Mozart and Mahler

Thursday 28 February 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrés Orozco-Estrada  conductor
Klara Ek  soprano

Mozart: Symphony No. 38 (Prague) 26’
Mozart: Arias 15’
Le nozze di Figaro – Deh, vieni non tardar
La finta giardiniera – Geme la tortorella
Idomeneo – Padre, germani addio
Mahler: Symphony No. 4 55’

Sleigh-bells jingle, birds sing, and with a playful wink, Gustav Mahler launches his Fourth Symphony. Not what you expected? Well, Mahler loved to surprise, and his sunniest masterpiece takes us from the Alpine meadows to a magical vision of a child’s heaven. Mozart would have loved it – so his joyous Prague Symphony is the perfect appetiser. And the link? Hear for yourself, as guest conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada joins the brilliant Swedish soprano Klara Ek in a selection of Mozart’s glorious concert arias. Pure inspiration.

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “Klara Ek was the soprano soloist for three contrasting arias from Le nozze di Figaro, Idomeneo and La finta giardiniera. She proved to be a fine choice for these arias and her keen sense of drama, combined with impeccable intonation and creamy timbre, made me wish to hear her in a complete production of one of these operas. Orozco-Estrada and the orchestra made sensitive and attentive accompanists.

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is considered to be one of his most Classically-proportioned symphonies both in terms of structure and the size of the orchestral forces required. It nevertheless requires a fair battery of percussion and, here, we had a stage-filling string section. There is a suave elegance to the melodic lines, particularly in the opening movement, that is reminiscent of Mozart’s writing, too.”     …

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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...     “Mahler’s Fourth Symphony casts a spell  immediately – those tinkling sleigh bells are as inviting as a fairytale’s “Once  upon a time”.

It’s maintained to the final bars, barely whispered by the  basses as the symphony subsides into silence, like a lullaby.

Who can resist a movement whose tempo is specified as “very  cosy”? But its simplicity is superficial and deceptive, Mahler’s art that  conceals art.

The work is full of pitfalls for the unwary or  over-confident conductor – all of which Andrés Orozco-Estrada skilfully  side-stepped.”     …

*****

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Friday Night Classics: A Night at the Oscars

Friday 22 February 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Carl Davis  conductor
Heather Shipp  mezzo soprano

 

No great film is complete without a memorable soundtrack. So, in the midst of awards season, join us as we roll out the red carpet for an evening of music from Oscar-winning films, with conductor and all- American showman Carl Davis as your host. We’ll sweep you from the triumph over adversity of The King’s Speech and the dark tension of Black Swan to the laugh-along antics of Toy Storyand The Muppets. Just make sure you’ve got your champagne on ice and your acceptance speech at the ready!

Programme includes:
Newman: 20th Century Fox Fanfare
Newman: Toy Story – You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995)
Desplat: The King’s Speech (2010)
Gershwin: Porgy and Bess – Summertime (1959)
Sondheim: Dick Tracy – Sooner or Later (1990)
Shore: Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Hamlisch: The Way We Were (1973)
Kander / Ebb: Chicago – All That Jazz (2002)
Tchaikovsky: Black Swan (2010)
Horner: Titanic – Suite • My Heart Will Go On (1997)
Warren: Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
McKenzie: The Muppets – Man or Muppet (2011)
Bernstein: West Side Story – Somewhere (1961)
Davis: Ken Russell’s ‘The Rainbow’
Marianelli: Atonement (2007)
Williams: Close Encounters of the Third Kind – Suite (1977)
Rodgers: Oklahoma! – I Cain’t Say No (1955)
Rodgers: South Pacific – A Wonderful Guy (1959)
Rodgers: The Sound of Music – Climb Ev’ry Mountain (1965)

Encore: Paul Epworth and Adele – Skyfall

The Year 1913: Falstaff

Wednesday 20 February 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andrew Litton  conductor

Freddy Kempf  piano

Elgar: Falstaff 35′ Listen on Spotify

Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 2 31′

Respighi: The Pines of Rome 26′ Listen on Spotify

When England’s greatest composer met England’s greatest writer, the results were bound to be special. Elgar’s Falstaff might just be his masterpiece; it’s a big-hearted, deeply personal tribute to Shakespeare’s comic hero, written in 1913 and filled with glorious tunes – as well as ominous shadows. Popular guest conductor Andrew Litton has matched it with two spectacular musical panoramas: Respighi’s sumptuous postcard from Rome, and the cold steel of Prokofiev’s electrifying Second Piano Concerto, also exactly 100 years old. Played tonight by Freddy Kempf, one of today’s true stars of the keyboard, it’s guaranteed to thrill. www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, SeenAndHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “It certainly requires a pianist of exceptional virtuosity as well as a conductor who is a very adroit accompanist: happily this performance had both. In the first movement the performers brought out well the piquancy of the march-like material but the high point was Kempf’s rendition of the formidable extended cadenza. This is a remarkable passage, demanding consummate technique and reserves of physical strength.  Kempf has both. He was commanding in this solo and although much of the music is forward looking and dissonant it also shows, I think, an awareness of the heritage of Russian Romantic piano music. The brief, fast and furious Scherzo was dispatched through dazzling fingerwork on Kempf’s part and no little dexterity from the CBSO under Litton’s alert and lively direction. Calum MacDonald describes the third movement Intermezzo as “dissonant and angular”. It was powerfully projected in this performance though there are also passages that call for finesse both from the orchestra and the soloist and these came off equally well. There’s a good deal of percussive, powerful music in the finale and this was excitingly delivered. Another demanding cadenza gave Kempf a further opportunity to show his mettle before the pyrotechnical end of the work. I’d not experienced this piece in the concert hall before but tonight’s performers made a powerful case for it and Kempf’s virtuosity was rightly acclaimed by the Birmingham audience.     […]

[…] Once again the CBSO was on cracking form in this concert and it was evident from their response to him that they like working with Andrew Litton. I thought this programme was a mouth-watering, fascinating feast of extravagantly scored orchestral music when I first saw it advertised and it lived up to my expectations. There were a surprising number of empty seats in Symphony Hall; those who stayed away were the losers.”

 

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…    “Andrew Litton proved yet again that it’s not only British  conductors who hold the secret to Elgar. His reading of Falstaff, a masterpiece valedictory in  tone, was sensitive to mood, allowing so much character to come from the players  themselves (Laurence Jackson’s dreamy violin, Eduardo Vassallo’s avuncular  cello, Gretha Tuls’ sorrowing bassoon, Cliff Pick’s so-sensitive timpanism – and  such beefy, generous sounds from all the rest) as he unfolded this sad old man’s  story with such clarity of texture and richness of colour. There were surtitles  recounting the episodes; they were almost redundant, given the communicative  grip of Litton’s reading.

Also written at the death-throes of self-bloating  romanticisim, but expressing itself in a totally different, twilight-denying way  is Respighi’s symphonic poem The Pines of  Rome, the CBSO winds fizzing in its boisterous opening  before more portentous matters take over, with a march-past of Roman legionary  forces.”     …

*****

 

Ex Cathedra: The Face of Humanity

Sunday 17 February 2013 at 4.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

 

Jeffrey Skidmore conductor
David Briggs organ
Grace Davidson soprano
Greg Skidmore baritone
Ex Cathedra
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Poulenc: Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani 19′
Poulenc: Figure Humaine 21′
Fauré: Requiem 38′ Listen on Spotify

“I wanted to write something different,” said Gabriel Fauré, and his Requiem is exactly that. There’s no terror or rage here: just music of deep peace, tender humanity, and – in the lovely Pie Jesu – transcendent beauty. Birmingham’s world-famous chamber choir joins the CBSO for this very special performance, and marks the 50th anniversary of Poulenc’s death with two very different masterpieces: the powerful Figure Humaine, written in occupied France, and the roof-raising drama of Poulenc’s flamboyant Organ Concerto. www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The two soloists sang with the choir – a pleasingly collegiate touch – and stepped forward to the front of the choir but behind the orchestra for their solos. Though they were thus positioned further back than one might have expected neither seemed to have the slightest difficulty in projecting their solos. Greg Skidmore has a good, firm baritone which he used to excellent effect in both his solos. Grace Davidson gave a beguiling account of the famous ‘Pie Jesu’. Her tone was warm and pure and her gently beseeching delivery was just right. The choir sang with great finesse and control. Line was always paramount, it seemed, and the diction was excellent throughout. The orchestral playing demonstrated consistent refinement and from my seat in the stalls it appeared that the balance between orchestra and singers was expertly judged. Jeffrey Skidmore’s tempi were always well judged and I appreciated above all the sense of flow that he imparted to the music. The sopranos of Ex Cathedra brought the performance to a perfect conclusion, singing their serene line in the ‘In Paradisum’ with radiant purity. This set the seal on a very fine and thoughtful performance.”

 

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Review by Maggie Cotton, Birmingham Post:

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…     “All 16 acoustic doors were wide open for Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani, the organ console being within the orchestra rather than using the main organ loft far above the musicians. Even so, there was a shock as David Briggs’ first unleashed blast filled the massive space.

Conductor Jeffrey Skidmore sensitively controlled balance between soloist and orchestra. ‘On the fringe of religious music’ packed with differing textures: unstoppable energy, quasi jollity, shimmering showers of notes but including heart-stopping Poulenc poignancy.”     …

The Year 1913: Ballets Russes

Saturday 16 February 2013 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Simone Young conductor
James Ehnes violin

Mussorgsky: Khovanshchina – Prelude 6′
Sibelius: Violin Concerto 33′ Listen on Spotify
Debussy: Jeux 19′ Listen on Spotify
Stravinsky: The Firebird – Suite (1911) 26′

 James Ehnes’ encore – Bach – Sonata 3 – Largo

Paris, 1913: and a radical team of composers, artists and dancers ignites a revolution. Welcome to the fabulous world of the Ballets Russes, where Stravinsky paints Russian fairytales in rainbow colours, and Debussy sets a game of tennis to the music of seduction. The inspirational Australian conductor Simone Young makes her Birmingham debut in this gorgeous programme, which begins with Mussorgsky’s serene Moscow dawn and features Birmingham favourite James Ehnes in the fire and ice of Sibelius’s popular Violin Concerto.  www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by John Quinn, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “The Mussorgsky, with its rarified, delicate ambience, proved a shrewd choice as a prelude to the Sibelius Violin Concerto. The Canadian virtuoso, James Ehnes impressed from the start. He has a very natural platform presence, completely devoid of showiness, and his seemingly effortless technique put him in full command of this demanding concerto. So, for example, he was able to bring both dazzle and poetry to the first movement cadenza. His singing tone, especially rich on the G string, was a delight in the wonderful slow movement. Ehnes plays on a 1715 Stradivarius, the so-called ‘Marsick’ violin, and it’s clearly a glorious instrument, especially in his hands. He projected his sound wonderfully, even in the quietest of passages. This account of the slow movement was enthralling from start to finish. Soloist and conductor were at one throughout the concerto but nowhere more so than in the finale, which was given an urgent and exciting reading. As in the first movement, Simone Young made one realise how close to the sound world of the composer’s first two symphonies many of the tutti passages are. Ehnes was superb once again and the contribution of the CBSO was memorable. As an encore Mr Ehnes gave us the Largo from Bach’s Third Violin Sonata. Here sovereign purity of tone was allied to simplicity of style in a marvellous performance that was an ideal foil to the preceding concerto.”     …

 

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “With the Sibelius Violin Concerto she was no less considerate, providing a coolly refined opening to the Adagio that contrasted perfectly with the richly enunciated discourse of soloist James Ehnes. For his part Ehnes brought to this much-loved work a finely contoured combination of sweetness and steel, presenting the opening theme as a fully formed entity rather than exploratory quest, and adopting a measured approach to the finale that avoided histrionics and focused on musical integrity – a commendably thoughtful approach.”       *****

Handel’s Radamisto

Handel’s Radamisto

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2012/13… more events…

Friday 8th February 2013, 7pm

Town Hall

The English Concert
Harry Bicket conductor
David Daniels Radamisto
Patricia Bardon Zenobia
Luca Pisaroni Tiridate
Elizabeth Watts Tigrane
Brenda Rae Polissena
Robert Rice Farasmane

Handel: Radamisto 196’

The inter-familial complexities of Radamisto’s colourful plot might have you scratching your head, but Handel’s music will never fail to delight in this star-studded performance of the opera by The English Concert. Handel’s expressive and moving arias follow one another in rich profusion and include the famous Ombra cara, considered by some to be the finest of all Handel’s arias and here sung by David Daniels, in the words of The New York Times ‘the most acclaimed countertenor of the day, perhaps the best ever… simply a great singer’.

5.45pm – Free pre-concert performance by students from the Centre for Early Music Performance and Research (CEMPR) at University of Birmingham following a week of masterclasses with Harry Bicket and The English Concert.

Concert performance sung in Italian with English surtitles. http://www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Geoff Read, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “Act I was good, Act II was better, Act III was best. Tigrane had had enough of the machinations of Tiridate and decided to take arms against him with some more sparkling fioratura and belligerence from Watts in S’adopri il braccio armato. Radamisto again swore his ‘heart’s sweet love’ for Zenobia in Dolce bene di quest’alma, in one of Handel’s favourite 12/8 rhythms, although I thought the balance slightly suspect. Tiridate had a final play for Zenobia but the disguised Radamisto intervened, only to blow his cover – death awaited him. His fiery outburst called Tiridate a coward in life and in death. Polissena agreed and in Barbaro partirò turned against her tyrannical spouse; with much colour and a forceful crescendo, Rae rendered a realistic mixture of disgust and angst. She stormed off, head held high! The two introductory horns of Ursula Paludan Monberg and Martin Lawrence heralded the next number and gave it an immediate bounce. Alzo al volo reminded me of the metaphor aria of the huntsman tracking the scent in Giulio Cesare. Tiridate was still chasing Zenobia but his chances of a kill were zero; Pisaroni earned the cheers he got from the audience for his animated line.”     …

 

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The answer is simple – a couple of hours of splendid music, which I can’t imagine being played and sung better than here. The title role was written for a castrato and Radamisto is almost the personal property of American counter-tenor David Daniels. To hear this burly bearded man emitting a dramatic soprano’s voice was bizarre at first – like an act of operatic ventriloquism – but his artistry is unquestionable as his showpiece aria Perfido immediately revealed. Patricia Bardon (as his wife Zenobia) is almost as remarkable, a real coloratura contralto with fluency and a powerful chest register – a joy to hear.”     …
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A Boy Was Born : Osborne Plays Britten’s Piano Concerto

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Wednesday 6 February 2013 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov conductor
Steven Osborne piano

Sibelius: The Bard 6′ Listen on Spotify
Britten: Piano Concerto 34′
Oswald: B9 part 1 (World premiere of the orchestral version) 15′
Sibelius: Symphony No. 6 27′

Steven Osborne’s encore – Ravel – extract Mother Goose suite

“Other composers mix cocktails,” said Jean Sibelius, “but I serve pure, cool water.” And he never served anything purer or more beautiful than his radiant Sixth Symphony, or more mysterious than The Bard. A question, and a deeply moving answer: guest conductor Ilan Volkov gives us both, and joins pianist Steven Osborne in Britten’s sparky pre-war Piano Concerto. And John Oswald remixes Beethoven’s first five symphonies in fifteen minutes, flat. New music simply isn’t meant to be this much fun!

Explore Birmingham’s celebrations of Britten’s centenary here.

pre-concert talk at 6.15pm
Conservatoire Showcase!
Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem
Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Seal, performs Britten’s powerful orchestral showpiece.

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The concert ended with another of Sibelius’s most beautiful and enigmatic works, the Sixth Symphony, in which Volkov seized on the few moments when its poise and tranquillity are ruffled to extract what drama he could. Yet the perfectly seamless unfolding was never threatened, and the CBSO played with a fabulous attention to every detail and harmonic nuance. They were equally impressive in Britten’s concerto, sometimes the adversary to soloist Steven Osborne, sometimes his partner in crime. Osborne has absolutely nailed the work’s mixture of heartless exhibitionism and brittle ebullience, and he played it with glittering panache and awesome brilliance.”

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “The concerto demonstrates the clear influences of Ravel on the British composer in its gleaming orchestration. Elsewhere, we feel the influence of Prokofiev in elements such as the sardonic waltz second movement and its somewhat cheeky ending. Osborne’s virtuosity was matched by a more serious and reflective mood in the slow third movement, which segued into the grimly comical march of the finale. In the closing pages Osborne’s hands became a blur in a jaw-dropping display of rapid-fire double octaves. Osborne gave a nod of acknowledgement to Ravel in his sweet encore from the Mother Goose suite.

The concert closed with an astonishing performance of Sibelius’ Symphony no. 6, lesser known by audiences than some of his more popular symphonies. This orchestra has an impeccable Sibelius pedigree, having undertaken complete cycles of the symphonies with both Sir Simon Rattle and Sakari Oramo.”     …

 

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “And for those who attended the pre-concert performance by the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra the best came first.

Under the empowering direction of Michael Seal, this remarkably accomplished orchestra gave an account of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem that went far beyond being just a free taster. From the broodingly anguished first movement (so like Shostakovich) and blisteringly exciting, demonic Dies irae scherzo, to a finale in which all tensions were released in its consolatory fulfilment, this was a fully formed and terrifically well executed reading.

So was Britten’s Piano Concerto, which provided the centrepiece of the main CBSO concert with conductor Ilan Volkov. This is Britten at his most high-spirited and extrovert (echoes of Prokofiev and Malcolm Arnold abound), who takes no prisoners and forces the soloist – here the wonderfully muscular, no holds-barred Steven Osborne – to jump over many finger shredding hurdles.”

 

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Review by Hilary Finch, Times:  ££

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