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City of London Festival 2010

(featuring music of Portuguese speaking composers)

Shostakovich String Quartet No 7
Felipe Salles Nimet (World première)
Schumann String Quartet No 3

Meta4 (string quartet)

St Vedast Alias Foster 21 June 2010

This year's festival opened with two unforgettable events plus a curiosity.

Meta4 of Finland has confirmed previous impressions that it is one of the great string quartets of our time, their playing superbly disciplined and passionate and enhanced by the acoustics of a very pleasant church for listening to chamber music.

A gripping account of Shostakovich No 7 was followed by the world premiere of a substantial, very strong and recourceful quartet movement by New York-based saxophonist/composer Felipe Salles; only afterwards did I note that he is primarily a jazzman !

Schumann's 3rd Quartet (all three are included in the Festival) was given a gripping performance which did full justice to its originality (the scherzo a set of variations) and emotional intensity.

Look out for the repeat of this concert, 6 July 1.00 pm on BBC Radio 3.

Braga Santos Nocturno for Strings Op 11
Chopin Piano Concerto No 2
Luís Tinoco Chant for East Timor
Beethoven Symphony No 1

Portuguese Chamber Orchestra/ Pedro Carneiro
Cristina Ortiz piano

Guildhall Old Library 21 June

Chopin's last public performance was in London's Guildhall. Cristina Ortiz's account there of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 was notable for her intense involvement - even during the long opening orchestral tutti. It engulfed us and on this occasion increased the stature of a work about which it is easy to be patronising, especially the pallid writing for orchestra.

Luis Tinoco's tribute to the people of Portugal's former island colony was emotionally powerful in exploiting new ways of string-writing; a substantial threnody that could enter the repertoire given a chance.

In that, and in an intense account of Beethoven's 1st by a fine new orchestra from Portugal, percussionist Pedro Carneiro showed us that he has re-invented himself as a persuasive conductor. I was glad to be assured that he has not hung up his sticks, and will be wielding them at a concert by Sond'Arte electric ensemble on 6 July.

There was a bizarre after-concert outdoor event (one of many in the Festival) in Guildhall Yard; an arrangement of Chopin nocturnes for 21 young pianists playing 21 upright pianos; amusing to watch for a few minutes...

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Tinoco and Carniero reviewed by Musical Pointers in 2003

and Carneiro at SandH/2000/Mar00/carneiro [Editor]


Patricia Rozario and Antonio Meneses

Goa Folksong Suite & Brazil Folksong Suite (arr Mark Troop, world premières, Festival commissions)
Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras Nos 1 & 5
Bach Cello Suite No 3

Patricia Rozario (soprano) and Antonio Meneses (cello)
with cello ensemble from the Guildhall School of Music

Drapers' Hall, Throgmorton Avenue, 23 June

A feast of exotic music reflecting the Festival's theme, made into an entertaining and satifying programme, enjoyed in one of the most sumptuous of all the City's great Livery Halls, more often a venue for banquets than music, though it is notable for perfect acoustics from front to the very back and is an ideal concert venue.

Patricia Rozario was on stupendously fine form, with enough stamina left to give an encore of the taxing Danca from Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No 5.

Antonio Meneses* (Brazilian cellist of the great Beaux Arts Trio) had coached a fine student ensemble to support her and their account of No 1 for 8-cellos was of high professional standard. memesescds

Meneses, on his own and using a 'Bach bow', gave a deeply engaging account of the Bach solo suite (he's recorded them all) - an oasis of classicism in the midst of an exotic evening's music making.

City of London Festival is perhaps the most enterprising of all in the annual calendar, and offers rare opportunities to enjoy music in the wealth of the City's historic buildings. Prices are very reasonable and many concerts offer free fine wine in the interval !

Peter Grahame Woolf

* A newly released CD of cello concertos played by Antonio Meneses has special relevance in the context of this year's City of London Festival. Together with fresh accounts of the two Haydn concertos (No 1 long known in a very corrupt version edt.Gavaert; No 2 thought lost until Robbins Landon rediscovered it in the early 1960s) he includes an affecting and joyous concertino by double-bass player and composer Clovis Pereira (b.1932), who incorporates in the piece modal scales only found in Brazil's Mata Zone and, in the finale, connects a quasi-baroque sttyle with the influence of baroque masters who settled in Brazil during the colonial era. PGW

Daniela Lehner & Sulki Yu
at St Lawrence Jewry & St Andrew, Holborn
23 June & 1 July

Following a triumphant recital at Wigmore Hall, Daniela Lehner made two appearances at the City of London Festival. She has a winning confidence and makes easy rapport with her audiences. Daniela clearly loves singing and has already explored wide repertoires off the beaten track.

At St Lawrence she was joined by violinist Sulki Yu (one of our favourites of the younger generation) but only in Villa-Lobos' spectacular Suite for Voice and Violin, an all too brief tour-de-force from the sparse voice/violin repertoire. At St Andrew's, Sulki contributed to Reinicke's 8 Children's Songs, a rarity surely unknown to most of us, with discreet expertise and impeccable harmonics.

For the rest, Lehner gave a large selection of song from "Spanish-speaking and Lusophone nations" with a real flair for their national idioms. Perhaps she needs to address a tendency to sudden misplaced loud notes which can break the line; but her command of a very wide dynamic range down to a near whispered ppp is admirable and shows immense promise for a future in opera too.

The Festival gives unparalleled opportunities to visit wonderful historic buildings, but church recitals are unpredictable for listening to music; the acoustic at St Lawrence Jewry was appalling - over-resonant to an intolerable degree - and St Andrew also is a little too reverberant for comfort; Jose Luis Gayo, Lehner's regular duo partner, did not adjust his pedalling towards better clarity there.

Next year, COLF must invite PLG star Sulki Yu to give a full recital at their Festival !


PS It will be very interesting to hear these recitals when they are broadcast - 8 & 16 July BBCR3 1.00 pm

Mantra - Musical Conversations across the Indian Ocean

Orlando Consort
Matthew Venner countertenor
Mark Dobell tenor
Angus Smith tenor
Doald Greig baritone

with Kuljit Bhamra tabla
Jonathan Mayer sitar
Shahid Khan voice

Merchant Taylors' Hall, 28 June

This easy-listening concert was developed by "workshopping" to try to recreate the possible effect of lost music from the early 1500s, when Portuguese missionaries and Goan Indians joined together in music at churches. The male voice Orlando Consort was joined by Indian musicians to reflect that historical cross-cultural encounter, not entirely convincingly...

But Merchant Taylors' Hall was another wonderful venue in which to spend lovely summer evening.


Mahan Esfahani (harpsichord) at St Margaret Pattens, Eastcheap 29 June

A notable "hit" as a BBCR3 New Generation Artist last year, Mahan Esfahani came back with an unique Migliai harpsichord of 1763, which sounded perfect in this church - superbly restored and of small but delectable tone.

His recital of Portuguese harpsichord music included the Scarlattis father and son (Domenico was still employed by King Joäo V of Portugal when he followed Maria Barbara to Madrid).

This was a sensational recital by a virtuoso scholar; one not to miss hearing again when it is broadcast on BBCR3 14 July at 1.00 pm and ListenAgain afterwards.


Bach & Villa-Lobos etc at Mansion House

JS Bach Concertos in D minor & F minor;
Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No 9;
Egberto Gismonti Forrobodo, Frevo; JS Bach Concerto BWV 1056;
Brazilian piano solos, Brazilian popular songs arr MacGregor for piano and strings

Britten Sinfonia/Joanna MacGregor (piano),
Adrian Adewale (percussion)

5 July, Mansion House, Walbrook, EC4

Last year Britten Sinfonia with Henning Kraggerud sounded fine in Mansion House's Egyptian Hall from front seats.

Last night, from Row H, the music was a soup of confused sound, and it was impossible to appreciate or review Joanna MacGregor's piano playing. Only the Bachianas Brasileiras could be heard reasonably well, though it has to be said that the audience looked content enjoying their interval drinks...(it will be interesting to compare this strings version with the choral setting to be given on 9 July).

On BBC R3 Listen again on my computer I have enjoyed MacGregor's expressive nuances and control in the F minor concerto.
It was a close-miked broadcast recording (with over a dozen microphones on stage, two small ones under the piano lid on short stick) so Mansion House had virtuallybeen transformed into a broadcasting studio ! [12 July]

Bach & Villa-Lobos at St Giles

JS Bach Suites for Solo Cello Nos 1 in G major & 5 in C minor
Villa-Lobos Song of the Black Swan; The Little Train of Caipira; Aria

Nicolas Altstaedt cello
Tom Poster piano/organ

St Giles Cripplegate, 6 July

Replacing indisposed violinist Jennifer Pike, cellist Nicolas Altstaedt (who is to join the R3 New Generation Artists) gave expressive accounts of Bach suites plus some small pieces from the near-obigatory Villa-Lobos (this year's Portuguese-speaking theme would have been stretched without him !).

See Alstaedt on YouTube playing Lutoslawski's concerto in Finland; he can be heard also in Bach.


Next on to Mercers' Hall for the most challenging concert of the whole festival.


Sond’Ar-te Electric Ensemble at Mercers' Hall

Luís Tinoco O Silêncio e as Pedras
João Pedro Oliveira Lâminas Líquidas
Flo Menezes O farfalhar das folhas
Miguel Azguime (ThS)inking Survival Kit

Frances Lynch voice Pedro Carneiro percussion
Monika Duarte Steritová flute Nuno Pinto clarinet Ana Telles piano Suzanna Lidegran violin Filipe Quaresma cello
Miguel Azguime artistic director & live electronics Paula Azguime
video & sound projections Perseu Mandillo 3D animation
Miso Studio technical implementation & electronics
Jean-Sébastien Béreau conductor

6 July Mercers' Hall

Composer/poet Miguel Azguime and his video/sound designer Paula Azguime came to London with their experimental music ensemble Sond’Ar-te. Azguime’s over-extended new work, which ambitiously attempts to reflect "Portugal's maritime history, biodiversity and the relationship between man and nature’s forces", failed to convince despite Frances Lynch's impressive singing. Two other works presented were one dull - despite the musicians deploying "four sets of granite stones" - and the other repugnant in its unrelenting harshness.

But the evening was saved by the opportunity to hear again a wonderful work for marimba and electronics (confusingly out of order in the programme slip) by Joao Oliveira, whose music had impressed us also in Lisbon. Lâminas Líquidas we had already known from former PLGYA Pedro Carneiro's performances in London; it has enduring stature in the percussion/tape repertoire:
[Oliveira's Liquid Bars for marimba and tape was another example of this composer's skill at unifying live and electronic music to make an enriched whole]


Maconchy, Tavener, Villa-Lobos & Azguime
Anderson, Bach, Balakirev, Pärt, Stravinsky

Miguel Azguime O Centro do Excentrico do Centro do Mundo; Maconchy Creatures; John Tavener Butterfly Dreams; Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras No 9
BBC Singers/Antunes 9 July, 6pm, St Giles’ Cripplegate, Fore Street, EC 2

Bach Brandenburg Concerto No 3; Stravinsky Danses Concertantes; Rameau Suite from Platée; Arvo Pärt If Bach had been a Bee Keeper; Julian Anderson Khorovod; BalakirevIslamey & Rimsky-Korsakov Flight of the Bumble Bee (both arr Iain Farrington)
Aurora Orchestra/Nicolas Collon (conductor), Mestre Ponciano Almeida/ Cordão de Ouro (capoeira group)
9 July, 8pm, LSO St Luke’s, Old Street, EC1

Musical Pointers' extensive coverage of the 2010 City of London Music Festival concludes with two memorable concerts. The BBC Singers gave a superb demonstration of their skills and wide ranging repertoire at St Giles, a excellent venue to hear them at their best. Due to train cancellations (frequent during this hot summer festival) we will not be able to hear Azguime's O Centro do Excentrico do Centro do Mundo, which has "no concern for narrative nor any intention to illustrate the text" until it is broadcast "on a future date"...

Nicolas Conlon and his Aurora Orchestra have made great strides since we first heard them at the Royal Academy of Music. At St Luke's (a marvellous music venue) the strings (pictured) gave a virtuoso account of Brandenburg 3, with each violinist and violist given solo spots (my only reservation was that the pretty harpsichord tinkled away practically inaudibly). The Stravinsky/Balanchine Danses were immaculate, but those seemed to cry out for dancing?

Aurora Orchestra's association with a London capoeira group (an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music, and dance) was distracting in Anderson's Khorovod but fruitful with Rameau dances; see their core team with Aurora Orchestra at St Luke's on a really splendid YouTube video with Lully dances.

Two ingeniously arranged virtuoso pieces for the full chamber orchestra forces, played with verve to finish; Rimsky's Bumble Bee the encore to remind us of the Festival's subsidiary theme. Bee hives have been established throughout the Square Mile of the City in recognition of the environmental threat - "Without bees whole ecosystems will collapse and we are seeing that now."

A great evening to round off the main Festival, superbly organised by Ian Ritchie and his team (including the press officers) and with friendly volunteers to help assure that all went smoothly.

Outdoor events continue until 6 August and can be found at http://www.colf.org/whats-on.cfm

Peter Grahame Woolf