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City of London Festival 2009

Swedish Music from 18th to 21st centuries

Nordic Chamber Orchestra
Christian Lindberg conductor/trombone

Roman Moderato: Music for Royal Wedding:
Little Drottningholm Music
Purcell Chacony in G minor
Arvo Pärt Fratres
Roman Vivace
Roman Allegro
Grieg Holberg Suite Op 40
Nielsen Little Suite for Strings Op 1
Sibelius Impromptu in B minor Op 5
Christian Lindberg Kundraan for trombone and strings

Guildhall Great Hall, 1 July 2009

This concert marked the accession of Sweden to the EU Presidency, with a programme of mainly northern music. Lindberg (who changed his costume three times !) was a persuasive conductor, maintaining pulse with knees bend and movements of his whoe body, whilst directing detail with the baton as a left-handed conductor.

The first half was a little disappointing, with yet another version of Pärt's ubiquitous Fratres less than convincing, although Christian Lindberg has had great success with it.

In his own Kundraan he went through his trombone tricks familiar from the Motorbike Concerto, but one was left wondering if Berio hadn't had the last word in his trombone Sequenza?

Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord)

Farnaby Woody-Cock
Michal Kleofas Oginski Two Polonaises
J.S Bach Capriccio, On the Departure of His Beloved Brother
Haessler Grande Gigue, Op 31
J.C. Bach Sonata in C minor
Grave-Allegro moderato-Tempo di Gavotta: Allegretto
Royer La Marche des Scythes

St Mary Aldermary, 2 July

The young Iranian-born harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani's recital of solo works with northern musical connections was a significant success; he gave a fine demonstration of the scope of a fine Bruce Kennedy instrument of 1992.

John Jakob Bach's departure to join the Swedish army was happily commemorated by his brother Johann Sebastian in his vividly pictorial Capriccio, one of J S Bach's earliest compostitions extant, which Esfahani introduced. Royer's virtuoso Marche was a memorable tour de force.

Catch its on R3 broadcast at lunchtime, 17 July.

Britten Sinfonia
Violinist/directors Jacqueline Shave and Henning Kraggerud

Vivaldi The Four Seasons
Erik-Sven Tüür Action – Passion - Illusion
Einojuhani Rautavaara Fiddlers
Esa-Pekka Salonen Stockholm Diary (UK première)

Mansion House, London 2 July

A marvellous evening at the Lord Mayor's home, one of London's most gorgeous occasional venues for music; the acoustics at Mansion House are as fine as the surroundings, and it was a privilege to be there. On one of the hottest days of our heat-wave, it was comfortably air-conditioned.

Reluctant beforehand at the thought of having to listen yet again to the Seasons, it was spell binding under Henning Kraggerud, a versatile international violinist *. Well regarded ofr normal violin repertoire, he proved to be a quite exceptional baroque stylist and an inspiring director; the Britten Sinfonia clearly loved him. Henning Kraggerud concentrated our attention by introducing the details of the programme notes, in the form of sonnets which were included in the first printed edition and thought to be by Vivaldi himself.

Jacqueline Shave was in charge of the interesting selection of Nordic music, and the (mainly) string orchestra provided thrilling sonorities. Rautavaara's Fiddlers (1952) with its evocations of Villagers in fine fettle etc came up fresh, and Tüür's proved to be an absorbing tri-partite work, a veritable symphony for strings. Salonen's Diary was less interesting; I've not found his compositions to have realised the promise of the early showpiece Floof for soprano and small ensemble.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* See my long-ago review of Kraggerud's Naxos CD of the Grieg Sonatas.

And see also Ben Hogwood's much fuller review of this special concert in Classical Source.meta4

Meta4 string quartet

Tomas Djupsjöbacka, Atte Kipelainen, Minna Pensola, Antti Tikkanen

Bartok 5th Quartet
Schubert G major Quartet D 887

Wigmore Hall, 15 February 2010

A strangely austere programme for Met4's reappearance at Wigmore Hall. The Bartok was given a strong preformance, with this quartet's penchant for energy and dynamic contrasts. It left the audience at the interval a little bemused and, I thought, unsatisfied. [We had been enjoying recently on Sky Arts 2 the Tacaks Quartet's splendid DVD of the Bartók quartets filmed at Hatchlands Park in Surrey]

The Schubert displayed their special qualities, which to some extent seem to be Meta4's trademark bid for recognition, rather more than to serve the composers.

Dynamics were exaggerated, from ppp to fff even within a single chord. A consideable pleasure was in their treatment of the pervasive tremolo ("riddled with tremolandi") which is a unique feature of this work, encouraging a quasi-orchestral treatment. Especially notable was the first violinist's frequent retreat into playing these quietly, as a feeling rather than a rapid battery. There were some beautiful solo passages from the cellist to savour. Given with all repeats, the performance held attention right to the end. There was no encore.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Kuusisto, Saariaho & Sibelius
Jaakko Kuusisto Play III
Kaija Saariaho Terra Memoria
Sibelius String Quartet in D minor Op 56 Voces Intimae

St Vedast Alias Foster 8 July 2009

This was one of COLF 2009's finest hours, actually nearer an hour and a quarter. One of the best string quartets before the public, Meta4 (BBC New Generation Artists) have received accolades in London, but we had not previously encountered them.

The choice of works to represent their native Finland was ideal. Kuusisto's Play III begins and ends with carefully composed "noise" and has virtuoso passages for each of the instruments; a piece to make you look out for others by this composer. Saariaho's Terra Memoria (timely, with her opera at The Coliseum this week !) is searchingly meditative, exploring changing feelings about those who have departed... Very beautiful, and a work which requires repeated hearings.

The Sibelius quartet came across as powerfully as any of his symphonies. I have loved it for some sixty years, but only latterly does it seem to be coming into its own in concert programmes. A special feature this time was the bright acoustic of St Vedast, wood panelled, ideal for chamber music. Sight lines looked to be impaired, but all was well with the quartet playing standing up. They are suspersensitive, with impeccable intonation, achieved by careful, unusually prolonged tuning. Their energy is quite uncommon, and this was a perfectly planned programme.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Haydn Quartets Op.55 1-3 Meta4 [Hanssler Classic CD 98.587]

Meta4's debut recording has been received and enjoyed. They were required to choose a"single composer" programme and opted for this because they were engaged to play these in a Haydn series in Madrid.Their Basel mentor Hatto Beyerle had said "if you can play Haydn, you can play anything...".

I like the cover, which has suitably dominant the 2nd violinist, who grabbed attention at COLF with her expansive gesturing and the "physical and emotional freedom" whch results from their playing standing up...

It is a good disc, pending some more personal repertoire from them. They did not have copies with them at St Vedast, which was a mistake. Sales at gigs are often the best way to promote a group, and that would certainly apply to such competitive fare as Haydn quartets...