2022 in Concert reviews: Ethel Smyth, Vaughan Williams, Gavin Higgins, Julian Phillips, Robert Max

Ethel Smyth: Mass - Nardus Williams, Robert Murray, Sakari Oramo, Bethan Langford, Božidar Smiljanić, BBC Symphony Orchestra - BBC Proms (Photo BBC)
Ethel Smyth: Mass – Nardus Williams, Robert Murray, Sakari Oramo, Bethan Langford, Božidar Smiljanić, BBC Symphony Orchestra – BBC Proms (Photo BBC)

2022 was a very varied year for concerts, as well as the usual Baroque music, chamber music and song, there were other themes running through the year. For a start, RVW’s 150th birthday brought a nice selection of concerts and the BBC Proms proved something of a bumper year.

Baroque music began with Patrick Allies and Siglo de Oro transporting us to 17th century New Spain at Wigmore Hall, whilst Robert Max played Bach’s six Cello Suites at Conway Hall. Back at Wigmore Hall, Polish counter-tenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski dazzled in a programme of music by Handel’s lesser-known contemporaries, whilst Paul McCreesh and Gabrieli Consort & Players helped us rediscover Bach’s Ascension Oratorio. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment intriguingly combined the music of Purcell with Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner on the Southbank. Freiburg Baroque Orchestra celebrated St Cecilia’s Day at Wigmore Hall in fine style with Purcell and Handel, and we launched Christmas with Messiah from Laurence Cummings and the Academy of Ancient Music at Barbican Centre.

The Vaughan Williams celebrations included a performance of his Five Tudor Portraits at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, the work having been premiered in Norwich in 1936. We caught the Sea Symphony in a fine performance from the Bach Choir, whilst there were songs by RVW and friends at the Wigmore Hall. Other song recitals that stand out include a visit to Wigmore Hall by Ludlow English Song Festival, including a lovely recital including songs by the much underrated Scottish composer, Erik Chisholm. We heard two very fine and very different accounts of Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin from two young baritones. At Wigmore Hall, James Newby and Simon Lepper gave a superbly engrossing performance, whilst as part of Opera in Song at Opera Holland Park, Julien Van Mellaerts and James Baillieu brought added depth by including readings of the poems not set by Schubert. Claire Booth and Christopher Glynn brought panache, intensity and vivid story-telling to their programme Modest Mussorgsky: Unorthodox Music at Wigmore Hall.

At Oxford Lieder Festival, Julian Phillips‘ new piece for tenor, horn and piano was performed alongside Britten and Schubert in a wonderfully imaginative programme, whilst in a completely different contemporary vein, Ruthless Jabiru and Decibel New Music Ensemble joined forces at the Brunel Museum.

Our Prom visits this year began with Ethel Smyth’s  Concerto for violin and horn, and the Smyth theme continued with a terrific account of her Mass from BBC forces. The Smyth celebrations at the Proms also include The Wreckers, though we missed this as we had already seen it at Glyndebourne, and some Smyth songs in Birmingham. Something of a bumper Smyth festival then.

Still at the Proms, Gavin Higgins’ amazing  Concerto Grosso for brass band and orchestra showed off the combined forces of the Tredegar Band and BBC NOW and tenor Allan Clayton brought devastating intensity to the title role of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius.

Other memorable concerts included ECHO Rising Star recorder player Lucie Horsch and lutenist Thomas Dunford in a joyful programme of music old and new. And having been foiled in 2020, I finally got to visit the Sheffield Chamber Music Festival, which takes place in the round and featured the devastatingly multi-talented Ensemble 360 in Janacek, Martinu, Anna Meredith and Dvorak.

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