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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: L’Heure Espagnol; Saffron Hall; Halle Orchestra

18 March, 2021 — By Michael White

L’Heure Espagnol

RAVEL ranks unequivocally among the giants of 20th century music, though in person he was small, self-conscious, dapper, with a fondness for exquisite objects and clockwork automata. Stravinsky witheringly called him a “Swiss watchmaker”, which wasn’t quite correct (Ravel was French). And it’s no accident that he wrote an opera set in a clock shop – where the wife of the proprietor entertains a busy turnover of lovers during the one hour a week that her husband is away.

Called L’Heure Espagnol, it’s a magical (and yes, exquisite) comedy. And Grange Park Opera has just filmed it – with the action relocated from suggestive, sunny Spain to cold South Kensington: in Covid-grounded times you make the most from what you can.

I haven’t seen it yet, but Grange Park’s record for this sort of project is commendable. The opera goes online from this Saturday, March 20. It’s free. And it joins a host of other wonders on the company website, including a show from last year about the life and labours of Rachmaninov that I can definitely commend because I devised it. All at grangeparkopera.co.uk

The advertised plans for a glitzy new London concert hall were unrealistic from the start, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been ditched. And should they ever resurrect, they’d certainly be pared down to something more modest – a precedent for which might be the no-frills but acoustically fine Saffron Hall that opened a few years ago in Saffron Walden, Essex, attached to a local school.

If you’ve never been there, now’s the time for a virtual visit because the hall has just launched a season of free online concerts. Already up, and accessible until next month, is violinist Nicola Benedetti. And from this Friday, March 19, you can watch the Aurora Orchestra play Vaughan Williams alongside a piece by Thea Musgrave called Light at the End of the Tunnel. Which sounds topical. Have your hopes raised at events.saffronhall.com/whats-on

• Another good, out-of-London venue is Bridgewater Hall, Manchester: home of the Halle Orchestra which has a new online season running under its chief conductor Mark Elder. Accessible from this week until June, the latest concert has Sibelius and Beethoven. And though it’s not free, tickets run from just £9 at halle.co.uk Easier and cheaper than the train from Euston.

Meanwhile, Wigmore Hall is positively churning out top-quality livestreamed concerts. And one that’s freely accessible from March 18 for 90 days has the young, dynamic 12 Ensemble in a programme based round the idea of healing.

At its heart is an arrangement of Beethoven’s string quartet Op.132 – written in what the composer called “holy thanksgiving” for recovery from illness (another piece for our times).

But there’s also an intriguing new composition by Oliver Leith called Honey Siren, which transforms the up-and-down wail of passing ambulances into something he describes as sensuous, luxuriant and “dripping in globules of sweetness”. Sounds like a Parental Guidance job but not to be missed if you’re over 18. wigmore-hall.org.uk

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