Northern Rhapsodies – Leicester Concert Goers Review

There were three reasons that I found this concert irresistible. Firstly, it featured Katya Apekisheva, a very fine pianist who has over the years been a frequent visitor to Leicester but mostly as a chamber music recitalist. Here was a chance to enjoy her prodigious talents again but as a concerto soloist in a late work by Rachmaninoff which I had not heard live for many years.

Secondly, there was a performance of a Nielsen symphony in DMH which has been  hardly a frequent event.  ( I can recall only one performance in recent years, that by the Philharmonia and Paavo Jarvi of the first symphony). Following on from that, the third reason consisted of memories from the 1960’s when I and my soon to be wife were knocked sideways by the power of these symphonies, then enjoying an introduction to London  similar but, alas, not so long lasting, as the Mahler revolution. And then many years later  there was the young Rattle in Birmingham doing the complete cycle of the symphonies which re-inforced my feeling that this was one of the great symphonic  cycles of the 20th century, or for that matter any other century . Why, oh why, I wondered , had I missed the early parts of the Bardi Cycle?

Well, the answer to that was quite simple. I questioned whether a mainly amateur orchestra could possibly meet the colossal orchestral challenges of these works, particularly Symphonies 4 and 5. That was compounded by having a few months ago heard The Inextinguishable played by the LSO and Rattle in performance which literally stunned a Barbican audience into silence for a moment or two so overwhelming was it.  Then, I remembered what a friend of acute musical intelligence had said to me about the quality of the Bardi  performances of this music. So, the only answer was to go and hear for myself.  The result of that was that I wished that I had taken notice much earlier to what he said.

Not that in the first piece played the concert seemed about to be particularly revelatory. True, it was a delight to be re-acquainted with Sibelius’ Karelia Suite which was one of the first records that I possessed as a youth and which these days, like a lot of music in Suite form, tends to be a rarity in the face of sterner musical expression. There was much in this performance which did justice to the work. Particularly notable was the rich sound that the strings managed to conjure up in Ballade, totally worthy of any professional ensemble. Similarly the nuanced phrasing and sound of the horns  at the beginning of the Intermezzo  were extremely impressive, particularly when playing from cold as it were and as a whole the performance certainly delivered the essence of the work, without perhaps achieving quite the swagger and bounce some of it ideally requires.

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Then came Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini and here the music making moved onto a different level. The pianist and the orchestra delivered a performance that can only be described as scintillating. Indeed, I felt I had not heard a better or more exciting interpretation of the work.  It highlighted how the late works of this composer should sound compared to the more famous works he wrote before he went into exile. Compositions like The Symphonic Dances , after very tepid critical reviews when they first saw the light of day,  are now receiving  the attention they deserve, as music which set off in a different direction to the romantic sound world so associated with the composer. Of course, these Variations always received approval of sorts because of the gorgeous melody in a middle variation and for which there is often the tendency to wait impatiently for its arrival. This ignores elsewhere the wealth of wit , the passages in which brittle colours predominate and for which absolute clarity is required from the performers.  Of course, being Rachmaninoff , often the virtuosity demanded of the pianist is phenomenal. Anyone knowing the pianist on this occasion could guess that those demands would be met in spades and so they were. However, the many delightful moments in the more reflective parts of the work were also fully presented and one finished by wondering whether one had ever heard the clarity of the DMH instrument used to better effect. The performance had a truly pristine quality which revealed a glittering sound world quite unlike for instance what happens when the music is played on the ubiquitous Steinways which so tend to dominate our concert halls. It was overall a wonderfully  invigorating musical experience.

One last thing in regard the above. I was so impressed by the pianist having the score in front of her. It occurred to me to wonder why concert practice in the last century became locked into the virtue of playing entirely from memory and I remembered the story of Sir Adrian Boult, told to me by a friend who as a lad was present  at his rehearsal of a youth orchestra . When the great man was asked why he conducted from a score back came the reply, ‘ Because I can read one!’

And so to the climax of the concert, a performance of Nielsen’s mighty 5th Symphony. The previous evening, not having heard the symphony for some years, I played a disc of it being performed by a Finnish orchestra. I listened to the characteristics of the composer’s late style, huge outbursts of sound with strings playing in several sections at the top of the range and producing what I have come to think as the edginess of the sound produced by electrical discharges and which is so extraordinarily expressive of colossal energy. Then, there are the many passages that demand to be played at colossal speed. In addition, the whole orchestra needs to produce at times another characteristic Nielson sound which forever reminds me somehow of the outdoors and the openness of the Scandinavian sky. Lastly, in this particular symphony, there is the titanic battle between orchestra and side drum which, if not delivered with complete musical conviction, can teeter slightly on the brink of the crudely obvious. Could a largely amateur orchestra of the size of the Bardi, rather fewer in number I would think than that routinely fielded by a London orchestra in this music, really do justice to this work?

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Well, they most certainly did. All the above was in this performance. Of course, there was occasionally the sense of strain. For instance, the LSO delivered the frantic start of the last movement of The Inextinguishable almost as if it was a walk in the park. However, that very sense of strain in its own way rather added to the delivery of the titanic things in the symphony and at the end one could only marvel at the hours of rehearsal which had obviously  gone into the delivery of something with this impact. This is music close to Claus Efland’s heart as was clear from his amusing address before the performance, even though there were moments when I thought him a little too intent on warning the audience of the perils ahead, notably about there being supposedly no tunes! There is no doubt, though, that he is a formidable conductor and interpreter of this music and the Bardi are very lucky to have his power to persuade and inspire musicians to play out of their skins. I look forward to the cycle being brought to a completion in the not too distant future.

Northern Rhapsodies Concert Review – Neil Crutchley

In just over half a century of attending orchestral concerts in the De Montfort Hall, this series of Nielsen symphonies from the Bardi Symphony Orchestra, has been, and continues to be a personal highlight. No other orchestra has had the courage or conviction to embark on such an ambitious project.

Nielsen’s six symphonies are amongst the greatest of the twentieth century yet were it not for the Bardi, we in Leicester, along with most other provincial cities, would hear one (usually the 4th or the 5th) once in a blue moon. In fact it’s possible that the Bardi’s accounts of the 2nd and 3rd symphonies were the first in the city. And what tremendous performances they were! As is usually the case, no allowances for the Bardi’s “non-professional” status were necessary, despite the fact that I suspect most of the players were performing the works for the first time. The same could be said of the Bardi’s searing account of the marginally better known 4th Symphony (The Inextinguishable). 

And now we have the 5th, considered by many to be the composer’s greatest work. What a ground-breaking, compelling and fascinating piece it is. It’s not just the first movement’s extraordinary snare drum outburst that’s arresting; the whole piece is harmonically, tonally and structurally exceptional.

Of course it helps to have a Danish conductor in charge – especially one as inspiring and committed as Claus Efland. He knows every note of these symphonies and he knows exactly what he wants from the music and the players, although I have to take issue with his assertion that Nielsen didn’t produce memorable tunes in this symphony.

It’s an old cliché I’ve used dozens of times in relation to Bardi performances, but it still holds true; the results are astounding. For long periods you would not know you weren’t listening to a professional orchestra. In fact having heard performances of Nielsen’s music from some renowned ensembles, it’s these Leicester performances that are the ones that stay in the mind for their enthusiasm, panache and vigour. Above all they have shown (and I hope, will continue to show) what a strikingly original musical thinker Nielsen was.

This account of the symphony was a remarkable journey in sound and mood – just as the composer wished it to be. His “progressive tonality”, so much easier to hear than explain, leads the ear onwards; surprising and teasing along the way, but ultimately achieving its goal. The playing was exemplary in all departments and it would be unfair to single out any one player or department as this was a truly unified effort.

The first movement began with just the right balance between mystery and tension; the “wavy line” of the violas being clean and precise, providing a rhythmic background to the fragments of melody that follow. It is essential that the tension is maintained here and in what follows and as always, Claus Efland was exemplary in giving the whole movement a strong sense of momentum with vivid dynamic contrasts, well-graded crescendos and incisive rhythmic drive. The highpoint of this movement is the superb string melody that emerges just over half way though, this was allowed to expand and glow (but never to lose momentum) before the snare drum began its persistent, destructive barrage. The closing bars had an extraordinary, eerie stillness about them.

The energy of the second movement was exhilarating right from the opening bars. This is music of optimism, but the hard-won, gritty optimism of a realist. The orchestra’s response to the demands made on it was astounding; enthusiastic, cleanly articulated and supple. The slower, quieter central section provided the necessary respite from the onward rush, but Efland ensured that even here there was a sense of portent and onward movement. The mounting excitement towards the close is edge-of-the-seat stuff with its final glorious blaze of E flat major. Here was my only tiny criticism – the build-up to the “blaze” was not quite as abandoned as I was expecting, but then in preparing the programme notes I had been listening to Bernstein’s recording of the work with the New York Philharmonic and in that conductor’s flamboyant style the closing bars are little short of cataclysmic, so perhaps I was expecting a little too much at that point – even from the Bardi!

 

Katya Apekisheva was the soloist in Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody and unusually, she played from the music – with a page turner!  She appeared to be sight-reading at some points (had she never performed this work before?) and it has to be said that this was not the most subtle of performances. However, there were many delights and the piano was audible throughout, which is not always the case in this work. The orchestra’s accompaniment was magnificent, the conductor managing to keep up with the soloist and drawing flexible warm-toned playing from all sections.

The concert began with a good straightforward account of Sibelius’s Karelia Suite. The Intermezzo had a jaunty bounce to it and the Alla Marcia, although fairly sedately paced, was nicely phrased, with good dynamics. The Ballade was beautifully done with superb solo playing and an affecting sense of nostalgia and melancholy.

This was a fine concert which will be remembered for yet another superb account of a Nielsen symphony. We’ve only two more (Nos. 1&6) to go before the cycle is complete. I hope it isn’t too long before they appear.

The Bardi Young Musicians 2019 stun the audience on their big day

2019 Bardi Young Musicians Sofia Demetriades and Ailsa Burns, both talented violinists, played with the Bardi Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Guest Conductor Paul Hilliam to a large audience in Fraser Noble Hall, London Road, Leicester on Sunday 7th July. Their performances captivated the enthusiastic audience who were amazed at the skill and talent of the young soloists.

Ten year old Sofia played Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.1 whilst Ailsa, 18 played Vaughan Williams’ ever-popular The Lark Ascending.

Other works in the concert included the St.Paul’s Suite by Holst and Mozart Symphony No.40 in G Minor.

The Bardi Symphony Orchestra announce the 2019/20 De Montfort Hall Season

Sunday 6 October 3pm   2019
Austrian Connections
Claus Efland – conductor
Bardi Wind Soloists

Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante for Winds K297b
Bruckner – Symphony No.4 “Romantic”

The Bardi’s new season opens with well-known music from two great Austrian composers. The Orchestra’s own wind soloists begin the concert with Mozart’s sublime Concertante for Winds, with the towering “Romantic” fourth symphony by Bruckner as a contrast in the second half.

Sunday 1 December 3pm   2019
Tchaikovsky and the Violin
Claus Efland – conductor
Natalia Lomeiko – violin

Humperdinck – Hansel and Gretel Overture
Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto
Dvorák – Symphony No.7 in D minor

Popular concert hall favourites feature in the Bardi’s second concert of the season. The magical overture to Hansel and Gretel is followed by Tchaikovsky’s powerful Violin Concerto with rising star Natalie Lomeiko as the soloist. Dvorák’s seventh symphony, a work more in the style of Brahms but still featuring the composer’s Bohemian melodies, completes the concert.

Sunday 15 March 3pm   2020
A Young Person’s introduction to the Symphony Orchestra

Richard Laing – guest conductor and host
To include:. Benjamin Britten – A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (with narrator)
Join the Bardi to learn about the instruments of the Symphony Orchestra, in a feast of popular classical and film music for all the family hosted by Guest Conductor Richard Laing. The concert will include a performance of Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” .

Sunday 17 May 3pm   2020
Elgar Concert

Claus Efland – conductor
Lydia Shelley – cello

Serenade for Strings
Cello Concerto
Symphony No.1

The Bardi’s De Montfort Hall season finale sees three works showing different sides of one of England’s greatest composers, Sir Edward Elgar. The first half has the delightful String Serenade contrasting strongly with the passionate and powerful Cello Concerto. The mighty First Symphony brings the concert to a magnificent conclusion with one of Elgar’s most inspired themes.

For ticket information: De Montfort Hall Box Office: 0116 233 3111
demontforthall.co.uk

Fantasy & Adventure! The Bardi Wind Orchestra at De Montfort Hall

Sunday June 16th 3pm
Join the Bardi Wind Orchestra under the baton of Music Director David Calow for their annual Family Gala Concert in association with Oadby & Wigston Lions Club. The Orchestra welcomes back Compère Martin Ballard from BBC Radio Leicester, Soprano Jenny Saunders and Tenor David Morris for this concert which will be supporting the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance.

Summon the Heroes
Game of Thrones
633 Squadron
Saving Private Ryan
Bohemian Rhapsody
Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines
Thunderbirds and Stingray
The Greatest Showman Suite
Music from Harry Potter, ET and Indiana Jones
Mary Poppins Suite sing-a-long

and many more!

For tickets please click on the link below:

http://www.demontforthall.co.uk/events/events.php/2019/2065/bardi-wind-orchestra/

The Bardi end the De Montfort Hall Season in style with Northern Rhapsodies

The Bardi Symphony Orchestra ended the 2018/19 De Montfort Hall Season in style with their “Northern Rhapsodies” concert on Sunday 19th May at 3pm.

The concert began with a stirring performance of the Karelia Suite by Sibelius. Piano soloist Katya Apekisheva then treated the audience to a stunning rendition of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
Nielsen’s 5th symphony concluded the concert. This was only the second time this work, Denmark’s “National symphony” had been performed at De Montfort Hall.

 

Ballet Concert with Dance Activate Review by Neil Crutchley

Sunday 24th March 3pm
De Montfort Hall Leicester

There is an admirable generosity of spirit in the Bardi Symphony Orchestra. Whether it be encouraging young musicians, getting together with local choirs or as in this concert, performing alongside Dance Activate, the willingness to share the concert platform brings enormous rewards for everyone involved, not least members of the audience.

That was certainly the case with this hugely enjoyable presentation, the second of the orchestra’s partnerships with Graham Fletcher’s team of talented young dancers. Everyone benefits: the dancers have the opportunity to perform with an excellent orchestra; the orchestra has the chance to play great ballet scores and to have the live dancers in front of them and the audience has the pleasure of both watching and listening.

The main work and the one in which Dance Activate featured, was the whole of the 2nd act of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Ballet with all its familiar characteristic dances and great Pas de Deux.

One of the most difficult aspects of conducting for the ballet (I imagine) is keeping everything together, yet this presentation was beautifully coordinated and Claus Efland as always, conducted with authority and panache. Each of the dances was charmingly characterised and the pacing was spot on – nothing forced or overdone yet full of life and vigour. There was an infectious sweep to the Waltz of the Flowers and in the Pas de deux, (probably the most substantial and emotional piece in the ballet) the conductor graded the climaxes with impressive assurance, only allowing the full force to emerge in the closing bars. Equally compelling was the finale where the various threads were drawn together into a powerful peroration.

I’m not a ballet expert but I think I can confidently say that the dancing was enchanting throughout. It was clear that hours of painstaking rehearsal had gone into reaching so high a standard. The various nationalistic dances with their splendid costumes was a real feast for the eyes and the glorious pas de deux was brilliantly executed by Oliver Speers and Samantha Camejo, both principal artists of the English Youth Ballet. The closing scene was especially affecting, featuring all the young dancers in turn and bringing the curtain down in glittering fashion.

The first half of the concert opened with an invigorating account of the Prelude and Mazurka from Coppelia and this was followed by the Ballet Music from Gounod’s Faust – once a relatively popular concert item but seldom heard nowadays. However it is a delightful piece – especially when played with such charm and affection. There was an infectious lift to the rhythms and the conductor’s ability to stylishly shape and turn a phrase was, as always, very impressive.

The same could be said of Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours, a short ballet from his opera, La Gioconda. This too was once a concert favourite but is less often heard today. It is full of delightful melodies (one of which has been immortalised in a song by Alan Sherman) and the performance sparkled from the first bar to last.

It was very gratifying to see Claus Efland lavish as much care and attention to detail on these charming works as he would on a symphony by Brahms or Nielsen. Some conductors would see this sort of programme as an “easy ride” but happily he’s not one of them and consequently, in the case of the Gounod and Ponchielli, many of us were left thinking “Why on earth aren’t these pieces played more often.” What greater compliment could be paid to the quality of the performances?

The orchestral playing throughout the concert was astoundingly good. Not only as an ensemble, but also in the quality of the soloists within the orchestra – especially the woodwind. The Bardi must be one of the most professional of non-professional orchestras, as for long stretches it was difficult to believe we weren’t listening to a full-time group. Only very occasionally a slight discrepancy in string ensemble gave the game away, but even then the actual tone of the strings was extremely fine. Surprisingly, the sound from where I was sitting was not affected by the orchestra being in a “pit”.

Altogether this was a superb afternoon of music and dance, fully deserving the large audience it attracted.

 

An afternoon at the ballet

A large and enthusiastic audience attended a concert of ballet favourites!

Sunday 24th March 2019  3pm
De Montfort Hall, Leicester.

Delibes – Mazurka from Coppelia 

Gounod – Ballet music from Faust 

Ponchielli – Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda

and

Tchaikovsky  The Nutcracker  complete 2nd Act

Following the successful collaboration with the Bardi in Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird, Dance Activate with Principal Dancers from English Youth Ballet returned in a Ballet Concert which included the 2nd Act of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.

The Bardi New Year started in Vienna!

 The Bardi Symphony Orchestra presented ‘A Viennese Concert’ on Sunday February 17th 3.00pm

The concert illustrated different facets of Viennese musical life in the 19th Century, with the first half featuring a performance of Schubert’s much-loved ‘Unfinished’ Symphony No.8.
The second half, the Orchestra with their Music Director Claus Efland, who has a particular affinity with this music, moved to the glittering occasions in society. There were waltzes, marches and polkas by the Strauss family and others some more familiar some less (and including one irresistible offering from Denmark!).
The concert would not have been complete without ‘The Beautiful Blue Danube’ by Johann Strauss and the events were rounded off with a rousing ‘Radetsky March’ for the audience to warm their hands before setting off into the darkening February afternoon.