This year has seen numerous changes in major concert and orchestral organisations. The LSO, LPO and Philharmonia all gained new Principal Conductors, Nicholas Kenyon moved seamlessly from the Proms to the Barbican, the Edinburgh Festival got a new Director in Jonathan Mills, and the Royal Festival Hall reopened after refurbishment to a mixed reception. Seminal figures of twentieth-century music died, such as Rostropovich and Stockhausen - musical greats whose loss leaves many of us wondering whether the stars of the future can really have the same impact.
After only ten months of existence, MusicalCriticism.com has covered nearly a hundred concerts in London, Manchester, Dublin, Edinburgh and beyond, and if nothing else this collection of reviews is an ample reminder of the vast amount of high-quality music making available to us in the UK. Our experiences have varied between fine performances such as those by Andras Schiff in his Bartok and Schubert series, Jordi Savall at the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music and the Gabrieli Consort's thrilling rendition of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis at the Barbican, and the horrors of Lang Lang at the Festival Hall and Michael Ball at the Proms. Sometimes we've responded more positively to events than have some of the print media, for example the Proms performances of The Seasons and La damnation de Faust; on other occasions, I for one have been left wondering why famous artists have been greeted with such euphoria (Abbado and Jansons at the Proms and Gergiev's Rite of Spring with the LSO come to mind). But that's what we're all about: challenging established opinions and demanding critical rigour in a world where classical music is increasingly being taken over by celebrity, image and amateurism.
Below are twenty of our favourite concerts from this year, followed by highs, lows and individual outstanding performances.
Robert Holl/Andras Schiff: Schubert (QEH) 'Perfection is rare to come by in the concert hall, but Robert Holl and András Schiff achieved just that in their recital of Schubert songs. It is a great loss that this concert was not recorded...'
Murray Perahia (Barbican) 'Murray Perahia's solo piano recital was sold out well in advance and the queue for return tickets before the concert was very long. In the event, Peraiha did not disappoint the nearly 2000-seat capacity audience, as he delivered perfection...'
Anthony Michaels-Moore (St John's, Smith Square) 'Baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore presented an imaginative programme of songs and arias by Schubert, Ireland, Massenet, Vaughan Williams, Tosti and Verdi and performed them all with equal measures of emotional commitment and textual insight.'
Alban Berg Quartet (QEH) 'All four members of this quartet are particularly disciplined in terms of physical manifestation: instead of indulging in fashionable (and easily marketable) extravert body language, they focus on sounds....
Jordi Savall (St John's, Smith Square) 'Many famous performers are marketed as great artists, but in truth, the latter are in the minority. So it was both a privilege as well as the utmost joy to be present at Jordi Savall's viola da gamba concert. Savall has an extraordinary technical command of his instrument and he is a profound musician of great humility.'
Hallé/Elder: Elgar in his Kingdom Concert 1 (Manchester) 'After the interval came Elgar's Second Sympony - and with it, one of the most thrilling symphonic performances I have heard during the last year. Evidently well rehearsed, the Hallé's exemplary performance under Elder's alert but unostentatious direction was a model of professionalism and artistry.'
Schiff Bartok Festival (QEH) 'Bartók enthusiasts, especially lovers of high quality solo and chamber music performances, had a memorable time during the Bartók mini-festival (5, 7 and 10 June) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.'
Philharmonia/Von Dohnányi (RFH) 'In the rendering of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor we witnessed the meeting of great minds. Pianist Brendel and conductor Dohnányi were clearly in agreement about all aspects of the piece and they relished performing together. As even the first bar of the orchestral introduction showed, both Dohnányi and Brendel are historically informed musicians.'...
Prom 4: Academy of Santa Cecilia, Rome/Pappano (RAH) 'A thoroughly riveting performance of Rossini's Stabat Mater. Pappano has not given a better performance of any piece in London: he seemed totally relaxed, absorbed in the music and positive of the abilities of his performers to communicate his vision. This was not merely a technically secure Stabat Mater, but one which explored the text with thought and insight.'
Prom 14: The Seasons with Roger Norrington (RAH) 'It was Norrington's obvious enjoyment of the piece that brought this performance with the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston so vividly and excitingly to life. The sheer exuberance he inspired dispelled any idea that this is an inferior work (musically at least) to the better known Creation.'
Prom 48: Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel (RAH) There has been a lot of publicity surrounding Gustavo Dudamel of late. One can scarcely read an article about him that does not proclaim his precocious talent. But nothing could have prepared the Proms audience for the drama and vivacity of one of this year's most thrilling Proms, as Dudamel took to the stage with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela...'
Edinburgh Festival: Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Thomas Adčs (2) 'The Chamber Orchestra of Europe's latest concert was an action packed affair. Four main works constituted the main body of the programme but squeezed into this marathon performance was a short overture by Jean-Philippe Rameau entitled Les Indes galantes ('The Elegant Indies').'
Prom 70: Boston Symphony/Levine (1) (RAH) 'Berlioz's music was often misunderstood during his lifetime, and La damnation de Faust was amongst his most roundly rejected works. However, this excellent performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under James Levine revealed it to be a stylish and intensely personal masterpiece.'
Gabrieli Consort performs Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (Barbican) 'Some wit once described Verdi's Requiem as 'the best opera he never wrote' and hearing Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players perform Beethoven's great Missa Solemnis made me wonder whether this bon mot couldn't be applied to this work instead.'
ORR/John Eliot Gardiner: Brahms (RFH) 'For me this performance shook the cobwebs off Brahms' wonderful First Symphony and in context the big climaxes (especially the final reprise of the chorale theme with trumpets and horns blazing magnificently) were as affecting as I've ever heard.'
Itzhak Perlman (Barbican) 'Itzhak Perlman was greeted by unusually huge applause while - aided by two crutches - he slowly walked across the stage to start his Barbican recital. Judging by the warm reception, the violinist could have done no wrong for his devoted audience. In the event, Perlman and pianist Bruno Canino did not disappoint.'
Bavarian Radio SO/Jansons (RFH) 'London can count itself extremely lucky to have had three visits by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons in as many months. This appearance at the Royal Festival Hall was simply breathtaking.'
Rachlin, Rysanov and Maisky play Bach's Goldberg Variations (Dublin) 'It is either an exceptionally brave or intensely naďve move to attempt to arrange not only a work by Bach, but a work that looms large in the musical canon and popular consciousness of the last three centuries. Nonetheless, Dmitry Sitovetsky's is, with little exception, a worthy equal of the original keyboard version...'
Riccardo Muti's 35th Anniversary Concert with the Philharmonia (RFH) 'Muti was a wonderful accompanist to Radu Lupu in Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. He seems to have allowed Lupu full musical control which in turn created astonishing musical poetry within the humblest interpretation of the composer's instructions.'
LPO/Rozhdestvensky in Mahler 3 (RFH) 'If he hadn't spent most of the evening hardly moving at all, then I probably would have interpreted Rozhdestvensky's motionlessness at the end of his and the LPO's performance of Mahler's Third as a sign that he was simply too moved by his own downright genius. In one of the most moving concert performances I can remember.'
See also our Top Twenty Opera Productions and Opera Review of the Year here.