Mahler 4 from Berlin

Spellbinding Mahler 4 from Berlin this evening, with expressive and searching singing from Camilla Tilling. This is Rattle’s last season with the BPO before moving to London, the Barbican and the LSO in September 2017.

The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra Digital Concert Hall is superb, and available on all devices and most TVs. Whilst a £12 per month subscription may seem expensive it does give you access to an archive of 100s of concerts, stretching back to Karajan days. There are live broadcasts of each concert in the BPO season and they really do make you feel you are there. Occasionally there are interval talks and eventually the concert is added to the archive. Indeed, I shall have to wait for this particular concert to be added as I had to miss the Ligeti Violin Concerto in the first half – an outstanding and unusual work featuring a chorus of ocarinas at one point!

The sound quality is superb (best fed through your hifi or home cinema system) and if you look very closely you can see the fixed cameras at strategic points around the platform. These are remotely controlled and switched as in any event broadcast, and the cueing is generally spot-on. In this Mahler concert the balance of the woodwinds and solo horn in the Scherzo was beautiful and the huge tutti at the end of the Adagio truly powerful. Rattle’s expressions as the controlled the balance were fascinating to watch, and the individual members of the orchestra are now becoming familiar faces.

On a final note, in the App version (IOS and Android) you can download archive concerts so you can watch them whilst travelling and not need any form of internet connection.

“We are truth made in Heaven, we are Glorious!”

My album of the year is Invention of Knowledge by Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt.For those who love Tales from Topographic Oceans, Olias of Sunhillow etc this is a fully realised return to that sound and feel. Ok, Jon may still appear to be away with the fairies but how wonderfully this album projects Love, Peace and Eastern philosophy in a rich homage to Man’s powers of invention. Roine is less to the fore than with either Transatlantic or Flower Kings but his compositional skill dominates and his guitar threads its way through the mix subtly. A deeply satisfying album.

Albums of 2011

So many to chose from – a real vintage year. This list will probably be updated as I remember them, which has also given me the idea of a blog for albums of 2012 as they arrive. So, not in any order …

Transatlantic – Whirlwind
Transatlantic – More Never Is Enough
Nightwish – Imaginaerium
Blind Guardian – At The Edge Of Time
Mastodon – The Hunter
Machine Head – Unto The Locust
Yes – Fly From Here
Smile – Beach Boys
Opeth – Heritage
Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow

Jordi Savall – Mare Nostrum
Mahler – Symphony No. 9 – LSO/Gergiev
Ives – Violin Sonatas – Hilary Hahn & Valentina Lisitsa
Bruckner, Nielsen & Sibelius Symphonies – Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra & Gustavo Dudamel
Shostakovich Symphonies – Royal Liverpool Philharmonic / Vasily Petrenko

Evening run, The Meadows & Ecclestone, Chester (8 miles)

Starting out is always the worst bit. I set Trails running on my iPhone, set the HR monitor going and head off down City Road and onwards, towards the River Dee. Taking it easy as legs realise what’s afoot. Breathing stabilises as I cross the river over the footbridge and then it’s down to the Meadows – a huge expanse of rough grassland that fits in a loop in the river. Almost flat, there are enough devices – gates, hedges etc – to give me my next target point as I gradually increase the heart-rate peak before pulling back a touch.

Under the A55 and on towards Ecclestone, turning away from the river and passing through the red-brick, peaceful village that is part of the Grosvenor Estate. It’s a slight uphill gradient and a chance to give a different set of muscles a push. This village is too quiet – a bit like a set from The Avengers. You expect to catch a curtain twitch back from the corner of your eye. Kula Shaker on the iPod (Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts – the spirit of George Harrison truly alive in Crispian Mills songs and arrangements).

The return is via a road, and then a long stretch of woodland track that becomes a majestic driveway as it approaches the Grosvenor Bridge. This stretch gives me the chance to open up a bit, my body fairly warmed-up by now, pounding to Hawkwind’s Space Bandits album. More woodland, under the bridge and back home to pore over the stats and enjoy the Fulham v Liverpool game.

I averaged 5.7 mph tonight – I’m happy with that.

“I know you’re out there somewhere”

I rarely listen to my iPod when on events – the sound of the countryside, and my own thoughts, are usually all I need. On the other hand, my runs around the various routes I have in and around Chester are often done to the accompaniment of 70’s rock, Mahler Symphonies or Wagnerian drama.

The exception to the event rule was last year’s 100 (actually 106), when the mind-numbingly boring stretch along the road to Fortingall, and back through the woods into the 2nd night, were trudged whilst listening to Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Concerto (in Stephen Hough’s recent blazing performance) and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s debut album.

But almost always, when not sporting earphones, I have some or other tune running through my head. Way back in the late 1980’s, just after all this long-distance stuff began, I recall tramping across the North Yorkshire Moors with long-missed friends on the (then) very popular Lyke Wake Walk. It was night, raining and misty and the (then) thin trod was a small stream. I followed dutifully behind the others whilst the Moody Blues album “Sur La Mer” played endlessly in my mind. There are very “moody”, dark and eerie songs on that album and they matched the night perfectly. Even now when I hear “The River of Endless Love”, “Want to be with you” and the magnificent “Deep” I think of that night, and the other crossings we made.

Even more apt was when we reached Ralph’s Cross, where we were to meet our support party. It was thick mist still, and they were obviously taking time to navigate the myriad tiny roads in the area. We waited, “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” running through my head, when sure enough, their headlights arced through the mist and swept into the car park.

I still pack a tiny iPod and earphones, and this album is always on there – waiting for the right “moody” atmosphere.

"Sur La Mer" Cover

"Sur La Mer" Cover

North Cheshire Wind Orchestra

Warrington Pyramid Hall, 7th May 2011.

I rarely come away from these concerts without wanting to look up some newly discovered piece of music, or composer, but hadn’t expected to on this occasion. “A Night at the Theatre” comprised music by Bernstein, Wagner, Puccini, Fucik, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Bock & Harnick and Sondheim & Wheeler  and a composer I’d heard the name of frequently, but was new to his music – Aulis Sallinen. His “Palace Rhapsody” of 1996, in this arrangement for wind orchestra, was wonderfully moody and evocative and even had echoes of the composers he was placed between on this bill – Bernstein and Wagner – as well as Sibelian hommages. A dark solo for bass clarinet stood out, as did the Wild West and  military passages. So, Sallinen has been added to my “must explore” list.

The overture to “Candide” kicked things off splendidly, causing much furrowing of the brows from the players as the bars flew past, whilst the sombre procession of Siegried’s Funeral March tested the patience – and counting! – of the brass section. A lovely oboe solo sang out amidst the grief and the full band rose wonderfully in the tuttis. After such bleakness it was a relief that the suite from La Boheme did not include music from the final act! (Wonderful solos, though, from the principle oboe, trumpet and flute)

After the break it was musicals all the way: Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof and Sweeney Todd were presented in chronological sequence and played with obvious enjoyment and flair – the young percussion section having a great time!

So, now to look forward to their next concert on July 2nd, when the theme is “War and Peace”. Can the walls of the Waterside Arts Centre in Sale contain their powerful “Mars”, from the Planets? Only just, perhaps.

“War and Peace” : Concert details.