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:

Click here for full review

…     “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.”     …

*****

 

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