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:

Click here for full review

...     “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:

Click here for full review

…     “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.”     …

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