Totally Tchaikovsky

Wednesday 25 September 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Andris Nelsons  conductor

Daniel Müller-Schott  cello

Tchaikovsky: Marche Slave 10′

Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations 19′

Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony 56′

Daniel Müller-Schott’s encore – Britten: Declamato

Tormented   by forbidden desires, Byron’s Manfred takes to the mountains to battle his demons.   Tchaikovsky knew exactly how he felt, and poured everything into 50 minutes   of the rawest, most personal and most passionate music he ever wrote. The results   are tremendous: is this the greatest symphony you’ve never heard? It’s certainly   a powerful contrast to the stirring Marche Slave and the jewel-like Rococo   Variations; Andris Nelsons loves them all equally.   www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “This Manfred, undoubtedly one of Tchaikovsky’s greatest works, but so little-known (I blame ancient critics and Russian conductors impatiently anxious to make cuts – here it was complete), is an hour of heart-wrenching emotional engagement based on Byron’s poem of self-inflicted remorse after forbidden love, with ultimate redemption, and who better than Nelsons and his amazingly responsive orchestra to do it full justice.

Rhythms were taut (brilliantly percussion-driven), a singing lyricism from strings and woodwind delivered this cornucopia of Tchaikovsky’s most gorgeous melodies, and orchestration, from silvery harps, through rasping brass to nobly assertive organ cast more magic than can be described.”     …

*****

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “This performance from the CBSO and Nelsons was one of finest things I have witnessed from their partnership to date. The playing was of the very highest order, from the opening, emphatic, bass woodwind statement of the recurring main theme to the unexpectedly muted chords that end the piece. Romantic, particularly programmatic, music seems to suit Nelsons well. His ability to lovingly mould and shape phrases and to power dramatic moments in the music to expressive extremes is just what this oft-overlooked symphony needs. The despairing climax towards the close of the first movement emerged shockingly out of silence and I have never heard such fury summoned at its finish before.

As with Harold in Italy, the Manfred Symphony features two relatively lightweight inner movements. The second movement is a scherzo vividly depicting Alpine fairies with tricky arabesques passed around the orchestra, which were deftly handled by the CBSO musicians. This movement is technically very difficult to bring off for a number of reasons but you wouldn’t have guessed it from this performance. The sumptuous central tune was a delight in the hands of the principal clarinet and then the violins. Leader, Lawrence Jackson’s highwire, filigree solo finished the movement in style.”     …

*****

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Review by John Quinn, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “The scenario, after Byron’s dramatic poem, was suggested to Tchaikovsky by Balakirev. Apparently he was unenthusiastic about the idea at first but a reading of the poem fired his imagination. The first movement depicts the desolate Manfred wandering in the Alps. Nelsons set his stall out from the outset: this was to be a vivid, dramatic reading – and quite right too. So the introduction, in which we first hear Manfred’s theme, was lugubrious and dark, the orchestral tone deliberately heavy. The ensuing moderato music was exciting. However, there’s far more to Manfred than doom and gloom: Tchaikovsky penned some wonderful lyrical music to represent Astarte, Manfred’s dead sister, and the first appearance of the music associated with her memory was exquisitely delivered by the CBSO’s muted strings. In fact this performance of the first movement was an ideal mix of passion and finesse. Nelsons made a deliberately long –and very effective – pause before launching into the searingly dramatic coda in which Manfred’s theme is poured out by massed strings over syncopated horn figures. The power that Nelsons brought to this passage was staggering and epitomised the dramatic thrust of his reading.

The second movement includes a good deal of delicate, highly original scoring, all of which was well pointed by the CBSO. Later, effectively acting as the trio section, comes a lovely theme, first heard on the first violins accompanied by the harps. This is a melody that would grace any of Tchaikovsky’s great ballets and it was winningly played – and lovingly phrased by Nelsons. There’s a subsequent appearance of the Manfred theme which gives the violas a moment in the sun – the CBSO violas took full advantage. At the end leader Laurence Jackson and his fellow first violins allowed the music seemingly to vanish into thin air.  Much of the third movement features beguiling pastoral music for which the tone was set right at the start by Gareth Hulse’s delightful oboe solo. In these pastoral stretches we heard fresh, cultivated paying. There are forceful, passionate outbursts too and hereabouts Nelsons was in full cry, urging his players on and getting an ardent response.”     …

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