I used mostly my ears

a blog about music by Marc Haegeman


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Magnificent Beethoven tribute from Chailly and the Filarmonica della Scala in Antwerp

Ludwig van Beethoven: Egmont Overture, Op. 84
Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67

Riccardo Chaily, Filarmonica della Scala
Antwerp, Queen Elisabeth Hall, 23 January 2020

Beethoven

Beethoven (1804) by Mähler

No escape is possible. Beethoven was born 250 years ago and quite naturally features very prominently in concert programmings throughout the year. Riccardo Chailly and the Filarmonica della Scala, on a visit to Antwerp, made no apologies with a deceptively simple all-Beethoven bill consisting of the Egmont Overture and Symphonies 5 and 8. In effect, it was not all that simple, as turning these overfamiliar pieces into a refreshing and exhilarating concert experience is no mean feat. But that’s exactly what they did tonight.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Luminous Beethoven and impetuous Connesson in Bruges

Guillaume Connesson: Flammenschrift
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet, excerpts

Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider, violin
Brussels Philharmonic, Stéphane Denève
Bruges, Concertgebouw, 1 March 2019

The success story of the Brussels Philharmonic is one of the miracles of the Belgian classical music scene. Under conductors Michel Tabachnik and, since 2015/16, Stéphane Denève the stuffy, bureaucratic Flemish radio band from yesteryear happily morphed into a vibrant, independent formation of international fame and acclaim. This concert led by Denève with music by Connesson, Beethoven and Prokofiev duly demonstrated its strengths, as well as some limitations. A luminous performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major by Nikolaj Szeps-Znaider considerably added to its attraction.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Isabelle Faust shines in German early romantics programme from Gardiner and the LSO

Carl Maria von Weber: Euryanthe, Overture
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Robert Schumann: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major ‘Rhenish’, Op. 97

Isabelle Faust, violin
London Symphony Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner

Antwerp, Queen Elisabeth Hall, 30 January 2019

© Felix Broede

Isabelle Faust (© Felix Broede)

Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra visited Antwerp with a splendid programme of German early Romantic music. They captured the exalted homages from Weber and Schumann to the Germany of olden times in vivid and dramatic readings that made a good case – barring some rough edges – for traditional orchestras adopting period-style influences. Eventually it was a stellar performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major by Isabelle Faust that made the evening really memorable.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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A manifesto against war: Dubugnon première impresses in Brussels, but Beethoven disappoints

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Richard Dubugnon: Le Tombeau de Napoléon
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”

Jan Smets, trombone
Orchestre Symphonique de la Monnaie, Alain Altinoglu
Brussels, Centre for Fine Arts, 25 November 2018

Part of an ongoing cycle of Beethoven symphonies from the Symphony Orchestra of La Monnaie under their music director Alain Altinoglu, this concert offset Nos. 1 and 3 with a world premiere by the Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon, called Tombeau de Napoléon. The spirit of the French emperor was, in effect, hovering over much of the proceedings, not only as a direct inspiration for two of the works but, in a less flattering sense, also in the martial approach of some of the music-making.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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Radiant Vilde Frang opens Antwerp season

Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Antonín Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, “From the New World,” Op. 95

Vilde Frang, violin
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Robin Ticciati
Antwerp, Queen Elisabeth Hall, 9 September 2018

While not exactly a model of risky or unconventional programming, this season opener did include a rare visit by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, an orchestra with a rich pedigree, and had two of the most in-demand young artists of the day – British conductor Robin Ticciati and Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang – sharing the bill.

Read the full review on Bachtrack.


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A sunny matinee at the BBC Proms with Joshua Bell and the ASMF

Felix Mendelssohn: Overture A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op. 21
Camille Saint-Saëns: Violin Concerto #3 in B minor, Op. 61
Frank Bridge: Lament (Catherine, aged 9, “Lusitania” 1915)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #4 in B Flat Major, Op. 60

Joshua Bell, violin
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Joshua Bell
London, Royal Albert Hall, 12 August 2018

The Academy of St Martin in the Fields (ASMF) brought an utterly delightful matinee concert at the BBC Proms under their music director, violinist Joshua Bell. The joys were manifold. For one thing, it was a beautifully varied bill, including a couple of rarities. But above all this was a concert that demonstrated the pleasure of making music together, by a first-class ensemble of 40 musicians breathing as one and visibly enjoying their moment in the spotlights. Acting both (or simultaneously) as conductor and as soloist, Joshua Bell appeared a true inspirational force. Conducting from the leader’s chair (if not playing, wielding his bow as baton) in Mendelssohn, Bridge and Beethoven, he went centre stage to play and direct Saint-Saëns’ Third Violin Concerto. And all from memory.

The concert took off with Mendelssohn’s Overture for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The woodwinds had a bit of a rough start but pretty soon everything fell into place and this rendition was teeming with youthful energy and imagination. The different scenes and moods of Mendelssohn’s microcosmic distillation of Shakespearean fantasy came vividly alive now with transparent textures, then again with warm colors and subtle shading. While Bell kept things going at a lively pace, the sound quality of the ASMF was outstanding throughout.

The concertos from Camille Saint-Saëns are rarely heard in the concert hall. Of his five Piano concertos only the Second is occasionally performed, and his Violin concertos fare even worse. And come to think of it, his symphonies aren’t exactly flooding the concert programs either. Interesting to read in the Proms program notes that Saint-Saëns was pally with Proms founder-conductor Henry Wood and that his Third Violin Concerto was a popular favorite at the time, receiving no less than 16 performances between 1898 and 1928 – although apparently only the slow movement initially. But only one in the following 90 years (in 1989).

The current revival by the ASMF was in this respect all the more welcome and with Bell’s authoritative reading we couldn’t have had a stronger advocate to get this lovely piece back in the mainstream concerto repertoire. It was quite a stunning tour de force for the soloist/conductor, alternatively facing the public and his orchestra. Ever graceful in projection and warmly attractive in timbre, Bell immediately hit the right balance between virtuoso display (it was written for legend Pablo de Sarasate after all) and romantic lyricism. The barcarolle-like Andantino quasi Allegretto sung in all its elegance, fusing violin with woodwinds in a ravishing dialogue. Naturally, Bell was the soloist and he got the brilliant parts (which he negotiated effortlessly), but the success and conviction of this reading was eventually due to the admirable teamwork, or rather companionship, between him and the orchestra. As said, an irresistible sense of making music together was running strong the whole concert, but this quality was never more palpable as in the concerto.

After the interval Bell and the string players of the Academy performed Frank Bridge’s short Lament, composed to commemorate the brutal sinking of the “Lusitania”, a British ocean liner by a German submarine in 1915, taking 1,200 passengers to the bottom of the Atlantic. Bridge was friends with the Crompton family who perished in the disaster and composed this 5 minute Lament in memory of 9-year old Catherine Crompton. Again, a rarity for the Proms as the piece hadn’t been performed there since its premiere in 1915. A remarkable work in its dense but subtle string writing, and most impressively done here.

In order not to interrupt the impact of the memorial piece Bell wanted to segue from the Lament into the following Beethoven Fourth Symphony, however due to a slight hesitation of his part all good intentions were torpedoed by premature applause from eager Prommers. Still, once under way after the searching introduction, this Beethoven was pure sunny joy, excitingly muscular and crisp in the outer movements, warm and tender in the Adagio, but always full of ‘joie de vivre’. A convincing orchestral balance, clear textures, excellent solo work and impressive dynamics highlighted the quality of the ensemble again and under Bell’s direction the whole work seemed infused with an unstoppable drive running through all the movements. To his credit, Bell clearly doesn’t consider the Fourth Symphony a mere “divertissement”, but really a worthy companion for the usually higher esteemed Third and Fifth. It didn’t matter this was a small ensemble playing the gigantic Royal Albert Hall, this sweeping account of Beethoven’s Fourth made a very strong impression indeed.

It is now 7 years that Joshua Bell took over the music directorship of the ASMF from the late Sir Neville Marinner, but judging from this concert the orchestra is in the best of hands and can definitely look forward to its 60th anniversary in the 2019/20 season in full confidence.

Copyright © 2018 Marc Haegeman

First published on Classical Net.


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Thrilling Beethoven and Mahler from Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra in Antwerp

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D Major “Titan”

Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen
Elisabeth Center, Antwerp, 18 April 2018

In Antwerp, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra offered a symphonic feast, with insightful and thrilling readings of Beethoven’s Second and Mahler’s First. In effect, it was not unlike visiting old friends who suddenly appeared younger, more vibrant and congenial than you remembered them. Conductor and orchestra demonstrated once again that, in the right hands, familiar repertory can still prove compelling and even surprising. In other words, they possess the formula for bringing a great concert.

Read the full review on Bachtrack