The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle: Symphonies 8 and 9

Thursday 27 June 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Lucy Crowe  soprano

Mihoko Fujimura  mezzo-soprano

Ben Johnson  tenor

Iain Paterson  bass

CBSO Chorus

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 27′ Listen on Spotify
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 (Choral) 67′ Listen on Spotify

It’s been an incredible journey, and tonight Andris Nelsons, the CBSO and our world-class Chorus arrive at Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony: the summit of any Beethoven cycle – and some say, the whole of classical music. But there’s a world of experience to live through before we get to that final, transcendent Ode To Joy, and Beethoven’s explosive little Eighth Symphony launches a concert that’s sure to be one of the most talked-about events in Birmingham this year.

A fresh look at Beethoven’s Symphonies – Andris Nelsons & the CBSO Part of The Birmingham Beethoven Cycle, click here to see the full Cycle guide.

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.

Listen online  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010xvfz/episodes/player – available for a week

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “A fluid generosity of beat, unperturbing eye-contact between conductor and players, and sometimes no baton-wielding at all, generated a lithe, open-hearted account of Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, apparently the composer’s “little favourite”; though this could never be described as a runt, despite the huge presence of the Eroica symphony and the Ninth.

And the latter,  the first and greatest of all choral symphonies, was delivered with amazing momentum (perhaps we missed a little awe in the cosmic opening movement ) and a genuine awareness of its yearning lyricism.

This is a work fuelled by the horns, whether sturdily proto-Wagnerian, warmly supportive, or, in the adagio , reaching out into the ether, and the CBSO players proved proudly in their element.

As did timpanist Peter Hill, casting great boulder-clouts (Bruckner would remember them 50 years later) in the scherzo , delicately chording at the end of the adagio.”     …

*****

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Review by Rohan Shotton, BachTrack:

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…     “A long pause was taken before the slow movement. The opening chords were feather-light before opening out with gorgeous warmth. The woodwind achieved a similar warmth when they took the theme. Again, beating was a side-issue for Nelsons, whose concern for phrase shaping produced some wonderful moments. When the famous theme of the fourth movement appeared, he maintained a soft legato which gave a tremendous sense of innocence and optimism. Even with the multiple orchestral layers being added, the strong impression was of hope, rather than joy.

The great sense of joy finally burst out to shattering effect at the 6/8 time chorus after an intense fugue. The CBSO Chorus were magnificent, attending to clear diction whilst providing a vast wave of sound. There was a subtle push on “Brüder” to emphasise Schiller’s call for brotherhood. The coda was as thrilling an end to the cycle as could be hoped for, taken at a quick prestissimo and earning a huge ovation, especially for the chorus and their director, Simon Halsey. Even a sleeping guide dog was roused into tail-wagging enthusiasm during the last pages.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The choral finale was kept on a tighter rein, as if it had more than enough theatrical grandeur of its own. With a fine quartet of soloists – Lucy Crowe, Mihoko Fujimura and Ben Johnson, led off by bass-baritone Iain Paterson – and the CBSO Chorus as secure as ever, the sheer impact of Schiller’s Ode was never in doubt. The Eighth Symphony had been a different matter: the way it sprang bristling into life signalled immediately that this was not a work to be treated lightly, or one that would be out-muscled by its more monumental sibling in the second half. Nelsons and his superb orchestra made sure that every bit of its rhythmic and harmonic detail packed a punch.”

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

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…      “No 9 may be very familiar but it still never ceases to grab an audience by the throat when it is performed live. From the first notes it dives in and never lets go. Through an intense first movement, into a lively second, a more serene third and then into the choral fourth movement, it showcases Beethoven’s brilliance.

Conducted by music director Andris Nelsons, the orchestra was comfortable and confident with the symphony’s challenges, rising to the occasion with plenty of vigour.

The soloists, soprano Lucy Crowe, mezzo Mihoko Fujimara, tenor Ben Johnson and bass-baritone Iain Paterson, blended perfectly with each other and the CBSO Chorus who were busy singing their hearts out.

By its close we were in little doubt that the CBSO and Nelsons have truly grasped Beethoven in all his complexities, depth and wonder.”

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Review by Richard Morrison, The Times (£££):

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Wagner’s Ring: Siegfried

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

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Saturday 22nd June, 4:30pm

Symphony Hall

Opera North

Annalena Persson Brünnhilde

Mati Turi Siegfried

Richard Roberts Mime

Michael Druiett The Wanderer

Jo Pohlheim Alberich

Mats Almgren Fafner

Fflur Wyn Voice of the Forest Bird

Ceri Williams Erda

Richard Farnes conductor

Peter Mumford concert staging and lighting design

Wagner   Siegfried 255’

This concert has a running time of c.5 hours and 45 minutes including two intervals of 30 and 60 minutes.

Opera North’s production of Wagner’s Ring combines both visual impact and great singing and playing. In the words of The Times on Das Rheingold, ‘Farnes has done many fine things at Opera North, but his pacing of this 150-minute sweep of music, his care about balance… and the sumptuousness of the orchestral textures – all this constitutes a massive achievement.’ In the penultimate part of this great tragedy of love and power, the hero Siegfried awakens the warrior maiden Brünnhilde, lying in a deep sleep surrounded by a magic fire, and makes her his wife.

Beg, borrow or be like Wotan and steal a ticket… make sure you catch the rest of Opera North’s Ring as it unfolds over the next four years Richard Morrison, The Times

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine, explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:

Opera North have risen to the challenge of performing Wagner’s entire Ring Cycle over four years – if the first performance is anything to go by, this third instalment looks set to be as thrilling as ever.

Click here to watch a video by Opera North around the rehearsal and performance of the previous installment of The Ring, Die Walküre.

Read an introduction to the music of Siegfried by Andrew Fairley.

www.thsh.co.uk

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“Siegfried: the vocal and mental challenges of Wotan” A chat with Michael Druiett – Click here for Youtube video

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Review by Rupert Christiansen, Telegraph:

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…     “But it’s not an easy thing to pull off, and I am breathless with admiration for Opera North, punching above its weight in producing a concert performance which any musical organisation in the world would be proud of. The evening’s chief hero is the conductor Richard Farnes, who, like the opera’s protagonist, seems to know no fear. Motivating his excellent orchestra, he trusts the music’s flow, paces it unerringly and never forces or grandstands the climaxes. This isn’t an interpretation predicated on showcasing highlights: it simply tells the story.”     …

5 5 out of 5 stars*****

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “When Brünnhilde awoke, Annalena Persson showed how to make a goddess, realizing she has been reduced to mere mortality, believable and touching. The lovers’ increasingly ecstatic duet was a fitting climax to a thrilling performance in which there was not a single weak link. Richard Roberts’ Mime was accurately and pointedly sung, without the customary and unnecessary cackling; Michael Druiett’s Wanderer was noble, imposing and with a nice line in irony; Jo Pohlheim’s baleful Alberich sounded formidable; Ceri Williams and Mats Almgren were convincing as Erda and Fafner while Fflur Wyn’s Woodbird was sweetly sung.

Richard Farnes conducted a performance of immense power with the often dark score irradiated by shimmering subtle details. The players, from tuba to triangle, were magnificent, the strings ardent, brass louring and woodwind full of character – and hats off to the first horn!”   

Flowers and Fables

Thursday 20 June 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor

Lucy Crowe  soprano

Sibelius: Symphony No. 3  26′

Lutoslawski: Chantefleurs et Chantefables 16′

Sibelius: Luonnotar 9′

Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 3 28′

Sibelius took the classical symphony and charged it with the freshness and energy of nature itself. Lutoslawski, meanwhile, launched brilliant musical fireworks into the grey skies of postwar Poland. Edward Gardner loves them both, and he begins and ends this concert with two of the twentieth century’s most original – and inspiring – symphonies. In between, something magical happens, as soprano Lucy Crowe re-tells Sibelius’s primal northern myth – and proves that Lutoslawski’s enchanted nursery rhymes aren’t just for children.

Lutoslawski   Centenary 2013: Woven Words by Philharmonia Orchestra.

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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...     “Its successor was taken as a true slow movement, arguably ignoring Sibelius’s tempo marking but with the eloquent main theme possessing the right expressive lilt and the airborne transition into its final return magically rendered. Conversely, the finale unfolded at a relatively swift underlying pace such as brought a palpable emotional surge to its ambivalent initial half – then if what followed lacked the last degree of majesty, Gardner’s handling of its cumulative energy made for a gripping and decisive conclusion.

Some readers may remember the entrancing impression that Lutosławski’s final song-cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990) made on its first performance at the Proms two decades and more ago. Since then it has attracted a number of the most gifted sopranos – not least Lucy Crowe, whose delicate though never fey approach to Robert Desnos’s playful verse was engaging and affecting in equal measure. Gardner was always mindful to highlight instrumental detail in what is one of this composer’s most alluring scores – its sheer transparency of texture never belying the expressive acuity with which Lutosławski delineates the emotions of the animals, insects and flowers that populate these fanciful poems.”     …

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Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “The wit and whimsy of Lutoslawski’s engaging song cycle Chantefleurs et Chantefables could hardly be further from the muscular, aleatoric adventures of his Third Symphony. The French surrealist texts by Robert Desnos used by the composer colour a series of nine fleeting, vignette like songs imbued with abundant charm and a soundworld that places them closer to Britten or Ravel than the Lutoslawski of works such as Venetian Games and Mi-Parti.

Lucy Crowe’s rapid rise to stardom has seen her acquire an enviable reputation as one of the most sought after lyric sopranos around and her natural, engaging stage presence proved finely suited to the images of plants and animals depicted through the eyes of a child. For all their sense of wide eyed wonder, the songs make huge demands on the singer whilst weaving a kaleidoscopic web of accompaniment from the small instrumental forces utilised to breathtaking effect by the composer.

From the flower songs of La belle-de-nuit and La rose to the antics of the tortoise and the alligator, the delicacy and vocal athleticism of Lucy Crowe was remarkable in a performance that clearly found her many a new admirer amongst the Birmingham audience.

If it was a sense of delicate fragility and childlike innocence that Lucy Crowe brought to Lutoslawski’s box of natural delights in Chantefleurs et Chantefables, the contrast with the mysterious, darkly hued tones of Sibelius’s enigmatic Luonnotar could hardly have been more marked.

Crowe’s surety of pitch in her highest register allied with the sheer power of her delivery as Sibelius pushes the voice to its very limits in the storm fuelled central climax of his other worldly, Kalevala inspired tale of earthly creation proved magnificent enough, but it was the haunting, uneasy atmosphere of the close that left the audience in Symphony Hall spellbound. The extended silence in the hall as the final ethereal sounds settled spoke for itself.”     …

Holst’s The Planets

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

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Saturday 15th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Vladimir Ashkenazy  conductor

James Ehnes  violin

Ladies of the City of Birmingham Choir

Elgar   Violin Concerto 54’
Holst   The Planets 49’

Vladimir Ashkenazy conducts two of the greatest classics of English music. Holst’s The Planets is a marvellously evocative depiction of astrological influences, whilst Elgar’s Violin Concerto contains some of the composer’s most intimate and personal music, shot through with nostalgia for a passing Edwardian age.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s recommended concert:

Nearly 100 years since its composition, Holst’s The Planets remains the most recorded piece of British music. The menace of Mars is its most famous movement, but the joyous vigour of Jupiter made the cleaners put down their brooms and dance in the aisles during its first rehearsals!

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Diane Parkes, BehindtheArras:

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…    “There is something quite magical about watching Ashkenazy. Not only is he incredibly enthusiastic but he also has a fluidity of conducting.

He coaxes the music out of every performer and then seems to feel it in his own movement – it is as though his very muscles reverberate music.

The Philharmonia Orchestra certainly responded to his energy with a Planets Suite which was packed with nuance, action and life. When a piece as well-known as this can still find new colour, the conductor and orchestra must be doing something right.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Beneath the rhetoric, beneath the intricate solo writing, beneath the imposing proportions there beats a heart pierced with insecurity and regret, an inferiority complex which can only be hidden by swagger. And together James Ehnes and Vladimir Ashkenazy found it all.

Ehnes, a gentle giant, brought a rich, elegiac tone and unobtrusive virtuosity to his performance. Ashkenazy, diminutive and jerkily hyperactive (his conducting technique, quite the reverse of the austere Pierre Boulez, will never be a role-model), drew from what appears to be a rejuvenated Philharmonia both a remarkable depth of sonority and well-pointed athleticism. Rapport between soloist and orchestra in the finale’s extended, retrospective cadenza was extraordinarily gripping.”     …

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Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

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…     “The Planets was preceded by Canadian violinst James Ehnes performing Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61. This is the second time I have seen Ehnes perform at Birmingham Symphony Hall and, although impressed with his playing on the first occasion, he surpassed himself this evening. Ehnes is a passionate and earnest performer, not given to excessive flamboyance or extravagance and this clean style is perfectly suited to the repertoire. In this mentally and physically exerting piece, Ehnes appeared to give himself over entirely to the music and was able to fully exploit the emotional pull of the concerto, whilst successfully demonstrating his technical virtuosity with a stunning cadenza. A captivating performance by a musician of the highest calibre, Ehnes’ performance, like that of the Philharmonia Orchestra, cannot be praised enough.”     …

2001: A Space Odyssey

Screening with live music

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

Part of Universe of Sound… more events…

Part of Entertaining Erdington… more events…

Friday 14th June

Symphony Hall

Philharmonia Orchestra

Benjamin Wallfisch conductor

Ex Cathedra choir

2001: A Space Odyssey (film screening, Certificate U)

Live presentation in association with Warner Bros., Southbank Centre and the British Film Institute.

Concert lasts approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including a 20 minute interval.

2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, celebrated for its special effects and use of music. The film brought worldwide fame to Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, accompanying a primeval sunrise, and the unnerving music of Ligeti. It also created one of cinema’s most memorable images: a spaceship floating serenely through space to the strains of the Blue Danube waltz. This is a unique chance to experience it with the thrill of full orchestra, organ and chorus, all live for those unforgettable moments.

Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, says of tonight’s concert:

A project like this shows exactly why the Philharmonia Orchestra is one of our great musical institutions. It prides itself on pioneering new and diverse ways of sharing music. Don’t miss!

Ex Cathedra is a Town Hall Associate Artist.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Jon Perks, Birmingham Mail:

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…     “From the latter’s first bars, as apes discover how to use tools as weapons, the music and visuals work as one.

The crescendo as the lead ape, Moonwatcher, throws his newly acquired weapon into the air, is a real ‘neck Mohican’ moment. With the fabulous Ex Cathedra choir and Philharmonia Orchestra, the score took on another dimension as it was performed live, the film projected on a mammoth screen behind them.

Timpani boomed, strings murmured, brass fanfared each new age of man. While the likes of The Blue Danube paint a serene landscape, Ligeti’s spectral, eerie Requiem and Atmospheres are used to incredible effect for The Dawn of Man and Stargate sections, a haunting sea of voices singing noises, not recognisable words.

The overall effect was mesmerising…”     …

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Review by Ian Harvey, Express and Star:

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…     “Kubrick’s genius in his choice of music for his film was laid bare as the Philharmonia Orchestra, under the baton of Benjamin Wallfisch, filled Symphony Hall with awe and power. Also Sprach Zarathustra (the Apollo mission launch music to so many of us of a certain age) appears no less than three times in the film and loses none of its ability to thrill and inspire for that.

But what this particular performance highlighted more than anything was the astonishing impact the selection of pieces by the modern composer György Ligeti have as they are scattered throughout the film.

The sighting of the second monolith, on the moon, and the still visually thrilling, acid trip-like journey to Jupiter and beyond were accompanied by jagged, pulsing sounds that were unnerving and utterly unworldly.”     …

Bryn Terfel

Friday 7th June

Symphony Hall

Manchester Concert Orchestra

Bryn Terfel bass-baritone

Gwawr Edwards soprano

Caryl Hughes mezzo-soprano

Programme:

Mozart            Don Giovanni:  Overture

Madamina il catalogo è questo

Donizetti        Linda di Chamounix: O luce di quest’ anima

Mozart             Le nozze di Figaro: Overture

Bizet               Carmen: Toreador Song

Offenbach      Les Contes d’Hoffman: Allez! Pour te livrer combat…scintilla, diamant

Gounod          Faust: Faites lui mes aveux

Delibes           Lakmé: Sous le dome épais (Flower Duet)

Verdi               Falstaff: Ehi! Paggio! … L’onore!

Verdi               Nabucco: Overture

Verdi               Don Carlo: Ella giammai m’amo

Wagner           Tannhäuser: O du mein holder Abendstern

Rossini           La Cenerentola: Non piu mesta

Gounod          Roméo et Juliette: Je veux vivre

Mozart             Don Giovanni: Fin ch’han dal vino (Champagne aria)

Lerner and Loewe     Camelot: How to Handle a Woman

Loewe and Lerner     My Fair Lady: I Could Have Danced All Night

D’Hardelot     Because

Bock and Harnick     Fiddler on the Roof: If I Were a Rich Man

Richards        Cymru Fach (Dearest Wales)

Encores

Rossini           Duetto buffo di due gatti (Meow Song)

Hughes (Welsh lyrics)    Ar Hyd y Nos (All Through the Night)

A commanding presence in the international music world, the acclaimed and award winning operatic powerhouse
Bryn Terfel performs specially chosen arias by  Mozart, Rossini and Gounod. www.thsh.co.uk

 

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Review by Katherine Dixson, BachTrack:

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…     “More Verdi for “Ella giammai m’amo” from Don Carlo, in which Terfel’s heartfelt outpourings were matched by laments on the principal cello, rightly acknowledged during the applause.  Following several helpings of Italian and French, the evening’s one German offering was “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, Terfel masterfully inhabiting the role of Wolfram while atmospheric strings shimmered like a shroud over the land.

A foray into the world of musical theatre gave us a few songs in English, including a fabulous “If I were a rich man” from Fiddler on the Roof, although Terfel claimed to have only sung it in Welsh before!  Lilting Welsh folksong Cymru Fach rounded off the official programme, Terfel, Edwards and Hughes joining together in exquisite harmony, evoking hills, valleys, emotion and pride.  Dearest Wales indeed.”     …

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Review by David Harte, Birmingham Post:

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…     “And he’s a very fine singer, even when shouting top notes, as he did in Leporello’s Catalogue aria (Don Giovanni) and the Toreador’s Song from Carmen. The Diamond aria from Les Contes d’Hoffman and Falstaff’s tirade to Bardolph and Pistol, however, were more subtly moulded to Terfel’s ebullient delivery, and he threw off Don Giovanni’s tongue-twisting Champagne aria with terrific precision.

The evening’s high spots were undoubtedly ‘Ella giammai m’amo’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo (with a gorgeous cello solo) and ‘O du mein holder Abendstern’ (Tannhäuser), sung with poker face integrity and demonstrating just how sensitive Terfel can be when not striving for effect.”     …