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In The Press

Leeds Philharmonic Chorus
Manchester Camerata
Leeds Town Hall

21 November 2015 

Mozart’s Requiem Mass was incomplete at the time of his death in 1791. This sublime work is one of the miracles of classical music. Several composers, but mainly Franz Xavier Sussmayer, completed the Requiem in the years following Mozart’s death.

The miracle is that whichever version we listen to, the structure and instrumentation sounds as though by Mozart’s hand. Last Saturday’s translucent performance given by Leeds Philharmonic Chorus with Manchester Camerata, conducted by Grant Llewellyn, and the Town Hall organ played by Simon Lindley was a further reminder of the divine spiritual quality of this wonderful music. The Choral singing was incandescent, the instrumental detail bathed in light. A superlative solo quartet comprising Rebecca Evans, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, John Daszak and Stephan Loges enriched the operatic lines of Mozart’s vocal writing.

Earlier, the dramatic Motet No 1, Splendente Te Deus, for soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ demonstrated the greatness of the youthful Mozart’s evolving style. The pellucid quality of Grant Llewellyn and Manchester Camerata’s performance of Symphony No 40 in G minor probed the deeply personal character of this late masterpiece.

Geoffrey Mogridge Ilkley Gazette and Wharfedale & Aireborough Observer

Walton, Belshazzar’s Feast

Leeds Philharmonic Chorus

Leeds Festival Chorus

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Leeds Town Hall

30 May 2015

Virtuoso finale to outstanding concert season

Premiered in the Town Hall eighty-four years ago, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast received a superb performance from the Leeds Philharmonic and Festival Choruses as the conclusion to an outstanding concert season.

In a venue that is usually the graveyard of clear diction, every word was so immaculately clear, and, at that “death or glory” moment, the shouted word, “slain”, can surely never have been so electrifying.

Much praise to the conductor, Simon Wright, who kept the work moving with urgency, persuading the BBC Philharmonic to take it to white heat, though without ever sounding rushed, while the Leeds male sections were uncommonly robust in today’s choral world.

The voice of the baritone soloist, David Wilson-Johnson, was rather too easily lost when the chorus was singing, but was persuasive in acting out his chilling role.

The evening had already reached a high point with Peter Donohoe as the scintillating soloist in Ravel’s Piano Concerto.  It would have been worth the price of a ticket just to hear him fool our ears by persuading us that the piano is capable of a glissando in the first movement, his playing so astonishingly detailed and precise in the filigree-textured finger work, his musicianship of the highest order.

A very good accompaniment from the BBC orchestra, who were then to strut their solo and combined brilliance in a virtuoso account of Ravel’s Bolero.

David Denton

Yorkshire Evening Post

5 June 2015

 

David Denton Yorkshire Evening Post

Bachtrack review of the BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Festival Chorus and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus at Leeds Town Hall on 30 May 2015.

That the BBC Philharmonic opened their concert evening in Leeds with a curtain lifter such as the overture to Hector Berlioz’ opera Benvenuto Cellini (1834–37) was fitting in light of the spectacle that was to take place later. Simon Wright, musical director of Leeds Festival Choir, skillfully led the orchestra through this dramatic piece that features all the theatrical gestures expected from and cherished in an opera.

With its thrilling yet delightful character the second piece on the programme, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, tied in excellently with Berlioz’ enchanting tone. In the role of the soloist, Peter Donohoe, highly appreciated in the UK and beyond, took the place of the Swiss-Chinese young talent Louis Schwizgebel who had to cancel due to an injury. After the opening where the pianist accompanied the solo piccolo in a Liszt-like manner with high and fast arpeggios, a rhythmically vigorous, jazz-inspired soundscape developed. It was contrasted with the lyrical and dreamy, almost spherical tone Ravel is famous for, not unlike the one in his suite Ma mère l’Oye (which was performed in Leeds only last month by the Orchestra of Opera North).

Donohoe always set the right tone, sometimes – most befittingly – with a wink. Although created at the same time, the G major Concerto is less severe than the Concerto in D major (for the left hand). It was originally conceived by Ravel as a divertissement, i.e. a piece of light, entertaining music. After a wonderfully played cadenza, the buoyant rhythms concluded this high-speed-movement, the challenges of which were not always met by the orchestra as thoroughly as possible.

The second movement is inspired by the Larghetto from Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet and an atmosphere of Mozartian delicacy, simplicity and beauty prevailed, convincingly communicated by Donohoe. Changing between impressionistic and jazz sounds, and with “false notes” dispersed in a classical tonal context, the finale revealed itself as an imposing document of the early 1930s that continues to fascinate today’s audiences. After making a jolly remark about the Wars of the Roses – with the orchestra, conductor and soloist all hailing from Lancashire – Donohoe sat down at the piano together with Wright and, as an encore, they performed the last piece from the piano version of Ma mère l’Oye.

Ravel’s most popular work, the Bolero from 1928, followed immediately – a piece about which the composer once noted that it was “no music” at all. What he meant was that there is no thematic development or harmonic modulation in a classical sense, but “only” – and this is his masterstroke – changes in secondary musical parameters like orchestration, timbre and dynamics. As is known, the work consists of a simple varied melody and an ostinato rhythm which was played quite loudly from the start so that the unfolding crescendo was not as grand as it has been heard before. Still, after this rigorous and ecstatic music, the audience in a packed Town Hall was thrilled.

The unusual dramaturgy of playing three pieces before the interval was due to the weight of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast that took up the second half of the evening. It was definitely the highlight of the concert, not only in terms of quantity – one large orchestra, two choirs, two brass bands (situated behind the choirs) and a baritone – but first and foremost in respect of Walton’s great music that was performed by the BBC Philharmonic, the Leeds Festival and the Leeds Philharmonic Choir with a compelling enthusiasm. Could it be that the musicians felt a special attachment to the cantata since it was premiered on 8 October 1931 in this very Town Hall by the Leeds Festival Choir?

The underlying story of the work is known from the Bible. While the Jews endure their exile in Babylon, King Belshazzar hosts a great feast during which he drinks from the Jews’ holy vessels to his God of Gold. This sacrilege is followed by the mysterious death of the Babylonian king. Walton depicted the sorrows of the captives as well as the decadence of Babylonian society with a tremendous musical vividness. As the narrator, baritone David Wilson-Johnson delivered a performance to remember. His recitatives were of an utmost intensity, charismatic and gripping alike. When the king was slain and the Jews were freed, the two choirs and the orchestra united in a final grandiose apotheosis that outshone the musical climax of the Bolero by far.

Julia Zupancic Bachtrack

BBC Philharmonic, Leeds Philharmonic & Leeds Festival Chorus – Town Hall, Leeds
Conductor: Simon Wright

Piano: Peter Donohoe

Baritone: David Wilson-Johnson

30th May 2015

As the ‘finale’ concert to the wonderful Leeds International Orchestral Season, there is a sense of celebration and flourish.

As the conductor and the eminent Peter Donohoe, after a sumptuous performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto, sit down together to play the original piano duet version of Ravel’s Ma Mere L’Oye, there is a feeling of friends enjoying a party piece. All the more so as Simon Wright has become a long standing and much loved local musician, and who conducts the whole proceedings with flair and competency.

The two choirs have had a resoundingly good season. The power, precision, and panache with which they delivered the much loved Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was a sheer delight. The choirs seem to be on as good a form as ever, enjoying their singing and music making. Join one if you can sing!

Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini, as an opener, uses the large orchestral forces with aplomb, and gives a suitably popular flourish to set the tone.

But as we settle into the jazz idioms of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, we are in a completely different idiom. The piano glissandi, the delicate and beautifully judged orchestration seemingly gliding us across the 1930’s dance-floor, the humour of the brass ‘portamenti’, and the achingly enjoyable harmonic dissonances that evoke the ‘blues’ sets the audience in a place of relaxation and smiles.

As if to say, ‘we know you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth it’ – next up is Ravel’s ‘Bolero’. The tour-de-force of the side-drum, the simplicity of the repeated but beautiful melodic curve, and the mastery of how the orchestra builds a single crescendo over the fifteen minutes or so; the piece is formulated on Spanish flamenco that has the ‘duende’ climax as its core ingredient, and never fails to delight.

A final word about Belshazzar’s Feast. It is eminently dramatic as it explores the demise of a Babylonian people intent on mocking the Hebrews and defiantly worshipping their own idolatrous ‘gods’. The terrifying intervention of God Jehovah and the ensuing overthrow of Belshazzar and his kingdom is magnificently evoked in Walton’s music with both orchestral and vocal power.

David Wilson-Johnson though retired from the opera-house is still a master of the concert hall, especially in the dramatic way that he can change the tone of his voice and punctuate the text.

The rhythmic, percussive and exultant shouts of victory that conclude the piece ring in the ears of the concert goers as they make their final exit – and they keenly anticipate next October.

David Gann www.thepublicreviews.com

Beethoven Symphony no 9 (Choral)

9th May 2015

Leeds Town Hall

 

Choruses are a credit to city

John Sutcliffe, Leeds

 

May I, through the pages of the YEP, express my thanks and appreciation to both the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus and the Leeds Festival Chorus for their outstanding performance at the Leeds Town Hall last Saturday night.

Along with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra their performance at the Beethoven symphony no 9 (Choral) was out of this world, it richly deserved the prolonged applause it received.

Well done, a credit to the city.

Letter to YEP, 15/5/15

 

John Sutcliffe Letters to Yorkshire Evening Press

Leeds Philharmonic Chorus
BBC Philharmonic
Leeds Town Hall

14th March 2015

Conductor: David Hill
Soprano: Sarah Tynan
Tenor:   Daniel Norman
Baritone: William Dazeley

Carl Orff, the composer of Carmina Burana, the centre piece of this concert, spent much of his working life teaching children. Fitting then, that this was a concert perfect for a young person’s first taste of orchestral and choral live music. What could be more accessible than Dukas Sorcerer’s Apprentice (made famous in the Walt Disney film Fantasia) and Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ that make up the first half. Music that is illustrative, colourful and immediately attractive.

Though the Dukas seems a little pedestrian and heavy-handed, the orchestra comes alive in the Britten; a piece that is intended to give each section and each instrument the chance to flourish, and they do just that, with some particularly lovely woodwind playing.

‘O Fortuna!’ opens the Carmina Burana, and the huge impact of choir and orchestra at full throttle has its intended impressive ‘call to attention’. As the piece progresses we negotiate its unusual musical palette; highly rhythmic, but harmonically unsophisticated – with folk-song-like drones – it paints the musical pictures with pleasing and catchy phrases based on ostinato repetitions.

We hear modernity in the influence of early Stravinsky (throwing aside classical ideas of musical development), alongside throwbacks of German romanticism; the Ländler comes to mind in its clog tapping rusticity and German singspiel in its bucolic passions and pastoral love – certainly this very accessible choral piece has proven to be popular with audiences all over the world.

David Hill negotiates the constantly evolving metre of this score with ease and mastery. The choir is beautifully prepared again by chorus master Richard Wilberforce. Great care is given to the clear annunciation of the Latin and Middle High German text to bring energy to the words as they take on their inherent percussive quality, though in some exposed moments one becomes aware of individual voices carrying the responsibility, and, otherwise wonderfully precise, there is a section where choir and baton goes slightly adrift.

It is tenor Daniel Norman who sets the tone when he almost dances his first aria (‘the roasted swan sings’). It also opens up the peculiarly irreverent nature of the whole piece, and allows the humour and eccentricity to emerge, though there is also a beauty, especially in the pure sounds of soprano Sarah Tynan who soars with ease and allure as she beckons her doting men. William Dazeley has a large and warm baritone sound which becomes more and more extravagant as the narrative progresses to the tavern and the desire for love.

The Leeds Cathedral Choir – made up of some eighty young people – make a lovely fresh yet sustained sound that does them credit. However, it could be said, that the naiveté of the concert seems a little darkened by the imbibing antics of this piece, where we sense there has been a disconcerting loss of innocence that belies the joyful end.

David Gann www.thepublicreviews.com

Handel’s Messiah
LeedsTown Hall
13th December 2014

Leeds Philharmonic Chorus
Florilegium

The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus performance of Messiah is delightfully refreshing. Also performing is the small baroque orchestra Florilegium (with original instruments), which is beautifully shaped with finesse and elegance, taking hold of the drama of the piece, making it count for the big moments.

The Leeds Philharmonic Chorus was on superb form. Boasting a new chorus master, there is a new verve and sprightliness. Voices are incisive, full-toned and yet not overly sung. So lovely is the sound, that the full tone was occasionally withdrawn in favour of delicacy of expression, or eloquence of articulation and emphasis; the fugal counterpoint answering each other in bright conversation or celebration, and the hushed moments of polyphony dramatic and sensitive.

The solo singing was particularly beautiful from the tenor Ed Lyon, who combines beauty of tone with a powerful command of the drama. He seems to connect with musico-dramatic intentions in a way that eludes bass-baritone David Stout. The Mezzo-soprano Madeleine Shaw brings a sense of control with a pure and elegant sound that was an utter delight.

Soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson, a last minute replacement, was young in sound and sense of command. With a rather nervous start, she was not quite at ease with the coloratura of ‘Rejoice Greatly’ at this particular performance. Yet as the evening went on it became evident that there is a beautiful, if at the moment quite vulnerable, sound emerging. ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth’ was particularly pleasing.

The orchestra was well drilled and expressive under the sure baton of David Hill who is at his best in this choral tradition (even if he wasn’t entirely sure where the interval was meant to be!) Catching the drive and shape of the piece as a whole, he brings a powerful sense not only of sublime individual items, but the magnificent declaration of faith that is as fresh today as when it was first written.

As if in agreement with this, the audience maintained the tradition of standing at the Hallelujah chorus as the original trumpets and a full throated chorus exuberantly sang out the universal song of highest praise.

David Gann www.thepublicreviews.com

Britten – War Requiem

14th Nov 2014, St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

It is perhaps three decades since Britten’s War Requiem was last heard in Belfast.

 Last night  a sold out performance in St Anne’s Cathedral brought together the Ulster Orchestra with the RTE Concert Orchestra, the Belfast Philharmonic with the Leeds Philharmonic and the girl choristers of St Anne’s.

Jac van Steen masterfully conducted this massed musical array, joined by three fine soloists, Elizabeth Atherton (soprano), Benjamin Hulett (tenor) and Gavan Ring (baritone).  The sandstone walls reverberated with the stark impact of Britten’s uncompromising music, his settings of Wilfred Owen’s poetry juxtaposing the comforting religious mythologies of the Latin Mass with the descriptive horror of military realities.

From the evocative ethereal sounds of the choir, the doom laden tolling of the bells, the weaponry of the percussion, the committed singing of the choirs, the powerful interjections of the soloists, accompanied throughout by the imaginative colourings of the orchestras and the ever present devil’s tritone, there was a pervasive feeling of rapt attention from the audience.

To experience a work of this magnitude is incomparable.

RATHCOL Belfast Telegraph

Brahms Requiem & Academic Festival Overture

Leeds Philharmonic Chorus
Orchestra of Opera North
Leeds Festival Chorus

Leeds Town Hall, 24 May 2014

Brahms’ boisterous Academic Festival Overture is usually heard minus its choral embellishments, but that would have been a waste of the Leeds Festival and Leeds Philharmonic Choruses already seated in the risers above the orchestra. Much more than merely a warm-up for Brahms’ German Requiem in the second half, the choirs sang with lusty full-throated vigour the undergraduate drinking songs which form the imposing coda of the overture.

From 200-plus voices to just one: Grammy Award winning Welsh soprano Rebecca Evans, appropriately wearing a sparkling full-length autumnal gold dress, came on stage to sing the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. Composed just a year before Strauss’s death in 1949, this reflective autumnal music is suffused with an other-worldly calm. Evans spun a seamlessly beautiful vocal line, occasionally glancing at the score on the stand in front of her, but otherwise completely inhabiting these lovely songs. Her soaring vocal modulations in Beim Schlafengehen (Going to Sleep) preceded by David Greed’s rapturous violin solo, culminated in a heavenly top B. The lush string tone, burnished horns and silken woodwind of the Orchestra of Opera North, sensitively conducted by Simon Wright, created a ravishing backdrop. In Im Abendrot (At Sunset) Strauss’s evocation of skylarks was beautifully etched by the piccolos as if against a rose-tinted sky.

Twenty five years separate the irreverent humour of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture from his remarkable “humanist” Requiem. Simon Wright’s expansive opening allowed the richness of the orchestral scoring to bathe the consoling tones of the choirs whose diction, blending and dynamic shading were near-perfect. The power and majesty of the second movement was beefed-up by the sonorities of the Town Hall organ played by Simon Lindley; the rhythmic energy and agility of the choral line in the brilliant fugue was electrifying. Rebecca Evans’ silvery timbre and the crystalline projection of baritone Stephen Loges illuminated their solo sections. Above all, Simon Wright’s mastery of the architecture of what is effectively a choral symphony created a sublime experience – a fitting climax to the orchestral season.

Geoffrey Mogridge Ilkley Gazette and Wharfedale & Aireborough Observer

The Dream of Gerontius
Leeds Town Hall
Saturday 15th February 2014

The late Mary Wilson of Ilkley sang in the soprano section of Leeds Philharmonic Chorus for an astonishing 52 years before going on to serve as President of the Friends of this famous Leeds choir. It is not difficult to believe that Mary would have been absolutely delighted with last Saturday’s performance of Elgar’s choral masterpiece dedicated to her memory. 

Mary’s beloved “Phil” was joined on stage by Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, St Peter’s Singers and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hill. The Massed voices and orchestra amounted to some 350 performers; what an awesome sound they created when Hill unleashed his vast forces for those monumental climaxes. The Demons’ Chorus, backed by the BSO’s snarling brass and sniping woodwind, lacked nothing in its unanimity of attack and spine-tingling ferocity. The effect of Praise to the Holiest in the Height, bolstered by the mighty Town Hall organ played by Darius Battiwalla, could be likened to a dazzling firework display that bathed this ornate auditorium in an exultant blaze of light. But it was in the quieter sections, such as the opening Kyrie eleison, that one could really marvel at the expert blending of voices and the exquisite shading of dynamics achieved by the Phil’s Music Director.

Gerontius was gloriously sung by the tenor Andrew Staples, stepping in at short notice for an indisposed Andrew Kennedy. Staples’ beautifully sustained line, his phrasing and projection of the text infused the voice with anguish and resignation. Mezzo soprano Jennifer Johnston, radiant and consoling as the Angel, produced a ravishing spectrum of tone colour culminating in her deeply-felt and poignant farewell. Baritone Gareth John sung the role of the Priest with bright-toned evangelical fervour. John subtly darkened his voice as the Angel of the Agony   cushioned by the gleaming brass, celestial harps and velvety strings of the Bournemouth Orchestra. The transcendent quality of this superlative performance of the Dream of Gerontius is destined to linger in the memory.

Geoffrey Mogridge Ilkley Gazette and Wharfedale & Aireborough Observer