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  • Gallery » Christopher Gunning
    No images may be used without permission October 11 2011 Home About Christopher Buy CDs Film TV scores Concert Music Listen Discography Shop Videos Reviews Gallery Writings My Works Concert Reviews Blog Contact Follow Me HOME ABOUT BUY CDs FILM

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/gallery/nggallery/main/at-work/thumbnails (2016-02-16)
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  • Gallery » Christopher Gunning
    images may be used without permission October 11 2011 Home About Christopher Buy CDs Film TV scores Concert Music Listen Discography Shop Videos Reviews Gallery Writings My Works Concert Reviews Blog Contact Follow Me HOME ABOUT BUY CDs FILM TV

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/gallery/nggallery/main/at-work/page/2/slideshow (2016-02-16)
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  • Gallery » Christopher Gunning
    No images may be used without permission October 11 2011 Home About Christopher Buy CDs Film TV scores Concert Music Listen Discography Shop Videos Reviews Gallery Writings My Works Concert Reviews Blog Contact Follow Me HOME ABOUT BUY CDs FILM

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/gallery/nggallery/main/at-work/page/1 (2016-02-16)
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  • James Ehnes excels in Barber’s Violin Concerto and Dutoit and the RPO impress with Berlioz and Tchaikovsky » Christopher Gunning
    action from the orchestra in the fast passages than he actually received it is a very minor carp The Barber Violin Concerto has an unusual history The work was commissioned by a wealthy businessman for his young protogé Iso Briselli but when Barber presented the first two movements the violinist declared the solo part too easy As if to say I ll show em Barber then wrote a dazzling finale only to find that the same violinist pronounced it unplayable The businessman wanted his money back but Barber had already spent it and now desperate presented the concerto to the virtuoso Oscar Shumsky who decided it was indeed playable The work finally received its first performance in 1941 by Albert Spalding with Eugene Ormandy conducting Samuel Barber was a somewhat reclusive man who would have no truck with the American avant garde led by figures such as John Cage and Morton Feldman Instead he composed a series of essentially lyrical works in an easily comprehensible idiom which caught the public imagination and secured an important place for him alongside other mainstream Americans such as Aaron Copland Roy Harris and Virgil Tomson James Ehnes won plaudits for his recording of Barber s concerto together with those by Walton and Korngold in 2008 ONYX 4016 and it was not surprising to find that his approach to the first two movements seemed to be just perfect His purity of tone was beautifully suited to Barber s melodic lines with ample projection but nothing feeling forced or indulgent Dutoit and the RPO accompanied carefully with exactly the right gently wistful tone colours and John Anderson s expressive oboe solo in the second movement pale but touching was particularly noteworthy In the last movement all hell suddenly broke loose with the violinist scurrying around and the orchestra giving their two pennyworth it s phenomenally difficult brilliantly effective and utterly delightful Ehnes was simply marvellous and so was the RPO And as if to show that he could also fly through the more traditional virtuoso violin repertory on his Stradivarius Ehnes played the famous Paganini Caprice no 24 with complete accuracy and fantastic panache The audience was enthralled And so to the major warhorse of the evening Tchaikovsky s 5th Symphony Composed in 1888 when Tchaikovsky and others were convinced that his powers were waning it was not immediately successful and this didn t help the composer s mental state one little bit he was to die tormented five years later Critical reaction was hostile even in the US and Europe but how times have changed nowadays it is one of the most popular of all symphonies and understandably so The tunes for which the composer is famed are marvellous and the construction with its recurrent motto theme heard in different guises in all four movements no less so Dutoit s reading had plenty of high points We were treated to some lovely phrasing from the woodwind and a pleasingly rich string tone throughout The famous

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/11/12/james-ehnes-excels-in-barbers-violin-concerto-and-dutoit-and-the-rpo-impress-with-berlioz-and-tchaikovsky/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Nicholas Maw: The Master » Christopher Gunning
    the American strumstick a one stringed banjo a flexatone a kazoo and Pakistani manjeeras or small finger cymbals The ghost in the title refers to Maw s idea that the nine movements are all memory related or dream distorted images of various forms of the dance Maw s own description It s a fascinating colourful and at times macabre work the individual dances being full of character and the whole making something quite dark quirky mysterious and even scary The players acquitted themselves admirably Two non Maw pieces occupied the rest of the afternoon concert both by young composers from the Royal Academy Being placed next door to the meaty works of Maw did them no favours although each demonstrated real promise Robert Peate impressed with his technical command and some weird but effective textures as well as some genuinely lyrical music particularly in the second of the piece s four short movements Ivor Bonnici s contribution displayed more classical influences with a particularly entertaining fast second movement somewhat reminiscent of Stravinsky It will be fascinating to see how these composers develop In between the two concerts was a conversation between Andrew Burn who is a Nicholas Maw fan and who provided helpful introductions to each piece during the concerts and the composer Anthony Payne a friend of Maw s for many years Payne understands Maw s work thoroughly and as a composer who himself has suffered blocks in the past obviously felt close to Maw who also experienced appalling struggles from time to time Had there been more time it would have been interesting to hear of some of the depressions that Maw suffered periodically He could be a bon viveur alright and loved his food a fine bottle of wine and conversation about anything and everything Conversely he could also feel isolated and dreadfully gloomy I remember having more than one conversation in which he revealed that he often thought he was completely wasting his time as a composer Some of this was undoubtedly a result of feeling neglected musically and some because his financial position caused intense worries I believe that his last 24 years in Washington DC were far happier where he lived with his devoted companion Maija Hay a ceramic artist Nevertheless the fact that Maw was an intensely emotional person is central to his musical creativity to put it simply the highs and lows are all there with all shades between It is above all music with tremendous humanity The first work in the evening concert was the Violin Concerto first performed in this country and the US in 1993 by Joshua Bell who has recorded the work and whose playing had inspired Maw to write it This is a grand work in four movements on the scale of Brahms and others it shares with them much dramatic interplay between orchestra and soloist soaring melodies a virtuosic solo part and it is imbued for much of the time with an expressive late romantic melancholy

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/10/31/nicholas-maw-the-master/ (2016-02-16)
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  • The BBC Symphony Orchestra launches its Sibelius symphony cycle. » Christopher Gunning
    of her music generally And yet I come back to the word bleak but it s not a cold barren bleakness for this is very human music too with a warm heart beating within Indeed the second of the four songs is called The Heart and becomes wild and passionate contrasting with songs one three and four Looking at you Peace and Evening Prayer which are generally quieter and more meditative The vocal lines are expressive beautifully set against the orchestra and it s all tremendously imaginative The soprano Anu Komsi Nordically blond and bedecked in various shades of blue green is married to Sakari Oramo and the two have worked together a lot It shows their collaboration was supremely sensitive and the contribution by the BBC SO no less so A brief trip outside during the interval confirmed that the night was growing colder and so Sibelius s Luonnotar for soprano and orchestra seemed appropriate once safely inside once more This music is as Sibelian as it gets so many hallmarks are there The tremolo strings at the start fluttering woodwind timpani rolls and a massively stormy climax A warm heart in a cold scene is how a friend epitomised Sibelius and that s what you get here The vocal part amounts to a recitative like rendition of part of the Kalevala which is Finland s national epic poem it is extremely expressive but always very much to the point Sibelius rarely wasted notes and in this piece there are no exceptions to that principle Anu Komsi entered fully into the part and Oramo was also clearly totally in his element Incidentally Sibelius originally described this as a tone poem in 1906 so it must have developed into its ultimate form over time At any rate it was first performed in Gloucester in 1913 at the Three Choirs Festival which bearing in mind the nature of the piece struck me as quite extraordinary Finally more Sibelius in the shape of one of his least performed symphonies no 3 Coming after the first two with their rich romanticism and hefty tunes this one came as a shock it is relatively bare and smaller in its scale and orchestration What was Sibelius up to It seems clear now that he was at a crossroads he needed to develop the symphony as a form and in doing so needed to pare things down and investigate some earlier models Thus the first movement has even been compared to Beethoven s work and some have called this Sibelius s Classical symphony Of course it s totally Sibelius even so The first movement needs bags of energy in performance and a strict control over the tempi of the various ingredients Oramo and the BBC SO got it right and there were some thrilling moments The second movement a kind of nocturne with a sort of rondo structure is even smaller in scale than the first it has no trumpets or trombones for instance so it

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/10/28/the-bbc-symphony-orchestra-launches-its-sibelius-symphony-cycle/ (2016-02-16)
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  • The LSO celebrates Steve Reich at 75 » Christopher Gunning
    strings once again arranged antiphonally As they pass short fragments between one another in the opening movement Reich s notion that the music is like the changing light patterns created by clouds wafting across the sky is certainly evident The three movements are differentiated by tempo and mood changes the second has darker textures and the third is more jazzy These two works were well performed by Kristjan Järvi and the LSO even if a hypercritical listener would have ideally preferred even greater computer like precision But if Reich rethought the composition and performance of music it is also true that audiences have had to rethink how they listen Repetition albeit ever changing in subtle ways is a key even the key ingredient in this music and if you re not absolutely tuned in the lack of conventional drama and interest can lead to well frankly boredom As I glanced around the audience I saw quite a few slumped heads and it s to be expected this stuff has a hypnotic quality Or is there a more serious problem There is no doubting Reich s genius in formulating and developing his ideas and there s no doubting the sheer attractiveness of the music either but I did find myself asking more than once if the style of this music has run its course That s partly due to the fact that composers with lesser gifts have latched on to the superficial nature of it and duly churned out ream upon ream of computer generated riffs for TV and film scores to the point that we re sick and tired of it all but it s not the whole story Some of Reich s smaller pieces Different Trains especially or the opera The Cave seem to have far greater meaning than The Four Sections or Three Movements and it s curious that they were both composed after The Desert Music another crucially important work That minimalism the tag with which Reich along with John Adams and Philip Glass were quickly labelled had to develop was fairly obvious and Reich has come a long way since the early beginnings but these two works don t really seem to venture much beyond what was achieved in The Desert Music Perhaps it s not surprising that he has now returned to smaller groups in recent works Anyway things definitely bucked up in part two At around fifty minutes The Desert Music benefits enormously from having a faster rate of harmonic change and a formal shape basically A B C B A which really works There s far more tension and drama here and considerable variety in the orchestral palette All Reich s techniques are on display pulsating rhythms short imitative figures oscillating chords jazz derived harmony the lot More importantly Reich uses various texts by William Carlos Williams to suggest a combination of messages concerning our contemporary society questioning its morality and where it is going But why the desert in Desert Music Reich

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/10/15/the-lso-celebrates-steve-reich-at-75/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Maazel’s Mahler cycle nears its close » Christopher Gunning
    of his recent death but because some sixteen years ago I attended a performance of this same symphony in this same hall with this same orchestra and was duly reduced to mumbling wreck status Sanderling was eighty two and approaching the end of his long career and I thought then as I thought watching the eighty one year old Maazel tonight that there is almost bound to be something especially poignant about an old man s view of this music Sanderling gained universal respect as a conductor who spurned showmanship and strove valiantly to get to the very heart of the music Would I remember Maazel s performance in a similar way Things didn t start too well The tempo was leisurely as marked by Mahler but the gently rocking opening was thrown slightly off kilter by a French Horn that was beautifully played but a little too loud Things settled down thereafter and the extraordinary form of the first movement with its combination of themes and moods seemingly at odds with themselves made its full effect with the returning sighing motif always feeling threatened by the next altercation And what of the recurrent rhythm that according to Bernstein was supposed to represent Mahler s irregular heartbeat Yes it was there but not given undue prominence and anyway it is now reckoned that the composer s leaky heart valves would not necessarily cause an irregular beat Most importantly it was impossible not to feel that this was indeed the start of a long journey encompassing just about all that life has to offer serenity mingled with frustration torment and well let s not give away the end just yet And equally to the point the orchestral playing was terrific with some particularly fine and anguished work from the strings not outdone by the fabulous woodwind department with all solos magnificently done The second movement is another of the composer s unique creations and Maazel took things at deliberate tempi with the ländler sections feeling genuinely rustic and the ironic waltz sections full of wit What was going through Mahler s mind He seems to be looking back with a mixture of affection and ridicule and that s how the music struck me in this performance with some marvellous verve and wit emanating from all sections of the orchestra The third movement more or less a classic rondo structure displays among other things Mahler s love of J S Bach it is highly contrapuntal yet as is so frequently the case in this symphony there is a mocking undercurrent to the whole movement What is required here is energy and we had it particularly in the closing bars where the orchestra positively erupted Elsewhere there was amazing work again from the woodwind superb clarinets and in the penultimate section real angst from the strings given just enough spaciousness for their gloriously expressive role The strings mostly dominate the textures of the final movement and they set off with the most gloriously

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/10/01/maazel%e2%80%99s-mahler-cycle-nears-its-close/ (2016-02-16)
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