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Manchester music reviews
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Manchester music reviews

Manchester Mid-day Concerts

The Manchester Mid-Day Concerts Society

Reflections on two performances at The Bridgewater Hall

by Charlotte Starkey March 2012

 

Another season of The Manchester Mid-Day Concerts is drawing to a close with the last concert on Thursday, 19th April. Whilst these observations are written towards the end of a memorable season of music, this is a useful moment to look back briefly at a couple of recent concerts in preparation for what is to come in the forthcoming season beginning later this year.
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Life is a Dream by Birmingham Opera Company

Life is a Dream by Birmingham Opera Company

at Argyle Works, Birmingham

Reviewed by Denis Joe March 2012

 

Going to see an opera doesn’t normally entail a drive to an industrial estate warehouse on the outskirts of the city, but this was to be a new experience for me: opera denuded of its high art pretentions.

 

I had heard whispers about Birmingham Opera Company before: this was opera for the masses; cutting edge and the realisation of Berthold Brecht’s revolutionary approach to theatre outlined in his Short Organum for the Theatre.

 

Arriving at the ‘venue’ in Digbeth, Birmingham, we made our way through a strip door into a small warehouse section with a makeshift bar and people standing around or sitting on a few work benches and chairs.

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Halle Orchestra, photo by Joel Chester Fildes

Last Train to Tomorrow at Bridgewater Hall

Exciting Carl Davis premiere for 2012 with the Hallé and Hallé Children's Choir

To be reviewed by Denis Joe June 2012

 

Last Train to Tomorrow: For children’s choir, actors and orchestra based on the story of the Kindertransport.

 

Sunday 17 June 2012 at 3pm in The Bridgewater Hall will see the world premiere of Last Train to Tomorrow, a new work composed and conducted by Carl Davis (CBE) and commissioned by the Hallé Concerts Society for the Hallé and Hallé Children’s Choir.

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Ailís Ní Ríain with her Ensemble 10/10 commission

Ensemble 10/10 at Liverpool Philharmonic

Reviewed by Denis Joe March 2012

 

Liverpool can count itself fortunate that it is home to one of the world leading contemporary music ensembles: Ensemble 10/10. was founded by two Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra members, Nicholas Cox and Hilary Browning, in 1997. They are award winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society music Awards and have released five CDs. The added bonus of a live performance is the enthusiasm of their director Clark Rundell, whose spontaneous wit is matched by his command of the Ensemble.

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Welsh National Opera - The Marriage of Figaro

The Marriage of Figaro (in Italian) by WNO

Reviewed by Denis Joe February 2012

 

Of the three operas that Mozart composed to libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte The Marriage of Figaro is perhaps the most popular. Welsh National Opera presented their latest production of Don Giovani last year and will be presenting Cosi Fan Tutti in the autumn season, later this year. The three operas are recognised as amongst the greatest ever written and The Marriage of Figaro as one of the most perfect operas (see Anthony Negus in WNO programme p.12).

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Welsh National Opera - Beatrice et Benedict

Beatrice et Benedict by WNO

Reviewed by Denis Joe February 2012

(English translation based on Geoffrey Dunn, OUP 1965)

 

Based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice et Benedict is not appreciated as well as the rest of the Berlioz output. And whilst the composer rated it as a divertissement - and it is seen very much as that today –  I think it is a masterful piece. Commissioned for the opening of a new opera house in Baden-Baden, in 1862, Beatrice et Benedict was to become Berlioz’s last major work.

 

Berlioz worshipped Shakespeare’s work and only used a part of Much Ado About Nothing adding the role of the composer, Somarone, the duet, a beautiful nocturne that closes the first act, sung by Ursule and Héro (Vous soupirez, madame!), the trio of Héro, Beatrice and Ursula (Je vais d’un cœur aimant) and Beatrice’s heart-stopping aria (Dieu! que viens-je d’entendre?).

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Welsh National Opera - La Traviata

La Traviata (Sung in Italian) by WNO

Reviewed by Denis Joe February 2012

 

Perhaps the two most popular opera composers, these days, are Puccini and Verdi. Whilst the former’s output dwarfs the latter, only a handful of Verdi’s operas remain popular, and none more so than La Traviata. It is the staple production of many opera companies and an opera that is guaranteed to get ‘bums on seats’. That would suggest that the chances of presenting the work in a novel fashion are pretty slim. But David Mc Vicar’s La Traviata (first performed two years ago) certainly gives food for thought and in doing so creates the realisation that the composer, even at the height of his popularity, did not rest on his laurels.

 

The Prelude to this opera is, for me, the most perfect beginning to any opera. We know from the start that it will not end well for the characters, as the orchestra plays the quiet bars, that we will hear again in the third act: the leitmotif of Violetta on her death bed. It is the most heart-rendering music I can think of and describes a scene that could be nothing other than tragic. Slowly the prelude picks up tempo as we go backwards into the fading heartbeats that will dominate the second act. Then there is a pause, as the curtain rises to reveal a large group of people, enjoying what life has to offer.

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Momus at IABF

Momus @ International Anthony Burgess Foundation

To be reviewed by Dave Porter March 2012

 

Momus – aka Nick Currie – is one of the more interesting characters to have come out of and endured the ‘80s music scene. Never your average pop star, his protean output now encompasses roles as novelist, art critic, gallery tour guide and journalist.

 

A protege of the Scottish Postcard scene – his first band the Happy Family featured members of Josef K – Momus fittingly takes his nominal cue from the Greek god of mockery. He quickly outgrew the jangle of indie pop to carve out an outré career as purveyor of synthesised pop with the sensibilities of Kylie and the lyrical rumblings of Nick Cave.

 

Records titles such as Tender Pervert and The Poison Boyfriend give a hint to his predilections. Despite being signed to Creation Records by fellow Scot Alan McGee, Momus looked unlikely to achieve the pop stardom he craved, but has doggedly pursued an artistic vision which has seen him outflank many of his contemporaries.

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50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush

50 Words For Snow, by Kate Bush

by Denis Joe November 2011

 

I love this time of year: the run-up to Christmas. Whilst some moan about lack of tradition and meaning, and whinge about the ‘consumer’ orgy, I am never less than amazed at the crowds in city centres who put themselves through so much in order to show their family and friends just how much they care. That is something to celebrate. It is a time when people show themselves as caring and unselfish individuals.

 

What I hate about this time of year is the omnipresence of the Christmas pop song, as if the music industry feels that it needs to force people to be happy. The exception is Fairy Tale of New York, a song consistently voted the best Christmas song of all time; it has everything a great Christmas song should have: pathos and sentimentality.

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John Barrowman

John Barrowman at Liverpool Philharmonic

Reviewed by Fat Roland November 2011

 

Two mostly-naked male dancers bend over to show the business end of their hot-pants whilst John Barrowman’s septuagenarian parents dress up for a comedy skit on sexual domination.

 

I’m not sure how I got here, but it all seems to make sense. I was expecting a teeth-whitened Torchwood show tune extravaganza, but here, at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on John Barrowman’s 27-date tour to promote his latest album The Best Of John Barrowman, there is so much more going on.

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