My favourite classical concerts of 2017


Right I know it is a bit late in the day but I wanted to make a list of the concerts I enjoyed most from last year. So everything that got a 5* review based on my entirely subjective criteria is ordered below. Top is Sir Simon and the LSO with their Stravinsky ballets. Like it was going to be anything else.

Anyway no preamble. No waffle. Barely any punctuation. Part record, part boast. Comments welcome.

  • LSO, Simon Rattle – Stravinsky, The Firebird (original ballet), Petrushka (1947 version), The Rite of Spring – Barbican Hall – 24th September
  • Colin Currie Group, Synergy Vocals – Reich Tehillim, Drumming – Royal Festival Hall – 5th May
  • Isabelle Faust, Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin, Bernhard Forck – JS Bach Suite No 2 in A Minor BWV 1067a, Violin Concerto in E Major BWV 1042, Violin Concerto in A Minor BWV 1041, Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV 1043, CPE Bach String Symphony in B Minor W 182/5 – Wigmore Hall – 29th June
  • Jack Quartet – Iannis Xenakis, Ergma for string quartet, Embellie for solo viola, Mikka ‘S’ for solo violin, Kottos for solo cello, Hunem-Iduhey for violin and cello, ST/4 –1, 080262 for string quartet – Wigmore Hall – 25th February
  • Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Ades – Gerald Barry Chevaux de Frise, Beethoven Symphony No 3 in E Flat Major Eroica – Barbican Hall – 6th June 2017
  • Nederlands Kamerkoor,Peter Dijkstra – Sacred and Profane – Britten Hymn to St Cecilia, Gabriel Jackson Ave Regina caelorum, Berio Cries of London, Lars Johan Werle Orpheus, Canzone 126 di Francesca Petraraca, Britten Sacred and Profane – Cadogan Hall – 8th March
  • Tim Gill cello, Fali Pavri piano, Sound Intermedia – Webern 3 kleine Stücke, Op. 11, Messiaen ‘Louange à l’Éternite du Jesus Christ’ (‘Praise to the eternity of Jesus’) from Quartet for the End of Time, Henze Serenade for solo cello, Arvo Pärt Fratres, Xenakis Kottos for solo cello, Jonathan Harvey Ricercare una melodia for solo cello and electronics, Thomas Ades ‘L’eaux’ from Lieux retrouvés, Anna Clyne Paint Box for cello and tape, Harrison Birtwistle Wie Eine Fuga from Bogenstrich – Kings Place – 6th May
  • Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Ades, Mark Stone – Gerald Barry Beethoven, Beethoven Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 – Barbican Hall – 2nd June
  • Academy of Ancient Music, Robert Howarth – Monteverdi Vespers 1610 – Barbican Hall – 23rd June
  • Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Murray Perahia – Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Piano Concertos No 2 in B flat major and No 4 in G major – Barbican – 20th February
  • London Sinfonietta and students, Lucy Shaufer, Kings Place Choir – Luciano Berio, Lepi Yuro, E si fussi pisci, Duetti: Aldo, Naturale, Duetti: Various, Divertimento, Chamber Music, Sequenza II harp, Autre fois, Lied clarinet, Air, Berceuse for Gyorgy Kurtag, Sequenza I flute, Musica Leggera, O King – Kings Place – 4th November
  • Maurizio Pollini – Schoenberg 3 Pieces for piano, Op.11, 6 Little pieces for piano, Op.19, Beethoven, Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.13 (Pathétique), Piano Sonata in F sharp, Op.78 (à Thérèse), Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata) – RFH – 14th March
  • Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Ades, Gerald Barry – Beethoven Septet Op 20, Piano Trio Op 70/2. Gerald Barry Five Chorales from the Intelligence Park – Milton Court Concert Hall – 30th May
  • Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons, Yefim Bronfman – Beethoven Piano Concerto No 4, Prokofiev Symphony No 5 – Barbican Hall – 24th November
  • Britten Sinfonia, Helen Grime – Purcell Fantasia upon one note, Oliver Knussen, George Benjamin, Colin Matthew, A Purcell Garland, Helen Grime Into the Faded Air, A Cold Spring, Knussen Cantata, Ades Court Studies from The Tempest, Britten Sinfonietta, Stravinsky Dumbarton Oaks – Milton Court Hall – 20th September


Tim Gill (cellist) at Kings Place review *****


London Sinfonietta’s Tim Gill: Avant Cello

Kings Place, 6th May 2017

Tim Gill – cello
Fali Pavri – piano
Sound Intermedia

  • Anton Webern – 3 kleine Stücke, Op. 11,
  • Olivier Messiaen – ‘Louange à l’Éternite du Jesus Christ’ (‘Praise to the eternity of Jesus’) from Quartet for the End of Time,
  • Hans Werner Henze – Serenade for solo cello,
  • Arvo Pärt – Fratres,
  • Iannis Xenakis – Kottos for solo cello,
  • Jonathan Harvey – Ricercare una melodia for solo cello and electronics,
  • Thomas Ades – ‘L’eaux’ from Lieux retrouvés,
  • Anna Clyne – Paint Box for cello and tape,
  • Harrison Birtwistle – Wie Eine Fuga from Bogenstrich

I have a theory. If the C18 was characterised by the rise of the violin (beauty and enlightenment) in Western art music and the C19 the piano (power, expression and romanticism), then the C20 saw the cello come to the fore. If you want to pump up the emotion, eloquence and lyricism in music then the cello is the chap for you. It does profound in a way no other instrument can match and the C20 has much that composers have wished to be profound about. And in the purely musical sense you have 4 strings capable of a such wide variety of sound that it is really easy for the uninformed punter like me to grasp.

So there are some very good, some not so good and some very famous pieces written for cello from the last century. Think the large scale concertos of Elgar, Honegger, Walton, Prokofiev, Britten, Shostakovich, Ligeti, Lutoslawski and Penderecki for starters. There are also plenty of smaller scale works and this is largely the repertoire that the Cello Unwrapped series is exploring at Kings Place this year. Whilst there is a place rightly reserved in the series  for the mighty cello led works of JS Bach and Vivaldi and the earlier Classical composers there are also plenty of C20 cello works to feast upon.

And of those programmes this for me looked the best of the bunch (though I am signed up for a handful later in the year). I can’t pretend I went into this knowing all of these pieces but there were enough hooks and enough interesting sounding composers to get me all of a flutter.

I wasn’t disappointed. The Webern pieces are over in a instant but they pack in a host of new sounds which must have had contemporary listeners in full on WTF mode. I had heard the Messiaen before but on its own it is truly beautiful. Just a simple, unfolding, sonorous (cello trademark) cantilena like Part and Tavener deliver, and with a hint of Britten. Easy peasy to like. Then the first of the solo cello pieces, the Henze serenade. Henze is on my list to do more work on and blimey this was persuasive. Nine little movements each with a clear musical structure and immensely playful but never pastiche. I have heard Part’s Fratres millions of times, in various combinations, but this might have been the best ever. The arpeggiated opening and percussive interludes were played by Tim Gill with real aggression, and in the chorales he and Fali Pavri really attacked the music in a way I never thought possible. The Xenakis piece for solo cello was another one of the works by this composer that sound like they have been pulled out from deep underground with all sorts of exhilarating sounds and rhythms which get us boys all worked up. The Harvey piece involved a live tape delay which meant that Gill’s single cello line turned into a five part canon. The Ades piece was a sweeter affair intended to depict the action of water – I enjoyed this but it wasn’t as immediately exciting as some of the other compositions. As for Paint Box by Anna Clynne, well the mix of recorded voice, breathing  and other sound loops with a sonorous cello line and Mr Gill playing a musical box (I kid you not) was way better than it had any right to be. I love this thing where a piece which frankly I am never likely to hear again sucks you right in and then lodges in your head for days afterwards. We ended with the Birtwhistle piece. What can I say, it is just too much of a stretch for me now but one day, perhaps, I hope to become sufficiently sophisticated so that his work will make sense to me – alas this evening was not it (I am not taking the p*ss here – I really do mean this).

So I take my hat off to Mr Gill. He is principal cellist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra as well as the London Sinfonietta so clearly knows his onions. I cannot though imagine a better advocate for this music and with Fali Pavri he had a more than sympathetic partner. Just brilliant. This is the way to listen to contemporary art music.