it was a wonderful gig; a delicious start to the year for our concert going.

I cannot find a YouTube of Carolyn Sampson with the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, nor of that orchestra performing any of the pieces we heard, but the following YouTube gives a feel for that orchestra’s work at that scale (16 or so members) on a work of that period with a fine soprano…

…while the following is a YouTube of Carolyn Sampson with a different super orchestra – The Sixteen:

The Well Tempered Clavier, András Schiff, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 7 September 2017

It’s years since we have been to the proms. I used to go regularly, even before I met Janie.

Then in our early days together…indeed for many, many years, we would take The Duchess (Janie’s mum), as she liked the place and the concerts. But once the Duchess went off the idea of going out to concerts, we focused our concert-going on smaller, more intimate venues such as The Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square.

Anyway, Janie called me excitedly earlier in the week, as she was with Joyce Ma, who had excellent tickets for this concert and couldn’t use them. Would we like them?

It was hard to say no to such a kind and generous offer. We both love Bach and we both thought it would make a real change for us to visit the Proms again.

Further, as Janie was spending the day with Charlotte and I was spending the day at Lord’s with Chris – it was a very practicable arrangement for Janie and I to meet up and go on to the concert via a scrub and change at the flat – click here.

This concert was the very first time that the whole of Book One of The Well Tempered Clavier had been performed at the Proms. Interesting choice for a late night concert, as the 21:00 start meant for a 23:00 finish.

Imagine my delight when we entered the hall and I realised that Joyce had chosen pretty much exactly the seats I would have chosen myself “back in the day”, when I used to choose my seats with a connoisseur’s precision.

András Schiff performed the whole of The Well Temered Clavier Book One from memory, which seemed the most extraordinary feat in itself to me. He also performed with a wonderfully light touch and supreme confidence.

Michael Church in The Independent gave the performance a rave five star review – click here.

Fiona Maddocks in The Guardian also went for five stars – the Schiff is reviewed right at the end of her composite piece – here.

Boyd Tonkin at theartsdesk.com also gave a rave review and shows some lovely photos – here.

Both Janie and I nodded off at times – that is a compliment in a way because the music was so relaxing. In truth, The Well Tempered Clavier is not, to my taste, the most interesting work for listening rapt with attention. But it is delightfully easy on the ear if you listen to relax. This performance was a classic of a classic; it was just wonderful to end our day with it.

Janie took her own photos when Schiff took his well-deserved standing ovation and bow:

More…more…more…
No encore? Humph…just kidding!

A very special evening – thanks again, Joyce!

Ferio Saxophone Quartet, St John’s Smith Square, 8 December 2016

Slightly scruffy look for SJSS, even at lunchtime

You don’t see a lot of all saxophone combos. So much so, that when I saw the Ferio Saxophone Quartet concert listed for Thursday lunchtime on a day that I had kept clear for a client meeting that had been deferred until the new year, I thought, “I’ll give that a try”.

Naturally, I cut things a bit fine, trying to finish off some work before heading off for SJSS and then realising that I hadn’t really allowed much margin for error on timing.

Fortunately a Circle Line train came quite quickly. Then, at South Kensington, all of a sudden I could hear a Saxophone combo on the train, playing Hit The Road Jack very well indeed. I looked along the carriage and there indeed were several saxophonists giving it plenty. I managed to snap a couple of them with my smart phone camera.

“Perhaps the Ferio lot are also cutting it a bit fine for the gig,” I thought, “although they look a bit scruffy for SJSS, even at lunchtime.”

Between Sloane Square and Victoria, the combo played Blue Moon very well indeed. But clearly they weren’t the Ferio lot, as the “Anonymous Saxtet” got off the tube at Victoria, after relieving me and others of our small change (voluntarily I hasten to add).

I concluded that saxophone combos are like buses and tubes. You wait what seems like a lifetime for one, then two come along one after the other.

In the end I got to SJSS just a tiny bit late, but in true lunchtime concert fashion they let us latecomers slide in at the back of the hall and then move forward after the first piece. The first piece was a Bach Prelude and Fugue and I reckon I caught most of the Prelude as well as the Fugue.

When I moved forward between pieces, a kindly couple made extra space for me so I could remove my hat and coat quickly, take up an excellent seat and then they also gave me a look at their programme (I picked up my own copy at the end). I’m sure that nice couple would even have shared their sandwiches with me had they brought sandwiches, but they hadn’t. SJSS lunchtime concerts are not really “eat your sandwiches in the concert” type lunchtime concerts.

This was the Ferio String Quartet Concert I heard – link to SJSS site here.

Just in case SJSS archiving isn’t up to snuff, here is the same page saved on Ogblog.

They were very good indeed, the Ferio Saxophone Quartet. I especially enjoyed their arrangement of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which was the centrepiece of the concert really.

The concert was very well attended – 150+ people, I’d guess, perhaps even 200 if you count the sniffly but very attentive outing of schoolkids.

The Ferios are doing a short residency at SJSS and there are a couple more gigs to go next spring. Here is a link to a short vid the quartet made about the concert I heard and their residency.

The next concert, on 23 April 2017, is all British music entitled Best of British, which seems to me a wasted opportunity. Left up to me, that concert would have been named:

Yes, Sax Please, We’re British…

…but unfortunately such marketing matters never seem to be left up to me. I can’t imagine why not.

Brad Mehldau, Wigmore Hall, 17 December 2015

What in the name of Jove possessed me to book a concert at the Wigmore Hall on the last Thursday before Christmas?  Surely I knew that, despite all the plans to work less, Janie would be up to her eyes in overwork, running late and all the related stress that brings.

At 18:57, when she still hadn’t got to the flat, I really thought we were in trouble. But then she arrived and good fortune got us to a single yellow line (parking therefore permitted) within striking distance of the hall within striking distance of the appointed hour.  Even time to order interval drinks – just!

This was the gig – click here.  Actually that doesn’t explain it very well.  Brad has been commissioned to write a three piece programme inspired by The Well-Tempered Clavier.  the centrepiece of the performance was Brad playing the Well-Tempered movements that inspired him followed by the commissioned pieces.

The programme explains it better (see below).  But even that doesn’t fill you in on the other stuff he played:

  • An improvisation before the interval inspired by the C major Prelude
  • An improvisation after the third commissioned piece, based on the G major Allemande (Brad omitted to say where this came from – unlike the others, clearly not the Well-Tempered – I think it must be the slightly earlier G Major Partita – perhaps he expected us all simply to know)
  • An improvisation following the F minor Prelude and Fugue
  • An improvisation following the E flat major Prelude, the improvisation also being a variation on Martha My Dear
  • An improvisation around Pinball Wizard, with no Bach in sight.

Anyway, Janie found it all a bit scholarly, but the chance of Janie being well-tempered about anything, least of all a clavier, was always going to be low at the end of such a day.  In truth, I found Brad’s “straight” playing of the Bach rather wooden, almost as if he couldn’t bear to “swing it at all” when playing the actual piece, so that the jazz variation would come to the fore.  In reality, Bach masters swing it quite a bit on the keyboard stuff.  I liked the commissioned works and the first three of the improvisations; less so the Martha and Pinball ones.

There was a heavy mee-jah presence in the hall, so Brad is clearly perceived to be a jazz master worth seeing by the cognoscenti still.  I would have enjoyed it more on a Saturday night in January, though.  Fighting through the after-work Christmas shoppers does not set us up ideally for a evening of Bach, jazz, jazz-Bach or Bach-jazz.

Brad 17 December 2015

Anthony Marwood, James Crabb & Graham Mitchell, followed by Patricia Hammond and The Versatility Serenaders, Wigmore Hall, 10 July 2015

After the chaos of the Alexander McQueen at the V&A – click here, the Wigmore Hall felt like a sanctuary.

We had arranged a cold plate supper in advance, which worked fine, then enjoyed this excellent late night concert of violin, accordion and double bass music.

Click here for Wigmore Hall stub that explains it all.

The  main concert was excellent – we particularly liked the Piazzolla but it all worked well, even the Bach. Very relaxing and enjoyable.

I liked the Patricia Hammond & The Versatility Serenaders more than Janie; she finds early and pre-jazz not quite to her taste. Still, we stuck around for a while before heading home.

La Nuova Musica, St John’s Smith Square, 20 March 2015

This was a lovely concert at St John’s Smith Square, on a Friday evening. Just what the doctor ordered.

SJSS is a good setting for all manner of music, but especially sacred music like Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater could have been written for the place.

Janie is especially partial to a bit of Stabat Mater of the Pergolesi variety, which is probably why we booked this one. That and the fact that it was on a Friday evening, a favourite slot of ours for some truly relaxing music.

This concert was a great way to start the weekend after a busy week.

Two Fabulous Baroque Concerts And A Dinner At St John’s Smith Square, 23 May 2014

Both of these concerts, part of the Lufthansa Festival Of Baroque Music that year, looked superb.

For reasons of my own (work related) I had tried the more formal dining option at SJSS a couple of times by then and thought Janie would enjoy such a meal too. Turned out (as I suspected) the restaurant was all geared up for people who wanted to see the two concerts and dine in-between.

Here’s the splurge on first concert;

We hadn’t seen La Risonanza before, although we had, I think, seen Fabio Bonizzoni – at least I have his wonderful recording of the last Domenico Scarlatti sonatas.

It was a good concert, although I recall we liked the sonatas more than the duets. Not a comment on the skills of the singers, they were excellent, but the style of those baroque duets don’t tend to please us, we discovered.

We both enjoyed our dinner; very attentively and well fed we were. In many ways the SJSS dining-crypt has more atmosphere than the SJSS concert hall itself, which can seem rather large and cold at times.

But the highlight of the evening was this last chance to see The Hilliard Ensemble perform Morimur live. I had owned and enjoyed the magnificent recording of Morimur for some years by then and was delighted to have a chance to see that composite work performed live:

William Cole, on the Interlude blog, describes the Morimur concert that evening thus:

…the Hilliard Ensemble with violinist Kati Debretzeni gave quite simply one of the most extraordinary concerts I have ever attended.

Here is a link to the whole William Cole review.

Talk about going out on a high. By that December, the Hilliard Ensemble was done saying its goodbyes to the world and that (un-Sinatra-like) was that.

Of course it is still possible to get the recording of Morimur – click here for a link to general resources on it or the image below for one specific link – I would highly commend the recording.

We still listen to Morimur quite a lot – its haunting quality is just so moving. The alternating of chorale and violin music just works..at least it does for us.

As for that Baroque evening at SJSS – very memorable indeed.

Goldberg Variations, Joanna MacGregor, Followed By Jazz, Wigmore Lates, 9 May 2014

We rather like these Wigmore Lates concerts, although we do sometimes find it hard to drag ourselves from the comfort of my lovingly prepared dinner at the flat to the concert hall, albeit a mere couple of miles up the road.

We’d been very keen on the idea of this one when we booked it, but I do recall that fatigue factor coming into play as we set off for the Wigmore Hall.

But by gosh this one was worth it.

Here is a link to the Wigmore Hall diary page for this concert.

We’d enjoyed Joanna MacGregor playing interesting fusion music some years earlier, at the Roundhouse – click here or below… 

Joanna MacGregor and Britten Sinfonia, Reverb: Roundhouse, 23 January 2010

…but had never seen her perform solo before.

Her interpretation of the Goldberg Variations was a fine one. Not overly flash or unusual; perhaps the odd flourish that nodded to her breadth of influences. Very relaxing.

Did either Janie or I nod off during the performance, I hear you ask? That is between us and our consciences, but in any case, with the Goldberg, it almost feels compulsory to do so, at least for a short while, in honour of the great composer’s original purpose.

We certainly didn’t nod off in the bar afterwards where we heard the Julian Bliss Quintet play some swinging jazz. We both like that style, as does Joanna MacGregor, it seems, as she joined a fairly sizeable late night swing contingent in the bar for quite a while.

I think Janie and I slipped away just before midnight – we normally do – don’t want anyone to see our carriage turning into a pumpkin or anything like that.

A very enjoyable late evening at the Wig.

Julia Fischer Playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas, Wigmore Hall, 13 & 14 February 2010

Janie and I spent two consecutive evenings at The Wig, where we enjoyed the enchanting sound of Julia Fischer playing:

  • Bach’s three violin sonatas on the Saturday;
  • Bach’s three violin partitas on the Sunday.

The music is, of course, simply divine. I’m no expert, but Julia’s interpretation is full of texture and flavour to my ears.

No mucking about, I bought the CD set there and then – I still listen to them quite often.

The concerts had this superb review in the Guardian – deservedly so.

Truly memorable evenings and a very special way to spend Valentine’s Night too.

Joanna MacGregor and Britten Sinfonia, Reverb: Roundhouse, 23 January 2010

We went to two classical concerts with early music leanings at the Roundhouse in the space of three days as part of the Reverb series; we loved both.

This was the first of the two, on the Saturday.

We hadn’t seen Joanna MacGregor before, although we had heard of her. I was aware that she had been a Gresham professor of music.

There was real flare and excitement to this concert; a really interesting blend of early music, south american music and contemporary and jazz themes.

In the moment, I bought a couple of Joanna MacGregor albums on the night:

We’ve listened to these albums a lot and had a lot of enjoyment from them, although they bear little resemblance to the music we heard that night.

Subsequently I bought another one, Play, which reflected at least a couple of the items we heard in the concert.

Here is an interesting video interview with MacGregor on the Telegraph website, made just before this concert.

Anyway, the concert was lovely and left us very excited ahead of the next one, a mere two days away.