The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle: Symphonies 4 & 5

Wednesday 9 January 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orhestra

Andris Nelsons conductor
Carolyn Sampson soprano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 32′ Listen on Spotify
Beethoven: Ah, Perfido! Scene and Aria 15′
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 36′ Listen on Spotify

Everyone knows the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony; if that’s all you know, you’re in for a thrilling surprise, as Andris Nelsons’ Beethoven odyssey arrives at the most famous symphony of all time. Prepare to be electrified – and to be delighted by the Fifth’s prettier, funnier sister, the exuberant Fourth Symphony. Plus a chance to hear Britain’s brightest young soprano in Ah, Perfido!: a whole opera crammed into just 15 show-stopping minutes!

To see the full Birmingham Beethoven Cycle, go to

Sponsored by BarclaysThe Birmingham Beethoven Cycle is being supported by Barclays and through the generosity of Miss Brant, a lifelong supporter of the CBSO who died recently.


*****  “A fresh look at Beethoven’s Symphonies – Andris Nelsons and the CBSO” – Youtube video here   *****



Review by Ivan Hewett, Telegraph:

Click here for full review

…     “That quality was equally evident in the other, far less famous symphony by Beethoven on the programme, his Fourth. Often conductors amplify the mysteriousness of the slow introduction by giving it a veiled, brooding colour. Nelsons did it through clever pacing, so that each surprising turn in the harmony registered with the force of a small explosion.

The orchestra responded magnificently to Nelsons’ gestures. Chris Richards was especially eloquent, his solo clarinet lines floating regretfully over the orchestra’s tip-toeing pizzicati in the slow movement. The most affecting moment of the evening came between the symphonies, in Beethoven’s great evocation of female fury, Ah, Perfido! Soprano Carolyn Sampson may not have conjured as splendidly defiant a tone as some sopranos. But she made the change of heart to quiet, broken-hearted pleading seem absolutely real, which is what really counts.”


Review by Rohan Shotton, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The third movement opened at a steady tempo with gravelly basses, before the horns’ striking entry (Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s likening of this to the horns crying “Fools!” came to mind). The tense quiet in the lead-in to the finale was held until very late, which made the sudden eruption of the finale all the more triumphant. Nelsons conducted the brassy chords with punches aimed at the top of the hall’s organ, all the while maintaining unfailingly perfect coordination in attack. From there to the end the music surged unstoppably, pouring out joy to the end. The applause began before the last chord had even finished, and richly deserved it was too.

The two symphonies were separated by Beethoven’s scene and aria Ah! perfido, a work of his twenties which shows rather different, more Mozartian vocal writing to his later works. The strings found a lighter sound, well matched by soprano Carolyn Sampson, who sang with beautiful tone. Her heavy vibrato may not have been to all tastes, but she showed excellent control. One had to wonder, though, whether this was more than a palate-freshener, albeit a very pleasant one.

All in all, this was a superb instalment in what is turning out to be an excellent cycle. Nelsons spoke movingly before the concert about how inspiration can be taken from Beethoven’s journeys from dark to light, and tonight was utterly convincing in this respect.”


Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

…     “Expressive body-language is one of Sampson’s great strengths, allied to vocal delivery now dramatic, now melting, always with delicacy and well-placed golden tones. Nelsons and the CBSO’s collaboration was well-attuned.

Where the Fourth Symphony is modest and diffident, the Fifth is brash, in-your-face, and takes no prisoners. Its famous beginning here was as taut as a whiplash, muscular and business-meaning, and Nelsons’ interpretation reminded us that those four portentous notes never quite go away.”     …    *****


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