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  • Prom 19 – Oliver Knussen conducts the BBCSO in a typically unusual programme » Christopher Gunning
    chamber orchestra with single woodwind and a lone French Horn as opposed to the large scale of the preceding work You can t imagine a greater contrast with Pacific 231 or indeed some of Honegger s earlier music Gone is any suggestion of the atonality which had permeated his ballet of 1918 Le dit des jeux du monde and gone too is the muscular drama of Pacific 231 This lovely piece with its rustling strings developing into a dance like section with perky woodwind figures and then subsiding into a reflective combination of both was given a beautifully shaped performance And so to Frank Bridge s There is a willow grows aslant a brook which is scored for a similarly small orchestra Bridge always keenly interested in musical developments both at home and abroad employs a chromatic idiom showing his interest in bitonality and even the music of the second Viennese school Shakespeare s Hamlet Gertrude s speech in act 4 provides the title the theme being Ophelia s death and the music is imbued with watery features and a darkness expressive of ominously gathering gloom It is a perfect miniature Once again the performance was rapturously quiet and sensitive under Knussen s careful baton with some outstanding woodwind playing To end part one Alban Berg s Der Wein demonstrated the composer s development of Schoenberg s 12 note system with plenty of tonal references It was composed during his work on the unfinished opera Lulu and shares a similar musical idiom The poetry is by Baudelaire and is taken from Le Vin a cycle expressing wine s properties in helping us to escape from the material world Berg a real romantic in life as well as music had an ultimately painful affair with the wife of an industrialist and heartache and an autumnal melancholy permeates the music as the vocal line soars above the richly orchestrated tapestry beneath Some may have preferred a rather more weighty performance than Claire Booth s but I for one found it nevertheless both beautiful and moving The balance between voice and orchestra was also generally very well handled in the cavernous Albert Hall with neither dominating the other overly Moving away from the twenties part two opened with Inverno in ver by the Italian composer Castiglioni This is winter music and winter music par excellence The orchestration is absolutely fascinating nearly always in an extremely high register it consists of eleven separate pieces exploring various kinds of iciness Tinkly notes and trills from the piano celesta glockenspiel vibraphone harp tubular bells with string harmonics and chattering woodwinds occupy much of the soundscape and it s all tremendously imaginative Castiglioni employs his vivid and original aural imagination to the full There are references to Bach popular songs and dances but all are brief and in some way distorted or mixed up with contemporary devices At times the music almost stands still at others it is very active And it is both extraordinary and extraordinarily

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/07/29/prom-19-oliver-knussen-conducts-the-bbcso-in-a-typically-unusual-programme/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Prom  26: Runnicles in Debussy, Ravel and Dutilleux » Christopher Gunning
    wheezes certainly warmed to Lynn Harrell s performance tonight Dutilleux makes fierce demands of the soloist it was originally commissioned by Rostropovich but is relatively kind in terms of balance the problems of setting one solo cello against a symphony orchestra are dealt with effectively and Runnicles and his Scottish crew partnered the soloist admirably Harrell responded to his warm reception with a short encore of unaccompanied Bach beautifully played and with marginally less coughing An interval would have been welcome after this but instead we had to sit through what can only be described as an appalling failure The snare drum at the beginning of Ravel s Bolero was completely inaudible No it was not because of the coughers although they were busily continuing with their own concerto it was because the snare drummer had presumably been directed to play as quietly as possible The result Silence apart from cough cough cough Then when the first flute arrived with the famous tune it quickly emerged that the tempo was too fast And still there was no evidence of the drum and the cello pizzicati were also inaudible What a mess Admittedly there have been wide variations of tempo in various performances and recordings durations have varied between 13 minutes Toscanini and 18 minutes Ravel s friend Pedro de Freitas Branco but Ravel himself preferred 60 66BPM with a duration of about 15 minutes and that s surely what it should be Runicles was nearer 76BPM By the time we eventually heard the snare drum things were unfortunately beyond redemption and with no real sense of the insistent hypnotic rhythm which is the very backbone of the piece the best thing to do was to get outside and hope that things after the interval would fare better I ve since listened to the broadcast and with the benefit of microphones you CAN just hear the snare drum and the celli pizzicato but they re still too quiet The sound quality of the recorded concert is incidentally otherwise rather unflattering though the coughs are well reproduced This reviewer was now decidedly nervous Daphnis and Chloë is one of my favourite works I have spent hours and hours pouring over the intricate orchestration in wonder at how every single effect works so brilliantly And it isn t just a feat of orchestration the music itself is so consistently inspired and so darned gorgeous I have also come to realise that it is one of the most difficult scores to get right in performance with any number of awkward corners for the conductor and a sense of where each phrase is heading constantly needed The audience coughed and shuffled its way through the first hushed bars then the choir entered pianissimo and magic From then on we were transported on the most enchanting journey through Ravel s miraculous score and I could hardly fault a single thing The choir continued to bewitch the woodwind sang their solos captivatingly the brass were spot on

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/07/03/prom-%c2%a026-runnicles-in-debussy-ravel-and-dutilleux/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Prom 24: Tasmin Little shines in Elgar, and, “in a Nutshell,” Grainger delights. » Christopher Gunning
    impassioned climax perfectly naturally For me the heart of the work lies in the extraordinary cadenza towards the very end of the work as the violin remembers themes from earlier and the strings of the orchestra throb with pizzicato tremolando It is one of Elgar s most touching original and effective passages and tonight it was utterly spellbinding What superb music making The concert had opened with small scale Elgar There is sweet music is one of his choral songs composed for choral societies and festivals and is remarkable in that the male singers are notated in G major but the female in A flat major Elgar was thus paving the way for other composers to take up the cudgels of polytonality It is a sleepy piece with apparently 5 4 and 10 4 time signatures helping to produce a somewhat odd blurred effect It was well done by the BBC Singers and a million miles in style and content from the grandeur of the concerto to follow Rather interesting programme planning too to open with Elgar s private world before embarking on the bigger more public statement Further oddities were provided by the two pieces by Percy Grainger the first of these being a short setting sung by the BBC Singers of the famous Londonderry Air This was a Proms favourite for several years following its first performance by Grainger himself in 1913 and it has recently been revived Personally I find it rather unremarkable but the same could not be said of the second item In a Nutshell which proved to be something of a revelation Grainger almost always used folksong as the basis of his work but here there is almost none Moreover the music and especially the orchestration of it is highly unusual and original The four movements are sharply contrasted but achieve some measure of unity by the use of some extraordinary percussion instruments and a common theme of diversity central to Grainger s thinking The first Arrival Platform Humlet is supposed to represent the sort of thing one might hum on a station platform waiting for one s sweetheart to arrive from foreign parts it s very lively and is essentially a monody orchestrated for various instrumental groups Grainger even prepared an alternative version for solo viola alone The second Gay but wistful is an evocation of the music hall and yes it s gay but wistful The third Pastorale is the longest and most interesting after a folk like melody played on the oboe things become progressively disturbed with cross rhythms and bitonality much in evidence as well as some strange specially manufactured tuned percussion instruments It is terrifically exciting before it settles into a rather Scriabin esque quiet ending The last movement which bears the title The Gum Sucker s March refers to the practice of some natives of the state of Victoria Australia of sucking the gum from eucalyptus leaves to provide refreshment from the great heat It is short and

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2011/07/02/prom-24-tasmin-little-shines-in-elgar-and-%e2%80%9cin-a-nutshell%e2%80%9d-grainger-delights/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Prom 49 2008 » Christopher Gunning
    would say it s the more meaningful for it Nobody would argue for having no tunes but strong melodies with beginnings middles and ends also create huge problems of form Beethoven and Sibelius were two composers who discovered this There isn t a more effective sonata form movement than the 1st movement of the Eroica and yet all the building blocks are quite brief Likewise in Sibelius 7th symphony there are no massive tunes as for example in the 2nd yet this turns out to be one of music s most wonderfully moving creations The Copland is another of my favourite works I love the directness of it Many people complain that middle to late 20th century music was inhabited only by manic depressives well here s the opposite But that isn t to say that it is unrelentingly bombastic it isn t There are lyrical passages too especially in the slow movement and dance like passages which recall some of Copland s superb ballet scores The whole piece is a work out for the orchestra and with its youthful spirit ideally suited to performance by young players One or two critics noticed some fluffs in the brass towards the end Well done guys I noticed them too Actually I ve never heard a live performance of this symphony without a fluff here and there and that s because it s hugely demanding The important point is whether or not the fluffs seriously marr a performance and here they definitely did not This was one occasion where the mighty weight of an enlarged orchestra 8 trombones added grandeur and majesty to the score It was thrilling There isn t a better orchestra than the NYO It performs the most marvellous service in providing young people with an opportunity to make

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2008/08/12/prom-49-2008/ (2016-02-16)
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  • Those Reviews » Christopher Gunning
    thrid slymphony we have The Third immediately takes a grip on the imagination and offers the listener a full symphonic workout Of course it s for others to decide whether my music moves them in any way and on that basis they will form an opinion as to whether it s any good or not But what I don t get at all is how the Telegraph s reviewer could find my Third symphony nice enough It just isn t nice at all and that s not a subject for debate it s an intentionally dissonant piece at times very noisy and dramatic One or two friends have been quite shocked that the composer of the Poirot sig tune would also write such a thing as this And anyone wanting nice enough music would be mighty disappointed to put Symphony 3 in his her player if he she was expecting a pleasant English idyll Isn t it all strange When my Piano Concerto appeared a few years ago one commentator labelled it Gunning s atonal concerto Another referred to its tonal idiom One found it to be a highlight of the British concerto repertory and another thought it aimless Again did they hear the same piece This sort of thing happens when I go to concerts I have sat through innumerable concerts of contemporary music struggling to find any good reason why one note followed another only to read in the paper the next morning that I had been listening to a masterpiece Conversely I have also been moved to tears by performances which a critic then dismissed as inadequate We all like to criticize to some extent but I d certainly hate to be a critic Wouldn t it be awful to HAVE to attend operas and concerts day

    Original URL path: http://www.christopher-gunning.co.uk/2008/08/12/those-reviews/ (2016-02-16)
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