Russian Masters

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Thursday 31 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Vassily  Sinaisky   conductor

Ekaterina Scherbachenko  soprano

Vsevolod Grivnov  tenor

Elchin Azizov  baritone

CBSO Chorus  

Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture 16′

Shostakovich: Symphony No. 1 31′ 

Rachmaninov: The Bells (sung in Russian, with English surtitles) 37′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

“Hear   the bells ring out, with their singing and ringing… they tell of oblivion.”    For Sergei Rachmaninov, the sound of bells embodied the soul of Old Russia.   Judging from the spectacular finish of his 1812 Overture, Tchaikovsky   agreed – though you haven’t really heard 1812 until you’ve heard it performed   with full chorus! Then Shostakovich’s fiery First Symphony provides the upbeat   to The Bells: music of heartfelt joys and deep, dark sorrows which uses   the bells of childhood, marriage, war and death to chart our journey through   life. Tonight’s soloists from the Bolshoi Theatre have it in their blood.   www.cbso.co.uk

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Russian Classics, Thursday 9th January 2014

Tuned In: Shostakovich’s Fifth, Saturday 8th March 2014

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Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

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…     “Opening with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, in the version for chorus and orchestra, was a bold move. With any performance of such a well-known piece, the pressure is on from the outset to deliver an exceptional performance. The CBSO did not disappoint. The CBSO chorus were utterly fantastic, displaying their dexterity with an extreme contrast between their solemn, a cappella entry and the brash, triumphant re-entry at the climax of the piece. The percussion were perfectly overdramatic and similarly the soloists – particularly cellist and flautist – were nothing short of exceptional. My one criticism is that although this was a brilliant opening, it felt more like an ending. How to follow a performance such as this?

And yet with Shostakovich’s Symphony no. 1 in F minor, the orchestra managed it. As with the Tchaikovsky, the opening was stunning. Shostakovich treats the orchestra like a series of soloists, and this aspect was executed faultlessly, with each performer complementing and not overshadowing their colleagues. As a whole, the orchestra effectively captured the shifting mood of the piece aptly and the waltz section was particularly lovely. Without wishing to make this review sound like a laundry list by naming each of them individually, I think it is only fair to recognise that each soloist performed remarkably well.”     …

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “The scherzo is a choral tour-de-force and the CBSO Chorus rose to the challenge magnificently, vividly depicting the bells’ “brazen inferno” and “tormented sounds”. In the funereal finale – the inexorable pace recalling Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead – the baritone Elchin Azizov was superb, railing and raging against the dying of the light. The performance was expertly marshalled by conductor Vassily Sinaisky and chorus masters Simon Halsey and David Lawrence.

The CBSO Chorus’s presence in Tchaikovsky’s Overture 1812 – where their patriotic hymn replaced the opening string melody and returned for the peroration – restored gravitas and dignity to a work often mistreated as an excuse of pyrotechnics. Shostakovich’s first symphony, a precociously dazzling teenage romp, was crisply projected with playing full of character, not least from the CBSO’s leader Zoë Byers.”     …

*****

Mendelssohn in Birmingham: The Italian Symphony

19 October 2013 at 3.00pm

Town Hall, Birmingham 0121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor

Baiba Skride  violin

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 (Italian) 26′

Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto 27′

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 (Reformation) 30′

Unfortunately, Veronika Eberle has had to withdraw from this concert due to ill health. We are very grateful to Baiba Skride who has agreed to take her place at short notice.

Prodigy,  dreamer and master of melody – it’s no wonder that Felix Mendelssohn was Victorian  Britain’s favourite composer. And when the Italian Symphony bursts into  sparkling life, you’ll understand the reason, as Edward Gardner launches our Mendelssohn  Symphony Cycle in exuberant style. Baiba Skride is the soloist in Mendelssohn’s  Violin Concerto, performed today on the very spot where Mendelssohn conducted  some of his greatest works: Town Hall, Birmingham.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Nelsons conducts Brahms’s Fourth, Wednesday 6th November

Mozart and Elgar, Thursday 20th February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday 6th March

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“Mendelssohn to Thrill Birmingham, like he used to” –

Click here for article by Christopher Morley (in conversation with Edward Gardner), Birmingham Post

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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…     “The tarantella-inspired finale was taken attacca and was daringly swift. This movement is a reminder of Mendelssohn’s talent for motoric writing (marked by a repetitive beat that sounds mechanical), here proving no problem for the players in their dispatch of the dazzling, whirling triplets. I was struck, as on previous occasions, by the way in which Gardner generates excitement in symphonies: choosing an over-arching tempo that is just right for a movement with subtle, if any, deviations, ensuring that the architecture of the music is very much in evidence through careful balancing and then really injecting energy and drive into climactic moments.

Baiba Skride was the last minute replacement for indisposed violinist, Veronika Eberle. There was no sign of hasty preparation in this very fine performance. Skride’s sweet and cultured tone was ideally suited to the concerto’s blend of pathos and consolation. Her transitions into the sublime second subject and out of the cadenza were magical; the undulating spread chords of the latter blending perfectly into the orchestral reprise.

Once again, an ideally flowing tempo was found in the Andante second movement. Mendelssohn’s skilful orchestration here finds the soloist often minimally accompanied by lower string pizzicato chords, timpani strokes and solo woodwind lines interrupted by full orchestral surges, here given with no shortage of passion. After a sighing intermezzo, the playful finale was heralded by trumpet fanfares (players sporting suitably Germanic instruments). In contrast with the previous movements, this is music to make you smile. There were plenty of smiles from Skride, who wore her virtuosity lightly, and her accompanists. The lovely counter-melody as played by the cellos and horn in unison was just one example of Mendelssohn’s delights given a sublime performance.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Numbering of Mendelssohn’s symphonies by no means reflects their order of composition, making the ‘Italian’ (1832) the Third rather than the Fourth. Surprising that this piece went unpublished in his lifetime – perhaps reflecting doubts over what can seem more an illustrative symphonic suite. In Gardner’s hands, the opening Allegro was finely propelled yet with the right emphasis on its suave second theme and some incisive string playing in the contrapuntal build-up at the start of the development: a pity he omitted the exposition repeat – as, with its lengthy transition back to the main theme, this is one of the few symphonic repeats that ought to be mandatory. The Andante brought its twin aspects of marching Pilgrims and capering counterpoint into purposeful accord, then its successor had a poise and elegance as befits this most deft of intermezzos (with evocative horn playing in the trio). Gardner rightly underlined rhythmic contrast between the finale’s saltarello and tarantella themes, while the surge to the A minor close could hardly have been more unequivocal.

Unlike most of his symphonies, Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto (1844) has never fallen out of favour. A work that takes its composer’s formal and expressive concerns to a virtual peak of perfection can too easily be taken for granted, making this account from Baiba Skride (replacing an indisposed Veronika Eberle) the more compelling. Her rapport with Gardner was evident from the outset, though it was in her fluid rendering of the first movement’s developmental cadenza that this performance really hit its stride: one maintained during a plaintively expressive Andante, which unfolded with an almost barcarolle-like gait in its outer sections and with no lack of pathos in its central section, then throughout a finale whose spirited progress evinced no trace of the blandness that so often mars this understatedly innovative music. Only a touch of edginess in the more bracing passagework prevented this reading from being among the finest, while Gardner’s adept accompaniment enabled one to savour the incidental detail and counter-melodies as brought out in the orchestral writing.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The opening programme paired the Fourth and Fifth symphonies. Gardner’s civilised account of the Fourth, the Italian, was a fine example of modern-orchestra Mendelssohn playing: deft and light-textured, with crisp articulation from the strings and woodwind that was well defined but never over-highlighted. But the Fifth, the Reformation, seemed much more interesting. It’s an earlier work, despite the numbering, composed in 1830 to mark the tercentenary of the founding of the Lutheran church, with beefed up scoring, a first movement punctuated by appearances of the Dresden Amen as otherworldly as any in Wagner’s Parsifal, and a finale based on a Bach chorale, the strangness of which Gardner made no attempt to disguise.”     …

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, SeenandHeard. MusicWeb:

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…     “Each of Gardner’s pacings served this cause well. The Italian’s opening had not just vernal bounce but rare restraint, authority. The Town Hall’s acoustic seems a little clipped; perhaps that too doesn’t help the upper strings. The Andante con moto with its lovely legato over light-stepped double basses (like bowed pizzicato) enchanted; it is a march that has Harold in Italy written all over it,  except that the Berlioz’s actually followed some two years later (in 1834).

The Reformation’s weighty opening movement reminds us of Mendelssohn’s mentors – just as Beethoven in the Italian, here Weber (Euryanthe, especially Lysiart’s double aria) and a symbiosis with his friend Schumann. Gardner has a wonderful way of effecting quite tricky link passages with minimal fuss. At four points in both Fourth and Fifth symphonies, they just happened. He anticipates – rehearsal has proved its worth – and they just do it. All bodes well for the recording.

The brass delivered with restraint, but not without the Reformation suggesting Lohengrin on the way (not just in their affecting Dresden Amen). The extended flute solo, some wonderfully articulated clarinet work, and the unexpected weight of Margaret Cookhorn’s admirable contra bassoon produced an exciting kaleidoscope of colour.

Add in the beauty and elegance of Skride and Gardner exploring the Violin Concerto, in which the slow passages of the first movement outshone even the eloquence of the Andante – sensationally linked by Greta Tuls’ serene, rather than forlorn, bassoon, and you can sense an evening of majesty, suspense and yes, even holiness. I felt lucky to be there.”

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“Last-minute replacements always add drama to events, and Saturday afternoon was no exception, when violinist Baiba Skride was jetted in from Latvia at the eleventh hour to join the CBSO in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Skride is a huge favourite with both the orchestra and its audience, and the ovation she received at the end of a lovely, singing and elfin performance was huge and well-deserved.

Every phrase Skride delivered was pulsating, repetitions subtly differentiated, high notes smiling into the stratosphere, and, despite minimal rehearsal, conductor Edward Gardner and the CBSO breathed as one with her.

Mendelssohn himself, an almost-palpable presence in this Town Hall over whose earliest years he was so much an influence, would have loved this, the centrepiece of a concert opening a series of all five of his symphonies under Gardner’s baton, four of them in this sacred venue.”     …

*****

Carmen and Boléro

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Wednesday 16 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

 Alain Altinoglu  conductor

Nora Gubisch  soprano

Bizet: Carmen – Suite No. 2 20′

Ravel: Shéhérazade 17′ Listen on Spotify
Bizet: Symphony in C 31′

Ravel: Boléro 14′ Watch on YouTube

The  nights are lengthening in Birmingham – but with some composers, it’s always summer!  Bizet’s Carmen suite isn’t just a parade of some of the best tunes in all  opera; it’s practically Spain in a bottle – and his Symphony in C is pure sunshine.  Conductor Alain Altinoglu dishes it up with a truly Gallic joie de vivre, and  joins his wife Nora Gubisch for Ravel’s wickedly seductive songs. Talking of seduction…  well, Ravel’s Boléro says it better than any words!

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Wednesday  15 January

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday  6 March

Pictures at an Exhibition, Thursday  29 May

www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Verity Quaite, BachTrack:

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…     “Ravel’s Shéhérazade filled the remainder of the first half, bringing an effective contrast to the earlier piece. Inspired by Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic suite of the same name, Ravel’s Shéhérazade comprises settings of three poems by Tristan Klingsor. Capturing a mystic, orientalist sense of the East, Ravel’s orchestration subtly underpins the vocal line, always supporting and never overshadowing. The CBSO carried off their role of accompanists perfectly, never overpowering mezzo-soprano Nora Gubisch and instead really allowing her to shine.  A supremely confident and expressive performer, the chemistry between Gubisch and the orchestra seemed just right, perhaps in part due to the chemistry and understanding between Gubisch and her husband, conductor Altinoglu.

Bizet’s Symphony in C followed the interval, bringing the programme a delightful symmetry. Though technically fine, as with the Carmen Suite No.2 the orchestra seemed to take a while to warm up. As the performance progressed, it did become far more involving and captivating. Ravel’s Boléro got off to a very hesitant start with a tentative entry on the snare drum. This was recovered, however, with each soloist’s entry bringing strength to the piece and thanks to Altinoglu’s tireless energy. The oboist, bassoonist and in particular saxophonist added a seductive flare and gave the piece some personality. By the entry of the timpani, Altinoglu had won the orchestra and audience round and the performance really stepped up a notch. It culminated in what can only be described in a cacophony of sound – an exuberant and fitting end to the concert.

This was an occasion where the orchestra really appeared to be enjoying themselves and the difference in made to my own enjoyment of the concert was vast. Each musician was rapt and every single member of the orchestra poured all their concentration and effort into the finale.”     …

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Review by David Hart, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Not so here: this punctilious Frenchman came up with several surprises, including a nicely manicured by-the-book reading of Bizet’s Carmen Suite No. 2 which, although displaying more patina than passion, allowed for some rewarding solo opportunities from leader Laurence Jackson and principal trumpet Jonathan Holland.

And Altinoglu’s support for his wife, mezzo Nora Gubisch, in Ravel’s Shéhérazade was quite exemplary, matching her warm, sculpted tone and clear articulation with an attention to instrumental detail that fully complemented the work’s sensuousness.”     …

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

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Saturday 12 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

Ex Cathedra

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Jeffrey Skidmore  conductor

Sophie Bevan  soprano

Jennifer Johnston  mezzo

Andrew Tortise  tenor

Roderick Williams  bass

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis 81′

Beethoven laboured for nearly four years to complete his Missa Solemnis,   and nothing he composed surpasses it for scale, sincerity or sheer vision. No   single performance can capture every aspect of this work, but under Jeffrey   Skidmore, Ex Cathedra and a team of first-rate soloists will surely come closer   than most to realising Beethoven’s wish that this music should come ‘from the   heart, that it may go to the heart’.

www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Jeffrey Skidmore and his Ex Cathedra (fully expanded) were joined by the CBSO in a fluent, natural account in which the composer’s cruel demands both on singers and players were so expertly assimilated into Beethoven’s confrontation with God. Beethoven takes no prisoners (all the sounds were trapped in his head by this time of his life), and Skidmore and company responded unflinchingly and devotedly.

There were two special things in this performance: Skidmore’s thoughtful and appreciative programme-notes which set the context, and the welcome prominence given to the organ (the excellent Alexander Mason), an element which is so often reduced to virtual nothingness, almost as an embarrassment; it is not, and Beethoven notated its part assiduously.

As we always confidently expect from the Ex Cathedra, the chorus was well-shaped and attentive.”     …

Beethoven’s Violin Concerto

Wednesday 9 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Olari Elts  conductor

Christian Tetzlaff  violin

Mozart: Idomeneo – Ballet Music 12′

Haydn: Symphony No. 86 28′

Beethoven: Violin Concerto 42′ Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube

Master,   pupil and friend: between them, Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart transformed the   history of music. Tonight’s concert begins with the white-hot inspiration of   Mozart’s breakthrough opera, and ends with soloist Christian Tetzlaff soaring   high above the sunlit romantic landscape of Beethoven’s great Violin Concerto.   No-one conducts this music with more panache than Olari Elts; so when he turns   to Haydn’s exuberant 86th Symphony, the results should be little short of explosive. www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

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“Every once in a while, as a reviewer, you are so utterly transfixed by a performance that it becomes an incredible effort to wrench yourself back into reality in order to put pen to paper, such is the visceral impact. And so it was with Christian Tetzlaff’s performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The context for the concerto, logically placed in the second half of the concert, had been set earlier with pieces by composers who had great influence on the young Beethoven: Mozart and Haydn. The influence of both were felt keenly throughout the concerto, from the astonishing invention Beethoven weaves from the basic four note opening motif first heard on timpani (here, effectively articulated by Peter Hill using wooden-headed sticks) to the sublime, soaring, melodies in between.

Tetzlaff’s opening arpeggio emerged with a perfectly judged gradation from ethereal softness to a commanding fullness of tone. This tone was incredibly sweet in the high register, where much time is spent in this work, yet gutsy when required.”     …

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “But his grip on this wonderful work stimulated the imagination, martial elements (Peter Hill’s hard-sticked timpani a sensitive foil) combining with folky or hymn-like aspects. It took a long time to warm to this interpretation, but it brought its own rewards.

Earlier we were brought rare works by Beethoven’s two great Viennese predecessors: Mozart’s Idomeneo ballet music proved intriguing in its scoring, brightly delivered under Elt’s baton, and revealing in its thematic links with the powerful opera itself.

And Haydn’s Symphony no.86 (many years ago recorded by the CBSO under Simon Rattle) was brisk and affectionate, subtle, well-nuanced, and sparkling with glorious woodwind.”

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek

Part of Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Friday 4th October

Town Hall

Music Theatre Wales

Michael Rafferty conductor

Marcus Farnsworth Eddy

Sally Silver Eddy’s Mum / Waitress / Sphinx

Louise Winter Eddy’s Sister / Waitress who becomes Eddy’s Wife / Sphinx

Gwion Thomas Eddy’s Dad / Café Manager / Chief of Police

The Music Theatre Wales Ensemble

Michael McCarthy director

Simon Banham designer

Ace McCarron lighting designer

Sound Intermedia sound design

Mark-Anthony Turnage Greek 90’

This staged performance has a running time of c 1 hour 50 minutes including one 20 minute interval.

A Town Hall Symphony Hall event, promoted in collaboration with Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Back in the Thatcher years, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek kicked and swore its way to classic status. A quarter of a century later, this savage re-telling of the story of Oedipus relocated to a blighted East End remains shockingly relevant. This fully-staged new production by Music Theatre Wales doesn’t pull any punches – and Turnage himself has hailed it as ‘superb…amazingly powerful’.

a contemporary classic The Stage

blisteringly realised The Telegraph

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Richard Bratby, Birmingham Post:

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…     “What really hit you was the sheer freshness of Turnage’s score: its pounding, percussive drive, its grungy, sax-coloured substrata, and the moments of grimy, metallic lyricism that glinted through its overcast skies. Under Michael Rafferty, MTW’s onstage orchestra played with pin-point virtuosity – giving wholehearted support, despite a few balance problems, to the excellent cast. Farnsworth’s cocksure Eddy quite properly dominated every scene in which he appeared, but Gwion Thomas and Sally Silver played his adoptive parents with quiet pathos, while Louise Winter gave real tragic stature to the part of his birth-mother and (unknowing) wife.”     …

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Paring the props and action down to a minimum allowed Turnage’s music to receive maximum focus. His score is worthy of this and still sounds like that of an 80s angry young man. It also illustrated the influences behind this composer’s style: the jazz idiom of Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus, the complexity of Stravinsky, the vocal writing prowess of Britten, the teachings of Henze and Knussen, all exploited in Greek could be detected. Turnage’s eclectic mix went down well with an enthusiastic audience, many no doubt harping back to the days when he was Composer in Residence with Simon Rattle and the CBSO during 1989-93. The eighteen man ensemble of MTW under the direction of Michael Rafferty were as impassioned as any army of football fans, symbolically represented by the Union Jack on the back of the conductor’s podium. The woodwind section were particularly busy and made some incredible sounds; at appropriate moments the resonances from the wailing piccolo of Kathryn Thomas and the piercing soprano saxophone of Kyle Horch reached alarming levels. It was hard to believe from the programme that there was but a single percussionist, namely Julian Warburton, such were the deafening noises that accompanied the riots of Act I, when the shit hits the fan. And when Eddy’s Dad respectfully removed his hat to tell his sorry tale of how they came by their ‘son’ in Act II, the viola break of Yuko Inoue brought true sadness to the moment.

The singers were also in fine voice. Marcus Farnsworth was a highly convincing Eddy – his uncouth Bolshie of Act I was worthy of an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order imposed in UK), while in Act II ten years later his character had begun to attract certain sympathy.”     …

Mahler’s First Symphony

MAHLER’S FIRST SYMPHONY

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Thursday 3 October 2013 at 7.30pm

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

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Nikolaj Znaider   conductor

Ingrid Fliter  piano

Mendelssohn: Ruy Blas – Overture 7′

Chopin: Piano Concerto No. 2 33′

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 56′

Ingrid Fliter’s encore – Beethoven –  Op.31 no.2 sonata -finale

“The   symphony must be like the world,” declared Gustav Mahler. “It should embrace   everything.” And from its breathtaking opening vision of the dawn of time itself,   to a truly heaven-storming finish, Mahler’s First does exactly that. No recording   does it justice – just as pianist Ingrid Fliter’s deeply personal way with Chopin   is something you simply have to experience for yourself. Nikolaj Znaider opens   with Mendelssohn’s gloriously gothic overture. He’s already worldfamous as a   violinist; we think you’ll be astonished by what he can do with a baton.

“I’ve loved Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 since I was  a kid – just beautiful, beautiful music. This one will be sure to give you goose  pimples…” (Catherine Ardagh-Walter, Cello)

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Overture, concerto, symphony: good old-fashioned programme-fodder, but in this case there was nothing staple about any of the offerings, beginning with a lively account of Mendelssohn’s uncharacteristically storm and stress Ruy Blas Overture.

OK, orchestral placings were bizarre (violas on the edge stage-left where the cellos normally go), but the sound was full and rich, strings well-turned brass chording sonorous, and Znaider’s beat reassuringly fluent.

And Znaider, also a world-class violinist, brought a lively response to the orchestral tutti in Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto (it’s about time we cast the hoary old chestnut about Chopin not being able to orchestrate into the compost-bin – just ask the bassoonist).

Ingrid Fliter was the committed soloist, with an instinctive feel for Chopin’s textures, filigree never interfering with melodic line, hands well-balanced (though my spies tell me the piano was playing up), her empathy with Znaider’s CBSO joyous.”     …

*****