Show Posts

This section allows you to view all posts made by this member. Note that you can only see posts made in areas you currently have access to.

Messages - HtoHe

Pages: 1 2 [3] 4 5 ... 231
Proms / Re: 2017 Proms
« on: April 22, 2017, 07:26:09 pm »
They seem to have outdone themselves to make it difficult this year.  While there are certainly bargains in weekend promming passes the set up means they have to put more restrictions than usual on them, so anyone planning a whole weekend has to be careful they’re getting what they want because, as well as not being valid for some external concerts (as usual), the passes exclude some numbered Proms as well.  For example weekend 3 excludes Prom 19 (the ‘Relaxed’ one) and weekend 5 only includes the evening performance of Oklahoma!.  That doesn’t really affect me as I don’t want to go to either of the excluded Proms but it might confuse some.  There are also, unless I’m misreading, a couple of very short concerts.  Prom 17 seems to be just 80 minutes of music – Mark Simpson’s The Immortal and Tchaikovsky 6 – and Prom 52 is described as ‘exploring’ the New World Symphony with no other work mentioned. The presence of an actor and a baritone among the performers suggests there will be more to it but at first glance it doesn’t strike me as a project suitable for the RAH.

As I said, though, there are some bargains.  If I can get reasonable travel and hotels I’ll certainly be considering weekend 1 with the two Barenboim Proms, Haitink and the first night itself. Then there’s the Beethoven-heavy weekend 2 including Fidelio.  Weekend 4 is an interesting mix including jazz (tributes to Ella and Dizzy), Thomas Ades conducting the NYOGB in The Rite of Spring, and Khovanschina with Bychkov.  Perhaps most attractive, though, is weekend 6 with its Resurrection, Gurrelieder and full day of sacred music. 

Outside the weekend passes there’s quite a lot worthy of consideration.  Prom 21 couples the pantheistic Beethoven 9 with what will almost certainly turn out to be a more conventionally religious work by (who else but) James McMillan.  Prom 31 is La Damnation de Faust with John Eliot Gardiner.  Prom 53 celebrates Charles Mingus and in Prom 57 Guy Barker, Winston Rollins and Clare Teal get another gig after the successful Swing night a couple of years ago (possibly a bit much given the amount of other non-classical stuff that must be awaiting its chance, but I’m not complaining).  And, as Jim mentioned, there’s Renee Fleming giving us Knoxville: Summer of 1915 in an adventurous Prom 61 that also gives us a UK Premiere from Andrea Tarrodi and works by Richard Strauss and Carl Nielsen. 

I’d have liked a bit more Wagner – there’s none until the last night and even then it’s just the decontextualized Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan – but I suppose there’s a price to pay for the gluts we’ve had in a couple of recent seasons.  It’s true, as well, that contemporary music, again, doesn’t seem very well served.  But I can see me making three or four trips – and I haven’t even looked at the Cadogan Hall programmes yet.

Proms / Re: 2017 Proms
« on: April 22, 2017, 12:54:25 pm »
But I wonder why Barenboim isn't conducting Elgar 3...

Apparently he thinks it's a bit of a payne.

...I'll get me coat...and come back when I've finished ploughing through the online listings.  I had to stop and sit in a darkened room for a while when I saw they were presenting Oklahoma! twice in a day.

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: April 21, 2017, 09:53:31 am »
Andrew Manze returned to the Philharmonic Hall yesterday evening to conduct two Vaughan Williams symphonies, each preceded by a short shot of Sibelius.  To open we got two movements from Karelia.  The first, Intermezzo, was very familiar to people of my age from its use as the This Week theme tune.  It also contained the concert’s only noticeable negative – a couple of very sour sounding brass notes early on.  Then came the contemplative 5th symphony with its beautiful string passages ably delivered by the RLPO and its more turbulent bits really striking .  These reminded me of Shostakovich – something I hadn’t really noticed before – and when I mentioned this to another audience member I learned that Manze had referred to this, and to Sibelius’s influence, in a pre-concert talk which, unfortunately, I had to miss.  The conductor also gave a short talk before the second half to congratulate the orchestra on its recent BBC Music Mag award and to announce that he found it hard to follow RVW’s 6th no matter how enthusiastic the applause so it would be preceded by perennial encore Valse Triste.  The Sibelius was fine but it was the symphony that, for me anyway, turned out to be the high point of the evening.  Apparently not a war symphony according to its composer it has become inextricably associated with WW2 – indeed, people of my age might remember the uncharacteristically serene passage in the first movement being used for TV’s A Family at War.  The performance, anyway, was very moving regardless of whether it is associated with the anguished and angry themes it seems to depict or taken as pure music as, apparently, RVW intended.  Manze is back next week with Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Rossini - and, having started last night's second half with the encore, he apparently proposes to finish next week's concert with the William Tell overture!  I shall be sorry to miss the concert (which I’m afraid I shall have to do unless I can rearrange my schedule). 

Proms / Re: 2017 Proms
« on: April 20, 2017, 03:59:04 pm »
Wish I had time to go through it, Jim.  Does anyone know of an edited list that I can just scan without having to click on every individual Prom to get details?  Otherwise it will be the weekend before I can have a proper look as I'm off to hear Andrew Manze's RVW 5 & 6 this evening and have visitors after work tomorrow.  I thought the first week looked attractive - if not adventurous - with Barrowboy's Elgar double (one of which is coupled with a Birtwistle piece) looking particularly good.  I hadn't yet spotted the Gurrelieder or the Barber or Maxwell Davies.

News and Current Affairs / Re: Allan Holdsworth
« on: April 16, 2017, 08:46:06 pm »
Sad news, Walter.  Thanks for the tribute.  I remember his being lead guitarist the second time I saw Soft Machine in the mid-1970s.  I'm afraid I didn't really keep up with his long career after that but his performance that night was very impressive.


The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: April 07, 2017, 11:11:08 am »
...and another fine programme beautifully delivered last night (repeated tonight).  I can't say I warmed too much to Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, but the execution was fine; then, before the interval, Szymanowski's 1st Violin Concerto with Baiba Skride as soloist.  I hadn't heard this live for some time but I remembered thinking how some parts of it resemble Alban Berg's concerto - and reminded myself that it was written a couple of decades before the famous tribute 'to the memory of an angel'.  Despite very warm applause Ms Skride didn't offer an encore.  The second part was devoted to a very powerful reading of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.  I get the feeling that if the niggling brass fluffs could finally be ironed out Petrenko's mission to turn the RLPO into a major international force might soon be fulfilled.  Anyone in two minds about tonight would be well advised to go if they can.

The Coffee Bar / Re: Grumpy Old Rant Room
« on: March 29, 2017, 09:06:13 pm »
I don’t know where to begin on this one.  Because of long-running engineering works the Wirral line is disrupted this year.  I only have to use it if I’m travelling before the Mersey tunnel buses start so it hasn’t been a big issue for me, but when I had to get the 0700 from Lime St a couple of weeks ago I checked the Merseyrail journey planner to see how much disruption I would encounter.  What I saw astonished me so much that I have, so far, phoned Merseyrail twice to point out the sheer idiocy of the itinerary they propose.  Although the people to whom I spoke agreed with me and promised to report it, the website still tells enquirers that the journey will take 61 minutes (when, in fact, it would take little more than half that time if the journey planner gave sensible advice).

The first leg is fine – a 15 minute rail journey to James St.  Most locals would know that the walk from James St to Lime St is a mere 10-15 minutes but I suppose the planner has to cater for people who are unable or unwilling to walk.  What is suggested is a 14 minute wait at James St for a Rail Replacement bus to Central station.  In fact, for the duration of the works, ticket holders are allowed to get the ordinary 10a bus from James St to Queen Sq – actually closer to Lime St - which almost certainly wouldn’t entail a 14 minute wait and a 10 minute journey;  but the journey planner makes no mention of this option.  On arrival at Central Station, though, the planner goes from unhelpful to positively surreal.  Consideration for people who are unable or unwilling to walk seems to have been abandoned here.  Those who didn’t want to walk from James St are given no option other than to walk from Central.  Admittedly, this is a rather shorter walk but it’s not exactly negligible.  Furthermore, it makes a mockery of the designation Rail Replacement bus because the Merseyrail route to Central actually stops at Moorfields and Lime St, so why (or even if)  the bus doesn’t stop at those stations is a bit of a mystery.  The surreal element, though, lies in the 'Arriving' and 'Leaving' times.  Apparently the RR bus arrives at Central at 0638 – in good time for passengers to leave at 0648 on the last leg of their epic journey – on foot!  Why on earth would anyone wait at Central station for 10 minutes before setting out on foot?

I suspect that what we have here is an itinerary generated by an algorithm and published without  adequate checks by people with actual practical knowledge.  As I write, the National Rail Journey planner repeats the same ridiculous itinerary – though the Merseytravel  utility recommends a 38 minute journey including a 17 minute walk from James St, which is eminently practical.  What irritates me is that I’ve reported this twice to Merseyrail and nothing has been done to correct this embarrassingly stupid error.

I tried to copy a screen shot here but it wouldn't take it.  If you want to see what I'm talking about go here:

and enter a journey from WLV to LIV at 0545 on a weekday this week.

The Concert Hall / Re: Crrrritic!
« on: March 27, 2017, 08:38:16 pm »
I’m a bit of a Pollini sceptic myself – I don’t think I have any of his recordings and I’ve never been impressed by his live performances - but this is something else

While I have a lot of sympathy with the writer's suspicion that the audience might be applauding Pollini for being famous (actually I suspect a lot of people are applauding themselves for having seen someone famous) I can't help feeling there's no need for the sheer, sustained vituperative tone of this review.   It’s almost as if the writer feels personally insulted by having had to endure the recital.

Theatre / Don Juan in Soho - Wyndham's Theatre
« on: March 26, 2017, 05:57:00 pm »
I’ve enjoyed a lot of Patrick Marber’s work recently –  Travesties, which he directed, is a triumph, Three Days in the Country, which he adapted from Turgenev, was very good and his contribution, as translator/adapter, was one of the few positive things about the NTs Hedda Gabler – but I’m beginning to wonder if he does better working on other people’s dramas than writing his own.  Of the three plays I’ve seen that unequivocally carry his name as author only The Red Lion has impressed me as more than passable.  Of course Marber didn’t create Don Juan and the narrative of this piece closely resembles Dom Juan ou le Festin de Pierre; but Moliere isn’t on the title page so the play is, I suppose, officially Marber’s own.  However one categorises it, though, the fact remains that I found Don Juan in Soho no more than mildly amusing – and sometimes agonisingly hackneyed and predictable. 

The mass appeal factor is clearly the casting of David Tennant as the Doctor Don but for me he was outshone by his co-star  Adrian Scarborough as his valet Stan*.   I think this might be more to do with their respective characters than their acting skill.  Stan is a man trapped by almost feudal ties (which make very little sense in this modern setting but I’ll let that pass) in a relationship with a master whose faults he can see very clearly.  Don Juan is a thoroughgoing louse.  We’re clearly meant to have mixed feelings about him** but I couldn’t summon up an ounce of empathy or grudging admiration for the character as portrayed by Tennant; and I’m not about to pore over Marber’s script to see if the lines admit of a more sympathetic interpretation.  This Don Juan is a selfish, amoral git with a self-serving philosophy that makes Hugh Hefner look positively decent.  His attempts to justify it are redolent of Aleister Crowley’s law of Thelema – you have a duty to follow your own true will and a responsibility to acknowledge the rights of others to do the same – and wouldn’t convince a GCSE ethics student.  There is a scene in which he goes to the aid of a man who is being mugged but that’s about the only sign of altruism – and it’s little more than a plot device.  He also delivers a lengthy diatribe on the dominance of ‘social media’ (the author’s own views?  It certainly sounded like it must have been updated and refined since the 2005 premiere) but this is squarely in the context of making his own, more direct, self-obsession seem comparatively virtuous.

Of course, the play is obviously a comedy so it doesn’t do to take it too seriously.  That being the case, though, I’d have preferred it to be a bit, well, funnier.  Or should I say wittier?  There are a few genuinely witty touches, and Scarborough milks Stan’s distaste and discomfort for all it’s worth; but there’s too much reliance on outrageous behaviour in the pursuit of cheap laughs.  There surely must come a time when audiences realise you don’t have to giggle every time someone uses a rude word or simulates fellatio; but we don’t seem to be there yet.  The scene with the woman on her knees under a hospital blanket gobbling away while DJ alternates between moaning with pleasure and chatting up another patient (whose husband he has just put on the critical list) comes across like an outtake from a Carry On film but it had our audience dutifully chortling like mad.

All this – and talking statues, scantily clad male and female dancers, rather loud music (from Mozart to Kiki Dee) might be right up your street, though; and if it is the good news is that the £20 day seats for this production are particularly good – front row with lots of legroom looking on to a low stage with very little in the way of obstructive scenery and props.  I joined the queue at about 0830 (for 1000 opening) and was eighth in line.  Strictly speaking although the production has been running for over a week it’s still in preview so the ease of getting day seats is likely to be modified by the critics’ verdicts next week.

*When I checked out the plot similarities to Moliere’s play I saw that Wikipedia says this part, Sganarelle, was played by Moliere himself in the 1665  premiere.

** it even says so in the programme; and the publicity posters warn us not to like him as he’s not a lovable rogue – which, just like the almost identical hype for The Libertine a few months ago, is code for “he’s irresistible really”

The Concert Hall / Re: Liverpool Concerts 2016 - 17
« on: March 23, 2017, 10:01:23 pm »
I was very disappointed to realise that when Christian Lindberg starts his (free) 10/10 concert at the university on Saturday I’ll be sitting on a train about halfway home.  I also knew I had little chance of seeing his concert at the Phil this evening as I had to be at home to take a phone call at 2200.  When I read that there was a post-concert discussion with the musicians scheduled for 2130 I decided to go along anyway, figuring that I could leave at the interval if there was no chance of my getting a timely bus.  So it was that I joined a very, ahem, select audience for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite.  This was fun but I wondered, not knowing the piece very well, if some of the sour horn notes were specified by the composer or just a recurrence of the RLPO’s most persistent flaw.  After a rearrangement of the platform we got Poulenc’s impish double piano concerto.  I’ve heard this live many times but, it must be said, over half the performances I’ve heard were by the Labeque sisters (who at one time seemed to do little else).  I’d never have guessed that one day I’d see it performed by a duo that,, if anything, seem to prioritise showmanship even more than Katya and Marielle.  (Greg) Anderson and (Elizabeth Joy) Roe have even adopted (Nigel) Kennedy’s gimmick of dropping the forename.  I also have to say that I’ve never heard the concerto sound so dull and mechanical as it did tonight.  The encores were, if anything, more disappointing.  Piazolla’s Libertango seemed a lot less fiery and insistent under their four hands than it ever has under Joanna MacGregor’s two.  And while, I suppose we must give credit for the local flavour, the arrangement (I presume it was their own but I might be wrong) of Let it Be was grotesquely florid with the tune, which is essentially a spiritual, buried under trills and glissandi.  The whoopers and whistlers came into their own after the second encore but I was just glad it was over.  The real disappointment was that I’m pretty sure the second half, Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Suite would have been by far the superior one.  But with the interval beginning at 2040 the chances of my getting the 2140 bus home (and of the post concert discussion beginning anytime close to 2130) were zero.  It would have been interesting to see what colour shirt – after silver for Stravinsky and black for Poulenc - Lindberg chose for Sibelius but it wasn’t to be!

Television / Re: Audibility of television soundtracks
« on: March 21, 2017, 11:12:33 pm »
there is no particular point in attempting to create a reality that simply means that there is no proper communication with listeners.

Quite.  The logical extension of this would be to film scenes through a gap in the curtain because it's not realistic to be able to see clearly what's going on when one or two people are in the house alone.  Surely it's possible to reproduce all the characteristics of a whisper apart from its inaudibility.  As for background music: I don't really watch TV these days but radio and theatre are getting worse and worse with the distractions they present.  It's almost as if a drama was some sort of job creation scheme for musicians and sound engineers.  Of course, sometimes it enhances the performance but often it spoils it.  One of the wonderful things about the current Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is that they just let the script and the actors work their magic.

News and Current Affairs / Chuck Berry 1926-2017
« on: March 19, 2017, 08:23:18 pm »
The passing of Chuck Berry, whether you like him or not, must be noted.  When I was a naïve youngster a classmate’s question ‘would Elvis Presley have been dubbed The King if Chuck Berry had been white?’ struck me as tremendously sophisticated.  Decades later the perspective of history surely shows Berry as a pioneer and performer par excellence of the most popular and influential genre of music of the 20th century (well, in the Western world, anyway).  Even if his individual musicianship might not have been of the highest quality, the machine gun guitar delivery, earthy vocals and risqué lyrics were ground breaking.  It’s a sign of changing mores that his most controversial single in this country – My Ding-a-ling – would be seen as almost charming today whereas Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (and, perhaps, the final verse of Memphis Tennessee) would instantly raise eyebrows. 

RIP (oh, and if there is an afterlife, better tell Tchaikovsky the news)

Theatre / Cyrano - Liverpool Playhouse (Northern Broadsides)
« on: March 17, 2017, 09:42:03 pm »
On the one hand, this production has something for everyone: smart jokes and belly laughs, smart rhymes and excruciating ones, gallantry and blackguardry, fights and amorous clinches, sacred and profane; and, played live in the usual Northern Broadsides way, music from Dans les Jardins de mon Père to Dies Irae and points between.  On the other hand, in fitting in something for everyone, the play is very long.  At 2h50m (inc interval) it is, in my estimation, a good half hour too long.  Perhaps they could have cut some of the musical numbers but I don’t think they were the problem; rather it was that the speeches could have done with being a bit more economical – a conclusion I came to at the end when, about half way through Cyrano’s valediction I found myself thinking ‘for heaven’s sake, get on with it’.  Unkind, I know, given the circumstances; but it was what I felt. 

I have to admit that, apart from the basic story, I don’t know Rostand’s original at all and it’s quite possible that Deborah McAndrew’s ‘new adaptation’ is entirely faithful.  Indeed, the narrative, at least, seems very similar to the synopsis given in Wikipedia.  However, I formed the opinion that the verse wasn’t nearly as engaging as it needed to be to hold the audience’s attention for so long.  It was, though, lustily delivered by an enthusiastic cast using a variety of northern accents – including a Scots Roxane (Sharon Singh).  In the title role Christian Edwards does well enough though he doesn’t really get across the combination of arrogance and decency that seems to be one of the character's main features.  Paul Barnhill as the master baker and second rate poet Raguenau threatens to steal the show – especially with his ingenious way of feeding the starving troops at the siege of Arras.  And Andy Cryer handles the journey of de Guiche from Cyrano’s pompous adversary to penitent friend very well. 

Worth a look but it can seem very long; and, unusually, the bigger part of it comes after the interval.  Just over a week  left at the Playhouse; and after that there’s still a fair bit of the tour left.

Theatre / Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf - Harold Pinter Theatre
« on: March 17, 2017, 12:23:05 am »
With a few minor reservations – some of which might not even be valid – I thought this was a superb production of a great, great play.  I’ll do the quibbles first.  The main problem I had was that as George’s great Act 3 ‘revelation’ got nearer I kept thinking ‘we haven’t had the scene where he gives Honey a foretaste of what’s to come’.  I even wondered whether I wasn’t experiencing rather worrying absences in my concentration.  In fact, the scene at the end of Walpurgisnacht in my text  is completely omitted.  I later found, through Wikipedia, that “In what is labelled the "Definitive Edition" of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives”.  I found this rather unclear.  Did Albee ‘authorise’ a different script after the publication of my Penguin edition?  If so, that might also explain the replacement of several milder epithets with words beginning with ‘f’.  I found this irritating as I think the language in the Penguin script is strong enough in all senses of the word. Finally, I thought the two younger actors were physically rather different from the characters I imagine when I read the play.  Luke Treadaway is rather slight for the quarterback and middleweight champion Nick; and Imogen Poots is a little too attractive for his mouse wife, Honey.

Enough quibbling.  Appearances aside, Treadaway and Poots give fine performances.  They are always in the shadow of Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton – whose portrayals of George and Martha are stupendous – but that’s rather in the nature of the play.  Hill is George to the life; measured, deliberate, ultimately ruthless but still visibly simmering with frustration at his lot in life and, at times, genuine concern and affection for his wife and sparring partner.  Staunton is astonishing with her social and sexual frustration boiling over rather than simmering but still with that underlying residue of attachment to George.  Between them they point up the multiple themes and unresolved questions of the play while maintaining such a level of intensity that the three hours of the performance contain, unless you count the interval(s), not a slack moment.  The set is sturdy and conventional and there is a welcome absence of distraction - ie, as far as I can remember, there is no music (apart from that mentoned in the script for the 'dance' scene) so the focus is on the words and actions.  It’s a breathtakingly profound experience that I can only recommend in the strongest possible terms.

Surprisingly, considering the four and five star reviews this has collected, the balcony was far from full and offers a pretty good view -  if a bit distant.   There is a limited number of day seats in the front row stalls and in boxes at £15 and the Leicester Square booth had discounted tickets for matinee and evening on Wednesday.  I might yet see this again if I can get a good stalls seat for a reasonable price.  I bought my balcony ticket months ago as this was one production I was determined not to miss from the moment it was announced.  Beware the length of this piece.  I  don’t really know why they couldn’t start at 1400 given that the performance runs over three hours with intervals.  I was left with less than half an hour to get from Panton St to Euston in the rush hour.  Runs until 27 May:

Theatre / Limehouse - Donmar Warehouse
« on: March 12, 2017, 01:27:15 am »
There are some outstanding performances in Steve Waters’s new play.  I had my doubts beforehand about Roger Allam – an actor I’ve wanted to see for some time - as Roy Jenkins but the make up department did us proud and Allam slotted into the role wonderfully.  Two performers I’ve seen and liked before – Debra Gillett and Tom Goodman-Hill as Shirley Williams and David Owen respectively – were also convincing, though neither looked as much like their character as Allam did his.  The surprise of the evening, though was Paul Chahidi, whose performance as Bill Rodgers was, for me, the outstanding one of the production.  Given that I thought Allam, Gillett and Goodman-Hill were very fine, Chahidi’s achievement in outdoing such good actors on good form is impressive. 

The play itself is another matter.  I thought it serviceable but not much more and I got the impression that it had been written in a hurry – perhaps to capitalise on the superficial similarities between 1981 and the present day.  This impression was strengthened when I skimmed through the script (£7.50 from the box office) and noticed that not only had a few changes been made but the text had gone to print with obvious errors such as missing prepositions, conjunctions and articles.  The play recreates (or invents) the events leading up to the Limehouse Declaration on 25 January 1981.  Everything takes place between about 0400 on that day and the press  call that afternoon at the East London house of David and Debbie Owen and is described as ‘a fiction based on real events’ (a formula horribly reminiscent of a US made-for-tv film, though the play is, at least, much superior to most of those!)  and, perhaps more tellingly, ‘it is not endorsed by the individuals portrayed’ (though, confusingly, the four still alive are thanked ‘for their assistance in the writing of this play').  The characterisation is simple but reasonably effective.  Roughly, it seemed to me, Owen was the ambitious one, Williams the analytical one, Rodgers the sincere one and Jenkins the pompous one (he launches into oratory before he’s even got his coat off).  A weakness of the play, in my opinion, was the decision to make a major character of Debbie Owen.  Even with a fine portrayal by Nathalie Armin, and even if every detail could be shown to be based on recorded fact, it comes across as contrived.  Debbie suggests holding the meeting at their house, Debbie does the catering (the poor cast appear to be compelled to eat macaroni cheese eight times a week during the run – except, ironically, on Sunday; the day on which the events took place!), Debbie takes the minutes, Debbie keeps David under control, Debbie humbly offers her opinions with the chair’s permission – and Debbie even delivers the epilogue.  Does everything, it seems, but Dallas.

With those minor, if lengthy, reservations I have to say the play is worth seeing.  In fact, it is worth seeing just for the acting; but it is also quite brisk (follows the modern trend of presenting plays under 2 hours without interval) and has no shortage of comic relief (Allam describing the food as ‘very – comforting’ is priceless).  Runs until 15 April:

Pages: 1 2 [3] 4 5 ... 231