The best live classical concerts and operas this month in the UK

BBC Music Magazine picks out the month’s best concert and opera highlights in the UK

Published: December 1, 2021 at 8:00 am
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London Sinfonietta

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 1 December

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During its debut season just over half-a-century ago, the Sinfonietta gave the European premiere of Roberto Gerhard’s last two Zodiac pieces: Libra, a sextet fusing folk and serial elements, and the chamber symphony Leo, a nod to his wife’s birth sign. Both feature in an appropriately Catalan-themed programme marking the composer’s 125th anniversary.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Lighthouse, Poole, 1 December

Ryan Wigglesworth is both soloist and conductor, as Mozart’s sunny A major Piano Concerto K414 prefaces a work Dvořák characterised as about ‘Love, God and my fatherland’, his D minor Symphony No. 7. There’s more ‘fatherland’ at the outset: Janáček’s bucolic Lachian Dances.

Sinfonia Cymru

Riverfront, Newport, 1 December

The orchestra slims down to chamber forces and summons its winds for a lunchtime concert, crowning works by Rossini, Mendelssohn and Koechlin with a quartet by Rossini’s near-contemporary Vincenzo Gambaro.

Echo Vocal Ensemble

Priory, Lancaster, 2 December

The natural world and climate change are exercising Echo Vocal Ensemble in a line-up stretching from 12th-century Hildegard of Bingen to brand new pieces by Lillie Harris and Rory Wainwright Johnston. Along the way they encounter works by Clemens non Papa, Schütz, Palestrina, Britten and Judith Weir.

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow, 2 December

It’s quite Tchaikovsky’s month for the BBC SSO, what with the Piano Concerto No. 1 on 9 December and his Symphony No. 6 here. But associate conductor Alpesh Chauhan has less familiar fare up his sleeve to introduce Tchaikovsky’s Sixth: Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2, over 30 years in the making, and, performed by mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, the 23-year-old Korngold’s elegiac Abschiedslieder.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Percussion Ensemble

CBSO Centre, Birmingham, 3 December

Teamed with students from the Birmingham Conservatory, two members of the orchestra head up a conspectus of contemporary percussion music starting with Lounge Lizards, Michael Daugherty’s affectionate love letter to the American diner. Propping up the bar too are Missy Mazzoli, Steve Reich and, tapping into Shaman drumming, John Luther Adams.

Opera Rara

Cadogan Hall, London, 3 December

Based on a poem by Pushkin, Leoncavallo’s verismo slice of Gypsy life Zingari received its 1912 world premiere in London. Conducted by Carl Rizzi (at the head of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), the reconstructed full-length original version returns to the capital with Krassimira Stoyanova as the ill-fated Fleana.

Heath Quartet

Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, York, 3 December

It’s all change at the Heath Quartet, with ex-Navarra Quartet violinist Marije Johnston replacing founding leader Oliver Heath. Haydn is added to the mix for Wigmore Hall later in the month, but for York, Janáček's Intimate Letters Quartet is paired with Beethoven’s Op. 131 – a work that left Schubert despairing whether there was anything more to be said.

Ulster Orchestra

Ulster Hall, Belfast, 3 December

En route to Musorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, the orchestra’s chief conductor Daniele Rustioni is careful to balance a familiar warhorse with something less familiar. Thomas Adès’s …but all shall be well and Elizabeth Maconchy’s Nocturne frame Shostakovich’s birthday present to his son: Piano Concerto No. 2. Steven Osborne is the soloist.

Brodsky Quartet

Wiltshire Music Centre, Bradford-on-Avon, 4 December

The Doric Quartet might be the Centre’s quartet-in-residence, but that doesn’t preclude visits by guests such as the Brodskys – joined by cellist Laura van der Heijden for Schubert’s cello-rich Quintet in C, D956. Alongside Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 8 there’s also an arrangement of Bach’s C major Sonata for solo violin, BWV1005.

Ensemble 360

Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, 4 December

Hungary beckons as the shape-shifting ensemble rounds off its Autumn ‘in the round’ season. Athletic and acerbic, Bartók’s Violin Sonata No. 1 is paired with Ligeti’s Horn Trio, completed in 1982 as a companion piece (and ‘hommage’) to Brahms’s refulgent Op. 40 Trio.

Pianists Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen

John Innes Centre, Norwich, 4 December

The artistic directors of the London Piano Festival reunite for a recital of duets bookended by Mozart – the sonatas K358 and K479. Schubert’s troubled A minor Lebensstürme and A major Rondo sustain a Viennese dominance challenged by Debussy’s evergreen Petite Suite and Stravinsky’s Cinq pièces faciles.

Manchester Collective

Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 5 December

‘This is a noisy show’ promises the Collective’s latest tour featuring electronics, percussion, amplified strings and an Ibanez Tube Screamer (distortion pedal). New works by Ben Nobuto and Sebastian Gainsborough share the billing with music by Dobrinka Tabakova, Michael Gordon and Bryce Dessner.

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Royal Festival Hall, London, 8 December

Vladimir Jurowski’s first concert as the LPO’s conductor emeritus is a typically eclectic affair. Between Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with Leonidas Kavakos and Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 there’s the world premiere of composer-in-residence Brett Dean’s reworking of his 2018 Notturno inquieto.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 9 December

Fantasy, folklore and fairy-tales underpin Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro’s pairing of Ravel’s glittering Ma mère l’oye and Mahler’s songs culled from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Boy’s Magic Horn). Vocal honours are divided between soprano Ana Quintans and baritone Julien Van Mellaerts.

The Hallé

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 10 December

Following two performances in Manchester, Nicola Benedetti and the Hallé reprise the Violin Concerto Wynton Marsalis composed for her, embedding her Scottish roots, travels and love of diversity. Conducted by Cristian Macelaru it sits between Bernstein’s Candide Overture and Musorgsky’s Ravel-orchestrated Pictures at an Exhibition.

BBC Philharmonic

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 11 December

The postman is going to be rather busy, what with Betsy Jolas’s Letters from Bachville, Copland’s Letter from Home, Dutilleux’s Correspondances and that postcard home writ large: Dvořák's New World Symphony. Ensuring a first-class delivery are soprano Carolyn Sampson and conductor Ludovic Morlot.

L’Arpeggiata

Barbican, London, 14 December

Vibrant, fearless, dramatic, at times almost improvisatory, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 could almost have been written for Christina Pluhar’s perennially inquisitive ensemble. It’s performed one-to-a-part here.

Royal Opera

Covent Garden, London, 21 December – 23 January

Verdi’s 1842 Nabucco was the hit that encouraged him to believe that artistically he was finally on his way. Daniele Abbado’s 2013 production relocates the biblical action to the second half of the 20th century and is conducted by Daniel Oren with Enkhbat Amartuvshin in the title role.

Aurora Orchestra

Kings Place, London, 31 December

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It’s not just 2021 that’s coming to an end. The Auroras conclude their Mozart piano concerto cycle begun in 2016. The pianist for the B flat K595 is Javier Perianes; and conductor Nicholas Collon also takes the opportunity to sign off Kings Place’s year-long ‘London unwrapped’ series with Handel’s ever-genial Water Music.

Authors

Paul RileyJournalist and Critic, BBC Music Magazine

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