Calidore String Quartet at East Neuk Festival

12.28.16
Calidore String Quartet
The Arts Desk

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Revelations in the classical year never stop coming. Even the week before Christmas yielded two performances as good as you're going to get: the sheer effervescence and light-flourishing of Lucy Crowe in ecstatic Bach and Mozart with La Nuova Musica, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason in Haydn's C major Cello Concerto. So any sifting of 2016's musical riches needs to put the truly one-off packages at the top of the list.

 

In terms of unrepeatable magic and logistics that actually worked, watch the birdie for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's four Aldeburgh Festival concerts of Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux from 4.30am (audience members out on the Snape marshes pictured below) to midnight in locations including the Snape Maltings bar overlooking the marshes and an open-air platform on a hill - yes, they do have them in Suffolk - at Minsmere Bird Reserve. The most amazing connection came for me when, having heard what I thought were stridulations among the dawn chorus, they were confirmed in a talk before the final concert as the sounds of the grasshopper warbler. And yes, Messiaen does his own version of them. Helen Wallace also reeled at the circus setting for the Festival's roll-up opening, including a dizzying performance of Britten's Les Illuminations from Sarah Tynan.

 

At the Proms, the most curious programme on paper worked brilliantly in practice, Mark Wigglesworth conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and soprano of the year (again) Tamara Wilson excelling both as Wagner's Walküre Brünnhilde (strictly speaking, opera for tomorrow's choice) and in Tippett's A Child of Our Time (definitely oratorio, and decidedly for today).

 

Mirga Gražinyte-TylaAlexandra Coghlan's concert of the year is Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla's London debut as principal conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra; Richard Bratby was one of the few critics to catch Mirga's crucial test concert in Brum at the start of the year (the conductor pictured above by Vern Evans). Fast forwarding again to the Proms, Simon Rattle, whose CBSO Mahler had been such a beacon, showed how far you can still go with this composer given an orchestra of supreme refinement like the Berlin Philharmonic in a revelatory Seventh Symphony.

 

A final Proms choice: the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland had the edge on its Great British counterpart only by virtue of its conductor (Ilan Volkov) and the best concerto performance I heard this year, young pianist Pavel Kolesnikov's championship of Tchaikovsky's Second. The NYOGB's real triumph came earlier in the year, under the superficially insane but profoundly musical guidance of Kristjan Järvi (sorry, but we have to see this photo, below, of the youngest Järvi levitating by Jason Alden once again).

 

Kristjan Jarvi levitatingEvery recent year has been a beacon for youth, and this one has shown things are getting even better across the board, with one very special sea-change. Sheku Kanneh- Mason's Haydn may have been a triumph of artistry over the mere prettiness inherent in the C major Concerto, but the Shostakovich concertos are the ones I want to hear him play live; the BBC Young Musician final (Kanneh-Mason pictured below with Mark Wigglesworth by Mark Allen) was as electrifying a performance of the First, post-Rostropovich, as any I've heard. No harm in in repeating what I wrote about the Haydn - he's not just BBC Young Musician of 2016 but player of the year, period.

A previous winner, Martin James Bartlett is keeping a low profile as he continues his studies, but dazzled a packed church at the Southrepps Festival in deepest Norfolk leading a hyper-vivacious performance of Mendelssohn's First Piano Trio. For me, it was a year of revelations in Mendelssohn's chamber music; I only caught three of the six string quartets from the engaging Americans of the Calidore Quartet at the East Neuk Festival, but fell in love with each one.